All posts in Wellbeing

Try Listing Your “Gratitudes” in Pursuit of Happiness

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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.

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Health Benefits of Sweating

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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.

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How to stay motivated

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I’m a high-energy person, and I plan to stay that way. But a lot of folks over age 50 have trouble getting motivated, and I’m not talking only about exercise. This also applies to dieting, social matters, school, finance, career and, well, you name it. Are you one of them? If so, here’s what you can do to get going and stay that way:

— Get organized, especially in your surroundings. Clutter in your home leads to clutter in your brain, which causes inertia, and is exactly opposite of what you need to reach your goals.

— Set simple goals that you know you can achieve.

— Develop a plan. You’ll never get there if you don’t have a simple plan — one that you can build on.

— Make time for yourself. If it’s 30 minutes of daily exercise that you want to achieve, block out enough time on your calendar to get it done, and the earlier in the day the better.

— Talk with others about your goals and how you intend to reach them. You’ll be surprised at how much this helps. It’s like thinking out loud, and if you have the right listener, one that doesn’t mind being a sounding board, you will become motivated.

— Think positive. Once you achieve your first goal, take note of how good you feel, expand your reach and keep on going. It’s OK to take a little time off, but primarily to rejuvenate your enthusiasm. The word “enthusiasm” makes a good mantra. It means “the spirit within.” I like to think of it as “good energy,” which is the fuel to power your success.

— Have fun. Whatever it is that you’ve set out to do, make it enjoyable. Celebrate life!

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A Perfect Summer Sandwich

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Summer has arrived in the South Carolina lowcountry, and along with it comes fresh tomatoes, sweet and spicy peppers and rich, leafy spinach — the makings of a perfect sandwich. All you need to add is two slices of whole grain bread and cheese, and you have the main course for a healthy midday meal.

Let’s take a closer look at my favorite summer sandwich:

— Use sprouted whole-grain bread, which might be hard to find but is oh so worth the effort. Breads that are made with sprouted grains are not the same as what you typically find in a grocery store bread section. The sprouting process breaks down proteins and carbohydrates in the grain, thus increasing the availability of vitamin and mineral content. Sprouted whole-grain breads offer the consumer a consistent flow of energy for several hours, often eliminating a late-afternoon crash.

The grains are pre-soaked in water until they begin to sprout. Next they are carefully drained, mixed and ground up to produce living enzymes, which readily break down proteins and carbohydrates. The result is bread that is low in glucose (blood sugar), and easier to digest than standard grain breads. Most sprouted grain breads are considered kosher, with increased antioxidants as well as vitamin C and vitamin B. These breads also lower the risk of obesity and heart disease.

— A sandwich needs a good spread, right? I enjoy the flavor of mayonnaise, which is a combination of egg whites and vegetable oil, and my favorite mayo is made with olive oil. A dry sandwich is a boring sandwich. Just remember to spread sparingly.

— My favorite summer sandwich has two medium slices of a deep red, ripe tomato fresh from our family farm. Tomatoes are a source of vitamin C and lycopene, and the riper the tomato, the more umami — or savoriness — it contains.

— I also include a thin slice of a fresh red onion. The potent flavor and deep purple color of these onions comes from quercetin, a flavonoid antioxidant that fights allergies and helps prevent cancer, heart disease and obesity.

— You can’t beat fresh baby spinach for a perfect sandwich. The deep-green richness of spinach typically provides more vitamin K, vitamin A and calcium than an average leaf of lettuce.

— Add a couple of rings of a sweet yellow pepper. Fresh banana peppers are plentiful this time of year, and they are especially good for you. One banana pepper produces almost half of your daily vitamin C requirement, and it contributes to your body’s vitamin A, iron, protein and potassium intakes. Banana peppers improve blood circulation throughout your body too.

— A protein? That’s a good question. I stay away from meats — especially the processed variety. I choose a solid cheese instead, and not always the low-fat kind, which typically is higher in sodium and calories. Different cheeses contain different nutrients. If you want to boost your calcium and vitamin B-12, select Swiss cheese or a Gruyere cheese. My husband’s favorite for the perfect summer sandwich is Colby Jack with bits of jalapeño peppers mixed in. Nothing like a little “heat” from the inside out to counteract the drag produced by the sun’s summer rays.

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Summer Is The Best Time For Reading

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.

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Relax, take a trip, enjoy!

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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?

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Do your city a favor: Ride a bike to town

Charleston, S.C. — one of the world’s most popular cities — is a nice place to live, especially if you have good physical health.   A morning stroll along The Battery overlooking Charleston Harbor is delightful, especially during the spring and fall. You are certain to see ships entering and exiting past Fort Sumter to and from the Atlantic Ocean. The sky is typically clear with white clouds billowing in calm winds mostly from the south. The old city sparkles today — generally fit and healthy, always alive and largely well.

It’s a thriving, livable city for good reason. Its people are generally happy and healthy and work hard to keep their historic port city ship-shape, so to speak. But it could be so much better. We have too many cars and trucks constantly breaking the silence and fouling the air. We have few bicycle riders risking life and limb to share the streets, and it doesn’t have to be this way. More bike lanes and a modern, reliable system of public transportation would do wonders.

Cities — like people — must stay active to remain healthy. And fiscally speaking, Charleston appears to be doing just fine. But it’s way past time to make it easier for folks to check their cars at the door. The walking and bike lane on the “new” Ravenel Bridge on the peninsula’s east side is an obvious success, and its use is growing day after day. Having a bike lane from the West Ashley Greenway across the Ashley River is a no-brainer as well. Closing one lane of the Legare Bridge into the city makes a lot of sense to me, but even if the traffic studies prove it will do more harm than good, then why not widen the span instead? If city, state and federal government would provide the seed money, there is no doubt in my mind that the balance could be raised by walkers, bicycle riders and others in very little time. Every one of the 40,000 or more Cooper River Bridge runners would happily contribute at five dollars per year, and friends and advertisers could surely cover the balance.

