On Sunday, March 19, the House of Sweden hosted the Washington Area Bicyclists Association for their 15th annual Vasa Ride. This lively WABA tribute to the renownd annual 90 K Swedish Vasaloppet Cross Country Ski Race, uses bicycles instead.
Sunday's bike ride, though, was a kinder and gentler version of the Swedish ski race, which is a tribute to the founding of a free Sweden. The first Swedish "Vasaloppet" was carried out in 1521 by Gustav Eriksson when he led occupation forces in an uprising against Danish rule from the town, Salen. This resulted in Eriksson, better known as Gustav Vasa, becoming a free Sweden's first King and Vasaloppet's namesake. But it wasn't until 1922 that this endurance race was established and held its first run, also starting in Salen, with 136 skiiers, and took 7 hours, 32 minutes and 49 seconds in sleet and snow for the victor.
This year's March 4, 2017 Vasaloppet registered 15,800 participants from 43 nations, and is the largest and longest ski race in the world. The winner, Norwegian John Kristian Dahl, won the race after 4 hours and 8 minutes.
Several years ago, the Swedish Embassy and WABA got together to create the annual Vasa Ride, with bikes, since D.C. doesn't usually have enough snow for a 90 km cross country ski race. The Vasa Ride has four levels of riders who choose to ride for either 59, 31, 16 or 8 miles. On March 29, the House of Sweden, as usual, was a beautiful, light-filled respite from the cold, long ride. The Swedes generously provided the home base and refreshments, including the traditional "Blueberry Soup," though the American bikers' consumption paled in comparison to almost a liter drunk by each skiier in the real Vasaloppet.
"The blueberry soup was warm and filling after the cold 30 mile ride, and it tastes better than I thought it would," said Robert Bernstein, a WABA member who came from Ellicott City, Maryland.
The Swedish Embassy's Air Force Attache, Per Danielson, coordinated the Swedish Embassy's hosting his second year in a row. Danielson was a Swedish exchange student living in Richmond thirty years ago. And with this former exchange student leading, current Swedish exchange student volunteers served blueberry soup at Sunday's event.
"It's often the first ride of the year for Washington area cyclists, and is a fundraiser for WABA," said Nick Russo, WABA's Events Coordinator. WABA's mission is "to create a healthy, more livable region by promoting bicycling for fun, fitness, and affordable transportation; advocating for better bicycling conditions and transportation choices for a healthier environment; and educating children, adults, and motorists about safe bicycling,"
My clients who suffer from seasonal allergies were hit hard this year - and earlier than usual. The warm February temperatures caused Washington's flowering trees and shrubs to come out of their winter slumber gloriously. Our famed cherry trees and camellias are almost in full bloom. Even my hydrangeas' buds are peaking out.
This beautiful display does not feel so beautiful for people with spring allergies. They often have symptoms, caused by the flowers' pollen, which impact their quality of life: lack of sleep, reduced productivity at work or school, emotional stress and embarrassment.... and the medications designed to improve those symptoms, depending on the person, may be no better, and cause dry mouth, sleeplessness, and drowsiness. A new study set out to test if certain strains of beneficial probiotic bacteria would reduce symptoms and improve quality of life during allergy season for its sufferers.
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the first randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial - the gold standard of human research - testing this hypothesis, divided 178 allergy sufferers into two groups and tested them during spring allergy season for eight weeks. One group received the probiotic supplement*, the other received the placebo.
The study found the probiotic group experienced improved quality of life symptoms compared to the placebo group. That said, scientists are still working out which of the beneficial probiotic bacteria work best with individual allergens, and which probiotic bacteria will react positively with a person's specific microbiota (the 100 million bacterial organisms in your digestive tract), as each person's microbiota is different.
In the meantime, I believe eating foods which naturally contain beneficial probiotic bacteria, such as yogurt, is the best solution. I don't recommend counting on supplements because as of now, no probiotic supplements have passed the tests allowing them to make a health claim.
Here's one of my favorite yogurt recipes developed by Georgetown resident and cookbook author, Najmieh Batmanglij, and found in my book, Diet Simple...
*(Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2 provided by Wakunaga of America Co Ltd)
Having a "pear" or "apple" shape can determine the health of a woman's body - and mind. Of course, Eve knew all about the troubles an apple could bring.
If you gain weight in your chest and belly, you have an apple shape. If your weight gain is in your hips and thighs, you're a pear. Studies have long shown that if your body fat is concentrated primarily in the middle - like an apple, it is more biologically active and is correlated with health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.
This study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that as body weight increased in post-menopausal women, cognitive function decreased. But the worst cognitive decline occurred when high body weight was coupled with an apple shape compared to the pear shaped body fat distribution.
This troubling result seems to coincide with studies showing a higher risk of dementia in people with high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, the risk of which is heightened by having the apple-shaped body fat distribution.
If you're overweight, you may still be healthy, as long as you're physically active and eat healthfully. But if your excess weight is carried mostly around the middle, it would be wise to keep track of your health, especially your blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol, and lose weight so that your waist circumference* measures 35" or less, which is what health authorities recommend for women (40" or less for men).
*Your accurate waist circumference is measured at the level of your belly button (not the smallest part of your middle).