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April 22, 2017

Bring Out the Grill

Spring is here and summer is right around the corner so dust off the grill! It is time for the great American cookout - whip up a salad, slice a melon, and throw some veggies and meat on the grill. Sounds like a great idea, right? Over the last few years, however, there have been some confusing health reports about grilling. The concerns have centered around possible carcinogens in grilled meats. Yet a common sense approach with a few safety precautions will keep you enjoying the BBQ. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), there is not enough evidence to show that grilled meat specifically increases the risk for cancers. We know that cooking muscle meat such as beef, pork, fish or poultry at a high temperature like grilling (often done at over 300 degrees) creates chemical compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Both these chemicals can alter DNA and possibly lead to cancer. That being said the studies showing exposure to PAHs and PCAs causing cancer were performed on rodents. When fed a diet of HCAs or PHAs, the animals developed various types of cancer. The National Cancer Institute reports the doses of HCAs and PHAs used in these studies, however, were very high – equivalent to thousands of times the doses that a person would consume in a normal diet. Therefore, they caution against condemning grilling all together. Nevertheless, researchers looking at people’s diets and consequent health issues, found that high consumption of well-done, fried, and barbecued meats was associated with increased risks of colorectal, pancreas, and prostate cancer. In addition, evidence is clear that diets high in red and processed meats also contribute to colorectal cancer. So while there is limited evidence that the compounds formed during grilling cause cancer, a combination of lots of red and processed meats (i.e. – burgers and hotdogs every night) plus grilling is most probably a bad combo pack. The great grilling conundrum comes down to this - it is what you choose to cook, not necessarily how you cook it that matters. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America, the AICR, and the NCI recommend the following for summer grilling and optimal health: Grill less meat and more veggies and fruits. Grill 4 -ounce size portions of meat (about the size of your palm) and try grilling peppers, asparagus, tomatoes, or even romaine! Go lean. Grill chicken, turkey, or fish more often than red meats such as hamburgers or steaks and try to avoid processed meats such as sausage and hotdogs all together. Marinate meat. Marinating meat before grilling can decrease the formation of HCAs. Precook meat. If you are grilling larger cuts, such as half chickens, reduce the time your meat is on the grill by partially cooking it in the microwave, oven, or stove first. Trim the fat. Trimming the fat off your meat reduces flare ups and charring. Cut meat into small pieces. Try making kabobs alternating meat with lots of veggies. The smaller pieces cook quickly, reducing the amount of time exposed to the high temperatures. Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville, NY. If you have questions or suggestions for articles, contact Lorraine at 585-335-4327 or ... Read More

April 22, 2017

Look Good Feel Better

Cancer can rob a woman of her energy, appetite, and strength. But it doesn’t have to take away her self-confidence. Look Good Feel Better is a FREE program that teaches beauty techniques to women in active cancer treatment. The workshop includes skincare, makeup application, nail care and accessory style tips. Every woman will receive a complementary makeup kit to take home. The next Look Good Feel Better session is on Monday, May 15th from 10 am to noon in conference room D at Noyes Health Hospital in Dansville. Registration is required, please call 1-800-227-2345. ... Read More

April 13, 2017

Spaziergang this Spring!

