Natural Health

Healthy living, herbal remedies and DIY natural beauty.

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Skin Care 

Our bodies drink through our skin, as well as from the food and water we eat. I heard this at a presentation on skin care and suddenly felt very thirsty, craving to hydrate my skin. I wanted to feed my body real food and water, inside and out. Being a farmer and a homesteader, I already feed the inside of my body real food. Now I wanted to feed the outside of my body real food, too. I love to make things from scratch, so I set out to find a delicious skin care recipe to create. 

I’m a hard sell on skin products. I have sensitive skin that is best left alone. I don't like commercial skincare products or perfumes or preservatives or just about anything on the market. With a bit of resignation, I usually just skip the skin care. But suddenly I craved hydration like a dried out prune. Anticipating the dry air that would fill my house from winter’s wood stove heat, I became determined to have lovely well-nourished skin.

It took me a couple months to research recipes, collect ingredients, and make time to create my own homemade skin cleanser and cream. I selected Rosemary Gladstar's Cleansing Miracle Grains and Rosemary's Perfect Face Cream, from her book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. These recipes are made from real ingredients.

Miracle Grains. For the grains, I used lavender from my herb garden, as well as oatmeal, almonds, and poppy seeds from my kitchen cabinets. And white cosmetic clay and roses. If you grow flowers without spraying, you can harvest and dry whole rose buds to use.

Grind all the ingredients of the Miracle Grains, ideally in a small coffee grinder. Store the gritty Grains in a jar. For application, mix a tablespoon of dry grains in a little jar with distilled water and/or rose water until it is a paste. It lasts for a few days. You can use tap water, but it will not keep long, it will mold, so make this by the teaspoon for only one or two applications.

"Face Mayo." Rosemary's Perfect Face Cream is an emulsified blend of waters like rose water, distilled water and aloe with oils like coconut, almond, lanolin and a touch of beeswax. You can personalize your blends. I call the skin cream “Face Mayo” because it is made just like mayonnaise. I found it easy because I am used to making mayonnaise.

Here are some tips: you are blending waters and oils, which don’t usually blend well. Keep them about equal in quantity and temperature, at room temperature. You want them to blend, so one should not dominate. Put waters in a blender or food processor. Drizzle the oil into the waters slowly while blending until they are completely emulsified and look like mayonnaise.

Balancing waters and oils makes sense to me, as the goal is to hydrate your skin with waters and moisturize with oils. I keep a small jar in the bathroom and store the rest in the refrigerator. I do not label the refrigerated jar “Face Mayo”, for fear that my son will smear some on a sandwich.

I am excited about this new venture, because I am finally taking care of my skin. As a farmer, I am hard on my skin. I like to feel the soil, so I am not protecting my hands as often as I likely should, and my feet are barely slipped into garden clogs. My skin could use some TLC after all that hard work.

The first time I used the grains and moisturizer, my skin was instantly softer and balanced and made me want to start doing promotional videos for Rosemary. I look forward to washing my face in the evening. That makes me chuckle, as I’m really not the kind. It is like a little spa time every evening when I heat up my skin with a warm wash cloth, rub the gentle mask of grains over my skin and wipe it off with the wet wash cloth. Then massage in just a dab of the face mayo. I slather it on after showering and on my feet as often as possible. Life is good, skin is good.  

Winter at its best is a time of homey, cozy indulgences like this one. The real test will be giving my skin this loving, beneficial hydration when I start playing in the soil again in March. All of these skin-care programs..."May they serve to enhance your inner harmony and may you become enchanted with your own unique, radiant beauty.” Rosemary Gladstar, Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health

The Recipes

Cleansing Miracle Grains

Rosemary's Perfect Face Cream

Read a blog post I wrote about seeing presentations by Rosemary Gladstar at MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR and another one of her wonderful recipes: Make Echinacea Tincture

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a common, chronic disorder that causes inflammation in the linings of the joints. This causes pain, swelling, tenderness, and weakness in the joints. People with rheumatoid arthritis also commonly experience fatigue.

So how can you treat these painful and debilitating symptoms? Try these rheumatoid arthritis natural treatment options.

Top Rheumatoid Arthritis Natural Treatment Strategies

If you want to treat your rheumatoid arthritis naturally, you’ll want to focus on physical activity, mindfulness, and effective supplements.

