Friday, January 31, 2014

Understanding Scientific Studies

As a psychology teacher, I regularly discuss the elements that make up a good scientific study. Things like double-blind elements, randomization, and the reliability of studies are crucial to their usefulness and interpretation. One of the things I notice is how often my students’ eyes start to glaze over as I start talking about these things.

So it occurred to me, how many of us really know how to read scientific studies? In today’s world, we use them to prove everything from why you should eat meat…to why you shouldn’t. Every doctor, scientist, and marketer has the beat on a study that proves what they are trying to sell or teach. So how do you know what’s real, and what is biased? If you find the study they reference, how do you know whether it has limitations, or flaws?

Find the original study. What was its intent? What were the goals of the researchers, and where was the study published? What were the limitations, or possible flaws in the study? Often, when people pull out a study and use it to base their argument, they may be summarizing the results in a way that supports their points, or they may be pulling a finding out of context of the larger meaning.

Take a moment to understand the terms. Words like placebo, randomization, and double-blind we have heard before, and often, we think we know what it means. But if you had to come up with the definition, say when your ten-year-old asks, how would you define it? Let's start with a scenario: Imagine you wanted to conduct an experiment on whether chocolate improved the mood of normal people.

  • First, you would gather a representative sample of people. This means that these people fairly represent the population in terms of diversity, economics, etc. If you only got oompa-loompas, they wouldn’t be representative to human beings across the spectrum. You then test them to ensure that they fall within normal, healthy guidelines. Then you would begin your experiment.
  • An experiment is simply a controlled environment wherein a concept is tested to see if it can be proved.
  •  The experimental group is the group of people or animals that will receive the situation or substance being tested. So in our chocolate study, this is the group eating chocolate.
  • A control group is the opposite of the experimental group: they are not receiving anything in the experiment. So this group would not receive any chocolate.
  • Every study has an independent variable – the substance or element being tested, and a dependent variable – the outcome as a result of the application of the independent variable on the experimental group. For our purposes, the chocolate is the independent variable, and the participants’ moods as a result of the chocolate is our dependent variable.
  • blind study means that no one participating in the study knew whether they were in the experimental or control group, so they can’t throw off the study (because let’s face it: when we eat chocolate, we’re convinced life is getting better, right?) 
  • double-blind study means that neither the participants in the study, nor the researcher in charge knows which group is the experimental group or the control group. This assures that the researcher’s bias can’t affect the outcome of the study.
  • A placebo is often used during drug studies, where one group – the experimental group – receives the drug being tested, and the control group receives what they are told is the drug as well, but is actually a fake pill, often made of sugar. So in our study, we would give the control group something that looked and tasted like chocolate, but really wasn’t (imagine such a thing!)
  • A randomized trial means that our “normal, healthy” people were randomly assigned to the experimental and control groups. 
Always be a skeptic. We know that advertisers are trying to get us to buy their product or service. So when they reference a study or a trial, ask for a copy of it and read it with a critical eye. Did they mention the fact that all of their participants were an odd shade of orange with green hair?

Never confuse correlation studies with scientific studies. Correlations are just that: it’s data that matches up to other data in a positive or negative way, but doesn’t prove the relationship between the two. So for example, when I was in school getting my degree in psychology, the famous example we used was when the consumption of ice cream goes up, so does the incidence of rape. So does that mean that ice cream causes people to commit sexual assault more often? Of course not! But that is the danger when we rely on correlational information: just because they are part of the same pattern does not mean they have a relationship.

If the claim sounds too good to be true, get the research and evaluate it carefully. While studies can be overwhelming to read in the beginning, focus on the conclusions, discussion, and limitations at the end of the published article, and that will often help clear up any confusion or questionable logic.

Have you ever looked up a study to find out if the claims were true? What was the result?

Ally Bishop
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fitness for the Entire Family

Family fun and fitness is more important than ever before. Obesity is now an epidemic, threatening your family's health and well-being. But, you can effectively create fun family activities to get your entire family off the couch and leading a healthier, more active lifestyle.

Why is being active as a family important?

According to Dr. Jeffrey Tanji, director of UC Davis Sports Medicine program:

  • Family fitness enhances the health and mood of family members.
  • Activity creates a family bond and creates memories.
  • Family members are more likely to continue an active lifestyle if they engage in one together.
  • Incorporating exercise in daily life creates happier, more relaxed and healthier family members.

