Category Archives: Wellness

Sun Sense: Protect Your Skin, Inside and Outside!

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Summer is heating up, and as you dive headlong into seasonal fun and frolicking, you want to be sure to protect your skin.

According to new research, the two most common types of skin cancer are on the rise. The locations of these cancers has shifted, too. While they used to be found mainly on the head and neck, they’re now commonly found on the torso, arms, and legs. The upshot: It’s time to up your sun-protection game. Make wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and clothing made with SPF fabric part of your regular wardrobe, and brush up on sunscreen basics for exposed areas.

Some research suggests that the majority of people use sunscreen incorrectly, so here’s a reminder: Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher (we prefer micronized zinc oxide) and apply it early and often, even in overcast weather. If you’re outside and have a lot of skin exposed, you should apply about a shot-glass full every few hours. (Yes, really!) Pay extra attention to your lips, scalp, the tips of your ears, and the backs of your legs. These “hot spots” are easy to forget about, which makes them especially prone to sun damage.

And keep in mind that sun protection may be an inside job, too. Some research suggests that eating a Mediterranean-style diet, with nutritious fats and plenty of vegetables and fruit, may help to lower your risk of the sun damage that can lead to cancer. Carotenoids, compounds found in brightly colored produce like bell peppers, squash, tomatoes, and kale, may be especially helpful. How convenient that what’s good for the heart, brain, waistline, and taste buds may also be good for the skin!

Wellness Challenge: June

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June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month!

Your goal for this month is to have a serving of fresh fruit and vegetables every day (Monday through Thursday) for the month of June.

1 serving (in general) = a small whole fruit/veggie, 1 cup raw, ½ cup cooked

Not only are fruit and vegetables low in calories, they are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that can really have a positive impact on our health.

Vegetables and fruit are an important part of a healthy diet, and variety is as important as quantity.

No single fruit or vegetable provides all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. Eat different kinds every day.

A diet rich in vegetables and fruit can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect on blood sugar which can help keep appetite in check.

Eat a variety of types and colors of produce in order to give your body the mix of nutrients it needs. Try dark leafy greens; brightly colored red, yellow and orange vegetables and fruit; and cooked tomatoes. Click here to learn more about the nutrients in fruit and vegetables.

Daily Recommended Servings of Fruit & Vegetables

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2010 that only 33% of adults were eating the daily recommended amount of fruit, and even fewer — 27% — were meeting their veggie quota. And that’s adults; the numbers for teens were worse.

What’s a Daily Recommended Serving?

There’s not a lot that nutrition scientists agree on, but almost everyone seems to think we should eat more vegetables, and that they should make up a greater part of our plates. To this end, they recommend a very basic guideline:

Someone who needs 2,000 calories a day should eat:
•2 cups of fruit
•2 1/2 cups of vegetables

These recommended servings come from widely accepted dietary guidelines that are still, of course, just rough guidelines. Everyone is different, and has different nutritional needs, so there’s no one-size-fits-all plan, and perhaps you eat a lot more veggies than this every day (or a lot less fruit).

While that 2,000 calorie standard is an average that suits a lot of people, of course it doesn’t fit everyone. Fruit and vegetable servings are calibrated off of calorie requirements, which in turn are set by a person’s sex, age, and activity level.

You can calculate your own daily recommended servings of fruit & vegetables here.

A Few Tips on Calculating Fruit & Vegetable Servings

How do servings work? For the most part, a cup means a cup — just measure out a cup of grapes or a cup of chopped carrots, and ta-da, you have your measurement. There are a few exceptions, though:

When it comes to salad, a cup is not a cup. It takes 2 cups of leafy greens to equal 1 cup of vegetables.

Juice does count as a fruit. According to the CDC, a cup of fruit juice does count as a serving of fruit, but nutritionists caution that you’re not getting the fiber and other good benefits of eating whole fruit.

When it comes to dried fruit, cut the amount in half. A half cup of dried fruit equals one cup of fresh fruit.

One big piece of fruit is roughly a cup. An apple, an orange, a large banana, a nectarine, a grapefruit — one piece of fruit gives you one cup.

Keeping this in mind, here are some looks at a full daily serving of fruit and vegetables:

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Berries at breakfast, berries for dessert, and vegetables for lunch, snack, and dinner.

