Sunday, October 25, 2015

Require more of your body

Last night my healthy eating challenge partner (Gail) and I went to the So You Think You Can Dance Tour Concert in Orlando. It was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. And it was inspiring. I felt myself making all kinds of promises about pushing myself harder in my personal fitness so my body could do more of what it was made to do. I invite you to Youtube some of their performances. It is incredible what grace and beauty you can display by moving your fit body!

So as reality hits me again and I focus on what direction I want to take in stepping up my fitness efforts I thought about push ups.

Several months ago I saw Michelle Obama on the Ellen show. They mentioned her "Let's move" campaign and invited her to compete with Ellen to see who could do the most push ups. I have to admit she is a pretty fit first lady but take a look. I think both Michelle and Ellen are in their 40's and these push ups are pretty impressive

Now you may be thinking (like me) that you can't do even one push up (even a bent knee girl push up) But I have a method for you to work up to it. Please take a minute and watch this video which teaches an easy path to being able to do a full push up. First you push against a wall and then when you can do 30 reps of that you progress to pushing off the kitchen counter and then when you can do 30 reps of that you being doing push ups against a stair just a bit lower than your kitchen counter. You work your way down the stairs (moving on when you can do 30 reps) until finally you can do full push ups on the floor.

Here's the you tube video I'd like you to watch.

That's right ladies. Even if you are only pushing against the wall our weekly challenge this week is to work each day toward doing 30 reps of push ups against something! 
And though I haven't probably stressed this enough I would hope you have realized that none of these challenges are going to make a big impact on your life time of fitness if you only do them for a week. I challenge you to consider carefully adopting many of these habits as things you want to continue for your whole life! 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Eating New Fruits and Veggies Challenge is back!

Yes The Eating Fruits & Veggies You Don't Normally Eat Challenge Is Back Again 

When I have queried healthy eating challenge participants about which weekly challenge was their favorite this one is mentioned most often. In fact my favorite sister-in-law said she didn't even realize she liked so many vegetables until she tried the on this challenge. She has progressed really far in the years since she made that comment and now she is a full fledged green smoothie drinker with her own healthy eating blog! 

