Walktober Comes to Maryland

Despite the recent weather, October is the perfect time to get outside and celebrate Maryland’s official state exercise — walking! Officially, yesterday was Walk Maryland Day with events planned across the state, but all month offers opportunities to get outside and enjoy the fall.

Walking offers many health benefits, and among them getting out in nature can improve your mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, spending time outdoors can lead to improved attention, lowered stress, better moods, and even increased empathy and cooperation.

Maryland offers ample places to get out and spend time in nature, from state parks to local trails, and we’ve collected a list of localities where everyone can work on improving their physical, mental and emotional health, just by taking a walk amongst the trees.

To find the list of walking trails by county, go to https://extension.umd.edu/resource/walktober and click on “County Walking Opportunities.” Also find more information about Walktober, how you can become a walk leader, or join in next year’s celebration.

Selecting an Insurance Plan

Open Enrollment for Marketplace Health Insurance plans is right around the corner. In fact, this year it runs from November 1, 2022 through January 15, 2023. For information about Marketplace plans visit Healthcare.gov. For this blog, I want to discuss items to consider when selecting a health insurance plan. The Smart Choice workbook provides guided steps to selecting an insurance plan.

One of the first items to consider when selecting a health insurance plan is how you are currently using your health insurance. Do you have a primary care provider? Are there specialists that you work with? Sometimes we are connected to the medical professionals we currently visit. If that is the case, when selecting a new plan you want to know if those providers are in the new plan’s network.

You should also consider how you plan to use the insurance in the coming year. For instance, are you planning a surgery or considering expanding your family (having a baby)? If so, you want to review the Summary of Benefits document provided by the insurance company, which explains what, and how much is covered. This information can be found on the health insurance company’s website.

Another item to consider is the costs. Plans will have monthly costs (known as premiums), out of pocket costs, deductibles, and out of pocket maximums. Typically, lower monthly costs mean a higher deductible. Just make sure you pay attention to the overall costs, not just how much it will cost you monthly. Keep in mind that if you have the higher deductible, you need to have money set aside to cover it. I just shared a few items to consider and there is much more. The Smart Choice workbook can walk you through the process of selecting an insurance plan to meet your specific needs. The fillable workbook asks important questions that assist you in comparing insurance plans. It includes definitions of terms used with health insurance that can be confusing. The workbook is one of many tools offered by the Health Insurance Literacy Initiative (HILI). Additional resources are available on the HILI website. There will also be a fall series with workshops on choosing a health insurance plan, understanding your health insurance plan benefits, and healthcare options in your senior years.

Try Golfing – Or Anything New – This Month

August is National Golf Month and in honor of that, I thought I would share with you all a little bit about my own golf journey. Much to the surprise of many people who know me, I’ve recently gotten into golf. My husband has enjoyed playing for many years, but I had not played before. I starting walking the course with him as fun way to spend some time together and get in some physical activity. After walking along for a few rounds, I wanted to try it myself. So, I started going to the driving range to learn the skills I need to start playing. It’s been really enjoyable and a fun way to keep myself active, especially on a Saturday morning.

Like many other types of physical activity, there are mental and physical health benefits to playing golf. We’ll get to those in a little bit, but first, I want to talk about the growth that can come from trying new things. I think for many of us, life gets busy and we might not feel we have time to learn a completely new skill. I know for myself, there are times when I want to try something new but am worried that I won’t be good at it. But, this is where we can benefit from a change in perspective. Focusing on learning, growing, and small improvements over time can encourage us to think more about how many new things we are learning and how much we are improving. I’m by no means an expert golfer, but I can hit the ball further and straighter than when I first started, and I’m proud of that improvement!

Josh Sorenson (Carrie’s husband) on the course. Photo by Carrie Sorenson.

According to this NPR article, the process of learning a new skill and improving over time can be very important for brain health. When you challenge your brain to learn something difficult, you help strengthen the connections your brain needs. So even if it isn’t golf, challenging yourself to try a new (and difficult) activity could be great for your brain in the long run! My husband recently decided to learn to play ice hockey, and although it has been difficult to learn, he has a great time playing on a local recreational team and improving his skills. For me, learning golf has been challenging, but also a great way to relieve stress and get outside. Whatever your interest may be, stepping outside your comfort zone and learning a new skill is a great way to keep your brain healthy as you age.

Even if golf isn’t a new skill for you, there are still benefits to hitting the golf course. Walking the course, carrying bags, and hitting the ball are all forms of physical activity. If you walk an 18-hole course, that is usually five or more miles of walking (depending on the size of the course). Even folks who use a cart when they play end up walking a good amount over the course of a game. Additionally, the time spent playing is that much more time we are spending outside. In a previous post I explained many of the physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors, so check that out if you want more information about why time outside can be so beneficial. But in general, adding any physical activity and time spent outside is beneficial for our physical and emotional health. So, there are some great potential health benefits of getting into golf.

