Tag Archives: Healthy lifestyle

Why Aren’t Flu Vaccines Free for Everyone?

If you have health insurance in the United States, you can usually get a flu vaccine for nothing. But for the 28.9 million Americans who are uninsured, a flu vaccine can cost up to $50. For a population that is often hard pressed, this can be unaffordable. And if you have a family of 4 to vaccinate, the numbers are even worse.

Meanwhile, COVID vaccines cost absolutely nothing, whether you have insurance or not. Why aren’t we doing the same for flu vaccines?

Medicare pays $10-60 for flu vaccines, with an average price of $36 across all the vaccines they cover. If the federal government bought one for every uninsured American, the price would be $1.04 billion.

In the midst of the COVID pandemic, it’s easy to forget just how deadly the common flu can be. But the flu has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans per year since 2010.

How do we decide if a policy is worth it compared to the number of lives it could save? The government uses a figure called the “statistical value of a human life” to measure whether many policies, such as environmental regulations, are worth it or not. That figure is about $10 million.

At that rate, giving a free flu shot to every uninsured American would only have to save 100 lives a year in order to pay for itself entirely. That’s just 0.2% to 0.8% of all flu deaths. Offering free flu vaccines to 8.8% of the entire population would probably prevent a lot more than a fraction of a percent of flu deaths.

Let’s give this policy a try!

For more on health, check out these posts:

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Photo: “01a.UStreet.NW.WDC.13September2015” by Elvert Barnes is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

How I Eat Delicious Organic Produce for Next to Nothing: Introducing Misfits Market

Last Saturday, my wife went to a farmer’s market with her friend. As her friend loaded up on yummy veggies, my wife noticed something: she was paying $40 for a small bag of vegetables while we pay $26 for twice as much. And ours is 100% organic, whereas the farmer’s market haul was only about half.

Do we have special connections down on the farm? Sort of…

For over a year, my wife and I have gotten almost all our produce from Misfits Market, a subscription service that sends a big box of delicious, all-organic fruits and vegetables to your door every week. The quality is absolutely exceptional. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless chunks under harsh lights on salad bars until I tried theirs! Colorful, peppery, crispy, delicious!

Misfits is a great way to introduce yourself to new kinds of produce. I’ve tried golden beets, turnips, rutabagas, chard, collard greens, and countless other delicious things I never would’ve thought to buy otherwise. Getting the surprise veg each week is like Christmas! But if you prefer to choose your produce, they offer that as well.

We pay $26.25 a week for more than enough veggies for both of us. In fact, we often have to delay our next shipment (easy to do), so our real cost is probably barely over $20/week.

Before we got Misfits, I would buy a smaller assortment of veggies at Aldi for about $20. To get as much produce as Misfits, Aldi would run at least $30, even for non-organic! And Aldi is about the cheapest grocery store there is.

So let’s review:

1) Cheaper than any grocery store
2) Incredible taste
3) All-organic
4) Shipped to your door

What’s not to like? Well, nothing, which is why my wife and I have been loyal Misfits customers for so long! If you want to join us, use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

They have plans for households of 2-3 and a larger box for bigger households. FYI: Single-person households won’t be able to eat all this.

Enjoy in good health!

For more posts about health and nutrition, check out some of these:

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Check out the Stuff I Use page for some great deals on products and services I use to improve my health and productivity. They just might help you too! 

My Top 3 Exercises for Core Strength (The First One Will Make You Cry)

Do them until the vein in your forehead bursts!

Yesterday, I was speaking with a relative who’s nearing 60. She’s been doing a ton of hard work to strengthen her legs after dealing with a knee issue. Now, she wanted to add some serious abdominal exercises for extra power and stability. I thought that if she needed this information, you guys might too!

Many of us know how to do a push-up, but the best exercises to work your core aren’t as well known. The classic crunches have never given me the burn and strength increases that these do.

See the video below for an introduction to all three!

  1. Flutter Kicks

A mainstay of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDS) training. If it’s hard enough to challenge aspiring Navy SEALs, it should challenge us too! Lay on your back and move your legs in a scissor pattern without putting them down. After 90 seconds of this, my abs are fried from top to bottom.

