Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Easing Digestion with Movement

Many efforts have been made to help researchers understand the link between physical activity and gut health. In recent years, the body of evidence connecting exercise with a healthy gut has significantly widened. We now know that there’s actually a strong correlation on a microscopic level: The bacterial composition of the digestive system seems to change based on how often you exercise. The link is so strong, in fact, that one study found that physical activity three to five times per week can noticeably reduce the severity in IBS symptoms.

Because gastrointestinal health is such a multifaceted issue, there’s still a lot to learn. However, implementing a physical activity regimen can provide a range of benefits to you today. So what works?

Running, Hiking & Walking
If you've ever noticed you have more of an urge to go when you're out on a walk, run or hike, you're not imagining things. Exercise stimulates the intestines to contract, which helps to move things along naturally. A regular exercise regimen lasting 20-30 minutes per day can improve constipation and provide a more general sense of wellbeing.

But exercising is about more than just being regular. In addition to stimulating the intestines, regular exercise also strengthens your whole digestive tract, making digestion more efficient.

Yoga, Breathing & Stretching
You don't have to engage in hard-hitting exercises to get benefits for digestion. Intentional breathing exercises such as yoga or meditation both help to strengthen diaphragm muscles, which can ease the symptoms of acid reflux. Using a basic resistance band such as a Theraband will help you to stretch more deeply and hold poses for longer using the correct form. Therabands are a versatile tool that can be used in physical rehabilitation capacity and to improve strength by targeting specific muscle groups.

Breathing deeply and slowly using the muscles around your diaphragm, try a range of deep stretches to compress and extend your abdominal region. Deep, intentional movements can stimulate and ease digestion by improving blood flow, and will help to strengthen the muscles that surround your gut.
In addition, this type of exercise is strongly associated with stress reduction and a boost in mental energy.

Now that you know you don't need to hit the gym hard after every meal to get digestive benefits from movement, we encourage you to try stretching with a Theraband daily.
Make exercise a part of your health care routine, along with a balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh foods and fiber.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day, not waiting until you are thirsty to do so. Staying hydrated allows your body's cells to work in peak condition by helping to transport vital nutrients and regulating a range of bodily functions, including digestion.

5 Tips for Keeping Your Resolutions

Changing Your Habits for Good

A New Year's resolution can feel like a new door has opened. But getting into the right mindset and staying there are two different things. Keeping up with new goals can be exciting at first, but as the year progresses, it's not uncommon to stray. Here are five tips to help you turn your New Year's resolution into a lasting habit.

1. Believe You Can Change

Belief is one of the main cornerstones of change. It's truly a powerful contributing ingredient when it comes to new habits taking hold. Believing that change actually is possible, whether that belief comes from within or through an external source, adds a tremendous resource to your toolkit. Belief helps to cultivate a powerful mindset that's more critical than perseverance, willingness or personal commitment. Start by believing and take it from there.

2. Visualize the Change

Once you've opened yourself up to the reality that change really is possible, visualization will become a lot easier. Visualization is an essential tool for building new habits. In addition to offering relaxation, inspiration and improved focus, this important step of the process allows you to fully immerse yourself in your goal in order to build your confidence, reinforce your purpose, and actually see yourself meeting your goals at the finish line.
It might sound like a bit of fiction, but visualization can actually implant memories as if they were real. Visualizing each step of a process helps to ingrain habits until they become second nature, which makes it that much easier to stay the course even when the unexpected happens.
This technique has actually been a key ingredient for athletes' success for many years. Olympic swimmers including Michael Phelps are famous for utilizing this process so often and with such efficacy that they attribute it to their success. By visualizing each stroke needed to propel himself through the water in a race, winning became second nature. That's how he landed a new world record in Bejing even though, for much of the race, his goggles were filled with water. The power of visualization is real. It works for world class athletes and it can work for you.

