Category Archives: health

For anyone needing medication in the USA, you need to check this out.

For anyone needing medication in the USA, you need to check out this service provided by the billionaire Mark Cuban: Cost Plus Drugs. They cover a wide range of medication and they clearly illustrate how they go about doing it.

Kudos to Cuban for doing this. It’s a highly practical and substantially useful service for people. I hope it saves people a ton of money. More importantly, I hope it saves and extends the lives of many in the USA.

Two pieces on people Doing the Thing despite Difficulty

Some people find it motivating to see people doing the thing (in this case art and running) despite challenges. If that’s you, then you may find these pieces worthwhile:

I admire people struggling and working to do the thing they love, despite their physical challenges. But I don’t romanticize the physical challenge. And I wish them (and all of us) the best of good fortune in overcoming it.

On retiring my COVID-19 reporting (for now)


Recently I was reporting COVID-19 data daily. I wrote a program called covid.py that scraped the Ontario.ca Covid web site and and pulled out data for hospitalization and cases. It was a rough but useful gauge to see how COVID was going in Ontario, and I was able to get the information in a snap.

Unfortunately the information is no longer posted on the page I was visiting with my code. The data is out there somewhere in the datasets, but I think I will reconsider things before modifying my code. It is a shame that the data is harder to get though.

All these actions by government organizations to make it harder to get data is a bit frustrating. I read people say: you should track the pandemic and make good decisions. It’s hard to do that though when the information is hard to get.

For more information and data:  Government of Ontario data sets on COVID-19 are here. Government of Canada COVID-19 information is here. More on my code, here.

 

Three things to add to your first aid kit for minor mental health issues


Do you think: there are two types of people, those with mental health problems and those with no mental health problems? I used to think that way too. Like an on-off switch. Now I think of mental health as being on a slider switch.

Physical health can be like that. We can have cuts and pains that aren’t life threatening but require some form of physical first aid kit full of bandages and ASA to help us. Similarly, we can have minor bouts of anxiety and depression that also need dealing with. We should have a mental first aid kit to help us with that too.

Here’s three things to consider putting in your mental first aid kit. First, if you are feeling down more than usual, I recommend adding the HALT method. As they explain here,  How To Use the HALT Method When You’re Grumpy | Well+Good:

What Is the HALT Method? HALT stands for: Hungry Angry Lonely Tired The HALT method is based around the premise that you’re more likely to make poor, highly emotional decisions when hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. “The purpose is to help us identify these experiences when we are tempted to engage in a negative behavior and to instead address the underlying issue,” says Kassondra Glenn, LMSW, a social worker and addiction specialist at Diamond Rehab.

I’d add hungry or thirsty. I don’t know how many times I felt down in a minor way, drank some water, then suddenly felt better. Your down moods may be more serious than this, but like any first aid, try that first and see if it helps.

A second thing to put in your first aid kit is movement. Getting out and using your body has well been shown to help with anxiety and depression. Take a look at how much activity (or not) you’ve been doing when you are feeling slightly mental ill. You may need to get out more and move around. Even a brisk walk. For more on how to go about this and why, read: Can Moving the Body Heal the Mind? – The New York Times

The third thing I’d add is logging. Keep track of your moods and feelings and combine that with self care you’ve been applying to yourself. Log your sleep, your eating, your socializing and your movement and combine that with tracking your mood. Then try to apply the things discussed here and see if it changes.

Finally, if you had a headache or some other pain and you treated it and it persisted, you’d go see a doctor (I hope). Likewise with mental pains and sores. If these things don’t help you, go see your doctor. Take care of yourself the best way you can. For physical and mental illness.

Why some people in the hospital with COVID despite being vaccinated …

…is explained by this tweet from Dr Jennifer Kwan:

Yes, vaccines great reduce your chances from landing in the hospital from COVID. But it can still happen. Get vaccinated and stay well.

(Image from her tweet)

Notes from having COVID last week

Last Monday (Jan 3) my daughter had a sore throat. She got tested later that evening and was positive for COVID. No one in my house/bubble had symptoms before that, but by Wednesday morning, all but one of us had them.

