My Top 5 Tips for Increasing Energy

This post is the first in a series of “Top 5” posts, in which I will share my best tips and most important practices for developing the energy, mindset and well-being to accomplish what we want to accomplish and live with no regrets. We get one chance to live this life. Let’s make it the grandest life we are capable of living!

One of the most frequent complaints and concerns I hear is that people don’t have the energy they need to do what they want and even need to do in life. In its scientific sense, “energy” means “calories” or “heat,” “the capacity to perform work.” In this post I use the word in its colloquial sense—pep, zip, well-being that leaves you feeling like moving and accomplishing things.  Here are my very best recommendations for creating more energy in life.

Nourishing Salad
  1. Whole-Food, Plant-Based Nourishment: The calories (energy) you consume matter. Make them count. Make them work for you, not against you. One of the most powerful choices you can make to enhance your energy is to eat plants that contain the nutrients that support your body’s health. By eating an array of health-giving foods (and cutting out the foods that fight against your good health), you supply your body with the building blocks and tools to be vibrant and energized. When I eat a light, plant-based meal (ALL my meals are plant-based.), especially one full of leafy greens, beans, fresh, minimally-processed vegetables and fresh fruit, I literally feel the energy bubbling in me. I feel lighter and more enthusiastic. I feel health circulating through my blood. The fresher the food, the more I can feel the energy from the sun that the plants are sharing with me. My favorite app for supporting whole-food, plant-based eating is Dr. Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen.
  2. Balanced Daily Movement: Schedule exercise daily and keep your appointment with yourself. It will energize you and revive you. I experience this on a regular basis. For example, I had an exhausting day at work at my full-time job on Monday. I had planned to ride my bike 15-20 miles after work. Although I left work about 40 minutes late and knew I would be pressed for daylight, I also knew cycling was critical to my well-being, including being able to accomplish my long-term (such as elevating my health and cycling) and short-term (such as finishing this blog post draft) goals. I was right. I rode 16 miles and made it home right as the sun was setting, but the ride gave me the energy I needed to feel better and do what I needed to do Monday evening. We will feel most energetic when we have more vigorous days, interspersed with less challenging days. A combination of cardiorespiratory exercise, strength work and flexibility training, spread throughout the week, will be most beneficial.
  3. Daily Mindfulness: Since committing to a daily mindfulness practice over a year ago, I have been amazed at how much better I feel. I am calmer, more peaceful, more confident and more energetic because feel less weighed down by life. Daily, I process and release what no longer serves me. My mindfulness practice includes breathing exercises, meditation, reflection and visualization, along with occasional Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to unblock energy. Every single morning, I spend at least five to 15 minutes intentionally connecting with my center. The peaceful power and gratitude I feel are incredible. This daily practice has added a new level of energy to my days.
  4. Healthy Hydration: If we become dehydrated, we are very likely to feel lethargic (in addition to a host of other problems this creates). It is easy to become somewhat dehydrated without even realizing it. Just being engrossed in work for hours at a time may mean that we are not drinking regularly. If we are talking and thinking a lot (I think of my months where I have appointment after appointment with students, all day, every day.), we can really feel depleted.  Dehydration is often a contributing factor. Our blood volume is decreased when we are dehydrated, and that can really drag us down, physically and mentally. We will not feel motivated to move, and thinking becomes foggy. Hydration needs vary, according to activity level, temperature and fitness, but we all need to drink fresh, clean water regularly—probably close to 8 cups per day for the average adult. Staying conscious of this need can boost our energy.
  5. Intentional Sleep: This is often the one that poses the greatest challenge for me, but I also recognize what a difference makes. Think about when you need to get up in the morning, count backwards eight hours and then set a stopping point for your projects about 30 minutes before that, so you can wind down. As with hydration, individual differences make it hard to say exactly how much sleep you need, but most people feel the greatest level of energy after 6-10 hours of sleep. In order to enhance the quality of sleep, establish a nighttime ritual. Personally, I use journaling, reading and a quote for reflection, right before I turn off my booklight. This signals my intention to energize my body through quality slumber.

Nothing here is likely to be an utter news flash, but these tips work. If you are not doing any of these things, pick one and implement it. Stick with it for two to three months, practicing consistently. Notice the changes in your energy level. Then, add the next one and build on them incrementally. Alone, any of these could make a big difference. Put them all together in regular practice, and you may find yourself feeling a level of energy you haven’t experienced in years.

If you would like some guidance and accountability in implementing these tips in your life, in order to develop the energy you need to accomplish the things that matter to you, use this link to schedule a complimentary coaching session, where we can talk about your goals and dreams and what is getting in your way. If we decide we are a fit, I’d love to help you create more energy for living with no regrets.