How do you get the whole family more active together?

  • Make fitness fun! Aside from individual activities family members participate in, try sledding, skating or even having a snowball fight in the yard in winter. In warmer weather and climates, try biking or skateboarding (with proper equipment, of course!) or swimming.
  • Set goals. According to Let’s Move, America’s campaign to raise a healthier generation of kids, plan for 30 minutes of activity three times per week.
  • Set family challenges. The Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) is one to work towards.

What’s the key to incorporating fitness in your family’s lifestyle?

  • Demonstrate an active lifestyle yourself. Kids of all ages mimic what they see adults do. Lead an active life yourself and your family will follow suit.
  • Have special events center around a fun family activity rather than a meal. Visit a park, plan a hike or engage in some other family activity to commemorate a birthday, milestone or other special day.
  • Focus on being more active, not working out.  Also, pick family activities everyone will enjoy, so being active becomes part of your routine rather than a chore.
  • Incorporate family activity in daily life. Walk as a family, before or after dinner. Bring along the family dog, so everyone benefits. For younger kids, create games such as how many yellow houses or black cars they can spot on a block to keep things interesting. For older kids, a walk is a great time to catch up on what’s happening in school and with friends without constant interruptions.

How can you keep your family active when the weather has you stuck inside?

  • Check out an exercise video online for family fun and fitness rather than idly watching TV for hours on end.  Visit for a free exercise video.
  • Bring it indoors.  I once knew a woman who loved walking outdoors. But, when the weather got nasty, she walked inside her home and at the local mall just to keep moving.
  • Yard work needs to be done year round to some extent. Use it as a family active to get everyone moving.
  • Any family member can do simple exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, stair steps, and more. These exercises require little or no equipment and are great workouts for kids at home.  Put on some music, and get moving.

When is the best time to incorporate fitness in your family’s life?

The younger kids start moving, the more likely they will incorporate activity as part of their lifestyle. Plan family fun and fitness for weekends to accommodate everyone’s busy schedule.

Where can you find ideas for fun family activities?

With a little creativity, you’ll have your family moving in no time! Do you have your own ideas for great family fun and fitness? Feel free to share!

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Monday, January 27, 2014

What’s the Big Deal about Eating Raw Foods?

Is a friend or coworker preaching to you from the pulpit of the raw food diet?  There could be something to it – a good reason to consider adding a daily dose of raw foods into your life.  To help you decide if a raw food diet is right for you, let’s take look in this report at what a raw food diet is, why you may benefit from eating raw foods, and investigate the scientific evidence related to raw food dieting. 

Raw food

What is a raw food diet?

For the most part, a raw food diet is as simple as it sounds – eating food that is uncooked. As you might surmise, this necessarily means that the bulk of what you eat on a raw food diet will be "plant foods," such as fruits and vegetables – foods that can be safely consumed without cooking. Other foods commonly part of a raw food diet include nuts, herbs, and seeds. 

Many raw food eaters will also include certain legumes that, while they cannot be consumed in a completely raw state, can be eaten if sprouted. 

Few raw food proponents include any kind of animal products in their diet, such as meat or milk, although some will include "sushi grade" meats and, as long as they are still raw (unpasteurized), milk products as well.

One other common exception to the raw food diet is consuming foods that have been dehydrated at temperatures below 115°F. The reason for this temperature is that foods heated above 115°F will lose their living enzymes and some of their vitamin content.

Within the world of the raw food diet, there are many variations, such as those who call themselves fruitarians, consuming nothing but fruit. There are even subsets of fruitarians, such as those who eat nothing but bananas. But the bulk of raw food advocates promote dietary variety. 

Do you have to eat 100-percent raw to be on a raw food diet?

Even as some raw foods advocates would say "yes" in answer to that question, nearly all raw food proponents will tell you that any increase in the percent of raw foods in your diet can improve your health. In fact, many who consider themselves “raw foodists” are consuming mostly, but not entirely, raw foods. Many maintain a certain percentage of raw foods in their diets, such as 60 percent or 80 percent.

What are the benefits of eating raw foods?

The primary reason for eating a raw food diet is to ensure that the foods you consume are as close as possible to their natural state, without processing, in hopes of preserving the foods' highest nutritional value. Most raw food proponents also emphasized the value of eating organic produce whenever possible.

