Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Week #8 Challenge

I went to a bridal shower on Saturday of a young girl I had taught in Seminary. Valentina is from Columbia. It was the sweetest shower and the bride to be was so sparkly, grateful, happy, and adorable. But what I noticed the most was the amount of hugging that went on. Everyone hugged everyone when they arrived. Valentina hugged everyone as they introduced themselves. She also hugged and kissed everyone as she opened their gifts. There were hugs with pictures and hugs with the refreshments and hugs as everyone left. It was the sweetest happiest bridal shower I have been to.

Hugging is so easy and so wonderful and yet underused in our fast paced society. and And yes, it affects your healthy (read on). Our challenge this week is to get in at least 5 good (20 seconds at least) hugs every day to earn your 5 daily bonus points. And to work to make more hugging, hand holding and kissing part of our healthy lives! Hug on ladies!

And here's the info I found when researching:

Hugs certainly feel good, both on the giving and receiving end, and it turns out their effects are more than skin deep. A study by University of North Carolina researchers found that hugs increase the "bonding" hormone oxytocin and decrease the risk of heart disease.

Hugs are good for your heart, they lower blood pressure, and reduce stress, so make it a point to hug someone today!

In fact, when couples hugged for 20 seconds, their levels of oxytocin, released during childbirth and breastfeeding, increased. Those in loving relationships had the highest increases.

Meanwhile, levels of the stress hormone cortisol decreased in women, as did their blood pressure. Said lead researcher and psychologist Dr. Karen Grewen, "Greater partner support is linked to higher oxytocin levels for both men and women. However, the importance of oxytocin and its potentially cardioprotective effects may be greater for women."

Hugging for Your Heart

"Scientists are increasingly interested in the possibility that positive emotions can be good for your health. This study has reinforced research findings that support from a partner, in this case a hug from a loved one, can have beneficial effects on heart health," said Dr. Charmaine Griffiths, spokesperson for the British Heart Foundation.

Indeed, a previous study, also led by Grewen, found that hugging and handholding reduces the effects of stress. Two groups of couples were asked to talk about an angry event, but one group had previously held hands and hugged, while the others sat alone. It was found that:

  • Blood pressure increased significantly more among the no-contact group as compared to the huggers.

  • Heart rate among those without contact increased 10 beats a minute, compared to five beats a minute for huggers.

What's more, Grewen suggests that warm contact such as hugs and hand-holding before the start of a rough day "could carry over and protect you throughout the day."

Time to Get, and Give, More Hugs

"U.S. couples aren't very touchy feely in public," says Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. This is a shame as touch also releases two feel-good brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine.

Yet, according to Field's studies of U.S. and Parisian cafes, French couples spend three times more time touching than American couples.

So what are we waiting for? Grab your partner, friend or family member and give them a hug today. And if you're really feeling bold, check out the first link below and treat your significant other to a special treat tonight.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Week #7 Challenge

Our Challenge for the week is to get yourself outside in the sunshine. You can exercise in the sunshine if you'd like or you can grab a book and a lawn chair and just bask in the yard but in order to get your daily 5 bonus challenge points you need to partake in sunshine for at least 15 minutes per day.

And why?

What are the Benefits of Vitamin D?

Up until recently, vitamin D’s big claim to fame was that it prevented rickets, a serious bone deformity that can affect kids and babies. Because vitamin D is not widespread in the food supply, health authorities in the U.S. decided back in 1932 that all milk should be fortified with vitamin D in order to prevent rickets. And that’s pretty much the last anyone thought about it.

But we may have underestimated the importance of this vitamin. Over the last few years, researchers have noticed two things. One, people who have heart disease, diabetes, depression, various auto-immune diseases,osteoporosis, several types of cancer, and even obesity also seem to be low in vitamin D.

The second big news flash is that lots of us are deficient in the vitamin. Just last month, a new report found that seven out of ten American children, for example, are low in vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is also a particular concern in the elderly and those with dark skin, and everyone is at greater risk during the winter months.


As I said, vitamin D is not very common in foods. About the only foods that naturally contain a meaningful amount of D are oily fish like salmon and mackerel--and the dreaded cod liver oil. Many of us don’t eat fish that often and even fewer take cod liver oil. And now, we (and our kids) also drink less milk than we used to. So fortified milk isn’t picking up the slack it used to.

Seeing that vitamin D is an essential vitamin, isn’t it strange that it isn’t found in more foods? I mean, you can trundle on down to any grocery store in land-locked Kansas and pick up some fish for dinner. But what did people do in the days before we had such well-traveled food? What did everyone who didn’t live near the sea and know someone who fished do to get vitamin D? Seems like a pretty serious design flaw.

