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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Final Post For 2009 - Health Care Reform

This will be my final post for 2009 as we are going on a trip for the remainder of the school break.  I want to end the year with a post on healthcare reform, a topic that concerns us all.  You may be surprised to learn that my husband and I favor healthcare reform, especially in areas such as insurance, tort reform and rising medical costs. 

There are few topics that can make my blood pressure rise faster than health insurance.  While I have been fortunate to have had good coverage, I know that is not so for everyone.  Some of my friends and aquaintances have said their health insurance is just fine and that they are against reform.  Those same people have been lucky enough so far not to have had major medical problems.  They also don't see that lack of insurance coverage for everyone contributes to higher medical costs for all.  A friend's grandson was born prematurely and needed to be flown emergently to a children's hospital with specialized care.  The bill for the flight was $10,000 but the young couple's insurance policy only paid $500.  Another friend has to have a separate policy for her child who was born with a small hole in her heart.  Though she is now 12 and doctors long ago said the hole has closed and she is fine, the insurance companies probably have labeled her for life.  I could go on and on but the truth is we are all a medical disaster away from financial ruin.  Our own insurance cost has gone up but the coverage for wellness visits has gone down. 

When people without health insurance can't afford to visit a doctor, they often wait until their problem is much more serious and then go to the emergency room.  This makes health care costs much higher than they need be because someone, the doctors and hospitals, eats the cost of treating those who can't pay.

Then there is tort reform.  Our legislators don't want to touch this hot topic at all.  Fear of being sued often causes doctors to perform needless tests or procedures, raising medical costs again.  Medical malpractice insurance costs contribute to the overall healthcare cost as well. 

The general public is unaware of the influence that legislatures, lobby groups, insurance companies and hospitals have in dictating medical costs and reimbursements.  There is a push right now to do away with outpatient imaging centers and move them back to the hospitals.  Hospitals get paid more insurance money for imaging than outpatient centers.  It makes no sense get rid of outpatient centers as far as controlling costs and better patient access is concerned.  You also may not be aware that health insurance companies are exempt from federal anti-trust laws.  This means that they can and do fix prices and allocate customers.  You also can't buy insurance across state lines.  This limits competition and insures that the consumer pays artificially higher prices.  The House version of the healthcare bill eliminates the exemption for insurance companies.

My husband and I certainly have no perfect answers for healthcare reform.  The problem is very complex and has evolved over decades.  I only hope any legislation passed is a step in the right direction and not promoted as a final solution. 

In the meantime, have a happy, safe New Year.  If you have any questions or issues you'd like to see addressed in a future blog, please ask in the comment section.         

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is here and I hope the weather is nicer wherever you are.  Santa will be coming in a row boat to our house I'm afraid, and his red suit will be replaced with galoshes and a yellow slicker.  My husband is working this holiday weekend but hopefully it won't be too bad.  My daughter is at swim team practice - no slacker there - and my son is still asleep. 

I have already completed my exercise routine this morning.  I am frequently asked what I do to stay in shape and I usually reply that I do alot of different things.  I used to ride horses several times a week but I don't have a horse I can ride at this time.  As you read on Tuesday, we used to have yoga lessons every week but had to quit.  So what do the cardiologist and his wife do for exercise?  We both took up swimming this summer and really enjoyed it.  My daughter has even taught me to do a rudimentary butterfly stroke.  Swimming is out now for the winter and we have moved on to other types of exercise.  Barry joined a gym and a trainer set up a weight routine for him and our son.  They go as many times a week as their schedules permit.   I decided to work on my own for awhile and I have stuck to my schedule pretty well.  Three days a week, I do weight work and yoga stretching, using exercises I've learned from past trainers.  Two more days I do yoga stretching and something aerobic, like walking, dancing or stair climbing.  I try to exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes five days a week and in addition, I spend at least 30 minutes most days cleaning the barn.  Barn cleaning means lots of shoveling and lifting so even if I don't have time to "exercise", I've already had quite a workout.  Three days a week I do 100 situps as good abs protect your back.

This type of workout is not for everyone.  Most people aren't fond of exercise (my husband) and need an outside influence (paid trainer).  Some people, my daughter being one of them, thrive on being active.  So if you are planning on starting an exercise program for 2010, you should look into some sort of group activity or working with an instructor.  Don't try to do too much at first - this could lead to an injury or burnout.  Perhaps just adding a walk around the block is enough for now - just get moving. 

Here's wishing you a Happy, Healthy Christmas shared with your friends and family.    

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Consider Yoga For Fitness

As we all think about New Year's Resolutions in the coming weeks, I plan to share some exercise routines or diets that might work well for you.  Yoga is a wonderful way to exercise as it increases your flexibility, reduces stress, tones your muscles and can be done by any age group.  Even young children or older adults can benefit from and enjoy yoga. 

