Why and How to Build Mental Resilience

The past almost two years has certainly tested us with regards to our ability to endure stress.  While we might feel, at times, that things are out of (our) control, what we can control is our response to these situations.  Mental resilience, as defined by psychologists, is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. While difficult times are certainly painful, they don’t have to determine the outcome of the rest of your life.

Resilience isn’t about putting on a brave face, or simply toughing things out. It doesn’t mean you won’t experience the situation as difficult or distressing. What is does mean is that you have the ability to adapt and evolve from life’s stressors. It can even be an opportunity for profound personal growth. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way. Keep reading to find out the benefits of mental resilience and ways to strengthen your own emotional agility.

Mental resilience training has been shown to:

  • reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression (1)
  • enhance coping skills (2)
  • prevent workplace burnout (3)(4) (5)
  • and promote longevity (6)

Seven strategies for better mental resilience

The most effective strategy for improving your emotional agility is to engage the technique of “active coping,” which involves behavioral and/or psychological strategies used to modify the stressor or one’s perception of the stressor. Conversely, avoidant coping techniques such as participation in activities or mental processes to avoid the stressor, can lead to psychological distress and ongoing adverse reactions to stress. (7) Follow the strategies below to cultivate healthier coping mechanisms.

1. Find support

Seeking positive social support has been shown to improve resilience to stress and may even decrease genetic and environmental vulnerabilities. (8) Avoid isolating yourself and instead share your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend, family member, or peer.

2. Say positive affirmations

Positive affirmations can help you unlearn negative thought patterns and shift your perspective to a more positive outlook. Repeating self-affirmations, such as “I am confident and capable,” has been shown to decrease stress, enhance well-being, and reduce the effect of negative emotions. (9)

3. Stay active

Research demonstrates that physical activity can be especially beneficial for individuals facing significant stressors. (10) As a general recommendation, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise per week. (11)

4. Spend time in nature

The simple act of sitting on a park bench or taking a stroll outdoors can have profound effects on your mental well-being and resilience. Research demonstrates that visiting outdoor recreation sites can promote psychological and physical health. (12)

5. Maintain a sense of humor

Laughter is a highly effective strategy for relieving stress. Research investigating the benefits of laughter in veterans, terminally ill individuals, and adolescents has shown laughter to be protective against stress. (13) Watch your favorite sitcom, visit a comedy show, or call a friend who makes you laugh.

6. Practice mindfulness and meditation

Practice mindfulness by enjoying a meal without distractions, taking a yoga class, or practicing deep breathing exercises. Reflecting in a journal is also an excellent strategy for practicing mindfulness. Try jotting down a few things for which you’re grateful or reflect on some of the positive aspects of your life. (14) Furthemore, meditation may help improve resilience by bringing your mind to the present moment and calming racing thoughts. (15)

7. Find your purpose

Having a purpose in life not only promotes longevity and general well-being, but it may help you face stressors more productively, enhance emotional recovery skills, and facilitate recovery from challenging events. (16) Find your purpose, such as through volunteering, helping others, caring for a pet, or reaching for a personal life goal. (17)

The bottom line

Mental resilience training can help cultivate mental well-being, enhance coping skills, improve job satisfaction, and even promote longevity. By practicing active coping skills like those outlined in this article, you can be on your way to establishing mental resilience. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, speak to a qualified health professional for guidance and support.

What is Chronic Stress Doing to Your Brain?

One could argue that stress is an everyday and even healthy aspect of life.  However, the stress induced by last twenty-one months of the CoVid 19 pandemic (and counting),  is in a league of its own.  Natural disasters, while stressful, are also generally short lived and geographically limited.  CoVid-19, unfortunately, is neither.  CoVid has upended our lives in unimaginable ways that have not been limited to our sense of health and well-being.  The policies that have been implemented to deal with this crisis have led to massive upheavals in our way of life and resulted in a loss of economic security and social connection.  As it continues to unfold, it has become a chronic stressor that has taken a psychological toll on everyone, young and old alike. 

Long-term stress impacts health in a myriad of ways.  Here’s a closer look specifically of how it impacts your brain.

