Naturally Healthy 4 Life's Blog

A blog about health, nutrition, fitness and wellness

The Trinity of Wellness: Body, Mind and Spirit

body-mind-spirit

At the end of each year, like everyone else, I find myself reflecting on the past year and thinking about where I was then compared to today.

Last December, I was in the middle of a long taper Prednisone treatment, following another terrible spike in my flare-up. Hydroxyzine proved to be the magic medicine. I tapered off the Prednisone and each day the hives and swelling were smaller and smaller until they disappeared altogether (mid-February). I have been in remission since. It was the longest stretch of CIU (Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria) that I have ever had, spanning a year and a half this flare.

I am not a sickly person. In fact, I have been very physically fit for the last 15-20 years. While I no longer run (too hard on the knees!), I regularly strength train and do cardio, I practice yoga daily, and I eat extraordinarily healthfully and mindfully.

However, in the years preceding this flare, three of our children left home for college (leaving us with an empty nest), we lost two beloved family pets, my husband and I both changed jobs (with my husband becoming an independent contractor) – all of which caused incredible stress and put a strain on my closest relationships. I denied it existed – particularly to myself. Instead, I buried it all deep inside (“I’m strong – I can handle anything!”). The cortisol in my body continued to build. Cortisol (aka the “stress hormone”) usually fluctuates throughout the day and night, rising in response to a stressful event, then returns to a normal level following the stressful event. However, my cortisol level went up and never went down, causing my immune system to go BANANAS. My body began attacking itself and nearly everything I touched or ingested. Writing about it now actually makes my chest tight. It was a terrible couple of years and I am so grateful to now feel SO good.

The life lesson I finally learned while trying to recover from this flare is that true health is more than just the fitness of my physical body. It includes the health of my mind and my soul, as well. Until this year, I was truly unhealthy in that sense, and it is what ultimately led to this flare.

During the flare, I underwent counseling with a gifted psychologist. I insisted that treatment not include pills. Instead, we talked about how I got here, and he taught me how to listen to my body in response to my emotions – breathing, meditation, and being present – and how to forgive myself for not being perfect.

I am not big on New Year’s resolutions, but last January, I made a decision that 2016 was going to be the healthiest year of my life.   I think I succeeded.

I know I am not as healthy as I could be, and some days are harder than others, but 2016 HAS been the healthiest year of my life thus far. I will certainly try to top it in 2017.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2017 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Health is a Choice

“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”  ~Mark Twain

As we were all groaning upon completing our 30th push up in my yoga practice yesterday, the teacher made the comment that it does take work to take care of our bodies – health and fitness do not come in a pill.  It touched a nerve.

As those of you who know me or have followed my blog may know, my drive for health and wellness started in large part from my parents, who did not take good care of their health – particularly, my mother.  My mother passed away far too young (at 69), due to health problems that were very preventable (type 2 diabetes, heart disease).

After having eight children and entering middle age, my mother struggled desperately with her weight.  She loved food and she hated exercise, so spent much of the rest of her life looking for that “magic pill.”  Sometimes it was literally a pill and other times it was the latest fad diet.  There was even a rubber sweatsuit of some kind that was supposed to sweat off the weight – it just made her miserable (and she looked pretty silly, too!).  She had some success here and there.  A particularly successful diet resulted from her drinking a shake for every meal.  The problem is that most people do not want to forgo real food and drink only shakes for the rest of their lives.  As is the case with most diet and exercise programs, at some point, you attain your desired goal weight or level of fitness and go off the program.  Most people go back to the same lifestyle they had before the program and watch the weight and poor health return (as it was with my mother – time and time again).

Herein lays the problem.  To maintain that weight or fitness level, and to improve health, wellness and longevity, you have to make permanent changes.

It is so true that health, wellness and fitness are a lifestyle that I choose every day.  I do not diet and I do not exercise excessively.  My weight fluctuates very little – maybe 3-4 pounds at the most.  This is not because I have good genes (obviously not the case) or because I am tall (believe it or not, I often get the comment that it is so much easier for me to stay thin because I am tall!?!).

I choose to eat nutritious, whole foods – avoiding processed foods and red meat.  I choose to practice yoga and to work out moderately and regularly.  I choose this lifestyle because it truly enhances my life – I feel better, I sleep better, I cope with stress better, I look better.  It allows me to thoroughly enjoy activities that I adore – biking and hiking, in particular – and to keep up with my very athletic husband.  I am rarely sick.

