1) Assess: Labor Day is a great annual reminder of the value of work, and also a chance to evaluate the impact your work is having on your health. If you’re the classic office-drone, here are some things to evaluate and adjust, before they can cause some miserable health problems - is your space ergonomic? Do you take a break and move around every hour? Is your job so sedentary that you’ve started to add on some pounds - and can you change your lunch or breaks to include more activity in your day? If you’re a mom of small kids, here are some things to assess this Labor Day - how’s your back holding up as the wee ones grow? Are your wrists creaking? Can you change the way you lift and move to protect your joints for the long haul? How long has it been since you had a work-out, or a health check-up, or even just grabbed some me-time? If you’re a caregiver, can you take a class about body mechanics for lifting and turning? Do you have all your vaccinations up to date, as well as good instruction about hygiene for yourself and the person who receives your care? Or is your job that of being a student? If so, you need to pay attention, too, to how many hours a day you’re sitting. Prolonged sitting and that boulder of a backpack can all combine to cause problems with your back, even early in life. Maybe it’s time for a cool standing desk you can hang on your wall. Finally, if you’re plugging away at an industrial job, keep in mind that there are specific health/disease conditions that can affect an industry. Use Labor Day to remind yourself to make sure your doctor knows what you do for a living so he/she can check you for industry-specific exposures and health-risks - even if you’ve retired.
2) Compile: Disaster Preparedness Month is September, following right on the heels of the anniversary of our nation’s largest natural disaster - Katrina. While you’re shopping for other fall items, make a list of what you’ll need to create, or update your disaster preparedness kit. Check out this site for detailed tips and lists to use. Don’t forget to have a family disaster plan, in case you’re all separated. If you have school-aged kids, be sure to find out if your school has disaster kits and plans for your children - if they don’t, consider volunteering to form a disaster committee to put something in place. A small, personal disaster kit makes a nice present for the college-bound student (just ignore the embarrassed eye-roll as you tuck it in the new comforter set). Recent analysis of the deaths from Katrina point out how vulnerable our elderly friends and neighbors are - consider including a family or neighborhood senior and make a kit for them too as you put your own together. If it seems overwhelming, you can buy pre-made disaster kits, but they can be pricey, and don’t include important personal items like prescription medications. And, if putting together a disaster kit has been on your mental to-do list for years, but never been completed, make a bet with a friend or a group of friends - the last one to get their kit together this month has to host a movie-night, complete with popcorn. That way you get an evening of fun out the chore, for much less than the cost of buying a pre-made kit.
3) Commit: September is Better Breakfast Month. Regardless of your age or health, it’s hard to overstate the importance of a good breakfast. A good breakfast for kids means better grades, and better behavior. For teens and adults, a good breakfast means less weight gain and better performance. Whole grains in your breakfast blunt your body’s insulin spikes for hours afterward, and has been shown in several studies to decrease your risk of getting type II diabetes, no matter what your weight. Breakfast doesn’t have to be “traditional” - think outside the box. Let your teen eat that cold leftover spaghetti. Load some fresh fruit on a plate and add a small chunk of tasty cheese on the side. Try a yogurt parfait with layers of bright fruit and a sprinkle of flax seed on top. There’s nothing like a weirdly long spoon to get little kids interested in digging to the bottom of the glass where that one blueberry is hiding. September is a great month to commit to starting your day well.
4) Negotiate: Fall is the start of something new for many of us. School and college begins. Many studies show that young people can have difficulty negotiating around safer behavior - whether it’s not drinking (or not using drugs), not having sex at all, or not having unsafe sex. Sending your teens out into the world with good values, but lacking good negotiating skills, can set them up to fail. How do you help develop skills? One way is to use media examples or have theoretical conversations with your kids about awkward situations. One media example my daughters loved discussing was the wonderful way Elizabeth handled the creepy Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice (both the BBC and the Keira Knightley versions). Elizabeth was clear, not-insulting, and refused to be pushed around. For a theoretical example, when you’re both trapped in the car, ask your middle-school son (or daughter) about an eighth grade girl who lets a boy come over after school while her parents are at work. You then ask your son what he believes the boy is thinking, what the boy might do next, what the girl should say then and so on. It’s a great way to help your kids use the values you give them. And, for those of us who are older, September is a prime month for picking up some new negotiating skills yourself, whether those skills are to be used with your peers, your family, yourself, or your supervisors. Check out this NPR audioshow for some science-based tips on how to get what you want out of any situation - whether it’s more time to devote to your health, safer sex, or declining that fourth drink at a party.
5) Adjust: A more positive outlook on life can translate into better health. Studies have shown that people who are more hopeful and more connected to others are also more empowered to take steps to ensure good health. The start of fall is a good time to reflect. What was your emotional “harvest” this year? Was it good, or is it time to make a change in your life? Regardless of how your year stacks up, don’t overlook or minimize the positives - cherish them and mull them over as much as you do the negatives. World Gratitude Day is, after all, on September 21. September also has two other great opportunities for capturing a bit of joy - Grandparent’s Day and Talk Like A Pirate Day. Arrrgh, let’s take our grannies and pappies out to brunch - cause we knows a real treasure when we sees one, don’t we, mateys?
Dr. Jan Gurley is a board-certified internist physician and the only Harvard Medical School graduate to have been awarded a Shoney's Ten-Step Pin for documented excellence in waitressing. Having achieved this pinnacle of greatness early in life, Doc Gurley inevitably spiraled downward. Jaded, and afraid of becoming known as a waitressing has-been, she tried years of basic science research in labs (graduating magna cum laude from Harvard), then did a residency at UCSF in Internal Medicine, then received a Robert Wood Johnson Fellowship in epidemiology, public health and public policy. Her health/science background covers the vast territory from sub-cell systems, to human studies, to the captivating science of seeing patients one-on-one. She is microscopically-famous (G-protein-sized, to be specific) within the airless halls of cloistered Medicine for two things - 1) for being the first to describe and study a syndrome where the isolated elderly and ill are found helpless/dead in their homes (the Gurley Found Down Study), and 2) for being the first to proudly attach her name to the stages of breasts sag-age (the Gurley Stages of Breast Regression).
Doc Gurley's motto when it comes to her health writing is: Just A Spoonful of Humor Helps The...well, even without Julie Andrews breaking into song, you get the idea. Doc Gurley's health writing has appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Chronicle Sunday magazine, with letters in the Washington Post and UK's Daily Telegraph. Her research has appeared in academic publications including the New England Journal of Medicine. She is also the author a humorous book of serious healthcare advice, Dodging Death, forthcoming from Penguin/Avery books.
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