Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Bring a Little Sunshine Into Your Heart

April 4th, 2016 at 4:36 pm by timigustafson
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That getting out in the sun has many health benefits is old news. But how exactly sunrays enhance our wellbeing has not been completely understood by scientists for the longest time. In fact, warnings about excessive sun exposure because of potential skin damage and skin cancer have dominated the conversation. However, too little contact with the outdoors can also cause problems when it results in the deficiency of an all-important ingredient called vitamin D.

Unlike other vitamins, vitamin D can be produced in the body by exposing the skin to sunlight. But that is not always guaranteed. Because so many people spend their daytime hours inside, the danger of becoming vitamin D deficient is now more widespread than ever.

Those who live in the northern hemisphere with fewer sunny days and the elderly who don’t leave home as much any more are particularly at risk. Pregnant women and obese persons can also find it harder to meet their vitamin D needs.

Having a sufficient supply of vitamin D available is critical for a number of body functions, including the maintenance of bones, muscles, and vital organs, especially the heart. More recent research found that increasing levels of vitamin D can be helpful in the prevention of heart disease and related health issues.

One study from Harvard University concluded that men who were deficient in vitamin D were twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke as their counterparts who had adequate levels. One reason could be that vitamin D plays a role in controlling blood pressure and preventing artery damage, the researchers say.

Other investigations have suggested that substantially more deadly heart attacks occur during the winter months than at any other time of the year, not because of cold weather but more likely because of reduced sunlight.

On the other hand, people who live in mountainous regions or spend long periods of time at high altitude and are exposed to greater ultraviolet-B (UVB) doses have on average a lower risk of heart disease, according to studies.

Those for whom sunshine is not always easy to come by should consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Be advised to consult with your physician what amounts are appropriate.

Taking supplements, however, should never be considered a substitute for healthy eating. Nothing can be more health promoting than sound diet choices. And there are plenty of foods that provide reasonably high doses of vitamin D, including fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and egg yolks, among others.

Together with a little extra effort to spend more time outside, these guidelines should keep most people from becoming deficient, with countless more positive ‘side effects’ to boot.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Men Must Learn to Cope with Longer Lives

March 28th, 2016 at 8:10 pm by timigustafson
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Men used to have shorter life spans than women, according to statistics that seemed unchanging for many decades. But lately the gap started to close, and at least part of the male population is now making headways in terms of healthy aging and longevity.

Causes for higher mortality rates among men were traditionally seen in health problems like heart disease, pulmonary disease, liver disease, and greater accident proneness, all mostly related to diet and lifestyle habits.

Many of these outcomes are related to behaviors that are encouraged or accepted more in men than in women, according to government research, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, eating highly caloric foods, and also engaging in risky activities like gun use, extreme sports, and working in hazardous jobs.

Smoking in particular is still seen as a leading contributor to early deaths. On the other hand, reduction in tobacco use is being credited as one of the most important factors in the improvement of public health and life expectancy, especially among middle-aged and older former smokers.

However, the benefits of positive lifestyle changes are not equally distributed. Almost only educated and well-off males are seeing their odds turning in their favor. High earners in non-hazardous occupations who live in safe and clean environments, can afford to eat well and have easy access to healthcare can expect to live significantly longer than their less fortunate counterparts, recent surveys report.

Surprisingly, it is older women – even if they live reasonably long lives – who nowadays suffer from more diseases and disabilities than other demographics. One reason may be that aging females, especially if they live alone, have on average fewer economic resources available to them. Therefore they may not be as able to accommodate their declines in functioning when they occur, says Dr. Vicki Freedman, a researcher at the Population Studies Center of the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study on age-related health issues.

Unfortunately, debilitating illnesses tend to build on each other, she says. That, of course, applies to both sexes. It becomes harder to perform daily routines like dressing, bathing, cooking, shopping, driving, etc, which all worsen outcomes in many ways.

The fact is that we cannot simply judge the health status of older generations in terms of added years of life expectancy, but that we should look more closely at the quality of their day-to-day lives.

While expanding lifetimes can certainly be seen as part of healthy aging, how this extra time can be filled and enjoyed may be the more compelling issue.

