Cussing Care

For some of us, at least, it’s standard operating procedure to launch an obscenity when we stub our toes, bump our heads, cut our fingers while chopping food, or experience some other unexpected moment of physical pain.

Setting aside the morality or propriety of our bad habits, the practical question is:  does cussing a blue streak actually help to relieve the pain?

323541e1e64f03e581310e505382de0eOne recent study, conducted by Keele University in England, concludes that it definitely does.  In fact, the study determined that spewing crude language has measurable, therapeutic, physical effects.  When study participants were saying dirty words their heart rates increased, their perception of pain decreased, and they were able to endure pain much longer than was the case if they were saying neutral words.  (And if you read the article linked above and see how the researchers set up the study to test their hypothesis, you’ll conclude that you should never, ever volunteer to participate in a psychological experiment at Keele University.)

The study determined that foul-mouthed participants were able to endure pain longer because there is a significant psychological component to experiencing pain, and a person’s mood and other circumstances can have a clear impact.  Swearing triggers an aggressiveness response, and an aggressive mental attitude helps a person deal with pain much more effectively.  (This may be why football players, for example, seem to be able to endure pain during games that many of us would find disabling.)  And the study also found that the pain endurance levels were directly related to the perceived filthiness of the obscenity being used.  “Sanitized” curse words, like the British “bum,” were much less effective than actual obscenities, and the most effective pain relief of all came from using the “queen mother of curses.”

The “F Word” is ubiquitous and, as I’ve noted before, has broad utility in many different settings — but who knew that it was like aspirin in its pain relief capabilities?  So the next time you’ve got a bad headache or hit your thumb with a hammer, go ahead and let the f bombs fly!  Chances are you’ll feel a lot better.


Smokers On Ice

Walking home from work tonight, with the temperature plummeting rapidly and already down below 10 degrees, I saw one of the people at the outdoor bus stop in front of the Ohio Statehouse smoking a cigarette.  And I thought:  “Really? Smoking in these ridiculous temperatures?”

a9a4f5381b5f6269a640259f845f9c7f-dart-frogs-cold-handsKish makes fun of me, because as a long reformed ex-smoker — I puffed my last cigarette more than 25 years ago and am forever happy that I quit when I did — I’m always quick to wonder aloud how anyone can smoke, period, even though I smoked off and on for a number of years.  In that regard, I’m like the one-time sinner turned into a holier-than-thou convert.  But if smoking under normal conditions seems crazy, given its abundantly documented health risks, smoking a cigarette outside in these temperatures seems especially insane.  In fact, there is some evidence that smoking outside during freezing temperatures is even worse for you than smoking is generally.

In Columbus, you can’t smoke in most buildings as a matter of law, so at our firm, and in other businesses, the few remaining smokers have to go outside to indulge in their habit.  You’d think that, as the mercury plunges into bitterly cold territory, the smokers would decide to refrain from going outside into the deep freeze and maybe even consider quitting altogether.  But when you pass the smoking area outside, behind our building, there’s always a few people puffing away, even on a day like today.  They look terribly cold, and act like they feel terribly cold, but they’re out there smoking, anyway.  It’s a pretty good indication of how addictive smoking is for some people — and a pretty good advertisement for why you shouldn’t start smoking in the first place.

A Blunt Instrument

As of January 1, 2018, Seattle has placed a tax — it’s officially called a “sweetened beverage recovery fee” — on sugary sodas and “sports drinks” like Gatorade.  Costco, the big box membership club retailer, has responded by placing signs showing consumers the specific impact of the tax on the Costco price for the product — and it’s a whopper.

video__sugar_tax_sticker_shock_0_10405324_ver1-0_640_360The Costco signs show that the Seattle tax adds $10.34 to a Gatorade 35-bottle variety pack — the kind you might buy if you were responsible for buying refreshments for your kid’s sports team to consume after a practice.  The price of the product was $15.99, but with the new tax the price is now $26.33.  The tax added $7.56 to a 36-can case of Dr. Pepper, bringing the price from $9.99 to $17.55.  Costco also helpfully added signage to explain the tax-related increase to its customers and remind them that they can avoid paying the additional cost simply by going to a nearby Costco located out of the city limits.  Some customers have told local TV stations they plan on doing just that.  There’s also been lots of social media chatter about the Costco signs and the impact of the tax on prices.

