SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING (From ACE Healthy Living Jan 16, 2019)
A key barrier to being physically active is an all-or-nothing mindset. Unless there is time for a full workout, why bother to start it at all? What is the point of eating carrots for dinner if I ate two cupcakes at work today? It’s Friday and I didn’t get one workout in this week—why bother doing one now? I have forgotten to drink water all day—well, I might as well have another soda. This type of thinking subconsciously drives disengagement in positive behaviors.
Although it doesn’t work with everything, the idea of “something is better than nothing” nicely applies to healthy behaviors. In other words, it is better to do something good—however small or seemingly insignificant—for your health and well-being than nothing at all.
Not convinced? Consider, for example, that a five-minute exercise interval performed once an hour may improve glucose and insulin levels in obese individuals better than one single longer session (Holmstrup et al., 2014).
Another study found that people who rode 10 minutes on a stationary bike had a sharper cognitive response to specific tests compared to individuals who read a magazine for the same amount of time (Samani and Heath, 2018). And immune function may be significantly enhanced with a 20-minute bout of exercise (Dimitrov, Huelton and Hong., 2017). As you can see from this small sample, the research confirming that something (in this case, a small amount of exercise) is better than nothing is encouraging.
Specifically, some movement is better than none. Standing is better than sitting. Walking or moving around is better than standing still. The same is true for other health behaviors that often feel challenging for some people. For example, drinking some water each day is better than drinking none. Eating some fruits and vegetables is better than eating none. Getting some sleep is better than getting none.
Here are some practical ideas for adding small doses of physical activity and movement into your daily life:
- Walk around your house while you are brushing your teeth.
- Every time the phone rings, go for a walk or do some wall-sits.
- Stand up once every 30 minutes and breathe deeply for 2 minutes while doing standing squats.
- Dance your way through household chores (it’s way more fun!).
- Convert your work station into a standing/active station.
- Make family time an active time.
- Anytime you have to wait for something, do squats or calf raises.
- Every time you have to use the restroom, do five push-ups (after might be best!).
- Perform standing lunges while fueling up your car.
- Go for a brisk 10-minute walk after dinner.
Adopting a few small healthy habits has the potential to progress into more healthy patterns over time and gives you the opportunity to experience what reaching your goal might feel like. Doing something rather than nothing also provides a sense of accomplishment, which initiates positive self-talk and self-empowerment.
YOU NEVER AGE OUT OF HAPPINESS AND HEALTH (from Guest Writer, Jason Lewis. Jason is passionate about helping seniors stay healthy and injury-free. He created StrongWell to share his tips on senior fitness. His website is strongwell.org )
Happy, healthy seniors have one thing in common: they never give up on life. And thanks to modern medicine and advanced technology, seniors are aging healthier than ever.
Pay attention to your gut – You already know that you shouldn’t ignore your “gut” feelings. But new research suggests that your intestines have a bigger role in your health than previously thought. Researchers have found that the healthiest seniors are those with a diverse microbiota. Eating fermented foods, taking a probiotic supplement, and abstaining from antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, are all ways to improve gut health and the population of good bacteria in your gut’s microbiome.
Up your energy levels – There are several ways to improve your energy levels, such as getting enough sleep and eating foods that are high in protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins. If you find that lifestyle changes aren’t enough, talk to your doctor about adding an energy supplement to your daily routine. Don’t just grab the first bottle off the shelf, however. Take the time to evaluate your actual needs and the options available.
Exercise for 30 minutes each day – According to Genesis Health + Fitness, 30 minutes is all it takes to change your life. Half an hour of exercise each day can help you lose weight, reduce stress, and lower your chances of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Plus, exercising can help keep your memory sharp.
Avoid brittle bones – Osteoporosis is a condition that leaves you with bones that can break without warning, and you may have to limit physical activities. The Mayo Clinic explains, however, that physical activity is one way to keep your bones healthy. Getting enough calcium is also important. If you’re not a milk drinker, make a point to eat calcium-fortified foods, dark green leafy vegetables, and salmon.
Thwart loneliness – Senior loneliness is an epidemic that, according to the Washington Post, is just as harmful as being a lifelong smoker. While it’s perfectly normal to feel lonely sometimes, don’t be afraid to drag yourself out of the house to attend church, visit the senior center, or volunteer reading to children at your local elementary school.
