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

But you look so good!

 

Invisible

I have not posted in a while – life is full and I was feeling somewhat lazy.  However, it is a rainy, stormy day and a long weekend, so I feel a desire to think and write.

The fantastic news is that I am officially in remission. The final diagnosis is generally Autoimmune Disease, but more specifically, Hashimoto’s Disease and Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria (“CIU”). I take a synthetic thyroid daily and the hypothyroid symptoms improved dramatically within a few months (less hair loss, less joint pain, better sleep, more focused). As I mentioned in my last post, I was prescribed Hydroxyzine in January for the CIU. Within the first week, the giant welting hives started transitioning to small chicken pox-like hives, then NOTHING. I have not had a CIU flare-up in any form since early February and I no longer need to take the Hydroxyzine.

My flare-ups have occurred about every six years since my early twenties. I am hopeful that with what I have learned about taking care of myself in the last crazy year, the cycle may finally be broken, my body will completely heal, and just maybe I can prevent a recurrence. I know now that taking exceptional care of my body is simply not enough – true wellness requires taking care of my mind and soul, as well.

It was initially very difficult for me to tell anyone that something was wrong – I am a very private person. When I reached out to friends and family about my “mystery” illness, I was touched by the responses I received. However, I was also very confused and hurt that so many people that I thought were close friends not only did not respond, but said nothing to me at all when I did see them. It wasn’t cancer, but it wasn’t nothing either.  Didn’t they care?  Maybe they didn’t believe that I was really sick?

The term “invisible illness” is relatively new.   Some examples include other autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, depression and mental illness, digestive disorders like Celiac’s Disease, etc.

People often judge others by what they see – this is natural human behavior. For a long time, my illness was a mystery to me, as well, so when people asked me to explain, I could not and I would often hear, “but you look so healthy” or “you really don’t look sick.” It was also frustrating when people offered unsolicited advice – if my doctors and I could not figure it out, what made them think they had an answer? I had another friend tell me, while I was in the middle of a terrible flare-up, that I should look at it as a blessing. Good advice, but REALLY bad timing to tell me this when I was in the depths of it – excuse me if I don’t feel very blessed right now!  Of course, now that I am moving beyond it, I DO feel that it was a blessing – but that’s a post for another day.

Very few friends or family actually saw the illness because I was often in hiding. I stayed home a LOT and did not accept invitations or reach out to friends. When they did see me, I looked healthy. My husband is the only one in my life that I think truly understands what this last year did to me because he lived it every day – it also deeply affected his life, as well as our relationship. I know that he felt frustrated and helpless, yet was loving, supportive and encouraging to me.

Those friends that appeared to be “fair-weather” are still in my life. They simply did not see sickness. If they did, they certainly did not see it on a daily basis – the symptoms, the frustration, the depression and the isolation.   In hindsight, I think my expectations of their response were idealistic and unrealistic, so I choose to release any judgment of it now and hopefully educate people along the way.

We all are sick on occasion – we pick up viruses here and there.   But what if your virus never went away? In fact, what if it just progressively got worse and days turned into months, with no hope of resolution?  What if your doctors (even specialists) could not pinpoint the cause, provide a diagnosis or find a treatment, and you were told that it could potentially be part of your life forever?  Then try to imagine explaining this reality to your friends and family – when you look perfectly fine on the outside.

Our culture is taught to believe that illness and disease are visible and apparent, and that when we are sick, we go to the doctor, the doctor diagnoses the issue and prescribes treatment. That did not happen to me, nor does it happen to a lot of people, even in our very medically advanced world.

There is still more that we don’t than what we DO know. We need to continue to educate ourselves, let go of the past, manifest kindness and release judgment.

Of course, sometimes, this is easier said than done (especially in an election year).   😉

May 28, 2016 Posted by | 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

The bike is back!

“Nothing compares with the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”  ~John F. Kennedy

As far back as I can remember, I loved the feeling of flying down the road on my bike with the wind in my hair (no, we didn’t wear helmets back in the day).  It filled me with a sense of freedom, energy and life.

