Carvelli: Making Lemonade Out of Life’s Lemons

Published in Woonsocket Call on April 9, 2017

Author and life coach Linda Carvelli believes that everything in life has a purpose and that resilience will get you through any obstacle in your path. She succinctly illustrates this philosophy in her 340 page memoir, “Perfectly Negative: How I Learned to Embrace Life’s Lemons Lessons.” The self-published book details how she faced personal and family tragedy over a decade of deep emotional pain only to realize that each devastating life experience gave her more courage and strength to face the next one.

Carvelli a Warren resident, dedicated over twenty years of her professional career to computer technology and project management before writing her first full-length memoir, published in 2016, that reveals how she ultimately came to terms with her life’s mission. That is helping people overcome and learn from the challenges in their daily lives. As a board certified life coach, she brings lessons from her book to people to help them regain control of their lives, discover new perspectives, create more options, and move forward with confidence and courage.

Facing Your Own Life Lemons Lessons

Perfectly Negative introduces a cast of real, relatable characters who will have you crying, laughing, and ultimately rejoicing in Carvelli’s triumph and determination to make sense of the overwhelming heartbreak she endured. This insightful memoir reveals nuggets of wisdom to reassure you as you face your own life lemons lessons.

The inspirational tome follows Carvelli’s forty-six years, through her idyllic childhood growing up in a close-knit Italian household into her later years where she faced a decade’s worth of personal and professional losses. It begins when the native Cranston resident was focused on planning her first marriage in 1996 and received the news of her mother being re-diagnosed with breast cancer, ultimately leading to her death two years later.. Six months later, the memoir details her sister’s diagnosis of breast cancer and how she lived with this devastating disease for seven years. Like her mother and sister, Carvelli was also diagnosed with breast cancer, although she ultimately made a decision to have a double mastectomy. She also experienced a divorce, left a long-term relationship shortly before her father died, and finally was laid off her job.

This book is for all ages and anyone who is overcoming obstacles. Carvellli’s first full length book detailing her overcoming life challenges, is getting rave reviews, too.

Here’s a review from a judge at the 24th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards: “It’s unputdownable! From the first paragraph, author Linda Carvelli draws in the reader with tightly focused, well-written scenes and immediately identifiable characters. Even though this family is well-to-do with all the material trappings, they have heartbreak galore with “four cancer diagnoses, three deaths, two divorces and a significant other turned not-so-significant” not to mention job and friendship upheavals and a medium who helps provide some much-needed spiritual anchoring. These can be anyone’s friends, family and significant others, regardless of race, creed or socioeconomic status.”

The judge adds, “By interweaving several plot lines and balancing suspense – and using plain but power language with a much needed dollop of objectivity – this book avoids the mawkish self-pity and excessive detail that can be the undoing of similar attempts. It’s like sitting down with a best friend and catching up on the latest news–before one knows it two hours have passed and there’s still more to discuss.”
Another reviewer said, “I thought this was going to be depressing but boy was I wrong.”

A Decade Worth of Learning

Looking back, “my life was a mess,” said Carvelli. What surprised the 14-year cancer survivor the most was that when she eventually reflected on that most painful decade of her life, she realized that each tragic event gave her more courage and strength to successfully face the next one, she says.

Carvelli remembers that after ending a seven year relationship she took a solo-vacation to Jamaica to just refocus and stabilize her life. She rediscovered journaling, a healing activity that she took up earlier in her life to detail the decade of upheavals. An audio book, “The Shack,” an inspirational story where the protagonist overcomes personal tragedy and finds faith again, gave Carvelli food for thought and insight on her life’s journey.

“I realized that when I was in the midst of each tragedy I just did what I had to do to get through it,” says Carvelli, noting that “I lived in the present moment.” But, looking back she found herself surprised with the realization that she survived some tough events.
“Only then did I realize “the intensity” of the experiences.

Carvelli’s personal life stabilized a bit when she got engaged in 2011. Although she had found her true love, a lump in her breast discovered a week before being let go from her job in brought back anxiety and fear she remembered when being initially diagnosed with cancer. It was losing her job and the result of the medical test that inspired her to write the book.

“At first I was angry about losing my job because I was really good at what I did,” said Carvelli, who quickly acknowledged the job loss and accepted it when she realized, “It gave me time to begin writing the book I always wanted to,” she said.

