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What you need to know about this year’s flu shot

Diana Duong | posted Tuesday, Oct 28th, 2014

To get or not to get the flu shot — that is the annual question. This year we asked Dr. Robin Williams, Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, to address many common questions and concerns.

How is the flu shot different this year?

“The virus is very smart, it migrates and shifts and changes,” said Dr. Williams. ”Sometimes it does a big shift, sometimes it just does a little shift. The world experts gather at the World Health Organization in Geneva every year and look at what they’ve isolated in the previous season, both in the Northern and Southern hemisphere, to try to determine what the best match of the subsets of the virus and the bugs are, and what’s the best match to put in the vaccine.”

This year, researchers have landed on three components, making it a trivalent vaccine. At its best, this year’s vaccine is 90 percent efficient. According to Dr. Williams, it’s usually somewhere between 70 and 90 percent. “You don’t know until you start to see what bug it is we get, and have we got a good match.” But even if it’s “only 70 percent effective,” Dr. Williams says, this protection is much better than nothing. And she adds that the percentage only represents its protective efficacy, and has nothing to do with risk.

Who should get the flu shot? Who shouldn’t?

Infants over six months old can start getting the flu shot, says Dr. Williams, adding that they need two doses if it’s their first time getting vaccinated. The same applies to anyone who hasn’t had a shot since July 2010. This is the H1N1 (swine flu)-containing vaccine. After that, it’s just a single dose. Pregnant women should also get the flu shot. The only people who should not get the flu shot are infants under six months old, anyone with an anaphylaxis allergy to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, or anyone who has developed the rare one-in-a-million Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of a previous influenza immunization should avoid influenza immunization in the future.

Hold off on the flu shot if you have a moderate to severe illness with fever, wait until your symptoms subside. People with a cold, but no fever, can get the flu shot. If you have a neurological disorder that is developing, hold off until the disease is stable.

Does the flu shot give me the flu?

“I can say with factual clarity that you do not get influenza from this vaccine, it does not give you influenza,” said Dr. Williams.

There are many factors for why people have personal anecdotes about feeling sick after getting the flu shot. “You might have been incubating influenza before we gave you the shot, that’s not to say it didn’t fully protect you – although we do know that if you get influenza in the environment you’re in after you’ve had the shot, it’s more likely not to be as serious an illness.”

Dr. Williams says some people might mistake their illness for the flu. “There’s a whole variety of other viruses that we follow every morning on rounds, coronavirus, rhinovirus, others that can give you illness, and it wouldn’t have been the influenza.”

How do you address concerns about formaldehyde, aluminum, mercury, Alzheimer’s?

Some components of a vaccine have raised concerns because it is perceived as dangerous; however, these ingredients or preservatives are tested and known to be harmless and already naturally found in our bodies or in nature. The mercury found in vaccines, for example, is not the poisonous methylmercury many mistake it for, but the natural ethylmercury, called thimerosal, which  is an additive and keeps vaccines safe and clean, preventing any bacteria or fungi growth. The mercury used in vaccines is harmless and not worth any concern, according to Dr. Williams.

That said, even thimerosal has been removed from some vaccines. “Thimerosal has been removed not because of science, but because of perception,” says Dr. Williams. ”It’s an ethylmercury, not the methylmercury, which is the one that has been associated with Minamata disease and Alzheimer’s.

“It’s been removed where it could be removed, since it keeps the vaccines safe from being contaminated. The multi-dose flu vaccine does contain thimerosal. If people feel strongly, though, there’s a vaccine available, it’s a single dose, without thimerosal. But I want to clarify that this kind of mercury that’s in it, keeps vaccines clean and sterile and allows it to be stored. The ethylmercury is removed very quickly from the body, so I’m not concerned about thimerosal. It has been removed because of perception. We want to go with what parents are comfortable. It’s absolutely safe.”

Formaldehyde, another concern to some patients, is found not only in the flu vaccine but also the diphtheria, tetanus, and polio vaccines. It inactivates the toxins from the weakened virus in vaccines. Commonly associated with preserving dead bodies, formaldehyde has a scary reputation, but we are constantly exposed to it, says Dr. Williams. Formaldehyde is made inside our own bodies, as part of single carbon metabolism; it’s used to make DNA and the building blocks of amino acids. There is a quantity of formaldehyde in our bodies much greater than any small amount found in vaccines, so it is also not a concern.