What’s the point of the tax?  Seattle evidently is concerned about obesity, which some studies have linked, at least in part, to the consumption of sugary soft drinks.  Seattle hopes that by imposing a substantial tax on soft drinks and “sports drinks,” it will incentivize people to make healthier choices.  But get this:  the tax exempts sweetened products from certified manufacturers with annual worldwide gross revenue of $2 million or less, and products from certified manufacturers with gross revenue of more than $2 million but less than $5 million pay a much smaller tax.  That exemption is a purely political decision that doesn’t make sense as a public health issue, because the size of the producer obviously doesn’t change whatever the impact of the product might be.  Seattle’s approach also focuses only on sweetened drinks, and doesn’t address products like ice cream, candy bars, “snack foods,” or frozen pizza that might also be said to contribute to “unhealthy lifestyles.”  And, of course, it doesn’t begin to address other issues that contribute directly to obesity, such as lack of exercise.

Other cities, like Chicago, have tried soft drink taxes and dumped them in the face of business opposition.  Costco is providing a salutary service by alerting its customers to the specific cost impact of the tax so they can factor it into their decision-making.  The Seattle experiment, as illuminated by the Costco signs, reminds us, yet again, that taxes are a pretty blunt instrument when it comes to trying to change behavior and achieve broader policies — and that taxes are always going to be affected by political considerations, too.

Interior Exercise


We’ve reached the depths of winter in the Midwest, and the part of that dismal season when changes in temperature mean melting snow, then refreezing, then melting again, then refreezing again.  It makes walking outside a treacherous exercise that is not for the faint of heart — especially if you’re walking on ever-slippery brick.

But there is an alternative to outdoor exercise for those of us who are too cheap to get health club memberships but who desperately need the exercise if they hope to stave off the condition of Rapid Waistline Expansion.  It’s called the stairs.  And if, like me, you toil in an older building where there are lots of stairwells with different designs, like the stairwell shown above, the stairs can be a pretty cool option aesthetically, too.

According to the medical experts, taking the stairs does have the effect of burning some calories — although not enough to allow you to rationalize eating a Snickers bar a day, unless you’re walking to the top of the Empire State building on your way to work — and other health benefits as well, including building and maintaining health bones, muscles, and joints and improved aerobic capacity.  I like doing it because it gets me moving and gets the blood flowing during the day, and I feel like I’m at least doing something to maintain or even improve my health while at the office.

Of course, it’s a lot easier taking the stairs going down, than going up.

Pulp Fiction

I like a little shot of orange juice in the morning.  I’m not talking about gulping down a tumbler full, but just enough for a few swallows.  For me, at least, orange juice has a bright tartness that contrasts perfectly with that first cup of coffee, and it seems to help wake me up and get me going.

The question is, should it be orange juice with pulp, or without?  I’ve had glasses of orange juice in restaurants that have been more like a slurry than a juice, with so much pulp that the glass is coated with it when you’re finished.  That’s just too much pulpy sliminess for me, so I tend to get the low-pulp or pulp-free options.

But I feel guilty about it, because at some point in my life, someone — maybe my mother, maybe some health guru on TV, or maybe some well-meaning but insufferably know-it-all friend — told me that orange juice with pulp is “better” for you than drinking orange juice that has been strained.  Why?  I don’t really remember, but I think it had something to do with the pulp adding more intestine-scrubbing fiber to your diet.  It’s just become one of those nagging, potentially baseless health-related notions floating around in my subconscious, like the vague recollection that eating carrots is supposed to help your eyesight or that fish is “brain food.”

But does drinking orange juice with pulp, rather than pulp-free liquid sunshine, really better for you?  Good luck figuring that out!  The pulp isn’t fiber, that’s for sure, and it appears that if it does have health benefits they are at best indirect.  But if you google the question you get introduced into the greater debate about whether you should drink orange juice at all.  Some “experts” point out that it’s a good way or increasing your intake of vitamin C with all of its positive, antioxidant effects, whereas other “experts” say that drinking juice is suicidally stupid because it’s like liquid sugar.  And everybody seems to have studies performed on rats to back up their competing conclusions, too.

