The 2009 Get Healthy & Stay Healthy Guide
We’ve all heard the same advice a million times, no matter what our health concerns: Eat better, exercise more, and stress less. But why is that so hard for many of us to do?
While most nutritionists and doctors tell us to eat plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and spices—they don’t really explain how we can do that in three meals a day.
Doctors also insist that daily exercise will cure what ails us, but few can explain exactly what kind of exercise we need. Do we have to jog every day—or can walking give us the fat-burning, heart-healthy, endorphin-producing benefits we need to stay healthy?
And managing our stress levels. That’s a tall order. Short of checking into a monastery or retreat center for a few days a month, figuring out how to stay calm amidst everyday stressors can create, well, more stress!
So, in an effort to make getting and staying healthy a viable—and attainable—goal for 2009, we turned to our experts. On the following pages, you’ll find their advice, with plenty of studies to back it up, organized in an easy-to-use format that’ll help you figure out what you need to do right now.
We start with prevention. No use waiting until you have high blood pressure or diabetes, or until your weight spirals out of control and your menopausal hot flashes make you crazy, before deciding to take care of yourself. We’ve put together what we consider the optimal diet, exercise, and stress-relieving plan that’s good for everyone. You’ll find tips on how to incorporate all the good-for-you foods into your diet; manageable ways to push away from your desk and get moving; and lovely moves to melt away stress in just a few minutes a day.
Of course, the next question is: What happens if you already have some health issues? The same advice applies: eat better, exercise more, and reduce your stress. But now we get more specific. At the end of every plan, our experts share ways to adjust the prevention strategies to accommodate the challenges you may face—whether you have high blood pressure, weight problems, perimenopausal challenges, digestive issues, diabetes, memory loss, or bone and joint pain.
Now it’s your turn. Take this plan and make it your own. It’s easier than you think to get healthy—for good!
The Best Diet for Optimal Health
Forget the fads. This plan is all you need to reach your ideal weight—and maintain it.
by Lindsay Wilson
There is much wisdom in the old saying “You are what you eat,” and doctors and dietitians alike will tell you that good health starts with a good diet. To help make eating well as simple as possible, Natural Solutions teamed up with four nutrition specialists to create an easy-to-follow diet plan that’s good for everyone. Even better: Turn the page, and you’ll see how to customize the plan to make it work for your needs.
Victoria Maizes, MD, executive director, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine
Beth Reardon, MS, RD, an integrative nutritionist at Duke University
Grace Avila, a San Francisco–based chef and nutrition consultant
Taryn Forrelli, ND, a naturopathic physician in Boston
Choose 7 Veggies a Day
Leafy greens: spinach, collard greens, kale, romaine, and arugula
Cruciferous veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage
Root veggies: carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, and radishes
Others: tomatoes, squash, peppers, onions, asparagus, and mushrooms
Make it easy:
• Toss a handful each of spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms into an egg-white omelet for 3 servings of veggies.
• Pile slices of roasted beets on toasted, sprouted bread with romaine lettuce and goat cheese for 2 servings.
• Add 11/2 cups each diced and sautéed carrots, peppers, and onions to brown rice when fluffing it for 3 servings.
Grace’s quick tip:
“When your energy starts to wane in the afternoon, have a green drink instead of a cup of coffee or tea. That will help alkalize your body, giving you not only a shot of energy but also about 4 servings of veggies per 8-ounce serving.”
Choose 3 Fruits a Day
Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, kiwi, melon, papaya, apples, lemons, limes, oranges, pomegranates, and avocados
Make it easy:
• Top a spinach salad with 1/2 cup each sliced strawberries and cubed apples for 2 servings.
• Garnish marinated fish or chicken with chunks of mango and avocado
(1/2 cup each) for 2 servings.
• Peel, core, and heat 5 Granny Smith apples, 1 bag frozen mixed berries, and 1 tablespoon cinnamon until tender. Serve as a side with dinner or for dessert for 2 servings per helping.
Beth’s quick tip:
“I like to serve a side of fruit along with veggies at dinner. It is an easy way to sneak in another serving, and a good reminder for my family that fruit is a great option all day.”
Choose 3 to 6 Servings of Whole Grains a Day
Brown rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, sprouted bread, oatmeal, and barley
Make it easy:
• Mix a cup of your favorite fruit into a 1/2 cup of hot oatmeal, and drizzle with agave nectar for 1 serving.
• Toss 1/2 cup cooked quinoa with a little olive oil, basil, sliced nectarines, and goat cheese for 1 serving.