So, for National Golf Month, consider heading to your local golf course or driving range to try (or continue) playing golf!

What Is Therapy?

Have you ever found yourself struggling to complete tasks on the farm, coping with grief/loss/illness, managing anxiety around unpredictable weather events, or even maintaining relationships with family members? You may, at times, have tried managing these struggles
by yourself, and that can be extremely exhausting. If you feel like you need a boost in your overall well-being and mental health, then psychotherapy may be a great option for you. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a method of helping people with mental illness and emotional challenges (psychiatry.org, 2022). With some time, psychotherapy can help people eliminate or control troubling thoughts/feelings/behaviors so that they can function better and manage the stressors that life brings.

Research shows that about 75% of people who enter psychotherapy see benefits and an increase in their overall well-being and mental health (apa.org, 2022). Going to therapy can be a huge leap and involves a lot of courage, but the benefits are so worth it.

While most therapy can come in the forms of individual sessions, couple and family therapy is also an option. If you are having relationship difficulties with your partner, experiencing stress when trying to parent your children, or just want an overall healthier family, these options may be the best for you. In couple and family therapy, you may be in the room with your partner and the therapist, or even your family and the therapist. Your therapeutic journey can be unique to
you has the potential to be curated towards your needs.

What to expect from therapy?

Prior to entering the therapy space, you will most likely complete an intake which oftentimes involves demographic information as well as questions around your mental health. Once you complete an intake, you will set up your first appointment. After gaining the courage to enter the therapy space for your first session, the work begins. In the first session, the therapist will get to know you, and you will get to know your therapist. You will have the opportunity to share your life story, as well as the current challenges you are faced with in your life. If things are not working in the therapy space, or if you are not comfortable talking about certain topics, feel free to let your therapist know. They are there to help you and want you to be as comfortable as possible.

Steps to set up your first appointment

  1. Go to https://go.umd.edu/farmtherapy to complete an intake for 6 free therapy
    sessions. This intake is a google form that asks you for demographic questions, as well
    as questions about your mental health. Make sure to list on the end some dates and
    times you are available to talk with someone on our team to set up your first
    appointment. All of your information on the intake will remain confidential and will
    be deleted once you are paired with a therapist. If you have any questions regarding
    your intake, feel free to email mdfrsan@umd.edu.
  2. Once you have completed the intake, one of our team members will contact you on a
    date and time you had listed, and verify the information listed on your intake.
    Depending on your session preference (virtual or in-person), our team will pair you
    with a therapy clinic closest to you.
  3. Once you are paired with a therapy clinic, our team will reach out to them, and with
    your consent, will give them your information so they can contact you.
  4. Once in contact with the therapy clinic, they will assist you in setting up your first
    appointment, and the appointment will most likely happen on a weekly basis. After
    the 6 free sessions are up, you may continue sessions but at a price set by the provider
    and your insurance if you are insured. The provider will assist you in this process so
    therapy will not become a financial burden.

This blog submitted by Nick Warnick, FCS intern.

Fashionable Flavor: Do the spices of your life match what’s en vogue?

At home, we have our dried spice and herb staples. Granted, there are some in the back of the cabinet that get less use than others; we have them on hand nonetheless for seasonal or specialty recipes.

We live in an ever-changing world with technology and resources that make information on anything ultra-accessible. The same goes for spices and herbs, their health benefits, how to use them, where they come from, and the like. Influxes of information can definitely be overwhelming and even confusing at times. People who want the best for themselves and those they care for feel the pressure to be current. Where can one start to process and apply flavor related changes? Well, when it comes to spices and herbs, I say look no further than the past for the present.

What does that mean? It means that the flavors we introduce into our kitchens have been around for a long time. When we embrace the people and their cultures which have been producing and utilizing them, we open up a newfound realm of appreciation for various spices and herbs.

Living in the U.S. affords us a plethora of cuisines. When the 2019 pandemic hit, I was nudged to recreate the foods I typically enjoyed outside of my home. I began to notice a “one off” ingredient I got for a particular recipe is actually common in other dishes from the region or even other regions. By expanding my awareness of cuisines, I accumulated new dishes to add to my meal plans.

Image from Rawpixel.com

Take turmeric for example. Many may be familiar with using it in a curry. With a little exploration, one may find traditional uses in rice or beverage recipes. Colleagues, classmates, cookbooks, neighbors, TV and the internet have brought a wealth of exposure to me and my kitchen. 

The latest research on the positive health effects of *insert spice or herb here* tends to send people (consumers and industry professionals alike) into a frenzy on how to incorporate it into our diets. By being open to a diversified palate, one adopts a lifestyle that complements the waves of science. Hopefully, we fret less about how to incorporate a spice or herb into our humdrum shakes, bakes or pancakes and use flavors as a gateway to bridge our understanding of others’ culinary cultures.

