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How to Avoid the Post-Holiday Blues

Simple, healthy choices can decrease the risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, is a marker that the darkest days are behind us and the sun is going to be shining longer each of the coming days as we end one year to begin another. Unfortunately, by the time that we reach this milestone and a promise of a less distant Spring, your body may still be suffering ill effects from the recent weeks of decreasing periods of sunlight as well as exhaustion from all of the pre-holiday preparations that so many of us allow to suck up too much of our time.

Staying “Merry and Bright” Takes a Lot of Energy

It makes sense that the human response to the naturally increasing darkness is to fill it with light and activities to combat the gloominess of the late autumn and early winter days. In November, when we really notice that daylight is shifting its balance with the night sky, we are beginning the preparations for family gatherings and keeping the oven humming and the sideboard groaning with rich and decadent foods. We’re eating more simple carbohydrates, often increasing alcohol intake, and spending less time engaged in outdoor activities. Workout regimens also may be more frequently disrupted by lack of motivation or schedule conflicts. Many find it easier to expend calories baking or reaching for another treat than to show up at the gym. And once motivation starts falling, it can take a lot more energy to build it back up than if it had been maintained all along.

The Winter Doldrums Are a Real Thing

The onset of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is ushered in as the level of natural sunlight available each day decreases. Many species in the animal world adapt to this change with hibernation periods. In the US, many humans adapt to this change by spending winters as far south as they can to avoid the bitter cold and the darker days.

Essential Cycle: Sunlight to Serotonin to Melatonin to Sleep to Peace and Contentment

The shortening of our daylight hours can wreak havoc on our Circadian rhythms. Exposure to sunlight positively influences our brain’s production of neurochemicals that keep our moods balanced. Sunlight cues our bodies to produce Vitamin D, which is often found to be deficient in individuals who suffer from depression (Cuomo, Giordano, Goracci, & Fagiolini, 2017). Serotonin production is helped along by natural light exposure and serotonin leads to melatonin production, which helps ensure our sleep-wake cycle stays organized. When there’s less light, there’s less serotonin, which leads to less melatonin, which leads to less sleep, which can lead to feeling tired, cranky, and depressed. Our brains are amazing machines that do their best to keep up with the rapidly changing world, but when we try to force our brain chemistry to respond to unnatural, controlled environments such as work schedules that don’t shift with the seasons, exposure to non-stop electronic entertainment/bombardment, and other treats/risks of modern life, we can end up having to “treat” problems that might not occur if we were able to follow the natural order of things.

Finding the Right Balance/Light Balance

While sunlight encourages the production of serotonin, it’s also tangentially increasing the production of melatonin, the chemical that regulates healthy sleep. One way to handle SAD is to integrate light therapy (bright natural light; lightboxes; high quality, non-flickering fluorescent light bulbs; sunlight-mimicking bulbs) at the start of your morning. This jumpstarts the brain into producing the feel-good, do-good neurochemical serotonin.

While serotonin production is ramping up through light exposure, the production of natural melatonin is kick-started, too. At the end of the day, when you are preparing for sleep, you can take a melatonin supplement to help re-regulate your Circadian rhythm. As the brain’s chemistry is getting back on schedule, your mood will also reflect the balance and symptoms of depression should ease up.

Eat Healthy to Decrease Depression

Avoid simple carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugar. All of these can upset your brain’s delicate neurochemical symphony. Stick to complex carbohydrates that provide better “fuel economy” to your body than junk food can. In fact, a healthy diet has been linked to stronger feelings of optimism (Kargakou, Sachlas, Lyrakos, et al., 2017). Avoiding preservatives and choosing fresh foods will be better for your body and your attitude. Depression is marked by feelings of hopelessness; this suggests that the optimism borne of a healthy diet is worth the effort.

Keep Hydrated with Water, Not Lubricated with Alcohol, or Hopped Up on Caffeine

Dehydration can mimic symptoms of depression, so make sure that you’re taking in an adequate supply of water (Pross, Demazieres, Girard, et al., 2014). Avoid or limit caffeine, alcohol, and other high-sugar or artificially sweetened beverages. These beverages affect sleep, too, which affects mood. No component of our amazing body works independently of any other system – simply being alive is the production of a symphony made up of many players and many well-calibrated movements of every cell.

Out-Run, Out-Stretch, and Outsmart the Winter Doldrums

Physical activity, rather than couch-potato sitting, will help you get through the darkest winter day with as bright a mood possible. Aerobic exercise is especially helpful in getting your brain on track with the production of serotonin and endorphins (Munuswamy, Preetha, & Priya, 2018). Walk the dog, park far away from the grocery store or after-holiday sales, or get on the treadmill. All of these can help stimulate the body’s natural mood-balancing techniques.

Meditation and Yoga balance Moods

Aside from the heavy-duty physical work-outs, you can also exercise your mind and body through more gentle means that can lead to a balanced mood state (Travis, Valosek, Konrad, et al., 2018). Mediation has been proven to enhance well-being and bring calm even in times of catastrophic illness and stress (Lemanne & Maizes, 2018). When your brain is in a meditative state, you’re actually quieting the regions of the brain associated with stress and worry while providing greater opportunities for the work of the regions associated with healthy psychological and physical functioning. Tai Chi is another gentle method for combatting feelings of depression (Zou et al., 2018). Activities that bring a balance between mind and body are highly effective in bringing balance to all aspects of your life.

Hopefulness about the Future

The frenzy of the winter holidays can lead to an overall post-holiday, gloomy January funk for many. Comparing the “blah” of January with the “bling” of December is not a pleasing thought. Add in a couple of quickly failed New Year’s resolutions and the days seem even more depressing. Recognize that what you’re feeling is a normal reaction to what’s going on around you. Also, recognize that you have the tools needed to ensure that you don’t fall too far into a bout of SAD. For protection against SAD, eat right, drink plenty of healthy fluids, and get active. If you are suffering from seasonal depression, research shows that light therapy is as effective as psychotherapy such as CBT might be (Meyerhoff, Young, & Rohan, 2018). Not only that, light therapy provides more rapid relief to symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, hypersomnia, and social withdrawal. Make healthy choices, keep your body moving, and find the light and you’ll be well prepared to tackle the winter blues.
Feeling hopeful about the future is key to feeling better about the now.

