September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The aim of these health month designations is to educate and bring awareness to diseases and the treatment of disease. According to the American Cancer Society, a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100. And for men, the American Cancer Society states that about 1 man in 7 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, and about 1 man in 39 will die of prostate cancer. Both of these cancers are more likely to develop in older women and men. You can go here and here to learn more about symptoms, risk, treatments, etc.

 

We all know how fast things change, and cancer care is changing too. The big “C” is less frequently a terminal illness than it was years ago. Yet, the worry that a possible or actual cancer diagnosis causes remains. I remember how scared I was when the mammography center called me once to say they needed me to come back for another, more thorough screening due to unclear “spots.” Yikes! Thankfully it was nothing. And many of us know the sinking feeling when told a family member or a friend gets a cancer diagnosis. While cancer is not a good or simple thing to face, the good news is that treatments are much more successful and may not be as awful as once upon a time, and hopefully will see even more progress soon. Because of the public’s complaints about how debilitating older treatments were, almost worse than the cancer itself, medical personnel and researchers have begun to focus on making cancer a manageable disease – looking at less aggressive treatment and paying more attention to the fears and concerns of the patient. The focus is moving more toward prevention, early diagnosis, and patient experience during and after treatment. While still scary, cancer does not need to be the scariest of diagnoses anymore.

 

Of course we all know there are certain risky behaviors that increase a person’s chances of getting cancer in their lifetime: smoking, years of breathing industrial dust without a mask, overexposure to the sun, etc. But it is also believed that nearly everyone has or will have some malignant cells in their body, and why some people develop cancer and some do not is unknown to date, outside of obvious factors. For instance, a smoker is more likely to develop lung cancer than his non-smoking sibling, but we’ve all heard of people who developed lung cancer with no obvious cause. So what can one do to lessen the risk? Aside from the obvious like not smoking, minimizing sun exposure, using protective gear at work or around chemicals, did you know that excess stress and a poor diet can also contribute to cancer risk?

 

Stress is a normal part of living and usually not a concern, but sometimes it gets too unmanageable and becomes a constant and unwelcome companion. People often deal with this by smoking a lot, drinking too much alcohol, or overeating. These behaviors all may increase one’s chances of developing cancer. Chronic stress is also harmful to overall health which may leave one vulnerable to growth of malignant cells. So it is important to deal with increasing stress in healthful ways. Look for ways to reduce stressful obligations, avoid stress-inducing situations, and/or delegate tasks that are overloading you. In addition, seek ways to get a handle on your stress about things you cannot change. Learn how to meditate, learn some calming yoga poses, spend time in contemplative prayer, or set aside time for a solo walk. Do this daily! Find 30 minutes in your day to do one or more of these practices. If necessary, get professional help in dealing with stress and anxiety that you cannot manage. Help your body by relieving it of some of the burden too much stress puts on it.

 

Doctors are more and more convinced of inflammation’s role in increasing cancer risk, as well as the risk of other serious ailments like heart disease and dementia. Stress, sedentary lifestyles, and poor diet contribute to chronic inflammation. I already mentioned reducing stress, and have many times recommended regular activity/movement/exercise. A healthful way of eating reduces the chances of chronic inflammation and will help eliminate inflammation that already exists. Also, a healthful way of eating helps with weight control. Obesity increases the risk of certain cancers. What does anti-inflammatory, healthful eating look like? It looks like lots of vegetables and fruits; whole grains (not ground into flour); beans and legumes; fats such as from nuts and avocados; small amounts of high-quality animal protein if desired; and limited amounts of natural sugars (honey or pure maple syrup, for instance). Omit highly processed foods, fried food, sweetened beverages, and so forth. Common sense eating really. This is not a fad diet meant to be followed for a few weeks or months. This is a lifestyle way of eating.

 

You are your own best defense against needing cancer treatment. Pay attention to your body and what it tells you. You will be the first to notice changes that warrant investigation. Take care of your body by feeding it well, getting regular exercise, avoiding known dangers, and maintaining calm and positive outlook, filled with gratitude for the gifts you have. And we all have gifts!

