Seven Things you need to Know about Pets and Mental Health

Many people often talk about the benefits that they feel from keeping pets, but are there actually any direct links between our animal friends and mental health? The bond between animals and people has always been strong, and no matter how old we are, people of all age can feel the perks of spending time around animals. Pets can reduce mental health problems, alleviate stress and provide companionship for lonely people. Here are seven things to know about pets and mental health.

1: They Reduce Stress

A recent study carried out by Washington University has shown that petting a cat or a dog for just 10 minutes can reduce stress levels. And it’s not just cats and dogs which can help to lower stress levels. Watching an aquarium has also been proven to reduce people’s heart rates and anxiety levels. Studies carried out in the 80’s showed that watching an aquarium helped to reduce anxiety levels by up to 12%. Another studied carried out more recently by Plymouth University and the University of Exeter found that watching fish swimming around in aquariums “led to noticeable reductions in participants blood pressure and heart rate.”

2: Pets Help to Build Habits

Having a pet forces you to get into good routines, which make a great difference for people who have mental health problems. Often people who are struggling with mental health won’t have a routine and can become quite reclusive. Unfortunately this is a self-perpetuating cycle because the less you do the less energy you’ll have. Routines can help to battle depression. Having a certain time which you need to wake up and take your dog for a walk, feed them and take them to classes will help people develop their own routines.

3: Pets Reduce Childhood Anxiety

Prevention is much better than cure, so if we can find a way to raise healthy and happy children, they’ll be less likely to develop mental health illnesses as they reach adulthood. Keeping a pet reduces anxiety in children, as well as giving them other physical benefits, such as being more active through playing with and walking a dog. Children who grow up with pets stand a much better chance at developing into happy and healthy young adults.

4: Pets Increase Self-Esteem

A study carried out by Miami University found than people who owned a pet had higher levels of self-esteem than those who don’t own a pet. While low self-esteem isn’t a mental illness in itself, there are links between people’s confidence and how they think about themselves, and mental health. Building self-esteem is crucial for a positive and happier life. A great way to build self-esteem is to feel loved and accepted, and pets can certainly offer that to their owners.

5: Pet’s Help People to Practice Mindfulness

When you’re spending time with your pet, they seem to have the ability to get rid of all your worries and make it seem like nothing else matters. This is most likely because we are able to be so present and in the moment when we’re talking to and interacting with our pets. When you’re spending time living right in the moment, you don’t have the time to worry about the past or the future. Mindfulness allows people to manage their thoughts and feelings, and therefore helps people to look after their mental health.

6: Pets Support Mental Health Recovery

Researchers have found that keeping a pet can help people to recover from mental health conditions. These pets aren’t limited to fluffy animals which we can stroke, but also birds and fish. Pets help to distract people from their mental health conditions, which allows them to live a more normal life and get on the right path to recovery. Having a pet helps to give people a sense of purpose, a routine, and a sense of being in control. Pets can provide people with unconditional love which is priceless.

7: The Provide Companionship for Lonely People

People feel more needed and wanted when they have a pet that is relying on them for care. When someone who is depressed or has another mental health disability is given the responsibility of caring or another living being, it gives them a sense of purpose and meaning. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a cat or a dog, or even a tank full of fish. Whether the pet can actually interact with their owner is irrelevant. A study in which people suffering with depression were given some crickets, found that after eight weeks, the controlled group who were caring for the crickets were actually less depressed.

Final Thoughts

The links between keeping a pet and mental health are evident. Pets can help to reduce stress levels and encourage independence and self-esteem. If you are suffering with a mental health illness, or know of someone who is, perhaps you should consider a pet!




Resolution Reboot: Ditch the February Funk and Recommit to Your Resolutions

When February rolls around, some of us fist pump the air. “Yay! A whole month with my resolution.” Others (a larger amount, by the way) think, “Ugh. I have already failed.” Here’s the thing: February is a great time to reboot your resolution. In fact, ANY TIME is a great time. There is nothing magical about January 1.

As author and behavioral scientist Daniel Pink shares in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, “imbuing an otherwise ordinary day with personal meaning generates the power to activate new beginnings.”

That means that while January 1 carries a weighty significance as a change catalyst, we really could choose any day as that ideal day for new beginnings. So, why not today?

Here are three common resolution fails, along with reasons why now is the perfect time to start back up.