References
Cuomo, A., Giordano, N., Goracci, A., & Fagiolini, A. (2017). Depression and Vitamin D deficiency: Causality, assessment, and clinical practice implications. Neuropsychiatry, 7(5), 606-614.
Kargakou A., Sachlas A., Lyrakos G., Zyga S., Tsironi M., Rojas Gil A.P. (2017) Does Health Perception, Dietary Habits and Lifestyle Effect Optimism? A Quantitative and Qualitative Study. In: Vlamos P. (eds) GeNeDis 2016. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 988. Springer, Cham.
Lemanne, D., & Maizes, V. (2018). Advising Women Undergoing Treatment for Breast Cancer: A Narrative Review. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 24(9/10), 902–909. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2018.0150
Meyerhoff, J., Young M. A., & Rohan K. J. Patterns of depressive symptom remission during the treatment of seasonal affective disorder with cognitive‐behavioral therapy or light therapy. Depress Anxiety. 2018;35:457–467. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22739
Munuswamy, S., Preetha, S., & Priya, J. (2018). A study on the effects of aerobics on depression. Drug Invention Today, 10(11), 2169–2171. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=132173465&site=ehost-live&scope=site
Pross, N., Demazières, A., Girard, N., Barnouin, R., Metzger, D., Klein, A., Perrier, E., … Guelinckx, I. (2014). Effects of changes in water intake on mood of high and low drinkers. PloS one, 9(4), e94754. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094754
Travis, F., Valosek, L., Konrad, A., Link, J., Salerno, J., Scheller, R., … Konrad, A. 4th. (2018). Effect of meditation on psychological distress and brain functioning: A randomized controlled study. Brain & Cognition, 125, 100–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2018.03.011
Zou, L., Yeung, A., Li, C., Wei, G.-X., Chen, K. W., Kinser, P. A., … Ren, Z. (2018). Effects of Meditative Movements on Major Depressive Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 7(8), N.PAG. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm7080195

Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.         Dec 18, 2018
 

 

winter

How Can You Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Does winter bring you down every year? We give you some tips on how to manage seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the four seasons, typically manifesting during the cold autumn and winter months, when the days are shorter, darker, and chillier.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the main risk factors for SAD are age, sex, distance from the equator (since regions farther to the north and south tend to have shorter days and less sunlight in winter), and a history of depression or other mood disorders.

Studies have shown that “young adults and women are most likely to experience SAD with the reported gender difference ranging from 2:1 to 9:1.”

People with SAD can experience a range of symptoms, but some of the most commonly reported ones include a sense of fatigue paired with oversleeping, chronically low moods, and strong cravings for carbohydrates, which can lead to excessive weight gain.

SAD can seriously impact productivity and day-to-day lifestyle, as the symptoms — if severe — can prevent individuals from going out, seeing other people, and engaging in some of the normal activities that they would otherwise pursue.

So what can you do if the winter months are getting you down? How can you cope with the lack of motivation, feelings of hopelessness, and debilitating fatigue? Here, we give you some tips on how to tackle SAD head-on.

Hunt down that light

Lack of exposure to natural light is one of the apparent reasons behind winter SAD, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that light therapy — also known as “phototherapy” — would be beneficial in keeping the symptoms at bay.
light box for phototherapy

Many studies have indicated that light therapy is usually helpful in treating this seasonal disorder, and for this purpose, you can use one of the many dedicated light boxes that are now available on the market.

But to be effective, you should make sure that the light box generates at least 10,000 lux — 100 times stronger than a normal lightbulb, meaning that a regular desk lamp won’t do — and that it has white or blue (not yellow) light.

Also, check that the light box was especially made to treat SAD, depression, and other mood disorders, and that it’s not made for a different purpose (such as treating psoriasis or other skin conditions).

Light boxes for skin treatments are another kettle of fish altogether, as they emit ultraviolet (UV) B, which is not safe for the retina. Instead, dedicated SAD treatment light boxes filter out UVs, so they’re safe to use.

Dr. Norman Ronsenthal — who first described SAD’s symptoms and pushed for it to be recognized as a valid disorder — offers some advice on how to use light therapy in his book, Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder. He writes:

  1.     Obtain a suitable light box.
  2.     Set the light box up in a convenient place at home or at work, or both.
  3.     Sit in front of the light box […] between 20 and 90 minutes each day.
  4.     Try to get as much of your light therapy as early in the morning as possible.
  5.     Be sure to sit in such a way that the correct amount of light falls on your eyes. [Dr. Marlynn Wei says it should be placed at eye level or higher, 2 feet away from you.]
  6.     Repeat this procedure each day throughout the season of risk.

At the same time, you can add to the beneficial effects of light therapy by making a little extra effort to “hunt down” natural daylight, if possible, and take advantage of it as much as you can.

You could do this by waking up earlier in the morning and going outside where the sunshine is, for as long as it lasts, to allow yourself to feel as though you’re soaking in the light and taking advantage of the whole day.

Eat well, and watch out for the carbs

Research has shown that individuals with SAD tend to eat more carbohydrate-rich foods, especially sweets and starchy foods. They also have a tendency to overeat during these periods of “seasonal lows,” so it’s important that they look after their diets in order to feel more energized.
vegan suitable food

Over the winter months, as we get less and less sunlight, vitamin D is insufficiently produced in our bodies. Research has also suggested that ensuring we get enough vitamin D may help to prevent and manage depression.

To make sure that you’re getting enough vitamin D during autumn and winter, you could take dietary supplements. Vitamin D is also found in a range of foods that you can easily incorporate into your daily meals.

Salmon, for instance, is naturally rich in D-3, though some studies suggest that wild-caught salmon contains much larger amounts of the vitamin than farmed salmon.

Eggs are a good source of the vitamins D-2 and D-3, and mushrooms also have a high D-2 content, though research suggests that we should stick to wild mushrooms rather than cultivated ones.

Some studies also suggest that people with mood disorders may have an omega-3 fatty acid deficit, and so supplementation of this nutrient may help to keep symptoms in check.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some good food sources of omega-3 include various types of fish (salmon, herring trout, and mackerel), chia seeds, flaxseed, and soybean.

Also, research published last year in the American Journal of Public Health points to fruit and vegetables as the foods of choice when it comes to increasing happiness and well-being.

“Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human [physical] health,” notes study co-author Prof. Andrew Oswald.

The psychological benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption were confirmed by a recent study, from February this year, which focused on the positive effect of a “green” diet on young adults — one of the groups most at risk of SAD.

Make an effort to stay active

Precisely because some of the main symptoms of SAD are fatigue and lethargy, specialists advise that making an effort to stay physically active can offer a boost of energy and improve mood.

A review of existing studies surrounding SAD and the effects of exercise on this disorder suggests that the low moods and other symptoms involved in it may be caused by disruptions to the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm regulates our sleep, eating, and activity patterns according to day-night cycles.

