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Got the Blues? The Ins and Outs of Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the days get shorter and the nights longer, some of us may feel more sluggish, anxious, and moody. When winter really kicks up into high gear, over 14 million Americans feel the full brunt of seasonal affective disorder every year, with 33 million more not as harshly affected.

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Seasonal Affective Disorder Affects over 14 Million Americans

Seasonal affective disorder (also known as SAD, cabin fever, and the winter blues) is a condition in which people suffer periods of depression that correlate with changes in the season. Most people slide into seasonal depression during the fall and winter, and experience normal levels of happiness during the spring and summer.  Between 4 and 6 percent of Americans suffer from SAD, and nearly three quarters of these people are women between the ages of 20 and 40.

In the 1970s, psychologist Norman Rosenthal moved from warm Johannesburg, South Africa to New York City.  After the big move, Rosenthal noticed that he felt more anxious, tired, and overworked during the New York City winter, but as soon as spring started to warm up the cold city, he perked up. Realizing that the shift in his moods likely sprung from the higher latitude in New York, with shorter days and longer nights during the winter months, Rosenthal began to investigate this phenomenon. By 1984, Rosenthal had released the results of his study that would describe seasonal affective disorder for the very first time.

The classic symptoms of the winter blues include excessive sleeping, weight gain, fatigue, lethargy, and social isolation.  Rosenthal himself compares SAD to jet lag—sufferers just don’t adjust to the winter sunlight patterns fast enough. Many people with SAD tend to eat more carbohydrates.  Those with seasonal affective disorder also tend to have a family history of depression, mental illness, or substance abuse.  Plus, there’s also a condition known as “reverse SAD,” where people feel depressed and low in the summer instead of in the winter. Sufferers of summer SAD generally lose appetite, struggle through insomnia, and agitation—often losing weight instead of gaining weight.

Despite the discomfort that many with the seasonal blues feel, seasonal affective disorder is generally considered very treatable.  Some doctors recommend that people with SAD boost protein levels in their diets and incorporate more physical activity into their daily routines. Most people with winter SAD use light therapy to treat symptoms. Light therapy involves using bright florescent light bulbs to simulate warmth and sunlight.  The types of bulbs, intensity, duration, and other strategy vary from person to person. Still, light therapy is 85 percent effective at treating SAD during the cold winter months. Some treatments can combine light therapy with antidepressants, depending on the severity of symptoms.

Treatment for reverse SAD is a little different.  These individuals must cool down instead, and many opt to take vacations to cooler places. Others resort to more resourceful methods, like swimming the English Channel and blasting the air conditioning in their homes. Still, the most effective method of treated reverse seasonal affective disorder is through the use of antidepressants and mood stabilizers.

If you’re feeling anxious, tired, and depressed this winter, consider getting yourself checked out for seasonal affective disorder. Treatment is relatively easy and effective, and will most likely help you defeat the winter blues.

Chair Yoga for the Rest of Us

The health benefits of traditional yoga are well known throughout the United States.  Millions of Americans regularly attend yoga classes, improving both their physical and mental well being.  People of all ages can practice yoga: however, many people fear that they are not flexible or strong enough to go to a traditional yoga class.

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Chair Yoga

Chair yoga is a great alternative to traditional yoga, providing seniors with an easy way to get more active even if they’re less mobile than they used to be.  There are many chair yoga classes structured for seniors from age 60 to even 90 that are more accessible to people who can’t get down on the floor.  These classes also simplify difficult movements while still offering tremendous health benefits.

Chair yoga allows seniors to move and exercise their entire bodies, helping to prevent falls by strengthening the body just as in regular yoga. Seniors who practice chair yoga regularly see benefits like improved circulation and flexibility.  Sometimes, chair yoga allows seniors to build up the strength, flexibility, and stamina necessary to practice traditional yoga. Chair yoga is a very gentle way to move around and get active, yet also helps people build muscles and helps diabetics maintain their blood sugar levels.

Plus, you can practice chair yoga anywhere, from the privacy of your own home to your desk at the office. There are classes and tapes that make chair yoga an activity everybody can do—plus, you can even find videos on Youtube if you want to check out the exercises without the commitment of a class.

While chair yoga is undoubtedly a great activity for seniors, it is also a beneficial exercise for people of all ages.  People with conditions like Multiple Sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and other movement-limiting conditions have also reaped the benefits of chair yoga.  For MS patients, chair yoga helps battle muscle fatigue as well as depression.  Chair yoga also relieves the symptoms of anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, carpal tunnel, hypertension, and arthritis.