• Add 1/2 cup amaranth to a pot of vegetable soup during the last 15 minutes of cooking time for 1
• Spread hummus on a piece of sprouted bread, top with sliced red peppers and low-fat cheddar cheese, and toast for 1 serving.
Beth’s Quick Tip:
“I make some kind of brown rice or quinoa salad every weekend, mixing the grains with olive oil, veggies, and spices. It makes a great dinner—and tastes even better later in the week served cold because the flavors have had a chance to develop.”
Choose 1 or 2 Servings of Healthy Fats a Day
Nuts and nut butters: peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, and Brazil nuts
Healthy oils: extra-virgin olive oil, extra-virgin coconut oil, organic canola oil, hempseed oil, and flaxseed oil
Omega-3s: salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, fresh ground flaxseeds, and avocados
Make it easy:
• Spread 1/4 of a ripe avocado on sprouted bread, and top with 1 ounce ground almonds for 2 servings.
• Dip apple or pear slices in almond butter for 1 serving.
• Make your own salad dressing using 6 parts extra-virgin olive oil, 2 parts champagne vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon honey, and salt and pepper to taste for 1 serving.
• Toss a handful of cashews or peanuts into your next curry or stir-fry for one serving.
Taryn’s Quick Tip:
“Add 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed to your cereal—hot or cold. It’s such a quick, easy way to sneak in some healthy fats.”
Grace’s Quick Tip:
“Substitute flaxseed or hemp oil for olive oil in your salad dressing; drizzle on lettuce or raw vegetables.”
Choose 2 Servings of Lean Protein a Day
Beans: black, kidney, lentils, and garbanzos
Meat/fish: organic, free-range chicken or beef, buffalo, wild fish, and wild game
Eggs/dairy: cottage cheese and organic, free-range eggs
Make it easy:
• Mix 1 cup fruit into 3/4 cup cottage cheese, and drizzle with honey for 1 serving.
• Add 1/2 cup kidney or
garbanzo beans to a garden salad for 1 serving.
• Poach 1 organic, free-range chicken breast; let cool; chop; mix with light mayo, salt, pepper, and
1/2 cup red grapes for 1 to 2
Victoria’s Quick Tip:
“Choose organic and grass-finished meats, which contain healthier fats than conventionally raised meat.”
Eat as Many Herbs and Spices a Day as You Like:
Garlic, ginger, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, basil, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and turmeric
Make it easy:
• Sprinkle cinnamon on top of oatmeal or cottage cheese.
• Add a teaspoon of grated ginger or minced garlic to your favorite meat or fish marinade.
• Add a dash of turmeric or cumin to canned soup before heating.
Taryn’s Quick Tip:
“Keep a rosemary and a basil plant growing inside or out so you always have access to fresh herbs.”
Make This Diet Work for You
Simple tweaks and supplements to help you stave off or treat one of these 7 common conditions
by Nicole Duncan & Erin Quinn
If you’ve got digestive issues, add...
Almonds. An Institute of Food Research study shows that eating almonds increases the levels of good bacteria—called pre-biotics—in the gut. These friendly bacteria not only keep you regular, but they also defend against harmful bacteria and strengthen your body’s immune system. How can almonds help? By providing the healthy fats probiotics need to grow.
Raw foods. Uncooked veggies, sprouts, and seeds can all lead to better digestion, according to research. Heating foods above 115 degrees, say raw food experts, destroys the enzymes in food that assist in the digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Licorice root. Your stomach naturally secretes a mucosal lining, which acts as armor to protect digestive acids from eating away at your stomach wall. Licorice root stimulates the creation of this lining. Take 750 mg three times a day. Look for “DGL” licorice, which has had its blood pressure–raising glycyrrhizine removed.
If you’re going through menopause, add...
Soy nuts. Research from the Beth Deaconess Medical Center in Boston shows that women who swap non-soy protein, such as meats, for half a cup of soy nuts, experience a 45 percent decrease in hot flashes. Soy nuts (soybeans that have been soaked in water and baked until crisp) are chock-full of isoflavones, an estrogen-like substance found in plants, which makes them a natural hormone replacement.
Bonus: Adding soy nuts to your diet may ease other menopausal symptoms, such as loss of libido and night sweats.
Beans. Almost all edible beans—not just soybeans—contain two important compounds: genistein and daidzein. These plant estrogens help control hot flashes and other discomforts of menopause.
Black cohosh. This herb targets the serotonin receptors in the hypothalamus (the part of your brain that controls body temperature) to regulate hot flashes. Take 40 mg two times a day for both hot flashes and night sweats.
