The True Health Benefits of Exercise

Exercise. It can improve your health on all levels. We’re not just talking about being fitter and stronger. We’re talking about overall health and longevity.

Regular exercise improves your heart health, brain health, muscle and bone health, diabetes, and arthritis. Beyond those, it also reduces stress, boosts moods, increases your energy, and can improve your sleep. And exercise prevents death from any cause (“all cause mortality”).

Convinced yet?

The benefits of exercise come from improving blood flow, and reducing inflammation and blood sugar levels. They come from moving your muscles (including your heart muscle) and pulling on your bones.

You don’t need to go overboard on exercise to get these amazing health results. As little as 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days/week is enough.

And you don’t have to do a particular kind of exercise. All four types of exercise have health benefits. They are:

  • Endurance (brisk walking, jogging, yard work, dancing, aerobics, cycling, swimming)
  • Strength (climbing stairs, carrying groceries, lifting weights, using a resistance band or your body weight, Pilates)
  • Balance (standing on one foot, Tai Chi)
  • Flexibility (stretching, yoga)

Don't forget, all exercise counts, even if it's not doing a sport or in a gym. Weekend hikes, walking to the store and doing household chores also count towards your weekly exercise goal.

Let me take a minute to prove to you how healthy exercise really is. Here are a few key points.

Exercise for heart health

Exercise reduced cardiac mortality by 31% in middle aged men who previously had a heart attack.

Regular exercise reduces blood pressure in people with hypertension (high blood pressure).

Exercise for brain health

Exercise can improve physical function and quality of life in people with Parkinson’s disease. It also reduces changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Exercise improved mental functions by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is involved in learning and memory. It also increases the size of the part of the brain for memory and learning (the "hippocampus"); this was shown mostly with aerobic exercise.

Exercise for muscle and bone health

Regular physical activity can help maintain strong muscles and bones; this is particularly true for strength exercises. As we age, we naturally start to lose muscle mass and bone density. So, to prevent osteoporosis, exercise regularly.

PRO TIP: And don’t forget that balance exercises and Tai Chi can help prevent falls.

Exercise for diabetes

People with diabetes who exercise have better insulin sensitivity and HbA1C values (the marker of glycemic control).

Exercise does this because by contracting your muscles, you’re fueling them with sugar in your blood. This helps to manage blood sugar levels better than without exercise.

Conclusion

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the health benefits of exercise.  By doing just 30 minutes 5 days/week, you can vastly improve your health. Since there are different benefits for different types, try mixing up what you do throughout the week. You don’t even need an “official” workout. Walking to the grocery store or doing household chores can count too.

If you’re just starting, then pick something you enjoy, get some accountability (exercise tracker or a buddy), and start.

What’s your favorite exercise and how often do you do it?


Creating a Mindset for Health

So much of health is all about habits and actions, but where do these all stem from? What if we don’t have to make as many changes as we think we do? What if there was one powerful thing that makes a lot of difference?

That thing is mindset.

Mindset is sometimes called “the story we tell ourselves.” It’s our attitude toward things in our life. And we have control over our mindset.

And research is showing that it may be far more powerful than we thought.

Very interesting health mindset study

Here’s a quick story about a fascinating study.

Researchers at Stanford University looked at a bunch of people's health and wellness lifestyle habits, as well as health markers.

What they found was that the people who thought they were a lot less active had a higher risk of death than the general public. And, they also had up to 71% higher risk of death than people who thought they were more active. Even if they actually weren't less active!

How is this even possible that people who simply thought they were less active had higher risks, even if it wasn’t true?

There are a couple of ideas why. One is that maybe if we feel like we're less active, it may make us feel more stressed. And stress isn't good for our mental or physical health. Second, there may be a bit of a mind-body connection where the body embodies what the mind visualizes.

Researchers don't know why, but what matters is that there is a good mindset. So, let me give you a couple of strategies to boost your mindset for health.

Health mindset strategy 1 - Aim for good enough.

