Senior Viewpoint: Evolving from Trauma to Wellness, Beth Jukuri

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If you were asked to write about health and happiness, what parts of your life would you think about? What parts of yourself would you focus on? 

How would you rate your own health and happiness?

The most sacred part of my wellness is my mind and how much I am able to challenge it. 

 I was indoctrinated into a cult-like religion from birth. I didn’t have access or control of my mind and its beliefs. The religion chose my life for me–where I went, who my friends could be, what I could or couldn’t do with my body.

At forty-six, when a young niece shared with Family Protective Services that “Grandpa touched me,” I became aware that I had been sexually abused as a child by my father.

I also became aware that my body and its emotions and feelings always lived in the truth. My body shook and my steadfastness to stand by my niece and believe her was unshakeable.

My body and its unexpressed emotions, and the way it never lied showed me the fragility of my mind and its false nature.

It became my priority to set my mind right. To bring it back to my body and reality. To use my mind and not let my mind use me.

The wellness of my mind and how it sits with reality is critical in my choice-making and ultimately how I live my life.

Without a mind set in reality, you cannot see life or who you are clearly.

I had lived with so many falsehoods and ill-conceived ideas both of myself and the outside world.

If on your stage of life, you don’t see the backdrop and the other characters in their true form, how will you know how to interact with them?

At forty-six years of age, I woke up in my life and realized I had seen the stage incorrectly and I was playing a part in a play in which I no longer wanted to participate.

The character of who I was fit into the play, but it had no place in reality and with the truth inside of me.

It is ironic to see the darkest parts of your life, to feel the vast emptiness of losing so much and at the same time feel empowered, strong, brave, and deep levels of love.

As I attempted to right my world and to re-adjust the stage, to find the character of me, I brought in new levels of happiness, joy, love, and peace.

I was embracing my history of abuse and acting in the present with new information, and making new choices that honored me.

This did not serve the requirements of my family of origin. It did not serve the silence abuse needed in order to thrive.

I became a new me with a voice and a choice.

The new me brought in new hurdles in many relationships. The open and free relationships welcomed the new me, and we experienced new levels of deep love and connection.

The relationships that were conditional died.

I see this time in my life as one of my greatest achievements—leaving the cycle of abuse.  I changed how I interacted with abuse and that changed the trajectory of my lineage.

My breaking the silence and responding differently than my mother is the most difficult thing I have done, yet became one of the most healthy periods of my life.

I broke out of the family dynamic that supported abuse for generations.

The happiness that has slowly seeped back into my life is pure.

It has no hidden agenda or the false realities such an agenda was based on. Nor is it dependent upon the behaviors of others. My happiness is based on me—how I see myself and my worth, and how I love myself.

The levels of happiness I have found as I walked through decades of denial and recovered my innocence is life-changing.

What I know to be sure is that health and happiness live with truth. They grow and thrive in its presence.

My ability to be myself and to know myself and to love myself all stemmed from my ability to live with dark truths.

As Gloria Steinem once said, “The truth will set you free; but first it will piss you off.”

Even my anger and rage and overwhelming sorrow—after expressed—left me in peace.  I made sense. The world made sense. The truth is so much easier to live with than trying to prop up a false relationship with both myself and others.

I loved me, the broken, twisted me that stumbled out of denial.  I loved her courage and the bravery she showed to admit she didn’t know who she was.

I woke up at forty-six a stranger to myself.

The new me was a stranger in my relationships.

So began the second half of my life living life as Me.

Discovering and choosing what made me happy, what felt like love, where peace lived, and what I felt was true for me became my way of life.

I love this healthier me, one that is filled with so much happiness and knows deep love, even if she is completely estranged from her family. 

I want others to know it is possible to live a good life after abuse.

To be happy.

To know joy.

To feel deep love of self.

What I know to be true is that we love as deeply as we love ourselves.

Abuse isn’t who you are. It is what was done to you. A healthy response is one that honors and respects you.

At sixty-three, I feel very grateful for my mental wellness and the sheer amounts of happiness I experience.  Perhaps it’s because of all the years I lived codependent on others to make me happy that I am now so appreciative of my ability to find happiness alone.

Just being at peace with who I am and the choices I have made, and who that makes me as a person, brings me great happiness.

There are moments in our lives when we have the opportunity to become more ourselves or to find a deeper level of awareness.  These are moments that will define your life either negatively or positively, with more growing or shrinking.

To me, health has always had an evolutionary spin to it—a feeling of growing and changing.  Life is not static.

I feel happiness comes when you are free in the spaces you live and the relationships you have.  The freer you become, the more happiness you gain.

Married thirty-five years, mother of four, grandmother of three, retired mail lady, and fiber artist Beth Jukuri‘s art has become her therapy, her therapy her art. She co-founded WIND (Women in New Directions) to explore oneself and grow more empowered through nature and art.

Excerpted from the Fall 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Senior Viewpoint: Creativity – Food for the Mind & Heart, Moire Embley

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I am the program director for the Senior Theatre Experience, an educational theatre program provided by the City of Marquette Arts and Culture and Senior Center. A couple of years ago, I was able to receive training in Art Therapy and bring new methods to integrate into my programming. This training really opened my eyes to understand how much impact creativity can have on one’s overall health and well-being.

Creativity can come in all kinds of forms, and can even occur when we are inspired by another’s self-expression. For some, creativity comes more naturally, and for others, like me… it can take more work. But what I do know is that creativity exists within us all, and it is just like any other muscle in our body—there are ways we can tone that muscle just by simply using it.

As we grow older, we begin to feel the effects of aging and with that, we become more mindful of how we can care for our body, from the food we eat to the exercise we offer it. But caring for our minds is just as important as caring for our physical bodies. Creativity is food for the mind, just as exercise is food for the body.

