Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Beware the Full Moon?

One study indicates the full moon may have an effect on  our sleep cycles.
One study indicates the full moon may have an effect on
our sleep cycles.
Image: Shutterstock
Are you someone who believes in the power of the moon? Can it transform werewolves? Does it mean “big changes” are coming in life? Will it make people act strangely?

Even if those things seem a bit silly to you, there’s one thing that could still be affected by the full moon—whether you believe it or not. Scientists studying the effect of the full moon on our sleep cycles have found evidence that we have a harder time sleeping when the moon is at its brightest.

The researchers studied 33 participants, who slept in a darkened room where the moon was not visible. On the nights when the moon was full, the participants took longer to fall asleep and slept, on average, 20 minutes less than during a new moon.

When there was a full moon, there were lower levels of the Dracula of Hormones, melatonin. As I’ve talked about in previous blog posts, melatonin affects our body’s natural clock and is produced in larger amounts when it is dark. During the full moons of the study, researchers reported lower levels of melatonin in the subjects—despite the fact that the moon wasn’t visible to participants.

Participants had more trouble falling asleep and staying asleep during the full moon.
Participants had more trouble falling asleep and
staying asleep during the full moon.
Image: Shutterstock
As always, studies should be taken with a grain of salt. This one had a very small test group, and at this point the findings are interesting but inconclusive. Does the moon really mess with our sleep cycles? It’s possible, but more research will need to be done with larger test groups and more targeted testing.

“There is such a strong cultural story around the full moo n that it would not be surprising if it has an effect,” said one expert, according to USA Today. “It’s one of these folk things that you would suspect has a germ of truth.”

What do you think?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Three Reasons You Should Never Give Up

NEVER give up!
NEVER give up!
Image: Shutterstock
Last week, a Facebook status update from one of my friends from junior high and high school alerted me to the fact that she has lost 200 pounds in the past two years. My jaw dropped. For as long as I have known her, she has been obese. I knew she had been trying to lose weight, but I haven’t actually seen her since we graduated high school several years ago. I had no idea she had started such a completely inspiring journey.

Her profile picture showed her face only, which definitely looked thinner. But it wasn’t until I flipped through the full size images of her recently that I realized how far she’s come. I have never seen her look so healthy, confident, or happy.

Another friend has been actively trying to lose weight since this fall. We participated in a 5K together in March, and she has started using any down time at the clinic she works at to walk or jog on the treadmill there. She has a pedometer to track how far she goes each day. Most days, it’s somewhere between 3 and 5 miles.

When I saw her a few months ago, she was down probably twenty pounds. When I saw her again last night, she was down a total of forty. Every time I see her, she looks even healthier. And I can tell she’s so proud of herself, too.

Then this morning, when I was perusing the news to see what’s up in the health world, I found another inspiring story. It was about a man named Ryan “Mac” McDonald. Three years ago, Mac was 35 years old and topping out at a weight of 530 lbs.

Ten years previously, he had gone to the gym after some friends bought him a gym membership for his birthday. He was so heavy that the treadmills began to smoke under his weight. He avoided treadmills and gyms altogether for a long time after that.

But eventually, Mac realized he had to do something before he killed himself with fast food, sodas, and the myriad health problems that come with severe obesity. He began slowly, starting with occasional visits to the gym. When that was successful, he decided to give up fast food and all-you-can-eat buffets. Next came sodas. Finally, he began buying healthy food at the store.

The slow start and gradual progression allowed Mac to start tackling what had previously been an overwhelming goal. He wanted to make a change, and he wanted to maintain it—something that becomes more difficult the stricter the rules are. To maintain, it had to be a gradual change in lifestyle.

That gradual change has led to a total weight loss—so far—of 300 pounds. Today, Mac weighs in around 230 pounds and is accomplishing things he never could do before—like running in half marathons and racing motorcycles. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

So start this week off with those three stories and know that if you’re one of the many people out there trying to lose weight, you’re not alone. And even if you have three hundred pounds to go, it’s not impossible. Rather, it’s completely possible—just as long as you never give up.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Meat-Eater Corner: How to Choose Meat More Safely

Try these suggestion for choosing meat wisely.
Try these suggestion for choosing meat wisely.
Image: Shutterstock
There’s been a lot in the news lately about how germy and bad some meat can be for us. Some might even find themselves wondering whether or not they even want to continue being meat-eaters. I know I’ve pondered the possibility of going vegetarian myself, but I haven’t yet walked down that road.

I don’t know if I will ever commit to a meat-free lifestyle, so knowing how to choose the healthiest and safest meat is a top priority. Sure, it all looks the same when you’re browsing the meat aisle—but that assumption could get you into trouble.

