Tag Archives: health

Exercise: Just Do It!

exercising womenBy now we’ve all heard  about the overwhelming amount of evidence confirming that exercise is is crucial in disease reduction, optimal mental, emotional and physical health, and longevity. Not just beneficial, but crucial. The part of my research that I found really encouraging is that you can receive outstanding results no matter what your age when you start exercising. One reason this is such good news for me is I have a mother in her 80’s who has stopped almost all exercise and I know it is still within her grasp to become more physically, mentally, and emotionally fit just by taking up exercise again. (Not that she does it….but, if she did do it, the remarkable benefits would be there for her.) I hope this knowledge is encouraging to all of you who sometimes feel you’ve left it too long. You can start right now, right where you are, and still get remarkable benefits.

The next four short paragraphs are taken from a wonderful site, called Wake Up World, which states succinctly that not only is exercise crucial for health, but that the benefits are substantial no matter what your age when you begin.

“After reviewing 40 papers published between 2006 and 2010, researchers found that exercise reduces the risk of about two dozen health conditions, ranging from cancer and heart disease to type 2 diabetes, stroke, dementia and depression. Exercise also slows down the rate of aging itself, providing perhaps the closest example of a real life fountain of youth as we will ever find.

Ideally, you will have made exercise a regular part of your life long before you reach your “golden” years … but if you haven’t, there’s no better time to start than the present. Research has shown that regular exercise, even initiated late in life, offers profound health benefits. For instance:

Even a small amount of exercise may protect the elderly from long-term memory loss and even help reverse some of the effects of aging.

Moderate exercise among those aged 55-75 may cut the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which increases heart disease and diabetes risk.

Among those who started exercising at age 50 and continued for 10 years, the rate of premature death declined dramatically, similar to giving up smoking and mirroring the level as seen among people who had been working out their entire lives.”

Remember, It’s NEVER Too Late to Improve Your Health.

It should be obvious by now that optimal health is dependent on not only an active lifestyle, but also on eating fresh whole foods and avoiding as many processed foods as possible, good sleep, and addressing the stress in your life. I have written about these four cornerstones of health before (Diet, Exercise, Sleep, and Mental Outlook).  Ignoring any of these basic tenets of health will eventually lead to a decline in health. But knowing that exercise itself is – crucial! – to good health and disease reduction makes me wonder….why aren’t we all doing it? This time of year, it is easy to stay indoors and forego outdoor exercise for a time, but that is very different from just not doing any exercise at all, ever. 

If you haven’t yet made physical exercise part of your daily routine, let’s challenge ourselves to incorporate it into our lives for the next 30 days. Make a plan that is within your means, even if it is simply a 20 minute walk every day. I combine fast walking and yoga, for example. Then at the end of 30 days see for yourself the difference this simple practice can make in your life. No matter what your age, if you can walk you can exercise, and immense rewards are there for you, no matter what your age.

I’d love to hear from you if you try this exercise challenge. Let me know how you fell at the end of the 30 days.

Exercise – One of the Four Pillars of Health

cycling on a beachWhen it comes to exercise, most of us simply don’t get enough. Our bodies are designed to move much more than most of us do. Every system in our body performs better when we have regular daily exercise. It doesn’t have to be complicated; Sit less, and move more. You can start that simply.

Besides allowing our bodies to work better and more efficiently, getting enough exercise sets us up for better health by ensuring that our weight and muscle mass stays in optimum range. The more muscles mass you have the more you need to eat to maintain this muscle (wthout gaining weight) and to keep going each day.  If you have more  lean muscle mass, you’ll also have more energy, and you will require more food to maintain your weight.  This is why once a person goes down the road of too little muscle mass (caused by not moving and exercising enough) it perpetuates an endless cycle of gaining weight and attempting to diet to lose the excess fat. Someone with less muscle mass just does not need as much food as one with more muscle mass. Proper nutrition is important (see the post on Diet and Nutrition), but you are never likely to lose the fat and keep it off unless you move your body more. More important than this, you will never have optimum health and vitality without exercise of some sort.

