Tag Archive: physical health


Our bodies were designed to move.  That is how we evolved as a species. It is only very recently with the technological advances of the past century or so that we started living a more sedentary lifestyle, and it’s killing us.  Sitting too much greatly increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.  Even if you go to the gym four times a week and eat healthy foods, sitting too much will still increase your risk of these deadly diseases.  A recent study published in The Journal of American College Cardiology “indicated that the amount of leisure time spent sitting in front of a screen can have such an overwhelming, seemingly irreparable impact on one’s health that physical activity doesn’t produce much benefit.” In fact, if you sit for more than six hours a day, your risk of heart disease goes up 64%.  The problem is that when we sit down, our body sort of goes into sleep mode like a computer would and, it turns out, too much sleep mode is no good for our bodies.  Our circulation slows down, our metabolism slows down, and the enzymes that help break down fat drop 90%, including the enzyme that breaks down the fats (lipids) in the blood stream, which could be why prolonged sitting is associated with such a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

So, what to do?  The solution is actually not as daunting as one might think.  All you need to do is add more moderate activity into your daily routine and break up your periods of sitting down.  Moderate activity is not equivalent to killing it in the gym, but rather more like a brisk walk.  (For optimal health, you need both, one does not replace the other.)  Some of our sedentary time cannot be helped, like when we are driving.  But time in front of the TV, for instance, is optional and can be shortened.  Also, you don’t have to be sitting the whole time when you do watch it.  You can walk briskly on a treadmill, for instance, while you watch your favorite program.  Alternatively, foam rolling is a great practice you can adopt while watching TV, and it’s much less expensive than a treadmill.  (Foam rollers typically retail between $20 & $40.  It is a great self-massage tool that activates your muscles at the same time.)  You can also periodically stand up and do jumping jacks or squats or lunges.

Many people find that most of their sedentary time is due to their line of work which has them sitting at their desk, in front of the computer for most of the day.  However, that, too, has a pretty easy fix.  All you have to do is get up and move every 20 – 30 minutes.  If it’s helpful, set a timer on your computer to remind you.  It’s not enough to just stand up; you have to move to get the circulation flowing in your body again.  Some other tips for sedentary office work are:

  • If you are doing something in your office that doesn’t require you to be seated, such as talking on the phone for instance, get up out of your chair and pace the room during the conversation.
  • Rather than send an email to your co-worker down the hall, get up and go talk to her.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator if you have one in your building.
  • Take a few 10 minute brisk walks throughout the day.
  • Get a ball chair, which keeps your leg muscles more active, your back more straight, and decreases the risk of getting too comfortable.  (We do not recommend a standing desk, because standing is not moving and prolonged standing without movement carries its own health risks.)

Sources:   NY Times, The Hazards of the Couch by Roni Caryn Rabin

How Sitting All Day is Damaging Your Body and How You Can Counteract It by Thorin Klosowski, Lifehacker

Women’s Health Magazine, Your Body’s Biggest Enemy, by Selene Yeager

Here at The Listening Center, we are big admirers of Rachel Cosgrove.  For those who have not yet heard of her, Rachel Cosgrove is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, co-owner of a successful gym in California called Results Fitness, columnist for Women’s Health magazine, and best-selling author of a fabulous book we highly recommend, The Female Body Breakthrough.  (If interested, you can learn more about Rachel by visiting her website http://www.rachelcosgrove.com.)

Recently, I caught a video of Rachel on You Tube taken during her visit at Todd Durkin’s gym, Fitness Quest 10, also in California.  The video focused on a talk she gave to some of the members at the gym, focusing on the themes and messages of her book, The Female Body Breakthrough.  At one point, Rachel described for the audience the 3 major components to achieving overall health and fitness.  (Bare in mind, these 3 components apply to men as well.)  She used the analogy of a stool, each component comprising one leg.  They were:  exercise, nutrition and mindset.  If one leg of the stool is weak or out of balance, then the whole fitness stool is off kilter, unstable, and out of balance.  What struck me the most about the talk Rachel Cosgrove gave that day at Fitness Quest 10 was what she said about the importance of one’s mindset:

“… {I} realized the women who really made that change long-term, and lost the weight, lost the clothing sizes, and were able to do it and keep it off long-term, and really change their bodies for their LIFE, were the ones who were able to change their mindset.”

