Category Archives: Physical Health

If You Work A Desk Job, Stand Up And Stretch!

 

You eat right, you exercise, you try to keep your stress to a minimum…but are you still at risk for early death? A recent study from Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge has shown that the answer could be yes. The culprit? Sitting. The study concluded that if people spent less than three hours per day sitting, they would likely add two years to their life expectancy.

I know what you’re thinking – you are at a desk at work eight hours per day, and then you are home – sitting down to dinner, sitting in front of the television – or out and about sitting at a restaurant or at a movie theater.

Have you ever thought about how much time each day you spend sitting? Probably most of it! So if you want to find a healthy balance between all the sitting you MUST do versus trying to find ways to NOT sit, I have a couple of suggestions.

One is to get up and stretch every hour. You may have heard this advice before, but now you can really see why it matters. If you stand up, walk around a bit, and then return to work, you can stretch your muscles and get your blood circulating.

These hourly mini-breaks help because medical research has shown you can combat the effects of a sedentary day just by taking little breaks from all the sitting. The less time you spend sitting, the less likely you are to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, or even early death. Sounds simple, I know, but it’s true!

My other suggestion is to try to think about which of your daily activities you normally do sitting down that you can actually do standing up. If you spend a lot of your day sitting, try standing during these activities:

  • While drinking your morning coffee
  • During your commute (if you use public transportation!)
  • When talking on the phone
  • While helping your kids with homework

There are a couple of other ways I’ve incorporated more standing in my day. When I’m cooking dinner and waiting for something to finish cooking, I stand in front of the stove with a book! I usually find by that time of the day, I’m tired of sitting all day, and I’d have to keep getting up to check the food anyway, so I just stand there and read. 🙂

I also stand every day while I eat lunch – it helps that I have a counter-height kitchen table. I just pull out the chair and stand there for 15 minutes while I eat. It’s a great way to stretch out my legs in the middle of the day. Of course, another great non-sedentary use of your lunch hour is to do what my sister does – spend that time walking. Round up a couple of work buddies to join you or maybe use that time to get a break from your co-workers!

If you have a great way of working our new Sit Less, Stand More motto into your work day, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what steps you’re taking to move away from the sedentary lifestyle!

 

Bored By Your Exercise Routine? Try A Trampoline Class!

photo: rbbaird

If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the better part of the last few weeks watching the summer Olympics. But did you catch the trampolining? I only saw it for a few brief moments when it was televised, and I’ll admit – I didn’t even know that was an Olympic sport!

The athletes fly high (REALLY high) up in the air from their trampolines and they perform various acrobatics, including complex combinations of somersaults and twists. If you haven’t seen it, skip to 31 seconds into this video, and watch for a minute. It’s pretty amazing!

But trampolining isn’t just for Olympic athletes. It can be a great workout for anyone, and besides the fact that it’s fun and bound to give you a case of the giggles, it’s also low impact (easy on the joints) and helps you burn extra calories than what you would without adding jumping to your workouts.

If you’re interested, there are trampoline fitness classes popping up all over the country. Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park is in many states east of the Mississippi, and you can also find classes in smaller, locally-owned fitness centers by googling “trampoline fitness class.”

And don’t worry about being expected to fly and twist and flip through the air. The object of the class is just to get a good workout and have fun at the same time. So what you can expect is jumping jacks, frog jumps, and other cardio, and then there will also be some strength conditioning like lunges and pushups – all of which are reportedly easier on a trampoline!

If you’re getting bored with your workout, I encourage you to find a trampoline class. There’s a new trampoline fitness center coming to the Kansas City area soon, so I’m going to have to check it out too. If you’re in the area, let’s go together! 🙂

Easy Tricks To Stop Mindless Eating

photo: Salvatore G2

Have you ever eaten a whole bag of chips when you weren’t even really that hungry? Or maybe you’ve put on a few pounds lately, but you can’t figure out why. The reason might be mindless eating, which is defined as any subconscious eating habits that can lead to weight gain. You probably don’t realize you’re doing it, and it might be partly due to outside forces.

