Stop the Exercise Guilt and Start Moving

11/12/2011

from the Healthy Living area

When you hear advice to exercise for 30 to 45 minutes or more, nearly every day, you may think, “In whose life? Get real.”

Many women feel the same way. We’re too busy and too tired—from job, family, home and other demands—to squeeze exercise into our overcrowded days. Those time blocks seem like impossible hurdles to get over. Even if we try, it’s difficult to stay on track for long.

Now, instead of feeling guilty about what you can’t do, you can start feeling good about what’s possible for you. Research shows that even short bursts of physical activity improve your health, especially if you spend your day sitting. Adding a little activity helps lower your cholesterol, blood pressure and weight, cuts your risk of heart attack and diabetes, and improves how you feel emotionally.

You’ll have more energy to carry packages, garden, climb stairs, keep up with the kids at the amusement park, or dance past midnight. Those activities, in turn, will make you even stronger and healthier.

Women who walk for a total of just one hour a week have half the rate of heart disease as women who don’t walk regularly. And it’s never too late to benefit—in a recent study, people over 65 who were physically active once a week had a 40 percent lower death rate than those who were inactive.

It’s easy to start

To get yourself moving, think small. “Take two-minute walks, whether it’s one or 10 a day,” says Andrea Dunn, Ph.D., director of the Behavioral Science Research Group at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, Denver.

Walk at a moderately vigorous pace, Dunn says, as if you’re trying to get to an appointment on time. Each week, increase how many minutes you walk a bit, or how often.

Gradually work up to three 10-minute brisk walks a day, several times a week. “It doesn’t matter how fast you move up,” says Dunn. In her research, people who succeeded often kept track of their walks on checklists or calendars.

If you have health concerns and are under a health care professional’s care for a medical condition, review your exercise plans with her or him before you start.

Step this way

You’ll gain more benefits from walking by increasing the steps you take at home, at work and for exercise. Middle-aged women who take more steps have less body fat than those taking fewer steps.

Use a pedometer, a step-counting gadget that clips onto your waistband. Record your step count for one week. Then divide by seven to get your daily average.

Increase your daily step count little by little. Sneak extra steps into your everyday life: Walk around the house while talking on a cordless phone, park at the far end of a supermarket lot (be sure it’s well-lighted and secure), pace the sidelines while your child plays sports, or climb the stairs to your office instead of taking the elevator.

Aim for 10,000 steps a day, but work to that goal slowly. It’s equal to about five miles.

Target fat in your middle

How does physical activity, even small amounts, improve your health?

Think of your body as a jelly doughnut. (Okay, for some of us that’s easy to do.) The outer part of your doughnut—uh, body—is made up of fat that lies just under the skin. When you go on a diet and lose weight, you usually lose this type of fat, says Osama Hamdy, M.D., director of the Obesity Clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, Boston.

Hidden deep in the center of your body is a more dangerous type of fat. This internal fat—often shown by a growing waistline—is directly related to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. According to Hamdy, physical activity reduces this belly fat more effectively than dieting does.

“Any moderately intense exercise that a person can do is very important. Do it five minutes a day, or 10 minutes a day,” he says. “If you look at it as a routine of your day, you will find it easier over time.”

A recent study Hamdy co-authored showed that obese adults who lost just 7 percent of their body weight—16 pounds in a 220-pound woman—through moderately intense exercise and diet lowered their heart disease risk. In another study, people at risk for type 2 diabetes reduced their risk 58 percent with brisk walking and a small weight loss.

Make it fun

Some women exercise with friends or in walking clubs. Mall-walking is fine, says Dunn, so long as you’re moving briskly and not just strolling and window-shopping.

If walking doesn’t appeal to you, choose another moderately vigorous activity, such as bike riding, swimming or dancing. Or mix up your exercise choices.

“Do things that are fun for you,” Dunn advises. “Start small, work at your own pace and don’t give up.”

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Fitness: www.healthywomen.org/condition/fitness

Weight Management: www.healthywomen.org/condition/weight-management

Healthy Living: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/fitness

Diet and Fitness Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/diet-and-fitness

© 2011 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.

