Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Campbell River and Elk Falls Park

Campbell River has a park going South out of Campbell River on 19A, done by the Rotary Club. It is a small park, a sweet park, full of wooden statues with a totem-like feel. It is easily walked, and even easily walked pushing a wheelchair.

The statues – an owl, an angel, a fierce looking eagle – those are just the ones I can think of easily – and the path is lovingly maintained and open to the public.It is utterly free. People can walk, take their children.

In downtown Campbell River, there are totems everywhere, reflecting the First Nation traditions, and a population of Haida.

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Near Campbell River is a huge public-private-bureaucratic project for a new hydroelectric generation complex. The old one is being replaced by one less vulnerable to seismic variations, and the government is working with private industry to set it up quickly. A Rotary club built another wheelchair accesible trail to Elk Falls, crossing over the old wooden water pipes being replaced. The trail was beautiful, and efficient. They really did a lot of work to clear the path thoroughly, no roots straggling across, no slick spots.

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You really could wheel a wheelchair to the overview of Elk Falls. From that viewpoint onward, there are 11 flights of stairs and a chain link drawbridge that make further progress in a wheelchair unlikely. Actually, getting to the viewpoint would not be that hard. Getting back – pushing a wheelchair bound person weighing more than 50 lbs. or so – would require a team of four to six strong eighteen to twenty year old men trading off often. It is uphill all the way.

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The falls are spectacular. The stairs are really well built, very sturdy. The chain link bridge was daunting for someone like me, not with fears of heights, but someone who finds being in high places brings on a fear of falling. I made my way across to the other viewpoint, and then back again, mostly by not looking down and not thinking about it, just walking, one step after another. The sturdiness of the stairs, that attention to detail, gave me the confidence I needed to trust that the bridge would not fail with me on it.

 

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I always enjoy a hike a lot better after I’ve finished it 🙂

 

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May 12, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Community, ExPat Life, Fitness / FitBit, Living Conditions, Road Trips, Technical Issue, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

On Our Own in the Souks of Marrakesh and the Jemaa el-Fna

Free at last!

We are as giddy as children let out of school as the groups head left and we head right, going deeper into our favorite territory, the souks (small shops) in the great city of Marrakesh.

Before we ever went to Marrakesh, many years ago, we read a book by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, author of Guests of the Sheikh, called A Street in Marrakesh, talking about how her family lived in the center of Marrakesh, among Moroccans, and the adjustments they made as they grew to learn more about their environment. You know how you can read a book and feel like you had lived it? We felt we had lived in Marrakesh.

When we visited with our son, we had a car and were driving all through Morocco. We had left Ouazazarte and driven over the Atlas Mountains, stopping here and there to buy fossils and “thunderballs” which are also called geodes. It was late, and dark when we got to Marrakesh, and we had to stop and ask directions at a gas station how to find our hotel. We knew we were near, and we didn’t know how to close the distance. This was before smart phones and Google Maps.

Our son and I watched AdventureMan from the car, and as we watched him ask the two men working there, one pointed left and one pointed right. We were dying laughing. And, actually, both were right, there was an obstacle between us and the hotel and you could go right – or you could go left. At that moment, a motorcycle drove up, listened to the question and offered to guide us to our hotel. This is the essence of Morocco to us; the kindness and the hospitality of the Moroccans.

I wish I could remember the name of the hotel, but our room was huge, and full of tile work. Our son had his own area, on a separate level in the same room, and his own TV. It was a far cry from a sterile, modern hotel; this was full of color and detail, tile and wood work.

The next day, we hired a private guide for a tour of Marrakesh, and had a wonderful time exploring all kinds of wonderful places.

So now, off we go, and the smells and the feel of the souks almost make us giddy; we are back in our element.

As we wander, we can hear roosters crowing, and, in the middle of the souks, we find a souk devoted to roosters. It is the middle of the afternoon, a quiet time of day, perfect for wandering.

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Me and my attraction to light fixtures 🙂

 

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A mural of the Koutoubia mosque; one of the reasons we felt so secure in this souk is that if you get lost, you just look for the highest tower around, and that is the Koutoubia mosque, which takes you to Jemaa el-Fna.