For people who work primarily in an office setting, chair yoga can be a simple way to get active at your desk. (Little known fact: the Health Plan One office break room has a guide to chair yoga on the refrigerator!) There are many chair yoga movements that you can do while seated, providing you with stress relief. Plus, you can stretch out the muscles and joints in your back, neck, and throughout your body, which can all get stiff while spending extended periods of time at a desk.

No matter what your age, physical activity is a key aspect of leading a healthy lifestyle. Whether you have limited mobility or spend hours daily at a desk, chair yoga can help add activity into your daily routine. Plus, chair yoga is great for stress relief. If you find that you really love chair yoga, try out chair tai chi or chair pilates to mix up your activities a little bit. All three of these exercises allow you to move around while staying seated, injecting movement and activity into sedentary lifestyles.

6 Best Foods for Diabetics

Eating a balanced diet is important for everyone, but when you’re diabetic, it’s even more critical for your health.  Simply improving the daily diet can help diabetics lose weight—in many cases, diabetes is linked to a patient’s obesity. In any case, adding certain foods to your diet can actually help you manage your diabetes—be it Type 1 or Type 2.  So, here are the 6 best foods for diabetics to eat!

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Are these the best foods for diabetics? Read on to find out!

  1. Vegetables. Yes, it’s probable that everyone and their mother has advised you to add more vegetables to your diet. Thing is, they’re right! Vegetables are almost universally low in calories and high in fiber, allowing you to eat more and feel fuller afterwards. Vegetables naturally have fewer simple carbohydrates—which actually raise your blood sugar levels—and saturated fats—which can lead to insulin resistance in your body.  Try to incorporate three to four servings of vegetables to your diet.. Canned vegetables tend to be high in sodium, and vegetables cooked in decadent sauces lose their health value when they’re slathered in butter.  Avoid starchier vegetables like potatoes, corn, and peas, and instead opt for dark leafy greens, cucumber, cabbage, and peppers.
  2. Poultry breast meat. You can still eat delicious meats like chicken or turkey if you’re diabetic! Just stick to the breast meat, a lean protein that is low in both calories and saturated fat. Foods high in saturated fat can drastically increase insulin resistance and cholesterol. Skin your turkey and chicken breasts to further reduce fat and increase health benefits.  When you’re cooking with lean breast meat, don’t fry them! Instead,  cut down on fat even more by baking, broiling, or grilling your poultry.
  3. Yogurt. If you’re like me, you love dairy products.  Yogurt is a personal favorite of mine—and it’s also great for diabetics. All kinds of yogurt are good sources of calcium—which can help you lose weight and control your insulin levels.  Many yogurts are also high in protein. Choose low-fat or non-fat yogurt to cut down on your fat intake. You can add fiber-rich fresh fruit to plain yogurt for some extra flavor and added nutritional value.
  4. Olive Oil. Too often we hear that we should avoid consuming fats in our daily diets.  Olive oil is a “good fat” that helps reduce insulin resistance.  Try incorporating some olive oil into your daily routine. It’s really easy to cook with, and you can even use it as a topping on bread instead of a solid fat like butter.  Still, olive oil is packed with calories, so be sure to eat it in moderation.
  5. Fish. Fish is yet another source of lean protein.  Most fish are naturally rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which help improve your cholesterol and triglycerides.  In particular, diabetics should choose fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon, which are all very high in Omega-3 fatty acids.  Remember, prepare your fish by baking, broiling, grilling, or steaming—avoid fried dishes like fish and chips.
  6. Beans. Beans are yet another rich source of protein and dietary fiber, which helps you feel fuller longer.  Beans also slow down digestion, preventing your blood sugar from spiking and lowering overall blood sugar numbers.  You can add them to salads, soups, and pastas—so long as you avoid cooking them in butter or lard.

For more guidance on what to eat to manage your diabetes, check out the Create your Plate page on the American Diabetes Association website.

Anesthesiologists Use New Environmentally Friendly Chemicals

Doctors are well known for taking care of their patients, and lately for trying to go green. By using anesthesia, surgeons can eliminate stress and pain during a surgery, allowing the procedure to be completed in comfort—at least, in comparison to a surgery without anesthetics.

