Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Eyebrows: Not Just a Plucking Ground

Many envy the full eyebrows of stars  like Emma Watson.
Many envy the full eyebrows of stars
like Emma Watson.
Image: s_bukley / Shutterstock.com
Have you ever plucked your eyebrows? I know I have, as have many of my (male and female) friends. Women have plucked their brows thin and at the same time envied the full eyebrows of stars like Brooke Shields, Emma Watson, Natalie Portman, and Jessica Alba. Unibrows are typically avoided, lest society judge you (despite the fact that the magnificent Frida Kahlo wore hers proudly).

Over the years, humans have evolved significantly. From apes to modern human beings, our environment has shaped our bodies like any other creature that has adapted to survive. Whereas our Neanderthal ancestors were much hairier and apelike, today we have lost much of that body hair and stockiness.

Our eyebrows, however, have stuck around. Why, when many people simply pluck them out anyway, haven’t our bodies stopped making them? For one thing, they have gotten thinner. However, many scientists believe that eyebrows still provide a unique and needed function: they shield our eyes from sweat, rain, and other hazards.

If we didn’t have eyebrows, our bodies may have developed another method of protection for our eyes. According to Greg Foot of Head Squeeze, that could have included things like giant eyelashes or a much larger forehead that looks a bit like a shelf.

Eyebrows are also one of the most expressive parts of our bodies, allowing us to show others that we are angry, shocked, curious, or otherwise emotionally effected—without saying a word. Check out the Head Squeeze video below to get a complete rundown of eyebrows and why we still need them after all these years.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Heart Disease: The Silent Killer

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the nation. Every year, it claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. My grandmother had it—she had at least one heart attack, a stroke, and open-heart surgery. My mother hasn’t shown any sign of it yet, but it’s something I think about all the time. I have a heart murmer, which thus far has been deemed to be harmless, but it’s still a concern at the back of my mind. What if? It’s a scary thought.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.
It's known as the "Silent Killer."
Image: Shutterstock
So, if there’s one medical research venture I feel connected to, it’s that. Not just how to better treat heart disease, but also how to prevent it. Luckily, I’m not alone in supporting the cause. Recently the Dalio Foundation gifted $20 million to the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College. The two groups plan on using that money to launce the Dalio Institute of Cardiovascular Imaging, which will “combine research, clinical care, and education to uncover new answers about preventing heart disease.”

According to the press release, a focus will be placed on preventing heart disease specifically in at-risk individuals like my mother and me. And because the new institute has such generous seed money, its methods and tools will be state-of-the-art and future focused.

According to researchers, there is something called the venerable plaque, which is “the specific coronary lesion that is responsible for a future heart attack or sudden cardiac death.” Unfortunately, it has proven difficult to identify—which is why the Dalio Institute of Cardiovascular Imaging will focus on it. Dr. James K. Min calls the venerable plaque the “holy grail in the diagnostic work-up of individuals with suspected coronary artery disease.”

One of the most upsetting facts about heart disease is that more than half the people who die from sudden heart attacks, strokes, or cardiac death don’t even know that they are at risk. Underlying heart conditions can often be missed and therefore go untreated. Hopefully, this new institute be able to develop new ways to identify these individuals and get them the treatment they need to lead a happy, healthy life.

The New York Presbyterian Hospital “provides state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventative care in all areas of medicine,” and has six locations across New York. Some of the newest members of its board of trustees are Alex Navab, Dr. Robert J. Min, Ogden Phipps, and Lenard B. Tessler.

Weill Cornell Medical College was founded in 1898 and has been affiliated with NYP since 1927. It’s one of the top medical and clinical research facilities in the nation. Its board of overseers is headed by Sanford I. Weill, Antonio M. Gotto, Robert Appel, Jeffrey Feil, Barbara Friedman, and Arthru J. Mahon.

If you had $20 million to donate to medical research, which cause would you donate to?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Truth About Posture

Good posture can make you feel
happier and more productive.
Image: Shutterstock
As much as I hate to admit it, good posture is really important. I’ve slouched over since I can remember, and now that I’m getting older, I’m regretting that I didn’t try harder to sit up straight when I was a kid. My body is so used to slouching that my shoulders are actually rotated forward and are extremely inflexible. They are the bane of my existence during yoga.

