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Start Your New Year Off Right With Mindfulness

Start Your New Year Off Right With Mindfulness

Happy New Year!  By now, everyone has been into 2017 for two days. That’s two days into the new goals, resolutions and intentions for yourself this year. One that has been on my list for a couple of years has resurfaced again…. a formal meditation practice.  Most of us know nowadays that meditation is a good thing. But so far I have not been able to stick with it because I’ve allowed myself to become too busy too often.  But this year will be different. I’ve decided to do the following:

  1. Start small, meditating only 3-5 minutes (or less if need be).  Slowly take one deep breath in and think, “I receive life.” Exhale slowly and think, “Life is good.” Then repeat for at least two more rounds and you will be energized significantly because more oxygen has entered your blood stream than usual. The longer and slower you do this, the more alive you will feel.
  2. Understand that this simple breathing exercise reduces stress, calms anxiety, erases irritability and clears your mind.  The process is called “mindfulness,” which at first seems contradictory.  “Mindlessness” is more like it because your goal is to clear your head of all thoughts except for breathing and exhaling.  This increases your resilience to stress and induces a calming effect on your nervous system, thus erasing anxiety.

This makes sense given that meditation allows you to focus on breathing in and breathing out while everything else that clouds your mind disappears. If you feel that your mind is drifting, simply go back to thinking only about breathing in and breathing out.

  1. Understand the principles of meditation. Beginning meditators often think the goal is to get to the point that they can focus without becoming distracted. That goal is difficult. Instead become aware that your mind has drifted, redirect your attention back to your point of focus without criticizing or judging yourself.
  2. Do meditation in your own way. It’s alright to do more while concentrating on your breathing. Some people find that a walking meditation is the way to go. This increases your heart rate and distributes more oxygen throughout your system. Jogging is even better. Just remember to stay focused on your breathing. If your attention drifts to past, future or evaluative thoughts, remind yourself that you’re breathing in life and exhaling the phrase, “life is good.”
  3. Do away with all-or-nothing thinking. If you can’t do 30 minutes of meditation, then do 15. The idea is to learn how to clear your mind and focus only on your breathing. On those days when you have more time, you can gradually build up to 30 minutes if that’s your preference.

Doing at least 15 minutes of a formal practice when you begin meditation will allow you to try different types of meditation. It will also increase your comfort and familiarity with meditation so you can restart a formal practice if you’re going through a period of stress or overthinking.

I am only one week into it right now, with a goal of continuing to do so at least three times a week throughout January. Won’t you join me?

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Four Ways to Rev Up your Metabolism

Four Ways to Rev Up your Metabolism

After you lose weight, your metabolism slows down, thus it is easier to regain the weight you lost. And once you gain back the weight, the harder it is to lose it.  It’s a vicious cycle.  But you can get it back under control.  By employing a few helpful nutrition and lifestyle changes, you will be on the road to optimizing your metabolism for life.

What is metabolism? It’s the sum of all the chemical reactions happening in your body. Based on the science of food metabolism and the way our bodies burn energy, here are four ways to boost your metabolism for lasting weight control:

  1. Distribute your intake of protein throughout the day. Don’t let dinner be the meal where you consume most of your protein. Spread it out among all your meals for more efficient use.
  1. Work out daily: But mix up what you do every day.  Combine resistance, aerobic and flexibility training to five consistent workouts per week.  Maybe 2-3 times a week do an aerobic or cardio workout like jogging, my favorite, or biking.  Balance this out with 2-3 days of some form of stretching like Yoga or Pilates.  The objective is to not solely burn calories but to boost your body’s metabolism and response to exercise through recovery and rebuilding.
  1. Manage stress: Stress is not something we are going to eliminate, and a little bit is not necessarily a bad thing.  But when your stress level gets out of whack, your metabolism suffers.  Stress causes your hormones, such as cortisol, to overproduce and affects your insulin sensitivity.  You tend to sleep less and gain weight. We also tend to overeat and exercise less when we are stressed.
  1. Sleep well. Even a single interruption in your normal 6-8 hours per night sleep pattern has a detrimental effect on fat metabolism and tissue recovery from exercising.  Plan your sleep routine as you would a workout. When you give your body a full night sleep on a consistent basis, you are supporting the release of important hormones. Melatonin is one of these hormones that help control your daily metabolic rate.

