Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Coach Laura: Going Barefoot?

Coach Laura,

I've heard a lot lately about running barefoot. Even one of my friends has started running barefoot, which just sounds crazy to me. I like my running shoes with plenty of support, thank you very much. What do you think?


Not About To Go Shoeless

Dear Shoeless Joe,

You might be sorry you asked my opinion! I may not be running a marathon barefoot any time soon, but I think there are a lot of advantages to this barefoot movement. To clarify, I don't actually go barefoot, but I do use a pair of minimalist shoes for my training run. This allows my foot to have some basic protection from the road and any obstacles in it while still gaining the benefits of not having my foot encased in an unnatural shoe.

Experts are starting to see that our ancestors were right - letting our feet be more natural instead of being confined to or conforming to a shape that's not naturally our own is actually better for your foot and stride. It allows the muscles in the feet to strengthen, which can help make you a more efficient runner and athlete. 

You may also find that without shoes, your stride will change to its more natural form, which is a good thing! Many running shoes are designed with a higher heel and low toe, which forces the foot to land on the heel each time you hit the pavement. If you try running even a few steps without shoes, you'll probably notice  that your body will naturally protect your heel from landing first. Instead, you'll probably find yourself landing more towards the front of the foot, gradually rolling back towards the heel. 

True story - the first time I tried running with minimalist shoes I had just finished my first 5K. At the race's after party a vendor was there selling their brand of minimalist shoes. Like you, I had been hearing about this trend and decided to give it a try. I expected to feel sore and not last very long. Not only did I finish my standard three miles in a shorter time than usual, but had the energy and strength to go another mile and a half - something virtually unheard of for me! I wanted to go further but was starting to get "hot spots" on my toes. And that was the most painful part for me of transitioning from standard running shoes to minimalist - building up callouses. I'm proud of those hard spots on my feet now, because they are a badge of honor for me!

Here's a nice little summary of some advantages:
  • You may develop a more natural gait and strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the foot.
  • Removing the heel lift of most shoes helps the Achilles tendon and calf muscle stretch and lengthen and may reduce injuries, such as calf pulls or Achilles tendinitis caused by short, tight tissues. (Note from Coach Laura - this is one thing that made my plantar fascitis completely disappear!)
  • Runners will learn to land on the forefoot rather then the heel. The heel strike during running only came about because of the excessive padding of running shoes, but research shows this isn't the most effective natural running stride. Landing on the heel is essentially putting on the breaks every step. The most efficient runners land on the midfoot and keep their strides smooth, light and flowing. Landing on the forefoot also allows your arches to act as natural shock absorbers.
  • You may improve balance and proprioception. Without shoes, you activate the smaller muscles in your feet, ankles, legs, and hips that are responsible for better balance and coordination.
  • You may feel more grounded. Being barefoot helps you improve balance, but it also helps you stay grounded and connected with your environment. You'll learn to spread your toes and expand your foot while it becomes a more solid and connected base that supports all your movements. 
According to this Australian study
Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of ankle sprains, either by decreasing awareness of foot position or by increasing the twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble. 
Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of plantar fasciitis and other chronic injuries of the lower limb by modifying the transfer of shock to muscles and supporting structures.

