Posts Tagged ‘Health Benefits’

Researchers from Harvard University found that eating healthily costs more than sticking to junk food. While this shouldn’t come as a great surprise, it is the first time anyone has tried to put an exact price tag on what it takes to follow nutritional recommendations.

On average, a person who wants to maintain a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources must cough up an extra $1.50 per day, or about $550 a year, based on a daily intake of 2,000 calories, as recommended for adults by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“People often say that healthier foods are more expensive, and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits. But until now, the scientific evidence for this idea has not been systematically evaluated, nor have the actual differences in cost been characterized,” said Mayuree Rao, a junior research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study report.

Less than two dollars a day difference doesn’t sound too prohibitive, but even these small amounts add up over time, and low-income families may be hard pressed to make consistently costlier, albeit healthier, choices.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), most Americans adhere to diets that do not meet its proposed standards. Whether food costs are a decisive factor is not always evident in the view of the agency, noting that some highly processed foods are not necessarily cheaper than many fresh varieties but may be preferred by consumers because of greater convenience.

Also, food prices can vary considerably depending on location and season, making it difficult to set clear measuring standards. And it is not always apparent which foods are truly healthy and which are not. For instance, are items like apples acceptable, which are certainly nutritious but may contain traces of pesticides? Or should they be eaten only when organically-grown, making them much more expensive?

Geographic variations also play a significant role, not only in terms of the neighborhoods people live in but also in which part of the country they are. Larger cities may be better served but tend to be more pricey, while rural areas typically require longer driving distances to outlets, adding expenditures for gas or public transportation.

The government’s Dietary Guidelines would benefit from a reality check, says Dr. Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle and co-author of a study on the effects of food prices on consumers’ behavior. He warns that dietary guidance often overlooks the issue of affordability when making recommendations about food choices.

“Unrealistic advice is useless. People eat the foods they can afford,” he said to Food Navigator USA. “Given current food preferences and eating habits, more nutrient-rich diets do cost more,” he added.

Of course, for those who are able and willing to spend more money at the grocery store, higher quality foods have many advantages. Eating healthily makes it easier to control weight and avoid diet-related illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, all of which affect millions of Americans. Reducing some of these afflictions would make a huge difference in healthcare spending and people’s quality of life.

Poor eating habits of individuals, however, are not the only cause of our current health crisis. Our food policies that give subsidies to producers of commodities like corn, soy and sugar, but nothing to fresh produce farmers, will only perpetuate the existing unbalance between food prices, very much to the detriment of consumers who would love to eat better.

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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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Why Taking Vacations Is Important for Your Health

May 29th, 2013 at 7:55 am by timigustafson

Memorial Day weekend used to be the traditional kickoff for summer getaways. But for millions of Americans, going on a vacation or even taking a few days off here and there is a luxury they can ill afford. Among the 20 most developed countries in the world, the United States ranks dead last when it comes to recreation.

Unlike in Europe, where paid vacations of 20 to 30 days annually are the norm and guaranteed by law, the labor standards in this country generally do not require employers to provide such benefits. What’s more, even those lucky Americans who are entitled to paid time off often forego part of it.

There is no doubt that American workers, including millions of immigrants who have chosen the American way of life, have a particularly strong work ethic. But countries like Sweden or Germany, not exactly known as slackers, have fared well with their mandatory vacation policies, without losing their competitive edge. In fact, according to the latest report on global economic competitiveness by the World Economics Forum, the U.S. came in only fourth behind Switzerland, Sweden and Singapore. And even Canada, a country that is arguably closest to us in culture and lifestyle, mandates a minimum of 10 days vacation time per year for all its workers.

So, what makes Americans so much less inclined to quit work and relax for a few weeks or even just days on end?

For low-income workers it’s primarily a question of money. Those are typically the ones with the least benefits, including paid vacation or sick leave time. For others it’s fear they could be passed over for promotions or even lose their jobs if they are absent too often or too long. Some think it’s not worth the extra hassle to tie up loose ends before they leave or catch up after they return. And there may be a few who just don’t know what to do with themselves outside of work.

