Tag Archives: Health

An ideal 20 minute workout for the mind and body

Only have 20 minutes for a quick workout? Keep it interesting and effective by incorporating several types of movements done with a focus on precision . Below is one suggested program. (Psst. Always consult a professional trainer, or your doctor before embarking on a new workout regime.)

5 MINUTES An intense cardio boost ( jump rope (my favorite), sprints, jumping jacks, burpees, etc)

8 MINUTES Pilates/Yoga – or a combination of moves that stretch and strengthen the body ( Good selective Pilates moves include: “Roll Ups” “The 5’s series”,  “Swan” or back extensions, lying side legs, and “Teasers”).

5 MINUTES Traditional strength training (pull ups, chin ups, push ups, dips, and/or planks – forearm planks for weak core and wrists) Builds much needed strength for neck, shoulder, and back tension.

2 MINUTES Deep breathing to bring you back to a calm, relaxed and refreshed center.

It’s always good to mix it up. Extend one part of the routine for another after a few weeks to keep your muscles from settling into movement habits. And work with a professional instructor every now and then to get the most out of those 20 minutes. Every body is unique and has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Enjoy every minute!

 

Tips for improving brainpower and preventing dementia

There’s is no cure for dementia or alzheimer’s, but in the quest for one, researchers are now able to offer evidence-based suggestions to help prevent early onset. Most of the tips are easy to implement. And the sooner you start, the better your chances of prevention.

1. Eat nuts, olive oil, flax seed, and fishAccording to research, it’s all in the omega-3 fatty acids, which might help prevent certain memory and mood problems.

2. Be bilingual –  Bilingual people tend to postpone dementia by several years compared to those who are monolingual, according to researchers in Toronto. If you don’t speak two languages, now is a good time to pick another one up. The challenge can help stimulate reserve parts of the brain. I hear Polish is fun. And who knows, perhaps mastering the tones of Chinese might even improve your pitch and singing skills.

3. Use the computer – It’s still not a good idea to sit at the computer all day long. Learning to use the computer can stimulate the brain, but the research specifically states it’s finding based on computer learning coupled with physical activity, which happens to be #4…

4. Exercise – Moderate activity is always a good thing! Some researchers say resistance training, like Pilates, is best for dementia prevention. Also high on the list is social exercise, like dancing, since studies suggest music also helps in preventing dementia, depression, and enhancing memory recall.

5. Drink - This is the fun one, but it’s also tricky. Certain studies link alcoholism to increased risk of dementia, yet others find moderate drinking, like a glass of wine with dinner, may actually help prevent it. Just another reason why “everything in moderation”, is a pretty darn good maxim to live by.

Get moving outside and feel better inside

Connecting water and board at the beach in Southern California.

With Spring in full bloom, taking your exercise activities outdoors could not only boost physical health, but mental well being too, according to Mind, a nonprofit mental health organization based in the UK.

Mind recently conducted research on whether or not outdoor, “green” activities improved overall mental health. While the survey samples were small, the findings are strong. Out of 100 people polled, over 94% of commented that green exercise improves their mental health. Another test included setting up two contrasting walks with 20 participants in each group, one outdoors amongst nature and one indoors. 71% of  people experienced a decrease in the levels of depression after an outdoor walk verses 45% indoors.

Mind’s website offers suggestions for making an outdoor date and creative ideas to help inspire more outdoor activity.

Other suggestions?

Taking a stroll in Little Tokyo, Downtown LA

Morning – Find a park or outdoor space nearby offering sunrise Tai Chi.

Evening  – The classic after dinner stroll is a perennial favorite. A nice way to wind down after the day, digest dinner, and enjoy the night air.

Anytime – Pull together your own action/adventure team, and as a united front take on various outdoor challenges and activities.

Photos by Stephanie Ellison

What the world thinks Healthy means

Does being healthy mean the same thing in Africa as in China? From the charting wunderkind at GOOD Magazine now you can compare.  For an upclose look at this chart and what the world thinks of the term “healthy”, just click on the image, or go to GOOD.is

Is running in Los Angeles bad for your health?

In Downtown Los Angeles there’s a film – not of celluloid, but of soot – covering everything, from shop displays in the fashion district to the tables at high-end cafes.  Blowing your nose at the end of each day proves you breathe it in as well. And when I saw so many people jogging and biking through the streets here  – in this fitness obsessed city – I seriously began to wonder “This just can’t be good for you… right?”