Your energy levels, ability to work out, and weight gain or loss all depend on your body’s metabolic processes.  If you implement these four simple strategies, your body will operate more efficiently.  You’ll maintain weight loss, which makes for a happier new year.

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Is Healthy Eating One of Your New Year’s Goals?

Is Healthy Eating One of Your New Year’s Goals?

Healthy eating can benefit you in many ways. It can help you live longer and become stronger. Good nutrition keeps your muscles, bones and organs in tip-top shape. A proper diet can also reduce the risks of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. Also, healthy eating leads to consuming fewer calories and more nutrient-rich food that will keep your weight under control.

Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy diet can sharpen your mind, too. Nutrients are essential for the brain to function properly. Most kinds of nuts, but particularly walnuts, are packed with omega-3 fatty acids that can improve focus and decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s’ disease. Consuming antioxidant-rich foods enhances memory and mental alertness as you age.

Consuming wholesome meals rich in nutrients will give you more energy and help you look better. Looking better improves self-esteem. The way you eat and the way you feel are connected.  If you eat well by properly nourishing your body, you feel good.

This holiday season try to incorporate some of the following tips into your daily eating habits. If you start now by incorporating small changes, you won’t’ be so overwhelmed come January.

— Reduce sodium intake.

— Avoid white flour, refined sugar and white rice.

— Put five colors on your plate. Fruits and vegetables rich in color correspond to being rich in nutrients.

— Eat until you are satisfied, but don’t stuff yourself.

— Be mindful of beverage consumption.  Alcohol induces overeating.

— Make time for exercise.  It relieves stress and helps prevent weight gain.

And let me leave you with these thoughts:

Don’t’ restrict yourself from enjoying your favorite holiday treats. Just be aware of how much you are consuming and limit the amount. Think twice about drinking a second glass of an alcoholic beverage.  Instead, incorporate healthy options of things you enjoy. One of my holiday favorites is alcohol-free eggnog. I have found the soy version every bit as rich and satisfying but with half the calories. Enjoy the holidays, incorporate healthy recipes into your holiday meals and make time for physical activity. Give the gift of health to yourself starting now.

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How Chocolate Can Alleviate Anxiety & Stress

How Chocolate Can Alleviate Anxiety & Stress

It’s OK to eat chocolate, but do so BEFORE you get uptight. Also, check the label to make sure it’s not loaded with milk and sugar.

Research has shown that obese women have higher levels of cortisol than those who maintain a healthy weight. Cortisol triggers the accumulation of fat, especially around organs and the abdomen, which can contribute to depression, heart disease and stroke. Yet a 2009 study found that people who ate 40 grams (1 ounce) of dark chocolate every day for two weeks saw a decrease in their cortisol levels. Another study in 2010 found that people who ate chocolate over the course of 30 days lowered their levels of anxiety.

But, timing is everything. Be sure to eat the right kind of chocolate before — not after — the onset of anxiety or stress. Those who ate chocolate in response to stress generally felt just as depressed after their chocolate fix as they did before. Their depressed feelings lasted approximately three minutes, which was long enough for them to reach for more chocolate.

Eating chocolate regularly in small amounts at the right time allows your body to slowly build up levels of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that regulate stress hormones. So, remember to slow down when consuming chocolate, and savor it is small doses for the best results.

Also remember to choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate because milk blocks your body’s ability to absorb the antidepressant antioxidants (polyphenols). So to make chocolate healthy food, you should eat it with at least 70% cocoa. The higher the percentage, the better it is for you. If the percentage it not clearly labeled on the wrapper, you should probably stay away from it.

It’s best to limit yourself to 40 grams of “good” chocolate a day. Divide the bars into servings about the size of the end joint of your thumb for best results. Eating more than 40 grams has no added benefit.

Eat the right kind of chocolate (70 percent and up) “mindfully,” as I like to say. Don’t’ chew or suck on it. Let it sit on your tongue and melt slowly. This causes the flavor to linger and tricks your brain into thinking you are eating the entire time. Mindful eaters are far less likely to overindulge.

If you don’t like the taste of low-sugar, dark chocolate, try adding cocoa powder (not Dutch chocolate, which has been heavily processed) to your foods. Add a few tablespoons to your morning oatmeal or other low-sugar cereals. Hot chocolate is good too, but make sure you use almond milk or soymilk, thus avoiding dairy fat. But limit yourself to eight tablespoons of cocoa powder a day.

