Dr. Kim Foster

healthy summerWow–that was quite a hiatus. I guess I got a little distracted with all the craziness around launching a book…

Anyway, back to business. And in particular: staying healthy this summer. In the summer we get a respite (for the most part) from all those pesky cold and flu bugs…but the season carries its own health challenges and concerns.

Like mosquitoes! On Yummy Mummy Club last week I wrote about how to tackle this perennial summer issue. Here’s how to win the war against mosquito bites.

And while you’re at it, here are some other summer health posts to check out:

Sun Myths & Facts For The Whole Family

Keeping Kids Healthy This Summer: Poison Ivy

Happy & healthy summer, lovelies!

health secrets of GreeceThe people of Greece have figured a lot of things out when it comes to knowing how to live a happy, healthy life. It makes sense–Greece is the birthplace of Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine.

Have you ever been to Greece? My husband and I went many years ago, in the BC years (Before Children, of course). We started in Athens and then spent a week island-hopping. And if you’ve never been–go. It’s absolutely gorgeous: sun-washed, distinctive architecture, sparkling sea, incredibly laid-back culture, fabulous food. If it isn’t paradise…well, it comes pretty close.

That said, if a trip to Greece isn’t on the horizon for you anytime soon, the least you can do is steal their secrets for a life well-lived. (It’s not like we haven’t done it before…read this, and this, and this for previous Passport to Health posts.)

So what are the Greek secrets to a healthy life? Some fairly simple stuff, as it turns out. One of the most interesting is this: napping!

Napping for health

In Greece (like many Mediterranean and warm-weather countries, like Spain, Egypt, and Italy), it’s a common thing to take a mid-afternoon siesta. To their benefit.

Researchers have cottoned on to this health habit. In a study of over 23,000 Greek men & women between ages 20 and 86, over the course of 6 years, they found that people who took a 30-minute siesta at least 3 times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death. Other studies have corroborated this: countries where siestas are common tend to have lower levels of heart disease.

One theory why napping helps keep your heart healthy? A regular nap may help you relax more and have lower stress levels.  Or, perhaps nappers are generally getting more rest, more sleep…and there’s plenty of research to now show that getting sufficient sleep is associated with lowered blood pressure, lower rates of obesity, and improved brain health.

“Let your food be your medicine, and medicine be your food.”

Sounds like a mantra for the explosive trend toward organic food, food cures, and holisitic nutrition, right? But that quote belongs to Hippocrates. 4th century BC, baby. Western medicine, you guys.

The Greeks have long practiced this principle, and now the research in favor of the Mediterranean diet is huge. Much of it surrounds the impressive benefit to our hearts. A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Medicine analyzed the results of several studies that pitted the Mediterranean diet and low-fat diets head-to-head. They found that the Mediterranean diet was more effective for weight loss than a low-fat diet, and brought greater improvements to blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.

The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to protect against the “big C”: many studies have shown the Mediterranean diet to reduce cancer risk.

So what, exactly, do you eat if you’re trying to go Mediterranean? Read this.

Then there’s all that walking…

Like many European cultures, walking is a way of life. When my husband and I visited the island of Santorini, we rented a Vespa one day. (Sidebar–this was so fun, I can’t even tell you. Zipping around a sun-bleached island, making pit stops at little cafes and beaches…). But when we started on the steep hill up to a famous archaeological site, which involved some rather sharp switchbacks…well, people were walking at a faster pace than we were motoring up. They were passing us on the switchbacks. This might have been a little embarrassing. Just maybe.

Anyway, the walking thing is a big deal in Greece. And I think we all know this is a good idea. Here’s how to incorporate more walking in your life.

For more Passport to Health articles, read these next:

Passport to Health: French Paradox

Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around The World

Passport to Health Part Deux

Passport to Health: Norway

We-Want-ItI love dining in restaurants. I mean, delicious food professionally prepared just for me, while I relax and sip my wine…and someone else washes the dishes afterwards? Yes, please.

But…I don’t necessarily love what restaurants do to my waistline. Or my heart health. And a little carrot icon next to a supposedly-healthy menu item is totally not enough for me to make a fully informed decision.

