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Archive for December, 2012

8 Healthy Habits for the New Year

8 Healthy Habits for the New Year

 

Happy almost new year! It’s that time when a lot of us are looking ahead and  thinking of what resolutions we’re going to make for the coming year. Instead of  vague or short-term goals this year, why not resolve to start a healthy habit  that you really want to stick with?

Have you ever noticed how the gym is extra crowded that first week in  January? By mid-January the wait time for that elliptical trainer is a little  bit more reasonable, and by the end of February things have pretty much settled  back to normal. That surge in gym-going is a great example of how new year’s  resolutions often work: we set out with the best of intentions, but our  resolutions are too big or too vague to really follow through with them all year  long.

Starting a healthy habit takes time. I’ve read a lot about starting habits,  and depending on what source you’re looking at, it can take anywhere from 21 to  66 days. That means that you need to practice something regularly for anywhere  from a few weeks over two months to really make it part of your routine. And  that’s if you’re practicing every day.

If your healthy habit is doing something once a week or less, it’s going to  take longer. Going into this with reasonable expectations is key to building  healthy habits that stick!

What’s great about starting a habit is that once you establish it as part of  your routine, it stops being a chore and starts being part of your routine.  Brushing your teeth in the morning is a great example of a habit. We wake up  bleary-eyed, and for many of us the first thing we do is stumble into the  bathroom and grab that toothbrush. It’s almost a reflex, right?

New years resolutions so often are something vague – like “get in  shape,” but vagaries are hard to stick to. Check out these ideas for healthy  habits that you can form in 2013, and remember: practice makes  perfect!

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gratitude: you're great!

1)    Start a  Gratitude Jar

Practicing gratitude is such a great habit to get into, and turning that  practice into something physical can help you remember to be grateful for what  you have every day. Get yourself a mason jar or a small vase, and every day,  write down something that you’re grateful for and stick the paper in the  jar.

Your moment of gratitude can be as simple as something like, “Made an amazing  pot of coffee this morning!” to bigger things like, “Got a promotion at work  today!” Remember to date your moments of gratitude, so you can jog your memory  about them later on.

At the end of the year (or when times are feeling a little rough), you get to  sort through the jar and enjoy all of the little blessings from the past year.  It’s so easy to take those small things for granted, and having them all in one  place helps remind us of how lucky we are. (Leesa recommends a gratitude journal to write down at least 5 things you are thankful for each day! When you focus on all that is good in your life, you change and your life will change!)  

 

learn a skill: making sushi

2)    Learn a New  Skill

Have you always wanted to learn how to make pottery or cook Indian food?  Instead of just resolving to do those things, sign up for a class!

I know, pottery and cooking classes can be expensive. If you don’t have the  money in your budget for a class, spend some time googling and see what  resources you can find online. Then, create yourself a structured schedule and  block out time each week to practice whatever it is you’re trying to learn. For  the Indian food example, maybe you can bookmark a dozen recipes, and try making  one or two a week, starting with the ones that seem simplest.

You can also invest in a book, which can be very helpful. Sometimes having a  tangible item can help keep you motivated.

get regular exercise

3)    Getting Regular  Exercise

As cliche as it sounds, a lot of us do want to lose some weight in the new  year, and that’s OK! Focusing on weight loss tends to be ineffective, though.  Instead, try focusing on getting regular exercise.

One of the best ways I’ve found to incorporate exercise into my schedule has  been…incorporating it into my schedule! Literally. Whether you use a day planner  or a digital calendar to keep up with appointments, schedule those workout just  like you’d schedule a work meeting or a lunch date.

You can join a gym, but you can also just buy a pair of tennis shoes and head  outdoors for your workouts. Walking and jogging outside are totally free  activities that almost anyone can do. It can also help to pick up a program,  like Couch to 5K, or sign up for an event like a race. Training towards  something specific is very motivating!

cooking at home

4)    Cooking at  Home

“Eat healthier” is another common resolution that’s hard to keep. Instead of  just resolving to improve your diet, try focusing on something more concrete.  When we cook at home, we tend to eat healthier food than when we go out or order  takeout.

That doesn’t mean you have to toss your favorite Chinese delivery menu in the  recycle bin! If you eat most of your meals from restaurants now, try cooking at  home once or twice a week to start, and add in more meals as you get more  comfortable in the kitchen.

Related Reading: 5  Essential Vegan and Vegetarian Cookbooks

When you choose your recipes for home-cooking, look for ones that have  healthy doses of fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean protein. You can  grab a couple of healthy cookbooks to get you motivated or search online for  recipes. Cooking  Light and Epicurious  both have searchable recipe databases, and you can even look for specific  ingredients, if there’s something in the fridge that you need to cook before it  goes bad!

quit smoking

5)    Replace a Bad  Habit with a Good One

Are you a smoker? Is sugar your weakness? Do you love diet soda? We all have  vices, and cutting back or cutting out one of yours can mean a healthier,  happier 2013.

The trouble with a resolution like “quit smoking” is that on its own, it’s a  pretty daunting task. Instead of just resolving to give up a bad, try replacing  it with a good one. Quitting smoking is hard, but what if you’re trying to start  a running regimen at the same time? Suddenly, your smoking is holding you back  from another goal, which makes it a little easier to say no to the bad  habit.

For something like diet soda or sugar, replace those unhealthy treats with  healthy ones. Next time you want to reach for a diet coke, grab a fizzy water  and sass it up with a squeeze of lemon or a shot of juice. Put down that cookie  and grab a tangerine instead.

The other key to ditching bad habits is not beating yourself up if you slip.  So, you had a few drinks at the bar and smoked a cigarette last night. You can’t  change that. Just don’t smoke today! Or tomorrow. Go easy on yourself, and  remember that your goal is a long term one.

yoga

6)    Practice  Mindfulness

It’s easy to make snap decisions – sometimes ones we regret – in stressful  situations. When that happens, we just end up even more stressed out! This year,  resolve to try being more mindful in tough situations. Try to remember to take a  step back and look at the big picture. Whether you’re faced with a time crunch  at work or a family emergency, I bet you’ll find yourself making better choices  and stressing less.

The key is finding better, concrete ways to deal with your  stress right there in the moment. Try taking a deep breath and slowly counting  to five when you feel things getting out of control. Or even learn when it’s  time to remove yourself from a situation to give yourself a little  perspective.

Mindfulness can also be about celebrating what’s good in our lives. Pairing  up this resolution with another one, like the  gratitude jar, can help you remember what’s important in life when times get  a little stressful.

self care: take a tea or coffee break

7)    Practice Self  Care

Self care is all about taking the time to care for your own emotional needs.  We can get so caught up in the day-to-day that we neglect our own mental health.  When you practice self care, you not only improve your own happiness, but you  set yourself up to approach the rest of your day with a more positive attitude  and more energy.

