How your friends affect your health

By Pete Bissonette
How many friends do you have?
If your doctor isn't asking now, they may start soon.
According to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, your social circles are as important to your health as diet and exercise.
Researchers evaluated data from four U.S. population surveys from adolescence into old age spanning three dimensions of social relationships: social integration, social support and social strain. They then compared the social relationships to blood pressure, waist circumference, body mass index, and systematic inflammation — four key markers for mortality risk.
The team's results, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, not only back up past research directly linking social circles to longer life in old age, they also show a healthful impact during early and middle adulthood.
For example, the study shows that social isolation in young adulthood increases inflammation risk as much as physical inactivity.
In old age, the researchers say social isolation is more damaging than diabetes in controlling hypertension.
In middle adulthood, the strength of social connections — not the size of the social network — was a greater factor to health. Contrary to younger and older adults, the quality of social relationships matters over quantity, explained sociology professor Kathleen Mullan Harris.
"Based on these findings, it should be as important to encourage adolescents and young adults to build social relationships and social skills for interacting with others as it is to eat healthy and be physically active," Harris said in the study.
Having the charisma to attract a large social circle doesn't always come naturally. To embody the attractive mannerisms and cool and reserved energy of a magnetic personality, try this exercise from our Instantaneous Personal Magnetism Paraliminal at your next holiday gathering:
• Think of a person with strong magnetic qualities. The person could be any man or woman you know or have seen on TV or in the movies, or perhaps an imagined person. Consider what characteristics of this person you would most like to emulate and instill as a habit.
• Next, enter a heightened awareness of yourself, focusing especially on the relaxed stillness of your facial and body muscles.
• Now imagine yourself and the role model you selected in front of you. Notice posture, clothing, walking, talking and the qualities of voice and physical movements. Notice the dynamic magnetic qualities of the role model and your own detracting behaviors. Imagine shoring up the leakages of your energy by establishing new habits of living that foster the magnetic qualities.
• When the image of you is right, affirm it as a choice and step into it.
• Fully experience through all your senses the new characteristics you have selected. Project yourself into a near future situation in which you rehearse how well you demonstrate the qualities you have gained.
Do this exercise any time you're about to enter a social situation. Although a dramatic change may be short-lived at first, your body and mind will get the message, and your magnetic personality will blossom in time.
Pete Bissonette has been the president of Learning Strategies for over 30 years. The company develops, publishes and supports programs to help people maximize their potential through personal learning courses and live events. He is also the author of the forthcoming book and treasure hunt, "Breakfast Tea & Bourbon" (Feb. 9, 2017). To learn more about Bissonette and access tips, clues and videos about the treasure hunt, visit
  • Category: Health

Dr. Brian Irwin: Dyslexia

By Brian Irwin
Primary care medicine is much more than ordering tests or diagnosing medical diseases. Rather, it is a field that requires attention not only to one's physical health, but also a patient's social health, emotional well being and their ability to thrive in school and/or in the workplace. Many conditions can affect all of the above, one of which is the presence of a learning disability.
There are many types of learning disabilities, and, although this topic is beyond the scope of a short column, it's important to recognize the most common learning disability, dyslexia, as it can often mimic other conditions. For example a child with visual problems or undiagnosed ADHD may be perceived to have a learning disability and vice versa.
As such, early identification of dyslexia can aid a patient in their ability to thrive socially and academically, allowing them to work with their condition and avoid medication trials and extensive testing for what is not likely to improve with those modalities.
Over 80 percent of all learning disability cases are attributable to dyslexia. It's the most common form of a learning disability and has a tendency to run in families. Around 50 percent of children with dyslexia have parents or siblings with the condition, which is slightly more common in boys than girls. Theories exist that it is caused by a processing problem in the brain that is due to complicated genetic factors.
Clinically, dyslexia presents insidiously, not suddenly. The primary symptom is difficulty reading (both aloud and silently) due to difficulty decoding words that, in many cases, are familiar to them. These patients may mispronounce, misarticulate or express hesitation in their reading. Even when not reading aloud, spoken language is sometimes affected as well. It is critically important to understand that these patients do not, in any way, carry a lower level of intelligence, rather a processing disorder.
Dyslexic patients have normal, or in some cases, very high levels of intelligence and indeed harbor a broad vocabulary and language skills. Their condition is not hallmarked by trouble understanding the content of the printed material, rather trouble with reading certain words that can in turn generate a barrier to comprehension and learning. By definition, dyslexics have the motivation and "brains" to read; they instead have a condition that interferes with fluency and accuracy of the material.
While dyslexic children may be diagnosed by their health care provider, it is far more common for dyslexia to be suspected in the school setting. Sub-par performance in measurable categories often raises the possibility of a learning disorder, which is confirmed through a thorough history, exam and battery of testing. Those tests (not blood tests) are often timed, and via a collaborative approach with educators, speech pathologists, special educators and sometimes physicians, can secure the diagnosis early, maximizing a student's chances of academic (and social) success.
Management of dyslexia is complicated and timely. Exercises that strive to improve the awareness of individual speech sounds are effective in improving fluidity in speech and in reading. Guided oral reading, for example, is one technique that is often utilized to improve comprehension and fluency.
Dyslexia is common, but the problems it incurs can be overcome. Some of the world's brightest leaders and brightest minds were and are dyslexic. If you suspect your child's potential is not being reached, there is a chance that dyslexia is why. But of course, other possibilities exist, which is why it is wise to bring any suspicion to the attention of your child's primary care physician.
Dr. Brian Irwin is a family physician at Tamworth Family Medicine, a division of Huggins Hospital.
  • Category: Health