Makes sense, right?  It’s something many of us have learned in some aspect of our lives – maybe not health and fitness, but we can all instinctively understand that lasting change only comes when our mindset has also changed.  Those of you who are Biggest Loser fans have seen this theme play itself out season after season.  Every single Biggest Loser contestant in every single season needed to, at some point, face and come to terms with whatever it was in their mindset that had caused them to become obese.  For some, it was a self-image issue.  For others, it was an emotional issue.  Still others were a combination of the two and even other issues I haven’t touched upon.  Universally, they ALL needed to change their mindset to achieve the lasting success they desired.

A person’s issues with food can often be tied to emotional issues.  Food is a substance that can be abused as a means of escape like any other.  Unlike any other, however, it is not a substance that can be abstained from, as one would abstain from drinking alcohol if one were an alcoholic.  Everyone needs to eat, after all.  This means that you have to completely change your relationship with food, as well as heal the emotional issues that caused your food addiction in the first place.  Sessions with a licensed counselor, ideally one who is holistic in his/her approach and who is open to working in conjunction with others who can also help you on your journey, such as a nutritionist and trainer, could be instrumental in changing your mindset for lasting success.  Some issues run too deep and too wide to grapple with and decipher all on our own.  Getting the help of a therapist during your journey will help create that lasting success you desire.

Another common mindset issue that needs to be changed in order to achieve the health and weight-loss you desire is negative self-image and self-talk, coupled with low self-esteem.  Far too many of us say very mean things to ourselves – and believe them!!  No wonder we feel awful, and hopeless, and discouraged when we constantly tell ourselves that we are fat, and ugly, and sloppy, and lazy, etc., etc.  All this negative self-talk only causes us to turn to food even more for comfort.  Make a promise to yourself right here and now that you will cease the negative self-talk and replace it with positive talk.  You will tell yourself that you are beautiful, and fit, and healthy, and productive.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe it at first.  In fact, you can count on not believing it at first.  After all, you’ve had years of conditioning yourself to believe just the opposite.  However, the more and more you replace the negative talk with positive, the better you will begin to feel and the more you will believe the positive vs. the negative.  Eventually, the negative voice will grow weaker and weaker until she/he ceases to exist.

To sum it all up, changing your mindset is the key to making any lasting change you seek in your life.  While this post has focused on it in terms of weight-loss and health, your mindset is the key to success in any endeavor you take on.  It should be your first priority.  If you find that you are unable to effectively change your mindset, do not be afraid to seek help.

If you were to Google “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”, you would be hit with page after page of people advising you to apply this concept to all areas of your life.  Some will focus more on how it can help you in business, others on its benefits in exercise and health, others for its effect on relationships and social life, and still others on how it benefits you, the individual.  But, while the focus may change, they will all say the same thing:  Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is the key to success.

We are creatures of comfort, naturally.  Most of us resist change because we don’t like feeling uncomfortable.  But, change cannot occur in any aspect of our lives until we leave our comfort zone and switch up the status quo.  When you are uncomfortable, you are pushing your boundaries, trying new things, stretching yourself to do something you have not yet done.  This is the source of growth and change.  In your workouts, for instance, pushing yourself outside your comfort zone translates into achieving that next level of fitness, whatever it may be for you.  In your relationships, being vulnerable and uncomfortable is how you create true intimacy and form new bonds.  In your career and business, taking risks and working on things you haven’t “mastered” yet is how you will grow your business and advance your career.  Being uncomfortable leads to growth and change.  Ever went through a big growth spurt as a kid?  Remember how uncomfortable (and sometimes even painful) your body felt right before?  Discomfort before growth and change is a universal principle that can be applied across the board in all areas of life.

So, how does one get comfortable with being uncomfortable?  Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?  Here’s the thing.  While you will never be completely comfortable with the discomfort – how could you be? – you can become more and more accustomed to “dealing with” the feeling and, eventually, embracing it.  Our normal reaction to feelings of discomfort is to avoid what is making us uncomfortable, to push back and resist it, to procrastinate, or eat too much, sleep too much, drink too much, become moody, and many other unhelpful coping mechanisms.  Instead, try something different next time.  When you feel yourself tensing as a result of discomfort with whatever you are facing in that moment, pause and check in with your body.  Pay particular attention to your breath.  If you are tense, your breathing will most often be shallow and short.  Consciously take a few deep breaths in through your nose, sending the breath way down deep into your belly and lower back.  Visualize yourself harnessing all that nervous and uncomfortable energy with each deep breath.  Then, once you feel more centered and in control, use that newly harnessed energy to follow through and accomplish whatever it was that was taking you out of your comfort zone and into uncharted territory.  One day in the not-too-distant future, when the growth has occurred and you’ve expanded your life, you’ll be happy you did.