 

  1. Your gym membership is already gathering dust.

If you were one of the hordes who enthusiastically joined a gym at the beginning of the year, you are far from alone. If you are one who quit going by February 1 (or earlier!), again, far from alone. In fact, one survey found that nearly half of Americans had given up their exercise resolution to hit the gym by the end of January. Some felt judged; others found a gym membership too pricey; and still others couldn’t find the time.

But February is actually a fantastic time to give the gym one more shot—precisely because so many people have abandoned it, thus negating at least one of the reasons mentioned above. Of course a gym can feel intimidating when it’s overly crowded; you can feel as though you’re not getting your money’s worth when every station is in use or you’re turned away from class; and it can be extra hard to fit into your schedule when you have to wait to get a parking spot or time on the machines.

And remember, a gym isn’t the only place to get your sweat on. Temps are starting to climb from the polar freeze of January, and February is a great month to try snow shoeing or ice skating or even a walk outdoors to spot those crocuses pushing through. Or, you could commit to using your Netflix for something other than binge watching and find an exercise video to try.

 

  1. You gave up eating healthfully.

Here’s something that people don’t always realize: Winter fruits and vegetables aren’t always that exciting. In fact, it can be far easier to start a healthy eating plan as you head toward spring and the promise of berries and tomatoes. Alas, we’re not there yet, but you can still make strides in that direction, incorporating frozen fruits into smoothies, or trying a new recipe with a winter veggie, knowing that more choices are around the corner.

And remember that eating well doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even making small changes—forgoing that afternoon vending machine cookie or after-dinner ice cream—can add up to big results when done consistently, and is often far more palatable than making a drastic change that’s hard to sustain.

 

  1. The clutter has piled up—again.

Did you join the Marie Kondo bandwagon? The pressure to decide if your items “spark joy” can be intense. But what many would-be organizers don’t realize is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A better strategy if you want to keep your house a little more organized is to adopt some daily habits that keep clutter at bay. For example:

  • Handle the mail and recycle liberally every day so it doesn’t pile up. (Bonus: You’ll never get hit with a late fee if you take care of paying bills as soon as they come in.)
  • Create a system to deal with jackets, shoes, mittens, etc. You might be surprised at what the calming effect of a clutter-free entry. This change alone can make your house feel less disorganized.
  • Run your dishwashers every night and empty it every morning so dishes don’t pile up in the sink.

There! With these three small changes you’ll be back on track…and you can tackle those drawers and closets at your leisure.

(And if you want to feel a little better about not getting rid of everything in your house, consider this story of a mom who inadvertently gave away one of her son’s mugs, which unfortunately was crammed with cash. No joy there!)




Employee retention: 6 low-cost perks your employees will love

Looking to compete with the firms that can offer on-site chefs and massages? The truth is that most companies can’t afford to offer the perks common among the buzziest names in high tech, and yet while you might already have the basic covered—from health and disability insurance to retirement savings—many employees today are looking for a little “sizzle” in their perk program. In fact, a recent study by recruiting site Glassdoor found that 63 percent of applicants focus on available benefits nearly as much as salary.

The good news is that not every shiny perk has to break the bank. Here are six low- or no-cost perks that your employees will totally love at a price tag that will make you happy, too.

  1. Offer flexible hours. (Cost: Free)

This is frequently the No. 1 perk that employees covet, and the good news is that it is totally free to implement. The key is to make sure that you have an environment that allows for flexible hours to work; i.e. you won’t be sacrificing customer service or inhibiting team meetings. Once you’re figured out if flexible work is appropriate for your team, set some parameters about what’s acceptable and fine tune as needed.

  1. Let your employees bring their pet to work. (Cost: Free to nominal for cleaning fees)

This “pet project” has gained prominence in Corporate America, moving past something that’s critical for those with certain disabilities to a benefit for the entire team. In fact, with more than 80 percent of dog owners claiming their pet provides companionship, love, company and affection, that can translate into more productive workplaces. One survey finds that 88 percent of employees and a corresponding 91 percent of HR directors agree that a pet-friendly workplace leads to improved morale.

Of course you’ll need to make sure no one in your office is allergic, and then set guidelines about only bringing healthy, trained, friendly pets into the office.

  1. Set up a volunteering program (Cost: Free to a small investment in program materials and marketing)

The opportunity to volunteer is important to employees: A Deloitte survey found that nearly 90 percent of employees think that companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better working environment. It can help more than the outside community, too; another study found that 64 percent of respondents agreed that volunteering together strengthens relationships among colleagues.

