Reading Literary Fiction Builds Empathy

Reading Literary Fiction Builds Empathy

Information Resources

By Evelyn Cunico, MA, MS/LIS
Posted July 17, 2017

What Is Empathy?

Empathy is a complex term that includes the ability to recognize the emotions of other persons and then to respond emotionally to those persons. Empathy includes sympathy and concern for others.

Why is Empathy Important?

Developing empathy as a behavioral skill is important, because empathic behavior creates positive and helpful ways of thinking and acting. Persons who have developed their empathic skills find practical approaches to promote social acceptance and friendship, which are central to a healthy lifestyle.

Empathy helps people to develop a broader range of action skills, leading them to consider more alternatives in finding solutions for complex problems.

Study of empathy is important because people who are highly empathic are more prosocial, which is associated, for example, in the workplace, with creativity, higher performance, and productivity, according to a Public Library of Science 2013 article by researchers P. Matthias Bal and Martin Veltkamp.

What is Literary Fiction?

Literary Fiction refers to narratives, that is, stories, that focus on in-depth portrayals of characters’ inner feelings and thoughts. In Literary Fiction, the characters teach values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding other persons’ beliefs.

Literary Fiction is different from Popular Fiction, which portrays unrealistic situations with characters whose actions are predictable. Literary Fiction is also different from Nonfiction, which is literature that is not fictional, such as, scientific literature.

How Does Reading Literary Fiction Build Empathy?

Readers who are emotionally “transported” into the fictional story are imaginatively experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and actions of the fictional characters.

When readers identify with a fictional character in a story, they may develop a feeling of sympathy for the character. While reading, the readers are, in effect, “practicing” being empathic.

As readers take the perspective of a character by experiencing fictional events as though they are events happening to themselves, readers are integrating empathy into their own self-concept.

The readers accumulate their ability to take the perspective of others, and, so, to feel empathy for others in their everyday lives, according to Bal and Veltkamp.

How Can You Select Literary Fiction that Helps to Increase Empathy?

Generally, librarians at the Reader Services Desk of your local public library can help you to select Literary Fiction for both adults and youth.

Many of today’s public libraries also offer reading programs and book discussion groups, which offer in-person gatherings where you can share insights, discuss various opinions, and, in turn, enhance your own empathic listening skills.

Selected Information Resources

Bal, P.M., Veltkamp, M. How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation. PLoS One. 2013;8(1): e55341. Published online 2013 Jan 30.
Summary Note: Two experiments show that when people read Literary Fiction narratives, and they are emotionally transported into the narrative world, they become more empathic over time, according to a study conducted at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Study includes extensive footnotes and references.
(Accessed 07 July 2017. From abstract, link to Free Full Text via PubMed Central or PLoS One, Public Library of Science)

Chiaet, J. Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy. Scientific American. October 04, 2013.
Summary Note: Chiaet discusses the study, titled, Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind, published in the journal Science [see Kidd, D.C., Castano, E., in this list of Selected Information Resources]. Chiaet writes that Emanuele Castano, a social psychologist, and David Kidd, a PhD candidate, The New School, New York City, suggest that the types of books that persons read may affect how the readers relate to other persons.
(Accessed 14 July 2017)

Kidd, D.C., Castano, E. Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind. Science. 2013 October 18;342(6156):377-80.
Summary Note: Theory of Mind is the human capacity to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires that may differ from one’s own. This study provides experimental evidence that reading passages of Literary Fiction, as opposed to Popular Fiction or Nonfiction, enhances the reader’s performance on theory of mind tasks.
(Abstract accessed 14 July 2017)

Mar, R.A., Oatley, K., Djikic, M., Mullin, J. Emotion and Narrative Fiction: Interactive Influences Before, During, and After Reading. Cognition and Emotion. 2011. August;25(5):818-33.
Summary Note: Provides snapshot of what is known about the interaction between emotions of readers and Literary Narrative Fiction, before, during, and after reading.
(Abstract accessed 14 July 2017. Full Text available from Taylor & Francis Online by subscription or purchase)

Sasse, Ben. The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017. Hardcover book.
Summary Note: Author discusses economic, social, and technological reasons for why adolescence has become what the author calls, “perpetual.” Book outlines five character-building habits to strengthen self-reliance and the desire and ability to help others. As a way to develop awareness of others’ emotions and intentions, Chapter 8, titled, “Build a Bookshelf,” suggests reading American novels that trace personal journeys. Includes Bibliography.

