Why Teachers (And Students) Need Coffee – The Health Benefits of Coffee

Maybe you think that this is a slow day here on our site, or that I am mixing business and pleasure. Not so! I plan to regularly talk about health issues here. Nobody can be an effective teacher without being in reasonably good health.

While my title may be a bit of a stretch, the truth is that modern research is showing that coffee is actually good for you in a variety of ways. So, next time you are deciding whether to brew a pot in the teacher’s lounge, think of the health benefits  of coffee.

By containing caffeine, Coffee increases focus. Coffee is a stimulant like the focus drug Ritalin. A cup of coffee will give you some mental and physical focus. I learned this life hack from a Psychology professor when I was a student at Ohio University. This is one reason why I support allowing high school students to drink it in class, if they can do so without being too messy (even then I have spilled more than enough coffee to judge if a student spills it).

In addition to helping with focus, coffee, according to research:

– lowers the risk of Parkinson’s disease
– lowers the risk of asthma
– lowers the risk of getting headaches.

Coffee drinkers are at a 20% lower risk of having a stroke. Drinking that delicious brew also likely helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease and Type-2 Diabetes.

Got Gallstones? Coffee reduces the chance of getting those by 50%. Liver Cirrhosis? Coffee will help with this.

And what about coffee and colon cancer? Coffee drinkers have a 25% reduced risk of developing this deadly form of cancer.

Finally, coffee has been shown to help prevent depression, and regular coffee drinkers such as myself have lower rates of suicide.

However, as my students and co-workers know: just don’t take my coffee, or the homicide rate may rise.

The Health Benefits of Friends

friends walking on a pathThis is a good post to write on a Friday. According to Real Age, studies have shown that having friends can keep you healthy. Regularly interacting and having fun with others keeps you young and healthy. This is no surprise, because first-and-foremost, we are social animals.

Despite pretty much everybody (from many religions to public education) telling us that reality is about knowing things, I would argue that our human reality is about relating to people. Knowing things is great, and my college degrees (and student loans) remind me regularly that I do value knowledge, but we can’t forget relationships either.

This research isn’t really a surprise, but it is something teachers can easily take for granted. We are told “don’t be friends with students” and “it is inappropriate to be friends with your colleagues.” I understand the merits of each statement, and can partially agree. However, part of our modern jumpy, regulation-crazy, society is that we immediately sterilize all relationships and exclude the dreaded “f” word from our vocabulary. We are asked to objectively and stiffly relate to all kinds of people.

In our modern world it is very easy to be friendless, or to have 2000 friends on Facebook but to be very lonely in reality. In the future, I will post some ways to make friends easily. Until then, consider the possibility that friends are pretty much the most important thing you can have. If work, curriculum, etc, is overtaking your time to relate to others, has your life gone totally off course?

I highly suggest stopping by our sister site The Popular Man, to get some ideas about how to make friends. Everybody wants friends, and if you can be that cool, fun, and empathetic person everybody is looking for, you will have more friends than you know what to do with.

Happy Vitamin D Day! The Awesome Benefits of Vitamin D

Image of shining sunToday is “Vitamin D Day” as designated by the Vitamin D Council.

The goal is to raise awareness of the benefits of Vitamin D. I became interested in Vitamin D in 2005, when I began reading early studies about the relationship of Vitamin D to cancer. At one time, I remember remarking that I was surprised companies even sold Vitamin D supplements, since the this hormone-vitamin had few benefits.

It turns out I was very very wrong. Studies are showing the importance of Vitamin D in preventing cancer, multiple sclerosis, depression, influenza, pregnancy complications, autism, and more (source). The reason? This vitamin is really a hormone, and it is involved in a lot of biological processes. In fact, many problems that plague adults could be a result of Vitamin D deficiency in their mothers while pregnant and nursing.

The sun played a vital role in human evolution, and for hundreds of thousands of years ancient humans were in the sun almost all the time, living near the equator. We have gone from being in the sun almost all the time, to being afraid of it. As such, it was common for humans to take in over 10,000 IU of Vitamin D a day during the summer (of course the body has a process to limit production from the sun after a short period of time). Considering the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) is only 400 IU per day, most Americans are woefully deficient. In fact, a recent study about Vitamin D and pregnancy showed that pregnant and nursing mothers need 4000 IU/day to supply the infant with his needs. That is 10 times the RDA, a number virtually impossible to reach outside of regular sun exposure or supplementation.

