Life, interrupted

I think it’s rather ironic that the title of my last blog post was “Preparing for the Unexpected” because, wow, I don’t think any of us could have really prepared for something as unexpected as the pandemic we are currently experiencing.

I know there have been rumblings among public health professionals for years that we could be susceptible to a pandemic such as this. But I think we – the general public – preferred to keep our collective heads in the sand and ignore those warnings. After all, we made it through SARS and MERS relatively unscathed. I will admit that we weren’t exactly blind-sided by COVID-19. I recall reading news articles about a novel coronavirus popping up in China late last year, but thinking it wouldn’t – couldn’t – have the same impact here in the US…

It has been about two months since my last post. I have to admit that as the public health crisis grew closer to home, there was so much going through my mind and yet I could not find a way to express my thoughts. Part of me was too busy struggling with how to handle everything within my own family. My husband had transitioned to working from home months before we ever heard of the coronavirus. My daughter’s school district closed facilities after March 13th, but I was still going into the health centers where I work – and it was creating tension at home.

My husband would jump on me to wash my hands as soon as I walked in the door – and soon after he started “social distancing” from me, out of an abundance of caution. I couldn’t really blame him as I wrestled with guilt about possibly being exposed at work and bringing the virus home to my family. I was relieved when my employer finally made the decision about a week later to allow us to work from home. But that brought its own challenges with finding a quiet, private place to coach clients and learning how to set boundaries between work and home now that it was all under one roof.

Once I started feeling a bit more settled, my thoughts turned to this blog and my monthly newsletter. I typically use my newsletter to share my blog posts, mindfulness events (mine or others) and local Nia classes and events. As March was rolling into April, I realized that I had no new blog posts and all in- person events and classes were cancelled indefinitely due to pandemic-related restrictions. For the first time in three years, I had nothing to share.

I thought about blogging every now and then, but I felt like I didn’t have anything new or different to contribute. Many health and wellness professionals have seized the opportunity to promote ways to stay safe or to maintain health habits in the middle of a pandemic. I did not want to just add noise to the already crowded landscape. However, something has shifted in me recently. I realized that this blog has been an outlet for me in many ways, a vehicle for creative expression – an itch I’ve needed to scratch for some time.

So, what does this all mean? A couple things:

  • Prior to the pandemic, I tried to publish one or two posts per month. You may see me blogging more…or less. It all depends on what I feel driven to write about (and making the time to do so.)
  • When I started the blog, my intent was to publish credible health and wellness-related content. I have tried to stick to the facts and minimize injecting too much of my own opinion. That may change some as I now see this blog as a tool to help me process the experience of living through a pandemic. I don’t plan to go totally off the rails but honestly, these last couple of months have given me a new perspective on life. I’m sure many of you feel the same way.

As difficult as things are right now, I am trying to approach the situation with an open mind and a whole lot of patience. Not an easy thing to do when you feel like you are riding a roller coaster with no end in sight (especially when you don’t like roller coasters!) but I am going to do my best to survive the ride.

Preparing for the unexpected

I know this subject might seem like a contradiction – how can we prepare for something we are not expecting? I have been thinking about this topic since the tragic accident that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the seven other individuals who were flying with them to a basketball game. None of them woke up that morning thinking it would be their last day on Earth. Most of us don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about our death, especially if we feel like we are in the prime of our life. But as this and other similar tragedies demonstrate, it behooves us to take some time to plan for the unthinkable, so that our loved ones are not left blind-sided if our lives are cut short by unexpected events.

Are your affairs in order?

No matter how young or old you are, if you are an adult, you will help your loved ones immensely if you have a few key legal documents and other critical pieces of information in place. Let’s take a quick look at some of these:

A living will (or advance directive) – This document is key if you are incapacitated before your death, as it spells out medical treatments you would and would not want to be used to keep you alive, as well as your preferences for other medical decisions, such as pain management or organ donation. By planning ahead, you can hopefully avoid unnecessary suffering and help reduce confusion or disagreement among your caregivers about the choices you want them to make on your behalf. Click here to learn more about living wills and advance directives.

A will – Your family will need the most recent version of your will along with contact information for the attorney who drew it up and any executor named in the document. Anyone who is married/partnered and/or has children should definitely have a will, but even if you are young and single, you want to be sure that whatever possessions/treasures/assets you own are distributed according to your wishes. Perhaps you have a beloved pet – who would you want caring for him/her after you are gone? Click here for some helpful information about writing a will.

