Monday, September 12, 2016

How Not To Get Sick This Cold and Flu Season

The days are starting to get shorter, and cooler. School is back in session. And winter will be here before you know it. You know what that means: Cold and Flu season is fast approaching.

Its actually not the cold weather that makes us sick, but the fact that we're all suddenly spending a lot more time indoors, in close contact with lots of other people, allowing diseases to spread like wildfire.

No one like to get sick, so the question is: What can we do to avoid getting sick? Quite a lot, actually!

The Common Sense Basics

>>> Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Hopefully, everyone realizes the importance of hand-washing, so I won't waste time trying to sell you on the idea. Instead, let's define "thoroughly" and "often." Thoroughly: wash your hands with soap and warm water, vigorously rubbing them together for at least twenty seconds. Then dry your hands completely. How often: *VERY* - when you wake up, before each meal and snack, after going to the restroom, after coughing or sneezing on them, after handling money, after being around sick people, after shaking hands with someone, after handling phones, keyboards, & door handles, and before going to bed. Hand sanitizers are okay in a pinch, but are less effective than soap & water; use them until you can get to the nearest wash-basin.

>>> Get plenty of sleep. Unfortunately, modern civilization is a 24/7 event these days, and many folks now brag about (as if it were a contest) how little sleep they need and still be able to get by. You might be able to "get by" with less, but research proves that adults, and their immune systems, actually need 8 - 9  hours of sleep to perform at optimal levels. For example, a 2009 Carnegie Mellon study found that adults who get less than seven hours of sleep are three times more likely to get sick, than adults who get at least 8 hours.

>>> Drink plenty of water. When you are dehydrated, it dries out and reduces the effectiveness of the watery, protective surfaces lining your mouth, throat, eyes, lungs, stomach, and intestines. Stay hydrated!

>>> Eat a healthy diet, including lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and other nutritious foods. Avoid overdoing sugar and alcohol. Both are known to negatively impact the immune system in excessive amounts. Modern, processed foods are typically loaded with lots of sugar of various types, so you may likely be consuming too much sugar even if you avoid sweets - pay attention to labels. Many condiments, such as catsups and salad dressings, are often loaded with sugar AND people typically use more than one "official" serving, thus multiplying the amount of sugar they're getting without realizing it. If you drink alcohol, stick to one glass of red wine a day.

>>> Get plenty of exercise. Exercise pumps up the immune system by boosting the production of disease-fighting white blood cells. It also floods the body with stress-reducing hormones, and less stress means a more efficient immune system.

Additional Steps To Take

>>> Learn to relax. Stress, particularly long-term stress, leads to an overproduction of a class of hormones called glucocorticoids, which suppress the immune system. Exercise, yoga, meditation, listening to calming music, prayer, participating in a hobby, or just quietly reading can all be wonderful ways to relax.

>>> Sanitize the surfaces in your life - keyboards, door handles, phones, etc. - at home and at work. I personally use Lysol Disinfecting Wipes almost daily to wipe down my desk, keyboard, mouse, and phone.

>>> Don't bite your nails. Think about it: the small gaps under your nails make great breeding grounds for germs, and are easy to not clean well when washing your hands.

>>> Make sure your getting enough vitamins and minerals. This is best done by eating a healthy diet with a wide range of fruits & veggies, but a daily vitamin & mineral supplement may add some additional insurance. An article by the Harvard Medical School recently mentioned that deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E can negatively impact the immune system. 

The Difficult-to-Do

>>> Avoid sick people. This one is a lot easier said than done, as we have little control over people who choose to go to work, school, or shopping while sick. But, to the extent you can, avoid being around with people who are sick. This means trying to avoid large crowds whenever possible. When you do have to be around someone who is sick, take proper precautions like washing your hands frequently.

The Controversial

>>> Get a flu shot, or don't. I'm not going to tell you what to do on this one - its up to you. People on both sides of the debate have strong feelings when it comes to vaccines. Pro-vaccine people point to the success of vaccinations with wiping out diseases like polio and smallpox, and fervently believe that modern vaccines are safe. Anti-vaccine people point to a lot of anecdotal evidence that vaccines can cause various problems such as autism and infertility, and they don't trust corporations or the government to tell the truth about the safety of vaccinations. A third set of folks believe that vaccines are generally safe, but that we are way over-medicating ourselves, which could create unintended consequences, therefore are reluctant to take every recommended vaccine that comes on the market.