If you have ever read any of the blogs or books that tout various super foods you are aware of the power pack of nutrients contained in fruits and vegetables. Yet so many of us eat the same foods day in and day out. And in making these same food choices we also partake of the same nutrients. It's time to step outside our habits and take part in a wider variety of delicious fruits and vegetables. 
I have written before about a surprising experience I had when I prepared an evening snack for some teenagers that came to our home for a church meeting. I had heard some complaints the week before when these same teens were served store bought cake and cookies at an event. So... wanting to give them some healthier fare I served warm artisan whole wheat bread with honey butter (bought at Costco I just re-heated), sliced oranges and assorted veggies served in a cup with hummus. I couldn’t believe my ears when one of the girls asked what a slice of raw red bell pepper was and another exclaimed she had never before seen a snow pea pod.
Yet in my own family I have a nephew that when we reunited after a year apart shared that the last salad he had eaten was when he saw me last. ARRGGHHH! 
I know that on this challenge you have been eating fresh fruits and vegetables. But are you in a rut of always eating romaine in your salads, and always eating apples or oranges for your fruit? 
In a recent study Georgia State University nutrition students challenged fellow students to a “nutrition fear factor” test to encourage them to try new foods.
Alexandra Friel, one of the organizers, said, “Everyone has seen the ‘Fear Factor’ television show, and we all tend to think we are a little braver than we really are. We wanted to put Georgia State students to the test.”
So, she headed to DeKalb Farmers Market (which btw was my favorite place to shop when I lived in Atlanta) with fellow student Rebecca Sterns to select food for the taste test. They choose some that might be familiar, such as kiwi, fresh coconut and raw mushrooms, and some that many students had never seen, let alone tasted. Jackfruit, star fruit, pomegranate and durian were on the menu, as well as baba ghanouj — an eggplant dish.
The results? “Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience of tasting different foods that were interesting and healthy to eat,” said student Lauren Sieber. “The most interesting was the durian. It is by far the worst-smelling fruit in the world, but once you get past the smell, it tastes pretty good.”
Listed below are five foods that you may not have tried and they are just a small sampling of the wonderful variety we can choose from in our diet
• Plantains: A staple of Latin American cuisine, they look like large bananas, but are really a starch vegetable rich in potassium and vitamin C. Try the ripe ones (they will look almost black) for your test. Slice it, sauté with a little butter or margarine and a pinch of brown sugar and salt for side dish or dessert.
• Broccoli rabe: This vegetable, popular in Italy, is also called rapini and has slender stalks with broccoli-like flower buds. It can be bitter, so blanch it, toss with balsamic vinaigrette and serve it as a side dish. It is also good in salads or soups.
• Fresh or Dried figs: If you like Fig Newtons, try a dried fig instead: moist, chewy and flavorful, a perfect snack. There are many varieties. The Southern California Mission fig is one of the most popular. (Note this is one of my favorite snacks when I am craving sweets. Honestly the plain dried fig is as yummy as a fig newton. I buy them at Costco. I also use these to sweeten my green smoothies)
• Carambola: It’s used in Southeast Asia and is also called star fruit because when sliced each piece looks like a star. Choose a sweet variety, like Arkin. Look for one that is shiny and firm to the touch. Kids will like how it looks, and moms will like the extra fiber and vitamins A and C that it delivers.
• Eggplant: If you like hummus, try something new, like baba ghanouj served with pita wedges or flatbread. This Middle Eastern dish is used as a spread or a dip. My neighbor made it for me recently and it was so delicious I literally licked the plate. 
YOUR CHALLENGE FOR THIS WEEK IS, EACH DAY EAT A FRUIT OR VEGETABLE THAT YOU DO NOT NORMALLY EAT (to figure out if you “normally eat it” all foods that you have eaten within the last month cannot be used for this challenge. So each day you should be trying a new fruit or vegetable that you have not eaten in the last month nor during this week of the challenge) For every day that you try a new fruit or vegetable this week you earn the 5 bonus points.
Here’s a recipe that might be fun to try and please feel free to share any recipes on the blog that you have found for our more unusual fruits and veggies!
Baba Ghanouj 
Makes 2 cups or 8 (1/4-cup) servings
Hands on: 30 minutes 
Total time: 90 minutes
2 pounds eggplant,
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice,
1 small garlic clove minced,
 2 tablespoons tahini paste (sesame seed paste),
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, 
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
Grill the eggplant over a hot fire or under the broiler until the skin darkens and wrinkles on all sides, about 15 to 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. The eggplant should be uniformly soft when pressed with tongs. Transfer to a baking sheet and cool for 5 minutes.
Set a small colander over a bowl or in the sink. Trim the top and bottom off each eggplant. Slit the eggplants lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop the hot pulp from the skins and place the pulp in the colander. You should have about 2 cups of packed pulp. Discard the skins. Let the pulp drain for 3 minutes.
Transfer pulp to a food processor bowl and add lemon juice, garlic, tahini, 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Process until the mixture has a coarse, choppy texture, about 8 one-second pulses. Transfer to a serving dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until lightly chilled, about 45 to 60 minutes.
To serve, use a spoon to make a trough in the center of the dip and spoon in a teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle with parsley.
— From “Perfect Vegetables From the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated” (America’s Test Kitchen, $29.95)
Per serving: 50 calories (percent of calories from fat, 72), 1 gram protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 grams fiber, 4 grams fat (less than 1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 2 milligrams sodium.
Nutritional bonus points: Don’t let the 72 percent of calories from fat scare you. This is a low-fat, low-calorie dip, and the small amount of fat comes from heart-healthy fats in the olive oil and tahini.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Weekly Challenge Up Your Endorphins

I recently invited a friend to join me for a yoga class. I asked her what she is presently doing in her life for stress relief. Her brow furrowed and a long silence followed. She couldn’t name a single thing. Now maybe she is just a more chill person than I am but I NEED regular stress relievers just to make it though life with a smile on my face at least some of the time. You guessed it-- our challenge for this week is for you to participate in some kind of stress relief activities daily. Here are a few ideas (most are from Reader’s Digest) to consider:
1. Sniff some vanilla or lavender

      Certain aromas can lift your mood by influencing the production of endorphins the brain's "feel-good" chemicals. For example, the scent of vanilla helps reduce anxiety, which is often associated with depression. According to a study at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, patients undergoing MRIs who breathed vanilla-scented air reported 63 percent less anxiety than those who breathed unscented air.
         To get the endorphin-boosting benefits of vanilla, add a drop or two of vanilla to some herbal tea or cocoa, light some vanilla-scented candles, or add vanilla essential oil to your bathwater.
         In another study, conducted on college students, inhaling the aroma of lavender essential oil improved symptoms of depression and insomnia You can dab lavender oil on your wrists and temples or diffuse it in the air or sprinkle it on your bed linens.
2. Take a group exercise class

