Resolution Reboot

January has come and gone. For most of us this means that New Year’s resolutions are the furthest thing from our minds. There are a million reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail. Sometimes we set impractical goals, sometimes we fail to plan, and sometimes everyday life refuses to move over and make room for new lifestyle choices. The important thing to do is start off by giving yourself credit. There is no point in beating yourself up for not sticking things out. The main thing is that you have acknowledged the need to change, and that is half the battle. Lifestyle change is never easy, so don’t worry if you have faltered a little. Simply take a deep breath and ready yourself to jump back on that proverbial horse. Every day is a good day to start living a healthier lifestyle. So if you set some health goals this year that just didn’t stick, prepare yourself for a resolution reboot. Spring has sprung, the warm weather is upon us, and now is the perfect time to lace up your gym shoes and get back in the game. Here are some tips to help you on your way.

  1. Focus on health, not weight loss. We all want to look swimsuit ready for summer, but following fad diets and taking extreme measures is not only an ineffective strategy, but is also stressful and unhealthy. Extreme weight loss methods are often difficult to stick to long term. This means that any weight that is lost will likely creep back on. This can be both physically and emotionally damaging. It is the ultimate Band-Aid solution to a much deeper problem. Focusing on overall health helps us to better pinpoint and address our bad habits. Rather than adhering to a strict diet, try focusing on gradual change that can be maintained long term. Increase vegetable intake by adding a salad to your typical lunch, cut back on sweets by replacing them with fruit, switch from refined grains to whole grains, and try going vegetarian once a week in an effort to cut back on animal products. A healthy lifestyle shouldn’t feel miserable. Try not to revamp your life in such a way that eliminates everything you are familiar with and enjoy. The best way to create healthy habits that last is to “health up” the everyday choices that you build your life around in the first place. In time, living a healthy lifestyle will lead to a healthy weight.
  2. Try signing up for a new class or activity. Incorporating more physical activity into our lives can sometimes feel a bit like a chore. If you dread going to the gym, or find that you sometimes lack the self-motivation to stick to a routine, then it might be time to try something new. Rather than requiring yourself to spend thirty minutes on the treadmill, try joining a softball team or an active social group, find a running club, or give Zumba class a try. Exercise doesn’t have to mean structure and routine. Exercise is anything that gets the heart pumping and the muscles working. This can mean chasing the kids around the park, walking around the neighborhood with some friends, biking through the local forest preserve, or playing tennis with your spouse on Saturday mornings. If your typical fitness routine feels mundane, and you haven’t been taking advantage of that gym membership you signed up for back in January, then it might be time to change things up a bit. Mix it up and get moving again.
  3. Create SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rewarding, and Time Bound. When setting goals it is important to try to keep the SMART model in mind. SMART goals are easier to stick to because they help us to pinpoint the specific steps we will be taking as we create change in our lives. They allow our progress to be measured, require us to stick to a specific time frame, and are positive and rewarding. Rather than saying “I will exercise more” try saying “I will walk around my neighborhood for 30 minutes after work every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next 3 weeks.” This provides you with a game plan to help you reach your goal, rather than just a broad idea of what you would like to achieve.
  4. Be patient. No one is perfect. All of us have days where we skip a workout or we eat something that leans more on the unhealthy side. That’s okay. Every day healthy habits are not broken by the occasional splurge or lack of discipline. Healthy habits are not about perfection. Every day is an opportunity to move towards a healthier version of yourself. Be proud of the healthy changes you make and give yourself credit for all levels of progress. Health is a lifelong journey, so be patient and enjoy the ride.

Sure New Year’s Day was four months ago, but that doesn’t mean New Year’s Resolutions have to wait until next year. Every day is a good day to build healthy habits and focus on overall well-being. Simply set some goals and reboot your resolution today. Happy health!

Heart Health Guide: Tips for a Happy, Healthy Heart

The month of February is American Heart Month. Heart disease remains the number one killer of men and women in the United States. However, there is good news, most cases of heart disease are preventable. Your best defense against heart disease is leading a healthy lifestyle. Feeling unsure of where to start? Here are a few tips to help you on your way.

  • Quit smoking. The science is pretty undeniable on this one. If you are a smoker, you are at an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. That is because smoking damages the lining of the arteries1. When the lining of our arteries become damaged they begin to build up a sticky plaque. Over time, this plaque becomes hardened and eventually blocks blood flow to the heart1. Quitting smoking is crucial to reducing heart disease risk and improving overall cardiovascular health. Studies show that disease risk decreases as the length of time since quitting increases2. So don’t wait, quit today.