With a supportive fiancé and all the free time Carvelli began the writing process. With the help of a writing coach, using old journals of the tragic decade and recent writings, a book slowly took shape. Over four years, four completed drafts combined with a final edit would lead to her self-published memoir released last year.

The Power of Resilience

“When I finished writing the last chapter of my memoir, the reason for my existence stared me in the eyes and ignited a fire in my heart. My life’s purpose is to serve as an example of resilience,” says Carvellli.

Author Carvelli has added certified life coach to her professional skillset to bring the insights and tips from her book to people, helping them move forward in the midst of life’s tragedies. Carvelli, 51, says that her life journey has given her clarity about her purpose on earth. “Coaching and managing people through business and personal changes is why I was put here, it is my life’s purpose,” she says.

Lemons can be a great teacher in your life. Carvelli shares these lessons in her memoir and also on her blog (http://www.lindacarvelli.com/blog/).

The Rhode Island author has also published a short story, “I Miss My Breasts” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope and Healing for Your Breast Cancer Journey. She co-facilitates an informal support group, Sisters in Survival, for cancer survivors and their caregivers. Originally from Cranston, RI, she currently lives in Warren with her husband, two step-teens and Enzo Vino, the family dog who follows Carvelli everywhere..

“Perfectly Negative” is available online at Amazon.com. To arrange an interview or schedule a book signing or inspirational talk, visit http://www.lindacarvelli.com or email linda@lindacarvelli.com.

Report Links Improved Brain Health to Sleep

Published in Pawtucket Times on January 16, 2017

Seven to eight hours of sleep per day may be key to maintaining your brain health as you age, says a newly released consensus report issued the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH). The report’s recommendations, hammered out by scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts working on brain health issues at meeting convened by AARP with support of Age UK, in Toronto, Canada in late July 2016 Toronto, translates the scientific research evidence compiled on sleep and brain health into actionable recommendations for the public.

An AARP consumer survey released this month [in conjunction with GCBH’s report] found that 99 percent of age 50-plus respondents believe that their sleep is crucial to brain health, but over four in 10 (43 percent) say they don’t get enough sleep during the night. More than half (about 54 percent) say they tend to wake up too early in the morning and just can’t get back to sleep.

As to sleep habits, the adult respondents say that the most frequently cited activity that they engage in within an hour of bedtime are watching television and browsing the web. One-third keep a phone or electronic device by their bed. Nearly 88 percent of the adults think a cool bedroom temperature is effective in helping people sleep. Yet only two in five (41 percent) keep their room between 60 and 67 degrees. Finally, the most common reason people walk up during the night is to use the bathroom.

“Although sleep problems are a huge issue with older adults, it’s unfortunate the importance of sleep is often not taken seriously by health care professionals,” said Sarah Lock, AARP Senior Vice President for Policy, and GCBH Executive Director. “It’s normal for sleep to change as we age, but poor quality sleep is not normal. Our experts share [in GCBH’s report] the steps people can take to help maintain their brain health through better sleep habits,” said Lock, in a statement released with the report.

Sleep Vital to Brain Health

The new GCBH recommendations cover a wide range of sleep-related issues, including common factors that can disrupt sleep, symptoms of potential sleep disorders, and prescription medications and over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids. The consensus report is jam-packed with tips from experts, from detailing ways to help a person fall asleep or even stay asleep, when to seek professional help for a possible sleep disorder, and the pros and cons of taking a quick nap.

Based on the scientific evidence, the GCBH report says that sleep is vital to brain health, including cognitive function, and sleeping on average 7-8 hours each day is related to better brain and physical health in older people.

The 16-page GCBH consensus report notes that the sleep-wake cycle is influenced by many different factors. A regular sleep-wake schedule is tied to better sleep and better brain health. Regular exposure to light and physical activity supports good sleep, says the report.

According to the GCBH report, people, at any age, can change their behavior to improve their sleep. Persistent, excessive daytime sleepiness is not a normal part of aging. Sleep disorders become more common with age, but can often be successfully treated. People with chronic inadequate sleep are at higher risk for and experience more severe health problems, including dementia, depression, heart disease, obesity and cancer.

“A 2015 consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society mirrors the recently released GCBH report recommending that a person sleep at least 7 hours per night, notes Dr. Katherine M. Sharkey, MD, PhD, FAASM, Associate Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry and Human Behavior who also serves as Assistant Dean for Women in Medicine and Science. “Seven to eight hours seems to be a ‘sweet spot’ for sleep duration,” she says, noting that several studies indicate that sleeping too little or too much can increase risk of mortality.

