Tuesday, September 29, 2009

DDDD Dangerous Deficiency

A few months ago after going in for a checkup, my alternative-based doctor added another vitamin to the list I'm already taking. On top of the Vitamin C, B vitamin complex, and calcium, she recommended I take a daily Vitamin D capsule. She warned me that although I spend much of my time in the sun, the majority of Americans aren't getting enough Vitamin D. Since I don't drink milk and only eat eggs and fish occasionally, all foods that are rich in Vitamin D, I am likely one of the Americans deficient of Vitamin D.

According to Scientific American, 3/4 of American's adults and teens are deficient in vitamin D, and CNN reports that 70% of America's kids are below recommended levels.

Vitamin D's primary role is aiding in the absorption of calcium, helping to support strong bones. Vitamin D has also been linked to protecting against osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, and certain cancers and autoimmune diseases. CNN reports that for children, low levels may increase the risk of heart disease later in life.

Since Vitamin D plays a role in bone metabolism, it is essential that growing children and athletes involved in hard-impact sports are getting enough of it. However, studies have shown that most likely, neither group is meeting adequate levels. A study done by the National Institutes of Health tested 18 gymnasts for vitamin D and found that 15 of them had levels lower than the recommended guidelines. The study went on to conclude that athletes should probably be tested for vitamin D levels.

So how can one get enough vitamin D? Well, vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, can only be made when the body is exposed to sunshine. It is said that in Northern latitutdes during the seasons of spring, summer, and fall, as little as 15 minutes of sunshine a day will provide adequate amounts. I found this to be interesting considering my doctor received tests saying I indeed do have low "D" levels. With so many Americans being deficient, are we really not spending at least 15 minutes in the sun a day? I find this to be hard believe. But anyways, there are other ways to ensure that you get enough vitamin D. Most milk is enhanced with the vitamin, and foods such as salmon, sardines, shrimp, cod, and eggs also contain a fair amount. Many experts also recommend taking a supplement. Since my tests showed I had a deficiency, my doctor has me taking 5000 IU a day, however there are many supplements that contain lower amounts such as 500-1000 IU. In general, most nutritionists say that doing a combination of getting enough sun, eating D-rich foods, and taking a supplement is best.

The National Academy of Sciences set upper intake levels for children and adults at 2000 IU daily. The National Academy of Sciences also set the adequate daily amount of Vitamin D at 200 IU for children and adults up to age 50, 400 for adults ages 51-70, and 600 for those 70 and over. However many experts recommend much higher amounts, and these amounts are subject to raise, with new adequate amounts expected to be put out in May 2010. Also, many studies have shown that higher levels are particularly important for certain groups of people. The groups consist of those living in northern areas such as the Pacific Northwest or the New England states, those who are obese, and people who often stay indoors due to professions or personal habits such as an excessive use of sunscreen. African Americans and those with naturally darker skin are also recommended to intake higher levels because these people have more melanin or pigment in their skin, making it harder to absorb vitamin D coming from the sun. The recommended amount for above groups of people is at least 1,000 IU per day.

If you fall in any of the above categories, or fear that you may be lacking vitamin D, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement. Vitamin D is important in more ways than one, and deficiencies can lead to serious damage. And as always, remember to get out there and enjoy the Fresh-Air, providing nature's natural source of vitamin D.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Satisfaction Baby

Every time Monday morning rolls around, I wake up and think to myself, “Why in the world did I agree to teach this 7 a.m. yoga class?” And then every Monday morning when 8 a.m. comes around, I once again think to myself and decide, “I love this”.

Teaching yoga is just so incredibly rewarding. I walk into class feeling a little apathetic, and walk out in a whole different light, feeling entirely happy.

And I get to see my students go through this same transformation! Walking in lukewarm and half awake, they almost always emerge feeling calm, confident, and with a huge smile on their faces.

Today on my way out I over heard two girls talking about the class. After talking about some of the positions, one girl started commenting on the shoulder stand. “When she went up into that upside down pose, I was like I’m never going to be able to do that,” said the girl in reference to me demonstrating the pose. “And then I did it!”

It is this kind of conversation that is extremely gratifying to hear. To know that you are helping people over come their fears, anxieties, troubles, etc. makes you feel great. Yoga is like a miracle “drug” and to be able to teach this to others is amazing. And while nothing is good when done out of moderation, yoga is one addiction that won’t be too harmful.

On my walk back today from the gym where I teach, I thought to myself that this is the kind of job I want to find. I want to get into a profession that is this rewarding. I want to help people. I want to make a difference. I want to see people become happy and healthy. Although I don’t think that being a doctor would be for me, I can definitely see why someone would go into that profession. While they often have to deal with hardships, they too get to see these kind of miracles everyday.

As I continually search for what I want to do with my currently underway journalism degree, these principles will be in the back of my mind. How can I make a difference, how can I help the world? While there are so many ways to do this, I want to find the angle that is right for me; one that feels as good as it feels to me when I finish teaching a yoga class.

As for now, I’m going to go do some yoga and meditate on these future exciting endeavors.

Swine Flu Update- Should You Get Vaccinated?

