Six easy ways to enhance your health

Man cooking at home preparing salad in kitchenWant to optimize your health without watching every bite you eat and hitting the gym every day? It’s easier than you think!

Get some sleep

It’s recommended that we get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. In fact, just like good nutrition and exercise, enough quality sleep is essential to our health. We all have a restless or wakeful night now and then, but if you struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, or awaken feeling you haven’t slept at all, read on.

Drink plenty of water

Though the clear, calorie-free stuff streaming from our taps may not have the same allure as some of the celebrity-endorsed, colourful, or neatly packed sports drinks readily available and usually prominently displayed in stores, water is the smart choice for most of us.

Try a little nature therapy

In recent years, health professionals have reawakened to a powerful therapy with healing benefits for us all. Called Nature Therapy or Ecotherapy, the prescription is simple: head outside.

Take a walk

From the time we’re just mere months old, we’re eager to get onto our feet and to move… and with good reason. Walking can help increase our fitness and keep us healthy; provides us with an ideal mode of transportation; helps us connect with nature; and offers simple enjoyment. Step to it!

Eat smart

A few simple swaps can make your favorite recipes healthier, without sacrificing taste and enjoyment. Try some of our favorites.

Be mindful

Mindfulness and meditation are often associated with states of deep relaxation, focus, peace and insight. Learn about some of the benefits of regular meditation.

Try a little Nature Therapy

In recent years, health professionals have reawakened to a powerful therapy with healing benefits for us all. Called Nature Therapy or Ecotherapy, the prescription is simple: get outside.

Spending time in nature on a regular basis can be as effective in treating depression as traditional psychotherapy or medication. Best of all, this form of treatment is free and readily available. In 2007, researchers at the University of Essex found that of a group of people suffering from depression, 90 percent reported greater self-esteem after a walk in a park, while almost three-quarters reported feeling less depressed. Just as exercise is medicine, so too is time in nature.

Here are five ways Nature Therapy can benefit your health and enhance your life:

  1. Emotional Well-Being

Do you feel happier, rejuvenated, and more relaxed after a walk or time in the garden? The Japanese call it “forest bathing” and believe time in nature is essential for a balanced life. I happen to agree! Several studies indicate that time spent outdoors reduces symptoms of depression while elevating mood.  Not convinced? Try it and see for yourself.

  1. Unplug and Reconnect

Unplugging from our devices and the demands of we face every day to spend time outdoors helps us reconnect with the natural world and get in touch with ourselves in a way necessary to feel whole.

  1. Physical Health Benefits

Time spent in nature may lengthen our lives suggests a recent study. The same study notes that those who can easily access natural environments have fewer health concerns and report greater happiness and contentment. Regular interaction with nature reduces stress levels, which in turn can lower heart rate, and possibly the incidence of cardiovascular disease stroke. Enjoy exercise outdoors for even greater physical and mental health benefits.

  1. Improved Attention Span

A study in The Journal of Environmental Psychology determined that viewing a natural scene for less than a minute reduces mental fatigue and increases productivity in employees. If you find yourself with a reduced or declining attention span, try turning off the electronics and stepping outside more often.

  1. Natural Healing

Studies conclude that post-surgical patients with a view of nature heal faster than those without. These same patients also required fewer pain medications than those without a view of nature, suggesting a natural view may even promote healing.

Ready to see if Nature Therapy will leave you feeling happier and healthier? Though even a single walk offers benefits, try spending time outdoors every day for a week, taking in the scenery, interacting with nature, feeling the sun on your skin, listening to birds or running water, planting seeds, or simply sitting quietly on a bench in a park. At the end of the week, I think you’ll be convinced.

7 Healthy New Year’s Resolutions

Setting a New Year’s resolution is easy… sticking to it is the hard part!  While people make resolutions with the best of intentions, they often set themselves up for failure with resolutions that are unrealistic or without a plan to achieve them. To set yourself up for success: Write down your goals, share them with someone who will support you in achieving them, and be sure they are as specific and achievable as possible.

