Spending time outdoors and enjoying nature has wide-ranging health benefits, including lower blood pressure and reduced cardiovascular disease, according to a global study.
That’s the word from researchers at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, who say exposure to greenspace reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, pre-term birth, stress, and high blood pressure. Diabetes and high blood pressure are leading causes of stroke.
“Spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing hasn’t been fully understood,’ said Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, lead author from UEA’s Norwich Medical School. “We gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people to see whether nature really does provide a health boost.”
The research team studied data from 20 countries including the UK, the U.S., Spain, France, Germany, Australia and Japan—where Shinrin yoku or “forest bathing’”is a popular practice.
“Green space” was defined as open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation as well as urban greenspaces, which included urban parks and street greenery. The team analyzed how the health of people with little access to green spaces compared to that of people with the highest amounts of exposure.
“People living near greenspace likely have more opportunities for physical activity and socializing,” said Twohig-Bennett. “Meanwhile, exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas may also have benefits for the immune system and reduce inflammation. “Forest bathing is already really popular as a therapy in Japan—with participants spending time in the forest either sitting or lying down, or just walking around. Our study shows that perhaps they have the right idea.”
Study co-author professor Andy Jones of UEA, added, “We often reach for medication when we’re unwell but exposure to health-promoting environments is increasingly recognized as both preventing and helping treat disease. Our study shows that the size of these benefits can be enough to have a meaningful clinical impact.”
The research team hope that their findings will prompt healthcare professionals to recommend that patients spend more time in greenspace and natural areas. “We hope that this research will inspire people to get outside more and feel the health benefits for themselves,” said Twohig-Bennett. “Hopefully our results will encourage policymakers and town planners to invest in the creation, regeneration, and maintenance of parks and greenspaces, particularly in urban residential areas and deprived communities that could benefit the most.”
The study was published in the journal Environmental Research.
I PERSONALLY don’t eat them…but her is a tip from people that DO eat them. Plus, this is from a neighbor of mine!
Spotlight on Healthy Avocados
Healthy fats are critical for our brains, and avocados are a great choice! They are so much more than a great source of healthy fats though. They are packed with nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants. In fact, they have twice as much potassium as a banana.
The antioxidants (carotenoids) in avocados have important roles in cell function and support our body against vascular, inflammatory and neurological damage. The fats in avocados actually help us to absorb these antioxidants. In fact, foods that contain carotenoids such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and leafy greens, are low in fat and but by adding in avocado you improve the antioxidant absorption anywhere from two to six times.
How to Open
Many nutrients are located right next to the skin, so it is better to peel the skin off instead of scooping out the avocado. To get the pit out, first slice the avocado in half lengthwise then firmly strike the pit with the heel of a chef’s knife. Then gently twist the pit to dislodge and lift it out. Then, with the pit stuck to the knife, rest the pit against the edge of the sink or a bowl and gently pull. The pit will slide right off. How to Eat: Guacamole
Ingredients – rough estimates
2 avocados, peeled, pitted, and smashed
1 fresh lime, juiced/squeezed
1/2 cilantro bunch, leaves roughly chopped
1/4-1/2 onion, diced small
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced & let rest for ten minutes
1/2 tomato, diced
Directions: Place smashed avocados in a bowl. Add the juice of 1/2 of the lime, about 1/2 of the chopped cilantro, 1/4 of the diced onion, 1 clove of the minced garlic, and the tomato in a bowl. Stir, sprinkle with salt to taste, and add more ingredients as you deem necessary. Serve as a dip, on eggs, or on toast. When you bring guacamole to a party, it’ll be an instant hit every time.
Also, if you leave out the avocado, you can make pico de gallo salsa!
Let her know how it turns out.
Christa Knox, MA, MScN, is a stroke survivor and holistic nutritionist in Portland, Ore. Visit Christa’s website BrainFoodForThought,com.
Every so often I come across an amazing site…and that site is Positive Health Wellness. The site changes daily and includes some fascinating stories that my kids even like! JUST A WARNING: this site is mainly for women. But guys, you should read it too!
They recently published a comprehensive article about the exercises that can help you burn calories fast. Who isn’t interested it that….especially with the holidays coming up!
“It is becoming increasingly clear that healthy mid-life behaviors pay off as we age, and lower our risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke,” said Dr. Ralph Sacco, chairman of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He was not involved in the study.