The swine flu is still being heavily talked about in the news. Although many health experts have confirmed that the swine flu poses no more of an imminent danger than the regular seasonal flu, the topic is still causing many Americans to breakout in a non-flu sweat. If you're wondering whether you should get vaccinated, here's what the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has to say about the issue:

Get vaccinated if...
-You are worried about becoming ill or transmitting the influenza to others- (The majority of Americans are at least a little worried about getting the flu--so definitely get vaccinated if you fall under the following categories.)
-If you are pregnant or planning on getting pregnant- get vaccinated
-Have chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular (except hypertension), renal, hepatic, hematological, or metabolic disorders
-Are caregivers of children less than 5 years old and adults aged 50 years and older

According to the NY Times, about 100 million get vaccinated for the seasonal flu shot a year. The government has ordered twice that many doses of the swine flu vaccine. If you're worried about it and want to get vaccinated, talk to your doctor about where you can get the swine flu shot. While it's good to get the vaccination as a safeguard, don't have a heart attack over the subject in the meantime.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What Not To Drink

Since my latest posts have been revolved around the the subject of drinking fluids and how much of them to drink, I thought I'd continue the theme by giving the low-down on what beverages one should absolutely refrain from consuming. Drinks can really add a punch to your pouch. Often loaded with empty calories, beverages can easily cause you to put on some extra weight without you even knowing it. While drinks may be packed with calories, people don't often associate the calories in drinks as they would with food. Consuming a 155 calorie granola bar would probably leave a person feeling satisfied or at least curb their hunger, whereas a person downing that same amount of calories by drinking a can of Coke often wouldn't feel full, especially mentally. Therefore, the calories in drinks often aren't compensated for later in the day and end up being purely extra calories added into the diet.

While countless drinks are unhealthy, containing loads of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and food-colorings, there are a few that particularly stand out as being atrocious in terms of one's diet. Try to avoid consuming the following drinks, as they are loaded with calories and aren't beneficial at all to one's health.

-Venti Double Chocolate Chip Blended Creme Frappuccinno: This drink has more calories and fat than in a typical meal, containing 670 calories and 22 grams of fat. That's as much fat and more calories as two McDonald's cheeseburgers. In fact, I would tend to stay away from Starbucks in general, considering more than a handfull of drinks on the menu contain as much calories and fat as most meals on fast food menu. For instance, the hot chocolate with whip creme has a whopping total of 24 grams of fat. Is this something you really want to be guzzling down? Wake up with something a little more healthful, such as a homemade green smoothie. If you really feel the need to hit Starbucks on your way to work, opt for a cappuccino with soy or nonfat milk (about 80 calories), or simply stick to a plain cup of joe.

-Margarita- Going out for a night on the town? Well, skip this drink. With their often exotic sounding flavors and bright, neon colors, Margaritas can often sound like the drink of choice. However, they'll cost you about 400 calories, a ton of sugar, and lots of processed food colorings. And while they may look appetizing, unless you're getting them fresh such as in the Caribbean islands, they usually taste like syrupy, processed crap. Stick to something lighter such as a Mint Mojito (180 calories), a simple combination of rum or vodka, a little sugar, fresh squeezed lime and fresh mint. This drink refreshing drink is sure to leave you satisfied and walking out of the bar a little lighter than that loudmouth sipping on a candy apple margarita.

-"Juice Drinks"- Juice can be deceiving. I often find myself quickly grabbing something such as a bottle of cranberry juice at the gas station, only to find out once I get to my car that what I grabbed is not really juice at all. In fine print, labels often read "10%" juice...then list off a bunch of artificial flavorings and processed ingredients. I didn't want 90% crap, I wanted juice god damn it! Juice as it is isn't as nutritious as eating the actual fruit, but it's even worse when if the "juice" you're drinking barely even contains the fruit from which its titled. When choosing juice, make sure the bottle says 100% juice, and limit yourself to one serving size. Since juice is very concentrated, it tends to be high in calories and sugar, and unlike the fruit, it contains no fiber so it often won't make you feel full like eating an actual apple would. One small juice box often contains 100 calories which is more than if you just ate the actual fruit. If you're craving something sweet, go for the real fruit and grab a glass of water to clench your thirst, rather than downing 100 calories in a few quick sips from a juicebox.

These are just a sample of the high calorie drinks that are out there. In general, use sodas, juices, and coffee "milkshakes" as treats, rather than daily consumptions. Stick to water which is actually the best at doing its job of clenching one's thirst. If you're looking for a little variation away from your everyday water, check out these natural, low-cal, refreshing beverages.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

So How Much Water Do You Really Need?

As I mentioned in my previous post, there has been a constant flow of information within the past couple of years warning Americans to drink more water. While this has certainly heighten awareness helping people to consciously add what was probably some much needed water into their diet, how much does the average person truly need to drink? Should one be taking a sip every chance they get? Probably not considering my experience. I did some research to get the scoop on how often you really need to be refilling that BPA-free Nalgene of yours.

First, a few facts on why water indeed is good for you. Water helps to purify the body and eliminate toxins. What this means for you: A healthier body and better looking skin. Drinking enough water helps eliminate waste and gives the skin a natural glow. According to the Mayo Clinic, water makes up 60% of your body weight and is vital for every system in the body. Without water, the body cannot properly function, and dehydration can lead to serious fatigue. However, as I discovered, over consumption of water can also lead to a drain on the electrolytes also leading to fatigue. So what is the proper amount?

The general rule is to drink eight 8-ounces of fluids a day. However, this amount varies depending on the person. If you are more active, you'll want to replenish yourself by drinking additional water, and if you are particularly sedentary, most likely you won't need eight 8-ounces. The ultimate goal is to drink enough water to make up for the amount of water you lose throughout the day. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average adult urinates approx. 1.5 liters (6.3 cups) a day and loses about another liter through sweating, breathing, and bowel movements. This equates to needing to consume about 8 cups of water in order to replace the excreted water, hence the golden rule of drinking eight 8-ounces of fluid per day. If you're sweating excessively, drink an extra glass to replace the loss of water. If the duration of physical activity is longer than an hour and relatively intense, you made need to also find a drink or boost yourself with some sodium to replace the sodium being lost. This can also throw your electrolytes out of balance. Overconsumption of water can make it hard for the kidneys to excrete the excess water, and can even lead to dilution of the blood resulting in a condition called hyponatremia. Distance runners and endurance athletes should be mindful of this.

Another key to notice when trying to determine how much water you should be consuming is to check the color of your pee. Yeah, that's right, analyze it in terms of contrast with the toilet bowl (haha). Generally, your urine should remain clear or slightly yellow in color. If it's bright yellow, this can mean you need to be drinking more water. Unless however you are taking a multi-vitamin which can tend to color the urination as excess nutrients are eliminated.

