Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How Much Do I Have to Exercise?

Would you eat less if you knew how long you would have to exercise to burn off the calories from that burger with cheese and mayo at the local fast-food restaurant? A study conducted by a professor at Texas Christian University suggests that the answer is "yes."

Dr. Meena Shah conducted the study with 300 men and women between the ages of 18 and 30.  The participants were given one of three menus and asked to decide which items they would choose to eat. One menu only contained the food items, the second, the number of calories in the food and the third, the amount of moderate exercise needed to burn off the calories consumed. All three menus contained the same food items.

Those participants who were given the exercise information were the only ones to significantly reduce the number of calories ordered and consumed.  Those participants who  were given menus with only the calories listed ordered and consumed about the same amount of food as those who did not know either the caloric count or the amount of exercise required to burn off those calories.

The full study was presented by Dr. Shah at the 2013 meeting of Experimental Biology.

Monday, April 29, 2013

How to Improve Your SAT and GRE Scores

Students (and their parents) are always looking for ways to improve SAT, GRE and other similar test scores. They often pay thousands of dollars for classes, books and other devices to increase those important scores.  While those methods do work for some people, they are expensive and can be very time-consuming.  There may be an easier and less expensive way to achieve the same results: mindfulness.

Now, I have written several times about the beneficial health benefits of mindfulness. However, recent studies have shown that mindfulness may help students increase their test scores on standardized tests such as the SAT or GRE.  Mindfulness is a means of focusing the mind and clearing it of random thoughts which can interfere in the thinking process. It is very simple to learn yet a very powerful tool. Typically, it involves sitting quietly with your eyes closed while you focus on your breath, a number or some sound. As thoughts intrude, you simply acknowledge them as merely thoughts and allow them to disappear.

In a study published in the journal, Psychological Science, a group of researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara put a group of undergraduate students through a two week mindfulness study program.  Prior to the program, the average verbal score of the group was 460.  After completion of the program, the average score was 520. That is approximately a 13% increase which could make the difference between admission and rejection to a graduate program. A test group that was not given the mindfulness training but rather nutrition training,did not show any improvement

Several scholars of the brain functioning believe mindfulness can help keep the mind from wandering  and reduce stress and susceptibility to worry.

So, if you are preparing for a standardized test, include mindfulness training in your preparations. There are various books available that can get you started. The best in my mind is "Mindfulness" by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. Shop Amazon - Cinco De Mayo Event - Books, Music, Party Supplies

Saturday, April 27, 2013

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

We all have heard about the Mediterranean diet and there are a number of best-selling diet books that explain it.  Yet, a lot of us are really not sure what it is and what it is supposed to do for you.  So, what is the Mediterranean diet?

In the May 2013 edition of the Nutrition Action Newsletter, there is a very helpful explanation of the Mediterranean diet and what it is and what it isn't, "Mediterranean Mix-Up." The article suggests that the original diet studied in the 1940s of the residents of Crete who had very low rates of heart disease consisted largely of bread, pasta and other grains (40%) and oils (30%).  However, the Mediterranean diet being touted today is heavy on beans, fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts as well as olive oil.  The article concludes that the Mediterranean diet as referred today is really quite similar to the DASH and Omniheart diets.

The Omniheart diet in particular favors large servings of the same foods that make up the Mediterranean diet and limits the amount of red meat, dairy and desserts and sweets.

In any event, by whatever name it is called, the foods at the heart of the Mediterranean diet (no pun intended) have been shown by numerous studies to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, strokes and high blood pressure. Bottom line is that it is certainly worth trying.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Easy Ways to Save on Everyday Expenses in Retirement

In our last post, we reviewed an online course entitled "Fundamentals of Personal Financial Planning" offered by the University of California at Irvine.  The course was an in depth study of almost all aspects of financial planning.  However, it is probably too advanced for most people. On the other hand a course offered by the Khan Academy is much more down to earth. Through a video, Easy Ways to Save on Everyday Expenses, it offers a number of ways you can save money on your grocery bills, cable and telephone bills. Most of the tips  we all have heard before, but it is always good to remind ourselves how little things like shopping with a list, using coupons, signing up for rewards or loyalty cards can all add up to big savings.

In addition to the Easy Ways to Save on Everyday Expenses video, several other videos are offered.  One fascinating one to me was the one entitled The Time Value of Money.  The video offers a cogent explanation of this sometimes elusive concept. Let me know what you think.

