Archive for October, 2009

The Link Between Stress and Your Stomach

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

stress and stomach pic Does the thought of speaking in public tie your stomach in knots? Does a stressful work meeting leave you without an appetite? Or does the idea of spending the approaching holidays with your in-laws leave you feeling a bit woosey? If so you’re not alone. Having a physical response to emotional concerns is natural. Your gut is extremely sensitive to stress and emotions. Stress is a trigger that can cause stomachaches, diarrhea, and other digestive problems however, the stress management techniques listed below can keep these unpleasant physical responses under control.

There is an actual physical link between your gut and your emotion. High stress and emotions can lead to stomach aches and other digestive problems due to the fact that the gut is highly sensitive and full of nerves. Francisco J. Marrero, MD, a gastroenterologist with the Digestive Disease Institute at the Cleveland Clinic explains on everydayhealth.com, “There is definitely a connection between the brain and the gut. The gut is called the little brain- it’s the largest area of nerves outside the brain.”

Stress and nerves often have very noticeable physical symptoms that focus on the digestive tract. “Anytime you’re in a stressful situation, people will get butterflies in their stomach or they may even get diarrhea,” says Dr. Marrero.

Big events in addition to small daily stressors can affect your digestive health so it’s important to regulate your stress levels. By identifying the cause of stress, understanding the gut’s natural reaction to it, and keeping stress under control you will more effectively be able to manage stress-related stomach aches and other digestive problems.
Try implementing these stress management tips to reduce your own stressors and manage your digestive health:

• Consider counseling to deal with what’s bothering you.
• Try cognitive therapy.
• Keep a journal of what’s stressing you, how you feel, and what you did to feel better.
• Don’t take on more than you can handle — say no when you need to.
• Prioritize your responsibilities.
• Put problems in perspective, and stay positive about the good things in your life.

Butterflies in your tummy are just one way that stress and other emotions can affect your overall health and demonstrates how closely related your physical and emotional health really are. But by learning how to tame your stress you will not only maintain your emotional health but you may also just calm an upset stomach.

7 Tips to Naturally De-Stress Your Life

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

naturally de-stressToday’s world is more stressful than ever. We’re all overbooked, unrested, super stressed and underpaid. The busy lives of American men, women and even children are causing stress and stress-related illness to run rampant. When it comes down to it we all need to take a big breath and chill out. Below are some natural and healthy ways to do just that.

The everyday stresses of work, children, commutes, money, family (and the list goes on and on) that we’re forced to face head on can wreak havoc on our bodies. Feelings of being overwhelmed by all of the demands placed on us can result in stress-related illnesses. According to naturemade.com 75%-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. Chronic levels of stress or tension can reduce the body’s ability to cope well under stress and can cause illness. Below are 7 natural stress busters that you may want to integrate into your daily life to keep stress and tension at bay.

1. Proper Fueling- If you reach for a quick sugar or caffeine boost when you feel your energy start to wane, you’re not alone. Coffee and/or candy can offer a quick energy boost but often leads to that inevitable energy crash that can further compound your body’s physical stress. It’s important to make sure that you’re regularly fueling your body and with the right type of fuel. Instead of that third cup of coffee or leftover doughnut try snacking on a slice of whole-grain bread topped with peanut butter and raisins or some yogurt. Health experts recommend refueling the body every 3 to 4 hours in order to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and keep stress in check.

2. A Good Night’s Sleep- By not getting adequate or regular amounts of sleep your body becomes sleep deprived leading to poor concentration, memory and daily performance. These negative effects can quickly become physical stressors. To ensure that your sleep is effective try going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday. Create a healthy schedule for your body. It’s also a good idea to avoid eating a big meal before bed or drinking alcohol and caffeinated beverages before bed. These will stimulate your body and keep you from catching your precious zzz’s. Before going to bed try a relaxing activity like a warm bath, reading or listening to soft music to make you more drowsy.

Certain dietary supplements can play an important role in promoting sleep according to naturemade.com. L-theanine (an amino acid found in green tea) has been shown in human studies to promote a relaxed mental state and to increase the production of alpha waves in the brain. The result is that L-theanine helps to reduce anxiety and promotes a state of relaxation without drowsiness.

Vitamins B6 and B12 are needed for the production of serotonin – the “feel good” brain messenger, and the important mineral magnesium promotes healthy muscle relaxation. Herbs that can help with sleep include chamomile, which exerts a mild sedative-like effect, and lavender oil, which has relaxing properties and can be added to a bath or directly to the skin.

3. Take a deep breath- When somebody is stressed or scared their breathing often becomes shallow and rapid. When this happens, the diaphragm is not used properly and the breathing is solely from the chest and does not incorporate the abdomen. Less oxygen is then available to the body, including your brain. This results in a lack of clear thinking and inevitably more stress. When you find yourself breathing quickly and shallowly in a stressful situation take a few deep breaths- center and calm yourself and try to exhale the stress.

