Monthly Archives: March 2017

How to Get Pain Healed

The bright sun, longer days and warm heat of summer seem to effortlessly pluck people outside for an activity-packed couple of months. It’s no surprise that this time of year offers the best weather for outdoor activities, pool parties, traveling and spending as much time out and about as we can. “Summer break” seems to not only apply to our school-aged children, but us as adults, as well. Though these summer months are most definitely an invitation to stay active, the extra physical demands can be tough on the back, especially if you’ve previously dealt with spine issues. In the spirit of staying back pain-free, while still enjoying this sunny time of year, here are some helpful ways to take care of your spine this summer.

For those people with back pain that’s worsened by cold weather, the warm summer months can signal relief, but for others, the change in temperature can be a factor that causes more pain. Increasing heat, humidity and barometric pressure over the summer months can be responsible for back pain “flare-ups,” even in the absence of activity. The easiest way to combat this weather-related pain is to stay indoors in an air-conditioned room to instantly cut out the heat and humidity. Though this option works, it may not be as convenient if you’re someone who likes being active outside. If this is the case and you can’t see yourself hiding from the summer rays, the next best bet is to use ice therapy. Applying ice packs will simultaneously help you cool down, reduce inflammation and soothe your achy muscles. Trade in the heating pad for 20 minutes of icing, remembering that the key is to achieve numbness in the irritated area, and repeat this several times each day (eight to 10 times during a 24-hour period).

Summer is the perfect opportunity for quick weekend trips or long relaxing vacations, but getting to your destination can pose a problem for your back. Long rides in cars, planes or trains with typically uncomfortable and unsupportive seats can do a number on your spine and posture. If you plan to be traveling for an extended period of time, bring a lumbar support pillow with you (or make your own out of a rolled-up blanket) and position it between the seat and your lower back to reduce the stress on your muscles. Traveling always equates to luggage, and handling those heavy suitcases with care can make all the difference. Always bend at the knees when lifting luggage (never at the back), avoid twisting while lifting anything heavy and hold your items as close to your body as possible. Ladies, purses can sometimes be the biggest culprits, so if you’re carrying a shoulder bag, switch sides frequently. And if something is just too heavy to lift, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Our bodies are designed to move, which circulates the blood and keeps the muscles warm, and sitting in one position for too long starts to stiffen the muscles – making them more prone to pain or injury. If you can, pull over every hour during a road trip to get out of the car for a little walk and stretch out the back and leg muscles. On a plane, get up as often as you can (every 30 minutes to an hour is optimal) to walk back and forth down the aisle and get some stretching in, as well.

Along the same lines of getting up to stretch when you’ve been sitting too long is to sit down when you’ve been standing too long. This may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many of us actually forget to take a break. With all the activity going on – whether that’s spending hours upon hours walking through an amusement park, losing track of time working in the yard or packing up and moving (a summertime chart-topper for many) – sometimes we have to remind ourselves to stop and rest, even for just a few minutes. Sit down, take a few deep breaths, drink some water and stretch. Taking multiple rest breaks combined with some deep stretching will keep the neck, back and leg muscles warmed up and flexible, as well as rejuvenated for the rest of the day.

Perhaps the most refreshing summertime spine health tip is to swim. You’re most likely to be near a pool this summer, so why not hop in and turn it into a workout? Swimming is an ideal exercise for low back pain because of its low-impact nature. It allows the back, leg and core muscles to be strengthened without applying much stress on the spine. Along with muscle strength, you’ll get cardiovascular benefits, as well, and all in a cool and rejuvenating atmosphere. While you’re out at the pool relaxing, supervising kids or getting your workout in, remember to always practice safety first. Never run through the pool deck, as the ground is slippery and one misstep can mean game over for your back. Likewise, avoid a traumatic spine injury by never diving into shallow water. If you’re unsure of the depth, definitely look before you leap.

The warmer months of the year can be chock-full of fun times and adventure, so don’t let spine troubles stand in the way. These tips will surely help you enjoy a happy, healthy and back-pain free summer.

Healthy Foods for Our Eyes

Beyond carrots

You’ve probably heard that carrots and other orange-colored fruits and vegetables promote eye health and protect vision, and it’s true: Beta-carotene, a type of vitamin A that gives these foods their orange hue, helps the retina and other parts of the eye to function smoothly.

But eating your way to good eyesight isn’t only about beta-carotene. Though their connection to vision isn’t as well-known, several other vitamins and minerals are essential for healthy eyes. Make these five foods a staple of your diet to keep your peepers in tip-top shape.

Leafy greens

They’re packed with lutein and zeaxanthin—antioxidants that, studies show, lower the risk of
developing macular degeneration and cataracts.


The yolk is a prime source of lutein and zeaxanthin—plus zinc, which also helps reduce your macular degeneration risk, according to Paul Dougherty, MD, medical director of Dougherty Laser Vision in Los Angeles.

Citrus and berries

These fruits are powerhouses of vitamin C, which has been shown to reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts.


They’re filled with vitamin E, which slows macular degeneration, research shows. One handful (an
ounce) provides about half of your daily dose of E.

Fatty fish

Tuna, salmon, mackerel, anchovies and trout are rich in DHA, a fatty acid found in your retina—low levels of which have been linked to dry eye syndrome, says Jimmy Lee, MD, director of refractive surgery at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City.


