Archive for November, 2009


60 Hikes Within 60 Miles

If you’re looking for the lowdown on where you can stretch your legs and escape the urban grid, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Chicago will help you find your way.

Focusing on urban and rural areas and everything in between, the book features classic hikes at places such as Starved Rock State Park, as well as undiscovered gems like the LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area in northwestern Indiana.

The author, Ted Villaire, also writes a blog, Prairie Fever here, with great insights into hiking, biking camping and kayaking in the Chicago area.


Ted Villaire

Who is Ted Villaire?

Ted Villaire received a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and received his master’s of arts in writing from DePaul University in Chicago. He is author of 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Chicago, published in 2005 by Menasha Ridge Press, and is currently working on four more regional outdoor guidebooks that focus on bicycling and camping within the Chicago region and throughout Illinois. A Chicago resident for the past 10 years, Ted has worked for various daily and weekly newspapers, and has had freelance articles appear in The Chicago Tribune and the Des Moines Register. Recently, Ted worked for seven years as a publications editor for a large non-profit organization headquartered in Chicago.

Note: Working Well Resources is not affiliated with Ted Villaire in any manner. We just enjoy his blog and book and want to share them with you!

Read Full Post »

By Jacqueline Stenson, MSNBC contributor

Many exercisers wonder whether vigorous physical activity, such as running or jogging, can be too tough on the body, especially the joints.

Physical activity guidelines released by the federal government last year recommend a minimum of two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate physical activity or at least one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity, plus at least two days of strength training a week. The guidelines also state that greater health benefits can be achieved when adults like yourself increase their physical activity to five hours a week of moderate activity or 2.5 hours of vigorous activity, or more.


Light weight training from PsychologyToday.com

Dr. W. Ben Kibler, a spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine and medical director of the Lexington Clinic Sports Medicine Center, says that you can overdo it with exercise and sustain overtraining injuries, particularly if you don’t follow good technique or listen to your body’s warning signals to taper off. But there’s no reason to think that healthy people doing recommended amounts of physical activity and progressing at a sensible rate are going to eventually wear out their bodies. On the contrary, there is abundant evidence that exercise can go a long way to keep us healthy and strong as we age — and prevent early death.

There is a fairly common concern among exercisers that high-impact exercise such as running will eventually destroy the knees. But as Dr. Ron Noy, a New York City sports medicine specialist and spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, points out, running helps the joints stay lubricated and healthy, and keeps the bones and heart strong.“If you have a healthy knee, running is not going to damage the knee,” he says. “It’s not going to wear down your knee, and there are benefits to the joint from running.”


The Knee Joint. Image from globalsurgicalsolutions.com

”It’s a different story, though, if you have an arthritic or injured knee, which gives the body “less protective power” against high-impact activity, Noy says. Problems also can arise in obese people who are sedentary and then jump into a rigorous exercise program, which can overload a deconditioned body, he says, possibly leading to knee injuries, stress fractures or other problems.

So it would not be a good idea, for instance, for a 250-pound couch potato to start out running 12 miles a day, Noy says. “You have to acclimate your body to accept that load,” he says, with a “slow, progressive program.”

Even normal weight people with no health issues can become injured if they push too far, too fast in a range of activities. How much is too much varies from individual to individual, so as your program progresses, listen to your body, says Noy. If you’re getting signals such as pain, swelling or extreme fatigue, scale back.

An experienced coach or personal trainer can help recreational athletes develop a safe program that incorporates proper technique and equipment.

And it’s always a good idea to get a checkup before starting a training program, Noy says. It’s especially important to identify any potential heart problems or risk factors such as a family history of early cardiac death that might lead to sudden death during exercise. Be sure to discuss with your doctor any chest pain, shortness of breath or prior difficulty exercising in hot temperatures.

Kibler points out that people who die during endurance exercise often have underlying health problems or they push themselves too hard in the heat.“There’s usually some identifiable reason outside of exercise,” he says. “But exercise is the trigger.”

Link to original MSNBC article here.