If you feel like you want to start making the transition or at least give it a shot, start a little bit at a time.  Start by taking your shoes off and walking around the house barefoot. If you want to try something out doors but don't want to commit to the price of another pair of shoes, an inexpensive alternative or starting point is to get some cheap water shoes to try out - you know the ones - mostly neoprene with a thin rubber sole that you can find at a drugstore or similar store. 
Another advantage not listed above that I have found is that I don't have to buy running shoes very often. Since there's no thick sole on my minimalist shoes, there's nothing really to wear out. I've had the same pair of minimalist shoes for three years now! However, I don't recommend planning on using a $10/pair of beach shoes if this is something you're going to do for longer than just an experiment.
Here are some basic steps to get you on your barefoot way:
  • Take it slow. Try 5-10 minutes a day of walking barefoot, work your way up to 10-15 minutes of jogging every 3 days, and eventually get back to your normal jogging routine. If you try to push it too hard too quickly, you can do some serious damage to your feet and calves which will keep you off the roads for quite a while. (Coach Laura here: truth - I tried to do too much too fast and sidelined myself with some crazy calf stuff for longer than if I had just started more moderately.)
  • Stretch! Make sure you stretch after each walk and run.  This will help eliminate the crazy soreness after the first few rounds.
  • Run on grass when possible, go with asphalt over concrete. Get started on grass if possible, as that will provide the most cushion when you’re just starting out.  However, running on tough surfaces will certainly make you adjust that running style quickly!
  • Have fun with it. I run “barefoot” because it gets me excited about running and it's pain-free. 
 Remember, whatever you do, make sure you're having fun with it. If it doesn't work for you, that's okay - it doesn't have to. Just because I love it and will preach it to anyone who asks doesn't mean it's going to be your new gospel, and THAT'S OKAY.  The other day a friend of mine asked some exercise advice on Facebook and got as many different answers as people who responded. It reminded me that there is no one formula or answer for everyone because everyone's different.
Whatever you do, do it safely and fun-LY!
To your health,
Coach Laura

Monday, January 28, 2013

Do Old People Really Need Less Sleep?

Dear Madame L,

My grandma has trouble sleeping at night, but she says she doesn't need as much sleep as younger people do. She says in general people need less sleep as they get older. I do notice she takes a lot of naps during the day, though.


Not Much of a Napper, Myself

Dear Not Napping,

And your question was....?

Madame L is a big believer in getting lots of sleep. She has gone through periods when (because of work or studies or babies or illness or...you get the idea) she couldn't get as much sleep as she wanted, and she SUFFERED. And so did her everyone around her.

But what's interesting about your grandma is that she's able to take naps during the day, which, for all Madame L knows, may partly make up for the sleep she loses at night. However, Madame L is guessing that your grandma would feel better if she could sleep more during the night.

Here's an interesting article about sleep and aging.  If you don't want to read the whole article, here's a short excerpt from it:

      "[Researchers found that] structural brain changes occurring naturally over time interfere with sleep quality, which in turn blunts the ability to store memories for the long term. 

      "Previous research had found that the prefrontal cortex, the brain region behind the forehead, tends to lose volume with age, and that part of this region helps sustain quality sleep, which is critical to consolidating new memories. But the new experiment, led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, is the first to directly link structural changes with sleep-related memory problems."

In other words, it's important for older people to get enough sleep, and more sleep over sustained periods of time, so their brain can keep memories better. 

There's more in the article about new techniques to help people, including older people, who have trouble sleeping. Madame L hopes you'll be able to help your grandma get enough sleep and do everything else she can to keep her body and her mind going strong.


Madame L

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mining in the Jungles and Deserts

Dear Madame L, 

I've been watching these great shows on the History Channel about mining in jungles and other remote places around the world. 

Since you used to live in some of those places, what do you think of these shows? 

Sincerely, Don't Want to Freeze in the Dark, But....

Dear Eco Friend,

Madame L hasn't watched any of those shows you mention because she thinks life is too short to waste with those History Channel reality-wannabe-shows. (Even though the History Channel used to have interesting and worthwhile shows, it seems to have opted to go another direction for the past few years.)  

But Madame L has heard about the shows from other sources, and, as you say, Madame L used to live in some of those places and has visited some of those mining sites, and here's what Madame L thinks of what those shows are doing:

They are glorifying the destruction of millions of acres of land which, if saved, could contribute to decreasing greenhouse gases and slowing down global climate change, not to mention saving thousands of species of animals and plants from destruction. What else? All this:

The New York Times article Madame L refers to points out that as much as one quarter of gold production around the world now "originates not from licensed, regulated and monitored mines, but from often illegal, unregulated artisanal, or informal, mines — much like those dramatized in these series...." 