Fruit: 1 cup blueberries, 1 cup strawberries (about 8 large)
Vegetables: 1 cup coleslaw, 6 baby carrots with dip, 1 cup sautéed kale

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Let’s get snack happy! If you just snack on fruit and vegetables all day, this is the way to do it. Cut up some vegetables and pack them in your lunchbox with some hummus.

Fruit: 1 cup cantaloupe, 1 cup champagne grapes
Vegetables: 1 cup sugar snap peas, 1 yellow bell pepper, 1 stalk celery

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Eat a big salad for lunch or dinner, and round it out with some fruit. You could even put the fruit on the salad.

Fruit: 1/2 cup dried cherries, 1 apple
Vegetables: Large salad with about 5 cups salad greens

Yoga for Beginners

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Yoga may help your aching back — but it requires a personalized approach.

“Joy…and pain…are like sunshine…and rain.” Those lyrics from an 80s song are an apt description of the ups and downs of life. But for the millions of people who experience back pain, the pain part takes center stage at times, sidelining them from some of life’s joy and sunshine. For low back pain that’s chronic (lasting three months or more) and nonspecific (not due to an injury, illness, or other known cause), yoga can help, according to a recent review of studies. Immobility and stress are two factors that can exacerbate back pain, and yoga can address both those issues, explains Judi Bar, Cleveland Clinic’s yoga program manager. But that doesn’t mean you should immediately sign up for Hot Power Yoga. When you’re dealing with chronic pain, it’s essential to take it slowly and listen carefully to your body, says Bar. “Not all yoga is created equal, and a motion that’s beneficial for one person may not be beneficial for another.”

When starting out, choose stretches that mimic everyday movements and support the natural movement of your spine. Throughout the following gentle chair sequence, stay mindful of your body’s signals and keep your breathing steady.

  • Sit tall in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the ground.
  • With your back straight and your hands on your thighs for support, lean slightly forward (toward the front of the chair) and then backward (toward the back of the chair), inhaling and exhaling as you move. Let your body tell you how far to go. Return to center, sitting straight up.
  • Gently lean to one side and then the other side, inhaling and exhaling as you move. Again, let your body tell you how far to go. Return to center, sitting straight up.
  • Keeping your buttocks on the chair, gently twist your body toward the right as far as you feel comfortable without forcing. Return to center. Repeat on the left, returning to center.
  • Sitting at the front of your chair, position your legs hip-width apart. With a long, flat back, reach forward and down toward the floor, keeping your neck aligned with your back (don’t let it hang down). Take a few breaths, then slowly return to your starting position.
  • Reach both hands toward the back of the chair to open your chest, inhaling as you gently stretch back and open, and exhaling as your return to the starting position.

“Notice how you feel immediately after this sequence, and the next day. Let that guide you on your next steps,” advises Bar. If you take a class, look for a class designed for those with low back pain, or a gentle class with an experienced teacher who can offer you modifications.

8 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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Lost your keys? Your temper? An argument with a fellow commuter? A maddening morning can morph into a decent day—or even a good one. The key is to reduce arousal levels, says Lisa Feldman Barrett, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and author of How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life the Brain. “When people are running late and feel time-pressured, or their goals are blocked—say, traffic—or they have an interpersonal conflict like an argument with a partner or child, their arousal levels soar. Cortisol is released to prepare the body for fight or flight,” says Dr. Barrett. “Even after your brain learns that the fight-or-flight mechanism is not necessary, your body takes a while to calm down, so you continue to feel wound up. That’s what can actually make it more likely for your bad day to continue.” Try these eight tips to help you wind down and bring your mood back up.

Pause the multitasking
Instead, take a deep breath and do just one single task for a few moments. Being effective at something helps you feel positive, and concentrating on just one thing “will help your mind stop racing or will help dislodge you from ruminating—for example, having an argument with someone in your head or replaying a bad event over and over again like a movie stuck on a replay loop,” says Dr. Barrett.

Get moving
Stretching exercises can generate feel-good chemicals and work out the tension that stress and a bad mood create, says Karen Cassidy, Ph.D., managing director of The Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago. Feeling better physically can counter some of the effects of feeling low mentally and emotionally.

