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Month: September 2014

Walking Your Way to Fitness: The Latest Research

You do not need to join a gym to increase fitness. Walking is one type of exercise that is free and available to anyone possessing a sturdy pair of shoes. It is a low-impact form of exercise that is appropriate for all age groups and levels of fitness. Whether you’ve been a couch potato for years or are the fittest person on your block, walking for 30 minutes a day can provide you with a wide range of health benefits.

????????????????????????Research has shown that those who walk regularly have reduced rates of heart disease, asthma, osteoporosis, obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers. It also improves circulation, increases bone strength and reduces cholesterol. Walking can also be one of the easiest forms of exercise to fit into your day for those who are pressed for time.

Julia Valentour, MS, an exercise physiologist and program coordinator at the American Council on Exercise (ACE) says, “Exercise doesn’t have to be hard to be effective. The recommended 30 minutes can be broken up into two 15-minute sessions or even three 10-minute sessions, making it easy to weave into a busy lifestyle.” One of the many benefits of walking is that it can be done nearly anywhere. Whether you live in the country or the city, you can always find places to walk.

Experts suggest you start slowly and gradually build up to walking farther and faster. If you have been inactive for a while, start walking three times a week at a strolling speed for 20 minutes. Slowly work your way up to five times a week for 30 minutes. You will have to walk at more than strolling speed to begin receiving health benefits. Walk fast enough to raise your heart rate, to the point where you can say a few words comfortably without gasping but are not able to sing a song.

Walking is great for overall health, but those who want to lose some weight can benefit too. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, walking at a reasonable rate of three miles per hour burns 221 calories an hour, and walking at a brisk four miles an hour burns 334 calories per hour.

There are a number of things you can do to help motivate yourself to walk regularly:

Buy a pedometer — You should aim to walk a total of 10,000 steps a day, and a pedometer can help you keep track of exactly how many steps you have taken. Most people normally walk between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day. You’ll be amazed at how many more steps you can add to your total by adopting some simple practices to increase the amount you walk. For instance, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk the kids to school and park farther from the entrance to shops. Compete with yourself each day to see if you can improve your performance of the day before.

Listen to music or podcasts as you walk — It’s a great way of helping the time fly and it provides a nice soundtrack to the things you pass along the way. You can even learn a new language as you walk!

Enlist a walking buddy — When two people commit to a walking regimen, neither person wants to let the other down, so it’s more difficult to skip that day’s exercise.

Find online support — StartWalkingNow.org is a free program designed by the American Heart Association to help people get started on a walking program. Their online offerings include activity and nutrition tracking, a monthly newsletter with recipes and health tips and a way of connecting with others doing the same thing.

Walking is fun and it has many health benefits and no drawbacks, so get started today on the path to better health!

Chiropractic Care Improves Pregnancy-Related Pelvic Pain

Symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), commonly referred to as pelvic pain, is a condition that is growing more common among pregnant women, either due to increasing maternal age or to the condition simply being diagnosed more frequently. The pain is due to excessive movement of the bones that make up the pubic symphysis, which are the two bones that meet at the front of the pelvic girdle and are connected by a joint made of cartilage and supported by ligaments.

????????????????????????????????????During pregnancy, a woman’s body secretes increased amounts of the hormone relaxin, which makes cartilage, ligaments and other soft tissues more flexible in preparation for childbirth. There is normally a 4-5 mm gap between the bones of the pubic symphysis. However, that space can increase another 2-3 mm during pregnancy, often causing both pelvic pain and pain in the lower back and sacroiliac. Over 30 percent of women are reported as suffering from some form of SPD during pregnancy, with approximately 7 percent continuing to experience pain post-partum.

Symptoms of SPD include shooting pain in the pubic symphysis area (which often radiates to the abdomen, lower back and upper leg), pain on movement, a waddling gait and swelling in the pubic area. The pain can range from mild to debilitating, and the condition can interfere with normal daily activities such as bending, lifting the leg and getting up from a chair.

A recent study published in The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association has reported that conservative chiropractic care can reduce pain from pregnancy-related SPD, increase mobility and improve function.

