Healing Prolapse: Why Squats are the Best Exercise for Women

The floor doesn’t have to be out of reach, and getting up from the floor shouldn’t be a team activity. Squats are a fundamental, full body exercise for balance, flexibility and strength that allow you to do more, better, and look good in the process.

In the pursuit of wellness, your foundation has to be solid. Inner strength and the ability to weather storms is more important than merely looking good. Squats are the bedrock of fitness. They develop the fundamental muscles necessary for security and strength in daily life.

I did not grow up knowing how to use my body properly. Exercise wasn’t really my gig. I didn’t realize how much could go wrong without a base fitness plan. After the birth of my second son, I was advised to not pick up my children. That was not good advice. Our inner organs are held in place by ligaments and the surrounding muscles of the core and pelvic floor. The diaphragm regulates pressure in the cavity, which helps to support the spine and pelvic floor while lifting heavy objects. Without proper breathing and muscle tone all the way around, back pain is likely and a hernia or prolapse will appear. A minor slip on a wet floor could turn into a major injury. Proper core fitness is crucial to moving and accomplishing daily activities safely.

But I didn’t know all that, so I’ll skip ahead and tell you that four more children didn’t make anything better. Groceries and babies still needed lifting, regardless of how much it damaged my body. Although I never mentioned it, I was not alone. Depending on the source, anywhere from 20-50% of women have some sort of pelvic floor disorder or outright prolapse. Surgery is available, but again, depending on the source, failure rates for the different surgeries are 37-60%. This is deplorable. Like most ailments on the rise today, these are almost completely preventable.

Losing tone in your body doesn’t come from age – it comes from lack of proper use. Our bodies are designed to maintain integrity, heal from injury and continue to work well through the years. Yet, I struggled with the fact that, although my chiropractor could adjust everything back into place, it wouldn’t stay. Kegels were good, but insufficient. They only work the bottom sling of the torso, not the supporting structure. In order to strengthen the internal web holding organs in place- tighten the puppeteer’s strings, if you will – squats need to be incorporated.

Squatting is a natural human movement, and should be a part of our everyday activities. Somehow, though, the western world has nearly eliminated the need for squatting with the invention of toilets and EZLift recliners – much to our detriment. A squat, done properly, maintains flexibility of the ankles, knees, hips and shoulders. With proper flexibility comes solid muscle tone to hold those major joints in alignment. It is really a whole body exercise that strengthens and stabilizes the foundational muscles. With a strong core and rear end, falls are more easily avoided and getting back up from a fall is much easier.

It was hard at first. I didn’t see much change, and if anything, it seemed like I got worse. My knees hurt and my heels would not stay down. I found out how little I actually flex my hips, and had to learn where my glute muscles were. My breathing while lifting was actually pushing my organs out of place. I worked to match my form to the fitness experts on youTube. I was motivated by seeing disability rails next to every toilet in America and photos of people in foreign countries happily squatting for hours next to their wares at the market or over their work. I couldn’t even get in that position, much less hold it for hours AND get back up!!

Several sites helped me immensely. The first, to help me bring that prolapse under control and learn proper breathing, was the “Lift” series by FemFusion Fitness, which is a treasure trove of everything women’s fitness. The second, to improve strength and posture, was Foundation Training. His 12-minute workout is one of the best I’ve ever found for keeping my body working well. The biggest thing in learning to squat properly was to realize that the hips are a big hinge: start by bending there and pushing your weight back. Keep your weight in your heels, don’t let your knees go past your toes or fall inward, and try to make strong angles with hips and shoulders (curving your lower back or shoulders signals a need for better strength.) Work on form first, and depth of squat later. Here’s a good example –

Don’t think you have to join a gym to do this. I began doing a little each day, whatever I could fit in or felt like doing (or remembered to do.) Within two weeks, my kids commented that my posture had changed. I looked stronger. Whenever kids notice Mom, that’s significant. It took a few more months, but prolapse is no longer something that bothers me. Every week I am stronger and feel more secure. I don’t worry about picking up a child or a bag of dog food.

