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Are You A ’Glass Half Full’ Person?

images-3Positive thinking is no longer just a soft and fluffy term thrown around in psychology classes.  Reams of research are beginning to reveal that positive thinking is about much more than just displaying an upbeat attitude and a smile.  Studies have consistently shown that a positive attitude can have a beneficial effect on our health and success.  A recent article from the Mayo Clinic cited the following health benefits of positive thinking:

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

But how does one become a positive person?  Are we born seeing the glass either ‘half full’ or ‘half empty’?  And, are we destined to go through life this way?

Recent research says, ‘no’. Scientists have learned that the brain continues to adapt and rewire itself throughout our lives and our thoughts and behaviors directly influence this process.

So how do we actually become more optimistic?  One technique is by consciously and actively practicing gratitude.  At the end of every day, make a conscious effort to remember and write down 2 or 3 things for which you are grateful.  You can record them in a journal or on pieces of paper that you drop into a jar.  At first, you will most likely begin with the big stuff like family and a house over your head.  But as you continue, you will be forced to carefully look back over the day and remember the little things, such as the great lunch you had, or the phone call with your mom or even a thoughtful text from a friend.  Your brain can only hold a certain amount of information at a time, so by focusing on and reinforcing the positive events of the day, you crowd out the negative thoughts.

Over time, this way of thinking will actually rewire your brain. Just think of your brain as a dynamic, connected power grid, with billions of roads and pathways lighting up every time you think or feel.  The well travelled roads are your habits and your established ways of thinking and feeling.  Every time you think in a certain way or feel a specific emotion, you strengthen those roads and make it easier for your brain to travel along them.

However, when you think about something differently or choose a different emotion, you carve out a new road inside your brain.  If these new thoughts and emotions are reinforced frequently,  a new pathway gets stronger and becomes the preferred path.  The old pathway becomes used less and less and weakens.  (This is the concept of Neuroplasticity.)

One recent study published in the Journal of Research in Personality confirmed the impact of positive thoughts on one’s health.  Ninety college student were spilt into two groups, one of which wrote about intensely positive experiences three days a week, and the other group wrote about a control topic.  After just three months, the students who wrote about positive experiences had better mood levels, fewer visits to the health center, and experienced fewer illnesses.

I have been planning on using a gratitude jar with my kids for years and never seem to get around to it.  But as I write this blog, I am making a public promise to make gratitude part of my family’s life.  It only takes minutes a day and can lead to a happier more satisfied life.  Think about doing it for your family and send us a comment to tell us how it is going.

Also, if you are interested in learning about living a more optimistic life, Cara Maksimow, LCSW, CPC, conducts Optimism Workshops locally and by web.  Check out her link at http://www.maximize-wellness.com/workshops.html.

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  • Cara Maksimow, LCSW, CPC

    Love the blog post! I can say from personal experience ( my family and I have been doing ” 3 things” every night for years). I also have had great response from coaching clients who have incorporated gratitude into daily activities.

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Seven Dieting Myths

Every year there are new trends and updated suggestions for healthy eating and weight loss.  Some are simply useless and others can be counterproductive.   After reading about many of these trends, we came across an excellent article from Refinery29  that was re-posted on The Huffington Post . It embraces the Heels to Laces way of life: avoid fad diets and instead live a healthy and balanced lifestyle.  We have posted a portion of the the article below:

As a culture, we go through phases with our diet preferences — low-fat gave way to low-carb, dairy-free begat gluten-free, and eggs (poor eggs) are either omega-rich wunderkinds or insidious cholesterol bombs depending on the current political climate and whether or not Mercury’s in retrograde. Yet, there are some out-there diet myths that we simply can’t seem to shake.

Myth #1 You shouldn’t eat dinner (or anything else) after 7 p.m.

“There is no universal time that everyone should stop eating,” says Kinsella. “People get up at different times, go to sleep at different times, and eat at different times. Many countries eat dinner later than Americans but their populations weigh less than Americans do. Unless someone has an eating disorder and needs to eat at regular intervals to establish normalized hunger cues, or someone has a self-care reason for eating (like they’ll soon be stuck in a meeting without access to food), it is more important for people to be connected to their internal hunger cues than to be eating based on an external influence, like the clock.”

What’s even more curious is how this diet myth originated. Kinsella wonders if the don’t-eat-at-night rule may have more to do with how we regulate our earlier meals while dieting. “Some people get in bad cycles of skipping breakfast and then overeating at night,” she says. Furthermore, it’s often not about the time we eat but how we’re eating. “Sometimes, people find themselves late-night snacking out of habit while they’re watching TV. Both these patterns should be addressed simply because they aren’t self-care behaviors. But, non-hunger mindless snacking at 9 a.m. would be just as much of an issue as [it is at] 9 p.m.”

Myth #2 Your body doesn’t need carbohydrates. Carbs make you fat.

