Health Education – The Key to a Healthy Life

Have you ever wondered why in spite of all your efforts you cannot stay absolutely fit and healthy, the way you have always dreamt to be? The answer is simple, due to our lack of knowledge about health and the human anatomy system. The more knowledge and understanding of the human anatomy we will have the easier it would be for us to remain healthy and fit.

According to a recent study, a vast majority of the American population are health illiterate. They either do not have enough health information or they are unable to interpret the available health information to control their health and maintain optimum fitness. It also showed, lack of information to be the most important factor contributing towards the majority deaths. Moreover, it was also determined that our illness are primarily a result of stress, food, environment, attitude, emotions or beliefs that triggers certain unhealthy behavior. So, to stay fit we need to refrain from such unhealthy behaviors and that can be distinguished only when there is enough information for us to differentiate between a healthy and harmful behavior. From this, the easiest and most important conclusion that we can arrive at is that we need more information about our health and the human anatomy.

Now, the second question is, do we really try to get enough health information? Today when the entire world is connected through the information highway on the internet it is really difficult to find a good reason for this lack of knowledge. Today more than 60% of the American adult population has access to the internet which is full of websites that would educate anyone about the details of health and human anatomy. There are even sites that provide you with anatomy animation that is both interesting and easier to understand the functioning of the human anatomy system. When medical students can use resources like this why don’t we spend some time looking at these things? Animations of cardiovascular system or the animated display of how our eye works would definitely help anyone to have a better understanding of the systems and accordingly modify their behavior to remain fit and healthy.

A basic idea of cardiac physiology can be highly effective in understanding the detail of the simultaneous pressure characteristics in the heart (left atrium and left ventricle) and the blood flow through the different blood vessels during a cardiac cycle. In this rising trend of cardiac failures and increasing heart problems a basic understanding of the cardiovascular system can definitely be a major help to maintain a healthy body.

We must understand staying healthy is not difficult, all it requires is a bit of understanding of the human anatomy, how the different systems within our body work and some information on how we can make them work even better. We should make it a point to cultivate healthy habits that would help us to obtain the maximum level of fitness.

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Don’t Experiment With Your Health

If you walked into your doctor’s office tomorrow with a minor complaint and she said “I would like to try this experiment with your health. There is no real proof it will work, but I read on the Internet that it should. It might not work at all, and it might actually damage your health. Are you in?”

What would you say? Most of us would say, I hope, “Are you KIDDING me!? My health is much to valuable!”

Yet I hear from people all of the time who do just that, and they aren’t even doing it under the advice of a doctor.

Weight loss can make us desperate. We are so bombarded with messages around us telling us that we are not attractive, not valuable, “less than” our skinny counterparts. Magazines tout bikini bodies and the “secrets of fast weight loss” used by the latest stars. I don’t know about you, but while I might admire Jennifer Aniston’s hair and easy demeanor on the screen, I’m not going to her for medical advice.

It is this desperation that leads us to sometimes do foolish things without thinking it all of the way through. I am not casting stones…I had a bad run in with a no carb diet at one point, and a very ugly month of eating no more than 800 calories per day. So I have BEEN there and like many of us, I didn’t think about long term ramifications.

I recently had a discussion with a woman who shared with some friends the “secrets” from a loser on one of those popular weight loss shows. He shared how he lost 12 pounds in 48 hours. His advice? I can’t even bring myself to repeat it because it was ridiculous and potentially dangerous that for me to even share it might border on malpractice! I begged this woman to please not take his advice (nor advice from anyone associated with that show) because it could damage her health. She countered that he had some good ideas, and declined to respond when I pointed out that his good idea left his body without a ready source of fuel over 18 hours of the day. I have a heart for her and for everyone who desperately wants to lose weight, including all of the contestants on those shows, but it scares me when people start to experiment with their health in order to conform to someone else’s idea of what is healthy.

Before you undertake any new health experiments, I would encourage you to ask yourself a few questions.

Is this a supplement and if so, what do I know about it and where did I get the information?

Supplements aren’t all bad nor all good. Natural doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. I’ve said it before, “Plutonium is natural, but you won’t catch me sprinkling it on my corn flakes.”

It is important to understand that supplements, unlike medications, are not tested by the FDA. In order for the FDA to approve a medication it must be safe and effective. If a supplement is certified by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or the United Natural Products Alliance, it’s guaranteed to meet a certain standard of quality. (The USP’s screening process, for instance, ensures that a product will break down properly and effectively release its ingredients into the body.) Look for a certification seal from any of these organizations whenever you buy a supplement. Look for that on the label.

It is also very important to understand about how supplements may interfere with each other or with prescribed medications. ALWAYS tell your doctor about all supplements you are taking. You may also ask a pharmacist for information.

If you have done your homework, never start more than one supplement at a time without supervision. Check the labels for side effects and if you note any of them, stop taking the supplement. Trying more than one at a time will make it hard to figure out just which one is causing the problems.

