No one today would argue with me that most Americans are overly stressed. Technology, feeling the need to immediately return text and emails, and the pace at which we live today has created an epidemic of chronic stress and mental fatigue. In fact, between 60 percent and 80 percent of doctor visits today are a result of this chronic stress. And of course, when we are stressed we make poor lifestyle choices. Which means we eat on the run, make unhealthy food choices, and take too little, if any, time to exercise, rest and do the things that bring us joy. The cumulative effect of all this stress? Burnout and chronic disease.
One of the main reasons I experienced the fight of my life with breast cancer a decade ago is chronic stress. I had jogged, been active most of my life and kept my weight under control but I got cancer. Why?
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.”
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.
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.
Everyone knows they should exercise. Doctors, scientists and even ancient philosophers have long advised that exercise is good for you and warn that the more the better if done properly. Now we are getting more and more proof that exercise is critical.
Researchers have found that during and immediately after exercising, positive changes occur in our bodies. A steady run, jog or walk not only gets blood flowing and hearts pumping but also helps improve skin and eye health. If someone created a drug that could do for human health everything that exercise can, it would be the most valuable pharmaceutical ever.
So why do only 20 percent of Americans get the recommended 150 minutes of strength and cardiovascular physical activity per week? Why is it that more than half of all baby boomers do no exercise whatsoever? Surely by now everyone knows the consequences of leading sedentary life.
People with low levels of physical activity are at a higher risk of developing cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and early death by many other preventable causes. Yet generally speaking, humans are not good at assessing long-term risks as well as benefits, of our lifestyle choices. Promises that exercise is “good for you” aren’t motivating enough for most people to take action — especially if they consider exercise as just another chore. However, most people are motivated by rewards. Here are only a few of them regarding proper exercise:
— Slower aging.
— Better mood.
— Less stress and anxiety.
— Less chronic pain.
— Improved eyesight.
— Lower medical bills.
Where’s the proof? Beginning in 2017, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) will launch a six-year $170 million study with a group of 3,000 sedentary people of all ages. They will start an exercise program and then donate their blood, muscle and fat before and after exercise. Another group that doesn’t exercise will also be tracked.
This study is the first of it’s kind in terms of size, rigor and aims. Experts are hoping it will give doctors evidence they need to start treating exercise like the miracle drug they’ve long thought it to be. Instead of your doctors saying, “You need to exercise more,” they will actually give exercise as a prescription!
It’s becoming evident too that nearly everyone — young, old, pregnant and those that are ill —benefit from exercise. As scientists learn more about why this it is, they are hoping that the messaging about exercise gets simpler too. No fancy gym membership required, just get out and move. I’ll have on this important subject next week. So please stay tuned!
Last week’s post noted that using what is known as “the happiness advantage” is a great way to improve both your personal and professional lives. One of the ways I mentioned to raise your level of happiness is to briefly note on a regular basis those things for which you are grateful. A helpful internet application (“app”) which allows you to record your “gratitudes” is Gratitude Journal 365.
I enjoy keeping a daily journal in which, among other things, I write down three things for which I am grateful. I suggest that one of your happiness-advantage techniques is to give it a try to do this at least three times a week. Simply write down three things for which you are appreciative. Don’t simply do this in your head. Write them down.
Start out simple with things like “my morning cup of coffee” or “the sound of rain on the roof,” then go on to bigger things like “my daughter gave birth to a healthy baby boy” or “I’ve paid off the credit card and cut it to pieces.” The goal of the exercise is to remember the good things in your life and savor the happiness that goes with them.
As your write, here are some important tips:
1. Be as specific as possible. Specificity is the key to fostering gratitude. “I am grateful that my husband cooked supper for us when I had to work late on Tuesday.”
2. Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular person, thing or event for which you are grateful carries more benefits than listing superficial things.
3. Get personal. Focus on people to whom you are grateful. This has far more impact than those things for which you alone are grateful.
4. Consider what your life would be like without certain people or things, rather than just tallying up all the good stuff. Be grateful for the negatives outcomes you avoided, escaped, prevented or turned into something positive. In other words, try not to take good fortune for granted.
5. See good things as “gifts.” Doing so guards against taking things for granted. Relish the gifts you have and received.
6. Savor surprises. I love the word “savor” because it allows you to linger on gifts that are unexpected. Savoring is a stronger level of gratitude.