Jack LaLanne, who sadly passed away just this January, is often referred to as the founding father of the fitness movement here in the U.S.   He opened what is considered the first gym in 1936 in Oakland, CA and before the likes of Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons, he was publicly preaching and instructing on the benefits of exercise and proper nutrition through his talk show that aired between 1951 and 1985, as well as numerous books and videos.  He invented many common exercise machines we see in gyms today, as well as the “Jumping Jack”  – a standard exercise move aptly named after him.  He is also well known for some of his amazing feats of fitness, including swimming from the notorious Alcatraz island prison to San Francisco while handcuffed and towing a thousand pound boat — on his 60th birthday no less.

I didn’t realize until researching this blog post that Jack LaLanne was sickly as a child.  When he was a teenager, he dropped out of school for a year because he was ill.  He was thin and weakly and wore a back brace.  He was also very shy and withdrawn and avoided being with people.  He was depressed and felt hopeless.  He even contemplated suicide.  That’s hard to imagine when all you know of Jack LaLanne is the exuberant, happy, and go-get-‘em person we all loved.  According to him, that side of him didn’t emerge until he got healthy by eating better and exercising daily.  At age 15, his mother took him to a nutrition lecture with Paul Bragg, pioneer nutritionist.  The lecture changed his life.  After that day, he stopped eating all the cakes, pies and ice cream that had dominated his diet before.  He ate only whole, non-processed nutritional foods, no meat or dairy, occasionally fish.  He exercised every day.  He lived a vibrant life until age 96.  Not bad at all.

What we, in our modern times, can easily forget is how revolutionary some of his ideas were at the time.  He was often viewed as either a phony or a total nut.  For instance, when he encouraged the elderly to lift weights, the doctors of the day thought it was a terrible idea.  They thought it would be a good way to break bones, nothing more.  Now, of course, we know Jack was absolutely right and that it actually helps the elderly to NOT break their bones.  When Jack advised women to also lift weights, doctors of his time thought it would hurt their ability to bear children, and popular opinion was that it would make a woman less attractive, i.e. too masculine.  Of course, we now know that neither could be farther from the truth.

In researching this blog, I had the pleasure of watching some clips of Jack LaLanne’s television show back in the 50s, when it was still black and white.  (I’ve provided links below for two of my favorites, but there are many more on You Tube.)  I was struck even more by how ahead of his time he was.  He was talking about things that even now are not completely accepted by the entire general public, although I think more and more are coming around.  Even then, he understood the connection between the mind and the body, most likely in a very organic way as he lived both extremes in his life -  completely unhealthy and depressed as a child and then completely healthy, happy, and full of zest as a man.  I think that’s why he could speak with such authority about it and many other related topics.

More than anything, I find myself inspired by Jack LaLanne’s life and legacy, for not only was he successful in his career and a positive influence on America, but he also had a loving family and home life.  He fills me with hope because, while there are still many things and ideas today that the general science and medical community still has not quite embraced as they should, I know that if we just follow his model and continue to speak out and stand in the truth as we know it, science and popular opinion will eventually catch up.

You Tube Videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEboAJf9UVc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wupXp7Tlsqg

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-robbins/jack-lalanne-dies-who-the_b_812902.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_LaLanne

http://www.usatoday.com/yourlife/fitness/exercise/2011-01-25-lalanneobit24_ST_N.htm

http://www.npr.org/2011/01/24/133175583/jack-lalanne-founding-father-of-fitness

America: OD’d on Salt

Let’s be clear.  Salt/sodium is not evil.  In fact, a certain amount is necessary for our bodies to function properly.  It is a key mineral in all our bodily fluids, including our blood, and helps maintain the balance of fluids throughout our bodies.  It also plays an important role in muscle strength and nerve function.  A person can actually be sodium-deficient.  Some symptoms of salt deficiency are lethargy, weariness, low blood pressure, and muscle cramps.

In America, however, most people are suffering from too much sodium in their diet, not a lack of it.  Primarily that is because, on average, Americans consume a lot more processed foods than from-scratch home cooked meals.  According to the American Heart Association, up to 75% of the sodium Americans consume comes from the sodium that is added to processed foods by the manufacturers.

On average, Americans consume 3436 mg of sodium daily.  The recommended amount is no more than 2300 mg (approximately a teaspoon) of salt and, realistically, more than half of Americans should probably be on a low-sodium diet of about 1500 mg a day.  The health risks of a diet high in sodium are serious and fatal.  A high sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack.  It has also been shown to greatly increase the risk of gastric cancer.

