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Eat a Rainbow!

With so many dietary trends making news these days, it can be overwhelming to figure out what to follow for optimal health.  Paleo or vegetarian? Gluten free or organic whole grain? Raw foods vs cooked?

While there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach for every child or adult, here’s one concept on which most experts do agree- eat more fruits and vegetables.

How do we know we need more?

According to 2014 data from the Centers for Disease Control, 60% of U.S. kids ages 2-18 years are not getting enough fruit and 93% are not getting enough vegetables on a regular basis. Grown ups in this country are not doing any better, with over 82% not getting enough fruit and over 86% not eating enough daily vegetables.

Yikes!

Given the increased rate of chronic illnesses in this country for adults, teens and kids, we need to step up our plant based intake now more than ever. Numerous studies have shown that people who eat adequate amounts of these foods on a regular basis have a decreased risk of many chronic health conditions including constipation, obesity, cancer, heart attacks and strokes.  In addition, kids who eat enough fruits and veggies on a daily basis have been shown to have better academic performances in school.

How much produce are we talking about?

The specific recommendations for daily fruit and vegetable intake depends on age, gender, and level of physical activity.

most kids and teens: 1-2 cups of fruit, and 1-3 cups of veggies/day

adults: 1 1/2 -2 cups fruit and 2-3 cups of veggies/day

What role does produce play in maintaining health?

In addition to being rich sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals, plant-based foods are loaded with phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are responsible for the color, not to mention the taste and smell of not only fruits and veggies, but also nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and teas. Beyond the vibrant ruby hue of a freshly cut pomegranate. or the enticing aroma of a simmering curry, scientific data on the health benefits of phytonutrients has exploded in recent years. Phytonutrients have been shown to act as potent anti-inflammatory agents, boost our immune systems, have anti-cancer properties, help rid our bodies of toxins, and improve our brain, heart and blood vessel health.

Phytonutrients are also excellent team players. When different groups of them are eaten together, they act synergistically to produce even more profound effects on our health. This is why we might want to eat a rainbow of colors every day!

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Here are some combination ideas to get you started:

– celery and nut butter

– carrot sticks and hummus

– a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, sunflower seeds and olive oil brings your count to 5!

– berry smoothie with chia seeds and cacao powder

– green smoothie with avocado, mango and spinach

– salsa- tomatoes, onion, chile, lime, cilantro, and black pepper puts the count at 6!

– oatmeal with cinnamon and nutmeg

– roasted sweet potatoes with garlic and thyme

– vegetable minestrone

– veggie stir fry with sesame seeds

 

Remember to buy organic when you are able, especially for those plants with high pesticide contamination when grown conventionally.

Become familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen & Clean 15 list of conventionally grown produce with highest to lowest contamination. Check this out at EWG.org

To learn more about how phytonutrients work, check out my article, “A Rainbow of Phytonutrients”, at janetvolpemd.com.

WORK OUT TO GET SMART! (SERIOUSLY)

 

by Marie Royer

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A slimmer waist and bulkier biceps. Feelings of vitality, flexibility, and just being able to climb the stairs without getting winded. Who doesn’t desire the physical effects of exercise? Who would refuse a stronger core as well as a stronger heart? We like the way our clothes fit when we’ve been working out, rather than how they cling when we’ve been eating cookies. Exercise surely boosts self confidence and improves self image – But there’s even more to it than that!

For centuries, survival depended upon getting – and NOT being – food. Back when outrunning-or outsmarting-a tiger meant the difference between life and death, quick thinking and efficient movement were intertwined to keep us alive. It follows that exercise and the brain were closely linked to allow our survival. Being synergistically smart and strong allowed humans in more primitive settings to stay alive long enough to bear and raise children.

It’s easy to get a bit lazy when we can drive to a restaurant for dinner, and simply stay away from the jungle to avoid preying tigers. But living in a society in which exercise and sharp thinking aren’t necessary may have its disadvantages. Have Safeway and Toyota made mental prowess and physical fitness obsolete? No way. The link between exercise and brain health is alive and well. It’s not as crucial to everyday survival, but that link is still hard-wired into human beings, and integral for our health and well-being. Numerous studies abound, proving the perks of exercise, but it goes well beyond miraculous physical gain, like preventing heart attacks and diabetes. Exercise fights depression, dementia, insomnia, and anxiety. Read on to find out how exercise directly affects the brain.