For instance, we are bombarded with TV ads and billboards that advertise food  and we sometimes linger around (or socialize around) food. And when we are constantly seeing food in pictures and in person, that can be enough to make us snack mindlessly without paying much attention – just because of its constant presence.

But those calories add up, and if you pay closer attention to some of your habits, you may be surprised to realize how much extra you are consuming without even realizing it.

So how do you stop the pattern? Here are a few easy tricks:

Start with smaller plates

It’s so simple that it almost sounds silly, but it really works! Regardless of the size plate we use, we tend to fill it – and clear it. Countless studies have shown you can’t rely on your stomach to tell you when you’re full and most people think they are full when they clear their plates. So start smaller and then add more if you’re still hungry. Just making the switch from full size dinner plates to salad plates will give you a chance to pause for a few moments after fewer calories and then decide if you need more.

Create a barrier

Many people get the munchies when they see snack foods. So create a barrier between you and snacks. If you have cookies and chips in your house, store them in a cupboard. If you are likely to snack on whatever is most convenient, keep a basket of fruit on the kitchen table.

For some people, if they remain at the table after completing a meal, they will help themselves to a few more bites even when they are no longer hungry. If you are lingering at the table after dinner, remove the serving dishes, so the food isn’t right in front of you.  Clear the dishes, make some tea for everyone, and then return to the table.

Don’t multitask

When you are eating, just eat. Don’t drive, watch television, chat on the phone, or read a book. Why? It’s easy to lose track of how much you are eating when you are doing other things at the same time. Before you know you it, you are full – or beyond full – and you realize you should have stopped much sooner.

Visual reminders won’t let you forget

You may have heard of the study where two similar groups of people were eating chicken wings, and one group regularly had the bones cleared from their table while the other did not. The group that kept their bones ate considerably less overall. The visual reminder of how much they had consumed helped clue them in when they had eaten enough and should be feeling full.

To dissuade yourself from eating or drinking without thinking, leave the reminders where you will see them. If you snack at work, leave the wrappers on your desk. At happy hour, leave the empty wine glasses on the table. Rather than having a visual reminder of what there is to eat, you have the visual reminder of what you have already eaten. Try it – it works!

These are just a few of many, many ways you can break the mindless eating habit. Start with these tricks, and you will become more mindful of what you are eating. Those extra calories won’t slip in, and you’ll start learning to eat only when you are hungry, and not just because you are distracted.

18 Easy Food Substitutions To Help You Eat Healthier

 

Do you think you might like to start eating healthier, but you’re not sure where to start? Or maybe you want to create a healthier diet but don’t want a major overhaul that will be hard to maintain. Today I’ve created a list of 18 food and ingredient substitutions you can make that are easy and simple and (most importantly) won’t make you compromise flavor.

1. Use herbs instead of salt. Many people add salt to their food to add flavor. Try experimenting with basil, oregano, pepper, turmeric, cumin, or anything else you find interesting. Or make it even easier on yourself and buy a blend like Mrs. Dash Salt Free Seasoning Blend. At our house, we love to use Costco’s Organic No-Salt Seasoning , which you can also get on Amazon if you don’t have a Costco membership.

2. If you use milk in your cereal or coffee, switch to skim. You can get your taste buds used to this by gradually stepping down from whole milk, then to 2%, then to 1%, and then to skim

3. Use ground turkey instead of ground beef for your burgers. No, the taste isn’t exactly the same, but you can find middle ground by using the ground turkey that is 93% lean instead of the one that is 99% fat free. The 93% lean variety has just eight grams of fat per serving – just enough to make it tasty and juicy, but not nearly as much as you’ll find in ground beef.

4. Use salsa instead of salad dressing. Lots of dressings are high in calories and fat, but salsa adds a great flavor to your salad without the fat and with fewer calories. Some people like balsamic vinegar for their salads, which is another great option.

