Take Time to Unwind

For most Americans, stress is an unfortunate part of everyday life. Constant or extreme stress is not only bad for the mind & body…it can also lead to a wide range of illnesses. April is Stress Awareness month and it is during this time that we shed light on something that plagues all of us, for one reason or another.

Stress can come from many different things and can be acute or chronic. Acute, or short-term, stress is the body’s immediate reaction to a perceived threat. This is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response. This type of stress isn’t always bad and doesn’t usually cause significant problems however, when it occurs frequently or on a regular basis, it can trigger anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other health-related issues. Chronic stress occurs when there are several acute stressors that don’t go away. The body does not have a fight-or-flight response to this type of stress. As a matter of fact, you may not even recognize this type of stress at all. It typically builds up over time and the effects may be more problematic. Chronic, or long-term, stress can lead to a wide range of illnesses such as headaches, stomach problems, and depression as well as increase the risk of serious conditions like stroke and heart disease.

If you suffer from chronic stress and can’t influence or change the situation, then you’ll need to change your approach. Try the following:

  • Recognize when you don’t have control and let it go.
  • Don’t get anxious about situations that you cannot change.
  • Take control of your own reactions and focus your mind on something that makes you feel calm and in control.
  • Develop a vision for healthy living, wellness, & personal growth. Set realistic goals to help you realize your vision.

There are many different ways to de-stress. Exercise has been proven to reduce stress hormones & chemicals more than any other activity. Whether it’s just a walk around the neighborhood, joining a new sport, participating in yoga or pilates, lifting weights, or taking a new class at your local gym, it will do wonders for your mind & body. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers and improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Endorphins are also known as a “feel-good neurotransmitter.” When you exercise, your body produces endorphins which ultimately mean you will not only look good, you will feel good too!

Most of our internal stressors come from our own thoughts and beliefs. We have the ability to control these, but sometimes we become plagued by worry, anxiety, uncertainty, fears, and other forms of negativity. External stressors are things that happen to us that we often cannot control. These are unpredictable events include new deadlines at work and unexpected financial issues as well as major life changes such as a promotion, the birth or adoption of a child, or unexpected health issues or death of a loved one.

While you can’t avoid stress, you can minimize it by changing how you choose to respond to it. The ultimate reward will be a healthy, balanced life.

References:

adaa.org

mayoclinic.com

https://foh.psc.gov/calendar/stress.html /

helpguide.org/

https://www.active.com/fitness/articles/7-ways-exercise-relieves-stress

health.harvard.edu

 

Decreased Dementia Associated with Midlife Cardiovascular Fitness

In a 44-year-long study involving women, high midlife cardiovascular fitness was related to a decreased risk in dementia.  The study found a dose-dependent relationship between fitness level and dementia risk.  Those with a high cardiovascular fitness level had only a 5% incidence of all-cause dementia by the end of the study, as compared with 25% for medium fitness, and 32% for low fitness.  Furthermore, for those who did develop dementia, the onset was an average of five years later in the high fitness group, than in the medium fitness group.  The average age of dementia was 11 years higher in women with a higher fitness level than those with a medium fitness level.

Cardiovascular fitness levels were measured at the start of the study using a stationary bicycle test that incrementally increased workload, in which participants cycled to exhaustion.  Dementia assessments were administered to the participants every 5-10 years thereafter.  The women who had the highest fitness levels also on average had higher wine consumption, their own income, and less hypertension compared with the medium or low fitness groups.  Although this study only involved women, similar conclusions can be extrapolated to men.  A Swedish study that tested cardiovascular fitness utilizing the bicycle test in 18-year-old men, found an increased risk in the onset of dementia occurring among medium fitness levels as compared with highly fit men, and further increased the risk in those with low fitness levels.  A very high dementia incidence was found particularly in participants who could not complete the bicycle test before reaching a submaximal load.