More Sleep Not Always Better

Sharkey says that individuals with insomnia sometimes use a strategy of spending more time in bed, with the idea that if they give themselves more opportunity to sleep, they will get more sleep and feel better, but this can actually make sleep worse. “One of the most commonly used behavioral treatments for insomnia is sleep restriction, where patients work with their sleep clinician to decrease their time in bed to a time very close to the actual amount of sleep they are getting,” she says, noting that this deepens their sleep.

Sleep apnea, a medical disorder where the throat closes off during sleep, resulting in decreased oxygen levels, can reduce the quality of sleep and is often associated with stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, says Sharkey. While sleep apnea is often associated with men (24 percent), it also affects nine percent of woman and this gender gap narrows in older age, she notes.

Many older adults who were diagnosed with sleep apnea many years ago often times did not pursue medical treatment because the older CPAP devices were bulky and uncomfortable, says Sharkey, who acknowledges that this technology is much better today.

“We know how many questions adults have about how much sleep is enough, and the role that sleep plays in brain health and cognitive function,” said Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., GCBH Chair, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “This [GCBH] report answers a lot of these questions and we hope it will be a valuable source of information for people,” she says.

Simple Tips to Better Sleep

Getting a goodnights sleep may be as easy as following these tips detailed in the 16-page GCBH report.

Consider getting up at the same time every day, seven days a week. Restrict fluids and food three hours before going to bed to help avoid disrupting your sleep to use the bathroom. Avoid using OTC medications for sleep because they can have negative side-effects, including disrupted sleep quality and impaired cognitive functioning.
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The GCBH report notes that dietary supplements such as melatonin may have benefits for some people, but scientific evidence on their effectiveness is inconclusive. Be particularly cautious of melatonin use with dementia patients.

Naps are not always a cure to enhancing your sleep. Avoid long naps; if you must nap, limit to 30 minutes in the early afternoon.

“There has been such a steady stream of revealing brain-health reports that it would seem people would change their habits accordingly,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Taking active steps is what’s important – and the earlier the better,” she added.

“The personal benefits are obvious, but we should be aware of the cost savings that better brain health can produce. If people in their
50s get on board, the impact on healthcare costs and a reduced burden of caregiving 20 years down the road could be significant,” Connell added. “At the very least, those savings could help cover other rising costs. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to assess and improve aspects of diet and exercise. And we should not overlook the importance of sleep.”

The full GCBH recommendations can be found here: http://www.globalcouncilonbrainhealth.org. The 2016 AARP Sleep and Brain Health Survey can be found here: http://www.aarp.org/sleepandbrainhealth.

Daily Gratitude Is Always Good for Your Health

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 27, 2016

A few days ago we celebrated Thanksgiving, the nation’s oldest tradition. Over 48 million Americans traveled a minimum of 50 miles to spend this national holiday with family and friends, and a whopping 46 million turkeys were carved at these gatherings, served with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green beans, pumpkin and pecan pie.

Thanksgiving always falls on the fourth Thursday of November, and is a leisurely day to catch up with others, while centered around eating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Many will turn on their TV’s to watch National Football League games, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or even see the pre-taped Westminster Dog Show.

But, with all these outer activities taking place throughout this day, we must not forget that Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful and show gratitude for all our personal and professional blessings.

Being Grateful, Giving Thanks

For this weekly commentary this writer reached out to Rhode Islanders asking them to think about and acknowledge what they were grateful for, and here were their thoughts…

John S. Baxter, Jr., 48, director of constituent services, Office of the President of the Senate, is grateful for being able to use professional developed skills to assist in his volunteer work. “Today, I am thankful for being able to make my living helping people through my service in the Rhode Island Senate. I’m also particularly thankful for lessons learned on the job that can be applied when I volunteer in my community; whether it is feeding the hungry, assisting persons with disabilities or supporting the arts,” says Baxter, a Pawtucket resident.

Jeffrey Brier, 63, president of Brier & Brier, is thankful for his family and business clients. This Warren resident says, “I am thankful to sit with my family and enjoy our Thanksgiving meal and each other’s presence. Saddened by those who are not with us and for those who have passed on. As an insurance agent, Brier says he finds it gratifying “to meet so many nice people with whom I enjoy working and assisting with their personal and business insurance.”