Sometimes, we put too much onus on ourselves to reinvent the wheel. Creativity is certainly an adventurous blessing, though we can consciously leverage the brilliance and benefits of generations past as continued by present cultures. Perhaps, we could view history as more than a subject; it’s a tasty way of life. Please, visit the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and FoodData Central for resources on how to “make every bite count” towards good health.

This post contributed by guest blogger Esu Obu

Fire up the grill for a healthy and safe cookout

Last weekend, millions of Americans will be fired up the grill for July 4 celebrations. Be sure to plan ahead and follow these steps to ensure a healthy and safe meal when cooking out with your friends and family.

Image by rawpixel.com
  • Clean the Grill: An important step in preparing the grill is cleaning it. Many people use the same brush year after year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report an increase in reports of people swallowing bristles from these grill brushes. To prevent this, replace grill brushes regularly before the bristles wear down or use a brush for cleaning that does not have steel bristles. Also, wipe down the grill with a wet cloth after scrubbing to remove small pieces of bristle on the grill racks that are difficult to see.
  • Select your meat: One of the advantages of grilling is the flavor it adds without extra fat.  Here are some suggestions for healthy meat choices. For hamburgers, try lean ground beef, turkey, chicken or veggie burgers made from chickpeas or black beans.  Another option is chicken, shrimp or fish.  You can make skewers with meat and vegetables or put them together in a “foil packet” to cook on the grill.
  • Marinate: If you want to marinate the food for extra flavor before cooking, be sure to marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Since the marinade has been exposed to bacteria from the raw food, you need to boil the leftover marinade to kill any harmful bacteria before serving it over the cooked meat. A better idea is to keep some marinade aside in a separate container in the refrigerator that you can serve with the meal. 
  • Storage: Raw foods, including meats and vegetables, need to be stored safely in the refrigerator or a cooler until it is time to grill and serve the food. If you buy the meat, poultry or fish more than 2 days before your barbeque, freeze it to prevent it from spoiling. Be sure to thaw it completely, in either the refrigerator or microwave, before grilling it to ensure even cooking.  
  • Use food thermometer to make sure meat is cooked:  Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast.  Watch the temperature to avoid burnt food on the outside and undercooked food on the inside.  Do not rely on its color to determine if it is done.  The only way to determine if a food is cooked to a safe temperature is with a food thermometer.  Ground meats need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.  Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, grill to 165 °F or until steaming hot. After cooking meat and poultry to a safe temperature, keep it at 140 °F or warmer by placing to the side of the grill rack or in a pre-heated 200 °F oven until ready to serve. 
  • Avoid cross-contamination: When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter instead of the one used for the raw meat.  Bacteria present from the raw meat juices could contaminate the cooked food.  

Plan your menu today for a healthy and safe summer and fire up the grill.  If you have any questions about grilling meat and poultry, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6843 or visit www.fsis.usda.gov .

Mental Fitness for Incoming Freshmen

As high school seniors are making their way across the graduation stage, their minds are turning to thoughts of leaving for college in the fall. Making the transition from living at home to living on campus can be exciting but also overwhelming.

During this shift, it is important for students to check in with themselves and regulate their mental health. Being away from home can lead to additional stress and strain on students because living on campus often means taking on more responsibilities. Freshmen must learn how to coordinate their schedules to attend class, study, show up to social events, and bear the responsibility of caring for themselves.

Since we all struggle with this balance, here are some resources and tips for improving and maintaining good mental health.

One of the most important resources available to students on campus is the counseling center. Students can visit the counseling center for mental health care including individual counseling, group counseling, couples counseling, career counseling, drop in hours, and referral services. The counseling center or the disability support center can also provide accessibility and disability services in order to accommodate students in their classes. It is important for students to keep in mind that professional mental health experts are available on campus because a busy semester could mean that students may not have time to seek these resources outside of campus.

Listed below are some mindful tips for taking care of your mental health during the semester.

  • Staying active. Physical exercise is a key component of good mental health. Taking time to go to the gym or going for a walk can be a good way to improve your mental health.
  • Reaching out. Maintaining regular social engagement whether it be with family or friends can be extremely beneficial to your mental health. Isolating during stressful times can lead to even more stress, so it is important to stay connected to your loved ones throughout the semester.
  • Eating and sleeping. Many college students skip meals and avoid sleep in order to get their work done, but a consistent diet and enough sleep is essential to maintaining good mental health. Eating and sleeping keeps our brains and bodies functioning as well as possible.
  • Meditation. During the rush of classes and assignments, meditation can be a simple practice to keep your thoughts focused and your mind at ease. A few minutes of meditation and quiet time on a daily basis can reduce stress and improve mental performance.
  • Seeking resources. Even when you’re trying your best to keep up with yourself and school, it can still be tough to deal with certain issues. Knowing what resources are available to you and seeking them out during times of crisis can help you solve a problem much easier.

This blog written by Mumtahina Tabassum, FCS senior intern, class of ’22