Category Archives: Physical Health

6 New Dos & Don’ts To Get Better Sleep Tonight

 

Do you ever have trouble falling asleep or trouble staying asleep? Or maybe you fall asleep, stay asleep, but in the morning you don’t feel rested? You have probably heard the usual tips for getting good sleep: avoid caffeine, maintain the same sleep schedule throughout the week (even on weekends), make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, and use your bed only for rest – not for watching television or catching up on office paperwork.

If you’ve tried all those suggestions and still need help, I have created some Dos and Don’ts for getting better sleep. And believe me – I know a thing or two about this! A night owl by nature, I have to regularly and diligently monitor and adjust my sleep habits because otherwise I will easily fall into a habit of staying up until 4 a.m. and waking up at noon!

DO

Exercise – Besides all the other many reasons you know to exercise, it also helps you get good sleep. Exercise gets your heart rate up and burns calories, but for sleep purposes, it also adds an element of physical tiredness. Think of it as a “beneficial stressor” to your body. Your brain actually compensates for the physical stress of a good workout by increasing the amount of time you spend in deep sleep (also called Stage 4 sleep).

Just be sure to exercise earlier in the day and not right before bedtime, otherwise the adrenaline rush and increased body temperature could also interfere with your sleep!

Use the sunrise and sunset to help – If you can, go outside or stand in sunlight immediately after getting up in the morning. Your body interprets the sunlight as a signal that it is time to wake up. The sun can actually help tell your body’s internal clock to register that time of day as your time to wake up. When you do that, the clock will also set itself as “time to sleep” approximately 14 to 16 hours later.

You can use the sunset for a similar purpose. Although the sun probably sets at a time earlier than your bedtime, if you spend a few minutes outside as the sun is setting, it does help your body recognize that this is the time to wind down.

Use a relaxation technique – This isn’t a New Age trick you need to learn – you already know a few relaxation techniques. Counting sheep (really!) is one. The idea is that you want to occupy your mind with something relaxing and somewhat mundane, so that your mind can relax too.

Another technique you can use is deep breathing. Just do a long inhale, hold for a few counts, and then do a long exhale. You can do this quietly and focus on your breaths to clear your mind.

One technique I learned years ago that I still use today is a gradual relaxation from head to toe. You focus on each body part and consciously make the effort to relax it. Start with your head and relax it by allowing it to feel heavy on your pillow while also feeling it completely supported by your pillow. Next make your eyes feel heavy, then your mouth, then your neck. Going through each body part really creates a feeling of whole-body relaxation, and I’m usually long asleep before I even get to my shoulders!

DON’T

Shower before bed – If you routinely shower in the morning, that can help wake you and it can be another signal to your body that this is its time to wake up. If you prefer evening showers, however, make it at least two hours before your bedtime. Warm showers or baths raise your body temperature, and your body temperature actually needs to be lowered in order to go to sleep. So if you raise your body temperature right before bedtime, it will take much longer for you to fall asleep.

Go straight from busy activity to lights out – Bedtime rituals help signal your body that it is time to sleep. It also puts you in a sleeping state of mind. For some people, a bedtime routine is as simple as walking around the house, turning off the lights, and checking on the kids. Other people need more elaborate bedtime rituals.

Personally, because I’m a night owl, I have a long wind down process that gradually goes from reading in bed to turning out the lights, to playing a mindless game on my phone with the brightness turned way down. I have to gradually make things calmer, quieter, and darker so that I can get to sleep. You might find a little soft music sets a calming tone, or maybe journaling helps you put some closure to the day. Try to find a routine that works for you – it can make all the difference.

Let your mind keep running – If you turn off the lights and find instead of winding down, your mind is spinning with thoughts of things you need to do, ideas for a work project, or errands you need to run, try making a To Do list before you turn in for the night. This might make it easier for you to disengage with your day and set aside all the other things that are going through your mind. Your nighttime routine will help with this too. The point is that you want to calm your brain and feel relaxed before you try to sleep.

Getting good sleep is important for your health. Although you might be accustomed to sleep deprivation, it really does impair your judgment and reaction time. Lack of sleep also affects you in more profound ways. It weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness, and research also suggests that appetite-regulating hormones are affected by sleep and that sleep deprivation could lead to weight gain. In two studies, people who slept five hours or less per night had higher levels of ghrelin – a hormone that stimulates hunger – and lower levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin than those who slept eight hours per night.

