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Ideas to Make Your BBQ Dishes Healthier!

With the start of summer, people are prepping their grills in anticipation of neighborhood get-togethers and fantastic food. Sometimes those classic backyard party foods spell disaster for your diet. While potato salad and fried chicken are tempting, there are so many tantalizing alternatives.

Kerry Neville, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, suggests switching out the more traditional but unhealthy options for healthier ones, adjusting recipes to make those classics lower calorie or more nutritious, or simply limiting portions of your favorites if you simply must have a taste.

Whether you are attending a potluck or hosting a backyard bash of your own, you can create healthy dishes that are sure to be a big hit. Neville says, “Try using broccoli slaw instead of coleslaw, toss in some shredded carrots, and toss with a light, low-fat poppy seed or yogurt dressing for a great salad that will be still be crunchy and delicious and lower in calories than the typical coleslaw.”

Summer brings a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables that can be incorporated into your menu plan. If there will be grilling at your outing, provide some fresh zucchini and squash, mushrooms, onions, and peppers to toss on the grill.

The author of the Sonoma Diet, Connie Guttersen, RD, says, “Vegetable salads (excluding lettuces) prepared ahead of time will taste even better the next day after their flavors have had time together.” As a dipping option, she also recommends that you try one of the many whole-grain crisps options available such as oat crisps and whole-grain rice chips instead of high-fat chips.”

Hummus, fat-free bean dip, and salsa are great options that are not deal-breakers for your diet. Consider bringing a simple platter of cut veggies or fruit with a healthy low-fat dip, and celery stuffed with peanut butter or low-fat cheese.

Bring on the Burgers

If burgers are an essential component of your party, consider using lean meat patties or even turkey burgers. The fat content will be much lower. Veggie burgers are also quite tasty and give vegetarians more options at a cookout. Likewise, chicken or turkey hot dogs are also available as are meatballs if you are so inclined.

Most burgers are about 6 ounces, with a payload of 460 calories and 11 grams of saturated fat. And when you count the cheese, bun, and condiments, the typical picnic burger can top upwards of 780 calories! By simply cutting out a couple of ounces to make smaller patties, and using 90% lean meat, you can cut out 231 calories and 6 grams of saturated fat. A turkey burger, even at the larger 6-ounce portion, has a calorie content that is much lower at 289 with only 2.7 grams of saturated fat.

With veggie burgers, it is difficult to provide an accurate calorie content because there are so many different ways and ingredients used to make the patties. However, most veggie burgers without the bun will range from 70-250 calories—still much lower than either lean beef or turkey.

An alternative to burgers and hot dogs is grilled chicken breasts or fish fillets. These are healthy options that taste great and have such versatility when used with marinades and seasonings. One 6-ounce boneless and skinless chicken breast, grilled, will total around 276 calories. Grill a 6-ounce portion of fish and save even more calories with about a 185-calorie total.

What About Wraps?

Another favorite is sandwich wraps. Many people choose a tortilla instead of two slices of bread, thinking they are making a healthier choice. This is actually not true in most cases. Wraps are more condensed than bread and contain a higher fat and calorie content. Two slices of bread contain on average between 70-150 calories, depending on bread type. A tortilla is typically 170-200 calories. So, skip the wraps and just use whole-grain bread instead. You could set out a sandwich construction station where people build their own sandwiches using healthy sandwich stuffers and toppings.

Beverages

Picnics and potlucks usually have lots of soft drinks, sweet tea, and other high-sugar beverage options. Steer clear of those calorie busters, and opt for sparkling, flavored zero-calorie water, unsweetened iced tea, fresh ice water, or other low calorie beverages. Ice water with fresh lemon juice and a little no-calorie sweetener makes a lovely lemonade. If you are providing alcohol, choose spritzers and low-calorie options in lieu of calorie-heavy beer and mixed drinks.

Desserts

Many of us make it through a backyard party congratulating ourselves for our healthy food choices, right up until we see the dessert table. Then it all goes to naught. By choosing guilt-free desserts, you can still satisfy your sweet tooth without regretting it later. How about dishes of berries or peaches with light whipped topping or juicy slices of watermelon? One cup of peaches contains 61 calories. A cup of watermelon has only 47. One cup of strawberries has 49 calories.

If baked goods are a must, go with light angel food cake topped with berries or light whipped topping. One slice of angel food cake (1/12th of 10” diameter) has only 129 calories. By contrast, chocolate cake has 352 calories per slice (1/12th of 9” diameter), and one slice of pecan pie (1/8th of a 9”diameter) packs a punch with 503 calories.

A simple fruit platter with cantaloupe and different types of melons offers a cooling dessert for those wanting to make healthy choices. For a tropical twist, include mango, papaya, pineapple, kiwi, and coconut on your dessert platter.