Neurogenesis – Neuro means “nerve” and genesis means “formation.” Although the vast majority of brain cells are signed, sealed, and delivered with the newborn, never to reproduce after birth, one thing you can do to build your brain is exercise! When muscles contract during a hard workout, they secrete BDNF, a protein that helps brain cells reproduce, thrive and grow in the hippocampus, the part of the brain related to learning and memory. Studies have linked physical fitness with brain development in children, and a quick sprint with sharper vocabulary retention in adults.

Wise Old Age-Keeping the brain healthy and hearty for a lifetime means a stronger defense against the functional loss that can happen as we get older. Age and Alzheimer’s cause shrinking and degeneration of the brain. We have no cure, so keeping the brain in tip-top condition is one of our best defenses. More neurons, more connections, and more natural ability to make the proteins that keep the brain active are great ways to be proactive. Exercise not only keeps the body full of life as we age, but it can line the path to our golden years and keep them flourishing with great memories and lively interactions.

Turn on the pleasure centers of the brain – There are parts of the brain whose job it is to drive us back to substances and situations that have given us pleasure before. “Seek pleasure” is a chemical reality in the brain. Returning to the places where berries grew or rabbits lived, offered primitive man tasty and pleasurable treats, keeping him alive. Being groomed feels good-and at one time was instrumental in keeping humans healthier by removing ticks and fleas. Lots of things that feel good, are good for our survival, including exercise! Pleasure is so important for a thriving human that we have a neurotransmitter (protein that carries messages for the brain) especially designated for the purpose. It’s called dopamine, and exercise is one of the many ways to release it into the system, creating feelings of pleasure and reward. On the darker side, nobody’s perfect, even the brain. Alcohol, cigarettes, and nearly all drugs of abuse stimulate dopamine release, which launches addicts mercilessly back in the direction of their addiction. The good news is that by exercising regularly, addicts can actually help themselves kick bad habits. The dopamine they seek through their addiction to drugs, cigarettes or alcohol, can be activated instead by exercise! And dopamine isn’t the only neurotransmitter shared by exercise and addictive habits. Smoking a cigarette calms peoples’ nerves by releasing a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, which mitigates stress. Guess what else spurs on norepinephrine: Exercise! By the way, alcohol interrupts our circadian rhythms (and messes with our sleep.) Exercise hits the “reset button,” restoring the natural rhythm of solid sleep and alert wakefulness without drugs.

Good Old Endorphins – The word “endorphin” is a hybrid: “En” is taken from “endogenous,” which means “made inside the body.” “Orphin” is taken from “morphine.” Endorphins are our homemade pain killers and natural high. They’re well-known for giving us those peaceful feelings of happiness and well-being. You guessed it: Exercise releases endorphins. In a healthy individual, the endorphins triggered by exercise provide a wonderful mood boost and a great outlook. In a person suffering from depression, exercise can be as effective as prescription anti-depressants, or can be used synergistically with appropriately prescribed pharmaceuticals.

Creativity and Productivity – Studies show that exercise has an immediate effect on creativity as well as productivity. Large companies that build on-site gyms are listening to the research. According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, creativity rises for the two hours following a workout. Studies show workers are more effective, efficient, and satisfied when they work out regularly.

Moderate workouts alleviate anxiety. Instinctually, it makes sense that exercise can relieve stress, just by the physical discharge of pent up energy and frustration. Add in the science of increased blood flow, endorphins, dopamine and norepinephrine and now you’ve got a recipe that can’t be beat for letting go of stress. The learning centers of the brain are literally shut off in times of stress, while the survival mechanisms take over. Taking stress offline puts learning back online. And exercise is a great way to make the switch.

