Protecting Older Adults During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Protecting Older Adults During the COVID-19 Outbreak

While the nation continues to grapple with the growing COVID-19 pandemic, one fact is particularly worrisome. Older adults who contract the virus are dying at much higher percentages than younger people.

Minority Nurse turned to experts with the Gerontologic Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA) to understand the risks associated with COVID-19 and how nurses can work to protect their patients and themselves.

“The effects of aging have a major influence in the response to a respiratory virus or bacteria,” says Michelle Moccia, DNP, ANP-BC, CCRN, GS-C, and GAPNA’s past president. “As one ages the immune system is less responsive to a virus or bacteria with an inflammatory response to fight off the virus and/or tolerate the complications from the virus. The elderly have limited cardiopulmonary reserve thus a compromise in airway and breathing can lead to the inability to breathe thus predisposing individual to complications such as pneumonia.”

And as the medical community gains more understanding about this particular virus, other factors are emerging, says Deborah Dunn, EdD, MSN, GNP-BC, ACNS-BC, GS-C, and GAPNA’s president. “Some experts have theorized that in addition to the pneumonia burden there may be an increased or exaggerated lung inflammatory response to COVID 19 in older adults – leading to the severe respiratory distress and failure seen in older adults.”

What can people in those specific age categories do?  “It is best for older adults to avoid crowds,” says Moccia, noting the oft-heard advice about washing hands, staying home if you’re sick, and avoiding others who are ill holds true. And Dunn notes that if a loved one is in a facility and the facility restricts visitors, it’s going to be important to keep up communication with loved ones to keep anxiety and social isolation at bay.

“Prevention and control of the spread of COVID-19 rests on halting transmission,” says Dunn. “Nurses know that in the healthcare setting they play a key role in stopping transmission by frequent handwashing, avoiding droplet contact, and early identification, triage, treatment, and quarantine of persons who may have infection.”

Both Dunn and Moccia say nurses should be especially careful to wash their hands before and after entering a patient’s room, wearing gloves when contact with bodily fluids/blood/secretions may occur, practicing needle precautions, and wearing protective equipment if they are in contact with a patient who has or is suspected to have COVID-19.

As patient advocates, nurses can educate patients and their families. Nurses can help patients with personal hygiene like washing their hands, using hand sanitizer, and disposing of used tissues, says Dunn. Protecting their health while giving them some control also helps with the uncertainty and anxiety people are feeling right now.

“Families with older adults in care settings such as assisted living facilities or nursing homes want to know that their loved ones are being cared for and having their needs met,” says Dunn. “Nurses working in these facilities should facilitate communication about the measures being taken to protect patients from infection, why adherence to the measures is needed, and reassure families about the status of their loved ones health.”

As nurses work through this unprecedented outbreak, they can keep updated with the CDC website about COVID-19. Nurses who work with infectious and contagious illnesses know that staying current with continuing education can be life saving—for them and for their patients. “Nurses in acute care settings and other healthcare setting where they may care for patients with contagious conditions that require face masks during care should be fitted for the N-95 mask and be trained in the proper wearing of the mask,” says Dunn.

As COVID-19 works its way around the globe, the medical community is working hard to prevent the spread, educate the public, and even offer some hope.

“I’m sure we will see a lot more information from infectious disease experts,” says Dunn, “as they are studying COVID-19 underlying physiologic mechanisms closely and develop targeted treatments.”

 

How Sleep-deprived Nurses Can Boost Shut Eye

How Sleep-deprived Nurses Can Boost Shut Eye

It’s no secret—most nurses don’t get enough sleep. While many Americans admit to not getting enough shut eye, the implications for nurses are far reaching.

The National Sleep Foundation recognizes this week (March 8 – 14) as National Sleep Awareness Week. The irony isn’t lost on nurses that a week devoted to sleep coincides with National Patient Safety Awareness Week (and the switch to Daylight Savings Time and an hour of lost sleep). Patient safety depends on a healthcare workforce that’s able to perform at a consistently high level. Getting less-than-optimal sleep or not sleeping enough cuts into everything from reaction time to memory and has a big impact on the quality of care offered by sleep deprived nurses.

