Welcome to "52 Weeks to a Healthier You"....

Are you thinking about making changes in your life to become a healthier person but don't quite know how to get started? Perhaps your doctor has suggested eating healthier, exercising and losing weight, but it all seems so overwhelming. Many of us already know what we should be doing, but implementing all of those pieces of information can be quite a challenge. Too often we embark on a new diet or exercise plan only to give up after a few days or weeks because it seems too difficult. Well, worry no more. You have arrived at the ideal place to help you make those changes. We are going to develop new habits, one week at a time. Health, exercise, and nutritional goals have been broken down into small, manageable steps. Each week you will add one new habit and have seven full days to perfect it before moving on to the next one. This is not a traditional diet and exercise plan, but rather a journey towards a permanent healthy lifestyle. The steps may seem small at first, but collectively they add up to major improvements in one's overall well-being. In just 52 short weeks, you will be amazed and proud of the changes you have made. You will look back and see just how far you've come on your quest to be a healthier YOU. Now, scroll down in the archives to January 2011/Week 1 and let's get started.... Then, follow each week's tip to a healthier YOU!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Week 3 - Add a 10-15 minute mindful walk to your daily routine....

Congratulations!  We've made it to week three and are ready to add a brand new habit -- Exercise -- in the form of a 10-15 minute walk!  For some, it's the dreaded "E" word; for others, it's something you're already doing and a short walk may seem too simple.  But before you underestimate the power of a daily stroll, let's examine some of the reasons why it is so important to our well-being.

In addition to other exercise that you may already be doing, it is beneficial to develop the habit of taking a daily, mindful walk.  What do we mean by 'mindful'?  Mindful walking is more a practice (like yoga, meditation, or tai chi) as opposed to just getting in your cardio exercise. It involves being aware of our breathing, our thoughts, our steps, and of our bodies moving forward through space.  We clear our minds of cluttered "to do" lists and put aside worries about unfinished tasks.  With each step, we concentrate on breathing deeply, lengthening our torso and just being aware of the simple pleasure of walking.  Mindful walking is also plannedessential, and a priority.  This daily walk should be non-negotiable, just like brushing your teeth and bathing.  Basically, I encourage you to develop the mindset that you will walk no matter what -- weather conditions*, minor aches and pains, fatigue, or moodiness are no longer excuses. 

Why is a daily walk such an important habit?  For starters, because it's good for you!  People who walk have significantly less cardiovascular disease.  In addition to better circulation, they have healthier bones and stronger muscles.  They have improved posture and balance, better quality sleep, and tend to be less depressed and anxious.  Regular walking can decrease joint inflammation and help with arthritis pain.  It is also an integral part of most successful weight-management programs.  New studies even show that daily walking can reduce the risk of certain cancers and Alzheimer's disease.

Human beings -- Homo sapiens -- are bipeds by design. We were "built" to walk, and to walk a lot!  In our busy modern world, it is all too easy to hop in the car, sit in a chair, take the elevator, and shop over the internet.  These are all missed opportunities for moving our bodies in the way in which they were designed.  Our caveman ancestors remained fit and strong by covering vast distances each day, hunting and gathering, climbing, jumping, balancing, squatting and bending.  They burned excess fat and calories by moving their bodies all day long. 

We've all experienced the "I don't feel like exercising" phenomenon and we end up skipping our trip to the gym or our session on the elliptical.  A daily walk, however, once it becomes non-negotiable, is something we do because it's just something we do everyday! The power of this daily mindful walk is more about mind-body-spirit connection than it is about power-walking. Our new habit calls for a more moderate pace in which you're breathing at a comfortable rate and able to converse easily.  We are able to appreciate our surroundings, view nature, and enjoy the company of others or the solitude of our own thoughts.  This is a steady, deliberate activity meant to be done in addition to other exercise you may already be doing to meet higher aerobic needs.  While we are beginning at a very modest 10-15 minutes daily, our ultimate goal is to increase our walk to 30 minutes minimum, or even longer if you so desire and have the time.  Ideally, this walk will occur outdoors.  There is an unquantifiable benefit to breathing fresh air, experiencing sunshine or misty drizzle, listening to nature, and viewing gorgeous scenery.  In short, it is just good for the soul!

