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Sep 11 22

Food as Medicine

by Beth

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” – Ann Wigmore

Dr. William Li is a physician who studies the causes of disease. In his 2010 TED Talk, he discussed his research looking at how to prevent cancer from growing by preventing blood vessels from feeding cancers. His realization that diet accounts for 30 to 35% of all environmentally caused cancers led him to explore the link between food and disease. Instead of just focusing on what foods we should avoid, Dr. Li also looked at what foods we should add to our diet to boost our health defenses. He shares the findings of his research in his book, Eat to Beat Disease.

Some key lessons from his book include:

  • Top foods that prevent cancer by blocking the blood flow that feeds it are soy and broccoli.
  • Mushrooms and olive oil strengthen your immune system.
  • Foods that support your microbiome include fruit, cheese, and fermented foods. Pomegranates and cranberries are especially powerful.
  • Nuts and berries are longevity superfoods that protect your DNA.
  • Cocoa boosts stem cell growth which helps your body repair and regenerate itself.

Dr. Li has a great way of explaining things. He compares normal inflammation to a campfire that keeps us warm at night and that we extinguish when we go to bed. Chronic inflammation is like the campfire getting out of control and setting the woods on fire. It has been linked to most major diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s.

On the Healthier Together podcast, host Liz Moody asked Dr. Li to suggest one food to add to your diet and one to remove to prevent specific diseases. Here’s what he said:

  • Diabetes – add dietary fibers like nuts, avoid added sugars like cakes and cookies
  • Dementia – add coffee, avoid ultra-processed foods
  • Chronic inflammation – add foods with vitamin C like strawberries, tomatoes, and broccoli, avoid added sugars (fruit is OK!)
  • Longevity – add coffee, avoid ultra-processed foods
  • Cancer – add green tea, avoid processed meats (classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization)

For details regarding why Dr. Li suggests these foods, listen to the last half of the podcast. And here he explains how a healthy microbiome helps your immune system defend your body against cancer.

Your daily lifestyle choices impact your health. This is especially true of the foods you eat. The good news is that you don’t need to know which foods prevent which disease. All you need to do is eat a wide variety of whole plant-based foods. Eat like your life depends on it . . . because it does!

Aug 8 22

The Relationships That Matter Most

by Beth

You probably know that relationships are one of most important factors for well-being. What you might not know is the kind of relationship that matters most for our happiness: friendships!

In his new book, Plays Well With Others, Eric Barker explains why friends are so essential to happiness. Our relationships with our friends are voluntary, which also makes them extremely fragile. There is no contract or bloodline binding us to our friends. We choose our friends precisely because they make us happy. You can stop liking your colleagues, your spouse, or your children. But if you stop liking your friends, you stop seeing them.

According to Barker, the two keys to maintaining a friendship are time and vulnerability.

  • Time is scarce. When you make time for someone, it sends a big signal that they mean something to you. Recent research involving nearly 6,000 participants found that people underestimated how much reaching out to a friend would be appreciated. A quick call or text to say hello means more than we think. Notre Dame researchers analyzed over 8 million phone calls and concluded that a relationship was more likely to persist when a friend’s call was returned within two weeks.
  • Vulnerability is opening up by sharing your fears and concerns. Talking about your weaknesses, what you are struggling with, and what you are afraid of builds trust. It’s how you really get to know each other. Feeling that you’re known is the foundation of a satisfying relationship. And the better you understand someone, the more you can support them.

Friends aren’t only important for our happiness; they are also good for our health. Oxford professor Robin Dunbar discovered two factors that predict if you will be alive one year after a heart attack: whether you smoke and how many friends you have. Another study by researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that patients with heart disease who had fewer than four friends were more than twice as likely to die.

It may surprise you that friends matter more for your happiness and health than your spouse. But it turns out that friendship is the most critical part of a marriage. Gallup researchers concluded that friendship quality accounts for 70% of marriage satisfaction.

Having friends is important, but having a community is even better. People feel more support from friends who are connected to one another. We belong to fewer communities today than in the past. One way to build a community is to introduce your friends to each other. You could host a gathering at your home or organize a book club.

