Tag Archives: Wellness

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.

“Date” Yet one more four-letter word.

Tzolkin Calendar - hsc08a

No, not that kind of date!  It can’t be healthy to eat food past the “expire” date, can it?  What about the “sell by” or “use by” dates?  These labels are confusing, and really don’t mean very much.  We might as well use an Aztec Calendar Wheel for the same amount of clarity!

They give us the the date by which the manufacturer has deemed the food to be closest to the taste that the manufacturer decided was best.  “But companies want people to taste their products as best they can at the optimum, because that’s how they maintain their business and their market shares.”  (Institute of Food Technologists)  “There should be a standard date and wording that is used. This is about quality, not safety. You can make your own decision about whether a food still has an edible quality that’s acceptable to you.” (Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic)  All sources say the same thing.  Smell it.  Taste it.  You can tell if a food has gone bad.

This is much different than contamination.  “Bacteria, viruses, or parasites mainly cause foodborne illness. Many foodborne illnesses are a result of bacteria or viruses, which are microorganisms or “germs” that occur either naturally in foods or are spread as a result of poor practices, such as cross contaminating foods or improper handling during food preparation. Bacteria can rapidly multiply under the right conditions.”  (MDH)

Bacteria growth in food 2

Bottom line:  Let your senses (including common sense) guide you, and take basic precautions including hand-washing and sanitary kitchen practices.  (Information on food safety here.)

You CAN Have Your Cake (and Eat it Too.)

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I just love this graphic (and the article that goes with it) and had to share it.  But that’s the literal-thinker in me.  I just can’t help myself sometimes!

I woke up this morning with a burning desire to share…  Is sugar ‘evil’?  Of course not.  It’s an object.  A substance.  Evil comes with maliciously causing harm.  (More on this later…)  So why, now, do we hear about so much about sugar being evil, and how diabetes and heart disease – all related to sugar consumption are at epidemic levels?  Sugar has been refined since 642 AD, and in “the 11th Century AD. Crusaders returning home talked of this “new spice” and how pleasant it was.”  642 AD.  That’s a looooong time ago!  So, what has changed?

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Quantity has changed, that’s for sure.  Some by choice, some not-so-much.  We used to have a small amount of homemade confection on the rare occasion, a holiday perhaps, because as we’ve all learned:  “food is love.”  And when we are fed food that makes us feel good it must mean we are loved more, right?  With increasing technology and science, sweeteners became more physically and financially available to more and more people.

As the technology has advanced, and the processing increases, not only is it more affordable, it is often the cheapest “food” source.  The only available option for many where quality foods are not available at grocery stores are the highly processed foods often high in sugar.

As if that’s not enough, the food products industry has learned to use our predilection for sweets (our bodies’ own survival instinct) against us.  “Even the common “sweet tooth” may be rooted in survival instinct, he suggested. Carbohydrates, typically sweet, are a vital energy source to a wild animal continuously on the go. The evolved ability to associate sweetness with energy may lie behind our present-day preferences for ice cream and candy bars, Pritchard speculates.”  This is why, in addition to insidious advertising, our food products are laced with sugar and salt and chemical concoctions to keep us coming back for more.  And the ‘evil’ encroaches!

So, what is one to do?  It’s a hard call.  I am all about balance, moderation, and variety.  I think it is very important not to deprive ourselves because deprivation causes us to feel bad, lacking, angry… and it can cause us to binge.  If you can occasionally have a ‘sweet treat’, then by all means enjoy it.  Preferably homemade and less processed…

As I learned from Potatoes Not Prozac, I work best when coming from a mindset of abundance, not deprivation.  By changing my diet and slowly cutting back the ‘sweets and treats’ and increasing the different ‘real foods’ I was eating, not only did I begin to feel and look better, now I am able to eat so much more than before.  And since I LOOOOVE to eat, this is a definite win-win for me!

Balance.  Moderation.  Variety.  Have that very occasional dessert if you are so inclined, if you can.  That doesn’t work for me.  If I have some, I want more.  The addictive component of sweeteners is too strong for me.  I choose to stay away completely.  It’s a personal choice.  Choose what works best for you, your body, your heath and well-being.  And enjoy your life!

What’s the deal with Type 2 Diabetes, anyway?

obesity-diabetes Map

How many of us truly want to be overweight, obese, or suffering from diabetes or the myriad of other lifestyle diseases?  I haven’t done the research, but my best guess is few to none.

