Tag Archives: food

The Benefits of Exercise (besides the fact that it can be fun!)

This post is thanks to guest blogger David Haas, who is passionately and actively raising awareness about the benefits of exercise, eating healthily, and making use of a support network for dealing with diagnosis and treatment of cancer. You can read more by David and other bloggers at The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog

Reasons to Continue Fitness Following a Cancer Diagnosis

Years ago it was common practice for people diagnosed with cancer to be asked to restrict their activity levels in favor of resting and relaxing. While rest is an important component of working through cancer treatment, too much inactivity can result in negative consequences such as reduced range of motion, loss of function and depression. Many organizations and research foundations now stress the importance of exercise following a diagnosis of mesothelioma cancer or any other type of cancer. Participating in regular physical fitness activities can supply you with physical and emotional benefits that serve to help you before, during and after cancer treatment.

Maintain Range of Motion

Over time, inactivity causes joints and muscles to feel stiff. The lack of exercise leads to decreased range of motion as muscle atrophy sets in and you become less flexible. Exercise is to your joints like oil is to a car engine. To keep your joints flexible and pain-free, you have to move them and keep them well-conditioned. By incorporating strength exercises into your physical fitness routine you can support the joints with the surrounding muscle tissue.

Build Strength

In addition to the strength your body needs to get through daily activity, it also needs extra strength and stamina to deal with the fatigue experienced during cancer treatment. Use light weights every other day to strengthen your arm and leg muscles, at the very least. Exercise DVDs can serve as an effective guide to help you build muscle strength. Even 10 minutes three times per week is sufficient to see improvement in your strength and stamina.

Reduce Treatment Side Effects

Cancer patients experience treatment side effects to varying degrees, but nausea, dizziness and fatigue are common side effects experienced by most people. Aerobic exercise is very beneficial to help fight fatigue by energizing your body in a sustained manner. Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi can help you relax and are also effective for fighting nausea. Go slowly and exercise whenever you are able. Breaking up 30 minutes of exercise into three 10-minute segments throughout the day is just as effective as doing it all at once.

Encourage Empowerment

Feeling empowered to do something about your health is critical to your overall wellness. Regular physical activity makes you feel like you’re doing something good for yourself, and you are. As physical activity lifts your mood and makes your body feel stronger, it also gives you greater hope and confidence.

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer has a tremendous impact on your life but you have the power to fight back and work toward wellness through regular physical fitness. As you exercise regularly, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of greater physical conditioning as well as a stronger emotional state. No matter where you’re at in your fight against cancer, fitness and exercise can prove to be one of the greatest tools of empowerment and well-being. Use this tool regularly to help you move away from a mindset of illness toward one of well-being.


I can attest to David’s advice. In the spring of 1998 I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. Following a summer of treatment, I wound up with radiation pneumonitis (pneumonia contracted due to radiation that reached a lung), and also managed to contract Lyme Disease. Health wise, it was a discouraging 12 months.

In an early 1999 issue of Cooking Light, I came upon a small ad for the Danskin Triathlon. The Danskin seemed the perfect way to kick me out of my health doldrums, and I wound up participating in four Danskins beginning with 1999. Having a goal, enlisting friends to help with achieving it, and following through, made a hugely positive difference in my recovery. 

And if you are looking for a way to get started, you might start simply with SuperBetter, an online game designed to help “you achieve your health goals – or recover from an illness or injury – by increasing your personal resilience. Resilience means staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges.”


The Games of Life

I just finished reading Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. There is a reason her book resonated with me, but that reason will have to wait till another post. Meantime, below is the list of games that Jane describes throughout her book. Do any resonate with you? Which ones? Why? (At the end of this post is Jane’s TED Talk, where she describes why game playing makes sense to her.)

[UPDATE June 26, 2011 – McGonigal’s newest game, Find the Future, receives a positive review in the NYT article Putting the Library on Your Smartphone.]

