Friday, May 29, 2015

Travel Workouts

It's June and many of us are planning summer trips. We have worked hard all year to maintain our fitness. We don't want to see all that hard work slip away after only a few short weeks of travel. How can we fit exercise into our travel time?

It is easy to be active if you are camping. It can be relaxing to join family or friends on a hike to explore your area or stroll on the beach. Often, people bring bikes to pedal around the campground or on trails nearby. Kayaking, swimming and boating are all ways to get your body moving.

Road trips and sightseeing can be lots of fun. But riding in the car for hours can be tough for lots of people - big and small. Use rest stops as active time. Frisbees, jump ropes and balls of all types can be energy burners for adults and kids alike. Use a low wall for step-ups or power walk the perimeter of the rest stop. Stretch calves & hamstrings on the low wall. When sightseeing, take the stairs when possible. Walk instead of using the tram. Park at the far end of the parking lot before entering the attraction.

Resorts often offer a fitness club and even classes for their guests. Use this opportunity to try a new class or use equipment you are not familiar with. Challenge your body in new ways. I always put on my exercise clothes and get my workout in first. If I don't, I will end up laying by the pool the entire day!

Sometimes you are stuck squeezing a workout in between long drives or family events. Don't despair - you can do a power hotel workout. Even if the hotel does not have a fitness room, you can energize yourself for the day and loosen up stiff muscles. All you need is 20 minutes. Start with a slow jog around the hotel. Then move indoors and power up the stairs until you are breathless. You may have to go up and down a couple of times. Try to run up quietly out of respect for hotel guests. Bonus! - you will use more core muscles. Stop at the bottom, put your hands on the lowest step and do as many push ups as you can. Turn around and do tricep dips. Now turn sideways and put one foot on the lowest step for squats. Turn the other direction and repeat. Go back to the room, lay out a towel and power out cycles. Finish with stretches - don't leave them out. Remember the long hours you will be sitting?!

Have Fun Traveling This Summer. Stay Active and Enjoy your Food

Friday, May 22, 2015

Meditation and Prayer for Sleep

This is the last blog in a four week series on sleep. I have discussed the importance of sleep, sleep strategies and sleep supplements and will conclude with meditation to help you fall asleep and go back to sleep in the middle of the night.

The idea of “sleep” as a period when the brain simply shuts down has been replaced by an increasingly sophisticated understanding of how the rhythm of sleep and wakefulness is necessary for the biological function in every organ.   Not only does this daily “circadian” rhythm play an important role in learning and the filtering of memories in the brain, but it also serves to regulate the energy level of most all cells.  Shortages of cellular energy eventually wear down natural defenses through oxidative stress and abnormalities in protein processing, increasing the risk of disease. How can meditation and prayer help you achieve a healthy rhythm of sleep?

“Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10)
For a believer, the purpose of meditation prayer is to better align with God, to better know God — to stop struggling against God’s will for us and accept things the way they are; to better comprehend that we are held and loved, that we are OK, no matter what we might be walking through. In other words, in a variety of ways, meditation helps us stop trying to play God.

Often stress and a racing mind prevent us from relaxing enough to fall asleep. As we pray and align ourselves with God's will, we relax, knowing that He is in charge. Even without a belief in God, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and positive visualization all help to move the body from a state of wakefulness to sleep.

If you are new to meditation, the idea may seem a bit scary. Maybe you picture strangers sitting around in contorted positions for hours on end, thinking.....what? One app, CALM, takes away those fears and guides you through seven introductory lessons on posture, breathing, etc. In addition, the app offers a number of guided meditation programs, including four specifically for sleep.

A free app that assists with sleep is Pzizz. This program uses guided meditation and calming sounds to help you fall asleep. You can choose any length of time and the voice can be turned off, if you prefer. There is even a Power Nap setting.

Either of these apps and a meditative prayer time can be part of that one hour wind-down time you have before bedtime. If you are frustrated by wakefulness in the middle of the night, one of these apps might be just what you need to ease you back to sleep. Give it a try and see what works for you!

Get Some Sleep, Stay Active and Enjoy Your Food!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sleep Supplements

The first blog in this series demonstrated the importance of sleep, then I shared sleep strategies. This week I examine some sleep supplements and next week I will finish by discussing meditation for sleep.

Sleep supports healthy growth and development. Deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues. Your immune system also relies on sleep to stay healthy. This system defends your body against foreign or harmful substances. For example, if you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble fighting common infections. What supplements can we use to aid us in reaching that deep sleep we need?

