Let the Grass Grow: how a Meadow Movement can save the bees and our health

  Cut grass is an outdated holdover from a time when yards were trimmed not by lawn mowers, but by grazing animals. As the population grows, larger and larger areas of our environment are filled with grass, and the chemicals and water required to maintain them. By doing this, we sustain a practice that is not only harmful to our environment, but also one that limits our ability to sustain healthy gut flora that keep us healthy.  It’s time we let go of the tradition of cut grass and make way for the Meadow Movement.

On a recent trip to visit Rudyard Kipling’s Naulakha estate in Vermont, I strolled through winding paths that were mowed through wild growing grasses and flowers. Different flowers were abundant in different areas of the lawn. Some were abuzz with bees while others hosted the rustling sounds of the wind or crickets.  

 The peaceful experience inspired the realization that what we need in this country is a Meadow Movement. In other words, let the grass grow! Mowing the lawn is not as desirable or innocuous as it may seem. 

Without being aware, we create danger for ourselves by limiting habitats for important pollinators like bees, birds and butterflies.  They are important for our food production and their decline has already led to food shortages. While no-one knows the exact cause of colony collapse of the honey bees, it is thought that habitat destruction and pesticides are large contributors.


The lush green lawn and white picket fence have long been idyllic symbols of the “American Dream”. But it’s high time we dream a new dream. Create a new “look”. 

 Picture these suburbs covered wildflowers, honey bees and butterflies. With our grass, we think we are creating what are desirable environments for our children with sprawling lawns. In reality, we are robbing them of the opportunity to explore unique spaces made up of varied plant and animal species. Providing meadows for children to play in, fuels creativity and awareness of the diversity of life on this planet. Growing lawns, especially chemically treated, limits their immune systems by not exposing them to healthy bacteria (microbiome) that are protective for their minds, their guts, and their overall health. 

How do we create a Meadow Movement?

 Here are some ideas to make the Meadow Movement work for you:

  1. Let your grass grow and see what happens. It might take time to evolve but you might be surprised to see the volunteer plants that come up.
  2. Research plants that are native to your area as these will usually grow the best in your climate with limited water use. Consider visiting a local gardening club, nursery or botanical garden to get ideas. 
  3. Seed sections of your lawn with an assortment of wildflowers and grasses. Day Lillies are great spreaders and add a pop of color and fill. Grab some plants from friends. Throw in a smattering of mosquito repelling plants like lemon grass. 
  4. Mow paths through the flowers with larger patches closer to the house for walking, playing or sitting to listen to your bee and bird co-habitants. 
  5. Do it little by little. Even a little makes a difference so don’t feel like you have to go all in from the start.
  6. Neighbors think you’re lazy for not mowing the lawn? Spread the word! Tell them about the Meadow Movement and why it’s important to your neighborhood, the future of your food, your children’s health, and the planet. 



 To learn more, you can explore other topics I have covered in this blog, such as the microbiome and the beneficial effects of nature on health and the immune system. 

Check out this extensive report from whitehouse.gov for details on creating sustainable landscaping for pollinators. 

“SIT STILL”!!!… May be the worst advice your mother ever gave you

This month a job change has inspired me to write about the mind body health risks of a sedentary work life. Shifting from a job that entailed constant shifting, standing and moving as a clinical physician to a desk job has opened my eyes to a cultural epidemic at large. Physical inactivity

This is not a new problem, but when looking at the problem of physical inactivity through the eyes of a medical anthropologist, it is clear that our cultural behaviors have not kept up with the harms that technology has introduced into our lives. Over the course of the last 30 years, the introduction of the computer has changed the working life of most Americans. Since the 1950’s, the number of sedentary jobs has increased 83%. Only 20% of American workers have physically active jobs, while the rest of us are left sitting still. The health tolls of an inactive lifestyle are no secret.  In a 2004 JAMA journal article evaluating actual cause of death found that physical inactivity trailed tobacco use for actual cause of death in the United States. A 2012 article published in the Lancet revealed that physical inactivity contributed to 1 in 10 deaths worldwide from coronary heart disease, breast and colon cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Researchers publishing in the American College of Sports Medicine have shown an increase in cardiovascular disease related to sedentary behavior. In fact in their figures a dose response curve can be seen when looking at the relationship between cardiovascular disease and sedentary behavior.