Just remember to stay hydrated and listen to when your body is telling you it's thirsty. If you're feeling parched, don't avoid the feelings, and go find yourself a glass of water. Don't just reach for any fluids, such as soda or coffee which contain caffeine and can actually further dehydrate the body. Also, when drinking alcohol, make sure to load up on plenty of water during and afterwards.

When it comes to working out, drink a cup of water approximately 20-30 minutes before hitting the gym. Try to stay rehydrated throughout the physical activity, or refuel on a glass afterwards.

The bottom line: Drink when you're thirsty and don't avoid your body's signals.

Everything Has Its Limits...

You know the common phrase "everything should be done in moderation"? Well it's the truth! Whether it's something potentially harmful such as alcohol or even something essential to life such as water, whether its being a couch potato or an exercise fanatic, nothing is good when overdone.

Don't wait to it's too late like me. After the past couple years, I've definitely learned my lesson.

This past summer, I had started feeling fatigued and getting other symptoms, such as frequent lightheadedness upon standing. After going to the doctor and undergoing multiple evaluations, we finally came to a collaborative conclusion that I might be drinking too much water.

At first I thought to myself: Is that really possible, too much H20? I mean, especially considering that within the past couple of years there seems to be article after article written about how Americans aren't drinking enough water. Is it possible that I'm actually one of the few who is not only getting enough water, but getting too much? Too much water, nature's wonder-drug?

After some deliberation, I came to the realization that yes, this was plausible, and quite possibly my problem. I began to think about how much water I would actually drink throughout the day. I quickly realized, it was an innumerable amount. Starting in the morning with a huge glass often accompanied by an additional cup of tea, and continuing throughout the day leading into the night, taking small sips of water as I tried to drift off to sleep. I was always drinking water.

I'm a pretty active girl, so I never really felt the need, or knew there was a need, to be conscious of my water consumption. I'd go to play tennis and after finishing, I'd find my huge Coleman jug that was once full of water, practically empty. Or I'd come inside to take a break from working in the garden and quickly down a couple glasses of water. Ahh, I couldn't get enough of the stuff. So refreshing, perfectly neutral and tasteless. That's what I liked about it, so pure and simple, different than any other substance a human would normally consume. And I figured, hey I'm always sweating, and Americans "never" get enough water, so I probably need all this H20. I didn't really think twice about my drinking habits.

Since I seemed to always be filling my time by doing something active, I also seemed to almost always be drinking water. Essentially, my drinking became an incessant habit. I was a "waterholic". Pretty soon, even when I wasn't doing something physically exerting I'd reach for a glass of water. If I was thirsty, I'd get some water. If I was tired, I'd get some water. If I was bored- water. If I was studying- water. If I was cooking- water. And on and on and on...Until it got to the point where I was sitting in the doctors office, probably just after drinking some water, and wondering what was wrong with me.

Apparently I had caused my electrolytes to become out of balance. All that water was flushing some pretty essential nutrients too quickly out of my body. Well, I always thought I had a small bladder, when in reality I was probably just drinking too many fluids. Who knew?

After leaving the doctors office, the following days I made a conscious effort to watch my drinking habits and become aware of when my body truly was thirsty. It was harder than it seems. I'd find myself unconsciously filling up a glass of water and only seconds later realizing I wasn't even thirsty. I'd stop downing gallons of water after running, working, and doing sports, and instead drank moderate amounts, yet almost always wanting more. While every other American was trying to cram more water into their systems, I was trying to fight my craving of wanting to drink more water. It was, and still is, especially hard for me to cut back on sipping water while I'm trying to fall asleep. Everytime my head hits the pillow, my mouth seems to miraculously become dry. Though, I'm pretty sure this is just because my body has been programmed for so long to drink during this time period.

After a few weeks of limiting my water consumption, I began to be able to become in tune with my body and realize when it truly wanted/needed water. My lightheadedness quickly started to fade and I also started to regain my energy. For an additional boost in balancing my electrolytes, I'd drink PediaLyte after intense physical activity. The drink originally intended for babies doesn't particularly taste good. In fact, it tastes terrible, like a mix between ocean water and pee, so it's better not to end up getting stuck in a situation where you need it.

While ultimately it down right sucked losing my energy and going through a neverending doctor examination process, this did ultimately teach me something. Actually, it taught me a lot. It's no lie that everything really is best in moderation. If you overdo anything, ANYTHING, somewhere down the road you'll probably be negatively effected. For instance, you overdo yoga- you'll either hurt yourself or it will become a chore and you won't love it anymore. You overdo exercise- you'll exhaust your body or injure yourself. You over do carrots- you'll turn your skin orange from consuming too much vitamin A. Nothing, no matter how good it is for you, should be overdone.

Always try to stay in tune with your body and really become aware with how you are feeling. Don't let your mind overcome the way your truly feeling. Whether you're stressed or feeling under the weather, listen to yourself and often follow your intuitions. Plus, good health is definitely one leading key to happiness. Cherish it.

In my next post, I will be writing about how much water Americans really should be drinking. While I had a problem with overconsuming it, H20 is definitely still essential to life. Unless you find yourself unconsciously drinking it 24/7, I wouldn't cut back. But maybe take a moment to look at something else you may be overdoing. Whether its work, exercise, not enough exercise, or food, just take the next couple weeks to bring yourself back into balance. That's the key to life: Everything in balance.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Beware...Excercise May Make You Gain Weight?

While this might sound counterintuitive, if not careful, exercise can actually make you gain weight. Don't let all those endless miles on the treadmill or those arduous heavy-weighted squats go to waste. Be mindful of the following traps that can damage almost any gym-goers physique.