Years ago, I lived in Germany as an exchange student. When I arrived at the Hamburg airport, I did not speak a word of German. Fortunately, my host family patiently taught me the language and customs of their country. When my host mother could tell I was getting worn out and stressed from translating and attempting to communicate, she would often ask, would you like to go for a "spaziergang," which loosely translates to a leisurely stroll. Traditionally, this would often occur in the late afternoon, early evening, or on a Sunday afternoon. We would head out to the local park and walk along the river or to one of the many wooded trails in the forests surrounding the small German village where we lived. Over time, I came to realize that "spaziergang" meant more than a walk. It meant a time to take your mind off things, to relax, to laugh and chat with family and friends, to appreciate and notice the world beyond yourself. It taught me early on the therapeutic value of walking outdoors. I always felt better physically, emotionally, and mentally when we returned from our strolls. What constantly amazes me is how science ultimately confirms what generations have known for decades or even centuries. In this case, that walking has multiple benefits. It is absolutely one of the best forms of exercise, but it is also good for the mind and soul. Recent reports from the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Health, and Berkeley Wellness all agree that walking for fun and fitness can reap huge benefits for old and young alike. Here are some of the highlights from those reports: Metabolic benefits and lower risk for chronic disease. Mile for mile, brisk walking can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease as much as running. Healthy arteries. Sitting for long periods has many adverse effects on the body including an increased risk for cardiovascular disease over the long term. But taking short (5-minute) walking breaks every hour or so can prevent this sitting-induced arterial stiffening. Blood sugar control. Walking after meals helps control blood sugar in inactive older people with pre-diabetes and diabetes. Walking for 15 minutes half an hour after each of three daily meals was better for 24-hour blood sugar control than walking for 45 minutes in a single daily session. Less lower back pain. Various studies have shown that for people with chronic lower back pain, walking can be as beneficial as a strength-training program targeting abdominal and back muscles. Some studies indicate that walking outside is more beneficial than a treadmill as it engages the muscle groups differently. Creativity. Studies in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that students experienced a boost in creative thinking during and right after walking, compared to sitting. Walking, especially outdoors, “opens the free flow of ideas,” presumably via both physical and psychological effects, the researchers suggested. Improved mood and attitude. In a British study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, university office workers reported increased enthusiasm and relaxation and reduced stress after 30-minute lunchtime walks. Walking was done in groups, so the social aspect may have played a role. It counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes. Harvard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in over 12,000 people to determine how much these genes actually contribute to body weight. They discovered that, among the study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day, the effects of those genes were cut in half! It helps tame a sweet tooth. A pair of studies from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk can curb cravings for chocolate and even reduce the amount of chocolate you eat in stressful situations. And the latest research confirms that walking can reduce cravings and intake of a variety of sugary snacks. It eases joint pain. Several studies have found that walking reduces arthritis-related pain, and that walking five to six miles a week can even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place. Walking protects the joints — especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis — by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them. It boosts immune function. Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder. Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health. If you have questions or article suggestions, contact Lorraine at or 585-335-4327. ... Read More

April 7, 2017

Safety in the Spring

The temperatures are warming and the spring yard work season is now upon us. The chore list is never ending - gutters to clean, lawn mowers to power up, windows to wash, remnants of fall leaves to rake, and weeds to pull. With all those tasks, you can count on sore muscles for sure and in some cases, injury. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 35,000 people injured themselves using a step ladder in 2010 and more than 127,000 were injured while operating a lawn mower. And those numbers do not reflect the strained backs, twisted ankles, sunburns, and other common injuries incurred while tending to the lawn, house, and garden beds. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute offer the following tips to keep you healthy and fit as you gear up for the yard work season: Warm Up After hibernating through the winter, make sure you are limber before you tackle the yard. Some gentle stretches include trunk rotations for the back, bringing your knee up to your chest to stretch your lower back and legs, and reaching above your head with hands locked to stretch arms and shoulders. Take a short walk around the yard to loosen up the muscles and to survey what needs to be done. Dress to Protect Use insect repellant and sunscreen with sun protective factor of 15 or higher. Remember hazardous UV exposure is still possible on a cloudy or hazy day. Wear gloves and safety glasses to prevent exposure to harmful chemicals such as weed or insect killer. Wear a hat with a wide rim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck. Always check your clothes and body for ticks after working outdoors. Lift with Care – Think Before You Lift Heavy Objects To avoid back injuries, separate your feet, shoulder-width apart and keep your back upright and bend at the knees while tightening the stomach muscles. Lift with your leg muscles as you stand up. Know your limitations. Get help with items that are too big, heavy, or oddly shaped. Consider using a cart or wheelbarrow to move items, dirt, or debris. Ladder Use When washing windows, painting, cleaning gutters, and trimming trees, always place your ladder on a firm level surface. In addition: Never place a ladder on ground or flooring that is uneven, soft, or wet. Over-reaching or leaning too far to one side can make you lose balance and fall. Be aware of where you are on the ladder. Your bellybutton should not go beyond the sides of the ladder. Have someone spot you when you are on a ladder. Go slowly to make sure you touch each step solidly as you ascend or descend the ladder. Inside, be sure to use a sturdy step stool instead of the counter or furniture to reach high areas. Mowing the Lawn You can severely injure or kill a child with a lawn mower - in forward or reverse - with the blades engaged, or when objects are hit and thrown by the spinning blades. Be sure to wear proper footwear and eyewear as well as ear protection. Never give rides. A child may fall off the mower and into the spinning blades. Giving rides may also cause the child to be attracted to the mower, and the child may later approach without being seen. Use extreme caution in reverse. Keep alert for anyone who may enter the mowing area. Always look down and behind before and while backing up. Know where your kids are. Keep kids away from the mowing area. Have adult supervision to prevent them from approaching the mower before you have finished. Stop mowing if a child approaches the mowing area. Read safety instructions and remember to keep the keys to your mower away from children. Use the Right Tools and Take Breaks There will be less strain on your arms and back if you choose tools with larger, padded, or curved handles. Wear nonslip work gloves to prevent blisters and to add protection from sticks and thorns. When using tools with cords, be sure they are properly grounded and keep them from walkways to avoid tripping. Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water. Change positions often to avoid repetitive motions that can cause injuries. For example, if you are pulling weeds – pull for 10 minutes, stand, stretch, and change position. For more information about safety and healthy gardening, go to the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute site at or click on the CDC’s site at Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at or 585-335-4327. ... Read More