Almost no one eats perfectly seven days a week. It's inevitable that obsessing over the quality and quantity of everything we eat or drink isn't necessarily a great mindset to have.

It can bring on binging, shame, and guilt - none of these are great ways to get healthy. We want to get healthier by making better choices and building better habits. And these are usually best done incrementally - one step at a time.

So, instead of having a black and white approach where everything is good or bad, why not try aiming for good enough to empower ourselves to make better choices, instead of perfect choices.

Health mindset strategy 2 - Stop making tradeoffs

When you try to earn a gluttonous weekend by eating clean during the week, you're making a tradeoff. You're telling yourself that, as long as you're good most of the week, you can go wild on the weekend.

And that's not awesome because the mindset is jumping from one extreme to the other. You're controlling what you do all week, and possibly thinking about how to indulge over the weekend. Just live as though you're trying to do well every single day. Like you care about your health and wellness. You're doing your best, and that's good enough.

Conclusion

Mindset for health can be a powerful tool for better physical health. There’s a proven mind-body connection that research can measure.

Thinking positively, and dropping the black/white and good/bad labels, can help you reach your health goals.

How is your mindset for health? Which of these tips resonate with you the most? How are you going to implement them in your life? Let me know in the comments below.

5 Reasons You Bloat More After Age 45

Bloating

Bloating is generally the result of not being able to properly digest foods. These not-so-digested foods feel like they're just sitting around causing discomfort and general feeling of being stuffed and "gassy".

It can happen at any age but if it seems to be more frequent as you're getting older it can very wll be because of your stomach's reduced ability to produce enough acid for proper digestion.

Normally when we eat, cells in our stomach release more acid which is important for so many digestive processes like breaking down foods and activating enzymes. As we age this process can become less efficient an the result can feel like it's wreaking havoc on the rest of the digestive system.

Unfortunately, this can have wide-ranging effectts on all of our digestion abilities "downstream" and that can result in bloating. 

Bloating Reason #1

Sometimes our bodies are (or become more as we age) sensitive to the fiber in certain fruits or veggies. This can also occur when we introduce new ones into our diet aas it may take a while for our body to get used to them. 


Pro Tip: Try chewing your vegetables more throughly, or lightly cooking or steaming raw ones. If a fruit or veggie seems to be consistently related to bloating try eliminating it for a few weeks and monitor your symptoms. 

Bloating Reason #2

Decreased stomach acid can reduce the activation of a key protein-digesting enzyme "pepsin". This means that the proteins you eat aren't broken down as much and they can pass through your system somewhat "undigested".


Pro Tip:  You may consider reducing the amount of animal-based foods you eat and see if that helps you out. 

Bloating Reason #3

One thing that can seriously cause blaoting is when your digestive system slows down. then things seem to be a bit stagnant, just hanging around in there a bit (or a lot?) longer than you'd like. 


Ginger has been found to help with digestion and reduce nausea for certain people. Pepermint is thought to help your digestive muscles keep pushing food through, so it doesn't stay in one spot for too long. 


Pro Tip: Consider drinking a digestive tea like peppermint or ginger. Check out my awesome recipe here.

Bloating Reason #4

All this lack of digesting in your stomach and small intestine puts extra stress on the large intestine. The large intestine is the home of all of your wonderful gut microbes that have SO many functions in the body. The problem is when undigested food enters the large intestine it can feed the not-so-great microbes. These "unfriendly" bacteria produce waste material and gas as a part of their natural metabolism. The more of these microbes in you have in your system (they will multiply if they are constantly being fed by undigested food in the large intestine) the more gas that will be produced in the large intestine. 


Pro Tip: Try eating more fermented foods. Fermented foods contain probiotics which will feed the good bacteria and microbes in your sytem to keep the bad guys at bay. This includes things like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi (as long as these don't cause boating for you!).  Make sure they're unpastureurized and contain live cultures. If you cannot tolerate dairy based yogurt and kefir dairy free options are available or you could make your own dairy free versions.


You can also consider taking a probiotic supplement. Just check the label first to make sure it's right for you. 