Despite this, many feel that it is socially acceptable for people to leave their desk for a cigarette break, but don’t feel it is acceptable to leave their desks to go for a walk.

Given the large number of people affected, and the toll physical inactivity takes on or publish health system, our culture has yet to modify behavior to reduce our health risks. I do not deny that shifts are occurring in industry with an increase in standing and walking desks as well as company wellness programs. But often these programs are seen as little more than symbolic and people may still feel cultural pressures to stay chained to their desk or seated in meetings. In fact we start training this into our children from a young age as we reportedly tell them to “sit still“.

Who is responsible? The Surgeon General’s Office , the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control all highlight the danger of physical inactivity and encourage businesses to make fitness more of a priority. However workplace culture has yet to change in meaningful ways. The reality is that we live in an information age and work needs to be done at a “computer workstation“.

 The Occupational Safety and Health Administration writes this about the health risks of the computer workstation, “Today’s computer workstation has few hazards other than ergonomic that the typical worker will be exposed to if all components are functioning properly.”

Ergonomics?!! Is that it?!!! 

Given the data that reflects the grave risks of physical inactivity while working at the computer workstation, this statement couldn’t be farther from the truth. Therefore, as workers we have no legal protection against the health risks encountered in the workplace. Shouldn’t we as a culture be able to meet our basic physical needs of movement within our work day? Given the epidemic of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in this country, OSHA could do wonders for public health by recognizing that physical inactivity is tied to the computer workstation and the health risks that this introducea in the work place.

Since I began writing this entry I have requested a sit stand desk and have requested that there be standing room in meetings.  People look at me funny when I stand in meetings, again demonstrating that the workplace culture is not conducive to physical activity. I also make it a priority to exercise daily even if just going for a walk, and try to get up to stretch once per hour. I just hope it’s enough. 

Tips to avoid physical inactivity: 

1. Request a sit stand or a treadmill desk

2. Get up and stretch or walk at least once an hour, even had you’re in a meeting or a lecture. If you’re the speaker, add in a break. Everyone will benefit.

3. Lean back when seated- this may be better for your back according to well publicized MRI research looking at the strain caused on the back when sitting at a 90° angle. Sitting instead at a 135° angle was shown to allow muscles and tendons to relax.

4. Talk to your colleagues about the importance of movement. Be an agent of change in your workplace culture, push for your right to physical activity, even if people look at you funny


The Victory Garden Evolved: the new Health Garden and why we all need to grow our own food

The resurgence of the Victory Garden has been discussed on multiple forums since Michelle Obama started her own home garden on the lawn of the White House in 2009.

obama garden.

When considering the current state of our environment, climate and personal health, the Victory Garden becomes appealing, but perhaps an apt name is now, the Health Garden. If each of us grew a Health Garden, we could have large scale impacts on our bodies and our world. Here are 6 reasons for stating this:

1. Physical and Mental Health Benefits: According to an article in Biomed Central, people that were given an allotment garden (a small plot of land to grow vegetables) showed significantly improved life satisfaction and physical activity when compared to a control group without a garden. Most of the study respondents were living in urban (65-70%) or suburban (27-31%) settings. Other research published in the journal of Social Science and Medicine found that interaction with community gardens led urban gardeners to form emotional connections with their gardens  and stimulated learning, affirming and expressive experiences.  So many of us have low vitamin D these days. Vitamin D3, the active form of the vitamin that our body needs is only made through direct exposure of the skin to the sun. Getting outside to work in the garden will therefore offer the added benefit of increasing our Vitamin D3 levels, improving energy and boosting mood.

