by Medi ca
Back to Nature How getting outdoors can recharge your well-being PAGE 6
Virtual visits: A safe, easy way to get care PAGE 5 Listen up: Discover the wide (and free!) world of podcasts PAGE 14
Your health. Brought to life.
I NS I GHT S
I love being outdoors. It was easy when my kids were young — they wanted to be outside, and I wanted to be there with them (when they let me). Now that they’re grown and out on their own, I need to be more purposeful about getting outside. So I make it a point to walk in the mornings, of course with a cup of coffee in hand. I enjoy the occasional bike trip on our great Minnesota trails. I always enjoy time in the yard (even pulling weeds). And everyone who knows me knows I’m always up for a round of golf. These activities are forms of connection for me — to the rhythms of the day, to the change of seasons, and to nature itself. I find that the connections ground me and help open my eyes to possibility. You’ll find the idea of connection woven throughout the articles in this issue. In our cover story, we show how getting outdoors and connecting with nature can boost your physical and mental health. Elsewhere, we look at how forging a bond with a pet can have similar effects. (I could tell you stories about our dogs, but will save those for another issue.) And we dive into a piece that explores how you can join the millions of Americans who listen to podcasts. That’s just a small sample of what you’ll find in this issue. I hope you enjoy what you read, and that you find inspiration to renew your own connections — or maybe even form some new ones. Connection and the seeds of possibility
President & CEO
Natural Healing Looking to boost your physical and mental health? Get out into the great outdoors.
Contents 5. Starting Point Virtual health care: What you need to know. 14. Living Well Getting started with podcasts. 16. Focus on Fitness Resistance bands to build strength.
18. Knife + Fork Fresh produce tips.
The Power of Pets Animals can bring joy to your life — no matter what your age. Here’s what to consider before you get one.
22. The Final Word How to stay safe in the summer heat and sun.
Garden Fresh Summer’s here, and the time is right for fresh produce. These tips will help you get the most out of it.
ALSO! Find a fresh produce recipe on page 20.
Cut the Clutter Four ways to boost your mood and make your home safer.
Many studies show that household clutter pumps up your levels of cortisol, which is the hormone that causes stress. It also can boost anxiety and lead to sleep problems. With that in mind, here are four ways to make your living space a safer, happier, and healthier place. And remember, you can always ask a friend or family member to lend a hand. Plus there are community service organizations that can help.
Clear the floor Keep books, baskets, and boxes off the floor. Tuck away electrical cords so you don’t trip. And bemindful of where you place area rugs— they can be a tripping hazard. If you have area rugs, make sure they have non-slip pads. Do a deep cleaning Tidy up and vacuum weekly to help stop dust, mold, and pet hair from building up.
Keep items within reach Move your daily dishes, cups, and pots and pans to the lower shelves in your cupboards. That way you won’t need to use a stool or chair to reach them.
Get rid of expired meds Clear out expired medicines. But don’t flush them down the toilet. Medications can build up in wastewater and potentially pollute water sources. Tip: Many pharmacies will dispose of expired medications for you.
Virtual Health Care WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
What is virtual care? It’s an online visit with your doctor or other health care provider. You use a smartphone, tablet, or computer to get a diagnosis, treatment plan, and even a prescription. You can do it from home by using Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, and other video meeting software. Best of all, you can still have a personal connection with your provider. How common is it? Virtual care has taken off in a big way, and there are many reasons why. You don’t have to travel to your provider’s office. You don’t have to worry about catching illnesses at the doctor’s office. Plus you can often get appointments outside traditional business hours — sometimes 24 hours a day. How do I make a virtual visit appointment? Check your Medica plan to find out if you have virtual visit coverage. If so, a Personal Health Advocate can help you find a provider. Check out Medica.com/Members/Medicare/Health-Advocacy to find out more. What conditions can I discuss in a virtual visit? Virtual visits work best if you don’t need a physical examination. But you can use them for common ailments, including: • Allergies • Bronchitis • Cold/flu • Ear infections • Pink eye • Sinus infections • Urinary tract infections
Natural Healing Looking to boost your physical and mental health? Get out into the great outdoors —which could be as close as your own backyard.