While there are some naysayers who question the value of specifically raw fruits and vegetables consumption, there is one undeniable benefit to the average raw food diet – that by making your primary dietary sources plant-based foods, you will be eating foods that are of the richest nutritional value, in terms of essential vitamins and minerals. Whether cooked or raw, just about any vegetable will benefit your health more than the highly processed foods that are common in the American diet, such as snack chips, pastries, or sugary desserts.

In many cases, the value of eating a primarily plant-based diet is as much about the harmful things you're not getting as the good things that you are getting. For example, on a raw food plant-based diet, you will naturally be consuming less saturated fat, less processed sugar, no trans fats, no artificial preservatives, less sodium, and fewer chemical byproducts. As well, managing your weight and insulin levels is much easier on a raw food diet due not only to the lesser amounts of sugar but also due to the higher amounts of fiber.  Those who switch to a raw food diet usually also benefit from healthier cholesterol levels and blood pressure levels.

One key advantage of eating raw is to ensure that the living elements of food, such as phytonutrients and enzymes, are still alive.  Cooking kills the healthy living elements of fruits and vegetables.  Cooking can reduce the nutritional value of your foods since heat kills off many phytonutrients.  Water-soluble vitamins in particular are affected by the heat, as are omega-3 fatty acids.  Fiber content can also be reduced by heating.

For example, a study on the effect of  heating of cocoa beans found that the standard higher temperatures used to roast cocoa beans causes a loss of valuable flavonoids. The unprocessed beans were also found to be richer in the natural cacao flavor.

The flavor and aroma of many fruits and vegetables are blunted by cooking.  And you don't need a scientific study to determine this:
  • Inhale the scent of a vine ripened, fresh tomato. Taste it. 
  • Now, take a whiff of canned stewed tomatoes and try a bite. 
Is there any comparison? To a blindfolded taste tester who had never eaten either, would it even be perceived as the same vegetable? Likely not.

Raw food

Research supporting raw food health benefits
If you have ever tried a raw food diet, or if you know someone who has, you likely have experienced or witnessed some of the benefits commonly touted by raw foodists, such as reduced susceptibility to illness, higher levels of energy, greater alertness, healthy weight loss, and improved skin tone.  But is there any scientific proof to support these claims?  Yes. Let's take a look at some of those.
  • The Journal of Nutrition published results of a fascinating study involving more than 1300 subjects that demonstrated that long-term consumption of a raw food diet "remarkably lowers" LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides, reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, and positively affected HDL levels – the good cholesterol. Participants were all consuming between 70 and 100 percent raw foods throughout the study.
  • In research spearheaded by Doctor Luigi Fontana, raw food dieters were found to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and higher levels of vitamin D and, consequently, a potentially lesser risk of breast cancer or prostate cancer.
  • In a 2008 German study, results showed that a long-term strict raw food diet results in a positive plasma beta-carotene concentrations, indicating a reduced risk of chronic diseases. The scientists believe that these positive levels are likely the result of the healthy fat contents found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oil that are common to a raw food diet.
  • In a two-year long 2006 raw food study, involving 500 female participants, results showed significant improvement in menstrual cycles, a reduction in stress levels, and an improvement in skin condition, including oiliness, dryness, eczema, and skin eruptions when consuming a raw food diet. Participants also experienced a decrease in the amount of sleep required in order to feel rested.   Sleep quality also improved; participants reporting no insomnia rose from 40 percent to 59 percent after transitioning to a raw, live foods diet.
You can find more positive raw food research and raw food study results here, including research regarding aging, as well as smoking and alcohol cessation. 

In a follow-up report coming soon, we will look at raw food dieting risks and downsides, and – in case you want to try it – how to get started with a raw food diet.  Meanwhile, please consider that no substantial change in diet should be undertaken without first consulting with your doctor.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, January 24, 2014

Can I exercise with a cold?

Here you are, doing your best to stay true to your New Year’s resolution to exercise, when –WHAM! – a head cold strikes.  You don’t feel well, but you don’t want to lose the momentum of your exercise routine. Should you go ahead and stick with your workout plans, or is rest the better thing to do?

Research suggests that the answer isn’t a straightforward yes, but yes nonetheless. As long as you take a few yes-buts to heart, chances are that you can still exercise with a head cold without negative effects, and may even benefit from it.  Here’s the scoop.

box of tissues

Prevention first: exercise reduces illnesses

To avoid getting that cold in the first place, exercise regularly. Several different studies have shown that you can boost your immune system and thus reduce the number of colds you get by exercising.

