Juiced! Why juice isn’t the same as fruit, and sometimes isn’t really fruit at all.

Nutrition information is often confusing and conflicting, making healthy food choices a challenge. Fortunately, there are some recommendations that are consistent. Among these is eating more fruit. But what if the way you were consuming fruit meant that you were missing some of the nutrients that make it so healthy?  This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Orange-orange juice

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Why kids (and adults) should tri!

Triathlons are often regarded as the ultimate test of endurance. Combining swimming, cycling, and running, a triathlon requires a high level of fitness, endurance, and dedication. This is especially true for the Ironman triathlon, consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run. The best athletes in the world take about eight hours to complete this event!

 

An Ironman is out of reach for most people, but almost everyone can benefit from training like a triathlete. Incorporating aquatic exercise, cycling, and running (or walking) in an exercise program leads to significant health and fitness benefits, the development and maintenance of important motor skills, and variety that can make exercise more enjoyable.

 

This is especially true for children. Participating in diverse activities is important for developing strength, endurance, balance, and coordination. Swimming, bicycling, and running are good ways to meet physical activity guidelines and develop a love for exercise. Children can benefit from the fitness and motor skills they develop from these activities when they play sports and adults can maintain fitness, prevent injury, and improve health and wellbeing.

The benefits of training like a triathlete for children and adults is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

triathlon swim

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Is chocolate healthy? That depends on what you mean by chocolate. And what you mean by healthy.

 

If you pay attention to nutrition news you may get the idea that achieving good health requires depriving yourself of foods you enjoy. Fortunately, this is not always the case. For example , eating certain types of chocolate has been linked to some health benefits.

The idea that chocolate may be healthy is no doubt welcome news for chocoholics. But it may leave you wondering if eating chocolate really is healthy. The answer depends on what you mean by chocolate and what you mean by healthy.

ChocolateA

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Your park prescription for outdoor activity this summer.

You probably know that exercise is good for you and that daily physical activity—going for a walk, for example—is associated with improved health. A lower risk of weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers are among a long list of positive health effects of physical activity. Lesser known benefits include improved mental health, cognitive function, and greater feelings of well-being.

What you may not know is that where you exercise matters, too. Exercise outdoors, especially in nature, can be particularly beneficial. This is not surprising given that being active in a natural environment has been shown to have an impact on mental health. Indeed, activity outdoors leads to enhanced feelings of energy and diminished fatigue, anxiety, anger, and sadness compared to similar activity conducted indoors. Additionally, some research suggests that outdoor activity may improve attention in adults and children. I have written about outdoor exercise in the past, but now that it is summer, an ideal time to get outdoors, this a good time to revisit some the benefits of being active in nature.

walk-in-woods

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Go (and eat) green for Earth Day

Since today is Earth Day, this is a good time to think about the impact we have on our environment and what we can do to reduce that impact. The good news is there are ways we can “go green” that are good for our health and the health of our planet, as I explain in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Farmers_Market

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Chill out! Why less stress (and more sleep) is essential for good health.

Chronic stress can have serious emotional, psychological, and physiological effects that contribute to or exacerbate many health problems. In fact, the negative health effects of chronic stress are like those of eating a poor diet or not getting enough physical activity. That said, managing stress, including getting enough sleep, is often overlooked as a key component of good health.

The effects of stress and the importance of stress management is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

stress


The word “stress” is typically used to indicate both the feeling of being “under a lot of stress” as well as the things that cause that feeling. The events and situations that cause stress are properly called stressors, which lead to a stress responsethat includes consequences we feel as well as physiological changes we may not notice.

The immediate effect of a stressor is called the “fight or flight” response since it prepares the body to deal with a dangerous situation. A classic example of this is a caveman who encounters a saber-toothed tiger, clearly a stress-inducing event.

The sympathetic nervous system is immediately activated, which raises heart rate and blood pressure to pump more blood to the muscles. Additionally, stored fat and carbohydrate fuels are broken down as fuel for the muscles. The adrenal glands release catecholamines (adrenaline) and cortisol (the stress hormone) to prolong and enhance this effect. This coordinated response makes sure the caveman’s body is ready for action. After the danger passes, everything returns to normal.

This physiological response is appropriate for major events like saber-toothed tiger encounters, but not for less perilous stressors like being stuck in traffic, pressure at work or home, and other personal and family issues. But the body responds with the same increase in blood pressure and hormones to them all. Unlike a rare saber-toothed tiger encounter, these stressors tend to occur on a daily basis, leading to continuous stress response.

The increase in hormones can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases. This is partly due to elevated levels of cortisol, a hormone that plays a role in storing fat and increasing appetite. While elevated cortisol during exercise (including running away from a saber-toothed tiger) is normal, chronic overproduction can have negative effects.

While it is impossible to avoid all stress in life, minimizing stressors and managing the way you respond to stress can have important benefits. To the extent that it is possible, avoiding stressful situations through better time management, setting realistic expectations for ourselves and with others, and learning to say “no” are common recommendations.

Learning how to deal with stressors to avoid the negative effects of stress is also important. Techniques that can be implemented in the heat of a stressful moment include taking a break from the situation, listening to calming music, and progressive relaxation. Even taking a deep breath can help.

Exercise has long been recognized as beneficial for reducing stress and the long-term effects of stress on your health. This includes doing something active during a stressful situation and exercising regularly to improve the way your body responds to stress. While all forms of exercise seem to work, much research and practice has focused on specific types of exercise including yoga and Tai Chi.

Other effective strategies traditionally include meditation and relaxation exercises. More and more research shows that getting enough sleep is also critical for reducing stress and the impact it has on your health. Eating a healthy diet can reduce the effects of stress as well.

The bottom line is that a healthy lifestyle includes stress management as well as a good diet and regular activity. Since all three are essential for good health, it would be wise to eat smart, move more, and chill out!


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Active transportation matters…for health, environmental, and economic reasons.

 

Walk to Work Day was last week. Chances are, if you are reading this in the Aiken area, you didn’t. And it’s not entirely your fault. Walking is one form of active transportation, which also includes cycling and other physically active modes of moving from place to place. Active transportation is important for health, environmental, and economic reasons. But being able to participate in active transportation depends on more than your own interest; it also depends on the built environment in your community.

Bicycle commuting


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