Why a hike in the woods might be a healthier option

 

Here is an interesting article from Alex Hutchinson, a health and fitness blogger for Runner’s World, that talks about the mental and physical benefits of exercising out in nature. If you are always stuck on a treadmill or stationary bike, you might want to grab your hiking shoes and find a great a trail to explore for your next workout. Some of the benefits of exercising in nature includes improved cognition, enhanced immune function, reduced stress hormones and lower blood pressure. Read on below…

 

In Japan, they call it shinrin-yoku – literally, “forest bathing.” Here, we might just call it a walk in the park. Either way, people around the world have an intuitive sense of the restorative power of natural environments. The question is: Why?

Scientists have advanced a wide range of theories about the specific physical and mental benefits nature can provide, ranging from clean air and lack of noise pollution to the apparent immune-boosting effects of a fine mist of “wood essential oils.” But the most powerful benefits, a new study suggests, may result from the way trees and birds and sunsets gently tug – but never grab – at our attention.

The study, which will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders, found that volunteers suffering from depression who took a 50-minute walk in a woodland park improved their cognition, as measured by the ability to remember a random string of digits and repeat them in reverse order, compared to those who took a walk through city streets. An earlier study found similar results in subjects who weren’t depressed.

The explanation, according to lead author Marc Berman, a research fellow at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest in Toronto, lies in the distinction between two types of attention: “voluntary,” in which we consciously focus on something; and “involuntary,” in which something grabs our attention.

The ability to direct voluntary attention is crucial in daily life (and for cognitive tasks like remembering random digits), but it’s easily fatigued. Dr. Berman and his colleagues believe that going for a walk in the park gives voluntary attention a break, since your mind has a chance to wander aimlessly and be engaged – involuntarily but gently – by your surroundings.

“In a lot of natural areas, you’re away from loud noises and distractions,” Dr. Berman explains. “It tends to be less crowded so you don’t have to worry about bumping into people, and it also has interesting stimulation to look at, which captures your attention automatically.”

In contrast, honking horns and traffic lights and crowded sidewalks – and pretty much every other ingredient of modern life in a big city – constantly force you to exert your voluntary attention to react or block them out, leaving you more cognitively depleted.

All this makes it sound as if the benefits of nature are mostly in your head. It’s true that simply looking out a window at nature or, to a slightly lesser extent, looking at pictures of nature scenes can produce some of the same effects. But the physical environment itself may also play a role, Dr. Berman notes.

One obvious candidate is air quality: A single exposure to polluted air can trigger lung and heart problems, and chronic exposure has been linked to cognitive decline. Even downtown parks and riverside bike paths are likely to have significantly better air quality than busy city streets, and trees offer an additional protective effect. The level of vehicle emissions just 200 metres away from a road is already four times lower than it is on the sidewalk next to the road.

A more unusual suggestion, proposed by researchers at Japan’s Nippon Medical School, is that trees emit a fine mist of health-giving “wood essential oils.” In a series of shinrin-yoku studies, the researchers have reported that walking for two hours in a forest enhances immune function (as measured by levels of “natural killer cells”), reduces levels of stress hormones and lowers blood pressure, compared to similar walks in downtown Tokyo.

(Before you rush out to buy a case of wood essential oils, it’s worth noting that this research was funded in part by Japan’s Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute.)

Still, the fact that pictures of nature can produce cognitive benefits suggests that at least part of the effect is mediated by what we see. One simple hypothesis is colour: Nature scenes tend to feature more green than urban scenes. A more subtle possibility is that natural landscapes have more fractal patterns – a mathematical classification that describes the complex shapes of phenomena like coastlines, mountain ranges and broccoli florets – compared to the simple straight lines that characterize man-made environments.

“Maybe looking at these fractal patterns captures attention automatically, which leads to this more restorative process,” Dr. Berman says.

Teasing out the key variables will take time – and ultimately, it seems unlikely that there’s a single magical quality or essential oil that fully explains the call of the semi-wild. For now, it’s enough to know that the benefits of exposure to nature are real and measurable. And in an increasingly distracting and distracted world, they’re more important than ever.

 

How to get the best from nature

Suck it up

While many people enjoy a walk in the park, pleasure isn’t required to get cognitive benefits. Marc Berman’s volunteers were less likely to enjoy their nature walks in winter than summer, but both groups aced the post-walk cognitive tests.

Think outside the park

Nature isn’t the only option: A trip to the museum might offer the same attention-restoring experience. Conversely, scaling Mount Kilimanjaro or trudging through a snake-infested swamp is unlikely to boost your mental health.

Find the sweet spot

You want to be stimulated enough to avoid boredom, but have enough freedom for your mind to wander. “For example, I don’t think walking in the park and talking on the cellphone would be restorative,” Dr. Berman says.

