Category Archives: health

Got lower back issues?

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If you sit or stand for long periods of time, your back probably gives you trouble now and then. Or maybe all the time. Or maybe you don’t have to sit or stand for long periods, but your back hurts anyway. Or maybe you run a lot, or lift heavy stuff, or you’re just plain very active. Whatever the situation, if the pain is in your lower back, a product called BaxMax promises to give that area the support that could give some relief.
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BaxMax super-supportive, breathable

The BaxMax is a support device that adjusts to fit around your waist and over the top of your hips. It’s “Power Unit” consists of two discs connected to each other by strong extendible drawstring-type fiber strands. You open the space between the two discs and position it so that the discs are situated with your spine right between them. Then, when you pull the belt snug and connect it with the hook-and-loop closure, the two disks push firmly against the muscles that help support your spine and the front compresses your belly muscles.

Growing up, I remember seeing a strange-looking contraption hanging on the hook on the back of our bathroom door. I remember staring at it for long periods of time while I took a bath or did my kid business. Never asked anyone about it – figured it was some grownup thing I probably wasn’t supposed to know about. Years later I found out one day that it was a sacroiliac support device my dad used when he was working on his milk truck, lifting and pulling and pushing hundreds of pounds of milk bottles and cottage cheese cartons around inside the truck, onto the heavy wheeled hand truck, into the little neighborhood stores and then switching them out for outdated items in his customers’ refrigerated cases.
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My dad’s back device was made of stiff gray cloth and bloomed with what seemed like a mad array of straps and belts. The BaxMax is a much sleeker device, and you don’t have to sport baggy striped overalls like my dad did in order to wear it under your clothes. Of course, you can wear it outside your clothes in situations where support is more important than sleek lines.
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I don’t have any back issues but hoped it would enhance my ability to maintain proper posture while sitting for long stretches at my computer. It was helpful for brief periods. I then asked a friend who has back issues to try it. She is extremely pleased – appreciates the support she gets from the two disks on either side of her spine. Wore it under her dress to a party and loved the relief it gave her. She was also very happy that the material was so breathable. She said her previous devices were rubberized, and she was forever having to change her shirt when she wore them because she got so sweaty.
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Here is an interesting review of the BaxMax on a website that talks about how back support devices work. It says don’t use any belt if you’ve never had a back injury, but that the BaxMax can be very helpful immediately after a back injury or to support your spine while lifting heavy objects (no heavier than you could lift without a belt). Available from BaxMax, the manufacturer, via Amazon at ~$70.
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2 books on improving Boomer bodies

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As we mature into our 50s and beyond, decades of hunching over computers, staring down endlessly at cell phones, and otherwise inadvertently abusing our muscles, tendons and joints, can begin to take a toll. Many of us develop, as a result of too much hunching, a kink in our posture that bodes no good. But, like the 85-year-old stooped-over woman who discovered yoga and regained her properly aligned spine, there are things we can do to rectify the situation no matter how late in the game we start.
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Agreed recently to review a couple of books by Dr. Karl Knopf, a professor of health and fitness for older adults and the disabled. For 40 years he’s worked in multiple areas ranging from personal fitness and therapy to consultation, plus he developed the “Fitness Educators of Older Adults Association” to guide trainers of older adults. Now he’s writing an ongoing series of books on fitness and health topics for older adults.
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Surprising help in this book

Stretching for 50+ is one book in Knopf’s series. I took it with me one day to a place where I had to sit and wait for a long time, which gave me plenty of time to pay serious attention to trying the exercises. The biggest surprise was the stretches relating to posture.

