Becoming Pretty Healthy

I highly recommend Live a Little: Breaking the Rules Won’t Break Your Health by Dr. Susan Love and Alice Domar.

Having spent ten months reading Dr. Love’s Breast Bible during my cancer journey, I was more than ready to follow her advice and that of her co-author, a psychologist with expertise in stress and women’s health.

I found it refreshing to learn that Dr. Love didn’t start a fitness program until age 50. She had no regrets about this late start; she spent her younger days doing research, working with breast cancer patients, writing books, and raising a family.

The authors take on the health police (TV experts, magazine writers, trainers, well-meaning friends and neighbors) and provide us with a realistic view of what’s healthy and what is mostly hype. In short, they show us how to be healthy without driving ourselves crazy.

They recommend we trade in the illusion of becoming perfectly healthy for something more fun and doable: becoming pretty healthy. How reassuring to read that self-care doesn’t require large outlays of money and time. All we have to do is find something—anything—that makes us feel better about ourselves and make it part of our daily regimens. Effective self-care is all about developing and maintaining positive habits.

In the last chapter, Dr. Love and Ms. Domar provide general guidelines for living a pretty healthy life that includes laughter, relaxation, and common sense.

Long overdue advice.

Dr. Love designed the following quiz to assess a woman’s fitness level:

1. Are you able to walk for one mile in twenty minutes or less?

2. Can you jog a mile without stopping?

3. Can you stand on one foot and maintain your balance for thirty seconds?

4. Sit in a chair. Can you stand up without using your arms?

5. Can you lift and carry two grocery bags–one in each hand?

Anyone who is able to answer yes to every question demonstrates a basic level of cardiovascular fitness, strength, and balance. YOU ARE PRETTY HEALTHY!!

On a personal note…

I was able to answer yes to four of the above questions. I need to work on #2.


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In Praise of Fruits and Vegetables

June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month, a month set aside to remind us that fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy lifestyle.

As a cancer survivor with a family history of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, I am always on the lookout for any dietary changes that can help support a healthy heart, mind, and immune system.

A few years ago, I took special note of the following research conducted by the American Institute for Cancer Research in 2004. If every American consumed 15 to 30 ounces of fruits and vegetables every day, the incidence of cancer could be reduced by at least 20 percent.

The Institute suggests we aim for nine servings or 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day. This may sound daunting, but it is doable. With careful planning and a few doses of creativity, we can increase our daily intake of fruits and vegetables and stay within our budgets.

Here are 10 tips:

• Learn about serving size. In his book “Anticancer,” David Servan-Schreiber provides the following helpful guide: One serving equals ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw vegetables, 1 medium fruit, ½ cup cooked fruit, ¼ cup dried fruit, or 6 ounces of fruit juice.

• Start small. At breakfast, top your oatmeal or cereal with sliced bananas, fresh berries, raisins, or apricots. Add one cup of fresh or frozen berries to pancake batter. Mix eggs and vegetables for a healthy and hearty breakfast or lunch. Adding minced broccoli or finely grated cauliflower will not change the texture of the eggs. At lunch or dinner, add strawberries, mandarin orange sections, and raisins to green salads.

• Use a spiralizer to create zucchini, squash, asparagus, or cucumber noodles. Top with your favorite sauce and enjoy! You won’t miss the carb-laden pasta dishes.

• Hide the vegetables if your children ignore or push away anything green. Instead, try incorporating vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, or spinach into your favorite pasta sauce, chili, lasagna, or stew recipes. As you stretch the recipe, you will obtain more servings and also cut back on the meat content.

• Pinch pennies on produce. Buy whatever fruits and vegetables are in season. Apples, oranges, grapefruit, and bananas are always available and usually last for a week. The cheapest vegetables are broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, celery and onions.

• Consider buying frozen fruits and vegetables. These foods are flash frozen at their peak and contain the same amount of nutrients as their fresh counterparts. Frozen vegetables can save dinner preparation time since washing and cutting are not required. Frozen fruit can be used in smoothies, low-fat muffins, yogurts and salads.

