Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is My Desk Job Actually Killing Me?

I grew with friends who had parents that were cops and firemen…jobs that truly involve real, palpable danger! Everyone in my family put on suits and headed off to work in some shiny office building – what dangers did they worry about? Maybe the occasional paper cut? True to form that is where I have ended up; sitting in front of a computer behind a desk ALL day long. Now I must admit I have long worried about what staring at a computer screen all day might do to my eyes (I now wear glasses; although most of my family is practically blind so I am grateful I lasted into my 30s before having any issues) and we have all seen coworkers with the wrist braces due to carpal tunnel, but in general I have never been all that worried about how my job may be impacting my health.
However I recently read an article entitled “Why Your Desk Job Is Slowly Killing You.” It seems that for many of us who sit at a computer 8+ hours a day, this can have detrimental effects on our bodies, even if you exercise regularly outside of work. Previously these people were considered “active,” however now we are more accurately characterized as an "exercising couch potato.”1 Really??!! Apparently our bodies are not meant for sitting and that even if they adapt to a more sedentary lifestyle, we decrease our ability to walk, run, jump, etc. Some studies have indicated that it actually shortens our lifespan…..sitting is now up there with other risk factors like smoking, excessive drinking, etc. Maybe I shouldn’t be so grateful to still have my job given this awful economy?? Although without my job, that is apparently killing me, I would likely not be able to afford health insurance or all that oh so healthy organic, hormone-chemical free food that is supposed to be good for me!!
The Harvard Business Review recently published an article calling “Sitting is the Smoking of Our Generation.”2 It’s no secret that our poor diet, particularly due to unhealthy addiction to fast and processed foods and a more sedentary lifestyle had led to astronomical obesity rates in this country, along with many other deadly diseases. We all know that we should be moving around a lot more than we do. I get downright antsy at work and by the time I leave the office I don’t even want to think about sitting down again; this often helps rally me for the gym. Even when I am at home I am usually walking around when I am on the phone or standing at my computer. A few months ago I was suffering with horrible neck pain. Now I am sure a lot had to do with work being particularly frustrating and stressful at the time (I like many people carry all my stress in my neck and shoulders), but I am positive sitting hunched over my desk for hours at a time was not helping the situation.
Some interesting (and SCARY) statistics:
2Long periods of sitting slows the metabolism; after just 1 hour of sitting the production of enzymes that burn fat has been shown to decline by as much as 90%. Research shows that this lack of physical activity is directly tied to 6% of the impact for heart disease, 7% for type 2 diabetes and 10% for breast and colon cancer. The death rate associated with obesity in the US is now 35 million - compare that to tobacco which is only 3.5 million! The New York Times reported on a study published in 2011, which found that for each additional hour of TV a person sat and watched per day, the risk of dying rose by 11%. In that same article, a doctor is quoted as saying that excessive sitting, which he defines as nine hours a day, is a lethal activity!!

But what do you do? If your job is in an office, you likely don’t have the luxury of quitting and doing something else. I know I don’t! And with the advent of technology, we don’t even have to use our biceps to pick up the phone and call someone or god forbid walk down the hall to meet with someone in person! I seriously have people at work that I can see across the floor while sitting at my desk, that would rather chat me than get up off their butt to come ask me a question! How many times have I gone to a conference for a meeting, as I love getting away from my desk, to be the only fool sitting there because everyone else dialed in from their desks?
I read a suggestion by James Levine, a well know obesity expert, that people with sedentary jobs should get up for 10 minutes every hour.3 Nice work if you can get it, but most of us don’t have the ability to take a 10 minute break every hour…that’s a significant chunk of productive work time! I’d rather get in, get my work done and go home to do something fun with that 90 minutes! (He also suggests a treadmill desk (which he coincidently invented), but I am not even getting into how unrealistic that idea is!)