Although the findings were not causative, there is a definitive association between higher cardiovascular fitness and a lower risk for dementia.  Physiologically speaking, those who are the most fit, have a greater amount of oxygen circulating through their bodies.  Higher oxygenation to muscles increase endurance and performance.  Similarly, the same effect can be hypothesized to apply to brain function, as many associative studies have supported.  In short, increasing your cardiovascular fitness level will almost surely enhance your mental function.  Yet another pillar for the benefits of exercise.

by Rima Sidhu, Maze Health

Concussions: What You Need to Know

Concussions, also known as a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI), occur when there is an impact to the head and the brain hits against the bone inside of the cranium and bounces and hits the other side. Berger asserts that the brain gets scraped against any bone irregulates on the inside of the cranial bones. The impact can stretch and tear tiny blood vessels and delicate nervous tissues. The scraping on the inside of the cranium can cause bleeding and bruising to the brain. Depending on the severity of the impact, it can lead to momentary alteration or loss of consciousness, or posttraumatic amnesia.

What you might have not been told is that post-concussion injuries can be accompanied by post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSD). PTSD symptoms occur when we are exposed to an experience that overwhelms our instinctive ability to protect ourselves. When we either recall or re-experience the original traumatic event, the nervous system reacts as if we were reliving the upsetting episode. Highly charged emotions hijack our thinking as our nervous system remains stuck as implicit memory of the traumatic episode. Common PTSD symptoms are manifested in highly aroused anxiety, panic attacks, avoidance, flashbacks, loss of interest, social isolation or irritability. What is really important is that concussion and PTSD symptoms go hand-in-hand and both symptoms must be addressed to restore complete healing.

However, underreporting and/or the pressure to return to competition/class often cuts short the necessary time for the brain to rest. A May 2013 survey revealed 53 percent of high school students would continue to play even if they had a headache stemming from a head injury. Just 54 percent said they would “always or sometimes report symptoms of a concussion to their coach” as per Chris Nowinski, a former athlete himself and co-founder of Sports Legacy Institute.

If young athletes minimize headaches or pain symptoms, then what does this say about giving importance to the lingering emotional symptoms that remain unaddressed? The symptoms of mTBI of PTSD can mimic and overlap with one another and trigger each other. Non-trauma trained professionals may not even consider addressing PTSD symptoms at all. Hence, individuals may present PTSD symptoms and not necessarily associate them with the concussion.

It is precisely during resting time that athletes become restless. Driven by a mental toughness culture and/or the fear of losing out potential athletic scholarships, emotions like depression and anger are normally experienced. Research indicates that depression is about 8 times more common in the first year after Mtbi than in the general population. Likewise, studies are showing that ADHD symptoms may appear even 7 to 10 years after the concussion episode took place. Dr. Asarnow from UCLA indicates that these children may do relatively well when are less academically challenged, but as studying becomes more demanding, ADHD symptoms become more apparent.

A real concern is that teenage athletes are turning into alcohol as a way to “cure” emotional pain. However, drugs and use of alcohol will only worsen the depressive symptoms. Not only it reduces the effectiveness of anti-depressive medication, it can lead to a concerning addiction. Likewise, the recovery time to treat concussions will be prolonged as its symptoms stronger symptoms are typically experienced.

What you NOW know:

  • Concussions are accompanied by PTSD symptoms;
  • Underreporting emotional discomfort will only prolong healing process;
  • Anger, anxiety, and depression are normal emotional symptoms that need to be addressed or athlete may find unhealthy coping skills to alleviate such a pain;
  • The time to begin addressing emotional discomfort is during resting time as boredom may lead to cut short or underreport symptoms.

 

Alex Diaz, PhD

Sports Mental Edge

Alcohol Awareness Month

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, which provides a focused opportunity across America to increase awareness and understanding of alcoholism, its causes, effective treatment and recovery. This year’s theme is “Changing Attitudes: It’s not a ‘rite of passage.’” This brings an opportunity to decrease stigma and misunderstandings of alcoholism to break down the barriers to treatment & recovery and make seeking help more readily available to all those suffering.