If you have trouble falling asleep or maintaining a regular sleep schedule, try some of the tips above. You may find you actually look forward to going to bed, instead of dreading the nightly tossing and turning that you might endure now. And, as always, if you have any sleep tips, please share them in the comments or share them on our facebook page!

Weight Training for Weight Loss: How To Get Started

 

While many people understand the importance of staying active, they often don’t realize that strength training is also a key part of maintaining their health. It’s not just about getting toned, but strength training slows the muscle loss and bone loss that accompany aging. It also helps you improve your joint flexibility, improves your balance, and decreases your blood pressure.

Strength training is also an important part of any weight loss regimen. While you can lose weight by simply creating a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you take in), you burn more calories when you have stronger muscles. Your muscles need energy to work, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn during the course of the day. For every pound of muscle you have – even if you do nothing else all day – you burn an extra 35 to 50 calories each day.

Some women are hesitant to start weight training because they are concerned they will end up building big, bulky muscles. Don’t worry, though. Women typically don’t have the hormones needed (testosterone and others) to bulk up. When women build muscle, they look toned, not built.

If you’re interested in starting strength training, there are a few different ways to begin. Read about them below and think about what would fit you, your personality, and your lifestyle best.

Do you need to be accountable? I recently read a story about a woman who pays for a gym membership, even though she has all the gym equipment she needs at home. Why? She needs to be held accountable, and she knows with the gear in her basement, she can always put it off another day. But when she pays for a gym membership, she refuses to let that money go to waste!

If that’s you, you have a few different options. Your local Y probably has lower prices than the fancy gym in your neighborhood, and they have plenty of equipment to get you started. The Y also has family memberships, and many provide child care.

Some people prefer the camaraderie of like-minded people at a big gym. At the Y there will be kids groups and (maybe) crowds, and it’s certainly a no-frills approach to working out. At a gym, though, you will find people who are mostly strength training or working on their cardio on treadmills and ellipticals. Your local gym probably has later hours than the Y also, and many are open 24 hours.

Do you want to work out with your own gear? Many people are more comfortable working at home, which also affords them plenty of flexibility in terms of fitting a workout into their schedule. For some, as I wrote in a previous article about sticking to a new exercise plan, part of the process is gearing up for the big change. It gets them excited about the new change when they buy the equipment, get shoes, and move toward a new goal.

If that’s you, don’t worry – you don’t have to buy a home gym! Start small with dumbbells and DVDs. A good starter set for dumbbells if you haven’t worked out with weights much before is the Altus Athletic 32-Pound Dumbbell Set which you can find at a heavily discounted price on amazon. It has a pair of 3, 5, and 8 pound weights, which is a good place to start. If you know you’re ready for heavier weights, check out the Cap Barbell 40-Pound Dumbbell Set, which goes up to 35 pounds on a single bar and is also very reasonably priced on amazon.

You can also get DVDs that will guide you in your workouts if you aren’t sure where to begin. Some libraries carry these, and you can borrow them for free. Just be sure to look for ones that aren’t more than a few years old and make sure they target all three areas: upper body, lower body and core.

There are a couple of good beginner strength training DVDs that I would recommend, and they’re fairly inexpensive. One is called Step By Step Strength Training. It covers upper body, lower body, and core, and although it’s set up as a 30-minute program, you can do as few or as many as you have time for. Another one, called The Great Dumbbell DVD not only has a great workout routine, but also is very specific in teaching form for those of you who are new and want to make sure you’re doing it right!

If you have some experience with weight training and want something a bit more advanced, check out Tracey Staehle’s Sculpt Sweatfest DVD This one not only covers more advanced strength training with dumbbells, but it also incorporates moves with an exercise ball and BOSU.

Do you just want to get started without buying any equipment? If you think you want to start strength training, but you’re not ready to spend money on any weights or other gear, that’s okay. There are countless exercises you can do using your own body weight as resistance, and you can even use items from around your house (books, canned foods, etc.) to add weight.

Pickthebrain.com has a good outline of simple and effective exercises you can do at home without weights. That’s a good place to start, but if it gets too repetitive, just search the web for bodyweight exercises, and you’ll find more options. There’s an excellent book called You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises that does an excellent job of teaching exercises that use your body as resistance. Exercises are divided into four groups (push, pull, core, and legs & glutes), and you workout just four times per week (one group per day). One thing I really like about this book is that there are different programs for different levels, so you don’t need to figure out which ones to do or in what combination. It really is a great place to start if you don’t want to buy equipment, you don’t want to have to figure out any workout routines, and you just want to get started!

