When writer Shana Gray's marriage ended, she thought she'd never find love again. Then, a weeklong foray into the world of online dating renewed her faith in romance—and herself.
"I'm leaving you tonight. I won't be there when you get home."
After 22 years of building a home and a family together, those were the only words Shana Gray's husband, Tim*, had left for her. His announcement—delivered by phone call while Shana was at work—came three weeks after she'd discovered he was having an affair with a mutual friend. "I had expected to be with him for the rest of my life," she says.
After Tim moved out in April 2003, Shana was ridden with insecurity. "I remember thinking that, if my ex didn't want me after 22 years, how could anyone else ever want me?" She was afraid to trust a new man after the horror stories she'd heard from her police officer ex-husband, and it didn't help matters when she watched a TV show about male stalkers one drunken night with her girlfriends. Maybe I'll just be single for the rest of my life, she thought.
Shana had been single for 18 months when one of her friends suggested she sign up for a dating site; the friend had found love online and thought Shana could do the same. But she was skeptical. At the time, there was still a stigma surrounding online dating, and Shana assumed most men trolling for women on the web were "scuzzbags." She finally agreed to log on—for a one-week trial.
Then, on Day 2, Steve* found her. Like in a cheesy '90s rom-com, his profile was titled "Looking for Ms. Right." His bio made him seem "down-to-earth and honest," so they struck up a conversation, moving quickly from chatting on the website to hour-long phone calls each evening at 10. Shana felt like she'd known him for ages.
When it came time to meet in person, they decided to grab a coffee at the mall. They had never seen pictures of each other, and Shana was scared Steve might not be physically attracted to her. "I'm a curvy girl," she says. She also had her friends on alert in case he was a creep. But when the couple embraced, there was an instant connection—and they've been together ever since.
In hindsight, Shana, now 55, realized the end of her marriage was the best thing that ever happened to her, as it made way for Steve to enter her life. A far better match for her, he's also much more supportive of her writing. She wrote and published her first novella in 2010 and has since authored several romance novels under the pen name Shana Gray. "Steve felt that I needed to have an outlet," she says. "He'd tell me, ‘You've got to follow your heart. You've got to do what you love.' "
*Names have been changed.
Live long with these tips. Credits: Calaimage/ Paul Bradbury
Bad health habits are literally taking years off your life, according to a new Canadian study. But we have strategies for curbing the worst offenders.
We have bad news and good news. First, the bad: whether it’s being a couch potato, smoking, letting one glass of Chardonnay turn into the whole bottle, or indulging in a giant bowl of chips and dip, our most beloved vices are killing us. Or rather, they’re drastically reducing our life expectancy, says a new study recently published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Medicine. It found that smoking, eating junk food, vegging out and drinking can actually slash almost six years off the life expectancy of both men and women.
The study, authored by Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa, focused on the worst habits, which contributed to nearly half of all deaths reported in Canada. Using a predictive algorithm Manuel and his team created, population health surveys at the individual level were examined to learn just how dangerous these vices can be. The findings were dramatic—“smoking, by itself, was associated with 32% to 39% of the difference in life expectancy across social groups,” the study says.
But that’s where the good news comes in: though their impact can’t be understated, you can combat unhealthy habits—or at least tame them. Here are the 4 guilty pleasures that are worst for your health, and what you can do to curb them.
While only about 20 per cent of Canada’s total population smokes, it is still the reigning health hazard for Canadians. When lighting up again, remember that the overall loss of life expectancy is an estimated 2.8 years. Coming up with a smoking cessation plan can help you butt out.
2. Eating Junk Food
A poor diet can shave off 1.2 years of your life, so we think it’s safe to say that giving into your sweet tooth at every craving is not a good call. To head off that 3pm junk food craving, don’t skip meals, and keep healthier snack options on-hand.
3. Physical Inactivity
With all the hours you put in at the office, it can be hard to find the opportunity and motivation to head to the gym. But yoga, Pilates, running or even going on 15-minute walks will add an extra 2.6 years onto your life. The solution? Changing your perspective.
4. Consuming Alcohol
Drinking has the least impact of these four vices—drinking contributed to a two-week decrease in life expectancy, but we know heavy drinking impacts your health in other ways. That’s why it’s important to drink with restraint.
From chronic illness to weight gain, research shows that lack of sleep can cause a host of health problems. Sleep experts share why it's important to get a good night's rest. Plus, tips on how you can sleep better.
It's no secret that a lousy night's sleep makes you feel lousy, too. The latest scientific findings tie disrupted slumber to everything from chronic diseases to obesity and depression. Beyond a doubt, adequate rest is essential for both emotional and physical well-being.
Helen Driver, assistant professor in the department of medicine at Queen's University and a somnologist at Kingston General Hospital's Sleep Disorder Lab, has studied the science of sleep since the late 1980s. "The interest level for the subject has gone way up," she says. "Recently, there has been a collective realization about how tired we feel, and there's a desire to know what can be done about it."
