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5 Mind-Body Exercises for a Healthier Heart

There are a myriad of factors that affect heart health. From regular exercise to smoking cessation to eating a nutritious diet, there are a number of things you can do to strengthen your heart. But did you know that the mind-body connection can also be a strong ally in reducing your risk of heart disease? While many of us think of physical health when it comes to heart health, research shows that your mood, outlook, and stress levels strongly affect the body—and the heart. This means that heart disease prevention isn't just a matter of eating better or exercising; engaging in stress-reducing exercises and mind-body practices can significantly improve the health of your heart, too. As a bonus, these activities have other body and mind benefits, too, like boosting your mood, helping you focus, improving your fitness, and increasing your overall life satisfaction. Talk about a win-win! Here are five mind-body activities you can incorporate into your healthy lifestyle to help your mind, body—and heart! Yoga Yoga is probably best known for its flexibility benefits, along with its ability to help you sleep better, feel better about yourself and promote mindfulness. But, yoga has also been shown to be a powerful contributor of heart health. In fact, according to November 2009 research published in the International Journal of Medical Engineering and Informatics, those who practice yoga have higher heart rate variability (a sign of a healthy heart) than those who do not regularly practice yoga. In addition, the study found that regular yogis had stronger parasympathetic control, which indicates better autonomic control over heart rate—a sign of a healthier heart. Another recent study by Ohio State University researchers, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, found that women who routinely practiced yoga had lower levels of the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) in their blood. IL-6 is part of the body's inflammatory response and has been correlated with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and a host of other age-related chronic diseases, making it a key marker in heart-health research. The women doing yoga also showed smaller increases in IL-6 in their blood after stressful experiences than women who were the same age and weight but who were not practicing yoga. Scientists believe that this indicates that yoga may also help people respond more calmly to stress in their everyday lives, which is a boon to heart health. Although researchers can't exactly pinpoint which part of yoga—the breathing, stretching, relaxation or meditation—is responsible for the positive results, it's encouraging to say the least! How to incorporate yoga in your life: Reap the heart-healthy benefits of yoga with just 20 minutes of yoga three times a week. Be sure to read our beginner's guide to yoga to get you started! Meditation There is ample research on how meditation can help reduce stress, which helps the heart stay healthy. But the most impressive study came from researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in collaboration with the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. After following about 200 patients for an average of five years, researchers found that high-risk patients who practiced Transcendental Meditation (where you sit quietly and silently repeat a mantra) cut their risk of heart attack, stroke and death from all causes almost in half compared to a group of similar patients who did not meditate. In addition, the group that meditated tended to remain disease-free longer, reduced their blood pressure and had lower stress levels. Researchers hypothesize that some of the benefits of meditation come from stress reduction, which causes a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol and dampens the inflammatory processes associated with atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries. How to incorporate meditation in your life: While the research focuses on Transcendental Meditation, there are a variety of ways to meditate including walking meditation, guided meditation via a CD or simply sitting and listening to the sounds around you. Starting out with just five minutes a day of quiet time with your thoughts can yield big results. For seven ways to get your zen on, click here. Pilates Pilates is a great form of exercise. Its mat-based moves have been shown to increase flexibility, build core strength, improve posture and alleviate lower-back pain. But did you also know that it can help prevent heart disease by improving the fitness of your heart? According to a 2005 report from the American College of Sports Medicine, a beginner Pilates workout counts as low- to moderate-intensity exercise, which is comparable to active stretching. Intermediate Pilates workouts are the cardio equivalent of working at a moderate-intensity level, such as speed walking at a rate of 4 to 4.5 mph on the treadmill. Advanced Pilates workouts provide the most cardiovascular benefit with a moderately high intensity, similar to basic stepping on a six-inch platform, according to the report. All Pilates workouts have also shown to improve circulation. In addition to improving the cardiovascular system, similar to yoga, Pilates also links movement to breath, enhancing your mind-body connection, and thereby reducing stress and lowering the heart rate. How to incorporate Pilates in your life: If you're ready to try Pilates, try this short lower body Pilates workout. You can add this on to the end of your usual cardio workout or do it first thing in the morning before heading to work. For best results, try to get in a short 10- to 20-minute Pilates workout three times a week. Tai Chi Also known as moving meditation, Tai Chi combines mental concentration with slow, controlled movements to focus the mind, challenge the body, and improve the flow of what the Chinese call "chi," or life energy. If you've ever seen someone doing Tai Chi, it looks like a slow and graceful low-impact dance. But Tai Chi isn't just slow dancing; it has serious health benefits, including improving heart function and decreasing blood pressure and stress reduction. In fact, a May 2010 systematic review in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that Tai Chi was effective in reducing stress, anxiety, depression and mood disturbance, and increasing self-esteem. How to incorporate Tai Chi in your life: Sign up at your local health club or community center for a series of Tai Chi classes with an experienced instructor. Practicing formally in class each week will give you the skills to practice Tai Chi on your own! Deep Breathing What do most of the above mind-body practices listed above have in common? That's right: deep, slow and controlled breathing! While not really an "exercise," the simple act of sitting and focusing on your breathing can do wonders for your heart. While there isn't much research on how deep breathing affects the heart, you can feel the results for yourself when you simply sit and take five big deep breaths, focusing on a deep inhale and exhale. You can almost instantaneously feel your body release stress and your mind calm down. Because it helps fuel your body and its cells with nutrient-rich oxygen, deep breathing has been shown to slow down the heart rate and lower blood pressure, making it the perfect heart-healthy activity when you're short on time and need a quick way to relieve some stress. How to incorporate deep breathing in your life: Try to take a few deep breaths at multiple times throughout the day. Making a habit to take three deep breaths upon waking, at lunch and when sitting in traffic can greatly benefit your heart health without disrupting your busy schedule. And, of course, when you're really feeling stressed, excuse yourself to the restroom for some deep breathing. They don't call it a "restroom" for nothing! Mind-body exercises are a powerful way to boost your heart health and keep your ticker ticking stronger and longer, so be sure to incorporate one or more of these mind-body exercises in your heart-healthy lifestyle. This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople fitness experts and certified personal trainers, Jen Mueller and Nicole Nichols. Sources: American College of Sports Medicine. "Pilates Research Offers New Information on Popular Technique," accessed March 2011. www.acsm.org. Associated Press. Breath Deep to Lower Blood Pressure, Doc Says," accessed March 2011. www.msnbc.msn.com. Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. "Effects of Stress Reduction on Clinical Events in African Americans With Coronary Heart Disease," accessed March 2011. www.circ.ahajournals.org. Cleveland Clinic. "Heart and Vascular Health Prevention: Pilates," accessed March 2011. www.my.clevelandclinic.org. Framson et al. Development and Validation of the Mindful Eating Questionnaire. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2009; 109 (8): 1439 DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.05.006 Sarnataro, Barbara Russi. "Tai Chi Exercises Both Mind and Body," accessed March 2011. www.webmd.com. Science Daily. "Tai Chi Gets Cautious Thumbs Up for Psychological Health," accessed March 2011. www.sciencedaily.com. ScienceDaily. "Yoga Boosts Heart Health, New Research Finds," accessed March 2011. www.sciencedaily.com. ScienceDaily. "Yoga Reduces Cytokine Levels Known to Promote Inflammation, Study Shows," accessed March 2011. www.sciencedaily.com. text Smith, Rebecca. "Meditation 'cuts risk of heart attack by half'," accessed March 2011. www.telegraph.co.uk.Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1613