After reading a few of these competing positions, I’ve given up on trying to get to the bottom of the pulp benefits question.  I’ve concluded that I like a little orange juice in the morning, and since I’ve managed to follow that regimen for years without becoming super-sized, I guess I’ll continue to do it, sugar intake be damned.  And as for pulp — well, I’m going to buy pulp-free offerings sometimes, limited pulp offerings other times, and avoid the over-pulped offerings altogether.  That seems to be a good way of threading the health benefits needle, providing some balm for my guilty conscience, and avoiding the thick, pulpy slush that I don’t really like in the first place.


Dealing With The Wonders Of Phlegm

I’ve just recently come out of my bad autumn allergy period, which means my runny nose and intermittent coughing have finally stopped, my head isn’t congested any more, and I sound like a normal person again.

Oh, and I’ve stopped producing phlegm wads, thank you very much.

large_6667d0ec-6086-4e4b-80fe-2f6603e60c8fOf course, phlegm and mucus are crucial parts of the body’s defensive mechanisms.  Through millions of years of evolution and natural selection, they were developed to protect the mouth, throat, lungs, and the rest of the human respiratory system by attracting and trapping the materials to which you are allergic.  You then expel the bad stuff by coughing up the little globs.  In my case, they eventually worked, because the allergic reactions have ended.  Having to endure the crawly river of mucus down the back of your throat and the phlegm clods in your mouth when allergy season hits is just the price we pay for keeping a healthy body healthy.  Still, it’s disgusting and irritating, and when you’re in the midst of it you can’t brush your teeth enough to get rid of that peculiarly salty phlegm wad taste.

This year, I tried to be proactive about the phlegminization period, which meant turning to the internet to see what the various “health care websites” have to say about dealing with it.  Of course, they’ve all got tips about what to eat and what to do, from gargling salt water, to consuming foods with lemon, ginger, garlic, and ginseng, to guzzling guava tea and downing zinc.  As I read, I wondered whether all of these “health care websites” are regulated in any way and whether they actually have any scientific basis for their instructions and tips — as opposed to trying to convince you to try a product or advance some other agenda.  After all, when you do a normal open-ended internet search you’re just calling up random websites that do something to get listing priority so they end up on the first page of results.  So I decided that, rather than going to the store, buying raw ginger root and other ingredients, and trying to prepare the concoction that one website said would help moderate the phlegm flow, I would just endure.  Notwithstanding my allergy, I was clear-headed enough to reach that conclusion.

The Benefits Of “Forest Bathing”

The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, which translates into English as “forest bathing.” It has nothing to do with bathing in the normal sense of the word, however.  Instead, the concept might better be described as “forest immersion.”

IMG_1396For some time now, Japanese people looking to reduce the stress of everyday living have been heading to the forest.  Their approach to shinrin-yoku is simple:  go out into the woods, shut off your cell phone, and take in the forest atmosphere to the maximum extent you can, without a specific goal or destination in mind.  Use your senses as you wander.  Breathe in the cool fresh air that leaves your nostrils tingling.  Touch the rough tree bark and the soft moss.  Listen to the wind rustle the leaves, and hear the birdsong.  Sit down on the ground or a fallen tree and smell the humid mix of growing plants, decaying wood, and moist earth.  Feel the tree shade on your skin.

The proponents of shinrin-yoku say that it produces all kinds of health benefits, in addition to stress reduction:  improved functioning of the immune system, reduced blood pressure, improved mood and energy, heightened mental acuity, and better sleep.  In short, regular leisurely, relaxed strolls through the woods can provide the kind of mental and physical health benefits that stressed-out Americans typically try to obtain through prescription drugs or some other artificial means.  Should this come as a surprise?

One of the weirder things about modern America is how resistant some people are to actually experiencing nature.  Every morning, as I’m on my morning walk, I travel past a small health club where people are jogging and walking on treadmills, watching TV —   when they could be jogging around the same park I’m heading to only a few blocks away, where they could breathe some fresh air rather than stale sweat smells, experience the morning quiet, and chuckle at the quacking ducks waddling by.  Why make that choice?  Why do people hop in their cars rather than walking, even for short distances?

I don’t think you need to plan a trip to a primeval forest to experience the benefits of shinrin-yoku.  I think any effort to get out into the natural world, in quiet way, walking at your own pace and listening and looking and feeling, is going to be a good thing on more levels than we can count.