 

20161011_meditationDo you find it disturbing when you hear someone nearly bragging about feeling exhausted and stressed out? And then realize he/she is the twentieth person you’ve heard talk like that just recently. And then realize that you empathize with them all, because you are in the same boat. We boast of our ability to multi-task. We try to out-do the other person’s list of to-dos. We carry our mini-computers, otherwise known as “smart phones”, and respond instantly to whatever chimes or chirps it makes, even at dinner with loved ones, while walking with our kids, while working out. We say “yes” to every request for fear of being labeled ‘weak’ or ‘can’t-handle-it’. Because it’s all so important.

I’m sure you’ve heard of mindfulness meditation by now. It’s a big thing, one more thing for your already too long task list, to fit into your day, to buy new clothes for, to seek out a guru, and don’t forget the cushion. It’s the thing to end your stress, calm your mind, settle the WWIII going on at home, help you get a good night’s rest. Or is it?

What is meditation? Meditation is a practice of training or focusing the mind in order to be present with Now, with what is before you in this moment. It brings clarity to an unfocused mind that jumps from thought to thought constantly – what is often called ‘monkey mind’. While meditation may be a hot topic currently, it has been practiced for centuries by many cultures and religions, and in various ways. Mindfulness meditation or “mindfulness” as a practice is really the same as plain old meditation, but maybe a more acceptable term for those who associate meditation with a specific religion. Mindfulness is the label popularized in the West by a program started by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, where patients with severe medical problems learned to meditate to help alleviate some of those problems. It’s not just for those with stress or health problems, but is good for anyone looking for self-improvement.

One does not have to identify with a religion or movement to practice meditation. Benefits of a regular practice include more calmness, better clarity, reduced anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and more compassion and awareness of self and those around you. It takes time to build up a good practice and reap the benefits of it, and of course not everyone experiences meditation in the same way. But those who stick with it definitely find it worthwhile. Much research is being done to study and measure actual impacts of meditation on various physical and mental health issues.

There are many methods of meditation, and since I am not a trained instructor in the art of meditation but only a novice practitioner, I will not elaborate on those. Suffice to say no special equipment, clothing, or education is necessary. A dedicated time in a quiet space is all one really needs. There are many books, classes, audio programs, and online programs that help people learn to meditate, and much information on the web about what it is and is not. Some guides will strongly recommend you begin with a qualified teacher and other guides tell you to jump right in. I have read many books and online articles on how to meditate and listened to several guided meditations, but always return to the method I initially learned. It’s a simple practice – I start my day with 20-30 minutes to sit and follow my breath, not trying to not think but keeping focus on my breathing, in and out. I like mornings as that is when I am least interrupted or disturbed by activity or noise. Did I mention that I am a novice? Yes, my monkey mind is far from tamed but I do feel progress in being able to focus on what is right in front of me.

One caution I will state: if you are someone with deep emotional or mental disturbances, I absolutely recommend working with a trained instructor who can guide you, as sometimes looking deep within oneself can stir up deep memories that are painful or frightening.

Some of the books I have read and will suggest are those by Pema Chodron (How To Meditate), Jon Kabat-Zinn (Wherever You Go, There You Are), and Thich Nhat Hanh. Wikipedia has good entries about ‘meditation’ and about ‘mindfulness’. As well, the web has thousands of entries on the subject, some with detailed instructions, some with guided meditations. Explore for yourself, and give meditation a try. You may find it is just what you need!

20160412_vegormeatConfused about the tug-of-war for minds and mouths between Paleo promoters and vegan adherents? Me too! The studies they quote. The statistics they report. The claims they make. All contradicting each other. What’s an omnivore to do?

On the paleo side the argument, generally, is that Paleolithic humans ate nuts, seeds, berries –whatever they could gather – and meat from small animals, or large animals on occasion. The belief is that these early humans did not eat cereal grains (i.e. wheat, corn, rice, oats, etc.). It is also believed that humans have not yet evolved to digest grains and legumes, therefore grains and legumes cause illness. Like the Atkins diet, meat plays a large role.

The vegetarians & vegans have many reasons for shunning meats, such as their health, compassion for animals, religious restrictions, or simply personal preference. They believe that humans can get all the nutrients needed for good health from a diet that does not include flesh, and for vegans a diet that also does not include anything produced by living beings, like eggs, milk, and honey.

