Why you need a vacation with nature

Natural environments promote relaxation and rejuvenation

Do you need to decompress? Are your tense shoulders permanently elevated up by your ears? Does someone need to pry that cellphone out of your hands? If so, a vacation with nature may be in order, even if you prefer stilettos to sneakers.

According to a study published in The Journal of Environmental Psychology, people quickly report feelings of relaxation and restoration after visiting natural environments like the ocean, the woods, and the mountains. Not surprisingly, longer durations surrounded by nature created greater feelings of rejuvenation, and urban play areas didn't elicit feelings of relaxation.

This summer give your body and your mind a chance to draw on the healing properties of nature. Rent a house on Lake Michigan. Visit the mountains in Colorado. Camp in Joshua Tree National Park. Drive to a small ocean town in the Carolinas and watch the waves roll in and out. Or, if you can only spare a few hours, rent a canoe or kayak and find a secluded place to paddle. Find a spot to hike deep in the woods.

Remember that you cannot give if you have nothing inside to give. Take care of yourself this summer and your body will reward you with a calm and relaxed mind.


Low back pain and the S-curve

the shape of your spine may determine if you have back pain

Can you blame your low back pain on the shape of your spine?

According to Ester Gokhale, a former back pain sufferer, the answer is yes.

When traditional therapies failed for this California-based acupuncturist, she began a search for answers. This search took her across the globe, to indigenous people who suffer little or no back pain.

What's their secret? Gokhale believes their good fortune is linked to the shape of their spines, which look more like the letter "J" than the letter "S."

So, she returned to the States and developed a method of exercises to pull her spine into a shape that resembled a J. Then her pain went away.

Could this method help you? Perhaps. Remember that the American lifestyle, which tends to be sedentary, leads to deconditioned muscles. Without strong muscles, especially core muscles, there is little to support our upright posture. This, of course, leads to back pain. So, check out Gokhale's ideas, which were recently outlined on NPR.

Then get thee to a gym. Strengthening your postural muscles just might lessen your "S" curve and bring you the relief you are looking for.


Why you failed to reach your fitness goals

Humans underestimate the effects of setbacks
How many calories did you really
burn when you took that walk with the kids?

It turns out humans are optimists to the core.

Researchers, whose study is published in the Journal of Consumer Research, say people overestimate the impact of their successes and underestimate the effects of their shortfalls or setbacks.

When it comes to healthy living, this means we overestimate how much energy we expend when we bike or walk and underestimate the impact of eating those irresistible cupcakes or lattes later in the day. We overestimate the positive effects of eating a kale salad for lunch and underestimate the negative impact of sitting at our desks all day.

Let's stop doing that! Take a look at these sobering statistics: If you are a 140-pound woman and you walk a 15 minute mile, you will burn 168 calories in 30 minutes. If you play golf without a cart, you'll burn 150 calories in the same time. Meanwhile, if you down a Starbucks Iced Caffe Mocha, you'll take in 140 calories, and if you decide to indulge in a cupcake you'll consume at least 295 calories.

What should the eternal optimist do? Make sure you approach your fitness goals with accurate information that will help you attain your goals. Since humans suffer from "progress bias," it may make sense to invest in an activity tracker that will help you accurately monitor calories in and out.


The garden workout

Gardening is a great workout

When my husband and I bought our first house I told him I would, under no circumstances, be found weeding the flower beds. I would not mow the lawn, prune bushes, or rake leaves. I would not go outside to play with the earthworms, slugs, spiders and other garden critters. My nails would remain unsullied by dirt.

He agreed, and I lived happily, admiring my flower beds from my living room.

Then the recession hit. Before I knew it, I was the landscaper. I grudgingly pulled on my work jeans and t-shirt. I put on the muddy gloves in our garage and went outside to weed.

That first year I quickly began to dream about filling every single flower bed with grass seed, because, I'm sure you agree, weeding is tedious.

But then something happened. I began to take on bigger jobs. I started to work up a good sweat. I got my blood pumping and, in the process, my garden began to look spectacular.

I dug up hosta, divided them and replanted. I spread mulch and planted grass seed. I began to admire others' gardens, prompting me to research flowers I'd like to plant in my own beds. Soon I had a plan for adding peonies, allium (deer resistant!), and iris to my garden.

Gardening, I discovered, was a fantastic workout that yielded beautiful results. I began to look forward to my gardening tasks, as they rewarded me with clarity of mind, a weekend workout, and a beautiful collection of flowers to enjoy. I became a proud plant mama.

I recommend trying out this gardening thing, even if you hate dirt.


Brain power fueled by exercise

Exercise makes you smart

You've probably read about the correlation between exercise and enhanced brain function. Researchers from The University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, have contributed further information about oxygenation and brain health.

Their study, published in Psychophysiology, reveals that regular exercise increases oxygen to the frontal lobe of the brain. This portion of the brain controls tasks like problem solving, emotional expression, language, memory, judgment, reasoning, and planning.

It's not surprising, then, that study participants who exercised 5 days a week were more effective in strategic planning. They also demonstrated greater self-control than those who opted out of exercise.

Do you have a big strategy session at work tomorrow? Perhaps you should get out for a run.


Eat your chocolate

Dark chocolate reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes

The news about dark chocolate just keeps getting better.

Researchers, whose study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that study participants who indulged in dark chocolate had a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Specifically, people who ate two or more servings each week experienced a 17% reduction. And, if their BMI was under 25, their risk reduction jumped to an incredible 41%!

I'd say that's a compelling reason to enjoy your dessert, wouldn't you?


DASH wins best diet of 2015

The Dash Diet won best overall diet for 2015

The number of diets out there is dizzying. If you want to follow one, how do you choose? Do you sign up for a cleanse challenge at work? Do you join Weight Watchers and follow their diet? Do you decide bread has gone to your waistline and opt for the low carb, high protein diet?

US News & World Report has weighed in on all those options, making it easier to separate the doozies from the plans that will both boost your health and help you lose weight. This year editors assembled 24 diet, nutrition, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and food psychology experts to evaluate 35 of America's most popular diets.

You know which diet won first place for the best healthy eating diet? The DASH Diet. The DASH diet is a common sense diet that emphasizes eating whole grains, vegetables, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy. It is similar to the Mediterranean and TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) diets.

The experts determined the diet was easy to follow, and it's good for heart health, diabetes, and weight loss. Sounds like a winner to me, don't you think?

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