Training your Brain for Vital Longevity

Bea’s Wellness Project – Day 12– 1/30/15

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In their book, Brain Fit for Life, authors (and neuroscientists) Simon Evans and Paul Burghardt point out that our brain is always active and changing, even as we age.  Our brain’s ability to change is known as neuroplasticity. What’s great about this is that we can continue to help our brain develop, even as we get older. 

In their book, Evans and Burghardt talk about the four cornerstones of brain fitness. Mental activity is one of these cornerstones. 

After doing some googling, Bea found some interesting ways to boost our brain cells:

50 Ways to Boost your Brain Power 

Bea’s also a promoter of lifelong learning – learn something new that challenges those brain cells: a musical instrument, an online class (Ed2go has some fun, reasonably priced options); listen to virtual lectures at websites such as Coursera.  You can also foster your creative juices by taking a drawing, painting, pottery or writing course.  

Bea listed some fun choices in her post, 7 Free Online Learning Resources

Source:

Evans, S., PhD, and Burghardt, P., Phd. Brain Fit for Life. Riverpointe Publications: Milan, MI. 2008. 

 

How to Avoid the “Sitting Disease”

Bea’s Wellness Project – Day 11– 1/28/15

Ever hear about the sitting disease? Sitting to long on our “assets” is dangerous for our health. Researchers have found that those of us who sit for 6 hours or longer each day have a much higher risk of obesity, heart diseases and type 2 diabetes.

The remedy for this sitting epidemic? Get up off of that couch, click off the television, and take a walk, a run, or sign up for an fun fitness class; pick up some weights and build up those muscles. Get your kids and hubby off the couch, too. The options for family fitness are endless: fun runs/walks in your community, playing an outdoor game with your kids, roller blading at a local park, going for a swim in your local community center, ice skating, and so much more. . .

Family sitting on bikes on path smiling This family can’t wait until spring!

You can read more about how to cure the sitting diseases in this article.

Other cool family exercise ideas:

Exercise before Eating keeps families fit for the holidays

Promoting Active Families

 

 

How to Fight Free Radicals

Bea’s Wellness Project – Day 9 – 1/23/15

In the January 21st post, Bea asked the burning question: What the heck are free radicals?  The simple answer, based on Bea’s limited knowledge, is that free radicals are evil ninjas, invading our bodies and wreaking havoc on our health and well-being.  

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There is, of course, a scientific definition of these little pests: 

Wikipedia defines free radicals as molecules with unpaired electrons.  These electrons are lonely because they can’t find a partner at their local dating site, ElectronMingle.com.    Because these electrons are hanging out in our bodies all by their lonesome selves, they attach themselves to other molecules and damage them. (They just can’t stand rejection).  The Antioxidant Detective provides a more scientific explanation in this article

There is a scientific theory that links free radical damage in our bodies (which leads to oxidative stress) to the premature aging process. According to this theory, oxidative stress leads to the development of diseases and is harmful for our brains.  For a more scientific explanation of this theory, you can read this article from the  National Center for Biotechnology Information. 

But fear not!  We can fight back!  Like Bea, you’ve probably heard a lot about antioxidants.  They help protect our bodies from the dastardly deeds perpetrated by free radicals.  Antioxidants can be found in a variety of foods, certain vitamins and other nutritional sources, such as resveratrol and certain spices.*

We can get antioxidants through our diet – choosing to eat the Mediterranean way is one great way to do this.  

Top food and beverage sources of antioxidants include: 

  • Dark green vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli and collard greens.  Red and orange veggies such as red bell peppers, sweet potatoes, butternut and acorn squash.  They all contain phytochemicals.  
  • Blue, red, and purple fruits and berries, which also contain phytochemicals.
  • Fatty fish, because of omega-3 fatty acids – wild salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines (ok, you won’t catch Bea eating sardines, but she loves salmon) 
  • Raw nuts – almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamias.  Like fish, they also contain omega-3s, along with other nutrients that can lower cholesterol and protect our brain and heart health.  
  • Red wine – which contains resveratrol, and both black and green tea, which contain flavonoids.  Both of these nutrients are free radical fighters.

