Thirteen for ’13

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Diana Wolfe of MAC Fitness leads a Zumba workout on the Strand back in June. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)
Diana Wolfe of MAC Fitness leads a Zumba workout on the Strand back in June. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

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Let’s peek into the crystal balls of a few health experts out there and see what trends in health will draw our attention in the year to come. Although some trends are new and others tried and true, their popularity shows no sign of fading in 2013.

Based on results from an extensive worldwide survey this year, fitness fads that may be on the way out include stability balls, Pilates and spinning, according to Walter Thompson of the American College of Sports Medicine. The Affordable Care Act , a.k.a. Obamacare, was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in June; consumers, providers and insurance companies are all looking for new ways to interface with the new reality.

Our first trend for 2013 is wellness coaching. The personal coach encourages, guides and supports clients in goal-oriented elements of behavioral change and disease prevention, whether one on one or one on two or three to keep costs down. Now fitness trainers are educating themselves in accredited programs and going after official certifications as the experts they are. Although the survey said this has dipped slightly in the past year, fitness training should remain strong and job opportunities for these professionals should continue to expand.

High on the list is the high-energy workout Zumba, described as really hard work but a lot of fun by friends who’ve tried it. I hope to try it soon, as soon as I can summon up the energy! Other dance workouts, from belly to Bollywood, remain popular as an enjoyable way to stay fit.

No one can call yoga a fad. This ancient and perennially popular practice has many forms and variations. It seems every small town has several studios. More and more of us are jumping on the yoga bandwagon for its mind-body benefits.

A rising trend is the appeal of outdoor activities, a growing area of interest for fitness enthusiasts who want to get out of the gym and hit the trail, slope or waterway. Great as a fun thing to do with family or friends as well, this category includes camping, hiking, mountaineering, boating and team sports.

Flu shot or not?

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A U.S. Army soldier administers a flu shot last month at an Army base in Wiesbaden, Germany. (Photo by Flickr user USACE Europe District/used under Creative Commons license)
A U.S. Army soldier administers a flu shot last month at an Army base in Wiesbaden, Germany. (Photo by Flickr user USACE Europe District/used under Creative Commons license)

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The flu has arrived. Although last winter’s flu season was a relatively mild one, this year may be worse. The big swine flu scare of 2009, with its media-fueled fear frenzy that made it a popular topic of cocktail party conversation, seems all too recent, and any kind of influenza — with its severe discomforts and risks of complications — can happen to any of us.

FirstCare Medical in Highland reports the first two confirmed cases of flu and recommends that anyone with “flu symptoms of moderate to severe intensity see their physician, especially if they have underlying medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes.” And they say to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible. Roberta Hayes on the redhookmoms listserv (for the uninitiated, listservs are e-mail chains) reports that her young son Gavin tested positive with a nasal swab even though he had gotten the vaccine, and was prescribed Tamiflu.

Ways to fend off the flu remain hotly debated. Whether you look at the vaccine as quackery or a sensible precaution, it is the most commonly recommended way to prevent the flu, according to government agencies and many health professionals.

Although vaccinations can begin in early fall or as soon as it becomes commercially available, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that it is still helpful to get it now. Peak flu time is January and February, though it can occur through May. It takes the body two weeks to develop the antibodies after getting the vaccine.

Each year virus strains are examined by the CDC, along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and other agencies in the country and around the world. The three most prevalent are then combined in the vaccine. In this year’s vaccine one is from last year along with two new ones.

Garlic, anyone?

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The Roman writer Horace hated garlic. He associated the odor with vulgarity. Homer, on the other hand, has Ulysses attribute the virtues of yellow garlic to his escape from being turned into a pig by Circe. De Candolle, in his 1883 treatise on the Origin of Cultivated Plants, wrote that the plant originated in southwest Siberia and was carried to southern Europe. Dumas has described the air of Provence as being “particularly perfumed by the refined essence of this mystically attractive bulb.”