In 2006, the AMA (American Medical Association) called for a minimum of 50% reduction in sodium in processed foods, fast foods, and non-fast-food restaurant meals within a decade.  That shows how serious a health risk large daily doses of salt is.  The good news is that studies have proven that even a modest reduction of salt intake can greatly lower the risk of heart disease.  A mere 20%-30% reduction will do wonders.  This fact will be a boon to many Americans whose palettes have gotten used to a lot of sodium in their diet and who view cutting out salt as the end of food tasting good.  The truth is that as you lower your salt intake gradually, your palette will adjust and “require” less and less salt.  At the same time, all the health benefits of a lower sodium diet will be kicking in.  It is recommended that as you are lowering your salt intake, you begin to introduce your palette to other flavoring methods like garlic and spices.  This way, your taste buds will never want for flavor and you won’t see the reduction in salt as a sacrifice.  Rather, it will be seen only as the benefit it is.  Plus, you’ll have much more variety in your palette, and food will actually taste better.  With a high salt diet, the only flavor you really taste (and crave) is the salt.  Pretty one-dimensional.

When attempting to decrease sodium intake, be on the lookout for “hidden” sodium culprits.  There are many foods you might not think are high in sodium that actually are quite high.  Jarred tomato sauce, for instance, is usually ridiculously high in sodium, as are many salad dressings and soups.  Read the labels on EVERYTHING.  Pay particular attention to the serving size because even if the sodium per serving is low, the serving size itself might also be really small, meaning you’ll probably eat more and thus, consume more salt.  It’s also important to look for salt pseudonyms on food labels, like sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), sodium alginate, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Cut down on fast food altogether.  Fast food is usually not only high in salt, but also in other heart disease producing ingredients like saturated fat, trans fat and sugar (mostly in the form of white, refined carbohydrates).  If you are dining out at a non-fast-food restaurant, you can ask that your meal be prepared without salt.  On a whole, stay away from sauces, as they will most likely have a lot of sodium.  The other thing you can do when eating out is to compensate by eating a diet extremely low in salt the day of, as well as lowering it moderately the day before and the day after.

Finally, one of the biggest steps you can take to help reduce sodium in your diet is to cook more of your own meals.  This is the best way to completely control your sodium intake.  I know many of us lead very busy lives and it is hard to find the time, but if there is any way to incorporate a little more home cooking in your life, it will be beneficial on many different levels.  Some of my friends manage it by cooking a couple different meals on Sunday when they have more time, and then freezing most of them to be re-heated during the week.  Rachael Ray has a show on the Cooking Channel dedicated to just this idea called “Week in a Day”.  I also know people who have created a network of friends to help share in the cooking.  Each week they figure out a menu and then divvy up the meals so that each person is responsible for only one night.  Sure, you have to make a lot more because you’re cooking for quite a few families, but it makes the ingredient list much smaller and the amount of time it takes to cook much shorter.  A final option is to simply pick a few days a week that are less busy for you and cook on those days only.  On the other days, try to do “easy” things you can control the sodium in – like eggs, or sandwich night with low-sodium turkey.  If you ever make soup from scratch, make A LOT so you can freeze it and simply reheat, which is as easy as opening a can.  The slow cooker is a great option as well, as it will cook your meal for you while you are busy doing other things.

Sources:

http://www.webmd.com/diet/slideshow-salt-shockers

http://factoidz.com/the-health-benefits-and-health-risks-of-salt/

http://www.umm.edu/features/salt_Q&A.html

http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20070419/cut-heart-risk-by-eating-less-salt

http://www.webmd.com/cancer/tc/gastric-cancer-prevention-health-professional-information-nci-pdq-evidence-of-benefit

http://hubpages.com/hub/Health_Benefits_of_Sodium

Our bodies were designed to move.  While sitting still for long periods of time, day after day, will contribute to a myriad of health problems, moving around will help your circulation, your digestion, your metabolism, your muscles and joints, not to mention your brain.  On a whole, people are much more productive mentally when they take the time to move around.  In terms of our evolution, the human species has survived and thrived with movement.  It is only in very recent, modern times that humans have become so sedentary, and health practitioners and scientists are finding more and more that a sedentary lifestyle is an unhealthy one.

