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Emily Mendez, M.S., Ed.S

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Strength training can help keep you healthy and strong for many years. Here’s how.

Stronger with age should be everyone’s motto. Focusing on staying strong into your golden years isn’t an issue of vanity. Fitness is necessary at every age to maintain the strength we need to stay healthy, active, and capable. There’s simply no expiration date on enjoying our bodies. Science supports this. In fact, researchers on aging have pinpointed resistance training as one of the most important factors for healthy aging.

How Aging Affects Our Bodies

Aging affects our bodies in various ways. Here are some common changes that you can expect as you age.

Loss of Balance

As we get older, we experience a loss of balance. Somewhere around the age of 40 to 50, our balance begins to decline. That is due to several factors, including changes in the inner ear, loss of coordination, and eyesight problems.

Loss of Muscle

We know that lean muscle mass naturally reduces with age. In fact, age-related loss of muscle mass is called sarcopenia. We begin to lose 3% to 5% of muscle mass per decade after age 30. The average person can expect to lose roughly 30 percent of their muscle mass during their lifetime.

Decreased Range of Motion

The range of motion in our joints also decreases with age. Between the ages of 55 and 86, we lose approximately six degrees of flexibility per decade in the hips and shoulders. That is mainly due to changes in muscles and connective tissue.

Why Strength Training?

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

The conversation about strength training often focuses on all the ways that strength training can help you to stay looking fit and attractive as you age. This is certainly a big perk. However, it’s not the only motivation for challenging your muscles. Strength training also offers a myriad of whole-health benefits that can help you to prevent disease and dysfunction. Research suggests that strength training can reduce the signs and symptoms of a number of chronic conditions that tend to progress with age. This includes back pain, obesity, arthritis, heart disease, and depression. Here’s a roundup of the life-enhancing benefits of strength training:

Builds Lean Muscle Mass

While losing muscle mass is considered a natural part of aging, it’s not necessarily an unavoidable part of aging. Strength training is one of many tools for preventing muscle loss with age. Nutrition can also play a role in staving off dreaded age-related muscle loss. People can preserve lean muscle while maintaining strength and energy levels using high-protein diets. Healthy, lean proteins from both animal and plant sources are incredible for fitting in the protein needed to maximize muscle protein synthesis.

Stronger Bones

According to a 2018 study on the effects of resistance exercise on bone health, resistance training may be one of the best ways to improve bone and muscle loss in both the middle-aged and older population. Multiple studies confirm that strength training can help to slow bone loss. There’s also evidence that strength training can help us to build bone. Another study on the effects of progressive resistance training on bone density found that this form of exercise offers the benefit of influencing multiple risk factors for osteoporosis.

Better Weight Management

As you get older, it gets harder to lose weight. Your body doesn’t respond to weight-control efforts in the same way. That is because age-related changes, like a slowing down of your metabolism, can make it harder to lose weight. Strength training can help you lose weight or more easily maintain a healthy weight by increasing muscle mass, which leads to more efficient calorie burning.

Enhanced Quality of Life

According to a 2019 study on the effect of resistance training on health-related quality of life in older adults, strength training can significantly increase quality of life scores. One of the biggest reasons strength training increases the quality of life is that it allows older adults to continue doing everyday activities.

Prevents Joint Injuries

Strength training’s positive influence on the musculoskeletal system can help you to prevent joint injuries. Strength exercises can also help to promote growth and vitality in connective tissue, ligaments, tendons, bones, and cartilage.

Reduces the Risk of Falls

Dangerous falls can occur due to loss of balance as we age. Strength exercises that contribute to better balance can cut your risk of being injured by a slip or fall. In addition, exercise helps your reflexes to stay sharper.

Cognitive Boost

“Strength training can help protect the brain from degeneration,” according to data released in 2020. A long-term study found that strength training led to overall benefits to cognitive performance among Alzheimer’s patients. What’s really interesting is that strength training is specifically credited with protecting specific regions within the hippocampus that are associated with both Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment from degeneration. This may mean that strength exercises can improve learning and memory.

Better Sleep

Better sleep is something anyone of any age can appreciate. Data shared with the American Heart Association by researchers at Iowa State University found that regular resistance training exercises helped with staying asleep longer and falling asleep faster. Plus participants who participated in strength training felt more rested and refreshed the next day compared to those who did not work out, as well as those who just did aerobic exercises. It turns out that counting reps may be more effective than counting sheep when it comes to improving sleep quality.

Is Strength Training or Cardio Better?

Both strength training and cardio are essential for fitness as we age. Cardio improves cardiac functioning, which is really important as heart disease is the number one cause of death for both women and men in the United States.

However, strength training is equally important as we age. Lifting weights can improve cognitive functioning, mobility, as well as our metabolic health. Plus, resistance also helps improve cardiovascular health, as well. One study found that lifting weights for just one hour each week reduced the risk of a heart attack or stroke by as much as 70 percent.

Studies have also found that strength training helps boost confidence and motivation in older adults. This can make it much more likely that we even will show up at the gym.

What Age Should You Start With Strength Training?

Hint: It’s never too early or too late.

Saying that strength training is crucial as we age isn’t the same as saying that strength training should wait until the signs of aging creep in. There is no start date for strength training that’s better than today. That’s because all of the benefits of strength training that help older adults to enjoy strength and vitality can help you to start filling up your vitality piggy bank today if you’re still 20, 30, or 40.

It’s also never too late to start strength training to your fitness routine. Research has found that older individuals with no strength training experience are able to effectively build muscle. So, even if you have never tried strength training before, you can still get the benefits. It’s just important to make sure you are training safely.

Tips for Strength Training Safely for Older Adults

Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind when doing strength training exercises for seniors.

  • Talk to your doctor first. Your physician can help you identify the right strength training program for you. They can advise you on any modifications that you may need to make.
  • Start light. Start with the smallest amount of weight that you can. Increase your weight as you get stronger.
  • Aim for at least three days per week. Ideally, you should aim for at least three days of strength training per week. Alternate the days that you perform strength training with cardio.
  • Be gentle on your joints. Gradually ease into strength training. Never stress your joints to the point where it hurts.
  • Give your body plenty of time to recover. As you get older, it takes longer to recover. Give your body plenty of time to rest between strength training sessions.
  • Watch out for pain. It’s normal to expect a little muscle soreness after strength training but you should not feel pain. If the exercises are causing pain, stop and talk to your doctor.

A Note on Nutrition

Proper nutrition is essential when it comes to strength training. Make sure you are fueling your body with the right nutrients and minerals. Food prep can make it easy to make sure you are on track with the proper nutrients and lean protein sources needed to support your body through strength-training sessions.

Related article: How Good Nutrition Supports Athletic Performance

Final Thoughts

It’s impossible to ignore the unique benefits that strength training offers for both the mind and body as we age. Strength training is part of a “whole package” lifestyle that includes being aware of what your body needs with age, staying active, and staying prepared with healthy meals.

Okay, so you know that you should go to the gym. You’ve heard about the many benefits of exercise. New research even suggests that it can even ward off depression. There’s a whole laundry list of reasons to hit the gym. However, sometimes we find that the last thing that we want to do is work out. Despite the money spent on a gym membership thinking it would provide the motivation to hit the treadmill hard every day, we might find that we only set foot inside a couple of times. In fact, many of us can think of a million things we’d rather do, and none involve a treadmill.

Love It or Hate It

If those of us with an unused gym membership exist on one end of the spectrum, on the other end you’ll find those who can’t seem to live without the gym. They talk about how exercise gives them a “Runner’s High.” For them, exercise seems to be addictive. They don’t give being active a second thought. It’s just something they do every day without even thinking about it. You have read dozens of articles on how to develop workout motivation. You’ve tried all of the tips. Yet, nothing is working. So, how come exercise motivation comes so easily for some people and not others?

Most online articles that give advice on workout motivation contain good information. But, they miss the mark when it comes to workout motivation. As someone who has spent years studying motivation and has also been a certified fitness instructor, I truly understand why workout motivation comes easy for some people and not others.

Finding the motivation to work out consistently really comes from making it a part of your daily life. That is the key to getting and staying motivated when it comes to working out.

First, Choose Something You Love

This seems easy enough. But, how many times do you hear people talk about begrudgingly going to the gym like it’s some form of punishment? If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t be motivated to do it. You don’t have to be happy doing it all the time, but it should be something that leaves you feeling good on most days.

There’s tons of advice on exploring new types of fun new activities. You might be told to try pilates or join a workout class. But what one person enjoys might be boring or torturous for the next. Our personalities and interests largely impact the kind of fitness activity that we will enjoy long term.

