Repetitive Stress Injuries : /

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

Warning: do you spend hours staring at your computer screen and typing away on the web? Then you could be at risk…(drumroll, please) for repetitive stress injuries!

What are repetitive stress injuries? According to KidsHealth.org, repetitive stress injuries are defined as “injuries that happen when too much stress is placed on a part of the body, resulting in inflammation (pain and swelling), muscle strain, or tissue damage.” While repetitive stress injuries (also referred to as musculoskeletal injuries)

can be caused by playing a sport or a musical instrument, they can also be caused by doing something seemingly harmless – spending large amounts of time on the computer, whether it be chatting on Facebook or working on a school project.

Like many people, I use the computer often and spend large quantities of time typing. Technology is well integrated to my life; I use it to study, communicate (i.e. e-mailing and blogging), and write this column. Since I depend on technology so much, it was devastating when I recently had to cease typing for a few days after being diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury. Although my injury wasn’t serious, it made me question my working environment and inspired me to feature computer-related repetitive stress injuries and ergonomics (which is the science of keeping workplaces safe and running smoothly) in this week’s column.

Now, I realize that repetitive stress injuries may not, at least for some people, seem to be the most fascinating health problem that teens face. Nor are they the most prevalent. However, since repetitive stress injuries are relatively easy to prevent and since they can be quite painful and annoying (I speak from experience!), learning how to prevent them can be worthwhile. That’s why I turned to Nancy Black, president of the Atlantic Chapter of the Association of Canadian Ergonomists and associate professor at Universite de Moncton for advice. Since Dr. Black conducts studies on ergonomics, she was able to offer plenty of useful information.

So, how to know if your work environment is ergonomic? Dr. Black explains that equipment is considered ergonomic if it suits or is adjusted to suit the user, both physically and psychologically. Published studies have found that, contrary to previous beliefs that furniture should be as comfortable as possible to prevent injury, staying in an overly comfortable position for long periods of time could lead to less activity in the muscles and measurable compression. The best injury prevention technique is to change the general position of the body every twenty minutes. For example, you could spend twenty minutes sitting on a chair and then take a short break in a different position (e.g. standing up) before returning to your original position .

Dr. Black remarks that some equipment can actually be too comfortable. Ideally, a computer chair, for example, should keep you “on your toes”. Small tools (like a keyboard or mouse) though should be as comfortable or neutral as possible. That being said, you should still regularly change positions, no matter how small the working body part (Take a break from your continuous texting!).

Although we teenagers usually don’t have control of the environment outside our bedrooms, we should apply these tips when we can. Many believe that technology will become even more integrated into our workplaces as time goes on, meaning that we, the future generation, will have to learn how to function in a high-tech environment. Remember though that Dr. Black’s tips can also be applied to activities where computers aren’t involved, such as reading.

 Originally published in the Times & Transcript on April 4th, 2010.

Ditch The Soft Drink Habit

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

If you’ve been attentive in your reading of ”Whatever”, you might have noticed that, last week, Dr. Wallace’s column featured a teen seeking advice about his soft drink habit. The teen in question was drinking a whopping four to five soft drink servings (of unknown size) each day. Although I think most teenagers don’t drink quite this much pop, I know we’re known for overconsumption of sugary beverages.  And this is a problem.

Although New Brunswick is a bit over a thousand miles away from New York (according to Google Maps), you may have heard of the anti-soft drink campaign of New York’s Department of Health, popularized by a YouTube video depicting a man drinking a glass of fat. The glass of fat apparently represents the weight a person would gain if he regularly consumed soft drinks. According to Thomas Farley, NYC Health Commissioner,“Sugary drinks shouldn’t be a part of our everyday diet,” and “Drinking beverages loaded with sugars increases the risk of obesity and associated problems, particularly diabetes but also heart disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer.” The Department of Health also warns us that soda serving sizes are increasing: soda used to come in 6.5 oz bottles and now it comes in 20 oz bottles. Yikes.

