Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The health benefits of kale

I spent some time in the garden this morning and it inspired me to write about one of my favorite vegetables....…kale.    Kale is not only a beautiful vegetable it is also very nutritious.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit consumer advocacy group, took the challenge of finding the most nutritious vegetable. They rated vegetables based on many nutrients, including calcium, iron, folate and fiber.  The winner?  You guessed it, kale.  

One cup of kale has only 36 calories and zero grams of fat.  It contains nearly 20% of the RDA of dietary fiber, which prevents constipation and lowers blood sugar.  Kale is full of antioxidants and phyto-chemicals which are known for their cancer fighting properties.  It is also loaded with omega-3’s which provide anti-inflammatory benefits.   Kale is a good source of calcium, folate, lutein, fiber and vitamins A, C, E and K.   

Not sure how to cook kale.  One of my favorite ways to eat it is roasted in the form of crunchy kale chips!  Just follow the recipe below.  Try it once and you’ll be hooked.
  • Tear the leaves off them stems and chop into bite sized pieces
  • Wash in cold water and dry in a salad spinner.
  • Toss with olive oil and spread out on cookie sheets.
  • Drizzle with a little more olive oil and some kosher salt.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes, until edges are brown and kale is crispy.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Massage Can Lower Blood Pressure

According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 74.5 million people in the U.S have high blood pressure.   High blood pressure increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.  To help control blood pressure it is important to adopt a healthy lifestyle, which includes quitting smoking, getting regular exercise and controlling the amount of sodium and fat in the diet.   

Another tool to help manage high blood pressure is regular massage therapy.   In the 2008 study “The Effect of Deep Tissue Massage Therapy on Blood Pressure and Heart Rate”, 263 participants volunteered to receive deep tissue massage to examine its effect on blood pressure and heart rate.   The data collected showed an average systolic pressure reduction of 10.4 millimeters of mercury and a diastolic pressure reduction of 5.3 millimeters of mercury.  There was also an average heart rate reduction of 10.8 beats per minute.   

This study showed a significant correlation between deep tissue massage and a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure.   The results of this study are encouraging and will hopefully lead to more research in this area.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Are you sitting at the computer feeling tension in your neck?

One of the most frequent complaints that I see in my massage practice is chronic neck and upper back or shoulder pain.  Working at a desk or computer all day can cause neck and shoulder pain, stiffness as well as headaches.   Stress and tension on the job or at home also contributes.  While some neck and shoulder pain may be the result of injury or disease, the majority is due to muscle tension. 

The neck has a very complex and mobile structure.  It is especially vulnerable to stress and strain.  The head weighs between 10 and 20 pounds!  It is supported by seven vertebrae and held in place by 32 muscles.  Between the vertebrae are pads of cartilage called discs, which act as shock absorbers.  Eight nerves, four major arteries and the spinal cord run through the neck.   

When our neck and shoulder muscles tense, either from stress or poor posture, the blood supply to the muscles decreases resulting in pain.  More stress, either physical or emotional, results in more tension and thus more pain.  Many of our everyday habits contribute to neck and shoulder pain. The best way to relieve the pain is to ease the physical and emotional stress and treat the muscles.  So how do we do that?  Here are a few suggestions:
  • One of the simplest things to do is lie down and give your muscles a chance to rest and recover. 
  • Apply ice or heat to your neck.  Ice numbs pain and decreases inflammation.  Heat increases circulation and can ease stiff muscles.  Try alternating heat with cold.  This can be very effective at relieving pain.
  • Practice relaxation techniques such as progressive relaxation or “belly breathing”.   Exercise can be another way to relieve the stresses of the day.
  • Use good posture and ergonomics when working.   This is crucial.  Posture has a lot to do with neck pain.  Look at the ergonomics of your work station. Always keep your work at eye level. “Desk neck” is caused by looking down or reaching up to work.  Simple changes can make a huge difference.
  • Take frequent breaks.  Get up from your work station, walk around and stretch.   A recent study found that office workers who took frequent breaks and did some simple exercises had 41% fewer headaches and 43% less neck and shoulder pain!
  • Get in shape.   Strengthening the stomach, neck and back muscles will help improve posture.  Make an appointment with a personal trainer for some instruction and tips.
  • Get regular massage.  Massage will help relax tense muscles and increase blood circulation.

