Naturally Healthy 4 Life's Blog

A blog about health, nutrition, fitness and wellness

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

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

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

The skinny on body fat: The health effects of obesity

“The devil has put a penalty on all things we enjoy in life.  Either we suffer in health or we suffer in soul or we get fat.” 
~Albert Einstein 

Americans are getting fatter and fatter.  Obesity rates reached 30% or more in nine states last year, 26.7% of the population nationally.  Of course, these rates are based on a phone survey of 400,000 participants who were asked their weight and height, rather than having it measured by someone else.  People usually describe themselves as taller and lighter than they really are (just take a look at someone’s driver’s license), so the reality is probably even worse!

Obesity is not the same as being overweight.  Obesity is an excessively high amount of body fat or adipose tissue in relation to lean body mass.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determine obesity by using the body-mass index (BMI).  The index is calculated from height and weight.  Scores of 30 or more are defined as obese.  However, while it may work with most to determine obesity, it is not perfect – for instance, someone with a lot of muscle mass may be “obese,” based on their BMI calculation (20 pounds of fat weighs the same as 20 pounds of muscle), which is obviously one of its flaws.  (If you are interested in calculating your BMI, you can go to http://www.bmi-calculator.net/)

In addition to a bad self-image, we all know that obesity causes complications, some of the worst of which include:

  • Heart disease and heart attacks
  • Strokes and high blood pressure
  • Colon cancer (now associated with excess fat consumption in the diet)
  • Degenerative Joint Disease (arthritis), sometimes crippling and leading to a need for joint replacement
  • Diabetes Mellitus (high blood sugars), with a long list of related complications in the circulatory (heart), renal (kidney), neurological (nerves), retinal (visual) systems and with infectious diseases and problems with healing
  • Depression (obese patients are typically inactive which can lead to increased incidences of chronic clinical depression that could be treated and greatly improved with exercise)

And these are only the major complications.  The medical costs for obesity are estimated to be as high as $147 billion per year. 

Why are we getting so fat?

The causes of this “obesity epidemic” should be a surprise to no one.  While genes strongly influence body type and size, the environment plays the largest role in the obesity problem we see now.  We make unhealthy food choices – like high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks and beverages, we eat high quantities of processed foods, we eat larger portions of food – and we lead sedentary lifestyles.  Unfortunately, this trend is increasing.  Children and teens are now most at risk.

The effects of excess fat

So why does obesity cause so many problems?  What does an excess of body fat actually do to our bodies?

Obviously, carrying extra weight puts added stress on the bones and joints of the body – especially the legs and back.

Obesity strains the heart.  With more body mass, there is more blood flowing and being pumped by the heart throughout the body.  The heart must work harder to pump blood, which causes a strain.  This is often doubled when the obese person exerts themselves and experiences a higher heart rate.  An obese person has more body fat, which means more fatty molecules (such as cholesterol) in the blood vessels.  The fats constrict the blood vessels, making the heart pump harder to push blood through them, causing high blood pressure.  Obesity leads to heart failure because the heart is simply overworked.  A heart attack occurs when the heart muscle dies due to not being supplied with oxygen because blood flow is blocked through a fat-clogged blood vessel.

In the case of diabetes mellitus type II (“type 2 diabetes”), when there is excess fat in the body, insulin is less effective at getting glucose (the body’s main source of energy) into cells.  More insulin is then needed to maintain a normal blood sugar and insulin resistance progresses to diabetes.  About 80-90% of those with type 2 diabetes are obese.  The prevalence of type 2 diabetes has increased in the U.S. by 25% in just the last ten years.

Cancers of the colon, breast (postmenopausal), endometrium, kidney and esophagus are all associated with obesity, accounting for 25-30% of these cancers.  However, the mechanisms by which obesity affects these cancers are not well understood and are still being studied.  The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has several studies underway.

What they do know is that weight gain during adulthood has been found to be the most consistent and strongest predictor of breast cancer risk.  Excess breast tissue in obese women may also contribute to the difficulty in detecting lumps and abnormalities.  Excess abdominal fat has been linked to colon and endometrial cancers. 

Death rates from all cancers are greater in persons who are obese.

What can you do?

Obviously, preventing weight gain is the key to avoiding the complications associated with it.  If you already have weight issues, you should avoid additional weight gain and lose the excess fat through diet and exercise. 

While I am very grateful for my height and long legs, contrary to what people might think, I am not “naturally thin.”  I come from a genetic family background of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and knee replacements.  My mother in particular suffered the effects of these diseases at a very young age and passed away prematurely as a result.  Her conditions were brought on by obesity and her obesity was preventable – she chose a very unhealthy lifestyle.  Therefore, I choose to live a very healthy lifestyle to counteract those problems to which I may be predisposed.

I avoid weight gain by making healthy food choices and staying very active.  I eat whole foods and lean proteins (organic as much as possible).  I avoid all processed foods and sugar (although I do enjoy dessert in moderation).  I eat healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, organic dairy).  I exercise regularly (and not excessively), pushing myself to workout at times, even when I am really, truly just not in the mood. 

Lifestyle is a choice. 

Angela, Heart-Healthy Chic 🙂

References:

  1. “Obesity Rates Keep Rising, Troubling Health Officials,” by Denise Grady
  2. “How does obesity affect your health?” Answers.com
  3. “Obesity and Cancer:  Questions and Answers,” National Cancer Institute

November 7, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Feeling blue? Then this one’s for you!

