Walkingspree

ABC’s of Eating Smart for a Healthy Heart

*This article originally appeared on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website.

Following a heart-healthy diet can be easy when you know the basics of eating wisely. Johns Hopkins researchers have come up with diet guidelines to protect your heart.

WHAT THE EXPERTS DO

Yes, a Dietitian Eats Chocolate.

“People want something sweet no matter what their diet,” says Johns Hopkins dietitian Christie A. Williams, M.S. “Dark chocolate actually has antioxidants that protect blood vessels, decrease LDL cholesterol and help blood pressure.”

To get the most benefit, Williams chooses bars whose labels show they contain at least 70 percent cocoa. “Sometimes I look for dark chocolate-covered walnuts or almonds because nuts are also good for the heart.”

The only catch, she says, is that dark chocolate has to be part of an isocaloric diet—that’s dietitian-speak for eating about the same total amount of food every day in a healthy amount for your weight and height. In other words, she says, you can indulge as long as you don’t overdo. Some research on the cardiovascular benefits of dark chocolate puts that limit at 50 grams a day, or just under 2 ounces. Remember that chocolate has calories in it.

Eating a diet that helps your heart can be boiled down to four words: “Eat like a Mediterranean,” says Johns Hopkins dietitian Christie A. Williams, M.S., R.D.N. The Mediterranean diet—so named because it’s similar to the native diet consumed in places like Greece and Italy—is a low simple-carbohydrate, healthy-fat, lean-protein way of eating, she says.

The Mediterranean diet isn’t a strict diet per se—it’s simply guidelines that provide plenty of choices and variety. “It tastes good, helps you feel full without overeating, and you can get these foods in any season no matter where you live,” Williams says.

Here are the ABCs of this heart-healthy eating plan:

A. Avoid unhealthy fats, and choose healthy fats.

Unsaturated fats should make up most of your fat intake. These include fatty fish (see B, below, for more about fish), olive oil and other vegetable oils, and nuts, such as walnuts.

Limit saturated fats, which come primarily from animal sources (butter, red meat). Choose lean proteins, like chicken without the skin. Opt for 1 percent or skim milk and dairy products, rather than 2 percent or whole milk.

Avoid trans fats altogether. On processed food labels, watch for the words “partially hydrogenated oils” and skip those foods.

B. Buy beans, fish and other lean proteins.

Beans of any kind—white beans, black beans, kidney beans and so on—can be served in many ways, from entrées to salad toppers to side dishes, and they provide important fiber as well as protein.

Fatty fish, like salmon, trout and tuna, contain good-for-you omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, which help lower triglyceride (a type of fat) levels and may modestly lower blood pressure. “A salmon burger is a great way to add variety to your diet,” Williams suggests.

Limit red meat to lean cuts and serve it in side-dish-sized portions. Lean proteins feed your body without providing unhealthy fats—which means thinking beyond steak.

C. Choose carbs carefully.

Carbohydrates are the sugars, fiber and starches in food that give your body energy. But some carbs are better for you than others.

Choose carbs from whole-grain sources (such as oatmeal or whole wheat bread) rather than processed and refined carbs (such as white bread and white rice). Read labels to avoid added sugar, a common source of extra carbs. Johns Hopkins research has shown that people on low simple-carbohydrate diets lose more weight more quickly, especially dangerous belly fat (a risk factor for heart disease), than those who focus only on restricting fats.

D. Drink with deliberation.

“Diet” refers to what you drink as well as what you eat. Many beverages add calories (and extra weight) without much nutritional benefit. Three common culprits:

  • Alcohol. The recommended amount of alcohol is one drink per day for a woman, or two drinks for a man.
  • Soda pop. A typical 12-ounce can of soda has 150 calories and roughly 9 teaspoons of sugar. The new 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (which will be released in March) call for no more than 12 teaspoons of sugar per day from any source.
  • Juice and other sugary drinks. There’s much more fiber in whole food than juice. Along with soda, fruit juice and other sugary drinks account for much of the excess sugar Americans consume. “I’d rather see you eat an orange for breakfast than drink orange juice,” Williams says.

