Monthly Archives: June 2013

Just Breathe – #6 of Ten Actions To Improve Health

Sit, Be Still, Close Your Eyes and Breathe for a Few Minutes

Making the time to sit and breathe for ten minutes every day allows us to get closer to our thoughts IMG_0149and emotions and to bring perspective to our lives.   Done daily, focusing on breathing while in a comfortable and upright posture, allows us to bring clarity and energy into the rest of our daily life.  As Pema Chodron says in Comfortable With Uncertainty, sitting quietly is a “vehicle for learning to be a truly loving person” both to ourselves and to the world around us.  It brings awareness in a nonjudgemental way to other aspects of our lives so that we are less apt to react to a stressful situation and instead act with more calmness and certainty.

Notice I don’t call this meditation.  This word can be misconstrued by those who are new to the concept of sitting still and breathing.  For some, the idea of not doing anything for minutes at a time can be overwhelming .   Some feel that if their mind is not empty of all thoughts then they are not going to reap the benefit.  For others the concept of sitting and being still seems like a magical gift that only a few can be blessed with.  Speaking as a neophyte and one who has read quite a few books and articles on meditation and has lead some guided meditations, I view this activity in a more simple way.  What I notice is when I sit in an alert posture, focus on my breath, let thoughts come and go without holding on too tightly, I feel more relaxed the rest of the day.  I become more aware of what makes me upset and what makes me happy.  I’m able to anticipate situations better and bring more control into my life.

How To Begin

Plan a time each day to be still even if it’s only for a few minutes.  You can set your alarm on your phone if you are worried that you might fall asleep.  If the day gets away from you then go to bed a few minutes early and sit up in your bed with your back upright and well supported and just focus on your breath.  You can count to 4 as you breath in and breath out.  Keep counting as your mind quiets.  If your mind is filled with thoughts then the counting will help you focus on the now and just the air going in and out of your lungs.  Become aware of all parts of your body and consciously tell your shoulders, your neck, your eyes, your belly, your arms and your legs to relax.  If thoughts arise then let them come in and then flow out.  Don’t let your mind grasp any of them tightly.  Try doing this every day for 3 weeks.   See how it flows over to the rest of your life with improved relationships, improved attitude and improved coping with daily stress.

For your enjoyment I’m attaching a guided meditation that Belleruth Naparstek wrote in Staying Well With Guided ImageryRelax with this guided meditation


Get Good Sleep – #5 of Ten Actions To Improve Health

The Importance of Getting Good SleepSleep

We all have so many demands on our time we often sacrifice sleep in order to snatch a bit more time to watch the end of a game, a show or just to indulge in free time.   For some, being tired is a statement of self worth, choosing to keep a crazy pace as a emblem of self importance.   For others being tired is a sign of life out of control.  And for others being tired is a sign that the importance of a good night’s sleep is either misunderstood or difficult to attain due to a sleep disorder or poor sleep hygiene.

Sleep has a purpose.  It’s not just self indulgence.  Dr. Merrill Mitler from the NIH states, “Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood.”   In order for our body to perform at its best emotionally, cognitively and physically we need a good night’s sleep.  “The fact is, when we look at well-rested people, they’re operating at a different level than people trying to get by on 1 or 2 hours less nightly sleep,” says Mitler.

Sleep is also important for the health of our body.  “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies,” says Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at NIH. “It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.”  Inadequate sleep has been linked to obesity, heart disease and infection.

A good night’s sleep involves 4-5 cycles of sleep going between deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  These cycles are critical to get the optimal performance from our body.  And the recommended hours of sleep varies with age.  “On average, adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.  Babies typically sleep about 16 hours a day. Young children need at least 10 hours of sleep, while teenagers need at least 9 hours,” says Twery.

Sleep Apnea – take the test

sleep apneaIt is natural to be be awake for a few minutes when you turn the lights out.  If you immediately fall asleep when your head hits the bed that could be a sign that you are not getting enough sleep or good quality sleep.  If you wake up tired most of the time and you are allowing yourself at least 7 hours of time to sleep, then you may have sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea happens when someone stops breathing or breathes lightly throughout the night.  This can be due to obstruction of the airway.  The body is deprived of oxygen when this happens which makes the body release stress hormones in order to waken the body and increase the oxygen level.   Over time this has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, stroke not speak of decreased alertness and strain on relationships.