Yes, I could get run over by a bus tomorrow, but in case I don’t, I plan to do all I can to live and enjoy a very long, healthy life.   Want to join me?

Angela, Wellness Warrior 🙂

References:

  1. Life, baby!

November 4, 2012 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , | 3 Comments

Road trip!

“The journey not the arrival matters.” ~T.S.Eliot

Road trips are a great way to see the country and (if all in the car are getting along!) it is also a great opportunity for a family to spend some concentrated, quality time together.  Many of us took road trips over spring break (vacations or college visits) and many will take trips this summer.

I live in a pretty large Midwestern metropolitan area, filled with many options when not eating at home – yes, there are a lot of fast food restaurants, but there are also a lot of really great restaurants that serve healthy dishes.  Of course, this is not the case when you hit the open road and can sometimes go several hundred miles between cities that even have restaurants.

What is worse than sitting in a car, unable to move for several hours at time?  For me, it is sitting in a car AND feeling terrible because I ate a bunch of junk for lunch.

So with some recent experience under my belt, I give you a few bits of wisdom.

The number one thing you can do (and it is super easy) is to plan ahead!  The glory of traveling by car is that you can pack extra things in the trunk or in the back of the minivan, such as a cooler.

  • Make sandwiches and/or salads ahead of time.  Important tips:  don’t put tomatoes or condiments on the sandwiches until you are ready to eat (they will get soggy) and don’t forget to pack napkins, wet-wipes, utensils, etc.
  • Pack cleaned and cut up fruits and vegetables.  If you do not want to spend a lot of time prepping, pick up some grapes, bananas, apples, cherry tomatoes or baby carrots, all of which require very little prep – wash and pack.
  • Protein is really important when you are on the road to keep your energy level up (especially if you are the driver!).  Most handy snacks have little to no protein.  Hard boiled eggs are the ideal compact protein source (6 grams) – easy to make and pack in your cooler.  If you don’t like eggs, string cheese, protein bars and trail mixes are also great sources of protein.  However, make sure you read the ingredients on the bars and mixes; many are no healthier than candy bars – a lot of sugar.  Sugar will bring your energy up for only a short period of time and then you will crash.
  • Pack plenty of water.  If you drink water throughout the trip, you will be less likely to be thirsting for some soda pop when you stop at the gas station to fill up.

If you are not able to plan ahead (or just don’t want to plan ahead), look for grocery stores and co-ops along the way.   You could pick up some cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, yogurt, etc.  Grocery stores may also have some prepared foods in their deli area that are not processed, like grilled chicken and healthy salads.   Even some coffee houses like Starbucks® now carry pretty healthy snack packs (like cheese and crackers, fruit).

We have a strict rule in our family:  NO eating or drinking (other than water) in the car.  It helps us keep our car clean and smelling fresh, but it also forces us to stop for meals.  It is nice to take a break and step out of the car – even if only for 20 minutes -and keeps us from snacking for six hours.  When you are done eating, take a few minutes for stretching and a quick walk before getting back in the car.  It will really help your digestion.

Happy and healthy travels!

Angela, Traveling Chick 🙂

April 15, 2012 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Achoo! Still no cure for the common cold, but….

I am one of the many that is battling a head cold this season.  Grrrr.

While usually not debilitating, colds are a nuisance.  You cannot breathe, you are constantly sneezing and blowing your nose.  Your eyes are watery and your throat is sore.  It keeps you up at night and leaves you looking pretty awful – bags under the eyes, big red nose.  Yes, that is me right now.

We all know there is no cure for the common cold.  Obviously, the goal is to try to avoid getting one in the first place.  But if we DO get a cold, what can we do to treat it and get rid of it quickly?

Why me???

The common cold is a virus.  The virus is most infectious in its first three days.  It is spread by people’s hands, and carried to their eyes, noses and mouths, where the virus settles in for its 7-10 day run.  Ugh.  Despite what Grandma told you, you can NOT catch a cold (or any virus) by being wet or cold.  We are more prone to colds in the winter because we spend more time indoors, we are in closer proximity to others, and the low humidity in the winter increases viral transmission rates, allowing the viral droplets to disperse further and stay in the air longer.

Prevention

The smartest way to treat a cold is to not get it in the first place.

