Healthy habits help

Healthy habits help

By Sonia Duggan

Are you struggling to shed excess weight gained during the pandemic? A reduced waistline might be easier than you think if you take the time to improve a few basic habits. These simple changes will help you stay motivated and give you the energy you need before you hit the gym in 2021.

It all begins with a good night’s sleep 

A good night’s sleep can benefit the human body in various ways, including increasing alertness and improving mood and productivity. 

“Sleep is huge,” Dr. Joseph Meier of Wylie ER said. “I think the majority, sadly, of Americans – including our children – are sleep deprived.”

There are other individuals who want to sleep but cannot always make that happen. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, chronic insomnia disorders, or insomnia that occurs at least three times per week for at least three months, affect 10% of the adult population, while an additional 15 to 20% of adults suffer from a short-term insomnia disorder (less than three months). Fortunately, insomnia is treatable, and many people who suffer from insomnia can address their conditions without use of medication. 

There are strategies, however, to ensure a more restful night’s sleep.

• Reduce stimulant consumption. Consumed in large quantities or close to bedtime, stimulants such as caffeine can make it difficult to fall asleep. Coffee and soda contain enough caffeine to interfere with a person’s ability to fall asleep, so keep your consumption to a minimum, resisting caffeine four to six hours before bedtime. Nicotine, which is the active
constituent in tobacco, also can act as a stimulant, giving men and women another reason to quit smoking. If you must have soda, coffee or tea before, during or after dinner, drink only decaffeinated beverages. 

• Stop staring at the clock. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, staring at the clock as you are trying to fall asleep increases the stress hormone cortisol in your body, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Turn your alarm clock away from your bed so you cannot see the time.

• Read before bed but not in bed. The National Sleep Foundation notes that calming activities such as reading can help the human body shift into sleep mode. But reading in bed may have an adverse effect on your ability to fall asleep. Sit in a comfortable chair in your bedroom or another room, until you feel tired, then go to bed. If possible, read print books, magazines or newspapers before going to sleep, as studies have shown that blue light from tablets and e-readers can disturb sleep.

• Avoid alcohol. While it’s often true that alcohol may help to bring on sleep a few hours after consumption, alcohol also acts as a stimulant which can affect both your quality of sleep and your ability to remain asleep. Avoid consuming alcohol within three hours of your bedtime so you can sleep better and longer and are less likely to suffer from interrupted sleep.  

The hidden benefits of water 

Aside from sleep, Dr. Meier says hydration is the other most important thing for the human body health and well-being. 

“As you hydrate, you’re bringing in a fresh source of water that you’re flushing through your system,” he said. 

Dehydration is a dangerous condition that can cause a host of complications and even prove fatal in severe cases. But as dangerous as dehydration can be, many cases are entirely preventable simply by drinking enough water throughout the day. 

“I think to some extent everybody’s dehydrated,” Dr. Meier said. The best way to know if you’re dehydrated, he said, “is to look at your urine.” 

Water loss is accelerated during strenuous exercise, highlighting the emphasis individuals must place on drinking enough water during workouts. 

But water does more for the body than prevent dehydration. The following are a handful of lesser known ways that water benefits the body.

• Water can help people maintain healthy weights. Dieting fads come and go, but water is a mainstay for people who want to control their caloric intake in an effort to maintain healthy weights. Water has zero calories, so reaching for a bottle or glass of water instead of a soda, lemonade or another caloric beverage can help people keep the pounds off. A study from researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center found that even diet soda enhances weight gain by as much as 41 percent. In addition, soda has been linked to conditions such as obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. No such association exists with water.

• Water helps to fight fatigue. The fatigue-fighting properties of water are another of its lesser known benefits. When the body is not adequately hydrated, it can experience muscle soreness. Fitness enthusiasts who do not drink enough water may notice their bodies require extensive recovery time after working out which can be prevented by drinking enough water, and doing so can even improve performance. Studies have shown that just a 3 percent loss of body weight due to dehydration can cause as much as a 10 percent drop in performance level.

• Water can improve the appearance of the skin. Skin that does not get enough water can turn dry and flaky and feel tight. In addition, dry skin is more likely to wrinkle than adequately hydrated skin. Getting water to the skin can be tricky, and some experts note that water will reach all the other organs before it reaches the skin. Applying a hydrating moisturizer within two minutes of leaving the bath or shower and drinking at least eight glasses of water a day will ensure the skin is getting enough water.

• Water helps the gastrointestinal tract. Water can help maintain normal bowel function. When the body lacks sufficient fluid, the colon will pull water from stools in an effort to stay hydrated and often leads to constipation. By drinking enough water, these unpleasant side effects should not happen.

Add protein, but only the good type

Determining the nutritional value of certain foods can be a tricky business. Many foods can be enjoyed in moderation, but one food type that has remained off the bad foods radar for quite some time is protein. While some diets claim protein as the be-all and end-all in nutrition, that isn’t always the case. 

Protein is an essential building block of good nutrition that is found throughout the body and makes up the enzymes that power many chemical reactions. Protein helps fuel the hemoglobin in the blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. 

The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. Physicians recommend a daily protein allowance of 46 grams for women over the age of 19 and 56 grams for men. Too often, however, people are overloading on protein because they think it’s a better option than carbohydrates and other food sources. But not all protein is the same.

Protein that comes from animal sources offer all of the amino acids a body needs. Unfortunately, some animal sources are less healthy than others. That’s because animal-based protein sources also contain saturated fat. Consuming too much saturated fat may contribute to elevated levels of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol in the blood. LDL may lead to the formation of plaque in arteries that limits blood flow and may be a risk factor for heart disease. Fatty red meats and whole-milk products tend to contain more saturated fat than other protein sources.

Dr. Meier said he thinks many diets are too protein concentrated “You do need your eight essential amino acids,” he said. But rather than meat, “One of the classic combinations is rice and beans. It gives you what you need especially if you think about the world’s population.” 

The key when consuming protein is to find the right balance in protein sources. Fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds may offer many of the required essential amino acids. The rest can be obtained by choosing smarter animal-based protein sources. Salmon and other fatty fish are good sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids and are generally low in sodium. Lentils offer 18 grams of protein, ample fiber and have virtually no saturated fat. 

When looking for healthy protein sources, consumers can opt for the following selections.

Salmon: Wild salmon may have greater nutritional value than farmed salmon thanks to the more diversified diet consumed by wild salmon.

Chicken: Chicken is generally lower in saturated fat than other animal protein sources. Opt for pasture-raised chicken for the greatest nutritional punch.

Greek yogurt: Greek yogurt provides ample protein and can contribute to feelings of fullness, making it a more worthy snack than less healthy snacking alternatives. 

Shellfish: Shellfish includes clams, oysters, mussels, and snails. Shellfish are sources of animal protein that also happen to be full of iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients.

Variety is the spice of life when it comes to protein sources. Eat different foods to ensure the body gets all of the nutrients it requires. 

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