March 30, 2017

Techno Balancing Act

Some days, I long for land lines and bunny ear antennas. I close my eyes and imagine the pre-smart phone and cable TV era - the days of three TV channels and one phone for the entire household. There was no instant “google it”; if you were interested in a topic, you checked out a book at the library. Dinner time was well, dinner time…folks gathered around the table, ate food, and talked and laughed together. I recently dined at a local restaurant and simply observed. Almost every table was in the techno zone, scanning newsfeeds, answering emails, liking Facebook posts, playing games. Some families literally never talked to one another throughout the course of the meal. This scene is representative of a hyper-connected society. We are connected 24/7 to family, friends, work, and the world. Unfortunately, we are also tied to its anxieties, worries, emails, to-do lists, breaking news, and trends. This technological frenzy zaps our productivity, steals sleep, increases stress, stunts creativity, makes driving dangerous, and can even ruin relationships. All that being said, technology is also an incredible tool. It connects people across the globe. It makes research easier than ever and it offers a platform for creative exchange of ideas. So while some advocate getting off the grid or unplugging entirely, most agree that is not practical or possible. Technology is a tool so to speak. We just need to figure out how to make it best work for us. Just like we don’t carry around a hammer all day long just in case we need to nail something, we don’t need to carry around our smartphones constantly just in case we get an email. Soren Gordhamer, author of Wisdom 2.0; Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected, writes about how to live a modern, engaged, and connected life with awareness, balance, and effectiveness. On his website, he writes, “…one of the biggest challenges of today's age is to connect through technology, but do so in a way that supports a person's well-being, work effectiveness, and is ultimately useful to the world.” So how do we achieve techno balance? The answer lies not in sending the lion away to a far-away jungle never to be seen again but in taming the lion. In her article, Digital Detox: 16 ways to Unplug from Technology, Every Day, Cathy Presland offers some great suggestions that anyone can incorporate into their daily living. Here are a few of her ideas for finding equilibrium: 1. Start your day right. Resist the urge to check your phone the minute you get out of bed. Instead, grab a healthy breakfast and spend some quiet time meditating, praying, or simply being still, looking out the window. Start the day relaxed and you will have a more productive day. 2. Go old school. Yep, they still make flip phones with just basic call and text functions. Without the ability to check emails or Facebook, you will have more time to enjoy the moment (whatever the moment is.) 3. Bring a book. Always carry a book or magazine with you. Instead of reaching for the phone and checking emails, the newsfeed, or Instagram one more time, open a book and get absorbed in its story. Reading a book requires focus and is relaxing. Filling your mind with thousands of images on the other hand can actually make you less focused. 4. Go on a digital diet. Sort of like going on a food diet, track your current digital intake (how much time or how many times you check it) and then set a goal for reducing that number. 5. Take a mini-break. Next time you go to dinner, leave your phone at home. Getting your haircut, leave your phone in the car. Going in the grocery store, turn your phone off. These mini-breaks can help alleviate the overload. 6. Streamline your connections. For example, if people can contact you via email, Facebook, texting, phoning, and skype, consider cutting out a few of those options so you are not checking as many places. Another option is to have messages re-directed to a general email address for one stop shopping. 7. Get Active. Move and do things that require you to be device free. Ride a bicycle, jog, swim, walk with a friend, or take an exercise class. 8. Leave work behind. When you leave work, really leave it. There are very few things that cannot wait until tomorrow. Set limits. Have separate work and personal numbers and don’t divert calls to your personal phone. 9. Lock up. If you really can’t trust yourself to not look at your phone, give it over to someone else to hold onto for an hour or two while you do something else. 10. Technology bedtime. Blue screens mess with our sleep patterns and increase the likelihood of insomnia. Put all tech away two hours before bedtime. Use the time to unwind, play a game, read, or enjoy a hobby. Overall, authors such as Presland and Gordhamer, support mindfulness and perspective. Both suggest that we need to be aware of our current technology use and the toll it may be taking on relationships as well as our emotional and physical well-being. To help keep it in perspective, one good question to ask at the end of the day/month/year is: What makes me most happy? Or what am I most grateful for? Is it an empty inbox? The number of likes on a Facebook post? Those things will be there but value is often found in the people and activities we love. Be deciding how, when, and why we are connecting, we can find an appropriate balance with technology – one that allows us to be effective in our jobs but real and available to our family and friends. Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have suggestions or ideas for future articles, you can contact Lorraine at or 585-335-4327. ... Read More

