Analyzing Healthy Weight

What’s the “right” weight? It’s a question that doctors and their patients have wrestled with for years, and it’s clear that the standards are changing as human diet, nutrition, activity level, and general health are changing. Humans during the 1400s, being subject to periodic famines, plagues, and disease that stunted their growth, and engaging in day-long physical labor to put modest amounts of food on the table, probably looked a lot different from modern Americans. Even in the last century, the standards have changed. Consider, for example, that the average G.I. in World War II was about 5′ 8″ and weighed about 150 pounds. These days, you don’t see many 150-pound men in the average American city.

So what’s the “right” weight now, in an era of relative food abundance and modern medical treatments for human disease, where many people work at sedentary desk jobs?

For years, the accepted method for determining health weight has been the body mass index. The BMI was simple: it took your weight in kilograms and divided it by your height in meters, squared. The target zone for a healthy you was a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9. Now there is a debate about whether the BMI is really an effective tool, because it doesn’t consider where human fat cells have accumulated. That’s important, because the location of fat cells matters to human health and is related to conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. Abdominal fat–that “stubborn belly fat” that clickbait articles claim you can melt away with some “weird trick” or special drink–is more unhealthy than fat that accumulates around the hips, and “visceral fat,” the abdominal fat that builds up around the internal organs, is especially harmful.

As a result, some researchers are urging that use of the BMI be replaced by a focus on the waist to hip ratio. The waist to hip ratio is easy to use, too–you apply a tape measure to your waistline and your hips, and determine the ratio between them. Lower waist to hip ratios mean lower abdominal fat accumulation. And a recent study found that the waist-to-hip ratio was a better predictor of early mortality than the BMI.

There’s no doubt that losing excess weight is helpful to overall health; your hips, knees, and ankles will thank you. But the distribution of weight also matters. We’ll probably never avoid the scale at the doctor’s office, but the predictive value of the waist-to-hip ratio may mean your doctor will be taking out a tape measure, too, at your next exam.

Your Future Robot Companion

Loneliness is a problem for many elderly people. Older people who are trying to cope with the loss of a spouse or long-time companion often struggle with health problems that are related to their solitude: the National Institutes of Health reports that studies have shown that isolation among senior citizens, and the resulting lack of regular social interaction, can lead to depression. cognitive decline, and heart disease.

The Washington Post reports that an Israeli company, Intuition Robotics, has now released a product that seeks to address that problem. ElliQ is an artificial intelligence device that looks vaguely like a lava lamp on a stand. It is designed to serve as a companion, rather than an assistant like Siri or Alexa. As the Post describes it, “ElliQ offers soothing encouragement, invitations to games, gentle health prodding, music thoughts and, most important, a friendly voice that learns a person’s ways and comforts them in their solitude.” The article includes this quote from a company representative:

“This is a character-based person, an entity that lives with you,” said Dor Skuler, Intuition’s chief executive and co-founder. “People who use ElliQ expect her to remember conversations, they expect her to hold context … to deal with the hard times and celebrate the great times. These are the things I think we’re on the frontier of.”

is humanity on the verge of a future where lonely humans find comfort in interaction with machines? Some would argue that that future is already here, with computers serving as the anti-isolation device, and that our increasing acclimation to smartphones, other smart devices, computers, and other electronica has created fertile ground for acceptance of robot companions. It’s an interesting question. Many elderly people who aren’t house-bound could increase their interaction with other humans by joining clubs, or churches, or support groups. If they don’t do that, will they respond to a robot? Or is a device like ElliQ a little easier, and less threatening, than putting yourself out there in a conscious effort to make friends? Could ElliQ and similar devices have the effect of promoting less human contact?

We’ll have to see about that, but I will say that the Post article’s description of ElliQ’s conversational gambits makes the device seem like a bit of a nag. If I’ve got to have a robot companion one of these days, I’d rather have one like Bender from Futurama. I suspect that Bender’s raucous approach to life would be a lot more likely to get me out and about.

“Please Don’t Weigh Me” Cards

I happened to see a news article about these “please don’t weigh me” cards that some people apparently are using with their doctors. One of the cards is pictured above.