Fitness is a choice. It is up to you what you choose to lose or to keep. The floor doesn’t have to be out of reach, and getting up from ground level shouldn’t be a team activity. Squats are a fundamental, full body exercise for building balance, flexibility and strength, allowing you to do more, better, and look good in the process. Add a set or two into your day for 30 days, and see if it doesn’t change your baseline fitness. Your body was designed to work, and work well for many years. With the right foundation and maintenance, it will do so for a lifetime.

Getting it Done: Achieving the Goals You Set

You had great intentions. Two weeks ago, you set a goal to become a better person, and you threw yourself into it. But now a few days have been missed, and rationalizations have dismissed much of the initial importance. It’s beginning to look like you’re just like everyone else, after all. Another week and what was so important three weeks ago is about to be another embarrassing failure.

It doesn’t have to be. The question is: “How do I break down my goal into achievable steps and then, how do I follow through on them?” There are so many facets here. I’ll try to hit the ones I see and hopefully have something that helps you.

Specific steps depend on what the big goal is, of course. But determining what those steps are is somewhat generalizable. For anything new to become a habit, the old way of doing things has to change. Something has to drop, and a better routine must take its place. Wholesome foods must replace junk food, and a reading or exercise plan will have to supercede another, less productive activity.

Tap into something that already works.

Think about what’s working already. If you have a good morning routine of shower, shave and shine, then tap into it. Add exercise to the front of it, or a devotional time to the end of it. Some years ago, my exercise plan fell apart. My lifelong walk-the-dog-after-dinner habit went down the drain with the advent of children. I had to rethink it. It was harder, but it worked. I woke up with my husband’s alarm and went for a walk while he got ready in the morning. I already had an accomplishment under my belt by the time I’d entered the shower.

Another idea I came across last year was to do a few exercises every time you go to the bathroom. Ten squats, 10 sink push-ups and 10 tricep dips on the edge of the counter – then wash your hands and walk out. Depending how many times you visit the restroom, you could get a decent amount of exercise in this way. If you’re doing this in the company restroom, you may get some strange looks on occasion; but hey – we all need a good laugh, right?

If you don’t have something good you can tag onto, start one. One very cold winter, I could not get outside. My attitude was in the toilet and I had no motivation for anything. I needed an infusion of positivity. I chose a book (it could be anything, but mine was a Bible study) and made myself a warm, health-inspired mocha and nestled into a sunny corner. I couldn’t believe it when the dog curled up on my feet. It was perfect. And it was easy to remember to do the next day – it has now been my habit for several years.

Make it rewarding.

Do you see the magic bullet that made each of my strategies stick? It’s the reward. With my morning walk, it was the feeling of accomplishment during a time I normally wasted waiting for the shower. In my bathroom scenario, little snippets of exercise add up quickly – when else was I going to fit 50 squats and push-ups into my day?? And the Bible study hit my positivity button before I ever opened the Book. Seek steps that reward the effort.

This is harder with food. You have to be careful not to take the cheap reward. Choosing something smarter that still hits the spot but does not trigger an insulin response is tricky. Grabbing a Snickers bar is reward in itself. But 20 minutes later, the body is craving another sugar hit. You have to find something with a similar mouthfeel without the carbs. I keep a pretty bowl of something on my desk, usually raw cashews, that is easier to snitch than getting up to get what I don’t need.

Plan ahead, and commit to the plan.

So here’s the next tip that I just alluded to: Plan ahead. If it’s for exercise, lay out your clothes and sneakers the night before. I have been waylaid by something as simple as my elderly dog asleep across the door of the closet. It’s easier for me to go back to bed than move him. Clothes laid out take away any excuse and guilt-trip you into working the plan. For reading goals, make sure to set up your desk or reading area the night before. Make it comfortable and welcoming, with a special coaster for the coffee cup. Dust and bills gleaming in the morning sun are not welcoming. Keeping those at bay become secondary goals – that must be addressed, too.

And this is where solid intentions make the difference. It is your goal to actually do this, so the clothes must be laid out, the dust must be abated and the bills have to be under control (or at least elsewhere.) Setting aside a minute to do the supplementary goals makes the primary goal more likely to happen. If any one of these things gets done, you need to recognize it as an accomplishment. You are further ahead than yesterday!! (You may not have gotten out the door for that run, but you’ve now figured out what you’re going to wear to run tomorrow. You are a step ahead!) Little strides make big changes.