Originating in India, yoga is a traditional physical and mental discipline incorporating different poses or asanas, with importance placed on breathing, relaxing or meditating.  There are several different types of yoga taught in the U. S. but some of the more common are: Hatha which is more gentle and flowing, Bikram or hot yoga, Iyengar which concentrates on correct position and lengthy poses, Vinyasa which is more vigorous, and Ashtanga which is very intense.  No matter which type you try, the poses are basically the same.  If you decide to give yoga a try, look for a Yoga I or a beginner's class taught by a certified teacher.  A certified, attentive teacher will help you safely correct your poses and get the most from your workout. 

Barry and I had private yoga lessons for several years but time constrictions forced us to give up our class time.  I still practice yoga at home nearly every day to prevent the lower back pain I sometimes suffer.  Barry saw similar benefits from his various aches and pains but doesn't incorporate yoga into his schedule nearly enough now.  If you men think yoga is a workout for women and sissies, think again.  Many of the poses require quite a bit of strength and tone every muscle you have.  Also, many sports are now recognizing the benefits of having a flexible and strong body.  Barry will certainly agree that our yoga classes were some of the hardest workouts he's ever had. 

My daughter liked going to yoga with us but our son found the poses difficult due to his inflexibility.  One of the best benefits we all got from our class was learning to conciously relax our whole body and be calm.  Even young children need to learn to handle stress and yoga is an excellent tool to use. 

Yoga classes are taught just about everywhere so you shouldn't have trouble finding one you like.  I hope yoga works for you.  Namaste.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Video Makes A Graphic Point

The following video from New York City's Health Department makes a vivid point for limiting soft drinks and other sugary drinks in our diet in a very graphic way.  If nothing else makes you think about what you and your children are drinking, I hope this video does.  Watch it more than once and share it with someone who needs to see it.  Too much sugar will leave you strung out and tired during the holiday rush anyway.     

Thanks to my son for helping me add it to my blog.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Breakfast IS Important - Breakfast Tips For The Time Challenged

No one at my house ever misses a meal, especially not breakfast. I can't imagine anyone going off to school or work with an empty, growling stomach. How can you concentrate or get anything done? Then, the other problem is that you are much more likely to overeat when you do stop for food. Studies show that people who eat breakfast are much more likely to maintain a healthy weight.

So what does the cardiologist's family eat for breakfast? On school/work days, we have something that is quick such as cereal, oatmeal, scrambled or sunny side-up eggs. Barry drinks coffee while the rest of us have orange juice or milk. The kids like shredded wheat, and I like multigrain Cheerios. Sometimes the kids make cheese toast, or have a sausage biscuit. One product I've tried are Jimmy Dean's D-Light breakfast sandwiches found in the freezer section. They have much less fat than a sausage biscuit and are made with egg whites and canadian bacon on an English muffin. They microwave in about two minutes. The kids eat toaster pastries once a week and fruit is always available.

The weekends usually mean a bigger, nicer breakfast. I make pancakes, muffins (Fiber One), coffe cake or biscuits. Now that Grace is an accomplished biscuit maker, she often takes over breakfast. We don't eat bacon or sausage often but we do eat it, maybe once a week. Eggs are perfectly fine to eat. I think they got a bad rap a few years ago but eat the egg whites if you'd rather. At 70 calories for one large egg, only 4 1/2 grams of fat plus protein, vitamin A, calcium and iron, they are perfectly nutritious.

A couple of years ago, there were several complaints about the quantity of food served in our local school's lunches. One woman wrote in a letter to the editor of the local paper that her son was often left hungry after eating lunch at school. However, she confessed in the letter that she and her son slept as late as possible and skipped breakfast or grabbed a granola (candy) bar. I was greatly offended that this woman blamed the school for not feeding her son, yet she made no effort to feed him before school herself! It really doesn't take much time to eat cereal and a bananna or to have boiled eggs on hand ready to eat in the morning.

Please don't start your morning with a soda or something sugary like donuts every day. The sugar load just leaves you hungry sooner and tired. Speaking of sodas, I hope my son can help me load a video soon that everyone needs to watch. It makes the point of not drinking excess sodas and sugary drinks very well so check back.

I hope that one of your New Year's resolutions will be to make breakfast a part of your regular routine if it isn't already. I think you'll realize the benefits right away.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Red Meat, Do We Eat It?

My husband gave a talk to a high school pre-Ap biology class a couple of weeks ago and one of the questions from the teacher was, "Do you eat red meat?". The answer is somewhat complicated. Barry likes red meat and often orders a steak when we go out to eat. My children like beef too. I do not care for red meat as much and no one can beat me when it comes to turning a piece of beef into shoe leather. Since I do most of the cooking and shopping, that means we seldom eat beef. I almost always use ground turkey instead of hamburger in any recipe such as meatloaf, spaghetti or sloppy joes.