What’s often not discussed is that not taking time off regularly can lead to serious health problems. The results are comparable to chronic stress, when there is no reprieve not just from one’s workload but also from repetitive routines.

Often people get into a mindless routine at work and home, which can be broken if they distance themselves once in a while, says Dr. Ellen Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard University, in an interview on the health benefits of vacationing and travel with CNN. Uninterrupted routines tend to result in boredom, which hinders creativity and mindfulness, she says, and is therefore counterproductive. By contrast, having new and interesting experiences on a trip, for example, can be brought back to the workplace and enhance one’s performance.

But it’s not just mental health that must be restored on occasion. Chronic stress takes its toll on the body’s ability to resist infections, maintain vital functions and even the ability to avoid injuries, according to Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor for psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and contributor to Psychology Today.

“When you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill, your arteries take a beating, and you’re more likely to have an accident. Your sleep will suffer, you won’t digest your food as well, and even the genetic material in the cells of your body may start to become altered in a bad way.”

And mentally, she says, “not only do you become more irritable, depressed and anxious, but your memory will become worse and you’ll make poorer decisions. You’ll also be less fun to be with, causing you to become more isolated, lonely and depressed.”

For these reasons and others, your vacation, should you decide on taking one, must not end up causing you even more stress.

If you travel somewhere away from home, I recommend choosing a destination that is truly different from your familiar surroundings. It doesn’t have to be a deserted island, just unlike what you’re used to.

Leave your smart phone and laptop behind, so you cannot be reached from the office and won’t be tempted to “check in” every so often.

Don’t get involved in too many activities, even though they seem fun, if they turn your vacation into another hectic event.

Live in the moment and make the most of each day. Focus on all the things you never seem to have enough time for such as leisure, pleasure, conversation, etc.

If all or most of this seems impossible to you, perhaps it’s time to rethink your priorities.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Even Going on Vacation Can Be Scary.”

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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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For Heart Disease Patients, Meditation Can Be a Lifesaver, Study Finds

November 18th, 2012 at 2:30 pm by timigustafson

New research, funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), found that people with heart disease who regularly meditate may be able to reduce their risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke nearly by half.

For the study, which was published in the journal of the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease patients were enrolled in a stress-reducing program based on Transcendental Meditation (TM). The participants were required to meditate for about 20 minutes twice a day, practicing specific techniques that allowed their bodies and minds to experience a sense of deep rest and relaxation.

“Transcendental Meditation is a simple, effortless and natural way to settle down to a quiet state of mind,” said Dr. Robert Schneider, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, a research institute at the Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa, and leader of the program.

But achieving calmness and emotional balance are not the only potential benefits. Meditating can have a positive impact on the body as well, such as lowering blood pressure, and can thereby play an important role in the treatment or prevention of cardiovascular disease. “It’s a way to utilize the body’s own internal pharmacy,” said Dr. Schneider in an interview with WebMD.

Meditation has been practiced in various forms for thousands of years all around the globe. Practitioners use it to reach a state of tranquility, inner peace, awareness and balance but also for the treatment of medical conditions, especially when they are aggravated by stress and anxiety.

Transcendental meditation, as applied in the study, is only one of many types of the practice. Yoga, which focuses on posture and breathing exercises, primarily for physical flexibility, can also help relax the mind and reduce stress.

“Those who meditate can choose among a wide range of practices, both religious and secular,” said Dr. Charles L. Raison, clinical director of the Mind-Body Program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, who participated in a study on the healing effects of meditation on both body and mind. “What they have in common is a narrowing of focus that shuts out the external world, which usually [also] stills the body.”

Some experts have warned that drawing conclusions like these may be premature. Dr. Britta Hölzel, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School who studied mindful meditation practices, finds it hard to pinpoint the benefits of meditation. “The field is very, very young, and we don’t really know enough about it yet,” she said in an interview with the New York Times. “I would say these are still quite preliminary findings. We see that there is something there, but we have to replicate these findings and find out what they really mean.”

