Tag Archives: Exercise

Overwhelmed?

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I am overwhelmed.  Who hasn’t said that?  But what does it really mean?  The definition is “to load, heap, treat, or address with an overpowering or excessive amount of anything.”  That is certainly true when it comes to all of the health and wellness advice that we hear.

I truly believe that everyone wants to feel good and to be healthy.  There are so many reasons that we have trouble striving for, and reaching, improved health.  These reasons can be emotional, physical, political, and many others.  Add in the vastness of information at our disposal, much of which is confusing and contradictory.  How are we supposed to navigate all of this, and who has the time to do it anyway?

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Sometimes we have to make the time if we are faced with serious illness in our lives.  We need to be able to find reliable and valid information.  Please, please, please remember that what we read is not always true just because it comes from an excellent public speaker and/or a doctor.  Solid starting points are:  WebMDHealthfinder.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services.  Take advantage of their search functions.  Also, Wikipedia is always a great place to start a search, but keep in mind that the information can be posted by anyone at any time and always needs to be verified.

prioritize

So what is the most important aspects of health and wellness to concerns ourselves about?  Exercise?  Diet?  Stress control?  Should we worry about butter vs. margarine?  Alkaline vs. acidic?  Carbs vs. fat?  Organic vs. conventional?  The concerns seem endless.  And for each concern there are multiple and conflicting opinions as to what we should be doing.  Then, just when we think we have it figured out, the experts discover something new and everything we know as true is turned upside down.  Frustrating?  Yes.  Yes it is.  But it is also the nature of the proverbial beast.  As our technology and understanding evolve and increase, so do our core beliefs on what is healthy.

Certainly when our lives are effected by a specific illness we tend to concentrate on that one as the most important.  If we are predisposed to a disease, that should be of greater importance to us to learn about.  Knowledge is power… as long as we are willing to implement that knowledge.  Just how much time and energy do we need to spend researching all aspects of health and wellness in order to improve our health and quality of life?

Good_News

The good news is that for most of us, simply being mindful goes a long way toward improving our health and wellness.  Start with the basics, my personal mantra:  balance, moderation, and variety.  They all are all different, yet each ties in with the others:

download     Balance:
Work and play, good food and junk food, spending and saving, exercising and relaxing… It doesn’t matter what it is.  Too much of one and not enough of the other infringes on our health and happiness.  When we balance all aspects of our existence we can enjoy a healthier, happier life.

images (2)     Moderation:
Anything taken to the extreme can be harmful.  As I’ve mentioned before, that includes drinking too much water.  Not only do we want to balance relaxation with exercise, we also want to exercise in a safe manner and not push harder than our bodies can safely handle.  If we are not active, we need to work up to strenuous activities.  “Weekend athletes” suffer injuries due to their lack of conditioning.  If we “work hard and play hard” we are balanced, but if we are pushing ourselves too hard in each of them, we will suffer from the lack of moderation in both.

Variety of fresh vegetables at market. Siem Reap     Variety:
We all know how important it is to have variety in our diet.  Different colored fruits and vegetables each provide distinct health properties.  We need a variety of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in order to survive and thrive.  Most of us eat wheat (white or processed whole wheat) at every meal and for snacks in between.  Many of our bodies are rejecting the wheat we are consuming at every meal (and it’s not the same wheat our grandparents ate.)  We are complex organisms.  When we consume a large variety of healthy foods we don’t have to concerns ourselves with the specifics of eating the right combination of nutrients.  When we vary our exercise routines we are working different muscle groups and different systems.  By varying our mental activities, we work different parts of our brains.

When we are mindful and aware of what we are doing to and with our bodies, we can do so with balance, moderation, and variety which will increase our health and wellness.  Will you start with being mindful and perhaps throw a little more balance, moderation, and variety in?  I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome!

My poor self-sacrificing telomeres!

Fountain of youth?!  How easy is it to attain?

Fountain of youth?! How easy is it to attain?

Could our telomeres be the key to the fountain of youth?  (If you are not interested in the science, skip the next two paragraphs.  You won’t feel like you missed much.)

The blueprint for everything “us” is in our DNA.  Our DNA is neatly packaged in chromosomes during cell division.  “In human bodies, cells divide nearly two trillion times every day.”  (ASU)  Each time a cell divides, the DNA is replicated, and the end of each chromosome is slightly shortened.  Telomeres protect the DNA by covering the ends of the chromosomes (like an aglet protects a shoelace.)  Each time they replicate, it is the telomere that is shortened, protecting the DNA.  Imagine that you are an architect and you have a blueprint that needs to be duplicated many times for all of your contractors.  But every time you make a copy, part of the original is removed.  The end result would not be a very healthy building.  It would be disastrous.  (UCSF)

And so it is with our chromosomes.  Rather than allowing the ends of the DNA to fray with each replication, the telomeres protect the tips and are whittled away with each copy made.  “The ends of our chromosomes are made up of cells with a DNA sequence that protects the threads of DNA from unraveling, a natural fraying effect that is part of cell division.”  (How Stuff Works)  Thank you, telomeres!  Your selfless acts of self-sacrifice allow me to keep replicating my cells in a healthy way!  But once they are gone, the cell can no longer divide.

