Healthy Cove

MINDFUL LIVING IS HEALTHY LIVING

Describing mindfulness can be hard. So, let’s do a little thought experiment and try some mindful living for a minute.

Imagine you’re walking through a city, enjoying the fresh air, and delighting in the bustle and energy of the streets. You take a seat on a bench near a busy intersection, safely tucked away from traffic. You’re happy to rest for a moment and take in the sights and sounds. What goes through your mind as you witness the traffic?

You might notice the make, model, and color of each car that passes. Perhaps you take note of how fast a particular car whooshes by. Maybe you see another car run a red light. You allow yourself to observe these visual cues and understand them as information, without the need to interpret them as good, bad, wrong, or right.

This basic analogy is what many practitioners use to describe mindfulness. Let’s unpack it to dig deeper into this important, but elusive concept.

What is Mindfulness?

If you imagine the busy street as your brain, then the different cars represent your thoughts. They could be about your worries, fears, or stressors. They might represent your hopes, wishes, and desires. People in your life may populate your thoughts. All those thoughts are cars traveling on the street of your brain.

Mindfulness is immersing yourself in that moment-to-moment awareness, free of judgment. It allows for these thoughts to enter your mind, move through, and disappear without wreaking havoc. That means as you think of a worry, hope, or person, you do so without judging yourself for thinking about it.

An example of mindful living might help clarify things. You feel worried about missing an impending deadline. Mindfulness would suggest that you acknowledge the deadline and your body’s reaction to it with a bit of emotional distance.

Most people don’t practice this detachment. That allows negative thoughts to loop. If the loop continues uninterrupted, the result can be anxiety, stress, worry, and preoccupation. But, if you aim to witness your thoughts in the same way you would a harmless car driving safely by you, you’re likely to avoid those negative pitfalls. Additionally, allowing a bit of space from emotions provides clarity of mind and mental focus.

Mindfulness is about staying in the present. So, returning to the car metaphor, mindfulness is not craning your neck to see if the car that passed will turn off the road up ahead. It is also not turning to see how far traffic has backed up. When you’re simply observing each car as it enters and exits your field of view, you’re practicing mindfulness.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

As the modern world continues to blaze by, many are turning to mindfulness to slow life down. The recent growth in the popularity of mindfulness has created a call for research to investigate the benefits of more mindful living.

Practitioners have long claimed many benefits for mindfulness. Among them are stress reduction, less emotional reactivity, freedom from rumination, mental focus, and relationship satisfaction.

Researchers have started to test these hypotheses. They do it by assigning study participants to a mindfulness-based intervention or a control group. Then researchers take various measurements to determine the effects of each intervention.

In one investigation, researchers looked at nearly 40 studies that include mindfulness-based interventions. They found mindfulness programs helped reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in patients with psychiatric disorders. In certain studies, they also concluded that mindfulness practice, paired with traditional therapy, is effective in preventing relapse into depression for certain patients.

Another study has shown promising results for regular practice of mindfulness through meditation. In this particular case, participants learned how to meditate over a two-month period. Researchers took images of participants’ brains before and after the program and found changes in the amygdala, an area of the brain responsible for emotional processing. The scan showed that the amygdala was less active after meditation. Then participants were shown emotionally charged images and the same brain scan was repeated. Comparing pre-meditation scans to those taken after viewing emotional images revealed something interesting.

Researchers saw that the decrease in activity of the amygdala held, even when the participants weren’t actively meditating. This finding is promising, as it shows that the benefits—in this case, less emotional reactivity—are long-lasting, even when meditation or mindfulness is not being actively employed.

Another group of researchers studied attendees of an intensive mindfulness retreat. After the 10-day retreat, the participants, experienced less rumination—when compared to a control group who didn’t attend the retreat. The retreat group also exhibited better attention and focus when assigned to a performance task.