In addition, "Artisanal miners succeed where large, centralized operations fail by evading regulations and targeting gold that has eroded over eons into river sediments, known as placer deposits, that are broadly distributed over vast landscapes."

Madame L has personally witnessed the results of such mining operations.  Madame L has some photos showing the damaged landscapes, the poverty-stricken miners on their barges breathing in mercury fumes as they refine the gold they get from the stream bottoms, the signs warning visitors not to enter or they'll be shot, the clinics reminding people to take their anti-malaria drugs, and so on. 

Madame L would like to post some of these photos here but has apparently reached her Google Blogger-imposed limit. Madame L is getting so annoyed by this situation that she may soon be moving her blog to a different location. 

Meanwhile, you can find some of the photos on Jeff's blog and read more about this issue. 

But, without even looking at those photos, Madame L asks all of her Dear Readers to imagine this: ancient and gigantic trees being burned in the middle of the jungle, falling with a crash in the night, so that some illicit mining operation can cut roads through the jungle to a new area which they will exploit. 

Imagine the resulting moon-like landscape, except it's mud-colored, with deep grooves worn into the ground where torrents of water have been sprayed by gigantic hydraulic engines to make the silt run down to where it can be processed; dead trees torn up by their roots; and desolation for miles around. 

Imagine the lives of the miners on their little barges, and what it's like for them when they take their little bits of refined gold to town where they're ripped off by representatives of big mining companies and financial operations. 

Imagine the little shacks where they live and the little run-down clinics where they go to for treatment of their chronic coughs and their malarial fevers, and imagine the little stores where they pay four times more than people in the towns and cities for basic food supplies and necessities.

Or imagine this: a desert which would, like most deserts on Earth, have had some secret oases of life even in the apparently most desolate places, but now has been invaded by rivers and pools of toxic waste dumped there by miners and manufacturers; imagine seeing suffering camels and mules and goats in the area, dying miserable deaths after they drink from contaminated streams or eat poisoned shrubs. Madame L has seen that, too, and it made her cry.

Not only are these mining operations destroying the land, plants, and animals of those areas, they're filling the rivers with toxic pollutants and providing breeding grounds for malarial mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects and mammals.

So, that's what Madame L thinks about those shows that glorify the dirty business of mining and pretend to care about nature. They're fraudulent in every way. Please don't watch them any more, and please consider not supporting the businesses that support those shows.

Sincerely, and bitterly,

Madame L

Jan. 21, 2013: More Equality, Together

Here's the text of Pres. Obama's inaugural address: 

Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution.  We affirm the promise of our democracy.  We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.  What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.  For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.  The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.  They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.

For more than two hundred years, we have.

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free.  We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.  Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.  For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.  No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.  Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.  A decade of war is now ending.  An economic recovery has begun.  America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands:  youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.   My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.  We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.  We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.  We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time.  We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher.  But while the means will change, our purpose endures:  a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American.  That is what this moment requires.  That is what will give real meaning to our creed.

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.  We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.  But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.  For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.  We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.  We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us.  They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.  The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.  That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.  That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.  That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.  Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage.  Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty.  The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm.  But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.

We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.  We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are na├»ve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.  America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.  We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.  And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes:  tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.  Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.  Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.  Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.  Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American.  Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness.  Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.

For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction – and we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service.  But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream.  My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride.
They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope.

You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.

You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.

Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright.  With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

Thank you, God Bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.

When Is This Year's Inauguration, Anyway?

Dear Madame L, 

I thought the inauguration was supposed to be on Monday (today), January 21, but yesterday they had inauguration ceremonies for Pres. Obama and Vice President Biden in the White House and the Naval Observatory. What was that all about?   


When Do the New Terms Really Start?   

Dear Sincerely,  

Both terms started yesterday, Jan. 20, when the president and vice president were sworn in, in private ceremonies. 

It had to be done that way because of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, which requires that the newly elected president and vice president be sworn in on the 20th of January, even if that day falls on a Sunday. 

