Monthly Archives: March 2020

How Diet Affects Menopause

If you’re a woman of a certain age, you may already be feeling some of the symptoms of hormonal changes, even if you haven’t officially gone through menopause yet. The time leading up to menopause is a transition known as perimenopause and can start anywhere from a woman’s late 30s to mid-40s. This stage can last from five to ten years until you go through actual menopause. Menopause is defined as the absence of a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months.

Woman in the office

As a woman goes through the hormonal changes of perimenopause and menopause, she may experience some unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, insomnia, and irregular periods. Women may also gain weight or find that they cannot lose weight as easily as when they were younger.

Menopause also occurs at a time in a woman’s life when her metabolism is already slowing down as a normal part of aging, so this tendency to gain weight is a bit of a double whammy. As if this were not enough, women are at a higher risk for diseases including osteoporosis, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes after menopause.

But the news is not all bad! There are lifestyle changes you can make to ease the symptoms of menopause, prevent weight gain, and reduce your risk for developing certain diseases. One of the key ways to do all of this is through diet and nutrition.

1. Increase Your Intake of calcium and vitamin D.
The loss of estrogen that comes along with menopause can weaken bones and increase the risk of osteoporosis. Both calcium and vitamin D are essential nutrients that protect your bones, so eating foods rich in these nutrients daily can help lower your risk of osteoporosis. You can get adequate calcium from dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as from green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens. There are also lots of calcium-fortified foods such as cereal and juices that can boost your calcium intake as well.

Vitamin D is equally important,  and the best way to get enough is by spending a short time outdoors daily to get natural vitamin D from the sun. If you don’t spend much time outdoors or have had skin cancer or are at a high risk for skin cancer, you can also talk to your doctor about vitamin D supplementation. It’s also found in oily fish, eggs, and foods such as milk or juice that are fortified with vitamin D.

2. Maintain a healthy weight.
Weight gain is common during both perimenopause and menopause, and women tend to gain excess body fat around their waists, which increases the risks for developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Women who are heavier also tend to experience worse menopausal symptoms. One study found that women who lost at least 10 lbs. or 10 percent of their body weight over the course of a year were more likely to eliminate hot flashes and night sweats.

3. Eat your veggies and fruits.
A diet rich in varied fruits and vegetables has been shown to prevent a number of menopausal symptoms. Additionally, fruits and vegetables fill you up and keep you from overeating more unhealthy foods, which can lead to weight gain. They may also help prevent diseases, particularly heart disease (which can be a higher risk after menopause), and help maintain bone health.

4. Avoid trigger foods.
There are certain foods that can trigger hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings, especially if eaten at night. Caffeine, alcohol, sugary foods, and spicy foods seem to be the biggest trigger foods for worsening menopausal symptoms.

5. Eat enough protein.
Getting enough protein in your diet can help prevent the loss of lean muscle mass that occurs with age. Focus on lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and low-fat dairy foods.

In addition to eating a healthy diet, regular exercise can help ease menopausal symptoms and help maintain a healthy weight.

How to Protect Your Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

Taking Care of Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

Working From Home

The COVID-19 pandemic is something most of us have not experienced in our lifetimes. The disruptions to our daily lives that have happened over the past week, and which will likely continue to happen for weeks to come, are difficult and challenging for everyone. These changes impact every aspect of our lives from our financial stability to our health, our children, our aging parents, and more.

While this shutdown of life-as-we-know-it is going to be challenging, it is necessary to do our part in helping to control the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. Closures of schools, colleges, restaurants, and other establishments may seem extreme, but experts are telling us they are crucial right now to try and “flatten the curve” of this viral outbreak. “Flattening the curve” is the idea of slowing a virus’ spread so that fewer people need to seek treatment at the same time.

This is why the U.S. and many other countries are implementing “social distancing” guidelines that limit the number of people going out in public and large group gatherings. The “curve” researchers are talking about refers to the projected number of people who will contract COVID-19 over a period of time. The goal with social distancing is to prevent a sharp rise in the number of people with the virus so the nation’s healthcare systems do not become overloaded beyond their capacity to treat people, as is currently happening with devastating results in Italy.

More than likely, you are already experiencing the effects of closures and social distancing. That may mean your children’s schools are closed or your company is having employees work from home for a few weeks, or both. Most of us are accepting staying at home for the time being as the new norm. This means not going out to eat, not visiting movie theatres, the gym, or other public places, and no playdates or other gatherings.

Protect your mental health
Just as important as protecting your physical health during this pandemic is protecting your mental health. Uncertain times such those we are experiencing right now can have a significant impact on your mental health. You are likely to feel stress surrounding what these shutdowns will mean financially for you and your family, what it will mean for your children’s education, and for your parents and other elderly family members’ health. All of this uncertainty can increase anxiety, and if you already suffer from anxiety and depression, it can make it much worse.