Talk to your team about a cause that interests them or settle on a few. Maybe you collect mittens during the next cold snap and help landscape a school when spring arrives. The choices are endless.

  1. Create a walking club or other health activity.

Wellness programs have been shown to reduce absenteeism—up to one additional productive day per month per employee, finds one study. But while professional onsite classes or underwriting a fancy gym membership might be out of your budget, any workplace can help facilitate group activities like a walking or hiking club. Check around; you might have someone on staff who would love to lead a lunchtime Cross Fit group or can teach yoga fundamentals.

  1. Brew up better coffee (Cost: Low-cost)

Employees boycotting your coffee in favor of pricey lattes down the street? These side trips add up—not just for your team’s wallet but in lost work time as they continually leave to get their caffeine fix outside your four walls. Rather than offering a watery subpar beverage, invest in a good system that will make café-quality coffee and then stock up on the add-ins your employees prefer, from oat milk to flavored creamer. If you really want to score bonus points, consider ordering in lunch or dinner for teams that are working late now and then. Sometimes the unexpectedness of a perk like that can make it seem even more noteworthy.

  1. Give them their birthday day off. (Cost: No cost – sort of; employees aren’t all that productive on their birthdays anyway!)

Birthdays just aren’t as much fun as when we were kids, when everyone made a big deal over our big day. While you probably do a small staff celebration (and if you don’t, you should!), giving employees their special day as a day off can build incredible goodwill. Naturally you’ll want to put some common-sense rules around it—for example your accounting team lead can’t have April 13 off. But in most cases you can let employees know to make a wise choice on a day that’s around their birthday and use it as they see fit, whether it’s binging on Netflix or riding the Ferris wheel and eating all the ice cream like back in the day.




7 Ways To Save on Commuting Costs – One Will Work For You

The thought of having to pay just to go to work can be annoying, but most of us do. In fact one 2015 survey found that the average American spends $2,600 on their commute.

Certainly all those gas costs, parking fees and tolls can take their toll. If you’re looking to reduce your outlay, check out these seven ways to help reduce your commuting costs.

  1. Figure out the optimum time to commute.

Sometimes we can’t just waltz into work whenever we want, or we might have a daycare schedule to work around, but if you do have a modicum of flexibility, you might be surprised at the difference in your commute that even 30 minutes or so can make. And less time on the road translates into burning less fuel – not to mention patience.

Given the amount of flexibility your personal schedule allows, test the waters by going in at different times or use an app like Waze to scope out various commute times to see what’s best. You might see a significant difference by leaving your house earlier – and many downtown garages even offer you a better rate if you park before a certain time. Use the extra time to get work done in a quiet office or even just grab a relaxing breakfast and catch up on some reading. You also might find that evening commutes dissipate around 6:30 or so; you could use that time to hit your office’s fitness center or run some errands.

  1. Optimize your route.

And speaking of traffic apps, never leave home without one working for you. Even if you are convinced that a certain route is fastest, anything can happen to cause an unexpected traffic jam on a given day. Best to know what streets to avoid before you’re stuck in the crawl.

  1. Take public transportation.

Seems obvious, right? But you might not have realized that in many cities, public options have improved from just the slow city bus. Many areas have spent big bucks on light rail or other choices that can get you where you’re going even faster and more comfortably. And if you’re in one of the many urban areas that offer scooters for public rent, you can cover that “last mile” even quicker.

  1. Check into any benefits for commuting reimbursement.

Many times your onboarding process might have been so hectic that you didn’t take the time to fully understand all the benefits available to you. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2018 Employee Benefits study, about 13 percent of companies offer a transit subsidy and 12 percent offer a parking subsidy so make sure you’re not inadvertently forgoing it.

  1. Get the best price on gas.

With gas prices on the rise, you want to get the best value you can. Some stations seems to adjust depending on the day of the week, so watch your pump to see if there’s any pattern and fill up when it’s cheapest. Also consider using an app like GasBuddy that crowdsources gas prices so you can make sure you’re getting the best deal around you.




Summer-proofing Your Exercise Routine: Six Tips for Fun and Safety

The heat is on – and that can make exercise challenging. However, there’s no reason to put your exercise habit on hold just because of the heat. It is important, however, to take some precautions to keep it pleasurable – and safe. Check out our suggestions to feel the burn, but not get burned.