Practice a little self care every day, and when you make this resolution decide what that means to you. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  It could be as simple as taking the dog for a walk while you listen to your  favorite podcast or spending 20 minutes one evening painting your nails. Just do  one small thing for yourself.

Whenever I talk about self care, I like to share this video from Twin Peaks.  It’s a little bit cheesy, but I think the point he makes is spot on. Treat  yourself every day, and you’ll be happier and healthier.

volunteering at a soup kitchen

8)    Volunteer Your  Time

One of the best ways that we can improve ourselves is by giving back to  others. Try signing up to walk dogs at the local shelter or help out once a week  at the local food bank. Giving back improves your community, and you get to go  home feeling warm and fuzzy. Everybody wins!

We are all blessed with so much, and taking time each week or even a couple  of times a month to give back can help remind us of how lucky we are.

Do you have a healthy habit planned for 2013? I’d love to hear your  healthy new year’s resolutions in the comments!

Becky Striepe

Becky Striepe is a freelance writer and vegan crafter living in Atlanta,  Georgia. Her life’s mission is to make green crafting and vegan food accessible  to everyone! Like this article? You can follow  Becky on Twitter or find her on  Facebook!

3 Myths to Dispel About the Brain

What if we could improve our memory, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and keep our brains young with just a few simple mindfulness techniques?

Deepak Chopra recently appeared on the Dr. Oz show discussing memory and the brain. With the recent release of his new book, Super Brain, co-authored by Harvard neuroscientist Rudy Tanzi, there has been a lot in the air about the connection between the mind, aging and brain health. Deepak and Rudy discuss some key themes from the book, including memory, love, and sleep, on The Chopra Well series, SUPER BRAIN.

As it turns out, we have more of a say in the strength and resilience of our brains than we may have thought. Here are three myths to dispel before we can harness the power of our “super brains.” If we can wrap our minds around these, then we are off to a great start.

Myth #1: Over the course of our lives, our brains continuously lose cells that will never be replaced.

Truth: We do lose brain cells as a natural course of wear and tear (about one per second), but these cells are replaced and can even increase in a process called “neurogenesis.” Several thousand new nerve cells come into being every day in the hippocampus, home of short-term memory. We can promote the birth of these new cells by choosing to learn new things, take risks, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes avoiding emotional stress and trauma, which have been shown to inhibit neurogenesis.

Myth #2: The brain is hardwired and cannot be changed.

Truth: Our brains are actually incredibly flexible, if we can just learn to nurture and foster their development. The term for this “re-wiring” is neuroplasticity and is dependent on our own will to try new things, tackle new goals and experience change. The brain’s circuitry can be reshaped by our thoughts, desires, and experiences. This property has been vividly illustrated by dramatic recoveries after injuries, but it also comes to bear every time you take a new route to work or learn a new skill.

Myth #3: Memory loss with age is irreversible.

Truth: It is possible to prevent and even reverse memory loss! Ever misplaced your keys and blamed it on old age? The fact is, you have to learn something in the first place before you can forget it. So it may be that you just never learned where you placed your keys. Practice mindfulness as the first step toward building a resilient memory. Also, memories associated with feelings are much stronger than memories based in simple, hard fact. We must take an interest in everything going on around us, stay alert, and resist feeling hopeless or apathetic about the aging process. Our brains are capable of miracles, regardless of age.

By The Chopra Well

8 Common Myths About Dehydration

 

Water plays an integral role in nearly every biological process in the body.  Everything from controlling the body’s thermostat to regulating blood pressure  to taking out the trash relies on water to get the job done. Yet, for such a  life-and-death nutrient, most of us take water for granted.

Sure, we know we should imbibe, but how much? Does the water in  caffeinated drinks, like coffee and soda, count for or against us? And should  you drink before you’re thirsty or wait for your thirst signal to kick in?

“A lot of what we think about water is sheer guesswork,” says Elson Haas, MD,  an integrated-medicine physician in San Rafael, Calif., and the author, most  recently, of Staying Healthy with Nutrition (Celestial Arts,  2006). “A lack of research has led to a lack of knowledge. In fact, most of what  people think they know about water isn’t even true.”

To get beyond confusing water myths and delve into some commonsense wisdom,  we tapped several experts on water intake and human health. Here are the ins and  outs of keeping your body well watered.

Myth No. 1: Dehydration is relatively rare and occurs only when the  body is deprived of water for days.

Reality: Low-grade dehydration (versus acute and clinical  dehydration) is a chronic, widespread problem that has major impacts on  well-being, energy, appearance and resiliency. Christopher Vasey, ND, a Swiss  naturopath and author of The Water Prescription (Healing Arts Press, 2006),  believes that most people suffer regularly from this type of chronic dehydration  because of poor eating and drinking habits.

Chronic dehydration can cause digestive disorders because our bodies need  water to produce the digestive juices that aid the digestive process. If we  don’t get that water, we don’t secrete enough digestive juices, and a variety of  problems — such as gas, bloating, nausea, poor digestion and loss of appetite — can ensue.

Bottom Line:If you’re not actively focusing on  hydrating throughout the day, there’s a good chance you could be at least  somewhat dehydrated, which could be negatively affecting your energy, vitality  and immunity — as well as your appearance. Experiment with drinking more water  throughout the day. You may observe an almost immediate difference in your  well-being, and even if you don’t, establishing good hydration habits now will  do many good things for your cellular health over the long haul.

Myth No. 2: Your body needs eight, 8-ounce glasses of water  daily.

Reality: Your body does need a steady supply of water to  operate efficiently and perform the many routine housekeeping tasks that keep  you healthy and energetic.

That said, there is no scientific evidence to back up the very specific and  well-worn advice that you need to drink eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day  (a.k.a. the 8 x 8 rule). In 2002, Heinz Valtin, MD, a retired physiology  professor from Dartmouth Medical School and author of two textbooks on kidney  function, published the definitive paper on the subject in the American  Journal of Physiology. He spent 10 months searching medical literature for  scientific evidence of the 8 x 8 rule only to come up empty-handed.

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a division of the National Academy  of Sciences, actually set the adequate total-daily-water intake at higher than  64 ounces — 3.7 liters (125 fluid ounces) for men and 2.7 liters (91 fluid  ounces) for women. But those numbers refer to total water intake, meaning all  beverages and water-containing foods count toward your daily quota. Fruits and  veggies, for example, pack the most watery punch, with watermelon and cucumbers topping the list.

But the “it all counts” dynamic cuts both ways. Vasey believes that many  people suffer from low-grade, chronic dehydration because of what they are  eating as well as what they are drinking. The “I don’t like water” crowd could  probably make up their water deficits by eating the right kinds of foods, he  asserts, “but most don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Instead they eat  meat, cereals and breads, which don’t have much water and contain a lot of salt.”