Don’t let age get in the way of your well-being. By implementing small changes, such as keeping tabs on your gut health and social activities, you’ll make your health a priority all year long.
THE HUMAN HEART (from IDEA Fitness Journal October 2018
As “head coach” of the circulatory/cardiovascular system, the heart pumps blood throughout the body, supplying oxygen and nutrients to tissues.
Actually, two circulatory systems work as a “team”: Systemic circulation carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the body and sends deoxygenated blood back to the heart. Pulmonary circulation transports oxygen-poor blood from the heart’s right ventricle to the lungs, where it picks up a new supply of oxygen-rich blood that it carries to the heart’s left atrium.
According to the Heart Health Institute (2015), you’d need to leave your kitchen faucet on full blast for at least 45 years to match the amount of blood pumped by the heart in an average lifetime. Heart health is high on the list of client goals—and for good reason. Learn more about this miraculous muscular organ:
- The “broken-heart myth” may not be that far-fetched. A breakup or traumatic news (say, the death of a loved one) can spur a heightened risk of heart attack. It can also trigger the release of stress hormones that may temporarily stun the heart, potentially causing heart attack symptoms (Heart Health Institute 2015).
- The heart of a typical athlete “churns out up to 8 gallons of blood per minute” (Arkansas Heart Hospital 2016).
- Heart attacks (also known as myocardial infarctions) most often occur early on a Monday morning in fall or winter (Lefer 2010).
- What’s the earliest known case of heart disease? Scientists have found atherosclerosis in a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy (Allam et al. 2011).
- Christmas and New Year’s Day are the two days of the year when heart attacks are most likely to occur (Kloner 2004).
- The heart beats 100,000 times a day and 35 million times a year. During an average lifespan, it will beat more than 3 billion times (Arkansas Heart Hospital 2016).
- Women have smaller hearts than men do and exhibit different signs of a heart attack. Women are more likely to experience shoulder pain, nausea and indigestion rather than the trademark chest pain (Watson 2009).
USING STRESS FOR POSITIVE RESULTS (from IDEA Fitness Journal October 2018)
You’ve been training for a 10K. You’re ready, but when you show up on race day, your heart is pounding and you feel panicked. What should you do to lower your stress? Some people might say, “Take a deep breath.” We all know that deep breathing to calm the nervous system is a go-to strategy for dealing with stress. But is it always the best strategy?
In her work as a psychologist and a yoga and fitness professional at Stanford University, Kelly McGonigal, PhD, has found that expanding your repertoire of strategies for dealing with stress is helpful. She suggests three alternative approaches.
Harness the Energy of Stress – Studies have compared the physiological responses of terrified first-time skydivers and experienced skydivers (Allison et al. 2012; Hare, Wetherell & Smith 2013). Surprisingly, they don’t differ. Heart rates go up whether people are scared or thrilled. Yet how you interpret your pounding heart and sweaty palms can be the difference between feeling panicked and feeling amped up. It turns out that choosing a positive interpretation of stress is something many elite athletes have learned to do. They don’t see stress as a barrier to performance, and they don’t view anxiety as a signal they are going to choke.
The takeaway: When you feel your heart pounding, palms sweating or mind racing, remember that these are signs of an adrenaline rush that can fuel peak performance. Remind yourself that even the most accomplished athletes, performers and leaders experience anxiety, and the most successful choose to channel their stress into energy and positive motivation.
Choose a Growth Mindset – Think of a time in your life that changed you in a positive way. Maybe you discovered your courage or developed more compassion for others. Maybe it was a turning point that forced you to make an important change.
Whatever your story is, it’s likely it was stressful while you were going through it. Psychologists know that it is through stress that we learn and grow—even if the process isn’t always fun. Difficult experiences can have positive outcomes, whether it’s personal growth from defeating obstacles or growth that can follow serious adversity.
The takeaway: Reflect on how you have grown from adversity. What past difficulties have strengthened you and given you a greater sense of your own capabilities and purpose? You can strengthen your resilience by thinking about how a stressful situation can contribute to your personal growth.
Make It About Something Bigger Than Yourself – Imagine two people in a hospital waiting room, both worried. One reaches out to hold the other’s hand, hoping to comfort her and offer compassion. Which of the two will experience greater stress relief?