 

Realize that exercising in the heat can be dangerous.

First, never downplay the risks of exercising in the heat – potential side effects include heat exhaustion and heat stroke if you aren’t careful.

 

Stay hydrated.

This is the No. 1 way to stave off the dangers mentioned in the first point. Hydration is important for sweat, which we sometimes consider a bad thing, but it’s actually the body’s natural mechanism for cooling off. That’s why you should drink plenty of water before and during your workout and then drink up throughout the day. You also can up your water intake with foods like watermelon and cucumber that have a high water content – and are refreshing, to boot.

One way to determine if you are drinking enough when exercising in the summer is to weigh yourself before and after a workout. Experts recommenddrinking 150% of the water weight you lost during the workout over the next few hours to replenish.

 

Check the forecast.

Before you head out, check the temperature to make sure it’s not too hot, but also look into the air quality. Sometimes when it’s hot, the air quality can deteriorate, which can lead to headaches or lung and breathing problems. Your town might have its own updated site, or check out AirNow, a service of the Environmental Protection Agency.

And don’t forget your sunscreenif you’re exercising outdoors.

 

Time your workouts carefully.

If you’ve never been a morning person, there’s nothing like a hot summer day to turn you into one. Many exercisers find that mornings are ideal to exercise, for the cooler temps of course, but also the pleasant byproduct of a gorgeous sunrise. And of course, if you take care of exercise first thing in the morning, you won’t be tempted to slough it off as your day gets busy.

On the flip side, some people prefer an evening workout. Just make sure you are exercising with a buddy someplace well-lighted and safe, if your session keeps you out in the dark.

And whether you’re enjoying the cool mornings or evenings, make sure you are wearing reflective clothing for safety if you are anywhere near cars.

 

Take it to the water.

Summer is the ideal time to take the plunge into learning a new water sport. Whether you want to try your hand at stand-up paddle boardingfor a core workout, kayaking for an upper body session or water skiing for an all-over burner, a new sport can keep your workout fresh – and is liable to work muscles you didn’t even know you had.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a good old pool workout if you have access. Swimming laps is a relaxing, low-impact cardio workout, and you can up the burn by doing any exercises you would do on land in the water for extra resistance, from running to arm circles.

 

Take it inside.

If you belong to a gym, summer is the perfect time to take that bike ride to a stationary peddler or your run to a treadmill. You might even learn something about your effort and stride when you pay attention to the machine’s feedback. Working with a machine also allows you to control the intensity of your workout, so throw in some hills or intervals that you might not normally encounter.

It’s also a great time to try a new class. Check out your gym’s offerings and give Zumba or spin a whirl, if you’ve never tried it. Shaking up your routine is not only more interesting, but can yield a huge fitness boost.

If you don’t belong to a gym, try the same tactic with an exercise program or DVD. Try a new workout you find online or on your cable package, or download a fitness regime that you can do on your own. Many boot camp style workouts require nothing more than your own body weight, and maybe a mat and some light weights so you can bust out those moves anytime, anywhere.

 

No matter what strategies you want to try, the important thing to remember is that it’s important to maintain your fitness program even during the lazy days of summer. Your body will thank you for it, through increased physical and mental fitness.




6 Ways to Protect Your Lower Back From Injury

Man holding his backBack pain is one of the most widespread issues in modern American life. Experts estimate that eight out of ten Americans will experience back pain in their lives. 

According to the Integrated Benefits Institute’s Health and Productivity Benchmarking 2016, musculoskeletal disorders (aka pain in the back and joints — especially the hips, knees and shoulders) account for the biggest portion of long-term disability claims — a total of 29 percent in 2016. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) meanwhile writes that musculoskeletal disorders are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time.

Here are six ways you can protect your lower back against injury — and the negative effects such an injury could impact on your ability to work and earn an income: 

Exercise Your Core

There are many real-world benefits of building up well-balanced and resilient core muscles. There is a wide range of exercises you can do to strengthen your core, such as incorporating front planks and leg lowering. If you can’t see yourself doing front planks and want to start with something simple, aim to go out for more walks. A walk nourishes the spinal structure.

Watch Your Posture

All the tiny habits we engage in every day can lead to big effects down the line. If you work in an office, check your posture at your desk. Follow these steps from the Cleveland Clinic to make sure you’re sitting with an optimum posture. 