Make a plan for your plan. Know which route you’re taking, or how far you intend to read. Have a backup plan for illness or setbacks (There are plenty of options for even seated yoga moves at Darebee.com) Set out the recipe for the new meal. Remember, it’s easier to just do the plan in the morning than to come up with a new idea. My grandmother always set out an egg the night before for her breakfast. She had to use it now that it had sat out all night. She committed herself to her plan, and it worked.

Notice the progress.

We are all works in progress. With intentional effort each day toward the goal, however little, overall improvement happens. If you realize later in the day that you forgot to (whatever it is), then at your next moment, do it. Even if you have to get back up out of bed to do it before you go to sleep, that’s where the real progress happens. At this point, partial completion sometimes has to be enough. Five chapters won’t happen at bedtime, and 45 minutes of cardio probably isn’t smart. But one chapter, or one set of squats moves you toward the goal and does not allow an inch of failure.

And that inch forward is what gets you there. Don’t worry about the day you fall down. You’re bigger than that setback. Get back in the saddle in the morning. If something isn’t working, sit down and rework the plan. I’ve reset my exercise goal three times already this year. But it’s okay, because I’ve exercised every day. The goal wasn’t to complete X workout; it was to exercise daily.

Stop and assess every night before bed or at the end of every Friday. What have you done? Did you get 3 days in? How does that compare to where you were before you started? If it’s an improvement, you are making strides. If you’re losing ground, assess that, too. If boredom is getting you down, change the plan for next week. You are not failing; you are finding what works. Boredom is similar to muscle fatigue: you’ve accomplished what you set out to do and it’s time to step up your game. You have achieved your initial goal! Mark this on your Achieved list!

Every day, every Monday is a new beginning. Be intentional about getting better and becoming the best you possible. Because it is possible. You are worth the investment. You just have to go out there and do it. And then you just must celebrate the victory. Comment below with your victory – I’d love to celebrate with you!!

My son, celebrating his way.

** Personal note: Some years ago, I was coming off a pretty serious ankle injury. I was given a camera, which set in motion what has since become this article. I set myself a goal of finding one photo-worthy thing each day. I had to walk to find it, and was not allowed to photograph the same thing twice. In just a few months, I went from walking to the end of my driveway to several miles a day, renewed my love of photography and conquered depression – all from that one goal.

All photos in this blog are mine unless otherwise noted, and are copyrighted.

Achieving Real Health

Who are you? How do others see you? Do you reflect everything you were created to be?

We’re embarking on the second week of 2019. The ramifications of our resolutions are becoming clear, and making this change permanent is looking to be more difficult than we’d hoped. Resolutions, because they are effecting change, take us out of our comfort zone. But if it were easy, we would not be making progress. But what is the real goal, and what will carry us through the obstacles on our path?

The reason for any lasting change has to be solid. Just fitting into that sexy dress isn’t enough – at the moment of truth, I don’t care about that dress. I care about who I am, and how I am perceived by others. I want people to treat me with respect because of what they see. A person with presence doesn’t deal with the same petty nuisances that others do.

So who are you? How do others see you? I knew a man who stopped to look at himself and the imprint he made on his young daughter. Did he want her growing up with a picture of Dad in her head, looking for a similar foul-mouthed, beer drinking jerk for a husband? He changed overnight and never looked back.

He knew that his image was not how he wanted to be remembered. But more, he cared about who she saw herself to be, how worthy she was, and what her children would become. How often do we stop and wonder how that amazing ancestor we all have would think about us? Are we everything he dreamed we would be? Do we represent his lineage well?

Life is a gift. We did not create ourselves. All we can do is maintain what we have, and maybe do a complete restoration at some point (or points.) Many years ago, my dad gave me an old bicycle. He had picked it up at a garage sale some time back, a few years old but very neglected. He stripped it to its beautiful frame, painted it black, and applied the decals that would’ve been proper when it was new. He polished its chrome rims and fenders, and bought new whitewall tires. That bike was gorgeous, and I received lots of compliments. But it’s been hanging in my shed for a long time now. The decals are chipped, the chain and hubs are dry, and the rims no longer shine. It now shows my neglect more clearly than my dad’s handiwork.