  • Keep your immune system healthy!  Exercise and eat healthfully on a regular basis.  Get enough rest and fluids.  Control stress levels, as stress has a huge affect on your immune system function.
  • Wash your hands well and frequently.  Always use soap and warm/hot water, and suds up for at least 20 seconds (try singing “Happy Birthday” – to yourself, of course, rather than out loud – people may think you are a bit nutty if singing out loud).
  • Use antibacterial gels.  You can easily find great little containers and sprays at the drugstore that you can keep in your purse.  Look for gels that contain moisturizers like aloe vera and vitamin E, as these gels can be very drying to your hands.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth (this is a good tip for your skin, as well – touching your face can make acne worse).
  • Stay away from those that are sick.  Since the virus is more of a nuisance than a sickness, and lasts for several days, most people do not quarantine themselves while the virus runs its course.  You will find people sniffling, sneezing and coughing all around you.  Keep your distance.
  • Stay away from others if YOU are sick.  If you are the one that has the cold, PULLEASE wash or use antibacterial gel on your hands after blowing your nose, always cough into your elbow, NOT your hand, and keep your distance from others.

Treatment

Viruses can NOT and should not be treated with antibiotics.  Antibiotics have no effect on viruses.  A virus just needs to run its course.  So here are some ways to make the symptoms less obnoxious, help you more easily rest and hopefully, make the virus leave more quickly.

  • Drink as much water as possible.
  • Take an antihistamine (for runny, itchy nose and eyes, sneezing).
  • Take a decongestant (for nasal and/or chest congestion).
  • Drink hot tea with lemon and honey (very soothing on your throat, sinuses).
  • Take a hot bath (the steam will clear your head).
  • Irrigate your sinuses with a netti pot (it is uncomfortable at first, but really clears your sinuses).
  • Use a humidifier/vaporizer, especially at night (dry air makes you more stuffed up, making sleep more difficult).

Several talked about remedies/treatments are unproven and studies have shown they have little effect, such as Vitamin C (in fact, juice contains a lot of sugar, which is not helpful to your immune system), zinc, echinacea, and nasal sprays (which are actually very irritating to your sinuses).

Obviously, if symptoms worsen or do not improve in a week, then you should see your doctor.

I hope your New Year is a healthy, virus free one!

Angela, Sniffling Soul 😦

References:

  1. “Common Cold,” Wikipedia.org

December 30, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s the holiday season…

Happy holidays!  This time of year is filled with holiday parties, eating out, cooking and baking holiday foods.   If you are anything like me, it seems that everywhere you look is another tempting treat – candy, cookies, bread, cocktails.  And for many of us, it is a busy (and cold) time of year, so we are not working out like we did a few months ago.

Here are my top tips for navigating healthfully through the season.

Food

Obviously, avoid the high calorie items like cheese, cream sauces, gravy, butter and whipped cream.  But if you simply cannot resist, try to limit how much you eat and use some of the following “tricks.”

  • Eat something healthy and filling before you leave the house. You will be less interested in the decadent foods or you will eat less of them.
  • Nothing good to eat at home?  Load up on the crudités (raw vegetables) first.  Raw vegetables have high water content and are high in fiber, so they will make you feel fuller longer.
  • Use a small plate, take your time and do not go back for a second helping.  Using a small plate is tricks your brain – it sees a full plate (even if it’s small) and you will likely eat less.
  • Be a food snob.   Do not sample everything – rather, choose those foods that are not always available to you and savor them.  Skip foods that you can eat any other day of the year.

Cocktails

It goes without saying that you should always drink responsibly, including a designated driver, if necessary.  In addition to lowering your inhibitions, alcohol lowers your cortisol (the “stress hormone”) levels.  We need a sufficient release of cortisol to make us feel hungry, so when it drops, we feel hungry and we eat more than we should.

  • Avoid specialty drinks that are made with syrups and/or liqueurs (which are often made with cream and added sugar).  These cocktails go down easily and are  unbelievably high in calories.
  • Dilute the alcohol.  Mix hard liquor with a low-sugar mixer or drink wine spritzers.  (Using soda pop as a mixer is a bad idea – very high in calories and loaded with corn syrup and additives.  And don’t be fooled by “sugar free” – artificial sweeteners actually increase your appetite.)
  • And if you decide to imbibe, always make sure you are drinking plenty of water so you don’t get dehydrated.  Alternate each alcoholic drink with at least one full glass of water.

Find time for some exercise

In addition to helping maintain your weight, exercise will help you cope with the stress you may feel during the season.  If your workout schedule is kaput during the holidays, be creative.