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A family friend who’s a doctor came up to me one Sunday while I was helping my daughter prepare family dinner and said, “I’m worried about you grandma. Your shoulders are getting rounded.” Now this friend is not only a doctor but is also a former personal trainer. So you can bet she doesn’t prescribe drugs if stretching and exercise will solve the problem. She said there was a solution.
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She taught me an exercise that I’ve been working on. But when I read this book, I learned there’s more that can and should be done. It describes stretches to help remedy the situation – whether your poor posture comes from working on a computer all day or using your cell phone for texting and typing emails, which tends to lead towards the “head forward” problem.
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Sensible ways to strengthen bones and and prevent falls

And Dr. Knopf has also written a book called Beat Osteoporosis with Exercise that features low-impact stretches and exercises designed to improve posture, build bone density and increase strength and flexibility – all of which can help prevent falls in the first place.

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Each book includes hundreds of photos so it’s easy to see how the moves are done without having to read an inordinate amount of text. No matter how old you are, you can benefit from incorporating even some of these exercises and stretches into your routine. Remember, this stuff deserves just as much a place in your schedule as all the things you do to keep your mind strong and nimble.
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Thin Optics – Snazzy way to sport reading glasses

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Thin Optics pictures very young users on its website!

We’re baby boomers, so we don’t have to talk about what a pain it is to have to keep reading glasses handy. We’ve all been doing that for years now. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been through many different options for keeping yours with you. Some kind of case, of course, is a must, otherwise the lenses get so smeared and scratched they soon become unusable. But what kind of case? Tried buying a pair whose claim to fame was neat: they fold totally flat, even the temples, and go in a nice, neat, flat case. Only problem with them – besides being a bit pricey at $30 – was that the straight-line-shaped earpieces let the glasses slip immediately off your face when you bend your head down to read. Ended up having to wrap a black hairtie around each earpiece to keep them on – a really sophisticated look. Saw another pair that folds flat but stays on – and it costs $200!

Now enter a new product called Thin Optics. These readers come in your desired strength and clip on to your nose – no temples needed. Plus, they come in a case that’s cute as a button – totally flat and available in many different colors and designs. The sample they sent us has a beautiful multicolor floral pattern all over it.

Even cooler, there’s a little strip on the back so you can stick it to your telephone, your dashboard or wherever. You slide the glasses out by gripping the nose bridge and then clip them on your nose and read away. If you’re standing in the store with labels that you can’t read, if you’re out somewhere and you want to read a book, or even if you just need to see what’s on your smartphone (emails, bus arrivals, etc.), these little things come in really handy. If I didn’t already have something stuck on the back of my phone. I would definitely put these on there. But you can also buy a Thin Optics phone case with the holder (they call it pod) already built into the case. Because what do we boomers really need to take with us besides our phone, our ID or bus card and a credit card? Right: a pair of reading glasses!

And these Thin Optics glasses come with an extra pair for free and free replacements for lost or broken ones – forever! How can you beat that? And check out the cases that are decorated with lovely unique artwork from disabled or homeless artists. Thin Optics partners with Artlifting and donates 20% of its profit to directly benefit the artists.
Now the glasses likely won’t stick to your nose through high winds or strong, sudden movements, and you probably wouldn’t want to use them for your long-term reading, but they’re good to get the job done when you’re up and about. And hey, how about putting one in every room of the house? Could stick one on the inside of a cabinet door in the kitchen. Inside the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, etc.
Okay. I’m getting carried away. But it’s a neat concept, well-executed, and offered at reasonable prices (starting at $19.95 + S+H) and with free replacements. A win-win for sure.
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A case for probiotics

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We’ve all heard of probiotics, but what do they really do? There’s reasonable disagreement as to the benefits, but here’s a fascinating piece of research. Eating fermented foods to balance your gut microbes can lead to a reduction in social anxiety, according to a  recent study at William and Mary College. But if you’re not a fan of kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, yogurt and the like, consider taking probiotics. We were recently asked to review a brand that has recently become an Amazon’s Choice because of its natural qualities and its affordable price (~$25 for a two month supply).
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Hyperbiotics for good gut health

After healing from a parasite acquired while traveling, Hyperbiotics co-founder Jamie Morea realized just how important the body’s microbiome is to overall health and well-being. Even the United States government is backing up the idea that gut flora have a profound influence on how you feel. American diets high in processed foods, antibiotics taken over the course of a lifetime, chlorine in the water, and many other things  – even things that happened from birth – can result in deficiencies in the stuff in our gut known as probiotics.