Unfortunately, kids are taught to never go outside without sunblock. Most adults just stay inside all day naturally, seemingly preferring to sit at a desk than be subjected to the elements of sun and fresh air. The sun, a source of light necessary for all life, has become viewed as the enemy. Even so-called experts suggest staying out of the sun nearly entirely, to avoid skin cancer. The result has been a decrease in easily treatable skin cancers and an increase in difficult to treat internal cancers, like colon and breast. Certain nutritionists have suggested drinking some milk will provide you with Vitamin D, which is kind of true. You would need to drink 50 glasses to get the 10,000 IU made from just 10-20 minutes of sun exposure.

Even if you rely on the sun for your Vitamin D, outside of living near the equator you may still have problems. The sun in more Northern parts of the world is not strong enough to produce vitamin D from October to mid-April. This means that unless you get enough from diet (unlikely), you are relying entirely on your summer stores to supply your winter needs. Unfortunately, many Westerners are already deficient in Vitamin D going into the winter.

Supplements of Vitamin D are cheap. Vitamin D3 (the preferred form – Cholecalciferol) is made from lamb’s wool. And, no lambs are harmed in the process, although they do look uglier after being sheared.

Teachers Should Care About Health and Fitness

a running track in the countryWe’ve talked a lot in the past about the importance of being excellent as a teacher. Students admire excellence in areas that they value. For example, I have a cousin who teaches. He’s also a guitar player and when he plays in class, the kids absolutely love it. They admire him because he’s good at a skill they can appreciate.

Another area where students value excellence is in athletics and general fitness. Even if they don’t play sports, most students still like those activities. Many of them also have athletes as their role models (for better or for worse).

What all this means is that, as a teacher, you have to be conscious of your physical appearance. This relates to dress, makeup, etc. but also to the way you keep your body (or don’t). This is why we make health and fitness an important part of this website. Popularity outside of school involves a level of health and fitness. The same is true of teachers within a school.

First, it’s important that you avoid being too overweight. Fat teachers do get mocked. I’m not saying this is right, but it is a part of the teenage mentality to look down on authority figures in any way possible. Don’t give them any extra ammunition.

Second, being fit and athletic is a plus. When I would help out in gym class and cover for other teachers, the fact that I could keep up with the students was highly valued. In addition, I would discuss my athletic endeavors. It really helped connect with them.

If you are out of shape or overweight, we will occasionally be discussing tips on here to help you out. Check back regularly for more advice. In addition, we address health and fitness tips on our companion blog The Popular Man.

Lower Carb Diet For More Mental and Physical Stability?

Eggs sitting on a tableFor the last few months I have been trying a “lower carb” diet. I have always considered “bad carbs” to be problematic, and by this I mean things like white flour and white sugar. However, I have been trying to lose a few last extra pounds, so I decided to go “lower carb” by reducing my net carbohydrates below 100-130 grams.

I did end up losing an extra seven pounds over the course of a month, which for me is a good number. However, I started to see some other mental and physical benefits as well. As a teacher, I almost always experience some post-lunch tiredness. I found out that I didn’t get my afternoon “low” when as I have eaten lower carb. I also discovered that I wasn’t have my nightly cravings for food – and lots of it.

Now, I am not suggesting “low” carb is realistic on a daily basis. However, “lower carb” has worked very well for me, and I could see myself sticking with it for quite awhile. I love a lot of the food choices I can eat, and I have eaten a lot of fish, eggs, and chicken. I do miss regularly eating some of my favorite foods like whole wheat pizza and whole wheat pasta. When I eat out, I avoid things like fries and rice, and I replace them with coleslaw, broccoli, and green beans.

The only problem has been eating a variety of food, and getting my fiber levels to the desirable 30 grams/day. I have eaten a lot of peanuts and peanut products, as well as nut products, like almonds (peanuts are not really nuts by the way). The good news is that peanuts and nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, associated with lower risk of heart disease, as well as weight loss. I have kept my fiber high pretty much only by supplementing with powdered fiber supplements.

