Four Steps to Good Health

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About 40 percent of adults over 40 are thought to have “metabolic syndrome”, a cluster of three or more of the following risk factors: high triglycerides, a waistline circumference of more than 35 inches for women and 40 for men (regardless of body-mass index), low HDL cholesterol, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure. The good news is that while metabolic syndrome may be silent, the prescription for counteracting it is loud and clear.

1. Eat real food. Vegetables, legumes, fish, fruit, olive oil, intact grains, nuts, herbs and spices…these are the foods that nourish us and support metabolic and overall health. Highly processed foods, refined flour and sugar, and manufactured oils never have and never will.

2. Just do it. Both cardiovascular and resistance exercise can help prevent and reverse metabolic syndrome. Make exercise a game, make it a goal, make it a date, whatever it takes. Getting 150 minutes of moderately intense activity a week is ideal, but don’t fall into the all-or-nothing trap. If you can’t make your Zumba class or don’t have time for your 30-minute walk, take a few brisk loops around the block or do a few minutes of jumping jacks and push-ups. Something is always better than nothing.

3. Lose weight if you need to. If you’re overweight, losing as little as 5 percent of your body weight can lower your heart disease risk by 20 percent.

4. Chillax. For a lot of people, stress reduction should be step number one for the simple reason that it makes other beneficial habits much more likely. When you’re in a state of chronic stress, it’s easy to let healthy habits fall by the wayside. Chronic stress can also increase inflammation, which can fuel metabolic syndrome. A regular practice of meditation, yoga, tai chi is a fantastic way to work stress relief into your routine. When in doubt, just breathe: spending 5 minutes doing slow, deep breathing can trigger the body’s relaxation response.

Family Fun – Get Moving Together!

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Anyone who has tried to sit through dinner with wiggly young children can see that the human body is made to move (and that not spilling beverages is an acquired skill!). Making sure kids and teenagers keep moving, despite the constraints of dinnertime, school, screens, and our sedentary culture, can help set good habits for life.

Physical activity among American kids and teenagers is alarmingly low, according to a new study. More than half of teenagers, half of 6 to 11-year-old girls and 25 percent of 6 to 11-year-old boys, don’t meet the World Health Organization’s recommendations for at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity a day. And the average activity of 19-year-olds is similar to that of 60-year-olds!

The researchers emphasize that all physical activity matters, not just the heart-pounding variety. In a study that pushed 8 to 10-year-olds to do 70 minutes of physical play a day, their grades and tests scores went up as their belly fat went down. So start brainstorming ways to increase activity of all kinds. Can your children walk or bike to school some days instead of driving or taking the bus? How about a family walk after dinner? Make weekend excursions for hiking, biking, or walking around a city part of your routine. Organize sports, dance classes, swimming, or good old-fashioned tag, kickball, or capture the flag. At the beach this summer? Bring a Frisbee and soccer balls — and have everyone leave their screens inside! As much as possible, make movement a family affair, and everyone will benefit.

Antioxidants – Protecting Healthy Cells

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Our bodies are battlegrounds against infection and diseases. Normal body functions, such as breathing or physical activity, and other lifestyle habits (such as smoking) produce substances called free radicals that attack healthy cells. When these healthy cells are weakened, they are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers. Antioxidants — such as vitamins C and E and carotenoids, which include beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein — help protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Carotenoids

Among the 600 or more carotenoids in foods, beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein are well-known leaders in the fight to reduce the damage from free radicals. Foods high in carotenoids may be effective in helping prevent certain cancers and may help decrease your risk of macular degeneration.

Foods high in carotenoids include red, orange, deep-yellow and some dark-green leafy vegetables; these include tomatoes, carrots, spinach, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, winter squash and broccoli.

Vitamin E

Research has demonstrated the broad role of vitamin E in promoting health. The main role of vitamin E is as an antioxidant. It helps protect your body from cell damage that can lead to cancer, heart disease and cataracts as we age. Vitamin E works with other antioxidants such as vitamin C to offer protection from some chronic diseases. Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, salad dressings, margarine, wheat germ, whole-grain products, seeds, nuts and peanut butter.