St. Johns wort. This herb eases mood swings that accompany menopause by regulating your brain’s serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood. Take 300 mg three times a day.
Bioflavonoids. These strengthen capillaries, the small blood vessels that deliver oxygen to your organs, which makes them less likely to dilate and quickly fill with blood (what causes hot flashes). Take 1,000 mg daily along with 2,000 mg of vitamin C, which helps with the absorption of the bioflavonoids.
Siberian rhubarb extract. Studies published in the medical journal Menopause over the past two years suggest taking 4 mg daily of Siberian rhubarb extract provides significant benefit for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Sadly, you can only get the extract in Europe right now, but it should be available in the US soon.
Pycnogenol, a pine-bark extract, may help calm hot flashes and anxiety and boost sex drive, according to a Scandinavian study. Try 200 mg a day.
If you have bone and joint issues, add...
Vitamin D. Maintaining strong bones is especially important for women, particularly as they age—and vitamin D is the key to keeping bones in top shape. A new study in Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource reports that 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day will boost bone strength in most adults. Bonus: The vitamin has been shown to prevent several forms of cancer, fight autoimmune diseases, and lower the risk of heart disease.
A little alcohol. Need a good excuse for that daily glass of wine? How about this: It can reduce your chances of suffering from rheumatoid arthritis by 50 percent. Scandinavian researchers report that people who drink a moderate amount of alcohol daily are the least likely to develop arthritis, though the scientists don’t know how or why alcohol prevents the condition. One thing they know for sure? Smoking is known to be a major risk factor for developing arthritis.
Vitamin K. This important vitamin keeps calcium from getting stuck in your arteries, where it’s inaccessible to your bones. Take 90 to 180 mcg daily.
Potassium. This mineral helps balance the body’s pH; over time, an acidic pH can cause bone loss. Take 99 mg a day.
Magnesium. Studies show that magnesium improves bone mineral density and helps your body utilize calcium. Take 300 to 400 mg daily.
Boswellia. The herb works as an anti-inflammatory to reduce joint pain. Take 250 mg once or twice daily.
If you have high blood pressure, add...
Skim milk. When Harvard researchers analyzed the diets of nearly 30,000 women middle-aged and older, they found those who drank two or more servings of fat-free milk each day reduced their risk for high blood pressure by up to 10 percent. The calcium in skim milk seems to be the key ingredient for lowering blood pressure, though researchers aren’t sure why.
Cranberries. Researchers at Tufts University in Boston found that the phenols in cranberries reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure and LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind).
Red yeast rice extract. This supplement boosts levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind) and lowers LDL levels, prompting docs to refer to it as “nature’s statin.” Take 600 mg two times a day.
Plant sterols. When plant sterols travel through your digestive tract, they block cholesterol, preventing it from being absorbed into your bloodstream. Take 400 mg twice a day.
If you’re Overweight, add...
Dairy. Research shows that obese adults who eat a high-dairy diet lose significantly more weight and fat than those who eat a low-dairy diet containing the same number of calories. Why? Calcium has been shown to boost weight loss by increasing fat breakdown in fat cells.
Mushrooms. Scientists at John Hopkins Weight Management Center say overweight patients who swap the meat in their favorite recipes for mushrooms feel just as full and satisfied as carnivores and can save more than 18,000 calories and nearly 3,000 grams of fat each year.
Trans resveratrol. This supplement helps your body make more mitochondria, the “energy powerhouses” of your cells. In turn, the mitochondria produce ATP, which drives our body’s metabolism and is critical for maintaining a healthy weight. Take 125 mg daily.
D-ribose. This naturally occurring sugar helps your body better metabolize food. Take 5 grams with a meal, twice a day.
Co-Q10. This supplement shuttles nutrients to the cell’s mitochondria. Take 50 to 200 mg daily.
If you suffer from diabetes, add...
Broccoli. Long touted as a supergreen, broccoli is now proving to be extra-spectacular. Scientists at the University of Warwick in England discovered that the compound sulforaphane, found in broccoli, helps the body produce enzymes that protect blood vessels, which lessens the risk of cardiovascular disease for diabetics. This is especially important, as diabetics are five times more likely to develop heart disease than those without the condition.
Chamomile tea. New research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry shows this popular herbal sip may help prevent complications—such as nerve and kidney damage, as well as vision loss—resulting from diabetes. Chamomile tea appears to inhibit enzymes and sorbitol in diabetics, elevated levels of which are associated with these complications.
