Downsizing your resolutions

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health pancakes
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“How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them.” — Benjamin Franklin

 It’s January 2 or thereabouts. Have you kept your New Year’s resolutions so far? Although Ben says our numbers are few, nearly half of us (45 percent) make resolutions every year to make important changes. But only eight percent of us succeed, according to a 2012 study by the Journal of Clinical Psychology of the University of Scranton.

I am among the 38 percent who don’t even bother with resolutions (the remaining 17 percent makes them, but infrequently) because I know I’ll never keep them. Why make a promise to myself that I know I’ll break?

A new year, with its fresh, pure calendar, is a popular time for people to want to start new healthy habits or breaking unhealthy ones (although relationships and money are common themes as well). Of the ten most popular resolutions three are health-related: to lose weight (38 percent), to get in shape, and to quit smoking. Gyms are packed with people whose intention is to keep going all year, not stop by February. Actually, three-quarters of resolution-makers make it through the first week of the good behavior. By the end of the second week the number has dipped to 71 percent, and by the six-month mark it is only 46 percent.

So why bother if we’re doomed to failure? That urge to be healthier is undaunted, and actually making resolutions makes you more likely to succeed at your goals, ten times more likely, actually, per the same study. But you won’t know if you don’t try, and there are ways to make success more probable.

Thirteen for ‘13

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Photo by David Plakke
Photo by David Plakke

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Let’s peek into the crystal balls of a few health experts out there and see what trends in health will draw our attention in the year to come. Although some trends are new and others tried and true, their popularity shows no sign of fading in 2013.

Based on results from an extensive worldwide survey this year, fitness fads that may be on the way out include stability balls, Pilates and spinning, according to Walter Thompson of the American College of Sports Medicine. Obamacare, approved by the supreme court in June, means healthcare costs will go down. Consumers, providers and insurance companies are all looking for new ways to interface with the new reality.

Our first trend for 2013 is wellness coaching. The personal coach encourages, guides and supports clients in goal-oriented elements of behavioral change and disease prevention, whether one on one or one on two or three to keep costs down. Now fitness trainers are educating themselves in accredited programs and going after official certifications as the experts they are. Although the survey said this has dipped slightly in the past year, fitness training should remain strong and job opportunities for these professionals should continue to expand.

High on the list is the high-energy workout Zumba, described as really hard work but a lot of fun by friends who’ve tried it. I hope to try it soon, as soon as I can summon up the energy! Other dance workouts, from belly to Bollywood, remain popular as an enjoyable way to stay fit.

No one can call yoga a fad. This ancient and perennially popular practice has many forms and variations. It seems every small town has several studios. More and more of us are jumping on the yoga bandwagon for its mind-body benefits.

A rising trend is the appeal of outdoor activities, a growing area of interest for fitness enthusiasts who want to get out of the gym and hit the trail, slope or waterway. Great as a fun thing to do with family or friends as well, this category includes camping, hiking, mountaineering, boating and team sports.

Back into that gym, several types of physical fitness training are worth mentioning as they stay popular, according to that survey. Emerging in popularity is body weight training, where, like it sounds, our own body weight is used rather than external equipment. This form of resistance training includes classic, ancient exercises like sit-ups and pull-ups. Meanwhile we still want our weights, as many of us continue to love traditional strength training, lifting free weights or using weight machines. Core training emphasizes supporting the spine by strengthening and conditioning the abdomen and trunk, with balls, boards and rollers as aids. Growing in popularity is circuit training, groups of six to ten exercises in a specific sequence. Although it has decreased slightly in popularity in the last couple years, boot camps — high intensity military-style callisthenic workouts -— should stay strong.

Senior fitness is key. Programs designed for older adults are expected to increase as baby boomers age and that population segment grows. Many retired people have the time and money to focus on fitness, and as Jane Fonda, Kathy Smith and Denise Austin get older they are still making videos to inspire seniors.

