Ways to cope in the midst of uncertain times

LIVING WITH HEART & HOPE-“It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” — Richard Evans

The world as we know it has undergone quite a lot of change and it can be challenging to navigate the stress that often accompanies uncertain times. During this month that’s so focused on love, we want to focus on the most impact-full thing you can do to diffuse stress and keep hope alive: self-care.

Here’s the paradox—when you’re stressed, it makes sense that taking care of yourself falls to the bottom of your to-do list; after all, there are so many other people and priorities that are more important, right? Well, no. Self-care is actually MOST important to help buffer you against the health-eroding effects of stress and it’s also a way to keep what’s going on around you in perspective. You can only change yourself and how you show up in the world—and you can only do that when you are healthy and nourished. So avoid the temptation to brush it aside.

To that end, here are three ideas for how you can remain grounded and cared for during the month of February and beyond.

Find community

In stressful times, it’s even more important to reach out to your community—to become engaged with other people, and build human connections. This can be as simple as finding time to spend with friends or family. Kids, in particular, are fantastic supporters of living in the moment and building connections. (Try obsessing about politics around a two-year-old—they will not let you!)

Simplify

Our smartphones have our go-to for staying connected, but spending all of your waking hours glued to a screen is bad for your soul. Balance out the need to stay informed with some simple time-outs:

  • Go for a walk in nature.
  • Make time for exercise—sweaty exertion is GREAT for clearing the head and harmlessly channeling any feelings of anger or frustration.
  • Read a book: Nothing can help you gain perspective like reading about how others have overcome obstacles.
  • Take care of your basic physical health: practice good sleep hygiene, eat well by focusing on whole foods, and remember to stop and breathe when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Simplifying is not an excuse to tune out. It’s a necessary step to keep yourself from burning out and lapsing into apathy.

Give Back

The best cure for an anxious, blue mood? Giving back to those who are truly less fortunate.

It’s tempting to hide away and remain overwhelmed. But using your skills to give back is not only beneficial to the world—but also beneficial to your well-being! Giving back to others is a great way to feel proud, motivated, and strong. It allows you to really define, prioritize, and fight for your values: What’s most important to you? What good can you do in the world? How can your skills help others? Start thinking of small steps you can take to help others:

  • Can you volunteer some time to help a local charity?
  • Can you mentor someone in need?
  • Can you forego that daily Starbucks run and commit to a small donation to a non-profit?

Seemingly tiny acts add up mightily if you can start a real habit.

To your good health,

Karen

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How Exercise Shapes You, Far Beyond the Gym

By

When I first started training for marathons a little over ten years ago, my coach told me something I’ve never forgotten: that I would need to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I didn’t know it at the time, but that skill, cultivated through running, would help me as much, if not more, off the road as it would on it.

It’s not just me, and it’s not just running. Ask anyone whose day regularly includes a hard bike ride, sprints in the pool, a complex problem on the climbing wall, or a progressive powerlifting circuit, and they’ll likely tell you the same: A difficult conversation just doesn’t seem so difficult anymore. A tight deadline not so intimidating. Relationship problems not so problematic.

Maybe it’s that if you’re regularly working out, you’re simply too tired to care. But that’s probably not the case. Research shows that, if anything, physical activity boosts short-term brain function and heightens awareness. And even on days they don’t train — which rules out fatigue as a factor — those who habitually push their bodies tend to confront daily stressors with a stoic demeanor. While the traditional benefits of vigorous exercise — like prevention and treatment of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and osteoporosis — are well known and often reported, the most powerful benefit might be the lesson that my coach imparted to me: In a world where comfort is king, arduous physical activity provides a rare opportunity to practice suffering.

Few hone this skill better than professional endurance and adventure athletes, who make a living withstanding conditions others cannot. For my column with Outside Magazine, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing the world’s top endurance and adventure athletes on the practices underlying their success. Regardless of sport, the most resounding theme, by far, is that they’ve all learned how to embrace uncomfortable situations:

• Olympic marathoner Des Linden told me that at mile 20 of 26.2, when the inevitable suffering kicks in, through years of practice she’s learned to stay relaxed and in the moment. She repeats the mantra: “calm, calm, calm; relax, relax, relax.”

• World-champion big-wave surfer Nic Lamb says being uncomfortable, and even afraid, is a prerequisite to riding four-story waves. But he also knows it’s “the path to personal development.” He’s learned that while you can pull back, you can almost always push through. “Pushing through is courage. Pulling back is regret,” he says.

• Free-soloist Alex Honnold explains that, “The only way to deal with [pain] is practice. [I] get used to it during training so that when it happens on big climbs, it feels normal.”

• Evelyn Stevens, the women’s record holder for most miles cycled in an hour (29.81 – yes, that’s nuts), says that during her hardest training intervals, “instead of thinking I want these to be over, I try to feel and sit with the pain. Heck, I even try to embrace it.”