This month–heart month, of course–I’m working together with the Heart & Stroke Foundation to help promote an important initiative, called We Want It, to let restaurants know we want this nutrition information. We’re talking calories, fat, sugar, sodium content–all those key details. Most people want this information, but many restaurants don’t realize it. The Heart and Stroke Foundation has taken this project on, in a big way. With our help they can communicate to restaurants that, although we love to dine out, we also want the ability to make healthy choices.

Are you with me? If you love to eat in restaurants, too, and you want nutrition information to be available in your favourite restaurants, you can join the movement. Visit the Heart & Stroke Foundation site  where you can join the chorus of voices asking for nutrition info. You can tell them in which restaurants you’d love to see nutrition information–and they will communicate with the restaurants on our behalf.

Also, for your viewing pleasure, check out this snazzy video by the We Want It people (FYI, the shot below was filmed in my old neighbourhood in Vancouver down by the waterfront.)

HSF-video

So it gets even better…you can win, too!

As part of this movement, I’m going to give away a $40 gift certificate to The White Spot restaurant (a Western Canada institution, and a yummy place to eat. Tuscan Chicken Pasta…enough said.)

So here’s how to enter the contest. For starters, you need to be 19+ and a BC resident. {Sorry, everyone else, this is a British Columbia movement only. For now, anyway…stay tuned!}.

There are two ways to enter:

  1. Make a comment below (or on my personal blog) to tell me about your favourite restaurant (and if they do a good job of providing healthy choices and nutrition information, all the better!).
  2. Follow me on Twitter @DrKimFoster, and simply RT one of my tweets about this contest and the We Want It movement.

The contest is open now, and will stay open until the last day of February, when I’ll randomly choose a winner from the compiled entries, and mail you your prize!

Also, if you’re not already following me on my Facebook page, you can head over there anytime because I’ll be chatting about this initiative on my wall.

Good luck!

UPDATE (March 1, 2013):

Winner selected: TONY

Thanks to everyone for participating!

valentine's dayWhether you love Valentine’s Day, or whether you loathe it…everyone can appreciate a little health boost now and then, am I right?

Valentine’s Day and chocolate go hand in hand. Feeling a little guilty about your favorite indulgence? Don’t. Here’s why chocolate is good for you. (Yes, you read that right.)

And speaking of pleasurable indulgences…here’s why I prescribe hugs and kisses and squeezes this time of year (and all year-round, to be honest).

Valentine’s Day is also the perfect time to think about your heart. Your real heart, the one beating inside your chest. Heart health is something we all need to think about–not just for ourselves, but for the ones we love, too. Here’s how to keep yours going strong.

Finally, if you’re planning a special dinner this Valentine’s Day, there’s a strong chance your plan might include a nice bottle of wine. Good news there, too. Read all about the health benefits of wine, here

You’re welcome.

Love and hugs, everyone.

flu-shotThere’s no shortage of opinions on the flu shot out there. Some of them rather loudly voiced. And many of them entirely conflicting. Which, for most of us, can lead to a whole lot of confusion.

On my Yummy Mummy Club blog, I took a deep breath and waded into the debate. If you’re undecided about the flu shot, or have questions you’d like cleared up, head over there and read my article on the myths & facts of the flu shot.

Bowl of Fresh Strawberries

A new study was released recently that makes a connection between the regular intake of berries, like strawberries and blueberries, and a reduced risk of heart attacks in women.

The study was big: 93,000 subjects strong. The timeline was long: the women were monitored for a period of 18 years. And the benefit was significant: heart attack risk was reduced by 32% in the women who ate the most berries on a regular basis.

One of the things I like about this study is that they looked at a younger subset of women, ages 25-42. (And yes, dammit, 42 is young.) This is the spirit of preventive health–make lifestyle changes early, so you invest in your health and reap the benefit down the road.

So what’s so awesome about berries? Specifically, anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are antioxidants, and they give berries their red, blue, and purple colors. Antioxidants are important in fending off inflammation, and reversing the kind of damage that’s a precursor to heart disease.

I’m not exactly surprised at the finding that berries are healthy for you, but it is nice to have more scientific evidence for the benefit of this “superfood”.

Also, it’s nice to have more ammo in conversations with my husband, so he doesn’t freak out quite so much when I spend $6 for a teeny-tiny container of raspberries.

What the heck is with the exorbitant price of fruit, these days, anyway? Now that’s something I’d like to understand.