It’s not uncommon to hear about a new trend from a friend and be skeptical. Even if your friend shares a personal, compelling anecdote, it may feel too good to be true. But when the trend in question is mindfulness or mindful meditation, the jury’s no longer out. Science shows that health benefits of mindfulness do exist. So, hesitate no longer and hop on the bandwagon.

Tips for Mindful Living Every Day

  • Slow down. It’s easy to move through life on autopilot, going through the motions without consciously connecting with each action, decision, or person you encounter. One trick is to think about the transitions throughout your day and how you can move through them more slowly and intentionally. This could be the moment after you wake up and before you get out of bed. Maybe it’s the moment after you finish one work task and start the next. When these transitions are rushed, it divorces your mind from your body, turning autopilot back on. In these transitional moments, pause to breathe and check in with your mind and body. This will give you a chance to collect your thoughts and ready yourself for whatever comes next.
  • Use all of your senses. Mindfulness doesn’t just have to be turned on when life gets stressful. Tuning into your body and all of its sensations can help you stay engaged in mindfulness. Listening, seeing, tasting, touching, and hearing fully can help you stay grounded in each moment. With this mindset, an ordinary task can turn into a sensory experience. For example, take gardening. What does the soil feel like? Does this new sprout have a smell? Consider the vibrancy of the colors throughout the plant. If it bears fruit, what does it taste like? What sounds do you hear as you’re outside tending to the garden? When you stay in the moment and ask yourself these questions, it’s nearly impossible to ruminate on the past or worry about the future.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Start by jotting down three things you were grateful for each day. This practice will encourage you to slow down and reflect on your day. Consider why you’re grateful for each list item, how they make you feel, and how they add to your life. Journaling can help you curate a more positive outlook and perspective. If this resonates with you, create longer lists or expand each entry.
  • Focus on brain health. Mindfulness is all in your head—focusing your brain on the present and striving for non-judgment. So, it’s also a time to think about supporting your brain. That means eating foods rich in B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, antioxidants, and vitamin E. And your brain also has to be exercised to keep it in tip-top shape. Practice being mindful about using your brain each day. You can do that by playing a musical instrument, taking classes (anything from cooking to math), learning a new language, memory games, playing a new sport, and more.
  • Practice self-compassion. Non-judgment is the key to mindfulness. But requiring your mind to be present and non-judgmental can feel like a tall order. You may not do it successfully every time. And that’s OK. Be forgiving and kind to yourself. It’s the best way to ensure you’ll come back to the present and continue forward.

Another Taste: Eating Mindfully

In the modern world of busy schedules, traffic, and technology, it’s hard to find time to focus on eating well. When time is short, meals are often the first thing to take a hit. It means a meal might start in a drive-through lane and finish while you’re driving. Or perhaps it’s a plate of leftovers quickly reheated in the microwave and eaten standing up.

Not giving yourself moments to slow down and eat in peace will only add to the rushed pace of the day. And unsurprisingly, the result might leave you feeling stressed, anxious, and with an upset stomach.

When you take the alternative approach and choose to eat with dedicated intention, you unlock more opportunities to practice mindfulness. It doesn’t matter whether you make a meal from scratch or you pick up one that’s prepared. Eating mindfully calls on all of your senses, bringing you into the present.

What does it smell like? Does the aroma transport you to another place or memory? If you’re eating with your fingers, what does it feel like? Is it soft, crumbly, or flaky? What does it feel like once you put a morsel in your mouth? Does it melt, dissolve, or bubble? What does the food taste like? Does it make your mouth pucker or hit your sweet tooth?

Engaging all of your senses requires that you take your time and tune into each sensation. This behavior makes for a more enjoyable, relaxed meal. An added benefit is that eating slowly will allow you to sense when you’re full more quickly. This means you’re less likely to overeat unintentionally. That’s a bonus whether you’re trying to lose, gain, or maintain your weight.

Paying attention to the general feel and feedback from your whole body will help you remain in touch with what your body needs and when. When did you last eat? How does your body feel? What cues is it giving you and what are they saying? Remember that your body knows best. It only asks you to listen to its cues.