Our experience with the disease was similar to Liz Renzetti and her family, described here: Opinion: Lessons from the COVID not-so-sick bed – The Globe and Mail.

All of us felt tired and exhibited symptoms associated with COVID. I had a incessant cough, runny nose, stuffy head, and at one point fever then chills. I also slept a lot. Normally I am restless so if I am sleeping that much then I am sick.

We all isolated from each other as much as we could. We had a hepa filter going, and we were all vaccinated (and in some cases boosted). We did what we could to minimize the impact. As it was, the course of the disease took under a week (at least in terms of present symptoms).

People were great in offering us well wishes and close friends offering to bring us food. We were lucky to be able to have food delivered and appreciative of the people who did so.

We only had one rapid antigen test between us. (Good luck getting one of those anywhere.) We were all pretty sick, but we used it and the results were negative. My doctor friend tells me the false negative percentage is 30% (vs 1% false positive).  We acted all we all had COVID anyway and we likely did.

I don’t have any great insights into the disease. Get as vaccinated as you can as soon as you can. Follow local public health guidelines. Take care of yourself and others. Hang in there.

(Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash )

 

What is healthy? (My fitness and health links for December, 2021)


Here’s some links on fitness and physical health that are not typical. For example, I Did 340 Pushups a Day to Prepare for the TV Version of Prison. Then I Got There. Reading about this:  Emily Ratajkowski‚Äôs New Book Tests The Limits Of Self-Awareness got me thinking about this Dear Younger Me: Lauren Fleshman. Sometimes we push yourselves from the extremes of one form of unhealthiness to another. You may think these  Sample Menus for a 1 200 Calorie Diet can help you lose weight, but if so you should read this: 1 200 Calories a Day Is a Starvation Diet Actually, you may change your mind.

I still think carrying a lot of weight is unhealthy. As did this father: He Struggled to Play With His Daughter So He Turned to the Couch to 5K App to Lose Weight. Find your own level and continually move in the healthier direction.

If you use a fitbit, read this: How Many Steps Do You Really Need Each Day? If you are in the market for one, check this out: Your Fitbit Can Now Let You Know Whether You Snore. If you are looking for new shoes, consider these: Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next Nature Running Shoe via Uncrate.

(Image via Uncrate)

On the passing of Aaron Beck, developer of Cognitive Therapy

Last week Dr. Aaron T. Beck died. He lived a century. As the Times said, his

brand of pragmatic, thought-monitoring psychotherapy became the centerpiece of a scientific transformation in the treatment of depression, anxiety and many related mental disorders

I’d argue he did as much if not more for the health and well being of people than any doctor or scientist.

I highly recommend reading this: Dr. Aaron T. Beck, Developer of Cognitive Therapy, Dies at 100 – The New York Times. I was fascinated to see the pushback he received over time, and how he fought back against. Truly a great man.

 

Eight links to help you have a fitter fall. (Or my fitness and interests for October, 2021)

It’s fall and it’s a pandemic, but gyms are opening wide up and no doubt you (and I) want to get some of our fitness back. Here’s eight links I’ve found recently that could help:

(Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash )

Health and wellness apps can be expensive. Here’s some alternatives

I am sometimes surprised how expensive health and wellness apps can be. If you leave them running on your phone for a year, that can really add up.

And that’s too bad. People can really benefit from such apps, and being short of cash should not be a limit on getting well.

If this applies to you, then you want to check out these 7 Meditation Apps That Are Cheaper (and Better) Than Headspace and Calm .

Headspace and Calm are fine apps. But check out some alternatives.

Can an app stop nightmares?

smart watch
Occasional nightmares? No. But persistent nightmares, possibly.  WIRED magazine has the story, here:  How a Vibrating Smartwatch Could Be Used to Stop Nightmares | WIRED

If you want to access the app, click here.

Fascinating. I hope it helps.

(Photo by Oscar Nord on Unsplash)

Gardening as a form of mental wellness

Gardening is a tricky hobby. I’ve always associated it with older people. Which makes some sense: if you go to a gardening center in spring, it will be packed mainly with old folks. This is a bad prejudice to have. As this article by Samin Nosrat showed me, gardening can be a great activity to help with one’s mental wellness.

