Suns Out, Guns Out

Summer. That wonderful time of year when there are no pencils, no books, and no more teacher’s dirty looks. There is such beautiful weather that comes out to play and we tend to enjoy it through barbecues, hiking, swimming, fishing, boating, and more. However, where there is summer, there is prolonged time outdoors under the sun, and skin protection is often overlooked.

summer

Skin protection is a very important part of health and wellness, but typically neglected. How many of us neglect our skin in the summer? I know I sometimes do. Sure, we take care of our skin every other part of the year with moisturizers and exfoliation, but when the sun comes out, and the shorts, t-shirts, and bathing suits come on, sunscreen rarely touches our skin. ‘Why’, you may ask. Because we want to be tan. Tan, tan, tan. Having golden, bronzed skin is a sign of healthy skin, right? Who wants to be pale? Not me! I look forward to summer all year because I get to lay out and get a nice new hue.

Our skin health should never be pushed aside for a tan, though. There are serious risks and dangers that can come from long-term sun exposure. The most obvious of these is skin cancer.

There are 3 types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Skin cancer is usually caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays that are emitted from the sun. There are 3 types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA is the most common type of emission and it can penetrate an individual’s layers of skin and damage connective tissue, which increases risk of skin cancer. UVB is less common because some of it is absorbed by the earth’s ozone layer; it does help produce vitamin D in the body, but too much can still cause skin damage. UVC is entirely absorbed by the ozone layer.

It is important to protect your skin and here are some ways to do it:

  • Wear sunscreen that is SPF 15 or higher year round, even on cloudy or hazy days.
  • Stay in the shade.
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs, and wear a hat, especially one that covers your ears and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses.
  • Avoid tanning beds! They are not worth the potential risks and skin damage.

If you do spend time outdoors, make sure to check your skin periodically using the ABCDE guide:

skin cancer pic

Definitely be sure to see your dermatologist at least once a year, or if you suspect skin damage. Summer is a wonderful time of year, but make sure that you first focus on skin protection so that you will be able to continue your outdoor activities for many years to come!

 

Run Forrest, Run. part 3

So far in this 3 part series, Run Forrest, Run,  I’ve talked about why people don’t run, running versus other forms of cardio, and today I’m going to talk about how running can be enjoyable. There are ways to make running enjoyable, just find what works for you.

You can listen to your iPod while you run. Create a running playlist with really high-powered, up-beat songs that get you moving. Put one or two or these songs in a place in your song line-up where you feel like you start to slow down in your run and need an extra push.

For some ideas, here is a list of my favorite power songs:

  • Summer by Calvin Harris
  • Counting Stars by One Republic
  • Daylight by Matt and Kim
  • Neon Lights by Demi Lavato
  • Lights by Ellie Goulding
  • Feel So Close by Calvin Harris
  • Midnight City by M83
  • Call Him by Flame

Run outside! It is so much more fun running outside than running outdoors. The scenery is constantly changing and you can just lose track of time. Look around as you run. Not every run has to be your best time or a competition. Once or twice a week run to just enjoy the run. Think about the way running makes you feel and breathe in the fresh air. It really cleanses the soul.

Run with friends! Having friends that run is one of the best tactics to get you to run when you aren’t in the mood. They keep you motivated and encouraged to push yourself. Sometimes they know what you are capable of more than you do, and running with them can make the time fly. I was on the University of North Georgia cross country team, and if it wasn’t for those ladies, a lot of track workouts would not have been done well. They really pushed me and encouraged me.

2012-2013 UNG Women's Team

UNG Women’s Team 2012-2013

Races are on of the best ways to keep you motivated to train. If you sign up for a 5K, which is 3.1 miles, you know you can’t back down on your running because you have to be ready. And races are so much fun! You feel like an official runner once you pin your race bib to yourself and line up to start. You feel like your on top of the world, and with all the runners around you, you typically will run one of your best times to date. Afterwards, reward yourself for all of your hard training. Go to your favorite frozen yogurt place, or buy yourself a new running shirt. You deserve it for all that you’ve accomplished and how far you’ve come!

