Do You Know How To Use Breathing To Release Your Stress?

Stress…….we all have it and we all feel it. And the effects of stress will take a toll on your life.

Stress doesn’t just damage your mind. It harms your body, too.

Stress increases dangerous inflammatory factors called cytokines. It also damages the hippocampus, causing memory loss and mood disorders. Stress reduces the brain’s ability to repair itself, increases abdominal fat, interferes with thyroid function, and even increases the stickiness of blood leading to dangerous clots.

I don’t know about you, but that last paragraphed stressed me out!

However, there is a very simple action you can do to help alleviate the effects of stress. You can stimulate your vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve controls the relaxation response through the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This anti-stress response can be switched on in a matter of minutes.

Here is what you can do to stimulate your vagus nerve.

Take a deep breath into your belly to the count of five. Pause. Breathe out slowly to the count of five. Keep your belly soft. Repeat 5 times.

With this simple and effective breathing exercise, you instantly reduce your levels of cortisol and help your body get back to a peaceful state of balance.

In addition to a few minutes a day of soft-belly breathing, you can bolster your body’s defenses against stress by engaging in regular vigorous exercise, eating a healthy diet, and enjoying fresh air and sunlight.

Try this belly breathing exercise next time you feel stressed and see what you think.

Don’t Feel De-Feeted!

Do you have “bad feet”? Have you often wondered if it’s genetic? It can be.

I read a recent report that supports this claim, particularly if you have bunions or high arches. Some researchers believe that foot function and mechanics may have more to do with mimicking parents’ movement rather than heredity.

In either case, given that your foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, some regular foot care seems appropriate so you don’t get to feeling deFEETed!

1. Take care of your foot tissue health by using a small ball. I use a tennis ball and when I’m standing I’ll put it under my arch and roll out my feet. By this I mean roll your foot back and forth over the ball.

2. Walking barefoot on grass or sand or around the house gives your feet plenty of proprioceptive information. Without getting too technical here, this is a good thing! When your feet are hidden all day in shoes, they forget how to be feet. So go barefoot and let your bones, muscles, and joints come alive.

3. Many of the tendons that attach to your feet come from muscles that originate from above your ankles. So while focusing on your feet, remember to pay attention to any tension or aches you may feel in your calfs or upper legs.

4. Yoga Toes. I’ve mentioned Yoga Toes many times and I’ve been using mine for years as part of my foot care program. At the end of the day they are great.

So don’t TipToe around these helpful hints; give them a try!


Boosting Your Brain Health

More and more good news keeps coming out about boosting brain health for seniors. I think it also applies to the rest of us, which is why I pass this information along to you.

Our brains are capable of superior performance even into the 10th decade and beyond! If the brain remains healthy and free from disease, it can continue to function normally for as long as we live.

What can you do for your mental and physical health to promote a healthy brain? The answers will, I hope, not be much of a surprise!

1. Exercise. Neuroscientists recommend swimming, dancing, gardening, knitting and more frequent use of the nondominant hand and leg, and walking 10,000 steps on a daily basis. In one study it’s suggested that aerobic exercise is the key to lowering the odds of getting Alzheimer’s by 60%. A daily 20 minute walk can cut the risk of having a stroke by 57%. Think of exercise as fertilizer for your brain!

2. Mental activity. Use your brain to keep it healthy. How? Play board games, do crossword puzzles, learn a second language, read, take a class and acquire new skills.

3. Healthy diet. Balanced nutrition is essential for brain health. Emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts and decrease added sugar. Water is also essential for nervous system electrical transmissions that will keep your brain functional.

There you have it. Maybe nothing new, but a good gentle reminder. If you’re lacking in these three areas, get with the program now. It’s never too late to give your brain cells a boost!


Taking Naps Is Great For Your Health!

Are you ever tempted to curl up in the middle of your daily chaos, wherever you are, and take a nap? Is that a silly question or what?

Well, rest easy! For a while now science has been giving the nod to nodding off.

I recently read that 100 million Americans self identify as sleep deprived. That’s a lot of folks.

Regular naps can enhance alertness, memory, creativity, concentration, mood and energy. Also, naps decrease the risk of stress-induced hypertension and heart attacks.

