Longevity of Health & Our Core

I don’t care about having a six-pack, so why should I care about my core? Because. Your. Core. Is. Everything.

Something that makes me a bit crazy is when I hear someone say they need to do some core exercises because they want to rid themselves of belly fat. Typically, that doesn’t end the way they were hoping. Why? First of all, it isn’t just our abdominal muscles. Secondly, you can exercise those abdominal muscles all day long and you aren’t going to get rid of much belly fat. You will get stronger abdominal muscles, perhaps a sore back and often your midriff will get larger because you’ve overworked those ab muscles, and you still have fat on top of said muscles. To burn fat, it takes more than just throwing down a lot of targeted exercises for your rectus abdominis, the transverse abdominis and the obliques. Instead, compound exercises, aerobic exercise and nutrition geared to fat loss is the name of the fat loss game.  But I digress.

Our core is a complex series of muscles that connect from our upper back down to our lower back and hips.  Essentially, it is our entire trunk – front and back.  From our upper back to our hips, our core is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body. These muscles can act as a stabilizer for movement, transfer force from one extremity to another or initiate movement itself. Our core is vitally important for our stability and balance.

Our core primarily works as a stabilizer and force transfer center rather than a prime mover. Yet, people consistently focus on training their core as a prime move in isolation – aka targeted abdominal exercises. They are doing crunches instead of deadlifts, overhead squats and pushups and other functional closed chain exercises. By training that way, not only are you missing out on a major function of the core, but you are missing out on more efficient movement, better strength gains and longevity of health. When it comes to our core our back, hips and pelvic floor should be getting lots more attention.

How does have a strong and well-functioning core impact our lives? As we age, and we are all aging every day, our health, our quality of life and our independence rely on a strong core.

  • Normal life stuff. Bending to put on shoes or scoop up a package, turning to look behind you, sitting in a chair, maintaining balance on an icy sidewalk, carrying groceries, walking up a steep flight of stairs or simply standing still are a few of the actions that rely on your core and that you might not notice until they become difficult or painful. Even basic activities of daily living such as bathing and getting dressed use our core.
  • At Work.Jobs that involve lifting, twisting, and standing all rely on core muscles. But less obvious tasks — like sitting at your desk for hours — engage your core as well. Phone calls, typing, computer use, and similar work can make back muscles surprisingly stiff and sore, particularly if you’re not strong enough to practice good posture and aren’t taking sufficient breaks.
  • Healthy Back.Low back pain is a debilitating, sometimes excruciating problem affecting four out of five Americans at some point in their lives and may be prevented by exercises that promote well-balanced, resilient core muscles. When back pain strikes, a regimen of core exercises is often prescribed to relieve it.
  • Sports & Pleasure Activities.Golfing, tennis, biking, swimming, kayaking, playing with your children or grandchildren are powered by a strong core.
  • House & Yard work. Bending, lifting, twisting, carrying, digging, hammering, reaching overhead, vacuuming, mopping, and dusting all utilize the core.
  • Balance & Stability.Your core stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction, even on the bumpiest terrain, or stand in one spot without losing your balance. A strong stable core protects against falls and injuries.
  • Good posture.Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Good posture lessens wear and tear on the spine and allows you to breathe deeply. Good posture makes us all look better.

How can you have a healthier core and a healthier life? Core work is different from strength-training programs that isolate a single muscle group. Instead, they challenge as many muscles as possible in integrated, coordinated movements. Core moves should engage your entire body, from head to toe. A good place to start is with activities you enjoy and can incorporate into your daily life such as swimming, bicycling, yoga and walking with fitness poles. Beyond that, get a core assessment from a qualified physical therapist or personal trainer and implement a core strengthening and stabilizing training program in conjunction with developing a habit of incorporating daily exercise into your life.  A professional core assessment will include testing for core stability, static and dynamic strength; the training program will be customized for you based upon the results of your assessment.

Stay HEALTHY. Be STRONG. GET After It.

LYMPHEDEMA – What can you change up?

According to an article from Medical News Today published in July 2013, lymphedema occurs in up to 13% of breast cancer patients, increasing to 40% after lymph node dissection and radiation, and it’s not only breast cancer patients that are at risk: “Surgery and radiation after lymph node removal can cause scarring that blocks the lymph ducts, not only in the underarm but also in the legs, groin, pelvis, or neck after treatment for uterine, prostate, ovarian, or prostate cancer, as well as lymphoma and melanoma.“

WHY am I writing about this topic?  My cousin is a breast cancer survivor and she asked me if there was anything she could be doing differently with her food and/or exercise to help alleviate her symptoms.  Her doctor had advised the lymphedema would progress in severity, but didn’t offer her any “real world” advice beyond what she already knew. Compression garments, massage by specially trained therapists, pneumatic pump therapy and therapeutic exercise overseen by a physical therapist. She wanted to know what ELSE she could personally do. Therefore, I did some research for her.  What I found was interesting and very straightforward.  I keep learning that Food is indeed medicine. What I keep finding out over and over again – what we eat and how we move can make a GREAT impact on our overall health.  What I found out about lymphedema isn’t really any different than basic good nutritional guidelines that we should all be following to safeguard and improve our health.