So, now that you know the science, how do you get yourself into the exercise zone? Here are three helpful hints for getting into exercise and staying there:

 

1.) Be Accountable

I hadn’t run much in the past decade when a friend asked me to do a 10k with her this spring. She gave me plenty of notice, and we googled an 8-week beginning runners’ training schedule. Morning after morning, I had little to no desire to get out of bed, lace up my new yellow running shoes and take West Cliff one grudging step at a time. However, my commitment to a friend-and the knowledge of how race day would feel if I continued to eat pancakes instead of stepping up my exercise routine-was enough incentive to get me out there, even on the days when at best I jogged, and at least I walked a couple of miles. It doesn’t matter if it’s your pilates instructor expecting you at class, or your 10- year old counting on you for a game of beach volleyball. Good excuses are harder to come by when you’re saying them out loud to someone who’s counting on you, so make a commitment!

 

2.) Don’t Overdo It

Eighteen years ago, when I first stared in this career, I was happy to greet patients who came in around New Year’s excited about their new exercise routines. All of them looked beautiful-faces lit up by happy hearts and improved blood flow. But only a few were enjoying exercise’s benefits by February. I soon learned that a good way to encourage people to stick with it is to encourage them not to overdo it. Zealous exercise six or seven days a week is just too much to sustain for most amateur athletes. As I have seen over the years, plodding along in a humble routine two to five days a week seems to be a key. It’s like getting adjusted regularly instead of waiting until you get hurt. To my patients who are thriving from years of light to moderate exercise … Congratulations and thanks for the inspiration!

 

3.) Enjoy It

Jumping jacks aren’t your cup of tea? Running may be hard on your joints. Maybe your boyfriend kite surfs, but you can’t even seem to get the rope untangled. Around Santa Cruz, it’s never a must to do an exercise that’s boring drudgery or intimidatingly technical. If you’d like to try mountain biking but you’re afraid of rocky slopes, there are plenty of fire roads at Nisene Marks or Wilder State Park, not to mention endless indoor biking at the Bike Dojo year round. Simkins Center on Seventeenth Avenue is open to swimmers of all skill levels and ages. We have miles of beach for walking, dozens of yoga, qi gong, and tai chi classes. There’s even a climbing gym off of Seabright where you can work out, learn to belay, and boulder seven days a week. Ideal Bar and Grill sponsors a free outdoor salsa extravaganza from 3-7 every Sunday (weather dependent)! If you’re not afraid of heights-or even if you are and want to conquer that fear, Santa Cruz Aerial Arts is an incredible and exciting workout. So think up your ideal exercise, google it or ask around, and chances are you’ll find it or something similar-and lots of fun people to do it with you!

 

Detoxify your life

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What, exactly, IS detoxification and why do we care?  Detoxification is the process by which our bodies take chemical substances that are potentially harmful through the skin, air and digestive system and transform them (primarily in the liver) so that the body can safely get rid of them.  This works well for most medications, alcohol, and some chemicals that we come into contact with.  However, there are a large number of toxins (pesticides, heavy metals, plasticizers) that we actually cannot detoxify in the body and we simply store in our fat cells.  Given that we have created more than 80,000 chemicals since World War II and only a fraction of these have been tested, there is room to be concerned about the health risks we face.  No other generation has been exposed to the wide variety of chemicals that our children have and the effects are still unknown.  Research continues to come to light on the potential endocrine disrupting or cancer-causing effects of some of these chemicals (note the recent debate in the California legislature regarding the common flame retardants—and their hormonal effects on people and animals).

Avoiding toxins entirely is not possible.  So what can a responsible citizen do besides be concerned?  The most important thing to realize is that a healthy body–with love, good sleep, good food, exercise and minimal stress—can usually deal with a toxic load without untoward effects.  So being healthy in general will protect you.

