Guys, here’s a sobering fact: Americans are experiencing a shift…life expectancy has begun to decline. I’m talking men AND women. And, not because of genetic changes…but due to our lifestyles — what we eat (or what we don’t eat which can be just as important), what we are exposed to, the quality of our sleep, etc.
You might ask, “With so many lifestyle choices, where does one begin?” My humble vote is to start with the gut. Why? Well, for starters, healthy gut bacteria:
Regulates digestion & metabolism
Impacts our body’s immune system
Blocks harmful microbes
Extracts & make vitamins & other nutrients from ingested food
Produces anti-microbial chemicals to fight off pathogens
Builds & maintains our gut wall to protect us from outside invaders
Plays a CRUCIAL role with brain health
So now that we know the “why gut” — where do we go from here? Let’s first consider food and nutritional intake. The reason is because the wrong dietary/foods will impact the integrity of our gut lining and that increases inflammation in the body. This is important becausethere is a correlation of inflammatory markers with most common diseases like coronary heart disease, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, autism, diabetes, and cancers. This, my friends, makes our gut bacteria is tres importante!
Knowing which foods contribute to bodily inflammation can be done with a food sensitivity test. Or, you can keep a journal noting what you eat and how you feel afterwards. You can get a pretty darn good indication of offending foods from a food journal.
Going one step further with some type of inflammatory testing is a GREAT idea especially if you are on medications for a chronic condition or battling (or have battled) one of the diseases above. There are a couple basic lab tests for inflammation including determining C – reactive protein, TMAO (trimethylamine oxide), or TNF (tumor necrosis factor) levels. Please…find out if you have inflammation and FIX IT! If you think you shouldn’t look at these markers until you are middle age, think again.
Don’t wait to test because studies have shown those people with inflammatory levels in their 30’s/40’s have the worst memories 24 years later (and brain shrinkage). David Perlmutter, the author or Grain Brain (newly updated, btw), suggests we fix the roof when the sun is shining. My younger adult friends, this means you. Pregnant women, this means you. My middle aged peers….THIS MEANS YOU.
Not motivated yet? There was another study done correlating the size of one’s belly and the risk for dementia. This test spanned 36 years. You guessed it, there was a DIRECT correlation. Another easy test to help here is to determine oxidation of LDL with a glycated hemoglobin test (or A1C). The higher the A1C, the greater the brain shrinkage (seriously).
Please don’t buy into the pharmaceutical companies making money off of Alzheimer’s drugs (which are mostly ineffective and cause people to decline faster) when the natural solution is right in front of us. Yes my friends, we have to be intentional. And yes, we will have to let go of artificial and way-over-sized portioned conveniences of eating out frequently, but isn’t the payoff worth it? BTW, the SAME efforts to improve brain function and improve gut health will (drum roll) improve your overall health and help you lose unneeded fat.
My short list for improving your diet is this:
Eliminate gluten & processed flour foods
Reduce consumption of inflammatory red meat and other inflammatory proteins (btw there are more than a few studies relating to the consumption of red meat and colorectal cancer…)
Eat LESS protein – and when you do, make sure it’s clean (antibiotic /hormone free) like wild fish or some hormone /free range eggs)
Increase diversity of high fiber vegetables
Next, I recommend reading the new Grain Brain book by David Perlmutter or Dave Asprey’s Game Changers for specific recommendations relating to resting insulin, vitamin D levels, hemoglobin A1C levels, fasting blood sugar, the amount of exercise, the amount/quality of sleep, etc.
YOU are worth the education and investment of time to learn what’s best for you (and your loved ones). AT the very least, search for podcasts with key words and these authors’ names and learn while you drive.
What have you got to GAIN? (Check my past posts if you’re still not sure!)
Until next time. Love yourself. Hug a person or a pet. Get outside. Laugh.
Hey friends, how are you feeling these days…with work, family or the holiday season upon us? If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, maybe it’s time to take a breather and add intentional steps to alleviate stress.
