Exercise for Total Health

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It’s cold outside, and exercising is no fun when it’s cold. I gave up swimming last year for walking, for precisely this reason. But I haven’t kept up my walking schedule through January any better than the swimming routine.

It’s fine, though, because we’ll all just get back on the bandwagon once it’s warmer, right? This is a slippery slope. Pretty soon, it’ll be too hot to exercise.  Any excuse will work. Once the routine slips, it’s much harder to restart it. There needs to be a plan for every day, regardless of the weather or other obstacles. Some sort of movement needs to happen.

Exercise is important to keep the body not just looking good, but functioning properly.  Most people think of heart health when they consider the benefits of exercise, which is primary. Without strength in the pump of life, all else fails. The brain, eyes and toes all rely on the cardiovascular system for sustenance. Thirty minutes of walking, every day, improves endurance for daily activities and dramatically lowers your risks for heart attack, stroke and other debilities.

There’s so much more that goes on during exercise, though.  Many organs don’t have muscular structures like the heart, so they rely on the massaging action of the muscles around them to fully work. The lymph system looks similar to the veins of the cardiovascular system, and is the primary route for waste products to be carried out of the body. Unlike blood vessels, there is no musculature or pump, and it is completely dependent on the motion of muscles and joints to push lymphatic fluid out. The sweat of exercise is actually a lot of trash moved to the curb.

Breathing, too, is part of this cleansing process. During strenuous exercise, your body increases the amount of air moving in and out, which clears excess carbon dioxide out of the lungs. With the increased volume of the lungs, fluids in the body’s tissues are pushed toward the collector vessels of the lymphatic system. Waste products in those fluids are  then filtered out with the movement of the lungs, heart, and skeletal muscles.

Fresh air flooding into the body improves mood and brain function, which last long after the activity stops. In children, regular exercise increases academic performance; in older adults, it maintains and enhances brain function. Advanced age does not have to equate to  decline if regular aerobic exercise is part of your lifestyle.

 

“All parts of the body, if used in moderation and exercised in labors to which each is accustomed, become thereby healthy and well developed and age slowly; but if they are unused and left idle, they become liable to disease, defective in growth and age quickly”

– Hippocrates

When Food is a Problem

Using the Wheelbarrow Concept to unravel food sensitivities and work toward a solution.

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Most mothers will struggle at some point with at least one of the following scenarios, all of which involve food:

  • the child who, after eating a bowl of breakfast cereal, either becomes argumentative or hyperactive, only to crash into depression or fatigue after an hour.
  • the adult who develops a headache after lunch, especially fast food.
  • a toddler with recurrent ear infections and nonstop congestion year-round

Reading labels on foods can help to identify additives that may be a problem, like high fructose corn syrup causing a “sugar high,” or synthetic ingredients triggering headaches. But often that isn’t enough; finding conclusive patterns of what causes an issue is nearly impossible with the extensive and often vague ingredient lists for most foods. Whole, unprocessed foods are simpler and limit the variables, but this, too, is often inconclusive.

Keeping a food journal is an effective way to spot patterns. With my own son, I found about a dozen suspect foods but eliminating them wasn’t resolving his issues. Tests revealed he was sensitive to more than 50 common food items and many neighborhood trees.

We can’t just eliminate 50 common food items for a child; he still has to eat.

Enter what I call the “wheelbarrow concept.” On any building site, workers haul loads of rocks, dirt, and bricks. No load is particularly heavy, and the workers continue all day until the work is finished. While it’s tempting to want to just make one heavy load of everything, that load overwhelms the tools and strength available. Essentially, what the wheelbarrow concept explains is that no worker can haul rocks, bricks, and dirt together in his wheelbarrow without it tipping over or breaking.

It translates to food this way: many people, adults and children alike, don’t handle milk products well, but they can have them in moderation. Sugar is a burden but not normally a problem. Corn products are unnoticeable in nearly everything.  However, combine those ingredients in a bowl of Frosted Flakes, and the food sensitive person’s wheelbarrow tips over. Hyperactivity and emotions become nearly uncontrollable. The very predictable crash happens about an hour later, with apathy and sometimes severe depression lasting for several hours. The reaction is totally out of proportion to the ingredients and not always obviously related. Add a cheeseburger and a soda for the next meal (more corn syrup and milk products along with the related beef proteins), and the body begins protecting itself by producing mucus which plugs the ears and inflames the gut.