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3 Shortcuts to Exercise Success

10/04/2011

from the Healthy Living area

Are you losing interest in physical activity because you’re not seeing quick results from your efforts?

While there are no magic pills for becoming more fit (and staying that way), some exercises are more effective in less time than others. Check out these three ideas for burning more calories and strengthening muscles faster:

  1. Switch back and forth: It’s called interval training, and it boosts your results by stepping up the intensity or duration of your activity, on and off, throughout your workout. Interval training works like this: Instead of walking for 10 minutes at your usual pace, start by walking at your normal exercise pace for the first two minutes, then increase your speed for the next two minutes, followed by two minutes of your usual pace, and so on. Adapt this system for any length walk. The interval time may vary as well. Your body goes into “active recovery” during the lower speed segments, so you can continue exercising with less risk of injury, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Yet you gain quicker benefits from the higher intensity intervals.
  2. Squat: Pear-shape alert!You’ll strengthen more muscles at one time by doing squats. This exercise works the major muscles in your lower body—the gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. When asked to list the most effective exercises, the majority of 17,000 ACE-certified fitness professionals put squats at number one. Make sure your form is correct: with feet at shoulder-width and back straight, bend your knees as you lower your bottom. Don’t let your knees move out over your ankles. If you are doing squats with weights on a barbell (which increases intensity), be sure to have a spotter or trainer check your form.
  3. Rev your engine: All activities are not created equal. For a 135-pound woman, 30 minutes of brisk walking burns 130 calories. In that same 30 minutes, you can lose 258 calories with freestyle swimming or 322 calories by running at a 6 mph pace. Include higher calorie-burning exercises in your activities to boost speedy results.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Fitness: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/fitness

Diet and Fitness Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/condition/stress

Weight Management: www.healthywomen.org/condition/weight-management

© 2011 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.


Simple Tips for Lowering Your Cholesterol

09/12/2011

from the Heart Health Center

 For many Americans working toward better heart health, an important first step is getting cholesterol to a healthy level. Diet and exercise are important steps to reduce high cholesterol. However, many people may find that with diet and exercise alone, cholesterol numbers are not where they should be. More than one hundred million Americans have high cholesterol, an important risk factor for heart disease. Though diet is very important, many people don’t realize that cholesterol is also produced in the body based upon heredity. Learning about your family health history is important—we recommend talking to your family about their health and creating a family health tree.

 Bringing this information to your next doctor visit will help you discuss your family history regarding cholesterol and other hereditary health concerns. Understanding Cholesterol What you eat affects your health, by raising or lowering the blood fats (cholesterol, triglycerides) that circulate through your body. Some foods increase your levels of total cholesterol, LDL or “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides. Over the years, excess cholesterol and fat are deposited in the inner walls of the arteries that supply blood to your heart. Eventually, these deposits can make your arteries narrower and less flexible, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Left unchecked, this buildup can lead to heart attack, stroke and death. Additionally, because of your family health history, your body may be genetically predisposed to make more cholesterol than you may need, in addition to the cholesterol from your food intake.

 Know your numbers!

Each one of us has a cholesterol goal level, based upon our individual risk factors and our risk for heart disease. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recommends that everyone age 20 and over have a blood cholesterol test every five years to check their cholesterol levels.

 To learn more about your goal, visit http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/chd for the National Cholesterol Education Program’s Live Healthier, Live Longer Web site.