Not all races have to be timed. Sign up for a fun race! Ever heard of the Color Run 5K? What you do is wear white clothing, and then at every kilometer there are volunteers who throw dyed cornstarch on you as you pass. At the end of the race you look like a rainbow, and there is a DJ with music for a party! Celebrate! Fun and exciting races are popping up everywhere now, so sign up!

Before the Color Run

Before the Color Run

After the Color Run

After the Color Run

Running can be fun and enjoyable! It can be done anytime, anywhere, regardless of weather or time of year. Running can also be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of experience or body type. We aren’t all going to be Olympic athletes, but should that stop you from trying something new?

Run Forrest, Run. part 2

Why should you run versus other forms of cardio?

Running is great because it does not require any equipment. As long as you have running shoes and a safe location, you can run. Indoors or outdoors, running is a simple form of cardio that shows real progress.

Unlike an elliptical or stationary bike, you do not have to be inside or a member of gym to benefit from cardio. This is especially convenient if you travel and do not have access to a gym. I studied abroad in Spain for 5 weeks, and guess what I did every morning? That’s right, I ran. I saw more and experienced more than I ever thought I could, because I got out of my comfort zone and truly experienced the beautiful geography everyday. I saw amazing sunrises rising over the ocean, explored different cities, found new museums and parks to visit, and passed restaurants I wanted to try. My running partner and I loved our morning runs. Check out some of the places I would run:

The Barcelona boardwalk

The Barcelona boardwalk

El Retiro Park

El Retiro Park in Madrid

Running is also easier for keeping track of progress. Shorter times or longer distances are perfect ways to know that you are constantly amping up your workout and pushing yourself to your best effort. In addition, if a run does become easier, it is because you are beginning to master the task. That’s wonderful news! That means your body is getting used to the effort you are putting on your body and feels more experienced.

Running is also a better choice than exercise classes, because you do not have to deal with crowds or hot, sweaty rooms. If running, you can be by yourself in quiet to collect your thoughts. You won’t have to worry about having enough room during your workout and sweating profusely because of others. And when you run, you can push yourself harder because you don’t have to slow down for others who don’t know what they are doing.

Running is also a great because you don’t need others to do it. Team sports like soccer and football require others to make the sport and the exercise even possible. However, what if you were on a volleyball team and wanted to workout one day? It is hard to do your best workout and training alone. Team sports need other people for it to be efficient. If you run, you don’t need others. You can do it anytime of day, anywhere without needing to rely on others to make it happen.

That is one of the best parts of running. If you do run or compete in a race, the time you get is all you. You were the one who put in the time and effort, no one else made you do that well. It is a true sense of self-accomplishment and very rewarding to know that you did so well all on you own. It’s fun to let others know your best times, and to know that if you eventually beat those times it was because you worked hard to achieve them.

So, lace up those sneakers and start running! Stay tuned for the last part of this series: how to make running enjoyable.

Run Forrest, Run. part 1

Running. For some people it’s a wonderful form of exercise that releases endorphins and makes them feel like they’re flying. For others, it is the worst form of punishment in the world used by coaches or boot camp trainers.

This brings me to my first part in a three-part series: the reasons people do not run.

You may not run for various reasons. Maybe because you’d rather sprint than go long distance, or even because it is very difficult to gain muscle when doing so much cardio. And beyond that, people are concerned with looking silly or out of shape while running.

Check out that form!

Check out that form!

These are common and understandable reasons not to run.

To address the first concern of you’d rather sprint than run long distance. Sprints and suicides are popular and extremely beneficial ways to run; running 400m as fast as you can and feeling fast is an awesome sensation. It was always great as kid to be considered the fastest, not the one who could run for an hour and not be out of breath. No one ever cared about stuff like that. But now, being able to compete in a 5K or go for a jog with your neighbor is a great goal. It can seem daunting to say, “I’m going to run 6 miles.” Running is a mental game, so instead tell yourself, “I’m going to run 3 miles.” If you run 3 miles in one direction, you have no choice but to run 3 miles back home, and next thing you know you’ve completed 6 miles. Generally, you can do more than you think you can.