But the big parties and parades and speeches and hoopla will be today, Jan. 21. (And this has been done several times in the past, for the same reason.) Madame L thinks it's a great coincidence that the "public" inauguration celebrations are being held on the same day we celebrate the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., many of us by making it a day of service.

Congratulations, Mr. President, and best wishes for four years of being able to accomplish your worthy goals!


Madame L

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Book Review, January 20, 2013: Talent Is Overrated

The subtitle of this fascinating book by Geoff Colvin is "What Really Separates World Class Performers from Everybody Else."

And the answer to that puzzle is, just like your mom, and your piano teacher, and your basketball coach, kept telling you: Practice. Practice. Practice.

But it's not just any kind of practice. It doesn't work, for instance, to practice the piano while watching cartoons (yes, my dear Aunties everywhere, Madame L knows about this!), or to keep goofing off when you're supposed to be making layups. 

This author calls the kind of practice you need to do, if you want to excel at anything, "deliberate practice." He gives examples and suggests ways you can do this for yourself.

He even talks about motivation, which he calls "the passion," which explains how it works better than that old "motivation" word. 

In short, this is a better self-help book than most. You may even be inspired to make the changes that will help you excel in an area you are willing to work on.

In fact, this book may help you hurdle into accomplishing some of your New Years resolutions, if you have made any...or some of your goals, of which Madame L is sure you have plenty.

Madame L got "Talent Is Overrated" from her local library and she recommends her Dear and Loyal Readers do the same, although it's available used in soft-cover for just over $5.00 (plus shipping) from Amazon.com. Madame L would love to hear from any Dear Readers who have enjoyed the book, especially if they have been able to put into practice some of the principles.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The No-B.O. Gene

Dear Madame L,

Here's a good one for you: 

Supposedly some people have a rare gene which makes them not have under-arm body odor.

And supposedly you can tell if you are one of those people by whether your ear-wax is dry instead of sticky. Do you believe this?


Feeling Hoaxed

Dear Hoaxed,

Madame L learned in high school a fairly reliable way to check for the no-B.O. gene without sticking your fingers in your ears: take a sniff under your arms. 

However, since you asked, Madame L has found the news release from Bristol University, where a study was recently conducted which did indeed find that some people don't need deodorant.

Madame L must take this moment to congratulate the authors of the study and report, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, for their perspicacity, as well as the perspiration they must have suffered while conducting such a difficult study. 

As one of the report's authors said, "...three quarters of those who do not produce an odour regularly use deodorants; we believe that these people simply follow socio-cultural norms. This contrasts with the situation in North East Asia, where most people do not need to use deodorant and they don’t.”

BTW, check out the online Journal of Investigative Dermatology, which always has some interesting, and free, articles posted.

And, instead of being afraid of being hoaxed or duped by the advertisers of deodorants, when in doubt, assume you do produce body odor.


Madame L

Friday, January 18, 2013

Weird Word of the Week: Hashtag

Wikipedia has a lot to say about the word "hashtag," but (as it sometimes does) misses the actual news about this word: 

It has been named the Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society. 

At the hashtag.org website, you can also read the real lowdown on this word, including how to start a Twitter hashtag and make it popular ("trending").

Madame L suspects her Dear Readers know more about trending and hashtags and trending hashtags than she will ever know, but she just wanted to get out the news about this Word of the Year.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pres. Obama Vs. Gun Manufacturers

Dear Madame L,  

I heard that Pres. Obama has signed 23 executive orders about gun control. I guess he doesn't want to work with Congress any more to satisfy the desires of the American people about gun control?  


Gun Owner                    

Dear Gun Owner,   

This is simply not true, and Madame L hopes you don't believe every false outcry you hear. 

Please remember that NRA officials are fomenting these false rumors and hateful ads in order to keep their jobs, which rely on U.S. arms manufacturers, not their paying members. If doing this requires lying and making ads directing the anger of crazy and already-angry people toward our President's own children, yes, they have stooped that low.

