Finding Silver Linings in Life & Appreciating What We Have

Recently, Linda, a woman in my water exercise class for cancer patients, told me that she was scheduled  for a major surgery. To stave off her fear and in anticipation of the unknown, she made a list of everything she is grateful for and all that is good in her life.

That is something, I thought, we should all do occasionally. Sure everyone gets down about stuff; everything from the major, life-changing things like a cancer diagnosis to tiny myriad daily annoyances like a rude salesperson or the robo-calls that interrupt our dinner time with family.

But it pays to remember all the good things that happen in our days. The young man who gives us a seat on the subway when our feet are killing us; the glimpse we get of a group of tiny ballerinas at the gym, twirling and swirling in abandon; the nice thank you note from someone you helped.

Keeping a positive attitude not only elevates your spirits, but may even extend your life. According to a study at the University of Pittsburgh, optimistic women were 14% more likely than pessimistic ones to be alive after eight years. Researchers speculate that optimists have more friends and deal better with stress. After all, no one wants to hang out with a Debbie Downer.

It makes practical sense that there can only be health benefits in finding the positive in situations instead of focusing on the negative. Hollye Jacobs is one woman who has a mission of finding silver linings in all aspects of life. After a breast cancer diagnosis she found the silver lining in her mastectomy by noting that “my chest will be as perky as my personality.”

Now she finds silver linings all around her. Beets are one of her favorite foods. She even liked them before she had breast cancer. But the silver lining, she writes in her blog is “that there are gobs of anti-cancer benefits of eating beets.” Plus, she notes, they are available all year-round so you can find them readily available anytime.

Now, that’s making lemonade out of lemons!

Look for silver linings whenever you can, she suggests. They “will provide the balance and perspective to get you through anything and everything!”

Another woman who surely has the right to complain, but doesn’t, is Jen Smith, 35. She discovered her breast cancer when her son was nine months old. He’s now six and her cancer has spread to her ribs, her scapula and her spine. At Stage IV it is incurable. But instead of bemoaning her fate, she is “Living Legendary,” she says, pulling all the fullness and fun she can from life and celebrating each day she is alive.

Her silver linings: living to take her son to his first day of kindergarten, to Disney World and Hawaii. “I’m making choices of how I’m going to spend my time,” she explains. Instead of a one-day celebration for her recent birthday, she celebrated for a whole month with the theme: “I’m 35 and still alive.” The silver lining: “I had dessert every single day of the month!”

When my friend Liz recently lost all her hair due to chemo, she found a silver lining: Hermes scarves!

Some people call cancer a blessing because it’s taught them compassion, patience, acceptance and strength. For many, at least, it’s made them appreciate the little things and be grateful for good health, friends and even modern medicine. Instead of the bad, they think of the good it’s brought into their lives – friendships, closeness with family and an inner strength they never knew they had to tackle life’s battles. The best thing that can come from the experience is that it makes us recognize and appreciate the good that can come from a rotten situation….in other words, finding the silver linings. They’re all around us, notes Hollye, “All one has to do…is look for them.”

So maybe it’s time to let some of the bad things go and focus on all that is good in our lives and count our blessings every day. As a quote I read says: “Survivors isn’t just a term – it’s an attitude.”

Have you found any silver linings lately?






Running vs. Cycling, Does One Offer Greater Benefits?

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: Does riding my stationary bike for one hour at a medium level have the same cardio benefits as jogging for four miles at 12-minute miles?  ~ Natalie

 A: Yes and no.  Cycling offers the same benefits as running in that it improves your cardiovascular system. More specifically, your heart strengthens and is able to pump more blood at a lower heart rate as it gets stronger with exercise.

Along with that, as your fitness improves, your body is able to deliver larger quantities of oxygen to the muscles. This is the case for all forms of cardiovascular exercise, which is great because you can mix up your modes and keep things fresh and motivating. If you were looking at the standpoint of overall cardiovascular fitness, both are excellent choices.