Healthy Smile, Healthy Body

You probably don't think about your teeth that much unless you drink something icy cold or that little postcard reminding you to schedule your next dental appointment shows up in the mail. However, you should really give your pearly whites more attention. After all, your teeth are one of the first things people see when you smile and greet them, and your oral health can have a major impact on the health of not just your mouth, but your entire body. Cavities and gum disease may contribute to many serious conditions, including diabetes and respiratory diseases, and untreated cavities are not only be painful, but they can also lead to serious infections. While you may have been notoriously hard on their teeth as a kid and teenager (forgetting to brush and floss sometimes), most adults have it in their routine to brush at least twice a day. But what about flossing? Only 28% report doing it daily, even though most of us know better. And while you may also know better, Americans are also overconsuming junk food and sugar, which, when combined with a lack of flossing, is a recipe for oral health problems.  The Academy of General Dentistry estimates that 75 percent of Americans have some form of gum disease or gingivitis. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay affects one out of three adults. So how do your teeth have such an impact on your well-being, and how do you stay healthy by focusing on your mouth? Here's a guide to what you need to know about your oral health, and how to keep your mouth and teeth clean and beautiful! Gum Disease So just what is gum disease? Also called periodontal disease, it's an inflammation of the gums. Gum disease occurs when plaque, a sticky colorless film of bacteria, builds up on your teeth and hardens into a tartar that can cause infections in the gums. If it's not treated, gum disease can increase your risk of respiratory disease, as the bacteria in plaque can travel from the mouth to the lungs, causing infection or aggravating existing lung problems. Gum disease can also spread and affect the bones underneath the teeth, which eventually dissolve and no longer support the teeth in its place. (That's basically just a complicated way of saying that your teeth can fall out!) Research also shows a link between diabetes and gum disease. People with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease than non-diabetics are, so if you have diabetes or it runs in your family, you definitely want to take care of your teeth. (More on prevention later!) The moral of the story? Gum disease is bad news. The symptoms of gum disease can vary from one person to the next, but one telltale sign is usually swollen, tender and red gums. If your gums bleed when brushing or flossing, that can be a warning sign, as can receding gums, bad breath that won't go away, loose teeth or a change in your jaw alignment. If you're having any of these symptoms, be sure to tell your dentist. A dentist or a periodontist can tell you if you have gum disease or gingivitis (a type of gum disease) with an exam and usually an x-ray. Treatment usually involves plaque removal, medication and, in the worst cases, surgery. Cavities You probably already know a little about cavities, and chances are, you may have even had one or two. Cavities are a sign of tooth decay, which is a breakdown of a tooth's structure. The decay can affect the enamel of the tooth and the inside of the tooth, and is caused when sugary and starchy foods like soda, breads, baked goods and candy are left on the teeth. Your dentist will be able to tell if you have a cavity during your regular exam, but in the advanced stages of a cavity, you may get a toothache, especially after having sweet, hot, or cold food or drinks. You may also be able to see pits or holes in your teeth. A cavity is treated by a dentist. He or she can remove the decayed portion and replacing it with a filling. If the tooth decay is advanced and the tooth structure is affected, your dentist may have to put in a crown. Another good reason to avoid sugary foods, right? Teeth Spacing You may think that the spacing of your teeth is just a cosmetic issue, but it affects the health of your mouth, too. Teeth that are spaced too tightly together can create gum problems, just as teeth that are spaced improperly can allow food to get stuck between the teeth, therefore increasing the risk of gum disease. An orthodontist can help straighten out your teeth (yep, even as an adult) with braces, invisible retainers, or other treatments for optimal oral health. Other Issues If that wasn't enough, poor oral health has also been shown to cause sleeping issues, hurt your self-esteem, and diminish your ability to chew and digest food properly. And if you smoke (hopefully you don't!), it can be horrible on your teeth. Tobacco smoke and chewing tobacco are both very harmful to your gums, and toxins within these drugs can cause oral cancer, damage the bones around your teeth and result in tooth loss. Tips to Keep Mouths Happy Now that you know how important your mouth is to your overall health, how do you keep it healthy? Here are some tips for a clean mouth!

  • Mom was right! Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily. This keeps plaque at bay, improves breath and prevents stains. Plus, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that people who brushed twice a day were 30% less likely to develop heart disease compared to people who only brushed once. That's because, according to health experts, gum disease can lead to inflammation and can damage your arteries.
  • Don't eat junk food, and stay away from sweets. Eat those vegetables!
  • Make sure your toothpaste and mouth rinse include fluoride, which helps prevent tooth decay.
  • If you wear braces, be sure to keep the space between your teeth and archwires clean by using floss threaders and orthodontic toothbrushes.
  • If you play contact sports, consider having a custom-made mouth guard fitted to protect those pearly whites.
  • Visit your dentist twice a year to make sure everything is in tip-top shape!
Having healthy teeth isn't just about looking great (although that's a nice perk!). Good oral health is really about your body's overall wellness. So brush right, brush often and take care of those teeth!Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1528