*Source:  Read more about free radicals and antioxidants at the Antioxidant Detective site:  Antioxidant and Free Radicals 

For more reading:

Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention 

Why Drink Green Tea?

Related Articles:

 

The Mediterranean Diet for Vital Aging

Bea’s Wellness Project – Day 8– 1/21/15

You are what you eat, they say.  Ahh, the infamous “they,” who know all and make sure they let the rest of us know it!  In Bea’s case, she must resemble a 12-grain bagel with cream cheese on the side – since she has that for breakfast almost every day, along with a cuppa famous Tim Horton’s coffee.  (She’s gotten better about breakfast lately – she adds some protein along with berries or some other kind of fruit.  Anyway, “they,” along with a lot of health experts out there, highly recommend the Mediterranean diet.

Eating that way can reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s, and it’s a great way to enhance our heart health.  The food variety in the Mediterranean diet helps fight off **free radicals** with antioxidants and phytochemicals contained in plant-based foods, as well as the omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish.

  • Enjoy lean poultry, fish, (wild salmon, haddock, tuna, perch, snapper) and beans
  • Use vinegar and olive oil as salad dressing – choose herbs, rather than salt, to flavor it. Replace butter with olive oil.
  • Munch on (raw) nuts in moderation – nuts are a prime source of antioxidants. A 10-year study of over 85,000 women ages 35 – 59 concluded that eating nuts lowered their risk of heart disease, because they help lower bad cholesterol.*
  • Learn to love green, leafy vegetables, cruciferous veggies, sweet potatoes, and whole-grains
  • Stay hydrated with water. Drink green tea for its antioxidant properties.
  • Nosh on a wide variety of fruits, especially berries of all kinds: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, black berries.
  • Add avocado to salads, or on a sandwich instead of cheese.  Avocados have high amounts of the monounsaturated fat, oleic acid, also found in olive oil.*
  • Enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner. It contains resveratrol, which can be heart healthy. (Don’t like red wine?  Try red or purple grape juice or just eat grapes).

Enjoy further reading:

Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan

How to Follow the Mediterranean Diet

Source:

*VanTine, Julia, & Doherty, Bridget. Growing Younger – Breakthrough Age-Defying Secrets. Rodale Press.

**Question of the day:**  What the heck are free radicals, anyway?  Find out by reading Bea’s post on Friday, January 23. 

 

Why Generation X Women (and Boomers) Should Weight Train

Bea’s Wellness Project – Day 7– 1/19/15

When Bea was 47, her doctor told her she had osteopenia, a pre-cursor to osteoporosis (a not-so-fun inheritance from her mom) and put her on Actonel and calcium supplements. Being the drama queen she is, Bea kept picturing her bones getting weaker and more brittle until they dissolved into dust. The answer to her dilemma was weight training. She figured she’d give it a whirl, and see if what the experts said was true: that we can strengthen our bones by lifting weights. She added weight training to other weight-bearing exercises: brisk walking and jogging.

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Now in her late fifties, she continues this exercise routine, using weights that range from 3 to 10 pounds. She alternates the weight lifting with her favorite aerobic activities: power walking, running, or Tae Bo. Bea no longer has to take Actonel – her bone density tests have shown that her bones are back! Well, they never actually went anywhere – they’re just stronger and denser. How cool is that?

Bea has also been able to maintain a reasonable weight for her age and height; she weighs around 130 and has a 21.6 BMI. Not bad for someone who’ll be 58 years old this year.

What are some of the other ways that our bodies benefit from strength training? 

  • Strength training adds to our muscle mass, which in turn enhances our metabolism.
  • Strength training can help burn fat – studies have shown that training with weights can be great for reducing stomach fat.
  • Strength training makes us stronger, more flexible, and increases our sense of balance.
  • Strength training reduces arthritis and back pain.
  • Strength training helps control blood sugar in people with Type II diabetes.
  • Strength training can help us sleep better.
  • Strength training, along with other kinds of exercise, boosts self-confidence!
  • Strength training can boost our brain function. A recent study at Georgia Tech University found that lifting weights can boost our memory. You can read more about that benefit here.