According to the National Institute on Aging, “participating in the arts may improve the health, well-being, and independence of older adults, and help with memory and self-esteem.” (Aging Fearlessly: Art, Creativity, and Aging, 2021)

There have been many studies linking the positive impact art and tapping into one’s creativity have on the brain.

According to Barbara Bagan, Ph.D., ATR-BC in her article, Aging: What’s Art Got to Do With It? “Neurological research shows that making art can improve cognitive functions by producing both new neural pathways and thicker, stronger dendrites. Thus, art enhances cognitive reserve, helping the brain actively compensate for pathology by using more efficient brain networks or alternative brain strategies. Making art or even viewing art causes the brain to continue to reshape, adapt, and restructure, thus expanding the potential to increase brain reserve capacity.”

One of the students in my program, Lois Stanley, told me her personal experience with this. “If you want to know that value that this program, the Senior Theatre Experience has had for me personally, (other than credibility with my grandchildren), it has opened up all kinds of synapses and new pathways for me… just trying to memorize some of my lines was an enjoyable exercise for my mind.”

Not only does participating in a creative activity improve cognitive function, but it also promotes feelings of purpose, meaning, well-being, contentment, and joy, while helping to alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety, and isolation. It strengthens our connection to our own identity and to the world around us.

Lina Belmore, another participant in my program, shares her thoughts: “I would consider myself an introvert, and sometimes it is difficult for me to interact with people. However, by participating in this program, I’m discovering that theater is the human experience on stage, and because of that, I am finding so many wonderful opportunities that expand my own human experience, and I’m able to create deeper connections with those around me. I’m so thankful that the City of Marquette recognizes how important the arts are, and how it brings people together, and brings warmth to me and to our community.”

If you are an older adult in Marquette County and are looking to explore new ways of bringing more creativity into your life, I encourage you to check out the wide variety of free programs the City of Marquette Arts and Culture and Senior Center offers, from fitness programs to painting, dance, and theatre. My intention with the Senior Theatre Experience is to provide programming, in partnership with Songbird Creative, Northern Michigan University, and local theatre non-profits, that nurtures your creativity and self-expression. I invite you to come have fun while exploring the different aspects of the world of theatre, and partake in unique experiences that illuminate the creativity, collaboration, and innovation behind the curtain. You’ll have the opportunity to attend rehearsals, lectures, backstage tours, learn about lighting, stage, and set design, and get free tickets to upcoming productions.

Moiré Embley has over eight years of experience in arts programming as well as training in Art Therapy. She is the program director of the Senior Theatre Experience, and founder of Songbird Creative, a little company encouraging creativity, self-expression, and mental fitness in older adults.

Citations:
‌Aging Fearlessly: Art, Creativity, and Aging. (2021, October 21). Maine. https://states.aarp.org/maine/aging-fearlessly-art-creativity-and-aging

Aging: What’s Art Got To Do With It? (2022). Todaysgeriatricmedicine.com. https://www.todaysgeriatricmedicine.com/news/ex_082809_03.shtml#:~:text=Neurological%20research%20shows%20that%20making,networks%20or%20alternative%20brain%20strategies.

Excerpted from the Summer 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Senior Viewpoint: Heighten Your Health Span at Your Local Senior Center, Kevin McGrath

senior fitness, increasing your health span, healthy senior lifestyle, U.P. holistic business, U.P. holistic wellness publication

An old college friend recently told me he was shocked to see I had written an article for Health & Happiness’s Senior Viewpoint column. But after we spoke just a short while longer, he acknowledged that we both are now in our sixties.

Aging, after all, is something that naturally occurs over time. Our minds often are reluctant to accept the changes in our bodies until something happens that brings the aging process to the forefront. Aging takes place in our bodies every day of our life, whether we are aware of it or not.
According to the Mayo Clinic, staying healthy for the maximum number of years and keeping age-related diseases such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s to a minimum is key to a full and rich long life.

This full and rich long life is considered your health span. Your health span differs from your life span, which refers only to how long you live. Health span refers to qualify of life as opposed to duration of life.

The old view of aging, as Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School puts it, was that our bodies became like an old car that just starts to wear out and break down. The new view he describes is that our bodies are much more complicated than a car. Experiments and research have now shown we have genes call surtuins, a promising development regarding aging.

These surtuin genes can make you fitter with proper exercise and diet. They also occur naturally in the body. More research still needs to be done on surtuins, but medical researchers are excited about their early results. Activating and enhancing these genes may be the health span-promoting way of the future.

The basic key to healthy aging is a healthy lifestyle.

Eating a variety of nutritious foods, practicing portion control, and including physical activity in your daily routine can go a long way toward healthy aging. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults include aerobic activity and strength training in their fitness plans.

The Mayo Clinic says starting a fitness program may be one of the best things you can do for your health. After all, physical activity can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your balance and coordination, help you lose weight, and even boost your self-esteem. Plus, these benefits typically can be achieved regardless of your age, gender, or current fitness level.

Finding the fitness program that best suits your needs is essential. In my own case, I always was very active practicing Vinyasa yoga, playing in basketball and volleyball leagues, as well as participating in Zumba classes. I needed to find a way to keep the intensity up without overdoing it. Injuries can create a major setback, so it’s important to prioritize avoiding them.

If you’re in the area, a good place to start is the Marquette Senior Center, where they have a slew of options. Maureen McFadden, the center’s manager, can steer you in the right direction depending on your abilities and desires.

I’ve attended the Hi-Low Group Fitness class now for just over a year where instructors Paula, Lynn, Sandy, and Diane alternate higher impact aerobic routines with other cardio routines, mixing in weight training, other floor exercises, and stretching for an excellent hour-long workout. The class is held three times a week in Marquette’s Baraga Gym, which offers plenty of space for the twenty to forty individuals who attend regularly.