  • While you are running all of your errands, walk as much as possible.  Use the stairs, walk extra laps in the mall, take the dog for walks, etc.
  • Shovel the snow (instead of plowing it).
  • If you are traveling over the holidays, note that most hotels now have fitness centers.  You can also pack fitness equipment in your suitcase – resistance bands, a workout DVD (if you have a laptop that plays DVD), running shoes, yoga clothes, etc.

Enjoy the season.  See you next year!

Angela, Party Grrrl 🙂

  1. “Alcohol Can Impact Your Appetite,” MedIndia, August 27, 2009 (www.medindia.net)
  2. “Alcohol Metabolism,” Dr. Dan Rutherford (www.netdoctor.com)
  3. “Calories in Popular Alcoholic Drinks & Alcohol Calories Chart” (www.fatburn-secrets.com)

December 11, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turn your world upside-down

Before I started practicing yoga, I had not inverted my body in decades – probably not since I was a teenager.  So yoga inversions were scary – not just at  my age, but at my height.  That’s a lot of leg to hold in the air!

Inversions in yoga means putting your body in poses that literally invert it:  shoulder stand, headstands,  handstands, forearm stands, legs up the wall, etc.

The Bennies:

Regular practice of inversions calms the mind, promoting better sleep.  It enhances the ability to concentrate and focus.  While this may not be scientifically proven, those who practice inversions (including me!) agree that they have an incredible effect on your body and mind.

Additionally, inversions have many physical benefits:

  • Cardiovascular/Circulatory.   Inverting your body reduces the effects of gravity, increasing blood flow back to the heart for faster recirculation.  They provide increased circulation in the lower body and legs, relieving pressure in the veins, helping to prevent varicose veins.  Being upright the majority of your day causes the lower lung tissue to saturate with blood.  Inverting ventilates the upper lungs, ensuring a more even oxygen-to-blood exchange, promoting healthier tissue.
  • Muscles.  In addition to improving cores and upper body strength (particularly with headstands and handstands), inversions increase the flow of lymphatic fluid, reducing muscle pain and spasms.  The lymphatic system carries watery fluid throughout your body, filtering wastes and keeping the immune system healthy.
  • Back/spine.  Inverting your body’s weight during yoga postures applies mild traction to your spine, allowing it to elongate and creating more space between your vertebrae, reducing pressure on the disks and nerve endings.
  • Aging.  Increased blood flow creates a healthy, more youthful skin color, improves mental alertness and clarity, and enhances hearing and vision.  It also promotes good posture, helping to maintain your height (height decreases as you age, due to thinning back disks).  I can attest to the practice of yoga (generally) increasing my height – I have grown 1/2 inch taller since I started practicing (not that I needed it, but…)!
  • Hormones.  Inversions (especially shoulder stands) are recommended for perimenopausal and menopausal women due to the belief that the pose stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid glands, regulating metabolism.  Inversions stimulate your pituitary gland, as well, promoting a positive well-being.
  • Nervous system.  Inversions stimulate cerebrospinal fluid, which flows from the brain to the spinal cord.  In a headstand, the pressure on the top of the skull could also promote elasticity in the cranial bones, increasing the production of cerebrospinal fluid to the ventricles of the brain.

But note – inversions are NOT for everyone

Many health conditions exist for which yoga inversions should be entirely avoided or modified, including pregnancy, neck pain and/or neck injuries, high or low blood pressure.  If there is any question when it comes to an existing or possible health condition, you should always discuss it with your physician FIRST.

However, a good alternative to headstands, shoulder stands and handstands is an inversion called “legs up the wall” pose.  Lie on the floor on your back, with your legs straight in the air.  If you are a beginner and want some support for your legs, scoot your booty up to a wall, resting your legs on the wall.  If your hamstrings are tight, you do not have to be flat up against the wall – you will still benefit from the inversion with the elevation of your legs on the wall.

Angela, Head over Heels 🙂

References:

  1. “Everybody Upside-Down,” Yoga Journal; Yoko Yoshikawa, 2011
  2. “Inversion 101,” Yoga Journal
  3. “Yoga Inversion Benefits,” Livestrong.com (http://www.livestrong.com)

November 13, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The spark that lights the fire – finding motivation (instead of hibernation!)

“Goals are not only absolutely necessary to motivate us. They are essential to really keep us alive. ”  ~Robert H. Schuller

The leaves are falling, the temperatures are dropping and winter is quickly approaching – at least in the northern hemisphere (and it is approaching especially quickly for those of us in Minnesota!).