Essentially, this is negative synergy at work. Several items that aren’t significant stressors on their own combine together to make a big reaction.

Now think about the ramifications. To a person with grass allergies, eating wheat bread during hayfever season could be life threatening. Recognizing that it may not be one ingredient, but a combination of seemingly benign ones, helps to understand why that person’s wheelbarrow has tipped over. It also leads us to the solution.

The only way to strengthen a weak muscle, organ or system is to give it a rest. Problem foods and exposures must be separated. Rotation allows an overactive immune system to heal while still eating.

Since the body takes approximately four days to completely clear a meal from its system, nothing is eaten more than once every 4 days. Different grains go onto separate days, as do meats, vegetables and fruits. Sweeteners are separated out into different types. The idea is to give the body time to clear small problems singly and not overload it with troublesome combinations. It also ensures eating a varied diet, which begins building the immune system to handle food more effectively.

This requires a plan to administer, and the discipline that goes into actually accomplishing it is admittedly huge.  But the benefits are worth the investment. The longer you can maintain it the better the results. Beginning after a few weeks, inflammation and congestion begin to disappear, excess weight drops off, learning difficulties can clear up, and seasonal allergies lessen or go away. The food budget has probably gone up, but the medical line item goes dramatically down.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
― Hippocrates

 

 

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Achieving Your Fitness Goals

The most important goal is the one that makes a difference at the end of the year.

A new year is here: it’s time to renew the quest for a better self. Whether you start the year with a detox program or a new diet or exercise routine, the trick is to get past February to accomplishing lasting change. So it must be a goal that’s challenging yet still achievable. It must make a difference at the end of the year.

What, honestly, is really important? Define your terms – what would make you healthier?

A popular option is detoxification. Basically, it means cleaning out any poisons or accumulated junk that are overwhelming our normal filtration systems. It usually means some sort of fasting. The Master Cleanse, also known as the Lemonade Diet, features lemon juice, maple syrup, salt water and cayenne for 10 days. Many supplement companies offer packages of nutrients, fiber, and colon cleansers to be taken along with a limited list of other foods for 21 – 30 days, thereby bypassing the starvation factor. Since motivation is high at the beginning of the year, many people like to start strong with a detox so that the larger goal of eating clean is easier as life crowds back in. It’s not a long-term diet, but a yearly cleanse to release old junk and jumpstart a new, healthier lifestyle. It’s just very difficult to get through the first few days: the body hits panic buttons when the usual crutches of caffeine or sugar don’t arrive on cue.

Dieting, as a longer term strategy, has unlimited options. When choosing what’s right, it’s important to know what the real problem is. Is overindulgence the issue, or is there a food sensitivity that’s causing inflammation? Or is the body depleted of a particular nutrient that’s driving overeating? It’s easy to see this in teenagers, who eat almost embarrassingly at a party and yet still continue browsing the snack table because their bodies need something that hot dogs, chips and soda aren’t providing. Limiting amounts of food isn’t the right solution. I’ll go into different types of diets in future posts, but for now, if this is where you’re heading, choose what seems right and achievable.

Be aware, too, that an overarching change in diet, while it may be a good idea, can be pretty formidable. The body doesn’t respond well to edicts, and a sudden overhaul with no comfort foods and no end in sight is not a recommended path to lasting change. Better to start with smaller changes and more gradually adapt to mostly whole foods. Leave the complete vegetarian or ketogenic status for later, when your body is closer and can make a step to that level.

Exercise is always a good idea, as long as it’s approached realistically. Beware of the “couch to tri-athlete in 5 weeks” plans. Start with a shorter-term exercise routine and take it up a notch as you progress. Darebee.com has a ton of free exercise programs, challenges and fitness information at all fitness levels to get you started and keep you going. No gym required!

