Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

In Praise of Doing Less

September 27th, 2014 at 5:25 pm by timigustafson
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Summer is over and it’s back to work, back to school, back to business as usual. Especially for us Americans, who labor longer hours and take fewer days off compared to the Europeans and even the notoriously industrious Japanese, being busy counts as normalcy, while leisure time is considered a luxury most can ill afford.

“The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary,” the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi echoed this national sentiment. The notion that hard work is essential for getting ahead in life is so deeply ingrained in our culture that its validity is hardly ever questioned.

A rare and refreshing exception is Richard Koch, the bestselling author of “The 80/20 Principle – The Secret to Achieving More with Less” (Doubleday, 1998) and other follow-up versions.

As he freely admits, his insights in the importance of working smartly rather than intensely did not originate with him but were drawn from Vilfredo Pareto, a 19th century Italian economist and inventor of what is now known as the “Pareto Rule” or “Pareto Efficiency Concept.”

In essence, both Pareto and Koch suggest that relatively little effort (about 20 percent) produces the greatest amount of results (about 80 percent). For example, only a small number of human beings are responsible for most of the good and the bad that happens in the world every day. Individual innovators in technology change nearly single-handedly how we work and communicate with one another. A few dictators and terrorist leaders threaten the entire world through their violent acts time and again. The rest of us benefit or suffer from their actions but are not directly responsible for them.

Similarly, Koch says, things work in our personal lives. Only a handful of the choices we make and actions we take really make a difference. The rest is just routine, repetition, and triteness. But still, we remain convinced that almost all our efforts matter, and that the harder we try, the better the outcome will be.

Even most companies, and certainly most managers, focus too much on inputs rather than on outputs, despite the fact that the most meaningful results are usually achieved through relatively little action and energy expenditure, Koch says.

To apply these observations in everyday life, he recommends to his readers to take stock in how they conduct themselves at work, at home running their households, even at sports or play.

For instance, one of the “secrets” to working less while achieving more, he says, is to maintain open spaces that are uncluttered with daily chores. These are necessary for innovative and creative thinking, whether professionally or for personal purposes.

Second, there must be times and places where relaxation and literally doing nothing are allowed and appreciated as important elements of one’s productivity. We routinely underestimate the role downtime plays in our work habits, so much so that we almost have to force ourselves to take these constructive breaks, Koch laments.

The most highly effective people are not the one’s who are “married” to their jobs, but those who know when to disconnect. They are not necessarily available 24/7 via cell phone and email. They don’t easily permit interruptions of their workflow or leisurely activities. They focus on priorities and clearly set goals, while less urgent matters can be attended to in due time.

Critics may say that such freedoms are only afforded to those who are in leadership positions or work for themselves. That may be so, but the question arises, how did they get there? Could it be that they worked a little less frenzied and gave themselves more time to work a little smarter? Koch would agree to the latter.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Can Weight Loss Make You Smarter?

September 6th, 2014 at 1:51 pm by timigustafson
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Being overweight is associated with multiple negative health effects, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Conversely, weight loss can lower the risk of developing such illnesses, or lighten their burden. Now, a new study from Brazil found that besides physical improvements, slimming down can also produce positive outcomes for the mind.

For the study, researchers followed a group of morbidly obese women who were planning to have gastric bypass surgery to lose weight. Six month after the procedure their average Body-Mass-Index (BMI) had dropped from over 50 to about 37 – still overweight but not considered as severely obese.

Before the operation, the women agreed to a series of exams to assess their memory and other cognitive functions. They also underwent brain scans and blood work. The same tests were repeated six months after the event.

A roughly equal number of normal-weight women (with a BMI of 22 to 23) served as a control group. Both groups took the same tests at the outset of the study. All participants scored by and large the same in the cognitive exams before the surgery, but six months later, as they lost weight, all of the formerly obese women improved their test results in at least one category.

Their brain scans also showed significant differences. Before weight loss they showed greater risks of mental decline than afterwards. The blood tests indicated improvements in insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation.

Overall, the researchers concluded, weight loss can have positive effects on brain health and may play a role in the prevention of cognitive degeneration and age-related dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

This is not the first time scientists have tried to shed light on the impact of excessive body weight on the brain. A study from France, conducted in 2006, investigated the relation between changes in BMI and cognitive functions but couldn’t determine any significant associations between the two in middle-aged, healthy, non-demented adults. More recent research, however, found some indication that weight problems – including underweight, overweight, and obesity – in midlife do in fact increase the risk of dementia in later years.

