Guyside: Girls deserve more than one way to wear a bow.

Posted by on Dec 10, 2014 in Guyside, voice | 0 comments

Robin Hood by Rich Becker.

Robin Hood by Rich Becker.

With the abundance of bow savvy heroines making a mark on the silver screen, it wasn’t any surprise for me to see my daughter don a hood and fill a quiver for Halloween. What was a surprise, however, was how almost every neighbor narrowed their errant guesses to the confines of gender.

“Who are you … Katniss?”

“No.”

“Merida?”

“No.”

“Tauriel from the Hobbit or Susan from the The Chronicles Of Narnia?”

“No and no,” she said. “I’m Robin Hood.”

She said it with enough conviction to corral the conversation. She was Robin Hood and the only person who questioned her about being a girl was a 5-year-old boy. Once she reassured him that a girl could be Robin Hood, he turned his attention to her bow and arrows. Next year, he said in wide-eyed wonder, he would be Robin Hood.

Next year, she said, she would like to be a princess like she was two years ago too. The only bow she sported back then was a yellow one to tie her hair back. But the year before that she was a pirate. And the year before that, she was a wood fairy in the vein of Tinkerbell. There are no limits to her imagination, especially those related to gender.

It’s part of a trait I hope she retains all her adult life too — the art of being gender ambidextrous, whereby every decision she makes is made based on passion and aptitude over the societal shakedowns over being feminine and a feminist. Life is complicated enough without trying to conform to a stereotype or work even harder to avoid one.

It seems to me that there is something inherently wrong when our daughters think that they have to ask permission whether or not they can dress up like Han Solo for Halloween. And while the girl who asked was very fortunate to have Tom Burns (who dressed up as Princess Leia) as a dad, it still haunts me that any 7-year-old girl would be so cognizant of gender-flipping costumes.

It’s almost worrisome as the growing number of parents who think the princess syndrome needs to be cured in seconds. It doesn’t.

Kids aren’t really part of the good role model/bad role model debate unless they are indoctrinated by the people who invented it. Sure, some stories might carry moral messages but none of the princesses really auditioned for the role model moniker (and neither did their princely counterparts, who suffer all sorts of severe character flaws).

The far greater danger is to perpetuate the myth that feminine and feminism have to somehow exist as polar opposites. They don’t. If the operative word is choice, then let girls make their own.

My daughter feels equally comfortable in a sundress or her fast-pitch softball uniform, which is usually covered in dirt five minutes before the warmups are over. She has an appreciation for art and music as much as for engineering and science. She is just as likely to play with Hot Wheels as Barbies, but is no more inclined to wish for wheels instead of feet than she is for that impossible waistline. She enjoys dodgeball as much as Girl Scouts and, on any given day, can show off a pirouette or hold a plank position.

It’s a freedom that I hope she preserves all her life, not as someone who is gender ambiguous but rather gender ambidextrous. Women should never feel forced to give up a stitch of gender identity to achieve equality. On the contrary, it will be my daughter’s ability to embrace her gender without being made a slave to it that will eventually empower her generation to move beyond the idiocy exhibited at companies like Zillow or Uber.

Robin Hood, after all, didn’t ask the poor to fix the inequality of his era. He wanted the rich to change their behavior.

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Can you massage your way to sleep?

Posted by on Dec 5, 2014 in sleep disturbance | 0 comments

shutterstock_112481237Insomnia! Yes, folks, it’s that time of the year when I raise the sleep issue. In fact, if I could, I would see your zzz’s and raise you a few. You see, I’ve not been sleeping much as of late and I’m desperately seeking a sheep or two to carry me deeply through the night.

What happens to us as we age that interrupts the sleep cycle? In addition to stress and other environmental factors (which I’ve covered quite frequently on Flashfree),  a progressive decline in estrogen and loss of ovarian function can strongly affect sleep. However, experts say that despite the pervasiveness of sleep issues among peri- and post-menopausal women, insomnia is not always adequately discussed or diagnosed by health practitioners. Hence, it behooves women to lead the communication charge when sleep disorders arise or start to affect daily life.