Has putting others’ needs ahead of your own left you forgotten and rusty? It may be time for a resto. But to what? If you were stripped down to the basics of who you should be, what would you build on?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.  – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Scripture says your body is a temple, in which God’s Spirit lives. I picture the supermodel that a company hires to be the faceplate for the brand. God chose you as His faceplate. You are the very image of God. That is buildable.

God is the author of health. If we are reflecting Him properly in the world, we should look like the intricately designed and tuned vessels they are. It’s more than just food and exercise that makes us healthy. Professional, social and spiritual pursuits also impact who we are. Everything we put into our lives should be whole, hearty and life-giving if we are to truly shine with health. Health, like beauty, is a total package, both inside and out.

The image must have integrity.

Once you recognize who you really are, who you were created to be, and how important you are, resolutions become more achievable. Stop and think, at various points in the day, if you are reflecting your design clearly. Is this what a temple of God looks like and accomplishes? Is this how a temple of God stands in the midst of trouble? Is this what a temple of God is used for? The closer you get to ‘yes’ on these questions, the closer you are to real health.

Dehydration in Winter?

I was fine. Two days of holiday cooking and entertaining were successfully under my belt, and we were now leaving to visit relatives for the day. I felt a small cramp in my lower back, but thought nothing of it. Still working out the kinks of sleep, I thought. But then my left knee gave out. My son asked if I was all right – I’m fine, I replied, there was no pain and I didn’t fall. It’s all good. But within ten minutes, I could feel the nerve that ran from the center of my back down into that knee plainly. It wasn’t overly painful, but I was quickly discovering that standing up straight stabbed my back and disabled my knee simultaneously. Everything was fine if I sat down, so we continued with our day – driving didn’t bother me a bit. We joked about how I’d like my disability scooter equipped. By the next morning, though, I was stuck in a hunched-over, 80 year-old woman stance with limited ability to move anything. I headed over to the chiropractor.

I knew he’d fix me in a jiffy, like always, but he surprised me with his first treatment. He handed me a cup of water with a superdose of electrolytes in it. He chastised me for not immediately drinking when the first back cramp struck. I should’ve known that.

Most people know what dehydration looks like in the middle of heat and exercise, but winter dehydration comes on more gradually and is a bit different. I had none of the signs my quick Google search gave me to look for with dehydration. What I did have:

  • cramps across the lower back
  • vision had been worse for several days
  • thigh muscles were hard as rocks
  • craving sweets
  • constipation
  • a headache (I didn’t have this one, but it’s quite common)

Who hasn’t felt like this after a day of working on our feet? None of these are overly notable in the midst of the holidays. These are actually the most common symptoms of low intakes of water and electrolytes.

Calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride work together in your body to make sure the water pressures inside and surrounding your cells are perfect so that the cells don’t shrivel up or explode. When dissolved in water, the minerals develop electrical charges which regulate whether water flows into our out of the cells, lubricating our joints and operating nerve impulses. This is what keeps our hearts pumping and everything else in the body working.

While I was happily celebrating the holidays, my water levels were getting low. Sugar and alcohol depleted my minerals while replacing my normal water intake. My eyes, which rely on moisture to focus, tried to alert me, but I ignored them and put glasses on to continue with my work. Then everything came to a screeching halt after my morning coffee, a diuretic which depleted both minerals and water a little further. Muscles cramped, nerves fired with pain but not for movement, and there was no more lubrication for the bones in the area.

Normally, a whole food diet supplies enough minerals and electrolytes to keep a non-athlete hydrated. But in a recovery situation like this, supplements are in order. Power Pak or Emergen-C are your best options, and are easy to find in stores. Trace Minerals Research has a whole line of sugar-free products designed for rehydration based on your needs. Nuun sells a purse or backpack-friendly plastic vial of ten tablets. It’s very easy to keep little packets or a small bottle on hand to be mixed with water as needed. There are others, but I cannot speak from experience of using them.

