5 Fun Ways To Get A Move On This Summer

Photo By HuttyMcphoo, via Wikimedia Commons

I gutted it out on my run today; I deserve this extra scoop of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream.” Sound familiar? Using exercise as a license to indulge — or to eat with abandon — is very common. And, yes — I do it too, sometimes.

After a hard, sweaty workout, it feels natural to reach for a treat — or, as researchers call them, “hedonic snacks.” We want to reward ourselves for big efforts, whether it’s cracking open a cold beer or enjoying some chocolate-y goodness. We’ve earned it, right?

Maybe… I mean, all work and no play is no way to live. But if your goal is weight loss or maintenance, excessive post-exercise snacking — or choosing less nutritious snacks — could frustrate your efforts. A trio of recent studies sheds light on how to turn things around.

  • Subjects were told to complete a 1-mile walk; for fun, or to listen to music and rate the quality of it along the way. Those who completed the walk framed as “fun” ate less dessert than the other subjects.
  • Researchers sent another group of subjects out on a walk, described as sightseeing to one group, or with a task to complete. As a reward, they were given small bags to fill with as many M&Ms as they wanted. Guess who took more candy? The subjects whose walk was framed as a task.
  • Finally, runners completing a marathon relay were asked to rate their levels of enjoyment during the race. Those who had more fun chose a healthier post-race snack compared to those who rated the race as unpleasant.

Researchers concluded that when we think of exercise as… exercise instead of something fun, we tend to feel a need to reward ourselves with a pleasurable snack. But if we actually enjoy being active, we’re far less inclined to reach for the treats — or we eat less of them.

You already know that simply getting to do your favorite things is rewarding.  That’s the key — finding a handful of sports or fitness activities that are just plain fun for you. Here’s a short list of my summer faves:

Double Nut Brownie will be your new guilt-free chocolate treat

Choose a Zing bar for a nutritious snack!

  1. Day hiking. Nothing beats getting out into the mountains, soaking up the glorious greens and blues, and climbing past waterfalls, alpine meadows, and other soul-stirring scenery.
  2. Kayaking. Paddling along just on top of the water makes me feel like a low-flying bird.
  3. Water activities. Indoors or outdoors, getting wet brings out the kid in me — even during a hard-core lap-swim.
  4. Dancing. Whether I’m busting a move to Beyoncé in my kitchen, or doing the foxtrot with my husband, getting my groove on NEVER feels like exercise to me.
  5. Trail walking. My family loves to go down to the local trail for leisurely after-dinner walks. Hanging out together in a natural setting, visiting, and spotting blue herons and bald eagles is a fun way to enjoy beautiful summer evenings.

What types of sports or fitness activities you enjoy most, and what do you love about them? We’d love to hear from you.

 

Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard

Go Nuts for Good Health

Photo courtesy of Steffen Zahn

Nuts make a regular appearance here on the Zing blog… and for good reason. We’ve written about how eating nuts can potentially increase your life span and decrease inflammation. Research from five different large studies shows that eating nuts regularly can dramatically cut your risk of having a heart attack. Newer research is pointing to a positive effect on blood sugar that may help to prevent the development of Type II diabetes.

Nuts are a complex food, rich in protein, fiber, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E and trace minerals, and a whole host of phytonutrients (or plant compounds) — this combination of nutrients explains in part the many health benefits of eating nuts. 

  • Protein, fat and fiber digest slowly, ensuring that you feel full for longer and preventing blood sugar peaks and valleys.
  • The fats in nuts are about 62% monounsaturated, the type of fat that supports healthy cholesterol levels. Nuts also contain plant sterols, which also help lower your cholesterol. Many nuts, especially walnuts, contain omega 3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and good for your brain.
  • Fiber supports bowel health, feeds your gut bacteria, and lowers cholesterol.
  • Vitamins (vitamin E, folate, niacin, vitamin B6) and minerals (selenium, magnesium, calcium, potassium) support healthy cell function and may also have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory or anti-carcinogenic properties.