According to the CDC, alcohol abuse is the 3rd highest cause of death in the US with 88,000 per year. More shocking, of the 3.9 million Americans who seek help for substance abuse, 2.5 million seek alcohol treatment. Long-term alcohol use can cause serious health complications affecting every organ in your body, including your brain. Additionally, it can damage your emotional stability, finances, and/or career, as well as negatively impact your family, friends and colleagues. If you or someone you know is unable to limit alcohol consumption, seek treatment immediately. Let’s reduce the statistics today and pave the way for a healthier tomorrow.

In the Know About IBS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a functional bowel disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract characterized by recurrent abdominal pain and discomfort. It’s often accompanied by changes in bowel function as well as diarrhea, constipation or a combination of both, typically over months or years. The severity of the disorder varies from person to person

According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), 25-45 million people in the United States have IBS. IBS usually starts in early adulthood, affecting twice as many women as men. Approximately 10-20% of the population has IBS but at least half of all sufferers never seek medical attention. IBS can be uncomfortable however it does not lead to serious disease, such as cancer. Most people with IBS can ease symptoms with changes in diet, medicine, and stress relief.

Some people experience symptoms that come and go and are just mildly annoying. Others have such severe daily bowel problems that IBS affects their ability to work, sleep and enjoy life. In addition, symptoms may change over time. A person may have severe symptoms for several weeks and then feel well for months or even years. Symptoms vary from person to person but may include cramps or pain in the stomach, constipation &/or diarrhea, mucus in the stool, swollen or bloated stomach area, gas, and/or feeling uncomfortably full or nauseous after eating a normal size meal. Additionally, women with IBS may have more symptoms during their menstrual periods. Many women (with and without IBS) experience variations in gastrointestinal symptoms during their menstrual cycle. Several studies also suggest that women with endometriosis have greater bowel symptoms compatible with a diagnosis of IBS.

Symptoms of IBS can be triggered by various things including stress, hormones, and food. Many people have worse IBS symptoms when they eat or drink certain foods or beverages. Your doctor may recommend changes to your diet which includes eliminating high-gas foods, gluten, or FODMAPs. Doctors may treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by recommending changes in what you eat and other lifestyle changes, medicines, probiotics, and mental health therapies. You may have to try a few different treatments to see what works best for you. Some changes your doctor may recommend include eating more fiber, avoiding gluten, following a low FODMAP diet, increasing your physical activity, reducing stressful situations, and/or getting enough sleep. He or she may also recommend certain medications to help ease IBS symptoms.

If you or someone you know have any of the symptoms described, speak with a medical professional. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you will be on the path to feeling better.

By Gina Stallone

References:

Womenshealthmagazine.com

Mayoclinic.com

Aboutibs.org

niddk.nih.gov

Older, but Not Weaker

Bone strength peaks by age 30 in humans. That is it…after that your bones get weaker. Muscle strength peaks at about 25 years old and plateaus until 35 years old. After that, you lose muscle strength. So what does that mean for the aging athlete?

Why do you need to maintain bone mass (strength)? Because weaker bones are more likely to break. The death rate after a hip fracture is14-58%. Studies show up 50% of people die within one year of breaking their hip. You don’t want to be one of these unfortunate victims of death by osteoporosis.

There are a few ways to maintain bone strength. First, it is important to reach your peak strength by developing good bones when you are young. You need to get adequate vitamin D and Calcium in your diet at all ages, but if you deprive your body of either of these at a younger age your bones will start out weak. Impact activities such as running or even walking build bone. Non-weight bearing activities like swimming do not build bone. Using weights and doing resistance exercises also helps build bone.

Similarly, building muscle is done through exercise and strength training. Each year after 35 years old, the average person loses 0.5-1% of their muscle mass. If you do not work out, you will get weaker. Even if you work-out, you will still lose strength but not as quickly.

For bones, the most important and common fractures are the hip and the wrist. Leg work-outs especially for the quads are key to maintaining the hip. I like squats, biking, walking and if able running. If any of these hurt, find out why and don’t do them. See your local orthopedist if you develop pain or swelling.

To strengthen your arms, biceps and triceps are important. If your forearms don’t get tired working out, add wrist flexions and extensions with light weights. Wrist fractures are very common in patients older than 65 years old and can be prevented in many people by strength training.