Vitamin C

Perhaps the best-known antioxidant, vitamin C offers a wide-variety of health benefits. These benefits include protecting your body from infection and damage to body cells, helping produce collagen (the connective tissue that holds bones and muscles together) and helping in the absorption of iron and folate.

To take advantage of these benefits, eat foods rich in vitamin C like citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits and tangerines), strawberries, sweet peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and potatoes.

The best way to build a healthful eating plan is to eat well-balanced meals and snacks each day and to enjoy a wide variety of foods. Eating at least 2 cups of fruits and 2½ cups of vegetables daily is a good start for healthful living.

Sun Sense: Protect Your Skin, Inside and Outside!

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Summer is heating up, and as you dive headlong into seasonal fun and frolicking, you want to be sure to protect your skin.

According to new research, the two most common types of skin cancer are on the rise. The locations of these cancers has shifted, too. While they used to be found mainly on the head and neck, they’re now commonly found on the torso, arms, and legs. The upshot: It’s time to up your sun-protection game. Make wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and clothing made with SPF fabric part of your regular wardrobe, and brush up on sunscreen basics for exposed areas.

Some research suggests that the majority of people use sunscreen incorrectly, so here’s a reminder: Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher (we prefer micronized zinc oxide) and apply it early and often, even in overcast weather. If you’re outside and have a lot of skin exposed, you should apply about a shot-glass full every few hours. (Yes, really!) Pay extra attention to your lips, scalp, the tips of your ears, and the backs of your legs. These “hot spots” are easy to forget about, which makes them especially prone to sun damage.

And keep in mind that sun protection may be an inside job, too. Some research suggests that eating a Mediterranean-style diet, with nutritious fats and plenty of vegetables and fruit, may help to lower your risk of the sun damage that can lead to cancer. Carotenoids, compounds found in brightly colored produce like bell peppers, squash, tomatoes, and kale, may be especially helpful. How convenient that what’s good for the heart, brain, waistline, and taste buds may also be good for the skin!

Wellness Challenge: June

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June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month!

Your goal for this month is to have a serving of fresh fruit and vegetables every day (Monday through Thursday) for the month of June.

1 serving (in general) = a small whole fruit/veggie, 1 cup raw, ½ cup cooked

Not only are fruit and vegetables low in calories, they are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that can really have a positive impact on our health.

Vegetables and fruit are an important part of a healthy diet, and variety is as important as quantity.

No single fruit or vegetable provides all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. Eat different kinds every day.

A diet rich in vegetables and fruit can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect on blood sugar which can help keep appetite in check.

Eat a variety of types and colors of produce in order to give your body the mix of nutrients it needs. Try dark leafy greens; brightly colored red, yellow and orange vegetables and fruit; and cooked tomatoes. Click here to learn more about the nutrients in fruit and vegetables.

Whole Grains

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Whole Grains are important sources of many nutrients, including dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin & folate) and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium).

Dietary fiber from whole grains or other foods may help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It also helps reduce constipation and provides a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.

The B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin play a key role in metabolism – they help the body release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates. They are also essential for a healthy nervous system.

Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells and can reduce risk of neural tube defects during fetal development.

Iron is used to carry oxygen in the blood.

Magnesium is used in building bones and releasing energy from muscles.

Selenium protects cells from oxidation and is also important for a healthy immune system.

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel:

The Bran: Outer shell (protects seed), contains fiber, B vitamins, trace minerals
The Germ: Nourishment for the seed, contains antioxidants, vitamin E, B vitamins
The Endosperm: Provides energy, carbohydrates, protein

Examples of whole grains:

  • Brown rice

  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-wheat cereal
  • Quinoa
  • Whole-grain barley
  • Whole-grain cornmeal
  • Whole rye
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Whole-wheat crackers
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Whole-wheat sandwich buns and rolls
  • Whole-wheat tortillas
  • Wild rice
  • Whole cornmeal
  • Shredded wheat cereal

How to identify whole grains:

  • Look for the word “whole” as the first word on the ingredients list

  • Look for the whole grain stamp on a product:

WG-Stamp-4C-100-16g

Do your best to incorporate whole grains into your diet! Your body will thank you!