Here are seven small but meaningful changes to consider making.

Eat Mindfully:

The idea here is pretty simple… enjoy your food! Take time to prepare it yourself, savor each bite, eat without distractions (like your phone in hand), and listen to your body. You’ll quickly discover that if you do these things, your body will tell you what it needs and when it’s full.

Stay Connected:

You’re already joined at the hip with your phone… that’s pretty much a given in our technology-fixated world. But when was the last time you connected personally with friends or shared real quality time with family? Chances are, it’s been too long. A lack of social bonds can damage your health as much as alcohol abuse and smoking, and even more than obesity and lack of exercise, says a 2010 study in the journal PLoS Medicine suggests. It’s time to reconnect.

Drink more Water:

Treat yourself to a new water bottle and keep it filled filled and ready for simple sipping throughout the day. Once in the habit, you’ll likely consume far less in the way of soft drinks, sugar-loaded juice, caffeine, and alcohol. Reaching for your water bottle can also ward of hunger and impulse snacking which can lead to unhealthy choices and weight gain.

Manage Stress:

We all experience stress from time to time. Short periods can even be good for us. But when stress becomes chronic, it can create or contribute to all sorts of health concerns. From heart disease, to depression, insomnia, and more. For tips on managing stress, click here.

Reduce your Sugar Intake:

The average American consumes over 77 pounds of sugar or sweetener each year, and I’d wager that the average Canadian isn’t far behind. Do you really want to put 77 pounds of this disease-causing substance into your body? Really? It’s time to cut back! Read labels, bake with less, and cut back gradually. You’ll soon discover you can do with far less than you thought.

Achieve your Fitness Goals:

What are your fitness goals? Building muscle? Building endurance? Increasing your flexibility? Find workouts that will help you achieve these goals and that you enjoy. Enjoyment is key if you’re going to stick with it. New to exercise and not sure where to start? Consider booking an appointment with a personal trainer or join a gym and ask for some guidance from a staff member.

Stick to a Sleep Schedule:

Many people focus on getting enough sleep, but having a schedule — i.e. going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, can lead to better quality sleep. For tips on getting a better

10 tips for finding balance this holiday season

The start of December also marks the start of holiday season festivities for many. Office parties, gatherings with friends, and get-togethers with family can be tons of fun, but add in the other demands of the season, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and out of control.

Don’t worry though, I’ve got you covered with 10 simple tips to help you find the balance you crave for a healthier, happier season.

  1. No, you won’t gain 10 lbs. The average person gains only a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s… but this doesn’t mean you can all-out feast throughout the month. Eat mindfully, making healthy choices with the odd indulgence, and stop before you feel full.
  2. Don’t skip meals. Skip a meal and you’ll more than likely make up for it and then some, later.  Arriving at parties hungry usually results in overeating (of all the wrong things).  Strive to eat normally throughout the day making room to nibble only things you love at festive gatherings. Read more.
  3. Drink responsibly. Consuming too much alcohol is never a good idea and a bad hangover could be the least of your worries. Drinking too much can have serious health consequences. Play is safe and drink alcohol in moderation if at all, and don’t even consider getting behind the wheel.
  4. Don’t give up on workouts. The percentage of people who workout regularly in December is the lowest of the year. Instead of giving up on workouts, consider making them shorter, or participating in two or three shorter workouts throughout the day (i.e. walking part of the way to work, running errands on a lunch break, hitting the gym for 30 minutes instead of 60, etc.).
  5. Try to maintain a sleep routine. Most Canadians don’t get enough sleep, and the consequences to their overall health can be immense. Try to stick to your sleep routine over the holiday season, at least as best you can. If you do wind up with a sleep debt, play catch-up on weekends and return to your sleep schedule as quickly as you can.
  6. Beat the blues. The holiday season is often a time of year where many feel stressed and overwhelmed, and it can be a particularly difficult time for those who suffer from anxiety or depression. Read more.
  7. Consider a supplement. Find yourself falling short on quality nutrition over the holiday season? Try to clean up your act, but in the meantime, consider taking a multivitamin.
  8. Don’t let social media drag you down. All those photos of friends and their families munchies cookies, decorating Christmas trees, enjoying wine by the fire, or beaching themselves in Hawaii… don’t let them detract from your own holiday season happiness… whatever the season means to you.
  9. Struggling to find joy in the season? Consider making it a little brighter for others by volunteering your time, donating to a charity, or practicing random acts of kindness. Or, treat yourself without feeling guilty, to a little “me” time. My “me” time often comes in the form of long walks with my dog, working out, or spending time in nature. Do what works for you!
  10. Look ahead to the New Year. Though every day offers a fresh start, many are more motivated to set goals and develop action plans to achieve them, at the start of a new year. Be sure to set realistic goals you can achieve, and factor in a little reward once you do.

