Archive: Mood

How to Savour the Holidays While Still Staying Healthy

journalMy friend just gave me an inspiring book to read: Start With Why by Simon Sinek.

I watched Simon’s TED Talk and was inspired to add the book to my growing pile of holiday reads (including too many baby books to count!).

The TED Talk got me thinking; am I consciously aware of the WHY behind everything I am doing on a daily basis?

I do believe that I have incorporated more mindfulness and gratitude in my day-to-day life than even a year ago, especially since hearing about The Five Minute Journal from Tim Ferriss. He inspired me to incorporate a daily journaling practice into my morning routine, which has been crucial in allowing me to set intentions for and aim to get the most out of each day.

I created my own questions to answer each morning in my journal, with inspiration from The Five Minute Journal that you can buy online. I printed off a word document with these questions and pasted them into the front of a regular notebook to answer daily:

1. What would make today great?
2. List 3 amazing things that happened yesterday.
3. What are your weekly challenges?
4. What are you grateful for:

a. Relationship? Name one person.
b. Opportunity you have today?
c. That happened/you saw yesterday?
d. That is simple and near you?

5. Affirmation/Intention
6. How could you have made yesterday better?

I have recently added 2 more questions:

7. What do you love about yourself?
8. What is the message of the day for baby (since I am 27 weeks pregnant)?

It literally takes me less than 5 minutes to answer these and I feel armed and ready to take on my day in a way where I am more proactive and less reactive to any drama that may arise. It does make it easier to savour the small things that happen and not dwell on the negative parts.

So how can we apply “Start with Why” for the holidays?

Many of us get stressed out about hosting a party. We want everything to be perfect, from the linens and table setting, to the h ‘or d’oeuvres and wine selection. It is often easy to get caught up in these details and forget about the WHY of the party in the first place, which is a gathering of loved ones to share a fun, relaxing and entertaining collective experience. Instead of mulling over hundreds of recipes (unless that is something you truly enjoy), you could spend that time visualizing and planning what would make the party meaningful and memorable. You could have everyone at the table stand-up, one-at-a-time, and say one thing that they are grateful for/one good memory together from the past year. You could all play a fun game of charades or look over pictures of past holidays for a good laugh or cry. Yes, people may remember if the meat is overcooked, but the emotions and memories will last much longer and leave a bigger imprint on the guests’ hearts.

How can we apply “Start With Why” to stay healthy over the holidays?

Many of my patients struggle with keeping up their health habits over the holidays. They may exercise less or stop completely; they may eat out too often or get too busy and end up skipping meals. They may overindulge in alcohol, sweets, or that tempting cheese tray.
In these moments or struggle, the WHY may be: to get through a busy time, to treat ourselves, to save time. But, if we can remember WHY we started these health habits in the first place, we are more likely to stick with them.

If someone is aware that they are going to get heartburn (that will keep them up most of the night) from having too much alcohol or eating dessert, then they may be able to step back and moderate their intake, realizing that a lost night of sleep is just not worth it. If they just think of the short-term reward, then they may overindulge and suffer later.

If someone forgoes their workout to sleep in after being out too late, then they may not sleep as well that night and have less energy to exercise the next day. The vicious cycle can continue.

I recognize that we can’t be perfect over the holidays. You can modify your health habits over the holidays to avoid the “all-or-nothing” mentality. Even if you get up earlier to do a 10-minute workout (as opposed to your regular 30-60 min one), then you have succeeded.

If you set the intention before going to a party to not allow yourself more than 2 drinks (as opposed to several cocktails plus a half bottle of wine), you have won the battle.

Here are some simple tips to stay healthy over the holidays (and always remember the WHY!):

1. Don’t go to a party hungry. Have a snack before, such as a hardboiled egg, some nutbutter spread on a sliced apple or pear, or have some vegetables and hummus. You will be less likely to overindulge and make poor food choices when presented with the bread basket and dessert platter.