How serious is sleep deprivation to nurses? As many people know, getting enough good-quality rest takes an effort and some planning. For nurses, who tend to have sleep disrupted even more because of changing shift work, planning for a consistent pattern of sleep is a huge challenge.

Last December, a study by researchers at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing found that nurses are getting less sleep before they head to work than they should. The study found “sleep deprivation hurts workers’ ability to handle complex and stressful tasks. … In healthcare, fatigued nurses may be a risk for making critical mistakes in administering medication or making clinical decisions.” Many factors influenced nurses and sleep including changing shifts, length of shifts, commuting time, and family responsibilities, and there’s often little nurses can do to change those major influences. The report, say the authors, is evidence that the overall working environment in healthcare needs an overhaul, especially in areas of overtime, scheduling, and prioritizing sleep.

If nurses can’t change their major responsibilities, there are a few other things they can do that can help them get more rest. Awareness about the impacts of poor sleep and not enough sleep is critical for nurses. While some people can get by skimping on sleep, patients depend on nurses being in top form.

If sleep is a problem for you, here are some things to consider.

  • Physical issues like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome can disrupt your sleep.
  • Shift Work Disorder is directly related to those who work varying shifts and disrupt their circadian rhythms.
  • A sleep environment that’s not comfortable can be problematic.
  • For women, hormones can play a big role in sleep disruption.
  • Family responsibilities like waking children, active teens, and even caring for aging parents can interrupt your sleep.
  • Stress keeps you up at night.

Fixing the problem starts with identifying it, so take some time to figure out what’s happening in your own life. Making your sleep a priority is probably one of the best ways to get more rest, but it’s also the hardest. Realize that getting your best sleep likely means sacrifice in some other area.

Start with a complete physical if you think apnea, restless legs, or chronic insomnia might be keeping you up. Then make small, incremental changes—maybe by getting to bed 15 or 30 minutes earlier. Assess your bedroom and see if you can make changes to adjust the comfort level in any way. Can your bedtime routine be adjusted at all to give you a little more quiet or a little more routine so your body is triggered into sleep mode. Take a hard look at your responsibilities—can you get help with anything or can you let some things go? What small changes can you make to reduce your stress (therapy, a 10-minute walk, a few minutes to read or to listen to a funny podcast on your commute)?

Getting enough rest is one of the easiest health priorities to let slide. As a nation of sleep-deprived people, you might feel like your issue is no different from anyone else’s. That might be true, but nurses especially owe it to themselves to be as well rested as possible. Your job is physically and mentally exhausting, even on the good days. Restorative sleep helps your body and mind recover and helps keep you at the top of your game.

How Nursing Students Can Manage Midterm Stress

How Nursing Students Can Manage Midterm Stress

If you’re a nursing student, this time of year generally brings a schedule full of midterm exams and projects. Many students say this time of year is the toughest for studying. The weather is still chilly, and everyone’s ready for something, anything, than what they have to get done.

Being a nursing student is stressful and pretty busy in general. You’ve got a lot of work to do, a limited amount of time, and haven’t shaken off the winter hibernation mode yet. If that sounds familiar, here are a few ideas to help you power through this tough time.

Block It Out

The news is full of upsetting events. Coronavirus. Politics. Climate change. Influenza. If you have a fear or an anxiety, there’s probably something about it in the news. You’ve got work to do and world events are overly distracting—but you also can’t just pretend it’s not happening. Set aside specific times to check in with daily events. Don’t scroll through on your phone every hour. Resist the urge to check the news on TV when you’re making dinner or eating with friends. Being in control over the way you consume the information will make it less distracting and leave you time to focus.