Among nearly 20,000 adults in their mid to late 40s, researchers found the most fit had a 37 percent lower risk of having a stroke after 65, compared with the least fit.
The protective effect of fitness remained even after the researchers accounted for risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and an abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation.
“Incorporating exercise and regular physical activity in one’s day-to-day routine is important to improve fitness and lower risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases in older age,” said lead researcher Dr. Ambarish Pandey. He is a cardiology fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Pandey said an exercise routine should include aerobic exercise (such as jogging, swimming, walking or biking), plus strengthening exercise (such as free weights or strength-training machines).
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of long-term disability, Pandey noted.
Most strokes occur when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain, cutting off blood and oxygen. This causes brain cells to die and can leave permanent disability.
Pandey speculated that exercise might help prevent stroke by keeping blood vessels healthier and lowering inflammation that can affect their function.
The findings suggest doctors should consider low fitness levels a risk factor for stroke, the study authors said.
While lifelong fitness is best for optimum health, starting later in life is still beneficial. “It’s never too late to exercise to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke,” Pandey said.
Pandey and colleagues analyzed 1999-2009 data from a study conducted by the Cooper Institute in Dallas. It used treadmill tests to measure heart and lung exercise capacity when participants were 45 to 50.
The most interesting finding in this study, Sacco said, was that the effect of fitness was independent of some traditional risk factors. “Diet was not evaluated and can also be linked to health fitness lifestyles,” Sacco said.
Sacco agreed it’s never too late to start getting fit to reap health benefits.
“Other studies have shown that physical activity, even among older individuals, can also lower stroke risk and be associated with less silent stroke and mental decline,” Sacco said. “However, among older adults it is important to check with your physician before you start more vigorous physical activity.”
Over the last two decades, the medical community has made considerable advances in treating strokes. A big stumbling block remains, though.
Treatment is time sensitive — three to four hours after a stroke’s onset, it’s ineffective or less effective — so the key is discerning when you, or someone around you, has had a stroke.
“People have to be aware of the risk factors and recognize when it’s happening,” said Ellen Ciacciarelli, clinical leader of neurology at CentraState Medical Center.
A new study found that people who have extended work weeks are at a higher risk of stroke. Emily Eden (@edenandtheapple) has the details. Buzz60
It’s not necessarily obvious.
“The one thing about the majority of strokes is they’re not painful,” said Gerald Ferencz, medical director of the Primary Stroke Center at Community Medical Center in Toms River. “It’s rare that people get headaches.”
What do they get? Here is what to look for.
Signs of a stroke
The classic acronym for stroke awareness is FAST. It stands for Face, Arms, Speech and Time, and it functions as sort of a stroke checklist. Here is Ciacciarelli’s breakdown of each.
Face: “Does it look irregular? When you look at someone’s face, does one side droop down? Ask them to smile. Is there a lopsided smile?”
Arms: “Is one of the arms weaker? If they hold it out in front, does it drift off? Hold their arm in front of them and close their eyes. See if one arm drops toward the ground.”
Speech: “Does their speech sound garbled? Are they having challenges verbalizing at all? Have them repeat a phrase after you and see if they can do it.”
Time: “Call 9-1-1 and get help immediately. We only have a golden three hours to give them this medication (tPA). If someone is sitting at a dinner table at 6 and drops their glass, and their face looks funny, don’t wait until 9 to get them to an emergency room. The longer you wait, the more damage there is.”
Ciacciarelli added two more letters to the acronym to form BE FAST. The B is for balance (“see if they are off-balance or dizzy”) and E is for eyes (“double vision or difficulty seeing through one or both eyes”).
Strokes might seem to strike at random, but there are risk factors, some of which can be managed. Ferencz explains:
Age: “Generally the older you get the more risk there is of a stroke. That’s something we can’t change of course. Ocean County tends to be a high stroke-risk group location mainly because of age. We have a lot of retirees.”
Eating habits: “Hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, excess weight — these are things we have some control over and are potentially treatable. There is a stroke belt in this country in the southern states. It’s related to high-cholesterol foods — butter, grease, fatty foods, carbs. We (in New Jersey) are just at the outside portion of that. The closer you get to the Mason-Dixon line, where diets change, the higher the risk.”
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Gender: “Younger women who have normal hormones may be in a protected phase, but when they get to the age when they are post-menopausal they are at the same risk as men.”