2. Always keep a non-alcoholic drink in your hand, such as sparkling water, herbal tea, or water with splash of punch/juice if you are craving something sweet. Staying hydrated will make you feel full and prevent you from picking at the endless trays of appetizers.

3. Continue to exercise. You may not be able to get to the gym, but ask your trainer for a short workout that you could do at home several times per week. Or, schedule a family or friend get-together around a physical activity such as a walk, building a snowman, playing Wii fit, snowshoeing or skiing.

4. Don’t skimp on sleep. The less sleep you get, the more stress hormones are released the next day, leading you to feel anxious and irritable, tired and wired, and reaching for more sweets than usual. Do your best to have a set bedtime and don’t feel bad about leaving a party early.

5. Say no to parties or get-togethers that you are not going to enjoy. Don’t spread yourself too thin and over schedule. Choose those activities and gatherings that will feed your soul.

And, before each day starts (and before each party), ask yourself WHY to remember what is truly important so you can get the most out of it.

Take the Plunge: Benefits of Hydrotherapy

Whenever I tell a patient what I do in the shower daily, they shoot a disturbed look my way and cringe: “How could you do that?” they ask, followed by: “I couldn’t imagine willingly putting myself through that torture every single day!” hydrotherapy

You might be wondering what I am talking about. You may be surprised by the answer: Cold Water Immersion, a form of Hydrotherapy that dates back to ancient times.

In its simplest form, ending your shower with 30-60 seconds of a cold water spray stimulates immunity, energizes and revitalizes the body and mind, improves: circulation and detoxification, skin and hair vibrancy and overall wellbeing.

On days that I have a little more time, I alternate hot and cold sprays in the shower using 3 minutes of hot water, followed by 1 minute of cold water and I repeat that for a total of 3 cycles.

Cold water immersion is now all the rage, with top-levels athletes, executives and even Tony Robbins on board.

Is there proof that it works? Yes. I swear by it for myself and my patients to ward off colds and the flu and to jump-start each day.

Immunity and the Common Cold

According to the Natural Standards Database, preliminary clinical evidence shows that taking alternating hot and cold showers, at least five times per week, decreased the frequency of the common cold. It works by increasing not only the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluid, but also by increasing the number of white blood cells to fight off infection.

By increasing the flow of lymphatic fluid and white blood cells, alternating hot and cold showers support detoxification, reduce joint pain and boost immune function.

Muscle soreness and inflammation

Cold water soothes sore and achy muscles post-workout. It reduces inflammation and can decrease the need to take pain-killers.

Happiness Levels, Energy and Mental Alertness

Those that took cold showers for at least 2-3 minutes daily for several weeks reported an improvement in mood and a reduction in pain. Cold water activates cold receptors in the skin, which in turn activates our sympathetic nervous system, increasing the release of our natural endorphins and brain-boosting neurotransmitters.

Try it – you just may be surprised at how invigorating it is. And, for the morning-afters when you polished off most of the wine, it can be a life-saver.

Note: Those with heart conditions, diabetic neuropathy, nerve or sensation loss or other serious medical conditions should always consult with a licensed healthcare practitioner before starting cold water therapy.

NOW Available! Webinar Series: Burning the Candle at Both Ends? Discover Ways to Live Without Stress

meditation.womanI was fed up. I ‘d had enough. I was sick of feeling stressed out and wanted to take back control of my life.

It started in university when I was out of my comfort zone. I drank too much coffee to wake me up, ate too much sugar to keep me going, and drank too much alcohol to “relax” and fit in at night. This vicious roller coaster ride led to further anxiety, weight gain, fatigue and acne. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin.

My friends could see I was suffering and helped me embark on an exercise and healthy eating regime. I learned how to cook real whole food and reduced my intake of sugar, alcohol and caffeine.

I noticed huge increases in my energy level, mood and quality of sleep. This formed the basis of my motivation for becoming a Naturopathic Doctor.

