Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Step it up, Thurston County!

For thousands of years, to get from Point A to Point B, most people had no choice but to start walking. Some people had access to horses and horse-drawn carriages, but not until the rise of the automobile in the first half of the twentieth century did walking lose its status in some societies as the most popular way to get where you’re going. This change to a “car culture” definitely made it faster and easier to get from place to place, but it also took away a significant source of physical activity for many people. While many factors contribute to our country’s obesity epidemic, the drastic decrease in steps Americans take each day has played a part. In addition to reduced walking in our communities, the large amount of car traffic contributes to air pollution.

Recognizing the vital role walking can play in improving people’s health, the Surgeon General’s office created “Step It Up!” and issued a call to action last year to promote walking and communities designed to be walkable.

That call to action is needed here in Thurston County as well. Cities in the county have largely been built during the era of increasing reliance on automobiles – they are spread out over a large area and tend to have single-use zones of land use that make it more difficult to use other forms of transportation. The rest of the county is very rural, meaning that walking as a mode of transportation in those areas is also difficult. Thurston Thrives, our community’s effort to improve health for all residents, has an action area (Community Design) that is focused on supporting a shift back to walkable ways of designing communities and encouraging the daily, moderate physical activity of walking. 

At least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week is recommended for adults to stay healthy (1 hour daily for kids). Even in a community like ours, there are many ways to incorporate walking into your daily routine. Whenever you have the chance to take a more active form of transportation than driving alone, take it! Walking, bicycling or taking the bus not only increase your physical activity, they help reduce air pollution. If you are driving to your destination, choose a parking space far from the store entrance. If you live or work in a multistory building, take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you have a job that requires you to spend time in meetings, ask your colleagues to head outside for a “moving meeting.” Albert Einstein believed that the brain worked best at three miles per hour (the speed of a brisk walk), and scientific studies have shown a relationship between walking and better performance on tests that measure memory, attention, and creativity. You’ll find that in addition to the health benefits of getting sunlight, fresh air, and physical activity, your meetings might be more efficient, productive, and enjoyable as well.

Another way to make walking a regular part of your life is to go on a walk with your family after dinner each night. While strenuous physical activities can interfere with digestion and cause cramps, mild exercise like walking actually assists your body in digesting your meal and can improve blood sugar levels too. Perhaps even more importantly, a nightly stroll can provide busy families with much-needed bonding time at the end of each day, improving the mental and emotional health of parents and children alike. Joining or forming a neighborhood walking club is also an option, and can be a great way to get to know your neighbors better and create stronger social ties within your local community. Since the sun still sets pretty early this time of year, be sure to wear reflective clothing or carry a flashlight in order to be visible to drivers after dark.

If you’re ready to step it up, check out the Thurston Regional Planning Council’s “Here to There” website, which provides walking maps and other resources that will make it easier than ever to add more walking to your life. If you want to be part of the effort to make our communities more walkable, or address clean air issues, get involved with the Community Design or Environment action teams. Together, with each step we take, we can make Thurston County a healthier place for everyone!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Planning 2016: 10 tasks for a healthier new year

  1.  Dispose of household hazardous products safely and for free by taking them to HazoHouse.
  2. Switch to green cleaning methods by using vinegar, baking soda, and liquid Castile soap. This saves money too!
  3. Remove shoes at the door. This helps reduce dust in the home.
  4. Run the bathroom fan while showering or bathing and for 30-45 minutes after. This helps keep mold from growing in the bathroom and improves indoor air quality. If your fan doesn’t work well, have it fixed or replaced.
  5. Open windows daily to let fresh air in and improve ventilation. Try a “fresh air blast” by going through your home opening each window and then going right back through closing each one. This quick exchange of air can make a big difference in your indoor air quality!
  6. Request a free, confidential Healthy Homes Visit.
  7. Get a kitchen thermometer and use it to help prevent foodborne illness.
  8. Use Common Sense Gardening for your yard and garden. Our free gardening guides can help you create a beautiful landscape without the
    use of toxic bug and weed killers.
  9. Get your septic system inspected. You can hire someone or learn how to do it yourself. Inspecting your system every year can help identify issues before they turn into large, costly
  10.  Take steps to prevent rodents and other pests from entering your home.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Healthy Holiday Cleaning

The holidays can mean having a lot of people over to the house which means a lot of cleaning. But instead of reaching for the bleach or drain cleaner, take the time to read the labels and follow the directions. Many of the cleaning products available in stores today are hazardous. You can tell by reading the signal word and precautionary statements. The signal words are: Warning, Caution, or Danger on the label.