Think a fruit platter isn’t exciting enough? What better way to cool off on a hot day than with popsicles? Just freeze blended fruit with Greek yogurt and honey in popsicle molds to produce a delicious low-calorie dessert that will cool everyone off and definitely won’t be ordinary!

Bringing healthy food to a potluck or providing those options at your own party is always appreciated, and it is something you can feel good about. You are helping yourself and others as well in your journey to better health.

Alternative Low-Impact Exercise Options

Maybe you are bored with the same old exercise routine and want to try something different. Perhaps you are limited in your exercise choices for health reasons. Whatever the cause, here are some ideas for alternative exercise that might be perfect for a change of pace.

Yoga

Originating in ancient India, yoga has become a popular form of exercise in the modern world. Yoga is widely appealing because just about anyone can do it. This low-impact exercise is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. You may have images of people contorted into strange positions when you think of yoga. The basics in yoga are that you move your body into very specific postures, while focusing on breathing and energy. There is a strong focus on meditation, and many people around the world use yoga as a form of meditation.

The positions, or asanas, vary in complexity and can help develop flexibility, balance, strength, endurance, improve posture, increase core muscle strength, and release tension. Many proponents also claim it can ease pain, improve sleep, enhance mood, prevent cartilage and joint breakdown, lower blood pressure and blood sugar, increase immunity, and help regulate adrenal gland function.

There are many different styles of yoga for every lifestyle. Some classes may be done in a darkened candle-lit room as is sometimes done in Vinyasa yoga. Some rooms where yoga is practiced may be brightly lit with music pumping in the background, as in Power yoga. Other yoga classes may be conducted in a heated room with raised humidity, such as hot yoga and Bikram yoga. Contact your local fitness center to inquire about which types of yoga classes are offered, and they can help you determine which style would best suit your lifestyle and goals. Whatever style you choose to practice, wear non-restrictive clothing to sessions, and bring a towel and some water.

Pilates

Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s to help injured athletes return to physical activity safely. At first glance, Pilates may seem similar to yoga because it is also low-impact, and there is a strong focus on different body positions. There is no spiritual aspect to Pilates, and the attention is solely on strengthening muscles, improving flexibility and postural alignment. Most Pilates movements target the core, although a full Pilates workout will work all areas of the body.

The benefits you may see from doing Pilates are improved posture and balance, flexibility and muscle strength, stronger core muscles, relaxation, and lower anxiety, among other things.

Typical Pilates workouts are 45-90 minutes long and may be done on thick mats (thicker than traditional yoga mats) or on machines called “reformers.” Reformers have a large frame with sliding platforms and a stationary footboard. There are straps or cords with springs and pulleys to provide resistance.

When you go to your first class, you may hear some terms that are unfamiliar such as “powerhouse,” which refers to the center of the body where all the power originates to perform movements. Another term, “peel through your spine,” describes slow movement within the spine from vertebra to vertebra. As with yoga, it is a good idea to wear non-restrictive clothing that will facilitate stretching and bring a towel and water.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese form of martial arts that has evolved into a non-competitive, slow series of focused and graceful movements that flow from one to the next. This type of exercise involves a lot of stretching while focusing on breathing deeply. As with yoga, there is a meditative aspect to Tai Chi. It is different from yoga in that your body is in constant but gentle motion. There are different styles of Tai Chi; some are more focused on health improvement and maintenance, while others focus more on the martial arts aspect of Tai Chi.

Because it is low-impact, Tai Chi puts minimal stress on muscles and joints—making it a safe form of exercise for any age or fitness level. Many people who are unable to exercise in traditional ways due to injury or physical limitations find that Tai Chi is an excellent alternative that allows them to stay fit and improve balance, flexibility, energy, agility, and stamina. Tai Chi is also practiced as a way to improve muscle strength and definition, to improve mood and decrease stress, anxiety, and depression.

Five Reasons You Need a Workout Buddy.

If you have started a new exercise regimen and are trying to make healthy changes in your lifestyle, kudos to you! Did you know that in addition to a set of earbuds, fit-bit or pedometer, favorite playlist, perhaps new shoes and workout clothes, you are missing something important? That would be your workout buddy. Even if you are a loner who prefers to exercise by yourself, you should really give serious consideration to finding another person to share your workout.