One group of doctors is looking to care for the environment as well—also concerning the use of anesthesia. By selecting certain anesthetics, some doctors are able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Anesthesiologists Use New Environmentally Friendly Chemicals

Once a doctor finishes a surgery, the anesthetic gas is released into the air.  Many of these gasses have an impact on the environment, contributing to the notorious greenhouse effect. According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, anesthesia used at an average hospital has a carbon footprint equivalent to that of several parking lots full of cars (a carbon footprint is the entire greenhouse gas emissions caused by one product: basically, it’s a calculation of how much of an impact a product has on the environment).

When an anesthetic is inhaled by a patient, the body makes few changes. The gas is generally released into the atmosphere as medical waste, and often acts as greenhouse gases once they have been in the atmosphere for an extended period of time.  Keep in mind that the study does not recommend that doctors cease using anesthetics—rather,

Not all anesthetics have such a deep imprint on the environment. Susan M. Ryan, anesthesiology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted a study on the most commonly used anesthetics to determine their carbon footprints. Certain products are less damaging to the air—like sevoflurane, which the study determined to the product with the smallest carbon footprint.

Sevoflurane is the most commonly used anesthetic at UC Davis Medical Center—however, it’s not because of its toddler-sized carbon footprint.  Rather, doctors prefer sevoflurane because they find it less irritating to patients’ lungs than other options.  In the same vein, the anesthetic with the largest footprint, desflurane, is used less frequently because it irritates the lungs more than other products.

Still, one must not discount the effects of these gases on the environment.  Acccording to the study, using the gas desflurane for just 60 minutes has the same impact on the environment as driving your car for up to 470 miles. In the end, Dr. Ryan suggested that doctors make small changes to help save the environment—while also ensuring the safety of their patients.  The study also proposed that researchers develop a way to dispose of anesthetic gases without releasing them into the atmosphere.

While our own health is undoubtedly important, maintaining the health of the world we live in is equally important. Hopefully doctors can both look after patients and the environment by making Dr. Ryan’s proposed changes happen.

One Vision Issue All Seniors Should Know About

If you’re over the age of sixty, chances are that you’ve already heard about cataracts.  The word “cataract” refers to a condition where the lens of your eye grows cloudy, affecting vision by decreasing your visibility.  The lens of the eye is comprised of protein and water. As time goes on, the protein in the eye begins to bundle together, making it more difficult for light to pass through your eye and fogging up vision.  Consequently, cataracts “fog” vision, preventing sufferers from seeing as clearly as they used to.

Over half of people over the age of 80 have or will develop cataracts in their life time.  Three fifths of people over the age of 60 will eventually develop cataracts as well. This does not mean that younger people don’t get cataracts—you can actually develop cataracts during your 40s to 50s, but the cataracts generally do not actively impact your vision until you reach your 60s or 70s. Why? Well, during middle age, cataracts are much smaller and do not block as much light from entering the eye, and in older age, cataracts have had the time to grow much larger and therefore block out more light.  The good thing is that you can’t “catch” cataracts, and just because you have cataracts in one eye doesn’t mean it’ll “infect” the other eye.

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Diagram of Cataract in the Eye

Generally, cataracts develop because of old age, but can also form in other ways. Cataracts are linked with diabetes and steroid use. Researchers have also found links between cataracts and steroid use, diuretics, tranquilizers, and smoking.

Other people develop cataracts after surgery for other eye diseases, or after injuries to the eye itself.  Radiation exposure is also linked to cataracts.  Babies can even be born with congenital cataracts!

Most practitioners agree all people, regardless of age, should protect their vision by wearing wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses when they’re out in the sun—some studies have shown connections between UV rays and cataracts.  Other providers suggest eating a diet high in antioxidants to cataracts.  Once you hit the age of 60, you should also go for eye screenings at least every two years to keep your eye health intact.

If you notice changes in your eyesight, you may have cataracts. Common symptoms include blurry vision, “faded” color spectrum, a persistent glare, and eyesight that gets worse at night.  These symptoms are also shared with a number of other eye diseases, so it is important to visit your eye care practitioner to confirm your diagnosis.

If you’re one of the many people who develop cataracts, you’re in luck.  Cataract surgery is a very painless, effective surgery with new developments in eye medicine. In the past, doctors would simply remove the faulty lenses, leaving patients without a lens to focus vision. As a result, patients reported poor, blurry vision.  Now, surgeons replace the old lens with a clear plastic artificial lens, which can actually eliminate the need for glasses.  In fact, the new lenses are so effective that 90 percent of people who have had surgery report improvement in eyesight.

The Crying Game: Does shedding tears help shed stress?

