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Why Tuesday?

The Girlfriend's Guide to Health will be updated every Tuesday.... Stay tuned dear readers and let me rock your world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Something Blue

Hello dear grilfriends. Another week gone by. Are we smarter? Are we more fulfilled? Are we fashionable and self actualized? Hell no.... and yet we rage on. Last month I celebrated 14 years with the boy know as Brackman and last week I caught myself watching my wedding video over again.

Make no mistake, I am not a sentimentalist. YES, I have a heart, but I prefer to use it to pump blood to my organs. I believe in being nice (when warranted) and telling people how you feel about them (you know who you are). But I would argue that "Mushy" is really not my colour.

So there I sat reviewing the ceremony and the reception and found myself second guessing my fashion choices. My wedding dress WAS a large meringue.It had a sweetheart neckline and a skirt that Scarlett Ohara would have killed for...(Think civil war in white satin- not my finest fashion moment)

I had nine- yes count them NINE bridesmaids all of whom could have easily fit underneath the very large poof of a skirt that was my wedding dress. Of my nine bridesmaids- I think I am still in touch with three of these women.

It got me to thinking about relationships and how we as girlfriends age. How many of us still speak to the girls we went to high school with? How many of our "Besties" can we still tolerate as the years go by?

Perhaps my expectations are unreasonable, perhaps I want my friendships, like my Louboutins.... to last forever. But I could not help but wonder how many of us cybersisters have albums full of friends gone by?

Furthermore, is this such a bad thing? We change our hairstyles (thank heavens) over the years, we change our addresses and our jobs. As our roles in life change would it not be safe to assume that our interests and our relationships should shift focus as well?

Surely I was not the only one who still had a relationship with only 30% of her wedding party 14 years later? (incidentally- if the other 70% are out there- no hard feelings... do give me a call!)

And so I searched the evidence to see what the numbers told me. How many cybersisters like me had friends gone by?

According to an article in the New York Times, 30% of women reported being friends with their bridesmaids twenty years after their wedding.

Make no mistake- I have been very fortunate in my life to count on the company of other women. I don't necessarily think that these friendships have to last a lifetime. Sometimes I am just fortunate for the time we've had together.

It's not a bad thing- it's a part of life.

It turns out that friendships really are a big part of life.

Researchers are only now starting to pay attention to the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health. A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends.

A study published in Pain Journal in 2004 examined the relationship between social networks and pain threshold in 5234 adults between 62 and 80 years of age with osteoarthritis. The study showed that people who lacked close friends were twice as likely later in life to experience significant pain from their arthritis as those who had close friends.

Then there is the Nurses Health Study out of Harvard University. This is the mothership of all female research and a cohort of over 120,000 women ages 30-55. The study showed that women with close friendships were 20% less likely to develop cancer and mortality among widows with good friends was 30% less than among widows without good friends.

I could not help but wonder if this friendship effect was due to lifelong friends or perhaps could this be from friends one makes later in life?

Do I need to call up my locker partner from 1987 and take her to lunch in order to prevent my health from declining?

I know we have drifted apart over the years but I always thought this was a part of getting older. Habits change and interests drift. I never thought that letting my friendships lapse a little was as bad for my health as taking up smoking.

Yah. It's a little sad dear girlfriends but do not stress out.... ever the optimist, I figure the odds are still in my favour. After all, let's be real. I had NINE bridesmaids.... that by my estimation too many women for even the best of us to maintain. I'm still friends with three of them and as for one of them.... I'd give her my kidney if she needed it. That will have to be enough to let me live a little longer.

And so life goes on. Fashions can change and friends come and go. Even red soles will fade over time. All we can do is count our blessings and keep our shoes in their boxes. Love the ones around you and don't over accesorize. Yes, my cybersisters... the prophet has spoke. Now go forth and be fabulous.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tears for Fears

This past weekend I cycled the GranFondo Kelowna. Yes, out of sheer tenacity, I got on my bike for five hours and forty five minutes (5:46:37 to be exact) and pedalled for God and Country.

