Water – Just Drink More

Benefits_of_WaterWhen someone asks what they can do to change their diet or start living a healthier lifestyle my first response is to DRINK MORE WATER!  This is by far the easiest change you can make that will have both immediate and long lasting effects.  I cannot express enough how important water is to your body.  Here are just some of the improvements you will see when you start increasing your water intake:

1 –  Assists with weight loss – Water is a natural appetite suppressant.  Drinking water will give you that “full” feeling and help eliminate the desire to snack.

2 – Eliminates toxins – Drinking water helps clean your system and flush toxins from your body by boosting kidney and liver functions which remove the waste products in your blood and fluids.

3 – Helps to prevent headaches – Often times headaches are caused by dehydration.  There’s a simple fix for that!

4 – Reduces the risk of heart attacks and stroke – Water helps make your blood less thick and more fluid in turn helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

5 – Saves money – With restaurants charging 2-3 buck per pop in most places just think about how much money (If you go out to lunch or dinner just 5 times a week that’s more than $1,500 a year!!)

6 – Helps Digestion – Water helps to break down the foods you eat.  In addition it helps keep your intestinal track functioning more efficiently and effectively when it’s well hydrated and not dried up and contracted.

7 – Improves skin quality – Water is better for your skin than any beauty product out there!  Increase your water intake and in a few weeks your skin will have better tone, more elasticity,  and be less dry and flaky

If you find the whole idea of drinking more water a daunting take here are 6 easy ways to start increasing your water intake:

1 – Instead of ordering a tea or soft drink with your meal, stick with water.  Or, if you MUST order that drink, before you get a refill drink a glass of water.

2 – Use a water tracking app to remind you to drink.

3 – Leave a water jug at your desk or carry a water bottle with you.

4 – If you find water to be bland, flavor it with lemon or other fruits.

5 – Make it a habit to drink a glass of water after every bathroom break.

6 – Drink a glass of water when you first wake up in the morning before you do anything else.

As with all changes, making small incremental changes are much more effective and easier to sustain than making a ton of drastic changes all at once.  It took a while, but these days I pretty much exclusively drink water in my day to day routine.  I will typically drink a cup of unsweetened green tea during the day at my desk, a 1/2 glass of red wine in the evening and the rest of my fluid intake is the water that I have near me at my desk or on the kitchen counter.

There are the occasions where I sweat more than usual because my workouts are extra challenging or I spend a while outside at the track.  These occasions I turn to my Rehydrate from Advocare.  In this hot Houston heat and humidity it’s wayyyyy too easy to get dehydrated.

My 5 Favorite Natural Food Sources of Omega-3

wp-image--299764600I mentioned in a previous post the top ways to reduce cholesterol naturally.  One of those ways was to consume a fish oil supplement containing Omega-3 oils.  I personally take Advocare’s OmegaPlex, which you can order here.  Life Extensions also makes a good supplement that contains a good balance of EPA and DHA.  A majority of omega-3 sources are fish based and many of the best forms are in supplements because the oils can be extracted and taken in a concentrated form.  I suggest doing some research on the ALA/EPA/DHA quantities though since all omega-3 supplements are not created equal.

However since I always prefer and believe it’s best to get what I need straight from the source, the following are great FOOD sources of omega-3 oils:

  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Chia Seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Tuna

In addition to regulating cholesterol, omega-3 has been linked to improvements in the following conditions:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Cancer
  • Skin health
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammation
  • Arthritis
  • Infertility
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Health Benefits of Turmeric

turmeric-2344157_960_720Lately, this pungent orange spice has been all the rage and touted as being some sort of super spice with a vast array of healing and medicinal properties.  As with most things I research lately, trying to lower and maintain my high cholesterol was what let me to look further into this turmeric craze and what’s making it so fashionable.

I once worked with a woman who told that as a child when she got sick with a cold or something similar, her grandmother would give them warm milk and turmeric and make them drink it.  If they were injured she would do something completely different with the spice.  Her grandmother was born and raised in India and at one point had a book of healing recipes she swore by that the village medicine man had given her.