In chatting with friends and family, we agree that as winter approaches, we just don’t want to move our bodies as much.  I certainly still see people jogging, cycling and walking outside during the (sometimes brutal) Minnesota winter, but it is drastically reduced as we settle into fall and, ultimately, the big chill that is winter.

Speaking for myself, in the spring and summer months, I am very physically active.  I enjoy jogging, cycling, long walks, but as the weather chills, I am outside less and less – and not doing any of these things unless I do them indoors (treadmill, stationary bicycle, etc. – not as fun).  Part of MY issue is that I have Raynaud’s Syndrome (an exaggerated sensitivity to cold – more of a nuisance than a disability), which impedes my enjoyment of the outdoors as soon as the temperatures drop below 55 degrees.   But I otherwise notice the same thing as others do:  starting around October, rather than working out, I seem to want to do more sitting on the couch with a blanket, watching movies, cooking (and eating) comfort foods!

Why the change? 

Why do we seem to lose motivation to work out and be active when the weather turns?  I don’t have the answer.  My guess is that there are probably many reasons.  Maybe it’s the physiological desire to “hibernate” when the days get short and the cold weather arrives (giving us some fat for the long winter?).  Maybe it’s that the clothing that we wear in cold weather is less revealing, so we are not as concerned with toned legs and a six-pack.

However, the need to take care of our bodies and well-being does not go away with the change of seasons.  So where do we find that motivation until the warmth of spring greets us once again?

Motivation is defined as the driving force by which humans achieve their goals.  It can be intrinsic or extrinsic, and the impetus can be to maximize pleasure, minimize pain and/or meet a specific need.

Many, many studies have been conducted and theories shared on what motivates humans.  While it is different for each of us, the common denominator is the desire to DO – to take action.  In the case of physical activity, that could be jogging or relaxing on the couch.

The root of motivation

Why do I work out, when cuddling up on the couch with a good book or movie and a big bowl of chicken chili sounds so good?

For me, it is pretty easy.  Working out makes me feel fantastic (powerful, strong, capable, youthful), it makes my body operate and function as it should (improved digestion, healthy heart, strong muscles, mental and emotional well-being), it helps me keep my weight down (I really love to eat ;-)), and it makes my body look pretty damn good!

Keeping these things in mind keeps ME motivated to work out.  I still enjoy the movie and chili, but when the movie is done and the chili digested, I pull myself up off the couch and head downstairs, to the gym or to the yoga studio and get ‘er done!

What motivates and inspires YOU to work out?  It is individual for each of us.  Determine your goals, decide what it will take to reach them and take action.

Angela, Mostly Motivated 🙂

References:

  1. “Motivation,” Wikipedia.org

October 16, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

Yoga is for EVERY body

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”  ~B.K.S. Iyengar

On this beautiful Sunday, I do not feel like spending much time writing/blogging, but I do feel inspired enough by Easter and the beautiful spring day on hand for a short blog about new beginnings and starting fresh.

Friends have asked me recently about yoga and their interest in learning more about it.  I have been quite passionate about it for years now and it is, after all, the exercise du jour.  I recently returned to practice after my back injury and I am SO grateful to have it again.  Oh, Yoga…how I missed you!

About five years ago, my body felt old and stiff.  I awoke with painful, stiff hips every day (I was sure that it was the onset of arthritis, which runs in my family).  I was tired and uninspired.  I worked out – jogging, cycling and strength training – but I really needed something more.  I tried yoga in the past, but I never had instruction and really felt like I did not know what I was doing, so it never felt worthwhile.

One day, I drove past a local yoga studio and decided that I was going to try it.  On a quiet Sunday afternoon, I dragged my stiff body to my first yoga class.  It was a Vinyasa class and one which I quickly found out was one of their most challenging classes (meant for intermediate to advanced yogis, taught by one of their toughest instructors).  It WAS tough and I struggled.  I came home tired and sore, telling my husband that I could not believe how challenging it was – I thought I was in good shape!  I jogged, worked out, I was toned and fit – and yet all around me I saw people of every age, shape and size that could do things with their bodies that I could not.  Watching them inspired me to return.

After my second class, I was less sore and more energized, so I kept going.  Within a few weeks, I no longer had hip pain, and looked forward to my yoga practice as a source of energy, inspiration and stress reduction.

