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Drink Up: The Health Benefits of Coffee

Drink Up: The Health Benefits of Coffee

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!

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20% Genes + 80% Lifestyle= ?

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My Great Aunt, 108 years old.

I have a great aunt that is 108 years old. She is still mobile, lives at home and is mentally sharp. She is one of the oldest citizens of North Carolina and often interviewed by the media on secrets to longevity and quality of life. Although her sister (my grandmother) lived to be 97, her health and quality of life declined in her late 80s.

What’s the difference between these two sisters even though both had longevity?

Researchers agree that a person’s genes account for only 20 percent of human longevity. The balance depends on how you live life in your younger years. Both ladies owned their own businesses. My grandmother worked until her late 70s, my great aunt until her early 90s. Neither had regular exercise routines, but both were always very busy with their businesses. My aunt walked, climbed stairs and did a bit of lifting in her younger years because she owned an interior design business. She never seemed to sit down. My grandmother was a little overweight most of her life, and my great aunt was always thin and still remains a snappy dresser. Neither of them watched very much television.

My grandmother smoked occasionally earlier on. My great aunt never did. They both enjoyed a little wine with their food, and my grandmother would have a beer occasionally. They both ate a predominantly Mediterranean diet — especially lots of olive oil and fish. I’m convinced that their diet is the second key contributor to their longevity.

The four basics to a Mediterranean diet:

1. Eat more plants — Plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables and whole grains are critical to good health, yet most of us come up short on these.

2. Choose healthier fats — The Mediterranean diet is not low in fats. But olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado and fish are extremely good for you, so eat as much of them as you can.

3. Lean protein — While plant-based foods make up the majority of a Mediterranean diet, lean meats can also play a key role. Protein consumption via seafood, poultry, eggs and lean meats in moderation are important.

4. Beverages — A little wine may be included in a Mediterranean diet, but moderation is extremely important. Water is by far the critical staple. So drink lots of it throughout your waking hours.

Do you want to make changes in you lifestyle and look and feel better? Is the quality of your life important now as well as in the future? I can help you make the necessary changes and help you stick with the program. Consider taking advantage of my free, 30-minute optimal health breakthrough session. It is designed to improve your eating and other health habits critical for enjoying a long and quality way of life.

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Are You ‘Pre-Diabetic?’

Are You ‘Pre-Diabetic?’

How do you prevent diabetes? What does it mean when your doctor tells says, “You are pre-diabetic?” Is the cure to stop eating foods with sugar and start exercising almost every day?

But as I re-read my prediabetes materials in preparation for a 16-week class I am
facilitating for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), I am reminded that it is so much more than that.

People who are pre-diabetic have a blood sugar level higher than normal, but not high
enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. They are at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems, including heart disease, and stroke.

A person with certain risk factors is more likely to develop prediabetes and type 2
diabetes. These factors include:

— Age, especially after 45 years old.
— Being overweight, especially if you carry a lot of extra weight in your abdomen.
— A family history of diabetes.
— Having an African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, or
Pacific Islander racial or ethnic background.
— A history of diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes) or having given birth to a baby weighing nine pounds or more.
— Not being physically active three or more times a week.

So if you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes or you think you have some of the warning signs listed above, what can you do?

— Research shows that doing just two things can help you prevent or delay type 2 diabetes: Lose 5 to 7 percent of your body weight, which would be 10 to 14 pounds for a 200- pound person. And get at least 150 minutes each week of physical activity, such as brisk walking.

Another way is to take a class along with others who are concerned about their health. Consider joining one of my Wellness Beyond Fifty lifestyle change programs, which can help you reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 58 percent.

If you do, you will discover what foods to eat and how much physical activity is required each day to achieve the results you desire.  Once you have lost the weight, you will learn specific coping skills to maintain it so you can have the best health of your life.

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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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