Lymphedema is a build-up of fluid in soft body tissues when the lymph system is damaged or blocked.  Edema = Swelling.   If you have Lymphedema you know it. It isn’t silent or hidden.   If you have edema or swelling in your hands, arms, legs, feet, neck, groin – please seek medical attention, diagnosis and treatment.  If you have Lymphedema and are reading this – please discuss this information with your doctor to see if it may be right for you.  

If you are a Lymphedema patient and haven’t been referred to a Registered Dietitian –  seek out a referral.   Nutritional support is a vital piece of the treatment plan that often is neglected.  A Health Coach can work with you in conjunction with your medical team to support you in your goals.

Rebounding. Jumping on a mini trampoline.  Rebounding may help move lymphatic fluid through your body and act as a “pump”. If you don’t have a mini trampoline, sit in a sturdy chair and bounce your legs up and down as if jumping on a trampoline.  Before starting any exercise program – consult with your physician.

Lower your sodium intake.  Sodium lurks everywhere and is especially high in processed “convenience” foods. If it’s been packaged, boxed, jarred or canned by the food industry – keep your eye on the label.   Canned vegetables, soups, frozen entrees, condiments, sauces, deli meats and fast food are the primary culprits.   If you cook the majority of your meals from REAL ingredients – you have better control of the quality.   When you are cooking, herbs add flavor without salt.

Potassium rich foods.   We tend to get plenty of sodium in our diets, but not enough potassium. Potassium helps balance out sodium in our diets and is key in helping to decrease blood pressure.   Most folks immediately think bananas when thinking potassium, but they are not the top of the list.  Spinach and dried apricots are high on the list of potassium rich foods.  If you are on medication, always check with your physician or pharmacist since some foods can interact with medications.

Weight Loss.  If you are overweight, losing weight can be beneficial.   The goal is to lose fat while maintaining your muscular strength.  Balanced nutrition and moderate exercise that incorporates weight bearing / resistance exercise is key.  WALKING is an effective, low-impact, weight bearing exercise that most individuals can easily do.   Before starting any exercise program – consult with your physician.

Nutrition.  Balanced.  Lean protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates with an emphasis on eating a variety of vegetables and fruit, and healthy fats.  Minimize sodium and processed grains, sugars and fats.   If you are mindful of crowding OUT fast food and processed “convenience” foods as discussed above – you are on your way to minimizing sodium and processed grains, sugars and fats.  Remember:  Keep it REAL when it comes to your food.

Water.  Drink water as your primary beverage. Get into the habit of having a favorite tumbler that you fill with water and have it with you throughout the day.  Adequate hydration is essential for basic cell function and is especially important for the body to remove waste products.

Flavonoids, Selenium & B-Vitamins.  Flavonoids are compounds from plants that have anti-oxidant properties and are beneficial in reducing inflammation and supporting vein health.  Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. The mineral Selenium also has anti-oxidant properties and has been reported in studies along with B-vitamins as helpful in managing the severity of acute & chronic lymphedema.   Selenium and B-vitamins can be easily obtained in a balanced, varied diet.

Horse Chestnut.  Standardized Horse Chestnut extract is a natural / alternative remedy to support leg edema and to help prevent varicose veins.  As with ANY supplement – consult with your physician. 

STAY healthy. Be STRONG.  Get AFTER IT.

LEMONS (more than just lemonade)

Lemons. Typically, if you eat out at a restaurant, you get a slice of lemon in your water. If you are like me, it is just one of those things and you don’t even think about it much.  I’ve been thinking a lot about lemons lately and of course, I wanted to tell you all about it, or rather, them.

Lemon juice raises the level of citrate in the body, which may help in fighting kidney stones. Note: other citrus does not have this effect. In fact, grapefruit juice has the opposite effect and should be avoided if you are prone to kidney stones.

Kidney stones form when urine in the kidneys becomes supersaturated with stone-forming salts, and when the urine doesn’t contain enough stone-preventing substances. One of these substances is citrate. For people prone to stones, doctors typically prescribe potassium citrate in pill or liquid form.  Lemon juice is full of natural citrate. When added to water, or when made into low-sugar lemonade, lemon juice increases the amount of citrate in the urine to levels known to inhibit kidney stones. Be sure to include some grated lemon peel to your lemon water / lemonade. It is important to be cautious with sugar since it can increase kidney stone risk.  I squeeze an entire lemon into my 32 oz. tumbler of water every morning and I toss the lemon into the tumbler as well after squeezing out the juice. It’s super easy to do this every morning.

Beyond the benefit for fighting kidney stones, lemons have other health benefits.  Lemons are a great source of Vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent.  For that reason along, lemons are worth adding to your diet.  But! Lemons have also been found to have two other compounds – a group of chemicals called limonoids and limonene, both of which have documented anti-cancer properties.