The cards are being offered by a group called more-love.org. Its website indicates that it has sent out thousands of the cards. The website explains the cards as follows:

“Because we live in a fatphobic society, being weighed and talking about weight causes feelings of stress and shame for many people. Many people feel anxious about seeing the doctor, and will avoid going to the doctor in order to avoid the scale.

We want to support you in requesting healthcare that is free of weight bias. Getting weighed is an informed choice that we get to make with our doctor. We don’t have to automatically step on the scale just because someone asks us to.

Our “Don’t Weigh Me” cards are a polite and respectful way to assert your preference at the doctor’s office and seek informed consent if weight is deemed necessary for care and treatment. It’s OK to not automatically step on the scale when asked.”

Perhaps I’m insensitive and “fatphobic,” but this concept seems strange to me. First, there’s a passive-aggressive element to it that doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to a positive doctor-patient relationship. Why do you need pre-printed cards, rather than having an honest conversation with your doctor, and his staff, about your feelings? If you can’t have candid communications with your doctor about your issues, you’re probably not going to get the best health care.

Second, what is this about “healthcare that is free of weight bias”? Numerous studies have shown that weight is directly related to health care, in that obesity increases the risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, respiratory problems, and other significant health issues. Even if you don’t currently have one of these conditions, excessive weight is likely to cause you to develop such problems in the future–which means weight logically is a focus of any doctor who is interested in preventive health care. Asking your doctor not to weigh you is like asking him to not take your pulse, conduct a blood test, or perform a physical examination. You are depriving him of information that he can use in prescribing appropriate medication, treatment, or other activities that can produce better health and avoid future problems.

Third, isn’t it odd that people are concerned about living in a “fatphobic” society, and what really worries them is getting a metric from a scale, rather than how they look, or how they feel, or how their clothes fit? What is it about the act of getting on a scale that makes it, specifically, the focus of a pre-printed card?

These cards seem to be a new development, and it isn’t clearly how common their use is. It would be interesting to know how doctors are reacting to being handed one of these cards.

Ten More Minutes Of Walking

The American Medical Association’s JAMA Internal Medicine recently published a metastudy that looked at the impact of physical activity and mortality. Drawing upon a pool of data about thousands of American adults, the study concluded that even a modest amount of additional physical activity–walking only ten more minutes a day–could, collectively, prevent thousands of early deaths.

The problem with Americans is that too many of us are couch potatoes who sit pretty much all day, at work and at home. And prior research has shown that constant sitting is just not good for your health. People who don’t exercise are far more likely to struggle with obesity and have inactivity-related medical conditions that lead to premature deaths that could have been prevented with more exercise. A 2020 study of 44,000 adults in the United States and Europe, for example, found that “the most sedentary men and women in the study, who sat almost all day, were as much as 260 percent more likely to die prematurely as the most highly active people studied, who exercised for at least 30 minutes most days.”

The study published in JAMA Internal Medicine is admittedly speculative, and put the metadata into a statistical model that sought to determine what would happen if people simply walked briskly for an additional 10, 20, or 30 minutes each day. The model showed an anticipated direct cause and effect between more exercise and fewer early deaths.

Notably, the study was based on pre-pandemic data, from what many of us fondly think of as the “normal” world. Obviously, though, its conclusions could be used to question the health impact of extended “shutdown” and “stay-at-home” orders that have the effect of preventing people from exercising. Sedentary lifestyles obviously significant health problems, and any public health care initiative that encourages such lifestyles cannot be viewed as risk-free. What’s past is past, but in the future, we need to remember that.

This Week’s Big Health Scare

News outlets are reporting that the “coronavirus” that was first detected in Wuhan, China is sweeping across that country, causing the Chinese government to try to quarantine entire cities of millions of people to try to stop the spread of the virus.  Nevertheless, cases have been reported in Thailand, Japan, and even in the United States, where a man in the state of Washington who recently returned from China was found to be infected.

106349531-1579718913219gettyimages-1195315493It seems like there is always some huge health disaster for us to worry about.  This week, it’s the Wuhan coronavirus.  Should we be concerned about it?

