We have all heard of the ‘stress’ hormone, cortisol. It is necessary for certain functions in the body. But, when too much is produced, the cortisol must be rerouted to other places in the body. When this happens, the effects can be harmful. The United States has been seeing significant increases in obesity, diabetes Type 2, and heart disease. Could cortisol be the link? And are we fighting a losing battle?
The Recent Trends
Americans are busier than ever. Our schedules are not only full with appointments and events, but Americans are working more. The productivity of the American worker has increased 400% since 1950, according to the U.S, Bureau of Labor. And here in the U.S., over 85% of males work more than 40 hours per week and over 65% of females do. Also, Americans are working more, on average, than most other countries.
One of the reasons productivity has been able to increase in certain areas, is technology and its advancement. While the technology has been introduced to make our lives easier, there is usually a substantial amount of time that is spent learning the technology. Even our car manuals are larger today because of all the technology included. This technology has also aided in Americans bringing work home, with email, smart phones, and laptops. So while technology is helping in some facets, our time with technology and the devices has increased.
What Can Help?
Our schedules more than likely will remain busy and the stress will continue. But there are some things that can be done so cortisol can be at safer levels. The first suggestion is to relax. But how do you relax if you’re stressed? It’s difficult, so here are some suggestions. Deep breathing showed a 50% decrease of cortisol in a study for women. It’s easy to say ‘relax’ but what does that mean to that stressed individual? The deep breathing helps in that it makes relaxing a physical activity, rather than a concept of the mind. Another help is listening to music. The study of male and female college students showed 30 minutes of listening to music relaxes more than 30 minutes of silence.
And in the age of stressful schedules, it is helpful to maintain healthy relationships. These healthy relationships can be a great source of happiness to counter that stress. And the relationships don’t only mean humans. Some people showed contact with a dog was more beneficial in decreasing cortisol, than interaction with a human friend. And more importantly, healthy relationships also includes with ourselves. Shame, guilt, and negative thinking about ourselves raises cortisol levels. These levels were decreased 23% after a group learned when to identify such habits and rather learned coping mechanisms.
There are some days where getting in your daily steps is more than challenging. Routine tasks for the day and working in an office can make your step goal seem unattainable. Try these tips to make reaching that goal easier!
Try A Challenge
Competition can be good when it comes to fitness and weight loss. Consider purchasing a few pedometers for family members or friends. With a few people tracking steps, challenges can be set daily to achieve step goals. Nothing motivates like a little friendly competition. With the recording of the steps there is also an added benefit of accountability. Accountability has proven to be a successful practice with weight loss.
Split It Up
Unfortunately, not every lifestyle consists of regular activity. This is what is good about a pedometer because it is a reminder of the need for activity. We have all read 10,000 steps a day is a goal. This is a good number but don’t forget to adjust for your weight and loss goals. Such a high number of steps can be frustrating when there is little time to walk. Try splitting up the large number into smaller goals and watch the steps add up quickly. Don’t get discouraged with such a hefty number, but rather set alarms for smaller increments each hour. This splitting up of steps will also help maintain your metabolism.
Change Your Routine
Changing up daily chores and tasks can help to reach your step goal. At home, goals can be helped by ADDING steps that you wouldn’t normally do. For example, while watching television, make it a habit to get up and walk during commercial breaks. With a few hours of television, the extra time will add up. Also, when on the phone, walk and talk! Keeping active is the goal and you will soon be surprised how normal these changes will become.
Another change can be to park further away. Whether it is an errand, for fun, or for work, extra steps will increase quickly with this change. Because of our busy lives, we have made everything easier, taking away the extra exercise.
The biggest challenge, perhaps though, is working in an office. Parking further away will help, but what to do once in the building? If there are stairs, opt for those instead of an elevator. And consider using a restroom on another floor. Try walking each hour and during lunch.
Every bit helps and after a week, you will see a huge improvement in your numbers!
Most people have heard of the Keto diet. Because of its popularity, you or your friends may have looked into or tried this diet. The primary goal for most people is to lose weight with Keto, however, this regimen is not safe for everyone. As expected, pregnant women and nursing mothers should not use this eating plan. And because of health concerns, there are other people who should choose other options besides Keto.
The Keto diet involves consuming about 70 to 80 percent of calories from fat, 5 to 10 percent from carbohydrates and 10 to 20 percent from protein. By restricting almost all carbohydrate intake and even limiting protein intake, the ketogenic diet forces your liver to start producing substances called ketone bodies to supply the brain and body with the energy it needs to function.