E. Eat a wide-variety of foods—especially from plants.

A heart-smart diet tends to be a varied one. These standout foods are often under-consumed:

  • Dark-green leafy vegetables. Natural sources of fiber and antioxidants, such as spinach, kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, collard greens, arugula and broccoli, also help the body break down homocysteine, an amino acid that’s linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, Williams says.
  • Nuts. “Eating just 5 ounces of nuts per week is linked to decreased cardiovascular disease,” Williams says. Walnuts have more omega-3 fatty acids—which reduce bad cholesterol levels—than other nuts.
  • Soy. Edamame, a soy dish, is a good substitute for animal protein that also reduces total cholesterol levels. Half a cup of shelled edamame provides 8 grams of protein.
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Easy Ways to Get Moving


February 1 is the first day of the American Heart Health Month. With cardiovascular disease being the leading cause of death among American men and women, its critical that we learn to recognize the signs of heart disease and also take steps to prevent it.

The American Heart Associations says that for every hour of regular exercise that you get, you gain two hours of life. That’s two more hours with your loved ones, your children, your grandchildren or simply enjoying being able to do more and live healthier.

For those of us not interested in body building, running marathons or doing the Insanity workout every day for the rest of our lives, that means finding ways to exercise and be more active during our daily allotment of 24 hours. If you work a full time job, sleep (or try to) 7-8 hours a night, you probably use your remaining 8 hours/day cooking, household needs, running errands, helping kids with homework, studying and managing the daily needs of life. Sometimes adding in an exercise routine can seem impossible. And face it: Some of us don’t like the thought of exercising. We consider it a necessary evil. It’s no wonder we aren’t overly excited about working it in to the day. It’s why we need to look at other ways of getting more movement into our lives and gradually adding to it.

We can privately wish that our bodies would just wake up feeling all excited about the concept of exercising. The reality is different though. Our body is just a body. Without training it to do certain things, it won’t naturally want to. Sometimes, we just have to grab a big ol’ slice of determination and decide to move more and be more active.

Easy Ways to Get Moving

The American Heart Association says adults need 30 minutes of exercise, five days per week and kids need 60 minutes every day.

The good news is that many studies (like this one) have shown that children with active parents will also be more active and less sedentary. So, the little strategies you work into your life now aren’t going unnoticed. You can pass on healthy habits to your children at the same time you are building them within your own body and mind.

So, what are some ways you can work physical activity into your life and, if you have kids, their lives, too?

Take the “long way,” the stairs, and park far way. Yes, we’ve heard this one many times. Still, we’ve heard it because it works the more you do it. When you are with your children, they see you choosing the more active routes and will be likely to imitate you as they get older. Parking at the back of the lot adds a little more movement into your day as does taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Replace dessert with a walk and more quality family time. You’re not only making a choice that is good for you, you are also making memories and helping each other live longer, healthier lives.

Find ways to make housecleaning involve more movement. We know of one nine year old who dances with the vacuum cleaner. He sings loudly and stretches and pushes the vacuum with all his might.  Even does a few twirls. What if we, as adults, were to do the same? Maybe add a few lunges in to the mix? Our kids would laugh with delight and we might crack a smile, too.

Invest in a Wearable Fitness Device. It’s fun for adults and kids alike. Wearable fitness technology will count your steps, challenge you and even allow you to compete with friends. The current escalation in wearable fitness devices like Fitbit, Jawbone, Garmin and Apple Watch is having a strong impression on our health habits.  This is great news because fitness devices utilizing text messages have already been proven to help promote regular activity and even possibly alleviate other illnesses like depression, stroke and diabetes.

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Lifestyle Based Changes Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

According to a recent article in Time magazine, a deceptively simple approach to Type 2 diabetes is showing promise. The article details how Dr. Monica Peek of Chicago has been helping her patients for years by writing out nutrition prescriptions. She recommends certain foods for their diet and the approach has gained enough credence to be at the core of a unique study supported by the National Institutes for Health (NIH).  The study is reportedly challenging the traditional methods for treating and preventing Type 2 diabetes.

One out of every three Americans will be diagnosed with diabetes by 2050.1 29 million people already have it.

One key characteristic of those with Type 2 diabetes is that patients with the disease are often overweight. In the United States more than two-thirds of the adult population is overweight or obese.  Because extra body fat is a serious risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, this means that a significant amount of people are at risk.

In 2012, diabetes cases (90% of which were Type 2, reports Time) cost the U.S. health care industry about $245 BILLION.