People who are extroverted may feel at home in a group fitness or dance class, while a person who is introverted may enjoy solitary early morning runs. Whatever it is, it has to be something that you enjoy. You may have to try many different types of movement. The thing is to keep trying until you find something you genuinely enjoy.

Then, Make it Easy

The first piece of the puzzle when it comes to workout motivation is choosing something that you love. The second piece is finding a way to make it easy to do the type of workout you like. You have to incorporate daily movement into your life in a way that is seamless. It must become a part of your daily schedule or routine. This is called automaticity.

Automaticity refers to the idea of doing something automatically, without thinking. It’s like remembering to brush your teeth every day. It’s not hard because you are used to doing it every day.  A research study conducted by fitness giant Les Mills found that automaticity is the key to sticking to a workout routine. In the study, participants were divided into two groups of people. One group was comprised of people who are regular exercisers. They worked out on average 150 minutes per week over the last ten years. The second group consisted of people who rarely worked out. The critical difference between those who worked out regularly and those who didn’t was automaticity. All of the participants, 100 percent in the active group, said that exercise is part of their routine. Among the inactive participants, more than 92 percent said that fitness was NOT a regular part of their routine.

So, how can you make exercise automatic? A part of your daily routine? Here are some tips.

#1 Find A Time that Suits Your Internal Clock 

Some articles suggest working out first thing in the morning. They say that people who work out first thing in the morning are more likely to follow a fitness program — that’s it’s all about finding the willpower to just do it. If you are not a morning person, this simply won’t work for you.

For those who are NOT early birds, advice to wake up early to get in some gym time won’t work. Some people are just genetically programmed to not function at their best early in the morning. There are hundreds of genes that influence whether a person prefers mornings or evenings. Trying to go against your genetics will get you nowhere. You’ll just end up feeling like a failure when you’re unable to pull yourself out of bed for those 5 A.M. workouts. So, identify what times of the day are best for you, whether that’s mornings, lunchtime, or in the evening.

#2 Schedule It

How often have you made plans to go to the gym and canceled at the last minute when something else came up? Schedule your workouts just as you would any other appointment. I use apps like Mindbody and ClassPass, to schedule workouts ahead of time. I’ve found that this makes it much harder to blow off workouts, especially since there often is a cancellation fee associated with not going most of the time.

Putting your workouts into your calendar in this way can give you the motivation that you never knew you had.

#3 Make it Effortless

Contrarily, If you struggle with scheduling your workout sessions during the day and following through, try to do it first thing in the morning regardless of your routine. Make it as easy as possible to work out by removing any obstacles. For example, keep an exercise bike  in your bedroom room you can hop on as soon as you wake up.

​​​#4 Be Prepared

After you have your workouts scheduled, make sure you are prepared with the things that you need. If you are working out at home, pick up any equipment you need for your workouts. If you plan to do yoga after work, make sure you have a yoga mat, towels, and other essentials like an eye pillow in your bag. Cycling to and from work each day? Pack waterproof gear so that you will be ready no matter the weather. Also, pack some healthy snacks for your gym bag to replenish your energy after your workout.

Related article: How Good Nutrition Supports Athletic Performance

#5 Up the Stakes

Another way to ensure that you keep up with your workout routine is to put some money behind it. You can sign up for a subscription to a workout subscription app, like Pelaton or Apple Fitness Plus. This makes it more likely that you will make working out a part of your everyday life.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

You Are On a Roll, What Now?

Sticking to a workout routine is really about playing the long game. At first, you’ll be motivated and excited. However, it won’t always be this way. It will take months — maybe even years of hard work to make it a part of your life. There will be times when you feel ​​unmotivated, discouraged, or overwhelmed. Here’s how to deal with these feelings.

#1 Cut Yourself Some Slack

There will be days that you won’t be able to get your workout in, even with the best planning. That’s completely fine. Some days, you just won’t be feeling good. Even the most motivated people have days that they don’t want to work out. Avoid reading too much into it. Simply move past it, and get back to your workouts as soon as possible.

#2 Get Back on Track

Everyone falls off track sometimes when it comes to working out. This can happen for various reasons, from schedule conflicts to injuries. During COVID-19, many people who regularly worked out stopped. According to research, physical activity levels dropped significantly after the pandemic struck. Even people who exercised every single day stopped working out.

Keeping up with your daily workouts is a habit. Once you get out of the habit of working out, it’s easy to fall into a rut. The key is to get back into the habit of exercising again as soon as you realize that you have become off track. Don’t wait until the perfect time. Just start.

#3 Pay Attention

When you notice that you are working out more than usual, take a moment to pay attention and think about why. Try to figure out what’s behind your motivation. For instance, perhaps you get more workouts in when you sleep better. Or, perhaps you work out more often when you attend a specific fitness class. Search for your motivation and take actions that support it.

Final Thoughts

The motivation to work out comes from making fitness a daily part of your life. You can’t think of it as punishment. You have to decide to make movement an essential part of your routine. Do that and staying fit will be easy.

Better performance starts with better meals. The equation seems simple enough. It makes sense that nourishing our bodies with healthy, nutritious ingredients will provide the energy needed to fuel muscle activity and physical propulsion. However, life has a way of making us forget just how important the right stuff is. As a result, many people reach for what’s fast instead of what’s optimal. Unfortunately, this can backfire pretty quickly if you’re living an athletic lifestyle. Here’s how poor sports nutrition can affect athletes:

  • Poor performance
  • Longer recovery times
  • Immune suppression
  • Weight gain
  • Malnourishment
  • Hormonal imbalances caused by nutritional deficiencies

Being reminded of how good nutrition supports athletic performance becomes very important once you consider what’s at stake. A good diet isn’t just going to set you up for success on the track or field today. It will insulate your body against injury and disease for the rest of your life. Take a look at what science reveals about plating up for life on the fast track.

Performance Nutrition: Here’s What’s Essential When You’re Eating for Athletic Performance

Eating properly for sports nutrition really comes down to balance. What should your plate look like when you’re eating for power? Here’s a look at the essentials that athletes need to have in their diets based on a thorough analysis of sports nutrition for young athletes published in 2013:

  • Macronutrients: Athletes can enjoy strength and endurance using carbohydrates, protein, and fats that fuel physical activity. Yes, they’re all necessary when you’re going hard. Of course, eating the right proportions is everything.

Related Article: Beyond the Basics: Why Tracking Your Macros Matters

  • Carbohydrates: While some people malign carbohydrates because they assume any carbohydrate is a simple carbohydrate, the truth is that complex carbohydrates from whole, healthy sources are vital for performance. Some healthy sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, fresh fruits, milk products, vegetables, and yogurt.
  • Protein: This is a big one. While everyone needs protein, athletes need it direly because protein helps to build and repair muscle. There’s also a “vanity” aspect to eating enough protein because protein helps to keep hair, skin, and nails healthy and glowing. Some excellent sources of tasty, nourishing protein for athletes include fish, eggs, poultry, nuts, beats, and dairy.
  • Fats: Fat is critical for helping athletes to absorb essential fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K. Consuming healthy fats is essential for organ function, insulation, and energy. Adding healthy fat sources to a meal also helps to prolong satiation. This is so important when you’re crafting a tailored diet because feeling full and satisfied for a longer period allows you to keep going without giving in to cravings caused by starvation cues from a lack of fat in your diet. Some ideal sources of fat for an athlete’s diet include lean red meat, poultry, fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, and dairy products.

Deciding on portions is all about balance. When athletes attempt diets that are too restrictive, they rob their bodies of the essential nutrients and fuel needed to perform at their best levels. They also risk turning to foods that aren’t on the plan out of sheer desperation because they are depleted. Of course, the opposite is also true. There is actually such a thing as “too much of a good thing” when eating an athlete-friendly diet.

A good example of this is protein intake. While protein is pushed as the perfect fuel for athletes, the truth is that it’s very easy to eat too much protein. According to experts, most Americans are already eating twice as much protein as they need for proper muscle development. There isn’t as much of a concern about overloading on protein if you’re an active person. However, it’s still important to know about the dangers associated with extreme protein diets. Consuming more protein than you need can lead to:

  • Storing increased excess protein as increased body fat.
  • Greater risk for dehydration caused by fluid loss.
  • Calcium depletion.
  • Kidney issues stemming from burdened kidneys.

