Love for your Body, Mind & Spirit

Warmer weather is nudging its way to us and getting outside on a regular basis will be a reality that I encourage to embrace.  The simple act of walking has so many health benefits that if the pharmaceutical companies could capture all the benefits and stuff them into a capsule they’d surely do it and charge several dollars for a single capsule.

Walking doesn’t require any special training. Most folks can do I and it doesn’t take any equipment other than a decent pair of shoes.  You can walk at the park, around town, around the block in your neighborhood, around the perimeter of your parking lot at work on your lunch break, around the inside of a large store or shopping mall (just don’t stop to shop – keep on walking! – then shop).   30 minutes of exercise per days does so many good things for our bodies, minds and spirits. Start at your fitness level.  Walking at a slow pace is fine if that is where you are; challenge yourself to increase the intensity so that you are eventually walking at a pace that talking is possible, but you can’t carry on a chatty conversation with someone.

Let’s list a few things that WALKING can do for you:

  • Strengthens your BONES
  • Strengthens your HEART
  • LOWERS disease risk
  • Keeps WEIGHT in check
  • Can help prevent DEMENTIA
  • Gives you ENERGY
  • It makes you HAPPY

WHOA!  Did you just read that?

Regular walking has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. It lowers levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) while increasing levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol) and keeps your blood pressure in check.   A walking habit can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and can keep insulin resistance in check. Insulin resistance is a precursor to diabetes and plays a role in many chronic health conditions.  Active walkers have around a 20% lowered risk of developing cancer of the colon, breast and uterus.  30 minutes a day. That’s all you need to reap these benefits.

Walking uses calories – you are expending energy.  Walking is weight bearing so it stimulates and strengthens bones, increasing their density. This is especially important for women.  Post-Menopausal women are at greater risk for osteoporosis. Research shows that post-menopausal women who walk approximately 1 mile per day have higher bone density than women who don’t walk.   Walking helps maintain healthy joints and that is bad news for arthritis.  Walking strengthens and shapes your leg muscles, giving definition to calves, quads, and hamstrings and gives OOMPH to your glutes – especially if you add hills.  If you pay attention to your posture as you walk, your core muscles will get in on the benefits too.

Speed walking comes from your arms.  Hold them at a comfortable level at your waist, bent at the elbow, and swing them backwards and forwards as your walk.  Swing them faster and you’ll automatically speed up.  That movement is working the muscles of your arms, shoulders and upper back.  Using all those muscles challenges them and the more muscle we have and use, the more calories we burn, even at rest.

A brisk walk is one of the best natural energizers.  Walking boosts circulation and increases oxygen supply to every cell in our bodies, helping us to feel more alert and alive.  Think about that the next time you find yourself plopped down on the couch watching TV bemoaning that you “never have time” or are “too tired” to exercise. Get up, lace up the shoes and walk for 15 minutes. I guarantee that you will feel better.   Those 15 minutes will become 20, then 30.   Walking can clear a cluttered mind.  Walking alleviates stress and symptoms of depression.  Exercise releases “feel good” endorphins into the bloodstream, reducing stress and anxiety.

Physical activity has a protective effect on brain function and regular exercise can help us avoid brain shrinkage and preserve memory as the years pass.  Dementia affects one in 14 people over age 65 and one in 6 over age 80.   A study from Harvard a few years ago looked at walking and its many benefits.  That study found that later in life, walking becomes as much an INDICATOR of health as a PROMOTER of it.  After age 65, how fast you walk may predict how long you have to live. Researchers have found a consistent association between faster walking speed and a longer life.  Can you get your shoes on fast enough for a longer life with more memory?

In a nutshell:  Walking improves physical and mental function and it makes us feel GOOD.

Stay Healthy. Be Strong. Get After It.

Collagen. How to Get More Of It.

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.

Secondly, 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.  Choose an unflavored powder and mix it in a glass of juice, add it to a smoothie or add it to a batch of banana bread.   There are also Collagen supplements in capsule form.  One I especially like has hyaluronic acid in the formulation which is excellent for our joints, eyes and skin.

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 and bone density.  Bicycling, dancing, taking a group fitness class, lifting weights circuit style are all options.  Find an activity and get out there and do it!

