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Learn How to Relax

Relaxation is a learned response. That means you can teach yourself to be better at relaxing. Not sure if you’re stressed or not? Look for common symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, impatience, or an upset stomach.

To decrease your mental stress, schedule time each day to reflect on what’s worrying you and what tools you already have to make things better, then draw up a plan to resolve the problem. Shelley Carson, Ph.D., a psychologist at Harvard, says “Your body’s stress response is closely tied to your mental appraisal of a situation.” Journaling is effective for both big and small issues.

Once you’ve tackled stress, consider starting a regular routine of breathing, meditation, yoga, massage, or biofeedback to stay calm in future stressful situations. “The longer you engage in these activities, the faster your body is able to relax,” says Carson.


Prevent Colds with Massage

Massage benefits go far beyond just relaxing your muscles.  Several studies have already shown that massage boosts your immunity. One way this happens is by increasing your body’s ability to create white blood cells which destroy germs. Recent research at Cedars-Sinai medical Center in LA showed that a deep tissue massage raises the production of antiviral cells significantly more than a lighter massage. “This could suggest immediately after a massage, you might be less likely to catch a cold.” says the author of the study, Dr. Mark Rapaport.


Do You Have Back Pain?

85% of Americans will feel back pain at some point in their lives. We all know someone who has back trouble. What you may not know is that there are reasons for back pain beyond overuse:

If your vitamin D levels are low, you may feel back pain. Doctors are mixed in their feelings on this issue, but I can tell you from personal experience that this was true for me. Low levels of vitamin D along with inadequate calcium levels can make the problem even worse. Ask your doctor for a simple blood test to find your levels.

You may not realize that what you eat affects how your back feels. If you can’t find any other reason for your back pain, consider your diet, especially the amount of fiber you take in. What should you eat? The answer is just what you’d expect – more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

The last reason you may be feeling pain is more ambiguous. When you’re anxious or depressed you perceive pain differently. Small aches become major pains. Breathing exercises help dissipate some anxiety. Surrounding yourself with people and activities that you enjoy can improve your mood.


Aging Can Be a Graceful Process

Aging can be a graceful process. You can’t control your heredity, but you can control your attitude and lifestyle choices. The Census Bureau estimates that by 2050, there will be 1.1 million people 100 years or older. Here are some tips to help get you there:

– Eat less. Studies show that increased portion size is related to obesity. It sounds simple, but is often overlooked.
– Find optimistic friends. Your body is healthier when you feel supported, encouraged and connected.
– Reduce your stress. Don’t know how? Try meditation, massage, or yoga.
– Drink moderately and don’t smoke.
– Exercise. “Even if people can’t give up smoking and maintain a healthy weight, they can still gain health benefits from increasing the amount of regular exercise they take.” says Mr. Leslie Alford from the University of East Anglia who reviewed extensive research published between 2006 and 2010.


Tips on Snow Shoveling

Winter brings many challenges for our health, but none as obvious as shoveling snow. Here’s a few tips to keep you safe in this year’s storms:

If you can, Buy a decent shovel. Those cheap, plastic shovels don’t work well at all. The flat ones are shaped for lifting snow, others are curved for pushing snow aside. Find the right one.

Bend your knees so you’re not lifting with your back. Assume the snow is heavier than it looks, especially if you’re shoveling out that bit that the plow left behind.

Take plenty of breaks, every 20 minutes if you can. It’s also better to go out and shovel after only a few inches have accumulated even when it’s still snowing. Going out twice to lift less snow is better than going out once and straining your muscles.

Dress in layers and wear boots with good traction.

Know your limits and ask for help if you need it.


How Do You Age Gracefully?

Are you ready to play good news bad news?  The good news is that you have control over how healthy you are after 65.  The bad news is that you have to work for it.  Diet and exercise continue to be the main factor in how well you keep away the signs of aging.   “How you live after age 65 is vitally important,” says Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. “Up until then, a healthy life is dominated by your genes. After that, it’s predominantly about lifestyle. Exercise and nutrition become more important.”

Luckily, the tools to fight aging are like children’s toys:  sneakers and board games top the list.  Even if you have chronic conditions, light exercise such as walking is highly recommended.


Reduce Your Stress to Beat Illness

“95 percent of all illness is caused or worsened by stress.”  Says Dr. Mark Hyman, a family physician,  New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader in his field.   What can you do to relax, especially as we head into a hectic holiday season?  Here are his tips in a nutshell:

  1. Rule out biological causes of stress, such as a magnesium or vitamin B12 deficiency, chemical pollutants, or a gluten allergy.
  2. Relax while being physically active. Try walking.
  3. Learn something new – especially something enjoyable and relaxing such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, biofeedback, and progressive muscle relaxation or take a hot bath, make love, get a massage, watch a sunset, or walk in the woods or on the beach.
  4. Exercise!  It burns off stress.
  5. Clean up your diet.  Reduce caffeine and sugar and eat regular, small meals.
  6. Take a multivitamin.
  7. Try herbs that improve your response to stress such as ginseng, Rhodiola rosea, Siberian ginseng, cordyceps, and ashwagandha.
  8. Take a hot bath or a sauna to help your body deeply relax.
  9. Consider how your attitudes add to your stress.
  10. Find people who help you feel supported.

Before Surgery Check Your Vitamin D

Are you considering surgery? Before you do, read the October 6, 2010 issue of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery which says that almost half of orthopedic surgery patients are low in vitamin D. This can hamper recovery from surgery. Low vitamin D levels mean slower healing for muscles and fractures. It’s very easy to test for and have fixed. If your doctor doesn’t do a pre-surgical screening of your vitamin D level, ask for it!


Our Body Image Comes From How We Talk to Ourselves

Often, the voice in our head is the one that makes us feel the worst.  Both men and women can suffer from poor body image.  Extreme cases of this result in eating disorders, but even mild forms of this can lead to low self-confidence, low self-esteem, and a decrease in our vitality.    If you’re unsure about your own body image, massage is a great way to create awareness of what you actually look like.  It also naturally creates a more positive response to how you look.  Luckily, you can create awareness of what your brain is saying about your body and focus it on positive thoughts.   If you’d like to change your attitude about your body, try these tips:

  1. Understand that internal voices come from external forces like culture, religion, and family. Remind yourself that those thoughts were most likely put in your head from outside sources.
  2. List the negative (such as too much weight, not pretty enough, wrong body shape).  List them all.  Tell yourself that these are other people’s demands on your body, not your own.  You don’t have to look the way other people want you to.
  3. Find an exercise that you enjoy doing, rather than one that makes your body look the way you think it should.  You will exercise more if you enjoy it and do it for the sake of enjoyment rather than a goal. Try to be good to your body through moderate exercise and pampering.
  4. Don’t discuss dieting, weight- loss, or time logged at the gym.
  5. Think of yourself in a global context. It’s easier to become dissatisfied when focusing on American images of beauty.  Remember these images represent just a tiny fraction of the possibilities for beauty and success.
  6. Compliment yourself every time you criticize yourself.

Protect Your Back While Raking

Autumn is a beautiful season to look at, but it can be a lot of work to keep the view that beautiful.  Raking doesn’t have to take a toll on your back if you keep in mind a few helpful tips:

  • Switch the way you hold your rake often.  This uses an equal amount of effort from both sides of your body.
  • Use more smaller, more frequent motions to reduce the strain.  You don’t have to get it all done at once.
  • Try not to do too much twisting.  Move your feet where you want to go.
  • When lifting leaves, bend at the knees to protect your back.
  • Yes, you knew I’d add this in – drink plenty of water.  Raking leaves is a workout too!