Roughly 8 hours after waking everyone has a drop in alertness. For most people who wake between 6 and 8 AM that would be between 2 and 4 PM. Sometimes, rather than ignoring it or turning to a cup of coffee, try to get between 15-20 minutes of sleep. No more than that! You will sink into a deeper sleep which can interfere with your nighttime sleeping.

The reason short naps are rejuvenating is that they ensure you get just the beginning of the slow-wave sleep, which is the most restorative kind. Any more than that and you’ll likely feel groggy.

Trying to nap only on weekends isn’t as effective. It’s hard to play catch up when you’re sleep deprived all week long. A regular nap schedule works better.

If you work outside your home and it’s possible, close your office door so no one will disturb you. I recently spoke with someone who works for Microsoft and he told me that they have lounges with recliners for napping! Remember to set an alarm.

At first, learning to fall asleep at your scheduled nap time may be difficult, even if you’re exhausted. But like many things, napping takes practice. Often deep breathing helps relax you so you can nap. You can use eyeshades, white-noise machines, or whatever turns on that OFF switch.

Napping is still very much a practice for me. Just the other day I decided to take a nap and the alarm went off after ONLY five minutes. Then I started questioning whether or not my alarm was even working properly. I was so nervous about oversleeping that my mind would not let me relax. I got up, had a good laugh and went back to work. OH well, at least I’m still trying to nap!


Three Ways To Improve Brain Health

More and more studies are confirming that mindfulness practices increase gray matter.

These studies measure neurological changes in the brain.

Participating in a mindfulness based practice for 8 weeks for stress reduction will increase gray-matter density in areas of your brain involved in learning and memory, and emotion regulation. People in these studies report improved psychological well-being, as well as symptom reduction in a number of disorders including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and chronic pain.

But what can I do with this information? Glad you asked.

Consider Yoga. Yoga helps calm your mind and relaxes your nervous system.

Tai Chi can not only be a mindfulness practice but studies also show it provides arthritis pain relief. Studies show that practicing Tai Chi two times a week improves fatigue, stiffness and increases a feeling of well-being.

Walking boosts your brain health and increases gray matter. How much walking? 6-9 miles a week.

So there you have it. Three choices with plenty of evidence to back them up as good options for you if you want to retain your brain tissue and retain your memory well into your later years. Once again an active and engaged lifestyle is the way to go!


Want Energy-Boosting Sleep? Then Follow These 5 Tips

Here are 5 tools for 8 hours of energy-boosting sleep.

If you want the kind of sleep that will boost your energy and slow the aging process down (and who doesn’t right?), you need to build your sleep from the BED up.

1. How’s your mattress? Have you ever noticed that when you travel and stay at a hotel or stay at a friend’s house, you sleep better on their mattress.

I’m sorry to report that has happened to me quite a bit.

Most recently while staying at a friend’s house, I thought his mattress was heavenly. He got it from Costco of all places. Heck, I’ve even slept on air mattresses that were more comfortable than my own mattress. Not a good sign!

If this happens to you, GET a new mattress! There are no right and wrong answers to what will work for you, but if you’re not sleeping well do start by assessing your mattress. After all, you spend 56 hours a week on it and it should produce the results you need, which is the kind of sleep you rave about!

2. What about your sheets?

Again, I have a confession to make. I get overly attached to sheets and keep them for way way too long.

I recently got two brand new sets from Macy’s and am really enjoying them. Color is important as well as fabric. I pay more attention to how a sheet feels rather than the thread count because the thread count is a marketing ploy. From what I’ve read you can’t get more than 500 threads into a square inch!

Go with natural fibers because they are more absorbent. Over the course of an evening you can release close to a half gallon of sweat and oils.

3. How old is your blanket and what kind of shape is it in?

I use this blanket called my million dollar blanket. I named it so because about 12 years ago after I had surgery I laid for 6 weeks on a couch wrapped in this blanket and I’ve somehow given it magical healing powers!

If you think of the best sleep of your life you probably don’t recall that it was when you were only hours old. One of the reasons infants are born to sleep is because they’re swaddled in blankets, which gives them the secure sensation of being in utero.

How do you get that as an over tired adult? Crawl under a variety of fabrics filled with a range of insulations and you’ll discover your million dollar blanket! If you’re sweating, you’re not going to sleep well, so keep this is in mind as you test out blankets.