The link above is to an L.A. Times article that provides some basic information about the Wuhan coronavirus.  Coronaviruses are common in humans and some other animals, but the Wuhan variation is a new strain that hasn’t been seen before.  After some people began showing pneumonia-like symptoms, health officials traced the origin of the conditions back to a large seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, China.  Initial research indicates that the Wuhan strain may have come from the handling of snakes at the market, with the virus jumping from snakes to humans.  (At this point, one can almost hear Indiana Jones saying:  “Snakes!  Why does it always have to be snakes?”)

The key issue for most of us is determining how the virus is transmitted, and what we can do to avoid getting it.  The virus appears to be moving from human to human via the airborne route, which is why you see pictures of people in China wearing masks that cover their noses and mouths.  Viruses that are conveyed by air can spread rapidly and are the most difficult to contain.  And, from the reports of cases outside China, that’s what has happened here.  Still, it appears that some people are more prone to becoming infected than others — exactly why that may be so is one of the things researchers are examining — and severe illness, and death, has for the most part occurred only in people who are older and otherwise dealing with significant health issues.  The man from Washington infected with the virus, for example, is being monitored and is reported to be in good condition.

I tend to be a fatalist about these kinds of things.  I’ll pay attention to the news about the coronavirus, but I’m also content to let the CDC and other public health officials and scientists do their work and figure out how to deal with the Wuhan coronavirus, just as they have dealt with SARS and Ebola and other global health issues.  I’m confident that, if I need to go out and buy a mask, they’ll let me know.

The Flu Shot Factor

This year I got my first flu shot ever.  I hadn’t really thought about doing it before this year, because in the past — admittedly, probably about 10 years ago, or maybe more — I’d read somewhere that flu shots were in short supply and really should be reserved for the very young and the elderly.  So I’d forget about it, go through the flu season without a problem, and sympathize with those folks who were suffering through the flu, which always sounded pretty bad.

qjpgvmypc7pycbp7xu9cp8This year, though, the flu shot factor was seemingly inescapable.  First Kish brought it up and said I should get one, and I always heed her counsel.  Then the Red Sox Fan, no doubt in coordination with Kish, started bombarding me with news articles and opinion pieces saying that unless everyone got a flu shot, the flu shots wouldn’t be as effective in preventing the spread of the condition.  The Red Sox Fan knew that the “civic obligation” card hadn’t been played before and was likely to have some resonance with a presumably responsible member of the community.

And finally, when I went to the doctor for a check-up recently, he said I should get a flu shot.  “Shouldn’t those be reserved for the very young and the elderly?” I asked earnestly, hoping to be relieved of the civic obligation guilt.  He looked at me doubtfully in response, no doubt wondering by what definition I was not falling into the “elderly” category, then said:  “Don’t worry, we’ve got enough.”  He also added, reassuringly, that this year’s flu shot is based on a dead virus, rather than a live one, and therefore is safer.  With the unanimous agreement of Kish, my doctor, and the Red Sox Fan, and to address the crushing sense of civic obligation, the choice was inescapable.  I told the doctor I was fine with getting one, he promptly darted out of the room and summoned his nurse, who came immediately to give me a shot in the shoulder before I could change my mind.  The whole process was over before I knew it.

So, I’ve gotten a flu shot, and I’m happy to report that so far I’ve not gotten the flu.  I’ve also been looking at the news to see whether a flu epidemic has been sweeping the nation, and while I’ve seen some indications that the flu has been nasty here and there, it looks like so far Columbus has escaped the worst of it.  I’m feeling pretty good about my decision and the help I’ve given to my fellow citizens in Ohio’s capital city.

There’s no need to thank me, really.

Heeding The Call Of The Water

Here’s something to remember the next time you are planning a vacation or an extended holiday:  being near the water is good for you.  In fact, it’s really good for you.  Whether it’s ocean, lake, pond, river, or stream, proximity to water has measurable benefits for people — physically, mentally, and emotionally.

img_8827An increasing body of scientific and medical evidence confirms the therapeutic effects of “blue spaces” and the state of “outdoor wellbeing.”  This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s taken a beach vacation or gone on a fishing trip.  The presence of the water tends to draw people outside, where they get more sunshine and enjoy the benefits of vitamin D.  They get more exercise because they are in attractive physical locations that motivate them to walk the beach or hike along the lakefront.  The sounds of ocean surf or running streams are calming.  The combination of exercise, fresh air, and pleasant sounds help visitors to get a good night’s sleep.