3. Break it Up 

In order to visualize achieving your goal, you'll need to be able to clearly think about each piece of the puzzle, not just the end result. But breaking up the task serves another important purpose: Giving each goal a milestone along the way will provide clear-cut markers for success and more reasons to pat yourself on the back along the way. Goals aren't achieved overnight, and that's true for the big tasks as well as the smaller ones.
No matter the size of your goal, your initial milestone should be small enough to be totally attainable. This is particularly true for large, long-term goals and goals that require you to change an ingrained habit. For example, if your goal is to lose 30 pounds, don't immediately make weight loss your milestone. First, consider that replacing one bad food with a better one is already a huge success. If you can replace one food once a week, you might set a new goal to replace two foods in the week after that; goals of this proportion help keep your momentum up and will boost your confidence to keep you working toward your goal. An ideal first small goal should be attainable within 5-10 days. Once you have a few small goals under your belt, you can begin to up the ante.

4. Set a Date

Procrastination can undo even the most ambitious planner's goals. Without a deadline, things tend to get pushed aside in favor of other tasks.
Whether your own bad habits are keeping you from achieving your goal or your lifestyle keeps you endlessly busy, setting aside time each day to work on things like visualization is necessary in order to get you closer to your objective. Getting into the habit of setting a target date for each individual milestone will keep you from getting off course and derailing completely. That being said, if you do happen to get off track, don't spend too much time dwelling. Give yourself permission to fail and fail quickly. Use your failures as a learning opportunity rather than a tool for personal punishment; getting back up after any damaging setback is how you'll grow and eventually accomplish your goals.

5. Loop Someone In

Telling someone about your goals might be just the support you need to keep going even when times get tough. A support group might give you something to believe in or it might just hold you accountable. When you're accountable, you're more likely to follow through on a task because of the power of social expectations. Social expectations give you one more reason to stick with your new goals, whether that's to eat better, quit smoking or finish school. Having a buddy with a similar goal by your side allows you to check in, measure and record your progress regularly,giving the both of you a real reason to follow through. Telling one or more people about your goal also provides you with the support you'll need when you may feel like giving up. Like a coach by your side, an accountability friend or support group will be able to rally around and encourage you to finish this week's goal even when you're not feeling up to the task.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Revamping Your Pantry

Simple Yet Powerful Tips to Help You Change the Way You Eat

The new year is a great time to shed old baggage, and why wait until January 1st to start setting new goals for your health. The sooner you can get into the swing of things, the sooner you can nix old habits and start building new ones. Whether you have a New Year's goal or you simply think it's time, you really can change.

Let's talk about some best practices for stocking your pantry to serve your own health.

1.    Stock Foods You Like

When stocking your home with healthier foods, it's important to be realistic about what you will and will not enjoy eating. Making drastic changes that aim to eliminate instead of replace old habits is unrealistic and not sustainable in the long-term.

2. Keep Staples, Not Snacks

For many households, the word "pantry" might as well be synonymous with the words "vending machine". If sugary drinks, cakes, cookies and crisps fill the shelves of your pantry, consider how you might be able to push these out with more healthy alternatives.
Stocking your pantry with staples such as beans, rice, oils and preserved goods will make meal planning easier and grocery trips less stressful.

3. Oil vs. Oil

We're all familiar with the olive oil vs. vegetable oil debate, but is it really worth swapping out one for the other? Both have similar calorie content, and one is undeniably cheaper. So why the big fuss?
The short version is that western diets tend to be supremely deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. On the contrary, we eat a lot of foods that contain omega-6 fatty acids. Omega 6's are essential, but an unbalanced ratio promotes inflammatory conditions, high LDL, IBS and cardiovascular disease. A 6:3 omega ratio of 4:1 (or less, like 1:1) is really ideal, which is a far cry from what vegetable oils can provide. Because we tend to use oils in so many food preparations, this is a good place to start when making dietary changes. Whereas olive oil's ratio is about 13:1, vegetable oils range from 45:1 to 60:1, depending on the source and how the oil is processed.
When purchasing pre-made foods or snacks, be especially aware of this, as most processed foods contain soy, palm and other vegetable oils.

