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More strokes among younger people worry experts

By American Heart Association News

When the crushing headache and other sudden problems first hit Brooke Bergfeld, she assumed they were childbirth-related. The pain came on just a week after her new son was born, after all.

Fortunately for Bergfeld, her mother knew better. She quickly called 911 after recognizing the headache, weakened left arm, slurred speech and drooping face as signs of a stroke.

Bergfeld, 29, is among the slowly growing group of younger people to suffer from the disease. The trend is surprising to some because stroke – the world’s second-leading cause of death and a leading cause of adult disability – has long been considered a health problem of the elderly.

Stroke survivor Brooke Bergfeld with her mom, Daline. (Photo courtesy of Brooke Bergfeld)

“I would have never thought it would be something that happened to me in my 20s,” said Bergfeld, who lives in Bismark, North Dakota, and has fully recovered aside from anxiety about the possibility of another stroke. “Don’t wait until tomorrow to go in if you don’t feel right today; it could happen to anybody.”

Stroke experts have long known the disease can strike people of any age, and research in recent years has graphically illustrated it.

A 2016 study of New Jersey hospitalizations published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that strokes more than doubled in people ages 35 to 39 between 1995 and 2014 and rose in groups up to age 55. A 2017 study in the journal JAMA Neurology also showed increases in people ages 35 to 44 from 2003 to 2012. There was a 42 percent increase in men and 30 percent increase in women, according to the analysis of stroke hospitalization records.

Mary G. George, M.D., lead author of the JAMA Neurology study and senior medical officer and deputy associate director for science with the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said experts don’t understand why the increase is happening. The uptick is “really concerning” because up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable, she said.

The study did offer some possible clues. From 2004-2012, there was an increase in the number of people between 18 and 64 who were at high risk in three or more of five common stroke risk factors: high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and tobacco.

Carolyn Brockington, M.D., director of the Stroke Center at Mount Sinai, St. Luke’s & Mount Sinai West Hospital in New York City, notes hormones may lead to abnormal blood clotting in some women during pregnancy, after delivery, or in those taking hormone supplements, thus raising some women’s risk of stroke.

Still, a lot is not known when it comes to young people because much previous research concentrated on older people, said Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., professor and Olemberg Chair of Neurology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami in Florida.

“More focused research on the causes of this alarming rise in the rates of stroke in younger ages is greatly needed,” said Sacco, president of the American Academy of Neurology and a past president of the American Heart Association.

Better medical therapies and improving risk factors will be necessary to reduce stroke for people of all ages, Sacco said.

James Burke, M.D., and Lesli Skolarus, M.D., suggested better brain scans using magnetic resonance imaging could partly explain the increase in young people in an editorial to the JAMA Neurology study. However, a 2015 study found the improvements were just as likely to rule out a stroke as to diagnose it.

More younger people may be getting diagnosed because some transient ischemic attacks, formerly known as “mini-strokes,” have been formally classified as actual strokes, Burke and Skolarus wrote. Transient ischemic attacks, also known as TIAs, are temporary blockages of blood flow to the brain. Before 2009, symptoms that went away within 24 hours were classified as TIAs. Since then, lasting brain damage even from fleeting symptoms is considered a stroke.

Sacco, however, does not believe that to be a factor. TIAs often go unrecognized, and not everyone who has one is hospitalized, he said. If classification was an issue, “it would likely be observed across all age groups and even more so for older patients,” Sacco said.

Birth defects such as holes in the heart or injuries that cause blood vessels to narrow also could lead to stroke among younger people, Brockington said.

Chicago resident Brady Johnson is a prime example.

The marathoner and Air National Guardsman was born with arterial venous malformation, a blood vessel defect also known as AVM, a tangled web of malfunctioning blood vessels in the brain.

Twelve years ago, when he was 31, he started having severe headaches. He attributed them to the stress of a new job and relocating to a new city, but after a brain scan doctors recommended immediate surgery. The next day had a stroke on the operating table as the AVM bled into his brain, he said.

“I did not think that it struck somebody who ran and was in shape,” said Johnson, who was told at a rehabilitation center that he would never speak clearly, read, drive or have children. “I couldn’t understand how this stroke was going to rock the rest of my life like this.”

