L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Certified Gerontologist

This Week’s Wonder Woman: Victoria Claflin Woodhull

Victoria Claflin Woodhull, (September 23, 1838 – June 9, 1927), was an American leader of the women’s suffrage movement.  Even though it would be almost fifty years before women gained the right to vote, Victoria was the first woman to run for President of the United States. She was the candidate in 1872 from the Equal Rights Party, supporting women’s suffrage and equal rights; her running mate was black abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass. Some historians quibble about the legality of her run because she was younger than the constitutionally mandated age of 35. Election coverage by contemporary newspapers does not suggest age was a significant issue.

As well as an activist for women’s rights Victoria championed labor reforms, and was a voice for “free love“– the freedom to marry, divorce, and bear children without social restriction or government interference.  Together with her sister, Tennessee Claflin, she was the first woman to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street, and the two were among the first women to found a newspaper in the United States, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which began publication in 1870. The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership was founded by Naomi Wolf and Margot Magowan in 1997, and in 2001, Victoria Woodhull was inducted posthumously into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

This Week’s Wonder Woman: Victoria Claflin Woodhull

Fact: Every year in the United States, one billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed on our foods. So, where do all those pesticides go, and are they harmful to us?  

When pesticides are sprayed, the growing plant, tree, shrub, or bush absorbs these chemicals, which alters the natural state of the plant. Some of the spray lands on the soil, and sinks into the earth, filling the soil with pesticides that eventually make it all the way to the ground water. Additionally, some of the spray hits the surface of our water supplies, the same supply that irrigates the plants we eat, which have already received a dose of pesticides. Then it permeates the water we drink, cook with, and use to bathe our children. The USDA suspects that 50 million Americans obtain their drinking water from ground water that may be contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals.   

The USDA and the FDA continually reassure us that chronic low-level exposure to pesticides and other agricultural chemicals is safe. However, many of the commonly used chemicals in pesticides have long been classified as possible or probable carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. For us at mid-life, the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s increases the more frequently we are exposed to or ingest pesticides. In the last decade, the results of several large-scale studies have been published focusing on just this connection. More than three thousand people participated in a multi-year study published in the journal Neurology. The researchers found farmers and gardeners were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as the general population. Men seem to be at higher risk than women, possibly because there are more men in farming jobs than women. 

There are also an increasing number of studies linking exposure to pesticides to cognitive dysfunction and even overt dementia, including AD dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. Some of the latest research finds that some individuals, due to their genetic composition, may be more vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides compared to other individuals with different genetic backgrounds. 

 I am very concerned with the amount of chemicals sprayed on our foods. Fortunately, there is a way to reduce our exposure to the harmful effects of pesticides. Organically grown foods contain fewer pesticide residues in comparison to conventionally grown foods. Organic foods are readily available these days and, in my opinion, organically grown foods taste better.   Sometimes, however, the cost of organic foods can dissuade people from buying them, but you can buy organic food on a budget, most often at farmer’s markets and sometimes in the frozen food section.  If you have a choice between buying organic or conventional foods, wouldn’t you like to know which ones are the most affected by pesticides?  Then you can choose to buy organic or not, based on that information. 

Each year The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment analyzes data from the federal Department of Agriculture. They evaluate pesticide use and create two lists: the Dirty Dozen list, which contains the highest number and concentration of pesticide residue foods, and a Clean Fifteen list, which contains the lowest number and concentration of pesticide residue foods. 

Here are the lists for 2018: 

Dirty Dozen Foods 2018: 

  1. Strawberries 
  1. Spinach 
  1. Nectarines 
  1. Apples 
  1. Grapes 
  1. Peaches 
  1. Cherries 
  1. Pears 
  1. Tomatoes 
  1. Celery 
  1. Potatoes 
  1. Sweet Bell Peppers 

Clean Fifteen Foods 2018: 

  1. Avocados 
  1. Sweet Corn 
  1. Pineapples 
  1. Cabbages 
  1. Onions 
  1. Sweet Peas frozen 
  1. Papayas 
  1. Asparagus 
  1. Mangoes 
  1. Eggplants 
  1. Honeydew melons 
  1. Kiwis 
  1. Cantaloupes 
  1. Cauliflower 
  1. Broccoli 

One tip to help with the higher cost of organics is to buy only those in season, or buy organic frozen. These are picked at the height of the best flavor season for that fruit or vegetable, and then quickly frozen to lock in as much flavor as possible. 