  1. Plank

Until I started yoga, I had probably never done a plank properly in my life. The key is to get your shoulders above your wrists. When you do this, your core muscles will engage and you’re well on your way to serious strength gains.

  1. Boat Pose

Just did this in yoga this morning! You sit down, holding your legs up and bent and your arms alongside them, and open and close your body in a V shape. I find this particularly challenging for the lower abs.

Like all strength training exercises, I suggest doing them until failure. Keep going until your muscles give out. And if you’re hungry for more strength training resources, see this post.

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What Is the Ideal Amount of Exercise?

Above: Me sucking wind after a tough workout.

We often hear what the minimum amount of exercise we need is, but what amount of exercise is actually optimal? At what point have we reaped all the benefits exercise has to offer, and possibly even gone over the edge into damaging overtraining?

With the largest snowstorm in years lashing my apartment today, I thought it was as good a time as any to try to find an answer.

The federal government recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. This establishes a useful lower bound we definitely shouldn’t dip below, but a highly cited study in JAMA Internal Medicine finds that you can get further longevity benefits by exercising a lot more:

the longevity benefit threshold appears to be approximately 3 to 5 times the recommended physical activity minimum

So, in order to be sure to get the maximum longevity benefit, you need to do five times the minimum recommended level of exercise. 5x the minimum recommended level would be 1 hour 47 minutes of moderate activity daily or 54 minutes of vigorous activity daily.

Furthermore, the study found no danger from exercising even more than what it takes to get the full longevity benefit:

there does not appear to be an elevated mortality risk with LTPA [leisure time physical activity] levels as high as 10 or more times the recommended minimum.

Looking at the differences between moderate and vigorous activity, I also wondered if one is better than the other. There doesn’t seem to be solid data to say that either moderate or vigorous activity is superior from a health perspective:

comprehensive reviews of the literature on physical activity and mortality report that overall volume of physical activity is associated with lower mortality risk but report mixed findings on the relative contributions of moderate- vs vigorous-intensity activities

So am I doing enough? Looking at the pedometer app on my phone, I’ve averaged 2.75 hours per day of walking (moderate intensity exercise) over the past year. I also do about 3-4 hours a week of vigorous exercise (yoga and strength training, mostly), so about 30 min daily.

So, I seem to be comfortably above the level needed to get the maximum longevity benefit. That said, counterintuitively, I sometimes find my mood is a little lower on days I don’t do vigorous activity. (You think you’d be happy for a rest day, but maybe not!) Just because I’m at the maximum amount of exercise to produce longevity benefits doesn’t mean that more exercise might not produce other benefits in terms of mental health, athletic ability, appearance, etc.

Since there appears to be no harm from even very high levels of activity, I may add another vigorous workout (likely yoga or calistenics) to my routine some weeks, depending on my schedule and desires at the time.

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Is There Real Science Behind Taking Vitamin D to Prevent COVID?

Many of us have heard that vitamin D might protect us from COVID, but is there real science behind these claims? Yesterday, I received a very thoughtful message from Dr. Peter Attia on the subject. Dr. Attia cites a randomized controlled trial from Spain that found the following:

patients not treated with vitamin D had 33.3 times the risk of ICU admission compared to patients treated with vitamin D

Vitamin D seems to help with disease severity even if it doesn’t prevent you from catching COVID in the first place. Dr. Attia also provides some good perspective on dosing.

there is virtually no risk to supplementing, say, 5,000 IU/day

I had heard that too much vitamin D could cause kidney stones, but Dr. Attia put those concerns to rest as well:

Too much vitamin D results in hypercalcemia, most commonly due to an overproduction of calcium that can result in kidney stones. However, vitamin D toxicity is not easy to come by: a review article noted that all published cases involved an intake of at least 40,000 IU/day. Even though the Food and Nutrition Board established a conservative dose threshold of 2,000 IU/day, some studies suggest that doses of up to 10,000 IU/day is safe for most adults.