Review author Benny Peiser — from the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences at Liverpool John Moore University in the United Kingdom — explains that taking part in regular physical exercise during the autumn and winter months can help to maintain an appropriate circadian rhythm, thereby keeping SAD symptoms at bay.

A study recently covered by Medical News Today also demonstrates that even low-intensity exercise done for as little as 1 hour per week can effectively counteract depression.

Don’t give in to reclusiveness

On those dark, cold days, you may be sorely tempted to just stay inside and hide from the weather and world alike. If you have more severe SAD symptoms, going out may seem unachievable, but if you want to keep the low moods and lethargy at bay, then you should do your best to resist these solitary tendencies.

Try not to give up on seeing people and doing things.

Much the same as light exercise, studies show that a leisurely walk in the great outdoors can improve your mood and well-being.

Just taking one moment every day to notice a detail in your natural surroundings, and asking yourself what feelings it elicits, can make you feel happier and more sociable, according to research from the University of British Columbia in Canada.

The American Psychological Association advise that you keep in touch with friends and family, go out with them, and speak to trusted people about what you’re experiencing. Enlisting someone else’s help in keeping you active, and helping you get out of your shell during the cold months, may make it easier to cope with the effects of SAD.

Advice regarding how best to cope with SAD from Johns Hopkins Medicine also includes finding a winter-appropriate hobby that will both keep you busy and give you pleasure, such as a DIY project or a winter sport.

Moreover, don’t forget that there is help available for people who experience SAD. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to be effective in the treatment of this disorder, and a specialist will be able to recommend antidepressants if you find yourself struggling.

Friday 24 November 2017    By Maria Cohut   
Fact checked by Jasmin Collier
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22 Simple Habits That Can Relieve Holiday Stress and Anxiety

Are the holidays the season of excitement or a time for anxiety and frustration? 
Here are expert tips to get you past the stress and into the festive spirit.

Get adequate sleep

It’s no secret that our bodies crave rest; fail to get enough, and you’ll have some nasty symptoms. Not only does adequate rest—at least seven to eight hours per night—recharge your body for the day ahead, it also gives your nervous system a chance to wind down and reset as well. For those who suffer from anxiety symptoms, a lack of sleep can make you much more anxious. No one wants that around the holidays, warns Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the co-author of Teenage As A Second Language. She tells Reader’s Digest, “We must all keep in mind that the holidays can be quite overwhelming as well as exciting. Because we are going to be expending a lot of energy during the holidays we must take care of ourselves. That way, we are less likely to become physically sick and emotionally overwhelmed during the holiday season.” Go ahead and go to bed early—chances are you’ll be better able to handle whatever comes your way in the morning.

Give your body the boosts it needs

The typical American diet can leave you short on nutrients your body needs to function at its fullest potential, and sometimes it needs a boost that food is not providing. During stressful times such as the holidays or busy seasons, it’s important to pay close attention to cues your body is sending about its status. Supplements such as magnesium (almost 80 percent of the population is deficient), zinc, and fish oil can deliver the nutrients your body needs to keep running efficiently. Magnesium helps to relax muscles and decrease anxiety. Zinc will help to boost your immune system during the colder months, and the omega-3 oils in fish oil are powerful anti-inflammatories that provide an overall sense of well-being.

Give yourself the gift of self-care

In the midst of the seasonal rush, it’s easy to forget about your own health. Make time for a daily routine—even if it’s just 15 minutes—of doing something relaxing. Whether that’s pulling out the yoga mat, steeping a cup of your favorite herbal tea, or simply reading a good book, the time you give yourself out of your busy day will make a huge difference in your outlook. Kim Fredrickson, a marriage and family therapist and author of the new book Give Your Kids A Break: Parenting With Compassion For You and Your Children, agrees. She advises, “Treat yourself with compassion. It’s important to treat yourself kindly regarding all the extra pressures and activities you’re dealing with.” She continues, “Come up with a plan to take care of yourself as you head into the holidays. Try getting enough sleep, eat as healthy as possible, take time for a daily walk, and set things aside that can wait until January or February.”

Accept what you can control and release the rest

If you struggle with anxious feelings, you may also have control issues. So when the to-do list becomes overwhelming, that’s the time to step back and assess what is reasonable and what you have to let go of. If you’re hosting a dinner and you know that gluten-free Aunt Martha will complain that she can’t have the stuffing, kindly suggest that she might want to bring a side she’ll be able to enjoy. Fredrickson recommends making a list of the things you feel are top priorities, to keep your focus on what matters most. She says, “What’s important? Think about what is really important as you approach the holidays. Make sure your list includes things that are important to you, rather than only focusing on creating good experiences for your family.”

Do what you can from the comfort of home

There’s never been a better time to get things done without getting out of your pajamas. Sure, the Internet has its drawbacks, but there’s no question it’s made life easier for shopping. Tap the wonders of the web to order your groceries and gifts online. Some grocery services will deliver to your door, while some require that you pick up your order; either way, the time you’ll save is priceless. With online gift-wrapping options, it’s never been easier to have gifts sent directly to the relatives. Consider yourself a tech genius this season and eliminate your to-do list worries.

Delegate the details

If you’re facing a panicked rush to get things done, why not hand off some of the to-do lists to your spouse? If you know you’ll never be able to wrap every gift on time or schedule the carpet cleaning you’ve been putting off, recruit help. The same goes for holiday meals. While it’s true that the host often provides much of the main meal, why not ask people on the guest list to provide a side or dessert? Dr. Greenberg advises, “There are no prizes for doing everything on your own. Delegate. Remember people should come together during the holidays and help each other, right?”

Know your limits and respect them

Do memories of holidays past leave you shuddering with a sense of dread? If so, it’s time to learn from past mistakes, and vow to do things differently this year. If hosting the holiday festivities is simply too much of a strain on you or your family, ask someone else to take it on this year. Stress and anxiety can make even the most well-intentioned hostess less than jolly, and chances are good that there’s someone in your family who would love the chance to show off their culinary skill. Dr. Greenberg tells Reader’s Digest, “Know your limits. If it is difficult to be with your family for too long before you start getting irritable with each other, then set a time limit in advance. Believe me, you will be grateful that you did this! Do not expect that this year your family will get along perfectly and that old grudges will be forgotten. Unfortunately, we tend to regress when we are with our families during the holidays and old issues from years ago rear their heads.”