The pursuit of happiness

Do you live with discontent? Are you waiting for happiness to find you? You may be waiting a very long time! Happiness doesn’t just arrive at the front door and let itself in, it’s something that has to be cultivated.  In fact, science is telling us more and more about what it takes to be happy — and most of it relates to our personalities and to our thoughts and behaviours — two things that can be altered.

Contrary to what many believe, those who are wealthy, stress-free, or beautiful, are not actually happier than those who don’t have these things. Rather, those who are happiest seem to have the following in common:

  • They spend time with family and friends
  • They practice gratitude
  • They are optimistic
  • They feel a sense of purpose
  • The live in the present – a form of mindfulness

Happiness then, is something we can all practice. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Invest in meaningful relationships:
    Surround yourself with optimistic and happy people allowing their positivity to boost your own. Then, slowly begin sharing your own optimism and contentment with others. Good friends and cherished family members are in their own right worth celebrating, so invest in and care for these relationship and let people know that you appreciate them through kind words and actions.
  2. Practice gratitude:
    Gratitude is about more than saying thank you. It’s about recognizing good fortune as it happens in daily life. To learn more, click here.  Begin by identifying and giving thanks for at least one thing every day. A visit from a friend, someone who held the door when you were burdened with shopping bags, or a hug from a co-worker, are just some examples. Fall asleep grateful and awaken to the same thought each morning.
  3. Be optimistic:
    Try to see things through an optimistic lens. If you’re not an optimist by nature, begin by recognizing negative thoughts as you have them and trying to view them differently — or try dealing just with the facts, instead of the “what-ifs”.
  4. Find your purpose:
    Those with a goal or mission in life are happier than those without. Having a goal provides us with a sense of purpose, increases our self-esteem, and unites us with others who share our pursuit. If you’re not engaged in something that brings purpose to your life, consider the causes that excite you, the areas where you’ve achieved success, and the legacy you want to leave.
  5. Live in the present:
    Celebrate the small pleasures of everyday life. Focus on the positives of the present instead of dwelling on the past or stressing about what’s to come.
  6. Exercise:
    You don’t need to run marathons, but you do need to make time to be active every single day. Exercise is a proven stress-buster and benefits not only our physical health, but our mental health too. Go for a brisk walk or run to leave pessimism or a bad mood behind.
  7. Let it go:
    If you’ve been carrying a grudge or holding onto anger, you need to let it go. Can’t do it on your own? Get help so that you can release yourself from the burden and find optimism, happiness, and freedom.

Movember: changing the face of men’s health

Happy Movember friends!

Movember is the month where mustaches take shape on thousands of men in Canada and around the world. By way of their fabulous “mos,” men raise vital funds and increase awareness about some of the most pressing health concerns affecting them — prostate and testicular cancer; mental health; and physical inactivity among them.