60-Second Health and Fitness Boosters

When it comes to losing weight or making healthy choices, you probably think that it takes hours at a gym plus long nights preparing and planning nutritious meals. What you may not realize is that quick and easy changes can really improve your immediate health and wellness. So just how quick is quick? One minute—that’s it! Try any one of these 60-second activities to easily reap the healthy benefits. 1. Drink a tall glass of water. We all know the many health benefits of drinking water, but did you also know that even mild dehydration can cause fatigue? So, the next time you feel your energy waning, grab a glass of cold water and guzzle it down! 2. Twist it out. So many of us spend every weekday seated in front of a computer. Not only can sitting all day wreak havoc on your posture, but it can also compress your spine and exaggerate its curvature. Not fun. A simple twist can help undo this. As you sit in your desk chair, simply twist your upper-body to one side, hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side. If you have the space to sit on the floor, try this torso twist stretch. It’s guaranteed to make you feel better! 3. Take a deep breath. How often do you think about breathing? If you are like most people, you probably don’t think about it often enough. For a quick pick-me-up, simply take five deep breaths. Slowly inhale for at least five seconds and exhale for 10 seconds each time. Your body will thank you for the extra oxygen. 4. Do 20 jumping jacks. Research has shown that long periods of sitting can be detrimental to the body and our overall health. So get up out of that chair and jack it out! Just one minute of jumping jacks is an easy way to get your heart pumping and blood flowing. 5. Smile. Smiling can actually make you happier. So go ahead—smile! 6. Go outside. You’ve probably heard the health buzz about vitamin D lately. Preliminary research suggests that vitamin D helps regulate the immune system, supports heart health, can help normalize blood pressure and promotes healthy aging. Vitamin D has also been linked to improved mood. If you have a minute to spare, step out into the sunshine! 7. Put on a favorite song. There’s nothing quite like your favorite music to perk you up and get you feeling good. Listening to music has been shown to improve immunity and release endorphins. Bonus points if you dance along! 8. Sit up straighter. Did you know that bad posture can put unnecessary stress on your low back? Take a minute to focus on sitting up straight with your shoulders down and back. Don’t you feel better already? 9. Be grateful. Write down five things you’re grateful for, no matter how large or small (your hair, your family, your morning cup of Joe—whatever). Do you feel more thankful, generous and overall happier after? Funny how a little reminder of what we have can turn a frown into a smile. 10. Tell a joke. Awake your inner child and tell a silly joke—whether it’s a knock-knock joke or even a funny line from a movie. Anything that gets you laughing is enough to get your happy endorphins flowing! 11. Do 10 pushups. Being strong is important, but having functional strength is even more important because it makes everyday activities easier to accomplish. A push-up is a great, quick exercise for building functional strength. Drop down and give me 10—or as many as you can do in 1 minute. 12. Encourage someone. Isn’t it interesting how you always seem to feel better after helping someone else feel better? Whether you post a supportive comment on a SparkFriend’s page or write a few kind words in a card or an email, taking a minute out to help someone can quickly boost your mood. 13. Set a goal for the day. Fact: People who set goals have more success than people who don’t. So why not take a few seconds and write down what you want to do today? Then, just commit to making it happen! 14. Focus on one thing you love about yourself. At times, we put so much effort in focusing on what we don’t like about ourselves that we fail to see the good. Take 60 seconds to think about what you like about you. Is it your eyes? Your strong legs? Your giving nature? Thinking about how great you are will instantly increase self-confidence. 15. Wash your hands. It seems like cold and flu season is always in full force (or just around the corner).  One of the simplest and easiest ways to stay well year round is to wash your hands. All you need is warm water, soap and 20 seconds of rubbing to rid your hands of unwanted germs. 16. Compliment a stranger. What better way to make yourself feel good than to unexpectedly brighten someone else’s day? The next time you admire someone’s clothes, positive attitude or eyes—say so! 17. Try aromatherapy. A number of different smells can have a positive effect on your mind and body. For example, peppermint is known to calm the stomach while its smell can energize you through a workout. And the scent of jasmine has been shown to reduce anxiety. To benefit, grab some scented lotion and either take a whiff from the bottle or rub some on your hands. 18. Salute the sun. Sun salutations are a well-known set of yoga poses that are said to warm up the body and increase blood flow and flexibility. So grab your mat and do one or two sets—rain or shine! 19. Give yourself a mini-massage. Massage has a number of health benefits, including reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and speeding muscle repair. While you may not be able to spend the time or money getting one at a spa, pampering yourself with just 1 minute of self-massage by rubbing your own hands, feet or shoulders can do wonders. 20. Be absolutely present. When we are wrapped up with work, to-do lists, and just getting by, sometimes we can forget to focus on what we are doing in the here and now. Try spending a minute just being. Focus on sounds, smells and whatever else is going on around you; instead of thinking ahead to what you'll do next, think about what you're doing right now. You’ll be amazed at how peaceful you feel. Just be! See? In the quest to be healthier, you don't have to spend a lot of time. Even if all you have is a few spare seconds here and there, you can make a positive difference in your overall health! Sources: Clean Hands Save Lives, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Fight Fatigue with Your Fork, from Psychology Today Here Comes the Sun, from Yoga Journal Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness, from University of California, Davis Peppermint, from University of Maryland Medical Center Research Briefs: Did You Know? from NammFoundation.org Vitamin D Research, from National Fluid Milk Processor Education Board, GetYourD.comArticle Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1557

How to Tame Wedding Planning Stress

It's a gross understatement to say that planning a wedding is stressful. With all of the coordination, timing and numerous things to prepare for (not to mention family politics!), it's no wonder that nice, normal people turn into grumpy grooms and bridezillas. However, you don't have to become a stressed-out stereotype on your big day. In fact, it is possible to plan a wedding and keep your healthy cool—no matter the situation. 6 Common Wedding-Planning Stressors—and How To Remedy Them You and Your Fiancé Want Different Types of Weddings One of the biggest wedding stressors occurs when you and your fiancé have very different ideas of what your special day should be like. Traditional and in a church? Small and in your parent's backyard? A tropical destination wedding? The options are limitless, and couples are less bound by tradition now than ever before. But if the soon-to-be-wed couple can't agree on what kind of ceremony to have, or worse—one person wants a wedding and the other just wants to go to the courthouse—stress can be high from the get-go. How to de-stress: Before you plan any wedding details, sit down with your fiancé and make a list of the top three things that are important to each of you as far as the ceremony and reception are concerned. Then, calmly and patiently compare lists to see where you can compromise. If he wants a small wedding but you want a big one, you can always hold a small ceremony and then a big after-party. Or, if he wants a destination wedding and you want to be home, simply have the ceremony out of town and the reception in your hometown. Remember that this is the person you are agreeing to spend the rest of your life with, so take a few deep breaths and find a solution that you can both be happy with. Marriage is all about give and take! Overbearing Family Members or Friends Almost every bride and groom deals with at least one or two overbearing (yet well-meaning) family members or friends while planning a wedding. Whether it's a future in-law, your own parents or even a bossy friend, all seem to have an opinion on what you should and shouldn't do. How to de-stress: Remember that this is your wedding—not everyone else’s. It may be hard to tell your loved ones "no" or disagree with Aunt Millie about your bridesmaids wearing tangerine, but if you want your wedding day to be truly special and unique you must stand your ground. Politely, yet firmly state your decisions with the support of your partner. Think of it as if others are trying to derail or sabotage your diet—it's really none of their business! Fear that Your Dress Won't Fit Of course you want to feel confident and healthy on your wedding day, but don't spend the months before your wedding stressing about your size or what you look like—especially if you're trying to drop a few pounds before the big day. Remember that stress only hurts your weight-loss efforts. How to de-stress: First, make sure that you aren't being unrealistic about your body image on the big day. Make sure that any wedding weight-loss goals you have are realistic. After all, planning takes a lot of time and can be stressful, so you may not have as much time as you think you do to exercise and cook healthy foods. Second, be sure to drink enough water, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and get that beauty rest. These three things will really give you that wedding-day glow. Lastly, visualize yourself walking down the aisle with confidence on the big day. Picturing yourself in a positive light helps squash stress and can give you the energy to plan, plan, plan! Your Wedding Budget More money, more problems, right? Well, in the case of wedding budgets, less money and big expectations can equal more problems, too. On average, U.S. couples spend almost $20,000 on a wedding. And that number doesn't include a honeymoon or engagement ring. Unless you have a large budget already in place, or family members with deep pockets, keeping costs down can be challenging at best. How to de-stress: Remember to prioritize any and all expenses, and balance costs as you go if necessary. If you go over on catering, don't spring for those chair covers or pricey linens. If your bouquets cost more than you expected, trade out half of your centerpieces for less costly decorations. Ask yourself what you'll remember when you look back on this day. Will it be your beautiful dress or suit? Will it be the music and DJ? How about those expensive invitations? Determine your needs versus your wants and be realistic about them. You know what's more stressful than wedding planning? Coming back to wedding debt after your honeymoon. The Guest List I have yet to meet a couple who didn't have at least a few stressed-out moments due to their wedding guest list. From being afraid of offending others to your in-laws insisting that your fiancé's fourth and fifth cousins just have to be there, compiling a guest list can get tricky. How to de-stress: Sit down with your partner and agree on a guest policy together. Decide if children are or aren’t welcome and the maximum number of guests you want (and can afford). Consider dividing guest counts evenly between your two families and have the first and final say on who attends. If you have room and one family wants more guests to come, many couples have that side of the family fund the extra seats. No matter how you do it, agree on a policy and don't waiver from it. Sticking to rules helps you and your family members explain to others why Wally, your third-removed cousin, wasn't invited. You Want the "Perfect" Wedding—No Exceptions Of course you want your wedding day to be perfect. Who doesn't? But how realistic are your expectations, and what will happen if everything doesn't go perfectly? Will you consider the day to be ruined, after all of that planning and thought? How to de-stress: Vow to be easy going on your wedding day and take it all in stride. There is no such thing as a perfect wedding. You know the saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff"? Well, during the wedding planning process and the day itself, remember the big picture and take a deep breath. After all, no one will remember the lopsided cake or miss the parting gift that the reception staff forgot to put out. No one will know if you fudged your vows or forgot your earrings. They'll be too busy remembering what a great time they had sharing the start of your marriage with you! In any stressful wedding-planning event, remember to always take time to eat healthy foods, exercise, sleep well and practice stress busters like yoga, meditation or these other techniques. Making time for just a few minutes of stress reduction each day can go a long way now—and during your marriage, too! Sources: http://www.costofwedding.com/ Dealing With Wedding Stress, from Wednet.comArticle Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1582