If it sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. You can’t burn fat in your sleep. There is no pill that will force your body to use fat for fuel over carbohydrates at any level that makes a real difference. A pill will not give you six pack abs. Sorry. I wish it were true…it’s not.

If a supplement is accompanied by a very low calorie diet, that should send up a huge red flag. If you’re taking an expensive pill and eating no more than 500 calories a day and losing weight…it’s because you’re starving your body. A very low calorie diet over a long period of time can actually damage your metabolism. (I don’t even want to hear of any of you intelligent people doing it over a short period of time!)

If a diet cuts out all of one category of food from your diet, be very wary. Our bodies need a variety of vitamins and minerals from a variety of foods. That doesn’t mean it isn’t okay to cut out refined sugars or flours if that’s what you desire, but don’t cut out all fruits or all vegetables or all (or even most) carbohydrates.

Be very wary of “a study shows…” articles in a Women’s magazine. Most of the times the information from these studies is picked up off the AP and the writer doesn’t understand or explain the entire study. When I read something that sounds completely different from what we’ve been told in the past, I go online to find the original abstract of the study. It is also important to remember that one study only sets down a path for more study, but doesn’t definitively prove or disprove a previous study. A study, to be valid, must be replicated and peer reviewed.

If you’re unsure, please ask someone who knows that you trust for good, solid advice. That can be your doctor, a nutritionist, or another health practitioner. I am always very happy to help as I have a degree in Health Education and never put forth information without researching it first.

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Is “Spaced” Education an Effective Training Approach?

Harvard Medical School has created an online platform, QStream.com, to deliver web-based health education courses in developing countries. The content is accessible via computer, laptop and mobile phone. The intention is a good one- to find a faster, more efficient, and less resource-dependent way to teach health workers in remote locations.

The approach is called “spaced” education and is entirely comprised of multiple-choice questions. Once a participant answers a question, the website provides a brief explanation of the correct and incorrect answers. It claims to deliver the questions to participants in an adaptive format and to reinforce those topics in which the participant needs additional help.

“Spaced” education is said to combine two core psychology research findings: the “spacing” effect (information that is presented and repeated over spaced intervals is learned and retained more effectively) and the “testing” effect (testing causes knowledge to be stored more effectively in long-term memory).

I first became aware of this instructional methodology when I was asked to review two “spaced” education courses, titled Innovative Financing of Health Professional Schools and Private Sector Participation in Pre-Service Health Education. Developed by CapacityPlus in collaboration with QStream, US AID was considering using the courses for private medical training institutions in Zambia.

There are a number of reasons why I advised US AID and its contracting agency, Banyan Global, against using these courses and this approach.

1. It takes the research on spacing and testing completely out of context. New learning has to be reinforced by revisiting it (we’ve known that for decades). However, each iteration should take the learning deeper- by having the learners do increasingly more complex things with what they have learned. Long term retention of information is significantly improved by testing learners… but only AFTER they have learned it!!!!

2. This is still providing standardized content- because everyone who answers incorrectly gets the very same response. [If this were truly adaptive, there would be an explanation as to why a specific answer is incorrect, sending the learners back to try again- not simply telling them the correct answer!]

3. Q &A is not adaptive to the needs of different learning styles. People who need to listen, or see a demonstration, or discuss, or test out new knowledge or skills would find this very ineffective and frustrating for them. This Q & A approach is simply a lecture in disguise.

4. This can be a very frustrating approach if the learner keeps getting the answers wrong. It could easily shut down the person’s interest in learning and do damage to the person’s confidence in his or her own competence.

5. Q & A is typically used to check comprehension- AFTER the learners have actually learned something.

6. This methodology is explicitly focused on comprehension as the highest level of its learning: the last three lines of the paragraph under Who Are the Target Learners says that the course “draws on practices and analyses to provide participants with an understanding of factors bearing on the success of private sector health education and training… ”

7. A training program where real learning occurs would start by ensuring learner comprehension and then give them real scenarios to work through (at the very least) so that they could get to analysis and evaluation levels of learning.

8.The answers to many of the questions are very obvious.

9. The answers to many questions are d, all of the above.

10. There is no learning happening, because for learning to occur, the participants need to be fully engaged and using their new knowledge or skills.

11. Learning also requires focused concentration, which is definitely not likely using a mobile phone.

12. Learning is also interactive, people learn from each other. Even good on-line courses have chat rooms and webinar interactions. This is a completely solitary approach.

13. Why should busy professionals waste their time with this Q & A when they could just read the content and be done with it?

14. The memory is emotional, that is why learners need to be emotionally engaged. Interactive participatory learning activities create full body memory, ensuring retention.

The only good thing I can say about this is that it provides a baby step away from lecture as the training methodology.

Deborah Spring Laurel has been a trainer and a consultant in the areas of workplace learning and performance improvement for over thirty years. She is the President of Laurel and Associates, Ltd,, an international human resource development training and consulting firm that specializes in enhancing interpersonal dynamics within organizations.

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