While education and fundraising are essential, we also need to encourage and support the boys and men in our lives in living healthy lifestyles with a view to preventing disease. Making some or all of these choices can help:

  1. HAVE AN ANNUAL PHYSICAL: Annual check-ups, preventative screening tests, and immunizations are among the most important things one can do to stay healthy.
  2. DON’T SMOKE! If you smoke, stop. Smoking is responsible for about 90% of lung cancer deaths in men.
  3. BE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE: Adults need at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping activity every week. Strength training is important too. Click here to learn more.
  4. EAT A HEALTHY DIET: Fill up on fruits, veggies and whole grains; include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and eat foods low in saturated fats, trans-fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. Practice reading nutrition labels.
  5. MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT: Balance calories consumed with those expended through activity.
  6. MANAGE STRESS: Stress is a factor in the onset and deterioration of health. For tips on managing stress, click here.
  7. DRINK ALCOHOL IN MODERATION: Consume alcohol in moderation and limit your consumption to no more than two drinks a day.
  8. KNOW YOUR FAMILY’S HEALTH HISTORY: While we can’t change our genes or family history of disease, we can often mitigate our risk for certain conditions and diseases through a healthy lifestyle. Be sure to have this conversation with your physician.

See this article in the column I write for DeerFields Clinic.

Feeling stressed? Develop a toolbox of self-help strategies

Stress affects us all. It’s a normal response when we feel threatened… whether the threat is perceived or real. This response is actually designed to prepare us for action to get us out of danger (i.e. oncoming car) only the threats we face most often, aren’t things we can actually run away from (work, family issues, illness, etc). It may be hard to believe, but a little stress can actually be a good thing, motivating us to take action, solve problems, and get things done.

When stress is counter productive however, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Many people find it a challenge to concentrate or make decisions, and some experience the physical side effects of stress: a racing heart, sweating, and muscle tension.

Happily, there things we can all do to minimize and cope with stress.

  1. Identify the problem. Once once know what the problem is, can you do something about it.
  2. Solve problems as they arise. Consider solutions to your problems and the resulting outcomes. Once you’ve decided on your course of action, break down the steps and tackle just one at a time.
  3. Share your stress. Expressing your feelings can help lift your burden and having someone who will listen patiently is essential.  Can you talk to a family member or close friend? If not, ask your physician for a referral to a professional counsellor.
  4. Keep it simple. We often feel stressed when we have too much on our plates. Sometimes this means saying ‘no’ and making a concerted effort to simplify our schedules.
  5. Live mindfully. Being mindful is about being present. Let go of the past, focus on the present moment, and don’t allow what lies ahead to burden you.
  6. Learn about stress management. Understanding stress can help you identify it, understand it, prevent it, and manage it. Consider reading books, visiting trusted websites, or asking your doctor for more information.
  7. Help yourself. Activities like yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and diaphragmatic breathing can help quiet the mind and lessen the body’s response to stress.
  8. Get moving. Exercise is great way to reduce stress and improve your mood. Learn more.
  9. Have more fun. Make time for the activities you enjoy – time with friends or family, exercise, hobbies.

Remember that stress is part of being human—you can’t do away with it altogether. Learning to identify and cope with stress however, can help you manage stressful periods and events as they arise. Practice stress management techniques even when you’re not feeling stressed and you’ll have well-developed tools in your toolbox you can reach for when needed.

Giving thanks is about more than being polite – and it can transform your outlook, mood, and even your health

Thanksgiving shouldn’t be the only time of year where we take stock of the blessings in our lives and give thanks. It’s a practice, that when done regularly, if not daily, has the power to make us happier and healthier. In fact, a recent study by a psychologist at the University of California, concluded that when subjects wrote down just one thing they were grateful for each day for just three weeks, they were 25% happier for a full six months. These same subjects noted an ever increasing sense of vitality.