By now you probably know that meditation and other recommended stress reduction techniques previously considered “new age” really work. Many high performers incorporate various forms of meditation into their daily lives because it works (and are a heck of a lot better than drugs & those nasty side effects). There are many forms meditation from walking in nature, guided meditations (especially good if you have an active monkey brain like me), breathing exercises (try inhaling completely for 4 seconds, hold 7 seconds, exhale completely for 8, repeat 9 more times), or simply enjoying the love & affection of a pet. Try them out and see what suits you best.
Why is it important to work on controlling/limiting or reducing stress? Because with chronic stress, the brain atrophies…which means it gets smaller and less effective. When you are stressed, you release cortisol. With elevated cortisol, your brain begins overload and …then begins to degenerate. The parts most affected are the areas of the brain associated with dementia/long term memory.
There are also vascular impacts of stress on our brains due to the flight or fight response. This response releases hormones that decrease blood flow to our brain. Chronic stress has long term effects on our brains.
What else happens? Well, elevated cortisol can also decrease circulation. That’s why it makes sense then to engage in an activity that causes an increase in circulation. Exercise increases your heart rate and oxygen to the brain. On the opposite side of the spectrum, long term sedentary activity decreases blood circulation all over the body. Then, if you add a stress response to being sedentary and possibly a thyroid issue, all these factors impact the health of our brains.
Public service message: The more intense the exercise, the better the benefit because your heart has to pump harder. Try intervals or short bursts of increased energy/effort for 10-30 seconds, 10-15 times.
To recap, we have the impact of stress and a sedentary lifestyle impacting our brains. Now, let’s talk diet. “Type 3 diabetes” is now used to describe dementia because if we indulge in sugar or processed carbs, we get too much insulin. Seriously, our bodies were not made to consume the sugar we load into them daily. Chronic surges of insulin also cause damage to the brain. I’m saying this with a lot of love….so hear me when I say, “If you are tired after meals, it’s time to review what you are eating.” A normal response after a meal should be your hunger is vanished – NOT an energy surge – or an energy drop.
Small changes in our diets can make a HUGE difference with our brain health (& overall health & weight)!
When it comes to gluten…there is a high correlation between neurological symptoms and gluten antibodies – most specifically with wheat gluten. So if you have an inflammatory diet, you are inflaming your brain. It WILL begin to degenerate. As these various factors (stress, blood sugar instability and/or surges, sedentary lifestyles, lack of circulation, poor diet) add up, we will begin to feel foggy. That “fog” is brain degeneration. You have a thought but can’t get to it.
What would a balanced brain focused diet consist of? The key is to eat a diversity of vegetables/plant fibers along with healthy fats and LIMITED sugar/processed carbs. Proteins can also be inflammatory with most inflammatory proteins being milk protein, egg protein, and soy protein. Experts suggest a diet that is A.) gluten & dairy free, B.) one that includes flax seed & fish oils (healthy fats), and for sure, C.) a diet low in sugar and processed carbs to prevent sugar surges, and D.) a diet FULL of diverse vegetables.
The bottom line is thatanything that causes inflammation to the body has an effect on the brain.
That would include stress, diet, sedentary lifestyle, arthritis, food allergies, auto immunity diseases, etc. What’s the best way to support our brains?Ultimately, what we should do for a healthy lifestyle and weight is what we should do for our brain: eat properly, exercise with intensity to increase our heart rates, and supplement with dietary flavonoids like turmeric, resveratrol, and polyphenols. Last, try meditation or breathing techniques to lower stress. Laugh. Help others. Try inversion. Get a pet. And educate yourself because you are worth it. Some of my favorite recent reads include:
The good news is EVERY little bit helps and most of what helps is in our control. Isn’t it nice that the things we can do to remain healthy, fit and active will also serve our brains well?
I think today is a great day to take action. A friend of mine likes to ask, “What have you got to lose?” Well, my friends, taking no action WILL lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when”. I think a better question is, “What have you got to gain?”
