Finding Slumber

In my previous post about the importance of sleep, I encouraged you to keep track of how much sleep you are getting. I have been using my activity monitor to track my sleep for the past couple months. I am able to see how many hours of sleep I average per night. When I get less sleep, it’s usually because I get in bed late. Holidays and vacations can disturb daily routines, such as bedtimes. Missing out on a party or other holiday event may not seem appealing, but sometimes we have to make compromises with ourselves. Consider leaving an hour earlier than you would normally, or taking a nap beforehand.

Even if we can get in bed at a decent hour, many people suffer from occasional or chronic insomnia. From as far back as I can remember, I have usually had difficulty falling asleep. I know others who find it hard to stay asleep. A few simple lifestyle adjustments could be the solution. Here are a few tips I have found useful if you are looking to improve your sleep hygiene.  

Watch What You Drink and Eat
Caffeine is effective in keeping you alert in the morning, but it will interrupt the flow of melatonin, the well-known sleep-inducing hormone. If you are feeling sleepy in the afternoon, try getting up and moving around, or eating a healthy snack, like fruit or nuts. Also, sugary junk foods can interfere with sleep. If you are craving a snack before bed, try carb-rich foods that promote sleep, which include yogurt and fruit.

Exercise
Better sleep quality is just one of the many benefits of exercise. The body’s temperature drops after exercise, which promotes sleep. Also, exercise can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms that can trigger insomnia. However, avoid strenuous workouts close to bedtime. Instead, consider movement that promotes relaxation, such as yoga and simple stretching.

Power Off Electronics
The light from your computer or smartphone screen can delay the release of melatonin, inhibiting sleep. Computer and TV time can also be stimulating activities. Consider downloading a bluelight filter app on your devices and turning them off an hour before bed. Try performing an activity that you find relaxing, such as reading or journaling, and you will be preparing your mind and body for bed.

Sleep-promoting Environment
Create an environment where your body and mind can wind down. Keep your bedroom dark and cool. While many people prefer quiet, there are others who sleep best when listening to calming music or soundtracks. You can also try aromatherapy. Lavender and chamomile are two sleep-promoting scents. Finally, invest in a comfortable mattress. Your sleep is worth it!  

 

Of course, everyone’s body is different; so you may not experience results with all of them, but I encourage you to test any of these techniques. You can make notes in your sleep log and track how your body responds to any adjustments you make. In my case, I find that lavender essential oil in the diffuser and on the bottoms of my feet help me relax before bed.  

Prioritizing your sleep is prioritizing your overall health. As we get deeper into the cold and flu season, our bodies will need to be as strong as they can to defend against illness. Also, sleep and mood are closely connected. With more gloomy, cold weather in the forecast for many of us and the stress of the holidays, getting enough sleep can help enhance our emotional well-being and deter anxiety or depression. Why wait? Try getting good sleep tonight. Your body and mind will thank you!

Holiday Food Hacks

Cooking TogetherAs the holiday season gets fired up, so does baking, gifting and the sharing of delicious food. I’ve always been a fan of finding healthy swaps for baking and cooking, and have completely wowed my biggest food critics (aka my vegan sister and other carnivorous family members). There’s nothing quite like taking a classic recipe and making it even better and healthier by making a few quick easy ingredient swaps.

I think the biggest challenge when it comes to holidays are avoiding all of the sweets that seem to pop up everywhere. I’m a firm believer in moderation and therefore do not steer myself away from the array of holiday goodies that cross my path. However, when I go to make a baked good that will be shared, I turn to vegan treats. Most people are blown away by the simplicity of ingredients (and also effort) most of these recipes have. Below is a list of my favorite recipes for you to try out next time you try your hand at baking. There are also tons of fun vegan recipes on Pinterest.