Make no mistake- I know it's ridiculous, but I looked (at least in my mind's eye) fabulous while doing it. And one should look good when one is subjected to the elements for essentially the length of three featured films. Yes, girlfriends, if you are going for a 6 hour bike ride make sure you appearance is legendary.

I had taken every step to make sure my bike matched my outfit. Bella, as my bike is called is black and red (and a real stunner). My outfit was of course black and white with a red and black helmet.

NO, I did not do my make up (but I did curl my eyelashes). But I wore kick ass sunglasses and a sense of inflated athleticism that my quadriceps were ill equipped to keep up with.

There we were the morning of the race.... the sun shining and me and Bella poised for greatness. The National anthem blared and I of course got a little teary eyed as I stood at the starting line waiting for my moment of glory before I embarked on 120km of the road ahead.

I could not help but wonder why I was so emotional. I can understand if this was an end of season sale or McQueen's farewell collection, but a bike race? Why was I tearing up over a road race?

And then it hit me. I always cry when I begin a race. Marathons, triathlons and now even bike races reduce me to a chick in a Terms of Endearment moment.

I cry like a girl and then I race.... like a girl. Nails polished, outfit matching, tears streaming.

The thing is, I am actually NOT a cryer. Maybe I was as a kid.... but as an adult- I try to confine my tears to the shower- where I don't mess up my makeup and I'm soaking wet already.

So here I was- before A race all EMOTIONAL singing my national anthem. What the HELL???

Was this like when you go to the doctor's office as a kid to have your vaccinations and wind up crying BEFORE the shot and not after?

Truth be told, I was that child. I remember Dr. Goldberg, my beloved pediatrician giving me nearly every vaccine with me hiding underneath the examining table. (the man had excellent aim)

Why do we cry in anticipation of an event?

It turns out that such emotional tears have been shown to be biochemically different than tears that are shed, say over pain. Tears shed from emotional experiences tend to contain higher levels of adreno-corticoid hormone and prolactin as well as other substances such as potassium.

William H. Frey II, a biochemist at the University of Minnesota, proposed that people feel "better" after crying, due to the elimination of hormones associated with stress, specifically adrenocorticotropic hormone.

Maybe this was the body's way of preparing the brain for a perceived painful event.

Could my pre-race snivelling be a way for me to relieve the stress of the upcoming road ahead? Could this be my hypothalamus's way of literally crying for help?

Wasn't the outfit enough to get me through the ride (never mind the months of training)?

It appears that no, unfortunately no amount of fabulous cycling gear was going to band-aid the fact that perhaps pre-race at least... I'm a cryer.

Here I go dear girlfriends.... Next month I will ride across this great nation of our on Bella- from Vancouver to Halifax- to raise money for Type 2 Diabetes. (feel free to donate to the cause my cybersisters). Yes, there will be a score of fabulous cycling outfits for all 21 days of the ride....but most important of all, there will of course be Kleenex.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Choice Words Indeed

Yesterday I spent 10 minutes waiting in line watching a woman order coffee. God bless the child as they say, my dear girlfriends, but she literally took that long to decide between a Latte, an Americano and a Cappuccino. There was the mandatory explanation from the barista about which coffee was what and thereafter ensued the decision process.

Let’s be clear- I was desperate for caffeine and not in a hurry so I waited patiently and observed her hemming and hawing. Furthermore- ever in search of a lesson and a blog topic- I thought I should align my chakras and observe lest I let a moment of inspiration slip away.

And so it got me to thinking about the paradox of choice. Yes, my first impulse with this poor woman in front of me was to grunt (only in my head of course) and stand behind her in judgment over her inability to decide on a god damn coffee. Blame the caffeine withdrawal or blame my overinflated sense of knowing exactly what I want at all times….

There was a part of me that could see where she was coming from…. Low fat, nonfat, full fat. Grande, tall, Venti and then the coffee itself…. To make matters worse, the person at the cash register was really no help. She further contributed to the problem by pleasantly asking this poor lady if she would like anything to eat.

