Nature Improves Sleep

hiking

 

Recent findings suggest the closer you live to nature, the better you sleep.

 

The study hasn’t confirmed whether it’s just the natural environment helping you sleep or if living in nature or green spaces results in you getting outside and being more active.

 

Sleep is so important to your health. Lack of sleep reduces your brain power. You not only lower your IQ, you may become forgetful and even depressed. Impaired judgement can also lead to accidents. Lack of sleep can cause weight gain, speed up the aging process and even increase the potential for heart disease.

 

If you currently don’t live near any green spaces, take some time during the day to get outside. It may improve your sleep and your health.

No Time to Exercise?

Gym

When people ask me how they can best lose weight or to change their body shape without dieting,  I always tell them that exercise is the way to get rid of body fat. Most of these people reply “but I don’t have time to exercise”.

How much exercise do you need to lose weight? The answer is any! Every little bit of activity you do will improve your body. While most doctors recommend a minimum of 30 minutes 3 times a week of exercise, research of newer workouts shows that there are significant benefits from shorter workouts as well.

HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, is one of the more recent methods of exercise which can take as little as 4 minutes.  It starts with a quick warm up including a few toe touches, lunges, arm circles, etc.  This is followed by a number of different exercises done quickly with a certain number of repetitions. For example, do 20 push-ups followed by 20 sit ups follows by 30 seconds of running in place.  Once complete, you start over again.  There are many workout examples given online and I’m sure you’ve seen the TV advertisements for workouts that are’ transformational’ in just minutes a day. Some require weights and some only use the weight of your body to get your results.

Research has shown these workouts do more than burn calories; they are good for your heart and build muscle which helps burn fat more efficiently.

How do you start? Look online for a series of exercises that interest you. My recommendation is to wake up 15 minutes early to fit in a quick 10 minute workout. If later in the day works better for you then pick a time and stick to it. Start slow! Work your way up. This type of routine can hurt you if you overdo it as a beginner. Day two……take a rest. With intense workouts you need to give your body time to recover in between work outs. Complete this every other day until your workout becomes easy to you. Next, bump it up a notch. Try more difficult exercises or focus on more intensity. You can add more repetitions or add more time, depending on what you want.

The nice thing about this type of workout is you don’t need to join a gym, you don’t need to buy equipment, and you can change it up as often as you want. The best thing is it can be as little as 4 minutes if that’s all you can do. The idea is to just get some level of activity every day and put some effort into it.

Do Specialty Sport Shoes Work?

Photo provided by Alicia Scott
Photo provided by Alicia Scott

I’m amazed at the technology that is going into sport shoes nowadays. I’m also amazed at the cost! Seems they make shoes for everything now; running, walking, cross-training, golfing, hiking and dancing, just to name a few. The stated purpose behind these specialty shoes is to improve performance and reduce chances of injury. The question is do these shoes actually do what they claim they do.

Kinesiology experts recently published a paper after reviewing numerous studies on this subject. They found that the number of injuries has not decreased regardless of the increasing technology of sport shoes. As these studies began to surface, some shoe companies added new technology to give buyers less shoe (pictured) claiming the more natural use of your feet is actually better.

So, if the advantages of sport shoes have not been proven, should I buy these shoes or not? The answer is buy whatever feels good to you. It doesn’t have to be expensive or high tech.

What IS important is how you prepare for your sport and your technique. Properly stretch before and after your activity, including your feet. Feet are often missed and why so many people get plantar fasciitis.

Speak with an expert or trainer on technique for your sport. Ask specifically what to watch out for to decrease your chance of injury. Follow instructions with diligence and it will not only prevent injury but also increase your performance.

It may disappoint you that you may not be able to depend on high tech shoes to prevent injuries, but you have to admit, it’s now opened up your options to find cheaper and possibly more comfortable shoes.

Keep Moving!

