5 Easy Mindfulness Exercises

You’ve likely heard of the art of living in the present moment through mindfulness. Maybe you’ve even heard of mindfulness as a healthful way to manage stress, reduce anxiety, or even to help with alleviating symptoms of depression. Beyond managing the emotional aspects of our health, research supports the effects of mindfulness on the nervous, endocrine and immune systems, by contributing to improved neural function, hormonal regulation, and cellular regeneration—truly proving to be an all-encompassing and healthy habit!

The act of mindfulness is an engaging practice of becoming fully aware of the present and all events that are taking place within that given moment. This is generally considered a form of meditation, where focusing on becoming more aware of yourself, your surroundings, and your habits will inevitably help you to become more relaxed and able to manage stress. And, while most of us find it difficult to fit in another daily task, even taking a few minutes each day to cultivate the benefits of mindfulness is far more beneficial than not. Try these simple mindfulness exercises each day and notice how they affect you.

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1 | Mindfulness through Breath

Find a quiet place without distractions, close your eyes and begin to focus on your breath. Notice how the air feels as it slowly enters your nostrils. Feel the warm air as it moves down your windpipe and as it begins to fill your lungs. First, notice as your chest rises away from your spine. Continue to breathe in slowly as the air continues to fill the middle portion of your lungs as your ribcage begins to expand. Now slowly continue to fill the lowest part of your lungs where your diaphragm is located. Notice how your belly gently pushes outward. With a brief pause after the inhalation, slowly begin to exhale, first from your diaphragm. As your belly returns to a comfortable position, allow the air to slowly leave your lungs where your ribcage returns to a relaxed position, then to where your chest falls back towards your spine. Briefly pause and continue these steps again. Each time you inhale and exhale imagine the air warming your internal organs. Imagine the air moving through you as if small waves were moving over pebbles on an ocean shoreline. Take this breathing practice beyond this moment and into your daily life. Find moments to stop what you are doing and to allow for focused breathing to consume you. Spend a couple minutes each day to focus on breathing fresh, clean air.

2 | Mindfulness through Awareness

As you continue to breathe mindfully, begin now to acknowledge your thoughts. Is your mind thinking about work and deadlines or what you will make for dinner tonight? Whatever thoughts are consuming you, let them go. Keep in mind that this is your moment to be at peace and in the present. Remember this is something that no thought and no one can take from you. Instead, open your eyes and focus on the sights, sounds and smells that surround you. Do you smell the freshness of newly cut grass nearby? Perhaps you hear the sound of children laughing in the distance. Do you see leaves falling from the trees outside your window?  Check in with yourself to appreciate your surroundings and to celebrate the opportunity to be a part of them. Carry this awareness with you throughout your day and allow for all your senses to take over any time you feel overwhelmed.

3 | Mindfulness through Newness

Part of why mindfulness is so effective is that it forces us to recognize when we’ve become caught up in mediocre patterns of life. Take this moment to gain a fresh perspective on life and an appreciation for life’s lessons.  Look around you. Have you neglected that plant in the kitchen? Maybe you haven’t moved your desk belongings at your office around in a while. Perhaps you find yourself always walking the same way from your car to the store each week. Whatever the patterns are in your life, take an opportunity to create newness in what you do each day. Observe objects around you. Notice the colors and shapes. Are there textures in the painting that hangs on your wall? Look at each object with an unobserved newness and celebrate the little things you see and do.