Why exercise outdoors in a city known for smog? It seems counterintuitive. I decided to do a little research and find out if it is really harmful, or just a bunch of hot air.

The American Lung Association releases a “State of the Air” report every year.  In 2011, Los Angeles was #1 in ozone pollution in the country, and #2 in year-round toxic particle (soot) pollution. According to The ALA and a 2008 study by the National Research Council, air pollution aggravates asthma, heart and lung disease and diabetes, and can have a severe effect on children, stunting lung growth. Diesel emissions have been linked to cancer. According to the state Air Resources Board, 9,200 Californians die prematurely each year because of dirty air. Research has also connected a higher risk for these diseases directly to exposure from exhausts of heavy traffic and busy highways.

Now imagine running in that air! You increase your intake of oxygen while running, and subsequently the amount of pollutants. The Beijing Olympics weren’t so long ago as to recall the struggle many Olympian faced when training and competing in China’s own pollution problem.. US Olympic Mountain Biker Adam Craig, went into bronchial spasms because of the air. It’s like suffocating. Craig was unable to fully breathe in the air his body needed. 30 minutes into the competition, he had to quit.  And he wasn’t alone. Many athletes experienced similar problems performing at their peak in the pollution.

While Los Angeles might not be as bad as Beijing, and smog and soot levels have dropped in Southern California over the last decade,  the region still has the highest levels of ozone nationwide, violating federal health standards an average of 137 days a year.  Apparently, it’s getting better, but unfortunately not quick enough to make an impact on our health…sorry Angelenos.

So what can we do? Give up our cars, build reliable, and convenient public transit, plants more trees, and offer more pedestrian and bike friendly means of getting around town…like, tomorrow. And if none of that is happening in the immediate future? Then be smart about activity. Check the air quality before rigorous outdoor activity. My Environment on the EPA’s website provides hourly air quality forecasts. Airnow.gov is another  site providing air quality maps. If you must workout outside, do it when traffic is light. Early morning hours are ideal.

So it seems the answer is yeah…running in Los Angeles is bad for you. But, what’s worse – not exercising at all, or doing it in a polluted city?  Both can cause shorter life expectancy and an array of diseases. Until there’s more research, I’d venture to assume it’s better to exercise than just sit on the couch…though you won’t catch me running through the streets of LA, for fitness purposes anyway, anytime soon.

Stretching and Flexibility. Things to consider before you begin.

Sitting all day – day after day – our bodies become stiff and sore quickly. Suddenly, we feel old beyond our years. It’s no wonder stretching and flexibility practices like yoga and Pilates are so popular, by opening up our bodies and releasing tension we move better and breathe easier.

But is too much of a good thing no good at all? Stretching and flexibility benefits are hotly debated in the physio world. Some say do it, others say don’t and with scientific backing in both camps, it’s hard to know which way to go.

According to some studies, including this one from The Stanford School of Medicine,  dynamic stretching regimens seem the most effective way to stretch – if you feel you need to. Dynamic stretching involves movements while lengthening muscles and connective tissues and could be more effective than static stretching at reducing injuries and soreness. Static stretching is what is most commonly thought of as stretching – holding a position for 30+ seconds.

But if you are looking to do the splits, backbends, or become an extreme yogi, watch out. Dr. Shirley Sahrmann, a professor of physical therapy at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis once said in an NYTimes article, ”In my business, I have more problems with people who have excessive mobility than limited mobility.”

Being overly flexible without the strength to hold up the body structure is a huge problem. If you are already a highly flexible person, perhaps it’s time to add a little strength training.  If you are overly tight, a little dynamic stretching couldn’t hurt. Ultimately, a balance of the two is better than one extreme or the other.

Here are a few recommendations for stretching and building flexibility safely:

1. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY Don’t compare yourself to Joe-schmoe in the front of class and copy what he is doing. He could be doing it wrong. If something feels painful, awkward or just not right, ask the teacher, modify or stop. Know what you need.

2. KNOW YOUR INSTRUCTOR Make sure your yoga/pilates/tai chi/circus/etc instructor is familiar with the concept or idea of dynamic stretching. They should also know your weaknesses, injuries and at least, how to keep you safe. Beware the new class that has you immediately trying extreme flexibility tricks that aren’t supported with complimentary strength.