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We walked to our content, and then settled in at late afternoon to a cafe with a terrace high over the Jemaa el-Fna, where we had our choice of tables and could watch the market come to life. As we sipped our mint tea, the other tables filled; Moroccan families, tourist couples, assorted characters. The day is gorgeous, we have a shaded location, life is sweet. We’ve soaked in the sights and the smells. We’ve done more than our 10,000 steps. We enjoyed this afternoon immensely.

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December 26, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Books, Cultural, Entertainment, Exercise, ExPat Life, Fitness / FitBit, Hot drinks, Morocco, NonFiction, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Boarding the Agean Odyssey

Most people come back from cruises groaning about weight gain. We had no such problem I wore my FitBit and every day, we did over 10,000 steps without even trying. All these guided tours take you up, down and around; one day somehow I climbed 23 sets of stairs!

When we reached the dock in Seville to board our ship, we were delighted at how easy the process was. We showed some paper, they gave us a card, and as you enter, you are asked to use an antibacterial hand lotion. You are shown to your cabin; your luggage is already inside. Oh, we like this!

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We have closets, cupboards and shelves, we have a refrigerator stocked with soft drinks and a big bottle of champagne to welcome us (we never did drink it.) As we entered, there was a notice that the spa had a special on foot massages, and I quickly called down and reserved for two foot massages in half an hour. We unpacked, and went to the spa to have our feet soaked and rubbed – sheer heaven!

 

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Our steward, Sam, came by to introduce himself and ask if he could do anything. I asked if he could have the trash bin removed. I was joking, but by the time we came back from our foot massages, the bin was gone. I think that’s just a co-incidence 🙂

 

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We had a large walk-in shower, which we loved, and here is another feature I always love – a pull out drying cord! You can rinse out a spill, wash socks, you can do a million things with a drying cord, and best of all, it hung high above the actual shower area, so you didn’t have to worry about competing with things that were drying. I know, I know, it doesn’t take much to make me happy.

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Within hours of boarding, we had a big evacuation drill. It was truly hilarious, and I am glad they mandate these things. It is kind of annoying, but I like knowing my escape route.

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Here is our view as the sun sets over Seville:

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This is the Terrace restaurant, where we ate our first night on board:

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And here is Seville, on a beautiful October night. I think that is the Golden Tower, where the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus stops. We are scheduled to leave on the high tide, early tomorrow morning, for Cadiz.

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December 25, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Cultural, Customer Service, Exercise, ExPat Life, Fitness / FitBit, Quality of Life Issues | , , , | 2 Comments

FitBit Sleep

One of the reasons I wanted to try the FitBit when I started, over a year ago, was to be able to keep a record of my sleep. What is startling to me is that I sleep a lot better than I think I do – most nights. I thought I slept great last night, woke up feeling rested, only to discover that FitBit tells me that I was restless and awake several times last night. I don’t remember that at all:

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There is a part of me that tells myself FitBit is only a machine and can be wrong, and another part of myself that tells me we don’t always perceive ourselves and our actions impartially.

June 4, 2015 Posted by | Fitness / FitBit, Health Issues | 2 Comments

Navarro Point Park

At Navarro Point, I make my ten thousand steps without even trying. It is so beautiful, you can hike and it doesn’t even feel like you are hiking, there is so much to look at, so much to enjoy. There is a brisk Pacific wind blowing, great for hiking, so you don’t even get too hot.

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You can see this stone in front of the bench overlooking the crashing waves:

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I am careful not to go too close to the edge; I love crashing waves but I don’t want to be smashed against the rocks by crashing waves after tumbling down a rocky bluff!

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For me, this was the best hike of the trip. I love the smell of salt sea air, I love the feel of the wind on my face and the sound of crashing waves.

April 29, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Environment, Exercise, ExPat Life, Fitness / FitBit, Geography / Maps, Living Conditions, Road Trips, Travel | , | Leave a comment

The Southwest Inn in Sedona

When you look for a hotel in Sedona, there is a confusing profusion.

“Sedona has been discovered,” my best friend from college tells me. She named her daughter Sedona, and she is one of the reasons Sedona is high on my list of places I want to experience. She had described Sedona in glowing terms, some forty years ago.

It took forever to figure out where we wanted to stay. We don’t like bedbug motels, and neither do we like resorts. We don’t like paying for services we don’t want, and we don’t mind paying for services we do want. We like relatively small, and we like our privacy. We are introverts. We want to experience Sedona.