But having good posture affects a lot of things for the better. Not only does it inform the way others see us, there’s also evidence that it can also affect our mood and productivity levels. An experiment conducted by Erik Peper, a Dutch behavioral scientist and professor, showed that when students sat up straight, positive memories and thoughts came to mind more easily.

Peper has conducted several experiments on walking and sitting up straight, as well as other types of body language. His experiments’ outcomes have led him to the conclusion that energy and mood are elevated when you sit up straight versus slouching down. It’s the same concept of power dressing, or of smiling even when you don’t feel like it (which often results in you being more cheerful).

Scientists call this kind of body-to-mind influence “embodiment,” and its effects are real. “As soon as we are born, we begin developing rich neural pathways between the behavior or smiling and positive emotion and memories of positive emotion,” says Dana Carney of UC Berkely. Our brains know that those body movements are associated with certain emotions, and thus when we carry them out, it helps our minds respond that way.

I’m not saying that you’ll feel a jolt of happiness as soon as you sit up straight, but rather that you might find it easier to be cheerful by doing so. It’s all about the potential.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Clean 15 (Infographic)

Last week, I created an infographic to help me (and you all) remember which foods to ALWAYS buy organic--AKA "The Dirty Dozen." Those twelve foods were determined by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to be the most likely to be contaminated with pesticides if not purchased organic.

This week, I'm doing a follow up! The EWG also created a list of the 15 foods least likely to be contaminated by pesticides if purchased non-organic. They are called "The Clean 15" (duh) and for those of us on a budget, it's great to feel confident that these foods can be purchased non-organic without having to worry about poisoning our bodies with pesticides.

So, without further ado, here are the Clean 15, as determined by the EWG:

The Clean 15
The Clean 15
I created the infographic below using a tool called easel.ly. Let me know what you think--do you like having a visual reminder of things like this? Did you like this week's or last week's better? Should I continue making fun infographics from time to time? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

5 Natural Remedies for Low Energy

You all know (or should know) by now that I love my coffee. It wasn’t all that long ago that I was an only tea kind of girl. But I suppose that the passing of time and the entering of adulthood—AKA bills-to-pay time—is what got me started on regular old Joe. Coffee is incredibly cheap when Starbucks isn’t your lifeline, and when made right, coffee has a rich flavor like nothing else.

But some mornings, I just don’t feel like coffee. Maybe I want a cup of tea instead, or maybe I just want to enjoy my breakfast with a glass of water or milk. It always sounds like a great idea until, 45 minutes later, I’m still not awake (but of course, I’m at work). I wouldn’t say I’m completely dependent on coffee to wake up every morning, but when I get less than nine hours of sleep, I certainly am.

I still want to have those coffee-free mornings, though, so that got me to thinking—What can I do to naturally energize myself when I don’t drink coffee? Or, for those times when despite the coffee, I’m still low energy. Here’s what I found out:

Light—I know light is definitely not the first thing I want to see in the mornings, but it’s one of the best natural ways to wake up. Opening blinds or getting a quick breath of fresh air can really help wake you up.

Morning yoga
—Take just a few minutes to stretch your muscles and get the blood flowing. There are some great morning yoga poses that will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to go, like these:
Get your protein in—Eating a breakfast rich in protein will help your brain cells function properly, meaning it’ll help wake you up and suppress cravings for, I don’t know, cupcakes, throughout the day.

H2O for the win—Drink lots of water to stay hydrated during the day. Skimping on water dehydrates your body and brain, and can make you feel drowsy as well. If you start feeling sleepy, drink a glass of water to see if it helps.