But there’s more to it.  Water tends to have a curious effect on the human psyche — a kind of positive vibe that is mentally refreshing and restoring.  Studies have consistently shown that people who are near water regularly maintain a better mood, feel less stress, and describe themselves as happier than inlanders.  Maybe it’s the sights, maybe it’s the sounds, maybe it’s the smells . . . or maybe it’s that it all works in combination to make people near water a bit dreamier, a bit more contemplative, and a bit more reflective.  Perhaps when you’re looking out over a vast ocean your problems just seem a lot smaller and therefore more manageable.

None of this is new — we’ve just forgotten it.  In the first chapter of Moby Dick, published in 1851, Herman Melville’s character Ishmael writes:  “If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”  But, as Melville notes, it’s not just the ocean that humans find attractive — it’s water, period.  He writes:

“Once more. Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.”

So, you want to feel better?  Get out your calendar and plan a trip that allows you to answer the call of the water.

Shaving Strokes

Here’s some good health news:  stroke rates among older Americans are falling.  The decline started in the 1980s, has continued since then, and shows no signs of stopping.

The decline was noted in a long-term study of heart health that began in 1987 in which thousands of adults in the U.S. have participated.  Data accumulated during the study showed that the rates of strokes of participants aged 65 and older has dropped by one-third for each decade the study has continued.

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Interestingly, the researchers don’t know exactly why the stroke rates among seniors are falling.  It could be due to reduced smoking rates, better attention to addressing some of the other key risk factors for stroke, which include diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, or advances in medication for those conditions.  And because the decline was detected in a study that was actually focused on heart health, rather than strokes, the decline also might be due to other factors that weren’t measured during the study, such as diet, exercise, or salt intake.

If you’ve ever had a family member felled by a stroke, you know how devastating they can be — and how important it is to be ever watchful for the signs of stroke, such as slurred speech and drooping facial features.  Whatever the cause of the falling stroke rates among older Americans might be, the fact that it is happening an incredibly positive development.  Now, it would be helpful to find out why.

What A Difference A Night Makes

Recently I’ve been having some irregular sleep patterns.  I’ll go to bed and fall asleep promptly, but then wake up only a few hours later, with heart pumping and mind racing. When that happens, it’s hard to fall back into the REM cycle quickly, and I’ll inevitably toss and turn for as much as an hour, fretting all the while that I’m losing out on sleep that I need and will never make up.

But last night I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, slept through the night without any nocturnal wakefulness, and arose feeling refreshed.  When I went down to make the morning coffee the birds were chirping, I unloaded the dishwasher with a happy feeling, and the coffee tasted richer and better than ever.

Wake up of an asleep girl stopping alarm clockThere’s no doubt that sleep is therapeutic on multiple fronts.  The National Institutes of Health reports that, physically, the changes in breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure that occur during a good night’s sleep help to promote cardiovascular health, and while you sleep hormones are released that repair cells and control your body’s use of energy.  And although the physical aspects of sleep are significant, the mental aspects are even more important.  Getting your 7 or 8 hours of sound sleep enhances mood, alertness, intellectual functioning, and reflexes, while chronic sleep deprivation can lead to depression and anxiety disorders.

Knowing all of this, why doesn’t the human brain always do what is necessary to allow everyone to get their share of shuteye?  Unfortunately, things don’t don’t work that way, stresses and concerns at work and at home can interfere with the sleep cycle, and then the lack of sleep and the irritability it produces can have a compounding effect on those stresses and concerns.

That’s one of the reasons why getting a solid night of slumber time after a few night’s of anxious restlessness feels so good.  You may not be making up for lost sleep, but it’s comforting to know that your mind and body are back to their normal cycles — at least, until the next round of stresses and concerns hit.