Still she acknowledges that meditating can increase a sense of well-being and improve the quality of life, even if it’s hard to determine how precisely these effects come about. And she agrees that meditation has its place if for no other reason than to provide some much needed rest.

“It does not require any particular education and does not conflict with lifestyle, philosophy or beliefs,” said Dr. Schneider. “It’s a straightforward technique [that] helps to reset the body’s own self-repair and homeostatic mechanisms.” That’s a lot for the simple act of sitting still.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading “Self-Care for Heart Disease Patients.”

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, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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The Many Health Benefits of a Good Belly Laugh

November 11th, 2012 at 8:14 am by timigustafson

It feels good to laugh once in a while. Everyone knows that. But laughter as a health-promoting exercise is not as widely practiced, despite of the fact that scientists have long known about the healing effects of good humor.

In his best-selling book, “Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient” (W.W. Norton & Co., 1979), Norman Cousins describes his own recovery from a life-threatening disease, which he credits in large parts to laughter.

What at first sounds like a good story – man cures himself by watching funny movies – is in fact an account of what scientists call the “natural recuperative mechanism” of the body, a.k.a. “homeostatic response,” meaning that the body is able to heal itself and return to a state of normalcy from injuries suffered at a time of illness.

Of course, proper medical care can support and accelerate the natural healing process, but recovery almost always also depends on the body’s own defense mechanisms. Among these defenses is the patient’s state of mind. In Cousins’ case, it seemed that a positive attitude and specifically a great sense of humor helped him muster the inner resources needed to overcome his ailments.

This, obviously, is a dramatic and rare example of the potential benefits of positive thinking. More common are reports that laughter has helped ease pain and suffering, not just the mental but also the physical kind. A recent study conducted at the University of Oxford, England, found that belly laughs caused the body to release endorphins, which act like opiates by inducing emotional calm and enhancing an overall sense of well-being.

During my internship as a clinical dietitian, I observed these effects more than once. I distinctly remember one occasion around Mardi Gras when a nurse dressed up in a clown costume tried her best to cheer up patients, some of whom were desperately ill. That night, the nursing staff reported having dispensed significantly less pain medication than on other days. The laughter in response to the nurse’s performance worked just like a painkiller.

Even if you are not seriously ill but just feel a bit run down, laughing can be good medicine for you, says R. Morgan Griffin who writes for WebMD. We change physiologically when we laugh, she says, our blood pressure goes up and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen through our system – “like a mild workout.” Laughing may actually offer similar benefits as physical exercise.

Other possible side effects of laughter include stress relief, sounder sleep, better blood sugar regulation and strengthening of the immune system.

As plausible as some of these claims about the health benefits of laughter may sound, it is hard to prove any of them scientifically, warns Dr. Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and author of “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.” It’s difficult to determine cause and effect when it comes to understanding what laughter actually does, he says in an interview with WebMD. “But we all know that laughing, being with friends and family, and being happy can make us feel better and give us a boost – even though studies may not show why,” he concludes.

P.S. If you liked this article, you may also enjoy watching the movie “Patch Adams” (1998) with Robin Williams, which is based on the true story of a medical student trying to improve hospital patients’ quality of life through humor.

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, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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In Praise of Taking Naps

September 29th, 2012 at 1:39 pm by timigustafson

Many Americans are chronically sleep deprived. Our busy work schedules, long commutes and countless demands at home don’t leave us enough time for a good night’s rest, let alone daytime breaks. In contrast to other cultures, taking siestas is often associated here with laziness and lax work ethics. We rather push through and, if necessary, fuel up on caffeine and power bars when our energy level goes down.

In terms of productivity, that may be a virtuous attitude, but staying awake all day followed by six to eight hours of slumber is not necessarily “natural” for human beings. In fact, we are in the minority among mammals when it comes to sleep habits. Studies on sleep patterns of animals have found that 85 percent of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, meaning they sleep for several shorter periods of time in a 24-hour cycle. Monophasic sleepers like us adhere to two distinct periods of wakefulness and rest. But that may have developed culturally rather than out of biological necessity.

