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There are many important aspects of your life that affect your health and well-being. Improving one area, such as diet, exercise, sleep, physical surroundings, relaxation, and more, can not only benefit other areas, but also influence your overall physical, emotional, and mental health. In fact, when it comes to health and wellness, it’s the smallest and consistent efforts that bring the best results.

Please join Sherry DeWalt, CGH Health Foundation Healthy Lifestyles Coordinator and ACE Certified Health Coach, as she shares information and tips that will help you lead a better and healthy life. For questions, contact her at (815) 625-0400, ext. 5716.

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1-20-21 - Reading Into Food Labels


I ran across my first-grade report card once, and I was somewhat surprised to see that I got a C+ in reading. Now that I think about it; it wasn’t until the 4th grade at Montmorency School when Mrs. Hunter read books to us in class that I got hooked. After that, I was the kid that read everything including the cereal box while I ate my breakfast. Turns out it was good practice for what I do now.

Most of us eat things that come in bags, boxes, or other packages. Some, if not many, of those foods are not very good for us. Sadly, soda and chips are always on the best seller list. And while some packaged foods are obviously unhealthy, what should we look for to make better choices?

You can’t always go by the front of the package. Like the dust jacket on the latest best seller that’s meant to draw you in, you can’t judge a food by its cover. Some of the claims on the front of the package might be considered almost fictional, i.e. some cereals that advertise “whole grains” contain a tiny percentage of actual whole grain compared to refined.

So, how do you distinguish between the food equivalents of trashy romance novels and foods that would be better for your body and your brain? Enter the nutrition facts label. The nutrition facts label is strictly non-fiction. It tells you pretty much exactly what’s in the package, and if you read carefully, you can steer away from the worst packaged foods. Here are some tips:

  1. Avoid products that have a long list of ingredients or ingredients that you can’t identify or pronounce. Chemicals in the form of artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and fillers may cause health issues.

  2. Packaged foods are notoriously high in sodium, and a high sodium diet contributes to high blood pressure, stroke, stomach cancers, and kidney disease. Most of us should be eating less than 1500mg per day. If the milligrams of sodium per serving are higher than the number of calories per serving, it’s probably too much.

  3. Trans fats and saturated fats lead to clogged arteries. Avoid products that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil, palm oil, or coconut oil.

  4. Some sugar is found naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains, but manufacturers add sugar to many packaged products, and added sugars can really add up. Some labels now separate added sugar from naturally occurring sugar. Just keep in mind that 4g of sugar equals one teaspoon.

One of my favorite quotes comes from well-known children’s author Tomie dePaola who said, “Reading is important, because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything.Reading food labels can help you learn how to improve your diet and your health.

Enjoy past Beyond Trim Articles below:

1-5-21 Got Puppy?

One of the trends I’ve noticed with the COVID situation is the number of people who have welcomed a new canine into their family. I totally get it. Our dog will be 16 years old this month and since we don’t have any children, he’s pretty much the center of our world. He makes our life better in so many ways, despite being a bit more high-maintenance than he once was.

There are many ways that owning a pet can enhance your life, not the least of them having to do with your health. According to the CDC, some of the health benefits of owning a pet include:

  • Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased cholesterol levels
  • Decreased triglyceride levels
  • Decreased feelings of loneliness
  • Increased opportunities for socialization

As you can see the health benefits include both physical and mental. Dogs need regular exercise and walking a dog gives you the opportunity to be more active and spend quality time with them. The exercise alone can lead to the better blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Many people don’t realize that the same health markers are also affected by stress. Pet ownership can alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation that contribute to our stress levels.

When it comes to your pet’s health, they need sufficient activity, to be fed properly, and not overfed. Obese animals can develop health complications like arthritis, heart disease, and cancers (just like obese humans!)

If your budget or living situation doesn’t allow you to have a dog of your own, there are still ways to enjoy dogs and the attendant health benefits. Volunteer at your local animal shelter; the dogs there need walks and companionship as much or more so than family pets. If you have a friend or family member who can’t get out of the house, you can volunteer to walk their dog for them. Pet sitting for friends, neighbors, or family members in your home or theirs is another way to enjoy pets without committing to one of your own.