      Group exercise has some distinct advantages, according to a recent study. Not only will friends encourage you, but the shared effort may give your endorphin levels an extra boost. Researchers in 2009 found that college crews who rowed in synchronization had an increased rush of these feel-good hormones compared with those who rowed alone. But all exercise is good, whether solitary or with others. Invite a friend along for walking, skipping, dancing, aerobics and running. The rhythm of continuous exercise releases endorphins and encourages reflective thought.
4. Seek out daily laughter
         It's been observed that children laugh about 300 times a day, whereas adults laugh, on average, only about five times each day. The more we laugh, the better our perspective. Problems also seem to shrink, bringing an increased sense of energy. Over the centuries it has been claimed that laughter is one of life's greatest medicines; as the Bible says, 'a merry heart doeth good like a medicine' (Proverbs 17:22).
         Laughter is sometimes described as 'inner jogging'. Research has shown that it can help to: lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, boost immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting cells, trigger the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers and produce a general sense of wellbeing.
         Modern humor therapy dates from the 1930s, when clowns were brought into American hospitals to cheer up children hospitalized with polio. More recently, the role of laughter as an aid to healing has been well documented in Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, by the American journalist, author and professor Norman Cousins, who created his own laughter-based, self-healing regime after being diagnosed with a degenerative disease. He suffered adverse reactions to most of the drugs he was given and decided, with the cooperation of his doctor, to take matters into his own hands. Cousins discontinued his medication and, as well as taking megadoses of vitamin C, spent his days watching Marx Brothers films and episodes of the TV comedy show Candid Camera, as well as reading humorous books. He claimed that 10 minutes of laughing gave him 2 hours of drug-free pain relief. In time he experienced a gradual withdrawal of symptoms and eventually regained most of his lost freedom of movement.
         In India, Laughing Clubs, in which participants gather in the early morning for the sole purpose of laughing, are becoming increasingly popular, while in the UK, the psychologist and psychotherapist Robert Holden launched the country's first laughter clinics in 1991 with funding from the NHS.
Here are a few of my favorites (Note I enjoy ALL of the Jay Leno Gas tank news and Jay Leno Photo Booth epidisodes available on youtube)
6. Savor some chocolate

      Chocolate-lovers will be delighted to hear that dark chocolate provides protection against heart attacks and strokes. Thanks to its high content of polyphenols and other antioxidants, dark chocolate reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure, reduces LDL cholesterol, boosts good HDL cholesterol and protects the health of your arteries. It also contains chemicals that prompt the release of endorphins, the body's pain-relieving and pleasure-promoting hormones.
         In one major review of 139 studies conducted over nearly 40 years, researchers concluded that chocolate consumption could lower the risk of cardiovascular death by around 19 per cent. That's the good news. The bad news, for some, is that all you need to eat to improve your health is 6.7g per day. That's equivalent to one small square two or three times a week. Also the heart benefits tend to disappear with consumption of larger amounts. A little dark chocolate may even help to curb our appetite for unhealthier foods, according to research at the University of Copenhagen, which reveals that dark chocolate is more filling than milk chocolate and reduces cravings for salty, fatty or sugary items.
7. Listen to Music

Listening to music you love triggers joy by unleashing feel-good brain chemicals. Take notice of what music is most able to lift your spirits and then look for times to introduce it in your day. Sing in the shower, crank it up in the car, belt it out in the kitchen. If you are someone that listens almost exclusively to talk radio or audible books edge that out with at least a few minutes a day of some joyful music.
8. Eat something spicy

        The hot, spicy taste of foods is not, in fact, a taste sensation but a feeling of pain. Capsaicin the chemical compound that makes chili peppers hot binds to proteins, or pain receptors, of nerve cells in the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth. The nerve impulses produced in this way pass via the trigeminal nerve into the brain, creating a painful burning feeling. The same receptors also react to heat, so that when heavily spiced food is eaten hot, the effect is even more intense. However, the pain is offset by the body's reaction, which is to release endorphins naturally occurring opioids that produce a feeling of wellbeing which could explain the popularity of hot, spicy food. Another positive effect of hot spices is that they kill pathogens and promote sweating the latter effect being especially useful for cooling the body in hot climates. Another thing I like about eating spicy foods is that I have noticed for me less is more. Smaller portions of spicy foods because they contain so much flavor seem more satisfying than larger portions of bland foods.
9. Spend some time swinging your arms