According to Dr. Williams, aluminum, another additive, has also caused unnecessary concern. As aluminum is found in much larger quantities in baby formula, flour, dairy products, and our daily ingestion than in a vaccine, it is nowhere near being dangerous as well.

Isn’t it better to boost your immunity naturally?

Many believe that whatever is natural is better for you, and that “naturally” building your immune system with vitamins is preferable to a vaccine. But Dr. Williams says there is no better or alternative way to fight the flu than the vaccine.

“I do think a healthy lifestyle is important: physical fitness, washing your hands, a healthy diet, and appropriate vitamins,” said Dr. Williams. “You stay within the speed limit, wear your seatbelt, don’t drink and drive, those are all healthy things all of us should do, and I believe getting vaccines is part of that.”

Flu season generally lasts from November to April, but flu shots are available now as it takes a while for your body to build its immunity.

Drew Barrymore shares her secret to positivity

Dominique Lamberton | posted Wednesday, Oct 22nd, 2014

There’s such a fixation in Hollywood on looking young forever. What are your views on aging?

You’ve just gotta let it happen, and not fight it. I feel bad for people who are struggling with it because there’s just no winning that battle. I think laugh lines are the sexiest thing on the planet — and freckles and gap teeth and wrinkles. Heavy coverage, foundation, Botox — it’s like putting layers on top of this amazing experience, which is so much prettier to me.

You’ve been in the spotlight your whole life. Do you ever get tired of always having to be “on”?

I’ve had a very bizarre life in that way. I feel like Norm from Cheers — everyone recognizes me wherever I go. The only time it sucks is when you’re having a fight with someone, or you’re having a stressed-out moment, or your kids are acting out and you’re going, “Oh my God, everybody’s staring at me, this is awful.” I feel a little raw sometimes, but it’s all worth it.

When are you happiest?

When everything is in balance in my life. If it’s a good morning and I’ve gotten to really spend time with the kids [daughters Olive, 2, and Frankie, 6 months] so they’re happy, and my husband is feeling good, and I’m balancing it all in my house — that’s when I don’t have that worried frown on my face.

I heard you’re learning to cook. What are your go-to dishes?

Pastas and soups. One-pot, one-bowl things. I’ve learned to bake some really great fish dishes — I don’t know how to use a grill, though. But who the hell is grilling at night? It’s nine at night, I’m exhausted, the kids finally went to bed — there’s no grilling tonight. Throw it in a glass dish with some simple seasoning and dinner’s ready. Or better yet, this takeout menu looks amazing, and it will be here in 30 minutes.

What’s your favourite way to stay fit?

A good yoga class will give you a frickin’ glow like nothing else in the world — you need a quarter of the makeup after one. I’m not Miss Exercise Queen; I’m an eat-what-you-want-and-enjoy-life kind of girl, but there’s something to sweating and stretching a little bit.

When you have only 30 seconds to put your face on, what do you prioritize?

That’s me every day! For me, concealer is everything. I feel like I could find berries on a bush to give me some colour, and I could light a wine cork on fire, turn it into charcoal and create a smoky eye, but concealer I cannot find out in the world or nature. Getting that coverage, and a nicer, cleaner canvas, always puts me in a less self-conscious mood. I can do it all with concealer and lipstick.

What prompted you to create your makeup line, Flower?

I’m a girl who dances in my closet — it’s mostly sweatpants in my life, but I think we all need to remember that we’re women and do it up every once in a while. We all want this wonderful glamour, but it should be an attainable glamour. It’s not fantasy scenarios, it’s you. It’s just the best version of you, the happiest version of you, the most empowered version of you — and makeup can do that. It makes us feel good about ourselves.

You’ve been criticized for saying women can’t have it all. What’s your take on work-life balance?

