Posts Tagged "health"

Falling into the traps of masculine invulnerability – Guest post by Bob LeDrew

Posted by on Jun 21, 2013 in aging, men | 17 comments

I’ve been trying to recruit the guys to guest post on Flashfree ever since I started this blog. And my pleas have fallen on deaf ears, save for one or two brave souls. Speaking of brave souls, I am truly blessed to call fellow writer Bob Le Drew a friend. Not only is he extremely talented, but, his self awareness and ability to overcome the trappings of masculinity appear to have paid off. He has a few insights for the men in your lives that you might wish to share and, you may learn a thing or two as well. I did!

Show some love…

Human trace

I don’t like restaurant bathrooms with red walls. Once you’ve had bladder cancer, you tend to look closely at your urine stream, and those red walls give it a rosy hue that normally signifies nothing good.

I discovered something about myself seven years ago, when I first saw blood in my urine. I went to my clinic immediately, where my nurse practitioner saw me and  recommended urinalysis. The first round didn’t find anything. But when it recurred a few weeks later, we found findings concerning enough to go further, and I was a new citizen of Cancerland.

But I’m not, apparently, your typical male.There’s a significant body of research that shows men are less likely to seek out help for physical and psychological problems than are women. That can lead to serious consequences — as serious as death, when heart attack symptoms are ignored until the infarction is catastrophic.

So what’s WRONG with us, guys? I’ve got a couple of theories.

#1: When men are young, we’re invulnerable. I was somewhat immunized by that by losing a brother when I was 13 and he was 19. But in general, our attitude as teenagers and in our twenties is “What could happen to us?” unless we or someone we love are diagnosed with something serious. In my case, my dad had been diagnosed with bladder cancer a number of years before mine showed up (he went on to have five primary cancers and live with them for 20 years before dying just short of his 87th birthday). His experience, and his sharing of information with me, made me realize that I couldn’t just pass off the bloody pee as “nothing.”

#2: We cling to our youth and our invulnerability. When I ride my bike, I still want to push my body as hard as I can, and even though I don’t train as hard as I used to, my decreased ability to climb steep hills with speed and grace is an ongoing frustration. Same thing with staying up late and eating poorly. The lessons we teach ourselves in youth are hard to unlearn.

#3: Part of our self-esteem and self-worth is tied to not seeking help. In Stephen King’s novel Bag of Bones, hero Mike Noonan says he’s the kind of guy who’d drown silently rather than call out for help. Isn’t that true of so many of us as men?

Several years after my cancer experience, I found myself facing a serious depression. I denied that things were not going well for me psychologically. I didn’t seek help. Why would I, when “everything was fine.” And I continued to deny the reality of my depression until I hit a painful, damaging, and nasty wall. Our love for physical invulnerability is only matched by our firm belief that admitting we’re not coping well is the LAST thing a man should do.

The temptation to ignore or deny symptoms of depression or stress is one I continue to struggle with.

And of course, none of this addresses the issue of access to services. I live in Canada, and have ready access to free medical care, as well as group insurance that subsidizes the cost of dental, psychological, and other types of medical services. I can only guess that having to pay for medical services in tough economic times would make men even more likely to “tough it out” and save scarce resources for “more important” things.

I was lucky. Twice. My bladder cancer was “superficial” — a good thing. With some minor surgical fixes, I have been physically healthy for the last several years. And thanks to talk therapy, a supportive partner, treatment, and medication, I am able to manage my mental health pretty well.

So if you, like me, are closer to retirement age than high-school graduation, don’t fall victim to the traps of masculine invulnerability. Your body, your mind — and your loved ones — will thank you for it.


About Bob LeDrew

Bob LeDrew is principal consultant at Translucid Communications in Ottawa (Ontario, not Kansas). He’s been doing communications in one form or another since 1987, and in addition to his consulting work, teaches regularly at Algonquin College and Eliquo Training and Development. He’s also the creator of The Kingcast, a podcast dedicated to his favorite writer, Stephen King. He enjoys cycling, animation, whisky, and playing guitar. He usually only does a maximum of two of those at one time.



Read More

Wednesday Bubble: Music as medicine

Posted by on Apr 24, 2013 in aging | 3 comments

Source of Music


I don’t know a single person who doesn’t like music. Not. A. Single. Person. Do you?

Researchers say that not only is music “one of the small set of human cultural universals” but, that the concept of music as medicine has roots that extend deep into human history. Today? Music is used to soothe babies, enhance concentration in surgical arenas, improve attention among workers, promote stamina in athletes (and exercisers), and may be the ultimate drug of choice to regulate mood and arousal.