March 24, 2017

Time to Move and Groove

As a small child, I went to visit Grandma and Grandpa's house in Buffalo for one week every summer. While there were some special outings during the week, much of the time was spent just doing life with Grandma. Every day chores for her involved a lot of movement and activity. Wash day was particularly labor intensive. There was no automatic electric washing machine. She had tubs for washing and rinsing plus a large wringer that you cranked by hand to squeeze the water out of the clothes before hanging them on lines in the basement to dry (yep, no dryer either.) This kind of activity carried through to every part of her life from making kielbasa using a hand-cranked meat grinder to scrubbing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees. Fast forward to 2017 and my grandmother, who has since passed, would be astonished at all the gadgets, appliances, and technology we use to do our jobs. And my guess is she would be perplexed at the amount of time we sit. Never in human history have people been so sedentary. Machines wash our clothes, dishes, and floors. Computers keep us in office chairs for hours on end. Entertaining TV shows, movies, and computer games lull us deep into the comfy couch. Modern life conspires against us. We keep inventing products that keep us on our hind ends. The end result is that many folks hardly move all day long and end up stiff and sore. This is true for old and young alike. And while it might not seem like a big deal, motion is the magic ingredient that enables us to move safely and easily. In order to avoid injury and disability, we need to move and stretch our muscles. According to a recent Harvard Health publication, if you don't stretch your muscles, they will shorten. Shortened muscles do not contract as well as a muscles of designed length which then puts you at risk for muscle damage, strain, and joint pain. One way to maintain flexibility, strength, and energy is to incorporate more movement into our everyday schedules. In his book, Disease Proof, the Remarkable Truth About what Makes Us Well, Dr. David Katz writes "all physical activity is good activity. It can be sport or play; walking your dog or working the garden counts. Playing tag or touch football with your children counts. Dancing counts." Whereas in the past, life automatically required movement, now we need to deliberately incorporate it into our lives. Going to the gym or taking an exercise class is an option but that alone will not keep a spring in your step. Moving throughout the day does a better job at keeping you flexible and limber. Due to our convenience and technology oriented society, this does require some intentionality but it does not need to be hard. Here are some easy ways to move and groove: take the stairs at work (or anywhere you go that has stairs) park in the farthest spot away from the mall or grocery store wash your dishes instead of using the dishwasher walk at lunchtime either in a building or outside ride an exercise bike or walk on a treadmill while watching TV lift dumbbells (or cans of beans) while watching a movie get up at every commercial break and do something - walk, jumping jacks, stretches meet a friend for a walk, bike ride, bocce ball, croquet, frisbee scrub the kitchen floor the old fashioned way wash your car by hand instead of going through the drive through cultivate some hobbies that require movement such as hiking, birding, dancing stretch your arms above your head and then bend down to the floor whenever you get up off a chair rake leaves and sweep porches instead using a leaf blower pull weeds instead of using weed killer email or call less - walk over to your co-worker's office or the neighbor's house nix the grocery cart; instead carry a shopping basket for small trips at the grocery store hit the deck and do push-ups and crunches for 5 minutes before your morning shower get a dog and walk it two times a day Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have questions or article suggestions, contact Lorraine at or 585-335-4327. ... Read More

