Living Healthy

Health is about much more than medicine. We show you what's new to help you attain and maintain a healthy life

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Sleep Apps, Myths and More: Strategies for a Good Night’s Rest

(Flood G./Flickr)

(Flood G./Flickr)

By Kathy Shield

If you go to Apple’s App Store and search “sleep,” you’ll net over 2,000 results. Many of these apps play soothing white noise for a set period of time to help you fall asleep; others are simply alarm clocks. But many track your sleep, providing you with data about your nightly sleep quality, your average sleep time and more.

I must admit, I use Sleep Cycle to track my sleep, and my mom uses FitBit. So when sleep experts answered questions on KQED’s Forum Wednesday, I was more than happy to listen in.

Stanford’s famous sleep scientist, Professor William Dement, joined the panel and described one discovery of his original research that apparently led to the technology to track sleep: “During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the body is completely paralyzed except the eyes and the diaphragm.” Continue reading

Earthquake Safety: Stand In A Doorway?

Police officers in Napa prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged building following Sunday's earthquake there. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Police officers in Napa prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged building following Sunday’s earthquake there. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

I don’t like earthquakes, yet I live in quake country. It’s a paradox.

To mitigate my worry, I err on the side of preparedness. But this post is not to lecture you about creating an earthquake kit (although it’s not hard to do). It’s to let you know what to do the moment the shaking starts.

And it’s to tell you what not to do.

Folks, when the shaking starts, do not head to the nearest doorway. I cannot stress this enough: Do not stand in a doorway. Continue reading

As Aging White Man, Robin Williams Was Particularly at Risk for Suicide

An Instagram photo that comedian and actor Robin Williams posted on his last birthday, July 21. The caption: ‘Happy Birthday to me! A visit from one of my favorite leading ladies, Crystal.’

An Instagram photo that comedian and actor Robin Williams posted on his last birthday, July 21. The caption: ‘Happy Birthday to me! A visit from one of my favorite leading ladies, Crystal.’

You don’t really expect a professional baseball player to be the one person to articulate the effect Robin Williams had on much of the general public, but that was my feeling when I read this quote in today’s San Francisco Chronicle from Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, who had once been thrilled to receive a congatulatory handshake from Williams. Said Lincecum:

He made things feel like they weren’t so bad.”

Remembering some of Williams’ early manic groundbreaking appearances on television and movies, the statement rang true, as did the chilling irony in its description of a man who seemingly had everything but clearly thought that things were that bad, after all.

The suicide rate for white men increased almost 40 percent between 1999 and 2011.

Considering his suicide, it’s not surprising that Williams’ publicist said Monday that the comedian suffered from severe depression. Williams also struggled with substance abuse issues for decades. Since his death, a national conversation has ensued on the insidious effects of depression, and how it can prove fatal even in those who, to the outside world, seemingly have everything to live for.

Around the country, media organizations have been interviewing mental health experts on the subject. The Chronicle talked to some who worried about the impact of Williams’ suicide on those struggling with depression. “I get concerned about people wondering if people as promising as him with all these resources available can’t make it, what are the chances for them?” Patricia Arean, a UCSF clinical psychologist and psychiatry professor, told the paper.

She said many people who are depressed often can’t find their way to the appropriate treatment if what they’re currently doing to address their condition isn’t working. Continue reading

5 Things You Should Know About Sun Protection

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Kathy Shield

It’s almost the end of summer. But not quite. There’s still plenty of time left to be outside – and plenty of opportunities to get sunburned if you’re not careful. Sun-damaged skin increases your risk of skin cancer down the road.

Rates of melanoma have been climbing for the last 30 years. KQED Forum recently called together three experts on sun damage and skin cancer, and we’ve distilled their recommendations here so you can protect yourself.

1. When Buying Sunscreen, The Right SPF is Everything
You’ve seen all those SPF number: 15, 50, 100. The takeaway here is that you should buy a product with an SPF between 15 and 50. Continue reading

West Nile Virus Making Its Summer Trek Across California

(Getty Images)

West Nile virus is hosted primarily by birds — and spread by mosquitos. (Getty Images)

By Brittany Patterson

A year ago this month, my 80-year-old grandmother, an active and healthy woman, began feeling feverish, lethargic and complained of a headache. A trip to the emergency room after days of suffering from a persistent fever yielded nothing, and the doctors sent her home with some Tylenol and an order to rest.

