Posts Tagged ‘Public Health’

I started using Twitter after my terrible hometown newspaper published an article hailing the site as “the cool new place for social networking.” I signed up and quickly found that, well, none of my friends were using it. Without the social element, I couldn’t really see the point and wrote off Twitter entirely… until I read this blog post by New York Times technology columnist David Pogue. He made the case that the power of Twitter is how it allows you to access information in real time (this video from commoncraft.com also gives a great explanation). So I decided to revisit my account.

I ran another search for friends, and no one else had joined in my few months absence. So, keeping Mr. Pogue’s advice in mind, I ran a search for the kind of information I was interested in receiving: “health.”

The results were endless and varied. Many health sections of many major news outlets twitter their newly posted articles or videos, while other health buffs tweet about their health experiences. That first day, I started following the New York Times Health section, as well as some other groups writing about issues I was interested in. I’ve very much enjoyed being able to browse the headlines as they are twittered, eliminating my compulsive checking of the Times every few hours. Other “tweeple” (twitter-people, or users) I’ve enjoyed less, and some I’ve even stopped following because I questioned the legitimacy of their advice and their credentials. As with everything on the web, just because they signed up for a Twitter account doesn’t mean their 10 step diet plan is healthy.

The other advantage of Twitter, like I claimed about news outlets’ online extensions, is interaction. Although many of the news outlets on Twitter do not reply or respond to replies, other health and fitness users do. I enjoy following Whole Foods Market because you can respond to their tweets with questions and actually expect to hear a response.

So, don’t really think of Twitter as a site for social networking (unless you actually do have friends who use it). Rather, think of it as a way to gather specific information and interact with others who share your interests.

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As a college student, you easily waste half your day in front of a computer screen. You google, check your email, your facebook, your blog, your twitter contacts, Perez, and you (ostensibly) write papers. The main question on my mind is this: since I just can’t seem to quit my computer, how can I use it for the forces of “good” (i.e. exercise and self-improvement) rather than “evil” (read: an in-depth critique of Jessica Simpson’s weight gain)? Although a relatively new field, researchers have begun to analyze the usage of the internet as a tool for weight loss, healthy behavior enforcement, and distribution of information on exercise and nutrition.

kfcp5_z3internethealth1In one study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation, researchers analyzed the effect of sending daily health and wellness emails about weight maintenance or weight loss to employees at large worksites . The study took place over six months and had reasonable success. Of the 960 employees, a little over one third agreed to participate. They received daily emails about varied subjects: nutrition, exercise, and overall health, and 70% opened at least 50% of their emails. Furthermore, 75% of subjects continued to open at least one email a week throughout the 26-week study. Thus, the study concluded that email is an effective means by which to disseminate information.

One of the major problems that the study encountered was limited access to computers. The emails could only be sent out five days a week in order to be fair to employees without internet access at home.  Although college students obviously have much more flexibility than full-time employees, their access to the internet is less limited, and thus the effect of the emails could only be improved among college students.

The study also fails to address the extent to which the employees used the information in the emails to improve their lifestyles. Unfortunately, the effects of this study would prove harder to analyze and would need to take place over a longer period. This should not discourage us from using the internet as a tool for self-improvement. Numerous websites have sprung up over the past decade to track meals, create personal workouts, and spread information about healthy living. Check out websites like the daily plate, Real Age, and South Beach Diet for some personalized weight loss and total body health information. As writers for a health and wellness blog, we obviously believe in the effectiveness of the internet as a means to attain and maintain physical and emotional health, and will continue to do our best to reach out to the Barnard community, as this study did. In the months to come, we hope to see a general increase in the health of the Barnard community, so do your part and tell your friends about Barbelle!

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Usually, when someone invokes fitness and nets in the same sentence, they’re talking about soccer or basketball. This week, myself and fellow Barbellina Elise want to add a different net to the fitness discourse: the interNet. Check in every afternoon between now and Friday to find new internet resources to amp up your training, motivate you to start a new activity, or provide you with helpful and relevant information about health, fitness, and wellness.