Diabetes is something we all know about, right?  We always hear about it.  Too much sugar causes problems with insulin (however that works) and often leads to overweight/obesity, they say.  Do we really know what diabetes is and what it does to us?  “Diabetes causes more deaths a year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke.”  (ADA)

For the moment, let’s put aside the diminishing quality of life, hardships, and complications that come with this disease.  Even without those tremendous factors, it is a huge financial burden both personally and nationally:

People with diagnosed diabetes incur average medical expenditures of about $13,700 per year, of which about $7,900 is attributed to diabetes.  AND The total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012 is $245 billion, including $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in reduced productivity.(ADA)

By 2050, if our current course as a nation continues, one in three American adults will have diabetes. The cost to this country — in lives, lost productivity and hard dollars — will be an enormous personal and societal burden that could overwhelm our healthcare system and bankrupt our nation.  (ADA)

I was not aware at the breadth and depth of complications associated with diabetes type 2.  Also found on the ADA website is a list of complications.  Some of these include:  Glaucoma, cataracts, blindness, many skin conditions (including bacterial and fungal infections), nerve damage which can be painful or dangerous if it results in lack of feeling, foot disfigurement, foot and leg amputations, high blood pressure, mental health issues leading to depression, hearing loss, gum disease, kidney disease, stroke, and others.

Here’s the kicker:  For most of us:  IT’S ALL PREVENTABLE!

Research as found that it’s not just the sugar:  “Being overweight does increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and a diet high in calories from any source contributes to weight gain. Research has shown that drinking sugary drinks is linked to type 2 diabetes.”  (ADA)

If you have type 2 diabetes your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose at normal levels.  (ADA)

So, why is it so hard for us to eat right and exercise to simply prevent this, and many other lifestyle diseases?  Consuming a healthy diet and getting our daily exercise can be so elusive it is frustrating to us all.  The answer to this question is more complicated than most of us can imagine.

The importance is to start.  Start where?!  That depends on knowing ourselves and what works for us and what is important to us.  It starts with awareness.  Why do we eat what we do, when we do?  Can we make small changes for ourselves and our families toward greater health?  It isn’t always easy, but the answer is a resounding YES!

This is an Inflammatory Post!

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I avoid television commercials whenever I can.  But I have recently been hearing in the background something like “if you have inflammation, take this drug and you’ll be back to yourself again.”  I get so frustrated by that.  Shouldn’t we care what is causing the inflammation in the first place?  Our bodies are trying to tell us something, but we aren’t listening.  We drug them into submission.  Before I go any further, a little bit about inflammation.  

Like many things that we deem “bad”, our bodies rely on inflammation to protect us.  For instance, when our bodies need to fight an infection, it is an inflammatory process that causes the fever.  The fever’s purpose is to kill the intruder.  (A more detailed description of fevers.)  

Inflammation comes from the Latin word “Inflammatio” which means to set on fire. It is ironic that this protective response to remove harmful stimuli from the body in order to initiate healing is also the main mechanism of diseases caused by microbial, autoimmune, metabolic, and physical factors.  (Hawiger)

Inflammation is good, and healthy.  It is when our bodies are in a constant state of inflammation that we have problems.  

Chronic inflammation can induce the excessive formation of reactive oxygen that attacks healthy tissue, which is called oxidative stress.   Chronic inflammation is mainly triggered by improper nutrition, particularly deficient intakes of nutrients regulating the inflammatory response and excessive calorie intake leading to obesity.  (USDA)

When it comes to preventable conditions and a ‘quick fix,’ heartburn/Acid reflux is my favorite.  There is no reason to deal with unnecessary discomfort.  Eat and do what you want, and just take a little purple pill.  (A little purple pill…  How cute is that?!)  On their website, Nexium does offer lifestyle factors to consider and foods to avoid.  But why give up “what we love” when we can just take that cute little purple pill and continue to enjoy life as we know it?  Why listen to our bodies saying “Please stop it!”?  Also on Nexium’s website, besides the more serious possible side effects, the most common ones are:  headache, diarrhea, nausea, gas, abdominal pain, constipation, dry mouth, and drowsiness.  Wow!  I can eat as much of whatever it is I want and get all that too?!  (Sarcasm intended!)

Type 2 diabetes is easily prevented for most of us by proper diet and exercise, yet for many reasons we don’t know this, don’t believe it, don’t have the tools to act on it, don’t believe it is as bad as it is, or we don’t think it will happen to us.  There are others who truly don’t have a choice, but that’s a post for another time.  

I knew I had to write this post when I recently saw a lawyers’ commercial on behalf of people with diabetes who took medication (Byetta, Jnuvia, Bydureon, Victoza, Janumet…) for their diabetes because it can cause pancreatic cancer.  I knew a woman, a wonderful woman and mother of five, who left them all behind because of pancreatic cancer.  “About 95 percent of people with pancreatic cancer die from it, experts say.”  (CNN)  As of right now, “it does appear that there may be an increased risk of these drugs having adverse effects, but further safety studies are needed to confirm this.”  (NHS)  

The point of this post is not to tell you to stop taking drugs you may need, but to present the case for awareness and promotion of prevention:  When these lifestyle diseases are so preventable, why do we continue on a course of inevitable self destruction (or at least self harm?)  The reasons are as numerous and complicated as the number of people affected.  (No, I have no scientific research to back that up, I’m just making a point.)  This is not an easy battle.  Together we can overcome the barriers. 

healthy dietary intakes with the reduction in fat intake (especially trans and saturated fat) and the increase in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain* consumption seem to be associated with the improvement in subclinical inflammatory condition.  (PubMed)

Disclaimer:  I recommend whole foods, not food products.  We don’t usually eat wheat berries the way we eat oats, quinoa, rice, etc.  Eat potatoes with the skin, whole grains whole… etc.