Make time to move

While it might seem counter-intuitive to add exercise to your daily routine during a time of extra activity, it doesn’t have to be strenuous. Activity reduces blood pressure and stress, and a short walk around the block can really go the distance in making the holiday grind more bearable. If walking isn’t something you enjoy, why not try yoga, and let your breath carry you away from it all? Exercise doesn’t have to produce heavy breathing and sweat to count—so find something that gently allows your body to expend its extra energy, and go with it.

Prep your way to less stress

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Fail to plan? Plan to fail.” That’s a little harsh, but there’s no question that having a holiday-prep plan will help ensure the success of your season. Take a look at your seasonal to-do list and make notes about the things that can be taken care of in advance. Can you bake and freeze some dinner or dessert items now? How about sending out the invitations early, with your requests of what others should bring for the meal included? Some things don’t need to wait to be done until the week before the big day. Take advantage of the time you have, and take action now.

gingerbread

 

Maintain realistic expectations of yourself and others

Family relationships are complicated. Add in holiday pressures and heightened expectations for a perfect holiday, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Instead of expecting a perfect holiday staged by Hallmark, keep your vision of the day realistic. That one relative who really knows how to push your buttons will not magically become a joy to be around just because it’s a special day. Accept the likely reality for what it is, and make the best of it. Dr. Greenberg cautions that you should rein in your expectations—especially around the holidays. “It is crucial to keep expectations at a reasonable level. If we set the bar too high and expect family get-togethers or other celebrations to be perfect, then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.” Who needs the extra stress of having a perfect day?

Keep healthy boundaries in place

Some of your family or friends may see the holidays as an excuse for excess, indulgence, or rude behavior. Though more family time might lead you to have an extra glass of wine, Dr. Greenberg says this isn’t the best option to soothe frazzled nerves. She warns, “Keep the drinking of alcohol to a minimum. Too much alcohol leads to saying the wrong thing, behaving in a clumsy manner, and unintentionally bruising the feelings of others. It also leads to embarrassing yourself and your family.” Everyone wants an enjoyable day, but it shouldn’t cost you your sanity or healthy limitations.

Make a date with yourself

“The holidays can be a chaotic time with friends and family and it’s OK to schedule some alone time,” says Prakash Masand MD, a psychiatrist from Duke University and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence. “Ask your spouse to watch the kids for an hour and go to the spa, or go hit a bucket of golf balls. Seeking some solitude is both healthy and necessary to reduce stress.”

Hit “pause” on family arguments

Old tensions, political differences, blended families with ex-spouses and new loves—for a lot of people, getting together with extended family to celebrate holidays is a mixture of good and bad. If tensions and disagreements arise, consider pressing pause, at least for now. “Holidays are not the time to resolve family conflicts,” says Dr. Masand. “Many individuals use the family holidays to try to resolve longstanding conflicts with family members often with disastrous consequences, particularly when alcohol is involved. Leave addressing those issues to a later time in a one-to-one conversation.”

Do your shopping in short bursts

In an interesting 2016 study, researchers strapped emotion-tracking devices to 100 people and sent them holiday shopping for an hour. The findings? People’s heart rates increased by an average of 33 percent while shopping, about the same increase seen in someone who’s running a marathon. A majority became fatigued after just half an hour. “There’s so much to do: buying presents, cooking, decorating and more. Saving it all for the last minute will raise your stress,” says Dr. Masand. “Start a few weeks ahead of time and do a little at a time.”

Do less!

The number-one stressor during the holidays is time, a survey by the American Psychological Association found. A full two-thirds of people surveyed often or sometimes feel worried about having time to fit everything in, including family visits, cooking, shopping, decorating, and working. If you find yourself feeling stretched thin every holiday season, why not plan to do a little bit less this year? Jot down a quick list of all the parties, activities, and traditions you “need” to fit in and then prioritize. The ones that end up near the bottom? They’re optional.

Stick to a budget

Money is the second-biggest source of holiday stress (“time” is number one), according to the American Psychological Association. That’s why Dr. Masand suggests making a holiday budget and sticking to it. “Every parent wants to buy that perfect holiday gift for their child, but big-ticket items can take a toll on your wallet and your stress level,” he says. If you exchange gifts with extended friends and family, “consider a grab bag gift exchange where each person buys only one gift to alleviate the stress of having to get something for everyone.” Of course, gifts aren’t the only expenses of the season—there’s also food. “Let others help,” says Dr. Masand. “Don’t feel like you have to be the hero of the holiday season. Ask each person to bring a dish to dinner, make decorating a family activity where the kids help out.”

Go store-bought instead of homemade

Do you always bring the pie for the holiday meal, always homemade? If this year has you feeling overwhelmed or overworked, consider giving yourself the gift of time and buy one instead. Store-bought or cafe-bought desserts can be just as enjoyable, especially if you’re not stressed out and exhausted when you eat them! Try this top-pick frozen apple pie or check out this Chicago Tribune review of sweet potato, pecan, and apple pies from grocery stores like Walmart, Jewel, and Target.

Expect some bad along with the good

In a recent survey, 41 percent of Americans admitted to working too hard to have a “perfect” holiday season. “Expect things to go wrong,” says Dr. Masand. “Your son may hate his Christmas gift. Your daughter might get sick. You may overcook the ham. The point is things will go wrong. Appreciate the season for the time spent with loved ones and create new memories, and don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Draw firm boundaries between work and family

Many people have to work regular schedules in the days leading up to the holidays—those in the travel industry, retail, hospitality, and food services may have to work even more than usual. Other than requesting time off as far in advance as possible, those work schedules can’t necessarily be controlled. What can be are your boundaries when you’re not at work. Thirty-four percent of people in an American Psychological Association survey say they experience significant stress worrying that work obligations will impede on their holiday celebrations. So when you’re off the clock, stay there. Make it clear that you can’t respond to texts or emails on your days off, and don’t let yourself feel pressured into filling in for co-workers who ask to swap shifts.

Look out for the holiday blues

Those of us who have lost loved ones or are facing other difficult life situations may feel especially sad during this time of year when everyone is supposed to be jolly. Don’t ignore these feelings of grief or sadness, say the mental health experts at the Mayo Clinic. Not only is it OK to express these feelings during this time of “cheer,” it’s healthier to do that than to ignore or suppress them. Learn more about what to look out for when holiday blues go too far.

Remember that ultimately, a holiday is just a day

“The holidays are filled with both joy and stress,” says Ellen Braaten, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital. If you find yourself feeling extremely overwhelmed by emotions, pressures, or obligations this year, try to shift your perspective by deciding what’s most important and what you want the holidays to mean to you. “The holidays are just another time of year, certainly something to mark, but not the end-all, be-all,” she says.

