Sunday, February 21, 2010

10 things to start TODAY for a healthy body

As much as possible, I try to live an alternative lifestyle? Before you start thinking that I'm healing myself with crystals or praying to rocks, hear me out. Before I turn to vitamins, supplements or other pills which claim a healthy body, I turn to more natural means of wellness. For example, I believe that everything our bodies need can be found in foods, most of which can be found at the local grocery store. So, here's my list of ten things which I personally do, to stay well and have the healthiest body possible.

1. Exercise. ....Need I say it? Exercising is the best thing you can do for your body. All you need is 30 minutes each day, which (NO EXCUSES!) everyone can make time for. Whether it's running on a treadmill, mowing the lawn, jumping on the trampoline with the kids, or walking on your lunch break, do your body a favor and get moving!

2. Add lemon to your water ....When I first started living a healthier lifestyle, the thing I struggled with most was drinking water. Yes, one of the FEW things we must do as humans to stay alive. It's bland, and I forced myself to chug it to get it down...Which then made my stomach feel like I had swallowed a bunch of chlorinated pool water. I hated water. So, I tried mixing it up a bit, and added lemon to my bottles of water. Not only was it delicious and easier to drink, but it seemed to help me lose weight. I'm not promising that you'll lose ten pounds only by adding lemon to your water. However, I personally noticed I had an easier time losing weight when I added lemon water to my healthy diet and exercise plan.

Not looking to lose weight? Lemon is packed with Vitamin C, which can help ward off colds and other infections. Lemons are also believed to be a diuretic, which can be helpful for people with history of kidney stones and other urinary tract ailments. Want even more health benefits? Add a pinch of cayenne pepper to each bottle of water. Doing this helps increase circulation and can aid in weight loss.

3. Start Stretching ....Most people think of stretching as a warm-up or cool-down before and after exercise. Have you ever thought about stretching to start and end your day? All day every day, your muscles are working. Walking, talking, eating, driving, playing with the dog, picking up the baby; these are the daily activities you need healthy muscles to perform. Stretching promotes flexibility, which can prevent strains, sprains, pulled muscles and other injuries. Stretching also increases circulation, which improves blood flow to muscles. Finally, stretching can relieve stress by stretching tight, tense muscles. To keep muscles in tip top shape, make sure to stretch in the morning to prepare for the day and at night to release tension from the day's activities.

Lightly stretch your calves and thighs by sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you and reaching for your feet. Stretch your quads by standing on one foot, and pulling your lifted foot towards your buttocks. Stretch your arms and shoulders by reaching each arm across your chest and pulling back with the opposite hand. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, and complete each stretch twice. Breathe deeply, to deliver oxygen to the muscle being stretched.

4. Eat Flax.... Flax seed has been around for centuries, but it's powerful health benefits are often over-looked. Flax seed contains Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3s are the 'good' fats, which are known to aid in weight loss, as well as promote a healthy heart. Flax seed is also packed with Lignans, which have antioxidant properties. Finally, flax seed is practically pure fiber, which can aid in digestive regularity and health. This tiny seed packs both insoluble and soluble fiber. So, how do you incorporate flax into your diet? Flax doesn't have a particularly strong taste, but it is easily disguised in many dishes. Fruit smoothies, oatmeal, even homemade bread and pizza dough are great foods to add flax seed. If you're concerned about any grittiness, try ground flax. Many readily available breads and cereals also contain flax, tasty and easy ways to get huge health benefits!

5. Exercise your brain....Everyone knows that exercise keeps your body in shape, but have you given much thought about your brain? Keeping your brain sharp and active can promote overall health and wellness. Studies have shown that keeping an active brain via math and word puzzles and games may help delay or decrease your risk of Alzheimer's. I, personally, have found that when my brain is sharp, I feel better overall. So what are some fun ways to give your mind a workout? Crosswords, scrambles, Sudoku, solitaire, even thought provoking board games, and of course reading! Want to kill two birds with one stone? Play solitaire on your Ipod while you're on the treadmill or read a book while you're on the stationary bike.