BY GENE REBECK
If you’re feeling better now that summer is finally here, well, that’s no coincidence. It’s not just the refreshing sensation of warm breezes after a long winter. The grass is green, leaves are on the trees, and flowers are blooming. These are sensations we all feel with a quickening heart. But they’re also more than just feelings. In a real sense, nature has long been one of our best doctors, offering physical and mental health benefits. And that’s why this time of year is a great time to get up and reconnect with the great outdoors. Come to your senses The Japanese have a special term for walking in nature — shinrin-yoku , which roughly translates as “forest bathing.” It’s a phrase that sounds like a soothing, calming soak. Forest Bathing is also the title of a 2018 book by Qing Li, a doctor at the NipponMedical School in Tokyo. In it, he makes the point that the time we spend indoors, glued to TVs, smartphones, and other devices tends to make us anxious, irritable, and depressed. It also leads to sleep problems.
Li’s advice: We should spend more time outside, away from anything digital. He also notes that nature gives us its greatest health benefits when we engage it with all of our senses. Listening to the quiet sounds of birdsongs and leaf- rustling can lower stress levels and boost your sense of well-being. Same goes for the fresh smell of a blooming lilac or the sensation of grass on your bare feet. And what if you’re like most of us and don’t live near a national forest, an ocean, or mountains? Not a problem. A 2019 study by the U.K.’s University of Exeter discovered that as little as two hours a week in a city park, wooded area, or other type of green space has a positive impact on health and well-being. That’s particularly true for older adults and people with long-term health issues. Researchers have found that spending time outside can help lower levels of heart disease, severe asthma, and mental suffering. A 2019 National Institutes of Health study echoed those findings. It showed that spending time in outdoor green spaces can bring down blood pressure, build up our immune systems, and help ease depression.
Get up, get connected Getting outdoors has additional benefits. Even an easy walk or bike ride can get your heart pumping. Prefer to travel at a slower pace? Consider birding. It’s an affordable, relaxing hobby that enables you to slow down and take in the sights around you. Getting outside for a walk also can help you connect with friends and family. Shared strolls can be a terrific way to make conversation. And those person-to-person bonds provide their own health blessings, too. Get creative And what about those of us with limited mobility? See if you can go to natural habitats with paved, level trails, maybe with the help of family or friends. You could even get out to your own backyard or a green space near your home or apartment. Once there, you can simply sit, listen, and take in the sights. Another option: Bring a bit of nature inside. Adding indoor plants and container gardening to your life can lower stress and even add some low- impact exercise to your day. Note: Formore on container gardening, see the Spring 2021 issue. In short, the natural world offers a way to appreciate all aspects of life. It also gives us the chance to connect with the wider world — and with each other. And that can make our lives healthier and more satisfying.
Gene Rebeck is a Duluth, Minn.-based freelance writer.
The Power of Pets
BY KATIE LAJINESS
Animals can bring joy to your life. Here’s what to consider before you get one.