• Big-mountain climber Jimmy Chin, the first American to climb up — and then ski down — Mt. Everest’s South Pillar Route, told me an element of fear is there in everything he does, but he’s learned how to manage it: “It’s about sorting out perceived risk from real risk, and then being as rational as possible with what’s left.”

But you don’t need to scale massive vertical pitches or run five-minute miles to reap the benefits. Simply training for your first half marathon or CrossFit competition can also yield huge dividends that carry over into other areas of life. In the words of Kelly Starrett, one of the founding fathers of the CrossFit movement, “Anyone can benefit from cultivating a physical practice.” Science backs him up.

A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that college students who went from not exercising at all to even a modest program (just two to three gym visits per week) reported a decrease in stress, smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption, an increase in healthy eating and maintenance of household chores, and better spending and study habits. In addition to these real-life improvements, after two months of regular exercise, the students also performed better on laboratory tests of self-control. This led the researchers to speculate that exercise had a powerful impact on the students’ “capacity for self-regulation.” In laypeople’s terms, pushing through the discomfort associated with exercise — saying “yes” when their bodies and minds were telling them to say “no” — taught the students to stay cool, calm, and collected in the face of difficulty, whether that meant better managing stress, drinking less, or studying more.

For this reason, the author Charles Duhigg, in his 2012 bestseller The Power of Habit, calls exercise a “keystone habit,” or a change in one area life that brings about positive effects in other areas. Duhigg says keystone habits are powerful because “they change our sense of self and our sense of what is possible.” This explains why the charity Back on My Feet uses running to help individuals who are experiencing homelessness improve their situations. Since launching in 2009, Back on My Feet has had over 5,500 runners, 40 percent of whom have gained employment after starting to run with the group and 25 percent of whom have found permanent housing. This is also likely why it’s so common to hear about people who started training for a marathon to help them get over a divorce or even the death of a loved one.

Another study, this one published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, evaluated how exercise changes our physiological response to stress. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in Germany, divided students into two groups at the beginning of the semester and instructed half to run twice a week for 20 weeks. At the end of the 20 weeks, which coincided with a particularly stressful time for the students — exams — the researchers had the students wear heart-rate monitors to measure their heart-rate variability, which is a common indicator of physiological stress (the more variability, the less stress). As you might guess by now, the students who were enrolled in the running program showed significantly greater heart-rate variability. Their bodies literally were not as stressed during exams: They were more comfortable during a generally uncomfortable time.

What’s remarkable and encouraging about these studies is that the subjects weren’t exercising at heroic intensities or volumes. They were simply doing something that was physically challenging for them – going from no exercise to some exercise; one need not be an elite athlete or fitness nerd to reap the bulletproofing benefits of exercise.

Why does any of this matter? For one, articles that claim prioritizing big fitness goals is a waste of time (exhibit A: “Don’t Run a Marathon) are downright wrong. But far more important than internet banter, perhaps a broader reframing of exercise is in order. Exercise isn’t just about helping out your health down the road, and it’s certainly not just about vanity. What you do in the gym (or on the roads, in the ocean, etc.) makes you a better, higher-performing person outside of it. The truth, cliché as it may sound, is this: When you develop physical fitness, you’re developing life fitness, too.

Brad Stulberg is a columnist for Outside Magazine, where he writes about health and the science of human performance. Follow him on Twitter @Bstulberg.

35 Benefits of Excercising During Pregnancy

Should you keep exercising after you become pregnant? This is the question many women who work out or who play sports ask themselves as soon as it happens. Many mothers-to-be believe pregnancy is a time to nest, relax, and let the baby grow. However, it is possible to continue to do some exercises while pregnant. In fact, many now believe that it is a vital part of maintaining both the health of the mother and of the baby too.

Naturally, the range of sports and exercises becomes more limited when a baby is on board, but it does not rule all of them out. Before deciding which sports to do be it Tai Chi or something else, it is important to understand why you should be doing exercises in the first place.

Of the many benefits, there are 4 main categories – physical health while pregnant, mental and emotional health, benefits to both the baby and the mother, and post-delivery health benefits. To find out the 35 most common reasons for exercising during pregnancy, check out this article.

Contributed by Jessica Walter


Destress, Build Bones, & Boost Metabolism

By Karen Malkin

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Stop Stressing!

By now, you probably know that stress takes a tremendous toll on your body, often showing up in the form of headaches, intestinal issues, weight gain, hypertension, insomnia, and other health problems.

Did you know stress also wreaks havoc on your bones and calorie burning capacity? If stress travels with you like unwanted baggage, take advantage of a slower pace to let it go, boost metabolism and build strong bones. By making a commitment to incorporate these stress-reduction techniques into your summer routine, you will stand taller, breathe easier, feel stronger and burn more calories.