Chromium and biotin. By delivering glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream to tissues and muscle, this combo lowers diabetics’ blood sugar levels. Take 600 to 1,000 mcg a day.
Alpha-lipoic acid. This helps reduce the tingling, burning, or numbness that diabetics experience when blood sugar gets too high. Take 600 to 1,200 mg per day.
Omega-3s. Essential fatty acids reduce blood fat levels (triglycerides), a buildup of which raises blood sugar levels. Take 4,000 to 5,000 mg a day.
If you’re at risk for or suffer from dementia, add...
Omega-3s. Research from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research suggests that people who regularly consume omega-3 oils, such as walnut oil, canola oil, and flaxseed oil, lower their risk for developing dementia by 60 percent. It appears that these oils act as anti-inflammatories and improve blood flow to the body and brain.
Turmeric. This popular Indian spice contains curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow pigment. Research shows it may reduce the buildup of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
DHA. Research demonstrates that people with the highest levels of these omega-3s have a 78 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Take 600 to 800 ml daily.
Vitamin B12. Too little of this vitamin raises homocysteine levels in your brain, which dramatically increases your risk for Alzhiemer’s. Take 500 mcg daily.
Jacob Teitelbaum, MD (digestive)
Holly Lucille, ND (menopause)
Susan Brown, PhD (bone and joint)
Carrie Louise Daenell, ND (obesity)
Ryan Bradley, ND (diabetes)
David Perlmutter, MD (demenita)
The Ultimate Workout
You don’t need a celebrity trainer to stay in shape. This get-fit plan is super easy to stick with (and guaranteed to give you quick results).
Katy Santiago, director of the Restorative Exercise Institute in Ventura, California, and creator of Gaiam’s restorative exercise DVD programs.
Lots of exercise plans take a highly targeted approach: Some have a bias for beefy biceps, others focus only on constant cardio, and still others fixate on abs—literally ad nauseam. Now that may suit a sports- or image-related need, but adopting a simple, sustainable wellness routine makes more sense in the long run. While we all understand that any type of movement is better than hours logged in our favorite chair, many of us have no idea that specific types of exercise can prevent or even reverse disease.
Although each of us has a unique personality and genetic makeup, our bodies all function in much the same way. They produce cells as rapidly as we need them—unless something happens to impair the process. When cellular reproduction begins to slow down, pain, injury, or disease can result. What’s the fix? Keep moving: Cartilage, bone, ligament, muscle, and nerves are just a few of the tissues that can regenerate if circulation increases through more muscle movement. Physical activity pulls fresh blood and oxygen—what cells thrive on—toward the muscles and surrounding tissue.
Every one of your body’s 650 muscles needs frequent use. When you limit your movement, the body shortens the affected muscles and the connective myofascial tissue that surrounds them. Certain muscles become dormant, circulation and range of motion decrease, and disease and injury become more likely. To ensure all muscles and connective tissues are at their optimal length, get moving with our ultimate exercise plan.
Every day, choose…
Whole-body exercise. Your body functions best with regular whole-body movement. Daily workouts may seem like an indulgence in our overly scheduled days, but for the body’s optimum health, exercise is non-negotiable. While gravity aids the downhill flow of blood from your heart to the rest of the body, returning the blood back up to the heart depends in part on the rhythmic contraction of the leg muscles. When we sit for too long or too often, our leg muscles become inactive, forcing the cardiovascular system to pick up the slack. The heart has to pump harder and more frequently, while the small muscles in the blood vessels have to work the blood uphill by themselves, wearing them out before their time.
Whole-body exercise can range from free-form dancing to walking around your neighborhood. Choose activities that require you to use both sides of your body equally and in which you sit as little as possible. While exercises such as rowing and pedaling a bicycle may be a good way to break a sweat, they don’t offer the same health benefits to your organ systems as movement requiring that you carry your own body weight. To see if your exercise preferences qualify as whole-body exercise, ask yourself the following questions: Am I carrying the majority of my body weight? Do my knees have a chance to straighten? Is my spine straight and not rounded forward as it is when I’m sitting in a chair? If you answer yes to all, you can feel good about effectively undoing the unhealthful toll that sitting takes on your body.
Whole-body exercise covers the basics. Walking, hiking, swimming, and dancing are the best forms of all-over, healthy movement. Ideally, you need an hour of this type of motion a day, but—good news—you don’t have to get it in all at once. Taking brisk 15-minute walks four times a day enhances wellness just as much as walking for an hour nonstop.
