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The Three Spheres Of Stress Detox

Hammock on BeachI’m preparing a workshop called Stress Detox that I’m giving next week, so I’ve been thinking about stress a lot lately. It’s a topic I’ve written about many times in the past…but looking back on my old posts, I think I’ve neglected to give an overall view of my approach to stress management.

In the past few years, after much reading and real-life experience helping patients, I’ve come to feel that there are three major spheres when it comes to dealing with your stress. Three types of approaches–and, ideally, you want to work on all three.

1. Cultivate The Skills Of Short-Term Stress Busting.

No matter how you’ve structured your life, you’re always going to encounter stress. Life is unpredictable. And, some situations can’t be changed (see #2). But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer when stressful stuff happens. Short term stress-busters are skills that you can learn. These are things that you can do, in the immediate moment, to help cope with your stress reaction. Here are some of those coping strategies. And here. And here.

2. Change Stressful Situations.

If your stress is out of control, there’s a good chance something’s gotta change. Maybe you’re overcommitted. Or trapped in a bad relationship. Struggling in a toxic workplace. These sorts of external stressors need to be changed, because no matter how many yoga classes and breathing exercises you do, you’re not going to be able to fully manage your stress until you make some changes. Of course, easier said than done. If you’re feeling stuck, you may need to talk it out with a counsellor. Sometimes, of course, things can’t be changed. Your situation is what it is, and you simply have to deal with it. That’s when you really need to work on #1 and #3.

3. Create A Stress-Resilient Lifestyle.

Here, I’m talking about your long-term strategy. Because, let’s face it, shit is always going to happen. And it’s not good enough to just cope with stress when it hits you in the face. Better, is to give yourself some resilience, some stress hardiness. How do you protect yourself from having a meltdown with every little blip? You shore up your reserves. With sufficient sleep, regular exercise, a healthy diet. Here are some other ways to build a stress-resilient lifestyle. And here.

So, how about you? What do you find helps the most with your stress? What are your coping strategies?

How To Have A Healthy Christmas

Red and golden baublesThere’s nothing quite like illness to wreck your holidays, am I right? Give yourself the gift of health this year. Here are my thoughts on how to stay healthy this holiday season:

Avoid colds & the flu.

Seems like everyone is sniffling, sneezing, or coughing. Viruses are a fact of life in the winter, but does that mean there’s nothing you can do to avoid them? Not at all. Keep yourself healthy with my top tips. LIke zinc. And probiotics. And washing your hands. But…if you do happen to get a cold or the flu (it happens to the best of us)…here are 12 natural remedies for those nasty viruses.

Get some exercise, even if the thermometer suggests otherwise.

I know it’s tempting to hibernate as temperatures drop, but resist this temptation. There are so many benefits to be gained from regular exercise; don’t rip yourself off! Exercise helps with preventing colds, managing stress, improving sleep, and, of course, fending off excess turkey/chocolate/shortbread pounds. The things to keep in mind when it comes to exercising outdoors: dress warmly in LAYERS. Warm up sufficiently. And, because the winter days are so short and you may very well be exercising in the darkness, make sure you are visible (reflective patches, headlamps).

Have a happy holiday by conquering stress.

Stress is rampant at this time of year. But it doesn’t have to be a given. If I had to give just one tip: simplify. (But, lucky for you, I do happen to have several other ideas.) See my recent YMC post, Holiday Stress Survival Toolkit, for 10 ways to kick stress to the curb this Christmas.

And if your merry-making should go a little too far…

Is there any evil quite so perfect as the hangover? It’s such a fun combination of physical misery with the particular misery that comes from knowing it’s your own. damn. fault. Still, we’ve all been there. And, obviously, the best thing is to drink in moderation. But if that doesn’t exactly pan out, here’s your morning-after rescue kit:

  • rehydration (water is best, but sport drinks are fine, too)
  • painkiller of your choice (like Tylenol or Advil)
  • something to settle your stomach (like Tums or Zantac)
  • something to supply a little sugar (like fruit or juice)
  • something to supply a little salt (like saltines or clear soup broth)

Of course, when it comes to hangovers, the only surefire treatment is time. And if you have the luxury of going back to bed, do that. Your body will heal itself with rest.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

For Good Mental Health: Exercise! (But…Not Too Much?)