Animal proteins require a great deal more moisture than they contain to break  down, assimilate and then flush from the body. And many processed foods, such as  chips and crackers, for example, are nearly devoid of moisture, so — like dry  sponges — they soak up water as they proceed through the digestive system.

The body requires only 3 to 5 grams of salt a day to stay healthy, but most  people gobble up 12 to 15 grams of the stuff daily. To rid itself of the  overload, the body requires copious amounts of liquid.

Bottom Line: If you want to stay optimally healthy, hydrated  and energetic, it’s a good idea to eat plenty of water-containing foods and drink water throughout the day. And when in doubt, it’s probably  not a bad idea to make a point of drinking a little more water, rather than a  little less. But that doesn’t mean you need to down eight glasses exactly, or  that if you run a little shy of 64 ounces, then something awful is going to  happen. Just be aware that the fewer vegetables, fruits and legumes you are  eating, and the more dried, processed or chemical-laced foods you include in  your diet, the more water you’ll need to consume to compensate.

Myth No. 3: When it comes to hydrating, all beverages are created  equal.

Reality: Not so. In principle, the 90 to 125 (or so) ounces  recommended by the Institute of Medicine would include your morning coffee, the  soda you drink with lunch and even a glass of wine at dinner. Practically  speaking, however, caffeinated, sweetened and alcoholic drinks pack chemical  cargoes (or trigger chemical reactions) that demand significant amounts of fluid  to properly process and filter. As a result, nonwater beverages can actually set  you back, water-wise, many experts suggest. “They can actually dehydrate the  body,” says Haas.

For example, says Vasey, drinks like coffee, black tea and cocoa are very  high in purines, toxins that must be diluted in large quantities of water to be  flushed from the body.

Artificially sweetened drinks add to the body’s toxic  burden. Sugar and coffee also create an acidic environment in the body, impeding  enzyme function and taxing the kidneys, which must rid the body of excess  acid.

Moreover, says Vasey, caffeine found in coffee, black tea and soft drinks  adversely affects your body’s water stores because it is a diuretic that  elevates blood pressure, increasing the rate of both the production and  elimination of urine. “The water in these drinks travels through the body too  quickly,” says Vasey. “Hardly has the water entered the bloodstream than the  kidneys remove a portion of the liquid and eliminate it, before the water has  time to make its way into the intracellular environment.” (For more on the  importance of intracellular hydration, see “Myth No. 5.”)

Bottom Line: Moderate consumption of beverages like coffee  and tea is fine, but be aware that while some of the fluids in nonwater  beverages may be helping you, certain ingredients may be siphoning away your  body’s water stores. So, when you’re drinking to hydrate, stick primarily with  water. And, if you’re looking for a pick-me-up, try sparkling water with a  squeeze of citrus.

Myth No. 4: By the time you get thirsty, you’re already  dehydrated.

Reality: Again, it depends on what you mean by “dehydrated.” Experts like Vasey posit that while those walking around in a state of  subclinical dehydration may not feel thirst, their bodies are sending other  signals of inadequate hydration — from headaches and stomachaches to low energy  to dry skin.

But when it comes to avoiding the more widely accepted definition of clinical  dehydration, thirst is a good indicator of when you need to swig. Here’s the  deal: As water levels in the body drop, the blood gets thicker. When the  concentration of solids in the blood rises by 2 percent, the thirst mechanism is  triggered. A 1 percent rise in blood solids could be called “mild dehydration,” but it could also be considered a normal fluctuation in bodily fluids.

Either way, feeling thirsty is a good indicator that you need to get some  water into your body, and soon. Serious symptoms of dehydration don’t arise  until blood solids rise by 5 percent — long after you feel thirsty. But,  obviously, you don’t want to wait that long. Even mild, subclinical levels of  dehydration come with sacrifices in optimal vitality, metabolism and appearance.  Like an underwatered plant, the body can survive on less water than it wants,  but it’s unlikely to thrive.

Bottom Line: Drinking water only when you’re  thirsty may relegate you to being less than optimally hydrated much of the time,  and it may undermine your energy and vitality. On the other hand, constantly  sipping or gulping calorie- or chemical-laden beverages for entertainment is a  bad idea. So if you tend to keep a bottle of soda on your desk all day, or if  you’re never seen without your coffee cup in hand, rethink your approach. Get in  the habit of drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning, and a few  more glasses of water throughout the day. Also drink proactively (especially  important during strenuous exercise, long airplane flights and in hot  weather).

Myth No. 5: Hydrating is all about water.

Reality: Nope. It takes a delicate balance of minerals,  electrolytes and essential fatty acids to get and keep water where it needs to  be — properly hydrating your bloodstream, your tissues and your cells.

“You can drink lots of water and still be dehydrated on a cellular level,” says Haas. Water you drink is absorbed from the digestive tract into the  bloodstream by small blood vessels (capillaries). Of the water contained in food  and beverages, 95 percent ends up in the blood. From the blood, water moves into  the fluid surrounding the cells, called extracellular fluid. That’s important,  but it’s not the end of the line. Water needs to get inside cells for you to  maintain optimal health.

A person’s vitality is affected by how well his or her body gets water into  and out of cells, says Haas. A variety of unhealthy lifestyle habits and health  conditions can inhibit this cellular capacity, he notes. But naturally, too, as  the body ages, the water inside cells (intracellular) tends to diminish, and  water outside cells (extracellular or interstitial fluid) tends to accumulate.  Haas calls this gradual drying out of cells a “biomarker of aging.”

Minerals, especially electrolytes and trace minerals, are essential to  maintaining cellular equilibrium. Minerals help transport water into the cells,  where they also activate enzymes. And enzymes are the basis of every biological  process in the body, from digestion to hormone secretion to cognition. Without  minerals, says Haas, enzymes get sluggish and the body suffers.

Without essential fatty acids — which form the basis for cellular  membranes — cells can’t properly absorb, hold and stabilize the water and other  nutrients they’re supposed to contain.

Bottom Line:Take in plenty of minerals by eating  lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds — ideally from produce grown  according to biodynamic farming practices, meaning the farmer is supporting  (rather than depleting) nutrients in the soil. Another way to boost minerals in  the diet is cooking with a high-quality sea salt. A natural, unrefined sea salt  will deliver up to 60 trace minerals your body needs to manage water flow. Also,  try to include whole foods that are high in essential fatty acids, such as  walnuts and flax seeds, which are critical to maintaining healthy cell membranes  that can hold in moisture. And consider a multimineral supplement that includes  an ample supply of trace minerals in its formulation.

Myth No. 6: Healthy urine is always clear.