Limonene is found in the peel and has been shown in studies to be chemopreventive against mammary, liver, lung and UV-induced skin cancer and chemotherapeutic against mammary and pancreatic tumors.  A study from the University of Arizona concluded that when lemon peel is consumed with hot black tea, the risk of skin cancer is reduced by 30 percent. According to researchers, consumer 1 tablespoon a week of grated peel is all you need to make a significant difference. The limonoid in lemon, limonin, seems to be able to lower cholesterol.

The simple Lemon has so many health benefits. Lemons are easy to find year-round and it takes no time to add some to your water or hot tea. So why not add them to your bag of health tricks?  As always, prevention is the absolute best medicine.

STAY healthy. Be STRONG. Get AFTER It.

ZUCCHINI

Squash is plentiful right now and you may find yourself being gifted with loads of zucchini.  Local farmer’s markets will toss in extra in your bag when you aren’t looking.  You may be the victim of a hit and run: your neighbor hits up your doorstep with zucchini then runs.  What can you do with all that zucchini?  What are the health benefits?

1 medium squash has 33 calories, 2 grams of fiber, 2.4 grams of protein and provides the RDA of these vitamins and minerals:  Calcium 3%; Iron 3%; Vitamin C 58%; Vitamin A 7%; B6 15% and Magnesium 8%.  It also has a whopping 512 mg of potassium, which is great for keeping our blood pressure healthier.

How about reducing age-related macular degeneration?  Yep.  Zucchini has plenty of the carotenoids lutein & zeaxanthin which are powerhouses for eye health.  Manganese too, which aids in the production of collagen which is essential for wound healing and like Vitamin C, manganese is an antioxidant that protects against cellular damage from free radicals. Vitamin C, best known for protecting sailors against scurvy, is a water-soluble antioxidant that also helps our bodies metabolize cholesterol.  Squash in general has high water content which makes it a “high volume” food which means there is a LOT of good stuff for very few calories.

How can you add zucchini to your life?  Chop it up and add it to soup. Make a casserole with layered slices of zucchini, yellow squash, onion, green tomatoes and cheese.  Thinly slice it length-wise and use those slices instead of noodles in lasagna. Slice them in half, remove the “innards” and fill up the slices with marinara or meat sauce, sprinkle with cheese and bake.  Whip up a skillet of calabacitas.

Calabacitas is a traditional vegetable dish in New Mexico that my friend Carla introduced me to years ago. It is easy and delicious.  I always use a cast iron skillet.  Grab one and add a bit of olive oil and put the pan over medium heat; throw in some chopped zucchini along with some salt, pepper and garlic.  Stir it around a bit then add some fresh corn and some green chiles.  No recipe, it is a throw-it-together dish that takes just a couple of minutes to prepare.  Generally, I’d say 2 medium zucchini, 1 ear of corn, and half a can of diced green chiles.  Add to your taste; can’t really go wrong. Get out that skillet and whip up a batch.

STAY Healthy. Be STRONG. Get AFTER It.

The Power of Pineapple

Food is medicine, and it is delicious medicine.  We are indeed what we eat, and if we eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, we are giving our bodies premium fuel.

Let’s talk pineapple.  When it comes to produce, remember: Fresh is always best!  Frozen is the next best.

The fruit is made up of many individual berries that fuse together around a central core. Each pineapple scale is an individual berry.  Pineapple contains:

  • Bromelain – an enzyme that has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Vitamin C – lots of it!
  • Manganese – a mineral important to bone health 
  • Thiamin – a B vitamin that is involved in energy production

In 1493, explorer Christopher Columbus found pineapples on Guadeloupe Island in the Caribbean. The fruit is also native to southern Brazil and Paraguay. Historically, Hawaii was the world’s largest pineapple producer and source for U.S. pineapples. Today the largest producers include the Philippines, Brazil, and Costa Rica. Pass over sour-smelling or bruised pineapples. Fruit from Hawaii or Central America tends to be freshest.

To make your pineapple softer and juicier, keep it at room temperature for 1 or 2 days before cutting.  One cup of fresh pineapple chunks has about 82 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, is low in sodium.  Pineapple is a tropical fruit and tropical fruits are a higher in sugar.

Don’t stress over sugar that is in your produce, because that sugar comes with nutrients and fiber. Instead, be mindful about how it fits into your total intake.  For example, make sure you are eating a balance of foods, not a lot of any single food.

Last but not least: Pineapple is a fabulous meat tenderizer because the Bromelain is a protein-digesting enzyme.  Use pineapple juice in marinades for flavor and to tenderize.  Pineapple juice works very well as a marinade for jerky.

What are the benefits of adding some pineapple to your life?

  • Anti-Inflammatory benefits – especially cited as helpful with reducing osteoarthritis pain
  • Can reduce tumor growth
  • Blood clot reduction
  • Immune system support
  • Bone strength
  • Eye health
  • Aids digestion

Stay Healthy. Be STRONG.  Get After It!

 

Why SQUATS Should be in Your Life

SQUATS.   If you’re looking for a powerful way to boost your overall fitness and health, look no further than the squat. This is one exercise that should be a part of virtually everyone’s routine. The squat is relatively simple to perform, requires no or very minimal equipment, and can be done just about anywhere.

WHY are they so good?

Builds Muscle in Your Entire Body

Squats work the two biggest muscle groups in your body: the glutes and the quads. Assistance movers for this exercise include the hamstrings and the calves. Squats also help build lower back strength and develop core strength and stabilization. Squats are a functional exercise in that they aid your ability to live a full, healthy life. Anything from getting out of a chair, to squatting down to pick something off the floor requires squat strength. Especially as we get older, proper squat technique is critical to maintain health and longevity.  There are many variations to this very effective compound exercise.

Functional Exercise Makes Real-Life Activities Easier

Functional exercises are those that help your body to perform real-life activities.  Squats are one of the best functional exercises out there, as humans have been squatting since the hunter-gatherer days. When you perform squats, you build muscle and help your muscles work more efficiently, as well as promote mobility and balance.

Increase your Metabolism

One of the most time-efficient ways to raise your metabolism is to have more muscle. Muscle is active tissue and it requires more energy (calories) to maintain throughout the day – even when at rest or sleeping.

Maintain Mobility and Balance

Strong legs are crucial for staying mobile as you get older, and squats are excellent for increasing leg strength. They also work out your core, stabilizing muscles, which will help you to maintain balance, while also improving the communication between your brain and your muscle groups, which helps prevent falls – which is the #1 way to prevent bone fractures.

Prevent Injuries

Most athletic injuries involve weak stabilizer muscles, ligaments and connective tissues, which squats help strengthen. They also help prevent injury by improving your flexibility and balance.  If you can prevent a fall, you’ve prevented a potentially serious injury – especially as we age.

Prevent Disease

Few exercises work as many muscles as the squat, so it’s an excellent activity useful for toning and tightening your buttocks, abdominals, and your legs. These muscles participate in the regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity, helping to protect you against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Regular exercise is a key player in disease reduction, optimal mental, emotional and physical health, and longevity. Exercise also slows down the rate of aging itself, even stimulating the regeneration of the energy-producing mitochondria in your cells, providing perhaps the closest example of a real-life fountain of youth as we will ever find.

Prevent / Improve Osteoporosis [Increase Bone Density]

Osteoporosis and osteopenia are both characterized by low bone density. Areas that post-menopausal women are most affected by loss of bone density is in their femoral neck (near the top of the femur), hips and spine. Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because bone loss occurs without symptoms. People may not know that they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak that a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a fracture. Collapsed vertebrae may be first noticed when the person suffers severe back pain, loss of height, or spinal deformities such as stooped posture. The creation of new bone, and how dense, strong, and well-rounded it is in content can be at least partially manipulated by our activities. Weighted squats are an excellent exercise to improve bone density in the femoral neck,  hips and lower spine.

HOW DO YOU GET AFTER IT?

The bodyweight squat (squatting without weights) incorporates elements of resistance training because you’re lifting your own body weight. Using added weight (with a front squat variation such as a Goblet or Zercher squat) increases the intensity of the workout , which builds muscle, accelerates your metabolism and strengthens bone density.

Athletic Stance.  Knees are slightly bent, feet are firmly planted on the ground, and toes pointed outwards slightly, which helps with stabilization. The wider you put your feet, the more it works your glutes and hamstring (back of the leg), and the easier it will be to stabilize. The closer in you put your feet, the more your quadriceps will be emphasized (the front of the leg).

Head Neutral – Straight Ahead.   Pick a spot on the wall that’s in line with your eyes as you are standing straight, then as you squat down, keep your eyes on that spot. Your head is automatically in the correct position.

Back Straight. Chest Out – Shoulders Back.   By keeping your shoulders back and your chest out, your lower back will most likely have the correct natural curve.

Butt Back – Sit Down.  Knees behind your Toes. Weight on Heels.  Each time you squat you should hinge your hips so that your butt moves backwards during the downward phase of the squat, your knees should NOT be over your toes (if you are tall, this may happen, but make sure it does not put pressure on your knees). Finally, the pressure of the squat will be on your heels instead of your toes and you will be able to get more depth to your squat.

Practice your form with squats using a bench, ottoman or a chair behind you to sit down – squat to.   The depth of your squat (how low should you go): In general, try to shoot for your hamstrings about parallel with the floor, which deeply engages your thighs, hips, and glutes. If you can go lower than parallel that’s fine, just make sure you don’t experience any pain in your knees, or lower back, and always keep your lower back flat, to slightly arched.

 

Collagen. Joints, Tendons & Skin

I’ve been learning some things about tendons, specifically how to give your body the ammunition it needs to heal tendons after an injury or in my case, a tendon injury that required surgical repair.   What I found is that collagen isn’t just for our faces, which is what most of probably think about first when we hear the word collagen.

Anytime you are faced with a change you want to make to your health, always look to nutrition first and what you can do differently to support your body in taking care of itself.  If you don’t go to the source, you are merely putting a band-aid on something and sometimes you are working against your body if you don’t provide it with the nutrients it needs.

Collagen is an abundant protein in our bodies and it is found in our muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels, digestive system and our tendons and ligaments.  It is what gives our skin strength and elasticity and is what keeps our joints, tendons and ligaments healthier and moving with ease.  Tendons are thick bundles of collagen that connect muscle to bone and allow movement, while ligaments are flexible bundles of collagen that connect bone to bone and protect your joints.

Good collagen production can also ease the pain of osteoarthritis.  As we age, our collagen production naturally slows down.  This degenerative process is accounts for signs of aging such as wrinkles sagging skin and joint pain due to weakened or decreased cartilage.  Collagen helps our tendons ligaments and muscles heal after an injury or surgery.

Collagen is a long-chain amino acid compound of the individual amino acids proline, glycine, hydroxyproline and arginine.  Collagen accounts for 30% of protein found in the body and 70% of protein in skin.   Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.

The good news is, there are some things we can do nutritionally to help support collagen production.

First, a couple of things to stop or dramatically cut down on:  Smoking, excessive sun exposure (yes, that especially means tanning beds which are harmful in so many ways to our skin) and junk food/sugar consumption.  We need the Vitamin D benefits of real sunshine, but we don’t need to be baking ourselves.  Smoking, excessive un exposure and a diet high in added sugar speeds up the deterioration of collagen.

Now, the good things to add to your diet that support collagen production.  The biggies are:  Protein / Amino Acids and Vitamin C.

Vitamin C supports collagen production.  Eating fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C helps our bodies to maintain and build collagen.   The top 10 foods for Vitamin C are:  Oranges, Red Bell Peppers, Kale, Guava, Kiwi, Green Bell Peppers, Brussels sprouts, Broccoli, Strawberries & Grapefruit.

Protein from plant or animal based foods such as eggs (the protein is in the egg whites), beans, lentils, plain or lower sugar Greek or Icelandic yogurt, cottage cheese, hard cheese, quinoa, fish (canned tuna & salmon are easy options) chicken, turkey, beef, pork and to a lesser extent: nuts, seeds and higher protein vegetables.  Vegetables highest in protein are:  asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, artichoke, watercress and yellow corn.  Nuts and seeds have protein and healthy fat.  However, you cannot depend upon nuts and vegetables as your primary protein source.   Quality protein powders whether whey protein or vegan proteins such as hemp, brown rice or pea protein with added BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) can be used to supplement your diet, but I don’t recommend relying on supplements.  Real food is always best.

Collagen Peptides are another supplement you can consider for boosting your collagen production.  As with any supplement, it is only as good as our body can absorb it; capsules and pills are not as well absorbed as liquids or powders that are added to liquids.

Exercise is beneficial for our overall health so it’s no surprise that exercise supports collagen production.  30 – 60 minutes of continuous exercise each day (30 minutes minimum, but building up to 60 minutes is optimal and you can do it in two 30 minute sessions).   Walking is excellent and can be done by almost anyone anywhere.  A walk around town, at the park, the parking lot at lunch, the perimeter of a large warehouse store or up and down your driveway gets the job done!  Jumping on a mini trampoline is also a good option that also has great benefits for our lymphatic system.  Bicycling, dancing, taking a class, lifting weights circuit style are all options.  Find an activity and get out there and do it!   Eat your lunch and take a walk during your lunch break.

Other foods to eat more of to support collagen health.

Red fruits & vegetables due to the lycopene they contain

Dark green vegetables are rich in lutein and vitamin C

Beans help produce hyaluronic acid which is a lubricating fluid found in skin,       eyes, joints and connective tissue

Prunes & Blueberries are high in antioxidants that help neutralize free radicals before they can do damage

Omega 3 fatty acids help create an ideal environment for collagen production. You find Omega 3s in seaweed, fatty fish, walnuts, chia and flax seeds as well as cod, flax, walnut and mustard oil (can be found in Indian food stores).

Bone Broth made from beef or chicken bones is rich in collagen and can be consumed by itself or used as a base for soup.

 Ensuring that we are eating nutritious foods that support collagen production is important for every single person.  If you are an older adult, or someone who is recovering from an orthopedic injury or surgery or an injury or surgery involving your skin, then keeping your eye on your health relative to collagen production is essential and vitally important.  I hope that I have shown you that it truly isn’t that difficult to do; we just need to know what to do.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Stay Healthy. Be STRONG.  Get After It!

Dental Care is Health Care

What do your teeth have to do with your health?  Glad you asked!  It’s actually a pretty big deal. Having good oral hygiene isn’t just for looks and isn’t just about your teeth – it’s also about your heart. Yes, your heart.  Seeing your dentist on a regular basis is also a preventative measure against cancer; your dentist will have an opportunity to see changes within your mouth that could be signs of oral cancer.

The state of your oral health offers clues about your overall health and problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body.  Your mouth is teeming with bacteria — most of them harmless. Normally the body’s natural defenses and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, can keep these bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.  Some medications, such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics and antidepressants, can reduce saliva flow which helps to protect you from microbial invasion or overgrowth that might lead to disease.

Studies also suggest that oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease, plays a role in heart health. In addition, certain diseases, such as diabetes can lower the body’s resistance to infection, making oral health problems more severe.

What conditions may be linked to oral health?
  • Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium). Endocarditis typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in your heart.
  • Cardiovascular disease.Some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.
How can I protect my oral health?
  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day; at a minimum in the morning and before bed.
  • Floss daily. This is important!
  • Eat a nutritious diet and limit between-meal snacks
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if bristles are frayed.
  • Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings.
  • Avoid tobacco use.
  • Contact your dentist as soon as an oral health problem arises. Taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health.
Some conditions that affect your oral health:
  • Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection and puts the gums at risk. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes. Research shows that people who have gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels, and that regular periodontal care can improve diabetes control.
  • Osteoporosis, which causes bones to become weak and brittle, might be linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis. Tooth loss, a marker for gum disease, may predict rheumatoid arthritis and its severity.
Get yourself a Dentist!

 Even if you take excellent care of your teeth and gums at home, you still need to see a dentist regularly. Your dentist can check for problems that you may not see or feel. Many dental problems don’t become visible or cause pain until they are in more advanced stages. Examples include cavities, gum disease and oral cancer. Regular visits allow your dentist to find early signs of disease and can be treated at a manageable stage.

On average, see your dentist twice a year. Individuals at high risk, may need more frequent visits, such as:

  • Smokers
  • Diabetics
  • People with current gum disease
  • People with a weak immune system
  • People who tend to get cavities or build up plaque

 

Fiber for our Body & Brain

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels — that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Having just one of these conditions doesn’t mean you have metabolic syndrome. However, any of these conditions increase your risk of serious disease. Having more than one of these might increase your risk even more.  If you have metabolic syndrome or any of its components, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.  Daily exercise and changing up the types of carbohydrates that you eat have significant impact on these conditions.

Where to start?  Choose to eat more complex carbohydrates, that is, foods higher in fiber.  By eating more fiber-rich carbohydrates, you should be crowding out refined, processed carbohydrates.  Pay attention to the types of carbohydrates that you eat! Make sure you are choosing carbohydrates with fiber.  This is important. Focus on the TYPE of carbohydrates that you are eating.

Eating higher-fiber foods improve your health in many ways:

  • Controls your appetite
  • Gives you long-lasting energy
  • Helps you reach & maintain a healthy weight
  • Provides vitamins, minerals, antioxidants & phytonutrients
  • Provides balance for blood-sugar levels
  • Helps reduce blood-cholesterol levels
  • Helps reduce blood pressure
  • Promotes a healthy digestion
  • Enhances brain function

What are some higher fiber (2.5+ grams per serving) carbohydrates?1 cup of vegetables; 1 average size fruit; 1 oz. nuts/seeds; 1 cup legumes; 1 cup unbroken grains = 1 serving

VEGETABLES & FRUIT (fresh or frozen are the best options)

 Spinach, Collard Greens, Kale, Turnip Greens, Artichoke, Carrots, Broccoli, BrusselsSprouts, Cabbage, Onions, Sweet Potato, White Potato, Pumpkin, Apples, Blackberries, Pears, Blueberries, Raspberries, Avocado, Guavas, Kiwi, Dates, Figs, dried Figs, dried Plums, Oranges, Strawberries, Banana

 NUTS & SEEDS

 Almonds, Pistachios, Pecans, Walnuts, Flax seed (ground), Chia seed, Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds

 LEGUMES (a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas & lentils; are a good plant-based protein source)

 Lentils, Lima Beans, Pigeon Peas, Pink Beans, Pinto Beans, Black Beas, White/Navy Beans, Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans, Kidney Beans, Black Eyed Peas, Split Peas, Green Peas, Peanuts

WHOLE GRAINS (unbroken grains that must be cooked before they can be eaten. Flour is an example of a broken grain as well as any other grain products that are not in their natural-whole state)

Old Fashioned/Rolled or Steel Cut Oats, Quinoa, Rice, Pearled Barley, PopcornWhole Grain, High Fiber Cereal with minimal ingredients:  Bran Flakes, Grape Nuts, Shredded Wheat with Bran

 By adding more of these foods into your diet and crowding out foods made with processed flour (which usually come with sugar and unhealthy fats) you are on the path of better health – now and in the future.   Don’t wait until you have a serious health condition to pay attention, do it now!   Prevention is the best medicine.  Food is Medicine.   When we eat better, we feel better.   Often, we don’t realize how great we can feel until we do – or the reverse of that:  how bad we feel until we don’t.

Stay Healthy. Be STRONG.  Get After It.

Food or Calories. Which to Focus On?

You’ve decided it is time to get in shape and get healthier.   You embark on a diet and a workout plan.   You start eating “healthy” and you launch into a rigorous exercise regimen.  You stick with it for a while until you just get tired of it.  You get hungry. You feel deprived.  You get tired of worrying about how many calories you are eating and what you are burning off doing all that exercise.  You throw in the towel because this “getting healthy” stuff is just not for you.  Have you ever experienced this?

Healthy.  Healthy Food. Eating Healthy.  Those words get used a lot.  Have you ever stopped to consider what it truly means?  What is Healthy food? What is eating Healthy?  What is Healthy?

 HEALTH is the state of complete physical, mental & social well-being; not merely the absence of disease or infirmity

 Using that definition then “healthy food” must be food that supports a state of complete physical, mental & social well-being.  Right?  What about the concept of “good food” vs. “bad food”?   Now we may be getting closer to what folks mean when they say healthy food vs. unhealthy food. They must be talking about “good” vs. “bad” food.  Gotcha!  Where are those lists? There must be a standardized list – right?   Here’s the thing:  Get 10 people together and ask them that question; I’m betting you will get lots of different answers. I don’t like to categorize food as good or bad.  Why give food that power? The Power is Yours.

What I do like to do is to talk about choices – better choices relative to nutrition, satiety and health promotion.  To me, “healthy food” is food that promotes health. Body, Mind & Spirit. Healthy food is nutrient dense, it satisfies and it supports your vibrant lifestyle and keeps your body fit and strong.  I’m betting few folks will argue against the powerhouse nutrition of leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables.  They are filled with phytonutrients, vitamins & minerals that support vibrant health. However, let’s beREAL - eating nothing but leafy greens and cauliflower doesn’t exactly make our spirits soar.  Chocolate cheesecake pretty much makes my spirits soar.

Keeping on with keeping it REAL – a steady diet of bacon cheeseburgers and chocolate cheesecake isn’t likely to keep my overall health soaring.   It is a balance of choices.  We need to tweak our choices depending on what goals we are tackling with our health and that includes our body weight.   The intensity of the tweaks may vary, but we must have an overall way of eating that works for us, that supports our health and it needs to be something that we can sustain for the rest of our lives.   We can white knuckle through most anything for a short period of time, but keeping up with a plan that is overly rigid, doesn’t support the very important spirit part of our health and it is going to fail us in the end.   There is indeed room in a healthy diet for a bacon cheeseburger (and chocolate) if that is what you love.

What is a person to do when they want to make changes to their eating to improve their health and their body?  Start with educating yourself so that better choices can be made; get some guidance and support.   In general, my advice and my approach is to first focus on the food.  That means food quality and better choices.  Calories can and do come later – at least an overall awareness of them as they relate to your energy expenditure.

Typically, folks who set out to count calories are counting calories without changing up the actual food.  How many doughnuts can I eat and still come within “x” calories per day isn’t really the best way to go about it.  You can quickly reach your calorie limit and still behungry.  Hungry leads to fail.

Focus on crowding in some better choices – food with higher nutrient density which is typically lower in calories and is more filling and satisfying.   The balancing act is to crowd IN those foods while gradually crowding OUT some of the foods that haven’t been serving you well.  Small consistent steps that lead to big lifestyle changes.

Stay Healthy. Be STRONG. Get After It. 

Food vs. Treats

Definition of FOOD: any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth.

Definition of TREAT: an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.

We don’t need treats every day, however we do need FOOD. Treats are the exception, not the routine. Americans have it backwards. We tend to eat too many treats, not enough FOOD. Cheetos are not FOOD, they are a TREAT.

My friend Denise loves the saying “You are not a dog, don’t reward yourself with food”.    That should actually be changed to: Don’t reward yourself with TREATS.

How many times have you said: I’ve been good so I’m going to eat “x” or haven’t had this in a while so I’m going to treat myself – I deserve a REWARD. No. You are not a dog. Stop it with the food rewards. Instead: if you want to eat it. Just eat it.  Eat it because you CHOOSE to eat it.

With that said, we all have trigger foods and foods we gravitate to; foods that we crave and want. Foods that we often know we shouldn’t eat and say we want to eat less of, but we think we can’t because we just “have to have them” and we Just. Can’t.  Stop.  I was 230+ pounds of walking bread carbs minus bones and vital organs. If it was bread, a cookie, a cake, a bar, a cracker I was eating it. That was all I wanted.  I’d grab and eat it without any desire or room for anything else.  Eating that way didn’t keep me full or satisfied, and I craved more of the same.   When I made the decision that I was FINALLY going to get a handle on my food and fitness, I took a hard look at what I was eating. I also took a look at the stressors in my life that were contributing to my stress eating.

I found an outlet for stress relief (EXERCISE) and I steadfastly worked on increasing protein rich foods in my diet.  Protein and healthy fats were my focus.  Quickly, I found that those foods satisfied me, kept me fuller longer and I felt better. I wasn’t as sluggish and I had more energy.  As I concentrated on getting in my protein, the refined   carbohydrates or EBLS as I like to call them (extraneous bread-like substances) took a backseat. I didn’t have room for them and I found that I didn’t crave them any longer.  I ended up crowding out the “EBLS” by crowding in more protein and fiber-rich carbohydrates and healthy fat.

My point is this. If there is a food or group of foods, you want to cut back on or stop entirely:  JUST DO IT. One step at a time. Be steadfast and stick with it for a few weeks, let your body do its thing and adjust. Don’t sabotage yourself with “I’ve been “good” so I will reward myself with just a bit of X (insert your trigger food)”.  Stick with it.  You WILL stop wanting it as much.  Once YOU are in control, then you can choose to have some if you want. You are in control, not your cravings.