The other issue is for those who are trying to gain muscle. It has been proven that the more chronic cardio you do, the less muscle you are able to maintain or build. As you perform extended cardio, your body begins to break down its fat, and you commonly lose weight overtime. However, when you have little fat to lose and have don’t have a high enough calorie intake, your body will begin to break down its muscle. It is common to see long-distance runners who are very lean, and less muscular than sprinters, because they are not concerned with keeping on too much muscle. Running for 2 hours burns about 1000 or more calories, and just 30 minutes depending on weight and speed can burn about 300 calories. However, those trying to gain muscle typically still do some form of cardio 2-3 times a week. Why not run? Running is perfect because it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you can always run. No equipment necessary, and as long as you up your calorie intake that day, you shouldn’t have an issue with muscle gain. One of my friends lifts weights everyday, and has built a lot of muscle over the course of the last couple of semesters. However, he runs 2-3 times a week, for about 30 minutes, and he hasn’t had any issues with muscle loss.

The last reason you may not run is for fear of looking silly and inexperienced while running. Like any sport or exercise, it takes time and patience. You can’t expect to put on running shoes and run for 4 miles and feel great. It takes a lot of time. I used to not be able to run for a mile without being out of breath, but as I began to build up my base I was able to increase beyond that. I used to look so silly running. I was constantly out of breath, panting, sore, and drooling because I was too tired to swallow my spit. People would say stuff to me, and I became embarrassed so I switched to a treadmill where no one could see me. That’s okay! Start running in a place you are comfortable, and you can go your own pace. However, as you are able to increase mileage and speed, try stepping outdoors for a few runs. Don’t expect to be able to run 4 miles at an 8 minute pace because you were able to do it on a treadmill. Outside, you have to propel yourself forward; the road doesn’t do it for you. And don’t feel discouraged by other runners passing you or who look like they are barely trying. They all started where you are.

We all have to have our weak moments to become stronger. If you are still worried about running, find a partner to run with. Running with friends keeps you motivated to keep up and not all eyes will be on you as you run.

Just remember: if you run, you’re a runner! And stay tuned for next weeks post: why you should run versus other forms of cardio.

Don’t Be That Girl…

Don’t be that girl at the gym.

Trust me, I used to be one of these people, and sometimes I still am. I’m not trying to put these ladies down. I just think we need to be more enlightened about gym etiquette and some of the gym stereotypes we may be reinforcing.

Don’t be this girl at the gym:

  • The Cardio Bunny: I’m looking at you girl who walks in, jumps on the elliptical or treadmill, pounds out 45-60 minutes, changes and then goes home. Cardiovascular exercise is absolutely wonderful for you. It strengthens your heart and lungs, increases brain productivity, and helps lower risks for heart disease and stroke. But if that is all that you are doing, then you are doing yourself a disservice. You’re lacking a very crucial aspect of exercise: resistance-training. And you are simultaneously reinforcing the stereotype that woman are afraid to lift heavy weights. Please stop doing cardio everyday and never going near the weight rack. Burning 400 calories everyday with cardio, and never putting on muscle (which burns calories by the way), will only go so far.
  • The Pink Dumbbells Girl: It’s a running joke that woman walk over to lift a few weights, to ya know, get toned like the celebrity on the cover of that magazine, and what do they reach for? The 8 lb. dumbbells. Maybe 10 lbs. Anything more intense will make you bulky and manly. I’m not saying this stereotype applies to all girls, but this theology is so wrong on so many levels. Ladies, please listen to me! Lifting weights will not make you bulky! You do not have enough testosterone in your body and you do not drink enough supplements to put on that type of mass. But you want to have nice muscle definition? Lifting light weights with no phase training or plan will get you nowhere and you are just wasting your time. You need to lift heavy at least twice a week, and you’ll watch the strength and beautiful muscles emerge.
  • The Beauty Queen: You see her as she walks in. Beautifully curled or straightened hair with blinding shine, enough mascara to weigh the eyelids down, gloss on the lips, and maybe some light pink blush to give that “just worked out” look. Just when you think she might start bursting into a sweat, she sets the treadmill to 3 mph and proceeds to walk for the next 30 minutes. She looks beautiful, so graceful up there, but it’s too perfect… Ladies, no one cares what you look like at the gym. Let me repeat that: no one cares. Sorry if that’s harsh, but this is not the time to be your best looking or trying to impress that hottie you spotted. Exercising should be about your health, fitness, and overall well-being, not about what others think about you. People at the gym will be far more impressed with a sweaty mess busting out some sprints on the treadmill or going for a one rep max on the bench press than they ever will with what you look like at that moment. And when you work hard and consistently in the gym, you’ll look good all the time.