1. Move More

While you might not feel like it due to pain, fatigue, and stiffness, increasing your physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your symptoms. Exercise can help to improve your quality of life, level of functioning, muscle mass, fitness, energy levels, and mood, for example.[1]

Moving more throughout the day is essential. You might find that using a pedometer or Fitbit to help you track your activity levels and motivate yourself to be more active is helpful.One recent study found that a pedometer-based physical-activity intervention led to increases in physical activity and decreases in fatigue that benefited people with rheumatoid arthritis.[2]

Certain types of exercise can be particularly beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Try these two gentle, enjoyable activities:

Tai chi can help you sleep better, increase your mood, boost your muscle strength, reduce stress, and benefit your cardiovascular and bone health, too.[3] It can improve physical symptoms (by improving your range of motion and functional capacity while decreasing disease-related disability[3]) and mental symptoms as well (reducing anxiety and depression, improving self-esteem, and providing social support, for example[4]). Sign up for a local Tai chi class to give this gentle, effective mind-body exercise a try.

Yoga is associated with improvements in general health perception, walking ability, pain levels, energy levels, and mood. It can lead to better physical and mental health, improved fitness and function, and higher quality of life in people with rheumatoid arthritis without any associated adverse events.[5]

2. Try Mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to a state of being where you are intentionally aware of the present moment. This involves paying close attention to the thoughts, sensations, and emotions you are experiencing in any given moment without judgment. People with rheumatoid arthritis who went through an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program experienced reduction in things like pain scores, tenderness in the joints, and morning stiffness compared to controls who didn’t do the program.[6]

You may consider doing a formal mindfulness-based stress reduction program (search for one in your area or ask your doctor about this type of program), but if that doesn’t feel right for you, there are many ways you can practice mindfulness in your daily life. Read our blog, 5 Fun Mindful Exercises to Improve Health and Well Being, for more information on mindfulness and how to simply and enjoyably cultivate mindfulness.

3. Get Some Supplement Support

There are many all-natural supplements that can help to treat your rheumatoid arthritis. Try these four to get started:

Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which help to fight inflammation, making it helpful for rheumatoid arthritis treatment. People with rheumatoid arthritis who supplemented with 2.1 g EPA and 1.4 g DHA daily experienced significant reductions in disease activity after nine months.[7] A review study found that people who supplemented with more than 2.7 g of omega 3s per day reduced their need for NSAIDs (over the counter pain relievers) significantly.[8]

Borage seed oil is rich in something called gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which has anti-inflammatory and immune system-modulating qualities. Borage seed oil supplementation (1.8 g of GLA daily for nine months) led to significant reductions in disease activity in one study.[7]

Turmeric is a spice with strong anti-inflammatory capabilities, which can help relieve inflammation in the joints and the pain and tenderness associated with it.[9] Learn more about taking turmeric supplements here.

Boswellia, also known as frankincense, can be an effective rheumatoid arthritis natural treatment. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory herb, which is in large part why it can be effective.[10,11] Typical dosage ranges from 300 to 400 mg three times per day.

Getting started

You don’t have to let rheumatoid arthritis symptoms control your life. Get started finding relief today by increasing your activity levels, practicing mindfulness, and supplementing with natural options like fish oil, borage seed oil, turmeric, or boswellia. By combining these three strategies, you’ll be well on your way to feeling better, both physically and mentally.


[1] Int J Clin Rheumtol. 2012 Oct 1;7(5):489-503.
[2] ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting. 2015 Sept 29. Abstract #3243.
[3] Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2012 Dec;14(6):598-603.
[4] J Clin Nurs. 2013 Nov;22(21-22):3053-61.
[5] J Rheumatol. 2015 Jul;42(7):1194-202.
[6] Ann Rheum Dis. 2015 Feb;74(2):472-4.
[7] Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:857456.
[8] Arch Med Res. 2012 Jul;43(5):356-62.
[9] Biofactors. 2013 Jan-Feb;39(1):69-77.
[10] Planta Med. 2006 Oct;72(12):1100-16.
[11] Clin Pharmacokinet. 2011 Jun;50(6):349-69.