Look around
Be mindful of the small details in nature that you find compelling and inspiring: say, a bit of greenery poking through a crack in the sidewalk or a vase of colorful flowers. “Immersing yourself in beauty for a moment is calming,” says Dr. Barrett.

Connect with a loved one
The best thing for a human nervous system can be another person’s nervous system, says Dr. Barrett, so share a smile or give (or get) a hug. “Try to avoid social media if you can,” she adds. “The worst thing for your nervous system can be another person, particularly when you are not sure if that person is evaluating you negatively or not.”

Do something nice for someone
Treat a friend or co-worker to lunch. Being kind and generous to others actually makes you feel better, says Dr. Barrett.

Concentrate on gratitude
Write down at least three things that you are grateful for and find at least three positive things that are happening now. “For example, if you just got into a fender bender with your car, you can remind yourself that you are grateful that no one was hurt, that you have auto insurance, and that the tow truck crew offered to drop you off at your office,” says Dr. Cassidy.

Revisit some challenges you’ve tackled successfully
Write down four or five problems you have solved in the past. “This helps you recall that you are capable of overcoming difficulties, and it jump starts your problem-solving mindset,” says Dr. Cassidy. “It helps you avoid the ‘there is nothing I can do’ mindset.”

Remember that all events in life are temporary
Keep in mind the expression “This too, shall pass,” says Dr. Cassidy. “That makes it easier to believe that you can endure and persist. Even crises are temporary.”

Wellness Challenge: Gratitude

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Your wellness challenge for this week is to identify someone you are thankful for and let them know. Try to do this four days out of the week (or more)! Besides making that person feel good, here are some ways that expressing gratitude will make you feel good, too.

“There is a magnetic appeal to gratitude,” says Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and a pioneer of gratitude research. “It speaks to a need that’s deeply entrenched.” It’s as if we need to give thanks and be thanked, just as it’s important to feel respected and connected socially. From an evolutionary perspective, feelings of gratitude probably helped bind communities together. When people appreciate the goodness that they’ve received, they feel compelled to give back. This interdependence allows not only an individual to survive and prosper but also society as a whole. It’s easy, in these modern times, to forget this, however. We’re too busy or distracted, or we’ve unwittingly become a tad too self-entitled. We disconnect from others and suffer the consequences, such as loneliness, anger, or even a less robust immune system.

“Gratitude serves as a corrective,” says Emmons. But by gratitude, he doesn’t mean just uttering a “Hey, thanks” or shooting off a perfunctory e-mail. He means establishing a gratitude ritual, whether it’s a morning meditation of what you’re thankful for, a bedtime counting of blessings, or a gratitude journal. This concerted, consistent effort to notice and appreciate the good things flowing to us changes us for the better on many levels, say gratitude experts. Here’s how.

1. You’ll feel happier.
In a seminal study by Emmons, subjects who wrote down one thing that they were grateful for every day reported being 25% happier for a full six months after following this practice for just three weeks. In a University of Pennsylvania study, subjects wrote letters of gratitude to people who had done them a major service but had never been fully thanked. After the subjects personally presented these letters, they reported substantially decreased symptoms of depression for as long as a full month.

2. You’ll boost your energy levels.
In Emmons’s gratitude-journal studies, those who regularly wrote down things that they were thankful for consistently reported an ever increasing sense of vitality. Control subjects who simply kept a general diary saw little increase, if any. The reason is unclear, but improvements in physical health (see below), also associated with giving thanks, may have something to do with it. The better your body functions, the more energetic you feel.

3. You’ll get healthier.
A gratitude practice has also been associated with improved kidney function, reduced blood-pressure and stress-hormone levels, and a stronger heart. Experts believe that the link comes from the tendency of grateful people to appreciate their health more than others do, which leads them to take better care of themselves. They avoid deleterious behaviors, like smoking and drinking excessive alcohol. They exercise, on average, 33% more and sleep an extra half hour a night.

4. You’ll be more resilient.
When we notice kindness and other gifts we’ve benefited from, our brains become wired to seek out the positives in any situation, even dire ones. As a result, we’re better at bouncing back from loss and trauma. “A grateful stance toward life is relatively immune to both fortune and misfortune,” says Emmons. We see the blessings, not just the curses.

