Did you know a heart-healthy diet is a brain-healthy diet? A diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants is not only great for reducing the risk for heart disease and diabetes, but also for boosting brain function. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), research has shown that people who follow a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing dementia. A Mediterranean diet focuses on all the good food mentioned above and limits foods with added sugars, fewer portions of meat, and carbohydrates compared to a standard American diet.
Foods high in sugar and unhealthy fats slow down our brain function often causing us to be tired or feel sluggish. Eating these types of foods long-term may lead to lower cognitive function as well as increase the risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Physical activity is very critical for positive brain health. Research has shown that regular physical activity is beneficial for the brain because it may increase glucose metabolism, using glucose for fuel quickly, which could reduce the risk for cognitive disorders as you age. This is one reason it is important to strive for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Brisk walking is an example of moderate-intensity exercise, and it is generally cost-effective or free and does not require special equipment. So, while you may be walking to get ready for a vacation or an event, you are not only getting into physical shape but also boosting your cognitive function at the same time!
There are other ways besides diet and exercise that you can help boost your cognition. You may engage in activities such as sewing, quilting, reading, playing games, and socializing. These are great ways to challenge our brains while also having fun. Maybe you just learned someone you know is expecting a baby, so if you enjoy making blankets, make one for that person; maybe the local community center holds game nights – take a friend and go play some games! Try learning something new – if you enjoy dancing, try picking up a new style of dance or if you enjoy cooking, try different recipes or techniques in the kitchen. Trying something new can be fun and rewarding.
Managing stress is important when we think about our brain health. It is easy to get caught up in the stressors of daily life and if we do not have effective ways to manage this stress, it can take a toll on cognitive function. Taking a short walk, listening to music, reading a book, and talking with a friend can help manage stress. Engaging in meditation, prayer, or yoga can also help manage or reduce stress. It is important to take deep breaths and relax throughout the day so you can regain focus and tackle the issue(s) at hand. Stress is inevitable, so finding ways to manage or reduce the effects of stress on you can be beneficial to overall cognitive health.
Keeping our brains healthy is a life-long task. It is never too late to start working on our cognitive health. The brain is continually changing every day so add in healthy foods, exercise, and activities to help grow your brain positively or beneficially. It is important to find ways to manage stress that work for you; this helps with decision-making, problem-solving, and overall cognitive function. Take brain breaks throughout your day to de-stress and recharge.
Physical activity is vital for all individuals. Everyone can benefit from being physically active throughout their lives. Physical activity helps to reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Chronic conditions may be manageable by regular physical activity. Being active can help people maintain a healthy body weight as they age or help people lower their body weight, if needed, when paired with a healthy diet. Physical activity can help with balance, which reduces the risk of falling and lessens the risk of injury if a fall does occur.
How much physical activity is recommended? Some activity is better than none—small amounts of daily exercise like walking, folding laundry, grocery shopping, and gardening benefit health. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that individuals get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. Moderate-intensity exercise increases heart and breath rate, but the person should still be able to maintain a conversation. Vigorous-intensity movement causes you to become out of breath and unable to hold an entire conversation. It is important to know that exercise is most beneficial spread throughout the week, for example, brisk walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Some people do not have time to set aside a 30-minute block during the day to walk and choose to do 10 minutes at a time three times a day, which counts for 30 minutes of exercise that day!
Physical activity can benefit overall health, including mental health. Grab a friend or two and plan to meet up a couple of times each week to socialize and exercise together. Group exercise can be a great way to maintain healthy relationships and physical health. Research indicates that people with an accountability partner tend to stick with their exercise goals longer than those who do not have an exercise partner. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans also recommend that adults should do at least two days per week of muscle-strengthening exercises, such as lifting weights and resistance training. You do not need fancy equipment; you can use food jars, cans of soup, milk jugs, etc., as your weights. Also, you can use your body weight for resistance training, such as push-ups, squats, and planks. When doing muscle-strengthening exercises, it is essential to work out all major muscle groups each week, including the legs, back, chest, and hips.
Always consult your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program. It is also essential to keep a few safety tips in mind: be aware of your surroundings, dress for the weather, stay hydrated, and ensure the area is well-lit to avoid fall or trip hazards.