Reality:Urine color is directly linked to  hydration status because the yellow tint is a measure of how many solid  particles, such as sodium, chloride, nitrogen and potassium, are excreted. The  color’s intensity depends on how much water the kidneys mix with the solids.  Less water equals darker urine. More water equals lighter urine. Dark or  rank-smelling urine are signs your body may need more water. But light-to-medium  yellow urine is fine. Very clear urine may actually be a signal that your  kidneys are taxed by the amount of fluid moving through them and the minerals in  your body are being too diluted.

Also note that some vitamins, such as riboflavin, or B2, can turn urine  bright yellow, so don’t be alarmed if your urine is a funny color after either  swallowing a multivitamin or eating certain foods, like nutritional yeast, which  is high in B vitamins.

Bottom Line: Drink enough water to make light yellow  (lemonade-colored) urine. The volume depends on your activity level and  metabolism. If your urine is cloudy or dark or foul smelling, increase your  water intake and monitor changes. If you don’t see a positive change, consult a  health professional.

Myth No. 7: Drinking too much water leads to water  retention.

Reality: The body retains water in response to biochemical  and hormonal imbalances, toxicity, poor cardiovascular and cellular health — and, interestingly, dehydration. “If you’re not drinking enough liquid, your  body may actually retain water to compensate,” says Vasey, adding that a general  lack of energy is the most common symptom of this type of water retention. “Paradoxically, you can sometimes eliminate fluid retention by drinking more  water, not less, because if you ingest enough water, the kidneys do not try and  retain water by cutting back on elimination,” he explains.

Bottom Line:No good comes of drinking less water  than you need. If you have water-retention problems, seek professional counsel  to help you identify the root cause (food intolerances, for example, are a  common culprit in otherwise healthy people). Do not depend on diuretics or water  avoidance to solve your problems, since both strategies will tend to make the  underlying healthy challenges worse, not better.

Myth No. 8: You can’t drink too much water.

Reality: Under normal conditions, the body flushes the water  it doesn’t need. But it is possible — generally under extreme conditions when  you are drinking more than 12 liters in 24 hours or exercising heavily — to  disrupt the body’s osmotic balance by diluting and flushing too much sodium, an  electrolyte that helps balance the pressure of fluids inside and outside of  cells. That means cells bloat from the influx and may even burst.

While the condition, called hyponatremia, is rare, it happens. Long-distance  runners are at highest risk for acute hyponatremia (meaning the imbalance  happens in less than 48 hours), but anyone can get in trouble if they drink  water to excess without replacing essential electrolytes and minerals. Extreme  overconsumption of water can also strain the kidneys and, if drunk with meals,  interfere with proper digestion.

Chronic hyponatremia, meaning sodium levels gradually taper off over days or  weeks, is less dangerous because the brain can gradually adjust to the deficit,  but the condition should still be treated by a doctor. Chronic hyponatremia is  often seen in adults with illnesses that leach sodium from the body, such as  kidney disease and congestive heart failure. But even a bad case of diarrhea,  especially in children, can set the stage for hyponatremia. Be on the lookout  for symptoms such as headache, confusion, lethargy and appetite loss.

Bottom Line: Never force yourself to drink past a feeling of  fullness. If you are drinking copious amounts of water and still experiencing  frequent thirst, seek help from a health professional. If you’re drinking lots  of fluids to fuel an exercise regimen that lasts longer than one hour, be sure  to accompany your water with adequate salts and electrolytes. For information on  wise fitness-hydration strategies, read “How to Hydrate” in our December 2007  archives at experiencelifemag.com.

Vasey hopes that health-motivated people will return to the simple pleasures  of water in much the same way they’ve recently rediscovered the myriad benefits  of whole foods over heavily processed and aggressively marketed industrial fare. “Nature gave us water, not soft drinks,” he says. “It’s time to get back to  basics.”

By Megan

Megan, selected from Experience  Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness  publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic  lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in  favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com   to learn more and to sign  up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe  to the print or digital version.

6 Foods That Make You Smell Good

6 Foods That Make You Smell Good

 

Cinnamon: its lovely scent not only suffuses your home, but also lingers on to make you smell good!

Citrus fruit: split open a ripe orange, and you’re greeted with an instant  burst of refreshing fragrance, and a light spray of juice. Eat the orange, and  you’ll feel your mouth feel fresh, too. What’s more, citrus fruit is more  readily absorbed by the body, so you give off a pleasant scent.

Cardamom: the sweet, spicy seeds of green cardamom are a favorite ingredient  in mouth fresheners.  I never buy commercial packets, preferring instead to  simply split open a pod and pop the seeds in my mouth. For a long time after,  the mouth feels fresh. Besides, cardamom is a powerful healing spice that boosts  immunity.

Fenugreek seeds: they are a wonderful aid to smelling good. They are also  excellent for strengthening bone health. Soak them overnight in clean water, and  munch on them in the morning. At first, they taste slightly bitter, but as you  chew, the flavor sweetens and feels wonderful in your mouth.

Milk: tone down the strong odor of garlic by adding milk to your menu.  Low-fat or whole fat, either version of milk improves the way you smell.

Jasmine tea: if you’ve been in a lift with someone who has just had coffee,  you know what that smells like. A cup of pleasant, floral jasmine tea, on the  other hand, leaves you smelling good. If you drink herbal tea often, your  digestive system works better, which in turn helps your body smell good.

In general, avoid red meat, which are proven to cause unpleasant body odor. A  plant-based diet consisting of fresh produce, whole grains, sprouts, nuts and  seeds cleanses you from within and keeps you smelling fresh.  (Leesa recommends choosing organic when possible!) 

By Shubhra Krishan

Shubhra Krishan, Writer, editor and journalist Shubhra Krishan is the author of Essential  Ayurveda: What it is and what it can do for you (New World Library, 2003),  Radiant Body, Restful Mind: A Woman’s book of comfort (New World Library, 2004),  and The 9 to 5 Yogi: How to feel like a sage while working like a dog (Hay House  India, 2011).

10 Foods That Promote Brain Health

10 Foods That Promote Brain Health

 

Who doesn’t want to become smarter? Who wants to look better or feel  healthier? Many recent studies have shown how certain nutrients can positively  affect the brain, specifically in areas of the brain related to cognitive  processing or feelings and emotions. Generally speaking, you want to follow a  healthy diet  for your brain that will lead to strong blood flow, maintenance of  mental sharpness and reduce the risk of heart disease and neurodegenerative  diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

We know that foods play a great role in our brain, as concluded in several  studies led by a phenomenal neuroscientist at UCLA, Gomez Pinilla.

According to one study, the super fats your brain needs most are omega-3 fatty acids. Your brain converts them into DHA  (docosahexaenoic acid) which enhances neuronal communication and promotes  neuronal growth.

Food and nutrients represent fuel to our bodies the same way that when we use  our car we need to fill the gas tank. Unfortunately, we generally take better  care of our cars than our bodies. Why is that? We are hearing frequently that  consuming the right nutrients can help our health, aging process, and more  efficient brain-body functioning.

