Posts Tagged ‘health’

The furry creature living in our house

In August 2016 on August 27, 2016 at 10:39 am

up close

Sarah: It took more than a year of cajoling, pleading and gathering of evidence from my tween daughter to convince me that our family needed a dog RIGHT NOW.

Don’t get me wrong: dogs were always a part of my life growing up, and I knew we’d get one eventually.

But having survived 10-plus years of night wakings, food messes and various secretions and projectiles from the bodily orifices of 3 children, the thought of another creature to care for in the immediate future was a very slow burn on my behalf.

The fact that my third child was inclined towards wheezing and itching in the company of my parents’ labrador was another stumbling block.

There was a lot of research. There was a lot of lifestyle examination. There was a lot of self reflection.

There were tears and teeth grinding.

Still, in December 2015, we took the plunge.

A chocolate labradoodle (with tight curls that did not shed) arrived, and we called him Raffy.

To say that our house is 100 percent more chaotic with Raffy in it would be an understatement.

He’s loud, he’s demanding, he is inclined to anxiety, he needs a lot of exercise, and he hassles my youngest son to play with him for every living minute that both are inside the house. If I focussed on these aspects alone, I would regret the decision to own a dog.

And yet there’s so much more.

Of course, my daughter is infatuated with him. She’s still blown away by his presence:

“I just can’t believe we have this little furry creature living in our house!”

She’s grown in her already considerable kindness and patience, teaching him many tricks and putting up with his thieving tendencies. He also provides a companion for her walks to seek hot chocolate from the local bakery. For her, he is pure joy.

Once fearful of dogs, both my boys are also obsessed with Raffy and indeed most other puppies we meet whilst out and about. They truely delight in the different breeds and personalities that we encounter.

To be greeted by Raffy after a school is the best part of their day.

When the puppy has sleepovers with grandparents, they miss him terribly.

My husband and I have started walking the dog together every morning, a great opportunity to chew the fat and catch up on each other’s work issues and other adult matters that can’t be aired during dinnertime family discussions.

Working from home, I walk him several additional times each day. It sounds like such a time-waster, but I plug in my headphones and make phone-calls and listen to podcasts whilst out and about. The perfect opportunity to lose my inner smart-arse.

We’ve all learnt that Raffy has his own personality, that there things he does not like and that actually it’s not within our power to change him. Raffy is Raffy: all we can do is teach him basic manners, love him and live as a family.

In our family, we love our humans because that’s our destiny. It’s the way it is.

But Raffy we choose to love. And that’s been a big step for us. A valuable step.




The flurry before the calm

In December 2015 on December 3, 2015 at 7:53 pm


Sarah: My Christmas tree is up, I’m online shopping like a demon, and the house is an obstacle course with half chewed pencils and piles of never-to-be-opened-again school books (thanks kids). It’s December!

There has been a flurry of science in my life in recent months. Creating stories around the science, technology, health and other research that takes place in South Australia is a large part of my work portfolio. Here’s a snippet of recent cool stuff:

Can you guess which story has been the most popular amongst those?

I’ve also been:

I love it all, but looking forward to a summer holiday too.

[image thanks to Kiran Foster]

Let me check my diary

In October 2015 on October 15, 2015 at 7:57 pm


Sarah: My career does not depend on my looks.

And yet here I am at the salon again, paying through the nose for my grey hairs to be hidden. 

I’m not an Olympic athlete.

And yet I seem to be at the physiotherapist and podiatrist an awful lot lately. 

Oh my goodness, this is why old people retire.

‘Cause they’ve got so many bodily maintenance appointments it’s simply not feasible to work anymore. 

Seriously though, I’m running out of patience on this hair thing.

Mental health: it’s messier than snot

In April 2015 on April 10, 2015 at 11:17 am


Sarah: Snot, hacking cough and vomiting. To most parents, these are very familiar occurrences and sure signs that an unwanted viral or bacterial passenger has hopped on board and created a physical health problem for our child.

But how do we know if our offspring are struggling with mental health? Sure, behavioural signals can be a clue. Tears, anxiety, anger and moodiness may crop up — and yet we all know these are all part of a normal childhood as well. How can we tell when children cross the line into the danger zone for mental health? And then what can we do to access appropriate help?

Recently — along with other parents and staff representatives — I was invited by managers at my children’s school to help bring a program of mental health awareness into play. It’s called Kids Matter, and is designed:

to provide schools with an over-arching but flexible approach to improving the mental health and wellbeing of students

Kids Matters has four partners: Principals Australia, The Australia Psychological Society, beyond blue: the national depression initiative and the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

We’re still early on in the process, and working out how best to involve and educate our school community about the program. However, I think it’s worth sharing some of the resources that are available through Kids Matter. Fact sheets and case studies cover stuff like:

Other information covers bullying, depression, body image, cultural diversity….and more.

You don’t need your school to get on board to access these sheets – I know I’ll be reading through a few which seem relevant to my particular household at the moment.