Stroke survivor Brady Johnson with his wife, Heather, and sons Ben (left) and Brayden. (Photo courtesy of Brady Johnson)


Approaching rehabilitation like basic training, he sang to improve his speech, trained his right side to mirror his left side and re-learned to walk.

Johnson eventually got married and retired, and he’s now stay-at-home dad to his sons, ages 11 and 6. He still struggles to use the right side of his body.

Ignoring his headaches for months probably contributed to his stroke, Johnson said.

“Please find a family doctor no matter where you move to, no matter where you’re at in your life because a family doctor can help save your life,” he said.

America’s food security problem and how to fix it

By American Heart Association News

In South Dallas, the heart health statistics are grim. More residents die from heart disease and diabetes than elsewhere in the city, and being hospitalized for high blood pressure is much more common.

The Bonton neighborhood of South Dallas is among the poorest, with an annual per capita income of between $13,000 and $17,000. Its residents are mostly African-American and are among the 19 million Americans who live in a food desert—meaning they live at least 1 mile from a grocery store that sells fresh fruits and vegetables. The nearest grocery store in Bonton is more than 3 miles away.

Five years ago, resident Daron Babcock planted a vegetable and herb garden in a lot next to his house to give the community fresh produce options. In 2014, Babcock and other residents broke ground on a city-owned lot to start Bonton Farms.

The 52-year-old executive director said the farm’s purpose goes beyond making healthy food accessible—it’s also about making it affordable. Bonton residents pay less for the heirloom tomatoes, sweet onions, okra and other produce than customers from other parts of the city.

“Food security is the bigger issue and it’s the thing we should be talking about,” said Babcock, who recently learned the city approved the farm’s final plans to build a brick-and-mortar grocery store and café on a lot next to the farm.

“In communities like Bonton, even if you had a grocery store, the things people can afford are the processed foods. It’s a much more complex issue than just access. It has to be access to affordable nutritious food,” he said.

It is a view backed up by research.

A study published last week in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes found that income is a much stronger predictor of cardiovascular disease risk than proximity to a grocery store.

Cardiologist Arshed A. Quyyumi, M.D., co-director of the Emory Clinical Cardiovascular Research Institute at Emory University in Atlanta, led the study and said the findings suggest that “giving people [access to] food is not going to be the answer necessarily. This is a much deeper problem which has much more to do with understanding and education, affordability and so on.”

There has been a push by federal and local governments in recent years to bring grocery stores that carry healthy foods to communities where they are scant. Programs in Louisiana and Minnesota, for example, hope to entice grocers to sell produce in low-income and rural areas.

[Healthy food movement gaining steam with food trust funding]

In Louisiana, a state with high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, the New Orleans-based nonprofit Market Umbrella is working with the state government to bring local fruits and vegetables to rural areas.

Executive director Kathryn Parker said those efforts are a win-win for farmers and Louisiana residents.

“We can do a lot to have more fruit and vegetable production in our state to feed our people,” said Parker.

In addition, grocers may help the economies of areas where local produce is hard to come by because they generate jobs, Parker said.

Many U.S. households do not have consistent access to enough healthy food for all household members. Data averaged for the past three years show 15 states have food insecurity rates above the national average. (Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

As studies on food security and health ramped up during the past two decades, researchers found adults in households that can’t regularly buy nutritious foods are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke, according to a recent report on food insecurity from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Those facing food insecurity are also more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes, both risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Such news has serious long-term health implications for the 16 million American homes considered “food insecure,” meaning they can’t regularly buy nutritious foods.

The USDA’s Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Ph.D., a food security expert who co-authored the report, said “food deserts may be a factor in food insecurity, but they’re not one of the most important factors affecting whether a household is food insecure or not.”

Bonton Farms sales and marketing director Patrick Wright grew up in the South Dallas neighborhood, which along with the surrounding area has a population of roughly 3,100. He has relatives and neighbors, whose families have lived there for generations, with diabetes and high blood pressure.