4. Spice Up Your Life

Struggling in the spice isle? With so many items on the shelf at such varying prices, things can quickly become overwhelming, making salt and pepper seem like the optimal choices. But a well-seasoned meal can mean all the difference between something you greatly enjoy and mediocrity.
Relying on salt to carry the burden of a meal that'll tantalise your tastebuds is both unrealistic and unhealthy. But if you do exclusively enjoy salty foods, consider switching to a low-sodium option such as Nu-Salt.
When creating a meal, consider some other kinds of tastes available to you:

  • savory
  • sour
  • sweet
  • bitter
  • spicy

We recommend stocking your pantry with salt-free options that can be used in versatile ways, such as garlic and onion (fresh, preferably), all-spice, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin and curry.
Finding a local grocery store with a bulk spice isle will allow you to sample a range of tastes without committing to an amount you won’t be able to finish.

5. Broth, Soups and Sodium

Broths and soups are a great staple for your pantry because these will allow you to create quick and simple meals without the added effort of cooking completely from scratch. A hearty soup makes a great meal alone or together on a bed of mixed rice or quinoa.
However, be aware of the hidden amounts of salt found in many canned goods, namely soups and broths. The daily recommended allowance of sodium is 2,000 mg per day, which is about one tablespoon of regular table salt.

6. Other Canned Goods

Canned goods offer an easy solution to the problem of food preparation. Keeping black beans, navy beans or great northern beans in your pantry will expand your meal planning options while promoting a healthy omega 3:6 intake.
Canned vegetables are easier (and to some more palatable) than fresh options, but while most aren't a nutritional disaster, these also provide fewer vitamins and fiber.
Avoid stocking canned fruits as alternative snacks to cookies or cakes; while these might seem like a healthier option at a glance, they're often packed in sugar-laden syrup to the excess of five tablespoons per can. While peaches in their own juices will contain only about one tablespoon in each can, it's important to consider just how much more quickly this sugar can get into your bloodstream compared with the sugar found in a whole fruit, such as an apple.

Now that you’ve mentally stocked your pantry, it’s time to focus on how you’ll achieve your goals without falling back into your old ways.

You might have already noticed that setting goals is much easier than executing them over time. That's because a variety of factors come into play when you're trying to change habits, and some of these are emotional in nature, making them more difficult to identify and control.
If you find yourself setting health goals that include the words "always" or "never", we recommend a new strategy: Instead of eliminating things from your life or attempting to add a whole new routine, simply consider what it would take for you to replace a bad habit with a better one. Pushing out the bad by adding more good is a well-known and proven strategy for creating better habits, because it doesn't add unnecessary pressure that automatically sets you up for failure.

How to Change Habits Once and For All

1. Identify Your Habit

Over the course of our lives, we develop thousands of habits that we never stop to think about. From putting on shoes to backing the car out of the garage, your habits save you a lot of wasted mental energy. But habits can also be dangerous; they're the reason you zone out when driving home from work and why you unthinkingly over-indulge in foods or vices.

All habits follow the same path: they are triggered by a prompt, then the habit takes place, and soon a reward follows. When you come home after a long day at work, and you're tired and hungry, your habits for microwave foods, takeaways or quick snacks kick in. After you eat, you're satisfied - if even just for a while - and the habit loop is complete.

2. Replace Something Bad with Something Better

When thinking about our health goals, it's generally pretty easy to identify the bad habits, such as ordering a lot of takeaways. And this is where most of us get overly ambitious with statements such as, “I’m never eating takeaways again.” When that doesn't work, some of us try to bargain with ourselves by promising takeaway if certain other goals are met, such as daily exercise.  But a new exercise routine is difficult to fit into your life, so you try other ways to keep takeaway from weaseling its way back in, but ultimately realize that the sum these changes is simply too exhausting to follow through on. This is why so many resolutions are abandoned even before February.

When we begin to identify not just our habits, but the cue that sets a habit into motion, that's when change can really take place. Identifying your cues allows you to take control of all the actions that follow, by making proactive changes that don't change the habit in its entirety. It's important to recognize this loop because knowledge is power. Knowing how a prompt sets a habit into motion is half the battle.
Keeping a journal of your activities is a great way to help you take charge of the changes you want to see. Each time you reach for the phone to order a pizza or you plop down in front of the TV instead of picking up a resistance band or dumbbell, ask yourself "what triggered this action?"
Additionally, make a note of the anticipated reward you'd expect from completing this old habit. One journal entry might look like this:

Prompt: Nothing good to eat in fridge
Habit: Order pizza
Reward: Tasty food that doesn't require shopping, preparation or cleanup

Seeing this loop unfolding on paper gives you time to think about some alternative ways to approach this problem.

