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July 2013 Archives

Too stressed to exercise? You’re missing out on an effective way to relieve that stress.

Work, kids, finances, relationships, illness.
Everyone has some stress in life.

While some let it build up to the point of emotional, physical, or relational problems, others have learned effective ways of dealing with it. One way to prevent stress from—well, stressing you out, is through regular physical activity.

What is it about exercise that relieves stress? How can you incorporate exercise into your already busy schedule?

#1 Boosts Endorphins

Endorphins are feel-good brain chemicals that pass signals in the nervous system. They’re produced in response to stress, pain, fear, and sex. These chemicals work to block pain, control emotions, enhance the immune response, and create a sense of euphoria. Drugs such as codeine and morphine, chocolate, and chili peppers all have a similar effect on the brain as endorphins.

Research has shown that prolonged exercise also increases the release of endorphins. Sometimes referred to as a “runner’s high,” you don’t have to run to feel this mood boost. A vigorous game of basketball or an intense tennis match will do the same. This increase of endorphins enhances your body’s ability to deal more effectively with stress.

Here’s another way to look at it. When you exercise and endorphins are released, your body gets the opportunity to practice its response to stress. So the next time you’re stressed out, your body will be prepared to deal with it in a healthy way.

Distracts from Worries

Your mind may be going a million miles a minute all day long with everything on your plate. Spend some time working out, and as you focus on your movements, you’ll start to unwind and forget about your worries. The tension you felt at the office will melt away as you expend your pent up frustration.

Following your workout, your energy will feel renewed to face the problems that don’t seem as insurmountable any more.

#2 Improves Your Mood

Exercise not only improves your health, your heart, and your body, but it’s also known to improve your mood. A good mood goes a long way in combating stress.

One way exercise does this is by helping you sleep better at night. A good night’s rest eases your stress level. Second, the weight loss and increased stamina attributed to exercise can improve your self-esteem and empower you to effectively manage stress.

Finally, stress stimulates the production of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which put your body on heightened alert.

Exercise reduces these hormones and helps you feel calm.

#3 Get Moving

If you feel too busy and stressed to add one more thing to your schedule, it’s time to reevaluate your priorities. For starters, don’t regard exercise as one more thing to add to your to-do list. Rather, make it part of a healthy lifestyle.
And don’t worry too much about what kind of exercise you do. When it comes to stress relief, any type of physical activity will do. It could be jogging, walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, or gardening. Or change things up to add variety and keep you engaged.

Exercising with a friend may make it more enjoyable and help keep you accountable. Regardless, aim for 75 minutes a week of intense exercise or 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise. Mark specific time slots on your calendar and follow through.

Because a little exercise goes a long way on the road of stress management. Stressed out? Give exercise a try. You may find the relief you’ve been seeking.

#4 Full Body Response

Exercise forces all body systems (cardiovascular, renal, muscular, digestive, skeletal, and nervous) to work together and communicate. This helps your body know how to respond to stressors in your life.

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What you can do to get the sleep your body needs.

There’s nothing better than waking up in the morning feeling refreshed after a good night’s rest. Since the quality of your day often depends on the quality of your sleep, getting good sleep regular is essential to performing well at work, home, and play.

You probably already know that lack of sleep for a night or two makes you feel groggy or grumpy. But did you know that frequent sleep loss contributes to car accidents and injuries on the job; impairs your judgment and concentration; increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes; magnifies depression; hampers your sex drive; ages your skin; and contributes to weight gain?

With so much depending on your ability to sleep, it’s important that you do what you can to increase your chances of deep, quality sleep. Try these tips to see what strategies work for you.

1. Stick to a Sleep Schedule

Your body is made with a natural sleep-wake cycle, also called your circadian rhythm. Ever notice how you start to feel sleepy around the same time each night or naturally wake up around the same time each morning? This is your circadian rhythm. Keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule is one of the best ways to ensure a good night’s rest.

This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. This doesn’t just include workdays. It includes the weekend as well. If you aren’t able to stick with your schedule for a night or two, make up missed sleep with an early afternoon nap rather than sleeping in late.

