Posted on 3 Comments

Half Marathon Training: Week 4

When I decided to train for a Half Marathon, I wanted to utilize training as a way to incorporate a more stable running routine into my lifestyle. I knew that the following helped: being outside, being around people, exploring the city, exercise, listening to music, taking deep breaths. With running, I could do all of these things at the same time. These simple pleasures coupled with the influx of endorphins are a major component of what keeps my brain from feeling like sluggish mush buried under 10 feet of black goop.

I failed to estimate the challenges of caring for sore muscles, using intense mental energy, attending to detail to avoid injury, REMEMBERING TO STRETCH. But the Buddha said if there is pleasure there must be pain, and so here we are- completing Week 4 of Half Marathon Training, noticing the pain, but focusing on the pleasure… and adding in some hard hitting speed and strength training to really squash that Week 3 plateau before heading into some serious recovery work.

Here’s what Week 4 looked like:

  • Sunday: Run 7 miles
  • Monday: Yoga
  • Tuesday: Stairs (a mile distance)
  • Wednesday: Arm Strength Training
  • Thursday: Yoga
  • Friday: Sprints
  • Saturday: REST

My most intense workouts for the week were stairs and sprints. I join many city residents at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, channeling my inner underdog to mindlessly run up and down the Rocky Steps.

These are the rear Art Museum steps

I usually do about 11-15 rounds of the steps, which usually equals about a mile of stairs. As for sprints, this cardio addition is just a way to increase overall pace. Similar to the speed workout in Week 3, Sprints include alternating between running and sprinting from block to block until I reach my distance goal.

Lesson of the Week: Acknowledge the pain, but focus on the pleasure. I love running for the improvements in mood that I have experience since adding regular exercise into my routine. I have been so thrilled with feeling both physically and mentally healthier that I sometimes fight the urge to push myself too far. Remembering that a major part of training for a half marathon is avoiding injury so I can actually do the half marathon has been the key for me to monitor my pain and take extra care of my body.

Which leads me to my question for the runners out there in Wellness Warrior World: What is your key to avoiding injury?

Posted on 10 Comments

How to Stay Motivated

My dad always says, “Find something that puts a fire in your belly.” Teenage Me would often roll my eyes, turn up the volume on my latest self-burned punk/emo mix CD and let Travis Barker’s drum beats muffle the unappreciated wise words of my father. As an adult, I can finally understand the sentiment of embracing motivation and passion while pursuing goals. I can also recognize a possibly unintentional deeper meaning here- if left without fuel, fires burn out.

Establishing a goal is the easy part. Hard work comes with actually following through with the steps required to achieve that goal. Maintaining motivation can be difficult, and I always say that building motivation is somewhat of a catch-22. The best way to increase motivation is to just do it (insert Nike symbol here). We feed motivation by reflecting on how we feel as we complete steps toward a goal. Even if the motivation begins as a small flame, we can turn it into a bonfire. Here are some tips for building and maintaining motivation while working toward goals:

  1. Remind yourself of your goals.
    • Write your goals down and display them in a place you look at often. Make sure they are specific and detailed to better organize steps necessary. Take away the “Oh, right, I forgot I wanted to do that” moment and shoot directly for goal achievement. Goals can be easily pushed to the side and forgotten about if we don’t make a point to keep them in our focus.
  2. Discover the WHY.
    • Any task has a number of good reasons behind it. Even small things can be analyzed to find something good. Consider washing dishes. We don’t complete the task for no reason- we complete the dishes in order to have a greater sense of cleanliness and organization (and it helps keep little pestering pests away, but that’s a different blog post). It’s all helpful in creating an image of the bigger picture we are striving for.
  3. Partialize your goals.
    • If we view our goals as one large chunk, it can become overwhelming and cause a person to shut down or give up. By breaking goals down into smaller pieces, we can more easily set targets and obtain a greater sense of achievement. Additionally, developing a deadline for each step can be crucial in maintaining momentum.
  4. Acknowledge your achievements.
    • Track your progress and celebrate benchmarks along the way. Congratulate yourself when you have completing a smaller chunk of the overall goal. Acknowledging progress made toward your goal can propel you forward to the next step.
  5. Be flexible.
    • I have said this so many times that I feel like it should be my new tag line, but: BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF. If something is not working, be flexible and try it a different way. If you find yourself frustrated, stressed, or overwhelmed, be flexible enough with your deadlines that you can allow yourself a moment to step away and regroup. Achieving a goal looks differently for every person. Don’t just find a process, find YOUR process.

What helps you stay motivated?

Posted on 6 Comments

Half Marathon Training: Week 2

Happy Monday, Warriors! Wow, did Week 2 really present some challenges that served as some pretty important reminders. Sunday rolled through just as I was coming out of a great, but busy, week. I completed all of my training days from Week 1 with complete success and felt prideful as I rewarded myself with a “Tourist Weekend.” While I love living in Philadelphia, I don’t often get time to partake in the famous attractions. Every so often (usually if a family member or friend is visiting), I allow myself to act as a tourist for an entire weekend and explore the hot staples of the city tourist-style (Though, you will never catch me riding a Segway).

Fueled by residual motivation from Week 1, I created an intense training plan for the week that included longer runs and harder speed training workouts. During my first run of the week, I made it half way to my distance goal when my entire body felt exhausted, and every fiber of my being felt one step away from a becoming real life example of a dramatization in a Life Alert commercial. As I slowed to a walk, I reflected on the prior week of nonstop movement and recreation. I remembered my top goal in beginning my overall wellness journey: GIVE YOUR BODY WHAT IT’S ASKING FOR. It was a not-so-gentle reminder to listen to my body, and my body needed some good old TLC (both physically and audibly, because come on– who can’t get down with a little No Scrubs blaring on a Sunday night???). With that in mind, I walked the remainder of my distance goal, went home, ripped up my plan, and spent the week going off script, tailoring each activity to what I felt that my body needed on a day-to-day basis.

Here is what it looked like:

  • Sunday: Run 3 miles, walk 1-2 miles. (I made this a mindful walk, meaning that I put my phone on airplane mode and listened to no music, taking in my environment and focusing on my experience).
  • Monday: Strength Training: Arms, Stretch
  • Tuesday: Run 1 mile at an easy pace, run 1 mile at race pace, walk 1 mile, run 1 mile at an easy pace
  • Wednesday: Yoga
  • Thursday: Strength Training: Abs and Back
  • Friday: Strength Training: Legs, Stretch
  • Saturday: REST

Lesson of the Week: Listen to your body. Training doesn’t have to mean pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion or injury. If your body is craving something slow and easy, give it just that. If your body is buzzing with energy, use it as fuel for harder workouts. I ran and worked out at a lesser intensity and still ended the week feeling stronger.

It’s your turn, peeps: How did you listen to your body this week?

Posted on 2 Comments

How to Overcome Regression Toward Goals

Picture this: It’s been a months-long streak of hitting wellness goals. You go to sleep at a normal time and sleep well, embrace a healthy diet that a few years ago you would have scoffed at, and actually find yourself LOVING engaging in regular exercise. And then, boom—you go on vacation, your car gets totaled by a deer, stress builds. Routine goes out the window, and it feels like all of the progress that was made is quickly crawling away from the fires that have engulfed your once safe little nest. 

The thing about fires is that they go out eventually. The flames may burn us, but we can avoid the spiral of negativity and douse the fire with water and positivity until we are left to lick our wounds and move forward. Most of us know how difficult it can be to get back on track when life happens.

Here are 5 powerful strategies to moving forward after hardship attempts to derail progress.

  1. Identify the root of the backslide
  • Before we can find a way back, we need to identify what contributed to our slide in the first place. This can include increased stress from life changes, self-defeating mindsets and behaviors, illness or injury, challenging or more frequent life events, and/or challenges in time management. For example, my car recently got totaled. Working out daily was impossible when I needed to spend my free time looking at cars, talking to my insurance, taking my car to various inspection sites. Attending to my car had to become my priority, given that I commute to work by driving.

2. Try a different approach

  • Maybe while you were exploring the root of the backslide, you discovered some real barriers to working toward goals. Maybe you’ve been planning to exercise in the mornings, but can’t go to sleep early enough? Maybe you’re finding difficulty keeping up with a healthy diet due to limited variety of fresh foods at the grocery story you go to. Achieving goals may require some changes in approach, and that’s okay! Methods are going to look different for everyone. It’s all about finding what works best for you and using that to your advantage.

3. Create a schedule

  • I love schedules. I mean it— I LOVE them. Nothing makes me feel more organized than having a plan—even if it’s just loosely followed. My Sunday routine includes sitting down and planning the week—exercises I want to focus on, meals I want to eat, self care activities I want to do, and other tasks or errands that need to be completed. I create a schedule based on what my week looks like and then try my best to stick with it—but life happens, so I’m always gentle and understanding if my schedule changes in small various ways as the week goes on.

4. Find accountability

  • Studies show that the more people that know about your goal, the more likely you are to work toward it. Working toward holding yourself accountable is monumental in achieving goals, but better yet, finding other people who can hold you accountable creates a whole new layer of support in actually doing what you say you’re going to do.

5. Be gentle with yourself

  • Imagine me shouting the following from the tallest rooftop: Embracing positivity toward self and challenges can make or break the ability to overcome obstacles. Understand that backslides happen. Working toward a goal will not always be a forward motion—sometimes it feels like two steps forward, one step back. Negativity and frustration toward self or circumstances can cause one to shut down and can be a deterrent to finding motivation to work through failure. If needed, go back to the basics until you start to feel your groove again.

As Wellness Warriors, it’s important to put more emphasis on the sense of accomplishment we have when achieving a goal and decrease the focus we may put on barriers. We can choose to interpret hardships as an opportunity to utilize healthy coping skills and celebrate our strength, resiliency, and power. 

Happy Tuesday, Wellness Warriors! Here’s to hoping that the schedule I have outlined for myself allows me the ability to port more consistently now that my car fiasco is resolved!

Posted on 1 Comment

Training for a Half Marathon: What NOT To Do

Completing the 2019 Philadelphia Half Marathon is one of my greatest accomplishments. The race took place on a chilly November morning, but the bike ride from my apartment to the event site filled my body with warmth. At the starting line, I observed the nervous, excited energy of myself and the other runners as we absorbed the crowd’s encouragements. When the horns went off and the movement began, I felt unstoppable.

I had spent two days perfecting a playlist full of songs that would help propel me to the finish line, but I soon found that I didn’t need music to keep me focused. The cheers from the crowd fueled me, and there was a motivating sense of community among the runners as we moved together toward the finish line. There were countless spectators lining the course with hilarious signs showcasing pun-filled motivational phrases like, “Run like Kanye is gonna give your medal to Beyonce,” and “Always give 100% …. Except when giving blood.”

The unstoppable feeling lasted until around mile 7. At that point, I had already ripped off several layers of warmer clothing and flung them into the sea of onlookers, never to be seen again (luckily large clothing donation boxes were scattered along the race route). The finish line grew closer, but my miles eventually grew slower. Each mile brought a new set of aches, and I’m sure my hips, knees, and feet were plotting ways to detach themselves from the rest of my body. As I struggled through next few miles, a harsh realization came over me: I had not adequately prepared for this.

Don’t get me wrong, I had been preparing to run the Philadelphia Half Marathon for about 8 months. I had researched methods of building endurance and how to avoid injury and created a weekly training schedule. As I progressed in training, I even posted weekly training updates to share how I trained for the race that you can read here. However, my adherence to my pre-determined schedule lasted about 4 weeks before I began to run off the tracks and train to the beat of my own drum.

In retrospect, sticking to my intended schedule would have been more of a priority. Training properly is necessary in allowing the body to adjust to performing at a greater intensity. A good training routine should include long rungs, rest days, cross training, and tapering miles. Although, I adhered to an appropriate regimen in the beginning, I royally failed at overall time management during my training. I made excuses and let things interfere of my training time. Instead of running several times per week, I performed just one long run once weekly. I didn’t adequately stretch, I failed to cross train effectively, and I didn’t pay attention to my diet. Needless to say, my training was lackluster.

Not properly training for my half marathon caused many challenges when it finally came to race day. During my long trek, the biggest problem was a pulled muscle in my groin area that had been taking a while to heal. It was the first thing that started to ache as I pounded the pavement. Eventually, my knees and my feet joined in the hurting. Although I gave my body a few brief rests at the hydration stations, eventually pausing to rest was no longer worth it to me. I couldn’t prolong finishing the race for longer than necessary. I forced myself to run, even at a snail’s pace. I no longer cared about my time or my form- I just knew that the sooner I crossed the finish line, the sooner I could sit down.

I was moving at a pace similar to a 104-year-old woman’s shuffle by the time the finish line entered my site. I bee-lined for the tiny woman dangling the slew of finisher medals from her arm. My gait resembling Frankenstein, I reached my claws forward to claim my shiny prize. I hobbled along and exited through a tent lined with mountains of snacks that I dove into gleefully. I ravenously gorged on bananas and granola bars as I basked in the glory of my achievement.

Despite the challenges I faced, I felt proud that I didn’t give up. I pushed myself, and it taught me that I am capable of so much more than I think I am. My adrenaline had me floating on Cloud Seventy while I navigated through the other exhausted runners. When I collected my bike from the lot, I realized that it was a miserable idea to use biking as my mode of transportation to a half marathon. After running over 13 miles, I now needed to ride another two miles back home. I gathered up the adrenaline I had left and pedaled like my life depended on it. That evening I celebrated my success with my family, but it didn’t take long for the physical and mental exertion to catch up with me.

My experience post-race can be likened to the “Lucky Penny” episode of How I met Your Mother. In the episode, Marshall is upset when a broken toe prevents him from running the New York Marathon, and his friend Barney mocks him by stating that running a marathon is easy even without training. When Marshall bets that Barney cannot finish the marathon, the gambling addict accepts. To everyone’s surprise, Barney finishes the race, adamant that it took little energy. Barney boasts confidently as he dons his medal, and then leaves after learning that marathon runners get to ride the subway for free that day. The scene flashes forward to Barney seemingly enjoying his free subway ride, but the audience quickly sees that Barney is unable to move his legs and, therefore, is stuck on the train.

Similarly, that evening my legs functioned so sorely that going down the stairs in my sister’s home was only bearable if I did it in slow motion, one step at a time. It seemed like each and every single muscle in my body ached, and the arches of my feet were so tight that it hurt to walk. I felt like I could have slept for a million years, which was an absolute outrage to my two-year-old nephew, who fully expected me to have enough energy to perform my auntly duties.

After putting my nephew to bed, I finally seized the opportunity to care for my body. My sister had given me epsom salt and bath bombs as a congratulatory gift, and her deep bath tub with high pressure jets was calling my name. As I prepared to sink in, I reflected on my journey.

There are many things I would have done differently. My body was counting on me to have its best interest, and in some ways I let it down. I had challenges focusing on my training, and I struggled to truly listen to my body. I think those held me back from performing to the fullest potential. Nevertheless, I learned so much about the sport of running and about myself. I learned that running is not easy, and it takes hard work and special care of the body to do it successfully. I also learned be confident and to trust that I can achieve my goals.

As the bathtub filled, my body vibrated with excitement like my muscles knew they were in for a treat. My body had worked hard, probably a little harder than it would have needed if I had trained properly. I made a promise to myself that if I wanted to continue running, I had to put honest work into training so I didn’t inadvertently kill myself in the process. I was already picturing google search phrases that might lead me to the rabbit holes of running how-to articles. I closed my eyes, stepped into the bath, and felt the heat of the water soothe my muscles. I sank down into the warm bath, and my body began to recover.

TLDR; train properly.

Posted on 5 Comments

Suicide Prevention: Fact or Fiction

Each year, September brings a slight chill to Pennsylvania, generating anticipation for changing leaves, crisp air, bulky sweaters, and hot apple cider. It also brings a deeper sense of purpose and passion to those acknowledging September as National Suicide Prevention Month. All month, individuals around the world work together to spread suicide prevention awareness.

Suicide is a 10th leading cause of death in the Unite States, and it is the 2nd leading cause of death among people ages 15-24. Although suicide is preventable, it is a serious public health issue. In 2018, 48,344 Americans died by suicide, and there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts.

Talking about suicide can be scary and uncomfortable, but it is also a critical to engage in conversations surrounding suicide prevention awareness in order to save lives. We can prevent suicide by openly discussing mental health and understanding warning signs and risk factors. Knowledge is power. Check out these myths and facts to learn more about suicide

Taking to someone about suicide will make them more suicidal.

MYTH. Research shows that people who are experiencing suicidal ideation feel a sense of relief when someone asks them about it in a caring way. Encouraging others to openly share their thoughts and feelings can actually help them to feel better.

This being said, it is important to recognize that those who talk about suicide are still at risk of experiencing a suicide attempt. It is important to ask if the person has a plan with intent to act and encourage them to seek appropriate counseling assistance.

Suicide rates are highest among adolescents.

MYTH. Elderly males experience the highest suicide rates in the United States. Researchers theorize that this relates to the high frequency of undiagnosed or untreated depression, as depressive symptoms are common toward end of life. Older individuals are more likely to lose their spouse or develop chronic illnesses, which can be incredibly stressful and traumatic. Additionally, elderly adults often experience loneliness due to infrequent socialization, which can exacerbate depressive symptoms. Although suicide rates have actually decreased among this population, it still remains the age group that experiences the highest rate of completed suicide.

Knowing warning signs can help to prevent suicide.

TRUE. Individual, relationship, and environmental factors are some elements that may influence the risk of suicide. Individuals who have suffered through traumatic experiences, such as abuse or exposure to violence, are more at risk of suicide.

Warning signs may include:

  • isolation from others
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • low mood
  • low energy
  • talking about wanting to die
  • increased substance use
  • feeling trapped or like a burden
  • feeling hopeless and/or helpless
  • giving away prized possessions
  • attempting to access lethal means

Males experience higher rates of suicide attempts.

MYTH. Although males complete suicide at a higher rate than women, women actually experience high rates of suicide attempts.

You may be wondering: If women have more suicide attempts, how can men have higher completed suicide rates? Men often choose more lethal, immediate methods of attempting suicide, such as using firearms, whereas women tend to choose methods, such as poisoning or suffocation, that are more likely to respond to medical intervention.

Once someone attempts suicide, they are less likely to attempt again.

MYTH. An individual who attempts suicide is actually more at risk of experiencing a future attempt. Once someone experiences a suicide attempts, it is critical for them to receive immediate mental health support to lower the risk of future attempts and the risk possible completion. Suicidal ideation can be a fatal symptom and should always be taken seriously.

Most suicide victims suffer with depression.

TRUE. Depression is the most common mental health condition. Although most people with depression do not die by suicide, experiencing depression does put someone at greater risk of experiencing suicidal ideation. An estimated 60% of individuals who complete suicide suffer with mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, etc.). Many of them experience co-occurring disorders, such as substance use disorders.

Do you have any questions about suicide? Write in and let me know. Let’s all strive to learn how to help ourselves and how to help each other.

Much love,

Kel

Posted on 11 Comments

16 Effortless Ways to Exercise

People exercise for a variety of reasons, such as stress reduction, physical fitness, or recreation. The Center for Disease Control states that individuals should strive for 150 minutes of exercise per week using a combination of aerobic activity and muscle strengthening.

Traditionally, we think of exercise as an intense session filled with blood, sweat, and tears. Don’t let this stereotype scare you away from finding joy in movement. After all, exercise can include anything that gets the body moving, and our legs don’t have to feel like jello in order for an exercise to have health benefits.

Check out these creative ways to find movement, and you might not even realize you’re exercising.

Garden

Climb Stairs Two At A Time

Play With Your Children (or Babysit)

Wash Your Car by Hand

Clean

Complete a Home Improvement Project

Have a Dance Party

Play Active Video Games

Park at the Far End of the Parking Lot

Give More Piggy Back Rides

Use a Standing Desk

Play Yard Games

Get Off Public Transportation a Stop Early and Walk the Rest of the Way to Your Destination

Use a Basket Instead of a Cart While Grocery Shopping

Give Your Partner a Massage

Get Freaky

Rake Leaves (suggested by reader, micahlegare1)

Posted on 23 Comments

Can Yoga Help Depression?

Yoga students may present with a variety of physical health concerns, such as chronic pain or injury. As a yoga instructor, it is important to become familiar with student histories so that the teacher can ensure the yoga studio remains a safe space for students. Overall, engagement in yoga practice has been consistently increasing in frequency across the United States. To accommodate the growing practice, yoga sequences can be specifically adapted to serve various populations, such as older individuals, children, or those with physical ailments. This makes it critical that a yoga teacher learn about students in order to provide them with the safest and most inclusive practice (Stephens, 309).

The practice of yoga can be utilized to address and treat many ailments, such as physical health concerns. While some individuals use yoga to treat physical conditions, some find that yoga is a positive tool in treatment emotional and mental health conditions (Stephens, 324). The physical and mindful components of yoga are thought to be meaningful practices for those experiencing emotional disturbances. Students of yoga can utilize the mind-body connection to address mental health concerns, such as anxiety and stress. Breathing techniques and mindfulness can assist in decreasing anxiety. Most commonly among mental health conditions, Americans utilize yoga practice to manage symptoms of depression.

Depression is one of the most common psychological disorders and involves symptoms such as changes in mood, low energy and motivation, loss of interest in preferred activities, increased irritability, physical aches and pains, and changes in sleep and appetite. These symptoms can be acute and can severely impact one’s ability to manage areas of daily life, such as nutrition and sleep. Though depression is incredibly is incredibly common, the causes of depression vary among an array of environmental, biological, or psychological factors. Traditional, evidence-based treatments for depression include medication management and/or psychotherapy. However, there are some barriers that individuals may face when seeking to participate in traditional mental health treatments. Many individuals never receive formal treatment for depression due to various limitations, such as limited access to resources, stigma associated with mental health treatment, or experiencing unwanted side effects of medication (Bridges & Sharma). Additionally, lack of follow through with treatment may be due to financial stressors or poor connection with treatment teams (Prathikanti, et. al.).

Depression that is left untreated may result in worsening chronic symptoms, such as suicidality or psychosis. These symptoms can impact career, education, family life, or interpersonal life, which can cause an individual intense distress. On average, a depressive episode can last from 6-12 months, with some individuals experiencing symptoms of chronic depression lasting several years. Although patterns of depression vary between each person, most individuals who experience one depressive episode in their lives will eventually experience a recurrent episode (Prathikanti, et. al.). The high relapse rate among those who experience depressive symptoms may also contribute to the lack of follow through with traditional treatments.

It is well known that yoga promotes a variety of physical health benefits. Regular yoga practice can improve flexibility, lower heart rate, decrease stress and anxiety, and reduce aches and pains (Bridges $ Sharma). It can also assist in digestion and other areas of physical wellness. However, yoga can also be beneficial in promoting emotional wellness. Where traditional mental health therapies focus on teaching mindfulness, deep breathing techniques, and relaxation skills, these are also important foundational aspects of yoga (Prathikanti, et. al.). This similarity in techniques means that yoga involves many of the skills taught among traditional therapies that treat depression. For example, mindfulness-based therapy focuses on deep breathing, relaxation skills, and mindfulness toward the present moment. These are also factors that are of focus in yoga practice.

The goal of yoga in minimizing symptoms of depression is to assist students in reaching santosa, or contentment. Traditional yoga views depression as a result of an individual experiencing either a rajastic state or a tamasic state. A rajastic state is one in which an individual experiences anxiety and restlessness. An individual experiencing a rajastic state may benefit from yoga practice that includes a slower flow with long holds. Meditation and calming breaths utilized in these types of sequences can assist in alleivating troublesome feelings of anxiety and restlessness. A tamasic state is one in which an individual experiences low energy and hopelessness, which are symptoms most commonly reported among individuals experiencing a depressive episode. An individual experiencing a tamasic state may benefit from a yoga practice that involves more active and stimulating poses, along with encouragement to keep the eyes open and awake (Stephens, 324). This appears to counteract the low energy experienced by individuals struggling with symptoms of depression.

With the growing rate of public interest in yoga, research related to the efficacy of yoga in promoting health and wellness has dramatically increased. According to Pathikanti, et. al., yoga may be a valuable alternative treatment in addressing depression. During a study of the efficacy of treating clinical depression using yoga, 38 individuals were screened to participate in an 8-week Hatha yoga program. These individuals were those who met the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder and were not currently receiving any treatment for the condition. Individuals were randomly divided into two groups: a yoga practice group and a yoga education group.

Those who participated in the Hatha yoga practive group participated in a 90-minute yoga practice two times per week for eight weeks. This practice group included breathing techniques and poses that promoted relaxation and mindfulness, with the same yoga sequence being used for each session. The yoga sequence used featured chest-opening poses, which are traditionally incorporated into yoga practice to decrease feelings of depression. The group who participated in the education group completed modules related to yoga history and practice for 90 minutes two times per week. Depression was assessed every two weeks throughout the research study using evidence-based depression scales (Prathikanti, et. al.).

Results indicated that depression decreased among the group that participated in yoga practice when compared to those who participated in the education group. However, researchers noted that the differences in rates did not change until the eighth week of practice, suggesting that consistent and prolonged yoga practice is most effective in promoting positive mood changes. The delay in results also suggests that one requires time to adequately learn and practice yoga poses and skills in order for their practice to be effective in alleviating depressive symptoms (Prathikanti, et. al.).

In another study of the efficacy of yoga in treating depression, a literature review was completed to compare outcomes among several research studies that explored the use of yoga in depression treatment. Eighteen published studies, all of which took place in various yoga studios, were assessed. The most common of these schools were ones that primarily taught from the school of Hatha yoga. In this literature review, interventions that were over the course of 6 weeks or more on average were studied, and measuring tools were used to monitor depression over the course of practice.

These schools utilized different structures of practice over the course of the research. Most schools encouraged participants to practice yoga at least once per week for a duration of time ranging from 12 minutes to 90 minutes (Bridges & Sharma). Although numerous differing yoga methods were used in these studies, results showed that all methods, even those in shorter duration, included participants who reported reductions in depression levels. Although, there was no evidence that showed that one method might be more effective than the others in reducing depression symptoms the study could suggest that regular practice of yoga and meditative skills may relate to decreased depressive symptoms. These results indicate a growing need for more research into the efficacy of mind-body interventions in treating clinical depression (Bridges & Sharma).

More specifically, the literature review found that a study by Marafet, et. al., researched an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group participated in three 60-minute yoga sessions, which included breathing exercises, meditation, relaxation, and physical exercise, while the control group participated in assessments only. The results of the study showed that those who participated in the yoga group experienced markedly decreased depressive symptoms. The outcome determined that yoga interventions were effective in decreasing depressive symptoms. Therefore, while traditional therapies and interventions are recommended, mind-body interventions appear to be an effective complementary interventions (Bridges & Sharma).

Depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition. Although many individuals struggle with symptoms of depression, many do not receive traditional evidence-based treatments to assist with alleviating symptoms. However, studies show that regular practice of yoga and meditation may assist in minimizing symptoms of depression. This may broaden access to mental health treatment among those who experience barriers in accessing traditional therapies. Several research studies show that regular yoga practice has been effective in alleviating depressive symptoms.

References:

Bridges, Ledetra and Manoj Sharma. “The Efficacy of Yoga as a Form of Treatment for Depression. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 30 June 2017.

Prathikanti, Sudha, et. al. “Treating Major Depression With Yoga: A Prospective Randomized, Controlled Pilot Trial.” PLoS One, 16 Mar 2017.

Stephens, Mark. Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations and Techniques. North Atlantic, 2010.

Posted on 7 Comments

Superfoods: What They Are and Why You Should Add Them To Your Diet

It can be easy to dismiss the impact that food has on our bodies, but mindful eating has taught me that unbalanced eating can lead to my feeling sluggish, tired, and unmotivated. When I eat balanced meals, I find that my tummy suffers less bloating and discomfort, my skin becomes clearer, and I have enough energy to maintain my active lifestyle.

I knew that healthy eating is linked to incredible health benefits and disease prevention, but I had no idea that healthy eating would have such a great impact on my daily living. This realization inspired me to research foods that provide optimal health benefits, which led me to “Superfoods.”

What are Superfoods?

Superfoods include mostly plant-based foods with some fish and dairy that are thought to promote health. First and foremost, let’s not be fooled by the marketing gurus of the food industry. There are no set criteria for determining what is a superfood. “Superfood” is a marketing term used to influence food sales, and the term itself has no root in academic research. Foods labeled as “super” are those that provide rich nutrients wrapped up in nice little minimal-calorie packages.

Why are Superfoods important?

Superfoods are dense with health-promoting nutrients, such as antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals. These nutrients and lower risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses, improve energy, decrease inflammation, regulating and improving digestion, and supporting weight management.

So…. What’s the catch with Superfoods?

Superfoods have been highly criticized for many reasons, most significantly due to the use of media and marketing to influence public opinion and boost sales. While foods labeled as “Superfoods” are healthy, the way they are processed may not be. For example, natural green tea is high in antioxidants, where commercially manufactured green tea often contains large amounts of added sugar and is cut with other teas. Long story short: always read the nutrition label, and remember that everything is better in moderation- even so-called superfoods.

Although there is no specific food that acts as the key to optimal health, there are some foods that appear to be worthy of the “superfood” label. Let’s take a look at some of these nutrient-abundant foods and dive into the associated health benefits.

Berries

While blueberries are rated high on several lists of superfoods, it is important to recognize that just about any edible berry is worthy of the “superfood” label. Some include raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and cranberries.

Why they’re super:

Berries are high in antioxidants, which is associated with reduced risk of heart disease and other inflammatory conditions. Berries can also be effective in maximizing the ability to cope with various digestive and immune-related disorders alongside traditional treatment (with routine consultation of one’s medical treatment team, of course).

How to incorporate them into diet:

Every morning I eat a bagel with cream cheese with blueberries sprinkled on top. It is my favorite. However, one can also use berries as added flavor in oatmeal, as a topping for healthy pancakes or waffles or deserts, to compliment a salad or smoothie, or simply for a snack!

Dark Leafy Greens

Not everyone finds pleasure eating dark leafy greens because of their sometimes bitter taste, but finding creative ways to enjoy these beauties is the bulk of the battle in reaping the benefits of these foods. Dark leafy greens may include:

  • Kale
  • Microgreens (immature greens produced from seeds of veggies and herbs)
  • Collard Greens
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Beet Greens (the leaves of beets)
  • Arugula
  • Bok Choy (a type of Chinese cabbage)
  • Turnip Greens

Why they’re super:

Dark leafy greens contain nutrients including folate, sinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin C, and fiber. They contain potential to decrease risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. They are also helpful in acting as an anti-inflammatory.

How to incorporate them into diet:

Any of these greens are great additions to salads, soups, or sandwiches. Lately, I have been eating spinach in stir fries and breakfast scrambles.

Eggs

Eggs have a high cholesterol content, causing debate about whether or not they are actually healthy (which makes this another opportunity to mention that moderation is key with ALL foods). However, eggs are still considered one of the healthiest foods.

Why they’re super:

Despite their cholesterol content, eggs contain many essential vitamins, such as vitamin B’s, choline, selenium, vitamin A, iron, and phosphorous. They are also an excellent source of protein and contain antioxidants that can promote vision and eye health.

How to incorporate them into diet:

Eggs are incredibly versatile. Make them scrambled, fried, dippy, hard boiled, soft boiled, sunny side up, over easy/medium/hard, poached, baked, or basted. Eat them on their own or add them to a salad, sandwich, wrap, or stir fry. I love making over medium eggs over a bed of fresh spinach with a teeeeeeeny bit of sriracha drizzled on top for some spice, but the possibilities are endless!

Green Tea

Green tea is a caffeinated tea with a variety of health benefits. However, examining the processing of any green tea is critical. Green tea that is overly processed, such as bottled green teas (I see you, Lipton), may contain high levels of sugar and chemicals that strip green tea of its nutrients. Commercial green tea may also be cut with other teas, minimizing the health benefits even further. A gentle reminder? Scan the label before consuming. Your body will thank you for it.

Why it’s super:

Organically processed, natural green tea is chalk full of antioxidants and micronutrients (AKA polyphenols), acting as a strong anti-inflammatory. Anti-inflammatory agents in green tea is the key ingredient to preventing chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

How to incorporate it into diet:

Drink it! Drink it cold, drink it hot, or drink it lukewarm. I like to brew green tea in bulk and chill it in the refrigerator to grab for a tasty, refreshing beverage at any time in the day.

Legumes

Legumes are essentially plants that produce fruits or veggies in pods. Some common types of legumes include kidney beans, cannellini beans, cranberry beans, black beans, pinto beans, soy beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, and lentils.

Why they’re super:

Legumes are an excellent source of fiber, carbohydrates, B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorous. They are naturally low in fat, cholesterol free, and incredibly filling.

How to incorporate them into diet:

One can utilize legumes by adding them to soups, stews, or casseroles. Pureed beans are also a great base for dips and spreads. I like to add chickpeas to salads or add cooked beans to breakfast scrambles or burgers. I also recently discovered a great recipe for Buffalo Chickpea Sweet Potatoes that is delicious and so filling!

Nuts

Awhhhh, nuts! A personal favorite pre-workout snack. Some of the healthiest nuts include almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, pecans, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts.

Why they’re super:

Nuts are a good source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Although they do contain some saturated fats, nuts are also packed with vitamins and minerals. Eating nuts on a regular basis may reduce risk of diabetes and heart disease.

How to incorporate them into diet:

Nuts are a great snack raw or roasted. They can also be chopped or sliced and added to stir fries, salads, or yogurt. I love making nuts the key ingredient when I make homemade granola bars! I also add sliced walnuts to my healthy banana bread.

Seeds

Seeds are way underrated! Some great seeds include flax, chia, hemp, sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower.

Why they’re super:

Seeds contain essential amino acids and minerals, including calcium, zinc, copper, and magnesium. They also include essential fiber and vitamins.

How to incorporate them into diet:

Seeds are another versatile ingredient. I love adding seeds to oatmeal, salads, yogurt or breakfast bowls. They add a great texture to smoothies and can even be ground to a power to add to flour. (Pro Tip: If you hate drinking water, add some chia seeds and fresh fruit to your water for some awesome flavor and texture.)

Yogurt

Here’s another category that stresses the importance of reading the label. Some yogurts are better than others, and generally one might avoid yogurts with heavy processing, artificial sweeteners and added sugar.

Why it’s super:

Yogurt contains protein and calcium, and it provides important vitamins and probiotics. These are helpful in maintaining gut health, aiding in weight loss, and possibly even preventing diabetes.

How to incorporate it into diet:

Yogurt is a great snack all by itself, but it can also be added to smoothies and smoothie bowls. I love adding some granola and fresh berries for a small breakfast bowl or simple snack.

Garlic

Garlic is considered a nutritional superstar, which may be why it has been long used in alternative and natural medicines. It may be small, but the list of health benefits associated with eating garlic is large.

Why it’s super:

Garlic is loaded with vitamins B and C, selenium, iron, copper, and potassium. Allicin, an oily compound produced when garlic is crushed or chopped, offers antioxidant benefits and reduces inflammation. some benefits of garlic include promoting heart health, playing a role in preventing cancer, acting as a natural antibiotic, and reducing swelling and inflammation of various skin conditions (including acne!).

How to incorporate it into diet:

Garlic is another versatile food. I typically add garlic to as many dishes as I can, including veggies, stir fries, salads, and soups. The possibilities are pretty endless with garlic.

Ginger and Turmeric

Ginger and turmeric are other foods that have a long history of use in alternative medicine. They are among the healthiest spices and are loaded with nutrients.

Why they’re super:

Ginger’s main compound is gingerol, which acts as a powerful anti–inflammatory and antioxidant. Curcumin, found in turmeric, is also a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. This means that both ginger and turmeric have the ability to help fight infections, treat chronic indigestion, manage osteoarthritis, and treating nausea. They also may help in reducing menstrual pain, managing muscle pain and soreness, lowering blood sugar, lowering risk of heart disease, and lowering cholesterol. Some research also identifies ginger and turmeric as having the potential to prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease.

How to incorporate it into diet:

Ginger and turmeric can be ground into a fine powder to use as a spice, as traditionally used in Asian recipes such as curries or stews. Ginger and turmeric can also be peeled, grated, and added to sauces, glazes, and marinades. There are a number of possibilities. They can even be used to create ginger or turmeric water.

Salmon

It’s hard to find a list of healthy foods that doesn’t include salmon. It’s no wonder these fish are strong enough to swim against the heavy current. Salmon, incredibly tasty and versatile, is loaded with important nutrients.

Why it’s super:

Salmon contains B vitamins, potassium, and selenium. It is also a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids and protein. This means that salmon can help fight inflammation, control weight, reduce risk of heart disease, and may even protect brain health.

How to incorporate it into diet:

Baking is one of the most common ways to consume salmon, due to the ability to preserve the vitamin D content in fish. Salmon can also be prepared by grilling or frying. It can be added to curry, salads, or wraps.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes may not sound healthy due to their name, but the nutritional benefits of this root veggie are abundant. Sweet potatoes, considered a healthy carbohydrate, are incredibly filling and contain some important nutrients.

Why they’re super:

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins C, B, and A. It is also high in the mineral manganese, which helps produce collagen and promote skin and bone health. They are a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It is also helpful in regulating blood pressure and supporting weight loss.

How to incorporate them into diet:

I love combining sweet potatoes, eggs, and spinach together to make one awesome breakfast bowl. Other ways to eat sweet potatoes include baking, mashing, or folding sweet potatoes into overnight oats. Another favorite? Slice these babies up and make some sweet potato fries!!

Avocados

Avocados are another personal favorite and considered one of the healthiest fruits. With the rise in popularity of diets such as keto, it is no surprise that avocados have claimed a spot as one of the most popular items to add to your grocery basket.

Why they’re super:

Avocados are a healthy source of monounsaturated fatty acids that contain numerous vitamins, such as A, E, and K. They are also filled with dietary fiber, magnesium, and potassium. Avocados assist in promoting heart health, reducing blood pressure, and minimizing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

How to incorporate them into diet:

I have a habit of cracking these babies open and scooping out the insides with a spoon to eat as a mid-morning snack. However, avocados are also great additions to scrambled eggs, breakfast bowls, salads, or soups. Additionally, many folks find avocados to be a wonderful topping to toast or as a substitute for mayo. I also use mashed avocado as a replacement for sour cream when I make burritos, enchiladas, or tacos.

Chocolate

Last, but certainly not least, chocolate doesn’t just satisfy my insatiable sweet tooth. Dark chocolate is the healthiest sweet treat. Made from the seed of a cocoa tree, dark chocolate is packed with powerful nutrients. But again, moderation is key.

Why it’s super:

Studies show that dark chocolate is one of the best sources of antioxidants. Chocolate with a high cocoa content contains copious amounts of fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. Of course, there is a moderate amount of sugar, which reinforces the fact that dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation.

How to incorporate it into diet:

If you don’t feel like eating a simply dark chocolate bar, one can experiment with adding dark chocolate to baked goods or as a topping to fruit and other snacks. However, ensuring that dark chocolate contain at least 70% cocoa is the trick to guaranteeing it contains the nutrients that make it super.

What’s the conclusion?

Are “superfoods” a real thing? Who knows, really. The idea that these foods have “super” quality seems rooted in the food industry’s marketing. Regardless of any nicknames or labels, these foods remain high in nutrients and appear to be a welcome addition to our healthy mealtime routines.