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Kay Mitchell

Regular Kay Mitchell, who’s been attending these classes for about ten years, keeps coming back because she likes the “great high-intensity workout.” She says the instructors are awesome and make exercise fun. I wholeheartedly agree.

Another reason Kay continues to attend week in and week out is the friendships she has developed with others in the group. Anyone who has ever been part of a team sport, military squad, or any group that works hard to achieve a goal being physically active can understand the sense of camaraderie that develops when people share a common purpose.

Another important factor to consider is brain aging. Brain aging can be traumatic not just for the individual but also his/her family and loved ones. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have become the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Dr. Lewis Lipsitz of Harvard Medical School claims reducing cardiovascular risk factors through mental and physical exercises is key to reduce or slow brain aging. Use it or lose it. Oftentimes as we grow older, we tend to slow down, but all the latest studies show this is the time to increase your activities in those ways that work for you. The priority has now become, as Dr. Sinclair puts it, “keeping people younger for longer as opposed to keeping people older for longer.”

Most people don’t want to live longer if they can’t do much of anything. If our quality of life is good and we can live longer too, that’s icing on the cake. So get active if you aren’t already. And a good place to start is your local Senior Center.

Kevin McGrath can be found step touching on the grape vine of life.

Excerpted from the Spring 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Senior Viewpoint: How to Choose a Healthcare Proxy

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It may seem unthinkable to many of us that a day might come when we are unable to speak for ourselves. Yet according to theconversationproject.org, “half of all people over 65 admitted to a hospital need help from someone else.” As the pandemic and unexpected accidents have shown us, even healthy people may suddenly need someone else to speak for them and help make health care decisions.

A healthcare proxy, also known as surrogate decision-maker, power of attorney for healthcare, or healthcare agent, is able to speak with all of your healthcare team members and read your medical records. This person would apply what they know about your health care preferences to make decisions about tests, procedures, and treatments if you became too unwell to make those decisions yourself, such as in the case of stroke, dementia, or being knocked unconscious.

Parents and legal guardians are automatically healthcare proxies for those under eighteen in their care. If you’re over eighteen and don’t want the legal system to choose a healthcare proxy for you, you need to designate one. This is particularly crucial if you have a chronic illness, are diagnosed with a serious disease, or are going on a big trip.

In Michigan, only one person can act as your healthcare proxy, and must be over eighteen. Who would be best for this important role?

Your healthcare proxy might need to make tough, quick decisions on your behalf, including on procedures, treatments, or even life support. Health needs sometimes shift rapidly, so this should be someone who could understand your values and wishes in any situation, and will carry them out even if different from their own preferences.

Your healthcare proxy will also need to ask questions of your doctors and other healthcare helpers to get a clear grasp of your situation. They may also need to advocate strongly on your behalf to get the right care for you-—with health professionals and also with people close to you who may not agree with the proxy’s decisions. Is the person you’re considering comfortable enough to do so?

It’s helpful to also designate a secondary healthcare proxy. This person would act on your behalf if your primary choice became unable or unwilling to take this role. If you named your spouse as your proxy, and later are in proceedings for divorce, legal separation, or annulment, this designation would be suspended, and your secondary choice would become your healthcare proxy.

“Sometimes a spouse, adult child, sibling, or other family member may not be the best choice to follow your wishes. Your proxy doesn’t need to be someone local; the person you choose can act as your proxy and make choices for you over the phone,” explain the experts at theconversationproject.org.

If your proxy is a trusted friend, neighbor, member of your faith community, or other non-family member, family members may have questions.

So be sure to identify your proxy and the reason for this choice to them before a healthcare emergency arises. For example, you might explain that you want them to be able to focus fully on your time together and/or be moral support for you rather than have to deal with health care decisions that could be stressful.

You’ll also need to make sure your potential healthcare proxy understands all of the responsibilities involved (The Conversation Project’s downloadable Guide to Being a Healthcare Proxy can help flesh this out), and is willing to take these on. Listen to their responses, answer any questions they may have, and let them know it’s all right if they decide not to be your proxy.

Once someone has agreed to this, you’ll need to have a detailed talk about your healthcare preferences with them. You can download and work with The Conversation Project’s Conversation Starter Guide to help you prepare.

Name your healthcare proxy and alternate in an advance directive; give your proxy a copy of it, along with names and contact info for your primary care doctor and any other important healthcare team members; and give these healthcare team members your advance directive along with your proxy’s name and contact info.

Lastly, be sure to continue discussing your healthcare preferences with your proxy as your understandings and wishes evolve.

Resources:
https://theconversationproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/ChooseAProxyGuide.pdf, https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/ALTSA/stakeholders/documents/duals/toolkit/Health%20Care%20Proxy.pdf
https://www.nychealthandhospitals.org/healthtips/ask-our-expert-how-to-choose-your-health-care-proxy/
https://www.michigan.gov/documents/miseniors/Advance_Directives_230752_7.pdf
https://michiganlegalhelp.org/self-help-tools/wills-life-planning/making-health-care-power-of-attorney

Excerpted from the Winter 2021-22 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Senior Viewpoint: Head to Your Local Farmers Market ASAP! Kevin McGrath

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Now that summer has begun taking hold, nutrient-rich soils are transferring more and more of their life-sustaining power to the herbs, grains and vegetables that we then consume and absorb. Our farmer’s markets play a vital role in not only making these fresh, healthy, in-season, locally grown foods available for our choosing, but also offer an open air venue where we can safely and easily engage as social beings again.

As a senior who has been primarily cooped up for over a year in an attempt to keep my fellow citizens and myself out of harm’s way and is finally fully vaccinated, I’ve come to truly appreciate the importance of fellowship. Social isolation can become a routine way of life for many seniors, pandemic or no. Farmers markets bring together humans of all ages, which can be particularly helpful for seniors’ vitality. And, as John Lennon once said, “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is a reality.”