For aging Baby Boomers, this may become the greatest challenge they have to face yet, namely how to make their unprecedented longevity sustainable, both for themselves and for society at large.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

How to Avoid the Retirement Trap

March 21st, 2016 at 7:30 am by timigustafson
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Retirement is an artifice, an invention of the 20th century. Before then, people hardly ever retired. They stopped working when they couldn’t do their (mostly physically demanding) jobs any longer, and soon thereafter they usually died. Now, every day about 10,000 members of the Baby Boomer generation enter what is commonly considered retirement age at 65.

What does this mass exodus from the work force entail? Predictions range from the sanguine to the dire about the prospects of today’s retirees. On the one hand, especially well-to-do older adults who are reasonably healthy have many more options to fill their ‘golden years’ with activities and pursuits than their forbearers could ever imagine. By contrast, insufficient financial security and chronic diseases can lead to a rather precarious endgame. For most, it will be something in between.

For the lucky ones, retirement can really be a glorious time. According to a recent study, being freed from work-related and other demands can allow for lifestyle changes that enhance health and well-being.

“A major life change like retirement creates a great window of opportunity,” says Dr. Melody Ding, a Senior Research Fellow of the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, Australia, and lead author of the study report. “It’s a chance to get rid of bad routines and engineer new, healthier behaviors.”

That would be a desirable outcome. However, there are also challenges waiting for retirees that are not always easily overcome. Routines that helped structure their days and that are now falling by the wayside can leave a considerable void. Those who have no plans other than getting more sleep or enjoying a favorite pastime (golf comes to mind) can find themselves unprepared for that extra amount of leisure. Losing one’s professional identity, feeling no longer needed or being bored can result in low self-esteem and depression.

One study from Harvard University found that newly retired men and women faced a 40 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke than their contemporaries who were still in the workforce. The increase was most pronounced during the first year of retirement and gradually leveled off after that.

Moving from working to not working brings a whole host of disruptions along, many of which don’t become immediately evident. But the effects are very real and can lead to serious problems if they are not constructively addressed.

“Our [study] results suggest we may need to look at retirement as a process rather than an event,” says J. Robin Moon, a researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

The process can be a smooth or a bumpy ride, depending on a wide range of factors.

Financial stability is certainly part of it, but for retirement to succeed, many other components need to be in place as well. Most important are a supportive social life as well as engagement in meaningful, stimulating activities such as travel and continuing education, among countless other options. To maintain both physical and mental health, there are no better means than preventive measures, including an age-appropriate eating and exercise regimen.

However, such steps should be taken long before actual retirement takes place. People need to prepare themselves thoroughly for this transformative time, preferably several years in advance, experts recommend.

The tremendous changes newly retired persons experience can affect their lifestyles favorably or unfavorably, says Else Zantinge, a researcher at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands who conducted studies on the health affects of retirement. The pre-retirement period should be used as an opportunity to make the transition as easy as possible.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Goals Are Best Achieved by Sticking to Routines

March 14th, 2016 at 3:05 pm by timigustafson
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It is common knowledge that persistence and perseverance are important ingredients for success in almost any field. Whether we seek it in our careers or personal interests, stick-to-itiveness is one of the key factors that make or break our advances.

Even the most accomplished people share this. In addition to their talents, they develop and maintain routines they rarely deviate from, allowing them to keep building on their achievements.

In his informative as well as highly entertaining book, “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work,” the author Mason Currey describes how structure and discipline have formed the work and lifestyle habits of dozens of famous writers, painters, composers and musicians. The rules and parameters they set for themselves not only helped them with their tasks at hand but also let them overcome obstacles and adversities.

Of course, not only the gifted few but all of us depend on schedules, programs and routines, if we want to get anything done. Although these devices may connote repetitiveness, automation, even monotony, they are in many ways the very foundation on which the extraordinary can unfold.

Yes, Currey admits, “to follow a routine is to be on autopilot. But one’s daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower [and] self-discipline.”

The choices we make throughout the day may feel like they are based on well-considered decision making, but they are not, according to Charles Duhigg, the author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business” – they are mostly habits themselves. In fact, he claims, almost half of the actions we take are not based on conscious decisions at all. So it is those habits that we need to focus on and change or fine-tune if necessary.

