Yearly Archives: 2013

Oceans Offer Second Chance at Controlling Plastic

Every day, the ocean serves up a chance for us to change our ways.

That dawned on me when I was walking on the beach in south Florida and noticed, glinting from the sand, the corner of a clear plastic bag. Picking it up, it snapped in the wind and I saw it was still intact. After that, I couldn’t help but use it to collect other stuff left in the wake of the tide: bottle caps and straws, spoons and forks, hair clips and cup lids, and many, many plastic scraps.

That’s the thing about plastic: it never really breaks down.  As I wrote after Superstorm Sandy, the problem afflicts fresh water, too. Bacteria and other micro-organisms naturally degrade things like banana peels, egg shells and other natural, organic matter. But machine-made plastics are petrochemical polymers that don’t degrade. They only become smaller and smaller bits of themselves.  Continue reading

Pediatricians to Parents: Kids Need a Media Diet

8 year old girl on cellphone

America’s pediatricians have an order for parents: get a handle on how your children are using media.

Kids are certainly getting their fill of texting, online games, social media and YouTube videos. The average 8-year-old now spends almost 8 hours a day on screens of various sizes.  Make that 11 hours for teenagers.

But a new statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics warns too much screen time can “contribute substantially to many risks and health problems” ranging from disrupted sleep to substance abuse to weight increase. Continue reading

Where Steve Jobs Left Us

Steve Jobs pumpking carving photo by Jenifer Joy Madden

This article was co-written shortly after Steve Jobs died in 2013.  

Steve Jobs was a durable human. His natural curiosity led him to explore new ideas, his brilliance allowed him to capitalize on what he learned, and his creativity drove him forward.

Jobs applied his experience to the design of what he called “seamless” products: devices so intuitive that using them is second nature. Yet he himself grew up in a world without such gadgets. Continue reading

Prescribing Nature for Better Health

RxWhen it comes to improving the health of children, can a walk in the park be as good as a pill? A growing number of American physicians are betting on it.

“I prescribe nature to patients because it is the easiest way for me to get people outside,” declares Robert Zarr, a Washington, D.C. pediatrician. The National Environmental Education Foundation has made it a mission to turn Zarr and other healthcare providers into “Nature Champions” who prescribe free-form outdoor exercise to their patients.

I listed the sorry state of U.S. inactivity in a previous post. And there’s more I learned at the national Walking Summit:  most American adults spend 90% of their time indoors, 40% of them get no leisure-time physical activity, and their kids park in front of screens 7.5 hours a day.  This has contributed to a doubling of the type 2 diabetes rate in the past fifteen years and the fact that one in three Americans—whether adult or child—weighs too much. Continue reading

Letting Go of a Hero: a Post-9/11 Story

Sunset It was months after her father’s suffering was over that my friend mentioned he was a first-responder on 9/11. Her comment was off-handed, made at the end of describing how he’d collapsed and spent his final weeks in the hospital. I would not have thought there might be another cause of his pulmonary fibrosis. After all, he was 82.

She had been away so much to care for him—then wanted to be left alone when she’d get home—that I never had a chance to give her The Best Care Possible: A Physician’s Quest to Transform Care Through the End of Life the sensitive and sensible guide for helping loved ones through the end of life. The author Ira Byock, a leader in the emerging field of palliative medicine, has a way with words. Though never sugar-coated, they are easy to swallow:

“We will encounter people whose lives we cannot save—diseases we cannot cure and injuries too grave to repair—but we can always make dying people more comfortable…to walk with patients, alleviating the person’s discomfort, optimizing his or her quality of life…” Continue reading

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