For the most advantageous whole-body movement, you need the motor skill and flexibility to move each joint to its fullest range of motion. Even regular exercisers still spend the greatest portion of their day in a sitting position. The body, able to adjust to almost anything, adapts to constant sitting by shortening tendons, tensing fascia, and reducing blood flow to underused muscles.
The exercises below help undo, in just minutes a day, the most common (unhealthy) posture habits and increase circulation and mobility to muscle systems not regularly used. To keep optimal range of motion, do these daily. When you first start, hold each stretch for 30 seconds, gradually working your way up to a minute per hold.
1. Calf stretch
Research shows that small but frequent weight-bearing impacts, also known as vibrations, can maintain and generate bone density. Walking correctly, with the heel striking first, creates these kinds of vibrations up the legs and helps keep the bones of your hips healthy. This exercise for the lower leg and foot eases the tension in the lower leg that causes us to shuffle instead of reaching a full stride.
Try: Place the front of your left foot on a tightly rolled towel or yoga mat, while keeping the heel of the same foot on the ground. Take a step forward with the right foot, and place it on the ground. Straighten your spine, and move your hips over the back foot, holding on to a wall or chair if necessary. Repeat on the other side.
2. Hamstring stretch
Sitting all day means less blood flow throughout your body. Though you may walk an hour or more a day, often the body has adapted to sitting by shortening the muscles at the back of the legs—even when you’re up and about. To lengthen those hamstrings, stretch with a strap.
Try: Start by lying on your back with your legs outstretched and together. As you inhale, draw your left knee up to your chest, and loop a belt or strap around the ball of the left foot. Holding the strap with both hands, straighten the left leg until the knee is completely straight. Ideally, your leg should be perpendicular to the floor, but you may need to lower your leg somewhat before you can straighten it. Repeat on the other side.
3. Toe drag
Although today’s urban landscapes require us to wear shoes, our bodies function best when barefoot. Shoes give the small muscles of the feet little reason to move, which in turn lessens the contact your brain keeps with your feet. In part, that translates to less blood flow to the tissues of the foot—a major health issue when it comes to diabetes, high blood pressure, and balance.
Try: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and holding on to a chair, reach one leg back, and tuck your toes under until the tops of them rest on the floor. Try not to bend either knee. Repeat on the other side.
4. Mid-back stretch
Tension across the chest can increase mid-back spinal curvature and pressure on the heart and lungs.
Try: Keeping your hips on the floor, lie over a cushion (or stack of pillows) so it supports your mid-back and head. Lie comfortably with your arms open and palms facing up. Remain here for five minutes or more.
5. Prone groin stretch
Keeping your legs bent at the hips most of the time, thanks to sitting, reduces the amount of activity through the large lymph nodes—located in the groin—that remove waste from your body.
Try: Lie on your stomach with your forehead resting on your hands. Bring one leg out to the side, as far toward your head as you can. Rest the inside edge of the foot on the floor and allow your inner thigh to completely relax. Repeat on the other side.
6. Thoracic wall stretch
Stooped posture can affect everything from blood pressure to bone density
and, in extreme cases, can lead to kyphosis, also known as widow’s hump. This simple stretch reduces excessive curvature in the upper spine, loosens shoulders, and relaxes the neck.
Try: With legs straight and torso leaning forward, place your hands flat on a wall in front of you. Walk your hands up the wall until they rest just over your head. Without bending your arms, walk backward while leaning your body forward until your torso stretches out like a hammock between your hands and your hips.
Choose the Workout That’s Best for You
Here’s how to customize our fitness plan for any of these 7 common conditions.
For digestive issues…
Latest news: Just a little exercise goesa long way. A Canadian study foundthat patients with Crohn’s disease, aninflammatory bowel condition, who walked 30 minutes, three times a week significantly improved their quality of life.
Katy’s tip: Spinal twists can help, too. As your stomach muscles contract and move toward the spine, the smooth muscles, organs, and fascia of the digestive system are massaged and stimulated to work more efficiently.Do twists on an empty stomach.
Try: Sitting upright in your chair, cross your left knee over the top of the right. Turn to your left, and hook your left arm over the back of the chair, and try to clasp your hands together. As you exhale, pull in the belly to massage the digestive tract. Hold this for 60 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
Going through menopause...
Latest news: Having trouble catching some z’s? You’re not alone—in a study of menopausal women, 95 percent suffered from sleep difficulties, the most common symptom reported. A recent Brazilian study showed that moderate aerobic exercise not only helped patients with chronic insomnia sleep better, but it also helped them sleep longer. Aim for three hours of aerobic exercise a week.