There’s also a risk that you’re trying to replace carbohydrates with protein. The truth is that carbohydrates are necessary for athletes. The simple solution is to strive for a healthy balance instead of leaning on one food group as a way to try to cut out another food group. What does balance look like when you’re trying to get enough protein while also peppering in some good carbohydrates? Something like a hearty burrito bowl with Spanish rice, cherry tomatoes, shredded cucumbers, carrots, hummus, and tzatziki sauce on the side checks all the boxes. The same goes for chicken fajitas with sautéed chicken thigh seasoned with a blend of spices, bell peppers, and red onions with steamed rice on the side.

Hydration: The True Powerhouse of an Athlete’s Diet

Photo by Ivan Samkov

Healthy meals get results. However, even the most perfect meal plan in the world will go sideways if it’s not followed up by a great hydration strategy. Water is so crucial for athletes. In addition to keeping your body hydrated, water keeps the body at the right temperature. It’s very easy for athletes to lose water with just one workout. Just one grueling workout session can cause your body to lose several liters of sweat in just an hour!

How do you know if you’re fully hydrated? The simplest answer is that you’re producing clear urine. If you’re seeing anything else, it’s time to increase your water intake. Here are some tips for sticking to the all-important task of staying hydrated as an athletic person:

  • Drink fluids with every meal! While water is best, any fluid will provide you with some hydration.
  • The general hydration rule to have in your mind is that you want to drink two cups of water roughly two hours before a workout. Never work out without enough water in your body!
  • It’s OK to sip while you work out! Drink up to a cup every 15 to 20 minutes. If you’re going hard past an hour, consider switching from water to an energy drink to keep your electrolyte levels at a safe place.
  • Remember that drinking isn’t just an activity for when you’re thirsty. In fact, you’re probably already dipping into dehydration territory if you’re feeling the physical sensation of thirst.

Water is always the preferred option for hydration. However, it’s important to remember that enjoying hydrating treats can be a great way to introduce extra hydration into your life. Something like fresh-pressed juice is a tasty way to get hydrated. A healthy smoothie that provides refreshing hydration with the added benefit of plant-based protein and natural carbohydrates can fulfill some of your liquid requirements while also providing pure fuel.

Getting Smart About Meal Prep When You’re an Athlete

If you’re already busy, trying to squeeze in an athletic lifestyle can push you to the brink with managing your time. This is where many aspiring athletics types run into trouble. They get sick, hurt, or simply give up out of exhaustion because they don’t eat the right foods to fuel what they are trying to accomplish. Planning is everything.

When it comes to performance nutrition, timing is key. You need to have meals readily available during the strategic points during the day when you should be fueling up both as a form of repair and preparation. Generally, you should be eating about three hours before a big workout session or event to allow for good digestion. Rushing to eat whatever you can before a session sets you up for gastrointestinal distress during your activity.

While fat is vital for fueling up, it’s also important to know that high-fat meals should generally be avoided just before exercise because they can delay gastric emptying. That leads to you being slow, sluggish, and moody. Going on a long run in the morning? Breakfast is essential once you’re done. Having avocado toast or egg white frittata waiting for you after the finish line is the best way to ensure that you have the energy and stability to tackle the workday that comes after the workout.

Timing your meals is important. However, planning ahead to know exactly what you’ll be eating is even more important. It’s very hard to have reliable output when you don’t have reliable intake. That’s why serious athletes schedule a whole week of meals ahead of time. This lets you map out nutrient levels to ensure you’re getting the fuel you need based on your training days. Yes, meal prep is also essential for helping you steer clear of temptations that will make your workouts more challenging. We are all only human and thus susceptible to eating unhealthy foods when in a hurry or stressed. That’s why it’s crucial to have a good meal plan in place to ensure that indulging in goodies is a choice instead of a trap.

Tweaking your diet is an easy lifestyle change that you can make to help with anxiety.

Does diet impact mental health? Are there certain foods to calm anxiety? These are questions that many people who have anxiety are increasingly asking as they learn more and more about the link between diet and wellness. It turns out that researchers have been asking the same question. Learning how to balance nutrition may help some people better balance their mood. Take a look at the main things to know about eating a diet to help manage anxiety.

What Does Your Diet Have to Do with Your Mood?

Many people are surprised to learn that diet does, in fact, impact mood. There are many diet-related factors that can trigger anxiety. Poor hydration is one of them. Studies have found that even mild dehydration can impact mood

Low blood sugar is one factor that often triggers anxiety. Low blood sugar, called hypoglycemia, is most usually caused by diet or exercise habits. When your blood sugar drops below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), your body increases its production of epinephrine, which makes your palms sweat and your heart race. This can make you feel anxious.

Another factor that might be related to anxiety is your gut health. An understanding of how diet impacts mood starts in the gut. Many people assume that the “mind” and “stomach” are two separate things. Discoveries in research are proving just how misguided this viewpoint really is.

“The gut-brain axis is also very important, since a large percentage (about 95%) of serotonin receptors are found in the lining of the gut,” according to information provided by Harvard Health. While we think of serotonin as being a “brain” chemical, the truth is that what happens in our gut ultimately determines how much natural serotonin we have to work with. This is important because serotonin levels can directly impact our experiences with anxiety and depression.

Most people know serotonin as a “happiness hormone.” In fact, many common antidepressant medications are designed to increase serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that helps stabilize mood in both direct and indirect ways. Some of the areas of wellness influenced by serotonin include:

  • Mood
  • Cognition
  • Reward centers
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Sleep patterns

One of the best ways to naturally increase serotonin levels is to fortify the gut against unhealthy bacteria. The gut can become overtaken by bad bacteria due to illness, poor diet, and the use of antibiotic medication. We can undo this problem by increasing the levels of healthy bacteria in the gut.

Healthy gut bacteria levels are built up by eating probiotics and prebiotics. While probiotics contain the “good bacteria” that the gut needs to fight off harmful bacteria linked with illness, prebiotics feed good bacteria to allow them to proliferate. Examples of probiotics that people can easily eat include yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut. Prebiotic fibers are found naturally in legumes, vegetables, berries, oats, bananas, onions, and wheat bran. Of course, building up good bacteria in the gut is only part of the picture when it comes to reducing anxiety through diet. Food type, quality, and frequency can also impact mood.

What Are the Best Foods to Calm Anxiety?

There are two ways to look at an anti-anxiety diet. The first is to focus on specific foods that have been proven to reduce anxiety. The second is to look at essential vitamins and minerals found in foods that have been proven to reduce anxiety. Take a look at some “best bets” when it comes to nourishing your mental health.

Magnesium

Beefing up your magnesium intake may be one of the best ways to holistically approach anxiety. One study published in 2012 links low-magnesium diets with increased anxiety. Luckily, magnesium is relatively easy to get just by eating everyday staples like leafy greens, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

Zinc

A 2013 study found that higher zinc intake helped reduce signs of anxiety. The reason why researchers think zinc is so beneficial for “bringing the calm” comes down to its impact on something called the vagus nerve that transports soothing messages between the brain and body. Zinc is readily found in many common foods like fish, pine nuts, peanuts, cashews, almonds, peas, shiitake mushrooms, sweet corn, and beet greens.

Vitamin B

A 2019 study found that vitamin B can positively impact mood for people at risk for depression and anxiety. While B vitamins have many different positive effects on the body, their ability to support the adrenal glands is credited with why they help stabilize mood. Salmon, leafy greens, milk, egg, beef, oysters, and legumes are all vitamin-B superstars.

Bananas

Everyone should know about the power of bananas for improving mood. Yes, the banana contains several key elements needed for natural food-induced happiness. Bananas are bursting with an amino acid called tryptophan that’s associated with mood. However, the natural carbohydrates in bananas make it easier for the brain to absorb tryptophan. In addition, the abundant levels of vitamin B6 in bananas then help to convert tryptophan to serotonin.

Fatty Fish

Fish is one of the most powerful “mood foods” out there. That’s because fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that can only be obtained through diet because they aren’t produced naturally by the body. Salmon and albacore are the two superstars for omega-3 fatty acids. In studies, supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with improved outcomes for people with psychiatric disorders.

Chocolate

This one almost feels like a gift! Yes, dark chocolate is excellent for mental health. However, it should be said that focusing on small portions of quality dark chocolate that don’t contain fillers like sugar and artificial flavoring is essential for retaining the “brain benefits” of dark chocolate. How does dark chocolate help to improve mood? First, the sugar in dark chocolate may create an “instant” mood improvement because the brain can use it as a pick-me-up fuel source. In addition, dark chocolate has a natural “feel good” concoction made of caffeine, theobromine, and N-acylethanolamine. What’s more, dark chocolate serves up natural compounds called flavonoids that are known to increase blood flow to the brain. Researchers have found that supplementation with cocoa is linked with acute cognitive effects.