There are also some simple common sense steps that we can all take to limit our (and the earth’s!) toxic load.  Here are some tips:

    • Get rid of Teflon (polytetrafluoroethylene, non-stick) pans.
    • Avoid plastic bottles made of polycarbonate (#7, which contains BPA).
    • Do not eat or drink items heated in plastic.
    • Prefer metal, ceramic, or glass containers, especially for hot and acidic foods.
    • Substitute nontoxic alternatives for chemical pesticides for home and garden.
    • Select “green cleaners” rather than toxic cleaning agents.
    • Don’t forget that the skin also takes in toxins and purchase bath and beauty products that are free of:
    • Avoid PVC (vinyl) products.
    • Choose “green” paints, finishes, structural materials and insulation for any remodeling projects.
    • Choose fish that are not carrying high levels of mercury and are not endangered (www.seafoodwatch.org).  If the whole fish fits on your plate, mercury is likely not a problem.
    • Eat organic meat, milk, and egg products.  This is even more important than eating organic produce, as the animals concentrate the fat-soluble toxins of all the grains that they eat into their flesh and only release them into their milk or eggs, making milk, meat and eggs potentially the highest source of pesticides in the diet.  It is also important to avoid bovine growth hormone (banned in Europe), which is given to cows to increase milk production.  Its effects on humans is unclear, but concerning.
    • Eat primarily organic produce (www.foodnews.org).  This list helps you choose the foods that are MOST important to buy organic since they have the highest content of pesticides.  Remember to talk to your farmer’s market vendors, as many local farmers may not be certified organic, but still may not use spray pesticides on their produce.

Lowest in Pesticides

(listed worst to best)

Highest Pesticide Content

(listed best to worst)

  • Avocados
  • Sweet Corn (Frozen)
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet Peas (Frozen)
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangos
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Honeydew Melon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Celery
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Hot Peppers
  • Kale/Collard Greens

And, as I always like to say to my patients, take baby steps!  Adding one item at a time is a fine way to start.  And don’t obsess!  It’s bad for you health!

Cardiovascular Testing

Cardiovascular Testing

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In the month of *hearts* I thought it would be smart to talk about keeping our hearts healthy!  I receive many inquiries about how best to “screen” for heart disease, or the risk factors for heart disease, and here are the items that I think are most important:

 

  • Check weight, height and body mass index (a ratio of the two), or even better: body composition (a simple 5 minute test using bioelectric impedance).
  • Check blood pressure.  It remains one of the most important risk factors for heart disease and if it’s high, be sure you check it at home at different times throughout the day to see what your average blood pressure is.
  • Check fasting glucose, hemoglobin A1C (long term measure of average glucose), or even better, fasting insulin to look for signs of pre-diabetes.
  • Check a detailed cholesterol panel, a VAP panel, that also screens for genetic markers for lipid risk and examines particle size to help determine risk.
  • Check an hsCRP (C-reactive protein) that measures inflammation, particularly as concerns the cardiovascular system.  This blood test is the MOST associated with risk of heart attack.
  • Check a homocysteine level.  An elevated homocysteine increases cardiac risk and reflects an issue with folic acid metabolism.

 

These are the basic tests that I consider in anyone that I want to help prevent heart disease.  In someone who already has risks for heart disease, we may also want to consider an EKG or an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart that can look at heart size and function).  Even more sensitive is an EKG and echocardiogram performed during exercise (a stress ECHO).  I generally reserve that test for those that are undergoing a significant stress (for example, surgery) or those in whom I am concerned about imminent heart disease.  Another screening test that should be considered is a coronary calcium score—which is an x-ray that can calculate the amount of calcium deposited into the coronary (heart) vessels.  This reflects the degree of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, and can be a great motivator to behavioral change when elevated.

 

Keep in mind that getting more love in your life, reducing stress, exercising, stopping smoking and generally enjoying your life will all make your heart happy and less vulnerable to disease.

 

In this season, a big hug from my heart to yours and I hope we all take good care of our own hearts and the hearts of those we love.

Beating the Fall Viruses!

Beating the Fall Viruses!

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Welcome to the sunny, crisp days of fall in Santa Cruz County!  We love it and so do the viruses that wreak havoc on our respiratory system.  Fall encourages more indoor time and the return of the young to classrooms where viral colds, coughs and flu’s spread from hands and mouths and the air we breathe.  How can you bask in the season’s harvest and protect yourself from the season’s ills?  Here are some tips!

