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.

 

Eat from All Five Food Groups Daily to Improve Your Health

It’s always impressive when your waiter or waitress presents you with a plate of food that looks too pretty to eat. Many chefs say “we eat first with our eyes (saying attributed to an ancient Roman gourmet).” Have you ever noticed that the more enticing dishes tend to be visually appealing due to the variety of foods and colors displayed?

Eat from All Five Food Groups Daily to Improve Your Health

It’s hard to get that same mouth-watering effect when you have just one thing on the plate. Likewise, the greater variety of food groups you consume, the better the chance you are getting  sufficient quantities of vitamins and minerals from your meals.

According to the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion(CNPP), an organization established in 1994 with the objective of educating and encouraging dietary guidance for all Americans, we should be following the MyPlate.gov model in order to make better food choices and eat healthfully.

The MyPlate model replaced the MyPyramid and the Food Guide Pyramid in 2011, and many people find it much easier to follow. Instead of a pyramid shape, the MyPlate image is designed to look like a place setting, with each of the five food groups displayed in the proper proportions on the plate. It is easy to understand and remember the right ratios of foods we should be eating when contemplating this visual tool.

The reason it is so important to eat from a variety of different foods is that each kind of food has different types and amounts of key vitamins and minerals. If you eat too much of one and not enough of another, you may find that you are lacking in some key nutrients, and over time, this may have a negative consequence for your health. In addition, choosing a variety of foods keeps your meals interesting so you won’t  become bored with your diet plan.

According to the MyPlate Plan, half of our plate should consist of vegetables and fruits, while the other half should be protein and grains. The portion given to veggies is a little bigger than that allotted to fruit, and the portion given to grains is slightly more than that for protein. On the top right of the image is a little circle as though for a drink. This is the dairy group and indicates the proportion of dairy we should have relative to all the other food groups. It is a slightly smaller area than that given to fruits.

The balanced diet presented in the MyPlate Plan is an ideal framework for healthy eating that is easy to remember and follow when creating meals at home or choosing what you want in a cafeteria or restaurant. Take a look at the MyPlate Plan visual tool.

The MyPlate image is not the only helpful tool provided by the CNPP to show you how much of each food group to eat; you can even get a personalized plan specific to your gender, height, weight, and activity level to help you ensure you are eating the right foods in the right quantities. Just go to: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlatePlan.

Which Exercise Burns the Most Calories?

Getting the Most BURN for Your Buck!

Getting the Most BURN for Your Buck!

Whether you are doing squats, sprints, spinning, or swimming, you want to know that the exercise you choose is going to have a nice big return on investment when it comes to burning calories. You work hard and expect to see results, but which physical activity is going to help you reap the biggest rewards? After all, not all workouts are created equal.

If you don’t have a lot of time to exercise, the good news is that you can still maximize your energy expenditure with a short duration but high intensity workout. The activities which burn the greatest amount of calories are those which use more muscle mass and also involve resistance.

An excellent cardio workout for calorie burning is sprinting. Jim White, American College of Sports Medicine spokesperson, says, “Sprinting burns a massive amount of calories, but it can only be kept up for a certain amount of time.” He suggests alternating between two minutes running at the fastest pace you can sustain, and then jogging for a minute to recover before resuming the faster pace again. Running at a pace of 7.5 miles per hour, a 155-pound person can burn 465 calories in a thirty-minute span of time. That is excellent efficiency!

Tabata workouts are another incredibly efficient way to burn calories. Typical Tabata workouts will rotate between four different exercises, such as crunches, jumping rope, squat jumps, and lunges in 20-second increments followed with 10 seconds of rest. This is repeated in cycles for about half an hour. The American Council on Exercise found that in an average 20- to 30-minute Tabata workout, one can burn about 15 calories per minute, or 450 calories per half hour.

Since swimming requires using so many different muscle groups from the kicking of your legs, the stroking of your arms, and the tightening of core muscles as well, it is no wonder that this type of exercise ranks as one of the best calorie-burning cardio workouts. The type of swim stroke you choose will play a role in how many calories you burn. For example, a 155-pound person doing the butterfly stroke can burn 409 calories per half hour in comparison to 372 calories in the same time frame for the breast stroke. If you swim in the ocean, the current of the waves also gives an added challenge, upping the intensity of your workout and maximizing the calories burned.

These three types of workouts will help you burn calories fast. But, check out the exercises below to decide which type you prefer.

These activities will burn approximately the listed number of calories for a 155-pound person in a 30-minute period:

  1. Basketball ——————————————-298 cal
  2. Bicycling (12-13.9 mph) ————————– 298 cal
  3. Bicycling (20 mph) ———————————614 cal
  4. Circuit training ————————————–298 cal
  5. Cross country hiking ——————————223 cal
  6. Dancing slow (waltz, foxtrot, rumba)———-112 cal
  7. Dancing fast ( bally, twist)  ———————–223 cal
  8. Dancing (disco, ballroom, square) ————-205 cal
  9. Elliptical trainer ———————————— 335 cal
  10. Fencing ———————————————–223 cal
  11. High-impact aerobics —————————–260 cal
  12. High-impact step aerobics ———————–372 cal
  13. Horseback riding ———————————–149 cal
  14. Ice skating ——————————————–260 cal
  15. Jumping rope —————————————372 cal
  16.  Kayaking  ——————————————–186 cal
  17. Low-impact aerobics ——————————205 cal
  18. Low-impact step aerobics ————————260 cal
  19. Martial arts (judo, karate, kickbox) ————372 cal
  20. Moderate calisthenics —————————–167 cal
  21. Moderate stationary bicycling ——————260 cal
  22. Moderate stationary rowing ———————260 cal
  23. Running (5 mph) ————————————298 cal
  24. Running (7.5 mph) ———————————465 cal
  25. Running (10 mph) ———————————-614 cal
  26. Ski machine ——————————————353 cal
  27. Soccer ————————————————-260 cal
  28. Stair-step machine ———————————223 cal
  29. Stretching, Hatha yoga —————————-149 cal
  30. Swimming (backstroke) —————————298 cal
  31. Swimming (vigorously) or breaststroke ——-372 cal
  32. Swimming (butterfly or crawl) —————— 409 cal
  33. Tai Chi ————————————————–149 cal
  34. Tennis ————————————————–260 cal
  35. Vigorous stationary rowing ———————–316 cal
  36. Vigorous Tabata ————————————-450 cal
  37. Volleyball ———————————————149 cal
  38. Walking (4.5 mph) ———————————-186 cal
  39. Weight lifting (vigorous) ————————–223 cal

 

Finding the Right Work-Life Balance

If you feel like you are working more hours than ever before, you are in good company. The American workforce has seen many changes over the past century, and a drastic change just in the past 40 years. In 1960, according to the Center for American Progress, “only 20 percent of mothers worked. Today, 70 percent of American children live in households where all adults are employed.” As the only industrialized nation in the world without a mandatory option for new parents to enjoy paid parental leave benefits, many feel the work-life balance in our country has been thrown askew.

It is difficult to take time off for vacations or even if you aren’t feeling 100% well when faced with the prospect that your boss might think you’re not committed enough to your organization or may overlook you when it’s time for the next big promotion in favor of someone who wasn’t absent as much. While it’s obviously important to avoid unnecessary call-ins (sick), we all need some time to relax and get away from our jobs on a regular basis. The weekends just aren’t enough.

In fact, many of us don’t have weekends at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 33% of salary-employed people spent some time working on weekends—with an average of 5.53 hours worked on a weekend day. Those holding multiple jobs and self-employed people were more likely to work on weekends than those with only one job or those employed by others.

According to the International Labor Organization, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” When it comes to our global competitors, we are also working longer days, taking fewer vacations, and waiting longer to retire. But, before you pack up and relocate to France, allow us to present some strategies to help improve your work-life balance.

1. Leave your job at work:
While work is essential to provide for the basics in life such as your home, car, and paying the bills, it should never be a higher priority than your health and happiness. When you spend eight hours a day at your job, it becomes a large part of your life, and it’s vital that you are “working to live and not living to work.”

When you leave, really leave! Resist the urge to check work emails and texts after work hours unless there is absolutely some critical matter that you know you may need to attend to. (Hint: such a “critical” matter is not going to pop up often.) Try to get your work finished before heading out so that when you get home you can truly be present in the moment and not trying to finish up tidbits from your job that distract you from the people and things that you enjoy.

2. Put a priority on hobbies and activities that you enjoy:
Ask yourself what you would spend your time doing if you didn’t have to work. Unless that involves sipping Mai Tais on a Caribbean beach, or exploring some other distant locale, find time around your work day that you can start regularly participating in those activities on a consistent basis. Make a point of scheduling time for this pursuit on your day planner and strictly enforcing that you take that time for yourself to enjoy.

3. Keep the importance of family in perspective:
A wise word from Heather Monahan, founder of #BossinHeels, a career mentoring group, “Realize that no one at your company is going to love you or appreciate you the way your loved ones do. Remember also that everyone from work is replaceable,  and no matter how important you think your job is, the company will not miss a beat tomorrow if you are gone.” This is a great reminder that work should not take precedence over family. Don’t kid yourself into believing that you’ll always have time later to spend with them, because before you know it, the time is gone and the people you wish you had spent time with may have grown up or grown away from you.

4. During the work day, take a few minutes when you can close your eyes and think about something that brings you joy. Or, take those minutes to look at pictures of places and people (or pets) you love. Just taking a brief mental break from work, not talking to colleagues or reading work-related emails and memos, even for a short period of time, can refresh you and help bring balance to your work-life relationship.

5. Get outside. Nothing can soothe the soul like spending some time in nature. If you have any hiking trails nearby that will allow you to get into the woods, then seek them out. Walking in a wooded environment will provide you the sights, sounds, and scents of nature that are so lacking in our busy lives.

There is a new theory that some people suffer from “nature-deficit disorder.” While this may not be a formal diagnosis, Richard Louv so aptly used it in his book (Last Child in the Woods) to describe a growing problem in our country in which humans who are deprived of nature seem to be suffering psychological, physical, and cognitive damage as a result. Allow yourself some time in a natural setting to breathe deeply and relax, totally separate yourself from your workplace, and let your mind wander to the beauty around you. If you make time to do this every week, chances are you will begin to notice a greater sense of balance in every aspect of your life.