She starts:

Last winter I suffered a devastating bout of depression. Unable to do much else, I took to the neglected beds of the vegetable garden I share with my neighbors. Weeding and composting for hours a day, I was regenerating both the soil and something deep in myself. It felt so crucial to my well-being that sometimes I wore a headlamp to extend my work time past the waning daylight.

It’s worthwhile reading the entire article. She makes a great case for the goodness that gardening can do for you. After you finish it, you may want to rush out to a garden center and get started on your own garden and improved mental health.

(Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash)

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How has New Zealand managed to go 100 days with no coronavirus community spread?

By having very strict controls.

This piece, New Zealand goes 100 days with no coronavirus community spread – Axios), shows just how strict they are:

By the numbers: New Zealand has 23 active coronavirus cases, all NZ residents newly returned from abroad in managed isolation facilities.

Of note: The border remains closed to non-residents and all newly returned Kiwis must undergo a two-week isolation program managed by the country’s defense force, which sees all travelers tested three times before they leave.

Police are stationed outside hotels where travelers are in quarantine. Officers have taken prosecutorial action against several returned travelers who’ve breached these rules by fleeing the facilities under the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act.

So good for New Zealand for doing this. But I wish people wouldn’t say New Zealand has beaten the coronavirus. What they have done is control it better than anyone.

Image by Adam Nieścioruk

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Sweden: how not to deal with a pandemic

It’s not good to be too confident with making pandemic assessment, but the evidence is that Sweden has failed in their approach to dealing with it. According to this, via Sweden Has Become the World’s Cautionary Tale – The New York Times:

This is what has happened: Not only have thousands more people died than in neighboring countries that imposed lockdowns, but Sweden’s economy has fared little better.

“They literally gained nothing,” said Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “It’s a self-inflicted wound, and they have no economic gains.”

The experiment was Lose-Lose: they suffered more deaths and their economy is worse off.

There is much to be learned from what happened in the Nordic countries. We are learning at the expense of the Swedish people. Read the article for more details.

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No area should get cocky when it comes to their dealing with the coronavirus

Because as this shows, How California went from a coronavirus success story to a new hot spot – Vox,  all you need to do is let your guard down and the disease comes back. I am reading stories of many places having surges and many places are having to go back into lockdown. I understand why people want to read stories of places like New Zealand where life has returned to normal. Life hasn’t returned to normal: all places have done is managed through strong measures to stop it from spreading in their area. Meanwhile it is spreading to other areas of the globe, like India. All it will take is enough relaxing of controls and it could come back stronger.

We know very little about this disease. Social distancing and masks seem to be helping to control it. That’s what we have for now: some level of control. No medicine is coming to help us yet. No mutation is coming to blunt it yet. We may have a long way to go.

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For the few (I hope) young people who think they have nothing to fear from COVID-19

I recommend you read this: ‘Feeling Like Death’: Inside a Houston Hospital Bracing for a Virus Peak – The New York Times.

Sure, your survival rates may be higher than someone much older than you. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t suffer intensively and be weakened for much longer in the future.

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Your brain is dirty. There’s only one way to clean it

Sleep. At least according to this:  ‘Waves’ of fluid clear the brain of toxins during sleep, say researchers – Big Think.

When you sleep, your brain is designed to wash away toxic chemical buildup in your brain. If that toxic buildup is allowed to stick around (due to lack of sleep), bad things happen to your brain and you.

So clean your brain. Get some sleep. See the article to understand more of this.

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How giving up coffee affects you


This may not be something you want to try during the pandemic, but if you ever thought about giving up coffee or any other form of caffeine, read this: This Is What Happens to Your Body During a Caffeine Detox.

I was impressed by how detailed the article was. Also how your nervous system changes over time. Remarkable!

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Sweden is acting as a control for social distancing

There will be much discussion about social distancing in the future, and much of that discussion will center on whether or not it has been worth it. One of the ways to better discuss this is to be aware of what Sweden has done. Here’s some key points from this piece Coronavirus: Is Sweden have second thoughts on lockdown? | The Independent:

Sweden, in contrast with most of Europe, has not enforced a lockdown on its citizens. In the balmy Easter weather, people sit and soak in the spring sunshine.