Intuitive Eating

Tired of having to follow some strict dietary regimen?  Tired of having to weigh your food, or buy weird special foods because your dietary plan says you must do so?  Tired of weighing yourself constantly and feeling disappointed because you’re not meeting your weight-loss goals?

10-principles-ofMeet “intuitive eating.”

It seems to be the latest “new” approach to eating.  As a recent article about the concept in The Atlantic puts it, the idea is to “encourage followers to work on their relationship with food without worrying about their weight, and to reject the notions of virtue and sin that have underpinned cultural ideas about eating since time immemorial.”  Intuitive eating teaches that weight loss isn’t the top priority, and the cycle of losing weight and gaining it back is harmful.  And here’s the key point:  “Eat what you want, with no rules about what to eat, how much of it, or when. Intuitive eating has 10 tenets, but the most well-known one is that no foods are off limits, and that there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” food.”

So how is that supposed to work, exactly?  One underlying theory of intuitive eating is that there is a strong psychological component to eating.  The notion is that people are attracted to the forbidden fruit — or in this case, perhaps, the forbidden ice cream — so saying that something is off limits just makes it seem all that more irresistible.  People who switch to intuitive eating sometimes binge on their favorite guilty pleasure that had been strictly outlawed, but advocates of the approach say they ultimately strike a balance with food that is healthy and sustainable.  With all of the mystique and the calorie-counting and guilt stripped away, the intuitive eaters do what people traditionally used to do:  they eat when they’re hungry, and don’t eat when they aren’t.  And they spend a lot less on diet books, and scales, and special foods that strict diets require.

Does intuitive eating make sense?  I don’t know, honestly — but I do think that our notions of food seem to have gotten out of whack.  There are so many health issues associated with obesity that avoiding obesity obviously should be a lifelong goal, and if you are looking to lose a few pounds — or more than a few — a diet can help to kick start the cycle of loss that gets you to your desired range.  In my case, going low-carb for a few months a few years ago was an important step toward feeling healthier.  But you can’t stay on diets forever, and at some point cycling over to a more sustainable approach to food and eating has to happen.

Who’d have thought that, with all of the diets and food advice out there, human beings might get back to the simple concept of eating when you’re hungry?

Measles — And Vaccinations

There’s been a serious measles outbreak in Europe this year.  In the first half of 2018, there have been more than 41,000 reported cases of measles in Europe, and at least 37 deaths.  The 41,000 cases during the first half of 2018 is almost double the number of measles cases reported during the entire year of 2017 and is almost eight times higher than the reported measles figures for Europe in 2016.

pri_65784434There is a simple apparent cause for the European measles outbreak:  a drop in immunization rates.  Routine vaccinations of young children with the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine — which is shown to be 97% effective in preventing measles — are falling in countries like Italy, Romania, and the Ukraine.  It’s not clear whether parents are simply not as attentive as they once were, or whether they think measles has been wiped out and vaccination isn’t necessary in the modern world, or they’ve fallen prey to scientifically dubious arguments that MMR vaccination leads to conditions like autism.

The decline in vaccinations in the general public is the key to measles outbreaks, because measles is one of the most virulent, communicable diseases around.  It’s spread by droplets in the coughs and sneezes of an infected person, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a person with measles can infect 90 percent of the non-immune people who come within close contact.  And even though measles seems like a simple childhood disease, it can have serious complications, like pneumonia and encephalitis, in some cases.

According to the CDC, there are no measles outbreaks in the U.S.; as of August, there had been only 124 cases of measles in 22 states in 2018, and none in Ohio.   It’s a marked contrast to the figures reported in Europe.  The outbreak in Europe, however, shows that parents and doctors need to keep their guards up and ensure that kids get vaccinated.  And it shows something more:  in this interconnected world, we’ve got to be able to depend on each other to follow the health care basics.  If people stop getting the routine, proven vaccinations, measles may end up being the least of our concerns.

“Traveler’s Constipation”

The New York Times carries one of those “ask a doctor” columns called “Ask Well.”  The other day it responded to the question:  “Is there such a thing as traveler’s constipation?”