But this is not always an easy task. Many of us have only a vague idea of what we want or which direction our life should take. Generally speaking, we all want to be happy, do meaningful work, have rewarding experiences, be in loving relationships, enjoy good health, and so on. We may be aware if something goes wrong or could be improved upon. We may even see a solution right in front of us. And yet, making the extra effort and bringing about a positive change may still seem out of reach. Why?

What happens when good intentions fail is that they are not sufficiently anchored in people’s reality, their daily form of existence, says Dieter Frey, a professor for psychology at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. Someone may want to make more money, find a better job, lose weight or gain greater fitness, but it won’t happen if there is no infrastructure in place to facilitate the necessary steps towards such goals.

A framework must first be built where individual actions can turn into patterns, and patterns become habits, thereby supporting and promoting the whole process, which eventually can lead to the desired outcomes.

All objectives have to be aligned with the existing conditions; they have to be realistic, and progress has to be measurable, says Frey. Obstacles and hindrances will continuously arise, but they become more manageable when they are faced with an arsenal of well-honed countermeasures. And those can only be obtained with practice.

Obviously, no pursuit, no matter how well designed, is ultimately guaranteed success. But the odds tend to improve in favor of those who patiently persist in their efforts.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Shared Lifestyle Supersedes Genes, Study Finds

March 7th, 2016 at 8:19 am by timigustafson
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When it comes to weight problems, many people, including experts, are inclined to put much of the blame on genetic predispositions. Yes, diet and lack of exercise are also known culprits, but ultimately our genes determine how well or badly we fare, common wisdom goes.

Now a new study claims that those we share our lives with, our spouses and partners, have a much greater influence on our health- and fitness status, regardless how genetically programmed we are.

The more decisive factors, it seems, are the choices we make in connection with other adults. Even the diet and lifestyle patterns established during childhood and adolescence eventually cease to dominate, according to the researchers.

“By middle age, choices made by couples – including those linked to diet and exercise – have a much greater impact than the lifestyle each shared with siblings and parents growing up,” they say.

The good news coming from these findings is that people who are obese and suffer from related illnesses are not cursed by birth or poor upbringing but can make changes that supersede their genetic profile. Even those who come from families with a history of weight issues can lower their health risks by altering their eating and lifestyle habits, says Dr. Chris Haley, a professor of the Medical Research Council’s Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh and lead author of the study report.

Husbands and wives can be each other’s role model for both healthy and unhealthy behavior, says Miranda Hitti, a medical writer at WebMD. They can function as a mutual inspiration for positive changes like improving their diets, taking up exercise routines, giving up smoking, getting regular physical checkups, and so on.

Unfortunately, loved ones can also get in the way when corrections are needed. I have seen it happening in my own practice as a dietitian and health counselor time and again. One party is ready, but the other isn’t and refuses to join in. Now there is a conflict, and oftentimes the one who wants to change course loses out and gives up.

There can be multiple reasons for noncooperation between life partners, including emotional misgivings like insecurity and jealousy. To overcome these kinds of obstacles, skillful communication is crucial.

If you have a significant other who is out of shape but not interested in doing anything about it, you can’t force them into making better choices. Nagging will not work. If it’s not his or her own idea, there will likely be a lot of resistance and rejection. But what you can do, is trying to plant a seed and getting the conversation started, by being supportive and building your case on positive rather than negative emotions, advises Steve Kamb, the founder of NerdFitness.

Without support it can be extremely hard to accomplish goals like weight loss and other health-promoting measures in any environment. But encouragement motivated by love, respect and concern for each other’s well-being is the best starting point any of us can hope for.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Eating Right – At Least Sometimes

February 23rd, 2016 at 4:32 pm by timigustafson
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Consumers generally want to eat better and are willing to spend more money on healthy foods like fresh and organically grown produce, but they also remain prone to reach for fast food and snacks for comfort and instant gratification, according to a new study on today’s dietary trends.

While the public is given easier access to nutritional information and advice than ever, there continues to be a gap, if not disconnect, between what people voice as their health concerns and how they actually act upon them, the researchers found.

For the study, participants were grouped in different segments, based on their stated nutritional attitudes and priorities. As it turned out, even the most health-conscious among them routinely engaged in a “balancing act” between what they perceived as better choices and other factors like pricing or convenience. Upon closer examination, the researchers also detected some stark discrepancies between reported and actual eating habits. Moreover, people were often not even aware of the inconsistencies in their actions.