Daily Recommended Servings of Fruit & Vegetables

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2010 that only 33% of adults were eating the daily recommended amount of fruit, and even fewer — 27% — were meeting their veggie quota. And that’s adults; the numbers for teens were worse.

What’s a Daily Recommended Serving?

There’s not a lot that nutrition scientists agree on, but almost everyone seems to think we should eat more vegetables, and that they should make up a greater part of our plates. To this end, they recommend a very basic guideline:

Someone who needs 2,000 calories a day should eat:
•2 cups of fruit
•2 1/2 cups of vegetables

These recommended servings come from widely accepted dietary guidelines that are still, of course, just rough guidelines. Everyone is different, and has different nutritional needs, so there’s no one-size-fits-all plan, and perhaps you eat a lot more veggies than this every day (or a lot less fruit).

While that 2,000 calorie standard is an average that suits a lot of people, of course it doesn’t fit everyone. Fruit and vegetable servings are calibrated off of calorie requirements, which in turn are set by a person’s sex, age, and activity level.

You can calculate your own daily recommended servings of fruit & vegetables here.

A Few Tips on Calculating Fruit & Vegetable Servings

How do servings work? For the most part, a cup means a cup — just measure out a cup of grapes or a cup of chopped carrots, and ta-da, you have your measurement. There are a few exceptions, though:

When it comes to salad, a cup is not a cup. It takes 2 cups of leafy greens to equal 1 cup of vegetables.

Juice does count as a fruit. According to the CDC, a cup of fruit juice does count as a serving of fruit, but nutritionists caution that you’re not getting the fiber and other good benefits of eating whole fruit.

When it comes to dried fruit, cut the amount in half. A half cup of dried fruit equals one cup of fresh fruit.

One big piece of fruit is roughly a cup. An apple, an orange, a large banana, a nectarine, a grapefruit — one piece of fruit gives you one cup.

Keeping this in mind, here are some looks at a full daily serving of fruit and vegetables:

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Berries at breakfast, berries for dessert, and vegetables for lunch, snack, and dinner.

Fruit: 1 cup blueberries, 1 cup strawberries (about 8 large)
Vegetables: 1 cup coleslaw, 6 baby carrots with dip, 1 cup sautéed kale

fruit2

Let’s get snack happy! If you just snack on fruit and vegetables all day, this is the way to do it. Cut up some vegetables and pack them in your lunchbox with some hummus.

Fruit: 1 cup cantaloupe, 1 cup champagne grapes
Vegetables: 1 cup sugar snap peas, 1 yellow bell pepper, 1 stalk celery

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Eat a big salad for lunch or dinner, and round it out with some fruit. You could even put the fruit on the salad.

Fruit: 1/2 cup dried cherries, 1 apple
Vegetables: Large salad with about 5 cups salad greens

Weight Loss Tips

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Struggling to shed weight and keep it off? Seven dietitians offer the most important weight loss tip they share with patients:

Tip 1: Don’t let hunger deter you from sticking with your diet.

Whatever diet you choose — and many different diets can help you lose weight — don’t give up because you get too hungry.

“Hunger is one reason many people don’t stick with a weight loss plan for more than a few weeks. When you eat less, your fat cells release more hunger hormones, which increases your appetite,” says Dawn Noe, RD, LD, CDE. “Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate meal plans are best for controlling your hunger and appetite.”

When you have diabetes, a diet with fewer carbs (like bread, pasta, rice, desserts, sugary beverages, juice) is also important because you’ll need less insulin. And that can help prevent hunger, fat storage and weight gain.

Replace processed carbs like white bread, bagels, muffins or donuts for breakfast with high-protein foods like eggs, or Greek yogurt mixed with chia seeds and berries. You’ll find that you stay fuller, longer.

Tip 2: Don’t eat a carbohydrate unless it has fiber attached to it.

“This method forces you to forgo the bad carbs (candy, white bread, soda) and stick only with high-quality carbs,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD. “The more fiber in your diet, the better!”

Fiber helps improve blood sugar control, helps lower cholesterol, and reduces your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, colorectal cancer and heart disease.

Foods rich in fiber include legumes (dried beans, lentils), veggies (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach squash, sweet potatoes) and fruit (apples, berries, oranges, pears).

