We all have stress, but one of the best ways to manage it is to first become aware of it. To help build your awareness of stress and its impact on your life, try the practice of “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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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?
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.
Just the thought of another South Carolina summer wears me out. It may be debatable about what is causing more and more heat year after year, but there is no doubt in my mind that climate change is real.
My husband and I are rejuvenated every summer when we take a short up I-26 to the mountains. Not only do we have fun together, traveling also is healthy — physically and spiritually. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits:
Studies show that people — especially men — are less likely to have a heart attack if they take at least one vacation per year. One nine-year study of 12,000 men found that those who took a well-planned trip were 30 percent less likely to have major heart problems.
Leaving town on a pleasant vacation is also a great way to kick the blues, and women appear to benefit most for this, studies show. There are several ways to fight depression, and travel is one of the most effective. I like to think of the mountains as one of only a few “thin places” on earth. A slow hike up a mountain obviously exercises my heart, and it is at the top where I feel closest to God.
Vacation travel reduces stress on you as well as your mate, not only during the trip, but well after you get back home. Studies of regular travelers show most are less bothered by stress hormones. (But not at airports, I might add.) Other studies show that workers who take pleasant trips have lower rates of absenteeism and burn out, plus higher productivity levels.
Travel is a learning experience, too, which is not only enjoyable but an excellent way to exercise your brain. New cultures, cuisines, sights and sounds combine to keep my memory sharp. How about you?
Spirituality comes naturally, and it is typically a very healthy activity. If you have found meaning, hope, comfort and inner peace in your life, you know what I’m talking about here. Spirituality is available to you through religion, music and art, nature, exercise and possession of a high sense of principle and morality.
Being a spiritual person is the ability to engage in any or all of these activities. It’s the key to health and happiness too. The mind, body and spirit are connected — and when synchronized properly, your overall wellness spikes. But like anything that’s worthwhile in your quest to get healthy and stay that way, being spiritual takes practice.
And you do not have to join a gym to find it. You can be outside or inside to practice spiritual health — anywhere that is quiet and comfortable, a place where prayer and meditation comes easily. Good spiritual health gives you a sense of wellbeing both physically and in your mind. It brings comfort and strength and will power to live you’re your life to the fullest.
How strong is your spiritual health? Do you want to strengthen it? If so, here are some ideas to consider:
— Take some time daily to practice meditation. Get comfortable and sit down in quiet, pleasant surroundings. Cross your legs like a yogi as best you can. Hold your hands palm-side up while resting your arms on your knees. Sit up straight and relax. Simply clear your mind by focusing only on your breathing initially. This should not be difficult. Every time a thought enters your mind, cut it off by returning your focus back to your breathing. Slowly take in a breath and slowly exhale. Doing this regularly for about 20 minutes will give you a sense of inner peace, comfort, strength, love and connection.
— Do something good for others every day. Say “hello” when you pass a stranger. Hold a door for someone who needs a hand. Smile. These little things are acts of kindness, and they are very easy to do when you stop and think about it.
— Pray. Ask God to help you clear your mind of the senseless clutter that takes up valuable space in a place where goodness needs room to thrive.
— Read a good book about good people doing good things for themselves and for others.
— Learn about yoga and then give it a try.
— Sing if you can. If that’s a problem, take some lessons. It’s never too late to learn how to sing. This will surely help your breathing too.
— Exercise and eat right. Your brain works better when you do.
— Talk to your doctor about the importance of spirituality as a way to deal with stress. Good ones know how important it is for getting healthy and staying that way.
— And always be respectful of others. Practice the Golden Rule.
PERSONAL NOTE: Do you need help with your health? Doctors typically find out what’s wrong when you’re feeling bad, then go about treating your symptoms. They are trained to determine your problem then treat it in some way with drug prescriptions and surgery and the like. They may advise you on how to get healthy. But a doctor’s time is limited. Ultimately, it’s up to you to follow through and make healthy changes to your life.
That’s where a wellness coach comes in. A wellness coach works with you one on one, or sometimes in groups, to understand your problem and determine what’s important to you. They help you develop an action plan and provide accountability to get you started with new habits that will last a lifetime.
Regular exercise is not only a young person’s game. Studies show that as your age, getting a regular workout affects the brain in such a way that strengthens cognitive abilities.
How long do you exercise daily? Do you wear a tracking device that records the number of steps you take each day? If not, then consider buying one. Fitbits and other brands are now available where ever sporting goods are sold. An investment of $100 to $150 for an easy-to-use tracker worn on your wrist is well worth the time and expense. You establish a goal — say, 10,000 steps (or about 5 miles) — and get going. By the end of the day, your tracker tells you where you stand. But, remember, check with your doctor or health-care provider first to determine your daily goal.
Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to keep your body — and especially your brain — in good working order. New studies show that people 65 and older who stay active, don’t smoke and eat healthy have less trouble remembering things. And the more intense your daily exercise, the more your brain works as it should. Again, be sure to check with your health-care provider to determine your maximum limit.
