Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Last week, I finally arrived back at home from my lengthy trip to Florida. During my time there, I visited with my grandfather and my in-laws. It was really nice to spend quality time with them, but it was more than lovely to be away from the cold New York winter. One reason I enjoy getting some sunshine is because I get to take a few less pills. I’m talking about vitamin D. When I don’t get any sun, I usually take about 6 thousand IU. I reduce that amount based on how much sunshine I get in a given day.

You might be wondering why I take so much. It’s because I found out that I was pretty severely deficient, and I don’t want that to happen again. I have some other medical issues that may have contributed to my deficiency, but it’s mostly from lack of sunlight. I know this because most of this country is deficient in vitamin D, whether they know it or not.

I was glad the topic of vitamins came up during one of my conversations with my grandfather because I wanted to know if he was supplementing with vitamin D. He wasn’t. You might think that’s okay because he’s in Florida, but it’s really not. You see, as we get older, our bodies become less efficient at producing vitamins from sunshine – and, he’s only in Florida for half of the year.

Well, it turns out that a few weeks earlier, his doctor told him he was deficient in D and needed to supplement. I don’t know whether he disregarded the advice or just forgot, but after our conversation, he went out and got some vitamin D – and he’s been taking it religiously ever since.

Vitamin D is involved in so many bodily processes, so having enough is really crucial to overall health. It’ll keep your immune system stronger in general, but another important function of vitamin D is to keep you bones healthy. It does this by helping your body absorb calcium. Without vitamin D, it doesn’t matter how much calcium you consume because your body can’t use it. It’s been confirmed; getting enough vitamin D everyday will very likely result in fewer trips to the doctor. Sure, you won’t get to see that medical assistant you’ve been crushing on, but your body will be in much better shape.

According to the Vitamin D Council, every adult should be getting at least 5 thousand IU of this vitamin (don’t worry; they’re teeny tiny pills).

Did you get your fill of vitamin D today?

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Experiment with Natural Protein Sources

Protein is good for you, but only in moderation. I think that is a lesson that is lacking in our country today. Before adopting a vegan diet, I used to binge on protein; animal protein. I’d have two eggs for breakfast (scrambled), some sort of meat sandwich for lunch and chicken or beef for dinner. That’s too much protein and not enough veggies. But, I honestly didn’t know any better. I’m not saying everyone should avoid meat, but I do think it’s wise to cut back and experiment with different protein sources.

Why You Need Protein

Protein helps to build strength and to keep muscles, hair and skin looking healthy. Most people get their protein from meats, eggs and nuts but Americans have become well-known for eating way too much meat. While protein is good for the brain, there are some ways to make sure that you are eating the right kinds of protein.

Experimenting with Animal Proteins

First, make sure that the meat you are eating is high-quality. Organic meat that has been humanely-treated is best for your body and the environment (fewer hormones and no antibiotics). It’s also important to experiment with quantity. Smaller amounts of protein are easier to digest, so the portion should be no bigger than the palm of your hand. You can also change the type of meat you eat. Instead of beef try chicken, fish or lamb.

Experimenting with Plant-Based Proteins

Did you know that your body makes protein from various amino acids? It’s true. So, if you eat a variety of vegetables, you’ll likely get all the amino acids your body needs to make protein. You can also get protein from beans, nuts and a grain called quinoa (pronounced: keenwah). Plant-based proteins are generally easier on the digestive system, which can free up energy that you can use for other things (exercise, anyone?). It’s also completely devoid of cholesterol; compare that to a cheeseburger.

As strange as it may seem, food can really change your mood by increasing the way your brain produces “good mood” chemicals. Regardless of the source, it is important to maintain a balanced diet that includes a moderate amount of protein. But, I wanted to point out that it really isn’t necessary (in fact, it can even be harmful) to eat large portions of meat at each meal. Eating right is pretty simple because it’s not an exact science. You don’t need to measure your food or to learn how to become a nutritionist. You just have to get a variety of real food in your diet every day.

Coping with Stress

We know that it’s important to exercise and eat nutritious foods in order to stay fit, but did you also know that you should avoid stress in order to be healthy? Studies have shown that people who don’t deal well with stress are more susceptible to illness. I don’t want that to be me, and I’ll bet you don’t either. Let’s look at the ways we can keep stress at bay and stay fit and healthy.