10 Signs You're Watching Too Much Television

Many people claim that they don't have time to work out or cook healthy meals, yet they do find the time to park themselves in front of the TV. In fact, the average American watches 31.5 hours of TV per week, according to a 2010 Nielsen report. That's almost as many hours as most of us spend working! That's a lot of hours that could be spent shopping for and preparing nutritious meals, hitting the gym or even taking up a new hobby. If you think your loyalty to your favorite TV shows could be interfering with your life—or your pursuit of health—then read on. 10 Signs You're Watching Too Much TV 1. You've turned into a hermit. If you can't commit to a night out with your friends because you don't want to miss the latest episode of your favorite show—or even one of your top 10 favorite shows—you may have an addiction to TV. Hanging out with friends can combat loneliness and put you in a better mood. Plus, time with buddies may even help you live longer, according to the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. So don't banish your buddies just because you love that show about people who fish with their bare hands. Set the DVR—or if you're old-fashioned, program the VCR—and head out with your friends. Even better: Go for a walk with your pals to get your heart pumping. 2. There's a dent in your couch where your butt usually goes. If your couch is looking increasingly lopsided, it might be a sign that you're spending too much time parked on its cushions. Don't just flip them over or switch your position to fix the problem—get off the couch! There are numerous exercises that can be done with little or no equipment while you watch TV—think jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges—or you can crank up your treadmill while you catch up on the latest episode of Real Housewives. Choose an hourlong show to get moving to, or if you'll be camped out for a while watching a marathon, get moving during commercial breaks instead of heading to the kitchen for that snack. 3. Your dog jumps onto the couch and looks at you with sad puppy dog eyes when you don't join her. If even your dog has gotten used to your nightly routine of snuggling on the couch while watching Animal Planet, it may be time to break away from the boob tube. Take your faithful furry friend for a long walk—you'll both benefit from the exercise and the change of scenery! 4. You find yourself ordering out so you have more time to veg. If you're calling for pizza delivery or stopping to get takeout on the way home so that you won't have to bother with groceries or cooking, it might be a red flag. Skip a show or two so you'll have time to make that healthy meal before getting comfortable for an evening in. Healthy cooking can even be quick and easy! 5. Your TV tray has a permanent spot in your living room. If you eat all of your meals in front of the television, it might mean you're a little too addicted to cable. Not only does TV make it easier to zone out and overeat, but you're not interacting with the family or friends during meals (invite them over if you're living the single life). 6. You lift up the couch cushions, and popcorn and crumbs have multiplied. This is another sign that you're vegging out too much—and eating mindlessly while you do. When you don't even realize that a bucket of popcorn has fallen onto the couch, how can you keep track of how much you're actually consuming? 7. You get up from the TV after hours and have no idea what you've been watching. We're all guilty of this sometimes. You flip around mindlessly, channel surfing until something catches your attention. You stop there until a commercial sends you on your merry way and you repeat this process for hours on end. If you find yourself doing this and you're the type that doesn't feel like they have time to eat right or exercise, you need to prioritize. Be honest with yourself and pick your top three can't-miss television shows and schedule workouts with the importance previously given to your show schedule. Or set a daily limit for yourself—two hours of TV and then it's on to something new. Set a timer if you have to! 8. Commercials have become your culinary inspiration. If you're craving fast food because you saw that Burger King commercial, it might be a sign that you're saturating your brain with advertisements! When you don't watch TV, you'll see far fewer fast food ads. Although most people claim that advertising "doesn't work" on them, marketers know better. You'll think about fries, seasonal shakes, and new must-try gut-busting burgers far less if you aren't exposed to their TV ads. 9. You find yourself thinking that you could star in your own reality TV show. News flash: There are about a million reality shows flooding the market already, and I've yet to see one starring someone who camps out in front of the TV all day! If you want to be a show worth making, go on a get-healthy streak à la The Biggest Loser or plan big, like running a marathon or trying a vegetable for every letter of the alphabet. Hey, I'd watch. 10. You don't have time to exercise, but you do make time to sit on the couch. That stat mentioned above about the 31.5 hours of TV per week is staggering. That's like another full-time job! If you have time to watch even 30 minutes of TV per night, then you have time to exercise—it's just that you are prioritizing the TV viewing higher on your list. Put down the remote and try to go TV-free for a couple of weeks, and use that time to get active and healthy. You'll feel so much better that we doubt you'll trade working out for couch surfing ever again! If you recognize yourself in this list—whether it's one or all 10—it may be time to admit you have a problem. Luckily, the TV habit can be broken and your life will get a lot healthier. TV definitely has its place in the modern world, but so do healthy habits! Sources: Nielsen. "2010 Media Industry Fact Sheet," Accessed September 2011. www.blog.nielsen.com. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. Giles LC, Glonek GF, Luszcz MA, Andrews GR. "Effect of social networks on 10 year survival in very old Australians: the Australian longitudinal study of aging," Accessed September 2011. www.jech.bmj.com.Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1666