 Here are some nutty ideas for including more nuts in your diet:

  • Zing bars are made with a nut butter base, ensuring a satisfying dose of protein, heart-healthy fats and fiber. They make a tasty and portable hunger-busting snack.
  • Top oatmeal or yogurt with chopped walnuts or pistachios.
  • Put some crunch in a salad by adding slivered almonds.
  • Use cashews in a smoothie in place of protein powder (when blended, cashews become creamy). The protein and fat from the cashews will balance out the carbs from the fruit.
  • Blended cashews can also be added to soups to make a vegetarian “cream” soup. Here’s one recipe to try: Sweet Potato, Corn and Kale Chowder.
  • Keep a small container of your favorite nuts, or mixture of nuts, in a desk drawer to get you through a long afternoon at work.

 

 Resources:

  • Nuts for Nuts?
  • Eating Nuts May Help Pause Path to Type 2 Diabetes. Medscape. May 30, 2014
  • Nuts and health outcomes: new epidemiologic evidence. Am J Clin Nutr. May 2009; 89(5), 1643S-1648S.
  • Health Benefits of Nut Consumption. Nutrients. Jul 2010; 2(7): 652–682.
Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.

Summer Travel Plans? Remember To Pack Some Healthy Snacks!

Photo by Nicholas from Pennsylvania, USA (Environs), via Wikimedia Commons

Summer has arrived, and chances are you’re heading out of town for some fun and relaxation. Vacations are a great time to get away from it all, but that doesn’t mean you have to take a break from all of your healthy habits! Whether you’re sightseeing, shopping, or lying on the beach or poolside, going on a road trip or flying to your destination, you want to keep your energy level up so you can optimize your fun time. Bringing along some water and a few easy, healthy snacks will keep you hydrated and help you maintain steady blood sugar levels, keeping you off of the blood sugar roller coaster and feeling good. So when you’re packing your bags, include some food! Here are a few ideas:

  1. Zing Bars. Easy to toss in your carry-on, backpack, or purse, just unwrap and enjoy when hunger strikes. You know you’ll be getting a perfect balance of slow-digesting carbs, protein, and healthy fats to keep you going. Gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, or vegan? We’ve got you covered. Have you tried the Dark Chocolate Sunflower Mint or Coconut Cashew Crisp? Yum!
  2. Trail Mix. Of course you can buy trail mix, but making your own mix is fun and easy, especially if your grocery store has a good bulk food section. Read the ingredients listed on the bulk bins, and choose raw nuts and seeds, and unsweetened dried fruit (or sweetened with fruit juice) without additives like vegetable oil and sulfur dioxide.
  3. Toasted coconut flakes. Look for a product with just ‘coconut’ in the ingredients. A delicious snack on its own, and also a great addition to your homemade trail mix!
  4. Nut Butter and dried figs. When hunger strikes, you’ll be happy to grab some dried figs and a squeeze pack of almond or peanut butter from your snack bag. A delicious, satisfying combination.
  5. Jerky. A very portable source of protein. Look for jerky made from grass-fed or pastured animals that is minimally processed, without added preservatives or MSG. Or, you can make your own – here’s a recipe that uses ground beef, a cheaper alternative to other cuts of beef.
  6. Roasted Chick Peas. A portable source of vegetarian protein; roasting chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) is easy and delicious. Here are 15 Ways To Flavor Roasted Chickpeas.

 If you can bring a small cooler with you on your trip, consider:

  • Roll-ups. Such a versatile snack (or mini-meal), and easy to eat on the go. For the wrapper, use a whole-wheat or gluten-free tortilla, collard greens, or quality deli meat slices (cut thicker). Spread some hummus or pesto on the wrapper, add your favorite fillings (i.e. avocado, shredded carrot, zucchini, radishes, apples, spinach, cheese, black or pinto beans, etc.) and roll up.
  • Cut-up carrots, cucumber, bell peppers, celery, snap peas, and cherry tomatoes
  • Slices of watermelon and cantaloupe
  • Cheese and whole grain crackers

What are some of your favorite easy travel snacks? We’d love to hear your ideas!

 

Above photo attribution: By Nicholas from Pennsylvania, USA (Environs) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Erin Hugus, MS, CN has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health. She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.

 

 

 

How To Make Fats A Part Of Your Healthy Diet

 

Zing Bars contain heart-healthy fats from nut butter.