Social isolation has been shown to significantly increase your risk of dementia and premature death from all causes, maybe even more than smoking, obesity or physical activity. On top of that, according to the American Psychiatric Association, lonely seniors are more likely to smoke, drink in excess, and be less physically active. 


Additionally, we seniors actually need fewer calories, but more nutrient-rich meals.

Plant foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains) tend to be nutrient dense and are also a great source of fiber, which can help prevent Type 2 diabetes, aid digestion, lower cholesterol, and help you maintain a healthy weight. Research supports filling at least half of your plate with vegetables and fruit at each meal.

To get the greatest nutritional value, as well as flavor, from your produce, you want it to have the shortest possible time between harvest and consumption, making your farmers market a winner again. Food imported from other states and countries is typically older, has been handled more (exposing it to more contamination risks), and sat in distribution centers before arriving at the store.

Another consideration that becomes clearer as I age is the importance of supporting local businesses. Our local economy can be hurt by having our produce transferred in from all over the world, and oftentimes even sold more cheaply. If we don’t support our local businesses with our purchases, and then wonder where all our local businesses went, whose responsibility is that?

Nationwide, growers selling locally create thirteen full time jobs per $1 million in revenue earned.

Those who do not sell locally create three. And dollars generated locally tend to circulate locally, bolstering the economic health of local businesses and families. Plus, if natural disasters continue to increase, affecting the growth and distribution of food from elsewhere, we’ll certainly become even more grateful to have locally-sourced options.

So with summer in full swing, I look forward to seeing my experienced neighbors and friends taking advantage of nature’s “farm-aceuticals” at our local farmer’s market, supporting our own health and that of our community.

While Kevin McGrath isn’t a farmer, he has the greatest respect and admiration for our local farming community and can be found visiting farmers markets wherever he may roam.

Research contributed by Roslyn McGrath, a fellow fan of food, farmers markets, useful info, helpful humans, and Mother Nature.

Excerpted with permission from the Summer 2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Senior Viewpoint: Social Isolation Coping Tips from Marquette’s Senior Center, Akasha Khalsa

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For many older adults, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great deal of stress and isolation as separation from their families and friends is still necessary for their safety. Grandmothers and grandfathers must stay removed from their grandchildren despite the ache, uncles and aunts are unable to stop by and visit, and this situation has been quite hard on everyone.

Maureen McFadden, a social worker at the Marquette Senior Center, said she has seen a great deal of clients who have developed anxiety during the pandemic, and that issues relating to isolation affect perhaps half of the approximately 1300+ people the senior center serves. Knowing the struggles faced by her clients, McFadden focuses on three crucial areas to help cope with any sadness or anxiety stemming from the isolation as we gradually move toward herd immunity through vaccinations.

Firstly, she recommends that older adults engage in at least fifteen to twenty minutes of physical activity each day so their bodies get moving to keep them physically and mentally healthy.

Some older adults may be hesitant to attempt exercise.

Perhaps they worry about slipping on ice if they exercise outside, or falling inside the home. If this is a concern, McFadden recommends exercises that can be done while sitting in a chair.

If interested, seniors can seek instructional guides for chair exercises at their local senior center or public library. Such organizations will often mail guide materials directly, or offer curbside pickup.

Along with exercise, McFadden focuses on a second area to promote wellbeing: socializing safely. If seniors plan visits with friends or family members during this time, McFadden recommends following CDC guidelines for a safe interaction. This includes social distancing, wearing a mask, and meeting outside when weather permits.

There are also alternative platforms for social interaction which older adults can access with a basic understanding of technology, or with the help of a family member or friend. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is currently offering a service called GetSetUp Michigan, which includes free virtual small group classes on topics such as how to schedule and host Zoom videoconference meetings, and how to get started with Gmail, as well as information on COVID-19 vaccines.

“We’ve noticed that a lot of people have been kind of branching out of their comfort zones during this pandemic, and they want to try to use this technology,” McFadden said. “So, the GetSetUp Michigan is a really wonderful free resource for older adults because it helps teach them those independence skills in regards to technology.”

These skills enable seniors to attend social gatherings online.

For example, the Marquette Senior Center currently hosts virtual tai chi classes through Zoom. Plenty of other centers offer similar services. Those interested can reach out to local public libraries and senior centers. If desired, older adults can also reach out to religious organizations to see what kinds of events or outreach programs they may have planned.

Last but not least, McFadden said seniors must focus on nutrition. Some may have varying issues acquiring meals due to a number of barriers. She recommends utilizing resources such as Community Action Alger-Marquette or Meals on Wheels to get access to proper nutrition.

“We have to make sure we’re feeding our bodies well during this time, especially if you’re suffering from a financial instability due to the pandemic,” McFadden said.

Keeping these three central concerns of exercise, safe socialization, and nutrition in mind will help seniors cope with the difficult and stressful situation in which we find ourselves. Luckily, many resources are available, and older adults are encouraged to take advantage of them to assure their own wellbeing.

Akasha Khalsa is a student at Northern Michigan University, where she studies English literature and French. She is currently employed as a desk editor for the North Wind Independent Student Newspaper.

Excerpted with permission from the Spring 2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Senior Viewpoint: Insurmountable Evidence for Exercise Benefits, Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, FAMIFAS

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The benefits of exercise are now the stuff of tabloids and daytime TV shows. We are inundated with information about health and fitness, some of it fact, some half-truth, and much of it outright lies. Few do the research to learn the true extent of the positives to health, although most know the basics. It’s good for your heart and blood flow. And, indeed, any form of exercise will have some of those benefits.

How many Americans exercise? How many are able to make these changes in their lives and do so for the “long haul”? This is a complex and nuanced question, but an easy answer is not enough. More than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Studies agree that only about 23% of Americans exercise in some form with any regularity. Only one in three children are physically active every day. Human muscle tissue needs activity and exercise to be healthy. This is in contrast to the great apes, who are able to maintain fitness without regular activity/exercise. (They’ve done studies; this is not fictional!)