Greg Gerritt, 63, a Providence resident puts his words into action. Gerritt, founder of Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange, noted, “I actually skipped when they went around the table asking each to say what they were thankful for. I do not think of it that way. What I did was organize the 20th Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange. Might be different sides of the same coin.”

Denise Panichas, 62, is thankful for the “selfless people” that come into her life “Being in the nonprofit world, I’m always amazed at how selfless people can be and no one even knows the good deeds they do…at this time of year, I always take a step back and think to myself, “What would the world be without with those willing to sacrifice their time and talents?,” says Panichas, a Woonsocket resident who serves as executive director of The Samaritans of Rhode Island.

Scott Rotondo, 43, of Pawtucket, says his “cup truly runneth over” when asked what he is thankful for. The controller at Boston, Massachusetts-based Tivoli Audio, acknowledges, “I’m grateful for my career, my radio show and most of all our newest family addition, my daughter Jessica who we adopted out of foster care. I have made it a point to sincerely thank my family for all the support and love they’ve shared with me this year.”

Finally, Scott Wolf, 63, a Providence. resident, is grateful for positive role models he had while growing up. Wolf, executive director at Grow Smart RI, says “I thought about how lucky I have been to have so many outstanding role models –my parents first and foremost among them–, who are now gone physically but still inspiring me to leave my own positive mark on society.”

Being Grateful is Good for Your Health

According to Michael Craig Miller, MD, senior editor, mental health publishing at Harvard Health Publications, “the simple act of giving thanks is not just good for the community but may also be good for the brain and body.”

“By acknowledging the goodness in their lives, expressing gratitude often helps people recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. This can connect them to something larger—other people, nature, or a higher power,” says Miller, in his blog article entitled, “In Praise of Gratitude,” posted on the Harvard health Web Site, on October 29, 2015.

In Miller’s blog posting, he notes, “In the relatively new field of positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently linked to greater happiness. Expressing gratitude helps people feel positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

Adds Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., on his blog article, “Why Gratitude is Good,” posted on November 10, 2015 on the Greater Good Science Center’s Web Site, gratitude can allow us to “celebrate the present.”

According to Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, research findings indicate that “Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions.” These findings also show that “grateful people are more stress resistant” and “have a higher sense of self-worth.”

So, don’t wait until next Thanksgiving to show gratitude to all the good things surrounding you today. Be thankful for everything positive in your life, each and every day. Research tells us that showing gratitude may well be good for your physical and mental well-being.

Putting the Brakes on Testosterone Prescriptions

Published in Pawtucket Times on March 30, 2015

Sophisticated mass marketing pitching testosterone to combat age-related complaints combined with lax medical guidelines for testosterone prescribing can be hazardous to your physical health, even leading to strokes and death, warns an editorial in this month’s Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The March 2015 editorial coauthored by Dr. Thomas Perls, MD, MPH, Geriatrics Section, Department of Medicine, Boston Medical Center in Boston, and Dr. David Handelsman, MBBS, Ph.D., ANZAC Research Institute, in New South Wales, Australia, expressed concern over commercial-driven sales of testosterone, effectively increasing from “$324 million in 2002 to a whopping $2 billion in 2012, and the number of testosterone doses prescribed climbing from “100 million in 2007 to half a billion in 2012.”

Pitting Patients Against Patients

The editorial authors see the “40 fold” increase of testosterone sales as the result of “disease mongering,” the practice of widening the diagnostic boundaries of an illness and aggressively promoting the disease and its treatment in order to expand the markets for the drug. Glitzy medical terms, like “low T” and “andropause,” showcased in direct-to-consumer product advertising pit aging baby boomers against their physicians, who demand the prescriptions, say the authors.

“Clearly, previous attempts to warn doctors and the public of this disease mongering that is potentially medically harmful and costly have not been effective, says co-author Dr. Perls.

The epidemic of testosterone prescribing over the last decade has been primarily the proposing of testosterone as a tonic for sexual dysfunction and/or reduced energy in middle-aged men, neither of which are genuine testosterone deficiency states,” observes Dr. Handelsman.

According to the National Institutes on Aging (NIA), the nation’s media has increasingly reported about “male menopause,” a condition supposedly caused by diminishing testosterone levels in aging men. “There is very little scientific evidence that this condition, also called andropause or viropause, exists. The likelihood that an aging man will experience a major shutdown of testosterone production similar to a woman’s menopause is very remote.”