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Resolve to Take a Broad Approach to Weight Management this New Year

Resolve to Take a Broad Approach to Weight Management this New Year

Now that we are in the holiday season, many of us resign ourselves to the weight gain that typically follows. Indeed, it is very hard to pass up holiday sweets that seem to be everywhere as well as extra servings of a traditional family dish. That’s why so many weight loss books are published at this time promising a “New Year, New You.”

So it’s no surprise that the No. 1 New Year’s resolution is to lose weight.  But this year consider a broader approach to resolving the problem for more lasting success.  Here are 10 points that my health-coaching clients have incorporated into their weight-management programs that you may want to consider:

1. Sleep better.
2. Work out more, whether it is outside, at the gym or home.
3. Begin a daily mindfulness or meditation practice.
4. Drink more water and get rid of diet sodas.
5. Eat more vegetables and less meat.
6. Organize your home, workspace or both.
7. Make new friends and/or spend more time with those you already have.
8. Improve work/life balance to allow more time to take better care of yourself.
9. Quit tolerating an uncomfortable situation at home or work out of fear.  Define the problem and fix it.
10. Find an app or person to hold you accountable to whatever goal you are trying to achieve so you will create a lasting  new habit.

There is a lot of help available, so take advantage of it now so 2017 can be your best year yet!
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What’s Up with all the Coloring Books?

What’s Up with all the Coloring Books?

Coloring books for adults are popping up in stores just about everywhere these days. I’ve seen these books in Barnes and Noble, Sam’s, Costco and some of the dollar stores, and wondered why they all the rage. Especially regarding the mental health benefits associated with an activity once considered for children only.

It doesn’t require expensive paints, brushes, stretched canvasses, or special lighting to use these books… No art lessons are required either.  Simply select an appropriate color and stay within the lines — initially at least.

I know what I’m talking about here.  I purchased two adult coloring books the other day along with a box of color pencils, and got busy with some personalized, adult research on the matter.  I had read that yogis recommend coloring books for relaxation and associated meditation, and decided that I wanted to know more about this creative alternative to meditating.  It didn’t take long to get involved in what is known as “art therapy.”

I also learned about the American Art Therapy Association of mental health professionals, who help people create art as a way of improving their lives. This association helps people “explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem.”

What a thrill is was for me to realize that special coloring books are key tools in the practice of art therapy!  And it becomes especially helpful when an individual teams up with a therapist trained in this process to examine expressed goals, including reduction of anxiety and stress, learning how to focus, being more mindful of what’s around you, and staying present in the moment.

While many of us discovered years ago that colorful doodling can be relaxing, working with geometric or pictorial designs called mandalas take it to a whole new level.  A good adult coloring book offers intricate mandalas designed to switch off the individual’s brain from other thoughts thus encouraging the special energy that results from intense focus.  Also note that color pencils are far better that crayons when “tuning in” to your newly emerging art gene.  Pencils allow you to be more precise because you can blend, shade and add highlights and lowlights to your geometric designs.

This can be most effective for people who seldom participate in drawing, painting, decorating, cooking or even gardening.  The act of adding color to an image on paper feels safe for most people who normally are not comfortable participating in a creative process and enjoying the tranquility that most artists enjoy.

So, if you or someone you know is struggling with nagging mental or emotional issues consider talking to a certified art therapist to help work things out.  But if you just need to relax or get more focused, pick up an adult coloring book, some colorful pencils and get busy in a good kind of way.

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The Power of Female Friendships

The Power of Female Friendships

It’s almost Thanksgiving — a time to reflect on the many things you are grateful for, on this day and always. I’m especially grateful for girlfriends. I’ve always had girlfriends. My mother did too and like many things, she set a good example.

There are a lot of health benefits to maintaining and making new girlfriends. I never take them for granted, and try to get together with them as often as possible. I’m convinced that there is a strong correlation between having them and my health and well- being.

Girlfriends increase my sense of belonging, boost my happiness and reduce my stress. No surprise there. However, a strong social network also reduces the risk of depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass, or BMI. And since women tend to live longer than men, the girlfriends you make and maintain today can add quality of life now and down the road.

But it’s not always easy to develop or maintain friendships as we get older. Life is busy with work, spouses, caring for children, grandchildren and aging parents. You may have grown apart with longtime friends due to changes in your lives, interests and lack of time. Or perhaps you have moved to a new town and haven’t found a good way to meet people that can turn into friendships.