• Quick and easy, One Bowl Chocolate Zucchini Bread 
• Check out these simple, Vegan Coconut Macaroons
• Pumpkin fans, here’s a recipe for Pumpkin Cookies

I will admit, I’ve had my fair share of vegan baking fails. Part of the fun of vegan baking is adapting ingredients depending on the type of recipe you are following. The biggest subs are for eggs, butter, oil and milk or cream. My favorite swap is unsweetened applesauce for oil (1:1 ratio). This works especially well in cakes and brownies. Eggs can be replaced by whipping up a flax egg, or chia seeds (learn how here).

Making your shopping listHere a few more ideas you can try out for a healthy alternative to everyday ingredients.

  • Sour Cream → Greek Yogurt
  • Pasta → Zucchini Noodles  
  • Milk Chocolate →  Dark Chocolate
  • Heavy Cream →  Coconut Milk
  • White Flour → Nut Flours (almond, chestnut…)
  • Cheese →  Nutritional Yeast
  • Milk → Almond, Hemp or Coconut Milks
  • White rice → Quinoa
  • Mayo →  Avocado
  • Sugar → Agave, Pure Maple Syrup, Vanilla Extract

Perks of Caffeine

Cup of Coffee

As I sit here in my favorite coffee shop, sipping a cup of hot holiday brew, I got inspired to write a quick article about my favorite beverage, coffee. There’s nothing quite like sitting on a quiet porch in the waking hours of the morning, sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee. I love starting out my morning with this ritual, and studies show that just about 83% of all adult Americans do too. If you find yourself in that percentage, you may be wondering how a daily dose of caffeine affects your mind and body.

Here is a quick list of the benefits you may be getting from that cup of morning brew.

1. It can help you burn fat. Pretty much every over the counter “fat burner” supplement and pre-workout supplement contains caffeine and for a good reason. Due to its stimulant status, caffeine jumpstarts your metabolism and creates quicker oxidation of fatty acids (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).

2. It helps protect your liver. Studies found that a few cups of coffee daily can help reduce the risk of liver cancer by 40% (Science Direct).

3. Coffee contains loads of antioxidants and nutrients. Now we aren’t talking about white chocolate mochas here, strictly black coffee. Surprisingly, coffee has more antioxidants than any fruit or veggie in the American diet (Healthline).

4. Coffee improves memory. Much like its fat burning properties, caffeine helps improve mental acuity (National Center for Biotechnology Information).

5. It makes us happy. This is my favorite reason. Like most psychoactive brains stimulants, it boosts our mood. I couldn’t forget to mention that it’s delicious as well!

Be Social For Your Health

When I visit my family back in California, my sister and I always try to go out for at least one walk together. Sometimes our lives can get so hectic we need time to catch up and share what we are each excited, worried, or just thinking about. We escape from our busy lives and return to the times when we lived together and could go for walks several times a week. We would treat our walks like appointments. “What time are we going to go for a walk?” I would ask her. After I moved away, we kept walking together, but talking through our phones. My gift to her before I left was a pair of headphones for this purpose.

When it comes to creating healthy lifestyles, we do not have to do it alone. Our relationships can give us confidence and motivation to create an active lifestyle. The best way to gain support for your new fitness goals is to let others know your goals and also to encourage others to be more active with you. Friends help keep you accountable to yourself. Trying a new gym class, like yoga or Pilates, can be intimidating, but it can be easier if you go with a friend. A hike or walk is a fun and easy hangout. Why not ask a coworker to go for a walk to a coffee shop a couple of blocks away, instead of the one in your building? Do you know someone who goes swimming regularly? Ask if you can join them. You can also invite friends over for a low-key workout/dance party. There are so many opportunities to get moving with others.

Having a walking or exercise buddy will not only help you reach your fitness goals, but it will also strengthen your relationships. Relationships are built on shared experience. When you work out or go for a hike with your spouse or friends, you are strengthening your physical health and emotional connections. Emotional connection allows us to build trust and grow in our relationships. Our social relationships can be a great help in building an active culture of wellness where we all can thrive. The key is to take the initiative and seek out social interactions that promote physical activity.