“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” –Henry David Thoreau
There are soooo many positive benefits from engaging with nature! Study after study reveal that people who are more connected to nature feel less anxious. And, you don’t even have to move to reap benefits. Being still OR being active outside are both reprieves from everyday life. Some psychologists believe the busyness of our lives can overwhelm our attention spans while nature does not. Some experts suggest that we have an innate pull to the outdoors and are wired to seek connections to nature and other living things. All I can say is being outside soothes my soul and I absolutely love exploring trails, riding hills, sitting on a rock, or putting my toes in the sand while listening to the sounds of waves and seagulls. Quite simply, nature’s song and beauty nourishes our souls in a multitude of ways.
For my Cliff Notes readers, here’s short list of benefits from being outside:
Reduced anxiety & muscle tension
Renewed energy levels
Increased immunity & decreased stress hormones
Decreased blood pressure and lower heart rate
Your vitamin D levels rise.
See, sunlight hitting the skin begins a process that leads to the creation and activation of vitamin D. Studies suggest that this vitamin helps fight certain conditions, from osteoporosis and cancer to depression and heart attacks. Also, you’ll get more exercise since being outside should mean less time in front of the TV/computer and more time spent walking and doing other things that put the body in motion.
There’s no doubt about it. Nature is God’s “battery charger” for our minds, bodies and souls. I mentioned the benefit of taking short meditative breaks throughout the day in an earlier blog. Make it a priority to step outside, feel the sun on your face (vitamin D), listen for birds, walk through trees—or simply sit. You will serve your body and soul a big plate of restoration.
So my friends, what are you waiting for?
“There is pleasure in the pathless woods. There is rapture on the lonely shore. There is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea and music in its roar. I love not man the less, but Nature more.” –Lord Byron
Until next time, choose fit, be happy, and get outside!
Are you feeling the heat and dealing with low energy or brain fog on a daily basis? If so, I have a few ideas to power you up!
Make H2O your best friend. Research says even 1-2% water loss impacts mental acuity. The most impactful way to combat brain fog is to HYDRATE! If hydration isn’t optimal, the pace at which nutrients get to our cells slow down causing low energy and mental fuzzies.
Hydrate with other sources, too. While bodies and needs may vary, a good rule of thumb is half your weight in ounces of water each day. Fruits & vegetables are also mostly made up of water, so strive to get in your recommended 9-11 servings each day as well.
Eat fat. This is one of my personal favorites. Blood sugar level can have a big impact on how our bodies function and feel during the day. Eating poorly can cause a vicious cycle of energy and mood crashes and cravings due to refined and heavily processed carbs. An easy way to combat this is to eat fat b/c it has little impact on blood sugar. Nuts or a piece of cheese make better snack choices & they don’t require preparation.
Take standing breaks. We are such a sedentary society! Seriously, sitting is the new “smoking” due to the health detriment it causes. Our bodies were meant to MOVE. Make a point to stand up for 10 minutes several times a day to increase blood pressure and get blood/O2 flowing.
Move (& move outside). One of the simplest cure-alls around, is exercising to give you a boost. Plus, if you take it outside, Vitamin D is the sun itself. Morning or during lunch will energize you. Just 20 minutes will supply your daily need of Vitamin D. I recently started wearing a Garmin Vivofit & I have to tell you, there are days my butt doesn’t leave the office chair! But, seeing the “red line” encourages me to take a few laps around the atrium if I can’t get outside at lunch.
Embrace the power of the nap. It’s no secret that a lot of folks struggle with enough quality sleep. A nap can be a great way to offer respite to all that’s overtaxed and reinvigorate your energy. If your workday doesn’t allow the opportunity, try to take time for a legit break by reading a book, going for a short stroll or talking to a friend.
Assessing your sleep routine can also be a great starting point and long-term strategy to help improve your health. Think and assess your actual bedroom. Is there too much blue light at night? How is the comfort of your bed? Do you have a normal bedtime? Figure out what is optimal for you and make it a priority.
Along those lines, limit evening technology. Artificial light via computer monitors, TVs and phones increases stress hormones. #fact Implement a “no phone” rule before bed. You’ll be more relaxed and fall asleep sooner.
Try essential oils. There’s a reason that people have regularly used essential oils for purposes of health and well-being. Try inhaling peppermint to reduce burnout. It is pleasant smell to breathe in, but you can also try applying it to the back of your neck and shoulders to help support your energy over a longer stretch of time. Try peppermint vs drinking coffee.