Regardless of your age, weight, or fitness level, it is never too late to get started with strength training. Your body will burn more calories, even when you are at rest, you’ll increase your metabolism, and you’ll make your physical body more resistant to injury.

I hope you decide to get started on weight training if you don’t already do it! And if you know someone who is thinking about getting started, I would love it if you would share this post with them too! If you’ve come across some good workout DVDs or have other recommendations to share, let us know in the comments!




 

The Wellness Burger – Tips to turn your favorite foods into healthy choices

We eat about 13% less beef today than we did 10 years ago. That decline can probably be explained by the following (approximate) equation: fat + cholesterol = increased risk of heart disease. And although the beef industry is aggressively marketing leaner beef products, the fat content is still widely variable, and it’s often hard to recognize a low-fat piece of beef despite the different labels and grades on the packages. Meanwhile, hamburgers may have earned a bad reputation among health-conscious people, but they are still a good source of protein, and there is also a fair amount of B vitamins, iron, and zinc in ground beef. So what can you do if you are trying to make positive changes to your diet, but you still love a good burger? The answer lies in the preparation.

You can enjoy a burger as part of a healthy diet by following these steps:

1. Choose your meat carefully Go to a store with a butcher, choose a very lean cut of round, then ask the butcher to trim all the fat and grind the meat for you. This will result in a burger with only 20% of its calories coming from fat.
2. Portion control – Use three ounces of meat for each patty.
3. Taste matters too – If you are concerned the lean beef will be too dry, mix in a little tomato juice, chopped onion, or Worcestershire sauce before cooking.
4. Cooking methods – Broil or panbroil your burger instead of frying it in oil or butter. If you like to have cooked mushrooms or onions on your burgers, simmer them in stock (or water) instead of sauteing in butter.
5. Finishing touches – Use a whole wheat bun or whole wheat bread instead of white. Add a slice of tomato and some lettuce. Beware that adding cheese and mayonnaise to a hamburger more than doubles the calories and significantly increases the fat content.

This hamburger will have 315 calories, 7 grams of fat, 34 grams of protein, 72 milligrams of cholesterol, and 415 milligrams of sodium.

The hamburger makeover above is just one example of how you can keep favorite foods in your diet, by simply revamping them to make them healthier. There are many, many small changes you can make to the foods you eat that will allow you to enjoy those foods in a healthier way. Here are 10 quick and easy ones:

1. Choosing whole wheat breads instead of white breads
2. Opting for brown rice instead of white (brown rice actually has a richer, nuttier flavor – it just takes longer to cook).
3.Changing from whole milk to a reduced fat milk
4. Choosing reduced fat cheeses to replace full fat cheeses
5. Eating air-popped popcorn with sodium-free seasoning instead of microwave buttered popcorn
6. Eating an orange instead of drinking a glass of orange juice (many fewer calories)
7. Substituting applesauce for the fat (butter or oil) in a recipe for baked goods (just use an equal amount of applesauce as the recipe calls for)
8. Breading fresh fish by dipping them in skim milk and then bread crumbs, rather than buying frozen breaded fish fillets
9. Using reduced fat mayonnaise, margarine (sparingly), and salad dressings instead of the full fat varieties
10. Trying dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate

Remember, making (and keeping!) any changes to well-ingrained habits is never easy. Start small, try a few easy changes in the list above, and see what works for you. Then try a few more, and see how you feel. You can usually bet that once you start to grow accustomed to the healthier changes, you will want to keep making more. And also keep in mind that eating healthfully is not all or nothing. Aim to make healthful choices most of the time, and then you will have a little room for small indulgences. If food is a pleasure to you, it should continue to be so. Try to make your day-to-day diet both healthy and appealing – it can be done!

What are your thoughts on revamping ingrained eating habits? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? Let me know in the comments!

Good communication and stress management – strange bedfellows?

“Good communication” is all the rage these days in terms of the key to long-lasting relationships. How many times have you heard that at a wedding, in an advice column, or even from friends or family who have been together many years? But what exactly does it mean to be a good communicator, and how can that aid in stress management? While they may seem like an unlikely pair, the truth is if you can learn to express yourself in open, honest, and appropriate ways, you can also eliminate a lot of stress from your life.