4. Movement and Exercise-
A workout or a brisk 30-minute walk can help you de-stress after a busy day. Regular and moderate exercise can help promote physical and mental well-being. Exercise stimulates positive brain chemicals that often leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Try taking a walk outside, getting fresh air and being in the sunshine can stimulate your senses after a stressful day. And by the way, movement and exercise will also result in looking and feeling better which can also help stress levels.

5. Read a Good Book or Go to the Movies-
Books and movies are a great escape and instant de-stressors. Let the characters and situations distract you from your own worries and stresses. Disengaging your mind for a while can give you a different perspective and clearer insight once you’re ready to again face reality.

6. Adjust your Mindset- Going through life confident of the fact that you’re doing your best every day can often take the stress out of specific outcomes. Staying positive in your mind is that best way to channel positivity into the rest of your life, which transitions into Tip #7 perfectly….

7. Smile- Try holding a big smile (you know, the kind that makes your mouth hurt?) for 5 minutes and see what happens. It’s hard to feel stressed while you’re smiling. It makes you more approachable and might just change your whole day.

Whether you choose to read that book that you’ve been meaning to get to, head outside to walk the dog, or plaster a smile on your face, by selecting a couple of these de-stressing strategies you’ll be able to naturally settle your nerves and deal with the stresses that are inevitable in our lives.

Feel the Burn Even When it’s Cold: Cold Weather Exercise Tips

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

winter exerciseLet’s admit something to ourselves, shall we? Mustering up the motivation to exercise is tough anytime, let alone once the weather has turned cold for the winter. Winter can discourage even the most motivated exercisers. And if you’re not particularly motivated in the first place then cold weather can spell disaster for your fitness regimen. Nevertheless, our bodies’ need for proper exercise remains the same year-round. Just because it’s 20 below doesn’t mean that we can put our fitness and well-being on hold.

One way to cope with the colder temperatures is to move your outdoors fitness regimen indoors by going to a gym or working out at home. While this is a valid way of accommodating for the weather while still fitting in your workouts there is also a lot to be said for getting your blood moving while outdoors. Outdoor exercise is a sure-fire cure for cabin fever and the winter blues. It also increases energy that can be sapped by gloomy weather. Exercising outdoors can also bolster your immune system- studies shows that moderate exercisers get 20 to 30 percent fewer colds than non-exercisers. With the right clothing and a little planning, cold-weather exercise is guaranteed to be safe, effective and fun.

Here are a few tips from the mayo clinic website on how to get the most of your cold weather workout:

• Check with your doctor. Experts say that almost everyone can exercise safely in the cold, including people with asthma and heart problems. But if you have health concerns, it’s best to get your doctor’s approval.

• Layer it on. One of the biggest mistakes cold-weather exercisers make is dressing too warmly. Exercise generates a considerable amount of heat — enough to make you feel like its 30 degrees warmer than it really is. At the same time, once you start to tire and the sweat dries, you can get chilled. The solution? Dress in layers that you can remove as soon as you start to sweat and then put back on as needed. Start with a thin layer of synthetic material such as polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin. Next, try fleece for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer. A heavy down jacket or vest will cause most people to overheat. If you’re naturally lean, though, you’ll need more insulation than someone who is heavier. If it’s very cold (about 0 F or -17.8 C) or you have asthma, wear a face mask or a scarf over your mouth.

• Protect your extremities. When it’s cold, blood is pushed to your body’s core, leaving your hands and feet vulnerable to frostbite. Try wearing a thin pair of gloves under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece. You might want to buy exercise shoes a half-size larger than usual to allow for thick thermal socks or an extra pair of regular socks. And don’t forget a hat or headband — 30 to 40 percent of your body heat is lost through your head.

• Choose appropriate gear. If it’s dark, wear reflective clothing. To stay steady on your feet, choose footwear with enough traction to prevent falls. Wear a helmet for skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling.

• Remember sunscreen. It’s as easy to get sunburned in winter as in summer — even more so if you’re exercising in the snow or at high altitudes. Wear a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of at least 15 or higher. Use a lip balm that contains sunscreen, and protect your eyes from snow and ice glare with dark glasses or goggles.

• Head into the wind. You’ll be less likely to get chilled on the way back if you end your workout with the wind at your back.

• Drink plenty of fluids. Drink water or sports drinks before, during and after your workout — even if you’re not thirsty. You can become just as dehydrated in the cold as in the heat from sweating, breathing and increased urine production.

• Pay attention to wind chill. The wind can penetrate your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air that surrounds your body. Fast motion — such as skiing, running, cycling or skating — also creates wind chill because it increases air movement past your body. When the temperature is 10 F (-12.2 C) and the air is calm, skiing at 20 miles an hour creates a wind chill of minus 9 (-22.8 C). If the temperature dips well below zero (-17.8 C), choose an indoor activity instead.

• Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is most common on your face, fingers and toes. Early warning signs include paleness, numbness and loss of feeling or a stinging sensation. If you suspect frostbite, get out of the cold immediately and slowly warm the affected area without rubbing. If numbness continues, seek emergency care. If you suspect hypothermia — characterized by intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue — get emergency help right away. To help prevent problems, warm your hands and feet every 20 to 30 minutes, and know when to head for home.