There is such an abundance of information published on the web about this it can be absolutely overwhelming to have to sift through it all.  Here are the main points from pretty much all the sources that I’ve come across:

  • Turmeric DOES in fact contain certain compounds contain medicinal properties. The main/active ingredient being curcumin.
  • Myriads of studies of curcumin have shown it to not only have powerful anti-inflammatory effects but also to be a very strong antioxidant.
  • There is evidence in the studies that curcumin can led to changes on the molecular level as well as cross the blood-brain barrier.
  • As a result of these abilities some of the wide array of benefits that have resulted are:
    • Reduced arthritis symptoms
    • Improved cardiovascular health
      • Reduced cholesterol
      • Reduced risk or atherosclerosis
      • Inflammation reduction and cellular repair
    • Improvements in the pathological process of Alzheimer’s disease
    • Digestion improvement
    • Aids in depression

The list goes on and on about the benefits of this spice.  However, most of the studies are performed using extracts of turmeric that contain mostly curcumin itself, with dosages often exceeding 1 gram per day. It is highly unlikely that one would be able to achieve these levels just using the turmeric spice in your foods.

I have not yet purchased any turmeric supplements as of yet so I can’t give any advice as to which is my preferred brand.  And I’ve read that consuming a “pepper” supplement aids in the absorption of the herb.    So much so that one user claimed to “pop three peppercorns” with his supplement.  Although, many brands now actually include some sort of pepper or piperine extract in their formulas.

One should be aware that the presence of contaminants such as metals and arsenic in turmeric has been all over the news lately since the FDA has recalled some major brands.  Researching how to find pure forms free of contaminating agents is another daunting task in and of itself.

Since I’ve been adding a little bit (about one and a half teaspoons or so) to my smoothies I’ve noticed a reduction in the following:

  • The pain in the main joint of my big toe that I SWEAR is from arthritis
  • My acid reflux doesn’t seem to be as bad or as pervasive
  • The effects of my allergies seem to have lessened a bit

Of course, there’s really no way for me to determine whether or not these improvements were related to the turmeric specifically or the overall general lifestyle improvements since I did not start adding the turmeric in isolation of all other changes.  But, it certainly couldn’t have hurt, right?  I’m also still waiting to have my cholesterol checked again in a few months…

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like…

It’s the season of savings and free goodies!  We’re no different here.

I was seeing Halloween decorations up in September. I was seeing Christmas decorations in the store in August. Which means…it’s almost time to stuff your face for 3 months straight! Before I do that I will definitely be doing another round of Advocare’s 24 day Challenge. Just to feel like I’m starting fresh and maybe help to deter me from a little bit of the bad eating that wouldn’t have said “no” to otherwise. If you have an interest in seeing what it’s all about, message me and I will absolutely get you a discount and a free gift!

24day

5 Reasons to Get More Sleep

time-is-money-1339781_640I haven’t been very focused lately. Probably because I haven’t been able to sleep very well for the last few weeks (I’m going to blame it on PTSD from Harvey). I love my sleep. Not going to lie, I go to bed way too early for a person under 40. But I miss having my own office so I could shut the door and catch a quick cat nap during lunch. Those days were uh-MAZ-ing and made all the difference in the world in so many aspects of my life. Aside from not feeling like your batsh*t crazy all the time, getting enough sleep can also

  1. Lessen the risk of heart disease and stroke
  2. Improve the body’s immune functions
  3. Reduce the risk for obesity and aid in weight loss
  4. Improve concentration and productivity
  5. Reduce risk of inflammation

sleepIt’s not only about the quantity of sleep, but the QUALITY of sleep is significant as well. Not getting enough GOOD sleep can be so incredibly detrimental to your health and yet I hear people boast all the time about being able to live on 3-4 hours of sleep a night. It makes me cry a little on the inside every time I hear this knowing the damage this could be doing to their body without even knowing it. Just because you can’t feel the damage being done doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

So now I just have to get back into my “good” bedtime practices. Since CSI Miami has been taken off Netflix as of this morning, maybe that will help. I don’t even know why, but I’m still SOOOOOOOO upset I didn’t get through the series before it happened. Although I made it to the last season, it was a challenge that I failed. I’ll just have to find another way. My daughter suggested that I go to the…gaspwait for it…LIBRARY…since they have all the seasons on DVD. Maybe I’ll think about doing that after our college tour visit to Austin this weekend…Wait…what? I have a daughter old enough to be looking at colleges? WTH?!?!? I guess for now I will just take solace in the fact that my biggest problem currently is that I don’t have enough time to binge watch an almost mildly entertaining series on Netflix.

Five Health Reasons I Love Kombucha

Kom-buch-what?