Thinking of getting a pet? You’re not alone. One result of our chaotic last year is that pet adoptions have skyrocketed. By some estimates, Americans took in 30 to 40 percent more pets in 2020 than they did in 2019. It’s not hard to understand why. Animals offer us unconditional love and companionship. Plus numerous studies show how bonding with a pet can lower your stress and boost your health and happiness. And that can be a welcome antidote to the uncertainty and isolation we’ve all endured of late. But caring for an animal can also be a big commitment.With that inmind, here are some points to consider before you take the pet ownership plunge. The health benefits of pet ownership Conventional wisdom might suggest that someone in their 60s and 70s shouldn’t get a new pet. That’s particularly true when it comes to dogs. Compared to cats or birds, canines are high-maintenance companions. They need regular exercise. Food costs can add up quickly. And trips to the vet are never cheap.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
Anatole France French poet
On the flip side, daily dog walks could improve your health. In 2017, Scientific Reports published a 12-year study of more than 3.4 million Swedish adults. Among the findings: Dog owners had a lower risk of death due to heart disease. The results were even more striking for dog owners who lived alone — they had an 11 percent lower risk of heart attacks and a 33 percent lower risk of dying compared to single people who didn’t own dogs. Companionship matters Other studies have pointed out the health benefits of practically any type of pet — cats, birds, rabbits, even fish. The common thread: Pets offer companionship, something many of us lack as we grow older. What’s more, the act of simply taking care of an animal can provide a strong sense of purpose. And you don’t necessarily have to own a pet to enjoy the benefits. For example, you could foster an animal until it finds a permanent home. Ormaybe pet-sit for your friends on occasion.
Finding your pet Once you’ve decided to take the plunge, what’s next? One option is Petfinder.com, which is a directory of nearly 11,000 U.S. animal shelters and adoption organizations. Local shelters have pets looking for loving homes (although many of their populations are down due to the heavy demand of the past year). And Petfinder.com also offers an option if you want to foster a pet. Pet stores are typically fine for birds and fish, but the Humane Society of the United States strongly recommends against buying dogs from them — unless the store sources dogs from local animal shelters.
Questions to ask yourself
Yes, the health benefits are hard to deny. But if you’re still unsure, these questions can help you decide which pet is right for you. Does your living arrangement allow for pets? Many apartments and condos have strict rules on pet ownership. If you live in a small apartment, will there be enough space be enough for a dog to run around — and will its barking disturb the neighbors? Can you provide the care the pet needs? This is a major point to weigh. For example, a goldfish requires a daily sprinkle of food and a small fish bowl to clean. But a dog or cat will need exercise, annual vet checkups, regular grooming, and more. Howwell do your personalities match? Love to get out of the house for a brisk walk every morning? A dog might be right for you. Have limited mobility? An indoor cat will be better suited to you. Want to liven up your space with sound? A canary or finch will do the trick. What does your budget allow for? According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, you can expect to spend between $600 to $900 per year on a dog. By comparison, a fish will cost around $20 per year.
Katie Lajiness is the associate editor of Be.Well byMedica .
SOME PODCASTS TO CONSIDER:
Not Older, Better Showcases sports and entertainment icons, health experts, and ordinary people who share how to live with passion. Living to 100 Club Tips and insights on aging well and healthy living. The host talks with business owners, mental health professionals, wellness experts, and more.
BY TESS LANGFUS
Love listening to radio shows? Like to dig deep into topics? Enjoy the occasional good laugh (or cry)? It’s time to listen to a podcast. Podcasts are audio programs you listen to on the internet. More than 100 million Americans listen to them. One reason why: Most are free and easy to access. You just need a computer, smartphone, or tablet that’s connected to the internet. Then you can download an app that lets you listen to podcasts. If you subscribe, new episodes automatically show up when they’re available. The episodes may come out daily, weekly, or monthly. Tess Langfus is an Eden Prairie, Minn.- based freelance writer.
The History Hour Go back in time and hear about events from eyewitnesses and scholars.
This American Life Hour-long episodes that focus on everyday people. The stories are funny, inspirational, and ordinary — and often with a touch of the extraordinary.
Living Well 14
d with podcasts. &N W
How I Built This Go behind the scenes
with business owners and entrepreneurs. You’ll learn what worked and what didn’t, how they struggled and yet kept at it. The Moth Storytellers — ordinary and famous people — stand up in front of live audiences and share personal stories. Smartless The hosts connect people from different walks of life to learn about their shared experiences. Always leads to authentic — and often hilarious — conversations. Lux Radio Theatre Listen to the original productions of drama theatre and Broadway plays. The shows were recorded with full
3 STEPS TO PODCASTING
Here’s how to find an app to play a podcast:
On your computer or mobile device, find the app store. For mobile devices, this is usually shown as a tile on your home screen. For computers, you can use the search tool.
