Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for February, 2016

nature is powerful medicine copy

Have you ever wondered why a walk in the woods makes you feel so good? While that Zen feeling is partly about “getting away from it all,” studies show time in nature is also powerfully therapeutic for the body and brain. 

More than half of the world’s population lives in an urban setting, and by 2050 that number will increase to a whopping 70 percent. Urbanization disconnects us from nature with measurable effects on our health. For example, city dwellers are at a 40 percent higher risk for mood disorders than rural folk.

Eight reasons nature is powerful medicine for your body and brain 

Spending time in nature is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, and its positive impacts on mood and depression. Here are eight great reasons to spend more time in nature:

1. Vitamin D: Exposure to sunlight enables us to produce this critical hormone. In our increasingly indoor world, many people find they are deficient in Vitamin D. This can lead to a variety of health problems, including depression. Vitamin D is also critical to regulating inflammation.

2. Improved sleep: Sleep patterns are tied to the sun’s schedule. Spending too much time indoors away from natural light can alter this rhythm, which plays a role in many metabolic processes and mental health. Early morning exposure to sunlight has been shown to recalibrate the sleep cycle, and one study found participants were cured of insomnia in one week of camping outdoors with no exposure to electronics or electric light.

3. Increased emotional stability and empathy: People who spend time in nature show increased activity in parts of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability, and love. In case you were wondering, yes, urban environments, have the opposite effect of promoting fear and anxiety. 

4. Grounding: A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reported that grounding (bare-skinned contact with the earth) can have an intense anti-inflammatory and energizing effect on the body. 

5. Creativity: A study of backpackers found that after four days in nature, subjects scored 50 percent better on a creativity test. 

6. A breath of fresh air: Outdoor air really is fresher than indoor air! The EPA states that indoor pollutants are 2 to 100 times higher than outdoor pollutants! 

7. Improved mood: A Stanford study showed that participants who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment were less apt to focus on life’s shortcomings compared to subjects who walked along a busy highway. Added bonus: Time in the sun boosts serotonin, a brain hormone responsible for happiness. 

8. Renewed mental focus: Interaction with nature gives your brain a break from everyday stimulation, allowing it to restore your attention levels.  

Hit the hills!

Live in a city with no green space nearby? Try to get out of town into nature as often as you can. But even roaming the green places in your city can bring great benefits. And don’t worry if you aren’t capable of a vigorous hike; even “non-exercise activity” has solid benefits.

What are you planning for your next outdoor excursion?

Read Full Post »

generosity good for health

While volunteering is good for those in need, the giver cashes in big on generosity, too. Studies show the benefits of generosity and volunteering include a heightened sense of well-being, increased self-worth, and improved emotional and physical health. 

How generosity makes you happier

Generosity and volunteering produce hormones that relieve stress, promote happiness, cause a natural high (endorphins), and promote bonding and tranquility.

Being generous makes us feel better about ourselves  It builds confidence, and encourages us to focus toward the world rather than ourselves.

When we improve someone else’s life, empowerment grows and we are better able to deal with life’s hardships.

Volunteering can help you feel better 

Generosity and volunteering also lower mortality rates, reduce cardiovascular risk, decrease anxiety and depression, and improve sleep. 

In fact, one study showed adults who volunteered at least four hours a week for one year were 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure compared to non-volunteers.

Another study of teens found those who spent an hour a week helping children in after-school programs had lower levels of cholesterol and inflammation than their non-volunteering peers.

Generosity must be genuine to benefit health

Don’t volunteer or be generous simply out of obligation in order to improve your health.

If you want to enjoy the health benefits of generosity and volunteering, it must be genuine. Make sure you’re focused on helping others and not just looking good.

2012 study found that older volunteers had a lower risk of dying in a four-year period than non-volunteers, as long as their volunteerism was for altruistic and not self-oriented reasons.

Tips for volunteering to improve your health

  • Offer to do something your enjoy.
  • Help with a cause you’re passionate about.
  • Be realistic about your schedule so you don’t stress out.
  • Volunteer with others so it’s socially beneficial.
  • Don’t give up if your first attempt is a bad match.

Receive generosity with grace so others can benefit as well

Remember, generosity and volunteering are good for everyone. Others may have chronic health conditions they are working to manage.

If someone is generous to you, don’t brush it off or feel undeserving — receive their kindness with sincerity and grace. This will bring you closer to the person and allow them reap the benefits of giving as well.

Read Full Post »

benefits pets copy

Most pet lovers find their furry, feathered, hoofed, and scaly companions count among their best friends. But pets aren’t only good company — research shows they greatly benefit your mental and physical health. 