  1. Increased risk of mental illness.  In response to chronic stress, the brain changes its structure where there are more myelin producing cells and fewer neurons formed. ¹  These changes may explain why those experiencing chronic stress have a greater tendency to mood and anxiety disorders later in life. ²
  2. Change in brain structure.  Ongoing stress affects hormones in the brain, such as cortisol. Prolonged elevated levels of cortisol have been associated with mood disorders as well as shrinkage of the hippocampus – the part of the brain involved in developing new memories, learning and emotion. ³ These changes are more often seen in the brains of depressed people as compared to healthy people. ⁴
  3. Heightened compulsive and fear-driven behaviours.  Under stress, the putamen which is located at the base of the forebrain shows greater activity, which has been correlated with hoarding and other compulsive behaviours. ⁵  Irrational fear based behaviour can arise from another part of the brain, called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and override the brain’s ability for rational decision-making. ⁶
  4. Shrinkage of the prefrontal cortex. Research shows that the brain can lose volume, due to major depression or chronic stress, which can lead to both emotional and cognitive impairment.  Certain genes get triggered which results in a loss of connections between brain cells and leads to loss of brain volume in the prefrontal cortex.  ⁷,⁸
  5. Enlargement of the amygdala.  Stress has been shown to increase the size of the amygdala, the part of the brain that assesses and responds to environmental threats and challenges.  Cortisol, a hormone that is produced is part of the stress response, is thought to hard wire the pathways that cause the brain to be predisposed to a constant state of fight or flight.  ⁹, ¹⁰

Ways to Overcome Stress

Thankfully, he structure of your brain is constantly undergoing changes through neuroplasticity, the process by which the brain continues to remodel itself. Mindset, behavior, and chronic stress are never fixed.

Try some of these techniques to improve your brain’s structure, connectivity and resilience.

  1. Mindfulness meditation.  Hands down, mindfulness meditation is the brain training for improving your brain’s resilience. This exercise is an excellent place to start. ¹¹
  2. Go for a walk (ideally outside).  Exercise not only combats inflammation, but also increases the production of new brain cells (specifically in the hippocampus).
  3. Reach out.  Connect with people you care about and care about you.
  4. Take control of the things you can.
  5. Get help when you need it. Know that you are not alone. Remember there is no shame or blame in however you feel right now. Don’t be shy in getting the support you need to be well. Show yourself the same kindness and compassion that you would to your best friend.

References:

1/ Chetty S, Friedman AR, Taravosh-Lahn K, Kirby ED, Mirescu C, Guo F, Krupik D, Nicholas A, Geraghty A, Krishnamurthy A, Tsai MK, Covarrubias D, Wong A, Francis D, Sapolsky RM, Palmer TD, Pleasure D, Kaufer D. Stress and glucocorticoids promote oligodendrogenesis in the adult hippocampus. Mol Psychiatry. 2014;19(12):1275-1283. doi:10.1038/mp.2013.190

2/ Sanders R. New evidence that chronic stress predisposes brain to mental illness. UC Berkely News Center. Published February 11, 2014.

3/ Peter J. Gianaros, J. Richard Jennings, Lei K. Sheu, Phil J. Greer, Lewis H. Kuller, Karen A. Matthews, Prospective reports of chronic life stress predict decreased grey matter volume in the hippocampus, NeuroImage. 2007, 35(2) :795-803. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.10.045.

4/ Roiser JP, Sahakian BJ. Hot and cold cognition in depression. CNS Spectrums. 2013;18(3):139-149. doi:10.1017/S1092852913000072

5/ Gillan CM, Robbins TW, Sahakian BJ, van den Heuvel OA, van Wingen G. The role of habit in compulsivity. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2016;26(5):828-840. doi:10.1016/j.euroneuro.2015.12.033

6/Hiser J, Koenigs M. The Multifaceted Role of the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex in Emotion, Decision Making, Social Cognition, and Psychopathology. Biol Psychiatry. 2018;83(8):638-647. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.10.030

7/Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future Sci OA. 2015;1(3):FSO23. Published 2015 Nov 1. doi:10.4155/fso.15.21

8/ Yale University. (2012, August 12). How stress and depression can shrink the brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 10, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120812151659.htm

9/https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-athletes-way/201402/chronic-stress-can-damage-brain-structure-and-connectivity

10/https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/protect-your-brain-from-stress

11/ https://www.mindful.org/the-mindfulness-of-breathing-exercise-with-neuroscientist-amishi-jha/

Ready to take action?