 

  • Boost your immune system—Most of us are aware that when we are “run down”, we get sick more easily.  The best immune booster is good, solid sleep, at least 7-9 hours nightly, depending on your needs.  Kids need more—9-11 hours.  Exercise also improves immune strength.  Gentle exercise, such as tai chi, qi gong and yoga, is particularly good for reducing the negative effects of stress on the immune system and is energizing for those who feel fatigued.  Eating well—lots of anti-oxidant rich dark fruits and veggies, beans and omega-3 rich nuts will nourish your bodies ability to fight disease.  Fall and winter provide us naturally with antioxidant and Vit. C rich fruits—apples, kiwis, pineapple guavas, and all citrus fruits.  And if you don’t eat well or simply want to optimize your health, a good multivitamin can help.  Research shows that the Chinese herb astragalus has immune powering properties and is safe and effective to take preventatively during the cold and flu season.  A little extra vitamin C (in citrus or taken as a supplement) can also help.  Traditional Chinese medicine and homeopathy can also assist in strengthening your immune system for the season.
  • Limit your exposure—Just like your mama said, wash your hands (and encourage your sick friends and children to do the same)!  Cough into your elbow, where the germs can stay, rather than into your hand where they can easily spread.
  • EXPOSED!—So now your adorable viral-laden niece or neighbor just sneezed in your face, or you simply feel that scratchy-throat, tickly nose, “I’m about to get sick” dread…What to do?  As a mother of pre-school aged toddler twins, I perfected my cold-avoidance strategies and here’s my secret formula:
    • As much sleep as you can get.
    • Avoid caffeine as much as possible (your body needs its strength for fighting illness, don’t push it further)
    • Only gentle exercise, meditation or stretching (ditto the above)
    • Vitamin C 1000 mg three times daily
    • If you (or your kissing partner) can take it, fresh garlic chopped and mixed in honey applied to the back of the throat every several hours throughout the first day or two of illness
    • A combo immune herb/supplement containing Echinacea, Astragulus, Andrographis, Vit. C, Zinc, Elderberry and garlic—my favorite is EHB by Integrative Therapeutics plus Elderberry lozenges or liquid (which taste great!).  Another good one is Wellness Formula by Source Naturals.
    • The Chinese herb Yin Ciao (three tabs three times daily)
    • And chicken soup (or the vegetarian equivalent) really does help clear mucous—not to mention help you feel loved, which is the only real benefit of being ill in the first place!

 

So enjoy the brilliance of Fall, stay strong in body and spirit, and keep those nasty viruses at bay!

 

Rachel Abrams

(please consult your physician regarding any interactions between medicines you are taking and the recommended herbs and supplements)

 

 

Anti-inflammatory Living

Anti-inflammatory Living

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You probably don’t spend much time thinking about inflammation in your body, but inflammation is a buzz-word in the medical community these days is because it is such an important part of health and wellness. We generally think of inflammation as painful redness or swelling around injuries or joints, but the process of inflammation is used throughout the body to fight off harmful microorganisms. It is a vital process, but unfortunately, too much inflammation actually damages the body. Think of the good scientist, Dr. David Banner, when he transforms into the incredible Hulk, with collateral damage to buildings and healthy tissue everywhere. In high levels, inflammation is the root cause of many of the top killers today: heart disease, cancer, stroke, emphysema, asthma, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammation is responsible for the pain of arthritis and other musculoskeletal injuries and is the active force behind diseases where the immune system attacks the body, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or Hashimoto’s thyroid disease. Now, why is this? It seems our modern lifestyle, in addition to inflaming the populace (e.g. road rage, soccer fans gone awry), causes inflammation inside the body through what we eat, how we live and, yes, what we feel.

There are medications available to reduce pain and inflammation, and sometimes, they are just what the doctor ordered, for example, steroids for an acute asthma attack or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAID’s (think ibuprofen or naprosyn), for an acute attack of gouty arthritis. However, oral steroids over the long term can be quite dangerous and even our over-the-counter ibuprofen or naprosyn, not to mention prescription Celebrex, taken regularly can cause kidney failure, ulcers, increase the likelihood of heart attack and in a recent study, actually prolong the amount of time it takes to recover from an injury. As a treating physician, I prescribe these medications, but, as with any medication, I like to use natural means of treatment first in order to minimize the amount of medication needed, if any. In the case of inflammation, from whatever cause, we have LOTS of options!