2. Regulate Your Melatonin

Melatonin is the hormone produced naturally by your body that works to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. It functions based on light exposure. When it’s dark in the evenings, your body should secrete melatonin to make you drowsy. When you’re exposed to sunlight, your body knows to slow down production.

Unfortunately, your lifestyle may not lend itself well to the production of melatonin. If you’re indoors, away from natural sunlight all day, or if you’re exposed to bright lights from the TV or computer late in the evening, your melatonin schedule may get off kilter. To regulate your melatonin, expose yourself to as much daylight as possible during the day. Then, limit light at night by avoiding the TV, computer, and bright lights.

I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake. – Ernest Hemingway

3. Watch What You Put in Your Body

What you do during the day and what you eat in the hours before bed affect how well you sleep at night. Avoid a big meal, as well as rich, fatty, acidic, or spicy foods within two hours of bed. Alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but will wake you up later and disrupt your sleep. Also, it is best to avoid caffeine completely after lunch. This stimulating drug can stay in your system for up to 12 hours. And when it comes to drinks, limit all beverages in the evening or you may be awoken in the night to use the restroom.

If you need a bedtime snack, try eating a little turkey or a glass of warm milk with crackers. Poultry and dairy are two types of food that contain tryptophan, a chemical that promotes sleep.

Quit smoking if you want better sleep. Nicotine is another stimulant that will keep you awake. While trying to sleep, smokers may suffer withdrawal symptoms in the night that make quality sleep almost impossible.

4. Exercise

At some point during the day, get physical activity. Exercise has been proven to help you get the deep, restorative sleep your body and mind need for optimal functioning. If you find that exercise late in the day stimulates your body, try an earlier time.

5. When to See a Doctor

If you’ve tried every sleep trick you can think of and still can’t seem to get a good night’s rest, it may be time to schedule an appointment with a sleep doctor. Make an appointment if you persistently feel fatigued, snore loudly and catch your breath during sleep, have headaches in the morning, fall asleep at random times, can’t fall asleep or stay asleep, or have crawling feelings in your arms or legs at night.

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Is muscle soreness inevitable following a workout…or can you prevent it?

You know the feeling. You’ve not worked out for a few weeks and you finally head to the gym. Or maybe you change things up and try a new workout or have an extra strenuous workout. You may even attempt a chore around the house you haven’t performed in some time.

Whatever it is, you work muscles that haven’t been used in a while or use them in new ways. The next morning you have trouble getting out of bed and walking across the room because your muscles are sore and stiff. While this soreness is normal, it can be uncomfortable and slow you down for a day or two.

Known as delayed onset muscle soreness, (a.k.a. DOMS), this reaction to new movements is a serious pain. It happens when you increase your muscle exertion and tiny tears occur in your muscle fibers and connective tissues. As these heal, your muscles will become stronger and larger. By continuing the same movements, your muscles will get used to the exertion and in the future you won’t experience soreness.

Don’t let DOMS keep you from exercising or from enjoying exercise. Keep reading to find out how to prevent soreness and what to do if your best efforts fail.

Stop It First

Nothing seems to be 100-percent effective in preventing muscle soreness following new or intense exercise. But there are ways to lessen your chances and lessen the pain. If you’re new to exercise, the best way to avoid DOMS is by starting off slowly and then gradually increasing your intensity each subsequent time you exercise. By doing this, your muscles won’t tear as easily and will have time to adapt to their new requirements. Don’t go more than a few days between exercising or your muscles will have to readapt each time.

Another way to lessen the impact on your muscles is to start each exercise session with a short warm-up period. This could mean walking before you jog or cycling at a slow pace before you increase your speed. Despite what was once thought, stretching before your workout doesn’t prevent injury or soreness. Instead, stretch after your workout, when your muscles are warm and loose.

If you’re worried about sore muscles, you may be tempted to take a nonsteroidal drug prior to your workout. This, however, doesn’t protect your muscles from soreness. Quite the contrary. It may actually be harmful to your intestines.