REALLY? Poor lady can’t decide on what to drink. Do we need to really challenge her further? I fully realize this is part of the fast food culture… but COME ON! Give a sister a break.

What has happened to our decision making process? Why does it take us so long to pick and choose?

I am known by those who know, love and tolerate me as decisive. This is perhaps why I am perhaps so baffled by those who cannot make a decision.

Never before have we had so many options before us. The world really is our oyster- hell it’s a freakin oyster bar. And yet- we are often paralyzed by this paradox of choice.

There are a multitude of choices facing us each day my cybersisters. Should this not be a task then that we strive to master? Wouldn’t life be so much more serene if we did not spend precious minutes wasted on what coffee we wanted? Let’s be frank… life is going to disappoint us anyway. I did not have the heart to tell this woman in front of me in line that the coffee she so painstakingly spent 10 minutes picking out was inevitably NOT going to be what she wanted anyways…. None of us are ever really satisfied, are we? So why then do we try so hard to make just the right choice?

Permit me if I may to use an example… Let’s take fashion (oh please, can we?). This fall I will inevitably search for the perfect new frock- the ONE, so to speak that will attempt to make my life complete…. Forgive me, dear cybersisters…. I must to shop… it is how I bring meaning to my otherwise shallow and empty life….

So there I will be, perusing the magazines trying to make the perfect choice… Yes, you guessed it, I have already “done the deed” and found just the right one… but nonetheless… my choice has been made. I will buy said dress and I will be complete. No? No.

The dress is just a dress and eventually I’ll get tired of it and move on to a pair of shoes or a blouse or even a power suit…. My point is that why spend hours in the pursuit or the hunt or the back and forth in my brain only to move on and have the item up for bids eventually fall short?

Turns out… decisions have a point.

Three regions in the brain are primarily responsible for making a decision. The anterior cingulated cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex as well as the prefrontal cortex all have been shown to “light up” on neuroimaging scans (PET SCANS) during the decision making process. Interestingly, the prefrontal cortex actually begins to become more highly developed during our late teens (just about the time we decide what to do with our lives???).

A study published in SCIENCE looked at PET scans of people making decisions and found distinctive patterns of neural activation in these three key regions depending on whether decisions were made on the basis of personal choice or following directions from someone else.

Several studies show that patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex have difficulty making any advantageous decisions.

A further study have shown that people with long term drug addictions (particularly narcotics) have alterations in their neuroimaging in the prefrontal cortex and in the anterior cingulated cortex – the two areas involved in decision making. This is one of the reasons it is believed that their decision-making is altered. Whether this is cause or effect of their drug addiction remains to be determined.

Finally, a study published in 2000 in Psychology and Aging looked at how we make decisions as we age.

Participants ages 18 to 83 were given several two-option tasks and asked to decide between them. Later they were asked to review their decisions and comment on how they felt. This is sort like a “decision debrief”.

In each situation the older participants (ages 64-83) had significantly more positive attitudes to their decisions. Furthermore, the older adults could less often recall the alternate option (the one they did not chose)
Younger adults (ages 18-22) were significantly more variable in their review. A significant amount of them tended to remember both choices and often favour the alternative.

The study concluded that as we age our brains tend to distort the memory in favour of options we do choose rather than those we don’t. In other words…. When we are young- the grass is often greener. As we age… we like our side of the fence, just fine thanks.

Back to me- yes girlfriends- it does come back to me- maybe my brain was primed for my decisiveness or maybe I was getting older and selectively favouring the options I chose. Its an interesting debate that I am sure many have. I chose to believe I’m just born decisive and just like my decision to fill my life with fabulous footwear… That’s my prerogative.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Be Still My Heart

Do you remember dear girlfriends what it is like to sit still? I don’t mean sitting in a movie or on a plane to some far away fabulous place. I mean the kind of sitting still we did back in high school or university where we sat and paid attention while our brains were little sponges.

I ask this because I have found myself sitting in a lot of meetings these days and I may have in fact diagnosed myself with Attention Deficit.