Dr. Emily R. Howell of Ashbridge’s Health Center in Toronto studied two cases of women at 30 weeks of pregnancy (35 and 33 years of age) who reported severe SPD (including pain in the lower back and sacroiliac, respectively) and who received conservative chiropractic management. Treatment included side-lying mobilizations, instrument-assisted adjustments to the pubic symphysis, pelvic blocks, use of a pregnancy support belt and soft tissue therapy. Both patients were also given tips and exercises they could perform at home, which included stretches, pelvic floor exercises, using a pillow between the knees during sleep and getting up and moving around periodically. Post-partum exercises were suggested to help restore muscular strength, improve control and encourage pelvic stability.

Both women reported relief from chiropractic treatment during their pregnancy and the tips they used at home. Long-term follow-up evaluation post-partum found that the patient with SPD and low back pain had no more pain from SPD, with some low back pain related to a subsequent knee injury. The second woman reported being nearly pain-free, apart from a rare re-occurrence of some mild pelvic pain.

Chiropractic care is a safe and effective treatment option for dealing with pelvic pain during pregnancy that is drug-free and has been proven to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life both during and after pregnancy.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Warning Signs and Treatment Options

If you find yourself becoming depressed, increasingly irritable and suffering from more bouts of insomnia as winter approaches, you may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Your risk of having this condition increases the further you get from the equator. The prevalence of SAD is estimated to be only 1.4 percent in Florida, but jumps to 9.7 percent in New Hampshire. Although it is not listed as a mental disorder in itself, it is categorized as a specific type of depression.

woman-park-benchDr. Norman Rosenthal was the first researcher to study and name this phenomenon, motivated by his desire to understand what caused his depression in the long dark days of the northern winters. Rosenthal and colleagues conducted a placebo-controlled study of SAD that used light therapy, which was found to be effective in alleviating some of the symptoms of SAD.

Although the exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, scientists believe that the hypothalamus is negatively affected by the relative lack of sunlight in more northern latitudes (or more southern latitudes for people in the southern hemisphere). The hypothalamus regulates our circadian rhythm and produces the hormones that influence sleep, mood and appetite.

Some of the most common warning signs of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Depression (primarily between September and April, peaking in December through February)
  • Irritability and/or anxiety
  • Sleeping more than usual and feeling drowsy during the day
  • Cravings for carbohydrates such as bread and pasta
  • Eating more (and gaining weight)
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to concentrate

There are a few different treatments for SAD, most of which are effective. The most common form of treatment (with no adverse side effects) is light therapy. For this treatment, you have to sit in front of a special light box for a minimum of half an hour every day. The light box features a bright full-spectrum bulb that simulates the wavelengths of sunlight and is far brighter than any incandescent bulb. It’s a simple treatment, but it’s not convenient for many people, as you must do it every day until the season changes, or you risk the return of your depression.

Here are some other treatment options:

  • Antidepressants, typically serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are effective but can have side effects such as insomnia, nausea, diarrhea and decreased libido
  • Cognitive behavior therapy, which trains people to become aware of their negative thought patterns and teaches them how to replace them with more positive ones
  • Exercising for as little as 20 minutes, which has been shown to significantly boost mood
  • Getting outside more often, since the fresh air and sunlight can make a positive difference in how you feel

Stress and the Mind-Body Connection

For many years, the medical profession considered the mind and body to be separate spheres with little effect on each other. However, researchers have begun to take much greater notice of the connection between the two in recent decades.

concerned-man-200-300Not only is it obvious that bad physical health will affect your mental well-being, but it is now generally recognized that our thoughts also have a profound influence on many parts of the body, including the immune, nervous, endocrine, digestive and cardiovascular systems.

Since the discovery of the opiate receptor in 1973, scientific research has shown how emotional states are caused by the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, a process that is greatly influenced by events in our lives as well as our thoughts and emotions. Researchers now understand that these “molecules of emotion” (as the author Candace Pert has described them) affect a much larger number of body systems than previously thought. Anyone who has experienced “butterflies in the stomach” before an interview or exam can certainly testify to the truth of this!

The stress response evolved in order to prepare the body for fight or flight in the presence of great danger such as a lion or an enemy from another tribe. Even though we may be surrounded by 21st century technology, human physiology is still based on what we needed as hunter-gatherers. The stress response is designed to be a short-term reaction to immediate danger that is then followed by relief and relaxation after that immediate danger has passed. In response to serious threat, the body will release chemicals such as adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol, which divert blood away from non-critical organs in the body such as the digestive system and send it to the muscles. The heart rate also goes up in readiness for intense activity.