Natural Health Advisory Institute Contributing Editor Chelsea Clark is a writer with a passion for science, human biology, and natural health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis in neuroscience from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. Her research on the relationship between chronic headache pain and daily stress levels has been presented at various regional, national, and international conferences. Chelsea’s interest in natural health has been fueled by her own personal experience with chronic medical issues. Her many profound experiences with natural health practitioners and remedies have motivated Chelsea to contribute to the world of natural health as a researcher and writer for Natural Health Advisory Institute. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



For the past few days, I’ve been hearing alarming news on the radio about the Zika virus spreading into the United States.

The virus is spread by mosquitoes, like West Nile and malaria. From what is known so far, the virus does not spread from person to person like a cold, but by a mosquito biting an infected person and then on to another person who contracts the virus. 

I hate putting chemicals on my skin, so I use an essential oil spray that has proven to be very effective.  In the past couple years in the garden, none of us have been bitten even though my neighbor has a large pool of standing water. Even at a riverside campground in Louisiana, there were no mosquito bites.

Herbal Mosquito Repellent Spray


• 14 ounces Witch Hazel
• 10 ml (2 tsp) Citronella Essential Oil
• 10 ml (2 tsp) Eucalyptus Essential Oil
• 10 ml (2 tsp) Lemongrass Essential Oil


Mix ingredients together, shake well and pour into spray bottles(s). To store more than a month or two, it is best to keep the spray in a glass bottle or you can halve the recipe.

You’ll give the bottle a shake each time you spray. If it’s hot and you’re perspiring, re-apply every couple of hours.

Where to Find Ingredients and Equipment

The essential oils can be found in most health food stores, usually in the 10-ml bottles.  (Even Amazon has these oils; just make sure you buy pure, undiluted oils.) If you want to find the oils in larger quantity, there are sources online at New Directions Aromatics, Rainbow Meadow, Bulk Apothecary, and many others.

Never buy essential oils from a pyramid marketing company or from a catalog that lists all the oils at the same price.

Witch hazel can be found in most any drug store, usually in the first aid section, next to the peroxide.

Plastic spray bottles can be found in the personal care section, often near the travel size containers. Pretty glass bottles like ours are available in several catalogs, such as Pinetree Seeds and even on Amazon.

Zika Virus Update

Wanting to learn more about Zika, I Googled and found this quite scary information:

The Zika virus is likely to spread across nearly all of the Americas, the World Health Organization has warned. The infection, which causes symptoms including mild fever, conjunctivitis and headache, has already been found in 21 countries in the Caribbean, North and South America. It has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains and some countries have advised women not to get pregnant. No treatment or vaccine is available. New cases of the Zika virus, which is linked to birth defects, have been confirmed in the UK.

Sources: CNN · BBC · Time

Wendy Akin is a happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


I always tell my Dancing for Birth students to worry less about dancing correctly and more about trusting their bodies, as I want them to do in birth, with one exception — squats.

After I demonstrated a true birth squat in class one evening, a student asked, “Why doesn’t everyone else know this?” I was stopped by her question. It reminded me that many childbirth professionals and educators are still teaching and having mommas squat incorrectly.

Correct, Parallel Birth Squat as drawn by Vincent Van Gogh

Women in correct, parallel squat, as drawn by Vincent Van Gogh 

My first response to her question was that many birth professionals have seen a lovely film called The Squat Position in Delivery. This film shows women birthing peacefully in deep squat positions at a Brazilian facility. The film is made by doctor and filmmaker Claudius Paciornik. While Paciornik was researching the gynecologic health of native Brazilian women in the ‘70s, he observed that “to rest they squat, and in this position they give birth.” Birth professionals love this film have have been honoring the squat since the film’s release.

Soon after completing my doula training and seeing this very film, however, I heard that North American women have a higher incidence of tearing in the squat position. With the help of Evidence-Based Birth, I was able to track down some of the research for this statement. But this fact continued to bother me and I wanted to find the connection. Eventually it came to me. Squatting correctly is not only an ideal birth position, but in many countries it is also a comfortable position for sitting on street corners to chat, snack, work and as Paciornik noted, to rest.

For those who have travelled outside of the U.S. and western Europe, you may recall seeing men, women and children sitting in what I will call a parallel squat. Regardless of how deep or shallow the squat is, the individual’s feet are more or less parallel to each other. Most westerners find a parallel squat very uncomfortable. Instead, we find ourselves squatting with heels pointed in and toes pointed out. Like the squat represented in the film, this is in fact the wrong way to squat for birth.

