Posts made in March, 2014

Guyside: “Engage” isn’t just for Captain Picard

Posted by on Mar 19, 2014 in aging, Boomer, Guyside, men | 1 comment

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart may be appearing together in “Waiting for Godot” in New York, but even a Google search for their names will quickly give you the sense that they are great friends. (photo: BBC)

I had a feeling, but there’s data to support my gut: the demographic group with the smallest network of friends is… me. The adult, straight, white dude. I’m probably an outlier in that sense: I have a lot of people who I’m proud to call friends, some of whom are very close friends indeed.

But it appears that guys like me are in need of social engagement, and not just because we look weird sitting at the bar with a beer and a plate of chicken wings, alone. Actually, that sort of engagement — beer, food, a sporting event- – is often called “shoulder-to-shoulder” friendship. The counterpart to that is “face-to-face” friendship, and the big-brained folks who study such things suggest that women tend to have more face-to-face friends. F2F friends share more information about their lives, their emotions, and they derive more benefit from the friendship than do the friends who go to a concert or a movie together and may rarely talk about what’s happening in their lives.

I’ve come home from evenings out with a friend and had my partner ask “so, what’s new with George?” and be at a loss to tell her anything significant.

But the benefits of real friendship are as real as the friendship itself. A 2010 journal article makes the point that social isolation is one of the first things used to punish or torture, and that social engagement can halve the risk of death.

So let’s say you’re an aging guy, and you just don’t have friends you can realistically take from shoulder-to-shoulder to face-to-face. What to do?

Perhaps you should think about finding a volunteer activity. I tend to be a bit of an overachiever in this area; I say yes to way too many volunteer activities. Right now, for example, I’m on the production team for a major fundraising event for a choral festival, I’m raising money for a fundraising bicycle ride (BTW: DONATE!), I do a monthly radio piece on the history of folk music for a local community radio station, I’m part of a monthly ukulele get-together (you haven’t lived until you’ve been at a bar with 100 ukes!), I’m a sometime contributor to a local arts and culture web magazinemy partner and I do house concerts every month or so, I do this column, and I’m hatching a plan with friends to change the way chemotherapy drug costs are covered in my home province.  That’s probably too much. But not all of it happens all the time, and I can always practice that “saying no” thing I’ve heard so much about.

All of those things expose me to new people and deepen my relationships with people over time (I’ve been involved with the Show Tune Showdown for 8 years). And volunteer activities have their own beneficial effects. A Canadian government report details the many benefits of volunteering for seniors:

  • Building new relationships
  • Sense of contribution to the local community
  • Learning and practicing new skills that can be applied to other things
  • Learning about new subjects

Even though that report is focused on seniors, I think the benefits extend down to someone of my tender years — or yours.

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Does your mattress act as a tonic for rest?

Posted by on Mar 17, 2014 in sleep disturbance | 2 comments



When it comes to sleep, which of the following are most important to you?

  • Great sheets
  • A perfect pillow
  • A dark room
  • A light room
  • No sound
  • Sound
  • Temperature
  • Mattress

I’ve always gravitated toward a great mattress, a dark room and no sound. However, I’ve noticed of late that perimenopause is making me hot, really hot at really inconvenient times. So I was intrigued when I saw an image on my Facebook stream a few weeks ago posted by a friend who works as a brand engineer for Restonic Mattress Corporation. Granted, I haven’t a clue if a brand engineer is the same as a branding expert what I do know is that sleep is critical and that the claims about the mattress appeared to address some of my recent concerns considering sleep, or lack thereof.

The new Restonic mattress is made of memory foam and my impression is that memory foam is ‘hot,’ too hot for individuals who tend to run hot as a rule. And yet, the TempaGel® is being touted as being especially temperature friendly. The specs point out that the memory foam closest to the surface is ‘gel-infused’ which serves to wick heat away from the body, thereby reducing temperature fluctuations. And, it claims to incorporate a technology (Outlast®, used by NASA as well as other brands, that keeps the the bed temperature-neutral. The bed’s core is pre-compressed, which allows it to improve air circulation, again with the goal of reducing temperature fluctations. Moreover, the edge of the mattress is ventilated, which theoretically increases its sleepable surface (although I don’t know many ‘edge’ sleepers).