Bad habits: “Smoking, alcohol, drugs increase the risk”
Genetics: “There are cases where people inherit a stroke risk, but those are very uncommon.”
Advances is stroke treatment have been “huge,” Ferencz said, since the breakthrough drug known as tPA came out in 1995.
“Given within three to four-and-a-half hours of a stroke’s onset,” he said, “it can help reverse a stroke or make the outcome significantly better by a three-month window, which is what we look at for stroke recovery.”
More recently, “in situations where drugs are not getting an effect or when large arteries are blocked,” Ferencz said, doctors have made progress in inserting tiny catheters into the brain similar to those used to treat cardiac disease. The goal is to capture the blood clot and withdraw it.
“We can do that up to a six-hour period,” he said.
Progress also is being made in treating a different class of stroke — bleeding in the brain. If a blood vessel bursts and causes a stroke because an artery develops a hole, there are intravascular procedures available as opposed to underdoing major open surgery.
For those suffering this class of stoke, Ferencz issued a warning.
“Unlike people having a heart attack, when you have a stroke it’s not the best thing to take Aspirin right away,” he said. “The best thing is to get to an emergency room. If you take Aspirin and are bleeding in the brain, it will not help and it could make it worse.”
ASBURY PARK PRESS
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“A long way to go’
The bottom line is education. Ciacciarelli speaks to as many groups as she can.
“We have a lot of patients wake up and feel as though their face is numb and their arm is numb, and they go back to sleep,” she said. “When they wake up (later) their arm is totally flaccid. If you wake up and something doesn’t feel right, don’t go back to sleep. Have it evaluated. Once you go back to sleep, it could be too far out (time-wise) for us to do anything.”
She points out that stroke has dropped from the third-most common killer to “four or five,” but remains one of the leading causes of disability.
“The word is out there but we still have a long way to go,” she said. “We need to have everybody understand that the face of stroke is everybody — young and old, male and female, black and white. Our youngest here (at CentraState) was 29 years old. Our oldest was late 90s.”
Not too long ago, most of us thought that the brain we’re born with is static—that after a certain age, the neural circuitry cards we’re dealt are the only ones we can play long-term.
Fast-forward a decade or two, and we’re beginning to see the opposite: the brain is designed to adapt constantly. World-renowned neuroscientist Richie Davidson at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, along with this colleagues, want us to know three things: 1) you can train your brain to change, 2) that the change is measurable, and 3) new ways of thinking can change it for the better.
It’s hard to comprehend how this is possible. Practicing mindfulness is nothing like taking a pill, or another fix that acts quickly, entering our blood stream, crossing the Blood Brain Barrier if needed in order to produce an immediate sensation, or to dull one.
But just as we learn to play the piano through practice, the same goes for cultivating well-being and happiness. Davidson told Mindful last August that the brain keeps changing over its entire lifespan. And he thinks that’s very good news:
We can intentionally shape the direction of plasticity changes in our brain. By focusing on wholesome thoughts, for example, and directing our intentions in those ways, we can potentially influence the plasticity of our brains and shape them in ways that can be beneficial. That leads us to the inevitable conclusion that qualities like warm-heartedness and well-being should best be regarded as skills.
Davidson adds that research on neuroplasticity gives neuroscientists a framework for tracking meditation research. And CIHM is beginning to see that “even short amounts of practice,” like 30 minutes of meditation per day, “can induce measurable changes in the brain” that can be tracked on a brain scanner.
Based on recent research, I’ve chosen to share four ways your brain may change when you practice mindfulness:
• Anterior Cingulate Cortex: Increased grey matter changes were noted in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is a structure located behind the brain’s frontal lobe. It has been associated with such functions as self-regulatory processes, including the ability to monitor attention conflicts, and allow for more cognitive flexibility.
• Prefrontal Cortex: Increased grey matter density was also found in areas of the prefrontal lobe, which are primarily responsible for executive functioning such as planning, problem solving, and emotion regulation.
• Hippocampus: Increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus has also been noted. The hippocampus is the part of the limbic system that governs learning and memory, and is extraordinarily susceptible to stress and stress-related disorders like depression or PTSD.
Decreased Amygdala Size:
Studies have shown that the amygdala, known as our brain’s “fight or flight” center and the seat of our fearful and anxious emotions, decreases in brain cell volume after mindfulness practice.