5. Use whole grain pastas instead of standard semolina pasta.

6. Even better, substitute spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti! If you haven’t tried spaghetti squash before, you’ll find that its flesh becomes noodle-like when cooked. Just cut the squash in half lengthwise, steam in the microwave for about 10 minutes, and then harvest your pasta strands!

7. You can also try Tofu Noodles, which come in a variety of pasta shapes. Rinse the noodles first if you don’t care for too strong of a tofu flavor. Top with sauce, and you’ll never know the difference!

8. Make lettuce wraps instead of sandwiches.

9. Satisfy your sweet tooth with dried fruit. Apricots, figs, and dates are loaded with fiber and minerals.

10. When baking, substitute applesauce for the butter or oil in the recipe. It’s as easy as using the same amount (instead of 1/2 cup butter, use 1/2 cup applesauce), and it really does work!

11. Bake sweet potato wedges instead of making french fries. Just brush with a little olive oil and sprinkle some sea salt or seasoning on top and roast. Sweet potatoes are rich in antioxidants, and baking will save you tons of calories and saturated fat.

12. A couple days a week, make steel cut oats for breakfast instead of cold cereal. Oats are good for your heart and can also lower cholesterol. Flavor with fruit instead of sugar.

13. Use frozen or fresh vegetables instead of canned to avoid all the extra sodium.

14. Use Canadian bacon instead of standard pork bacon to save on fat and calories. For the same reason, use mustard instead of mayo and jam instead of butter or cream cheese.

15. Enjoy a small dish of sherbet or sorbet instead of ice cream.

16. Substitute plain, no-fat yogurt instead of sour cream.

17. Look for part-skim cheeses to use instead of the full fat varieties. You can find part-skim mozzarella and ricotta, and you can also find lower fat cheeses like cheddar, swiss, and jack.

18. Make the switch to whole grain foods. Instead of white rice, choose brown. Make quinoa instead of couscous. You can even use ground whole oats instead of breadcrumbs!

Those are just a few of the many ideas you can try to get started with healthier eating. You can find more online, and I’ll have additional articles down the road with other tips and tricks to help you gradually make changes. For now, try a few, see what works for you, and start taking those small steps to a healthier diet and a healthier you!

 

Ready To Start Exercising? Begin With These Simple Health Assessments

 

If you read any articles about starting an exercise program, one of the first suggestions is always to see your doctor for a health assessment. If you’re at all overweight, you might be thinking the last thing you want to do is subject yourself to a doctor’s criticism!

Don’t worry – if the thought of seeing your doctor for a fitness assessment stresses you out, you can also schedule one through a personal trainer at a gym or at the YMCA. That’s a good starting point, but I will caution you that you definitely should at least talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program if:

  • You’ve been diagnosed with heart problems, high blood pressure or other medical conditions
  • You’ve been sedentary for over a year
  • If you’re over 65 and don’t currently exercise
  • You’re pregnant
  • You have diabetes
  • You ever experience chest pains, dizziness or fainting spells
  • You’re recovering from an injury or illness
  • You have a diagnosed medical condition or illness (www.about.com)

Use your best judgment whether you need to see a doctor (although a full examination, if you haven’t had one in a while, is always a good idea). Otherwise, just schedule a fitness assessment at a place where you feel comfortable. Here’s what you can expect in an assessment:

Health Assessments – What To Expect

You will probably be given a health questionnaire, so that the person you’re working with can get a good idea about your health history, any injuries or illness, and your experience with exercising in the past. After that, the tester will give you a series of simple tests:

Body composition – Also known as  a body fat test, the trainer will use calipers to measure four areas of your body – your abdomen, hip, arm (triceps area), and thigh. If you haven’t had a body fat test before, rest assured it’s pretty painless. Calipers are just little plastic measuring devices, as pictured on the right here:

Cardiovascular – Depending on how thorough your assessment is, you may also have a cycle ergometer test, where you pedal on a stationary bike for several minutes, and your heart rate is assessed once per minute. There are several different types of tests to assess cardiovascular health. Another is the three-minute step test where you step on and off a 12-inch stool for three minutes, and then your heart rate is taken.