Unfortunately, a common consequence of weak bones is compression fractures of the spine. When older people say they are shrinking it is often due to collapse of the bones of the spine from osteoporosis. Core strengthening and impact exercises can help prevent these fractures.

At any age, you need to eat well and exercise. If you don’t do both, you will get older quicker. You will become frail and more likely to die at a younger age. This is up to you. If you develop pain, don’t give up but find out what the problem is. Have a good doctor you trust available to help you maintain your good health.

By Rick Weinstein, MD, MBA

Director Orthopedic Surgery Westchester Sport & Spine at White Plains Hospital

Time to Invest in a Pedometer

Currently, roughly half of Americans do not meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity. Physical activity has many physical, emotional, and physical benefits, and it is one of the best things you can do for you health. It been shown to help decrease and maintain weight, to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, to strengthen bones and muscles, and to improve mental health and mood.

Many Americans find it difficult to start an exercise program and stick with it. A new study published in PLOS Medicine showed that participants who use a pedometer daily tended to be more active than those who didn’t.  When they utilized a pedometer  and received advice on how to increase physical activity, people had longer exercise sessions and they were more likely to continue to exercise long term,  3-4 years later.

So if you are having difficulty starting and sticking to walking more, buy a pedometer! It will help you stay accountable to your goals and keep you on the right path!

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

It seems like every year there is a new diet craze or a new way of eating. Many people are searching for the magic bullet for weight loss, and they go from diet to diet hoping that one works. The “new” craze is the ketogenic or keto diet. What is the ketogenic diet, and is it right for you?

The keto diet is based on scientific evidence and has been utilized for almost 90 years. It was originally created for patients with epilepsy since the keto diet mimics fasting, which has been shown to reduce the number of seizures for patients.  It is a very low carbohydrate diet which enables the body to use dietary fat and body fat storage as the primary fuel source for energy, rather than carbohydrates.  The body believes it is fasting because of the very low carbohydrate intake, and it starts to burn fat for energy. ”Ketosis” is a physiological mechanism that occurs in the body when adequate carbohydrates are not available to burn for energy, and instead, the body burns fat for energy, producing ketones as a by-product. When ketones rise in the body, it enters into ketosis, which is a fat-burning metabolic state that results in weight loss.

The diet works by severely limiting the number of carbohydrates that you consume to 10% of total calories. Carbs should come predominantly from leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables. For most people, this is about 30-50 net grams of carbohydrates, but some people get the best results on only 20g of carbohydrates. 20% of the diet should be from protein, especially fish high in omega-3s and grass fed and organic meats. All processed meat should be avoided. The remaining 70% should consist of healthy fats from avocados, nuts, seeds, coconuts, and medium-chain triglyceride oils. Dairy is allowed, but it should be limited. All sugar, grains, processed foods, and alcohol should be avoided.

In addition to weight loss, the keto diet has been shown to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes and to improve blood sugar management. It also protects against cancer, decreases the risk of heart disease, and protects against Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions. It may also increase mental focus and alertness as well as increase energy.

The keto diet has been shown to work for weight loss, but it can be difficult to adhere to. Additionally, some people, especially those who have difficulty metabolizing fats, will not do well on the ketogenic diet. Consult a health care practitioner before starting the keto diet and see if it is the best option for your weight loss and daily regimen.

End the Silence

March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. It is during this month where we raise awareness to an illness which affects millions of women worldwide.

1 in 10 women in the US are living with endometriosis, and sadly, they are often suffering in silence. It is a disorder that is commonly misdiagnosed as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or simply ‘period pains.’ It can take an average of 10 years between symptom onset & proper diagnosis.

Endometriosis is a disorder in which the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus, grows outside instead. Endometriosis growths bleed in the same way the lining inside of your uterus does every month. This can cause swelling and pain because the tissue grows and bleeds in an area where it cannot easily get out of your body. The growths may also continue to expand and cause problems, such as: cysts, inflammation, problems in the intestines and bladder, or formation of scar tissue & adhesions, which may not only cause pain, it may also make it difficult to become pregnant.