4. Let’s talk pillows! For sound, comfortable sleep, you need a pillow that will keep your neck aligned with your spine.

I have a pillow that I bought thinking I’d like it. I used it one night and couldn’t adjust, so I put it in the closet to be used for guests. Turned out that every guest I gave it to LOVED it. Strange, huh?

After hearing raves from multiple guests I decided to give the pillow another try. That was almost three years ago and I still love my pillow. I travel with my pillow (I know, I’m weird) and quite a few friends, after laying down on my pillow, have gone out and bought their own.

Let’s just say I’m VERY picky about pillows. Maybe in my next life I’ll be one of the lucky ones who can sleep anywhere, on anything and with any pillow, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Back to the keeping your spine aligned issue, the more neutral your neck’s position, the wider the nerve passageways running through it will open. The result is that you’ll reduce your risk of neck pain and enjoy a more restful sleep.

5. Thinking of trying a sleep supplement?

I don’t use them, but in researching them for this article it seems that only valerian root results in people feeling refreshed. This root contains two chemicals that have powerful sedative properties. Be careful with over the counter meds for sleeping. They shorten the time you’re in the deep stages of sleep, leaving you exhausted in the morning and often people feel fuzzy even after they wake up.

So there you have it. Maybe not exactly the 5 tools for energy boosting sleep you thought I’d suggest, but heck, they are all very important and you even got a few personal confessions from me, as well!!


Got Energy Slumps? Outsmart Them With These Tips

With so many of us leading demanding nonstop lives, it’s difficult not to peter out as the day goes on.

Here are some ideas to outsmart your energy slumps.

Between 1 and 3 PM we often feel dazed.

There’s a natural mid-afternoon circadian lull often dubbed the “nap zone” because we have this urge to (if we could) take a nap. When you feel this, use a circular motion to massage the webbed area between your thumb and index finger. Do this for three minutes. This acupressure move stimulates the nervous system, boosting alertness.

Between 3 and 6 PM we also tend to feel sleepy.

A demanding day elevates levels of the stress hormone cortisol, keeping it high for several hours. This leads to feeling worn down.

Try this breathing exercise. Stand up straight with one hand on your lower belly. Inhale deeply and feel your abdomen fill with air. Exhale and watch your hand drop back in towards your body. This simple belly breathing exercise is proven to reduce cortisol levels, and you’ll feel more alert, productive, and happy. A round of three to five cleansing breaths like this is all it takes to feel refreshed.

Between 6 and 9 PM is not quite late enough to be bedtime, but in the early evening your core body temperature naturally drops and sleep-inducing melatonin levels rise.

Try this wall roll-down move. Stand with your back against a wall, arms raised overhead and feet a few inches forward. Pretend the wall is sticky and slowly peel yourself away from the wall by rolling forward into a U shape. Unfold back up bit by bit. Bending over like this stimulates the flow of fresh blood and oxygen to your head, which refreshes your mind and body. Don’t worry, you’ll still be plenty tired when your bedtime comes!

You can of course use these any time of the day, but in particular during the times I’ve mentioned. I know it may seem easier to reach for that caffeine, but learning how to energize and refresh naturally is a good thing too!


Want Exercise Results? Use The Power of Your Mind!

I’ve been noticing that more and more gizmos, online tools and fitness books are coming on the market to help people exercise and get fitness results.

However, you’d get a huge bang for the buck (actually forget the bucks), if you used your MIND as an exercise and fitness tool.

It’s not as hard as you may think!

Your thoughts control everything from how fully your muscles contract to how difficult an exercise feels. You must use your mind to get the best and quickest results from your efforts.

Here’s how!

1. Are you working on your abs or core strength? Set a difficult goal. You may just achieve more than you thought possible. In study after study on human performance, people who aim for a specific goal significantly outperform those who just aimed to do the best they could. People generally underestimate their own abilities. Aiming high allows you to push past your own perceptions.

2. Do you ever get bored, particularly when you do cardio exercise? Many people tend to focus on boredom, fatigue or discomfort while they do their cardio routines. That usually leads to those sensations feeling even worse! Instead, try focusing on unrelated thoughts. I read about one study where researchers instructed one group to try and recall the names of every teacher they’d had since kindergarten while cycling for 15 minutes. Another group was told to focus on their exertion level. The name game group found their routine to be at least 10% easier.