While there may be no definite answers yet to what extent body weight influences brain health, more and more findings point in the direction that there are indeed connections. At the very least, we do know that chronic conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease, both often directly resulting from weight problems, can contribute to the inhibition of blood flow to the brain, especially when blood vessels become narrowed or blocked. One possible outcome is what is called vascular dementia, which is different from other forms of dementia but nevertheless can lead to similar symptoms. It is the second most common cause of age-related mental decline after Alzheimer’s.

In any case, while there is no certain way to increase mental health or even prevent decline, most experts agree that healthy diet and lifestyle choices combined with consistent weight management and other health-promoting steps can reduce unnecessary risks and should be pursued as much as possible.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Our Estranged Relationship with Food

August 30th, 2014 at 7:37 pm by timigustafson
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Americans feel less assured about the quality of their food than they used to. In a recent survey by Consumer Reports magazine, over 90 percent of respondents said they wanted to know more about what they were eating and would welcome detailed information about food production, including country of origin and genetic modifications.

At the same time, the vast majority of consumers buys its food supply from places that offer convenience and low prices. Those are not organic grocery stores or local farmers markets. One study on changing consumer trends listed Walmart and Target as the new top destinations for food shoppers. Despite the hype in recent years over locally grown fare, farmers markets only came in seventh.

“Its not the places selling organic quinoa and Swiss chard that are getting the grocery business, it’s big box stores, convenience stores, and even pharmacies,” says Anna Brones, a food writer and founder of Foodie Underground.

And it’s not just people on a limited budget who frequent these places. As it turns out, even wealthy people buy their groceries increasingly from non-grocers, according to a report published by Forbes.

What this means is that not only traditional retail categories are more and more blurring, but that food itself is no longer considered and treated as something different from all the other commodities we avail ourselves of.

We don’t think much about where our food comes from and how it gets to our tables, or what has to happen so that our supermarkets’ produce and meat sections can be filled, says Harvey Blatt, a professor of geology and author of “America’s Environmental Report Card” (MIT Press). In most people’s minds, edibles just miraculously appear on shelves. But the fact that our food consumption has become so far removed from agriculture has serious consequences, he warns.

For decades, the American food industry has fought tooth and nails to keep the mechanics of modern food production hidden from the public. Meanwhile, consumers have developed a blissful ignorance of what exactly goes into their meals, whether it’s packaged items from the supermarket or burgers from the fast food chain, writes Rachel Kalisher, a Florida-based food columnist.

Although there are many reports and documentaries shedding light on the darker side of mass food production, it doesn’t seem to dissuade enough people from buying these products. Consequently, the respective industries are not motivated to offer better solutions to feeding a growing world population, Kalisher explains.

Still, she says, not all has to be lost. Consumers have more control than they think. Mindless eating habits and ignorance about food quality is not something we should be willing to live with indefinitely.

Healthy eating is not just a matter of money, although rising food prices are becoming an ever-greater concern. Equally or perhaps more important is education. Here, the damage of much neglect has to be undone.

Especially children and adolescents in America today are perfectly clueless about food, laments Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef and self-appointed crusader for health education in schools. There are virtually no classes in nutrition taught anywhere in the country, and less than 25 percent of high school students receive even a minimum of information about consumer science, formerly known as home economics.

Learning the basics of how food is produced and which foods provide essential nutrients especially young bodies need to grow and function properly should be the first goal for schools and parents to aim for, according to the Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation, which organizes initiatives and programs that teach children the importance of healthy eating early in life.

Reconnecting with our most fundamental needs such as food may be hard, considering how much we have become estranged, however by supporting and guiding the next generation, we may have a chance to start over.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

It Takes a Town to Be Healthy

August 23rd, 2014 at 4:49 pm by timigustafson
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How healthy you are, or can hope to be, depends on multiple factors, including where you live.

For example, if you call Minneapolis-St. Paul home, you breath cleaner air and will find it easier to exercise outdoors than in most other American metropolitan areas because there are more walk- and bike paths than almost anywhere else. Washington D.C. has the highest number of swimming pools, tennis courts, and recreational centers in the nation, and health care providers are abundant here. Denver has the lowest obesity rate among big cities and the highest percentage of residents who are in excellent or very good health.