If you are already taking daily walks and you prefer to move at a faster clip, no problem -- keep up the good work.  Just be aware that walking is about so much more than just getting in your cardio.  It can be a valuable time to decompress, de-stress, and simply relax.  Consider slowing down for 10 minutes at the beginning or end of your usual walk and see if you begin to experience a new kind of calm and centeredness.

* What to do about inclement weather?  Obviously, one must use common sense and take necessary safety precautions.  If your steps and driveway are a sheet of ice or wind chill temperatures are dangerously low, that might be a good day to hop on the treadmill or do an indoor walking video such as Leslie Sansone's Walk At Home series.  If ice is not an issue, walking outdoors on a snowy day can be invigorating and refreshing!  Take your cue from skiers who dress appropriately for an entire day in the snow -- warm underlayers, ski pants and jacket, snow boots, and a ski mask or face gator can all make cold-weather walking a snap.  Rain?  No problem -- throw on a slicker and rain boots, grab an umbrella and head out the door.  On excessively hot days, one can always walk early in the morning before the temperature soars or head to the cool indoors of the local air-conditioned mall.  The bottom line is to stop making excuses for why we can't get our walk in, and start making it a priority.  Make this your mantra:  "Today, I WILL walk."

"The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose." 
      ~ Charles Dickens

For those of you interested in learning more about mindful walking (and mindfulness in general), here are some very interesting articles:

How To Be More Mindful Just Breathing and Walking
Mindful Walking

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Week 2 - Add two glasses of water to your daily fluid intake

How often do we hear and read that we should drink 8 glasses of water per day?  Sounds easy, but how many of us actually drink those 8 glasses?!  And we're talking drinking water in its purest form -- not coffee, tea or soft drinks.  While those beverages do include water, they also contain chemical additives and preservatives that may be harmful to your body.  These drinks contribute to your daily fluid intake but they are not a substitute for pure, clean water.

Who came up with the idea of eight glasses of water, and how do we actually know that's the optimal amount to drink?  The truth is, we don't actually know!!  Most nutritionists and scientists will tell you that the suggestion of eight glasses daily isn't based in any real scientific fact.  It's a combination of urban legend and anecdotal medical advice.  In fact, this unquestioned rule is itself a question mark.  "I can't even tell you that," says Barbara Rolls, a nutrition researcher at Pennsylvania State University, "and I've written a book on water."

Some say the number was derived from fluid intake measurements taken decades ago among hospital patients on IVs; others say it's less a measure of what people need than a convenient reference point, especially for those who are prone to dehydration, such as many elderly people. Many kidney specialists do agree on one thing, however:  that the 8-by-8 rule (8 glasses x 8 ounces) is a gross overestimate of any required minimum. To replace daily losses of water, an average-sized adult with healthy kidneys sitting in a temperate climate needs no more than one liter of fluid, according to Jurgen Schnermann, a kidney physiologist at the National Institutes of Health.  Of course, if you're healthy, and you're laboring over the stair machine, playing basketball, or even gardening in a hot, dry climate, you're going to need a lot more than a liter to keep you hydrated. But you hardly need a nutritionist or a doctor to tell you that. (1)  At the other end of the spectrum, elite athletes and bodybuilders often drink one gallon or more per day!  The huge demands placed on their bodies to grow and maintain muscle simply require a much higher water intake.

Regardless of how much we need, we do know that water carries important nutrients, minerals, dissolved salts and trace elements which are the building blocks of growth and healing energies. It disposes of waste and is constantly cooling, cleansing and purifying itself. Our bodies depend on water as a catalyst, a transport system, to maintain our correct body temperature, and to supply nutrients and electrical impulses. (2)

H20 -- two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen -- seemingly so very basic and simple, yet so complex and complicated that it is the source of all life. Consider these facts:

  • The adult human body is made up of 60-75% water. 
  • The brain is made up of about 85% water. 
  • Blood, which carries nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, is about 90% water. 

Not only is it important to drink water, it is important to spread water intake throughout the day so your body stays well hydrated.  The reason most people fail at developing this new habit of drinking eight glasses per day is because they try to add them all at once.  It is difficult to go from drinking little or no water to drinking eight glasses, so they end up feeling frustrated, slightly nauseous, and fed up with running to the bathroom all day!