Bloating Reason #5

With reduced stomach acid you also have a reduction of the "activation" of several of your digestive enzymes (protein-digesting pepsin being one of them). In order for certain enzymes to go to work digesting your food they need to be activated. This usually happens with the assistance of stomach acid. 


Pro Tip: You may consider trying an enzyme supplement to assist your body in digesting food while you work on reestablishing your own production of stomach acid (a healthy diet and lifestyle can do this!). Before you do, make sure to read the labels because some of them interact with other supplements, medicatios, or conditions, and may not be safe to use long-term.

You can try the "pro tips" I've given you. Maybe you'd prefer working with a practioner on an elimination diet to get to the bottom of which foods you may be sensitive to? If bloating is a continued problem for you please set an appointment to see your doctor or licensed health care provider. 

Want a recipe for tummy-friendly natural herbal tea? I have just the thing for you right here.

Ginger Tea

Rant about Ramps

I am so excited I have to rant. I arrived at the farmers market this evening and sent my son a text message saying "they have ramps". His reply was simply "RAMPS!" Even though he is only 13 years old he knows what a treasure ramps are.

Yes, it's that time of year again. We only get roughly 2 weeks every year. What are ramps you ask? Well, they are wild leeks but I know they are mother nature’s gift to the humankind. I cherish these oniony garlicky tasting gifts from GOD.

If you follow me on Facebook you know that the highlight of my week is going to the Cameron Park Farmer's Market that takes place every Friday from 4pm - 8 pm beginning early May and ending late October.

This week I stopped by one of my favorite vendors B & E's Trees. Bree Breckel the "B" in B & E's Trees sells beautiful bourbon aged maple syrup. Turns out growing along with all those syrup producing maple trees they have Ramps...lots and lots of them. This week Bree had several bunches with her. I couldn't resist taking a couple of pounds off of her hands.

My husband has been traveling on business and is going to completely miss this year’s ramp season. Being the awesome wife that I am, I will whip him some treats so he can enjoy them upon his return. I don't always love to cook so I am going to keep it simple. Sometimes when natural food is this good it is best left for simple preparations. I am thinking compound butter and ramp pesto. The butter is going to be a real treat on top of his home baked bread.

For dinner tonight I am going sauté the ramps in a bit of olive oil and finish them off with a pinch of salt. The ramps will be served along side fresh caught wild trout that I picked up at the People's Food Co-Op. I also scored baby purple potatoes

Bottom line, if you have an opportunity to score some ramps where you live, I recommend you do it.

If you love ramps as much as I do and have a great recipe to preserve them into well after the season has ended, please e sure to share. I think we have a couple more days left of ramp season 2019.

The Optimal Foods to Eat for Breakfast When You’re in Menopause

During menopause many women tend to gain weight. While this isn't great it's pretty common and there are many reasons why. 

There are two main reasons why women gain weight during menopause.

REASON #1

Reduced muscle mass. Muscle mass uses energy (aka burns calories) so when we have less of it the body burns less evergy overall, leading to weight gain. Unfortunately, this weight gain may appear as increased belly fat.

REASON #2

During menopause there is an incrase in the hunger hormone "ghrelin". With an increase in this hormone comes the tendency to feel hungrier. Menopause also decreases the "satiety" hormone called leptin that helps us feel full after eating which can lead to overeating. 

More ghrelin and less leptin = increased hunger and a decreased feeling of fullness...NOW THAT'S A PROBLEM!

So, you are probably wondering...What does all this have to do with breakfast? 

Eating the right type of breakfast has been shown to help us maintain muscle mass, balance levels of leptin and ghrelin, which aids in weight loss and/or helps us maintain that lower weight. 

What make a food "optimal" for breakfast in menopause? 

Foods that are loaded with nutrients, fill you up and keep you feeling fuller longer. Let's take a look at these "optimal" foods.

PROTEIN

Make sure to get protein in the mornings. Eating protein is critical for women in menopause.  It helps to slightly increase metabolism and give your muscles the amino acids they need to stay strong. Protein also helps keep you feeling fuller longer which is great to try to offset that hunger hormone known as "ghrelin".

