Saturday, January 27, 2018

January is Blood Donor Month

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

If you have been a blood donor, thank you. I may have received your blood during my spine surgery.

Why January?
Winter weather conditions make it harder for committed blood donors and new donors to get to donation centers. Yet the need for blood and blood products continues. This January, there is a critical need for both O negative and B negative whole blood and for platelets.

Why donate blood?
It’s a simple, nearly painless process that allows you to share a precious renewable personal resource that will make a tremendous difference in the life of another person. Blood can not be manufactured; the only source is from donors.

Need more encouragement? Several retail partners offer discounts or other rewards for blood donors. To learn more about these donor deals:

Now that you’ve decided to donate blood, what should you do to prepare?
Be sure you’ve included plenty of iron-rich foods in your menus in the weeks prior to donation. These foods include red meats, beans and other legumes, seafood, dark green veggies, enriched and whole grain cereals and brightly colored fruits. For more information on iron-rich foods, check out both pages here:

On the day your donation is scheduled, drink plenty of fluids to stay well hydrated. Wear comfortable clothing with sleeves that you can roll or push up above your elbows. And bring a list of all medications, prescription and over-the-counter, that you are currently taking.

What are the steps at the blood donation center?
  • During intake, you will show your identification and receive background information. You will have a private interview to establish your eligibility to donate. You will be asked about travel outside the US and Canada in the past three years.
  • A mini-physical exam (temperature, blood pressure, hemoglobin level) will check your health status.
  • The actual donation process begins with cleaning your arm on the inside of your elbow, and inserting a thin needle into a large vein right at the bend of your arm. This is nearly painless. It feels like a short pinch and then you no longer feel it.
  • You will sit for about 10 minutes as about a pint of your blood is collected. (Collection for platelets or plasma can take much longer, up to 2 hours.) Since you have about 10 pints of blood throughout your body, you probably won’t notice the difference.
  • When the donation is complete, the needle is removed, and a cotton ball and bandaid stuck on.
  • You will then get a snack and drink and can sit in the refreshments area for 10 minutes or so. When you are released, you can return to your normal daily activities.

What are the eligibility criteria to become a blood donor?
Of course to maintain the safety of the blood supply, you must be in general good health and feeling well on the day of your donation. “General good health” means you feel well, can perform normal life activities, and that any chronic conditions are being treated and under control.

Certain other health conditions and medicines you take may change your donation status. Check here for details:

Also, you must be at least 17 years old (age requirements vary by state) and weigh at least 110 pounds.

There may be specific requirements for various types of donations (platelets, plasma, etc.).

How often can I donate blood?
The American Red Cross restricts donation frequency to every 56 days (about two months) for whole blood donations. Donation frequencies vary by donation type. For more information see:

What about platelet donation?
Platelets are tiny fragments of cells carried in your blood that help stop bleeding from wounds by forming clots. Donated platelets are essential to people with blood-clotting disorders, and those who are battling cancer, traumatic injuries or chronic diseases. Donated platelets must be used within 5 days of collection, so there’s always a need for new donors. To learn more about platelet donation, look here:

What about plasma donation?
Plasma is the complex liquid component of fluid blood. It is mainly water, but contains important proteins, clotting factors, vitamins and minerals, digestive products and hormones.
When your blood is collected for plasma, the red cells and other blood components are filtered out and returned to you with additional saline fluid to replace the extracted blood volume. You can donate plasma once a month, and the duration of the collection procedure is a little over an hour. For more information:

Can I designate that my blood be used for a family member or friend?
This is possible through what is known as “directed donation.” The recipient must initially give consent for specific designated donors, and the recipient’s doctor must submit a written request to collect blood from the designated donors.

There is little evidence that this is safer than blood from anonymous donors. In fact, the social pressure to donate for a family member or friend may compromise the validity of responses to health- and lifestyle-history questions during the intake interview.