Many integrative physicians point out that the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory agent we have is—my favorite—SLEEP! That’s right, just by getting your Z’s you are reducing chronic pain, arthritis and cardiovascular risk. A new 5 year study found that middle-aged people who got just one more hour of sleep a night than their peers were one-third less likely to have increased calcium deposits in their arteries—the kind that lead to “hardening of the arteries” and more heart attacks, strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep is vital to our health and happiness. If you are missing sleep in your life, look at my recent blog “Sleepless in Santa Cruz” for healthy tips on falling and staying asleep.

Just as important as the calming effects of sleep on your inflammatory and immune system, is the mood that you live within while awake. As one might suspect, if you are angry or aggressive in the outside world, your immune system becomes “inflamed” as well, getting ready to fight off an enemy or protect a potential injury. Any kind of relaxing, meditative activity can help, such as regular exercise (especially if it is enjoyable!), tai chi and qi gong (Chinese martial arts known to reduce blood pressure and decrease the pain of arthritis), yoga, prayer, or meditation.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, everything you put into your mouth sends a chemical signal to your body and can influence the inflammatory process. Red meat, high fat dairy products, hydrogenated oils, and all deep fried foods increase inflammation in the body. So that burger, fries and milk shake are probably not the best choices if you suffer from any inflammatory conditions.

Foods high in anti-oxidants, which can be found in plenty at your farmer’s market, help decrease the inflammatory process of “oxidation” and protect your tissues. Look for yellow, orange and red vegetables, such as peppers, carrots and winter squash. Dark colored fruits, such as berries, and citrus fruits are also powerful anti-oxidants and are packed with many other vitamins as well. Dark leafy greens (spinach, romaine lettuce, chard and kale) are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat and are powerfully anti-inflammatory, as are onions and garlic, which are a wonderful accompaniment to your greens. People don’t realize that many common spices have powerful anti-inflammatory compounds as well, especially ginger, rosemary, turmeric (the dark yellow-orange Indian spice, also called curcumin), oregano, cayenne, clove, and nutmeg. To accompany your meal, both black and green teas have strong anti-oxidant action and there are numerous studies linking the consumption of green tea to protection from all cancers.

Most of you have probably heard of the health benefits of cold-water fish and fish oil. Research on fish oil began because the Inuit Eskimos, who eat large quantities of fish, have extremely low rates of heart disease and heart attacks. This is because fish is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are some of the most potent and well-researched anti-inflammatory compounds available. Omega-3’s lower triglycerides; prevent and treat depression; decrease the pain of arthritis, menstrual cramping and other muscle aches; improve asthma, eczema and allergies; help menopausal symptoms and prevent heart attacks. The safest sources are good quality fish oils, wild Alaskan salmon, and smaller fish rich in oils such as sardines, herring or mackerel. Flax seed and flax seed oil are rich in omega-3’s as well, but must be kept cold or at room temperature to retain their healing properties. Grinding them and adding to smoothies or using flax oil 3:1 in salad dressing is a wonderful way to get your omega-3’s. Walnuts are also a rich source of omega 3’s, as are leafy green vegetables, making salad with summer veggies and fruits, walnuts, and a vinaigrette with olive and flax oils a delicious anti-inflammatory contribution to your summer table.

So sleep long and well, breathe deeply and then get out to your neighborhood farmer’s market so that you can prepare yourself an anti-inflammatory, life-giving feast! Eat well, live well and be well.

Blessings!

Rachel

11 Tips for Optimal Health

 

 

 

 

11 Tips for Optimal Health

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1. Love. No, really. And not just on Valentine’s Day. The research shows that the health protective effects of regular affection, relationship, and community are more impressive than whether or not you smoke. So get your hugs on; it’s good for you. And if you don’t have someone to snuggle with, it turns out that affection with your pet helps, too. I love you Spot.

 

2. Move. Humans did not evolve to sit in armchairs. Our entire physiology has evolved around the vigorous physical work it has taken to survive for the last 10,000 years. So when we take “vigor-man or woman” and make them sit at a desk all day and come home and sit some more—they get slow, depressed, irritable and inflamed—on the inside. This stagnation creates the basis for heart disease, strokes, diabetes, depression and cancer. So move. In whatever way you enjoy. Walk. Skip. Dance. Make your body happy.

