Staying Healthy on Vacation

Vacation can be a welcome break from the routines of everyday life. Unfortunately, it often also means a break from the beneficial routines of diet and exercise that you’ve worked hard to build. The desire to take it easy may make exercise seem unappealing, or it could just be difficult to fit it into your schedule with all of the other things you want to see and do. Similarly, your inclination while vacationing may be to indulge in foods you’d never eat at home.

With all these pressures working against you, how can you maintain a healthy lifestyle and still enjoy your vacation?

Plan Ahead

When it comes to keeping up your fitness routine on vacation, a little planning can go a long way. Will your hotel have a gym or does it offer access to a local health club? A quick search online will also help you find parks with walking or hiking trails so you can still enjoy the scenery while staying on the move.

If you won’t be able to get to a gym and want to work in some strength training, consider bringing lightweight equipment like resistance bands with you. With some creativity, you may also be able to use the hotel furniture for body weight exercises like tricep dips.

Keep It Positive

Your mindset toward exercise will also have a powerful impact on your activity level while on vacation. Try to think of that morning run as a way to kickstart your day and enjoy the area, rather than an interruption to your vacation.

If you find that you just don’t have the motivation for formal exercise while on vacation, it may help you to think in terms of activity rather than exercise. Take a bike tour around the local city or hike through the local parks.

Bringing a pedometer with you will help give you an added sense of accomplishment, while still allowing you to enjoy your time off. Shoot for the 10,000 steps per day recommended by the American Heart Association over the course of your daily activities.

Everything In Moderation

There’s something about eating out at a restaurant that fills us with the impulse to gorge ourselves. Resist that impulse and try to focus on making healthy decisions when it comes to both the size and content of your meal.

It is important, though, that you order healthy foods that are genuinely appetizing and not just out of a sense of duty. This will stop you from feeling as though you’re depriving yourself and being ultimately unhappy with your otherwise healthy decisions.

An unfortunate part of the vacation mindset is the idea that you should celebrate by eating at every opportunity. Eat only when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re comfortable rather than stuffed to the brim.

Don’t feel like this means that you can’t treat yourself, but keep in mind the need for moderation. Allow yourself one decent treat per day and sample these foods rather than feasting on them.

What tips have helped you stay healthy on vacation? Please share them in the comments.


Diet and Exercise for Seasonal Depression

Short, grey days and cold weather are generally enough to drive even the most optimistic of us into a bit of a funk. But if you’re an avid exerciser who can’t get in your regular workout because of bad weather, the stress and rush of the holiday season can really throw you off your game. These frustrating bouts of sadness and moodiness are known, informally, as “the winter blues.”

But for about six percent of Americans, these mood shifts can be much more serious, and account for a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Unlike the winter blues, SAD can occur during any season, and include much more severe symptoms, including suicidal thoughts. Since SAD can be related to hormone imbalances and may require prescription medication, it’s important to work with your doctor if you’re experiencing severe depression.

The good news: for both SAD and the milder winter blues, there is strong evidence that simple changes in diet and regular exercise can help you endure these seasonal mood swings until the sun shines again.

Work It Out

Especially during the colder months, exercising can be difficult if your energy levels are low to begin with and the weather makes it difficult to get outside. Focusing on the benefits you can expect to reap from exercise, though, will encourage you to get yourself up and moving.

The American Council on Exercise recommends remembering your past successes and setting clear goals to keep you moving. Joining a class or finding a workout buddy will help you stay focused.

Thinking in terms of “activity” rather than exercise may also help. Look for opportunities to inject some added activity into your day: take the stairs, skip the shortcuts and turn some of your household chores into workouts. Don’t underestimate how many calories you can burn working around the house. For example, an hour of pushing a vacuum around can burn 238 calories in a 150-pound person.

Simply taking brisk walks outdoors can go a long way toward improving your mood. The sunlight is directly responsible for production of serotonin and melatonin, two mood-regulating hormones. Any exercise will increase the release of several endorphins which can help improve your mood, help you sleep and regulate your appetite.

Specifically, cardiovascular exercise and mindful exercises like yoga and Pilates can be especially useful. Because these workout modes help you focus on your breathing and heart rate, they help to modify your stress response, and consequently fight depression. Look through the top rated elliptical machines to find one that will complement your home gym and help you keep up your cardio routine, regardless of the weather.