I’m certainly no “germaphobe,” but I like to know that what I’m putting in my body the majority of the time is good for it. If you’re a concerned citizen like me, consider following some of these tips for making wiser decisions about meat.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Oh, the Irony: Toxins That Heal

When you hear the word “toxin,” you probably think of something that’s bad. Something that, depending on the type, could make someone very sick or even die. And that’s true—to an extent. Toxins found in the natural world have long informed modern medicine, helping heal humanity when harnessed correctly.

For example, did you know that snake venom extractions can be used to help thin blood? We’ve made incredible progress over the years—but there’s still much more we have to learn and tap into. Check out some toxins that we haven’t yet fully taken advantage of, but that could change the face of medicine forever.
  1. Tetrodoxotin, AKA pufferfish toxin, can be used like morphine—but with about 3,000 times more kick. Oh, and you know the potential addiction that comes from morphine use? That’s not an issue with tetrodoxotin. According to TIME, testing has already begun on chemotherapy patients with chronic pain.
  2. Shark skin may look smooth, but it’s actually covered in tiny ridges that make it inhospitable to bacteria. Researchers are currently testing its use in urinary catheters, which if successful would help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria like MRSA.
  3. King cobra venom is, like tetrodoxotin, being tested as a potential alternative to morphine. Scientists say it’s 20-200 times more effective than morphine and isn’t addictive. Manjunatha Kini, who is studying the venom at the National University of Singapore, hopes to begin testing on patients within the next year.
  4. Tick saliva could potentially be used as a blood-thinning agent. About 70 times more effective than our bodies’ natural blood thinners, the saliva could prove to be an incredibly valuable agent in preventing and clearing blood clots.
  5. Sea anemone toxin is being studied as a potential treatment for autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis. Researchers believe that when applied correctly, the toxin could paralyze harmful antibodies and help retrain immune cells. 

To read more about these toxins and more being put to good, check out this article on Yahoo!

Monday, July 22, 2013

The “Exercise Pill” May Be Coming

An "exercise" pill could be on the horizon.
An "exercise" pill could be on the horizon.
Image: Shutterstock
I read an article today that I really wanted to share with you all, because I think it’s a topic that really needs to be discussed. The topic: the fact that an “exercise pill” may be on our horizon.

Not a diet pill. An exercise pill. To me, those words do not belong together, but it seems that some would disagree. You see, scientists have been working on creating a pill that would enable humans to get some critical benefits of exercise—while maintaining a fatty diet and being completely complacent.

Friday, July 19, 2013

4 Easy Ways to Stave Off Dementia

Keeping your brain sharp with activities like crosswords could help prevent Alzheimer's.
Keeping your brain sharp with activities like crosswords
could help prevent Alzheimer's.
Image: Shutterstock

Alzheimer’s is a nasty disease. For those of us who have seen it at its worst, we know it’s something we never want to experience for ourselves. Watching a loved one struggle with dementia is more painful than I would have ever imagined. It’s terrifying as well; what may have started off as repeating simple questions or telling the same story a few times in one setting very quickly becomes forgetting who your children are and how to get home.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Alzheimer’s, but one thing researchers do believe is that there are a few simple things you can do to help stave off dementia. And you know me; I’m all about prevention. Check out these 4 tips from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Not All Stress Is Created Equal

All of us know what it’s like to be stressed. Some of us might be blessed with just a smattering of it here and there, while others may not even remember what it’s like to not be stressed. Some show their stress, while others hide it. And though many can keep it under control, not everyone can.

Not all stress is created equal, and while some stress might not do much harm, too much definitely will.

Understanding stress is a big part of keeping it under control.
Understanding stress is a big part of keeping it under control.
Image: Shutterstock
It seems intuitive to just assume that any stress is bad—but that’s not true. Stress is what allows us to deal with intense situations, like avoiding a car collision or meeting a tough deadline. It helps us focus in on a goal without letting chaos get in the way.

Our bodies tense up in these moments; our heart rates rise, our blood vessels constrict, and our bodies move into a heightened state of awareness. That moment is supposed to pass fairly quickly, allowing our bodies to return to normal. The problem comes in when it doesn’t pass, and when we don’t give our bodies and brains a chance to rest.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hearts Beat As One

A study from the University of Gothenburg found that choir members' hearts synchronized while singing in unison.
A study from the University of Gothenburg found that choir
members' hearts synchronized while singing in unison.
Image: Shutterstock

Were you ever in choir? I was, and it’s an experience I’ll always hold near and dear to my soul. The experience of singing in harmony and unison with so many other people is incredibly powerful, and completely impossible to fully explain.