To this day, biking is one of my favorite summer activities.  My husband and I spend much of our spring, summer and fall on our bikes.  Our children have a growing interest in it, as well.  We are fortunate enough to live in Plymouth, Minnesota, named Money magazine’s number one Best Place to Live in 2008 (for cities with populations of 50,000 to 300,000).  In Plymouth, we have more than 120 miles of trails for walking, running and biking.  Additionally, through the park district, the paths link up to other paths throughout the Twin Cities.  In its May issue, Bicycling Magazine named Minneapolis America’s best bike city.  Minneapolis has 127 miles of bikeways, with 83 of those being off-street trails. 

So it is obvious that biking is very popular in Minnesota, but it’s also resurging in the rest of the country.  I am sure that Lance Armstrong helped considerably with that, winning seven consecutive Tours de France.

The bottom line is that it is a sport in which almost anyone can participate.  Most of us generally learn to ride a bike as a child and most of us never forget how to ride it.  Biking is not a weight-bearing exercise, allowing you to bike vigorously and then relax and coast for a period of recovery.  It increases your cardiovascular endurance and physical strength.

Biking is cheap transportation and is good for the environment (no emissions).  In Minnesota, a lot of people (even business professionals) now bike to work.

It is an incredible way to see large parts of the city or countryside.  In four hours, one can cover dozens of miles and at a speed that allows you to appreciate your surroundings in the way that traveling in a car cannot.  Mountain biking allows you to access trails otherwise not accessible.

It is also a great social activity.  Many cities have cycling clubs.  Road cyclists ride in groups to take advantage of the extra speed.

The physical benefits

While running may burn more calories than bicycling, it is very traumatic to the joints, making cycling a great cardio alternative.

The number of calories you burn depends on your weight, the activity, intensity, and will be slightly higher or lower depending upon each of those factors.  

  • Vigorous cycling (“vigorous effort” – 14-15.9 mph) burns 54-62 calories/mile if you weigh 190 pounds, 44-50 calories/mile at 155 pounds, and 37-42 calories/mile at 130 pounds.
  • Moderate cycling (“moderate effort” – 12-13.9 mph) burns 50-58 calories/mile at 190 pounds, 41-47 calories/mile at 155 pounds and 34-39 calories/mile at 130 pounds.
  • Light cycling (“light effort” – 10-11.9 mph) burns 44-52 calories/mile at 190 pounds, 35-42 calories/mile at 155 pounds, and 30-35 calories/mile at 130 pounds.

A fascinating study

Dr. Bastiaan R. Bloem of the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center in the Netherlands studied a man who had Parkinson’s Disease (a neurological disorder in which some of the brain cells that control movement die) for ten years.  The man trembled and could only walk a few steps before falling; he froze in place as though his feet were bolted to the ground.  However, he told Dr. Bloem that he was a cyclist, which one would think impossible considering his disease.  He not only rides his bike, but does so several miles a day.  Indeed, Dr. Bloem observed him riding the bike effortlessly and in complete control of it.  As soon as the man got off the bike, however, his symptoms returned.  So Dr. Bloem studied 20 other patients and found the same result – all could do it.  (SEE the video at http://video.nytimes.com/video/2010/03/31/health/1247467498167/bicycling-with-parkinson-s.html)

Those with Parkinson’s can often do other complex movements for a few minutes if given appropriate signals (emotional or visual) clues, such as dancing, running, and walking.  But it does not last long and they always return to the same state.  The effect is known as the kinesia paradox.

One explanation for the finding might be that bicycling uses a different part of the brain than walking and might not be so severely affected by Parkinson’s disease.  Or it might be that the rhythmic pressure of the pedals on patients’ feet cues the nervous system to allow a cycling movement.

Dr. Boehm has expanded his study to a clinical trial of 600 Parkinson’s patients.  He is finding that while it does not appear to cure the patients, it may slow the progression of the disease.

What do you need to bike right now?

Obviously, if you don’t already have one, you need a bike! 

Unless you plan on doing some serious street cycling (ala Lance), you do not need an expensive street bicycle or any expensive, fancy gear.  A decent multi-purpose bike (new) will cost you $300-$1000.  However, you can also find a nice bike on eBay or Craigslist for much less.  And unless you are planning to ride your bike off-road for the most part, do not buy a mountain bike.  The wheels are large and knobby and the bike is usually heavier than a street bike, both of which make it more difficult to ride on paved paths and on the city streets.