What can we do to preserve our telomeres to protect our DNA?  “One study so far has observed an increase in telomerase activity (which protects and lengthens telomeres) by persons enrolled in a health program including eating a healthy diet, getting daily exercise, and using stress reduction techniques such as yoga and/or meditation.”  (Telomere FAQs)

Bottom line:  Why does it matter?  It matters because it appears that we can actually lengthen our telomeres by implementing a healthy lifestyle, which in turn allows our cells to continue replicating longer keeping us younger and healthier!  What is the latest superfood of the day?  What fad diet it spreading like wildfire?  What is the most recent exercise craze?  The beautify of is that It doesn’t matter!  What does matter is that we adopt healthier lifestyles.  Exercise more.  Eat healthier foods.  Eat less of the unhealthy foods.  When you increase your telomeres, you quite possibly increase your life!

Remember:  Balance.  Moderation.  Variety.

Diet. A Four-Letter Word?

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What is a diet?  According to my friends Webster and The Merriams, diet is defined as:

:  food and drink regularly provided or consumed
:  habitual nourishment
:  the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason
:  a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight <going on a diet>

Our “diets” are what we habitually eat (and drink.)  That’s it.  They are not “good.”  They are not “bad.”  They are what they are.  They may be good for us (or not), but they are nothing more than a list of foods and food products.  We choose to label them, and then often judge ourselves for being “bad” or eating “bad.”  Our negative self-talk only serves to propagate our unhealthy behaviors.

Also according to Merriam-Webster, the origin of the word “diet” is:  “Middle English diete, from Anglo-French, from Latin diaeta,from Greek diaita, literally, manner of living, from diaitasthaito lead one’s life”  Manner of living, or lead one’s life.  How wonderful is that?!

So, our diets, what we habitually consume, are our manner of living and lead our lives.  If we think about that, it is certainly true.  What we eat fuels our bodies (and our minds), and allows us to live the full and meaningful lives we so desire.  Of course if we are eating food products that damage our health, we are leading our lives in the opposite direction.

Most of us are no longer plagued by plagues and infectious diseases, but are suffering and succumbing to “lifestyle diseases.”  It is our responsibility to change that.  We have effectively redefined the term “epidemic.”  It used to be an infection affecting a disproportionately large portion of the population.  You can’t “catch” obesity and lifestyle diseases, but they are at epic proportions and are being considered epidemics by many.  

So.  Have you been “on a diet”?  It appears that there are some 500 to choose from.  A few of the classifications include:  belief-based, vegetarian/vegan, low-calorie, low-carb, low-fat, crash/fad, detox, and others.  Many, many others.  A study in the UK found that “the average 45-year-old has been on 61 diets.”  (MailOnline)  It doesn’t take much to figure out that if 61 “diets” haven’t worked, maybe it’s the act of dieting that is to blame!

The next time we want to lose a few pounds and feel a bit better physically and emotionally, we can think about going on yet another diet*, or we can think about making a few small, manageable changes to our diet and lifestyle.  We can consume a few more nutrient-dense calories, a few less nutrient-void foods, and move a little more today than we did yesterday.   (*Most diets are extremely successful.  Not for weight loss, of course, but for the authors!)

I am in no way saying that it’s easy, or that everyone will lose weight by making these more manageable lifestyle changes.  There are many reasons that people are unwell and/or overweight.  But most of us can experience a significant change in our bodies and our health by making simple changes.  Healthier choices.  We can feel so much better!  We owe it to ourselves, to our children, to their children…  Small changes matter.  

So what one or two changes are you going to make today?

It’s All in Your Head

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Sometimes we know we aren’t well.  When the doctors can’t find anything physically wrong we may be told:  “It’s all in your head.”  It may be, it may not be.  But we’re talking about a lot more than hypochondria, here.  We tend to forget how very powerful our minds are.  The distinction between brain and mind, as I see it, is that our brains are organs like our heart or lungs.  Our minds encompass the usage or functioning of the brain (and then some.)  

In order to improve our health and wellness or prevent the loss of functioning, we need to take care of our whole selves – body/mind/spirit.  I think, therefore, that our brains fall under “body”, while our minds…  well, that’s self-explanatory!  Yet, it’s not that simple.  The more I think about it and research it, the more crossover there is.

