Archive for the “Fitness” Category

Love Yourself Thin

Love Yourself Thin

You don’t have to spend the rest of your life bingeing and feeling bad about it.

by Susan Weiner, Energy Times, January 2011

Sometimes your strongest cravings for food take place when you’re feeling the weakest emotionally. A stressful day at the office may steer you to the nearest fast-food eatery for a double cheeseburger, while an night spent arguing at home might end with a bowl of ice cream.

Food does more than simply fill the stomach when used to feed mounting emotions in situations such as these. At that point it can sabotage good diet intentions and lead to a never-ending cycle of bingeing and self-blame.

While few of us take pleasure in facing tumultuous feelings of depression, anger, sadness and resentment, stuffing these emotions inside can eat away at self-esteem, triggering anxiety and an irresistible urge to indulge. An unhealthy binge commonly leads to feelings of guilt and a cascade of self-blame that tends to repeat itself.

When you take a harsh view of yourself as weak, overweight and unable to lose weight, those negative thoughts only perpetuate weight gain. In fact, when participants in one study engaged in self-criticism and self-blame, their brains showed activity in brain regions correlated with depression, eating disorders and anxiety (NeuroImage 1/15/10).

“When we feel really bad, either from an uncomfortable emotion or when we add insult to injury through criticizing ourselves, we may try to avoid or ward off the feeling by eating. That’s emotional eating, and it’s a defense against feeling bad,” explains Christopher K. Germer, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (The Guilford Press, (www.mindfulselfcompassion.org). “We do it to bypass the pain and to feel better. It’s an excellent short-term solution, but the long-term consequences can be devastating.”

The remedy to emotional overeating, suggests Germer, is mindfulness—being aware of your emotions and how they affect you—and self-compassion. These practices give you the strength to evaluate what’s really bothering you and to respond with self-kindness rather than criticism. “That gives us a little more mental space to make healthy choices,” says Germer. “Self-compassion is a new habit that anyone can learn. Deep within all beings is the wish to be happy and free from suffering.”

Baby Steps

After gaining more than 40 pounds, Lauren Tobin learned how to practice self-compassion, which ultimately allowed her to drop the excess weight. “I think back emotionally to what was going on in my life at the time and there was a lot,” recalls Tobin, 40, mother of two young girls and controller for a packaging company in Oaks, Pennsylvania. “You don’t feel well, you eat and then you don’t feel well because you ate. At the end of the day, I don’t think eating a bag of pretzels and dip will change the outcome of how you feel about your life.”

Feeling lethargic and low on energy, Tobin divided her weight-loss strategy into manageable steps that included incorporating healthier foods into her diet, exercising, maintaining a food diary and evaluating the emotional triggers that spurred her to overeat.

“I had to find a different way, when I was feeling down or depressed, to not automatically turn to food. One day I just made a decision,” notes Tobin. “I broke it up into small goals so it wasn’t such a daunting task.”

A simple mental exercise to help you achieve your weight-loss goals is substituting “self-compassion breaks” in lieu of food breaks. Germer suggests that you find a quiet place, put your hand on your heart, take three deep breaths and tell yourself you are in a moment of suffering (mindfulness), that suffering is a part of everyone’s life (common humanity) and that you want to be kind to yourself (self-kindness).

This type of self-compassion, explains Germer, is a self-soothing alternative to food. “These practices can interrupt the automatic connection between stress and eating,” he says.

Releasing Weight

As the handsome star of the popular soap opera “One Life to Live,” Freeman Michaels based his success on how the world perceived him. After leaving acting behind in the mid-1990s, a thriving real estate development company provided Michaels with that same sense of security. “I thought if I was famous, I’d be happy. I thought if I was rich, I’d be happy,” says Michaels. But when his business failed during the real estate crash, his weight ballooned to nearly 280 pounds.

A self-described “latchkey kid,” Michaels admits that he has turned to food for comfort during much of his life. “I ate my way through my troubles. All these attempts in my life to make it from the outside in were never sustainable,” he says. “At no point was I ever really okay, not with myself and not with my eating.”

A speaker, workshop trainer and author of Weight Release: A Liberating Journey (Morgan James), Michaels received a masters degree in spiritual psychology and founded the Service to Self Process (www.servicetoself.com), a life coaching program that helps clients examine food-related behaviors, explore “self-honoring” alternatives and create healthy practices that ultimately become habits.