A study came out in the September online issue of Preventive Medicine showing that 2.5 to 7.5 hours of exercise each week is good for your mental health. No surprises there, right? But, in the study population (of over 7,500 adults), people who exercised more than 7.5 hours a week had dramatic increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Shocked? I know I am.

We always recommend exercise as a healthy, non-pharmaceutical way of improving mental health and relieving stress. But this is the first study to suggest that you can overdo it. That it’s not a simple dose-response relationship, that there may be an optimal amount of exercise for mental health.

Right off the bat, one possible explanation for this finding: people who are already feeling stressed/depressed/anxious may be more likely to exercise a lot, in effort to control their symptoms. After all, this study only found an association between more than 7.5 hours of exercise and poor mental health, not a causative relationship. But…it has to be said, it’s also possible that exercising that much causes a strain on your mental health. (I know it would for me–who the heck has the time for that much exercise, anyway?)

This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. You are not off the hook when it comes to exercise.

But it is fascinating, nonetheless. And I, for one, am looking forward to subsequent research that will hopefully sort this out, and tell us whether it really is bad for our mental health to exercise too much.

Read these exercise-related posts next:

10 Common Causes of Fatigue

Feeling “tired all the time” is a modern-day plague. It’s rare that I meet someone who doesn’t describe this feeling. Seriously.

So what’s up with that? Well, I have some thoughts. And on my Yummy Mummy Club blog I’ve broken down 10 über-common reasons for that feeling of fatigue.

You can read all about them, here, and see if one (or more) is the culprit for you. (If you can stay awake long enough, that is…)

The Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle

An anti-inflammatory lifestyle has become something of an obsession for me. It was thrust upon me, really, after a health incident that caused me to take a very hard look at my own lifestyle. Chronic inflammation is at the root of many of our disease processes, as we’re only just beginning to understand.

I blogged about an anti-inflammatory diet a while ago, but besides modifying your eating habits…are there other things you should be doing?

You bet.

1. Deal With Stress

I’ll admit, I can get a little evangelical about stress management (and the next topic, below) but relentless stress can be a big source of chronic inflammation. Trouble is, stress is a hugely overwhelming topic. How do you even begin to deal? Here’s some help.

2. Get More/Better Sleep

We need sleep to restore, rejuvenate, and recover from all the various insults our systems face all day long. And, yes, that includes inflammatory insults. We’re all busy, for sure, and sleep often comes far down on the priority list. Here’s how to get more sleep. (If you’re facing the special challenges of getting enough sleep because you’re a mom, read this.)

3. Consider Supplements

I do, generally speaking, promote healthy nutrition first and foremost. But I also think there’s a role for certain supplements. Of course there are always new, fancy supplements being touted as part of a preventive, anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Here are the ones I think, currently, have the most evidence in favor of them: omega-3, vitamin D, multivitamins, calcium, magnesium, and possibly selenium (the subject of a future post). But this is all subject to change, as research rolls out.

4. Exercise

Every time I turn around I see more studies published demonstrated more health benefits to exercise. And sometimes I think: Do we really need more research to prove what we already know? That notwithstanding, you really are making a big mistake by not figuring out a way to get more exercise into your life. It’s an important part of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. But–easier said than done, right? Rest assured, every little bit helps. A little exercise, in any form, is better than none. (But if you’re going to choose just one, with anti-inflammation as your goal…I’d choose yoga.)

One Simple Trick To Boost Your Activity Level

Squeezing exercise into a busy life is challenging. I know. Trust me. So, I’m always on the lookout for easy ways to boost activity. Here’s one: clip on a pedometer.

A recent study in New Zealand showed that making this one little change–just the simple act of wearing a pedometer–almost doubled walking rates in the 300+ subjects they observed. All study subjects were encouraged to walk more, but they were then separated into two groups: half were given a pedometer, and half weren’t. Over the course of a year, the pedometer people boosted their average weekly walking time by almost twice as much as the non-pedometer people.

I like this a lot–because it’s cheap, easy, and pretty much mindless. And the more things you can automate in your life, the better. I think I’m going to start writing “prescriptions” for pedometers. And get one for myself, while I’m at it.

