Gardening: Studies Show Gardening Can Reduce the Risk of Dementia & Other Mental Illnesses

Anyone who has spent any extended time in a garden can tell you that, after a few hours with their hands in the dirt, they feel rejuvenated and refreshed. Now, recent studies into the effects of gardening and mental health are taking huge steps towards proving, scientifically, that these improvements are not just a product of the placebo effect. In various scientific studies performed around the world, researchers are finding that there may actually be both biological, and psychological ways in which gardening can improve over-all mental health. These studies suggest that a decision to add a garden area to your out-door living space may play a crucial role in preventing many of the crippling ailments which seem to go with aging.

Gardening and Dementia

Some research suggests that gardening can help lower the risk of developing dementia. In two separate studies, researchers followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years. Their observations, respectively, concluded that those who gardened regularly had a 36% and 47% lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners, even when a range of other health factors were taken into account.

Although the results are far from definitive, they suggest that the physical and mental activity involved in gardening may have a positive influence on the mind.

And for people who are already experiencing mental decline, even just walking in a garden is therapeutic. Many residential homes across the nation designed to house people with dementia, now have “wander” or “memory” gardens on their grounds. These gardens designed for residents with Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive problems, allowing them to walk through them without getting lost. The sights, smells, and sounds of the garden promote relaxation and reduce stress.

Gardening and Depression

One of many scientific studies conducted on the subject happened in Norway. The study looked at a group of people who diagnosed with depression, persistent low mood, or “bipolar 2 disorder”. For the study, the participants spent six hours a week growing flowers and vegetables in gardens. The results were clear. After three months, half of the participants had experienced a measurable improvement in their depression symptoms. What’s more, their mood continued to improve three months after the gardening program ended. Some scientists suggest that it is simply the novelty of gardening to the subjects of the study which produced the results; however, some experts have a much more radical explanation for how gardening might ease depression; Bacteria.

Bacteria in Soil and Mental Health

Christopher Lowry, Ph.D., an assistant professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has been injecting mice with Mycobacterium, a harmless bacteria commonly found in soil, and has found that they increase the release and metabolism of serotonin in parts of the brain that control cognitive function and mood — much like serotonin-boosting antidepressant drugs do.

Now, it is important to note that exposure to such bacteria is in no way a replacement for taking a prescription anti-depressant. It merely suggests that a large part of the reason we, as a society, are experiencing depression at higher and higher rates is that we are no longer exposed to these helpful bacteria borne of putting our hands in soil. Simplified: when our society was less developed, most people spent at least some part of their time digging in the dirt or touching soil, which exposed them to these bacteria. In modern times, most people don’t make contact with soil and thus don’t make contact with the Mycobacterium we used to, and this may be a contributing factor to depression.

(for further reading on bacteria in soil and mental health, read this blog post written by Naomi Sachs on TLN: “Its in the Dirt, Bacteria in Soil may make us happier, smarter”)

Horticulture Therapy

As further evidence of a causal relationship between gardening and mental health, one can see the rapid growth and implementation of gardening as a therapy to help those in mental distress. NPR touched on the subject in their article titled, “Can Gardening Help Troubled Minds Heal?” which discusses a program in Hawaii called Pacific Quest which uses gardening to help troubled teens. In the program, the teens raise a garden, from seedling to dinner plate with little to no involvement with the staff. This allows the teens to problem solve for themselves, build interpersonal relationships, and overcome mental barriers by emotionally engaging them. And the results are proving incredibly positive for teens who go through the program.

Beyond that program, gardening is utilized in a myriad of unexpected places such as detention facilities, mental health hospitals, veteran’s homes and more. This growth in horticulture therapy is a product of continued success when using gardening as a therapeutic tool.

In closing

Although there is no proof that gardening improves mental health, it is extremely difficult to ignore the results which keep repeating themselves across the nation. Gardening focuses the mind, it relieves the incredibly harmful “attention fatigue” which is a result of prolonged exposure to screens, it improves motor function, reduces stress, and promotes over all well-being. Whether it is the bacterium which seems to boost serotonin production, or simply the joy and sense of accomplishment of watching a seed grow into a fully formed plant, gardening is proving that a simple step that anyone can take to cut their risk of common mental health ailments and increase quality of life.

