The Smartest Kids in the World

The Smartest Kids in the World

I’ve been reading and walking around with the book, “The Smartest Kids in the World”, and several people have stopped me with questions about it. They were curious about the pitfalls of the American model of education, and were looking for suggestions for educating our kids.  I recommended the book to each of them as a great summary of the deficiencies in our educational system, and a comparison with schools in countries that are educational superpowers (Finland, Poland, and South Korea).  And, perhaps more importantly, I recommended the book because it is a compelling read, as she’s found that children who consistently test highly in cognitive tests come from countries that have three things: the best teachers and an elevated view of the teaching profession; parents who focus on things that actually matter to their child’s education (and those things surprisingly don’t include PTA bake sales), and kids who understand the importance of education.  

Image from NPR.org 

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The Important Facts About Lyme Disease

The Important Facts About Lyme Disease

I recently went camping with my daughter, and I think we experienced a plague of ticks.  Every walk or adventure was followed by a thorough tick check, and we found more ticks than I care to recall. So I spent several days thinking about and researching Lyme Disease and how best to avoid it.  What I found was pretty encouraging: Lyme Disease is caused by a bacterium, not the tick itself, and the bacterium of interest is usually only found in deer ticks or western black-Legged ticks. Not all ticks carry the bacterium, and those that do must be attached at least 24 hours to transmit the bacteria to humans.  So wear long sleeves, tuck your long pants into long socks, do a tick-check every night, and rest assured that you’ll know everything you need to know to avoid Lyme Disease after reading this.

Image by Seth Noreman. Via Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/snoreman17/with/8158330746/

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When Exercising Hurts Your Knees, Exercise More

When Exercising Hurts Your Knees, Exercise More

My husband and his buddies are a brace-wearing, Bengay-using Band of Brothers who all hobble away after a soccer game, spending the next day or two nursing their aches. My husband’s hobbling is often due to his knees, and we’ve wondered whether he should explore treatments for his knee pain.  We’ve considered everything from corticosteroid injections to hyaluronic injections; from aspirin to acupuncture. We wondered if there were non-surgical, non-pharmacological treatments he could use to ease his pain. Little did I know that there was a world of data linking exercise to decreased knee pain.  But not just any kind of exercise.  Researchers have examined the abundance of clinical studies out there, and they concluded that knee pain was alleviated the most when an exercise regimen was done daily, done progressively, and included knee extensions, squats, stationary cycling, static quadriceps, active straight leg raise, and step up and step down exercises combined with flexibility exercises.  Following this type of exercise regime has been shown to significantly decrease knee pain, with that decrease being sustained over several years.   So don’t let knee pain keep you off the field.  Just make sure you’re incorporating the right types of exercises, and soon your hobbling days will be numbered.

Image: © Nevit Dilmen found at Wikimedia commons

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Stress and Your Child: How our arguments affect our children

Stress and Your Child: How our arguments affect our children

As parents, we do everything we can to create a nurturing and supportive environment for our children.  We make sure they eat vegetables and we take them to the library.  We try to buy organic, we read nutrition labels, and we transport them back and forth to practices. But do we think about the stress that we cause through our relationships with our spouses or significant others? The impact of marital discord and arguing has been measured, and the results are not pretty.  Observing parental discord has been shown to create cognitive, emotional, and health issues in children.  How?  Well, stress itself is known to have immensely negative effects on kids.  Studies have shown that adverse experiences in childhood result in increased levels of smoking, severe obesity, physical inactivity, depressed mood, suicide attempts, alcoholism, use of illicit drugs, ischemic heart disease, cancer, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, history of hepatitis or jaundice, and poor self-rated health when those children grow up. The stressful experiences measured in those studies were extreme and included stresses such as sexual, mental and physical abuse.  But follow-up studies have focused on the impact of parental arguing on children and results point to marital discord being more influential in creating adverse experiences for children than divorce or parental separation, household mental illness, or household substance abuse.  In fact, parental arguing has been shown to lead to poor behavior and aggression, social and cognitive competence, and depression and suicidal tendencies in children. And if that isn’t enough to alarm you, a recently published study shows that not only can infants hear and sense anger, but also their responses to anger depend on the level of marital harmony in the household.  These results imply that our actions can lead our children, even during infancy, to become sensitive to anger and stress when they are subjected to it more frequently.  Pretty scary stuff.  But the research isn’t all bad news. Studies show that it’s not disagreement, but the open display of conflict, that is the concern. Something to keep in mind when discussing hot topics with your significant other…