Most Americans, including NRA members, aren't using their weapons to kill innocents; they also realize that upholding the Second Amendment does not require us to limit the types of guns and ammunition available for ordinary, sane citizens to what may actually be required for hunting and self-defense.

Most NRA members (of whom, by the way, Madame L was one until they were taken over by apparently irrational and not-very-smart people and started promoting large-capacity ammunition clips and assault rifles) are, of course, sane and rational, and realize they don't need assault rifles and 20-round clips to go deer or grouse hunting. Most of us realize that the place for assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition clips is the battlefield. And most of us don't want to live in a place where people are pulling out their weapons and shooting it out in public, or where they must have armed guards at their children's schools.

But, back to your question: In fact: Pres. Obama has signed three (3) executive orders about gun control. 

These are all orders that are allowed by the Constitution and U.S. law. Pres. Obama isn't signing unncessary or illegal or unconstitutional orders. He is trying to do what he can to protect us until Congress can get its act together to prepare the necessary legislation. 

You don't have to be against the Second Amendment rights of every citizen to want our children and innocent shoppers in malls and kids playing with their parents' guns at home (just for a few obvious examples) to be kept safe through rational and reasonable gun laws. 

For a look at the three actual orders signed by Pres. Obama, check out this page. 

Madame L refuses to show or provide links to the latest nasty and underhanded NRA ad, which she hopes all reasonable Americans will protest against. Here's one petition you can sign, to "Tell the NRA to stand down..."  On that page, you'll also find links to more information about the issue.

Dear and Gentle Readers, please take a stand to let your local and national elected representatives know your feelings about this. 


Madame L

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Vaccine Schedule for Kids

Dear Madame L,

There are lots of people where I live who are refusing to have their children vaccinated against many common childhood diseases because of news items they've read. 

Some people I know won't even associate with those people any more and won't let their children go to nursery or pre-school classes with those children, and so on.

Although this seems extreme to me, I'm wondering why they're giving so many vaccines so early. When I was a kid, we didn't get three shots on our first well-baby checkup, for instance. 

Do you know anything about this?


Want to Do the Right Thing, But I Don't Know What it Is

Dear Doing the Right Thing,

Thank you for asking about this issue. While Madame L is by no means an expert, she trusts established immunologic doctors and researchers more than she does movie stars, gossip magazines, web-sites, and the infamous doctor who has now lost his license, the one who started the whole vaccine scare with false "research" that claimed to connect vaccines with autism.

Like those people you mention, Madame L would also refuse to spend time in a closed room, or let her children or grandchildren do the same, with children or adults who are not vaccinated against mumps, rubella, German measles, polio, and the other common diseases for which vaccines are available.

As for the giving of more vaccines, earlier, it has been established through reliable research that children who are vaccinated earlier are less vulnerable to those diseases. 

Madame L puts anti-vaccine mania in the same category with playing the lottery or believing you'll ever get a check from some big company. 

Madame L has to wonder about people who say things like, "Well, they didn't do it this way back when I was a boy," or, "Well, I never got a polio vaccination back in the 50's or 60's, and I never got polio," or even, as an elderly acquaintance of hers once said, "I never wear a seat belt, and I never got hurt."  

(The driver of that car, Madame L's father, said, "Well, you will not get hurt today, either, because you will not be riding in this car, because I will not start the engine until everyone in the car is wearing a seat belt." The elderly friend finally gave in and wore a seat belt. She also put away her knitting needles, under protest, after saying she always knitted while in the car; but only after Madame L's father informed her he would also not start the car until her knitting was put away securely.)

Likewise, Madame L wonders about a friend of hers who recently said, "Nah, I'm not getting a flu shot this year. My wife got a flu shot last year, and she got sick anyway, so obviously they're worthless."

Madame L in fact just can't believe the irrationality behind those kinds of statements.