5. You’ll improve your relationship.
A 2012 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study of more than 300 coupled people found that those who felt more appreciated by their partners were more likely to appreciate their partners in return and to stay in the relationship longer, compared with couples who didn’t feel appreciated by each other. Christine Carter, a sociologist at the Greater Good Science Center, at the University of California, Berkeley, notes that gratitude can rewire our brains to appreciate the things in our relationships that are going well. It can calm down the nervous system and counter the fight-or-flight stress response, she says. You can’t be grateful and resentful at the same time.

6. You’ll be a nicer person.
People can’t help but pay gratitude forward. When appreciation is expressed, it triggers a biological response in the recipient’s brain, including a surge of the feel-good chemical dopamine, says Emmons. So when you express gratitude toward a spouse, a colleague, or a friend, he or she feels grateful in return, and the back-and-forth continues. What’s more, thanking your benefactors makes them feel good about the kind acts that they’ve done, so they want to continue doing them, not only for you but also for others.

Inspired? Research has shown that one of the best ways to home in on the people and the experiences we appreciate is through writing in a gratitude journal. Recording our thoughts, by hand or electronically, helps us focus them, explains Emmons, who says that he, too, does this exercise to remind himself “how good gratitude is. It gives us time to understand better the meaning and importance of people and events in our lives.” Here are strategies for maximizing the benefits:

1. Go for depth rather than breadth. This will help you truly savor what you appreciate, and keep your journal from becoming simply a list of nice thoughts. (Journals like that tend to get abandoned.)

2. Write consistently. But it’s OK if you can’t do it every day. Once or twice a week is enough to boost happiness.

3. Write freely. Don’t sweat the grammar and the spelling. No one else will see this journal unless you want someone to.

4. Don’t think of this as just one more self-improvement project. Rather, it’s an opportunity to reflect on other people and the above-and-beyond things that they’ve done for you, says Emmons. In other words, “it’s not all about us,” he says. “This may be the most important lesson about trying to become more grateful.”

Wellness Challenge: Replace Sweets with Fruit

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Your wellness challenge for the week is to replace sweets with fruit. Remember, your challenge is to do this at least 4 days this week.

Many types of candy are loaded with artificial dyes and flavors, high-fructose corn syrup and an array of other additives. Skip unhealthy ingredients and replace candy with fruit, nature’s sweet treat. While fruit contains natural sugars, it also delivers beneficial nutrients, vitamins and minerals. The fiber in fruit also makes you feel full, unlike most candy.

Out With the Candy

The first step to replacing candy with fruit is to remove temptation. That bag of taffy you have in your desk drawer and any other stashes of candy need to go. If you do not want to throw them away, take them to work for coworkers or give them to a friend. This prevents you from giving in to a candy craving, since the prospect is less appealing if you have to go out and buy candy to get your fix.

Fresh Fruit around the House

Keeping a fruit bowl in the rooms you frequent makes your new candy replacement more appealing and convenient. Wash the fruit so they are ready to eat, set out only as much as you plan to eat in a week and restock when the bowls are empty. Cut fruit that require peeling into candy-size pieces and store mini fruit salad bags in your refrigerator. Reach for these when you feel like snacking, instead of grabbing a bag of candy. If possible, store bags of fruit in a refrigerator at work to replace your visits to the vending machine.

Frozen Fruit Instead of Hard Candy

If your favorite is hard candy, buy a bag of frozen berries or chopped fruit. Alternately, make your own: prepare the fruit, spread it on a baking sheet and freeze it for an hour before putting it in a bag to keep the fruit from sticking together. Pop a piece of frozen fruit in your mouth and suck on it until it has thawed enough to chew. Keep some frozen fruit at your office as well, if you have access to a freezer.

Dried Fruit on the Go

For chewy sweet treats, dried fruit is your best choice. Most grocers have a wide selection of dried fruit; avoid sweetened varieties, which are nearly as bad as candy. Keep a bag of dried fruit in your desk, candy dish, or anywhere else you like to snack. You can also dry your own fruit. Slice them thinly, spread them on a baking sheet and place them in a dehydrator or in a 150-degree Fahrenheit oven for 10 to 12 hours. The fruit will not retain their color unless you dip them in ascorbic acid — or some type of citrus juice — before you dry them. This helps kill bacteria as well.