Turns out a few simple things can help:
1) Take the stairs rather than the elevator
2) If you can bike or walk to work. Or get off the subway one stop earlier (for you drivers…park your car farther away from the office door)
3) Stand up as much as possible; stand when answering the phone or walk around the office if you use a headset or speaker phone
4) Take breaks as often as you can, even if it’s just a quick lap around your floor or an extra walk around the block when you are grabbing lunch. I sip on water all day long figuring my bladder will force me to get up even if I don’t think about it!
5) Try to do the same this outside of the office; get up and walk around during commercial breaks rather than checking email (or even better do some jumping jacks, sit-ups or even some gentle stretching...commercial breaks are longer than you think!!!) 
Those few minutes here or there that you can move around a bit really add up and make a difference over time.
More interesting info:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Fabulous Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Ok so admittedly fall is long gone, but pumpkin is one of my favorite flavors and I love it all year long! I have mentioned my obsession with breakfast, so I am crazy about this simple and delicious baked pumpkin oatmeal. And considering the freezing temperatures we dealing with here in the Northeast, it is definitely a reason to get out of bed!

Makes 1-2 Servings (depending on how hungry you are)

  • 1/2 cup regular rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tbsp honey (can use alternate sweetener)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease ramekin(s)
  • In a small bowl mix oats, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice and salt
  • In a medium bowl mix together the pumpkin puree, almond mix, vanilla extract and honey
  • Add dry ingredients to mix wet ingredients and stir until combined
  • Add any additional ingredients (i.e. dried fruit, nuts, sunflower seeds, etc)
  • Pour into greased ramekin(s) and bake for 18-22 minutes

I often make them the night before and just heat up for a few minutes in the toaster oven in the morning....just as yummy reheated!

Based on recipe from: The Oatmeal Artist

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Contentious Coffee

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There seems to be an ongoing controversy around coffee. One day the news is telling me its killing me and the next day it’s supposedly protecting me against deadly cancer. Which is it?! There is an overwhelming amount of information out there on coffee, with seemingly good arguments both for and against it. For every cleanse or detox I have ever tried or read about, coffee is always on the list of things to give up completely. I spent a weekend at a well-known yoga and wellness center in western Massachusetts and was told by one of the instructors that drinking my regular store-bought coffee was tantamount to drinking poison! Really? Aren’t we maybe being a tad bit dramatic?

I will grant you, not all coffees are created equal and I do now buy higher quality beans, which I grind myself, but what about all the studies that tout all the benefits of drinking coffee? (Assume you know I am talking about plain coffee minus the milk and sugar - none of those grande mocha frappucinos with whipped cream!) A number of research studies have shown evidence that coffee can protect us from deadly diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's. Coffee is chock full of antioxidants, which considering how much we Americans LOVE our coffee, it is one of the greatest sources of antioxidants in the American diet!1 Coffee also contains chlorogenic acid, which has been shown to reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes.2

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Why Are We So Hard On Ourselves?