Make Mindfulness Your Mantra

Mindfulness requires a subtle shift in how you move throughout your day. While the change is seemingly small, the impact can be large. Being mindful allows your body and mind to let go of stress, negative thought patterns, and associated behaviors.

When you toss aside those patterns and distractions, you liberate yourself. You’re likely to find more creativity, productivity, and energy. By committing even a few moments a day to mindfulness, you start a habit that sets you up for a healthier day and overall lifestyle.

Coast Lifestyle

A SMARTER WORKOUT PLAN: EXERCISE FOR BRAIN HEALTH

POP QUIZ: Who was the first Prime Minister of Canada? How many U.S. states have “City” in the name of their capital? Who was the first drummer for the Beatles?

And one more: is physical exercise good for mental health?

There are plenty of great reasons to be physically active, but here’s one you might not think about often. According to a recent University of British Columbia study, researchers concluded regular aerobic exercise (exercise that gets your heart and sweat glands pumping) can maintain the size of the hippocampus, the verbal memory and learning part of your brain. These scientists identified a direct correlation between exercise and keeping your wits.

Now, this might not help you remember John A. Macdonald was Canada’s first prime minister, Jefferson, Oklahoma, Carson, and Salt Lake have city in the state capital, or Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Starr, but it does reveal aerobic exercise is not just good for your physical health. It’s also essential for your brain health.

A Smarter Hippocampus

Tucked under your cerebral cortex is a funny-looking gland in your brain called the hippocampus. FUN FACT: Your short- and long-term memory and spatial memory gland is shaped like a seahorse. And it’s all in the name—from the Greek words hippos (horse) and kampos (sea-monster). The hippocampus plays an important role in the formation of new memories, both episodic and autobiographical, and declarative memories.

This is a fancy way of saying the hippocampus can assist you in remembering what you had for breakfast, how to navigate from home to work, and memorizing facts and figures.

Your brain has two hippocampi, bilateral, each located in the medial temporal lobe. Research has shown that damage to the hippocampus can result in the inability to form and retain memories.  Conversely, when you supply your hippocampus with oxygenated blood from exercise, it can keep your brain healthy. In addition, exercise helps improve mood and sleep which goes a long way to reduce stress and anxiety.

That’s why it’s important to get aerobic exercise throughout the week.

The Muscle Between Your Ears

So, what’s the best exercise for brain health?

Neurologist Dr. Scott McGinnis from Harvard Medical School suggests something as simple as a brisk walk for one hour, twice a week, can be enough. But here’s the deal: it can be anything. Swimming, bicycling, a dance class, or even household activities can get your blood moving and work up a sweat. The Mayo Clinic suggests a simple way to determine your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. For example, if you’re 40 years old, subtract 40 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 180.

So, find an activity you enjoy and get moving. Sign up for a Zumba class or try yoga. Give the rock-climbing gym a shot or make sure your dog gets a daily walk. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re raising your heart rate—helping not just your brain, but your entire body.

Riddle Me This

Physical activity is great for brain health, but don’t forget to keep your mind sharp with mental activities. Muscles can atrophy over time if you don’t use them, and your brain is no different. Keep your brain performing at high levels, maximizing your cognitive powers with these stimulating tips.

  • Eat well. Good nutrients are important. Make sure your meals include omega-3 fatty acids, leafy greens, oils, eggs, and walnuts to help support your brain.
  • Do math in your head. Lose the paper and pencil and make simple calculations in your head. The next time you get change at the store, see if you can figure out the amount before the cashier.
  • Take a cooking class. Cooking uses a number of senses: smell, touch, sight, and taste. Stimulate your brain by cooking something new.
  • Explore your taste buds. Speaking of food, the next time you get a meal, try to figure out each of the ingredients in the recipe. Small tests like this can help expand your mind’s appreciation for flavor and texture.
  • Play an instrument. Learning to play a musical instrument takes time and discipline. It also keeps your mind engaged as you make beautiful music.
  • Learn a foreign language. Picking up a new language later in life is hard, but not impossible. It requires listening and practicing new words, and it’s a great way to stimulate your mind.
  • Read a book. Never underestimate the importance of reading. Books and magazines not only inform and entertain you, but they keep your mind sharp and focused.