Personally, I’ve never understood the soft drink problem, probably because my parents rarely bought pop. I think I was nearly eight when I first tasted pop. Naturally, since I wasn’t used to drinking carbonated beverages, I thought it was nasty. Its bubbles made my nose hurt (don’t laugh; in my defense, I’m not the only person to have noticed this) and despite the apparent 16 ½ teaspoons of sugar that a twenty ounces of pop contains, I didn’t find it all that sweet.

Some people have the opposite aversion: they dislike water. I recently watched an episode of the The Doctors, which featured water and the importance of drinking it in the appropriate amount. One of the guests was a twenty-six year old who drank only diet soda—no water. Her main reason for not drinking water was that she found it disgusting because of its taste (or lack thereof). Since she was drinking diet soda and not regular soda, she wasn’t at risk for weight gain because of her soda habit. However she was at risk for dehydration, according to the show’s hosts. They explained that if someone drinks under two glasses of water each day (which classifies him as chronically dehydrated), he doubles his risk of a heart attack. Double yikes.

I hope the above information will convince you to drink healthily and remember that it’s all relative—what is gross to me is tasty to another and vice verca– and that you can learn to love a food you were previously averse to. For more information on soft drinks and health, you can visit www.thedoctorstv.com and view the ”The #1 Secret to Living Longer and Looking Younger” (a.k.a. water) show in the archives or you can visit  the New York City Department of Health’s soft drink page at www.nyc.gov/health/obesity.

 

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on April 11th, 2010.


Let’s Reconsider How We Celebrate

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

What celebration is complete without food? From birthday parties to sporting event celebrations, food is always present, usually in the form of either snack food, fast food or dessert. While most will agree that the occasional treat won’t do much harm over the long term, what happens when an ”occasional” treat becomes more ”regular”? What happens when a ”treat” is the caloric equivalent of an entire meal?

Yeah, I know. Questioning treats is like raining, no, pouring buckets of sleet over Moncton’s Christmas parade. Unfortunately, it’s become necessary.

My fifth grade teacher had to change her family’s eating habits after realizing that her family had treats too often. My teacher’s son was only in second grade at the time, but he ate (in addition to other junk food) fries at fast food restaurants on a weekly basis. Needless to say, my teacher’s son’s doctor told my teacher that the family was enjoying treats much too often and that her son shouldn’t be enjoying a treat more than once a month. I don’t know if my teacher was followed the doctor’s advice, but I do know that the quantity of ”treats” we consume continues to be large.

A family friend’s kids recently came back from a friend’s birthday party, held at a certain large grocery store in Moncton, with each his very own heavily frosted birthday cake about eight inches in diameter. I’m not sure what the store was trying to do by giving preschoolers an excessive amount of birthday cake, but I do know that, at least at this family’s household, the cakes ”disappeared” (i.e. Had to be thrown away) before the kids had finished them.

With my sixteenth birthday exactly a week away, the topic of treats is my concern du jour. Being the health conscious eater that I am, I’m always trying to cut down on my consumption of treats and trying to make them less nutritionally catastrophic. Ironically, I have found that the hardest part of eating healthier at a party is not the act of eating healthy foods (who can resist fresh strawberries?), but dealing with people who believe junk food is the highlight of a party. Have you noticed how treat-centered social events have become? Take away the bags of chips and there’s not much of a party left.

Maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps if we focused on actually celebrating rather than on eating and preparing unhealthy treats, our parties would be more fun and we would be healthier. If a celebration is truly celebratory in nature, spending time with others and savouring the moment should be the focus and food, even healthy food, should just be there to keep hunger at bay. Let’s reconsider how we celebrate.

A couple of nutritious but very simple snack food ideas for parties:

-Fruit and vegetable trays, artistically arranged

– Air-popped popcorn (try using herbs and spices to season the popcorn instead of butter seasoning)

-100% fruit juice with frozen fruit replacing ice cubes

-Frozen fruit ”smoothie” popsicles

 

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on April 17th, 2010.


Integrate Exercise For Best Results

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

Personally, I’m a big fan of resolutions. I don’t just make them at the beginning of the year, but also on my birthday (today), at the beginning of summer, at the beginning of the school year, and each time I finish an activity for the year. My latest resolution, inspired by the return of warm weather, is exercise related.