It takes work to maintain friendships. You must make the time, reach out, and be vulnerable, but it’s worth the effort! In his book about regrets, Dan Pink reports that one of the top regrets is letting good friends drift away by not staying in touch. Working to build and sustain friendships will benefit your health and your happiness.

Jul 7 22

How I Work to be Well

by Beth

Your happiness and health are determined to a great extent by lifestyle choices. Nearly half of all premature deaths in the U.S. are due to behaviors that can be changed. It takes work to be well, but small, daily well-being practices can help you live a longer, healthier, happier life.

There is agreement among different disciplines including positive psychology, functional medicine, and Blue zones findings that the following 6 lifestyle factors have the biggest impact on your mental and physical well-being: 1) good nutrition, 2) movement, 3) sleep, 4) stress management, 5) social connection, and 6) purpose.

Choosing daily behaviors that address these factors can drastically improve your life. Eat a handful of blueberries. Play your favorite song and dance around the house. Choose not to watch another episode and head to bed instead. Take a few minutes to stop what you’re doing, put your phone away, and sit quietly to still your mind. Send a quick text to a friend. Have coffee with a colleague you’ve been mentoring.

The best way to make sure you’re addressing all 6 lifestyle factors every day is to establish routines. Different well-being practices work for different people, so you need to identify things that you’ll be able to stick with. To give you some examples, here are the routines that I try to follow as I work to build greater physical and mental well-being:

Daily

  • Do 5 minutes of planks and stretches after brushing my teeth in the morning and at night (movement)
  • Drink a glass of lemon water (nutrition) and complete 5 to 10 minutes of Duolingo language lessons (purpose) while making my coffee (nutrition)
  • Get at least 7,000 steps in 2 walks (movement & stress)
  • Eat the following foods: berries, leafy greens, legumes, whole grains, nuts & seeds, olive oil, green tea, fermented food, dark chocolate (nutrition)
  • Connect with friends and family in person, on the phone, or via text (social)
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep by going to bed at the same time every night in a cold, dark, quiet room with my cell phone downstairs (sleep)

5 days a week

  • Do a Peloton ride or practice yoga (movement & stress)
  • Meditate for 30 minutes (stress)
  • Eat all my meals in an 8-hour window (nutrition)
  • Learn more about well-being through reading and listening to podcasts; share what I’ve learned via social media and blogs (purpose)

Weekly

  • Eat 30 different plants; count plants not calories! (nutrition)
  • Work in the garden or yard (movement & stress)

What are some routines that you could adopt to build your well-being? It takes work to be well, but you can make it easier with small, daily behaviors!

May 13 22

A Positive Mindset Can Increase Longevity

by Beth

In my last post, I wrote about how your mindset regarding stress determines its impacts on you. Your mindset shapes your health and well-being in many profound ways. In her recent book, Breaking the Age Code, Yale professor Becca Levy discusses her research showing that your beliefs about aging determine how long and how well you live.

Her most surprising study tracked middle-aged adults for 20 years and found that those with a positive perception of aging lived 7.5 years longer on average than those with negative beliefs about aging. In another study Levy and her colleagues followed hundreds of adults for 38 years. Those with the most positive views of aging had an 80 percent lower risk of heart attack.

Levy has also shown that among people who have the gene variant which puts them at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, those with positive age beliefs were 50 percent less likely to develop dementia than those with negative views. This means someone with the variant who has a positive perception of aging has the same risk of developing Alzheimer’s as someone without it. Positive age beliefs are associated with better memory, better hearing, and faster recovery from accidents.

How is it that our beliefs regarding aging can have such a powerful impact on our health and longevity? One reason is that people who have a positive view of aging are more likely to do things that are good for them, like exercising, eating healthy diets, and following their doctors’ advice. Another reason is that the cortisol levels of people who have positive views of aging decrease by 10 percent from age 50 to age 80, while cortisol levels rise about 40 percent over the same period for people who have negative attitudes. Their negative beliefs about growing old are stressing them out. Chronic stress can trigger chronic inflammation, which causes all sorts of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.

