Category Archives: Stress Relief

Add Hiking to Your Exercise Routine

Expanding your weekly exercise routine with new and different physical activities is always a good idea. Incorporating hiking into your routine is smart because it burns a lot of calories and works muscles not used in the more common workouts.

Do not jump into hiking – full speed ahead. You could injure yourself. Before you make a commitment to hike five miles a day, be sure your body is ready for hiking.

How to Add Hiking to Your Exercise Routine

Start with Cardio

Start Hiking - Start with Cardio
Image by pressmaster

If you have not been exercising regularly, please, start working on your cardio before you ever go on a hike.

Try low-impact cardio, such as swimming, walking, aerobics, treadmill, stationary bike, or dumb bells. You can then add higher intensity workouts, such as kickboxing, spin class, or a high-impact cardio class at your gym.

Whatever you use, be smart about your workout. There are many resources online. Check out this website for ideas: 8 Low-impact Cardio Workouts for Beginners.

Continue doing cardio on the days when you aren’t hiking to get your body in better shape.  Being in shape will give you the stamina to eventually increase the frequency and distance of your hikes. It will not take long until you will be able to handle those 5- or 10-mile hikes with no problem.

Include Weight Training

If you want to become a “respectable” hiker, you should consider improving your muscle mass. This is important because hiking uses a lot of different muscles.

Weight training should be done by everyone, whether you hike or not, so now you have a good reason to do it. A few days a week working on your core and your arms and legs will be very beneficial, not only in the beginning, but also when you are ready for those big, uphill hikes.

Ease Into Hiking

You are ready to begin, great! Please, move forward at a pace that works for your body.

For the complete novice, find nearby hiking trails that are short and relatively easy – no more than half-mile long so that you will only walk a mile total.

A one-mile hike is good distance to start. It allows your muscles and frame to get used to walking trails and you can see how your body adapts.

If there are no short, easy trails available, take a main trail (which usually starts out fairly easy), but stop after 15-20 minutes. Turn back and return the way you came. You can use the same trail and gradually increase the length of time or the distance you walk.

Another option is to start out walking trails in a nearby park, preferably dirt trails if you can find them.  Walking on dirt is different than walking on sidewalks.

Get a Hiking Buddy

A good way to encourage you to keep up with your hiking plan as part of your routine is to hike with a friend. Hiking alone can be boring, so consider bringing someone with you. It is also safer to hike with a friend, just in case either of you run into a problem; and, always carry your cell phone.

Choose someone who is on the same hiking level and with the same goals: to get in shape, to lose weight, or to be healthier and feel better (mentally and physically).  Don’t ask an extreme sports enthusiast to be your companion. For obvious reasons, that would not be a good match.

A regular exercise routine is a fundamental necessity for anyone who wants to stay healthy and life a long, happy life.

Start exercising today – even if it is just a 15 minute walk around the block, graduating to walking trails in the park, and eventually building up to more – including hiking in the great outdoors.

5 Lifestyle Factors that Can Hurt Your Brain

The way you live your life either contributes to brain health or causes a decline in brain functions such as memory, cognitive ability and focus.

There are five lifestyle factors that can hurt your brain by diminishing its function. To make matters worse, these factors typically become a bigger problem as you age.

The good news is that they are all things over which you have either complete or partial control – and can manage to some degree.

So pay attention . . .

Factors that Can Hurt Your Brain

  1. Poor Eating Habits

Unhealthy Diet
Image by Syda Productions

You know – I know – everyone knows that poor eating habits will cause you to gain weight. But, even more important is the fact that poor eating habits rob you of the nutrients your brain needs to fight free radicals that cause inflammation and deterioration of brain functions.

A healthy diet is critical to brain health. Indulging in a consistently poor diet is asking for trouble!

You are at a much greater risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s when you struggle with obesity, diabetes, and other health issues that result from a poor diet.

Eating healthy foods keeps the oxygen flowing freely through the brain and provides the nutrients needed to sustain its functions.

Finding a healthy diet that keeps your food intake as close to nature as possible is a step on the road to a heathier brain and better life

  1. Lack of exercise

A sedentary lifestyle (couch potato) puts you at risk for a decline in your general health and a decline in brain function.