As a short-term response, stress has few lasting physiological effects and stress chemicals break down quickly in the body once the stressor is no longer there. However, most physical threats in our modern world are imagined rather than real. And our modern-day fears and anxieties can lurk beneath the surface for weeks or months. So it turns out that the kind of physiological responses helpful for fighting a lion are not so useful in helping us cope with our modern causes of stress. In fact, our bodies’ response to stressful situations (designed to help us cope with short-term, fight-or-flight situations) can even have a detrimental impact on the body when it’s switched on over prolonged periods. Digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), high blood pressure, low immunity and even chronic illness such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) are just some examples of illnesses that can be brought on by long-term stress. In addition, researchers have also discovered that stress can worsen many preexisting medical conditions and can lead to changes in the brain. These changes tend to make chronically stressed people more impatient and aggressive. This can further reduce their ability to cope with problems.

While we are still running on what may be considered outdated stress technology in our bodies, we certainly do not have to be controlled by it. Fortunately for us, the fight or flight response triggered by our sympathetic nervous system is not the only mode our bodies can operate in. We can also learn to trigger the parasympathetic “rest or digest” mode, which allows the body to rest and reverse the physiological changes brought about by stress.

Making sure you have enough time to unwind is critical to combating the effects of stress throughout the day, week and month. So is eating well and exercising. And learning a relaxation technique such as meditation can also help. Yoga is a particularly good “stress buster” as it combines gentle exercise with meditative breathing and relaxation. Counseling and anger management can also be appropriate during periods of intense difficulty to ensure that stress doesn’t get the better of you and your body.

Making Sense of the Many Butter Alternatives

Butter’s gotten a bad rap. Until the 1950s, butter was a traditional staple on everyone’s dinner table. But then a professor named Ancel Keys published research that tied the consumption of saturated fat to heart disease.

buttered-roll-200-300In 1956, American Heart Association representatives appeared on television warning people about fat and the danger of coronary heart disease. Butter consumption took a nosedive and margarine was suddenly the spread of choice in homes across the country. More than 50 years later, many butter substitutes are available on store shelves. But are they really any healthier than the butter they’ve replaced?

Margarine—the first butter substitute—is made from hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil from plant oils such as sunflower, cottonseed, rapeseed (canola), soybean and safflower. Hydrogenation is necessary to give liquid oils a solid quality at room temperature. However, this process of hydrogenation creates those dangerous trans fats everyone has heard about. Guess what? It turns out that trans fats lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

In order to keep trans fats to a minimum, some margarine makers now use tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm oil in their products, since these have a bit of natural solidity at room temperature. Despite this change, it’s important to be aware that some margarines that are advertised as containing “no trans fats” or “0% trans fats” may not actually be completely free of them. This is because Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules regarding the labeling of foods with trans fat allow makers to round down if the content is less than 0.5 grams per serving:

“…if the serving contains less than 0.5 gram, the content, when declared, shall be expressed as zero.”

This effectively means that a meal consisting of three separate servings of “0% trans fat” foods could still contain anywhere up to 1.5 grams of trans fat when you add it up. To help ensure this will not be a problem, avoid products that have “hydrogenated oil,” “partially hydrogenated oil” or “interesterified oil” in their ingredient list.

Vegans who are looking for butter alternatives should be aware that many brands of margarine contain some amount of butter or milk products to give them a more buttery taste. There are a few buttery spreads on the market, such as Earth Balance, that use tropical oils instead of hydrogenated oils, so they are both vegan and free of trans fats.

If you’re looking for a tasty spread to put on bread, other alternatives to butter include nut butters (such as peanut or almond butter), hummus, roasted garlic, mashed avocado, and olive oil. By the way, the last two on this list contain healthy fats that have been shown to contribute to increased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.

All of this discussion aside, you really can’t do much better than plain butter if you’re just trying to eat healthy. It has only one ingredient: cream (and salt, if you buy salted butter). It has no chemicals or preservatives, contains no trans fats and provides you with essential fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D and K. In addition, organic butter from grass-fed cows has one of the best ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids (most of us get too little omega-3 and too much omega-6 in our diet). If you want to keep calories down, just use less of it. The rich, buttery taste will allow you to use half of what you would need from one of the butter alternatives for the same amount of flavor.