What is autologous donation?
If you are scheduled for surgery and the surgeon anticipates the need for a blood transfusion, you can donate your own blood ahead of time. Autologous donation requires a prescription and there are more numerous health requirements. For further information, please see:

If I identify as LGBTQ, can I donate blood?
Probably yes. Donation criteria are found here:

Is all donated blood tested for infectious diseases?
Yes, the Red Cross tests every single unit of donated blood or blood products. However, these tests are not 100% effective at detecting infections of the donor in very early stages. That is why donation centers have strict rules about eligibility to be a donor.

Image source: Pixabay.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Humpday Hint: Are You Tired? Or Sleepy?

If you feel fatigue, your doctor will want to know if you are tired or sleepy.

Tired means lacking strength and feeling “out of it.” A tired person has trouble focusing but generally feels awake. She has used up her energy, and often feels impatient or agitated with herself.

A sleepy person yawns, his eyes are droopy, and he feels drowsy. He becomes quieter and is likely to nod off.

This difference is important to your doctor. Be sure to share how you feel during the day. People with insomnia are constantly tired, but rarely feel the desire to sleep in the daytime. Individuals who suffer from sleep apnea or narcolepsy are tired, too, but they constantly fight off sleep, often nodding off at work or even behind the wheel.

If you can be clear in describing the symptoms you are experiencing, your doctor will be able to better identify what help you need. While insomnia isn't an urgently life-threatening condition, sleep apnea can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure, and it can be treated. Those who suffer from sleep apnea frequently have no idea, and when they receive treatment they report a significant difference after the first night.

There is a little test you can give yourself, the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS)1. Developed by Dr. Murray Johns of Epworth Hospital in Melbourne Australia, it is a scale intended to measure your daytime sleepiness. It consists of a short questionnaire, and while it may be a rather subjective one, it can be useful in helping you and your doctor determine if you need help. Each of eight scenarios are scored on a scale of 0 to 3; then the 8 scores are added up. A result in the 0-9 range is considered normal, while a number in the 10-24 range may indicate a problem needing expert medical help. Scores of 11-15 often suggest the presence of mild to moderate sleep apnea; 16 and above may indicate severe sleep apnea or narcolepsy.

The ESS is really a subjective test, not scientific, but it may help catch a problem that can be investigated with your doctor's help, and you may be on your way to better sleep - and better health!

Images source: OpenClipart-Vectors and Free-Photos on Pixabay

1 Epworth Sleepiness Scale, Wikipedia

Monday, January 22, 2018

Keep Your Financial Files in Order

With Tax Season starting soon in the United States, it's a good time to take stock of your financial records and get organised, to make your tax filing process just that much less painful. Even when it's not tax season, wherever you live, these are good habits to get into.

Try these hints to make keeping your finances organized a little easier.
  1. Use the same names for electronic and paper files.
    You probably get some bills and statements electronically, and others paperwork through the mail. You may even get some bills in the mail that you turn around and pay electronically. Make sure your filing systems are parallel for the two kinds of documents.
  2. Don’t keep everything.
    • While it’s tempting to just keep all financial records, forever, it’s really not necessary. Documents you’ve saved as tax records need only go back 3 years (7 years if you saved them to show a loss).
    • Keep transaction receipts only until you verify them on the next monthly credit card or bank statement. Keep the credit card and bank statements only until you receive the year-end summary reconciliation.
    • You get a new insurance policy booklet every year. Throw away the old one.
    • For a handy list of what to keep and what to shred (don’t just toss financial records!), please click here: If you do not live in the United States, a tax accountant (or the equivalent) can help you determine what records to keep and for how long.
  3. Keep up every day.
    Once your system for financial record-keeping is in place, spend a few minutes each day keeping it updated. Put incoming bills to pay in either a physical or electronic folder. Make a note a few days before the due date on your calendar (to allow time for the mail to arrive). When you check your calendar each morning, you’ll know what payments to make on that date. When you have paid each paper bill, write PAID on the portion you keep and the date, and file it correctly.

  4. Make a notebook for tax documents.
    Create a Tax Notebook with folders for holding paperwork. Print off copies of electronic records that are tax-related and include them in the notebook’s folders along with paper records. Store all tax-related documents in the proper folder, labeled by document type. Be sure to keep all proofs of charitable donations and 1099 forms for miscellaneous income. Keep the notebook updated as part of your daily financial filing chores. Next spring you’ll have all your tax records neatly stored in the notebook.