2. Fresh and (hopefully) Organic Food: One of the greatest benefits of growing your own food is that you will know where your food is coming from. Growing small scale lends itself to organicworm castings growing practices. Garden stores near you have organic soils to start you off, or if you are very motivated, you can start your own compost project.These days, food can be shipped all over the world. Often, produce is picked before it is ripe to ensure it will upstand travel, as in the case of bananas which decreases the overall health content of the food you consume. With a home garden, you will know when your food is harvested and harvesting right before cooking and or eating will lead to the highest vitamin and mineral content, boosting your health. These days with the known harmful effects of pesticides both on the environment and our bodies, we all should be making efforts to move towards organic food whenever possible. A home garden provides an affordable way to do this.

3. Decreases your Carbon Footprint: The more food you grow at home, the less you are relying on shipments fueled by carbon and the carbon emitted if you drive to and from and the grocery store. Further more, plants take carbon out of the air and convert it to Oxygen and carbohydrates with the help of the sun, reducing your carbon footprint further, making your own contribution to slowing climate change. Additionally, the more green we have covering the planet also combats climate change. It is lovely to think that by growing your own food you benefit yourself and your world through the use of star power. Need some motivation to get growing?  Calculate your carbon footprint here.

4. Exposure to diverse flora: One of the most interesting things I have learned in this past year is that just as we have specific bacteria (our microbiome) that live upon us symbiotically, so do plants. To learn more, listen to Biologist Jeanne Romero-Severson on Science Friday from October 2014. Just as different humans and animals have unique microbiomes, plants also have unique microbiomes. Diversity of plants then leads to a diversity of bacteria present in the soil of our gardens. As we work, live and eat in the presence of gardens, we are allowing our bodies to be exposed to a greater diversity of bacteria than we might otherwise be exposed to. While we have only begun to scratch the surface of understanding of the intriguing story of the microbiome, it is my thought that we will begin to uncover a multitude of benefits to the microbiome from local gardening of diverse produce.

5. Provides much needed habitat and food sources for pollinators (birds, bees, and butterflies): One of the greatest impacts that monocropping of corn, wheat and soy since the butterfliesadvent of farm subsidies has been the impact on our pollinators which ultimately stands to threatened our food sources further. This effect is growing, with the use of more pesticides with the relatively recent development Roundup resistant strains of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), which wipes out much of the weeds that pollinators feed on. Birds, bees, and butterflies benefit from home gardens very directly in that they provide food and shelter for these animals to survive in. This is particularly true in urban environments, but rural areas as well, as this will allow for more food sources as they migrate over great distances. Want to save the Monarch butterflies?  You will be contributing to their survival just by growing your own food organically, but for an added benefit, you could also throw some Milkweed in there while you’re at it.

beets26. Increase the variety of the food you eat: When you grow your own vegetables you can grow diverse plant species in smaller quantities than larger growers may be limited to based on yields and marketability. Heirloom vegetables are more beautiful and the more variety you get in the foods you eat, the more likely you are benefitting your body with micronutrients you didn’t even know you needed. Furthermore, the more diversity in our ecosystems we create, the more likely we will support other living beings which leads to overall healthier ecosystems. I have found wonderful organic heirloom seeds from High Mowing Organic Farms out of Vermont. But there are many out there and you may even be able to get local seed suppliers with a visit to your local farmers market. Try it out for yourself, or if you grow enough specialty veggies and you can venture to make a farm to table deal with some of your local chefs who are always looking for trendy fruits and vegetables to help them stand out.

You may think: “I live in the city, I could never have a garden.” That might be true in some cases, but there are also opportunities for indoor gardens, and if you have even a small amount of land and light, like the rowhouses around DC have, you too can have an urban garden. In fact, I proport that the urban environment is where we should be encouraging home gardens the most. In urban environments, everyone benefits from the aesthetics of added greenery which have a relaxing and calming effect.

bathtub herb garden community gardenHere is a picture of a bathtub we repurposed for our herbs in our urban environment. Community gardens (ours is pictured on the right) are also a wonderful opportunity for those lacking light and green space to have a garden. If you don’t have a community garden near you, keep your eyes open for public space that might be converted to a community garden.  In our area, when a newly developed property was going in, the developers needed to give some of the land to the public to form a park. It was during this negotiation period that our community garden was formed.  Here is a link to an article by the American Community Gardening Association on starting a community garden. And here is a list of community gardens in Washington, DC. You can google community gardens in your area to find your local community gardens.