Through the centuries, garlic has been touted as curing or preventing most of what can ail us humans. It’s been variously identified a diaphoretic (something that brings on a good sweat), diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic. Its antiseptic qualities have been long recognized. It was believed useful against leprosy and smallpox. It was the principal ingredient in the ‘Four Thieves’ Vinegar,’ said to have been used successfully against the plague at Marseilles in 1722. Apparently four thieves confessed that while protected by the liberal use of a garlic infusion, they plundered the dead bodies of plague victims and lived to tell about it.

Syrup of garlic was used to treat asthma, hoarseness, coughs, chronic bronchitis and most other lung disorders. A clove or two of garlic, pounded with honey and taken two or three nights successively, was supposed to be good for rheumatism. (Then, of course, there’s its efficacy against vampires.)

More currently, garlic has been promoted as a cholesterol-lowering agent, but a recent study, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NCCAM, testing this effect came up with interesting results.

Profile of a psychic

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(photo by Violet Snow)
(photo by Violet Snow)

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“We are all psychic, even animals,” says Rose, a psychic, sitting in her storefront on Mill Hill Road in Woodstock. “We all have intuition, a sixth sense. Most women find it during their childrearing years, when the mothering instinct kicks in. If men would tune in to their psychic abilities more, it would be good for the world.”

Rose, a fifth-generation psychic, learned her craft from her mother on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She has been practicing for 32 years, since the age of 15. In addition to her intuitive abilities, she uses a variety of tools, from crystals to tarot cards, to understand her clients’ problems and provide them with advice.

The number-one issue they want help with is love. Money is second, she says. Health is third, then family. “It freaks me out how people put money in front of blood relations.”

Rose reads auras, she says, seeing layers of colors around the client’s body and sensing the attendant energy. “From the aura, I learn about their insecurities, fears, challenges, strengths, weaknesses.”

She pauses, looking at me. “Your aura is very bright. You’re connected to your psychic abilities, and you’re very spiritual. But it’s a little darkened around the edges, as if your energy is being slightly drained.”

Rose can occasionally read minds, pick up names, dates, places, events that have unfolded in their lives. “I can channel, too,” she says. “Ancestors, people we’ve loved or who’ve loved us. The real loves come through.”

To help couples communicate, she does soulmate readings, in the manner of a therapist or marriage counselor. “Men and women are the same species, but they’re different mammals. They are born with different chemicals in their bodies.”

She hands me a long quartz crystal and tells me to warm it in my hands. When I give it back, she holds onto it and starts talking about me.

“You have two children?”

“One.”

Healthy winter skin

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Photo by Flickr user aearlsnd/used under Creative Commons license
Photo by Flickr user aearlsnd/used under Creative Commons license

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When you were a kid, did anyone ever tell you, “Your epidermis is showing?” Maybe you looked down at yourself trying to figure out what that was, before you learned it meant the outer layer of your skin and it was all over.

Although less of it shows in the winter, you may want it to look the best it can. Even the parts that are covered with sweaters and warm pants should be comfortable, supple and free of itches or cracks. Many people, from dermatologists to experts in natural supplements, have opinions on what can help skin ravaged by winter air, whether the cold outdoor kind or heated indoor, both of which take a toll on our tender but strong outermost layer.

At about eight pounds, give or take, the skin is the largest organ in our body, although as a 22-square-foot, tissue-thin layer that covers us, it hardly resembles the bloody masses we imagine our internal organs to be. But an organ it is, as essential for life as heart or brain. Many burn victims who lose much of their skin do not survive. When I worked in a hospital 20 years ago, patients with more than 50 percent of it burned didn’t usually make it. But with modern treatments 90 percent body-burn patients can survive, per the American Burn Association.

This amazing organ protects our body’s interiors from sunlight, heat, cold, chemicals and infection. It is waterproof. It is insulator, protector and shield. It is conduit and translator as the brain’s interface with the world, and like the eyes, part of our sex appeal. It contains natural antibiotics and is an important part of the immune system. As part of the endocrine system it makes vitamin D, which is actually a hormone that helps calcium make our bones strong.

Although it changes in structure and thickness over different parts of the body, the skin has three layers. That epidermis — what shows — is very thin and constantly renewing itself. Underneath is the dermis, with sebaceous glands for perspiration and elastin and collagen for flexibility and strength. The innermost layer is the subcutaneous fat layer, or subcutis, which helps cushion, protect and insulate us.