Bonton Farms sales and marketing director Patrick Wright talks to children who visited the farm in late July about the proper way to pick heirloom tomatoes.

The 49-year-old father said working at the farm has helped him and other residents improve their eating habits. His meals of baked chicken, squash, tomatoes and other produce from the farm have come a long way from the fried foods, sodas and sugary buns he used to eat.

“We are living beings and we need live food,” said Wright. He said the farm plans to offer cooking classes at the market for residents.

“We got the fresh healthy food, it’s here,” said Wright, who helped clear the land for crops. “But that’s not good enough, just to provide it. We also have to educate people on it.”

Overcoming family history of high blood pressure with diet, exercise and medication

By American Heart Association News

Sandra Ortiz’s father suffered from high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes and when he died she witnessed the devastating toll. She wanted desperately to avoid the same fate.

With a strong family history of high blood pressure, Ortiz knew she was at a higher risk of developing health issues. She’d experienced hypertension and gestational diabetes during her fourth pregnancy in 2011, but after delivery her tests returned to normal.

Then in February 2016 a visit to a clinic for an injury showed she had elevated blood pressure. Ortiz planned to follow up with her doctor during her annual check up the following month, but felt so ill that she went to the emergency room a few weeks later. Her blood pressure was 175/100 mmHg.

“It was very scary for me,” she said. “All I could think about was stroke and heart attack.”

One-in-three Americans have high blood pressure, and among those who have been diagnosed, 45.6 percent do not have it under control.

Understanding family history is important to honing in on the cause of high blood pressure, whether it is genetic, poor eating habits or lack of exercise repeating itself across generations, said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., chief medical officer for prevention and chief of the Center for Health Metrics and Evaluation for the American Heart Association.

“Even if you have a family history of high blood pressure, that doesn’t mean you can’t take actions to avoid some of the experiences your family members have had,” he said. “Don’t accept the fact that you are going to have high blood pressure. Do something about it. Change your lifestyle and take medication if you need it.”

Ortiz’s family is confronted with blood pressure issues every day. Her father suffered from it and her sister has high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. Her mother did have high blood pressure, but has gotten it under control through diet and exercise.

Part of the challenge of recognizing high blood pressure is that there are often no symptoms, making regular check-ups that include blood pressure readings an important way to track changes.

For those with high blood pressure, checking it regularly is important for identifying any changes, Sanchez said.

“It gets you into a routine and reminds you of the other things you need to do, like eating a low-salt diet, getting exercise and taking any needed medication,” he said.

Ortiz struggled with the idea of taking medication to control her blood pressure.

“I was totally against it,” she said.

The San Jose, California, resident found support and motivation through Go Red Get Fit, a Facebook group-based, social media campaign by the AHA designed to help women from diverse communities make health changes that become lifelong habits.

“Seeing women from all walks of life who have gone through heart surgery or had triple bypass, I realized it could have been me,” she said.

A recent study showed positive impact from web-based lifestyle counseling, which includes video clips featuring characters discussing their high blood pressure diagnosis and efforts to make lifestyle changes, as well as tools for tracking diet and level of physical activity.

Study participants who used the counseling reduced their systolic blood pressure by 10 mmHG – an effect similar to adding an additional blood pressure-lowering medication.

Ortiz, now 43, worked with her doctor to lower her numbers.

“I went home and immediately started walking,” she said.

She also eliminated the fast food that had become a mainstay in her busy life of juggling four children and full-time work. She cut her sodium intake and she began spending Sundays prepping meals for the next week to assure healthy food would be on the menu.

“I went from not eating anything green to making smoothies with kale in them,” she said.

After three months, she’d dropped 30 pounds and felt full of energy.

“I wasn’t sluggish anymore,” Ortiz said. “I felt the best I ever had in my life.”

Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., an internal medicine doctor and national board member with the AHA, said limiting sodium and making lifestyle changes is crucial for controlling high blood pressure.

“Little changes can make big differences. Even losing a few pounds can help bring your blood pressure down.” she said. “If you bring your top number (systolic) down by 10 points you can decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke by 30 to 50 percent.”

Ortiz’s blood pressure stabilized initially with her healthy changes, but it crept up again — driven by genetics.