Resilience: How to Build Your Own Inner Strength

Resilience: How to Build Your Own Inner Strength
Information Resources

By Evelyn Cunico, MA, MS/LIS
Posted June 30, 2017

What is Resilience?

Resilience means being able to adapt to life’s setbacks. Resilience allows you to step back from misfortune, such as an illness, a job loss, or the death of a friend. When you are resilient, your anger, grief, or pain does not go away, but you are able to keep functioning in your everyday life.

You Can Learn How to Build Your Resilience

Research findings show that resilience is most often viewed as a process, rather than a personality trait. Resilience is a learned skill. Therefore, you can build resilience through the process of developing your own mental, physical, and social approaches to daily living. Practicing your own approaches can prepare you for challenges before they occur.

Mental Approaches

  • Count your blessings. Mentally express gratitude for the positive things in your life. Enjoying nutritious food, restful sleep, a safe living environment, and time with friends are a few ways to feel grateful.
  • Show compassion. Say Hello and smile to persons you meet. Open a door for someone who is carrying a heavy package. In a crowded store, excuse yourself if you inattentively bump another shopper.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Think of them as learning opportunities to change your future behavior. Then, when you find yourself in similar circumstances, remind yourself of your past mistake, and practice your changed behavior.
  • Remain optimistic and hopeful about the future. Do not seek perfection, but whenever possible, stay focused on positive emotions.

Physical Approaches

  • Maintain your physical health. Exercise for 30 minutes each day, by walking, or gardening, or taking a yoga class.
  • Make an appointment with your medical doctor for a wellness exam.
  • Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Participate in activities that you enjoy.
  • Get at least seven or eight hours of restful sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Practice relaxation techniques, such as prayer or slow breathing.

Social Approaches

  • Stay in regular touch with family and friends. If someone has not contacted you in a while, reach out for a brief talk or get-together.
  • Create a daily sense of purpose. Write a letter or call a community leader about a local event. Volunteer to help a neighbor. Treat yourself to an hour of social relaxation.
  • Seek social support for a challenge you are facing.
  • Build strong positive relationships that you can count on when unexpected frustrations become overwhelming.

Becoming more resilient takes time and practice. Start with small steps. Most important, believe in your ability to build your own inner strength.

For more information, see the Selected Information Resources at the end of this blog post.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this blog should not replace the medical advice of your medical doctor. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease, illness, or other health condition without first consulting with your medical doctor.

Selected Information Resources

American Psychological Association. Resilience Guide for Parents and Teachers.
Summary Note: Guide includes tips on how to help children and teens build resilience. Separate sections focus on helping students in preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school.
(Accessed 22 June 2017)

American Psychological Association. Resilience for Teens: Got Bounce?
Summary Note: For a teen audience. Includes Ten Tips to Build Resilience.
(Accessed 22 June 2017)

American Psychological Association. The Road to Resilience.
Summary Note: Brochure helps adults to find their own road to resilience. Defines resilience, describes strategies, and suggests Ten Ways to Build Resilience. Includes links to Related Reading and Geographic Search to find local psychologists.
(Accessed 22 June 2017)

Chawla, L., Keena, K., Pevec, I., Stanley, E. Health and Place. 2014 July;28:1-13. Green Schoolyards as Havens from Stress and Resources for Resilience in Childhood and Adolescence
Summary Note: Observational and interview study of elementary and high school students in Colorado and Maryland describes how green schoolyards can reduce stress and promote protective factors for resilience.
(Abstract accessed 26 June 2017)

MacLeod, S., Musich, S., Hawkins, K., Alsgaard, K., Wicker, E.R. Geriatric Nursing. 2016 July-August;37(4):266-72. The Impact of Resilience among Older Adults
Summary Note: An overview of the scientific literature on resilience reveals that resilience is most often viewed as a process, rather than a personality trait. Identifies key characteristics of resilience.
(Accessed 28 June 2017. From Abstract, link to Free Full Text via ELSEVIER Open Access)