Eat Right

Depression can increase your cravings for simple carbohydrates, which absorb quickly into your body but also cause a crash in blood sugar. And since fatty, starchy treats are easy to come by during the holiday season, it’s important to pay particular attention to how you’re eating in order to avoid SAD symptoms.

Stock up on complex carbs, which can give you the same serotonin boost as their simpler cousins, but keep your blood sugar steady and balanced. This would include foods that contain whole-wheats and oats, like whole grain breads, bran muffins, brown rice and oatmeal.

Since seasonal depression, in most cases, is related to reduced exposure to sunlight, researchers have examined the impact of vitamin D, which is produced by sunlight, on depression. The research is still inconclusive but promising enough to spur more studies. While fortified foods, like milk and cereal, have vitamin D added, very few foods contain it naturally.

Two foods that do provide vitamin D are salmon and tuna. These fatty fish are also rich in omega-3s, which have shown potential in several studies for improving mood and brain function. If you don’t enjoy fish and choose to supplement, though, try to select a supplement that is particularly high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), since this variety of omega-3 is thought to be the most effective.

These small changes in your activity and diet could help you improve your mood and get you through your bout with seasonal depression. However, always consult a doctor if you are battling depression.

Have you experienced the benefits of proper diet and increased activity on depression? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


Exercise Recommendations for Cancer Survivors

Getting back to exercise may be the last thing on your mind after cancer treatment — but it may be the best thing for you.

Once, the common view was that patients in recovery should rest and avoid activity. Not anymore. The American Cancer Society recently released new guidelines that recommend both good nutrition and exercise for survivors to reduce the chance of recurrence and increase the chance for disease-free survival.

While this certainly sounds like a good idea, it can be a scary prospect for those who suffer from fatigue, depression or a loss of confidence from cancer surgery or treatment.

I know that after my breast cancer surgery, even walking on crowded streets or into a busy store was frightening, as I worried about getting bumped or jostled where my stitches were. But I did miss my fitness routine.

As soon as my doctor gave me permission to exercise, I headed to a “Renewal” water exercise class for breast cancer patients at the JCC in Manhattan as a way to ease back into moving again. The welcoming warm water and calming exercises left me feeling more comfortable in my body, and helped me heal physically, mentally and emotionally. Soon I was back to my old exercise habits— but five years later, I still attend these weekly classes.

The women there serve as a nurturing support group for me. We all chat about our medications, the occasional health scare and just life in general as survivors. It’s also a time of the week when I get to just “slow down to the speed of life,” as my teacher Teri says. I relax and let the water embrace me, while getting a workout, too.

For some people, cancer can actually kickstart some new habits, especially if they never exercised or focused on diet much before. As always, talk with your doctor about any changes you plan to make in your eating and exercising habits to keep excess weight off. Studies of several different cancers have found that being overweight after completing treatment was associated with shorter survival times and higher risk of cancer recurrence.

The best way for those not used to working out to start a healthy fitness program is to check out the gentle yoga or stretching classes many hospitals or cancer centers offer their patients. This is a good way to ensure that you are active safely and effectively, and get exercises specifically tailored to any new limitations you might have. For example, breast cancer patients may want to do certain exercises to strengthen their arms and reduce their chances of getting lymphedema.

If you don’t feel like leaving home just yet, check out the recommended exercises on the American Cancer Society website. There are numerous free specialty videos on YouTube, and there are also DVDs for sale, like those at or

If your energy levels are not up to what they once were, do not fear. Start slow and hopefully with time you will be able to do more and more. Set small, realistic goals so you will feel positive about your accomplishments. Every short walk you take and weight you lift will help improve muscle strength and balance, improve your general well being and help you thrive as a survivor.

The bottom line: get up and go!

What did you do to get back into a healthy routine after cancer surgery or treatment? What keeps you motivated? Let us know in the comments.


Is Marriage Really Good for Your Health?

wedding ringsMarriage is good for you, according to numerous studies. I know for a fact that it’s good for providing love, happiness and companionship — but on my recent 27th wedding anniversary, I set out to discover just how good marriage actually is for my health.