Find Your Study Sweet Spot

You might find studying in the library is not the best location for you. Maybe you prefer studying in the gym with the rest of your gym buddies or your team. Maybe a coffee shop is for you or a lounge in your school’s campus center. Or maybe your best study spot is a comfy corner in an academic building. Wherever you can focus on your work and get the most done is the place for you to go during midterms. Find that place and set yourself up with snacks, a water bottle or some coffee, and get your work cranked out.

Time to Relax Isn’t Wasted Time

Endless studying is actually going to work against you. Your brain needs to take breaks to help it process what you are learning and what you are trying to get done. The key is to plan it into your day. A couple of hours of cramming deserve to be followed by a short walk with a friend or some time listening to your favorite podcast or watching funny cat videos. Plan a dinner in which your only company isn’t just a textbook. Connect with your family, friends, or pets. Take time to eat. Watch a movie. You’ll actually give your brain a much needed rest so it, and you, can perform best.

Pay Attention to Self-Care

You probably are going to skimp on sleep during midterms. There’s a lot to get done and only so many hours in the day. But try to keep as much to a schedule as you can. Fit in short naps during the day if you’re really dragging—they will refresh you. In this time of flu and colds, be sure to wash your hands frequently with soap and water—even when you feel like you’re washing your hands all the time. Stay hydrated with lots of liquids (water is always best) or even fruits and veggies like watermelon and cucumbers. Get outside when you can because sunshine and fresh air are refreshing to tired bodies.

Get Help

If you feel overwhelmed by the academics or the life overload, get help. Tutors, student success centers, study groups, or even reliable online help can give you a better understanding of work that you’re having difficulty with. Many schools offer counseling centers where trained therapists can help you manage the stress and anxiety many nursing students feel during midterms (or at any other time as well). The help is out there and taking advantage of it can help you through this tough spot.

Remember, midterms will be over soon enough and you’ll be on to the next great challenge that nursing school brings. This is part of the road to a career that will be rewarding to you and will make a huge impact on humanity. Good luck—you’ve got this!

 

Got the Winter Blahs? Tips to Banish Them

Got the Winter Blahs? Tips to Banish Them

Let’s face it—February’s 28 days (29 this year!) can seem like they last for years. The winter blahs tend to hit hard when the cold won’t let up and there’s no tropical vacation in sight.

Try out these options for when you need to bust out of your winter rut.

Get Outside

Believe it or not, getting outside, even when it’s cold, can help banish the winter blahs. If you aren’t the type for active winter sports like skiing, skating, or snowboarding, a brisk walk is a huge mood booster. Make sure you are dressed appropriately—layer up and pay special attention to protecting your hands, feet, and face. You’ll enjoy being outside if you’ve got the gear to offer warmth. Even better, grab a friend for company and catch up.

Take a Nap

There’s something about the dark winter that makes you want to curl up and hibernate a little. If the winter blahs are making your body crave a little extra rest, snuggle under the blankets and take a midday snooze on your day off. Don’t take it too late in the day and don’t make it too long, but you might notice a big pick-me-up from listening to your body.

Brighten Your Plate

In-season winter fruits and vegetables offer gorgeous colors and vitamins to help boost your immune system and banish the winter blahs. For nurses who care for and are around ill people frequently, anything you can do to supercharge your immune system will help keep you healthy this winter. Make a green veggie smoothie, roast squashes, put a vegetable soup together, or eat a salad with fruit.

Pretend It’s Summer

When you want something you know is impossible, you can always pretend. Slather on a little coconut-scented sunscreen, put a bowl of shells on the table, or listen to some recorded ocean waves. Break out your favorite summer movie or soundtrack, drink a pina colada (with alcohol or not), and buy some bright fresh flowers. If nothing else, it will remind you that it won’t be winter forever.

Find Other People

For those who hole up in the winter months, the stretch until spring can seem a little lonely. This is a great time to make an effort to connect with other people. It can be as small as visiting with neighbors, seeing family, taking a short class in something fun, going to a gym to keep up with your fitness goals, or volunteering your time every now and then. The key is to make a connection with others.