With that said, I want to share with you ten foods you must keep in your diet to maintain brain health:

1. Apples: Eating an apple a day protects the brain from oxidative  damage that causes neurodegenerative diseases such Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  This magical nutrient that acts as protection is quercetin, which is a phytonutrient.

2. Asparagus: Asparagus is rich in folic acid, which is essential for the  metabolism of the long chain fatty acids in your brain.

3. Lean Beef: Lean beef is rich in vitamin B12, iron and  zinc. These vitamins and minerals have been shown to maintain a healthy neural  tissue.

4. Blueberries and strawberries: Studies show that people  who eat berries improve their memory and their motor skills. In addition, their  antioxidant properties can protect your brain from the oxidative process. (Leesa recommends Chews4Health!)

5. Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate offers incredible concentration powers. It is  a very powerful antioxidant containing natural stimulants that increase the  production of feel-good endorphins. Trick: you need to find dark chocolate with  less than 10 grams of sugar per serving for optimal benefits. (Have you tasted this dark, decadent, delicious organic chocolate? http://tinyurl.com/orgdarkchocolate ?  It’s the one Leesa recommends and it’s 85% dark chocolate!)

6. Salmon: Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, which  studies have shown to be essential for brain function.

7. Dried oregano: Certain spices have powerful antioxidant properties. In  several studies, this powerful spice has shown to have 40 times more antioxidant  properties than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges,  and 4 times more than that of blueberries or strawberries.

8. Walnuts: Walnuts are rich in protein and contain omega-3  fatty acids, vitamins E and B6 which all promote healthy neural tissue.

9. Whole grains: Whole grains deliver fiber and vitamin E  that help promote cardiovascular health, which helps improve the circulation to  the brain.

10. Yogurt: Yogurt and other dairy foods are filled with  protein and vitamin B that are essential to improve the communication between  nerve cells. (Leesa recommends Coconut Yougurt by Raw Sprout Foods found at Return to Eden in Atlanta, GA.)

Make sure that from now on you select and plan a great menu that include  these brain foods. Life is about choices and selecting the right  nutrients can play a key role in your health.

By Michael Gonzalez-Wallace, who is the author of Super Body,  Super Brain. You can read more from him at www.superbodysuperbrain.com or pick up his book Super Body, Super Brain.

6 Real World Fixes for Holiday Bloat

6 Real World Fixes for Holiday Bloat

 

‘Tis the season of articles instructing women on how not to end  up  chubby and miserable during the holidays. “Don’t drink too much,”  “Don’t eat  too many snacks,” “Get plenty of sleep,” they recommend  cheerfully.

But isn’t constant snacking on bad-for-you delights, imbibing eggnog and hot toddies and way too much champagne,  and staying up late on weeknights to do it all sort of the entire point  of the holiday season?

It’s true that all that partying can take its toll not just on your   waistline, but also on your face—causing you to look bloated, tired, and  puffy  during a season when you’re likely to be photographed more often  than usual. So  what’s the solution? Eschewing the cheese-and-cracker  platter in favor of  low-calorie carrot sticks? Refusing a glass of wine  in favor of sipping  daintily on club soda? Passing up party invitations  where you’d get to wear  glittery heels? Frankly, that’s not how I want  to spend my Christmas season,  and I don’t think you do, either. I’m not  even going to suggest it.

It’s all about moderation and mitigation—there are realistic ways to  have a  fun, delicious, tipsy holiday season without regretting it when  you upload  those party pics.

Drink Plenty of Water This one’s a “duh.” You can drink  water and have a glass of  bubbly. Doesn’t have to be either-or. During  the day and in between  cocktails, make sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid  water retention.  Water also helps your skin stay elastic and dewy, not  dried-out and tired.

Avoid the Very Saltiest Snacks Salt encourages bloat, but  instead of avoiding all salt, be  realistic and enjoy the treats you love, and  just avoid mindless  snacking. When Aunt Deb brings out her famous cheese log,  dig in with a  crostini. When you encounter a platter of melty stuffed potato  skins,  enjoy them with abandon. But think twice about noshing on pretzels or   chips if you’re really just bored. Ingest salt when it counts—for the  most  delicious, splurge-worthy treats. Don’t waste it on bagged pretzels  you can eat  any time of year. If you’re cooking, choose low-sodium  ingredients when you  can, and make sure to eat healthy any time you’re  not at a gathering or  event.

Use Topical Caffeine Caffeine is a diuretic—applied  externally, it temporarily firms skin  and flushes out extra fluid. Try this DIY  coffee body scrub in the morning after a particularly festive night.

Lay Off the Booze Here’s the no-fun news: Alcohol dilates  blood vessels. That doesn’t  just mean extra puffiness, it means redness and  inflammation, too  (especially around the nose area). Be mindful about how much  you’re  drinking, and be sure to guzzle a glass of water after a big night  out.

Sleep On an Extra Pillow If you usually sleep on one  pillow, use two. Elevating your head  even a small amount can discourage fluid  from pooling in the face  overnight.

Apply Home Remedies Cooled cucumber slices or green tea  bags placed over the eyes for  ten minutes or so really can help temporarily  calm inflammation and  reduce puffiness by constricting blood vessels. Try other home remedies or just put your regular beauty products in  the fridge to get a frosty boost.

By Allison Ford, DivineCaroline

At DivineCaroline.com, women  come together to learn from experts in the fields, of health, sustainability,  and culture; to reflect on shared experiences; and to express themselves by  writing and publishing stories about anything that matters to them. Here, real  women publish like real pros. Together, with our staff writers, they’re  discussing all facets of women’s lives from relationships and careers, to travel  and healthy living. So come discover, read, learn, laugh and connect at DivineCaroline.com.

Find Abundance in Problems

 Find Abundance in Problems

Modern society is oriented toward solving problems. There is no lack of  go-getters who dedicate themselves to finding new ways to do things, and no  shortage of belief that progress can’t be stopped. Much of this confidence,  however, is a distraction. By focusing on the next technology, the next  engineering marvel, the next medical breakthrough, we lose sight of deeper  problems that offer no solution.

Buddha pointed to the problem of suffering, Jesus to the problem of sin and  the lack of love, Gandhi to the absence of peace in a world of violence. What  new technology will prevent me from attacking my enemy? What medical  breakthrough will enable me to love my neighbor as myself?

You can look around and see how futile external solutions have proven. Crime,  famine, war, epidemics, and poverty continue to baffle us, and yet society  throws money at these problems over and over, as if a failed approach will  succeed if only we persist. On the spiritual path you discover that all problems  are rooted in consciousness, therefore the solution is always a shift in  consciousness.