According to one study, regular exercise increases illness-fighting immune cells between 50 and 300 percent. Other research shows that performing moderately intense exercise regularly will specifically reduce how many colds you will get. Another study showed that the female test subjects got fewer colds when they regularly performed moderate-intensity exercise.

No bones about it – your odds of staying healthy improve with regular exercise. The one caveat with this – When your exercise falls into the category of "too much" or "too intense," you may actually increase the likelihood of getting a cold. When you are under any kind of stress, your immune system is negatively affected. Studies have shown that athletes who perform vigorous exercise – a physical stress to the body – without taking any down time for recovery increase their susceptibility to colds and flus.  The intense, prolonged exercise can lower white blood cell count, suppressing immunity and increasing the likelihood of upper respiratory infection.

When is it okay to exercise while sick?

Some exercise experts recommend that you continue your exercise routine even if you are sick with a head cold. Their research showed that:
  • Test subjects with a cold virus had no reduced lung function, metabolic responses, or exercise capacity compared to those with no cold virus.
  • Test subjects with colds who exercised experienced no increase in their cold symptoms compared to test subjects with colds who rested.
  • In some cases, test subjects felt better as a result of exercising.
Some experts theorize that, because exercise boosts immunity, you may actually recover from a cold faster by exercising. Experts also point out that you may experience longer term health repercussions by shelving a fragile exercise regimen because of a cold; stopping the routine may actually signal the end of your workout routine.

running in winter

There are however important caveats or exceptions to the rule of exercising with a cold:
  • Listen to your body!
    When exercising with cold symptoms makes you feel worse, reduce the intensity of your exercise or give it a rest altogether. 
  • Head colds only!
    If your cold symptoms are above the neck, such as sneezing, minor sore throat, or runny nose, it's probably okay. But if your symptoms include chest congestion, fever, or body aches, you may actually have a more serious chest cold or even pneumonia. Plus, the kinds of viruses that bring on chest cold symptoms can engender heart muscle inflammation, also known as myocarditis – a potentially life-threatening condition.
  • Don't exercise with a fever!
    Exercise will raise your body temperature. So does having a fever. The high body temperature from combining exercise with a fever can negatively affect coordination and balance, increasing risk of injury and potentially leading to more serious medical conditions, such as heat stroke, pneumonia, or heart damage. Read more on this.
  • Stop immediately with any of these symptoms!
    If you experience shortness of breath, increased congestion, increased wheezing or coughing, dizziness, balance problems, chest pressure or tightness, or difficulty breathing, stop immediately and see a doctor.
  • Be cautious with cold medications!
    Certain decongestants increase your heart rate, as does exercise itself. Doing both can over-stress your heart.
  • See a doctor if you have health issues! All the research implying that you can go ahead and exercise with a cold assumes you are of normal or optimal health. If you have any existing health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart issues, or obesity, then your body may not be able to handle the combined strain of a suppressed immune system with continuing exercise. See your doctor before combining the two.
To summarize, when your symptoms are limited to typical head cold problems, and you have normal health, continuing to exercise will likely do you no harm and may even help you get over your cold. But for all other types of cold symptoms, give your body a break – let it rest until your symptoms go away. Even when you start back up, go easy at first. Your body will tell you if you are not actually ready to return to exercise, if you give it a chance.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cut Your Winter Energy Costs

If you and your family reside in a region that experiences the colder winter months, you recognize the enjoyment winter weather can bring. In addition to snow activities such as snowball fights and building snowmen, you can participate in winter sports such as skiing and ice-skating. But, along with the fun winter activities comes the high cost of winter energy bills. Read on for tips on saving money and energy for your home this winter.

house in the winter

How to save money on heating:

  • According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lower your thermostat at least 10 degrees for eight hours.  Some families choose to drop the temperature in the house during the day, when most family members are out of the house. Another option is to drop it at night, and stay warm by bundling up with more blankets.
  • Adjust your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Seal gaps around windows, doors, electrical outlets, and where pipes come into your home. Insulate attic doors, too. Doors or windows that you won’t use during the winter months can be sealed with plastic in the fall until the warmer spring months.
  • Replace your furnace’s filter regularly for greater efficiency.
  • Keep the humidity in your home at approximately 40 percent. Moist air feels warmer, which helps save energy.
  • Set ceiling fan blades in your home to rotate in reverse. Running fans in this manner pushes warm air near the ceiling down towards the floor where it’s more useful.
  • Utilize your fireplace more. Some experts advise against using your fireplace, citing that the warm air generated merely goes out the chimney. But, check out this link for tips on greater efficiency.
  • Insulate pipes.