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First, let’s take a quick look at how stress impacts your health.

  • When stressed, your body releases the hormones cortisol and insulin.
  • Elevated cortisol and insulin lead to increases in blood sugar, cholesterol, and signals the body to store fat and not build lean muscle.
  • Stress causes salt retention.
  • Stress decreases gut flora, healthy bacteria, needed for good digestion.
  • Stress decreases the amount growth hormone in your body which is needed for growth and to build muscle.
  • Stress decreases thyroid hormone needed to regulate metabolism.
  • Stress increases inflammation in the body and oxidative stress and causes premature aging.
  • Stress increases nutrient excretion.  The body excretes calcium as well, chromium, selenium, magnesium, zinc and all the micro minerals, through the urine, from going to your bones for the good of other tissues-it’s like the anti-Vitamin D.

Am I stressing you out?

Slow Down to De-stress. Don’t worry-if changing gears doesn’t come naturally, it’s very hard for me, too.

Here are 5 tips to help you de-stress:

  1. Cut down on your commitments. Say “NO”.  Create a NOT to-do list.
  2. Take a vacation, spend time in nature, and truly unplug (NOTE: this means your mobile phone and laptop also take a rest!) Try not to worry. What you resist, persists!
  3. Practice deep breathing, rhythmically, which short cuts the stress response and allows you to feel relaxed very quickly, which increases calorie burning capacity.
  4. Read a good book; catch up on your summer novels!
  5. Get quality sleep and give yourself permission to nap. Sleep deprivation increases the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which causes refined carbohydrate and sugar cravings.

Move to De-stress

Cycling, walking and Pilates are my exercises of choice, especially in the morning to get my day started right; it’s a great option for stress reduction, which in turn helps keep cortisol levels regulated. Simple daily walks, weight training and finding loving ways to move your body will go a long way toward rebuilding your bones.

Eat to De-stress

Reducing caffeine and other acidic foods such as animal protein, milk, packaged foods and soda, and adding in a nutrient dense array of colorful whole foods helps ward off bone deterioration. Fruits and vegetables, especially calcium rich leafy greens and those high in lycopene and polyphenols such as tomatoes, berries and watermelon are particularly beneficial for bone health. Additionally, Food + Oxygen = increased calorie burning capacity.  Take deep sips of air before and during each meal. Eating under stress slows down metabolism. Turn on the parasympathetic nervous system by relaxing, which burns more calories and boosts metabolism! So, in the remaining weeks of the season, claim your space in the hammock, spend time with the people you love, take a walk in nature, catch up on your reading, and fill your plate with dark leafy greens, fresh fruit and lots of vegetables. Your body-and bones will thank you. Keep your eye on the prize: a long and healthy life!

Your Health Benefits from an Attitude of Gratitude

GIVING THANKS GIVES BACK

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, andgratitude change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” — William Arthur Ward

This time of year, our thoughts naturally turn to giving thanks for everything in our lives that bring us happiness and joy. But did you know that cultivating an attitude of gratitude can do more than make you happier? Adopting a grateful mindset as your default can also deliver both mental health and physical health benefits that can greatly improve your life.

Maintain a positive attitude to:

CALM DOWN — Cultivating gratitude and other positive emotions can reduce stress hormones like cortisol by as much as 23%. A study of 400 people, 40% of whom had sleep disorders, shows making nightly lists of things they are grateful for can also improve the duration and quality of sleep.

KEEP YOUR HEART HEALTHY — Recalling feelings of appreciation and listing things for which you’re grateful can protect your heart by decreasing blood pressure and lowering heart rate variability.

SLIM DOWN — In a study of undergraduate students, those who were grateful were shown to spend an average of 36% more time exercising per week—they also took better care of their health overall.

BOLSTER YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM — Gratitude is linked with optimism, which can improve the body’s immune response in certain situations, resulting in an increase in white blood cells needed to fight disease.

LOWER RISK OF DEPRESSION — Scientists say that shifting your thinking from negative outcomes to positive ones elicit a surge of feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, and help you build more enduring personal connections. These things, in turn, can help ward off depression.

To reap the benefits, you first need to cultivate practices that will help you build your gratitude “muscle”! Here are three things to try, starting today:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal. All it requires is noting one or more things you are grateful for on a daily basis. You don’t need a fancy notebook to do this as it’s more about the ritual of writing down daily the positive things you appreciate.
  2. Replace negative self-talk with positive comments to condition yourself to be kind to yourself. Bashing yourself takes a toll on your health.
  3. Uplift someone else by doing something kind and notice how it impacts your energy and mood.

karenI know that I’m extremely grateful to have you as part of my community. I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank you for all that you do to improve your own health and the health of your family!

To your good health,

Karen

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