Guess what, guys? We made it! We have finally put 2020 behind us and are now looking forward to 2021. I, for one, am hopeful. I am expecting great things from this year.
Admittedly, I have not always had an optimistic outlook. I used to like to say that I was a natural-born cynic. And while I still have cynical tendencies, I have learned strategies over this last challenging year that have really helped me look at things more positively and helped me deal with stress.
It all starts with mindfulness. While this has really become a bit of a buzzword in recent times, the foundations of mindfulness are solid and based on research. At its most basic, mindfulness refers to the practice of being in the moment. Sounds simple, right? Well, if your mental habits are as ingrained as mine were, it takes a lot of practice to be in the moment.
I am an overthinker. A brooder. A ruminator. As far back as I can remember, I have thought about things before I did them, then thought about them again for a long time afterwards. Especially if it was something I felt I had not done right or that did not go well. I would be driving or trying to sleep and thoughts, regrets, and recriminations would just be spinning, spinning, spinning endlessly in my head.
Spending time in a peaceful place without outside distractions is a great way to refresh and recharge. (Photo source: Marisol Amador, UF/IFAS)
This was just who I was. I had learned to live with it. I always knew that if something important was coming up, like an exam or a presentation, I would obsess about it beforehand to the point where I would lose sleep. If something happened that did not go well, I would fixate on it for days afterward.
It was stressful, but I dealt with it. And then 2020 happened.
Suddenly, I could not deal with it anymore. My obsessive ruminations and self-recriminations were suddenly unmanageable in the midst of the social isolation and worries brought on by the strains of a global pandemic.
I needed to find a way to change my outlook. A way to deal effectively with the overwhelming feelings I was experiencing. I wanted to be more positive. I wanted to stop seeing doom over every horizon. Most of all, I wanted to stop obsessing about everything all the time.
So I started reading about mindfulness. Then I started trying to practice it. I say “trying” because there are still days where I am just not feeling it, where I am just not able to find that quiet space inside myself that I need to tap into to be in the moment. However, I have gotten better at it with practice.
The key is breathing. Focusing on my breath – each inhale and each exhale, one after the other – allows me to feel centered, to relegate my other thoughts to the background. When outside thoughts arise, I have learned how to push them away and concentrate on the moment. And the next one. And so on.
The best part about this practice is how portable it is. No matter where I am, I always have my breath. If I am feeling overwhelmed or angry or sad or frustrated, I can simply take a few moments to concentrate on my breathing, allowing those feelings to just be, and, eventually, they pass, leaving me feeling refreshed.
I encourage all of you to take on 2021 with a mind towards mindfulness. You may be surprised at just how much a few minutes of purposeful breathing each day can improve your overall outlook. It has really changed my life.
For more information about mindfulness, check out the UF/IFAS Extension fact sheet Mindfulness: An Introduction.
UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
2020 has been a year of many changes and challenges due to the Coronavirus pandemic, which unfortunately will continue into our holiday season. To protect our friends, family and community members we must continue following the science-based guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and your state and local guidelines to prevent exposure and the spread of the virus.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 epidemic numbers are rising again. Gatherings of any kind, both small and large, are contributing to the rise in positive cases. We can all make choices based on the scientific research that can protect us and others by making small changes in our 2020 holiday celebrations. Limiting the risk and being diligent in our actions should be our main goal until a vaccine is approved and dispersed throughout the country.
Photo Source: UF/IFAS
Some unique and easy ways to celebrate the holidays this year are to “gather virtually” with those not in your immediate household or to gather in-person only with members of your own household. These two types of gatherings offer the lowest risk for spreading the virus. Your household is anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your home. People who do not currently live in your home, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households. In-person gatherings that bring together family members or friends from different households, including those college students returning home, offer varying levels of risk. The level of risk is difficult to determine because people may have been exposed and/or are a carrier and may not be aware of it.
Here are some specific things to consider when deciding how to celebrate your holidays.
- Number of cases in your community – Be sure to know the number of positive Covid cases in your community. If the numbers are rising or are already high you should take precautions based on the data. You can check your specific county or city Covid rates at your local health departments website.
- Exposure during travel – Airports, bus stations, train stations, public transport, gas stations, rest stops and hotels are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces. Be aware if you will be traveling or if you have guests traveling to your home.
- Location of your gathering – Indoor gatherings, especially those with poor ventilation, expose your family to more risk than outdoor gatherings.
- How long will your gathering last? – Time is an important factor to consider. The longer the gathering lasts the more risk those attendees will have of being exposed. Being within 6 feet of someone who has Covid for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases the risk of becoming sick and requires a 14-day quarantine.