And studies of each type of diet can be found to “prove” the case, or excerpts from the study may be used to bolster the case. Claims are made to convince you that you are wrong to eat the other way, crazy to eat in a way that harms health, harms the earth, harms animals, and so on. Statistics are used to show how much better populations do on whichever diet the speaker is promoting.

The problem is – both are right and both are wrong. Both schools agree with vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and, except for vegans, dairy being included in your diet. And some vegetarian/vegans may not eat grains either. The main difference is the question of meat.

We humans are considered omnivores, meaning we can obtain nutrients and energy from both plant and animal sources. For many long years in America and much of Europe a well-balanced diet was considered to include both sources. But in many parts of the world meat is a minor or non-existent part of a healthy diet. And today in America and Europe many healthy people do not eat meat or fish or ‘anything with a face’. Other people cannot imagine a meal without some type of meat, and some people hardly eat anything but meat. Who is healthier?

Well, that depends on so many factors, all of them relate to you and your body more than to anyone’s arguments – pro-meat or pro-vegetarian. What each camp often fails to consider is the individual person – what is best for your physiology?

If you do eat meat, how do you feel? Do you feel lethargic after a meal with meat where you did not overeat? Do you experience digestive issues when you have been eating meat? Does your nose get stuffy or begin to run, or do you get hives after a meaty meal? If the answer to these is “yes” maybe you should try avoiding meat, fish, and poultry for a couple of weeks then see how you are feeling. If you are better and not having the issues, try adding one type of animal protein, usually the lightest first, back to your diet and wait 2-3 days before adding another type. Check with yourself on how you feel after resuming each type. If the break does not help or the symptoms return when you resume the meat, perhaps you would fare better as a vegetarian. (It is possible (though rare) to be allergic to meat, so strong symptoms should be noted and meat avoided until you rule out that possibility.)

If you do eat meat and do not experience any of those issues then I do recommend you obtain that meat/fish/poultry from sustainable, humane sources. Most typical grocery stores carry meat from confined animal feeding operations (CAFO), fish farms, and huge poultry sheds. You’ve probably seen pictures of some of these operations and maybe heard some of the sad stories from them. These conditions are not how these beings were meant to live, and often are filthy and extremely unsanitary. Not what you should be eating! I also recommend avoiding or strictly limiting highly processed meats – packaged lunchmeats, hotdogs, fish or chicken nuggets, and the like. Then, to keep “everything in moderation” as I like to tell people, try to have a number of meatless meals each week.

If you eat meat but sometimes think about becoming a vegetarian, give it a try. First, gauge how you feel, what condition you are in, your weight, and if possible your bio-metrics when you start. Look up some recipes, find restaurants with veg options (other than salad they leave the chicken out of!), and try it for two to three weeks or longer. Then check yourself again – how you feel, what condition you are in, your weight, and if possible your bio-metrics. If you feel better and feel your body is in better shape, then it’s a dietary choice that suits you. This is especially true if part or all of your reasons for going veg is animal welfare.

If you are or become a vegetarian/vegan, you should be watching that you are getting enough calories for the lifestyle you live. Sufficient calories are important, and easier to get from a meat-and-potatoes type diet. Eat a variety of foods, not rice at every meal or only salads. Mix it up. Some vegetarians like the meat substitutes that abound nowadays, but I find it satisfying to skip those as well as ‘real’ meats. Some of the substitutes are as chemical-laden as processed meats so watch out for that!

It’s possible to eat very well or very poorly whether one eats meat or not. The key is to know yourself and what works for you – for your body, energy, and mind. Eat a variety of foods that work for you and always in moderation!

 

Image courtesy of Apolonia at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

smile‘Your attitude determines your altitude.’ This or one of its variations is usually seen on motivational posters or presentations in regards to employment, climbing the ladder, achieving financial success. Yet it certainly applies just as well to our personal lives, to how we perceive ourselves and our satisfaction with our life and its various aspects.

Have you ever read this poem: “Children Learn What They Live” by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.? In part it goes like this: “If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn. … If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.” (Nolte, 1972, lines 1, 9). The sentiments in this poem could certainly be re-worded to read ‘if you practice criticism you will learn to condemn; if you practice tolerance you will learn to be patient.’ In Ayurveda, too, we learn that our five senses are the gateways to perception, and that the sensory perceptions you take in you become. If we take in nourishing experiences that balance us and create a quality of well-being, we will be healthy. If we choose perceptions that will make us unhappy and lead to feeling toxic, we create an unhealthy body and mind. Our minds accept all the seeds we plant, and all the seeds we allow to be planted by forces outside of us, even if unintentional.