None of these supplements have rigorous studies to prove their effectiveness. Many people have tried different options and had success in finding what works for their body. Please consult your doctor before taking any supplement.

Chamomile Tea
This tea is a very mild sedative. In addition, the process of steeping and slowly sipping the warm tea may help relax the body and clear the mind to prepare for sleep. 
This herb is said to be a mild sedative that also lowers the anxiety response. 
Melatonin is naturally produced in your body to promote sleep. A supplement may fill in where your body is deficient or provide an extra boost that will help you relax enough to sleep.
Essential Oils
Young Living Essential Oils can be used to naturally promote a good night's rest and can be applied topically or diffused. Try several drops of lavender oil and Peace & Calming on the back of the neck and bottoms of feet. To quiet mental stimulation and agitation, try adding cedarwood oil as well. A lavender oil and epsom salt bath before bed can also contribute to a very relaxing night. For more information about these and other oils, email Rachelle Howard at
Holy Basil
Do you find yourself suddenly wide-awake at 3am? This herb may moderate the cortisol spike that can wake us in the middle of the night.
The week before your period, progesterone levels plummet. As progesterone assists in causing drowsiness, this drop can lead to restless sleep. Make sure you supplement with progesterone (usually a cream) not progestin. There is a significant difference. Follow the package directions for a healthy cycle.

 Get Some Sleep, Stay Active and Enjoy Your Food!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sleep Strategies

Wow! I created quite a stir with the last post. Many people have trouble falling or staying asleep and were dismayed to hear how important sleep is to their health. To help the frustrated readers, I will share a few sleep strategies this week, followed up with a post on sleep supplements and complete the series with a post on meditation. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not sleep well either!

Sleep deficiency also increases the risk of obesity.  For example, one study of teenagers showed that with each hour of sleep lost, the odds of becoming obese went up. Sleep deficiency increases the risk of obesity in other age groups as well. Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don't get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you're well-rested. What are some strategies can we use to sleep well?

Your bedroom should be quiet, cool and dark. Use ear plugs or a white noise machine. Use a ceiling fan or air conditioner. Wear a sleep mask and use light-blocking curtains.  Eliminate the TV and computer from your bedroom. The light from electronic devices can disrupt the sleep cycle. Short wavelength blue light, the exact kind that backlit devices shine into the user's eye, is especially good at preventing the release of melatonin, a hormone associated with nighttime drowsiness.

Go to bed and wake at the same time every day. Reserve one hour to wind down before bed. Avoid electronics and dim the lights during this hour. Practice a quiet hobby, read fiction or try some relaxing stretching. Go to bed when you are tired - avoid fighting sleep to fit in more work and avoid falling asleep on the couch.

Be active in the morning or early afternoon. Even just 20 minutes of exercise a day can make a big difference. Try exercising outside. Exposure to natural light helps maintain a healthy sleep/wake cycle, especially for those whose jobs keep them indoors.

Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can all disrupt the sleep cycle. Skip that mid-afternoon latte and limit yourself to one glass of wine at dinner time. Quit smoking altogether - for multiple reasons! Restrict liquids two hours before bedtime to reduce night-time bathroom trips. Avoid eating before bed as this requires the digestive system to continue to work while you are trying to relax your body.  

Try a couple of these strategies for a restful night. 
Get Some Sleep, Stay Active and Enjoy Your Food!

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Importance of Sleep

Sleep is essential to our health. A deficit can compromise your immune system, cause inflammation, lead to memory loss and weight gain, hamper reflexes and decision-making skills. Lack of sleep can increase the risk of chronic diseases and type 2 diabetes. In fact, women who logged six or less hours of sleep had a 62% higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Researchers report that, during sleep, our brains flush out toxins that build up when we're awake. The restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the byproducts of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness.

The brain includes a network of passageways between the cells that control the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. These passageways undergo dramatic changes during sleep. Sleep increases the circulation space by 60%, allowing room for unnecessary byproducts to be flushed from the brain.

Nearly every neurodegenerative disorder is associated with a buildup of toxic proteins. Researchers suspect the accumulation of these proteins kill neurons and lead to dementia. Sleep appears to support the brain's innate ability to identify and dump these damaging proteins.

In our fast-paced lives, sleep may be the first thing we sacrifice to "get more done". Prioritizing regular sleep hours can be good for your mind and your body. In addition, when we are well-rested, we are more likely to use positive communication in important relationships. We are nicer when we aren't tired!

Get Some Sleep, Stay Active and Enjoy Your Food!