If you are like millions of other Americans with a job that keeps you chained to your desk, it is extremely important that you make time throughout your day to move your body, especially on the days you do not plan to exercise.  Although, to be clear, it is important to move your body around even on the days you do plan to hit the gym.  It is simply not advisable to sit at a desk with little or no movement for hours at a time.  Also, it is important for your eyes to get a break from the computer screen they’ve been staring at.  Finally, while you may be tempted to forego taking the time to move your body around on those days when you are just swamped with work, taking 5 minutes every hour or so to do some light exercising/stretching will actually increase your productivity.  Sitting for long periods of time causes decreased energy, decreased blood flow to the brain, and listlessness.

Here are a few simple exercises you can do at work:

(IMPORTANT:  Check with your doctor first before beginning any new exercise regimen.)

60 Second Full Blast Cardio

It is very beneficial to both your heart and your longevity to improve what is called your heart rate variability – you heart’s ability to go from 0 to 60 in mere seconds.  So, every once in a while, get up from your desk and do 60 seconds worth of cardio at full speed.  You can do jumping jacks, run in place, or simulated jump rope for instance.  If you have a stairwell nearby, run up and down it for a minute.

Simple Strength Exercises

As any personal trainer worth his/her own salt will tell you, you don’t need weights to build strength.  All you need is your body and a little imagination.  Some examples of simple strength exercises for the office:

  • Squats against the wall
  • Lunges (front, back, and to the side)
  • Dips using a sturdy chair (triceps exercise; test your chair gingerly first)
  • Desk pushups (test the desk to make sure it will hold your weight)
  • Using water bottles as weights:  Overhead press (shoulders); Bicep curls

Simple Stretching Exercises

Too many of us overlook stretching, but it is so important to the health of our muscles and joints to keep them mobile and loose – especially when you’re sitting in one position for long periods of time as you do at work.  Here are some simple stretching exercises:

  • While sitting or standing up tall, reach your hands up to the sky.
  • Standing, lace your hands behind your back, pinch your shoulder blades together, lifting your chest and chin.
  • Standing, bend forward with a flat back.  You should feel this in your hamstrings.
  • In your chair, with your hips facing forward, twist your torso to the right, while keeping your head looking towards the left.  Reverse.
  • Gentle neck rolls from side to side.
  • Gentle shoulder rolls, front and back.
  • While standing, circle your hips, to the right and then to the left.
  • Gentle ankle rolls.

Other Tips

Whenever possible, move. Do a lap around the office.  Take numerous trips to the water station.  Walk at lunch.  Take the stairs.  Don’t send an email to the co-worker down the hall – get up and walk there.

Get some sort of reminder system going. There are many great (and free) applications you can download to your computer that will sound an alarm so you can be reminded to get up and move your body.  (It’s easy to get caught up with what you’re doing and forget, trust me, I know.)  One example is an application called Cool Timer.

Invest in a ball chair. A ball chair will help to keep your body active even while it is sitting, because it engages your core.  With a ball chair your core has to work to keep you balanced on its circular, uneven surface.  It also will help you keep good posture.

For your eyes: Every time you exercise, take care of your eyes at the same time.  If you have been focusing for a long time at your computer screen or another short-distanced object like a document, spend a couple of minutes forcing yourself to focus on objects far away from you.

When most of us think of posture, we recall memories of our parents, grandparents, and other caretakers chiding us to “sit up straight” and “stand up tall”.  If only they had told us all the reasons why, we might have actually listened!  The sad fact is many of us have bad posture.  Blame it on all the work and traveling that is done sitting down hunched over a desk or in front of a wheel.

As it turns out, posture is a big deal, bigger than I ever realized before I began researching this post.  It effects not only whether we will suffer from back and neck pain, but also our circulatory system, our blood pressure, our lungs, our digestive system, our endocrine (hormone) system, our energy levels, and even our thoughts, our confidence, and how others perceive us.  Let’s take these all one by one:

Circulatory System: Hunching over a computer or other bad posturing can restrict blood flow to the back of the head which can cause tension headaches or worse.

Blood Pressure: A study published in the August 2007 issue of “The Journal of Neuroscience” suggests that strain in the neck muscles (from hunching over your desk for instance) may contribute to higher blood pressure, as this type of strain can trigger brain cells to raise blood pressure.

Lungs: When hunched over your lungs are physically unable to take a full breath.  This can also contribute to raised stress levels, as deep breathing helps create relaxation while shallow breathing contributes to feeling stressed.  It has also been suggested that if a spine is out of alignment, it will cause a misalignment of the rib cage, which in turn will put undue pressure on both the lungs and the heart.