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Morea did a vast amount of research and ended up creating a product known as Hyperbiotics. It comes in a range of formulas designed for many different ages and needs. On their website you can take a quiz to see what formulation might be best for you, get a free pamphlet about gut health and sign up for news about probiotics  here.
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Some doctors feel you only need to take probiotics if you are having trouble with your gut, whereas manufacturers tend to promote this as useful for anyone at any time. My doctor said you probably wouldn’t notice any dramatic change if you were not having trouble. But one health-nut, former-nurse friend of mine said, if you’ve taken a lot of antibiotics over the years – as I have – your gut will probably be happy to have an infusion of appropriate probiotics.
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Reading the Hyperbiotics label is comforting

In any case the Hyperbiotics, the formulas are vegetarian, non-GMO, and free of lactose, gluten and sugar. There’s also no soy, iron, nuts, artificial flavors, artificial colors, or preservatives. And they contain only strains of probiotics that are already resident in the human gut. So the chance is slim of anything negative happening by taking them. Things you might not notice if you’re not having issues but could potentially be benefiting from anyway include:

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  • Digestion. Absorb nutrients and vitamins more efficiently and minimize gas, bloating, diarrhea etc.
  • Energy levels. When your gut microbes are balanced, it frees up your body’s energy.
  • Reduced leels of low-grade inflammation. This can help fight infection, heart disease and some cancers.
  • Strengthened immune system. Your gut houses 70% of your immune system.
  • Support for brain function and mental clarity. Serotonin, the feel-good hormone, is produced in the gut. (Refer to the study on reduced social anxiety in the link at the top of this article.)
  • Support for optimal body weight, metabolism and blood sugar.
  • Support for healtheir, clearer skin.

Visit the company’s well-laid out website at www.hyperbiotics.com for thorough explanations and more information. Meanwhile, try to eat more yogurt and quit using so much bacteria-busting cleaning fluids and anti-microbial gel. Healthy immune systems have to keep in practice.

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Chicago premieres arts program to help early-stage Alzheimer’s

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Chicago arts program helps early-stage Alzheimer’s and others

This June 15 Chicago is pioneering a new arts-inspired idea. Arts Camp for Brain Health is a half-day workshop just for those with early-stage memory loss, diminished cognitive and neuro-motor function, and those who care for them. The goal is to help attendees experience new ways to feel their best through artistic endeavors. Several of Chicago’s most-respected arts institutions are participating (see listing below).

Attendees will choose from programs that consist of discussion and hands-on activities in seven areas: adaptive dance, rhythmicity with drumming, improv theater, video biographies, modern portraits, stained glass and singing. At only $10 a person, this is a unique opportunity both for those with early-stage Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other conditions that limit cognitive or neuro-motor abilities, and for their caregivers.
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This collaborative effort is a significant achievement for arts organizations that were already offering this kind of programming, but hadn’t previously thought to tailor it to this particular target group, according to Stacey Foisy, creator and co-chair of the undertaking. Potentially a model for other cities, the workshop will take place right here in Chicago on June 15 at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4545 N. Lincoln Ave. Get more details and register here.
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*Brain Camp participating organizations:
Art Institute of Chicago, Boomers Plus, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Loyola University Museum of Art, Northwestern Medicine-Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Old Town School of Folk Music, and Video Family Biographies.
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Clakit strap pouches are really handy

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Clakit Clips and Pouches are patent-pending clips and pouches designed by backpacking hikers who realized, during one of their treks in the mountains, that everything they needed was in their backpacks. Which meant they regularly had to stop hiking, take off the packs, open them and dig around for the water bottle, the cell phone, the snacks, the permits or tissues or whatever. Crazy, they said to themselves.
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So they decided to create some small versatile packs that you could easily clip to your backpack straps in front and in which you could stow frequently needed items within easy reach while walking. And that’s how the Clakit line of clips and pouches was born.
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Clakit comes in several different shapes, all of which attach to a sturdy adjustable plastic clip with teeth that clamps securely onto your backpack or other strap. You choose the style that fits what you want to carry – water bottle, phone, etc. – and your small carrier sits right on your chest. The clip is adjustable so that it can work on other types of straps to as long as they have some thickness. And for those of us boomers who need to carry a lot of stuff, these could be a real shoulder-saver.