Many people following the Keto diet will deal with bouts of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, at least initially. This can become dangerous if your blood sugar is not stable to begin with and/or you’re taking medication to control diabetes. It is better to follow a low glycemic index diet instead.
If you or any family member has a history with any kidney problems, a discussion with your health provider is suggested BEFORE taking on the Keto plan.
There is a risk of kidney stones with this diet. Even if your health professional approves the use of this diet, it is important to stay monitored with calcium levels in the kidneys by simple urine analysis.
The Ketogenic diet was found to reduce epileptic seizures in young people. It has been around a very long time. Because of the low carbohydrates in the plan, the body reaches a state of ketosis.
This state can worsen thyroid-related symptoms such as brain fog, healthy sleeping, changes in mood, and digestion problems. All of these should be discussed before attempting the diet. And it is suggested, anyone on thyroid medication be regularly monitored and checked for worsening symptoms. Sometimes, the increase of carbohydrates can fix this but this will go against the Keto plan, so we can discuss all other options with you.
The craving to eat food can be as specific as smells and certain flavors or as general as sweet or salty. Unfortunately, the common thread is the craving is usually for sugar or unhealthy carbs. Giving into the cravings can cause weight gain, inadequate sleep, and even worse, lead to diabetes and other serious health conditions. Besides drinking water before meals and when a craving happens, there are other dietary changes you can implement to curb those cravings.
Eating proteins will help with cravings. Proteins are rich in macronutrients so they will stabilize blood sugar, helping to decrease cravings. It also takes more work from the body to digest proteins. This helps to make you feel fuller, longer.
Healthy proteins to add or keep in your diet are lean meats, salmon, tuna, eggs, and nuts.
Decreasing your appetite and reducing cravings, fiber also makes you feel fuller, longer. This is because dietary fiber slows the rate at which food enters the bloodstream. This also aids in regulating blood sugar levels.
Fiber is found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, and seeds. Remember cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, are best. Higher fiber in fruit choices are raspberries, blackberries, pears, and apples.
Ever notice after eating certain foods, you immediately crave something sweet? Salty foods and foods that are processed, contain a large amount of salt. Our bodies naturally want to counter that with something sweet. The best way to curb the craving for sweets due to salt intake, is eat as natural as possible. This avoids unnecessary added salt. Skip boxed items at the grocery store, if buying packaged canned or frozen vegetables, opt for the ones with no added salt.
And if you are still having a ‘sweet tooth’ after eliminating processed foods, the problem may be a mineral deficiency. Unhealthy magnesium levels increase cravings for sweets. Adding magnesium-rich foods to your diet such as legumes, spinach, nuts, and seeds will help your levels. You can also take a daily supplement to help with magnesium levels.
Menopause and the different stages are a transition in life for women. That’s a fact. But there are misconceptions about menopause. We debunk a few here and further discuss this time in life.
Your menstrual cycle will just stop one day, never to appear again. For most, this is not the case. In fact, your period must not happen each month, for a full year, to be considered menopause. More than likely, your cycle will slow and be sporadic before it disappears completely.
Another thought is a heavier period is an indication of menopause. This is not true. If you are experiencing heavier cycles than normal, it is important to see your health care provider, to rule out any worse conditions. Do not dismiss heavy periods at any stage in life.
It’s all in your head. This one is absolutely false! There are noticeable changes during these stages. Some of the physical changes are drier skin, sleep disturbances, hair thinning, and hot flashes. Some other conditions can also happen with your mental health, such as depression and anxiety. This time in life is when your body changes once again. This means hormonal changes, causing imbalances. Most are temporary, but none of it is imagined AND they can be addressed with proper care in maintaining the healthiest lifestyle and hormone therapy. Some of the conditions can last for a few years, hormone therapy can lessen the changes caused by the imbalance.
Another misconception is not taking hormones has no risk. There are actually risks with low estrogen levels. These low levels can lead to osteoporosis, heart disease, and even dementia. Yes, there are known links with blood clots and stroke with hormone replacement therapy but have been improved upon and a healthy lifestyle helps to remove those risks.
Also, there is the thinking that you must suffer through menopause. This the biggest misconception yet! As your health provider, we can work with you and help ease the symptoms during this transition. It is very important not to ignore this stage and stay the healthiest you.