woman-exercising-towel

  • The Chatty Kathy: Woman love to talk. It’s in our DNA. And when we get around some of our closest friends the good times roll and we can laugh and talk about anything and everything. Catching up on life is fun and having a workout partner is great, but remember what you are at the gym for: to exercise. This is not social hour. If you go to the gym and end up talking on or near a machine the whole time, you are wasting yours and everyone’s time. Do not ever sit or stand on equipment and just talk. It’s rude. You had better be doing something with that equipment or please get off and let someone else use it. There are people at the gym who there to workout and do nothing else, so please respect the facility and the other members. (This also applies to the ladies who sit around on equipment and text or call people- talk to them when you are off the machine).
  • The Justifier: How many times have you heard a girl at the gym mention what she is going to eat after she finishes exercising because she “earned” it? How many of you are that girl? No, a 40 minute workout does not justify a Diary Queen blizzard that is 740 calories. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t. Yeah, you may feel better about eating it because you burned some calories, but don’t sabotage all of your hard efforts in the gym with a poor diet. Abs are made in the kitchen and you will see your best results outside the gym with a consistent diet.  Never use exercise to justify your eating. It’s a bad habit. But if you do decide you want to eat a special meal or decadent dessert, just do it. Don’t feel like you need to reason with yourself or others.

These are just some of the top 5 offenses I have seen women commit at the gym and they are all just silly. For help on defeating these stereotypes visit ACSM for advice and guidelines on how to set-up an appropriate cardiovascular and resistance-training program. Also, talk to a Registered Dietician or a corporate or university provided nutritionist for advice on healthy eating habits and choices. Be mindful of your intentions and actions at the gym, and keep working towards the best health and fitness you can achieve.

You Wanna Put Needles Where?

Acupuncture. It’s a word that strikes fear and apprehension into every soul as soon as they hear it. You begin imagining either some hippie or Chinese herbalist jamming needles into your skin, most likely causing pain, while you helplessly look on trapped. So, when my doctor recommended I receive weekly acupuncture to deal with health problems, I was naturally hesitant. I do not respond to well to pain and I hate needles, so the idea of laying on a table unable to move while someone basically gives you pain was not an enticing idea. Nope. Not gonna do it. Sorry.

Well I did. And after one failed attempt at acupuncture 2 weeks before, the time came for a second attempt at a new office. I walked in to the office and sat nervously waiting for my turn. When the time came, the acupuncturist and I talked about my health issues, she then laid me down, and seriously, the next thing I know I had about 15 needles in my body. I didn’t even feel them go in. I was amazed. This was nothing like the previous situation.

acupuncture.jpg

As I lay there slipping into some sort of sleepy state, she explained to me what acupuncture is and why it’s important.

Acupuncture, as defined by Live Science, is an unconventional medical practice of stimulating different organs and tissues, usually through the use of needles and herbs. Basically, ancient Chinese and Asian cultures believe that all of our bodies have a flow of energy, called Chi. When our Chi is disrupted, we begin to manifest pains and problems. By placing needles in different stimulating points, our disrupted Chi is relieved and the Chi travels through body channels called meridians. In more modern terms, our Chi can be referred to as our nervous system and hormones, and the needles can help stimulate more efficient function.

