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Passport to Health: Part Deux

In my first post on this topic, Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around the World, I talked about how (and why) other countries kick our butts all over the place in terms of staying trim & healthy. But there’s no need to despair–we can (shamelessly) steal those ideas, and use them for our own purposes, now can’t we? Below, some more international ideas…this time, not just for trimming down, but for overall health.

Norway

Norwegians have lower BMIs than North Americans and enjoy lower rates of heart disease. One reason? They eat a ton of fish. Norway is a country surrounded by ocean on three sides, so it stands to reason. They enjoy herring, sardines, trout, and arctic char. Salmon is a trademark dish for them, especially smoked salmon, which is one of my all-time favorite things to eat. So what do all these varieties have in common? They are all cold water, fatty fish. Which is the best dietary source of omega-3. Here’s why omega-3 is so awesome for us.

The Netherlands

Here’s an interesting little tidbit: in the Netherlands, there are more bicycles (18 million) than people (16.5 million). As such, cycling is not just a form of exercise, it’s a way of life. Dutch people hop on their bicycles for daily activities like shopping, running errands, and going to work. Here’s why this is a good idea for you, too. Plus there are added benefits to using your bike (preferably an upright version with a basket) for all your in-town needs–namely: looking super-cute and European. Besides, it’s good for the environment, no?

Panama

A professor at Harvard, Dr. Normal Hollenberg, has devoted a big chunk of his professional career studying a particular indigenous population in Panama, with extremely low rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And he attributes this, at least in part, to their daily consumption of unprocessed, pure cocoa. And when I say daily, I’m talking 5 cups a day at least. Cocoa? Really? Well, it’s plausible…because cocoa is jam-packed with flavonoids (powerful antioxidants) that have been demonstrated to have a multitude of health benefits. (see my post, here, on why chocolate is good for you). After reading about this, I went out and bought a tin of high-quality cocoa…and now I’m on the hunt for a good recipe for homemade hot chocolate using that cocoa. Anyone?  

Britain

The British, unfortunately, are working hard at catching up to North American obesity rates…but one thing they do right? Breakfast. A full English breakfast is a sight to behold, let me tell you. And a wonderful way to start the day. Why is breakfast a good thing? Here. Here. And here.

Switzerland

And speaking of breakfast…the Swiss have mastered the healthiest version of it: muesli. Muesli is a blend of oats, nuts and fruit, developed by a Swiss physician many years ago. It’s super-healthy, balanced, full of everything you need to kick-start your day…and just plain delish, besides. Particularly if you have it with yogurt (Greek being my preference), it’s hard to beat for health and toothsomeness. Yes. That’s a word.

Now, of course we can stay home and simply steal these ideas. But why not take things up a notch, and actually go to the aforementioned countries? Here’s why taking a vacation is good for you.

Natural Ways to Boost Metabolism: Part 2

Summer is on its way. And with those blossoming trees and wafts of warm air, thoughts turn to the inevitable: swimsuit season.

I don’t know if this induces shudders in you, but it certainly does me. I’ve long believed they use funhouse mirrors in swimsuit changerooms, you know the kind that make certain bits look too big, certain bits too short, certain bits too wobbly…

Anyway, whether it’s truly due to sadistic shop owners or, um, it’s just me, the time is ripe to spring into action and trim down a little.

I first wrote about natural ways to boost metabolism a few months ago. Here are 4 more tips:

1. Eat Breakfast.

I know, this isn’t exactly a new idea–but it really does help weight loss efforts. You need to literally break your overnight fast to get your engine revving–otherwise your body senses starvation and slows metabolism to conserve energy. So breakfast is a no-brainer. But what are your best choices? If you can include protein, you’re ahead of the game. Studies show that people who have a protein-rich breakfast have increased satiety and fewer cravings through the day. When I had gestational diabetes, one of my key strategies for steady blood sugar through the day was having protein in my breakfast. Yogurt, eggs, lean ham are all good choices. Other ideas: peanut butter on whole grain toast, or a fruit/yogurt smoothie, perhaps with whey protein powder. Or sprinkle nuts in your oatmeal, or munch on a high protein granola.

2. Sleep.

Research has repeatedly shown the dangers of insufficient sleep to your health…and to your waistline. In studies, people who get insufficient sleep are more likely to be obese. One of the culprits? Ghrelin, your hunger hormone. Seems this little demon goes a bit postal if you don’t get enough sleep. Triggering those bleary-eyed pantry ransackings in search of stray oreos. Sleep doesn’t come easily for you? Read this.

3. Deal with stress.

Unremitting stress causes increases in cortisol–a hormone that specifically favors fat accumulation in your tummy and midsection. Not to mention the whole stress eating thing, and comfort food-seeking tendencies when stressed (that tend to lean more towards Haagen Daazs and less towards broccoli). Do your metabolism a favor and get your stress under control. There are lots of effective ways. Start here.

4. Nibble on chocolate.

I saved the best for last, here. A new study from the University of California found that adults who were frequent chocolate eaters had a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who ate chocolate infrequently. And it wasn’t because the chocolate fans ate fewer calories overall or exercised more. So what’s up with chocolate? The study authors believe that because chocolate is rich in certain antioxidants, it may have a beneficial effect on our metabolism. Also, chocolate contains epicatechins, a flavonoid that has been shown in animal studies to increase lean muscle mass and reduce weight. (If this makes you happy, read more good news about chocolate.)

