This past week I was invited to speak to the Mount Pleasant Rotary Club on any topic relating to health and wellness that I’d like. Having been an active Rotarian in the past, I knew it would be a tough assignment because my audience of intelligent, middle-aged men already knew the basics of staying healthy. What could I tell them that’s new?
I opened with a brief description of my own bout with breast cancer, how I won that battle and what I was doing to maintain both my physical and mental well-being. Obviously, I explained, my health wasn’t as great as I assumed it was 11 years ago. I got cancer even though I wasn’t overweight, did not smoke and exercised regularly. So, I had to get extremely honest with myself. What was I doing or not doing in my life that caused me to get cancer? I had to move past my fear, learn all that I could about the disease and make the necessary changes if I wanted to have quality in my later years.
What I learned was that preventive maintenance is by far the most important step to take to shield oneself against chronic ailments; in fact’s it’s 80% of it. Not genes, luck, or bad luck in this case, but how I chose to live my life day in and day out. This was something I could control and wanted to control through making healthy choices and doing away with some of my bad habits. My focus last week with the Rotarians was on how to do the latter.
Here are 5 tips I shared for breaking bad habits regarding health:
Tip #1: Notice When Your Habits Are Automatic: Most habits occur thoughtlessly. Our minds are pre-occupied with other things. Lighting up a cigarette, gobbling down a bag of chips, consuming too much alcohol and staying put on a comfortable couch rather than going out for a walk are all mindless habits.
Tip #2: Practice Mindful Awareness: A few of us can quit bad habits cold turkey. For everybody else, it requires a conscious awareness and an abundance of determination. Mindful awareness is the ability to take notice of when and what we are doing habitually without becoming upset when we realize it. The goal is awareness, not action. Be conscious that you are smoking a cigarette or eating a whole bag of chips or lying around for no good reason. Engaging in your bad habit with full awareness lessens the frequency and duration of unhealthy patterns. Know what you are doing but don’t beat yourself up. It’s counterproductive.
Tip #3: Identify Daily Triggers: Habits are often tied to things we do on a regular basis. Do you automatically grab a cigarette after a meal or when you get into your car? Do you eat more than you are aware while in conversation or standing up? Do you become a couch potato every evening after dinner and click on the television? Note your triggers and think about them.
Tip #4: Mind Your Emotions: In addition to habits being tied to everyday events, they are often tied to emotional situations. We eat when we’re sad, stressed, depressed, lonely or bored. We order another drink when we’re happy and having fun. You get the message.
Tip #5: Ride the Urge Wave: Being aware brings to light a worrisome urge to engage in a bad habit. Be aware of this. Understand the urge before it starts, and be prepared to ride the wave of discomfort when it comes. The mind seeks pleasure and avoids pain. It’s a survival mechanism. Problem is, the mind focuses on short-term pleasure but not the pain that comes in the long run. However, most urges last only from one to five minutes. So, learn to ride it out. And the more times you ride it out the less often and intense the urge will be when it repeats itself.
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My husband and I recently took a relaxing and fun vacation to Maine. The weather was enviable in August coming from hot and humid Charleston. So were the food, landscape and the Mainer’s way of life. Yes, there were plenty of lobsters, haddock, and halibut up there on which to dine.
Also plentiful and tasty were tiny, wild blueberries that seemed to be growing everywhere. One day our curiosity got the best of us and we stopped to see how the berries were picked. As I stood there watching and listening to this “local,” I couldn’t help but wonder, what’s so special about these little fruits and how were they different from the larger kind I buy at my local grocery store?
But since we all know that fruit is an important part of a healthy diet and that you should be consuming the equivalent of 1.5 to 2.5 cups a day, I wanted to find out more. What I found out is these wild blueberries plants are only one of three fruits native to North America. They have grown naturally in the rocky barren fields of Maine and Canada for thousands of years. Unlike commercially produced blueberries, they grow on a low bush and are “raked” off the plant. Most are sent to packing sheds where they are cleaned, frozen and put up for worldwide distribution.