Muscle disuse results in muscle tissue atrophy, which is basically muscle thinning. Muscle atrophy means inevitably, predictably, weakening. Muscle activity comes in many forms but is required for muscle health, with the heart probably being the most important muscle. Aging obviously has a hand in this weakening process, but less than you might think. If you doubt this statement, learn about the famed fitness guru, Jack LaLanne.

One of the most popular and successful methods of exercise is walking. The ability to walk safely depends on a host of factors, some obvious, others not so. The coordinated efforts of many body systems are required, such as the sensory and nervous systems, and cognitive skills. The obvious ones include cardiopulmonary and musculoskeletal. Others are classified as “contextual effects’”and include such things as the environment, the lighting, and the support surface upon which the individual treads.

How greatly life changes when we are no longer able to ambulate, to walk, to go for a stroll!

This is a fundamental quality of life issue, and should be valued as such. The aforementioned weakness, the result of disuse, is generally a gradual process, and easy to miss. Unfortunately, infirmity develops progressively. This often results in a reduction of core strength, an essential component of balance and reduced fall risk.

Balance is also known as postural stability, the act of keeping the body upright and vertical. A critical component of this process is core strength, and there is a multitude of ways to improve that. This is an all-around good thing since working your core muscles is beneficial to your overall physical well-being.

A combination of time and disuse can lead to many orthopedic problems. Most older adults suffer from postural changes, such as a forward-leaning posture. This is clearly associated with balance problems, and thus increased fall risk. Several studies have shown good core stability programs can help improve balance and confidence, consequently also reducing the risk of falls. Particularly helpful to fall prevention programs are “posture-challenging exercises,” something to consider when you’re looking to reduce the risk of falls.

There are many things to consider in regards to these efforts, which should be a common concern as we age. Some are easy to alter, such as clearing your hallways of clutter and furniture. Others not so, such as reversing the nerve damage of neuropathy. From joint pain that limits activity to the weakness of malnutrition (a shockingly common problem in the elderly), there is abundant evidence that exercise interventions have the potential to significantly reduce the fall rate, improve cardio-vascular health, and notably enhance quality of life, especially in older adults.

What does the research show about the true benefits of exercise in all its varied forms?

Improvements to health and well-being can occur in surprising ways, some physical and others psychological. The heart is an obvious beneficiary of regular exercise. Exercise helps the heart do a better job of pumping blood throughout the body. Our blood vessels are healthier and better able to respond to an increased demand for oxygen, such as when walking a longer distance.

People who exercise regularly seem to make better nutrition choices. Exercise also helps us maintain a healthy body weight, as well as reduce belly fat. Both appear to lend themselves to a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Exercise lowers blood pressure, since the heart will pump better and more efficiently, decreasing stress on the heart and surrounding arteries. If you have high blood pressure, cardiovascular exercise may help lower it. If you don’t, fitness activities will help you keep it in a healthy range.

Bone strength, critically important in reducing infirmity, requires physical stress, a clear benefit of resistance training. When you exercise regularly, your bone adapts by building more bone and becoming denser. It should go without saying that these benefits to bone require good nutrition, especially calcium and Vitamin D. The two types of exercise that are most effective for building strong bones are weight-bearing exercise and strength-training exercise. But these aids to bone health are site-specific. Put another way, walking improves bone strength in the legs, but has no effect on the bones in the wrist.

Adding a variety of exercises, such as running, jogging, gym work, even some recreational activities, can lead to improved brain function and faster mental task performance. Studies have shown better learning abilities, and decreased anxiety and depression, achieved with improved fitness. Certain benefits make sense, but aren’t necessarily obvious, such as an increased feeling of energy. Some of the documented psychological benefits of an exercise program include such possibilities as improved mood, reduced stress, and improved ability to cope with stress. If a person is successful with their regimen, increased self-esteem can be expected also.

The consequences of being sedentary, of sitting too much, are substantial.

Even a short walk, performed regularly at mild-to-moderate intensity, can improve your mood and energy, as well as your heart health. For longer-term benefits, you should exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes per session at moderate intensity. A critical component of physical well-being is core strength, so be certain to include abdominal and back work.

Surprisingly, Medicare now covers the prescribing of an exercise program, typically instituted by a physical or exercise therapist. This tells us the benefits have been proven beyond any doubt. If our government takes it so seriously that they will pay for it, why doesn’t the American public? Why do so many of us eat poorly and get so little activity? As is often the case, there are a plethora of factors at play. But ignorance is no longer an excuse. The truth is out there: get moving and get some exercise. You’ll be getting healthier and smarter.

Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at drcmclean@outlook.com.

Excerpted with permission from the Winter 2020-2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Senior Viewpoint: Bone Health & You, Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, FAMIFAS

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Ask anyone, especially a senior, What is a sign of wellness? What tissue epitomizes strength? The answer is your bones and skeletal health. Never have we known so much about bone health, and never has it received so much attention. Our understanding of bone as an organ and a tissue has deepened, especially in the last few years. The public’s level of awareness has been raised as well, and people want to know what they can do to improve their bone health. They know about the problems that result from osteoporosis, especially the potential for fractures and bone injury.

Bone is truly a remarkable tissue, with amazing abilities and wonderful reparative properties. Bone has the principal responsibility of supporting the load imposed upon itclinical herbalism, the human body. The demands placed upon our bones require enormous strength and resilience, while still being relatively lightweight. Bone is a very responsive tissue, altering its shape and configuration depending on the forces it endures, responding to physical stress by becoming stronger.

Bone requires physical forces be placed upon it, at least partially in the form of resisting gravity, to survive and thrive.