Establish Good Sleep Hygiene

  1. Maintain a sleep and wake time structure.sleep hygiene
  2. Get your bedroom dark with darkening curtains.
  3. Keep pets out of your bedroom.
  4. Stop drinking caffeine after early afternoon including coffee, tea and soda with caffeine.
  5. Limit napping during the day to no more than 20 minutes if at all.
  6. Keep your bedroom just for sleep and sex – take the TV and lap top out of the bedroom.
  7. Use a fan or soft noise machine to block out external noise.
  8. Don’t eat a meal or large snack within 3 hours of bedtime.
  9. Keep a notepad with pencil by your bed to write down thoughts or ideas that keep you from falling asleep or getting back to sleep.
  10. Put your worries “on a shelf” once you go to bed.  Nothing is solved at night time.  Allow yourself to take a mental hiatus from things that you are worried about.
  11. If you are having a difficult time falling asleep, do some activities that will help calm you.  Read a book for a few minutes, do some slow deep breathing by counting to 4 as your breathe in and breathe out.

A Good night’s sleep is so underappreciated and so easily achievable when it is respected, planned for and facilitated with the right environment.  Notice how much you get done and how much happier you feel when you get your zzzz’s!




Address the Obstacles – #4 of Ten Actions To Improve Health

IMG_0143Making lasting lifestyle changes means examining and tearing down the obstacles to making healthy changes. The brain can be reprogrammed. We just have to be deliberate about it and be willing to make changes.  To increase awareness of your obstacles, track for a couple of days how much time is spent:

          • sleeping
          • working
          • being physically active
          • shopping, preparing, eating, and going to restaurants
          • doing household tasks like laundry, cleaning, house chores, and paying bills
          • doing personal grooming like showering, dressing, hair
          • relaxing with friends and family, doing a hobby
          • doing community work like volunteering, going to church
          • sitting watching TV, computer, reading, games

Are there any adjustments that can be made to give you more time to take care of your health?  Can you delegate? Can you combine chores like folding laundry while you are on the phone?  Can you cook extra rice or chicken to have for other meals during the week?  Can you keep a running shopping list so you don’t have to run out and get something you forgot?  Can you wear some of your clothes a few times before washing? (maybe not if it’s 90 degrees outside!)  Can you decrease your sedentary time, give up some TV and use your time more constructively?

Examine Your Obstacles More Closely

We know that being healthier takes planning, choosing healthier foods, eating fewer unhealthy foods and being more physically active.  If you are struggling with any of these areas, then pinpoint exactly what makes it difficult.

PlanningChoosing Healthier FoodsEating Fewer Unhealthy FoodsBeing More Physically Active
being spontaneous – think about why you like being spontaneous
Don’t know how to include healthier foods in your dietEating large portions of unhealthy foods makes you feel betterPain
Have never had experience with planningToo complicated/do not know how to prepare and cook themSatisfies cravingsDon’t like it
Believes it adds stressDo not like healthy foodsLess expensiveNever had experience with exercising
Don’t like the ideaToo expensiveLess complicatedDon’t like doing it alone
Takes the fun out of lifeUncomfortable with making changes in dietExposed to it often so it increases temptationAfraid of getting hurt or aggravating a condition

If you have answered “yes” to any of the comments under the categories, then ask yourself if this is truly accurate or an overgeneralization.  If you list that you don’t like healthy foods, then ask yourself if it is really accurate that you don’t like any veggies, fish, fruits, nuts, whole grains – who doesn’t like popcorn!  I’m sure there are some items in these categories that you do like.  If the idea of exercise totally turns you off, then think in the past, perhaps even when you were a child, how you were active.  Was it having fun while playing hide and seek, riding your bike, going skiing, or playing Marco Polo in the pool?  Would you be more committed if you had a partner or looked for group activities in your town?  Can you start doing a small amount for a few weeks and become aware of what you notice – a sense of control, a sense you are taking care of yourself, an improved outlook?  Can you wear a pedometer and gradually increase your steps even if it means walking around your house a few times in the evening?

If you have had no experience with planning what you will eat for the week then break it down for a couple of days at a time.  Start with coming up with several recipes and write them down on index cards with the ingredients on the back.  Take these when you go shopping and make a goal to add a couple each week.  Before you know it you will have 30 recipes that you like and you’ll be able to shop once a week using these cards as a guide.  If you have a hard time keeping tempting foods out of the house then keep them out of sight.  If your spouse likes ice cream at night and you know you don’t like mocha flavored and he does, then ask him to buy that instead of the tempting mint chocolate chip.  If you know you love potato chips but are not tempted by Fritos and other family members love both, then just get the Fritos.  If you have a potato chip craving then just buy a small bag at the check out instead of the 7 ounce bag in the aisle.

Eliminate Your Obstacles One At A Time

With a shift in attitude, stopping overgeneralizing, and taking small steps, no obstacle is insurmountable.  Tackling one area at a time and developing a clear strategy, leads to a gradually healthier you.  Reaching out to a health coach can help you identify your obstacles, develop strategies, and stay successful!


