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santamonicasignflickrJust as the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks quality-of-life indicators nationally, the city of Santa Monica, Calif., is hoping to use a local well-being index to help guide policy decisions that affect the lives of local residents.

Fast Company reports that the initiative arose from a pair of tragedies — a gang shooting and the suicide of a 9th-grade student. That lead to creation of a youth well-being scorecard in 2012 that is now being expanded community-wide. The index is being funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge; Santa Monica was one of five cities that won awards for projects that give mayors new tools to measure community well-being.

City officials are now trying to determine what to measure and how much to weight factors like economics, health, safety, employment, and community. By 2015 at the latest Santa Monica hopes to have a model local index that other cities can emulate. “We want to use it as not just a static report on the shelf, but something that’s going to be living and breathing in a way that will inform city policy over time,” says Julie Rusk, a city worker leading the Wellbeing Project.

(Photo © vxla via Flickr)

Got a Backache? Try These Alternative Remedies

by Bob Curley on April 17, 2014

backacheBostonPublicLibraryFlickrAchy spine? We’ve got your back with these drug-free remedies from Details magazine:

  • Yoga: researchers say a weekly class may improve back function more than medication or physical therapy.
  • Stretching: may be as effective as yoga for a healthier back.
  • Massage: weekly massages have been shown to reduce back pain.
  • Acupuncture: may be effective in relieving chronic back pain.
  • Talk therapy: British researchers say even just talking to a therapist may ease your discomfort.
  • Strength training: getting your back and core stronger can do wonders.
  • Physical therapy: can limit your need for further medical treatment for back pain or injuries and reduce healthcare costs.
  • Osteopathic manual therapy: manipulation of your back muscles by an osteopath or chiropractor can help ease pain.
  • Stress reduction: relaxes those tense back muscles.
  • Meditation: another proven relaxation technique that can reduce pain.
  • Comfrey root: apply a paste made from this root to your lower back for pain relief.
  • Aquatic therapy: low-impact exercise for back health.
  • Tai Chi: ancient martial arts practice also shown to reduce back pain.
  • The Alexander technique: posture-based training for a stronger, healthier back.
  • Pilates: exercise can actually make you hurt less than sitting around and resting your back.

(Photo © Boston Public Library via Flickr)

U.K. Campaign Cuts Salt Consumption

by Bob Curley on April 17, 2014

Kosher salt

Kosher salt

A public-health campaign in England helped cut salt consumption by 15 percent, which in turn was credited reducing stroke and heart disease in the country by 40 percent in the last 10 years, the Los Angeles Times reported April 14.

The British government launched a successful campaign in 2003 to get manufacturers to reduce the salt content in processed foods. Since that time, salt consumption has fallen along with blood-pressure and cholesterol levels. At the same time, smoking has declined, while produce consumption and body-mass index has risen.

Processed foods account for about 80 percent of all sodium intake, and while researchers can’t definitively attribute the decline in salt use to the government’s campaign, it seems a likely cause.

“The U.K. is way ahead of the United States in reducing sodium intake and improving the public’s health,” says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). When CSPI tracked 480 processed-food items over a 6-year period ending in 2011, they found that U.S. manufacturers had cut the sodium in 205, left salt content the same in 117, and increased the sodium content in 158.

The details on the U.K. campaign and its results were published in the journal BMJ Open.

(Photo © Stlbites.com via Flickr)

Activity Trackers and the 24/7 Personal Trainer

by Bob Curley on April 17, 2014

Nike FuelBand

Nike FuelBand

Some gyms and personal trainers are taking technology to the next level by tracking your exercise activities as recorded by fitness devices like FitBit, the New York Times reported April 17.

It used to be that trainers could only control what clients did in the gym. But for those who need more hand-holding/scolding about their everyday habits, motion-sensitive fitness devices can provide detailed information to exercise consultants on literally every step you take, as well as how much you are sleeping or sitting.

How much information you want to provide to your trainer is your choice, of course, but as fitness instructor Angela Harrigan of Life Time Fitness says: “I know if they’re keeping me from seeing the data, they’re probably up to no good.”

Some gyms are selling activity trackers as well as encouraging their use. “The gym market has long wanted to extend beyond its present reach,” says Bryan O’Rourke, president of the Fitness Industry Technology Council. “There’s going to be the merging of the digital and physical worlds from a service perspective, just like it is in retail shopping.”

(Photo © Brian Giesen via Flickr)

Healthier Skin Among the Benefits of Exercise

by Bob Curley on April 17, 2014

skinDionGillardFlikrThe secret to beautiful skin may not come from a cosmetics bottle but rather from sweaty exercise, the New York Times reported April 16.

The outer layer of your skin gets dryer, denser and flakier as you age, while the layer of skin below that becomes thinner. The result is wrinkles,  but exercise not only can keep your skin younger-looking, it also may reduce some of the signs of aging.

Researchers say that after age 40, people who exercise frequently have skin that is much closer in composition to 20- and 30-year-olds than it is to other people their own age. Even people whose skin looked normal for their age were able to improve its composition by starting and maintaining an exercise regimen.

(Photo © Dion Gillard via Flickr)

Peas, Beans are Cholesterol Cutters

by Bob Curley on April 17, 2014

beanshebodenFlickrTry peas and beans rather than pork and beans if you want to lower your levels of “bad” cholesterol.

The New York Times reported April 14 that eating 4.5 ounces of cooked legumes daily can reduce your levels of LDL cholesterol by 5 percent, according to researchers. If everyone did so, heart attacks and other major cardiovascular events (like strokes) could be reduced by 5-6 percent, the study says.

Currently, the average American eats only about one ounce of legumes daily.

The research was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

(Photo © he_boden via Flickr)

Kitchen Essentials for Healthy Cooking

Eating better isn’t all about willpower and ingredients — you also need the right tools. Fox News reported April 15 on the portion-controlling, calorie-saving items you need in your kitchen, including: non-stick pans, which allow you to use less cooking oil measuring cups measuring spoons a scale for weighing portions of food a spritzer bottle […]

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U.S. Diabetes Rate Doubles in 20 Years

Diabetes in the U.S. has reached epidemic proportions in the last two decades, with twice as many Americans having the disease as did in 1994. CNN reported April 14 that 9.3 percent of the U.S. population now has diabetes, up from 5.5 percent 20 years ago. The diabetes rate has risen alongside the increase of […]

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To Juice, or Not to Juice?

Juicing can be an important part of a healthy diet, but it’s not a magic cure or a “detox” for your body, CNN reported April 11. There are lots of good things about blending fruits and vegetables into beverage form: The fruit can mask the taste of healthy food that you nonetheless dislike. You can […]

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Young Workers Face Significant Financial Problems

Seniors and middle-aged Americans certainly have not been immune to the economic turmoil in the U.S. in the last six years, but it’s younger Americans who seem to be suffering the most. Data from the annual PwC US 2014 Employee Financial Wellness Survey shows that “Generation Y” workers — those between the ages of 21 […]

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The Challenge of Avoiding Meat on the Road

In a country full of roadside burger joints it’s hard enough to get a healthy meal when you travel, never mind one that doesn’t include some kind of meat. The Examiner reported April 15 on a few useful strategies for vegetarian dining when you’re away from home, including: seeking out Italian restaurants, where pasta dishes […]

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