The general price point of Restonic mattresses appears comparable to other sleep brands that offer higher end mattresses however, I don’t know the exact price for the TempaGel. And while I have never been particularly interested in memory foam for a sleep surface, I’m intrigued.

As you are probably aware, sleep issues are pervasive as we age and in women, as they go through menopause. And, whether its stress or hot flashes or a medical condition, the result — less than 6 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep — can greatly interfere with daily functioning, mood and physical health.

What are you doing to reverse your sleep woes? How important is your mattress? And what are you sleeping on? More importantly, are you sleep habits fueling or cooling your inner and outer furnaces? Inquiring minds…

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Bad mood. Bad food. Happy means healthy

Posted by on Mar 14, 2014 in dry mouth | 0 comments

Wow, I simply love the theme of this message. Study findings suggest that positive thinking can lead to healthier eating.

Consider this (which, I know to be true for me):

When you’re in a negative mood from stress, anxiety, frustration or even boredom, you may be more inclined to reach for comfort in the form of sweet and fat-rich foods. Not only do these types of food provide instant gratification but they have also been shown to trigger the release of insulin and endorphins to counteract the negativity (which of course, often returns in spades of guilt). So, researchers set out to understand the “why”underlying the association between bad moods and bad foods.

First, they looked at how a positive mood would actually influence the way that people perceived healthy foods (e.g. granola bars/candy bars, apples/cookies and rice cakes/potato chiops), with results indicating that people in positive moods tended to focus on long-term benefits like health, nutrition and future well-being. This was further supported by university students, whose moods were first manipulated for good or bad and who were then asked about their perceptions; as expected, the students who were in good moods liked the idea of healthy foods and staying healthy in their old age while those in worse moods tended to have less interest in health and more in indulging.

In a third experiment, the researchers once again manipulated moods and then presented the participants with plates of raisins and M&Ms, measured how much they consumed of each and then asked them how much they liked the snacks, how tasty and/or healthy they were and how enjoyable they were. Not only did people in bad moods eat roughly 20% more M&Ms, but there was a temporal aspect to the healthy versus indulgent behavior. Being in a bad mood tended to mean that there was a greater focus on the present (instant gratification) versus the future (weight gain) such that the ratio of M&Ms versus raisins eaten among present-focused participants.

Finally, it also appears that thinking about the future tends to lead to a greater consideration of more abstract benefits of the foods we eat (e.g. health, nutrition) and consequently, helps us make better food choices. However, even more important is that this temporal, present versus future consideration, can even modify our choices, even if we are in foul moods. And if we are in a bad mood? Well, researchers suggest trying to divert attention away from the urge to find gratification in bad foods and shift it to another activity that can brighten things a bit, activities like watching a movie or talking to a friend or listening to music.

The next time the urge hits? Pay attention to your mood, shift your focus and think about the future. Bad mood? Bad food!

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Guyside: men and rape culture

Posted by on Mar 12, 2014 in Guyside, men, Uncategorized, women's health | 2 comments

Two incidents have me thinking about serious and distressing things these days.

In the space of a few days, a university in my city had two “sex scandals” hit its campus. The first involved a private online conversation among four male executive members of the university’s student federation. The conversation centred on the female president of the student federation, and contained some quite vile words and sentiments. When the president was made aware of the conversation, she brought it to an executive meeting, where she was threatened with legal action by those she’d exposed. The conversation was then leaked to a blogger who wrote a post called “Rape Culture at the University of Ottawa.” Shortly, the four men resigned in the wake of public outcry.

Within a few days of this story becoming public, the same university suspended its men’s hockey program for the remainder of the season after it was announced that several members of the team were being investigated after an alleged sexual assault that took place on a road trip.

The university undoubtedly had a bad week. But I think that it was an up-and-down week for anyone thinking about sex and gender and sex roles who was aware of the discussion around these incidents, which to a great extent centred on “rape culture.”