Image Credits: Ducklings photo by Magdabed on Pixabay, Autumn pond photo by jill111 on Pixabay

Friday, January 19, 2018

Feeling Down? Make Some Lists!

We all have days when we are feeling a little sad. And it's okay to be in that mood sometimes, but not for too long. This is the time of year a lot of people may get into the doldrums. Thank the long, cold winter or hot, sweltering summer - depending on where you are in the world. You might not have noticed, but in the northern hemisphere, the days ARE getting longer; and shorter, cooler days are really coming in the southern hemisphere.

There's a little trick that can help. When you're feeling blue, make a list. Yes, you read that right - make a list! Don't make a "to do" list. Instead, think of all the things that you like, even love. Your favourite things. Make lists of them - they can remind you of good things and better days, and even motivate you to do something positive to get that little cloud lifting.

Here are just a few suggestions to get you started.

Your Favourite Things
Favourite songs of all time
Funniest jokes you've ever heard
Best movies ever made
Best loved books
Favourite foods
Favourite quotes
Scents you love

Your People
People you love
People who love you
People who inspire you
How you met your favourite people
Favourite authors and/or actors
Three people, past or present, you would love to visit with you

Your Accomplishments
Things you are proud of
Scariest things you have done
All the things you are good at
The last time you "paid it forward"
Things you are grateful for
Something new you learned
Someone you helped

Images Source: Pixabay

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Humpday Hint: Tips for Modifying Resolutions

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

Most of us are about ready for Ditch Your Resolutions Day, which is January 17. If you change your resolutions using these tips, you will be more likely to be able to stick with them and accomplish your goals.
  1. Start slow and gradual.
    instead of a fitness goal of exercising every day, aim for twice a week. It’s a more attainable goal.
    You don’t have to implement all your resolutions at the same time. Stagger their start dates so you’re only making one change at a time.
  2. Set attainable goals.
    Start yourself off with a small success. You’re more likely to stick with that goal. Change a long-term weight loss amount resolution (“I will lose 25 pounds by summer.”) into a weekly behavior change goal (“I won’t eat while watching TV.” or “I will have a fruit or vegetable at every meal this week.”)
  3. Allow for exceptions.
    You don’t need to go “all or nothing” on most life changes. For instance, don’t outlaw all carbs. They are a source of food energy, and many are healthy and contain fiber.
    Don’t deny yourself all sweets. A piece of fruit is healthy. And one candy bar once in a while isn’t likely to derail your whole diet improvement plan. Forgive yourself and move on.
  4. Avoid the trends.
    You don’t need fancy diet foods, fad diets or the newest fitness program at the gym. Use common everyday items and activities to reach your long range goals.
  5. Don’t try to go “cold turkey.”
    Gradually changing long-held habits generally works best. Find healthy alternatives and add them slowly to your routine.

Image sources: Public Domain Pictures and Pixabay

Friday, January 12, 2018

How Can Your Pharmacist Help You?

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

Your health care team probably includes a pharmacist. Most people know that a pharmacist is a licensed medical professional who distributes medications and drugs prescribed by physicians to patients. Pharmacists in the US have a graduate level university degree, and must also have passed a series of examinations of their pharmacy skills and knowledge. All US pharmacists are required to have a certain number of hours of supervised experience before they can acquire their license.

But do you know what else your pharmacist can do to help you maintain your health and wellness?

You can ask your pharmacist questions about any of your prescriptions, the proper way to take them, potential side effects, and possible interactions with other prescription and over-the-counter medications you are taking. Pharmacists can offer advice about the selection, dosage, interactions and side effects of any medication to patients and to doctors and other medical professionals.

Your pharmacist can offer advice about general health topics, including diet, exercise and stress management. He can offer specific advise about conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes, or about wellness goals such as smoking cessation.

Your pharmacist can also advise you on general health products carried in the pharmacy, including durable medical equipment and home healthcare supplies that may or may not be prescribed. She may complete third-party insurance forms and other paperwork. Many pharmacists now are trained to administer vaccinations, such as the flu shot.