How to save on electricity:

  • Turn off lights in unused rooms or utilize a timer.
  • Use major appliances such as your stove, dishwasher, and clothes washer and dryer after 9 p.m.
  • Turn off and unplug electronics and appliances when they’re not in use.
  • If you have a smart phone, consider a system that will allow you to monitor your energy use at home through your phone.

woman with warm clothes

Additional tips on saving money at home:

  • Dress warmer. Wear sweaters, extra socks, and layer clothing during the day; get out the flannel pajamas for you and your family to wear to bed. Use extra or heavier blankets on beds to keep warm while sleeping.
  • Take advantage of the sun. During daylight hours, open shades, blinds, and curtains and allow the sunlight to naturally heat your home.
  • Consider an energy assessment. This will alert you of any potential problems with your home systems and can also provide money saving options.
  • Enlist the help of your family. Teaching your children the importance of conserving energy and saving money is a great lesson at any age. By making your entire family part of the process, you’re more likely to be successful in your energy saving efforts.

Where to go for additional information:

Visit for more information and money saving tips on conserving energy and saving money this winter.

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Monday, January 20, 2014

January: Mental Wellness Awareness month

We often think of mental illness – whether it shows up in the people we love, in the bright color of an awareness ribbon, or in the news – as a severe psychological problem that needs treatment. Terms like depression and anxiety are regularly mentioned, often in the same sentence as treatment and medication. 

Lost in the milieu of illness, we might forget to consider “mental wellness.” Since January is both a time of renewal and farewell, how about checking in to see what your mental wellness level is?

In the world of psychological maladies, there is no definition for “normal.” But in our everyday life, what does it mean to feel good mentally? How would you describe it? Most of us go through our lives without ever assessing: how is my outlook on life? Am I mentally well? Or could I use some tuning up?

As you consider these questions, here are some ideas to help you review and improve your mental health:

Life mindset – How do you face each day? Do you feel like each day presents new possibilities? Even if your morning routine is a bit hectic, do you find yourself excited about what’s in store for the future? For many of us, we find ourselves shaking our heads, as our daily view tends towards a more negative attitude. And you aren’t alone. But negativity affects not only our world view, but our health and attitude. So how do you alter this habit, and create a new one? 

Using the S.M.A.R.T. goal strategy we discussed before, it might look something like this: I will speak one positive thought about my life each morning, for the next 30 days. You might put that goal on a sticky note and post it around the house and in your car so you can stick to it!

Self-talk – What does you self-talk sound like? Is it encouraging and loving? Is the way you speak to yourself the same way you would speak to your child or best friend? Does it make you smile with joy? If your answer is “no” to any of these questions, it’s time to evaluate how to improve it. We know that self-talk not only improves our attitude, but it has significant impacts on our health

To make the first step in improving our self-talk, let’s use the goal above: creating a more positive life mindset. When you get up in the morning and face yourself in the mirror, make a conscious effort to improve your self -talk. “This is a new day – and it’s awesome.” “I am going to face the challenges today with a smile.” “Even though today has some stress in it, I’m going to have a good day.” Whatever might work for your situation – choose that phrase or adjust it to match the day’s (and your) needs.

Daily influences – What do you allow into your mind during the day? How about first thing in the morning? Many of us tune in to the morning news, the afternoon broadcast, and often, even the evening news hour. At times, it’s with us on the commute, or at the gym, or even over the lunch break as we grab a sandwich or sit in the lunchroom. While being aware of world and local events is often necessary, the constant barrage of negative news stories and horrific events takes a toll on our mental wellness and adds stress. 

So rather than live in a bad news bubble, why not change some of your daily influences to help cultivate better mental wellness? Try listening to your favorite tunes, or putting on some dance music and moving to the beat. Have you checked out the podcasts that are available for your daily drive? Or how about listening to a book? If you like to have something on the television, try a funny show or an uplifting spiritual program. Even a meditation or yoga class can help ease the strain of daily stress.

