Sunday, May 20, 2012

Born to be Alive

Today my family, along with many others, participated in a biking event in which we rode anywhere from 8 miles to 12 miles. The day was beautiful, the sun was bright and the event was well planned. I started my day with gluten-free, protein-enriched, organic steel-cut oatmeal and 4 cups of coffee, because FOUR is a magic number. (I’ll explain in a minute.) After that breakfast and a little early-morning folk-rock-soul-hip hop, I felt ready to take on the day. 

One of the most compelling parts of being alive is a feeling of vitality. Modern dance icon, Martha Graham, often spoke of vitality. She said, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action---and because there is only one of you in all time, your expression is unique.”

 Though physical vitality is certainly desirable, vitality goes way beyond the physical. Indeed even in the face of physical challenges, vitality can be metaphysical. In general, vitality manifests itself as hunger for living—determination, persistence, concentrated energy, and at times, carefree unrestrained happiness.

 Vitality means enjoying the subtle sensations of a natural landscape or the more immediate stimulation of cities.  Perhaps vitality for you means listening to the Brandenburg Concertos while sitting outside under a bright sun. Perhaps you feel vital while considering a painting by Salvador Dali or a chaise lounge designed by Mies Van der Rohe. It could be that Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Erik Satie make you feel vital and alive. Sometimes quietly cozying up with a novel evokes a sense of vitality. Or maybe your sense of vitality is heightened while driving through a town replete with Victorian architecture and charming storefronts. 

For most people, vitality is enhanced by the act of drinking coffee. A new landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine online on May 16, 2012, takes the coffee-vitality connection one step further. Data from a well-designed observational study shows that coffee drinking in and of itself makes you live longer.

The Evidence We’ve All Been Waiting For

In a 13-year study of more than 400,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 71, men who drank 4 to 5 cups of coffee per day were 12% less likely to die during the study period. Women who drank the same amount of coffee were 16% less likely to die.

The biggest mortality benefits were seen in the reduction in the incidence of death from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, and diabetes. Note that men who drank just 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day were 25% less likely to die of diabetes and 16% less likely to disease to die from a stroke. Women who drank 2 to 3 cups a day were 15% less likely to die of heart disease and 21% less likely to die of respiratory disease.

The evidence has been mounting for some time. Still, a large study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing a mortality benefit is a breakthrough. Just reading the study quickened my pulse, confirming definitively and irrefutably that what I’ve known all along is absolutely true: Coffee is good for you and one way to enjoy lifelong vitality.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Coffee and the Art of Everyday Living

In spring everything wakes up. Life is more buoyant and seems easier. Morning coffee takes on a new sense of pleasure. Birds chirp while coffee gurgles in the background as it brews, the children are still sleeping and you can hear the sweet silence of the house and remnants of the newspaper lie waiting for further exploration before being discarded. In the case of our town--Montclair--people are also mulling over something big during morning coffee: the election, which is being covered by the New York Times. This election will elect a new mayor, a council person from each ward and two at-large council people. It takes at least two cups of coffee (at least for me) to parse the three major tickets and the idea of business development to increase ratables versus the idea of evolving the tax code creatively to protect schools and the streetscapes while not unduly burdening taxpayers. Hard to figure it out, but easy to care a great deal in a place where civic pride is not a small matter.

Spring is also the time for a slew of cultural and artistic events. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a fashion show given by students at Montclair State University. The students artfully created fashion ranging from everyday off-the-rack dresses and business-casual outfits to haute couture. There were beautiful girls in beautiful dresses, but when one young woman walked out in a head scarf with a tan-skin-colored chiffon blouse and a high-waisted, floor-length Missoniesque skirt, everyone in the room stopped breathing for a millisecond. She was literally that beautiful---and very mysterious. I loved her dignity and her sense of herself as an everyday fashionista. Were the situation different---I would have sought her out to get a quote and learn more…but we were there as guests. 

The schwag was really nice too, especially the iPad case and the Marie Chavez bracelets that my daughter and I have not stopped wearing since we got them. We also had the opportunity to hear the band “Sibvon Rose” perform. They were amazing. There was a lot of creative energy swirling around on that cool spring evening--and a lot of hot coffee being brewed and consumed.

There was a sense of creative adventure everywhere. We had walked to this event from our house and I was struck by all of the random sculptures that I often ignore walking through campus. But one stuck with me.  Students had assembled an ephemeral sculpture out of Starbucks cardboard cup holders. They were assembled on top of a crate flat, built up and out and bent randomly into various configurations. There were flecks of dirt everywhere. I looked at this work of art and thought of all of the hands that had held cups full of (mainly ) coffee and all of the hands that had assembled that sculpture. Another example of coffee driving creativity, unity and art for the sake of art. 

Enjoy your morning coffee and your afternoon coffee and, if possible, enjoy every single day of spring 2012! Also, please remember to VOTE!!!