Ironically enough, my anxiety came back after I graduated and started practicing Naturopathic Medicine. I was overwhelmed and lacked confidence. My Naturopathic Doctor at the time prescribed journaling, yoga and stress-balancing herbs to heal my adrenal glands. After about 6 months, I felt like a new person.

Since I was feeling better, my stress-reducing habits dropped off.

Eventually, my anxiety came back when I was juggling too many roles. My warning signs were acid reflux and insomnia. This reality-check reminded me to incorporate daily stress-reducing habits to prevent this from happening again. I now incorporate yoga, meditation and journaling daily. I make sure I eat enough healthy protein and fat, avoid grains and sugar, limit fruit and keep caffeine to 1 tea per day (with the occasional 1/4 cup of coffee on the weekends). This ensures I am not put on a blood-sugar rollercoaster that can trigger the release of stress hormones.

Feeling back in control of my life and my emotions, just by making a few simple lifestyle changes, is what motivated me to develop this webinar series. I wanted to share what I have learned over the years so you can take back control of your life, find your inner sparkle and live your dream life, STARTING NOW.

Have questions about the program? You can contact me for more details or click the “Get More Info” tab.

Are you Suffering From Nature-Deficit Disorder?

autumn2I was sitting inside as I started to brainstorm for this post after being cooped up all morning. Since I work from home most days, I have to make an extra effort to schedule in outdoor time to avoid getting cabin-fever at night. Even in winter I find myself braving the cold to clear my mind after a long day, all bundled up like the abominal snowman.

(pause for a few seconds as I head outside)

I am now sitting on my back deck to take advantage of this last mild November day. Almost immediately I feel more at ease and mindful as I listen to the wind blowing and appreciate the mild warmth of the sun on my skin. The neighbours’ wind chimes and the last few bird calls are lulling me into a sense of calmness I wasn’t experiencing inside.

Is this a placebo effect? No. Science tells us that Nature can impact our mental and physical health in profound ways AND help us to live longer.

Before we delve into the research, I want you to step back and think about how much time you spend outside each day. You may walk to the subway or bus for 5 minutes on the way to and from work. You may walk 10 minutes to grab a coffee or a grab-and-go lunch during the week. But, are you cooped up inside the rest of the day for meetings and computer work, followed by chores and watching TV at night?

A survey conducted by the David Suzuki Foundation in 2012 found that 70% of youth spend an hour or less outdoors every day. The average American spends only 7% of their time outdoors (and a whopping 93% of time indoors!) according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This is detrimental to your health and I only see the numbers getting worse as technology (and Netflix) improves.

Why Should I Get Outside?

How close you live to outdoor green space will significantly impact your mental and physical health and longevity.

People who live within a 1km radius of outdoor green space have significantly reduced rates of depression and anxiety, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, and coronary heart disease. And more green space is better: there was a 30% increased risk of anxiety and a 25% increased risk for depression in residents with only 10% green space within 1 km of their residence (as compared to those with 90% green space).

A Canadian study of 575,000 adults, all urban-dwelling, found that those who had access to urban green space lived longer, had less non-accident deaths, especially reduced respiratory-related deaths. In Florida, those who had more green space were less likely to die of stroke.

Do you need any more convincing evidence to lace up those runners and get out for walk?

People who are exposed to nature exercised more, experiences less stress and had more meaningful social relations.  These factors boosted self esteem, improved immune function and reduced the incidence of chronic disease and mortality. You can really live a longer, healthier life if you get outdoors.

This Is Your Brain on Nature

When researchers induced cognitive fatigue by presenting study participants with mentally-challenging tasks, those who got outside for a nature walk afterwards (for 30-60 minutes) were able to focus and concentrate more effectively than those who didn’t (as measured by neuropsychological tests). The results were not merely due to an acute positive mental outlook from being outdoors. So, to be more productive, take a Nature break.

