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Oct 16 20

Your Health Can Keep You Safe

by Beth

One of the most important things you can do to keep from getting sick from the coronavirus is to avoid exposure. Wearing a mask, physical distancing, gathering outdoors, and hand washing are the best ways to do this. I bet you hear about one or more of these almost every day.

Unfortunately, you don’t hear nearly enough about the importance of your health for reducing the likelihood of becoming sick if exposed to the virus. The underlying conditions that increase the probability of hospitalization and death are all related to our metabolic health. Sadly, only 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy.

The good news is that your health is determined in large part by your lifestyle. Studies have shown that lifestyle changes can significantly improve your metabolic health in as little as 21 days. That means you can take steps right now to reduce your risk of getting sick from COVID19.

The 5 keys to improving metabolic health are: diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, and social connection.

  • Diet is most important, because it’s the only one of these interventions that has been proven to reverse metabolic health on its own. Eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables will ensure that you get the fiber needed to feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. Legumes, nuts, and seeds are healthy sources of protein. And sugar and processed foods should be minimized, because they suppress your immune system.
  • Exercise enhances the immune system’s ability to function and fight infection. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of moderate activity, like walking, each day, as well as some form of strength-building exercise, like yoga, a couple of times a week.
  • A minimum of 7 hours of sleep is critical for good health. Some recommendations for sleeping better include a quiet, dark, cold room and bedtime routines like avoiding blue lights from screens and putting your phone to sleep in another room.
  • Stress suppresses your immune system, so you need to find ways to reduce it. Breathing exercises are a great practice. Just 10 to 15 minutes a day can make a difference. You can download a meditation app to get started. Practicing gratitude can minimize stress by helping you to focus on the positive. Other options include yoga or listening to music. Limiting the amount of news you consume, especially these days, can also reduce your stress.
  • Our social connections have a strong impact on our metabolic health. It’s critical to stay in touch with friends and family during the pandemic. We should be practicing physical distancing, not social distancing. Connecting virtually is a great option, but also look for safe ways to meet people outdoors for some mask-to-mask interaction.

You have the power to minimize the potential impact of coronavirus by making lifestyle changes to improve your health. Eating a healthy diet, keeping active, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and staying connected can all make a real difference.

Sep 15 20

Gardening for Well-Being

by Beth

I started meditating 10 years ago because I kept reading about the benefits of meditation for well-being. I’m so glad I did because it has made a huge, positive difference in my life.

Lately, I’ve been learning about the many benefits of gardening for our physical and mental health. So, guess what? I just planted a Fall garden. It took a lot of time and effort, but I’m really excited to add gardening to my list of well-being practices!

Here are some of the ways gardening positively impacts our well-being:

  • Gardening is good exercise. I was surprised by how exhausting it was to build my garden! Personally, I’m hoping the level of physical activity required for maintaining it will be a bit lower.
  • People who grow a garden eat more fruits and vegetables. You can enjoy healthy, fresh food that’s free of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers.
  • Gardening increases your time outdoors and being outside reduces stress and boosts mood.
  • Gardening also relieves stress because it’s a mindfulness practice. You can become so focused on what you are doing that you are completely present in the moment.
  • Learning something new contributes to well-being. I’ve watched tons of YouTube videos to learn how to start a garden and I know I’ll continue to learn what works and what doesn’t as I tend my garden this Fall.
  • Gardening can boost your immune system. A harmless bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, found in soil has been linked to stronger immune systems. It also increases the production of serotonin, a mood-elevating brain chemical.
  • Gardening may protect against cognitive decline by keeping your mind active. One study found that people in their 60s and 70s who gardened regularly had a 36% lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners.
  • Growing food can make you more self-sufficient, giving you a feeling of control in a world in which so much is out of our control.
  • Gardening can give you a sense of doing good by reducing your carbon footprint. It eliminates transportation costs and gardens use about one-third as much water as lawns.
  • In his TED talk, Ron Finley, the “gangsta gardener” from South Central LA, discusses how gardening can transform communities.

Who knew gardening was so good for our well-being? I realize that some of you may not have the space or the patience to grow a garden. Fortunately, you can reap many of the same benefits by growing plants.

Aug 24 20

Positive Emotions Facilitate Positive Change

by Beth

Have you been trying to start any new habits lately? Maybe something that will help to boost your immune system, like exercising or eating more plant-based meals? Or something that will protect your mental health, like meditating?