It’s Winter now, which is the perfect time to grab a cup of hot tea and stare out your window, contemplating your garden planting for Spring. Just the thought of it warms me right up.

© Regina Zopf MD 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Regina Zopf MD with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Accessing this site means you agree to the disclaimer that can be read here.


How to optimize your chances for a normal labor: a mind-body approach

Pregnancy_bellyoxytocin Oxytocin

In my obstetrics  practice, I have many patients that come in wanting to what they can do to optimize there chances for a normal labor and minimize the need for an induction of labor.  I really hope that you are not reading this at 39 weeks of pregnancy, because the truth is, you might be starting a little late, but better late than never.

When it comes to labor, my own midwife, she had a catch phrase that I have since adopted: “Baby comes out the same way it got in”…Yup, that’s right, SEX. And lots of it. Ob/Gyn physicians induce your labor with use of a drug called Pitocin. This is a drug that mimics the hormone your own body produces in labor, which is called “Oxytocin” (shown above). This hormone stimulates your uterus to contract. As the levels of Oxytocin go up, more and more oxytocin hormone receptors are made in your uterus and over time, your uterine muscle cells become more and more sensitive to this hormone and labor builds.

Guess what? This is the same hormone that you feel when you get a hug, have an orgasm, and just feel generally “warm and fuzzy”. Now there are a lot of other hormones and pain receptors activated at the same time in labor so labor is by no means meant to feel nice, but generally speaking there are ways to encourage oxytocin as you are approaching your due date.

While sex is one of the ways to increase Oxytocin, nipple stimulation is another, so if you don’t have a partner, no problem. Masturbation will release the same hormones as well. Now, I think I may know what you are thinking, “I don’t feel sexy…”, but who does when they are 9 months pregnant. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. Once you get started it won’t matter and you will end up enjoying yourself.

There is one more element to enticing a natural labor to come on and that is that if you are extremely stressed or anxious, your body is pumping out the anti-labor hormone, and that is Cortisol, or stress hormone. Babies don’t like to come out when this hormone is high. They think you are at war, or about to be eating by a tiger, which would not be a good time to be born. Therefore, stress reduction is very important near term. If you are extremely stressed and busy at work, you might want to start slowing it down. And don’t just use the time to put together baby furniture. Take some time for yourself and for relaxation. Some folks may need professional help to do this and that is fine too. In general, most can get some exercise (exercise burns cortisol), lots of rest (also reduces cortisol), and maybe get a massage from a prenatal provider (releases oxytocin). Basically, just do whatever makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Make the baby think it is coming out to a world of roses and sunshine.

© Regina Zopf MD 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Regina Zopf MD with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Accessing this site means you agree to the disclaimer that can be read here.


Urban Oasis: reconnecting with nature in the city

photo (1)Living in urban environments has its rewards but finding nature while living in the “Big City” can be a challenge. A challenge that may be well worth pursuing. As urban world population grows (according to the World Health Organization in 2008 54% of the world population was urban compared with 34% in 1960) the separation between humans and nature also grows.