Read Full Post »

Aside from achieving better Fitness by hiking and exercising in the Forest, there is ample evidence that exercising or interacting with nature (even having live plants in your work environment) helps combat burnout, reduces mental stress and reduces mental fatigue. Read on for more about this research and it’s implications for our daily lives.

A Walk in the Woods

By John Lofy in Michigan Today, a publication of the University of Michigan


University of Michigan School of Natural Resources. Photo from JM Olsen Corporation

Professor Rachel Kaplan’s office at U-M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment looks out over a large oak tree. Potted plants crowd her window sill. Beyond these small patches of nature loom the buildings of central campus. But, she says, a little bit of nature goes a long way.

She would know. Kaplan and her husband, professor Stephen Kaplan, were among the first academics to study the psychological benefits of nature. Colleagues and collaborators for decades, they have shown that natural settings—trees, grass, gardens, and the like—have a profound, positive impact on both mental and physical health.

Both Kaplans hold joint appointments: Rachel in SNRE and Psychology, Stephen in Psychology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. They both take particular pride in graduate students they have mentored over the years. Students working with the Kaplans have made some striking discoveries:

• Studies by Bernadine Cimprich showed that the psychological health of cancer patients “improved dramatically” after they spent 20 minutes a day, three days a week, doing restorative activities such as gardening or walking in the woods. A control group that did not do the activities showed notably less improvement.

• Studies by Frances Kuo and William Sullivan found that residents of public housing projects who live near trees “showed all kinds of benefits,” says Stephen. “More civility, less aggression—and girls were more likely to study” their schoolwork.

• A study of AIDS caregivers by Lisa Canin found that the single most powerful factor in avoiding stress-related burnout was “locomotion in nature”—such as walking, running, biking, or canoeing. (The quickest route to burnout was watching television.)

Better yet, says Rachel, the natural setting “doesn’t have to be big or pristine” to have a positive effect. “Most of all, it has to be nearby.” A study by Ernest Moore of prisoners in Milan, Michigan, showed that simply having a view of farmland from a prison cell reduced inmates’ need for health care.

What’s so powerful about nature? Stephen theorizes that it comes down to brain function. The source of much mental distress, he says, is overuse of “directed attention”—such as concentrating on work. “Sustained directed attention is difficult and fatiguing. When people talk about mental fatigue, what is actually fatigued is not their mind as a whole, but their capacity to direct attention.” And it can make people “distractible and irritable.”

To escape the discomforts of mental fatigue, people often turn to activities that “capture” their attention. They find external events to distract them, so they don’t have to concentrate so hard. Watching TV, for instance, requires little willpower: the programs do the work, and the brain follows along.


Watching t.v. doesn't allow for mental rest. Image from salviaforme

Similarly, says Stephen, “many people find an auto race fascinating.” Fast motion, loud noises, and smells captivate the brain.

The Kaplans refer to activities like watching TV or sporting events as “hard fascination.” The stimuli are loud, bright, and commanding. The activities are engaging and fun, but they don’t allow for mental rest.

Soft fascination, on the other hand, is the kind of stimulation one finds on, say, a stroll along the beach or in the woods. Nothing overwhelms the attention, says Stephen, “and the beauty provides pleasure that complements the gentle stimulation.” The brain can soak up pleasing images, but it can also wander, reflect, and recuperate.

Most people, say the Kaplans, intuitively know this. But often, they either don’t do it, or they may not have opportunities to get out in nature. That’s too bad, because the Kaplans have shown that if you’re upset, frazzled, or suffering, an easygoing walk in the woods or even along a tree-lined street is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Read more about the Kaplans and their research here.

Ways You Can Increase Your Interaction with Nature


Gardening for stress relief. Photo from IVPeaceFest.com

• Plant a garden. Even in the city if you have an outdoor porch you can plant a small garden in pots and window boxes. Weeding the garden,  “playing” in the dirt, and taking the time to nurture your plants, nurtures your own nervous system and allows you some peaceful moments free from everyday stress.

• Bring live plants into your workspace. Live plants help clean the air and make your environment naturally beautiful and less stressful.