We know more about this process than ever before. At last, we begin to grasp how bone responds to physical activity. Advances in technology have allowed us a better, more thorough understanding of the biology and physics of bone. We know its healing abilities are excellent, at least partially because of its well-endowed blood supply.

As we are all aware, aging affects bones, as it does every part of the human body (and everything else). But certain eras are associated with more significant bone changes. Bone loss begins or accelerates at midlife for both men and women. The goal during this time of life is to keep bone loss to a minimum. For example, between the ages of forty and fifty, bone loss may progress more slowly in both sexes with effective interventions. Unfortunately, during menopause, there is a period of more rapid loss in women. Both sexes may lose a total of 25 percent of bone during this period. This phase can occur anytime between the ages of fifty and seventy.

The frailty phase typically occurs in adults over age seventy. One common occurrence in this phase: bowing of the spine, called kyphosis, due to spinal fractures secondary to osteoporosis. But, be aware these phases are generalized. It is important to know fractures are not a natural consequence of aging. They can be avoided, to some extent. Your chronological age, as an individual, is a given, so we must focus on those factors over which we have some control—our diet and physical activity.

Osteoporosis is the excessive, or “pathologic,” thinning or loss of bone density.

With this common disease, bone substance is lost, making the bone lighter, thinner, and, of course, weaker. When progressive, it can lead to loss of height, stooped posture, humpback, and severe pain. Osteoporosis is characterized by the systemic impairment of bone mass, and strength, resulting in increased risk for fragility fractures, disability, and loss of independence.

Falls frequently result in fractures when thinning of bone has occurred. In seniors, or anyone with certain risk factors, falls are a real and ever-present threat. One approach to the problem is participating in a fall prevention program, helping us to protect our bones by reducing the risk of injury. Programs such as these, addressing muscle strengthening, balance, and gait training, and home hazards evaluations, all help to reduce the number of fractures that occur.

Gait-assistive devices are important, although patient acceptance can be a real issue. Bracing and supports can be beneficial, but are utilized far too rarely. Re-evaluation of prescribed and over-the-counter medications being taken for possible unexpected consequences is also recommended. Oftentimes, one person may receive prescriptions for multiple medications from multiple providers. Many pharmaceuticals have the potential to have psychotropic qualities, meaning they alter perception or mental acuity in some way, and should be reduced or replaced.

Osteoporosis is the most common and most well-known of the bone diseases.

Sometimes referred to as the “fragile bone disease,” this loss of bone mass is often caused by a vitamin deficiency, particularly calcium, vitamin D, or magnesium. Its development usually starts with osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis, in which there is early bone thinning.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis affects 54 million Americans, mostly women. Millions more Americans are estimated to have the low bone mass of osteopenia, putting them at risk for osteoporosis. The morbidity and resulting expense is incalculable. For starters, we know that almost two million Americans a year suffer a fracture attributable to osteoporosis.

It’s well-recognized and proven that physical activity is important for bone health.

Exercise, in all of its varied forms, helps to reduce the risk of falling in later years. This is common mantra holds true throughout the many phases of life. Exercise helps to increase or preserve bone mass. Resistance training, whether with machines or weights, is especially helpful.

We can improve our own bone stock. Still, we have no control over some of the most important factors in developing healthy bone. Studies indicate that genetic factors are responsible for determining fifty to ninety percent of our body’s bone mass. Heredity issues not only limit how much bone a person may acquire, but also affect bone structure, the rate of bone loss, and the skeleton’s response to environmental stimuli, such as certain nutrients and physical activity.

Healthy, sufficient nutrition is important in maintaining optimal bone mass.

We also know the optimal type of nutrition and activity will vary across our life spans. A person’s nutrition over the years is clearly essential to preventing this debilitating disease. It is widely accepted that adequate calcium and vitamin D intake are necessary for good bone health, and the nutritional benefits of these two nutrients go far beyond their boon to bone health.

Because the average American consumes levels of calcium far below the amount recommended for optimal bone health, it has been singled out as a major public health concern today. Vitamin D aids in the absorption and utilization of calcium. There is a high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in nursing home residents, hospitalized patients, and adults with hip fractures.

Some estimates claim that over 40% of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency.

Although sunshine is the best method of increasing your levels, supplementation is recommended for most of us. Current guidelines suggest 400–800 IU per day is adequate, although many scientists say this is not nearly enough. Another controversy surrounds which type of vitamin D is best, D2 or D3. The former is from plant sources and the latter from animals. Most experts believe D3 is better at raising tissue levels. 

It is essential we value the impact we can have on our own bone health. While genetic factors are important in determining bone mass, we each need to understand we have a critical part to play. In fact, controllable lifestyle factors, generally referring to diet and physical activity, are responsible for ten to fifty percent of our bone mass and structure.

But too many of us are too sedentary. Many of us know, in a general sense, that exercise is important. Yet how many of us are able to incorporate it into our average day and make it a regular practice? A little self-knowledge has not achieved great gains in levels of personal fitness. It may be time for a different approach. When exercise is prescribed like a drug by one’s family doc, it acts as a prescription medicine. And it is the healthiest kind.

Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at drcmclean@outlook.com.

Excerpted with permission from the Fall 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Senior Viewpoint: Nutrition Essential to Fighting Infection, Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, FAMIFAS

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The attention devoted to sickness and health is omnipresent these days, and with good reason. The pandemic is filling the airwaves and prompting fear in the hearts of many. What we need is accurate information, smart practices. This is where the knowledge of the physician specializing in infectious disease, one who knows the immune system intimately, can be invaluable.

So what specifically is the immune system? It’s the part of the body devoted to fighting off invading micro-organisms that are a part of our world. The complexity and effectiveness of our immune system is nothing short of staggering.

What are the functions of the immune system? This system is critical for survival. Our immune system is constantly alert, monitoring for signs of an invading organism. The immune system functions to keep us free of infection, be it through the skin, a skin structure, or our intestinal lining. Cells of the immune system must be able to distinguish self from something else, i.e. “non-self.”

By now it is well-recognized the COVID-19 virus is more dangerous in the elderly.

A decline in immune function is consistently observed among older adults. Aging is also associated with increased inflammation in the absence of infection and has been found to predict infirmity. The result is seniors are more susceptible to infections and have more serious complications when they get one.

The term for this decline in immune function is immunosenescence. It reflects the deterioration of both components of the immune system—the acquired and the innate. The innate system is the ‘first responder’ to an alien invasion (of a microbe). The cells of the innate system act quickly, but are not specialized. The innate system is generally less effective than the adaptive immune response. The adaptive response is able to recognize a specific invading organism and remember it later, if exposed again.

Scientists specializing in the role of macronutrients, micronutrients, and the gut microbiome are convinced they all play a critical role in the functioning of our immune system. It turns out to be an incredibly complex system, with a multitude of factors and variables. Up until recently, we knew next to nothing about our gut bacteria and its complex interaction with our health and immunity. We do know one crucial part of gut health, not surprising, is our diet. But there are many ways to optimize the effectiveness of our immunity.

Your nutrition can affect the microbes residing in your guts, directly altering your immune response.

The  microbial community in the mammalian gut is a complex and dynamic system, crucial for the development and maturation of every facet of our immune response. The complex interaction between available nutrients, the microbiota, and the immune system seems to be the most important ‘player’ in the fight against invading pathogens.

What does it take to have a healthy immune system?

We know well many micronutrient deficiencies have been identified as contributors to declining immunity. It is believed these could provide opportunities for directed therapies for potentially restoring immune function, creating better health through improved nutrition.

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Some proffered recommendations: eat yogurt for breakfast! Apparently, the probiotics strengthen the immune system, as revealed by a study on athletes and their colds and GI infections. Yogurt is also rich in vitamin D, which also boosts your immune system.

Vitamin C is well-recognized as an extremely important part of an effective immune system, and a deficit can make you more prone to getting sick. Because your body cannot store it, daily intake is essential for good health. Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, kale, and broccoli.

Vitamin B6 supports many of the reactions that are integral to immune function. Foods high in B6 include chicken and cold water fish (e.g. salmon and tuna), and green vegetables. Another important vitamin for fighting infection is E, which is a powerful antioxidant. Foods rich in vitamin E include nuts, seeds, and spinach.

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Some people think of tea as something consumed in the movies, yet studies reveal alkylamine, a naturally occurring chemical in tea, strengthens the immune system, again, helping it fight off infection more effectively. Honey has centuries of use because of its medicinal properties. Numerous reviews find honey, an antioxidant, acts as a natural immunity booster. So you might want to add it to your tea for both flavor and health benefits.

Another suggestion made by researchers is to eat more garlic, since it seems to stimulate many different cell types essential to the immune system. Ginger, another powerful antioxidant, has antiviral properties, probably a good idea these days. Consume more lemon. Lemon juice is high in vitamin C, and can be used for its antioxidant properties and to prevent the common cold.

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How about a bowl of chicken soup? Thought by some to simply be a comfort food, the dish has a mild anti-inflammatory effect. Ingredients in the classic recipe (chicken, garlic, onion, celery, etc.) have been found to slow the migration of white blood cells into the upper respiratory tract, helping to relieve the symptoms of a cold. Additionally, a compound found in chicken soup called carnosine seems to prevent colds. How about a nice bowl of curcumin? This is a component in the spice called turmeric. Studies have shown curcumin helps to regulate the immune system.

Zinc is known to be an important micronutrient for the immune system. Even a mild deficiency in zinc has been associated with widespread defects in the immune response. Look to fish, seeds, nuts, and broccoli as good food sources. Selenium is a trace element that also has critical functional, structural, and enzymatic roles. Inadequate selenium is associated with a higher risk for a variety of chronic diseases since it is critical to immune function. Foods containing higher levels of this mineral include spinach, lentils, eggs, and fish.

Some recommendations for immune health are related more to lifestyle modifications.

Make workouts a part of your weekly regimen since regular exercise increases the activity of immune cells. Exercise also seems to flush bacteria out of your lungs, reducing the likelihood of an airborne illness. Experts suggest moderate levels of intensity, performed 4 to 5 times a week for 30-40 minutes.

Staying hydrated is required for immune health. Water helps your body produce lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune cells. Sun exposure is important (although difficult in certain climes) since it is the most efficient way to stock up on vitamin D, an immune system supercharger. Surprisingly little is needed, just 15 to 20 minutes a day, to get the recommended dosage.

Getting the flu shot can improve your immune profile, and has been approved for all adults. Smoking suppresses the immune system generally, so quitting helps lower the risk of infectious disease. Smoking also damages the lining of our “windpipes,” explaining why smokers are much more likely to catch a cold virus.

Because of their effectiveness, nutritional therapies should be getting prescribed in the typical medical practice, though this has been rarely and inconsistently recommended. This therapeutic approach should be utilized more consistently in those demonstrating poor immune function, as well as healthy populations.

Our understanding of the risk factors for immune system dysregulation is far from complete.

We can say definitively that adopting these and related strategies will optimize your chances of reducing or delaying the onset of immune-mediated acute and chronic diseases. In summary, I would say, you have a road map. Your course of action, a plan for better health, can now be laid. Perhaps it is time for positive changes in your routine, and thereby your health. Though giant steps are hard to take, small ones require only a step, and if taken in the right direction, lead to the larger changes you choose.

Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at drcmclean@outlook.com.

Excerpted with permission from the Summer 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.