Where they differ is in the movement. Cycling is a great form of exercise because it is low impact and isolates your lower body, which makes it an effective activity for those that are starting an exercise routine or suffer from muscle or joint pain. On the other hand, running uses every muscle in your body, making it a total body exercise, which can mean burning more calories per session.

It gets a little tricky when you start comparing paces on both activities. For instance, a 12-minute pace on a “feel good” day could be in the easy to moderate zone of effort, while another day it could be at a hard effort. Pace isn’t the best way to compare the two activities, but your effort level is.

When comparing the two, it’s easier to do so by the effort level versus comparing your running pace (12 minute miles) against your cycling effort (moderate). Instead, compare a moderate running effort to a moderate cycling effort.

The general rule of thumb is there is a 1:3 run-to-bike ratio, meaning one mile of running at a moderate effort equals three miles of cycling at that same effort level.  Cycling 12 miles is the equivalent of running four miles, with both effort levels being the same in a very general sense for cardiovascular fitness.

In the end, cycling miles are cycling miles and running miles are running miles.  They both offer great benefits and each offers unique benefits for fitness and well being.

Do you have a question for Coach Jenny? Submit your question here.

What to Eat for Healthy Teeth

Mom used to say that eating sugary foods would rot your teeth. It turns out she was right.

Eating certain foods and avoiding others can greatly affect our oral health. This is especially true for children, but is also important for adults:

·         Toddlers: Good nutrition helps healthy teeth and gums develop.

·         Older children and teens: Eating well keeps cavities at bay.

·         Adults: Healthy foods help prevent gum disease.

The nutrition and dental health relationship works the other way, too. Without a healthy mouth, you couldn’t chew or swallow foods and absorb vital nutrients your body needs. Plus, research has shown a link between gum disease and heart disease risk.Tooth and dental instrument

Foods for your teeth

A good diet for dental health is no different than a diet that is nutritious for the rest of the body. Both the American Dietetic Association and the American Dental Association stress the importance of good nutrition for oral health. This means a diet that’s rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat and nonfat dairy products and lean sources of protein. Foods high in saturated and trans fats, salt and sugar should be limited.

These nutrients can help keep your mouth in tip top shape:

·         Protein helps teeth form. Kids who don’t get enough protein and are malnourished have a higher risk for cavities. Choose lean sources of protein like fish, chicken and beans. These foods are also high in iron, magnesium and zinc, which help to build teeth and bones.

·         Calcium and vitamin D strengthen teeth and bones. Low-fat and nonfat dairy products are high in both nutrients. Calcium can also be found in dark leafy greens and beans.

·         Vitamin A helps tooth enamel form. Orange fruits and vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A.

·         Vitamin B helps keep gum tissue healthy. Whole-grain breads and cereals and green, leafy vegetables contain vitamin B.

·         Vitamin C helps maintain gums and keeps soft tissue healthy. Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C.

·         Vitamin K keeps gums healthy and controls bleeding. Dark leafy greens are good sources of vitamin K.

·         Fluoride protects tooth enamel, which makes it harder to break down. This lowers the risk of cavities. Tap water and toothpaste often contain fluoride. If you drink only bottled water, ask your dentist if you need a fluoride supplement.

Watch your sweet tooth

Sugary and starchy foods release damaging acids that harm your teeth and lead to cavities and gum disease. Foods that are chewy, gooey, sticky or dissolve slowly do even more damage because they stay in your mouth longer. Caffeinated, carbonated and acidic drinks also hurt teeth. Always brush your teeth right after eating foods high in sugar.

These items should be only eaten in moderation:

·         Sugary foods like candy, cake and cookies. Try to avoid chewy and sticky items like hard candies, caramels, taffy, granola bars and dried fruit. Watch for hidden sources of sugar in things like condiments, peanut butter and pasta sauce.

·         Starchy, processed foods such as chips, pretzels and crackers.

·         Drinks high in sugar, including soda, sports drinks and juices.

Healthy snacking

If you can’t avoid a sugar craving, eat sweets right after a meal instead of as snacks. The damaging acids released by sugary foods stay in your mouth for 20 minutes before they break down. The more often you eat sugar-filled snacks, the more frequently acids develop that can harm your teeth.  Instead, choose nutritious snacks – such as fruits, vegetables and nuts – over sweet ones.