As we physically separate from nature, appreciation of nature and the healing power that it offers for our mind body health becomes something out of our purview. As we sit in planes, trains, automobiles, and at our computers we exist with a man made separation from nature. Over time, we develop conditions, such as depression, back pain, vitamin D deficiency, cardiovascular disease, stress related disorders and more. It is well publicized that the more time spent in commuting, the lower the happiness as published in original research from Sweden in The Scandinavian Journal of Economics . Inactivity and lack of sunlight of course take their own toll on our hearts, moods and immune systems.

 bikeOn the other hand, “going green” confers more benefits than just to the environment and indeed can improve not just the health and future sustainability of our natural environment, but also of our own health as individuals. A study published in the journal of Preventive Medicine found that active commuters, those that walked or biked to work in the great outdoors, was associated with an 11% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. Indeed, nature as medicine is not a new concept. In the early 1900’s doctors often prescribed nature for urban dwellers for stress reduction and for improving mental outlook. As urbanization continued however, nature as a prescription fell out of favor, but has seen a recent resurgence.

More recently, a growing number of studies are showing the beneficial effects of nature itself on well-being and mind body health. Much of this data is eloquently presented in Drs. Selhub and Logans’ book, “Your Brain on Nature”. They note that studies about Japanese Forest Bathing have shown that “…spending time within a forest setting can reduce psychological stress, depressive symptoms, and hostility, while at the same time improving sleep and increasing both vigor and a feeling of liveliness.” A useful term to refer to is Biophilia, which is defined by Edward O. Wilson as the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.

LA River_Nitsa

Growing up in the sprawling suburbs east of Los Angeles, as a child, I didn’t know there were places where lights and sidewalks did not exist. Yet, finding nature was instinctive, even in that environment. In the winter the rains would come and the river beds, which were covered in cement and surrounded almost completely by highways, houses and pavement, would be awash with the water, and with the water, dirt and earth would deposit and the river beds would sprout into life.  Chasing frogs and capturing tadpoles became a favorite after school activity. Places where cars would drag race illegally in the Summers would be transformed to natural landscapes covered in grasses, moss and vegetation. While Disney Land and Knott’s Berry Farm were magical in their own right, even now, as I think back to those moments in the river beds, there was something that was so deeply satisfying and integral about the nature that flooded in. Slightly later in my life, but still as a child, I was fortunate I was exposed to big nature, visiting places like the Joshua Tree National Park with a college astronomy class, the painted dessert in Arizona, Sequoia National Park and many more places. Although I did not know it at the time, as I whined and complained on long hikes with my parents, this was the beginning of my relationship with and love of nature, my own biophilia.

My pursuit of higher education, a career and also love of city life has kept me in the city for much of my adult life, but my deep rooted love of nature and awareness of the impacts of the grating stress from the city, inevitably sends me in search of Urban Oases, those natural places that exist in our cities. For some of us they are in our own gardens, but for others, living deep in the city, we have to try a little harder. Luckily, in the United States we have our wonderful National Park Service to provide us with Urban Oases even in the city.

Want to find Nature or inspire others to do so? Try these links and apps:

Oh, Ranger! Park Finder App unnamed

National Park Service: find a parknpsw


Here is a recent photo taken in the heart of Southeast Washington DC at my favorite “Urban Oasis” on a cold Autumn afternoon.


Holiday Cheer is Here..but how much is too much cheer?


The Holiday season is upon us. It seems to have snuck up on us quickly this year.

As you get ready to battle the travel challenges of traffic, airport security and long lines for just about everything, there’s nothing like some ‘nog to bring on the Holiday Cheer. Not to be a scrooge…but for your health, how much is too much cheer? And what else can you do to offset the holiday sneer from that stress and overwhelm that seems to be inevitable each year.

I’ll start with the good news…studies have shown that moderate alcohol intake can have a heart protective benefit, reducing the risk of death from cardiovascular disease with moderate alcohol intake (anywhere from a half to 2 glasses per night). While the mechanism of action for this has yet to be fully elucidated there are many beneficial effects on the blood. Ultimately, a little bit of alcohol can “take the edge off”, and if you feel better, your stress hormones are probably lower too.