Next, analyze your chair. Is it designed for a six foot two soul but you’re five foot four? Do your feet even rest on the floor? Ergonomics means “fitting a job to a person”, and an ergonomic chair is designed to perfectly fit with your body. By using a chair that allows you to adjust your posture according to your exact height and particular desk setup, you’ll lessen muscle fatigue, increase your productivity, and be far more healthy. It’s worth the time to investigate and correct your posture.

Walk Frequently

Regardless of what sort of chair you sit in, make sure you build up a habit of getting up and moving about frequently. The Mayo Clinic writes that the impacts of movement at work are profound; even leisurely movement with frequent breaks from one’s seat has been proven to have great impacts. You’ll burn more calories by doing this, and as the Mayo Clinic writes: “The muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you’re standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.”

Travel With Care

If you drive a lot, tweak your posture while behind the wheel. A recent study in the U.K. found that a massive 75 percent of drivers were suffering from back pain caused by driving. A physiotherapist who worked on the study offered the following advice:

  • Keep the seat as close to the wheel as is comfortable, so you can easily reach the wheel with your elbows relaxed.
  • Adjust your backrest recline so it supports your spine without leaning too far back.
  • Ensure all mirrors are adjusted before you start your journey.
  • Build in rest stops every one-two hours for longer journeys, to stretch your legs.

Life Objects Carefully

Spend a moment to brush up on the best techniques for lifting heavy objects: keep your feet shoulder width apart, squat down rather than bending, and maintain a good posture with a straight back throughout. But don’t go too far, and avoid lifting all objects. Fiona Wilson, an Associate Professor and Chartered Physiotherapist at Trinity College Dublin recently argued that, “People are becoming less active and more overweight, which means they are becoming less fit and less able to tolerate the activity and loading for which we were designed. Recent expert advice highlights that the best way to prevent back pain is with exercise.”

Live Healthily

A healthy lifestyle, with a good diet, lots of water, and frequent exercise shores up your body’s strength and fitness. Watch your diet and try to keep the extra weight off — and be sure to get enough sleep. By building a preventative approach to your back’s health where you watch your posture and engage in healthy habits of exercise, eating, and rest, you’ll be able to build up your body’s best possible defenses against back pain.

That said, you won’t be able to prevent accidents that come out of the blue — so make sure you have an income protection plan in place in the event that you need to miss work for a prolonged period due to a back injury. A combination of health, exercise, and a solid financial plan will make you that much more ready to react to whatever life throws your way. 




4 Ways to Make Your Commute Healthier and Happier

Man driving car. Working Americans are spending a lot of time behind the wheel. The U.S. Census reports that in 2016 the average American commute was 26 minutes each way. That’s nearly an hour a day on the road, five hours a week, 20 hours a month. What effect does all this time in the driver’s seat have on your body and mind?

Studies show that commuting can be very challenging for your health from its physical toll to increased stress and anxiety. Here are four ways you can reduce the negative effects and build a more healthy and happy commute:

Exercise

Even though we may be moving at 70 miles an hour down fast-moving highways, driving is largely sedentary — and one of its biggest impacts is on our physical activity. Studies have shown that a longer commuting distance adversely affects people’s physical activity and makes them more likely to be overweight and have poor cardiovascular and metabolic health.

Overcome this by finding creative ways to infuse exercise into your daily life. Take a walk during lunch time or during a break. If you sit at a desk a lot during the day, get up every hour or so and walk around the office, stretching your legs and moving your muscles. Consider waking earlier to add some physical exercise into your routine. 

Watch Your Posture

Another major negative side effect of regular driving is neck and back pain. One Gallup survey in 2010 showed that one in three employees with a commute of 90 minutes or more reported neck or back pain. A more recent study by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) showed that 14 percent of drivers experienced neck or back pain. Musculoskeletal issues are the leading cause of disability insurance claims in the U.S., and a bad driving posture can contribute to your risk of this. 

Your best line of defense is to actively check how you are sitting in the vehicle, and shift to the best possible posture. The BCA report includes a list of great recommendations on how to reduce neck pain while driving, such as aligning your steering wheel, mirrors, and adapting your back posture. There are also various subtle exercises you can do while you drive (butt clenches anyone?) Although adapting your posture and the way you hold the wheel can feel distinctly uncomfortable at first, keep practicing and it’ll soon start to feel perfectly normal. Your future body will thank you. 