The fact is – health is a package deal! When your body rarely moves, your brain also suffers because of a lack of stimulation that produces healthy endorphins.

Research shows that physical activity is directly connected to mental alertness because it creates a healthy flow of blood through the entire circulatory system, including the brain. Without it, the opposite happens.

  1. Lack of sleep

As you age, getting enough sleep can become a problem.

Sleep deprivation seriously affects your brain function. It creates irritability, fatigue, the inability to focus and concentrate, and memory loss.

Lack of sleep can be caused by a number of things:

  • Responsibilities to your job and family that keep you up late and physically exhaust you
  • Stress created by life events (loss of job, divorce, moving, financial worries, etc.)
  • Poor physical health
  • Mental and/or emotional distress.

You may not have full control over some of the above factors, but it is important to control them to the degree possible and find ways to control your response to them.

It is critical that you develop behaviors that will support better sleep habits. Seek help from your doctor or mental health specialists, if necessary. It is worth it.

  1. Lack of socialization and feelings of isolation

These are two lifestyle factors that go hand-in-hand.

If you isolate yourself, you will not be socializing with friends and family members.

It is fairly easy for this to happen as you age, if you are not careful.

Factors that contribute to isolation:

  • Retirement
  • Family members move away or drift away
  • Death takes friends and loved ones
  • Personal health issues

Regardless of the cause, isolation will cause the brain to deteriorate.

Even though it may be very challenging, the health of your brain (and body) depends on regular interaction with others.  Find a way to socialize on a regular basis starting today!

  1. Stress Overload

Stress is part of life. It comes in many forms and cannot be avoided. BUT, if it lasts too long, is continual, or extremely severe, it can cause both physical and mental problems.

Be honest with yourself. Take a close look at your life and the stressors that are weighing you down.

Do whatever is necessary to alter your lifestyle in order to eliminate some of the stress in your life – and do it now.

A good first step is to make time to get away from it all – to allow your brain to rest and rejuvenate itself.

You will find that your concentration and cognitive powers improve significantly – and your brain will have the sustainable energy to function as it should.

Two More . . .

Those are the big five . . . but, there are two other lifestyle factors that also contribute to declining brain function:  smoking and excessive use of alcohol.

If either of those are part of your lifestyle, all I can say is STOP! No good has ever come from either habit. The havoc those habits wreak on your body is horrible and comes slowly, but surely.

Don’t Let This Happen to You

Contributing to Dementia
Image by Lightsource

What can you do today to change the 5 lifestyle factors that can hurt your brain (and overall health)?

Take care of yourself – live well – be happier and healthier!

Emotional Issues and Weight Problems

When people struggle with weight – overweight or underweight – the underlying cause may be emotional.  Because of that, anyone with weight issues should try to identify their emotional relationship to food and the cause, if at all possible. Quiet introspection with serious intent can usually uncover the reasons for using food as a drug to silence emotions.

We will look at two of the most common emotional causes, beginning with high stress.

You have probably heard both of the statements: “I am a stress eater,” and “I can’t eat, I am too stressed out.” These accurately describe the two primary effects that stress has on people. It either causes them to under eat, or over eat. The majority of people overeat and the foods they choose are typically salty, sugary sweet, and/or full of saturated fats.

Some people know when they are stressed and are completely aware that they are stress eating. For others, the overeating is almost unconscious.

Stress can be caused by job, family, relationships, or a multitude of other things. Living on overload all the time (too many things to do, too many deadlines, too many obligations and responsibilities, never enough time) causes a high level of the hormone Cortisol to be released into the body. This leads to cravings of high calorie foods that are conveniently available day and night at the local fast-food drive-thru.

Becoming fully aware of eating habits when stressed is the first step to dealing with this emotional issue. Then, planning ahead for those times and choosing to eat healthier foods rather than overloading on empty-calorie foods that not only cause weight gain, but are dangerous to general health. .

The second emotional factor that may be driving overeating is a life-long habit of using food for comfort. A significant part of our enculturation is connected to food.

Most people have eating habits rooted in childhood that still control the way they eat, which is where the concept of “comfort foods” originated.  It may be macaroni and cheese, beef stew, or warm cookies and milk. Those kinds of foods from childhood remind us of a time when we felt safe and loved. They bring comfort and a feeling of love.