The latest research on dietary fat suggests that saturated fat may not be at the root of heart disease after all. Dietary cholesterol is being examined more closely as well. While most people would be happy to jump on the butter, lard, bacon and steak bandwagon, experts are still arguing about which fats are good and which are bad, and how much of each kind we should be eating every day. Given the necessarily slow pace of good research, we probably won’t have the definitive answer to that question for quite some time. Unfortunately, this leaves most of us a little confused about how to make fats a part of a healthy diet.

Here’s what we currently know about the different types of dietary fats:

Trans Fatty Acids (aka Trans Fats)

Found in many commercial baked goods and fried foods, trans fats are one fat that experts universally agree are bad for humans. Trans fats raise your LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and lower your beneficial HDL cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease. To identify foods that contain trans fats, read the label and look for “partially hydrogenated” oils. Even if the front of the package or the nutrition label says, “No trans fats,” the product may still contain small amounts, so read the ingredient list and don’t buy foods containing partially hydrogenated oils.

Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs)

These are a little trickier because some PUFAs are better than others. This group includes both omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-6 fatty acids are mostly found in vegetable and seed oils such as soybean, corn and safflower oils. These oils are widely used in restaurant food, especially fast food, and in packaged foods. Vegetable oils have the veneer of good health because they’re made from plants; however, these oils are usually highly refined, and a recent study showed that even though they lowered the harmful LDL cholesterol, they actually increased the risk of heart disease. This may be because these fatty acids lower healthy HDL cholesterol along with the LDL. Omega-6′s are also pro-inflammatory, contributing to chronic disease and accelerated aging. Avoid polyunsaturated oils as much as possible, and get omega-6′s only from whole foods sources such as nuts and seeds (since we do need some omega-6s in our diets).

On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids are known to be anti-inflammatory, and they raise HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL and triglycerides, all good news for heart health. Omega 3s are famously found in fish, but also can be found in plant foods such as flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds. Grass-fed meats and poultry, as well as eggs and dairy from grass-fed cows, are also known to be higher in omega-3s than their feedlot counterparts. Eat at least one source of omega-3s per day.

Monounsaturated Fats (MUFAs)

Monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy, lowering lethal LDL and raising healthy HDL. These fats are found in a variety of both plant and animal foods, with olives, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds the best plant-based sources. Make monounsaturated fats the main source of fat in your diet to support good health and longevity.

Saturated Fat

For the past 30 years or so, the advice has been to reduce the amount of saturated fat in our diets to avoid heart disease. This latest study and other recent articles suggest saturated fat may not be so bad, and it could be that refined carbohydrates from flour and sugar are of more concern than saturated fats when it comes to heart health. Saturated fats are found in animal sources such as chicken, beef, lamb, pork, eggs and dairy, but are also found in coconut oil and palm oil.

Cholesterol

Many people will be surprised to hear that cholesterol from food accounts for only about 15% of the cholesterol circulating in the blood. The cholesterol in the blood is mostly produced by the liver, and is used to make hormones and vitamin D. Keeping serum cholesterol in a healthy range is important for heart health, but the best dietary approach to doing that is to cut back on refined carbohydrates from sugar and flour, and avoid trans fats and PUFAs to lower LDL and raise HDL.

So how do you optimize the balance of fats in your diet?

  1. Avoid trans fats altogether.
  2. Avoid highly refined vegetable oils such as soybean, safflower, and corn.
  3. Focus on quality sources of saturated fat, such as from grass-fed cows, pastured chickens and organic, virgin coconut oil. Minimize saturated fat from conventionally-raised animals.
  4. Eat olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts and seeds for their monounsaturated fats and omega-6 fats.
  5. Include sources of omega-3 fats such as fatty fish, walnuts, and flax seeds in your diet daily.

The Mediterranean diet, a diet rich in monounsaturated fats from olive oil and nuts, is still thought to be the hands-down best diet for disease prevention. This diet focuses on whole (unprocessed) foods, and is high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, protein mainly from poultry, fish, beans and nuts, and whole grains. It’s also very low in sugary foods, as well as foods that can be converted by the body into sugar, such as refined carbohydrates from pasta, bread, pastries (and other foods made from refined flour).

Additional resources:

Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.

5 Ways To Spring Clean Your Healthy Lifestyle

Do longer days and flowers in bloom inspire you to do some spring cleaning? With a new season, many people feel an urge to press the reset button — and clean, reorganize, and get things back on track. It’s easy to let healthy habits slide during the dark days of winter. Spring is the perfect time to shine a light on day-to-day routines, clear out the clutter, and freshen up your healthy lifestyle.