Bounce is designed to help jump start conversations between people of different generations, specifically, between you and people old enough to be your grandparents. You have likely heard of doing random acts of kindnessCruel 2 B Kind takes that idea one step further and turns those random acts into game play. And maybe you just want to make someone feel good? PlusOneMe(+1 me) “helps you acknowledge people’s strengths.” Or maybe you know someone who is not feeling very well, and needs help with recuperating and recovery? Try the game SuperBetter. Here is Jane McGonigal’s six minute Ignite talk describing SuperBetter. 

Chore Wars is the perfect way to get anyone, from a kid to an adult, to do those niggly yet necessary house chores.

Anyone out there who loves to fly? Congratulations if you answered “yes”. Most people I know are reluctant airplane passengers, and if you fall into that category (or even if you love to fly :-), The Day in the Cloud Challenge, created by Google and Virgin America to make your in-flight time more enjoyable, is an “online scavenger hunt played simultaneously in the air”. Another game for flyers is jetset, designed to be played on your mobile phone while in the airport.

Looking for game simulations that will help you make a difference in the future of our world? Try Evoke, “a crash course in changing the world.” Another game along these lines is Lost Joules, a way to get you thinking about your use of electric power. Superstruct was a future-forecasting game designed to get people thinking about problems humanity will face in the future, and brainstorm ways to cope with, solve or maybe even prevent those problems from manifesting. This game was created by the Institute for the Future. One more game is World Without Oil, “a massively collaborative imagining of the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis.” What better way to figure out potential solutions to future problems than to harness people power!

Simply want to volunteer but are dulled by the “same old” types of ideas? Check out sparked, “the microvolunteering network.” You can read more about this idea on the sparked blog.

Back in the days when he lived at home, my older son loaned some of his home computer processing power to SETI@home. Several science departments at the University of Washington have a similar plan for solving science puzzles requiring lots of computing power, in particular the folding of proteins.

Want be less of a home-body? foursquare is designed to get you up and out and socializing. Similarly, if you like to dance or would like to like to dance (!), Top Secret Dance-Off is designed to help you get over your shyness hump when it comes to dancing.

Increase your vocabulary and help donate rice to hungry folks through the World Food Programme with Free Rice.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum commissioned a clever alternate reality (ARG) game, Ghosts of a Chance, to help museum goers have an immersive experience with the museum.

For the 2008 Summer Olympics, McDonald’s, AKQA, the International Olympic Committee and Jane McGonigal teamed up to create The Lost Ring as a way to give non-Olympians a way to participate more fully in the feel of the games. There is a video and case study of this project available here.

Many of you have probably heard of the marriage of Nike running shoes and an iPod or iPhone to not only provide music while you exercise, but also track your performance. Surely you realized it’s a game!

My younger son would be tickled to know that a game he plays, spore, was included in Jane McGonigal’s list. And why not? It’s all about creating a universe populated by creatures of your own crafting.

If you like playing games, or are just plain curious, the Come Out & Play festival “is an annual festival of street games that turns New York City [or perhaps other cities, as well] into a giant playground.” I haven’t attended this festival, but at a quick glance it reminds me of flash mob games such as The Sound of Music at the Central Station in Antwerp, Belgium or those organized by Improv Everywhere. A company that organizes games in this genre is slingshot, a British-based company that creates “games for people and cities.” Another company that crafts games of this type is Citizen Logistics, makers of Groundcrew. And yet another, this one based in the United Kingdom, is Hide & Seek.

Speaking of the UK, one of the more intriguing games is Investigate your MP’s expenses, a game designed by the Guardian [a newspaper] to garner citizen assistance in wading through thousands of pages of scanned documents released by Parliament. Apparently, a number of British MPs had rather high expenses that were not exactly legal… This is an example of how crowdsourcing can be used to enhance citizen participation.

Believe it or not, there is at least one school, Quest to Learn, that translates “the underlying forms of games into a powerful pedagogical model for its 6-12th graders.” You can read more about Q2L in their Overview. If anyone knows of other schools like this, please add them in a comment below. Thanks!