• Go for regular walks in nearby forest preserves or parks.

• Make after dinner walks around your neighborhood part of your family routine. This is a great way to spend quality time with friends and family, get regular exercise and get away from the stress of the TV, telephone and temptations of junk food.

• Volunteer in a nearby community garden.


Cabrini-Green Community Vegetable Garden (taken by Strannik45).

• Try snow shoeing, sledding, cross country skiing or walking in the fresh fallen winter snow. (It’s coming soon to Chicago so be ready with warm layers and waterproof hiking boots!)

Snowshoeing at The Basin Phippsburg 08

Snowshoeing. Image from outdoors.mainetoday.com

• When possible, alter your driving route to go through area parks, forest preserves or stretches of the road that gives you a view of Lake Michigan, trees and natural bodies of water like rivers and ponds.


Fall Colors at Argonne

• Plant an indoor herb garden in a well lit window for the winter. It gives you the double benefit of fresh herbs for your meals and the moments of stress relief you get when tending your mini-garden.

• As much as possible, exercise outdoors. Run and hike in the park or forest preserves.

• When time permits, work outdoors. Take

your laptop to the beach or park. In inclement weather find malls or indoor public spaces with plants and trees.

Read Full Post »

Injured soldiers find relief through massage and other “alternative therapies.”

By Michael Devitt from Massage Today magazine

Wars have been fought since time immemorial. From simple sticks and rocks to guided missiles and uranium-tipped artillery shells, the methods civilized nations have used to annihilate one another have changed dramatically over the centuries.

Despite the advances in modern warfare, the types and degrees of injury suffered in combat have remained frighteningly constant. Surprisingly, research suggests a major cause of attrition (a reduction in number or strength) among military personnel in recent wars has resulted not from injuries incurred on the battlefield, but, rather to more typical conditions such as accidents and musculoskeletal complaints.

To determine what types of painful conditions affect soldiers during wartime, researchers in the United States and Germany examined 162 soldiers engaged in Operation Iraqi Freedom who were evacuated to pain treatment centers outside the theater of combat. Results of the study, published in the journal of Anesthesia & Analgesia, show that many of the injuries suffered by military personnel during conflict are indeed similar to those sustained by people in the civilian sector. Even more important, the use of alternative therapies in the treatment of pain among injured soldiers appears to be growing, with massage the most common alternative therapy used for pain relief.

All of the soldiers included in the study had been injured during OIF between March 2003 and June 2004, and were medically evacuated to one of two treatment facilities: Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and Landstuhl Regional Army Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany. Most of the injured personnel received “consultations for treatment recommendations to be implemented at military treatment facilities located at the patient’s home duty station.”

Analysis of the complaints showed most soldiers suffered injuries comparable to those that would have been sustained by similarly aged civilians. Not surprisingly, more than half of the pain complaints reported by the soldiers (53 percent) involved the low back. The second most common complaint was “nonradicular extremety pain,” which accounted for 23 percent of the presenting complaints.

The most common diagnosis of injury was lumbar herniated disk which, according to the researchers,” accounted for almost one-quarter of all pain disorders.” Postsurgical pain was the second most common diagnosis, and was experienced by 14 percent of all patients.

More than three dozen treatment modalities were utilized for pain relief; on average, each soldier was treated with 3.5 different therapies. Not surprisingly, drugs were the most popular form of pain relief, beginning with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which were given to 91 service members. Seventy-nine patients received opiods; 66 patients received some kind of neuropathic pain medication.

Drugs and surgical procedures weren’t the only treatment options available, however. According to the study authors, 28 soldiers (17 percent of the study population) were treated with “some type of alternative therapy.” The most common alternative therapy offered was therapeutic massage, which was performed on 13 soldiers, and administered more frequently than chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture and glucosamine/chondroitin supplements combined. More than half of these patients treated with alternative therapies (15) were diagnosed with postsurgical pain or lumbar herniated disk before receiving care. In fact, more than one-third of all military personnel diagnosed with postsurgical pain were treated with massage.

The study pointed out the number of injuries suffered during combat was significantly less than the number of non-combat injuries; in fact, only 17 percent of the patients stated they were injured during battle.