Organic vs. non-organic has been, and will be for some time to come, a fiercely debated topic.  A friend recently told me she will only buy conventionally grown strawberries because they taste so much better, and she doesn’t care about the pesticides. I can’t agree, but all people are entitled to their opinions. And so the debate continues… 

Until next time…. Be Vibrant!  

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Do I Really Need to Buy Organic Food? Yes and No. Here’s Why.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a Renaissance woman only she was born just about 300 years before the Early Renaissance.

At about fourteen, she became a nun of the Order of St. Benedict and remained so for her entire eighty-one years. Hildegard was a visionary, theologian, writer, composer, artist, healer, reformer, medical practitioner, prophet, and poet. Her theological ideas became part of the Catholic Church, and even helped to shape modern theology. She was canonized (official declaration of Sainthood) and named a Doctor of the Church (only one of thirty-six, ever designated) by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. She may have lived and worked only within the confines of the Catholic Church, but her contributions were world-influencing and her writing, prolific. Entering her stride at forty-two, Hildegard wrote about holistic healing, developed new forms of music and opera, and inspired modern philosophy and psychology. 700 years later, her writing influenced Carl Jung’s work on the subconscious in psychology. She also wrote extensively about nature, science, and cosmology, and about diet and nutrition. One of my favorite ideas Hildegard wrote about was her concept of the divine feminine as a positive creative force in the universe–something we are beginning to acknowledge in our world today, eight hundred years later.

This Week’s Wonder Woman: Hildegard of Bingen

Recently reported in People Magazine, Erica Kane of Pine Valley* suffered a heart attack in October of 2018. As I read the article, it didn’t surprise me that she never mentioned being tested for heart disease before the attack. Obviously, her doctor failed to order tests for her which would have revealed the 90% blockage in the main artery leading to her heart, and a 70% blockage in a branch artery even though her doctor knew her father had suffered a heart attack in his early forties. Looking at this information in black and white, it seems incredulous that her doctor had never ordered a Coronary Calcium Score to help gauge her risk.  And, once she had that number, she also needed a Carotid Intima-Media Thickness Test (CIMT) to measure the thickness of the inner two layers of the carotid artery, the artery located at the side of our necks. This simple, and painless, test can let doctors know if there is any thickening in the artery walls long before we might experience any symptoms of a cardiac incident. If the results of the CIMT are concerning, further tests such as a Doppler Ultrasound, an ultrasound for the blood vessels and the heart to see blood flow through the vessels and heart, a MRI Angiogram or MRA which allows doctors to see inside the blood vessels, or a Cardiac CT Scan, which produces dye-free multiple x-ray images of the heart and blood vessels, will give defining information about the state of our arteries and risk level for a heart attack. Even beginning with a simple stress test, doctors can get an idea of the condition of our hearts and whether some or all of the above tests are needed. 

All this begs the question, why didn’t Erica Kane’s doctor order any of these, especially with a history of heart disease in her family? I have some history of heart disease in my family, and since I reached mid-life, my doctor orders both a coronary calcium score and a CIMT every time I have a physical. I don’t want to put Erica’s doctor on the defensive, but even today in 2019, women are far less likely to receive the same care and treatment as men when it comes to their health outside of female issues. We are also three times more likely than men to die following a serious heart attack as a result of receiving less equal care and treatment. In a landmark study done in Sweden over a ten-year period, 2003-2013, involving almost sixty-one thousand women, the researchers found this to be true. I watched my mother languish in a recovery facility, virtually ignored by her (male) physician after undergoing quadruple by-pass surgery. During that stay, she suffered from a host of easily avoidable complications due to basic negligence. I tried to intervene on her behalf, but since I was the baby in the family, no one would listen to me.