Palmetto Marathonrunner, Alicia Chavarria

Was there a time in your life when you were very active and then stopped? Maybe you were a runner that did mini marathons or fun runs. Life got busy so you dropped out of the scene. Months, maybe even years later you decided you wanted to start up again.  A 2K run was a few weeks away so you started to run to prepare.  You got out on the road, took a few steps and thought to yourself……this is harder than I thought!  The next day…OUCH!

It’s amazing how fast the body gets out of shape, especially as you get older. Muscles don’t grow as fast and tend to shrink, they don’t stretch as easily and tissue doesn’t regenerate as well. If you remain active, you have the ability to keep the muscle and flexibility you have. Range of motion is important because as your range of motion decreases due to lack of movement, pain increases from stretching your muscles past the new limits.

Continuous movement is the key. Not only does it keep muscles in good shape, it also relieves pain. If you find yourself sore from starting up cold on a new activity, don’t give up. Stopping will only tighten up the muscles and make you feel worse in the short run. Keep moving to allow the muscles to work it out. Take it slower to allow the body to adjust and build up the endurance again.

Back to your running……. If you woke up in a lot of pain, don’t take the day off. Take a walk instead. Gradually work your way back up day by day. You may not perform as well as you hoped at the 2K, but maybe your next one you’ll be back to your original ability. Unfortunately, depending on your age, you may never get back what you had.

I hate to end this post with a depressing fact, but without being active, your body will only deteriorate. This loss with age should be an incentive enough to …..KEEP MOVING.

 

Are Energy Supplements Worth it?

Energy Supplements

Do you use energy drinks or supplements to keep up your energy level?  It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that’s thriving, but are you getting your money’s worth? Better yet how does it affect your health?

I see so many energy supplements packaged so many ways. The most common ingredients used to boost your energy are caffeine, herbs, protein or sugars. First, let’s break these down and see how they affect the body.

Caffeine is probably the best know energy booster. The upside is its known and it’s generally safe in moderate doses.  The downside is it’s a short term boost, usually only lasting a couple hours. What happens after that? Your energy level drops to the floor! How do you fix that? Have more caffeine? When do you stop? Will you be able to sleep at night? You don’t want to miss out on your sleep. That’s one of the most restorative energy creating activity you can do! If you crank up your body chemically time and time again, your body will eventually crash and that will cause problems with your immune system.

What about herbs? There are many herbs that are claimed to be energy boosters but only some of them have been clinically proven to work. Others are even considered dangerous especially if doses aren’t carefully monitored. Some herbs have been known to cause problems with digestion, the heart and even the kidneys and liver. Read labels and search on the web for any herbs you are considering ingesting. You will find many sources that make claims of what the herbs can do, but watch for danger signs. Look for warnings from credible sources.

Your body will maintain a good level of energy if you take in a consistent amount of protein all day. Many people eat protein bars in an attempt to keep up their energy. Unfortunately most protein bars add a lot of sugar to their product. Many of them are more like candy bars than a good source of protein. What is the main source of protein in the bar? If you don’t physically see nuts, you are likely getting a form of protein that is considered “partial”. Protein is made up of a mix of amino acids. You need a certain combination of amino acids in order for the protein to be “complete” and do its job correctly.  If you aren’t ingesting the whole combination of those amino acids, you might as well consider it added calories. The good news is if all you were looking for was extra calories for a work out or as a stop gap between meals, it will work for that.

Now back to that sugar. Sugar will give you the rollercoaster experience of energy level. Sugar creates short bursts of energy which quickly disappear. Sugars can be hidden on the ingredient label so look for sugar, honey, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup ….and pretty much anything that says syrup. Also, sugar is now proven to be linked to obesity and heart disease. Not a good tradeoff for an energy boost.

You can also buy supplements that contain all these same ingredients. The only one I can recommend is if you have a lack of vitamin B12 in your diet, that’s the one I would recommend. It’s a common supplement that is given by doctors for specific conditions.

So, is it worth it? I would say these options are a waste of your money in most cases. Many of the supplements are unnecessary if you eat a balanced diet. They will just pass through your body into your urine making for very expensive pee!

Now you’re asking….”well then what do I do to increase my energy?!”

