Four Secrets to Living Longer

Oct. 4, 2017 at 11:38am

You can not depend on good genes to carry you past the century mark.  Research into older people has revealed that certain lifestyle habits are connected to a long life.  Everyone knows that eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight works for longevity.  But here are a few strategies that may surprise you:

1.  Cut calories.  Who would think that ordering a turkey sandwich instead of burger and fries would slow down the aging process, but it can.  Research shows that calorie-restricted diets consistently increases life span in animals.

2.  Get enough sleep.  Research shows that getting 5 to 6.5 hours of sleep per night can add years to your life.  Sleep allows the body to regulate and heal cells.

3.  Floss every day.  Daily flossing improves oral health.  Poor oral health creates bacteria which can cause coronary inflammation, a trigger for a heart attack.

4.  Keep a positive attitude.  Research suggests that centenarians tend not to internalize negative situations or dwell on problems.  They keep a positive attitude, have regular social interactions and shed stress easily.  This helps to reduce the risk of memory loss and heart disease. 

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Three Strings

Sep. 26, 2017 at 12:14pm

There is a story told about Itzhak Perlman, the famous violinist, who was playing in New York. Stricken with polio as a child, he always crossed the stage on crutches, moving painfully and laboriously. On this particular night, he reached the chair, sat down, slowly put his crutches on the floor, and undid the clasps on his legs. Then he bent to pick up the violin, put it under his chin, nodded to the conductor, and began to play. 

But something went wrong. Just as he finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin snapped. The audience thought he would have to get up and leave the stage, not an easy thing for him, but he didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes, and then signaled the conductor to begin again. 

The orchestra started up, and he played from where he had left off. Of course, anyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. I know it, and you know it, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know it. The music was beautiful. When he finished, there was an awestruck silence in the room. Then the audience erupted in cheers. He smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to quiet the crowd, and said, “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.” 

I’m not certain that this story is true, but that doesn’t matter to me. I have found so much power in the thought, “ how much music you can still make with what you have left?” These words have stayed with me since I heard the story for the first time because in a way, they are the essence of successful living in an unpredictable world: doing the best you can with all that you have, and then, when that is no longer possible, with what you have left.

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Mickey Mantle

Sep. 7, 2017 at 12:32pm

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Visualize for Success

Jul. 25, 2017 at 4:03pm

I grew up a die-hard New York Yankees fan. I followed the team religiously, knew players and managers from their earliest history, celebrated World Series victories, hated the Red Sox, and lived for those trips with my father and brother to Yankee Stadium. Like most fans of that era, I was crazy for Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, and Bobby Richardson—the guys who played exceptionally well but also looked the part of Yankee “supermen” in the tradition of Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio. But I always had a special place in my heart for Yogi Berra. 

Yogi presented a paradox. On one hand, he was an absolutely fabulous baseball player. But on the other, he didn’t resemble a major league player at all. Of just medium height with a stocky body and, let’s say, a less than a classically handsome face, Yogi lacked DiMaggio’s grace, Mantle’s power, and Maris’s all-American good looks. He simply didn’t carry himself like an elite athlete. But with one swing of the bat, he would drive in the runs to beat you; with one throw from his powerful arm, your chance of stealing second base had just disappeared. And no catcher ever called better games. He was a winner.

His way of explaining things—his “Yogi-isms”—continue to mystify as they enlighten. “When you come to a fork in the road …take it.” “It ain’t over till it’s over.” “The future ain’t what it used to be.” My favorite Yogi-ism, however, was his answer to a question about what you have to do to be successful at the major league level: “Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.”

Like many of Yogi’s quotes, this doesn’t make sense until you ponder it for a bit. Then you begin to see his wisdom: A positive mental attitude is as important—maybe more so—than the physical tools you bring to the game. What your mind sees, positive or negative, becomes your reality. What Yogi knew by instinct, many scientific studies today are finding factual.

So, before you start to take action on living a healthy lifestyle, take some time to visualize yourself eating healthy and exercising regularly. As Yogi would tell you, it could be a key element in your long-term success.

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Avoid Social Isolation

Jul. 19, 2017 at 9:45am

Stress may be the single greatest contributor to illness in the industrialized world.  Indeed, it is estimated that 75% of all diseases and illnesses are stress related.  Of particular importance is the impact of stress on cardiovascular health and overweight/obesity.  On the surface level, stress produces direct, deleterious effects: it injures artery walls, raises blood pressure, elevates cholesterol, causes coronary inflammation, and causes coronary artery spasms that can lead to sudden cardiac death.  But stress also works on an indirect, insidious level to produce disastrous health consequences.  People under chronic stress often make poor lifestyle choices.  In trying to cope, they smoke, neglect exercise, eat too much and too often, make poor food choices and abuse alcohol and drugs.