Here are some reasons why:

  1. The obvious reason most people find a workout buddy is motivation. On those days when you aren’t quite feeling it, and you don’t want to go to the gym or face whatever fitness challenges await you,  a workout buddy can hold you accountable and keep you from slacking off. It’s important that you choose someone who will push you and not let your laziness convince him/her to also skip the workout. Make sure your workout buddy has a schedule that is compatible with your own, or it’s doomed from the start.
  2. Your workout will be safer with a partner. If you are working out in the gym, your buddy can help you avoid injury. He/she can spot you when bench-pressing, and keep an eye on your form. Even the most experienced can lose focus and fall into improper form when attention is on completing repetitions. Having someone with you is an important way to avoid that and prevent potential injuries. Even if you are exercising outside the gym, doing it with a workout buddy is always safer in case you run into trouble.
  3. The competition will keep you running at full force, giving it your all. Many of us have a competitive streak, and working out with a partner helps to keep you at the top of your game because we don’t want to be the “weakest” link. There is actually a term for this; it’s called the Köhler Effect, and there have been studies  about it. They proved that when people work out with a partner who is in better shape than they are, they tend to perform better. So, choosing a buddy who is fitter than you will also motivate you to work out harder and longer than you might on your own.
  4. Most of us are creatures of habit. We tend to fall into the same routine, and after a while, it can get boring. Your workout buddy can introduce you to new exercises and new paths if you are into running, cycling,  walking, and other things that keep your workout fresh and interesting. Sharing what you know with each other can introduce variety into your exercise and make it more fun.
  5. Last, but not least, working out with a buddy is like a free therapy session. More than likely, you will eventually begin to share stories about things that happen at work or home,  and it’s a chance to get things off your chest and hear another person’s perspective on the situations you are dealing with. Even if you don’t feel comfortable sharing personal information, just having someone to chat with and share a few laughs while you exercise keeps you socially engaged, boosts your immune system, and decreases stress hormones.

So, start thinking about who would make a good workout buddy, and go ask him or her to meet up for your next workout!

A Guide to Gardening Alternatives

Many people love gardening but find that because of limitations in their physical space (living in an apartment), or perhaps limitations of their physical bodies (bad back, etc.), they are no longer able to enjoy this activity. Read on and you may find some alternatives that will prevent your gardening hobby from “wilting and dying.”

Container Gardens
If you do not have space for a garden, you may be surprised to know that you can grow a wide assortment of vegetables right on your back patio in containers. Container gardening is a successful method that requires a lot less work than planting directly into the ground. It’s perfect for apartment dwellers and people who aren’t able to do the more physically challenging work involved with an in-ground garden.

What you will need:

  1. Containers – from $5-$10
  2. Seed – (From 20 cents/packet at dollar stores to $2.50/packet at garden shops)
  3. Tools: hand trowel, spade, gloves – $2-$10
  4. Soil – Plain bags of topsoil cost under $4, but if you get the more expensive kind with Miracle Grow or other fertilizer mixed in, expect to pay $6-12.
  5. Sunny location – Even the best seed and soil won’t produce vegetables without a lot of sun. If you have a porch that receives shade most of the day, you probably won’t have much success growing vegetables. There are plenty of shade-loving flowers though, so you could still enjoy gardening in containers.

When selecting containers, make sure they have enough space for the roots to spread and grow. You’ll need them to be a minimum of 12-14 inches wide, and at least 10-12 inches deep. Drainage is important too, so if your containers do not have pre-drilled holes at the bottom, be sure to drill some, or your plants may get root-rot and die.

These are some vegetables that do well in containers:

  • Tomatoes
  • Green onions
  • Turnips
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Peppers
  • Green beans
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Squash

Tall plants, such as tomatoes and some peppers, will need a trellis support around them as they grow so that they don’t topple over.

For vining plants such as beans, squash, and cucumbers, you can use stakes and supports that go around the plants, or you can train them to grow up string or yarn that you suspend from above. Some people use one long pole with yarn tied at the top and let the vines grow up the yarn around the pole. Make a “privacy screen” of green leaves by letting the plants grow up a “framework” of yarn string that you hang from the top of the porch. Get creative!

Raised Beds
If you do have space in your yard, and you want to try a small garden, consider a raised bed. They require less space than a traditional garden. Gardening in a raised bed is less physically demanding than an in-ground garden because you do not have to till the soil, and depending on how high it is, you won’t have to bend over quite as much. There is also much less weeding to do than with an in-ground garden, so it is less work overall.

Plants grow more vigorously with a raised bed because the soil in the prepared bed is more conducive to plant growth than the topsoil of your yard. The soil you add to the raised bed is soft and easy for roots to move through, and you can prepare the bed with fertilizer and soil amendments to make it perfect for plant growth. Raised beds have less compaction in the soil, more aeration, and better draining than in-ground gardens, and they are easier to weed. The walls also create a barrier to pests such as snails and slugs.

The richer soil of raised beds (with its higher content of organic matter and compost) can support more plants per square foot than a traditional garden, therefore, increasing your yield. Plants in a raised bed are intended to be planted close together, filling in the bed as they grow, with the leaves touching to provide additional protection from would-be weed invaders.