Simple! Here are the natural ways to boost your energy that your body will love. Eat a well-balanced diet throughout the day including high protein snacks between meals such as nuts, non-fat plain yogurt, a little peanut butter eaten on apple slices, or a little low-fat cheese. Drink plenty of water, get lots of sleep and get a little exercise throughout the day, even if it’s a short walk in your neighborhood.  If you’ve never tried this before, you will be surprised at the results!

There is no better way to build energy than to treat your body to what it needs to sustain itself properly.

Injury Prevention for Early Spring Gardening

Garden

It’s been a long winter and you are now getting spring fever. Or maybe your yard looks like a disaster and you know it’s time for spring cleanup or prep. Unless you have been shoveling snow all winter it’s a good bet your body is not in any shape to jump into a day of raking, pruning or shoveling. The statistics are actually surprising! I know you’ve heard about the high instance of heart attacks for people who overexert while shoveling snow, but did you know about 400,000 people a year injure themselves while gardening and some severe enough to go to the hospital? Most common injuries include trips and falls, cuts and muscles strains. You can probably picture how this could happen with all the lifting, bending, stooping and handling of tools.

If you’ve been sedentary all winter, the first step to preventing gardening injuries is to warm up your muscles. Start by doing a couple minutes of stretches.

  • Stand tall and reach for the ceiling
  • Bend forward and reach for your toes
  • Stand tall and reach your arms out to the side
  • Stand tall and twist at the waist back and forth, swing arms at shoulder height
  • Intertwine your fingers and hold together, turn palms out in front of you, stretching your arms out straight in front of you
  • Stretch one finger at a time by using your other hand to pull it into an extension then curl it back
  • Rotate your hand around at the wrist
  • Rotate your feet around at your ankles
  • Do a runners lunge and/or squats to warm up your legs

Now that you are ready to go out, do the following:

  • Completely cover your body in durable clothing to prevent scratches, cuts and exposure to the weather.
  • Put all of your tools in a specific location so you won’t accidentally trip over them. Use them as per the instructions.
  • When lifting, keep your spine straight and tall and bend at the knees.
  • Keep you back straight when digging with a large shovel or raking.
  • When working on the ground, squat or kneel down rather than bending over.
  • Use a kneeling garden pad.
  • Keep everything you are working with at arm’s length to limit the amount of extended reaching.

Gradually increase the amount of time you work in your garden. Start with 20 minutes the first day and slowly increase daily until you are back up to your normal speed. If you have too much that needs to be done to build up slowly, switch up your tasks. Instead of spending all day raking, do 5 minutes of raking, 5 minutes of moving the debris into your disposal bin, 5 minutes of pruning and then 5 minutes of weeding. Start the whole cycle over again. This will give certain muscles a break in between and will reduce muscle stress.

Gardening technology has gotten better in recent years. You can find ergonomic tools at your higher end gardening centers or online. I recently purchased a woman’s sized ergo handle spade shovel that had really made digging easier.  Surf the web and check it out!

Of course I have some nutritional advice. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Eat something before you start gardening and eat a snack with a little protein every 2 hours you are outside. This will keep your energy up and will help your muscles recover faster. It may even prevent soreness.

Okay….now that you are well equipped for a safe day of gardening……gets out there and cure your spring fever!

How do I lower my blood cholesterol?

heart

So you’ve been told your cholesterol is too high. The doctor hands you a pamphlet and says avoid high cholesterol foods and see a nutritionist. A lot of people I know have this type of experience whether it be high blood pressure, high cholesterol or triglycerides, or some friends have come to me with the Big D, diabetes. Most people are a little shaken and feel they don’t really have enough information to address their situation. The problem is when you get a shock like this you don’t know what to ask. Keep in mind it’s never too late to call the doctor’s office and ask questions. Sit down and make a list right away. There is never a stupid question when it comes to your health.