Go ahead, try both squats. How does it feel? Notice that the the heel-in squats pushes the knees out and squeezes the glutes together. And like a clothespin, this position narrows the pelvic opening; the opposite of what we want in birth. Then notice that the parallel squat keeps the pelvis square and open. This is what we want.

Let’s take this a step further, in both squat positions, put your palms against the outside of your knees and push your hands towards your knees while pushing your knees towards your hands. Do this again, this time keeping your pelvis above your knees and lift your tailbone to the sky.

You will find that when you do this exercise with a parallel squat, keeping the pelvis above the knees, that your pelvis will feel much more open. And it is. In Dancing for Birth classes we actually measure the difference, and it is considerable.

So, therein lies the mystery. most western women work and rest in chairs and sofa’s, often in a reclining position. So not only is the squat position not a normal part of their lives, when they do squat, it is typically heels in. Traditionally, non-western women have rested in a squat position and when they do, it is a parallel squat. They are practicing a correct birth squat in their everyday lives.

Woman washing in parallel squat by Michael Coghlan

Woman washing in parallel squat, by Michael Coghlan

So, yes, squatting in birth will open your pelvis and make much more room for baby to descend and enter the world. But, in this case, there is a right and a wrong way. Keep those feet parallel and your pelvis above your hips for a correct squat and a safer, more comfortable birth.

Lisa Marie Morgan is a birth doula, Dancing for Birth™ Intructor and Trainer, mom, wife and lover of life living in Portland. Read more from Lisa Marie here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


In mid-January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) effectively ceased regulating ruminant meat and dairy products sold under “Grass Fed” and “Naturally Raised” labels, claiming that its Agricultural Marking Service (AMS) lacked the authority to define the phrases. Many sustainable agriculture advocates bemoaned the regulatory loss. One of the more influential voices, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Policy Director, Fred Hoefner, warned that USDA’s move would “take us into a Wild West situation, where anything goes and both farmers and consumers lose.” Sustainable graziers and restoration agriculturists must reject fatalisms and hyperbole, and, instead, quickly standardize a new Grass-Fed label definition that takes animal welfare, environmental impact and human nutrition into account.

Sustainable Food and Agriculture activists compare the Grass Fed decision to the equally controversial abandonment of “Country of Origin Labeling” (COOL) requirements for meat products back in December. While both affect local meat producers and consumers, the two USDA decisions differ in their relationship to the U.S. Congress. Congress legislated, and President Obama signed the redaction of COOL requirements as a part of the omnibus budget bills. For Grass Fed and Naturally Raised decision, the USDA realized that it lacked the authorization to define those phrases, like it has for other labels, such as USDA Organic. This distinction matters because with legal precedent in The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, a motivated Congress could empower the USDA to define those labels. Sustainable and nutritious food advocates must motivate that Congress in every way possible.    

The USDA-Verified label was far from perfect. Unlike the American Grassfed Association’s labeling procedure, the USDA Verified Grass-fed label did not regulate antibiotic and hormone application, did not specify confinement restrictions, and did not guarantee regular access to pasture. And, unlike the Animal Welfare Approved Label, the USDA did not require a particular health plan for livestock benefit. Nor did the USDA label require safe working conditions, soil and water conservation, or wildlife habitat conservation, like the Food Alliance Grassfed Certification. Each of these independent labels have unique benefits, which, if standardized into a federally enforced “Grass Fed” label via congressional authorization, would further sustainability and nutrition goals.

The next USDA Grass Fed label should represent the agency’s nutritional mission with respect to essential Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acid nutritional “baselines” would ensure ruminants’ access to fresh pasture forage, while supporting consumer cardiovascular and neurological health. One MOTHER EARTH NEWS pilot study demonstrated that grass-fed beef rib-eyes, on average, contained almost nine times the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids and slightly less than three-quarter the Omega-6 fatty acids (providing a more healthful Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio of 2:1). Meanwhile, intensively grazed perennial pastures stimulate carbon sequestration and rural economic development.

Until the USDA implements updated product labels, “Know Thy Farmer” is more important than ever for products sold with “Grass Fed” and “Naturally Raised” labels. Health- and sustainability minded consumers should vote for changes with their fork, dollar, and, above all, their votes, all the while offering thanks to those who raise animals on pasture using sustainable and humane practices.