If you would prefer to avoid the hormone route (which, at the very least, may address the issue of menopausal symptoms and sleep disruption), massage might be a good starting point. While some practitioners questions its therapeutic value from a scientific standpoint, massage is known to positively activate blood flow in the lymphatic system (whose primary role is to rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials), as well as in the connective tissue and muscles. Studies have also shown that massage helps trigger neurochemical reactions in the body, including relaxation, decreased heart rate and breathing and restoration of balance. With regard to menopause specifically, there are some data that suggest that therapeutic massage decreases self-reported insomnia and improve deep sleep cycles. In a similar study, this time with a comparison group, researchers likewise found declines in insomnia and related improvement in life quality. Not surprisingly, in both of these studies, women also reported experiencing improvements in mood.

So, can you massage your way to sleep? While cause and effect remain unproven, the benefits of massage well outweigh the lack of benefits. I don’t know a single person who have not felt better after a massage. Me? I may need to book some me time for a deep rub.

 

 

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GUYSIDE: salty talk about your diet

Posted by on Dec 3, 2014 in aging, diet, Guyside, heart disease, men, stroke, weight | 2 comments

I’ve been keeping an eye on my blood pressure these days. With a family history of hypertension, it just makes sense. And so far, my results are good. A while ago, I stopped at a local pharmacy and used their automated machine and saw a couple of readings heading into the high range. But more accurate readings have put it further down in the normal range, so that’s good.

But when I looked at my profile for hypertension risk factors, I was struck that there wasn’t a great deal I could do. The major risk factors for hypertension, according to the Mayo Clinic, are:

  • Age. (Hypertension is more common in men around 45 or so, and becomes more common in women around 65)
  • Race. (High blood pressure is particularly common among blacks)
  • Family history.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Not being physically active.
  • Using tobacco.
  • Too much salt (sodium) in your diet.
  • Too little potassium in your diet.
  • Too little vitamin D in your diet.
  • Drinking too much alcohol.
  • Stress.

I do pretty well on most of these. But of the ones I can control, the one about sodium sticks out. As a man and a lover of food that I KNOW is bad for me, I know that I can be the author of my own hypertensive misfortune. Burgers, fries, onion rings, chicken wings — it would be foolish to pretend they don’t have a lot of sodium in there. But there are a ton of foods  out there that you wouldn’t expect to have  high sodium levels.

We often have pizzas on naan bread for a quick and easy weekday meal. On top, prosciutto, pears, brie, and basil. I knew the prosciutto would be high in sodium — after all, it’s a cured meat. But the naan bread itself has a surprising amount of sodium. Between those two ingredients, one naan pizza is likely delivering more than half my daily allowance of sodium.

Chicken breasts can be injected with brine during processing, increasing their sodium content drastically. A slice of process cheese might have 20% of your daily allowance of sodium!

If you have french fries, you expect them to be salty. But if you add a tablespoon or two of ketchup, you’re looking at 400 mg of sodium just in that!

And none of this counts restaurant or takeout food, which can be extremely high in sodium. You can see just how easy it would be to  end up with more than your roughly 2,500 mg of sodium per day:

  • 350 mg: a bowl of Raisin Bran.
  • 870 mg: a bagel and cream cheese
  • 1220 mg breakfast  
  • 1600 mg: 100 grams of deli ham on white bread with mustard.
  • 1600 mg lunch 
  • 393 mg: baked chicken breast
  • 418 mg: baked potato
  • 460 mg: cup of canned peas
  • 1271 mg supper 
  • 744 mg: 1/2 cup of salsa
  • 420 mg: 24 tortilla chips
  • 1164 mg snack

That’s a whopping 5255 mg of sodium, more than twice the recommended amount in a day, without a single shake of your salt shaker, without eating out, and with lots of things that seem healthy at first glance. (Sodium figures from the Fat Secret website)

You can’t change your age, your race, or your family history of hypertension. But if you start to track things like sodium, you do see where you can help prevent hypertension, or if you have it, improve it without resorting to drugs. And that’s a good thing.