Researchers are working to find out more. In a study published in the journal Sleep, 24 percent of Canadians age 15 and up experienced insomnia (the inability to get to sleep or stay asleep). And, according to Driver, women are more likely to experience insomnia and complain about fatigue because they aren't getting the seven to eight hours they need.
Research shows that, during sleep, your brain is a beehive of activity, helping to produce hormones like melatonin and growth hormone, which play a part in repairing cells, processing new information, reducing inflammation, regulating emotions and building memory. The brain also cleans house regularly, flushing away toxins like excess protein through the glymphatic system—a kind of plumbing for the brain. In fact, in studies with mice, the glymphatic system was 10 times more active during sleep. Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center believe this process may help maintain healthy brain cells, and might even keep Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease at bay.
The health effects of sleep deprivation
A host of health issues can result from inadequate sleep. Feeling stressed out, for example, isn't just a product of an over-loaded schedule or a hectic lifestyle. Among the chronically sleepless, cortisol (the stress hormone) remains at high levels instead of dropping in accordance with the body's circadian rhythm, the natural body clock that controls physiological processes like sleep. The body's resulting inability to regulate cortisol potentially contributes to high blood pressure and can increase the risk of calcification of the coronary arteries.
Elevated cortisol levels in the evening are also linked to the development of insulin resistance, a precursor to obesity and diabetes. In one study, healthy young men who were sleep-deprived for less than a week developed a prediabetic state of impaired glucose tolerance. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that those with sleep apnea also have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, even after taking into account other contributing risk factors like obesity, age and waist circumference.
Shortchanged sleepers may also have difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. Two key hormones involved in appetite regulation can misbehave on too little sleep—ghrelin, responsible for stimulating appetite, rises, while leptin, which signals satiety, drops. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found this specific hormone cocktail increases salt and fat cravings, and may make individuals more prone to obesity.
Inadequate sleep may also be linked to chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease. Though the connection between sleep disorders and disease is not entirely understood, a lack of sleep may increase inflammation throughout the body and impair cell repair. For women getting fewer than six hours of sleep nightly, the risk of coronary heart disease rises substantially.
Your monthly flow might not be helping, either. Sixty-seven percent of women say they lose sleep due to their menstrual cycle. Backaches, headaches, breast tenderness and pelvic pain cause discomfort, while fluctuating hormones contribute to sleeplessness. "After the age of 35, our ovaries begin to age, causing lower levels of progesterone," says Dr. Nishi Dhawan of Vancouver's Westcoast Women's Clinic. "As perimenopause approaches, estrogen and progesterone production become more erratic, which may cause anxiety and insomnia." Dr. Bal Bawa, also of the Westcoast Women's Clinic, adds that menopause can be experienced differently. Some women say they've never slept better, but for the majority, the ability to sleep worsens.
Lastly, sleep is important for immune system function. People who don't get enough shut-eye are less able to fight infection.The stats are sobering: Sleeping fewer than five hours increases the risk of death by about 15 percent.
"Adequate sleep is not a luxury," says Driver. "We need to make it a priority. We need to raise kids that have healthy bedtime routines, so they can grow up to be adults who give credence to sleep's crucial role in our health."
How did sleep cycles get so out of whack? Driver points to modern technology as a prime culprit. Prior to having electricity in the home, the body's circadian rhythm dictated sleep patterns. Light was a powerful timekeeper—in the morning, sunlight coaxed people awake and at sundown, it was time to hit the hay. Today, simply by switching on a light at night, our bodies are pressured to stay alert and awake, as opposed to following their natural rhythm.
The prevalence of electronic devices makes the situation even worse. When laptops, tablets and smartphones enter the bedroom, problems arise. "The blue light they emit confuses the body," says Driver. "It's stimulating and disturbing, leading to an ‘on call' type of lighter sleep that is not deep or fully restorative, as seen with moms listening for a baby's cry and doctors poised to answer an emergency call."
How to improve your sleep hygiene
Total darkness in the bedroom is recommended by the experts, as it promotes higher secretions of melatonin—which encourages sleepiness, regulates body temperature and blood pressure, and inhibits cancer cell growth. Conversely, light exposure suppresses melatonin. Several studies have linked light during nighttime hours and shift work with an increased incidence of breast cancer. Turning off electronics an hour before bedtime and keeping devices away from sleep zones go a long way toward encouraging more restorative sleep.
Surprisingly, interrupted sleep can be just as bad as getting no sleep at all. A pilot study from Tel Aviv University concluded that when sleep was disrupted during the night, even when participants slept seven hours, it was equivalent to sleeping half that time—causing the same fatigue, depression and confusion experienced by the severely sleep-deprived. The most crucial time is the deep slumber that occurs during the third stage of the sleep cycle. This is when the body goes into overdrive to produce healing and repairing hormones.