Search out your local pasture producers at the farmers market or on Eat Wild, and let them know you’ll pay the premium. Then, get on the phone with your representatives and senators, or drop them an email. Labeling and label-reform has been successful before, and it will be again. Consider the “Grass Fed” and “Naturally Raised” labels—and the COOL/GMO labeling debates, for that matter—minor setbacks in a larger sustainable food revolution. When these labels are reinstated, they should be comprehensive, vetted and policed.

Josh Brewer is an Assistant Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS who covers Renewable Energy, Green Homes, Omega Fatty Acids Nutrition, and Nature and Environment.



Everyone knows walking is good for you. It’s plain common sense, backed by a wealth of recent medical research. In fact, a major new study found that lack of physical activity is twice as deadly for us as obesity.

Health data shows that as little as 30 minutes of walking a day cuts the incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease in half, lowers the likelihood of diabetes by 60 percent, limits colon cancer by 31 percent for women and reduces risk of dementia, heart disease, depression, osteoporosis, glaucoma and catching a cold.

This kind of evidence prompted U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to issue a call for Americans to walk more. “Physical activity – such as brisk walking – can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes,” Murthy explains. “Even a small first effort can make a big difference in improving the personal health of an individual and the public health of the nation.”

“Walking is the most common form of physical activity across incomes and ages and education levels,” adds Thomas Schmid of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s because it’s free, easy, relaxing, available right out your front door and easily incorporated into daily schedules. Plus it’s fun. The CDC’s most recent research shows the number of Americans who take a walk at least once a week rose six percent in the last decade.  Still, less than half of all adults meet the minimum recommended guidelines for walking, rolling in a wheelchair or other physical activity (30 minutes a day, five days a week), according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even worse, only a quarter of high school students today reach the mark (one hour a day, seven days a week), according to the Surgeon General’s report.

What can be done to ensure the health of our country? The Surgeon General encourages everyone to walk and work to make their hometowns more safe and inviting for people on foot. He lauds the new walking movement that’s emerged over the past few years for getting Americans moving again. Health care professionals are on the frontlines of this effort, and many are bringing the message back to their clinics by including physical activity as one of the vital signs — like blood pressure and tobacco use — they check on with patients. Some MDs even write prescriptions for walking.

Several health care systems track physical activity in their health care records, including Greenville Health in South Carolina, Intermountain Healthcare in Utah and Idaho, and Kaiser Permanente, an integrated health care delivery system, in California and seven other states.

If Walking Were a New Drug, It Would Make Headlines

“What if there was a pill you took one day that lowered your blood pressure, prevented diabetes, improved your mood and protected against depression, increased bone density and prevented fractures, helped you remain independent as an older adult, enhanced your ability to think, and gave you more energy?” ask Dr. Robert Sallis and Dr. Karen J. Coleman in Sports Medicine Bulletin. “Would you be asking your doctor to prescribe it for you?”

Such a drug already exists, Sallis notes — it’s called walking. “If walking was a pill or surgical procedure, it would be on 60 Minutes.”

Sallis, a family practitioner at a Kaiser Permanente clinic in Fontana, Calif., keeps special walking RX prescription pads in his exam rooms, which he fills out for some patients saying, “This is what I want you to do to treat your high blood pressure or depression or diabetes, etc. If it’s not enough, then we will consider using a medication.”

What are patients’ reactions? “They respond very well to this message,” Sallis says. “This approach really frames for them how important exercise is to their health and treating their disease.”

Sallis first spoke up about walking and other physical activity being recognized as a vital sign in 2007, when serving as president of the American College of Sports Medicine and helping launch the Exercise is Medicine initiative with the American Medical Association.

The aim of that project is to highlight the mounting research proving that physical activity should be seen as essential to health and the treatment of disease. It’s obvious that doctors, nurses and other clinicians should raise the idea of walking during medical exams, when people are paying particularly close attention to their health and how to maintain it.

Putting the Plan into Action

In 2009, physical activity was designated as a vital sign for Kaiser Permanente facilities in Southern California and the idea was quickly adopted throughout the rest of the non-profit organization — the nation’s largest integrated care health system with 10.2 million members 17,000 physicians, 50,000 nurses, 620 clinics and 38 medical centers on the West Coast, the Mid-Atlantic region, Colorado, Hawaii, and Georgia.