Five years later, I am still practicing yoga.  At the end of each class, I feel calm, loose, energized and powerful.  Yoga has helped me considerably in alleviating stiffness, creating flexibility, keeping me fit and firm, and providing stress relief.   I have even grown in height by 1/4 inch (I was already quite tall, so I really didn’t need it, but for those on the petite side, that should be very motivating!).  I can not only touch my toes effortlessly, but I can do the splits (I don’t know many teenagers that can do the splits, do you?). 

In addition to increased flexibility, yoga provides:

  • Increased strength (many poses require supporting the weight of your own body)
  • Improved balance and posture
  • Increased lubrication of the joints, ligaments and tendons
  • Massage of all organs of the body
  • Toning of the muscles, giving you a lean, long, sculpted body
  • Better breathing (pranayama breathing focuses the attention on the breath, teaching us to better use our lungs)
  • Mental calmness (yoga is very meditative)
  • Stress reduction (yoga requires focus and concentration – allowing you to put aside other thoughts of the day)
  • Detoxification – ensuring optimum blood supply to various parts of the body
  • Increased body awareness and greater self-confidence

There are SO many yoga studios and classes at health clubs where you can try yoga for the first time.  My suggestion is that you do not do what I did (starting at an intermediate level) – rather, take a beginner’s class.  There is a great class at the studio where I practice; it’s called “Pigs Fly Yoga.”  It is meant for first-timers and they provide wonderful, enthusiastic instruction.  (If you live in the Twin Cities and are interested, go to their site, yogamn.com, for class schedules.)

Next up for me:  Meditation.  I think it will be an amazing enhancement to my yoga practice.  I am currently in a workshop to learn how to quiet my terribly busy mind.

Yoga is for everybody.  Namaste!

Angela, Yoga Nut 🙂

April 24, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Changing it up – the benefits of interval training

The spinal fracture I sustained at Christmas had a very major impact on my lifestyle.  Prior to the injury, I was extremely active:   I did yoga, strength training, jogging, cycling and hiking regularly (cycling and hiking in season, of course!).  After the injury, I was basically sedentary.  I was allowed no exercise whatsoever for nearly a month.  After that, I was allowed to walk and climb stairs, but no impact (there goes jogging), no stretching or twisting (there goes yoga) and no strength training for another month.  I was pretty crabby.

The “break” forced me to think quite a bit about the changes I need to make in my life as I get older.  With age have come an increased fragility and a need to be gentler with my more breakable body – a body that also now requires more time and effort to heal.

I am thrilled that my restrictions are lifting and I will be able to return to my beloved yoga and strength training.  Jogging, which makes your heart stronger, increases the capacity of the blood circulation and the respiratory system, speeds up the digestive system, strengthens the muscles and bone density of your legs, hips and back, and counteracts depression, is no longer part of my life.  In addition to the broken back, the health of my knees has been worsening over the last five years.  My body can no longer take the impact of running and jogging.

So the question became for me:  how can I get the same health benefit in my muscles, bones, lungs and heart that I had with running or jogging, without the impact?

The best solution for me is interval training.

Heart Rate

Monitoring your heart rate is the best gauge of your cardio workout.  I highly recommend a heart rate monitor.  I bought one shortly before my injury and now find it invaluable.  However, even if you don’t have a monitor, you can take your pulse for 6 seconds, count how many times your heart beats and add a zero.  For instance, if you count 12 beats in 6 seconds, your heart rate is 120 beats per minute.

First, find your resting heart rate (“RHR”).  Sit very still and relax for several minutes (try to avoid caffeine in the hour before doing this – it may raise your heart rate).  Either using a heart rate monitor or your pulse, find your RHR. 

Second, calculate your maximum heart rate (“MHR”):

Males:  198 – (your age x 0.8) = Predicted MHR

Females:  193 – (your age x 0.7) = Predicted MHR

Once you have these numbers, there are several “heart zone calculators” on the web that you can go to, plug in your numbers and calculate your target heart rate (which may vary slightly depending on your activity). 

I like the calculator on FitMed (http://www.heartmonitors.com/zone_calc.htm).

For instance, using the FitMed calculator, my target heart rates are calculated as follows (this is based on my age, RHR and MHR):

  • Zone 1 (healthy heart) – heart working at 40-52% of MHR:  101-113
  • Zone 2 (easy) — heart working at 52-64% of MHR:  113-125
  • Zone 3 (aerobic) – – heart working at 64-76% of MHR:  125-137
  • Zone 4 (anaerobic threshold) – heart working at 76-88% of MHR:  137-149
  • Zone 5 (VO2 max) – heart working at 88-100% of MHR:  149-162

Interval Training

Interval training involves bursts of high intensity work alternated with periods of rest or low activity.  This relates to any type of cardiovascular workout – running, cycling, stair-climbing, elliptical, etc.  Athletes have used interval training for years to increase speed and endurance.  It works both the aerobic (exercise geared to provide a sufficient cardio overload to stimulate increases in cardio output) and anaerobic system (high intensity exercise during which the need of the muscle metabolism for oxygen exceeds the capacity of the circulation to supply it and an oxygen debt is incurred).

