Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Healthy Sunlight in Hawaii

Measuring Light in Hawaii
After reading studies about the health benefits of sunlight and reports that world-wide pollution is blocking sunlight in the northern hemisphere, we wondered how bright the sun is in Hawaii?  

To find out we ordered a digital light meter (Dr Meter) to see how much light we are getting inside our home and on our walks.  Is the sunlight as bright as it seems?

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that exposure to light was correlated to BMI (Body Mass Index).  The key was to bask in light of at least 500 Lux (a unit of light measurement) and the best time for the exposure was early in the day. Every hour the light exposure was delayed, BMI rose by 1.28 points.  

With new our light meter we measured the Lux during our early morning walk at 6:20 in the morning.   The sun was just on the horizon so were surprised to see the readings ranging from 800 to 3000 Lux.  Later in the morning, sitting on our couch next to the open windows, the readings ranged from 500 to 600 Lux.  At noon, on a cloudless day with the sunlight directly overhead, we measured over 140,000 Lux.  In Kona, even on a morning with moderate Vog (Volcanic smog), the reading was still 70,000 Lux.
Measuring Lux at sunset in Hawaii
At 5:30PM, with the sun low in the sky and cloud cover, the light was still over 3000 Lux on the beach.  

3250 Lux on the beach at 5:30PM
We were expecting higher light levels than on the mainland since Hawaii is the only state south of the Tropic of Cancer.  But the extremely high noon Lux measurements confirms Hawaii is giving us an incredible amount of healthy sunlight. 

As the days get shorter and we head into winter, we are curious to see how much the light levels will change in Hawaii.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Our caffeine story

We have been caffeine users and coffee lovers for over 40 years.  Though we moved to Hawaii for the laid-back lifestyle and to reduce our stress, giving up coffee was never on our list of things to improve our health.   A couple of months ago, we started reading some disturbing studies about caffeine and how it keeps the body from losing weight and degrades health.

We knew that too much caffeine can cause anxiety, sleep problems, spasms, dehydration, and stomach upset. But we didn’t know that just 200 mg of caffeine increases the cortisol levels in the blood by 30% within an hour (*).  Cortisol reduces metabolism, increases belly fat, and causes the body to breakdown muscle tissue. Cortisol also reduces leptin, the hormone that regulates hunger, so you feel hungry no matter how much food you have eaten.  

A cup of coffee once had less than 100 mg of caffeine (according to, Folgers has about 70 mg in a 6 oz cup) but times have changed.  A Grande size of plain brewed coffee at Starbucks has 330 mg of caffeine.  Rockstar Energy drink has 240 mg per can and other super energy potions have double that.  Caffeine is not only in coffee, teas, energy drinks, soft drinks, and chocolate, it is also in mints, ice-cream, chewing gums, pain-relievers, and cold remedies (**).

When we added up all the caffeine we were getting through our multiple pots of coffee, daily dark chocolate, additional afternoon coffee, we realized we were going to have caffeine withdrawal.  We  started by gradually reducing the amount of coffee grounds in our morning brew.  After a couple of weeks we were able to get down to one cup of coffee a day.  Although we didn’t have severe headaches, we felt lethargic and missed our morning adrenal jolt.  After two more weeks, we cut out coffee entirely and then the caffeine headaches started. Caffeine causes the blood vessels to be constricted; one study showed that just 250 mg of caffeine reduced blood flow to the brain by 30% (***).  This is scary since caffeine also increases blood pressure, a combination that increases the risk of stroke. Without caffeine the blood flow increases to the brain and causes headaches.  On the upside the additional blood and oxygen to the brain increases concentration and memory, but it also helped us to remember how much we loved our morning coffee.  Taking painkillers for the headache is not helpful as many painkillers contain caffeine.

Although a challenging process, the effects of getting off caffeine have been dramatic.  We no longer drink a bottle of wine every night to get to sleep. We sleep more and much deeper.  We have less appetite and are eating less. The best part is that we both lost about 5 pounds in three weeks.  These were the last 5 pounds (after our weight leveled out on our low-carb diet) to get under our normal BMI weights.

Though we often miss drinking coffee in the morning, we are delighted to find another way to lose fat, improve our concentration, and get even more laid back.  Now, we are hoping for other health benefits promised by being off caffeine over a long period of time.

* “Stress-like adrenocorticotropin responses to caffeine in young healthy men” by Lovallo W., et al. published in Parmacol Biochem Behav 55, 1996

** (caffeine content in drinks and foods)

*** Caffeine Blues:  Wake up to the Hidden Dangers of America’s #1 Drug by Stephen Cherniske

The Decaf Diet: Is Caffeine Making you Fat? by Eugene Wells  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Forest bathing “Shinrin-Yoku” on Hawaii Island

Forest bathing in Volcano, Hawaii
We love our daily walks through fruit and palm trees and along the coast.  We recently read about Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing, which may explain the rejuvenating effects we get from our walks. When we stroll along tree lined paths, the sights, smells, and sounds drains away our stress and improves our mood.

In 1982, the Forest Agency of Japan started the Shrinrin-Yoku program to encourage people to get into nature to improve their health.  Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University found that after walks in the forest people had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol as compared to those after the same walk in a laboratory.  Research showed lower blood pressure and pulse rate in addition to lower levels of cortisol.  Additional studies showed that spending time in a forest reduced psychological stress, depression, and hostility while improving sleep and increasing vigor and liveliness.

Though many of the hikes on Hawaii Island have no trees, there are some great forest trails that we know about if you want to try “forest bathing”.  Below is a list of our favorite forest walks around the island:

Volcano- Within Volcanoes National Park we love the cool, refreshing, forest walk from Kilauea Iki Crater parking lot to Thurston Lava tube parking lot.  Outside the national park gate, the Kipuka Puaulu Bird Park is a loop trail through an old growth forest of koa and ohia trees.  The trailhead is at the end of Mauna Loa Road (off Highway 11) in Volcano.
Canopy of trees in Lava Tree State Park
Puna – Lava Tree State Monument, on Highway 132, has a canopy of trees along pathways through the stunning park.

Hilo -  Liliuokalani Gardens on Hilo Bay has trees with grassy expanses along pathways with gorgeous views every direction.  The  sidewalk along Banyan Drive has a canopy of  trees above.  Hilo’s Zoo, on Stainback Drive,  is away from the crowds with tree lined paths and colorful flowers. 

Honomu - Akaka Falls State Park has a nature walk with trees and waterfalls, perfect for a forest walk. 
Trails through the forest in the Bond Estate, North Kohala

North Kohala – Near Hawi, the 54 acre Bond Estate on Iole Road has hiking trails through lush forests, perfect for meditative walks. 
Paths in Waimea Nature Park

Waimea - Ulu La`au, which means “garden of trees” is a 10 acre park in central Waimea (Kamuela), a place to bathe in the forest.

Puako Petroglyph Trail under Kiawe trees

South Kohala - The path within the Puako Petroglyph Reserve (accessible from Holoholokai Beach Park) meanders through a forest of Kiawe (Mesquite) trees.  

Kailua-Kona - The Walua Trail is a wonderful place to escape from Kona’s traffic and walk among the trees and foliage. The trailhead for Walua begins at Lako Street (off Highway 11) just below the Kona Vista Subdivision.

Let us know your favorite place for “Forest Bathing” on the Big Island of Hawaii.