Babysteps.  Toward health…  

How to Put Your Best Foot (and the Rest of You) Forward

work-life-balance-words

Although this post is geared towards those of us who may be out of work or underemployed, it is appropriate for all of us who want to get more out of the lives we are currently living.  

Would you like to excel on your next interview?  Are you having trouble lining up that interview?  We all know the obvious:  network, research, prepare, etc.  But what happens when we put all of our time and effort into the job search at the expense of our health and wellness?  We will not be at our best, for sure.  Whether on that interview or networking with peers (or at the local market… you never know where that next big break will appear!)  Let’s get back to basics.  We need to put ourselves first so that we have the resources to excel.  Note:  No-one can do it all, all the time, or all at once.  As with anything, it is often best if we pick the most important and most changeable items and start there.  Baby steps!

According to The Under Cover Recruiter, the top seven qualities an employer is looking for are:  intelligence, leadership ability, integrity, likability, competence, courage, and inner strength.  In order for us to possess and display these attributes, we must have balance in our lives and take care of our health and wellness.  “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” (The WHO.)

Our bodies are designed to heal themselves.  All we need for normal repairs and growth is the proper resources (sleep, nutrition, and exercise.)

SLEEP:  According to WebMD, short-term lack of enough sleep can cause decreased performance and alertness, memory and cognitive impairment, stress, poor quality of life, occupational injury, and automobile injury.  Long-term lack of enough sleep is “associated with numerous, serious medical illnesses, including high blood pressure, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, obesity, psychiatric problems including depression and other mood disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), mental impairment, and many others. (WebMD)

None of these conditions will benefit our job search, to say the least!  It should be pretty obvious that to perform on a professional level and to display our strengths properly, we need to be well rested.  Not just on the day of the interview, but every day.  There are many resources available to help us sleep better.  The first steps are to stick to a regular sleep schedule, pay attention to our food and drink consumption, create a bedtime ritual, set the conditions for sleep comfortably, limit naps, get regular exercise, and manage stress.  (For detailed information:  MayoClinic.)

NUTRITION: Living on coffee and nutrient-deficient snacks or meals is not going to give our bodies what they need to survive, let alone thrive.  As an employer, would you be more likely to hire someone who is vibrant, clear and sharp with a healthy glow, or someone who is haggard and listless?  Nutrition is surprisingly simple (to understand, anyway):  We need to take in a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole carbohydrates, and lean proteins in reasonable portions and on a regular schedule.  Eat foods that our grandparents would recognize as food!  That’s it.

Variety is important because each different type of food has different raw materials our bodies need.  Each different color of vegetable contains different phytonutrients our bodies require, for example.  As always, excess is unhealthy.  Period.  Even drinking too much water (too quickly) can kill you.  Seriously, it can (water Intoxication.)  Many of us unemployed think we can’t afford to eat healthy.  The truth is, we can’t afford not to.  Tips to eat healthy on a budget:  MyPlate.  There are many others sources a few keystrokes away.

I am sure we all know how important it is to start the day (after an eight to twelve hour fast) with a good meal.  Personally, I love leftover dinners for breakfast.  Talk about quick and easy!  Going too long between meals causes blood sugar drops and feeling tired or sluggish (certainly not an optimal way to be job hunting), can slow metabolism, and cause us to gain weight.  (Fit Day)  Our brains need the nutrition and the energy to function!

EXERCISE:  The benefits of regular exercise cover every aspect of MindBodySpirit wellness.  “Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning,” says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey.”  (USA News)  The evidence abounds.  Move it or lose it!  Again, no need to go crazy.  Move a little bit more than you did yesterday, then make it a habit.  Exercise helps with sleep, too (although too close to bedtime may not work for you.  It keeps me up for many hours!)

Remember those seven things employers are looking for?  They are:  intelligence, leadership ability, integrity, likability, competence, courage, and inner strength.  When you are healthy and taking care of yourself, you are much more likely to not only grow these attributes, but to also present them well.  As job-seekers, we are in the business of selling.  We are the salespeople, and we are the products.  We each need to know our product in order to sell it.  As any salesperson will tell you:  the easiest products to sell are the ones of that sell themselves.  You can showcase your attributes clearly and vibrantly because you are taking care of yourself.  Be a positive and effective product and you will find it much easier to sell yourself for the perfect position!

Wishing you success in your life, and career.  Remember, put your health first and everything else will follow!

Photo credit:  Dr. Ancheta.