Carry That Camera! - Retirement Net by Dr. Matthew Edlund, MD, MOH

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Carry That Camera!

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Keeping a camera with you can improve your health (and others’ health, too)

Posted February 22, 2011

As technology becomes cheaper it’s used in different ways. Now cyclists in Britain are using inexpensive cameras to document ill mannered driving by car and truck drivers. Many of their documented encounters have led to fines for the drivers, and overall, bicyclist safety records are improving.

Yet there are a lot more uses for portable cameras—to improve health, diet, and public health, among many others. Let’s get the lowdown on a few:


It’s good for your body, good for your brain, and good for the environment. Yet cycling in Sarasota County, where I live, is a scary proposition.

Perhaps it’s that drivers do not notice cyclists, perhaps because of alcohol or prescription pills; can’t see them, because of macular degeneration or cataracts; don’t see them, because they are talking on their cell phones or texting a boyfriend or girlfriend. And some drivers find bicyclists a nuisance and like to scare them a little.

Yet friends tell me Sarasota has one of the worst records in the nation for bicycle safety. Multiple people die every year, and many are hit. Some leave the scene with brain injuries they never overcome.

Now, if bicyclists can film these encounters and the police will take notice, perhaps a very unequal situation can improve.

Yet bicyclists are far from blameless. Many BBC comments on bicyclists complain they knock pedestrians from sidewalks or jump stop signs and disregard the normal vehicle laws that very much apply. So there is another group that can might use cameras well:

Pedestrians and Public Health

Food, activity, rest—going FAR—has the capacity to change people’s lives—to improve their health, long term survival, productivity, and sense of well being. Yet following eating with moving, then resting, presupposes you can move safely.

And frequently moving under your own power is not safe.

Often people comment to me with a surprised tone “I saw you walking the other day,” rather like I was engaged in a public sex act. When everyone is “meant” to transport themselves in cars, walking is regarded as unusual. Some who observe me walking more than once quickly inquire as to whether I own a car (I very much do.)

Humans evolved as walking machines. Walking as one of the most natural processes in the world. Drivers and bicyclists sometimes see this differently.

I often walk from my office across some blocks to route 41, the Tamiami (Tampa-Miami) Trail that functions as the main drag of our small metropolis. The sleep lab I walk to is part of the County hospital, the biggest employer in the town. It’s a major site for everyone.

Yet people often ask me why I’m walking to the hospital as“crossing 41 is taking your life in your hands.”

I try to point out the merits of walking for survival; improving mood; decreasing heart attack and stroke risk; improving immunity; growing brain cells during sleep—in sum a great way to regenerate your body.

The response I receive is that by walking to one of the major parts of the town I still am making myself potential roadkill.

And my colleagues very much have a point. Though I wait for the walk sign before I move, many vehicles run the red light. Other drivers turn right directly into the walkway, oblivious to the presence of pedestrians.

It’s one reason I wear a hat—so that the semi-conscious minds of cell phone talking and texting drivers may notice there is a human being in their path.

I am always ready to run. I try to establish eye contact, and if I can’t, sometimes wave my arms.

Now I’m writing about the main path to reach the main hospital for a community with an average age of 54. Lots of people cross this street all day long, going to eateries and sundry shops. Many move slowly. Some transport themselves in wheelchairs.

In over a decade of walking that street, not once have I seen a policeman enforcing traffic laws.

Yes, police have other things to do. But if we want to have Americans become healthy, lose weight, grow new brain cells and eventually compete in the world, we will be greatly served by having people walk.

They won’t walk if they don’t feel safe.

Pedestrians, get your cameras ready.


Recording what you eat changes what you eat. So why not use your cellphone or small portable phone to record what you eat?

It’s strange that people who are willing to write down what they eat during the day, still far from a majority, are often highly reluctant to photograph their meals. Yet their behavior changes when they do.

Having a line of photos of what you ate during the day is highly instructive. It also reinforces to people that memory is naturally unreliable, always changing with time.

Diets generally do not work unless they can be utilized throughout a lifetime. Having the chance to see what you actually eat, to record it and memorialize it, can be a very worthy tool in learning to what you really do.

Others can look, too—and not just your nutritionist.

Your Health and the Public Health

So have your camera ready. You may see a bald eagle, a famous movie star, perhaps even an extraterrestrial or two. Yet even if seeing is not believing, having a digital witness to your life and actions can provide a lot of useful data.

It can also make you healthier—and help improve the health of many others.

Dr. Matthew Edlund, M.D., M.O.H., is an internationally recognized expert on rest, sleep, and body clocks. His books include The Body Clock Advantage, Designed to Last, and Psychological Time and Mental Illness. His new book, The Power of Rest, shows that rest is a skill that rebuilds, renews, and rewires mind and body, and can increase productivity, health, and pleasure. For more information, visit his website, You can also subscribe to his new Fitcast via the iTunes Store.


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