(Pretzel photo is a CC-licenced image from Flickr user Jenn Durfey)

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Get a jump start on those resolutions: eat like a woman

Posted by on Nov 28, 2014 in diet | 2 comments

It’s the day after the American Thanksgiving when many of us have indulged beyond the pale, entered food coma land and may even be contemplating another piece of pie for breakfast. Hey, I am all for it! I typically bring the most decadent dish that I can think of; this year it was grits dressing which I refer to as ‘cholesterol’s nightmare!’ Seriously, is there anything better than grits, cheddar cheese, eggs, cream and butter? Throw in a few chives for the nutrition aspect of the dish and voila! HEAVEN!

However, I don’t eat like this daily and I while I do indulge, I try to be mindful of what I’m putting into my mouth. And so, why not take the day after Thanksgiving to get a jump start on your New Year’s resolution?

I wrote this back in May when Staness’ book first came onto my radar but I do believe that it’s worthy of a second go, particularly since it is ‘that time of the year’ when indulgence rules the day. And so, once again, I must thank Staness for her diligent, thorough research and for her words of wisdom.

Consider this: when it comes to science and research, women have long gotten the short of end of the stick.  Not only have women been historically excluded from medical research trials, but despite National Institutes of Health regulations mandating the inclusion of women and minorities in studies in order to obtain funding, research on women’s health has continued to lag behind their male counterparts’. Only recently has this issue reared its head again as findings from March, 2014  The Women’s Health Summit  demonstrate important disparities in the scientific process that highlight one of the most important issues facing women today:

“When we fail to routinely consider the impact of sex and gender in research, we are leaving women’s health to chance. The evidence on sex differences in major causes of disease and disability in women is mounting, as are the gaps in research.”

Not only are women routinely excluded from research on cardiovascular disease (despite its ranking as the number one killer of women, only 1/3 of clinical trials enroll women and only 1/3 report on sex-specific outcomes), but, women suffer twice as often from depression and yet, fewer than half of laboratory studies utilize female animals to evaluate metabolic differences. And these examples are the tip of the iceberg!

So, it’s no surprise that these gender differences also affect nutrition.

As my friend and menopause colleague Staness Jonekos points out in her new book, Eat Like A Woman (and never diet again)0414-9780373892693-bigw

  • It takes women’s stomachs an hour longer than men’s to empty after eating.
  • For the most part, women have lower energy expenditure than their male counterparts due mostly to differences in body composition; notably, estrogen plays a major role in energy expenditure, appetite and body weight. An imbalance in hormones that are secreted by one gland can affect hormone levels in other glands.
  • The thyroid, which Staness refers to as the ‘Metabolism Mama,’ is important for metabolism, energy, grown and development and the nervous system. When it’s out of whack, it can wreak havoc on weight, appetite and even mimic the symptoms of menopause. Moreover, research has demonstrated a direct interaction between estrogen and direct expression of thyroid sensitive genes; what this means is that if you are using hormones to manage your menopausal symptoms, you’ll want to have your thyroid checked.
  • Cortisol, which I’ve written about frequently on Flashfree, is another important player. Produced by the adrenal glands,its primary role in the body is to regulate energy (by producing blood sugar or metabolizing carbohydrates, protein and fats) and mobilize it to areas where is it most needed. Research has shown, however, that  women have higher cortisol levels than men, and that certain women –especially those with greater amounts of abdominal fat — may be reacting to a large disruption in the release of cortisol that causes a greater than normal difference between morning and evening levels of the hormone. This disruption is believed to be related, at least in part, to exposure to prolonged physical and mental stress. The psychological component is huge, because it tends to trigger the desire to consumption of food that is high in fat and/or sugar, which also tends to promote abdominal weight gain.
  • Staness also writes about the role of neurotransmitters, chemicals released by nerve cells that carry messages between the brain and organs. They can affect mood, appetite, sleep, heart rate, appetite and weight, among other functions. Poor dietary habits (low intake of dietary protein, poor carbohydrate choices or minimal omega-3s, for example) coupled with hormonal imbalances and excessive alcohol or caffeine can lead to neurtransmitter imbalances. The bottom line? Hormonal changes may affect the actions of neurotransmitters, which in turn, affect mood and lifestyle choices. Staness further explains that lifestyle habits can affect hormones, thereby affecting neurotransmitters. Think of an endless loop: chronic stress triggers cortisol, causes weight gain, cravings, affecting serotonin levels and thyroid functioning, which then influence metabolism, cholesterol, etc. WOW!
  • Women’s digestion is also distinct from a man’s, in that we taste food differently. Staness explains that women are ‘supertasters,’ with varying sensitivities to bitter flavors depending on hormone levels. Women also have a higher risk for irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, acid related ulcers and other conditions due to the size of the esophagus, small intestine, colon and rectum.