Patients are asked how many days a week, on average, they engage in moderate or strenuous physical exercise, such as a brisk walk, and for how many minutes? These two simple questions frequently spark conversation about the value of walking (or yoga, Zumba classes, bicycling, gardening and other physical activity) in treating and preventing disease.

A follow-up study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that 18 months after Kaiser Permanente adopted physical activity as a vital sign in Southern California, 86 percent of all adult patients had a record of their activity levels included in electronic medical records. In 2013, Kaiser Permanente’s Exercise as a Vital Sign program was honored with an Innovation Award by the National Business Coalition on Health.

“Asking an individual about their daily physical activity helps our providers learn what matters to our patients and prompts our patients to think about healthier habits,” explains Lisa Schilling, vice president for Healthcare Performance Improvement with Kaiser Permanente's Care Management Institute. “It also allows us to connect the individual to resources and habits that promote better health.”

Even health care professionals sometimes need encouragement to live healthier. Zendi Solano, a research assistant for Kaiser Permanente in Pasadena, Calif., admits that she knew the importance of exercise but “really didn’t take it seriously” until her doctor asked about it during a checkup.

Diabetes runs in Solano’s family, and she was obese with elevated blood sugar. Right then and there, she decided to take up running. At her next physical, Solano had lost 30 pounds and her blood sugar levels were normal. Being asked about exercise as a vital sign, she says, “is a great reminder.”

About 2/3 of Sallis’s patients fall below the minimum federal guidelines for exercise, and half of those report no moderate physical activity at all during an average week, he says. ‘Talking about physical activity can have an impact on everyone,” he says, especially high-risk patients with diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis or other chronic diseases.

“Anyone who is at risk for chronic disease should consider exercise an essential vaccine to greatly lower risk of illness and…extend life,” he wrote in a guest editorial for The British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The power of exercise to heal really hit home for Sallis after meeting Valerie, a 68-year-old patient with Parkinson’s Disease who came into his office with a walker. She was desperate and depressed because her medication was no longer working. He recommended she visit a fitness professional to walk on a treadmill at one mile-per-hour speed along with some resistance training and stretches.

“In a month-and-a half, she came back to my office without the walker, and telling me she had more energy and a more positive outlook,” he remembers. This convinced him, “if something so simple and inexpensive as exercise can have such a profound effect, shouldn’t we try to prescribe this powerful medicine to all of our patients?”

Something You Can Say ‘Yes’ to For Better Health

For Liz Joy, Medical Director for Community Health at Intermountain Healthcare based in Utah, the “a-ha” moment about physical activity as a vital sign came in 2008 at a meeting focused on preventing obesity among youth.

“It was a roomful of physicians, health care directors, scientists and coaches,” she remembers, “and one speaker got up and asked: ‘What is health care doing about this crisis?’ That’s when it came to me that physical activity needs to become a vital sign.”

Intermountain adopted the idea in 2013 in its electronic health record for use by clinicians in Utah and Idaho. “It’s a way to bring discussion of physical activity into the exam room,” Joy explains.

“Even if it’s just a brief conversation about how important it is to your overall health. I can let patients know it’s as important as blood pressure, and more important than obesity and cholesterol to your overall health.”

“I generally start by talking about walking, because it’s free and everyone knows how to walk,” she adds. “I’ll tell them just start with 10 minutes at a time — and no one has ever said they can’t do that. Do that three times a day, and you have your 30 minute daily minimum.”

Joy notes that doctors have been charting people’s weight for generations, telling them to lose weight while watching the national obesity rate continue to rise. “Talking about physical activity is a positive conversation — something people can do to improve their health. And when they take that first step, sometimes their eating habits begin to change, too. You’ve helped enhance their self-efficacy.”

Some of her patients don’t consider walking real exercise, so the conversation can offer new motivation to get back on their feet. “I saw a patient and was surprised his records showed that his physical activity was zero. I knew he had a dog, and I asked if walked the dog? Yes, he said 30-60 minutes a day. But he didn’t think of it as exercise.”

“The physical activity vital sign is a great prompt to have a conversation with patients about activity and exercise — to let them know things like gardening and dog walking count,” she adds.

Joy points out that health care systems have a strong incentive for adding physical activity to their lists of vital signs. “Physical activity is stressed in Medicare reimbursements as one of the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) measures, which Medicare and others use to assess the quality of health care delivery to determine level of payments. It’s a huge financial driver.”