Such nonbattle-related injuries, or NBIs, can take a serious toll on overall troop strength in modern warfare. According to the authors, “Among the 21,655 soldiers admitted to army hospitals in Southwest Asia during the Persian Gulf War, acute NBI comprised 25 percent of all hospitalizations, with musculoskeletal conditions ranking second at 13 percent.”

Presenting Pain Complaints in Soldiers Injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom*
Pain Presentation (n=162) Frequency Percentage
Lumbar radicular pain 49 30.2%
Axial low back pain 37 22.8%
Nonradicular leg pain 24 14.8%
Nonradicular arm pain 16 9.9%
Groin pain 15 9.3%
Thoracic pain 10 6.2%
Neck pain 10 6.2%
Abdominal pain 8 4.9%
Cervical radicular pain 6 3.7%
Headache 6 3.7%
Thoracic radicular pain 2 1.2%
Polyarthralgia 1 0.6%
Facial pain 1 0.6%
* The percentage of pain complaints is based on the number of patients (162), not the number of presenting symptoms (185).

Taking these numbers into account, this would mean that more than 2,800 soldiers were hospitalized due to musculoskeletal complaints during the Gulf War. Given the increasing number of low back and other musculoskeletal injuries that seem to be the norm in modern warfare, and given that these conditions often are seen by massage therapists in the civilian sector, it would appear that massage therapists are just as qualified as other health care providers in helping to ease the pain and suffering of injured military personnel.

For more information, go to the article here.


  1. Cohen SP, Griffith S, Larkin TM, Villena F, Larkin R. Presentation, diagnoses, mechanisms of injury, and treatment of soldiers injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom: An epidemiological study conducted at two military pain management centers. Anesth Analg 2005;101:1098-1103.
  2. Hoeffler DF, Melton LJ. Changes in the distribution of Navy and Marine Corps casualties from World War I through the Vietnam conflict. Mil Med 1981;146:776-9.
  3. Writer JV, DeFraites RF, Keep LW. Non-battle injury casualties during the Persian Gulf War and other deployments. Am J Prev Med 2000;18:64-70.

Read Full Post »

There is now a Chicago-based company, Element Bar, that let’s you custom design your own energy bar!  (And then they ship it to you.) But that’s not the best part. As you design your own energy bar, the website shows you how each ingredient effects nutritional data. Add some peanut  butter and watch the fat content go up. Add some honey and watch the sugar content increase. You can also add “boosts” of Omega 3, Fiber, Soy Protein or Whey Protein.

Try Building Your Own Bar here.

I tried it out and created the bar below:

• Dates: Made from natural date paste. Virtually fat free, high in fiber, no added sweeteners.


• Prunes: Adds a nice chewy texture and fiber.


• Almonds: Raw, unsalted – great for texture and taste.
• Flaxseeds: Lightly roasted that adds a nice crunch.
• Immunity Boost: Provides 100% of key antioxidants in each bar.
• Omega 3 boost: Our flax seed oil provides 0.5 grams of Omega-3 per bar.


• Fiber: Chicory root extract provides 2 grams of soluble fiber per bar.

Ingredients in my custom protein bar

name your custom energy bar
we guarantee delicious bars
Delete Ingredient Organic
prunes Prunes Organic not available
almonds Almonds
flaxSeeds FlaxSeeds
omega3Boost Omega-3 Boost
fiberBoost Fiber Boost Organic not available
immunityBoost Immunity Boost Organic not available
datey Datey Core Organic not available

Bar Power Key:

custom energy bar rich in antioxidants custom energy bar good for GI health custom energy bar good for your brain custom energy bar good for your heart custom energy bar for strength
Antioxidant GI Health Brain/Memory Heart Muscle/Strength

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 Bar (2.8oz)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 265
Calories from Fat 50