Digestive System: The bulk of our digestive system is located in our torso area.  When we are hunched over, we sort of crush and squeeze these digestive organs, thus hindering digestion.  Here is an experiment that can help you understand this in a visceral way.  During the holidays, after you have eaten that too large meal, try getting up and going for a short walk directly after, being sure to keep good posture the whole time.  Notice how your body feels.  Then, next time you eat a similarly large meal, force yourself to just sit there, hunched over, and notice how that makes your body feel.  Now, to be clear, the movement of walking does stimulate digestion, which gives that first experience an extra advantage, but there is something to be said for giving your digestive system the space in which to properly digest.

Endocrine (Hormone) System: Hormones play an important role in the overall health of our body.  Because poor posture forces our muscles to work harder to keep us upright, this creates unnecessary physical stress on our musculoskeletal structure, which in turn causes disruption to the release and concentration of stress hormones in the body, which then causes imbalances in the entire endocrine system.  (There is another component of how certain posturing affects our hormones, which I will touch upon later on.)

Energy Levels: Our energy levels are affected by bad posture (and conversely by good posture) because restricted airflow and extra stress on our muscles cause us to fatigue quicker and more easily.

Our Thoughts / Levels of Confidence / Other’s Perception: If you think of posture as how you occupy a space, you can easily begin to understand how it could affect what others think of you, as well as what you think of yourself.  Here’s an easy example:  If you were to walk in a room with your head down, shoulder’s hunched, fleetingly making eye contact with those you meet, you are going to perceive that experience through that posturing.  Likewise, the people you encounter will read you a certain way through that same posturing, thus causing them to treat you according to their perception of you, which will then reinforce the view your posturing initially gave you.  Conversely, if you were to walk into a room with your head high and your shoulders back, boldly making eye contact with all you meet, that experience will be the polar opposite, both for you and for others, and you will be treated differently as well.

Another compelling example of the power of posture has to do with the findings of a recent study.  Basically, it was found that if a person were to spend as little as 2 minutes striking certain power postures and poses (for example, standing with your arms stretched out wide, standing in front of a desk with your palms pressed on it, or reclining in a chair with your hands behind your head and your feet on the table), their testosterone levels would rise, and their cortisol levels would dip, leading to an optimal hormonal balance to help that person feel more powerful, confident, and able to take risks.

Another study found that if you sit up straight you are more likely to believe your thoughts.  I bet that if they did a similar study they would find that others would more likely believe your thoughts too.  Good posture displays confidence and openness, while poor posture tends to relay the opposite message.

Yoga is an entire discipline based on various postures and poses aimed at creating harmony, balance, and calm in our bodies and our lives.

All in all, good posture is much more than something your mom nagged you about as a kid.  How we hold our bodies and how we occupy the space around us has a profound affect on us physically, mentally and emotionally.  Changing your posture can literally change your body’s chemistry, its functioning, and its energy.  It can also change your perception and other’s perception of you.  It is much more powerful than most of us ever gave it credit for.  I don’t know about you, but I plan on calling my mom later today and thanking her for every time she told me to “Straighten up!”

Sources:  “The Power of Posture” Courier Post

The Effects of Bad Posture on Heart Health, Livestrong.com

The Importance of Good Posture, Buzzle.com

Poor Posture and Health, Root2Being.com

Sciencedaily.com, October 5, 2009

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve noticed that there seem to more and more foods containing flaxseed at the grocery store.  It’s in crackers, oatmeal, cereal, bars, waffles and more.  Have you ever noticed those eggs that claim they are rich in omega-3s?  Apparently, the chickens that lay those eggs are fed a special diet rich in flaxseed, which is how those eggs become a source of omega-3 fatty acids.  So, what’s the fuss?   Why is flaxseed called a super food?  Why is it being added to so many different things?

Basically, flaxseed is termed a super food because it contains these three ingredients:

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids.  Specifically, ALA, making flaxseed one of the few non-fish sources of this very important nutrient.  (These are the good, heart healthy fats.)
  2. Lignans, known for their antioxidant properties and their cancer-fighting abilities. (More on that later.)
  3. Fiber, both soluble (which helps lower blood cholesterol levels) and insoluble (which aids in digestion and keeps your colon healthy).