- Number and crowding of people at the gathering – Gatherings with more people bring more risk than gatherings with fewer people. The size of a holiday gathering should be determined based on the ability of attendees from different households to stay 6 feet (2 arm lengths) apart, wear masks, wash hands and follow state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules and regulations.
- Behaviors of attendees before the gathering – People who do not consistently follow social distancing, wearing masks, regular handwashing and other prevention behaviors cause more risk than those who consistently practice the recommended safety measures.
- Behaviors of attendees during the gathering – Gatherings with more safety measures in place, such as mask wearing, social distancing and handwashing, offer less risk than gatherings where fewer or no preventive measures are being implemented. Use of alcohol or drugs may alter judgment and may make it more difficult to practice Covid safety measures.
Be sure your technology is charged and ready for your virtual holiday visit. Photo Source: Kendra Zamojski
Other high-risk holiday related activities to avoid to help prevent the spread of the virus:
- Going shopping in crowded stores.
- Participating or being a spectator at a crowded parade, race or other holiday celebration.
- Attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household.
- Using alcohol or drugs that may alter judgment and make it more difficult to practice Covid safety measures.
Things to consider before your gatherings:
To make the holiday less stressful be sure to practice a virtual session before the virtual holiday gathering. Make sure everyone involved knows how to connect to the virtual holiday celebration so the gathering will go more smoothly and hopefully experience less technical problems on that day.
We all had to adapt to many unexpected changes this year and the holidays will be no different. Just remember being diligent now will protect family and friends and help control the spread of the virus in our communities. Be sure to enjoy your unique holiday season this year, but here’s hoping for a less challenging 2021.
Stay safe! Enjoy your family and friends from a safe distance! Happy Holidays!
Dining out with family was the thing to do when we were so busy doing so much outside the home. Now that we’re spending more time at home together, dining in is in again. You can start or continue the “in” thing by taking the pledge to dine-in healthy with your family this December 3rd. Why take this kind of pledge? Keep reading.
FCS Dine In Day
Making and keeping a promise has an upside
Keeping the commitment you made to eat healthy with your family means you get to reap the rewards of actually providing a healthy meal for your family. Additionally, keeping this promise can boost your self-confidence and self-esteem because you know you’re making strides to take care of yourself and your family.
Since dining in is in again, eating healthy with your family December 3rd makes you the admired one to your family and friends. As you dine in together, share praises and compliments as well as healthy foods, and reinforce the feeling of belonging. After providing these trendy experiences often enough, you can begin to enjoy the adoration and respect of others around you. You can be popular.
It’s cherished time
Schedule it. Block off time for it. Show up for it. You and your family are worth it. Start with the pledge on December 3rd. For best success for a healthy lifestyle change, make it a S.M.A.R.T. goal. That’s one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-framed. Here’s an example: Every Tuesday at 6pm, our family will eat a healthy meal together that includes at least two vegetables and a whole grain.
You can keep it safe
- If ventilation indoors is a bit stifling, eat outdoors when you can. Backyards, patios, and porches are great venues for your dining experiences.
- Clean your hands often as you prepare and eat your meal. If you can’t wash for 20 seconds with soap and running water, hand sanitizer is a good backup. Make sure your hands are completely dry after washing or sanitizing.
- Cook foods to the proper temperature. See the Safe Internal Temperature Chart.
- Put leftovers away as quickly as possible.
Tried and true or something new
- Have fun. Try decorating to make your mealtime together special. Let all family members participate.
- Make comfort food. But also try making something you’ve never had before, or try food prepared in a new way.
- Look through the cabinets or in the garage for kitchen equipment you haven’t used in a long time or have forgotten you had. Then use it.
For better health and wellness, make the pledge to Dine In with your family this December 3rd. Now is the time – especially since dining in is in again.
Did you know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list hearing loss as the third most common chronic health condition in the U.S.? Many people do not recognize they have hearing loss, either because they do not realize it themselves or they won’t admit they have a problem. Statistics have shown that approximately 1 in 4 adults in the US between the ages of 20 and 69 who report having excellent hearing actually have measurable hearing damage.
Lower the volume on personal listening devices to protect your hearing. Photo source: Terri Keith
Most of us have heard that loud noises can damage our hearing, but do you know what is considered loud? Noises are measured in decibels (dB). Here are the measurements of some common sounds:
- 40 dB – Refrigerator hum
- 60 dB – Normal conversation
- 70 dB – Washing machine
- 80 dB – Traffic noise inside a car
- 80-85 dB – Gas-powered lawnmower
- 95 dB – Motorcycle
- 100 dB – Sporting event
- 105-110 dB – Maximum volume for personal listening devices
- 120 dB – Siren
- 140-150 dB – Firecrackers
Noises can start causing hearing damage at about 85 dB when experienced over an extended period of time. The higher the decibels, the less time it can take for hearing damage to occur. It may take about 2 hours for damage to occur at 90 dB but at 100 dB, it may only take 14 minutes. At 110 dB, hearing loss is possible in less than 2 minutes.
