Monday, February 25, 2013


The health benefits of optimism

At the Vietnamese restaurant, my cookie fortune read, “Your life will be happy and peaceful.”  My husband laughed and said, “It figures you would get that fortune.”

He is a self-admitted pessimist, and I suspect my upbeat, positive attitude gets a little annoying sometimes.  But I firmly believe there are health benefits to optimism.  I decided to Google “health benefits of optimism” and got 1,120,000 hits.

A 2011 Mayo Clinic article reported that researchers continue to explore the effects of optimism on health. Positive thinking may provide these health benefits:

•  Increased life span
•  Lower stress levels
•  Lower rates of depression
•  Greater resistance to common colds
•  Better psychological and physical well-being
•  Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
•  Better coping skills during hardships and stressful times.

It's unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits. One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body. It's also thought that optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles — they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and usually don't smoke or drink alcohol in excess.

This would be bad news for pessimists, except renowned psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman promotes the idea of “learned optimism.”  He outlines a series of steps pessimists can take to re-think their approach to problems and stressful situations; view them as opportunities instead of negative forces. It’s an attitude adjustment that takes practice. There is a choice to be made: view life by looking at the positive side. 

I’ve decided it is my mission to convert my husband to optimism. When I shared that with him, his reply was, “Good luck with that one.”  Clearly, I have a lot of work to do!

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 18, 2013


Keeping the house too cold can result in hypothermia

Oil prices have risen to more than $4 per gallon, so it’s no big surprise people are lowering the thermostat.

However, lowering the thermostat too low can have severe consequences.

Individuals often think of hypothermia as a condition that occurs with overexposure to the frigid outdoor conditions.   But hypothermia can occur when the temperature is set too low in your house or apartment — even when temperatures are above 40 degrees.

Certain illnesses, medications and lack of basic activity can make it difficult for your body to stay warm. Nader Bahadory, DO, an emergency department physician, describes hypothermia as simply a condition that occurs when body temperature falls below its 98.6 degrees. 

Early signs of hypothermia include cold feet and hands, a puffy or swollen face, pale skin, shivering (in some cases a person with hypothermia does not shiver), slower than normal speech, slurring words, acting sleepy, and confusion.

According to Dr. Bahadory, as hypothermia progresses, the person may experience trouble walking, become clumsy, have stiff or jerky movements, have slow and shallow breathing, slow heartbeat and blackout or lose consciousness. 

Dr. Bahadory provides the following suggestions to prevent hypothermia.

Keep your living areas warm. If you are not using certain rooms close them off from the living areas, keep vents and doors closed, and place a rolled towel in front of doors to keep out drafts. Keep the heat in by closing the blinds and curtains. This will also help keep the cold air out.
During the day, wear warm clothes, put long johns under your clothes, wear socks, and place a blanket across your legs when sitting.
When sleeping, use extra blankets, wear a hat and long johns under your pajamas. 
Stay indoors on those cold and windy days. If you have to go outside dress for the weather and wear warm clothes. Dress in loose layers of clothing, put on a hat, scarf and gloves. You lose a lot of heat when your head and neck are uncovered.
• Most importantly, if you live alone, ask family, friends or a neighbor to check on you during cold weather.

What do you do if you think someone has warning signs of hypothermia?

Having a body temperature below 95 degrees is a medical emergency. The first step is to call 911. Then wrap the person in a warm blanket. Your goal is to warm the core parts of the victim like the chest, neck, head and groin.  Do not rub the person’s arms or legs, do not use a heating pad, and do not try to warm the person in a bath.

By following these simple suggestions, you can prevent yourself, your loved ones, or even your neighbor from developing hypothermia. Stay safe and warm.

Lisa Cook is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cook or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 11, 2013


Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack

Last month a friend of mine had a heart attack.  He didn’t recognize the early signs because they weren’t typical, like the crushing chest pain people often describe as “an elephant standing on my chest.” 
Several people have died while shoveling snow during the blizzard this past weekend.   Perhaps they experienced unusual symptoms and ignored them because didn’t recognize they were having a heart attack.  Perhaps they had crushing chest pain, but it was too late to call emergency medical responders. 

A heart attack strikes someone about every 34 seconds.  It occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely.  This happens because the arteries that supply the heart with blood have become thicker and harder from a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and plaque.    Often, the symptoms in men and women are different.  Here is what to look for:

•  Chest pain. Discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes; uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
•  Indigestion
•  Shortness of breath
•  Cold sweats
• Nausea
• Lightheadedness
•  Pain in other areas such as one or both arms, the neck, jaw, back or stomach.

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort.  But some women have no acute chest pain and are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other symptoms such as:

•  Back pain
•  Jaw pain
•  Shortness of breath
•  Nausea or vomiting
•  Dizziness.

Why do people delay seeking medical attention when they are having heart attack?  Often, they don’t recognize the signs or attribute them to other causes.  My friend had a rather severe case of indigestion, took some antacid, and felt a little better.  Fortunately, he did call his doctor to report it, and was subsequently seen and treated appropriately in the ER.

My mother had a similar experience a few years ago.  She was doing some heavy housecleaning when her upper back started to hurt.  She thought she pulled a muscle, so she didn’t do anything about it. When she mentioned the upper back pain to my sister, she wisely told Mom, “that could be cardiac:  I think you should call your doctor right away.”   Sure enough, my mother was evolving a heart attack, and my sister’s quick thinking may have saved her life.

My colleagues in the ER admit it is sometimes tricky for people to recognize the signs of a heart attack.  They readily agree people can’t come to the ER every time they feel dizziness or nausea, but if it is accompanied by one or more of the other signs, don’t delay. Seek emergency medical attention if the symptoms persist more than five  minutes, and let the professionals evaluate and decide if you are indeed having a heart attack.  It truly is “better to be safe than sorry.” 

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 04, 2013


Top 10 tips for a healthy heart

On his late-night TV show, David Letterman often presents his popular “Top Ten” lists. I find them enjoyable and entertaining.  My charge is to write about health topics, and it’s not so easy to make them entertaining.  I guess I can only hope to be informative and useful.

In that spirit, and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I offer my “Top 10 Tips for a Healthy Heart.”

10. Eat more fish and fiber rich foods like whole grains and legumes.

9. Eat less salt, sugar and fat.

8. Take medicine as prescribed. Keep them organized in a pillbox.

7. Get your blood pressure checked at least once a month.

6. Incorporate exercise into every day.  Regular exercise will decrease your blood pressure and help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight.

5. Watch what you drink.  Avoid diet sodas and caffeine. Limit daily alcohol to one drink for women, two for men. Water is still the best beverage choice.

4. Manage stress. We all have stress in our lives from one source or another and scheduling some fun or relaxation around it will stop it from taking over.

3. Laugh a lot. According to research from University of North Carolina, when you watch a comedy show or just laugh, your arteries expand with 22% more blood flow.

2. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits. The more colorful, the better. Visit www.chooseMY for more information about this recommendation.

1.Think positive. Research suggests that positive emotions such as optimism are associated with lowered production of the stress hormone cortisol, better immune function, and reduced risk of chronic diseases. Make a resolution to view the cup as half full instead of half empty. This comes naturally to optimists, but it can be a learned behavior for pessimists.  And the health benefits make it worth it!

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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