If you were to be happy from the soul level, totally in accord with God, what  would that be like? In a word, it would be effortless. To be happy from the soul  level, three things are required:

1. You act without effort.

2. You feel joy in what you do.

3. Your  actions bring results.

All three requirements must work together if you want to experience the  happiness God intended. It is already on display in the natural kingdom, where  every creature acts spontaneously, and yet every action supports the entire  ecological system. Human beings, however, primarily reside in a mental  landscape. Our vision of ourselves rules what we do; the physical environment  comes second (if at all), and it is expected to adapt to our demands.

In Nature, every challenge is met with a response. As dinosaurs die out,  mammals thrive. As ferns give way to flowering plants, insects learn to feed on  pollen. Creation and destruction move together, constantly in touch with each  other. The same seamless interaction is also possible in a mental ecological  system.

In higher states of consciousness, no gap appears between desire and  fulfillment. Few of us experience this spontaneous state, however. The  conventional condition of separation is all about gaps and discontinuity.  Desires seem to lead to failure. The best-laid plans seem to go astray, and our  experience of separation seems to grow.

You might think it would take heroic efforts to solve the problems that face  us. Spiritually speaking, the reverse is true. The soul’s vision isn’t about  struggle and lack of results. It isn’t about failure. You only need to measure  your actions against the three simple conditions I mentioned above.

1. Am I acting easily, without struggle?

2. Do I enjoy what I’m doing?

3. Are results coming of their own accord?

Answering “yes” means that spiritually you are going in the right direction;  answering “no” means that you aren’t.

Adapted from Why is God Laughing? by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books,  2008).

Deepak Chopra

Acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest leaders in the field of mind body  medicine, Deepak Chopra, M.D. continues to transform our understanding of the  meaning of health. Chopra is known as a prolific author of over 49 books with 12  best sellers on mind-body health, quantum mechanics, spirituality, and peace. A  global force in the field of human empowerment, Dr. Chopra’s books have been  published in more than 35 languages with more than 20 million copies in  print.

 

7 Foods that Help You Sleep Well

7 Foods that Help You Sleep Well

“Eat healthily, sleep well, breathe  deeply, move harmoniously.” ― Jean-Pierre  Barral

If you find yourself staring at the ceiling late into the night, try these  foods to help you drift into blissful sleep.

A cup of chamomile tea. For centuries, chamomile has been  harnessed as a herb that alleviates anxiety and promotes relaxation.

A handful of almonds: soak almonds in clean water in the  morning. At bedtime, slide off their skins and munch on them slowly. The  magnesium in almonds relaxes muscles and their protein content keeps your sugar  levels stable while you sleep.

A bowl of oatmeal: Every now and then, I stir up oatmeal for  dinner because it feels so warm and comforting. Only recently, I learned that  I’m actually helping myself sleep better by doing so. The fiber and minerals in  them do a wonderful job of easing the body and mind. Do avoid sugar in your  oatmeal, though.

Half a cup of cottage cheese: the slow-digesting proteins in  cottage cheese/paneer keep your digestive system relaxed all night long.  Besides, it contains tryptophan, the amino acid that plays a key role in  promoting better sleep.

A bunch of grapes: I was surprised to know that grapes are  the only fruit that contain melatonin, the hormone famous for coming to the  rescue of those who cannot sleep. Just munch grapes on their own or stir them  into a bowl of yogurt for a lovely and soothing bedtime snack.

A banana: the secret here is three-fold—potassium, magnesium  and tryptophan, which combine in one wonderful fruit to help you say ‘goodnight.’

Toast: it’s hot, filling and comforting. And surprise, toast  actually helps you sleep well, thanks to its being a trigger for insulin  production, which in turn boosts the sleep-friendly brain chemicals serotonin  and tryptophan.

(Leesa also recommends Good-Night™.   Are you getting enough sleep? Even when you do, are you still waking up feeling tired? Do you toss and turn all night? Does your brain seem to never shut off allowing you to relax?  Finally there’s an all-natural, fast-acting solution to your problem! Fall asleep faster, sleep through the night and wake up refreshed with Good-Night™. Good-Night™ is a fast acting formula that works in harmony with your natural sleep cycle to support a sound, tranquil sleep so you can awaken refreshed and energized without any grogginess.*  Good-Night™  helps relax the mind, combat stress and optimize neurotransmitter production which is crucial to getting a good night’s sleep.* )  (*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.)

By Shubhra Krishan

Shubhra Krishan

Writer, editor and journalist Shubhra Krishan is the author of Essential  Ayurveda: What it is and what it can do for you (New World Library, 2003),  Radiant Body, Restful Mind: A Woman’s book of comfort (New World Library, 2004),  and The 9 to 5 Yogi: How to feel like a sage while working like a dog (Hay House  India, 2011).

7 ‘Tis the Season Superfoods

7 ‘Tis the Season Superfoods

 

When it comes to food, it’s hard to beat the holiday season. There are as  many decadent and delicious foods throughout the season as there are gifts.  Let’s face it: few holiday foods are healthy. Here are my choices for the top 7 ‘Tis the Season Superfoods. They not only taste great, they add serious  nutrition as well.

Apples—We’ve all heard the adage, “an apple a day keeps the  doctor away,” and provided that apple is an organic one, the saying holds some  truth. Apples contain important vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. They contain an  important phytonutrient called malic acid that helps improve energy production  in your body.

Beets—Recommended by holistic health professionals to help  purify the blood and cleanse the liver, beets are high in folate, manganese,  potassium, and vitamin C. The phytonutrient that gives beets their rich  purplish-red hue is a potent cancer fighter.

Cranberries—Originally used by the first people of North  America to treat urinary tract infections, cranberries and cranberry juice (the  real deal, not the sugar-laden stuff most grocery stores dispense) are excellent  holiday superfoods.

Pomegranates—This delicious fruit is super health-boosting.  From cancer-protection to heart disease-prevention, and so much more,  pomegranates are definitely ‘Tis the Season Superfoods.

Squash—Like its relative, the pumpkin, squash is an  excellent source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and beta carotene, making it a  delicious and nutritious addition to your diet.

Sweet Potatoes—High in beta carotene, C, and B6, as well as  potassium, iron, and magnesium, sweet potatoes are naturally delicious and  nutritionally superior to white potatoes.

Walnuts—Walnuts are an important addition to your diet since  they offer high amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids needed to protect your brain,  maintain a healthy immune system, balance moods, and lessen pain and  inflammation in your body.

(Leesa  recommends Chews4Health as a convenient way to enjoy the benefits of Cranberries, Pomegranates, Blueberries, Raspberries, Goji, Noni, Mangosteen, Acai, B-12, Resveratrol and more! )

Michelle Schoffro Cook

Michelle Schoffro Cook, MSc, RNCP, ROHP, DNM, PhD is an international  best-selling and 12-time book author and doctor of traditional natural medicine,  whose works include: Healing  Recipes, The Vitality Diet, Allergy-Proof, Arthritis-Proof, Total Body  Detox, The Life Force Diet, The  Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan, and The Phytozyme  Cure.  Check out her natural health resources and subscribe to her free  e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News at WorldsHealthiestDiet.com  to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow her on Twitter @mschoffrocook  and Facebook.