3. Do you get tired or discouraged while doing your strength training? While staying focused on what you’re doing, try filling your mind with affirmations. Make up some of your own or use ones like “I can feel my muscles growing.” Positive thinking lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Also, motivational self-talk boosts performance.

4. What do you use your mind for when you’re waiting on line or generally waiting for something or someone? You can use your mind and imagine yourself doing a push-up, for instance. Picturing an action activates the nerves that make muscles move and triggers an actual contraction. Please read that again, because it’s a very crucial point in understanding just how important your mind actually is in what you can accomplish.

Studies have shown that people who practiced exercise visualization for 5 minutes a day were able to increase their muscle strength by 35% in 12 weeks, without ever stepping into a gym.

Of course, don’t forget to use visualization when you ACTUALLY exercise! Always imagine yourself using proper form as you move.

5. As you complete your chores, what do you think about? Try thinking about the muscles you use to do daily chores. Carrying things up and down stairs, for instance, works your quadriceps, butt muscles and hamstrings. Again, concentration strengthens the neurological connection between the brain and the muscles, prompting the body to use up to 30% more muscle fibers during a movement. This added muscle action helps speed muscle growth while increasing caloric expenditure. That’s a GOOD thing!

So remember that your mind is not only an incredible tool in your health and fitness journey but it’s free and accessible to you ALL the time!


Defogging Your Brain: 4 Ways to Say “Fog Be Gone”

Have you ever turned on the defroster in your car and thought to yourself, “Sure would like to have a DEFOGGER for my brain today!”

Have you ever felt like your mental edge had gone to sleep. I know I have!

So here are 4 simple strategies you can use to boost your memory and say FOG be gone!

1. Get your vitamin B’s

Vitamin B is essential to clear thinking, but as you age your body has a harder time extracting if from foods like milk, meat and fish. You can take a daily B-complex supplement containing 1000 micrograms of B12. Make sure it has at least 400 mcg of the B vitamin folate, which can improve mental speed.

2. Get your Z’s

Low quality and low quantity sleep can seriously drain your mental clarity. The brain moves memories into long term storage during deep sleep. Anything that disrupts this process can interfere with the ability to retain this information.

Stick to one bedtime and keep your room quiet, dark and cool. Limit caffeine, night-lights, naps and alcohol, all of which can interfere with sleep.

3. Get your M’s

Get MOVING! Boosting your activity level can increase brain volume and enhance cognitive function. Exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain, and it controls insulin and other chemicals linked to cognitive problems. Even a little exercise is better than nothing. The idea is to do more than you’re doing now.

4. Check your medications.

A variety of medications can cloud your ability to concentrate. Particularly if your difficulties concentrating coincide with a new drug you’re taking, talk to your physician. It’s a smart move to be aware of mind and memory changes and look in some obvious places first, like your medications.

So here’s to kissing those foggy times goodbye!


Using Visualization To Accomplish Your Goals

Visualization, or imagery, whichever word you prefer to use, is an excellent tool for accomplishing any goal.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts:

1. Do create an image in your mind as vividly as possible of what you want to achieve in your sport, in your health, or in your life. Just let distracting thoughts and feelings float away as you refocus on your image.

2. Do bring in all five of your senses so you can see, hear, and feel what it’s like to have already obtained your desired result. Sight, hearing, and touch are the most powerful senses for incorporating day-to-day imagery into your life. Bring the scene into the present tense so you are totally focused on the task at hand.

3. Don’t just visualize the end result; focus on seeing the process. Focus on what it takes to get there. In a sport for instance, that would be your form, your breathing, your pacing, your confidence.

4. Mentally rehearse your actions at the same rhythm and pace that you want in actual execution to establish the appropriate neurological patterns within the brain.

5. Don’t replay your mistakes. This is a challenge, I know.

You want to remove the memory of errors. If you see yourself doing something incorrectly, edit the film in your mind and replay it exactly as you wish it to happen. Imagine that you’re performance is equal to or better than your previous best.

6. Use visual models. Before going to sleep at night try watching a video of a superior performance (e.g. get out your recordings from the last Olympics). Then visualize yourself moving just as fluidly and powerfully as your visual models. I use this with my swimming and IT WORKS!

Give visualization a try. It’s a powerful tool to have in your self care, performance enhancing toolkit, no matter what goal you’re working towards.