Focus on the good

Yes, the holidays can be stressful and difficult. But they’re also full of joy for many of us. The American Psychological Association found that 78 percent of people report feeling happy, 75 percent feel love, and 60 percent report being in high spirits this time of year. So don’t lose sight of what you enjoy most about this time of year, whether it’s the twinkling lights, music, food, or fellowship.

Jen Babakhan       Sunny Sea Gold
 
source: www.rd.com


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9 Stay-Healthy Tips for the Holidays

Keep the focus on fun, not food

Most holidays are associated with certain foods. Christmas at your house might not be the same without your aunt’s green been casserole, but that doesn’t mean food has to be the main focus. Instead, throw yourself into the other rituals a holiday brings, whether it’s caroling or tree trimming.

Modify your eating times so that they jive with your relatives’.

Do your in-laws’ meal schedules fly in the face of yours? Here’s how to compromise: Say they wake up later than you do and serve a late breakfast at 10:30. Then they skip lunch and serve Christmas ‘dinner’ at 3 p.m. To keep your blood sugar steady without overdoing it on calories, have an early-morning snack (such as a piece of whole-grain toast) before your relatives rise and shine. Their late breakfast will count as your ‘real’ breakfast, plus some of your lunch. Enjoy the 3 p.m. meal – but don’t overdo it! – and have a small snack at around 8 p.m.

Cut down your own Christmas tree.

Rather than buying a tree from a roadside lot where the trees have been drying out for weeks, visit a tree farm that allows you to cut your own. It will be fresher and probably less expensive than they are at the lot. You’ll burn off calories and combat some of the blood-sugar effects of the sugar cookie you snuck by traipsing around the grounds in search of just the right tree. And your family will have one more fond holiday memory to look back on.

Indulge in only the most special holiday treats.

Skip the store-bought cookies at Christmas, but do save some calories in your ‘budget’ to sample treats that are homemade and special to your family, such as your wife’s special Yule log cake. Training yourself what to indulge in and what to skip is much like budgeting your mad money: Do you want to blow it on garbage that you can buy anywhere or on a very special, one-of-a-kind souvenir? Just don’t completely deprive yourself on festive days – your willpower will eventually snap, and you’ll end up overeating.

Christmas_Tree

 

Make the change!

The habit: Staying physically active during the holidays.
The result: Gaining less weight over the years.
The proof: A study conducted by the U.S. government found adults gained, on average, more than a pound of body weight during the winter holidays – and that they were not at all likely to shed that weight the following year. (That may not sound like a lot now, but it means having to buy roomier pants after a few Christmases pass.) The good news is that the people who reported the most physical activity through the holiday season showed the least weight gain. Some even managed to lose weight.

Stock the freezer with healthy meals.

Everyone’s overly busy during the holidays, and most of us want to spend our time shopping, decorating, or seeing friends and family, which leaves less time to cook healthy meals. Take defensive action several weeks ahead of time by cooking meals intended specifically for the freezer. You’ll be thankful later when you can pop one of the meals into the oven or microwave and turn your attention instead to writing out holiday cards with a personal message in each.

Pour the gravy and sauces lightly.

You may not be able to control what’s being served at a holiday meal, but you can make the turkey, roast beef, and even mashed potatoes and stuffing much healthier by foregoing the sauce or gravy or spooning on just a small amount.

Take the focus off food and drinks this holiday season by embracing a project that will have lasting meaning: Organizing your family photos.

What household doesn’t have a mountain of snapshots that need to be sorted? Dispensing with this source of clutter will be stress relief in itself, but you also will get an emotional lift when you glimpse the photos again. (Plus, what better holiday gift to give yourself or someone you love than a gorgeous album filled with family memories?) If you don’t already have a photo organization system, try this: Find a shoebox or another box that’s the right width to accommodate snapshots. Use cardboard rectangles as dividers between categories of photos. (You can also buy photo boxes with these dividers.) Write a category label across the top of each divider (‘Martha,’ ‘Christmas,’ ‘Family,’ and ‘Pets,’ for instance). As you go through each envelope of photos, slide the very best into an album, file other photos you want to keep into the appropriate category in your shoebox, and throw out the rest.

Toast the new year with just one glass of bubbly.

You may be celebrating, but that doesn’t mean that that you should send your meal plan (and your judgment) on holiday. Alcohol can interfere with your blood sugar by slowing the release of glucose into the bloodstream; it also contain a lot of calories – 89 calories per glass of white wine or champagne, 55 calories in a shot of vodka, and 170 calories in a pint of stout beer. What’s more, alcohol breaks down your inhibitions and judgment, which makes you that much less likely to resist the junk foods that you would otherwise be able to pass up.

Brenda Schmerl
source: www.rd.com


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11 Sneaky Things Other Than Food & Exercise That May Affect Your Weight

And how to make them work in your favor

The great recession

What do economics have to do with health? At most universities they’re not even in the same building! But it turns out that a dip in the economy can lead to a rise in our weight according to a study done by John Hopkins. Researchers found that from 2008 to 2012—the period known as the great recession—weight gain was strongly correlated with the rise in unemployment, increasing the risk of obesity by 21 percent. This makes sense as one of the first things to go when our budgets get tight are luxuries like health food and gym memberships, not to mention the loss of health insurance that often accompanies a job loss. However, it may help to remember that there are many low-cost or free ways to protect your health—and an investment in you is the best one you can make.

How high you are

No we’re not talking about the wave of pot legalization sweeping the country (although that probably would affect your weight too) but rather how high up you live. There’s a reason that Colorado is the both the slimmest and the steepest state in the nation. The altitude at which you live is strongly correlated with your weight, with each gain in altitude corresponding with a drop in weight, according to a study done by the U.S. Air Force. But don’t sell your beach-front property and head for the hills just yet—the effect can be balanced out by other factors known to prevent against obesity where you live, like outdoor greenery, strong social ties, and opportunities to go outside. Case in point: Hawaii is the third thinnest state in America, and it’s the definition of sea level.

 

It’s a generation thing

Ever wondered why your grandma never exercised a day in her life and yet wore a tiny wedding dress that you could never hope to fit into even though you run marathons? Some of it may be due to the difference in generations you were both born into. Bad news for young ‘uns: Millennials, Gen Y, and Gen X all need to eat less and exercise more to stave off obesity than their forefathers did, according to a study from York University. And it’s not just the fact that we have Netflix and take out at our fingertips. Rather, the researchers found that the average metabolism of both men and women has slowed, even after controlling for factors like disease, diet, and fitness. Why? We have no solid answers yet but in the meantime, if you’re under 40 at least you can take comfort that you’re not alone in your struggle.

