Are You In The Blue Zone?

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Are You in The Blue Zone?

Before you even think of going there this is not an article on political discourse and has nothing to do with politics. Through out the world there are specific regions where the majority of the population experience exceedingly long healthy lives and many live to be well over a hundred. These regions are called the “Blue Zones” and extensive studies have been done in an effort to understand what the common denominators are that lend themselves to such a healthy long positive life. Some of the reasons will make perfect sense but some of the most important may surprise you.

The five blue zones where researchers have discovered where people live the longest are: 1.Sardinia, Italy, 2. Ikaria, Greece, 3. Okinawa, Japan, 4. Nicoya, Costa Rica and lastly right here in the U.S. in Loma Linda, California (primary home to the seventh-day Adventist). Researchers have determined that there are seven essential considerations that create these environments. These first five won’t surprise you. They include:

  1. Utilize whole foods especially plants in your diet- consistently most of the diets in these regions favored the Mediterranean type
  2. Avoid Processed foods: a no brainer. Processed foods are filled with chemicals that, accelerates aging and are toxic to your tissues and chemical balance.
  3. Create a healthy living environment. This includes things such as buying the right foods, planning ahead, eating, living and working in a peaceful environment and developing a good sleep pattern.
  4. Maintain a good body weight for your height and size, which, they found, was directly correlated to the amount of sleep you get. A good eight plus hours was necessary to maintain good hormonal balance. There is a saying that “hormones are stronger than diet”. It doesn’t matter how little you eat or how much you exercise, if your hormones are out of balance it is very difficult to maintain a healthy body weight so make sleep a priority. Create a comfortable dark inviting, peaceful space that is free of TV’s and screens.
  5. Exercise: They found that most of the centenarians exercises frequently but not in a gym. They walked everywhere they went, used their hands instead of machines to do work, and for more traditional exercise they did yoga, Tai Chi and played games with their friends instead of going to the gym. Many of these people also had physical jobs such as farming which is very different than the way most of us work. In addition most were found to have gardens of their own. Movement reduces inflammation and improves heart, bone and muscular health and for this to be beneficial you have to move everyday.

All of these findings make perfect sense and are fairly obvious but these last two results were found to play an even more significant role than the first five reported.

  1. A Strong healthy support system– According to researchers this was the most important and powerful thing you can do to increase your chances for longevity. For the blue zone residents this was a natural way of life and is built into the culture. People in the blue zones have strong systems of support and are much more willing to engage and help each other. We however spend significant part of our lives with our heads down and focused on a phone, iPad or computer. This has become such a problem that we now have neck injuries related to posture changes from this behavior! To derive this benefit we have to be willing to look up, connect with those around you and engage. Studies have shown that loneliness can decrease your longevity significantly. Sadly, many people in our country don’t even know the people they live next to. Blue Zone studies have shown that it doesn’t necessarily have to be intimate connectedness. Just being connected and knowing someone is aware of you has been shown to increase your chances for longevity.
  2. Spend time outdoors with friends and family: Not surprisingly many recent studies have extolled the value of being out in nature. In fact many physicians have begun prescribing it as a treatment regimen for depression. For the people in the blue zones this is a way of life. Staying connected to family and others is the single most important thing to them. The other benefit that being out in nature provides is that they are usually getting exercise at the same time. Additionally there are no “old folks” homes in the blue zone because they don’t need them and older people are cared for by family.

Living a healthy long life is obviously correlated to how committed you are to eating and sleeping well. Most importantly however is how willing are you to lift up your head, smile and connect to the people around you, step a way from the technology and head outdoors. No matter what gene pool you swim in making these choices greatly increase your chances of living a healthy long life. What will you choose?

With Gratitude,
Pat

Gratitude and Your Brain

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Gratitude and Your Brain

Turns out that the practice of gratitude does more than just make us feel better in the moment. Practicing gratitude actually changes your brain. It has long been established yet not a stretch to understand that gratitude will make you feel better but there have been many studies that support and outline the ways in which the brain changes. The Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA conducted studies that show that when you regularly express gratitude it literally changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeping the gray matter functioning at a higher level and as a result makes us feel happier and healthier. It turns out that when you are happy it affects your central nervous system enabling you to feel more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant.