It’s time to take a “forest-bath”

The Japanese practice of “forest bathing” (which literally means to have a short, leisurely visit to a forest) has been shown to lower: oxidative stress, inflammation, blood pressure, pulse rate and the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. It improves natural killer cell immune count and activity to ward off infections. You don’t need to spend all day in the forest/nature; even 10 minutes can have huge benefits.

What you can do to inject more nature into your daily routine

Awareness is the first step. Create a nature journal and track how much time you spend outdoors every day. Record how you felt before you went outside and then how you felt once you returned. You could even rate your stress levels before and after (ie 0 = no stress; 10 = maximum stress).

Step back from your daily routine and see how you can incorporate more time in nature. Instead of using your 20-min break to surf the internet, use that time to get out for a short, brisk walk or to do some yard work if you work from home.

Plan an evening or weekend social or solo activity that revolves around nature. Try hiking, biking, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Instead of meeting a friend for a drink or coffee, make a point of grabbing a coffee or tea to go so you can walk and catch up at the same time.

Leave the car at home. Walk or bike to run your errands or get to that meeting. Your mind and body will thank you (and so will your boss!).

 

RESOURCES:

http://www.chgeharvard.org/sites/default/files/resources/Paper-NaturalEnvironmentsInitiative_0.pdf

http://snowbrains.com/brain-post-much-time-average-american-spend-outdoors/

http://www.davidsuzuki.org/media/news/2012/09/majority-of-canadian-youth-spend-an-hour-or-less-outside-each-day/

Beat Those Winter Blues

Gone are the days of frolicking in the sun, feeling full of life and carefree…unless you paid a hefty sum to fly south to pretend that it is summer again for one short week.

Unfortunately, with the shorter days of winter, you are more likely to suffer from mood disturbances and energy depletion. These are physiological reactions to a lack of light that can affect you in several ways.

First of all, without the sun’s rays hitting your skin, your body is unable to produce significant amounts of vitamin D. Many studies show an association between low levels of vitamin D in the blood and mood disorders such as seasonal affective disorder, non-specified mood disorder, major depressive disorder and premenstrual syndrome. Talk to your licensed healthcare practitioner to find out just how much and what type of vitamin D is right for you.

Secondly, the longer, dark nights may throw off your natural circadian rhythm, resulting in changes in your melatonin levels. This commonly occurs in the fall and winter, may contribute to a depressed mood, irritability and headaches.

What Can You Do to Beat the Winter Blues?

Embrace winter activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, downhill skiing and snowboarding. Take brisk walks or jog in the cold, but be prepared with the proper equipment. Even just 20–30 minutes of daily exercise stimulates the release of natural feel-good endorphins, reduces stress and helps us to re-establish a healthy circadian rhythm.

Get your vitamin D levels tested by your licensed healthcare practitioner. He or she can help you find a well-absorbed kind and tell you how much you should be taking to avoid any negative side effects.

Treat yourself to a cup of real hot cocoa. Cocoa contains an abundance of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to boost mood, improve concentration, reduce stress, help protect your heart and blood vessels, and slow aging. Camino is a great brand that offers 100% cocoa powder and various hot chocolate mixes.

Laugh daily. Watch a funny television show or movie. I find Modern Family, 30 Rock and the Comedy Channel are all great for a good chuckle. Go to a comedy club. Subscribe online to a joke of the day or watch funny clips on YouTube. The possibilities are endless. Laughing reduces stress and improves mood.

Avoid caffeine, sugar, white flour and refined carbohydrates. Although they make you feel good in the short term, they will zap your energy later in the day and make you feel guilty, which will only bring you down further.

Get together with friends, family members, loved ones and animals/pets. Social interaction increases the release of mood-enhancing and stress-reducing compounds.

With these simple steps, you can start feeling better now!

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not meant to replace treatment with a licensed healthcare practitioner. It is for informational purposes only. Consult with a Naturopathic Doctor or other licensed healthcare professional to determine which treatments are safe for you.