How to Achieve a Healthy Weight — for Life!

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In America, we want everything NOW — fast food, breaking news and next-day delivery. Our desire for quick results from exercise is no different. So what do we do? We restrict our daily caloric intake to unsustainable levels and exercise to burn additional calories. The pounds start to melt off and we’re thrilled! But here’s the problem with that approach: Calories are a form of energy and when you reduce them to extremely low levels, guess what else is reduced? If you guessed energy, you get a gold star. The truth is, crash or fad diets don’t work and aren’t good for your overall health and vitality.

Losing weight takes time, commitment and a lot of patience. Here’s how it works: 1 pound is equal to 3,500 calories, therefore, you need to burn 3,500 more calories than you consume (that’s a caloric deficit) in order to lose 1 pound. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a healthy weight-loss goal of 1 to 2 pounds per week. You’ll need to burn 500 more calories than you consume every day to reach that recommendation. (500 calories per day x 7 days per week = 3,500 calories per week). There are no quick fixes when it comes to permanent weight loss. The best way to release weight and maintain a healthy BMI: Commit to a lifestyle that incorporates a nutritious, Mediterranean-style diet of appropriate portions and be active every day. Here are some tips to help you get started on your journey to a longer, healthier life.

Set SMART goals. Make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. That means you’ll want daily or weekly goals. For example, aim for taking at least 10,000 steps a day and doing some strength training at least 3 times per week.

Start small. Setting a goal to lose 50 pounds is great, but it’s going to take time and you will become frustrated if you focus every day on those 50 pounds. Start small by setting a goal of eating a nutritious breakfast made up of whole foods every day for a week. Breakfast truly is the day’s most important meal because it gives you the energy you need to get moving, and it fires up your metabolism.

Make it personal. If you need to lose weight, chances are that you already know it but haven’t found the motivation to do it yet. Give the goal meaning and intrinsic value and it will be easier for you to stay the course when you’re struggling to maintain your healthier habits. For example, maybe losing the weight will allow you to run around with your kids or grandkids and enjoy time with them more. Or perhaps it will make it easier for you to participate in an activity you love to do.

Write it down. Tracking what you eat is one of the best ways to learn and understand your habits. It will reveal your eating patterns (e.g. do you mindlessly snack during your favorite TV shows?) and help you assess if what and how much you’re consuming is helping you reach your goals. There are journals and smartphone apps that will help you with this effort.

Have a plan. Don’t drive to work in the morning asking yourself, “What am I going to eat today?” Be prepared. Planning your meals and snacks ahead of time will help you manage the amount and quality of the food you eat.

Make exercise fun. If you don’t like broccoli chances are that you do not eat broccoli. The same principle applies to exercise. If you don’t like it, you are not going to do it. Find activities that you enjoy. You’ll look forward to doing them instead of dreading them.

Losing weight is challenging, but it is not impossible! Find a buddy and use some of these ideas to begin living the healthier life you deserve.

Proactive Strategies for Protecting Your Health

When it comes to protecting your health, one of the best weapons is information. Here are some strategies to help you stay healthy.

Learn about your risk factors.

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Do some research to find out what your personal risk factors are so you are aware of them when making choices about your health. Awareness of risk factors is the first step in knowing what you can do about prevention.

Schedule a doctor’s appointment.

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Most people only call their doctor when something is wrong. Get proactive about your health and schedule an appointment. Talk about the risk factors that you’ve researched, what changes you should make and strategies for making those changes. Be sure to leave the appointment with action items and a follow-up plan.

Introduce one new healthy habit.

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When people get involved in working on their personal health, all the changes they “should” be making can feel overwhelming. Start small. Pick one new healthy habit and work it into your everyday life. Maybe start by drinking 8 glasses of water a day, or perhaps work towards including 30 minutes of exercise into your schedule several days a week. Wherever you start, keep it small. Once you’ve mastered the new habit, start another. Soon you’ll be on your way towards reaching your health goals.

Tell a friend.

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Talk with your friends about your health goals. Ask them to encourage your efforts. You might inspire them to set health goals of their own. Passing on the gift of proactive healthcare helps everyone in your network of family and friends.