When you are sad, lonely, discouraged, or feeling any strong emotion, you may turn to food for comfort. If this is a deeply ingrained habit, it is important to redefine ways to find comfort and love to something healthier such as a nice hot cup of tea and honey, a hot bath, a massage, or taking a long quiet walk.

Also, think about all of your activities – do most of your social interactions involve food?  If so, make a change and start offering new ideas to spend time with friends that do not involve food – or at least, make food a secondary component, rather than the primary one. For example – start hiking, dancing, rock climbing, road tripping, etc.  .

Once you identify the issues/situations that are causing you to over eat, and/or to eat unhealthy foods most of the time, you will be able to make a conscious decision to stop the mindless eating that has been your norm.

Making significant changes in your eating patterns is much more difficult than breaking any other type of habit (or addiction) – and unhealthy foods can be an addiction. You have to eat to live – so you cannot simply stop eating. As a result, you have to find a way to eat well to live well, rather than eat to fill an emotional void.

There are a few things you can do that will help overcome your emotional need to binge on the wrong foods.

•    Clean out Your Pantry and Frig – get rid of all the unhealthy “go-to” snacks that you grab when you must have something to eat. Fill it with healthy foods without all the sugar, fats, and additives. .

•    Find Substitutes – Replace the chips and Coke with sliced crispy apples sprinkled with sea salt. This will give you the crunchy satisfaction plus the salt you crave; but, in a much healthier form. Plus, it is highly unlikely that you will eat too many apples – unlike the challenge of stopping after a few chips. Another choice is a handful of raw almonds that are not only filling and crunchy; they also help quell the sweet craving.

•    Build a Support System – Find someone you can talk to when you are dealing with an unwavering drive to go on a binge. It can be a friend, a counselor, or a mentor – anyone that will listen and distract you until the urge to eat subsides. This must be someone who actually supports your desire to change and will not offer to take you to McDonald’s to talk. The best kind of person is someone who understands what you are going through – possibly has been through it her/himself.

•    Keep a Success Journal – Track your successes. Every time you resist the temptation to stop at Dunkin Donuts or Wendy’s and either choose not to eat, or pick something healthier – write it down. Also write down all the healthy choices you made for breakfast, lunch, dinner – and snacks.  At the end of the day – review your successes – even if it is only one small success – that is a step in the right direction.  Focus on what you want to happen, rather than on what you do not want.

•    Move Your Body – Thirty minutes of daily exercise – even walking – helps with stress relief, controlling weight, reducing cravings; plus lessening risk for lung and heart disease.  Along with the exercise, be sure to stay hydrated. Use water and exercise as a way to diffuse the cravings. When you feel the urge to eat – take a nice slow drink of cool water. If the craving persists, take a brisk walk, or blast your favorite music and dance! The rush of endorphins from the exercise will help reduce the cravings and make you feel much better.

High Stress Slows Down Your Brain

High Stress Creates Brain Fob
Image by B-D-S@StockFresh

Are there times when you have trouble remembering someone’s name, even someone you have known for a long time?

Do you go into a room to do something, but once you get there you forget what you wanted in the first place?

Have you had difficulty remembering exactly how old you are?

Forgetting the little things, having temporary memory lapses, feeling confused or out of sorts can be irritating and embarrassing.

Brain Fog May Be the Culprit

When you live with high stress levels day in and day out, it can wreak havoc on your body and mind.  Brain fog is a common result of chronic stress.

Your body increases the production of a hormone called cortisol in order to cope – it maintains homeostasis in your body. It also aids in the short-term memory functions in your brain and contributes to the fight or flight response caused by stress or fear.

But, if your body produces too much on a regular basis, it can cause memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and decreasing your ability to learn new things.

Do Something About It

If you are living with chronic stress, it is time to  take action!

You may be thinking,  “Sure, that would be great, if only I could.”

It may seem like the stress you have is unavoidable and… it may very well be. Stress at work can seem impossible to alleviate. But, you  can learn to manage it. If you don’t, it will continue to take its toll.

An important step is to find ways to relax and enjoy peaceful down times when you are not at work.

Start Moving . . . 

Exercise is a great stress combatant.