 If your cholesterol levels are mildly to moderately higher than your goal, making a few dietary changes may be all you need to get back on track. According to current NCEP recommendations, people with coronary heart disease or others considered to be at high risk for coronary heart disease generally have an LDL cholesterol goal of less than 100 mg/dL. An LDL cholesterol goal of less than 70 mg/dL is a therapeutic option for people considered to be at very high risk. Work with your doctor to develop a plan to help reduce your LDL cholesterol number to goal. Here are guidelines for your cholesterol and triglyceride levels according to NCEP guidelines (new guidelines will be released in 2010): Total blood cholesterol levels less than 200 mg/dL Desirable 200 to 239 mg/dL Borderline high 240 mg/dL or above High LDL blood cholesterol levels less than 100 mg/dL Optimal 100 to 129 mg/dL Near optimal/above optimal 130 to 159 mg/dL Borderline high 160 to 189 mg/dL High 190 mg/dL and above Very High HDL blood cholesterol levels above 60 mg/dL. Levels above 60 mg/dL are considered especially beneficial and can offset risk factors for heart disease, according to NHLBI. The higher the level, the healthier it is. Optimal 50 to 60 mg/dL for women; 40 to 50 mg/dL for men Average less than 50 mg/dL for women; less than 40 mg/dL for men. Below these levels is considered a major risk factor for heart disease. Low Triglyceride levels less than 150 mg/dL Normal 150 to 199 mg/dL Borderline High 200 to 499 mg/dL High 500 mg/dL or higher Very high It is important to remember that these recommendations are for healthy individuals, not for women with existing risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, kidney disease, being overweight, smoking or having a family history of heart disease. If you are at risk for heart disease, your target goals likely will be lower.

Fighting Back:  There are things that you can do now to help you gain a better understanding of your risk factors and perhaps lower your chances of high cholesterol and heart disease. For starters, it’s important that you eat right, get plenty of exercise, as recommended by your physician, and begin to understand your family health history. A healthy diet may help reduce total cholesterol. In general, you want to get “good” cholesterol higher and “bad” cholesterol lower. You can still enjoy a wide variety of foods by making healthful dietary choices and changes. If elevated cholesterol is part of your family genetics, or you have other conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, you may need medication in addition to eating a heart-healthy diet. But whether you have normal cholesterol, high levels, or are currently taking a cholesterol-lowering drug, eating a healthy diet is important for everyone. Good fats/bad fats Fats can be good for you and your heart, when they’re the right kind and consumed in limited amounts; but even good fat is packed with calories. Those include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which decrease “bad” cholesterol, and omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglycerides. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil. Polyunsaturated fats include corn oil, safflower oil and soybean oil. Saturated fats are the bad guys that may endanger your heart. They increase LDL or “bad” cholesterol more than anything else in your diet. Saturated fats, found mostly in animal products, are hard at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Think butter, shortening, fat on and in meat and poultry skin. Whole milk or two-percent milk products, half-and-half and cream all have a lot of saturated fat. Tropical oils—coconut, palm and palm kernel oils—also contain a lot of saturated fats. These oils are used in commercially baked crackers, cookies and non-dairy creamers. Foods containing saturated fats often also contain high amounts of cholesterol, which is only found in animal products. Trans fats are another culprit to watch out for. Trans fats raise “bad” cholesterol. Trans fats are found in foods made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils—stick margarine and some store-bought cookies and cakes, fast-food French fries, potato chips and other snacks. Read your food labels before purchasing. If there are .5 grams or less of trans fats in an item, the company can claim 0 trans fats on the label, so check the ingredient list for hydrogenated oils.