“I felt defeated,” she said. “I had done all this work and I still had to take medication,”

Ortiz said part of her resistance to the medication stemmed from fear of side effects, but she found that maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise has mostly negated them.

The changes Ortiz made also had an impact on her 18-year-old daughter Yesenia, who lost 25 pounds by joining her mom at the gym and making similar changes to her eating habits. The entire family is eating more fruits and vegetables, though, sometimes that means sneaking them into smoothies, Ortiz said.

“It’s still hard to get them to follow what I have changed personally, but the shopping list is definitely not the same,” she said.

Kids’ heart health focus of new research

Four new research projects focused on children’s heart health were announced Thursday by the American Heart Association (AHA).

Experts say that helping children maintain ideal cardiovascular health is more effective than taking a wait-and-see approach and treating disease in adulthood. The aim of the AHA’s Strategically Focused Research Network for children is to help reach that goal through studies looking at childhood obesity, maintaining ideal heart health, congenital heart disease and rheumatic heart disease.

The network will dole out a total of nearly $15 million to four institutions, with each center receiving $3.7 million over four years, starting July 1. They are:

Developing evidence-based strategies to strengthen the health system’s response to rheumatic heart disease to improve diagnosis and prevention globally. In many countries, rheumatic heart disease is the most common acquired heart disease in children and young adults and affects an estimated 33 million people worldwide as of 2013. The research is led by Craig Sable, M.D., at the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C.

Aiming to prevent or predict congenital heart disease and improve decision-making between parents and physicians. The team will use machine-learning data mining algorithms to approach congenital heart disease as a family disease to look at causes, as well as the impact of maternal-fetal environment on health. The research is led by Martin Tristani-Firouzi, M.D., at the University of Utah.

Hoping to bridge the gap in heart-health knowledge between birth and early adulthood. Although almost everyone is born with ideal cardiovascular health, more than 90 percent lose it by age 50, said Bradley Marino, M.D., of Northwestern University, who will lead the research. The project will provide evidence for innovative practices to preserve heart health in children, stimulating new approaches to research.

Tackling childhood obesity by understanding its genetic influences and developing effective interventions for the one-third of U.S. children and adolescents who are overweight or obese. The research team led by Jennifer Li, M.D., at the Duke Center for Pediatric Obesity Research wants to know if gut bacteria affects a young person’s chances of becoming obese and how obese children respond to weight loss therapy. They’ll also look at how to best engage families to treat obese children and which obesity treatments are most effective.

The children’s research network is one of several networks funded by the AHA. Other Strategically Focused Research Networks study prevention, hypertension, disparities, women’s health, heart failure, and obesity.

The AHA will launch new networks focused on vascular disease and atrial fibrillation in 2018.

Ovarian Cancer: The Silent Killer

Ovarian cancer is often dubbed “The Silent Killer” because it typically goes undetected until it has progressed into later stages. Sadly, only 19% of ovarian cancers are detected in the early stages according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. The signs and symptoms of this silent killer are often described as being vague and therefore dismissed as a mild discomfort or an annoying illness. As a result, this cancer is typically detected by healthcare providers in the later stages when women are usually experiencing more severe symptoms and the condition is dire.

While the symptoms of ovarian cancer may be vague, it is important to know what they are. More importantly, it is important to note that the persistent occurrence of these symptoms is more of a key indicator of the condition. As a general rule, if a woman experiences some of the following symptoms for more than 2 weeks, she should contact her healthcare provider:

  • Bloating, upset stomach or heartburn
  • Pelvic/abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Menstrual changes, frequent urination or constipation
  • Pain during sex

While family genetics does play a role in ovarian cancer, only 5-10% of ovarian cancers have a genetic link. Therefore, all women should be aware of the symptoms and have an annual pelvic exam as part of their personal healthcare plan. Ovarian Cancer is detected after a woman experiences the above symptoms on a persistent basis and a healthcare provider begins to notice a change in the size of the ovary through a rectovaginal pelvic exam. If ovarian change is suspected, a transvaginal sonogram or a blood test called a CA-125 may be ordered. However, it is important to note that the “Pap Test” does not detect ovarian cancer. Pap tests detect the early stages of cervical cancer.