It produces endorphins, a feel-good chemical reaction in your brain that leads to a natural high, which relieves stress and produces a sense of well-being.  (BTW – a good belly laugh and chili peppers also stimulate endorphin production.)

Choose your relaxation techniques wisely. They should be good for your mind and body.  Drinks with friends may take the load off briefly, but in the long run, they worsen the effects of your stress.

Consider the following positive, healthy ways to relax:

  • Daily meditation
  • Treat yourself to a weekly massage
  • Walk on the beach/hike in the mountains/drive in the country
  • Practice yoga or tai-chi
  • Have frequent heart-to-heart talks with a close friend
  • Watch a good movie that makes you laugh out loud
  • Learn to live in the moment and appreciate all the good in your life
  • Develop an attitude of gratitude.

I challenge you to implement at least one new practice each month that will lower your stress levels to ensure long-lasting mental clarity.

I know you can do it!

Related Article:  Man’s Best Friend


Overcoming Obstacles when Learning to Meditate

Overcoming obstacles is one of the biggest challenges when learning to meditate. There is always a learning curve when you start something new, and learning how to meditate is no different. There are some common obstacles that will have to be overcome in order to be successful.

Trouble Focusing

The biggest obstacle is often your own mind. The mind is always working. One thought passes and another immediately takes it place. There are thousands of pieces of data churning in your brain, making it difficult to focus.

There are four main things that distract you, cause your mind to race, and make focusing difficult.

  1. Your list of things to do is ever present in your mind. Most people have two active lists – personal (family) and business. There is internal pressure to get everything done. (Your mind is telling you that you don’t have time to meditate.)
  2. You are heavily stressed or have recently experienced some kind of personal trauma.
  3. You are worried, anxious or fearful about one or many things.
  4. There are too many distractions around you – children, TV, road noise, electric lawn mowers, barking dogs, etc.

Good news! There are ways to deal with each one:

  1. Things to do – Remind yourself  that meditation doesn’t take long, and as soon as you are finished, you will take care of things.
  2. Dealing with stress and trauma  –  Use the following exercise before  you begin to meditate:In your mind’s eye, see yourself opening a large empty box. With your hands – gently lift the trauma or stress from your mind and place it in the box and close the lid. Then, set the box aside. I know this may sound strange, but it does work. I have used it many times.
  3. Dealing with anxiety or problems that are worrying you – Use mindful deep breathing before you begin to meditate.  As you breathe let the concerns go and tell yourself that you will look at the issue(s) again when you are finished meditating.  (Mindful deep-breathing exercises help you calm the mind and release emotional stress from your body before you begin to meditate.)
  4. Distractions –  The ideal, of course, is to find a quiet place that does not have distractions, or that muffles the noise to the point that you can tune it out. For example: It is easier to tune out a neighbor who is mowing his lawn than it is to tune out a dog barking in the same room.) Enlist the support of your family – ask them to help you with 15 minutes of quiet time, or meditate when everyone is still asleep (early morning, late evening).

Finding the Time

Until you are convinced of the benefits you will enjoy as a result of meditating, you may struggle with the feeling that you “do not have time to meditate.” As I have said before, you always have time to do the things you want to do. But, if this is an obstacle for you, look for “down times” that you can fill with meditation.  For example, use the time while you are waiting for your appointment in the doctor’s office – or waiting for the kids after school.

In those “unoccupied moments” you can practice simple breathing exercises that help you relax and move into the quiet, still place inside. You can also do this when you are doing chores like vacuuming – or exercise like running, walking, or using a treadmill – none of which requires a lot of focus

Lack of Self-Discipline

A common obstacle is a lack of self-discipline. Without the ability to stay with it until you realize the benefits, you will not develop the habit of meditating. A new habit takes twenty-one days to solidify.

When you decide to start meditating – do so with a 21-day full commitment to the process. Give yourself permission to stick with it for twenty-one days. If you can do that and practice everyday (with full intent), at the end of three weeks, meditating will not only be a habit, you will look forward to doing it.

One thing that can help you stay with it is to find help.  It could be very beneficial for you to work with guided meditation at first.  You may want to consider working with Tom Cronin, The Stillness Project,  personally through one of his workshops.