Happy Fall!! I don't know about you but I am ready for cooler weather, football, and seeing the changing colors of the leaves and trees!
When it comes to your health, there is one factor that is more important than perhaps any other. If it is missing from your life, it causes or worsens 95% of all illness. It has been associated with dramatic reductions in disease, with longevity, and with weight loss. It doesn't come in a pill, and it can't be found in your doctor's office - because it resides within you.
What is the critical factor that has so much to do with how healthy or sick, fat or slim you are? It is the health of your mind and spirit. In fact, aside from eating breakfast, the biggest predictor of longevity is physiological resilience - being able to roll with the punches that life throws at us. In other words: How we deal with stress dictates the length, and perhaps more important, the quality of our lives.
Chronic stress causes your brain to shrink and your belly to grow. That's because the main stress hormone (cortisol) damages the brain, making the memory center (hippocampus) shrink. Stress shortens our telomeres, the little end caps on our chromosomes. The shorter your telomeres, the shorter your life. Stress also activates a biological response in the body that makes you hungry. It increases your level of insulin and cortisol, sparks an increase in carb and sugar cravings, and at the same time, also increases your body's storage of abdominal fat.
No wonder we all love sugar so much!
But that's not all. Chronic, unmanaged stress gradually breaks down virtually every system in your body, undermining your immunity and prematurely aging cells even as it erodes your relationships and your pleasure in living.
The thing about stress is that it keeps coming around, like the sun. Every day, we are going to be confronted with responsibilities and demands. We have jobs, families, and mortgages to deal with. There will be conflicts to face and crisis to handle. To some extent, the stuff of modern life makes stress inevitable.
There are two parts of the nervous system: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is the part that gets activated in the flight-or-fight response (for example, a bear is chasing you). The parasympathetic nervous system manages your rest-and-relax response - that sense of calm you feel when you can let your guard down, breathe calmly and just be.
The problem is, for many of us, our sympathetic nervous systems are active way too much of the time. It's as if they've gotten stuck in the "on" position. If you want to heal your brain, your metabolism, and your chromosomes, you need to learn how to hit your "pause button" to give your sympathetic nervous system a rest and activate that parasympathetic nervous system instead.
But that doesn't mean sipping on a glass of wine while watching TV or going shopping. For relaxation to have the restorative effect we're looking for, it has to be active, not passive. Sitting on the couch may be enjoyable but it's not relaxing. I'm talking about a biological relaxation response in the body that's activated by certain behaviors: breathing exercises, yoga, massage and even the Detox bath, all of which encourage deep breathing and profound relaxation of your nervous system.
The trigger for the relaxation process is your breath. When you take a deep breath, you stimulate the vagus nerve - a very special part of your nervous system that helps you calm your mind and turn on a cascade of healing. Your immune cells, your stem cells, and all other organs and tissues in your body are connected to this nerve.
Stimulating the vagus nerve signals the production of hormones that calm your nervous system, reduce cortisol, help you metabolize your food, boost your brain function, and naturally regulate your appetite. Simply by breathing deeply and activating your vagus nerve, your body starts to boost metabolism and increase fat burning. Pretty amazing.
I struggle with stress. I tend to overschedule myself and run around stressed out (and usually late). My favorite ways to relax are to pray and read scripture first thing in the morning and then go for a run. I also like to utilize deep breathing in my hot yoga class.
Recipe of the Month
ROASTED SPAGHETTI SQUASH WITH ALMOND CURRY
- 1 small (2 1/2 pound) spaghetti squash
- 1 can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond butter
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt , divided
- 3 cups thinly sliced greens, such as baby kale, spinach or arugula
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Halve squash lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out seeds and discard. Place squash cut-side down in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Pour 1 cup water into the dish and roast until squash shells are tender when pressed with your finger, about 30 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle. Leave oven on.
Meanwhile, pour tomatoes into a strainer set over a bowl. Set tomatoes aside and pour juice into a blender. Add almond butter, curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and blend until smooth.
Rake a fork back and forth across squash to remove flesh in strands, keeping shells intact. Transfer squash to a bowl and toss with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt. Return shells cut-side up to the baking dish. Spoon one-third of the squash into shells, dividing evenly. Top with half of the tomatoes and half of the greens, then drizzle with about one-third of the almond sauce. Repeat the layering. Top with remaining squash and sauce. Roast until filling is heated through and greens have wilted, about 15 minutes.
Adapted by Whole Foods Market
Did you know that we can fight stress with healthy food choices? Dump the processed food (anything that comes in a box, bag, can or package) and choose whole foods. These are foods that don't come with a label. They are just one ingredient. Whole foods contain vitamins and minerals that decrease cortisol in our body and lead to feelings of relaxation, joy and fulfillment. My top stress busting foods include:
We need B vitamins for healthy nerves and brain cells, and feelings of stress may be rooted in a B vitamin deficiency. Avocados are rich in stress-relieving B vitamins. Next time stress has you reaching for a pint ice cream, opt for a non-dairy DIY version made with avocado blended with banana, vanilla extract, coconut milk, and honey. Freeze, then chill-out.
Blueberries may seem small, but just a handful pack a powerful punch of antioxidants and vitamin C, making them colossal stress-busters. When we're stressed, our bodies need vitamin C and antioxidants to help repair and protect cells (because stress damages our cells in a big way). Vitamin C also reduces the secretion of cortisol. A serving or two of this fruit may also help curb those sugar cravings that are common when you're under stress, especially if you eat it with some filling protein and healthy fat.
Get some stress-relief by munching on almonds, which are rich in vitamins B2 and E!!