Diminished or enhanced functionality in certain networks/connections:
Not only does the amygdala shrink post mindfulness practice, but the functional connections between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex are weakened. This allows for less reactivity, and also paves the way for connections between areas associated with higher order brain functions to be strengthened (i.e. attention, concentration, etc.).
Reduced activity in the Brain’s “Me” Center:
Mindfulness practice has been implicated in the decreased activation and the stilling of our Default Mode Network (DMN), which is also sometimes referred to as our wandering “Monkey Minds.” The DMN is active when our minds are directionless as it goes from thought to thought, a response that is sometimes likened to rumination and not always adaptive with regards to overall happiness.
The impact that mindfulness exerts on our brain is borne from routine: a slow, steady, and consistent reckoning of our realities, and the ability to take a step back, become more aware, more accepting, less judgmental, and less reactive. Just as playing the piano over and over again over time strengthens and supports brain networks involved with playing music, mindfulness over time can make the brain, and thus, us, more efficient regulators, with a penchant for pausing to respond to our worlds instead of mindlessly reacting.
Jennifer Wolkin is a NYC-based licensed clinical health and neuropsychologist, writer, speaker, and professor. She recently founded BrainCurves, an initiative to inspire accurate and accessible mind-body-brain wellness ideas for all women and all of our supporters.
Fact: Smoking puts you at risk for having a stroke, or brain attack.
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death and a leading cause of adult disability in the United States. When you stop smoking, you greatly reduce your chances of having a stroke.
Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood, causing the heart to work harder and allowing blood clots to form more easily. Smoking also increases the amount of build-up in the arteries, which may block the flow of blood to the brain, causing a stroke.
Common concerns may accompany attempts to quit.
“I’ll gain weight if I quit smoking.”
Weight gain varies from person to person. The average person gains less than 10 pounds. Exercise and a low-fat diet can help. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grain cereals and pasta. Low-sugar candy may also help. Try to get enough sleep. Ask your doctor how to quit smoking while maintaining your weight.
“What do I do when I get the urge to smoke?”
When possible, stay away from places where others might be smoking. Ask others not to smoke around you. When you do feel the urge to smoke, distract yourself and stay busy. If you can make it three minutes, the urge probably will go away. You can also ask your doctor about prescription medications or nicotine replacement therapy, including over- the-counter patches and gum.
“Smoking relaxes me. I get too nervous and anxious if I don’t smoke.”
First, try to take it easy. It is best to warn those around you that you have quit smoking. Try going for a walk if you get tense. Exercise can help you relax.
“I blew it. What do I do now?”
Smoking cigarettes again does not mean that you have failed. You have already had some success. You got through a number of minutes, days or months without smoking. Don’t let relapses serve as excuses to start smoking again. You are an ex-smoker and can continue to be one.
“I’ve tried to quit smoking before. What makes this time different?”
You can choose to be a non-smoker and be successful. It is important enough to your health to make another attempt. Set a goal for yourself. Think about why you smoke and different ways to handle those reasons without smoking. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for information about local support groups. There are over 46.5 million ex-smokers in the United States. You can be one of them.
Tips to quit smoking:
Set a Quit Date. Mark your calendars at home and at work.
Tell your family, friends and co-workers that you are going to quit. Ask for their support.
Ask your doctor about nicotine replacement therapy or medication that can help control your urges to smoke.
Throw away all of your cigarettes, ashtrays, lighters and matches before your Quite Date.
Reward yourself for doing well. Buy something nice for yourself with the money you have saved on cigarettes.
American Cancer Society (800) 227-2345 www.cancer.org
American Lung Association (800) LUNG USA
(800) 586-4872 www.lungusa.org
National Cancer Institute (800) 4-CANCER www.cancer.gov
All publications are reviewed for scientific and medical accuracy by National Stroke Association’s Publications Committee.
A study has shown that cranberry juice could help protect people against heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tested for benefits of its high levels of polyphenols, which help protect the body.
“Luckily for us, a rich source of polyphenols is only a glass of cranberry juice away,” said Christina Khoo, director of Research Sciences at Ocean Spray. “Among the commonly consumed fruits in our diets, cranberries boast some of the highest levels of polyphenols – more than apples, blueberries, grapes or cherries.”
Cranberry juice is rich in antioxidants, vitamin C and salicylic acid. By containing only 45 calories per cup, cranberry juice fits very well within most dietary guidelines.