Your challenge for the week: Ask someone to join you on a walk or any other type of physical activity. Who have you not talked with in a while? Who would you like to get to know better? Who do you want to enlist as your next fitness ally?

 

Quinoa for Lunch!

Quick, Easy and Healthy Quinoa Recipes

Cooking with Quinoa

By doing a quick search on the web, you can find millions of awesome ways to prepare your food for the busy week ahead, all the while saving money and staying healthy. I love being able to sleep in for an extra 20 minutes each morning knowing that lunch is already made and ready to go for the day. One of my all time favorite, nutrient packed lunch staples is quinoa. It is extremely versatile, you can cook it up in a huge batch, and it packs good amounts of fiber as well as protein. Try prepping a few of these recipes on Sunday to kick start your week!

Quinoa SalmonSalmon, Quinoa and Cucumber Bowls
For this meal, I typically make three days’ worth at a time. Its very simple, and only requires two cups cooked quinoa, 3 pieces of pan seared salmon, a cup sliced and halved cucumbers with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and splash of rice vinegar. I equally distribute the reviewed ingredients into 3 to go containers, and store in the fridge until I’m ready to run for the day.

Mexican QuinoaMexican Quinoa Salad
This meal is great along side slow cookers chicken, made by adding 2 chicken breasts and a 12oz jar of salsa into a slow cooker for 8 hours. Cooking chicken this way basically guarantees restaurant quality shreds without the added sodium. Combine your chicken (or any choice of protein) with three cups of cooked quinoa, a can of black beans (drained and rinsed), half a cup of corn, sautéed mushrooms, peppers, onions, or any veggies of your choice. Mix in 2-3 tablespoons of taco seasoning, and top with avocado when ready to eat

Quinoa SaladFeta and Quinoa Greek Style Salad
The combination of cucumber and feta always reminds me of summer with its fresh and appealing flavors. For this meal, combine three cups quinoa, a can of garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed), one cucumber sliced and halved, one tomato diced, half cup of feta cheese, and a quick dressing consisting of olive oil, vinegar, Italian seasoning and pepper to taste.

I hope you found inspiration within this post to switch up your daily lunch routine. As always, these are simply suggestions, and I hope that you can add your own flair to them as well! Lets us know what other ways you stay healthy during lunch hour!

Keep Hydrated

Drink More WaterRemembering to drink enough water throughout the day can be difficult when life gets busy. However 60%, of our body is made up of water, and we need to remain fully hydrated throughout the day to keep all bodily functions working properly. Daily water consumption should be around 2 liters, or 8, 8oz glasses, but there are many factors that may alter consumption recommendations such as gender, weight, activity level and climate. Here are a few ways to keep your body properly hydrated. 

Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. Keep a glass by your bed, or leave a water bottle on your nightstand to serve as a reminder first thing to start your day.

Try creating infused water or ice. Use any combination of lemon, cucumber, strawberries, blueberries, chia seeds, orange, fresh rosemary, mint or basil to craft a lightly flavored water. Infused water is a great substitution for drinks that have higher sugar content such as soda or juice. Simply add to your water bottle, or make a batch in a pitcher to enjoy all day. Here are some combinations to try: Lemon and strawberry, basil and strawberry, mint and lime, cucumber and lemon. You can also create flavored ice cubes with these ingredients as well. Just add desired ingredients to ice tray with water before freezing.

Carry a reusable water bottle with you at all times. By simply having water with you, you will drink more.  

Use a water tracking app. There are many apps to help you keep track of how much water you have consumed each day. Having a bit of accountability can help you stay motivated and remind you to drink enough water. Try using the water tracking feature on the Walker Tracker app, My Water Balance, iHydrate, Water Reminder or Plant Nanny.

Include snacks in your day to boost water consumption without noticing. Most fruits and veggies serve as a supplemental way to consume more water. Celery, cucumber, cantaloupe, tomato, grapes, zucchini, strawberries and watermelon are all great options.