Neither of these tests is meant to exhaust you, so don’t worry about being unable to take the test. You can take it as slowly as you need to in order to complete the test.

Flexibility – This is usually a simple sit and reach test, and it measure the flexibility of your lower back and hamstrings (the muscles on the back of your thighs). You complete the test by sitting on the floor with your feet flat against a “sit and reach box.” Then you just reach forward as far as you can. A tape measure at the top of the box will allow the tester to assess your flexibility. Here’s what the box looks like:

Muscular strength and endurance – A short strength test might also be part of your health assessment. This is more likely to occur if you are working with a trainer so she or he will be able to determine a good starting place for your workouts. It’s another simple test that won’t be too strenuous. Usually a basic bench press test or a one-minute sit-up test is used.

Baseline Measurements

You can also expect basic body measurements to be taken. It’s good to get all your baseline numbers, because then as you start working out, you’ll be able to watch your numbers go down – a great motivator! You can expect the following measurements to be taken:

Height/Weight – This will be used to assess your Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a calculation that will tell you your weight status (underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese). As that number changes due to exercise, it will be a good way to monitor your progress.

Resting heart rate

Resting blood pressure

That’s it! Pretty painless! If you’re feeling like you might be ready to start an exercise program, getting a fitness assessment is a great place to start. It will get you moving in the right direction, and then you’ll be all set to push yourself to the limits! Have fun!

Sleep Apnea Treatment And Cures

 

This is the second article in a two-part series on sleep apnea. You may find it helpful to read the first article, Symptoms And Health Effects Of Sleep Apnea, which will help you get a better understanding of some of the symptoms people may have that are indicative of sleep apnea, but aren’t the most common signs. Sometimes people have the less common indications, making it less likely for them (or their doctors!) to diagnose the disorder.

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea or think you might have it, don’t worry. I know it sounds scary to think that you actually stop breathing while you are sleeping, but there are a variety of treatment options you can try  – many of which you can try on your own.

Self-help treatment for sleep apnea

If you have mild to moderate sleep apnea symptoms, consult with your doctor and then try some of these lifestyle changes. You might be able to alleviate symptoms just by trying a few things at home.

Lose weight – Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax, causing your airway to narrow and close as you breathe in. Even a small reduction of excess weight can help relieve that throat constriction, and some people have found their sleep apnea completely cured once they return to a healthy weight.

Quit smoking – Aside from the many, many other reasons to quit smoking, it can also help your sleep apnea. Some studies have shown that smoking increases inflammation and fluid retention in your throat, which can make your airway narrower and contribute to sleep apnea.

Avoid alcohol and other sedatives – Alcohol and any medications that relax you such as sedatives or sleeping pills cause your muscles to relax more completely than normal. As you can imagine, this contributes to the relaxation of the muscles in the back of your throat, and it makes it more likely your airway will become constricted.

Sleep on your side – If you can sleep on your side instead of your back or your abdomen, you can keep your tongue and soft palette from resting against the back of your throat, which can block your airway. Some people have had success “training” themselves to sleep on their sides by sewing a tennis ball into the back of their pajama top or even putting tennis balls in pillowcases and placing them strategically on their bed.

Exercises to treat sleep apnea

Rather than treating the symptoms or finding a work-around for your sleep apnea, you can also work to strengthen your throat muscles, which will make them less “floppy” when they are relaxed while you sleep. These exercises, from www.helpguide.org are a good place to start:

  • Press length of tongue to roof of mouth and hold for 3 minutes a day.
  • Place finger into one side of mouth. Hold finger against cheek while pulling cheek muscle in at same time. Repeat 10 times then rest and alternate sides. Repeat sequence 3 times.
  • Purse lips as if to kiss. Hold lips tightly together and move them up and to the right the up and to the left 10 times. Repeat sequence 3 times.
  • Place lips on a balloon. Take a deep breath through your nose then blow out through your mouth to inflate balloon as much as possible. Repeat 5 times.