“Physical activity is an attractive option to reduce the burden of cognitive impairment in public health because it is low cost and doesn’t interfere with medications,” said Clinton B. Wright, MD, MS, of the University of Miami in Miami, Fla., and member of the American Academy of Neurology. “Our results suggest that moderate to intense exercise may help older people delay aging of the brain, but more research from randomized clinical trials comparing exercise programs to more sedentary activity is needed to confirm these results.”
Exercise in older people is associated with a slower rate of decline in thinking skills that occurs with aging. People who reported light to no exercise experienced a decline equal to 10 more years of aging as compared to people who reported moderate to intense exercise, according to Dr. Wright’s population-based observational study.
Walk into a name-brand drug store and check out the colorful vitamins and minerals aisle. Look at all the health supplements! Need more energy? Less wrinkles? Sleep? Iron? Goat Weed? It’s like a Yellow Brick Road. A bottle of every vitamin and mineral you’ve ever heard of and more are right there waiting for you. All you need is red shoes for clicking and a credit card.
But there is lesson in the story of the magnanimous Wizard of Oz. He’s a nice guy. He’s also a fraud. So don’t be fooled by the glitz. Nutritional supplements are not all they’re cranked up to be.
We mentioned this subject before in this space because it is very important. The message is worth repeating. Americans spend $11 billion annually on vitamins and minerals, and “baby boomers” are especially vulnerable to the latest fads because they are at the age where they are especially vulnerable to quick fixes regarding their health. So get real. If you’re feeling like something’s missing in your diet, it probably is. But the solution will not be found in an over-the-counter pill.
Supplements cannot prevent or cure illnesses like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Supplements are no substitute for a good, well-rounded diet. Consuming too many supplements on a regular basis is not healthy — especially if you are on an aspirin regime or blood-thinners.
Also understand that too much Vitamin A increases your risk of osteoporosis. Too much Vitamin E can elevate the chances of your having a stroke. Too much iron can raise your risk of heart problems. Excesses of anything in pill form can build up in your body fat and become toxic. Also try to get outside in the sunshine daily for a while. It’s the best source of Vitamin D.
The key to proper consumption of vitamins, minerals and all the so-called natural supplements is to talk first to your doctor or dietitian about it. Tell her what’s bothering you. Give her a list of what you typically eat each day, including fruits, vegetables, fortified cereal and low-sugar juices. Ask her if a multivitamin is right for you, and listen carefully to her instructions.
Also, don’t be fooled by labels that proclaim a supplement is “all natural.” This is a typical sales gimmick. But do pay close attention to the nutritional information panel on the bottle. The percentage of the recommended daily value (DV) of each ingredient should be no lower than 100 percent and no higher than 300 percent.
Ask you health professional about that too. She knows!
“Use it or lose it!”
You’ve heard this cliché practically all you life, right? That’s because it is absolutely correct. You could buy a brand new car, park it in a brand new garage, protect it from all the elements etc., but if you don’t crank it up regularly and go for a ride, it will fall apart.
The disintegration process is called “entropy,” which refers to the errors in a system that causes it to fall apart because the object is not being used properly, if at all. The “thing” that falls apart for lack of use in this instance would be your body. “Entropy” happens as we age unless we continue to use what God has given us, so to speak.
Exercise your muscles or they will disappear. Move your joints or they will become arthritic, eat properly or suffer energy loss or stoke, use your brain or become senile, learn to relax or have a heart attack. You get the message.
Let’s zero in on senility. Studies have shown that some people in their 70s, 80s and above have high levels of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains, but retain normal cognition. Why is that? Have they simply not lived long enough for the disease to manifest itself? Or have they used their brain efficiently to ward off the effects?
The later appears to be correct. Lots of people in the twilight of their lives pass away with normal cognition. They are as sharp mentally as they were when they were 50 years or so younger. The obvious answer is: They never quit exercising their brains. They socialized, read, worked crossword puzzles, continued working and, yes, even learned how to rest their minds through meditation.
So, it is very important to not only to nourish our physical bodies, exercise them properly and rest them with at least 8 hours of sleep daily, the same sort of cycle applies to our brains. Eat food low in saturated fats, keep hypertension and cholesterol in proper balance, learn how to meditate instead of sitting around sleeping throughout the day, read more and watch less television, interact with people, work at a vocation and/or avocation and remain productive.
Also note that, while it’s harmful to be overweight when you’re young, carrying the proper amount for your age is critical as you enter into your 70s, 80s, and 90s. Being too thin can kill you too!
Here are some other interesting findings:
- People who live longer drink two to three cups of coffee.
- People who exercise live longer than those who don’t, even if it’s only 15 minutes of walking a day.