[image thanks to]

Rediscovering gymnastics

In November 2014 on November 14, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Kirsti Gymnast

Kirsti: Recently I competed in a veterans gymnastics competition (and secured a gold medal, might I add! – Sarah).

I’m 39, and I was the oldest in my age category (31-40 years). With moral support provided by a 42-year old fellow competitor and friend, I was amazed to arrive and then meet the oldest competitor, a man of 71 years! This fellow was still doing some impressive tumbling and vaulting, a result of his training in his garage in the Flinders Ranges (far from any organised gymnastics venue).

It was a fascinating weekend. For one thing, I discovered that at least six of us 30 competitors were scientists! I also learnt that the origin of the word for gymnastics is the same as that of gymnosperms (conifers and pines that have naked seeds). ‘Gymnos’ in ancient Greek means ‘naked’. The men of those times trained and competed in gymnastic exercise completely naked. They believed that coordination of the mind and body was enhanced by physical development. Gymnastics was as important in their education as music and art.

At this point I might add that whilst my friend and I did not take the ultimate step in clothing removal for our competition, we did strip down to bare bones (see a sample of our outfits by clicking here).

Most people these days regard gymnastics as something only young people do. This is partly with good reason – sports scientists agree that gymnastics is hard! In fact, it has recently been listed as the hardest sport in the world! It demands skill and agility, but also physical strength, flexibility, power, coordination, grace, balance and control of your body. It requires and develops good vestibular and proprioception sensing, two senses that are frequently forgotten beyond the early years of life.

This Sports Science video analysing the balance, spatial awareness and speed of gymnasts at a recent competition gives you an idea of the complexities involved in high level gymnastics. The accuracy and precision displayed by these women in the execution of their routines is astounding. Enviable!

I didn’t quite get this fancy when I competed. But whilst training it became clear that I had retained a substantial amount of technique and muscle memory from my childhood and early adult gymnastics and dancing careers. The neural pathways were still there! I realised that to start from scratch in gymnastics as an adult must be daunting and very intimidating.

I’m grateful to gymnastics for giving me an awareness of my body – of the biomechanics of my core and limbs – that will hopefully persist into old age.

I know that as I get on in years my muscle fibres will decrease in number and size, and new muscle fibres will be generated at a slower rate than when I was a teen. But I fully intend to reap the physical and cognitive benefits of gymnastics. With persistence and continuous exercise, I plan to continue gymnastics into my 60’s. It’ll be fun, a challenge and might even have an impact on my life expectancy.

More gym, for longer. Sounds good to me.

[image thanks to uwoshkosh on flickr]

High five, Doc.

In November 2013 on November 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm

high five

Sarah: I’ve been somewhat of a grump this week.

Recovering from a terrible springtime lurgy whilst battling an undercurrent of daily hayfever makes me prone to having a whinge. Add a sick kid, lack of exercise and accumulated work, argh!

Today, I sensed a change in the wind.

This morning, prompted by a renewed fever and sore throat in my oldest kid, we tried out the new doctor at our local GP clinic. Mounted on his desk was……a thing. A structured, squarish black plastic thing, on which was perched his computer screen and keyboard. Could it be? Yes! A portable modification to make a standing desk!

I’ve written several times previously (Sitting and standingMaking a stand, The walking meeting) on my urge to make the standing desk a part of my working habit. So this discovery made me excited. Very excited!

I quizzed the doctor,

“Where did you get that? How much was it?”

Turns out it’s a prototype, and he’s the ‘Chief Ideas Man’ over at ZestDesk. He and his team have founded a business based on the mission statement:

One of the biggest causes of modern day illness is the fact we spend a third of our lives sitting at a desk. We are on a mission to make people more healthy by giving them a practical alternative to sitting. More specifically, we are building the world’s most beautiful portable standing desk.

Our prototype phase will be complete by the end 2013 and we will then be opening up pre-sales via a crowd funding site. Please support us so we can take it global!

Oh, did we have a good old chat. I’ll be keeping my eye on ZestDesk.

Also, I’ve broken out of my grumpy funk. My kids’ health is fine too. High five on all fronts, Doc.

[image thanks to johnseidman1988 on flickr]

Day 358. I said no!

In August 2013 on August 4, 2013 at 1:20 pm

angry mum

I seem to say no! to my kids an awful lot.

No, you can’t play Wii unless it’s the weekend.

No, you don’t need over-packaged deep fried ‘portioned’ snacks in your lunch box.

No, you can’t have Coke at the movies.

No, I’m not buying you McDonalds for dinner.

No, you don’t need a Playstation.

No, you’re not wearing an off-the-shoulder-crocheted slouchy T shirt with something that resembles a bra underneath. You are eight.

I say no because I have strong feelings about what is healthy and reasonable for children. And although I know it can’t last forever, I hope that somewhere deep down it rubs off on them.

But sometimes I wonder if I’m just creating more work for myself.

Each weekend is spent negotiating and dividing screen time on a limited number of electronic items between three children.