Walking is excellent exercise. It’s easy on your joints, it’s fun, and especially if you’re outdoors, it’s a great way to clear your head and soothe your soul. And it’s the perfect exercise to do in small time slots–which makes it easy to accumulate those activity minutes (more on why this particular strategy works, here.)

Now, if you’re counting steps, how many are you aiming for? Well, 10,000 steps per day seems to be the magic number. This figure can be traced back to Japanese walking clubs dating 30+ years ago, and recent studies have shown that it makes sense. Less than 5,000 steps per day is a marker for a “sedentary” lifestyle. (A person who is basically a couch potato and only makes their way around the house all day clocks about 3,000 steps daily). Between 5000-10,000 steps is considered “low-active” or “somewhat-active”. But people who are averaging 10,000 steps a day are maintaining an “active lifestyle”, and are thus healthier and less obese.

So…anyone tried a pedometer? What did you think?

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.

Busy? 5 Health Mistakes You’re Making Because You Think You Don’t Have Time

We’re all “busy”. But sometimes things get particularly frantic. And when that happens, what’s the first thing to suffer? Yep, your health. Are you guilty of the following health mistakes when the going gets tough? Let me flip things around for you, and show you a different way of thinking about each of these faux pas. 

1.Skipping sleep.

Too many things to do, not enough time? I’m in touch with that emotion. And many times, I’ve sacrificed sleep to get more done. But I should know better. Tasks done while sleep-deprived rarely end up being my best work. Do you fall into this pattern? Thing is, making time for sleep is an investment. A well-rested you will be more productive and efficient. Plus, skipping sleep means you’re flirting with a lot of long-term health consequences. And if you get truly sick…well, just think about how unproductive you’ll be then.

2. Not drinking enough water.

It seems like an easy thing to do–drink water–but many people neglect this one when they’re dashing to and fro between appointments. Trouble is, mild dehydration is a very common energy sapper–and one you wouldn’t necessarily recognize. When you’re busy, you need all the energy you can get. That mid-afternoon slump could be perked up quite nicely, thank you very much, with a tall, cool glass of water. How much water do you really need to drink? Read this

3. Blowing off exercise.

“I’m so busy, there’s no WAY I have time for a workout”. Sound familiar? We’re all guilty of this one, I’m sure. Exercise is usually the first thing to go when your schedule crunches down. But…I think you know what I’m going to say here. Saving time by skipping workouts is a false economy. If you don’t make some time for exercise your energy lags, grumpiness grows, stress level goes up, productivity goes down. But I get it–how can you possibly carve out a full hour for a proper workout? Good news, people: you don’t have to! You can get your exercise in bite-size chunks of 10 minutes at a time, that you accumulate through the day. Read more about this approach here.

4. Depending on a glass of wine to relax.

Okay, I’m all for wine. But depending on it is a bad idea. I consider wine to be a healthy indulgence, it’s a very pleasurable ritual, and it’s a key part of the Mediterranean diet. There is plenty of research to show it’s a boon for heart health. But, clearly, you can overdo it. Liver disease springs to mind. Alcoholism is a pretty ugly thing. Plus, alcohol can mess with your sleep (see above). Bottom line? Enjoy your wine, but don’t medicate with it. There are many other ways to relax at the end of a busy, stressful day: yoga, a hot bath, a good book, a walk…

5. Eating too many meals that come from restaurants/takeout containers/frozen trays in the microwave.

Don’t get me wrong–I love restaurants; I’m a fan of take-out. Perhaps has something to do with the fact that washing dishes is the 6th layer of hell for me. But–there are good reasons to keep this sort of thing as an occasional treat only. If your weekly diet is heavy on the convenience food or takeout, you’ve relinquished control over what you’re eating. Restaurant and otherwise prepared food tends to be much higher in the unhealthies: fat, sodium, sugar. The portions are probably way bigger than you really need. And chances are, the choices will be a heavy in the meat-cheese-carb department and light in the fresh fruit & veggie department. It takes a little planning but simple, fresh food can be super-easy to prepare. It makes you feel better & look better. And if I can’t convince you on the health front, think of it this way: if you’re spending all your money in restaurants, how are you going to afford all the new pants you’re going to need to accommodate that muffin top you’ve grown, courtesy of all those meals out?

Ya know?

The Conversion of a Non-Runner

I was not what you would call “a runner”.