The latest study reveals that drinking low-calorie cranberry juice cocktail may help lower the risk of chronic diseases that rank among the leading causes of death worldwide, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
“At the start and end of the experiment, the researchers measured things like blood pressure, blood sugar levels, blood lipids, as well as C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation,” said Dr. Khoo.
“These findings suggest that polyphenols help to protect our bodies, and may be adept at keeping a large number of ailments at bay,” he added.
Cranberry juice is best known for beating off urinary tract infections (UTIs), but its healing powers do not stop there.
The tart juice appears to promote cardiovascular health, and compounds in cranberries can even increase the effectiveness of certain ovarian cancer drugs.
Unsweetened cranberry juice tastes slightly sour, but for medicinal purposes, 2 ounces of cranberry juice diluted in 8 ounces of water is recommended.
It is very good for overall health as it is able to strengthen the immune system and help relieve stress. The mixtures also works well for skin conditions like acne.
But cranberry juice also has its down side. The powerful juice, not to be confused with the cranberry juice cocktail, isn’t as sugary as other fruit juices, but its high acidity can sometimes contribute to bladder problems besides UTIs.
Keep drinking that comforting cup of morning Joe—it could help prevent a stroke.
A recent study published in the journal Stroke found that consuming one cup of coffee per day can decrease stroke risk by up to 20%.
Researchers followed 82,369 men and women in Japan over the course of 13 years and found those who drank coffee regularly were less likely to suffer a stroke. Similarly, drinking four cups of green tea per day also decreased stroke risk by 20%.
Related studies even suggest the more coffee, the better. Swedish researchers followed nearly 35,000 women from the ages of 49 to 83 for 10 years and found those who drank two or more cups of coffee every day decreased stroke risk by nearly a quarter.
In addition to stroke, drinking coffee regularly is also linked with preventing Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and liver cancer.
Coffee hasn’t always been viewed as a benefit to health. In fact, caffeine has been linked to anxiety, insomnia, osteoporosis, and even high blood pressure. But researchers also point out that drinking caffeine is often associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking and a lack of exercise, ultimately causing coffee to garner a negative reputation.
Researchers are still mystified by exactly why coffee causes a significant decrease in stroke risk. Speculation includes that coffee decreases inflammation or improves insulin resistance, both of which can help prevent strokes.
But remember that just drinking coffee isn’t enough to thwart stroke and heart attacks—maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine are the main priority. And when indulging in your morning coffee, stay away from calorie-laden additives such as sugary syrups and whole milk that are often found at coffeehouses. Stick to black or opt for a small amount of sugar and low-fat milk.
Stroke, the fourth leading cause of death in the United States in 2012, dropped to the fifth leading cause in 2013, according to recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The findings are significant and indicate that prevention and intervention efforts are making a difference, an expert in neurology and epidemiology said.
“In this case, the wonderful take-home message is that the decline is real,” said Daniel T. Lackland, professor of epidemiology in the department of neurology at the Medical University of South Carolina. Programs of all kinds designed to decrease the impact of stroke are working, he said.
“These statistics are really providing us with some good information that we’re moving in the right direction. We’re not where we need to be, though,” he said.
The 10 leading causes of death in 2013—heart disease and cancer were the number one and two killers—were the same as in 2012, but two causes, stroke and “unintentional injuries,” switched places.
More than 130,500 people died from unintentional injuries in the U.S. in 2013; just under 129,000 people died from stroke, the data shows.
While it’s too early to know exactly why the stroke numbers went down, interventions like the clot-buster tPA likely are a factor, Lackland said.
“We know that management of blood pressure has a major impact here yet only 50 percent of people with high blood pressure have it under control,” he said.
According to Lackland, stroke deaths, stroke incidence, and recurrent strokes are all on the decline.
“It means the clinicians are doing a good job of keeping people alive so that they become stroke survivors,” he said.
Stroke Still At Large
However, research shows that people are having strokes at a younger age. A study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that the increase could be attributed to a rise in risk factors like diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol. Lackland said high blood pressure is also a significant problem.
“We’re seeing higher blood pressure at younger ages,” he said.
Overall, though, the data shows good news when it comes to stroke. It’s evidence that education efforts and medical intervention are saving lives.
“We’ve seen a decline in stroke mortality for almost the past 100 years,” Lackland said. “What’s exciting about this data is that you see the decline is greater since we’ve had programs designed and implemented specifically to reduce stroke mortality.”