– Alex Hutchinson

 

Welcome to Elementus Bryan Gomez and Daniel Villeda

I would like to welcome Bryan Gomez and Dr. Daniel Villeda, our two new members of the crew at Elementus!

Bryan brings over 15 years of experience in training all ages and fitness levels .  His own personal enjoyment of using kettlebells has led him to two different Russian Kettlebell certifications.  We are happy to have him as he fills an important role in Elementus.  He is available during the later parts of the day on Wednesday through Friday and will also be starting group classes at our location.

Dr. Daniel Villeda is a jack-of-all-trades!  He will be offering therapeutic massage on Friday afternoons and on Saturdays.  His knowledge of the human body is amazing.  So, if you’re looking for some good restorative work, please let us know and we’ll set you up with Daniel.

Welcome to the Team!

Eating out again? Researchers’ findings on how to keep dieters on track.

One of the most challenging things for dieters to deal with is maintaining your eating routine while away from home. In 1970, 26 percent of all food spending was on food away from home, but by 2005, that number had climbed to 41 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Since many of us are constantly on the run, eating in restaurants can make it very hard to keep your nutritional programs on track.  Here are some interesting findings from a research study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

 

By Linda Thrasybule | LiveScience.com – Wed, Jan 11, 2012

Eating at restaurants frequently, which can mean consuming large portions of high-calorie foods, could boost your risk of becoming obese. But there may be a way to eat out and still lose weight, a new study suggests.

Researchers looked at 35 middle-aged women and found that after six weeks of following a weight gain prevention program, they lost more weight than women who didn’t follow the program.

In the program, researchers suggested that when dining out, the women should ask that half of their meal be boxed up “to go” before they start eating, and should look up calorie information on restaurants’ websites, along with other advice.

“Being able to control and manage what you eat is useful,” said lead author Gayle Timmerman, a nurse who studies eating patterns and weight in women at the University of Texas. “But you need some knowledge and skills in order to do that.”

The study is published today (Jan. 10) in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

More Americans eat out

Over the past several decades, the percentage of our total spending on food that goes to eating out has risen. In 1970, 26 percent of all food spending was on food away from home, but by 2005, that number had climbed to 41 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Restaurants are a high-risk food environment,” Timmerman said. “If you don’t have a strategy, it’s easy to gain weight and eat more without intending to.”

In fact, a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that lower-calorie foods purchased in restaurants may contain more calories than listed.

The study included 35 healthy women between the ages of 40 to 59 years who ate out frequently. Nineteen of the women were given instructions about how to prevent weight gain, while 16 were not.

Women in the prevention group attended six weekly, two-hour sessions. Each session included discussions on managing weight, weekly goals, eating out strategies and mindful eating meditation, which involved exercises aimed at helping the women appreciate the sight, smell and texture of eating food.

As an incentive, those in the prevention group were given a $20 gift card during the first part of the study and a $30 gift card at the end of the study.

By the end of the study, researchers found women in the weight gain prevention group consumed less calories and fat than women who were not in the prevention program.

On average, women who participated in the prevention program lost close to four pounds, whereas women in the control group lost about half a pound.

Moreover, the number of times women ate out didn’t decrease over the course of the study, indicating that women were able to manage their weight while continuing their habits of dining out.

Judy Stern, a nutritionist from the University of California, Davis, said she wasn’t impressed with the study’s findings.

“If you’re overweight, and I gave you some incentive to lose weight, you would probably lose weight,” Stern said. “While I appreciate the efforts they went through in this study, I’m underwhelmed.”

She also noted that the study could have been strengthened by being longer. But she did find the study to be a step in the right direction. “It’s increasing our awareness of what we’re eating,” she said.

Tips for managing what you eat when dining out

Along with boxing up half of a meal before starting to eat, and researching calorie counts, here are the weight-loss tips the researchers gave study participants:

  • Budget your calories. If you know you’re going to be dining out, eat a lighter meal, but don’t skip a meal. You might overeat later.
  • Pay attention to what you’re eating and enjoy the experience. Try to chew slowly and savor it.
  • Avoid “unloved” calories. Do you really enjoy eating cold fries? Skip food you feel neutral about—but that doesn’t mean you can pass on your veggies.
  • Order salad dressings, sauces and gravy on the side. That way you control how much you put on your food.

 

 

The “Skinny” on Fats

Dietary fat is one of the most vilified and misunderstood components of the American diet. Some people fill their shopping carts with a plethora of non-fat products under the false idea that all fat is bad and that eating it will expand their waistlines. Extra calories from any source (fat, carbohydrates, or proteins) can be turned into body fat and for many, the excess consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugar is the main culprit. Including healthy fats into the diet does have many benefits including 1) making you feel full longer by slowing the breakdown of your meal and 2) preventing cravings by providing longer lasting energy than high sugar foods.

