Being active this winter Part II: There’s more you can do!

December 21, 2010 by  

Hibernating in the winter time is natural. Animals do that all the time. I can understand why we tend to be very slow come winter, why our bed seems to be the coziest place in the world. The bears and the groundhogs would definitely understand. However, there is a big difference between hibernating animals and hibernating humans. The animals don’t eat much during their winter sleep. We do. Lots. The animals put on weight before the cold season in order to have enough reserve fat to last the winter. We put on lots of weight during the winter time, especially during the holiday season. And whatever fat we accumulate lasts for a long, long time. Thus, it is only right to say that we are doing it the wrong.

Today I am bringing you some more tips on how to stay active in the winter time. Okay, so maybe not as active as we are during the warm months. But we can still aim for that 30-minute physical exercise target without going to the gym. These tips from MD Anderson Cancer Center are quite simple and practical. Anybody can do it!


Hosting guests? 

Going to or having a party?


Use these tips to get your heart pumping on the road:

Surrounded by family?

You’re not the only one who needs exercise! Help your entire family exercise by teaming up to:

None of these work for you?

If you can’t work exercise into your holiday activities, try these tips:

Remember, some things can wait until after the holidays, but your health isn’t one of them.

How yoga helps prevent cancer

November 17, 2010 by  
Filed under CANCER

Once again, when the going gets really tough, we turn to age-old therapies. And most of them work, too. Take yoga, for example. The physical and mental benefits of yoga have been demonstrated time and again. According to a report in the November issue of Focused on Health, the web newsletter of the MD Anderson Cancer Center, yoga’s benefits include improving sleep, mood and quality of life – and cancer prevention.

Physical exercise and keeping a healthy weight helps prevent cancer, according American Institute for Cancer Research. For those whose body cannot withstand strenuous physical (e.g. cancer and surgical patients), yoga may be a more effective alternative. Yet, even those deemed to be healthy can benefit from yoga. Here are just a few benefits of yoga:

There is a misconception that practicing yoga is tantamount to being immobile or sedentary. A high-intensity yoga that keeps the heart pumping may actually be equivalent to the recommended 30-minute physical exercise. In fact, according to Carla Warneke, a yoga instructor for the Place of wellness at M. D. Anderson:

“All types of yoga can have benefits because they get you breathing deeply and get your body moving.”

You may ask. Which style of yoga is the best? According to Warneke, no one style is better than the other. What is important is that the yoga style fits the person. There are different yoga styles for every personality. One of the most popular branches of yoga is the hatha yoga which comes in several styles as described below:

Most of all, it is important to remember yoga is not a competitive sport. You can adjust your position according to your physical condition and limits. It’s not about winning. It’s about finding the balance.

The benefits of walking to school

September 27, 2010 by  

School has just started in many parts of the western world.

Since my kids joined the Swiss public school system last year, they’ve been walking to school on their own. School is just a 5-minute walk from our home but I know of kids who have to walk for 15 minutes or longer. For those who live beyond the 20-minute walking time, school bus service is usually provided. This is more or less the same all over Switzerland.

Many expats, including me, have difficulty at first in coming to terms with this system. In many countries, the way to school is full of hazards and dangers. Abduction and traffic accidents are just a few of them. We  are appalled that kids are expected to walk to school at age 6 or 7 when they start the 1st grade. But they have been prepared for this. Swiss kids are instructed by a traffic police officer during their kindergarten years on how to walk on and cross the street. Parents are expected to do their share and give instructions as well as set a good example. Schools make it difficult for parents to drop off and pick up kids by providing no parking or drop off zone close by.

But why should kids walk to school? There are several benefits to walking to school that the Swiss system believes, outweighs the risk.

Physical movement. Walking is not exercise but it is nevertheless a physical activity that is much better than simply just sitting in a car. With kids becoming more sedentary and overweight these days, walking is more important than ever in getting them move.

Self-sufficiency. By learning to walk to school by themselves, kids learn to be self-sufficient and be responsible. At an early age, they are trained to stay safe and avoid risks, training which will help them avoid risky behaviour as they grow.

Real life. The way between home and school is the real world where kids learn about life. Sometimes the lessons may be hard. My kids experienced bullying on the way to school. This made them strong.