The Wrong Foods you Eat

Imagine the following scenario. You’re engaged in conversation at a dinner party with friends that you feel comfortable enough to discuss “hot button” topics with. Politics, religion, and parenting techniques probably come up and most likely, the views vary by person. When I attend dinner parties, however, the issue of food is often the hot topic of the night, and even hotter, the opinions surrounding the right and wrong way to eat. It’s not enough these days that we are eating more kale (thank you trendy farmers markets and Hollywood celebrities!), we have to now dissect the right and wrong way to eat it as well. It was discussions like these that motivated me to write this blog. After all, my career surrounds helping people to simply eat better — to get, what I call, the most bang for their nutritional buck. There are many factors that impact the amount of nutrients that you will derive from a food. Things such as cooking and ripening method, food pairing and even your own gut flora may impact how much benefit you get from plant-based foods. Different varieties of foods affect this as well. Not all nuts, apples or as you’ll read in my first example, potatoes are created equal. If you’re interested in knowing how science views the best way to eat, then read on. Spoiler alert: Raw is not always the right way to go!

Think you’re getting the benefits of the potato vegetable when you consume French fries, mashed or baked potatoes from white potatoes? Think again! One study found that it was purple potatoes that gave the best benefits, like lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk for cancer. Further, a 2014 study found that purple potatoes surpassed their white counterparts when it came to high amounts of polyphenols and decreased effect on overall blood sugar response.

As fall gears up, our love of soup increases as well. Next time you’re making a batch of chicken noodle soup, resist the urge to cut up your carrots. One study found that cutting carrots increased surface size and allowed more nutrients to leach out. That means after washing and peeling, your carrots should hit the water in their whole form. Keep cooking (vs. raw) though. One study found that cooking carrots increased the bioavailability of carotenoids.

If you want high nutrient absorption with your high tea, then forget about doing as the Brits do it! Several studies have shown that adding milk to your tea may actually take away some of the cardiovascular benefits that tea provide. Going with green tea? Add a little juice instead to sweeten. The vitamin C in juice may help to increase the bioavailability of green tea’s nutrients.

Don’t rush your garlic, CRUSH your garlic! Research indicates that crushing your garlic and allowing to sit for at least ten minutes released an enzyme called allicin that has been shown to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by making platelets less sticky or more likely to flow freely through the cardiovascular system.

Salad dressing 
Fat free dressing may seem like a good idea in theory, but when you look at what you give up; it’s no match for the full fat counterpart. Several studies have shown the benefits that fat has when dressing your greens, from keeping you fuller and more satisfied after consumption to getting more nutrient absolution from your salad (specifically from lutein, lycopene, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin).

Apples & Pears 
Let your fruit ripen up a bit! One study found that the ripening process allowed the breakdown of chlorophyll in ripening apples and pears which, in turn, produced more “highly active” antioxidants in the fruit.

Broccoli is, without doubt one of the best foods you can feed your body! Broccoli is part of the brassica family of foods, a family that has shown to be quite effective in terms of prevention of certain cancers from breast cancer to skin cancer , but how you prepare your broccoli makes all the difference in the world. A 2008 study found that steaming was the only cooking method that completely preserved, and even increased, the cancer fighting components of broccoli. Boiling and frying were found to be the worst cooking methods. Still don’t want to ditch the boiled broccoli? Pairing with a spicy food may help! A 2012 study found that adding spicy foods to broccoli increased its cancer fighting power and the spicier the better according to the study authors!

Mustard in any form is a fabulous condiment to add to sauces, salads and sandwiches, but if you’re interested in decreasing overall inflammation as well as reducing your risk for certain cancers then you better keep your mustard choices simple. That’s right! It’s the cheap yellow mustard options that have the best benefits. Why? Because they contain a compound called curcumin (that’s the active ingredient in turmeric) that not only gives cheap yellow mustard its yellow color, but all of its potential health benefits as well!

While the factors discussed in this blog have an impact on the best ways to consume your foods, the truth is, simply adding these foods to your diet is a huge step in the right direction. Once you have mastered a liking for these healthier food options, the next logical step is to prepare in the best way for maximum nutrient density!

Steps Make Your Brain Younger

As our life expectancy continues to increase, one of the biggest fears for our senior citizens is that they may physically live longer than their brain functions.

This thought is being fueled by numerous press reports about the  increase in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Dementia is generally relates to loss of cognitive function.  Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, but there are many others like senile (aging) dementia and dementias associated with other neurologic disea

The good news is that the evolving neuroscience shows that there are things we can do to preserve and even enhance our cognitive ability through the life span.

The concept of neuroplasticity shows that our brains can recover after injuries and strokes as well as, in some cases, improve brain function in the face of chronic neurologic disease.

In my book, “30 Days to a Better Brain,” I outline the mind, body and spirit approach to preserving and enhancing cognitive function as practiced at Canyon Ranch.

As we age, we have learned the value of healthy eating and remaining physically active through the life span. Each of these factors is an essential variable in overall health to include brain health and cognitive vitality.

We also know that if we don’t stay physically active, our muscles will atrophy and as we weaken, we lose our ability to actually participate in life activities and we become more vulnerable to falls and injury.

The brain also needs continuing challenges to stay vital as well and to prevent atrophy from minimal activity. So the brain needs a “brain gym”, that is, new information and challenges that give your brain a workout so that brain nerve cells are challenged and preserved and new brain neural networks are made to capture and store the new information.

No matter your age, even centenarians can benefit from learning new things, from a new language to playing a musical instrument or simply staying socially engaged with active stimulating conversation.

Dr. Richard Carmona is the 17th Surgeon General of the United States and president of Canyon Ranch Institute. He is the author of “30 days to a Better Brain.”