Gratitude journals seem to be all the rage now, especially with the start of a new year. I must admit I truly believe there is something to it. In the crazy, go-go-go world we live in, we rarely slow down long enough to appreciate the good things in life, unless it’s something massive like getting pregnant or a getting a hard earned promotion at work. Sometimes a random stranger holding a door for you and give you an unexpected smile, can really give you a boost! Unfortunately, we often get very caught up in the negative; even the most infinitesimal things can set us off. Keeping a gratitude journal not only focuses us on the good things, but also sets us on a mindset to seek out those positive things throughout the day, no matter how small they may be.
Although I have kept a gratitude journal on and off for a quite a while, I have recently taken a slightly different approach to this. Although I am much healthier than I have ever been, I too have times where I still struggle to stay on track. Like many people, especially women, I am an emotional eater. I have a bad day and I often get stuck in it, my eating habits go out the window (hey I already had 2 cookies why not eat half the box….) and instead of going to the gym I opt for a nice glass of wine (or maybe 2, 3, etc.) I think worse than actually going off the rails, is the self-imposed guilt after that fact. I beat myself up for days and vow to never do it again! Let’s face it…I am human and we all have bad days – I am going to have days where maybe I overindulge! Why do we feel the need to punish ourselves? The constant guilt does nothing to help you; in fact it often sabotages you. I mean, if I already feel bad, continuing to beat myself up only further depresses me, which is what led to the devouring of the cookies in the first place! It’s not exactly motivating!
I have always been someone who is very hard on myself; I am type A through and through. Trust me when I tell you that no one could say or do anything that is harder on me than I am on myself. When I was a kid the worst possible thing my mom could say to me was that she was disappointed in something that I did…punish me, yell at me, take away the TV or honestly I think there were times I would rather be spanked (not that I ever was…my parents were not spankers), but being a disappointment was the worst! Even as I got older, if I got a 98 on an exam, I would torture myself over those 2 missed points and why I got them wrong! It’s so twisted! I got a 98….HELLO that is freakin’ awesome!
So now instead of focusing on every “wrong” thing I do each day, I keep a “good things” journal. Every day I write down a couple of things that I did that were really good; either for me or for someone else. Even on those bad days when I can’t stop myself from grabbing a couple cookies I know I shouldn’t of had…instead of spending the day beating myself up over it and vowing to starve myself for the rest of the day, I acknowledge the fact that maybe that was not the best choice, but hey at least I didn’t devour the entire plate! In fact, stopping that negative thought in its tracks is usually that thing that stops me from eating 10 more cookies!
So tonight when you go home, instead of focusing on everything that went wrong or maybe did not quite go as planned…jot down a couple really good things you did today. Being healthy is a lifelong path, you are gonna take some side trips and that’s okay. More importantly don’t underestimate the importance of our emotional health on our physical health. So what good things did YOU do today?

Heels Had To Be Invented By A Man…

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So despite the fact that I am actually fairly tall, I love my heels! I pretty much wear heels every day for work and of course for a night out on the town…but as I get older I notice that they definitely bother my feet more and I can’t get away with those cheapy shoes anymore. You know these things had to be created by a man, as it’s just not natural to squeeze you toes in those pointy tips and I can’t believe standing continuously on your tippy toes for hours on end is a good thing, but they do look good! Heels make you feel sexy and how many fashion magazines tout that wearing heels will make you look slimmer by elongating the silhouette? Every man in my life has always loved me in heels (minus most of the men in family, I seriously got the only tall gene in the entire family…I tower over them ALL!), but of course they are not the ones that have to wear them!
That said there are significant impacts on the body if you regularly wear high heels. Beside the general increased risk of falling (I am always amazed by those women who effortlessly walk down the street in like 4 inch heels….so not me!), they can cause a wide variety of problems from back pain, knees problems and muscle strain, particularly related to the lower leg. Wearing high heels every day can shorten calf muscles by up to 13% causing lower leg stiffness and limiting the ankle’s range of motion.1
I still love my heels and unfortunately I do not work someplace where comfy, arch supportive shoes are an option. I do however try to wear some cute flats a couple days a week or swap out the heels for more comfortable shoes in between meetings. However I have noticed some issues more recently, which is likely related to my high heel addiction. I definitely have less flexibility in my ankle; for example if I am doing a squat or a lunge it is very difficult for me to get low without my heels rising off the ground. I have also been getting more foot cramps and regularly feeling a mild pulling in the back of my calf, evening with regularly stretching before and after working out.
In speaking to a trainer at my gym, she recommended a simple exercise to help loosen some of the tightness in my ankle and calf. She suggested doing a rolling massage on my feet using a tennis ball. She said that the fascia on the bottom the feet are connected to calf and that rolling your foot back and forth on a tennis ball a few times a week would help to loosen and stretch this fascia, thereby releasing some of the tension I was feeling in my calf. There are also some cheap foot massage balls on Amazon that work well too. I have been doing it regularly for a couple weeks now and I definitely do notice a difference. She also said regular pedicures have the same effect, but I opted for the girl on a budget approach which seems to be working just fine.
1 On muscle, tendon and high heels. Csapo, R., Maganaris, C.N., Seyennes, O.R., et al. Institute for Biomedical Research into Human Movement and Health, Manchester Metropolitan University, Faculty of Science and Engineering, John Dalton Building, Chester Street, Manchester, UK. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 2010 Aug 1; 213(Pt 15):2582-8. []