Getting rid of stress. For some kids, school is full of pressure and stress. A study by researchers at the University at Buffalo in New York report that the walk to and from school actually can take some of school-related stress off. In a test of kids age 10 to 14 years old, those who walked showed relatively less stress during an exam than those who did not. According to researcher James Roemmich:

“These children had smaller increases in perceived stress, heart rate, and systolic blood pressure, compared to children who didn’t do the walk to school.”

Of course walking to school is not possible in many places for reasons of security and distance. I am, however, very grateful to live in a country where walking is possible, even part of the culture. My kids think the same. My suggestion of driving them to school on a rainy day was met with strong opposition.

You are not supposed to do that, Mom.”

Lose Weight with These Fat Burning Foods

June 23, 2010 by  
Filed under OBESITY

Many Americans are waging a personal war against obesity which continues as a leading threat to the overall health and well being of millions. Obesity contributes to a twofold increase in the risk of heart attack, diabetes and certain cancers by increasing inflammation in the body.

Due largely to an exceedingly high sugar and refined carbohydrate diet, many people store fat in the belly. This is known as visceral fat which releases chemical messengers throughout the body when in excess. In an attempt to gain control, the body fights back by mounting an inflammatory response, increasing disease risk as a consequence.

The best way to lose weight is through a calorie-reduced, healthful diet, stress management and adequate physical activity. Fortunately there are a number of foods which help by increasing metabolism and stimulating the release of stored fat. These are essential ingredients for weight loss by targeting belly fat.

Eat Green to Lose Weight Naturally

Eat Leafy Green Vegetables and Drop Weight Fast

Eat Leafy Green Vegetables and Drop Weight Fast

The most important category of food for those looking to drop weight quickly is raw, dark green and leafy vegetables. They are extremely low in calories and fill you up quickly. The best part is that they release sugar into the bloodstream very slowly, so excess glucose does not convert to triglycerides and on to fat storage. The core of any weight loss diet should include large helpings of vegetables such as spinach, spring mix, cucumbers, onions, broccoli and cauliflower. Limit tomatoes and fruits as they are high in sugar and can impede the fat release process.

Choose Lean Meats and Unprocessed Fats

Choose Lean Meats and Unprocessed Fats to Boost Metabolism

Choose Lean Meats and Unprocessed Fats to Boost Metabolism

Lean meat protein sources such as turkey and chicken require additional energy to be metabolized by the body. When eaten in moderation, they will trigger the full signal meaning you stop eating sooner. For best weight loss results, limit calories from meat sources to no more than 10% of the daily total. Many people consume excessive amounts of protein which can lead to digestive problems and metabolic disorders in later life.

Raw, unprocessed fats are necessary for proper absorption of nutrients and actually can aid in the weight loss process. Fats from avocado, coconut, walnut and extra virgin olive oil slow the digestive process, as well as the rapid release of sugar from carbohydrates. You’ll naturally stop eating sooner and receive maximum benefit from the vitamins and minerals in your food. As fats are high in calories, be careful to keep total calories to less than 15%, and achieve the maximum weight loss boost.

Go Nuts to Lose Weight

Nuts are Nature's 'Perfect Food' Source

Nuts are Nature's 'Perfect Food' Source

Nuts are typically viewed as high in calories and fat, but should be considered as nature’s perfect food source. They provide a perfect balance of complete protein and monounsaturated fats while being very low in carbohydrates. Nuts eaten in moderation (about a handful a day) have been shown to boost metabolism and decrease fat mediated markers in the body. By replacing unhealthy processed fats with those from nuts, studies show that blood lipids are improved and heart healthy markers for systemic inflammation are brought in check.

Poor food choices are the main reason so many people are overweight and obese. Making the correct food selections and combined with a regular exercise program, many people can achieve permanent weight loss. This requires a stringent change to diet and lifestyle. Eat unlimited quantities of raw vegetables and limit certain fruits and all sweets and refined carbohydrates. Incorporate lean protein and unprocessed fats and nuts to create a well balanced and healthy diet which will lead to natural and sustainable weight loss for life.