Did you know...

...That pharmacists save patients time, and save the government money?

For an excellent visual explanation of evidence-based statements about what pharmacists do in the US, please see this website:

For information about pharmacists in the UK:

To learn about pharmacists in Canada:

Interested in a career in pharmacy in Australia? Check out this site:

Image Source: Pixabay

Monday, January 8, 2018

Avoiding the Flu When Away From Home

Influenza, often nicknamed "the flu", is a viral disease that can have mild symptoms such as sniffles, sore throat and feeling tired, or it can develop into severe complications such as viral pneumonia and heart failure.

The 2017-2018 flu season has seen a worrisome spread of this illness. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publishes a weekly report on the spread of influenza in the United States. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also monitors the spread of influenza across the world.

What can YOU do to protect yourself and loved ones?

The CDC shares three key things you can do.

First, get vaccinated. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated every year (with some rare exceptions). Again, if you can, GET VACCINATED.

Second, the following actions will help you to stop the spread of germs:
  • Wash your hands! Always wash your hands after using the restroom; after sneezing or coughing or blowing your nose; and before and after eating. Wash your hands after touching surfaces touched by other people, such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, cart handles, counter tops. Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before rinsing.
  • Carry tissues and hand sanitizer. Use the tissues to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, then immediately dispose of the used tissue. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) when you can’t wash your hands. Offer to share the sanitizer with others.
  • Don’t touch your face. If you do have flu germs on your hands, they are easily transferred through your eyes, nose and mouth into your body.
  • Don’t share items such as phones and computer keyboards with others. Disinfect hard surfaces after others have touched them.
  • Stay away from people with symptoms. And do others a favor and stay home when you are ill.

Third, if your doctor prescribes them, take antiviral drugs. The sooner they are taken, the better. Those at high risk for flu complications like pneumonia especially are encouraged to stay in contact with their doctors if they become ill.

While anyone can get the flu, young children and adults over age 65 are considered vulnerable. A little common sense and use of preventive measures will help to lower the risk for yourself and everyone around you.

Images source: Pixabay, keyword "flu"

Friday, January 5, 2018

Escape from Your Intellectual Bubble

What’s with these so-called intellectual bubbles we’ve heard about this past year, anyway? What does it mean?

Many of us get information and support from others who are basically just like ourselves. Sometimes we do it voluntarily, but often it’s unconscious on our part. There’s even a whole tech sector dedicated to providing you with electronic material “just for you,” tailored to your tastes.

Of course that’s comfortable! You know pretty much what to expect when you interact with these people or read those web posts. But sometimes the intellectual bubbles we’re in encourage us to forget the diversity of the world outside the bubble. When we associate with people like ourselves, speaking the same language and experiencing the same lifestyle, we begin to assume, however unconsciously, that everyone else must be like us, or else be wrong.

That’s the danger of intellectual bubbles: We are shielded from the broader reality, we lose touch with the world’s diversity. By preventing us from understanding how other people think and feel, bubbles build walls and create intolerance.

So take a risk, and escape from your intellectual bubble. Here are three steps you can take to do that.

Get Physical

You can actually physically escape from your bubble. In our ordinary environment, we see the same people, often like ourselves, all the time. Perhaps it’s time to get away. But where can you go?

This doesn’t have to mean international travel. There are probably many places in your own community you have never visited. A restaurant you’ve never eaten at. A business you know nothing about.

Consider calling up a local civic organization or educational institution and asking for someone to give you a tour and tell you about their mission or activities.

Volunteer with a group that serves people you’re not likely to meet in your daily life, perhaps people from a different age group or culture. You could read to grade school kids, or serve meals at an elder daycare.

Experiencing a new culture is a great way to understand more about people. You will never know what you can learn until you try this strategy for physically escaping from your bubble.

Learn Things!

A second escape method is to build new skills. This can be anything now to you, really!

Learn to knit. Try out yoga. Play the saxophone or flute. Find out how to greet people and ask for directions in a new language. Learn to make a simple mobile app. Read a novel in a genre you’ve not sampled before.

