Tag Archives: Life

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.

 

 

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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.

Energy Saving Fashion in Japan

In the wake of both natural and environmental disasters, Japan is struggling with its lack of energy resources. Attempts to conserve are both large and small, down to making an energy savings fashion statement.  Last month, the Japanese Government launched Super Cool Biz 2011 – the summer fashion campaign to keep people cool while keeping air conditioners at a minimum during Japan’s most sultry months.

The Super Cool Biz fashion campaign, respectfully suggests the Japanese “Salary man”, known for conservative grey or black attire,  put down the ties and step away from the suits – just for the summer – in the name of energy savings.  In other words: The Japanese Government is asking its workforce to lighten up!

The fashion campaign started several years ago as an effort to fight global warming.  But this year, with air conditioner temperatures regulated to 82 degrees fareinheit, the campaign’s necessity is obvious. Super Cool Biz encourages a departure from the heavy suits, and opts for office wear like polos, t-shirts, hawaiian shirts, and sandals.

Interestingly, classic Japanese fashions are being promoted to beat the heat as well.  It is encouraged to carry around the traditional uchiwa hard fans, for men to wear contemporary suteteko (basically slim fitting capris), and women to don the traditional summer yukata. Generally, jeans are considered too informal, and would make most people feel “uncomfortable”.

While it makes sense, the fashion altering campaign faces an uphill battle. Work life definitely outweighs personal time. Wearing casual clothing to work previously would have meant inevitable firing.  Many workers feel they would not be taken seriously sporting a t-shirt in the office, as well as risk standing out apart from their peers. The preference is to suffer a bit more and maintain the status quo. Luckily, the Super Cool Biz campaign not only offers fashion tips, but other energy saving and carbon reducing suggestions as well, including working only in the morning and (my personal favorite recommendation) taking longer summer vacations. The need for flexibility and adaptation could help Japan usher in a more balanced approach to home and work. Only time will tell – as the summer heat and energy crisis continues – if Japan is truly ready to start shedding suits for sandals.

You can do it!


My brother Scott is inspiration for the notion: if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

I had always been a “gifted” student, able to walk through classes and get A’s in my sleep, which later in life proved to be a challenge for my work ethic. My brother Scott was not particularly gifted in athletics or in education, but he worked hard and believed in himself. Eventually Scott made varsity basketball, received stellar grades, was senior class president and homecoming king. My other siblings and I  joke Scott is the “Golden Child” who can do no wrong. In truth, Scott has always fought to accomplish his goals. There is no luck involved.

This past weekend he qualified for the Boston Marathon.

Motivation and determination are big factors in realizing your dreams. The funny thing is, we often assume if we don’t have it figured out in our 20 and 30s, it will never happen. There is nothing further from the truth. The biggest component of the population is aging, and living longer. Older adults, like Olga Kotelko, recently featured in the New York Times, have only taken up new ambitions and athletics in their retirement and are soaring to new heights.

We are all capable of much more than we might believe. Whether you are 20, 40, or 80, the choices are still your own, and with determination you, can do it!

Feeling Good

I consider myself moderately attractive. Some parts are better than others. I’ve been known to get a compliment or two on my backside,  in a lesser Kim Kardashian way, much to my dismay, because it is one of my least favorite attributes. I much prefer my eyebrows, which rarely get the credit they deserve.

The Womanly Ideal in 1910s according to Encyclopedia of Physical Culture

There is no perfect ideal that crosses all cultural boundaries and personal opinions, not even Angelina Jolie. In the African countryside of Mauritania, Jolie would be considered ugly. Large women are the ideal that the Mauritanian society finds appealing. Skinny is considered poor and weak. Young girls are often forced-fed to grow fat, mirroring Western culture’s less direct food deprivation through eating disorders and quick weight loss diets. Big or small, it’s all in the name of beauty.

Mauritania Woman

We are shaped, pun intended, not only by what we eat and do, but by our thoughts and actions. I’d bet you can think of at least one well-toned person who is unattractive based on their attitudes or deeds.

Comparing ourselves to the world around us can make us feel pretty low. I like to think we are works in progress, never quite finished, each with unique variations. Don’t be too hard on yourself. The scale and the mirror are shallow friends when it comes to support. In most cases, your body and mind themselves are your best friends. Who gets up with you every morning to start the day?

If you are about to undertake an ambitious health overhaul or wanting to improve yourself, keep in mind…it’s relative. Go slow. How you feel is most important. Sure, it’s a canned self-help answer, but it was canned well. If you feel good, keep going. If not, stop. Rethink the approach.

Celebrating the perfect, imperfect you is liberating, whatever your size, attributes, best and worst features. There’s no one else quite like you…that’s a pretty cool thought. Take care of what you have and stay moderately healthy.