Here is McGonigal’s 2010 TED Talk: Gaming can make a better world.

A Pyramid by any other version…

Back in December I referenced this pyramid in a post discussing Aaron Nelson’s suggestions for improving your memory. For U.S. readers who have ever taken note of the Government’s Food Pyramid, the one below is distinctly different from the old pyramid, as well as from the new pyramid. (You can also see an interactive version of the new U.S. Food Pyramid at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s site.)

What I like most about the pyramid below is that everything rests on DAILY EXERCISE. Every recent book about the brain that I have read includes EXERCISE as one of the most important features of building and maintaining a healthy brain.

Exercise ~

  • promotes neuroplasticity
  • promotes neurogenesis
  • releases norepinephrine, which facilitates memory and neuron communication
  • boots the protein BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) that fosters neurogenesis
  • improves executive function, which is managed in your frontal cortex
  • promotes memory
  • helps deal with and manage stress

Yes, I know, some of these overlap. Come at it any which way you like, but there’s no getting around the fact that EXERCISE is BENEFICIAL for your BRAIN. You already know it is beneficial for your body, and since your brain resides in your body, the sum total of this is that EXERCISE is GOOD for YOU!


You can read more about this Healthy Eating Pyramid in Food Pyramids: What Should You Really Eat? and see a larger image of the pyramid by clicking any one of three links at the end of this article about the pyramid. I asked for, and was given permission to repost the pyramid, providing the following attribution was included:

Copyright © 2008 Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Pyramid, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, http://www.thenutritionsource.org, and Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, by Walter C. Willett, M.D. and Patrick J. Skerrett (2005), Free Press/Simon & Schuster Inc.

CAIS: LeAnn Nickelson on Nutrition & the Brain

“As we eat, so shall we think”

So said LeAnn as she presented a spirited session on nutrition, which included a forty-three page packet with the same title as her talk Brain-Smart Foods That Maximize Learning. As the mother of twins, LeAnn is passionate about the foods she serves her family. While her session was focused on foods that benefit the brain, I suspect most of you will agree that what’s good for the brain is good for the body, and vice versa.

It is common knowledge that our bodies need water. As a swimmer, I know that water is necessary to prevent muscle fatigue. The new information I gleaned about water is that, according to LeAnn, the number one reason for daytime fatigue is insufficient water!

In addition, having access to a drink of water can result in a two percent decrease in cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone – decrease it and your stress decreases. Another water statistic is that “a mere two percent drop in body water can impair physical and cognitive performance.” Sure makes a sound argument for giving every child (and adult) access to water throughout the day.

Another Nickelson tidbit is that an adolescent brain needs a snack about every sixty to ninety minutes in order to supply the brain with necessary levels of glucose. “Cognitive performance can suffer when blood glucose concentrations are low.” An ideal snack combines a  protein with a complex carbohydrate. LeAnn provided a list of possible snack combinations. One of her favorites is green tea and almonds at two in the afternoon.

  • real cheese and whole wheat crackers
  • fruits and vegetables (raisins, blueberries, oranges, apples, carrots, celery, grapes, bananas…)
  • peanuts or peanut butter on whole wheat crackers
  • fruit muffins made with whole wheat flour
  • granola bars or granola cereal
  • sunflower seeds
  • popcorn
  • hummus and pita bread

LeAnn provided advice for optimizing the brain prior to taking a test. I am willing to bet this advice is just as useful for anyone who is about to give a presentation or engage in some other activity that puts them front and center of a group of people.

  • perform 2 minutes of exercise (jumping jacks work well because they do not require much space)
  • consume a snack that has glucose (apples, pears, berries, grapes and raisins)
  • drink approximately 6 oz. of water (determined by body size, could be more or less)

For more information about nutrition, LeAnn recommended the following authors and books, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s site. And I have included one of my favorite and oft referenced sites, Neuroscience for Kids.