Statistics like these have caused physicians and researches to look for improved ways to reduce the number of people developing the disease every year.

Researches and doctors are now focusing on diet, nutrition and exercise as ways to treat and prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Ann Albright, director of the Division of Diabetes Translation at the Center for Disease Control says she thinks that people know, on an intellectual level, that “eating healthy and being active is good for you.”  She also added that she didn’t people really understood “what an impact it (nutrition) has on preventing Type 2 diabetes for those at risk.”  She goes on to say that nutrition and being active are really the “most effective intervention for delaying or preventing Type 2 diabetes.”

Programs that support lifestyle changes based on improving diet, overall nutrition and exercise are gaining more and more support from insurers.  Many insurers are beginning to reimburse patients, companies, employers, and various organizations for lifestyle based prevention programs like the walking programs that Walkingspree USA offers.

The article in Time goes on to explain the results of several studies that prove lifestyle based programs can make Type 2 preventable and help reduce side effects for those with the condition already.

It’s worth noting that due to the extensive evidence proving that lifestyle changes work in Type 2 prevention, the CDC now recognizes more than 800 organizations that offer lifestyle based programs.  Time magazine spotlighted the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program as one example.  The YMCA’s one-year curriculum is designed to assist overweight adults who already have ‘pre-diabetes’ symptoms prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. This program is offered in 43 states.  Participants are mentored in ways to modify their lifestyle and those who finish the class lose on average of 5.4% of their body weight by the end of the year.

These are encouraging numbers.  Still, the article is realistic and does remind us that the downside to using a lifestyle based program is that it requires much work over a long period of time. People are influenced positively and negatively by many factors.  For some, influence could from economic, social or geographic location.  For others, it might be psychological or genetic factors that impact how much or how little they adhere to healthier lifestyle practices.

What do you think? Are you already making healthier lifestyle choices like walking daily, eating healthier and eliminating stress? We recommend seeking out someone who has the same or similar lifestyle goals as you and connecting with him or her for positive motivation.  Dr. Monica Peek (mentioned at the beginning of this article) believes that it’s relationships that are at the heart of what motivates people and that’s a great place to start.

1. Centers for Disease Control

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3 Myths About Walking


As promoters of walking, we at Walkingspree decided to push three of the most common “myths” about walking into the spotlight.

Myth #1:  You Should Run Because it Burns More Calories than Walking

First, lets consider this: The amount of calories you wipe out on a walk is contingent upon your weight, how far and how fast you walk. For individuals trying to lose a significant amount of weight, there is a certain sweet vengeance in knowing that the heavier you are, the more calories you’ll burn per hour. And yes, the faster your walking speed, the more calories you’ll get rid of.

Critics of walking may tell you that running burns more calories and it does. But, is running a viable option for you? Running is not something everyone can do.  Walking, however, is a ‘user-friendly’ exercise that almost everyone can do at some level.

To help clarify the walking vs. running argument, think of it this way: Walking burns about 600 calories an hour. Running burns about 700 calories an hour. Can you run for an hour? And no matter how you answer that question, the answer to this next question is the most important:

Do you want to run for an hour?

If so, great! If not, go for a walk, enjoy the outdoors or use the time for prayer and meditation on the treadmill.

The point: Lose weight while doing something meaningful.

Myth #2: You Can’t Lose Weight By Walking.

Walking Doesn’t Burn Fat.  Walking Doesn’t Reach the Cardio-zone or Fat Burning Zone. You’ve probably heard other variations of these thoughts, yourself.

In reality, we don’t need to over complicate things.  Keep it simple. Just remember: Walking burns calories.

Want to kill off a pound by walking? Burn 3,500 calories and you’re done.

Here’s an example using a person who is 200lbs: If you walk for an hour per day at a 3.5 mph pace, a pound could be gone in just over 10 days and this without any dieting.  And, yes, you could lose more if you incorporated a sensible diet into the mix.

What if the stress of trying to find that magical fat burning zone isn’t necessary to achieve the results you want?

Adjust your nutrition and walking plan to accommodate your weight loss objectives and you’ll be more likely to reach your personal goals.

Myth #3:  You Need Shoes Designed for Walking or “Walking Shoes.”

Sure, there are some well-made walking shoes on the market. Unfortunately, there are also many shoes branded as “walking shoes” that may do more harm than good. If you try on a walking shoe that feels heavy, stiff, inflexible and even overly cushioned, just put it back.You don’t want shoes that could cause you to have extra aches and pains.