Medical treatment for sleep apnea

If lifestyle changes don’t help alleviate your sleep apnea symptoms, a sleep doctor can help you find an effective treatment. Sometimes the underlying problem causing the apnea can be treated, such as in cases of heart or neuromuscular disorders. Usually, though, a breathing device will be prescribed. There are a few different types of breathing devices:

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines generate an airstream at a constant pressure. These are the most commonly used machines for treating sleep apnea. They are very effective, but many people find them to be too bulky and bothersome. Newer models of CPAP machines have been developed more recently that reduce pressure and increase comfort, so if you have preconceived notions about annoying, cumbersome CPAP machines, they are definitely worth a second look.

VPAP (Variable Positive Airway Pressure) and APAP (Automatic Positive Airway Pressure) machines work better for some people. The VPAP (also known as bi-level or BiPAP) works better for people who are sensitive to the constant pressure of the CPAP, and the APAP is the newest of the three that reduces discomfort considerably because it only increases pressure when the user is having trouble breathing, as opposed to the constant pressure you’ll get from a CPAP.

There are no approved drugs available for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea, but even if the self-help methods and the breathing machines don’t work for you, there are always more alternatives. Some are more drastic, like surgery, and others are much simpler, like re-training your throat muscles through yoga breathing techniques.

If you are having sleeping or sleepiness problems (or even other issues like depression or memory loss) and suspect sleep apnea, I hope this gave you a better understanding of the options available to you. Don’t panic at the thought that you stop breathing while you sleep, and don’t let the thought of bulky, annoying breathing machines keep you from getting the help you need. There are so many options, and I’m sure you and your doctor can find just the right one that suits your needs.

Symptoms And Health Effects of Sleep Apnea

 

Sleep apnea is a common and potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts as you sleep. Many people don’t realize they have it, because they only have one or two symptoms, and they’ve probably had them for a very long time, so they simply learned to live with them.

But sleep apnea can have far-reaching effects on your overall health, so it’s important to know the variety of symptoms and get help if you need it.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

There are so many symptoms of sleep apnea, but if you only have one or two, you may not realize that’s what you’re dealing with. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Loud and chronic snoring
  • Choking or gasping while you’re sleeping
  • Morning headaches
  • Frequent awakening during the night
  • Trouble falling asleep at night
  • Daytime sleepiness regardless of how many hours you spent in bed

Effects of Sleep Apnea

If you don’t notice that your sleep is getting interrupted and you don’t feel sleepy during the day, you may not think you have sleep apnea. On the other hand, if you have had certain symptoms and your doctors can’t seem to find a reason for them, you should consider that sleep apnea might be the cause.

When your breathing stops and starts while you are sleeping, you are jolted out of your natural sleep rhythm. That means you spend more time in light sleep and less time in deep, restorative sleep. As a result, you may suffer from:

  • Poor concentration
  • Depression
  • Learning and memory problems
  • High blood pressure

If you have any of these four conditions but haven’t been able to find the cause, talk to your doctor about sleep apnea, even if you don’t have the standard daytime sleepiness issue that most people with sleep apnea have.

Long term Effects of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems over time, including an increased risk of:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke

There are also two new studies that found a link between cancer and regular deprivation of oxygen as caused by sleep apnea. Those studies found that people with sleep apnea have an increased risk of developing cancer. Another study, published in the August 10, 2011 edition of Journal of the American Medical Association showed that oxygen deprivation over time can lead to cognitive impairment, and that elderly women who suffer from sleep apnea are twice as likely to develop dementia that women without the condition.

Sleep apnea is a treatable condition, and there are many options besides surgery or CPAP machines. Tomorrow I will cover some ways you can help yourself if you suspect sleep apnea or have been diagnosed with the condition. I’ll also give you an overview of some ways your doctor may be able to help you if your condition is severe or if home remedies don’t help.

For now, though, think about whether you have any symptoms that might have a connection with lack of sleep or oxygen deprivation. If you haven’t been able to find any other cause for those symptoms, do some more reading on sleep apnea or see your doctor!

