Take into account where you live in your New Year’s resolutions.
Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES

Where you live may increase your risk for certain diseases so indicate the results of a large study looking at causes of death by county across the country of over 80 million people between 1980 and 2014. For example, very high cancer death rates were found in counties along the southern half of the Mississippi River, eastern Kentucky, western West Virginia, and in western Alaska. Death rates from cardiovascular disease were highest in counties stretching from Oklahoma to Mississippi and in eastern Kentucky, with the lowest rates in central Colorado and near the border of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

For a summary of the above study: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/314733.php

For the complete study: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2592499

Use this news

As this year comes to an end and you begin to think about your resolutions for next year, perhaps knowing the health issues you may be at greater risk for because of where you live, will be incentive for making some lifestyle changes.  For almost all of the leading causes of death, where we live and how we live (lifestyle health behaviors), play a part in increasing the odds of them happening. It just makes sense then, to do what we can to reduce the chances.

New Jersey data from the Center for Health Statistics in Trenton reflect a similar pattern of differences in causes of death by county as the national data reported in the study above. For example, in 2014 (the most recent year for which statistics are available) 30% of deaths in Ocean County were from heart disease, which was the highest percent of any NJ county, yet cancer in that county accounted for 22.3% of deaths, the lowest of any county.  Similarly, although Hunterdon County had the lowest percent of deaths from heart disease at 22.3%., it had the highest percent of deaths from cancer, 26.7%. To find the data for your county see the NJ Health Assessment Data

The leading causes of death in the U.S. are:

1. Heart disease
2. Cancer
3. Chronic lower respiratory disease (emphysema, COPD,
4. Accidents (unintentional injuries)
5. Stroke
6. Alzheimer’s Disease
7. Diabetes
8. Influenza
9. Nephritis (kidney disease)
10. Intentional injury (suicide)

The five lifestyle changes that address the risk factors for almost all of the leading causes of death are:

·         Not smoking

·         Maintaining a healthy weight

·         Eating a healthy diet

·         Being physically active

·         Drinking in moderation (limited to: 1 drink/day for women,
           2 for men)

Pick one of the health behaviors above and make it be a gift to yourself and your family this holiday season and a New Year’s resolution.  

For more information see:

American Heart Association – How to prevent heart disease

Mayo Clinic – Cancer prevention

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - National Diabetes Prevention  Program - https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention/index.html

American Cancer Society – Lifestyle changes can reduce death from top 5 causes


                           From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Wash your hands often
Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Wash your hands with soap and clean running water, and rub them together for at least 20 seconds. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue 
 when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have tissue,  cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.

For more information:

Cover Your Cough

 Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives

Stay warm
Cold temperatures can cause serious health problems, especially in infants and older adults. Stay dry, and dress warmly in several layers.

For more information:

Stay Safe and Healthy in Winter Weather

Winter Weather

Manage stress
The holidays don’t need to take a toll on your health and pocketbook. Keep your commitments and spending in check. Balance work, home, and play. Get support from family and friends. Keep a relaxed and positive outlook. Make sure to get proper sleep.

For more information

Managing Stress
Sleep Hygiene Tips

Travel safely
Whether you're traveling across town or around the world, help ensure your trip is safe. Don’t drink and drive, and don’t let someone else drink and drive. Wear a seat  belt every time you drive or ride in a motor  vehicle. Always buckle your child in the car using a child safety seat, booster seat, or seat belt appropriate for his/her height, weight, and age.

For more information:

Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety
Child Passenger Safety
Impaired Driving
Travelers’ Health

Be smoke-free.
Avoid smoking and breathing other people's smoke. If you smoke, quit today! Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or talk to your health care provider for help.

For more information:

Quit Smoking

Get check-ups
Be vaccinated

Exams and screenings can help find potential problems early, when the chances for treatment and cure are often better. Vaccinations help prevent diseases and save lives. Schedule a visit with your health care provider for needed exams and screenings. Ask what vaccinations and tests you should get based on your age, lifestyle, travel plans, medical history, and family health history. Get health insurance through healthcare.gov if needed.

For more information:

Regular Check-Ups Are Important
Flu and People with Diabetes
Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work
Vaccines and Immunizations

Watch the kids
Children are at high risk for injuries. Keep a watchful eye on your kids when they’re eating and playing. Keep potentially dangerous toys, food, drinks, household items, choking hazards (like coins and hard candy), and other objects out of kids' reach. Learn how to provide early treatment for children who are choking. Make sure toys are used properly. Develop rules about acceptable and safe behaviors, including using electronic media.