Starting BlockMaybe you don’t like the word “resolution”. Lots of people don’t. And, of course, we all know the failure rates of New Year’s resolutions. It’s a running joke, right?

But you can’t deny that January has a whole fresh-start vibe. Is there a way to take advantage of that without doing the old-school resolution thing?

I must admit, It’s a fascinating area for me–the intersect between knowing what we should do, what we want to do, and what we actually do. Essentially, we all know what the right thing is (and it does not look anything like a fried-egg-cheeseburger, for example), so what stops us from doing that thing? 

I think this is the spirit of Resolutions. They’re supposed to be a tool to help us keep our actions in line with our wishes. But Resolutions, in their traditional form, don’t work for everyone. 

If you’re loathe to just roll out the same old list (“lose 10 pounds”, “floss every day”), but still want to set yourself up for your Best Year Ever, try these alternative ideas:

Set Intentions instead of Resolutions.

I’m borrowing this from the yoga zeitgeist. The difference between intention and resolution may be a subtle one, but I think it’s an important one. And I think it’s more than just semantics. Resolution, for many of us, suggests a determination to do something that goes against your nature: cut something out of your life, restrict something, stop doing some bad habit. Intention, on the other hand, feels more positive. It suggests a guiding principle, a tool that helps you keep your compass pointing in the direction you wish.

Choose a word for the year.

This has the advantage of being very easy to remember, and can infuse your whole philosophy, and your decisions, all year long. For inspiration, check out what my friends Sharon DeVellis and Katja Wulfers chose as each of theirs. Or, if you find one word too limiting, why not try three? Like another friend of mine (and fab YA author) Eileen Cook.

Create a Monthly Resolution Subscription.

Setting monster goals is a classic setup for failure. Overwhelm sets in, roughly around the second week of January. So here’s an idea my sister told me about: set a year’s worth of resolutions up front. But you’re not attempting them all at the same time. It’s like this: in January, you work on walking daily, for example. And February is about getting together with friends once a week. March, you’re eating salad four times a week. Set it all up at the beginning of the year, create some kind of system to remind yourself of your plan at the beginning of each month. By the end of the year, you’ve tackled (and conquered) 12 positive changes in your life. The idea being, of course, that by the time each month is up, that new habit is well and truly entrenched (most of us have heard that it takes about 21 days for a new habit to solidify, yes?) 

So, after all that…you might be wondering: do I make resolutions? Yes, in fact I do. I have categories. They may or may not be color-coded. Judge if you will. Although, I’m not sure they’re exactly “resolutions” in the traditional sense. My list is a little looser than that–more like goals, plans, strategies, and dreams.

And I have another New Year’s habit. Besides making resolutions, I also like to review my year. I find it anchoring to look back and see what I accomplished in the year prior. I often forget stuff (big and small) by the time the year closes, and it’s nice to see it all laid out. It also helps me chart my path for the year to come. Curious what went down for me in 2012? You can read it here. (It was, arguably, my best year ever.)

So how about you? Do you make resolutions, or some variation? Or resolutely resist the whole idea?

Star Christmas Lights Hanging from an EaveThe holidays are the perfect time for charitable acts. And this year, in particular, it feels like exactly the right thing to do.

Whether it’s volunteering, helping, or donating–it just feels good, right? Well, I’d like to draw your attention to a little side benefit of altruism: research is showing that people who help others actually become happier, healthier, and live longer than people who don’t.

Indulge me as I share a personal story.

My husband was in the grocery store a few months ago with both our boys. He did a decent shop; the bill came to well over $100…and then realized he’d left his wallet at home. Ugh.

I mean, if you’ve ever tried to go grocery shopping with two young boys in tow, you know what a huge feat it was that he even made it to the checkout in one piece, without destroying half the canned-goods section or selling one of our children in the process. As he struggled at the counter, searching in vain for his wallet, and then realized he’d have to leave all his hard-won, tidily bagged groceries at the store…the person behind him in line quietly paid for his bill. The whole thing. Without making a big fanfare. When my husband realized what was happening, he was blown over with gratitude, and begged the woman for her contact info so he could send her the payment. But she wouldn’t have it.

Random acts of kindness like that do exist. My husband spent the rest of the day with a completely new feeling about his fellow human beings.