2. WARM UP Do light cardio – jumping jacks, jump rope, jog, whatever, for at least 5 – 10 minutes before doing any kind of muscle stretching.

3. FIND THE WORKING MUSCLES Pay equal attention to the supporting muscles that are contracted and fighting to keep you in the stretch.

4. BREATHE It releases tension and muscles strain. Stretching should not equal pain.

Too cool to Dance

KISS might have been the final blow that killed dancing as a socially acceptable thing to do. Noting the temporary outcroppings of dances surrounding music videos and movies, we still never fully recovered from the backlash against disco. And only a few years later were computers born, keeping us complacently docile and more susceptible to head bobbing as a form of musical appreciation.

It’s a shame we don’t dance in America. We tend to view it as a spectator sport.

Breaking it down into two categories, we have the art of dance and social dance. Over an extended period of time, I’d argue, social dance has all but disappeared, while perceiving dance as an art form, reserved for those with skill, has grown…mainly through reality show competitions. And no doubt it is an admirable and beautiful thing to behold, but socially, as a nation we don’t embrace dance as something we all can do. Blame it on KISS, blame it on technological evolution; blame it on the Puritans; blame it on a lack of rhythm; whatever the reason, we generally scoff and say, “Yeah, right. No. Way.”

From an evolutionary perspective, dance let us show off to potential mates. Like peacocks strutting their feathers, it displayed physical capabilities and breeding skills, the remnants of which can still be unearthed in dance clubs today, however, online dating is taking the opportunities and fun away. The most colorful peacocks today have 1000+ friends and a killer Facebook profile.

From a social perspective, dance is a way to celebrate, congregate, and enjoy community. Almost every culture in the world has a social dance that is crucial to their heritage. In plenty of places, dancing is still an important way of getting together and letting loose in everyday life. Brazil has it down, as does India. There is no dancing like in a Bollywood film, and it only mirrors the societal importance of dance in celebration for men and women, young and old.

Finally, from the physical perspective, dance is a way to stay healthy and in shape, getting the heart pumping, and the brain lapping up all those feel-good neurotransmitters. Dance helps balance intrinsic muscles and joints, and our mental capacities in ways we now use somatics, pilates, and yoga, to try and do. Researchers at Washington University have even found evidence of dance helping to control movements in patients with Parkinson’s Disease.

So we get it. Dance is good. It all makes sense, but we still can’t help but cringe at the thought of jumping up moving around. Generally, the places one feels safest dancing are – the hidden underground belly of a dance club (with the aid of alcohol or recreational drugs), at a wedding, (with the aid of alcohol or recreational drugs), at home with the XBox game, or regulated to a sterile gym fitness class.

Unfortunately, our motives are deeply ingrained, and “cold dancing” is a tall order. The larger the group of people dancing, the easier you’ll find it to be….that’s why it’s social.  Try releasing a hangup or two, grab a bunch of friends, and in the immortal words of Swing Out Sister “Break Out”.  It could become infectious. And if it’s not, who cares, you and your friends will feel great. Maybe we need office Spotify dance breaks, where every few hours a song comes on, encouraging movement within the entire office, from receptionist to CEO. I like that picture. You’d be surprised what camaraderie will ensue when dancing next to your boss or the IT personnel. Until then, I dare you to try and bust a move this week.

Next post we’ll look at a dance troupe breaking down the barriers between, social and artistic dance. Until then, I leave you with Bollywood:


Five easy rules to maintaining a healthy weight

Just for reference - the new usda food guide

Here are a few simple guidelines to maintaining a healthy weight. Body weight fluctuates depending on stress, life patterns, medications, illness, exercise routine, and other changes. It’s the ups and downs of being human. Following these general rules won’t turn you into Kate Moss, but you won’t be Fatty Arbuckle either. Remember, this blog is about balance. While it’s natural to get fits of “weight drama” given our society, try not to stress it too much. Life is too short! These are guidelines to help you discover your own unique plan.

Step 1. Cut down on sugars and chemicals you can’t pronounce. Especially refined sugars. This step also includes cutting out over-processed, ready-made foods and meals. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, it’s usually a bad sign. These often contain high levels of refined sugars and other ingredients making them palatable, but not very satiating.  Sorry, alcohol is a sugar too.  Choose your sugars wisely, and keep them to a minimum.