Getting back to high cholesterol……….the first important factor to keep in mind is that your cholesterol level is not solely based on what you eat, although it does have an influence. Everyone’s body has a level set for how much cholesterol it thinks it needs and it’s usually hereditary. Even if you eat nothing containing cholesterol, the body will still try to hold that level of cholesterol constant. It even knows how to make its own. Some people just have higher cholesterol by nature and it doesn’t mean they are at a higher risk of heart disease. That being said, doctors usually compare past cholesterol levels and will note that your level is going up before they show concern. In this case, it IS something you can change and you should act as quickly as possible before it becomes a real problem.

The next question I usually get is “why does my body want cholesterol?” The answer is cholesterol is the substance used in the walls of your red blood cells. You don’t want weak cell walls do you? It is also important for digestion and maintaining Vitamin D levels in the body. The health community is finding out the importance of Vitamin D for not only bone health, but also for the immune system and maintaining proper hormone levels.

You should also ask your doctor for your cholesterol type break down between HDL and LDL. To simplify it for you, HDL is good and LDL is bad. High LDL can lead to heart disease. Many times when a doctor has concern with your cholesterol, they found you have high LDL. This is important to know because rather than just decreasing cholesterol intake, you want to focus on increasing your HDL.

Now for food…….

Honestly, if you just follow the USDA RDAs, the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association or even Weight Watchers programs, it will include cholesterol reduction. Losing weight in general will lower your cholesterol level. This means more fruits and vegetables and less of the cholesterol bearing foods.

Animal products are the main source of cholesterol intake including all meats, dairy and eggs. You obviously don’t want to give all of these up as it’s your main source of protein and calcium. Focus and lower cholesterol versions such as fish and poultry for meat, skim or non-fat versions of dairy products, especially cheese if you eat it at all. You can eat egg whites, but the egg yolk is the portion that contains cholesterol. In baking, rather than using butter, use unsaturated vegetable oils when possible.

To increase your HDL, add Omega 3 fatty acids to your diet. Salmon is one of the biggest sources along with sardines. Other sources include olive oil, flax seed oil, peanut oil, nuts, and avocados. You can also supplement with fish oil. If you drink alcohol, there is no need to quit. An occasional glass of red wine is found to increase HDL levels, but if you don’t drink now, don’t start as there are better ways to increase your HDL.

Another question I’ve received is about a recent trend in using red yeast rice to lower cholesterol. Because this is an eastern medicine option, there have not been enough studies done in America to verify its long term effectiveness or its safety. Studies so far have only lasted 12 weeks. Red yeast rice has similar ingredients to prescription drugs, but because the level of active ingredient is not as carefully measured as your standard pharmaceuticals, the amount you are actually taking in can vary. The FDA pulled the most known version of this product off the shelf in 2007 due to lack of testing leading to safety concerns. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, if you do decide to use red yeast rice, do not exceed 600 mg 4 times daily. Make sure to talk to a pharmacist about side effects and other drug interactions. There are quite a few.

The biggest impact to both reduce your cholesterol level and increase your HDL……..Get Physically Active! Not only will it improve your cholesterol situation, it will also help you lose weight and feel better!

Following all of these simple steps can make a dramatic difference. I’ve had friends able to drop back into their ranges within 3 months. I wish you luck on your next doctor’s visit!

Best answer for weight loss

Gym

Most people know there are multiple elements to losing weight, but which one is most important?

  • Eating well balanced meals
  • Eating less calories
  • Eating less fat
  • Portion control
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Keeping  up the metabolism
  • Keeping up the activity level
  • Controlling stress

 

ALL of these are important to both lose weight and maintain health. If you feel you are already doing all this and still not losing weight, I’m going to challenge you. Weight loss is based mostly on a mathematical equation. Energy in minus energy out.  If you are taking in more calories than you are burning, you are not going to lose weight.  Theoretically, as long as you eat properly and maintain a good level of activity, you should be able to maintain a good weight.