We're going to take baby steps and a middle-of-the-road approach and slowly work our way up to six or eight glasses per day.  We will start by adding just two glasses -- preferably one when you first wake up, before your coffee or breakfast, and a second glass just before dinner.  Remember last week when we talked about our bodies being in a fasting state in the morning?  Well, having gone 7-8 hours with no fluid also places your body in a state of mild dehydration.  One of the very best things you can do is drink 8 ounces of water as soon as you get up.  A splash of cranberry juice, lemon juice or any other natural flavoring will add some zip if you simply don't like it plain.  I often fill a pitcher at night with 64 ounces of water and toss in fresh lemon and orange slices.  By morning, the water is chilled and has a delicious citrus flavor. 

The glass before dinner is perfectly timed because by that point in the day many of us are already behind on our water intake.  We may be in a state of mild dehydration and a glass of water is just what the body needs.  Drinking a glass just before dinner has the added benefit of helping to control your appetite so you consume a slightly smaller dinner.

If you are already a water-drinker, great!  Keep on doing what you are doing -- just be mindful of getting those two glasses in at those strategic times -- first thing in the morning and before dinner.  Whether you drink four, six or eight glasses per day, the ultimate goal is to stay well hydrated.  Let your thirst be your guide!

"Water is life's mater and matrix, mother and medium.  There is no life without water."     
        ~ Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

1. Carey, Benedict. "Hard to Swallow: Do You Really Need Eight Glasses of Water Everyday?"  http://chetday.com/eightglassesofwater.htm#

2. Bartholomew, Alick. "Why is Water So Important?"   Wellness Goods.com

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Week 1 -- Fill up with a healthy breakfast

This week we are kicking off our new healthy habits with one of the most important things you can do for your health--eating a healthy breakfast. Breakfast is often one of the most overlooked meals of the day. And that is unfortunate because it is also the meal that is probably the easiest to control and ensure optimal nutritional intake. Unlike lunch and dinner where we are often busy with our day and "on the go", most of us are home in the morning surrounded by all of the healthy choices in our fridge and pantry.

What does the word "breakfast" mean? Quite literally, it means to break a fast. In the morning, your body has been resting (fasting) without food for 7-8 hours. Most of us close our eyes at night, wake up in the morning, and never give a second thought to all that is happening in our bodies "behind the scenes" while we are sleeping. Sleep is the time when our body builds up the immune system's components and repairs the damage caused by pollutants and toxins during the day. During sleep, our body undergoes an anabolic (building up) phase which is the exact opposite of the catabolic (breaking down) phase during the day (1). The anabolic phase builds our body up again to its normal state or condition, repairing muscle, building new bone, healing wounds, calming inflammation, etc. Even at rest the brain is still working hard to run all the organ systems; digestion, respiration, kidney function, immune system, along with others. The brain demands fuel for these activities and will take stored glycogen from muscles and fat.

The average person burns about 60 calories per hour during sleep. So after a good night's rest, that's somewhere in the neighborhood of 400-500 calories! It is VERY important to replenish the depleted energy stores when you wake. Your body is already in a caloric deficit at this point, and it is vital to make those healthy nutrients available as quickly as possible.

Many people skip breakfast, especially if they are watching their waistline. They want to save those calories for later in the day. Also, many people claim they just aren't hungry in the morning or feel nauseous when they eat too early. This is one of the worst mistakes you can make! Studies show that people who eat a balanced breakfast are far more successful at maintaining their weight than those who don't. Women in particular tend to nibble on less nutritious items like toast or a small bagel along with their morning coffee. While temporarily filling, these items are poor choices because they are too carb-heavy, offering nothing in the way of proteins or healthy fats. Carbohydrates convert quickly to sugar causing our blood sugar to rise and fall rapidly and setting us up for more cravings a short while later. It is much better to choose a substantial (350-400 calories) breakfast that is a balanced combination of carbs, proteins, and fat (yes, fat too!)  It is especially important to get adequate protein if you are participating in any kind of strength training program. A good rule of thumb for meal planning is 40-50% carbohydrate, 20-30% protein, 20-30% fat.