For More Information: 

Vaccinations: A Thoughtful Parent's Guide: How to Make Safe, Sensible Decisions about the Risks, Benefits, and Alternatives. discusses the pros and cons of vaccinations in a fairly even-handed way.

The blurb: "Midwife, herbalist, and mother of four, Aviva Jill Romm sifts through the spate of current research on vaccine safety and efficacy and offers a sensible, balanced discussion of the pros and cons of each routine childhood vaccination. She presents the full spectrum of options available to parents: full vaccination on a standardized or individualized schedule, selective vaccination, or no vaccinations at all. Negotiating daycare and school requirements, dealing with other parents, and traveling with an unvaccinated child are covered in detail. The book also suggests ways to strengthen children's immune systems and maintain optimal health and offers herbal and homeopathic remedies for childhood ailments. Emphasizing that no single approach is appropriate for every child, the author guides parents as they make the choices that are right for their child." Available on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Results from the "Grayman" Training Exercise

On his You Tube channel, Joe Fox (Viking Preparedness) recently suggested a grayman training exercise (I'll link to his video below). I thought it was a good idea, so on Monday (Labor Day) I went to a local shopping mall and followed his training exercise. I definitely learned some things.

The Training Exercise (or What I did)

I went to my local shopping mall on Monday (Joe had suggested an airport as the best location, but said a shopping mall would work, too). I spent a couple of hours just sitting around and observing people, noticing who stood out and who didn't, and why. I also tried to do this exercise from a "bad guy" point of view, looking for easy targets. Here is what I learned (and I plan on doing this a few more times).