Keeping the organ of our brains fit is much like keeping our hearts healthy.  Diet and exercise are important to keep the blood vessels clear to allow our brains to absorb the nutrients we need, and we can only use those nutrients if we consume them.  Just like our muscles, our brains can atrophy or waste away if we don’t use and challenge them.  “Just as aerobics sculpt the muscles, so mental training sculpts the gray matter in ways scientists are only beginning to fathom.” (WSJ)  The tips in the following article cover all areas of brain health (exercising – mental and physical, challenging our brains, eating a healthy diet, taking necessary supplements, what to do in moderation, taking safety precautions, reducing stress, increasing sensory stimulation, and being social.):  “Brain Power: 100 Ways to Keep Your Mind Healthy and Fit.”  

Not covered in the preceding article is the area of neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity.  “The term refers to the brain’s recently discovered ability to change its structure and function, in particular by expanding or strengthening circuits that are used and by shrinking or weakening those that are rarely engaged.” (WSJ)  Meditation, and even the way we choose to think can rewire our brain.  We can actually change the connections!  Dr. Wayne Dyer says:  “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.  I know this to be true.  Try it, you’ll like it!

When we are mindful and monitor our thoughts, and we find them going to the old, negative, ‘broken records’, we can try to change those thoughts and see if it makes a difference.  “You’re in charge of whatever thought goes into your mind.” (Dr. Wayne Dyer – Video 2:32)  If we do it often enough, our brains will actually rewire.  I find that so exciting, hopeful, and fascinating!  I know that when I have negative thoughts, they tend to breed, but when I turn them around, I see and feel the good that is always surrounding me instead of being dragged down by the negative.  

“Motion is Lotion”

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“Motion is lotion.”  That’s what my vet told me when my dog (Guinness, my wonderful Bernese Mountain Dog and my ‘first born’!) had joint problems.  We all know this.  Exercise has so many different benefits:  It makes us physically stronger and healthier, emotionally happier and healthier, and of course it helps us with our weight and appearance.  For those of us that have osteoarthritis (“Osteoarthritis affects an estimated 27 million Americans” WebMD), It’s very important to keep moving.  “Move it or lose it.”  Remember what happened to the Tin Man?  Even the oil didn’t help until he started moving!      

The WSJ reported that “Medical experts say inactivity poses as great a health risk as smoking, contributing to heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, depression, arthritis and osteoporosis. ”  And the WSJ displays this infographic which shows that even periodic exercisers benefit from movement with an increased immune response against colds.   

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Here are 50 Reasons to Exercise, to get moving and get our blood flowing (which delivers oxygen and all the raw materials our bodies need to every cell.):  

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So, do our number of reasons to *not* exercise out number these reasons *to* do it?!  We can pick one, or several, from the above list and give ourselves a reason to take time to take care of ourselves.  For those of us who like a challenge, The challenge is to move more!  For those of us who work better with a gentle push, I strongly suggest we move more!  Just a little more than yesterday to start.  And keep it up for a month.  Just a month, and see how you feel.  At that point we probably won’t want to give it up!  A brisk walk is inexpensive and a great way to engage our bodies in a little activity.  And we can get some sunshine and fresh air, too.  (Please do not start an exercise routine without consulting with your physician.)

And remember, moderation and balance in all things.  Going from zero to sixty might be an attractive quality for a sportscar, but we don’t want to push ourselves to the point of injury (and the inability to exercise!)  

Tips for starting an exercise program:

  1. Contact the doctor to make sure all systems are go.
  2. Choose an activity that is enjoyable.  (Otherwise it’s drudgery, and it should be fun.)
  3. Choose an activity that is available.  (Choosing skiing if we live in the tropics probably isn’t the best choice!)
  4. Determine a time of day that works.  (If I don’t go first thing in the morning, I never make it.)
  5. Enlist a buddy or support system if possible.
  6. Eat regularly, starting at breakfast, to fuel our bodies.
  7. And always hydrate before, (during if it’s strenuous), and after exercise.
  8. Start slowly and work up to more strenuous activity.
  9. Feel great!

 

Understanding Cholesterol. As easy as 1-2-3.

Microsoft PowerPoint - Attia Lipoprotein Trafficking.pptx [Read-

Photo credit:  The Eating Academy

Our bodies (our livers, actually) produce cholesterol because we need it to function properly.  Some of cholesterol’s responsibilites:

  1. It aids in tissue and hormone formation
  2. It protects your nerves
  3. It helps with digestion (WebMD)

When tested, our cholesterol results are:.