Historically speaking, the idea that we should ideally spend long stretches of uninterrupted sleep is relatively recent. It’s a narrow concept, according to David K. Randall, author of “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep,” and we don’t even share it with all of the world’s population.

With regards to productivity, there is no guarantee that working longer and harder always produces better results. Some of the greatest achievers in history, among them Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, insisted on regular afternoon naps.

Even corporate America is discovering the benefits of allowing workers to doze off a bit when they feel sluggish. There is an increased tolerance for napping and other alternative schedules at many of today’s workplaces, says Randall. He names Google as an example where napping is not only permitted but even encouraged because the company believes it promotes creativity.

Health experts agree. “You can get incredible benefits from 15 to 20 minutes of napping” said Dr. Sara C. Mednick, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life,” in an interview with WebMD. “You reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance. That’s what most people really need to stave off sleepiness and get an energy boost.”

Besides restoring alertness and enhancing performance, napping also has a number of psychological benefits. A nap can have similar effects as a mini-vacation or a spa treatment and can provide an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation, according to researchers at the Sleep Foundation.

Especially older people can profit from taking daytime rests, not only for their physical but also their mental well-being. “People who nap generally enjoy better mental health and mental efficiency than people who do not,” says Dr. Andrew Weil, author of numerous best-selling books, including “Healthy Aging” (Knopf, 2005). But, he cautions, the “timing and duration of naps are important: Too much, too often, or at the wrong time of day can be counterproductive.” That is particularly true for seniors who suffer from sleep disturbances that come with aging. Still, napping, Dr. Weil says, is a good way to take care of the body’s need for rest, which increases with age.

To get the most out of your naps, Dr. Mednick recommends to keep them short, about 20 to 30 minutes max; to make them a regular habit and schedule them roughly at the same time; to take them in a place that is protected from light and noise and has a sleep-conducive room temperature, that is slightly cooler than your work environment but warm enough that you don’t freeze.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “The Importance of Sleep for Your Health.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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In Terms of Health Benefits and Versatility, Tomatoes Reign Supreme

September 13th, 2011 at 11:12 am by timigustafson

Tomatoes rank among the most popular and versatile foods we know. They are loaded with important nutrients and are believed to have heart-health-promoting and even cancer-preventing properties. Tomatoes are low in calories and fats but rich in dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins.

Antioxidants, which are present in high amounts in tomatoes, have been found to be protective against many cancers, including colon-, prostate-, breast-, endometrial- (the lining tissue of the uterus), lung- and pancreatic cancers.

Phytochemicals like lycopene and carotenoids protect cells from so-called “free radicals,” molecules known to wreak havoc in the body and accelerate the aging process.

Lycopene has also cardiovascular benefits. Studies have found that a high dietary intake of tomato products significantly reduces total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.

Vitamin A, also richly present in tomatoes, is essential for the preservation of good vision. In addition, Vitamin A is required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin.

Vitamin C strengthens the immune system and helps building resistance against infections.

Vitamin K helps maintaining bone density because of its ability to activate osteocalcin, a chemical that anchors calcium molecules inside the bones.

Potassium is an important component of cell- and body fluids and also helps to control heart rate and blood pressure.

Especially the red varieties are filled with flavonoids, which can protect against certain cancers, including lung cancer.

All tomatoes are a good source of folate, iron, calcium, manganese and other important minerals the body needs to function properly.

A colorful history
Botanically, tomatoes are actually not vegetables but fruits. Known by the scientific name, “Solanum lycopersicum,” they are members of the “Nightshade” (Solanaceae) plant family, which also includes bell peppers, eggplants and white potatoes.

The name reflects some mystery that has surrounded the tomato plant for centuries. “Lycopersicon” is the Latin word for “wolf peach,” which was probably chosen because of a long-held belief that this fruit was dangerous – as dangerous as a wolf.

The French seemed less fearful and called it “pomme d’amour,” meaning “apple of love.” They believed that eating tomatoes had an aphrodisiacal effect, comparable to Viagra or Cialis today. And in Italy, where tomatoes are arguably the most popular, they call them “pomodoro,” the “golden apple.”