Sit Less, Move More

The verdict is in on too much sitting — and it isn’t pretty. Even if you get the recommended amount of cardio and strength training, you’re still at increased risk for a variety of unpleasant conditions if you sit too much.

Here’s the good news — breaking up extended periods of sitting by walking to the copier or restroom, or standing up makes a big difference. Program an alert into your calendar, or download a timer app — like UltraTimer —and schedule brief movement breaks throughout the day. At home, watch a movie over several days instead of all at once, or take several breaks to walk or run through the house, step outside, or pound out a few pushups.

Purge Your Pantry

Set yourself up for healthful spring eating by getting rid of less-nutritious fare lurking in your fridge and cupboards. Out with chips, sugary treats, and other energy-draining, stress-boosting, highly-processed foods. In with fruits and veggies — fresh, frozen or canned. When you need a little snack to stave off hunger before bed, you’re less likely to reach for the junk if it’s not around. Re-discover how satisfying a serving of unsweetened applesauce or a handful of sugar snap peas can be.

Get More Zzzzs

According to Dr. Mike Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic, “Sleep is the most underrated health habit.” It can make or break your health, quality of life, and even job performance. So if you’re doing too much daytime yawning, improve your sleep hygiene. If that doesn’t help, talk to your healthcare provider to rule out — or treat — any sleep disorders. Getting enough sleep can make a world of difference between feeling frazzled and being your energetic best.

Schedule Preventive Care

Take 15 minutes to schedule routine visits for the year. Not sure what you need? Call your medical or dental clinic and ask. Getting these visits on your calendar gets you one step closer to getting the care you need to protect the quality of life you enjoy.

Enjoy a Hobby

Do you lose track of time when you’re fishing — or gardening, or restoring antique furniture? If you’ve put your favorite pastimes on the back burner, dive in again. Or, if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, give it a whirl. Spending time on things you want to do — unrelated to work— is vitally important for relaxation, stress reduction, and creativity. Playing the piano and sewing leave me exhausted… and refreshed at the same time; these activities require so much concentration that my brain gets a break from the constant chatter of my everyday thought stream.

Are you seasonally inspired to streamline your healthy lifestyle? We’d love to hear what you’re doing to breathe new energy into your health habits.

Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard

 

4 Common Misconceptions About Gluten

We are already halfway through Celiac Disease Awareness Month! The past decade or so has seen quite an upswing in awareness of celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, and certainly more and more people are choosing to eat a GF diet for reasons other than a diagnosis of CD – perhaps they feel better when they cut out gluten, maybe they heard that going GF can help with weight loss, or they are doing it to support a family member who is GF. Despite the popularity of the GF diet – or maybe because of the popularity – certain misconceptions about gluten are pretty common. Here are 4 things you may have heard about gluten that aren’t necessarily true:

  1.  If it’s gluten-free, it’s healthy. According to a 2012 consumer survey by Packaged Facts, 18% of adults are buying or consuming packaged foods that are labeled GF and the number one reason given for doing so is the belief that GF products are generally healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts. But many GF packaged foods contain just as much sugar, refined flour (such as rice flour), unhealthy fats, and other fillers. Check the ingredient lists on GF packaged foods before you buy. Focus on foods that are naturally GF, such as fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and GF whole grains such as quinoa. Zing bars are a great example of a healthy on-the-go GF option with a nice balance of protein, healthy fat, and fiber.
  2. Cutting out gluten will automatically help you lose weight. As with any diet, weight loss depends mainly on the amount of calories consumed. Consuming too much of the foods that naturally contain gluten can lead to weight gain, but this is also true of GF foods – eating large portions of wheat pasta will have the same effect on weight gain as eating large portions of GF brown rice pasta. In general – GF or not – eating a diet with a good balance of protein, healthy fats, and fiber that is low in (or free from) sugar and refined carbs is your best bet for weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight.
  3. Rice and potatoes contain gluten. This really comes down to the question, “What exactly is gluten?”  Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro), barley, rye, and triticale. Rice and potatoes are naturally gluten-free foods.
  4.  My diet is 100% gluten-free. Many people think they are eating a completely GF diet because they’ve cut out wheat bread, pasta, and crackers. But often they haven’t thought of additional less-obvious sources of gluten such as soy sauce and other condiments, additives and hidden ingredients in packaged foods and in certain prescription medications, and a big issue – cross-contamination. Cross-contamination happens in restaurants and food manufacturers without dedicated GF facilities and procedures, and is also common in home kitchens. Oats do not naturally contain gluten, but are often contaminated with gluten during processing, so buy certified GF oats. This can also be the case with millet and buckwheat groats. 

