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?