Is AARP® for You? (Part 2), Lucy LaFaive

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Did you know AARP ® has a foundation that helps provide economic opportunity, social connectedness, and legal advocacy for older citizens? AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, social welfare organization focused on empowering older Americans to live their best lives. AARP addresses issues affecting older citizens including poverty, social isolation, loneliness, affordable accessible housing, physical and financial exploitation, and fraud. Its affiliated charity, the AARP Foundation, helps promote this mission through a number of valuable programs.

Economic Opportunity

There are two AARP Foundation programs available in the U.P. promoting economic opportunity—the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), and the Tax-Aide Program.

An AARP Foundation SCSEP office in Marquette is responsible for serving the entire U.P. and Michigan’s northern lower peninsula. The SCSEP is a federally funded program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor that trains and helps low-income, unemployed seniors fifty-five and older get jobs. The SCSEP participants receive job training, support services, community service placement, wages, and assistance in finding future employment.

The AARP Foundation operates the SCSEP for the U.S. Department of Labor in twenty-one states, including Michigan and Puerto Rico.

This program benefits not only job seekers, but also non-profit community and government agencies that host individuals. Hosting organizations provide training to participants while getting free staffing because seniors are being paid through the SCSEP.

A few of the one-hundred-and-twenty hosting organizations in the U.P. and northern Lower Peninsula benefitting from this program are Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, YMCA, United Way, Aspirus, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Room at the Inn, Trillium House, U.P. Children’s Museum, the Women’s Center in Marquette, and the Caring House in Iron Mountain.

Courtney Hafer, Project Director of AARP Foundation SCSEP in Marquette, says she’s “always enrolling participants, and is here to help as many people as we can.” To apply for this program, your annual income must be less than the federal poverty level ($15,613 for 1 person, $21,138 for 2). Job seekers and non-profit organizations interested in hosting can contact the Marquette office (906-273-2460, chafer@aarp.org) for more information.

From February through April, the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide Program provides free tax counseling and preparation, including e-filing for low to moderate income people, with special consideration for those fifty or older.

This program is currently available in the U.P. in Marquette, Gwinn, Negaunee, Iron Mountain, Sault Ste. Marie, Houghton, Menominee, and Escanaba. Well-trained volunteers provide tax preparation at these locations by appointment.

Eight-year volunteer Rich Brich, the Marquette Local Coordinator and the Coordinator of Technology for the U.P., would like to provide the program to more areas of the U.P. Brich and other AARP volunteers are “constantly looking for new folks” to volunteer.

Fifteen-year volunteer Betty Trudell, U.P. District Coordinator, estimates the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program helped between 2,000 and 3,000 U.P. residents last year. She also emphasized the constant need for volunteers. She is currently looking for volunteers in Escanaba and Iron Mountain.

To volunteer or get help with your taxes, you can find a location near you by calling 1-888-227-7669, or Googling AARP Tax Aide to be linked to the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program site. You can also go to AARP.org and scroll down to the bottom of the page to the list under “Information for You” for the Tax Aide page link.

Social Connectedness

U.P. opportunities for increasing social connectedness include free social events such as those mentioned in my previous article, Is AARP for You? (Part 1)—AARP on Tap, A Taste of AARP, Movies for Grownups, and AARP classes. If you are interested in volunteering to help bring more of the AARP social programs mentioned above to the U.P., contact Sally Bruce, U.P. Michigan AARP Executive Council Member and eighteen-year volunteer, at sallybruce62@gmail.com, or (906) 786-3827.

AARP also increases social connection by providing community service opportunities. Some Foundation programs have a two-fold benefit—they benefit the individuals being helped and also the helpers. Volunteering is good for your physical, mental, and emotional health. It promotes a sense of satisfaction from helping others. Other benefits include lower stress levels, increased brain function, increased dopamine levels, lower risk of depression, a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and a longer life. Volunteering reduces isolation and loneliness, and increases social connectedness.

Many AARP Foundation programs are volunteer-run, so volunteers are essential to the programs. Another AARP Foundation program in the U.P. seeking volunteers to serve more areas is the AARP Driver Safety Program. More U.P. volunteers are sought to teach its Smart Driver course.

Currently, the U.P. has two long-term volunteers from Marquette and Newberry. Chris Earle, the AARP Driver Safety Zone Coordinator and Driver Safety Instructor responsible for the program in the northern Lower Peninsula and the U.P., travels up from Traverse City to teach classes in the U.P. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact him at (586) 707-5836 or dc123mi@charter.net.

Don Balmer of Marquette has been teaching the AARP Driver Safety “Smart Driver” course for over twenty years. The nationwide program is specifically designed for drivers fifty or older. The 8-hour classroom course discusses changes in roads, cars, and the law occurring since the over-50 crowd began driving. The refresher course includes research-based safety strategies, proper use of vehicle technology, and information on age-related changes such as medication and alcohol use, and health issues that affect driving ability. Winter driving is also discussed. Some insurance companies may offer discounts for participation in the driver safety course.

Classes are offered between May and October based on the instructor’s schedule. Earle will be scheduling classes this spring. You can find more information at aarp.org/findacourse or by calling 1-877-846-3299. If no classes are listed, check again as classes may be added.

Legal Advocacy

AARP Foundation Litigation (AFL) is responsible for legal advocacy. AFL attorneys fight elder abuse, discrimination, and other barriers to employment. They also protect investors, employee health and pension benefits, and access to affordable accessible housing, among other things.

AFL was involved in a recent settlement with Senior Citizens Housing of Ann Arbor. The case was settled after Senior Citizens Housing of Ann Arbor removed the “able to live independently” requirement from its lease, and implemented practices to prevent disability discrimination and to make reasonable accommodations for its tenants.

For more information about AARP or the AARP Foundation, go to aarp.org.

Lucy Jeanette La Faive is a stress reduction, relaxation, and empowerment specialist living in Marquette. She loves to share her tools for joyful living in classes, workshops, and presentations. For more information, you can call (906) 225-1059.

Excerpted with permission from the Spring 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.