Heart-Healthy Choices

1. Switch your dairy Make the change from whole or two-percent milk to one-percent and then to skim, for drinking and in recipes. Or try almond milk or rice milk for a nondairy alternative. Use low-fat or nonfat sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese and ice cream. 2. Choose lean cuts Beef tenderloin, sirloin, eye of round, ground beef with 10 percent or less fat and pork tenderloin are good choices. Other alternatives include white meat chicken or turkey. Remove the skin before cooking any poultry. 3. Cook with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated Oils These include olive, canola, peanut, safflower, sunflower, sesame and soybean oils. 4. Use more plant-based proteins instead of animal products These include beans and peas—black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, lentils—and tofu or soy. Try veggie burgers (soy-based or grain-based) for an alternative to beef. 5. Boost your intake of foods that are high in soluble fiber This type of fiber binds to cholesterol in the digestive tract and helps remove it from your body. Good sources include oatmeal, oatmeal bread, oat bran cereal, beans and peas, apples, bananas and citrus fruits. 6. Increase whole grains in your diet Choose bread with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per slice, whole-grain pastas and brown rice. 7. Use products containing plant sterol and stanol esters These components help keep your body from absorbing cholesterol. Consuming two to three grams a day decreases LDL cholesterol by 6 percent to 15 percent. Food products that have added cholesterol-lowering sterols and stanols include margarines, orange juice and yogurt. 8. Eat fatty fish twice a week Choose wild salmon over farm-raised to reduce possible toxin exposure. Pregnant or nursing women and children should limit tuna intake to 6 ounces a week and avoid swordfish, due to concerns about methyl mercury levels. 9. Increase the amounts of fruits and vegetables you eat Most women should have 1-1/2 cups of fruit and 2 to 2-1/2 cups of vegetables (without cheese sauce!) every day, according to new guidelines. Adding more of these to your diet fills you up, adds fiber and important nutrients and helps replace foods with saturated fats. For details on the new dietary recommendations, visit http://www.mypyramid.gov . 10. Keep an eye on dietary cholesterol Dietary cholesterol, such as is found in eggs, dairy products and some other foods, may raise cholesterol in the blood slightly, but newer studies find that consumption of dietary cholesterol is unlikely to substantially increase risk of coronary heart disease or stroke among healthy men and women. If you have other existing health conditions or risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, kidney disease, being overweight, smoking or having a family history of heart disease, you may need to monitor dietary cholesterol more closely. Egg yolks are filled with dietary cholesterol—213 milligrams in each. If you have elevated cholesterol, the National Cholesterol Education Program recommends you keep your consumption under 200 milligrams per day. Egg whites are cholesterol-free, so use two for each whole egg in recipes, or use cholesterol-free egg substitute, which works well in baking and omelettes.

Heart-Healthy Tips for Eating Away from Home

 Here’s how to eat out and have a terrific meal without taking in too much fat and cholesterol: Preparation counts. Order your food fresh, sautéed, grilled/broiled, or poached. If sautéed or broiled, ask for it to be cooked with olive oil or without fat. Have sauces served on the side, so you add only what you need. Divide and conquer. Resist the pitfalls of inflated portions by eating only half of what you order. Take the rest home for an easy lunch or dinner the next day. Ask if you and your dining partner can share an entrée, with each of you ordering individual salads. Balance. Have the nachos if you really want them, but order a healthy entrée. Dessert isn’t a no-no—pick fresh fruit or sorbet. Enjoy the bread or rolls, just skip the butter and drizzle on olive oil. Sip slowly. Wine may raise HDL “good” cholesterol a bit, but there’s also evidence it can boost your triglyceride levels. Fast food stops are OK. Most fast-food restaurants now offer healthier items than a bacon double cheeseburger. Depending upon which chain you visit, you may find salads (ask for nonfat or olive oil dressings), grilled chicken, yogurt, baked potatoes and fresh fruit cups. Look for a heart-healthy symbol. Some restaurants put a heart or other sign next to healthful menu items. Choose from those.

 For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below. Heart Health Center: http://www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/heart-health Weight Management: http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/weight-management Heart Disease: http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/heart-disease Atherosclerosis: http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/atherosclerosis Metabolic Syndrome: http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/metabolic-syndrome Healthy Living: http://www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/diet-and-nutrition © 2011 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (tollfree). On the Web at: http://www.HealthyWomen.org.


Water Wisdom

08/14/2011

from the Healthy Living area

You’ve heard all the advice: Drink eight glasses of water a day. Stay properly hydrated while exercising. Sports drinks aren’t just for professional athletes.

Yet you’re still unsure whether you’re drinking the right amount for good health.
How much fluid should you really be taking in daily? Do you need to add extra when you’re physically active? And is too much water dangerous?

Everyone’s body needs water. We lose it by sweating, excretion, or simply not taking in enough through foods—like fruits and vegetables—and drinks. Mild dehydration (losing less than two percent of your body weight due to inadequate fluids) can cause health problems, including dizziness and headache.