Meditate. Today’s craziness of multi-tasking, long hours, and too-full agendas can leave us tired & gaining weight. Even thinking about managing stress can seem like a big task in and itself. Studies show, however, that simply taking a few seconds to breathe and close your eyes can lower cortisol. There are a lot of neat apps out there now to help with just that. Try a few and make it a practice to take 5 at least once a day.
Try a few of these ideas and let me know how they work for you.
As my friend Sharon used to say, “What have you got to GAIN?” Until next time, choose fit, live STRONG, and breathe.
Recent neuroscience studies have proven that what we eat and how we live can have huge impacts on our brains. Neurogenesis, or the process of making new brain cells, is the topic of today’s blog. This is fascinating stuff on so many levels! Old think was that we quit growing brain cells in our 20’s and then we just went downhill from there. In the late ‘90’s, scientists discovered we can actually make new brain cells our entire life. The rate of neurogenesis (brain cell development/growth) is an important biomarker of brain health –which ultimately impacts the quality of our lives, as you can imagine!
It makes sense that a low rate of making new brain cells is associated with cognitive decline, anxiety, memory problems, stress/depression and lower immunity. While on the other hand, people with a high rate of new brain cell growth have cognitive enhancements, faster problem solving, protection against stress/anxiety, etc. Even more interesting is that people can increase the rate of neurogenesis at least 5 times. Holy cow. Now you see how the rate of neurogenesis can have a big impact on the quality of your life? FIVE TIMES!! (Dayam Daniel!)
What can we do? Well, first of all, understand that the best results come from multiple ways to create a synergistic effect. An analogy Dr. Cortright uses is that if you want to build a beautiful house, you have to use high quality materials. Seems simple enough. In his book, “The Neurogenesis Diet & Lifestyle”, Dr. Cortright tells us what mental activities we can do to increase neurogenesis, along with spiritual things we can do, active things we can do, and of course, DIETARY things we can do. In a nutshell, the dietary piece is twofold: we want to decrease the things that are neurotoxic because they slow down the rate of brain cell development AND at the same time increase the things that enhance neurogenesis.
Here are a few points made in his book:
Neurotoxins to avoid include bad, unhealthy fats and sugar/carbohydrates. We can thank the government since the 60’s for their recommendations that fail to distinguish good fats from unhealthy, oxidized (trans) fats. When bad fats get into blood stream, it produces a host of problems. The good ol’ outdated food pyramid was heavy on carbohydrates. Don’t’ cook with vegetable oils. Instead cook with coconut oil, butter, or ghee. Avoid eating fried foods.
Include good fats from avocados, nuts, grass fed beef, pastured chicken/eggs, wild caught fish, etc. Omega 3’s fatty acids are the bomb (especially DHA since 1/3 of our brains are made up of this stuff). Taking 4-5 grams a day of omega-3’s that are molecularly distilled (to avoid mercury which is a neurotoxin) is recommended by Dr. Cortright.
Green tea (ECGCs) are beneficial, as is
The book is full of more detailed information, as is his website: www.BrantCortright.com. I really can’t do it justice in one blog entry. Just know how important it is to reduce inflammatory responses within the body/bloodstream. Repeated inflammation literally chews up the inside of our blood vessels. Because your brain gets 20% of your blood, when you ingest/expose bad fats/sugar/toxins, that junk literally goes to your head. Say you eat a burger and fries…the fries supply nasty fat/carbs and the bread supplies additional easily digested carbohydrates. Congrats, you just flooded your bloodstream with one big inflammatory responses. Do that throughout the week/month/year….well you get the picture. A high sugar diet will cut the rate of brain cell building in HALF. Scientists have tracked cognitive decline directly with sugar intake and alzheimers is now dubbed Type 3 Diabetes. Things that make you go, hmm..!
Today, about 80% of the American population has some degree of glucose intolerance, meaning they have higher levels of insulin than is healthy, creating toxicity in every organ of the body. Accelerated aging, or glycation, begins to occur whenever sugar/glucose enters the body. So yeah, I’m sitting here thinking about the handful of peanut M&M’s I grabbed off an associate’s desk last week! (Sidebar: a blood test called a “hemoglobin A1C” can show the levels of glucose from the past 3 months.) High fructose is a nasty culprit in a lot of foods.