Just like regular exercise can help with heart health, mental exercises can keep you living an engaged lifestyle. Let us know in the comment section what you do to improve your brain health. Link videos or programs you use to keep your mind active.

Healthy Cove

3 Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Body

Green grass is beginning to show, tulips are starting to bloom, and the snow is melting. Springtime is finally here. Huzzah!

With the changing of the weather comes good ol’ fashion spring cleaning. If you’d like to mix it up this year, leave the dirty details of your house to a cleaning service, and spring clean your body instead.

Here are three easy ways you can get started on spring cleaning your body.

1: Pantry Purge

3 Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Body: Pantry

If you have a goal to eat healthier foods and snacks, let’s begin in the kitchen. For starters, how long has it been since you de-junked your pantry? Chances are you have graham crackers way past their expiration date (gross) and bags of potato chips and pretzels that make it too easy to graze on empty carbohydrates.

This might be a little difficult, but it’s important to get rid of the junk and replace it with healthier snacks and foods . We’ll get to the healthy replacement foods later.

If you’re worried about wasting food, you can donate any non-perishable items to your local food pantry or soup kitchen. You can also give perishable items away to your friends. As for the rest? It’s going in a big, black garbage bag.

Food for Thought: This doesn’t mean you can never enjoy your favorite treat. It just means that instead of stashing them in your home like a squirrel collecting nuts for the winter, you’ll have to head to the bakery to purchase that single, gooey, chocolate and caramel brownie you love.

Out with the Old

With your first sweep of the cupboards and pantry, get rid of all the stuff you know is horrible for your health. This will be the candy bars, sugary juices, chips, gummy bears, soda—it’s all gotta go.

3 Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Body: sugar

It may feel like you’re rubbing sugar in your wounds, but it’s important to completely rid your house of poor food choices. Otherwise, you’ll continue to fall back on old, unhealthy eating habits. Because let’s be real—if there are Hostess cupcakes in the cupboard, you and I are both going to eventually cave and eat them.

Later, you’ll feel better about your decision to pantry purge. Especially when you experience the many health benefits that come from eating nutritious meals and snacks. (And how awesome your figure looks in the mirror!)

3 Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Body: kitchen ipad

Next, check out the ingredient listing on the remaining products in your pantry. If you see sugar, salt, or unhealthy fats listed as one of the first ingredients, it’s a safe bet this isn’t a healthy food option. This should go in the trash.

Don’t forget to check your freezer too—just in case you’ve stocked up on frozen pizzas and ice cream.

In with the New

It’s time to go grocery shopping. Since you’ll be emptying your cupboards of junk food, you need to replace it with healthier alternatives. This is the time to think about what kinds of foods and flavors really tickle your taste buds.

For instance, you’re gonna hate life if you try replacing your Cool Ranch Doritos with celery sticks. But if you find something comparable and tasty, you’re more likely to enjoy and stick with it.

Eat This Instead

3 Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Body: healthy food

Here are just a few healthy snack options you can fill your pantry and fridge with:

  • Nuts—Almonds, pecans, walnuts, and natural peanut butter are all great sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats if eaten in moderation. A yummy trail mix is another nutty option. Stick with unsalted for less sodium.
  • Air-popped popcorn—It might not be movie-theater style popcorn that’s swimming in butter, but you can season it yourself. And it is a much healthier alternative to potato chips.
  • Hummus—A good quality hummus is rich in protein and fiber, and in my opinion, it seriously tastes amazing with carrots and bell peppers or other veggies. Guacamole and pesto are other savory dipping sauces that are on the healthier side.
  • Hard-boiled eggs—They’re super easy to prepare and provide you with a good source of proteins and fats. Plus, you can sprinkle a little sea salt for extra flavor.
  • Berries—Whether fresh or frozen, you can never go wrong with a handful of delicious raspberries, blueberries, or plump strawberries.
  • Greek yogurt—If you’re craving something sweet, try adding some berries or banana slices along with a drizzle of honey.