Staness writes that “there are many confusing messages about what to eat or not eat surrounding us,” and she poses a critical question: “how can one message or one plan apply to everyone? We are all different and yet our basic needs as women are the same.” Toward that end, she offers up a dietary plan that supports women’s health through each life stage and addresses various dietary controversies, ranging from soy to animal protein to salt to caffeine. And, she reintroduces the food pyramid that she says, is one of the biggest factors contributing to the success of her previous book, The Menopause Makeover.  Notably, for all you paleo people out there, the ratios that Staness recommends are similar to the average portions consumed by our Stone Age relatives. The key?

  • 25% of your calories should come from healthy fats
  • 35% of your calories should come from low-fat, lean protein
  • 40% of your calories should come from low- to medium-glycemic carbohydrates

Staness’ program is served up in three steps that includes approaches to meals, healthy emotions and exercise. However, she doesn’t stop there; she’s reached out to her favorite celebs and chef for recipes that should please any palate. And if you are seeking even more information, Staness offers additional tools and resources on her website .

What do you get when you combine sound science and nutrition? A plan that makes eating make sense…for women. Isn’t it time to change the paradigm? This seems like an awfully great place to start.

 

About Staness…

Staness Jonekos is an award-winning television writer, producer, and director, as well as an author and writer on women’s health issues. Her first book, The Menopause Makeover, was a pioneering work in the field of menopause, a highly visual and inspiring survival guide that challenged the conventional, old-style approach to managing menopause. She is a tireless advocate for women’s health, wellness and empowerment.  She has appeared on The Today Show, contributes to The Huffington Post, and has been featured in a variety of publications ranging from The Houston Chronicle to More.com.  Her co-author, Marjorie Jenkins, MD, FACP is  a Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gender-Specific Women’s Health Director and Chief Scientific Officer, Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health Associate Dean for Women in Health and Science. Her motto? “You have to know the difference to make a difference.”

 

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Guyside: a sad and beautiful world.

Posted by on Nov 26, 2014 in Guyside, men, musings | 0 comments

From my perch in Canada, the decision in Ferguson felt like a tragedy, or perhaps a series of tragedies.

First and foremost among those tragedies is the death of a young man. In a better world, Michael Brown would still be alive.

Next among the tragedies of this case is the loss of yet more faith in the US court system by the African-American community. If people can’t feel that their judicial system will treat them fairly, then eventually some will find extrajudicial means to mete out justice as they see fit. For us, in the relatively wealthy parts of the Western world, that is a tragedy.