About the author:

John Phillip is a Health, Diet and Nutrition Researcher and Author of the popular Optimal Health Resource Blog who regularly reports on the alternative cutting edge use of supplements and lifestyle modifications to enhance and improve the length and quality of life. Health problems can be avoided and overcome with a sensible approach to monitoring key health factors such as weight, blood glucose, blood pressure and body temperature. His mission is to discuss the relevant findings on nutritional factors as they become available, and how you can incorporate this latest information to better your lifestyle. Read John’s latest healthy articles, updated regularly at his Optimal Health Resource Blog.

Kids should get moving to get rid of fat

December 10, 2009 by  
Filed under OBESITY

weighing scale with fruitChildhood obesity is on the rise. And researchers are scrambling to find out what are the mechanisms behind the epidemic and what can we do to control it.

Health experts believe that that poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyle are the most important factors in the obesity problem. However, new research shows that decreasing time spent being sedentary or the so-called “screen time” (because this is the time spent in from of the TV or computer screen) is only half of the story.

British researchers report that physical activity is the key to decreasing body fat in children. And not just normal daily “moderate” activity. Vigorous exercise is necessary.

Researchers at the MRC Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge, UK looked at 1,862 children aged 9 to 10 years old, of whom 23 percent were overweight or obese. The study participants were asked to wear a wrist-watch like sensor that measures and records the amount and intensity of physical activity engaged in. Body mass index (BMI), body fat, and waist size were measured. The number of hours spent by the children in the front of the TV or the computer was also recorded. The results show that

  • The majority of children engage in physical activity of moderate amount (at least an hour) and intensity.
  • More than half of the participants have screen time less than hours each day.
  • Children who spent more time being sedentary tended to have excess weight and body fat
  • Children engaged in vigorous activity have smaller waist circumference and less fat mass.
  • Boys got an average of 30-minute vigorous exercise each days; girls only 22 minutes.

The study showed that vigorous physical activity is a very strong determining factor in keeping down body fat mass and waistline. Moderate activity alone cannot achieve this.

For instance, every 6.5 minutes a child spent doing vigorous activity like playing ball, bicycling, or running around outside was associated with a 1.32-centimeter reduction in waist size, the researchers found. But 13.6 minutes of moderate physical activity only reduced waist size by half a centimeter.

The results indicate that reducing sedentary time alone is not enough to prevent obesity. Additional vigorous physical exercise is needed to keep down weight.  The authors concluded:

“Interventions may therefore need to incorporate higher intensity-based activities to curb the growing obesity epidemic.”

Have an active summer (despite the heat!)

August 3, 2009 by  

950189_sunflower_smilesResource post for the summer

Summer, summer, here it comes. School vacation has started. Warm days and warm nights. The summer heat can have an effect on your cardiovascular health. According to the American Heart Association (AHA)

Exercising outside in hot and humid conditions can be hard on your heart. This is true even for athletes who haven’t yet adapted to the heat. The problem is made worse because the heart is trying to deliver blood and oxygen to your working muscles while your body is trying to cool off by sweating. If you sweat too much, you lose fluid. This decreases your total blood volume. That means your heart has to pump even harder to get the smaller volume of blood to your working muscles, skin and the other body parts. When you lose too much fluid, your body temperature rises and your nervous system doesn’t work properly. Extreme fluid loss can lead to brain and heart damage.

Stay active in the summer

However, we shouldn’t use the summer heat as an excuse to stop exercising and become sedentary. This, too, is not good for the heart. The AHA gives the fgymnastollowing tips for staying active, safe and heart healthy even when it’s hot scorching outside.

  • Take up indoor sports, e.g. squash, basketball, aerobics
  • Go to the gym and work out in an air conditioned room.
  • Go swimming.
  • Go for a walk – at the mall.
  • Go ice skating.

Stay active indoors

I have friends living in Dubai, and every summer, the schools are closed for three months because the desert heat is just unbearable and a health hazard for the children. However, the residents of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) are very creative and came up with ways to keep people active but not overheated in the summer – indoors, of course.