The authors agree with the NIA’s assessment, but go further. They point out in their editorial that for many men, testosterone does not decline with age among men retaining excellent general health, and if it does, the decline is often due to common underlying problems such as obesity and poor fitness. Those who hawk testosterone have developed advertising that focus on common complaints among older men such as decreased energy, feeling sad, sleep problems, decreased physical performance or increased fat.

But, many times a testosterone level won’t even be obtained and the patient is told that, simply based on these common symptoms alone or with minor reductions in serum testosterone, they have “late onset hypogonadism” or that their erectile dysfunction may be improved with testosterone treatment, say the authors. But the authors also point out the true hypogonadism is the cause in fewer than 10% of men with erectile dysfunction.

FDA Enters Debate

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent dual commission findings concluded that testosterone treatment (marketed as ‘low T’) is not indicated for age-associated decline. The benefits of this “deceptive practice” remain unproven with the risks far outweighing the perceived benefits,” says the agency. Pharmaceutical companies are now required to include warning information about the possibility of an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke on all testosterone product labels.

Health Canada, Canada’s FDA, recently echoed the FDA’s committee findings that age-related hypogonadism has not been proven to be a disease-justifying treatment with testosterone. Both agencies warn of an increased risk of blood clots in the legs and lungs and the possibility of increased risk for heart attack associated with testosterone use.

In a statement, James McDonald, the chief administration officer for the Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline, says: “There is a concern in healthcare regarding direct-to-consumer prescribing of medication. At times, the prescription is not evidence-based, and can lead to misuse. There is concern with Testosterone, a schedule 3 controlled substance,that can be used as a performance-enhancing drug. The Rhode Island Board of Medical Licensure (BMLD) investigates complaints regarding all types of misuse of prescription medications as well as complaints regarding over-prescribing.”

Drs. Handelsman and Perls also warn about another drug commonly hawked for anti-aging, growth hormone. The FDA requires that doctors perform a test to demonstrate that the body does not produce enough growth hormone. “Those who market and sell HGH for these common symptoms nearly never perform the test because if they did a properly performed test, it would almost never be positive because the diseases that cause growth hormone deficiency in adults, such as pituitary gland tumors, are very rare,” said Perls. Growth hormone is well known for its side effects, including joint swelling and pain and diabetes. Ironically, opposite of anti-aging claims, growth hormone accelerates aging, increases cancer risk and shortens life span in animal studies.

In the editorial, Perls and Handelsman call upon professional medical societies and governmental agencies to take definitive steps to stop disease mongering of growth hormone and testosterone for conjured-up deficiencies.
“These steps include the banning of ‘educational’ and product advertising of testosterone for these contrived indications,” said Perls. “Furthermore, the FDA and Health Canada should require a physician’s demonstration of a disease process proven to benefit from testosterone administration in order to fill a lawful prescription for testosterone.”

Tightening Up Prescription Guidelines

The issue of prescribing testosterone is firmly on the medical profession’s radar screen with the FDA’s recent committee’s findings and Perls and Handelsman’s pointed editorial calling for the medical profession to seriously tighten up the lax consensus guidelines in order to stop the medically inappropriate prescribing of testosterone.
Rather than pushing testosterone, wouldn’t it be a “mitzvah – a good deed- if the nation’s pharmaceutical companies ran public service commercials stressing the importance of losing weight, exercising and eating nutritious meals as a way to effectively combat age-related problems, like low libido. But, this won’t happen because it is not a revenue generator or good for the company’s bottom line.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Experts Offer Some Advice on How to Age Successfully

Published in Pawtucket Times, February 21, 2014

            As an aging baby boomer, the pains and aches of old age and my noticeable gray hair are obvious signs of getting closer to age 60.

            Amazing, being given a free donut with my large cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts, an AARP member benefit, is a clear reminder to me of how people may perceive my chronological age.  When I pulled out my wallet to get my membership card, the employee said, “Don’t worry, your covered.”  Simply put, by having gray hair it was obvious to the young woman that I was eligible to get the free donut.

            The aches and pains of getting older happen more often, too.   After spraining my ankle from a fall on a sheet of ice, while taking out my garbage, it took much longer for this injury to heal.  Most recently, a sharp pain in my hip makes me wonder if hip replacement surgery could be in my future.

            Even like me, President Barack Obama has shown his age by his gray hair and is even beginning to publicly complain about his aches and pains, because of living over five decades.