But, I digress. There’s so much good information in this book! I’d like to share his information regarding antidepressants, as well. But, that’s a dialogue for another day.
To wrap this up, here are the take-aways:
A high sugar diet will cut the rate of brain cell building IN HALF. We live in such a neurotoxic world and most of our brains are functioning well below what is possible. With our bodies lasting longer, why kill brain cells when we can enhance cognitive development so we don’t become a statistic? Right now, 1 in 3 Americans develop Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia.
We can enhance brain cell building FIVE times, maybe more, with the right activities (dietary, movement, spiritual).
Read the book.
What have you got to gain? Just cognitive enhancement, mood elevation and an enhanced quality of life!
Until next time, choose fit, laugh often, reduce sugar, & add omega-3’s.
There are two questions I ask about when people inquire about getting in shape or losing weight.
“Are you drinking enough water and staying hydrated?”
“Are you getting enough quality sleep?”
Sleep is vital in so many ways (see blog on sleep), but as we get older, we tend to assume we can get by on less– while at the same time falling asleep and staying asleep become challenges. Those blue screens from our TVs, iPads, electronic readers and phones are wreaking havoc with falling asleep for young and old. To help you look good, feel good, and maintain good weight and hormone levels, try these steps to increase the likelihood of getting a good night’s sleep, EVERY night.
1. Try to keep a consistent sleep routine. This means going to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Keeping the “status quo” routine will train you to fall asleep more easily and wake up more refreshed.
2. No TV or electronic media use in bed! Use the bed only for sleep and sex. Try to keep the bed for sleep ‘n sex! Also, improve your sleep surroundings so electronics are OFF and the environment is quiet, dark and free of clutter.
3. Watch the timing on caffeine intake, especially after 2:00PM. Even a single cup of coffee or tea in the morning means a sleepless night for some folks.
4. MOVE! Getting physical especially with walking, running, or swimming provides three important sleep benefits like falling asleep faster, achieving a higher % of restorative deep sleep, and staying asleep during the night. Watch the time you work out, however, because exercising too late causes physiological changes that might interfere with your sleep.
5. Avoid excessive napping. Plain and simple, long naps can disrupt your natural sleep cycle. A short nap can be wonderful, but sleeping an hour or longer during the day might keep you up at night.
6. If you smoke or chew, now is a good time to STOP. Tobacco & nicotine speed up your heart rate, raise blood pressure, and stimulate fast brainwave activity that keeps you awake.
Along those lines, use alcohol cautiously. I agree a glass of pinot can be relaxing…but, the effects disappear after a few hours and might cause frequent awakenings.
7. Give in. If you are tossing still after 20 minutes in bed, get out of bed and read awhile to help you relax.
8. Check the temp. Keep the bedroom at a constant, comfortable temperature, and avoid getting over heated.
Want to optimize your life? Improve the quality and quantity of your sleep at night. Your sleep schedule, bedtime habits, and day-to-day lifestyle choices can make an enormous difference to your nightly rest. And THAT will help you be more productive, mentally sharp, emotionally balanced, and full of energy all day long.
Seriously, it is! Plain and simple: sugar is a toxin. Toxins are poisons that can cause disease in a body. There is no question that sugar contributes to cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Studies estimate that Americans consume more than 150 pounds of this sh– in a year. Holy cow! It’s no wonder that the rate of diseases have increased. Would you believe sugar kills more people than cocaine or heroin? Whatcha think about that, Willis?
Here’s the skinny: not only is sugar “candy for cancer cells” but it also causes inflammation in the body and speeds up aging (gulp). Lower your sugar intake and you improve your health in a multitude of ways.
So how does one take on this aspect of health improvement?
The first step is to become aware of your sugar intake. It is coming to us in various forms: sodas, juices, energy bars, ketchup or marinades, and easily digested processed foods. So unless you are looking to age quickly, put on weight or get sick, then 2016 is a GREAT time to eliminate and/or reduce added sugars in your diet AND the diets of those you love. Become aware and read your labels.