Here are a couple of simple exercises that you can do to relieve neck and shoulder pain:
  • Sit erect but relaxed.  Lower those shoulders away from your ears!  Slowly turn your head to the right and  hold.  Return it to the center.  Now slowly turn it to the left and hold.  Return it to the center.  Drop your chin slowly to your chest and hold.  Relax and bring your head back up.   Tilt your head toward your left shoulder and hold.  Bring it back up and repeat on the right.  

  • Stand with your back and head against the wall.  Press your shoulder back as they are against the wall, then release.
  • Stand with your back and head against the wall.  Move your chin forward and back keeping it parallel to the ground. 
  • Cup your hands behind your neck and lift your head back and up slightly against the pressure from your hands.  Slowly lower.
Repeat each of these exercises several times every two to three hours.  If you have severe pain or any underlying neck/ shoulder problems or injuries be sure to check with your health care provider  first. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ways to relieve stress naturally

We live in stressful times.  Stress takes a toll on our health and well-being.  It can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease anxiety, depression and insomnia among other things.   There are many things that you can do to reduce stress.  An article from Fox News published July 6, 2011 outlined 10 ways to reduce stress naturally.  Here are a few of the suggestions mentioned in the article.
  • Massage   Ok, this a no-brainer and first on my list for obvious reasons.   Massage relaxes tense muscles, reduces pain, improves circulation and quiets the mind.  
  • Exercise   Exercise releases endorphins into the brain which improve your mood.  It prevents other health problems giving you less to be stressed about, and it allows you time to be alone with your thoughts and enjoy nature.   One of the easiest and most effective forms of exercise.….go for a brisk walk.
  • Eat healthy   It has actually been proven that junk food can make us depressed!  Healthy foods like whole grains and protein can improve your mood and give you plenty of energy.  Foods proven to have stress-busting properties include blueberries, salmon and almonds.
  • Sleep   Too little sleep leaves us cranky.  Too much sleep and we are sluggish and depressed.  Try to find the right balance.  Promote better sleep by establishing bedtime rituals that signal to your brain that it is time to fall asleep.
  • Meditation   I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they are intimidated by the idea of meditation.  They find the practice difficult and are afraid that they “won’t do it right”.   There are some very simple ways to “meditate”.  One of the easiest is to focus on your breathing.   Check out my blog posting  "Deep breathing for stress relief"   for more information on using this technique.  15 minutes of quiet time everyday can be a fantastic way deal with or release stress. 
  • Organize your life   Organization offers a sense of control and peace of mind.  Sometimes the mere sight of clutter can put us on edge.  This is certainly true for me. 
  • Limit internet and cellphone use    Part of the problem with reducing stress in today’s world is that we can never truly shield ourselves from it.  By turning off the computer and our cell phone even for just a few hours we limit some of the channels from which stress can reach us.  I frequently suggest a “news holiday”  to my clients when they are feeling very on edge.

Live in the moment and appreciate it!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Massage beats medication for low back pain

A study published in the July 5th issue of Annals of Internal Medicine reported that massage may be better than medication or exercise for relieving low back.  Participants were 401 patients, mostly middle-aged, female and white, all of whom had low back pain.   These women were assigned to one of three groups: structural massage, relaxation massage or usual medical care.  Those in the massage groups were given hour-long massage treatments weekly for 10 weeks.   Those who received either structural massage or relaxation massage were better able to be active and work for up to a year than those who received usual medical care, which included painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants or physical therapy.   At 10 weeks more than one-third of those who received either type of massage said their back pain was much better or gone, compared to only 1 in 25 patients who received the usual medical care.  Six months out, both massage groups still had improved function.  Most Americans will experience low back pain at some time during their lives.   Massage is a relatively safe approach with proven benefit.