  • Justifying junk: Picking up a complimentary doughnut as you pass by the break room on your way into work might not sound like a bad breakfast idea after having just completed sweaty morning workout. Hungry and readily available, it's easy for one to grab and quickly devour the sugar-&-fat loaded doughnut. However, this doughnut would cost you roughly 200-250 calories depending on the brand, and up to 15 grams of fat! According to Self magazine's fitness calculator, a 140 pound person who runs at a moderate pace (9mph) for 30 minutes will burn approximately 366 calories. Meaning, if you choose to indulge in that doughnut, over half the calories you burned from the treadmill will be instantly canceled out. And it's not just being ravenous after a workout that may cause you to needlessly indulge. Many people justify spoiling themselves with junk food or late night snacks as long as they stick to a regular workout schedule. While it's okay to treat yourself once in awhile, daily indulging on junk will completely destroy your gym efforts in terms of sculpting a toned body. While the boundless aisles of chips may seem admissable when you're consistently working out (especially when going grocery shopping on an empty stomach), its best to skip them all together and wait until a special occassion, such as dining-out for lunch, to satisfy your junk food cravings. This way, the chips/pretzels/etc. will be already portioned out for you, eliminating the temptation of overindulging.

  • Evil & Expendable Energy Bars/Drinks: Unless you are training for a triathalon, most likely you don't need to be consuming energy drinks or bars. Sports drinks tend to be high in sugar (or controversially cancer-causing artificial sugar) as well as other processed/artificial ingredients. It would be better to get electrolytes and a few pick-me-up calories from something wholesome, like a banana. Even worse are energy bars, which are often loaded with both processed ingredients and a ton of calories. Other than the added vitamins that they are enhanced with, energy bars are essentially the equivalent of a candy bar. In fact, some candy bars such as the ones that contain peanuts actually provide equally as much protein as many energy bars. Not to mention, energy bars often taste like chalk, allowing candy bars to by far outshine them in taste. Also, if you don't read the nutrition label you can often end up consuming a whole meals' worth of calories, just by eating one bar! Popular brands of energy bars such as PowerBar and Cliff typically contain between 270-300 calories per bar. While this isn't quite a meal's worth of calories, just eating one bar probably won't leave you satisfied. Most likely you'll reach for something else, adding even more calories to the stack. The Mayo Clinic says that most high impact aerobics only burn approx. 255 calories per 30 minutes...less than what's in the typical energy bar. So stick to guzzling pure H20 instead of those sugary, food-colored drinks. Refuel by eating my favorite, a banana topped with peanut butter, giving you a kick of protein, some natural electrolytes such as potassium, and a superior taste to that of any processed protein bar.
  • Hungry as a Hippo: Many people hit the gym without having eaten anything, such as times immediately prior to meals. For many people, the prime times to head to the gym are either in the morning right before breakfast, or in the evening right after a long day of work/class. Often having not eaten anything for hours, people find themselves leaving the gym starving, or their stomach growling an hour or so later. This might not only leave you feeling justified in swinging by Burger King on your way home, but you may find yourself downing not only those greasy chicken nuggets, but a large french fry as well. And even if you have good self-control and consider yourself a non-fastfood junkie, you're more likely to overeat at your next meal, or reach for an unhealthy snack in between then. There's no doubt that exercise stimulates the appetite. It also burns calories, requiring food to refuel the body. However, just how many calories exercise actually burns is often overlooked. Many people assume that after a hard workout, they've burned enough calories that they can eat just about anything. This is not true. While you should consume foods containing both protein and carbs as well some healthy fats post working out, you don't necessarily need to up your intake. Drastically increasing your portion sizing will leave you looking like you never even go to the gym at all. If you're looking to maintain a steady number on the scale or to lose a few pounds, keep your portion sizes consistent, whether you've worked out that day or not. A typical hour workout will burn anywhere from 150-550 calories, depending on the intensity. In terms of food, this is not that much considering eating something healthy and low-cal like a bowl of oatmeal and an apple adds up to 200 calories in itself. For the normal gym-goer, meals don't need to be supersized and if your appetite feels like it is. To help avoid a huge spike in appetite after working out, reach for a snack an hour or two before hitting the gym. AOL Health recommends choosing a food that contains both protein and complex carbs. Try whole wheat crackers spread with a tablespoon of almond butter.
While if not mindful, exercise may lead to weight gain. However, there's no doubt that exercise is extremely beneficial and one of the key ways to actually lose weight. Just be aware that exercising can set traps that can actually cause the numbers on the scale to go up. Stick with a healthy diet, while letting yourself occasionally indulge in a treat. Don't use going to the gym as an excuse to eat a huge bowl of ice cream. Instead of connecting treats as being a reward, make them be an arbitrary moment of indulgence just because life is good. Allow yourself to take time to savor the taste and be in pure contentment. I also wouldn't let energy bars or drinks be your treat, for the simple fact that they just don't taste good. And don't think that they are actually a health food, because quite frankly they're not. Lastly, stick to moderate portion sizes and use healthy pick-me-up snacks to curb your appetite. Before downing a whole meal, eat something small and allow time to digest. Notice how you may feel a little less ravenous, and always stay in tune with your body allowing it be the guide in telling you if you really are hungry.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How to Get Down Those Veggies You Don't Like

This was an interesting clip....Take a listen.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Life is Like a Box of Chocolate

If there's one food that I can say I truly love other than peanut butter, it's got to be chocolate. The combination of my two favorite foods isn't bad either. Lucky for me, recent studies have shown that chocolate may actually be healthy, as long as it's eaten in small amounts. However, this still proves to be a contentious issue among health experts. Many defy claims about the health benefits of chocolate, and say that even if true, chocolate's unhealthy properties outweigh any positive benefits. I did some research to find out the real deal about chocolate: Healthy or not?