I think the first time I had ever even seen the word kombucha was when I was watching Flaked on Netflix.  I won’t go into what the show was about or why this guy was always drinking wine out of a container labeled “kombucha”, but I had no idea what that word even was.  So I googled it.

kombuchaKombucha is a fermented beverage typically consisting of tea and sugar.  While it’s usually made with black tea, kombucha can also be made with green tea.  After the fermentation process, kombucha becomes carbonated and contains vinegar, B vitamins, enzymes, probiotics and a high concentration of acid.  While buying Kombucha from a store can get fairly pricey, making it at home can become a bit thorny.  So typically I’ll wait for a good sale and then stock up.  I’ve come to realize that the time and effort it takes to maintain Kombucha production is just not worth the thorn in my side.  But the experiment was fun while it lasted.

Since sugar is used in making kombucha many people are concerned about the sugar content in the finished tea.  However, because of the fermentation process the majority of the sugar is used as food for the bacteria and is not present in the final product.  Because the sugar is the food for the bacteria, it is not possible to make without any sugar at all and the reason that sugar substitutes will not work.

While the studies performed have not provided solid evidence of the many benefits that have been touted all over the internet, the anecdotal reports are overwhelming.  Here are are just some of the benefits that I have actually experienced:

1) Improved Digestion – Kombucha contains probiotics, enzymes and beneficial acids and these have been researched for their health benefits. Drinks like Kombucha, Water Kefir, Milk Kefir, and fermented foods like sauerkraut contain billions of these beneficial bacteria, enzymes and acids that help keep the gut in balance.  The digestive enzymes present in it enhance the effects of glucuronic acid and aids in the breakdown of proteins and sacchrides thereby, making the digestive system more efficient.

2) Reduced Pain and Inflammation –    Kombucha contains glucosamine , which means that it’s a great tonic for arthritis.  But even if you don’t have arthritis, you may still have inflammation in your body that isn’t even causing you pain.  Inflammation also happens when your digestive system is not working properly.  Because Kombucha aids in digestion, this could also lead to reduced levels of pain and inflammation.  This might be a big reason I’m not experiencing pain in the joint of my big toe anymore, which I SWEAR is arthritis, or “jumpers toe”, from all those years playing volleyball.

3) Helps to reduce Heart Disease – I’m always looking for natural ways to help lower and maintain cholesterol.  In animal models, kombucha helps to lower triglyceride levels, as well as regulate cholesterol naturally. Research studies have provided qualitative evidence regarding the anti-lipidemic properties of kombucha which helps in reducing the absorption of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides and elevate the levels of good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) in the body.  Given the claims of benefits tea is reported to have on cholesterol and heart disease, it’s not a far stretch that a product made with tea as the primary ingredient would also sustain these benefits.

4) Boosts Immunity – Kombucha is rich in antioxidants which strengthen immune defenses and boost the energy levels of the body. The anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties of kombucha help in fighting various bacterial and viral infections.

5) Healthier Substitute for Soda – One of the reasons I love it so much because I  find it a MUCH healthier substitute for soda that satisfies the occasional craving for a fizzy drink.  The high quality products typically have only a few ingredients which are mostly organic in nature.  When was the last time you read the ingredients on a can of soda?

5 Reasons I Drink Green Tea on the Regular

friday_workoutI got an early start this morning so, after battling all of the excuses I kept coming up with to NOT, I went to the gym instead of going straight to work.  Of course, even though I’m telecommuting, I’ll have to work a little later than I normally do.  But I think it was TOTALLY worth the trade-off.  It felt great to get up and GET IT DONE!  I’m going to try to go to the gym before work a couple of days next week and see how it impacts my commute and the length of my day.  I do believe, however, that the normal afternoon fatigue that hits after lunch might reach a crescendo earlier than usual those days.  In which case I might just have to double up on my afternoon pick-me up of green tea.  I started drinking green tea instead of coffee in the afternoons for all the health benefits it was touted to have.

Green tea originated in China as a type of tea that is made from Camellia sinensis leaves that have not undergone the same withering and oxidation process used to make oolong and black tea.  Green tea extracts have been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for a variety of uses.  Extracts may be sold in liquid, powder, capsule, or tablet form.  Green tea extract supplements are accessible over the counter in various forms and extracts that are standardizedare typically 90 percent total polyphenols.  One Capsule equals approximately 5 cups of tea.