That cursed smog

The effects of environmental pollutants go far beyond wheezing and sneezing. Rats exposed to highly polluted air were not only much more likely to become obese, according to a study done by Duke University, but also had a greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. And it’s not just limited to rodents. People who live close to roadways with a high level of air pollution are also more likely to gain weight, says a study from the University of Southern California. Unfortunately air pollution is likely not under your direct control but we can all work together to lobby for and implement clean-air policies where we live, making for both a healthier physical and celestial body.

Your thermostat

Our delightfully warm and cozy homes and offices might be partly responsible for our less-delightful expanding waistlines, say researchers in a study published in the journal Cell. The scientists found that regular exposure to mildly cold weather—as would have been normal in the days before programmable thermostats—helps the human body regulate a healthy weight. The chilly air seems to increase metabolism by making the body work harder to cope with the changing conditions. Some proponents of “cold therapy” take daily ice baths or “shiver walks” but you don’t have to be that extreme to see results, say the researchers. Just lowering your thermostat by a few degrees or turning the shower briefly to cold can help.
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How many antibiotics you’ve taken

Antibiotics are one of the biggest miracles of modern medicine, no doubt about it. But those infection-fighting drugs may have unintended consequences. The more antibiotics a person takes during their lifetime, particularly during early childhood, the greater their risk of becoming obese, according to an NYU study. Researchers speculate that it has to do with killing healthy gut bacteria, decimating your microbiome along with the bad bugs, as good bacteria has been shown to help prevent weight gain. But if you were the kid with chronic ear infections, don’t fret, you can rebuild your good gut bacteria by taking a probiotic and eating plenty of fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

Fido and Fifi

Owning a pet, particularly a dog, slashes the human companion’s risk of obesity, says the American Heart Association. Why? Dogs need to be walked daily and are often quite persistent, encouraging their owners to walk as well. But it’s not just the extra exercise, especially since 40 percent of dog owners confess to not walking their dog on a regular basis. The researchers add that petting an animal greatly reduces stress and depression, two other known risk factors for weight gain. So if you do have a dog, make sure to walk them daily, and in the meantime soak up all the snuggles, wet kisses, and purrs you can.

The number on your paycheck

Income is one of the biggest factors correlated with obesity, with poor Americans being three times more likely to be obese than richer ones, according to a study published in Nutrition Reviews. Low-income people are less likely to have access to supermarkets with fresh foods (often living in “food deserts”), less likely to have health insurance, and less likely to live in neighborhoods where exercise outdoors is encouraged or even safe. Fortunately this is one area we can all help improve by working to better conditions in our own neighborhoods or helping out others nearby.

Pesticides

Pesticides may help us grow stronger and more plentiful crops but many of the chemicals used in popular formulations are known “endocrine disruptors”: They interfere with your body’s metabolic systems. Pesticides hijack our metabolism by mimicking, blocking, or otherwise interfering with the body’s natural hormones, according to a report issued by The Endocrine Society. Regular exposure to pesticides through food was correlated with an increase risk of both obesity and diabetes. Buying all organic may be one solution but for many people that doesn’t fit in the budget. If money’s tight you can also decrease your pesticide load by avoiding, or only buying organic of, the “dirty dozen“, the most contaminated produce. Or you can always try growing some of your own fruits and vegetables. (Bonus: Gardening is great exercise!)

How many trees you can count from your window

Close proximity to parks, trails, and other types of green spaces is linked with lower body weight, according to research done by the American Diabetes Association. Being able to see, and more importantly walk to, greenery encouraged people to exercise more and made it feel, well, less like exercise. Parks make physical exertion feel like fun but even if you’re not using them to exercise, simply being in the presence of nature has been shown to reduce stress, lower weight and improve your health overall. The vast majority of Americans already live within walking distance of some type of park so get out there and explore your neighborhood.

All that stuff on the food label you don’t recognize

You already know that processed foods do no favors for your waistline but it turns out it’s not just the empty calories and trans fats doing the damage. Some of the most popular food additives are linked with weight gain and obesity, according to a study done by Georgia State University. Emulsifiers, which are added to most processed foods for texture and to extend shelf life, are one of the worst offenders as they interfere with good gut bacteria. But some artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and even the food packaging have also been linked in research to obesity.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen  
source: www.rd.com


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The Numbers That Matter Most for Staying Healthy

Health often seems like a numbers game. What’s your blood-sugar level? How many calories are you eating? And are you getting the right percentage of macros (or macronutrients)? The problem is that sometimes we track, count and obsess over numbers that don’t matter very much for our overall health. Or worse, we ignore numbers that do matter.

I was curious about which numbers my fellow dietitians consider the most important. I sought feedback from 20 experts who work in either hospitals or private practice. Here are the data that have the most clinical importance, and the ones they tell their patients to ignore.

The numbers that matter most:

Half your plate. Instead of counting every calorie, dietitians recommend that clients simplify food decisions by using a plate model, where you choose the right proportions of each food. That means filling half your plate with vegetables and some fruit; one quarter with protein-rich foods such as fish, poultry or beans; and the final quarter with whole grains such as quinoa or brown rice. The Healthy Eating Plate from Harvard University is a great example of a plate model.

25 to 35 grams. That’s how much fibre a day we need for optimal health, but most Americans get just 16 grams per day. Getting enough fibre helps lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, prevents certain cancers, eases constipation and keeps you feeling full for longer, which is helpful for weight management. Get more fibre from vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains (or just follow the healthy-plate model, mentioned above).

7 to 8 hours. Are you getting that much sleep every night? Lack of sleep has short-term consequences, such as poor judgment, increased risk of accidents, bad moods and less ability to retain information. Poor sleep over the long term has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. So, turn off the TV, power down your devices and get the rest your body needs.

150 minutes. That’s the recommendation for how much physical activity (equivalent to 2.5 hours) you should get each week, preferably spread through the week in increments of at least 10 minutes. This level of activity helps combat heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, dementia and cancer.

100 mg/dl. Your doctor can test your fasting plasma glucose level to check for Type 2 diabetes (a normal reading is less than 100 mg/dl). Often called a “lifestyle” disease, Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable by eating well and getting enough exercise. If you have diabetes, lifestyle changes can actually help you reverse the diagnosis — but first you need to know your number. A diagnosis of prediabetes is 100 to 125 mg/dl., and a diagnosis of diabetes is 126 mg/dl. or higher.