What To Expect In A Yoga Class For Beginners

 

The first time I took a yoga class, I was hooked. I had been wanting to try it for years, but I think the combination of not knowing what to expect and not knowing where to start and certainly not knowing whether I’d be any good resulted in me putting it off for a long time. If you are interested in trying yoga but aren’t sure what to expect or maybe you’re a bit intimidated by some crazy poses you’ve seen on TV or in magazines, let me explain some of the basics. Hopefully it will inspire you to sign up for a class!

Attire

The first rule of yoga attire is to wear clothes that are comfortable! Many women like yoga pants and tank tops, but that’s not a necessity. You can wear the T-shirts and shorts that you would normally wear to workout if you prefer. Try to steer away from clothes that are too baggy, because that might hinder your instructor from being able to tell whether your pose is right or whether it needs to be adjusted.

Also keep in mind that you will be doing some bending and a lot of stretching, so make sure you can do that in the clothes you choose. You want to be able to bend and stretch comfortably and also avoid exposing more skin than you would like!

What To Bring

You should bring a towel and water to your yoga class. You might check with the studio to see if they provide yoga mats. Some do, and others charge extra. You can pick up a yoga mat at a sporting goods store if you prefer to bring your own.

Other equipment you might need during class such as ropes, blocks, or bands will probably be provided by your yoga studio.

Class Format

I have taken a few different types of yoga classes, and they all follow the same pattern. You can expect that your instructor will play some calm music during class. You will likely start with about 10 minutes of stretching and warming up. Once warmed up, you will gradually move into a series of poses that follow a sequence. You move from one pose to the next, and after going through that sequence a few times, you will move on to another. This lasts for about 40 minutes, and then you will have about 10 minutes of stretching, deep breathing, and relaxation.

Poses

This might be the part that most intimidates you, but it shouldn’t! Don’t worry, nobody will expect you to hit each pose perfectly your first time out. Many yoga poses allow for easy adjustments, depending on your level of flexibility. In other words, if you can’t reach your toes, reach for your shins or knees or thighs or whatever is comfortable.

You can keep your poses very simple in the beginning. Just follow the movements of the instructor or other students in the class and listen to verbal instructions. Your teacher will probably describe where each “part” goes for each pose. In other words, she might say, “Left foot faces forward, left knee is bent, right leg is stretched out in back…” etc. She will also probably walk around and help you with the pose if you are having trouble.

It’s that simple! Your instructor will walk you through it, and she will be able to do so without drawing too much attention to you or interrupting the class at all. Just follow from pose to pose, and you will quickly get the hang of it. Believe me, I am not the most coordinated person on the planet, so if I can do it, I have no doubt you can too!

If you think you’d like to familiarize yourself with the poses before class, there’s a great little $5 book you can get from amazon, called Yoga (101 Essential Tips). In it you will find an explanation of each component of basic  yoga poses. For many of the poses, the author explains how to position your arms, legs, toes, hands, and back, and also which direction to face. It’s a really helpful little book that might help you feel a little more ready for class.

If you just want to get an idea about the types of easy yoga poses you should expect in a beginners yoga class, check out this short four-minute video. You will see how easy the poses are!

I hope this will inspire you to sign up for a yoga class! I wish I had started much sooner. It’s a great stress-reliever, and I promise you’ll walk out feeling great!

 

 

 

Take Care Of Your Brain! 4 Newest Ideas For Avoiding Memory Loss

 

There is a lot of recent research about how to ward off memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. The solution that comes up most often is keeping your brain active by making an ongoing effort to learn new things. One key notion that comes up in ALL research, though, is that whatever you do to keep your brain young, you have to put forth regular effort. You don’t want to wait until the later stages of your life to start implementing your strategies. Here are some details on the latest research, along with things you can do (and things you shouldn’t do) to reduce your risk of memory loss.

Active brains have fewer deposits of Alzheimer’s protein

A new study by Dr. William Jagust of the University of California, Berkeley was published earlier this year and indicates that people who challenge their brains throughout their lifetimes have fewer deposits of beta-amyloid, a destructive protein in the brain that has been linked with Alzheimer’s. Challenging your brain can be in any variety of forms, including reading, writing, playing games, and mastering puzzles.