Whatever the goal, put it on the planner or set an alarm, and don’t rely on good intentions to get it done. The routines and muscle memory aren’t in place yet. Habits are ruts that we fall into that make moving through the day easy. They should help us by doing tedious work while we plot bigger things. So the hardest part of achieving a resolution is getting out of the bad habit rut. In order to change the tracks, we have to fall off the edges back into the bad rut many times before the new, good track is formed. Making it permanent comes with learning how to overcome failure and strengthening muscles to hold the intended course. Once a good rut is formed, the routine takes over and there is no discussion about whether you will stay on the diet or do the exercises today. Healthy habits have become part of the routine.

Treat yourself like you’d like to be treated. Don’t lay down the law for your body and expect it to obey. Set real-life objectives that allow for interruptions and don’t require around-the-clock toilet access. Some great plans that allow for actual life are:

– Study or exercise plans that take weekends off, allowing for catch-up if you’ve missed or taking a break if you haven’t

– Six day diets that are fairly strict but then the seventh is a free day to eat whatever you like

– Exercise programs that mix things up daily to maintain interest

Intermittent or partial fasting: either not eating for a period of time each day, or excluding a particular food. Both can be a great way to take control of health.

The takeaway is not to expect perfection. You are regrooving a rut – the aim is progress in the proper direction. If you take a break on the wrong day, it’s no big deal. Just keep going as though you kept to the plan. It’s more important to finish strong than make every step perfect. Look for improvement and celebrate it. It may not be what you shot for, but it’s a step in the right direction. Positive motion – or lack of negative motion – is more certain than unsustainable perfection. I went 12 weeks once on a diet and exercise program before the scale let go of that number. Frustration was mine, but I wouldn’t let it be the last word. I put a picture of myself with a cow on the fridge and vowed to be able to discern the two when summer came. By the end of the year, I’d dropped 30 lbs. Celebrate the score days and don’t sweat the dropped ones. Each day is new; just start back over on the plan.

You’ll get there. Hopefully I can give you some useful information that will help move your health in the right direction this year. What would help you the most? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll put it on the list of topics!

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The Essentials of Essential Oils

Essential oils can make small work of illnesses and promote long-term health. They just must be used wisely.

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Essential oils are the topic of nearly every alternative health discussion, especially with the onset of cold and flu season. Distilled from herbs, they are an extension of herbalism and have been a part of medicine and pharmacopoeia since the earliest times. They are extremely effective medicine in a time of rampant drug-resistant germs. However, anytime something becomes popular, it easily gets misused. Essential oils are no different.

Unlike traditional medicine, which isolates and then standardizes a particular “active” ingredient in an herb which evokes the desired response, essential oils are a concentration of the whole herb. Herbs have multiple active ingredients, which complement one another in a synergistic way. In their whole form, they can never be standardized or controlled because soils, growing conditions, and processing all differ.

Intact herbs address the body naturally and as a whole. Concentrating those herbs maintains their innate complexity for use at therapeutic levels. Essential oils work on emotional, physical and energetic levels simultaneously, making them truly holistic medicine. And they are powerful: since the body’s sense of smell is by far the strongest sense, simply breathing in the aroma of the oil diffuses healing to all parts of the body.

Upon the first whiff of an essential oil, the body identifies the scent and an emotion is triggered, influencing the brain directly with excitement or relaxation. The fragrance then enters the sinuses, killing germs on contact, and begins absorbing into the bloodstream to distribute the particular strengthening or calming effects throughout the body. Like every living thing, each herb, and therefore its associated oil, has a unique frequency which causes the body’s cells to adapt their vibratory frequency. The human body becomes vulnerable to disease if the overall frequency dips below the healthy range. Eating too much processed (and thereby dead) foods and not enough fresh (and alive) ones influences the body to a lower frequency. Essential oils have extremely high frequencies, which shift each cell and the entire body toward vitality. What’s the first noticeable sign of healing after an illness? Revival of energy. You can feel the frequency of health. And all of that from just a sniff.