Sadly, American society has negative stereotypes about aging. There is ageism in hiring. Advertising bombards us with negative messages. Companies present aging as something scary that we should try to avoid so we buy more anti-aging products. Social media is also full of negative messaging about aging.

The good news is that changing your beliefs is relatively simple. The key is to increase awareness. One exercise, called age belief journaling, starts with writing down any portrayals of aging that you notice in advertising, on shows, in conversations, etc. After one week, you count how many examples are positive and how many are negative. For the negative portrayals see if you can come up with a way the image could have been more positive. Another exercise is to create a portfolio of positive examples of aging, like someone in your family or a character in a book. This can help make images of positive aging more salient in your mind. You want to focus on the positive aspects of aging, of which there are many!

Apr 13 22

A Meaningful Life is Stressful

by Beth

According to David Robson, author of The Expectation Effect, the phrase “stressed-out” started being used in 1983 after a Time cover story declared that people’s fast-paced lives were emerging as a major source of illness. By 2014, a survey showed that 75% of Americans believed that stress had a negative impact on family life, 74% reported it negatively affected work, and 70% said stress hurt their health. While it’s true that chronic stress caused by job demands, long commutes, social media, and constant distractions can be bad for us, our expectation that being stressed-out is hurting us may be an even bigger problem.

Research shows that stress is bad for you if you believe it’s bad for you. A study that followed over 28,000 people for eight years found that high levels of anxiety increased mortality by 43%. But that was only for the people who believed their stress was harming them. Those who experienced high levels of stress but didn’t believe it impacted their health had even lower mortality rates than participants who experienced very little stress. Our mindset about stress determines how it impacts us.

Fortunately, we can reduce the negative effects of stress by reframing how we think about it. “Eustress” is good stress. It’s the energizing, beneficial feeling that comes from taking on challenges. It can lead to growth and resilience. It can focus your attention and increase motivation.

Stress is an inevitable part of goal pursuit. It signals you care about something. A study of almost 400 adults found that every measure of stress, including having experienced more stressful events in the past, currently being under a lot of stress, and stressing about the future, was related to a greater sense of meaning in life.

Viewing stress as an integral part of a meaningful life helps me to reframe it as good. I remind myself that I can choose to feel burdened by everyday hassles, or to see them as a sign of a full life. If I feel stressed because of a deadline, I make a mental note to be grateful for work that I enjoy. When having to find time to get to the grocery store and cook dinner causes stress, I think about how important it is for my health and the health of my family. Preparing for a trip is less stressful when I remind myself how fortunate I am to have a reason to travel.

The next time you feel stressed, try connecting the source of your stress to your values. Why are you doing whatever it is that’s stressing you out? This can help you see how the stress you are experiencing is contributing to a full and meaningful life.

Mar 15 22

Using Regret for Good

by Beth

In his latest book, The Power of Regret, Daniel Pink argues that regrets can be used to make us better. Instead of ignoring our regrets or ruminating about them, we can reflect on them to gain insights into how to live a better life. Regrets can signal what really matters to us. They can teach us lessons for how to act differently in the future.

Pink collected 16,000 regrets by surveying people in 105 countries. He found that most of the regrets fell into one of four categories.

  • Foundation regrets stem from making choices that don’t allow you to have a stable life. Some examples are not saving enough money, not taking care of your health, and not working hard enough in school. “If only I’d done the work.”
  • Boldness regrets involve playing it safe instead of taking a chance. They include not asking someone on a date, not having started a business, or not speaking up. “If only I’d taken the chance.”
  • Moral regrets occur when we don’t do the right thing. A common one is marital infidelity. Many people mentioned regretting having been a bully. “If only I’d done the right thing.”
  • Connection regrets result from relationships ending, like letting friends drift away or becoming estranged from family members. “If only I’d reached out.”

According to Pink, these core regrets reveal what we humans value the most. Foundation regrets represent our need for stability. Boldness regrets stem from our need to grow and make an impact. Moral regrets demonstrate that people want to do the right thing. Connection regrets show how important relationships are to us.