Pets help the developing immune system

A study in Finland showed that babies who grew up in a home with cats and dogs were 44 percent less likely to develop ear infections and 29 percent less likely to receive antibiotics in their first year compared to babies from pet-free homes. The theory is that exposure to bacteria brought in from outside by pets helps the developing immune system learn how to react properly to germs in the environment. And the more time the pet spent outdoors, the greater the benefit.

Other studies show that children who live with dogs and cats in the first year of life are less likely to develop allergies to those animals later in life.

Pets help you live longer and lower disease risk

Babies aren’t the only ones benefiting from pets:

  • People with pets have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than non pet-owners, regardless of weight, diet, and smoking habits.
  • In subjects who have experienced a heart attack, dog ownership decreases the odds for death the first year post-heart-attack from 1 in 15 to 1 in 87!
  • In people undergoing stress tests or physical examinations, the presence of a dog during the exam lowered heart rate and blood pressure.
  • “Seizure-alert” animals are trained to signal their owners prior to a seizure as well as protect them during the event.
  • Some pets are trained to alert their diabetic humans to episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) before life-threatening symptoms develop.
  • Prescription drug use and overall costs of caring for patients in nursing homes dropped in facilities where companion animals became part of daily therapy.
  • The need to exercise a pet and care for it often results in better physical and mental health for the human, regardless of age.
  • Researchers at the University of Arizona are exploring whether dogs can improve human health by having a probiotic effect on the body.

Pets provide mental, emotional, and social benefits 

A study at Tufts University found young adult pet owners are more connected to their communities and relationships, are more engaged in community service, help family and friends, demonstrate more leadership, and have more empathy and confidence than non pet owners.

Caring for a pet can prevent downward spirals by providing consistency and routine, helping us feel needed, and giving us something to do each day.

This is especially true for those who live alone, as well as the elderly, who say their pets provide social companionship and a reason to get out of the house for exercise and socialization.

Even families surveyed before and after they acquired a pet reported feeling happier after adopting a pet.

In conclusion, pet owners exhibit greater self-esteem, are more physically fit, more conscientious, less lonely, more socially outgoing, and have healthier relationship styles than non-pet people. The researchers concluded that our pets contribute to our sense of self just as much as our human companions do.

Read Full Post »

Eat breakfast to lose weight

eat breakfast to lose weight copy

If you’re like most Americans, you eat a high-carb breakfast packed with grains, dairy, and sugar, or you don’t eat breakfast at all either because you’re too busy or you want to lose weight. Either way, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Breakfast is exactly what it sounds like — the breaking of a fast. After 8-plus hours of no food, your body needs fuel to bring its systems up to speed and maintain even energy for the day. As it turns out, eating a solid breakfast is one of the best things you can do to lose weight. It also helps assure a clear mind, steady emotions, and plentiful energy throughout the day.

Skipping breakfast can actually make you gain weight!

We’ve all been taught the “calories in vs. calories out” theory for weight loss. In an effort to cut calories, we skip breakfast because it’s the easiest meal to do without, especially if we tend to wake up with no appetite or we’re always in a rush to get to work. But while calories can matter, skipping breakfast can actually lead to weight gain:

When you wake in the morning, your blood sugar is already low. Skipping breakfast (or any meal) allows it to go lower and impairs insulin sensitivity, which leads to weight gain.

Chronic low blood sugar creates a cascade effect in your hormonal system that directly affects your body’s ability to deal with stress. This can result in increased inflammation throughout your body, which can lead to weight gain. Low blood sugar also causes brain fog, mood issues, insomnia, decreased brain function, and other health issues. None of these symptoms will help you stick to a healthier eating plan.

Skipping breakfast has interesting behavioral effects; research shows that people who skip breakfast tend to reach for higher calorie foods once they do eat, leading to higher total daily calorie consumption than those who ate a solid breakfast. This is partly because missing meals causes the brain to become primed toward higher-calorie foods like it would during starvation or famine.

Skipping breakfast makes you more likely to binge on sugary foods that result in an energy crash later in the day—making you less likely to go out and get that much-needed exercise. (PS: A big sweet, milky coffee drink with whipped cream is not a breakfast.)

Eat a protein-strong breakfast for weight loss and steady energy

You know you need to eat breakfast. But eating traditional carb-heavy breakfast foods such as cereals, bagels, muffins, and fruit smoothies isn’t a great idea; they sabotage your weight loss goals by destabilizing blood glucose and insulin after the night’s fast, as well as kicking cravings for quick-energy sugary stuff and junk foods into high gear.

Eating a nutrient-dense, lower carb breakfast with plenty of protein and healthy fats provides the brain and body with proper fuel, balances your blood sugar and insulin, and gives your metabolism a boost for the day.

Studies show a protein-strong breakfast can also reduce hunger hormones, increase the chemical that tells your brain to stop eating, improve your sense of satiety, and reduce evening snacking.

Read Full Post »