12 Heart-Smart Tips You Haven't Heard

When I flip my calendar to February, two things usually come to my mind. One, I’m getting tired of the cold and snowy winter, and two, Valentine’s Day is coming. Now, I don’t know how you feel about this “holiday," but I like it. Red happens to be my favorite color, and I love seeing all the decorations in stores. I look forward to reading the articles in magazines about celebrating our relationships, and how best to tell those who mean the most to you that you care. And even though baking is not my thing, I find it fun to read the Valentine’s Day recipes and see the heart-shaped cakes and cupcakes in the bakeries. Regardless of how you feel about Valentine’s Day, hearts are everywhere, and February is also American Heart Month. Although we think of the heart as the vehicle of emotions, that job really belongs to our minds. The heart’s job is to keep us alive by pumping vital oxygen-enriched blood to every cell of our body, doing all the jobs that keep us functioning. With such an important role, it’s essential to do all we can to keep our hearts healthy and strong. There is a common misconception that heart attacks only occur in men, but in fact, heart disease afects 6.5 million women. Many believe that cardiovascular disease has such a strong genetic component, that there is little you can do to prevent the inevitable. Please don’t fall into this faulty thinking. There is an old expression that states: “Genetics loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger.” We cannot underscore the importance of good nutrition and exercise. The heart is a muscle, and the more it works, the stronger it gets. A heart-healthy diet is one filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, low-fat protein, and healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. It happens to be the same diet that is recommended to reduce the risk of so many other diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, high triglycerides and vascular diseases, which of course, all raise your risk of heart disease. Although exercise and a healthy diet top this list, here are twelve interventions you should embrace to protect your heart. Some will be familiar and serve as a good reminder, and others will surprise you. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to take the best possible care of yourself. Begin with strengthening the most important muscle in your body, your heart.

  • Adhere to a consistent exercise program and follow a heart-healthy diet. If you need help, talk to your doctor, hire a personal trainer, and/or enlist the services of a dietitian or certified wellness coach. Do whatever it takes.  
  • Lose excess weight safely, which means slowly. Maintaining a healthy body weight is known to reduce your risk of heart disease. However, crash dieting repeatedly, very-low calories diets (VLCD), cleansings and fasts have all been shown to weaken the immune system and damage heart muscles, thus increasing the threat of developing heart disease.  
  • Develop a robust circle of friends and loved ones and nurture those relationships. Studies have shown that people who lack a strong network of friends and family are at a greater risk of developing and dying from heart disease. If loneliness plagues you, developing good relationships will not only increase your happiness, but will make you healthier. Consider signing up for volunteer work. Take a class that interests you. Meetup.com is a great website that lists interest groups by geographic areas and has so many groups that you are sure to find a new social circle.  
  • Brush, floss and rinse everyday. It’s not just about sweet-smelling breath and pearly whites: Gum disease has been linked to heart problems. Make sure you keep on top of professional cleanings at your dentist’s office twice a year.  
  • Get a good night's sleep. Researchers have found that the chronically sleep-deprived increase their likelihood of developing heart disease. Aim for a minimum of seven hours a night.  
  • Reduce your intake of sodium by reading food labels and choosing lower-sodium items. Avoiding the salt shaker will only make a small dent in your daily sodium intake, since the majority of salt we consume comes from processed foods we purchase. Consistently exceeding the recommended daily sodium threshold of 2,400 milligrams raises the danger of developing high blood pressure, often a precursor to heart disease.  
  • Don’t smoke cigarettes, or do everything in your power to stop, if you do. Although we tend to associate smoking with lung problems and cancer, it also plays a role in cardiovascular disease. Smoking is a major cause of atherosclerosis, which is the build up of fatty substances on the arteries. This narrowing results in a decrease of oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart muscle. Over time, if one or more of the arteries that lead to the heart get totally blocked, a heart attack may occur.  
  • Talk to your doctor about antioxidant vitamin supplements and/or baby aspirin as a defense against heart disease and heart attack. However, no matter what your doctor may recommend, vitamins won't prevent the development of heart disease if you don't control your other risk factors, such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes.  
  • Adopt a pet. Individuals who own animals have a live-in, stress-reducing pal and often have lower blood pressures. If that pet happens to be a dog, you also have a great exercise buddy.  
  • Learn and practice stress management skills. If you find yourself saying, “this stress is killing me!” you may not be exaggerating. Chronic stress has been linked with decreasing the immune system, and increasing the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. Daily meditation, exercise, journaling and “me” time have all been shown to considerably reduce the amount and intensity of daily stress.  
  • Drink green tea and treat yourself to dark chocolate on Valentine’s Day, or any day. Antioxidants in green tea improve blood vessel function, and eating a small amount of dark chocolate can lower blood pressure and reduce the inflammation that leads to cardiovascular disease.  
  • Decrease daily negativity and increase your positivity. Mountains of research exist to show that an abundance of negative emotions such as anger and stress affect cardiovascular health, and positive emotions such as joy, gratitude and love boost our immune systems. By remaining positive, you’ll not only make life more fun, you’ll be taking care of your heart.

 

Sources American Heart Association Circulation. "Antioxidant Vitamin Supplements and Cardiovascular Disease," accessed January 2012. http://circ.ahajournals.org. Cleveland Clinic. "Heart and Vascular Health and Prevention," accessed January 2012. www.my.clevelandclinic.org. Fredrickson, Barbara. 2009. Positivity. New York: Crown Publishers. American Medical Association. 2008. Guide to Preventing Heart Disease. New Jersey: John Riley & Sons, Inc. Harvard Health Publications. "Gender Matters: Heart Disease Risk in Women," accessed January 2012. http://www.health.harvard.edu. Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1716