Chronic stress is part and parcel of modern American society.  Indeed, 89% of Americans say they have too much stress in their lives.  A major consequence of chronic stress for many people is social isolation.  Once found almost exclusively in the elderly, social isolation now afflicts rising numbers of Americans of all ages. 

This is a health concern because numerous studies show higher cardiovascular death rates among people who are socially isolated.  One of the first studies to identify the importance of social networks in buffering the deleterious effects of heart disease involved a small town in eastern Pennsylvania called Roseto.  Health researchers were startled to find a strikingly lower death rate there than in neighboring towns.  From 1955 to 1961, Roseto had 157 cardiovascular deaths per 100,000 population, while three neighboring towns averaged over 600 cardiovascular deaths.  After careful analysis, researchers concluded that social support and close family ties were the primary reasons for Roseto’s lower rate.

Subsequent studies have supported the Roseto findings.  Today there is much consensus that the contribution of social isolation to morality is about the same as that of smoking or alcohol, and is greater than obesity and physical inactivity.

It is important, therefore, to create opportunities to link with family, friends and new acquaintances:

  • Organize a family reunion
  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or library.
  • Join a walking group.
  • Take a trip with family or friends.
  • Connect with a nearby school to see about tutoring.
  • Coach a team.  Play on a team.
  • Host a family holiday.
  • Connect with people at church.
  • Participate in group activities such as playing bridge.
  • Connect with folks at church, arrange for weekly visits from their outreach committee.

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Do Not Be a Fool for Fraud

Jun. 21, 2017 at 1:41pm

Quick-fix weight-loss gadgets and gimmicks have skyrocketed.  Sales of diet pills and supplements have risen to more than $5 billion a year.  Do not be mislead.  Many of these products are not only ineffective but potentially dangerous.

SPOT REDUCING.  Basing their claims on the false notion that it is possible to "burn off" fat from a particular part of the body, deceptive advertisers promise that you can "take inches off your waist, thighs or buttocks without vigorous exercise or dieting and in just minutes a day."  Think about it:  If spot reducing worked, people who regularly chew gum would have skinny faces!

EFFORTLESS EXERCISE.  Many years ago, researchers examined the weight-reducing claims made for mechanical vibrating belts.  One study showed that the average caloric cost of a 15-minute period of abdominal vibration was 11 calories more than an equivalent period of seated rest (or about 1/23 of an ounce of fat.)  The investigators concluded, "The vibrator is not to be taken seriously as a device to assist in fat reduction or shifting of fat deposits within the body."

WEIGHT-REDUCING CLOTHING.  Special weight-reducing garments rely on dehydration and tissue compression.  Measurements may be temporarily reduced, but these losses are exclusively water weight.

ELECTRIC MUSCLE STIMULATORS.  Ads for some electric muscle stimulators say they provide the same effects as "3,000 sit-ups or 10 miles of jogging while lying flat on your back."  Some of these units have a legitimate purpose in physical therapy; nevertheless, the Food and Drug Administration considers muscle stimulators that are promoted or used for "body shaping and contouring" to be misbranded and fraudulent.  In addition, these devices have been known to burn the skin and deliver electric shocks.  They can be typically hazardous to pregnant women, heart patients with pacemakers and people who have epilepsy.

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Thoughts on Bypass Surgery

Jun. 1, 2017 at 1:49pm

Coronary bypass surgery probably saved my life, but people considering this procedure should be aware of four things.  To start with, it takes away the pain (angina), but does not remove the underlying cause - coronary heart disease.

Second, a bypass may not last forever.  If you do not take care of it by adopting a healthy lifestyle, you might just get a few years out of it.  Third, the physical recovery can be daunting.  I had some complications, so it took me about six months to regain my strength and stamina.  Others have done it sooner.

Finally,you have to be prepared for mental changes.  According to a study at Duke University, about 42% of bypass patients experience a subtle change in personality and suffer an impairment of memory and cogniyive abilities five years after surgery.  Further studies are needed to determine the importance of such changes.  However, many experts hypothesize that these results are more often found in patients who have undergone bypass surgery while on the heart-lung machine, particularly if the operation takes over four hours.

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Can Optimism Make A Difference in Your Life?