Total Fat 5.5g
% Daily Value*8%

Saturated Fat 0.2g
% Daily Value*1%

Trans Fat 0g

Cholesterol 0mg
% Daily Value*0%

Sodium 2.2mg
% Daily Value*0%
Potassium 402.6mg
% Daily Value 12%

Total Carbohydrate 55.2g
% Daily Value 18%

Dietary Fiber 8.8g
% Daily Value 35%
Sugars 46.3g

Protein 2.3g
% Daily Value*5%

Vitamin A % Daily Value 42%
Vitamin C
% Daily Value*382%
% Daily Value*20%
% Daily Value*3%

Ingredients: Date Paste (Pressed Dates, Vegetable Oil), Inulin (Chicory Root Extract), Almonds, Organic Flax Seeds, Prunes, Immunity Boost, Organic Flaxseed Oil

Contains: Tree Nuts
May contain traces of: Milk, Soy, Wheat, Tree Nuts, and Peanuts.

A Word About Element Bar Ingredients

Element Bars are made from all-natural ingredients that are either unprocessed or have been minimally processed to best preserve each ingredient’s nutritional benefits.

* No artificial sweeteners
* No processed starches
* No new, fancy food technology

Read Full Post »

Do scenes of nature on your computer screen or television give you the same stress relief that you get looking out a window at a scenic view? Sadly, no. Read the excerpt from Newswise.com below for the sad truth about the effects of “faux” nature.

Scenes of Nature Trump Technology in Reducing Low-level Stress

A new study that measured individuals’ heart recovery rate from minor stress when exposed to a natural scene through a window, the same scene shown on a high-definition plasma screen, or a blank wall. The heart rate of people who looked at the scene through the window dropped more quickly than the others. In fact, the high-definition plasma screen had no more effect than the blank wall.


Student viewing computer scene of nature (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Washington)

Research done through the Human Interaction with Nature and Technological Systems Lab at the University of Washington showed that when people spent more time looking at the natural scene their heart rates tended to decrease more. That was not the case with the plasma screen.

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, is published in the current issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

“Technology is good and it can help our lives, but let’s not be fooled into thinking we can live without nature,” said Peter Kahn, a UW associate professor of psychology who led the research team.

“We are losing direct experiences with nature. Instead, more and more we’re experiencing nature represented technologically through television and other media. Children grow up watching Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. That’s probably better than nothing. But as a species we need interaction with actual nature for our physical and psychological well-being.”

Part of this loss comes from what the researchers call environmental generational amnesia. This is the idea that across generations the amount of environmental degradation increases, but each generation views conditions it grew up with as largely non-degraded and normal. Children growing up today in the cities with the worst air pollution often, for example, don’t believe that their communities are particularly polluted.

“This problem of environmental generational amnesia is particularly important for children coming of age with current technologies,” said Rachel Severson, a co-author of the study and a UW psychology doctoral student. “Children may not realize they are not getting the benefits of actual nature when interacting with what we’re calling technological nature.”

The researchers found that participants with the plasma screen actually looked at it just as often as did those who had the window. However, the window held the students’ attention significantly longer than the plasma screen did. When participants spent more time looking at the window, their heart rates decreased faster than on tasks when they spent less time looking at the window. This was not true with the plasma screen.

“I was surprised by this,” said Kahn. “I thought the plasma screen would come somewhere between the glass window and the blank wall. This study is important because it shows the importance of nature in human lives and at least one limitation of technological nature.

“In the years ahead, technological nature will get more sophisticated and compelling. But if it continues to replace our interaction with actual nature, it will come at a cost. To thrive as a species, we still need to interact with nature by encountering an animal in the wild, walking along the ocean’s edge or sleeping under the enormity of the night sky.”

Co-authors of the study are Batya Friedman, Jennifer Hagman, Erika Feldman and Anna Stolyar of the UW, Brian Gill of Seattle Pacific University, Nathan Freier of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Sybil Carrere of California State University, San Bernardino. Freier and Carrere were both at the UW when they worked on the study.

Read the full article here.

Read Full Post »

Even the healthiest of us may require hospital treatment at some point in our lives. As do our kids, spouses,  parents and extended family. And the medical bills can be confusing, not to mention expensive!  But how do you know if you are overpaying or if the bill is accurate?  That’s where Smart Medical Consumer comes in.