Mayo Clinic. Tests and Procedures. Resilience Training. Resilience: Build Skills to Endure Hardship.
Summary Note: Defines resilience. Offers tips to help build resilience skills. Includes cartoon video [4:23] titled, A Very Happy Brain, narrated by Amit Sood, MD, MSc, Professor of Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, MN. Take-away message is that the pursuit of gratitude and compassion will make you happier than the pursuit of happiness.
(Accessed 27 June 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Men’s Health and Women’s Health – Six Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Men’s Health and Women’s Health – Six Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Information Resources

By Evelyn Cunico, MA, MSLIS
Posted March 30, 2016

How can you enjoy a long and healthy life with your children, your spouse, your extended family, your friends, and yourself? First, be aware of health risk factors. Then, choose healthy lifestyle habits.

Risk Factors

Among both men and women in the United States, the two leading causes of death are heart disease and cancer, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data for the year 2013.

Among women, the third leading cause of death is chronic respiratory disease. Among men, the third leading cause of death is accidents (unintentional injuries).

Examples of risk factors for heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and accidents, include too much alcohol use, inadequate physical activity, smoking, obesity, and hypertension.

To some extent, you have control over risk factors by choosing healthy lifestyle habits.

Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Eat a Healthy Diet. Heart disease, certain cancers, stroke, diabetes, and artery damage can be linked to the food you eat. A healthy diet includes whole fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and lean sources of protein, such as fish, chicken, or small portions of lean beef. Dairy includes cheese, yogurt, or milk. Limit foods high in saturated fat and sodium. ChooseMyPlate, which is the U.S. Department of Agriculture consumer resource based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, offers suggestions on how to build a healthy eating style.

Limit the Amount of Alcohol You Drink. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. For men, that means no more than two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger, and one drink a day for men older than age 65. For women, moderation means no more than one drink a day. One drink is equal to one 12-ounce can of beer, or a four-ounce glass of wine, or one ounce of liquor. The risk of various types of cancer, including liver cancer, throat cancer, and breast cancer, appears to increase with the amount of alcohol you drink and the length of time you have been drinking regularly.

Exercise Daily. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Exercise can help you to control your weight and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. “Get Moving” is a good slogan to remind your spouse, your children, and yourself that exercise also can help prevent high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, and depression. Try to exercise for 30 minutes a day, but remember any amount of exercise is better than none. Choose activities you enjoy, from brisk walking, to dancing, to sports.

Maintain a Healthy Weight. Carrying too much weight increases your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, gallbladder disease, and arthritis in the weight-bearing joints, such as the spine, hips, and knees, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. You can help to maintain a healthy weight by being aware of your daily habits, such as taking the stairs, instead of the elevator, or walking, instead of using transportation.

Do Not Smoke. If you smoke or use other tobacco products, talk with your doctor to help you quit. It is also important to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoking is a serious risk factor for chronic lower respiratory diseases, emphysema, mouth and throat cancer, and heart disease. In the United States, smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths annually (including deaths from secondhand smoke), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

Manage Stress. If you are constantly under high stress, your immune system may suffer. When high stress is continued over long periods of time, it can lead to depression. A serious risk factor, particularly among men, is suicide. If you have signs and symptoms of depression, such as feelings of sadness or unhappiness and loss of interest in everyday activities, talk with your doctor. Medical experts at the Mayo Clinic caution that a common cause of death among men is motor vehicle accidents. To stay safe on the road, follow the speed limit, do not drive under the influence of alcohol or other substances, and do not drive while sleepy.

Eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol, exercising daily, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and managing stress are six lifestyle habits that you can start practicing today. Make a decision to choose a healthy lifestyle. Act now.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this blog should not replace the medical advice of your doctor. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease, illness, or other health condition without first consulting with your medical doctor or other healthcare provider.