Since we eat so little red meat, I don't worry about whether it's healthy or not. However, I learned early on that a lean piece of meat will not make a good pot roast. That's the problem with beef. It can be tough and have less flavor without the fat or marbeling. Often, we make gravy or rich sauces when we cook beef, further adding to the fat content. Portions served of beef such as steak, tend to be much larger than chicken or fish portions. My conclusion is that beef can be a part of a healthy diet when portions are reasonable and it is eaten occasionally.

If you have never tried ground turkey in your cooking, I challenge you to try it soon. I'm sharing my favorite version of sloppy joes which can be whipped up quickly or even made ahead and warmed up on busy days. I served them last night with cole slaw for added taste and fiber. A side of fruit salad finished the meal.

Sloppy Joes
1 lb. ground turkey
1/2 chopped onion
1/2 chopped green pepper
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 cup ketchup
2 tsp. prepared mustard
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Comine beef, onion, green pepper and celery in a skillet and cook till meat is no longer pink. Drain excess fat. Stir in remaining ingredients and cook until heated through. Serve with slaw if desired, on buns.

I'll share a tip to reduce fat content after you have browned ground turkey or beef. Pour meat into a colander in the sink and rinse with water. Let drain well and return to pan to finish cooking.

Cilantro Slaw
1/4 cup fresh finely chopped cilantro or 1 to 2 tsp. dried
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
3 tbsp. reduced fat mayonaise
1 tbsp. white wine or rice wine vinegar
1 12 ounce package slaw mix
Whisk together first ingredients in a large bowl. Add slaw mix and toss to coat well.

This slaw has less fatty mayonaise than most slaw recipes. It gave our sandwiches a nice crunch and more fiber. I threw this dinner together quickly last night and put it in the fridge. Then I went to a Christmas concert at my daughter's school. My son, who stayed home to study, warmed up the sloppy joes when we were on the way home and we had a nice dinner.

The end of the year fast approaches and we all make New Year's resolutions. In some of my next blogs, we'll talk about exercise. It's so important to find an activity you really enjoy because you are more likely to stick with it. I hope your Christmas shopping is almost wrapped up!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bits and Pieces of a Pre-holiday Week

It has been an interesting and busy week. My post is late due to cookie baking and a Christmas band concert. I've been cramming in something every minute of the day and I know you are too.

While eating lunch Wednesday, I read an article in Time magazine about chefs finding ways to get skinny. Alton Brown of Food Network fame suddenly realized that he and his fans were seriously overweight and has questioned his role in America's obesity epidemic. He and other chefs are finding ways to eat better and lose the weight. Alton Brown gave up junk food such as french fries. Many of the chefs in the article cut back on portions and concentrated on lean meats and vegetables. If people surrounded by wonderful food all day can find the will power, so can you.

Then yesterday I heard a startling confession from an aquaintance who is a normal size. She says she eats half a can of frosting every night for dinner! We were at a holiday lunch and dessert had been served. She went on to say that she just couldn't leave sweets alone. You can imagine how horrified I was. When I told her she would wreck her health, she replied that her check ups were always great. I asked when she last had one, she did confess it was years ago. My friend commented that the frosting didn't do anything for her energy level, indeed she felt tired later. If this sounds familiar, I sincerely hope you will get a check up right away. Eating sugar in such quantities will wear your body out trying to manage the overload. Compare that to a potted plant that is overwatered every day. It can only handle the excess water so long before it rots and dies. I'd be surprised if she isn't diabetic. And what kind of example is she setting for her children? She is condeming them to a life of poor eating habits. She went on to say that when her son asks about dinner, she doesn't want to fix anything because she's eaten frosting and is full and too tired!

On Monday night I gave a joint talk with my husband to a group of women in a weight loss program. I commend their efforts to regain their health and wish them well. My talk was brief but I shared some of my strategies for healthy eating while my husband talked about health consequences. Joining a group such as this can give you support and friends to share the journey. Maybe such a program is right for you.

Even though we've been extra busy with the holiday rush, I've still made health eating a priority for my family. I've missed some days of exercise due to shopping but I won't quit and neither should you.