“A lot of us are feeding something inside. It can be an expression of rebelling, of deflecting unwanted attention, of abuse,” says Michaels. “What we do today is the process of applying compassion to the part of us that hurts. The minute we apply compassion, it lifts.” Instead of reacting from the painful past, Michaels suggests creating healthy rituals such as walking and meditating, generating intention between bites by focusing on healthy food choices, and writing down a list of wholesome foods along with their health benefits for extra motivation.

Learning to break free from mindless, emotionally driven eating—and the self-blame it creates—may feel a little awkward at first if you have always reached for cookies in times of crisis. But Tobin and Michaels say they are living proof that the results are well worth the effort. “When you do something repeatedly, over time it becomes easier to do,” says Michaels. “Compassion allows us to see clearly. It’s a healing journey.”

The 2010 Johns Hopkins Memory White Paper

The 2010 Johns Hopkins Memory White Paper

Excerpt from page 35, by Susan Weiner

Maintaining Balance in Dementia
How to build strength and prevent falls

Cognitive impairment affects more than memory and thinking. It can interfere with a person’s motor and balance control, resulting in difficulties walking, slowness of  movement, a shuffling gait, and general unsteadiness. Balance problems are often an initial sign of dementia due to Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, stroke,  or normal-pressure hydrocephalus (an abnormal increase of cerebrospinal fluid). Losing balance and falling down is common among those cognitively impaired and often occurs during routine activities such as getting out of bed, standing up, climbing stairs, and using the bathroom. Loved ones may break bones or suffer other serious injuries  that threaten their health and longevity. Nearly two million adults older than age 65 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to accidental falls in 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Individuals with cognitive decline have a three times higher risk of injuries from falls than cognitively unimpaired  elders.

Exercise Can Help
Inactivity and lack of exercise often accompany Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and further weaken muscles and decrease flexibility, affecting the way individuals
walk and increasing the likelihood of falling. An exercise plan can counteract this increased risk by improving balance and mobility. It can also help your loved one maintain independence, promote a normal routine, and enhance mood. Ongoing strength and balance training may even eliminate or forestall the need for walking assistance, negating some safety issues. Whether exercise and balance routines are incorporated at home or professionally, it’s never too late to enhance coordination. Researchers have found  that elderly people with dementia in nursing homes who participated in an exercise program were able to improve balance after just six months. Caregivers may be able to aid in the process. Research from 2008 showed that when caregivers motivated and taught participants with dementia a tailored set of exercises, they fell significantly less than  those in the group that did not exercise. After 12 months, the exercise group improved their balance, while steadiness deteriorated in those who didn’t exercise.

Getting Started
A health professional should be consulted before beginning any exercise program, and types of physical activity should be individualizedto the person’s abilities.  For those with limited mobility, repetitive everyday routines like folding laundry or washing dishes can be used to improve coordination and increase activity. Routines can also decrease anxiety, because they don’t require as much thought and concentration.    People in the early stages of cognitive decline may find walking, dancing, stationary bicycling, yoga, and tai chi to be helpful in building balance, stamina, and strength. Swimming and water aerobics also are good options and require less balance and are easier on your joints. Most important, choose an activity that the person is likely to enjoy and stick with. Doing activities with someone else offers added incentive and pleasure to continue with  any activity program.

Balance 101
A simple balance exercise is simply to stand behind a chair or counter, lightly grasp on, and raise one leg about a foot off the ground for a count of 10 seconds. As skill level improves, the routine can be modified by standing on one leg longer, closing your eyes, and increasing repetitions.
  • Start out with 10-minute exercise sessions and work your way up.
  • Avoid slippery floors and throw rugs.
  • Make sure the area is well lit and uncluttered.
  • If maintaining balance is difficult, exercise within reach of a rail or grab bar.
  • If standing is a challenge, exercise on a bed or secure floor mat.
  • If the person begins to feel hurt or sick, make sure to stop the activity immediately.
  • A physical therapist can also design a special balance exercise plan depending on skill level. See the box above for an example of an exercise for beginners. Your doctor can  provide a referral to a therapist or may even have diagrams of exercises to try at home, if it is safe to do so.
February 17, 2010 Posted Under: Dementia, Fitness, Health & Wellness   Read More

The Heart of Yoga

The Heart of Yoga

The Heart of Yoga
A 5,000-year-old approach to a healthy cardiovascular system.

By Susan Weiner, Energy Times, February 2009

Can the calming rhythms of yoga help your heart the same way as an energetic 30-minute walk? The answer for many with cardiac disease is a resounding “yes.”