Parenthetically, this reminded me of when I was in college and the Ohio State Lantern carried a similar, extremely popular feature, in which one of the doctors at the University responded to student health questions.  Since the questioners were college students, the tone of the inquiries wasn’t exactly elevated.  I remember that one of the questions fielded by the doctor came from an oddly observant student who wondered why some of his toilet deposits sank to the bottom of the bowl while others floated.  No doubt the doctors who agree to write such columns wonder, from time to time, whether this is really why they went through the hell involved in getting an M.D.

e2e8df6b6cfdc669ce638b702cfcacc6Anyway, back to the pressing issue of “traveler’s constipation” — the Times doc states that there is such a thing, and it afflicts a percentage of travelers.  In fact, several medical studies of the phenomenon have been conducted.  One of the studies, of 70 Europeans who had traveled to the U.S., was quite robust in its data acquisition.  The Times described it as follows: “In addition to the usual questionnaires, all subjects maintained diaries on their bowel habits, had stool samples evaluated for consistency according to a standardized methodology, and had their colonic transit time measured after ingesting radioactive tracers. Colonic transit time is the time required for stool to move through the large intestine.”  (You’d think that ingesting radioactive tracers that the subjects would know were moving through their guts and then maintaining diaries on bowel movements and having stool samples analyzed might interfere with normal functioning and produce false results, but apparently not.)  And there are actually products out in the market that are supposed to help deal with “traveler’s constipation.”

But although the studies reported in the Times detected some evidence of “traveler’s constipation,” which apparently is primarily noticed during the first days of travel and often correlates with jet lag, whether the condition is caused by travel isn’t exactly clear.  The studies note that travel also often involves changes in diet and exercise — sitting at an airport gate eating something purchased along the concourse isn’t exactly designed to promote “regularity” — and the Times doc also notes that a significant portion of people, from 12 to 19 percent, are generally constipated whether they are traveling are not.  That may explain why it’s not unusual to meet grumpy people in the world.

It’s also not clear whether the studies also looked at another potential cause for “traveler’s constipation” — namely, a concerted effort on the part of mind and body to avoid having to use a dubious public airport bathroom — that might contribute to the condition.  The good news, though, is that the Times doc concludes that “traveler’s constipation” is not a serious health problem.  In short, it too shall pass.

Coffin Nail Fail

Here’s some good news:  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics reported this week that the percentage of the adult population that smokes cigarettes has reached its lowest level since the government began keeping track of that activity.

11034958_web1_m-smoking-edh-171122The CDC report concluded that, in 2017, 13.9 percent of the adult population in the United States smoked cigarettes.  That number is down from 15.5 percent in 2016, and has been steadily declining over the years.  Back in the 1960s, more than 40 percent of American adults smoked.  Ask anyone who was around during the ’60s, and you’ll hear stories that give you an idea about just how dramatically things have changed since then.  When UJ and I went with our grandparents to University of Akron Zips basketball games back in those days, for example, people could smoke in the hallways before entering the seating area.  At halftime when you walked through the hallway to get popcorn or a hot dog, you walked through a thick, gag-inducing wall of smoke emitted by throngs of smokers.  Now — unless you’re in a Las Vegas casino — you almost never encounter even a whiff of smoke in a public place.

Why are the numbers of smokers falling?  Some attribute it to aggressive ad campaigns against smoking and some attribute it to changes in general social mores; others think that a positive feedback loop may have occurred, where the decline in the number of smokers means people see fewer smokers and aren’t tempted to start smoking themselves in the first place.  There’s also another reason for the decline:  call it coincidence, but people who are smokers often seem to have fatal health problems, like the cancers that claimed three of the heavy smokers in my family.

While the overall trends are encouraging, there’s still work to be done.  Even though adult smokers now number less than 14 percent of the population, that still amounts to millions of people who are in the grip of a very bad habit.  And the statistics show a real disparity in the percentage of smokers by location, with city dwellers much less likely to smoke than residents of rural areas.  We need to continue to work on getting current smokers to quit, and convincing potential smokers to never pick up one of those coffin nails in the first place.

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.