4 | Mindfulness through Eating

We generally eat our food out of hunger, boredom, or because we know we need it for survival. Food can be so much more than this! Find a single piece of fruit—maybe an apple or a strawberry. Sitting in a quiet place, allow yourself to become relaxed with your eyes closed. Now, take a moment to feel the fruit in your hand. Allow it to move between your fingertips and thumb. Notice its texture, its coolness, its size. Now raise it to your nose and take a moment to smell its sweet aroma. Does it smell fresh? Does it invite memories? Next, slowly chew the fruit. Notice the texture as it moves around your mouth. Notice the sweetness as it overwhelms your taste buds. Allow for memories and thoughts to flood your mind. Maybe you sat in your parent’s strawberry patch when you were young and watched as the sun set over the horizon. Maybe the crispness of the apple reminds you of going to a picnic with friends. Allow the emotions you feel for this food to reveal your overall relationship will all food. Food not only has an abundance of nutrition and flavor, but it brings with it a quality of culture and social impact. The next time you are eating with others, celebrate the togetherness it brings and the impact it makes on your life.

5 | Mindfulness through Movement

It is one thing to have the ability to move our fingers, toes, arms, and legs. It is another altogether, to appreciate the ability to do so. We often forget to appreciate the body and all that it allows us to do.  Whatever your physical level, allow yourself to feel each movement you achieve in a day. Take a moment as you type on your keyboard at the office to feel the sensation of your fingers as they touch each key. The next time you are walking through a park, focus on the sensations of the air as it moves through your fingertips. Think about the ground beneath your feet. The next time you are swimming think about how each part of your body is working synergistically to help you glide through the water. Whether you are writing in your journal, striving to make it up a flight of stairs without being winded, or to complete a 100 mile bike ride, appreciate all your body does for you. Appreciate that it allows you to breath. It allows you to rest. It allows you to eat. It allows you to be healthy! Allow this gratitude to be a part of all things you do throughout your day, and celebrate the ability for your mind to be present in each and every moment.

Heart Health Month: Keeping Your Heart Beating Longer & Stronger

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women and accounts for one in every four deaths each year. If there was something you could do to prevent the onset of heart disease, would you do it? Knowing the causes of heart disease and the heart healthy actions you take on a daily basis is the first line of defense.

Know the Signs and Act Quickly

The sooner you recognize that you or someone might be having a heart attack, the more likely you are to survive. The early warning signs are:

  • Chest pain
  • Upper body pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, lightheadedness or cold sweats

Some risk factors for heart attacks or heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, being overweight and even limited physical activity. Try some of these heart healthy foods and tricks to lower your risk.

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Eat Less Processed Foods

When choosing the right foods to eat, pick items that have whole foods mentioned in the ingredient list. If you can’t read the name, you most likely don’t want to be putting it into your body. Not to mention, processed foods are pumped full of salt, sugar and fat to keep them on the shelves longer. Stick to the perimeter of the grocery store and chose items that don’t list sugar in the first five ingredients.  Also, pay attention to the daily intake of sodium on the label. Some soups have more than the daily recommended allowance in just one can!

Sugar Isn’t So Sweet for Heart Health

Consuming more than 21% of your caloric intake from added sugars doubles your chance of developing cardiovascular disease. This is because added sugars lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and an increased weight which are all factors for heart disease. Aim for no more than six teaspoons a day of added sugars. Fruits have natural sugars and are considered a part of a healthy eating plan.

Increased Physical Activity Can Improve Quality of Life

Being more physically active has a number of heart health benefits. It increases your core body temperature which actually has a calming effect on the body. The calmer you are, the less stress you have. This decrease in stress can make you feel better about the healthy choices you are making and improve your overall quality of life. Physical activity also helps aid in weight loss and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Heart Healthy Recipes

Need some ideas to get started with heart healthy meals?  Check out our Pinterest page for healthy recipes. The daily meal plans included in your coaching emails is another great resource for heart health information all year long.

 

References:

https://www.goredforwomen.org/live-healthy/first-steps-to-prevent-heart-disease-and-be-heart-healthy/sugar-heart-disease/

https://www.goredforwomen.org/home/live-healthy/prevent-heart-disease/

Updated Dietary Guidelines and What They Mean for You

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You’ve likely encountered numerous nutrition recommendations in the past, suggesting how many calories, fat, carbohydrates, protein, sugar, calcium, and iron is healthy. You’ve likely even seen the Food Guide Pyramid at some point in your life, suggesting you use fats, oils sparingly; load up on bread, cereal, rice, and pasta; and, ensure adequate amounts of fruits, dairy products, meat, and vegetables.