A recent NPR article talked about an interesting finding out of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden: when choirs sing as one, their hearts beat as one as well. The researchers connected pulse monitors to high school choir members’ ears and found that, though the heart rates started out jumbled, they quickly synchronized and slowed.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Skip the Skim & Drink Whole

There is little research to support the fact  that skim milk is healthier than whole.
There is little research to support the fact
that skim milk is healthier than whole.
Image: Shutterstock
When I was growing up, my mother’s fridge always had 2% reduced fat milk in it. My dad’s fridge had skim. School lunch came with 1%, 2%, or skim. I didn’t much care for milk when I was a kid, but as I got older I realized that milk actually wasn’t all that bad—if I had whole milk. I liked the creamier feel, the non-watery taste, and the full feeling I got from it. But I knew that whole milk was “bad” for me and thought I shouldn’t drink too much of it, or I might gain weight from all the fat.

That’s been the belief pushed on us for many years by nutritionists with an absolute outlook on caloric and fat intake as compared to obesity. More calories and more saturated fat consumption equals obesity, right? In a black-and-white picture, yes, that fact is true—but nutrition has never been a black-and-white picture. If it were, we’d have it completely figured out by now.

The basic premise of recommending skim and reduced fat milks is that it will lead to reduced caloric and fat intake, therefore reducing the risk for obesity. Unfortunately for that simplistic viewpoint, there isn’t much scientific evidence to support it. Just because a food is “low-fat” doesn’t mean it will lead to lower caloric intake.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

It’s Alive! Fruits and Veggies Don’t Have to Be On the Vine to Live

Research showed that cabbage still responded to light patterns after a week on the shelf.
Research showed that cabbage still responded to light
patterns after a week on the shelf.
Image: Shutterstock

Think those fruits and veggies on the grocery store shelves have already died? Think again.  Two studies out of Rice University from researcher Janet Braam and company have shown that not only do fruits and vegetables change their physiology in line with circadian rhythms, but they also continue to do so even after being picked.

Circadian rhythms are, essentially, our biological clocks. Our brains and bodies respond to the oscillation of the circadian rhythm, which is on a 24-hour clock. Changes in the circadian rhythm determine when our sleep drive is greatest, when we are hungriest, signals hormone production, and more. Circadian rhythm is strongly linked to the light-dark cycle of the day, and can even be affected by external signals like exercise. All living beings—humans, plants, animals, and even fungi—have a circadian rhythm.

Monday, July 8, 2013

10 Inspirational Fitness Quotes

It's never too late to become what you might have been.Does anyone else ever lose themselves reading inspirational quotes? I know I do. I’ll log into Pinterest, go on Facebook, or scroll endlessly on Tumblr—all the while eating the inspiration up. I love the beautiful pictures people put them on. I love the power of the words. I love the drive and the desire and the need to be fit. I love it all.

Today’s post is simple: 10 inspirational fitness quotes. They may not be the “best” quotes, but they’re all ones that struck me somehow, whether it reflected thoughts and doubts I have or simply made me realize I can reach my goals.

I hope you all enjoy them.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Coconut Water: Famous For A Reason

Fad alert: drinking coconut water.
Fad alert: drinking coconut water.
Image: Shutterstock

It seems like everywhere I look (especially in these warm summer months), people are drinking coconut water. When I was growing up, I had a few friends who loved coconut water, and when I was living in Costa Rica, we used to crack open fresh coconuts and drink it fresh through straws.

Lately there’s been this huge surge of people drinking coconut water. And while some might just be doing it because it’s the new healthy “fad,” coconut water has become famous for some very legitimate reasons.

It’s not for everyone (my boyfriend absolutely hates it), but if it tastes good to you, you can enjoy these benefits:

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Eating Clean Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

Eating "clean" doesn't have to be difficult.
Eating "clean" doesn't have to be difficult.
Image: Shutterstock
One of my favorite parts of more people wanting to eat and be healthy is that “clean” food has become much more mainstream and “cool.” I don’t care much about being considered cool, but I do care about being time efficient. Sometimes we all work long days and the last thing we have time for is making sure that we eat a healthy and balanced meal. One of the hardest parts of eating healthy is that it can take up so much extra time—and one of the best parts of not eating healthy is the convenience.

Luckily, some brands have struck a nice balance between convenience and healthfulness. Women’s Health Magazine has put together a great list: the 125 Best Packaged Foods For Women. I think I might be in love!

The list starts out with “Sweets & Treats,” which is great because it gives dessert lovers a chance to see which desserts they don’t have to feel quite so bad about munching on. On the list are two of my favorites: Edy’s Fruit Bars and Skinny Cow Mint Ice Cream Sandwiches. Yum!

Next up is “Condiments,” which can truly be health killers if you’re not careful. From salsa to hummus to dressing to jam, there are a lot of great options there. The same can be said for the “Soups” section, where a few more of my favorite go-to meals are. Pacific Natural Foods’ Organic Butternut Squash Bisque is on the list, as is Healhy Choice’s Chicken Tortilla Soup.