A final method to fend off soreness is to eat well. Doing this ensures your muscles have the energy they need for exercise. Fuel your muscles with a high-carb snack or meal prior to your workout, and then replenish your muscles with protein following your workout. For an added DOMS-preventing boost, some believe a diet high in vitamin C does the trick, so give it a try.

Stopping Not Work?

On those days you do experience sore muscles, you’ll need a good way to relieve your pain. A hot bath or heating pad may feel nice, but they won’t do anything to heal your damaged muscles. If your muscles feel tight, try soaking in a warm bath sprinkled with two cups of Epsom salts.

Indirectly icing your sore muscles for 10 to 15 minutes every hour with an ice pack covered in a thin towel may reduce inflammation and provide some relief. Taking acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug may also be helpful. A gentle massage may also feel great on tight, sore muscles.

Some have found relief from drinking tart cherry juice. The antioxidants in this fruit may lessen muscle aches and speed recovery.

But if your muscle pain comes on suddenly or is unbearable, you may have injured yourself and need a doctor’s attention. Call your doctor if your pain is severe or if it lasts more than a couple days.

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Feel full until your next meal with these sweet and savory, healthy snack ideas.

It’s only 10 in the morning, your stomach is growling, and you’re feeling sluggish. You’re trying to watch your weight and don’t want to overdo your calorie limit on a measly snack. But you don’t know if you can make it until lunch without something to nibble on.

It can be hard finding snacks that are both low in calories and filling at the same time. The trick is to find a snack that has both protein for energy and fiber to keep you satisfied. No matter if you’re in the mood for something sweet, savory, or a combination of the two, here are some great low-calorie ideas to satisfy your cravings. Each option is less than 100 calories.

Sweet Tooth Snacks

Depriving yourself of sweets is a recipe for diet failure. Give yourself a small break every now and then to enjoy in the foods you love. Otherwise you’ll reach a breaking point and overindulge.

If sweets are what you’re craving, try the following low-cal options:

  • a cup of frozen grapes
  • a cup of nonfat Greek yogurt mixed with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a teaspoon of honey
  • a cup of your favorite berries mixed with two tablespoons of whipped topping
  • a teaspoon of peanut butter spread on a fig bar
  •  three squares of dark chocolate
  • a six-ounce glass of skim milk mixed with two teaspoons of chocolate syrup
  • a cup of unsweetened applesauce with a sprinkle of cinnamon
  • a four-ounce container of chocolate pudding
  •  a small banana-and-nonfat-yogurt smoothie
  • two squares of cinnamon graham crackers with one teaspoon peanut butter
  • a scoop of lime sherbet with sliced fruit

Savory Snacks

Just as easily, you can go overboard when munching on salty snacks. It takes a lot of will power to eat only a few potato chips. It’s better to just keep them out of the house.

So when you’re in the mood for something savory or salty and low in calories, go with one of the following:

  • 10 baby carrots dipped in two tablespoons of hummus
  • 25 pistachios (about two handfuls)
  • five multigrain crackers and a stick of low-fat string cheese
  • one egg and a slice of whole-wheat toast
  • two cups of air-popped popcorn
  • two long pretzels dipped in one tablespoon of Dijon mustard
  • eight boiled shrimp dipped in two tablespoons cocktail sauce
  • one ounce of low-sodium beef jerky
  • about 40 goldfish crackers
  • a cup of tomato soup sprinkled with one tablespoon of low-fat cheddar cheese
  • three cups of raw peppers dipped in two tablespoons of balsamic vinaigrette
  • a roll of four slices of thin-sliced deli turkey dipped in two teaspoons of honey mustard
  • 10 baked tortilla chips dipped in salsa

Sweet + Savory Snacks

Perhaps you’re craving a combination of salty and sweet foods. Sound good to you? Get your appetite satiated without feeling guilty by indulging in the following snack ideas:

  • a non-fat cheese stick with half an apple sliced
  •  one tablespoon of peanut butter spread on a stalk of celery
  • a cup of chopped melon in a cup of non-fat cottage cheese
  • trail mix made of four chocolate chips, eight almonds, and one tablespoon of raisins
  • two teaspoons of almond butter spread on a rice cake
  • a whole apple sliced and dipped in one teaspoon of peanut butter
  • four wheat thin crackers with one teaspoon of Nutella

Green Light on Snacks

If you’re on a diet, you don’t have to outlaw snacks. Especially since starving yourself is another way to sabotage your dieting efforts.