How much water do you need? A basic rule of thumb is to drink half of your bodyweight (in pounds) in ounces of water. That means that if you weigh 170 lbs, you’ll want 85 oz, or about 10-1/2 glasses of water daily. This doesn’t have to mean that you’ll be running to the restroom every 20 minutes. Ensuring that you have enough minerals in your system holds the water where it needs to be.

Celtic Sea Salt (which is not standard table salt, but a natural mineral mix) is a delicious way to make sure you’re getting the trace minerals your body needs for maintenance. Just season your food to taste at every meal and drink a glass of pure water alongside. I keep a large glass of water on my desk to remind me to hydrate. I just need to find a new trigger for when I’m in the kitchen (or stay at my desk!)

Dehydration shouldn’t be a normal part of winter. With a little attention to eating whole foods and drinking plenty of pure water, the body can be properly nourished so we can do what we want to do well.

Do you have a question about this post, or about another issue you’d like to know about? Comment below, and I’ll try to answer your question directly or in another post.  Like what you see?  Subscribe to my blog!

What diet is best for me? or, How to use a Food Journal

What diet is best for me? 

Which supplement should I take?

How do I know which brands are best?

These are such common questions, and very good ones to be asking.  The problem is, there’s no right-and-done answer.  People are complex organisms, and what works for one individual may not work so well for the next.  Bio-individuality explains the differences in individuals as well as the plethora of supplements on the shelves and the number of diet plans that all seem to work for somebody.

How do you find what will actually work for you?

The honest truth is that no one knows but you. 

Your body is unique, and like no one else’s. You have different parents, different eating and stress patterns, different energy levels, different chromosomes from every other person on this planet.  We are all similar, yet each of us is a one-off creation with custom requirements.

The only way to know what your body needs is to test and see what works and what doesn’t.

It’s simple, yet very scientific.  Experiment, observe, and document – the fundamentals of science are the basics of keeping a health journal.  Writing down what you observe – a journal – is key to gaining success in personal health.

Basically, you need to note what you do and how you feel each day until you get a clear picture of what foods cause fatigue or constant cravings for more, and which ones energize you.  It’s important to note the times of everything, even if it’s just morning or evening.  You will begin to see how particular foods impact you.  You can also note exercise and sleep, as foods often affect the quality of both. Moods are very important to watch.  I was in high school when I noticed that I often fought with my mom in the mornings before school, leaving me crying bitterly all the way to school. By the time I arrived at school, I was exhausted and snacking on my lunch, leaving me not enough food to get through the day.  It didn’t take long to isolate a particular breakfast cereal which caused me major mood swings – which combined with a milk sensitivity to ruin my day.  When I ceased having cereal with milk for breakfast, all that drama ceased.

It’s not difficult, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. You’re just looking for patterns.

First thing in the morning, note your baseline: how do you feel before adding food? Fill in the time and whether you’re energetic, motivated, well-rested or feel run over by a truck.  Then have breakfast and note what you had, and how you feel immediately afterward. Are you satisfied? Or are you craving sweets or something else? If there was much time between waking and eating, note the time you ate. One or two hours later, note again the time and how you’re feeling. Are you tired, or still energetic? Grouchy or content? Needing a cup of coffee or a treat?

Repeat this for everything you eat for one week, including the weekend: the time, what you ate, and how you feel, both immediately and several hours later. Put each entry on a new line to make it easier to spot similarities. Figuring out supplements will require you to treat them like a food, isolating different supplements from each other by several hours or alternate days. You will begin to see patterns after several days (maybe sooner!) of how each food or supplement impacts your energy levels and moods, both immediately and over time. Bloating and nasal stuffiness, for instance, often happen hours later or the next day.

As you begin seeing that protein for breakfast leads to a productive day, or a smoothie turns you into a snackaholic, you will learn what works and what doesn’t.  Experiment with new eating patterns.  Pretty soon, you will have a custom-made, workable diet plan that is tailored to your individual needs.

You don’t have to do this forever – just until you find what you’re looking for. The more you track, the better picture you will have. And keep in mind, as your needs change, you may want to repeat this exercise to see why old patterns are no longer working. Fine-tuning is part of staying healthy over the long term.

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The first journal I used for my son. It took years to correlate foods and moods because I didn’t note times of both. It still helped me find intolerances and develop a diet for him.