The world feels complicated right now and it is so easy to feel overwhelmed.  As the summer days are winding down, we are returning to school and work routines for our second consecutive CoVid September.

Aren’t you tired of waiting and worrying, trying to avoid an invisible virus, living in lockdown, wondering when and what will be the next imposed restriction? I propose that we harness all of that fear and uncertainty to instead take charge of the factors we can control, to help us achieve a robust level of health. Isn’t it time to take better care of yourself so that your immune system can better handle any infection that may come your way?

Only one in eight people are considered to be metabolically healthy¹, and yet metabolic health seems to be the true indicator of your body’s resilience.² What is metabolic health? According to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill*, metabolic health is defined as having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without the use of medications. And contrary to what one might think, you might still be metabolically unhealthy, despite being a reasonable weight.

Here are some key ways to gauge your own level of metabolic fitness:

  • Waist circumference. Your waist circumference is a better marker that your body mass index (BM) or your weight, since we are measuring the degree of abdominal fat. Ideally, men should have a waist circumference of less than 40 inches and women, 35 inches.
  • Waist to height ratio. Your waist measurement should be less than half your height. If it doesn’t, it is likely you have some degree of insulin resistance.
  • Blood pressure. Your blood pressure can be taken at most pharmacies. Ideally, we want to see blood pressure to be 120/80.
  • Other symptoms– if you regularly have sugar cravings, often get “hangry”, feel fatigued or brain fog following a carbohydrate rich meal, or get skin tags, chances are you are experiencing some issues with keeping your blood sugars balanced.
  • Labwork – high triglycerides, high cholesterol, high fasting blood sugar or abnormal HbA1c are all signs that things are out of balance.

Take action by implementing the following strategies:

  1. Eat whole foods, in reasonable quantities. It is the simplest way to avoid all of the inflammatory and blood sugar spiking ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, sugar and oxidized seed oils. Limit grain and sugar intake and instead eat foods that are high in healthy fats (like avocado and olive oil) and protein (like beef, chicken, and fish). Eat protein at each meal. Enjoy your favourite indulgences responsibly and occasionally.
  2. Move. Our bodies were designed to move. For every hour spent sitting, stand up for 10 minutes. Incorporate enjoyable movement to your day – walks, high intensity training, yoga, sports. Walking for ten minutes after meals helps to normalize your blood sugars. Regular movement not only keeps your circulation going, but is also nature’s best antidepressant.
  3. Limit your exposure to anything that brings you down. People you don’t find joyful, social media, the news…
  4. Manage your stress levels. Whether it is deep breathing, meditation, playing music, yoga, going for a walk, sharing with a loved one, watching your favorite TV show, giving/getting hug(s)…find something that brings you joy everyday and takes you out of your mind and into the present moment.
  5. Rest. Go to bed and rise at the same time everyday. Avoid blue screens (tablets, computer screens and smartphones) at least one hour before bed. Ensure you get adequate physical activity in every day so that your body is ready for resting at night. Nap if you need to.
  6. Supplement appropriately. I would certainly encourage everyone to adopt a basic supplement routine including vitamins A, C, D and zinc and quercetin as needed to help support your immune system.

Stay strong, no matter what, know that you are not alone. WE ARE all in this together and though it might not feel like it in this moment, or another – this, too, shall pass.

References:

  1. Joana Araújo, Jianwen Cai, and June Stevens.Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders.Feb 2019.46-52.http://doi.org/10.1089/met.2018.0105
  2. Stefan, N., Birkenfeld, A.L. & Schulze, M.B. Global pandemics interconnected — obesity, impaired metabolic health and COVID-19. Nat Rev Endocrinol 17, 135–149 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41574-020-00462-1

How to Lose the “Quarantine 15”

I get it, it’s been a tough year and a half. When we first went into what was supposed to be a three week lockdown (“to flatten the curve”), I thought, what’s the harm if my patients self-soothe with an extra snack here, a glass of wine there, a little extra sugar for comfort. In fact, I was advocating being gentle with oneself.  After all, it’s not everyday we are in the middle of a global pandemic, right? 