For over 40 years, Lebanon Family Health has been helping women to take control over their personal healthcare with affordable access to annual pelvic exams and pap test screenings.   We offer free and low cost services based on income and accept some insurance plans. Making an annual well-woman exam is something all women can do to take control of her personal health. Call 273-6741 to schedule an appointment or visit our web site at www.lebanonfamilyhealth.org.

Families who eat dinner together are doing more than feeding their bodies

By Youth Advocate Programs

Families who eat dinner together are doing more than feeding their bodies. Parents who take the time to plan and prepare family dinners regularly promote love and bonding and contribute to a lifetime of good emotional and physical health for their children. Children who eat dinner regularly with their families enjoy:

  • Better academic performance
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Greater sense of resilience
  • Lower risk of substance abuse
  • Lower risk of teen pregnancyLower
  • Lower risk of depressionLower likelihood of developing eating disorders
  • Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
  • Lower rates of obesity (thefamilydinnerproject.org).

Family dinners naturally bring families together with an immediate reward for hungry children-dinner! With busy lives and hectic schedules, family dinners require planning, coordination, and commitment. Here are some steps to help you pull off routine family bonding around the table.

  1. Involve your Kids-Allow your kids to contribute to the planning of the menu to ensure meals they will eat. This provides a great opportunity to help your children learn to plan. Prepare a shopping list and take your kids to the grocery store. Allowing your kids to help prepare dinner is fun, provides time for bonding, teaches life skills, and give children something to be proud of.
  2. Be positive-If your family is not accustomed to family meals, they might resist at first. Be positive and resist nagging. Instead, tell your children you love them and you want to spend this time together. During dinner, tell your family about your day and ask about theirs. Offer praise and resist criticism.
  3. Plan-Schedule dinners for days and times that work. Get agreement from family members to attend dinner. Be realistic as well. Your family may not be able to share dinner 7 nights a week. Shoot for 3-5 nights per week. Make sure to let them know what’s on the menu.
  4. Unplug-Shut off the TV and don’t allow electronics at the table. Be sure to model the desired behavior through your own actions.

Making mealtime a priority, and keeping it positive will have a lifelong impact on your children and offer routine opportunities for your family to come together and enjoy each other.

Can Mindfulness and Gratitude Really Lower Stress?

By Nicole Maurer, MPH
Written for the Table Magazine in Lebanon – [Link]

The world of wellness is a trendy place. Ideas, and the products that come with them, come and go like the changing seasons. People are always looking for the next big thing. My guess is that you’ve noticed the latest trends in wellness – mindfulness and gratitude. Countless self-help books, television personalities, research scientists and even coloring books seem devoted to the practices of mindfulness and/or gratitude to improve personal health and wellbeing.

Does it work? Is it worth your time? Or is it just another trend, like the Thighmaster or aerial yoga?  Let’s start with the basics…

What the heck is mindfulness anyway?

If mindfulness seems a lot like meditation it’s because it is, except when it’s not. There are subtle differences. There are many different types of meditation and “mindful meditation” is one of them.  In laymen’s terms, meditation is being able to “quiet your mind” or learn to focus on a single object of attention, like your breath or a mantra.

On the other hand, mindfulness is not always meditation. One of the best ways I’ve heard mindfulness be explained is that it’s not a time to “zone out” but rather a time to purposefully pay attention to your surroundings. This might include your emotions, thoughts, and how your body feels. Practitioners often describe trying to focus only on things happening in the present moment, not to think or worry about the future or the past. Mindfulness often includes paying attention to your breathing, but also stresses single-tasking or giving something your full attention. In a world filled with distractions, stressors and schedules this is not something most of us do often.

What about gratitude why would we need to “practice” it?

You may ask yourself, “do I really need to practice being grateful”? I agree, it does sound ridiculous. We shouldn’t have to teach people to be more thankful or appreciative in their daily lives. Except we do. When was the last time you received a compliment, or told someone else how helpful they were? Studies show that people who express more gratitude are happier, have stronger feelings of social support, and feel less stressed and depressed. It’s pretty simple, and much easier than learning mindful meditation. Thank people more often. Don’t just think it, express it – in writing, in person, on social media, wherever. There’s even an app for that (or twelve).

