Gorilla trekking in the Jungles of Rwanda and Uganda, Day 1

Young mountain gorilla observing new visitors in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda | Credit: Robert Connolly©

Our six hour trek began at the base of a dormant volcano about three hours northwest of Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.  Our 4×4 vehicle, filled with friends and our guide, has taken us as far as Volcanos National Park will allow this particular combustible engine to pass.  At 7,700 feet of elevation and on relatively flat land, we took our first steps on our way to the park entrance navigating through a small village followed by a series of nutrient rich, agricultural fields.  This was our first glimpse into the daily life of a rural Rwandan farmer.  Distant, and repeated, calls of ‘hello’ were heard from many high-pitched and scattered voices. A quick look up from the narrow and muddy trail we spotted the young farmers with wide smiles and flailing hands making their way to our trail.  Without losing pace, we were able to return a few high-fives and make some new friends.

Young Rwandan farmers | Credit: Amanda Gamel©

At this point, there were many emotions heightening our senses.  Being the first time to this region, we are experiencing a positive sensory overload as we absorb the new scenery, new culture, new food, new smells, and an ever growing excitement of encountering our first mountain gorilla tribe.

Gorilla trackers, Rwanda | Credit: Robert Connolly©

Two hours into our ascent we arrived at the park entrance.  It was a six foot tall rock wall with a small opening.  We were instructed to leave our back packs at the entrance and only bring essential items moving forward.  I left a small bag and ensured I had my camera equipment and extra batteries.   Passing through the park boundary instantly put us into thick brush and a narrower path.  We teamed up with the full-time, friendly gorilla trackers who wielded sharp machetes, necessary for clearing new paths to the always migrating tribe. Another 30 minutes of dodging branches we began to hear some murmurs, followed by a quiet dialogue spoken in the local language, break out between the guide and trackers.  Looking and listening expectantly, our first sighting of

Male silverback mountain gorilla | Credit: Robert Connolly©

gorillas seemed to materialize very quickly.  The density of the jungle moved us into a position much closer to the tribe than expected. Feelings of caution, awe, exhilaration and intimidation rapidly replaced all anticipation.  We were surrounded by a gorilla family from babies up to a dominant, 400 plus pound male silverback.  As a young-adult gorilla walked by, nearly brushing against me, I recalled our orientation prior to the journey when guides mentioned to keep a distance of 7 meters.  Apparently, some rules did not apply in that situation.  At that time, it was confirmation that we were now in gorilla territory, abiding by their rules.  We were only to remain calm, quiet and observe.

 

 

 

King of the Jungle | Credit: Robert Connolly©

It was heartening to learn how serious Rwanda was about protecting the gorillas and their habitat.  Not all gorilla families are habituated with human encounters.  Many families will never see a tourist and the families that do encounter outside visitors are limited to small groups, only one hour per day. It was reported to us that there are only about 880 mountain gorillas alive today and only live in the high-altitude, volcanic regions within Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.  Our hour with this Rwandan gorilla tribe, without a doubt, was well worth the travel and cost to this remote area and exceeded all of my expectations.  And, that was only Day One.

To be continued…

 

Mother is on guard | Credit: Robert Connolly©

 

Family leaving the national park | Credit: Robert Connolly©

 

Silverback portrait | Credit: Robert Connolly©

 

Enjoying wood from a dead tree trunk | Credit: Robert Connolly©

 

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Lounging around | Credit: Robert Connolly©

 

Watching her young climbing high | Credit: Robert Connolly©

 

Baby silver back gorilla from Rwandan family | Credit: Robert Connolly

 

Snack time | Credit: Robert Connolly©

 

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below or start your own discussion at forum.salusupdate.com.  Also, visit www.salusupdate.com for the latest health headlines from around the world.

The mysterious placebo effect

We, humans, underestimate the power of our brains and consciousness.  An example of this has been demonstrated through numerous studies and it has come to be known as the placebo effect.  A phenomenon that takes place when a fake treatment is administered to a patient that results in positive or negative outcomes.  Put in another way, an individual can improve or worsen their particular condition solely based on what the person’s belief’s and expectations are of the treatment.  A simple example of this is putting a Band-Aid on a child instantly making the child feel better.  A more complex example was shared in the article by experiencelife.com called, “The power of the placebo effect.”  In this case, a woman had been in pain when she fractured her spine and was no longer able to perform activities such as playing golf.  A few months after the incident, she was included in a “trial for an outpatient procedure called vertebroplasty, which involves injecting medical cement into fractured bone to strengthen it. She walked out of the hospital after the procedure and felt better immediately.”  Ten years after the trial she still reported how pleased she was with the outcome, never knowing that she was part of the placebo group.

Other accounts of positive outcomes come even when people know they are taking a placebo.  According to webmd.com, “Studies show that placebos can have an effect on conditions such as: depression, pain, sleep disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and menopause.”  These results are not only imaginary, “some studies show that there are actual physical changes that occur with the placebo effect. For instance, some studies have documented an increase in the body’s production of endorphins, one of the body’s natural pain relievers.”

As experiencelife.com asks, “Might the placebo effect have real clinical value?  Can a simple belief – that we are about to get better – have the power to heal?”  Research into the placebo effect is relatively new, as the first paper published was only in 1955 called “The Powerful Placebo” by Henry K. Beecher.  However, from the studies already completed to date it is looking very promising.  A recent study published in 2010 tested 80 patients with IBS.  Half of the group knowingly received a placebo and the other half received no treatment of any kind.  The “patients who were consciously taking placebos did significantly better than those who received no treatment…and the act of taking a pill was enough to trigger the body’s own healing response.”