Change is hard, but there is one really important thing you can do to help a new behavior stick: celebrate!

People change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad. We often fail to form a new habit because each time we don’t do the desired behavior we feel like a failure. You tell yourself you are going to exercise for 30 minutes, 3 times a week. If you skip one of those days, you beat yourself up for not doing what you planned to do. This undermines your motivation to keep going, because you are wired to approach what feels good and avoid what feels bad. You will abandon a goal if it keeps making you feel bad.

Dopamine is a chemical released in your brain when something makes you feel good. It’s part of the brain’s reward system that helps you remember the behaviors that cause good feelings so that you can repeat them. This means that if you experience positive emotions when you perform a behavior, that behavior will be reinforced. The desire to repeat the behavior will help turn it into a habit.

This is why celebrating each time you perform a behavior you hope to repeat, especially when you are starting out, is so important. The positive emotions you generate will help you stick with the new behavior because it feels good. Now this only works if the celebration immediately follows the behavior. It also needs to feel genuine in order to activate the reward system in your brain for the release of dopamine.

Think about something you could do or say that makes you feel good. How could you celebrate after eating a healthy meal? Not with a piece of cake, please! I sometimes say “Yes!” with a fist pump or do a short happy dance. You can clap, snap your fingers, or take a bow. You might feel a bit silly giving yourself a high five each time you exercise, but it really can help you make it a habit. Instead of being upset with yourself when you don’t meditate, celebrate each time you do!

Jul 7 20

Mindset

by Beth

Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Mindset is a belief, or the way you think about something. How you view something can transform the situation, impacting your health and happiness. We can’t control the fact that we are facing a global pandemic, but we can choose how we view it. There are ways to think about the current situation that can help you be more resilient.

Continue reading here

Jun 10 20

Discerning How to Help

by Beth

In his commencement address to The Class of 2020, Barack Obama reminded us that “our individual well-being depends on the well-being of the community that we live in and that it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick . . . that our country and our democracy only function when we think not just about ourselves, but also about each other”.

I heard the Dalai Lama speak several years ago about the deeply interconnected nature of our existence. He explained how, as human beings, we are all the same, we all aspire to be happy and not to suffer. Like Obama, he believes the best way to increase our own well-being is to care for the well-being of others.

The global pandemic has made it clear how interconnected we all are. And the protests have made it clear that people are suffering. This is leading more and more of us to ask how we can make things better for those who are hurting. What can we do?

There is no one answer. As you try to identify what role you could play, the Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers might help.

• The first tenet is not-knowing, which means letting go of fixed ideas about yourself, others, and the universe.
• The second tenet is bearing witness to the joy and suffering of the world.
• The third tenet is taking action based on what you have learned.

The first two tenets can help you really listen to people to learn how they are suffering and what kind of help they might need. This knowledge can then be used to choose what action to take.

So many things need to change and that means we can all find our own way to contribute. Take some time to listen and learn with an open heart and an open mind so that you can figure out ways to use your unique talents, connections, and circumstances to improve the well-being of others.

May 13 20

To Be Resilient Take Control

by Beth

Resilient individuals use active coping skills to get through difficult times. They identify what they have control over and focus on what they can do about the things within their control.

There are so many things we can’t control these days – the virus, the need for social distancing, our work situation, our children’s school situation. But there are many things we can control, like how we respond and how we spend our time. We can choose to focus on the positive, to be grateful for all that is good. We can choose to focus on the present rather than worry about an uncertain future.

We can also control our daily actions. Here are three things you can do to boost your well-being during these challenging times:

  1. Safety and health – Taking steps to protect yourself and your family is more important than ever. Hand washing, disinfecting, social distancing, and wearing masks can all make a difference. There are also many things you can do to boost your immune system. Getting enough sleep and exercising are important. Healthy eating matters, too. Fiber is especially critical, so eat lots of veggies. A recent study found a link between Vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 deaths, so spend time outside!
  2. Growth – The sense that you are continuing to develop over time is linked to greater well-being. If you are busier than ever trying to figure out how to work from home or home school your children then you are learning new things. But you may have been furloughed or have more free time due to canceled travel and events. In that case, finding ways to grow can give you a sense of accomplishment. There are many things you can do for professional development like taking an online class, reading, seeking advice from a mentor, or building your network. As far as personal growth, the options are endless! It’s been fun to see what people have been doing, including gardening, baking sourdough bread, DIY home projects, meditating, and learning to embroider.
  3. Connection and contribution – Social support is one of the most important factors for resilience. Social distancing does not mean social isolation. Connecting with others at this time is paramount. Many of us are talking to friends and family more than ever. It’s also a good time to reconnect with people you may not have spoken to in a while. Finding ways to help others can have one of the strongest impacts on your well-being. Helping others makes you feel good and distracts you from your own problems. Any small act of kindness will do. You could help your parents figure out how to use Zoom, or comfort someone who is struggling, or share a funny video. Look for ways you can contribute to making someone else’s day a little better.
Apr 14 20

