Friday, November 27, 2015

Practice Compassion for Heatlh

Last week, I blogged about how gratitude can help keep you healthy. In addition, compassion is good for us, altering our physiology to boost not just happiness but well-being.

Compassion - a natural desire to soothe others' suffering - is expressed in the brain and affects our peripheral physiology. Compassion triggers a powerful biological response. It leads to an increase in vagal tone, which is the neuroconnection between your brain, heart, and other organs in your body. This response downregulates your body's sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response) and upregulates your parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-relax mechanism).

Cole and Fredrickson evaluated the levels of cellular inflammation in people who describe themselves as “very happy.” Inflammation is at the root of cancer and other diseases and is generally high in people who live under a lot of stress. We might expect that inflammation would be lower for people with higher levels of happiness. Cole and Fredrickson found that this was only the case for certain “very happy” people. They found that people who were happy because they lived a life of pleasure (sometimes also know as “hedonic happiness”) had high inflammation levels; on the other hand, people who were happy because they lived a life of purpose or meaning had low inflammation levels. A life of meaning and purpose is one focused less on satisfying oneself and more on others. It is a life rich in compassion and altruism.

One of the reasons that compassion may protect against stress is that it is so pleasurable. Motivation, however, seems to play an important role in predicting whether a compassionate lifestyle actually benefits our health. Researchers discovered that people who engaged in volunteerism lived longer than their non-volunteering peers—but only if their reasons for volunteering were altruistic rather than self-serving.

According to James Doty, neurosurgeon, while operating in a compassionate mindset, "you're relaxed, you're open, your heart rate and blood pressure decrease, and you are much more creative and open to new ideas. You look at the world in a completely different way. And the ultimate effect is that you are healthier and happier."

Practice Compassion This Week
Stay Active and Enjoy Your Food 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thanksgiving Keeps You Healthy

During Thanksgiving week, people around the United States express gratitude for the bounty of their lives, but many may not realize that in doing so, they're also improving the quality of their health and increasing their life expectancies.

Gratefulness is linked with optimism, which in turn is linked with better immune health. For example, a University of Utah study showed that stressed-out law students who were optimistic had more immune-boosting blood cells than people who were pessimistic. We can all use a boost to our immune systems this winter!
Another study showed that appreciation and positive emotions are linked with changes in heart rate variability. This may be beneficial in the treatment of hypertension and in reducing the likelihood of sudden death in patients with congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease.

Writing down what you're thankful for as you drift off to sleep can help you get better sleep. Specifically, researchers found that when people spent 15 minutes jotting down what they're grateful for in a journal before bedtime, they fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer.

Finally, in one study, one group of participants were asked to name five things they’re grateful for every day, while another group was asked to list five hassles. Those expressing gratitude were not only happier and more optimistic, they reported fewer physical symptoms (such as headache, cough, nausea, or acne). Other gratitude studies have shown that those with chronic illnesses demonstrate clinical improvement when practicing regular gratitude.

Here are some simple things you can do to build positive momentum toward a more happy and fulfilling life:

1) Keep a daily journal of three things you are thankful for. This works well first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed.

2) Make it a practice to tell a spouse or friend something you appreciate about them every day.

3) Look in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth, and think about something you have done well recently or something you like about yourself.

Thankfulness feels good, it's good for you and it's a blessing for the people around you, too. It's such a win-win-win that I'd say we have cause for gratitude.

Practice Thankfulness This Week
Stay Active and Enjoy Your Food  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Step Up Your Routine

Want to boost the intensity of your exercise? Try adding some stairs to your weekly workouts. When you run on a flat surface, your glutes are basically taking a nap. When you have to climb, those glutes fire up. That's why running up stairs can burn up to 953 calories per hour.

Stairs are unique because the flat landing spot of each step causes you to strike with your mid-foot rather than the ball of your foot. You use your whole leg, not just your calf, to push off. Striking every step requires quick muscle activation, which can make you speedier on your runs. In addition, if you take two steps at a time, your muscles are contracted over a wider range. This requires more power, which can improve your endurance.

Since the steps are tougher, you don't need to dedicate a lot of time. Women who walked up & down stairs for 10 minutes a day five days a week improved their cardiovascular health by 17% within two months. A 20 minute session at this intensity will give you a complete workout.

Here is a simple plan.  Incorporate both sprints up the stairs and climbing two steps at a time. I also like to include a crossover step, moving up the stairs sideways. Make sure you change the lead leg with the crossover step. Do some incline pushups and plank walks on the bottom two steps. Turn around and do tricep dips. Finish with some abs to complete your workout. Of course, I have more ways to mix it up and make it fun but you will have to connect with me in person for that!

Take the Stairs this Week
Stay Active & Enjoy Your Food

Friday, November 6, 2015

Brussels Sprouts - Horrible or Heavenly?

Fall weather is upon us. I feel like I can finally think about roasting vegetables, baking squashes, and preparing big pots of soup. Roasted Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite side dishes in the winter.

Some people have a hard time enjoying Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Despite what your family said, it might not all be in your head. Research reveals that roughly one quarter of us carry a taste-receptor gene that's super sensitive to bitter flavors. Those of us who do not carry this gene eat 200 more servings of veggies every year. If you are in the group that is super-sensitive, try these ideas to mellow the bitterness and increase your servings of vegetables this winter.

Brussels Sprouts
Shred them raw in salads or cook them quickly (the longer they break down, the more bitter they become).  Sear them in a pan until caramelized.

Broccoli Rabe
Boil it 10 seconds, then drain, to tame it's pungent flavor. Or pair rabe with a fat (turkey bacon or sausage) and some heat (think cayenne or jalapeno)

Char it in a cast-iron skillet, then sprinkle with feta or blue cheese. Or saute it until just wilted and combine with a sweeter vegetable like carrots.

Enjoy Your Veggies This Winter
Stay Active & Keep Moving