Diluted oils can also be applied topically for absorption through the skin on arthritic hands, sore muscles or a congested chest. The Alliance of International Aromatherapists recommends most oils be diluted at 1%, which is 3 drops to a tablespoon of a carrier oil. A carrier oil is a natural vegetable oil or lotion which “carries” the essential oil into the skin. It can then be easily smoothed into the skin, and all the above distribution happens similarly. The bathtub is another viable option, but remember that oils are not water soluble, so they can rest in a thin film which could sting or burn sensitive skin. Better to add 5 drops of your desired oil to a tablespoon of bubble bath or shampoo and then add it to your water so it disperses properly. Many oil companies make it easy for consumers by selling oils already diluted, or blending several oils to address a broader symptom profile.

Another simple approach is to diffuse essential oils into the air. Diffusion bypasses the dilution requirement in exchange for a small loss of effectiveness, since more goes into the room than the patient. Don’t dismiss this as mere room freshener, though. Filling the air with a therapeutic aroma is a very approachable, effective means of treating the entire family while they sleep or relax in the living room.

Many recommend taking oils internally, but this is not advised by experts. Each person is unique, with genetic weaknesses and strengths, nutritional gaps, and developed strengths or compensations that make each individual’s use of a particular remedy singular. It’s much safer, and often more effective, to use inhalation or topical applications. Hundreds of documented injuries occur annually from ingesting essential oils. The goal is to encourage the body to work properly, not force it into submission.

It is therefore very important to know the quality of the oils being used. Fragrance oils commonly included with diffusers are highly adulterated so as to withstand warehousing, and generally poor quality. “Therapeutic grade” is a commonly used but not officially recognized term, since there is no governing body certifying grades of oils. Look for high quality oils in dark glass bottles from reputable sources that have been stored in cool, dark places. If it smells “off” or rancid, it probably is. Don’t use that one. Grocery stores don’t have clerks knowledgeable in the care of oils; the local health food store is a better source.

Essential oils are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal; they are good medicine. It is no wonder they are being considered for hospital use in Europe as a truly integrative approach to healthcare. The notable hangup is safety, both of formulation and of administration. Moderation and safety were even the theme of this year’s Phyt’Arom, the international aromatherapy and phytotherapy conference. Experts from all over the world recognized the need to stress the importance of proper dilution and emphasized inhalation or topical administration in favor of the oral route. Robert Tisserand, the de facto expert on essential oils, has been preaching this message for years. It would be prudent to heed their counsel.

Moderation and safety are important. More is not better with essential oils, and anything therapeutic has contraindications. Many essential oils have blood thinning properties, so can accentuate prescription drugs or counter them – a good doctor can modulate essential oils alternately with prescription drugs to get the best response from your body. Another aspect to consider is emergency situations. Paramedics are not trained in how essential oils work, which can render life giving care ineffective or overactive in a time-sensitive situation. While essential oils can be very effective in emergencies and mishaps rarely end badly, a healthy dose of respect is always a good thing.

My introduction to essential oils was by a convention floor salesperson. The woman knew a lot of interesting facts about which I knew precious little. I had a problem and, of course, she had a solution that was “totally safe and effective.” I bought. Within the week, my child was another line in the doctor’s notes why alternative medicine should be outlawed. The salesperson prescribed powerful medicine for a child she had not met. She portrayed herself as an expert and I ignorantly acted on her advice. A shameful mom moment, to be sure. If you want to take control of your health, do your own research and be responsible. Essential oils are not the only answer to whatever ails you, and sometimes they are not appropriate. They are powerful therapeutic agents, and should be handled with care. I do believe there are distributors who truly know their stuff, but there are plenty more who are just looking to making a sale.

Essential oils can definitely make small work of illness and address underlying issues for long-term healing and health. They just must be used wisely.

For further reading:

http://nuworldbotanicals.com/miscellaneous/science-behind-aromatherapy/

http://tisserandinstitute.org/

Weight Loss and Stress

Are you working harder than ever at the gym only to see the scale go up? Don’t underestimate the power of stress to thwart all your good work. Stress is more than just a string of hard days. It is also a reaction to calorie restriction or change of diet. Couple that diet with twice weekly wind sprints, and your body can get overwhelmed with just coping. Losing weight, especially after 40, is not so simple a formula as Calories – Exercise = Perfect Shape.