About Smart Medical Consumer

Smart Medical Consumer is the first intelligent web-based service for consumers to manage their medical expenses, with breakthrough features including automatic detection of medical billing mistakes. Smart Medical Consumer offers this application based on its patent pending technology and architecture. We develop proprietary web software, and also operate as the service provider.

Analysis and management of the health care bills and insurance explanation of benefits might save a medical consumer thousands of dollars. Additionally, it can help a medical consumer smartly plan their short term and long term decisions for choices in health care, providers, drugs, health insurance plans, health savings accounts and flexible savings accounts.

While health care providers and insurances use extensive resources and tools to optimize their revenues from services to consumers, there is hardly any help for consumers to optimize their medical spending. Smart Medical Consumer is dedicated to fill this void and offer services for consumers to smartly manage their health care expenses.

The founder, Banu Ozden, PhD,


Banu Ozden

is an expert in distributed database systems, multimedia systems, and Internet infrastructure. Formerly, she was at Bell Labs, Murray Hill, New Jersey, as the Director of Research in Computing Systems, and at the Computer Science Department of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California.

After her own frustrations dealing with health care expenses, she founded Smart Medical Consumer to bring a consumer-centric solution to fellow medical consumers.

Smart Medical Consumer currently offers the following services: MySMC beta service to manage medical expenses; MyDocs beta service to keep track of medical billing documents from healthcare providers, insurances, and health saving accounts; and Ask&Share service to get help from billing experts, and to share frustrations and experiences with a community of other smart medical consumers.

About MySMC

Smart Medical Consumer’s MySMC service is for managing user’s medical expenses. MySMC is not a passive record tracking system, but it smartly analyses data to detect billing and coverage errors. It warns the user with detected billing mistakes, insurance coverage anomalies, and incorrectly allocated user payments. MySMC also enables user to analyze her own data more effectively, so that the user can make decisions about her medical choices and healthcare spendings.

Smart Medical Consumer’s first test users have saved thousands of dollars by the help of MySMC. Furthermore, the thorough understanding of what they are charged for and the correct amount they are responsible for have helped them to make proactive decisions about their medical choices.

About MyDocs

Smart Medical Consumer’s MyDocs service is to keep track of records user receives from insurances, providers and saving accounts.

MyDocs serves multiple purposes. One to maintain the records available to user as is so that the user does not need to manage filing of these records. Second to automatically retrieve data from the online documents stored in MyDocs and automatically enter data MySMC for further analysis.

MyDocs can be also be used independent of MySMC if the user needs only easy filing, retrieving and note keeping for the records the user receives from healthcare providers, insurances and saving accounts.

Similarly, the user can choose to use MySMC service independently of the MyDocs service.

About Ask&Share

Smart Medical Consumer’s Ask and Share is to help consumers understand their medical expenses: if you have questions regarding your medical expenses, doctor bills, health care provider statements, insurance claims, or explanation of benefits, post them here. Our moderators are medical billing experts and will answer your questions if they can. If not, other fellow smart medical consumers may be able to help.

Not understanding your medical bills or insurance explanation of benefits might cause you to spend more on health care than your fair share. Whether you are questioning the copays for your prescription drug, disputing an insurance claim, managing your family’s health care, trying to coordinate multiple insurance plans, trying to figure out the copay, coinsurance, allowed amount, reasonable and customary amount, hospital surcharge, deductible, out-of pocket amount, the services patient is charged for, the medical codes for services and procedures, and the diagnosis codes, or simply trying to understand the financial implications of the actions of your doctor or insurance company and what your options are, get aid from Smart Medical Consumer’s billing experts.

Whatever health problem you or your loved ones are going through, whether it is a catastrophic illness like cancer, a chronic disease like diabetes, or a sports injury like a hip fracture, don’t let the patient responsibility of medical expenses pile up unfairly. Post your questions at Ask&Share, use Smart Medical Consumer’s MySMC service to manage your expenses, and MyDocs service for easy filing and retrieving statements from providers, insurances and saving accounts.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: