Congrats! You are a Chicken

Congrats! You are a Chicken.

What? But I want to be an Eagle! What do you mean I’m a chicken?

You are a Fabulous chicken! Isn’t that what you were going after?

No. No! I want to be an Eagle, I’ve been working at being an Eagle.

Do you see what just happened here? It is like what my mother and I’m sure generations of mothers and grandmothers have repeated through the years: “You are the company you keep”.   If you want to be an Eagle then you need to surround yourself with Eagles and model your habits and behaviors to those that the Eagles have.  If you want to be an Eagle, but hang out with a bunch of chickens then you are pretty much setting yourself up for failure as far as being an Eagle. Before you get all riled up “But Jen! nothing wrong with a chicken – chickens are pretty darn groovy”.  Hey! You got it, I know it – chickens are pretty darn awesome sauce, but not if you want to be an Eagle. Get what I’m saying?

If you have goals that you want to accomplish, then you need to be sure you are setting yourself up for success.   That means you will be arming yourself with the right tools, surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals, taking yourself out of your comfort zone, will be making some changes and you need to be prepared to be challenged. Change isn’t easy and it is almost always uncomfortable.  If we want to make changes, yet wrap a warm blanket of the same-same around ourselves then what do we end up with?  We end up wanting and saying we want to be an Eagle, but we are not doing what we need to do to become an Eagle. We are still hanging out with chickens because we know the chickens, we know how to be a chicken, the chickens tell us “there there it’s OK you deserve to give yourself a break, you deserve it, tomorrow is another day, you don’t really want to be an Eagle anyway”. Pat pat, soothe soothe. This goes on tomorrow and the next day, the next month, the next year.  You are beating yourself up, bemoaning “ohhh I want to be an Eagle, why can’t I be an Eagle?  I work so hard, I just must not be cut out to be an Eagle”.  The chickens are still soothing you, commiserating with you, telling you what you want to hear.  The Eagles?  They are like – hey chick! If you want to be an Eagle come on over here with us and let us show you how it’s done.

We Become What We Want to Be by Consistently Being What We Want to Become Each Day

If you have goals you want to accomplish, arm yourself with the proper tools to accomplish those goals.  Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who walk the walk, talk the talk and have the behaviors and habits that make them what it is that makes you want to be like them.  Be willing to surround yourself with individuals who will tell you what you need to hear, not want you want to hear. Surround yourself with those who will push you and challenge you and support you in the changes that you are seeking to make and will hold you accountable to yourself.  It will likely be uncomfortable, but if you want it – Get After It!

Toss off that comfy blanket – you have some soaring to do.

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.

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.