Some tips to ease stress and anxiety during this national crisis and help protect your mental health include the following:

Limit reading or watching repetitive coverage of the virus on various media. It will only make you more anxious. Stay informed by designating just one hour a day to read updates from trusted news sources—social media is notorious for spreading false information. An overload of information and the 24/7 news cycle will only increase your anxiety during these uncertain times.

Focus on the things you enjoy at home.  Replace social media and news with reading books, watching movies or shows, or listening to podcasts that entertain you and uplift you.

Maintain relationships, but do so virtually.
Since you can’t visit with elderly family members right now or with other friends, make time to engage in video chats, phone calls, emails, and texts. You and your kids can plan weekly video chats to stay connected with friends and to check in on elderly relatives. 

Add structure to your day.
Having a schedule will give you a feeling of control, which is important right now. Kids will benefit from having a daily schedule since it will help them to focus on things they need to do and will help to divert them from thinking about the virus. This is especially important if you will be working from home, and/or if your children will be participating in online learning during this time.

Create a plan for yourself and your family. Keep a list and use it; include needed supplies like food and medications, as well as contacts for your doctors and other important numbers. Using a list will give you a feeling of control in this unpredictable situation.

Practice self-care. Get back to the basics—get enough sleep, eat well, practice good hygiene, and get some exercise. You can work out at home, or better yet, get some fresh air by going for a walk, a run, or a bike ride in your neighborhood while still maintaining social distance. Experts agree that the best thing we can do during this health crisis is to take care of ourselves.

Remember to breathe. If you feel yourself starting to tense up and become anxious about this pandemic, take a time-out and practice deep-breathing exercises.

“Maintaining balance in daily life and not letting your day be consumed by the ‘next headline’ is important to maintaining perspective in the uncertainty of daily life,” said Nathaniel Van Kirk, PhD., coordinator of inpatient group therapy at McLean Harvard Medical School and the coordinator of clinical assessment at McLean’s OCD Institute.

 

Which Diet Is Best for You?

Types of Diets

Which diet is best for you?

When it comes to diet and nutrition, there are a wide variety of options available, but often, deciding which type of diet would be best for you can be overwhelming. From vegan to paleo to low-carb and everything in between, all of these different styles of eating claim to be the best for nutrition, weight loss, and overall health.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Following a particular diet is a very personal choice and one that should be based on personal preferences, lifestyle, your state of health, any medical conditions you may have, and for some, on moral or religious beliefs. There is not one perfect diet plan—each has its benefits and pitfalls.

To help you decipher the differences in some of the most popular diet plans, here is a brief breakdown of each type.

Vegetarian
Following a vegetarian diet involves omitting meat, fish, and poultry from your diet. There are variations of vegetarianism, such as choosing not to eat any red meat, but eating seafood and poultry. Pescatarians (those who eat no meat but do eat fish) will only eat seafood but no meat or poultry. Some vegetarians choose to consume dairy products and eggs, while others do not.

Many people often adopt a vegetarian diet for religious or personal reasons, as well as ethical issues, such as animal rights. Some people may decide to become a vegetarian for environmental reasons.

In addition to the ethical and environmental reasons for not eating meat, a vegetarian diet may lower your risk for chronic diseases and some cancers, improve heart health, help with weight loss, and provide your body with important nutrients. In fact, studies show that vegetarians tend to have better quality diets than meat-eaters and a higher intake of key nutrients like fiber, vitamins C and E, and magnesium.

However, a vegetarian diet may also increase the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Cutting meat and other animal products from your diet could potentially create deficiencies in iron, protein, omega-3s, calcium, and vitamins D and B. Being low in these nutrients can cause fatigue, anemia, bone loss, and thyroid issues. To minimize that risk, it’s important to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as other protein sources such as beans, nuts, and soy.

Vegan
Veganism has become more popular recently and is a form of vegetarian diet that eliminates all meat and animal products, including dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry, and animal-derived products such as honey. A vegan diet offers all of the same benefits as a vegetarian diet as well as reducing one’s intake of cholesterol and saturated fat. Much like vegetarians, vegans must have a well-planned diet and find ways to ensure that they get enough protein and vitamin B12 in their diets.

Paleo
A Paleo diet is a dietary plan based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. The diet includes foods that could be obtained through hunting or gathering, including lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. A paleo diet limits foods that became common when farming emerged about 10,000 years ago, which includes dairy products, grains, and legumes.

The concept of the paleo diet is to return to a style of eating that is closer to what early humans ate. It relies on the belief that our bodies are genetically mismatched to the modern diet that emerged with farming practices. To follow a Paleo diet, you would chose to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and fish, and oils from fruits and nuts, such as olive oils and walnut oil. The diet eliminates grains, legumes, dairy products, refined sugar, salt, potatoes, and highly-processed foods.