But here’s the thing that makes vitamin D a little different than any other nutrient I can think of: Food wasn’t really meant to be our primary source of this nutrient. Sunlight was. Human skin has a pretty nifty trick: it produces this vitamin when it is exposed to UV rays. No matter how far you live from the ocean, there’s going to be at least some sunlight.

The sun gets weaker the further you go from the equator, of course. And that’s why humans who originated from the northern and southern region of the globe have lighter skin than those who originated from closer to the equator.

Lighter skin allows more UV through, which ensures that people living further from the equator, where the sun’s rays are weaker, can make enough vitamin D to stay healthy. Dark skin acts as a sort of natural sunscreen, providing some protection against the stronger UV rays at the equator, but still allowing for sufficient vitamin D production.


Pretty clever system, huh? But consider our current situation. First, we wear clothes. Second, we work and play inside. Third, lots of dark-skinned people now live far north or south of the equator where the UV rays are weak. Not surprisingly, dark-skinned people living in the U.S. are six times more likely to be deficient than light-skinned folks. And finally, light-skinned people are told never to step outdoors without slathering themselves in sunblock, which prevents wrinkles and skin cancer but also blocks vitamin D production.

The end result? Rampant vitamin D deficiency. And now that low vitamin D levels are being linked to an ever-growing list of illnesses, researchers are wondering whether getting more vitamin D into people could make everyone a lot healthier. Many experts are arguing that the current recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is way too low and needs to be doubled or even tripled. And vitamin D supplements are flying off the shelves.


Rest assured that research is steaming along, full speed ahead. And, while vitamin D may not turn out to be the cure for all that ails us, all this press has been a good reminder that we need to pay attention to be sure that we’re getting enough of it.

The current recommended intake for vitamin D for adults is 200 to 400 IU. If you’re over 70, it goes up to 600 IU. Many recent studies suggest that for optimum health and disease fighting we may need up to 10X that much Vitamin D. For more information go to


How Much Sun Does it Take to Get Enough Vitamin D?

You can also meet your vitamin D needs by exposing your skin to the sun—without sunscreen. You may have read that 10 to 15 minutes of sun per day will do the job. But it’s a little more complicated than that. It all depends on where you are, how high you are, how much skin is exposed, how dark your skin is, the time of day, and the time of year.

I found a great little calculator developed by Norwegian scientists that can help you determine how much sun you need to meet your daily vitamin D requirement, taking all those factors into consideration. It’s very interesting to play around with. For example, I learned that here in Baltimore, in August, I’d need just 5 minutes of sun at midday to top off my vitamin D stores. If I were back home in Buffalo with Annie, I’d need an extra minute or so. If it were November in Buffalo, I’d need about 40 minutes. If it were November in Buffalo and I were black, I’d need two and a half hours.

Here's the link to the calculator so you can determine what you need


For some reason, although it only takes a few hundred IU of vitamin D tomaintain blood levels, it can take an enormous amount of supplemental vitamin D to restore them. If you’re deficient, you might need to take 10,000 to 50,000 IU a day for a few weeks to get your levels back up to normal.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Challenge Week #6 STEP IT UP


Hello ladies! Hopefully you have gotten yourself in a good routine of healthy habits. You drink water, you eat lots of fruits and veggies, you exercise daily, you watch the portion sizes of your food etc.

And now I want to ask for a little bit more from your exercise. LET'S STEP IT UP! Our challenge this week is to make an extra effort in your daily exercise. If you've been walking, try running a minute every 5 or 10 minutes of , or slower reps, or increase the number of reps or the amount of weight. If you attend a class try to do a better job- lift your leg higher, hold it straighter etc. etc. ( If you need suggestions you might want to ask the teacher of the class) Or you may want to increase your effort with some quality stretching before or after your exercise. Or another idea to step it up is to totally change your efforts. If you have been just walking do some weight lifting or stretching, if you have just been lifting weights why not take a class? If you're getting bored with cario and gym classes take an afternoon and go for a bike ride or play some tennis. Let's just do something to break out of our exercise rut (though "rutty" exercise is better than laying on the couch)

Our bodies tend to adapt to whatever we put them through and consequently exercise that was taxing and difficult and a challenge can become easier and less affective in keeping us healthy. So let's change it up and do something different. Wish you could all come over and jump on my trampoline with me this evening!