While pre-constructed raised beds are available for purchase, you can build one yourself much more cheaply with a few planks of wood and some screws. Use cedar; it is rot and bug resistant. Although it is more expensive, cedar lasts many years longer than other types of wood. Avoid using railroad ties as they may be coated in creosote, which is toxic. Thicker wood will last longer. If you opt to use concrete blocks or bricks, be aware that concrete will raise your soil pH over time, requiring that you eventually use amendments to lower the pH.

What you will need:

  1. Wood – $15-$20 (If you purchase from Home Depot or Lowes, they will cut it to your requested dimensions at no additional cost.)
  2. Bag of Compost or manure – $2-$5 per bag
  3. Bag of fertilizer-enriched soil – $3-8 per bag
  4. Wheat Straw mulch – $4-$6/bale
  5. Seed – .20 cents/packet – $3.00/packet depending on store
  6. Hand tiller/trowel/gloves – $2-$10 (Cheapest at the dollar stores)

Choose a location that gets lots of sunlight during the day, at least 6 to 8 hours. Don’t make the bed too wide or it will be hard to harvest from the center. You can choose the depth but keep in mind that most plants’ roots extend 6-12 inches in depth. Consider a design that will allow you to sit on the border of the bed while you work inside it. This will take additional strain off your body.

Prepare the ground beneath the bed by covering with a black tarp to kill off any weeds or weed seed that are currently there. Leave it for 3-4 weeks, and then remove the grass and any weeds that remain.

It is advisable to till the soil a good 6-8 inches deep before building the raised bed. The good news is you only have to do it this first time and then enjoy till-free gardening for years to come!

Next, fill the bed with a mixture of compost, topsoil, organic matter (manure, bone meal, peat, hay, or straw mulch). This provides a nutrient-rich environment for plant growth and helps hold some moisture in the soil.

Raised beds dry out faster, so during the hot months of summer, consider adding straw, mulch, or hay as a layer on top of the soil to hold in moisture. Water frequently when your seedlings first sprout and begin to grow, but after that your raised bed will need very little maintenance.

All the plants that grow well in containers also do well in raised beds. Just about anything can be grown well in a raised bed. Other than the ones mentioned above, some other veggies to consider growing in your raised bed garden include these:

  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Pumpkins
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Pumpkins
  • Broccoli

Whether you opt for a raised bed or a container garden, don’t let space or a bad back be a limiting factor in your horticultural adventure! Get out and grow!

 

 

Gardeners Rejoice!

How Gardening is Good For You

This is the time of year when yards come alive and we gardeners once again plan our gardens and begin selecting the beautiful flowers and vegetables that will fill our outdoor spaces. But the rewards we reap are not only colorful yards and tasty food that we have grown ourselves. Gardening is also wonderful for your health. It’s a great way to get that vitamin D which our bodies create when we spend time in the sun. By gardening, you can boost your endurance and strength, as well as flexibility.

benefits of gardening

Another terrific aspect of gardening is that you can burn a lot of calories as you are preparing the soil, tilling and hoeing, digging and planting, and weeding and pruning. These activities are a great way to work some good cardiovascular exercise into your daily routine.

Jeff Restuccio who wrote Fitness the Dynamic Gardening Way says it’s a good idea to alternate the more physically challenging gardening activities with the lighter work for a more structured exercise workout. He suggests, for example, raking for a while, then digging holes, then pruning.

As you do your “gardening exercise,” concentrate on deep breathing, and for a real boost in calorie burning, exaggerate your movements to increase the range of motion. For example, while raking or digging, stretch further than you usually would. This can increase your calorie burning from 100-200 per hour up to 500 per hour according to Restuccio. The actual number of calories burned varies with age, weight, and how much muscle you have. The heavier you are, the more calories you will burn. The younger you are, the more calories you’ll burn. Also, muscle burns more calories than fat, so if you have a more muscular build, you will also burn more calories.

In addition, try switching back and forth between hands when raking. Rake with your right hand 15 times, then do 15 times with your left hand. This will ensure both sides of your body are getting an equal work out.

For people who don’t consider gardening a real workout, Restuccio says, “If you think double digging (going down a foot, turning the soil over, then down another foot, bringing that soil to the top) isn’t exercise, you haven’t tried it.”

One of the best things about working in the garden, aside from the actual harvest, is that you can do it with the whole family. Get the kids and the grandparents out in the garden and let everyone participate. Make it a bonding activity that all can share, and in the process, everyone can get healthier too!

Some gardening safety tips:

  • Remember to stretch before you begin; gardening is exercise, and you can just as easily injure a muscle gardening as you can working out in the gym.
  • Be sure to stay well hydrated and use sunscreen.
  • To avoid hurting your back or knees, use a cushion when working close to the ground.
  • Instead of sitting on your heels, try to keep your back straight and be sure to stand and stretch every 10 minutes or so.
  • When choosing your shovel or spade, look for one that is lightweight and has a long handle.
  • Don’t overload your shovel when digging, and remember to bend at the knee, stepping forward when you raise and dump each shovel full of dirt.
  • While bending to pick up tools or heavy bags, bend at the knees and hips to avoid back strain.

What to Know if You Want to Start Cycling

Have you been thinking of investing in a new bike and getting your exercise on two wheels? It’s a great workout that is less jarring on joints than running or aerobics and may provide an excellent alternative. This sport has become so popular that nearly every city has plentiful routes for biking that will give you the chance to enjoy a scenic ride while you burn calories and build coordination and muscle strength.

how to get started cycling

Before you buy that new bike, here are some good things to know:

BUY LOCAL
You can save a lot of money buying through your local bike shop. Its employees will fit your bike to you to ensure it is a good match for you considering frame size and seat height. More than likely, they will also throw in a free service period for you, answer your questions, and provide information about local bike routes and cycling clubs in your area.

COMFORT NOT COST
Test ride the bike before you buy, and go for the best fit, not the best deal. Though it might seem counterintuitive, you don’t want a cushy soft saddle. Your weight will eventually settle down through it, leaving your rump resting on the hard piece below. It’s wiser to select a saddle that is firm and narrow which offers better support. You can wear padded spandex leggings that offer comfort. Although you may be a little sore that first week or two, you will acclimate to the seat and the discomfort will subside.

CONSIDER PURPOSE
Buy a bike with the gearing you will need for the type of riding you plan to do. While the off-road mountain trails can be very appealing, most new cyclists opt for street cycling, as it is the most accessible form of cycling and the most common. The bikes are lighter weight with skinny tires.

ESSENTIAL GEAR
Helmet: You should always wear a helmet when riding no matter what. Helmets have a shelf-life, so rather than dragging that old one out of the closet, it’s safer to buy a new one. There are safety standards set by the government, and the newer helmets will meet those standards. Try them all on to see which style you prefer, and which fits your head best.

Kit: The term for the typical “outfit” cyclists wear is called a “kit.”It consists of a jersey, matching padded bike shorts or bib shorts, and socks. These clothes are aerodynamic and help regulate body temperature. In addition, they will wick away sweat to avoid chafing. They come in an endless assortment of colors and styles.

Shoes: Athletic shoes are fine for a beginning cyclist, but with time, you may opt to switch to cycling shoes with clipless pedals. It takes some getting used to, so it is best to practice when you make this transition; as your pedals have a small catch to receive the cleat of your shoe, holding it in place so your feet can’t slide around or off the pedals. These specialized, stiff-soled shoes increase the efficiency of your pedaling by maximizing the transfer of energy from your legs to the pedal, especially during the upstroke. Your hamstrings assist with the stroke as your foot remains attached to the pedal when pulling up.

Gloves: If you haven’t ridden a bike in a while, you may not remember how blistered your hands can get from the pressure of holding on to the handlebar. Gloves are great for protecting your hands not only from blisters but also if you should have a fall.

Glasses: While protecting your eyes not only from the sun but also from bugs, dust, and debris, glasses will also make the ride much more enjoyable.

Take-alongs: Some important items that savvy cyclists bring with them are spare tubes, a mini pump, tire levers, and a multi-tool. Getting a flat out in the middle of nowhere is no fun,  and knowing how to switch out a tube is essential. There are plenty of how-to videos available online, and you can also ask your local cycle shop to show you how.

If you will be riding in an area with the likelihood of encountering pedestrians, get a bell for your bike, so you can alert people to your approach and prevent accidents. It’s always a good idea to bring one or two bottles of water along to stay hydrated. You might want to invest in a saddlebag to hold all these items.

Once you have your bike and all your gear, and you’re all suited up and ready to go, here are some important things to remember:

  • Start soft. You have nothing to prove. This should be enjoyable, and if you overdo it your first time out, you might lose the drive to keep it going. Start with a low mileage goal of 5-8 miles per ride, and each week add on just a little bit more.
  • Try to ride a few times per week instead of once a week. This will help you adjust to the new bike and gradually increase your fitness and stamina.
  • For the first month or so, try to plan routes that avoid steep hills or are too difficult. Keep it easy and fun.
  • Give yourself time to recuperate between rides. Just as your muscles need time to rest between workouts at the gym, the same is true with cycling. It is important to allow your body to rest and recuperate after a ride. Don’t go two days in a row.
  • Keep a cycling journal to chart your routes, highlights, and challenges and your feelings and experiences along the way. Tracking your progress is important.
  • Check out local cycling groups or see if a friend or co-worker would like to ride with you. It makes the experience even more enjoyable when you share it, and he/she can help you stay motivated on those days you just want to crawl back under the covers.  Lots of cities now host “no-drop” group rides, intended to help beginner cyclists learn group cycling etiquette and showcase local routes.

This sport is remarkably social and enjoyed by supportive enthusiasts who are eager to share their knowledge. Take your time getting to know as much as you can about cycling and the culture that has developed around it. On this journey, you are sure to get healthier and find many new friends along the way.

Spring-Clean Your Mood!

When the days grow longer and become warmer, we all feel like breaking out of our winter ruts and changing our routines.  While you are spring-cleaning your house, why not spring-clean your mood as well? We have some ideas that can help you get healthier and put the winter blues behind you.

Bring Nature Inside

Find some fresh flowers in the garden or cut some beautiful foliage to put in a vase. The flowers will bring color into the house, and you can enjoy their sweet fragrance as well. According to Deborah Serani, a psychology professor at Adelphi University and author of Living with Depression, “Studies show that having greenery in your life reduces stress, reduces depressed mood, improves attention and concentration, reduces high blood pressure, and creates an atmosphere of beauty.  Adding plants and flowers works wonders for your well-being.”

Aromatherapy has become quite popular as a way to enhance mood, and the natural aromas flowers bring can be just as effective as oils. Not only do they provide a pleasing look and scent, but having plants in the house also raises the oxygen levels as well, making the air healthier and easier to breathe.

Remove Clutter to Revitalize

Getting rid of things no longer of use to you not only improves your living space, but it is beneficial for your state of mind as well. A cluttered space can induce stress and anxiety. Mary Jo Kreitzer, RN, Ph.D, said, “Since the earliest times, humans have needed to be sensitive to their surroundings to survive, which means that we have an innate awareness of our environment and seek out environments with certain qualities.” She elaborated that humans tend to seek out places where we can feel safe and secure—without too much stimulus—and places that provide physical comfort as well.

Your psychological comfort is affected by your surroundings. It is important that you let go of things you really don’t have room for, to keep your space uncluttered and soothing. As you sort through the things you truly want and need versus things that are only cluttering up your space and your life, you hone your identity and begin to understand what is truly important to you. This can bring joy and a sense of tranquility.

Rearrange for a New View, and a New You

Simply rearranging your furniture can be a major mood enhancer.  When moving into a new home, many of us will just put our couches and tables into whatever arrangement seems obvious. There are often other arrangements we never consider which could create a much better flow of energy in a room. The positioning of furniture can have a huge impact on your mood and on your enjoyment of your living space.

Omar Elbaga suggested on TinyBuddha, “Balance is more important than symmetry. The rule of thumb is to think outside the box and don’t decorate in the most obvious way.” Try turning your couch at an angle, with chairs positioned for easy conversation. Or, if you have the couch in the center of the room, experiment with pushing it up against a wall. You can often make a room look bigger just by the way you arrange the furniture.

According to Psychology Today, by rearranging your furniture, you can elevate your mood and instill satisfaction, effectiveness, comfort, and creativity. This is another way that you can spring-clean your way to better health.

Make the Most of your Mow…

Now that Spring has sprung, we must deal with fast-growing grass and weeds in the yard. While we tend to think of yard work as a chore, it is also a great opportunity to get some good exercise. You may want to opt for a push-mower instead of a riding mower and let working in the yard count as your daily exercise.

While the physical health benefits of exercise are reason enough by themselves, we also get the added boost of mood improvement from regular exercise. Exercise increases serotonin, which helps your brain to regulate sleep, appetite, and mood; overall, exercise helps alleviate chronic depression. Exercise also reduces certain chemicals in the immune system which can worsen depression.

A recent study has linked routine physical exertion with improvements in memory in older adults. We do a lot of bending and lifting when we work out in the yard, so spring cleaning outside offers an amazing amount of unexpected benefits. Fitness guru Jillian Michaels says that gardening “can burn up to 256 calories an hour, and lawn mowing 160 calories per half-hour.”

So, when you look out your window at the overgrown grass and the dandelions, instead of thinking of mowing it as a chore, think of all the good you are doing for your body, mind, and mental health by “spring-cleaning” your mood while you mow.

Meal Kit Delivery Services: What Can You Expect?

Preparing balanced meals is a top goal for most of us, although we don’t always have the time, energy, or ingredients to make it a reality. And let’s face it, our own skill in the kitchen sometimes leaves us a little short, and the family starts begging for take-out alternatives.

If you are struggling to satisfy picky eaters, can’t find the time to get to the store and plan out healthy meals, or if you are facing specific eating restrictions among your family members, you might want to consider a meal-kit delivery service. These have become wildly popular because they are so convenient and offer great meal options. Catering not only to different cuisine preferences, but also to a variety of dietary restrictions, this could be your solution to those hectic nights when you really don’t have time to go to the grocery store and plan out dinner.

There are many different services available, but the plans are all similar. Just select which service you think would provide the types of meals best-suited to your family’s preferences, and then when you sign up, you choose how many meals you need per week. The services have some variability in cost, but they average out at about $9-$12 per meal. Many offer promo-codes, so before signing up, do some online searches to locate potential cost-saving coupons. It’s also a good idea to determine what time frame is needed when cancelling so that you will know in advance of taking any vacations or should you want to try a competitor for a while.

What Can You Expect?

You will receive high-quality, fresh foods in your kit, along with recipes and everything you will need to create your meals. You do need to have some basics on-hand, such as salt and pepper, cooking oil, and possibly eggs; all other ingredients are supplied in your kit. You do also need to have your own pots and pans, knives, and occasionally an item such as a blender, cheese grater, or mixer.

Tailored Options and Extras

Some meal-delivery services provide optional extras, such as the available wine-pairing offered by Blue Apron, or the select cuts of specialty meat which can be purchased as an add-on from Home Chef or Sun Basket. Want to enjoy a decadent dessert after that amazing dinner? PeachDish and Plated are two that offer a dessert option.

If you are trying to tailor your diet around specific restrictions such as gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, or the Paleo-diet, then you may be surprised to learn that choosing a meal-kit delivery system might be an easier way to stick to the plan than going it alone. The Purple Carrot offers exclusively vegan meals, while Sun Basket has vegetarian, Paleo, as well as gluten-free choices. While some services only have a few recipes to select from each week, others have a wide assortment, so you should shop around to determine which service will best meet your needs.

In addition, some services assume that the person cooking has experience in the kitchen and there is variability in how much instruction you receive. Some very helpful resources offered by BlueApron and HelloFresh are their apps and video tutorials. This can really be a great asset for those among us who don’t have a lot of cooking experience and may need a little added help.

Whatever you are looking for, you can find a meal-kit delivery service that fits the bill with just a little looking. Signing up online is easy and straightforward, and with most you can pause or cancel your subscription just as easily. Below are some links to popular meal-kit delivery sites:

 

 

How to Exercise When the Pollen Count is High

If you are one of the many people who loves staying active outdoors, but you suffer from seasonal allergies, then you may find yourself becoming a lot more sedentary when spring arrives. Skipping out on these activities may help keep your allergies under control but becoming a “couch potato” is not the answer. Keep active by staying informed, changing your routine, and utilizing these strategies that will keep your body in motion and your energy at peak.

Track the Count
First you need to keep track of the pollen counts in your area. If you know which allergens you are sensitive to, that is even better. Many local news stations will tell you whether weed, tree, or grass pollens are expected to be higher than usual, and this can help you prepare. Another fast way to check pollen counts is online. Websites, such as the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology keep national pollen counts. You can check your local counts by clicking here.

Keep Your Eye on the Clock
Typically pollen counts will begin to rise in the morning and peak at midday, gradually falling toward evening. Generally, the lowest pollen count will be early in the morning before sunrise and late in the afternoon to early evening. However, if the pollen count is very high or if it is a windy day, pollen counts may remain elevated longer than usual. It is also normal in urban areas for the counts to peak and fall later than in the suburbs. Try to schedule your exercise to avoid the peak times of high pollen counts. The best time to get out is right after a good rainfall which washes a lot of the pollen out of the air and greatly reduces the pollen count.

Break out the Barriers
While outside, sunglasses can help protect your eyes not only from the sun, but also from pollen. Dab some Vaseline® around the edge of each of your nostrils before going out. This helps block pollen but be sure to reapply if you blow your nose. Covering your nose and mouth with a mask will really help minimize your inhalation of pollen when counts are high.

Choose an Alternative to Exercising Outdoors
If you usually exercise outside, consider trying a different venue for high pollen count days. There are many exciting and enjoyable opportunities such as indoor mountain climbing, indoor skiing, and even indoor sky diving.
A little less extreme option, but one that is easy and inexpensive is heading to a local indoor pool. Did you know that exercising in water is a great way to strengthen muscles? Water offers natural resistance that provides a more intense workout and increases the benefits of strengthening and toning. Even if you are not a swimmer, just walking, doing water aerobics, or dancing in the water offers great benefits. Many gyms and YMCAs offer the use of pools among their amenities for members, and city pools usually have a low entry fee for city residents.

In addition, Dr. Jay M. Portnoy, Division Director of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology at Children’s Mercy Hospitals in Kansas City says, “Allergies trigger asthma, making it much more difficult to exercise. It’s recommended that people with asthma take up swimming as an aerobic activity. The reason exercise makes asthma worse is because the airways dry out and get cold when you’re breathing fast. If you’re swimming instead of running outdoors, then there’s more moisture and warmth so you’re less likely to have trouble breathing.” Going to an indoor pool is a great way to avoid that pollen without skipping your exercise.