Both will likely feel better, but the person who offered the compassion will get the bigger benefit. Neuroscientists have studied what happens in the brain during social support, and giving support reduces stress significantly more than receiving support (Inagaki et al. 2016). Moreover, just thinking about helping and encouraging someone else can create the same stress-relieving changes in the brain (Engen & Singer 2015).
The takeaway: Savor being part of something bigger than yourself. In a moment of stress, thinking about others who might also be struggling, or connecting to the joy of helping others, can be a powerful source of resilience.
BREATHING IS NOT JUST FOR OXYGEN; IT’S LINKED TO BRAIN FUNCTION AND BEHAVIOR
(from Neuroscience News, Dec 2016)
Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered for the first time that the rhythm of breathing creates electrical activity in the human brain that enhances emotional judgments and memory recall.
These effects on behavior depend critically on whether you inhale or exhale and whether you breathe through the nose or mouth.
In the study, individuals were able to identify a fearful face more quickly if they encountered the face when breathing in compared to breathing out. Individuals also were more likely to remember an object if they encountered it on the inhaled breath than the exhaled one. The effect disappeared if breathing was through the mouth.
“One of the major findings in this study is that there is a dramatic difference in brain activity in the amygdala and hippocampus during inhalation compared with exhalation,” said lead author Christina Zelano, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “When you breathe in, we discovered you are stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala and hippocampus, all across the limbic system.”
Northwestern scientists first discovered these differences in brain activity while studying seven patients with epilepsy who were scheduled for brain surgery. A week prior to surgery, a surgeon implanted electrodes into the patients’ brains in order to identify the origin of their seizures. This allowed scientists to acquire electro-physiological data directly from their brains. The recorded electrical signals showed brain activity fluctuated with breathing. The activity occurs in brain areas where emotions, memory and smells are processed.
This discovery led scientists to ask whether cognitive functions typically associated with these brain areas — in particular, fear processing and memory — could also be affected by breathing.
The amygdala is strongly linked to emotional processing, in particular fear-related emotions. So scientists asked about 60 subjects to make rapid decisions on emotional expressions in the lab environment while recording their breathing. Presented with pictures of faces showing expressions of either fear or surprise, the subjects had to indicate, as quickly as they could, which emotion each face was expressing.
When faces were encountered during inhalation, subjects recognized them as fearful more quickly than when faces were encountered during exhalation. This was not true for faces expressing surprise. These effects diminished when subjects performed the same task while breathing through their mouths. Thus, the effect was specific to fearful stimuli during nasal breathing only.
In an experiment aimed at assessing memory function — tied to the hippocampus — the same subjects were shown pictures of objects on a computer screen and told to remember them. Later, they were asked to recall those objects. Researchers found that recall was better if the images were encountered during inhalation.
The findings imply that rapid breathing may confer an advantage when someone is in a dangerous situation, Zelano said.
“If you are in a panic state, your breathing rhythm becomes faster,” Zelano said. “As a result, you’ll spend proportionally more time inhaling than when in a calm state. Thus, our body’s innate response to fear with faster breathing could have a positive impact on brain function and result in faster response times to dangerous stimuli in the environment.”
BREATHING AND CORE CONTROL
As you may know, your inner core muscles include the diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis and lumbar multifidi. These are the true core muscles that stabilize your spine and pelvis. If these muscles are weak, it is very difficult to balance and center your body, and your spine becomes unstable and prone to injury . Additionally, your body will compensate by trying to use other muscles to stabilize the spine (i.e legs, arms), causing overuse and fatigue which can result in ankle, knee, hip and even shoulder pain.
One of the most important of these inner core muscles is the diaphragm. If you are not breathing properly, you are not using your diaphragm properly. AND, if you are not breathing properly, your other inner core muscles do not work as well as they should either. There is a strong relationship between all the inner core muscles; if one is weak or deconditioned, the others tend to be weak as well.
If your balance is not good, and/or you feel pain in your knees and hips (absent any known pathologies), you may want to focus on how you breathe.
A quick way to test if you are using your diaphragm properly is to stand in front of a mirror and take a deep breath. If you notice your shoulders rise, then you are not fully utilizing the diaphragm. Practice inhaling and feel your back rib cage expand, but your shoulders should stay relaxed. This is easier to practice while lying on your back with your knees bent. As you inhale (through your nose, if possible), maintain a neutral spine (no arching), and imagine your ribs in the back of your body expanding. As you exhale (through your nose or mouth), imagine your ribs compressing and your abdominal muscles contracting.