Each of us needs regular physical activity to help protect ourselves from serious diseases such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, mental illness, diabetes and arthritis. Riding your bicycle regularly is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

Cycling is a low-impact exercise that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It’s also fun, cheap and good for the environment. Riding to work or to the shops will become routine with convenient bike lanes and parking areas. An estimated one billion Americans already ride bicycles every day — for transportation, recreation and sport.

All is takes is between two and four hours of cycling per week to achieve marked improvement in one’s general health. It’s low impact and less dangerous for strains and muscle injuries that most others forms of exercise.   Cycling uses all of the major muscle groups, and it does not require a whole lot of physical skill. Once you learn, you seldom forget. And you control the intensity.

These are the benefits, according to health experts:

— Increased cardiovascular fitness.

— Increased muscle strength and flexibility.

— Improved joint mobility.

— Decreased stress levels.

— Improved posture and coordination.

— Strengthened bones.

— Decreased body fat levels.

— Prevention or management of disease, including cancer and diabetes.

— Reduced anxiety and depression.

— Weight control.

You get none of these benefits by sitting in traffic waiting for the light to change, a broken down car to be removed from the roadway or the police, ambulance and wrecker to clear a wreck. And the cost and convenience of building bike lanes on roads and bridges are minimal compared to building superhighways to accommodate all of the cars and will only make matters worse in time.

Charleston has some excellent bicycle-advocacy organizations whose members would be happy to join forces with you to achieve the necessary goals. Go on line. Check them out. And get busy. We all could use some help.

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Spirituality and Health

 

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.

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Focus on a Plant-Based Diet

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Plant based diets can be very beneficial to your health. Switching to a plant-based diet does not necessarily mean you must give up meat all together. But for most people, it does mean a change in food priorities.

In other words, when planning your menu, build meals around fruits and veggies, and not meats. This simple shift will do more to ward off chronic disease, spark energy and keep you in shape more than any other diet plan. Such a plant-based diet allows for lots of fish and some lean meat, but the focus is on fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

A type 2 diabetes time bomb has already been set off in the United States, especially here in the South, and it is doing more damage than any terrorist attack thus far. The best defense for contracting diabetes? Change your diet so that the emphasis in on fresh vegetables and whole grains instead of fatty meats.

Americans especially are subject to heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the United States. One in three American adults have high blood pressure. The best way to protect yourself? Change your diet. Emphasize fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains instead of fatty meats. Fact: The higher your intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, the lower your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Eating eight or more servings of fruits and veggies a day (most of us eat only 1.5 servings), cuts your risk of a heart attack or stroke by 30 percent.

A smorgasbord of recent dietary studies have shown that vegetarians consume fewer calories, and thus weigh less and have lower body mass indexes, than non-vegetarians. So why not shift your entrée priority from meat to fruits, veggies and whole grains? You will feel fuller on fewer calories, weigh less and have a lower body-mass index. Hello? Can you hear me?

Another fact: Fiber keeps you regular by aiding in digestion and preventing constipation. It also helps lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Consuming mostly plant-based meals packs your system with fiber, thus helping it run clean.

Worried about failing vision? Eat carrots, which are loaded with vitamin A. But don’t stop there. Your eyes also benefit from a plant-based diet rich in spinach, kale, squash, kiwi and grapes. The lutein and zeaxanthin pigments in these foods combat cataracts and macular degeneration.

How’s you skin? Dry and itchy? You need oil. By cutting back on saturated fats from animal products, there will be less chance of your skin pores clogging with the wrong stuff. Focusing on a plant-based diet means consuming more vitamins, pigments and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables. Lycopene in tomatoes, for example, helps protect your skin from sun damage, and the vitamin C in sweet potatoes smoothes wrinkles by stimulating the production of collagen.

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Statins Cut ‘Bad’ Cholesterol

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You have your blood tested, your “bad” cholesterol is high and your doctor prescribes a statin to cut plaque buildup on the walls of your arteries, thus reducing the risk of angina, heart attack and stroke.  Which, of course, is good.  But should you worry about side effects of this potent drug?

Although proper diet and exercise is critical in the fight against heart disease — the nation’s leading cause of death — most health experts agree that the benefits of statins largely outweigh the risks associated with this prescription medication.  That’s why more than one in four residents of the United States have increasingly been using statin drugs since it was introduced in 1987.  It’s also interesting to note that about twice as many men than women 65 and older are currently prescribed this medicine.

Statin drugs block the action of a chemical in the liver that is necessary for making both high-and low-density cholesterol.  Even though cholesterol is necessary for normal cell and body function, very high levels of it can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition where cholesterol-containing plaques build up in arteries and block blood flow.  A high-density cholesterol level is the most common reason that a person is prescribed a statin.

Most people who take this drug do not experience side effects.  Those who do have a reaction report headaches, a feeling of pins and needles in their arms and legs, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea or a rash.  Only a few experience memory loss, cataracts, liver failure and skeletal muscle damage, so it is very important for users to report ill effects to their doctors.

Meanwhile, studies indicate that statins may play a role in slowing the aging process. As we get older, our cells do not divide and multiply as quickly as they used to.  Statins delay cell deterioration, a recent study in Naples, Italy, has found.

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