The following are some of the health benefits of flaxseed:

  1. Helps with Diabetes:  Flaxseed has been shown in studies to lower blood sugar levels.
  2. Fight/Prevent Cancer:  Particularly breast, prostate, and colon cancer.  Studies show that the ALA in flaxseed inhibits tumor growth.  Also, the lignans in flaxseed help protect against cancers that are sensitive to hormones.  Finally, poor diet is often linked to colon cancer and the fiber in flaxseed is sure to help keep your colon healthy.
  3. Prevent Cardiovascular Disease:  Flaxseed helps our cardiovascular system in a variety of ways including anti-inflammatory actions, normalizing heartbeats, reducing artery plaque build-up, preventing hardening of the arteries, and lowering the LDL levels (bad cholesterol) in your blood.
  4. Help with Inflammatory Issues:  Both the ALA and lignans in flaxseed can help with inflammation associated with some diseases such as Parkinson’s and asthma.
  5. Can Help Balance Hormones:  Lignans are a plant estrogen.  Studies have shown that daily intake of flaxseed can help reduce hot flashes in menopausal women.  Flaxseed has also shown positive effects on menstruating women as well as post-menopausal women.
  6. Ease constipation:  Flaxseed’s fiber is great for regular bowel movements and overall colon health.
  7. Better Immune Function:  The lignans and ALA help prevent inflammation that affects your immune system.

There is more of a chance of whole flaxseed passing through our system undigested, by the way, so it might be better to use ground flaxseed.  Some labels will call it milled flaxseed or flax meal, but it’s all the same.  You can also grind it yourself with a coffee grinder. With ground flaxseed, it is best to store it in the freezer, which will keep it from oxidizing and losing its nutritional value.  The outer shell of whole flaxseed keeps the oil and fatty acids inside well protected, so it can be stored in any dark, cool place.

One of the best things about flaxseed is that it is so easy to add to your diet.  It has a nice, mild and pleasant nutty flavor that goes well with so many different foods.  Flaxseed can be easily added to yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, and soup.  It can also be used in baking.  Web MD recommends substituting ¼ – ½ cup of flour with ground flaxseed in recipes calling for 2 or more cups of flour.  Flaxseed can also be easily added to certain savory dishes like beef stew, shepherds pie, meatloaf, chili, or chicken enchiladas.

Sources:  Web MD, Flax Council of Canada, womenfitness.net, flaxhealth.com

Chronic stress is very damaging to both our physical and mental well-being.  (For more about the effects of chronic stress, read our blog titled “The Earth’s Heartbeat”.)  Yet, most of us encounter stress in some form almost every day.  So, what to do?  One very effective way to alleviate stress and to combat its damaging effects is to meditate.

Meditation can reverse your stress response and help shield you from the effects of chronic stress.   When you meditate, your heart rate and breathing slow down, your blood pressure normalizes, you use less oxygen, your adrenal glands produce less cortisol, your mind ages at a slower rate, and your immune function improves.   Besides reversing your stress response, mediation quiets the mind.  As a result, you become more focused, more creative, have a clearer mind, and can even gain a better perspective on stressful situations.

Mediation can be self-taught or you can take classes taught by a certified meditation instructor.  (If you have the time, an experienced teacher can be very helpful when you are just beginning your meditation practice.)  Simply put, the practice of meditation is sitting comfortably in a quiet space, clearing your mind, and breathing in and out.  While it is simple in design, meditation does take practice and discipline.  If you are just beginning, it is recommended you only attempt 5 minutes of meditation at a time (the bare minimum needed to produce desired results) and then build into longer meditations (20 minutes or so.)  You may find it hard at first to clear your mind of its endless chatter, but that is normal.  Whatever you do, don’t let it stress you out!  Simply notice the intruding thoughts, let them go, and re-focus.

For some, it is helpful to focus on one thing during meditation.  This can alleviate distracting thoughts.  You can focus on your breath, even counting how many breaths you take.  Alternately, you can focus on an object such as a painting, a flower, or a candle.  Some like to focus on a particular sound, the classic one being the Sanskrit word “Om”, which means perfection. With this method, you would chant “om” (or any other word you like) with each exhale.  Still another method to help quiet your mind is to focus on a single thought or idea.  Some good ones are love, gratitude, peace, and forgiveness.

Some people who practice meditation find it helpful to use imagery as a tool.  With this method, you imagine you are in a pleasant and relaxing place as you meditate.  It is helpful to be detailed in your imagery, as this will make the place come alive to you, as well as focus your mind more efficiently.  Listening to calming music is another way to clear your mind as you meditate.  There are some great CDs out there specifically geared towards meditation.  Alternatively, you can purchase guided meditation CDs (or through itunes).  These types of CDs involve someone talking you through the meditation.