While I don’t take a green tea extract supplement, I do drink a cup or two of green tea about 5 days a week.  In addition, some of the Advocare supplements I take have green tea extract in them, my favorite is the Advocare Advogreens Powder.  I’ve taken all of these, which also have the extract, before – MNS-C, MNS-3, CorePlex.

Here are 5 reasons I drink green tea almost daily:

1)  Green tea may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease – Cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, are the biggest causes of death in the world.  Studies show that green tea can improve some of the main risk factors for these diseases.  I mentioned it as one of the ways to reduce cholesterol naturally in a previous post.  Because of the beneficial effects on the following risk factors, green tea drinkers could experienced up to a 31% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

–  Green tea contains flavonoids that promote heart health and may lower your risk of having high blood pressure by 50 percent.
–  Green tea has been shown to improve blood flow, reduce inflammation in the heart and lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.  It dramatically increases the antioxidant capability of the blood, which protects the LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation, which can lead to a greater risk of heart disease.

2)  Green tea increases fat burning and improves physical performance – If you look at the ingredients list for any fat burning supplement, chances are that green tea will be on there. Since green tea can boost the metabolic rate in the short-term, it makes sense that it could help you lose weight.  In one study of 10 healthy men, green tea increased energy expenditure by 4%.  More energy expenditure results in more calories burned.  Another study showed that fat oxidation was increased by 17% which indicates that green tea may selectively increase the burning of fat.

3) Antioxidants in green tea may helpt to lower your risk for various types of cancer  –   Green tea contains an organic compound called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG.  Not only does EGCG inhibit the growth of, but it also kills cancer cells.  It is well-known that oxidative damage contributes to the development of cancer and that antioxidants can have a protective effect.  Green tea is an excellent source of powerful antioxidants, so it makes perfect sense that it could reduce your risk for some types of cancer  -including breast cancer, colorectal, prostate and various other cancers.

4)  Skincare – Green tea’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities can apparently also help with wrinkles and the signs of aging.   Studies have shown that some of the benefits green tea has on skin are:

–  Helps to fight and treat acne
–  Helps to protect against UV exposure and reduce sun damage
–  Helps to tone skin and improve overall complexion
–  Helps to fights aging signs such as fine lines and wrinkles
–  Helps to reduces puffy eyes and dark circles

5)  Green tea and oral health – Periodontal disease (gum disease) affects many people and side effects include inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria.  Green tea’s anti-inflammatory properties can help prevent or control gum disease.  Many studies indicate that those who regularly consume green tea have healthier gums than those who do not.  Green tea benefits in oral health include:

–  Better breath
–  Fewer Cavities
–  Less tooth loss
–  Increased Gum Health
–  Lower risk of oral cancer

Of course, drinking it sweetened and/or with milk will offset some of the benefits, so I’ve trained myself to drink it unsweetened.  It took a while because, honestly, it tasted like dirt to me at first.  Now it just tastes like…well…green tea…

Why I Love Yin Yoga

Yin_YogaA couple days ago I posted about all the benefits yoga has brought in just a few short weeks.  However, there are many different types of yoga.  If you’re just entering the world of yoga it can be intimidating as there are so many different variations.  That being said, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to yoga, which is the problem with most conventional yoga classes.  Depending on what you want from your yoga practice, a mix of multiple types of yoga could be beneficial.

Yin yoga is a form of yoga that focuses more on passive stretching of the joints and includes postures that are mainly on the floor.  While some of the postures are similar to other forms of yoga, Yin Yoga is unique in that it is not a forced stretch or pose as much as a relaxation into the posture so that your body softens the muscles, moves closer to the bone and deeper in the stretch.  As such, the longer you practice it is not uncommon to see postures held for three to five minutes, even 20 minutes at a time. As a result of these long, deep relaxing stretches, Yin Yoga targets the deep connective tissues, bones, joints, fascia and ligaments in the body.    If you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a yin pose for a long time, the body will respond by making them a little longer and stronger.  For healthy range of motion, layers of connective tissue must allow muscles to glide over each other.  However these connective tissues can become bound together by injury, habitual posture in daily life, and aging, and restrict that movement between the sliding surfaces of the muscles.  The more we work our fascial system and deep tissues, the less dense and tight our bodies become as we age.  Often times you aren’t really concerned with flexibility until it’s gone!