120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure is known as the silent killer because it often has no obvious symptoms. Left untreated, high blood pressure is a risk factor for having a heart attack or a stroke. That’s why you need to get your blood pressure checked and know whether you are at risk. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg (millimetres of mercury) or less. Elevated blood pressure is 121 to 129 over 80. High blood pressure is 130 to 139 over 80 to 89.

fat skinny health

The numbers that don’t matter very much:

Size 8. Too many people have a diet goal to be a specific size, but the numbers on clothes are inconsistent and arbitrary. A size 4 at one store may fit like a size 8 at a different store, which makes shopping frustrating — and makes your pant or shirt size a very poor measure of your health. If you don’t like the number on your pants, cut the label out. Focus on how you feel, not the number on the clothing tag.

50 years old. Or 86. Or 31, 75 or 27. Age is just a number. You are never too young to need to take care of yourself, or too old to start an exercise program or change what you eat. A healthy lifestyle is important at every age.

1,800 calories. Or whatever number you choose. You don’t need to count every calorie you eat — it’s tedious, often flawed, and it doesn’t help you choose nutrient-dense foods. If you had the choice between 100 calories of broccoli or fries, you’d probably choose the fries, right? But that wouldn’t provide much nourishment and oversimplifies eating into one silly number. If you are a lifelong calorie counter, there’s no need to give it up, but remember that it’s not the most vital number for your overall health.

40-30-30. Or any other ratio of macronutrients, the umbrella term for carbs, protein and fat. Keeping track of macros is a popular diet, and if it works for you, fantastic! But some dietitians warn that it’s difficult to know the precise macro content of every food you eat, which leads to obsessive use of food diaries and macro-counting apps. This promotes a dieting mentality, rather the concept of enjoying food from a balanced plate. There’s nothing magical about counting macros. It’s just a diet.

Below 25. The body mass index (BMI) is a clinical tool that groups people in categories of normal weight, overweight or obese depending on their height and weight. But BMI doesn’t take age, gender or bone structure into account, and athletes are often classified as overweight because BMI doesn’t distinguish between muscle and fat! So, don’t rely on this number as your primary measure of health.

By CARA ROSENBLOOM       The Washington Post       Thu., July 5, 2018
 


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Small Changes To Make That Can Have a MAJOR Impact on Health

Big changes like cutting out all carbs or training for a marathon are great—but you don’t have to remake yourself to have a dramatic impact on your health. Try a few of these baby steps to get you started in the right direction.

Add a fruit or veggie to every meal

Not ready to give up a bad habit yet? Start by creating an easy good-for-you habit instead. “Less than one in three individuals gets even two servings of fruits and vegetables per day,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN, CPT, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet. “By adding one serving to each meal, you can get in at least three servings per day and be ahead of the curve. A half of a banana on your breakfast cereal, a small side salad with your sandwich at lunch, and adding 1/2 cup of cooked veggies into your pasta can pack in more fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients—all which have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers.”

Work on your hips

“If you have a sedentary job, focus on some hip opening exercises to start and end your day,” suggests trainer Jonathan Hertilus, ACE, owner of BFF Bootcamp in Nutley, NJ. “For instance,” says Hertilus, “hip bridges can be done anywhere—even in bed—as soon as you wake up or right before you go to sleep.” Just a few minutes of hip exercises can do wonders to keep your back and core muscles engaged.

Lose a little weight

Setting a goal to lose 40 pounds or more to get out of the “overweight” category can be daunting. So aim for smaller, more attainable goals, which can make a big difference in your overall health. “Small steps can be very powerful,” says Jill Crandall, MD, professor of endocrinology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and an attending physician at Montefiore Health System.” For people who are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, which includes many adults who are overweight and have a family history of diabetes, modest changes can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by over 50 percent.” Dr. Crandall suggests focusing on losing about 7 percent of your overall weight—or about 15 pounds for a 200-pound person.

Lighten your load

Cleaning out your purse or backpack could go a long way toward preventing neck, back, and shoulder pain. When you are carrying things, balance your load, and avoid backpacks or purses with more than 10 percent of your body weight,” suggests Robert Hayden, DC, PhD, a chiropractor in Griffin, Georgia.

Be careful with condiments

You might want to take a second to consider before you slather your next salad in ranch dressing. “Ketchup, barbecue sauce, mayo, and salad dressings can all be a major source of calories, sodium, fat, and added sugar,” says Palinski-Wade. “Opt for condiments on the side, rather than on your meal and read those labels!”

Skimp on the sugar—and pump up your probiotics

More and more studies show that sugar wreaks havoc on your health, including slowing your metabolism, impairing brain function, and increasing your risk of heart disease and cancer. But there are other health issues you can keep at bay with a little less sugar and a little more healthy bacteria. “Decreasing intake of sugar and processed food as well as taking probiotics can help decrease yeast infections,” says Jessica Shepherd, MD, MBA, OB/GYN, director of minimally invasive gynecology at University of Illinois at Chicago.

Straighten up your sleep habits

A bad sleep posture could make for more aches and pains when you’re awake. “Most of us don’t really think much about posture while we are asleep—but really, posture while you are asleep is at least as important as when you are awake because the muscles that protect your joints are quite loose while you are asleep,” says Dr. Hayden. “I recommend sleeping in a side posture whenever possible. Make sure your pillow is firm and just high enough to keep your head level with the mattress so that your head is neither pushed up nor down. Use a body pillow to hug, throwing your upper arm and upper knee over the pillow so that the pillow supports the weight of the extremities while you are asleep. This prevents you from inducing torque into the lumbar spine and offloads the weight of the upper extremity from the structures at the base of the neck. This simple approach to rest keeps your body straight and as stress free as possible while you catch those zzzs.”

Drink half your weight in water

We should all be drinking more water, but the old saw about eight glasses of eight ounces of water doesn’t work for everybody. The better formula? “Take your weight in pounds and divide by two, and you will get the number of ounces of water you should drink every day,” says Mitzi Dulan, RD, founder of simplyFUEL. “Start your day with a big glass of ice water. Ice cold water can boost your metabolism slightly because it takes energy for your body to get it to room temperature—drink six glasses of 16 ounces of cold water and burn an extra 100 calories per day.”

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Stop the midnight snacking

“Avoid eating after 8 p.m.,” says Dulan. “Often times, late-night eating is really boredom eating. This helps your body focus on burning the fat during the night instead of trying to work to digest the food you just ate before nodding off.”