An update on my friend with the aneurysm: he is finally out of intensive care and has started physical therapy. However, their 26 year old daughter who suffers from Crohns disease had to have surgery on Monday. She is recovering nicely but it was another blow to the family. Please keep them in your thoughts this holiday season. Think about what a gift a healthy body is.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Confession of the Year

If you have been reading my blog, you know I sometimes confess our weaknesses. We are not perfect in our quest for good health and I wouldn't want you to think we are.
So here it is: we host an annual Christmas cookie party! There, the truth is out. It is quite a decadent affair as everyone is offered a dazzling array of homemade treats, hot cider or the newest addition, mocha punch. No calories are spared, butter and sugar are used freely and any fiber content is accidental. The only exercise we encourage is the lifting of cookies and a good jaw workout.
It sounds as bad as a dentist handing out candy on the playground, doesn't it? However, I'm a big believer in the health benefits of good times spent with friends and family and one of the best gifts you can give is the gift of laughter.
So starting tomorrow, I will be busy as an elf baking cookies. Fortunately, my sister helps as well. I'm not sure what she is making but my line up includes The World's Best Cookies, Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies, Oreo Truffles and a new one, Praline Cookies. I will also be making mocha punch which we tried last year and it was a big hit. It also couldn't be worse for you as it is basically a milkshake on steroids. I will share this recipe and you can try it if you are having a large get together. Though you'd be tempted, don't drink it all yourself as it will cause a diabetic coma.

Mocha Punch
1 quart chocolate milk
1 quart chocolate ice cream
1 quart coffee ice cream
1 cup strong coffee, chilled
Dash of salt
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Mix all ingredients in a large punch bowl as you would a milkshake. Serve immediately. Makes about 12 or so small servings.

To offset this potential health disaster, I will be exercising and eating light this week. This is one of my strategies when I know I have a "bad" event coming up where I am sure to over indulge. That is also one of my points to this blog: you can indulge once in awhile if you eat right and exercise most of the time. Another small confession: one of my husband's biggest weaknesses is cookies. He can't pass one up unless its store bought.

I hope you are taking the time to enjoy the holiday season and not letting the stress wear you down. Also, take time for your health.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Portion Control and Christmas Shopping

Right away you are wondering what Christmas shopping has to do with portion control. Maybe nothing for most people but if I had stayed home this morning to write as usual, I could have avoided alot of frustration. Two and a half hours of shopping yielded zero presents. However, some people tend to overeat when frustrated, anxious, bored or unhappy. (There's your connection!) It is important to recognize your triggers for overeating and to avoid them or find other ways of coping.

I eat when I'm bored so I try to keep busy to take my mind away from food, or I remind myself that I'm eating from boredom, not hunger. I overeat when I get too hungry and haven't eaten soon enough. Therefore I eat regular meals and small snacks. We all overeat at parties and holidays so we need to plan ahead to compensate. You get the picture. Think about what prompts you to eat more than necessary and how you can change that bad habit.

Another problem is that Americans have become accustomed to larger servings of food than we truly need. All you can eat buffets, Big Gulps and McDonald's super size it have led the way to obesity. This can be a difficult habit to break. One way to eat less is to use salad plates instead of dinner plates since they are smaller and hold less food. You can also buy "portion" plates where an appropriate serving size is marked on the plate. Skip seconds unless it's the steamed broccoli or water. Avoid buffets like the plague and remember, you shouldn't have to peer around your food to see your spouse sitting across the table. It's also desirable to actually see your plate instead covering every inch with food. My mother-in-law only eats half her food at restaurants and has the waiter put the other half in a doggie bag to take home. Two meals for the price of one!

I hope today's blog makes you think about how much food you eat and how you can cut back. Remember that skipping meals won't help you cut calories in the long run. Regular, sensible meals provide what your body needs in a steady flow, maintaining better health.

Have a happy weekend and may your Christmas shopping go well!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Brain Aneurysms

Sometimes, despite our best efforts at taking care of ourselves, something really traumatic occurs. This is the case with one of our friends, who suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm just before Thanksgiving. Phillip didn't smoke, exercised every day and ate a healthy diet. So, through no fault of his own, he is now in intensive care and we are praying for his complete recovery. He underwent surgery to drain the blood and has made progress so far.

A brain aneurysm is a bulging, weak area of an artery supplying blood to the brain. There are often no symptoms but if it ruptures, blood is released into the skull causing a stroke. This can lead to brain damage or death but a good recovery is possible.

The tendency to develop aneurysms can be inherited or can occur due to hardening of the arteries (heart disease) as we age. The following risk factors can increase the chances of developing an aneurysm or rupturing it if you already have one:
1. family history - if a close relative had one, you are more likely to have them
2. having had a previous aneurysm makes you more likey to have another
3. gender - women are more likely to have them
4. race - blacks are more likely to develop brain aneurysms
5. high blood pressure
6. smoking

You can see that even though sometimes bad things happen to people who take care of their health, it is still worthwhile to take care of your own. Our friend has a much better chance for recovery because his overall health is good. He has low cholesterol and good blood pressure, plus he is in good physical shape. Please keep him and his family in your thoughts.

Speaking of your health, I hope you've been exercising and didn't eat too much this Thanksgiving. I missed a couple of days of exercise but I got right back to my routine yesterday, as did my husband. I really cut back on my portions this year. I will be writing about portion control on Thursday, so check back in. Till then, have a health, happy day!