I started noticing how inflexible I was when I started dabbling in Olympic-Style Weightlifting.  I was so restricted on the amount of weight I could lift and progress I could make because my body was not flexible enough and my joints were not open enough to perform the lifts properly with increased weight.  It was then that my coach introduced me to ROMWOD (Range of Motion Workout of the Day), which is a different video routine every day designed to open up and work on those connective tissues, joints, ligaments, fascia, and all those areas that get tight.  While I’m still not as flexible as the video demonstrators, I know this process works because my coaches have made comments about how my form and movements during my lifts have improved!  So while I may not be lifting as much anymore, I’m definitely still trying to continue to incorporate the practice of Yin Yoga as often as possible.  Not only do I enjoy the stress and anxiety relief and the balancing of the mind and  body that results, but (since I’m getting old) I’m trying desperately to increase my range of motion and present stiffness as well!

Top 5 Ways Yoga Has Impacted My Life

Benefits_of_YogaYoga is a 5000 year old Indian body of knowledge about harmonizing the body with the mind and breath through the means of various breathing techniques, yoga postures and meditation.  The benefits can be physical, emotional or mental, or even all of them combined.  Today most people practicing yoga are engaged Hatha Yoga which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.

I was interested to see what benefits such an ancient and deep rooted practice might bring.  First I started with a couple of yoga sessions at my gym.  But the schedule didn’t really accommodate people who worked full time during the week as much as it did the stay at home moms and housewives.  Rather than pay an arm and a leg to join a yoga studio across town, I bought a yoga subscription to The Yoga Collective and started practicing at home.   Here are some of the benefits I began to see after only a few weeks:

1.    Increased Strength, Agility and Flexibility – Very few sports or practices will increase strength, agility, and flexibility all at once.  The practice of yoga tones our body muscles and also makes them strong.   Stronger muscles help prevent injuries due to overexertion.  Studies have shown that people can their flexibility up to 35% after only 8 weeks of yoga.  Results will vary with each individual of course, so while I may not be at the 35% mark, there is a marked difference in my flexibility and strength.

2.  Stress relief – Just a few minutes of yoga can be an effective method to get rid of stress that accumulates daily – in both the body and mind.   It can also enhance your mood and overall sense of well-being.  With regular yoga practice, your chronic daytime stress hormone levels drop and your heart rate variability (a measure of your ability to tolerate stress) increases . This has been shown to improve after just a few sessions of yoga.

3.  Decreased Blood Pressure – Yoga has been shown to be as effective as dietary changes for improving blood pressure in some instances.  The deep breathing yoga exercises help slow the breathing rate, which reduces blood pressure and soothes the nervous system that generates stress hormones.  Two studies of people with hypertension compared the effects of Savasana (Corpse Pose) with simply lying on a couch. After three months, Savasana was associated with a 26-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 15-point drop in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number).  It was mentioned that the higher the blood pressure was to start with, the greater the improvement was.  While my improvement wasn’t nearly that great, my blood pressure wasn’t too far out of the normal range to begin with.  Nevertheless, the improvement was there.

4.  Improved Posture –  Yoga has made me much more aware of my posture.  Throughout the sessions you’re constantly being asked to lengthen the spine and to focus on your shoulder, neck and head position.  It was exhausting at first because muscles weren’t used to having me force them to straighten and align everything.  It was something I had to constantly correct and pay attention to.  The more I practiced the more I became aware of all of times outside of my yoga practice where my posture was poor.  Poor posture can cause back, neck, and other muscle and joint problems.  Just picture your head like a big round heavy bowling ball sitting on top of your neck.   When it’s balanced directly over an erect spine, it doesn’t take as much effort for your neck and back muscles to support it.  However, since most of us don’t hold our head up directly over our spine, that’s a constant strain that can cause you to slump.  As you slump, your body may compensate by flattening the normal inward curves in your neck and lower back which can cause pain and degenerative arthritis of the spine.

5.  Improved Sleep –  According to my sleep monitor, one of the byproducts of reduced stress appears to be better sleep.    Practicing relaxing asanas such as forward fold (uttanasana) or lying on your back with your feet up the wall are helpful poses that calm both your mind and body and lead to a deeper and more intense sleep.  Researchers from Harvard found that eight weeks of daily yoga significantly improved sleep quality for people with insomnia.

You don’t need to be an expert at yoga (or in my case, even good at at) for the benefits to take effect. People keep telling me it will get easier with time, but I’m truly SO. SO. SO. BAD. AT. YOGA.  While I haven’t been particularly consistent or dedicated, I do like the results I’ve seen thus far.  I can only imagine the benefits I would see if I actually committed myself to some kind of consistency.