Mindset switch.YOU are in control. You CHOOSE.  And! Remember to keep FOOD and TREATS in the proper perspective.

Stay Healthy. Be STRONG.  Get After It.

 

STROKE. Can It Happen to You?

My best friend Lisa died.  DIED.  She died less than a week after her 51st birthday. She started her birthday week with a headache; a headache that just wouldn’t go away.  Headaches were not common to her and this one was so bad that she complained about it and she was never one to complain about anything.  Yet, as we women so often do (men may do the same, but I’ve never been a man so I really can’t say) we push through things and keep going because that is what we do.  Lisa, always one to try to see humor in most anything remarked:  “I blame everything on menopause”.  I remain haunted by her social media post that week about her headache.

Lisa was my friend of over 35 years and we had plans of growing into sassy old ladies together laughing through life and old age together.  As I’m wading through grief and thinking about what could have made a difference, I’m writing to you about a silent killer and what we can do to keep that killer at bay.   Awareness of that killer, the risk factors and awareness of warning signs of a stroke are things that may have made a difference for Lisa and I know she’d want us to get the word out about it.

As women, we are saturated with information about breast cancer and it is pretty safe to say that we are all aware.   However, stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer every year and we are not so aware of that.  On average, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes; about 60% of stroke deaths occur in females.

According to the National Stroke Association:

  • Only 1 in 4 women can name more than 2 of the 6 primary stroke symptoms
  • 7 out of 10 women said they are not aware they are more likely than men to have a stroke, and were not at all or only somewhat knowledgeable about risk factors
  • African-American women suffer from a significantly higher number of strokes than Caucasian women, yet they were less likely to correctly identify what causes a stroke
  • Stroke is a leading cause of death for Hispanic women but they are significantly less aware of stroke symptoms
  • 80% of all strokes are Preventable

What is the leading risk for Stroke?

  • High Blood Pressure

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) is a silent killer.  High blood pressure has no warning signs or symptoms and most individuals don’t know they have hypertension. Rarely, high blood pressure can cause symptoms like headaches or vomiting. It is vitally important to monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis.  Know your numbers! Having it checked at a doctor’s office is a good thing and it is done routinely at appointments, but that isn’t enough. High blood pressure goes undetected way too often; make sure you know what your blood pressure is by routinely monitoring it at home with an easy to use, inexpensive device and keep current with preventative exams with your healthcare practitioner.  Omron is a manufacturer of home units such as the one I now use:  Omron 5 Series Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor with Wide-Range Cuff.  Ideally, keep your blood pressure below 120/80. A blood pressure with a systolic reading of  180 or higher OR a diastolic reading of 110 or higher requires immediate emergency medical attention for hypertensive crisis.

About 7 of every 10 people having their first stroke have high blood pressure

How can you reduce your risk of high Blood Pressure?

  • Be Active. 30 minutes of intentional exercise/ physical activity each day.  Walking is excellent and YES you do have 30 minutes to spend each day to improve your health – of course you do! Visit QuittingTheSitting.org to learn how to become less sedentary each and every day.
  • Eat Well. Eat a healthy diet that is low in salt and saturated fat.  Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits.  Eat more vegetables and fruit!
  • Don’t Smoke. If you Smoke – quit as soon as possible. Visit SmokeFree.gov for some great information and assistance.
  • Manage Stress. Stress does damage to our body, mind & spirit.  If there are stressors in your life that you can kick to the curb – do it!  Find ways to cope with stress such as exercise, meditation or sitting down to color.
  •  Sleep isn’t a luxury, it is a priority.  So many things start going wrong when we don’t get quality sleep especially over a period of time so shore up your sleep hygiene practices and seek help if needed.

What are the warning signs of Stroke?

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding
  • Sudden trouble speaking
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

What are warning signs unique to Women?

  • Sudden hiccups
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Sudden heart palpitations
  • Sudden chest pain
  • Sudden face & limb pain
  • Sudden nausea
  • Sudden general weakness
  • 425,000 women suffer a stroke each year

Potentially life-saving medication can be administered within 3 hours of the sudden symptom onset to reverse stroke.  If you think you or someone else is having a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately.  Stroke is a medical emergency. Do not drive yourself or wait for a ride from a friend or family member. have an ambulance transport you.

If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T:

F – FACE: Does one side of the face droop when the person smiles?
A – ARM or Leg Weakness: Does one arm/leg drift downward when raised?
S – SPEECH: Is their speech slurred or strange?
T – TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Ways to Prevent a Stroke?

  • Control your Blood Pressure
  • Don’t Smoke
  • Find healthy ways to cope with stress
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get tested for Diabetes
  • Have your cholesterol & triglyceride levels checked
  • Drink no more than 1 alcoholic beverage per day

Take action now to control the things that you can to reduce your risk of a Stroke.  Be aware of the signs and be ready to take immediate action.  Don’t ignore symptoms that are sudden, unusual and without a known cause.  Trust your instincts! Be a lifesaver – share this information with others and ask them to share with their friends, family and co-workers.

Stay Healthy. Be STRONG.  Get After It.