Try not to eat these guys often.


Step 2. Add more fiber. Lots more fiber. Beans, seasonal veggies and fruits – the less cooked the better, whole grain breads and cereals, sweet potatoes, nuts, and seeds….foods that have some substance to them. Sprinkling ground flax seed in soups is an easy way to get more fiber. Fibrous foods keep your system healthy,  your stomach full, and provides important nutrients. Fiber generally keeps things moving. Grab that apple a day.

Step 3. Eat leaner meats more frequently. Turkey, chicken, white fish, salmon, etc.  Fattier meats are ok, in moderation. Use fattier meats in smaller quantities and to enhance the flavor of dishes, such as in a stir fry interspersed with lots of veggies and plated with brown rice.

4. Drink less calories. Plain, or sparkling water, hot tea, ice tea, coffee, etc. Stay away from drinking calories. They quickly stack up. Soft drinks are the biggest culprit. It’s also a good idea to avoid drinks that purport doing your body good, like fancy flavored waters. The best place to get nutrients is directly from the source, rather than infused into your beverage.  Again, alcohol gets another nod. While one small glass of wine (3.5 fl oz) can have around 100 calories, 2 or 3  glasses several nights a week will add up quickly.

Step 5. Feel free to break the rules. This is the Mind Body Moderate, after all. If you find your healthy eating plan faltered after a day instead of the six months you initially envisioned, know that it’s ok. Rather than get discouraged, negotiate with yourself, regulating alcohol, sweets and heavier meals mainly to weekends or special occasions. Be adventurous and explore a few new foods you normally pass by. Everybody’s body is different and processes the world around them differently.  Understand how your body works best. If it’s not your own recipe, it most likely won’t last. Make it your own!

Breaking the Rules with Steak Frites at home…yes, those are Mc Donald’s fries.

Juggling for fitness

Yup. It counts. And it’s much more fun than juggling your to do list. Contact juggling, in particular requires physical demand and overall muscle control. What is contact juggling you ask? Think David Bowie in the Labyrinth.

Or watch this guy.

Get some exercise. Have fun. And be the life of every party. It’s a triple win!

If you live in Saint Louis, contact juggler extrordinaire Peter Schroeder is offering an 8 week contact juggling workshop beginning in January on Saturdays from 12:00 – 1:30pm. Registration is required at Bumbershoot Aerial Arts.

(Psst. If you were looking for a unique holiday gift, this could be it!)

Fast food is cheap. Fat is expensive.

The Brookings Institute released a study this week on the direct and indirect costs of American obesity. The number being thrown around is somewhere around 215 billion dollars…an incomprehensible number that doesn’t mean much at a glance.

Let’s break it down in a few ways that make more, if not odd, sense.

The biggest portion of this directly relates to health care costs. An extra 147 billion is spent on obese adults every year compared to those who are of healthier weight. Another incomprehensible number, it basically means overweight people are more likely to have everything from diabetes to bad knees, and even depression.

The less direct costs are more fascinating. Disability and premature death costs seem more obvious compared to the bizarre 66 billion dollar cost in lost worker productivity associated with obesity.  Overweight people struggle with absenteeism due to health related issues, and  “presenteism” – decreased productivity while at work. Other work related expenses includes higher health insurance and benefit costs.

Fuel and transportation costs are other indirect, yet expensive, costs of obesity. Heavier loads require more fuel, and bigger vehicles. More fuel also means more greenhouse gas emissions, equaling big bad things for the environment.

The most removed and greyest area of the study looks at socio-economic status or “human capital”, with obese people being less likely to attain higher levels of education, marriage, and higher income potential. Again, this research is more difficult to verify and track.

So what do we do? Suggestions run the gamut and include moving to a walking neighborhood, where people tend to be, on average, 7 pounds less.

It is important to remember at the end of the day this study impacts all of us directly, with research indicating two-thirds of adults in the US now overweight
including one-third who are obese. At this time, there is no end in sight to the economic expenses which are anticipated to expand with our waists in upcoming years. Little changes will help, but a major paradigm shift in the way we think of food, health, work and life is needed to make a true difference.