Acupuncture can be used to treat all sorts of health issues and diseases, such as arthritis, digestive issues, reproductive problems and infertility, autoimmune disorders, muscle pain, joint aches, and more. What’s even crazier is that wherever the pain is, the needle isn’t typically going to go in that area. To treat my health problems, I had needles in my head, elbows, knees, hands, and feet, which were nowhere near my problem areas. Over the course of the next 4 months, I returned weekly for treatment.

A few key things to look for in an acupuncturist:

  • Are they a licensed acupuncturist? And more importantly, are they licensed in your state?
  • Do they do hard or soft acupuncture? (Choose soft!)
  • Double check that they use new needles every time and dispose of the used needles properly. This is a medical treatment and should be treated as so.

It’ s key that you are 100% comfortable and trusting of the individual who is treating you. If you are tense or nervous for any reason, it is not going to be a great treatment and your benefits will be lessened.  Many holistic or integrative medicine offices offer acupuncture or can recommend an acupuncturist, but feel free to ask around for whom your friends may prefer.

Don’t be afraid to get acupuncture! It is a very wonderful and beneficial medical practice, and is one of the top reasons I had such great health recovery. Oh, and you can totally tell people you had needles willingly shoved in your body once. Next Evil Knievel perhaps?

One Diet Does Not Fit All

Veganism. Vegetarianism. Paleo. WAPF. Raw foods. Juicing. Every day magazines, commercials, and celebrities are trying to convince us of the best diet out there, and how our lives will drastically change by adopting their diet. It’s overwhelming! Each concept seems to have so much science and research to back it up, but then again so does the next diet. There are pros and cons to each choice. So, how do we know which one to follow? Obviously multiple people follow each ideology and it works for them, so how do we know which one is best? What you need to remember is one diet does not fit all. There is no one magical way of eating that will work for everyone’s lifestyle, energy needs, performance needs, or mental health. And that’s okay. We weren’t all created to embrace a vegan lifestyle or forego cooking our food. What’s important is that we listen to our bodies and respect what they want.

one-size-doesnt-fit-all

The best way to know what diet our body prefers it to try one on. No, really. Pick an ideology that you find really fascinating and that seems to have some beneficial research behind it.  Different diets will never all agree on each other’s research, so make sure you investigate first to make an informed decision. Then, jump in headfirst. Don’t look back and just go for it. Love it. Embrace it. Give it enough time, but if you hate it, quit. Diet changes are not do or die.

I understand this from personal experience.

Three years ago, I decided to start eating “healthier”. Yeah, what exactly does that mean? Well, for me, that meant avoiding all white flour and sugar, limiting my meat intake, and eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, and of course no fat. I felt great. But I suppose one would after eating the Standard American Diet all their life. I still ate packaged and processed foods, but that was okay because they were “healthier”. About 6 months later, my mom introduced me to the book Eat to Live, and I was instantly hooked on the benefits of a plant-based diet. I 100% committed to veganism the next day, and I felt so clean and pure. I lost weight, ate tons of food all the time, and felt like I was actively avoiding any and every disease. Unfortunately, a few months into veganism my energy levels began to dwindle. Then, I started having digestive and circulation issues. I was a runner and eventually veganism was not supportive for my lifestyle. After all, I still thought fat was bad! I’m not saying that being a vegan is a poor choice, even for athletes, but my body was no longer positively responding to the diet, so that was my cue for a change. This is when I discovered the Paleo diet. Once again, my mom introduced me to the diet, and it completely scared me (eek, fat!), but the benefits for a whole food, grain-free diet were so inviting that I had to read more about it. The more I researched the science behind it, the more I realized how great it was to avoid inflammatory foods like grains, refined sugars, and legumes. Immediately after starting the diet, I gained healthy weight back, my acne went away, my hair and nails grew thicker and stronger, and more. I loved it.

