Spend a little time in nature for health; two hours a week makes the cut

Spend a little time in nature. A walk on a wooded trail, or sitting by a stream on a sunny day is good for the soul.

A walk on a wooded trail, or sitting by a stream on a sunny day is good for the soul.  Or maybe you like to collect and hold smooth stones or leaves or watch a sunset to feel alive and well. Having a connection to our natural environment improves physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Numerous studies on happiness and well-being show that time spent outside, like taking those wooded walks or simply digging up earth while gardening, can have such a positive effect on your state of mind. And the time allotted to nature doesn’t mean you have to move to a lakefront property.  A new large-scale study found that spending at least two hours a week in nature is a key dose for good health and well-being.

As humans, we are entwined with nature. Do you ever wonder why outdoor cafe patios are packed in cities and towns come springtime? Or why doctors choose realistic nature landscapes or murals in their examining rooms? Our connection to nature is deeply rooted in evolution, and as humans, we adapt so much better to natural settings than to man-made ones.  Natural light, not time in front of a screen, is therapeutic. Our stress, blood pressure and immune system are all affected positively just by being outdoors.

Research shows that we need to connect to nature to promote happiness, as there is a spiritual enhancement that is linked to the human-nature experience. People living in leafier areas, close to green space, have lower levels of stress, regardless of age, race or the socioeconomic status of their neighborhood.  Children encouraged to spend more time outside are also less prone to problems like anxiety, depression, obesity and asthma. The same benefits apply to teenagers, as well as improving their coping skills.

This very week in July, for many years, I attended a yoga retreat tucked away on 100 acres in Wyoming. Participants have the choice of staying in a big lodge, cabins, yurts or tepees. All the attendees living in urban settings told me that all year long, they looked forward to staying in the yurts or tepees. For them, being out of the city and being able to have an immersed nature experience was heaven. (I’ll be honest; I stayed in the lodge; my boyfriend and I camp most weekends.)

You can improvise a wilderness retreat, as being outdoors for a couple of hours a week can improve our well-being. The author of the study, Dr. Mat White, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said, “It’s well known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people’s health and well-being, but until now we’ve not been able to say how much is enough. The majority of nature visits in this research took place within just 2 miles of home, so even visiting local urban green spaces seems to be a good thing. Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people.”  Think of writer Mary Davis the next time you step outside: “A walk in nature walks the soul back home.”


Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_e930bc12-a99b-11e9-aa57-777390b636bd.html

More good news for coffee drinkers


More good news for coffee drinkers

Caffeine could protect against dementia

    Caffeine is one of the strongest of 24 compounds that Indiana University scientists recently identified that can protect against dementia. Caffeine boosts an enzyme in the brain, called NMNAT2, that guards neurons from stress and combats the formation of plaques due to aging. Plaques, tangled and oddly folded proteins, called tau, have been linked to debilitating neurological  disorders  such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Lou Gerhig’s diseases. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common condition, affects 1 in 9 people over age 65—almost 5.5 million people—and the numbers are expected to grow as our population ages. As scientists continue to identify compounds that could play a role in halting the deterioration of proteins in the brain, don’t feel bad about your coffee fix.

 Golf performance, fatigue, and caffeine

    From an intensity perspective, the physiological demands of playing 18 holes are half the energy expenditure of running. But competitive golfing can be mentally and physically exhausting. Critical shot-making decisions, hand–eye coordination, high-level motor and biomechanical skill and numerous maximum-effort shots all play a role in competitive golf. Caffeine is one of the most common go-to ergogenic aids for elite athletes, and that extra jolt of caffeine might help improve concentration, energy, reaction time, fatigue and overall confidence during an 18-hole round. A recent study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise suggests that caffeine-containing supplements before or during golf can improve iron club accuracy, drive distance and overall golf scores.

The buzz on health risks and benefits

    Coffee keeps us awake or makes up for inadequate sleep, and has been revered for just that as far back as the sixth century. However, caffeine’s ability to stimulate the central nervous system doesn’t hide the fact that it is still a drug. Some people are genetically more susceptible and don’t enjoy the jittery effects of it.

    But the good news is that it can be a good habit. Recent scientific studies show that coffee shines from a cardiovascular standpoint in that it can decrease the onset of type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. More so than fruits and vegetables, coffee is the No. 1 source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet, having more antioxidants than blueberries, raspberries or green tea. Your morning joe (or tea, coming in second) contains large amounts of several powerful antioxidants, including phenols and polyphenol compounds that help neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidative stress.

    The bottom line is that if you enjoy it, moderate caffeine use offers much from an overall cardiovascular standpoint and numerous health benefits.


 Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express April 7, 2017

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How weight-lifting can keep you young

 

One of the secrets to a longer life involves steel, rubber or your bodyweight.

One of the secrets to a longer life involves steel, rubber or your bodyweight. The steel is in the form of dumbbells or barbells, and rubber is what resistance bands or stability balls are made of. No equipment handy? No worries, because exercises such as pushups, squats, planks and lunges, exercises that you can do anywhere, all build muscle.

    New research all points toward strength training as a key factor in longevity and an extended life, and you need to lift or push weight to build muscle. Biking, running, walking and moving more are all important for cardiovascular health, but if you’re not hitting the weights, now is a good time to start a program. Strength training, or resistance training, is the use of progressive resistance exercises to increase your ability to exert or resist force.

    Starting as young as 7, when the nervous system is almost completely mature, strength training can lay down a lifelong regime that promotes increased bone density and muscle mass and decreased age-related body fat. By our early 40s, most adults achieve peak muscle mass, but after that point, a gradual decline begins. People typically lose 8 percent or more of lean muscle each decade, a process that accelerates significantly after age 70. However, the good news is that you can become stronger at any age. But can lifting weights keep you young?

There is a clear connection between strength training and a longer life, says Dr. Jennifer Kraschnewski, an assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine. A recent study she led found that seniors who did strength training two times a week were 46 percent less likely to die from any cause. They were 41 percent less likely to die from heart disease and 19 percent less likely to die from cancer. The research was published in the journal Preventive Medicine. No one is immune from any unwanted condition, but consider this: If you suffer from obesity, diabetes, heart disease or arthritis, the decrease in strength is significant. What this means is that even if you think your muscle mass is adequate, if you have any of these underlying medical conditions, your strength is much less than someone without them, says Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., founder of a Harvard University hospital weight-loss facility. Adding resistance training also improves insulin sensitivity, improves cholesterol numbers and revs up your metabolic rate—more reasons to take action.

    I’ve worked with many older clients who say their balance is terrible, but it’s more that their legs are weak. On average, we have a genetically determined amount of both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers in muscle. As we age, our fast-twitch muscles shrink in size and number, as does the speed of transmission of impulses from the brain to the working muscles. Are your legs really as strong as you think? Consider this: Decreased leg strength, not dementia, is the biggest predictor of loss of independence in older adults.

    For beginners, the most important aspect of strength training is to find a program you can do consistently. Essentially, aim to use eight to 10 large muscle group exercises, perhaps starting with the legs. Go slow and perform the exercises with good form. For trained individuals, new studies suggest that for both men and women, if you want to get stronger, exercise with heavier loads. Keep your program progressive and varied, and don’t keep it a secret that you’re getting younger every day.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express 2/10/2017