-Chocolate-eaters have increased survival rate after heart-attacks: A study done in Sweden followed 1,619 first-time heart attack patients for 8 years succeeding their first heart attack. Scientists tracked the patients' chocolate consumption and concluded that those who ate more chocolate were more likely to survive. However, while the study did account for such factors as age, obesity, sex, physical activity, and education, it didn't account for factors such as mental health.
*Chocolate contains flavanols, antioxidants of which are supposed to have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. The flavanoids are supposed to help increase the elasticity of blood vessels as well as help prevent blood clots. This information helps to prove the study may have some actual signifigance.
*Similarly, other studies have shown that chocolate decreases blood pressure.

-You gotta go dark- While chocolate does contain heart-healthy antioxidants, similar to those in various fruits and vegetables, tea, and red wine, not all chocolate is created equally. According to the Mayo Clinic, the darker the chocolate, the more substantial the amounts of flavanoids. While those sweet milk and white chocolates may seem good to your taste buds, they're pretty much worthless in terms of boosting chocolate's healthy reputation. Fortunately, I prefer dark chocolate over other varieties anyways. If you're not a fan of dark chocolate though, I at one time could relate. At first, I only really liked milk chocolate. However, my entire family preferred dark chocolate, so that would essentially be the only treat lying around our house. After continuously sampling the dark, it eventually grew on me to the point that I don't even really like the taste of milk chocolate that much anymore (that is, unless it's paired with my fav. PB, such as in Reese's...mm). If you like dark chocolate in the least bit, making the switch won't be that difficult.

-Beware, even dark has its problems: While dark chocolate does have a significantly higher amount of flavanoids, you still can't just choose any dark chocolate. Processing methods can often notably decrease the flavanoid content in chocolate bars. To ensure that you are actually reaping the health benefits of eating dark chocolate, choose bars that have few added ingredients and limit damaging processing procedures. Try CocoaVia products, which use a method of processing that helps to limit the damaging of flavanoids. Also, choose bars that contain at least 70% cocoa. I especially enjoy Lindt chocolate, which offers a wide variety of dark options. Scharffen Berger chocolate is also a tasty option.

-Skip the milk- While you may absolutely have to have that glass of milk when munching on cookies, skip it when it comes to eating chocolate. A protein in milk binds to the flavanoids in chocolate, making them less easily absorbable. Having a dark chocolate cookie (although this may not apply anyways because of the processing, but just in case)? Pour yourself a nice glass of soy milk, and feel free to go for the dunk.

-Don't forget to limit yourself!- While all these tips and potential health benefits do sound absolutely wonderful to any chocoholic, chocolate should still be eaten in moderation. Although dark chocolate contains the same antioxidants as various fruits and vegetables, it is significantly higher in fat and calories! You're common sense and conscious should tell you that a chocolate bar a day will not keep the doctor away. The typical chocolate bar is almost 50% fat, with a signficant amount of it being saturated. You only need a small amount of dark chocolate to benefit. Instead of gourging yourself on a daily basis, save it for special occasions, or use it to replace other artificial/processed/unhealthy sweets.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

More on Why You Should Take The Stairs

Avoid elevators and save time, health

Students should opt to take the stairs, not get a lift.

It’s a familiar story.

You walk in Anderson Hall and file into the long line of people waiting for the elevator to arrive from the 12th floor. After collecting students and faculty from every level on its descent, the elevator finally reaches the first floor, where it quickly fills up, leaving no room for you.

“Come on,” says the little voice in the back of your head. “Why didn’t you just take the stairs in the first place?”

It’s time you start listening to that little voice.

By taking the stairs, students can simultaneously save time, the earth and their bodies. Additionally, those who climb the university’s many sets of steps aren’t taking up valuable space necessary for riders who are wheelchair-users or otherwise physically unable to take the stairs.

Unless it’s physically necessary, the elevator serves as a crutch to many who are simply lazy or ignorant of how they are weakening not only themselves but their environment as well.

As Americans’ lifestyles become increasingly more sedentary, every bit of exercise is important. As college students, we spend a lot less time being active and a lot more time sitting in the classroom.

Taking the stairs in between classes, though, makes it possible to incorporate regular physical activity into a jam-packed college schedule.

According to health24.com, a 154-pound person can burn 10 calories per minute taking the stairs. That may not sound like a lot, but walking up the stairs for a total of 10 minutes a day adds up to 700 calories per week – amounting to 2,800 calories per month.

“Taking the stairs instead of the elevator should not be considered your cardio for the day, but you will be burning more calories,” said Tricia DePoe, fitness coordinator for Campus Recreation, “and anything extra helps.”

“Think of the saying, ‘if you don’t use, it you lose it,’” DePoe added. “That can apply here.”

Climbing stairs helps to tone the leg muscles, particularly the quadriceps and buttocks, and helps serve the same purpose as those arduous lunges you may do at the gym.

A study conducted by the European Heart Journal showed an average increase of 8.6 percent lung capacity among 69 hospital employees, after they took the stairs for 12 weeks. Participants also showed a 1.7 percent decrease, along with decreases in waist circumference, diastolic blood pressure and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).

Standing in an elevator won’t burn you many calories, but it can burn valuable time and different kind of fuel.

Elevators also require energy, raising the electrical bill and taking a toll on the environment. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that elevators in air-conditioned office buildings account for 5 percent of building electricity use in North America.

Taking the stairs boosts the health of the environment and your own body, so unless you’re physically unable to take the stairs, there’s no excuse to wait in those lines. Instead, save yourself some time, burn some calories and head for the stairs.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

How to Wake Up Without Needing “Joe” By Your Side

Are you one of the many who finds yourself dependent on coffee in order to wake yourself up in the morning, especially if you plan on sporting a smile on your face? Does your whole day seem off if your coffee machine isn’t started first thing or if you don’t swing by Starbucks on the way to work to get your daily dose of caffeine? Well, you’re not alone. According to the National Coffee Association of the U.S.A., 54% of Americans drink coffee beverages daily, meaning approximately 400 million cups of coffee are consumed everyday in the U.S.