Posted in Gardening | Tagged | Comments Off

Lemon Law and Secret Warranties

One of the defining attitudes of the American character is full exposure. Love it or hate it, very little remains hidden in the US. We don’t like secrets at all. Much to the contempt of Europeans, Americans wear their hearts on their sleeves. Because of this we have often been misjudged and thought weak. I could easily write a great deal on how foolish it is to judge us against the fact that we don’t hide the things we care about.

Another characteristic often misjudged, even within the country itself, is our passion for fair play. We hate a cheater and our laws reflect this hatred. Do we over do this antipathy? Probably, but it’s better our way than the smug arrogance of the French or the indifference of the German.
Automobile manufacturers cheat. You laugh and say things like, no kidding or what was your first clue? Here’s the important thing. Nowhere in the world, in no other country does the consumer have so many tools to right wrongs: Does this create a contentious environment? To some extent, it does. It would be so much better if we lived in that best of all possible worlds where vehicle manufacturers and dealerships accept responsibility for their products and their service.

We demand of our manufacturers that they warrant that their goods are made to a high standard and that they are what the manufacturer advertised. It’s hard to find a product that doesn’t have some sort warranty. The administrative parts of federal and state governments are littered with agencies whose charter is to enforce functional and quality standards. As a teacher of the old school, I’d give them a fair grade, certainly better than any other country on the planet. Even so, a strong body of law has been enacted across the United States that further makes it possible to enforce warranties.

What is a warranty?

1. Law.

a. An assurance by the seller of property that the goods or property are as represented or will be as promised.

b. The insured’s guarantee that the facts are as stated in reference to an insurance risk or that specified conditions will be fulfilled to keep the contract effective.

2. A guarantee given to the purchaser by a company stating that a product is reliable and free from known defects and that the seller will, without charge, repair or replace defective parts within a given time limit and under certain conditions.

This is pretty straightforward. When you buy a new car it comes with a warranty. The warranty says that if it doesn’t meet the standards set forth stating that the vehicle is what was promised, the manufacturer or its agents (dealerships) must repair it, and more than that bring it to the condition that existed before the defect(s) occurred.

One of the keys to all warranties is how long they are in force and what exactly do they cover. Obviously manufacturers aren’t going to warrant a vehicle for the next twenty years. It is quite likely that most vehicles will end their days in the junkyard long before that. You may have heard of the expression, built-in obsolescence. With light bulbs it is obvious that they are designed to fail after a very short period of time.

With automobiles, it is a bit more complex. Materials, manufacturing processes, tolerances of manufactured parts and other quality issues and depending on how well such companies are managed can have a powerful effect on how long any specific make of model of vehicle will last.

An automobile may indeed last twenty years with perfect maintenance, low mileage and careful driving.

Prior to the existence of lemon law it was not unusual for manufacturers to compel the consumer to return the car for repair over and over; sometimes the consumer would take the vehicle back more than twenty times for the same repair. The consumer had no recourse. The playing field was terribly imbalanced.

To this point we have been talking about the warranties that come with each vehicle sold in the US. Warranties vary considerably from maker to maker. There is another category of warranty you will never read about in your vehicle maintenance manual or warranty documents. These are called Secret Warranties. Needless to say, the manufacturers absolutely hate to call them by this name. They have their own names that are sugar-coated, double-speak designed to make that sow’s ear seem like a silk purse.

Here’s how it works:

1. The manufacturer does a little product homework, some surveys, focus groups, samples previous product data, and then has a look at what’s working for the competition. (Yes, manufacturers steal from each other shamelessly)

2. A decision is made to build a new SUV. It doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn if this monster sucks gas faster than the North Slope pumps oil. If they think it will sell-read make a profit-they’ll build it.

3. Production schedules are created and parts began arriving at the assembly plant. These schedules are more important to assembly management than the coming of the tides or assurances that the sun will rise.

4. The designers and engineers get to work. A lot of the tasks are farmed out to assorted parts manufacturers all over the world. Prototypes are made and as much testing as can be squeezed in, takes place. During these tests it is discovered that the turbo charger had a tendency to produce oil sludge. Sometimes as a result the turbo would fail. Occasionally the turbo would freeze, explode and spatter shattered components all over the countryside. (This is a real example.)