Now it’s been sixteen months and counting…and most people are starting to feel the effects of all of those extras.  If the pandemic has taught us only one thing, it is that being overweight worsens  health outcomes – not only for infectious disease, but for chronic disease in general.

There are a number of reasons that may have contributed to weight gain – the added stress, the lack of routine, lack of movement, increased snacking or simply turning to food for comfort. No matter the reason, here are some tried and true ways to get your metabolism back on track.


1.Manage your stress. During periods of elevated stress, your body makes a hormone called cortisol, to signal the impending danger to your body’s organs to prepare for the fight or flight response. If you are more apple-shaped than pear shaped, you can be sure your stress levels are impacting your middle. Effective ways to reduce cortisol levels include going for a walk outside, taking a bath, connecting with a loved one or meditating. Take care with high intensity exercise, as it can actually heighten your stress response and make things worse. Refer to this great list from The American Institute of Stress to find an activity that resonates with you (though you might want to skip the suggestion to stress bake, unless you plan to give away the result of your efforts ?).

2. Increase your protein intake. Protein is a weight loss hero. It is undoubtedly the most important single nutrient to support your weight loss efforts. It boosts your metabolism, it increases satiety levels and it impacts several of your body’s weight-regulating hormones.¹ It also helps to reduce appetite, decrease sugar cravings and helps to maintain your lean body mass (which in turns helps to further increase your metabolic rate).²

One study showed that simply increasing protein to 30% of total caloric intake, without changing or restricting any other parameter, led to an average loss of 11 lbs in 12 weeks.³

Need I say more? For best results, aim to get a minimum of 1g per kg of body weight, more if you are an athlete or heavy exerciser.

3. Get into a routine. It’s important to maintain a regular schedule, not only for eating, but for optimal health in general. Our body follows its own rhythm and works better when we follow its rhythm (as opposed to the other way around). It is important to go to sleep and rise everyday at the same time. By the same token, it is important to have periods of the day when you eat, and other periods of the day when you don’t. Working and studying from home means you are never very far from your kitchen and may lead to grazing all day long. Frequent feedings puts your body into a constant state of digestion and calorie storage. It is much easier and better for your metabolism to have distinct meals throughout the day. Some people do well with intermittent fasting, i.e consuming all of the day’s calories during an 8 or 10 hour eating window. Otherwise, aim to consume 2-3 meals/day (depending on your hunger) with periods of no eating in between.

4. Eat real food. Skip the takeout and cook at home, from scratch, whenever possible. Ultra processed foods are not real foods, but rather food-like products. They are defined as multi-ingredient industrial formulations and include sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs), packaged breads, cookies, savory snacks, candy, ice cream, breakfast cereal, and pre-prepared frozen meals.⁴⁵ They aren’t eaten for health, but rather for pleasure or convenience. Their consumption leads to higher rates of obesity, elevated blood lipids and metabolic syndrome. In high income countries like Canada and the US, about 50-60% of all calories are comprised of ultra-processed foods and beverages.⁵  A good rule of thumb is to buy the majority of your foods from the circumference of the grocery store and skip the middle aisles, where all of the processed foods are located.

5. Be carb conscious. Carbs are not the diet villains they are made out to be.  In fact, they are a good source of energy and nutrients.  It is more how much and when they are eaten that wreaks metabolic havoc for many.  Blood sugar levels rise in response to any foods, but it is most pronounced with the intake of starch and sugars. When your blood sugar rises, your body produces insulin – a hormone that facilitates the (excess) sugar to move from the bloodstream into the cells. In the absence of physical activity, that sugar then gets converted to fat for later use.