March 15, 2017

American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) Alert day

March 28th is the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) Alert day. The theme is “Take it”, the ADA diabetes or pre-diabetes risk test; “Share it”, share this test with those you care about; “Learn it” find out if you are at risk for pre-diabetes or diabetes and if so, start learning and take charge. According to the CDC, an estimated 29.1 million Americans have diabetes and one out of every four don’t know they are diabetic. Type 2 diabetes affects 95% of the population where either insufficient insulin is produced by the beta cells or the body’s cells have become resistant to the insulin and don’t use the insulin efficiently or both. In Livingston County, 10.5% of the population is diabetic, up from last years’ 10.2%! Are you at risk for diabetes? Take the risk test found on the American Diabetes Association website. Pre-diabetes affects 86 million Americans and nine out of 10 individuals do not know they have the condition. With pre-diabetes, blood sugars are higher than normal, but not yet high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Pre-diabetes does progress to diabetes but this progression is not inevitable. First, take the risk test accompanying this article and second, if you are at risk for pre-diabetes, talk to your health care provider and get tested. Lastly, if you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, take advantage of every opportunity to learn more about what you can do to either put off the progression to diabetes or not become diabetic at all. If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, meet the condition head on and take charge, do not let it take charge of you. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that only 40.6% of those with diabetes ever take advantage of the education which would help them self-manage the condition. Yet, insurance companies know that their participants with diabetes education have medical costs 2.3 times lower than the person who has not taken a diabetes course. Noyes Health has the professional resources you need close to home. The Noyes Hospital Diabetes Education Program is available in Dansville, Hornell and Geneseo and in four area physician offices. The program is recognized by the American Association of Diabetes Educators and staffed with an RN, Certified Diabetes Educator and RN Diabetes Educator. There are individual appointments to begin and thanks to a rural health grant, 5 hours of free diabetes education classes which includes a free meal to help participants make better food choices. Be alert to your risk factors and discuss them with your physician. Nancy M. Johnsen RN, CDE is a Certified Diabetes Educator and Coordinator of the Diabetes Program at Noyes Health. Call 585-335-4355 today and start to take charge! Diabetes increases the risk for some significant health problems which include; heart disease, amputations, stroke, kidney damage, blindness, gum disease, nerve damage, and possibly dementia. Don’t be one of the statistics! A link to the American Diabetes Association can be found on the hospital website; ... Read More

March 15, 2017

UR Medicine | Noyes Health was voted BEST HOSPITAL

UR Medicine | Noyes Health was voted BEST HOSPITAL by readers of the Genesee Country Express and The Hornell Evening Tribune. Plus, our PT Team was voted Best Physical Therapy by Express Readers. We know we are dedicated to the health and well-being of this community, and our patients and their families do, too. #NOYESPROUD... Read More

March 8, 2017

Put Your Best Fork Forward

A few nights ago, I walked through our living room. Hubby was sitting on the couch, reading a book, putting his hand in a large bag of mixed nuts, and mindlessly popping one nut into his mouth after another. This would not have been a big deal except we had literally finished dinner 15 minutes before. And it was a fine dinner if I do say so myself - pork chops with curried pear sauce over couscous with a healthy helping of broccoli on the side. Clearly, the man was not hungry. I don’t like to nag so instead, I stopped and asked in a very neutral tone (as neutral as a wife can be after 30 years), “Are you hungry?” He smiled sheepishly, put on his little boy face, and said, “No, I just like snacking when I am reading.” He then handed the bag to me and said, “Here take it away.” I am not throwing my dearest under the bus. I am guilty and my guess is so are you. We eat quickly and often mindlessly, especially in the evening hours while watching TV, reading a book, or relaxing. I relay this story because March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has zoned in on the fork to remind us that we all have the tools to eat well and with the right intention. You don’t have to spend a fortune at the grocery store and disrupt your whole life to eat better on a daily basis. It is, however, helpful to slow down, look at the food you are eating, when you are eating it, and how you are eating it. Jill Weisenberger, nationally known registered dietician and author, writes in her blog, “The eating fork signifies eating with intention and care. I want eating to be the event – not something we squeeze in between two other events. No tossing a meal down as quickly as possible and no eating in the car. Use that fork, which is nearly impossible to do if you’re eating while driving or otherwise racing to finish a meal.” She challenges folks to pick at least two meals or snacks to practice eating with intention; that is really pay attention to your food, chew it slowly, enjoy it at a table with friends or family, and afterwards give your tummy time to communicate with your brain. 15-20 minutes after the meal, determine your hunger level on a scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being famished and 10 being “Thanksgiving full.” Still really hungry, grab a piece of fruit after the meal. Not hungry, no need to snack. The Academy also offers the following suggestions for wiser food choices and intentional mealtime. Make half your plate fruits and veggies. 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables is a good daily goal. Watch your portion sizes. Read the label. If a cereal box, says a serving size is ½ or ¾ cup, get out your measuring cups and see what that looks like. If you are mindlessly pouring cereal into a large bowl, you could be eating 3 or 4 servings worth and that triples or quadruples the calories. Get cooking. Preparing foods at home can be healthy, fun, and cost-effective. Learn cooking basics. A great resource for a number of how to cook videos is Enact family meal time. Plan to eat as a family at least a few times each week. Turn off the TV and other electronic devices to encourage mealtime talk. When we chat at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, we eat slower and eat less. Eat new foods and flavors. When you go shopping, make a point of selecting a new fruit, vegetable, or whole grain. Keep it fun – involve the kiddos and enjoy broccoflower, quinoa, or purple asparagus! Experiment with plant-based meals (vegetarian). Vegetables, beans, and lentils are budget friendly, good for you, and easy to prepare. In addition, we know that plant-based diets are important for preventing diabetes, cancer, and a host of other chronic diseases. Try including one meatless meal a week to start. For more information on the “Put Your Best Fork Forward” campaign, log onto: The site is full of tools to help you eat right and stay healthy. Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have suggestions for future articles or questions, please contact her at or 585-335-4327. ... Read More