This concept does not have to mean expensive equipment and gym membership….if that’s your thing, but all means go to the gym but if it’s not something that feels comfortable to you that is not a problem. You can still get all the exercise you need without purchasing any equipment at all. The first step is just to begin moving more. It really starts that simply. Don’t let this be daunting for you. Walk more, take the stairs instead of the elevator, don’t park right at the door of the shops but make yourself walk a little further than usual. Move your body throughout the day in as many creative ways as you can think of. If there is an activity that you enjoy, do more of that as often as you can. Do you like to dance? Then let that be your exercise. What a fun thing to do, all by yourself! Pick out a few songs that make you want to move – clear obstacles out of the way in the room, and let yourself go. Love to play tennis, or wanting to learn? What a great form of exercise that is!  You can get on a bike and explore your neighborhood in a different way, take a walk around the block, go swimming (indoors or out, whichever is more accessible for you, go to a yoga class, or play an outdoor game with the kids. Exercise does not have to be difficult or dull. Begin to re-frame exercise in a way that is fun for you and you won’t have to force yourself to do it.  I also think it helps to think of exercise as a way of being good to yourself, of increasing your health and well-being and NOT as a way of looking better.

Once you begin, you may want to go a little further and add more into your daily routine.  If you are happy with the results you get long-term by increasing movement in your life, that’s great. If you have other health problems such as Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, excess body fat (particularly belly fat), or want to bump up the benefits, then you may want to add Interval Training to your routine. A good time to do this is when you reach a plateau with your weight.  If you’ve never heard of Burst, or Interval Training, it’s very simple and there is lots of information you can read about it on the internet. Once the domain of elite athletes, Interval Training has become a powerful tool for the average person too. In a nutshell, all you do is sprint, climb stairs, jump rope, jog, etc. to whatever is your maximum effort (this will be different for everyone, depending on how fit you are) for the interval that you decide – there are different protocols for how long the “interval” of intensity should be. There is quite a bit of research that shows “burst” intervals of less than 15 seconds in length burns the most body fat. Then you rest for 30 seconds. You want to have several “bursts” – different protocols suggest different things – but the intention is to have at least 3 bursts, followed by double the rest time. Then you want to walk at a normal pace for 10-20 minutes. It’s that easy.

You may be thinking that if shorts bursts of 15 seconds of intense exercise is great at burning fat, then longer bursts would be even better, right?  But you’d be wrong. These short, less-than-15-second bursts tend NOT to increase lactic acid build-up in your muscles. The reason that is a good thing is because lactic acid can inhibit your muscle’s ability to burn fat as fuel. When lactic acid is not present, muscle cells can use fatty acids as fuel more readily. The end result is, you can burn fat much easier. (This is a simple explanation that is true, but there is a lot more to the physiology of Interval Training that is fascinating. Research it a bit if you want more science.) There are endless combinations of interval protocols which do different things, but shorter than 15 seconds is ideal for unlocking your body’s fat burning chemistry. And – here’s a bonus – it is less demanding on your body to do such short bursts! Win,win.

Longer intervals, or bursts, are appropriate too though, and may be better for normalizing blood sugar. The idea is always the same….You have a bout of high intensity, followed by a recovery period of 1.5 to 2 times the burst, and repeat this three to five times. Then, have a few minutes of lower intensity walking. Whatever you start with, my advice is to use a combination of different interval training workouts so your body doesn’t get used to what you are doing. Our bodies are cunning at adapting, so keep it guessing! The variety also keeps you from hitting a stubborn plateau.

If you’ve already been walking more as part of your exercise routine, you might incorporate short bursts of jogging into your regular brisk walks. If you’re less fit, perhaps you could alternate leisurely walking with periods of faster walking. For example, if you’re walking outdoors you could walk faster between certain mailboxes, trees, or other landmarks. You can make a little game out of it and easily implement Interval Training into your life painlessly and easily.

An expert on this time of exercise is Yuri Elkhaim. His posts are clear and very readable if you want to find out more about both the science behind Burst Training, and different training protocols.




Sleep – One of the Four Pillars of Health

sleeping woman -blog imageMy last blog was devoted to the four crucial components for good health – diet, exercise, sleep, and mental outlook.  I’ll look at each one in a little more depth, and sleep seems a good place to start.  If you’re not getting proper sleep, life is just not going to be as good as it can be, full stop. The fact is, you cannot be completely healthy if you don’t get good sleep. There is some wiggle room as far as how much sleep an individual needs but the amount of sleep you need is what’s important. It is probably going to be between 6 – 8 hours per night.

Lack of energy, fatigue, and brain fog are bad enough, but these are not the only problems associated with lack of sleep. Poor sleep can lead to depression, pain, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even more. Lack of sleep causes our bodies to secrete too much cortisol, which is very serious in the long term. When we sleep, our bodies rejuvenate on a cellular level and our brains “flush out” and reset. Sleep is crucial to our health and it is not possible to be healthy without getting good sleep consistently….at least, much more often than not.