If you’re like me, you love a good cry every once in a while. Every so often, when you’re overwhelmed with emotions and stress, crying can bring you a sense of relief and calmness.

Did you know that crying actually has some health benefits?

There are three different varieties of tears that your body secretes on a regular basis.  First is the reflex tear, which protects your eyes from bad particles and dust, especially when they’ve been irritated by smoke, chemicals, and other types of gas. These tears are comprised of 98 percent water, and act as a sort of shield for the eye.  The next type of tear is continual, which keeps the eyes and nose lubricated and healthy.  Continual tears contain lysozyme, an antibacterial chemical that protects the eye from infections.

The third type is emotional tears, which release stress hormones in the body. Whenever you have an emotional cry, your body releases prolactin, a major stress hormone, and other stress hormones. Thus, after your crying session, your heart rate and breathing will slow down and you will grow calmer. Prolactin actually helps create tears as well: women tend to have higher levels of prolactin than men, which could explain why women are more likely to cry than men. However, prolactin is also released through sweat, and men tend to sweat more than women, so this does not mean that women are naturally more stressed out than men.

According to Dr. Judith Orloff, emotional tears encourage productions of endorphins in your body, leaving you feeling much more happy and relieved than before your cry. In fact, Dr. Orloff actually recommends crying to her patients to improve their emotional well being.

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Crying Releases Stress Hormones

High levels of stress hormones can actually harm your body, especially brain cells. Specifically, the hypothalamus, pre-frontal cortex, and hippocampus are the regions most damaged by stress hormones. In fact, these three brain regions are connected to the reduction of stress hormones—and damage to all three is often linked to mood disorders.

Your brain isn’t the only body part under the fire of stress hormones. Research has shown that stress hormones most notably harm the cardiovascular system, endocrine system, and immune system—as well as most other organ systems in the body. Because the body sheds stress hormones through tears, crying can actually help protect your organs and brain. Not only do you feel better, but your body grows healthier while you cry.

The benefits of crying do not end with simple health benefits. Crying can actually help form relationships! According to a 2009 study completed by evolutionary biologist Dr. Oren Hasson, emotional tears can actually build relationships between two people.  Early on, people cried to gain empathy from enemies and garner sympathy from other groups—leading to alliances and help.  Nowadays, crying can strengthen connections between family, friends, spouses, and associates. According to Hasson, crying can indicate how much you care for or trust another person, further developing the interpersonal relationship

No matter how you slice it, crying can actually benefit both your physical and emotional health (even if you feel awful while bawling your eyes out).  So next time you feel the urge to shed a tear, let ‘er rip and release those stress hormones.

Yummy Meals with ALL Your Food Groups

Let’s face it, eating a balanced diet isn’t necessarily at the top of our priority list. The official United States guideline to a health diet changes from year to year. While many Americans do work on eating a balanced diet, many others have fallen victim to over processed junk foods and fast food. With the obesity epidemic raging on and heart disease rates skyrocketing, encouraging healthy diets has never been more crucial in the United States.

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She's got veggies covered, but are the other food groups in there?

By consuming nutritionally rich food, you can encourage the proper growth and development of your body.  In order to maximize diet benefits, it’s important to eat food from a variety of different groups and sources.  The US Department of Agriculture frequently updates its guidelines to healthy eating, and the most recent model emphasizes balancing food groups and physical activity.

There are six different food groups that you should consider when planning your and your family’s meals. You should aim to eat around 3 ounces of whole grains—including breads, rice, pastas, and cereals—every day, focusing in on whole grains like oatmeal and brown rice. Try to avoid white, refined grains, which have less vitamins, fiber, and iron.  If you’re eating white rice, white bread, or white flour products, you’re eating refined grains—unless the product is enriched.

You should also aim to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day to stay healthy.  You can eat fruits and vegetables dried, cooked, and raw, and can easily incorporate them into your diet as snacks throughout your day.  For vegetables, try to eat more dark, leafy greens and orange vegetables like carrots. As for fruit, try to change up what you eat and try more delicious fruits.

To incorporate more bone-strengthening calcium into your diet, try do incorporate 2-3 cups of milk products into your daily diet. Drinking milk itself is an easy way to get the dairy you need.  Cheeses, yogurts, and even the occasional ice cream cones are also alternatives for adding dairy to your diet.

Don’t forget to add oils to your diets! While at first you may feel the urge to cut fats completely out of your diet, a limited supply (around 5-6 teaspoons, depending on your age and gender).  However, avoid “solid” fats like butter, which contain saturated and trans fats that can increase your cholesterol levels. You can use cooking oils like olive oil or sunflower oil, and can also eat foods like avocado, nuts, olives, and fish that naturally contain the oils you need.