Which foods are good choices and high in protein? 

  • Lean cuts of meat and poultry
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds (contain more fat than protein but are still a great source of amino acids)

Check out the my breakfast recipe VEGETABLE EGG MUFFINS Give it a try tomorrow morning. It contains eggs which some people may say is the "perfect protein". You can even make these ahead of time to save time in prepping breakfast during those busy mornings. 

FIBER

Fiber is very important to help stabilize your blood sugars to reduce cravings. The reason this is particularly important in menopause is because the risk of diabetes and heart disease increases afer menopause due to an accumulation of that annoying visceral fat in the abdomen. (Yes, I'm talking about the infamous "belly fat"!).

Also, did you know that certain fibers you eat actually feed your frindly gut microbes? Those microbes help you digest food and even make certain nutrients for you!

Which foods are high in fiber? Here are a few that you can add to y ou diet and increase to increase fiber intake: 

  • Vegetables (squash, peas, sweet potato, artichokes, collard greens, pumpkin, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, you get the idea, etc.)
  • Fruit (pears, avocados, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.)
  • Nuts (almonds, pistachios, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, walnuts, dried coconut, etc.)
  • Seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, chia, flax, etc.)
  • Grains (inlcluding gluten free oats, quinoa, wild rice, etc.)

Plus you get some bonus points if you include some of your daily fiber intake from flax. Flax not only contains fiber but it is also a source of protein and great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Flax has been shown to help reduce both hot flashes and the risk of breast cancer.  So...WIN-WIN!

So bottom line, the most "optimal" foods for breakfast during menopause are ones that give you both proteain and fiber.

Here is a recipe that will help you get both that much needed protein and fiber. Check out my VEGETABLE EGG MUFFINS

References: 

https://authoritynutrition.com/menopause-weight-gain/

https://authoritynutrition.com/leptin-101/

https://www.thepaleomom.com/is-breakfast-really-most-important-meal/

http://nutritionfacts.org/video/just-the-flax-maam/

https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/nutrients/index

The Stress Mess: How It Messes With Your Health

We all have some level of stress, right?

It may be temporary (acute), or long-term (chronic).

Acute stress usually won’t mess with your health too much. It is your body’s natural reaction to circumstances, and can even be life-saving.

Then, when the “threat” (a.k.a. “stressor”) is gone, the reaction subsides, and all is well.

It's the chronic stress that's a problem. You see, your body has specific stress reactions. If these stress reactions are triggered every day or many times a day that can mess with your health.

Stress (and stress hormones) can have a huge impact on your health.

Let's dive into the "stress mess."

Mess #1 - Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes

Why save the best for last? Anything that increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes (both serious, chronic conditions) needs to be discussed.

Stress increased the risk for heart disease and diabetes by promoting chronic inflammation, affecting your blood "thickness," as well as how well your cells respond to insulin.

Mess #2 - Immunity

Did you notice that you get sick more often when you're stressed? Maybe you get colds, cold sores, or even the flu more frequently when you are stressed?

Well, that's because stress hormones affect the chemical messengers (cytokines) secreted by immune cells consequently, they are less able to do their jobs effectively.

Mess #3 - "Leaky Gut."

Stress can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as "intestinal permeability." These "leaks" can then allow partially digested food, bacteria or other things to be absorbed into your body.

The stress hormone cortisol can open up tiny holes by loosening the grip your digestive cells have to each other.

Picture this: Have you ever played "red rover?" It's where a row of children hold hands while one runs at them to try to break through. Think of those hands as the junctions between cells. When they get loose, they allow things to get in that should be passing right though.  Cortisol (produced in excess in chronic stress) is a strong player in red rover!

Mess #4 - Sleep Disruption

Stress and sleep go hand-in-hand, wouldn’t you agree? It’s often difficult to sleep when you have very important (and stressful) things on your mind.

And when you don't get enough sleep, it affects your energy level, memory, ability to think, and mood.