Our mental wellness is critical not only to our health, but to our life satisfaction. While it’s easy to overlook, the more mindful we are about our outlook, the better the outcome, and the more likely we are to find true joy and contentment in our lives.

What are ways you have used to improve your mental wellness? What areas are you still working on?

Ally Bishop
Contributing Writer

Friday, January 17, 2014

January is National Blood Donor Month

Give and save a life! January is National Blood Donor Month, and individuals are encouraged to give blood. Whether you’re a seasoned donor or are considering the selfless act of donating for the first time, read on for facts about blood donation.

National Blood Donor Month

Facts about donating blood:

  • Each pint of blood donated can be split into platelets, plasma and red cells, which can save up to 3 lives.
  • Every 2 seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.
  • For every 7 people entering the hospital, 1 person will need blood.
  • Blood can’t be artificially made.
  • Women have 10 pints of blood in their bodies; men have 12 pints.
  • Typically, 1 pint of blood is collected during blood donation.

Why is National Blood Donor Month necessary?

According to experts, blood is traditionally in shorter supply during the winter months due to holidays, travel, inclement weather and illness.  Designating January National Blood Donor Month also brings awareness to blood donation in general, encouraging individuals to donate throughout the year.

What is the blood donation process?

The donation process consists of:

  • Registration.
  • A brief medical screening.
  • Blood collection.
  • Refreshments.

How long does the donation process take?

The entire process, from start to finish, typically takes about one hour at a blood donor center. Actual collection of blood is normally 10-20 minutes, depending upon the type of donation.

What safety precautions are in place for donating and receiving blood?

The supplies used to collect blood are sterile and only used once. You can not contract HIV or any other infectious disease from donating blood. Donated blood undergoes 13 different tests, 10 for infectious diseases, before it is available for use.

Donate blood

Who can donate blood?

  • Individuals must be at least 17 years old (16 years of age in some states).
  • Donors must weigh at least 110 lb.
  • Those looking to donate blood must be in good health.
  • A list of conditions and other criteria is available here.

How often can you donate blood?

You can donate every 56 days, up to 24 times per year.

Do you need to know your blood type to donate?

No, your blood will be tested as part of the donation process at a blood donor center.

What are the blood types? What are rare blood types?

According to the American Red Cross, the eight major blood groups are:

  • A+/-: These types can donate to A and AB types.
  • B+/-: Both blood types can donate to B and AB types.
  • AB+/-: Both can donate to other ABs and can receive from all other blood types.
  • O+/-: The universal donor blood type.

Of all the blood types, AB- is the most rare. O+ is the most common blood type.

Where can you find a blood donor center?

Visit or to locate a blood donor clinic in your area. Additional information on blood donation is available at these sites, as well.

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Importance of Doing Nothing

We all mention (at times, complain) that we live in a constantly on-the-go world. Whether it’s having a family that has to go to different events every night of the week, multiple jobs, or juggling getting additional education and paying your bills, we feel the squeeze on our time and energy. Everything (and often, everyone) pushes us to be more and do more. And we find ourselves in a quandary: unable to add one more thing to our busy to-do list, and desperately wanting to throw up our hands in defeat, hide under the covers, and not do anything at all.

To do list

Wait a minute: What if you really did nothing? I don’t mean for weeks on end, but what if, instead of taking a vacation where you pack up everyone and everything, make a gazillion arrangements and stress about itinerary switch ups, you simply took a week and did, well, nothing?

It sounds crazy, but as someone who recently had to evaluate her health and lifestyle, let me share with you some of the benefits of sitting on your bum – and why you should consider it.

You realize just how much you do. Let me tell you – I was underestimating just how much I got done in a day. While working forty hours a week, I managed to grocery shop, make 90% of our meals from scratch, spend time with friends and family, and keep the house going. Did I mention I color my own hair and do my own nails? And let’s not forget about my second and third jobs, freelancing (like I do here as a writer) and health coaching. That’s a long week. No wonder I was tired all the time!

You find you are chronically stressed out. One of the things I’ve learned as a health coach working with busy clients is that we are never accurate judges of how much stress we have on our shoulders. Acute stress is when a bear is chasing you, and you run for your life – brief and intense. Chronic stress is when you live with the bear (many of you know what I mean!) It is low-level, constant stress, and in today’s world, we exist this way, often for years at a time. Some of us never get away from it. And it takes its toll on our mental and physical health.