However, just because coffee is significantly popular doesn’t mean daily consumption of it is healthy, and it certainly isn’t very beneficial when it comes to keeping money in your pockets during these bleak economic times. Although coffee may provide some benefits if drank in moderation, it poses negative risks to your health when excessively consumed. Caffeine, one of coffee’s most loved properties, can contribute to anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and an interference with one’s natural sleep schedule. “The effects of caffeine can sometimes backfire, for instance if you are trying to study or really concentrate on something,” says Nicole Patience M.S., R.D., C.D.E, registered dietician at Temple University.
Because of the caffeine it contains, coffee also dehydrates the body, in the long run taking away from its rejuvenating effects. Since coffee masks the feelings of fatigue, it will often induce the body to crash later on in the day, causing an unnatural cycle of continuous crashing and artificially refueling using caffeine.
Also, due to its caffeine, coffee is addicting (which is most likely why you find yourself drinking it every morning). When consistently consumed, a withdrawal from the substance may cause symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, depression, nausea, and lack of concentration. Coffee is similar to a drug in that it causes many people to become heavily dependent on it. No one wants to have to be dependent on something else to keep a sense of sanity. So why not keep your independence and save a few bucks by waking up in a more natural way? Utilizing a combination of the following five easy options will help you to wake up feeling refreshed, energized, and happy—the natural way.

As you wake up with the sun, mimic it by stretching your body as it stretches its rays towards the sky. Recycle the time you would spend making or driving to get coffee, and instead use it to start your morning off productively by engaging in ten minutes of gentle stretching alongside the sunrise (or sun’s rays if its already finished waking up). Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles and naturally awakens the body. It also helps to relieve tension in the body and fight off any stress that you may build throughout your day. “Stretching relieves chronic tension that actually wastes energy, coming from holding the muscles in tight,” said Mick Grady, a yoga teacher and therapist at the Himalayan Institute. “By relaxing the muscles [through stretching], you regain that energy rather than just wasting it to tension.” Try engaging in a few rounds of sun salutations, a sequence containing a combination of forward and backward bends consisting of about 12 poses. “Sun salutations have a lot of variation and are a great way to start moving and invigorating the body,” said Grady. Notice how with each stretch your body slowly starts to awaken and becomes revitalized after a long night’s rest.

Put on some Michael Jackson or any of your other favorite upbeat tunes and start your body’s endorphins by shaking that body of yours. Dancing will not only wake you up by increasing the circulation in your body, but it will more than likely put a smile on your face as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, just 10 to 15 minutes of aerobic activity, such as dancing, can boost your mood. No longer will you need that cup of coffee to happily awaken you.

Breakfast: Yes, this is the time where it’s absolutely vital to chow down on some food. Breakfast stimulates your metabolism, replenishes your blood sugar, and refuels your body to give you the energy necessary to start your day. “Breaking breakfast down into ‘break’-‘fast’, breakfast means you are breaking your fast from overnight,” says Patience. “Your body uses energy while sleeping and breakfast replaces this energy. By starting to eat meals early in the day, the body can start to burn energy instead of having to conserve energy to refuel later in the day.” However, it is important to eat a nutritious breakfast that contains limited amounts of refined sugar products, which spike your blood sugar and can send you crashing later in the day. Stick with nutrient loaded fruits, which contain just enough natural sugar to perk you up without hindering energy levels later on. Choose whole grains, which are rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates that will leave you full and keep you energized throughout the morning. Instead of taking the time to make a cup of coffee, energize yourself nutritiously by putting some oatmeal on the stove. Add in antioxidant-rich blueberries towards the end of cooking and top your oatmeal with a few chopped walnuts to give yourself a boost of protein. Drizzle a hint of maple syrup on top, and enjoy a healthy, naturally sweet treat that will make it almost impossible for you to miss your morning brew.
If you absolutely can’t ditch your morning caffeine, try sipping on a cup of tea, which typically contains much less caffeine than coffee. An eight-ounce serving of coffee has approximately 95 milligrams of caffeine, where as an eight-ounce serving of black tea (one of the highest caffeinated forms of tea) contains 47 milligrams, slightly less than half the amount in coffee. The subtle amount of caffeine in one cup of tea will help to awaken you without putting you as much at risk of addiction or of the negative side effects from overconsumption. “Small amounts of caffeine can be beneficial and help us be more alert during the day,” says Patience. Tea additionally provides many natural health benefits. Tea contains flavonoids and polyphenols that work as antioxidants and that help to lower the risk of certain diseases. According to WebMD, one study shows that tea has 10 times the amount of antioxidants than fruits and vegetables. Other studies have shown that green tea, which happens to contain between ½ to 1/3 of the amount of caffeine of black tea, reduces heart disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, a study in Japan showed that participants that drank green tea daily proved to have less memory difficulty than those who did not drink tea. So if you need something warm to replace your coffee, grab a cup of tea and simultaneously boost your antioxidant level, and maybe even your memory, while drinking.

There’s no natural way around it: your body needs sleep. In order to feel energized in the morning, getting enough of it is crucial. Without a good seven to nine hours of sleep (depending on your individual needs), you are never going to be able to feel your best, even with that cup of coffee. Sleep regenerates you and repairs any damaged cells from the day before. It is vital in order to maintain a peak level of alertness and concentration. Sleep also helps to monitor the many chemicals in your brain, such as serotonin of which high amounts are linked to depression. Therefore, sleep helps to keep you happy, the natural way, without the need of a caffeine boost. Try going to sleep an extra hour earlier and also try to stick with a consistent sleep schedule so that you will have no trouble falling asleep once you hit the pillow. The extra time spent sleeping will be worth it when you wake up feeling happy and fully refreshed, feeling no need to feed a persistent addiction. You will be able to increase your productivity as you start your morning fully concentrated and remain more awake throughout the day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fall Foodie Fun (another FFF)

Can you believe summer's over already? This coming Tuesday marks the first day of Fall! That means the coming of the end for peaches, tomatoes, green beans, and all those other summer good-eats. But don't get too disheartened because autumn gives way to a whole new batch of fresh fruits and veggies.