The science:  During the high intensity efforts, the anaerobic system uses the energy stored in the muscles (glycogen) for short bursts of activity.  Anaerobic metabolism works without oxygen, but the by-product is lactic acid.  As lactic acid builds, the athlete enters oxygen debt, and it is during the recovery phase that the heart and lungs work together to “pay back” this oxygen debt and break down the lactic acid.  It is in this phase that the aerobic system is using oxygen to convert stored carbohydrates into energy.  (Elizabeth Quinn, About.com Guide)

The idea with interval training is that by performing high intensity intervals that produce lactic acid during practice, the body adapts and burns lactic acid more efficiently during exercise.  This means athletes can exercise at a higher intensity for a longer period of time before fatigue or pain slows them down.  It improves fitness similarly to traditional aerobic exercise, but in much less time.

Short intervals are 6-30 second bursts (good for beginners) and long intervals are 2-3 minutes.  Longer intervals require a longer rest phase, as well.  You can design any time of interval that works for you.  As with any exercise, always make sure you do both a warm up and a cool down, and keep in mind that you can over-do it.  You should have 1-2 days rest in between interval training.

I keep my intervals simple, and since I am not running, my intervals are a little longer.  I like to walk on the treadmill at 4.5-5.0 mph on a 7% incline and/or stair climb, while monitoring my heart rate.  I walk/climb at high intensity (heart rate around 150, which is the top of Zone 4 and bottom of Zone 5) for four minutes, then slow it down, let my heart rate drop to around 115 for one minute.  I do these intervals for 30-50 minutes per workout, depending on the rest of my workout for that day and how much time I have.  I do intervals about three times per week.

Benefits of Intervals

  • Increase in cardiovascular efficiency (improved performance, greater speed & endurance)
  • Helps avoid injuries associated with repetitive overuse
  • Burns more calories
  • Helps stave off workout boredome

Angela, on the Road to Recovery 🙂

References:

  1. “Interval Training,” Wikipedia
  2. FitMed for fit & healthy lifestyles (http://www.heartmonitors.com/zone_calc.htm)
  3. “Interval Training Workouts Improve Speed and Endurance; Intervals training workouts that vary exercise intensity help build fitness fast,” By Elizabeth Quinn, About.com Guide

March 6, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turning the beat around…keeping your heart healthy!

Happy Heart Health Month! 

Poor heart health can lead to stroke, artherosclerosis, heart attack and heart failure.  There are, of course, the obvious measures that we can take to keep our hearts healthy. 

Most importantly, if you smoke, STOP NOW.  Cigarettes are products designed to addict and then kill you, and cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the U.S., accounting for more than 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million annual deaths (U.S. Surgeon General).  Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body, especially to your heart.  Additionally, even if you are not a smoker, according to the American Heart Association (“AHA”), about 22,700 to 69,600 premature deaths from heart and blood vessel disease are caused by other people’s smoke (a/k/a “second-hand smoke”) each year.

Exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercise, is also extremely important for your heart.  The AHA recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week (or a combo of each).  Shoot for 30 minutes every day, but if 30 minutes at once is difficult, start with 10-15 minutes in two or three segments a day, which is still beneficial. 

Nutrition, weight management and stress management are also very important in maintaining heart health.

Blood pressure:  What exactly do those two numbers mean?

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force applied to the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood through the body.  The pressure is determined by the force and amount of blood pumped, and the size and flexibility of the arteries.  It continually changes, depending on activity, temperature, diet, emotional state, posture, physical state and medications used.  It is measured while you are seated (or lying down), with your arm at rest; the health care provider slips a cuff over your bicep and measures your pulse at your elbow with a stethoscope.  They inflate the cuff until the dial reads about 210 mmHg (when they measure the systolic pressure), then they open the valve slightly, allowing the pressure to gradually fall (measuring the diastolic pressure).

The top number is the “systolic” blood pressure reading, representing the maximum pressure exerted when the heart contracts.   The bottom number is the “diastolic” blood pressure, representing the pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting.