More and more research is showing just how important sleep is for your health.  Not enough sleep (and too much stress) aren't doing you any favours.

Stress-busting tips

Reducing stressors in your life is an obvious first step.

Can you:

Put less pressure on yourself?

Ask for help?

Say "no"?

Delegate to someone else?

Finally, make that decision?

No matter how hard you try, you won’t eliminate stress altogether. So, here are a few things you can try to help reduce its effect on you:

  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • Walk in nature
  • Unplug (read a book, take a bath)
  • Exercise (yoga, tai chi, etc.)
  • Connect with loved ones
  • Hang out with pets

Stress is a huge and often underappreciated factor in our health. It can impact your physical body much more than you might realize.

Stress has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, affect your immune system, digestion and sleep.

There are things you can do to both reduce stressors and also to improve your response to it.

You can ditch that stress mess!

Mindfulness and Meditation…Do They Really Work?

Well...yes, they do really work. The fact is, not only has it worked for me personally, science shows definite health benefits for people who use mindfulness and meditation.

Before we dive in, let’s just make sure we’re on the same page when we say “mindfulness” and “meditation.”

“Meditation” is the ancient practice of connecting the body and mind to become more self-aware and present. It’s often used to calm the mind, ease stress, and relax the body.

Practicing “mindfulness” is one of the most popular ways to meditate. It’s defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

Mindfulness meditation is well studied in terms of its health benefits. I’m going to talk about a few of them below, and refer to it as “mindfulness” for the rest of the post.

The link between mindfulness and health = stress reduction

Have you heard the staggering statistics on how many doctors' visits are due to stress? Seventy-five to ninety percent!

So, if you ask me, it makes a ton of sense that anything that can reduce stress can reduce health issues too.

Mindfulness reduces inflammation, reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and improves sleep. All of these can have massive effects on your physical and mental health.

I'll briefly go over the research in three main areas: mood, weight, and gut health. But know that the research on the health benefits of mindfulness is branching into many other exciting new areas too.

Mindfulness for mood

The most immediate health benefit of mindfulness is improved mood.

In one study, people who took an 8-week mindfulness program had greater improvement in symptoms according to the “Hamilton Anxiety Scale.” They were compared with people who took a stress management program that did not include mindfulness. It seems that the mindfulness training was key to lowering symptoms.

Other studies show that mindfulness has similar effects as antidepressant medications for some people with mild to moderate symptoms of depression.

While mindfulness isn’t a full-fledged cure, it can certainly help to improve moods.

Mindfulness for weight

Studies show that people who use mind-body practices, including mindfulness, have lower BMIs (Body Mass Indices).

How can this be?

One way mindfulness is linked with lower weight is due to stress-reduction. Mindfulness can reduce stress-related and emotional overeating. It can also help reduce cravings and binge eating.

Another way it can work for weight is due to "mindful eating." Mindful eating is a "non-judgmental awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating." It's the practice of being more aware of food and the eating process. It's listening more deeply to how hungry and full you actually are. It's not allowing yourself to be distracted with other things while you're eating, like what's on TV or your smartphone.

People with higher mindfulness scores also reported smaller serving sizes of energy-dense foods. So it seems that more mindful eating = less junk.

Mindfulness about food and eating can have some great benefits for your weight.

Mindfulness for gut health

Recent studies show a link between stress, stress hormones, and changes in gut microbes (your friendly bacteria and other critters that help your digestion).In theory, mindfulness-based stress reduction could be a way to help prevent negative changes in the gut's microbes.

Also, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) seems to be linked with both stress and problems with gut microbes. In one study, people with IBS who received mindfulness training showed greater reductions in IBS symptoms than the group who received standard medical care.

The research here is just starting to show us the important link between stress, gut health, and how mindfulness can help.

Science is confirming some amazing health benefits of the ancient practice of mindfulness meditation. For moods, weight, gut health, and more.

Do you regularly include it in your life? If so, have you seen benefits? If not, would you consider trying it?

Let me know in the comments below.

BONUS - RESOURCES FOR MEDITATION

References:

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