For more information:
Electronic Aggression: Technology and Youth Violence
Home and Recreational Safety
Parents Portal

Prevent injuries
Injuries can happen anywhere, and some often occur around the holidays. Use step stools instead of climbing on furniture when hanging decorations. Leave the fireworks to the professionals. Wear a helmet when riding a bicycle or skateboarding to help prevent head injuries. Keep vaccinations up to date.

Most residential fires occur during the winter months. Keep candles away from children, pets, walkways, trees, and curtains. Never leave fireplaces, stoves, or candles unattended. Don't use generators, grills, or other gasoline- or charcoal-burning devices inside your home or garage. Install a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector in your home. Test them once a month, and replace batteries twice a year.

For more information:

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning Prevention
General Injury-Related Information
Healthy Pets Healthy People
Fire Deaths and Injuries: Prevention Tips
Traumatic Brain Injury

Handle and prepare food safely
As you prepare holiday meals, keep yourself and   your family safe from food- related illness. Wash hands and surfaces often. Avoid cross contamination by  keeping raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs (including their juices) away from    ready-to-eat foods and eating surfaces. Cook foods to the proper temperature.   Refrigerate promptly. Do not leave perishable foods out for more than two hours.

For more information:

Be Food Safe
It's Turkey Time: Safely Prepare Your Holiday Meal

Yoga may reduce risk of high blood pressure
Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES

At the recent annual conference of the Cardiological Society of India, researchers reported on the outcome of a study looking at the use of yoga in preventing high blood pressure in people who were pre-hypertensive. They found that one (1) hour of yoga a day for three months decreased blood pressure almost 5 mm/hg  (mm/hg stands for millimeters of mercury, which is how blood pressure is measured) when added to an already healthy lifestyle.   This is significant because even a 2 mm/hg decrease in blood pressure has the potential to reduce heart disease risk by 6% and stroke by 15%.

For a summary of this research see:  https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_162446.html

Use this news

Yoga is an ancient practice with its origins in India. It includes physical postures or poses (technically called asanas) and awareness of the breath through controlled breathing (pranayama) in preparation for meditation. It focuses on balancing the inter-related physical, mental, spiritual and energetic aspects of the body to improve health.  It is not a religion. It is a mind-body practice, according to the National Institutes of Health -  National Center for Complementary and Integrated Medicine.

While there are many types of yoga, hatha yoga is the type most commonly practiced in the U.S. and the one used in the study above.  Hatha yoga is generally a gentle form of yoga that uses different asanas or poses done independently from one another. (When the asanas/poses are done in a sequence and flow from one to another, it’s called vinyasa.) 

The asanas involve mild stretching which is aimed at releasing muscle tension and improving flexibility.  You may be familiar with one of the asanas already, “ðownward facing dog.”                             

And if you’re wondering where that came from…

In addition to blood pressure control, there are many other benefits of yoga including:

  • improved muscle strength and overall flexibility
  • improved heart and lung function
  • reduced stress, anxiety depression, and chronic pain
  • improved sleep patterns

If you are interested in beginning a yoga practice to help control your blood pressure or to improve your overall health:

1.       Take classes with a certified yoga instructor. Learning proper body alignment for the different poses is critical. While there are many yoga videos available for home use, correcting improper body alignment is not something a video can do, it is something a yoga instructor does.

2.       Take the proper type of class. Before taking your first class, make sure to ask about the type of yoga offered. For example, Bikram yoga or hot yoga is done in a room with temperatures as high as 105o and with higher humidity.  If you have a heart or lung disease or have a history of heat stroke, this is not for you.

3.      Leave your ego at home. Yoga practice is not about being the best in the class, it’s about being aware of yourself. There is no competition on a yoga mat. If you can’t do a pose because of a limitation you have (pregnancy, surgery, sciatica, etc.) tell your yoga instructor and he/she will show you a modification. Do the modification. The people next to you aren’t going to judge you because of it – they don’t care what you’re doing on your mat.

4.      Try a class before signing up.  Each yoga instructor will teach the class in a little different way. Some will play calming music, others will teach in silence. Some will have the room dark, others will have lights on. Some yoga classes are in rooms with rugs, others have wood floors. Some are crowded with barely an  arms’ length between mats, others have only a few people. Some are more gender mixed than others. Try out a few different instructors at a few different yoga places.