Jean CarperFood – Your Miracle Medicine
Elizabeth Somer
Food & Mood
Juliette Kellow
Miracle foods for kids
Marcia Zimmerman
The A.D.D. Nutrition Solution

MyPyramid.gov is the US Department of Agriculture’s site to help people understand healthy eating
The Department provides an interactive pyramid to learn more about the food groups
Neuroscience for Kids page on nutrition and the brain

CBS News: “Brain Food” For Kids

[Images come from iStockPhoto]

CAIS: LeAnn Nickelson on Food & Sleep

I usually have no difficulty falling asleep…the first time. It’s the second time that’s tough…after I’ve woken up at 2 or 3 in the morning thanks to rumblings in my stomach from something eaten hours earlier. Perhaps the most personally practical session I attended at the CAIS brain institute was LeAnn Nickelson’s Brain-Smart Foots That Maximize Learning.

Yes, the session was about brain-smart foods, but as you may have read in my previous post, a sound night’s sleep helps to consolidate memories and, hence, learning. Therefore, it comes in handy to understand how what you eat can impact how your sleep.

Here are the sleep and nutrition tips shared by LeAnn. (Most of this is either direct-quoted or paraphrased from page 30 of her information packed handout.)

  1. Melatonin and serotonin are utilized in bringing about and maintaining sleep. Carbohydrates help produce serotonin, so try eating 1 to 1.5 ounces of a low-fat carb about 30 minutes prior to sleep. (9/1/08 I’ve been having an email exchange with a reader and have decided that this needs to be clarified. The snack should consist of complex carbs as opposed to simple carbs.)
  2. Avoid drinking caffeine after late afternoon.
  3. Exercise produces a surge in sleep hormones but be sure to finish with your exercise at least 4 hours prior to falling asleep. Exercise is beneficial for a number of reasons, including helping to work off stress, which may otherwise be a factor in promoting poor sleep.
  4. Alcohol and REM (the portion of sleep when you dream) are not compatible. Less REM is associated with more night awakenings and more restless sleep, so be sure to have your last drink more than 2 hours prior to bedtime, and keep overall alcohol intake to a low quantity.
  5. Those large dinners filled with fatty foods should be avoided, especially if eaten later in the evening. Heavy meals stimulate prolonged digestive action, which will make for a wakeful sleep. If you like large meals, try having them at breakfast and lunch, instead of at dinner.
  6. Spicy foods, which have been my sleep nemesis, and gas-forming foods can wake you up in the middle of the night if you have them at dinner. Again, try having them at lunch, instead of at dinner.
  7. Check that your body is getting its required quantity of vitamins and minerals.
  8. Set a bedtime ritual that helps program your body to expect sleep.
  9. And if the first tip doesn’t suffice, try a cup of warm milk at bedtime.

Summertime & the Body Is Moving

Exercise and diet seem to be popular topics of conversation these days, probably because summer is just around the bend. The weather has turned warm and sunny, even hot on some days with high humidity. And this change in weather, along with the ending of another school year, brings out the inner exerciser in many of us. To paraphrase the Gershwins: Summertime and the Body Is (should be) Moving.

A 14-year old blogger from my school, in his June 13th blog post, wrote:

Mark is a bit of a health crazy (at least compared to me), so we decided to enter into an arrangement. For these summer months, Mark and I are going to meet and he is going to try to make me at least a little athletic. I’m optimistic, especially if I don’t make this more complicated than it needs to be.

And my 51-year old brother just this weekend told me that the recent death of Tim Russert, moderator of Meet the Press, has inspired him to try and change his eating habits. My brother was shaken by the fact that there were just seven years between their ages.

People have often talked about and made changes to their eating and exercise habits in terms of how they look or what might be good for their hearts. Rarely, though, have I heard people consider these in terms of what might be good for their brains, yet healthy eating is good for your entire body, starting at the top! You can read more about diet specifics at The Franklin Institute’s page on nourishing your brain with a healthy diet.

