Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Health tips for the latter half of the year

The long days of summer will begin to wane before we know it, and before that happens it’s important to consider the health opportunities that autumn offers us. Being healthy is not just about what we eat or don’t eat. It’s about a whole-body approach to well-being, including our thoughts, emotions and general lifestyles. And autumn is the ideal time to think about where we are, where we want to go and how to let go of the old – our internal well-being welcomes change when the leaves are changing colour and falling to the ground in the cyclical nature of the seasons. 

Preparation reaps benefits

Taking time to really think about our well-being is a weak link in our modern society, in which we are often bombarded with opportunities, fraught with decisions to make, and disconnected from others and nature through our individual quest for identity, our place in society and so much rushing around to get things done. By nurturing the special characteristics of each season, we ensure that we reap their benefits and can move through the whole year with optimal vitality. Spending some time in autumn to prepare our mental and physical health for the winter allows us to avoid the flu, colds, coughs, congestion as well as mental fogginess, depression and the winter blues (seasonal affective disorder or ‘SAD’). 

Relayed in China

According to the Chinese elements, autumn is the season associated with our lungs and large intestine. Those of you (the majority reading this, I would imagine) who suffer from the typical winter ills would do well to nurture these organs now to ensure vibrant health throughout winter. Preparation is key.

A healthy set of lungs

Our lungs allow us to receive life-giving energy – taking a deep breath is the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing we do as we die. Physical symptoms of lung imbalance manifest as shortness of breath, asthma, coughing, headaches, a stuffy nose and skin conditions (such as spots, boils, dry skin, etc). Emotionally, it is not uncommon at this time of year to feel somewhat disconnected or disorientated.  

Large intestine, large responsibility

Our large intestine’s main responsibility is to eliminate waste from the body. This ‘garbage collector’ needs to do its job properly or we become overloaded with toxins. Sub-optimal elimination manifests in bowel problems (such as diarrhoea, vomiting, bloating and constipation) and feelings of sadness. Everyone would benefit from avoiding the pizza, ice cream and barbeques that filled our bellies over the summer months. Instead, think about fresh, seasonal, home-cooked food.

Walk tall, don’t fall 

If you usually experience some of the symptoms mentioned above or are already experiencing them, don’t worry it’s still possible to take advantage of autumn and optimise your vitality for a healthy winter! Here are a few tips for prospering during and beyond the season.

Get outside and breathe deeply – take in the fresh autumn air to oxygenate your cells.

Exercise to keep things moving through your intestine and help the waste make its way out. Set up and get comfortable with an exercise routine that you can stick with throughout the winter. Now is a good time to create schedules.

A sensible intake

Slow-cook foods at a low heat and add more sour flavours to your meals (try apple-cider vinegar, lemon, lime or sour plums).

To combat dryness (you will notice if you are thirsty, have dry skin/nose/throat/lips), eat more spinach, barley (byg in Danish), short-grain brown rice (you would benefit from soaking these and all grains beforehand to absorb more water and make them more readily digestible), millet (hirse), pears, nuts and healthy fats (such as olive oil, avocado and organic butter).

Reduce your intake of mucous-forming foods to prevent nasal congestion, lung-related symptoms, foggy brain and slow/congested digestion. The main offenders are: dairy, bananas and gluten (from wheat and all wheat derivatives such as spelt, kamut and couscous; rye, barley and oats also contain a small amount).
Add immune-boosting foods to your diet with fermented foods such as miso, sauerkraut and kefir. How about swapping your morning coffee for a cup of antioxidant-rich green tea?  

And the least popular tip ...

Get to bed early. We’d all like the long hours of summer daylight to continue, but your body is getting ready to gear down for the winter (just as many animals prepare to hibernate). Heed the call of longer nights and get moreshut-eye than you did during the summer months.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Obama Is Already Blowing His Second Chance at Selling Health-Care Reform

With just over four months to go before the election, and Republicans ravening to make health care a frontline issue, the Obama campaign still appears to be pursuing a "wishful thinking" strategy. They are simply wishing that the Affordable Care Act, the president's signature domestic achievement, would go away now that the Supreme Court has delivered what they hope is a "final answer," to quote White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew. "I don't think the American people want to have this debate again," Lew said on Fox News Sunday, reflecting the "let's move on" approach reported by National Journal's Major Garrett, among others. 

But the Republican Party clearly does intend to have this debate, all the way into November, and Lew's tepid talking-points are a warning sign that the White House is, yet again, surrendering the message war on a central issue that even Obama partisans admit was poorly marketed the first time around, before and after ACA was signed into law in 2010.

It's not that Republicans have a better message. Questioned on Fox News Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had no answer to give host Chris Wallace when the latter asked what the GOP would do about the 30 million uninsured. "That's not the issue," McConnell sputtered. Like Speaker John Boehner on Face the Nation, he indicated that the GOP clearly had no alternative "replace" plan of its own beyond what Boehner called a "common-sense, step-by-step approach."

Already the ACA's opponents, with their flair for the simplistic, are aggressively portraying the Supreme Court justification of the individual mandate based on Congress' taxing powers as a furtive "middle-class tax increase" introduced by Obama. And as we have seen happen again and again -- notably when Obama's 2009 stimulus plan was portrayed as runaway big government rather than what it mainly was, an effort to prevent a Depression -- it is the GOP narrative that will sink in unless it is aggressively countered with a powerful marketing message.

A Pew Research Center study also recently concluded that the Democrats consistently failed to do this last time, saying "the language and framing of the issue favored by the [ACA] bill's Republican critics was far more prevalent in the news coverage." 

The opportunity to resell ACA exists. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll indicates that support for the law is rising since the Supreme Court decision. And as my former Newsweek colleague Geoffrey Cowley, one of the most astute health-care journalists in the country, points out, "polls consistently show that more Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act than support it -- not because they've evaluated and rejected it but because they don't understand it."

Just as important, Obama really has no choice but to mount a selling job extraordinaire on the ACA. Beyond Joe Biden's somewhat tongue-in-cheek line -- "Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive" -- the president's campaign doesn't have much of a positive narrative to sell, especially on the economy. Indeed, it's something of a mystery why the Obamans are so eager to return to that subject. At this point, based on the latest GDP growth numbers, he's likely to head into the fall with unemployment still above 8 percent, as it has been now for a record 41 months (it was 7.8 percent when Obama took office). 

As Cowley puts it: "If the president can use this week's court ruling to reassert his own gifts as a storyteller -- and his supporters can spark the kind of social-media uprising that helped elect him -- health-care reform may yet have a chance." And so might Obama -- for a second term.