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9 Simple Steps to Improve Your Health (Without Joining a Gym)


ImageAsk a centenarian the secret ingredients to a long and healthy life and you aren’t likely to hear “doctors, drugs, and fad diets.” We all know that there’s more to our overall well-being than treating symptoms or the occasional replacement of a part. The good news is that scientists in various fields are discovering ever more ways we can keep ourselves healthy without expensive medication and complicated workout regimens. Here are nine simple, scientifically proven—and sometimes surprising—ways to empower yourself to make the right choices for your body and health. 

1. Laugh to your heart’s delight

“Laughter might be one of the only things in life that can be done outside of moderation and still reap the benefits,” muses Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. If you ever LOL you don’t need proof of the healing powers of a good belly laugh. Dr. Miller’s studies show that laughter expands blood vessels, and endorphins released in response to laughter activate the chemical nitric oxide in the inner lining of our blood vessels to promote vascular health. Seriously.

2. Age artfully

Digging the old paint brush or the dusty guitar out of the closet is always a good idea. However, for aging baby boomers, getting back into the creative swing of the rockin’ ’60s is a matter of health insurance. Research shows that seniors engaged in activities like singing, creative writing, or painting are healthier and happier than those who aren’t. Whether this boost in the immune system is from a heightened sense of personal growth or from feeling more socially engaged, it’s clear that the body likes it when the imagination roams freely.

3. Work with friends

When you’re shopping around for a job with great health benefits, pay attention to the office vibe. Israeli researchers found that people who get along with their co-workers in a friendly and supportive work environment live longer. Note: Similar support from the boss had no effect on mortality, so get acquainted with your peers before accepting the job.


4. Get a massage

You can never go wrong with a massage, but research shows significant benefits for overall health. Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute says massage therapy slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure and stress hormones. The decrease in stress hormones increases your body’s natural killer cells, which ward off viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells. “We’re finding biological changes associated with a single massage session,” says Mark Rapaport, Chief of Psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine. Added bonus for massages from loved ones: good for body, mind, relationship, and wallet.

5. Eat your carotenoids

It’s no secret that people feel good when they look good. New evidence suggests that fruits and vegetables, in addition to their many other benefits, give our skin a healthful glow. Scottish researchers found that eating lots of carotenoid-rich fruits and veggies like kale, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, or peaches gives our skin a slightly yellower tone, making us look—and feel—healthier and more attractive. If it works for pallid Scots, you know it’ll work for the rest of us.

6. Chat with the neighbors

People are healthier when they have a strong, localized community. A 50-year study centered around Roseto, Penn., a close-knit community of Italian-Americans, showed the lowest rates of heart disease in the nation—until the town became more “suburbanized” in the 1960s. Many people living in housing cooperatives report improved emotional and physical health. As social animals, having playmates is part of our survival strategy.

7. Sleep more

Become a dream catcher and stop being a weight watcher. According to researcher William Killgore, when people get less sleep they tend to feel more hungry and to crave carbohydrates, particularly sweets. “If a person feels excessively sleepy,” says Killgore, “it’s likely that they haven’t been getting adequate sleep and may be prone toward eating more than they want to.” If you’re plagued by frequent snack attacks, cure them with a good night’s sleep.


8. Scrub without toxics

There are alternatives to toxic household products like bleach. A University of Florida study found that a mixture of vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda significantly reduces bacteria. Good Housekeeping microbiologist Gina Marino put it to the test and was impressed with how well vinegar worked in fighting germs and mold. Adding a little elbow grease on the tough spots helps keep your gym dues low.

‘Lessons Learned’ Using Electronic Clinical Data To Improve Patient Care

 Research using electronic clinical data (ECD) has the potential to make major contributions to health care research and improve patient outcomes. However, many complex issues remain unanswered. A special August supplement to Medical Carepresents an update from the Electronic Data Methods (EDM) Forum, with a commissioned set of papers discussing “challenges and innovations from the research and QI community using ECD.” Medical Care is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

The supplement “highlights a set of useful and important lessons for building infrastructure to generate evidence and improve patient outcomes,” according to an introduction by Erin Holve, PhD, MPH, MPP, of Academy Health, Washington, DC, and Ned Calogne, MD, MPH of the Colorado Trust, Denver. The EDM Forum is an initiative of AcademyHealth, the leading national organization serving the fields of health services and policy research, and is supported by the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ).

‘Early Lessons Learned’ on Using Electronic Health Data for Research 

The goal of the EDM Forum is to advance knowledge and practice on the use of ECD for comparative effectiveness research (CER), patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR), and quality improvement (QI). The supplement is divided into sections corresponding to the four EDM Forum domains.

The section on Analytic Methods leads off with a paper on different approaches to adjusting for confounding variable in ECD – a key problem in performing CER in research networks. Other contributions discuss standard methods for defining the critical issue of medication adherence and approaches to checking the quality of data used for CER.

Topics in the Clinical Informatics section include caveats for using invaluable – but potentially flawed – data from electronic health records. Another paper discusses some challenges and “best practices” for using these diverse and increasingly complex data sets for CER. An article comparing various standard formats for electronic exchange of clinical data concludes that, so far, none of the proposed models meets the complex data mapping requirements.

The section on Governance addresses ethical and informed consent issues related to the use of electronic data; the authors suggest that consent requirements could be loosened for some types of randomized trials with low risks of patient harm. Effective approaches to data sharing are reviewed, including the role of state-of-the-art privacy protection methods. A real-world experience with developing a multistate CER network emphasizes the need for a flexible, rather than a “one size fits all” approach.

The section Learning Health Systems discusses the use of patient-reported outcomes for PCOR truly and summarizes a real-world experience with using electronic health records for CER in four health systems. The final supplement paper looks toward the transformation from “evidence-based” to “evidence-generating medicine” in learning health systems.

The EDM Forum plays a leading role in efforts to share ideas and lessons learned among those involved in using electronic clinical data for continuous health care improvement. The EDM Forum’s new open access journal eGEMs provides an ongoing source of peer-reviewed information, Drs. Holve and Calogne point out. They conclude, “By sharing these early lessons learned, we hope the national dialog facilitated by the EDM Forum is advancing the scientific evolution of multisite research using ECD in the service of improving patient outcomes.”

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