If you plan on spending more than an hour at a time cycling, it is worthwhile to dress for it.  Definitely wear comfortable, moisture-wicking fabrics (stay away from cotton, which does not wick away sweat and is slow to dry).  The idea of wearing padded shorts may sound funny at first, but after sitting on a narrow seat with little padding for more than an hour, you will quickly appreciate padded shorts!  You can expect to pay at least $30-80 for padded compression shorts.

You don’t need special footwear to ride a bike, but it helps if you have shoes that don’t have a big toe-box (which tends to make pedaling more challenging).  Also, biking shoes have a stiffness to them that makes it easier to pedal.  You can find decent biking shoes for less than $100. 

ALWAYS wear a helmet – even if you are not riding on the street.  Should you lose control or if something malfunctions on your bike, you could very easily take a tumble.  So please protect your head.  A nice helmet will cost you less than $50 and is worth buying new (as opposed to used), so you know it is clean, has not been damaged, and is the right size and fit for your head. 

A good source to locate cycling gear is REI (http://www.rei.com/).

So what are you waiting for?  Summer doesn’t last forever!

Angela, Biker Chick 🙂

References:

  1. City of Plymouth (http://plymouthmn.gov)
  2. Minneapolis City of Lakes (http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/bicycles)
  3. “Cycling Provides a Break for Some With Parkinson’s,” by Gina Kolata, NY Times, March 31, 2010 (http://www.nytimes.com)
  4.  Livestrong.com (http://www.livestrong.com)
  5.  “Why cycling is such a popular sport,” by Erich Rosenberger, M.D., Helium Sports & Recreation (http://www.helium.com)

July 5, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Food of the Gods

So what’s the big deal about coconut oil?  Likely, much more than you realize. 

Coconut oil boosts the metabolism, reduces bad cholesterol, augments the immune system, acts as a powerful antioxidant, and makes skin and hair soft and smooth.

How does it work?

Coconut oil is different from most other fats because it consists of medium chain fatty acids, which are sent straight to the liver and are immediately converted to energy, acting more like a carb than a fat.

Lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid found in human milk, cow’s milk and goat’s milk, is also found in coconut oil.  Coconut oil is about 50% lauric acid.  Lauric acid has been found to have antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal and antibacterial properties.

The body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which helps in dealing with viruses and bacteria that cause disease.  It has been extensively used in Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine native to the Indian subcontinent and practiced in other parts of the world as a form of alternative medicine.  Coconut oil also contains capric acid, which also forms into monoluarin and has antimicrobial properties.

Oodles of benefits

One of the most interesting facts about coconut oil is that it is GOOD for your heart.  Past claims that coconut oil increases cholesterol have now proven unfounded.  A common misconception is that because it contains a large quantity of saturated fat (92%, in fact), it will increase LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.  However, not all saturated fats are created equal.  Coconut oil actually reduces the incidence of injury in arteries and helps in preventing atherosclerosis.  It stimulates thyroid activity, increasing metabolic rate and normalizing cholesterol by converting it (specifically, LDL cholesteral) into anti-aging steroids, pregnenolone, progesterone and DHEA.  It actually LOWERS cholesterol.

Consuming coconut oil helps you lose weight.  It breaks down quickly in the body and is burned for fuel long before it can be stored as fat.  Replacing other fats with coconut oil means that the rate at which your body stores fat slows down, because more of your dietary fat is metabolized for energy.  But beyond that, coconut oil actually increases the rate at which you burn stored fat, even beyond the extra fat you burn simply because you exercise more and work harder. 

Coconut fat normalizes body lipids, protecting against alcohol damage in the liver and improves the immune system’s anti-inflammatory response.

Coconut oil contains natural antioxidants.  Whether ingested or applied topically, it is effective in preventing the free-radical damage that can lead to aged and wrinkled skin.  It absorbs easily into the skin, is good for the relief of dry, rough skin, and treats various skin problems, including psoriasis, dermatitis and eczema.

Coconut oil is used topically in the Indian subcontinent for hair care.  It’s an excellent conditioner and helps re-growth of damaged hair.