March 2, 2017

Go Ahead and Doodle

Every week in church, I sit near a gentleman who consistently doodles. The minute the pastor starts the sermon, the pencil comes out and the drawings start. So is this man checking out? or is he, in fact, more focused on the message because he is doodling? Now I have to admit, I, too, am a doodler. Sometimes I doodle to enhance my notes (little arrows and pics to connect ideas) and sometimes to keep my mind engaged. And yep, sometimes I doodle because I am dreadfully bored in a meeting and drawing little funny faces or random geometric designs keeps me awake. Research now shows the folks who draw during sermons, the kiddos who add little pics along side their class notes, and the employees who sketch random designs in meetings are actually more engaged, focused, and creative. In 2009, a study published in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, found that doodlers find it easier to recall dull information than non-doodlers. The researcher asked 40 people to monitor a 2 1/2 minute dull and rambling voice mail message. Half the group doodled, and the other half did not. The participants did not know their memories were being tested. When both groups were asked to recall details of the voicemail, those that doodled were better at paying attention. They recalled 29% more of the details than the non-doodlers. It appears that without doodling, folks tend to daydream and well, check out. Doodling is a form of fidgeting, not unlike swinging your feet, changing position, or tapping a pencil. It keeps you alert and awake. It basically keeps the brain switch turned on. Paying attention is hard - really hard. Studies vary in their findings about how long an average adult can pay attention. Some say as little as 5 minutes while others indicate that 15-20 minutes is the maximum amount of time for concentrated attention on any given subject. Either way, children and adults alike are often asked to pay attention much past the 20 minute mark. So we should not be surprised that our brains have come up with a strategy for dealing with the gap between how long we can really pay attention and how long we are expected to pay attention. Drawing and doodling is a natural human activity. The youngest amongst us across the entire globe enjoy drawing. Think back to your childhood. I imagine you drew pictures in the sand or mud with a stick; perhaps you were a sidewalk chalk kid; or maybe you favored crayons and finger painting . Unfortunately, the joy of drawing and the ability to love it simply for the process not the outcome dwindles as we age. John Hendrix, author of the book, Drawing is Magic, says a weird thing happens when artists (people) grow up. He says, "We stop having fun. As a kid you draw without any thought to enjoying it. Enjoying it is assumed! Then we get to art school (class) and learn there is a right and wrong way to make images…We have to be trained to learn to play again." Doodling is just that - play. It gives our "focus" brain circuits a break and unleashes creative thoughts and helps us imagine and see things through a different lens. It may even help us connect the dots. Dr. Robert Burns, the former director of the Institute of Human Development at the University of Seattle, uses doodles to diagnose the emotional problems of his patients. Many doodle researchers agree that patient doodles can reveal thought patterns and ultimately disclose more than talk therapy alone. A form of art therapy, some mental health professionals are encouraging the practice of doodling to help patients wade through depression and anxiety. The drawings give the mental health professional a window into the minds of their clients. Doodling and drawing free from the burden of right, wrong, good, or bad is beneficial for focus, creativity, and even our mental health. It isn't about art. It is about thinking in a different way and engaging our playful side once again. Lorraine Wichtowski is community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health. For more information or to suggest article topics, contact Lorraine at or 585-335-4327. ... Read More