Does it really work?

Despite mindfulness and gratitude feeling trendy right now, it was great Roman orator, Cicero, who that said “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” And research agrees with him. In the past thirty years, countless studies have been done on the effects of mindfulness and gratitude on physical well-being. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is being used to treat chronic pain, stress, irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety. Gratitude studies show positive results in many similar areas of study including depression and immunity.

How does it work?

In one study, MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress (Taren et al, 2013).

We know that chronic stress, and more importantly the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline can wreak havoc on your body. Specifically, continued overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — will increase your risk of health problems, including anxiety, digestive disorders, heart disease, obesity, memory impairment and sleep issues. So therefore any therapy that lowers your stress has the ability to decrease stress related health problems.

I believe you, so what now?

The upcoming holiday season often has a dual purpose in our lives. It’s a time of reflection and giving but can also be a time of stress, crazy over scheduling, and multitasking. Perhaps we can devote a little more time to ourselves and test out some of these trendy stress busters. Like any good trend there are plenty of books, websites and apps available to help you get started.

Sources:

Taren AA, Creswell JD, Gianaros PJ (2013) Dispositional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amygdala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64574. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0064574

Balance and Aging

By Nicole Maurer, MPH

Statistics show that roughly 9 percent of adults who are 65 and older report having problems with balance.  This along with a decline in lower body strength and stability leads to an alarming 300,000 admissions to the hospital for fall-related injuries in older adults (NIH, 2007).

Balance is key to activities of daily living (like walking, standing and reaching), fall prevention and independence. Balance can be affected by muscular strength and endurance, as well as inner ear function and eye sight.

No matter where your balance problems originate, it can be maintained and even improved as we age through practicing balance specific training exercises. Research has also shown that this type of training helps to reduce back, knee and ankle injuries.

Balance can be improved at any age!

Some simple suggestions before starting balance training:

  • If you expect your feet to provide a good source of balance you should not be ignoring or living with painful feet.  Poorly fitting shoes cause painful feet.  Pain will result in poor balance and ultimately you will be a fall waiting to happen.
  • Do some light stretching and aerobic exercise (walking is a great choice). This pushes the metabolism up and pushes more blood and more oxygen, through the body. This contributes to muscle strength.
  • As with starting any new training program, it is important to use a gradual progression. Start off with low intensity/difficulty exercises and progress to more challenging exercises. When performing balance exercises it is helpful to establish a stable (non-moving) focal point. This will keep your attention and allow you to focus your eyesight for better stability.

Beginning Balance Training

  • Stand in your kitchen, hand on the counter top. Raise one leg and hold it in the air for up to one minute. Use your hand to keep your balance. Eventually you will need less help from your hand. Alternate legs and practice every day.
  • Seated to standing.  Practice going from seated to standing in a kitchen chair or chair of normal height.  This strengthens the legs and ankles for more difficult balance training.
  • Tandem stance.  Stand with one foot directly in front of the other and practice stationary balance.  When this becomes easy, practice moving your head (and focal point) from side to side.
  • Walking heel to toe.  Practice walking in a straight line with one foot directly in front of another.

Get Outside: Free Family Fun

By Nicole Maurer, MPH
Written for the Table Magazine in Lebanon – [Link]

Summer is here. The kids are out of school, and you’ve got the whole summer ahead of you! Now what? Did you know that June is Great Outdoors Month? Well, Lebanon County has a host of great outdoor destinations and we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorites for every age group. All of these are free and local. Now, GET OUTSIDE!


If you have toddlers:

Dinosaur Rock

Many of our readers probably grew up going to dinosaur rock. But when was the last time you were there?  It’s still so cool! It still looks like a dinosaur, and kids are sure to get excited every time they go.  The best part? The hardest part of this hike is getting the whole family across the road from the parking lot, so it’s perfect for kids with a low tolerance for hiking and nature. In case you didn’t know, the rock itself is an erosional remnant of an igneous rock called diabase left over from the Jurassic period (199.6 to 145.5 million years ago!).