It’s easy to practice gratitude and today’s an ideal day to get started. Jot down something you’re grateful for and make it a daily habit. You can also try any number of these simple ways to give thanks:

1. Send a thank you card to someone who’s made a difference in your life.
2. Volunteer in your community.
3. Donate to a cause or company for their efforts to create a positive impact you support.
4. Start a gratitude journal and write in it regularly, noting the blessings in your life and giving thanks to the people who have gone above and beyond on your behalf.
5. Give genuine compliments.
6. Talk about what you are grateful for with your family.
7. Celebrate – yes, even the small blessings!
8. Be present.
9. Meditate
10. Give a gift.
11. Say thank you.
12. Pay it forward by sharing kindness you’ve received with someone else.
13. Pick up the bill when you’re out with people you care about.
14. Text someone a note of appreciation.
15. Celebrate the success of others as you do your own.

8 easy ways to extend summer

The last long weekend of the summer has come and gone, but instead of moaning about the winter ahead, concentrate on extending summer. In doing so, you’ll likely get some extra exercise and save yourself some stress. Here are eight simple ways to savour the last of the warm weather this year:

  1. Early mornings are still light enough to begin the day with a brisk walk, a run, bike ride, or even a game of tennis before work. Take full advantage and you’ll enjoy more energy and a happier outlook all day long.
  2. Until the clocks change, evenings are still light enough for after-dinner trips to the park with the kids, for evening walks, or for an hour of gardening. The bonus: early evening exercise will help you sleep better.
  3. Leave the car on the driveway and walk or bike the kids to school and yourself to work. Do it — only 9% of Canadian kids get the exercise they need for health benefits and walking to and from school can help change this.
  4. Dine outdoors — as late into fall as you can. We’ve added a propane heater to our outdoor dining space to help extend the season this year. Dining in nature soothes the soul and encourages us to eat more slowly and to enjoy quality time with those we cherish.
  5. Get in touch with nature by gardening, hiking, apple picking, and spending as much time outdoors as you can.
  6. Resist wearing socks as long as you can…trust me, it helps make winter feel shorter!
  7. Register and train for an autumn fundraising walk or run. You’ll benefit your health and make a difference for an important cause
  8. Enjoy community tennis courts now that they’re quieter and while the nets are still up. Your heart and lungs will appreciate the workout and you’ll serve as an active role model for others.

Is it time for a digital detox?

You know putting your device down, leaving it behind, or even turning it off more often, would do you good — and if you’re among a growing group of Canadians feeling you’re rarely wholly present in the moment, it’s high time you did.

Seven ‘smart’ ways to a digital detox:

  1. Take weekends off! Shut down your computer after work on Fridays, take a break from your social media platforms, and turn off your phone. Pledge to be wholly present on weekends — with your partner and kids, with friends, and as you go about life.
  2. Swap out phone time for something you enjoy more — lunch and shopping with a friend, a fun fitness class, crafts with your kids, or getting outdoors with your partner.
  3. Take a good look around and see what you’re missing. When you’re glued to your phone or computer, you miss out on small moments in relationships, in nature, and in life, that you’ll never get back. There are no do-overs – so power down and engage in what’s real, and what’s happening NOW.
  4. The average North American checks their phone 46 times a day. If you’re among this group, you need to cut back… way back. Cut back to half this number immediately and a week later, allow yourself just three to six ‘check-in’ times a day, limiting each to the shortest amount of time possible.
  5. Turn it off — or leave it behind. If you’re unable to stop yourself from picking up your device and checking in regularly, it’s time to get tough. Turn it off and stow it somewhere that’s harder to access, or leave it at behind altogether.
  6. Don’t take your phone to bed. A recent survey found that over 70% of adults have a smartphone, tablet, or computer in their bedrooms and that close to half keep them on. Talk about temptation — and a sure-fire way to sabotage a good night’s sleep. Get an old-fashioned alarm clock and set it for your walk up call.
  7. Consider a digital babysitter — apps like Freedom, SelfControl, and Digital Detach can help you gain control over your digital habits and in extreme cases, give you your life back.

Think about all the moments you’ve lost out on, the meaningful conversations with your kids you might have had, and the time days, weeks, months, and years, where you’ve hardly noticed the seasons change. Life is short. Pledge to get more from it.

See my original post for DeerFields Clinic.