5. Enter the risk analysts, the statisticians and the actuaries. These are the fellas who roll the mathematical dice and determine what it will cost to repair these defective turbos or pay off the lawsuits if one of those exploded hunks of metal ends up buried in the driver’s forehead. Understand this; the manufacturer does not care if this happens. They only care if the balance sheet looks bad. Let them protest all they like, tell us what wonderful and caring people they are, Ford and their Pinto put an end to that paradigm forever. Add to that bit of history the current situation, where manufacturers cause owners with defective cars and trucks unmitigated misery and disillusionment, and you have the average life of a car owner in the US. So, the stats and risks guys say, not to worry, this problem will only happen to 5.628 vehicles in every 1,000. Most people will roll over when we tell them it’s their fault and get it replaced at their cost. There are ways to deal with owners who make too much noise.

6. It’s a nice looking car. The manufacturer spends enough money on advertising to support a medium sized country for a year. They sell lots of them. All is well in the boardroom. Stuffy, essentially useless old men congratulate each other. Unwarranted arrogance is not a nice thing to see.

7. After a few thousand miles, as predicted, the oil in the turbo begins to sludge and wouldn’t you know 5.628 vehicles in every 1,000 begin to fail. No one said these stats guys couldn’t do math.

8. As was predicted, some people got their vehicles repaired, some complained only to be told that it was their fault because they used substandard oil. Others, not that many, raised hell, called the BBB, wrote letters to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). They told the people at the dealerships that they were full of camel poop and generally got loud and obnoxious.

9. Thus we arrive at the moment of…wait for the mysterious music… “Secret Warranty.” All of a sudden the service writer goes all decent and helpful. It’s an amazing thing to see. It might go something like this. The service writer says, “You’ve been a really good customer, Mr. Jones. Let me talk to the manager and see what he can do.” Still fuming, Mr. Jones snarls assent. The service writer comes back ten minutes later, just before Mr. Jones decides to get really loud. The service writer says confidentially, “I got the manager to call the District Manager and he has agreed this one time the manufacturer will cover all the costs of your repairs. Isn’t that wonderful, Mr. Jones?” Mr. Jones is still highly annoyed but he wants his car fixed, so he lets them do it.

What’s wrong with all of this? Of the hundred people who have the turbo problem, maybe two won’t let the dealer/manufacturer screw them into the ground like a tent peg; make them pay for the repairs. Yes, you are right! It is cynical and immoral, and it happens all of the time. There isn’t one automobile manufacturer that doesn’t have at least one Secret Warranty in place. Some of them have three or four for different defects.

Why do they do it? It’s the oldest reason in the world. No, it’s not sex. It’s money, of course. Remember, Mr. Jones wrote to NHTSA? If NHTSA gets enough reports of turbos blowing up they can compel the manufacturer to issue a recall. When this happens, accountants and senior management guys squeal like they got their lips caught in a vice. I have done a fair amount of research on recalls and I couldn’t find one that didn’t cost the manufacturer at least $5,000,000.00 dollars, and that is definitely on the low side. This is serious corporate pain and this is why there are Secret Warranties. They exist so that manufacturers can avoid recalls.

As a car owner, be very alert when someone at the dealership starts telling you it’s your fault. Don’t go into apathy and give in. Fight it. Do research. Find out if a Secret Warranty exists and make them use it. Frankly, for their bad behavior I would much rather that they felt the pain of the recall, but for you the car owner, I would rather you get back on the road in a safe vehicle.