Start looking for these star items in your local farmer's market (or garden) the next time you're out:

- Fall greens (these include swiss chard, collards, and kale of which continue to thrive all the way into the early days of winter) - Best eaten simply steamed or sauteed with a little bit of olive oil, S&P, and garlic

-Butternut Squash- Mmm, these are sure to keep your tummy full and warm you up when those cool, breezy days start rolling your way- Best when baked in the oven with olive oil, S&P, and a sprinkle of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey if desired.

-Pears- These sweet treats are great for eating as is and make handy snacks. Try munching on some Asian pears which are currently at their prime. This variety of pear has a firm texture, but is as sweet and juicy as a watermelon.

-Apples- Nothing tastes better than an apple freshly picked off the tree. When apples are sold locally, it generally means they'll be riper = a sweeter, fresher taste. When the apples aren't being shipped halfway across the continent, growers are able to pick the appples closer to their peak ripeness, which means a better tasting apple for you.

-Sweet potatoes- This bright orange, vitamin A-filled vegetable is nature's candy. Naturally sweet and delicious, all these babies need is to be baked in the oven until soft and then seasoned with a little S&P. Add a dab of butter if you desire a little extra richness. Sweet potatoes also have quite the reputation. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has ranked sweet potatoes as #1 in nutrition among all vegetables. Dig in.

-Leeks- As a member of the onion family, leeks generally resemble onions, containing layered bulbs that are attached to long, leafy stalks. The taste can also be compared to that of onions, however leeks are much milder. They are great to use in soups, as well as in sautees. Use the light green stalks as well as the outer layers of the bulb, and simply sautee with a little olive oil and S&P.

So get out there and start sampling fall's wide array of fruits and vegetables. As winter rolls in, your chances to eat locally will quickly diminish, so don't be afraid to gourge yourself on produce in these next coming months. Eating locally is better for for both your body and the environment, so it's important to do so whenever possible. Harvard's Center for Health and the Global Environment states, "Food that is grown and harvested locally is usually given more time to ripen, increasing its nutrient value" (as well as its taste!). It also cuts down on the tons of greenhouse gas emissions generated by carting foods long distances.

Go to your farmer's market (or even better, your local garden) and get some produce. It's relatively simple to cook up. As a general rule of thumb, vegetables taste great either steamed until tender, or sauteed with some garlic. Either cooking method can be seasoned with some olive oil and S&P (as well as citrus or sweetness depending on the veggie). For fruits, savor them just as they are or try baking them and turning them into a dessert.

Happy Fall!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I walked into the dark, windowless room, flipped the lights, and examined the space-aged looking tanning bed that lay ahead of me. I took off my shoes and then struggled with how many articles of clothing I was supposed to take off. Noticing the already counting down timer, I quickly peeled off my shirt, shorts, and socks and determined I’d leave the rest of what I had on (how often are my other parts exposed anyways…I was pretty sure this was not one of those times I wanted to expose them). I climbed in and lied down on the uncushioned bed, fiddled with the strapless goggle contraption they gave me, and then trapped myself in, closing the top of the bed. My first time getting a “fake” tan. It felt more like being in a coffin than a tanning bed.

I took a few deep breaths, trying to rid my mind of the thoughts a claustrophobic might have. As I was trying to relax, the nagging voice of my mom began to creep into my head. “Fake tanning gives you cancer. You really don’t want to do that Grace.” I tried to shake the tenacious voice from head. “Just relax,” I tried to tell myself. Her nagging always seems to pop into my head at the wrong times. A few minutes later the low-pitched, scolding voice of my conscious popped in my head, quietly repeating, “Cancer, cancer, cancer.” The voice gradually got louder as repentant images of future worst-case scenarios started to swirl around, taking control of my mind. I told my conscious to shut up and then tried to turn over onto my side, only to realize I couldn’t move because I was stuck in this confining bed.

I had always been against fake tanning. I always thought, and still do think, that most of the girls who go to tanning salons look worse than if they didn’t go. Their tans always look like a brash, overly dark shade for the season that they’re in, or some other strange tone of orangish brown. They look fake, which I guess makes sense.

I didn’t want to be one of those superficial college kids, and I especially didn’t want to get addicted like I’d seen many of my friends get. Tanning is like a weekly quick fix for a lot of people. But here I was making myself vulnerable to this addiction, laying in a tanning bed getting one of those disgustingly fake tans. I have always been tanner than most people, but then suddenly everyone around me became all-year-around tan making me for the first time feel somewhat pale. They had all been going to those tanning salons my mom strongly dissuaded me from. As it became a nationwide activity that in my head almost every girl (and some boys too) took part in, I started to gradually become less bitter about tanning salons, and eventually secretly wanted to try the trend out myself. One day I eventually caved in and decided to jump on the bandwagon. I tried to justify my decision with the fact that my gym offered free tanning. So after my workout, I timidly went up to the front desk at my gym and asked for 15 minutes in the tanning bed. What a mistake.

Thoughts of skin damage and cancer popping into my head left and right making me feel like my first instinct was true and maybe this really was a coffin. The World Health Organization just released a study that showed that using tanning beds before age 30 increases risk of skin cancer by 75%....Yikes! It looks like my thoughts weren’t that off track.

For one thing, I definitely wasn’t enjoying myself. People always told me how relaxing it was to go tanning after hitting the gym. I certainly wasn’t relaxed and would’ve rather been out in the light, open air where I could stretch out and cool myself down, not in some dark, tight, life-threatening space.