“I would call it a lifesaver,” says John Periolat, 76, of Charlottesville, Virginia, who attended Cardiac Yoga classes at the University of Virginia following a massive heart attack 14 years ago. “But I don’t think it’s widespread enough.”

A modified form of yoga focusing on cardiac patients, yoga for heart disease reduces heart rate and blood pressure in addition to calming the nervous system. It also increases exercise capacity and lowers inflammation levels, as shown by an ever-growing number of research studies. Patients use mats, pillows and chairs to ensure comfort while they perform yoga’s gentle exercises; although it may sound like barely enough motion to break a sweat, the positive effects of cardiovascular yoga are measurable.

Eight weeks of yoga helped to safely improve overall quality of life in 19 heart failure patients, even reducing markers of inflammation associated with heart failure, according to a November 2007 study by researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Meanwhile adults with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that significantly raises cardiovascular risk, were able to reduce their waist circumference, blood pressure, blood sugar and triglycerides after practicing yoga for just three months (Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 12/07).

“Cardiac Yoga changed my life,” says the now-retired Periolat, a self-described former type A personality who lives at a more relaxed pace and spends his time volunteering—a far cry from his days as a Navy captain flying F-4 Phantom fighters. Periolat studied with Mala Cunningham, PhD, counseling psychologist and founding director of the Cardiac Yoga Program in Charlottesville. “I was in a hole so deep, I couldn’t see any light,” Periolat says. “Dr. Cunningham’s Cardiac Yoga classes yanked me out of it and put me on my feet again.”

Heart-Friendly Hospitals
The clinical documentation behind yoga’s considerable medical benefits is recognized at hospitals throughout the country, from New York Presbyterian in New York City to Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, where Cunningham’s Cardiac Yoga and other yoga programs are available to heart patients. “Cardiac Medical Yoga is a gentle program designed for individuals who have limited mobility,” says Cunningham, author of Medical Yoga (www.cardiacyoga.com). “It’s been completely modified and looked over by a cardiologist and an exercise physiologist to address the needs of cardiac patients.” Cunningham, who certifies other Cardiac Yoga instructors, uses the acronym BREAD to define what Cardiac Yoga is all about: Breathing (known in yoga as pranayama), Relaxation, Exercise/Yoga (through poses known as asanas), Attitude and Diet.

Yoga’s relaxing, meditative component may help stabilize the lining of the blood vessels and lower stress hormones, triggering a chain of events that minimize the risk of heart attack or stroke. In a 2004 Yale University School of Medicine study, people who meditated and did yoga three times a week experienced a dramatically reduced risk of cardiovascular problems.

Yoga helps to ease anxiety, which has been linked with increased heart attack risk in older men (Journal of the American College of Cardiology 1/15/08). In addition, “it helps to activate the parasympathetic response, which helps the body relax,” explains Cunningham. She adds that this makes yoga helpful for not only heart patients but for anyone who wants to avoid cardiac problems in the first place.

A Larger Heart
Some yoga teachers believe this ancient practice can also bring healing on a larger scale. Mahamandaleshwar Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda, known simply as Swamiji, says that yoga’s benefits extend beyond better heart health; he thinks it is a pathway to individual balance that can lead to improved relationships and, ultimately, a stable society. Swamiji travels the globe teaching Yoga in Daily Life (www.yogaindailylife.org), which is taught in a step-by-step method, making it accessible to intellectualized Western thinking. Yoga in Daily Life can be practiced by people of all ages and in all states of health, but can be especially helpful for those with heart disease or high blood pressure.

“Stress is considered to be a major contributing factor to heart disease,” says Swamiji. “Yoga emphasizes relaxation through breathing, asanas and meditation, which makes it an extremely effective method for reducing stress and the associated health problems, as well as a great way to improve circulation.” His recommendations for a healthier heart include eating organic foods, reducing dietary fats and sugars, drinking plenty of pure water and taking 30-minute walks, in addition to practicing yoga postures at home and attending a yoga class at least once a week. And Swamiji reminds us that there’s more to having a healthy heart than perfecting postures, breathing and meditation: “Laugh every day because it will make your heart light.”

Whether you’re looking to improve an existing cardiac condition or simply keep your heart healthy, yoga provides a gentle, yet powerful, approach to well-being.

February 14, 2009 Posted Under: Energy Times, Fitness, Yoga   Read More