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Stay Sun Safe

The sun shining at McIntyre Creek pond in Whitehorse (Yukon) | Photo: Gurdeep Pandher

It’s the beginning of August, which means it’s really heating up here on the Yukon. With sunshine every day and warm temperatures, it’s hard to stay indoors. The sunlight warms you up inside and out, and gives you a good dose of vitamin D. However, without taking proper precautions, it can also cause sunburn, premature aging, and even lead to cancer. So how can you preserve your skin’s health? Read on to find out.

Covering up when you head out is very important. Obviously, with the heat, wearing long sleeve sweaters and jeans is not the answer. A loose shirt that covers at least half your arm and a breezy maxi skirt or longer shorts, however, are viable options. For even more protection, bring an umbrella, sunglasses, and a hat out as well. Make sure, after a few hours of sun, you head into the shade for some rest to prevent heatstroke as well as sunburn.

As everyone knows, sunscreen is mandatory if you want to go out anywhere, in any weather. Yes, cloudy days can damage your skin as well, though obviously not as easily. Depending on where you live and what the weather is like on that day, the SPF you choose can vary. However, you can never go wrong with at least an SPF 30 sunscreen. Slather it on liberally a few minutes prior to heading outside, and reapply often, especially if you’re staying outside for an extended time or exercising.

Sunburn isn’t the only discomfort the sun can give you; hyperthermia (overheating) is common as well. To prevent it, drink lots of fluids, and limit your sun exposure. If at any point you feel sweaty, lethargic, and uncomfortable, head inside for a while. If the temperatures get really hot, and you don’t have an air conditioner at home, head out to the mall or library, where it’s bound to be chilly, or go swimming. If, somehow, none of those options are available, there’s no harm in taking a cold shower.

The sun is only around for a limited time, so take advantage of it while it lasts. However, no matter what a hassle toting an umbrella is or how time consuming slathering on sunscreen is, it’s still important to take good care of yourself and stay safe. However, if you don’t feel like heading outside, sitting by the air conditioner engrossed in a good book is a great way to pass the time as well.

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Conscious Eldering: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older

Larry Gray

By: Larry Gray

It is no measure of health to be well-adapted to a profoundly sick society.

– J. Krishnamurti

Frail. Incompetent. Slow. Long in the tooth. Clumsy. Over the hill. Having a senior moment. Grumpy.

Have you heard any of these stereotypical words or phrases in reference to you? Or someone you know? These are phrases and messages that make judgements of the inevitable fact that, like every other living thing, we are all destined to grow old and eventually die.

Aging, dying and death are completely natural – as right as rain. Yet, we live in a culture that is profoundly disconnected from the natural world. This disconnection shows up in myriad ways and one of them is in the prevailing cultural attitudes towards aging, dying and death. Part of that attitude is simple denial.

In western culture, we sometimes disparage “seniors” or “elders” (these are sometimes just convenient labels that convey little about real people) and even treat them in condescending and demeaning ways. This is a means of distancing ourselves from them for they are reminders of our own inevitable aging and death, which we would rather not think about.

But there are other reasons why our attitudes towards older people, as reflected in some of the cultural messaging, are distorted and disempowering for both the elders and for the people around them.

And that lies within the very body, heart, mind and spirit of the elder him/herself.

Let’s consider our bodies, for example. One of the courses I teach at Yukon College is called Environmental Change and Community Health. One of the models of health is called the biomedical model – essentially, Western medicine. If you have a broken leg, there’s not much a naturopath or holistic healer can do. You want to go to a Western-trained medical doctor who can put your leg in a cast. That’s because doctors are trained to focus on the physical body.

There are many other models of health and probably the most powerful (and empowering) one is based on and rooted in indigenous wisdom. That is the medicine wheel – a model of health that recognizes the Circle of Life (and death) and considers the whole person – body, mind, spirit and emotions.

As we age, there are inevitable changes in the physical body. But these changes need not defeat us or disempower us at all. Sometimes these changes accelerate simply because we believe they will – we are told by the surrounding culture that, after a certain age, our bodies are in a continual downspin and there is nothing we can do about it.

None of this is necessarily true, but many people do buy into such beliefs because these beliefs are so prevalent. And so a self-fulfilling prophesy is set in motion. The fact that millions of people believe something doesn’t automatically make it true.

The truth is we can maintain optimal physical health, strength and vigour well into our 70s, 80s and beyond. My First Nations teacher says that we are not allowed to say we are tired until we are at least 70!

But consider also that we are more than our physical bodies. We have a mental life – thoughts, reflections, memories. We are full of stories that need to be told. We have an emotional life – a complex one, so much more nuanced and balanced and rich than a younger person’s. And we have a spiritual life – a relationship with something greater than ourselves – whether that be Nature itself, God, the Creator or whatever one’s belief system is.