Despite the mounting concerns of experts both at home and abroad, Sweden continues what Anders Tegnell, the country’s chief epidemiologist, has called a “low-scale” approach. He insists this “is much more sustainable” in the long run.

But Sweden’s cases are rising. The country of some 10 million now has more than 10,000 cases and 887 deaths. Its total death toll is higher than that of all the other Nordic countries put together.

The government has said repeatedly that the main cornerstone of their strategy is to protect the elderly. Since the beginning of the crisis, they have been asked to stay home but despite these measures, the virus has spread to one-third of nursing homes in Stockholm, which has resulted in a spike in fatalities.

Prime minister Stefan Lofven recently admitted in an interview with daily Svenska Dagbladet that “Sweden has not succeeded in protecting it’s elderly”. Mr Lofven also warned citizens to prepare for possibly up to “thousands” of deaths.

In the long term Sweden may ultimately have less deaths and suffering because of their hands off approach. Right now, they are doing much worse than other countries practicing social distancing.

It has been very hard for people to social distance but they have because they believe it is worth it. Sweden is now acting as a control in this global experiment and may save many lives globally by showing that social distancing is the way to go. I hope they end the experiment soon.

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On ventilators

I’m not a ventilator expert, but I am curious as to what it takes to get more to patients who are sick due to COVID-19. This will give you some answers as to what it takes to get more out there: Why U.S. hospitals don’t have enough ventilators – The Washington Post

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How to wash your hands better


The number one thing you can do to stay well is wash your hands often, and chances are you are doing it wrong by missing spots. For more on how to do it right, see: Map of Areas Most Often Missing During Handwashing

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What is pink noise and why you might need it if you have trouble sleeping or relaxing

I was aware of white noise, but I didn’t realize there is a range of noises associated with colour:

Both pink and white noise are members of an entire color family of sound including black and brown noise. Sounds are assigned these colors based on how energy is distributed over several frequencies, according to Healthline.com. White noise, for example, is comprised of energy that is equally distributed across all audible frequencies. Brown noise, sometimes called red noise, consists of higher energies at lower frequencies—think thunder and deep, roaring sounds.

Pink noise, on the other hand, is a shade deeper than white noise. It’s similar to white noise in that it includes all audible frequencies; however, unlike white noise, energy is not distributed equally among them.

I have found that the rain sounds I listen to are more pink noise than white noise, and I prefer it for sleeping. If you are having trouble sleeping or relaxing, try listening to some pink noise.

For more on it, see: Pink Noise Sleep Benefits | Apartment Therapy

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Is warning people about how much exercise it takes to work off a meal a good idea?

According to this, it is: ‘Four hours to walk off pizza calories’ warning works, experts say – BBC News. For example, if you were to buy a pizza or a chocolate bar, they argue that…

Appreciating it would take four hours to walk off the calories in a pizza or 22 minutes to run off a chocolate bar creates an awareness of the energy cost of food, they say.

That’s true. But it’s also not a great comparison. It’s pretty much a given that exercise is not a great way of losing weight, so most foods will come across as requiring a lot of exercise to work off the food. And it may be a lot more exercise than most people do. This will just end up shaming more people than it benefits.

I think a better approach would be to highlight what percentage of your recommended caloric allowance a selection of food is. I believe this would be much better. Foods have something similar already: they tell you what percentage of vitamins, fibre, etc. a selection of food provides for your diet. They could do the same thing with calories. Hey, on some days when you hadn’t had much to eat, something that provides you 50% of your daily calories may be fine.

No matter what, providing health guidance is never simple. But if I had to decide, I’d go with percentages.

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How to make your brain healthier

Easy. Follow these five tips:  ‘I’m a neurologist, and these are the 5 things I do to keep my brain healthy’ | Well+Good

Some of them are easy and obvious, some not. And some are a 2 fer: exercise your body and you help your brain, too.

 

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Moodnotes: an app to document your thoughts and moods


If you are using CBT to deal with your mood, consider this app:  Moodnotes: a  Thought Journal, Mood Diary, CBT App.

