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Thursday
Dec092010

Workout + Friend = Fitness

It's easy enough to start an exercise program, the tough part is sticking with it.  Having an exercise partner will not only help keep you motivated and focused on your fitness goals, it can keep you accountable - you're more likely to go to the gym if someone is waiting there for you. The company of a friend may also help you lose weight according to an investigation from the University of Pennsylvania, published last year. The study included 344 African American adults, 63 of whom enrolled alone and 281 who enrolled with a friend or family member. The participants were split into three groups: those who trained alone, those who worked out with a partner and received little coaching and those who worked out with a friend and had a high level of coaching. After two years, the participants who worked with a partner and received the most coaching lost the most weight. What's more, those whose partners lost at least five percent of their body fat dropped more weight compared to participants with partners who lost less than five percent of their weight.

My take? For many people who are just beginning to exercise, the greatest challenge is to make workouts more fun and less boring.  If they don't, many are likely to let the program slide before it becomes established as a daily, healthy habit. I've made my own workouts more enjoyable by exercising outdoors in interesting surroundings. Working out with a companion is another way to take the boredom out of repetitive physical activity. Time spent exercising with a friend goes much faster than the same time spent alone.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Exercise

Wednesday
Dec082010

Whole Grains and Bad Body Fat

Eating more whole grains (and fewer refined grains) can influence the type of fat the body stores. Those who eat more whole grains seem to have about 10 percent less “visceral adipose tissue” (VAT), the fat associated with development of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Investigators at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University examined diet questionnaires from 2,834 men and women between the ages of 32 and 83, all of whom received a special CT scan to determine the amount of VAT (compared to subcutaneous fat) in their bodies. VAT surrounds abdominal organs while subcutaneous fat lies under the skin. The link between whole grain consumption and lower VAT levels persisted even after the investigators took into account other lifestyle factors that could contribute to VAT. The study was published online Sept. 29, 2010 by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In order to eat more whole grains, you have to understand what they are - what's a true whole grain?

Tuesday
Dec072010

Veggies May Lower Breast Cancer Risk

Carrots specifically, as well as cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, collard greens and broccoli may help ward off an aggressive form of breast cancer. This type of cancer - estrogen receptor (ER) negative breast cancer - is seen more commonly among African American women than among white women. Unlike ER positive breast cancer, its growth doesn't depend on the hormone estrogen, it's harder to treat, and is more often fatal. Looking at data from the ongoing Black Women's Health Study, Boston University researchers found that women who ate three or more servings of carrots per week had a 17 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who ate carrots less than once a month. And those who ate at least two servings of vegetables daily had a 43 percent lower risk than women who consumed fewer than four veggie servings per week. The researchers don't yet know if vegetable consumption in these women was responsible for the lower risk, or if these dietary habits simply signaled a healthier lifestyle that could account for the difference. The study was published online Oct. 11, 2010, by the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Another way to fight breast cancer is early detection: six signs of breast cancer.

Monday
Dec062010

Natural Fertility Help

If you or a loved one is trying to conceive a child, consider the following - each can help improve the odds of beginning a healthy pregnancy.

  1. Safety first. Avoid exposure to pesticides, paints, solvents, and other products with potentially harmful chemicals that can impair fertility.
  2. Eat a balanced diet and supplement wisely. Vitamins C, E, B-12, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and lycopene - in the right amounts - are all beneficial to men's fertility. Women should take folic acid before trying to conceive and during pregnancy to lower the risk of certain birth defects.
  3. Acupuncture. Women who attempt in-vitro fertilization may also want to try acupuncture. It may improve blood supply to reproductive organs and help decrease stress. Acupuncture in men may positively influence sperm quality and count.
  4. Try TCM. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a good track record in helping fertility. TCM views infertility as a problem of energy flows, and practitioners individualize treatments using herbs and other therapies.

More on pregnancy and fertility.

Sunday
Dec052010

Are You Eating Enough Soy?

One of the healthiest changes you can make to your diet is to incorporate whole soy foods on a regular basis. Soy is rich in protein, iron and compounds called isoflavones, which seem to protect against hormone-driven cancers such as prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. Soy also helps protect your heart, and new research indicates it may help protect against lung cancer as well. I recommend one to two daily servings of soy in relatively whole and unrefined forms such as a cup of soymilk, a half cup of tofu, tempeh or green soybeans (edamame) or roasted soy nuts. You can also easily swap meat for tofu in dishes - baked tofu works well as a meat replacement in fajitas, stir fries and casseroles.

Not sure where to start? Try my recipes for Tofu Provencal or Spicy Stir-Fried Tempeh with Basil.

Saturday
Dec042010

Suffering from Secondhand Smoke?

Spending time with a smoker - or even sitting by one in a restaurant or other public place - exposes you to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is suspected of killing thousands of nonsmokers every year; it can also cause or worsen respiratory infections, ear infections and asthma. In addition to avoiding smoky places, you can protect yourself from the effects of secondhand smoke by taking a daily multivitamin that includes these antioxidants:

  • Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps protects cell membranes.
  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that also functions as a powerful antioxidant.
  • Selenium. Selenium activates an antioxidant enzyme called glutathione peroxidase, which helps the body eliminate smoke-associated toxins.
  • Carotenoids. Beta-carotene, in conjunction with other carotenes, acts as an antioxidant and immune system booster.
  • Coenzyme Q10. Coenzyme Q10 is essential in cellular energy production and has antioxidant properties that help protect the body from free radicals.

More ways to protect yourself from secondhand smoke.

Friday
Dec032010

Creamy Tomato Soup

Tomato soup is a comfort food for many people. It is comforting as well to know how nutritious and wholesome it is, particularly when prepared with soy milk. The lycopene in tomatoes has gotten attention recently for its ability to protect against prostate cancer and other diseases. If you can't find juicy, ripe Italian or Roma tomatoes (my personal favorites are Lucini brand), use a high-quality organic tomato (in jars) instead.

Ingredients:

8 sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed)
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds fresh, ripe Italian tomatoes, chopped
1 cup soy milk
Salt and black and red pepper to taste
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, basil, or dill, chopped

Instructions:

1. Cover sun-dried tomatoes with boiling water. Let soak for at least 15 minutes. 

2. In a large pot, sauté the onion in the olive oil until soft. Add the chopped tomatoes. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture boils. 

3. Remove the dried tomatoes from their soaking water and chop them coarsely. Add them and their soaking water to the pot and cook, stirring to prevent sticking. 

4. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the soy milk and season to taste with salt and black and red pepper. 

5. Serve in bowls with the chopped green herbs as garnish.

Food as Medicine: A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition revealed that a high dietary intake of tomato products reduced total and LDL cholesterol levels.

Thursday
Dec022010

A Yoga Pose for the Blues

If you experience headaches, fatigue or mild depression, this pose could help. The wide-legged forward bend, also known as Prasarita Padottanasana I (meaning “stretched out,” or “with outstretched limbs”), reputedly has many benefits, including therapeutic use for headache, lack of energy and poor mood. When done with proper form for the recommended amount of time, this pose can:

  • Strengthen and stretch the legs and the spine
  • Tone the abdominal organs
  • Calm the mind
  • Relieve mild backache

To learn more about this pose - including simple instruction and variations - click here.