Of course, metropolises offer plenty of opportunities to stay healthy and fit smaller communities just can’t afford. But that doesn’t mean that small town residents are doomed.

Any place, the smaller, the better, can become a model in health-promoting living, according to Esther Dyson, a healthcare technology investor and founder of the Health Initiative Coordinating Council (HICCup), a nonprofit organization that sponsors health and lifestyle initiatives in communities all over the country.

So far, her organization has chosen five towns for a five-year trial run named “Way to Wellville,” a program to raise greater awareness of health risks such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer – all mostly lifestyle-related ills that could be avoided.

While HICCup will cover initial administrative costs, the selected towns will be responsible for running the program independently.

“First, we want places that can succeed. The Wellville Challenge is not a random selection but a search for places that can make the most of the help HICCup can provide and the connections we can help them to establish,” says Dyson. “But in the end, the communities themselves will be doing the heavy lifting.”

As investors, HICCup and its partners will support Wellville communities in much the same way startup investors support promising business ideas. “In this case, the community is the startup – and the community’s product is health,” says HICCup CEO Rick Brush.

Obviously, the actions of a handful of hamlets won’t have much of an impact on big issues like the ever-worsening obesity crisis. But Dyson hopes that they will establish a model for other small and mid-size communities elsewhere.

“The programs by and large won’t be remarkable,” she concedes. “What’s remarkable is doing them together, reinforcing one another in small, self-contained communities where they will have maximum impact.”

The ultimate challenge these localized initiatives will have to grapple with is how to address the concrete health problems that are most pervasive in the country. Poor diet and lifestyle choices are certainly at the forefront and must be addressed through education and other preventive measures. But so must poverty and limited access to healthcare. Even when more people have access to insurance coverage, doctors and hospitals must make greater efforts to keep people from getting sick, not just treat their ailments. Civic and business leaders can provide incentives and infrastructure, but they cannot make everyone take advantage of them.

Still, the idea of enlisting entire communities in the fight against debilitating diseases that occur unnecessarily and are perfectly preventable is laudable, even if it takes one small patch at a time.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Good Snacking Versus Bad Snacking

August 16th, 2014 at 4:14 pm by timigustafson
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America is a nation of snackers. According to a survey by Nielsen, a consumer research group, 91 percent of respondents admitted to snacking daily. 25 percent reported having snacks three to five times a day, and 3 percent said they grazed almost constantly. 31 percent indulged in binge snacking on occasion, while 8 percent did so quite frequently.

The reasons why people reach for snack food are numerous and complex. For men it’s mostly a means to satisfy hunger or cravings between meals, while for women it can be a way to cope with stress, boredom, or other emotional disturbances. On average, women also snack more often and choose different kinds of foods than men, like sweet versus salty items, according to the study.

As with most eating habits, a propensity for snacking develops early in life. Half of all American children eat snacks about four to five times a day, adding hundreds of extra calories to their diet, based on the findings of one study.

“My fear is that we are moving away from being hungry and eating for satiation to just eating,” said Dr. Barry M. Popkin, director of nutrition epidemiology at the University of North Carolina and co-author of the study report, in an interview with the New York Times.

Young children, ages 2 to 6 years old, show the biggest increase in snacking habits. There also seems to be a trend away from regular meals like breakfast and lunch in favor of all-day grazing, which impacts the overall nutritional quality of what these kids eat.

“They are eating more times, and they’re not eating healthy foods,” said Dr. Popkin. “It would be great if they were eating fruits and vegetables, and reduced-fat milk, and every now and then a cookie or two. But the foods are going from bad to worse.”

Adults are not faring much better in this regard. Most Americans receive almost a third of their calorie intake from snacks, nearly 600 calories per day. Snack food has grown into a huge industry with total annual sales of well over $60 billion. This doesn’t include so-called “snackables” in fast food and pizza places. Latest trends are snack items available in restaurants between the hours when regular meals are served.

“The business plan of the modern food company has been to put their foods on every street corner, making it socially acceptable to eat 24/7,” said Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and author of “The End of Overeating.” The result has been a nutritional disaster, he added.

Of course, the mere fact that people like to eat more often is not necessarily a lamentable change. A classic study once concluded that frequent consumption of small portions of food may be more conducive to weight loss than a standard three-meals-a-day pattern. The emphasis here, obviously, is on small portion sizes and also nutritional quality. Unfortunately, neither standards have been kept up very well since the study was first published in 1966.