There are many ways in which people practice gratitude. One is the ever-popular nighttime gratitude journal in which you jot down 5 or more things you are grateful for before going to bed. I think this practice has great merit because it puts the emphasis on the positive before you go to bed and is more likely to produce a good nights sleep. It is also a good review of the day. If you are someone who finds writing before bed more of a chore than helpful I recommend that when you first close your eyes just start saying silently to yourself al the things you are grateful for. I find this method very effective not only from a gratitude perspective but it also slows my brain down and puts me in a positive space to start dreaming.

Another gratitiude practice is to make it a habit of telling one person a day something that you are grateful for or appreciate about them. This simple act makes the both of you feel happier and as a result affects the way we interact with all of those around us. People feel better when they know they are appreciated and valued.

So what about those particularly hard days when you are having difficulty finding gratitude in anything? For those days I recommend that you start simple by being grateful for the basics such as having running water, a toilet or being grateful that we don’t live in a bombed out city. When we need to be grateful the most we often loose sight of the fact that despite all of the issues that we have in our country we are still free and that is something to be cherished and extremely grateful for.

Lastly, make it a practice to tell your self one thing each day that you are grateful about yourself. It can be anything from something you have done well or something you like about yourself. Studies have shown that a regular practice of gratitude are associated with better sleep and lower levels of anxiety and depression which are compelling reasons to have a regular practice of gratitude.

No matter what methods you chose to express your gratitude I encourage you to begin to make it a daily habit. It literally can positively change the lens in which you view your life from. On a personal note I am extremely grateful to all of you for taking the time to read my newsletters.

With Gratitude,
Pat

Is Sitting The New Smoking?

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Is Sitting The New Smoking?

We are a nation of sitters. Whether we are at work, commuting in our cars, sitting in class or working in front of a computer we sit. Not to minimize the exercising we do but an hour of exercise does not balance out the 8 plus hours of sitting we often are required to do in a day.

Recently you may have seen the research on the demerits of sitting for long periods of the day. It is not a stretch in imagination to understand the truth in this but there are other concerns related to sitting aside from cardiovascular consequences.

One of the most important muscle effecting sitting is the psoas muscle also known as the hip flexor. It is significant for both its position within the body and the action it produces. Additionally it is one of those muscles that can be tight but weak at the same time. Structurally it is attached to the front of the last five vertebrae in your low back and traverses through your abdomen attaching to the top of your femur or leg bone. During sitting this muscle shortens and the fibers come closer together and tighten up. When you rise from the seated position this muscle is sometimes slow to release and you may find you walk in a flexed or bent forward position for several steps. For those of you who are constantly being reminded to stand up straight and have a tendency to walk in a slightly bent forward position tightness in this muscle is often the culprit.

Keeping the psoas as lose as possible will significantly reduce low back stress and increase proper posture while strengthening will aid in keeping the core strong reducing back pain and minimizing the risk of injury.

To Stretch: There are several ways to stretch this muscle and I will review two of them for you here.

  1. Start with one leg in the kneeling position at a 90’ degree angle with the other knee on the ground. From this position slide your pelvis forward while leaning your torso backwards. Hold for 20 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
  2. Lay on the side of your bed or a bench with one leg hanging over the side but not letting your foot touches the floor. Hold this position for 20 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

Even though you may feel that one side is tighter than the other it is important that both sides are stretched to create a good balance.

To Strengthen: Again there are several ways to strengthen this muscle but I will give you two different ways to try this.

  1. Start in a standing position with either an ankle weight or theraband (available at the office or online) attached to the ankle area. Support yourself by holding onto what ever is available such as a counter or chair. Slowly lift you leg to a 90 degrees angle. Lower it slowly and repeat 10 times. Work your way up to 3 sets of ten resting in between. When you are able to do three sets of ten increase the weight and start back with one set of ten continuing to work up to three sets of ten again.
  2. If you are someone who belongs to a gym there are machines that you can use to strengthen your psoas. Due to the variability in machines you will need to ask a trainer which one in your gym will address this muscle.

In total it may take you five to ten minutes to address this muscle but I can assure you it will be well worth your effort in the long run. You will have less back pain, have better balance and stand straighter.

With Gratitude,
Pat