Later that night, my grandfather awoke to anguished screams from my grandmother. He rushed to call 911 and as he waited for the ambulance to arrive he watched in agony as my grandmother cried and babbled incoherently on the floor next to their bed.

My grandmother was hospitalized for 32 days. For the first 20 or so the doctors couldn’t deduce the cause of her mysterious symptoms. Finally, after rounds of tests and antibiotics and scans, we had our diagnosis: West Nile virus. Continue reading

Work as Refuge? Working Mothers Report Better Health

Life at the office can look really appealing sometimes. (Getty Images)

Life at the office can look really appealing sometimes. (Getty Images)

I love it when my job intersects with the rest of my life.

NPR is reporting Tuesday about a fascinating survey that found that women who work full time “reported significantly better physical and mental health than moms who part time.” They heard from more than 2,500 mothers in the 2012 survey.

In addition, people appear to be more stressed at home than they are at work.

Oh, and mothers who worked part time said they enjoyed better health than their counterparts who didn’t work at all.

Really? As the mother of two children who worked part time for several years before taking this job, I was all-in on this story. Could I really be enjoying peak health while working full time and — yes — still raising those kids. (Disclosure that my husband does help: Thanks, dear!) Continue reading

Like Other Animals, We Need Stress — in Moderation

A stress system gone awry can quite literally make people sick. (Getty Images)

A stress system gone awry can quite literally make people sick. (Getty Images)

By Richard Harris, NPR

Ask somebody about stress, and you’re likely to hear an outpouring about all the bad things that cause it — and the bad things that result. But if you ask a biologist, you’ll hear that stress can be good.

In fact, it’s essential.

But people who responded to NPR’s poll talked mostly about the downside of stress.

For example, the adrenal glands of all animals have evolved to pump out stress hormones in unexpected situations — the hormones spur action and increase fuel to the brain, helping the animal react to danger appropriately. Those hormones also flow to memory centers in the brain, to help the critter remember those notable moments and places.

“If it turns out to be dangerous and if the animal actually turns out to survive danger, then it will be aware of this as a potentially dangerous place,” explains Bruce McEwen, head of the neuroendocrinology laboratory at The Rockefeller University. “In that sense, stress is good.” Continue reading

Stanford Study: Inactivity, More Than Diet, Linked to Obesity Increase

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

New research from Stanford shows that physical activity — or lack thereof — may be a bigger driver of the obesity epidemic than diet is.

The rate of Americans reporting inactivity has skyrocketed.

The researchers looked at national survey results of people’s health habits — including diet and exercise — from 1988 to 2010. The stunner was the increase in people who reported no leisure-time physical activity.

In 1988, 19 percent of women were inactive. By 2010, that number had jumped to 52 percent. Continue reading

New Guidelines Say Many Women Can Skip Pelvic Exam

(Maigh/Flickr)

If this picture makes you shudder, you’ll want to understand the new guideline. (Maigh/Flickr)

No more dreaded pelvic exam? New guidelines say most healthy women can skip the yearly ritual.

Routine pelvic exams don’t benefit women who have no symptoms of disease and who aren’t pregnant, and they can cause harm, the American College of Physicians said Monday as it recommended that doctors quit using them as a screening tool.

It’s part of a growing movement to evaluate whether many longtime medical practices are done more out of habit than necessity, and the guideline is sure to be controversial.

Scientific evidence “just doesn’t support the benefit of having a pelvic exam every year,” said guideline coauthor Dr. Linda Humphrey of the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Oregon Health & Science University. Continue reading

Surprising Advantage for Older Moms: More Likely to Live Longer

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

As a woman who had not just her last child, but also her first child after age 33, I enthusiastically clicked on the NPR story in my Facebook feed this morning.

NPR reports that older moms — women who had their last child after age 33 — have twice the odds of “exceptional longevity” as women who had their last child before age 29. This “exceptional longevity” is defined as living to age 95. The research is according to a study published this week in the journal Menopause.

I got over the fact that “older moms” are women who had their last child after 33, which seems kind of young to me.

NPR explains why there may be a connection between bearing children later and longevity: Continue reading