You have surely read or heard the negative points about technology and health. But have you thought about where we are now and what we have access to? Technology has not only advanced good health with equipment and procedures, but is now being utilized daily by us to better our health.
Many studies have been done linking depression to social media. We do not want to downplay this, but we also want to recognize social media is bringing together people more easily.
Perhaps you are caring for an aging parent or have experienced a loss in the family. Maybe you have a condition and you know no one personally that is experiencing the same. A quick search will reveal many groups available with similar needs. These groups are quick outlets to share ideas and gain support. Even the struggle of addiction or weight loss can be helped with social media groups.
As the saying goes, ‘there is an app for that.’ This includes endless health apps. There are apps to help with healthy eating and recipes, apps that provide workouts, and even apps that remind us to drink water.
Some apps may need to be added but some are already included with our phones, such as Health with the iPhone. This app is a basic app that can help to track your intake of food and exercise. This app can also help you in the time of an emergency with the medical ID feature. List any important information and it will assist providers with your care.
The latest iPhone update is also tracking screen time with an option of regulating that time. This helps us to evaluate if we are on our devices too long. As weird as it sounds, it’s technology to help us with technology.
Technology is also improving the provider/patient relationship. Providers are more accessible with technology. Social media is a way to provide useful tips and to be more interactive.
Waiting time and appointment scheduling are also being improved with technology. Some hospitals will update their waiting time via their site or on their platforms. And your yearly checkup can be easily scheduled with a few inputs on your phone, fitting with our busy schedules.
As long as you use responsibly, technology can be helpful with your health. We are more aware of our health now than ever with more information. This awareness has led us to pursue better health. And technology, thankfully, is making it easier in many ways.
Many individuals struggle with controlling their weight. Weight loss is usually even more difficult. Researchers continuously study this problem. And recently, a group of individuals practicing FIT (functional imagery training) lost more than 4 times the weight than the individuals who didn’t. Researchers are showing, the brain is a very powerful aid in weight loss.
A study in the International Journal of Obesity was published showing participants lost almost 5 times as much weight when they utilized the FIT method. Over 140 individuals were in the study. One group underwent MI (motivational interviewing) and the other group had a new kind of therapy, FIT or functional imagery training.
Not only did the FIT group lose more than 4 times as much weight in the six months, they lost huge numbers around the waist AND continued to lose after the study vs the MI group that had numbers that dropped off significantly.
Eating less and exercising more is the goal for weight loss. But the study was conducted to take a look into the first step of weight loss…motivation.
Each participant in the MI and FIT groups received two therapy sessions, one over the phone and one in person with a therapist. There were follow ups every couple of weeks for three months, then once per month for the final 3 months.
While Motivational Interviewing is a talking therapy discussing motivation, FIT goes further with training the brain to envision the weight loss. Examples of the imagery the individuals were to focus on is what they could do once they lost weight and what they were unable to do with the extra weight. They were to imagine the feeling of being slimmer, even the tastes and sounds. So, while the MI group spoke about how they wanted to lose weight, the FIT group used imagery for that motivation.
How To Incorporate
FIT is best conducted by a trained therapist specializing in the program, but there are ways to add this practice into our routines.
The first habit to add to your life is taking 20 minutes and thinking about how weight loss will improve your life.
To help with progress and with imagery, a journal can be created. Record the reasons for the weight loss and how you imagine feeling after the weight loss. Write down milestones achieved and how it felt to achieve them.
Remember to set aside at least 15 minutes at the same time, each day, to think and journal with the imagery. This set time, each day, helps to train the brain with the motivational training.
The success in weight loss depends on your behavior with eating healthy and exercising, but using this motivational imagery could improve that success.
Over 85 million adults are pre-diabetic. That’s 1 in 3 adults. And over 90% aren’t even aware they are in danger of developing the full disease. This number is dangerously high. Our lifestyles are changing to combat this disease but signs should be recognized for prevention.
What Is Prediabetes?
Prediabetes is when the blood sugar is high, not high enough yet for Type 2 Diabetes, but not in the healthy range. Prediabetes can develop into Type 2 Diabetes in as little as 10 years. But the good news is the condition can be completely reversed with lifestyle changes.
If the condition does worsen into full diabetes, your body will have trouble using or making the hormone, insulin. The insulin then builds in your system instead of being used as energy in the body’s cells.
This hyperglycemia can lead to serious health problems including skin disorders, vision problems, kidney damage, and neuropathy.