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).

Broth made from beef, chicken or fish 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, keeping your eye on your health relative to collagen production is essential and vitally important.  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!

Eating for Arthritis

Arthritis pain and stiffness can make you feel that you don’t want to move, so you find yourself sitting more and moving less. That seems like the thing to do, but it isn’t.  Our joints need movement.   When healthy joints move, the bones glide against one another little friction due to a layer of slick articular cartilage and slippery synovial fluid.  Synovial fluid provides cushion and lubrication for the joints. When a joint is at rest, cartilage absorbs some of the synovial fluid. When the joint is in use the synovial fluid is squeezed out of the cartilage; moving our joints is essential to circulate the synovial fluid.  Gently moving the joints for 10 minutes each morning will start your day off with less stiffness and can lessen pain when you continue to move throughout the day.  Even if you are sitting, you can be moving your joints.  Exercise that is joint friendly without impact to the joints is essential and all it takes is your body, a chair and some music.  Ok, music is optional, but it gets you in the movement mood.  Ageless Grace® and chair Yoga are some suggestions.

FOOD.  What we put into our bodies matter.  Food is indeed medicine.  A basic place to start is eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains that you must cook to eat combined with crowding processed sugars out of your life. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition warns that processed sugars trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Sugar goes by many names so look out for any word ending in “ose” in ingredient labels.  Sugar is added to so many commercially prepared foods, many that you wouldn’t expect.  White flour products (bread, rolls, crackers and many cereals) are refined and lack fiber. These foods fuel the production of advanced glycation end (AGE) products that stimulate inflammation.

Beyond those basics, add more Omega-3 fatty acids to your life.  Omega-3s blunt inflammatory responses that may help lower the risk of arthritis, dementia, heart disease and depression. Prostaglandins are regulators of the immune system and the body’s inflammatory responses.  Omega-3s help weaken inflammatory responses while Omega-6 fats increase inflammatory responses.  When tend to get more Omega-6 fats in our diet due to convenience foods, and we don’t get enough Omega-3s.

Where can you find Omega-3s? Seaweed is the primary source – countless species of marine plants and algae that grow in the ocean as well as in rivers, lakes, and other water bodies. Fish eat seaweed so that is why the oil extracted from fatty fish is rich in Omega-3s.  That is why fish oil supplements are used to boost Omega-3 intake. If using a fish-oil supplement, look for at least 500 mg of EPA and DPA per dosage, not the total amount of Omega 3 fish oil used to make the product (which is what the front label usually highlights). Read the back of the label to get this information.

Fish oil supplements from Nordic waters are noted to be especially high quality.  Single source Cod Liver Oil is a good option.  Brands that I recommend are Carlson’s and Nordic Naturals.  A supplement is only as good as its quality and our body’s ability to absorb it.

Eating more fish and seafood is an excellent way to get more Omega-3 fats. The fattier the fish, the richer it is in Omega-3s.  Best choices are: Wild Alaskan Salmon, Arctic Char, Sardines, Halibut, Mackerel, Tuna, Rainbow Trout, Cod, Anchovies, Oysters, Shrimp, Mussels and Crab. However, eating any variety of fish that lived in the sea or rivers and lakes that are abundant with a variety of algae will reward you with some Omega 3s.

Nuts and Seeds also have some Omega-3s. Walnuts have the greatest amount. Chia seeds, Flax seeds (ground or grind the whole seeds yourself) and Pumpkin (pepita) seeds also are good sources.  Flax seed oil, Walnut oil and Mustard oil are also rich sources. Mustard oil can be found in Indian food stores. Try mustard oil in salads instead of olive oil. Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale have Omega-3s; try a salad made with those greens and mustard oil for an Omega-3 punch.

Vegetables and Fruit also contain Omega-3s. The richest sources are: dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collards and broccoli rabe.  Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Winter squash, Berries, Mangoes and Honeydew melon.

 In summary, eat less processed sugar and commercial baked goods. Eat more vegetables and fruit especially leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and berries. Eat more fish. Eat more walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. Consider taking a high-quality fish oil supplement or a vegan algae supplement.  Get movement into your life and your joints every single day.


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.