It helps you quickly capture your mood, but it also help you deal with distorted thinking that contributes to poor moods or worse.

I am cautious about recommending such apps, because I worry what the app developers will do with the data. I have looked at their privacy policy and it is easy to understand and it says they won’t keep specific data. So I am cautiously recommending it.

Ten good wellness links


Because we all could use some good advice as to how to be healthier and happier:

  1. The Health Benefits Of Mindfulness Meditation: The Science Behind The Practice | SELF
  2. The Little Handbook for Getting Stuff Done : zen habits
  3. Give Up Comfort : zen habits
  4. When Negative Thoughts Keep You Down: How to Break the Addiction
  5. In a Hurry? Try Express Weight Training – The New York Times
  6. Two psychologists have a surprising theory on how to get motivated — Quartz at Work
  7. How to Cope with a Toxic and Estranged Family Relationship
  8. If You’re Too Busy For These 5 Things: Your Life Is More Off-Course Than You Think
  9. What I Learned Doing Push-Ups Every Day for a Month
  10. Surprisingly simple tips from 20 experts about how to lose weight and keep it off – Vox
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Do you need 10,000 steps per day to be healthy?

According to this, no. What do you need? Like somewhere in the range of 4000-7500. Key quot:

… women who took 4,400 steps per day, on average, were about 40 percent less likely to die during the follow-up period of about four years compared with women who took 2,700 steps. The findings were published Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Another surprise: The benefits of walking maxed out at about 7,500 steps. In other words, women who walked more than 7,500 steps per day saw no additional boost in longevity.

Walking is great exercise. But if you are unable to get in your 10,000 steps one day, don’t fret.

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Five links to help you with intermittent fasting

It’s not for everyone, and you can make a case that it is not a good way to be healthy or lose weight. But if you are interested in knowing more about it, here’s some good links I’ve found on this form of fasting.

  1. Intermittent Fasting for Beginners – The Complete Guide – Diet Doctor
  2. The Easier Way to Do Intermittent Fasting – Elemental
  3. Fast Diet facts and science – Business Insider
  4. Intermittent Fasting: What Is It, and Should I Try It? – GQ
  5. Intermittent Fasting: The Definitive Guide – The Mission – Medium

Bonus link, here

 

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Why suicide is falling around the world, and how to bring it down more

This fact is promising and the article in the Economist is worth reading (you don’t need a subscription to read it.)

Key quote for me:

Nonetheless, beyond America’s gloomy trend is a more optimistic story: that at a global level, suicide is down by 29% since 2000 (see article). As a result, 2.8m lives have been saved in that time—three times as many as have been killed in battle. There is no one reason. It is happening at different rates among different groups in different places. But the decline is particularly notable among three sets of people.

via Why suicide is falling around the world, and how to bring it down more – Staying alive.

 

4 behaviors that may cut the risk of cancer by 30 percent

Everyone wants to lower their risk of cancer. This piece can help with this: 4 behaviors that may cut the risk of cancer by 30 percent – Vox. The main point of the piece was that:

… people who never smoked or smoked for only a few years and people who drank no or only small amounts of alcohol (one or fewer drinks per day for women and two or fewer for men). It also included people with a BMI between 18.5 and 27.5, and people who exercised vigorously for at least 75 minutes per week or moderately for 150 minutes…

…were at a lower risk of getting cancer than people who did not do these things.

Smoking and drinking are easy for you to monitor. If you want to track your BMI and fitness level, consider getting a digital scale and a fitness tracker. I use the Fitbit Aria scale to track my BMI and my Apple Watch to monitor my exercise. Of course you can monitor those things just as well with a simple scale, a watch, a pencil and a notepad. Regardless of how you do it, I encourage you to take action in the New Year to lower your risk of cancer.

A good list of light therapy lamps for S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

The bad news: for people in the northern hemisphere, the days are getting colder and darker.

The good news: if you are one of those people who suffer from S.A.D., then this is an excellent list of lights that can help you deal with it: The Best Light Therapy Lamps for Seasonal Affective Disorder | Apartment Therapy

Better still, there is a wide range of price points and some of them are relatively inexpensive.