  1. HDL (high density lipoprotein) – the good or “happy”
  2. LDL (low density lipoprotein) – the bad or “lousy, lazy, or lethal*” one
  3. Triglycerides (extra calories transported to our fat cells via our blood)  (AHA)

What numbers do we want to see?  Generally speaking:
HDL cholesterol at least 40 mg/dL, optimally higher than 60 mg/dL.
LDL cholesterol under 100 mg/dL. (WebMD)
Triglycerides under 150 mg/dL
A ratio between 3.5:1 and 5:1 (Calculated:  Total cholesterol (including triglycerides)/HDL (
Mayo Clinic)

*The “L” words are only to help us remember which is which.  The LDL takes the cholesterol throughout our body.  It is much needed.  If there is too much, though, it can be deposited on the walls of our arteries, and that’s when our health problems begin which is why it was termed “bad.”  HDL, on the other hand, removes the excess cholesterol from our bloodstream and protects our arteries from the excess. This is why the ratio is so important.  Our bodies produce cholesterol from any type of food – carbohydrates, fats, or proteins.  (Harvard)  

It’s not just genetics, though.  What we eat definitely affects our cholesterol numbers.  Many of us have been eating “low-fat” for a long time in an attempt to be healthier.  Unfortunately, carbohydrates (and especially added sugars) are impacting our cardiovascular health tremendously.  A study on sugar and cholesterol:

“In this study, there was a statistically significant correlation between dietary added sugars and blood lipid levels among US adults… our data support dietary guidelines that target a reduction in consumption of added sugar.”  (Jama)  

One of the theories is that because sugar is inflammatory (unfortunately I can attest to this fact), it can damage the artery walls, giving cholesterol in our blood a rough surface to stick to.  (Dr. Aieta and others.)

So, what do we do if our numbers are too high?  First and foremost, we need to consult our doctor.  But if we want to make positive changes for prevention, it is very simple.  The same habits that increase the HDL also decrease the LDL and triglycerides:

The first steps in treatment to lower triglyceride levels include eating a healthy diet, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and aerobic exercise on a regular basis. A diet low not only in fats, but also sugars; simple carbohydrates (the white stuff….potatoes, pasta, bread); and alcohol helps lower triglyceride levels.  (Cleveland Clinic)

Again, it boils down to a healthy lifestyle of balance and moderation of the “bad” things.  Move more, eat less processed and sugar-added food products, drink less alcohol…  As we make some lifestyle changes (baby steps, one thing at a time), we begin to feel better, our quality of life increases, and we don’t have to worry about cholesterol, diabetes, or the myriad of lifestyle diseases that are robbing us of our health and our wealth.  One day at a time, one choice at a time.  What will you do differently today?

The Pressure of Blood Pressure

bloodpressuremeasurement

Blood pressure seems to be something we all know about, yet don’t really know.   It is simply the force of our blood against the walls of our blood vessels.  Our blood pressure is determined by the health of our circulatory system (strength of our heartbeat, elasticity of our artery walls, amount and thickness of our blood), and our age and health (physical condition,)

We all know how it is measured, but do we know what they are really measuring?!  They are measuring the force of the blood against the wall of an artery in our left arm, closest to our heart.  The top number (systolic pressure) is the measure of the pressure against the artery wall when our heart beats or pumps.  The bottom number (diastolic) is measured between beats while the heart is resting or refilling.  I’m currently learning how to listen to and measure it myself – it’s much harder (for me, anyway) than I thought!

Here is a brief video overview of blood pressure.

I was always taught that 120/80 is “normal.”  My research shows that we should be anywhere between 90/60 and 120/80, so 120/80 is the top of the ‘normal’ range.  According to WebMD:

Normal blood pressure rises steadily from about 90/60 at birth to about 120/80 in a healthy adult. If someone were to take your blood pressure immediately after you’d delivered a speech or jogged five miles, the reading would undoubtedly seem high. This is not necessarily cause for alarm: It’s natural for blood pressure to rise and fall with changes in activity or emotional state.

We should check our BP whenever we have the opportunity, or visit our doctors.  One high reading is not a problem, but if we have two consistently high readings, we should consult with our medical practitioners.

Risk factors include:  Family history, advanced age, gender-related risk factors, lack of physical activity, poor diet (including too much salt), overweight and obesity, and too much alcohol.  Additional risk factors may include:    Stress, smoke (first and second-hand), and sleep apnea.  For more information see Understand Your Risk for High Blood Pressure.

If we have high blood pressure, or if we want to prevent it, there are a number of things we can do:

  1. Eat healthier food
  2. Move more
  3. Maintain a healthy weight
  4. Manage stress
  5. Avoid tobacco smoke
  6. Take medications properly if prescribed
  7. Limit alcohol if consumed

Details for these tips can be found by clicking the respective hot-links in Prevention & Treatment of High Blood Pressure.

As always, moderation and balance.  Small changes add up.