As far as “Meats & Seafoods” go, I tend to just go without if I’m in a rush—substituting tofu or beans for the meat I didn’t have time to cook. But for those who want to get meat in, the list includes a selection of meatballs, sandwich meats, turkey bacon, and more.

It can be hard to strike a balance between  convenience and healthfulness.
It can be hard to strike a balance between
convenience and healthfulness.
Image: Shutterstock
The “Fruits & Veggies” section mostly consists of salad mixes, frozen vegetables (including edamame and butternut squash), and fruit cups. It’s nice to have a few easy options that can be kept at work or in the cupboard when you don’t have fresh produce available.

“Dairy” gets in a good selection as well, including greek yogurts, coffee creamers, cream cheese, and other healthy cheese options. Next up comes “Breads & Cereals,” which is great for people who have a hard time knowing what their best carb options are. And “Frozen Meals” offers some lifesavers for those days you just don’t have time to pack a lunch.

The list finishes up with “Drinks,” “Pasta & Rice,” and “Snacks, Crackers & Chips.” While, of course, not all of the foods on the list are 100% clean or as good as making your own meal at home, they do offer some great alternatives for when you’re short on time—and that’s something I can really appreciate!

Be sure to check out the full list from Women’s Health Magazine—it’s free to download and print!

Monday, July 1, 2013

When You Don’t Want to “Feel the Burn”

Knowing how to treat sunburns can make them a lot less painful.
Knowing how to treat sunburns can make them a lot
less painful.
Image: Shutterstock

There are some burns that feel good—like when you’ve just done a really great workout and you can tell that your body is changing. But other burns, like sunburns, don’t feel so great. And as much as I would love to think that if I were more careful, they would never happen, I know it’s not true.

It’s not that I don’t think getting burned can’t be avoided, it’s more that I realize that I’m a human being and am, therefore, imperfect. I make mistakes. We all do. Sometimes the sun comes out unexpectedly and I’m miles from any sunscreen. Sometimes my hand slips and touches the edge of a hot pan. Sometime I get burned, and knowing how to deal with that makes the process a whole lot less painful.

I’ve had a few bad sunburns in my life, whether because my sunscreen just wasn’t good enough or because I stupidly forgot to apply it. Those experiences, while they weren’t fun, did teach me a few lessons about treating sunburns. One of the simplest solutions is just to take a few ibuprofen or aspirin. They will reduce inflammation and pain.

Pure aloe vera helps cool and moisturize inflamed skin.
Pure aloe vera helps cool and moisturize inflamed skin.
Image: Shutterstock
Topical treatments include aloe vera, cortisone cream, or other cooling agent. Aloe vera can be store-bought in gel form or cut straight off of the plant. Gently apply the gel to your skin and rub with your fingers. Don’t rub it all the way in—instead, leave it a bit gooey to help prevent the skin from getting tight and even more irritated.

Other cooling methods include taking a cool (not cold) bath or shower (no soap, no scrubbing). If you have blisters, go with a bath to avoid popping the blisters with the shower pressure. Air dry or pat yourself down with a towel gently afterwards (don’t rub!). A cold compress can also work wonders on sunburns. Just wet a cloth with cold water and lay it on top of the burn for 20-30 minutes, re-wetting as needed.

When you burn your skin, it can dehydrate you. That makes it even more important to make sure you’re drinking as much water as possible. Aim for 64 oz every single day.

As far as lotion goes, begin applying it after the burn has cooled a bit and is no longer so red. Blisters should be gone by this point, and your skin will begin to heal itself. Use a creamy moisturizer without scent and apply liberally for as long as needed. This will help prevent further irritation and will make the peeling process a bit gentler on your skin.

Interested in home remedies? Here are some options that people have tried over the years:
One more reason to love tea: it can help sunburns heal!
One more reason to love tea: it can help sunburns heal!
Image: Shutterstock
  • Apply Noxzema facial cleanser as soon as you suspect a sunburn, leaving a thin layer of white visible. Apply every 2-8 hours as needed to keep skin moisturized.
  • Brew 2-4 teabags in warm water and remove when tea is nearly black in color. Allow liquid to cool to room temperature and then dip a cloth in the tea and gently dab the burn. Suggestion: do it at night, sleep on it, wash off in the morning.
  • Apply a cold compress made using skim milk.
  • Apply fresh tomato juice to the burn when it is still red but not peeling.
  • Dilute vinegar 50-50 with water, soak towels in it, and then drape over the burned area.
  • Take an oatmeal or baking soda bath to reduce swelling and itching.
  • Mash 3-4 apricots and apply as a salve on the burn. Leave for 15 minutes and then wash off with lukewarm water.