Some people heard the term and recoiled. One talk radio host responded with the question “Are feminists saying the 20,000 men at this university are all rapists?” Others (myself included) tried to learn what exactly was meant by the term and what we could do. The best definition that I’ve heard of what rape culture is came from a friend and centres on the idea that rape, or sexual assault, is simply a part of life, and can be seen in behaviour like victim-blaming, minimizing, and objectifying.

I was a sometime participant in the “men’s movement” of the 1990s. While I never bought in to the whole “Iron John” thing, I did — and do — spend some time thinking about my role as a man and its relationship to the roles women play in society. It seems impossible to completely separate incidents of sexual assault, of online harassment, and, in the end, of the murder of women, from the social factors that form the expectations and behaviours of men.

And my horrified reaction to the online chat of supposed student leaders led me to wonder if I was turning into one of those curmudgeons who thinks that everything’s wrong with these kids today. But I don’t think that; human beings are probably a bit better today than they have been in the past, overall.

What I do think is that there needs to be a social change around the elements of rape culture similar to what’s happened around drunk driving. One example of how that has been done well is the “Don’t be that guy” campaign, first created by an Alberta-based coalition of community organizations and since used across the country.

The idea behind “Don’t be that guy” is simply stated: “put the onus on the ones responsible for the assault to be responsible for stopping it.” And as I’ve gotten to this ripe old age, I think that not only do I have an obligation to “not be that guy”, I want to help younger men to understand that sexual assault isn’t EVER okay. How do I do that? For me, there are two ways. The first is to model GOOD behaviour. To not make the rape joke (how can that be a joke?!), to not use actions or language to make women into sexual objects.

The second is to call out BAD behaviour. I think it’s incumbent on good guys (I count myself in that group) to act when someone starts to act out. It could be as dramatic as interrupting a physical assault, or speaking up when a construction worker catcalls a woman walking past. If nobody reacts to an action or a word, it can be interpreted as apathy at best, or approval at worst. I don’t want that. And if it means I have to shake myself out of my shyness or my comfort zone, that’s a small price to pay. The grandparent of all these movements is Hollaback!, and thankfully, there’s an active group here in my city.

What else can men do to combat this problem? There’s a lot of worthwhile thinking about this at The Good Men Project. What are your thoughts?

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Are hops the key to relieving menopausal symptoms?

Posted by on Mar 10, 2014 in bone health, herbal medicine, hot flash | 0 comments

Glass of beer and hops, isolated on white

The other day, a colleague pointed me to an Andrew Weil piece on hops and menopause.  And while I’ve not checked out the association lately, I did write a few pieces over the years about the potential benefits of hops and hop extract for relieving hot flashes and even boosting bone health. So, I took a gander over at the National Library of Medicine database and ran across a minireview from 2013. Here’s a bit of information for those of you who enjoy a beer or two.

Hop extract (better know in scientific circles as Humulus lupulus) has had a long history of use as a medicinal herb, especially for gynecologic conditions. It is even recognized by the European Medicines Agency, which has published a monograph outlining its safety and effectiveness. But even more importantly, hops evidently contains a subclass of flavonoids — plant metabolites — that have been shown to be the most potent phytoestrogen known to date. Clinical studies in women suggest that it can offer some relief from hot flashes, help prevent osteoporosis and impact sexual desire. And the fact that it is the ‘most’ potent? It’s interesting because most people don’t realize that to truly benefit from genistein, the most potent phytoestrogen derived from soy, one must be exposed to it throughout their lifetime.  On the other hand, studies of 8-PN show that it is quickly absorbed and blood levels can also be reached fairly quickly so that women can benefit relatively shortly after taking a supplement. Less clear is the proper dosage need to alleviate menopause complaints. This hops extract has also been studied in vaginal gel form for vaginal atrophy, although no firm conclusions could be drawn for that use.

So far, the benefits of 8-PN appear to be limited to hot flashes, bone health and sexual motivation. The data on safety are less robust.

Will drinking beer help your hot flashes? The answer isn’t clear. But I still believe that there is hope for hops.

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