Of all the healthy habits, I find exercise the most difficult to practice. I realize that some people find the exact opposite true; they exercise over the recommended amount without even thinking about it. Why the difference? I think it depends on the situation someone is in.

When my parents were young and they lived in the city, they spent hours exercising  because they didn’t have other options. My mom’s mother couldn’t drive a car when my mom was young and her father was gone at work all day. As a result, my mom had to walk or bike to school and back twice a day (since she came home for lunch at noon) and she had to walk or bike to anywhere else she wanted to go. Naturally, since there wasn’t much to be done indoors (No one had computers and ipods back then), she and her friends usually played some type of sport (swimming, tennis, skating, skiing, etc.) when they wanted to have fun.  My dad’s parents never drove him anywhere and he spent large amounts of time walking, running, and biking to and from all his activities. He also spent considerable amounts of time shoveling snow, completing various household chores, playing hockey, skating, and skiing.

As for me, I couldn’t exercise several hours a day even if I wanted to. I would have to walk much  too far and in not-so-safe conditions to get to and from my activities ( which tend to be unathletic in nature, e.g. Playing the clarinet) and I’d probably annoy my companions. My current exercise routine consists of walking with the family dog on a daily basis and the occasional workout, which I do for the sole purpose of doing more exercise. I realize that to some more athletic people the quantity of exercise I do probably seems meager. What can I say? My goals and aspirations don’t consist of athletic feats, although I realize that having good health (which, of course, requires exercise) is important if I want to have the energy and endurance to achieve those goals and aspirations. I’ve always been more ”bookish” than athletic and I’ve built my life around that. My lifestyle now requires that I create opportunities to exercise if I want to do more exercise, rather than allowing me to simply take on existing opportunities.

No, I’m not blaming reduced physical activity on lack of time or lack of knowledge, I’m just pointing out that the easiest way to fit exercise into someone’s life would be to transform his life so he was required to exercise regularly without having to prioritize it. This is why, in order to live up to my latest resolution, I will be looking for ways to make exercise a more integral part of my life.

 

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on April 24th, 2010.


MATCH

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

There is hope that the new generation will practice healthier habits, despite the statistics

In 2006, a seventh grade science teacher living in Martin County, North Carolina read an article in his local newspaper about a recent study that had formulated life expectancies for each of the counties of North Carolina. Mr. Hardison, who also happened to be my teacher at the time, decided that he needed to do something when he discovered that Martin County, also one of the poorest regions, had the shortest life expectancy in the entire state. This was due to a high rate of diabetes and obesity/overweight.

To solve the problem, Mr. Hardison, who has a background in exercise physiology, created a school program for seventh graders called MATCH:Motivating Adolescents with Technology to Choose Health. Four years later, MATCH is still running and expanding, Mr. Hardison works full-time on the project, and East Carolina University’s Pediatric Healthy Weight Treatment and Research Center at the Brody School of Medicine has been studying the MATCH. MATCH has also received grants from ECU and the BCBS Foundation.

In its first year, the program had a seventy percent success rate at decreasing the Body Mass Index (BMI) of its obese and overweight participants. When the participants were followed twelve months later, the success rate was nevertheless sixty-eight percent. The students’ BMI wasn’t the only number that improved—students in an at-risk math class passed the End Of Grade (EOG) math test for their grade with a higher rate of success compared to a control group and caused less discipline problems, despite the fact that they reduced their class time by a third.

Why was MATCH so effective? MATCH is teacher-designed, based on effective social cognitive theory (motivating students to do something and then teaching them), and aimed at students of the right age. MATCH both teaches students healthier habits and motivates them to practice them. The program, which is followed by all the seventh graders at each of the participating schools for a total of sixteen weeks, starts off each year with a fitness test and a measurement-taking session, done by the school nurse. The students then calculate their BMI and make realistic goals for themselves, to be met before the end of the program, when the students will take the fitness test and be measured once more.

In MATCH, teachers of all subjects teach the usual curriculum, but with the theme of health and wellness woven in. In language arts, students write essays on health topics; in science, students deepen their knowledge of the human body systems curriculum by focusing on nutrition and exercise; and in technology class, students create spreadsheets that calculate their daily caloric intake.