To keep your body supplied with the fluid it needs, especially when exercising, follow these tips:

  • Get the basics. Most women need eight to nine cups of total fluids a day, including all beverages and the water in foods.
  • Increase according to the weather. High temperatures or humidity outside, heated indoor air and high altitudes all cause you to need more fluids.
  • Add when exercising. Drink one cup of fluids every 15 minutes during physical activity, advises Werner W.K. Hoeger, Ed.D., FACSM, professor of kinesiology and director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Boise State University. He recommends sports drinks over water when exercising because they contain electrolytes—important to provide the minerals necessary for proper cellular metabolism—which is disrupted during physical exertion. Electrolyte replacement also helps maintain proper muscle contraction and cardiac function.
  • Add more for big events. If you’re going to be in a race or charity walk, make sure you drink enough to be well-hydrated the day before, Hoeger adds. Also, drink a glass of fluids an hour before the event.
  • Drinking for two? Pregnant and nursing women need additional fluids. Talk with your health care professional about what’s best for you.
  • Still thirsty? If drinking fluids doesn’t relieve your thirst, you may have a health condition such as diabetes. See your health care professional right away.
  • Too much of a good thing. In very rare cases—chiefly among marathon runners—drinking too much fluid leads to a life-threatening illness, hyponatremia. This occurs when sodium levels in the blood fall too low. It happens chiefly to athletes who have run for more than four hours and gained a lot of weight during the race from drinking.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit

the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Fitness: www.healthywomen.org/condition/fitness

Healthy Living: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/diet-and-nutrition

Diet and FitnessHealthCenter: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/diet-and-fitness

© 2011 HealthyWomen. All rights reserved. Reprinted withpermission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll free). On the Web at:http://www.HealthyWomen.org.


Top 6 Fitness Myths

07/26/2011

from the Healthy Living area

Maybe you already know that “no pain, no gain” is a fitness myth. You don’t gain from pain; instead, if you workout until (or after) you have pain, you can injure yourself.

Fitness misconceptions such as “no pain, no gain” or “women who lift weights get bulky muscles” abound (that second belief is also not true—our biology makes it nearly impossible). Because of such erroneous ideas, many of us exercise incorrectly or avoid being physically active at all.

Even if you don’t fall for the two fitness follies above, there are plenty more you might believe. Here are 7 common exercise misconceptions, with realistic suggestions for effective activity:

Fitness Folly #1: Ab Crunches Will Flatten Your Mid-Section
How many sit-ups or crunches does it take to turn tummy fat into tight muscle? The answer is: none—you can’t turn fat tissue into muscle. Contracting your abdominal muscles in a crunch “will strengthen those fibers, but has nothing to do with the fat sitting on top” of those muscles, says Kathy Stevens, MA, a fitness consultant in Ranchos Palos Verdes, CA.

Stevens calls it “wishful thinking” to believe that exercising one spot on your body will take off fat in that location. “We want to hold onto that belief, even though we’ve been told time and time again that there’s no such thing as spot reduction,” she says. “Fat loss is systemic.”

What to do: Be patient and do activities you enjoy that burn as many calories as possible, such as aerobics, swimming and brisk walking.

Fitness Folly #2: Regular Exercise Keeps Your Balance Strong
You work on your strength and on your endurance, but when was the last time you worked on your equilibrium? Vonda Wright, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA, cautions against taking your balance for granted. “When women fall down and break a hip, 50 percent of them don’t return to pre-fall function,” says Dr. Wright, co-author of the upcoming book Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age.

Muscle strength helps you maintain your equilibrium, but it’s not enough, she adds. If your balance is wobbly, you need to do activities that will build it. To test yourself, stand near a table and place your fingertips on the table top. Close your eyes and stand on one leg. You should be able to balance for 20 seconds.

What to do: To increase balance, Dr. Wright suggests getting into the habit of standing on one leg while washing dishes or brushing your teeth. If that becomes easy, close your eyes.

Fitness Folly #3: You Can Tighten Your Upper-Arm Flab with Weights
You may be familiar with “turkey arms”—the wobbling flap of flab that hangs below the upper area of an outstretched arm. These shaky sections are especially common if you’re in midlife or older. Many women try to banish the unsightly flesh by lifting weights, only to discover that not much seems to change.

Sadly, that flab in the tricep area can’t be targeted, according to Irv Rubenstein, PhD, an exercise physiologist, teacher and certified personal trainer in Nashville, TN. “Women tend to deposit fat there, and with the change in collagen over time (with age), the area loses tautness and texture. It’s a nearly perfect storm,” Dr. Rubenstein says. Gravity finishes off the job. “Like the skin that starts to sag over your knees, it’s the same principle,” he adds. Swell news, huh?