 

Small Steps to a Healthier You

I was out running yesterday morning in the scorching heat and I had three kilometres left to go. It was one of those days when you just want to hide inside, drink iced tea and chill out near the air conditioner. But seeing as I always tell patients how important exercise is – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually (especially when it is done outdoors) – I thought I’d better “walk the walk” and avoid excuses. As I was running (more like jogging) along a small side street, a car passed with a lone, elderly man driving. He made eye contact with me, then gave me a huge smile and the thumbs-up sign. It was amazing how much that little gesture boosted my energy levels, made me smile and gave me the push to continue on. My perception shifted, and I was now enjoying my run on this bright and muggy morning.

We often get caught up with our “to-do” lists, appointments, routines and schedules, and we forget how much a small offering or gesture can really make a difference. A smile offered to a stranger, a “Good morning” or “Thank you”, or holding the door open for someone can go a long way. Even just sending a loved one a short email, text or voice message telling them you are thinking about him or her can give a stressed-out, burnt-out person the jolt they need to continue on with the day with a positive outlook.

The smallest things make the biggest differences.

This also pertains to our health. It doesn’t take drastic changes in order to start leading a healthier life today.

I know, I know…time is of the essence. It takes time to add in that little bit of physical activity and stress-relieving exercise. Excuses, excuses, excuses. We actually waste time talking about how much time we don’t have.

I came across this powerful quote, to remind ourselves that we actually do have control over how we use our time:
“All that really belongs to us is time; even he who has nothing else has that.” ~Baltasar Gracian

We all have the same amount of time, but it is up to us to decide how we are going to use it.

So, what are some examples of little things that you can do to live a healthier life?

  1. Get to bed a half-hour earlier…ideally around 10pm, and no later than 11pm. Sleep is a time when our bodies repair themselves. From a Chinese medicine perspective, it is the time when the blood returns to the liver, so that “the eyes can see, the hands can hold, the fingers can grasp, and the feet can walk” (Maciocia). The liver is related to eye function, affects tendon and sinew health, and ensures the free flow of Qi (the vital life force) throughout the whole body.
  2. Eat fresh, organic blueberries and blackberries. They are high in antioxidants and vitamin C, and help to prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, macular degeneration, etc.
  3. Practice 10 minutes a day of deep breathing, yoga, tai chi or meditation. Studies show that these activities can lower cortisol, the stress hormone in the body. Cortisol, in high levels, can impair the immune system, disrupt sleep, increase blood pressure, disrupt thyroid and sex hormone levels, increase sugar cravings, decrease energy/sex drive/mood, increase abdominal fat, contribute to allergies, impair cognitive function, decrease bone and muscle mass, the list goes on and on…
  4. Eat breakfast every day! Make sure it includes fibre, protein and healthy fats. Most people are not getting enough protein in the morning. Protein is key to balancing blood sugar levels to provide you with a steady level of energy throughout the day. It also helps to prevent those dreaded afternoon energy dips when most people reach for the nearest coffee and donut.

My favourite sources of protein in the morning are protein smoothies with pumpkinseed protein powder or vegan fermented protein, hemp hearts omelettes and hardboiled eggs (which also make a quick and easy snack).

  1. Journal.Keep a diary near your bed. Write down all of your thoughts and feelings before bed, not worrying about punctuation and spelling. Just let all the of thoughts (negative and positive) flow out of you. If you find you are waking up in the middle of the night with your mind racing, pull out your journal, jot down your thoughts, and make a “to-do” list for the following day or week. If you can get all of your thoughts out on paper, you are more likely to have a deep and restful sleep.
  2. Have alternating hot and cold showers.Aim for 3 minutes of hot/warm water, followed by 30 seconds to 1 minute of cold/cool water. Repeat three times. People always look at me like I am crazy when I tell them to do this, but the benefits are huge. The alternating temperature helps to increase lymphatic flow, meaning that your immune system gets a boost. It also increases circulation throughout the body, makes your hair shinier, rejuvenates you, and makes it easier to get out of the shower when you are done. At the very least, end your shower with a 30-second to 1-minute burst of cold/cool water. You’ll feel great afterwards!