Sure, we see these words on labels all the time, but what do those labels actually mean?

According to the the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) household hazardous products must be labeled accordingly. It was decided that there should be three levels of labeling.

Warning or Caution:
These labels indicate that a product may be “moderately toxic, corrosive, reactive, or flammable”.
This is the second ‘level’ of toxicity and means that a product is highly toxic, flammable, or corrosive. It can cause injury to you through ingestion or skin exposure.
This is the highest level of toxicity that can be listed and means that the product can cause injury or even death if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin.

Choosing safer products

The best way to reduce hazardous exposures to you and your family is to use green cleaning methods or by choosing the least hazardous product available when shopping. There are many cleaning products available with hazards low enough to not require one of the signal words. There are also several recipes to create your own green cleaners that are easy and mainly use common household products such as baking soda and vinegar. If you must use a hazardous product, make sure you read the label, use the safety precautions described, and follow the directions. Simply using the product as directed with the best possible safety precautions can reduce exposures.
So the next time your drain is clogged or there’s a stain on your bathroom wall reach for a safer alternative. And you won’t have to worry about toxic exposures for you, your household, your guests and pets.

You can find more tips on how to reduce your family’s exposure to toxins through our Healthy Home Companion.


Monday, December 21, 2015

5 Tips for Safer Holiday Food

One of the most common things to do during the holiday season is prepare food. Here are some tips for safer holiday food.

1. Wash your hands thoroughly and often.
Raw meat and eggs can contain bacteria that can make us sick. Washing your hands with soap and warm water will help reduce the risk of bacteria spreading. Frequent hand-washing also helps reduce the spread of other germs and tiny bits of toxic chemicals that get on our hands as we go about our daily routines.

2. Use a meat thermometer.
Ham, turkeys, and other types of meat are popular this time of year and it’s easy to underestimate how long they should be cooked. Use a meat thermometer to cook meat to its safe minimum cooking temperature. Kitchen thermometers make a great holiday gift!

3. Refrigerate promptly.
Bacteria can grow quickly on cooling food, especially meat. Try to put everything in the fridge as soon as you’re done using it so that bacteria don’t have a chance to grow.

4. Separate, don’t contaminate!
When preparing food, designate one cutting board for meat (including poultry, seafood and eggs) and one for everything else. This will prevent any of the bacteria on meat from getting into other food. Here are some other tips for preventing cross-contamination.

5. Use glass or ceramic containers to store food.
Plastic containers contain phthalates and BPA chemicals linked to long term illness. Even containers that are BPA Free can still contain other chemicals with health concerns. Using glass or ceramic containers to store food reduces exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals.

For more information on foodborne illness visit the CDC’s website.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

How to have a ‘Green,’ Healthy and Safe Holiday

If you’re like a lot of people around the holidays, you like to decorate! And this can mean strings and strings of colored lights wrapped around a tree or your house. While these lights are beautiful and help bring about holiday cheer, they also can be costly and, sometimes, hazardous. LED string lights are becoming more common and not only reduce your energy bills around the holidays, but also don’t burn or break as easily as conventional string lights. Nothing like saving ‘green’ while being green! Many holiday lights contain lead, which is toxic to the brain and especially toxic for children whose brains are still developing. Keep small children from touching holiday lights when possible and have everyone wash hands thoroughly after touching holiday lights.

Burning candles releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your indoor air. These VOCs are tiny chemical particles can irritate lungs and cause symptoms in people with asthma or allergies. Candles also present fire and burn hazards especially if there will be small children and pets present in your home. Instead of using real candles, consider using LED candles which give the same warm glow, without all of the fine particulate matter. They also last much longer than conventional candles and can save you money! If you burn candles for a warm holiday scent, try simmering cinnamon sticks in water on the stove instead.

And finally, a holiday tree can be a center point to the holidays. It can be a tradition from some to go cut one down and bring it inside without realizing what they’re hauling in with it. Trees, being plants, carry pollen with them which can cause seasonal allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as ‘hay fever’. If anyone in your home has allergies and asthma it may benefit your whole family to go with an artificial tree this year!