Happiness: The Most Important Part of Your Health

I just got done watching an amazing documentary on Netflix called Happy (check it out, it’s on instant view). Only about 75 minutes and truly one of the best documentaries I’ve watched in a while. I spend a lot of time hammering nutrition info into your brain on here but I think it’s time I touch on what may be the most important aspect of anyone’s life that will lead you to all your health and fitness goals: happiness.

I was thinking a lot tonight about the importance of consistency. If I eat right every day, establish healthy habits, and workout on a regular basis then my body is going to be happy and I’m going to get the results I want. But what about consistency in our minds? Ever notice how one day you can feel sexy, empowered, accomplished and then the next like a failure without any real reason? Take a minute to think about what triggers a shift in your mental patterns:

  • More or less sleep
  • What you’re eating
  • How active you are
  • Arguments or agreements
  • Stress from work or family/friends

Sometimes in a lot of ways it may be easier to be more consistent with what time we do our workout then how we allow our brains to function. But it is possible to establish happy habits and an overall mentality and outlook on life, too.

Here are some amazing things I learned from this documentary:

Our ability to be happy is 50% hereditary, 10% circumstantial, and 40% what we chose. Does that come as a shock to you? Most people think that what happens to us determines our happiness. You got a raise at work = happiness or losing your house = depression. While these things do affect us, they are not as long term as you might think. And while some people are just naturally happier than others, there’s a huge portion that you have control over. Observing our emotions, our thought processes, and not instantly viewing them as facts but merely patterns and impulses can allow us to be happier and choose who we want to react and move forward.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic goals. When you think of extrinsic things you want like your job, the kind of car you drive, the clothes you wear, they can often seem less grounded than your intrinsic goals, such as what kind of social interaction you want to have, your own personal goals and self growth, and your community/friends. In my senior year in college I wrote a paper on roommate relationships that showed the same thing, how people with an external locus of control (everything that happens to me is a force beyond my control) were less happy and motivated than people with an internal locus of control (my actions play a part in the outcomes). While there will always be things that are beyond our control, we must take responsibility for our own health and our own lives. Hope that wasn’t too much of a tangent 🙂

Dopamine synapses, which are in large part responsible for that happy feeling, deteriorate as we age. Luckily, there are things we can do to strengthen our synapses and keep dopamine receptors in full force. These include:

  1. Physical exercise – being active releases dopamine in our brains. Go on a long run or think about your High School football days and you’ll remember that rush you felt out on the field. Being active every day is not only important for our bodies and our health but also for our minds! Staying active keeps us happy and keeps those synapses active. Your brain is a lot like a muscle, you’ve got to use it to keep it functioning!
  2. Getting in the zone – when we play sports, go rock climbing, or do anything requiring focus that makes us zone in and forget other things around us, we actually utilize these dopamine synapses in a very similar way. We let go of our ego when we do this. And it doesn’t just have to be sports. Playing music, whether its an intricate piano recital piece or just jamming out on a drum set puts our minds in a state of trance where we hone in on one specific task. People who experience this on a daily basis are more happy in general. Think about it. Everyone has had a job (if not currently) where some days are slower than others. On those busy days you might leave work feeling like you didn’t get enough done, but you’ll also feel accomplished for everything you did. On slow days, it can feel like we aren’t challenging ourselves or accomplishing anything. For me anyway, these are the days I want to go home and eat ice cream for no particular reason. I remember feeling extremely happy at one of my first jobs when I was 16. I worked in a Dry Cleaners and pinned tags on clothes all day but there was such a rhythm and a method to it that time flew by. Think of things that get your brain in the zone like crafting (Pinterest has endless ideas), working with your hands, writing, singing, playing games, crossword and Sudoku puzzles, editing photos, painting, mapping out directions, planning an event, doing your nails, working on your car, etc.
  3. Counting your blessings – in a study where students wrote down 5 things there were grateful for every Sunday night, those that did this task proved happier than those who didn’t. Make it a habit to think about what you are happy and grateful for on a weekly basis, then make it daily. If can you write these things down, even better. Post them on Facebook, make it a fun challenge for you and your friends to spend a week where every day you write a positive post. Get a jar and cut out strips of paper to leave by it and any time you get a chance write down something you are thankful for that day or in general. It could be as simple as being able to pay the cable bill or the fact that your friend is recovering from surgery. Then choose a time to get together with your friends and family and read them, maybe every month or every year at Thanksgiving.
  4. Acts of kindness – little things you can do for others will not only make your heart warm and fuzzy but will also increase your happiness. The studies prove it! I remember one time I was taking the ferry back to Seattle after a weekend with my Mom and the woman at the toll booth told me that the man in front of me had already paid for my car, so I paid for the one behind me, it was a thrill! Helpothers.org is a great site for getting ideas on how to help others or make someone else smile, tons of inspiring stories, too.
  5. Cooperation – this was extremely interesting. The more we work to cooperate with others, the more dopamine we actually release. We live in a society that focuses so much on competition that we forget the importance of cooperation. When we work together in groups or teams, with roommates, friends, and family, we build on these relationships and help our synapses. Think about how great you’ve felt after planning something with a boyfriend or girlfriend and cooperating with each other even as you may have had to change your original plans. Those acts of give and take are good for our brains!