Eating Less Meat: Good for You, Good for the Planet

by Beth

In anticipation of Earth Day, I’d like to share my thoughts on the benefits of eating less meat. I am convinced it is one of the most impactful things we can do to improve our health and the health of our planet. I stopped eating meat in January after reading Suzy Cameron’s book, The OMD Plan. She believes if everyone ate one plant-based meal a day, it would have a tremendously positive impact on the environment. It’s also great for your health!

Eating less meat helps the planet in multiple ways. Some of the positive benefits of reducing animal agriculture include:

  • Slow climate change by reducing green-house gas emissions
  • Reduce global deforestation
  • Protect biodiversity, which is lost through deforestation
  • Protect oceans, which are harmed by fertilizer runoff
  • Conserve fresh water (almost 1/3 of freshwater used in agriculture goes toward raising animals)

And what are the benefits for you? According to Suzy, “For every extra 3% of plant protein we eat, we cut our risk of death by 10%.” Here is what eating less meat can do for your health:

  • Reduce cholesterol and inflammation
  • Reverse heart disease
  • Prevent (and reverse) diabetes
  • Reduce the risk of cancer
  • Contribute to weight loss

If you’d like to learn more about the link between chronic disease and animal protein you can watch the documentary Forks Over Knives on Netflix.

I’m not ready to give up fish, eggs, or cheese, but I have found it surprisingly easy not to eat beef, pork, and chicken. And these are at the top of the list for negatively impacting our planet and our heath. Since we’ve spent the last month at home, my husband and daughter haven’t eaten meat either. Not only have they not complained once, they’ve both lost weight and feel great!

Eating less meat really isn’t that hard. You don’t have to become a vegetarian. All you need to do is start replacing some of your meals with plant-based options. This is actually a good time to try, because you don’t have the temptations of restaurant offerings nor do you have to eat what is served at meetings or events. And you may have more time to cook!

It does take some effort to find new recipes, but that can be fun! You can check out my Pinterest page for some ideas. Or visit some of these plant-based food blogs. Let me know how it goes!

Mar 21 20

Look for the Helpers, Be a Helper

by Beth

Two ways to boost your mood during these difficult weeks are to notice all of the wonderful things people are doing to help others and to find ways that you, too, can help.

It’s inspiring to see how hard times can bring out the best in people. Acts of kindness are everywhere! NBA players, including Kevin Love and Zion Williams, are paying arena workers while games are cancelled and Steph Curry and his wife are providing 1 million meals to Oakland students who can’t attend school. Singers like Chris Martin, John Legend, and others, are using social media to play music for us from their homes.

Companies are also doing good. Some are shifting production to make needed medical supplies. TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy are donating supplies. Other companies are offering services for free, like operas from the Met or homeschooling assistance from Khan Academy. Stores are designating certain hours for at-risk shoppers. Lyft is donating thousands of rides for low-income individuals needing medical transportation and to deliver meals to kids receiving free lunches and home-bound seniors.

Noticing and feeling gratitude for these kind acts, like the people in Madrid who applauded healthcare workers from their balconies, makes us feel good. The last time I went to the grocery store there were more people stocking the shelves than shopping. I did go very early in the morning! And I felt immensely grateful that they were putting themselves at risk so that I could get the food I needed.

Finding ways that we can do good makes us feel even better. First, know that you are already doing good by staying home. Social distancing is the most important thing any of us can do to minimize the spread of the virus and save lives. Now consider what else you could do. Loneliness is one of the biggest problems we will all face while staying home. Contacting friends and family members as often as possible is another way to do good. If you live near elderly family members, stop by to wave through the window like Max did for his father Mel Brooks.