Finally, make sure your diet is full of protein! To do so, cook meals full of lean meats and beans.  Beef, ham, pork, chicken, turkey, eggs, and fish are all examples of quality lean meats.  Beans, peas, and nuts are also excellent ways of boosting your protein intake.  Depending on your age and gender, try to eat around 5-6 ounces of protein daily.

If you’re still unsure when it comes to balancing your diet, try the USDA Balanced Meal Planner. It’s a great tool that visually shows you how much of each group you’re eating.

If you’re looking for ways to add healthy foods into your family’s diet, check out  Fix Me A Snack, a great blog by Cindy Rowland, which promotes healthy snacking and shows a variety of easy recipes for all the food groups. It’s Not About Nutrition by Dina R. Rose, PhD is a great resource for nutrition as well.

Breast Cancer Awareness Week!

This week marks the beginning of breast cancer awareness week.  Breast cancer is a cancer that primarily affects breast tissues.  Both men and women can develop breast cancer, although male breast cancer is relatively rare.  People of all ages, races, sexual preference, and social backgrounds are at risk for breast cancer.  In 2010, over 200,000 American women and nearly 2,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Almost 40,000 women and 400 men will succumb to the disease this year.

People of all ages, races, sexual preferences, and social backgrounds are at risk for breast cancer.  Still, white women are more likely to develop breast cancer than any other group—specifically, Jewish women of Eastern European descent are disproportionately affected. However, African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. Plus, although younger women can develop breast cancer, older women are at a higher risk than any other age group. Remember, women and men with a family history of breast cancer are at a higher risk than the general population—especially if family members were diagnosed with the disease before the age of 50.

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Celebrate this Breast Cancer Awareness Week!

Most breast cancers begin in the ducts, which carry breast milk to the nipple, or to the lobules, the glands that create breast milk.  During the first stages of breast cancer, there are few noticeable symptoms. Breast tumors tend to develop very slowly—in fact, it can take up to a decade before you can even notice a lump in your breast.  However, there are symptoms that every woman (and even man) should be aware of.  Some patients notice nipple discharge, a change in the shape and size of the breast and nipples, and lumps in and around the breast.  Others develop scaly red skin around the breasts.

Once diagnosed, breast cancer is treatable: there is an 89% survival rate through the first five years after diagnosis.  Women who find that they have breast cancer early on have a very high survival rate. There are many different types of treatment that vary in effectiveness from person to person. Mastectomy (breast surgery) and radiation can remove tumors in the breasts. Hormone therapy and chemotherapy are also used to target the cancer through the bloodstream. Depending on the person, the treatments can also be combined depending on the stage of breast cancer.

Due to increasing levels of awareness, major steps have been made in breast cancer research. In August, researchers released the results of a study that linked a certain protein to breast cancer treatment. Ferroportin is a protein that removes iron from cells.  According to the study, patients with lower cellular ferroportin levels, tumors thrived on elevated iron levels, expanding in size and increasing in aggressiveness. Patients with low levels of  ferroportin were more likely to have aggressive cases of breast cancer, while women with high ferroportin levels were 90% more likely to beat the cancer. As a side note, the study followed iron levels within the cells, not iron consumed in your daily diet. This development may help researchers create new treatments, and is also a good marker for survival.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Week, be sure to spread the word about the disease. By raising awareness, we can develop treatments and hopefully eliminate breast cancer once and for all.

Robotic Seal Helps Dementia Patients

Soothing dementia patients can often be a difficult task. Pet therapy has been proven to reduce anxiety and other symptoms in dementia patients. Many nursing homes utilize animals because they are so effective with patients, whether or not they have dementia. Birds, dogs, rabbits, and sometimes cats bring comfort to agitated patients.  Animals allow many patients nationwide to engage with the world and with each other.

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Much like this happy harbor seal, Paro the Robot Seal soothes dementia patients

Japanese researchers have developed Paro, a therapy robot designed to look like a baby harp seal, expanding on the concept of pet therapy. Paro is not your ordinary robot.  The seal comes equipped with various sensors and other features that allow him to act like a real animal.  Paro coos and cuddles like a real animal, offering comfort to senior dementia patients and young children alike.  When you pet Paro, it feels you are stroking a real warm, soft animal. Paro responds to its name and different patterns of stroking, imitating a real baby harp seal. Paro is powered by a plug that looks like a pacifier.