Spreading the Message into Exam Rooms Everywhere

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has joined with other groups in the walking movement to alert health care professionals about the promise of adding physical activity to their list of vital signs.

“One strategy is to get influential medical organizations to formally adopt physical activity as a vital sign, and then activate their individual members,” says ACSM CEO Jim Whitehead. They’re already working toward that goal with 10 medical societies, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Cardiology and the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association.

“This is for all health care providers, not just physicians. Nurses can often make a greater impact because they typically spend more time with you,” notes Brenda Chamness, ACSM Strategic Health Program’s Senior Director.

Working with Kaiser Permanente and the Every Body Walk! Collaborative — a coalition of organizations ranging from the CDC to AARP to NAACP to the PTA — ACSM hosted a two-day scientific roundtable on the subject last April, which detailed recent research and presented best practices used by working physicians, including Robert Sallis and Liz Joy. In October, several hundred health professionals around the country took part in a webinar on “Making Physical Activity a Vital Sign.”

“All this can have a major impact by showing people that they all don’t have to go to the gym to be healthy,” says Adrian Hutber, Vice President of Exercise is Medicine at ACSM. “They can just go out and take a walk.”

Jay Walljasper writes regularly about public health and healthy communities. The former Editor-in-Chief of Utne Reader, he is author of The Great Neighborhood Book. He has a personal website and you can read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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MOTHER EARTH NEWS facilitated a pilot test over the summer and early fall of 2015 to examine the fatty-acid profiles of 32 grass-fed, free-ranged and pastured cows, lambs, pigs and chickens. At this point in the omega-6, omega-3 fatty-acid testing program, we’ve analyzed results from about 30 samples. Overall, pastured products are several times richer in beneficial omega-3 fats, and, at the same time, those samples are much lower in problematic omega-6 fatty acids when compared to the USDA Nutrient Database numbers, which reflect levels found in industrial products. Therefore, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is much lower in grass-fed products, thus more nutritionally favorable, than the USDA standard. Additionally, we’re learning how reducing omega-6 intake might be even more beneficial than increasing omega-3 intake; please see Richard Manning’s Omega-3s and More: The Importance of Fat in a Healthy Diet for more information.

Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are “essential nutrients,” meaning that they must come from a person’s diet; however, a skewed dietary ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 disrupts the body’s natural inflammatory balance. For this reason, select foods with a fatty-acid ratio as close as possible to 1 to 1. As we continue to learn more about the relationship between omega fatty acids, the link between increased consumption of omega-6-rich corn and soy products, and obesity in the United States makes more sense. For more information on this topic, please see our recent article, Linoleic Acid in Soy Strongly Linked to Obesity Epidemic. For those reasons, we are convinced that it is best to avoid corn- and soy-fed animal products, whenever possible, opting instead for those products carrying labels like the American Grassfed Association, the Food Alliance Certified Grassfed, USDA Grassfed + USDA Process Verified, Animal Welfare Approved Certified Grassfed, or USDA Organic. (Please see Which Grass-Fed Beef Labels to Trust.) Better yet, get to know your meat, egg and milk producers, visit farms, ask the right questions, and let farmers know that you are willing to invest in healthful and sustainable animal farming operations.

Summary of Data Analysis

Fats Chart Ratio 

We are still studying the data for lamb, pork, milk and cheese, and will report more on them later. You can look up the USDA nutrient values for other foods at Self Nutrition Data. We are incredibly thankful for those farmers who sent in samples—on their own dime!—to enable our work at MOTHER EARTH NEWS. We’ve provided a list of participating farms below. If you are a producer, and would be interested in participating in future testing, please email us.

List of Participating Farms 

Arrow K Farms
Black Diamond Farms
Brady’s Beef
Bush Creek Farm
Coonridge Organic Goat Cheese
Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill and Farm
Cozi Farm
DS Family Farm 
Eggs by A Man and His Hoe
Five Bar Beef
Hopeful Farms
Ledamete Grass Farm
Mesteño Draw Ranch
Ode to Joy Farm
Old Narrow Gauge Farm
Polyface Farms
Riverview Farms
Spring River Farm
Straight Arrow Bison Ranch
Sunbird Farms
Taylor-Wright Farm
The Medina Farm
Valley Fall Farm

Josh Brewer is an Assistant Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS who covers Renewable Energy, Green Homes, Omega Fatty Acids Nutrition, and Nature and Environment.

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