Shoulder pain is topic of Saturday workshop

By Dr. Trish Murray
Muscle, joint pain and injury are reported by more than one out of every four Americans. Shoulder pain is one of the most common culprits for traumatic injury as well as developing slowly over time due to overuse. This is because the shoulder is the most mobile joint of the body. The shoulder allows our arms to move in all different directions, but this also makes it more susceptible to injury.
The shoulder is where your arm meets your torso and it is a very shallow joint to allow for motion. Stability is added through the joint capsule, called the labrum, which makes the joint deeper as well as four muscles, called the rotator cuff, that make the shoulder more stable. The labrum and the rotator cuff muscles are specific to the shoulder joint itself and can be injured or degenerate. But, what typically sets a person up for injury to the shoulder joint are muscle and connective tissue tightness and restriction of the thoracic spine, neck, ribs and the scapulo-thoracic joint.
Your shoulder blade is involved in the function of your shoulder. When you raise your arm 180 degrees from your side up and over your head, only 60 degrees of that motion occurs at the true shoulder joint. The next 90 degrees occurs by the shoulder blade sliding on the rib cage, and the final 20 to 30 degrees occurs by the thoracic spine leaning to the opposite side. This means that the majority of shoulder motion takes place not in the shoulder joint specifically, but instead due to the function of the shoulder blade on the rib cage and the function of the spine and all the muscles that allow these areas to move.
As we age, all of these areas typically get tight and start to restrict the optimal motion of our shoulders and set us up for injury and degeneration. Therefore, if you or a loved one has shoulder problems, you do not want to miss an upcoming shoulder pain workshop being presented by Jackson Ski Touring Workshop. During this workshop, Dr. Trish Murray, T. Murray Wellness Center Inc., will discuss the shoulder, the most typical injuries and how to image the shoulder for accurate diagnosis. You will be empowered with home exercises to help the healing process and prevent injury.
This workshop is free of charge and will be held Saturday, Dec. 10, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Jackson Ski Touring base lodge. For more information, call (603) 447-3112 or check out the website,

  • Category: Health

Hospital recognizes Let's Go! sites for their role in childhood health and wellness

CONWAY — Memorial Hospital held a celebration on Nov. 15 to recognize 16 northern Carroll County schools, after-school programs, child care and health care practices for building environments in which unhealthy food choices are limited and opportunities for physical activity are plentiful. The 16 sites are prioritizing healthy habits by making the healthy choice the easy choice.

Let's Go! Mount Washington Valley presented sites with certificates at Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway. President and CEO Scott McKinnon welcomed site representatives, including teachers, school nurses, doctors, nurses, business owners and after-school program coordinators. The evening recognized their work with Let's Go!, a program coordinated through Memorial Hospital's Population Health Department headed up by Sue Ruka and coordinated by Danielle Koffenberger. Memorial Hospital started its Population Health Department in 2015, in partnership with MaineHealth, in an effort to help their community become among the healthiest in America. Sites participating included:
Child care
Bartlett Community Preschool
Children Unlimited Inc.
Vaughan Learning Center
Lilliputian Montessori School
Out-of-School Programs
Home Run Sports Training Center
Madison Recreation Department
John Fuller School
Josiah Bartlett Elementary School
Kennett High School
Madison Elementary School
Pine Tree Elementary School
A. Crosby Kennett Middle School
Conway Elementary School
Jackson Grammar School
Health care
Primary Care at Memorial Hospital
White Mountain Community Health Center
T. Murray Wellness Center Inc.
"More and more communities embracing Let's Go!'s evidence-based strategies, and we're seeing a difference in the health of our children," said Dr. Victoria Rogers, director of the Let's Go! program. "Kids are shunning sugary drinks, grabbing fruit during lunch, and making better media choices. This is the first year we've officially recognized sites in Carroll County for making healthy eating and physical activity a priority, and I'm constantly impressed by their energy and hard work."
The Let's Go! recognition program identifies and celebrates schools, out-of-school programs, child care programs and health care practices for their role in improving the health of all children. The program focuses on sustainable change and therefore recognizes various levels leading up to policy change. Bronze reflects a site implementing the program's five, evidence-based priority strategies; silver acknowledges a site that has communicated these changes to parents and family members; and gold, the highest level of recognition, is reserved for sites that have written all five priority strategies into policy.
Reegan Brown, Let's Go! home office, MaineHealth implementation program manager, said: "I was incredibly impressed with the representation there from almost each and every one of your sites, covering all of the sectors of the Let's Go! program. Everyone was very enthusiastic about the work, and it was evident that the collaboration efforts being made are having a great impact on your community."
Site champion and Primary Care at Memorial Hospital provider Leona Cloutier, nurse practitioner, added "You all have done a tremendous job reaching out to our community and getting the program into so many aspects of our families' lives."
This year, Let's Go! is recognizing a total of 657 sites across Maine and in select New Hampshire communities. A list of all 2016 Let's Go! recognized sites is available at
About recognition
Child care, school and out-of-school sites are recognized for three levels of commitment to Let's Go!'s five priority strategies:
1. Limit unhealthy choices for snacks and celebrations; provide healthy choices.
2. Limit or eliminate sugary beverages; provide water.
3. Prohibit the use of food as a reward.
4. Provide opportunities for children to get physical activity every day.
5. Limit recreational screen time.
Let's Go! is a nationally recognized childhood obesity prevention program that reaches children and families where they live, learn, work and play. Let's Go! is committed to changing environments and policies at child cares, schools, out-of-school programs, health care practices, workplaces and communities. The program's multi-setting approach, daily 5-2-1-0 message (five or more fruits and vegetables, two hours or less of screen time, one hour or more of physical activity and zero sugary drinks) and 10 evidence-based strategies are used to effect change across the states of Maine and New Hampshire. Strong leadership from the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital at Maine Medical Center and collaboration across health systems and community health coalitions contribute to the program's success.
  • Category: Health