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Saturday, March 29, 2014

5 Powerful Spring Resolutions

New Year’s Day isn't the only time for resolutions. We should always be striving to improve ourselves. If you aren’t already, start now. Spring is a season of new beginnings and it's the perfect time to tune-up your diet and lifestyle.

Whether you want to feel better, look better, or set a better example to inspire loved ones to make much-needed changes themselves, these five resolutions will help you kick-start a commitment to revitalize your physical, mental, and emotional health.

#1  Eat More Green Vegetables

Vegetables are good sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and the green varieties are also particularly rich in chlorophyll, a compound that helps our bodies detoxify. Research studies show that toxic chemicals in our environment begin to accumulate inside our bodies before we’re even born and the older we get, the more toxins we contain. Up to 232 different chemicals have been detected in cord blood from newborns and 493 have been found in people of all ages. Detox is the removal of these toxins and it's like spring-cleaning for the body.

The chlorophyll in green vegetables reduces the absorption of environmental toxins and facilitates their removal from the body, so even outside of a detox program, it’s something we can do every day to minimize our toxic burden. So make green vegetables half of each meal.

When shopping for produce, if you can’t eat organic, do these two things:
  • Avoid the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables most contaminated with pesticides including celery, cucumbers, and leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens. Buy these organic or don't buy them at all. 
  • Chose from the Clean Fifteen least contaminated fruits and vegetables including asparagus, cabbage, and frozen peas. 
Find the full lists here and learn more about detox in my new book, The Prediabetes Detox, whether you have prediabetes or not.

#2  Cook More

Cooking nourishing meals is one the easiest and most effective things we can do to keep ourselves and our families healthy. According to a study from the National Institutes of Health, people who cook at home live longer than people who don’t, regardless of their knowledge of nutrition and physical ability to shop for food and prepare meals.

Researchers found that people who cooked at home at least five times per week were 47 percent more likely to be alive ten years later, but even people who cooked less frequently saw benefits. The more frequently they cooked, the longer they lived.

Think of cooking dinner as a time to relax and wind down from your day. If you live alone, turn on some music and use this time to nurture yourself. Invite your friends and neighbors to cook with you or share the food you make. If you live with your family, take the opportunity to connect with them and get everyone involved, especially kids.

Children are always more likely to eat foods they prepare themselves, so teach them early on to make simple and healthy dishes like salads. They can wash lettuce leaves, tear them up with clean hands or cut them up with scissors, make their own vinaigrette by shaking up a few ingredients in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, and toss everything together. Cooking healthy meals is an important life skill, and the sooner you start, the healthier you’ll be.

#3  Move More

It’s not necessary to have a formal workout every day, but it is important to be active. Exercise reduces inflammation, releases feel-good compounds called endorphins, helps manage stress, and fights premature aging. It lowers high blood pressure and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, strengthens bones and muscles, and improves mitochondrial function and energy production. It also improves digestion, sleep, mood, concentration, coordination, balance, and flexibility.

Exercise is an important part of reversing prediabetes, a condition that affects 1 in 3 US adults and almost 1 in 4 adolescents. Regular physical activity lowers blood sugar, makes cells more sensitive to insulin, and boosts levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, mood, attention, energy, appetite, and food cravings. Studies show that exercise can improve fitness in people with high blood sugar by as much as 40 percent in as little as three to five months.

Exercise also aids detoxification by burning fat, mobilizing toxins, increasing air exchange, enhancing lymphatic circulation, and making you sweat.

The best forms of exercise are the ones you’ll do regularly, so find activities that you enjoy. Exercising at a gym is a great option, especially when the weather is bad or you find classes that inspire and motivate you to work out, but gyms aren’t really necessary and not having a membership isn’t an excuse to not exercise.

On your own, you can walk, run, bike, use resistance bands, jump rope, jump on a trampoline (rebounding), do push-ups, pull-ups, stomach crunches, and squats. You can exercise recreationally by gardening or salsa dancing, play a partnered sport like tennis or squash, or play a team sport like crew, basketball, volleyball, softball, or soccer.

If you have joint problems, choose activities with little or no impact, like swimming, aqua exercise (inside a pool), bicycling, or using an elliptical machine.

If you aren’t already physically active, get permission from your doctor first. Then consider meeting at least once with a personal trainer who can put together a routine appropriate for your fitness level, familiarize you with any equipment, and make sure you’re doing exercises correctly. Personal training sessions are also a good way to get motivated and stay focused, especially if you need a structured program to make it happen.

Be sure to incorporate aerobic as well as strengthening exercise. Each one has unique benefits, and our bodies need them both. Don’t forget to warm up, cool down, and spend plenty of time stretching afterward.

#4  Make Sleep a Priority

Sleep is essential for rejuvenating and revitalizing our bodies physically, mentally, and emotionally. Studies show that sleep can improve memory, learning, creativity, and athletic performance. It can enhance our ability to cope with stress, make us more resistant to infections like the common cold, and lower levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein. Because sleep boosts serotonin, it also helps fight food cravings and may improve your mood as well.

Lack of sleep is associated with high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, hormone imbalances, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. Short sleep cycles cause levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, to go down, and levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you hungry, to go up.

In one study of healthy men without preexisting blood sugar imbalances, being deprived of just two hours sleep caused them to crave sugar and eat more of it. Research studies show that when we sleep seven hours or less each night, our bodies also store more fat.

Sleep experts recommend getting a minimum of nine hours each night in the winter, when nights are naturally longer, and eight hours in the summer, when nights are naturally shorter. If you need to make more time for sleeping, choose an earlier bedtime over a later wake time to maximize deep sleep, most of which happens earlier in the night.

If you can, wake up at the same time each morning and go to bed at the same time each night, even on your days off. Keeping a regular schedule and being consistent supports a healthy circadian rhythm which promotes good sleep and overall well-being. 

#5  Play Outside

Take advantage of longer days and warmer weather to play outside. Incorporate exercise and go for a hike, a bike ride, or a swim. Or take a leisurely stroll on the beach. Have a picnic in the park. Lay in the grass and read a book, or meditate, or take a nap.

Spending time doing things you love is an important part of maintaining good physical, mental, and emotional health. So is spending time outside, and green environments may be especially beneficial. Being surrounded by a forest environment has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood sugar, improve concentration, diminish pain, strengthen immunity and have anti-cancer effects.

Japanese companies include forest therapy in employee health care benefits and wellness programs with free check-ups are even available inside Japanese forests. Researchers believe that the health benefits are related to compounds in forest air called phytoncides, the essential oils released by trees and plants to defend themselves against insects, animals, and decomposition.

Aim to get at least 10 to 20 minutes of natural sunlight every day, preferably first thing in the morning. Exposure to early morning sunlight improves sleep patterns, helps regulate blood sugar and fat metabolism, normalizes stress hormones, and increases the natural production of serotonin.

Avoid midday sun and intense or excessive sun exposure, even if you use sunscreen. It prevents sunburn but not skin damage and studies show that it doesn’t protect against skin cancer after all.

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