The only exception is if your body is holding on to those calories due to a physical issue. Disease, stress and not eating enough calories are common reasons for calorie holding. That’s right; I said “not enough calories”. The body does the most amazing things to survive.  It needs a certain amount of calories to basically function.  If you fall short of giving it enough calories, it thinks you are starving and will adapt by setting a new lower level calorie requirement for your body. It’s going into survival mode and lowering your metabolism. This is the problem with crash diets.  If you eat less than 1000 calories a day, lose weight and then increase your calorie intake back to what should be enough to just maintain, you will actually gain more than where you started.  Your body is still hoarding for survival. Some diseases and stress can also cause the body to go into survival mode.

The answer you are seeking to your weight loss is simple. Do the math.

Eat at least 3 meals a day and if you feel weak and shaky, eat something. Find that calorie level where you aren’t hungry, have energy and are not gaining weight. That should be your baseline. Reduce that calorie level by 100-200 calories a day and you will eventually lose your weight. If you are a woman and your baseline seems to be less than 1200 calories or 1800 if you are a man, you probably need to work on your metabolism. You can do this by increasing your activity. As you increase your activity your body will require more calories. When you eat more calories, the body will burn more and eventually increase your body requirement again. The body takes a while to make this adjustment so to be successful, you should only lose an average of 2 pounds a week. Forcing a faster weight loss will confuse the body causing large fluctuations rather than maintaining your weight loss. That’s called yo-yo dieting.

In my opinion, starting a fitness program is the best solution to fix most weight loss problems. It hits all the pain points:

  • Increasing the burning of calories
  • Increasing the metabolism
  • Reducing stress  (stress causes survival mode)
  • Creating muscles (more muscles burn more calories)

Activity level seems to have the most impact and immediate return on in a weight loss program. The example I like to use is the old time family farmer. They would start off their day with a large breakfast of heavy bread, meat, eggs, bacon and things like butter.  Then they worked outside all day and efficiently burn off all those calories. They were thin and lived long lives.  With the invention of farm equipment, you suddenly started to see obesity and heart disease in the farming community. They still ate the same food but decreased their activity level.

If you are sedentary, start slow. Even just walking is a good calorie burner.  You will soon find yourself not only losing weight, but also gaining more energy and generally feeling better.

It’s not too late to change your New Year’s resolution from “lose weight” to “start a fitness program”.  If you increase your activity, you’ll get both in the end!

You can have a simple healthy life

Beach Sunrise

Happy New Year’s Day! It’s time for not only reflecting on the past year, but also planning your future. Regardless of what’s happened over the last year, you can still have a simple, healthy life. Whether you are 15 or 95, everyone has daily challenges or obstacles that need to be dealt with in order to survive and move forward.

If you are 15, you may not be working to pay bills or cooking your meals, but you do have a lot of life decisions to start making.  After high school, do you want to go to college, get a job, get married? That should lead you to the next question, which is what type of people do you want to surround yourself with? Pick people who will support you in the life you want. If you want to go to college but your friends want to stay home working at a local business, it won’t be easy. If you are tired of being overweight but eating fast food lunches, vending machine snacks and sitting in front of the computer or TV most of the time, how are you going to have a healthy life? It’s simple to make small changes now to make your future easier. Do some of your friends also want to go to college? Focus on them. You can help each other make it happen. Together you can look at colleges, find financial aid and study for exams.  Does a friend or someone in your family exercise regularly? You might have found a workout buddy. Maybe it’s as simple as taking a walk before sitting in front of the computer. Pick the healthier version of lunch or snack. These small changes now will make your life simple and less of a struggle in the future.

If you are older and have a job and/or children, life can get stressful. You are now constrained by time and money. Most people at this point in their lives only wish for health and happiness. If you have money, great! That is a resource that can get you the best variety of nutritional food and a hired hand to manage daily tasks that are tying up your time. If not, you need to analyze your time, spending and food choices to come up with a way to simplify your life.