Of course, these findings are not especially surprising. Surveys have long shown that most of us are somewhat unsure about the requirements of a truly health-promoting diet.

In one poll that was conducted by Consumer Reports, ninety percent of respondents proclaimed they were eating “somewhat,” “very,” or “extremely” healthily. However, nearly half of those also admitted to having at least one sugary soft drink a day and to including pastries and other sweet and fattening items in their breakfast. Only about a third consumed the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetable servings on most days.

How people define “healthy eating” is what’s questionable, says Nancy Metcalf, a senior project editor at Consumer Report magazine who was responsible for the poll. If people are misinformed or don’t understand what a healthy diet entails, adherence to what they think they should be doing is getting them nowhere.

The blame for this widespread confusion over what constitutes sound nutrition does obviously not rest with the public. Because the messages people are given are often inconsistent or sometimes outright contradictory, they can do more harm than good for those trying to follow them. For good reason the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) warns against diet programs and guidelines that promise fast and easily achievable results for weight management and nutritional well-being.

Instead of focusing on narrow measures and oversimplifying solutions, it would be more effective to foster an overall “healthy food environment” where consumers can meet their particular needs and also be confident that the information they are provided with is reliable and actionable, experts say.

This, obviously, would involve multiple components, including better health- and nutrition education, greater access to healthy food outlets, and the creation of more health-promoting policies both at governmental and local levels – to name just a few.

Ultimately, only when health-conducive behavior is commonly accepted as the norm and facilitated accordingly can real progress take place.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Of Loss and Letting Go

February 16th, 2016 at 6:30 pm by timigustafson
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I recently saw the movie “The Lady in the Van” with Maggie Smith in the leading role. In a nutshell, the film is the adaptation of a memoir about an elderly women who has fallen on tough times and is forced to live out her late years in a shabby van parked in the driveway of her reluctant host, a playwright who eventually tells her story. While reviews have been mixed, it is clear that the subject matter touches on a critical issue: How much, or how little, does it take for things to go awry as we age? Like in this case, growing old can be outright scary.

The fear of aging, of course, is not limited to financial concerns, although they often take center stage. Deteriorating physical and mental health, loss of loved ones, social isolation, and the progressive inability to cope with daily tasks and challenges can make people dread the so-called “golden years” rather than embrace them.

Such fear can manifest itself in numerous ways. “Gerascophobia,” as the scientific term is called, can generate forms of stress and anxiety that can be quite debilitating. These may oftentimes be unfounded, but they are not necessarily irrational. Aging does in fact entail significant losses and forces us to let go of what we have long taken for granted.

Especially in our society that so strongly favors self-reliance, it can be hard to imagine how a life dependent on the help of others could be worthwhile. Surveys show that most adults are more afraid of losing their independence in their twilight years than they are of death.

And yet, considering that ever-larger portions of the population are entering their senior years, we will sooner rather than later be forced to re-examine our views of aging with all its implications.

Yes, many people live longer and are healthier and more active late in life than their parents and grandparents could ever imagine. But many also struggle with chronic diseases and disabilities that diminish their prospects. Learning to deal with all sides of the aging process is a real challenge.

“Life is an Indian giver,” as a song by the rock band Modest Mouse goes. It gives us everything and then takes it all away again.

While this is undoubtedly true, it is another matter how we relate to that obvious fact.

By definition, loss is something that happens to us against our will. We don’t normally perceive it as a gift, a blessing, a chance, or anything else positive. The losses that come with age are generally impoverishing, not enriching or enhancing. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

“For some, the downsizing that inevitably comes with age is like living in a mournful country-western song, suffering one loss after another. Angry and embittered, they become cranky or depressed. For others, it becomes a kind of spiritual journey, an opportunity to affirm what is really of value. Finding new interest and meaning in life around them, they become wise and content,” writes Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, a psychologist, family counselor, and columnist for Psych Central.

Finding something new in the disappearance of the old and familiar is indeed the best outcome we can hope for – if we are open to it. A friend of mine once compared the way she tried to handle her own aging experience to “pruning of an old tree.” You cut back and dispose of what is no longer fruitful. But you also make space for anew growth, and you may be surprised at times what still emerges.