It’s not that I hadn’t tried. At various points in my life (usually after a spell of too much lasagne/baked-brie-with-cranberries/caramel macchiatos…), I tried running. But it was always like banging my head against a brick wall–it only felt good when it stopped.

I would always give up after a few weeks. My knees ached. And…it was just so damn boring.

So I resigned myself to being a non-runner.

I only run if I’m being chased, I would say.

However, I’ve long known that running is a great form of exercise, and most importantly, an efficient way to exercise. And that’s valuable to me. Life is pretty full right now, with working at two different clinics, being a wife and mom of two young boys, blogging/writing/speaking…

And then there’s that aging thing. My metabolism, to my supreme irritation, is not what it was. I like to walk and LOVE yoga, but I began to realize that I needed some more serious cardio exercise–because I want a healthy heart, because I want to feel young & strong for a long time, and because I’d like to keep my shape.

So…I decided to try again.

This time, my sister suggested I look into Couch to 5K-type programs. So, I did.

The idea, here, is a program that takes you from a total couch potato to someone who can run a 5K. I checked out a few and then downloaded 5K 101 by Running Mate, from iTunes (for free, I might add). Right off the bat, I liked the philosphy: supaah slow and gradual, they ease you into a running routine. Interval training to start (beginning with only 1 minute of running at a time–I mean, how easy is that?). And then they gradually increase the lengths of the intervals. Also? I don’t have to think about a thing–just listen to my iPod as I run, do whatever my new friend Todd tells me to do (1 minute left of your warmup…2 minutes to go and then you get a break…) and enjoy the scenery as I go. No excessive focus on how tired I’m getting…can I make it to that next lamppost?…that sort of thing.

Now, several weeks into the program, I think I’m starting to consider myself a runner. Bit by bit, my endurance has improved. And the other day–I definitely noticed some muscle tone in my legs that had NOT been there before. And if that isn’t motivating, I don’t know what is.  

I think I even experienced “runner’s high” the other day (which I had previously chalked up to total bogus-ness).

In previous running attempts, my knees often started to twang after a couple of weeks…but not so far, not this time around. I attribute that to the gradual nature of this program.

Squeezing exercise into a busy life is a challenge (especially for moms), that’s for sure. Running is one of the best ways–it’s cheap, quick, and works around your schedule.

So far…looks like this non-runner is becoming a bit of a runner.

However, I want to be clear: under no circumstances will you ever see me in horrid running shorts. Never. Ever. Issue closed.

How To Improve Your Posture

Most of us (me included) don’t have great posture. We slump in our chairs, we hunch over smartphones, we don’t stand as straight as we should. And it’s a problem that’s not going to get better anytime soon. Computers, iPhones, sedentary desk jobs…they all conspire to keep us slouching through our day.

And here are some of the problems caused by bad posture: headaches, back pain, shoulder/neck pain. Constantly stressing the spine, and the soft tissues that support it, can leave you prone to injury, and long-term problems like arthritis down the road. Also? It makes you look heavier than you actually are. And less confident. In fact, I think standing tall with good carriage makes you feel more confident.

But for many of us, the muscles that hold our shoulders back and our spine in an anatomically correct position have become so weakened because of constant slouching, it’s actually difficult to stand tall and sit up straight.

So how to improve your deportment? You need to incorporate a couple of exercises into your day. Most of them are pretty easy, and take very little time. During a recent seminar at the university clinic where I work, a chiropractor showed us some simple exercises to improve posture. My fave: floor snow angels.

Here’s a LiveStrong article that describes floor snow angels and other exercises to help with the particularly common problem of forward-rolling shoulders.

Women’s Health Magazine has a very helpful article on posture, with 4 different approaches to posture-improving exercises: Pilates, Ballet, Yoga, and Alexander Technique.

Best Health Magazine also has a great article on improving posture. They describe easy exercises you can do to improve posture, having picked the brains of the adult program director at Canada’s National Ballet, and an exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise.

Personally, I think yoga is excellent for posture, and I know my own body awareness and carriage have improved since practicing yoga regularly.

But, I also believe there’s a mindfulness aspect to good posture–you can have the strongest, most flexible muscles in the world, but if you’re not actually paying attention to sitting straight–and making a habit of it–it’s easy to let yourself slump down.

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

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