  • Swimming. There are lots of indoor water theme parks out there where you can around the whole and stay cool.
  • Malling. The malls out there are huge, with play grounds and soft areas for playing. Perfect for mall walking.
  • Working out at the gym. You can even practice your skiing and snowboarding moves with the snow and the gear – doing special workouts.
  • Ice skating/skiing. Yes, you can ski in the middle of the summer in Dubai. No, I am not talking about skiing in the sand dunes. I am talking about real snow and real alpine atmosphere. Ski Dubai in Dubai Emirates Mall opened its indoor slopes end of 2005, supposedly “the world’s third largest indoor ski slope, measuring 400 meters and using 6000 tons of snow.” Another indoor skiing resort is under construction.

Stay active outdoors

We live in Switzerland and although we don’t suffer as much from high temperatures compared to our friends in the U.A.E., we do get heat waves from time to time. So how do we deal with the heat? We go out! You see, air conditioning is not very common in this part of the world so that staying indoors can be… well …hot.

  • We go swimming in the pools, in the lakes, in the rivers. Despite the fact that Switzerland is landlocked, and therefore doesn’t have a coastline, there are children3plenty of natural water bodies for swimming. This includes the lake and the two rivers flowing through Zurich, the country’s biggest city. Believe me, the water is clean! For those who live away from the lake, almost every little town has a swimming pool. From where we live, we have about 6 public swimming pools within an 8-km periphery to choose from, just the perfect distance for cycling. The pools usually have trees to provide shade for those who just want to laze around.
  • We go to the mountains. Now, you think mountain hiking is not exactly what you’d like to do in the summer heat. Well, it’s definitely much cooler up there although the UV rays are also much stronger so sunscreen is a must. Of course we sweat. But there’s always a lake or a river to jump in and cool down.
  • We go to the forest. The more trees there are, the cooler it is. Cool enough that we even dare to barbecue in the summer heat. There are specially designated places for grills and picnics. However, beware of tick-infested areas!
  • We drink. In most of the parks, mountain paths, and forests, there are drinking fountains strategically located for bikers, hikers, and walkers to refill their water bottles. Again, you have the guarantee that the water is potable. And if you pass by a farmhouse, chances are, there’s an easy accessible fridge outside where you can grab a cold glass of fresh milk. Help yourself and drop a coin in the cash box.

And skiing? Oh yes, there is enough snow on highest mountain peaks but we leave that to the Swiss national skiing team who need to practice the whole year round. Skiing for the mere mortals is for winter – outdoors.

So how about you? How do you beat the summer heat? How do you stay active in the summer?

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Fighting depression with exercise

May 12, 2009 by  
Filed under DEPRESSION

happy-timesMany children and adolescents suffer from clinical depression. That is why experts have recently come up with guidelines that recommended routine screening for depression in the younger segment of the population. The guidelines also recommended psychotherapy or psychotropic drugs or both in the management of clinical depression in adolescents. But aren’t there other ways – especially non-pharmacological approaches to manage depression?

Researchers at the Medical College of Georgia looked at the effect of exercise on depressive kids. The participants were 207 weight children aged 7 to 11 years old. The participants were tested for depressive symptoms using the Reynolds Child Depression scale as well as the Self-Perception Profile for Children, a test which measures childrens’ perception of themselves before (at baseline) and after the study. The children were randomly assigned to three different physical exercise regime which lasted for 13 weeks

  • Group one: a “low-dose” exercise group which was physically active20 minutes each day
  • Group two: a “high-dose” exercise group which was physically active for 40 minutes each day
  • Group three: a control group which consisted of sedentary children.

Exercises consisted of activities which were fun but maximized for intensity and designed so that the participants’ heart rates exceeded more than 150 beats per minute.

The study results showed that depressive symptoms improved significantly with increasing exercise time even though no noticeable weight increase was observed. It seems that exercise has a positive impact on the children’s self-esteem. However, this positive effect was only observable in white but black participants.

Physical activity has been shown to greatly help in managing depression in adults. In patients who suffered from stroke or cardiac events, exercise helps in improving health outcomes. In patients with primarily clinical depression, exercise leads to release of the hormone endorphin which induces positive feeling. The study results here suggest that physical exercise can positively affect children’s self-worth should therefore be considered as intervention against depressive symptoms.