‎”We would never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.”  ~Helen Keller

Antidepressants are the most widely prescribed drugs in most of the world.  They are prescribed by psychiatrists and psychologists to alleviate mood disorders (depression, dysthymia, anxiety, etc.).  The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which increase the amount of serotonin. 

Serotonin is a hormone, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT, which acts as a chemical messenger to transmit nerve signals between nerve cells and that causes blood vessels to narrow.  In the brain, serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter, involved in the control of pain perception, the sleep-wake cycle, and mood.

While the symptoms of depression might be alleviated by serotonin-altering-drugs like antidepressants, it obviously does not mean that the individual’s situation has been improved – only their perception of the environment has changed.  Unfortunately, many people taking antidepressants are doing so without the accompanying therapy.  So either they never discontinue using it or when they do, they go right back to the same symptoms that led them to seek help.

So why do we take antidepressants?

We take antidepressants because life can be very sad and depressing and we want to feel better – and we can feel better faster simply by taking a pill!  It does not get any easier than that.  However, if we never felt sad or depressed, would we truly appreciate the joys that life offers?  Sometimes life IS sad and depressing – but perhaps this is how we best learn and grow?

In cases of severe disorders, such as chronic, severe depression, wherein it is interfering with daily life, antidepressants may provide the individual with enough alleviation from the symptoms that they can effectively deal with and treat the disorder.

But for mild to moderate depression, are antidepressants really necessary?  Most people with depression do not fall into the category of “severe” depression.  According to a 2010 study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, in which researchers studied the effect of randomized placebo-controlled trials of an antidepressant on 718 adults with mild to very severe depression, the researchers concluded, “Whereas antidepressant medications can have a substantial effect with more severe depressions, there is little evidence to suggest that they produce specific pharmacalogical benefit for the majority of patients with less severe acute depressions.”  Of course, the study has its critics.

What reduces the serotonin in our bodies?

The following are substances, conditions and activities (or lack thereof) that actually suppress the serotonin in our bodies:

  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners (aspartame)
  • Caffeine
  • Cigarette Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Dietary deficiencies of nutrient co-factors
  • Ecstasy, Diet Pills and certain medications
  • Genetic Predisposition
  • Hormone Imbalances (thyroid, adrenal, estrogen)
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Lack of Dietary Protein
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of sunlight
  • Problems converting tryptophan to Serotonin
  • Problems with Digestion
  • Stress and Anger

How do we increase serotonin?

If you are feeling blue or suffering from situational depression (for instance, you just suffered a breakup, lost your job or experienced the loss of a loved one – life situations that will make anyone sad and depressed for some period of time) and are looking for some natural ways to increase your serotonin, you do have options.

Sleep.  Sleep is necessary for the body to rejuvenate.  Lack of sleep disrupts hormone production and can keep your brain from producing enough serotonin.  (See my 3/8/10 blog post, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” for more information on the importance of sleep.)

Exercise.  It is one of the easiest ways to naturally boost neurotransmitters.  Even 30-60 minutes of moderate activity 3-5 days per week will work.

Diet.  Eat a balanced diet of whole, natural foods – including fresh fruits and vegetables (as found in nature, so no juice) and whole grains (choose 100% whole grain products, rather than those “made with whole grain”).  Each meal, including breakfast, should consist of lean protein (2-4 oz. of meat, eggs or cheese), a good fat (1-2 tbsp. olive oil, butter, coconut oil, nuts, seeds – this does not include margarine or other processed fats) and carbohydrates (1/2 cup of grains OR 1-3 cups of vegetables OR 1/2 cup fruit).  Additionally, eating food rich in tryptophan (a natural source of serotonin) can boost your serotonin.  It’s found in:

  • Turkey
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Cheese
  • Bananas
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Healthy fat.  Polyunsaturated (i.e. Omega 3s) and monounsaturated fats are the “good” fats.  Avoid saturated fats like trans-fats at all costs.  (For more about healthy fats, see my 3/22/10 blog post, “Could fat actually be good for us?”)

Vitamin B Complex.  All of the B vitamins are vital for energy and the production of serotonin.  They are found naturally in whole grains, green vegetables and dairy, but supplements are also available.

Calcium & Magnesium.  These minerals are both important to serotonin production.  They can be found in dairy and nuts, and magnesium is very highly concentrated in spinach, but both are also available in supplement form.  (See my 4/26/10 blog post, “I’m strong to the finich, ’cause I eats me spinach!” for more information on the many benefits of magnesium.)

Sunshine.  Natural sunlight stimulates the production of serotonin and suppresses melatonin.  Sunlight boosts mood and energy.  (See my 4/12/10 blog post, “Sunlight is life,” for information on sunshine and vitamin D.)

So if you are feeling blue today, take a brisk walk in the sunshine, have a turkey sandwich, and take a nap!  Have you ever done any of these things without feeling better for it?

Angela, Natural Serotonin Junkie  🙂

References/Sources:

  1. “Eight Natural Ways to Boost Serotonin and Mood,” Elizabeth Walling, May 27, 2009 (www.naturalnews.com)
  2. “Antidepressants:  How Well Do They Work?”  Psychiatric Times, March 3, 2010 (www.psychiatrictimes.com)
  3. “What’s a good natural source of serotonin to cure depression?”  Merri Ellen Giesbrecht (www.cure-your-depression.com)
  4. “Serotonin,” Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org)

July 18, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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