Explore Flexible Hours

There is a psychological impact to our commute — and not just the road rage that flares up. A large-scale 2017 study in the United Kingdom by VitalityHealth, the University of Cambridge, RAND Europe and Mercer, found that those with longer commuting distances were 33 percent more likely to suffer from depression, and 12 percent more likely to report multiple aspects of work-related stress. 

A lot of this is arising from something called “time pressure”. This is when we feel that we don’t have enough time to get things done — for example, the commuting time is eating into family time or exercise time. Address this by talking to your employer about options for flexible work hours. Can you come in and leave a little later to miss the morning and evening rush hours? Or can some of your time be spent working remotely from home to allow more yoga, exercise or family time? Show them the data: 2.7 million more Americans were doing this in 2017 than they were a decade ago. 

Change Your Perspective

If there’s nothing you can do about shifting the time of your commute, consider transforming the very way that you view that time spent in the car. Could you use it as an opportunity for self-improvement? Perhaps you can practice mindfulness during the commute, or listen to audiobooks or podcasts to educate yourself. Maybe you can start to treat it as valuable time for you to unwind and think through work problems, so that when you arrive at home, you’ll be ready to focus on your family or just relax.

Finding a way to make your commute as comfortable and enjoyable as possible will help to improve your long-term health. You’ll also enjoy those 20 hours a lot more. 




How To Start an Exercise Habit—And Stick With It

Runner puts on shoes.Just under half of all adult Americans do not meet the physical exercise guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re one of these people, you probably already know that you should be exercising. You’ve heard all the benefits of frequent exercise: how it can control your weight, build resilience against disease and illness, increase your energy, lift your mood, and help you sleep. But you’re still not doing it. Why?

Often it’s because we’re not very good at building the habit itself. We book ourselves into a yoga studio, join a gym, decide to run everyday, or find a tribe of fellow cyclists — but we don’t know how to commit to a regular rhythm of engaging in that practice. We decide we’ll exercise when we feel like it, which means we rarely do it. To succeed at this, you need to focus on building the habit itself.

Here are a few ways to make it work for the long-haul:

Start Small

Instead of taking on the Boston Marathon, what if you were to walk around the block once a day at work for a week. Clearly, this isn’t a huge aerobic workout — and it probably doesn’t hit the CDC’s guidelines. However, because it’s so manageable you’ll be that much more likely to do it. And through the very act of doing it — walking, moving your legs, breathing in that fresh air, and successfully accomplishing the goal for a week — your confidence will scale up. So set yourself a tiny, totally achievable goal — and just enjoy seeing it through. 

Try a 30-Day Challenge

When you’ve identified the form of exercise you’ll be doing, set up a goal for a month. Don’t commit to something for the rest of your life — that’s too easy to fail at, then feel bad. But by committing to something for a certain stretch of time, it’s that much easier to succeed. Perhaps you decide you’ll go for a run two mornings a week for 30 days. If you make it through to the end of your challenge, congratulate yourself, perhaps have a few days off to celebrate and laze about in glory, then commit once again.

Build Triggers Into Your Schedule

According to a fascinating study published in the journal Health Psychology, some of the most successful people build exercise routines based on “instigation habits”, where an environmental or internal trigger tells them it’s time to exercise. This might be an simple as setting an alarm on your phone, deciding to put on your running shoes as soon as you wake up in the mornings, or deciding that at 5:30pm every Tuesday and Thursday, you’ll go to the gym. By making it an automatic trigger, all ambiguity goes out the window. It’s not about whether or not you feel like doing it, it’s on your calendar. 

In order to build long-term habits, you need to set yourself up for success by defining and setting manageable goals. Then focus on seeing through those goals. Once you do this in a sustained manner over time, you’ll start to feel all those benefits of exercise kicking in. You’ll be feeling stronger, looking better, boosting your natural serotonin levels and sleeping more peacefully. You’ll have created a virtuous cycle, where to not exercise actually feels bad. At this point, the habit is so ingrained, it’s become a part of you. 




Sleep Helps Regulate Your Metabolism and Weight

Jan-sleep-imageMost people use exercise and a healthy diet to maintain their weight. While those are two key factors, many people forget one more important contributor—sleep. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep every night to maintain optimum health. Sleep deprivation sends your body into survival mode, which increases your appetite and food cravings, leaving you with unwanted weight gain.

Your Brain and Sleep

The body performs important functions while it sleeps. Much of your body’s restoration and repair work takes place while you’re unconscious. It’s during these quiet hours that you have spare energy that can be used for these important functions. Your brain, too, uses that downtime to reset, repair, and get ready for the day.