The benefit of following a Paleo diet is that it’s rich in vegetables, fruits, and nuts, which are all part of a healthy diet. Paleo diets promote weight loss, improve glucose control, reduce blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. The chief difference in the Paleo diet compared to other healthy diets is the absence of whole grains and legumes, which are considered good sources of fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients. Also missing from the diet are dairy products, which are good sources of protein and calcium.

While the Paleo diet does offer some health benefits, there are no long-term clinical studies about the potential risks of the paleo diet.

Keto
The Keto diet has become very popular. It is essentially just a variation of a low-carbohydrate diet, such as Atkins (which has been popular for many years). The keto (short for ketogenic) diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet. It requires you to drastically lower your carbohydrate intake and replace it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis, a state where your body becomes very efficient at burning fat for energy instead of carbs. Keto diets are very popular because they can promote rapid and significant weight loss, as well as help regulate blood sugar levels.

The keto diet completely omits fruits, grains, legumes, and sugar. Instead, followers eat fish, low-carb vegetables, cheese, meat, poultry, eggs, and fats. The disadvantages of this diet include something known as “keto flu,” where people feel symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and emotional changes when beginning the diet. Additionally, because there is a lack of long-term research on the keto diet, doctors caution that it could cause kidney damage, nutritional deficiencies, and other side effects.

Mediterranean
The Mediterranean diet is based on the fact that people living in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea tend to live longer and suffer fewer health problems than Americans. The diet is low in red meat, sugar, and saturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables, nuts, and “good” fats, which is believed to be one of the reason’s these people are healthier and live longer.

The Mediterranean diet is really more of an eating pattern than a structured diet. It emphasizes eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and flavorful herbs and spices. It emphasizes eating fish and seafood at least a few times a week and poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in moderation, while saving sweets and red meat for special occasions. It also involves having a glass of red wine most days. The Mediterranean diet offers many health benefits and is a very healthful way of eating. The only downside to this diet is that it may be too expensive for some people to maintain.

 

 

Dancing for Exercise

Let’s Dance! Incorporating Dance Into Your Workouts

If you’ve grown bored with your regular workout routine, try mixing some dance moves into your workouts. Not only is dancing fun, but it can also burn up to 600 calories per hour, which is about the same or more than going for a swim or a run for the same amount of time.

Three Girls Dancing

Dance It Out
Dancing is one of the best things you can do for your body. In addition to burning calories and building muscle, according to Dance Magazine, research has also shown that dance improves mood, reduces stress, increases energy, lowers anxiety, slows cognitive decline, increases confidence, and much more.

A 2017 report from the University of Brighton in the UK found that dancing demands a lot of energy output because it involves movement in all directions. Dance involves much accelerating and decelerating which the body is less able to do in an energy-efficient way, so your body is having to work harder than if you were running or swimming, for example. Because dancing involves a lot of starting, stopping, and changing directions, it burns a lot of energy even though the dancer may not be covering a lot of ground.

Dance engages muscles in different ways than traditional types of exercise. Dancing uses less repetitive movements than exercise such as running or weightlifting, so it keeps your muscles from adapting as they would to repetitive movements, and this can strengthen and tone your muscles in new ways. It also improves balance, which is really important as you age to help you avoid injury.

Shake Your Booty
Now that you know all of the benefits dancing can have for your body and mind, how can you incorporate dancing into your exercise routine, especially if you think have two left feet? The good news is that you don’t have to be able to turn perfect pirouettes or move like Beyoncé to reap the benefits of dance.
Here some ways you can add dance into your weekly workouts:

  • Sign up for a dance class. Many dance studios offer adult classes in ballet, tap, jazz, and hip-hop dance as well as many other styles of dance. Enrolling in a beginner’s class will help you learn the type of movements and teach you correct form. You can also take partner dance classes such as ballroom dancing, salsa, or swing dancing, which are great ways for you and your partner to spend time together learning something new and doing something good for your body.
  • Take a fitness dance class. While fitness dance classes are different from traditional dance classes offered at dance schools, many gyms offer some type of dance fitness class such as Zumba, Barre, or Cardio Dance. These classes are high-energy and focus less on form and technique and more on getting your heart rate up and exercising specific muscle groups.
  • Purchase a dance DVD. If you don’t belong to a gym or don’t want to pay class fees, there are many dance DVDs available that you can do at home. You can find DVDs for everything from Zumba to classical ballet to belly dancing. Plus, you might be less self-conscious about your dance moves when grooving in the comfort of your own home!
  • Use a dance video game. If you have kids, chances are you have some sort of video game system. There are many dance video games that are easy to follow that you can do with your whole family.
  • Hit the dance club. Plan a regular night out with your partner or friends to hit the dance floor. Dancing is a great social activity,  and spending a night grooving on the dance floor with friends can work up a sweat and count as a workout.

To enjoy the benefits of dance, don’t worry about how you look or if you are doing certain dance moves the right way—just get moving to the music and have fun. The best part about dance is that it doesn’t feel like exercise because it’s so much fun!