Get out of bed at the first alarm
—I am so bad at this one, but I’m trying to get better. I currently have a first alarm set with a second that goes off fifteen minutes later. The original idea was that if I accidentally fell back asleep, I’d have that second alarm ready to wake me up. Unfortunately, it’s become more of a regularity for me to just doze off right after Alarm #1—and even though those extra few minutes sound so appealing at the time, it actually leaves me feeling more tired when I finally do get up.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Dirty Dozen (Infographic)

A while back, I posted an article talking about 5 common healthy eating fallacies. In it, I mentioned the studies done by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that have shown which foods are most and least likely to be contaminated by pesticides if purchased non-organic. The "Dirty Dozen" are the foods that you should, if at all possible, purchase organic, as some are almost always contaminated with trace amounts of pesticides.

Will you die or get sick if your produce is contaminated? Most likely not, but a buildup of chemicals like pesticides can cause problems if they build up. My brother recently decided to go vegan, and my dad told me he has a list of the "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean 15" posted on his fridge as a reminder of which foods should be purchased organic and non-organic. I thought that was a great idea--since I can never remember when I'm at the store or listing groceries--and I decided to go ahead and create my own.

Here are the "Dirty Dozen" as listed by the 2013 EWG report, created using easel.ly. I hope you find this as useful as I do, and that you pass it on to anyone else who might as well!

All images are from Shutterstock.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

5 Quick and Healthy Breakfasts

Overnight apple cinnamon oats are a quick and healthy breakfast.
Image: Shutterstock
I… have a problem. I love breakfast. I know what you’re thinking—that doesn’t sound like a problem to me! It’s not the loving breakfast part that’s the issue, though. It’s the fact that I tend to spend way too much time preparing it in the morning. On Saturdays and Sundays, that’s no big deal—but during the week when I have a bus to catch and work to get to… moving slowly in the mornings isn’t really an option unless I want to get up earlier.

And I hate getting up earlier than I have to.

This leaves me with two options: constantly being rushed because by the time I finish my breakfast I have ten minutes to get out the door; or, finding a healthy, delicious, and fast way to enjoy the first meal of my day. Since I’m not a fan of rushing around in the morning, the latter option is the clear choice. So, what can you eat instead of cereal for a quick yet healthy breakfast? Check out some of these tasty options I’ve discovered:
Mix up a protein smoothie for breakfast.
Image: Shutterstock
  1. Peanut Butter and Fruit Wraps—Can you say “yum?”  I love that this breakfast is also low in carbs. Just spread on some peanut butter, add sliced fruit of your choice and voila! My favorite fruits to use include strawberries and grapes. Pears or apples would be a great choice, too!
  2. Protein Smoothies—the options here are endless! Try frozen cherries, kiwi, orange juice, cocout water, agave nectar, vanilla protein powder and ice cubes for a “Cherry Bomb” packed with protein.
  3. Yogurt Parfait—Mix up some plain Greek yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, and a tiny bit of honey for a sweet and delicious breakfast. Plus, the Greek yogurt and granola should provide enough substance to tide you over much longer than a silly old bowl of cereal would!
  4. Apple Cinnamon Steel-Cut Oats—Ditch the rolled oats for the much more complex and healthier version—steel-cut oats. They take longer to prepare, but if you bring them up to boiling the night before and then store them in the fridge overnight, they’ll take just ten minutes to finish cooking in the morning. Or, you can simply throw some apples, cinnamon, oats, and water in the slow cooker and wake up with your house smelling of apple pie and breakfast ready to go!
  5. Banana-Coffee Smoothie—OK, I know this last one sounds a little odd, but I promise, it’s delicious (as long as you like bananas and coffee). Cold brew coffee overnight, and in the morning toss the coffee, half a banana, some protein powder (vanilla or chocolate, preferably), and ice into the blender. Once it’s all blended, you’ll have an amazing smoothie that gives you your morning dose of caffeine and some protein to get through the morning. Supplement with a piece of whole-grain toast topped with a fried egg if it doesn’t feel like enough.
I hope that, with these options, a quick breakfast doesn’t have to mean a bowl of cereal any longer. I love my cereal, but unfortunately it just doesn’t give me the protein and nutrients I need to start my day off right. Options like these allow me to eat healthy on the weekdays as well as the weekends, no matter if I have five minutes or an hour. I hope they’ll allow you all to do the same!

Please share with me any other quick and healthy breakfasts you’ve discovered over the years—I’d love to add some new recipes to my morning routine!