The dangers of hydrogenated oils

Hydrogenated coconut oil has a completely different chemical makeup than virgin coconut oil and none of the same benefits.  Hydrogenation is the process of heating an oil and passing hydrogen bubbles through it.  The fatty acids in the oil then acquire some of the hydrogen, which makes it more dense.  If you fully hydrogenate, you create a solid (a fat) out of the oil.  But if you stop part way, you a semi-solid partially hydrogenated oil that has a consistency like butter, only it’s a lot cheaper.  Because of that consistency, and because it is cheap, it is a big favorite as a butter-substitute among “food” producers.  It gives their products a richer flavor and texture, but doesn’t cost near as much as it would to add butter.

Hydrogenated oils contain high levels of trans fats.  Trans fats are deadly.  They interfere with the metabolic process of life by taking the place of a natural substance that performs a critical function.  In the long term, consumption of trans fats can produce a variety of diseases and in the short term, they make you fat.  If you buy packaged/processed food, you must read, read, READ the labels!  Even foods advertised as “healthy” and “organic” often contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.

Just 3.5 tablespoons a day of non-hydrogenated, unrefined virgin coconut oil provides numerous benefits.  Use it as a substitute for butter or any oil for baking.  Two that I recommend are:  Spectrum brand “Naturally unrefined expeller pressed virgin organic coconut oil” (SEE http://www.spectrumorganics.com); and Nutiva brand “Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil” (http://www.nutiva.com).

One of my favorite ways to use coconut oil is to sauté dark leafy greens (like kale or spinach) with it and a little garlic.  The taste is decadent, the benefits supreme.  Trust me, you will love it!

Angela, Coconut NUT 🙂

References:

  1. Nutritional Weight & Wellness, Nutrition Series 2009
  2. Organic Facts (http://www.organicfacts.net)
  3. “Metabolic Poisons:  What’s Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils?” and “Coconut Oil:  Miracle Medicine and Diet Pill,” Eric Armstrong (http://www.treelight.com)
  4. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org)

June 6, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Help, I forgot to eat!

“Food is an important part of a balanced diet.”  ~Fran Lebowitz

I am always stunned when I hear people say that they “forget” to eat.  Not only to I love to eat, but when I am forced to go more than three hours without nutrition, I not only feel hungry, I feel terrible.  Missing meals makes me crabby and fatigued, and unable to think clearly.  I never forget to eat.

As noted in my blog posts “Ellen & the Ugly Truth about Sugar” and “The Importance of Breaking the Fast,” food is fuel.  Blood sugar concentration or blood glucose level is the amount of glucose (sugar) present in the blood.  Glucose is the main energy source for our body, including our brain.  During digestion, the body breaks down carbohydrates into various sugar molecules, one of which is glucose.  It absorbs directly into our bloodstream after we eat and enters our cells with the help of insulin, a hormone secreted by our pancreas.   Hypoglycemia is the clinical syndrome that occurs when your blood sugar (glucose) is too low.

Skip a meal, lose some weight?

Not so much.  Despite the plethora of information providing to the contrary, there are still many of us out there that believe that the less we eat, whether that’s eating micro-portions or skipping meals, the smaller our waistline.  It is simply not true.  In fact, for someone trying to lose weight, skipping meals may actually sabotage their efforts.

It does seem logical in theory:  eat less, consume fewer calories, and you will lose weight.  However, when it comes to skipping meals, this theory is debunked if you understand how the fabulous machine that is the human body works.

When our body has not had sufficient nutrition for a period of time, it slips into what is commonly called “starvation mode.”  Starvation mode is a physiological process where the body slows down normal processes to conserve energy.  This occurs when our blood sugar drops and any time the body does not have glycogen in the liver.  The liver can hold about three hours of glycogen, so by hour four without food, the body is likely starting the starvation mode process.  

When the body experiences a deficit in calories, it must reach into its stored tissues to create its own glucose.  We are well programmed to adapt to an inadequate food supply.  When calories are consistently low, our metabolism slows down and begins to store calories as fat tissue.  It is far more effective to cut calories in small increments throughout the entire day than to skip a meal so that the body never has to enter “starvation mode”.

In starvation mode, some notable physical effects occur, such as weakness, drowsiness, dizziness, headaches and queasiness, as well as emotional and psychological effects like anxiety, irritability, anger and depression.

Another problem with skipping meals is that most people who do so usually increase how much they eat at other meals in the day by at least the same amount of calories.  These people, like others who come to a meal overly hungry, tend to eat rapidly, which makes it difficult for them to sense when they’ve had enough.  Those who skip meals may also snack more.  Although the snacks might be small in size, they can add up to a substantial number of calories and replace the calories missed at a meal.