I’ve taken 5,000 IU of Vitamin D for nearly 3 years with no ill effects that I can discern. I based that decision on information from this book that it may boost testosterone levels. I was also informed by this book, which noted that those who live in the north struggle to get sufficient vitamin D in the winter, regardless of the amount of sun exposure. The next step I need to take is to get blood levels of vitamin D taken to confirm the supplementation is getting me into the healthy range.

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New Research Identifies the Key Causes of Aging

Dr. Jeremy Walston, Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University and co-author of the study

I just read an interesting new study identifying the biggest causes of aging. The authors gathered a panel of leading experts on health and aging and asked them what the biggest risk factors are for failing health as the years go by. Here’s what they found:

Experts identified 13 factors predisposing to or clinically manifesting AACD [accelerated aging and cellular decline]. Among these, chronic diseases, obesity, and unfavorable genetic background were considered as the most important.

Early detection of accelerated aging and cellular decline (AACD): A
consensus statement

None of the risk factors will shock you, but seeing all the key risks laid out in order of importance can really help guide our decision making:

One risk stood out above all:

smoking was consistently viewed as the most prominent risk factor

So if you’re smoking, definitely consider quitting! I recently shared how I put down the cigarettes 6 years ago. Hopefully my experience can help.

These risks mostly boil down to either what you put into your body or what you do with your body. Here’s how I try to mitigate these risks:

  • Sleeping 8-9 hours a night
  • Exercising at least 4 times a week, in addition to walking at least 4 miles every day
  • Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and avoiding too many processed foods
  • Meditating most days, generally for 10-20 minutes

Although I did, incongruously, read this article while eating some potato chips, so there’s room for improvement! 🙂 Have a great weekend everyone!

Gyms Don’t Drive COVID Transmission…So Where Is Everyone?

After I finished a workout last night, I found myself chatting with the gym’s owner for the first time. He told me that some classes would be cancelled this week, due to both a lack of instructors and students. He hoped that it would be just this week. He also said business was down over 80%. This despite having taken countless precautions, including temperature screening, distancing and masking.

The data we have indicates that COVID transmission in gyms is very rare. In New York state, just 0.06% of cases could be traced to a gym. To put that in perspective, private gatherings in homes led to 74% of traceable cases. Further data from the UK and the University of Oregon Consulting Group also indicates minimal transmission in gyms.

And it stands to reason to me that cases that did originate in gyms would be dramatically easier to trace than those that originated in most other settings. Gyms have a list of members and sign-in sheets. Restaurants, bars, or private gatherings generally don’t. So my intuition tells me that if anything, the case fraction attributable to gyms is probably an overestimate, although I cannot prove that.

We should also bear in mind that every time we work out, we get healthier. Even if you do contract COVID, from whatever source, you’ll be in a far better position if your baseline level of health is higher.

And yet people aren’t showing up at my gym like they used to. Why is that? I think the cause is a reasonable fear coupled with a lack of specific information. So, please share this info with whoever you can!

I hope to see a smile on the owner’s face and full sign-up sheets soon!

“Woman Exercising – Credit to https://bestpicko.com/” by Bestpicko is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Sleep Hack I’m Loving

Yesterday, my wife gave me a gift that will keep on giving: a sleep mask. She recently started using one and noticed the quality of her sleep improved enormously. I observed her, intrigued.

Just before dinner, she presented me with a sleep mask of my very own! I took it for a, err, test drive, last night. I slept more deeply than I have in a long time, with less tossing and turning. I woke up an hour earlier than usual, dramatically more refreshed and energetic. My wife said she could easily tell I had much more energy than usual.

Sleep has an enormous impact on health. Lack of sleep demolishes the immune system, doubles cancer risk, and can cause Alzheimer’s, coronary artery disease, obesity and diabetes. The list of conditions lack of sleep can cause is enough to keep you up all night!

But for just a few dollars, you have a shot at really feeling rested in the morning. I don’t find the mask uncomfortable, and it’s very easy to put on. Anything that covers the eyes and is comfortable should work. The one I have is here.

Sweet dreams!