Overall, for most people, this is the course I would recommend if you are trying to get your personal finances in order.. It is quick and easy to understand and does not require a lot of prior knowledge. Shop Amazon - Perfect Gifts for Mother's Day

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How Boomers Can Save Money in Retirement by Studying the Fundamentals of Personal Finance

We boomers all think we know more about money issues than we really do.  So maybe, we need a little help with our finances..  But who wants to go to a financial planner?  Even those who charge by the hour and do not take commissions can still cost you a pretty penny.  Money Magazine recently recommended two online courses to give you the fundamentals of financial planning. I thought I would test drive those for you and give you my impressions of the two courses.

First up is the course entitled "Fundamentals of Personal Financial Planning" offered by the University of California at Irvine. This no credit, no-fee course is available online at  This course is not intended to replace a professional financial planner, but to help to give you a better understanding of financial planning. According to the course description, "The course was created to help those who cannot afford extensive planning assistance better understand how to define and reach their financial goals. It provides basic understanding so informed decisions can be made. The course can also be seen as a reference for individual topics that are part of personal financial planning."

The course is quite comprehensive, covering some 22 different topics from preparing cash flow and net worth statements to determining how much you will need for retirement.  If you are truly interested in planning your financial future, this is certainly a good place to assist you with your planning.  However, it does make certain assumptions that beginners may not be familiar with.  I think it is geared more towards the person with some general knowledge of the principles of personal investing who wants a refresher course.

In a future blog I will discuss another financial planning course from the Khan Academy.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Where to Stay in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada: The Fallsview Marriott

When we visit Niagara Falls, Ontario (and we do, six or seven times a year), we usually stay at the Marriott Fallsview and Spa (1-888-501-8916).  It is the closest hotel to the falls and the rooms facing the falls offer a spectacular view. It has many package deals, so call or check their website. The ones during the week are particularly enticing so be flexible if you can. The photograph below was taken from the hotel at sunrise. Be sure not to confuse the Spa with another Marriott just down the street.  That hotel was until recently a Sheraton and is quite nice also. We just happen to favor the original Marriott.

It has a large and appealing lobby as you enter the hotel.  In addition to the reception desk, there is a small bar tucked away in one corner, a Starbucks (of course) and a help desk where you can sign up for a variety of expeditions such as a tour of the wineries along the Niagara Parkway (see post on Niagara -on -the -Lake) and heliocopter rides over the falls.

The rooms are spacious with the nice Marriott touches. There is a safe in every room and the bathrooms are quite large. The mezzanine restaurant, the Terrapin Grille, is not to be missed. The brunch is excellent (the omelets are particularly appealing). If  it is on the menu when you dine, try the trout. You will love it.

If you are a gambler, the Fallsview Casino is just a short walk away over a small bridge. On the way to the casino (see photograph below of the casino at  night) you will pass the entrance to a small incline that will take you down to the level of the falls.  It is well worth the small fee.  The casino itself is located in a spectacular building called the Galleria. In addition to the casino there are a number of fine shops and restaurants.We like the Canyon Creek steakhouse and the sushi restaurnt (located behind the high roller section) since both overlook the falls. The shops run from the Svarovski crystal to the everything is $10 variety.  On Friday and Saturday nights it gets quite crowded.  On the lower level is a food court with the ever popular Tim Horton's and a Mama Mia restaurant.  There are over a dozen altogether. For a late night snack or breakfast, we recommend "The Famous", an upscale diner with pancakes and sausages to die for. Don't forget the maple syrup!

In addition to the shops, restaurants and casino, there is a live theatre called the Avalon. It showcases talent from Canada and the United States.  It is a fairly intimate setting where almost every seat has a good view of the stage. Among many others, we have seen Jay Leno and Larry King. Both were amazing. Leno joked non-stop (I kid you not) for 90 minutes! I underestand he was recently  back there and wowed the audience I am sure. This summer Ringo Starr will be appearing. Tickets for the top shows can be hard to get, so start looking early.

My wife says the casino is the nicest she has been to---and I agree. It is large, filled with the usual slot machines (we favor the Wheel of Fortune machines) and table games. Keep in mind you can only use Canadian money in the casino so you will have to change your dollars before starting to play.

If you like a variety of things to do, whether sightseeing, dining on good food, gambling or just having fun, Niagara Falls is still the place to visit. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How Exercise Can Improve Memory in Boomers

In a recent study published in the Journal of Aging Research, scientists at the University of British Columbia reported that exercise can boost memory and cognitive skills in older adults.  The study involved several dozen women between the ages of 70 and 80.  Some of the women were given weight training while others were given aerobic training, walking.  The researchers found that both groups improved spatial memory at about an equal amount after a six month period.  However, those who walked regularly had greater improvement in verbal memory. The researchers concluded that different types of exercise had effects upon different parts of the brain.

What exercise is best to improve brain functioning? The answer is obvious:  do both aerobic and resistance training to achieve maximum results.