Oats

Yes, an ordinary bowl of oats can be extraordinary for your mood! This whole-grain breakfast option serves as a great source of fiber. The link between fiber intake and mood is often overlooked. However, fiber’s role in slowing the digestion of carbs allows for a more gradual release of sugar in your bloodstream. This results in stable energy levels that can facilitate a stable mood. Many people describe the feeling of becoming overly hungry as being “hangry.” For some people, this personality “crash” that happens can result in a racing pulse, mood swings, irritability, and anxiety. One study shows that people who consume 1.5 grams to 6 grams of fiber at breakfast experience better mood with higher energy levels due to stabilized blood sugar levels. Yes, that means a timeless, filling favorite like overnight oats can be the secret to a high-energy day without the familiar anxiety and emotional volatility of a post-breakfast crash.

What Role Does Antioxidants Play in Anxiety?

Antioxidants may play a significant role in naturally addressing anxiety symptoms. The influence of antioxidant consumption on mood is so powerful that researchers involved in a 2012 study looking at the role of antioxidants in generalized anxiety disorder and depression found that antioxidant supplement therapy is helpful for patients with stress-induced psychiatric disorders. What foods have the highest amounts of antioxidants? The list of the best antioxidant foods includes small red beans, strawberries, raspberries, artichokes, cranberries, black beans, pecans, blackberries, and most apple varieties. Leafy greens are the true champions in this category.

Are There Any Foods to Avoid With Anxiety?

Generally, any food choices that spike blood sugar to facilitate a “crash” would be considered poor choices for someone looking to manage anxiety using diet. This can include things like energy drinks, fruit juices, refined carbohydrates, and processed meats. Sugary drinks and refined carbs can be so bad for mood because they trigger the body’s release of insulin to help absorb excess glucose. This creates feelings of “highs” and “lows” that can leave you feeling irritable and anxious.

Finding Mood Balance Through a Balanced Plate: A Good Plan Is the Brain’s Best Friend

First, a healthier menu is never intended to replace the guidance of a trained psychiatric professional. Never assume that it’s safe to discontinue medication just because you’re switching to an anxiety-focused diet. However, focusing on feel-good foods packed with the natural vitamins and minerals known to fight anxiety can be a great way to supplement other forms of self-care.

Preparation is everything when you have anxiety. For many people using food “therapeutically” to manage anxiety, meal prep is the easiest way to stay on track. Meal delivery that covers breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks ensures the right balance for mentally feeling your best every day! It’s important to plan to have access to regular healthy meals to avoid the trap of reaching for “convenient” foods when it’s time to stop your busy day to eat.

What secret does your heart rate reveal about your health? When it comes to heart rates, a low heartbeat score may help you beat some disease risks. A healthy resting heart rate

(RHR) can be beneficial for your health. Take a look at what we know about the connection between a lower resting heart rate and a higher level of health. Knowing the full picture of the heart-health connection can help you get motivated to live a life with healthy meals, appropriate amounts of activity and all of the other factors that go along with getting into the correct heartbeat zone.

How Often Do You Think About Your Resting Heart Rate?

Resting heart rate refers to the number of times your heart beats per minute while you’re at rest. Most people you might poll on the street aren’t likely to know their own stats for resting heart rate. It’s simply not something we talk about enough! Do you know your resting heart rate? It’s easy to figure out. While there are many apps and devices that can help you to track your heart rate, you can also measure it using the following wrist technique:

  • Place your second and third fingers from one hand on the inside of the wrist of the opposite hand just below the base of your thumb.
  • You should be able to feel the movement of your pulse.
  • Next, count the number of beats that occur in a 60-second span.
  • Repeat a few times for accuracy.

A healthy resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. However, many factors can impact heart rate. People who are fit tend to have lower resting heart rates than people who don’t exercise regularly. In addition, factors like health conditions, medications and genetics can all influence your resting heart rate.

Making Sense of Your Resting Heart Rate

Focusing on the range for your resting heart rate can be much more important than obsessing over a specific number. A normal resting heart rate for women and men is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. However, trying to get to the extreme on either end isn’t necessarily something to strive for.

When your heart rate is lower, your heart can pump more blood with each contraction. This leads to a steady heartbeat.

However, bradycardia is a condition where the resting heart rate is considered too slow. Generally, it refers to a resting heart rate under 60 beats per minute. Before feeling alarmed, what is considered too slow is dependent on many factors including age and physical health. Many athletes and physically active adults have RHR under 60 beats per minute. And it’s not uncommon for a person’s heart rate to slow down below 60 BPM during sleep. A sign that a slow RHR is potentially too low is when you’re experiencing dizziness and shortness of breath when resting.

The opposite of a low resting heart rate is a high resting heart rate. When your resting heart rate is consistently above 100 beats per minute, your risk for a cardiovascular event is higher. When your heart rate is high, your heart is working harder to finish every contraction. As a result, your heart could potentially become overstressed.

How Your Resting Heart Rate Impacts Your Health

Resting heart rate is something that researchers studying cardiovascular health have been focused on for years. There are mountains of data pointing to the connection between heart rate and health. In a 2013 study, researchers tracking 3,000 men over a period spanning 16 years discovered that a high resting heart rate was closely linked with the following:

  • Lower levels of physical fitness.
  • Higher blood pressure.
  • Higher body weight.
  • Increased levels of circular blood fat.

The most concerning finding of this study was that a higher resting heart rate increased the risk for premature death. When heart rates reached between 81 and 90 beats per minute, the risk of death doubled. For participants with resting heart rates above 90, the risk for death was tripled.

Getting in the Zone: Are There Ways to Reduce Resting Heart Rate?

A healthy resting heart rate is the result of a complicated amalgam of health-related factors. The good news is that most people can make strides with reducing resting heart rate to reach an optimal zone after struggling with high resting heart rates. If you’re just now discovering that your resting heart rate is slightly higher than what would be considered ideal, it’s essential to know about some outlying factors that can be inflating your heart rate.

Stress and anxiety are two contributors to high resting heart rates that are often overlooked. When we’re feeling stressed and anxious, the adrenal gland releases a “stress hormone” called cortisol as part of the body’s natural “fight or flight” response. While this response is designed to keep us alive by throwing our response into overdrive at the sign of danger, it robs years from your life if you allow stress levels to stay elevated. That’s because cortisol causes both your heart rate and blood pressure to stay elevated. While it may not seem like the most satisfying answer, the reality is that taking steps to become more relaxed is vital for stabilizing your resting heart rate.

It’s also known that keeping cholesterol levels healthy can help with maintaining a low resting heart rate. That’s because cholesterol restricts blood flow through the blood vessels and arteries. As a result, your heart needs to try to operate much faster to keep blood moving. Unfortunately, this can tax your heart to its breaking point. Cholesterol levels are closely linked with diet. In fact, diet is one of the most powerful tools we can use to achieve a lower heart resting heart rate.

Which Foods Can Lower Your Heart Rate?

First, cutting out sodium is a great way to naturally bring down your heart rate without any drastic lifestyle changes. Many people find that switching from processed foods to naturally flavorful foods helps them to reduce salt intake without feeling deprived. It’s also known that foods high in potassium can reduce the impact of sodium on blood pressure. Some potassium-rich foods to add to your heart-healthy diet include:

  • Avocados.
  • Dairy.
  • Bananas.
  • Melons.
  • Leafy green vegetables.
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes.
  • Tuna.
  • Salmon.
  • Beans.
  • Nuts and seeds.
Try our avocado toast!

Reducing your intake of processed sugars and refined carbohydrates is also vital for achieving a healthy heart rate. It’s also known that eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce heart rate. One meta-analysis published in 2012 found that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids significantly reduced heart rate. Fish is considered to be the best source of natural omega-3 fatty acids. That means that entrées like Broiled Blue Circle Salmon or Tilapia With Grits and Walnuts are perfect for someone looking to stay satisfied without making a heartbeat blunder. For those who aren’t fans of fish, there are still plenty of ways to get in those omega-3 fatty acids naturally through diet. Avocados are very high in omega-3 fatty acids. That makes options like guacamole and avocado toast very attractive.