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Morning Rituals for Health

How many of us start the day running before our feet hit the floor? Are your mornings a frazzled mess? Instead of lurching into your waking hours and figuring things out as you go, maybe you need to consider a more…intentional approach.

Starting the day on the right foot has psychic repercussions that carry through the day. And by psychic I don’t mean palm-reading. I’m talking about what it does to your brain/soul/emotional center to begin your day the “right” way.

Now–to clarify–“right” will mean a different thing to everyone. The perfect a.m. routine, for you, honors your priorities for health and happiness. You want to initiate rituals that send a cue to your inner self that you are taking care of yourself. Nourishing yourself. You’ve rested, and now you’re beginning the day by turning on the lights in your brain, firing up the furnace, priming the pump. Even if it’s been a crappy night (the early years with a newborn spring to mind) you can still start each day fresh.

Your routine does not need to be lengthy. Few of us can devote a big chunk of time to drawn-out morning rituals (as much as we might like to!). But even a few minutes can make a big difference.

To get you thinking, some examples of things you might include in your morning routine:

  • drink water (it’s important to rehydrate after a night’s sleep)
  • move (stretch, or do a quick 5 minute yoga flow)
  • eat a delish breakfast
  • read (the newspaper, or a great book)
  • sip tea or coffee.
  • write
  • meditate
  • re-connect with the world on an aesthetic or sensory basis…look at something beautiful, dabble in aromatherapy, or listen to music
  • get some sunlight (send a signal to your brain that daytime has arrived & trigger a strong circadian rhythm)

You couldn’t include all these things, and they’re not all going to be your thing anyway. Which is okay. Choose your favorite 2-3 activities, then start crafting your own perfect morning ritual. Of course, you’re probably not always going to make them happen. Also okay.

So I’m wondering…what would you include in your perfect morning?

Need an Energy Boost? 3 Ways to Rev Up. (Part One)

A frantic workday sends you to the brink of collapse…but it’s not just that.  A stack of ironing drains your energy, but still, it’s not just that (because let’s be honest, can anyone finish the ironing without fading?).  The thing is, last weekend you were too exhausted to meet your girlfriends for brunch.  And yesterday you actually skipped a shoe sale in favour of a nap.

Now, if those aren’t signs something’s got to change, I don’t know what is.

If you’ve been feeling sluggish lately, you’re not alone.  Fatigue is very common among modern, busy women.  So many errands, so little time.  And that time becomes even shorter if you simply can’t get off the couch.

If you need a little more oomph, what can you do?

Help is here.  Read on for my tips to punch up your vitality. I’ve got lots of advice on this particular topic…but for now, let’s start with three tips. 

1. Eat Breakfast

 Skipping breakfast is a sin that’s easily committed.  But your body needs fuel (especially in the morning), and then throughout the day, evenly dispersed.

 In our culture, the small (or nonexistent) breakfast and lunch, followed by a huge dinner is absurd.  You need energy at the beginning of the day, when you’ve got all those tasks ahead of you, not at the end when you’re winding down.

 Start your engine with a hearty breakfast.  But we’re not talking doughnuts here.  Feast on a combination of complex carbs, protein, and simple carbs.  Bagels, yogurt and fruit, for example. 

Research has shown that making a habit out of eating breakfast improves academic function, lowers stress levels, and imparts a greater sense of physical and mental health.  Not to mention the numerous studies that demonstrate an association between breakfast and a slimmer waistline.

Beyond breakfast, commit to refilling your tank at regular intervals throughout the day.  Many experts feel the five-small-meals-a-day approach is the best one.  Give it a try, and watch what happens to your energy level.

2. Hit the Sack

And not only for sleep.  Regular sex is an energizer.  Sexual activity revs your metabolism and increases blood flow.  It’s a fabulous de-stresser.  It can promote better sleep.  What’s more, it releases those feel-good endorphins that will restore your joie de vivre. 

Ironically, complaints of fatigue are an often-cited reason for skipping intimacy. But tangling the sheets may be exactly what you need to banish those sluggish feelings.  Too busy?  Make a date with your partner.  It may sound unromantic, but many people swear by the success of this strategy.

3. Meditate

 Research has repeatedly shown the myriad benefits of regular meditation. But do you really have the time/opportunity to find a nice quiet place, change into comfy clothes, light candles, turn on the perfect background whale music, etcetera?

If the answer is no, consider mini-meditation. Just about anybody can take a quick 3 minute time out, no matter where you are. With a little practice you’ll be amazed at how proficient you can become at sinking into a deep meditation in a short time. This little maneuver can help you calm and recharge…like pushing a reset button.

Practice this 2-3 times a day:

Step one: Focus your awareness. Take one minute to become aware of your current state: thoughts, emotions.

Step two: Pay attention to your breath. In the next minute, focus on breathing. Where in your body do you sense your breath the most? Your nostrils? Your chest? Your belly?

Step three: Reflect on sensations. Spend the third minute bringing your awareness to your physical body. Notice sensations: warmth, coolness, pain, tingling.

And there you go! Ohm…

Stay tuned for part two of my energy tips. Soon, you’ll even be ironing with zing.

Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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