Keep in mind that you should check with your primary care doctor if you decide to undertake a strength training program. He or she may advise you to limit yourself to certain types of exercise programs, depending on your current physical condition.

For further reading:

You may want to read this article from The Women’s Heart Foundation which talks about techniques and provides a “how-to” for several weight training exercises.

Risks for osteoporosis

What is osteopenia

Ladies, Don’t be Afraid of Weight Training

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Ways to Enhance your Mental Health in 2015

Bea’s Wellness Project – Day 6 – 1/16/15

  •  Learn something new. Bea recently decided to learn how to play the keyboard. There was a perfectly good keyboard sitting in her basement, just taking up space. So Bea thought, “What the heck; I always wanted to play the piano as a kid, why not give this a whirl?” So far, she’s gotten the keyboard upstairs and now it’s taking up space in her computer room. Little steps, folks, little steps.
  • Get a good laugh each day – and by good laugh, I mean a belly laugh! We grown-ups just don’t laugh enough. What’s not to like about laughing? It’s good for our mental and physical health, and reduces tension and stress.  At Funnywebsite you can sign up for a daily newsletter.   If you enjoy work humor, try Dilbert.  You can also find some funny boards at Pinterest.
  • Sing in your shower or out loud in your car along with your favorite music. There’s no research on it (or maybe there is, but Bea has never googled it), but it’s simply fun and who the heck cares if people in other cars look at you like your crazy? At least you’re not road raging!
  • Feeling down in the dumps? Give a friend a call!  It seems like more of a woman thing, but friendships are important for men, too. Friendship is good for your social wellness; isolation is bad for our mental health, especially as we age.

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  • Do something kind for someone without them knowing it. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, found in her research that performing acts of kindness promotes social wellness not only in the receiver, but the giver as well.
  • Avoid gloom and doom people (admit it, you know at least one who drives you crazy with their whining) and people who make you feel lousy about yourself. You deserve better.
  • Did you know that being productive can make you happier? Simple things like getting outside in the winter to shovel the snow; planting a garden in the spring, or making a pot of homemade soup can lower stress levels and give us a sense of well-being, according to researchers.

Sources:

Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How of Happiness. 2007. Penguin Press. New York, NY.

Newman, Catherine. Want to be Happier? From Ladies’ Home Journal magazine. July 2011.

For further reading:

How can you improve your mental health and well-being in 2015?

 

7 Ways to Enhance your Physical Health in 2015

 Bea’s Wellness Project – Day 5 – 1/14/2015

  • Add protein to your breakfast. A breakfast that’s high in carbohydrates can make you feel sluggish before lunch. Try a hard boiled or scrambled egg, high protein cereal or Greek yogurt, along with a whole-grain carb.
  • Try a new fruit or vegetable every week. Many fruits and veggies provide us with high levels of antioxidants, are high in fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals our bodies need. Mixing it up by adding a new fruit or veggie every week keeps our palates from getting bored.

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  • Craving something sweet? Pass on the Snickers bar! For a low-calorie treat, try Dole Dippers, found in the frozen foods section of your supermarket – strawberry or banana pieces dipped in dark chocolate (good for our hearts!). Warning: if you don’t like dark chocolate (67% dark cocoa) you won’t like ‘em.
  • Do you drink a lot of soda? Replace one glass of soda with good old water. You may find that once you start drinking water or plain iced tea with meals, your sugar cravings may be lessened. Don’t like plain water? Add a little lemon or lime juice. Of course, if you’re eating pizza, there’s nothing else you can drink but a soda or an ice-cold beer.
  • Work at a desk all day? Research has shown that too much sitting can lead to heart disease, obesity, and other health issues. Get up at least once every hour; walk around your office building or if possible, take a brisk outdoor walk. Fresh air is energizing.
  • Are you on your feet all day at work? Do your footsies a favor and give them a good soaking while you’re enjoying a television show, reading a book, or listening to music in the evening. Not only will your feel thank you, but you’ll also be lowering your stress levels and preparing yourself for a good night’s sleep as well.
  • Do you exercise? Mix it up to keep it from getting boring and to keep your muscles guessing. For example, if you do cardio exercises, add strength training. Try a new workout, such as Zumba or a Spin class. Add yoga for increased flexibility, muscle toning, and improved posture.