Don’t Forget Exercise

Nutrition is primarily considered to be the most important factor in a good resting heart rate. However, peppering in some regular exercise while staying on track with meal prep can only make things better. How much exercise do you need to reduce your heart rate? First, knowing the type of exercise that makes the biggest impact is important. According to one study, the average 55-year-old adult only requires one hour per week of high-intensity aerobic training to significantly lower resting heart rate. We also know that keeping up with exercise is the key to keeping the heart stronger. That’s because the heart becomes stronger with more exercise. Using exercise to “train” your heart to get to a place where it pumps more blood with each beat means that your heart doesn’t need to work harder to catch up! This is where you get a lower resting heart rate.

When you don’t know where to start with an exercise plan, there’s one thing to know—simply following the American Heart Association’s recommendation of getting in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week should be enough to keep your heart fit. If you’re pressed for time, consider the American Heart Association’s alternate recommendation of fitting in 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week.

Final Thoughts: Achieving A Good Resting Heart Rate Resting Heart Rate Comes Down To Lifestyle

Are you unhappy with your resting heart rate? Change is possible. Remember that giving your heart a rest through diet is the best way to speed up your vitality! Consider doing meal prep to ensure that you have low-sodium, heart-healthy foods waiting for you at every meal to avoid the trap of grabbing for foods that are quick and easy.

Have you noticed that as you get older, you can no longer eat the same way that you did when you were younger? Does it seem that you gain weight just by “looking at a muffin?” This is because your metabolism slows down with age. When your metabolism slows down, this makes it so much easier to gain weight and more difficult to lose weight. So, when does your metabolism slow down and why?

The truth is that there is so much the medical community is learning about human metabolism all the time. Scientists do know that metabolism and aging are closely related. Let’s take a deeper look at how metabolism changes with age.

What Is the Metabolism?

Everyone has a metabolism. Your metabolism is the process used by your body to convert what you eat and drink into energy. Your body is constantly converting the things that you eat and drink into usable energy with the help of oxygen. The energy that is created is used for every single process and system within your body. Energy from food and drinks is used for breathing, balancing hormone levels, circulating blood, repairing cells and tissue and growing new cells. Every person has a base metabolic rate that is needed to maintain essential bodily functions. We generally consider this to be your “metabolism.”

What Influences Metabolism?

We’re still learning a lot about what makes each person’s metabolism unique. In some cases, there may be no clear answer regarding why two people with similar genetic profiles may have wildly different metabolisms. However, there are some general factors that seem to contribute to metabolism. They include:

  • Body size and composition. People with larger builds seem to burn more calories both at rest and during activity. People who are more muscular also tend to burn more calories by default.
  • Gender. Generally, men tend to have less body fat when compared to women. They also tend to have more muscle than women. As a result, men generally burn more calories than women.
  • Age. Yes, metabolism appears to slow down with age. This is likely linked with a decrease in muscle mass that often occurs with age.

While a person’s default metabolic rate plays a big role in how many calories are burned daily, it’s not the sole determiner of how your body manages calories. Something called thermogenesis also plays a role in this. Thermogenesis refers to the process of how food is digested, absorbed, transported through the body and stored. Roughly 10% of all calories consumed from protein and carbohydrates are used by the body to digest and absorb nutrients.

Another significant factor in how the body manages calories is physical activity. The amount of physical activity completed daily dramatically impacts the number of calories burned by the body daily. While some bodily processes automatically burn calories, activities like running, walking, swimming and playing sports can burn hundreds of extra calories per hour above a person’s baseline rate for burning calories.

When Does Your Metabolism Slow Down?

Younger athlete and older athlete jogging together.

“Putting on weight” is a common complaint as people reach their 30s and 40s. Many people feel a “shift” in the way their bodies handle foods that they could eat without problems just a few years earlier. Yes, the evidence does show that metabolism may shift with age. Therefore, eating habits may require adjustment as we age.

According to a study published in August of 2021, metabolism peaks fairly early in life. We are then on a constant trajectory of keeping up with a shifting metabolism. The study also found that our metabolisms operate at “super speed” from the time we are born until the end of our teen years. However, we may not notice that our metabolisms are slowing down by about 3 percent annually until we reach age 20. At age 20, there is generally a significant “leveling off” that occurs as the metabolism reaches a new normal. The metabolism also slowly trickles down from middle age into a person’s “golden years.” A person in their 90s requires 26% fewer calories than a person in middle age.

Metabolism and Weight Gain

The most straightforward formula for gaining weight is taking in more calories than the body needs to function based on your activity levels. However, maintaining a stable weight can be complicated by a number of different factors, including your metabolism. It’s believed that the following mix of factors influences weight:

  • Genetic makeup.
  • Hormonal balance.
  • Diet composition.
  • Sleep.
  • Stress.
  • Underlying illnesses.
  • Environmental factors.
  • Decreased metabolism.

While the “surest” way to maintain a healthy weight is to eat the right amounts of calories and fat for your body type and lifestyle, choosing the right types of foods is also essential. The truth is that not all food is created equal. It’s important to eat whole, nutrient-filled foods that assist with things like promoting better sleep, keeping blood sugar stable, enabling the body to produce the right amounts of hormones and allowing you to stay full and satisfied for more extended periods. 

How Can You Prevent Your Metabolism From Slowing Down?

Focus on Muscle Mass

Dumbells

Muscle mass plays a very important role in metabolism as we age. Muscle simply burns more calories than fat when we are in a resting state. That is because muscle burns more calories than fat. So, even while you sleep, your body will burn more calories. This means that having a lifestyle consisting of muscle-building foods combined with muscle-building workouts is a “metabolism hack” at any age. Being a muscle-minded person becomes non-negotiable as we age if we want to enjoy strength, energy and a healthy weight.

Age-related loss of muscle mass is a well-documented fact. People begin to lose between 3% and 5% of muscle each decade after turning 30. Researchers call the natural decline in muscle mass that occurs with age sarcopenia.

Researchers aren’t completely clear on why muscle declines so aggressively with age. One strong theory is that the natural decline of testosterone contributes to muscle loss. That’s because testosterone is considered a “muscle builder” that stimulates protein synthesis for muscle formation.

Get the Right Amount of Protein to Support Muscle Growth

While eating a muscle-minded diet is essential at any age, it becomes increasingly important as we age. Getting adequate protein levels in our diets is one of the most important things we can do to reduce muscle loss. Resistance-training exercises are also very beneficial for helping to promote healthy muscle mass as we age. Of course, having adequate protein levels in your diet when doing strength training is essential for being able to give your body the fuel it needs to keep up with workouts without becoming depleted.

Protein is pure muscle food. When we consume protein, it is broken down into amino acids used by the body to put on muscle. However, a common phenomenon known as anabolic resistance can throw a wrench in your plans even if you are eating what would be considered a balanced diet. Anabolic resistance reduces the body’s ability to break down and synthesize the protein we consume. The solution is to eat more high-quality protein. Some tips for optimizing muscle protein synthesis:

  • Divide protein equally between meals throughout the day.
  • Use protein from animal sources as the easiest way to get proper ratios of amino acids.
  • Avoid processed meats and foods that are full of additives and saturated fats.

It’s also important to be consistent with protein levels daily. Relying on sugary snacks that are easy to grab often leaves us going hours without a good protein source during the day. A consistent meal plan ensures that you’re getting in the healthy, whole protein sources needed to optimize protein use without significant gaps during the week.

Athlete using a dumbbell for strength training.

Do Strength Training

Along with diet, strength training is one of the most important ways to maintain muscle mass as we age. In addition to helping you burn calories more efficiently, strength training can help keep your bones strong as you age. If you have not been active recently, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor before beginning any strength training program for guidance on what activities you can do.

Minding Your Metabolism: Everyone Has the Power to Fuel Their Bodies the Right Way

It can feel like metabolism is simply all about the luck of the draw. However, nobody can escape the realities of the declining metabolisms and reduced muscle mass that come with age. The good news is that orienting our diets to work with the natural flow of the human metabolism is an easy way to control weight while nourishing the body to fight back against muscle loss.

At the bare minimum, make sure you’re getting at least .8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight, the recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). Remember that quality, lean protein sources are best! It’s also wise to break up protein evenly throughout the day to ensure that your body isn’t “starved” for protein at any point. This could look like starting your day with a whole-egg scramble bowl before moving on to a lunch consisting of a smoked paprika chicken breast salad, a dinner consisting of chimichurri steak and a snack consisting of organic strawberry chia pudding.

Important Points

  • For years, researchers have known that exercise helps prevent or reduce the severity of chronic conditions like heart disease.
  • Now, recent research shows that it is also good for the brain. Exercise may help prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
  • There are many theories as to why exercise is beneficial in this regard. However, one theory has to do with iron.
  • Iron accumulation in the brain is associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Exercise helps the brain better metabolize iron, which may explain its beneficial role in preventing dementia.