Katy’s tip: Increasing your level of activity can reduce hot flashes. As you begin to exercise, blood moves toward the skin, where it is easier to cool.
Try: 10 minutes of light exercise to dissipate the heat.
Bone and joint issues...
Latest news: A study published in Osteoporosis International showed that a combination of strengthening, aerobic, balance, and coordination exercises reduced fracture risk in postmenopausal women by improving bone density as well as muscle strength and balance.
Katy’s tip: Include balance-based exercises, such as standing on one leg, in your workout. Work up to a 30-second balance on each side, holding on to the back of a chair if necessary.
Try: When you walk, make sure your walking shoes are not overly cushioned in the heel. Excessive cushioning actually decreases the bone-generating vibrations that come from your heel striking the ground. Consider walking barefoot, perhaps on a grassy field or a path free of debris as often as possible.
For high blood pressure...
Latest news: Walking is just as beneficial as running when it comes to warding off heart disease. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reports that otherwise sedentary people who walked 30 minutes a day, three times a week for 12 weeks, saw their systolic blood pressure (the top number) drop five points and their waist measurement (a strong indicator of heart health) shrink by 2.6 centimeters.
Katy’s tips: Relax first, then exercise. With high blood pressure, the priority is relaxation. Intense, unpleasant exercise can actually increase stress levels and even blood pressure in the long term. A better game plan? Exercise at an easier pace but for a longer time.
Try: Pressure on the cardiovascular system often comes from tension in the muscles that surround your chest cavity. Chest stretching, as illustrated in the mid-back exercise on page 59, can decrease muscle tension, opening up more space for blood to flow.
If you’re overweight...
Latest news: When it comes to weight loss, many heavy people think, Why bother? But researchers from the University of Michigan recently found that even an hour of light aerobic exercise helped study participants burn fat.
Katy’s tip: If you are new to movement, exercising in a pool is an excellent way to begin. Most health clubs offer water aerobics; ask to sample a class before you join.
Try: Stretching on a regular basis. This can ease any discomfort that comes with moving your body for the first time. Start with the range-of-motion exercises that begin on page 58, then cycle through them for four or five sessions before moving on to something more vigorous.
Suffering from diabetes...
Latest news: A study by experts at Johns Hopkins University shows that moderate aerobic exercise three days a week, combined with weight lifting three days a week, may slash levels of fat in the liver by up to 40 percent in people with type-2 diabetes. Higher liver-fat levels, a common side effect of diabetes, may increase the risk of heart disease.
Katy’s tips: Another common problem for diabetics, neuropathy of the feet, may significantly improve with regular lower leg, ankle, and foot exercises.
Try: Do the foot and leg stretches on pages 58 and 59 twice daily. Make sure that your footwear fits comfortably and doesn’t cut into your feet or cause you to grip with your toes.
At risk for dementia...
Latest news: A study in The New
England Journal of Medicine suggests that any physical activity helps the brain grow new cells, which guards against dementia.
Katy’s tips: Any unfamiliar movement can increase motor skills and brain function. For five minutes a day, open doors, write, and eat with your nondominant hand. Always walk the same route? Try reversing it. If you walk on concrete, try a grassy surface or any varied terrain.
Try: Keeping your house clear of obstacles minimizes the odds of tripping, but it also decreases your chance to practice recovering from a stumble. Practice balancing by walking sideways in your kitchen, or stand on one leg a few times a day. Avoid becoming comfortable with your movement routine—strive to mix it up every few months.
Simple Ways to Stress Less
The secret to better health? Stop stressing out. Here’s how.
by Kate Hanley & Erin Quinn
We’ve rounded up the latest studies on the connection between stress and illness to show the insidious ways stress can impact our bodies and our minds. Then we give you our best condition-specific relaxation solutions, chosen for their mind-clearing, tension-reducing, and overall calming effects. Practiced regularly, these gentle exercises can help you face health challenges with an open mind.
1. Digestion issues
Latest news: A 2008 study by researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine reports that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients who engage in self-directed relaxation and deep breathing had significant improvement in their symptoms, including constipation, bloating, and diarrhea. Turns out that too much stressing out contributes to the development of stress-related illnesses, such as IBS. So including relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing will keep your digestive tract, well, on track.