Here are some ideas for healthy, balanced, filling breakfasts:

1. Oatmeal with fruit and nuts
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (not quick-cooking oats) (150 cals)
1 cup low fat milk (100 cals)
1/2 banana (40 cals)
1/4 cup blueberries (20 cals)
1/8 cup walnuts-about 7 halves, chopped (90 cals)

Place oats in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl (do not use a cereal bowl, oatmeal will overflow!) Pour about 3/4 cup of milk in the bowl -- save the rest for thinning to desired consistency after cooking. Be sure to drink any extra milk so you can get your full cup with 8 grams of protein. Cook on high for approximately 3-1/2 minutes, more or less depending on your microwave. Sweeten lightly if desired with Truvia, Splenda, sugar or honey (be mindful of extra calories from sugar or honey). Top with fruit and nuts.

This is a nutrition-packed meal which provides 400 calories and 15 grams of protein.  This will keep you full for hours!

2.  Greek yogurt with natural granola
1 carton 2%-fat Greek yogurt (130 calories)
1/4 cup natural granola (120 calories)
1 piece of fruit (80-100 cals)

Any brand of Greek yogurt is fine, but be sure to choose the plain variety over the flavored.  Use a little of your own sweetener if desired.  My personal favorite Greek yogurt is Fage (pronounced fay-ah) and it is available at most grocery stores.  This has a whopping 17 grams of protein vs. only 5-6 grams in the more popular brands (Yoplait, Dannon).  Greek yogurt is definitely an acquired taste; it almost has the consistency of sour cream.  Some people choose to thin it out with just a splash of milk.  Play around with sweeteners, fruit and granola to get it just the way you like it.

For the granola, again, any brand is fine.  Check ingredients carefully and choose the most natural version you can find.  Personally, my favorite is Udi's which is available at most specialty grocery stores and online at Udi's Granola.

This meal provides approximately 350 calories and 20 grams of protein.

3. Omelette with vegetables
1-2 eggs (70-140 cals)
1/2 cup egg whites (60 cals)
1 teaspoon olive oil (45 cals)
Fresh chopped veggies such as peppers, onion, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes (20 cals)
1 piece hearty whole grain toast (100 cals)
1/2 cup fruit (40 cals)

Spray omelette pan lightly with PAM and add a teaspoon of olive oil.  Beat an egg or two along with eggwhites.  Pour into heated pan. (An omelette pan with a hinge works great!) Allow eggs to set, toss in a heaping handful of fresh veggies, add a pinch of cheese if desired.  Close the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes, until eggs are cooked through.

This meal provides 335-405 calories and 20-27 grams of protein depending on how many eggs you use.

4. Swedish Muesli
1/4 cup Bob's Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli
1/2 cup Fage 0% or 2% Greek Yogurt
1/2 cup Skim milk
1/2 tbsp Agave Nectar
1/2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract

Mix all other ingredients together and refrigerate overnight. Enjoy!
This delicious breakfast provides 245 calories with 18 grams of protein.  Add a hardboiled egg (70 cals) and top with fresh fruit (40-60 cals) for a total of 350-375 calories and 24 grams of protein.

5. Hearty whole grain toast with natural peanut butter
1 slice hearty whole grain bread such as Great Harvest Dakota Low Carb (120 cals)
1 Tbs all natural peanut butter such as Krema (100 cals)
1 piece of lowfat string cheese (60 cals) or glass of lowfat milk (100 cals)
1 piece fresh fruit (60-80 cals)

This breakfast provides approximately 360-400 calories and a whopping 19 grams of protein to keep you full for hours.

6. Protein Breakfast Smoothie
1 cup lowfat milk (100 cals)
1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder (110 cals)
1-1/2 cups frozen fruit (70-100 cals)
1 tsp flaxseed oil (45 cals)

Mix milk with protein powder until well dissolved.  Pour into blender, add frozen fruit and 1 teaspoon flaxseed oil.  Blend until smooth and frothy.

This delicious concoction supplies about 350 calories with a whopping 28-35 grams of protein, depending on the brand of whey protein powder.

These are just a few ideas to get you started.  The possibilities for healthy breakfasts are endless!  Just use your imagination to come up with interesting combinations of carbs, proteins and fats.  Always try to add fresh fruits or vegetables to your selections, and don't be afraid to add nuts and/or healthy oils such as olive oil or flaxseed oil to boost the calories and healthy fats up to the desired level.

"Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper."

1. Why We Need Good Sleep, http://www.articlesnatch.com/Article/Why-We-Need-Good-Sleep/1230689