Scientists have known for a long time that physical exercise offers a range of health benefits. It reduces the risk for chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease.

In recent years, researchers are revealing that exercise is good for the brain, too. Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of issues like depression and anxiety.

Now, there is strong evidence that people can reduce their risk of later developing dementia by making key lifestyle changes, including exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a disease that affects more than 55 million people worldwide. In most cases, it is progressive and leads to a deterioration in cognitive function. This deterioration goes beyond normal aging and affects memory, comprehension, and analytical skills.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is one of the most common causes of death among adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It currently ranks 6th as the leading cause of death among all adults. It is projected that the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease will continue to increase. According to the latest estimates, as many as 100 million more people will be diagnosed by 2050.

People tend to believe that Alzheimer’s Disease occurs later in life, but that is not necessarily true. Although the risk increases with age, symptoms can develop as early as when a person is in their 40s.

What We Know: Physical Activity Can Help Protect the Brain from Alzheimer’s Disease

Regularly exercising appears to be one of the best lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Just like our muscles can become more fit with exercise, so can our brain.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, regular exercise can reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Over one-third of dementia cases are preventable through lifestyle changes, including physical exercise.

Why is that? Let’s take a look at what science says. 

What Does the Research Say?

A recent study found that exercise may prevent Alzheimer’s by helping the brain better metabolize iron. The study found that Alzheimer’s, and aging in general, are both associated with changes in the way the brain metabolizes iron. Researchers theorize that the accumulation of iron in the brain contributes to the formation of plaques found in Alzheimer’s and other dementias. These plaques contain a toxic protein called beta-amyloid, which is found in autopsies of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

How does exercise help the brain better metabolize iron? Researchers know that regular exercise improves iron metabolism and prevents iron buildup in the brain, but they are uncertain why this is the case.

Scientists don’t fully understand how physical activity lowers dementia and Alzheimer’s risk. There are probably a combination of factors that contribute. Experts suggest that aerobic exercise can help reduce the risk of dementia by improving vascular health. This likely lessens the damage of Alzheimer’s effect on the brain, encouraging neuron growth and survival.

Medical research demonstrates that dementia starts affecting the brain many years before symptoms show up. Experts suggest that making lifestyle changes and healthy choices in your 40s may make a big difference in your dementia risk down the road.

What Kind of Exercise Should I Do?

Cardio 

Aerobic exercise, in particular, may be especially beneficial for guarding against dementia. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease compared the cognitive function of two groups of sedentary adults aged 55 and older with dementia symptoms. The goal of the research was to find out if aerobic exercise would reduce brain atrophy and plaque buildup, which are both early markers of Alzheimer’s.

The control group performed aerobic exercise for 30 minutes at least four times a week, while the other group only did flexibility exercises. Although both groups experienced some cognitive benefits, the group that performed aerobic exercise lost less volume in the hippocampus area of the brain, which is a region that tends to deteriorate as dementia worsens.

What Kind Of Cardio Should I Do To Get Brain Benefits?

While you should always talk to your doctor about how much and what kind of cardio exercise is right for you, we recommend aiming for 30-minutes of aerobic exercise at least four days per week. Try:

  • Aerobic Dance or Zumba Dancing is especially great for the brain as it requires you to learn complex choreography, which keeps the brain working. Dancing is also a social activity, and studies have found that social connection has been linked with a lowered risk of developing dementia.
  • Swimming – Swimming incorporates both cardio and strength. This is a great way to get both types of exercise in at once. It’s perfect if you struggle to find the time in your schedule to commit to both cardio and strength training.
  • Gardening – When people think of exercise, they often forget about gardening. But, this activity is a great way to get your cardio in. It counts as moderate to high-intensity exercise. Not only can it help guard against dementia, but spending time outdoors gardening can be a great way to de-stress after a particularly stressful day at work.
  • Walking – Walking is great for anyone. It suits all fitness levels and abilities. You don’t need any special equipment, and it can be done anywhere. Walking outdoors also provides unique benefits, including improved mood. Walking outdoors has been shown to reduce the risk of depression compared to walking indoors. So, it can be an excellent exercise for protecting against Alzheimer’s disease and reducing symptoms of depression.

Strength Training

Many strength training exercises, like boxing, can benefit brain health. Scientists say that just six months of strength training can help protect brain areas vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease long term. They say that the beneficial results of regular strength training on the brain can last up to one year later.

What Kind Of Strength Training Should I Do to Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

  • Weight lifting – Weight training is especially beneficial when it comes to dementia. Animal studies have found that weight training helps promote the creation of new neurons in the brain’s memory centers.
  • Boxing – This exercise is helpful because it incorporates both strength and cardiovascular exercise.
  • Dancing – Like boxing, dancing is great because it enhances strength, cardio fitness, and flexibility.
  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)-  The fitness giant CrossFit conducted a case study on the effect of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) combined with memory training and a ketogenic diet in treating mild dementia. They found that HIIT, together with memory training and a keto diet, had a beneficial impact on cognitive function and overall metabolic health.

Like exercise, eating healthy also reduces the risk of dementia. Research has shown that nutrition and dementia are related. A diet high in vegetables, fruits, and seafood can reduce the risk of dementia. A healthy diet plus exercise is the path to better health. These things can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol, two factors related to heart issues, which can cause dementia. Therefore, a lifestyle that incorporates a healthy diet plus exercise is best.

How Often Should I Exercise?

All that it takes is just one workout to make our brain’s memory more fit. Of course, to get the most benefit, you should exercise regularly. Studies have shown that the cumulative effects of exercise can lead to long-term improvements in how our brains work and remember information. Therefore, coming up with a long-term exercise routine is best to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Final Thoughts

Although exercise or a healthy diet alone will not prevent Alzheimer’s disease, there are lifestyle factors that you can make to reduce the risk. The research on exercise and dementia shows that physical activity lowers the risk of developing dementia. It also helps improve dementia symptoms in people who have mild cognitive impairment. It is likely a combination of factors, including a healthy diet and regular physical activity, that is the most beneficial for dementia prevention.

We’ve all had that moment of realizing that we’re mindlessly shoveling in another forkful of food. Some of us might not even realize that we’ve been eating on autopilot until our crumb-dusted hands feel the empty inside of a party-sized chip bag. Rote eating is something that many of us fall into because of life’s fast pace. How many times have you gobbled up a sandwich in four bites just to be able to walk into a meeting on time? “Netflix eating” is also a real problem. Eating while binging on the latest season of Ozark causes us to attune our senses to what’s on the screen. This is great except that we then no longer pay attention to our taste buds. During the holidays, many people fall into the trap of distracted eating. The sheer volume of food put in front of us can cause us to feel pressure to try everything. As a result, we’re in a frenzied state of eating without savoring our food. So, how can we practice mindful eating this holiday? Read on for some tips. But first, let’s first talk about distracted eating. 

The Problem With Distracted Eating

The problem is that eating without intention causes us to eat more. “Distracted” eating can be especially dangerous when it comes to consuming larger portions unintentionally. An extensive analysis done by researchers on the topic of “eating awareness” a few years ago sheds some light on this problem. It showed just how much more likely we are to overeat when eating under the influence of distraction.

How Likely We Are To Overeat When Distracted

When looking at 24 studies, researchers found that eating when distracted consistently produced a moderate boost in immediate intake. When we begin a meal in a distracted state, we tend to start eating extra straight out of the gate. Furthermore, starting a meal while distracted causes us to increase intake as our eating continues. Think of it like a “snowball effect.”

Is there anything that can stop it? According to this review, there are three key takeaways to combat distracted eating. Here they are:

  • Enhancing memory of food consumed reduced later intake. That means that slowing down to pay attention to what you’re eating can prevent you from overeating at subsequent meals.
  • Removing visual information about the amount of food eaten during the meal increases immediate intake. Luckily, this is one of the easiest oversights to fix. We’ll cover the tips in just a minute!
  • Incorporating attentive-eating principles into one’s lifestyle may aid both weight loss and maintenance without the need for conscious calorie counting.

Distracted eating can happen anywhere. However, many people have concerns about losing perspective about what’s on their plates with the holidays approaching. The stress of holiday shopping and worries over holiday finances can cause us to not pay attention to what we eat. Even good things like spending time with family or the carefree joy that comes from having time off can cause distracted eating.

That’s not to say that a little bit of indulgence isn’t welcomed on big feasting days like Thanksgiving. However, the goal should be to enjoy some controlled indulgence instead of distracted indulgence.