            The 52- year- old President told retired National Basketball Association star Charles Barkley in a recent interview that he was limiting his trip to the basketball court to once a month because “things happen.”

             “One is, you just get a little older and creakier. The second thing is, you’ve got to start thinking about elbows and you break your nose right before a State of the Union address,” said the 52-year-old president in the interview on the TNT network before the NBA All-Star Game.

             Discussing the aging process during an exchange about his signature healthcare reform law, Obama said that being past 50, “you wake up and something hurts and you don’t know exactly what happened, right?”

 Taking Control of the Aging Process

             Of course, President Obama’s complaints about getting old went viral. Approaching two Rhode Island gerontologists and a geriatric physician, this columnist gives the middle aged President tips on easing into his old age.

            Phillip G. Clark, ScD,  Director, URI Program in Gerontology and Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center and Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, notes that some research has indicated that the decade between 50 and 60 is when many people start getting “messages” that they are getting older. These can be physical, psychological, familial, and social.

             “A lot are based on the messages that they receive from those around them, including the media (“if you’re older than 50, you should be taking Centrum Silver, or you qualify for this special type of life insurance policy,” adds Clark. “These messages may not reflect an accurate picture of what normal aging really is, but rather a biased and stereotypical portrait,” he says, for example, supposed bodily reminders of aging, such as aches and pains, may be due more to lack of exercise rather than actual aging itself.

             To successfully age, “stay physically active” says Clark, suggesting that you get an assessment from your physician.  This helps both your body and your brain. A moderately brisk, 30-minute walk a day is all you need, he notes.  “It’s more important that you build physical activity into your daily routine and do something that you enjoy and can stick with, than spend a lot of money on a gym membership that you seldom use,” he says.  Eating a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables is also important as part of a healthy lifestyle at any age.

             Clark also recommends that aging baby boomers stay engaged with settings and activities that keep them involved in life through their faith community, family and friends. Even having a sense of purpose in life that gets you outside of yourself, through volunteering, can help you age more gracefully, he adds, stressing that having a social network and people who care about and support you are essential elements of successful aging at any age.

             But don’t forget to “have a positive attitude and keep a sense of humor,” warns Clark. According to the gerontologist, this can get you over the challenges and hurdles you may encounter.  “Being resilient in the face of the challenges of life and getting older demands that we see the positive side of situations and not get bogged down in focusing on what we no longer have. We need to emphasize what we can do to keep the enjoyment in our lives.”

             Successful aging may not be swimming the English Channel at age 80, noted Brown University Professor of Medicine and of Health Services, Richard Bresdine, Director of Brown’s Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research and Director of the Division of Geriatrics in the Department of Medicine.  However, for the general population, successful aging, that is “optimum physical cognitive functioning, rests on your genes, education and life experiences,” he says, not accomplishing great feats like swimming the English Channel.

            While the Brown University geriatrician agrees with Clark about the impact of exercise and social networks on improving your health and longevity, he also sees other ways to increase the quality of your aging.

 Strategies to an Improved Life Style

             According to Besdine, a majority of people with high blood pressure don’t take medication to control it.  This chronic condition can cause strokes.  Smoking does not just cause lung cancer, “but every type of cancer and chronic lung disease, “one of the worst ways to die on this planet.”

             Driving safely can increase your lifespan and quality of aging.  As one ages your eyesight may change, glare becomes a problem, and you lose flexibility to turn.  Retraining programs, offered by AARP and AAA, can reduce the probability of having an accident, says Besdine.

             Don’t forget your pneumonia or influenza vaccination, warns Besdine.  Having repeated occurrences of the flu can lead to heart disease and other health issues, he says.

             A good nutritional diet is key to enhancing the quality of health in your later years, notes Besdine, but people living on fixed incomes may not be able to afford eating fruits, vegetables and lean meats.  Cooking for yourself may even lead to a decision to not make nutritional meals.  Besdine is also a big advocate of the Mediterranean diet, a heart-healthy eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.  He notes that this diet reduces your chances of getting heart disease and diabetes.

             Besdine also notes that there are simple things that you can do at home to increase your longevity and quality of life.  Make sure your home is safe, equipped with fire and carbon monoxide detectors.  Rid your kitchen of toxic substances.  He urges a “gun free” home. “This is not a political statement. Research shows us that a person is much more likely of being shot by a gun that is kept at home,” he says.