Fat plays an important role when it comes to the flavor and consistency of foods. When you completely remove the fat, something else will be used in it’s place. Many “fat-free” and “calorie-free” foods are loaded with artificial colors, flavorings, emulsifiers and much more. So you may be asking, “What’s left to eat?”  Here are some basics on the various kinds of fat, the ones to avoid, and the ones you should include in your diet.

 

Avoid these…

Partially or Fully Hydrogenated Oils

Hydrogenation is a process that turns polyunsaturated oils (normally liquid at room temperature) into a fat that is solid at room temperature. These “trans fats” are very unhealthy and their consumption has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease and obesity. Foods that contain hydrogenated oils include some chips, crackers, baked goods, many frozen foods and much more. Read your labels!

 

Include these…

Foods high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids

According to some health experts, most Americans already consume plenty Omega 6 Fatty Acids (vegetable oils, baked goods) and we should increase our levels of Omega 3 Fatty Acids. The typical American consumes about a 10 to 1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 and that ratio should be closer to 4 to 1 or even lower.

Foods that are high in Omega 3’s include…

  • Fish, fish oil
  • Flax oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Milk and meat from grass fed cows. Cows which are fed grass instead of grains are much healthier and their meat has a much higher percentage of Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
  • Eggs from chickens allowed to range and eat insects (look for cage free and free range)

Avocados

Avocados are mostly monounsaturated fat and are a great source of fat-soluble vitamins E and K.

Nuts

Nuts are high in Omega 6 Fatty Acids which are ok in moderation. They provide a healthy source of monounsaturated fats and also contain protein for repairing or building muscle.

 

Olive Oil

Olive Oil is the safest vegetable oil to use and is great on salads, vegetables, or for cooking at moderate temperatures. Using extra virgin olive oil is a great way to get your antioxidants.

 

One key to eating fats is to avoid the man-made ones which have taken over many of the foods we eat today. Healthy fats, like some of the ones mentioned here, are essential for normal hormonal functioning, healthy skin and eyes, an enhanced immune system, proper mineral absorption, and much more. So eat your fat, just choose the right ones and don’t overdo it!

How healthy is Soy?

In 1992 the soy industry was a  fringe part of the health food market that took in about 300 million. By 2007, it had grown into a 4 billion dollar giant. Since 2000, the food industry has introduced over 2700 new foods with soy as an ingredient and according to research on consumers’ attitudes toward food, 85% of American consumers perceive soy products to be healthy.  These things make soy look like a winner for both food companies and consumers, but recent research has raised some questions as to soy’s benefits and has many health and nutrition experts questioning their views on soy. So what is the truth about Soy? Is it a true health food or a creation of the food industry that should be avoided. Here is some information from recent research that may make you think twice about soy  so you can decide if it is right for you.

  • A study involving Japanese-American men showed those that ate the most tofu during midlife increased their risk of later developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 2.4 times. When compared to men who never consume tofu, men who ate it at least twice per week had more cognitive impairment and actually had increased brain shrinkage.
  • Excessive soy ingestion might suppress thyroid function in healthy people (this can lead to a depressed metabolism and to weight gain).
  • Soy phytoestrogens can disrupt endocrine function and may contribute to infertility. Some studies show men have a decreased sperm count from continued soy consumption.
  • Women who consumed soy phytoestrogens (for up to 5 years)  had an increased occurrence of endometrial hyperplasia.
  • Men who consumed large amounts of soy had higher rates of stomach cancer. Both men and women who consumed lots of soy had more colorectal cancer.
  • Infants who drank soy milk and consumed soy products were nearly three times as likely to develop  peanut allergies later in life.

A great link to these peer reviewed studies and many more can be found athttp://www.soyonlineservice.co.nz/

Which ones are unhealthy?

The unhealthy forms of soy are actually the ones that are most commonly found on the market today. Soy tofu, soy milk, soy protein and soy oil (commonly labeled as “vegetable oil”) all have negative health aspects and should be avoided. Modern food processing techniques are a major reason why these forms of soy are so unhealthy.

Is any form of soy healthy?

Fermented forms of soy including natto, tempeh, miso and soy sauce are actually healthy for you since the fermentation process negates many of the unhealthy aspects of soy. Traditional processing techniques of soy took months if not years to accomplish, not like many foods today which are processed very quickly using methods that strip nutrients or use unhealthy chemicals.

I don’t need to worry about soy, I don’t eat tofu or drink soy milk, right?

Think again, soy is found in the majority of food products in the supermarket including crackers, packaged foods, conditments, and many more. Usually it is found as soy protein isolate or soy oil (sometimes labeled as simply vegetable oil) in these foods.

Why do so many Americans believe soy is a health food and if soy is not healthy for us, why have we been lead to believe it is. Those are questions beyond the scope of this article and are dealt with in amazing depth in Dr. Kaayla Daniel’s excellent book The Whole Soy Story or her website www.thewholesoystory.com Two other great sites for information on soy are www.mercola.com and www.westonaprice.org/soy-alert.