Know The Signs
Only 10% of adults with the condition know they have it. This is because the symptoms may not be recognized or there are no signs showing. It is always best to be aware if you have any changes in your skin, such as darkening in the armpits or on the neck. There may even be small skin growths or tags in these areas. Also, other possible signs might be if you are noticing increased hunger or excessive thirst.
What To Do
Although it is helpful when these symptoms are noticed, they don’t necessarily prove prediabetes. The only way to know if you are pre-diabetic is to be diagnosed by a medical professional through an A1C test. This is the best test as it will accurately determine your blood glucose levels for the past few months. A range of 5.7 to 6.4 is prediabetes. Anything higher is diabetes.
Chances for diabetes increases with age, so periodic testing is suggested for adults 45 and older. And as with any condition, family history plays a role, so it’s best to get checked if you are aware of that genetic risk. Also, Latin American, Native American, Pacific Islanders, and African Americans are more susceptible. Being overweight or having PCOS puts you in a riskier category.
This condition can be reversed, however. Changes now, limiting sweets, losing weight, and exercising regularly is the best way to avoid risk of developing diabetes.
Lifting weights isn’t just for athletes and bodybuilders. And men are not the only ones who benefit from weight training. Women also need weight lifting to enhance physical health.
For decades, cardio or aerobic activity was promoted as exercise for weight loss. While this type of exercise, does in fact, help to lose weight, lifting weights can help even more. Numerous studies have shown that lifting weights actually burns more calories than cardio exercise.
Besides the extra calories that are burned, the muscle that is being built, helps to eliminate fat. This also happens when the body is resting. Once muscle is built, or functioning to its full potential, it does its work even while the body is resting.
On top of burning more calories and eliminating fat, lifting weights can transform a body’s appearance much faster than cardio. Shedding pounds with cardio will be noticed with clothes not being as tight, but weight training will actually shape a body.
Strength For Everyday Life
The benefits for weight training don’t stop at weight loss.
Another benefit is overall strength for everyday activities. As we age, certain areas of the body aren’t used as much and need that strength for everyday functioning. Weight training, when focused, can strengthen the back and core. A stronger back and core ease other exercise, as an added benefit.
It is also important to keep that strength for our future selves. When not practiced, muscle deterioration can lead to problems with balance.
Joints are also strengthened with the use of weights. Adding strength exercises to a routine can lengthen a body’s timeline, putting off joint issues.
And muscles not only protect our bones, they help to strengthen them by building bone density. So, lifting weights to strengthen muscles can and will aid in avoiding osteoporosis.
Many women have not considered using weights in their routine for fear of transforming their body into a bulkier version. Lighter weights can be used safely to avoid large muscles, while enjoying the benefits of weight training. Implement them today!
Depression and anxiety have been increasing in numbers for decades. Could our routines and behaviors be leading to this increase? Are our habits hurting our mental health?
On average, we are sitting 9 hours a day, while sleeping an average of 7 hours. Compared to past decades, this is a large amount of inactivity. Mostly due to a working lifestyle, many jobs are behind a desk, creating hours of sitting. Our bodies were not designed for such inactivity.
This inactive lifestyle leads to possible weight gain, but more importantly, different chemical reactions that could lead to depression and anxiety.
Not only does consistent activity help mental health, but so does your environment. If you are heading to the office then back home day after day, you are not getting enough sunlight in your routine. Increasing activity, and also including the outdoors in your daily and even weekly routine, will help to guard against depression and anxiety.
Inactivity and poor diet not only lead to weight gain but also to increased chances of poor mental health. Weight gain does decrease self confidence, making it difficult to correct because of a dangerous circle of inactivity, weight gain, and depression.
But not only does watching calories matter with mental health, so does the type of diet. Usually, the same foods to avoid weight gain are the same to avoid depression and anxiety. These foods are usually high in sugar, or sugar from carbs. These foods will change the chemical makeup in the brain, leading to depression and anxiety.
And as if worrying about diet and exercise aren’t stressful enough, avoiding other life stressors is also very important for mental health. Stress increases cortisol levels which does lead to a decrease in optimal mental health.
Increasing daily exercise is paramount in combating stress, but also taking time for yourself to put stress aside is the best plan. Just a few minutes a day to unwind, taking in some quiet time will also aid in improving mental health. And don’t forget, schedule some fun each week, doing what you enjoy. It is easy to forget these things with our busy lifestyles, but our mental health is too important to ignore them.