Furthermore, even if you manage to keep a low daily total of calories for a few days by skipping meals, weight loss requires reduced calorie consumption over an extended period of time.  Meal-skipping that leads to considerable under-eating for a few days often results in more days of overeating.

Is there a better way? 

Yes – eat more frequently and more thoughtfully!

Frequent, balanced meals keep your blood sugar stable.  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).

Frequent, balanced meals also prevent the over consumption of calories.  Since excess calories are always converted into body fat, a more efficient metabolism brought about by eating small frequent meals ensures the efficient burning of food calories, regular and constant distribution of glycogen and amino acids throughout the body preventing the storage of body fat.

Angela, Nosher & Nibbler 🙂

References:

  1. “Nutrition Wise” by Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, American Institute for Cancer Research (www.aicr.org)
  2. Womens Health Zone (http://www.womenhealthzone.com)
  3. “Nutrition & Dieting – Starvation Mode,” Dr. Bret L. Emery (http://en.allexperts.com)
  4. “Starvation Diets and Low Carbohydrate, High Protein Diets” (http://www.vaxa.com)

May 31, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Stress Monster

There is more to life than increasing its speed.  ~Mohandas K. Gandhi

We all experience stress on a daily basis – mostly on a small-scale.  It’s part of life.  The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it (physically, mentally and emotionally).  It can be positive in the fact that it keeps us alert and ready to avoid danger (the “fight or flight” response).  It is difficult for scientists to define, as the effects differ for each of us.  Something that is distressful for me may be very pleasurable for another (i.e. public speaking – enjoyable for some, terrifying for others).  It can result from external challenges (major life changes, work, financial problems) or be self-generated (pessimism, perfectionism, negative self-talk).

However, when stress becomes continuous or chronic, without relaxation between challenges, it leads to distress.  Mentally, it can cause difficulty in concentration, trouble learning new information, forgetfulness, difficulty making decisions, feeling overwhelmed, social withdrawal, panic attacks – just to name a few!  It can manifest itself physically, causing headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, difficulty sleeping, etc., etc….  The effects are different for everyone.  Consider the following:

  • Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  • 75-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  • Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
  • The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.

When we experience stress, our body releases a hormone called “Cortisol.”  It helps metabolize glucose, regulates blood pressure, assists with insulin release for blood sugar maintenance, and is involved in immune function and inflammatory response.  Small increases in cortisol can provide a quick burst of energy, heightened memory functions, a burst of increased immunity, lower sensitivity to pain, and assistance in maintaining homeostasis (the physiology of internal stability) in the body.

However, prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream (chronic stress) can cause a multitude of physical problems, including (but not limited to!) the following:

  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Suppressed thyroid function
  • Blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia
  • Decreased bone density
  • Decrease in muscle tissue
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing, and other health consequences
  • Increased abdominal fat, which is associated with a greater amount of health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, the development of metabolic syndrome, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), which can lead to other health problems!
  • The effects of stress often look like symptoms of other illnesses (partially due to the fact that stress lowers immunity and makes us vulnerable to many things), sometimes people mistake symptoms of illness for stress and vice versa.

In my case, stress ran my immune system into the ground.

About a year ago, I had a lot going on in my life – good and bad.  I had a very stressful job, I was caring for a sick, elderly pet and I was planning my wedding.  My entire life up to that point had required that I push through whatever stress was taking place at any given moment – I had to in order to survive.  This was natural for me.  However, while I took care of my body – ate healthfully, exercised regularly – my mind was spinning out of control.  I was able to maintain a remarkably calm exterior.  Based on my appearance and composure, no one could tell (including me) that the suppression of these stresses was making me very sick.

I started having panic attacks, chest pains, and I was sleeping very little.  This led to a complete meltdown of my immune system.  Within a few months, I developed urticaria and giant hives on a daily basis.  My body was suddenly allergic to foods I used to eat several times a week, if not every day – peanuts (and other tree nuts), berries, shellfish, and sulfates.  The medical doctors that treated me were perplexed.  They refused to believe that stress alone could be the cause of my many ailments, ordering test after test, sending me to specialists – all of which resulted in a diagnosis of something like “unspecified immune system dysfunction,” with no idea of how to treat it.  (Unfortunately, I spent a lot of money for that diagnosis!)  They prescribed various medications – steroids (when my life was at risk from the urticaria) to antihistamines.  At one point, I was taking four different medications to control the physical symptoms that were causing me pain and disrupting my life.