Let me know if you try this, and what you find!!

 

I found this post really fun inspiration for watching my health:  http://steadystrength.com/10-motivational-nutrition-quotes/

 

Teaching Children to Eat Well

I heard a blurb on the radio the other day about how a study had come out proving that it wasn’t worth the fight to make your children eat vegetables.  I didn’t hear the details of who published it; I was too busy collecting my jaw from the floor and listening to their rationalizations.  From what the DJ said, the psychosocial damage to both parent and child totally outweighs any benefit of the vegetable eaten, and over time, forcing the issue of food makes no statistical difference in how the grown child eats.

I think the study missed the point. If the current global health crisis is to be addressed, it must be addressed one kid at a time, one meal at a time. Our habits of eating must change. It’s a lifestyle, not a short-term diet. With that in mind, if you’re in a battle over food with your child, it’s because they’ve already learned what to eat. They eat what you eat. If you’re trying to force them to do what you don’t, they know it’s only a matter of time before you give up; they’ve won.

How should we eat? is a question that starts really early. The newborn is learning constantly. He is watching how you move, listening to how you talk to others, and tasting broccoli in mama’s milk. So good nutrition starts with me, what I eat, and what I provide for my child. As he begins to wean off of milk, his first food should not be french fries at McDonald’s.  (I’m ashamed to admit that two of my children did start this way.) Boys love getting to use real tools, and using appropriately-sized knives to help cut veggies for Mommy will encourage them to be part of the process of putting food on the family’s table. (This is how I retrained those two .) Girls can and will do the same, but they’re usually motivated by getting to “play” with shapes and how the finished product will look. Let them be creative with combinations and shapes. And don’t be discouraged when you run out of ingredients for dinner because they ate everything raw as they chopped.  I’ve been there.

I did have a mother once tell me she envisioned her children, running horror-flick style through the house with butcher knives. I suppose that could be a problem, but it’s not been my experience.  Kids are always welcome in my kitchen. Good things happen there. I allow little ones to snitch snacks while I prepare and they watch – here’s when they learn to keep their hands away from the knives. Toddlers can be given table knives to slice their own banana with breakfast, or cooked baby carrots with dinner. As they gain skill, we move to a sharper knife, and mushrooms or celery on a cutting board at the table where they can work securely.  I’ve never met a kid who didn’t enjoy cutting little trees out of a head of broccoli. I think the trick to turn little Freddie into a chef instead of a B-rate movie character is your expectations of him. As you treat kitchen implements with respect and skill, he learns what kitchen work looks like.

Remember to model well, even when you think they’re not looking. They are. They can do more than you think they can.  This salad was completely made by children – little ones sectioning oranges, leafing lettuce and slicing grapes, slightly older ones slicing avocados and mixing dressing. I buy sliced almonds, unless someone wants to show off their cutlery skills.

This is lifestyle training, then, more than a health curriculum.  It’s not just about what they eat. If all they eat is McDonald’s, they will buck vegetables. They won’t know what asparagus looks like. They might even fear beets. Toddlers learn by handling things, experimenting with flavors, textures, and how things react to touch. By giving them fresh, raw foods, and letting them pick out new ones at the grocery store to take home and prepare, they learn to love real food. You’ll teach them not only that “we eat healthy food,” but that they are capable of doing this for themselves.

This is efficiency at its best. Little Freddie’s pre-dinner time at the cutting board not only kept him from screaming hungrily at your feet while you’re trying to prepare dinner, but taught him how to eat well, manage his health, and keep control of his finances. You helped him to make difference in the world, all while maintaining a happy home. Is this difficult to do in a dual-income home? Yes, but meals still need made. Why not enlist help, even if it’s not the most effective (yet)?  The time you invest in making dinner for your family is time you didn’t have to spend at the doctor’s office for sick kids, and money you didn’t have to spend on blood pressure medications for yourself. As you get older, don’t be surprised when they take over the kitchen to make “what they really like.”

The health of our country is atrocious, and the world is not much better. Fighting for health is worth it, but it’s not about fighting our children. It’s about joining together as a family to fight for what is good for all of us.  Change starts small – with me. Even if I don’t like vegetables and I didn’t start them out properly, if I know that my children should eat better, then so should I.  Admit it to them. Struggle together against junk food cravings. Make peach cobbler to reward everybody for trying your new cauliflower soup recipe.  It’s good for all of us, and none of us want to die young of totally preventable illnesses. This is about loving our children, and wanting to be there for our grandchildren.

Raising a family is not about making the kids into something you’re not willing to be. It’s about making sure that what you’ve started makes a difference that lasts into the next generation. If you’re not on the right track, change it, and encourage your family wo come along. Any change is hard; there will be days when ice cream is dinner. But those days should be rare, and getting rarer every year as the family learns to enjoy the benefits of health that eating well brings.

Stress, Gratitude and your Health

Have you ever stopped to look at what you have and be grateful for it?

I know, I said it myself:  Yeah, right. You have no idea what I’m living through.

I remember being asked this question some years ago, and answering exactly those words (in my head.) But my friend said one more thing.

Nothing will be right until you have gratitude first. 

Life is not what you have; it’s what you make of it.  It has taken me a few years to wrap my head around this.  But we must grasp it, as well as why it is important.

Nothing has changed in the years since I came across the idea, except me. I have heard the voices speaking into me, which taught me to look for ways to bless my family when all I saw was a sink full of dirty dishes, or to speak life into another when it only looked like an argument in my face.

Stress from family discord, business setbacks, or health challenges causes its own drag on your health. Stress triggers cortisol in your system, which sets your nervous system on edge to fight the battles and slay the dragons around you.  While the stressor looms, even if only in your mind as you rehearse the wrongs of the day, digestion is turned off and your heart pumps harder to maintain readiness at all battlestations. Sleep is not rejuvenating. Tomorrow seems worse because today never went away.

You must choose your response.  Will you allow the dragons to slay you, or will you be the victor today?  When the car on the freeway cuts you off, do you downshift to road rage mode and begin shouting and waving your hands at the driver?  Or do you just kindly give them some space – and thus avoid becoming an accident statistic? When your loved one mouths off at you – do you stop, ask thoughtful questions, and listen attentively?  Do you try to see the big picture of history and be part of the main storyline, and not just a side distraction along the way?

It’s not always easy.  I get it.  But it’s hugely gratifying, at the end of the day, to look back and see all the ways you acted on your intentions instead of on your reflexes. All the ways you were part of the solution instead of the escalation of the problem. All the ways you chose to not let cortisol race through your system and ravage you unnecessarily. And the moment you take to reflect on solid conversations, on intentional peacemaking efforts, on purposeful edification of another – is very positive for your personal health.

When cortisol stays in storage instead of coursing through your veins, the parasympathetic nervous system is allowed to handle things appropriately.  Blood flows freely through your mind for creative pursuits and all organs function efficiently. Your body maintains standard operating procedure, where life is calm and sleep is restful.

This is the key to longer life. Balance in your nervous system is the why behind the “Breathe and count to 10” advice we often hear. Deep, slow breathing counteracts tension. Constant stressors, coupled with our own propensity to resentment when things don’t go our way, will drive us into the grave. Anger and bitterness, driven by cortisol, produce an acidic environment in our bodies that actually eats away at our insides over time. We must learn to manage the hostile world we live in, within and without.

Two things are necessary to break the cycle of stress and frustration:

  1. Confess that you are not strong enough to control the world on your own. Sometimes, like a child trying to move a boulder has not used everything at his disposal until he finds somebody bigger than him to help, we need a competent friend. The ravages of this world are infinite – only the eternal God is big enough to provide what you need to stand well. Ask for help from the only One who truly can make things right.
  2. Eat your vegetables. Vegetables are alkaline, and will balance the acids in your system to help bring about stability. Digestion will improve and constipation will clear as weakened organs are strengthened. This will, in turn, clear your mind to see things more creatively and look for wise solutions to problems instead of stagnating in the circumstances.

Stop and look around you. You have so much more than most people in this world.  Even our problems would be blessings in the eyes of the person who’s lost everything but life itself. Change your perspective and watch your physical health improve.

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Even a dirt road past the cow pasture can be beautiful if you stop to see.