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I RUN for Boston

16 Apr

There aren’t the right words to sum up my feelings about yesterday.  Regardless of whether or not you’re a runner, I imagine the tragic events at the Boston Marathon yesterday have affected you in a multitude of ways. As a fellow runner, I feel as if someone just attacked my friends (thanks Twitter for summing up my thoughts).  I was shocked and dismayed that something like this could have happened– at a place where elites, soccer moms, and senior citizens can come together to celebrate the sport of running together.  When I was little, I lived in the Boston area and my mom would always take me and my sisters to Heartbreak Hill to watch the runners, I was inspired by these runners and could never imagine running that far myself.  The Boston Marathon was always on my bucket list of races I’d like to do, but now I know that this is one I must complete because we must show whoever did this that we are not afraid of them.

As the running community grapples, alongside the rest of the world, with the ripple effect that this will have on the sport of running and beyond, a group of students at Boston College have found a way to honor those impacted.  They will walk the final 5 miles of the Boston Marathon route from their campus on Commonwealth Ave to the finish line area at Copley Square to finish the marathon for all those who were unable to finish yesterday. I think the symbolism is a beautiful sign of resilience.

One of the main reasons I love running: the community #handsoverhearts

One of the main reasons I love running: the community #handsoverhearts

I wish that I could join them in person, but being here in the DC area, that will not be possible.  Instead, in a show of solidarity, I’ve decided to take my own 5-mile run on Friday to “finish” the marathon for those who were unable to finish and to honor those who lost their lives or were injured celebrating one of the greatest human feats.  So who will join me on a run to finish the Boston Marathon on Friday?  Regardless of where you live, come walk or run those five miles with me and share your stories with the world. There’s no stronger statement we can send than to band together (even if it is virtually) and heal together.  As the BC student’s Facebook page says: “we decide when the marathon ends”.  Any runner knows that a marathon is the ultimate testament to human willpower: it takes blood, sweat, tears, and determination. I have full confidence that the running community (and our great country) will grow stronger from this experience and we will not cower in fear.

Running has always been therapeutic and healing for me.  I hope you will join me as we mourn and honor those impacted.  Stay strong my friends and to quote my fellow blogger Anne of fANNEtastic Food, “Let’s show the world how strong runners are. Boston – this one’s for you.


The Disease Americans Fear Most

13 Nov

Hi all, it’s been far too long since my last post, but, as usual, life gets in the way. But I’m back and trying to start up again, especially with the holiday season officially in full swing.  I’m going to help you through the season of weight gain, I mean cheer.  But today, I want to focus on preserving those holiday memories with friends and family.

A recent survey shows that Alzheimer’s is the disease most feared by Americans.  At first glace, those results surprised me, most feared even when compared to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes?  But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Alzheimer’s is the one disease that destroys who we are and leaves us with an empty shell where our memories and personalities used to reside.  You can beat cancer, you can take steps to prevent heart disease, stroke and diabetes, but Alzheimer’s seemingly strikes at random and there is little you can do to prevent it.  I lost my grandmother to the disease, and as a result, I never really got to know who she was pre-Alzheimer’s, and in the end she didn’t even remember my dad.  Even as a little girl, it was heartbreaking to watch my dad try enjoy his time with his mom, all the while knowing she had no idea that this man talking to her was her son.  And upon further reflection, I realize that I’m with the majority; the thing I fear most is that myself or a loved one will develop this horrible disease and become a shell of their former selves.

Alzheimer’s disease strips its victims of their identity

So what exactly is Alzheimer’s disease? According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.” Sadly, Alzheimer’s has no cure, and the treatments do not reverse or stop the progression of the disease. Drugs do temporarily slow down the worsening of the dementia and provides, at least for a time, a better quality of life for patients and their caregivers.

Alzheimer’s leaves no survivors.  As the brain cells are destroyed, the disease causes memory changes, erratic behaviors and loss of body functions. In an excruciatingly slow manner, it destroys a person’s identity and personality and their ability to connect with others. Patients eventually revert into being as helpless as a baby, relying on others to feed, bathe, and clothe them, eventually even losing control over their bodily functions.

But not all hope is lost, there are things you can do that may help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association lists 5 things that you can do today to reduce your risk of developing the disease:

Head-Heart Connection

We already know that our bodies are intricately connected and what happens in one part is bound to affect another.  The risk for Alzheimer’s appears to increase as a result of many of the same conditions that also damage the heart or blood vessels.  This includes the standard culprits: high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol.  Some autopsy reports demonstrate that as many as 80% of people with Alzheimer’s also had heart disease.  But of course, this still leaves the question of did heart disease cause Alzheimer’s or did the same lifestyle choices that gave someone heart disease also give them Alzheimer’s? That question remains unanswered, but in the meantime, there are things you can do.