The later years offer a tremendous opportunity to develop all these aspects of ourselves. And so we need not worry so much about growing old. The chronology of one’s life – the passing years – will take care of itself. We can focus not so much on growing old, but on growing whole.

We can train our attention inward, on developing our inner life, healing our inner wounds and traumas, harvesting our hard-earned wisdom, letting go of emotional baggage (and material clutter, too), reframing our life’s experiences in ways that empower and inspire us going forward, creating a legacy for the world, preparing for our inevitable dying and death.

All of this and much more are part of a profound, inspiring and transformative vision of growing older. This vision is called “Conscious Eldering”. This is a process – a way of living in the latter third of one’s life – that counters and reverses the negative and disempowering stereotypes that are part of the surrounding culture. It is, therefore, counter-cultural.

In this model of aging, the latter third of life becomes the pinnacle of one’s development as a human being. It is the very summit of human development – not the decline we are told it is.

I am a baby boomer. My father was on the battlefields of Holland in World War II. He was traumatized by his war experience (who wouldn’t be?) and he never did recover from it. He led a broken life after that because he himself was broken. There was little support in the surrounding culture to help him heal his wounds. So he became trapped in them and never grew whole. He just grew old and not very old at that. He died at the young age of 73.

But the generation that came after his – the baby boomers – have other ideas. We are the first generation in human history to have the potential for long life. There are many reasons for this, including advances in medicine and our knowledge and understanding of health – of the importance of diet, exercise, rest, stress management, work-life balance and other healthy lifestyle factors.

So there is now in western society a huge wave of baby boomers entering their sixth decade of life – their 60s – and they have access to new perspectives on aging. As a group, these perspectives or approaches form the conscious aging movement.

Within this movement, there are several streams each with a slightly different focus. Some focus on healthy lifestyle. This includes healthy eating, daily exercise, periods of rest and often travel – retired baby boomers love to travel!

Another stream focuses on developing an encore career. In this model, you may retire, but you don’t put your feet up – you focus your energy on some new and fulfilling endeavour.

Another stream focuses on volunteer work. Research shows that people who volunteer are healthier and live longer lives. And a fourth stream focuses on inter-generational enjoyment and sharing of wisdom. This usually involves a focus on grandchildren.

These are all valid and empowering approaches.

The beauty of conscious eldering is that it embraces all of these visions of aging and goes even further. It is based on a vision of human development that sees the elder as, to use psychologist Carl Jung’s term, an archetype that is built right into the human psyche. It becomes activated sometime in our middle years – the mid-life period. The middle of your life becomes a starting point for a second journey through life, a journey that becomes the realization of your full human potential.

So the call to become a conscious elder is an ancient and archetypal call that can be found in indigenous cultures around the world – cultures that are embedded and deeply rooted in respectful relationship with the Earth, with Nature. And this call and this model of aging have now been discovered by a Western culture that is also now re-discovering its own relationship with Nature – the living Earth.

Conscious eldering is a choice each of us must make. Do we want to just grow old and become elderly? Or do we want to grow whole, do the deep inner work that this requires and become the very best version of ourselves in the latter years? Each of us must ask, at some point in our lives, do we want to become conscious elders?

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Yukoners are getting sick with the flu!

Yukoners are getting sick with the flu!

Whitehorse (January 8, 2013) – Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley is reminding Yukoners to get their flu shot as flu activity surges.

“We have another early start to flu season with 16 lab-confirmed cases of influenza in Yukon since early December,” Hanley said. “That’s only the tip of the iceberg since we know that for every lab-confirmed case, many more are not officially diagnosed.”

As in the rest of the country, most of the influenza is affecting adults in the young to middle-age group. The majority of confirmed strain types have been H1N1, which is covered by this year’s vaccine. As well, there have been hospitalized cases with suspected influenza, awaiting laboratory confirmation.

“If you haven’t received your immunization yet, I recommend you to do so,” Hanley said. “While the most vulnerable are usually the very young and those over the age of 65 years, this year’s flu is just as likely to affect young adults.”

Hanley warns, however, that supplies of influenza vaccine may be limited: “We have already surpassed last year’s total of vaccine doses given. Although we are making contingency plans for extra vaccine, there are demands across the country and there is no guarantee that we will have enough for all comers.”

Kwanlin Dün Health Centre offers flu immunizations Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Whitehorse Health Centre also offers flu immunizations Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and Fridays from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. People can also make an appointment for a flu shot by calling the Whitehorse Health Centre at 667-8864.

For drop-in times in the communities, contact the nearest Community Health Centre.

This increased flu activity and its effects on the adult population are very similar to what is happening in British Columbia, Alberta and Alaska, which have also noted an increase in serious cases and hospitalizations. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 97 per cent of strains tested so far match the current vaccine types.