*Need help quitting? Smokefree.gov is a free government resource to help you on your journey to a smoke free lifestyle. https://smokefree.gov/

  • Get moving. Exercise comes with an array of heart benefits. It has been shown to decrease inflammation, lower blood pressure, and increase HDL cholesterol3 (the good kind of cholesterol). It also comes with a host of other health benefits, such as improvement in mood, and decreased risk for cancer and type 2 diabetes3. If you are not in the habit of working out regularly, then it is time to get started. Of course it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the thought of adding exercise to your daily routine, but worry not. There is no need to start training for a marathon. Simply get up and get moving in whatever way works best for you. According to the American Heart Association, all it takes is 40 minutes of moderate exercise 3 times a week to improve heart health4. That means that a brisk walking pace is sufficient. If 40 minutes feels like too much, then break it down even further. Working out twice a week is better than not working out at all, and it is a great place to start. As your body begins to reap the benefits of exercise you will quickly become inclined to do more.
  • Eat your fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with plant metabolites called polyphenols. Studies show that increased intake of polyphenol containing foods may help to prevent cardiovascular disease through their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties5. Fruits and vegetables also contain soluble fiber, which is believed to play a role in reducing LDL cholesterol in the blood stream. Less LDL cholesterol in the blood means less plaque buildup in the arteries. Increasing your fruit and veggie consumption doesn’t have to be difficult. Simply toss a handful of berries onto your oatmeal in the morning, reach for an apple as a mid-morning snack, mix a few chopped veggies into your pasta, or add a small side salad to your sandwich at lunch time. Small changes add up quickly and the benefits will be undeniable.
  • Manage stress. Psychological stress is considered to be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease6. Therefore, managing stress may play an important role in improving heart health and preventing cardiovascular diseases. Stress can be managed using a variety of methods. Some options include meditation, yoga, and physical exercise, but simply taking a little time each day to step away from work and responsibility can be stress relieving in itself. Turning off all technological devices, practicing deep breathing exercises, or partaking in a hobby you enjoy can also do wonders for calming the mind and relieving the body of stress. Often times we move through our day at lightning speed attempting to balance and complete every task on our plate. Making room for a little rest and relaxation throughout the day can do wonders for our physical and mental well-being, and it goes a long way in keeping our hearts healthy and happy.

Living a healthy lifestyle is the best defense against heart disease. Managing stress, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking are sure fire ways to help you on your way to improved cardiovascular health. A few other important factors include maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and weight. Knowing these crucial numbers and discussing them with your doctor is an important part of being proactive about your health. Remember to always consult with your physician before making dietary or other lifestyle changes (such as increasing physical activity). Every day is an opportunity to do something good for your health and every meal is an opportunity to flood your body with the nutrients it needs to function at its best. Keep in mind that small changes can have a big impact, so don’t overwhelm yourself right out of the gate. Slow and steady wins the race, or in this case allows for a long, happy, heart healthy life.

 

 

References

  1. Campbell SC, Moffatt RJ, Stamford BA. Smoking and smoking cessation—The relationship between cardiovascular disease and lipoprotein metabolism: A review. Atherosclerosis. 2008;201(2):225-235.
  2. Chang L-, Loh E-, Tsai Y-, Chiou S-, Chen L-. Clinical benefits of smoking cessation in reducing all-cause and disease-specific mortality among older people in taiwan: A 10-year nationwide retrospective cohort study. European Geriatric Medicine. 2014;5(3):149-154.
  3. Stuart AG. Exercise as therapy in congenital heart disease — A gamification approach. Prog Pediatr Cardiol. 2014;38(1–2):37-44.
  4. American Heart Association. (N.D.) New Diet, Exercise Guideline for Heart Health. Retrieved January 31, 2017. https://www.goredforwomen.org/about-heart-disease/heart_disease_research-subcategory/new-diet-exercise-guideline-for-heart-health/
  5. Li G, Zhu Y, Zhang Y, Lang J, Chen Y, Ling W. Estimated daily flavonoid and stilbene intake from fruits, vegetables, and nuts and associations with lipid profiles in chinese adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013;113(6):786-794.
  6. Momeni J, Omidi A, Raygan F, Akbari H. The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on cardiac patients’ blood pressure, perceived stress, and anger: A single-blind randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Society of Hypertension. 2016;10(10):763-771.