What can you do to protect your hearing? First, avoid noisy places when you can and keep the volume down when you’re watching TV or listening to music. If you can’t control the noise, try using ear plugs, protective earmuffs or noise canceling headphones. This is especially important if you’re going to be exposed to the noise over a period of time. If you’re not sure whether you should be worried about the noise level where you are, grab this smartphone app and check the decibels for yourself!
Remember that hearing loss from loud noises can be prevented. Once the damage occurs though, it’s permanent so take care of your hearing!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vital Signs: https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/hearingloss/index.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Loud Noise Can Cause Hearing Loss: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hearing_loss/what_noises_cause_hearing_loss.html
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, It’s a Noisy Planet: https://www.noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov/hearing-loss-science
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls by older adults aged 65 and up can often result in serious injuries, decreased mobility and a loss of independence. They are common and can happen at a high cost, both financially and in terms of health and lifestyle for the person who falls. Statistics from the CDC show “each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries” and the death rate from falls in the U.S. has been on the rise—30% from 2007 to 2016.
While many falls don’t cause injuries, some do and can leave the person with bruises, sprains, broken bones or head injuries. Even if a person falls without suffering an injury, that fall may lead to a fear of falling. Both the injuries and the fear of falling can lead a person to limit their daily activities. By being less active, the person increases their risk of falling again.
It’s not all bad news though. Many falls are preventable and several of the steps you can take for yourself or a loved one are low or no cost. Start by looking for risk factors. These are conditions that increase the chances of a fall happening. Here are some to be aware of:
- Taking more than 2 medications daily.
- Having a hearing and/or vision impairment.
- Experiencing dizziness when getting up, changing positions, or walking.
- Having trouble getting in and out of a chair, walking, picking up objects from the floor or reaching overhead without holding on to something.
- Having throw rugs, cluttered walkways, uneven surfaces or slippery floors.
- Navigating stairs without rails.
- Having poor lighting conditions.
- Wearing shoes with high heels or slippery soles.
- Having fallen in the past year or being afraid of falling.
Many of these can be corrected or managed. One of the key steps to preventing falls is talking with your doctor and pharmacist. They can help with evaluating your risk and advise you on specific things you can do, especially in terms of problems with hearing, vision or medications. Staying active or following exercise routines can help with balance and strength. Here is a link to some beginner level exercises to start with if you’re not already exercising.
An elderly persons bathroom can be made safer by adding items that will help them maneuver easier. Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Marisol Amador
Do a check of your home to see if you have any of the risk factors above and correct them. Here are some other steps you can take at home:
Keeping a lamp beside the bed means you don’t have to walk through the dark at night to get to the light switch. Photo credit: Terri Keith, UF/IFAS Extension
- Lower shelves 3 inches for easier access; adjust closet rods to keep clothes within reach.
- Use a reacher or grabber for items that are too high. NEVER use a chair as a step stool.
- Install or add more lighting in your home especially near walkways, stairs and entrances.
- Keep a lamp and flashlight by your bed and night lights where needed.
- Install or secure handrails on both sides of the stairs and use them every time.
- Make sure walkways are clear and uncluttered. Remove or secure throw rugs, cords and hoses out of the way.
- Use textured surfaces for patios, driveways and stairs. Mark any changes in floor level with reflective tape.
- Be aware of your pet’s location when you stand or walk so they don’t trip you.
- Install and use grab bars to help with getting in and out of the bath safely.
- Use a rubber mat in your bathtub or shower.
- Install a handheld showerhead and use it with a bath bench or chair when showering.
If a fall does happen, even if there were no injuries, it’s a good idea to let your doctor know about it the next time you see them. It can help alert them to new medical problems or a need to review your prescriptions. Taking these steps can help reduce the risk of a fall and stop the cycle of falling from being repeated.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Home and Recreational Safety: https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/index.html and https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html
University of Florida, IFAS: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy734 and https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy733
National Institute on Aging: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/prevent-falls-and-fractures and https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/fall-proofing-your-home
By Matthew Poland and Amy Mullins, MS, RDN
For Floridians, getting enough sunlight during the winter may not be an issue that frequently crosses our sun-kissed minds. However, by spending winter vacation up north or by simply not spending the recommended 10-30 minutes per day outdoors, we could be putting ourselves at risk. In fact, it is estimated that between 20-80% of men and women from the US, Canada and Europe are vitamin D deficient, with rates as high as 45-100% of vitamin D deficiency in some places throughout Asia (1). Even though Florida seems to be as good as it gets for soaking in the sun, a 2005 study of residents of Miami found that between 38-40% were vitamin D deficient (2).