Originally, tomatoes were native only to South America’s west coast, including the Galapagos Islands. The early types cultivated by humans resembled today’s cherry tomatoes. At that time, they were usually not eaten but rather displayed for decoration, like flowers.

The use of tomatoes as food became eventually popular in Mexico, perhaps because the people there were already familiar with a fruit called “tomatillo,” a type of small green tomato (in Spanish: “Tomate verde”) that was a staple in their cuisine. When the conquistadores invaded the country in the 16th century, they took seeds of tomato plants back to Spain. Soon thereafter, tomatoes were introduced all over Europe. The early colonists brought tomato seeds with them to North America. Today, farmers in the United States rank among the top producers of tomatoes worldwide.

Many varieties to choose from
Tomatoes come in many sizes, shapes and colors. In fact, there are thousands of varieties, including hybrids and genetically modified versions. The so-called “heirloom” tomatoes are becoming increasingly popular, especially among organic producers and their clientele.

Heirlooms, a.k.a. “heritage tomatoes,” are open-pollinated, non-hybrid cultivars. Many have been passed down through several generations of growers and are highly valued for their unique flavors, coloring and other characteristics. They too come in all sizes, from beefsteak to cherry. Some have names as colorful as their looks, like “Big Rainbow,” “Cherokee Purple,” “Red Brandywine,” “Green Zebra,” “Red Zebra” – or, how about “Mortgage Lifter”?

Tomatoes taste best when they are freshly harvested during the summer and early fall. The flavors typically change as the season progresses, with most varieties becoming more acidic over time. Unfortunately, tomatoes are subject to a number of diseases, including fungal and bacterial infections, especially in cool rainy weather. Still, I would always recommend choosing the organic kind to avoid exposure to pesticides.

Select only tomatoes with rich, deep colors. The skin should be smooth with no wrinkles, cracks, bruises or soft spots. Ripe tomatoes will yield to a slight squeeze. When buying canned tomatoes, make sure you get a reputable brand. Not all imports follow strict standards for lead content in cans. This is especially important for tomatoes because their high acidity can cause corrosion, which may result in poisoning.

Tomatoes continue to ripen after they are picked. You can keep them at room temperature or put them in the fridge if they are close to becoming overripe. Whole tomatoes and tomato sauce freeze well for future use in cooked dishes. Sundried tomatoes should be stored in airtight containers at a cool temperature.

Many Americans know tomatoes best in form of ketchup. Although it’s not as beneficial as the real thing, tomato ketchup is not completely void of nutrients. Much of the lycopene content remains intact after processing. However, it is worth buying organic ketchup because it contains up to three times more lycopene than regular brands.

Many ways to prepare and enjoy
Eating tomatoes raw and unaltered is the quickest (and perhaps best) way to get all the nutritional benefits. However, cooked tomatoes, which can be used in sauces, purées or soups, contain even higher amounts of lycopene. Tests have shown that chopping and heating makes phytonutrients and other health-promoting components in tomatoes more potent. And tomato paste, especially when the skin is included in the making, has a high concentration of carotenoids.

In addition to enjoying tomatoes just as nature made them, you can dry, bake, roast, sauté, blenderize or utilize them in countless other ways. On a hot summer day, there is nothing better tasting than chilled gazpacho made from scratch. When it gets cooler outside, maybe it’s time for a hearty tomato-based soup with lots of vegetables to be added. Any good vegetarian cookbook will give you plenty of ideas – or you just find out for yourself how versatile tomatoes truly can be.

For great ideas to use tomatoes in different dishes, go to our recipe section. Try our home-made Bruschetta, Tomato Soup or Baked Penne Pasta Italiano.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” ( http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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The Many Health Benefits of Yoga

September 9th, 2011 at 7:35 am by timigustafson

Yoga has been practiced around the world for thousands of years. Between 12 and 15 million Americans do it regularly and swear by its numerous benefits for their health and well-being. Followers practice at home or join classes for pure relaxation.

Most yoga styles focus on physical poses, called “asanas.” They also include breathing techniques and forms of meditation. There are other versions that teach you to move your body in unfamiliar ways. These are meant to build greater flexibility, strength and balance.