Stand up, relax and smile. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward. Your arms should be hanging naturally at your sides. Let your eyes almost close as you mentally focus down toward your toes. Now, extend both arms out in front of you, then relax and let your arms swing naturally back behind you. Keep swinging your arms back and forth like this in an easy pendulum-like rhythm at least 100 times. (It’s called hand swinging because, of course, your hands go along with your arms.) Keep your mind focused on what you’re doing. Breathe naturally, and don’t let your attention wander until the exercise is completed and you will feel the results of this endorphin encourager.
10. Hug until they let go.
          Hugs are one of the most succinct ways to encourage your body to release oxytocin, and the more oxytocin your pituitary gland releases, the better able you are to handle life's stressors.
         Oxytocin decreases the level of stress hormones (primarily cortisol) your body manufactures and lowers your blood pressure response to anxiety-producing events. Oxytocin quite likely plays a role in why pet owners heal more quickly from illness, why couples live longer than singles, and why support groups work for people with addictions and chronic diseases.
         Oxytocin has also been found to reduce the cravings of drug and alcohol addiction, as well as for sweets. It even has a positive influence on inflammation and wound healing. Even beyond this, regular hugs have the added benefit of:
   Cultivating patience and showing appreciation
   Activating the Solar Plexus Chakra, which stimulates your thymus gland (this may help balance your production of white blood cells)
   Stimulating dopamine, the pleasure hormone, and serotonin, for elevated mood
   Balancing out your nervous system for better parasympathetic balance
So hug often and hug long-- hug until they let go. 

So your challenge for the next week is to add at least one activity each day specifically to raise your endorphins. It can be something from the list above or any other idea that you know works well for you. It can be a different activity every day or the same one for several days. But make stress relief a focus of your week. For every day you do this you will earn 5 bonus points. (And yes you can include a small square of dark chocolate in your daily regimen without it counting as your sugar day if you can fit it in your daily calorie budget- I'm calling it "medicinal chocolate"!) 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Challenge beginning October 7- Go the Extra Mile

This weeks challenge is going to be about going the extra mile. You can probably relate to my story. My work out buddy chuckles at me sometimes as I express frustration that I can’t find a good parking space at the gym. It really is silly isn’t it? I am purposefully setting aside an hour to challenge my body through exercise but I am complaining about having to take a few extra steps to get there.

Also my son recently posed a question that similarly struck me. "When people know they are about to get on an airplane and be forced to sit for several hours why do they choose to sit in the boarding area?" He always spends that time walking briskly around the boarding area just to get in a few extra steps.

So for this week-- instead of looking for ways to make it easier on yourself you are going to purposefully seek opportunities to burn a few more calories.

It’s time to park as far away from any entrance to work, the grocery store, shopping mall entrances, and anywhere else you visit throughout your week – every day (without compromising safety, of course).

Here’s some other examples of how to embrace this weeks challenge:
         Park as far away as you can from the entry of:
                  Your workplace
                  Your grocery store
                  Your mall
                  Your children’s school (this might mean getting up earlier!)
                  A restaurant (you’re making healthy choices, right??)
                  any anywhere else you park your car at
         Take the STAIRS instead of the ELEVATOR or ESCALATOR!
         Plan events around walking, like:
                  Meeting someone for a walk in the park
                  Strolling through a mall
                  Ordering lunch for the office and taking a group walk
         Get off the bus an exit before your usual stop
         Use the restroom, break room, coffee machine, etc. that is farthest from you
         After grocery shopping, return the shopping cart back inside the       store rather than leaving it in the parking lot
         Take a 10-minute walk before eating lunch and dinner
         Form a workplace walking group for before, during (break) or   after work
         Schedule a daily family walking session 
         Participate in charity walk
         Visit local parks and enjoy the trails – mark them off a list as you complete them
         Don’t drive through – park and get out when visiting the bank or        drug store (and fast food if you have found a healthy option to order)
         Strive to be inefficient. Take 4 trips in and out of the house to   carry groceries instead of grabbing huge armfuls to save a few steps

For this challenge, I highly recommend using a pedometer. An active person should be logging at lest 10,000 steps a day. Amazon has a highly rated one for $1.69. Personally I am a huge fan of fit bit and have found it to be an awesome tool to alert me to a day that I have allowed to slip into inactivity.

By increasing your cardio exercise daily, you are not only going to burn fat and lose weight, but you’ll better condition your heart, joints, bones, lungs and leg muscles, enjoy better moods, have more energy, slow aging, and you’ll become much more motivated throughout the week.

Don’t forget to hydrate with plenty of water, and stretch those legs out before starting your walking or cardio routines.
To wrap it up, here are some fun facts about simple walking:
         There are approximately 2100 steps in 1 mile
         There are approximately 200 steps in 1 block
         There are approximately 1200 steps in 10 minutes of walking

So your challenge for the week is to step it up and go the extra mile. Make a constant effort each day to add some steps into your routine. For every day you do this you can earn the 5 bonus points. Yes I think you can even park far away from church without breaking the Sabbath so 35 points possible this week.