Selected Information Resources

American Academy of Family Physicians. FamilyDoctor dot Org. What You Can Do to Maintain Your Health.
Summary Note: Discuses healthy lifestyle choices, with focus on preventative care.
(Accessed 28 March 2016)

Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Healthy Lifestyle. Fitness. Exercise: Seven Benefits of Regular Physical Activity
Summary Note: Discusses mental, physical, and social benefits of exercise.
(Accessed 02 March 2016)

Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Healthy Lifestyle. Men’s Health: Prevent the Top Threats
Summary Note: Discusses the top health threats for men. Encourages following medical doctor recommendations and following through with health screenings.
(Accessed 02 March 2016)

Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Healthy Lifestyle. Women’s Health: Prevent the Top Threats
Summary Note: Discusses the top health threats for women. Encourages following medical doctor recommendations and following through with health screenings.
(Accessed 02 March 2016)

National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Men’s Health
Summary Note: Extensive information on health conditions that are unique to men. Includes sections on Prevention and Risk Factors. Treatments and Therapies, Health Check Tools, Statistics and Research, and Patient Handouts.
(Accessed 28 March 2016)

National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Women’s Health
Summary Note: Extensive information on health conditions that are unique to women. Resources also address health issues that affect both men and women, but that affect women differently. Includes Frequently Asked Questions at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Wisewoman resource link. Also includes sections on Diagnosis and Tests, Prevention and Risk Factors, Health Check Tools, Statistics and Research, and Patient Handouts.
(Accessed 02 March 2016)

Nemours Foundation. Teens Health. Food and Fitness.
Summary Note: Categories, such as, Total Well-Being, Healthy Weight, Nutrition Basics, Exercise, and Sports expand to respective subcategories.
(Accessed 28 March 2016)

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. ChooseMyPlate
Summary Note: Describes how to build a healthy eating style. Left navigation bar includes links to information about Fruits, Grains, Protein Foods, Dairy, and Food Oils.
(Accessed 29 March 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats – Leading Causes of Death
Summary Note: Number of deaths in the U.S. for the ten leading causes of death. Data are for the year 2013.
(Accessed 28 March 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats – Mens Health
Summary Note: Statistics on men’s health, such as, alcohol use, physical activity, smoking, obesity, hypertension, health insurance, and leading causes of death.
(Accessed 28 March 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats – Women’s Health
Summary Note: Statistics on women’s health, such as, alcohol use, physical activity, smoking obesity, hypertension, health insurance, and leading causes of death.
(Accessed 28 March 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Men’s Health Topics – A to Z
Summary Note: The CDC A to Z Index is a navigational and informational tool that makes the CDC dot Gov website easy to use. The topic index includes both plain language and scientific terms to meet the needs of consumers and health professionals.
(Accessed 02 March 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco Related Mortality
Summary Note: Includes Overview and statistics on Annual Cigarette Smoking-Related Mortality in the United States for specific diseases.
(Accessed 29 March 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office on Women’s Health. Women’s Health dot Gov. Women’s Health Topics – A to Z
Summary Note: As with the Men’s Health Topics – A to Z Index, the information source for the Women’s Health Topics – A to Z Index is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
(Accessed 02 March 2016)

 

Complementary and Integrative Medicine

Complementary and Integrative Medicine

Information Resources

By Evelyn Cunico, MA, MSLIS
Health Science Writing | Clinical Medical Searching
Posted February 28, 2016

What is Complementary and Integrative Medicine?

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), which is the Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research on complementary and integrative health approaches, defines complementary and integrative medicine.

NCCIH generally uses the term, complementary, for practices and products that are not mainstream. NCCIH uses the term, integrative, when complementary practices and products are incorporated into mainstream healthcare. For example, an integrative approach might be incorporating meditation into mainstream treatment for relief of symptoms in cancer patients.

What Complementary and Integrative Approaches Do Americans Use?

The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) is an annual survey in which tens of thousands of Americans answer questions about their health. Every five years, this survey includes a special section on complementary health approaches. The most recent data on complementary approaches were collected in 2012.

More than 30 percent of American adults and about 12 percent of children use healthcare approaches outside of mainstream medicine, according to key findings from NHIS 2012.