 Answers to questions from Bea’s January 12th post:

Most diet experts say we should weigh ourselves once a week, since our weight tends to vary from day-to-day, and people who are attempting to lose weight may find it frustrating to see those up-and-down variances.  WebMD points out the “4 S’s” of weighing ourselves in this article.

For a different point of view, here’s what Melissa Conrad Stoppler has to say in this MedicineNet article, To Weigh or Not to Weigh 

And as for the best day of the week to weigh ourselves?  Bea recently heard the answer to this on her local news station, and the Cleveland Clinic agrees:  Wednesday is the best day of the week to step on that scale.  Read more here: The Best Day of the Week to Weigh Yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Key Strategies for Weight Management

Bea’s Wellness Project – Day 4 – 1/12/2015

The reality of losing weight and keeping it off requires a long-term (okay, a lifetime) commitment.

Bea’s motivation for making this commitment came from watching her mom suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes; then watching her sisters develop these conditions as they aged. These age-related diseases develop from unhealthy eating as well as carrying around too much extra weight.

What’s your motivation?  Do you want to lower your blood pressure or your cholesterol levels? Do you simply want to boost your energy levels or enhance your self-confidence? Are you looking to get a killer body to show your ex- just what he’s missing?

Whatever your motivation, reaching a healthy weight simply makes life more enjoyable, and adds to quality longevity. And once you make that commitment, there are common sense strategies that can help you reach your weight loss goal.

  • The first step is to set your weight loss goal.  A realistic goal is the key.  I’m sure you’ve seen all those pictures in the gossip magazines of celebrities whose bones stick out and whose faces look drawn because they’re simply too skinny.  They’re not doing their overall health any favors, either.  According to the experts, it’s a good idea to base your weight goal based on your body mass index. Bea’s done a Google search: The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has a BMI calculator you can use.  This site also provides some great healthy weight tools.
  • Pick a date to get started and annotate that date on your calendar.  Not picking a date may cause you to continue to put off your weight management plan.  Then do some advance planning: fill your fridge and cupboards with healthy food options, buy some exercise DVDs, sign up for an exercise class, go online to find a support system.
  • Don’t starve yourself: Eating too few calories is counterproductive, because it causes our metabolism to slow down. There are other health risks of eating too few calories, as described here.  The best way to decide how many calories to eat during the day is to consider how active you are in your daily life. The Free Dieting website offers a Calorie Calculator – Daily Calorie Needs.
  • Keep a food journal. We often eat mindlessly, causing us to underestimate what we eat on a daily basis. For at least a week, write down not only what you eat, but also portion sizes. This will help you track the times when you overeat. Being aware of this can help you plan to substitute healthier options at these times. (Don’t forget to count beverages)
  • Eating breakfast is crucial. But not just any breakfast. An all carbohydrate morning meal will cause your energy to lag early in the day, and won’t keep you filled up for long. Instead, include a protein, whole grains, and fruit. For example, try an egg scrambled in canola oil or a whole-wheat bread thin with berries on the side.
  • Fill your lunch and dinner plate with vegetables and fruits. They add anti-oxidants, nutrients and fiber to your meals. You can eat bigger portions of them, since they have fewer calories and fat than meats and processed foods.
  • Speaking of fiber, boost your intake in order to lose weight. Fiber helps block the absorption of calories. Try oatmeal or other high fiber cereal with breakfast, beans for lunch, and whole grains throughout your day. Skip the “white” foods such as white flour, white bread, white rice (all the high glycemic stuff that causes spikes in our blood sugar).
  • Avoid processed foods and cut back on fat intake. Processed foods have too much salt, too much sugar and too many trans-fats. To cut back on fat, choose leaner cuts of meat, low-fat cheese and yogurt, and bake food instead of frying it.
  • Drink up. Cold water, that is. Believe it or not, researchers have found that simply drinking two 8 ounce glasses of cold water can enhance your metabolism by 30%.
  • Don’t forget to sweat. Some health experts argue that cutting calories is more important for weight loss than exercising. Bea would argue that even if it’s easier to eat 100 less calories a day than to burn off those 100 calories, exercise definitely has its place in the weight management game. Exercise helps you burn fat, strengthens those muscles and bones, reduces stress, lower cholesterol, and builds self-confidence.