Pink suggests three steps that we can take in using regret to improve our lives.

  1. Inward – the first step is to reframe the regret using self-compassion. Recognize that you aren’t the only person with this regret and that regret is part of the shared human experience. Treat yourself with kindness rather than contempt.
  2. Outward – the second step is to talk about your regret. Disclosure helps to relieve the burden by making sense of what happened. Sharing your vulnerabilities and weaknesses leads people to like you more.
  3. Forward – the third step is to determine what lesson you can learn. What will you do differently in the future? Has your regret taught you to speak up, to take a chance, or to reach out?

I think one of the most important insights from this book is that connection regrets are the most common. This isn’t surprising since relationships are the top source of well-being. We choose not to reach out because we feel awkward or think the other person doesn’t care. The truth is, reaching out isn’t as awkward as we expect, and the other person does care. So the next time you wonder whether you should reach out, the answer is always yes!

Feb 17 22

Paying Attention to Your Attention

by Beth

A lot of different things impact your well-being. Attention is near the top of the list. Your ability to focus and the choices you make regarding what you pay attention to are both critical for your well-being.

A lack of focus impacts your performance, your stress levels, and your relationships. Productivity drops 40% when you try to focus on more than one thing. Your brain releases the stress hormone cortisol when you try to multitask. Your capacity to connect with others is diminished when you don’t focus on what they are saying and how they are feeling.

A lack of focus also impacts your ability to create memories. Do you sometimes forget where you left your keys? It’s possible that you didn’t forget, you just never remembered. You weren’t paying enough attention for your experience to be encoded as a memory. You can’t remember something you didn’t pay attention to in the first place.

It’s not just paying attention that matters, but what you pay attention to. It determines the experiences you have, and those experiences make up your life. You can choose to pay attention to the good things that happen or the bad. You can choose to focus on the story your spouse is sharing or on your text messages. You can choose to pay attention to your daughter’s volleyball match or to your social media feed. Your life is the sum of these choices.

We live in a world full of distractions. This makes it hard to focus on any one thing. And it means we must make constant choices about where to focus our attention.

Strengthen your ability to focus by getting enough sleep, practicing meditation, and minimizing distractions by turning off notifications or putting your phone away. Choose to pay attention to experiences that will bring you a happier, more fulfilled life. I choose to pay attention to the people around me, the book I’m reading, the words I’m writing, the food I’m eating, the music I hear, and the nature that surrounds me. What about you?

Jan 19 22

It’s Not You, It’s Your Environment

by Beth

Dan Buettner wants you to know that if you’re struggling with health problems or your weight, it’s probably not your fault. In his latest book, The Blue Zones Challenge, he explains that people who live long, healthy lives don’t have more willpower than those who don’t. Their secret is that “they live in an environment where the healthy choice is not only the easy choice, but often the only choice.”

Rates of obesity, diabetes, and dementia among Americans have exploded over the past 50 years. So what changed? We haven’t all become less educated, irresponsible people who don’t take care of our health. What changed was our environment. With the increased availability of fast-food restaurants, highly addictive junk food, mechanical conveniences, and online shopping, the easy choices result in an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle.

As a National Geographic Fellow with a grant from the National Institute on Aging, about 20 years ago Buettner identified five regions in the world where people lived the longest. He called them blue zones and he and his team identified nine lifestyle factors shared by people in all the zones.

One of the biggest insights from Dan’s work was that people living in the blue zones weren’t trying to live healthier lives. They were healthy because they lived in places where eating healthy food, moving naturally throughout the day, and connecting with friends and family were the norm.