According to Punxsutawney Phil, spring isn’t too far away. Until then, try out some of these tips to banish the winter blahs to see if it makes winter a little more bearable.

 

Weight Management for Nurses: The Why’s and How’s of Losing or Maintaining Weight

Weight Management for Nurses: The Why’s and How’s of Losing or Maintaining Weight

weight management

As you well know, America is in the grips of an obesity epidemic. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, over 70% of adults are considered overweight or obese, which is associated with multiple medical conditions. Nurses, as role models, advocates, and educators, are poised to make a difference in reversing this trend.

Unfortunately, nurses are not immune to weight problems themselves. In fact, research suggests the rate of overweight and obesity within the profession is on par with the general working-age population.

Here nurses and wellness professionals offer savvy advice for managing weight and fitness.  Even for those working long, stressful, rotating or night shifts that offer few healthy food and exercise options.

Becoming a Healthy Role Model    

Many nurses feel hypocritical telling patients to exercise and eat right if it’s obvious that they don’t walk the talk. Maybe that’s one of the reasons nurses enjoy a stellar reputation for honesty and trustworthiness, according to annual Gallup polls.

Yes, nurses are role models for patients, but there’s another professional reason to take care of one’s weight and fitness—the health and longevity of your career. The American Nurses Association Code of Ethics for Nurses includes several mentions of the importance of self-care (e.g., “The nurse owes the same duties to self as others”).

Nurses Helping Nurses

Many nurses know about the power of a group for establishing healthier habits like eating better and moving more. Most of those groups are comprised of people from all walks of life. But you may find there’s even more power in teaming up with fellow nurses who understand the struggle, especially if they’ll be around regularly to hold each other accountable.

Victoria Randle, MSN, NP-C, is a family nurse practitioner in the Atlanta area and cofounder of Nurses 4Ever Fit. Since January of 2018, the organization has held monthly in-person events at venues such as a nurse-owned yoga studio. “We all have a special bond that only another nurse can understand. It’s a platform for like-minded individuals to talk together, it’s a form of therapy, a form of camaraderie, and you can get your fitness in,” she explains.

Randle says the emphasis is on fitness, rather than diet, because “I see a lot of nurses who are vegan, for instance, and they don’t seem healthy. The element that’s missing is movement. When you’re 90 and you don’t have good muscle tone or you have brittle bones, that’s not healthy.”

Also, many women say they are “fearful of going to a gym because ‘I’m afraid people will look at me and judge me’ but here we’re all learning, and it’s a judgement-free zone,” she adds.

Saturday morning fitness sessions are only part of the Nurses 4Ever Fit experience. “We’re going to do an annual retreat. We take a weekend away and it’s a form of therapy. It includes a massage or a hot tub together,” she explains.  “Exercise is good, but it’s not everyone’s idea of self-care. The nature of a nurse is to care for others and put the patient first. So, when it comes time to care for yourself, you don’t have much left. That is embedded in you—the workplace culture needs to change. Nursing school actually taught that if you get a 30-minute break in a 12-hour day, you’re lucky!”

Healthy Workplaces Equal Healthy Nurses

Some hospital systems have started programs to ensure that healthy food and fitness opportunities are available to their nursing staff.

MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, is lauded as an outstanding example of a wellness workplace. Evan Lee Thoman, MS, PMP, CWP, wellness specialist in the HR Wellness and Recognition unit has been in health promotion field for 13 years.

He works to find out what other employers at other top hospitals and universities are doing to engage employees toward a healthier lifestyle. And he investigates what his own hospital’s employees want before offering up a range of at-work health initiatives.

“The program is different for every unit. I go in and have a conversation with the leadership and we may do a needs and interest survey. We’re asking: ‘What do nurses need?’,” Thoman says. For instance, “we had many questions in one unit regarding how to make use of dental insurance. Who would not have guessed that medical consumer information was a top concern?”