Have a child with IBS? Hypnotherapy could help. A recent study published in Gastroenterology found that children who underwent six sessions of hypnotherapy over three months experienced less stomach pain than those who tried traditional medical treatments. While hypnotherapy doesn’t cure the condition, it seems that visualizing less abdominal pain actually helps reduce the pain of IBS, and kids experience less frequent bouts. While the researchers limited their study to children, they agree this treatment has a good shot at working for adults too.
The challenge: Why do we refer to stressful events as “gut wrenching”? The many nerve endings located in the abdominal organs transform anxiety into digestive issues.
One Solution: Qigong clearing
The slow movement and deep breathing of this qigong practice will quiet your thoughts, soothe the nervous system, and usher fresh energy, or qi, into an agitated abdomen.
Try it: Stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees soft. Drop your tailbone toward the floor, elongate your spine, and lift up through the crown of your head. Position your arms, palms facing each other, in front of your abdomen. Keeping your elbows slightly bent, inhale, lifting your arms out to the side and up over your head. As you exhale, turn your palms toward the floor, and push your hands down along the front of your body—moving with resistance, as if you were pushing an invisible ball through water—to return to the starting position. Matthew Cohen, qigong and t’ai chi teacher and founder of Sacred Energy Arts Center in Santa Monica, California, recommends performing clearing for two to three minutes twice
a day to manage stress.
Latest news: If stress, anxiety, and depression—a menopausal triple whammy—have got you down, just keep moving. A study by Temple University showed that moderate walking (at about 4 miles per hour) five times a week helped relieve stress and anxiety in postmenopausal women. No need to go to the gym either. The women in the study walked everywhere, from city blocks to shopping malls.
The challenge: Menopause marks a time of major transition—in your hormones, your attitudes, and your life. With your body seemingly calling the shots and your emotions on a veritable roller coaster, you need a stress reliever that will help you feel more in control and let you begin to accept your shifting reality instead of falling victim to it.
One Solution: Yoga’s Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
This restorative yoga pose is particularly suited to your needs because the props support your whole body, giving you a taste of how sweet it feels to completely surrender. By making you feel safe and cared for, the pose offers a perfect antidote to that out-of-control feeling. It also clears your head and, with your belly and chest exposed, promotes deeper breathing, which in turn boosts relaxation. Don’t just take our word for it: A 2008 Duke University study backs up the notion that yoga eases menopausal hot flashes, fatigue, and lack of energy.
Try it: Place a bolster or large, sturdy cushion on the floor, fold a thin blanket into a small rectangle, then place it on one end of the cushion, and roll two towels into tidy bundles. Sit on the floor with the cushion behind you, a few inches away from your sit bones. Bend your knees, and bring the soles of your feet together, placing a rolled up towel (or block) under each knee for support. Gently lower your torso onto the cushion, and lay your head on the blanket. Relax your arms by your sides, palms facing up. Stay here, breathing deeply, for as long as you like—at least five to 10 minutes.
3. Bone and joint health
Latest news: Reducing levels of circulating cortisol (the stress hormone) may reduce your risk for bone loss, says new research in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. In a four-year study of healthy men aged 61 to 72 years, higher cortisol levels were directly related to increased rates of bone loss.
The challenge: How can you reduce your cortisol levels and rebuild bone at the same time?
One Solution: Yoga’s Plank Pose
All yoga poses mitigate stress by teaching us to pay attention to the quality of our breath, slow it down, and connect it to movement. At the same time, certain yoga poses, like Plank Pose, act as a weight-bearing exercise, which maintains and increases bone density. By calling on your entire body—from the soles of your feet to the top of your head—to hold steady for several breaths, this yoga push-up strengthens not only your muscles and bones but your resolve as well.
Try it: Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees in line with your hips. Step your feet back until your legs are straight, and only your toes and hands are on the floor. Make sure your fingers point directly forward. Your body should be in one even incline—don’t let your hips rise above or sink below your navel, and keep your head in line with your spine. Root down through your palms, reach your heels back, and extend out through the crown of your head to energize your entire body. Work up to holding steady for 10 complete breaths.
4. High blood pressure
Latest news: Simply being optimistic can help reduce a man’s risk of cardiovascular disease. A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine found that men who believed they were not at risk for heart disease were three times less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke. No one’s suggesting you ditch your healthy habits for a positive-thinking prescription—but it’s certainly worth a shot to do both.
The challenge: Anxiety and stress—and the unhealthy ways we try to de-stress, such as eating poorly, drinking, smoking, etc.—can affect your blood pressure. You need a stress-management technique that slows you down, mentally and physically.
One Solution: Meditation, a technique “From the Path ofthe 13,000 Steps.”