Natural Products, defined as dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals, were the most popular complementary health approach in the survey. Almost 18 percent of American adults and almost five percent of American children had used a dietary supplement other than vitamins and minerals in the past year.

Safety Information

Researchers at the NCCIH caution that natural does not necessarily mean safe. For example, dietary supplements are not regulated in the same way that prescription drugs are regulated. Dietary supplements do not require review or approval by the Food and Drug Administration before they are placed on the market.

To minimize the health risks of a non-mainstream treatment, consider these tips:

Start talking with your health care providers about complementary health approaches

If you are considering a complementary health approach, find out what the research says.

Be aware of things to know when selecting a complementary health practitioner .

Test Your Understanding

The NCCIH has produced interactive videos that you can follow at your own pace, to test your understanding of health related matters.

One video is called, Understanding Drug-Supplement Interactions.

Another video is called, Understanding Health News.

Be an Informed Consumer

Decisions about your health care are important, including decisions about whether to use complementary health products and practices. NCCIH has developed a series of Factsheets called, Be an Informed Consumer to help you get started.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this blog should not replace the medical advice of your doctor. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease, illness, or other health condition without first consulting with your medical doctor or other healthcare provider.

Selected Information Resources

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Are You Considering a Complementary Health Approach ?
Summary Note: Fact Sheet to assist you in making your decisions about complementary health products and practices.
(Accessed 15 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Be an Informed Consumer .
Summary Note: Includes sections on Issues to Consider, Consumer Tips, Safety Information, Choosing a Practitioner, About Dietary and Herbal Supplements, and Understanding Health News.
(Accessed 22 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Children and Complementary Health Approaches.
Summary Note: Discusses what you should do if you are considering a complementary approach for your child. Lists ten most common complementary health approaches among children.
(Accessed 25 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s In a Name?
Summary Note: Defines Alternative, Complementary, and Integrative. Lists ten most common complementary health approaches among adults.
(Accessed 24 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Five Tips: What Consumers Need to Know About Dietary Supplements.
Summary Note: Five basic things to know when considering dietary supplements.
(Accessed 25 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Four Tips: Start Talking With Your Health Care Providers About Complementary Health Approaches
Summary Note: Four tips to help you and your healthcare providers to start talking.
(Accessed 24 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health . Health.
Summary Note: Research-based information on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatments. All Health Topics from A to Z.
(Accessed 23 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Herbs at a Glance .
Summary Note: Series of brief fact sheets that provides basic information about specific herbs or botanicals, including common names, what the science says, and resources for more information.
(Accessed 23 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Paying for Complementary Health Approaches.
Summary Note: Includes information on Spending, Paying, and Questions You May Want to Ask Your Insurance Provider.
(Accessed 25 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Six Things to Know When Selecting a Complementary Health Practitioner
Summary Note: Six tips to help you to be as careful and thorough in your search for a complementary health practitioner as you are when looking for mainstream care.
(Accessed 24 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Terms Related to Complementary and Integrative Health
Summary Note: Brief descriptive introductions to common complementary and integrative health terms.
(Accessed 24 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Understanding Drug-Supplement Interactions. Test Your Knowledge.
Summary Note: Interactive 13-screen video on understanding drug-supplement interactions presents True or False statements and offers clickable Tell Me! Examples.
(Accessed 25 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Understanding Health News. Complementary Health Approaches in the News.
Summary Note: Interactive 12-screen video presents short news stories, then asks you, What Facts Are Missing? Includes Answers.
(Accessed 24 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Use of Complementary Health Approaches in the U.S.
Summary Note: Key findings from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) 2012
(Accessed 27 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Complementary and Integrative Medicine.
Summary Note: MedlinePlus Home Page for Complementary and Integrative Medicine Health Topics
(Accessed 23 February 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus Herbs and Supplements
Summary Note: A to Z list of dietary supplements and herbal remedies. Effectiveness, usual dosage, and drug interactions.
(Accessed 23 February 2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Health Benefits of “Green Spaces” for Kids

Health Benefits of “Green Spaces” for Kids

Information Resources

By Evelyn Cunico, MA, MSLIS
Posted July 09, 2015

Observational studies conducted by educational and scientific organizations have provided evidence that children who play in outdoor “green spaces,” such as school playgrounds with trees and other vegetation, neighborhood parks, and home backyards with grass, experience physical and psychological health benefits.

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) highlights cognitive health, with evidence that exposure to green spaces within and around schools may enhance the brain development of children.

Definitions

Cognitive abilities are defined as working memory and attentiveness. Working memory is defined as the ability to sort and retain short-term information, which is essential for learning skills, such as math and reading. “Greenness” is defined as any space with vegetation.

Cognitive Development

A study titled, “Green Spaces and Cognitive Development in Primary School Children,” published in the June 30, 2015 issue of PNAS , reports a link between exposure to green space at school and development of cognitive abilities.

Led by Payam Dadvand and other researchers at the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) in Barcelona, Spain, the study assessed the association between exposures to green space, captured using satellite data, and measures of cognitive development in nearly 2,600 schoolchildren.

Children were in the second to fourth grades, aged seven through ten years, from 36 primary schools, between January 2012 and March 2013.

Cognitive development was assessed using four repeated (every three months) computerized cognitive tests for each outcome of 12-month developmental change of working memory, superior working memory, and inattentiveness, according to the study abstract.

Researchers found that students with more exposure to green space experienced a five percent increase in working memory, a six percent increase in superior working memory, and a one percent reduction in inattentiveness, regardless of ethnicity, maternal education, and parental employment, according to a CREAL news report.

Still, proving a direct connection between green spaces and brain development is difficult. For example, researchers reported that school children with the highest improvement in cognitive skills had the lease exposure to traffic-related pollution (elemental carbon), which, itself, has been negatively linked to cognitive development.

Earlier Study

The Dadvand study cites an earlier article, titled, “At Home with Nature: Effects of “Greenness” on Children’s Cognitive Functioning,” by Nancy M. Wells, published in November 2000 in the journal Environment and Behavior.

The study that is described by Wells observed children who were living in a poor urban home environment and who then moved to an improved home environment with more greenness. Results indicated that children whose homes improved the most in terms of greenness following relocation tended to have the highest levels of cognitive functioning following the move, according to the Wells abstract.

Public Policy Action

Although it is not clear how connections between green spaces and cognitive abilities occur, evidence is increasing that contact with nature plays a central role in brain development, as well as in physical and psychological health.

In terms of public policy, encouraging our public officials to add trees and other vegetation to neighborhoods and school yards may be one solution to the challenge of how to improve the health of our children.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this blog should not replace the medical advice of your doctor. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease, illness, or other health condition without first consulting with your medical doctor or other healthcare provider.

Information Resources

Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL). “Green Spaces Influence the Cognitive Growth in Children,” CREAL News.
(Accessed 05 July 2015)

Dadvand, P., Nieuwenhuijsen, M.J., Esnaola, M., Forns, J., Basagana, X., Alvarez-Pedrerol, M., Rivas, I., Lopez-Vicente, M., De Castro Pascual, M., Su, J., Jerrett, M., Querol, X., and Sunyer, J. “Green Spaces and Cognitive Development in Primary Schoolchildren.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). 2015 June 30; vol.112(no.26):7937-42.
(PNAS abstract accessed 02 July 2015)

Dadvand, P., et al. [as above]
(PubMed abstract accessed 02 July 2015)

Feda, D.M., Seelbinder, A., Baek, S., Raja, S., Yin, L., and Roemmich, J.N. “Neighborhood Parks and Reduction in Stress among Adolescents: Results from Buffalo, New York.” Indoor and Built Environment: SAGE Journals. Published online before print May 20, 2014.
(Abstract accessed 19 June 2015)

Kuo, Frances E., and Faber-Taylor, Andrea. “A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence from a National Study.” American Public Health Association. American Journal of Public Health. 2004 September 94(9):1580-1586. [Authors with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]
(Full Text accessed 19 June 2015)

Wells, Nancy M. “At Home with Nature: Effects of “Greenness” on Children’s Cognitive Functioning.” Environment and Behavior . 2000 November; 32(6):775-795.
(Abstract accessed 03 July 2015)

 

Time to Talk Tips on Complementary Health Practices

Time to Talk Tips on Complementary Health Practices

Information Resources

By Evelyn Cunico, M.A., M.S.
Posted June 02, 2015

Background

“Time to Talk Tips” is one of the resources in the “Time to Talk Campaign,” managed by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Like any health-related decision, your decision about whether to use complementary health practices is central to your health and safety. Yet, information you find on the Web is not always specific to your illness or based on scientific evidence.