The anger I feel as I write these words is almost uncontainable, but the above study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2017, makes one thing absolutely certain: We must take control of our own health and ASK, or more likely in most cases, DEMAND, that at least once, more if results merit it, we have our coronary calcium scores taken, and for sure, have a CIMT test, especially if heart disease runs in the family. If the results are good, the peace of mind is worth it. If the tests show issues, you can do what is necessary so that you will never be like Erica, out shopping one day and then suddenly feel as if an elephant has just sat down on your chest.

 Until next time….Be Vibrant!

*Susan Lucci one of the stars of the daytime soap opera, All My Children.

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3 Simple Tests to Help Prevent a Heart Attack

This month is Women’s History Month, and I am beginning each newsletter in March by highlighting a woman from history, or presently alive, that I particularly admire. Honestly, it would take a year to even get halfway through my list, but I will pick a few for this month and save the others for the future.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, A Supreme and Living Legend

How could I not start with RBG?

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was only the second female justice appointed in United States history, nominated and confirmed in 1993, at the age of 60. She is still there influencing key decisions and helping furthering the rights of women. In her quiet yet deadly way, she makes her points so brilliantly as to leave the opposition (usually a man) literally speechless. I wish for that talent! I recently learned she is also the subject of the popular Tumblr blog Notorious RBG celebrating her judicial accomplishments as well as her status as an inspirational part of women’s history. She will celebrate her 86th birthday on March 15th. Go RBG!

This Week’s Wonder Woman: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Today, flat gray clouds cover the sky, for many parts of the world, a common feature of a winter day. Today, I wanted to stay in bed, wait for tomorrow, and hope for sun. Being a Texas girl born and raised, I grew up with more sunny days than cloudy ones, and for decades now, I know my energy level and productivity are somehow linked to sunshine. On days like today, I have little energy, care about nothing, and generally feel and act like Grumpy Cat until evening. Even though I know dark chocolate won’t shift my mood, I sometimes give that delicious treat a good try! If I am somewhere and experience a run of gray days, pretty soon I have sunk so low I must be scraped off the floor. This got me thinking about winter depression, SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder, and while I don’t think I suffer a full on case of SAD, I know friends who do. As many of us in the Northern Hemisphere are still slogging through winter, I thought a few words about this condition might be helpful.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Georgetown Medical School, and author of Winter Blues, Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder, who first identified and coined the term in 1984, found we women suffer from seasonal depression or SAD four times as often as men do in our earlier years (ages 20-30), but the numbers become closer to equal as both sexes get older. Your science lesson for today: The research also tells us that the culprit is low serotonin—the chemical in our bodies responsible for our moods, appetite, sleep regulation, and libido. In folks with SAD, serotonin can’t function efficiently because the body produces a serotonin-blocking chemical called SERT. At this point, scientists aren’t exactly sure why this occurs in some people, and not in others. Stay tuned for more developments in this area. For those of us who have clear-cut cases of SAD every winter, there are some well-researched steps we can take to markedly reduce the symptoms until the sunshine and warmer temperatures return.

Symptoms of SAD

  • Low energy
  • Sleeping too much or not wanting to get out of bed
  • Overeating
  • Craving refined carbs and sugar
  • Weight gain (as a result of the above)
  • Just feeling “blah” all the time
  • Withdrawing from friends and family (feeling like hibernating)

Here are some of the best ways to counter the feelings of SAD and make winter your favorite season. Well, maybe… 😉

Throw open those curtains.

As soon as you wake up, get up (as hard as that may be), and raise those shades as high as they will go to let in as much morning light as possible.

Put on those gym shoes.

A meta-review (a compilation and review of many studies) from the American College of Sports Medicine Journal found for some of us experiencing SAD, vigorous exercise, like HIIT—High Intensity Interval Training, (see my blog post from February 27, 2018), might be as successful as therapy or anti-depressants at lowering our SERT levels, which help to elevate our serotonin levels, and alleviate the depression.

Keep up your Interests.

You may not feel like attending your weekly knitting circle or regular recipe-swapping coffee klatch, but pushing yourself to be with friends is a great way to lift your spirits, to say nothing of strengthening your social connections—a strong choice toward staying vibrant as we get older. The same goes for indulging in your favorite hobby; that ship isn’t going to sail itself into that bottle!