This line of thinking is central to quite a few diet programs, but Kinsella puts it right to bed. “With the exception of specialized diets for medical necessity, if someone isn’t eating carbohydrates, they aren’t functioning at their optimal level,” she says. “The brain alone uses 130 grams of carbohydrates per day. Carbohydrates are also necessary for serotonin production.”She adds that the maligned molecules are even more important if you engage in even moderate exercise. “Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for exercise and many people do not feel good when exercising without them. Since exercise is an essential component of self-care and health, eliminating carbohydrates can be detrimental to overall health.”Again, no one’s arguing that you need more Wonder Bread in your life, but “whole grains, beans, fruit, and vegetables all contain carbohydrates and are excellent sources of fiber. For this reason, many people on low-carb diets experience an unwanted side effect: constipation.” We’ve all been there. Let’s not go there again.


Myth #3 Paleo is the ideal diet, because we were all once Paleolithic people.

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This one particularly irks me. It’s at once so attractive to the dieter (“Of course! Ancient man didn’t have spaghetti, so I shouldn’t, either!”) and so ridiculous (Ancient man didn’t have lentils, and therefore lentils are bad for you?). We also need to acknowledge that we don’t live like ancient man. Consider, for example, that modern produce bears little resemblance to its Paleolithic ancestors. And, hunter-getherer diets varied drastically depending upon where the population lived. Lastly, when is the last time you actively pursued your steak before eating it?

No matter how healthy we aim to be, most of us will not continue an eating program if it doesn’t satisfy us. And, Kinsella warns, “the Paleo Diet certainly doesn’t emphasize enjoying your food. When people don’t enjoy their food, it’s difficult to eat mindfully and it is very difficult to sustain… If we look at the research on losing excess weight, it’s clear that people that include highly enjoyable food are actually more likely to maintain their loss.” In other words, we can put in painstaking dedication and effort to supplement the nutrients that paleo lacks, but the call of the bread or cheese — or even lentils —almost always wins out.“The Paleo Diet is based on eating food that can be hunted, fished, or gathered, such as meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, veggies, roots, and fruit, like berries. It does not include grains, dairy, beans, salt, and sugar. Whole grains, dairy, and beans are nutrient-rich foods. By eliminating them, you could be setting yourself up for a deficiency or eliminating nutrients that help prevent disease.”

Myth #4: There is such a thing as eating right for your blood type.

“No. There is no scientific evidence to support special diets based on blood type.”

Myth #5: Juicing is healthy and cleansing is necessary.

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I think we all know where this is going, but just in case:

 “The liver and kidneys are the body’s own detoxification system. They do a fantastic job of continuously removing waste products and toxins without the help of juice. Furthermore, there are some obvious drawbacks of juicing; juices are inadequate in protein, fat, essential fatty acids, and fiber. These nutrients are crucial for satiety and vital components for a balanced meal. The protein factor is particularly crucial here. When protein intake is inadequate, the body catabolizes protein from muscles and organs. Hence, someone on a juice cleanse ends up losing muscle mass — a major contributor to metabolism. They’ll likely end up with a worse body composition in the end.”

Read the rest of the article at http://bit.ly/1u0LYME

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Foam Rolling – Why It’s So Beneficial!

There are many different stretching exercises out there and all have similar goals: increase flexibility, improve performance and reduce muscle soreness.  One of the more recent and effective additions to the world of stretching is foam rolling.  Due to a recent injury, I have spent a lot of time rolling and learning first hand about its benefits and I have been amazed at the results.

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What is Foam Rolling?

Foam rollers are cylinders about 6 inches in diameter and usually about 36 inches long that you lie on and roll over your muscles to help to loosen tight muscles. Foam rolling actually increases circulation so the connective tissue and muscles receive more oxygen and water than stretching alone.  In addition, foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release that acts similarly to massage. Meaning not only do you get the benefits of working out muscle knots and tightness, but you also get the same reduction in stress releasing hormones and improved mood and relaxation that you get from a massage.  Some call it the ‘poor man’s massage’.

A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research documented the benefits of foam rolling before a workout.  The study tracked 2 groups of active people: one group used a foam roller before working out and the other group did not.  The group that used the rollers not only felt less sore after their workouts, they also felt that the workouts were not as difficult.

Foam rolling is not only beneficial for those who work out, it is also great for anyone who sits for long periods of time.  Long bouts of sitting are not good for our bodies (that is a whole other blog topic!) but for most of us, it can’t be avoided.  Foam rolling is also an excellent way to reverse the harmful effects of long-term sitting.

Tips of How and When to Roll:

  • How to roll.  Either find a trigger point (painful spot) and apply pressure, or roll along the muscle (like a massage). A combination of both usually works best.
  • Roll before and after a workout. 
  • Hydrate before you roll.  In general, hydrated tissue is resilient and more susceptible to the benefits of rolling while pliable dehydrated tissue is glued-down and sticky.
  • Do it slowly.  You want slow and purposeful movements.  When you hit a painful area, stay on it – that is where you need to focus.
  • Move in multiple directions. It’s not just up-and-down; muscles and fascia attach at different angles and even in spirals, so roll in different directions.
  • Make it a daily habit.  Even if you aren’t at the gym, make a point of rolling those muscles.  Think of it like flossing – it is daily maintenance.
  • Don’t foam roll on joints.

Personally, foam rolling is the single best thing I have done to combat my injuries.  The benefit is immediate; with each rolling session, I feel noticeable improvement.  I plan to make foam rolling a permanent part of my daily routine in hopes of not only speeding up my recovery, but reducing my chance for future injuries.

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