MATCH’s nutrition education (incorporated into science class), Mr. Hardison notes, is especially effective: ”In one school, we didn’t start the nutrition education until we were (several months into the program) and we didn’t see changes in BMI, even with exercise, until then.”

MATCH teaches students that ”food is fuel”. Mr. Hardison stresses the point that no child in the program is told that he is overweight or obese. Students simply learn their own numbers and how to interpret them themselves. An excess of body fat is simply regarded as an excess of calorie intake; a lack of body fat is simply regarded as a lack of calorie intake.

To aid the students in choosing health, the participating schools make room for fitness at lunchtime and at break time. Some teachers, such as the math teacher mentioned above, even take their students out for exercise during class time—and get more accomplished anyway. The situation also improved in the lunchroom—once fries were taken off the menu and students were encouraged to boost their fruit and vegetable intake, they ate 300% more fruit and vegetables than before.

However, the road to change is still bumpy. One of the biggest challenges Mr. Hardison has faced is having teachers cooperate with the program and not be lax with lesson delivery. Another issue was funding. A lack of funds recently resulted in fries being added to the menu once more.

The first year, Mr. Hardison funded MATCH himself and despite funding from other sources in later years, MATCH continues to operate on a ”shoestring budge”. As Mr. Hardison points out though, the Medicaid cost of an obese or overweight child is enormous compared to that of a normal weight child, making MATCH a very cost effective program.

Mr. Hardison is optimistic. He says, ”You can make healthy choices more readily available, but people won’t choose them until they realize ‘this is for me’.” That is what MATCH is helping kids realize.

To overcome the teacher participation challenge, Mr. Hardison, Dr. Suzanne Lazorick of ECU, and a website designer are in the midst of creating a MATCH website that will make it possible for the program to be launched essentially anywhere. Mr. Hardison says, ”We could go from five schools to five hundred schools.” The website, which should be launched sometime during the year, will offer online, curriculum, training, and videos. Of course, you can count on me as the Living Healthy columnist to notify you of the website’s address when it becomes available.

As a participant in the first-ever MATCH myself and as the record holder for the girls’ aerobic run and sit-up tests, I remember truly enjoying the MATCH activities, a far cry from lackluster gym class, and the health supplemented curriculum, which was a big factor in my deciding to study in health sciences. Mr. Hardison said it right: ”Students like MATCH because it’s fun.”

MATCH goes further than providing healthy choices for children; it motivates them to choose those healthy choices and simultaneously improves children’s academic scores. What a great idea for New Brunswick!

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on May 15th, 2010.

Frozen Treats For Summer

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

An unfortunate accident involving my brother, my dog, and a container of chocolate ice cream got me thinking about frozen desserts earlier this week. Although I found it was still a little chilly to start eating ice-cold food, I decided to do some experimenting in the kitchen over the weekend and to come up with some healthy frozen dessert ideas to share in this column.

Personally, I am not a huge fan of frozen snacks and desserts. I don’t think I’ve eaten a commercial frozen treat since I moved to Moncton (although I have family in Moncton and have visited Moncton nearly every summer since I was born, I’ve only lived in Moncton for the past three years). When I lived in North Carolina, frozen snacks were necessary for survival on hot summer days and I ocassionally enjoyed frozen grapes and berries at snack time. However, even then I usually preferred desserts like cake or brownies (which I always make healthier than the traditional versions by using whole grain flour and fruit-based sweeteners) to ice cream treats and the like.

My goal for this column was to come up with a few frozen desserts that were healthier than the sugar-laden, super rich store-bought kind and that still appealed to me. The easiest way to do this seemed to be turning to the fruit bowl. I used bananas, apples, oranges, and blueberries to make serveral healthy frozen dessert bars.

The first bar I made was simple. Using the typical chocolate coated ice cream bar as my inspiration, I took a large banana and cut it into two lengthwise halves, coated each half in about ¼ cup melted chocolate chips, and then rolled the halves in a mixture containing equal amounts of finely chopped walnuts and cranberries seasoned with cinnamon. I was originally planning to stick a popsicle stick into each banana half before freezing it, but since I could not find popsicle sticks among the kitchen cupboards, I ended up wrapping them in wax paper instead. When I later enjoyed my creation, I was quite pleased with the taste and texture and found that the wax paper had been a suitable alternative to the popsicle sticks. Making these banana treats was foolproof, although I did have to keep a close eye on the chocolate to keep it from hardening while I worked. Bananas were a particularly good choice for freezing since they didn’t take as much time to freeze compared to the more water dense fruits I experimented with.