But it was, so the wellness department set up a program to fill the knowledge gap. They aim to provide education and services to every shift ranging from an on-site fitness center and gym membership to ergonomic assessments and resources to address compassion fatigue, resiliency, and spiritual care.

Workplace leadership that buys into a wellness culture will reinforce the healthy behaviors that nurses must adopt. Thoman helps nurses to create those wellness habits, without overwhelming them. He asks them: “Who’s going to be your support system? Who’s going to hold you accountable?” The wellness team is there, of course, but so are fellow nurses and nurse leaders. “We get the best results and greatest engagement when we have a leader who walks the talk,” he says.

For example, nurses are notorious for neglecting to take meal or water breaks. “If you eat lunch it’s almost like you’re the weak one on the unit,” he says. “We’d been talking to nurses about planning their meals but then we thought, maybe we can bring something to the nurses. So now we try to take snacks to each department—‘Here’s a little something, a granola bar or piece of fruit, to fuel you during the day.’ We also stress micro breaks and encourage them to find five minute for a snack, go for water.”

When overworked and overstressed nurses complain that they don’t have time to take care of themselves, Thoman suggests gardening, journaling, or even coloring as a way to decompress.

Because nursing is a predominantly female occupation, Thoman notes that rest and relaxation may be difficult for women who do double-duty as caretakers at work and at home. Then there are the biological factors that may hamper a woman’s weight management efforts.

“From a weight-loss perspective, men tend to have more lean muscle than women, which burns more calories than body fat at rest, so, at the onset, men may lose weight a little faster,” explains Thoman, who was previously a university strength and conditioning coach.

Exercise Early, Exercise Often

Cara Sevier, RN, codeveloper of Nurses 4Ever Fit and the CEO of Cara Sevier Industries in the Atlanta area, knows that exercise isn’t always convenient for busy nurses working crazy shifts or living in extreme weather zones.

When nurses tell her that they have difficulty finding time to exercise, she asks them to challenge that belief. Even nurses with legitimate time constraints, such as parents of young children. “They call it a time barrier or challenge, but we say it’s a self-care issue; they feel guilt over finally taking care of themselves first,” she says.

Sevier has personally experienced that challenge and now meets it by waking up at 3:00 a.m. to drive to a gym 30 minutes away. Though the gym is open only Monday through Friday, she maintains her schedule seven days a week. “I found out I had to be consistent or I was thrown off. It gives you a peace in your body that you’re doing something for yourself—getting up at 3:00 a.m. for a 4:00 a.m. class,” she explains. “It takes discipline, forcing yourself, forcing my body to get to my highest physical self. On the weekend, I will find a cycle class or something else to do. Is it easy? No. It’s a lot of sacrifice, but it’s worth it.”

On the other hand, we do need adequate sleep to stay slim—and to stay sane. One study at Columbia University suggests that getting less than four hours of sleep a night could raise your obesity risk by an astonishing 73%. (Seven hours a night is the sweet spot.) Nurses who work overnight or pull 12-hour shifts are also at greater risk for weight gain, according to a University of Maryland study. Scientists suspect that when circadian rhythms get thrown out of whack, so do hunger and fat hormones, which results in excess pounds. Or perhaps lifestyle factors lead tired nurses working off-hours to make poor food choices and avoid exertion.

Become a Healthy Living Warrior

Uniqua Smith, PhD, MBA, RN, NE-BC, associate director of nursing programs at MD Anderson Cancer Center, slowly gained weight after transitioning to an administrative role. But with the help of a fitness boot camp and workplace wellness challenges, she started making healthier food choices and exercising consistently.

“On Sunday, you had to send in a picture of all the groceries you just bought—to show that there are no snacks, no high-sugar foods,” she explains about a challenge with friends, using a social media app for accountability. “For the weekly weigh-in, you had to take a picture of your feet on the scale.”

“Workplace weight loss challenges, like the March Madness challenge, keep you going when you have a month-long goal,” Smith explains. “You’re also motivated because you don’t want to let your team down.”