The NIH monthly consumer-friendly series, “Time to Talk Tips,” discusses specific health topics, together with the scientific evidence related to those topics. The series is designed to encourage you and your medical doctors or other healthcare providers to talk about any complementary practice that you are considering.

Examples of “Time to Talk Tips”

Each month, the series highlights a health topic. For example, topics include “Natural Products for the Flu and Colds,” and “What Consumers Need to Know about the Use of Dietary Supplements.”

The series includes simple tips, such as, taking vitamin C regularly does not reduce the likelihood of getting a cold, but may improve some cold symptoms, and some dietary supplements may interact with prescription or over-the-counter medications or other dietary supplements.

Sometimes, a health topic targets a specific health condition, such as “Six Things You Need to Know about Cancer and Complementary Health Approaches , or, “Five Things to Know about Sleep Disorders and Complementary Health Approaches.”

The consumer tips accompany topics found in the NCCIH Clinical Digest for Health Professionals, which is a monthly e-newsletter for medical doctors and other healthcare providers. The Clinical Digest addresses the state of science on complementary health practices for a variety of health conditions.

 How to Make “Time to Talk Tips” Work for You

The same topics that are found in the NCCIH Clinical Digest and the “Time to Talk Tips” are discussed in monthly Twitter chats, allowing you, as a member of the public, to interact with NCCIH Information Specialists, to ask questions, and to receive answers in real time.

The NCCIH “Time to Talk Tips” monthly series on complementary health practices was started in 2012. If you access the NCCIH website, “Time to Talk Tips on Complementary Health Practices,” on a regular basis, you can see the list of tips grow, from month to month.

Stay informed in the following ways:

Resources for Patients from the National Institutes of Health

Disclaimer: The information presented in this blog should not replace the medical advice of your doctor. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease, illness, or other health condition without first consulting with your medical doctor or other healthcare provider.

References

 National Institutes of Health. National Cancer Institute. Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM).
(Accessed May 24, 2015)

National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. NCCIH Clearinghouse.
(Accessed May 03, 2015)

 National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. NCCIH Clinical Digest.
(Accessed May 23, 2015)

National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. NCCIH E-Mail Us – Submit a Question or Comment.
(Accessed May 24, 2015)

 National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. NCCIH Live Chats with Experts.(Accessed May 24, 2015)

 National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. NCCIH Time to Talk Home Page.
(Accessed May 24, 2015)

 National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “NIH Launches Consumer-Friendly Tips Series on Complementary Health Practices.” NIH News. March 06, 2012.
(Accessed May 03, 2015)

 National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Time to Talk. “Time to Talk Tips.”
(Accessed May 24, 2015)

 National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).
(Accessed May 24, 2015)

 National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus.
(Accessed My 24, 2015)

 

Gardening Health and Safety

Gardening Health and Safety

Resources

By Evelyn Cunico, M.A., M.S.
Posted March 29, 2015

 

Gardening Health and Safety

Historically, gardening has offered many educational, physical, social, spiritual, and, sometimes, economic benefits.

Today, in order to enjoy gardening throughout a long and healthy life, you also need to know how to garden with health and safety as your first priorities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a website, called, “Gardening Health and Safety Tips.”

A related CDC website, called, “Measuring Physical Activity Intensity,” measures gardening as a “moderate intensity” activity.

Active people are less likely than inactive people to have colon cancer, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, or to be obese, according to the CDC

However, if you have been inactive, the CDC advises to start out physical activity with just a few minutes each day. Gradually build up time and intensity to the CDC recommended two and one-half hours per day. Vary your gardening activities, to keep up your interest and to broaden the range of benefits.