Next, consider ways you can reduce your sugar intake. Write down your ideas— any that come to mind! Maybe it’s one margarita vs. two. Maybe it’s one margarita a month vs. weekly. Maybe it’s no alcohol or sodas at all. Maybe it’s drinking your tea without sugar/honey. Consider all your options and choose some to do right away! Small changes done incrementally and consistently over time will yield big results. Become aware, make a list of ways to reduce sugar, then track it.
Keep a log of your sugar intake. Do you know how much you are consuming daily? Weekly? If there is any area of your life you want to improve, then MEASURE IT! Look at your list of ideas to cut sugar each morning. Being conscious of your desires helps you make smarter choices. Then track your progress and recommit to ideas to improve the next day. Remind yourself of why you are doing this. Rinse and repeat.
Remember, today is “some” day and all progress is good.
Until next time, choose fit, be healthy, and laugh along this crazy, wonderful journey.
Are you a little concerned that your good work to date will get derailed this holiday season? Don’t despair, healthy living does not mean total deprivation. It does, however, require a few strategies to keep you on the right track. Here are a few ways you can limit temptations over the holidays:
Drink up. (Water…that is!) You’d be surprised at the difference dehydration can make. It’s often mistaken for hunger. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Out of sight, out of mind. You know how there’s a reason for product placement at the grocery store? Do your own “marketing” at home by removing food or snacks not healthy for your family. Out of sight, out of mind.
Keep a log so you can identify triggers and are realistic about input/output. Most folks overestimate calories burned and underestimate calories consumed. Keep it real.
Know your limit. Can you indulge a little? Or does one bit turn into the entire bag/box? If the latter is the case, then that means no sugar should pass your lips. So be it. Is it difficult to eat out if you see or smell dessert or French fries? If so, skip it for now. Honor thyself. If you CAN indulge a little, go for it. Enjoy it, savor it, and then add some extra workout time. It’s all good.
Good fats help resist the sugar urge. As does protein. Eat up.
Create a bit of crazy. Visualization, that is. If sugar is still tempting you, imagine your sugar free life and the healthy/energetic/lean self you’ll be sporting! SEE it, claim it, then make the choice that aligns with that vision.
Change your habits…or people around you. We talked about this one before. If you eat mindlessly while watching TV, don’t let yourself watch TV unless you are on the elliptical. Or, avoid that “friend” who eats junk food in front of you daily while you nurture your self goals.
Lead the way. Influence your friends and be the change you want to be. Cook healthy, commit to exercise. Healthy habits beget other healthy habits.
Commit publically. With your friends, family, online. Ask to be held accountable. It works!
Take a nap! This is a goal every weekend (for me). It doesn’t always occur, but when it does, it’s soooo sweet! I find I want sugar when I’m tired. Not to mention I get a little bit grumpy when I’m in need of more zzzz’s.
Last, it’s not about being perfect, but choosing to make better decisions, more frequently, and more consistently over time. Becoming healthier is a journey. And tomorrow always brings a new day. That’s awesome. So next time you are faced with that fork in the road, ask yourself, “What have I got to gain?”
Until next time, choose fit, be strong. And, laugh often.
The last time we chatted, we talked about the pros/cons and influences of our environment and the people we hang out with. To help secure success, here are five things to do to make good things happen in your life.
1. ADMIT THAT ….” –IT” HAPPENS
Because we are faced with loads of data and information daily, we simply can’t evaluate each & every choice, therefore much that happens is automatic (efficient) behavior patterns and habits. When we are in uncertain environments we tend to “follow the herd”, so the key is to plan ahead, especially when traveling. Scope out the nearest gym or track and pack snacks. BE the change and you may influence your companions to mimic your healthy behavior.