When there is continuous insulin in the bloodstream, the receptors become less sensitive to it and it can cause insulin resistance. The Standard American Diet (SAD) lends itself to an overconsumption of carbohydrates. Starchy foods, because they are so filling, often replace other more nutrient dense foods. For optimal weight loss, reduce your starch intake to one serving per day (as a maximum, this is optional) and consume it after you eat your protein and veggies. Start your day with a a savory meal, not a sweet one.  Pair starch with protein, fat or fibre, to help mitigate the insulin secretion that will follow. If you are going to eat dessert, always have it at the end of a meal (not on an empty stomach).

Of course, this article would not be complete without mentioning the importance of physical activity. However, when it comes to weight loss, it really does boil down to 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. Exercise alone is an ineffective strategy for weight loss. Exercising as penance for eating is sure to backfire, and can lead to unhealthy relationships to both food and exercise. Exercise not only helps to support a healthy metabolism, it also impacts almost every other system in your body including your cardiovascular system, your bone density, your sleep quality, your mood, your self-image, your sex drive, your ability to detox, your hormonal health and your strength. Exercise benefits nearly every aspect of your health from the inside out. So I encourage you to choose an activity or activities that you enjoy and can incorporate into your life as part of your routine.

Hopefully, one, or some, of these strategies will empower you to take charge of your weight and your health and that before long, you start to feel more energetic, more optimistic, leaner and lighter.   Have a happy, healthy summer.

References:

1.Weigle DS, Breen PA, Matthys CC, et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(1):41-48. doi:10.1093/ajcn.82.1.41Copy

2. Astrup A, Raben A, Geiker N. The role of higher protein diets in weight control and obesity-related comorbidities. Int J Obes (Lond). 2015;39(5):721-726. doi:10.1038/ijo.2014.216

3. Weigle DS, Breen PA, Matthys CC, et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(1):41-48. doi:10.1093/ajcn.82.1.41

4. Poti JM, Braga B, Qin B. Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health-Processing or Nutrient Content?. Curr Obes Rep. 2017;6(4):420-431. doi:10.1007/s13679-017-0285-4

5.Poti JM, Braga B, Qin B. Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health-Processing or Nutrient Content?. Curr Obes Rep. 2017;6(4):420-431. doi:10.1007/s13679-017-0285-4

Salad Dressings 101

Follow this foolproof formula to make your own salad dressings (which can also be used to marinate meats or fish).

Per serving:

  1. Take 1 Tbsp oil/fat – good choices here are olive oil or avocado oil, nut or seed butters, mayo or smashed avocado also work for creamy versions
  2. Add 1 tsp vinegar/acid – whether is is sherry, red wine, balsamic, or white, lemon/lime juice
  3. Add 1/2 tsp of sweetness in the form of honey, your favourite jam, or maple syrup (I also use a few drops of stevia glycerite for a low carb option)
  4. Add 1/2 tsp of mustard – regular or Dijon (optional)
  5. Add 2 pinches of herbs – dill, rosemary, thyme, oregano, cumin
  6. Add 1 pinch of seasoning – salt, pepper, garlic powder or paprika

Shake in mason jar and pour over salad – easy peasy!

Here are a few of my favourite combos:

  1. My classic go to: Olive oil + Balsamic vinegar+maple syrup + Dijon mustard with salt and pepper
  2. Homemade Italian – Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, onion powder and italian seasoning
  3. Asian sesame – peanut oil (2 tsp of olive oil also works with 1 tsp of sesame oil), rice wine vinegar, scallions, grated ginger and a splash of tamari
  4. Tahini lemon – tahini, lemon juice, crushed garlic and miso paste/sriracha sauce (depending on your taste)
  5. Cashew Balsamic -1 Tbsp avocado or olive oil, 1 tspbalsamic vinegar, 1 Tsp soy sauce, 10 whole salted cashews, 1 Tbsp water, blend and enjoy.

Five Easy Ways to put some Spring in your step

Ahhh – spring is in the air. It heralds an exciting energy of growth, renewal, and change – not just in nature, but also for us. I expect that this holds especially true for this past year of unprecedented stress and uncertainty.