Before my allotted time was up, I decided I was getting out of the “coffin”. I wasn’t ready to consciously bring on my own death. After doing some later research, I found that melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women ages 25-29. I do not regret my decision to hop out of the tanning bed early.

After standing up, I looked in the mirror and noticed I had tan lines already. No wonder people get addicted to fake tanning. However, most addictions are harmful to the body, and this was one that definitely wasn’t worth it. For me since I couldn’t relax, it wasn’t even appealing, comfortable, or fun in any way.

I guess now I know for next time to stick to the post-workout stretching rather than running upstairs to the death beds.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

September = Yoga

This month is National Yoga month! While yes, there are probably multiple labels for almost every month, use this to bring awareness to your own practice. Get motivated and make the time to actually fit some yoga into your schedule. For everyone who does yoga, we all know that the plot of time set aside to do yoga won't be regretted. Yoga makes the body and mind feel alive, peaceful, and just down right good.

As the school year gears up and our lives become busier, yoga is a great tool of which can be employed to reduce our levels of stress. I've already started feeling a little overwhelmed with my workload, but have made it my goal for the year to remain stress-free. In doing this, I've been making sure to take a lot of deep breathes, find time to do hatha yoga, and reflect upon why I'm really feeling stressed.

Remember to use the yogic principle of just "being", remaining in the present moment. Don't stress yourself out about the future or the past. If you just "be", then when you ask yourself why you're feeling stressed, you'll often realize that there's no reason for these feelings. The feelings of being stressed are only going to further burden you, not help you actually get the job done. Alleviate your mind and just do what needs to be done in the present moment.

Also, for all those students stuck in class all day, you may begin to see your days becoming much more sedentary. Focus on using the month of September to integrate yoga into your daily routine and keep your life active.

Be mindful, aware, and always remember to let yourself feel that inner peace within you. Namaste.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Yoga + Running = Great combo.

I wanted to share with all of you just how phenomenal it feels to go running and then do some post-running yoga.

After getting your heart rate up and your blood circulating from the running, it feels great to wind down with a little stretching. Your muscles become loosened up during running, making it feel extra good to do yoga afterwards. It also helps to prevent your muscles (particularly your hamstrings and leg muscles) from tightening up later on.

After your next run, take a few moments to lay on your back and take some slow, deep breaths. Replenish your body of oxygen while you revel in that runner's high.

Follow up with a few stretches. Begin by doing a forward bend (either standing or sitting) to stretch out those hamstrings. Notice if you feel tight from the running or if the running has actually loosened you up a bit. This will depend on how long of a run you took and how often you typically run. Afterwards, do the bridge pose which will stretch and strengthen your back. The bridge pose will also warm you up for the following pose you can try: the shoulder stand. Doing the shoulder stand will help give those hardworking legs a break, as well as send venous blood back to the heart. Follow up with the fish pose which is an automatic counterpose to the shoulder stand.

Next, try doing some bicycle abdominal reps to tone the abs, and then follow with a laying spinal twist. I also really enjoy doing the triangle pose after running, as I find this pose to feel really nice when I'm loosened up. Continue with any stretches you may feel that you need, and notice how your body begins to cool down.

I now not only love finishing a run because of the great runner's high, but I actually look forward to continuing my work-out. Post-running yoga has to be one of my favorite times to do yoga! Enjoy.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Naked Bike Ride

Here's an interesting idea...Ever wanted to ride your bike around town, naked? I imagine it could be like skinny dipping- freeflowing and fresh-feeling- only on a bike. Well, if you're from the Philadelphia area, here's your chance to try it out.

On September 6, 2009 a naked bike ride is being held to raise awareness of fuel dependency and to advocate the beauty of bicycle riding and its riders. The event also is aimed towards building community fellowship and a positive self awareness.

The exact route of the ride won't be given until arrival at the meeting place, which I surmise might be due to legal issues. If you choose to sign up you will receive the meeting place. The ride takes off in the early evening and is supposed to last around 90 minutes.

For more information, or to sign up, check out http://phillynakedbikeride.org/.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Opening of the U.S. Open

The U.S. Open has begun once again. It is the 41st year of the U.S. held tennis tournament, one of the largest tennis tournaments in the world. Serena Williams is back to defend her title as well as Roger Federer who hopes to win his 6th U.S. Open, to achieve the record number of wins. Check out these two NY Times articles and get yourself pumped for the final matches. Also, use this as motivation to dust off your racquets and hit the courts... only a few final weeks of summer-lovin' weather, so take advantage!

Overcoming Knee Woes, Nadal and Venus Advance

Toss the Ball. Hit the Ball. Oops! Oops!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Skip The Elevator

After recently moving into my dorm room, located on the fifth floor, I quickly realized I'd either be: A) Spending a lot of time waiting for the elevator or B) Getting my butt into shape by walking up those 5 lengthy flights of stairs.

Considering I'm an impatient person and like to keep fit, I assume I'll often opt for the latter option (which I've been doing quite frequently). While I can't say I love climbing stairs, I've discovered that the activity itself will be doing my body wonders.

After doing some research, I found that climbing stairs burns 7 calories a minute, where as standing in an elevator only burns one calorie a minute as well as burns up a lot of time. If I were to take the stairs for just 10 minutes 7 times a week, which is quite likely considering the number of times I stop in and out of my room, I'd be burning 490 calories a week. That means I'd be burning almost 2,000 calories a month, just by taking the stairs!

If you're looking for an easy activity to add some exercise into your everyday life, skip the elevator and hit the stairs. If you do not often take the stairs, I guarantee that after awhile you will notice yourself beginning to slim down. And almost immediately, you will probably notice your leg muscles beginning to tone. In particular, climbing stairs tones the quadriceps and buttocks muscles. You can consider this activity similar to those arduous lunges you do at the gym. So think of it this way, you can bring the gym to almost any building you go to. One step at a time you'll be slimming down and boosting your health. Give it a try and see what you notice.