Boxing Gloves picture by Generationbass.com

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When It Comes to Soft Drinks, Less Is More

When It Comes to Soft Drinks, Less Is More

We’ve all heard about Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to ban large drinks.  Well, he may have based that on a newly published clinical study by Barrio-Lopez et al. The study, published last month in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that the consumption of sugary drinks was correlated with metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and waist circumference.

What is metabolic syndrome, you may ask? Metabolic syndrome is defined as “a combination of medical disorders that, when occurring together, increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes”.   So consider it a precursor to diabetes and heart disease. 

Exactly what does the research show?  The study tracked a) the consumption of sugary drinks, b) waist circumference, and c) medications for high blood pressure and triglycerides for more than 8,000 people over a 6-year period.  They found that increased consumption of sugary drinks was associated with a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, abdominal obesity and hypertriacylglycerolaemia (or elevated triglycerides).  In addition, people who increased their consumption of sugary drinks the most had a greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome than those who decreased their consumption. Lastly, participants with the highest increase in sugary drink consumption gained more weight (approximately 2.9 lb) than the people with the largest decrease in consumption during the 6-year study.   These results are corroborated by a study done in 2004, which concluded that “higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with a greater magnitude of weight gain and an increased risk for development of type 2 diabetes in women, possibly by providing excessive calories and large amounts of rapidly absorbable sugars”. 

What’s the take-home? There are negatives to consuming large amounts of sugar-containing carbonated sodas and fruit-flavored sugar-sweetened drinks.  So perhaps we should drink more seltzer…

Image by Alex Dodge via Wikimedia Commons

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Harnessing The Power of Negative Thinking

Harnessing The Power of Negative Thinking

“ ‘Let me kiss it and make it well’.  The truth is that unless Mom had a mouthful of iodine, she probably wasn’t going to help”.  That’s one of the first lines in Bob Knight’s new book “The Power of Negative Thinking: An unconventional approach to achieving positive results”.  And yet the book is an uplifting read that leaves you feeling empowered about coaching, mentoring and parenting.  Bobby Knight’s approach to coaching (and life) is one of using negativity to produce a positive outcome.  He uses a glass-half-empty mentality to help his players recognize obstacles, and then expects his players to be disciplined and hard-working while addressing and removing those obstacles.  The end result is the use of negativity to identify your weaknesses so that you can correct them before your opponent can exploit them.  And his suggestions are relevant whether your opponent is a basketball team or the pitfalls of life.  His suggestions are also supported by clinical studies that show a) experts succeed partly because of their ability to identify and correct mistakes before they happen, b) those who are disciplined and cautious live longer, and c) success is dependent upon volition, as well as motivation and ability, all of which are tenets of Coach Knight’s approach.   In the end, both science and Coach Knight’s years of experience support the power of negative thinking, and suggest a potential place for negativity in parenting and mentoring.  

Image by S nova (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGlass_Half_Full_bw_1.JPG

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Here Comes Spring … And Seasonal Allergies

Here Comes Spring … And Seasonal Allergies

Spring is upon us, and that brings popping tulips, blooming buds, and, for some, horrible seasonal allergies.  My daughter’s allergy symptoms include swollen and itchy eyes, wheezing, headaches, and general aches, so Spring often means several days of misery for us.  But last Spring we used an electronic neti pot to wash out her nasal passages, and her symptoms improved.  What’s the science behind nasal irrigation, and does it really work? Surprisingly, this is one subject where the data are consistent: nasal irrigation is known to decrease allergy symptoms, decrease the need for allergy medications, and to decrease histamine concentrations in the nose.  All positive things when dealing with a major case of seasonal allergies. 