Android: Play Store
Apple: App Store
Windows: Microsoft Store
When you’re in the app store, find the search bar and type “free podcast apps.” Look for popular ones like Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or Stitcher. Click on one of the icons and follow the steps to install it.
free podcast apps
orchestras in front of live audiences from 1934 to 1955.
Once you’ve installed the app, open it directly from the store or find it on your home screen. You can use this app to browse or search for the name of a show or topic.
Summer’s here, and the time is right for fresh produce. These tips will help you get the most out of it. Garden Fresh
BY MARY LAHR SCHIER
Whether you grow your own produce, frequent farmers’ markets, or shop at your local grocery store, early summer is the ideal time to gorge on glorious fresh fruits and vegetables. In particular, asparagus, greens, snap peas, and strawberries are at their best right now. But how can you tell if your produce is perfect? Gardeners know it’s time to pick when a fruit or vegetable has reached its full size, has a deep color, and looks almost tight in its skin. Bulges, blemishes, and soft spots mean produce is past its prime. Apply the same standards when you’re shopping. The rules are the same if you’re in a discount grocery, co-op, or a more upscale store: Look for lettuce and greens with a firm shape, smooth cucumbers, and snap peas with a uniform color. And if you’re buying greens in plastic containers, check for signs of rot at the bottom. Shopping at a farmers’ market? Ask the grower when the vegetables were harvested — it could’ve been as early as that morning.
Storage tips Veggies and fruits taste best when fresh. That’s when they have their highest levels of nutrition. It’s also why people in some countries often shop for produce daily. But even if you shop weekly, you can enjoy vegetables at peak nutrition if you store themproperly.
Consider the vegetable You should eat greens and lettuces within three or four days of purchase, and corn within a day or two of buying it. You can store root vegetables such as carrots or beets in the refrigerator up to two weeks. Cabbages last a week in the refrigerator, and mature onions can go up to two weeks in a cool, dark place.
Wipe off the water
Use counter intelligence
Many grocery stores spray vegetables with water. When you get them home, wipe down the veggies, empty water from their bags, and add a paper or cloth tea towel to absorb moisture. Baby the berries Not planning to eat berries right away? Store them in the fridge and rinse before eating. If you’ve stocked up on them, rinse, dry, and freeze themon a cookie sheet before storing in plastic bags in the freezer.
Not all produce belongs in the refrigerator. Bananas, potatoes, onions, and squash prefer loose storage outside the refrigerator. Use the counter to ripen fruits like pears or mangoes, then move to the fridge.
Separate fruits and veggies
Fruits such as apples or pears produce ethylene gas. And that can make vegetables like cabbages or greens age quickly.
Mary Lahr Schier is the author of The Northern Gardener, From Apples to Zinnias (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2017). She also hosts a gardening podcast, Grow it, Minnesota .
FRESH PRODUCE RECIPE
Make these roasted tomatoes during July or August using locally grown cherry tomatoes. Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
INGREDIENTS • 6 cups cherry tomatoes, washed
• 3 tablespoons olive oil • Salt and pepper to taste
INSTRUCTIONS Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Place tomatoes on a large cookie sheet and pour olive oil over them. Roll the tomatoes around the sheet to distribute the oil. Lightly salt and pepper. Bake for about 6 hours, until they’re soft and wrinkly. Store the tomatoes in a container with oil to cover them. Enjoy them in salads, on crackers or added to tomato sauce.
Use within two weeks or freeze for later use.
The Home Stretch
Resistance bands are an affordable, effective way to build muscle — no matter where you’re at.