Sleep deprivation actually slows down your neurons, those cells that send signals in the brain. In an attempt to get the sleep it needs, your brain slows reaction times, reasoning, and problem-solving in the hopes you will drift off to sleep. At the same time, the brain starts changing the amount of hormones released for controlling the appetite and metabolism.

Sleep Deprivation and Appetite Control

Have you noticed how much hungrier you are when you’re tired? That’s because the brain releases the hormones that control hunger in different amounts when you’re sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation boosts your hunger. While your body is slower to send out and recognize the hormone that signals satiety.

Not only that, the kind of foods you crave when you’re tired changes too. You’re more likely to reach for chips, cookies, and other high-fat, sugary foods when sleep deprived. With an increase in your food intake and the desire to reach for unhealthy foods, it’s no wonder that getting a full seven hours of shut-eye is critical to regulating your metabolism and weight.

How to Get More Sleep

Getting the high-quality sleep you need starts long before you lay down at night. What you eat and your daily habits affect your ability to get a good night’s rest. A few ways to set yourself up for success include:

  • Regular Exercise Early in the Day: Exercise helps maintain your weight but it also helps establish the right conditions for better sleep. You’re more tired at night if you’ve done 30 minutes of vigorous exercise earlier. Avoid exercising within four hours of bedtime as the release of endorphins and rise in body temperature may keep you awake.

  • Avoid Stimulants: Caffeine and alcohol can both disturb sleep patterns. Caffeine can keep you awake while alcohol interrupts your sleep during the night. Stop drinking caffeine in the early afternoon. If you can, stop drinking alcohol within four hours of your bedtime.

  • Create the Right Environment: A quiet, soothing bedroom helps you relax and relieve stress. Keep your bedroom temperature between 60-68 degrees at night. Reduce light and sound as much as possible.

  • Establish a Consistent Bedtime: Your brain helps regulate your circadian rhythms, those processes your body cycles through every day. A consistent bedtime helps to solidify the release of the hormones that make you tired. Along those same lines, try to wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends to your brain and body on schedule.




Put Muscle Into Your Metabolism

Jan-BuildMuscle-imageHow’s your metabolism these days? If your body isn’t looking or feeling the way you’d like it to, maybe it’s time to take a closer look.
As we get older, especially in our 40s, our metabolism tends to slow down. Even for people who jog or cycle a few times a week and maintain an average weight, their metabolism can continue to decline. What’s going on?

 

The basics of your metabolism are simple. You eat food, most of it becomes glucose (sugar), insulin delivers the glucose to cells, and how well all of this happens is your metabolic rate.

 

For too many Americans, diet is the primary cause for a slowing metabolism. Consuming too much sugar or carbohydrates can lead to more stored body fat that sets off a chain of problems involving blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

 

Faster at Any Age

How to speed up you metabolism is simple, but first there are some misconceptions to get past. Getting older doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about your metabolic rate. In fact, with some important changes, an older person’s metabolism can outperform that of a 20 something. Being thinner isn’t necessarily an advantage for having a faster metabolism. And regular exercise such as running, cycling or walking is all you need to help manage your metabolism.

 

Muscle for Metabolism

To create a healthy metabolic rate, building muscle is the answer. More muscle burns more sugar for fuel. And the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolic furnace runs. Strength training – yes, working with weights – is absolutely essential to ward off useless fat. You don’t have to be a gym rat to change your metabolism. Simple resistance training even at home can start to build more muscle mass.

 

With a focus on strength training, you’re engaging the most important metabolic tissue in your body. A pound of muscle burns far more calories than a pound of fat. Unlike cardio training that is important for the heart and lungs, weight training consumes more sugar and delivers more strength. All you need to do is to start resistance work on the muscles you have. You can start at sixty and older and still get great results.

 

Getting Started

If you haven’t done resistance training before or it’s been a long time since you last did, here are few suggestions to get started. Like anything new, start slowly to avoid burnout or injury. If you have any concerns about lifting weights or using weight machines in a gym, be sure to consult with your physician. Begin with light weights and work on good form. You’re looking for a complete range of motion with good posture and alignment. You can start a program at home, but to really get results, visit a nearby gym and seek the advice of a good trainer. Just spending two–three days per week doing resistance training will start putting good muscle into your metabolism.