After a lot of research, we chose the Southwest Inn in Sedona, and it worked for us. We had a lovely spacious room with a balcony, very quiet, in a part of town where we were only about five minutes from any where we wanted to go.

As we drove in, we loved it. There were hummingbirds dive-bombing the tree where we parked, and we watched the as we unpacked the car. We had an upper level in a two level building, so we had to haul our goods up stairs, but I had my FitBit and I needed the credit for stairs; we didn’t mind the stairs. We loved the brown adobe finish, and the private balconies with the views of the red rocks.

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Breakfast was in this cheery, sunny breakfast room at the top of the entry building. They had home-made breakfast burritos, frozen, and two microwaves in which to heat them up, as well as pastries, cereals, fruits, juices, coffee, tea, water – one step up from continental breakfast, and it is included in your room. Many people take their breakfast back to their room to eat out on the balcony.

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The hotel had a hot tub and a nice swimming pool and lounging deck, which we never used our entire time in Sedona. We kept intending to, but there was always too much to see and to do!

Our room was fine, spacious enough, good sized bathroom, but I didn’t take a photo and it wasn’t special enough that I can remember a single detail, other than the lovely balcony and the view, and oh, yes, it had one of those Southwest corner fireplaces, very fun. It was fine; it housed us well, and you can spend a lot more in Sedona and get a lot less. We wanted Sedona style, and we felt this fit the bill; it fit in well with local aesthetics, and it was quiet and modest with little luxuries, but without excessive showiness.

We also liked the management, very laid back, and very thoughtful. The room had nice things in it – bathrobes to wear to the pool, a nice coffee maker, the fireplace for cooler evenings. When I needed more shampoo, the man at the desk gave me a big container and asked if I wanted conditioner, too. They had a large, elegant dispenser of cool lemon water in the lobby, as well as coffee and tea all day long. There was a graciousness to it all that I liked, a generosity of spirit. They were very helpful telling us about things we needed to do (join the crowd at the airport vortex to watch the sun go down, for one) and the roads we needed to take. We followed all their advice, and it paid.

Our hotel was full of European hikers, families and people who, like us, look for a good value for the money.

April 20, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Civility, Customer Service, Fitness / FitBit, Hotels, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel | , , | 2 Comments

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and the Tonto National Forest

There is nothing so lovely as the American Southwest in the Spring. This is a glorious day, and we are on our way to an amazing park, the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, with is a huge indoor and outdoor park and museum. It is one of the best stops on our trip.

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There is a huge parking lot, and we got there around the time it opens. We were still in the third row away, but the rows go on and on forever, and we wondered why so much parking? As we left, we understood. We had been there about three or four hours, and the parking lot was filling up fast, buses, travelers from every state and many nations, coming to this beautifully thought-through museum.

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One of the things we are picking up on is that everywhere we go, there are people our age, physically fit, volunteering. We saw this at the Benson – Rio Grande Valley Park in Texas, where I thought they were the happiest volunteers I had ever seen, and then again, at Tombstone, AZ, participating as characters in the daily dramas. People our age are living their dreams, and we met a lot of really happy people, working for various parks and volunteer agencies.

I volunteer in several areas, and one of my favorite is with the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council. The Department of State sends delegates here to meet with counterparts in specialized areas – environment, juvenile justice, fair election processes, women entrepreneurs – it can be anything. You never know what comes next, which I love. Another part of it that I love is introducing our foreign delegates to the volunteer experience, whether it be dishing out hot meals for the homeless or packaging food for the food bank. For most, it is a new experience, and the idea of giving your time voluntarily to work to help others is a revelation. They are so often surprised at how good it feels.

This is what we are coming across again and again. At this museum, there is a volunteer passing out maps, and others selling entrance tickets. There are volunteer rangers, volunteer guides, and volunteers answering questions. They are happy, they are fit and tanned (LOL, yes, this is Arizona!) and they work for free. They are doing what they want to be doing. It is a joyful experience to find all these happy volunteers, and to benefit from their expertise. It is a joy to us; I feel so proud and humble to be a part of this kind of community.

This museum is so first rate. These are the bronze sculptures at the entry:

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Museum entrance:

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There are all kinds of walking trails, and every exhibit is also reachable by wheelchair.