How to Stay Present During Holiday Meals

Take a look at some smart tips for being more aware and paying more attention to what you eat over the holidays.

Mindful Eating Tip #1: Focus on Nutrition First

Thanksgiving dinner table setting with healthy food.

Before you approach a spread packed with all kinds of starchy, sticky and sweet foods, make a deal with yourself: to focus on nutrition first. Choose to load your plate first with nutritional foods rather than ones that are simply “yummy.” You should also eat the most nutritious things off your plate first. This will help you fill up on goodies like steamed broccoli or lean turkey before diving into the buttery biscuits. You’re not restricting what you can eat. Instead, you’re prioritizing foods that nourish you. The bonus is that you won’t be quite so ravenous when you do finally work your way to the desserts. Starting your meal by being mindful about what you’re eating will set you up to remain mindful.

Mindful Eating Tip #2: Don’t Grab the Big Dish

Pay attention to the size of your plate! While this may seem simple enough, the reality is that most of us have been programmed to “fill our plates” regardless of the size. In fact, we rarely stop to even consider the way that plate size impacts portion size. According to some experts, it’s not uncommon for a person to end up eating 25 percent to 50 percent more food from a bigger dish! There’s a way around this. First, if you are at a gathering, try to grab a dish that’s close to the size you use for your meals at home. If the dishes only come in one size, estimate the size of your “normal” dish within the larger dish. Only fill your plate to cover your regular portion size from home!

Mindful Eating Tip #3: Don’t Socialize Near the Food

This little hack is helpful for holidays, parties and work meetings! Proximity to food makes us more likely to dip our hands in! In a study looking at how visibility and convenience influence candy consumption, researchers placed candy dishes in work settings to see if proximity influenced how much candy study participants would eat. The results of this study were surprising. People ate nine candies when a dish was on the desk. When the candy was placed in a drawer, they ate six. When participants had to get up from their desk, they ate only four pieces!

It’s easy to see how being able to simply “reach” for food makes it more challenging to practice mindful eating. When the food is further away, it gives you more time to think about whether or not you really want that food.

Mindful Eating Tip #4: Start the Day With Your Own Breakfast

Getting your day off to a rocky start that includes grabbing for whatever is available can set you up for a day of distracted, mindless eating. We can’t always control what others are going to serve at events like holiday gatherings. However, we can control what we eat before we get there. Pay special attention to breakfast if it’s the only meal of the day that you can control. By practicing mindful eating earlier in the day, you can better avoid distracted eating later in the day. You are setting yourself up for mindful eating all day long!

Here are a couple of ideas for a mindful breakfast. Prepare a hearty egg scramble that keeps you feeling full and energized. The healthy proteins will get you in the mindset for healthy meals without a sense of deprivation for the rest of the day. If you stay at someone’s house overnight before a big holiday, take along something easy and convenient like overnight oats.

Mindful Eating Tip #5: Keep Your Plate Away From the Television

This might just be the most important tip of all! Being distracted by shows, movies and videos may be one of the most significant unknown health risks people face today! Eating while watching television around the holidays can be especially dangerous! Want to know why? This is a time of year when holiday baking shows flood the airways and streaming services. A study from University of Surrey found that watching cooking shows and videos can cause us to eat more.

Of course, eating while gathered around the television for any reason can cause us to eat more. What many people don’t realize is that eating while watching television makes food less satisfying. As a result, we keep going back for more because we aren’t satiated quite as easily.

Having our senses occupied by the screen can also cause us to miss critical cues that tell us we’ve eaten enough! There’s also a “time” component. Making the decision to eat while watching a television show locks in our “eating time” for the duration of that show. This may cause us to go back for “seconds” several times to remain in a state of eating until the end of the program we’re watching!

What to do instead? Practice mindful eating by making the decision to start a show or movie after eating for the evening.

Final Thoughts: Mindful Eating Makes the Holidays More Enjoyable

Mindfulness elevates the experience of eating. It’s important to remember that mindfulness isn’t a punishment designed to stop us from seeing food as a means of enjoyment. The opposite is true. Mindfulness allows us to live in the moment with our plates instead of feeling like we’re always chasing the pleasure that’s dulled by distraction.

Couple enjoying Thanksgiving dinner.

Let’s talk about feel-good foods! Many people associate “comfort foods” with the warm, fuzzy emotions that go along with eating warm, gooey and filling foods. However, many of the comfort foods we grew up with are filled with sugars, extra carbs and unhealthy fats that wreck our moods after the initial “flavor high.” True feel-good food is food that uses nutrients, minerals and vitamins to provide brain boosts. These foods don’t create the “highs” and “lows” associated with many of the foods we all thought were feel-good foods. What are the best foods for boosting your mood naturally? Take a look at the recipe for happiness for both your stomach and brain!

Get a Happiness Delivery From Vitamin D

Breakfast with eggs, greens, and toast.

Yes, simple vitamin D is a big mood booster. Unfortunately, this is the feel-good vitamin that most people aren’t getting enough of in their diets. Researchers estimate that more than 41 percent of American adults aren’t getting enough daily Vitamin D.

What many people don’t realize is that vitamin D is technically a hormone. What’s more, researchers have linked low vitamin D levels with depression. In a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis on vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults, researchers concluded that the link between depression and vitamin D levels is profound enough to call for more trials to see if vitamin D can be an effective tool for the prevention and treatment of depression.

Fortunately, it’s very easy to find tasty options rich in vitamin D. Fish is an excellent source of natural vitamin D. Salmon, herring, sardines, tuna and cod top the list when it comes to getting the most D in every delicious bite! If you’ve been looking for a reason to commit to enjoying a morning scramble other than the fact that this is a delicious option, it’s helpful to know that eggs are very high in vitamin D. In fact, one yolk contains 37 IU of vitamin D. Mushrooms, oatmeal, cow’s milk and soy milk round out the list of common, delicious foods that are rich in vitamin D.

Bring the Fun Times With Omega-3 Fatty Acids

This is the big category if you’re struggling with mood and energy levels. There’s increasing evidence that a lack of omega-3 fatty acids in a person’s diet is linked with poor mental health. In fact, researchers believe that dietary deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids in humans are associated with increased risks for developing psychiatric disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The good news for anyone looking to boost physical and mental health is that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids tend to be highly nourishing and filling! In addition to being great for your brain, these foods are also potentially beneficial for heart health, skin health, eye health and weight loss. If you want to go big with omega-3 fatty acids, focus on cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines. Falling into the category of nuts and seeds, goodies like chia seeds, flaxseed and walnuts are all high in omega-3 fatty acids. Plant oils like soybean oil, canola oil and flaxseed oil are all superstars when it comes to getting your omega-3 requirements in!

Do a Turkey Trot Toward a Good Mood With Tryptophan

Tryptophan got a bad rap for being the ingredient in turkey that makes everyone feel sleepy on Thanksgiving. While tryptophan can have a relaxing impact, the reality is that the infamous Thanksgiving sleepiness probably has much more to do with the enormous portions of all types of food being eaten at the table than it does with one little amino acid. What’s interesting about tryptophan is that our bodies don’t produce it even though it’s needed to maintain the body’s muscles, enzymes, proteins and neurotransmitters. The reason why tryptophan makes the list of mood-boosting things to eat is because this amino acid is converted to serotonin in your brain. That after-turkey afterglow may start making sense to you now! Serotonin is the primary hormone for stabilizing our mood. When serotonin levels are balanced, we can expect to have feelings of well-being and happiness. In fact, many of the antidepressants that people use for mood issues are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that increase serotonin levels in the brain.

Studies show that tryptophan may be effective for treating a variety of psychiatric disorders. While adding some extra tryptophan to your diet should never take the place of actual advice from your doctor if you’re currently using SSRIs, it’s helpful to know that many popular foods are packed with tryptophan if you’re simply looking for a mood boost. If you’re looking to tip the mood scales in your favor, try nibbling on oats, bananas, dried prunes, milk, tuna fish, cheese, bread, chicken, turkey, peanuts and chocolate.

Breeze Past Bad Moods With Probiotics

Two bowls of yogurt parfait made with granola and peaches.

According to the latest research, probiotics may help to boost both mood and cognitive function. It all comes down to the discovery that the brain and gut are linked by something called the gut-brain axis. Through the brain-gut axis, biochemical signals are conveyed between the nervous system and digestive tract.

Researchers call the gut the body’s “second brain” due to all of the neurotransmitters produced in the gut. In fact, 90 percent of the serotonin produced by the human body is made in the digestive tract! The gut is also responsible for making other mood-regulating neurotransmitters like dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid.