Look for lightweight, low heel and proper fit. Many people do great wearing running shoes because they are often designed to be lightweight, flexible and to fit certain strides.

So, while you don’t need any special equipment to go for a walk, a good pair of shoes that allows you to be comfortable is a must.

Study after study shows that walking can reduce health risks substantially. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by all the hype out there. Have fun, put on your shoes and go outside. If the weather isn’t good for a walk, visit your local gym, or consider walking “laps” around a shopping mall. There are some great places to walk and great reasons for doing so. Make it about you, being your best self and being intentional about living your best life one step at a time.

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Reducing Food Waste AND Your Grocery Bill

Did you know that the average American family throws away approximately 25 percent of the food they buy annually?  Want a close estimate of what that means in dollars and cents?  It means that about $1,500  is literally thrown in the family trashcan.  Some stats say that translates into 25 percent of the world’s children not eating as well as your garbage bin does. Further, it’s been noted that the amount of food wasted on a global scale, if not wasted, could actually eliminate world hunger problems.

If you’ve ever wanted to not only eat smart but also be smart about food as a whole, you may want to look into different ways to reduce food waste. Reducing food waste can reduce your grocery bill as well.

Are you interesting in doing your part to reduce food waste, reduce your monthly spending and helping to take care of our planet? You might be surprised and how easy it can be.  Author, speaker and successful blogger, Bea Johnson, has proven you can live almost completely waste free. Get this:  Bea and her family only generate a quart size jar of waste per year!

If you are thinking that’s pretty incredible, we agree. And, for most of us, that seems impossible. Still, in true Walkingspree fashion, we do think it’s worth mentioning that every little step counts. Whether you are looking to eat better, lose weight, or help our planet by reducing waste, each step counts. If you agree with us, we have a few quick tips to help you reduce food waste and your grocery bill. Many of these tips are on Bea Johnson’s blog but she tells her readers that they are a condensed version. The in-depth cool stuff is in her book, Zero Waste Home.

(1) Shop smarter. Invest in recyclable shopping bags and never go to the store without a list. Shopping with a list can reduce impulse buys but it can force you to check your current supplies before you leave. If you build your list from memory, instead of actually looking in your pantry or refrigerator, you are more likely to buy food you aren’t out of yet  “just to be on the safe side.”

(2) Reuse your supply containers, carriers and cleaning items. Bea says to “arm yourself with a reusable water bottle, a couple grocery totes, a few cloth bags and reusable jars and bottles. She also champions the 5Rs and in the same order every time. Get your 5Rs right: Refuse what you do not need, Reduce what you do need, Reuse what you consume, Recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce or Reuse, and Rot (Compost) the rest.

(3) Be smart about how much you eat as well as how much you buy. If your recipe calls for a teaspoon of lemon juice, and your would normally not use multiple lemons before your next shopping trip, you don’t need to buy 6 because they are 6 for a $1.50.

(4) Unclutter and organize the kitchen. Using glass jars so you can see the contents easily also let’s you access what you need quickly. Don’t be afraid to switch to an “all drawer” refrigerator.  These can eliminate forgetting about (and wasting) food at the back of a shelf.

(5) Bea says: “Buy in bulk or at the counter (see Zero Waste Grocery Shopping), bring reusable bags (dry goods), jars (wet items such as meat, deli, fish, cheese, oil, peanut butter) and bottles (liquids: oil, soy sauce, shampoo, conditioner).”

(6) Use your trashcan for compost storage. Use your small compost keeper as your regular trash can.

(7) Reinvent left overs. Don’t pop them in a container and let them sit in the refrigerator until mold grows. Create a new dish or meal using food from the previous day.

We think that people who seek to live more meaningful and intentional lives are happier in general. Bea Johnson’s philosophy fits right in with these thoughts.

“Since embarking on the Zero Waste lifestyle, our lives have changed for the better: We feel happier and lead more meaningful lives, based on experiences instead of stuff. My goal is to share its incredible health, financial and time saving benefits!” ~Bea Johnson.

If you are interested in learning more about how to reduce food waste, reduce food costs and simultaneously help the planet, be sure to check out Bea’s blog for more great tips on enjoying a Zero Waste lifestyle.

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