This is very relevant considering the results of another study last year which showed that American children take more psychotropic medications that their counterpart in Western Europe. Comparing the US with two European countries, the annual prevalence of use of psychotropic medications is:

  • US  – 6.7%
  • The Netherlands – 2.9%
  • Germany – 2.0%

The most common of these psychotropic drugs were antidepressants and stimulants and there was a tendency for multiple drug therapy among US kids. There is some indication that Europeans tend to use alternative ways of managing depression – including exercise.

A therapy to get osteoarthritis patients moving

March 23, 2009 by  
Filed under ARTHRITIS

gymnastPhysical exercise is essential in maintaining joint health and in managing symptoms of osteoarthritis. But it doesn’t feel like it, as many arthritis patients would attest, making performance of simple daily activities challenging, much less compliance with prescribed exercise routines.

But a new type of therapy, the so-called activity strategy training might just be the help that patients with osteoarthritis of the hip and knee.

This is based on a study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System.

Taught by occupational therapists, this structured rehabilitation program is designed to educate patients about joint protection, proper body mechanics, activity pacing, and environmental barriers. For example, patients with joint pain caused by osteoarthritis learn techniques for walking around the house or outdoors, or even getting in and out of a car.

The study compared two strategies: the commonly prescribed regular exercise and health education sessions vs the activity strategy training (AST) plus regular exercise. The outcomes showed that AST was more effective in increasing and maintaining physical activity in osteoarthritis patients. The difference between the two strategies is probably that AST is more customized to the patients’ needs while structured exercise is not. Furthermore, AST addresses barriers to physical activity that may be specific to certain communities or environment, such as those found in senior homes, for example.

Osteoarthritis is “a degenerative disease that causes the breakdown of the cartilage in joints. Activity strategy training, however, is not commonly prescribed to patients with hip or knee osteoarthritis… Most physical activity programs for these patients only offer structured exercise, which has been shown to have short-term positive effects on arthritis pain and physical disability. But these effects usually fade soon after participation in the program ends.”

The researchers went on to urge osteoarthritis patients to take a proactive role in their therapy. According to lead author Susan L. Murphy

People with osteoarthritis need to be their own agents of change. They can do so much to manage symptoms and stave off functional decline caused by osteoarthritis just by being physically active. The bottom line is to find ways to help people create and maintain these healthy habits.”


Photo credit: stock.xchng

Exercise makes the heart grow younger

August 4, 2008 by  

As we grow older, our body and its organs deteriorate. Including our heart. Now, is there in any way that we can slow down, even reverse our heart’s aging process?

Researchers at the Washington University at St. Louis may just have found the secret to eternal youth and it’s none of the power pills that you take or the power beverages that you drink. Surprise, surprise – it’s endurance exercise.

The research involved 12 participants – 6 males and 6 females aged 60 and 75. The participants were of normal weight but not physically active.

The researchers compared two treatments among non-active older adults: the effects of exercise training on the heart vs the effects of dobutamine, a drug that increases the heart rate similar to what happens during an exercise.

Endurance exercise training was defined as

walking, running or cycling exercises three to five days a week for about an hour per session.

Dobutamine induced increased energy demands, but the hearts of the study participants did not increase their blood sugar (glucose) uptake for more energy. This is how an aging heart would react.

Endurance exercise however resulted in higher glucose uptake by the participants’ hearts. This increased in blood sugar uptake – about double the energy demand of a heart at rest – is what young hearts do.

Lead author Pablo Soto explains:

…if heart muscle doesn’t take in glucose in response to increased energy needs, it goes into an energy-deprived state, which may raise the risk of heart attack. But if it can increase glucose uptake, the heart is better protected against ischemia (low oxygen) and heart attack.

The participants underwent 11 months of exercise training guided by a professional trainer. During the first 3 months, exercise was up 65% of the participants’ capacity. It was then increased to 75%, with no major problems. In fact, the participants reported feeling fit and young.

Many other studies have found strong links between exercise and aging. Nature News reported about a UK study that showed how physical activity keeps us young while an inactive lifestyle shortens our life. They used one biological measure of aging which is the length of telomeres at the end of our chromosomes. Telomeres protect our DNA from wearing down and tend to get shorter as we age.

The research went on to show that people who regularly engaged in exercise and are nonsmokers have longer telomeres compared to those who are inactive, overweight and smokers. The biological age difference based on telomere length differences can be as high as 10 years.