Get a Light Box

This is probably the most often-cited and well-known tool available to fight SAD. Studies show light boxes are the magic bullet for up to fifty percent of SAD sufferers. If used correctly, the boxes cause mood shifts to occur in only a few days, giving blessed relief almost as fast a speeding bullet. Discuss with your doctor, and experiment with different types of light boxes, and see what might work for you.

Eliminate Sugar

My long-time readers will be nodding, (I hope), as I add another reason to drop sugar from your diet. In addition to the negative effects sugar has on our brains and bodies, people who consume the most sugar are more prone to depression. Scientists now think sugar lowers our bodies’ ability to cope with stress. Craving sweets and starchy foods in the winter is also an indicator and symptom of SAD.

Go Outside and Play

Your mother was right. Grab your earmuffs and your muffler and take a brisk walk outside in the morning after sunrise. Or, take up a wintertime-specific sport, like snowshoeing, outdoor ice-skating or curling ;-0 Some of the lead researchers in this field, Dr. Kelly Rohan (no relation) at the University of Vermont, and Dr. Ani Kalayjian at Columbia University, both endorse this plan, and Dr. Rohan notes getting that morning light into our retinas is especially beneficial; plus you get exercise as well. Home run in my book.

Hit the Mat

Dr. Kalayjian also recommends taking up yoga for relaxation and relief from depression. More and more studies are pointing to yoga as a good practice for stress reduction and anxiety. That’s one more reason to add a yoga class or two into your weekly regime.

If You Can, Take a Trip

Dr. Rohan finds folks who experience SAD feel significantly better after getting away from work and soaking up some warm sun rays for a few days. This break can help reset our circadian rhythms and override the SERT reaction so that serotonin moves into our nerves and elevates our moods and outlooks, even after we return. 

When  Mama Nature covers my beloved sun for more than a day or two, I pull out my list of countermoves above and add a few to my day to help me feel, and think, better. I hope they work for you. Give them a try.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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The Truth About Seasonal Affective Disorder

There are so many accomplished women of color to acknowledge and applaud during Black History Month; women doing great things in the present, and ones from the past. I struggled to pick just ten to introduce here. We all know the names of the former First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah, Hattie McDaniel, Rosa Parks, and many other black women who have become household names through their achievements, contributions, sacrifices, and resilience for which we admire them. In compiling this list, I hope to introduce a few rising stars and highlight the achievements of some lesser known ladies. Each of these women displays facets of what it means to be vibrant. They are true role models for us all.

Kimberly Bryant
Founder of STEM program for Girls of Color
An electrical engineer, in 2011 Kimberly founded Black Girls Code, a training course for girls 7-17 that exposes them to STEM disciplines. It also opens up opportunities for them to learn about technology, and acquire basic coding skills. Since its creation, Kimberly and Black Girls Code have trained more than 8,000 girls in 13 chapters across America, and one in Africa with plans to expand to other countries. Black women make up less than 3% of the workforce in the tech fields, and Kimberly wants to help raise that number.

Kimberle’ Crenshaw
Distinguished Law Professor
Leading Scholar and Activist
Kimberle’ holds the title of professor of law for both the UCLA School of Law and Columbia University Law School specializing in race and gender issues. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she has done much to raise awareness about the unique kinds of discrimination black women experience at the intersection of racist and sexist institutional practices, coining the term “intersectionality,” now widely used as the term for this issue. Kimberle’ launched the #SayHerName initiative, now a critical component of #BlackLivesMatter.

Marley Dias
Thirteen Year Old Out to Change the Book World
At 13, Marley is the youngest person on Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 List. Distressed by the lack of brown faces in books for children, especially female brown faces, Marley founded #1000BlackGirlsBooks, a social media campaign and book drive to collect and donate books for children featuring black girls as the main characters. She has surpassed her goal by a factor of ten. In the spring of 2018, Marley also became an author by writing her own book for Scholastic Books called, Marley Dias Gets it Done: And So Can You!  This is a young woman to watch.

Ava DuVernay
Director of Film and Television
The list of accomplishments for this fireball is impressive: the first black woman director nominated for a Golden Globe, the first black woman director nominated for an Academy Award. She is the first black woman to direct a $100M+ film budget and the first black woman to direct a film earning more than $100M. All this and she is only 46. 