Friday, April 12, 2013

High Intensity Interval Training For Fitness and Lowering Blood Sugar

Michael Mosley, the author of the best-selling diet book, The  Fasting Diet (more on that diet, which is all the rage in England, in a subsequent post) recently appeared on public television in a special entitled "The Truth About Exercise."  In that episode, which is part of a three part series on health issues, Mosley, a British physician and journalist, explored the research surrounding High Intensity Interval Training. Moreover, he submitted himself as a guinea pig to determine its effectiveness. Now, I have previously written about HIIT as it is usually called,, this program provides dramatic evidence of its effectiveness.

At a research facility in Scotland, Mosley learned the technique which involves cycling on a stationary bicycle for 20 second intervals at maximum speed three times a day for three days a week. That's it. Dr. Mosley followed this non-demanding regimen for one month or for a total of 12 minutes. At the end of the month, his blood sugar was measured and compared to a reading prior to beginning the program.  His blood sugar, which had been in the borderline or pre-diabetic range, was down by over a remarkable 23%!  However, his aerobic intake measured by the so-called VO2 max showed no improvement. Other tests have shown that in some people up to 20% improvement can be shown following an extended use of the regimen.  Apparently, Mosley's genetic makeup was responsible for his lack of improvement in that area as measured by particularized gene testing and not some failure of the program itself.

What does all this mean for you and me?  I think it means that you don't have to run 25 miles a week to improve your chances of reducing blood sugar and increasing your aerobic capacity.  Al for 12 minutes a month.  What a great return on investment. Shop Amazon - Perfect Gifts for Mother's Day

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What to See in The Old District of Savannah Georgia

If you are interested in good Southern cooking or historic houses or just history, Savannah, Georgia is the place to visit.  Founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe, the city has preserved many of its charming houses and foods. Scattered throughout its historic district are 21 squares, most with a monument in the middle, surrounded by magnolias, grassy areas and brick walkways.  Among those honored are Oglethorpe himself and General Casimir Pulaski, a young Polish officer in the Revolutionary War who was killed at the battle of Savannah.  During the Civil War, reportedly, General William Tecumseh Sherman sparred Savannah during his march to the sea and presented it as a Christmas gift to President Abraham Lincoln. in 1864.

Savannah is the setting for the best selling book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the non fiction account of a mysterious murder in one of the historic houses and the subsequent trials of the accused murderer. Savannah also was the home of the songwriter, Johnny Mercer ("Moon River"), whose life-size statute (all five feet two) is located at the edge of Ellis Square.

Recently, we had occasion to visit Savannah for two days.  We stayed at a small boutique hotel on Ellis Square, the Andaz (14 Barnard Street).  The staff was very courteous and even offered us a glass of wine during check-in.  Our room was small, but quite comfortable, with a king bed and a large bathroom with a shower.

That evening, we had dinner at a restaurant called Fiddler's Crab House, located on River Street.
River Street is a lively street, full of shops and restaurants overlooking Hutchinson Island. The food was outstanding. I had the low country boil, with shrimp, sausage, corn on the cob and red rice. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it. My wife had the king crab legs. This was a full plate of luscious crab legs served with red rice.

The next day we took one of the many trolley tours that wind through the historic district. We also bought tickets for tours of four of the historic houses. The two houses that stand out in our minds are the Davenport House and the Owens-Thomas house.  Built in 1820, the Davenport House (324 E. State Street) is reportedly the best preserved urban house built in the Federal style. It was the first of the historic houses preserved beginning in the 1950s when it was scheduled for demolition for a parking lot. The Owens-Thomas house tour includes a visit to the slave quarters in the carriage house where there is an interesting exhibit on slavery. We also visited two houses associated with Savannah resident, Julliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, including her birthplace.

For lunch, we stopped at the 1790 Restaurant, right around the corner from the Owens-Thomas house. Reminiscent of the taverns in Williamsburg, we had a wonderful lunch, the highlight of which was the freshly made biscuits and honey.  The fried green tomato BLT with sweet potato fries was excellent.  The 1790 is reputedly the most haunted place in Savannah and, if prompted, the waiter will detail the many instances of unnatural activities such as flying sugar bowls and names called in the night.

Another must see is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Located at 222 East Harris Street, it is the oldest Catholic church in Georgia. Although the outside is being renovated, it is open to the public. Inside it is simply spectacular.

Savannah is a lively city with plenty to do. Paula Deen's restaurant is located there as is the famous Elizabeth's, located several miles away. Although we did not make it to either restaurant, we did stop by Paul Deen's cooking store, adjacent to the restaurant, where we bought several signed cook books.