In my previous post, Learn, Grow, Change: What’s Your Uncharted Territory?, I gave you several different ways you can expand on your current interests and find new hobbies. That is all this new study is advocating – just doing and learning something different. Even if you already do some of those things, it’s good for your brain to mix things up a bit. If you’re an avid reader, try your hand at journaling. If you like crossword puzzles, take a look at other word puzzles. I like the ones at usatoday.com. USA Today is my favorite crossword, but they also have lots of other word puzzles and games that will really exercise your brain. If you like the puzzles there, you might check out this book, USA TODAY Jumbo Puzzle Book 2: 400 Brain Games, which has a huge variety of USA Today puzzles – a great way to give your brain an all-around workout.

Overeating linked to memory loss

It may surprise you to learn that a new study released last month showed that people who overeat nearly double their risk of memory loss. The study’s author, Yonas E. Geda, MD, MSc, with the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, said the study’s conclusions showed, “the higher the amount of calories consumed each day, the higher the risk of MCI [Mild Cognitive Impairment]”. MCI is not normal memory loss that is associated with aging, but it is more serious memory loss that is the step before Alzheimer’s Disease.

Yet another reason to cut calories and maintain a healthy diet! If you are interested in ways to make your favorite foods healthier, see my article, The Wellness Burger: Tips To Turn Your Favorite Foods Into Healthy Choices. You can also learn more about how many calories you should consume using the Calorie Calculator tool at the Mayo Clinic’s website.

Dr. Geda’s study focused on senior citizens who consumed more than 2100 calories per day. They were the study participants who saw an increased risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment. It is never too early to create a healthier diet, though, and the calorie calculator can help you determine how many calories you should be getting per day, based on your age, height, weight, and other individual factors. It’s a great place to start to get a firm grasp on how much you should really be eating.

Sleeping more may protect you from memory loss

This is another surprising new study result that just came out in February. The study’s author, Yo-El Ju, M.D., from the University School of Medicine, St. Louis explained, “Disrupted sleep appears to be associated with the build-up of amyloid plaques,” which is a classic marker of Alzheimer’s Disease. This happened in the brains of people who otherwise had no memory problems. In other words, people that were presently having no problems, were having a build up of this plaque in their brains that may affect their memory and also their risk of Alzheimer’s – just from disrupted sleep!

The key here is not about whether you get enough sleep, but rather whether your sleep is disrupted. If you are someone who tosses and turns during the night, or if you wake up frequently, you may want to make some changes.

Try setting a lower temperature in your bedroom, since you need a lower body temperature in order to sleep. Also, make sure you use the restroom before going to sleep if you tend to wake up for that purpose. Make an effort to create a sleeping environment  that allows you to sleep deeply. Turn off alarm clocks with glaring lights, ringers on phones, and anything else that might disturb you. It’s not just about sleep, it’s about sleeping well!

Ward off dementia with a bilingual brain

A researcher from York University, Dr. Ellen Bialystok, found that being bilingual can also offer protection from the symptoms of dementia. One of her key findings was that the brain’s need to monitor two languages in order to select the appropriate one “exercises” brain regions that are vital for cognitive control (your ability to process information in a way that is adaptive to current goals, as opposed to staying rigid and inflexible). When those regions get exercised, they get strengthened, and a stronger brain is better equipped to keep dementia away.

If you already know two languages, that’s great! Try to make efforts to converse in both languages, so that your brain is continually challenged to apply a different language in different settings.

If you studied a foreign language in school, how much do you think you remember? You can pick up a book at the library to refresh your memory, or even use learnalanguage.com to learn new words and phrases. You may not become fluent, but any work you do to keep exercising your brain will help.

In many cities you can even find language clubs, where you can meet with others to practice your new skills. You can easily find these sorts of groups at meetup.com. There are different ways to work at learning a new language, and the more you use it, the stronger your brain will be.