The journey did not end there. A few months into Paleo I began to develop crippling health problems, which several months later were accredited to Candida overgrowth in my small intestine and stomach. What in the world? I was eating Paleo, so I shouldn’t be having these issues! Right? This is when I started to truly learn that one diet does not fit all. Just because Paleo works for one person, doesn’t mean their Paleo is good for me. I learned that although acceptable, my body does not like nuts and hates high sugar fruits and carbohydrates, but loves meat and some dairy products. And you know what? That’s okay. That’s my Paleo.

That’s what I want every person to understand. There is no miracle diet or food. There are so many choices to make in life and what you eat should not be burdensome to you. It should be enjoyable and suit you and your lifestyle. I believe that health is more about making well-rounded choices that positively impact your body, mind, soul, and environment, more so than a strict diet protocol. Dr. John Berhardi even talks about in this post why there is no one perfect diet, but how each one seems to somehow benefit the person who tries it. He mentions 5 key principles of each diet: they bring nutrition awareness and attention, they focus on food quality, they help eliminate nutrient deficiencies, they help control appetite, and lastly, they promote exercise.

Read the studies. Listen to the testimonies. Then, try it for yourself. Remember that each individual’s body is unique and as much as we would like them to: one diet does not fit all.

Laughter is Medicine

Laughter. Whether it’s cramp-up, side-stitching funny or a silent giggle, laughter makes you feel good and lifts your mood. I’ve found that when I am having a rough and exhausting day, my mind always turns to humor for a quick outlet. But why? Why do we laugh and why is it so important? I don’t know about you, but being around people who find no humor in anything and don’t laugh leaves me feeling tired and pessimistic. On the other hand, I think about those friends that are always cracking jokes or doing something silly. I want to be around them! Their happiness is contagious, and they seem less stressed and more willing to face each obstacle with optimism. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a lifestyle worth having.

Laughing kid

So, why do we laugh? Seriously. What causes our mouth to all of the sudden elicit unrecognizable sounds, our body to cramp up or shake, and for us to create ridiculous facial expressions? If someone had never seen laughter before, they would think we were having some sort of attack or seizure. But no, we are physically displaying our mental enjoyment of something. We can make ourselves laugh, but true laughter comes from deep down, and according to How it Works, it shows our social connection to others. Like I said, think about it. Have you ever been around people who don’t laugh? The situation gets really uncomfortable really fast which makes you want to crack a joke to lighten the mood, but of course it doesn’t work. Ah, a vicious cycle. Laughing together with others creates comfortable, social bonds and you become more willing to be vulnerable to those around you.

Laughter is contagious and fun to do. I love laughing! Growing up was probably the time when I laughed the most. Everything was funny. There were no cares in the world, so why not be silly and make jokes? Think about your present. Really think. When was the last time you had a good laugh? Last week? Last month? I get it, we’re adults. We have more important things to do like worry about work deadlines, not being silly. But what if I told you that laughter is healthy for your body? It’s true. According to multiple studies, such as a study done by Web MD, laughter can do four important things for your body. First, it can increase blood flow, especially to your brain, which you need for productive working anyways. Second, it can raise your disease-fighting antibodies and increase the amount of immune cells in your body. This is because with decreased stress, your body is able to more readily use its white blood cells. Now, you’ll have less sick days. Third, it can lower your blood sugar. Low blood sugar is important for avoiding health effects such as hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, and diabetic ketoacidosis. In addition, it can help avoid damage to the heart, blood vessels, and nerves. Lastly, laughter can help you sleep and relax. It releases pent up tension and relaxes the muscles in your body allowing for a more deep sleep. And we all know sleeping is one of the most important parts of our day.

Let’s learn to laugh more and stress less. Research has shown it’s good for you, so why not do it? Laughter and happiness can be increased by surrounding yourself with optimistic people. Also, learn to laugh at yourself. I mean, if Jennifer Lawrence can laugh at herself for falling at the Oscars, I’m pretty sure we can let some embarrassing moments go too. Learn to find humor in everything and take time for fun. Lastly, exercise. Exercise makes you happy! And happiness lowers stress.

Laughter isn’t hard to do and happiness isn’t hard to find, you just need to look for opportunities and remember that laughter is medicine too.