BY T E S S LANGFUS
Frustrated that you’re not as strong as you used to be? A slow decline in muscle is a natural part of aging. Starting around age 30, we lose about 3 to 5 percent of our muscle mass every decade. But that loss is reversible. In fact, people older than 65 can actually gain strength and muscle mass at the same rate as people much younger. Don’t want to hit the gym or invest in dumbbells? Consider resistance bands. They’re an effective and affordable way to build muscle at home. And you can buy them online, at major retail stores, and often for deep discounts on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. How the bands work Resistance bands stretch as you push or pull them. Some are essentially giant rubber bands, while others are like bungee cords. And you can buy themwith different levels of resistance. The bands are also typically color-coded, ranging from yellow with the lightest resistance to black with the highest. Moving against that resistance builds your muscles. And unlike fixed weights, they stretch with your movements and range of motion, which makes them versatile. You can use them for nearly every muscle group: neck, chest, shoulders, elbows, wrists, legs, hips, knees, and feet.
Focus on Fitness
Workout tips All strength exercises work by stressing your muscles. Stress them regularly, and your body adapts by building newmuscle fibers. The key is to work the muscles, but then let them rest to recover and grow. You can use the bands daily, but only exercise the same muscle group two to three times a week, with at least 48 hours of rest in between. In other words, you might work your arms one day, focus on your shoulders the next, and legs the day after.
A little next-day soreness is often natural. It’s a sign you’ve worked your muscles — and that they’re growing new fibers. But listen to your body. Too much soreness could mean you’ve overdone it. You’ll know you’re working with the right resistance if your muscles tire between eight and 12 repetitions of an exercise. Once you hit that point, rest for a bit and repeat the exercise a fewmore times. Too little resistance won’t build muscle, while too much could cause strains. Here’s one way to think about it: Compare the band’s resistance to a full grocery bag, which typically weighs around 10 lbs.
Check with your doctor before you start any new workout program. They can offer personalized advice and maybe even provide you with specific exercises.
Tess Langfus is an Eden Prairie, Minn.-based freelance writer.
BY TESS LANGFUS
Warmweather and bright sunshine have returned, and you’re probably ready to get outdoors. As we point out elsewhere in this issue, that can help your mental and physical health. Even 15 to 30 minutes outside twice a week can boost Vitamin D levels, improve sleep, and lift your spirits.
But as always, moderation is critical. Here’s how to keep yourself safe this summer.
Beat the heat As you age, your body can’t handle heat as well it did when you were younger. That could put you at risk for heatstroke. It’s a serious condition that can damage your internal organs and even be deadly. Watch for these signs: • Confusion or irritation • Feeling faint or passing out • Not sweating • Dry and red skin • Strong and fast, or slow and weak, pulse
Suspect heatstroke? Call 911 right away.
Stay hydrated Dehydration can happen quickly. Plus, you’re at greater risk of it if you have a condition such as diabetes or if you take certain medications.
Here are common signs of it:
• Extreme thirst • Less-frequent urination or dark urine • Dizziness, confusion, or extreme fatigue
Keep your cool Take these steps when going outside:
• Drink liquids — the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that men drink 15.5 cups of water a day, and women drink 11.5 cups a day • Avoid caffeine and alcohol — both can make you dehydrated • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and light-colored, loose clothing • Apply lots of sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) on all bare skin • Stay inside in the afternoon, when the sun is the hottest Guard against skin cancer Direct sun exposure can cause cancer, including melanoma. “Melanoma is an aggressive skin cancer that’s more likely to occur in older people,” says Matt Flory of the American Cancer Society. “That’s why it’s important to be aware of changes in your skin as you grow older.” Flory says to check for newmoles (or changes to old ones) and unusual skin growths. If you see something, show it to your doctor right away.
Tess Langfus is an Eden Prairie-based freelance writer.
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Here are some topics to discuss with your provider to help you stay healthy: 1. What immunizations and screenings do I need? • Breast and colon cancer screening • Vaccines: COVID, flu, shingles, pneumonia, and Tdap • Diabetic screenings: blood Stay in the know — and stay healthy!
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