I appreciate why people get so mad when I say that, but I think it’s actually that you can’t do it all. You can have it all, but you can’t do it all. I constantly feel torn up inside. Every time I feel like I’m doing something well at work, it’s time away from my kids. And all the time I spend with my kids — and I’m really giving them most of my time now — I feel like my work is suffering. I’ve definitely had to stop doing certain things in my career. If I did everything, I wouldn’t be with my family enough. You start to prioritize and eliminate. It feels like you’re making sacrifices, and it’s hard, but ultimately being with the people you love has to be the highest priority because it’s going to be the most fulfilling.

You have so many things on the go — from the makeup line to your production company — how do you keep up with it all?

I’m an overachiever in every area, and I expect so much from myself. Most important are my kids, but then I demand so much of myself from my work. I have an ethic where I don’t think that things just come out of hoping or expecting, especially expecting.

You always come across as such a positive, upbeat person. What’s your secret?

It’s other people. I can’t believe how much power there is in people’s exchanges. Everyone is so fast-paced and curt and they’ve got to get to their stuff, but when you just stop and you’re courteous and friendly and your energy shifts from one person to another, you walk away going, “Okay, great! Thank you! Da da da!” Those are my highs throughout the day — positive exchanges with other human beings.

Have you travelled much in Canada?

Yes! I love Toronto; what a constantly evolving place. And Montreal is such a chic, amazing city. I’ve worked in Saskatchewan. I’ve spent a lot of time in Vancouver. I’ve always wanted to be dropped off in Banff and left to my own devices. I really want to go to Nova Scotia. You guys have the best nature; I would love to go explore it all.

See Drew’s favourite Flower products.

Photo, Sara Jaye Weiss.

The 5 best ab exercises. And the ones that are wasting your time

Alex Savva, B.P.H.E | posted Tuesday, Sep 23rd, 2014

A flatter stomach is one of the most common fitness goals, so it’s no surprise that there are more abdominal exercises and contraptions for achieving a tighter stomach than there are excuses to skip your workout. But not all ab exercises are created equal. In fact, many are simply a waste of workout time. A study conducted at the San Diego State University Biomechanics Lab examined the electromyography (EMG) activity results garnered by popular core exercises. Here’s how they stacked up:

Don’t waste your time with:

1. The basic crunch
Why: The basic crunch is just that – basic. Don’t waste countless hours on a less-than-stellar exercise that does little to fully engage your abdominal muscles and core.

2. The ab rocker
Why: The ab rocker was proven to be no more effective than the traditional crunch. Actually, it was shown to be up to 80 percent less effective! Yes, it’s super easy to do, and that’s why it doesn’t work. By supporting your head, this tool actually deactivates the muscles in the neck that would normally support it. This can lead to neck pain as your supporting muscles weaken. There’s a reason these machines are collecting dust in the corner of your gym.

3. The straight-leg sit-up
Why: This old-school exercise is responsible for many back issues. It puts a huge strain on the lower back by provoking you to hurl your upper body forward in an attempt to touch your toes. No thanks.

4. The standing dumbbell side bend
Why: Isolating the obliques in this way is not natural and can add unnecessary strain to your back. (How often do you bend straight to the side to pick something up?) Also, many people use the momentum that the dumbbells create and rock side-to-side instead of properly engaging their muscles. Avoid these unless you want to look you’re rocking to the oldies.

5. The seated twist
Why: Seated twisting machines are a waste of money and space in fitness facilities. They don’t train your muscles in a functional way and the path of motion is fixed and unnatural. They can also lead to injury if you don’t know what weight to use and how to control the movement. I’ve seen many people snap from right to left with some wicked momentum – ouch!

Opt for these five exercises to maximize your workout time instead:

1. The plank
Why: It stimulates more abdominal activity than a regular crunch and works the muscles in your back as well.
How: Supporting yourself on your forearms and the balls of your feet, bridge up and position your body in one straight line. Pull your abs in tight and hold for 30-60 seconds.
Kick it up a notch: From the plank position, reach forward with your right hand, hold for a count and slowly return to the starting position. Do the same with your left hand and repeat.

2. The bicycle crunch
Why: In the San Diego study, this exercise was the second highest in terms of EMG activity in participants. It also stimulates more abdominal activity than the traditional crunch including your lower stomach and obliques.
How: Lying on your back, bring your knees up to form a 90 degree angle and keep your hands by your temples. Crunch up and twist across the body while simultaneously performing a bicycle motion with your legs. For example, if you crunch up and to the right you should draw your right knee in and vice versa. Repeat for 20-30 reps total.