Shut off your electronics an hour before bedtime

Those last hours before bed may seem like the perfect time to catch up on some work or binge watch a little of your favorite show, but experts say that the light emanating from your screens could be disrupting your sleep. That wavelength of light disrupts melatonin production, and tricks your body into thinking it’s daylight, according to Mark Buchfuhrer, MD, medical director of the Comprehensive Sleep Center at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. The fix? Skip the screens and tuck into a good book, do relaxed stretching, or find another way to unwind in the last hour before your bedtime.

Trade refined carbs for whole grains

“Most people eat plenty of grains, but most Americans consume only one serving of whole grains per day,” says Palinski-Wade. “By swapping out a few refined grains for whole grains, you may reduce your waist circumference and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. If you use white bread for a sandwich, switch to rye. If you like rice, opt for brown rice over white rice. A simple switch can add up significantly.”

Take breaks when you’re traveling

Whether you travel by car or plane, taking frequent breaks to walk and stretch is essential. When flying by air, it can reduce your risk of developing a dangerous blood clot in your leg, called a deep vein thrombosis. “I coach our patients who are driving long-distance to get out of the vehicle periodically and walk around it a few laps,” Dr. Hayden says. “Find a bumper that is the right height to put one foot on it. Step back about two feet, square the pelvis, and lean toward the foot that is on the bumper. This has the effect of a hurdler’s stretch, and it will help stretch those gluteals on which you have been sitting as well as the quadriceps and many of the extensor muscles in the back. Always stretch both sides—if you leave one side tight, you may find yourself walking in circles!”

Cut down on the cocktails

Those studies that show red wine’s positive health benefits may encourage us to raise a few more glasses, but there are really good reasons to limit your alcohol intake, including increased risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, and obesity. Cutting back on the booze can decrease the risk of many different kinds of cancer, including breast cancer, according to Dr. Shepherd. For women, one drink a day seems to be the healthy max, while men can have two.

Start squatting

“Everyone asks me to recommend one exercise that everyone can do to improve their overall health,” says Pat McGuinness, personal trainer at the MAX Challenge in Montclair, NJ, and regional director of programming for New York Sports Clubs. “My answer is always squats! Everyone can do them—modifications are easy—and leg muscles make up more than 60 percent of our total body composition, which means you get more bang for your buck!”

Walk for five minutes every hour at work

Studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle can wreak havoc on your health. If you can’t get a standing desk to help you limit your time on your seat, make sure you take a five-minute walk break every hour. That can help you minimize the impact of sitting on your health, and ensure you get even more than the doctor-recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week. That can help you reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to Dr. Crandall.

Swap soda for fruit-spiked water

Whether it’s diet or sugar-filled, study after study shows that soda isn’t the best beverage—unless you want to gain weight, increase your risk of developing diabetes, cancer, or heart disease, and reduce your bone density. But you don’t have to sacrifice flavor if you give up your soda. “Infuse water with fruit for a tasty alternative that’s sure to impress and refresh,” says McGuinness.

BY LISA MILBRAND
source: www.rd.com


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Connecting the Dots Between Physical and Emotional Health

There’s a link between your emotional health and your physical well-being, so take time to nurture both.

To be completely healthy, you should take care not only of your physical health, but your emotional health, too. If one is neglected, the other will suffer.

What’s the Connection Between Emotional and Physical Health?

There’s a physical connection between what the mind is thinking and those parts of the brain that control bodily functions. According to Charles Goodstein, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine in New York City, the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on your emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings as they are generated within the mind [can influence] the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which in effect control much of what goes on within the body,” says Dr. Goodstein.

“As a matter of fact, it’s very probable that many patients who go to their physician’s office with physical complaints have underlying depression,” he says. People who visit their doctors reporting symptoms of headache, lethargy, weakness, or vague abdominal symptoms often end up being diagnosed with depression, even though they do not report feelings of depression to their doctors, says Goodstein.

While unhappy or stressed-out thoughts may not directly cause poor physical health, they may be a contributing factor and may explain why one person is suffering physically while someone else is not, Goodstein adds.

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How Exactly Does the Mind Affect the Body?

There are many ways in which the mind has a significant impact on the body. Here are a few:

  • Chronic illness and depression Depression has been shown to increase the risk for chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes, according to an article published in 2013 in the Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. A review of studies on diabetes and depression, published in August 2015 in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes, found that depression put people at a 41 percent higher risk for the condition. Researchers aren’t yet clear on how mental health influences physical health, but according to a study published in September 2017 in the journal Psychiatria Danubina, it may be that depression affects the immune system, and that habits associated with depression, such as poor diet or lack of physical activity, may create conditions for illness to occur.
  • Depression and longevity According to a review published in June 2014 in World Psychiatry, many major mental illnesses are associated with higher rates of death. Another study, published in October 2017 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggests that those with depression may have life spans from about 7 to 18 years shorter than the general population.
  • Physical symptoms of emotional health distress People who are clinically depressed often have physical symptoms, such as constipation, lack of appetite, insomnia, or lethargy, among others.
  • White-coat syndrome This is a condition in which a person’s blood pressure increases the minute they step into a doctor’s office. In white-coat syndrome, anxiety is directly related to physical function — blood pressure. “If you extrapolate from that, you can say, what other kinds of anxieties are these people having that are producing jumps in blood pressure? What is the consequence of repeated stress?” asks Goodstein.

And on the other hand: “Those individuals who have achieved a level of mental health where they can manage better the inevitable conflicts of human life are more likely to prevail in certain kinds of physical illness,” says Goodstein.

How Should You Care for Your Emotional and Physical Well-Being?

It’s hard to do, but slowing down and simplifying routines can go a long way to strengthening your mental and physical health.

  • Eat right. A healthy, regular diet is good for the body and mind.
  • Go to bed on time. Losing sleep is hard on your heart, may increase weight, and definitely cranks up the crankiness meter.
  • If you fall down, get back up. Resilience in the face of adversity is a gift that will keep on giving both mentally and physically.
  • Go out and play. Strike a balance between work and play. Yes, work is a good thing: It pays the bills. However, taking time out for relaxation and socializing is good for your emotional health and your physical health.
  • Exercise. A study published in October 2017 in Reviews in the Neurosciences shows that exercise improves your mood and has comprehensive benefits for your physical health.
  • See the right doctor, regularly. Going to the right doctor can make all the difference in your overall health, especially if you have a complicated condition that requires a specialist. But if your emotions are suffering, be open to seeing a mental health professional, too.

Total health depends on a healthy mind and body. Take time to nurture both.

By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Kathryn Keegan, MD
11/14/2017