Get outside your comfort zone. Whatever you do will get you to employ a different part of your brain. This strategy encourages you to experiment with content and problem-solving tools that are outside your current repertoire.

Make Your Own (Different) Bubble

This third strategy may sound like an odd way to escape a bubble, but do consider creating your own bubble. A new one.

Be sure you have real friends (not Facebook friends) who are very different from yourself. Second Life® is a great way to learn to know people from a wide variety of geographic places and cultures.

In your social media, follow on Twitter (Editor's note: In fact, you don't even have to follow people to read their tweets) and read blogs by people very different from yourself. Watch TED videos for knowledge, inspiration, and challenges to your way of thinking.

This next suggestion may feel more like preparing for a high school debate. Pick a topic you’re familiar with, and get informed about the opposing point of view. Ask someone who disagrees with your position on a topic why they believe as they do, and really listen to their explanation without trying to pick it apart.

Of course these exercises will allow you to better understand other points of view. What this strategy also leads to is the ability to see multiple angles of an argument, and to possibly synthesize new approaches with your original position.

You will naturally feel some discomfort in emerging from your intellectual bubble. I imagine a newly winged butterfly feels somewhat disoriented when coming out of her cocoon.

But think about it this way… The future absolutely won’t be like the present. Being able to escape from your intellectual bubble will make you more effective in your future life. You may actually come to enjoy the challenges of new experiences and changes.

Image source: Bubble Girl Trapped, by dawnydawny on Pixabay

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Tipzzzzz for Better Sleep

Most adults do not get the recommended 7 to 8 hours of high quality sleep each night. If you are sleeping more or less than the recommended amount, you are probably not functioning at full capacity. Here are some tips to help you sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed.

  • Be physically active for 30 minutes most days. Try to schedule your exercise sessions at least 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Limit caffeine in the morning and avoid it after noon. There are similar stimulants in nicotine and decongestants, so try to cut down.
  • Don’t nap within 6-8 hours of bedtime, and limit your nap to 30 minutes.
  • Eat dinner at the same time each day, and at least 2 or 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same times every day. Don’t sleep in or stay up late on weekends.

Sleep problems are treatable. If these tips do not improve your sleep, please talk with your healthcare provider.

Monday, January 1, 2018

It’s Healthy to Give, and It Doesn’t Need to be Cash

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

I don’t know many individuals or organizations that would turn down a gift of money, any time of year. It’s good to give. However, we don’t always have funds to spare for charity. There’s plenty you can offer that isn’t money, though. But why bother giving anything at all?

Giving, also known as altruistic spending, has positive effects on health. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame Science of Generosity Initiative wrote the book The Paradox of Generosity1 to share their findings. Americans who donated more than 10% of their incomes were less depressed than those who didn’t donate as much. Giving money does not even need to be to that high an extent to increase happiness. Research at the University of British Columbia2 showed that those who donated small amounts of money to charity or as a gift were happier than those who used the cash to pay a bill or buy themselves a small treat. A summary of research on altruism and health3 concluded there was a strong correlation between people’s health, happiness, well-being and longevity and their altruistic emotions and behaviors.

So, what can you give if you don’t have extra cash? Here are a few ideas.

• Donate through a company - Several companies will donate to a charity of your choice. The Amazon Smile program is one such. Amazon donates a small percentage of your purchase amount to your designated charity, and it does not cost you anything additional.
Some employers have a matching donation program. Check whether yours does by asking your HR Department.

• Give your time and genuine interest - Going out for coffee or lunch with a friend or work colleague makes both of you happier. Networking events are another way to spend time with others you know less well.

The benefit of the time you spend with someone is enhanced when you are sincerely “present,” meaning emotionally available as well as physically there. Although sometimes more difficult to achieve, this type of generous giving improves relationships as well as overall health. According to the Notre Dame researchers1, 48% of persons in more giving relationships were in excellent health, compared with 31% who were not in such relationships. People in “satisfying relationships” show more autonomic activation when confronting psychological challenges and have more efficient restorative behaviors4. While the effects of volunteering are beneficial for those who have a positive view of others, those who do not hold such views apparently do not benefit5.