Continue to do heart-disease prevention activities such as weight control, proper nutrition, and daily exercise, you may be able to simultaneously reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. This leads me to my next point–

Physical Exercise and Diet

Exercise is critical to more than just brain health

As I pointed out earlier, there is a strong connection between your heart and your brain.  Your brain uses about 20% of the total oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries, so it is important to take care of your ticker.  Whatever you do to your heart, will directly affect your brain.  Make sure you get the recommended amount of heart healthy exercise per week (again, 30 minutes/day, 5 days/week).  A sensible and healthy diet is a no-brainer.  Pick heart-healthy fats to include in your diet and they will also help your brain.

Social Connections

Some studies suggest that maintaining strong social bonds throughout our lives reduces our risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s as we age.  Make sure you are spending quality time with friends and family.  Pick up a new hobby or take an old hobby and find a way to make it social.  Enjoy reading?  Find a local book club, which kills two birds with one stone; it allows for interaction with people on a social level, and it provides an intellectual activity (see below).

Crosswords increase your mental agility

Intellectual Activity

Think of this part as weight training for the brain.  Doing things that challenge your brain make it stronger.  Try to “brain lift” a few times a week.  There are limitless options.  A few examples are brain teasers, riddles, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and math problems. I could go on and on, but the point is to engage the brain in a way that challenges it.  While there may be no concrete evidence to suggest that doing brain teasers helps prevent Alzheimer’s, in my opinion, it doesn’t hurt and it’s really fun!

Preventing Head Trauma

Protecting your noggin is key beyond just the developmental years.  There appears to be a significant link between serious head trauma and future risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  It goes without saying to ALWAYS WEAR A SEAT BELT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not only could it save your life, but it could spare you a debilitating disease 20 or 30 years down the road. Wear a helmet when participating in sports (yes this includes when on a bike).  Taking steps to prevent head trauma prevents more than just a massive headache, it could prevent against Alzheimer’s.

So until we develop a cure (and even after), there are key things that you can do to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.  Most of them you should already be doing (*cough, cough* wear a seat belt!*cough, cough*) and some that maybe you had known about, but were too lazy to try.  So the next time you see that crossword puzzle in the Sunday paper, don’t just throw it out, give it a try, it may help save your memories and your life one day.

Keep on sweating!

Reestablishing the Fitness Routine

8 Jun

Sometimes the couch sings its siren song…

So today I want to focus on exercise ruts or trying to get back into one.

The two months I took off after quitting my first one and starting my current one in DC was a period were I was in the best shape of my life I think (outside my high school years and 2 varsity sports).  I got up every day and was able to work out for 90-120 minutes. I ate great and felt well-relaxed and most importantly strong and healthy.  Then life came back to bite me in the ass and my carefully crafted routine went out the window, along with my athleticism.

Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my new job, but when I started the process of moving, I didn’t have time to work out (or so I told myself).  Then came the transition from CA to DC and the stress of that move threw me into a tailspin.  I left everything I know and love to move to a city that I knew (I went to college here in DC) and still had people who I’m still close with, but still…it has been a tough and at times lonely transition.  So with the stress (cortisol), unhealthy eating (comfort food is NOT good for the waistline), and lack of exercise I felt my clothes suddenly getting a bit tighter.

I started to feel like this! (less the beer)

So I got “fat and lazy”, not good for anyone, but for someone like me I saw myself turning into the very people I’m trying to motivate to get back out there.  I knew I had to get myself back!  But it’s been harder than I anticipated.  It’s hard to get up at 5am to get a workout in, have a full day of work and then go home and make dinner and try to decompress from my day.  But you know what’s even harder? Working out after work when the TV sings its siren song and is so much more inviting than a hard workout.  It’s tough, but I know it will be worth it in the end.

I’ve decided that AM workouts work best for me, they leave me full of energy all day and then I don’t feel guilty when I get home and don’t head to the gym.  But waking up is still killer.  I am my only obstacle, it may be constant fight every morning between my “i want to sleep” side and the “you’ll feel so much better” side. But I know that slowly the “I want to sleep” side will fight less and

Keep at it!

less and it will get easier to get up instead of hitting the snooze.  So as I begin my uphill battle to reestablish my fitness routine, I thought I’d give some tips and pointers that I’m applying to help get my fitness back on track.

Don’t Break the Habit

I know for some it may be too little, too late.  But for those already in a habit, don’t drop it!  That was my number one mistake, I let myself fall out the routine and as a result it’s so much easier to hit snooze instead of getting up to get that am workout in.  How long of a road are you looking at if you’re trying to reestablish a fitness habit? About 66 days.  That’s a lot of mornings to debate with yourself!