The 2022 flu season is running at full speed and many of us will be spending more time inside due to colder temperatures, traveling, and gathering throughout the holiday season, which means we have a much better chance of coming in contact with people who may have the flu.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu viruses cause illness, hospital stays, and deaths in the U.S. each year. The flu can vary from mild to severe, so be sure to protect you and your family appropriately. Along with being vaccinated, other ways to avoid the flu include staying away from people who are sick, covering your coughs and sneezes by coughing and sneezing into your elbows, not your hands, washing your hands often with soap and water, and not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Be Aware of Flu Symptoms:
Fever or feeling feverish/chills
Runny or stuffy nose
Muscle or body aches
Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
Let’s Talk Facts About the Flu Vaccine:
It can keep you from getting sick with flu.
It can reduce the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.
It can reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalization.
It is an important preventive tool for people with certain chronic health conditions.
During pregnancy, the flu vaccine can help protect pregnant women from the flu during and after pregnancy and helps protect their infants from flu in their first few months of life.
It can be lifesaving to children.
Getting yourself vaccinated may also protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, senior adults, and persons with certain chronic health conditions.
It’s important to note it takes two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective.
Only about 50% of Americans get an annual flu shot. There are so many more people that could prevent hospitalizations, severe flu illness, and even flu deaths if they would get vaccinated. The science is strong and the flu vaccine has been available to the public since 1945 after the U.S. government researched its safety and efficacy on the U.S. military. The flu vaccine is highly recommended by doctors for children, adults, and senior adults. If you have a chronic health condition, it is even more important for you to get your flu vaccine and protect yourself and your family from flu exposure. Let’s all consider getting the flu vaccine in 2022 and 2023 to prevent severe illness, save lives, and to have a happy, healthy New Year.
Holidays are truly worth celebrating! And baked goodies are but just one way many families observe not just the holiday but family traditions and what is special.
Nonetheless, baking brings on an anxiety that cooking does not. In fact, baking is considered a science by some, whereas cooking is an art. Baking requires fairly exact measurements, whereas cooking can be very forgiving. Adding or subtracting ingredients can be personal discretion. For the most part, you cannot do that with a baked product.
However, once you get the basics down, the world is your oyster… you can do anything you want.
In baking, every ingredient has a specific purpose. For example:
Flour gives the structure to baked products (there are many types of flour)
Eggs bind the ingredients and can add to the leavening (think fluffy egg whites) to baked goods
Baking powder, baking soda, and yeast are leaveners (make baked products rise)
Fats, like butter, margarine, oils, or lard, add both flavor and texture to baked products
Flavorings (like vanilla) enhance the flavor of a recipe… know that a little goes a long way
Sugar sweetens and adds to the texture of baked products (there are many types of sugar)
Salt enhances the flavor of all the other ingredients in a baked product
Know, too, that in baking, measuring is of utmost importance. Dry ingredients should be measured in a dry measuring cup and wet ingredients in a liquid measuring cup. Small amounts of both wet or dry ingredients can be measured with measuring spoons.
Using a kitchen scale is the most accurate way to measure both liquid and dry ingredients. Accuracy in baking is of utmost importance. That is what science is all about. Too much or too little of an ingredient can mean disaster.
Other helpful baking tips include understanding the processes. Terms in baking include (but are not limited to):
Grease and flour
And then there are other issues. Baking requires an oven that has temperature controls. Knowing how your oven works is quite important. It never hurts to purchase an oven thermometer to check temperature accuracy. Know the property of the pans you are using. Baking pans can be made from a variety of materials… aluminum, cast iron, ceramic, glass, stainless steel, etc. Each of these heats a bit differently.
Holiday baking recipes can be heavy on fat, sugar, and sodium. Baking holiday goodies can be done nutritiously. The secret is to bake with simple substitutions. It is possible to use healthier ingredients without sacrificing flavor.
Here are some ways to lighten up your holiday baking:
1/2 cup butter/margarine 1/4 cup applesauce & 1/4 cup canola oil
All purpose flour (1 cup) Whole wheat flour, cake flour, or self-rising flour
Salt Ground spices
Heavy cream (1 cup) 1 cup evaporated skim milk
Margarine (stick) 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
Sugar (1 cup granulated) Brown sugar or marketed sugar substitute
Buttermilk (1 cup) Milk and vinegar, milk and lemon juice, or sour cream and milk
Chocolate chips (1 cup) 1/2 cup mint chocolate chips, dried fruit, chopped nuts
Chart adapted from American Cancer Society
The Home Baking Association, https://www.homebaking.org/, is a great website to reference. Their main goal is to perpetuate generations of home bakers.