A little over a year later, she’d lost 40 pounds through calorie-cutting, portion control, and cardio exercise. Only 10 more pounds to reach her goal weight, but then came a diagnosis of breast cancer.

“I truly believe everything happens for a reason: 2017 was about getting myself together health wise,” she says. “It got me ready for 2018, when I had to fight for my life. It gave me the strength to fight cancer.”

After six months of chemotherapy, she underwent three separate surgeries over the next several months.

“I went through 16 cycles of two different types of chemotherapy. It takes a big toll on someone—I lost my taste buds and energy,” she says. “It took me literally an hour to take a shower, which before that took 10 minutes.”

She started exercising again slowly, at the beginning of 2019, after the last of her surgeries. From walking to running and then completing a 5K, she challenged herself to get to her previous state of fitness.

Smith is now a healthy living spokesperson and encourages everyone to eat clean and condition their bodies so they’re strong enough to fight any disease that comes their way.

Don’t Fool Yourself

For many nurses, weight gain happens slowly, and they may not even notice it at first. Or they have a pattern of yo-yo weight loss and gain, with pregnancy, holidays, or shift work.

Sevier knows what that’s like. “Even at my highest weight—I reached 188 lbs—I told myself every story in the book. ‘Maybe these scrubs had shrunk in the hot water. Oh, wait, is this the U.S. size or the European size?” But those excuses didn’t hold up under examination and soon she started working out with a trainer at a gym. “Now scrubs that were once tight on me are loose,” she adds.

Though it may be painful to face facts, research shows that being aware of and tracking certain behaviors can help drive healthy habits. A daily food log, whether paper or digital, can help some people to lose weight or keep it off. You can’t argue with the truth, when it’s detailed right in front of you, in black and white.

Feed Yourself Healthy Meals, Healthy Snacks

If you’re like most nurses, you struggle to plan, shop, and cook yourself nutritious meals and snacks. Regular meals may go out the window, replaced by chaotic eating habits. But simple meal planning strategies can help nurses to eat well.

Tiambe Kuykendall, BSN, RN, a clinical nurse at MD Anderson Cancer Center, does everything she can to fight off chaotic eating. “I work in pediatrics and our [patients’] parents want to feed us all the time. Nobody ever buys us a fruit basket, though we would enjoy it,” she notes. “I’ve realized that I have to pack a healthy snack to make sure there is one at work.”

But desserts, junk food, and other caloric gifts and treats aren’t the only landmines threatening your waistline at most nurses’ stations. “In my unit, someone will bake chocolate chip cookies two or three times a shift. We’re surrounded with unhealthy snacks—chocolate, cookies, chips, pizza, and other junk,” she explains. “But the wellness department brings snacks on a weekly basis—granola bars, bananas, apples, and popcorn. When everyone is trying to be healthy it makes it so much easier.”

Kuykendall notes that when she works out in the morning, her level of energy is much higher later. She’s made other changes in the a.m., too: “I don’t drink energy drinks anymore, just green tea in the morning before I go to work, and sometimes in the afternoon.”

She avoids the cafeteria even though there are healthy food options there. “We have a 30-minute lunch break and MD Anderson is huge, so the cafeteria lines are long,” she says. “Yesterday I planned meals for the next three days and will bring my own lunch and snacks. You can make small changes, like eating grapes instead of candy. I don’t advise that you deny yourself all the time, but indulging should not be the norm.”

Ditch Dieting in Favor of Mindful Eating

Most nurses are familiar with programs such as Weight Watchers, and in fact, some hospitals hold on-site meetings. But there’s been a nationwide shift in attitudes away from dieting and toward a focus on healthy living. Mindful eating is one such approach.

“We don’t promote any particular diet, or if you don’t follow a diet, we want to teach people to simply be aware of why they eat,” explains Mark Mitchnick, MD, CEO of MindSciences, Inc, a New York City developer of digital therapeutics apps. “Right now, it’s keto, but we don’t want to chase fads.” The company’s Eat Right Now app teaches users about the habit loop and how to navigate triggers to eating.