Ending this post with the song of the same name. A little inspiration for your day from Nina Simone. Ms. Simone herself a strong woman, perfect in her imperfections.

Food for thought

We could talk specific foods ingested, numbers of times a day, eat this-not that, caloric intake, etc.  Sure. Dissecting nutrition makes a difference. Knowledge is power, but over-think it, and you might end up neurotic about food. The Puritanical roots of our all or nothing culture places food into good and bad categories, fostering patterns of emotional eating, binging, guilt complexes, eating disorders, etc.  It’s no way to live and eventually we all crash and burn.

Truth is lots of things lend to well-being. It’s not just calorie counting on a plate and minutes counted at the gym. We need activity (unplug more often), natural nutrition (processed foods sparingly), stress regulation, and an understanding of societal ideals on daily life.

BUT…

If you are looking for one big universal answer on how to best handle food and nutrition, I have it. Going back thousands of years, when it comes to food, it’s the real secret to a healthy, fitter you, in mind and body:

Relax. Take pleasure in your food.

Love food and all the ceremony and community that goes with it. Adore wine, meat, bread, chocolate, avocados, whatever. It’s fine. Heck, it’s healthy!  Relax already about calories. And please! Stop forcing down quick bars with everything you need…you don’t really need it. Invest time into real food as much as possible. Use mealtime to celebrate seasonal delights. The appreciation comes from the same place, whether it be the perfect granny smith in October or the perfect bite of a dark chocolate. Taking pleasure in food creates a magical experience where flavor rules over quantity. The need for more diminishes.

This is not to say it is necessarily an easy switch. It’s a lifestyle change. Mealtime, food, and even community must be given more space in our daily routines. To encourage such dietary shifts, there’s a growing movement building awareness around food called mindful eating. I reserve a certain amount of reticence with regards to the introduction of new diets and food rules.  With the best of intent, such guidelines can paradoxically create more anxiousness over food and, ultimately, failure. It’s a strange conundrum, but just letting go and trusting our own instincts often makes the biggest difference. If you do require more reading on this topic,  here is an essay on tuning into your own eating instincts. Humans are social creatures, where community and food have played a role throughout time. The learning curve should be small.


The most used cultural food case study, looks at the French.  A Guardian article from 1994 quotes stats from the French government’s Committee for Health Education (CFES) which found that eating is still very closely linked to a national heritage of consuming good food for pleasure. In France, (in 1994) 76 per cent ate meals prepared at home, with 75 per cent eating at the family table.  The French typically spend two hours over lunch and they don’t eat in front of the television. The French eat slowly, enjoying both the food and the company.

In fact, most Countries have some cultural heritage in and social connection to their diet. Notable places include Japan, China, Greece, and Italy.

Food is not ingested for energy alone, but a source of personal and national pride, with time and care taken to prepare meals.  Rich or poor, this pride is for everyone. Due to seasonal ingredients limited quantities and time available the focus of meals is on little plates with big flavor, encouraging one to savor every bite.

Now here’s your food for thought:

Why not create your own personal culture and traditions around food. Be creative and enjoy all the pleasures it offers year round. Food should be fun. Your waist might respond in kind, so go ahead and feel free to play with your food.

Cheers


Integrating mind and body into medicine

It is exciting to see the medical community steadily moving towards a well-rounded, holistic approach to health care.

Dr. Herbert Benson is a great example. He heads the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Benson and his institute are working to integrate mind/body medicine into all areas of health care.

Benson sees health care as a “three-legged stool”:  one leg is drugs, another being surgical procedures, and the third as self-care or mind/body medicine which he classifies as the following:

The relaxation response (ways to de-stress, such as meditation)

Positive coping (cognitive behavioral therapy)

Physical activity

Nutrition

Social support

What’s great about the Benson Institute is not only are they promoting stress management for patients, but are educating doctors and health care professionals on how to integrate mind/body medicine into their practices, rather than just offering the text-book drugs and surgical procedures.

A quote from their own site states:

Primary care physicians often are taxed by patient complaints that do not seem to have a clear etiology, nor do the patients improve despite good medications and expensive procedures. Current studies show that stress or distress may have a significant effect on the onset, the course, and the management of many, if not all, diseases. Understanding a patient’s underlying stress physiology and coping mechanisms may enable physicians to better understand various clinical disorders and treat their manifested symptoms. -Benson-Henry Institute

Dr. Benson’s most recent book: Relaxation Revolution: Enhancing Your Personal Health Through the Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing is now available.

You can hear an interview with Dr. Benson on the Diane Rhames Show, broadcast earlier today.