If you’re overly hungry when mealtime comes, you’ll be more susceptible to overeating. None of these 32 snack ideas sound appealing to you? Then get creative and make your own.

Because contrary to what your past eating habits may indicate, wise snack choices can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.

 

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Understanding what triglycerides have to do with your heart.

When you hear talk about triglycerides, you may cringe.

After all, it’s not the prettiest word around, and hearing it may make you think of something bad for you. However, triglycerides are a necessary part of good health, as it’s a type of fat that circulates in your blood and is used by your body for energy. However, when your triglycerides are too high, it can put you at risk for heart disease.

What causes high triglycerides and how can they harm your health? What steps can you take to lower them? You’re about to find out.

You Gotta Get Tested

A routine blood test called a lipid panel test measures your triglyceride level along with your total, HDL (high-density lipoprotein), and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels. Get a baseline measurement around age 20, and then have your levels checked every five years until age 40, when you’ll need your levels checked yearly. If you or a family member has a history of heart disease, stroke, or diabetes, have a lipid panel test every two to three years until age 40. If you already have heart disease, you’ll probably need your levels checked every couple months.

Once you undergo your test, compare your results to what’s normal and what’s not.

Optimal: less than 100 mg/dL
Normal: less than 150 mg/dL
Borderline-high: 150–199 mg/dL
High: 200–499 mg/dL
Very high: 500+

Reasons for High Triglycerides

If your test results reveal a higher than normal level of triglycerides, it may be attributed to obesity, uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, a regular consumption of too many calories (especially calories from carbs and fat), kidney disease, hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), or excessive alcohol consumption.

Certain prescription drugs can also affect your triglyceride levels. These medications include steroids, beta-blockers, Tamoxifen (a breast cancer drug), diuretics, birth control pills, and estrogen. Though rare, high triglycerides can be genetic. In this case, you may be suffering from fatty deposits located under the skin, a condition known as xanthomas.

Dangers of High Triglycerides

Unless results from a lipid panel test indicate high triglycerides, you probably wouldn’t know your levels are high. With that in mind, you may wonder what the big deal is when it comes to triglycerides. Think of it this way: A measure of your triglycerides is a good measure of the health of your heart. If you have high triglycerides, you may have other issues that put your heart at risk.

For some reason, too many triglycerides lead to the thickening or the hardening of the arteries. When this happens, your likelihood of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease increase dramatically.

High triglycerides are also an indication of other health conditions that contribute to heart disease and stroke such as obesity and metabolic syndrome (a combination of health conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, high triglycerides, and excess fat around the waist). So paying attention to your triglycerides is vital to your most vital organ!

Lower Your Triglycerides

Have high triglycerides? Don’t ignore the issue or hope it resolves on its own. Instead, take the time to be proactive for the sake of your heart. The good news is that triglycerides respond very well to diet and lifestyle changes, so if you make changes now, you probably won’t have to be on medications the rest of your life.

To effectively lower your levels, lose weight. Shedding even 5 or 10 pounds can make a big difference. Once you’ve lost weight, strive to maintain a healthy weight. Since excess calories are converted into triglycerides and then stored as fat, reduce your calorie intake by limiting fats, sugars, and simple carbohydrates. Eliminate foods with trans fats and avoid the saturated fats found in meats by eating more fatty fish high in omega-3s. For cooking, use olive oil or canola oil. Eating fewer calories will lower your levels and boost your heart health!

No Eating, Please.

Interested in having your triglycerides measured? You’ll have to avoid eating for a bit. For the best test results, your physician will ask you to fast overnight before testing. Eat right before the test and expect to be sent home without undergoing the test. Yes, it’s that important.

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