 

6 Ways to Combat Depression

6 Ways to Combat Depression

 

According to the latest research, about one in four Americans — more  than 70  million people — will meet the criteria for major depression at  some point in  their lives. The rate of depression in industrialized  societies has been on the  rise for decades — it’s roughly 10 times higher today than it was just two  generations ago.

How can you  make sense of the fact that even though antidepressant use has  skyrocketed in recent years, the rate of depression in the United States hasn’t  declined, but rather increased?

As a clinical psychologist, I believe the answer is rooted in our way of   life. I say this because researchers have assessed modern-day  hunter-gatherer  bands — such as the Kaluli people of the New Guinea  highlands — for the  presence of mental illness, and they found that clinical depression is almost  completely nonexistent among such groups.

Despite being much more likely to experience tragic events like the death of  a child or a crippling illness, and living with none of the material comforts or  medical advances we take for granted, they’re  largely immune to the plague of  depressive illness.

But how are hunter-gatherers able to weather life’s storms so effectively?  Based on the available research, it seems that the  hunter-gatherer lifestyle is  profoundly antidepressant. As they go about  their daily lives, they naturally  wind up doing things that keep them  from getting depressed, things that change  the brain more powerfully  than any medication.

My  colleagues and I at the University of Kansas have developed a treatment   called “Therapeutic Lifestyle Change,” or TLC. It incorporates six major   protective lifestyle elements we need to reclaim from our ancestors: dietary  omega-3 fatty acids, mentally  engaging activity, physical exercise, sunlight  exposure, social support  and adequate sleep.

1. Feed Your Brain

The hunter-gatherer diet typically includes wild game that feed on  grass,  and fish that feed on algae — both abundant sources of omega-3  fatty acids.  Conversely, the extraordinary rise in depression rates over  the last century  has closely mirrored the disappearance of omega-3 fats  from the Western diet,  which has come to rely more on grains (and  grain-fed livestock) than wild game  and plants. In countries where  people still get a better dietary balance of  omega-6s from seeds and  omega-3s from grasses, leaves and algae, depression  tends to be  substantially less common.

But how, exactly, does an imbalance of the fats we eat make us more   vulnerable to depression? Neuroscientists have identified three  mechanisms that  play a role:

Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps  turn  off the brain’s stress response. But when brain cells don’t have  enough omega-3  fats, they have trouble understanding the message of  serotonin, increasing a  person’s vulnerability to the kind of  out-of-control stress response that leads  to the onset of depression. Dopamine: Lack of omega-3s  also scrambles the messages of  dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the  left frontal cortex — the part of the brain that puts us in a good mood and  pushes us to go  after the things we want.

Inflammation: When unchecked by a balance of omega-3s,   omega-6 fats promote inflammation throughout the body. Over time,  chronic  inflammation triggers a reduction in the production of  tryptophan, the primary  building block of serotonin. It also impairs the  hippocampus, which is critical  to memory function. And it triggers the stress hormone cortisol, which has its  own set of depressive effects on the brain.

A key element of the TLC protocol is to begin taking a daily omega-3   supplement. The easiest source is fish-oil capsules. Fish oil is the  richest  natural source of both EPA and DHA, the two omega-3 molecules  that play an  important role in the brain. I recommend starting a daily  dose of 1,000  milligrams of EPA and 500 milligrams of DHA to all of my  patients.

If you currently have symptoms of depression, or if you want to help  prevent  the onset of illness in the future, this is the dose I suggest  you begin with,  as well. (If you are taking any medications,  particularly blood thinners, check  with your doctor first.)

2. Don’t Think — Do

Unlike hunter-gatherer societies, where people are usually busy  either  chasing dinner or lingering with the community after the meal,  people in  industrialized societies often find themselves alone, without  any kind of  activity that absorbs their full attention — conditions ripe  for  rumination.

Rumination appears to be an instinctive human response when something  goes  wrong. It’s as if we’re hardwired to replay our trials and  tribulations over  and over — perhaps to figure out what might help us  prevent similar negative  outcomes in the future. But after a brief  period of intense pondering, we  usually hit a point of diminishing  returns, when any more dwelling is a waste  of time — and a real source  of stress.

If you find yourself locked in the vise grip of rumination, I can offer  some  words of reassurance — breaking the habit may sound difficult, but  the process  is surprisingly straightforward. The first step involves learning to notice when  it’s happening.

One helpful strategy is to start monitoring your thought process every  hour  or so, just to see where your attention is. Set an alarm on your  watch or phone  to remind you to take note of your state of mind. Then,  when it goes off, jot  down any worries or negative thoughts you were  entertaining at the time.

As you become increasingly tuned in to your mental life, you’ll notice  that  some situations are particularly risk-prone. The research on this  point is  clear: People typically ruminate when they have nothing else to  occupy their  attention.

This leads to the second step: Learn to redirect your attention. In most   cases, it just takes a few minutes of immersion in a good alternative  activity  before the spell is broken.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to finding  engaging  activities, some things turn out to be anti-ruminative for just  about  everybody. These include participating in shared activities,  whether it’s  building a fence or playing a game of pickup basketball, or  getting involved in  an active conversation — especially if it’s about  something other than what’s  bothering you.

If you’re engaged in a mindless activity that itself leads to  rumination,  listening to upbeat music or books on tape can give your  mind somewhere else to  go.

3. Move Your Body, Shift Your Brain

Even though everyone knows that exercise is a key to maintaining  physical  health, few realize that it’s equally important for preserving  mental health.  Like an antidepressant medication, exercise increases the  activity of brain  chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. It also  stimulates the brain’s release  of a key growth hormone (BDNF) that helps  reverse the toxic, brain-damaging  effects of depression. It even  sharpens memory and concentration, and helps us  think more clearly.

That said, motivation to exercise can be hard to come by. One reason  might  be that our hunter-gatherer forebears got so much physical  activity in the flow  of daily life that they actually avoided extra  exertion whenever possible. They  followed a simple rule: Spend your  energy only on activities that have a clear  purpose or offer immediate  reward. This rule was so important to people’s  survival that it became  part of our genetic legacy.

Many people discover this when they approach a treadmill or stationary  bike  and feel as if a part of their brain is screaming out, “Don’t do  it! You’re not  actually going anywhere on that thing! Conserve the  calories!”