Your body may already signalling you that it is overloaded. Some signs that your system is not working efficiently include:

  • bloating and digestive issues such as cramping, constipation or nausea
  • skin rashes or complexion issues
  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • nasal or sinus congestion
  • headaches
  • allergies

Whether you are looking for some relief from any of the above symptoms, or you simply want to kickstart your metabolism, here are some gentle and effective changes you can incorporate to starting feeling lighter and healthier.

1. Breathe. It sounds so simple, but it is so critical. We simply don’t oxygenate our cells like we should. Deep breathing helps to rebalance your nervous system and energizes your cells. In order to breathe in fully, you need to exhale fully. This video explains a favourite technique to breathe well. I recommend doing it before meals to aid in digestion, as well as before bed to facilitate sleep. It is also important to breathe outside in the fresh air, as the outdoor air quality is cleaner and ionized compared to indoor air. Spend a minimum of 30 minutes outside daily to get this important nutrient into your daily routine.

2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Most of us are chronically dehydrated. Life gets busy, and we forget to drink. Water is the universal solvent in our systems. The easiest way to re-activate a thirst reflex is to simply start the day with a large glass of warm water (a squeeze of fresh lime juice optional). If you start your day with water early, you will tend to drink more all day long. Aim to drink (in oz) half of your body weight (in lbs – eg. if you weigh 150 lbs, then try to get in 75 oz of water, about 9 glasses per day). If you are not used to drinking that much, or that most of your fluid intake are caffeinated drinks like coffee, cola or tea, then increase your water intake by 1/2 cup every week until you reach your goal. Take it low and slow.

3. Move. Our bodies were designed to move, every day. Movement helps to support our circulation and move our lymphatic fluid which in turn facilitates detoxification. Not only does it facilitate physical detoxification, exercise is also important for emotional health. Physical activity actually stimulates the growth of nerve cells in the region of the brain that controls mood, which helps to relieve depression.¹

4. Skin brushing. Cheap and cheerful, this daily task helps to clean your blood by moving the fluid that is stuck in your lymphatic system back into your circulation. Simply use an exfoliating mitt or washcloth and gently make small strokes in the direction of your heart, before you turn on the shower. It only takes a few minutes and is oh so invigorating.

5. Eliminate! Your body only has four exits – your lungs, your skin, your kidneys and your bowels. All of these exits need to be purged daily. If you do the deep breathing in step 1, drink water in step 2, brush your skin daily (or every second day) in step 4, then the last remaining exit are your intestines. Your bowels need to move 2-3x/day. Anything less and your body is resorbing toxins from your intestine – ugh. For sluggish bowels, try increasing your water and/or fibre intake. Fibre can be easily added using ground flax or chia seeds or cleansing vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. Another option is to supplement magnesium citrate , or take an epsom salt bath (with 2 cups of bath salts) to help get things more regular.

Incorporate one or more of these strategies into your daily routine and it will only be a matter of days before you begin feeling the surge of more energy, more optimism and a healthy body that feels (and looks) great. Spring into action and spring-clean both your body and your life. Radiant health can be yours this season. Don’t do it as a chore, but rather an act of self-care and self-love. You deserve it.

References:

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression

Ginger Soy Honey Glazed Salmon

Ingredients:
2 salmon fillets
2 Tbps honey (or liquid stevia glycerite to taste for low carb option)
2 tsp ginger powder (or grated fresh ginger if you have it)
4 Tbps soy sauce, or gluten free Tamari for gluten-free option
juice of one lemon or lime, freshly squeezed
Directions:
1. Mix all ingredients except salmon in a small bowl and mix with a whisk.
2. Line baking sheet with parchment paper
3. Add sauce ingredients to both sides of salmon fillet, place salmon skin side down on baking sheet.
4. Bake at 450F for about 8-10 minutes, until cooked through. Allow four to six minutes per half-inch of thickness based on each individual fillet.

How Healthy is Your Heart?