Thankfully, the body is properly equipped to make up for a few nights of poor sleep: "It's intelligent in creating homeostasis—so the body will try to compensate," says Dr. Bawa. But if you're exhausted to the point where energy levels don't bounce back after a couple nights of solid sleep, and normal activities are affected, it's time to see a doctor. "We look at a range of factors, like adrenal gland fatigue, anemia and thyroid hormone disruption, for underlying causes of fatigue," she says.
Getting a good night's sleep is about more than just feeling rested—it's about building a healthy foundation for your future.
|This content is vetted by medical experts
|This story was originally titled "In Your Sleep" in the October 2014 issue.
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Put your slow cooker to work and save time with these 20 easy and satisfying recipes.
Serve this saucy pulled pork as sandwiches: piled high on buns, with bowls of garnishes, such as pickled jalapeños, sour cream, shredded cheese and thinly shredded red cabbage (or better yet, red cabbage slaw), and let guests build their own sandwiches.
This recipe can easily be left to simmer away in a slow cooker for eight hours before adding the chicken. It yields a large quantity of sauce that freezes well if you're feeding a smaller group. Serve over hot steamed basmati rice.
This roast, inspired by a classic Belgian stew, is juicy and tender over mashed potatoes, and the leftovers make the ultimate hot sandwich. Cook the bacon and onion mixture the night before so it's ready to add to the slow cooker in the morning without a lot of fuss.
This beanless regional specialty is a point of pride in Cincinnati, where fierce loyalty divides the city over which restaurant serves the best version. Cooked low and slow, with the distinguishing flavours of cinnamon and cocoa, the meaty, saucy chili is served over spaghetti.
This mild, sweet curry has all the comforting flavours of a curry without too much spice, making it a great choice for the entire family. Serve over steamed rice or with warmed naan bread.
You won't believe how tasty and easy it is to make this classic dish in your slow cooker. A piping bag - or plastic bag - makes easy work of stuffing the manicotti. Serve with a tossed salad and garlic bread for an easy family-style dinner.
A brisket needs to be cooked slowly, so using a slow cooker makes perfect sense. Ensure tender slices by cutting the brisket thinly across the grain.
Inspired by Portuguese caldo verde, this hearty, richly flavoured soup is a yummy way to use up an entire bunch of kale in one go. It freezes well, so leftovers make quick and easy lunches all week. The soup thickens as it stands; thin with water and adjust the seasonings as desired when you reheat it.
My mother, Shu-Lai Fong, makes famous pressure-cooked black bean spareribs. They're the inspiration for this recipe, which is just as delicious but uses a slow cooker. You'll find bite-size bone-in pork spareribs at most Asian grocery stores, or you can order them at your butcher's counter.
This hearty sauce is best served over a short pasta with lots of nooks and crannies it can tuck into and cling to. This ragu also makes a delicious lasagna filling when layered with sheets of fresh pasta and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Cost: $2.15/cup
There are few things more comforting than a bowl of rich, creamy seafood chowder. Sweet, licorice-like fennel naturally complements the seafood. Serve with oyster crackers or crusty bread and a simple green salad for a complete meal.
Chorizo sausage and flavourful spices make this chili a real treat to come home to. Stirring in chopped herbs at the end adds a welcome touch of freshness.
Slow-cooked then quickly finished on the grill, sweet and sticky glazed ribs are guaranteed to impress your guests. Pork side ribs are also called St. Louis–style ribs, but back ribs are equally delicious.
Finally a flavourful risotto that doesn't need any stirring! Dried mushrooms work perfectly to create an earthy aroma, we've used dried porcinis here as they're readily available, but any dried mushroom will do. Hearty pot barley makes adds a healthful twist and doesn't become overly mushy - even after 8 hours.
Sweet honey and tender shallots mellow the typically strong flavour of lamb shoulder. Serve with roasted potatoes and steamed greens for a complete meal.
We've swapped beef broth for chicken broth and onions for tender leeks but kept all the flavour in this lighter version of classic French onion soup. When you get home, just toast the baguette, broil the cheese and enjoy!
This veggie-loaded chili is so hearty that even meat lovers will ask for seconds. To freeze it, cook as directed, but don't add the mushrooms. Cook them separately and add to the chili after reheating it. Serve with crusty bread to soak up every bit of sauce.
Inspired by the traditional Mexican tacos served with spicy thin pork slices and pineapple, this slow cooker version features pork shoulder broken into tender bite size chunks. If you don't want to serve these as tacos, try serving the pork on top of steamed white rice instead.
This all-in-one meal is a roast version of classic beef and barley soup. The barley thickens the cooking liquid to make a delicious gravy.
Using stewing beef instead of ground meat adds delicious bulk to this otherwise classic chili. Serve as is or use it as a topping for baked potatoes.