Other things I found interesting is that once our basic needs are met – see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs if you want to read deeper into the Pyschology edge of this – money really doesn’t make us much happier. The example they used was that the happiness differene between someone who makes $5,000 and $50,000 is huge, but once you have your bases covered, more money doesn’t really make us happier. I dunno, I kinda thought “duh” on that one 🙂

People who are happier also recover faster and and in different ways from traumatic events then people who aren’t. Some of this may sound obvious, but I found it all to be fascinating.

So now you have some ways to work on being happier. The happier you are, the more you’ll want to workout, to make healthy choices and encourage and motivate the people around you to do the same.

Also – in case you were curious, the picture above is of me at age 3 or 4. Who wouldn’t be happy in a bunny suit with a Big Bird stuffed animal 😉

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7 Small Changes You Can Make that Trigger BIG Results

Whenever we think about taking the steps necessary to a healthier lifestyle it can often feel super daunting.

I’m never going to be able to eat pizza again!

I’ll have to run ELEVENTY miles a day!!

What if this won’t work for me? It probably won’t ::picks up donut::

But that’s not true, AT ALL. Lifestyle changes are about just that, habits that form more habits. A good habit forms and sticks with us just as much as bad one does. THAT should be inspiring. Sure, you will have to work hard and it won’t always be easy but it WILL work. Consistency works and time will go by no matter what. A week ago you might have been thinking the same thing and look, it’s already Thursday again.

I know Jillian Michael’s stresses that you can’t just take the stairs every day and suddenly reach your goals, and she’s totally right. However, one daily change that forms into a habit will easily lead to other daily habits and before you know it, you’ll be reaching for an apple instead of a candy bar out of pure habit without even realizing it.

Here are 5 things you can start doing/changing to get you on your path to success:

  1. Take the stairs. Not only can it be way faster than waiting for the elevator (depending on how many flights there are) but it’s also a great way to start your morning. How many times have you been at a store and wanted to go to one in the same parking lot and DRIVEN over there? COME ON! If there’s an opportunity to walk, do it. Don’t be that guy that drives 50 feet to his mailbox and back.
  2. Replace everyday foods. Replacing whole or 2% milk with unsweetened almond milk can drastically lower your caloric intake, fat, and you’ll get more calcium! I’ve been drinking it for months now and I can hardly taste the difference! Also try applesauce in your oatmeal instead of added sugar, avocado in recipes instead of butter. Whole wheat breads and flours instead of white.
  3. Stop drinking calories. You know those people who stop drinking soda and drop like 20lbs, I wish I could be one of those people, but I’ve never been a soda person. Seriously though, stop drinking excess juice, soda, and alcohol if you can help it. The amount of sodium in all of those things too is ridiculous.
  4. Sit up straight and suck in your tummy. My Mom always told me this growing up, but it’s true. Improving your posture will help you feel more confident, make you look better, and works those stomach muscles.
  5. Look in the mirror at least once every day and tell yourself something you love about your body. If you can do this naked, even better. Get in the habit of loving your body instead of degrading it. If your friend or significant other stood in front of you, would you tear them apart? No! You’d say all the things you love about their body, the things they inspire you to work on, etc. Focus on what you love, what you’re proud of, and the things you aren’t so fond of won’t even matter to you over time. Plus they’ll disappear from all those stairs you’ll be taking! 😉
  6. Drink MORE WATER! I’m seriously tempted to bring in my camelbak backpack and keep the straw in my mouth all day so I drink enough water. I wonder if that could EVER catch on at work…
  7. Get enough sleep! You know when you’re grumpy and hangry how you’re more likely to NOT workout and eat bad foods? Yeah…so go to bed….Netflix will still be there tomorrow, I promise. Bed, do it.