Over the past several years, Buettner has helped more than 50 American cities reshape their environments to improve people’s health and longevity. Now he’s helping individuals with his 4-week guide to optimizing our homes and social networks for a healthier life. Here are some things you can do:

  • Find a buddy or small group of people to join you on your Blue Zones journey
  • Keep a bowl of fruit on your counter; keep unhealthy food out of your house or hidden away
  • Make a weekly meal plan and prep what you can ahead of time
  • Start a container or outdoor garden
  • Put your running or walking shoes by the door so you can see and easily access them
  • Tape a reminder note on your dashboard to park far away from the entrance
  • Schedule walking meetings at work
  • Plan a routine gathering with friends (book club, happy hour, work out session)
  • Volunteer for a new organization

If you want to live a long, healthy life, stop blaming yourself for making unhealthy choices. Instead, make changes to your environment so the easy choice is the healthy choice.

Dec 26 21

Cultivating Curiosity

by Beth

Several years ago, I started choosing a word each January that I wanted to focus on for the coming year. I chose mindfulness one year, gratitude another, and compassion. The word I’ve picked for 2022 is curiosity. Curiosity is a desire to seek out new experiences or knowledge. Research shows that curiosity is related to happiness, achievement, stronger relationships, and better health. It also helps you learn and makes learning more fun.

I want to embrace curiosity more fully this year for two additional reasons: 1) curiosity makes life more meaningful and 2) curiosity enhances empathy.

Curiosity is a key ingredient for creating a meaningful life. It encourages us to engage more fully in life by being more open to new experiences. Being curious leads us to explore, discover, and grow.

I love to learn, but I’m risk averse. My preference for playing it safe can keep me from trying new things or venturing outside of my comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong, I have no plans to skydive or bungee jump this year, but I do plan to lean into my curiosity to be more open to meaningful opportunities. I will try to be more curious about the unknown than fearful of it. 

One of my favorite shows is Ted Lasso. The characters and the story are great, but what I love most are Ted’s positive life lessons. The one that really stuck with me was his suggestion to be curious not judgmental. It sure feels like there is a lot of judgment going on these days. We are so divided over politics, vaccines, what should be taught in schools, etc. 

It’s hard not to judge people who disagree with us on such important issues, but it doesn’t help. Surely we would get along better and make more progress if we were curious about why people feel the way they do. Curiosity can motivate us to be open to viewing the world from other perspectives. I may never understand people’s positions on some of these big issues, but having curiosity in my daily exchanges with others will very likely increase my empathy and improve my relationships. 

Todd Kashdan, author of the book Curious?, calls curiosity the engine of growth. I believe that I can grow to become a better person if I spend the next year cultivating curiosity in the pursuit of more meaningful experiences and making an effort to replace judgement with curiosity. What about you? What will be your word for 2022?

Nov 22 21

In Praise of Pride

by Beth

Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, but is it really that bad? Pride is a positive emotion and there is a lot of research showing the benefits of experiencing pride. A sense of pride can motivate us to work to achieve our goals to better ourselves or to help others. Anticipating future pride increases performance, perseverance, and self-control in resisting temptation. In one study, participants who were told their scores on a cognitive test were especially high spent twice as long working on another task as participants who were not induced to feel pride. In another study, 40% of the people who were asked to think about how proud they would feel if they could resist temptation were able to refrain from taking a bite of cake. Only 19% of the people in the control group resisted the temptation to eat some cake.

So why is pride considered a sin? That’s because there are two distinct types of pride: authentic pride and hubristic pride. Authentic pride is feeling good about yourself, experiencing a sense of competence or accomplishment. You’ve worked to achieve your goal and you are proud of the result.

Hubristic pride involves egotism and arrogance, the feeling that you are better than others. Hubris is self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. It’s associated with insecurity and anti-social behaviors like aggression and dominance, whereas authentic pride is associated with confidence and pro-social behaviors like generosity and compassion.

Pride is good when paired with humility. It’s nice to do things that give you a sense of self-respect and satisfaction. Anticipating feeling proud can provide the motivation needed to learn to speak a new language or play a musical instrument, to get good grades or a promotion at work, to lose weight or get into shape.

Pride is bad when you feel your accomplishments make you superior to other people. When your drive to achieve is fueled by anxiety or a fragile ego. Recognizing that you may do some things well, but that you can’t be great at everything can help keep you humble. Hubristic pride may be a sin, but authentic pride is a virtue, not a vice.