But you know who probably felt better? The woman who’d paid for some poor frazzled dad’s groceries.

Research shows that being altruistic conveys mental health benefits: it reduces depression, it improves happiness and well-being. In fact, giving help is more significantly associated with better mental health than was receiving help.

But volunteering appears to improve physical health and longevity, too. Several studies have demonstrated this. In one study of more than 2000 people, conducted over the course of a decade, the people who volunteered had lower mortality rates, and if they were “high volunteers”–meaning two or more organizations–their mortality rate was reduced by 44% over non-volunteers. This was after controlling for other factors like mobility, chronic conditions, social support. This was a bigger effect than exercising  4 times weekly (which reduced mortality by 30%) and only slightly smaller than the reduction associated with not smoking—49%.

If you’ve ever volunteered or helped a charity, I think you know what I’m talking about when I use the term “helper’s high”. And now there’s research to show that this is a real thing.

And the research is nice. But, truth be told, this is something people have long known.

ebenezer-scrooge

Charles Dickens knew about this in 1843 when he created the character Ebenezer Scrooge. The ultimate reformed curmudgeon who changed his ways…and once he started helping people less fortunate than himself, he became giddy with joy, jumping and feeling younger and more vibrant.

But we can go even further back to see the wisdom of altruism:

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.

If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.

If you want happiness for a month, get married.

If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.

If you want happiness for a lifetime…help someone else

-Chinese Proverb

There are a plethora of ways to give back this season: what’s your favorite?

Happy Holidays, everyone.

xox

Red and golden baublesThere’s nothing quite like illness to wreck your holidays, am I right? Give yourself the gift of health this year. Here are my thoughts on how to stay healthy this holiday season:

Avoid colds & the flu.

Seems like everyone is sniffling, sneezing, or coughing. Viruses are a fact of life in the winter, but does that mean there’s nothing you can do to avoid them? Not at all. Keep yourself healthy with my top tips. LIke zinc. And probiotics. And washing your hands. But…if you do happen to get a cold or the flu (it happens to the best of us)…here are 12 natural remedies for those nasty viruses.

Get some exercise, even if the thermometer suggests otherwise.

I know it’s tempting to hibernate as temperatures drop, but resist this temptation. There are so many benefits to be gained from regular exercise; don’t rip yourself off! Exercise helps with preventing colds, managing stress, improving sleep, and, of course, fending off excess turkey/chocolate/shortbread pounds. The things to keep in mind when it comes to exercising outdoors: dress warmly in LAYERS. Warm up sufficiently. And, because the winter days are so short and you may very well be exercising in the darkness, make sure you are visible (reflective patches, headlamps).

Have a happy holiday by conquering stress.

Stress is rampant at this time of year. But it doesn’t have to be a given. If I had to give just one tip: simplify. (But, lucky for you, I do happen to have several other ideas.) See my recent YMC post, Holiday Stress Survival Toolkit, for 10 ways to kick stress to the curb this Christmas.

And if your merry-making should go a little too far…

Is there any evil quite so perfect as the hangover? It’s such a fun combination of physical misery with the particular misery that comes from knowing it’s your own. damn. fault. Still, we’ve all been there. And, obviously, the best thing is to drink in moderation. But if that doesn’t exactly pan out, here’s your morning-after rescue kit:

  • rehydration (water is best, but sport drinks are fine, too)
  • painkiller of your choice (like Tylenol or Advil)
  • something to settle your stomach (like Tums or Zantac)
  • something to supply a little sugar (like fruit or juice)
  • something to supply a little salt (like saltines or clear soup broth)

Of course, when it comes to hangovers, the only surefire treatment is time. And if you have the luxury of going back to bed, do that. Your body will heal itself with rest.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

I have written about cancer in the past (how to prevent it, what foods help fight it, new research into prevention…), and I’ve certainly touched on the fear of cancer in previous posts (and TV appearances!). But today, on Yummy Mummy Club, my post is all about the fear of cancer. That’s because the fear of cancer is HUGE. A recent study showed that 70% of us fear cancer–and that’s over and above all other (suitably fear-inducing) illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

So in the face of something so terrifying, where do you start? How do you begin to conquer a fear of cancer?

Well, I have some thoughts. Head on over to my YMC post, Facing A Fear Of Cancer, to see what I’ve got to say.