Financial accounts – Your heirs will need a list of your financial accounts – everything from utility bills to tax returns – as well as any insurance policies. And if you do most of your banking and financial transactions online, they will need passwords and other security information to access your accounts. Some people choose to compile this information in an electronic file, whereas others may go old-school and just put hard copies of everything in a cardboard box. Click here for more information about what to organize and compile for those left behind who will need to settle your estate.

Funeral/memorial plans – This may be the most difficult document to pull together as it forces us to face our own mortality and to think about how we want to leave this Earth and be remembered when we are gone – whether we are 18 or 88 when it happens. Several years ago, a member of my church passed away suddenly and unexpectedly and apparently had not shared any of her wishes with family. The leaders at the fellowship shared this form, “Who Will Speak for Me?” and asked all of us to fill it out and share a copy with them. Confession: I meant to do so at the time and kept putting it off – I think part of it was not wanting to confront the reality that I won’t be around forever. I never did complete it, but Kobe’s accident and premature death have prompted me to put it at the top of my to do list. I encourage all of you to do the same and share it with those who will be responsible for your estate when you pass (note: you can use the form I shared as a guide or ask your church/religious organization, if they have something similar).

I saw the quote below on a friend’s Instagram account shortly after the news of the crash that took the lives of Kobe and eight others. It is a gentle reminder that life is short and should not be taken for granted as none of us know when we may take our last breath in this life. So, when you finish reading this, go tell your family members that you love them. Give your child(ren) a hug and a kiss for no reason. Call that friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with for ages. Don’t wait, as there is no guarantee you can do to it “tomorrow.”

Alkaline Water – What’s all the fuss?

I recently had a client ask me about alkaline water and whether it was better than drinking plain water. I thought others might be curious as well so let’s take a look to see if there are any health benefits to drinking alkaline water.

I was first introduced to alkaline water a few years ago when I participated in a mindful “triathlon” (5k walk/run, then yoga and group meditation). They had vendors as part of the event and one of them was giving away free samples of alkaline water. I took a couple samples home and tried them shortly after. Personally, I did not like the taste of the alkaline water – I recall it being slightly bitter or metallic compared to the filtered water from our refrigerator. I also did not notice any difference in how I felt, although admittedly, I only had one or two glasses – probably not enough to make a true comparison.

What is the difference?

Let’s start by looking at the difference between regular water and alkaline water. You may recall from your high school science days that water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. Water’s pH level determines how acidic or basic (alkaline) it is and ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is considered neutral, or balanced, between acidic and alkaline. If water has a pH below 7, it’s “acidic.” If it’s higher than 7, it’s “alkaline.”

The pH of tap water is typically close to neutral but may fall anywhere between 6.5 and 8.5 depending on where you live. Bottled alkaline water has a pH level above 7, usually closer to 8 or 9. Alkaline compounds are salts and metals that, when added to water, make it more basic. Some alkaline waters are from springs or artesian wells and are naturally alkaline because of dissolved minerals. Others are made with an ionizing process, and water ionizing machines are also marketed for home use.

What are the health claims around alkaline water?

Manufacturers and other proponents of alkaline water have made several claims about the health benefits of their product. For example, alkaline water enthusiasts contend that its increased hydrogen provides greater hydration than regular water, especially after a hard workout. Others tout its ability to supposedly reduce acid in the bloodstream, which they allege can improve metabolism and digestion as well as reduce bone loss and slow the aging process. Some have gone so far as to say that it can prevent or even treat cancer by starving cancer cells.

So, what is the truth behind these claims? Unfortunately, there is little evidence from the research to support them. First, much of the research on alkaline water has been animal-based, meaning the possible effects on humans are not yet supported by science. Several small studies – which were funded by companies that sell alkaline water – suggest that it could improve hydration in athletes, but any potential benefits were modest. Most nutrition experts agree that an easier way to improve hydration is just to drink more regular water. Finally, a 2016 review of research studies found no evidence that alkaline water could treat or prevent cancer.

Is there any harm in drinking alkaline water?

For the most part, the answer is no. Unless you have a kidney disease, alkaline water doesn’t pose any serious health risks. (Note: If you have chronic kidney disease or are taking a medication that affects your kidney function, elements in alkaline water could possibly have negative side effects on the kidneys. Please discuss with your doctor before consuming.) Experts say the high pH in alkaline water could make your skin dry and itchy or cause an upset stomach, but that’s about it.

The bottom line

At the present time, there isn’t enough scientific proof to say alkaline water is better than drinking regular bottled water or tap water. Most of the experts agree that alkaline water is just the latest trend that people think is going to make them healthier, feel better, or have more energy. However, most of us can reap those benefits by just drinking enough regular water. Thus, it’s up to you to decide if you want to spend the money on a product that may or may not provide any additional health benefits.