A more significant question I have is, why are placebo effect treatments not more widely studied and used in the medical field? I believe the main hindrance is that the pharmaceutical industry is just too powerful to overcome and that there is little money to be made in placebos.  According to statista.com, there was almost $1 TRILLION USD global pharmaceutical sales in 2016.  $1 TRILLION!  In Beecher’s study he reported that 32% of his patients responded to the placebo effect.  If doctors prescribed an extremely cheap, non-active, no side effect placebo pill and it was positively effective for one-third of the patients, that could equate to hundreds of millions of lost profits every year for BigPharma.  Right there are hundreds of millions of reasons to keep placebos on the back burner instead of focusing on the most important thing, helping people.

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below or start your own discussion at forum.salusupdate.com.  Also, visit www.salusupdate.com for the latest health headlines from around the world.

Sources:

The Power of the Placebo Effect – Experience Life

WebMD.com

statista.com

Recurrent concussions are down in high school sports

I played competitive youth football, and other sports, up through high school varsity.  Many people have. It is one of the highlights of high school to be able to play under the lights of a roaring crowd and blaring pep songs of dueling marching bands.  Concussions? Long-term brain injuries?  What was that?  The only concern at that time in ones life is ‘what will I do when I graduate.’  The debate of head injuries that has come to light in the past few years is a healthy one.  The science is new and not fully understood, but there is enough evidence to support beneficial dialogues, as opposed to, suppressing or ignoring the information due to fears of disrupting a billion dollar football industry or the way-of-life in west Texas.  NFL lobbyist and avid football fans aside, there is an issue to resolve.  The headline in the article from Fox News, ‘Recurrent concussions are down in high school sports’, is quite auspicious.  Quickly followed by this ominous statement, “…children playing tackle football before age 12 may result in long-term neurobehavioral problems.”  This topic is too new to come up with any valid conclusions, but it is time to raise more awareness and ask more questions.  It has caught my attention enough that I have considered encouraging our youth to take up a golf club over the pig skin.  My main reason for this, you can golf the rest of your life in beautiful locations.  I haven’t played real American football since I was 18 years old and now I hit the links every weekend.  Do I regret playing football?  Absolutely not, but I wouldn’t mind having a much improved single digit handicap now because of free high school coaching and forced practicing I would have received.

Related Post: Is youth football participation really declining?

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below or start your own discussion at forum.salusupdate.com.  Also, visit www.salusupdate.com for the latest health headlines from around the world.

 

With passage of laws requiring U.S. high schools to report young athletes’ concussions, more of these head injuries are being reported – but the rate of repeat concussions has gone down, a new study shows.

Source: Recurrent concussions are down in high school sports | Fox News

Can you measure happiness and find purpose in life?

Finding and measuring happiness has been an ongoing search and discussion topic for the majority of human existence.  Many philosophers, poets, authors, and scientists have shared profound theories and provided various, meaningful insights.  However, this subject will forever continue to be debated among humans.  James Hamblin wrote a great article in The Atlantic, where he interviewed Dan Buettner, who wrote for the National Geographic while searching the globe for the healthiest people. He contributed his unique thoughts on finding happiness that, in my opinion, is helpful in two ways.   It is relevant to current times and, more importantly, it is a simplistic view.  As the saying goes, sometimes we can make a mountain out of a molehill.  People have dedicated a vast amount of their time looking for internal happiness or for their purpose in life, instead of just choosing to live in the current moment.  There will never be one, magic answer or path to the pursuit of happiness.  Every person will have their own unique balance of important attributes such as health, environment, influences, and various experiences. One thing is certain, we can all have happiness and purpose in our lives and the journey to find it can be the best and most rewarding part.

What have you found that contributes to your overall happiness in life?  Please share your comment below or start your own discussion in the Salus Update Forum.

Quote from Dan Buettner to sum up my post:

So if all you’re doing is pursuing your purpose, or if all you’re doing is very goal-oriented, you forgo joy today for a perceived better future. We now know that humans reliably mis-predict what will make them happy in the future.

Source: A Guide to Finding Happiness: Dan Buettner’s ‘Blue Zones’ – The Atlantic

African Adventure

Travel. Adventure. New Cultures.  All of these have contributed to, in one way or another, improving my health and well-being throughout my life. Sometimes physically and other times mentally.  For example, being out in the African savanna searching for magnificent animals in their natural habitat was very serene, but exciting.  Anticipations were always high on what we would see next, but at the same time I felt an unusual, content calmness.  The land had a hold of me, telling me to release all stress and worries and to live in the moment.  No cell phones and no internet, which allowed all of my senses to be heightened and focused in the present time.  One of these stress-free, heightened moments was when we were tracking tens of thousands of wildebeests as there were migrating north through Kenya.  Our 4×4 pulls far ahead of the herd and parks with the engine turned off. With the rumbling of the motor silenced, the raw power of movement can now clearly be heard. Thousands of hoofs hit the ground in unison creating a very deep, low thumping sound over various grunts and playful rustling.  We wait for them to pass through on there way to cross the famous Mara River.  Now, completely surrounded, my camera was ready as I took a few shots, but waited for that perfect moment.  Nothing else was on my mind except the complete aw of the environment around me.  Camera steadied. Lens focused. One large, male wildebeest turned, paused, and looked right at me for what was only a few seconds, but felt like a minute.  I snapped one shot then put the camera down to enjoy the rest of our eye contact, technology free.

March of the Wildebeest. credit: Robert Connolly | blog.salusupdate.com

Motivation

What is your biggest motivator to stay fit and healthy? Leave your comment below.

My motivation is not necessarily to increase my longevity, although that is a great benefit, but more to increase the quality of my day-to-day life.  Staying healthy means less sick time (stronger immune system), less restrictions on physical activities, and boosting moral and happiness.