Why Getting Outside is So Good for You

John Keats once wrote, "The poetry of the earth is never dead." Poet or not, almost all of us have been awestruck by nature at one time or another. Whether it's running at sunset on a sandy white beach, walking alongside a cool trickling stream, watching sunset over a mountain ridge, or even hearing the wind blow through the trees in the morning, being outdoors and aware of the world's beauty can make you feel energized and alive. Recently, much research has focused on the so-called "nature connection," and how it affects our health, outlook and overall life. Nature's Healing Powers It seems that just being out in nature does your body, mind and soul some good. According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the closer you live to nature, the healthier you're likely to be. The study took an objective look at 345,143 Dutch people's medical records, assessing health status for 24 conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological diseases. The records were then correlated with how much green space was located within 1 kilometer and 3 kilometers of a person's postal code. And what did researchers find? People who lived within 1 kilometer of a park or a wooded area experienced less anxiety and depression than those who lived farther away from green space. Additionally, people living in urban environments had a higher prevalence of 15 of the 24 conditions, with the relationship strongest for anxiety disorder and depression. It's interesting to note that the green space's health benefits were only found when they were within a kilometer (not 3 kilometers away), except for anxiety disorders, gastrointestinal digestive disorders and other medically unexplained physical symptoms, according to the research. Live in a city with no green space nearby? No worries! Other studies by researchers in England and Sweden have found that joggers who exercise in a natural green setting with trees, foliage and landscape views, feel more restored, and less anxious, angry and depressed than those runners who burn the same amount of calories in gyms or other urban settings. So even if you have to drive a few miles to find a little green, it's worth it! Why Does Nature Do the Body So Good? So what is it about nature that makes us so much healthier? And what is about outdoor exercise that is better than working out in a gym? While there are many theories as to why being in nature makes us healthier, one leading hypothesis is that being outside increases our Vitamin D intake. We just keep learning more and more about how important vitamin D is for health, including preventing cancer, hormonal problems, obesity, and inflammation, and having a strong immune system. Because sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D, it only seems logical that spending more time in outside would increase your vitamin D intake. Being in a natural setting can also help increase your quality of sleep, as studies show that natural sunlight helps set the body's internal clock that tells us when to eat and sleep, and normalizes hormonal functions that occur at specific times of the day. And we all know how important sleep is not just for our health, but even for our weight loss! Enjoying the outdoors also gives us a break from technology and the on-the-run lifestyle to which we're all so accustomed. When we're outside, we have a clearer, more focused mindset to hang out with friends, or spend some quiet time alone or even play with a pet.  (Remember: Pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and feelings of loneliness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). When we're outside, we can also learn and enjoy a new skill or physical activity. And perhaps most important of all, we get a chance to turn off—or better, leave behind—our cell phones to clear our heads and break from the stress we all have each and every day. How Much Green Exercise Is Enough? So how much green time do you need? Not much, recent research says. According to the American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science & Technology, as little as five minutes exercising in a park, working in a backyard garden, hiking on a nature trail, or even sitting in a plant-filled setting will benefit your mental health. From researchers' analysis of 1,252 people of different ages, genders and mental health status performing walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming, the greatest health changes occurred in the young and the mentally ill, although people of all ages and social groups benefited. All natural environments benefited study participants, including parks in urban settings. However, green areas with water were especially beneficial, as were environments that were both green and blue (think of a green tree on a bright blue sky). Fun Ways to Get Outside Ready to get out there? Here are seven easy ways to enjoy the benefits of nature!

  1. Make being outside a ritual. Go for a morning or evening walk every day. And if you have one, bring your pooch—outdoor exercise is good for Fido, too.
  2. Try gardening. From a planting vegetable garden to planting a few flowers, both activities get you outside regularly and communing with nature.
  3. Take vacations in beautiful places. For your next scheduled break, visit a state or national park or go to a beautiful beach—whatever landscape speaks to you!
  4. Find a trail. Whether hiking or biking is your speed, there are trails around the country for you to explore. Find one near you at trails.com.
  5. Sit outside. We're always so on-the-go. The next time you need a break, try sitting outside quietly and just appreciate the natural beauty around you! Notice the scents, sights and sounds as you sit quietly and focus on the moment.
  6. Go to a local park. Ask others in your neighborhood which park is their favorite to visit. Then the next time the weather is good, trade your usual gym workout for an outdoor one!
  7. Commit to the outdoors, rain or shine. When you're layered properly, you can enjoy the outdoors in any season, cold, wet or hot. Don't forget about the fun and healthy outdoor activities available during the rainy or cold months—these are the times that we have even less outdoor interaction, but may be when we need it the most!  
So the next time you have the opportunity to get outside for a brisk walk or a workout, take the chance to soak in that Mother Nature! What's your favorite exercise to do outside? How does it make you feel?   Sources Gardner, Amanda. "Being Near Nature Improves Physical, Mental Health," accessed May 2011. www.usatoday.com.   Louv, Richard. "The Powerful Link Between Conserving Land and Preserving Health," accessed May 2011. www.childrenandnature.org.   National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Sleep. "Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep," accessed May 2011. www.ninds.nih.gov.   National Centers for Infectious Diseases. "Health Benefits of Pets," accessed May 2011. www.cdc.org.   Science Daily. "In the Green of Health: Just 5 Minutes of 'Green Exercise' Optimal for Good Mental Health," accessed May 2011. www.sciencedaily.org.  Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1680