How to Pick Out a Healthy Cereal

Breakfast! Don’t you know it’s the most important meal of the day! But really, it is!

While it would be great if we all got up extra early every morning to make an egg white omelet, the honest truth is that it’s not always in the cards. You’re in a rush, you need to pack a lunch, other stuff is going on, you just spilled the oatmeal EVERYWHERE. This is why it’s great to always have alternatives, easy alternatives, on hand and at your fingertips. 🙂

Since when was cereal worth it’s weight in unobtainium anyway? I would love to be able to buy FiberOne or some of the other great fiber-rich cereals every week but $4+ for a box of cereal? I don’t think so! Shop the sales and get the best deal you can.

So ok, what should you look for in a box of cereal? And no, the answer isn’t collectable spoons and toys. In what I consider the most important order:

  1. FIBER! Even Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory knows the importance of getting your daily amount of fiber. I need to do a post on fiber soon. Fiber is digested slowly and helps stabilize and maintain your blood sugar level, this means you feel fuller longer and are less likely to have a sugar crash later and eat something you shouldn’t. I’d aim for at LEAST 5g of fiber in your cereal. It seems like the more fiber a cereal has, the more expensive it is. FiberOne has some great cereals with 12g. Be careful though, they also just came out with a new cereal that’s only 80 calories but it contains fake sugars that will only make you want to eat more later and sabotage your nutrition goals in general. Aim for 35-40g of fiber in your daily diet. The more you can get in the morning, the easier it will be.
  2. SUGAR – and by sugar I mean NO SUGAR. Aim for low low LOW sugar cereal. And make sure the sugars in it are true. I try to find cereals with 8g of sugar or less. Eat a high sugar cereal in the morning and by lunch you’ll wonder why you are SOOO hungry. Here’s a great list of 10 great cereals with low sugar.
  3. PROTEIN – Protein in the morning is a great way to get your brain active and your metabolism revved up. More great cereals.
  4. WHOLE GRAINS – as with any carb-based food, stear clear of white flours and choose cereals with the words “bran” and “whole grain.”

Some of my favorite cereals are a bowl of grape nuts with a sliced banana on top. Quaker oats makes a new cereal similiar to Cheerios called Whole Hearts. It comes in a red box and has 5.3g of fiber in 1cup. A little bit more sugar than I’d prefer at 10g but eating little heart shapes in the morning makes me happy.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

It’s easy to get into that ALL or nothing attitude. I’m going to work out EVERY day this week and eat exactly 1200 calories and not mess up at all. But then what happens? You have a bite of your roommates banana bread after a long day at work, end up eating an entire piece of it or more, then think to yourself “I’m a FAILURE, I shouldn’t even workout.”

We’ve all been guilty of something like that to some extent. The thing is, it doesn’t and SHOULDN’T have to be that hard. Establish lifestyle, nutrition, and fitness habits that are sustainable. You may be able to make time for 2 hours of cardio a day in college after ENG 101 but what happens when you start working full time, or have other responsibilities? Figure out ways to be consistent, stay on track, and enjoy yourself. Be proud of the things you do on a daily basis.

Take today for example: I’ve been a little inconsistent in my eating habits and workouts lately. So at lunch today at work I decided to hit the treadmill and ran a little over a mile. Nothing too crazy and part of me was thinking “that’s ALL you’re doing? JUST a mile?” but then I had to stop and realize, it IS something. It’s still toning my legs, getting my heart going, burning calories, and putting me in a better mood to stay motivated today and throughout the rest of the week.

Count the small things! Every decision, action, and outcome of these little moments and motivations add up to BIG results and happy, healthy, hearts!

Quinoa: Delicious

Ki-nwa. Kee-n-wah. You get it. At least now you won’t be wandering around like an idiot saying “you guys wanna make some QUA-NOAH! Yeah bro! QUA-NOAH is the shiiit!”