May. 25, 2017 at 11:03am

An article from the Verdant Health Commission:

If you’re a person who always has a rosy outlook and sees the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, your positive attitude may have even more benefits than you think.

A growing number of scientific studies indicate that optimistic people tend to live longer and have better physical and mental health than pessimistic people.

The science behind the smiles

The unique phenomenon of optimism leading to better health has been scientifically studied. In 2010, a group of researchers studied the results of 83 of these reports to look for any common findings.

Once the researchers developed a consistent way to analyze the results of these different studies, they were able to show that optimism seemed to have a fairly remarkable impact on physical health. Whether an individual study looked at overall longevity, survival from a disease, heart health, immunity, cancer outcomes, pregnancy outcomes, pain tolerance, or another health topic, it seemed that those who had a more optimistic outlook performed better and had a better outcome than those who were pessimistic.

The message is that having a positive attitude can boost your physical health, regardless of what might be ailing you. The researchers also noted that optimism seemed to have fairly consistent benefits for people regardless of demographic factors such as income level or overall health status.

How to be more optimistic

Changing yourself from a pessimistic person into an optimistic person isn’t easy. Some approaches you can try to switch your mindset are to have positive thoughts about yourself and others and to stop comparing yourself to others in a competitive way—each individual has unique and special talents that should be appreciated.

Try to find the good in every situation, even at difficult moments. When facing a challenge, focus on achieving a positive outcome, rather than anticipating defeat.

Other strategies that can lead to a more optimistic point of view include exploring your own beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life, whether they are philosophical or religious. Also, strive to improve your physical health through exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleeping habits and hygiene—the better you feel, the brighter your outlook will be. Finally, challenge your mind every day by learning something new, including learning about yourself and your family history.

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Apr. 28, 2017 at 10:53am

Chronic stress is part and parcel of modern life in the U.S.  It is often the underlying reason for much of the depression in the country.  For many years scientists assumed that the behavioral response to depression were similar for both sexes.  New studies, however, show that this is not the case.

A Yale University study concludes that when depression hits, the behavioral response can differs by gender.  Men tend to drink and women tend to think.  That is not to say that men never ruminate and women never drink, but a study of 1,300 adults aged 25 to 75 found that when depressed, women tend to sit and stew while men are more likely to use alcohol to take the edge off.

Research at UCLA Medical School indicates that women typically employ a "tend and befriend" response to depression.  When it mounts, women are more prone to protect and nurture their children ("tend") and turn to other females for support ("befriend.")

The difference in response to stress, anxiety and depression could in part explain why American women, on average, live 7.5 years longer than men.

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Get Your Calories Early in the Day

Apr. 21, 2017 at 11:03am


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Diabetes Risk

Apr. 12, 2017 at 1:55pm


About 24 million Americans, nearly 8% of the population, have diabetes, a condition that disrupts the way the body uses glucose.  For the body to absorb glucose, the hormone insulin, which is produced in the pancreas, is necessary.  But in people with diabetes the pancreas does not produce insulin (or produces too little of it) or the body does not properly use the insulin that is produced.  As a consequence, glucose builds up in the blood and eventually begins to appear in the urine.  Over time, high glucose levels can cause devastating results such as stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nere damage and amputation.  Diabetes is the fourth leading cause of death (often prematurely) in the U.S.  And heart disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related death.  Studies suggest that diabetes raises the risk of heart disease in men by 69% and in women by a whopping 174%.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for up to 95% of all cases of diabetes.  It usually strikes people in their fourties or older, although it is increasingly showing up in overweight, sedentary teenagers and even young children.  The main factor in the development of type 2 diabetes is excess weight.

Common symptoms of type 2 diabetes include frequent urination, increased hunger and thirst, weight loss, headaches, blurred vision, weakness and fatigue, infections (especially yeast), slow healing of cuts and bruises, irritability and tingling or numbness in hands or feet.

About 65% of diabetics die of heart attack or stroke, largely attributed to high blood pressure and an abnormal lipid profile.  But researchers now have shown that regular exercise (150 minutes per week) and weight loss (6%) can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes by 58%.  Once again, lifestyle remedies are critical.

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Heart Health Tip

Mar. 23, 2017 at 12:57pm


According to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans are sleep-deprived workaholics.  
Only about a third of us are sleeping the recommended seven to eight hours a night, 44% report trouble falling asleep, 48% say they wake up in the night too often and 50% say they wake up unrefreshed.  In fact, 40% say they have trouble staying awake on the job.

