Meditation Health Benefits

6 Weeks to a Younger You: Week 6

September 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm , by

Welcome to the final segment of our “6 Weeks to a Younger You” plan. This week is about finding your balance—literally and figuratively.

First, the literal. Your equilibrium starts to dwindle as you get more, ahem, mature. And that can lead to falls and fractures later—which can really affect the quality of your life and make you feel old. You can train yourself to have better balance by practicing it. Yoga classes are great for that, of course. Amelia and I are testing out our yoga Tree Pose,  right, and bending in the wind, as young trees do to weather storms. If you don’t want to be a tree, just practice balancing on one foot while you’re in line at the grocery store or brushing your teeth at the sink. Do it every day on both legs and you’ll be surprised how much better you’ll get at it with practice.

Now the figurative.
Too often we go to extremes. We eat too much junk, then decide to starve ourselves in penance. We skip exercise all week because it’s humid and rainy, then go crazy on the weekend and end up with sore muscles or an injury. Balance is better.

That means eating healthy meals and not snacking all day long. You may have heard it’s healthy to eat several smalls meals throughout the day. But studies show that if you never give your digestive system a break, your body may not have time to remove damaged cells and toxic stuff that accumulates. And that can make you more vulnerable to diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Four to six hours between meals is optimal.

Regular exercise is key, too, not just for your body but also for your brain. Just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week for three months increases the part of your brain you use for short-term memory. Yes, regular brisk walks may actually improve your memory! For more details, read our interview with our favorite memory expert and neurologist Majid Fotuhi, M.D. here.

You need to balance your spirit, too. Are you a “doom and gloom” personality type? Studies show that Type D’s, as they’re called, have a higher risk of heart disease and are more likely to die from it, too. You can help yourself become a more relaxed type, like young trees that bend in the wind (see us above, hint, hint!), by practicing yoga or meditation, and getting more exercise, which is guaranteed to lift your spirits.

Woo-hoo to a younger (more balanced) you!

Photo by Cassandra Tucker

6 Weeks to a Younger You: Week 2

August 17, 2011 at 11:45 am , by

Beautiful woman at the beach putting sunscreen on her bodyWelcome to week 2 of our plan! How’d you do with your pedometer and your colorful fruits and veggies last week? I made some progress and I’m feelin’ good. Hope you are too! So what’s on tap for this week?

You need to protect your skin from the sun (to look young and avoid skin cancer). But you need vitamin D for strong bones and maybe even to prevent cancer and heart disease. So how to do you do both? It’s a problem I’ve wrestled with.

My doctor called me a few days ago to tell me that everything on my recent blood test looked good, except one thing: I’m deficient in D. In winter, sure. But in August? Well, I avoid the sun like the plague, thanks to my history of skin cancer. That means wearing sunscreen every day, staying on the shady side of the street—and donning a hat when it’s high noon.

Yes, I take a 1,000 mg D3 supplement almost every day, and I always take it with some nuts or cheese since it’s fat soluble, to improve absorption. But apparently it’s not enough. Supplements just don’t work as well as the sun. My doc suggested I go to 2,000 mg a day—a level that most experts think is safe (although more research needs to be done). And maybe just a few unprotected minutes of sun a day on my arms and legs might be a good idea, too. But just a few!

Aren’t we all? Stress can raise your blood pressure, and so can the junky food you crave when you’re having a bad day. You know that lowering your bp can help your cardiovascular system, but here’s news: healthy blood pressure is good for your memory and brain health! High blood pressure causes no symptoms, so you’ve gotta get checked out. If you can’t see your doc right now, try out one of those drugstore kiosks where you can stick your arm in the cuff. You want to be at 120/80 or lower, and many experts say 115/75 is ideal. If you’re higher, take some deep breaths and take another reading. If it’s still high, make an appointment with your doc.

A great way to reduce stress (and your blood pressure!) is meditation. It can also improve your memory and boost your immune system. And anyone can learn it. All you have to do is sit quietly and focus on your breathing. The trick is carving out and committing to a few quiet minutes a day. I studied transcendental meditation back in the ’70s (hey, it was good enough for the Beatles!). I remember how  tough it was to learn to sit still and let go of all those busy, busy thoughts—without judging myself every time I felt I wasn’t doing it “right.” I’m going to commit to meditating for 20 minutes every day this week if you will. Cheers to a younger you!

Photo copyright goodluz—

De-Stress and Don’t Get Sick!

December 2, 2009 at 4:23 pm , by

I’m washing my hands like crazy these days and keep little bottles of hand sanitizer everywhere. But guess what else I’m doing to avoid getting sick this winter? Meditating!

yogaStress Makes You Sick
Yep, new research shows that stressed-out people have higher levels of the inflammatory stress chemicals that burn out your immune system and make it harder for you to fight off an infection. But people who practice meditation three to four times a week have lower levels of those nasty chemicals in the body, which may make them less likely to get sick. (I learned this from our story in LHJ this month called “Your Family Flu-Prevention Plan.” Check it out for other great tips.)

Meditation 101
It can be tough to teach yourself how to meditate if you’ve never done it before. Many people who try to sit quietly, focus on their breathing and quiet their thoughts report that they can’t “turn off their brains” and that they’re too easily distracted. Then they judge themselves by thinking they’re terrible at meditating, which is definitely counterproductive. Guided meditation, with music or talking or chanting, can help.

MeditationI had practiced meditation before, but hadn’t done it in years. Coincidentally, after I’d written a blog on the anniversary of Woodstock last summer, Ticia Agri, who was part of the festival back in ’69 and saw the blog, sent me a CD of her guided meditation called The Ribbon Breath Meditation (left). It’s a good way to get started. Only 15 minutes long, the CD uses drumbeats and music as it leads you upward from your feet to the top of your head, using color imagery that’s easy to visualize. You sit quietly, listen to Agri’s soothing voice and the music and somehow your breathing slows and you know what to do. It feels good!

Slow It Down
On one particularly stressful day recently, I got home, sat down and took my pulse: 88 beats per minute. Then I sat and listened to the meditation CD. Fifteen minutes later, I checked my pulse again: 52 beats. That’s a 41 percent reduction in heart rate, folks—nothing to sneeze at! Don’t know if it’ll stop me from getting a cold or flu this winter, but it couldn’t hurt.

You can do any form of meditation, yoga, focused breathing or relaxation training and get health benefits. During this season of holiday craziness (and the flu!), why not pledge to slow down for a few minutes each day and just breathe? Healthy holidays to you!