Still, nibbling here and there can be a good thing, even for weight loss, if it keeps you from becoming too ravenous, which then can lead you to raiding the vending machine or refrigerator later, said Dr. Joan Salge Blake, professor of nutrition at Boston University and author of “Nutrition and You: Core Concepts for Good Health” (Cummings 2010). The key is to make sure your snacks don’t consist of empty calories but include nutrients your body really needs, she advises.

Also, by eating more often, you should not increase your overall calorie intake. The problem is that when people multiply their eating occasions, they often keep the same serving sizes they are used to, which can quickly result in overeating and subsequent weight gain.

The best way to schedule your snacking regimen is to listen to your body. “Eat when you feel slightly hungry and stop when you feel just slightly full,” Dr. Blake suggests. But pace yourself. It takes about 20 minutes for your mind to register when your stomach has had enough.

For healthy snacks ideas, continue reading here.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

More People Are Using Antidepressants, Just to Keep Going

August 9th, 2014 at 11:36 am by timigustafson
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In 1994, when Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote “Prozac Nation,” an autobiographical account of her struggles with severe depression, which was later adapted into a feature film under the same title, her story was considered an extreme case of a troubled life. What she described then, however, was already a widespread phenomenon that has now morphed into a national malaise and beyond.

Antidepressants and painkillers rank among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States today. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics published a report that identified about 11 percent of the American public as antidepressant users, a 400 percent increase since the 1980s when previous surveys were taken.

Worldwide, consumption of antidepressants has been dramatically on the rise over the past decade, and there are no signs of abating. On the contrary, the pharmaceutical industry predicts ever-increasing demands in the U.S. and globally.

According to the CDC report, people who take antidepressants do so not only to treat depression but also anxiety and other disorders in response to stress. In fact, about 8 percent of those taking antidepressant drugs had no current symptoms of depression at all.

Women between the ages of 40 and 59 make up the largest group of antidepressant drug users – about 23 percent. Females in general are more likely to take such medications than males; whites do it in greater numbers than other ethnicities; most users stay on antidepressants for two or more years; less than half ever seek professional help in form of hospitalization or counseling.

Experts have offered a wide range of explanations for the growing demand for psychotherapeutic drugs. The heightened economic struggles over the last few years have added substantially to the stress levels vast parts of the population are exposed to. In the media, pharmaceuticals of all kinds, including antidepressants, are aggressively marketed, and many insurance plans cover them. There is also suspicion that many doctors tend to over-diagnose when it comes to psychological disorders, even in cases where they appear to be temporary and mild in nature.

The truth is that antidepressant drugs are not harmless and can cause a number of unpleasant side effects, among them nausea, weight gain, loss of sexual desire and erectile dysfunction, insomnia, fatigue, agitation, suicidal thoughts, and even greater anxiety.

Experts recommend to switch between different types of antidepressant drugs if debilitating symptoms persist, but they also warn not to take such steps without consulting one’s physician.

Generally speaking, taking medications against depression or anxiety should not always be the first measure to find relief. A health-promoting lifestyle that includes eating a balanced diet, regular exercise, and enough sleep can be very helpful in dealing with many disturbances, both of body and mind. That does not mean to underestimate their seriousness, but at least it can provide a much-needed foundation for recovery.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Exercise Can Make You See the World in a Different Light

August 2nd, 2014 at 8:44 am by timigustafson
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Being physically active has countless health benefits. It helps prevent weight problems and reduces the risk of serious illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But according to a recent study from Canada, regular exercise can also improve how people perceive the world around them. Especially those suffering from anxiety or depression can profit from workouts or even just short brisk walks, researchers found.

Exercising and relaxation techniques like Yoga have long been successfully utilized in the treatment of patients with mood and anxiety disorders, said Adam Heenan, a researcher and PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Queen’s University, Ontario, and co-author of the study in a news release by the university. What sets this study apart is that it was able to demonstrate how participants perceived ambiguous events like being approached by an unknown figure. It found that those who had previously exercised, for example by walking or running on a treadmill, felt less apprehensive about the encounter than others who had remained sedentary. The results were similar for those who engaged in relaxation exercises.