             Screening for cancers (by scheduling a mammogram and/or colonoscopy) and depression, along with moderate drinking, good oral health care, and preventing osteoporosis by taking calcium and Vitamin D, even reducing adverse drug reactions and improving mobility, are simple ways to increase the chances of your successful aging, Besdine says.

 Unraveling Research Findings

             Rachel Filinson, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology/Gerontology Coordinator at Rhode Island College, says the “devil may well be in the details,” as older persons try to unravel research findings that might provide them with a clear road maps to achieve successful aging.

             For instance, Filinson notes that while some gerontologist have long regarded “under nutrition,” that is the consuming relatively few calories to sustain oneself,” as a way to increase one’s longevity, others disagree with the theory.

             Meanwhile, mental stimulation is believed by many to deter cognitive decline, Filinson says, but brain teasers and games have not been adequately proven by research findings, she adds, while reading and writing may be helpful.

             Although a large social network and recreational pursuits have been lauded as essential to enhance the quality of aging, some investigations have found that solitary activities like gardening are just as effective, observes Filinson.

             In that science can be a work in progress, Filinson believes that older adults can take charge of their lives by optimizing the positives and minimizing the negatives–how we age.  “It’s about the choices we make in life rather than the genes we were born with,” she quips.

             President Obama might well listen to Clarke, Besdine, and Filinson’s sage advice as to how he can cope with the aging process. Even small changes in his daily,  mundane routines, like using the stairs rather than taking an elevator in the White House or even taking Bo, the first family’s dog, for a brief walk around the grounds, can result in his living longer, even reduce his noticeable aches and pains.

              Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Some Simple Resolutions Can Better Your Life

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 4, 2014

Every year we see the Times Square ball swiftly drop as a million or so revelers loudly count down to one at the stroke of midnight. Also, we traditionally make New Year Resolutions to accomplish in the coming year to perform acts of kindness and for self-improvement.

Making a resolution for positive change goes back for eons. According to Wikipedia, the act of making a resolution can be documented in Mesopotamia (the territory of modern-day Iraq). Babylonians made promises to their stone deities to start off a new year by returning borrowed goods and paying off debts.

The free internet encyclopedia also notes that the Romans even carried out this tradition by making promises to Janus, the God of beginnings and transitions (for whom the month January is named). Knights during the Medieval era, from the 5th to 15th century, took a “peacock vow” after the Christmas season to re-affirm their commitment to knightly virtues of honor, courtesy love and courtesy.

Wikipedia also reports that even “watch services” held late on New Year’s Eve, also provided an opportunity for Christian parishioners to review the past year and make confessions and prepare for the New Year by prayer. Even Judaism’s High Holidays, from Rosh Hashanah ending with Yom Kipper, the Day of Atonement, gives worshipers an opportunity to reflect on their wrongdoings over the year to seek forgiveness and to prepare for the upcoming year, adds the internet website.

Memorable New Year Resolutions

Zoe Mintz, of the International Business Times, posted her thoughts about New Year Resolutions just hours before 2014, on the New York-based digital global publication’s web. Like clockwork, many of the nation’s newspapers and magazines, including Mintz, printed articles detailing interesting, inspirational and unusual resolutions from prominent people, from movies stars (they usually tweet) artists, politicians, writers, and corporate leaders.

Mintz details some well-thought out New Year Resolutions from people who you may well know.

“Let our New Year’s resolution be this: We will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.” — Goran Persson, served as Prime Minister of Sweden from 1996 to 2006

“New Year’s resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.” — James Agate, British diarist and critic.

“I made no resolutions for the new year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” — Anaïs Nin, an American author, ‘

“One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this: to rise above the little things.” — John Burroughs, an American naturalist and essayist important in the evolution of the U.S conservation movement.

“I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years.” — Henry Moore, an English sculptor and artist. He was best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures which are located around the world as public works of art

“What the New Year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year.” — Vern McLellan, author of Wise Words and Quote.

“Follow your passions, believe in karma, and you won’t have to chase your dreams; they will come to you.” — Randy Pausch, American professor of computer science and human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is author of the “Last Lecture.”

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” — Mother Teresa, an Albanian-born, Indian Roman Catholic Religious Sister who founded the Missionaries of Charity which in 2012 consisted of over 4,500 sisters in 133 countries.

“If you asked me for my New Year resolution, it would be to find out who I am.” — Cyril Cusack, an Irish actor, who appeared in numerous films and television productions in a career lasting more than 70 years.