More recently the Food Guide Pyramid was replaced by MyPlate, a diagram recommending that half your plate be filled with fruits and vegetables, and the other half being comprised of whole grains. It also recommends that you make the switch from whole or 2% milk to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

With all the confusion over what amounts of each food group is recommended, and which foods are considered “healthy” vs. “non-healthy,” making sense of it all has left many of us feeling frustrated and even a little dizzy!

The USDA continues to strive for creating the most effective and achievable guidelines for Americans. As such, the Dietary Guidelines continue to be emphasized by health professionals as a roadmap for preventing disease and attaining optimal health.

In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines were updated and released to the public in an effort to inform Americans of modern-day nutrition recommendations. These guidelines include:

1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan

 Emphasizes healthy eating patterns, including getting appropriate levels of calories each day as a necessity to support weight, maintain health and prevent disease.

2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and serving amounts

Recommends eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods from all food groups within the recommended caloric range.

3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake

Cut back on high-sugar foods and beverages, along with unhealthy saturated fats and excessive sodium is optimal.

4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices

Replacing foods with unhealthy ingredients with those that are nutrient-dense is a vital part of achieving optimal health. Part of accomplishing this is through an increased understanding of cultural and personal preferences.

5. Support healthy eating patterns for all

Regardless of the setting, all individuals should have access to healthy food items, whether in the workplace, school setting, or within the community.

Some KEYPOINTS to consider:

The primary changes in the current 2015 guidelines emphasize the importance of improved weight management aimed at preventing chronic disease—including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. Previous guidelines focused primarily on individual nutrient and food groups (i.e., carbohydrates, fats, proteins, dairy, meat, grains, etc.). New guidelines promote overall healthy eating patterns, where sugar and sodium are modified, and beverages are highlighted as contributing to the daily caloric value. In plain sight, this means—eat to maintain a healthy weight throughout your lifespan; focus on nutrient-dense and quality foods; limit your intake of saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium; focus on choosing healthier alternatives to your food and beverages; and, ensure your community promotes healthy eating for all individuals.

For more detailed information, please visit:
http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/

 

Source: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/

Being Mindful: How to Avoid Comfort Eating

We’ve all been told time and again of what to eat, but did you know that it is just important to understand how you eat?  It’s easy for us to fix a quick meal and sit in front of the television at home, or even our computer at work to eat. The problem with this behavior is that not only can this take away from the pleasure of eating, but it can also add unnecessary inches to your waistline. In order to prevent this problematic outcome, mindful eating has been proven as a means of improving your entire eating experience.

Reconnecting us with our food, mindful eating is a practice with roots dating back to ancient Buddhist practices. This practice is based on the concept of using varying degrees of consciousness while eating. It deepens our awareness of not only the visual aspect of our foods, but also the smells, textures, flavors and sensations. While mindful eating has been suggested to enhance our food awareness, it also allows for heightened awareness of the body’s physical cues—such as hunger, satiety (fullness), and even helps with sensing the emotional cues that often result in emotional eating.

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1. Eliminate all external distractions.

Leave your cell phone, tablet, computer, and television off and away from your eating space. These constant distractions prevent you from giving your full attention to your meal and often interfere with recognizing feelings of fullness and hunger, leading to overeating and contributing to looming weight issues. You might even be amazed at how much more flavorful your food tastes or how delicious it smells!

2. Experience your food from every angle.

Take the time to really SEE your food. Note all the colors on the plate. Notice the textures and shapes. SMELL your food. Does it give of a pungent odor or a hint of a particular spice? Let the food remind you of life’s moments. Does the smell remind you of when you ate in your grandmother’s kitchen as a child? Does it remind you of birthdays and holidays where friends and family celebrated together? Allow each moment to overwhelm you and to be a part of your meal.