Making sense of the sometimes conflicting information about gluten can be overwhelming, and most definitely can make the transition to a GF lifestyle even more of a challenge. A nutritionist or healthcare practitioner who is knowledgeable about the GF diet can help guide you through the transition and help to ensure you’re getting optimal nutrients through a balanced GF diet. Here are a few helpful resources from the web:

  1. National Foundation for Celiac Awareness – getting started and information about certified GF product testing
  2. Gluten Intolerance Group Educational Bulletins
  3. Nourishing Meals blog – Delicious allergen-free, whole food recipes

Have you read or heard something about gluten that is conflicting or confusing? We want to know!

Erin Hugus, MS, CN has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health. She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways To Combat Seasonal Allergy Symptoms With Food

Spring has arrived! As invigorating as it is to see the world bursting into bloom, for some of us spring fever and hay fever go hand in hand. But allergy medications can be counterproductive, drying out the mucus membranes, working against the body’s desire to flush away the allergens, and causing unwanted side effects like drowsiness. This year, try these dietary approaches to managing environmental allergies.  

1. Limit foods that contain histamines.  When you experience allergy symptoms — runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes — you are reacting to histamines, which are released in your body in response to allergens. This is why people take anti-histamines to control allergies. Some foods naturally contain histamines, so limiting these foods during peak allergy times could help keep symptoms at a minimum. Some of the worst offenders are alcohol, aged cheeses, fermented foods, and processed meats. 

2. Get enough omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids in foods like salmon, sardines, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are anti-inflammatory and can help quench some of the inflammation triggered by seasonal allergies. To get enough omega-3s, eat salmon or other omega-3 rich fish three times a week, or take a daily fish oil supplement. Chia seeds are an economical vegetarian alternative to fish, and add protein and crunch to smoothies, hot cereals, salads or baked goods. Try this recipe for chia seed pudding. 

3. Eat foods that contain quercetin.  Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that blocks the release of histamines. It can be found in citrus fruits, garlic, parsley, apples, broccoli, tea, and dark berries (blackberries, blueberries). For the best chance against seasonal allergies, eat quercetin-rich foods year-round. 

4. Load up on antioxidant-rich foods.  Antioxidants from fruits and vegetables are a triple threat to seasonal allergies: they boost the immune system, protect cells against damage, and have anti-inflammatory properties that can help control reactions to allergens. Vitamin C, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, citrus fruits, red and green bell peppers and strawberries, has anti-histamine properties in addition to being a powerful antioxidant. Throughout the year, but especially during allergy season, make sure to eat your five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day. 

5. Spice it up!  In addition to adding loads of flavor to meals, spicy foods like onions, garlic, horseradish, chili peppers, and ginger are your allies in the battle against allergies. These foods are anti-inflammatory, calming the body’s overreaction to allergens. Some of these foods also help thin the mucus to alleviate nasal and sinus congestion.  

One more thing: blowing your nose and sneezing a lot can be dehydrating, so drink more fluids than usual when you’re having an allergy attack. If you have a juicer, try this immune booster shot. Warm liquids like the infusion below can soothe the throat and ease sinus congestion.  

Soothing Lemon Ginger Infusion

Ingredients:

  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • large knob of ginger (about 1 ½ inches long)
  • Honey to taste
  • Optional: Pinch of cayenne pepper

Directions:

  1. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil.
  2. Add several slices of ginger (I use 4-5 slices) to the water.
  3. Simmer 10-20 minutes. The ginger flavor will be stronger and spicier the longer you cook it.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Add lemon juice. Sweeten with honey to taste and add a dash of cayenne pepper if you like.

Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 4-5 days. Reheat gently but do not boil as this will “kill off” some of the vitamin C.

Additional resources:

 

Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.

