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10 tips for '11 ; UB researchers offer scholarly suggestions on how to live a better life in the new year

It's going to be a good year.

How do we know? Because researchers at the University of Buffalo have cheery news for us.

Just in time, UB has come out with a handy list of 10 suggested resolutions for 2011 -- all supported by research conducted by UB scholars in 2010.

A few of them are what we would expect, with a few twists. Some of them are surprisingly pleasant. Most of them should be easy to pull off.

All of them could make a difference in our lives.

*One, "Talk to your kids about current events," is courtesy of Ming M. Chiu of UB's Graduate School of Education.

On the phone, Chiu explains that when he was a boy, his Chinese parents shielded him from talk of what was going in the world. A July study he published suggests that talking about the world -- within reason, of course -- is a great way for kids to develop awareness and reasoning skills.

"You don't have to be rich and supereducated to talk to your kids," Chiu emphasizes. "Talking is relatively inexpensive. Eating together, washing dishes together, over dinner -- it's something you can do that doesn't cost very much, and has a large effect. Try a few things. Open a newspaper, see a few things, you're likely to see things they're interested in."

Another resolution could relieve the stress of the "sandwich generation" -- people caring for both children and aging relatives.

*"Take care of a loved one and boost your own well-being," UB suggests, based on the research of Michael Poulin, assistant professor of psychology.

"I was originally interested in the experience of stressful and traumatic life events from the perspective of the person suffering," Poulin says. "Over time I've become interested in those who are witnessing people suffering or in need."

His study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging, focused on people caring, long term, for ill spouses. It found that the simple physical acts involved in caring for a loved one provide health benefits to you that can help you live longer. Active, physical care -- feeding, bathing, toileting -- were shown to boost the caregiver's well-being more than "passive care," i.e., simply being there in case something goes wrong.

Poulin acknowledges that caregiving is stressful. "Certainly it's not going to be a bowl of cherries," he acknowledges. "But every once in a while, think about it making a difference. It can alleviate some of the pressure."

We'll run down the rest of the resolutions more quickly so you can get on with your happy, healthy, productive year.

*"Have a few drinks to boost romance."

There's a resolution to grab everyone's attention!

"Individuals who drink with their partner report feeling increased intimacy and decreased relationship problems the next day, compared to individuals who drink apart from their partner or do not drink at all," advises UB's Research Institute on Addictions.

Considering the source, it's not surprising that we are advised to have those romantic drinks in moderation.

*"Encourage your kids to walk to school." UB researchers reported in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise that children who took a simulated walk to school later experienced smaller elevations in systolic blood pressure, heart rate and perceived stress while taking a short exam than children who had gotten a simulated ride to school.

"The cardiovascular disease process begins in childhood, so if we can find some way of stopping or slowing that process, that would provide an important health benefit," pointed out James Roemmich, UB associate professor of pediatrics.

*Get exercise yourself. "Losing a few pounds could help you survive a car crash," prescribes Dr. Dietrich Jehle, professor of emergency medicine.

Jehle found that a moderately obese driver faces a 21 percent increased risk of death in a serious crash. For the morbidly obese, the odds rose to 56 percent. His study is being published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

*"Pay with cash at the grocery store to avoid junk food." So advises Satheeshkumar Seenivasan of UB's School of Management. He is one of three researchers who published a study impressively titled "How Credit Card Payments Increase Unhealthy Food Purchases: Visceral Regulation of Vices."

"There is a correlation between unhealthiness and impulsiveness of food items," the study states. "Unhealthy food items also tend to elicit impulsive responses. Second, cash payments are psychologically more painful than card payments, and this pain of payment can curb the impulsive responses to buy unhealthy food items."

*"Keep kids involved with friends to prevent overeating." For that nugget we thank Sarah-Jeanne Salvy, assistant professor of pediatrics in UB's Division of Behavioral Medicine.

"Consider a person who usually comes home alone after school and eats out of boredom," Salvy proposes. "But on this day, she has a play date with a friend and socializes instead of eating. In this case, socializing is acting as a substitute for eating."

Salvy's study, which was published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine and involved 54 kids ages 9 to 11, showed that kids valued time with their friends over food. And if the friends engaged in physical activity -- biking, playing ball -- so much the better.

"There is emerging evidence that a youth's social network may be uniquely relevant and influential to eating behavior and choice of activities," Salvy states. Again, this is nothing our parents didn't tell us, but it's good to see it in writing.

*"Jack up your consumption of soy." Those controversial soy foods! Now they're good, now they're bad. Now they're good again, says a study by a team of researchers at UB and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The study linked isoflavones, chemicals found in soy products and in small amounts in other plant-based foods, with a reduced risk of developing certain types of breast cancer tumors.

*"Hit the sack early." You now have a whole new excuse. Getting six to eight hours helps keep your blood sugar at acceptable levels, suggests a study in the Annals of Epidemiology.

"This research supports growing evidence of the association of inadequate sleep with adverse health issues," says Lisa Rafalson, who is on the faculty of D'Youville College but is also affiliated with UB.

*Researchers boil this last one down to: "Don't give up hope when the going gets tough."

Remember that grim saying that goes, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger?" It's true, suggests a study by Mark Seery, assistant professor of psychology at UB.

Seery studied people going through tough times. It did make them more resilient, he found. As he puts it: "Our findings revealed that a history of some lifetime adversity -- relative to both no adversity or high adversity -- predicted lower global distress, lower functional impairment, lower PTS symptoms and higher life satisfaction."

A good year awaits.

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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