Sitting has always been a challenge for me.

Even a movie or poolside or heaven provide front row at New York Fashion week.

I am talking about sitting still in a lecture hall lights dimmed in a suit and heels trying to maintain consciousness while a POWERPOINT presentation flashes on the screen and a man (or a surprisingly masculine woman) explains the intricacies of human physiology and what happens when body parts give up the good fight.

I have seen more blue power point slides in the month of June than Steve Jobs ever thought possible.

Let me break it down for you….. I am good for about an hour. I start fresh, coffee in hand; suit crisp and reading glasses demurely perched on my nose.

I am sporting a “style meets science” kind of look and I am all ears…

Sixty minutes later, my coffee needs refilling and my glasses have smudges that won’t go away with a simple breath of air and tablecloth sweep. I am now beginning to fidget. I check my nails. I inspect my cuticles and I readjust whatever rings I have on.

Ninety minutes in… I have to pee, my brain is shutting down and I have turned my attention to the Vanity Fair magazine I brought as a back up plan of good measure.

One hundred minutes down and my stomach is growling, my bladder is bursting and my skirt is wrinkles. I am shifting in my seat like an eight year old in church. My VF magazine is long gone with my attention and I scope out the room to see that most people are in various stages of attention decay.

I marvel at those people who are still sitting erect, perched at the ends of their seat wrapped up in it all as if things only have just begun.

By two hours in I’d sell my mother for a “refreshment break” and I am now scouting out the exit signs like an FBI agent.

Up on the podium, the speaker, Dr SMARTY-PANTS is talking about a mouse that was genetically engineered to not make insulin.

He is speaking English and I went to Medical School. My IQ is pretty respectable and I have a decade and a half of scientific training. But as of this minute…. I AM DONE. He might as well been lecturing in Greek and I might as well be a Playboy Bunny.

I don’t mean to “diss” the Bunnies but let’s be honest…. Playboy University has a different set of entry criteria.

Needless to say… the knowledge is no longer happening. I am trying to focus and get my head in the game, but I am lost. I pull out some paper and a pen and start making lists of things to do today,

I’ve gone from fabulous scientific to crispy fried brain in the span of 150 minutes.

What happened? If I do the math, I used to be good at sitting in lectures. Between grades one and twelve I spent a lot of time sitting on my ass brain engaged, eyes wide opened.

I’ve spent decades sitting filling up my brain studying for love and loyalties and now I can’t make it past 90 minutes without a distraction and some pretty pictures in a magazine.

Turns out there are two different types of what is referred to as attention span. The first, called FOCUSED ATTENTION is a short-term response to any stimulus that attracts attention. It is usually very brief with a maximum span of about 8-10 seconds. This is often thought of as a distraction- a ringing telephone or a car horn that grabs a person’s attention and requires a specific response.

The person only requires a concise reaction to whatever the stimulus. It is likely then that the person will look away and return to whatever they were doing
Before the distraction.

The second type of attention is SUSTAINED ATTENTION. This is a level of attention that requires a consistent attention over a period of time.

Most adults last about 20 minutes although they can choose to repeatedly focus on the same thing. This is referred to as an ability to renew attention and usually allows people to “pay attention” to things that last for longer than the 20 minutes at hand.

A study of 2600 children showed that early exposure to television decreases a child’s attention span later in development. Neil Postman, in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death comments how the Internet has contributed to a decline in our attention spans.

UCLA professor, Gary Small used an MRI scan to observe the brain activity of six volunteers, three web veterans and three who had rarely used the Internet. The professor found that veteran web users had developed "distinctive neural pathways” that were not found among the non-web users. These same neural pathways are linked to attention span and task oriented behaviour.

Blame it on the Sesame Street I watched as a kid or blame it on the Internet sites I use as an adult…. My attention is waning and my neural pathways are blazing a new frontier.

Am I worried? I have learned dear girlfriends that the world can be a big scary place if you pay too much attention…. As luck would have it that I can’t sit still long enough to be really afraid.