Everyone has stress in their daily lives. The reality is that we live in a fast-paced world, and stress is inevitable. Whenever you feel stressed, your body is to reacting to danger. In the past (prehistoric days), this reaction helped keep us alive. But today, that’s not the case. We might feel stress when we get a bad grade in school, can’t find scholarships to help pay for our education, or miss a deadline at work.

Although stress is everywhere, it’s really important to find ways to deal with it. High stress levels are associated with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, digestive ailments and even obesity. So, having a battle plan for dealing with and relieving stress can help you live a longer, happier and healthier life.

One good way to deal with stress is to exercise regularly. People who exercise regularly have lower levels of stress hormones and are just all around happier. Not only will you like the way you look, but you’ll also be relieving stress hormones that can build up and lead to chronic disease. Pound out your stress by hitting the pavement for a run or lifting weights. Yoga is also great for beating stress because it combines the benefits of physical exercise with the practices of meditation, relaxation and proper breathing.

Even if you exercise, stress still can get to you. When you feel your body’s stress reaction coming on, here’s what to do: Breathe deeply and slowly. Take a few breaths in and out to help ward off that “fight or flight” reaction and calm yourself down.

Later on, after you’ve removed yourself from the stressor, you might still feel a little affected. If so, find a quiet place to sit and clear your mind. Stressing over problems, small or large, is not the way to solve them. It’s a way to find yourself sick and less capable of handling things – so, be sure to deal with stress the right way and you’ll keep yourself in tip-top shape, ready to handle anything!

How Exercise Makes You Energized, Focused and Optimistic

I often write about motivation, not because I think you need the push, but because I know I do. The one thing I’ve noticed about myself (and exercise) throughout the years is that I go through ebbs and flows. Once I actually get into a routine, I’m good. But as soon as I fall off that wagon, I’m in trouble. It’s so much easier to do nothing; isn’t it? So, when I’m lacking in motivation, I like to remind myself how great I feel when I’m exercising regularly. I’m energized, focused and optimistic. When I don’t exercise regularly, I’m the exact opposite of those three things.

Exercise helps you focus by increasing the blood flow within the body, which helps deliver more oxygen to the muscles, tissues and organs – including the brain. Not only does the blood deliver oxygen, but it also delivers vital nutrients that it needs in order to function.

If you look at the most successful people in life, you’ll start to notice a pattern. It doesn’t matter what field they’ve chosen to study. For the most part, they all understand the value of a good workout. Maybe they do it for vain reasons, or maybe for their health, but I do think that the increased flow of oxygen to their brains probably has contributed in some way to their success. How could it not? They’re more focused, energized and optimistic than the rest of us.

When I look at people like this, I think “Why can’t that be me?” But, then I remember: it can. I just need to stay motivated and exercise more often. The energy, focus and optimism that follows will help me start taking the steps I know I need to take in order to be more successful in life. It isn’t all attributed to exercise, of course. But when you exercise, you’re giving yourself a good springboard to use to hoist your ideas into action.

How Food Affects Your Mood

Most of us know that it’s important to eat right so we don’t gain weight and get diabetes, but sadly that’s the extent of most peoples’ knowledge of nutrition. That’s why we end up counting calories and constantly dieting: because no one ever actually taught us how to eat. Ever since I started learning more about nutrition, this is something that has boggled my mind. Whenever I learn something new, I’m always surprised that I had never learned it before: especially since so much of nutrition seems like common sense.

One good example is how food affects your mood. Sure, I get pretty darn grouchy when I haven’t eaten all day, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Not entirely, anyway. I’m really talking about our long-term dietary needs. Yes, we do need vitamins and minerals every single day, but if you’re healthy, you should be able to go a day or two without food and not experience symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I’m not sure why I get grouchy; maybe I just really don’t like the feeling of an empty stomach! 🙂

Anyway, I would like to talk a little more about the vitamin deficiencies that do cause a negative impact on your mood. When you go to the doctor for symptoms of depression, more often than not, she’ll send you to a psychiatrist without ever checking your vitamin levels. That psychiatrist may put you on a prescription medication (if your symptoms are severe enough) with a long list of side effects. But in reality, you didn’t need to see the pharmacy tech at all. All you really needed was a steady supply of magnesium-rich foods.