My body was in such terrible shape that a lifestyle change was necessary.  After the wedding, I quit my stressful job and focused on getting healthy – emotionally, physically, mentally.  It took about a month after leaving my job for the symptoms to start to dissipate.  While I am now quite healthy, I still have a long way to go in my journey; I spent a lifetime telling myself to “suck it up and move on!”  I know now that the stress does not go away; if you don’t address it, it festers and grows.  This year has been both incredibly blessed and terribly difficult – and an incredible learning experience!

The following are some ways that you can relax your body and mind to keep cortisol levels at bay:

  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Breathing exercises
  • Listening to music
  • Acupuncture
  • Sex

Don’t let the Stress Monster get the best of you!

Angela, Chillin’ Chica 🙂

References:

  1. http://www.webmd.com
  2. http://www.stress.org
  3. http://stress.about.com

March 29, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Now I lay me down to sleep….

I am blogging today on about three hours of very disrupted sleep.  So bear with me if you find a few typos in today’s blog.

Therefore, I thought it would be a very good opportunity for me to research and write about the importance of SLEEP 🙂

We all know that sleep is essential to our health and wellbeing; it refreshes, rejuvenates and replenishes our brains and bodies.  Yet many of us suffer from a lack of sleep – millions of us, in fact (including yours truly). 

Surveys conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (1999-2004) reveal that at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders and 60% of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more.  More than 40% of adults experience daytime sleepiness that is severe enough to interfere with their daily activities at least a few times a month, and 20% report these problems occurring a few days a week or more!  Most unsettling is that 69% of children in our country are experiencing sleep problems more than a few nights a week.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation include irritability, moodiness, dis-inhibition, apathy, slowed speech, and flattened emotional response. 

However, there are some serious physiological effects of sleep deprivation of which we should be aware:

  • Impaired learning and memory functions
  • Physiological problems to the brain and nervous system
  • Metabolism and weight issues (chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite)
  • Cardiovascular issues (hypertension, increased stress hormones and irregular heartbeat are linked to sleep problems)
  • It alters immune system function, making one susceptible to a variety of health issues (the immune system is directly responsible for our ability to fight disease and endure illness)
  • According to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research (1998) and reports from the National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA) (2002), high-profile accidents can partly be attributed to people suffering from a severe lack of sleep.

Sleep apnea is a very common problem, causing sleep deprivation.  Those suffering from it literally stop breathing repeatedly during the night.  According to the National Institutes of Health, it affects more than twelve million Americans.  Risk factors include being male, overweight, and over the age of forty, but sleep apnea can strike anyone at any age, even children.  Untreated, it can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, and headaches.  However, once diagnosed, it is treatable.  For additional information, see http://www.sleepapnea.org.

Many chronic sleep problems are due to health issues, such as hypertension, emotional disorders (depression, bipolar disorder), obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and alcohol and drug abuse.  Short term sleep disturbances may be due to taking certain medications or having nightmares.

However, the number one cause of short-term sleep difficulties is stress, a problem to which I can personally speak.  I am an incredibly healthy and health-conscious person.  Unfortunately, in the last year, I did not cope well with stress, which led to anxiety, chest pains, lack of sleep and a complete meltdown of my immune system.  I slept very little, and developed urticaria and giant hives on a daily basis.  My body was suddenly allergic to foods I used to eat several times a week, if not every day – peanuts (and other tree nuts), berries, shellfish, and sulfates (so no wine, either!).  (I am happy to report that after addressing the stress, my health improved significantly and I can and do drink wine regularly 😉 )

So how much is enough?  The amount of sleep each of us needs varies, but most adults average eight hours of sleep per night.  The question is:  Are you refreshed when you awaken?  Some people feel fabulous after six hours of sleep, while others need nine hours.