Most people who complain about lack of time to exercise really have it; it’s just how they use it. A classic example is the average Americans spends 3-4 hours a day watching television. What could you do with that time? You could work out while watching. Use a cardio machine, lift weights, jump on a mini trampoline, walk up and down on a step, dance or just jog in place. Another complaint is the time needed for the children. Rather than just spending time watching your children, engage them in your work out or go for a walk with them. Not only are you burning off the calories and spending quality time with your children, you are teaching them a great life habit and reducing your own stress level. Don’t use the “I’m tired” excuse either. Being physically active releases endorphins resulting in a positive mood and usually an increase in energy. A good walk will also help you and your children sleep better.

Make healthier food choices one little step at a time. There are resources in this blog and others online to get you started. Good food choices don’t have to be expensive. You don’t have to buy wild caught salmon to get your Omega 3 fatty acids. Canned sardines are actually a great source without the cost. Even canned tuna has enough Omega 3 fatty acids to make it a viable option. Beans and legumes are a source of protein that is much cheaper than meat, lower in fat and cholesterol and loaded with fiber. Of course fruits and vegetable should be the focus of every meal. It doesn’t matter if it’s fresh, frozen or canned. If you are on a food budget, pick the one you can afford. Are you buying prepackaged, processed foods? That is where your dollars are going. Buy a head of lettuce, clean and cut it yourself. That will also reduce the potential of bacterial contamination that’s recently resulted in product recalls. Cooking from scratch is much healthier than buying processed foods. You can choose your ingredients and know what’s actually in your meal.

If you are close to retirement or actually retired, the best thing you can do for yourself is simplify everything. As we age, all the complexities in our life become more difficult to maintain. It can get overwhelming. Downsize, get rid of excess and be frugal with your money. Anything you can do to make your life easier …do it! The biggest expense as you get older is medical bills. At this time you need to focus on being healthy.  Be social and be active.  It’s been proven that in old age the more you interact with people and the more you physically move, the longer you live. Push yourself. Spend more time with your family. Join a senior community center.

Eat well! One of the biggest risks in old age in malnutrition. The body doesn’t work the same way it did when you were younger and sometimes food doesn’t taste as good. With the extra time you have, focus on cooking as a hobby. Make sure you get in 3 nutritious meals every day.  I’ve met three people now in their 60s or later that complained of lack of energy and being tired, but they just weren’t eating enough. Although you need less calories in your old age, you still need to get the same, if not more nutrition to stay healthy!

Did I help you come up with a New Year’s resolution yet?

You are probably saying to yourself…okay, I’ve learned how to improve my health, but how do I become happy? Well……if you can simplify, be social, physically active and eat properly, happiness will easily follow!

Falling off the bandwagon doesn’t mean you can’t get back on

candy

I’ve been a bad blogger. I let the busy holidays get the better of me! Between work, charity drives, company parties, traveling, and of course the family holiday get togethers, I failed to follow through on my commitment to help you through the toughest part of the year.

I hope you were able to come up with good choices to stay healthy and happy while I was falling off the bandwagon. If not, don’t feel bad. Everyone makes mistakes, just like I did this season. Don’t beat yourself up. Your ability to recover is the true show of strength!

I stopped doing my yoga for over a week, hadn’t done any cardiovascular exercise for over a month, and had more sugar and alcohol than I limited myself to. My only saving grace was a bathroom scale that I periodically stepped on to be sure I wasn’t gaining too much weight.

The important thing now is to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and get back to your normal routine. I’ve started back up on yoga and received a dance game I’m hoping will boost my cardio activity. As for sugar, I’m stashing all my candy gifts in a hard to reach cabinet in my kitchen, and rationing out 2 pieces a day. This will extend the holiday goodness for a LONG time! Now that parties are over, alcohol should be easier to manage.

What will you do to get back on the bandwagon? Take each of your concerns and create an action plan. You don’t have to do all of them at once. Make sure the first one sticks before you start the next.  Any step in the right direction is progress. If you are one of those people who has a hard time following through, pull out a paper calendar and write in what and when you are going to do your actions. Put reminders on your cell phone. It will be a constant reminder if you are falling behind. Pretty soon you will not only be back to your normal routine, you may even create new goals!

You know New Year’s is right around the corner!

Enjoy the rest of your holiday!