For chronic problems with sleep, the cure can take time and seem very elusive. This is true for any chronic health problem and generally requires some lifestyle changes. For starters, we must go to bed and get up at the same time every day. When first starting to do this, it may seem difficult because you may not be sleepy at night, or you may be very sleepy when it’s time to get up. But persevere….it will help your sleep in time.

Also important: turn off all devices (including TV) at least an hour before you turn in. The blue light emitted by these devices is stimulating to your brain and it does ot allow the body to produce enough melatonin, which is a very important hormone that signals our bodies to get sleepy.

Almost all experts agree: use your bed for only sleep and lovemaking. Do not bring work, mail, games, etc. to bed with you. If you want good sleep consistently, follow this advice.

Create a bedtime ritual, which can be anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour or so. It can involve your bedtime ablutions (teeth brushing, face washing, hair combing), or be more elaborate such as a warm soak with essential oils, lighting a candle, meditation, stretching, or writing a list with tasks for the next day so you don’t have to trouble yourself with thinking about these things.

Many people have been helped by regular meditation, massage, hypnosis, and acupuncture, and also by getting more exercise (early in the day; not right before bedtime!). If your problem with sleep is long standing, it pays to commit to taking steps to resolve it. It can be trial and error to unravel the problem because there are so many causes for insomnia…. so be patient. If these “sleep hygiene” pointers have no effect, you may want to consider supplements. This approach should be handled with a light touch, however. Though there are some tried and true natural sleep problem remedies, many supplement companies have jumped on this bonanza and are marketing questionable products. Here is an overview of some of the supplements available for sleep issues:

GABA: Study results can be read in PubMed; also in ANH-USA database. There is some debate whether GABA can cross through the digestive system and remain intact enough to offer real benefits, but the good news is there doesn’t seem to be adverse effects from taking this. Try combining with Niacin if it’s not effective on its own for you. There is good empirical evidence that it does work for some people, so it is worth a try.

Theanine: Can be supplemented but also found in green tea. This is why green tea has a relaxing effect, despite the fact it contains some caffeine. Start with a low dose; remember organic substances do not have the “knock out” effect of pharmaceuticals, so don’t over supplement with Theanine.

Kava Root Extract: This is good for chronic anxiety. (Nutrition and Healing, October 2013).

Lavender Oil: (Lavandula angustfolia or Lavandula officinatis) Lavender has shown in studies to slow the activty of the nervous system (University of Maryland Medical Center, USA). No reported negative effects, bust just a few drops is all you need. Splash out too much of this lovely substance, and it could have a stimulating effect on the nervous system!

Magnesium: This should be in a chelated from (citrate, ascorbate, orotake, glycinate). Good documentation from many sources that magnesium has a natural muscle relaxant effect, and is soothing to the nervous system. For problems with sleep caused by tension or overactive nervous system, take 400-500 mg. Only reported negative effect is some people can get diarrhoea from the citrate form.

Valarian: This has been used for anxiety for a very long time. 300-400 mg. is probably needed; take note that many commercial brands do not have enough of the active substance, so read labels. As in most herbal remedies, I think a liquid tincture is most effective.

Melatonin: I though long and hard before including melatonin, because there is some dissent whether this is a healthy supplement. Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the body, based on the cycles of light and dark and your circadian rhythms. The argument is that modern life has blurred the cycles of light and dark with the use of so much artificial light, so supplementation may be necessary for some people. The other side of the argument is that the body stops producing melatonin efficiently following prolonged supplementation, particularly in doses that are high (higher than 3mg.)  Most articles I have read state a person is not at risk of dependence if the dose is not higher than 1 mg. Also, melatonin’s main benefit is when the circadian rhythms are seriously out of sync, as in jet lag. So, for short term use when travelling between time zones, a higher dose is effective and safe. This is probably about 7 days or less at the higher doses (+3mg).

Tryptophan: I almost did not include this at all, and do not recommend it. I did include it to encourage all who read this to explore further before supplementing with Tryptophan. There have been some serious side effects recorded, and some quite dangerous. I do not recommend this and would not take it until more conclusive studies are done. (Read supplements-and-health.com/tryptophan-side-effects)




Living With Good Health and Vitality – Implementing The Four Pillars of Health

happy-people-in-the-poppy-field-1280x800-wide-wallpapers-netOur bodies are designed to perform optimally. Knowing this yet seeing the number of people who struggle with feeling good every day can be perplexing.  Why does it seem so elusive for many people to wake up feeling great and to have energy throughout the day?