Whether you’re a new dog owner or one with lots of experience please recognize the health implications of poor diet and lack of physical activity for yourself and your pet. As for the cat owners out there, I recently read that some cats might be trained to walk on a leash and enjoy it. I’m skeptical, but hey, it’s worth a try.

12-18-20 Decorate Your Plate with Red and Green Foods

When it comes to holiday decorations, I like the classic combination of red and green and it occurred to me that those were also great colors to focus on if you are trying to eat healthier.

I’ll start with the greenery. Dark green leafy vegetables might just be the healthiest food on earth, and we should try to include them in our diet on a daily basis. Besides being very light in calories (i.e. two cups of baby spinach has less than 20 calories), they are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

One of the most beneficial aspects of consuming greens is that they create nitric oxide as they are chewed. Nitric oxide is a gas that acts as a vasodilater. That means that it keeps the walls of your blood vessels healthy and flexible; allowing them to expand and contract more easily. This helps with your blood pressure and helps to resist the formation of cholesterol plaques.

Choose dark green leafies like spinach, collard greens, swiss chard, broccoli, romaine lettuce, turnip greens, arugula, kale, bok choy, and brussels sprouts and try to eat a variety. You gain an added benefit with leafy vegetables that are also cruciferous (kale, arugula, brussels sprouts) as cruciferous vegetables contain cancer fighting chemicals.

A daily salad is a great way to get your greens, or you can add a side of broccoli or Brussels sprouts to any meal. I also like to add baby spinach to smoothies, mashed potatoes, and spaghetti sauce.

On the red side of the equation, it’s the berries that move to the top of the list. Like the greens, they are light in calories and high in fiber. The dark red (or purple, or blue) color of berries indicates the presence of anthocyanins, a family of pigments that have been studied and show proven health benefits. Anthocyanins are cell protective, antimicrobial, improve visual health, and neurological health.

At this time of the year cranberries are a natural, but the highest concentration of these chemicals may be found in the darkest berries like blueberries and blackberries. And while we don’t think of them as berries, cherries and grape contain these compounds as well. Other red/purple foods that contain anthocyanins include red cabbage and purple potatoes.

Whether it’s fresh or frozen it’s easy to eat berries in some way every day. Add to oatmeal or cereal, toss in salads, or eat a handful as a snack. And if you’d like a recipe for a sugar free cherry/cranberry sauce, head to the CGH website and look for the What’s Cooking CGH videos on our YouTube channel, or click here.

I hope I’ve inspired you to include healthy green and red foods in your diet. They are truly the gift that keeps on giving in terms of your health.

12-4-20 Baby, It’s Cold; Go Outside Anyway

Thanks to a relatively mild fall many of us were able to get outside more than normal and that’s a good thing. You can be sure that there will be many cold days ahead though, and I want to suggest that you get outside, however briefly, even on those days when you are tempted to cuddle up by the fire.

One of the less well-known benefits of spending time outdoors is the effect it has on our sleep patterns. Light exposure plays an important part in our circadian rhythm of sleep and wakefulness. Thanks to electricity, many of us spend hours each day in well-lit environments but the daylight from the sun is far more intense than electric lighting. Getting outside, especially in the morning, can help to keep your internal clock in sync. If you can find a sheltered spot facing the sun on a front porch or patio you might be surprised at how pleasant it is to take your coffee outside in the morning and how it improves your sleep at night.

If you like to exercise outdoors there can be benefits to doing so in colder weather. According to an article in Harvard Men’s Health Watch, cold weather may improve endurance because your heart does not have to work as hard, you sweat less, and expend less energy. Some studies have also shown that exercise in cold weather can transform fat found in the belly and thighs to “brown fat” which is more metabolically active, meaning it uses more calories. And, if you typically exercise early in the day you can get the dual benefit of that morning daylight.

And of course, one of the best reasons this year for spending time outdoors is that outdoor activities can pose a lower risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus. When you are outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing the respiratory droplets that contain the virus. It’s not foolproof, so if you can’t maintain enough distance from others then be sure to wear a mask.