What Goes Into Creating a New Habit

Relying on Willpower
Many people believe that willpower is the key to a healthy lifestyle. Fit people are forever wondering why unfit people don't have more of it.
But, the truth is, while willpower is an absolute necessity for many things in life, it's a learned behavior, and even then, willpower tends to be highly inconsistent. In addition, evidence strongly suggests that willpower is actually a limited resource, which can be depleted by resisting your urges.
While you may be able to rely on willpower some of the time, there will be plenty of other times when willpower just won't step in to help you overcome your hurdles. This is especially true with habits rooted in addiction.

Being More Proactive
Everyone can benefit from being more proactive. Being proactive simply means that you learn to anticipate outcomes rather than blindly falling into them. This approach teaches you to take more personal responsibility for the situations you find yourself in, and is a great way to help you take more charge of your life generally. Being proactive can help you to recognize that stocking your fridge with foods you like will keep you from feeling overwhelmed when you're tired and hungry at the end of the day, something that normally leads you to order a pizza.
However, solely relying on being proactive can also lead to feelings of guilt and self-blame, so it's important to supplement this strategy.

Finding a New Reward
Being proactive helps you to focus on changing the thing that prompts a habit, but this is oftentimes more difficult than simply changing the habit instead. For example, if you find your fridge empty yet again, don't despair; now is the time to change your habit of ordering out forever. Here’s how: find an option that offers you a comparable reward -  tasty food that doesn't require shopping, preparation or cleanup.

Let’s consider some options:

If the most daunting portion of changing this habit are the meal planning and grocery shopping:
  • Buy health-friendly ready-to-eat meals that simply require re-heating
  • Shop at smaller supermarkets during the least busy times of the week, and keep your list short or have groceries delivered
  • Order boxed meals that contain all of the ingredients you'll need to prepare fresh food at home

If you find that an aversion to food preparation limits your meals:
  • Purchase pre-cut fruit and veg from the local supermarket
  • Enjoy pre-made meals that can be reheated in the microwave
  • Use single-step or crockpot meals that require little to no preparation

If you're someone who hates cleanup:
  • Prepare foods that only require one pot or pan
  • Clean as you go instead of leaving pots on the range or in the sink
  • Share cleaning responsibilities with a housemate or your significant other

By trading your pizza habit for an easy and satisfying crockpot roast, you still receive the reward you're used to without the empty calories and guilt.
Remember that your goals don't need to be enormous. In fact, by setting realistic goals such as replacing takeaways with a homemade pasta dish, you're much more likely to follow through.

Habit's Secret Ingredient

Why do some new habits fail to take hold? Believe it or not, the power of your own thinking has a lot to do with it. When you believe in yourself or you believe in a process, it's easier to continue even when everything else fails. It's why AA works better for alcohol dependency than quitting on your own, and why people experience real healing powers from the placebo effect.
Believing in yourself or in your process and your new habits can be challenging for many, which is why it can also help to be able to rely on others through this process.

A belief in yourself is vital, no matter which task you're tackling today. Believing in yourself gives you the confidence you'll need to give your all to a worthy cause.

The belief in others establishes strength in numbers, and is especially valuable when you're running low on self-belief. Having someone to turn to, whether it's a workout buddy, an over-eaters group or a self-help book, lets you recharge and find hope and strength again.

Sometimes it's the belief over others that carries us along. Seeing that Bob has accomplished something - even though Bob is hardly better than you in any other way - can actually renew your own belief, confidence and willpower.

The belief over everything is oftentimes referred to as faith, and while it's not for everyone, it is a tremendous resource for people who subscribe to a higher power. The belief in a god, god-like being, energy or universal truth helps to take the pressure off the individual to help create willpower without having to solely rely on yourself or other.

Take control over your habits once and for all. By recognizing your unconscious actions and making reasonable changes that are sustainable for years to come, you’ll be able to push out the things you want less of to make room for your new healthy life.