For additional reading:

Psychology Today talks about Cognitive Therapy for weight loss, and Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Therapy in this article

Different strategies are necessary for losing weight and maintaining weight loss

Don’t go it alone: WebMD talks about the Secret Formula of Weight Loss

Combine diet and exercise for the best weight loss

Behavior Modification Ideas for Weight Management

Visit Bea on Wednesday, January 14th, to find out how often you should weigh yourself and the best day of the week to do so. 

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss: Don’t Fall for the Hype

Bea’s Wellness Project – Day 3 – 1/9/15

c409652_s According to what Bea heard on the local news station recently, losing weight is one of our top resolutions  for a new year.  If this in one of your resolutions for 2015, do yourself a favor:  don’t fall for the hype of fad diets or diet products!  They just don’t work. Whenever you see a hyped-up advertisement for the latest craze (Raspberry ketones, coffee bean extract, cut out all carbs, cut out all fats, and on and on and on . . . ) go to an neutral, non-commercial site and get the facts.   Bea has three rules for losing weight:

  1. Strike the word DIET from your vocabulary, ladies. Ever wonder why the word “die” is included in “diet?” It’s because your body would be happy just to kick the bucket after you starve it by eating too little or worse, attempting a “cleanse” or liquid diet.  Seriously, cleanses can be dangerous.
  2. You have the right (and more importantly, you owe it to yourself and your health) to question celebrity doctors (and other celebrity endorsers) who hype diet products that will absolutely make you lose tons of weight, overnight, no less! One certain doc shall remain nameless (hint: he’s one of Oprah’s good buddies) but he’s been in the news lately for touting misleading and false diet information.
  3. Finally, if  all those diet supplements on store shelves promising weight loss heaven worked, and we spend billions of dollars on them and other diet products annually, why are close to 35 percent of Americans still obese?

But don’t take Bea’s word for it, just ask the experts:

Why do we keep Falling for Fad Diets?

6 Potential Dangers of Juice Cleanses and Liquid Diets

Staying Away From Fad Diets – Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 

Watch for Bea’s January 12th post for common sense weight management ideas.  No hype allowed.

How to Fight Back against S.A.D.

Bea’s Wellness Project – Day 2 – 1/7/15

 

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Bea gets S.A.D. every year. It usually starts early in November, when the days dim their lights sooner, and nights seem endless.  The summer sun becomes a distant memory.  S.A.D., of course, is Seasonal Affective Disorder, and many of us are affected by it during these dreary winter months.

This year, however, instead of wallowing in her misery, Bea has made a serious effort to combat this winter depression. This effort lifted her spirits and made a big difference in her outlook.

Do you battle S.A.D. during the winter months? Here’s how Bea fights back:

  • Walking outside whenever possible to breathe in the fresh air. Even just 10 minutes can be invigorating.
  •  When it’s just too cold out there, she does aerobic exercise or strength training with fitness DVDs in her living room.
  • Drinking water regularly to fight off lethargy and avoiding sugary foods and simple carbs.
  • Being productive really helps her feel better – cleaning the house can be satisfying. De-cluttering her home office space is another activity that, believe it or not, enhances her serenity.
  • Starting a long-overdue project for those dark winter nights.
  • Making an effort to be social: calling a friend on the phone, planning a night out with the “girls.” This year, she joined an online book club; then went to the movies with some of her new reading buddies.
  • Bea needs a good night’s sleep to stave off depression, and this has become more difficult as she’s aged. To help enhance her sleep quality, she gets off the computer at least an hour before bedtime. She’ll get comfy on an easy chair, put on her earphones and listen to meditation music while reading a good book. This helps her unwind from her day.

If these ideas don’t work for you, check out some additional tips from health experts:

How to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder – Definition

6 Depression Traps to Avoid