Now, researchers are finding that there may be many more health benefits in connection with yoga than previously thought. One small study involving 123 middle-aged and older adults concluded that diabetic yoga practitioners might be able to control their blood sugar levels better than their non-practicing counterparts. The study results were published in the journal “Diabetes Care.”

The researchers said they did not mean to suggest that yoga should be considered as an alternative to traditional treatments of diabetes, such as weight loss and medical blood sugar control. “To really lose weight and rein in blood sugar, more vigorous exercise would work better,” wrote Dr. Shreelaxmi V. Hedge of the Shrinivas Institute of Medical Science and Research Center in Mangalore, India and leader of the study. Still, she said, “it should be noted that yoga controlled the blood sugar levels, which otherwise rose in the [non-yoga-practicing] control group.”

The yoga style her research was based on is a relatively “gentle” version among yoga practices. It was chosen because it is easy to get into. Some more vigorous styles involving complicated poses would not be appropriate for older adults and those with chronic health conditions, according to Dr. Hedge.

In fact, a lot of people shy away from taking up yoga because they consider themselves as too old, too stiff and too unfit to perform even the most basic poses. Yoga instructors generally disagree with such preconceptions. The consensus is that nobody is ever too old or too out of shape to improve flexibility.

Stretching releases the lactic acid built up in the muscles, which can cause stiffness, tension, pain and fatigue. It also increases the range of motion in the joints and promotes their lubrication. This results in more ease and fluidity throughout the body. Yoga stretches do not only benefit the muscles and joints but all tissues in the body, including ligaments, tendons and the fascia sheath that surround the muscles.

More rigorous yoga styles are focused on building muscle mass. They are called “ashtanga” or “power yoga.” But even tamer versions, such as “Iyengar” or “hatha,” which are designed to achieve optimal alignments in their poses, can help improve strength and endurance. Poses that strengthen the lower back and abdominal muscles are especially helpful for people who spend many hours sitting. More strength and flexibility afford better posture, which counterbalances the potential damages from extended immobility.

Perhaps the most studies on the benefits of yoga have been conducted with regards to its effect on heart health. Practicing yoga is highly recommended as a non-medical tool to help lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. Again, it is not to be taken as an alternative to other forms of hypertension- or heart disease treatment but as a useful support element.

The same goes for measures to control cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Studies have shown that yoga helped lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and improve blood circulation in patients with cardiovascular disease. Some hospitals have incorporated yoga into their post-cardiac rehabilitation program.

There is also evidence that yoga helps to release antioxidant agents into the blood stream. In Dr. Hedge’s study, participants who practiced yoga suffered significantly less from what is called “oxidative stress,” a condition that is caused by molecules, also know as “free radicals,” that damage cells and contribute to a host of diseases. “Yoga may curb oxidative stress because it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system – the part of the nervous system that acts as a brake against the gas pedal of the sympathetic nervous system,” said Dr. Hedge.

The calming effects of yoga are certainly among its best-known qualities. Even beginners and infrequent practitioners appreciate the anti-stress benefits. Some say that doing yoga exercises in the morning improves their mood and ability to concentrate for the rest of the day. Others claim that they have been able to overcome addictions and improve their lives in countless more aspects, including in the bedroom.

Needless to say, there is little chance to scientifically prove the validity of all these assertions. What matters more is that people experience a sense of well-being when they engage in the practice. “Yoga helps reduce stress. That can impact your overall health,” said Dr. Deepak Chopra, world-renowned author of wellness books and advocate of alternative medicine. “While yoga won’t cure everything that ails you – or make your boss nicer – it will help you deal with stress better. And that could make a big difference,” he added.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” ( http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD

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In Praise of the Mighty Blueberries

August 31st, 2011 at 1:19 pm by timigustafson

Blueberries have long been popular for their tangy flavor and multiple uses in desserts, yogurts, juices and baked goods. They also rank among the healthiest foods you can possibly eat. In fact, the list of possible health benefits from blueberries grows longer every year, as more medical studies uncover their incredible healing power.