Tip 3: Focus on healthy behaviors, not the number on the scale.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you look only at your weight. “Focus instead on making good food choices, watching portions and exercising regularly,” says Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD. “If you lead with these behaviors, the weight loss will follow.”

Replace a goal like “lose 2 pounds a week” with specific mini-goals, like “eat 1 cup of veggies at dinner,” “walk 20 minutes a day,” or “keep a daily food log.” If you’re disappointed with your weight progress at week’s end, reflect on how well you stuck to each goal.

“If you’ve made healthy changes, congratulations!” she says. “If you fell short, ask yourself why. Were the goals too difficult? Do you need a stronger support system? Is a major barrier in your way? Then either tweak your goals or focus on the factors you can control.”

Try tracking lifestyle changes, food, exercise and weight in a journal. At the end of each week, check off which new habits are going well and which need more work. “Your health is a lifelong journey,” she says.

Tip 4: Make plants the foundation of your diet.

Different weight loss approaches work for different people. But plant foods should be the foundation of any diet.

“Research strongly supports the benefits of plant-based nutrition approaches for weight loss, disease prevention, and overall health,” says Brigid Titgemeier, MS, RDN, LD. “Whether you’re eating vegetarian, paleo, high-fat, vegan or pegan (a combination of paleo and vegan), your diet should include a variety of foods from the earth.” That means enjoying lots of non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cucumbers and bok choy, and fruit like berries, apples and pears.

Plant-based foods contain a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help support your cells and reduce inflammation, she says. They also provide fiber and water, both of which help you feel fuller.

Tip 5: No foods are 100 percent off-limits.

When you label foods as “good” and “bad,” you naturally fixate on foods you shouldn’t eat but typically still crave —and likely will crave more when they’re totally off limits.

“Focus instead on choosing the right portions of healthy foods 80 to 90 percent of the time,” says Jennifer Willoughby, RD, CSP, LD. “That, paired with a healthy exercise routine, can lead to long-term weight loss success. And it leaves some wiggle room to enjoy ‘fun foods’ occasionally without feeling guilt or resentment.”

When working with children, she teaches them which choices are better and will fuel their bodies more effectively, rather than giving them lists of foods to eat and foods to completely avoid.

Feelings of guilt from eating forbidden foods can snowball into unhealthy emotions in childhood, adolescence and even adulthood, she says.

Tip 6: Spend your calories wisely.

All calories are not created equal. “If your diet consists mainly of sugar, saturated/trans fats and salt — all of which can be very addictive — you can develop consistent cravings for dense, high-calorie foods with little nutritional value,” says Julia Zumpano, RD, LD.

“This leads to excess calories and weight gain or inability to lose weight.”

Eat foods that are high in lean protein, healthy fats and fiber, and you’ll feel satisfied throughout the day and will rarely get cravings. This will help you maintain a lower calorie level, which will lead to weight loss.

Tip 7: Plan tomorrow’s meals today.

Planning ahead stops that “grab what you see” panic that sets in when you wait to plan dinner until you’re starving at 6 p.m. Scaring up dinner on the fly is likely to bring less nutritious, higher-calorie choices to your table.

When you sit down for dinner tonight, plan what you’ll eat for dinner tomorrow. “It’s so much easier to do when you’re not hungry,” says Andrea Dunn, RD, LD, CDE.

“This also gives you time to take something out of the freezer, chop veggies tonight to put in the crockpot tomorrow morning, and ask which family members will be home for dinner.”

Yoga for Beginners

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Yoga may help your aching back — but it requires a personalized approach.

“Joy…and pain…are like sunshine…and rain.” Those lyrics from an 80s song are an apt description of the ups and downs of life. But for the millions of people who experience back pain, the pain part takes center stage at times, sidelining them from some of life’s joy and sunshine. For low back pain that’s chronic (lasting three months or more) and nonspecific (not due to an injury, illness, or other known cause), yoga can help, according to a recent review of studies. Immobility and stress are two factors that can exacerbate back pain, and yoga can address both those issues, explains Judi Bar, Cleveland Clinic’s yoga program manager. But that doesn’t mean you should immediately sign up for Hot Power Yoga. When you’re dealing with chronic pain, it’s essential to take it slowly and listen carefully to your body, says Bar. “Not all yoga is created equal, and a motion that’s beneficial for one person may not be beneficial for another.”