There can be complex issues that effect our quality of health caused by modern 21st century lifestyles, but in an effort to distil information into bite-size chunks let’s keep this simple. I believe there are four essential foundations for optimum health and that often we leave one or more out of the equation while trying to care for ourselves  The Four Pillars of Health, which form the foundation for great health and vitality, are Diet, Exercise, Good Sleep, and Mental Outlook. Very often people will focus on one, two, or even three of these categories but it is a bit more rare to embrace all four consistently….so at times we get out of balance, or homoeostasis.  The body will always circle back to homoeostasis if we give it what it needs.

All four of these “Pillars” are equally important and support good health, but let’s arbitrarily start with Diet. (This is where most people start when trying to make changes to enhance health.) There are volumes of wonderful blogs and books dedicated to this subject, but in a nutshell what you must do is eliminate, or severely restrict, all processed foods from your diet. You want to eat foods that come from Nature, not from a laboratory. Your body does not know what to do with the artificial ingredients in processed food and they will cause serious problems for you in time. Begin this process by adding in good healthy things to your diet – focus on the plethora of foods you CAN eat, instead of the things you cannot. If you build your diet on what you must stay away from, your willpower WILL cave in time! Ask yourself the question, “What great foods can I add to my diet?” Stop thinking “no,no,no” when it comes to food, and instead make a list of healthy foods you like and have fun creating new meals. Give yourself the tools you need to get started by doing a little research, collecting tasty recipes, and start adding great food to your pantry and fridge. Remember to make the shift to focusing on everything you can eat and don’t browbeat yourself. Begin to crowd the bad stuff out of your diet by adding in the good.

Exercise: Most of us simply don’t get enough. Our ancestors walked around about 10 times more than we do. (Great quote from Lucas Rockwood: “Sitting is the new smoking” – I love it!) Sit less, and move more. The fact is, the more lean muscle mass you have, the more energy you’ll have. And, even better – the more you will need to eat to maintain your lean muscle (without gaining weight) and keep going.  If you don’t have much lean muscles mass, you won’t have as much energy and you will require much less food to maintain your weight.  So, look into Burst Training (sometimes called Interval Training), and move your body every day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk whenever you can, join a class, and move your body throughout your day in as many creative ways that you can think of.

Sleep:  It doesn’t matter how great your diet is, or how much exercise you get; if you are not sleeping enough consistently, are are not going to function optimally. Full stop. Rest and recovery phases are crucial for healing and maintaining vitality and good health. Sleep dysfunction is tricky because there are so many different causes for lack of sleep.  Good sleep hygiene is essential, and an upcoming blog will be devoted to this topic. But it’s really good and proactive for you to dig into your own research about this, so even googling “sleep hygiene” is a wonderful start. Take even a small step in the direction you want to go and try to let go of worrying and fretting about not getting enough sleep.  I know how hard it can be, because I have not been a very good sleeper at times….but never once was it helpful to worry about it.  Watch this space for more information about improving the quality of your sleep.

Mental Outlook: We’ve all heard how important a positive attitude is for health and happiness, and more than likely you’ve incorporated some of this sage advice into your life already. If so, good for you!  If not, don’t take my word for it – just commit to adding some positive practices, such as positive affirmations and a gratitude journal, yoga, meditation, etc. into your life every day for one month, and then see if your life improves. If it doesn’t you’ve lost nothing.  But you will never know that life can be so much better if you don’t give it a try.

We swing from “vine to vine”, looking for something else (we’re not sure exactly what) because we don’t see we are already whole and complete as we are right now. We just have to wake up and tune into this. For me, a meditation and yoga practice is important for clearing the clutter in my mind and tuning in but there are other practices that can be just as valuable, including Tai’ Chi and Qi gong (pronounced Chi Gong).  I believe a spiritual practice of some sort – whatever that is for you – is important for a sense of fulfilment and vitality. Does the word “spiritual” bother you?  Then pick another word.  But a practice where you can quiet the mind and stop the chaos, and feel a part of something greater than just yourself and your problems is crucial for good health.  This positive spiritual practice will help you plug into things that really nourish and recharge you.  You must nourish yourself! Even if your time is limited, you can set priorities and let something go so you can have a mini-break and recover. You only have 30 minutes while the baby sleeps? Spend it meditating instead of watching some silly TV program. The meditation will leave you more calm and refreshed than the TV. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time well, whatever the hype is about “multi-tasking”. If you try to open up too many windows on your computer, what happens?  It crashes! So will you. Get calm, close some windows, take a deep breath, and focus on the one thing you need to do in front of you. When that is done, you can move on to the next thing. Work on one “window” at a time.