Yes, like a lot of things, developing and maintaining friendships take effort. However, the enjoyment and comfort girlfriends provide are worth it. And while you want to have a network of diverse friends, the quality of a few close friends who are there for you through thick and thin are critical for a happy and healthy life.

So if you’ve been busy and lost touch with a longtime friend, reach out to her soon and schedule coffee or a meal. If someone has reached out to you, be sure to reach back and reconnect. If you are looking to make new friends, attend community events, volunteer, or take up a new interest.

Research suggests that using social media is a good way to maintain connections and relieve loneliness. However, it does not translate into closer relationships. It seems as though there is no substitute for voice-to-voice and face-to-face contact to improve the quality of a friendship that leads to better health.

So, what better time to reach out by phone and let a girlfriend know you have been thinking about her or set a date to get together than during the holiday season?

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5 Surprising Secrets to Getting a Great Night’s Sleep

5 Surprising Secrets to Getting a Great Night’s Sleep

It seems as though the older I get, the harder it is for me to get a good night’s sleep. The problem for me doesn’t seem to be falling asleep, but getting 7-8 hrs of uninterrupted sleep. In an effort to get a restful night of shut-eye I started doing some research and this is what I found out:

No surprise here, but good habits once again seem to hold the answers. All factors of getting a good night’s sleep might not be in our control, but there are habits that one can adopt to encourage a better night’s sleep.

  1. Once again physical activity to the rescue. Exercise not only increases the amount of energy you spend but also releases the feel good hormones or endorphins and helps regulate body temperature. Avoid heavy food or alcohol two hours before bed because they can interfere with sleep. If caffeine bothers you, don’t drink any caffeinated beverages after 6 pm.
  1. Boost your circadian rhythm. Getting plenty of sunlight during the day can help regulate your biological clock so at night your body can downshift into a more relaxed mode in preparation for bedtime. Getting up and going to bed at approximately the same times daily reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycle and help promote better sleep.
  1. Get rid of the day’s worries. If you tend to worry, jot down your concerns and possible solutions and put them aside until tomorrow. Thinking about them once you lay your head on the pillow is not going to get them resolved any faster. Also before bedtime, start practicing a relaxing ritual such as reading, listening to a podcast or writing in your gratitude journal.
  1. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Don’t eat, watch TV or browse the internet/ answer emails on your tablet, laptop or phone. Don’t talk on the phone while you are in bed. In fact, the blue light from keeping your electronics close to the bed can affect your ability get a good night’s sleep. Keep those devices away from your bed, and better yet, out of your bedroom all together.
  1. Last but not least, keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Use room darkening shades, earplugs or a fan to shut out outside light and noises. The cooler the room the better you sleep. This time of year I often crack a window near my bed to let in the cooler night air. In the summer, I use a floor fan. Choose comfortable, clean bedding and make sure you have plenty of room to stretch out.
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Do You Know Why Tea is Good For You?

Do You Know Why Tea is Good For You?

Finally the cooler weather is upon us, which for me, is “tea time.” But, like most everything I consume, I play a game of sorts with myself to determine what’s healthiest for my body. However, tea is a bit different.

All varieties of tea — whether it is black tea, green, oolong (between green and black) or white —are good for me, and probably you too. The health benefits include keeping your mind sharp and reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Yes, tea is the number two beverage, behind water, as the most sipped beverage worldwide is loaded with disease fighting plant compounds and antioxidants.

True teas are made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis plant. Differences in flavor and color depend on the how the leaves are rolled, crushed and exposed to air before drying. Herbal teas are infused with herbs and spices.

So like anything good for you, how much should you consume? Some experts recommend having 2-3 cups per day. Since tea, like coffee, has caffeine, balance your intake with de-caffeinated varieties or take fewer sips. Black tea has the most caffeine, with 72 mgs in 12 ounces, about half of what a cup of coffee would have in the same size serving. And if your preference is decaf tea, double up on the teas bags to get the same beneficial plant compounds because the de-caf process dilutes some of the healthy compounds.

A few words of warning, though: Don’t load up your tea with sugar and cream. This can add a huge whopping of calories and sugar to your healthy routine. Also if you do not peculiarly like tea, a supplement with the green tea extract powders is not OK. The benefits you might get are overshadowed by the risks of dizziness, ringing in the ears, elevated blood pressure and heart rate, liver damage and possible death. Need I say more!

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