 

 

Stressed Out? Try Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

photo credit: Alan Cleaver

So many people — clients, co-workers, family, friends —say they’re under too much stress. Are you?

According to the APA’s 2013 Stress in America survey, 42% of adults say their stress has increased over the past 5 years. Managing stress is vital to well-being, and a critical part of any behavior change attempt. I’ve seen many people stumble in weight-loss, physical activity, or tobacco cessation attempts during times of high stress. I coach my clients to try a variety of techniques to reduce stress, and develop personal tool kits to keep stress at manageable levels.

Last year, I added a new tool to my own kit.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has been around for ages, but in my opinion, it always sounded a little nebulous. Meditation, yoga, breathing, — all good; just a little too sandals-and-candles for me.

But research about the health benefits of MBSR became very compelling — reduced blood pressure, inflammation, and chronic pain; decreased anxiety and depression; the list goes on.

And then both my kids became teenagers. So, last spring I immersed myself in an 8-week MBSR class at a local hospital, hoping to reduce my own stress — and to share new insights with my clients.

Each class opened and closed with a seated meditation, during which Dr. W. — a neurologist — guided us through breathing and body awareness, soothing thoughts, and brief poetry selections. He assured us that getting distracted is normal — and to simply return to the breath whenever that happened. We learned a body scan, basic yoga poses, and walking meditations, and were instructed to see what we liked best — and build a personal meditation practice of 45-60 minutes a day by the end of the course.

 

photo credit: Steve Hardy

Dr. W. taught us that the mind is like a river full of thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness is like standing on the riverbank and observing the thoughts and emotions as they float by instead of getting carried away with them; choosing which ones to respond to instead of reacting to everything we think and feel. We learned about how the body, thoughts, and emotions all influence each other. Mindful awareness of these processes enabled us to intentionally respond to them in ways that reduced stress.

Each week, we were assigned daily meditation homework. Halfway through the course, my family noticed I was in a better mood and more calm. They became oddly cooperative in granting me as much undisturbed meditation practice as I needed. My classmates reported big reductions in blood pressure, anger, family conflict, and need for pain medications.

For me, self-compassion has been my biggest reward. Like many, I can be pretty hard on myself — expecting too much and being too quick to judge and criticize. Practicing MBSR has helped me to treat myself — and others — with more kindness and acceptance, and that works wonders for my stress level and sense of well-being.

I wholeheartedly endorse MBSR as a way to cope with stress and enhance your quality of life. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s definitely worth exploring. I’m not meditating every day — but I’m working on it. And that’s OK.

I learned more from my class than I can share in a blog post, but I encourage you to learn more on your own. If you’re already practicing MBSR, we’d love to hear what it’s doing for you.

May you feel joy; may you be at peace; may you be well.

Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard

Why Eating Breakfast Is A Good Idea

Photo courtesy of Pen Waggener

How much truth is there to the saying, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? The most commonly held belief about breakfast is that it can promote weight loss by preventing overeating later in the day. Recently, however, research is questioning this assumption and showing that eating breakfast may not be the key to losing weight, after all. But even though the jury’s still out on breakfast and weight loss, other studies show that eating breakfast regularly can enhance alertness and concentration, stabilize blood sugar throughout the day, and improve your heart health.

The most common reason I hear from people who don’t eat breakfast is, “I’m just not hungry.” Let’s look at why that might be true. The first meal of the day is literally the meal that “breaks” your overnight fast. While you sleep, your body uses less energy than when you’re awake and active. To get you started again in the morning, your adrenal glands produce the hormone cortisol, which signals the body to wake up by stimulating the release of glucose (sugar) to give you an energy boost. Initially, this may also be suppressing your natural hunger.

While this is a handy way of getting going in the morning, here’s why you don’t want to rely on cortisol to keep you fueled throughout the morning. Cortisol is a hormone that is usually released in response to stress. Without some nourishment first thing in the morning to provide fresh fuel for your body and to signal cortisol levels to drop again, cortisol and glucose continue to be released into the blood. Continuous high levels of cortisol in the body mimic stressful conditions and can cause elevated blood pressure and increased abdominal fat, among other things. Over prolonged periods, this can contribute to weight gain, obesity and even the development of diabetes and heart disease.

So how do you put together a quick, balanced breakfast that will sustain you throughout your busy morning without weighing you down?