• Sneak in extra fruit servings with the right juice. Stick with the top four—orange, grapefruit, prune, pineapple—and check the sugar content on each label. Whenever possible, buy in bulk. This will cut down your costs and help avoid the excessive packaging associated with single-serving bottles and juice boxes.

• Create quick, no-cook meals using fruits and vegetables. Fill a cantaloupe or honeydew melon with low-fat cottage cheese. Combine fresh or frozen berries, a banana, whey or soy protein, water, and ice to make a delicious smoothie. Mix a bowl of low-fat yogurt with fruit.

• Create more fruit-based desserts and snacks. Cut up some plums into chunks and roast them in the oven. Serve warm over a small scoop of frozen yogurt. Mix blackberries or blueberries with a few chocolate chips to create a quick trail mix. Freeze individual grapes on a cookie sheet and serve later as cool, healthy treats.

• Plan ahead and add convenience to your day. Stock your glove compartment and desk drawer with apples, pears, and bananas. Cut up your favorite vegetables into snack-size pieces and store them in clear plastic containers at home and at work. This will cut down on visits to the vending machine and coffee shop.

Any other tips to share?


Stepping Out of Time

A non-athlete, it took me a while to find a preferred physical activity, but once I discovered yoga, I was hooked.

That was ten years ago.

Since then, I’ve gone off the “yoga wagon” several times—interestingly enough right before prolonged writer’s blocks—but have now settled into a practice that both center and challenges me.

Continue reading on Brenda Whiteside’s post.


Watch Yourself

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

While the following is not technically a Zen story, it is said to have been told by the Buddha himself. Its message of self-care is one that will resonate, especially with women.

There was once a pair of acrobats. The teacher was a poor widower and the student was a young girl by the name of Meda. These acrobats performed each day on the streets in order to earn enough to eat.

Their act consisted of the teacher balancing a tall bamboo pole on his head while the little girl climbed slowly to the top. Once to the top, she remained there while the teacher walked along the ground.

Both performers had to maintain complete focus and balance in order to prevent any injury from occurring and to complete the performance. One day, the teacher said to the pupil:

‘Listen Meda, I will watch you and you watch me, so that we can help each other maintain concentration and balance and prevent an accident. Then we’ll surely earn enough to eat.’

But the little girl was wise. She answered, ‘Dear Master, I think it would be better for each of us to watch ourself. To look after oneself means to look after both of us. That way I am sure we will avoid any accidents and earn enough to eat.’


In Praise of Napping

Today is National Napping Day, a day created by Camille and Dr. William Anthony in 1999 to spotlight the healthy benefits of catching up on quality sleep. Dr. Anthony noted: “We chose this particular Monday because Americans (and Canadians) are more ‘nap-ready’ than usual after losing an hour of sleep to daylight saving time.”

The benefits of napping are many, among them improvements in mental health and working memory (the ability to focus on one task while retaining others in memory) and reduction of coronary mortality. In a recent Greek study, researchers discovered that participants taking daily naps had a 37% less chance of contracting a fatal heart condition.

There is, however, one major disadvantage to napping: A nap is not a permanent solution to reaching daily sleep quotas. Sleep specialist Dr. David Dinges notes: “Naps cannot replace adequate recovery sleep over many days.”

Also, long naps (more than 30 minutes) can result in sleep inertia. As these nappers awaken from deep periods of sleep, they can experience grogginess and disorientation. While these feelings will dissipate within thirty minutes, they can affect performance in high-level tasks.

Afraid of being labeled lazy and slothful, some nappers downplay or conceal this daily practice. Non-nappers hesitate to start the practice, fearing they will develop some form of sleep inertia.

Wherever you are on this continuum, take a few minutes and read about ten high-powered historical figures who celebrated their napping and resulting productivity.

Winston Churchill

Sir Winston regarded a nap between lunch and dinner as essential for maintaining the kind of clear thinking he employed during World War II. In The Gathering Storm, he wrote: “Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Coleridge took what can be considered one of the most famous naps in English literature. After waking up from a three-hour nap, he stumbled to his desk and penned the poem, “Kubla Khan.” He believed in seizing the thread of a dream immediately upon awakening and then taking action.

