Mindfulness matters for making meaningful and lasting health behavior changes

Mindfulness can be described as an awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment. This is most commonly explored through mindful meditation, a practice that is credited with improving physical and mental health. Beyond meditation, being mindful can help to improve attention and focus in nearly every aspect of life. This is important for making meaningful and lasting health behavior changes. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Mindful brain

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How our endless summer heat can affect your health.

The last day of summer was over a week ago, but the summer weather is still sticking around. At least in our area, temperatures in the 90s and high humidity make it feel like summer hasn’t ended and many of us are ready for some cooler weather.

 

Aside from being unpleasant, these high temperatures can actually be dangerous, especially at a time of year when we expect it to be cooler. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Hot weather

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Just say NO! The power of willpower for making health behavior changes.

Living a healthy lifestyle requires making smart choices about what to eat, what to do for activity, not smoking, and getting enough sleep. The simple answer for why some people can do this so well is willpower—they have the power to say no to unhealthy options no matter how tempting they may be.

This isn’t to say that poor willpower is to blame for poor health. Making healthy decisions is difficult under the best circumstances, but in an environment that encourages poor choices, it is even more difficult. But having the mindset to take control and say no when necessary is essential for adopting healthy habits.

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Exercise and the gut microbiome

We tend to think of bacteria as something to avoid. Germophobes beware, but our bodies are literally covered with and filled with bacteria. From our skin to the lining of our GI tract, bacteria are literally part of us. For sure, some bacteria are harmful, but many more play an important role in our health. The balance between the helpful and harmful bacteria seems to be important for health; diseases from eczema to irritable bowel syndrome can result from an imbalance.  

The combination of bacteria in our bodies is known as the microbiota, the genes of which are called the microbiome. Researchers study the bacteria themselves (microbiota) and the genes (microbiome) and use both as an indicator of the balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria. This is especially relevant in the large intestine, where there has been much research into the role of gut bacteria on health.

Gut bacteria

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Juice is good, but eating whole fruits and vegetables is even better!

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 and vegetables. Depending on how you consume these foods, you may be missing some of the nutrients that make them so healthy.

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Functional fitness and why it is important for you.

Functional fitness involves exercise to improve balance, coordination, strength, and endurance to enhance the ability to perform activities of daily living. Practically, functional fitness training aims to replicate the movements associated with the wide range of physical activities someone might do in his or her daily routine. For example, athletes have long used functional fitness training to target the movements they utilize in their sport.

 

This concept of “sport specific” training has applications outside of athletics. Firefighters come to mind, lifting and carrying heavy equipment, climbing stairs and ladders, and moving through tight spaces, often for extended periods of time without rest. But the same could be said for construction workers, landscapers, and other occupations that require manual labor. To be sure, the components of functional fitness are as important for workers as they are for athletes.

 

This is important to you even if you don’t participate in sports or have an active job. Functional fitness plays a role in nearly all activities, from simple things like maintaining posture, sitting, and standing, to more complex movements including lifting a heavy box, carrying bags of groceries, or playing with your children (or grandchildren). Even something as routine as bending down to tie your shoes requires strength, flexibility, and balance. These are the very activities that become more difficult as we age, so improving functional fitness can help maintain independence and quality of life.

linfing boxes

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Second chance New Year’s resolutions for the whole family.

How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions? Hopefully, you are still on track to meet your goals. If not, you are in good company. Research suggests that by this time well over halfof people who made New Year’s resolutions have either lost momentum or given up altogether and that only 8%will eventually achieve their goal.

It turns out that now is a perfect time to restart your stalled New Year’s resolution or finally get around to doing what you planned months ago. Since Labor Day marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year, so it is a natural time to set goals and make changes.

 

Here are some ideas for a few resolutions that your whole family can make that will help you all move, eat, and sleep better to make this new school year a happy and healthy one for everybody.

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