6. Eat your veggies...(And fruit)!....You've probably heard it a million times, so why aren't you getting the recommended 5 servings of both fruits and vegetables? Life can be stressful, so many people reach for the quick and easy frozen dinners and packaged foods, instead of fresh fruits and vegetables. Though packaged foods may contain 'natural' ingredients, they're lacking the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which fresh produce has to offer. To get the most out of the health benefits from fruits and vegetables, follow the Rainbow Rule: Eat a different colored fruit or vegetable with every meal. Each colored vegetable and fruits contains unique health benefits. For example, red foods contain lycopene which can lower the risk of cancer. While blue foods offer fiber and Vitamin C. Try making smoothies with fresh berries, or make chili with fresh beans and tomatoes.

7. Get Fat!.....No, I'm not telling you to start eating chocolate and gain weight. It's time to swap out the saturated fats with 'good' fats. Saturated fat raises the levels of cholesterol in your blood, and can lead to weight gain. Also, it's time to get rid of Trans Fat, which was invented to make foods taste better and last longer. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products, such as beef, poultry, pork, eggs,and butter. Trans fat are very prominent in fast food. So what are the good fats? Monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats lower cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol-the good cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats are found in nuts, avocados and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fat also lowers cholesterol and is found in fish such as salmon, and corn and soy oils. So instead of snacking on cheese or other fatty foods, try a handful of almonds or walnuts.

8. Get your 8!..... It can be difficult, impossible or even inconvenient to get 8 hours of sleep every night. You might rethink your schedule, though, because sleep may be more important than you thought. A good night of sleep does a whole lot more than just keep you alert the next day. Studies have shown that sleep can reduce stress, aid in weight loss, help your body overcome illness and injury, even reduce your risk of cancer. For many of us, 8 hours of sleep is unrealistic. Between work, kids, and other obligations, it can be impossible to get a full night of sleep. So how can you get the most out of your typical night of sleep? Here's a few ideas.

  • Refrain from caffeine after 3PM.

  • If you exercise at night, be sure to end at least an hour and a half before bedtime.

  • Cool off your room, it's been proven that most people sleep better in a cooler room than a warmer room.

  • Avoid before-bed-snacks, and eat your last meal at least one hour before bed.

  • Get relaxed before getting into bed: try a warm bath, light stretching, reading or a warm mug of chamomile tea.

  • Turnoff all distractions: If you like to fall asleep with the TV on, set it on a timer, to go off shortly after you fall asleep. (Even if the volume is muted or low, the light can affect your sleep)

  • Set a gentle alarm: Being woken up by what seems like a bomb siren is not a good way to end an otherwise good night of sleep. Try a medium-volume radio alarm, an alarm that starts quiet and progressively gets louder, or a spoken alarm.
9. Meditate.... There are many misconceptions about meditation. It's portrayed in movies and TV shows as something only monks, new agey people and yogis participate in. Some people also think of meditation as a quiet time in which you think of nothing, become enlightened, and levitate. Sorry, guys, but so off base. For me, meditation is a quiet time, but that's it. In a busy, hectic life, I rarely have time to just sit and breathe. It's a great way to start the morning, regroup anytime, or end the day. Don't feel like you need to come out of meditation feeling like you've connected with a higher power or you've finally 'understood' the world. You should, however, feel cool, calm, collected and ready for whatever is next.
Never meditated before?

Here's the basics: Sit on the floor with your legs criss crossed. Straighten your back and place your hands lightly on your knees. Close your eyes, and concentrate on your breathing. Breathe slowly in through your nose, and out your mouth. Do not try to think about 'nothing.' If your thoughts wander, bring yourself back to concentrating on your breathing. Without moving, try to individually feel the presence of each body part, starting from your toes, and working your way up. Continue to concentrate on your breathing. Once you feel you have regrouped and slowed both your heart rate and breathing, slowly open your eyes and stand, and continue on with your day. Once you have practiced basic meditation, try to quiet your mind so that you can hear your heart beating. This take ultimate relaxation and quiet, so do not get frustrated if you can't hear it for a while.

10. Drink your tea.... Finally, drink your tea. Black, green, white and oolong teas are all jam-packed with antioxidants. These antioxidant can help ward off cancer, lower cholesterol levels and even prevent blood clot. Green tea is also a very common aid for weight loss. Be careful, though: Studies have shown the adding milk or cream to your tea can deplete the antioxidant levels in your tea. Be ware of caffeine in tea, and if you're drinking a cup before bed, choose a decaff variety.

These ten things are what I am doing to improve and work toward the ultimate healthy body, without pills, products or any unnatural means. Try them out, some may work for you better than others, some you may not like at all, but all of them lead to a healthier you in one way or another!

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