• Share laughter! - Tell a joke or a silly story. Laughter, yours and the listener’s, is a great antidepressant6. Laughter reduces stress7, burns calories by increasing your heart rate8, decreases pain9, and may even protect you against heart disease10.

• Spread kindness - “Random acts of kindness” don’t have to be big things. Smiling at the check out clerk, letting someone with fewer items go in front of you in the grocery line, offering a compliment to someone at the bus stop on their choice of reading material, helping an elderly person step down safely off a curb… small actions of kindness on your part will improve your day as well as the recipient’s 11.

• Offer your skills - Volunteer to use your skills to benefit others. Can you help a struggling small business with bookkeeping? Clean house or prepare a casserole for a new mother overwhelmed with caring for her baby? Sew cuddle blankets that the rescue squad can give to traumatized children? Refurbish donated computers for a nonprofit?
Everyone has skills they can share. One way to share your life knowledge is to be a peer supporter. Research12 on nurses with chronic pain showed that those who volunteered to work with other chronic pain patients had decreased levels of pain intensity depression and disability, compared with those who did not volunteer. Helping others appears to reduce the risks of dying by buffering the effects of stress13. Persons who are less well socially integrated seem to derive the most improvement in well-being from volunteering14.

As Winston Churchill famously stated,

“We make a living by what we get.
We make a life by what we give.”

Find a way to give to others in the coming year, and reap the health benefits of your actions.


1 Smith, C. & Davidson, H. (2014). The Paradox of Generosity. Available from Amazon.

2 Dunn, E., & Norton, M. (2014). Happy Money: The science of happier spending. Available from Amazon.

3 Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, happiness, and health: It’s good to be good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12(2), 66-77.

4 Cacioppo, J. T., Ernst, J. M., Burleson, M. H., McClintock, M. K., Malarkey, W. B., Hawkley, L. C., et al. (2000, Mar). Lonely traits and concomitant physiological processes: The MacArthur social neuroscience studies. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 35(2-3), 143-154.

5 Poulin, M. J. (2014, Feb). Volunteering predicts health among those who value others: Two national studies. Health Psychology, 33(2),120-129.

6 Ko, H.-J., & Youn, C.-H. (2011, July). Effects of laughter therapy on depression, cognition and sleep among the community-dwelling elderly. Geriatrics & Gerontology International, 11(3), 267-274.

7 Berk, L. S., Tan, S. A., Fry, W. F., Napier, B. J., Lee, J. W., Hubbard, R. W., et al. (1989, Dec). Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter. American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 298(6), 390-396.

8 Buchowski, M. S., Majchrzak, K. M., Blomquist, K., Chen, K. Y., Byrne, D. W., & Bachorowski, J. A. (2007, Jan). Energy expenditure of genuine laughter. International Journal of Obesity, 31(1), 131-137.

9 Tse, M. M. Y., Lo, A. P. K.. Cheng, T. L. Y., Chan, E. K. K., Annie H. Y. Chan, A. H. Y., & Chung, H. S. W. (2010). Humor therapy: Relieving chronic pain and enhancing happiness for older adults. Journal of Aging Research. Link retrieved December 31, 2017.

10 University of Maryland Medical Center (2005). School of Medicine study shows laughter helps blood vessels function better. Link retrieved December 31, 2017.

11 Tkach, C. T. (2006). Unlocking the treasury of human kindness: Enduring improvements in mood, happiness, and self-evaluations. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 67(1-B), 603.

12 Arnstein, P., Vidal, M., Wells-Federman, C., Morgan, B., & Caudill, M. From chronic pain patient to peer: Benefits and risks of volunteering. Pain Management Nursing, 3(3), 94-103.

13 Poulin, M. J., Brown, S. L., Dillard, A. J., & Smith, D. M. (2013, Sept). Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality. American Journal of Public Health, 103(9), 1649-1655.

14 Piliavin, J. A., & Siegl, E. (2007, Dec). Health benefits of volunteering in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 48(4), 450-464

Images source: Pixabay