Today’s post is a quick reminder to take a time out when you need it.  Simple breathing exercises can help you relax and calm your mood.  A few minutes of breathing meditation can help clear your mind for the rest of your day.  Here are a few ideas:

Shoulder Shrugs:
  • Stand or sit up with a straight spine.
  • Inhale and shrug your shoulders up towards your ears, creating tension.
  • Exhale and roll your shoulder blades down and back.
  • Repeat 4-5 times.

Sharp exhale:
  • Sit in a chair with both feet planted on the floor, close your eyes.
  • Place one hand on your belly, just above your bellybutton.
  • Take a big inhale through your nose.
  • Let the air out of your lungs in short sharp bursts, like you’re trying to blow your nose.
  • Take about 8-10 bursts to empty your exhale entirely.
  • As you’re exhaling feel your hand on your belly move up and in with your bursts.

  • Let your eyes float closed, seated or standing.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose, counting to 4 in your head as you do.
  • Retain your breath for a couple of seconds.
  • Exhale completely, counting down from 8 as you do.

Stress reliever
  • Let your eyes float closed, seated or standing.
  • Take a deep inhale through your nose.
  • Open your mouth and exhale completely, making an “ah” sound.

Many adults are afflicted by high cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease or stroke.  Over 14% of adults greater than age 20 in the US have high total cholesterol.  Research has shown that a regular exercise routine can help maintain a healthy cholesterol balance.  Here are some guidelines for crafting an exercise routine that will keep your heart healthy:

Get in that aerobic exercise.  A 2011 study found that moderate-intensity aerobic activity three times weekly improved the cholesterol of overweight participants after just a few weeks.  Moderate aerobic activity means something that gets your heart beating faster, increases your breathing rate, and makes you feel warm.

Add in some resistance training.  Another 2011 study found that resistance training three times weekly for 40 minutes also improved cholesterol significantly.  Resistance training could mean weight training, a resistance band workout, or swimming.

This research indicates that engaging in an exercise routine that includes both aerobic activity and resistance training most days of the week could help keep high cholesterol at bay.

Cholesterol is processed and packaged in the liver, so treat this vital organ of metabolism well.  You can read more on eating for liver health in this older post here.

Hey, I just happen to teach a really great type of exercise that incorporates both aerobic exercise and resistance training!  It’s called Kinesis™, and if you live in Seattle contact me about attending your first class free.

According to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 9% of Americans over age 50 live with osteoporosis.  Tens of thousands of older adults suffer broken bones as a result of osteoporosis every year.  A diet that supports healthy bones is the best preventative medicine for avoiding this condition.  Here are some guidelines for eating your way towards sturdy skeletal health:

Get your fill of lean protein.  Our bones are constructed of a flexible protein framework that is filled in with hard minerals.  I imagine it like a chain-link fence (protein) with baseballs stuck in every opening (minerals).  If we don’t get enough protein in the diet, that chain-link fence could start to deteriorate!  A good rule of thumb for minimum protein intake is to consume 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of your body weight.  I weight 65 kilograms, so I need to consume a minimum of 65 grams of protein every single day.  For more specific protein recommendations, see your local friendly nutritionist.

Get some mineral-rich foods in every meal.  Calcium is definitely necessary for healthy bones, but it’s not the only mineral we need.  Iron, zinc, phosphorus, and copper are also necessary for maintaining bone density.  Dark leafy greens, beans, and seeds are great sources of all the minerals we need for strong bones.

Get moving!  Daily exercise is an integral part of joint and bone health.  Resistance training directly increases bone density at any age.  This includes weightlifting, resistance band training, or swimming.

Get outdoors.  Vitamin D is a necessary nutrient for bone health.  In addition to eating foods with vitamin D, our skin produces this vitamin naturally when exposed to sunlight.  The time for adequate exposure varies based on where you live, but 15-20 minutes outside will give you a nice dose of D in most locations.  Dairy products, eggs, salmon, and shiitake mushrooms are good food sources of vitamin D.