February is hearth month – a time to focus on the importance of good cardiovascular health. Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada and affects approximately 2.4 million Canadian adults.(¹) Determining how health one’s heart is need not be a tricky task. Here are some simple ways to assess your own heart health, no EKG required:

  1. Waist to Hip Ratio (WHR) – A healthy waist-to-hip ratio can indicate whether you are at increased risk for heart disease, as well as other conditions like Type 2 diabetes, and dementia. Regardless of the intense social focus on weight, a 2006 study shows that WHR is far better predictive measure of mortality than weight or body mass index. (², ³)

Here’s the how-to: Remove any clothing and simply measure your waist (the smallest part of your torso, usually about 2 inches above your belly button) using a soft tape measure (like the one used to measure fabric when making clothes) at the end of a normal respiration. Note that number. Then, measure around the widest part of your hips and note that number. Divide the first number by the second number. Ideally, this number should be at 0.7 for women and 0.9 for men for general health and fertility. ()

According to the World Health Organization, a healthy WHR is: 0.85 or less for women and 0.9 or less for men. ()

2.Pulse pressure. Your pulse pressure is the difference between the systolic (or top number) of your blood pressure, minus the diastolic (or bottom number) of your blood pressure. Healthy arteries are elastic – your pulse pressure is a measure of how elastic your arteries are. ()

For example, if your blood pressure is 120/80, the pulse pressure is 40, which is the ideal pulse pressure. Normal ranges from 40 to 60 mm. A high, or “wide” pulse pressure reading of 60 or greater is predictive of cardiovascular complications and mortality. The greater your pulse pressure, the stiffer and more damaged the blood vessels are thought to be.

3. Reach for your toes. From a seated position, see how far you can reach your toes. The further you can reach, the more elastic your arteries are considered to be. Trunk flexibility is a reliable indicator of arterial stiffness for persons over the age of 40. ()

4. Measure you heart rate recovery (HRR). This assessment is not suitable for everyone and you should consult your health care provider before trying it. Your HRR is the rate at which your heart rate returns to normal after strenuous exercise. The faster your heart rate recovers (or slows down) the fitter and healthier your heart.

Here’s the how-to: Place one or two fingertips (not a thumb) on the opposite wrist, just below the base of your thumb. Count the number of heartbeats you feel in 20 seconds. Multiply that number by three to get your heart rate per minute. Do an activity that will elevate your heart rate and exercise as hard as you are able to for as long as you are able to. Measure your heart rate after you stop the exercise and measure again one minute later.

A heart rate recovery of 15-20 beats per minute after one minute of rest was considered about average for heart health and anything faster than that was considered to be good heart health. ()

References:
1. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/news/2017/02/heart_month.html

2. Price, G. M., Uauy, R., Breeze, E., Bulpitt, C. J., & Fletcher, A. E. (2006). Weight, shape, and mortality risk in older persons: elevated waist-hip ratio, not high body mass index, is associated with a greater risk of death. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 84(2), 449–460. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/84.1.449

3.Welborn TA, Dhaliwal SS, Bennett SA. Waist-hip ratio is the dominant risk factor predicting cardiovascular death in Australia. Med J Aust. 2003;179(11-12):580-585. doi:10.5694/j.1326-5377.2003.tb05704.x

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waist%E2%80%93hip_ratio

5. Waist circumference and waist-hip ratio: report of a WHO expert consultation. Geneva, 8-11 December 2008. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241501491

6. Homan TD, Bordes S, Cichowski E. Physiology, Pulse Pressure. [Updated 2020 Jun 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482408/

7. American Physiological Society. “A Simple Way For Older Adults To Assess Arterial Stiffness: Reach For The Toes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 October 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091006093345.htm>

8. Cole, C. R., Blackstone, E. H., Pashkow, F. J., Snader, C. E., & Lauer, M. S. (1999). Heart-rate recovery immediately after exercise as a predictor of mortality. The New England journal of medicine, 341(18), 1351–1357. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJM199910283411804

Resolutions, Pandemic-Style

CoVid has turned the world upside down and 2020 is a year that won’t be soon forgotten.  For everything it has made more challenging, one of its blessings has been the chance to revisit old traditions from a new perspective, including New Year’s Resolutions. 

Everyone has been through a tough year of lockdowns, sacrifice and loss. What if, this year, you ditch the “should statements” instead for things you would like to do for yourself? Chances are, in the end, you will be a happier and more balanced version of yourself. Isn’t that what resolutions are all about anyway? I propose that 2021 be the year of trading a rigid and military-style approach to setting (and often failing) a goal, for one that is instead focused on self-care, with comfort and joy as essential components of greater well-being.