Everyday Resolutions

Resolutions may inspire or be a little bit ethereal, as detailed in the above listing compiled by Mintz. Simply put, our personal New Year’s resolutions help us cope with daily challenges to improve health, personal finances and relationships, that is to enhance our quality of life.

Many of your family and friends will be making their 2014 New Year’s resolutions to improve their health by eating healthy foods, losing weight or ratcheting up their exercise regimen. Everyone knows someone whose has made a resolution to either drink or smoke less, or not at all.

As the New Year approaches a person may say “Life’s too short,” when they begin to craft their personal resolutions. Attitude adjustments may well occur, when the person resolves to see “a glass half full rather than half empty,” making a commitment for the coming year to become a more positive person, one who looks forward to living life to the fullest. Even some may explore ways to reduce the stress in their lives.

A 2014 New Year resolution for others may just be to dig themselves out of credit card debt (cut those cards in half), regularly put money away for retirement, invest in the stock market or even to find a more satisfying job that pays better than their current one.

You might even see college students making their 2014 resolution to study harder to get that “A.” Some baby boomers and seniors may even chose to make this year the time to enroll at a local College or University to get a bachelor’s or graduate degree, or go to just learn new or sharpen up their existing skills.

For many, life may have become too routine and predictable, pushing them to schedule a trip to exotic places in the New Year. Some may choose to watch less television, committing to put their leisure time to a better use in 2014. One might resolve to become a volunteer at the local food kitchen, or helping the homeless, or even joining civic groups, like the Pawtucket Rotary Club or Lions club, or the Masons, to reach out to their community. Spending time helping those in need can also be a benefit for those volunteering – learning new skills, meeting new friends, advancing your career, or even improving mental and physical health.

New Year’s resolutions even help a person focus where their time, money and energy is directed. Everyone knows someone who is resolving to spend quality time in 2014 with family members. Some may even make resolutions to get engaged or married their long-time partner or to even begin a family.

With Christmas becoming so commercial, some may well make New Year resolutions that will push them away from materialistic pleasures, to exploring their spirituality.

Using Technology to Keep Resolutions

New technology can help keep us on track with keeping our 2014 New Year’s Resolutions. With the growing popularity of cell phones (iPhone and Android) thousands of self-help apps are now becoming available on app stores for IOS and Android cell phones, reports Business Reporter Victor Luckerson, in an article published on New Year’s Day on Time.com.

Luckerson details apps that will keep you on track with keeping your 2014 New Years resolutions. Here is a small sampling:

For learning the basics of a foreign language to prepare for a vacation, Duolingo helps you to quickly learn the basics. Users can easily review lessons in vocabulary, pronunciation, and basic grammar. Currently Duolingo offers lessons in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German and Italian. Available for iPhone and Android.

MyQuitCoach was created to help you keep cigarettes at arms length. The app uses data to help people curb their bad habit by allowing users to input how often they smoke and when they have their cravings. This information allows short and long-term goals to be set, enabling the smoker to reduce their daily cigarette use. Tying results to both Facebook and Twitter can increase support from social media friends. Available for iPhone.

For those who require motivation to go to their neighborhood gym, MapMyFitness is just the app for you. The app tracks 600 different fitness activities, from running, to ballroom dancing, to even walking the dog. With this app you can even map out effective jogging routes. It even offers a social component that allows your friends to motivate you to exercise from within the app. Available for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry.

For resolutions to tighten your belt to improve your personal finances, check out DailyCost. The app easily allows you to closely check in going and outgoing money in all you bank accounts. Moreover, you can easily log in all your daily expenses, too, categorizing them within seconds. Weekly and monthly spending charts allow you to closely review where you spend your money. Available for iPhone.

Finally here’s an app to help you accomplish your resolution goals. Simply put, Lift helps you track how often you complete your tasks that you resolve to complete and rewards you with virtual check marks for achieving. Tasks can be drinking more water, praying, and other habits you want to change. App users who pursue the same goals can support each other via discussion groups. Available for iPhone and Android.

For this columnist, my 2014 New Year’s Resolutions (like many) revolve around health, financial and family. I resolve to become healthier by losing weight, eating healthier foods, and increasing my visits to the local YMCA; to get my financial house in order; and to spend more time with family and good friends. Maybe I might even write a book. As to my success, I will keep my fingers crossed.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.