3. Side plank
Why: Side planks not only torch your obliques, they also stimulate and tone your glutes, quads, hamstrings, inner/outer thighs and your upper body.
How: Lie on your side with your forearm perpendicular to your body and one foot stacked over the other. Bridge your hip up and hold for 30-60 seconds while maintaining a straight line with your body.
Kick it up a notch: Raise your top leg so that it’s parallel to the ground (this full version of this is called Vasisthasana in yoga).

4. Vertical chair knee raise
Why: It stimulated 210 percent more abdominal activity in the study’s participants than the traditional crunch.
How: Use your upper body to hold yourself up tall while drawing your knees up and past your waist. Squeeze at the top and slowly lower your legs back down. Repeat for a total of 12-15 reps.
Kick it up a notch: Do a straight-leg raise.

5. Reverse crunch
Why: Engage your lower abdomen and obliques with this move.
How: Lie on your back with your hands tucked under your bum and your knees bent. Bring your legs up until they form a 90 degree angle from your torso. Do a pelvic tilt and pull your knees in towards your chest, squeeze and slowly lower to starting position. Aim for 15-20 reps.
Kick it up a notch: Hold a weight over your head.

Ripped abs plan:
One of the best ways to work the abs is to perform a series of core moves in one continuous circuit. Circuits are efficient and effective, allowing you to get the most out of your efforts. For optimum results, perform this core circuit at the end of your intense training sessions. You want your core strong and ready to back you up when you’re in the thick of a tough workout.

Plank tri-set (regular and sides): 30-60 seconds
Reverse crunch: 15-20 reps
Bicycle crunch: 10-15 reps per side
Vertical chair knee raise: 12-15 reps
Notes: Perform 2-4 total sets or circuits with now rest between exercises and a 1 minute rest between circuits.

Alex Savva is a sought-after strength and conditioning expert whose founded two supplement brands and the Toronto fitness studio CircuitFIT. Alex has a degree in physical and health education and is a professional member of the Ontario Kinesiology Association. He has more than 10 years experience in the fitness and nutrition industry, working with clients ranging from elderly beginners to professional athletes to transform their lifestyles, not just their bodies.

How to remove corn from the cob quickly and easily

Irene Ngo | posted Thursday, Aug 21st, 2014

We love our fresh Ontario sweet corn! While it’s delicious grilled and eaten straight from the cob, the sweet kernels also make a great addition to summer salads and sides. Removing corn from the cob can be a messy job, so I’ll show you an easy way to keep those kernels under control.

Sweet corn season only lasts until early fall, so make sure to pick up a bushel on your next farmers’ market trip to use in these recipes!

Harvest corn pancakes
Easy chicken tostadas
Sausage and corn salad
Herbed miso corn
Summer corn-pasta salad

Ask Bruce: Should the higher earner in a household pay more?

Bruce Sellery | posted Tuesday, Aug 12th, 2014

When two people buy a house, is it normal for them to split the monthly mortgage payment 50/50, even if one person makes more money? M.S., Toronto

Dear M.S.,

Relationships are funny. What’s considered “normal” behaviour for one couple may be considered completely absurd by another couple living right next door. In my opinion, “normal” doesn’t matter. What matters is what works for the two of you, based on what you want. Take a big step back and talk about what you want for the future — both as individuals and as a couple. Then figure out how you’re going to pay for it. Not just the mortgage — all of it: house maintenance, groceries, vacations, cars, kids, retirement savings and your respective vices. Sure, when there is a disparity in income, it can be a challenge to decide on priorities. When thinking long term, it is best if your retirement incomes are as close as possible, in order to minimize the tax you pay. This means the higher-income earner should pay more of the expenses until retirement. Hopefully you’ll have a long and happy life together.

Bruce Sellery is a personal-finance expert and author of the bestselling book The Moolala Guide to Rockin’ Your RRSP. He’s a columnist for MoneySense magazine and a regular guest on Cityline and the Lang & O’Leary Exchange. His website is moolala.ca.

Click to buy on Amazon.ca.

Click to buy on Amazon.ca.

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