In the beginning, I would suggest trying all the methods to best figure out which ones work for you.  Remember, don’t get discouraged.  Be patient with yourself and trust the process.  With practice, everything gets easier and the benefits are too great to pass up.  If you stick with it, before long you will find yourself looking forward to your few minutes of peace and quiet and relaxation.  It is amazing how great it feels to just be still.  To just be.

In conclusion, I will leave you with a quote I came across not that long ago:

“Only in quiet waters things mirror themselves undistorted.

Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.”

Hans Margolius

Halloween is just around the corner, and if you have young kids, I’m sure you have been gearing up for it for quite some time now.  You’ve had the “What do you want to be this year?” conversation numerous times as your kid has probably changed his/her mind more than once, and you’ve done a lot of shopping and preparing – getting the costume together, the decorations, and of course, lest we forget, the candy.  Halloween is a fun holiday for kids, and one of a kind.  What other holiday gives kids the license to get dressed up and pretend to be something/someone they are not and then go door-to-door asking for (and getting!) candy?!

For many parents who try their best to feed their kids healthy and nutritious foods, the sudden onslaught of high-sugar, high-fat, highly processed junk that is about to enter their house is a bit of a conundrum.  After all, how can you deny your kids what they have been anticipating and dreaming about for so long?  My advice is to use it as an opportunity to teach your child(ren) a lesson in moderation.   It is equally as important as a parent to teach your children how to eat unhealthy foods as it is to teach them to eat healthy foods.  Long ago, before we had such foods readily at hand, nature took care of that lesson for us.  The not-so-healthy foods just weren’t as readily available and in such abundance as the healthy ones (and very many didn’t even exist yet, candy bars included).  As a result, we ate unhealthy food much less because we only had the opportunity to do so every once in a while.  Now, in our modern day industrialized society, we’ve got stores full of junk food and all we have to do is pick them up and pay for them.  The opportunity to eat unhealthy foods is always there, and will always be there as your children enter adulthood and begin to make these types of decisions on their own.  That’s why it’s so important to teach them the appropriate manner in which to treat themselves to these unhealthy foods.

Here’s what I suggest you do.   At the end of Halloween night, let your kids eat as much candy as they want.  After all, they are dying to dig in and gorge themselves and if you start the moderation train too early, it could backfire.  Also, Halloween only comes once a year, and eating too much candy is part of the fun.   It’s important to let your kids have that fun.  Once they have eaten so much candy they are almost sick, you can begin the “eat in moderation” discussion.  It’s best not to approach it as a lecture, but rather to lead your kids to the right conclusion with the right questions.  Remember – you’ve let them eat so much candy they feel sick, which is an advantage to the discussion.  You can start with the question, “How do you feel?”  Or “Did you enjoy your candy?”  Then, you can gently lead them into, “I bet you’re first couple of pieces tasted the best, right?”  (Nod, nod, nod.  Nodding your own head will help get them to nod theirs.)  “Do you know why that is?  Because too much candy is not good for your body.  It doesn’t like it, so it gives off signals that make you stop enjoying it.  You become more and more numb to the taste, and your stomach starts to feel sick.  All that sugar causes your insides to swell up and become inflamed.  After a couple of pieces, it’s like your body is screaming at you to please stop.”  Etc., etc., you get the gist of it.  Once you’re pretty sure you’ve got them hook, line and sinker, you can offer them the following two options:

Option A:  Eat the rest of your candy in one or two more sittings like you did tonight.

Option B:  Spread it out and make it last for a WHOLE MONTH OR MORE, eating only 1 – 2 pieces a day.  (The best pieces, you can remind them.)  Let them know that they can decide when to eat the candy each day.  They will most likely respond well to having that type of control over it.  You might want to tell them how you would choose to eat yours if you had the option.   For instance, I would choose to eat the candy after dinner or after lunch, but never too early in the day, because anticipation is half the fun.  I would concentrate solely on eating the candy – not eat it while reading or watching TV – so I could savor each bite.  I would eat it slowly and methodically, taking tiny bites and chewing thoroughly, so I really got to enjoy the taste of all the flavors in the candy.  When you’re telling them when and how you would choose to eat the candy, try to make it sound enticing and decadent and fun!.

If, after all that, your child still wants to gorge and eat all his/her candy over the next couple of days, you must let him/her do so.  That way, they will learn the lesson of moderation the hard way, but they will learn it.  At the end of the first candy gorge after Halloween night, when they are feeling full and gross and completely candied out for the second night in a row, you can ask them again if they want to spread out the remainder of the candy or if they want to continue on the gorge route.  They may very well give spreading it out and moderation a try.  If not, there is always next year!  And at least you will have gotten rid of all that candy!

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