Nursing homes and other care facilities throughout the United States have taken Paro for a test ride. Some nursing homes have found success by using Paro with their dementia patients. In Pittsburgh, many elder care employees have noticed changes in patients as they interact with Paro. One woman noted that her dementia-stricken mother was more clearheaded and more eager to interact with other people while playing with Paro. At another nursing home in the Pittsburgh area, staff has already noticed that the baby seal has soothed patients. Unlike therapy animals, Paro is available to patients 24/7, and is also hypoallergenic. A 2009 study showed that Paro, used as a treatment tool, helped improve dementia patient communication and mood.

Despite the benefits that Paro has brought to some patients, there are still people who question the ethics of replacing human contact with a robotic seal—no matter how lifelike the seal is.  If Paro is widely adopted, will busy caregivers simply shove a Paro into a patient’s arms and run off? Dr. Kent Bottles, writing for the KevinMD.com blog, believes that Paro should be a last resort, preferring the benefits of good old human interaction and pet therapy.

Personally, I feel that Paro is indeed beneficial when used in moderation.  Paro should not be a substitute for human interaction, pet therapy, or medical care. However, Paro does soothe and comfort these patients, who are often difficult to deal with. Puppies and bunnies are not always available for distressed dementia or Alzheimer’s patients. Dementia patients commonly cling to dolls when distressed. Is Paro that different from a doll? Sometimes, these people find difficulty connecting with people in their scared, confused state of mind, leaving pet therapy or Paro as a good option.  An object that brings such comfort to a sick elderly person should not be discarded.  Ultimately, Paro should not be used as a complete replacement for human contact or animal therapy.  Despite its benefits, Paro cannot replace emotional relationships with live animals or other people.

You’re NOT too legit to quit—Smoking, that is

Chances are that you are one out of the 21 percent of American adults over the age of eighteen who regularly smokes cigarettes. And chances are, if you’re one of those people, you should quit smoking. Yes, you’ve heard it all before. Smoking is bad for you (fact). Still, no matter how much you enjoy smoking, you should (and can) quit.

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Thousands of seniors have quit smoking - and are healthier for it!

So why should you quit?

First of all, it’s well documented that smoking is bad for your health.  There are over 400,000 smoking related deaths every year—both smokers and people exposed to second hand smoke.  Smoking also increases your risk of stroke and many types.  Plus, the day to day effects of smoking can be quite crippling. Are you tired of huffing and puffing as you walk up the stairs to work? Does the smell of the tobacco on your clothing repel potential romantic partners? Are you sick and tired of smoker’s cough? Quitting is a great option for you.

Plus, smoking wastes hundreds of dollars per year.  If you smoke just 5 cigarettes per day, you could save almost $325 per year just by quitting (depending on the brand you smoke). If you’re a heavy smoker who inhales a pack a day, you could save $1,300 every year, again, depending on the brand.  To find out how much money you could save by quitting cigarettes once and for all, check out the financial cost of smoking calculator from the American Heart Association.

How should you quit?

There are several well-documented strategies for quitting.  Many people opt to quit cold turkey, abruptly. Most importantly, when you stop smoking, you should stop completely. Simply cutting back on cigarette consumption doesn’t help your health, and it also makes you more likely to smoke just as much as you were before.

Remember, half of all adult smokers have quit smoking—and it is possible for you to do so yourself.  The United States Center for Disease Control suggests that you write down why you want to quit. That way, you can look at the list to keep yourself motivated. Plus, understand that you will most likely face withdrawal from nicotine—including moodiness and other symptoms—which will be hard, but something that can be done.

There are also many products on the market that can aid you in your quest.  Many transitioning smokers use nicotine gum—packs of gum with varying levels of nicotine—to satisfy their cravings.  Still others make use of the nicotine patch, a patch which releases nicotine into the body to help former smokers get their fix.  Studies have shown that people who use the patch have a 2.5% higher success rate of quitting than those who quit nicotine completely.

Still think you can’t do it?

A recent study at Yale University has shown that smokers are able to control their cravings for cigarettes.  The study watched the brains of smokers as they saw cigarettes and foods. Smokers were able to control cravings after they were instructed to think of smoking’s consequences.  The study concluded that smokers lack good quitting strategies and motivation to quit—and perhaps that maybe there’s nothing different in their brains that prevents them from putting their packs down once and for all.

So please, throw out your cigarettes and save your money and your health. You can quit smoking, and you’ll be better for it!