What is this magically delicious (and healthy) grain that’s not really a grain? Quinoa is actually a seed and is not only tasty and filling but also filled with fiber and protein. It has a slightly nutty flavor and can be cooked or sprinkled over cereal for a more crunchy taste. My roommate cooked some while back with a bullion cube and it was so flavorful! It would easy to eat under chicken instead of a bed of rice or even over salad.

1 cup of quinoa contains:

  • About 222 calories
  •  5 grams of fiber
  • 8 grams of protein
  • 20 percent of your daily folate value which contains many health benefits including decreasing depression and keeping your brain active (thanks to vitamin B)!
  • 30 percent of your daily magnesium

Other awesome benefits of quinoa:

  • Quinoa can help protect you against migraines! How? Filled with magnesium (which helps stop blood vessel constriction) and riboflavin (promoting increased muscle cell metabolism), quinoa acts as a great protective agent for headaches and migraines.
  • Great source of calcium, especially for those who can’t eat dairy. With 30mg of calcium per cup cooked!

My roommate also sent me a great article on ways to boost quinoa and get more nutritional BOOM out of your meal!

Most grocery stores sell quinoa in the bulk section for cheap. You’ll be surprised at how fast this stuff fills you up and how delicious it really is!

8 Reasons to Get Your Head Back in the Game

I’ll be the first to admit that blogging keeps me honest. I’ve taken a little hiatus from my fitness ventures and it’s time to get back in the game. Don’t get wrong, I’ve still been working out, but not as hard, and my diet, hasn’t been as strict. I’m here to motivate myself but motivate you as well. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. But it also has a lot to do with your mindset. I truly believe that if your heart is not in something, you won’t be as successful. So here I am, letting you guys keep me accountable. Let’s look at 8 reasons to get back at it!

  1. You can start getting excited about food in a whole new way! And feel good about it! The fitness train has arrived and more and more people are blogging and talking about fun recipes and ways to still enjoy all the noms. Check out these great make-ahead breakfast ideas! And get yourself on Pinterest!
  2. It’s about time you made ____ _____’s jaw drop. Yes – you’re allowed to be vain. Fitness and health are important to keep our bodies and minds strong for the road ahead but there ain’t NOTHING wrong with rocking a hott body and getting others to notice 😉 My boyfriend gets back in 9 weeks and I am GOING to make his mouth hit the floor. Who do you want to impress?
  3. You’re tired of being…..tired. I’m just tooo tired to workout, I can’t sleep at night, I’m just not motivated. It’s probably because you need to get your butt in gear! Really! The more you move the more you’re going to want to move. Just do it! Today I didn’t want to workout and the minute I started running I was soo happy with myself and now I’m even more pumped for tomorrow!
  4. Because enough yesterdays could have equaled today. Let’s be honest. The longer you put anything off, the longer it’s going to take to get to where you want to be. Stop saying “I’ll start this when…” you don’t need a date or a wedding or Halloween or any event to get you to love your body. Love it now!
  5. You’re uncomfortable. We’ve all been there. Nothing fits the way we want it to. There’s only so many shirts we would actually wear out and shopping for pants or anything form-fitting is a nightmare! Is numerous moments with numerous cheeseburgers worth the feeling you’re having now? Think about the big picture. Think about how you want to FEEL beyond just how you want to look.
  6. You can be a role model. We all have friends we’d like to inspire, maybe you’re a parent and want to lead a good example for your kids, or we want to stay strong with our partner and make sure we both stay on track. Who ever it is, realize that YOUR actions and well-being effect a lot more people than just you. And the people who love and care about you want you to be healthy so you’re around for all the forevers!
  7. This mood has got to go! Feeling just bleh lately? Maybe sad, maybe irritable. I promise you that eating healthy and working out will solve 90 if not 120% of all of that. Take control of your life! You have a lot more say in it than you might have originally thought. Observe your emotions and your body and if you aren’t liking what they have to say, take action!
  8. You want a challenge. The biggest reward for losing weight, achieving fitness goals, getting healthy and creating new habits is that once you start to make progress you feel PROUD! Your confidence soars, everyone notices, you laugh more, and you get to get up every morning knowing you’re a straight up badass!