Pass the Bread! Why Low-Carb Diets Are Not the Answer and What You Should Be Doing Instead

myplate_magenta
MyPlate is a great tool from the USDA that helps to remind us what our plates should look like at each meal. For a balanced diet, try to fill your plate with a little from each food group to match the picture seen above. For more great tips and information go to http://www.choosemyplate.gov 

Low-carb diets are a trend that just won’t seem to disappear. For some people low-carb diets seem to work. At least for a while. Diets that drastically cut down on carbohydrates are meant to completely shift the way in which our bodies create energy. This leads to weight loss. However, it is important to know that our bodies are not actually meant to function in this way.

Carbohydrates are meant to be our main source of energy. It is suggested that they make up somewhere around fifty percent of our daily calories. Dramatically reducing our carbohydrate intake sends our bodies into a state similar to starvation. In a nutshell, starving our bodies of carbohydrates causes it to use fat stores for energy. This, of course, leads to weight loss. Although this might sound wonderful, it is technically a process meant to keep us alive during times of famine. The long term health effects remain somewhat unclear, but some studies suggest that maintaining this state can negatively impact bone and kidney health, alter hormonal activity, and lead to decreased energy levels (1, 2, 3). Low-carb diets are also difficult to maintain. This often leads people to gain back any weight that they lose.

All of this being said, decreasing carbohydrates might not necessarily be a terrible idea. In today’s modern world we often consume too many carbs. Our highly processed, high sugar diets often lead us to consume an imbalanced amount of nutrients. Our diets are not only higher in carbohydrates than they should be, but also high in calories.

The ideal solution is not to focus on one single nutrient, but rather on the balance of nutrients overall. A healthy diet consists of nutritious foods consumed in reasonable portions and proper ratios. This means that each meal should offer a healthy serving of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. It should also provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Although many people think that there is a miracle formula for weight loss, the best solution might be to provide our bodies with what they need and let nature do the rest. Proper diet and exercise helps to maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It may also prevent certain forms of cancer, and simply keeps us functioning at our best.

Each meal is an opportunity to do something good for our bodies. Mealtime should be less about what we cannot have and more about flooding our bodies with the all of the good things they need. So the next time you are considering a low-carb diet, opt for a healthy, balanced diet instead. Your body will thank you for it.

 

 

References

  1. Ebbeling CB, Swain JF, Feldman HA, Wong WA, Hachey DL, Garcia-Logo E, and Ludwig DD. Effects of dietary composition on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance. JAMA. 2012;307:267-2634.
  2. Sumithran P, Proietto J. Ketogenic diets for weight loss: A review of their principles, safety and efficacy. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice. 2008;2(1):1-13.
  3. White AM, Johnston CS, Swan PD, Tjonn SL, Sears B. Blood ketones are directly related to fatigue and perceived effort during exercise in overweight adults adhering to low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss: A pilot study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007;107(10):1792-1796.

 

 

 

Weight Wars: Does the Number on the Scale Really Matter?

The world seems to be obsessed with weight. Everyone is looking to fit a certain ideal and most equate a specific look with optimal health. But is weight really that important? The answer is yes…and no. The truth is that weight is an indicator of our health. Too much or too little can definitely be a bad thing. Too much weight can be tough on our bodies because our heart has to pump harder, which puts more pressure on our blood vessels. Our joints can become stressed while attempting to support the extra pounds, and excess fat can build up around our organs and begin to interfere with proper function. Too little weight can indicate inadequate energy intake, which can interrupt the body’s ability to carry out life sustaining activities. This can lead to malnutrition, compromised immunity, poor bone structure, and muscle loss. At the very least, weight can indicate that we are not making the most healthful choices in life and that our wellness might be compromised at some point down the line.

All of this being said, weight is NOT the be-all and end-all when it comes to health. Although we tend to suggest that everyone should weigh somewhere around their ideal body weight, there are plenty of people who meet the standard and still manage to consume junk food diets and live sedentary lifestyles. On the opposite end of the spectrum are people who fall in the “overweight” category, yet maintain active lifestyles and consume a wide variety of nutritious foods daily.

Again, weight is an indicator of health. That means that it can be a sign that we need to clean up our act, or it can simply be a meaningless number. Like most things health related, it is important to consider weight, not by itself, but alongside other components. That means that weight should be analyzed next to cholesterol, blood pressure, waist circumference, and blood glucose levels. Everyone is different and not all body types fit the same mold. That means that someone can be slightly overweight, or underweight, without experiencing much in the way of health consequences. But many times, as weight increases, so too do other numbers that matter. Cholesterol rises, blood pressure increases, and visceral fat forms around our organs causing our waist lines to expand. This increases our risk for such chronic illnesses as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Oftentimes issues such as high blood pressure and cholesterol can be improved with diet and exercise. In these instances weight loss might be important as the extra pounds are likely to be increasing disease risk. If these numbers are high and weight is not, then diet and exercise might still be important despite the absence of weight as an issue.