If loss is what we undergo passively, letting go – consciously and willingly – is the active countermeasure we can take. This is not resignation in the face of the inevitable, but the human spirit staying in control and remaining intact, regardless.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Many Reasons to Gain Weight with Age, and Many More Excuses

February 3rd, 2016 at 5:08 pm by timigustafson
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As we grow older, many of us find it harder to avoid or undo unwanted weight gain. This is such a widespread phenomenon, it is almost taken for granted that aging and weight problems go hand in hand. However, while there are objective reasons for such a connection, they are by no means the whole story.

The human body undergoes constant changes throughout life that include its shape. These are natural and unavoidable, regardless of genetic makeup, diet or lifestyle. We can slow down some of the process, but only to a certain extent. Still, it is important to understand the multiple factors that play a role in our aging and counteract them as best we can.

Genetic makeup
Like many of our individual characteristics, the appearance of our body is influenced by our genes. Numerous studies have shown how genetic components factor in our response to food intake, physical activity, lifestyle choices and health risks. But experts have also maintained that despite of this predetermination we can still exercise a great deal of control and alter outcomes.

In other words, heredity is not necessarily destiny. This becomes clearer as we mature. A lifetime of habits and behavior will likely have the greatest impact on how well we fare, more than what we started out with.

Changing metabolic rates
It is a popular belief that slowing of the metabolism – the biochemical process by which the body converts calories into energy it needs to function – is one of the main culprits of age-related weight gain. Yes, there is some truth to that, but scientists say it really plays only a relatively small part when it comes to weight issues.

Beginning at around the age of 25, the average person’s metabolic rate declines by between 5 and 10 percent per decade. It means that as the years pass, fewer and fewer calories are needed to stay within a healthy weight range, and everything beyond may lead to overweight.

The good news is that the effects of a slowing metabolism can be mitigated. Again, behavioral adjustments can make a big difference. It is a simple equation: As the body’s needs change, so should one’s eating and lifestyle choices. Cutting back on portion sizes and getting regular exercise are important proactive steps to start with. (More on this later on.)

Loss of muscle mass
Another reason for a lessening metabolism is loss of muscle mass. Age-related sarcopenia, as the process is called, begins typically in a person’s mid- to late 30s, in part because of sedentary lifestyle- and working conditions. It can continue at a rate of 3 to 5 percent per decade, depending on activity levels.

Research suggests that women lose muscle mass twice as fast as men of the same age. Because muscle is much more metabolically active than fat, it becomes increasingly difficult to control or lose weight for both gender as people grow older.

Obviously, strength training is the best counteraction one can take, combined with a healthy, balanced diet rich in lean protein.

Different kinds of fat
To successfully avoid weight gain, it is also important to understand the differences in how fat tissue accumulates in the body. Most women tend to carry additional fat primarily in the hips, thighs, and buttocks, while most men do so in the abdominal area.

Different types of fat react metabolically different as well, and some may become less active with age than others, meaning, they are harder to get rid of.

Also, excessive abdominal fat, or belly fat, can be the source of a number of serious health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer, and should therefore be avoided as much as possible. Reduced calorie intake and regular exercise are the most logical remedies.

Lifestyle changes
Following a healthy diet and exercise regimen is obviously crucial for successful weight management at any time in life, and ever more so in later years. But these can only do so much. Other important ingredients are stress management and also getting enough sleep.

Chronic stress and sleep deprivation have routinely been identified as contributing factors to overeating and use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

In other words, to escape the traps of unhealthy aging, it is imperative to look at the larger picture and pay close attention to all our actions. As we age, there is less and less room for compromise – or shall we say excuses. The best way is to start a health-promoting diet and lifestyle regimen as early as possible, and not deviate much from it, regardless how hard that may seem at times.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Sleep Well – Your Life May Depend on It

January 23rd, 2016 at 2:16 pm by timigustafson
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An unfortunate part of our modern-day busy lifestyle is chronic sleep deprivation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lack of sleep has become a major public health concern, with insufficient rest being linked to medical problems, accidents and occupational hazards. People who regularly stay awake for too long are at a higher risk of developing illnesses like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and also mental issues like depression and memory loss, the agency warns.