If you can activate your diaphragm fully before exercising, you will find that physical activity may be easier as the other inner core muscles can then do their job to stabilize and center your body. Even walking may be easier and more enjoyable.
THE EXERCISE-BRAIN CONNECTION (from IDEA Fitness Journal, February 2012)
Did you know that your brain is incredibly dynamic? It can change its structure and function by adding new neurons, making new connections between neurons and even creating brand-new blood vessels, all in response to exercise.
Jeffrey A. Kleim, PhD, associate professor in the Arizona State University School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, shares the following insights on how exercise impacts the brain.
Exercise Improves Cognitive Function – A sedentary lifestyle affects the brain—and in turn lessens mental capacity. One study found a clear connection between how much schoolchildren exercised and their cognitive performance: the more aerobic exercise the children engaged in, the better they performed on verbal, perceptual and mathematical tests.
The same pattern of results was found in older adults: aerobic training improved cognitive performance, and active lifestyles decreased age-related risks for cognitive impairment and dementia. Not surprisingly, these cognitive effects were accompanied by clear changes in brain structure and function.
Exercise Changes Brain Function – Research shows that exercise changes brain function in a lasting manner. For example, the reduced cognitive capacity in sedentary individuals is associated with different patterns of brain activity—both at rest and while performing mentally challenging tasks—than those observed in active subjects.
Plus, compared with sedentary people, active individuals show greater baseline levels of cortical activity. (The cerebral cortex helps with complex cognitive tasks.)
Exercise Changes Brain Structure – The structure of the brain can be broken down into two general components. Gray matter contains the neurons and supporting cells, while white matter consists of the axons of these neurons (nerve cell fibers) that carry signals from one area to another.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allows for the measurement of gray and white matter. MRI scans have shown that exercise boosts overall brain volume, increasing both gray matter and white matter. These changes can occur over relatively short periods of time. After learning to juggle for only a few weeks, for example, study subjects showed increases in gray matter within regions of the brain concerned with integrating visual and motor information.
Exercise Is Key To Lifelong Learning – The adult brain, especially the hippocampus, can continue to make new neurons throughout the lifespan. The hippocampus is concerned with forming memories and processing emotion, which may help explain some of the cognitive and emotional benefits of exercise. Interestingly, aerobic exercise can increase neurogenesis (generation of new neurons) within the hippocampus at many stages of development, including adult brains. The fact that the hippocampus is a critical brain structure used in memory may explain why aerobic exercise can enhance learning.
BONES AND SALT (from National Council on Strength & Fitness, June 2013)
A study presented at The Endocrine Society’s 95th Annual Meeting showed that a high-salt diet raises a woman’s risk of breaking a bone following menopause, no matter what her current bone mineral density (BMD) value is. This is particularly concerning as salt intake in the U.S. represents a 4-5 fold over-consumption value on a daily basis.
The study found that older women who consumed the highest quantity of sodium had more than four times the risk of suffering a non-vertebral fracture, even after adjustments for numerous additional variables that affect fracture risk. The lead author of the study states, “Excessive sodium intake appears to be a risk factor for bone fragility. It is therefore important to consider excessive sodium intake in dietary therapy for osteoporosis.” Non-vertebral fractures can cause substantial disability and even death (especially of the hip). Past research has shown a clear connection between excess sodium intake and decreased BMD.
The research team examined 213 post-menopausal women (average 63 years of age) who had previously undergone osteoporosis screening. The average daily sodium intake among the study participants was reported to be 5,211 mg, which is consistent with intakes in America. The group with the highest sodium intake consumed an average of 7,561 mg/day. This high-intake group was 400% more likely to have an existing non-vertebral fracture, compared with the lower-intake groups who did not experience an increased risk for fractures.
The average American consumes far more sodium than the RDA of 2,300 mg. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans further recommend that individuals over the age of 51 should not consume more than 1,500 mg of sodium/day. Older adults who are at risk for bone disease and hypertension must monitor salt intake. Consuming less processed foods, where sodium is widely used as a preservative and flavor-enhancer, helps to decrease the risk for debilitating fractures.