Their findings could be useful in the treatment of overly anxious or depressed individuals, the researchers concluded. If physical exercise can indeed manipulate how such persons feel about their surroundings, following an appropriate regimen may have significant therapeutic advantages, they suggested.

Earlier studies have shown that exercising does not only stimulate the brain but, at the same time, can also induce calmness and reduce the effects of stress. Rigorous physical activity increases the secretion of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that can induce a sense of relaxation and wellbeing.

While being exposed to a certain amount of stress is unavoidable and may even be beneficial in some situations, chronic stress can lead to multiple damaging effects, including psychological dysfunctions. Stress-related anxiety disorders rank among the most common psychiatric illnesses, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

Some studies found that people who maintained a regular exercise routine were up to 25 percent less likely to develop depression and/or anxiety disorders than those who did not.

Other research showed that habitual exercisers have on average more self-esteem, are less prone to mood swings, sleep more soundly, are better equipped to deal with life’s challenges, and run a lower risk of succumbing to age-related cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Naturally, different people respond differently to exercising, and not all activities produce the same results. What experts say they know for certain, however, is that sedentary behavior is harmful in many ways, and is considered a “silent killer” that contributes not only to diseases but also shortens people’s life span. For this reason alone, it would be worthwhile to start moving, wouldn’t it?

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Creative People Age Better, Study Finds

July 25th, 2014 at 1:30 pm by timigustafson
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Do creative and artistically inclined people have advantages over the rest of us mere mortals who can barely draw a stick figure or whistle a simple tune? There are indications that individuals who are able to use their talents also tend to fare better in other ways, including their physical and mental health, compared to others whose existence mainly consists of repetitiveness and routine. Still, scientists have never been able to prove that creativity is indeed a contributing factor to humans’ wellbeing.

Picasso was undoubtedly one of the most creative persons one can think of, and he maintained a zest for life and work well into his 90s. But so was Mozart, who tragically died at 35 years of age. Hemingway, perhaps the greatest writer of his generation, couldn’t pen a single word for long periods of time – mostly because of drunkenness. Some famous artists have looked upon their gift as a curse rather than a blessing. So, should we assume any connection between creativity and wellbeing at all?

One study that looked into the health status and life expectancy of creative people found that creativity may indeed be associated with delayed decline in cognitive and physical health at an advanced age. While it remains unclear whether engaging in creative activities or the use of creative energies actually contribute to the slowing of the natural aging process, it is conceivable, according to the researchers, that creative people find better ways of coping with their diminishing capabilities than their less resourceful counterparts. On the other hand, there are highly creative persons who only function superbly in a specific area of their interest and are not better equipped for problem solving beyond their expertise, for example when it comes to their health needs.

Prior research, including a landmark study from Seattle on the “Relationship Between Personality and Cognition,” has shown that attitude and outlook on life were important components for maintaining the mental health of seniors in their 70s and 80s.

Experimentation, openness to new ideas, and flexibility in dealing with changes are the essence of creativity, and they are also crucial ingredients for healthy cognitive aging, the researchers say.

Thankfully, you don’t have to be a genius or maestro yourself to stay healthy and vital. Even just loving to read, attending art performances, and keeping stimulating social ties can yield enormous benefits throughout life, according to a study on creativity and aging, which was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. Seniors between the ages of 63 and 103 who participated in a variety of weekly art programs were found to be in better health, had fewer doctor visits, and used less medication in comparison to a control group that attended no such activities. They also showed better results in mental health tests, and were overall more involved in their communities.

Creativity can find fertile ground anywhere. But it takes a personal decision and commitment to openness to change as well as acceptance of risk, including risk of failure. Conservatism, hunkering down in the hope that things will remain the same, is not helpful and hampers any creative process. That doesn’t mean everything from the past has to be overthrown and redone from scratch. But it can require rethinking of some old traits that may no longer serve us well. Or, what has been overlooked for some time may regain relevance when seen in a different light.

The beauty of aging is that there is room for new perspectives based on hindsight and greater appreciation for the preciousness of time. It is also a most humbling phase in life when we realize how little, if anything, we are able to accomplish beyond the narrow horizon of our short existence. And yet, it is up to each of us how our days, up to the last, continue to unfold.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Too Little Sun Exposure Now Found to Be a Health Risk

July 20th, 2014 at 3:33 pm by timigustafson
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For many years, we have been told to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun because of health risks like sunburn and, more seriously, skin cancer. Now a new study found that getting too little sun can cause problems as well. According to recent research, women who consistently avoided direct sunlight had a greater mortality risk from all causes, including skin cancer, than their counterparts with higher sun exposure.