Fortunately, there’s a way out of this dilemma. Yes, we’re genetically  wired  to avoid extraneous exertion, but what about necessary or  pleasure-producing  activity? As it turns out, whenever we’re caught up  in enjoyable, meaningful  activity, our tolerance for exercise goes up  dramatically. So when you make  activity purposeful or pleasant (riding  your bike to work, dancing, playing a  team sport, walking to the store  instead of driving), you’re much more likely  to do it.

When it comes to hitting the gym, it can really help to work out with   someone else. Spending time with others tends to be highly absorbing, so  it  makes the workout pass quickly; it also gives you the mood-elevating  benefits  of social support. Finally, a workout partner can provide the  initiative that  depression steals away.

How much exercise is necessary for an antidepressant effect? Incredibly,  a  Duke University study found that a brisk half-hour walk three times a  week  proved to be more effective than the antidepressant medication  Zoloft. So 90  minutes of heart-rate-elevating exercise is enough to feel  a difference. As one  personal trainer told me, “I don’t think I’ve ever  seen someone leave the gym  in a worse mood than when they arrived.”

4. Let There Be Light

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were outside all day, every day. As a  result,  our eyes have special light receptors that respond only to the  brightness of  natural outdoor light, which is 100 times brighter than typical indoor lighting.  If you’re like most people who spend most of  their time inside, your eyes’ light receptors simply aren’t getting the  stimulation they need. And that can  have a major effect on both your  brain chemistry and your body clock.

Bright light stimulates the brain’s production of serotonin, that  crucial  chemical emissary that boosts feelings of well-being. According  to the latest  research, people usually feel some elevation of mood  within an hour or two of  exposure to bright light. One recent study  showed that people under the  influence of bright light are less likely  to argue or fight with others.

When we’re deprived of ample light, however, serotonin can fall and the   light-sensitive body clock falters: Hormone levels get out of whack,  sleep  grows erratic, and energy ebbs and flows at all the wrong times.  So resetting  the body clock each day is important, and it all hinges on  those specialized  light sensors at the back of the eyes.

How much bright light is required to keep the clock running on   time? Fortunately, it’s not that much. For people suffering from   depression, 30 minutes of light exposure each day is all it takes to  provide an  antidepressant effect. However, the light needs to match the  brightness of a  sunny day — an intensity of at least 10,000 lux — in  order for the 30 minutes’ worth of exposure to do the trick.

Getting your bright light exposure by spending some time outside has  some  clear advantages. Mere exposure to a natural setting can lower  stress hormones  and reduce feelings of anxiety; this holds true even  when we’re enjoying an  urban park or suburban backyard. We can also  easily combine time outside with  other antidepressant lifestyle  elements, like exercise and social  interaction.

For those in less-than-hospitable climes, however, using a 10,000-lux  light  box during the winter months has advantages of its own. As long as  you have  access to a power supply, it will give you all the light you  need with the  flick of a switch.

5. Get Connected

For hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors lived in small,  intimate  social bands, facing together the relentless threat of  predators, the forces of  nature and hostile neighboring clans. Such a  clannish sensibility is still  keenly present among modern-day foraging  bands and other traditional,  pre-agrarian societies. According to  anthropologists, “alone time” is virtually  unknown among such groups.

In the industrialized West, on the other hand, we’ve strayed far from  this  sensibility. According to the latest research, 25 percent of  Americans have no  intimate social connection at all, and countless  others spend the bulk of their  time by themselves. One recent study  found that half of all American adults  lack even a single close friend  they can rely on.

Isolation is a major risk factor for depression. Those who lack the  benefit  of a meaningful social connection are highly prone to becoming  depressed,  especially in the face of severe life stress. And, sadly,  once people start  experiencing severe depressive symptoms, they tend to  withdraw even further  from the world around them. In large part, this is  because the brain responds  to depression as it does any other serious  illness, directing us to avoid any  activity, especially social activity,  so the body can focus on getting  well.

Depression can also take an enormous toll on friendships, because the   depressed person feels as if he’s doing his friends a favor by pulling  away,  and his friends, in turn, feel rejected.

It can be helpful to start by disclosing your struggles: Honest  disclosure  is essential to maintaining the health of any friendship. It  can also be  helpful to do a little educating. When your friends  understand that depression  is an illness and withdrawal is a symptom,  it’s easier to take your  disappearance less personally.

The most useful thing for treating depression, by far, is to spend  regular  time together in shared activities: walking, working out,  playing games, going  to a concert, attending a play and so on. Such  activities are especially  effective in combating depressive rumination,  and they promote activity in the  brain’s left frontal cortex, which  itself provides a direct antidepressant  effect.

We ask each patient in the TLC program to adopt the goal of scheduling  at  least three such activities a week with friends or other close   acquaintances.

6. Sleep Well

It’s hard to imagine a hunter-gatherer chasing a lion deep into the  night;  most traditional societies sleep when it’s dark and work when  it’s light.  Meanwhile, the average American stays up well past dark and  gets only 6.7 hours  of sleep a night.

Because sleep is so essential to our well-being, it takes only a few  nights  of deprivation before adverse effects start piling up: Memory and  concentration  wane, mood turns irritable, judgment grows poor,  coordination deteriorates, and  immune function declines.

Sleep disturbance and depression go hand in hand. The loss of slow-wave   sleep — the most restorative type of slumber — can directly account for  many of  depression’s most debilitating features.

Several elements of the TLC program are aimed at enhancing sleep.  Physical  exercise leads to more restorative slow-wave sleep. Daytime  bright-light  exposure strengthens the body clock, making it easier to  fall asleep and stay  asleep. But if you find you’re still not getting  quality sleep because of  insomnia, here are some suggestions:

*Use your bed only for sleeping (not reading, working or watching TV).

*Get up and go to bed at the same time every day. This helps keep your  body  clock on track. Avoid napping during depressive episodes. It can  reduce your  sleep drive, and evidence suggests it can cause a reduction  in slow-wave  sleep.

*Avoid drinking alcohol before bed. Using alcohol (even a drink or two) to  relax and fall asleep can produce frequent awakenings throughout the  night.

*Turn down your thermostat at night. Our remote ancestors always slept   outside or in open huts, where it got noticeably colder around bedtime. A  nighttime dip in temperature sends a primal signal that it’s time to sleep.

If you are currently being treated for depression, consult with your  health  professional before adjusting your regimen or treatment plan. But don’t  underestimate the positive impact that lifestyle shifts like  these can have.  Beating depression may begin with recognizing that we  were simply never  designed for the frenetic pace of modern American  life. By reclaiming the  protective features of the past and integrating  them into the present, I  believe we can overcome depression, once and  for all.

By Stephen Ilardi, PhD, Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness  publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic  lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in  favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com   to learn more and to sign  up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe  to the print or digital version.

 

 

 

By Megan

Megan, selected from Experience  Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness  publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic  lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in  favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com   to learn more and to sign  up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe  to the print or digital version.

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