Hanley adds that Yukoners can help protect themselves by:

  • getting immunized;
  • covering their mouths when they cough and coughing away from others; and
  • washing their hands frequently.

Symptoms of influenza include rapid onset of fever, cough, sore throat, aches and pains. Rest and symptomatic treatment are often all that is needed. People who suspect they have the flu should stay home until they are feeling better. Those with severe symptoms or underlying medical conditions should get medical advice, either by calling the Yukon Healthline – 811 or consulting with their community nurse, family physician or the physician at Emergency.

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Cleanse Yourself of the Myths

Cleanse Yourself of the Myths

By Melanie Hackett

If you are interested in health you have probably heard of “cleansing” diets aimed at ridding your body of toxins by reducing what you eat to a very limited selection of healthy products for two or three weeks.

But wait! Is our physiology that straightforward?  No way.  These diets simply don’t do what they are intended for.  In fact, more toxins are created during these diets!  Of course, there are many different types of detox diets.  Like all fad diets, most of these are merely a tool for companies to earn money off unwary consumers and aren’t based on science at all.  Even my mother, a very health-conscious and active 61-year-old who generally looks for the science, used to do annual “cleansing” fasts consuming nothing but elderberry juice for a week in an attempt to “flush away” toxins.  I will focus on these types of “cleanses”.

In most people with a healthy diet, blood sugar levels are well regulated by two hormones: insulin and glucagon.  Insulin, released by the pancreas after a meal, is the bus driver that takes the blood sugar to work.  Mr Sugar’s workplace is inside all body cells where it can be used as energy for all cell function.  Extra glucose (sugar) combines forming a substance called glycogen, which gets stored in the liver and muscle.  The hormone glucagon, opposite of insulin, is the vehicle that takes Mr. Sugar from these stores back into the blood when your blood sugar gets low.  These glycogen stores are crucial for maintaining blood glucose levels when you aren’t eating.  They can be completely depleted after only a couple of hours of exercise at a heart rate 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. So how do we rebuild them?  Only with a diet high in carbohydrates (fruits, veggies, quinoa, rice, whole grain bread, etc.)!  These stores can also be depleted within a couple of days of consuming much less than you are expending, or not having a diet consisting of about 60 percent carbohydrates.

When the glycogen runs out, your liver breaks down fatty acids and proteins to use for energy instead.  The by-products are three types of what we call ketones.  Two of these are used by the heart and brain, and the third is a waste product stressing the kidneys.  Ketones also make your blood more acidic.  To correct this, your respiratory system goes haywire, and in extreme cases this can be fatal.

For the Bioscience Geeks:

When the pH of your blood is too low, you’ll start to hyperventilate to expel more carbon dioxide.  This works because in the blood, carbon dioxide combines with water and forms bicarbonate and a hydrogen ion (the latter of which makes the blood more acidic).  What’s in your lungs goes into your blood through structures called alveoli.  If there is less carbon dioxide available, fewer hydrogen ions will be produced, and your blood pH will therefore go back to normal.  However, less carbon dioxide also means there is less of a stimulus to breathe.  This is how it can cause fatality.

The main point here is that rather than “flushing away” toxins, we create toxins when we don’t eat enough carbs.  Excess ketones and the physiological effect they have can be considered toxic in the human body.  These effects are pretty much identical to what happens both during starvation and during diabetic coma when a diabetic’s blood sugar is extremely high because they lack insulin, sugar’s bus driver, to help the sugar from the blood to the starved cells.  This is also what happens during the Atkin’s diet, one that should only be tried in morbidly obese people who are at alarming risk of fatality if they don’t lose weight.  In general, if a diet is not healthy or is impossible to maintain permanently, it probably should not be done at all.

When we don’t eat enough carbohydrates and our glycogen stores run out, the use of proteins for energy instead can be compared to burning fossil fuels.  Instead of using renewable energy such as Whitehorse’s hydroelectric power, there are many more waste products with fossil fuels.  The net breakdown of proteins to provide energy (either in a high protein diet such as the Atkin’s diet or when the body is starved of carbs in “cleansing” diets) not only creates ketones, but also causes a negative nitrogen balance, meaning there is a lot of nitrogenous waste being produced.  Just as the burning of fossil fuels taxes Earth’s atmosphere, this taxes the liver as it tries to rid itself of the waste products.  The immune system is weakened, and the levels of cortisol, our long-term stress hormone, may increase, further weakening the immune system.

The physiological effects discussed above merely state what toxins build up in the body and the negative effect on health during “detox” diets, and that’s not even to mention the nutrient deficiencies that occur during such limited diets, which have a cascade of harmful effects in the body.