Sunlight is the main source of vitamin D. Deficiencies in this vitamin are linked to multiple health threats, among them cardiovascular disease and aggressive types of skin cancer, the scientists involved in the study said.

The findings, which were published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, run contrary to recommendations by most experts. Excessive sun exposure is a known cause of skin cancer, which is now the most common form of all cancers, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urge people to take preventive measures such as wearing protective clothing and sunscreen to avoid skin damage at all times.

While the authors of this latest study acknowledge the importance of protecting the skin, they say that the established guidelines may be too restrictive, especially in regions of the northern hemisphere where sunshine is limited. In populations living in these areas, there is epidemiological evidence that all-cause mortality is related to low vitamin D levels, the researchers concluded.

For the study, nearly 30,000 Swedish women, ages 25 to 64, were recruited from 1990 for a 20-year follow-up period where their sun exposure habits were recorded and analyzed in connection with their overall health. At the end of the study, 2545 participants had died.

“We have found that all-cause mortality was inversely related to sun exposure habits,” wrote Pelle G. Linqvist, a researcher at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Cintec, Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, and lead author of the study report. “The mortality rate amongst avoiders of sun exposure was approximately twofold higher compared with the highest sun exposure group. […] Following sun exposure advice that is very restrictive in countries with low solar intensity might in fact be harmful to women’s health,” she added.

The caveat here is that the study only involved women from Sweden who were presumably of light skin color. The amount of sun exposure each individual received was self-reported, and no blood samples for the determination of vitamin D levels, or information about the use of vitamin D supplements were collected.

Other experts have suggested that the importance of sun exposure as a vitamin D source has diminished due to fortification of many foods we consume today, including dairy products. Also, using supplements can make up for some deficiencies that may result from staying indoors or living in places with fewer sunny days.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

How to Make the Most of Your Vacation

July 15th, 2014 at 6:32 pm by timigustafson
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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans do not only work longer and take less time off than Europeans, and as of late, even the Japanese, they also seem unable to reap the benefits of their holidays as much in terms of recreation and rejuvenation. Studies show that the effects of taking breaks from work can vary dramatically based on how workers choose to unwind.

Perhaps because most people get no or only short periods of paid vacations here, they tend to fill their getaways with as many activities and experiences as possible. Others indulge in what they deem to be the exact opposite of work by doing literally nothing. Neither approach is likely to serve well the primary purpose of vacationing, which is to return refreshed and recovered from one’s daily wear and tear.

“Relaxation and vacation aren’t merely the opposite of work. They are engaging, vital parts of your life that deserve happy thought and careful attention,” says Jan Bruce, CEO and founder of meQuilibrium who writes about issues of stress in the workplace. “If you think of vacation as a big blank, that’s what you’ll get.”

It is of great importance to incorporate relaxation into daily life, not only during holidays but as an integral part of one’s lifestyle, she says. After all, how your vacation unfolds is heavily influenced by your mindset. If adventure or playing sports recharges your batteries best, go for it – if lounging by the pool does the trick, by all means lounge on. The point is to get in the right spirit or mental shape that makes a vacation satisfying and successful, she advises.

Done wrong, going on vacation can cause more stress than it alleviates, according to the findings of a study from the Netherlands.

Most vacations seem to have strong but rather short-lived effects on people’s health and wellbeing, says Jessica de Bloom, a researcher in behavioral psychology at Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands, and lead author of the study. Still, positive experiences associated with vacationing like pleasure, relaxation, savoring, and control over one’s time appear to be especially important for the strength and persistence of vacation after-effects, she says.

Not surprisingly, the length of a vacation also makes a difference. Taking time off for two to four weeks – more common in European countries than here – showed greater benefits in terms of recovery from work-related stress than shorter breaks, according to the study. Among the study participants, those benefits peaked around the eighth vacation day and then decreased gradually towards the end of their holiday.

The researchers also looked into the sleep patterns of vacationers. Getting a minimum of eight hours sleep during vacation is strongly recommended, they say, because sleep is an essential part of the recovery process, especially for workers who are chronically sleep-deprived. The effects of getting more rest have also been shown to last beyond the vacation period, which further underlines its importance.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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