What to do: Forget about that one spot, but do resistance training with weights or bands to build strength and overall functioning.

Fitness Folly #4: My Arthritis/Weight/Diabetes, etc., Keeps Me from Being Active
When you have an ongoing health concern, your condition can be a great excuse for avoiding fitness activities. Yet, in most cases, being physically active will help reduce your health problems.

Arthritis pain lessens with exercise, as does high blood pressure and insulin resistance. Physical activity will help a weight-loss effort and reduce the cardiovascular and diabetes risks of metabolic syndrome. By choosing the right activities and using medications as prescribed, you can also exercise with asthma or allergies.

What to do: First, see the physician treating your chronic condition and talk about physical activity options. To avoid stress on joints, choose pool activities or bike riding. Those with asthma or allergies will be helped by exercising indoors, especially during hot or cold weather. Warm, moist air is best for asthma, so swimming is a good choice.

Fitness Folly #5: You Must Lose Weight to Be More Fit
If you’re larger, imagine being let off the hook that demands you must lose 20, 30 or more pounds to achieve good fitness. Well, permission granted!

Research conducted with a group of overweight and obese (don’t we hate those terms!) women aged 30 to 45, showed that those who accepted their bodies as they were, ate according to their natural signals for hunger and fullness (not dieting) and pursued enjoyable activities instead of regimented exercise had a sharp increase in moderate activity. What’s more, they were able to sustain that activity level over time.

“Their overall health measures were amazing—reduced blood pressure and improved cholesterol and psychological factors,” compared to a control group that dieted and followed exercise recommendations, says physiologist and nutritionist Linda Bacon, PhD, MA, a researcher at the City College of San Francisco. Dr. Bacon conducted the study and is author of a forthcoming book, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, based on her research findings.

In group meetings during the study, the non-dieters talked about ways to add movement they enjoyed, from shooting baskets with a child to walking to a farther bathroom at work. Although the control group initially lost weight by dieting, both groups were at their starting weights after two years. The non-dieters showed greater fitness, which they kept up with little effort. “You can improve your health dramatically without a change in weight,” Dr. Bacon says.

What to do: Accept your body as it is right now. Add physical activity to your life that you find fun. Walking in a natural area is interesting and helps the time pass swiftly. If you like social interaction, play a game with others. Avoid workout classes that make you feel discouraged or self-conscious.

Fitness Folly #6: Exercise Takes Too Much Time and Effort
It’s true that you can’t be physically active unless you actually get up and move. Once you get past that hurdle, you don’t have to push yourself hard. You’ll gain fitness benefits from very light to moderate exercise. That benefit is even greater if you are overweight or have been sedentary. As for time, all you need is 30 minutes a day of activity, which you can accumulate in 10-minute chunks.

What to do: Start by using time you ordinarily waste sitting in front of the television. Stand up and do 10 minutes of brisk walking while you watch. You can move around the room or walk in place. Swing your arms to ramp up your results. Do that three times daily and you’ll help banish the fitness follies.

 

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit

the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

 

Fitness: www.healthywomen.org/condition/fitness

 

Weight Management: www.healthywomen.org/condition/weight-management

Healthy Living: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/fitness

Diet and Fitness Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/diet-and-fitness

Wellness in Practice Blog: www.healthywomen.org/womentalk/blog/wellness-practice

 

 

 

 

© 2011 HealthyWomen.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.