• Stay motivated. When it’s cold outdoors, there’s no need to hit the couch. With a little knowledge and fortitude, you can meet the challenges — and reap the rewards — of winter exercise. For many people, the solitude and quiet alone are reason enough to brave the elements.

By following these simple guidelines you will be able to enjoy a time of solace, appreciate the beauty of winter and get in a good workout all at the same time.

Achieve Weight Control by Understanding Serving Sizes and Portions

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

food portionsIf you’re looking to control your weight (and really who isn’t?) you need to focus not only on what foods you’re eating but also on how much and how often you eat. The information outlined below will show you the difference between a portion and a serving, how to control portions even when dining out, and how to eat just enough for you.

A portion is how much food you choose to eat at one time whereas a serving size is the amount of food listed on a product’s Nutrition Facts. The serving size is used to inform consumers about how many calories and nutrients are found in an amount of food. The serving size found on the Nutrition Facts is not the recommended amount to eat but rather a measurement.

According to the Weight Control Information Network normal portions sizes may be equal to two or three standard servings. For example if you take a look at the Nutrition Facts for a package of macaroni and cheese the serving size is one cup, but the entire package actually has 2 cups of food found in it. If you end up eating the entire package, you must remember that you are eating two servings of macaroni and cheese therefore doubling the calories and fat.

By learning to recognize serving sizes you can better judge how much food you are eating. If you’re cooking at home it‘s important to look at the serving sizes listed on the Nutrition Facts of the packaged food products that you eat. Use measuring cups and spoons to put the suggested serving size on your plate. This will help you recognize how much one standard serving size looks like compared to how much you may normally eat.

Another effective way to keep track of portions is to keep a food diary. By keeping a good record of how much, what, when, where and why you eat, you can help yourself become more aware of the amount of food that you’re eating and when you tend to eat too much. Through your diary, you can become aware of the times and reasons that you eat too much which may help you try to make different choices in the future. You can keep your food diary in a notebook, on your cell phone or at a myriad of online trackers. Don’t worry- you do not need to measure and count every little thing you eat for the rest of your life, just long enough to decipher patterns and recognize typical serving sizes.

Here are some additional ideas from the Weight Control Information Network to help you control portion sizes at home:

  • Take the amount of food that is equal to one serving, according to the Nutrition Facts, and eat it off a plate instead of eating straight out of a large box or bag.
  • Avoid eating in front of the TV or while busy with other activities. Pay attention to what you are eating, chew your food well and fully enjoy the smell and taste of your foods.
  • Eat slowly so your brain can get the message that your stomach is full.
  • Try using smaller dishes, bowls, and glasses. This way, when you fill up your plate or glass, you will be eating and drinking less.
  • To control your intake of the higher-fat, higher-calorie parts of a meal, of vegetables and salads (watch the toppings) instead of desserts and dishes with heavy sauces.
  • When cooking in large batches, freeze food that you will not serve right away. This way, you will not be tempted to finish eating the whole batch before the food goes bad. And you will have ready-made food for another day. Freeze leftovers in amounts that you can use for a single serving or for a family meal another day.
  • Try to eat meals at regular intervals. Skipping meals or leaving large gaps of time between meals may lead you to eat larger amounts of food the next time that you eat.
  • When buying snacks, go for single-serving prepackaged items and foods that are lower-calorie options. If you buy larger bags or boxes of snacks, divide the items into single-serve packages.
  • Make snacks count. Eating many high-calorie snacks throughout the day may lead to weight gain. Replace snacks like chips and soda with snacks such as low-fat or fat-free yogurt, smoothies, fruit, or whole-grain crackers.
  • When you do have a treat like chips or ice cream, measure out 1/2 cup of ice cream or 1 ounce of chips, as indicated by the Nutrition Facts, eat it slowly, and enjoy it!

It’s often more difficult to eat a healthy meal when going out to eat. Research shows that the more often a person eats out, the more body fat he or she has. When possible try to prepare more meals at home that way you have control over what and how much you are eating. Eat out and get take-out less often. But when you do eat away from home, below are some tips for controlling portions:

  • Share your meal, order a half-portion, or order an appetizer as a main meal. Examples of healthier appetizers include tuna or chicken salad, minestrone soup, and tomato or corn salsas.
  • Take at least half of your meal home. Ask for a portion of your meal to be boxed up when it is served so you will not be tempted to eat more than you need.
  • Stop eating when you begin to feel full. Focus on enjoying the setting and your friends or family for the rest of the meal.
  • Avoid large beverages such as “supersize” sugar-sweetened soft drinks. They have a large number of calories. Instead, try drinking water with a slice of lemon. If you want to drink soda, choose a calorie-free beverage or a small sugar-sweetened soft drink.

The amount of calories you eat ultimately affects your weight and your overall health. In addition to selecting a healthy variety of foods, look at the size of the portions you eat. By choosing nutritious foods and keeping portion sizes sensible you will better be able to control and stay at a healthy weight.