Although it is important to be aware of the number on the scale, it is even more important to check in with your doctor on an annual basis to track the other numbers related to your health. Yes, weight matters, but connecting the dots is a crucial part of wellness and when it comes to being fully well we should always be looking at the big picture.

 

Gluten is not a Four Letter Word: A Few Things to Know Before Going Gluten-Free

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects a small percentage of people when they consume gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. For those suffering from celiac disease, gluten consumption can be devastating to the digestive tract. This is because gluten causes an immune response that actually damages and destroys the villi of the small intestine. Since most of our nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine, untreated celiac disease can lead to malnutrition and other health issues. If you suspect you have celiac disease, you should see your doctor immediately.

Gluten intolerance (or non-celiac gluten sensitivity) is a bit more mysterious. It can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms can be broad and there is no specific test that shows a sensitivity exists. Symptoms typically include bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or other gastrointestinal discomfort following the consumption of gluten. It can also cause inflammation in the joints and other areas of the body, and symptoms can present themselves outside of the digestive tract. Although a larger percentage of people have a gluten sensitivity than celiac disease, some studies have found that many of those consuming a gluten-free diet can actually tolerate the protein without incident. Further research is definitely necessary, but these days many people simply believe they feel better after eliminating gluten containing foods from their lives.

Whether you are following a gluten-free diet because you have celiac disease, or simply because you have made a personal decision to do so, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. The typical western diet includes large amounts of wheat. Everything from the cereal we consume in the morning, to the sandwich we eat at lunch, and the pasta we devour at dinner, is typically made with wheat flour. Wheat, when consumed in whole grain form, provides an abundance of nutrients such as B vitamins, folate, and iron. Eliminating wheat from the diet can easily result in deficiencies if care is not taken to replace wheat with a nutritionally dense, gluten-free option. Many gluten-free foods are made with simple, processed grains and are not actually a sufficient replacement. So, if you are ditching the wheat, be sure to compensate elsewhere.
  2. Sometimes gluten is tucked away in places you would least expect it. The food industry uses gluten containing foods in a variety of ways. They are added to spices, used in soups and sauces as thickeners, and hidden away in marinades. Some prepackaged meats contain gluten, as do a variety of potato chips. Contamination can also be a factor. Oats, for example, do not contain gluten by nature, but oat fields are often grown relatively close to wheat, rye, or barley fields and therefore may be contaminated. When avoiding gluten it is important to read labels, check allergen menus, and be aware of high risk foods. Although this may seem overwhelming at first, food labeling laws, and the trendy nature of gluten-free diets, have made the process significantly easier in recent years.
  3. There are a lot of substitutions to choose from. The gluten-free industry has come a long way in the past decade. Gluten-free foods can be found everywhere from Whole Foods to Wal-Mart. This convenience has made it possible for people following a gluten-free diet to finally treat themselves to the things they have been missing. But not all gluten-free foods are created equal. As mentioned earlier, many are made with simple, processed grains that are sorely lacking in nutrients. Again, it is important to check the labels of the products you are buying. Read the ingredients and scope out the nutrition facts. For example, there are a variety of gluten-free pastas on the market. Some are made with corn, or rice flour, while others are made with lentils, or black beans (for The Leafy Kiwi’s favorite gluten-free pasta be sure to visit our Gear Check section). A brown rice pasta might contain one or two grams of fiber and a few grams of protein, while a lentil pasta often contains around 15 grams of protein and 3 to 5 grams of fiber. Of course, it is important to note that switching to a gluten-free diet does not necessarily mean you should consume a variety of processed, gluten free substitutions. Whole, natural foods are always best and should make up the bulk of any diet or lifestyle.

Gluten-free living is most definitely not for everyone and for many it is an unnecessary lifestyle change to make, but if you have recently been diagnosed with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, or you simply feel at your best when avoiding gluten containing foods, then a gluten-free lifestyle might be for you. Be sure to do your research and choose quality, nutrient dense substitutions. Focus on consuming whole, natural foods in your diet, and let the labels be your guide as you navigate through the large variety of gluten-free products on the market. Beware of gluten hiding in unexpected places and of course, always talk to your doctor before making this, or other drastic changes to your lifestyle. Best of luck and happy health!