7. Revise if you repeat. In other words, writing about the same people and things over and over again is OK, but writing about a different aspect of each person in greater detail is even better.
8. Write regularly. Whether you chose to write every day or three times a week, commit to a regular time of day to journal and honor your commitment.
9. Don’t overdo it. This is supposed to be enjoyable. No one savors a routine chore.
10. And remember, it only takes minutes to unleash everything great in your life.
To sweat or not to sweat? You’re better off with the first option, which, of course, comes naturally. Here are 10 benefits of sweating.
— Sweat is a built-in cooling system. The skin is covered with millions of sweat glands that cool like air-conditioning ducts.
—Humans typically produce from a half-quart to a full-quart of sweat per hour depending on gender.
—Sweat’s main job is to cool down the body. However, stress, anxiety and excitement can also cause sweating. Foods and beverages that increase anxiety, such as coffee and tea, can ramp it up too.
— Sweat is mostly water, a little salt and trace amounts of other mostly dietary substances including potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc and iron.
— The human body has two types of sweat glands. One is near the skin surface and has cooling properties. They produce a watery substance and are present in skin tissue from head to toe and concentrated on the brow, hands and feet. The other type of sweat gland is in human hair follicles. This produces a thicker substance that includes fatty acids and protein byproducts. When broken down by bacteria, this kind of sweat emits nitrogen and carbon compounds as well as ammonia. Unpleasant odor and staining might result.
— Men typically sweat more and easier than women while exercising. Women carry less water and sweat less to prevent dehydration. It’s an evolutionary trait.
— As skin changes during the aging process, sweat glands produce less sweat. This increases the risk of heat stroke. So remember to drink lots of water when exercising.
— Sweat glands produce a natural skin barrier that emits a natural antibiotic, which fights germs and infections, and help prevent bacteria from reaching the kidneys.
— Sweating is a mood changer. A good workout is great way to lift your spirits. That’s because the more you sweat the higher your feel-good hormones rise. Those hormones are known as endorphins.
— Sweating cuts accumulation of salt and calcium in the kidneys and urine. It also stimulates thirst. This washing out of the system has multiple benefits, which includes reducing the formation of kidney stones.
So do yourself a favor and sweat for at least 30 minutes a day. Simply move your body until you drench yourself, and be sure to have fun in the process.
If you run a successful business, you know that time is precious. You’ve learned to use it wisely. If you work for someone else, you need to prioritize your responsibilities to be the most efficient at your job.
Much of my time is dedicated to my health-coaching business. Of course, my family and friends are important and day-to-day responsibilities are critical too. So I try to rank things according to the time involved and the day of the week. It’s called planning ahead, which is a very good thing. A good plan also allows you to be flexible, especially when an emergency arises.
Of all full-time employed adults in the United States, the overwhelming majority work 40 hours or more per week. Each has responsibilities, and of those who really care, most have little dispensable time. So it’s important for each of them to set priorities. Here’s how:
— Start with “must do” obligations. List what they are and note the amount of time it takes to get them done. Be specific. Break down the parts. This gives you more flexibility.
— Now list your “want to do” projects, which are generally more exciting. These include things that involve friends and family. Give each “want to do” activity more time.
One of the simplest, but not always the easiest, way to make the most of your time is to know when to say “No.” Which, naturally, is much easier when you already have a list of you day-to-day priorities. So, get yourself organized. Life is so much better when you do.
Summer has arrived in South Carolina, and between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. it’s hard to rustle up enough energy to take on the smothering heat. So don’t, unless you have to. There’s plenty exercise to be done at home.
No matter how old you are now, it’s never too late to learn. Think about it. You know you need to increase your heart rate for at least 30 minutes a day, so start you day with an early walk at 8 a.m.
You also know that you should eat well-rounded meals, so have a good breakfast after your morning walk. And you know you need at least seven hours of solid sleep, so eat supper no later than dark, and hit the sack by 10 p.m.
But do you know the best time to exercise your brain?
Most folks say the best time to read is when you go to bed, but I disagree. A good book might help you get to sleep, but that’s really not the point. Reading is supposed to stimulate your brain, not wind it down, right? So why sleep on it? An hour or so in the morning makes more sense to me. So, when your brain is energized with knowledge, you’re ready to do whatever you have on your agenda.
And remember, reading is a skill, a lot like riding a bike. Both of which take practice. Reading also strengthens your vocabulary, your comprehension and your imagination. So make reading a part of your daily routine.