Yoga classes are held at gyms, spas, yoga studios and in private homes. Try a class at each and see what works best for you in terms of time, instructor and cost.

In terms of equipment, all you need is a yoga mat. They are available at almost any department or sporting goods store.  They are relatively inexpensive, $10 - $15.

Clothing should be lose and comfortable, but you don’t need official ‘yoga’ pants. Just make sure the clothing you wear does not restrict your movement. No special footwear is needed, yoga is done barefoot.

For more information see:

National Institutes of Health – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Yoga: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm
Meditation: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm

Mayo Clinic
Yoga: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/yoga/art-20044733

Yo-yo dieting triggers fat storage
Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES

A study published this week in the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health, offers an explanation as to why yoyo dieting leads to weight gain.  It happens because the body interprets a low calorie diet as famine or a food shortage and in response, stores fat as a protective mechanism. In some people this response continues even when the diet ends because the body does not know when famine will strike again.

For a summary of the article see: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314527.php

For the complete journal article see: http://emph.oxfordjournals.org/content/2016/1/369.full

Use this news

The results of this study tell us that low calorie quick weight loss diets don’t work for long term weight control and in fact, lead to weight gain. To prevent this, weight loss should be slow and over a long period of time.

Since it takes 3500 calories more than we need to gain one pound,  the safest way to lose weight is to cut back 500 calories a day and lose 1 pound a week with total daily caloric intake not less than 1200 calories.  To put this in perspective, 2 cans of regular soda is 500 calories,  as is 5 level tablespoons (a little more than ¼ cup) of peanut butter, mayonnaise, oil and most dressings,  ½ stick of butter, 2 cups of cooked white rice, two slices of plain pizza, about 3 cans of beer, 2 mocha lattes.

 If you want to lose weight in a healthy way, work with your body and cut back a little each day rather than going on a low caloric diet for a few days or weeks that will create a sense of famine and trigger fat storage. This, combined with being more active - just moving more and sitting less - is a safer way to go.

For more information see:

Centers for Disease Control –

Healthy Weight loss

Healthy Eating

Preventing weight gain

Keeping weight off

U.S. Department of Agriculture

            My Plate

Easy on the Alcohol to Reduce the Risk of Stroke
Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES

A little bit of alcohol, 1-2 drinks a day, may reduce the risk of stroke caused by a clot, but more than that increases the risk of stroke from both a clot and hemorrhage. These finding were published last week in BMC Medicine.   

Summary: https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_162213.html

Journal Article: http://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-016-0721-4

Use this news

With the holiday season upon us, the results of this study should be sobering – pun intended. Alcohol consumption is one of those things in which a little is good, but a lot isn’t. And here’s why – in small quantities (1-2 drinks), alcohol decrease the levels of a protein in the blood, fibrinogen, that is needed to form clots. Lower fibrinogen levels mean a lower chance of forming a clot and therefore a lower chance of an ischemic stroke, or a stroke cause by a clot. However, this does nothing to reduce the chances of a stroke caused by a hemorrhage which is related to high blood pressure, as the results of the above study found.

Alcohol in small amounts relaxes or dilates blood vessels. This is why when we start drinking, we initially feel warm.  But heavy drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol  Abuse and Alcoholism, (more than 2 drinks a day as per the study) triggers the release of stress hormones which narrow the arteries and cause blood pressure to rise. High blood pressure increases the risk of stroke from a hemorrhage.   Further, alcohol is known to increase the likelihood of atrial fibrillation, an irregular beating of the heart that is one of the leading causes of clot formation and stroke.

To minimize the risk of alcohol related stroke, limit your intake during the holidays and every day to no more than 2 drinks. The amount of pure alcohol in one standard drink of any kind is slightly more than half an ounce,  .06 oz. to be exact. The total amount of fluid in a drink depends on the percent of alcohol, the lower the alcohol percent, the more fluid volume you can drink -

  •   12 fluid ounces of beer (about 5% alcohol)
  •   8 to 9 fluid ounces of malt liquor (about 7% alcohol)
  •   5 fluid ounces of table wine (about 12% alcohol)
  •   1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol)
                (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2010)

For more information see:

American Stroke Association
Understanding Stroke:

American Heart Association
Alcohol and Heart Health: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Alcohol-and-Heart-Health_UCM_305173_Article.jsp#.WD2eqX0VW6Q

Stroke Association- U.K.
Alcohol and Stroke:https://www.stroke.org.uk/sites/default/files/alcohol_and_stroke.pdf