Could Intermittent Fasting Work For You?

How often do you eat? If you’re like most fitness enthusiasts, you probably go beyond the three traditional meals and have five or even six small meals every day. And for years, this has been the prevailing wisdom. The driving force behind this approach is the idea that doing so will boost your metabolism and ward off the dreaded “starvation mode,” which all athletes struggle against. Many people who practice this sort of grazing also do so with the hope that they will be able to balance their blood sugar and avoid the midday crash that afflicts us all. A new approach to eating, however, promises to achieve all of that, plus more, while requiring you to do the exact oppose: Fast.

What is it?

Specifically, as the name Intermittent Fasting (or IF) suggests, the dieting method asks that you regularly go without eating. But there are several different approaches to IF that adjust both the frequency and duration of the fasts. Generally, intermittent fasting can be divided into two main categories: periodic fasts and daily fasts.

Although there are programs out there that offer specific fasting schedules, periodic fasts tend to be open to interpretation. These are usually 24-hour fasts that occur either once per year or even as often as once every week. It is recommended, however, that you don’t fast any more than one day each week.

The daily fast, despite its more intimidating name, is generally less severe since the actual duration of the fast is reduced. By limiting, your “feeding window” or amount of time that you allow yourself to eat during the day, you can prolong the natural fast that we all experience while sleeping. For example, the most popular programs require you to devote 16 hours to fasting, giving yourself an 8 hour eating window. This means that if your first meal is at 9am, your last meal of the day would by at 5pm. During that time you’re allowed to eat whenever you’d like, as long as you don’t exceed your normal caloric needs.

Why Fast?

But what are the benefits of fasting? And, if forcing your body into a severe caloric deficit can actually slow down your metabolism and cause muscle loss, why do it?

As with all health and fitness regimes, the proponents of IF tout a wide range of benefits, which include the ability to prevent type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity, as well as contribute to a longer lifespan. Counter-intuitively, Intermittent Fasting is also said to be able to contribute to muscle growth and a lean appearance.

But do these claims stand up to the test of clinical studies? In most cases, yes. But with a few expected caveats that will be discussed later.

Intermittent fasting does in fact help to improve insulin sensitivity, meaning that the hormone has a bigger impact on your body and elicits more of a response. A strong insulin response is key in maintaining balanced blood sugar levels and ensuring that the needed nutrients get to your muscles quickly. This improved use of insulin is responsible for the decreased risk of types 2 diabetes associated with intermittent fasting.

Studies have also confirmed that intermittent fasting causes the human body to target fat for fuel more aggressively than otherwise, which reduces both cholesterol and body fat. Of course, the trimmed look that comes from burning all that body fat is the most famous effect of intermittent fasting but there are many more important unseen, internal benefits.

Fasting also stimulates autophagy, your body’s way of clearing out potentially dangerous waste products, some of which have been linked with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other severe neurological diseases.

It is true that previous studies have suggested that a calorie-restricted diet can increase lifespan but these findings have since been called into question by newer research.

Cautions and Things to Know

Sure, intermittent fasting sounds like the solution to all sort of health problems and could even be just the thing to give you a boost towards your fitness goals. But, IF isn’t for everyone. People who have specific caloric and nutritional needs, especially pregnant women, should not picking up fasting. As a matter of fact, everyone should discuss the idea with their doctor before getting starting.

There’s a particular concern for people with heart conditions, as well. The effect isn’t full understood but some studies have shown that long-term fasting can cause a hardening of the heart’s tissue.

One of the largest concerns with IF is that the extreme hunger pangs make you gorge when you finally get to eat. Supporters say that while this is a difficult aspect of fasting, it will ultimately help you gain control over these cravings so that they don’t control you.

If you do decide to fast, you should start out with a daily fast, using the 16/8 model for men and 14/10 for women. This will help you start out slowly and build the self-control necessary for a full 24 hour fast.

Have you tried intermittent fasting? Please share your experience in the comments.