So for every day you make some type of extra or different effort in exercise this next week you will earn the 5 bonus challenge points!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Week # 5 Nutty Challenge

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    Our challenge for this week is to eat a hand full (about 1-1.5 ounces) of healthy nuts each day. I think sometimes we get a big overly-focused on the bottom line of calories in- energy out. If we tally up our myfitnesspal.com at the end of the day and we have not gone over our calorie count we feel good about our health. But the truth is we need to seek after and include a variety of healthy foods in our diets in order to fight disease and maintain good health.

    For every day this week that you include 1-1.5 ounces of healthy nuts and seeds in your diet you earn the 5 bonus points. Nut butters can be included only if they are freshly ground with no additives. Good luck and have a nutty week! To get the right amount of nuts you should be eating: 45 pistachios, 21 hazel nuts, 8 cashews, 14 walnut halves, 23 almonds, 19 pecan halves, or 12 macadamia nuts. Don't forget to include flax, pumpkin or sesame seeds as well. You want to eat them in their freshest state- never cooked in grease and salted- raw if possible in the shell is even better.

    And yes I realize that nuts are calorie dense. But the truth is your health would greatly benefit if you resist the empty calorie snack and wisely spend your calories on those foods that give you the greatest nutritional benefit.

    Here are just some of the advantages of eating nuts:

    Almonds – Known to improve your eyesight, hair and skin quality, memory retention power, lowering your bad cholesterol and having anti carcinogenic properties, almonds are a great source of minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron and Vitamin E. They are rich in protein too. Try and consume these with their skin on for maximum benefits.

  • Cashew nutsStore house of antioxidants, minerals such as copper, magnesium and phosphorous and good fats, cashews are known for their heart friendly attributes.
  • Hazelnuts Great for strengthening the stomach, these are rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Groundnuts or peanutsoffer a host of health benefits such as lowering your cholesterol, preventing diseases such as cancer, stroke, Alzheimer. They are naturally rich in fatty acids which help you look young and keep your organs young too.
  • Pistachio nuts are often recommended as tonic for the whole body and could be a part of some natural medicines as these promote the wellness of the digestive system.
  • Walnuts promote cardiovascular and adrenaline health. Are great for lowering cholesterol, promoting bone and brain health and prevent gall stones.
  • Flaxseeds – Rich in fatty acids, fibre and ‘good fat’, flaxseeds are great for building immunity, strengthening your bones, ensuring proper bowel movement and lowering your cholesterol. They should be coarsely ground to provide maximum nutritional benefit.
  • Pumpkin seeds – Great for protecting enlarged prostate and bones in men due to their high zinc content, these should be consumed in their green form, hulled. They are also great for preventing worms in the intestines.
  • Sesame seedsare liberally used as is and in oil form to promote cardio vascular and respiratory health in any individual. They are known to have anti carcinogenic and anti oxidant properties. They also are great for promoting bone health as they are very rich in calcium.
  • Sunflower seeds provide similar benefits as sesame seeds, apart from providing fibre, essential for proper bowel movement.

How much to consume and how to include them in your day to day diet?

Excess of anything is bad and this would hold very true for nuts and seeds. Had in moderation, this food category is great for promoting overall health, however as these are rich in natural oils, they are very high in calories and if the quantity you consume goes unchecked, you could end up gaining weight.

  • Usually a handful of mixed nuts and seeds is a good measure of providing with you the benefits, however keeping the calories in check. Research suggests that consuming about 1-1.5 oz. nuts or about 30-40 grams of nuts daily is okay, if the person is healthy and not suffering from any disease.
  • You could have these as a mid morning or evening snack – plain or toasted lightly, replacing an unhealthy choice of fried potato wafers or cookies.
  • You could add these to your breakfast cereal and include more fibre in your diet, while reaping other nutritional benefits.
  • Sprinkle them on your deli sandwich, salad or bake cookies and cakes with these to make the food more nutritious and add some extra crunch.

How to store them and other precautions?

  • While it is best to buy nuts and seeds from trusted sources, it is best to buy them with their shells when possible. When the shell is removed, the nutrients tend to quickly deplete.
  • Store the nuts that you have bought in a cool dark place and consume within a few weeks of buying these to make sure you get maximum benefits.
  • Some people with delicate digestive systems may find it difficult to digest nuts and seeds. If such is the case, it will be wise to soak them after rinsing them in clean running water. Soaking also starts the germination process of nuts and seeds and increases the nutritional value of the product manifold. Normally, it is recommended to soak nuts and seeds from anywhere between 2 to 24 hours, depending upon the time that the nuts take individually to germinate.
  • Despite their innumerable health benefits, nuts and seeds are known to trigger an allergic reaction in a lot of people and hence do check on this before introducing a new nut or seed in your diet.

Go ‘nuts’ about nuts and seeds as they surely are the new super food with so many health benefits!