Here’s a few more healthy food options.

2: Get to the Gut of Health

Did you know that the microbial cells in the gut outnumber human cells 10 to 1? Yeah, I didn’t know that either. Learn something new every day and all that jazz. To further illustrate this point, think of the microbiome as a tropical rainforest living in your gut. Just as there is a wide diversity of plant types in the rainforest (which all play a different role in the ecosystem), each microbe (bacteria) in your gut also plays an important role.

So basically, your microbiome is pretty vital when it comes to your gut health.

Eating Healthy Takes Guts

When we eat certain processed foods, the delicate microbe balance in the stomach can be disrupted and thrown out of whack. Obviously, you don’t want that. To help keep the right balance of microbes thriving in your gut, consider the following tips:

  • Cut back on sugars and starches—If you think you love sugar, it’s nothing compared to a bad bacteria’s sweet tooth. Sugar is their favorite food. To keep bad bacteria from building up in your gut, avoid consuming anything with refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup. And take care to reduce the amounts of starches you’re eating (think bagels and white bread, corn-based foods, potatoes, etc.).
  • Nosh on whole, unprocessed foods—The more healthy, whole foods you eat, the better. This would include fibrous fruits and veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
  • Chow down on fermented and living foods—Now I’m personally not a fan of sauerkraut or pickles, but foods like these and fermented dairy products like kefir and yogurt (made through natural fermentation with good bacteria) can actually help to increase the rainforest of friendly bacteria in your gut.
  • Supplement with a good probiotic—This can go a long way in keeping your gut on track by repopulating healthy bacteria. Try taking USANA® Probiotic This probiotic supplement helps bring balance to your belly and digestive tract with a blend of good bacteria—Bifidobacterium BB-12 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG.*

3: Move Yo’ Body

Part of spring cleaning your body includes getting regular exercise. Think about it—our bodies aren’t designed to sit around all day. (Why do you think your adorable toddler runs around all day and is a hurricane of energy?)

Yet far too often we slump down in our desks all day at work, and then go home to slump some more on the couch while we binge-watch Netflix.

Incorporating daily movement into your lifestyle can have major positive health benefits. Even 30 minutes of moderate movement can help rid your body of toxins through perspiration.

Easy Ways to Move More

If you work in an office setting at a desk all day, you can still get daily movement in:

  • Park further away in the parking lot so you have to walk a bit
  • Always take the stairs over the elevator (unless there’s like 20 floors, in which case I say screw it and take the elevator)
  • Use a standup desk so you’re not sitting on your butt all day
  • Take work breaks and go for a 10–15-minute walk outdoors, or even walk laps around the building in colder weather

As for exercising, you don’t have to join a gym or train for a marathon (especially if you’re like me and you hate running). There are tons of fun and easy ways you can get your daily movement in and also get your heart rate up.

Here are just a few different enjoyable ways you can exercise:

  • Disc golfing
  • Walking the dog
  • Playing Pokémon GO
  • Gardening
  •  HIIT workouts (high intensity interval training)
  • Swimming
  • Mud Run 5K
  • Stretching
  •  Mowing the lawn
  •  Rollerblading (does anyone else love watching the roller-bladers at the park?)

Whether it’s wearing a fitness tracker and getting 10,000 steps a day or taking a daily bike ride, find what works best for you and get movin’.

Spring Forward with Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning your body doesn’t have to be difficult. But by incorporating these simple tips into your daily routine, you can start off this spring season with a fresh pep in your step.