Leonardo Da Vinci

While painting the Mona Lisa, Da Vinci slept only hours each night and took 15-minute naps every four hours. He criticized people who slept long hours each evening, commenting that there’s plenty of time to sleep when we die.

Salvador Dali

The founder of the micro-nap or what he called “slumber with a key,” Catalan artist Salvador Dali napped to stimulate his creativity. He started by sitting upright in an armchair, holding a heavy metal key in his hand. He then placed a metal plate upside down underneath the hand holding the key. Once that was in place, he allowed himself to fall asleep. Once that happened, he dropped the key which hit the plate and made a loud noise. All of this occurred within one-quarter of a second, enough time to revive his physical and psychic being.

Thomas Edison

All that Edison could manage was three to four hours of sleep each night. To compensate and inspire creativity, he power napped throughout the day, adopting a variation of Salvador Dali’s method. Edison held a handful of ball bearings that would clatter to the floor and wake him.

Albert Einstein

Einstein claimed that he needed 10 hours of sleep each night and frequent naps throughout the day. Like Salvador Dali, he practiced micro-napping; each nap lasted only seconds and was designed to boost creativity.

John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy enjoyed a one- to two-hour nap each afternoon. Blinds were drawn, and no interruptions were allowed; his staff had strict orders not to disturb him for any reason.

Napoleon

While Napoleon could go for days without lying down for a full night’s sleep, he had the ability to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Right before battle, he would sleep like a baby, oblivious to approaching cannons. After the battle was over, he would sleep for eighteen hours.

Eleanor Roosevelt

One of the most influential First Ladies in U.S. history, Mrs. Roosevelt sat on committees and gave speeches. Before each speech or public talk, she would sneak in a nap to refresh her mind and body.

Margaret Thatcher

During her tenure as Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher slept four to five hours each night and had a scheduled one-hour nap each afternoon. No one dared disturb her during that time.

Happy National Napping Day!


Warming Up to Watercress Soup

Diagnosed with hypothyroidism in 2006, I make every effort to incorporate thyroid-nourishing foods into my diet.

While I enjoy or can tolerate eating most of the iodine-rich foods, I struggle with watercress. Its pungency doesn't sit well with my fussy taste buds.

While stocking up on spinach and parsley last week, I noticed the watercress. On a whim, I picked up one of the bunches and some sweet potatoes. I experimented and came up with the following recipe.


Ingredients

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons of butter
2 sweet potatoes, chopped
4 cups of chicken/vegetable stock
1.5 cups of watercress
1/4 cup of parsley
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Hemp hearts (optional)

Directions

1. Heat the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions and garlic until soft.

2. Add the sweet potatoes and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

3. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are tender.

4. Add the watercress and parsley. Stir and let the mixture simmer for about one minute or until the greens have wilted.

5. Remove from heat and purée the soup in batches using a hand or immersion blender.

6. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper (to taste).

7. Sprinkle hemp hearts into the individual bowls.

Makes 4 servings, about one cup each.

Buon appetito!


Enjoying Sweet & Savory Asparagus Soup

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that asparagus possessed medicinal qualities, curing everything from toothaches to rheumatism.

While none of these claims have been proven, asparagus contains many essential nutrients, among them potassium, folate, and Vitamins B6 and C.

Last week, I decided to create an asparagus soup that would satisfy my sweet and savory taste buds.


Ingredients

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups of asparagus, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 sweet potato, chopped
3 cups of chicken/vegetable broth
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Hemp hearts (optional)

Directions

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions, garlic, and celery until the onions are translucent.

2. Add the asparagus , sweet potato, and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

3. Simmer for about fifteen minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

4. Purée the soup in batches using a hand or immersion blender.

5. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper (to taste).

6. Sprinkle hemp hearts into the individual bowls.

Makes 4 servings, about one cup each.

Buon appetito!