There is also a growing body of scientific evidence that suggests that musics that music can actually promote health. In fact, some studies show that pleasurable music, when self-selected, was able to induce ‘chills down the spine’ as well as actually alter the parts of the brain that are connected to reward and reinforcement. Listening to music has also been shown to activate parts of the brain that regulate emotional and cognitive functioning and even the part of the nervous system that affects heart rate, breathing, digestion and sexual arousal. It may also positively affect the hippocampus, which plays a role in facilitating and inhibiting defensive behaviour when we become stressed. Better yet, music may actually deactivate the mama of stress hormones – cortisol.

However, not only does choice influence the body’s response to music but it appears that personality may also play a role in its effects. Outgoing in nature? Background music may distract you less than your introverted peers when focusing on a particular task.

Still, experts haven’t quite teased out the ‘how,’ other than to show through imaging studies that the notes in our ears appear to initiate brain responses that are reflexive, such as heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature and muscle tension. Pay attention the next time you put on that track: dance music will quicken heart rate and breathing while a slow groove will likely produce decreases in the same — even among infants. And in fact, the brainstem may actually fire synchronously with tempo.

And what about immunity? Can music help or hinder that as well, particularly as people age? Researchers point out that “given that music enhances mood and reduces stress,” it may also improve immune function and mitigate the negative effects of age and stress. This appears to work whether it’s a group driven activity (like drumming or group singing) or passive listening (e.g. during surgery).

Researchers still claim that the proof is in the pudding and scientifically rigorous studies are needed to determine once and for all if music is indeed, medicine. To met, evidence or not, I know when it makes me feel good and when it does the opposite. I know what I like to listen to when I want to relax. And I know what I want to put on rotation when I exercise or wish to dance around the house.

“Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – Plato

My medicine? Music. What about you?




Read More

Java. Café. Kafe. Kaffee. Kava. Coffee. To your health!

Posted by on Mar 18, 2013 in diet | 0 comments

Strange golden smoke taking away from coffee seedsLast week I told you about research findings linking green tea to a lower stroke risk. However, while green tea rocks your socks off when it comes to health, one of my favourite elixirs – coffee — isn’t too far behind in that department. In fact, despite years of negative publicity surrounding coffee, its rightful place in health and diet is being reclaimed. Mind you, too much of a good thing is never a good thing, but there has been renewed interest the multitude of compounds in coffee that extend far beyond the most popular, i.e. caffeine.

Globally, 7 million tons of coffee is consumed per year. Wow! That’s a a lot of beans. Moreover, just think of the infinite tons that have been consumed since coffee’s energizing properties were first discovered prior to the start of the 14th Century in Ethiopia. Aside from it stimulative properties, what other treasures lurk each time we reach for a cuppa?

According an extensive review in the online edition of Maturitas, there may be a lot to be gained by consuming this delightful beverage (can you tell how excited coffee makes me?!). Indeed, when the researchers searched and evaluated 22 years of articles, they discovered that the compounds in coffee that are most beneficially linked to health are polyphenols, the most abundant antioxidants in the human diet. Much like chocolate and even green tea, coffee is rich in polyphenols, and the most common are known as phenolic acids, which appears to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream. This may be an important reason why research has repeatedly shown that coffee has a protective effect against diabetes, although one needs to have a moderate to high intake (4-6 cups a day) to achieve the best protection.

Drinking coffee may also help defend against liver damage, regardless if the culprit is a virus, drugs, alcohol or abnormal, malignant cells, although experts can’t yet explain why. Still, in studies, this protection was seen in both healthy and at-risk populations in numerous studies.

Another potentially important benefit of coffee is a reduced risk of  Parkinson’s Disease; significant reviews have suggested that this reduction may be as high as a third. An important part of this story is that in postmenopausal women, HRT may shift this benefit to the negative side, and actually convert the protective role of caffeine into a risk factor for Parkinson’s (yet another reason to reconsider taking hormones).

So, what about heart disease? The buzz has long been that drinking coffee can increase blood pressure, worsen irregular heart rhythms and raise cholesterol levels. The review authors say that better and more ample clinical data, coupled with a greater understanding of the multiple components of coffee other than caffeine, have changed the paradigm. Importantly, the very compounds mentioned earlier — phenolic acids – and the pattern they form depending on the variety of coffee, roasting and processing,  may help neutralize or reverse the negative. The most important hero in this story is a derivative of a common type of phenolic acid: chlorogenic acid.

Chlorgenic acid improves the function of cells that line the blood vessels and may work to attenuate increases in blood pressure. In women, coffee intake and perhaps the activity of chlorogenic acid may lower coronary heart disease. Moreover, detailed evaluation of available evidence fails to demonstrate a higher risk for abnormal heart rate or sudden cardiac death. And, while the verdict is still out, the researchers say that coffee may even exert a protective effect against cancer, possibly asa result of its antioxidant/antiinflammatory effect.