Rather than continue to rant about this issue, though, Madame L will just, for now, refer you to a recent study showing that the current vaccine schedule is SAFE for children. Not only that, it HELPS them stay healthy  while they get through a time of their lives when they are unprotected by the antibodies from their mother's body and milk.

      "Up to 40% of parents now skip or space out some of their children's shots, following alternative schedules due to concerns over safety and side effects, studies show. ...
      "But the CDC vaccine schedule 'is not arbitrary,' says vaccine researcher Peter Hotez, father of an autistic child.
     "Paul Offit, who developed a vaccine against rotavirus, says the Food and Drug Administration requires manufacturers to test new vaccines in combination with previously approved shots, to make sure they are safe and effective.../
     "The CDC schedules the timing and doses of childhood shots through careful scientific testing, to optimize children's immune response and protect them during the years when they are most vulnerable, says Hotez, who wasn't involved in the new report.
      "'The concept that you are going to overload a child's immune system by giving too many vaccines at once makes no sense,' says Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine....
     '"It makes no sense to alter the schedule, and in fact it is even dangerous,' Hotez says. 'When you play with vaccine schedules, you are playing with fire.'"

Here's a quick summary of the aims of the study and the results:

     "Roughly 90 percent of American children receive most childhood vaccines advised by the federal immunization schedule by the time they enter kindergarten, noted the committee that wrote the report. However, some parents choose to spread out their children's immunizations over a different time frame than recommended by the schedule and a small fraction object to having their children immunized at all. Their concerns arise in part from the number of doses that children receive; the schedule entails 24 immunizations by age 2 given in amounts ranging from one to five injections during a pediatric visit. Some critics of immunization policies have called for studies comparing health outcomes among vaccinated and unvaccinated children and for research to determine if subgroups exist that are predisposed to experiencing harmful health effects from the vaccines."

The result of the study: "A review of the available evidence underscores the safety of the federal childhood immunization schedule."

Here's the abstract of the published study results:

     "Vaccines are among the most safe and effective public health interventions to prevent serious disease and death. Because of the success of vaccines, most Americans today have no firsthand experience with such devastating illnesses as polio or diphtheria. Health care providers who vaccinate young children follow a schedule prepared by the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Under the current schedule, children younger than six may receive as many as 24 immunizations by their second birthday. New vaccines undergo rigorous testing prior to receiving FDA approval; however, like all medicines and medical interventions, vaccines carry some risk.
      "Driven largely by concerns about potential side effects, there has been a shift in some parents’ attitudes toward the child immunization schedule. HHS asked the IOM to identify research approaches, methodologies, and study designs that could address questions about the safety of the current schedule.
      "This report is the most comprehensive examination of the immunization schedule to date. The IOM committee uncovered no evidence of major safety concerns associated with adherence to the childhood immunization schedule. [Emphasis added] Should signals arise that there may be need for investigation, however, the report offers a framework for conducting safety research using existing or new data collection systems."

If any of Madame L's Dear Readers would like to read the entire study, Madame L will try to obtain it for you. Just let Madame L know if you're interested. 

Meanwhile, Madame L hopes ALL of her Dear Readers will check all the possible reliable and rational sources for whatever they decide, on any issue, and not rely on rumors or word-of-mouth or talk radio blathering as sources of information.


Madame L

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Coach Laura: Rest Days

We already know how I feel about new year's resolutions. BUT. I'm all about goals. I realize I'm burying the lede by talking about this since it's not immediately addressing the topic of this article, but I hope you'll indulge me one more time about goal setting. I stumbled upon a fantastic article about setting goals. It succinctly says the things I think I'd been vaguely stumbling around last time. It talks about setting goals using a strategy called "identity-based habits." 

To pique your interest, here are a couple of snippets from this article: 

To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself. Performance and appearance goals are great, but they aren’t the same as habits. If you’re already doing a behavior, then these types of goals can help drive you forward. The interior of behavior change and building better habits is your identity. Each action you perform is driven by the fundamental belief that it is possible. So if you change your identity (the type of person that you believe that you are), then it’s easier to change your actions.
If that intrigues you, please read the rest of the article.