Make it Fun

If you hate being in a gym then get outside! Hate solo activities?  Take up a new team sport!  Find ways that make it fun for you!  Don’t force yourself to lift weight if you’d rather gorge your eyes out, there a plenty of other ways to get “weight training” in!

Reward Yourself

And I don’t mean with a pint of Ben and another pint of Jerry’s.  Pick a goal (workout 5 days a week for 4 weeks) and a reward (like getting a massage).  If you set a goal that’s tough but achievable and a reward that you really want (like that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing).

A buddy is a great way to pass the time

It’s so much harder to bail on a workout when you know your friend is waiting for you!

X is for Success

Find someway to track your workouts on a calendar.  This will give you quick representation of how diligent you are working out!  It is also is a gentle reminder when you’ve been a little lax.

Measure Fitness

Pick any measurement, it can be weight, inches, how your clothes fit, etc.  Use that to motivate you to continue to workout.  I can’t tell you how sad, yet motivating it was when I stepped back on that scale after nearly a two month hiatus from exercise.  I was so disappointed to see what I’d work so hard for had slipped away from me. I knew how hard I’d worked and just how much effort it was going to take to lose that weight again.  But it was the kick in the pants I needed.  I had no one to blame but myself, and I knew it.

Figure Out Your Issues

What causes you to stop being motivated to exercise? Find that and find a way to fix it and your weakness shouldn’t be an issue anymore.

Baby Steps

Don’t expect to run 10 miles your first day back after a long break.  You need to start small.  Every time you take a break from exercise, you reset your fitness and you have to start at zero…again.  This is why it’s so important to not break a fitness routine. As I sorely learned.

The scale can be your best friend…or worst enemy!

Don’t go for Superficial Reasons

If you go to look hot in a bikini what happens when you reach that goal? Or swimsuit season ends?  You need to work out for reasons beyond the short-term, although those are good too, as long as you have a solid long-term goal too.  How about, I want to feel strong or I feel healthiest when I’m working out consistently.

I hope this helps kiddos.  Feel free to add your own tips and tricks below!

Keep on (or start) Sweating!

Get Some ZZZZZZZ’s

3 May

I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.  You need sleep, whether your a growing kid or just a kid at heart, sleep is vital to your health.  It does your body a lot of good, but more importantly it’s what lack of sleep can affect because you just had to stay up for those late night shows (sorry Jay!).  It can be difficult to prioritize sleep when your boss is breathing down your neck or you’re out having a good time with your pals at the latest night club, but in this crazy 24/7 lifestyle, a sleep when your dead mentality could truly put you in the grave sooner than you’d like.

Sleep Cycles

In order to understand how sleep helps you, it’s important to first understand the sleep/wake cycle and the stages of sleep.  You have an internal 24-hour sleep vs wake cycle which is referred to as your biological clock or circadian rhythm.  Whatever you want to call it, it is regulated by processes in your brain that respond to how long you’ve been awake or asleep and the changes in light.  When it gets dark out your body produces melatonin, which is a hormone that makes you sleepy.  When it’s light out the “sunlight’ triggers the brain to inhibit the production of melatonin and you feel alert and awake.

This sleep-wake cycle can be disrupted by factors such as traveling, irregular sleeping patterns, or night-shift work, leaving you feeling groggy, disoriented, and sleepy when you should be awake. On the flip side, sleep-cycle interruptions can cause you to be wide awake when you should be fast asleep.

There are two main pieces of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which consists of Stages 1 through 4.  During sleep, the body cycles between NREM and REM sleep. Typically, people begin the sleep cycle with a period of non-REM sleep followed by a very short period of REM sleep (we are talking 10 minutes here people). REM is where your dreams occur.  We are not going to focus on the 4 stages of NREM, just think of it as a progression of light sleep to deep sleep followed by the REM cycle then back to stage 2 (stage 1 only occurs during the first cycle after falling asleep)

Benefits of Sleep

During the deep stages of NREM is when the body repairs tissue damage, builds bone and muscle.  It is also shown to improve the immune system.  There are equally important benefits of REM sleep, this is the time that your brain processes emotions and issues from the day. It prepares your mind to handle the emotions, stresses and issues that are bound to arise the next day.  So when you’re cranky and snappy the next day, it’s probably from lack of good REM sleep.  There are also some studies that show that REM sleep helps our minds learn new skills.