Normal, healthy blood pressure should be 120/80 or less.  For instance, mine normally runs on the low side; my last blood pressure reading was 107/60.  However, when I broke my back, it was 150/90 (I was a wee bit stressed at the time).

Consistently high blood pressure damages your heart, leading to coronary artery disease, enlarged heart and heart failure, but can also cause problems for the rest of your body (brain, kidneys, eyes, bones).

Cholesterol and heart health

Cholesterol is the high-molecular-weight alcohol manufactured in the liver and in most human cells.  Blood vessel disease is caused by lesions or cracks in the artery wall.  LDL cholesterol (considered the “bad” cholesterol) is actually responsible for repairing the cracks.  Arterial plaque reduces blood flow and in some cases, blocks blood flow.  When our body starts over-compensating the repair process, we have a buildup of plaque. 

Cholesterol has several roles:

  • It provides our cells necessary stiffness and stability in the cell membrane.  Saturated fats also contributed to this process.  Note, however, when one’s diet contains excessive polyunsaturated fatty acids, these replace saturated fatty acids in the cell membrane; cells then become flabby.
  • Bile salts are made from cholesterol.  Bile is vital for digestion and assimilation of fats in the diet.
  • Cholesterol acts as an antioxidant, protecting us against free radical damage (which leads to heart disease and cancer).  This may be why cholesterol levels go up with age. 

Without cholesterol, the body cannot properly renew and/or replace its worn or damaged cells, and without new cells, the body ages and dies.  Most of the cholesterol in our body is manufactured by our liver – only about 20% of cholesterol relates to what we eat.

Who is at the highest risk of heart disease?

Perhaps surprisingly, women are more at risk than men.  According to the American Heart Association (“AHA”), cardiovascular disease claimed the lives of nearly 500,000 American women in 2004.  To raise awareness of heart disease as the number one killer of women, the AHA created Go Red for Women, a social initiative to empower women to take charge of their heart health.

The best assessment of risk comes from triglycerides and your HDL (“good”) cholesterol.  Triglycerides are the major form of fat stored by the body, consisting of three molecules of fatty acid combined with a molecule of the alcohol glycerol.  They are produced by the body and from the foods we eat.  Many of the triglyceride-containing lipoproteins that transport fat in the bloodstream also transport cholesterol.  The lower the triglycerides to HDL ratio, the lower our risk for heart disease.  Your health care provider can test both of these levels.

By eating a diet lower in starch and sugar, higher in good-quality fats, you can reduce elevated cholesterol, lower triglycerides, alter the type of “bad” LDL produced and increase the “good” HDL levels – all of which will reduce your risk of heart disease.

Foods for your heart

Omega-3 fatty acids are the top winner by far as the best supplement for your heart health.  Oily fish (like salmon, trout, herring), walnuts, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds are all high in omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids decrease triglyceride levels and increase HDL (the good cholesterol).  They reduce plaque build-up in arteries, which improves blood flow to the heart.  I keep a supply of pumpkin seeds on my desk for snacking throughout the day (but be very careful about what type of pumpkin seeds you buy – some are processed with hydrogenated oils).  You can buy flax seed, grind it and put it in cereal, yogurt, and salads – it has a nutty flavor to it.  You can also get omega-3’s through supplements (I take 2-6 per day, depending on whether I am getting enough in my daily diet).

Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol and prevents absorption.  Good sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, oat bran, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and barley.

Red wine may improve HDL (“good”) cholesterol with its catechins and reservatrol (flavanoids).  Nice!

Soy foods contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and have been shown to lower triglycerides.

Spinach contains powerful phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals (magnesium, folate and iron, in particular) that help protect against heart disease.  (For more on spinach and magnesium, read my 4/26/10 blog, “I’m strong to the finich, ’cause I eats me spinach!”)

Perhaps for Valentine’s Day this year, give yourself and your family the gift of checking in on the health of your heart.  You only have one and it is a real pain to replace.

Angela, Heart Healthy 🙂

References:

  1. Nutritional Weight & Wellness Nutrition Series – 2009
  2. Journal of Holistic Medicine, Cranton & Frankelton, Spring/Summer 1984
  3. American Heart Association (http://www.americanheart.org)
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health – MedlinePlus (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus)
  5. “Definition of Triglycerides,” MedicineNet.com
  6. “5 Heart-Healthy Foods,” WebMD (http://www.webmd.com)

February 6, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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