Our healthcare system is broken. There isn’t much we can do about that, but we can educate ourselves about how nutrition and disease are related. If you’re having any symptoms at all, it certainly won’t hurt to do a quick Google search to find out if your symptoms mimic those of a specific deficiency. Then, all you have to do is ask your doctor for a simple test. Deficiencies aren’t always the cause of our problems, but I really think it should be the first place we look for answers.

Other deficiencies that can cause depression-related symptoms are folate and zinc. Also, if you’re not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, you might become more irritable.

Secret Exposed: Exercise Doesn’t Have to be Torture

In the past, I’ve posted about how to find motivation to exercise. It’s an important topic, especially for those of us who tend to fall into ruts of laziness (my hand is raised right now). But with that in mind, I wanted to point something out that most people don’t think about: Exercise isn’t just what you do at the gym; it’s everything you do to move your body and work your muscles. If you’re not a gym-rat (and I’m definitely not), or even if you are, it can be fun to find creative ways to get exercise without feeling like you’re “working out.”

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Dance! If you like to dance, make this your exercise. You don’t need a routine; you just need to move your body. Whether you’re a good dancer or you have two left feet, you’re getting exercise while your body is moving. You can turn on the music and dance the night away at home, or you can plan a night out with your friends. Just don’t include alcohol in your workout, or you’re kind of defeating the purpose.
  2. Act like a kid again. Whenever I think of this advice, I think of Phoebe from Friends running in Central Park. You’ve heard the expression “Dance like no one’s watching.” In this episode, she runs like no one’s watching. It’s pretty hysterical, but the point is, she’s having fun. You don’t have run like Phoebe, but you can play games that make you feel like a kid again, like H.O.R.S.E and kickball.
  3. Join a team. Just because you’re not in school anymore, doesn’t mean you can’t play on an organized team. Check with your town’s recreation center to see if there are any softball, volleyball or basketball teams you can join.

One of the reasons we stay fit when we’re young is because we do things we enjoy. For some reason, most of us stop that once we reach adulthood. I’m not really sure why. Maybe we’re made to feel guilty for spending time on fun stuff, so exercise must become torture. It’s kind of silly when you think about it.

Another reason we become a little more sloppy when we get older is that our metabolism naturally slows. But the truth is, it doesn’t slow down that much. We’re the ones who really stop ourselves from being fit. Just get out there and have some fun already – your body will thank you for it!

5 Reasons to Make Time for Exercise

I’m very interested in health, especially as it relates to nutrition, but I often find myself struggling to fit exercise into my life. I find it much easier to choose a salad over a piece of chocolate than to get up off my butt and work out. I constantly need to convince myself that exercise is really worth it. Sounds crazy, right? Well, today I’m creating a list that will help me get over my next fitness slump and remember why I should be exercising every day.

  1. Research shows that our bodies are designed to exercise. It’s what our ancestors have done up until about 50-100 years ago when we stopped exercising and started getting chronic disease at alarming rates.
  2. Exercise strengthens your bones. Well, not all exercise, but most. Any “load bearing” exercise, such as walking, running, pilates, etc., actually puts pressure on your bones and causes them to build up and become more dense.
  3. Exercise can actually make you smarter. Here’s how it works: When your muscles contract, your body releases a protein called IGF-1, which travels to your brain and causes other chemicals to be released, including Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). BDNF stimulates your brain cells to branch out and make new connections (which is the basis of learning).
  4. Exercise makes you feel good. When you exercise, your brain and spinal cord release endorphins, which make you feel great. They diminish feelings of pain, relieve stress, and help improve sleep.
  5. Exercise makes you look good. This one is no secret. When you work out, your muscles get toned and your body takes on a more attractive shape. You’re also healthier overall, which results in increased outward beauty. You can exercise to gain muscle mass or to increase flexibility – the choice is yours. Either way, you’ll shape your body and start looking better.

The only reason I can think of not to exercise is laziness. But, that’s more of a problem than a valid reason. I know people also say they’re too busy, but about 99.9% of the time, that’s also just an excuse. We make time for the things that are important. I have a friend who uses this excuse all the time. He’s a software developer and works about 50 hours a week. Then, he volunteers another 5 hours. He’s a busy guy, but somehow he finds a whole lot of time to play video games. It’s important to take time for things we enjoy, but I think we all (myself included) should remind ourselves that exercise is as important to our wellbeing as eating or brushing our teeth. It’s time for us to put down the video game (or whatever your vice is) for a little while and make time for some exercise.