While many young people may feel they can burn the proverbial midnight oil without paying much of a price, shortage of sleep and sleep disruption can wreak havoc on their middle-aged and older counterparts in ways not truly appreciated until recently.

A new study from the University of Toronto, Canada, found that older people who have trouble sleeping are in greater danger of suffering a stroke and/or other mental health problems like memory loss and dementia.

Waking up several times during the night, a.k.a. sleep fragmentation, is tied to subtle changes in the brain due to hardening of the arteries, which can lead to reduced oxygen supply and, in turn, to more serious damages like strokes, says Dr. Andrew Lim, a neurologist and lead author of the study report.

But it’s not just the elderly who should adhere to a healthy sleep regimen. Just one single restless night can negatively affect mood, concentration, attention span and other cognitive functions in people of all ages. In fact, as one study found, a night of disturbed sleep is like having a regular eight-hour sleep period cut in half.

Several consecutive phases of fragmented rest could result in negative health consequences on par with chronic sleeplessness, according to Dr. Avi Sadeh, a clinical psychologist at Tel Aviv University, Israel, and leader of the research project.

While sleep disturbances can occur throughout life, it gets harder to stay asleep as we age, for multiple reasons. Stress, anxiety, changes in the body’s internal clock, chronic diseases, certain medications, consumption of alcohol and caffeine, or use of nicotine and drugs can all be contributing factors. And, of course, diet also plays a role.

According to one study, a high intake of saturated fat and sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative, and more disrupted sleep. By contrast, eating greater amounts of fiber, as found in plant-based foods, can help enhance sleep quality.

Besides diet, regular exercise is also recommended for improving one’s restfulness. Physical activity does not only tire us out in a good way, it also reduces stress and lowers the risk of weight gain and related diseases – all of which are known to interfere with sleep.

In other words, the better we take care of your health needs in the daytime, the better we can rest at night.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

A New Year’s Resolution: Be Less Wasteful with Time

January 14th, 2016 at 2:39 pm by timigustafson
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A recent article in the New York Times about New Year’s resolutions caught my attention. Although plenty is being written on the subject this time of the year (including by yours truly), this one struck a chord with me. Here the author, Arthur C. Brooks, the current president of the American Enterprise Institute and a regular contributor to the paper’s op-ed pages, shared his thoughts on human mortality and how to make the most of our short presence in this world.

What inspired him to write about this topic, he recalls, was a trip to Thailand where he witnessed Buddhist monks contemplating photographs of human corpses in different stages of decay to remind themselves of their own ultimate fate.

Paradoxically, such meditations on death are intended as a key instrument to live more consciously. They can heighten the awareness of life’s transitory nature and help reset priorities. “In other words,” he says, “it makes one ask, Am I making the right use of my scarce and precious life?”

In our daily routines, there is often a discrepancy between what truly matters to us and what we spend our time on. As studies have shown, watching television or surfing the Internet don’t give people a great deal of satisfaction, yet they spend hours on end this way, while other experiences like quality time with family and friends are sorely missing.

Of course, we all know that our lifespan is finite, regardless of our age, health or wealth. As Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the bestseller “The Purpose Driven Life,” once said, “Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time.”

So then, why do so many of us use time as if it won’t ever run out?

It all comes down to how much you value your time and how you want to spend it, according to Craig Jarrow, author of “Time Management Ninja.” We all have the same amount of time available to us in a day, but how we apply it makes all the difference.

People routinely get lost in unnecessary activities, in stuff that is oftentimes frivolous and silly. For example, a lot of time and energy is wasted on complaining, gossiping, antagonizing, fighting, and being plainly miserable, he says, or on doing things that yield no real benefits, like reading or watching so-called “news” about people and events unrelated to us, or updating our social media status with irrelevant information.

So what can one do to reduce time waste? In many cases, it’s not what you do but what you stop doing that turns you into a more efficient time manager, Jarrow suggests.

In fact, there are countless ways to get better organized and start saving time right away. You can plan in advance by making a list of all the things you want to accomplish in the order of their importance to you. Then stick to that schedule.

That doesn’t mean you have to fill your day to the hilt with activities. Making time for yourself – to take breaks, to think, to meditate, to play – can be as beneficial and rewarding as any success at work or other pursuits. What matters most is that it is done consciously and with appreciation for the time you are given.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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