There are plenty of ways to fit probiotics into your diet! The easiest way to get in your probiotics every day is by simply starting your day off with a yogurt parfait! Foods like tempeh (fermented soybean), kefir, sauerkraut and miso are all great sources for probiotics.

Don’t Forget the Coffee

While it’s not technically a food, coffee enjoyed in moderation can be great for improving mood. Coffee stimulates the central nervous system. That’s why we feel sharper and more alert after starting the day with a cup of java. Researchers believe that caffeine’s ability to block a neurotransmitter in the brain called adenosine is what that feeling of “having the edge” comes from. It’s also known that caffeine influences neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, dopamine and acetylcholine that are known to improve both mood and mental performance. One of the most compelling arguments for using coffee as a mood-boosting tool comes from a 2013 study looking at the link between coffee consumption and suicide. According to the authors that reviewed data from three large studies, the risk of suicide for adults who drank two to four cups of caffeinated coffee per day was about half compared to people who drank decaffeinated coffee, very little no coffee.

Eating for a Better Mood: How to Make Healthy, Happy Meals Happen Every Day

Being stressed about what to eat to boost your mood can be counterproductive when you’re striving to eat for a sharper, happier brain. That’s why using meal prep is a great way to ensure that you’re getting balanced, healthy meals. This is also a great way to enjoy balanced nutrition that gives you mood-boosting ingredients worked into portions that offer appropriate amounts of healthy fats, protein, calories and more for better physical performance!

Does life feel like a stress factory? It turns out that the way to slow down stress is to rev up your gears. While it may seem counterproductive, doing more is the best stress-management technique if that “more” involves your workout. Yes, regular exercise is the stress-busting secret that everyone needs to remember when they feel tense, anxious and overwhelmed. Do you need a stress escape plan? Take a look at the secret to managing stress with exercise.

Your Brain Supplies You With Your Own Stress-Management Coaches: Meet the Endorphins

Most of us know how good that post-workout glow feels. It can feel like we’ve discovered the secret switch for suddenly feeling more energized, confident and motivated. However, we can just as easily forget how good working out feels once our schedules fill up with work commitments, home-life commitments and distractions. Once you know the science behind why working out leaves you feeling like you’re on top of the world, it’s pretty hard to skip a workout.

It’s all thanks to endorphins. Endorphins are your body’s feel-good neurotransmitters. You’ve definitely already met endorphins if you’ve ever worked out hard, went for a run or simply danced around! Endorphins are natural analgesics that help to diminish pain. Your body releases them during workouts because it knows that you’re “feeling the burn.”

Because endorphins act on the brain’s opioid receptors, they create the feeling of a natural “high” that can reduce pain, increase pleasure and leave you with a general sense of increased well-being. Researchers have known about the link between exercise and the stress-reducing benefits of endorphin release for decades. However, the stressful pace of modern life has more and more researchers looking at the benefits of exercise for stress relief. If you really want to ramp up the feel-good, stress-busting hormones, you may need to ramp up your workouts. While any form of exercise can positively affect mood, people going hard against stress are going hard in the gym. Next, take a look at the emerging research on moderate versus heavy exercise for stress relief.

How Heavy Exercise Can Help With Stress Reduction

First, it’s helpful to know the baseline recommendation for using exercise and physical activity for wellness. The current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggest that adults should strive to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly. If you’re doing vigorous-intensity workouts, the recommended time drops down to 75 minutes weekly. Keep in mind that this is the recommendation simply for improving and maintaining physical health. People seeking to use workouts to improve mental health may want to tweak this suggestion a bit to create more of a “therapeutic” schedule. In fact, research supports this.

In a 2018 study, researchers looked at opioid release after high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to gauge the positive effects of physical exercise on mood and stress levels. They found that HIIT leads to a strong endorphin release in the brain that likely alleviates both physical and emotional stress. Here’s a closer look at the data roundup:

  • HIIT substantially increased the release of endorphins and opioid peptides in areas of the brain that control pain and emotion.
  • HIIT’s ability to reduce “negative feelings” actually boosted endorphin release. Consider this confirmation that the no-pain-no-gain theory might be more valid than we thought!
  • Researchers were left to conclude that both negative and positive feelings created by physical exercise impact the opioid system.

The most exciting part of this study comes next. The impact of HIIT on the brain’s opioid system was compared to regular aerobic exercise. Researchers concluded that a traditional one-hour session of aerobic exercise did not produce the same endorphin release as HIIT. Of course, that’s not to say that “normal” aerobic exercise isn’t helpful for stress relief. While traditional exercise did produce feelings of pleasure and euphoria associated with endorphin release, the intensity of the results could not touch what study participants who endured HIIT experienced.

Tweaking Exercise Intensity Levels for Stronger Stress Relief

Photo of athlete performing rope climbs in the gym.

Let’s back up to cover precisely what the correlation between high-intensity workouts and endorphin release means for people trying to learn how to use exercise for stress relief. First, the thought that some exercise is better than no exercise still applies. Someone who cannot participate in high-intensity aerobics for any reason should not assume that they should skip working out because it doesn’t offer any benefits. Any mildly intense physical activity should get you a decent-sized endorphin release that can take the edge off. If you’re looking for intense stress relief, the answer is intense physical activity.

Knowing that high-intensity workouts lead to better stress relief is half the battle. The irony of using intense workouts for stress relief is that the endorphin rush that you’re trying to invoke in your opioid receptors can only be created by creating unpleasant feelings. That’s because your body releases endorphins in response to pain and physical stress during workouts. To stay on track with using exercise for meaningful stress relief, you have to get in a mindset of getting rid of the bad feelings caused by stress by taking on even more bad feelings during a grueling workout before reaching the point where the pain turns to pleasure.

Getting the motivation for this can be challenging for anyone. Negative feelings associated with intense exercise discourage exercise in a considerable percentage of the general population. This is where consistency and planning become so important. You need to build a mindset that allows you to take on the physical and emotional demands of putting in a workout.

How To Stay Motivated

Here are some tips for staying motivated to get your workouts in — even if you know they might make you wince:

Set of workout clothes ready to go.
Keep your workout clothes ready to go!
  • Get your workout in early. If your schedule allows, make your workout the first thing you do every morning. Scheduling your workout for later in the day gives you most of the day to try to talk yourself out of doing it. What’s more, unexpected things can pop up during your day to rob you of the time you’ve set aside for your workout. Exercising first thing also gives you the confidence boost and optimism that come with accomplishing something very hard before more people have even rolled down the top sheet! If you’re having a hard time getting started in the morning, you can gradually adjust your workout time to be earlier and earlier every day until you can get there.
  • Make sure there’s a “treat” waiting. Don’t put yourself in the position to be desperate for anything you can get your hands on after you finish an intense workout. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be a treat, giving yourself a snack or meal to look forward to when your workout is complete can be a big motivator. Of course, you’ll want to make sure that the food or beverage you select will replenish and restore you without undoing any of your hard work. If you’re planning morning workouts, consider having something like healthy banana pancakes or a keto egg scramble waiting for you in the fridge!
  • Keep your workout clothes ready. The goal is to make sure you never have excuses. Following each workout, prepare your workout clothes and gear for the next workout! This will ensure that they are always waiting for you.
  • Discover exercises you enjoy. HIIT workouts come in many forms! You don’t have to commit to just one option. In fact, many HIIT workout programs out there combine traditional cardio with yoga, boxing, ballet and more!
  • Bring a friend along. If you’re desperate to relieve stress, there’s a good chance that the people you live or work with also need some stress-busting tools. Why not get a partner or group? Studies show that having a workout partner increases the amount of time spent working out!
  • Just remember that even a small amount of exercise helps. Exercise in almost any form or intensity level can be a stress reliever. So, if you are out of shape, start by gradually building up your fitness level. You’ll still get the stress relieving benefits of exercise while slowly becoming healthier.

The research is becoming more apparent on one thing. Pain may be the only way to gain peace of mind when it comes to your workout. If you’ve fallen into a sedentary way of being, the argument for getting out there to feel the burn has never been stronger. If you’re already exercising without getting the stress-relieving benefits that you want, the answer may be to ramp things up.

Let the Stress Reduction Begin!

If you’re feeling motivated to reduce stress using high-intensity workouts, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. It’s essential to get proper nutrition through complete, healthy meals when doing intense workouts because your body needs the right fuel to perform—as always, using a meal prep service is an excellent way for busy health-minded people to stay on top of things without feeling vulnerable to hunger, cravings and low energy.