Safety First Tips

  • Dress to protect yourself from gardening tools and equipment. For example, wear sturdy shoes and long pants to prevent injury when using power tools.
  • Protect your hearing when using machinery. The CDC cautions that if you have to raise your voice to talk with someone who is an arm’s length away, the noise can be harmful to your hearing.
  • Limit your time in the heat. Schedule your gardening before 10:00 a.m. or after 2:00 p.m., when the sun’s heat is less intense.
  • Lower your risk for sunburn and skin cancer. Wear long sleeves, wide-brimmed hats, sun shades, and sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
  • Drink lots of fluids. Avoid drinking alcoholic or high-sugar-content liquids.
  • Take breaks often. Rest in shaded areas, so that your body’s thermostat has a chance to recover.
  • Read medication labels. If you take medications that make you drowsy, don’t climb ladders or do activities that may increase you risk for injury.
  • Be aware of children’s need for protection. Keep harmful chemicals, tools, and equipment out of children’s reach.

Cooperative Extension Services

Each state maintains Agricultural Research Services called, “Cooperative Extension Services,” within the State and National Cooperative Extension System (CES). Services are usually located in the College of Agriculture at State land-grant universities.

Some Cooperative Extension offices provide soil testing services for a fee. Extension offices are staffed by experts who can provide reliable information on gardening and nutrition, plants, insect and disease control, and health and safety, specific to your community and growing conditions.

To find background information about Extension, go to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

To find an interactive map, where you can find Extension information for your state, go to the Cooperative Extension System (CES) State and National Partners Map.

 For example, the University of Missouri Extension maintains a website called, “AgrAbility,” which offers “Health and Safety Tips for Gardeners with Disabilities.”

  • Respect pain. Pain is the body’s warning sign that something isn’t right. When a garden activity you are doing causes pain, STOP. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help.
  • If possible, use supports and assisting devices, but ONLY after consulting with your physician or therapist.
  • Go easy on repetitive tasks that can lead to injury. Trying to hoe just one more row or trying to pull just a few more weeds can cause joint inflammation, tenderness, and pain.
  • Switch often from pruning to less hand-intensive work. Grip-and-release movements, such as those used with pruning shears, lad to hand and wrist discomfort.
  • Add comfortable, non-slip padding to handles and carrying straps, so that they are thick enough to provide you with a comfortable grip. Carrying heavy objects like watering containers can cause hand and wrist injury, especially if handles cut off circulation.
  • Protect elbows and shoulders from excessive twisting and reaching. For example, if you garden from a sitting position, make sure your work surface is low enough that you won’t have to raise your hands above your shoulders.

Community Extension Master Gardeners

Master Gardeners are community volunteers who are trained by the Cooperative Extension System, to help Americans to plant, grow, and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables from gardens. Master Gardeners also answer wide-ranging questions about specific food and ornamental plants, and about gardening health and safety issues.

In addition to gardening information, the Extension Master Gardener website includes an A to Z clickable list, so that you may find a Master Gardener Program in your state.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this blog should not replace the medical advice of your doctor. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease without first consulting with your medical doctor or other healthcare provider.

References

 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Gardening Health and Safety Tips.”
(Accessed 20 March 2015)

 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Keep Your Cool in Hot Weather.”
(Accessed 23 March 2015)

 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Measuring Physical Activity Intensity.”
(Accessed 27 March 2015)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Water: Meeting Your Daily Fluid Needs.”
(Accessed 28 March 2015)

Cooperative Extension System. “State and National Partners Map.”
(Accessed 28 March 2015)

 Extension.  “Master Gardener.”
(Accessed 28 March 2015)

 New World Encyclopedia. “Gardening.”
(Accessed 25 March 2015)

 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). “Community Garden Checklist | Let’s Move!”
(Accessed 27 March 2015)

 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). National Institute of Food and Agriculture. “Extension.”
(Accessed 18 March 2015)

 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). “People’s Garden Initiative.”
(Accessed 27 March 2015)

 University of Missouri Extension. Agricultural Engineering Extension. “Health and Safety Tips for Gardeners with Disabilities.”
(Accessed 23 March 2015)