Dinner time is often accompanied by food refusal and demands to know what is for dessert.

I battle with the little one to actually go and watch a sibling play sport without resorting to games on my phone after five minutes. It inevitably turns into a prolonged whining session by the kid, and me speaking from behind gritted teeth, searching for new ways to say,

“No! And stop asking me!”

I imagine other parents look at him as an eternal whinger, and me the constant nasty mother.

Perhaps I should just suck it up and give in?

Eat whatever you want.

Play electronic games in every spare minute, go on then.

Spend your money on lollies and super-sized bottle of soft-drink, yeah sure!

It’d be a hell of a lot easier in the short term.

[image thanks to Punk Toad on flickr]

Day 293. Walking and running

In June 2013 on June 1, 2013 at 9:59 pm


Walking is very good for you.

Running is very good for you, and facilitates weight loss.

Too much running may damage your cardiovascular system.

Three very broad statements I’ve extracted from my reading today.

I’ll explain a little.

Gretchen Reynolds over at New York Times wrote a piece this past week summarising recent studies of walking versus running in terms of health benefits.

Her two main conclusions are as follows:

  • Running beats walking in terms of losing weight – possibly via an effect on appetite control;
  • In walkers and runners matched according to energy expenditure, walkers had more benefit to cardiovascular health.

Moving to the more extreme end of exercise, Kevin Helliker at the Wall Street Journal recently addressed the impact of endurance running on health.

Kevin writes of a slight shift in evidence relating to hard-core running, the kind you’d do to prepare for an Iron-Man competition:

“That extra six years of longevity running has been shown to confer? That benefit may disappear beyond 30 miles of running a week, suggest recent research.”

“The improved blood pressure, cholesterol levels and robust cardiac health that exercise has been proven to bestow? Among extreme exercisers, those blessings may be offset partially by an increased vulnerability to atrial fibrillation and coronary-artery plaque, suggest other recent studies.”

This weekend I’m going to walk and run a few kilometres. Not an excessive amount, an enjoyable amount.

[image thanks to sophiea on flickr]

Day 220. Language

In March 2013 on March 21, 2013 at 9:49 am


When I visit my regular doctor, we have plenty of in-depth discussions about medicine, science, and other complex stuff that we both have a background and an interest in.

We speak the same language. We know this through experience and asking questions of each other.

When I visit a different doctor – which happens when the main guy is booked up – it’s interesting to see how the conversations go.

Many doctors assume I have no expert knowledge in the field, and talk to me accordingly. I think this is a reasonable thing to do.

Sometimes, I stop them and insert a quick,

“I have a background in immunology, I understand this stuff”

so we can take the conversation a little further, and I can get a better feel for the way they are thinking about my symptoms, or those of my children.

Occasionally I strike a doctor who uses highly specific medical language for the entirety of the consultation. I recall one such appointment last winter; as one example, the guy listened to my lungs and then told me he couldn’t hear any crepitations, so he didn’t think my virus had spread to my lungs.

Crepitations! It means crackly or popping sounds. I knew this. But surely it can’t be expected that most patients would understand this lingo.

I think doctors need to think of themselves as science communicators too. Good communication surely leads to better compliance (i.e. doing what you are advised to do), and hence better health outcomes.

[image thanks to aeu04117 on flickr]

Day 118. Surgery

In December 2012 on December 8, 2012 at 3:48 pm


Surgery delivered my children, mended my mother’s back, repaired my brother’s eye, removed cancers from my grandfather (twice – lung and stomach) and grandmother (breast), investigated abdominal pain in my sister, and set straight an irregular heartbeat in my Dad.

So far, so good.

A couple of centuries ago things were a little different, explains Atul Gawande in a freely available New England Journal of Medicine article Two Hundred Years of Surgery.

If you managed to survive the pain experience and associated shock of surgery back then, there was a good chance an infection introduced by the surgeon himself would soon do you in.

Although personal recounts of historical surgical experiences are rare, author Atul quotes Professor George Wilson’s written description of his own ankle surgery performed in 1843:

The horror of great darkness, and the sense of desertion by God and man, bordering close on despair, which swept through my mind and overwhelmed my heart, I can never forget, however gladly I would do so. During the operation, in spite of the pain it occasioned, my senses were preternaturally acute, as I have been told they generally are in patients in such circumstances. I still recall with unwelcome vividness the spreading out of the instruments: the twisting of the tourniquet: the first incision: the fingering of the sawed bone: the sponge pressed on the flap: the tying of the blood-vessels: the stitching of the skin: the bloody dismembered limb lying on the floor.

Anaesthesia and infection control, whilst resisted by the surgeons at first as ‘fads’ and ‘unsound’, were eventually embraced, and allowed abdominal surgery, cathaterisation and more the sophisticated techniques that we know today to be developed.

For more anecdotes, have a look at the original article, one of many recommended by @ben_hr for the December 8 edition of Weekend Long Reads.

[image thanks to Official US Navy Imagery on flickr]