Choose one of these four pillars that you think needs some bolstering (Diet, Exercise, Sleep, and Mental Outlook) and add one positive thing to your life every day. You will be the one to benefit from this positive attention. Please watch this space for future blogs on each indivdual Pillar of Health.

Note: Dr. Pedram Shojai is a wonderful teacher to learn from.  I discovered him while compiling notes for this blog. He is teaching and writing about the very same thing (now I know there is nothing new under the sun!…..ideas, thoughts, and words are part of our collective knowledge base and are constantly being recycled and given a new spin, a new life.) that I am writing about only he calls it The Wheel of Vitality, and Mental Outlook is referred to as Mindset. Follow him if you are interested – a beautiful man with wonderful things to say.

What’s With “Oil Pulling”?

DSCN0238I am pleased (although a bit surprised) to see “oil pulling” on so many different health blogs and websites lately. This is an ayurvedic practice that has been around for a very long time, but not  prominently in the “mainstream”.  In fact, I learned about oil pulling as a yoga practitioner and seldom ran across other non-yoga people who had even heard of it, much less practiced it.  So for any of you reading this who don’t know what it is, here is the short version:

Oil Pulling has its roots in Ayurvedic medicine, which dates back more than 5000 years. It is widely considered to be the oldest form of health care in the world.  The knowledge of Ayurveda spread out from India and influenced the ancient Chinese system, Unani medicine, and even the medicine practiced by Hippocrataes in Greece. In theory, it works on the root cause of illness and helps your body in the healing process, from pre-disease conditions all the way through to life threatening malignancies.  Oil pulling is very simple, completely harmless, and inexpensive, yet it is a powerful form of therapy. It is reputed to eliminate conditions such as migraine headaches, bronchitis, diseased teeth and gums ,chronic blood disorders such as leukemia, arthritis and related illnesses, eczema, gastro enteritis, heart disease, kidney disease, and women’s hormonal disorders. This list is impressive, and not at all exhaustive.  To be honest I have no idea if these claims are true but there is an informative website specifically on this subject, http://www.oilpulling.com. (Good information, but to be honest sometimes the translation into English is not so good.)

In oil pulling, one swishes a Tablespoon or so (start with less if you’ve never done it) of cold-pressed sesame or sunflower oil around in the mouth for 20 minutes, spits it out, then cleans the mouth and teeth.  It should be done first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything.  That, my dears, is the therapy in its entirety.

Most people not practicing oil pulling as an Ayurvedic treatment are doing so because it has a rapid and positive effect on dental health – whiter teeth, fresher breath, and quickly can get rid of cold sores and bleeding gums.  So, even if you are a little skeptical about some of the other benefits it may be worth a try.

Here are a few pointers:

  1. When you first wake up, before you eat or drink anything, take about a tablespoon of sesame or sunflower oil in your mouth, and begin swishing it around. (Many health blogs suggest Coconut oil because it has so many positive health benefits. I suppose this is fine, but keep in mind the ancient advice was for sesame or sunflower oil.)
  2. As you swish (not too vigorously….you’ll be at it for 20 minutes remember!) try to mindfully push and pull between your teeth now and then. Keep the oil away from the back of your throat so you don’t swallow some inadvertently. (not pleasant….ask me how I know!)
  3. After about 20 minutes, the oil needs to be spat out….do this in the toilet or in the trash/rubbish….it could cause a clog if you dispose of it in the sink.

For most people, doing this for 20 minutes before you eat or drink anything is not easy, especially when you consider that this should be done every day.  But like anything, you can quietly get on with it for 30 days until you build the habit. I keep a small bottle of oil with a spoon in my bathroom so I don’t even have to think about it. But if at times I cannot do it the very first thing (like when I have company), I do my oil pulling as soon as I can, usually right before I step into the shower.

There is now reams of information about this practice, so do your own research and have a go. Remember that sometimes the best research you can do is using your own body as the laboratory; so try this for awhile and see what you think. Feel free to share your experience if you’d like.