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Oh So YUMMY Millet

So as I mentioned in my previous post, one of my goals for this month is to experiment with a new grain. I am a little obsessed with breakfast, which is ironic as for years I never ate breakfast. However after trying every diet under the sun, all extolling the virtues of eating breakfast, I finally gave in a few years ago. What started as me finding the least calorie option available just to make sure I ate something has now a meal I crave and wake up looking forward to! I am constantly searching for fun recipes, but now have discovered that grains serve as a fantastic base for a healthy and hearty breakfast. So with this in mind I explored the options of millet for breakfast. 
Check out this recipe for a delicious Millet Breakfast Casserole1

Monday, January 7, 2013

Just Breathe

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So who amongst is not stressed? Day-to-day life can be demanding between school, work, family, etc. Have you ever seen anyone looking Zen during their daily commute? Whether you’re sitting in traffic or fighting your way into a crowded subway car, just getting to work can set your stress levels on overdrive before you even get there. Add to that the current state of the world; unrest and violence in multiple parts of the world , continuing fiscal doom, our elected officials acting like 5 year olds that don’t know how to play nice in the sandbox or how even normally “safe” places like schools and movies theaters don’t even provide the respite they use to. Just watching the news is enough to stress anyone out!

I always love the idea of being one of those people who could mediate and do yoga for hours. I see all these yoga teachers who just scream Zen existence with their gentle movements and soft, soothing voices. When I do actually take a yoga class I feel amazing after, but I have a really hard time relaxing and quieting the mind. Don’t even get me started on trying to meditate! Disaster! I am the typical New Yorker who only knows how to go at 100mph in everything I do – slowing down is just not in my vocabulary! I can’t lie, there is a big part of me that does love my “New Yorkness” and would not want to be any other way (I know you non-New Yorkers think we are all insane…and even we know we are a little crazy…), however being on constant overdrive does wear on the body.

Fortunately there are some, simple ways I have found to find my version of Zen, even if only for a New York minute. The power of breath is an amazing thing. I have heard this for years and in general just pooh-poohed it, but then I started reading some stuff by Dr. Andrew Weil and he inspired me to give it a shot. He recommended the following simple 4-7-8 breathing exercise1:

· Inhale for 4 counts
· Hold breath for 7 counts
· Exhale fully for 8 counts (squeeze out as much of the air in your lungs that you can!)

I started out by repeating this 4 times every morning and now have increased it to 10 times. Although I have managed to slow down my morning routine a bit, so I am not running around like a crazy person dressing and shoveling my breakfast in my mouth all that the same time, weekday mornings are anything but relaxing. Taking that few minutes a day really calms me before I walk out the door. You know your day is going to be what it is, but I always feel like starting out on the right foot helps. We have all had those days where everything goes wrong; you oversleep, your shower runs out of cold water, you get halfway to work and realize you forgot something, etc…you know it is all downhill from there…

Those few minutes of conscious breathing have now become a part of my daily routine. And the great thing about it is you can do it anywhere! Even at work, when I am so frustrated at times I want to rip my hair out, instead of sitting there and fuming I go to the bathroom for a few minutes and just breathe. Now I will admit there are days I literally am in there 10 times (my colleagues must think I have the tiniest bladder on the planet!), but it does work! And I do think it trains your body to more easily get to that relaxed state when you most need it.

We don’t have control over a lot of things, but there are small things we can do that really do provide an incredible benefit. Hey if this crazy New Yorker can do it, so can you!

See below links for more information on stress reduction through conscious breathing and the impact of stress on the body:

1Dr. Weil: Breathing Exercise

Dr. Weil: Art and Science of Breathing

Stress and Adrenal Fatigue

Stress Can Shorten Your Life Span

Super food Alert: Have you “Camu’ed Today?