2. KNOW YOUR TRADEOFFS/ LIMITS
Pay attention to your food intake and avoid mindless eating. Have a set of guidelines that you will follow in all situations so it eventually becomes a habit. (Like, veggies only during happy hour free for alls laden with fake cheese and fried options.) Maybe you have a rule that you will put your fork down between bites. Or, maybe you will only watch TV if doing so on the elliptical or doing exercises during commercials to avoid sitting and being sedentary. This is actually one of my favorite ways to slip in workouts. For normal TV viewers (yes, I am one of those), there’s at least 20 minutes during a 60 minute show. Do you know how many squats, jumping jacks, and crunches you can do? I like to do 30 second circuits repeating exercises until the next commercial, at which time I switch to another circuit of exercises (squats, dips, push-ups, knee outs).
3. BUILD-A-BUDDY (WORKOUT GROUP, THAT IS)
One of the best ways to protect your fitness routine is to invite the friends of your friends to work out and build a wall of influence that increases your chance of sticking to a workout program. Shhhhwwwwingggg!
4. IF YOU’R HAPPY AND YOU KNOW IT
Avoid your Debbie downer friends. (Remember that SNL skit where the girl always put a negative spin on EVERYthing?) Yeah, stay away from those folks and hang with the happy ones. It’s contagious and it works both ways. And smile. It reinforces a positive mood. Practice daily gratitude daily by writing down 3 things you are thankful for, say thanks, and tell your loved ones how much you appreciate them. Research shows regular gratitude practice creates new neural pathways that support a more positive outlook. WOW, that’s powerful, isn’t it? Even better is that others are more likely to “catch” your positive feelings over your negative ones. Be a P.O.P.V. or a “proliferator of positive vibes”. It’s seriously catching.
To help you choose the right (healthy) action, try being intentional using body scanning and labeling. Do a quick check-in with sensations and then label your emotional state by noting “this is just fear” or “this feeling is approval seeking” to kick your neo-cortex into action. This practice allows you to shift from being reactive and move to a calmer state of awareness.
Doable, right? Try my “five” to enhance “alive”. And commit to fit.
My last blog post talked about our social environment and the positive or negative influences that we face. The two professors responsible for this research about the power of our social networks made clear is that our abilities to resist negative influences and to gain positive ones aren’t without limits. (Btw, Christakis and Fowler are the two professors with this fascinating work. You can follow them @connected_book on Twitter.)
So…what does that mean, exactly? Well, it means there might be times when saying “buh-bye” to certain friends or social contacts is the healthier choice. What’s that you say? #yesshesaidthat…especially if you are challenged with an addiction, OR…if you know that a certain relationship is having a pronounced negative effect on your health, happiness or personal growth.
In situations like those, cutting loose of heavy anchors and freeing yourself to develop healthier circles of support may be an important step in staying true to your own positive trajectory. (Beam me up, Scotty!)
In most cases, however, the positive or negative impact of our social relationships isn’t quite so cut and dried. I’m a pizza lover—oh, please don’t ditch me! But…maybe you should for a while if being with me is a trigger for unhealthy actions, you know? You may also have social contacts you don’t really choose — like sedentary coworkers or negative-minded extended family and in-laws.
While some in your circle may pose a challenge to your health intentions, such less-than-perfect social contacts aren’t cause to be concerned. You see, Christakis and Fowler believe that the broader and more varied your social network, the greater its potential benefits for both health and happiness. The reason is that although we tend to attribute our happiness to our closest, most significant relationships, research shows that it’s also fed by regular exposure to small moments of pleasure, novelty and joy — things we stand a better chance of experiencing when we are socially connected and supported by more than just one or two other individuals.
Wow, that’s huge. Small moments of pleasure. Novelty. Joy.
What’s a girl (or guy) to do? Work on these three skills:
Learn to recognize when your behavior is being negatively shaped. (a journal can help here)
Develop the ability to deliberately make better choices under pressure.
Engage in opportunities to gently nudge your network in healthier directions.
This way, you can achieve a Win/Win: Reap the fullest possible benefits of your social network AND avoid its pitfalls. And perhaps I should add a “4th” skill: identify what brings you joy and make sure you build those experiences into your days and weeks. Doing these four things require awareness, intention, and commitment for a healthy life. Remember, “some” day is today. And tomorrow always provides a second chance.
Until next time, live fit, choose health. And be happy.