The Correlation Between Marriage and Health

Lots of research suggests that married people live longer, enjoy a more satisfying sex life (despite the common cliches and complaints on the subject); experience less stress; live a healthier lifestyle and have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and depression than singles. A 2008 study by Swedish researchers found that marriage or having a partner cut the risk of developing dementia in half when compared to those who live alone. Another recent study done by Emory and Rutgers Universities found that married people who undergo heart surgery are more than three times as likely as single people to survive the next three months. It’s hard to measure the specific health impact of bringing your spouse chicken soup, listening to them complain and encouraging them to get well. Whatever the reasons, though, this study highlights the important role of spouses as caregivers during a health crises.

Another great bonus of having tied the knot: compared to singles, married people are less likely to smoke, drink heavily or use illegal drugs, according to studies compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Perhaps we marrieds are used to exhibiting a higher rate of self control, or maybe it just helps to have somebody keeping an eye on you.

The Exceptions

One area where marriage appears to actually harm health is the waistline, with both men and women gaining weight after they tie the knot, compared to their single counterparts. I guess we’re spending more time on the couch together watching movies instead of out at the local bar dancing, and what shows up on the scale doesn’t seem as important once we’re no longer on the market. So we’re happier, healthier… and heavier? I’ll still take it.

Of course, you have to take statistics with a grain of salt: there are plenty of healthy singles out there, and everyone’s individual situation is different. You also have to remember that we’re generally talking about happy marriages — a bad, stressful marriage isn’t healthy for anyone.

Dr. Linda Waite, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and author of “The Case for Marriage,” describes wedded bliss like this: “Marriage is sort of like a seat belt when it comes to improving your well being. We can put it in exactly the same category as eating a good diet, getting exercise and not smoking.”

Buckle Up

The bottom line appears to be that a good marriage really is good for your health. So here’s to happy marriages and long, healthy lives together. Put on those seatbelts and get ready for the adventure! Happy Anniversary, honey!

Do you agree that marriage is good for your health?  Let us know what you think in the comments.


Could You Benefit from Wellness Coaching?

Losing weight and becoming healthier is generally not just a matter of following a diet and exercise routine. In some cases, a complete change of lifestyle is needed. However, without proper direction and encouragement, making the decisions that will bring you closer to your goals can be a more daunting challenge than sticking to any diet or workout regimen. Wellness coaches, a growing profession, hope to fill this need.

What is a Wellness Coach?

According to wellness coach Melody Mayo writing for Life University, the role of a wellness coach can easily be compared to that of any other coach. But, while an athletic coach will work to teach you the skills needed to excel at your chosen sport, a wellness coach attempts to give you the decision-making skills that contribute to a healthy mind and body. Mayo emphasizes that unlike nutritionists or personal trainers who prescribe what course you should take, wellness coaches endeavor to show you how to incorporate those changes. Like many other wellness coaches, she believes that this individualized approach will help you to be not only healthier, but happier and more fulfilled.

Finding a Wellness Coach

Because there are no standardized certification programs for wellness coaches, anyone can simply claim the title – making it difficult to find a qualified coach you can trust. Speaking to WebMD, Margaret Moore, founder of the respected Well Coaches certification program, recommends taking your time to interview several coaches. Ask for references, testimonials and credentials before selecting your coach. Moore also suggests looking for a coach who has at least two years of one-on-one experience with clients, in addition to a year of coaching experience. A quality wellness coach will be professional and confident, while still being humble and easy to work with. You will be spending a lot of time talking with your wellness coach, so it should be someone you are comfortable being totally open and honest with. The average price for a wellness coach is between $50 and $150 per session, and most credible coaches will offer the first consultation for free.

Is Wellness Coaching for You?

Wellness coaching may not benefit everyone, however. In order to fully benefit from what a wellness coach can offer, you have to be both willing and able to change. Like so many other pursuits, your expectations at the beginning will greatly affect your satisfaction with the results. Your wellness coach will want to become familiar with many aspects of your life, while helping you to adjust your thinking in a way that lends itself to healthy decisions. Do not expect to see dramatic changes in your body immediately, or to be told some secret to rapid weight loss. Wellness coaching is ideal for people looking to make a complete and long-lasting lifestyle change.

Your own fitness equipment, including the best treadmill for home, will be a great asset before beginning work with a wellness coach or any other fitness professional.

Have you worked with a wellness coach? Share your thoughts and experiences with us!