Melissa M. Freeman
A 91 year-old Practicing Physician
Dr. Freeman, who has been practicing medicine for more than half a century, specializes in internal medicine and is leading the fight against the opioid crisis by treating female patients with heroin addictions in her native New York City. She knew early on she wanted to be a doctor, and was only one of four women in a class of one hundred and fifty students at Howard University College of Medicine. Asked about retirement in an interview with ABC, Dr. Freeman replied, “I’m not ready yet!” 

Hadiyah-Nicole Green
Medical Physicist focusing on Laser Treatment for Cancer
For Dr. Green, finding new cancer treatments was and is personal after losing both the aunt and uncle who raised her, to cancer. After an internship at NASA, Dr. Green saw how important the use of lasers could be in cancer therapy. In 2016, as a faculty member at Morehouse School of Medicine, she received a $1.1M grant from the VA’s Office of Research and Development to begin clinical trials on her theories of using lasers to reduce pain and aid in the treatment of cancer. 

Ayanna Howard
Innovator in the field of Artificial Intelligence
After a dozen years at NASA as a senior robotics researcher, Ayanna is now the chair of the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, where she is pushing the boundaries of what we know in the fields of artificial intelligence, computer vision, and robotics. Ayanna is also the founder and CTO of Zyrobotics, L.L.C, which focuses on developing personalized educational technologies for children with learning differences.

Lucy McBath
Member of Congress, Georgia’s 6th Congressional District
Rep. Lucy McBath, elected from Georgia’s 6th Congressional District last November, is a dynamic addition to the Democratic Party. Lucy’s passion for public service arises from her family’s 2012 tragedy when her son, Jordan, was shot and killed. She credits her son with inspiring her to run for Congress. Lucy was a private citizen who believed she could make a difference. She harnessed her pain from losing her son by taking action to help save others from experiencing senseless gun violence.

Adrienne Raquel
Rising Photographer and Art Director
As beautiful as the women she photographs, Adrienne is the creative genius behind Nylon Magazine’s 2018 Black History Month cover, Nike Sportswear’s FashionAir campaign, and NARS global social media 2018 holiday campaign. Adrienne is one of the few black female photographers ensuring that stunning images of black women are a part of the present visual culture.

Zim Ugochukwu
Pioneer in the Black Travel Movement
Zim created the digital publishing brand “Travel Noire” to make traveling more relatable and accessible to people of color. Her publication brings the world of black travelers together by sharing tips, tools, and the lure of new destinations around the globe. Zim reaches more than two million readers a month, and has 400,000 Instagram followers.

What a list of accomplished women!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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10 Inspirational Black Women You Need to Know

Full disclaimer here: I am in love with my Havanese puppy, George Eliot, as I hope many of you see each week in my Facebook posts or here on my website. This post is just the tiniest bit biased toward having, or adding, a pet in your life.

In the United States, more than one third, 37% in fact, of folks fifty to sixty-seven, and 29% of older adults sixty-eight and older, are lucky enough to have a pet in their lives. Solid research published in the last few decades reveals the benefits of seniors owning a pet or having regular interaction with an animal. Those who have pets are physically and mentally healthier, have more independence, and have stronger and broader social connections, all contributors to keeping us vibrant as we get older. Pets may even reduce some symptoms of dementia.

Recently, I am proud to say, we gerontologists–experts in aging, who offer lifestyle and behavioral changes to optimize older adults’ physical, mental, and psychological health and quality of life– are again on the forefront. We are discovering what helps us flourish at every age with a study analyzing the best research in the field about pets and seniors.

In 1980, Dr. Erika Freidmann published the first results of groundbreaking research on the health benefits of pets. In this study, Dr. Friedmann found that pet ownership made a significant difference in the survival rate of those who had suffered a heart attack — 94% of the heart patients with a fur baby at home survived serious heart attacks for at least a year, compared to 72% of those who had no animal pal. Later studies added to the heart healthy benefits of having a pet, finding those with pets had better cardiovascular health and reduced hypertension. The American Heart Association — the United States’ oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke — says that pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is associated with decreased cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, and having a dog likely plays a role in reducing CVD risk, over all. Well, yippee for Fido! Personally, I think it’s because we open our hearts to our pets and their love for us heals our hearts in return.