Some people are picking up medication for at-risk individuals, others are offering to foster animals, and these siblings played the cello for an elderly neighbor. You could share one of your favorite recipes on social media or leave the magazines you have finished reading at a neighbor’s door.

Consider how you could help the small businesses that are being so hard hit. The company I use to compost has lost much of its business due to restaurant and school closings. I am going to pay them for the next 12 months instead of month to month. I’m also buying gift certificates from our favorite restaurants.

Let’s all try to come up with creative ways that we can do good from home. Please share your ideas!

Mar 11 20

Welcoming a Slow Down

by Beth

Anyone who knows me at all knows I’m a big planner. I make plans for everything as far out as possible and changes of plans can make me uncomfortable. So, as you might imagine, the mass cancelations in response to the coronavirus outbreak are definitely throwing me for a loop!

In an effort to stay positive, I’m welcoming the opportunity to practice adaptability and acceptance. And to slow down! Getting better at these things would certainly improve my well-being. People who more readily adjust to change are happier and more resilient. The same holds true for those who accept that there are things they can’t control and focus instead on what they can do.

I can’t control the fact that we should all practice social distancing in order to stay safe and keep others safe. This means canceling plans, which gives us all an opportunity to do less. How often does that happen? How could you use this gift of time in ways that will boost your well-being?

Yesterday our daughter texted us to say Harvard was taking classes online and everyone had to move out within 5 days. That’s a bit stressful! But I’m grateful for the unexpected time together with her. This will give us all a chance to spend more time with our families. Another way to boost well-being is to spend more time outdoors. I plan to take much longer walks and appreciate all of the signs of spring. I’ve been making a list of the flowers I’m going to plant in our yard. Emily and I are committing to a daily at-home yoga practice. Have you discovered “Yoga with Adriene”? Eating more meals at home will give me the chance to try out new recipes. I’ve recently stopped eating meat, so I’m going to learn how to prepare more plant-based meals. Getting rid of clutter always makes me happy. I still have boxes from the move in our garage, so it will be great to finally have time to finish unpacking.

I can’t tell you how much better I feel just thinking of all the things I’m going to have time to do! I will admit that I am very anxious about the spread of coronavirus and am disappointed that so many things are being canceled. But there is always something good! I am truly grateful for the opportunity to slow down and focus on my well-being.

Feb 17 20

Creating Habits for Positive Change

by Beth

The hardest part of change isn’t knowing what you should do, it’s doing it. The two things that have helped me include more well-being practices in my life are: 1) make the behavior easy and 2) find a cue to remind me to do the behavior.

In his book, Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg explains that behaviors happen when there is motivation, ability, and a prompt. While most of us try to rely on motivation to start a new habit, motivation is fickle. We just can’t count on it for behavior change. As far as ability goes, the easier something is to do, the easier it is to turn that behavior into a habit. Finally, no behavior occurs without a prompt. There must be something that nudges you to act.

This means that in order to start a new habit, you need a cue and the behavior needs to be easy. The best prompts are other behaviors you already do. And the way to make something easy is to break it down into the smallest behavior possible. By starting small, you are more likely to be successful, which will inspire you to continue and to grow the behavior. Small behaviors will also let you keep going on bad days, so the habit sticks.

Here are some of the ways I have used prompts and small behaviors to adopt positive habits:

  • Planks twice a day – After I brush my teeth in the morning and at night (cue), I do planks. I started doing a plank for just one count (easy), but I’ve worked my way up to two 30-count planks with some stretching in between. If I’m tired at night or rushed in the morning, I do one short plank to keep the habit alive.
  • Meditate after lunch – After I eat lunch at home (cue), I meditate. I started sitting in a chair and taking a long, deep breath (easy). I slowly added more breaths and now meditate for 20 to 30 minutes. On days that I don’t have time, I sit in the chair for one deep breath.
  • Drink lemon water in the morning – After starting the coffee pot (cue), I squeeze a lemon into water and drink it (easy). If I don’t have any fresh lemons, I still drink water while waiting for the coffee to brew.
  • Mindful pause while waiting in line – After getting into a line (cue), instead of scrolling through my phone, I started taking a long, deep breath and noticing something around me (easy). Now I take two long breaths, notice five things I see and three things I hear, followed by two more deep breaths. If my turn comes before I’m done, I stop and smile.

It can be fun to identify cues and easy behaviors that will help you create habits for positive change. Let me know what you come up with!