What stood out as highly noticeable as a potential target, or as very memorable/identifiable:
  • Bright, flashy clothing - example: When I stepped onto the food court after arriving at the mall, the very first person I noticed was a older man (early 60s?) with a bread wearing a bright orange shirt and red, white & blue flag shorts. He looked like quite the character, which made him very noticeable and memorable.
  • Dressed in all black (the "goth" look) - example: One of several goths that I noticed was a young, skinny man (early 20s) wearing black tennis shoes, black jeans, an all-black tee shirt (no logo), and an all-black ball cap (no logo). Except for a little bit of white on his tennis shoes, he was wearing no other color except black, which made him stand out in the crowded mall.
  • Graphic shirts (superheros, sports teams, funny quotes, etc) - examples: lots of folks were wearing graphic tees of want sort or another. I noticed them all. The guy wearing the shirt with the Superman logo, the young lady in a Star Wars t-shirt, the Dallas Cowboys fan, the patriotic guy with the American flag and bald eagle on his shirt. These graphic shirts made folks noticeable and very identifiable.
  • Revealing clothing (too tight clothes showing off curves, exposed cleavage or midriff, short-shorts or mini skirts, etc.) - comment: I'll try to keep this G-rated and just say that it was surprising how many young women, some waaay too young, who were dressed like they were headed to an audition with Playboy magazine. Defiantly attention attracting, especially the wrong kind of attention.
  • Tattoos & facial piercings - comments: No value judgments here, but tattoos have become very popular in recent years, and it seems that many folks just can't get enough. I saw a number of folks, male and female, with multiple tattoos - arms, legs, hands, neck, feet, even face... They were very noticeable, and because tattoos tend to be highly individualistic, they can make you easily identifiable. True, some folks may be able to cover up their tattoos with long sleeves and pants, but many folks have so may tattoos these days, they would have to wear a hijab to cover them all up. Just something to think about.
  • Odd hair colors (blue, purple, pink, etc) - comments: Very popular these days, especially with high school and college age a girls, but also with some older women and even some effeminate men. Some of the young ladies do look cute, I suppose, with odd hair, the odd hair definitely draws notice. 
  • Completely shaved heads - comments: heads shaved completely bald (like mine) definitely stand out in a crowd. On the other hand, naturally balding guys who still have some hair are less noticeable, and tend to blend in to the crowd more easily.
  • Obvious weaknesses (seriously overweight, using canes or walkers, or otherwise having mobility issues) - examples: I saw a number of folks with obvious weaknesses that would mark them as potentially easy targets.One older lady in particularly stood out as particularly vulnerable. She must have been pushing 80, and was walking alone at a very slow and unsteady pace, just shuffling along really, carrying a handbag with one hand. She would have been a very easy mark for a purse snatcher or mugger.
  • Folks not paying attention - examples: I saw a lot of folks simply not paying any attention to their surroundings, mostly with their eyes glued to their phones. And this was NOT just young folks, but many adults in their 30s, 40s, & 50s. This eliminates any situational awareness, and marks the distracted person as an easy target.
  • Flimsy footwear (high heels, clogs, flip-flops, sandals) - examples: One very well dressed middle-aged woman wearing what I can only call platform high-heels. I sure they have a name, but I don't know what exactly to call them. Here's the problem: she would not be able to run in those shoes at all, and it would be ridiculously easy for a bad guy to knock her down.  Those shoes, though quite fashionable I'm sure, mark her as an easy victim from a bad guys point of view. I was also surprised by the number of men in their 40s and 50s who were wearing flip-flops or various types of man-sandals. These offer no real protection, and are very difficult to run in or even walk in for long distances.
  • Moms with a gaggle of kids - examples: At different times, I saw two moms each with four or five young kids in tow. In both cases it was just the one adult plus multiple young kids. This immediately struck me as a potentially confusing and chaotic situation for the mother. Potentially easy pickings for a bad guy. 
  • Uniforms - examples: the mall's security guards immediately stood out because of their uniforms. Likewise did a guy in his EMT uniform - very noticeable. I'm sure other uniforms (military, police, etc.) would have been immediately noticeable, too)
What didn't stand out, or was very forgettable:
  • Ordinary, regular clothes and shoes
  • Neutral earth-tones or dark colors (except for all-black) 
  • Nothing to describe or remember (no character tees, sports jerseys, bright colors or flashy patterns, uniforms, etc.)
  • Not overly sexy or revealing clothing (nothing to gawk at, or attention grabbing)
  • No visible tattoos, facial piercings, or weird hair (again, nothing to describe or remember)
  • No facial hair, or completely shaved head (again, nothing to describe or remember)
  • No obvious weaknesses (nothing to make a bad guy think "easy target")
  • Not distracted (but also not obviously checking the place out or paying too close attention to surroundings)

Other Lessons Learned:

The Camouflage Trend Is Over. I live in a semi-rural area of the South, where there are a lot of hunters. Because of that, it was not uncommon to see people wearing camo even before Duck Dynasty made it trendy. Add on the camo craze sparked by Duck Dynasty, and I dismissed the suggestions of many to avoid camo clothing. I figured I would draw no more attention to myself for wearing camo then the dozens of other folks also wearing camo around here.

I was surprised to see almost no camo clothing during this exercise. In fact, I only saw one person wearing camo - a teenage boy wearing baggy shorts with a digital camo print. The camo craze seems to have peaked in 2013/2014 and has now died out. Because of this, I have removed several pieces of camo (mostly shirts and a ball cap) from my everyday clothing rotation.

(I also have several Star Wars T-shirts that I am now taking out of my everyday clothing rotation)

It is extremely important to not appear weak, vulnerable, or distracted. During this exerciser, I intentionally looked at the situated from a bad-guys point of view, as if I was a mugger, pick-pocket, purse-snatcher, or kidnapper.  Doing so, I was noticing people who weren't paying attention, or who would have made an easy target: That woman is distracted by the five young kids with her; it would be easy to walk off with one of her shopping bags when she was dealing with one of the kids. That old lady would be easy to knock down. That guy wouldn't be able to chase me wearing those flip-flops. That other guy is paying so much attention to his phone, that he wouldn't notice his wallet being lifted.

Bad guys prefer easy targets. Don't be one.

Joe Fox (VikingPreparedness) Becoming the "Greyman" (or woman) - a training exercise