An added perk of being a human parent to a pet? Some studies of pet owners have found even more health benefits linked to Fluffy’s presence in the house– a boost to her mom’s and dad’s immune systems and a stronger resistance to disease. Our stress levels are lower than those without a pet. In a study of doctors’ visits among Medicare recipients in California, even those who experienced multiple negative life events such as the death of a spouse or friend had no increase in the number of doctors’ visits compared to those who didn’t share their homes with a furry friend. In the study, dog owners had the greatest resistance to illness and disease.

Additionally, we who share our home with a pet also tend to require fewer visits to primary care providers, which may also be due to better overall health that loving a pet offers us humans. Folks who own a dog benefit even more from an increased moderate level of physical activity through daily walks and time spent outdoors playing with their canine companion.

Pets increase our sense of well-being and boost our psychological health. Walking Spot becomes for many seniors a way to interact with neighbors and the community around them.

Pet owners strengthen their social connections by meeting new friends—both furry and human– and bonding with fellow dog lovers. Dog are a great “ice breaker” and dog owners are five times more likely to get to know their neighbors than owners of other types of pets, and twice as likely to forge friendships with people they meet through their pet. Daily walks also helps seniors stay familiar with their surroundings and helps them feel safe.

Having a pet alleviates depression in people of all ages, a fact now well established by research. For much older seniors, or those with mobility issues and limited contact outside their home, those with pets show less depression and more resilience against everyday challenges. Animals provide older adults with structure and give them a sense of purpose—a reason to get up in the morning, get dressed, and attend to the needs of their four-legged companion. Often, if the seniors were parents, those instincts come online again and subtly ignite the pet owners to be present and on alert because of the charge in their care. Loving a pet can have positive effects on the humans’ well-being and help keep them engaged. For women, and those living alone, our pets make us feel safe at home and when we venture outside. Having a pet, the research tells us, can be a deciding factor in helping older adults remain in a home setting as they get older.

Even if you can’t take on the full responsibility of owning a pet, there are ways to interact and gain benefits from being around animals. Volunteer at a pet shelter or pet care facility, offer to pet sit, or foster a pet for brief periods. Decide what works best for you, and either zoom down to the local shelter and give a fur ball a forever home, or offer to volunteer! Just by being near and interacting with an animal, we absorb their loving energy and good vibes, which makes us better people, and the health benefits? An added perk 😉

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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How Pets Keep Seniors Healthy

I just hung up the phone from speaking with my doctor about my lab results, and it seems I need to make a few critical changes to lower my cholesterol. Now granted, the blood work was done three weeks after the holiday season when the remains of sweet treats of all kinds still lingered in a corner of the kitchen counter. I can also recall several meals involving bread, wine, and dessert during the month of December, and so the number could be a little off, maybe. However, not enough, I fear, to keep the doctor from threatening a pharmaceutical intervention to bring it down. Like so many health issues, we often feel fine until the issue reaches critical mass, and then BOOM! We have a heart attack, or full-blown diabetes, or worse. (I feel perfectly fine and have energy. even though at this moment I am closing up my arteries with gooey globs of sticky plaque.) Having written about the effects of sugar and wheat on the brain (blog post Jan. 22) some of you readers might think I don’t eat those inflammation-causing foods. Well, you would only be partially right. From giving up all sugar from Thanksgiving to Christmas 2017, I have slowly slipped back into the clutches of the white menace—both sugar and white flour. The numbers do not lie. 

The rest of my diet does look more Mediterranean than North American, except for those two tiny ingredients. I love bread, and I will walk a mile outside in Texas during the month of August for a slice of old-fashioned yellow cake with chocolate fudge frosting. But, I also want to age vibrantly and, well, actually get older, instead of possibly dying too young from a heart attack. Today, I will begin making changes to insure that doesn’t happen. How will I do it? I will start with sugar, since I am not sure I can yet live without toast. I will begin by sweeping the counters clean, and tossing all temptations, but perhaps keep the chocolate sandwich cookies I bought last month, as my crutch. I am not a big after-dinner dessert eater because I am usually too full. However,  I am a I- want-something-sweet-between-meals sugar consumer. Wine is out, but I’m not a big drinker, and so giving up the vino  will not be too difficult. 