Image by Bill Harrison, via Flickr

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How To Win At Parenting and Influence Our Kids

How To Win At Parenting and Influence Our Kids

Our son is in middle school now, and it’s been quite a transition.  Our respectful and happy little boy has become a moody and unpredictable pre-teen.  So I’ve been doing a lot of reading, trying to answer the question “what can I do to connect with my pre-teen?”  My book of choice at the moment is  “Getting to Calm” by Laura Kastner and Jennifer Wyatt.  It combines parenting advice with science, and is a great resource for those who want to understand why kids behave as they do and how to parent them through the challenging pre-teen and teen years.  But I also compared the recommendations in this book with those in recent parenting studies (I am a consummate scientist after all) to see how consistent their suggestions were.  Amazingly, those studies came to the same conclusions that Kastner and Wyatt did: the most influential thing we can do to parent pre-teens is to build and maintain strong and connected relationships with them using an authoritative parenting style; exercise control thoughtfully and judiciously; be empathetic of your child’s feelings and developmental needs; communicate effectively so that your child is left feeling considered and respected.  Such relationships have an enduring influence on their choices in friends, their actions, and their behavior.  Parental involvement (such as asking questions, voicing opinions and keeping tabs on what they’re doing) is also important, but its influence is not as enduring as that of strong family relationships. Alarmingly, the influence of their friends increases as they age, while our influence decreases.  So keep that in mind when planning playdates, parties and sleepovers.

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Wear Your Jacket and Keep Your Nose Warm

Wear Your Jacket and Keep Your Nose Warm

How many of us have argued with our kids about wearing jackets when it’s cold out? How many of us have given up, thinking there’s probably no link between being cold and catching colds? Well, demographic studies have shown that the incidence of colds and flu increases during the winter [9, 21,23], and clinical studies show that cold exposure is associated with increased incidence and transmission of colds [1] and other diseases [7, 14, 15].  Why would temperature affect our ability to catch colds, since colds are caused by viruses? Recent studies suggest that the seasonality of colds is based on your nose [9]. Yes, your nose.  When healthy, the nose is an important gateway to your lungs and is responsible for clearing out viruses.  In cold weather, though, the nose has been shown to function less efficiently [9,16], which is thought to increase our susceptibility to cold viruses. Exposing the body to cold temperatures also impairs nasal function [1,17].  So there is a scientific link between cold climates, cold exposure and more colds.  Keeping our nose warm during winter months may be a difficult, but we can keep our bodies warm by wearing a jacket and bundling up.  So the verdict is: your kids should wear their jackets! But I'd suggest putting a sign on the door reminding them, so that you don't have to stress out about it; stress increases your likelihood of catching a cold [3].

​Image by USCPSC.  www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml12/12033.html

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Compression Garments: Professional Athletes Are Wearing Them

Compression Garments: Professional Athletes Are Wearing Them

J. R. Smith (the New York Knicks shooting guard) and my husband probably don’t have much in common, but one thing they do is that they both wear compression garments. My husband has been wearing a compression sock because he suffered a severe tear in his calf muscle a month ago while playing basketball, an injury that we were told happens mostly in those over 40.   While researching that injury and how to prevent it, I came across an article touting the benefits of compression garments.  I also started noticing the number of professional athletes (like J. R. Smith) who wear compression leggings or socks.  So I did a little digging, and what I found was intriguing.  In clinical studies, compression garments have been shown to improve blood flow to and oxygenation of the muscles, decrease exercise-induced muscle damage and soreness, decrease after-exercise swelling, and to improve muscle recovery after exercise.  All things that become important as we age while trying to stay active and injury-free.  So the next time you’re watching an NBA game, you may want to ask yourself if you’d benefit from wearing compression leggings.

Image by Gary Storck. 

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