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I recently have been reading about super foods. These foods are nutrient dense and are believed to provide significant health benefits to the body. There seems to be an endless number of lists from various experts, which include more common things like salmon, blueberries and green leafy vegetables (who would ever think kale would become all the rage?!) and ones we have come to know like acai and goji berries, but there are some less common ones that are worth exploring.
Camu is one that I recently discovered. It is a berry, primarily grown in the rainforests of Peru, which contains unusually high levels of vitamin C. In fact it has the highest concentration of vitamin C of any berry. In similar weight comparisons, the camu berry provides nearly 50 times the vitamin C than your everyday orange.1
The health benefits of vitamin C cover a wide range of areas from preventing cancer and heart disease, and promoting eye health, to curing the common cold. Vitamin C packs a powerful immune boosting punch, making it even more important during the winter cold and flu season.
A nasty cold bug has made its way through my office and my entire family. Although I thought that I had avoided it unscathed, it finally caught up to me just this past weekend. So I reverted to my usual routine of making myself rest (such a challenge for me!), lots of broth based soup, juicing as much as I can and tea with honey. However this time I added some camu camu powder to my juice and I definitely felt a boost! I only had one really bad day, but woke up the next day feeling like a new woman. The cough is still persisting and I am sniffling, so I can’t say I am fully recovered, but I definitely think the addition of the camu camu powder to my regimen speeded up my recovery. I even managed a spinning class yesterday! I went from not getting off the couch to buzzing around feeling fantastic in 24 hours. I hate being sick, so I figured why not give it a shot…what could be bad about a little vitamin C boost?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Path to Failure is Paved With Good Intentions

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It seems more common then not, that when people set out to make a change they come up with very lofty goals. Particularly this time of year, after weeks of eating and drinking and holiday hoopla, people set a goal to lose weight. Suddenly the gyms are packed, people vow to never eat another cookie and salads are the menu item of choice. It usually last for a few weeks - maybe till Valentine's Day, then inevitably people lose motivation and revert back to old habits.

As I said in my previous post, I am not big on annual resolutions. However, I do believe in setting goals to work towards. Unfortunately I see many of my friends who want to starting working out again, so after not having seen the inside of a gym in many months or even years they set a goal to workout 5 times a week. Now I workout pretty regularly and I can't say I always get to the gym that often. Too often we set unrealistic goals, which only set us up for failure. Then we beat ourselves up for failing and ultimately give up. The key is baby steps...if you want to get back into a gym routine or work off those holiday pounds, maybe set a goal to take 2 cardio classes a week. Not a gym person, maybe set a goal to walk after dinner 3 times a week. Anything is better than nothing and as you add small positive changes to you life, you will be inspired to do more.

I recently started setting new goals each month; just a few (no more than 3). Some people prefer to set a weekly goal. It is whatever works for you.

January Goals:

1. Incorporate strength training into my workout routine twice a week
So after all my holiday partying, I really want to jump start my workout and add, something new to my weekly routine. I have been yoyo-ing back and forth on that last 5 pounds I want to shed and keep off. I need to push through that plateau and find my inner Lara Croft!

2. Experiment with one new grain this month
In my quest to eat better, I have gotten really into cooking. I love quinoa and have found ways to use it for just about every course, but there are so many amazing grains out there. I recently found a breakfast recipe using millet which sounds super yummy so that may be the grain for January...

I will keep you posted on my progress!!!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's "Non-Resolution"

 Empire State Building - New Year's Eve 2012
I never make New Year's resolutions...most are ridiculously unrealistic and rarely are they kept. Every January 2nd there are all these new faces in the gym and by the time Valentine's Day rolls around, they are all but gone and us regulars happily no longer have to fight for a bike in spinning class. But I do feel the new year is like the beginning of a new chapter in your life, so a great time to reassess and set an intention for the year to come. I recently read a quote that truly spoke to me:

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain."

2012 was not my best year and I feel like I spent most of the year hoping it would get better. My intention for 2013 is dance even if it continues to rain, although I truly am confident that the sun will poke it's head out from time to time. I believe we own our destiny and if we put positive vibes out there, we will get good things in return. So I am ready for a fantastic year ahead - give me the best you got 2013!!