I jumped into a lake in the middle of winter several years ago as a participant in a “polar plunge” charity event. The water temperature that day was 37 degrees. I planned on it being a once in a lifetime experience and I haven’t changed my mind about that. I do, however, plan to spend more time outside this winter and hope that you will consider joining me.

11-20-20 Sleep Well

At a wellness conference a couple of years ago I attended a session on sleep, and it was one of the most impactful messages I heard and still remember to this day. Since we’re a couple of weeks past moving our clocks back an hour, I hope it’s not too late for you to consider using that “extra” hour to focus on getting more sleep.

The presenter at the conference was Dr. Param Dedhia, formerly of Johns Hopkins and now director of sleep medicine at the Canyon Ranch Wellness Center in Tucson, AZ. Dr. Dedhia went into great detail about what happens in our brain and body during the various stages of sleep and how important it is for us to get 7-9 hours of good, quality sleep each night.

According to Dr. Dedhia, during the first few hours of sleep, when your sleep is deepest, your body is focused on physical repair. Growth hormones and proteins are released to repair and regenerate muscles. Inflammation is reduced and the lymphatic systems clears damaging substances. This is also when your brain transfers memory from short term storage to long term storage.

During the latter hours of sleep is when you experience dreaming. Dream sleep rules your emotions and this is when your brain clears negative thoughts like fear and anxiety. This may also be the time when creativity and problem solving are enhanced.

Getting enough of both deep and dream sleep keeps us feeling great physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you have trouble sleeping enough, or don’t get good quality sleep the first thing you might try it to improve your “sleep hygiene”. Good sleep habits include:

  • Going to bed at the same time each night, and getting up at the same time each morning.
  • Making sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Removing electronic devices (television, phone, computer) from the bedroom.
  • Avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime
  • Being physically active during the day.

If none of these seem to help it may be worthwhile to visit with your doctor and see if a sleep study is in order.

I’ve heard people say jokingly that they can sleep when they’re dead. According to Dr. Dedhia sleep deprivation will kill you sooner that food deprivation. For that reason, it might be more important than you think to focus on your sleep.

11-6-20 Motion is Medicine

If you are having problems with arthritis, depression, blood sugar, or blood pressure your doctor might prescribe a medication that will help with your symptoms. But what if there was a way you could help to alleviate your pain and manage these symptoms without the meds? You might consider reaching for your sneakers instead of the pill bottle.

Arthritis - A favorite saying of one of my favorite local physicians is “motion is lotion”. He’s referring to the fact that people with arthritis can benefit from low impact activities like walking and swimming to keep joints flexible and lubricated. And strength training can assist with joint strength and stability in arthritis sufferers. Flexibility, joint lubrication, and strength translates to less pain and the ability to do more.

Depression - You might think that depression causes people to be less active, but researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) did a study that suggested the reverse. Their finding showed that physical inactivity and poor sleep contributed to depression symptoms and suggests that exercise could be used as a strategy to change mood states.

Blood Sugar - Several studies have looked at the effects of exercise on blood sugar and show a correlation between physical activity and a lower risk of developing diabetes. A key study recently showed that the timing of exercise may be significant. In that study better blood sugar control was achieved by taking a 10-minute walk after every meal as compared to one daily walk of longer duration.

Blood Pressure – High blood pressure or hypertension is the leading risk factor for death worldwide. A number of studies have demonstrated the benefits of exercise on both the systolic and diastolic measures of blood pressure. The reduction in systolic blood pressure has even been shown to last for up to 24 hours after exercising.

These four illnesses are just a few that can be improved with a regular dose of physical activity. The Centers for Disease control suggest that adults get at least 150 minutes each week of moderate intensity physical activity. That breaks down to just 30 minutes a day. If you have the time and the ability to do more, you might want to consider it as more activity (up to 90 minutes a day) has been shown to increase the benefit. And whatever form of physical activity you can do will work. Walking, biking, swimming, dancing, or lifting weights are some to consider.

The scientific research into exercise and its effect on our health may be fairly recent, but the knowledge of its benefits goes back a long way. The Greek philosopher Hippocrates, (460-337 b.c.) also known as the “Father of Medicine”, is famously quoted as saying “Walking is man’s best medicine!”