Remember, it is the small things that count…and time really does belong to us!

 

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not meant to replace treatment with a licensed healthcare practitioner. It is for informational purposes only. Consult with a Naturopathic Doctor or other licensed healthcare professional to determine which treatments are safe for you.

Andropause: Male Menopause

The “change of life” not only applies to women, men go through their own version of menopause, called andropause.

Now you may not see men fanning themselves and turning red due to hot flashes, but this change of life does affect their stamina, drive and overall vitality.

Andropause typically occurs in men between 40 and 50 years of age when testosterone levels decline, which can result in fatigue, depression, lack of vitality, increased irritability, mood swings, sleep problems, hair loss, decreased sex drive, night sweats, loss of muscle mass, and/or problems in achieving or maintaining an erection. Testosterone levels can even start to decline in men at the age of 30 and drop continuously over time. This occurs gradually, so the effects may not be as noticeable as in women, whose hormone levels drop more rapidly.

Testosterone is an elixir of life that helps to make men feel strong, young and virile. It maintains bone integrity, preventing against osteoporosis and preserving muscle mass. Testosterone also protects the heart and prevents cardiovascular disease. Obesity, a lack of exercise, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, some medications, a poor diet and stress can all interfere with the action of testosterone.  If you are overweight, your body can actually convert testosterone into estrogen. Not only does this make testosterone levels drop, when estrogen levels get really high, men may start to develop breasts (called gynecomastia).

What Can You Do to Enhance Testosterone Levels?

Lose excess weight by following a healthy exercise program and eating plan. Fat cells in our bodies actually produce estrogen, even in males. Don’t eliminate your fat intake completely, however; choose healthy sources of fat such as avocado, fish oil and raw extra virgin olive oil instead of animal fats and trans fats.

Avoid consuming large amounts of alcohol. Limit beer consumption, as it has been shown to have estrogenic effects, which mask the benefits of testosterone in the body.

Quit smoking and talk to your doctor about any possible side effects of your medications.

Eat organic fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs and poultry. This will reduce your exposure to pesticides, antibiotics and hormones that can impair the action of testosterone.

Eat liver-supporting foods. Include eggs, onions, garlic, dark leafy greens, lemons and limes, artichokes and beets in your diet to help your body detoxify from harmful types of hormones.

Avoid using plastic food and beverage containers and eating canned foods (their lining is made of plastic) as these contain hormone-disrupting bisphenol A.

Go green with cleaners and body care products to avoid exposure to the hormone-disrupting chemicals found in conventional cleaning products.

Exercise to maintain muscle mass and decrease fat mass to optimize your testosterone levels.

Eat cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, rutabaga and turnip, as these all help to reduce estrogen levels in males.

Relax and de-stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, reduces the action of testosterone. Meditate, or do yoga or deep breathing exercises to take it easy.

Eat zinc-rich foods to maximize testosterone levels. Include cremini mushrooms, spinach, sea vegetables, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, oysters, crab, lobster, clams, salmon, turkey and lamb in your diet.

Get your fibre in to reduce estrogen levels. Choose organic vegetables, chia seeds and hemp seeds to keep you regular.

Your Naturopathic Doctor can determine your testosterone levels by doing a salivary hormone test. This will test for various hormones, and allow him or her to choose the most appropriate herbs and nutrients to support healthy hormone levels.

With a little help, you will be able to increase your stamina, drive and overall vitality!

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not meant to replace treatment with a licensed healthcare practitioner. It is for informational purposes only. Consult with a Naturopathic Doctor or other licensed healthcare professional to determine which treatments are safe for you.