3. Eat slowly.

It generally takes the body and brain about 20 minutes to communicate sensations after taking that first bite of food. By slowing down to savor your food, you are allowing your body to feel full and for your brain to tell you when enough is enough. Oftentimes we overeat because we are rushed. You may even recall times when you felt so full after hurrying through a meal that you are left with regret, or even digestive distress. FEEL the food as you chew it in your mouth. Notice the texture, the heat, the flavor. Notice if it is sweet or salty. Try to pick out individual ingredients. For example, let’s say you are eating a chicken stew. Try to pick out the sweetness of the vegetables. Find the savory flavors of the chicken. What about herbs and spices? Maybe there are some pungent onions or garlic in there too? Can you pick out the saltiness of the broth, or the richness of the oils?

4. Chew thoroughly.

With fast food restaurants, food carts, cafeterias, and vending machines so readily available, food is always at our disposal. We have fallen in the habit of the grab ‘n’ go concept, where we find fast food, go on our way, and eat so quickly that we’ve nearly forgotten how to chew. Chewing your food is an important part of not only being mindful, but also for allowing the body to begin the digestive process. Did you know that at the first contact with food, the mouth releases saliva and in this saliva are important digestive enzymes? Amylase is an enzyme that is released in the saliva to help the body with digesting food, particularly carbohydrates. By not focusing on chewing, you skip this essential step of the digestive process. This results in undigested food particles in the digestive tract and even the occasional digestive upset—such as bloating or gas. One helpful tip is to set down your eating utensils after each bite and focus on chewing rather than on your next bite.

5. Enjoy your eating environment.

While you enjoy your food, why not also enjoy your company and your surroundings? Look around you. Are you surrounded by loved ones? Maybe you are eating alone and have the opportunity to sit in peace to embrace this time for yourself. What’s in the room around you? Are there nice photos on the wall? Perhaps birds are chirping outside the window. Or, if you have the fortune to eat outdoors, is there a cool breeze in the air? Maybe there are children laughing and playing nearby. Whatever eating environment you are in, spend time to reflect on each piece that makes your meal special.

6. Show gratitude.

Reflect on the joy you feel from having time to yourself or the comfort you feel from having a loved one nearby. Perhaps you are at a family event and celebrating. Above all else, always show gratitude for the food you’ve been given. Be thankful for its nourishment, for its warmth, for its flavor, for its smells, and for the moments you’ve been given to enjoy it.

Weight Loss Challenge Starts February 1

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Become a healthier, stronger you with the Weigh and Win Team Challenge and compete against others across the state in a competition to get healthy.

Compete in one of two categories from February 1  – April 30, 2016 to achieve:

  • the most average weight improvement (%) or
  • the most average HEALTHpoints during the challenge period

Join or create a team of 4-8 people starting February 1 or any time after. The join and create a team buttons will appear on the Team Challenge page, when logged into your Weigh and Win account, starting February 1, 2016.

HOW TO JOIN

Visit www.WeighandWin.com/TeamChallenge for more information and to join the challenge! You must sign-up for a free Weigh and Win account if you don’t already have one.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

The top three teams in each category win great prizes and a $1,000 donation to an approved non-profit.

WEIGHT IMPROVEMENT TEAM CHALLENGE PRIZES: 
  • 1st: Fitbit Flex ($100) – Smart activity tracker that makes fitness fashionable.
  • 2nd: REI Gift Card ($50) – Treat yourself to a healthy, active gift.
  • 3rd: Cookbook Duo ($30) – Two healthy cookbooks to make delicious meals.
HEALTHPOINTS TEAM CHALLENGE PRIZES:
  • 1st: Smoothie Blender ($25) – Blend a smoothie in a convenient travel mug.
  • 2nd: Bluetooth Wireless Headphones ($20) – Makes listening to workout tunes easier.
  • 3rd: Target Gift Card ($15) – Buy yourself a healthy treat.
Want more details on how the team challenge works?