Check out the list. If you know someone who struggles with this, then consider this an excellent gift idea.

Bonus: This post was written in 2017. Since then they have updated their list, so check it out again.

 

Deal with social media better by having less opinions

Word cloud
Social media bombards us with opinions. Such bombardment tugs at us to form our own opinions, but this is is a trap that leads us to be unhappy. As this piece (Free Your Mind by Having Fewer Useless Opinions) argues:

The more opinions you have, the more time and energy you end up wasting to defend those opinions, and the more small amounts of stress you accrue. But the less you have, the more time and energy you have to focus on the deep opinions you have.

I think this is a great idea. There are lots of reasons not to have an opinion on things: you don’t have knowledge on a topic, you don’t have interest on a topic, you prefer to focus your thoughts on other topics. Much of popular culture can be dismissed this way, as can many political scandals.

So let others spend their time fretting and fussing over such things and spend your time focusing on the things you think matter.

Where Apple is going next

According to this source, Apple is going into the Health Care Industry: Apple Is Going After The Health Care Industry, Starting With Personal Health Data.

I think a more general statement is that Apple is going to be looking into expanding into services, be they health care, banking, or something else.  They’ve already been successful with Apple Pay.  I expect they can find niches in health care and other industries that they can easily fit into. Plus they can work with partners to deliver tools to people and health care providers that can save everyone in terms of health care costs.

I’m looking forward to Apple bring forth innovations in health care that results in lower costs and better care. I hope they can deliver.

For more on some current health features from Apple, go here.

There may be different forms of depression


Most people understand depression does exist and it is different and more severe than routine sadness or tiredness. Recent studies in depression indicate that there may be different categories of this mental illness. As this piece highlights, Brain Scans Show 4 Different Types of Depression | Mental Floss, there may not be just one medical profile for people with depression, but…

different medical profiles. Patients in subtypes 1 and 2 described feeling more fatigue, while people in subtypes 3 and 4 had trouble feeling pleasure.

One significant thing about this separation is that there are different treatments for different subtypes.

If you suffer from depression or know someone that does, or want to have a better understanding of the disease, I recommend that piece. That said, if you think you may be suffering from depression, always seek out professional help.

(Image is a link to the web site http://namila.org/)

Standing All Day Is Twice as Bad as Sitting for Your Heart | Runner’s World

Standing desk
Perhaps the hype around the standing desk is finally going to die. Here’s hoping. Based on this source,  Standing All Day Is Twice as Bad as Sitting for Your Heart | Runner’s World, standing all day is no good either. It mentions an interesting study….

… just published in the American Journal of Epidemiology that finds jobs that require a lot of standing to be much worse for your health than jobs that require mostly sitting. The new study is a surprising counterweight to the ubiquitous “sitting is the new smoking” message

Like anything, standing or sitting at your job should be done in moderation. Ideally you would have a work station that allowed you to easily switch from sitting to standing (like the one in the image above from http://www.smallbiztechnology.com/). If you don’t have a set up like that, at least try and find opportunities to stand and sit throughout the day. Better still, get a walk or two in as well.

Be good to yourself and your body.

 

On ASA, Tylenol and Advil

Aspirin
If you take any of these meds then you really should read this: Should you take Tylenol, Advil, or aspirin for pain? Here’s what the evidence says. – Vox

I was surprised by what they said about Tylenol.  You might be surprised by what’s in here as well.

As for me, I have found when I have had a sore back, ASA was the best thing to relieve the pain.

Like any medicine, consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking. You should especially consult with them if you are taking such medicine on a regular basis.

(Image from bayer.com)

Is ‘Blue Monday’ a thing


According to Snopes (snopes.com), it is not. As in, there is not a specific day that is the most depressing day of the year.

That said, if you read carefully, you can see why people accept this notion. January can be a difficult month for many reasons. You might feel that the entire month is filled with Blue Mondays. Take it easy on yourself, especially if you have challenging resolutions you are trying to complete.

Good luck. Stay healthy.

(Image, via The Sun, shows the so called formula for calculating Blue Monday)