How you see people, events, yourself, and life’s problems is your attitude towards them. We can wallow in what we perceive as “bad” or “imperfect” about those things, thus building this negative perception into our personality. We can exercise this negative attitude, allowing it to stop us, hold us down, and keep us from having joy. And from having friends, as who wants to be around such constant harping?!

Or we can recognize and rejoice in the “good” about those things. I’m not talking about positive thinking here but actually examining aspects of our life and truly seeing the good. Not just believing good things will happen, but recognizing the good that already exists. (Good, bad – just adjectives, subjectively used to describe our perceptions.) This attitude – seeing the good – opens your heart, expands your mind to see infinite possibility, and frees you from the negativity that drains you and those around you.

Take a look at these areas of your life – your health, job, family relationships, spiritual life, finances, social life, education, and level of physical activity. Which do you perceive as “great” or “doing fine”? And which are areas of your life that may not be humming along quite as smoothly as you’d like? Celebrate and express gratitude for the former! And then examine the latter. Not everything in our lives will always be perfect or great; plus our own interpretation of what makes “great” may change from one era of our lives to the next. But really consider those not-so-great areas and ask yourself – is it only my attitude towards it that makes it seem so bad? Am I letting one factor that I perceive as negative outweigh what would be considered positive? Have I developed a habit of bad attitude? If you answer ‘yes’ to these questions, it’s time for an attitude adjustment. (Not the temporary, after work kind!) Let’s say it’s your financial situation that is troubling. To what degree? If you have lost your job, used all the unemployment benefits, maxed out credit cards – this situation is beyond attitude and I hope it can be rectified soon. But if you are able to pay your bills yet are discontent about your purchasing power or savings amount or income level, ask yourself why. Is it because you are a certain age and think or are told you should have more? Are you trying to keep up with the Joneses? Are you trying to outdo a competitive sibling or friend? Then examine this deeply and check if there is truly any validity in those beliefs for you. Does having more make you a better or happier person, really? Can you accept that your worth as a person, spouse, parent, friend is not based on numbers of dollars? Change your attitude about money and worth and you will find greater content in your life.

Does it take time and effort to examine and change your perceptions? Yes. But, “If you don’t make the time to work on creating the life you want, you’re eventually going to be forced to spend a LOT of time dealing with a life you don’t want.” (Kevin Ngo, Let’s Do This! 100 Powerful Messages to Help You Take Action) Improve your attitude and your satisfaction altitude will soar!

20150728_movegrooveExercise more, eat less – that’s the common answer for weight loss, right? There is some truth to the thought – if we don’t expend the calories we eat our weight will increase. Of course exercise is not the only answer to weight loss, and weight loss is not the only reason to exercise. This article is about getting your move on for lots of other great reasons.

       What other reasons? Better overall health. Improved lung capacity. Better mood. Improved brain function. Endorphins. Self-satisfaction. Self-challenge. Competition. Strength. Toning. Healing.

       As many reasons as there are for finding your own move-groove, there are at least those many ways to get it on. Home or workout facility or outdoors. Structured classes or videos or free style. Alone or with a friend. Same routine each time or mix it up. Two days a week or five days or seven. Ten minutes or thirty minutes or two hours.

       And as many ways there are to get it on, there are at least that many excuses to not start or to skip your class or to give it up all together. Too tired. No time. Too much work. Obligations with the kids/spouse/friends. Don’t like the gym. Don’t like the teacher. Hurt my back/arm/leg/fingers. Too hot, too cold, too wet. Just don’t want to.  (Yes, I’ve used them all.)

       Why is it so hard to establish and maintain a solid exercise routine? Is it because we often call it a workout and maybe “work” is too negative? Is it because the current routine is boring? Is it because you haven’t found the right routine? Maybe it’s lack of commitment to you, to do this for yourself. Lack of commitment allows us to make all kinds of excuses, valid excuses with which everyone else can empathize. (Because they make the same excuses!) But maybe you are committed and just can’t find the right thing. Here is some help.