  • A good breakfast should have protein as the star, with a side of fiber-rich carbs from fresh fruit, vegetables and/or whole grains. This formula works whether you are an omnivore, a vegetarian, a paleo diet follower, gluten-free, lactose intolerant, and so on. Good protein sources are yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, or meat. Protein (and fat, which usually comes along with your protein) takes longer to digest, so it keeps you feeling satisfied for longer.
  • Avoid refined, sugary breakfast options like sweetened cereals, pastries and sweet coffee drinks because these will cause blood sugar spikes and dips that will leave you feeling tired and irritable. More importantly, these foods don’t give you any real nutrition, so they also leave you hankering for more. The combination of tiredness, irritability and hunger inevitably leads to poor food choices later on in the day.

Try these tasty breakfast ideas:

  • Quesadilla made with whole wheat or corn tortilla, cheddar cheese and thinly sliced apples
  • Turkey roll-up with hummus and sliced red peppers
  • Scrambled eggs on sautéed greens (spinach, kale or chard)
  • Smoothie made from whole foods (4 ounces plain kefir, ½ banana, 1 cup frozen berries, ¼ avocado, 1 tablespoon chia seeds)

If breakfast is not already part of your morning routine, getting into the habit may be tough at first. Start with small portions and build up to regular-size portions. Or stick with a small but balanced breakfast and make sure you have a small but balanced snack mid-morning.

Remember that some of the benefits of a healthy breakfast can be lost if you are eating on the run, no matter what you are eating, because being relaxed is important for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. Take a few extra minutes in the morning to prepare and enjoy a healthy breakfast, and you’ll soon feel the benefits.

 

Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.

Get Fit At Any Age To Reap Big Rewards

photo courtesy of www.cienpies.net

Have you ever wondered: What’s the point of getting fit at my age? I’ve been sedentary for years…would regular exercise really make that much of a difference in my health now? Is it worth the effort?

Thankfully, more research is confirming the payoffs of exercise at any age.  Even if you’re 55+ and starting from scratch, making exercise a part of your routine offers a wealth of physical, mental, and quality of life benefits both now and in the years to come. In fact, a large study of British men and women found that in terms of healthy aging, those who began exercising in mid-life fared nearly as well as those who had been physically active all along. Wow.

Another exciting study links just 6 months of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise training, 3 times a week with significantly increased brain volume in previously sedentary older adults. These results suggest a loss of brain volume — and, consequently, function — may be related more to a decrease in physical activity with age rather than age itself. Becoming and staying active not only protects and preserves the brain, but can restore it as well.

Get Moving

Are you ready to enhance your well-being and start aging well? Follow these steps for starting or re-starting an exercise program:

  1. Get cleared. Visit your health care provider to talk about your fitness plan. Specifically ask which types of exercise to avoid, if any — and if there are any specific safety precautions you should follow.
  2. Choose cardio. There are many good reasons to do strength training, but both of the studies mentioned here focused on the benefits of cardiovascular exercise — large group, rhythmic activities like walking, running, biking, swimming, elliptical, rowing, and some group fitness formats like water, cycling, step, and vigorous dance workouts.
  3. Start slow. Start with what you can comfortably manage, and gradually work towards an initial goal of 30 minutes, 5 times a week. Increase your total time or mileage by no more than 10% per week.
  4. Pace yourself. Move at a moderate (brisk) pace that allows you to talk comfortably — around 11-13 on the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale. As your fitness level increases, you’ll be able to handle higher intensities.
  5. Enjoy. Boost your odds of sticking with it by finding activities you enjoy; better yet, make it social. A brisk walk with a co-worker at lunchtime or an after-dinner bike ride with your spouse or partner makes the time fly by — and gives you an extra measure of accountability and support.

Studies like these are the reason I’m an unrelenting advocate for exercise at any age  — just ask my parents. The science also pushes my husband and I to run or walk even when we don’t feel like it — first, because exercise gives us the energy and good health to enjoy life now, and secondly, because we want to enjoy a good quality of life in retirement. Staying healthy via exercise is something we have control over, so it’s a high priority.

Are you on track to enjoy the health-related quality of life you aspire to —now… and in your later years? If not, make a commitment to regular exercise today. Yes, it will make a huge difference. And, yes — it’s definitely worth the effort.

Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard