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Thursday, June 16,2011

Take control of your health

If you want to get healthy, kick these common habits

By Kaely Moore

Like most paths in life, the road to living a healthy lifestyle is not always clear of obstacles. Habits, routines and dependencies can hold people back from truly doing things for themselves and living sustainably. Luckily, however, many of these obstacles are fairly easy to overcome. Here are a few habits to kick in order to start your summer, and the rest of your life, out on the right foot.

Nix caffeine and sugar
So the high from this morning’s three cups of coffee and two doughnuts feels pretty spectacular. The throbbing headache, increasing drowsiness, and overall desire to escape the world that comes with the caffeine and sugar crash, however … not so much.

Sue Van Raes, nutritional therapist at Boulder Nutrition, says that caffeine and sugar are merely false sources of energy. They provide short bursts of activity before resulting in an inevitable crash. To circumvent this crash, she says, caffeine or sugar addicts should try to find more substantial, natural sources of energy.

Van Raes says that getting more sleep is a good way to reduce the dependency on caffeine and sugar. She says that several clients she has worked with tended to feel better, and more energized, once they stopped relying on these stimulants.
Rachel Summers, executive director at QuickFit Boulder, suggests a detoxifying liver cleanse to remove the biochemical dependence on substances like caffeine and sugar. This cleanse, she says, can help create a greater awareness for why certain cravings happen.

People can then give the body what it needs so that it stops craving what it doesn’t.

Many people don’t necessarily want to give up caffeine or sugar completely. For those looking to cut back a bit, Van Raes suggests turning to a few substitutions, such as less caffeinated coffees or teas and natural sweeteners like agave and stevia.
She also says that artificial sweeteners — manufactured using chemicals — can be extremely bad for overall health.

Eat less, eat better
While overeating can often be chalked up to larger portion sizes at restaurants and a general perception that more is better, the issue — which can lead to health problems related to weight gain and low energy levels — is not always so simple.
Van Raes says that a common cause of overeating is eating too quickly. When people don’t stop to pay attention to what their body is telling them, they have a tendency to ignore what it really needs.

“When we eat really fast, our body cues are not as easily heard,” Van Raes says.

This is often amplified, she says, when people are met with distractions during meals. By eliminating certain technological distractions, such as watching television or surfing the Internet, people can create a space where they are more mindful of what and how they eat.

Van Raes says that emotional eaters can also benefit from limiting distraction and slowing down because it gives them the opportunity to become more in tune with their bodies and experience their feelings as something separate from hunger.
Some foods, Van Raes says, are more likely to promote overconsumption.  Products like refined carbohydrates — including breads and pastas — can delay the sensation of feeling full. She says that proteins and whole-food-based carbohydrates like brown rice can help people avoid binging on meals.

Van Raes suggests that people need to listen to their bodies and learn to understand what their health and wellness truly craves — quantity or quality?

Get more sleep
Yawning at the desk again? Couldn’t stay away from those late-night re-runs of Glee? Maybe coffee will keep this day afloat. Or maybe it’s time to ease up on the espresso overdose and get some much-needed sleep.

Rem Sleep Medicine’s Mark Hickey, M.D., who is board-certified and fellowship-trained in sleep therapy, says sleep deprivation can lead to several issues that impact daily activities. Not getting enough sleep can affect memory and emotional state, increase stress and impair focus, reaction time and judgment.

If the brain doesn’t get rest, Hickey says, it doesn’t function as well the next day. Sleep times vary from person to person; some people need more, while others get by on less. Many, however, don’t realize when they aren’t getting enough.

“People in general aren’t really good at judging when they are deprived of sleep,” Hickey says.

One indicator of sleep deprivation, he says, is drowsiness in low stimulation situations. Dozing off while reading or watching TV in the middle of the day can be a sign that a person simply needs more sleep.

Hickey says that it is important to practice good sleep hygiene. Consistency is key to maintaining a sleep schedule, especially when it comes down to a daily wake time. Exercise and activity during the day can help promote restfulness at night. And, he says, limiting the use of the bed to sleep and sexual activity can work to program the brain into understanding that a bed should be associated with falling asleep.

Hickey also recommends avoiding light at night — such as the light from a computer screen — as it can simulate daylight and deter sleeping.

Walk, don’t sit
It is finally summertime in Colorado, and as we ease away from dreary days into clear blue skies, it is also the perfect time to get up from that well-worn spot on the couch and do something.

Rachel Summers says that one of the most common reasons for inactivity or lack of exercise she hears from her clients is that they just don’t have the time. Work, school, family and social activities can become dominating factors in daily life, and it is sometimes difficult to schedule in physical exercise.

For those determined to fit in a good structured workout, Summers says that it helps to make more efficient use of the time spent exercising. There are some workouts, such as those offered at QuickFit, that require roughly 15 to 20 minutes, three days a week, to produce optimal results.

Summers also says that, when it comes to being active, the little things add up. People can get exercise simply by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or by walking from a more distant parking spot rather than madly searching for one closest to the door.
And let’s face it — this is Boulder County. It isn’t hard to find some way to enhance the elements of daily life in a healthy, active way. Whether it’s a family hike at Chautauqua, or a sunny afternoon spent wandering the Pearl Street Mall with some friends, there is always an opportunity to get up and get out.

Summers’ last bit of advice:  “Stay away from the dumb box, and go walk your dog.”

Quit the cancer sticks
These days, it’s pretty much common knowledge that using tobacco is one of the worst things people can do to their bodies. It’s a fact that has been drilled into the population with anti-smoking advertisements, raised tobacco taxes and staggering statistics. So … why aren’t more people quitting?

According to a 2010 Surgeon General’s report, cigarettes cause approximately 443,000 deaths in the United States each year. Smoking is currently the largest cause for preventable illness and death in the country.

Worldwide, the World Health Organization has estimated that 6 million people per year suffer tobacco-related deaths. If left unchecked, this number could rise to 8 million by 2030. Every year, more than 600,000 nonsmokers die from exposure to tobacco smoke.

OK. So maybe it’s time to forget the numbers for a second, drop the scary commercials filled with body bags, and just think about the simple facts. Tobacco is a harmful substance, no matter what form it is in. Using it results in an unnecessary dependency on something that does nothing but deteriorate health.

Ultimately, smoking just isn’t sustainable. The present state of the economy doesn’t mesh well with the high price of cigarettes. Right now is a time to prioritize. Save that paycheck for a rainy day? Or flush it down the toilet for something that will only make that rainy day turn into a full-on thunderstorm?

One other fact to consider is that quitting smoking is not a light issue — it can be very difficult to do.  There are several resources around town that offer support for those looking to take the first step toward quitting.  One place to start might be the Colorado QuitLine at 1-800-8669 or www.coquitline.org.

Trash the pack. Stop coughing. Maybe save up for a trip to Fiji with all that extra cash lying around. And breathe the fresh air.

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