Communication refers simply to the process by which information is exchanged between one or more people. Effective communication can help you avoid stressful situations and also resolve those situations once they arise. Effective communication is assertive, without being aggressive. You want to express your feelings openly and directly and encourage the other person to do the same. You also want to be careful not to let emotions get in the way of what you are trying to say, since this can lead to automatic, knee-jerk comments which are negative and attacking. This can result in you speaking or acting in either passive or aggressive (or both!) ways, which often can be received by the other person as “I count, you don’t count,” which is the last thing you want to be telling someone when you are trying to explain something important to you or seek resolution to a problem.

So how can you make sure you are being open and direct in your communication, unclouded by emotions? It’s easier than you might think, if you follow this four-step process:

1. Stop
2. Breathe
3. Reflect and look for your emotional “hook”
This is the automatic emotional reaction – the feeling (probably fear or anger) and response that causes you to use communication that is negative and attacking. Then ask yourself these questions:

(1) Am I responding to the real problem or my irrational belief/distorted thought? In other words, is there really a true problem, or is there a chance I could be jumping to conclusions or maybe even looking at this all wrong?
(2) Do I need to “win” this conversation? What purpose would it serve to win?
(3) Am I afraid to show any sign of weakness?
(4) Do I feel compelled to tell this person how wrong they are and set them straight? Would you be better off if the other person admitted s/he was wrong, you are right, and that’s it? Or would you be better served by gaining an understanding of each person’s point of view and then finding some middle ground or another way to reach an agreement?

4. Choose how you want to respond

Ultimately, effective communication reflects your ability to act out of choice and helps you deal with difficult situations by letting you express your feelings without losing control over them. You can use the four-step process to make sure you are expressing your feeling clearly and effectively, and also allowing the other person to do the same.

So how does good communication lead to lower stress? For starters, if you have positive communication skills, that likely means you will have fewer conflicts in your relationships with others. Fewer conflicts, of course, means lower stress. When you are able to communicate effectively in the way outlined above, you will also likely have stronger relationships, and that means you probably will have people you can count on, which has been proven to be an important part of lowered stress levels. Start to make some changes today in the ways you communicate with others, and see if it starts to make a difference in your overall stress level!

If you want to make positive changes in your communication skills (or any skills!), remember two things: keep trying and keep practicing. Making a change is a challenge, and you’re most likely to meet that challenge if you really commit to it, and also forgive yourself when you fall short. But if you keep working on putting those changes into place, eventually you will replace old communication methods with new ways that work better for you – and for those around you.

Good luck! If you have any questions or would like to add more to this conversation, please add a comment below. And if you think this post might help someone you know, please share it!

 

 

Wellness: What is it, and where do I get it?

Wellness isn’t so much a thing, as it is a process. It can be best defined as the process of making positive changes in order to achieve positive balance in your healthy life. There are seven aspects of wellness, or seven areas of your life that you want to balance. The seven areas can be easily remembered with the acronym, SPECIES. They are Social, Physical, Emotional, Career, Intellectual, Environmental, and Spiritual. Today we’ll discuss the first three, and then tomorrow we’ll explore the last four.

Social wellness isn’t just about having a few friends to hang out with on the weekends (although that’s important too!).  It’s also about having the ability to create and maintain healthy relationships with everyone around you, whether they are family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors or anyone else. In future posts, some of the things we’ll talk about are ways we create relationships (some are by choice, and some are not), how we can create good relationships with the ones that are by choice, and then how to maintain healthy relationships with people in all those different groups.

Physical wellness might seem easy to define. The first thought that probably jumps to your mind is exercise, right? There is so much more to physical wellness besides just working out. For your workouts, you want to consider cardio, flexibility, and strength training. But to achieve physical wellness you should also consider nutrition, rest/sleep, and responsible use of alcohol and other drugs. Look for future posts about physical wellness including how to get started on an exercise program, ways to assess and revamp your eating habits, and tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

Emotional wellness is all about…your emotions! The four core emotions are mad, glad, sad, and scared. Emotional wellness includes being able to understand your inner, true self, and it also means being able to express your emotions in a healthy way. Being able to feel, understand, express, and talk about your feelings is another important aspect of emotional wellness. In the coming months, we will talk more about habits you might have in response to emotions (and how to change them), talking about feelings in ways that will help you be heard, and how to manage negative feelings.

In my next post, we’ll discuss the Career, Intellectual, Environmental, and Spiritual dimensions of wellness. Meanwhile, of the first three areas, which do you feel best about? In which areas do you think you could use some work? If you have questions about social, physical, or emotional wellness, let me know in the comments!