The pain that women with endometriosis suffer, which can often be severe and feel sharp or stabbing, occurs in the pelvis or belly and usually won’t go away with medication. Some women with mild cases have intense pain, while others with advanced cases may have little pain or even no pain at all. Other symptoms include excessive bleeding during and/or between periods, backache, leg pain, painful sex, painful bowel movements, and infertility.

While there is no known cause, there are several factors which place you at greater risk for developing this illness. These include:

  • Never giving birth
  • Starting your period at an early age or beginning menopause early
  • Short menstrual cycles
  • Having high levels of estrogen
  • Family history of endometriosis
  • Any medical condition that prevents the normal passage of menstrual flow out of the body
  • Uterine abnormalities

Unfortunately, there is no cure but there are several treatment options. The doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and take the one of the following steps to determine if, in fact, you do have endometriosis:

  • Pelvic exam
  • Imaging test, such as ultrasound or MRI
  • Hormonal birth control
  • Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, herbs like cinnamon twig or licorice root, or supplements, including thiamine (vitamin B1), magnesium, or omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Lowering your estrogen level by exercising regularly, taking birth control, or avoiding large amounts of alcohol and caffeine

If you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of endometriosis, contact your doctor immediately. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can be on the path to feeling better.

 

 

References:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/endometriosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354656

https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/endometriosis

https://www.endostrong.com/#end

 

By Gina Stallone

What is a Free Radical?

Free radicals and oxidative stress are buzz words that have been trendy in the press. The media touts consuming foods with antioxidants to promote health and longevity, but why is it so important to fight free radicals and what damage do they cause?

Free radicals, or reactive oxygen species, are unstable forms of oxygen that have an unpaired electron. Electrons usually exist in pairs, and since free radicals are constantly looking for their missing electron, they move around the body trying to find a way to pair it. Some amount of free radicals in the body are normal, since free radicals are the products of normal cellular metabolism and are created through ordinary body functions. They help defend against infectious agents, regulate biochemical pathways, and signal cellular functions.  However, free radicals are also created from environmental exposure, such as pollutants, radiation, antibiotics, and chemicals. Additionally, they are produced from emotional and physical stress, overtraining, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and a poor diet, especially one high in unhealthy fats, sugars, and pesticides. These uncharged molecules can be very harmful to the body because they are unstable while moving around the body, and they may damage cell structures, including DNA, lipids, membranes, enzymes, and proteins, and they derail important biochemical pathways.

Antioxidants are molecules that donate an electron to free radicals to neutralize them. By reducing the number of free radicals, they protect against free radical damage. Normally, the amount of free radicals and antioxidants in the body balance each other out. However, when there is an imbalance between free radicals and the body’s antioxidant system, oxidative stress, or rusting, occurs. During oxidative stress, the immune system becomes overloaded, which harms and ages the body due to the damage to the structures in the cells. This can affect every organ and system in the body and is linked to the development of most chronic diseases.

It is important to consume a diet rich in antioxidants to combat free radicals. Some foods rich in antioxidants are berries, grapes, cocoa, green and white tea, and fruits and vegetables high in carotenoids, bioflavonoids, lycopene, quercetin, lutein, and resveratrol. Many herbs and spices are high in antioxidants, including turmeric, oregano, cinnamon, and rosemary. In addition to consuming antioxidants, our bodies create antioxidants by using vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals from the diet. The most important antioxidants in our body are glutathione, superoxide dismutase, and catalase.

The Western Diet is one of the primary reasons free radicals are increasing. It is devoid of many antioxidants and is too high in calories. Because our diet is mostly “empty calories,” it lacks many nutrients and antioxidants, which are important for our internal antioxidant system. Additionally, the more calories consumed, the more work for the mitochondria, which produces free radicals as a byproduct.

In order to eliminate oxidation, we need to change our diet, lifestyle, and environment. First, avoid overeating and try to maintain a healthy weight. Eliminate sugar, processed foods,and refined carbohydrates. Eat organic fruits and vegetables when you can and avoid pesticides. Avoid toxins and air pollution and find methods for reducing stress. Supplements are available, but is better to have a healthy lifestyle and diet to reduce free radicals.

By Denise Groothuis RD