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The museum cactus display is gorgeous along the wonderful walking paths:

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They have a wildlife display with all kinds of snakes and frogs. This is a poisonous frog:

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AdventureMan and I separate; he has a mission, he wants to see the Butterfly garden and what is planted there. I take a few trails, and then head for the gift shop. I also have an agenda 🙂

In the wonderful gift shop, where I found unique and really fun gifts for grandchildren, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, I also saw two of Mary Doria Russel’s books about this area, about the legendary Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. There were also books and puzzles about bugs and desert creatures, and wonderful edibles, hot sauces, salsas, BBQ rubs. Great gifts.

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It is a wonderful visit, but even this early in the season, by noon, it is getting very warm. We decide to head on for Sedona, and because we are not so fond of big city traffic, we skirt Phoenix and stop for lunch at one of our favorite places, Whole Foods. What a treat!

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We wanted to take the scenic route to Sedona, so we went through the Tonto National Forest. At the beginning, I started laughing and said to AdventureMan, “It’s a Saguaro Forest!” Later, the Saguaros stopped, and small scrubby pines began, and then taller pines, and taller, thicker pines until we were in a truly dark forest with a lot of trees. Driving was a lot of twisting and turning on this road, and we were glad when we headed out towards Sedons.

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We knew we were getting close when we saw the beginning of the famous red rocks. This is the view from our hotel balcony:

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April 20, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Community, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Fitness / FitBit, Generational, Geography / Maps, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Hotels, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Shopping, Travel | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Benson – Rio Grande Park and the National Birding Center

The National Butterfly Center wasn’t opening until ten, and we decided to watch the sun rise over the Rio Grande. We had read you could see the Rio Grande from Benson – Rio Grande Park, so we got there by 0630. The park was closed, but campers told us people are allowed to walk in; you pay at the honors post, so we did. This is the only place on the whole trip I sprayed myself thoroughly with mosquito repellant, as mosquitos love me, especially at dawn and dusk. It’s one of the smartest thing’s I’ve done.

Walking into this park was a thrill. The birds are so excited about the sun coming up, and there is this huge, raucous clattering of bird cries. As we get further into the park, there are also owls calling to one another, WHOOOO-OOOOOOO, WHOOOOOOO-OOOOOOO; we can’t see them, but we can hear them, and it is thrilling. We keep walking to get to where we can see the Rio Grande, but all we can really see is almost the Rio Grande.

So before you go any further, remember, it is really dark, and I am shooting under the worst conditions. It is early morning, cloudy and foggy. I’m just sayin’ . . .

Benson – Rio Grande Park is part of the Texas Birding Trail, and later in the morning, like around 8, so not late, just later, all the bird watchers in the world start to arrive. They are looking for migrating birds, and they have their lists and huge bird-watching telescopes. We are not those birders. Mostly, I can identify cardinals, and blue jays. I can identify a raptor. I’m not a real birder, just a bird appreciator. These guys that come, they are SERIOUS birders, and they travel to Mission, TX to set up camp and tick off as many birds as they can, like in the movie The Big Year. This is either the National Birding Center, or a national birding center, and as day broke, hundreds of birders flocked into the park.

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This is a part of the Rio Grande, but not really, it is a side-stream sort of Rio Grande place. The park guides told us if we really want to see the Rio Grande, there was a great restaurant you can see it from or you can go to Anzalduas Park, and told us how to get there. It was cloudy; I never did get a sun rising over the Rio Grande.

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Campers are allowed to do ‘primitive camping’. I didn’t know what primitive camping was, but as it turns out, it’s what we used to do when I lived in Alaska. You bring everything yourself, you hike with everything on your back. There may be some paved areas, or minor structures, but you have to have brought everything you will need with you. No cabins, or things like that. There are, in this park, public restrooms and public showers. This shower is too public for me!

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The floor is also covered with roly-poly bugs. Honestly, I am not born to camp. I applaud the park for having public restrooms in a place where it is simply impossible to keep the bugs out, but I cannot imagine walking on this floor in bare feet. There were some very brave primitive campers finishing up as I entered the restroom; they had showered and were brushing their teeth and they looked really happy. I am happy for them (shudder) and very thankful for a hotel with linens on the bed and hot water and no bugs!

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Almost alone in the park, we managed to get turned around. I did my 10,000 steps before eight in the morning, and I was wearing the wrong shoes, so when we found benches at a bird feeding area, I was happy to sit down. There were glorious birds everywhere, and then, the happiest volunteers I have ever met came along in a little golf cart with bird seed and peanut butter, and put out breakfast. They were having the time of their lives, and gave us all kinds of good advice about Mission, Tx.