 


Depression Defenses that Can Help

01/10/2011

 Misery doesn’t love company. It also doesn’t love sleeping well, or enjoying activities, or eating healthfully, or making hopeful plans. Misery is, well, miserable. And when sad, empty feelings continue for two weeks or more, you’re not just feeling miserably—you may be depressed. For many women, depression is an all-too-familiar visitor. Women are twice as likely as men to have depressive episodes. While the condition responds to many treatments, it often can recur. Your important first step in dealing with depression is to see your primary healthcare provider. What happens next depends upon the severity of your symptoms (mild, moderate, or major), medical advice, and your choices for treatment. Antidepressants and talk therapy are the most common approaches used to fight depression. Yet recent scientific evidence shows you may be able to use natural approaches when: (a) traditional therapies aren’t working well for you, or side effects and risks pose problems; (b) you choose not to use standard treatments; or, (c) you’d like to lessen or prevent depressive episodes. “Individuals who are suffering from mood disorders really want choices,” says Marlene Freeman, MD, director of the Women’s Mental Health Center at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and a professor of psychiatry and obstetrics-gynecology. “It will serve our patients and the field the best if we really have an integrative approach, where we’re willing to use all possible treatment options and able to use safe and effective combinations.”

Feel better with fish oil

Dr. Freeman was part of a team that reviewed studies of patients who were on antidepressant medication but had not responded well. When the subjects were given omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in addition to the antidepressants, “there was a positive effect for mood,” she says. Omega-3s, best known as the components in fish oil, are essential natural substances our bodies need for good health. We get omega-3s only through foods we eat or by taking them as dietary supplements, usually in capsule form. You may know about the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3s, but researchers have also been evaluating their effect on depression and other mood disorders. Those studies are built on previous findings that people with depression often have low levels of omega-3s and that depressive disorders occur less in populations that consume high quantities of omega-3-rich fish. The omega-3 fatty acids believed to improve mood are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Good results in the studies Dr. Freeman looked at occurred at doses of 1 to 3 grams of fish oil per day, with very few risks. Although some studies used much higher doses of omega-3s, those amounts didn’t bring better results. “With a nutritional supplement, there is an optimal dose that the body and brain need for optimal function,” says Dr. Freeman. “Providing in excess of that may not increase benefit.” It is still unclear whether omega-3 fatty acids would be effective on their own, not in combination with medication. But the protective effect of fish oil has been fairly well established, with studies showing it may decrease the risk of depression, including premenstrual and postpartum depression. Taking omega-3s could also avoid increasing antidepressant dosages for some patients, Dr. Freeman says. Omega-3s have other good health effects: they are vital for fetal development and may help prevent certain cancers, Alzheimer’s and dementia diseases, hypertension, diabetes, and other conditions. Vegans who do not want to consume fish oil might get some benefit from ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), the omega-3 found in flaxseed oil. ALA is somewhat different than EPA and DHA, the omega-3s in fish oil, and has not been studied for use in depression. Food sources of EPA and DHA include fish, seafood, and omega-3-enriched eggs. In addition to flax oil, ALA is found in canola oil, walnuts, and enriched eggs. “I think it would be fair to say that individuals with major depressive disorders should be taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, unless there’s a particular medical reason why they shouldn’t—of which there are very few,” says Dr. Freeman.

Moving depression out of your life

You probably know about “runner’s high”—the great feeling people get when they exercise vigorously. But, you’re thinking, you aren’t a gym rat or one of those well-toned runners you see burning up the roads. And putting out such effort may seem impossible, especially when you feel depressed. You can achieve the same positive mood effects from far-less-strenuous physical activities. Adding mild movement to a sedentary life can reduce your depressive symptoms even if your fitness level remains unchanged. What’s more, physical activity lessens depression regardless of your pre-existing health conditions, and may insulate you against future depressive symptoms. “Exercise has been shown to give us a boost of energy that helps us feel motivated and do things we might not want to do if we’re feeling down and depressed,” says Teresa M. Edenfield, PhD, a researcher and clinical associate in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC. That effect works for people with various levels of depression, from mild to major. “For people with very severe symptoms, exercise might not be enough. They might need something like medication or therapy,” Dr. Edenfield says, noting that medical care, psychological assessment, and safety monitoring are imperative. “We always caution people to seek professional help…to think about this as a combination approach.” Researchers are currently studying how, why, and for whom exercise works its antidepressant charm. Dr. Edenfield helped review a number of studies that supported using exercise to alleviate depression—either as an alternative to other types of treatment or in addition to them. One notable recent study took 153 women and 49 men, all diagnosed with major depression, and assigned them to either supervised group exercise, home-based exercise, a common antidepressant medication, or a placebo (“sugar”) pill. After four months, patients in the exercise-only groups showed just about the same relief from depression (40% to 45% remission) as did those taking medication.