Adding alkaline foods to your diet can also support healthy bones, read more about a basic diet here.
Most of us could use a good stretch.  Whether you’ve been sitting at the computer or up on your feet all day, your muscles could benefit from some stretching time.  Today we’ll discuss some of the benefits of stretching, which can be both physical and mental.

Stretching can prevent injuries and pain.
Our muscles work best when our joints are aligned properly.  As we go through repetitive motions and postures throughout our day, some muscle groups tighten up and can pull our joints out of alignment.  This can result in chronic muscle pain or exercise injuries.  A regular stretching routine helps keep your joints aligned so your muscles can move freely and easily.

Stretching can help you breathe deeper and more effectively.
Getting more oxygen to your brain is a good thing!  The diaphragm is the major muscle that expands and contracts your lungs, but there are many muscles around your neck and ribcage that help out in the process.  Unfortunately these muscles get short and weak with prolonged slouching, like the kind of slouching we all usually do over a computer desk.  A stretching session can free up those muscles to take a deep, refreshing breath of air!

Stretching can help reduce emotional stress.
The act of stretching signals to your central nervous system that it is time to relax and heal.  This decreases the release of stress hormones, resulting in a calm state of mind.

If you’d like some ideas for a stretching routine you can do at your desk, check out these ideas from my teachers at Slobody.
Your body burns calories all day (and all night) long, whether you’re sitting still or not.  Your metabolism is a sum of many different internal and external activities.  Whether you’re interested in losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, supporting your metabolism can help you feel more energetic and digest your food harmoniously.  Here are some tips for increasing your metabolism naturally:

Find ways to move more throughout your day.  In addition to planned exercise time, brainstorm some ways you could get moving throughout your day.  Here are some ideas to get your noggin churning:

  • Walk instead of driving whenever possible.
  • If driving is the only option, park further away and walk.
  • Schedule a walking meeting instead of a sit down meeting with your colleagues.
  • Stand at your desk for any tasks that you can (reading papers, talking on the phone, etc).
  • Take the stairs.

Add resistance training to your exercise routine.  Resistance or weight training builds lean muscle mass.  Your resting metabolism increases as you build muscle, so you will utilize more calories when sitting still.

Get plenty of rest.  Persistent mental stress can confuse your metabolism.  Make sure you get both sleep and relaxation when you need it.

Make your carbohydrates complex.  Eating a large amount of sugary or white processed grains does your metabolism harm.  A diet with carbohydrates from lots of vegetables and a moderate amount of whole grains will support your system.  Be sure to balance your plate with lean protein and healthy fats.  For more on a balanced diet, see this post on healthy snacking.

Jogging outdoors is a good choice for aerobic activity because it’s free, and you can do it anywhere.  However if you’ve never done it before it can be quite intimidating.  Also if you over-exert yourself when you begin jogging it could result in nothing but discouragement and injuries.  So where’s a good place to begin?

Here’s what expert running coach Laura Houston had to say:

I would advise them to start with a walking program if they are completely sedentary (i.e., no other aerobic activities like biking). When they are ready to incorporate running, start with maybe a minute of running, followed by 5-10 minutes walking, and gradually build up the running time, while decreasing the walking time. Always listen to their bodies!

Laura is a certified ChiRunning Instructor, which is a type of running and walking that emphasizes minimal impact on the joints.  You can find out more about what she does at her website, Feel the Run.

Laura brings up the good point that walking can be great exercise on its own.  Just make sure that you’re walking at a pace that is aerobic for you.  Remember from our discussion on exercise we had the other day that aerobic activity is something that gets your heart rate up, gets you breathing faster, and makes you feel warm and sweaty.  I used to coach for an after-school running program for children, and we would call it “walking with purpose.”

If nothing else walking and running is a good way to get outdoors on a nice day and relax your brain a bit.  The next time you’ve got nice weather where you live, give it a try!

If you want to learn more about ChiRunning, check out their website here.
I get asked this question a lot at 5focus: how many times per week should I work out?  As with most things, it depends on what your goal is.