Now, who wouldn’t want to live a decade longer?

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Preventing hypertension: Start `em young

June 2, 2008 by  

When it comes to prevention, starting early – and I mean early in life – is important. Childhood blood pressure (BP) tracks throughout life. This means that elevated BP at childhood is most likely to develop into hypertension in adulthood. It is therefore important that children’s BP be managed properly.

As part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children conducted in the UK, 5505 children aged 11 to 12 years old were followed up by monitoring physical activity and measuring BP. Physical activity was measured by an accelerometer or movement detector which the children wore around their waist for 7 days. Two BP measurements were taken during the 7-day period. This study is one of the very few to actually measure physical activity. It actually measured all normal daily activities that required movement in the vertical direction such as walking, jumping, and playing. In contrast, previous studies relied mostly on interviews and self-reports which were not always so accurate.

Their results: children who routinely engaged in physical activity are bound to have lower BP than their less active counterparts.

The average systolic BP was 104.8 mm Hg for boys and 106.0 mm Hg for girls. Children who engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity have on average 2 mm Hg and 1 mm Hg lower for systolic and diastolic BPs, respectively than those who didn’t.

What is surprising – and disturbing – is that low physical activity is the trend rather than the exception among these children.

The median amount of time spent in moderate to vigorous activity was 25 minutes daily for boys and only 16 minutes daily for girls-well short of the recommended 60 minutes a day. Only 3% of the children (5% of boys and 0.5% of girls) met the guidelines for this hour of vigorous exercise per day.”

What they also found is that the total amount of exercise is more important in lowering BP than the intensity. Therefore, intense rigorous sports a couple of hours are not necessarily the best for children. Rather, it’s the regular, constant movements in active free play or daily routines such as walking or cycling to school that counts. What is not good and can increase children’s BPs are extended periods of lying down or sitting in the car, in front of a TV monitor or a computer screen.

The main message of our study is that the more active children have lower BP at 11 years, and this could have public-health implications because BP tracks throughout life. Higher BP now is likely to mean higher BP as an adult,” according to one of the researchers Sam Leary of the University of Bristol. 

As mother of two 5-year old boys, I can proudly say that my kids never lacked in physical exercise right from the start. Check out my list of strategies to keep kids active and moving


Heartwire, 10 Dec 2007


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Brain Games and Other Activities

April 15, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

This post discusses brain games and other activities that may delay the onset and reduce the impact of Alzheimer’s disease and dementias

I want to say off the bat that I am quite familiar with Alzheimer’s disease and I am fully aware that there is not a game around that will prevent it from running its course.  So, my intent is not to provide snake oil or false hope.  Brain activities such as video games, crossword puzzles, sudoku checkers and chess to name few do have thier place though.  They provide activity and exercise for the brain, they require hand eye coordination and they require more complex thought than does say listening to the radio or watching TV.  In addition, in all honesty, they might keep your loved one busy enough to provide you as a caregiver a few moments while you attend to dinner or take care of other responsibilities.

As a person who suffers with Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia, these games can provide a great escape.  doing theme related crossword puzzles or word-finds is a great way to relax and remember a time that was much more carefree and much less confusing than these days are.  Sudoku and chess are great games for those who are still able handle the complexities associated with those activities.

Although alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, such as vascular dementia initially present similarily with symptoms such as confusion, short term memory loss and difficulty handling day to day activities such as balancing a checkbook.  They differ widely in their progression and end result.  I will save the details for another post.  My point for today is that activity is good for all types of dementia.

Why activity is important:

Physical activity-Physical activity is as good for the brain as it is for the body. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and creates an overall feeling of well being.  From a physical perspective, it strengthens the heart, muscles and combats extra pounds piling on.

Here are some things you can do to keep moving:


Take the stairs

Join an exercise class

Mental Activity-The brain needs exercise too. The Alzheimer’s Association of Canada endorses brain games.  You can click here for the entire article, but some of the activities they recommend are:

Crossword Puzzles

Reading and keeping up with current affairs

Computer games

So, no matter what you do, as you battle the monster, Alzheimer’s disease know that activity, whether physical or mental is a good thing!

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.