So now for the bad news…the Million Women Study (a very information rich prospective study from the UK looking at preventive factors and their health effects) shows that even small amounts of daily alcohol intake can significantly increase the chances for women to develop breast cancer. In other words, for every glass of alcohol that you drink per day, your risk of breast cancer goes up, and that is true for wine alone as well as other alcoholic drinks. When you translate this graph into numbers, if 1000 women drank 1 glass of wine per day 11 more would get breast cancer than those that did not drink any alcohol, and the more you drink, so rises the risk steadily. They also found increases in the incidence of larynx, oral, esophageal and liver cancers.

Figure 3

The long story short is, limit your alcohol intake to reduce your risk of breast and other cancers.

So what are some other things you can do to take the edge off? I am sure no one will be surprised when I say that shopping can actually increase feelings of stress from time in traffic and long lines, perhaps even from the overwhelm of buying when you may not have enough money in your budget for gifts. But did you know that according to a study by Ric Pieters of the Netherlands, Materialism (valuing happiness based on possessions) has been shown to increase feelings of loneliness over time and there is a viscous cycle of feeling lonely and wanting to buy more as well and then feelings of loneliness increases further over time. STOP THE CYCLE!!! Talk with family and friends about how you can bring back holiday traditions that increase the joy in your life, not the amount of junk we own.

decorated christmas tree in car

Finally, whenever you feel tension rising, that rushed feeling that we all know only too well, just become aware of it. You might notice you are having neck or back pain, maybe stomach pain, or you might feel like you can’t breath. Whatever it is you are feeling, just be aware of it. Then become aware of your breath and allow yourself to breath deeply and exhale fully. Focus on your heart space and feel the love and light the Holidays are meant to generate. Focus on an object of beauty, or a pleasant smell and allow yourself to melt into that moment. If you find yourself with In-laws or in family conflict and simple presence of mind is just not going to work for you, politely excuse yourself and steal away outside for a brisk and mindful walk. In the long term, it will almost always have better restorative results (for you AND your family) than tossing back a bit “more cheer”…breast cancer risks aside.

Happy Holidays and safe travels!!!

fall background

© Regina Zopf MD 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Regina Zopf MD with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Accessing this site means you agree to the disclaimer that can be read here.

tree 3

Embracing the Beauty of Autumn: the health benefits of beauty and nature

This Autumn, I have become aware of the gift of beauty we are surrounded by as the trees burst into the colorful palette of crimson red, lime green yellow, sherbet orange. As I experience the beauty, I am reminded to stay present in the moment and appreciate the beauty that stands in front of me. It is so easy to drift off into thoughts of dread…uggh leaves to rake…cold weather coming…bare trees…etcetera. As it turns out, the Fall foliage show is a gift worthy of appreciation, so long as you can stay present in the moment and embrace the beauty that stands in front of you.

tree 4

Time in nature can be restorative. In research that was carried out in Japan, the group of people was sent to visit the forest and urban environments and to view forest and urban landscapes randomly for 3 days. Four times a day researchers monitored their cortisol levels (stress hormone), blood pressure and heart rate. It turns out, that when participants were in forest environments, all measures were lower and subjectively, they reported feeling more comfortable, soothed and refreshed after viewing forest landscapes.

As it turns out, the experience of beauty is one that stimulates the medial orbito frontal cortex (MoFC) of your brain. The frontal cortex of your brain houses your highest thinking centers. This is also the part of your brain that is activated while eliciting the relaxation response (ie. meditation, yoga, MBSR, etc.). According to neurology research by Tomohiro Ishizu of University College London, the MoFC area is activated when experiencing beauty, both visual and musical, on functional MRI (which is an imaging modality that allows us to see areas of the brain that are activated in real time) . The more intense the perception of beauty, the more the activation of the area.

Putting this research together, and of course the research on the health optimizing benefits of mindfulness and exercise, save yourself some green by giving yourself a truly restorative “spa walk” outside to embrace the autumn beauty. Come back home and curl up with cozy afghan and a hot cup of spicy herbal tea and suddenly, the doom and gloom of the Winter to come might not seem so overwhelming.


© Regina Zopf MD 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Regina Zopf MD with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Accessing this site means you agree to the disclaimer that can be read here.