Don’t be intimidated by baking. With a bit of patience and practice, you will be able to WOW! your holiday guests with delectable treats that may become a family holiday tradition for generations to come.
Caution! Holidays may be hazardous, particularly when it comes to the waistline. (Forethought and forbearance now will pay dividends for your health in the new year.)
Often, people rationalize, saying “It’s holiday time. I’ll eat healthy later.” Later often means a cost in more pounds, clothes that don’t fit, and self-esteem that is bottomed out.
So, how do you cope and come out on top of holiday temptations? Here are some suggestions for host, hostess, or guest.
Host or Hostess
Keep the menu light when it comes to foods high in fat and sugar. Remember that simple foods can be delicious and healthier.
Provide low-calorie foods such as low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt dips with fresh vegetables or fruit dippers.
There is also a variety of low-calorie beverages that contain fewer calories than traditional beverages. Eggnog contains 340 calories a cup.
Don’t prepare more food than needed for a party. You may end up encouraging everyone to eat more so you won’t have leftovers.
Make baked goods and other goodies in various sizes so guests can choose what they want. Remember, in many cases, you will still have a tasty product if you use about ¼ cup less sugar in many cookie recipes.
Don’t be offended if someone refuses food. Most likely, the reason is not your cooking, but their own resolve to maintain a diet.
Plan activities that use energy such as outdoor caroling or games. Holidays are an active time, but we seldom get enough exercise to offset extra calories.
Decide your food limits before you arrive at a party.
Play a game with yourself. See how long you can wait before you take that first nibble from the hors d’oeuvre tray.
Use a smaller plate.
Don’t stand next to the food table.
Let one drink last the entire evening.
Be aware of emotional eating.
Don’t go to the party hungry.
To curb holiday eating, eat a balanced diet with healthy choices and get plenty of exercise. Overeating doesn’t have to be part of your holiday celebration.
WARNING: This article describes the signs, symptoms, and statistics of mental health challenges, particularly suicide, which may be triggering or unsuitable for some readers. Reader discretion advised.
The United States is currently experiencing a mental health crisis. The isolation and confusion of the recent pandemic brought to light an astounding number of people living with depression, anxiety, and other mental health and substance use challenges. While many of these people have been dealing with these challenges since before the pandemic, the sheer scope of the crisis has been brought into sharper focus since the onset of COVID-19.
One of the most difficult mental health issues to talk about is suicide. For many people who struggle with suicidal thoughts or for the families of those who die by suicide, it can be very painful and stigmatizing to discuss. Even for those outside those two groups, suicide is often a taboo subject.
Supporting someone during a mental health challenge is just as important as supporting them during a physical challenge. By working together, we can help reduce the stigma of mental illness. (Photo source: UF/IFAS File Photo)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the overall suicide rate in the U.S. decreased 3% during the pandemic despite the fact that calls to suicide hotlines went up nearly 800%. For me, what this shows is that when people suffering from suicidal ideation reach out to the resources available to them, they improve their chances for a better outcome.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shares these statistics on their website: 79% of all people who die by suicide are male; suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 and the 12th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.; 18.8% of high school students and 11.3% of young adults aged 18-25 experience suicidal ideation each year.
When a person dies by or attempts suicide, those left behind often claim they did not see it coming, that they had no idea their loved one was having suicidal thoughts. In many cases, the person experiencing suicidal ideation conceals their thoughts and feelings from those around them. However, there are certain warning signs that may be observed in people experiencing suicidal thoughts.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) lists the following warning signs: talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself; looking for a way to kill oneself; talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose; talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain; talking about being a burden to others; increasing the use of alcohol or drugs; acting anxious, agitated, or reckless; sleeping too little or too much; withdrawing or feeling isolated; showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; and displaying extreme mood swings.
(Please note this is not an exhaustive list, but these signs may be indicators that a person may be in acute danger and may urgently need help.)
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. While suicide prevention is important every day of the year, I encourage everyone to take some time this month to learn more about mental illness and suicide. Taking the time to increase your awareness will help reduce the stigma of mental illness and suicide and may allow you to support someone experiencing a mental health challenge.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please call or text 988 or text TALK to 741741.