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Early morning, low light and the birds wings are going faster than my camera can capture.

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A little while later, the “tram” came by and we hopped on, happy for a ride back to the entry. It was a couple weeks before our blisters healed!

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Birds, Cultural, Environment, Exercise, Fitness / FitBit, Local Lore, Road Trips, Travel, Wildlife | , , , | Leave a comment

Mission, TX, Delights and Surprises

Mission, TX was full of surprises. It looked small on the map, like a little strip of city, not so much. We are here on a mission, AdventureMan wants to visit the National Butterfly Center (did you know the United States had a National Butterfly Center?) and I wanted to see the Rio Grande.

Mission was big, and modern. Contrary to much of our Texas experience, it has very new roads.

Mission, and McAllen, her next door sister city, are right on the Rio Grande. There is a huge Homeland Security presence in Mission and McAllen. Many of the TripAdvisor reports I had read to find a good hotel seemed to have been written by government workers, so I should have put it together, but I didn’t, and I found the hugeness of the security presence a little overwhelming, and seriously intimidating. I am guessing all the new infrastructure is in support of guarding our borders.

Our hotel was very new, very modern and welcoming. It was all polished surfaces and glossy textiles, clean white linens, totally lovely for a chain hotel. We jumped into our swimsuits to hit the equally lovely pool, only to discover it was really cold, and for an Alaska girl to say a pool is cold, it really has to be cold.

Fitness goals thwarted, we checked at the desk for a local restaurant recommendation. The desk clerk was very helpful, but recommended a chain, and we wanted something more truly local. Fortunately, there is Trip Advisor. In minutes, we found a place that thrilled our hearts. It was a Thursday night date night kind of place for the very married. People were flocking in and ordering platters of BBQ. The Lone Star was our kind of place.

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We are not people who like to waste, so AdventureMan had to take about half of his beef brisket back to the hotel, thinking he would have some for breakfast. It was very lean and beautifully smoked. Unfortunately, we discovered we did not have a refrigerator in this lovely hotel, oh AARRGH, and the excess beef went to waste.

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I had my favorite, BBQ chicken, and a really good potato salad. Normally, I am not a big potato salad fan, I don’t like too much mayonnaise, and I like flavor. This was really good potato salad, for me, and very tasty.

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The entire time we were there, people were flooding in. We really liked the Lone Star BBQ. We do a lot of talking with locals, so we later learned that everyone goes to Lone Star for it’s famous grapefruit pie. Grapefruit pie had not sounded all that tempting to us, but before Homeland Security, Grapefruit was the mainstay of the Mission, TX economy, and Lone Star BBQ specializes in a wonderful, very sweet, Grapefruit Pie.

I have a feeling that in order to make grapefruit into a pie, it’s kind of like rhubarb, you have to use a lot of sugar, a LOT of sugar. I would rather like to try one spoonful of a grapefruit pie, just for a taste, but I am not all that sorry that we passed, only that it is something that Mission was once famous for.

April 12, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Fitness / FitBit, Hotels, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | Leave a comment

Obesity Linked to Lower Risk for Dementia

From today’s AOL news, surprising and counter-intuitive findings:

Obesity is linked to a whole slew of illnesses like cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, just to name a few.

However, new research surprisingly finds that obesity can actually reduce your risk of a devastating and fatal condition: dementia.
A study out of the UK found the link after analyzing data from nearly 2 million people over the course of decades.

According to the research by Oxon Epidemiology and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, underweight people had a 39 percent higher risk of dementia versus people of average weight. The shocking part is that overweight people had an 18 percent reduction in risk and those who are clinically obese, a 24 percent reduction.

The lead researcher told BBC News, “The controversial side is the observation that overweight and obese people have a lower risk of dementia than people with a normal, healthy body mass index. That’s contrary to most if not all studies that have been done, but if you collect them all together our study overwhelms them in terms of size and precision.”
It is important to note that while this study is certainly controversial, it’s not the be all and end all in determining how weight correlates to risk of dementia. If nothing else, though, it certainly opens the door for further research.

April 10, 2015 Posted by | Aging, Circle of Life and Death, Fitness / FitBit, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues | Leave a comment