The number 13,000 represents how many thoughts, on average, you have in a day. This practice aims to bring awareness to 1,000 of those thoughts. This meditation shifts your focus from little things, such as the running commentary in your mind, to big things, such as an awareness of the present moment. This type of breathing meditation also slows your respiratory rate.
Try it: As slowly as you comfortably can, inhale to a count of four, pause for one, and exhale for four. “To make a noticeable difference, you need to do this technique for 20 minutes a day,” says Mark Thornton, author of Meditation in a New York Minute (Sounds True, 2006). “Aim for cumulative minutes, not consecutive.” Thornton recommends doing five minutes on your commute, one minute when you first get to your desk in the morning, two minutes after you finish lunch, and so on, until you reach a total of 20 minutes.
Latest news: If you dream of losing weight, keep dreaming—literally! A new report published in the Archives of General Psychiatry shows that children who sleep less are more likely to be overweight, especially if they don’t get enough rapid-eye-movement (REM) snoozing. “Spending less time in REM sleep decreases leptin levels and increases ghrelin levels—a hormone duo responsible for daytime appetite,” says Dawn Blatner, RD, a nutritionist in Chicago. Furthermore, she says, “The less time you spend in REM, the fewer calories you burn overnight.” All the more reason for all of us to get the recommended seven to nine hours a night.
The challenge: It’s important to learn how to work with weight issues in ways that won’t increase stress levels. Your stress reliever should help you embrace your inherent strength, open yourself up to possibilities, and allow you to let go of what you don’t need.
One Solution: Yoga’s Warrior II Pose (Virabhadrasana II)
Yoga helps you befriend your body, just the way it is right now, and open yourself up to the world around you. In Warrior II Pose, for instance, you experience your stability and weight as a benefit. Opening the chest and heart promotes mental clarity and openness.
Try it: Standing with bare feet on a yoga mat, extend your arms out to the side at shoulder height, palms facing down. Step your legs apart about 31/2 to 4 feet. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees and your left foot in about 45 degrees so your right heel is in line with your left instep. Bend your right knee as deeply as you can, taking care not to extend your knee beyond your ankle. Turn your head to gaze out over your right fingertips. Stay for five to eight complete breaths. Bring your feet together, and repeat on the other side.
Latest news: Researchers from the Medical University of Ohio found that diabetics who participated in 10 biofeedback sessions lowered their average blood glucose levels and still had decreased levels three months later. Biofeedback teaches patients to tune in to their own bodies and control its unconscious functions.
The challenge: High levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been linked to an increased incidence of diabetes-related complications. Your stress-relief technique should be calming and grounding so you can improve your ability to handle life’s little curveballs with grace.
One Solution: T’ai chi, an exercise known as “Commencement”
The mindful movements of t’ai chi are great stress relievers because they provide a means to create a solid connection to the earth, gather fresh energy from the environment around you, and release physical and mental tension. T’ai chi works well for diabetics; a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that it improves blood glucose levels.
Try it: Stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees soft. Drop your tailbone toward the floor, elongate your spine, and lift up through the crown of your head. Position your arms at your sides, palms facing each other. As you inhale, float your arms up to heart level, palms facing down. As you exhale, straighten your elbows, wrists, hands, and fingers, and reach forward. Inhale your hands into your body, in line with your shoulders, bending the elbows toward the floor. Finally, exhale, and push your hands down along the sides of your body until they return to the starting position. “Taking a few moments to set an intention to reduce stress before you start will only increase the benefits of this fundamental t’ai chi practice,” Cohen says. He advises practicing this exercise two to three minutes morning and night.
Latest news: University of Miami researchers found that senior citizens who listen to music for 30 to 40 minutes a day, five days a week, showed an increase in levels of the stress-reducing hormone melatonin. Dementia sufferers often have trouble sleeping, and melatonin helps regulate sleep and waking patterns. The music listeners also slept better and were calmer throughout the study and for up to six weeks after.
The challenge: The deterioration in the connection between cells in the brain, which causes mental decline, is often mirrored by a lack of connection to other people. Look for a form of stress release that combines music and interaction with others.
One Solution: Dancing
In addition to providing exercise and socialization, which have been shown to prevent the mental decline associated with aging, dancing challenges both hemispheres of your brain as well as your memory. Music has also been shown to improve mood, behavior, and quality of life in people suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Try it: Seek out a class at your local Y, gym, senior center, or dance studio. Many venues also offer free dance lessons before musical performances. If you don’t like the first class you take, keep trying until you find one that clicks.