 

3. Sleep. Americans are more deprived of sleep than exercise—which is saying something! The average amount needed is 8 hours—with 50% of folks needing more than 8 hours. If you get less sleep than you need on a regular basis, you are more likely to be depressed, irritable, overweight (yes, less sleep causes weight gain) and have poor concentration and performance. And coffee does not help. Cut the caffeine and get your zzzz’s! You’ll feel better!

 

4. Enjoy. It makes a big difference to your physiology if you spend your time in anger, blame and resentment (more inflammatory reactions, high blood pressure, poorer immune response) or in gratitude, joy and play (calmer nervous system, balanced immune response, less risk of heart disease). Life is full of difficult situations, but the way that you approach those situations makes all the difference. And because we spend so many hours at work, do your best to choose work that you enjoy, most of the time. And don’t forget to play!

 

5. Eat food. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. If it doesn’t look like any recognizable fruit, vegetable, grain or meat, don’t eat it. If sugar is the first or second ingredient, don’t eat it. Try to stick to fruits, veggies, whole grains (skip the white stuff), plant proteins (beans, nuts and legumes) and some high quality (e.g. organic, no added hormones) animal proteins. Most of us know this. You might want to get some support in eating this way if it’s hard for you—it is well worth the investment as food really is medicine—all foods send chemical signals to your body that contribute to your health or your decline. And if you just can’t eat well, as least take a multivitamin and some essential fatty acids (fish or flax oil). It’s a good start.

 

6. Pray or Meditate. When life gets difficult, all you have are your inner resources (patience, love, trust, a sense of perspective, creative problem-solving) to get you through it intact. Taking some deep breaths, and even a small amount of time, to express gratitude, ask for help, find peace, and set your intention for your day, is invaluable in maintaining your equilibrium on the inside and the outside. Meditation or prayer significantly reduces all causes of cardiovascular disease, eases depression and anxiety and helps us stick to our good health decisions.

 

7. See your Doc once by 45. Even if you are healthy. Sometimes we have health risks we are unaware of. I’ve had tri-athletes with severely elevated cholesterol. It’s good to know these things early because there are many approaches we can use to enhance your vitality and life span.

 

8. Detoxify. We live in a world rife with chemicals that didn’t exist 50 years ago and we have no idea what the majority of those chemicals do to humans. But for good reason, many of us in the science world are concerned about emerging research showing the effects of toxins on brain function, cancer, fertility and obesity. Limit your risks by ditching that Teflon pan (ever wonder where that flaking Teflon goes when it disappears from the pan?), eating organic as much as possible (especially milk, meat and eggs), not heating food in plastic, finding non-toxic alternative for pesticides, and using green cleaning and home maintenance products. Exercise, sweating, drinking plenty of water and eating fiber are good ways to detoxify naturally.

 

9. Watch out for addiction. Okay, we’ve all got them. Coffee, cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, chocolate, sugar, soda, T.V, Facebook, even exercise—you can treat just about any activity addictively. If you are using an activity to avoid experiencing how you actually feel, it’s an addictive use of that activity. Some addictions are more dangerous than others, but if we use our addiction to numb our negative emotions, we stop ourselves from taking action to change the way we feel (e.g. changing jobs or relationships, getting therapy, setting boundaries with others). We live in a very addictive society, where there is a pill for every ailment. Take an honest look at your life and give yourself the gift of change where it’s needed. It’s better than a double latte.

 

10. Limit screens. Oh, for goodness sake, didn’t we think that computers were better than television? Not. If you spend all of your time in front of a computer, television, or smart phone, what are you missing? Items one through four on this list. Human interaction (texts and e-mail are not the same thing), movement, sleep, good food—don’t get swallowed by your screens. Get outside, get some sunlight, hang with your friends, surf. Live inside your body (that’s the part of you attached to the hands on the keyboard or remote).

 

11. Don’t obsess. Change takes time. Be patient with yourself. And perfectionism, even with your health, is not good for you. Life is short. Don’t forget to dance and occasionally eat chocolate cake.