November Healthy Living: How to Not Get in a Car Accident, Myths About Staying Warm, Portion Sizes Influencing Later Choices & Where Do Extra Thanksgiving Calories Go?

Plus3's monthly health tips are brought to you by Amy Bertram, a Wellness Specialist in North Carolina. Learn more about Amy on LinkedIn and on her blog. 


How NOT To Be in a Car Accident 

Have you ever wondered how good drivers end up in serious car accidents? Though I always panic when someone I love is driving for long distances, I recently learned that highway driving has shown to incur less accidents than secondary roads. (1)


More helpful tidbits:


1. The most common ways that good drivers get killed in car accidents:

  • Head-on crashes on 2-lane roads

  • On straight roads

  • During daylight hours

  • In good weather

Head-on crashes, as you can imagine, typically occur when a distracted driver coming in the opposite direction veers over the line into oncoming traffic. 86% of fatal crashes occur on side roads, not highways.


2. The second most common way that drivers get killed is at STOP signs. Especially 4-way stops. Guess what. People run them.


Strategies to stay alive in your car:

  1. Try to use major highways or roads with medians (avoiding that sliver of space on either side of the yellow line).

  2. Wear a seatbelt! Seatbelts decrease the risk of death in an accident by 45% in cars and 60% in light trucks.

  3. Be cautious when passing or on curvy roads. Only 6% of head-on collisions occur when passing, and 20% on curves.

  4. When driving on a 2-lane straight road, stay alert! This is not the time to look in the back seat, change the podcast or radio channel, or dig in the cooler for a snack.

  5. At stop signs, pay attention to the driver more than the vehicle. Do they see you? Are they paying attention? Proceed with caution.

Lastly, I would be remiss without mentioning that the #1 reason for car accidents overall is driving under the influence. The #2 cause is speeding. (2)


Sometimes I wonder how we all stay alive every day with all of the driving going on in this country. I am still amazed when one of my driving-age kids arrives safely at home. Bottom line, watch the other driver.





Myths About Staying Warm

Do we really lose 70% of our body heat through our heads? Not according to a University of Michigan professor, Andrew Maynard. (1) “You lose as much heat through your head as you do through any other exposed part of your body.” He says the more skin that is showing, the colder we are. A hat will keep our ears warm and the wind off of our heads, but that's about it.


Since I am cold pretty much all year long (that air conditioning can be a bear), I researched the science behind staying warm. Here are some common myths:

  • Hot Drinks will warm me up. Maybe just your hands, but not your internal body temperature. According to Dr. Peter McNaughton, our tongues have special nerve receptors that respond to heat, causing the body to try to cool it down. Possibly even creating sweat. Definitely not what we want to do when we are in the cold. (2)

  • Alcohol will warm me up. “The normal process that makes us feel cold occurs when blood flows away from the skin and into the organs, which increases core body temperature. Alcohol reverses this process, increasing the flow of blood to the skin and setting off a sharp drop in body temperature.” (3)

  • A Hot Shower will warm me up. Obviously, this only lasts as long as we're in the shower, and once we step out of that lovely steam, our skin is wet and exposed. So better to simply bundle up.

What does help us stay warm?

Keeping a warm core. Keeping your core warm protects your vital organs and allows your blood to go to other parts of the body to keep them warm, as well.

  • Mittens instead of gloves. Yeah, I don't actually do this, though I should, as I struggle with a severe case of Raynauds Syndrome, which causes my fingers to be unusually cold, turn white, then red, then blue, and become numb (photo cred: me). However, our own body heat is a great resource for keeping warm digits.

  • Drink water. The more hydrated we are, the better our bodies can function and transmit blood, fluids, and heat to our extremities.

  • Don't get cold. Well, duh. But I have often thought I might take a quick sprint to my car without a coat, for example, and found myself shivering for 15 minutes afterwards. Take the time to bundle up before subjecting yourself to the cold.





How Portion Sizes Influence Our Later Choices

It's no secret that America's portion sizes have grown over the past years. But a new study (1) shows that simply putting a smaller portion on our plates will encourage us to consume smaller portions in the future. Our brains "renormalize" what constitutes a normal amount of food.


Study participants who were given a large portion of food (quiche) on one day, chose a large portion the next day and the next week, while those who were served a small portion, later chose a smaller amount of food.


"A key reason why the provision of smaller portion sizes could “renormalize” more appropriate portion sizes is because visual perception of what constitutes a normal size or amount is driven by what humans are used to seeing in their environment—otherwise known as their “visual diet”."


Since our eating behaviors are recognized as being flexible, our brains don't inherently identify a "correct" amount to eat. It's so encouraging to know that we have some control over what will satisfy us, and that we can "trick" our brains to be satiated with less.


Translation: Order the smaller size, and tomorrow that will seem normal.




What Happens to Those Extra Thanksgiving Calories?

Do our existing fat cells get bigger or do we grow more fat cells when we overindulge? Not that any of us will be doing that any time soon. But hypothetically.


Researchers at the Mayo Clinic performed a small study (1), feeding lean young men and women 400 to 1,200 extra calories a day by padding their diets with Snickers bars, milkshakes, and Boost Plus drinks. I know, sounds fun.


After two months the subjects had gained about eight pounds each, but in different places. Those who had gained most of the fat in the abdomen had an increase in fat cell size, while those who gained leg fat had increased the number of fat cells. Interesting, but so what?


For the next two months, the subjects limited calorie intake and increased exercise, losing six of the eight pounds. Though those who had gained the abdominal fat lost almost all of that, those who had gained the leg fat only lost some. Researchers concluded that it may be easier to shrink fat cells than get rid of them.


Does that change how we should approach overindulging? My takeaway is that if our bodies run out of space for calories, they will create new (unhealthy) cells to accommodate the fat tissue or fill up the cells we have. There are always consequences to eating or drinking too much, though one day of overindulgence will not add to our current allotment of cells. The problem comes when one day turns into two, which slides into a week, which rolls into the months of November and December. Enjoy your Thanksgiving with moderation, plenty of exercise, and sufficient water intake.




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