The USDA recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 5-7 days per week.  The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, which is essentially the same thing (30 minutes x 5 days per week).  The CDC also recommends strength training two times weekly; we’ll talk more about types of exercise below.  Both of these recommendations are only for prevention of chronic disease, such as heart disease or diabetes.

For weight loss, most research shows that 60-90 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity every single day is necessary.  Research also shows that doing short bouts of exercise multiple times throughout the day is just as effective as doing it all at once.  If you feel like you can’t commit to 60 minutes at once, split it up into 10- or 20-minute workouts and spread it throughout your day.

A well-balanced exercise routine consists of three components:  aerobic activity, resistance training, and stretching.  Let’s talk about why each one is important!

Aerobic activity is vital for a strong heart and lungs.  Aerobic exercise is anything that gets your heart rate up, increases your breathing rate, and elevates your core temperature (makes you a little sweaty).  This could include jogging, hiking, dance- there are a lot of possibilities.

Resistance training is necessary for joint and bone health.  It involves adding some sort of resistance in addition to your body weight in order to strengthen your muscles.  This could include weight lifting, resistance band training, or swimming.

Stretching is essential to prevent injury during other types of activities.  It could involve either a stretching routine or a yoga class.  Stretches need to be held for 1-2 minutes to have any sort of meaningful effect.

I forgot a fourth component to a healthy exercise routine: having fun!  Whatever you do to maintain your physical health, make sure it’s something you enjoy.

I wrote an article on my old blog that gives guidelines for choosing an exercise activity that’s right for you, check it out here.
We are going to finish up our fats discussion with Omega 3’s tomorrow, but today I thought we’d take a lipid break and talk muscles instead.

The term “core strength” is one that is used a lot in the health and fitness industry, but what does that actually mean?  I asked Laura Robinson, 5focus Physical Therapist and Registered Dietitian for her expert description:

Most people think of their abdominals or a "six pack" when they discuss core muscles.  Your core also includes muscles surrounding and protecting your spine with cool names like iliopsoas or multifidi.  These muscles help you create a stable spine around which your arms and legs move, and also help you twist, bend, and turn your body. 

Core muscles surround the whole middle of your body- front, back and sides. Core strength is important beyond fitness; it also helps to protect your spine for everyday living.

There are many different ways you can strengthen your core, Laura and I both teach a core-focused workout called Kinesis ™.  Some other core strengthening activities I enjoy include:
  • Dance
  • Olympic weightlifting
  • Pilates
  • Skiing/Snowboarding
  • Surfing
  • Yoga

Skin is our biggest organ, our first line of protection from the potential harm.  Sometimes skin gives us trouble in the form of dryness, blemishes, irritation, or discoloration.  Sometimes skin trouble is caused by a contact reaction with something external, an extreme example would be a reaction to poison ivy.  But often these symptoms are what my pathology teacher used to call “postcards from your body,” a communication to us that something funky is going on internally.  Here are some ideas for cleaning your skin from the inside:

Sweat it out:  Skin is not only our biggest organ, it’s also an important organ of detoxification.  Our body disposes of some trash through sweat, such as metabolic waste and leftover medication bits.  Sweat also contains antimicrobial elements, so it really is cleaning the surface of your skin.  Sweat is acidic, so after a good sweat make sure you rinse off with water or you may experience irritation.  My two favorite ways to sweat are exercising or a trip to the sauna.  You have over 3 million sweat glands, so put them to work!

Snack on bacteria:  Surprise!  You’ve got bacteria living all over your body, both inside and out.  Don’t be scared, they are part of a delicate ecosystem that’s integral to our health.  To keep this ecosystem healthy, you can eat probiotics found naturally in fermented foods.  Yogurt, kefir, kombucha tea, kimchi, and sauerkraut are examples of probiotic-containing foods.

For a really dramatic introduction to the bacteria that lives within us, watch this Microwarriors trailer.

If you live in Seattle and you need a good sauna, check out Banya 5 in South Lake Union.