Most of us eat for a variety of reasons, most often the trigger doesn’t have anything to do with physical cues. “Sometimes it’s that you’re hungry, and sometimes it’s that you’re stressed, or you’re tired, or it’s a fight with your significant other,” Mitchnick says. “You can learn to separate the trigger from inappropriate behaviors and do something more productive. If you’re stressed about an upcoming test, study, don’t eat.”

The app helps people to break the habit loop through educational content in a highly sequenced series of 28 modules. It’s constructed to deliver a module a day, which takes only eight minutes, and which can be repeated as desired. A user can also access lessons when on a just in time basis. When feeling a craving, they can bring up a short series of questions to help shape their response to it.

A scientific study showed a 40% reduction in craving-related eating—eating for reasons other than hunger—after use of the app.

In addition to the mindful eating app, there is one to relieve anxiety and one for smoking cessation. “A lot of behavior people would like to change in a high-stress field like health care—smoking and eating—is actually stress-related. Ask yourself: ‘Do I have an eating issue or an anxiety issue?’,” Mitchnick  advises.

It’s not easy for nurses to stay slim, but it’s worth doing. Shift work, long hours, sedentary lifestyle, heavy lifting, high stress, and fatigue can be overcome with a mindful approach.

Traditional Foods Bridge Health and Community

Traditional Foods Bridge Health and Community

The first week of February is known for celebrating African Heritage and Health. The nonprofit nutrition- and food-focused group Oldways kicks off the beginning of Black History Month, with a focus on the nutritious foods that celebrate heritage, community, and nutrition.

The varied foods that make up traditional African Heritage Diet food pyramid is based on a healthy, traditional selection filled with lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and grains.

As sponsors of African Heritage and Health Week, Oldways helps spread the word about healthful eating that honors traditional foods and the importance of community. Foods in the pyramid, which, according to Oldways, was developed in 2011, also honor “distinct flavors and traditions of four major regions of the African Diaspora—West and Central Africa, the American South, the Caribbean, and South America.”

Bringing these distinct flavors into food preparation can help individuals feel connected to their larger community or to family far away. And when food, flavors, and traditions are all celebrated, individual dining can easily become more of a community event. People all over use this week to cook traditional and familiar dishes based on their own family and culture, but they also use the week to try out new foods and new ways of preparing familiar ingredients.

Inviting others to share a meal, to come to a potluck, or to even bring favorite traditional foods to school, work, or a neighbor’s house brings a community closer together and helps build the kind of networks and supports that many people miss in our modern busy world. How beneficial it is when people find they can rely on foods and recipes that have been made for generations to help them continue on a path to their best personal health.

If cooking traditional foods interests you, this kind of celebration might inspire you and your friends or family to take a cooking class. Or if you are a cooking pro and have a few traditional dishes that are your go-to dishes, you can invite people to join an informal class that you lead. Building connections around food and traditions is a direct way to feeling like you’re part of a bigger story. Maybe your ancestors come from the Caribbean but you’ve never left New York state—cooking foods that your ancestors might have prepared links you to them in ways that can spark your imagination.

And preparing some of these traditional, healthy foods—the kind that rely on whole foods with few, if any, processed ingredients—is a boon to your health. Experimenting with new spices, broths, ingredients, and preparation will bring out flavors that are fun and fresh and help you keep a healthy diet. Your body will be nourished from the ingredients and as you share your food or take a meal with others, your emotional self will be soothed.

If you’re not of African heritage, you can still use this week to learn more about African heritage and health or how your own ancestors might have cooked. Take some time to try a new recipe your great-grandparents would recognize. Even better, host a potluck and ask your guests to prepare one dish that is based on their heritage. You might find you have a new tradition—and a new stack of delicious—and meaningful—recipes.