I can’t imagine that the town of Ferguson has been anything but riven by this case. It seems that racial divides there have been entrenched, rather than crossed; businesses have been destroyed and damaged, and a cloud of toxic media coverage does much to inflame and little to enlighten.
There’s so much to think about here. Who was right, who was wrong, is at this point difficult to say with certainty. My personal feelings from having watched from afar: I don’t think the grand jury process served the population of Ferguson nearly as well as it served the fraternity of police and prosecutor. I think a different set of circumstances might have seen Michael Brown charged with some minor offences, rather than dead. And I think that a man who should have been charged has gone free. But that’s just my opinion.
I also think that there’s a role for men like me to play here. We need to be serious. What do I mean by that? First, we need to stop being taken in by the parroting of idiotic left-right dichotomies. I remember Jon Stewart going on CNN’s Crossfire several years ago and telling the hosts that they were what was wrong in America. He wasn’t far off. We need to be able to argue with logic and we need to be able to admit when we’re wrong.
Next, we need to step up to the debate. We need to be willing to say what we think — without assuming that we’re right, or that a differing opinion is a personal attack. We need to support people whose views we agree with, and respectfully disagree. What’s happened in Ferguson isn’t a “black issue.” It’s an issue for society. It wasn’t caused by black people; it isn’t going to be solved by them without people of good will helping. Once we’ve say what we think, we have to act as well. It’s not practical for me to just take a drive down to Missouri and take up a protest sign there. But there are symbolic and real actions that I can take in my life to address issues like police violence and racism. Will whatever I do change the world in the blink of an eye? Nope. But if I do nothing, I can be assured that nothing will change.
And finally, we need to be willing to listen to others. There are differing views. There are times when you’re wrong. And except in the case of standup comedy, monologues rarely make things better. Please do what you can to live out the old saying “You were given two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as you speak.”
One of my favorite musicians has a song that I saw him perform last weekend. It’s called “Sad and Beautiful World.” And it is. And we can make it a little less sad and a little more beautiful. Why not do something?

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Our world and the culture of violence against women and girls

Posted by on Nov 21, 2014 in women's health | 0 comments

shutterstock_151887449

We live in in a world, where efforts to prevent violence against women and girls is inadequate, according to a five-part series published today in The Lancet journal. The statistics are startling:

  • Almost a third of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual partner violence
  • 7% have experienced sexual non-partner violence
  • Nearly 70% of girls are married before the age of 18, many against their will
  • Up to 140 million women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation

Here in the U.S., the culture of violence has extended to the internet, where it is seemingly acceptable for men to threaten and coerce women who disagree with them or who try to enter the Men’s Club.  If you’ve not heard about #Gamergate or #Celebgate, (or #Ubergate, for that matter) I urge you to dig deeper at challenges pervading wealthier, Western nations. And that’s likely the tip; consider the Cosby debacle or growing reports of sexual assaults on college campuses. Just look at this latest piece on the culture of rape at University of Virginia; the implications are horrible and the code of silence, widespread and misdirected. As the Lancet authors point out, “rape is often a matter of stigma for the victim; violence in the home has been considered a private affair. Turning of the head and closing of eyes have occurred despite [the evidence].”

The Lancet Series suggests that while global attention to violence against women and girls has increased, not enough is being done to prevent the violence from occurring in the first place. Moreover, rigorous data on interventions that work on the prevention front — even in high-income countries — are scarce. Still, the little evidence they have gathered suggest that a multi-pronged strategy is most effective, one that “holistically addresses the individual, interpersonal, community and societal drivers of violence. A key place to start? Correcting gender-power imbalances.

The Series authors write that “women’s and girls’ vulnerability to violence is deeply rooted in the greater power and value that societies afford men and boys in access to material, symbolic and relational resources compared to women.” Moreover, “this gender-based risk is often compounded by other forms of discrimination and inequality based on, for example, race, class, ethnicity, caste, religion, disability, HIV status, migration status, sexual orientation and gender identity, which affect both exposure to violence and the experiences of response.”

Mind you, there has been great strides on the societal level with regard to efforts to change legal and policy norms and recognize this type of gender-driven violence as human rights violation. However, as the authors aptly point out, laws and policies may provide the framework for the unacceptability of violence against women and girls but they are insufficient.

A strategy that has started to take hold is involving men and boys in efforts to stop violence. It is imperative the societal norms that perpetuate gender inequality and violence be reversed and that the role of men and boys as allies in the work to prevent and end violence against women and girls is elevated. Let me be clear: not all men are violent; men who perpetuate or practice violence against women have themselves, often encountered high levels of violence. The use of violence against women is a source of power accorded to men in many settings; take the tech space, for example. And, if cultural norms dictate that “women fall under men’s control, then physical or sexual force and threat are ways to achieve this.”