Perhaps today’s Net Resource, the Newspaper, is a bit obvious. Most of us turn to the newspaper, either online or in actual paper-form, when we need current and relevant information. I defend my choice of the Newspaper, however, with this argument: interaction. In an attempt to attract readers and boost online advertising revenue, many newspapers have created features that allow readers to interact with their writers, either by commenting on blogs, emailing the journalists, or creating some sort Q & A feature. So, not only can you find relevant, credible health news, but you can also see how other readers have responded. For example, the comments on the New York Times’ Well blog are a great way to gauge people’s concerns about the health topics being addressed. Here are some of my favorite health features I’ve discovered on the websites of a variety of news outlets:

The Miami Herald: Q & A Forums

Readers can submit questions to one of six forums, all moderated by physicians or experts in the field. If you have a question about sports medicine, dermatology, plastic surgery, sexual health, emotional health, or nutrition, you can submit it to be answered or browse past answers.

The Washington Post: Ask the MisFits

Every Tuesday at 11 am Vicky Hallet and Howard Scheider, two Washington Post Fitness columnists, host a live webchat where you can ask any fitness, nutrition, or wellness question that’s been on your mind. Or, if you’re just looking for general suggestions or ideas, reading old transcripts provides a wealth of random advice. (more…)

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Like an idiot, I didn’t get my flu shot this year.  For the past week,  I have been fighting the flu.  For a week!  This was no cold or measly winter bug.  This was Influenza.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Big, bad Influenza with a capital I.  The Influenza that lasts two weeks, including body aches, sore throat, fever, chills, nausea, and congestion, completely sapping your body of all strength and good will.  Catching this bug put a major dent in my marathon-training schedule, not only preventing me from running but actually undoing a lot of the work I had put into building up my quadriceps and glutes.  I share this as a warning.  Wash those hands!

While endurance-running and staying in shape boosts your immune system and helps fight off those little colds, hard training and partaking in long runs can stress your body, putting you at higher risks for serious illnesses, such the flu.  Running with a head cold won’t hurt you.  But if you have a chest cold, body aches, or fever, rest until the day after your  symptoms fade.  To avoid a relapse, go easy for one to two weeks before resuming normal intensity and mileage.  Training with anything worse than a minor cold could affect your respiratory tract.

Here are five tips about exercising and staying healthy.

1) Get plenty of sleep

When you sleep, your immune system attacks foreign bodies and heals itself.  According to one study, the body attacks 50% more “bad cells” after sleeping eight hours than after sleeping six.

2) Shorter cardio

30-75 minutes of moderate activity can boost your ability to fight illness, while long stretches of strenuous activity do the opposite.

3) Drink your fluids

Consuming carb-rich drinks before, during, and after exercising for more than 90 minutes can restrain immune-inhibiting stress hormones.

4) Allow yourself to recover

Pushing your body through papers, reading, exams, work, and exercise without enough rest can weaken your immune response and cause frequent colds.  Mood is an early indicator of overwork and exhaustion, so take a rest day if you feel cranky.

5) Stay local

If you’re really worried about getting sick, consider vacationing locally.  Long trips can subject you to immune-system to enemies like stress, poor sleep, and increased germ exposure.

If you think you may have the flu, go to the clinic for a diagnosis as soon as possible.  Most people with the flu are achy and tired, and bed rest is the only real cure.  Stay warm.  Put new sheets on the bed, replace your toothbrush, and disinfect your bedroom as often as possible.  Drink plenty of fluids.  Eat a bland diet (the best is the BRAT diet — bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast).  Avoid dairy (it encourages mucus production). Take immune-boosters, such as echinacea and Vitamin C.  Have a loved one rub your feet to encourage circulation (and prove their immense love for you).  Flu symptoms can last up to two weeks, so allow yourself plenty of time to feel like yourself again.



Fun with Numbers: 72

The length (in hours) of the window of impaired immunity following workouts 90 minutes or longer.  Since your body is more vulnerable to viruses during this period, wash your hands diligently, get lots of sleep, and try to keep your distance from anyone holding a Kleenex.

Have a great week, and stay healthy!

Sources: Runner’s World, March 2009, http://www.holisticonline.com/remedies/Flu/Flu_common-sense-rec-for-flu.htm

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I suppose my purpose in life is to upset my Editor by blurring the lines that define this Blog about health and fitness. In that spirit and in the name of spirits, I wish to share with you some findings on my previously favorite-now feared cocktail of choice: Red Bull and Vodka. Never being one to imbibe caffeine, I save Red Bull for the rare occasion when I really want to party. However, just today (Tuesday, February 3), a 21 year-old female student in the United Kingdom collapsed and died as an apparent result of consuming too much of the winged-cocktail. These findings aren’t too surprising after reading about a web-based survey study done at Wake Forest University and presented at the annual American Public Health Association meeting in Washington DC.. Based on the findings from over 4,500 students, about ¼ mentioned drinking an energy drink mixed with alcohol during a 30-day period, most commonly reaching for my previous favorite, Red Bull and Vodka. These special folks were found to be more likely to injure themselves, require medical assistance (i.e. alcohol poisoning), or get raped/rape someone. Not the kind of partying that I had in mind. Additionally, these students reported drinking up to 36 per cent more than the other students, and also had twice as many episodes of weekly drunkenness.
The caffeine present in Red Bull acts as a stimulant that masks feelings of drunkenness. On top of the effect on bodily awareness, both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, which combine to really dehydrate your body, leaving you with a potential for cardiovascular problems such as hypotension and tachycardia. Not to mention a worse hangover. So keep your bar tabs a little lower and your bodies a little healthier by avoiding combinations of caffeine drinks and alcohol.

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Your best friend = Your partner in crime/fitness

Your best friend = Your partner in crime/fitness

In the depths of winter, it’s normal to find your favorite jeans a little tighter than usual or to consume more food; in the Northeast, it seems to be part of life. However, you might want to take a look at your close relationships in order to better understand the additional pounds. A study conducted over 30 years (1971 to 2003) and published in 2007 by the National Institute of Health claims that in close relationships where one individual gains weight, the other’s weight is negatively influenced. With over 12,000 people involved, this study examined all kinds of “close relationships” – spouses, siblings, close friends of the same and opposite sex. Their findings indicated that as one half of the pair gained weight, the other did as well.

The only exception, according to this study, was found in siblings of the opposite sex, and to a lesser degree, friends of the opposite sex. The psychological effects of weight gain on each other are obvious: as one person begins abusing food or taking poorer care of himself, the other mirrors this behavior. Does this mean that because your roommate is gaining the freshman 15 that you are doomed to the same fate? Definitely not. However, consider this not-so-pretty figure: Among close same-sex friendships, 71% of friends of the obese became obese themselves. Along the same vein, heterosexual couples tended to be affected by their obese partners 37% of the time.

What does this study mean for the United States? It cements social ties and learned behaviors as main instigators of weight gain, and explains the rapidly rising obesity figures that threaten Americans. Our close relationships exponentially augment the expansion of our waistlines, and it seems this “epidemic” is as close to contagious as mono. However, negligence can no longer be our excuse. Most notably (read: importantly), The Biggest Loser’s seventh season has recently commenced on NBC, but this time, couples have signed on to makeover themselves and their lives. As they struggle together and apart to lose weight, we will be able to see their parallel journeys and how their motivational pairs help them achieve their goals. Hopefully, we will be able to translate this experience into our own lives in order to combat the study’s figures. Find a gym buddy, commit to a healthy lifestyle with your suitemates, and most importantly, take care of each other as you would take care of yourself.

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