Just writing this article has made me want to pick up crossword puzzles again! I rarely do them anymore, and I used to do them all the time. What about you? What changes might you make today to keep your brain young for years to come? Let me know your ideas in the comments!

Appreciating Art Is Good For Your Heart: 4 Ideas To Help You Love The Arts

Are you someone who enjoys the arts – music, paintings, or theater? A new study presented at the 12th Annual Spring Meeting on Cardiovascular Nursing in Copenhagen Denmark, showed that patients who had an appreciation for the arts recovered better from heart disease than those who did not. This particular research focused on stroke patients, and it found that “stroke survivors who saw art as an integrated part of their former lifestyle, by expressing appreciation towards music, painting and theatre, showed better recovery skills than those who did not,” according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Ercole Vellone.

Dr. Vellone’s study separated into two groups the stroke patients who had an appreciation for the arts from the patients who did not. Overwhelmingly, the art appreciators were better at healing and improving – they had better general health, found it easier to walk, and had more energy. Dr. Vellone’s understanding is that art may make long term changes to the brain that actually help it recover when things go wrong.

So what does this mean for you? Even if you are not into ballet or opera, there are many ways you can uncover your interests in the extensive range of activities that art encompasses. If you’re looking for something new to do on a Saturday night, why not broaden your artistic horizons? Use this guide, based on your current interests, to see which areas of the arts might interest you as well.

If you like listening to the music – You probably have a favorite radio station or two, or maybe a few favorite artists you depend on to lift your mood. If so, that’s great! But you can do more. Have you ever thought about trying a whole different genre of music? Don’t rule it out before you give it a chance. I, for one, have never been a fan of country music, but just last night I heard Lionel Richie (popular in the ’80s) has a new CD coming out, and it’s made up entirely of country music stars (including Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, and Kenny Chesney) joining Richie to sing their favorite song of his with him. Interesting idea, huh? The album is called Tuskegee, and I think it just might make me give country music a chance (if just this once)! Is there any genre of music you might be willing to try – maybe just once?

If you like cooking – Why not take a baking class? Better yet, how about learning about cake decorating? Cooking and baking are creative processes in their own right – you are assembling ingredients to create a final product. But if you can incorporate decorating into your masterpieces too, you will be adding a little art into your life. If you’re looking for a place to start, there’s a book called Contemporary Cake Decorator’s Bible: Over 150 Techniques and 80 Stunning Projects that has tons of photos and also includes detailed instructions that are easy to follow.

If the only thing you can draw is stick people – That’s me! My mom has an incredible talent for drawing, as does my sister – but the gene skipped me completely. If you can’t draw but think you might like to learn, you have some options. Many art museums offer drawing classes on weekends. Some city recreational departments do too. You can also check local art associations and community colleges for classes.

If you don’t think an art class is your thing, even periodic visits to an art museum can help bring out your appreciation of art. You might not be able to draw, but you can probably appreciate people who can! There’s a lot more to art museums today than ancient paintings that are boring and stuffy. Check online for  your local modern art museum, or even look for galleries that feature a specific type of art you might like – ceramics, photography, glass – art is limitless, and finding something that interests you can be the beginning of a long term hobby of your own.

If you’re a fashionista – Fashion design is an area that is often overlooked in the world of art, but I find it endlessly fascinating. If you enjoy the latest trends or like to put together fun ensembles, try doing some reading about fashion history. There’s a wonderful two-book set of fashion history books called Fashion (Taschen 25th Anniversary) by the Kyoto Costume Institute that will keep you entranced for hours. Better yet, if you can find a fashion museum in your city, nothing beats seeing these works of art up close. It’s all about taking an art-related curiosity one step further.

I hope this gave you some inspiration to start looking for – and appreciating – the art around you. Dr. Vellone’s study led him to understand that art appreciation leads to better quality of life overall, and that’s something we can all appreciate!

What kind of art do you enjoy most? In what ways do you nurture that interest? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, and you can also find me at @onemoveforward on twitter!