Still, investment in violence prevention is inadequate. From an economic standpoint and compared to national public expenditure on sports or election campaigning (both of which are estimated in the $3 to $5B range), the U.N. has only benchmarked $100M for investment into violence programs. Yet, the indirect costs are astronomical; the Series emphasizes that women who are exposed to or the victims of violence make greater use of health services than non-abused women, even years after the violence has ended. Violence against women and girls also affects productivity and contribution to social and economic development; the annual costs of intimate violence partner in Western societies ranges from $5.8B in the US (2003 figure) to £22.9B in England and Wales (2004) and $4-5B in Australia. The study Authors also emphasize that while many governments have developed national plans of action to address violence against women and girls, few had dedicated budget lines and domestic spending to support them, despite evidence that points to a strong economic rationale for such policies (for example, the U.S. could save an estimated $23,673 per woman prevented from experiencing violence).

Aside from government allocation of funding and altering societal norms, an important conclusion of the Series is that the healthcare sector has an important role to play in shifting attitudes. Victims are seen regularly in many different health settings and yet programs are not adequately synergized to affect change. By and large, practitioners are taught that their role is to treat disease and related symptoms and many harbor prejudice against involvement in so-called private matters. The authors also say that  there is little rationale for distinguishing between preventive programs directed at smoking, drug abuse and healthy eating versus those that raise awareness about the health burden of violence and the broad acceptance of norms that perpetuate it.

“Violence against women and girls is not just another women’s issue, but is a public health and development problem of concern to all.”

There are many ‘Gates in circulation. Daily, we read about another case of online harassment, another case of rape, another threat, another sign of abuse. Not only do we need to reverse the tide; we need to prevent it.

 

 

 

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Guyside: Do you have recovery time covered in your exercise?

Posted by on Nov 19, 2014 in aging, exercise, Guyside, humour, Inspiration, joint pain, men, yoga | 0 comments

Yoga. How hard can that be, right? Just a bunch women accessorizing and lying around on mats, right?

Yogis practicing Kunalini yoga

Sitting on a mat? How hard could that be?

Uh-uh. As I type this, my large thigh muscles are complaining, and my abdominal muscles are providing harmony vocals. All this after an “ambitious” session of Kundalini yoga on Monday. As in so many instances, my pain is my fault, for two reasons:

  1. I have had a fairly indolent fall, with not nearly the same level of activity — yoga or otherwise — that I might expect normally.
  2. Being reasonably competitive and interested in seeing what others were doing in the class, I wanted to show that I wasn’t some Kundalini newbie. So I pushed myself.

And here I sit, waiting for my muscles to stop being mad at me.

Time was that such foolhardiness on my part wouldn’t have been NEARLY as big a deal. Gluttony, sudden spurts of exercise, alcoholic overindulgence, nights with very little sleep — it all was part of the game, and I (or at least I think) was able to perform quite fine under all sorts of self-imposed constraints. Now, it’s a different story. I can have late nights, but there will be a price to pay. The days of 80-chicken-wing sprees accompanied by pitchers of beer? Gone. And as my yoga experience has shown me (not for the first time), I need to gauge my level of effort when exercising and prepare for recovery time.

And it’s not just me. Science says so. An article in the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science states baldly that “The recommended dose of exercise should do no more than leave the participant pleasantly tired on the following day. Recovery processes proceed slowly, and vigorous training should thus be pursued on alternate days.” And a Harvard Men’s Health Watch article points out (too late for me this time) that it’s best to “Work yourself back into shape gradually after a layoff, particularly after illness or injury.”

This week, I brought my bike in from the garage to set it up for winter training. If I have learned one thing from Monday’s yoga class, it’s that while I can do stuff, I can do stuff better if I do it with an eye to gently bringing myself up to speed, rather than exploding out of the gate.

And the benefits of physical activity are so great and diverse that there’s no argument against moving a bit more. Now, can someone pass the Ben-Gay?

Photo: cc-licenced image from Flickr user Jamie Ramos.

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