Since I know change is hard, and even tougher the older we get, I will start by cutting back my sugar consumption by 50%, this red-hot minute. I will do that for a week, then cut that by 50%, then 50% each week for a month, until I am getting my sweet fix from berries or other low-glycemic natural sugars—like eating an orange. This is how I think I can manage changing for the long-term. But, I know I will fail at some point, slip up and drop three handfuls of M&M’s into my mouth one afternoon because I am having a bad day. And, that will be O.K. One indiscretion will not delete all my efforts. It isn’t a zero-sum game. Thank God. When I have an M&M fall-out, that night I will add to my gratitude list that I am grateful I only needed three handfuls to make me feel better, instead of the entire bag. I am making progress.

Once I have scoured refined sugar from most of my diet, I will begin on foods made from wheat and follow the same procedure as I did with the sugar. I will stop eating things in order of their value to me. I love toast, as I mentioned—for breakfast, for a midnight snack, truly anytime is a good time. It has a high value in my life, which probably makes it the last thing I will eliminate. I will find a substitute that doesn’t raise my insulin and inflammation levels. I realize these are goals I won’t meet in a week or even in two months  but I will keep trying. I will need to learn to love this new low-glycemic toast substitute, and then I will feel I have my wheat toast addiction in a good place. 

That might be the answer, at least for me: find a substitute I can fall in love with for a food/foods that will eventually kill me, and slowly eliminate the killers from my diet. This is my plan for now. I shall pivot my thinking to see foods made from refined sugar and wheat as occasional treats, splurges to be eaten with reverence, and savored, tiny bite by tiny bite. I promise to keep you posted on my progress, and what I can find to replace my beloved toast. I don’t think there is much hope for a replacement for the old-fashioned yellow cake with fudge frosting, but I am keeping my toes crossed on that one.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

Change is Hard

To sum up my discussion on brain health, the aging brain, and the gut brain connection, I am listing below the best things to “feed” your brain to help it, and you, function at your most vibrant. Based on the latest research, I am listing them in rough order of importance.

  1. Cut back or eliminate eating refined sugar—white or brown sugar and maple syrup. 
  2. Cut back or eliminate processed foods made from wheat—cookies, crackers, breads, breakfast cereal. (By a country mile, these two are the most important choices you can make for the health of your brain.)
  3. Eat a like an Italian, or Greek, or other culture from the Mediterranean region. (See my 1/28/2019 post at LJRohan.com for more discussion about this tasty way of eating).
  4. Reduce your stress level: put more fun in your life.  Add quiet time or meditation into your day. Seriously consider adopting  a pet.
  5. Exercise moderately every day. Do enough to raise your heart rate to at least the lower end of the target range for your age: (https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/heartrate.htm. The formula there is 220-your age.)
  6. Develop a daily gratitude practice by looking for and acknowledging things going right in your life. (See my posts from June 2018 at LJRohan.com for more guidance.)
  7. Get at least 7 hours (and ideally 8 hours) of good quality sleep each night. A key here is to be in bed, lights out by 11pm.
  8. Strengthen, or develop new friends: join a group, sign-up for a class, call your old classmates and plan a “want to see” people reunion (none of the bullies or meanies allowed). Volunteer somewhere out of your comfort zone.
  9. Learn to play a musical instrument. Challenging, (I’m doing it!) and so rewarding!
  10. Develop a meditation practice: Eastern-based, religious-based, or spiritually-based meditations are all great, and the benefits come from devoting twenty minutes a day to a structured practice of some kind.
  11. Challenge your brain with Neurobic exercises (see my Fun and Fitness for Your Brain blog post for a few suggestions and more information about this brain fitness approach.)
  12. Love with all your heart, and learn to live from your heart –your emotional brain. 😉

Pick and choose from this smorgasbord of delicious options, the more of these you taste and add to your diet, the better you will feel, the sharper your cognitive skills will become, and you will be super-charging your memory! Yum-yum.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!