Exercise- #3 of Ten Actions To Improve Health

lilybayjuly08011Exercise for Your Health

As we get older we lose about 8% of our muscle mass every decade after age 40.  Our metabolism is determined by our muscle mass.  So if we continue to eat the same way every year and do not exercise then weight creeps up as metabolic needs decrease.  That quarter pounder at lunch can lead to a gradual weekly quarter pound weight gain that becomes ten pounds by the end of the year.  Couple that with a family history of diabetes and you can see why more and more people are developing prediabetes and diabetes, not to mention feeling sluggish, tired and frustrated.  We need to exercise for health.

The Diabetes Prevention Program

The Diabetes Prevention Program, a study involving 27 health centers nationwide, compared 3 different groups of people to see what intervention was the most effective for preventing type 2 diabetes in participants with blood sugars in the prediabetes range.  The first group was a lifestyle group, the second was a group that was put on the drug Metformin and the last group was given a placebo.  There was a fourth group that was put on another drug but it was stopped after it was found to cause liver damage.  The results revealed that the lifestyle intervention group was the most effective for delaying and preventing the development of diabetes.  The lifestyle intervention goal was to lose 7% body weight and exercise 150 minutes a week at moderate intensity.

Exercise Is the Best Kind of Medicine

So why is exercise the magic pill?  Moving our bodies involves large muscle groups that helps our bodies be more sensitive to our own insulin, it helps reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and raises the good cholesterol (HDL).  It maintains muscle mass preventing the slowing down of metabolism after age 40.  If strengthening exercises are done then this can increase muscle mass and raise metabolism even more, helping with weight loss.  Regular exercise improves sleep, mood, and energy level.  So why isn’t everyone doing it??

What Do You Do If You Hate to Exercise?

You do not have to start out like gangbusters.  I recommend my clients buy a pedometer – a good one that you can wear in your pocket and will be accurate will cost you about $30.  The Fit Bit is a good one that can also count your stair steps as well as walking steps.  It is recommended that people walk about 10,000 steps a day.  A sedentary person only walks between 1000-3000 steps daily.  Wearing a pedometer can be a motivator.  I had one client who near the end of the day was behind in her steps and ended up walking around her house several laps to meet her daily goal.  Another trick I tell my clients is to mute through the commercials (which also helps avoid the munchies ads) and do sit down leg marching through all the commercials.   This adds a little aerobic as well as some core strength as you lift your legs.  I also recommend that whenever you are on the phone to walk around.  The other key is to know yourself.   Would you do better in a class that is fun and structured or would you do better working with a trainer to make you accountable?  Know what the obstacles are and tackle those first.  Is weather an issue that could keep you from going out or making a class?  Then try a walking DVD by Leslie Sansone or personal equipment like a stationary bike, elliptical or Cybex.  Is time a problem? Set the alarm earlier to get exercise in first thing in the morning before you have time to talk yourself out of it.   Or consider exercising over your lunch break or in the evening after dinner.

Other Tricks

The hardest part about exercise is just forming the habit.  The more often you do it the more likely the habit will stick.  Exercising for 15 minutes every day will make it a habit sooner than exercising just 1-2 times a week.  The more you associate your exercise with other habits the more likely it will stick.    Free up time in the morning to give yourself more time to exercise by doing some of your chores the night before like making your lunch, laying out your clothes and feeding the pets.  The more you plan for your exercise and work other life demands around it, the more you will stay with it.

Start Gradually, Notice Improvement, and Encourage Yourself

I have many clients who tell me that exercise hurts their knees or back.  Keep in mind that it is our muscles that give our joints and spine support.  If you have been sedentary you may have lost this support which might initially cause some pain with movement.  I have witnessed many times how my clients who have stuck with the exercise regimen gain strength and support and their pain goes away.  The key is to start gradually and divide it up into 10 minute segments if this is all your body can tolerate.  Tell yourself that after a few weeks you will notice positive changes.  After a few weeks be aware of the positive changes you notice.  Take the time to notice and talk to yourself kindly and positively!

Other Safety Tips

Wear supportive shoes – your feet are your shock absorbers.  Treat yourself to some new sneakers and keep them just for exercise.   Replace them every 6 months when you develop a regular routine.  Hydrate ahead of time if you plan in being out in the heat.   And remember to stretch after you exercise.

Know Your Body, Know Your Workout

The ideal exercise routine should include some aerobic exercise, some stregthening exercise and some stretching.  Obviously if someone hates to exercise then the ideal might be to just start walking on a regular basis.  To expect more might mean complete derailment.  Often times after a few months of doing a routine and noticing the positive changes in how clothes fit, energy level and compliments from friends and coworkers, then willingness to try other kinds of exercise improves.  Success builds success.