Vitamin D plays a much larger role in our health then we tend to realize. In addition to being a hormone responsible for regulation of bone metabolism, vitamin D has important functions in pregnancy, inflammation, cell growth, neurotransmitter production, immune and neuromuscular function, and glucose metabolism (3). Meanwhile, low vitamin D levels have been associated with increased risk for various diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and even an increased risk of mortality (1).
Go outside Photo Source: Matthew Poland
It is well known that sunlight exposure is the major source of vitamin D in our bodies, although some can be absorbed through our diet. However, as we spend less and less time outdoors, our risk of vitamin D deficiency steadily increases. On top of this, there are a variety of factors that can play a role in the ability of an individual to produce vitamin D including skin pigmentation, clothing, sunscreen, and of course where we live. In addition, a likely reason for such a high amount of Miami’s residents being vitamin D deficient is due to the smog levels of larger cities. Air pollution can absorb the UVB rays that our bodies convert into vitamin D, and prevent them from ever reaching us. Plus, in the wintertime, there is less sunlight to be had, which brings into play the next dangerous winter side effect: seasonal affective disorder, appropriately given the acronym, SAD.
While SAD may seem like a northern phenomenon, and it is with up to 9% of Alaska’s residents experiencing SAD compared to Florida’s 1%, it also involves the lack of sunlight during the winter (4). This lack of sunlight interferes with the body’s ability to regulate its circadian rhythm, the 24-hour internal clock that is typically synced with the light-dark cycles of our environment (4). Having shorter days and longer nights in winter is not unique to the north. With some Florida days offering only 10 hours of sunlight and indoor jobs that often consume 8 to 9 hours of our day, there is suddenly limited time to be in the sun (8). Vitamin D has been theorized to play a role in serotonin production, a neurotransmitter responsible for our feelings of well-being and happiness, and the insufficiency or deficiency of vitamin D has also been associated with clinical depressive symptoms (5). In summation, the lack of sunlight during the winter can create depressive symptoms and decreased absorption of vitamin D also leads to further depressive symptoms.
Although this self-perpetuating spiral of doom and gloom may be a bit of a downer, here are a few tips for getting through winter while keeping your vitamin D levels, circadian rhythm, and sanity in check:
- Go outside! Unfortunately, the angle of the sun in the wintertime reduces the availability of ultraviolet sunlight. It is important, however, to spend some time outdoors on sunnier days to allow for vitamin D synthesis, even if it’s not at optimal levels.(6).
- Eat a balanced, healthy diet consisting of a wide variety of foods. Although most foods don’t naturally contain vitamin D, wild-caught salmon and mushrooms being the exceptions, many foods like dairy are fortified with vitamin D (1). However, diet alone has been shown to be insufficient in providing vitamin D to children and adults in the US (7). If through food and sun, your vitamin D levels are not where they need to be, supplementation of around 1000 IUs per day can bring levels back to normal.
- Always talk with your healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplements. Have your vitamin D levels evaluated by your physician. Many people can go throughout life not knowing they are deficient in vitamin D until a broken bone necessitates testing.
So, with winter approaching, keep in mind the importance of being outside and eating well to feel your best as we roll into 2021!
Photo credit: Matthew Poland
Matthew Poland is a Graduate Student in the Department of Food, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences at Florida State University who is currently working on the Dietetic Internship to become a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN).
- Hossein-nezhad, A., & Holick, M. F. (2013). Vitamin D for health: a global perspective. Mayo Clinic proceedings, 88(7), 720–755. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.05.011
- Levis S, Gomez A, Jimenez C, et al. Vitamin D deficiency and seasonal variation in an adult South Florida population. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005;90:1557–1562.
- Vitamin D – Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. (2020, September 11). Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
- Melrose S. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015, 178564. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/178564
- Kerr, D. C., Zava, D. T., Piper, W. T., Saturn, S. R., Frei, B., & Gombart, A. F. (2015). Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women. Psychiatry research, 227(1), 46–51. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2015.02.016
- Webb, A. R., Kline, L., & Holick, M. F. (1988). Influence of season and latitude on the cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D3: exposure to winter sunlight in Boston and Edmonton will not promote vitamin D3 synthesis in human skin. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 67(2), 373–378. https://doi.org/10.1210/jcem-67-2-373
- Moore, C., Murphy, M. M., Keast, D. R., & Holick, M. F. (2004). Vitamin D intake in the United States. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 104(6), 980–983. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2004.03.028
- Tallahassee, Florida, USA – Sunrise, Sunset, and Daylength, September 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/usa/tallahassee