September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The aim of these health month designations is to educate and bring awareness to diseases and the treatment of disease. According to the American Cancer Society, a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100. And for men, the American Cancer Society states that about 1 man in 7 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, and about 1 man in 39 will die of prostate cancer. Both of these cancers are more likely to develop in older women and men. You can go here and here to learn more about symptoms, risk, treatments, etc.

 

We all know how fast things change, and cancer care is changing too. The big “C” is less frequently a terminal illness than it was years ago. Yet, the worry that a possible or actual cancer diagnosis causes remains. I remember how scared I was when the mammography center called me once to say they needed me to come back for another, more thorough screening due to unclear “spots.” Yikes! Thankfully it was nothing. And many of us know the sinking feeling when told a family member or a friend gets a cancer diagnosis. While cancer is not a good or simple thing to face, the good news is that treatments are much more successful and may not be as awful as once upon a time, and hopefully will see even more progress soon. Because of the public’s complaints about how debilitating older treatments were, almost worse than the cancer itself, medical personnel and researchers have begun to focus on making cancer a manageable disease – looking at less aggressive treatment and paying more attention to the fears and concerns of the patient. The focus is moving more toward prevention, early diagnosis, and patient experience during and after treatment. While still scary, cancer does not need to be the scariest of diagnoses anymore.

 

Of course we all know there are certain risky behaviors that increase a person’s chances of getting cancer in their lifetime: smoking, years of breathing industrial dust without a mask, overexposure to the sun, etc. But it is also believed that nearly everyone has or will have some malignant cells in their body, and why some people develop cancer and some do not is unknown to date, outside of obvious factors. For instance, a smoker is more likely to develop lung cancer than his non-smoking sibling, but we’ve all heard of people who developed lung cancer with no obvious cause. So what can one do to lessen the risk? Aside from the obvious like not smoking, minimizing sun exposure, using protective gear at work or around chemicals, did you know that excess stress and a poor diet can also contribute to cancer risk?

 

Stress is a normal part of living and usually not a concern, but sometimes it gets too unmanageable and becomes a constant and unwelcome companion. People often deal with this by smoking a lot, drinking too much alcohol, or overeating. These behaviors all may increase one’s chances of developing cancer. Chronic stress is also harmful to overall health which may leave one vulnerable to growth of malignant cells. So it is important to deal with increasing stress in healthful ways. Look for ways to reduce stressful obligations, avoid stress-inducing situations, and/or delegate tasks that are overloading you. In addition, seek ways to get a handle on your stress about things you cannot change. Learn how to meditate, learn some calming yoga poses, spend time in contemplative prayer, or set aside time for a solo walk. Do this daily! Find 30 minutes in your day to do one or more of these practices. If necessary, get professional help in dealing with stress and anxiety that you cannot manage. Help your body by relieving it of some of the burden too much stress puts on it.

 

Doctors are more and more convinced of inflammation’s role in increasing cancer risk, as well as the risk of other serious ailments like heart disease and dementia. Stress, sedentary lifestyles, and poor diet contribute to chronic inflammation. I already mentioned reducing stress, and have many times recommended regular activity/movement/exercise. A healthful way of eating reduces the chances of chronic inflammation and will help eliminate inflammation that already exists. Also, a healthful way of eating helps with weight control. Obesity increases the risk of certain cancers. What does anti-inflammatory, healthful eating look like? It looks like lots of vegetables and fruits; whole grains (not ground into flour); beans and legumes; fats such as from nuts and avocados; small amounts of high-quality animal protein if desired; and limited amounts of natural sugars (honey or pure maple syrup, for instance). Omit highly processed foods, fried food, sweetened beverages, and so forth. Common sense eating really. This is not a fad diet meant to be followed for a few weeks or months. This is a lifestyle way of eating.

 

You are your own best defense against needing cancer treatment. Pay attention to your body and what it tells you. You will be the first to notice changes that warrant investigation. Take care of your body by feeding it well, getting regular exercise, avoiding known dangers, and maintaining calm and positive outlook, filled with gratitude for the gifts you have. And we all have gifts!

 

Most of us shy away from discussing bowel habits outside the doctor’s office; for some people even inside the doctor’s office is off limits for this topic. Yet, we all poop and most people suffer from constipation at some time or another, so why all the secrecy and reluctance to talk about it? Not good dinner table conversation perhaps, but there’s no reason not to talk about a common problem with a natural function. There’d be less suffering if people shared tips on how to get past constipation.

What is constipation? It is when the solid waste material doesn’t move through and out of the body in a timely manner, or is dry and hard to excrete. Other symptoms include gas, painful bloating, and straining to go or feeling that the bowel movement is not complete. Constipation that lasts for an extended period may lead to hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, or impacted bowels among other risks. Obviously, sudden and severe onset of constipation, especially if blood is present in the stool, or constipation that is not relieved by the usual remedies should be discussed with your medical professional without delay.

I admit to suffering from occasional constipation throughout my life, sometimes worse than others. It can really make a person cranky, to just not feel tip-top because a function that should just happen isn’t working. Speaking of normal, we are unique individuals and our bodies work within the rhythm that is right for each. Other peoples’ natural schedule of bowel movements may not be your natural rhythm. There is no “right” timing or amount; you should respect the signals from your body. That said, not having a bowel movement for a week or even for 4-5 days is a concern and you should be looking into what is going on.

What are some of the causes of occasional episodes of constipation?

  • Overuse of antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
  • Changes in your usual diet or activities, like when on vacation or change in job
  • Consuming a lot of dairy products
  • Eating disorders
  • Not being active
  • Not enough water or fiber in your diet
  • Overuse of laxatives (creates a dependency)
  • Pregnancy
  • Too often ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Some medications (especially strong pain drugs, antidepressants, or iron pills)
  • Excess stress

To avoid occasional bout of constipation, the general recommendations are simple lifestyle changes:

  • Exercise daily, for about 30 minutes. Exercise is essential to regular bowel movements. I find Hatha yoga especially helpful as it massages your internal organs, but a good walk helps too.
  • Drink plenty of water – 1 ½ – 2 quarts per day.
  • Eat plenty of fiber from whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain bread and cereal.
  • Cut back on milk and cheeses. Dairy products are constipating for some people, maybe for you.
  • If you take calcium supplements, be sure to get half as much magnesium to counter the sometimes constipating effects of calcium.
  • To relieve stress use a relaxation technique daily, especially meditation or breathing exercises. Stress interferes with relaxation of the whole body, including the bowels.
  • Don’t ignore the urge to go. Peristalsis of the bowel is the movements that trigger a bowel movement. If you ignore the urge, the opportunity may pass and lead to stool backing up
  • Do not use caffeine as a laxative. While coffee and other forms of caffeine may work as laxatives when used occasionally, when used regularly for this purpose caffeine, like the constant use of laxatives, prevents the bowels from following their own natural rhythm.
  • Don’t smoke. Nicotine affects the bowel in the same manner as caffeine.
  • Avoid constipating drugs if you can. The most common are opiates, diuretics, anti-depressants, and anti-histamines, among others.

There now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Simple talk about what is often a simple problem with easy solutions. Hopefully you do not need this information often; if you do a health coach may be able to help reduce that need.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20161108_simple-pleasuresSome of my favorite things:

  • Getting up early when the world is quiet but for the birds.
  • Holding a sleeping baby.
  • Lunch with friends.
  • Meaningful conversations with someone with opposing views.
  • First sip of fresh-brewed coffee.
  • Wine tastings and winery tours.
  • Saturday night card games with family.
  • Curling up with a good novel and a cup of tea.
  • Looking at old pictures.
  • A satisfying workout, especially done outdoors.
  • Lending a hand to someone in need.
  • Rainy days in the desert.
  • Cooking a new recipe that turns out great.
  • Baking bread.
  • Cold beer on a hot day.
  • Working on my latest hobby project.
  • Meeting someone new and really clicking with them.
  • Hiking in Dreamy Draw Park.
  • Getting help from an unexpected source.
  • Finding $20 in a jacket pocket.
  • Pictures of Penny.
  • Trying a new restaurant that hits the mark.
  • The sound of ocean waves.
  • Sunsets in Phoenix

What are yours?

This is the month when reminders to be thankful are all around. Not that we should need them from card companies or department stores! But we do often get so caught up in our day-to-day tasks  that we forget all the little things that make life rich. You may have seen magazine articles or social media posts about starting a gratitude journal – writing down every day three things for which you are grateful. It’s a nice idea, a way to recall the good things in your life if you run into a rough patch. Being grateful doesn’t have to be formalized in writing. You can also just take a few minutes before you go to sleep to utter gratitude for your day. Maybe the weather was great; the dog obeyed all commands; you got a nice compliment from someone. And being grateful isn’t only for big or material things, celebrate the simple pleasures because these are what string together to make for a fulfilling life.

Image courtesy of Yongkiet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


20150728_movegrooveExercise more, eat less – that’s the common answer for weight loss, right? There is some truth to the thought – if we don’t expend the calories we eat our weight will increase. Of course exercise is not the only answer to weight loss, and weight loss is not the only reason to exercise. This article is about getting your move on for lots of other great reasons.

       What other reasons? Better overall health. Improved lung capacity. Better mood. Improved brain function. Endorphins. Self-satisfaction. Self-challenge. Competition. Strength. Toning. Healing.

       As many reasons as there are for finding your own move-groove, there are at least those many ways to get it on. Home or workout facility or outdoors. Structured classes or videos or free style. Alone or with a friend. Same routine each time or mix it up. Two days a week or five days or seven. Ten minutes or thirty minutes or two hours.

       And as many ways there are to get it on, there are at least that many excuses to not start or to skip your class or to give it up all together. Too tired. No time. Too much work. Obligations with the kids/spouse/friends. Don’t like the gym. Don’t like the teacher. Hurt my back/arm/leg/fingers. Too hot, too cold, too wet. Just don’t want to.  (Yes, I’ve used them all.)

       Why is it so hard to establish and maintain a solid exercise routine? Is it because we often call it a workout and maybe “work” is too negative? Is it because the current routine is boring? Is it because you haven’t found the right routine? Maybe it’s lack of commitment to you, to do this for yourself. Lack of commitment allows us to make all kinds of excuses, valid excuses with which everyone else can empathize. (Because they make the same excuses!) But maybe you are committed and just can’t find the right thing. Here is some help.

       First, figure out what types of movement you like and which do you not like? I love yoga for its physical and mental benefits, but many people dismiss it as not even being a true ‘workout’. Many years ago I saw a program on the effects of jogging on joints – swore I would never jog; besides it just doesn’t look like fun to me. Yet I know people who love their jogging and are cranky when they have to skip it. So we each have to contemplate what kind of movement suits us – we cannot really be committed to something we dislike. If you are currently doing a workout because “everybody” is doing it but you hate it – stop! Find what suits you!  Consider: hiking, biking, weight lifting, walking, jogging, dance, yoga, karate, Zumba, CrossFit, bodyweight training – the list goes on. And see if there aren’t two or more types of movement you enjoy. One way to keep your interest and commitment is to vary the exercises you engage in each week. Varying the routine also balances the focus of the benefits from cardio to strength to flexibility.

       Maybe you already know what you love doing for movement but somehow can’t find the time. Or, now that you know what you like you wonder how to get this scheduled into your week. Number one rule: you have to make time for it! So the next step is figuring out when to fit in your routine. That may be somewhat dependent on what you have chosen – if you are taking yoga, karate, Zumba, etc. classes you have to look at available class times. Your work schedule may be a factor – how flexible can that be? Can you go in later or leave earlier or make sure you take the lunch time allowed? And be sure to consider your own body clock. I am a morning person so it would not work well for me to do a strong workout at 8 pm. Yet my job had me on conference calls as early as 5:30 am, so mornings were inconsistently open for exercise. I had to compromise between my body’s energy cycle and my work commitments and chose to make sure I left work early enough to get my workout in before dinner time. Finally, what is the optimum amount of time to give to your exercise? Make a promise to yourself to set aside a reasonable schedule for your exercise. Don’t plan an hour every day if currently you are not in the habit at all. The schedule can increase to whatever is optimum as you build the habit of doing it.

       So, you know what movement you want and you know when you can get it in. How to make it a habit? Just do it, as the saying goes. The only way to get started is to start! We all have a way to motivate ourselves, whether post-its on our mirrors or reminders on calendars or placing the running shoes strategically. Having accountability helps also.  Here is where a health coach can help!

       Don’t be hard on yourself as you try to build the habit and make exercise a regular part of your life. Remind yourself of the benefits of regular movement and then re-commit to yourself any time you miss your scheduled session, and get back on track. Your body will thank you for years to come!

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net