Stress comes in many forms. Some of it is helpful, like weightlifting for building muscle, but fighting traffic all the way home will not make anyone a better person. Caring for toddlers makes them better people, but will wear down the best mother. Environmental toxins in water, air and food are often overlooked, although they can significantly strain the body’s systems. A radical new diet can be harder on the body than a bout with the flu once you add the mental stress of change to the physical stress of starvation. Getting angry when the body predictably goes into conservation mode adds even more burden.

Stress triggers cortisol to handle an immediate stressor. But when the stress continues, the related adrenaline levels impact insulin production, which promotes sugar cravings, fluid retention and weight gain. While a good, solid workout or game of basketball can be a good way for a man to blow off steam, a woman’s body isn’t geared for adrenal response. When cortisol floods her system, the nurturing hormone oxytocin is produced as a relaxation mechanism and metabolism slows. In order to continue to lose weight, she must choose gentler strategies like a yoga class or walking to counteract the stress first. Listen to your body: if you are overwhelmed, sometimes a lovely candlelit dinner is more productive than another bout of exercise.

The body needs an occasional break from emergency mode so it can get down to the necessary business of taking out the trash and doing regularly scheduled maintenance. Hormone shifts with age or chronic sleep loss can trigger insulin resistance, which means the body is less able to deal with insults. Approaches to health need to adapt with age and stress levels.

The new norm has to become intentionality and long term achievements. Instead of setting ultimatums with your body that, come Monday, I will start the Couch to 5K program and go ketogenic – just make a commitment to swap out one bad habit for a better one. Substitute a cheese stick or a big bunch of grapes for that bag of Skittles at the 3pm slump. Even a small thing can compound over time. As that substitution becomes part of your routine and a new idea appears that sounds good, add it at that time. But beware of succumbing to the “one new thing per week” schedule temptation; it merely hits the reset button on the stress spiral.

Like most success, it’s really about effective management. One step at a time toward your health goals. Don’t sweat the days that go up in flames; just get back on track tomorrow. Small, intelligent steps done routinely will soon result in better health that is permanent.

What is Naturopathy?

The naturopath is a generalist, trained in methods of drugless healing.

What is naturopathy, and what does an ND do?  Well it’s not a white coat and stethoscope wearing, strip you naked, send you for tests and charge you your entire paycheck physician.  A naturopathic doctor is actually a teacher, helping a client (not a patient) to take responsibility for his own health, using naturally occurring substances and methods to encourage the body’s inherent ability to heal itself.  

A naturopathic doctor doesn’t diagnose specific diseases. There are no needles or invasive procedures. The goal of naturopathy is to recognize weaknesses and imbalances in the body, remove barriers to good health and tailor therapies to restore health and encourage optimal wellness.  

Every person is unique, and “one size fits all” approaches are insufficient. Traditional healing approaches are time-honored and, combined with modern science, facilitate healing of the entire system of mind, body and spirit.  Essential oils are all the rage right now, for good reason.  They are powerful, but can be too much for some people.  Homeopathy is better suited for toddlers and sensitive people, or those who might not be able to swallow pills. Nutrition and fitness are important for everyone, but may look different for each person. Some people respond better to cups of herbal tea at intervals through their day to break stress patterns and refocus their mind and body on healing; others may need specific supplements, a fitness plan and an accountability partner.  What matters is what’s appropriate for YOU.

The vast majority of illness is not genetic; it is not your parents’ fault that you are sick. Too often, though, the family tendency toward a particular weakness can be traced to Grandma’s recipe box.  We are all creatures of habit and tradition, and comfort foods can literally be the death of us if not well chosen. But as anyone who’s attempted a strict diet can attest, stress cannot be underestimated. Stress is often a problem in itself, causing a cascade of chemical issues in the body.  All these factors can be addressed, and what you thought was just normal aging can often be reversed.

The best method of care is what you believe in.  I’ve seen allergies cured by chiropractic and physical injuries healed with homeopathy. The trauma physician, nutritionist and pastor have their own important roles to play in health. The naturopath is a generalist, trained in methods of drugless healing.

Over the years, I have come to recognize certain intangible qualities that I invariably see in my successful cancer patients. These include an enormous capacity for faith, a quality of trust, fearlessness even in the face of death, and gratitude.  I believe I have seen these four qualities in every single patient I have treated who did well.  – Nicholas J. Gonzalez, MD