Posted in Law and Issues | Tagged | Comments Off

The Importance of Strategy and Governance for Global Business Services

Welcome to my third article in a series focused on insights, experience and practical advice on an operating model called Global Business Services (GBS). The GBS operating model is the latest step in the evolution of shared services (SS). To refresh your memory, SS is an operational model that’s been around for decades. It enables functional resources (i.e., HR, IT, Finance, etc.) to be leveraged across an entire organization, resulting in lower service costs. My first article discussed the evolution from traditional SS to GBS, the drivers for the change and the desired benefits. Article two highlighted that even though the transition to GBS continues, there seems to be a return on investment (ROI) shortfall with a number of implementations. The primary reasons for the ROI shortfall and some solutions to enhance success were also covered. This third article takes a “deep dive” on two key elements to ensure a successful GBS implementation: strategy and governance. Let’s get started.When you talk to experts who guide companies through GBS transformations (and I have had the pleasure of working with many of them, such as Deloitte, Accenture, The Hackett Group, and others), or talk with GBS leaders who are viewed as having world-class GBS operations, similar critical success factors (CSFs) are consistently mentioned. Some of these CSFs mentioned include:1. Executive Leadership – getting the entire C-Suite aligned and onboard.2. Technology Enablement – making the appropriate investments in people, process and technology to ensure success.3. Delivering on Commitments – meeting cost savings targets and aligning your deliverables/measures with your clients’ expectations.4. Critical Mass – transitioning enough process scope and execution authority that is impactful to P&L.There are several other CSFs that could be added to the above list. However, there are two items that are foundational and provide the direction to the above items… strategy and governance. A famous proverb says, “Without vision people perish.” Translating this to a business context, “Without a strategy, your initiative will ultimately fail.”Importance of StrategyStrategy is critical for every corporation and especially for every major transformation. For GBS, lack of strategy alignment at the C-Suite is largely viewed as the #1 reason for failure. The GBS operation may not fail immediately, but if the strategy gaps are not addressed over time, it will lose its influence and relevance, and will ultimately fail and be restructured. So what are the elements of a good GBS strategy? There are several, but here are the main ones:1. Primary Purpose – define primary focus, such as cost reduction, scalability/growth, regulatory compliance, etc.2. Scope of Coverage – define processes that will be transitioned into GBS at the start, and will be candidates for the future.3. Service Delivery Methodology – define approach of how services will be delivered to clients. Internal (or captive) vs. outsourced centers; global vs. regional centers, etc.4. Governance – initial organizational structure, operational roles and responsibilities across the enterprise, and executive leadership roles to provides GBS direction.5. Execution Plan – transition methodology discussing sequencing of businesses and geographies on a timeline.There is a significant amount of work that goes into developing an effective GBS strategy, and it clearly requires enterprise-wide inputs and alignment. In a McKinsey Quarterly survey, it stated that companies are typically investing an average of six (6) months in transformation planning, and sometimes are still not able to set clear goals. McKinsey’s recommendation (and mine) is to take the additional time needed to ensure a clear and aligned strategy which improves the likelihood of a successful transformation.Importance of GovernanceGovernance, in many respects is part of the strategy. Just like strategy, if there is no enterprise governance in place, GBS is doomed for failure. So, what does effective governance look like? The major elements include:1. Executive Board – serves roles of both advocate and critic with clear accountability for performance management, ongoing strategy adjustments, and capital approval authority.2. Clear Accountability – clear roles and responsibilities definition between Executive Board (EB), GBS leadership, outsourcing partners, business clients on decision rights, service level changes, delegation of authority, etc.3. Voice of Customer – incorporation of regular mechanisms via client councils and other venues to clearly solicit inputs/requests/changes from business leaders.4. Strategic Alignment – ensures ongoing review and alignment of the organizational direction across the C-Suite.In many companies, the term governance is viewed as “slow-moving” or “beauracratic.” For GBS, it has to be the opposite – being agile, dynamic and continuing to evolve as the company changes. Governance must flex as business client expectations rise, technology platforms evolves and most importantly, as executive leaders and their expectations change. This is absolutely critical!ConclusionThe growth of GBS continues and is forecasted to be robust through the end of the decade. However, expectations for even greater results and ROI will continue, as companies keep pushing for higher levels of automation, lower service costs, and higher profit margins while improving the customer experience. To accomplish all those things, one needs to utilize some of the items covered in these three articles. The key takeaways include:- Executive Commitment.- Robust planning effort with focus on strategy and governance.- Anticipate the ROI Shortfalls and Implement the critical success factors.- Continually “raise the bar”, as business clients push greater results and improved customer experience.Thank you for your interest and attention. I look forward to your feedback and comments.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Comments Off