Now back to the original question. This comes from a reader who has been consistently working on attainable goals by walking. She wants to generally increase her fitness and is not concentrating on weight loss; rather on exercising (in her case, walking and doing some stretching and gentle strengthening exercises). She has noticed that as she's consistently done this, she is getting stronger and feeling better about herself. And after several weeks, other people started noticing the change in her physical appearance as well and commenting to her about it. (If you've read the article I reference above, you'll know why that's meaningful.)

I just finished my workout for the day and was able to go further at a higher intensity then I've been able to do before this. Overall, it felt really good, and I feel good about my progress. Maybe one reason I felt so good was because of the two-day rest that I had. I'm hoping to find the balance in daily exercise and resting. Tomorrow I plan to do the one-mile walk-at-home video so that I'm doing something, but changing things up a bit. Does it count for a rest day if you work as long and hard but at something else? Or should you just back off all around?
Great question, and thanks for asking it! The general fear (if that's not too strong a word) of taking a rest day is that you might lose any progress that you've made so far. But your muscles need time to heal and recover.  You don’t build muscle when you’re exercising, you build muscle when you’re resting. 

Did you hear that? I think it bears repeating:  You don’t build muscle when you’re exercising, you build muscle when you’re resting. 

Instead of thinking of it as a "rest" day, it may help if you think of it in terms of "recovery." This doesn't mean that you get to completely slack off, though. As you correctly surmised, it's important to keep active. That way you won't lose any of the progress you've made in one area. You will instead be able to grow stronger and develop skills in other areas. If you're focusing on walking, for example, as your main activity type, then on your recovery days you might consider adding a yoga or stretching routine. 

It's important to make sure that it's an activity you enjoy. If yoga or stretching sounds boring or doesn't float your boat, then you can try swimming or hiking - something different. Those types of activity have the potential to emotionally and mentally refresh you so that when you return to your regular activity, you can approach it with renewed enthusiasm. Your walking muscles will appreciate the break too. 

Something else you can do on your walking recovery days is add some strength training. Adding more muscle can only help you burn more fat. To allay another fear before you even ask it - there's no such thing as "bulking up" with just regular strength training, unless of course, that is your discipline and desire. Adding some basic weight training is one of the best things you can do for yourself. If you're looking for a place to start, here's a good reference. You don't have to do everything on that list, but it will give you some good ideas as a starting point.

Here's something to consider if you're on the fence about strength building:
When you strength train with very heavy weights for low numbers of repetitions, you build incredibly DENSE, tight muscle.  It seems counter-intuitive, but if you really want toned legs, stomach, and arms – picking up small weights and doing lots of repetitions isn’t doing anything. The benefit comes from lifting heavy weights with a low repetition count. 

I've thrown more information at you than you probably wanted, but I hope you've been able to glean something useful from it. 

Keep those questions coming! And remember, you can never do too many good things for yourself. Don't give up, just keep pushing forward. Give yourself credit for the things you've accomplished; don't tear yourself down for not being perfect. 

To your heatlh!

Coach Laura

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Chris Christie in 2016?

Dear Madame L,

I've been reading that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden may both want to run for the Democratic nomination in 2016, and that everything Chris Christie is doing and saying now is to prepare the way to run for the 2016 Republican nomination.

What do you think?

Just Wondering

Dear Wondering,

Madame L heard something about that on a cable TV news show the other night, and immediately turned off the TV. Are you kidding me? Madame L asked the TV, couch, and room in general. Nobody answered.

That so-called news, which came out of the void of empty minds and slow news days, slipped quietly back into the space between electrons in the ether, and Madame L hopes it stays there.


Madame L 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Coach Laura: Don't Give Up!

How is your new year going? Hopefully you're not discouraged or giving up on yourself. Remember this - you didn't get where you are overnight; you're not going to get to where you want to be overnight either.