Here is a short list of the more recent findings:

• Blueberries have been shown to shrink cancerous tumors and prevent the development and growth of cancer cells.

• Blueberries can slow down and even reverse age-related memory loss.

• Blueberries can help improve physical coordination and balance at an advanced age.

• Blueberries reduce cholesterol levels.

• Blueberries prevent urinary tract infections.

• Blueberries are low in calories and high in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants, all of which makes them extremely nutritionally beneficial.

This seems a lot of punch to pack for such a plain little berry, but all these claims are backed up by growing evidence.

For example, a study conducted at Ohio State University in 2009 found that when lab rats with blood vessel tumors were fed blueberry extract, their cancer growth was halted and even reversed. The blueberry-fed rats lived on average twice as long as those that were given none. Blood vessel tumor is among the most common cancer types affecting young children and occurs in about three percent of all infants. Researchers hope that the use of blueberries may some day be part of the treatment of these usually inoperable tumors.

A separate study that was conducted in 2007 at Rutgers University in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that a specific compound in blueberries, named pterostilbene, was able to inhibit the spread of cancer cells in the colon of lab rats. And in 2005, researchers at the University of Illinois reported that antioxidants in wild blueberries, called anthocyanins, could prevent certain cancers from forming and proliferating in the prostate and the liver. “Blueberries seem to have “cancer-fighting properties at all stages: Initiation, promotion and proliferation,” said Dr. Mary Ann Lila, the lead author of the study report. “Wild blueberry compounds offer a multi-pronged attack against cancer,” she added.

Blueberries have also been praised for their ability to reduce age-related deterioration of brain functions and memory. A research team from England concluded in 2008 that eating blueberries can actually reverse problems with memory and other cognitive functions. Almost ten years earlier, a USDA-sponsored study found that blueberries improved the physical coordination and balance in aging lab rats.

USDA researchers also reported findings of cholesterol-lowering properties in blueberries, based on animal studies they conducted in 2004. In fact, their experimentation showed that blueberries were more effective in lowering cholesterol levels than many widely prescribed cholesterol medications.

A 2004 study from Rutgers University confirmed that blueberries, like cranberries, can be helpful in preventing and healing urinary tract infections. A compound, called epicatechin, keeps infectious bacteria from attaching themselves to the bladder wall.

Besides these astounding health benefits, blueberries are also nutritional powerhouses. They are low in calories – one cup is 82 calories – high in fiber and loaded with vitamins, especially vitamin C. They rank among the top providers of antioxidants, which are essential to nutritional health. Antioxidants like anthocyanin, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E and mineral selenium, and also copper (a highly effective anti-bacterial agent), zinc and iron (which raises hemoglobin and the concentration of oxygen in the blood), among other important micronutrients, boost the immune system and help to prevent infections.

In addition to its rich nutritional qualities, blueberries have the ability to neutralize so-called “free radicals,” which are unstable molecules that can cause many diseases and accelerate the aging process. This is mainly due to the concentrated presence of anthocyanin, the pigment that gives these berries their dark bluish color.

Some believers in the multiple powers of this “superfruit” think of blueberries also as an effective anti-depressant, although, to my knowledge, no conclusive research has yet been done in this regard. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all. I personally eat a bowl of blueberries every morning as part of my breakfast – and I haven’t had a bad day in a very long time. Maybe it’s the berries.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” ( http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD

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About timigustafson

About Timi Gustafson, R.D. As a clinical dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and, as of late, blogger, she has been able to reach millions of people, addressing their concerns about issues of health, lifestyle and nutrition. As Co-founder and Director of Nutrition Services for Cyberdiet.com (now Mediconsult.com), she created the first nutrition-related interactive website on the Internet in 1995. Many of the features you find on her blog, www.timigustafson.com, are based on the pioneering work of those days. Today, her goals remain the same: Helping people to achieve optimal health of body and mind. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from San José State University in California and completed a Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. She is a registered dietitian and Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Dietitians in Business and Communications, Healthy Aging, Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition, and the Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Groups. For more information about Timi Gustafson R.D. please visit: www.timigustafson.com

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