And while there are many folks who may choose to skip breakfast, the fact is that when you wake up in the morning your brain needs to be replenished with a fresh stock of glucose. Don’t take my word for it; you can listen to NPR’s A Better Breakfast Can Boost a Child’s Brainpower. Just this morning, as my 17 year old was heading off to his English Regents and was in no mood for breakfast, he finally succumbed to the offer of a crunchy peanut butter and blueberry jam sandwich (much to his mother’s delight 🙂 .)

NPR (National Public Radio) has two additional short pieces on the benefits of exercise. At the younger years, Exercise Helps Students in the Classroom, discusses how brain cells are strengthened by exercise. In the older years, Study: Exercise Lowers Dementia Risk, details the results of a study done on people age “65 and older who did moderate exercise had a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia.” The fascinating part of this study is that folks who had already started to show signs of decline benefitted the most from the exercise. As Eric Larson, the interviewee from the Center for Health Studies – Group Health Cooperative says:

Use it or lose it.
Use it even after you start to lose it!

There have been a number of articles written about the benefits of exercise for the brain. John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has written the book SPARK, which is all about “the connection between exercise and the brain’s performance”. Ginger Campbell has a 2008 interview with Ratey on her Brain Science Podcast.

I’d really rather you stopped reading this post and headed outdoors to move your body! But if you need one more ounce of convincing, read through the rest of The Franklin Institute’s pages devoted to The Human Brain, particularly the Nourish and Renew sections that cover eating, exercise, and sleep.

p.s. Yes, to answer the questions some of you may be posing, I DO get out and move, especially in the summer when I kayak and swim. Our neighborhood has an outdoor pool where 72 laps is a mile. I am up to daily half-miles and am aiming for 3/4 of a mile by July and daily miles by August. Will keep you posted.

p.p.s. Happy 24th Birthday J!

Mussels in Brussels, Bagettes in France

We are spending eleven days in France, where food and culture are tightly intertwined. And if we are talking about food, then we are talking about the sense of taste. Food can be a marvelous entry into memory, the taste of the meal coupled with where it is served, how it is presented, and with who you are eating.

For an overview of how the brain decodes taste, visit Neuroscience for Kids – Taste. Here you will read what you might already know by experience, that the tongue’s taste buds can decipher four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Some researchers believe that a fifth taste may also be present, umami, which has been described as “meatlike”.

A Society for Neuroscience brain briefing on Taste Intensity relates that scientists are researching how taste preferences may impact personal health, in particular looking at supertasters, people who “may experience an overall higher level of tasting ability than others”. Having been a fussy eater as a child (and eating just about everything now!), and having raised two sons, one who still has a highly discriminating palette and the other who has learned to eat almost anything (including raw lobster in Japan!), I know that taste plays a huge role in diet, and that taste and diet can – and often do – change over time.

Taste does not exist in the mouth alone, however; it has a close companion in the nose and smell. The Cornell Center for Materials Research Ask A Scientist article, Taste takes more than just tongues, explains this relationship and also discusses how chemicals – both natural and synthetic – influence our sense of taste. To bring home the relationship between taste and smell, the Exploratorium has a simple experiment you can try with a friend. Check out Newton’s Apple Taste And Smell site for additional experiments and further insight.

But what happens if one or both of these senses does not function properly?

ENT doctors specialize in the treatment of ear, nose and throat ailments. (This is known as otolaryngology, my new word of the day!) The American Academy of Otolaryngology has an informative page on smell and taste – how they work and what happens when they don’t.

Last week we spent three nights in Belgium, including a visit to Brussels, where our friends graciously took us to a dinner of mussels (a Brussels speciality) and then we all attended the Ommegang. My husband and I were last in Europe in 1977, and now we travel with our two sons. Each morning we have a petite dejuner of cocoa, cafe, croissants et bagettes. There is no doubt that the taste and smell of foods from this trip will be indelibly imprinted upon my memories!