Folate makes a difference

Depressed people often have low levels of folate, a B vitamin important for cell growth. Adult women should take in 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate daily, with pregnant women needing 600 mcg and nursing mothers, 500 mcg. Yet even if these amounts are consumed, some of our bodies don’t absorb or use folate well, resulting in deficiencies. Adding more folate to your diet—through foods or supplements—can reduce symptoms of depression, improve response to antidepressants, and may also help in recovery from depressive episodes. The U.S. government requires folate (as folic acid) to be added to some foods, such as fortified cereals and breads. Natural sources include liver, spinach, and black-eyed peas. “It’s pretty sound advice for women who are experiencing mood problems to take a multivitamin with folate,” says Dr. Freeman. “Most of us should be doing it anyway.” Other possibilities to consider There’s evidence that vitamin D influences depression. Vitamin D deficiency, which often occurs in older adults, has been shown to be related to low mood and cognitive difficulties. Many experts believe the current recommended daily dose of 400 IU of vitamin D is too low and have been pushing for that level to be raised to 800 IU or 1,000 IU daily. The herb St. John’s wort “has been demonstrated effective compared with placebo for more mild to moderate depression,” says Dr. Freeman, who chairs the American Psychiatric Association’s Task Force on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. She cautions that you not use St. John’s wort without a doctor’s supervision, due to various interactions the herb has with other drugs. St. John’s wort acts like an antidepressant, so should not be taken with other antidepressants. It also interferes with the proper functioning of oral contraceptives, immunosuppressants, HIV medications, and oral anticoagulants, among others. Light therapy—originally used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression linked to the dark days of winter—is now showing year-round benefits for general depression. “It looks effective for major depressive disorder, even if it’s not seasonally related,” Dr. Freeman says. The light boxes studied in research provide 10,000 lux of bright light. You sit in front of the light (it’s angled above eye level) for about 20 to 30 minutes each day, in the morning. For more information on the health topics me ntioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

 Depression: www.healthywomen.org/condition/depression

Anxiety and Depression Center : www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/anxiety-and-depression

Mental Health Center : www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/mental-health

© 2010 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (tollfree). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.


Make the Most of Indoor Exercise

12/26/2010

Many of us love being outdoors for physical activities. But when the weather gets crummy—too cold, too hot, or too much precipitation of any sort—we stay on the sofa, maybe for months, until things get better.

There’s no reason to give up exercising just because the weather stinks. You can stay physically fit, or get there, without leaving the comfort of indoors.

These tips can help make your indoor workouts work wonders for you:

  1. Put down the dark chocolate hearts and pick up your TV’s remote control. Get up off the couch. Turn on your set. If you have cable, it may offer free “when-you-want-them” video selections, including fitness or exercise programs. You’ll find choices from abdominal exercises to gentle yoga to walking or weight training. Some are as short as six minutes.

    Pick a different program every day or set up your own routine: walking videos three days a week; strength training two days a week. Vary your selection and you won’t get bored. You can also use a video recorder to capture regularly broadcast fitness shows.

  2. Use a free 5 or 10 minutes to do ab crunches on your bedroom rug or leg lifts while talking on the phone. Research shows that three 10-minute sessions of exercise in one day are as beneficial as one 30-minute session.
  3. Dance—with or without a partner. Just push back the coffee table and put on the music that gets you moving.
  4. Ride your bike indoors. Sounds crazy, but you can get a special bicycle stand that turns your street bike into a stationary exerciser. Check sporting goods and bike stores.
  5. Forget that you’re a grown-up and head to the roller rink. Family sessions are usually the most sedate and best for those who haven’t been on wheels for awhile. Once you get your rhythm going, you can burn more than 400 calories an hour. 

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Fitness: www.healthywomen.org/condition/fitness

Weight Management: www.healthywomen.org/condition/weight-management

Healthy Living: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/fitness

Diet and Fitness Center : www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/diet-and-fitness

© 2010 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.