Finding Time for Healthy Living

You've made the decision to get in shape, lose weight or just live a healthier lifestyle. But you're worried about how you'll manage to find the time to get to the gym, shop and cook healthy foods, or even how you'll keep your goals in mind with so many other things already on it. Your concerns are certainly valid. As a matter of fact, one of the most common statements I hear from colleagues and friends is, "When things calm down, I really need to start taking better care of myself." Here's the thing: If you are living a full and happy life, it is more often busy than not. And when you have so much to do, doesn't it make sense to take care of yourself and feel well? There's no debating that you will need to dedicate some time to self-care, but it shouldn't mean you will have to drop your friends, ignore your family or neglect your business. Here are some suggestions of how to create more time for healthy living. Eating well for good health and/or weight loss requires you to have nutritious foods available and make wise choices when eating out. Here are some ways to make the most of your meals when you're short on time. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the week to think through your upcoming schedule. How many days will you be home for dinner, and what will you prepare? Do Monday morning meetings always last through lunch? If so, it makes sense to bring a brown bag lunch that day. Will you head to the gym straight from the office and need to bring a healthy snack to fuel you through your workout and hold you over until dinner? Once you have a picture of your week, create your grocery list and plan when you'll head to the store. This extra step will save you tons of time by avoiding multiple trips to the market, or standing in line at the take-out eateries on your way home. At the market, consider purchasing healthy convenience foods. There are so many to choose from these days. Fresh vegetables, salad greens and fruit are available pre-cleaned and cut. Old-fashioned frozen dinners have been recreated to be low-cal, low- sodium, even vegetarian or gluten-free. Check the labels and know which ones to keep in your freezer for nights when you don't have the time to cook. Although you may think these options cost more, they are less expensive than eating in restaurants, buying take-out, or high blood pressure and high cholesterol medicines that often are required after years of unhealthy choices. If you prefer to avoid the expense of pre-cut fruits and vegetables, invest in crisper storage containers. Spend a little bit of time washing and cutting produce on the weekends, in order to save loads of prep time during the week. Call your local supermarket in advance of your visit and give the deli, meat and fish counter your order over the phone. They'll have everything ready and packaged for you, saving you time from waiting in line. If you really don't have the time to shop, many supermarkets now have online ordering and delivery options. Not only will they save your weekly shopping list so you can go back to check off your frequently purchased options, they'll let you know which of your favorites are on sale. Check out online food co-ops, produce and dairy markets. Many have memberships that will deliver fresh and/or organic goods on a scheduled basis. Equip your kitchen with time-saving devices. A slow cooker allows you to quickly throw together ingredients the night before. Plug it in to cook in the morning and a hot prepared dinner is ready when you return home. A microwave will reheat leftovers or frozen healthy choices. An immersion blender quickly makes soups from frozen veggies or smoothies out of frozen fruit. When you do cook, double the recipes. Keep old take out containers or purchase freezer-to-oven pans and create your own TV dinners or a second meal for the following week. On days when you have a meal out, keep in mind that the average restaurant serves two to three times the appropriate portion size. Ask for a take-out container and pack away half for lunch or dinner at another time. Now you've kept to a healthy portion size and you don't need to take time out to prepare another meal the next day. Fitting in movement and exercise requires the same proactive thinking as eating healthy. If you are going to join a gym, make sure it is conveniently located near your home or office. No matter how fabulous the gym in the next town is, if it takes too long to get to, you won't go when you're pressed for time. Home exercise equipment is the best investment for the truly time pressed or those who simply dislike the gym atmosphere. You won't waste time traveling back and forth, and could pair your daily sessions with another activity you enjoy. Addicted to the evening sitcoms or news? Do your exercise while watching. You know you would take the time to get that one episode in anyway, what a great way to multitask! Need to catch up on trade journals? All cardio equipment today is equipped with a reading stand. When squeezing in a formalized exercise session still seems impossible to do, know that several short bursts of activity has been shown to add up to great benefit. Whenever possible, take the stairs rather than the elevator, walk to your co-worker's office to deliver messages rather than emailing. Use the restrooms on another floor. Purchase and wear a pedometer. Measuring the number of steps you take each day can be highly motivating. Without even thinking about "taking the time out to exercise" you might just reach the 10,000 steps a day to achieve health benefits. Suggest business meetings at the local walking track rather than the boardroom. Your colleagues may be delighted to squeeze in their activity as well, plus fresh air and being in nature has been proven to improve mood and creativity. Combine exercise with family time. Rather than an outing to the movies, consider the roller or ice skating rink, miniature golf course, park or town pool. You and the kids will both get your exercise and quality time together. You don't have to sacrifice time with your friends to get in a workout. Suggest an active happy hour after work rather than heading to the local bar. Go bowling, or join a baseball, basketball or soccer team. For the really ambitious, train together for an upcoming race. Let go of your "all or nothing" exercise attitude. If you think a 10 or 15 minute workout is "pointless" when you don't have time for a full hour, think again. Every minute counts toward improving your fitness level, reducing stress and strengthening your heart and muscles. Plus a minute spent exercising always beats a minute spent sedentary. Stress reduction and sleep are important to self-care and a healthy lifestyle, but too often neglected when life is frantic. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to ease stress and takes a mere 30 seconds. Begin to notice the physical signs you experience when stress is mounting. Neck tension, back pain, and queasy stomach are common. Stop what ever you are doing and take a few deep, cleansing breaths. A mantra such as "breathe" or "stay calm" may help. Stress leads to inefficiency and mistakes that then take more time to redo and correct. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, exacerbate illness and injuries and lead to lots of time spent at the doctor's office or home in bed. Take time regularly to manage your stress to avoid massive loss of time later. Experiment with what works best for you. Ten minutes of daily meditation, a weekly massage or just an evening out each week with your honey can go a long way to keeping you healthy. When you find yourself thinking "I don't have time for this" remind yourself how time consumed being sick or depressed is! Many people believe they can gain more time by skimping on sleep. I hope you are not one of them! Just as too much stress will lead to more mistakes, inefficiency, depressed immune system and increased injury and illness, so will lack of sleep. Although an occasional night of reduced sleep won't have long lasting effects, a constant diet of sleep deprivation will. Trying to function on too little sleep will end up causing you to waste time rather than save it. Chronic stress and sleep deprivation have also been proven to hinder weight loss. So if you are in hurry to see the pounds melt away, get your sleep and take time to relax, unwind and rejuvenate. With some proactive thinking and creativity, creating time for healthy living should not be an insurmountable problem. Self-care can compliment and fit seamlessly into your lifestyle. Sources: American Heart Association. Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York. "Fitting in Fitness: Hundreds of Simple Ways to Put More Physical Activity into Your Life." IL: Human Kinetics. Tribole E. "Eating on the Run—Third Edition." Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Siobhan Banks, Ph.D. and David F. Dinges, Ph.D. Banks S, Dinges DF. "Behavioral and Physiological Consequences of Sleep Restriction," Accessed August 2011. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1664

Why Getting Outside is So Good for You

John Keats once wrote, "The poetry of the earth is never dead." Poet or not, almost all of us have been awestruck by nature at one time or another. Whether it's running at sunset on a sandy white beach, walking alongside a cool trickling stream, watching sunset over a mountain ridge, or even hearing the wind blow through the trees in the morning, being outdoors and aware of the world's beauty can make you feel energized and alive. Recently, much research has focused on the so-called "nature connection," and how it affects our health, outlook and overall life. Nature's Healing Powers It seems that just being out in nature does your body, mind and soul some good. According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the closer you live to nature, the healthier you're likely to be. The study took an objective look at 345,143 Dutch people's medical records, assessing health status for 24 conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological diseases. The records were then correlated with how much green space was located within 1 kilometer and 3 kilometers of a person's postal code. And what did researchers find? People who lived within 1 kilometer of a park or a wooded area experienced less anxiety and depression than those who lived farther away from green space. Additionally, people living in urban environments had a higher prevalence of 15 of the 24 conditions, with the relationship strongest for anxiety disorder and depression. It's interesting to note that the green space's health benefits were only found when they were within a kilometer (not 3 kilometers away), except for anxiety disorders, gastrointestinal digestive disorders and other medically unexplained physical symptoms, according to the research. Live in a city with no green space nearby? No worries! Other studies by researchers in England and Sweden have found that joggers who exercise in a natural green setting with trees, foliage and landscape views, feel more restored, and less anxious, angry and depressed than those runners who burn the same amount of calories in gyms or other urban settings. So even if you have to drive a few miles to find a little green, it's worth it! Why Does Nature Do the Body So Good? So what is it about nature that makes us so much healthier? And what is about outdoor exercise that is better than working out in a gym? While there are many theories as to why being in nature makes us healthier, one leading hypothesis is that being outside increases our Vitamin D intake. We just keep learning more and more about how important vitamin D is for health, including preventing cancer, hormonal problems, obesity, and inflammation, and having a strong immune system. Because sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D, it only seems logical that spending more time in outside would increase your vitamin D intake. Being in a natural setting can also help increase your quality of sleep, as studies show that natural sunlight helps set the body's internal clock that tells us when to eat and sleep, and normalizes hormonal functions that occur at specific times of the day. And we all know how important sleep is not just for our health, but even for our weight loss! Enjoying the outdoors also gives us a break from technology and the on-the-run lifestyle to which we're all so accustomed. When we're outside, we have a clearer, more focused mindset to hang out with friends, or spend some quiet time alone or even play with a pet.  (Remember: Pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and feelings of loneliness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). When we're outside, we can also learn and enjoy a new skill or physical activity. And perhaps most important of all, we get a chance to turn off—or better, leave behind—our cell phones to clear our heads and break from the stress we all have each and every day. How Much Green Exercise Is Enough? So how much green time do you need? Not much, recent research says. According to the American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science & Technology, as little as five minutes exercising in a park, working in a backyard garden, hiking on a nature trail, or even sitting in a plant-filled setting will benefit your mental health. From researchers' analysis of 1,252 people of different ages, genders and mental health status performing walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming, the greatest health changes occurred in the young and the mentally ill, although people of all ages and social groups benefited. All natural environments benefited study participants, including parks in urban settings. However, green areas with water were especially beneficial, as were environments that were both green and blue (think of a green tree on a bright blue sky). Fun Ways to Get Outside Ready to get out there? Here are seven easy ways to enjoy the benefits of nature!