Side note: There is a LOT of graffiti. That’s why you should take your little kids – too young to read and too little to do any dangerous climbing!

How to get there: Dinosaur Rock is located in southern Lebanon County, along Mt Wilson Road, just north of where it crosses the Turnpike. Park at the State Gamelands 145 parking area, which is on the east side of Mt Wilson road and 0.7 miles south of Mt. Gretna Road in Colebrook. From the parking lot, cross Mt Wilson Road to the trail to Dinosaur Rock. Follow the trail about 500 feet to the rocks.

Cleona Community Park

Cleona Community Park may be the best kept secret in Lebanon County. It’s got everything… a place to picnic, ball fields, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts; a 9-hole miniature golf course, great access to the Quitty creek, and a variety of playground equipment for all ages. You may literally have to drag your kids out of there. Remember to take a sports ball, golf club and ball, snacks and a change of shoes (just in case they slip into the creek). You could easily spend the entire day there. The park sometimes shows movies, and they have a great Fall Festival.

How to get there: The park is right behind the Cleona Elementary School (at 50 East Walnut Street in Cleona).


If you have kids in Elementary School:

Governor Dick

Here is another example of a destination most of us have visited, but probably not for a long time. Climbing the tower never seems to lose its allure, and for school aged kids it provides just the right difficulty level and sense of adventure they need. The hike up to the tower is about 1.5 miles.  It’s mostly wide and relatively smooth but not very stroller friendly. All told, the park offers 14 miles of hiking trails, many of which also allow mountain biking. The tower is only 66 feet high but still provides an expansive view. On a clear day you can see five counties: Lebanon, Lancaster, Dauphin, Berks, and York.

How to get there: In the town of Mt Gretna turn South onto Pinch Rd. The Center is 1 mile up on the left. Park at the lovely Nature Center and follow the signs to the tower.

Memorial Lake

Memorial Lake is surrounded by Fort Indiantown Gap and like many of these spots, has a little something for everyone. It’s 230 acres of lake, jogging paths, playgrounds, picnic areas and a one-mile exercise course. Take your fishing gear, bikes and a packed lunch. You could also take your own paddle boat or rent canoes for a small fee.

How to get there: From I-81 take Exit 85. Turn north onto Fisher Avenue and follow signs to the park.


If you have teens:

Eagle Rock

The hike up to the Eagle Rock lookout utilizes the Horseshoe Trail (yellow blazes) and goes through the Camp Mack Scout Reservation. You can get to the Eagle Rock Lookout from 322 or from The Pretzel Hut on Route 501. It’s a moderate hike up to the lookout and quite rocky.  This is a great for hike for teens who like a challenge and a clear end point. The 1000+ acre Camp Mack is open to the public for mountain biking, hiking, trail running and other non-scouting activities provided the Camp closure dates/map restrictions are observed and respected. Trail maps and closure dates can be found at http://padutchbsa.org/.

How to get there:  From 322… Head East on 322 for 5.5 miles and park in the large parking lot on the left hand side at Pumping Station Road. You must follow 322 across the creek to access the trailhead. From The Pretzel Hut (at 2224 Furnace Hills Pike), located just north of the intersection of Routes 501 and 322… Park at the restaurant and locate the petting zoo just behind it. There you’ll find the yellow blazes that distinguish the Horseshoe trail and head up to the lookout.

Shower Steps

If you like to be “off the beaten path” you’ll love this hike. Lloyd C. Showers of Bethel led the project of building a side trail leading up to the Appalachian Trail from 501 in Bethel. Under his guidance, and with labor he recruited, huge boulders were moved to form steps up a steep slope to the summit and to an outstanding view.  This is an advanced hike, but not very long. It can be combined with some nice Appalachian Trail hiking at the top.

How to get there: Head North on Rt 501 from the Bethel exit on Rt 78.  Proceed North for 2.5 miles. The trail is on the right and it’s blue blazes can be seen from the road. Parking is not great on 501, so you may need to find a pull out farther to the North and backtrack to the trail.

 

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