When starting out, choose stretches that mimic everyday movements and support the natural movement of your spine. Throughout the following gentle chair sequence, stay mindful of your body’s signals and keep your breathing steady.

  • Sit tall in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the ground.
  • With your back straight and your hands on your thighs for support, lean slightly forward (toward the front of the chair) and then backward (toward the back of the chair), inhaling and exhaling as you move. Let your body tell you how far to go. Return to center, sitting straight up.
  • Gently lean to one side and then the other side, inhaling and exhaling as you move. Again, let your body tell you how far to go. Return to center, sitting straight up.
  • Keeping your buttocks on the chair, gently twist your body toward the right as far as you feel comfortable without forcing. Return to center. Repeat on the left, returning to center.
  • Sitting at the front of your chair, position your legs hip-width apart. With a long, flat back, reach forward and down toward the floor, keeping your neck aligned with your back (don’t let it hang down). Take a few breaths, then slowly return to your starting position.
  • Reach both hands toward the back of the chair to open your chest, inhaling as you gently stretch back and open, and exhaling as your return to the starting position.

“Notice how you feel immediately after this sequence, and the next day. Let that guide you on your next steps,” advises Bar. If you take a class, look for a class designed for those with low back pain, or a gentle class with an experienced teacher who can offer you modifications.

8 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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Lost your keys? Your temper? An argument with a fellow commuter? A maddening morning can morph into a decent day—or even a good one. The key is to reduce arousal levels, says Lisa Feldman Barrett, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and author of How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life the Brain. “When people are running late and feel time-pressured, or their goals are blocked—say, traffic—or they have an interpersonal conflict like an argument with a partner or child, their arousal levels soar. Cortisol is released to prepare the body for fight or flight,” says Dr. Barrett. “Even after your brain learns that the fight-or-flight mechanism is not necessary, your body takes a while to calm down, so you continue to feel wound up. That’s what can actually make it more likely for your bad day to continue.” Try these eight tips to help you wind down and bring your mood back up.

Pause the multitasking
Instead, take a deep breath and do just one single task for a few moments. Being effective at something helps you feel positive, and concentrating on just one thing “will help your mind stop racing or will help dislodge you from ruminating—for example, having an argument with someone in your head or replaying a bad event over and over again like a movie stuck on a replay loop,” says Dr. Barrett.

Get moving
Stretching exercises can generate feel-good chemicals and work out the tension that stress and a bad mood create, says Karen Cassidy, Ph.D., managing director of The Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago. Feeling better physically can counter some of the effects of feeling low mentally and emotionally.

Look around
Be mindful of the small details in nature that you find compelling and inspiring: say, a bit of greenery poking through a crack in the sidewalk or a vase of colorful flowers. “Immersing yourself in beauty for a moment is calming,” says Dr. Barrett.

Connect with a loved one
The best thing for a human nervous system can be another person’s nervous system, says Dr. Barrett, so share a smile or give (or get) a hug. “Try to avoid social media if you can,” she adds. “The worst thing for your nervous system can be another person, particularly when you are not sure if that person is evaluating you negatively or not.”

Do something nice for someone
Treat a friend or co-worker to lunch. Being kind and generous to others actually makes you feel better, says Dr. Barrett.

Concentrate on gratitude
Write down at least three things that you are grateful for and find at least three positive things that are happening now. “For example, if you just got into a fender bender with your car, you can remind yourself that you are grateful that no one was hurt, that you have auto insurance, and that the tow truck crew offered to drop you off at your office,” says Dr. Cassidy.

Revisit some challenges you’ve tackled successfully
Write down four or five problems you have solved in the past. “This helps you recall that you are capable of overcoming difficulties, and it jump starts your problem-solving mindset,” says Dr. Cassidy. “It helps you avoid the ‘there is nothing I can do’ mindset.”

Remember that all events in life are temporary
Keep in mind the expression “This too, shall pass,” says Dr. Cassidy. “That makes it easier to believe that you can endure and persist. Even crises are temporary.”