Consequences of Not Enough Sleep

Beyond the obvious, like being cranky and kind of an A$$ the next day, lack of sleep does have some bad health consequences, worse than previously imagined.  On the surface, lack of sleep causes you to perform worse on the job, lose focus easily, and get fatigued and lethargic. You can difficulty making decisions and have a hard time remember things. On a more serious level, you could harm yourself or others!  You will have an increased risk of accidents and impaired motor skills.  One study showed that sleep deprived drivers are just as bad of drivers as their drunk counterparts.  You’re much more prone to weight gain and a suppressed immune system.  Nobody’s going to want to be around you when you’re moody and irritable.  The most recent discovery and possibly the most frightening, is that sleep deprived people have an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems than their well-rested counter-parts.

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

An infant will sleep about 16 hours a day, a teenager really does need 10 hours a day, but an adult?  Adults pretty much need 7.5-9 hours of sleep a day.  So the best bet is to start experimenting within that span, find out which amount leaves you feeling refreshed and well-rested.

How to get on a Regular Schedule

This part is really simple.  After figuring out the magic number that works for you start backwards from when you need to get up for work (or to work out!).  Once you’ve figured that out then subtract that magic number, then voila you have the time you need to go to bed!  Let me give you an example. I need to be up by 6am to get to the gym for my workout before getting ready for work.  I find that 8 hours of rest gives me the energy I need for a good day, so I need to be lights out and head of the pillow by or before 10pm.  It takes me about an hour to get ready to bed and unwind, I like to read before going to sleep, so I need to turn off the TV by 9pm.  Why you ask?  Because TV acts like light and inhibits your body’s ability to produce melatonin.

Now do I follow this routine religiously? No, I haven’t met anyone who could follow such a strict regimen (unless you’re in the military maybe).  But this gives me a game plan to strive towards.  Sometimes I do watch TV until I fall asleep and sometimes I don’t fall into bed until after midnight, but they key here is to try to stick to a routine as much as possible.

So my advice is to work yourself onto some semblance of a routine is to start going to bed every night a half hour earlier than you did the night before.  Continue this until you reach you ideal bedtime.  I can’t stress this enough: USE AN ALARM every day of the week. This will keep you on track, if I don’t use some form of an alarm and it’s dark in my room I think I could sleep right through the day sometimes.

And for those inevitable nights where you stay out with friends till 3 am? Well I’m not suggesting you only get 3 hours of sleep, because the deprivation is not a good idea, but try to get up somewhere along normal lines.  Try 8am instead of 6am.  Push through the day and go to sleep at your normal time. This will help keep you on a normal schedule. Yes that day will suck, but at least it means you’ll have no trouble going to bed.  But try, try, try to get to bed before the wee hours of the morning here people. Whatever your reason, stress or alcohol, neither are good for you!!!!!

What about Weekends?

Some people think “oh I’ll just make up for it this weekend” (GUILTY!) That doesn’t really help all that much. it helps some, but you’re better off not sleeping in all weekend. Just extend your sleep an extra hour tops. This allows you to stay on a more regular schedule.

How to Sleep Better Tonight!

Start unwinding about 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. This means dimming the lights, turning off all electronics, and keep your seat belt fastened low and tight across your lap…oh wait this isn’t United! HA  But seriously, start destressing from your day and relax.  I drink a calming cup of tea, take a hot shower/bath and curl up in bed with a good book.  Stop drinking caffeine after 2pm and limit your alcohol intake to one glass.  Both of these substances inhibit your ability to get quality, deep sleep.

Enjoy your zzzzz‘s!

What helps you fall asleep fast? Post them below!

The Simplest Thing You Can Do TODAY To Improve Your Health

2 May

So it’s been a while since I wrote my last blog entry and I have a very good reason for it.  The past month I’ve been moving 3,000 miles  to our nation’s capital in Washington DC to start a new job working on global health policy.  It is a fantastic opportunity for me to get on the ground with health and see what’s really going on it our world.  So if I’m MIA for a bit it just means I’m in some really cool (and remote) place.  But I’m not here today to fill you in on my really cool job, but to talk about the simplest thing you can do to improve your health: WALK!

I was inspired to write this post after my wonderful boyfriend sent me a link to a funny or die video starring the cast of West Wing (we’re huge fans…who isn’t?).  They got back together one more time, this time for promote the importance of walking to improve your health.  See the video here:

As you can see it’s funny, but has a very serious point.  Walking for some combination that adds up to 30 minutes a day reduces your risk for many cancers, heart disease, diabetes, among others.

Now this is not new news to anyone, but hopefully through this fun and creative medium people will actually do it!  On top of daily exercise, it is a mile for me to walk to work (takes about 12 minutes), so I walk to and from work. It saves me the hassle and cost of public transportation, I get to be outside, and I know I’m helping my health.  If at all possible I encourage you to walk to work.  So what are waiting for? Get up and start walking, just like President Bartlett!

Keep Sweating!

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