At the other end of the spectrum, as we segue into healthcare in general, is a renewed focus on ways to combat the “epidemic” of childhood obesity. Big cuts in school programs combined with processed fast foods and a more sedentary lifestyle due to technology all contribute to this problem. Exercise programs that are fun and motivating for kids are crucial for staving off an even bigger health care crisis as they all become adults.

As a smartphone app like Kayak lets us plan our own trip without the aid of a travel agent, technology is enabling us to be more hands-on when it comes to health choices, too. The Internet and a mushrooming wealth of apps from RunKeeper to iTriage let us be more directly involved in and have some extra control over our own healthcare. They measure our progress and motivate us to get fit or calculate cost estimates and show consumer ratings of healthcare providers for comparison.

Keeping workers healthy in proactive ways is a relatively new focus for employers able to provide health insurance benefits for their employees. Health education and incentive/reward plans are strategies they are using to decrease the need for curative health care as opposed to preventative, keeping costs down for both employers and insurers, who are working in tandem on this. For a variety of reasons, however, a majority of workers are non-compliant in controllable measures at improving health. The challenge remains. Workplace-based programs for quitting smoking and diet and exercise are only as successful as the workers are motivated, but a culture of encouraging self-healthcare can’t hurt.

Of 82 employers surveyed by The National Business Group on Health this year, 48 percent plan financial incentives in 2013 to attract workers to wellness programs, with $450 being the median amount, about $375 for dependents. Over one in five said they will fine non-participating employees.

On the nutrition front, coconut water is refreshing and tasty. Whether it lives up to all the other claims is a matter of debate. Touted as hydrating and low-fat, a good source of energy-giving carbs and electrolytes, it remains popular.

Fish-oil supplements with omega-3 — and sometimes omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids as well — are popular for brain and heart health. They are claimed to be good for skin health and for lowering blood pressure, too.

Last year’s flax seed is this year’s chia seed. Our focus on the bad boys and good guys of what we eat wax and wane continually. Leading consumer magazines like Eating Well and Cooking Light that focus on nutritious eating are offering a few trends with staying power.

Grains are getting plenty of attention in the media spotlight, but protein-rich quinoa remains strong as an ox. Sales have quadrupled in the last five years, and with a crunchy bite and versatility in soups, salads, pilafs and snacks it shows no sign of going away.

Even those of us without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity are staying away from gluten in increasing numbers. Gluten is in flour and other wheat products and well as rye and barley. Many say they just feel better mentally and physically without it. Many bakeries and food manufacturers are stepping up to fill this demand with lots of foods based on alternative flours.

Cooking Light says we’ll fall in love with sour flavors in 2013, like kombucha and kimchi, and to look for sour beers from craft brewers. Eating Well predicts the emergence of adult Jell-O, cake pops and goat meat as hot items in 2013.

So whether new ways to get in shape, new legislation that affects our health care, or trendy foods in the spotlight, 2013 will be a new and interesting era for us, from body strength training, to fines at work for being unhealthy, to sour beer!

 

Healthy winter skin

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When you were a kid, did anyone ever tell you, “Your epidermis is showing?” Maybe you looked down at yourself trying to figure out what that was, before you learned it meant the outer layer of your skin and it was all over.

Well, although less of it shows in the winter, you may want it to look the best it can, and even the parts that are covered with sweaters and warm pants should be comfortable, supple and free of itches or cracks. Many people, from dermatologists to experts in natural supplements, have opinions on what can help skin ravaged by winter air, whether the cold outdoor kind or heated indoor, both of which take a toll on our tender but strong outermost layer.

At about eight pounds, give or take, the skin is the largest organ in our body, although as a 22-square-foot, tissue-thin layer that covers us, it hardly resembles the bloody masses we imagine our internal organs to be. But an organ it is, as essential for life as heart or brain. Many burn victims who lose much of their skin do not survive. When I worked in a hospital 20 years ago, patients with more than 50 percent of it burned didn’t usually survive. But with modern treatments 90 percent body burn patients can survive, per the American Burn Association.