  1. Make being outside a ritual. Go for a morning or evening walk every day. And if you have one, bring your pooch—outdoor exercise is good for Fido, too.
  2. Try gardening. From a planting vegetable garden to planting a few flowers, both activities get you outside regularly and communing with nature.
  3. Take vacations in beautiful places. For your next scheduled break, visit a state or national park or go to a beautiful beach—whatever landscape speaks to you!
  4. Find a trail. Whether hiking or biking is your speed, there are trails around the country for you to explore. Find one near you at trails.com.
  5. Sit outside. We're always so on-the-go. The next time you need a break, try sitting outside quietly and just appreciate the natural beauty around you! Notice the scents, sights and sounds as you sit quietly and focus on the moment.
  6. Go to a local park. Ask others in your neighborhood which park is their favorite to visit. Then the next time the weather is good, trade your usual gym workout for an outdoor one!
  7. Commit to the outdoors, rain or shine. When you're layered properly, you can enjoy the outdoors in any season, cold, wet or hot. Don't forget about the fun and healthy outdoor activities available during the rainy or cold months—these are the times that we have even less outdoor interaction, but may be when we need it the most!  
So the next time you have the opportunity to get outside for a brisk walk or a workout, take the chance to soak in that Mother Nature! What's your favorite exercise to do outside? How does it make you feel?   Sources Gardner, Amanda. "Being Near Nature Improves Physical, Mental Health," accessed May 2011. www.usatoday.com.   Louv, Richard. "The Powerful Link Between Conserving Land and Preserving Health," accessed May 2011. www.childrenandnature.org.   National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Sleep. "Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep," accessed May 2011. www.ninds.nih.gov.   National Centers for Infectious Diseases. "Health Benefits of Pets," accessed May 2011. www.cdc.org.   Science Daily. "In the Green of Health: Just 5 Minutes of 'Green Exercise' Optimal for Good Mental Health," accessed May 2011. www.sciencedaily.org.  Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1680

10 Signs You're Watching Too Much Television

Many people claim that they don't have time to work out or cook healthy meals, yet they do find the time to park themselves in front of the TV. In fact, the average American watches 31.5 hours of TV per week, according to a 2010 Nielsen report. That's almost as many hours as most of us spend working! That's a lot of hours that could be spent shopping for and preparing nutritious meals, hitting the gym or even taking up a new hobby. If you think your loyalty to your favorite TV shows could be interfering with your life—or your pursuit of health—then read on. 10 Signs You're Watching Too Much TV 1. You've turned into a hermit. If you can't commit to a night out with your friends because you don't want to miss the latest episode of your favorite show—or even one of your top 10 favorite shows—you may have an addiction to TV. Hanging out with friends can combat loneliness and put you in a better mood. Plus, time with buddies may even help you live longer, according to the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. So don't banish your buddies just because you love that show about people who fish with their bare hands. Set the DVR—or if you're old-fashioned, program the VCR—and head out with your friends. Even better: Go for a walk with your pals to get your heart pumping. 2. There's a dent in your couch where your butt usually goes. If your couch is looking increasingly lopsided, it might be a sign that you're spending too much time parked on its cushions. Don't just flip them over or switch your position to fix the problem—get off the couch! There are numerous exercises that can be done with little or no equipment while you watch TV—think jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges—or you can crank up your treadmill while you catch up on the latest episode of Real Housewives. Choose an hourlong show to get moving to, or if you'll be camped out for a while watching a marathon, get moving during commercial breaks instead of heading to the kitchen for that snack. 3. Your dog jumps onto the couch and looks at you with sad puppy dog eyes when you don't join her. If even your dog has gotten used to your nightly routine of snuggling on the couch while watching Animal Planet, it may be time to break away from the boob tube. Take your faithful furry friend for a long walk—you'll both benefit from the exercise and the change of scenery! 4. You find yourself ordering out so you have more time to veg. If you're calling for pizza delivery or stopping to get takeout on the way home so that you won't have to bother with groceries or cooking, it might be a red flag. Skip a show or two so you'll have time to make that healthy meal before getting comfortable for an evening in. Healthy cooking can even be quick and easy! 5. Your TV tray has a permanent spot in your living room. If you eat all of your meals in front of the television, it might mean you're a little too addicted to cable. Not only does TV make it easier to zone out and overeat, but you're not interacting with the family or friends during meals (invite them over if you're living the single life). 6. You lift up the couch cushions, and popcorn and crumbs have multiplied. This is another sign that you're vegging out too much—and eating mindlessly while you do. When you don't even realize that a bucket of popcorn has fallen onto the couch, how can you keep track of how much you're actually consuming? 7. You get up from the TV after hours and have no idea what you've been watching. We're all guilty of this sometimes. You flip around mindlessly, channel surfing until something catches your attention. You stop there until a commercial sends you on your merry way and you repeat this process for hours on end. If you find yourself doing this and you're the type that doesn't feel like they have time to eat right or exercise, you need to prioritize. Be honest with yourself and pick your top three can't-miss television shows and schedule workouts with the importance previously given to your show schedule. Or set a daily limit for yourself—two hours of TV and then it's on to something new. Set a timer if you have to! 8. Commercials have become your culinary inspiration. If you're craving fast food because you saw that Burger King commercial, it might be a sign that you're saturating your brain with advertisements! When you don't watch TV, you'll see far fewer fast food ads. Although most people claim that advertising "doesn't work" on them, marketers know better. You'll think about fries, seasonal shakes, and new must-try gut-busting burgers far less if you aren't exposed to their TV ads. 9. You find yourself thinking that you could star in your own reality TV show. News flash: There are about a million reality shows flooding the market already, and I've yet to see one starring someone who camps out in front of the TV all day! If you want to be a show worth making, go on a get-healthy streak à la The Biggest Loser or plan big, like running a marathon or trying a vegetable for every letter of the alphabet. Hey, I'd watch. 10. You don't have time to exercise, but you do make time to sit on the couch. That stat mentioned above about the 31.5 hours of TV per week is staggering. That's like another full-time job! If you have time to watch even 30 minutes of TV per night, then you have time to exercise—it's just that you are prioritizing the TV viewing higher on your list. Put down the remote and try to go TV-free for a couple of weeks, and use that time to get active and healthy. You'll feel so much better that we doubt you'll trade working out for couch surfing ever again! If you recognize yourself in this list—whether it's one or all 10—it may be time to admit you have a problem. Luckily, the TV habit can be broken and your life will get a lot healthier. TV definitely has its place in the modern world, but so do healthy habits! Sources: Nielsen. "2010 Media Industry Fact Sheet," Accessed September 2011. www.blog.nielsen.com. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. Giles LC, Glonek GF, Luszcz MA, Andrews GR. "Effect of social networks on 10 year survival in very old Australians: the Australian longitudinal study of aging," Accessed September 2011. www.jech.bmj.com.Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1666

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