Sleep is particularly important for children.  Lack of sleep can cause altered behaviors and changes in mood, difficulty of the body to metabolize glucose (necessary for energizing nearly every cell in our body and brain), impaired immune system function, decreased dexterity and increase in accidents.  Toddlers to pre-schoolers should have 11-14 hours of sleep per night, 10-11 hours for children 6-11 years of age, and 8.5-10 hours for teenagers.  As a parent to three teenagers, I can’t stress enough the importance of their sleep – when they have not enjoyed a healthful sleep, life is quite miserable for all of us!

Here are a few ways to ensure a good night’s sleep:

  • Do not drink alcohol or caffeine in the afternoon or evening
  • Get regular exercise, but do not over-exercise your body or your mind close to bedtime
  • Make sure the temperature in your bedroom is not too warm and limit the amount of light where you sleep
  • Go to bed and get up at the same times every day
  • If you are dealing with stressful situations at home or work, talk to friends and family and find ways to cope with the stress

All this talk about sleep made me very tired.  I think a nap is in order.

Angela, Drowsy Damsel 🙂

March 8, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health | , | 6 Comments

Hot Yoga Anyone?

I have been practicing yoga for about four years now.  Those who know me know that it has become one of my passions in life.

Most of us are inflexible or become inflexible over time, much of which occurs from under use of our muscles and joints, and also simply by aging.  All of my jobs in the last 15 or more years required long hours of sitting.  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 know, not even necessary for me!).

My favorite form of yoga is Vinyasa or “flow” yoga, linking each posture and movement to the breath.  The breath dictates the movement of the body and length of time each posture is held.  I enjoy the athleticism of Vinyasa.  At the yoga studio at which I practice (http://www.yogamn.com/), the room is very warm (I haven’t looked at the thermostat, but would guess it is around 85°).  My body works pretty efficiently, so it does not take me long to sweat profusely, hence my trepidation to try Hot Yoga for fear of melting into oblivion.

However, two months ago, perhaps because I was so cold during this Minnesota winter that all I could think about were ways to keep warm, I decided to give it a whirl.  I was hooked.

Hot Yoga is a series of yoga poses done in a heated room.  The temperature of the room is 100-105°, with a 40% humidity level.  Obviously, standing still in this environment causes most of us to sweat very quickly, so you can imagine adding movement.  In addition to the standard benefits of yoga (physical and spiritual strength, flexibility, etc.), the high heat makes the body very warm, allowing the muscles, joints and ligaments to become even more flexible, helping prevent injuries…  Additionally, the heat thins the blood, increasing the heart rate and circulation for an excellent cardiovascular workout.  Many believe that the practice facilitates the body’s natural ability to heal, and cleanses the body by flushing toxins and metabolic waste (through sweat).  And of course, the more you sweat in the class, the better you will tolerate the heat, as sweating keeps your body from overheating.

Another benefit to sweating it out in Hot Yoga?  Many health professionals estimate that you can burn 400-1200 calories per class.  That is very motivating.

Some refer to Hot Yoga as Bikram Yoga.  However, the terms are not congruous.  The “Bikram” yoga method, created by Bikram Choudhury, consists of a series of 26 yoga poses, including yoga breathing exercises called Pranayama (one of the eight limbs of yoga).  Choudhury and his wife were both yoga masters in India.  He is a controversial figure in the world of yoga.  Recently, he was involved in a lawsuit when he attempted to copyright his series of 26 poses in a hot room as “Bikram Yoga,” meaning that anyone teaching yoga in a heated room had to call it “Bikram Yoga.”  He settled the lawsuit and now requests that the title only be used for those teachers certified by his Yoga College in India and who practice his prescribed method precisely.  (See http://www.bikramyoga.com)

At the end of a yoga class, especially Hot Yoga, I feel calm, loose, energized and powerful.  Rarely in my life do I allow myself the luxury of that much time for slow and gentle stretching. 

Some necessities to keep in mind for Hot Yoga:

  • Find a studio certified to teach Hot Yoga and consult with the staff to make sure you have no physical limitations in taking the class (i.e. you should NOT participate in this class if you are pregnant)
  • Wear very little clothing and make sure it is lightweight and moisture-wicking
  • Bring plenty of water – enough to drink before, during and after class
  • Bring at least one large towel and/or use a mat-size yoga towel (there are several brands out there – a nice one that comes to mind is sold by Yogitoes®)

Namaste!

Angela, Yoga Soldier 🙂

February 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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