You discover how much sleep you actually need. Prior to the last year, I rarely got more than 6 or 7 hours of sleep. Eight hours? Who needs that much sleep? I went with the old adage: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” The problem, however, is that I was killing myself with exhaustion. When my doctor told me sleep and relaxation mattered, I rolled my eyes and asked for more blood tests. But after over a year of being tired, I was willing to give my doc’s suggestion a try. Surprise! I need – just like every other average human – 8-9.5 hours. Turns out I’m not superwoman who can go on less than 7 hours and still set the world on fire. Guess what? Neither are you. You’ll be amazed at how your mood improves, your well-being increases, and your overall life enjoyment gets better, just from getting more shut-eye.

Relaxing on couch

You see how much you are being depended on…and sometimes, maybe even used. We love our friends and family. We enjoy doing things for them and being needed. But there are times when people get carried away with how much they lean on us. Taking a week off, focusing on your own needs, allows you to re-assess, and perhaps address some unfair situations that could be affecting your relationships and adding stress to your life. It may give you a chance to evaluate on how doing one task may take away from your enjoyment of spending time with your children, your partner, or your own interests.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating becoming a couch potato for weeks on end! But giving yourself time to reflect as the new year starts, being honest about what we are capable of, and more than anything, giving ourselves permission to simply be and not allow our “lack of doing” to diminish our value in our own eyes. It’s worth some down time to ponder.

Contributing Writer

Monday, January 13, 2014

Setting SMART goals

Is it possible to start a New Year and not set goals? I know, it seems trite, but reality is, there is something about a fresh calendar to give us new perspective. So even if New Year’s resolutions don’t appeal to you, there’s nothing wrong with taking a second look at what we want for this upcoming month, year, or even life! Are your goals things that can be accomplished? How are you laying out your benchmarks? Will you know if you are wandering off track?

One of the things I teach students returning to school is to set “SMART” goals. A concept often taught in business schools and conferences, since I’ve been teaching it for several years, it’s gotten into my daily life. It’s helped in surprising ways, and probably in ways I don’t even know yet.

So how might you use this for your life? With these simple tools, you can adjust your goals so they are achievable – and you’ll know you are on the right path to getting them done.

Here are the basics:

S – Specific. Are your goals specific? That might seem like a “well, duh” statement, but think about it. Is your goal something like, “I want to get a better job?” While that is narrowing it down a little, there’s still plenty of room for error. What defines a better job? What would it look like? Get really specific with your goal. “I want to find a job in Human Resources, as an assistant or above, earning $_____/year.” Now that’s specific.

M – Measurable. Are your goals measurable? If you want to complete your goal by the end of the year, then yes, it is. But what if it will take less – or more – time than that? You might say something like: “I will add one new vegetable or fruit to my menu each week.” That’s measurable, because you can review your grocery receipts to keep yourself accountable.

A – Achievable. Are your goals things that can be accomplished with the skills you have? Do you need to take a class? Have other people done it? What tools do you need to make it happen? So if you want to quit smoking or lose weight, examine the methods at your disposal and what you think will work best for you.

R – Realistic. Sometimes we set goals, and they aren’t possible in the given time frame, or with the skills we have. Suppose you want to learn to master the guitar – in six months. While it’s admirable, and you may have significant skill in music, given the time you have available and that time frame, it might not be possible to master the guitar. In situations like this, we evaluate the time or task we’ve chosen, and adjust it accordingly. “I will master the guitar so that I can play in front of a live audience in two years, and commit to taking lessons weekly until that goal is accomplished.”

T – Time-frame oriented. All goals must have a time frame. It’s not enough to say, “I will quit smoking.” Let’s face it – that could happen anytime…or never! Instead, try, “I will quit smoking by April 1, 2014.” Now you can set mini-goals each week to lessen the amount of cigarettes you are smoking and make that goal a reality.

SMART goals aren’t hard to do, but they do take a little work. Often, we get frustrated because we aren’t accomplishing the things we want to. But if we take a moment, evaluate their SMART elements, we find that we simply need to adjust our direction, give it some parameters, and voil√†! We have victory!

What are goals you are working on that need some fine-turning using the SMART goal theory? How have you succeeded in using it?

Contributing Writer