Here are some way to re-imagine self-care for our present circumstances.

  1. Incorporate fun, ideally everyday. As some of our traditional “fun” outlets may not be accessible right now, it might require some creativity to rediscover activities you enjoy. Think reading, crafting, playing a game, or strumming your guitar. If travel is your thing, try some virtual tours of places you would like to visit in the future. Whether it is about finding a new hobby, or rediscovering an old one, make a point of putting fun back into your daily routine.
  2. Move your body – in whatever way inspires you. Go for a walk, wrestle with your kids, do your favourite yoga routine, or jam to 80s dance tunes in your living room.
  3. De-clutter! We all have things that accumulate in our cupboards, closets and inboxes. Get rid of things you don’t use to lighten up and create space in your life.
  4. Get creative in the kitchen. Try new recipes and ingredients to quell boredom. The average family rotates the same ten meals – take this as an opportunity to try something new. Make something special you might otherwise not put in the effort to mark special occasions.
  5. Get comfy. Find a spot in your home where you can relax with a book or a favourite cup of tea. Use favorite throws, cushions, candles and lighting to set the mood to zen out.
  6. Pamper yourself. Do a DIY facial/mani, exchange foot rubs with a member of your household, take a bath with your favourite essential oils.
  7. Experience nature. Watch a sunset/sunrise, go for a walk. Being outside is good for the soul.
  8. Be mindful with social media. Studies show that mindful use of social media – ie using it to strengthen real-life personal relationships may enhance a sense well-being, while using these online tools in a more passive, non-connection-forming way may not. ¹

Sure, eating comfort food and wearing pyjama bottoms all day can be fun, for awhile. However, after nine months of blurred boundaries between workspace and homespace, even that gets tiresome. The reality is CoVid is here to stay. We need to learn how to live with it, and ideally, thrive in spite of it. I hope these suggestions help you find some balance, comfort and joy for a more enjoyable and healthier 2021.

References:

1. Clark, Jenna L, Algoe, Sara B., Green, Melanie C. 2018. Social Network Sites and Well-Being: The Role of Social Connection. Current Directions in Psychological Science Vol. 27(1) 32–37 https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721417730833

Nine Podcasts to Lift Your Spirits

Recent mental health measures indicate a remarkable decline in a majority of people’s sense of well-being since the spring. With the tsunami of pandemic information blasting from every radio, television and social media outlet, it can be challenging at times to maintain a cheerful outlook on the state of affairs. One effective strategy keep things in perspective is to regularly and consciously devote time to focus on the positive.

Get a listen on one of these suggested podcasts, to get your daily dose of positivity and inspiration. 

  1. Social Distance Assistance – this is a lovely podcast that features writer Kelly Jones and her eight year old daughter as they explore stories of people helping each other and their communities cope during a time of social distancing. 
  2. Mind & Life – this podcast is where neuroscience and meditation meet.  If you are intrigued by psychology, the nature of human nature, social sciences and philosophy, this might be the just the ticket for you.
  3. Unlocking Us with Brené Brown.  Host Brené Brown is a well-known researcher and best-selling author who studies vulnerability and shame.  She explores stories of humanity on this poignant podcast.  Just listening to her perspective on things always makes me feel better. 
  4. Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris –  this podcast is filled with meditations of different lengths to help get your mind off things. (no pun intended)
  5. The Happiness Lab – a scientific exploration of happiness with Yale researcher, Dr. Laurie Santos.
  6. Nothing Much Happens – in  this podcast, Kathryn Nicolai, writes and narrates bedtime stories to help you fall asleep.
  7. Happier with Gretchen Rubin – Rubin and her sister discuss strategies for growing your happiness.
  8. Inspire Nation – features guests who want to help you live your best life.
  9. Magic Lessons –  – hosted by best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame, this podcast explores ways to let go of suffering in order to live a more fulfilling life. 

Do you have a favorite podcast that has helped you get through difficult days?  If so, drop me a line to share.