Before you up your daily caffeine intake, keep in mind that there is still much to be discovered about coffee. Many of these studies were observational studies, meaning that there was no attempt to control the outcomes with treatment. And response to certain compounds within coffee may be individually-driven. Still, in moderation, coffee may be less harmful (and more beneficial) than we have been led to believe.

Coffee equals the black, irreplaceable elixir in any language. To your health? Indeed!


Read More

Social interactions are good for your health

Posted by on Mar 8, 2013 in aging | 0 comments

This isn’t the first time that I’ve written about the benefits of social interactions in terms of health. And it likely won’t be the last! In fact, data collected in roughly 53,000 Americans over a 36 year time period show that both personal and impersonal interactions, that is, visits with relatives, neighbors or friends or in bars (personal) or memberships in in organization, sports clubs, youth groups, etc (impersonal) can have a significant impact on health.

Strangely, during the time of the study (which is published in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion), significant declines were seen in impersonal and certain types of personal interactions. People were volunteering less or spending less time in cause-related organizations. And, people spent less time visiting neighbors.

The middle-agers happened to be the group with the largest income levels, highest workforce participating and greatest full time working percentage. And while they had  opportunity costs when it came to time and how they chose to spend it when they weren’t working, it appeared that devoting more time to friendships, especially close friendships, was important to health. So was the time spent in health/sports clubs.

The takeway? Having friends or other interpersonal interactions tended to be associated with a higher probability of being in very good or excellent health.

However, timing is everything and this information was collected before the economic downswing and the loss of millions of jobs, especially among mid-lifers. Still, it does offer up an important message:

The cost of time may be greater than one believes. Be sure that part of your time allotment is spent cultivating and spending time with friends. They are critical to mental wellbeing, staving off depression, increasing longevity and reducing stress.

Speaking of which….it’s

(LeftAligned)InternationalWomensDay_RGB copy

Be sure to reach out and touch someone in your inner or outer circles who you’ve not interacted with of late. Call a friend, drop a note, extend a helping hand. That time allotment might be the best you spend today.

Read More

Make ‘Em Laugh

Posted by on Jan 4, 2013 in emotions, mind-body therapy | 0 comments

“Don’t you know everyone wants to laugh?”

Truly, is there anything better than a deep, uncontrollable, tear streaming down your face, belly aching laugh?

However, besides the sheer joy that laughter brings, did you know that it also lowers stress and benefits the heart and boosts immunity? Laughter reduces tension and anxiety, raises self esteem, hope, energy, enhances memory and creativity, improves interpersonal interactions, builds unity and solidarity. Laughter is essential to happiness and overall wellbeing. Laughter positively affects our muscles, our breathing, our hormones and our nervous systems. In fact, at its core, laughter incorporates the entire mind-body construct. Moreover, although laughter is contagious, it has few side effects.

Yet, does simulated laughter yield the same benefits?

In case you are wondering what I’m referring to, simulated laughter is the foundation of laughter yoga, a worldwide movement that focuses on laughter exercises, including:

  • Pantomime followed by laughter
  • Physical greetings followed by laughter
  • Dancing and singing (and laughing exercises)
  • Laughing alone
  • Laughing meditations

Simulated laughter works in large groups, in pairs and can be playful or exaggerated. The theory underlying simulated laughter is that while the mind can distinguish between spontaneous and simulated laughter, the body cannot. Importantly, research bears this out, and a number of scientifically controlled studies have shown that simulated laughter can lead to reductions in blood pressure, improvements in stress hormone levels, positively affect depression and insomnia and even improve anxiety in chronic pain patients. Regular simulated laughter sessions can be used as effective coping strategies and benefit workplace morale. Even smiling can yield positive effect.

Can anyone do it? Well, clearly, anyone can laugh. But simulated laughter is a technique that is most effective when it’s learned, practiced and developed. Not surprisingly, laughter yoga clubs have popped up across the nation, touting messages of helping people gain a happiness advantage. And data provide sufficient evidence that ‘laughter has positive, quantifiable physiological and psychological effects on certain aspects of health.”

Make em laugh? You bet:
Ah ha ha ha ha ha há
Ah ha ha ha ha ha 
Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha 
Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha 
Make ’em laugh, ah ah!
Make ’em laugh, ah ah!
Make ’em laugh, ah ah!

Make ’em laugh 
Make ’em laugh 
Make ’em laugh!

-Donald O’Connor, Singin’ in the Rain

Read More