No matter what, I have been happy with the general level of physical and mental stability that I believe is coming from this lower carb eating plan.

So, has anybody else tried a “lower carb” diet? If so, what kind of results have you gotten?

Want to Be A Popular Teacher? Then Be Excellent!

Man with water running

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was in elementary school, I idolized my teachers and showed them respect simply because they were my teachers. However, as I became a teenager, simply being my teacher wouldn’t cut it for instant respect. In order for me to admire them, they had to actually be admirable to my teenage mind. I wanted them to be excellent in ways that meant something to me.

As a teacher, I encountered this all the time. Students didn’t really care a whole lot about the topic I taught. And, unless you’re teaching video games, sports, texting, or listening to music, it’s likely your students aren’t terribly interested in your subject matter either. Don’t kid yourself! However, my students did like me personally. And, they did it because I was excellent in ways they cared about.

If you want to be popular and respected by your students, you’ll have to be excellent in ways they admire too. Most teens today really do want to connect with their teachers. But, if your only interests are outside of their experience, they won’t be able to relate to you. It also may be why you may feel you can’t relate to teens at times.

To appear excellent to your students, then you’ll have to either emphasize elements of your personality and talents that appeal to teens or find universally appealing ones. Fortunately, teens are fairly predictable in their interests. The most popular ones are music, sports, and humor. Unfortunately, teens typically don’t care about typical “education” accomplishments like awards for curriculum and classroom management.

One way to find out what your teens find excellent is to actually focus on what they are talking about. Find out their interests. While you don’t have to modify your personality based on their preferences, you can easily emphasize your accomplishments in those areas they care about. If you have nothing in common whatsoever with your students, then perhaps it’s time to develop some or find another career.

Let me give you a personal example of earning respect through excellence. I run extreme races like the Warrior Dash and the Tough Mudder. Whenever my students find out about this, they are amazed and talk about how cool it is. These races are genuine accomplishments and my students respond accordingly with admiration and respect.

Find ways to be excellent and they will love and respect you too.

Meditation and Prayer on the Way To Work

Paved path with barn on rightStudies show that prayer/meditation have many health benefits, including reduction of stress and more focused performance in various tasks (By the way, I am lumping meditation and prayer together for the purposes of discussion here, defining both generically as “gathering one’s thoughts and calming the mind”). As a teacher, dealing with possibly hundreds of equally stressed students, grounding yourself is very very important.

I find that prayer and meditation on the way to work have a profound effect on my day. I have  forty minute drive at the moment, as I look for a new house closer to work. One benefit of a long drive is that I have a chance to collect my thoughts for the day. There are a variety of ways to do this. Obviously, your faith will shape how you approach this, but I will share my approach.

I tend to use prayers from my faith tradition, Catholicism. I say the Our Father and Hail Mary, as well as focusing my personal spontaneous prayers from the Church Year. From a psychological vantage point, this has a calming and centering effect on my mind.

I also know the scientific benefits of mindfulness, a concept practiced primarily in the East, although Christians such as St. Teresa of Avila have discovered mindfulness without really mentioning it by name. Because of this I try to practice some on the way to work. Whether you are Buddhist or not is irrelevant; mindfulness is a practice backed up by modern science, and many of us use it not for religious reasons, but psychological ones.

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment non-judgmentally. This means simply taking in the moment by stopping any thoughts or judgement about the moment. Mindfulness is a type of meditation and is really simple to accomplish. The easiest way is to take some deep breaths and just be aware of the sensations of breathing. If another thought enters your head, let it pass and focus again on your breath. The point is to firmly plant yourself in the beauty of the present moment, as opposed to being worried about the future or paralyzed by the past.

Being mindful while driving is easy. I just take some deep breaths and enter a mindful state, and the drive suddenly comes alive. The worry of what “needs done” disappears, because I am in the moment, not in the future. This is why  mindfulness meditation is so relaxing. Even after a few seconds, you will find your body relaxing.

Whatever you do, I suggest getting some sort of prayer or meditation routine on your way to work. As I mentioned above, even if you are not religious, you can easily practice a few moments of mindfulness to ground your mind and body for the day.