       First, figure out what types of movement you like and which do you not like? I love yoga for its physical and mental benefits, but many people dismiss it as not even being a true ‘workout’. Many years ago I saw a program on the effects of jogging on joints – swore I would never jog; besides it just doesn’t look like fun to me. Yet I know people who love their jogging and are cranky when they have to skip it. So we each have to contemplate what kind of movement suits us – we cannot really be committed to something we dislike. If you are currently doing a workout because “everybody” is doing it but you hate it – stop! Find what suits you!  Consider: hiking, biking, weight lifting, walking, jogging, dance, yoga, karate, Zumba, CrossFit, bodyweight training – the list goes on. And see if there aren’t two or more types of movement you enjoy. One way to keep your interest and commitment is to vary the exercises you engage in each week. Varying the routine also balances the focus of the benefits from cardio to strength to flexibility.

       Maybe you already know what you love doing for movement but somehow can’t find the time. Or, now that you know what you like you wonder how to get this scheduled into your week. Number one rule: you have to make time for it! So the next step is figuring out when to fit in your routine. That may be somewhat dependent on what you have chosen – if you are taking yoga, karate, Zumba, etc. classes you have to look at available class times. Your work schedule may be a factor – how flexible can that be? Can you go in later or leave earlier or make sure you take the lunch time allowed? And be sure to consider your own body clock. I am a morning person so it would not work well for me to do a strong workout at 8 pm. Yet my job had me on conference calls as early as 5:30 am, so mornings were inconsistently open for exercise. I had to compromise between my body’s energy cycle and my work commitments and chose to make sure I left work early enough to get my workout in before dinner time. Finally, what is the optimum amount of time to give to your exercise? Make a promise to yourself to set aside a reasonable schedule for your exercise. Don’t plan an hour every day if currently you are not in the habit at all. The schedule can increase to whatever is optimum as you build the habit of doing it.

       So, you know what movement you want and you know when you can get it in. How to make it a habit? Just do it, as the saying goes. The only way to get started is to start! We all have a way to motivate ourselves, whether post-its on our mirrors or reminders on calendars or placing the running shoes strategically. Having accountability helps also.  Here is where a health coach can help!

       Don’t be hard on yourself as you try to build the habit and make exercise a regular part of your life. Remind yourself of the benefits of regular movement and then re-commit to yourself any time you miss your scheduled session, and get back on track. Your body will thank you for years to come!

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20150131_glutenGluten-Free! shouts from a lot of packages in the grocery. “Paleo” is no longer an era but a dietary theory. Books carry titles like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. Most restaurants now feature gluten free dishes. “What’s all the fuss?” you ask. “People have been eating grains for centuries – why all the hoopla now?” Theories abound on the topic, but not a lot of science proves any of them. Much of the talk is hype, some is real.

Now, that’s not to say that celiac disease is not real, or that no one has gluten sensitivity. A little less than 1% of Americans have celiac disease, and less than one-half percent have a true gluten sensitivity that is not celiac disease. People who truly have a digestive disease or an allergy need to avoid all foods that irritate the condition.

But what about the rest of us? Should we really shun all wheat, or even all grains entirely?  Most of the medical and scientific people who are looking into this say no, a few say yes. Dr. David Perlmutter blames eating grains for diabetes, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and more. Other physicians and scientists debunk his theory with studies that contradict him.

So who is a non-medical, non-scientist supposed to believe? It really comes back to moderation. If you do not have celiac or gluten sensitivity – and you would know this painfully as soon as you consumed gluten – you should not be concerned about eating gluten containing foods, in moderation. Of course, I do not mean doughnuts, bagels, cookies, cakes made with highly refined white flour, stripped of nutrients and fiber. Even whole grain breads should be limited, especially if you aren’t a label reader (future post!), as some commercially made items are not as wholesome as the package indicates. Whole grain foods provide more nutrition and longer satisfaction for your stomach. Brown rice, bulghur wheat, quinoa, oats – delicious and good for you!

Here is a good article examining some of the claims of the avoid-gluten-at-all-costs crowd, and some arguments why those claims may not hold up: http://m.theatlantic.com/health/print/2013/12/this-is-your-brain-on-gluten/282550/