- People who do something rather than sitting and watching TV live longer, as do those who continue to engage socially, go to church or other place of worship, remain active politically and read, write, play bridge or solve problems that require using their brains.
In other words, maintain a healthy lifestyle from “head to toe” in order to live a full, conscious life. Strive to use every part of your body as you age. It won’t be the same as when you were younger but that’s natural. And this applies especially to your brain.
As members of the Baby Boomer generation enter their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond, it may be time to get serious about where they will live comfortably, content and autonomous. One’s dwelling is a very important consideration should be at the top of the list as preventive medicine, exercise and other therapies continue to catch on.
So now is the time for older folks to take a good look around their homes and decide now if remodeling is a wise investment, or if it would be better to move on. Many of us would prefer to “age in place” for a variety of reasons.
Your finances, of course, are a major consideration. Is your house paid for? What is it worth? Can you afford to buy or build a new one? Is moving to a retirement community acceptable?
Or, is it possible to improve on what you already have by installing an elevator, access ramps and wider doors? If your bedroom were upstairs, would it be possible to use it as a guestroom, and move downstairs? If so, consider the size of your “new” first-floor room or rooms.
It’s especially important to upgrade your bathroom with more safety and convenience in mind. Should you add a powder room and a shower? You may want to hire an architect or contractor and develop an affordable plan. The services of a financial advisor should also be given serious attention.
And consider your heating and cooling system. Does it need upgrading, or will installing new insulation do the job? Wise spending today can net long-term future savings. Install a carport now instead of later. Or simply add grab bars to your shower and tub.
Just remember, planning now is a matter of perspective. It never hurts to be prepared. And this includes getting an honest, up-to-date appraisal of your property in case you decide to sell. Those numbers will change with the times, but staying on top of the value of your home is critical when considering your future.
But by all means don’t go overboard. Acting on an extreme resolution — like installing an elevator before you need it — may be over the top. You might be wiser just to know where an elevator shaft could go at this stage of the aging game. So channel irrational fears if need be. Sometimes, just knowing improvements are possible will make life easier.
Good question: What is “apathy?”
Apathetic answer: “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
You are not apathetic. You care. If you didn’t, you would not be reading my health blog. You would not know that apathy is a leading cause of death.
Yet, in the context of your wellbeing, it’s critical to remind yourself every day that “apathy” means you have no passion about your health. So get busy! Move! Inspire yourself because you have everything to gain. Remember: It’s never too late to stave off mental and physical discomfort of aging.
Here, compliments of Grandparents.com is a list of typical reasons people have for not exercising:
— “Don’t feel like it.”
So, how do you really feel right now? Great? Probably not. Again, you would not be reading this blog if all is hunky dory.
Ask yourself, “Why am I even thinking about exercising?” To feel better? To be healthier, happier and able to get around? To make new friends? To enjoy your family? To live long enough to know your great-grandchildren?
Picture yourself at your peak of happiness. How would you look and feel? What would you be able to do that you cannot now? What’s keeping you from doing something about it starting right now?
— “Don’t have the time.”
Yeah, right. You don’t have even 10 minutes to exercise. Who are you kidding?
Stretch for a minute or two. Get yourself warmed up. You can stretch even if you can’t get out of bed much less off the couch. Get some resistance bands and use them. They cost $6. Do this as often as you can. It’s good exercise.
Jog for five minutes. You can do this standing up or sitting down by simply lifting and lowering your feet. Now try jogging faster for one minute. Work your way up to 10 minutes moving your feet faster for at least two minutes. You don’t even have to leave the room to get it done.
— “I can’t.”
Then get into a routine of standing up and sitting down for a few minutes every hour. Work your way up to doing this 50 times a day. Prove to yourself that you can do some form of exercise. That’s half the battle.
— “I’m tired.”
That’s because you haven’t been doing anything all day. As I said earlier: Get busy! Do something that actually makes you tired.
— “Too old.”
Who are you kidding? There’s no such thing as “too old” to exercise. You can improve your heart health. You can build muscle mass. You can improve your breathing. You’re never too old to do something. So develop a simple routine, run it by your doctor or you best friend if need be, and slowly rebuild your strength and stamina. Shoot for a total of at least 30 minutes of steady moving a day.
— “Don’t like it.”
Exercise with others. “Get a buddy,” says celebrity trainer Sean Foy. “Then the two of you can argue about how much you hate exercising while you’re leaning against a wall to squat or sitting on chairs doing side bends. To make exercise more fun, try some jumping jacks with your grandchildren and watch them giggle.”
— “Too expensive.”
It doesn’t cost anything to walk. And there are several pieces of exercise equipment (like the resistance bands) that are not expensive.
— “Can’t get back on track.”
Why not? Don’t beat yourself up because you used to be active but gave up because you could do as much as before. You’re only hurting yourself. Talk to your friends and family. Ask your exercise buddy to help. Say a prayer. There is no good reason not to exercise.