Wild blueberries are a nutrient-rich food packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They have twice the antioxidant capacity of cultivated blueberries because their battle for survival all these years yields a particularly hardy fruit packed with megadoses of antioxidants and medicinal compounds.
However, all blueberries are an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C and K and manganese. And they have the highest antioxidant power of any other fruit. These antioxidant compounds are found in their deep blue colors. The pigments, called anthocyanins, are known for their potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They help us win the battle against cognitive decline, prevent cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, aid in having healthy gut bacteria and reduce the risk of cancer. Need I say more?
So whether you prefer the wild varieties, which are mostly frozen at the height of their ripeness, or the fresh kind you buy at the produce stand or grocery store, consume blueberries and lots of them. Use them in your smoothies, in homemade pancakes and muffins, and on cereal, yogurt, and salads. And, if you want to splurge a little like we did in Maine one evening for dessert, enjoy a slice of wild-blueberry pie chocked full of blueberries, real sugar, and a buttery, flaky pie crust. Yummy!
One of the things I look forward to each morning is a cup of fresh-brewed coffee. In fact, I enjoy it so much I often list it as one of the three things I am grateful for each week. My morning Joe helps me to ease into my routine; it is my time to be quiet and savor the beginning of a new day.
What I have learned is that I am not alone, 54 percent of all adults in the United States drink coffee daily. If you fall into that category, you may be happy to learn that coffee drinking is a healthy habit. Coffee is full of disease-fighting antioxidants, as are many other plants. Yes, we often forget that coffee is actually a plant. The coffee bean contains more than 1,000 naturally occurring substances called “phytochemicals.” They are antioxidants that protect cells from damage by free radicals in your body.
Drinking coffee has also been shown to reduce tooth cavities, boost athletic performance, improve mood, and stop headaches. It also can reduce your chance of getting Type 2 diabetes, lower cancer risk, prevent strokes, and fight off Parkinson disease. Coffee also improves cognitive function as we age.
So how much coffee do we need to drink each day to reap these wonderful benefits?
Researchers have found that for those who drink four to six cups per day, versus only two or fewer, their risk for Type 2 diabetes decreased by almost 30 percent. The number decreases by 35 percent for people who drink more than six cups per day. Of course, my first thought when I read this was four to six cups a day is too much. I’d be bouncing off the walls. The good news is the benefits are the same if you drink decaffeinated coffee.
Regular black coffee only has two calories so it’s a great alternative beverage to soft drinks or energy drinks. The federal dietary guidelines state that up to five cups of coffee a day are in line with a healthy diet. But make sure you go easy on the cream, sugar and other additives… We don’t want to turn a healthy habit into something that negates the good!
“Synergy” is an old word that came back into its own in the late-1970s, and perhaps is more significant now than ever when it comes to healthy living. It refers to elements working together to achieve a result greater than the sum of its parts.
Take walnuts for example. Eating them on a regular basis slows the growth of breast cancer, a problem of which I have had first-hand experience. A walnut is a powerhouse of plant elements that include omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants that include Vitamin E and melatonin (for healthy skin and better sleep), and plant hormones. Each of these chemicals in a walnut is a proven cancer fighter. All together they are anti-cancer dynamite for any type of cancer.
This also underscores the importance of consuming whole foods rather than just food components, often produced in pill form and sold over the counter. In other words, the synergy of whole foods provides far more health benefits than merely the vitamins, fatty acids, hormones and other elements on their own.
Walnuts are prevalent in a Mediterranean diet, which is proven to be one of the healthiest regimes the world has ever known. It should also be noted that walnuts are especially effective in lowering inflammation in the human body — which is critical in diminishing any cancer threat. Walnuts also contain traces of copper, potassium and magnesium — all of which together with other elements, including melatonin, are synergy superlatives.
Health experts recommend that each of us should consume 1-3 ounces of walnuts daily. That’s approximately 10-30 walnut pieces. It’s also important to remember that walnuts are highly perishable, so store them in closed containers away from heat and light to prevent their oils from becoming rancid. Seal seeds, nuts and oils in glass jars and place them in your refrigerator for longer shelf life.