One of the packs, called the Clakit StrapPack Radio/GPS Clip Pouch ($19.95 on Amazon), has two strong hook-and-loop attachments – front and inside back – so you can adjust the height of the stretchy strap that goes over the top, which holds the items in and allows you to carry items of different sizes. I put a small reading glasses case in there along with my cell phone/camera and I can even fit a few business cards in with all that. Plus, this model also has an elastic strap that goes horizontally around the pack – I slip my sunglasses in there I decided to attach one of these on the strap of my big tote bag I’m saving much wear and tear on the purse zippers – I’d been constantly unzipping and zipping one zipper so I could move the phone in and out of the purse. Now I can spare the zipper and still get the phone easily. In fact, sometimes and I can actually leave my poor exhausted purse at home and just carry the tote-bag-cum-Clakit-pack. I love not having to carry two items and now I don’t lose my phone, glasses and sunglasses in the bottom of the giant tote bag.

By the way, if you’re like me and already have a selection of little packs, you can just buy the Clakit clips and see how they work with your own carriers. Brilliant idea, Larry Schessel, Clakit Founder/CEO.
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Foot comfort for boomers – out of the box or out of the oven

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Feet hurt? Got plantar fascitis? What do you do about it? Custom-made orthotics cost a bundle – $200 to $800 is typical. But many ask whether such expensive insole options are over-prescribed, according to an article in the New York Times. Some helpful ready-made inserts we’ve had good results with include SuperFeet and SofSoles.

And here’s another idea. The name is MommySteps Maternity Insoles, but don’t let that fool you. They actually work really well for anyone – especially us baby boomers who may have fluctuating weight or other balance issues and need insoles that fit well but don’t cost a fortune. Upon receiving review samples of these ready-made, we found they felt really good right out of the box. And they also have the capability of molding to your feet with a custom fit. Designed for the changing needs of a pregnant woman’s feet, anyone can put them in the oven or toaster oven, and they’ll re-mold to the current shape of your foot. It’s a neat way to customize your inserts without spending too much.

MommySteps Casual/Flats insoles

We tried both the Casual/Flats and Active/Athletic styles and found them to be very comfortable and supportive right out of the box. I replaced my ¾-length SofSoles inserts in my cross-trainer shoes with the full-length MommySteps Athletic edition and found it even more comfortable on the very first wearing to step class. I particularly felt a positive difference in the ball of the foot area.

I also tried the Casual/Flats edition in a pair of Trotters Mary Jane flats that I’d been successfully using as semi-dressy walking shoes with only their own factory-supplied insoles. The MommySteps insoles brought the comfort level up a notch or two, enough to consider significant. And then I decided to put that thinner Casual version into my non-cross-trainer walking-around tennis shoes – ones that could not accommodate the thicker Athletic version. This, too, was a winner in terms of comfort.

Finally, I was ready to try the oven thing. Although I was nervous about putting the insoles into the oven, the directions were clear and simple. You put the thicker Athletic version in the oven for exactly two and a half minutes, then put them in the shoes and right away put your stockinged feet into the shoes and tie any laces. Then you stand straight, relaxed and balanced on both feet for two and a half minutes. And that’s it – custom fit orthotics that you can re-mold up to 5 times. My out-of-the-box insoles already fit well, but I believe after the oven treatment I noticed an improvement in the fit of the area between the toes and the ball of the foot. The fact that you can customize them and use them in multiple shoes makes the cost of $39.95 seem like a pretty sweet deal.

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