It takes four weeks for you to notice your body changing, eight weeks for your friends to notice, and 12 weeks for the rest of the world to notice.

Don't give up. In the words of Dora the fish (from Finding Nemo), "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming."

On another unrelated note, here's an article I found interesting about different diets you may hear about. I object to the D-word on principle and hate it in practice, as I'm sure you do too. There is never a quick fix for anything, and your health is no exception.

Lastly, one of my guilty pleasure TV shows is back on the air - "The Biggest Loser." I love my fatties and love watching the transformation they so successfully make - not just physically but emotionally and mentally as well. It may look like their changes are happening quickly and dramatically, but that's the magic of TV. They're not you. These people are morbidly obese and making extreme changes to their bodies. This is NOT normal. Don't get discouraged if you're not able to see such dramatic changes in yourself as quickly as it appears they're making. 

This applies to anything - not just health and phsyical transformations. Give yourself time, be patient with yourself, and enjoy whatever you're doing! Keep doing good things!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Congress and Cockroaches

What do they have in common, other than a little alliteration?

They're quite unpopular with the American public, according to the latest PPP poll (since we're alluding to alliteration!):

Business Insider reports that people preferred cockroaches to the 2012 Congress. They also preferred "root canals, the NFL replacement referees, lice, Nickelback, colonoscopies, political pundits, carnies, traffic jams, ... France, Genghis Khan, used car salesmen, [and] Brussels sprouts... On the other hand, Congress won out over telemarketers and the Kardashians, again showing the good taste of the majority of us. 


Monday, January 7, 2013

Billion Graves (Madame LN)

Dear Madame LN,
 I read in Aunt Louise's blog about the graveyard photos.  Can you please tell me more about this? 
 How does this help people who are doing their genealogy? How can I help with it?"  
Want to Help
Dear Volunteer,
Have you ever wondered where your loved one was buried, and what their gravesite looks like, and wished you could go visit their grave and pay your respects in person? The cost of visiting all the graves of your grandparents and great-grandparents and anyone else that you care about could get pretty expensive--depending, of course, on where you live and where they are buried. If the thought is exciting but daunting to you, rest assured that you’re not the only one who has felt that way, and there are people who are helping each other do something about it.
The principle is quite simple: you take pictures of graves in your neighborhood cemetery and upload them to a website for others to view, and other people take pictures of graves near them and do the same for you, thus making it possible for you to vicariously visit your loved ones’ graves. One of the websites that offers this service, FindaGrave (mentioned in Aunt Louise’s blog post, above), allows you to create memorials and leave electronic flowers in memory of your loved one. FindaGrave has been around for more than 10 years and is used by genealogists and others to collect names and dates to add to their records. Here is a link to their FAQ page where you can learn more about their service: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=listFaqs#97
Billiongraves.com is similar to FindaGrave, but it has not been around for nearly as long. Pictures for Billion Graves are uploaded by volunteers using their smart phones or electronic note pads and utilizing GPS so that the exact location of each grave is mapped out in each cemetery. Volunteers visit cemeteries in their own neighborhoods and go systematically from one headstone to another, taking pictures with their smart phones and uploading them directly to the website. All you have to do is go to their website and register, then download the app to your smart phone or other electronic device, and start visiting cemeteries and taking pictures.
Wait! What if you don’t have a smart phone or other means of taking GPS-enabled pictures? You can still help! People are needed to not only take the pictures, but also extract the information from those pictures of the headstones, and enter them into the searchable index.
It’s a lot like the indexing that we talked about before. In fact, BillionGraves is affiliated with FamilySearch.org, the same organization that does the indexing. Yet it’s also independent from Family Search. In other words, even if you don’t want to sign up with Family Search, you can still just do the Billion Graves. And if you don’t want to upload photos or extract information from the photos, it’s okay. The information that has already been extracted is still available for you to search at no charge. Anyone with computer access can do it.
So what are you waiting for? Download the app, get registered, and start searching. I bet you’ll have fun doing it!
Madame LN