If walking or running is your thing, think “inside” the box. Many cities now have totally enclosed walking paths stretching for miles that can be an excellent way to get your exercise without subjecting yourself to pollen. If your city does not have an enclosed skywalk or underground pedestrian system, check with your local parks and recreation department as well as local fitness centers to see if there is an indoor walking track available. If not, consider walking through an indoor shopping mall or museum. Some cities have large airports that are fun to walk through as well.

Perhaps you prefer to avoid going outside altogether during pollen season. You can still get some great exercise right at home. If you own a treadmill or stationary bike, that would be an obvious first choice. However, for those of you who do not own any exercise equipment, why not try an exercise video? You can rent them at the library or find them available online. Amazon Prime and YouTube both have many fitness workout videos available for different fitness levels.

Whatever option you choose, it will definitely be better than skipping your exercise entirely. Track the pollen counts, strategize your timing, use barriers, and consider alternative venues for your exercise. You can avoid the pollen and still find different fun ways to stay fit!

 

Eating Healthier: In-Season Veggies and Fruits

The arrival of spring brings more people out running, going to the gym, and dieting (sometimes “crash” dieting) to be prepared for spring break, spring and summer vacations, and to “become healthier.”

One way to become healthier is to improve the quality of the nutrients you consume by eating locally grown, in-season fruits and vegetables. In-season being the time of year when a fruit or vegetable is usually harvested, is at its peak ripeness, and is most plentiful.

You may see fruits and other produce in your grocery store during all seasons of the year, but much of the time, it has been shipped from a distance—even other countries—where it may have been many days since it was harvested, and it also may have questionable nutrient value.

Benefits of Eating In-Season Fruits and Vegetables

Flavor. The flavor is more intense: Freshly harvested produce just tastes better than produce even a few days older. Think of biting into a fresh, crisp apple that is so fresh it squirts its juices with each bite, or a fresh peach which gives off its inviting smell before you even bite into it.

Higher-quality nutrients. Produce picked before it ripens does not have enough time in the sun for the nutrients to fully develop in the flesh of the fruit or vegetable. In-season fruits and vegetables have a higher vitamin C content which lowers the risk of infections, unlike the infection risks from the pesticides and preservatives in canned and processed foods. Canned fruits and vegetables rapidly lose anti-oxidants like vitamin C, folate, and carotenes when they sit on store shelves, but freshly picked ones are loaded with these health-giving substances.

Price. Seasonal produce and fruits are in abundant supply, so the price per pound is less—making it not only better for you but also cheaper. For non-seasonal produce shipped from other places such as California and Mexico, the shipping cost is passed along to the purchaser, resulting in higher prices. Transported produce must be picked before ripening, chilled during transportation to prevent rotting, and upon arriving at its destination, possibly heated in a hothouse to artificially ripen, which changes the texture and taste as well as greatly reducing the nutrients.

Avoiding Contaminates. Because of the stringent regulations on food grown in the United States, we can feel safe consuming foods grown here (and if there is an outbreak caused by foods grown in some areas, we are notified and told to return or throw out the named food). However, many countries overseas (from which some of our vegetables and fruits are sourced) have very relaxed laws concerning chemicals that are sprayed on crops grown there. They may not conduct or regulate soil contamination tests to ensure safe ground in which to grow fruits and vegetables. In some of these agricultural areas, heavy metals and other toxic contaminates have been found coming from industrial sites located in or near the same areas.

Community. Most communities have a farmer’s market or food co-op, and these are not only great places to get the freshest of in-season produce, but you can also talk with the farmers who produce these foods and learn about the methods they use. It is a plus to be able to support farmers who work so hard to provide healthy foods for the community and to help build connections which benefit everyone.

If you don’t have the time to visit a farmer’s market, you can often find some locally sourced produce at your grocery store. Many stores will even have it labeled as locally grown.

Another option is to invest in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Before harvesting time, you pay a lump sum to a local farm or group of regional farms. This gives you a “share,” which means that you receive weekly boxes of locally harvested and ultra-fresh produce. This arrangement is mutually beneficial since the farmer has improved cash flow to help with harvesting, and the share owner is guaranteed delicious and fresh produce from a known safe source.

A study from Johns Hopkins University and a recent one from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) found that only 11 percent of adults consumed the recommended daily servings of vegetables and fruit. But more than half exceeded their daily need for protein and grains and ate excessive amounts of sugar, saturated fats, and salt.

All of us need to improve on the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat daily to become healthier. Eating in-season produce can help us to achieve that goal.  Click here and enter your state in the drop-down at the top of the page to see what fruits and vegetables are in-season in your area.