According to a review of 15 studies published in the European Heart Journal, consistently sleeping less than six hours a night nearly doubles your risk of heart attack and stroke.

So,what can you do to get enough sleep?  Here are a few suggestions.
  • Make the room pitch-black dark and set the thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees.
  • Exercise regularly, 30 to 40 minutes a day to help fall asleep more easily.
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule.  Go to bed and get up at the same times each day.
  • Lose excess weight.  Overweight people are more prone to snoring and other nighttime breathing problems that can interfere with sleep.
  • Shut down your electronics an hour before bed as the light from some devices can stimulate the brain.
  • Avoid eating heavy meals too close to bedtime.

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Heart Health Tip

Mar. 17, 2017 at 9:57am


This is not as offbeat as it may sound.  Scientific evidence suggests that those who keep pets are likely to benefit from improvements in physical and emotional well-being.  Indeed, pets seem to be particularly therapeutic for people with or at risk of heart disease.  Several years ago, researchers studied patients in a coronary-care unit at a major hospital.  All had experienced a heart attack or had severe chest pain.  In a one-year follow up, 28% of those who did not own pets had died, as compared with only 6% of pet owners.

People with pets seem to handle anxiety and stress better, and have lower blood pressure - all of which can improve the odds of surviving a heart attack.  In addition, many behavioral scientists contend that loneliness, isolation, depression and hostility - all powerful predictors of adverse health outcomes - may partially be alleviated by the companionship of pets.  Some experts believe this may stem from active involvement in the daily care of pets and from unconditional love and acceptance that the animals offer their owners.  

Dog owners in particular are more likely to be physically active and are less vulnerable to the effects of stress.

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Waist Size

Mar. 13, 2017 at 10:20am


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Nutritional Balance

Feb. 17, 2017 at 11:23am

There has never been a time where there has been more information available on healthy eating – from bestselling diet books, to infomercials for cleanses, and secret tips in glossy magazines.  Unfortunately, many are not based on credible nutritional science. Watching medical experts tout the addition or subtraction of one nutrient as deliverance—only to change the channel and hear someone equally-thoroughly-credentialed touting the opposite—it can be tempting to write off nutrition advice altogether. This month we hear something is good, and next we almost expect to hear it’s bad. Why not assume the latest research will all eventually be nullified, and just close our eyes and eat whatever tastes best?

 The reality is that there are no magic foods or quick-fix solutions for eating healthy.  Foods are not inherently totally “good” or “bad,” as in you should always eat or you never should eat.  Some, however, are better choices than others (such as olive oil rather than stick margarine.)  My belief is that all food is good food.  It’s just that some are eaten in unhealthful amounts. 

It is important to base your dietary decisions on science from reliable sources such as the American Heart Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the National Cancer Institute.  I particularly like newsletters such as Nutrition Action, the Berkeley Wellness Letter and the Tufts Newsletter.   Be aware that some studies are funded by food manufacturers and that some authors take a “man bites dog” approach, presenting contrarian information as a marketing “hook.”  (More on misleading science in an upcoming blog.)

 Once you have the credible science, it is time to apply common sense to your actions.  I have used common sense and my experience in my own life as a guideline.  My default position from early on was a middle-of-the-road, moderate and balanced dietary pattern based very much on the global principles of a Mediterranean-style diet:  Don’t focus on one thing but on the whole diet. Be aware of the impact of nutrients on health, but center your dietary pattern on foods.  I have been consistent with this in my books ranging from the Don’t Eat Your Heart Out Cookbook to The Road to a Healthy Heart Runs Through the Kitchen.  My eating pattern has promoted a variety of foods: fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil, lean protein, whole grains, dairy products, and even wine.  I have centered my selections on fresh, local and in season whole foods and reduced or eliminated refined, processed, packaged and ready-to-eat foods, particularly those containing numerous additives, unhealthy trans fat and added sugar.  In short, I have eaten well with “real food.”  My cardiologist once remarked, “Joe, you have been eating and recommending the Mediterranean diet since before it was called the Mediterranean diet.”

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How to survive a heart attack when alone

Jan. 24, 2017 at 11:43am


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Jan. 11, 2017 at 10:00am

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Going Backward

Jan. 4, 2017 at 12:10pm

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Women & Heart Disease

Dec. 30, 2016 at 12:27pm

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Seasons Best Wishes

Dec. 23, 2016 at 12:16pm

Merry Christmas and best wishes for a Happy, Healthy New Year.

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