Although I’ve never heard of people eating frozen apple pie, I decided to make an apple pie bar after making the banana bars. I chopped a Golden Delicious apple (this is the type that is particularly good for pies) and cooked it over medium heat in a small pot containing about ¼ cup of apple juice. Once the apple was fork tender (less than ten minutes later), I mixed in some cinnamon and ginger and poured the mixture into a popsicle mold. I then added a bit more apple juice and put the bars in the freezer. The end result was delicious (but what else can you expect from a Golden Delicious apple?). The only thing I might have changed if I made these again was the peel on the apple pieces. I might peel it off in the future. That being said, I should note that the peel could be left intact without compromising the texture of the bars, especially since it contains more vitamins than the flesh of the apple.

The last bar I made with this article in mind was an easy orange blueberry bar. I mixed one chopped orange (peel removed obviously) and about ½ cup blueberries and then, after adding a little orange juice, I put the mixture in a popsicle mold and froze it. The bars were satisfying and although I was a bit concerned about the frozen orange pulp’s texture, it wasn’t really an issue.

Nutritious frozen treats are only limited by creativity. They are easy to make and even easier to eat.

 

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on May 22nd, 2010.


Turn Off The TV This Summer

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

What are you going to do this summer? If you can’t think of a clear answer, you might want to start planning, lest you end up spending your time in front of the television. Summer is a time when television channels launch attractive programs, designed to captivate bored kids. 

Although older teens are perhaps less susceptible to watching hours of television during the summer because of summer jobs and activities with friends, television watching will probably be an activity of choice for many preteens and younger teens.

Unfortunately not only is watching TV a boring way to spend your summer, it isn’t good for you:

  • According to the Active Healthy Kids Report, ”Canadian youth are accumulating 6 hours of screen time on weekdays and more than 7 hours on weekend days.” This is thought to contribute to lower physical activity levels.
  • According to the Media Awarness Network, ”…61 per cent of young teens… (rate) entertainment media as their top source of information on sexuality and sex health. …although two-thirds of TV shows contain sexual content, only one in ten includes any reference to safe sex or the consequences…”.
  • According to the TV Turn-off Factsheet, ”people who watched TV or used a computer more than three hours per evening were more likely than others to report insufficient sleep-even though their actual sleep duration was only 12 minutes less, on average.  Electronic media may increase your need for sleep and undercut its quality, say the researchers.” 

The list goes on from here; there are even studies that show a strong correlation between television watching and poor test scores. What to do?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that people aged over the age of two limit their television watching to one to two hours.

To get under this limit, try firstly to limit your TV time by avoiding it– remove the television in your bedroom if you have one and plan other activities for times when you usually watch television (e.g. If you usually watch television after doing homework, walk the family dog or read a book instead.).

One summer, I made a list of activities (at least one for each day of the summer) that I could do instead of watching television and being bored. Although I didn’t do all of the activities on my list, I still have fond memories of those I did do.

Next, change the way you think about television watching. Rather than considering it an activity, consider it a source of information. Plan which programs and movies you want to see ahead of time and try to choose at least some educational programs.

While watching your preselected programs and movies, do other activities simultaneously (e.g. organize a desk drawer, stretch or strengthen your muscles; note that studying shouldn’t be done during this time) and turn off the television as soon as the program or movie is finished.

To help motivate you, enlist your parents. Inform them of your plans to cut down on television and ask them to support you, but don’t expect them to nag you, even at your own request.

With time, you should find that your new habits are so deeply ingrained that you simply don’t have time to watch television anymore.

I did this a few years ago and it works. I don’t even remember how to turn on our television anymore (although I won’t be forgetting how to operate a computer any time soon).

The second TV Turn-off week of 2010 is scheduled for September 18th to 24th.

 

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on May 29th, 2010.