This amazing organ protects our body’s interiors from sunlight, heat, cold, chemicals and infection. It is waterproof. It is insulator, protector and shield. It is conduit and translator as the brain’s interface with the world, and like the eyes, part of our sex appeal. It contains natural antibiotics and is an important part of the immune system. As part of the endocrine system it makes vitamin D, which is actually a hormone that helps calcium make our bones strong.

Although it changes in structure and thickness over different parts of the body, the skin has three layers. That epidermis — what shows — is very thin and constantly renewing itself. Underneath is the dermis, with sebaceous glands for perspiration, and elastin and collagen for flexibility and strength. The innermost layer is the subcutaneous fat layer, or subcutis, which helps cushion, protect and insulate us.

The thinner skin of the fairer sex is a little more dainty and delicate than men’s. It is less oily and sweaty, making us more prone to damage from the elements like sun, wind and drying air. Cold winds, drying indoor heat and drinking less because we’re less hot and thirsty in the winter all combine to cause dry skin. Sometimes the condition goes beyond mild discomfort to very unpleasant itching, eczema or cracks and fissures in the skin.

Cold-weather nutrition

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Photo by WordRidden
Photo by WordRidden

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When skies are clear and it’s 80 degrees out, it’s easy to run around, eat salads, and stay healthy. But when it’s bitterly cold out and icy or snowy forms of precipitation are falling, you’d rather order pizza or nuke a frozen dinner than go buy healthy food to cook.

Shorter, colder days mean we get less vitamin D and less serotonin, causing carb-craving, dark moods and worse. For some of us the main factor is the stress of the holidays. Jolly as they may be, seeing relatives, making arrangements, and just adding all that extra stuff — from attending events to mailing cards to shopping to figuring out how to pay for it all — tops out an already maxed-out schedule. And those extra worries coupled with less time equals grabbing things to eat that are really quick and/or really comforting. That may not be the best bet for our bodies.

The first plan of attack is to keep it simple. “After Thanksgiving and many delicious meals out in a row, my body was craving simple foods,” says Holly Shelowitz, a Rosendale-based nutritionist and cooking teacher (658-7887 or www.nourishingwisdom.com). “Salads, soups and one-pot meals are what I’m after these days. Never underestimate the power of a baked sweet potato, or the simple luxurious taste and belly filling goodness of simmered potatoes and cauliflower.” Shelowitz steams quartered potatoes and “giant chunks of cauliflower” until the potatoes are soft and the cauliflower still crunchy and puts them atop a dressed tossed salad. She adds butter pats or olive oil, nutritional yeast, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Homemade soups are tastier and more nutritious than canned, and freeze well. You can even cut up a bunch of onion, garlic, carrot and celery and freeze in smaller portions for a future quick soup-starter.

Your local winter farm market is your second line of attack in your arsenal against the season’s bad eating. Although the outdoor ones and most farmstands are gone with the flip-flops, a new trend in the last few years is to continue offering the bounty throughout the year at a cozy, warm, indoor location. Several local winter markets have been organized recently. Farmers can store many kinds of produce at controlled temperatures so that they are still fresh weeks and months down the road. Growing tunnels extend the growing season of tender greens, too.

From a recent trip to the first-of-the-season indoor market in Rhinebeck, I had a haul of Bosc pears, white and yellow turnips, daikon radish, rose gold potatoes and an orange kuri squash (and all for less than ten bucks). The Rhinebeck event takes place at the town hall every other Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 pm; the next one is December 16. The Red Hook winter market is at the Elmendorph Inn on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the next one December 15, also on alternating weeks. Not to be outdone, Greig Farm, in northern Red Hook, will also host a weekly Saturday winter market.

The new Kingston farmers’ winter market opened last Saturday and will be held on the first and third Saturdays of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Old Dutch Church at 272 Wall Street. The next one is December 15. Find one at the New Paltz Community Center on Veterans Drive off Route 32 behind the town hall the second Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. In Saugerties you’ll find the winter market at the Senior Center on 207 Market Street on one Sunday each month: December 16, January 13, February 10 and March 10.