The Bike Is Where I Remember Who I Am

“My workout is my obligation to life. It’s my tranquilizer. It’s part of the way I tell the truth . . ..” –Jack LaLane

The work week and the heaviness of the world can weigh on me to the point where I feel like I don’t have the time, mental space or the emotional capacity to process my higher-level goals or work on the things that matter most to me.

The bike is where I remember who I am.

Part of this is just the gift of the ride. Out on the road—usually alone—my head clears, and space is created for inspiration and introspection. On the bike, whether for one hour or several, I can release the worries, stressors, deadlines and obligations of the rest of life. Although it is temporary, and I am under no illusions that it is otherwise, it is a true gift that has allowed me to find solutions to problems and answers to troubling questions. Often these answers may elude me when I give thought to the questions or issues off the bike. But, setting out on the road opens doors to possibilities that I have not been able to pry ajar during the rest of life.

Alone on the bike, I am free from noise and distractions, and my focus can be given to deeper thought and clearer thinking.

In an article in Scientific American, psychology professor Justin Rhodes explores some of the physiological and neurochemical reasons that exercise enhances thinking. One explanation is the increased blood flow—to the brain and elsewhere—induced by physical activity. Our hyperoxygenated brain is more effective at solving problems and thinking deeply.

Rhodes discusses the role of the hippocampus in exercise. I find this particularly interesting and plan to explore further how the hippocampus may be responsible for much of the mental and emotional benefit I experience during exercise. Memory, emotions and motivation—all factors in the heightened state I feel on the bike—are influenced by the function of the hippocampus.

There is some speculation that the evolutionary explanation for the exercise effect on brain function is that it was beneficial for our ancient ancestors to think more clearly and encode memories more deeply when exerting to fight or flee a danger. While there very well may be some truth to this, I also experience a sense of peace and happiness on the bike that feels inconsistent with a fight-or-flight response.

However, neurochemically, there is basis for this explanation. Albeit volitional and generally positive, exercise is a form of physical stress (which is why it needs to be balanced with rest and nutrition), resulting in physiological adaptations to stress. The brain releases Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein that protects and repairs neurons throughout the brain and body. Endorphins, hormones which act as a natural analgesic, are produced when we exercise, both minimizing physical discomfort and elevating emotions. This produces the experience known as “runner’s high.” As internally produced opioids, endorphins help form the exercise habit and keep the movers coming back for more.

Those are some of the physical explanations for the emotional benefits of exercise.

It is even deeper than that for me, tough. I feel a strong spiritual connection to the Universe, both that which is tangible in nature and that which is intangible.

This connection goes beyond recognizing the natural beauty around me, as I ride on quiet, rural roads. I do recognize it, and it plays a part in my well-being. I also feel more open, though, to receiving guidance and wisdom from the Universe, and I have found that I can beckon the Universal guidance through a process that I have refined, but that may continue to evolve.

It used to be that ideas and solutions would simply come to me on the bike, fairly infrequently, but powerfully, when they did. As I have nurtured increased mindfulness in my life and have felt an acceleration in personal growth since doing so, I have sought the guidance of the road more consciously. By opening myself to the gifts of the Universe, I have found myself more often the beneficiary of this guidance. While I don’t claim to understand fully (or even at all) its Source, I do have a renewed belief in its existence. And, the bike is where it very often finds me. Or, I find it. I am not sure which it is. I just know that the bike is where I remember (or am reminded) who I am.

Importantly, although it is the bike for me, it might be a run or a walk (I have glimpsed it on both.) for you. Or, if you are an extrovert (I am not.), maybe it is in a group dance or exercise class. Maybe it is in a game. Wichita State University basketball player Ricky Torres was recently quoted as saying, “If there was ever a lot going on in my life, I’d go get in the gym. When I’m on the court, I feel nothing else.” (The Sunflower, Issue 21, Volume 123, November 5, 2018) I believe he is referring to the same phenomenon I encounter on the bike.

So, the first step is finding the physical activity that reminds you who you are by helping you shed the layers of stress and heaviness and worries that daily life can pile upon you. This may take some experimenting, or, if you are lucky, you already know what it is. Maybe it is not just one form of movement, but there is likely one that stands out more than others as most consistently eliciting positive physiological and psychological responses. Commit to incorporating it into your life on a regular basis.

Here is my current practice for prompting the benefit in my life:

  1. I choose a quote from my vast collection. I do it randomly, but move on to another if the one on which I land does not speak to me in the moment. I want a quote that evokes thought and invites pondering and/or serves as affirmation. I may paraphrase it to make it easier to recall or more personal. I commit it to my short-term memory for easy retrieval.
  2. Before I get on the bike, I take three “4-2-6” breaths. This means that I inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 2 and exhale for a count of 6. While there are many beneficial breathing patterns that can be used, and that I use personally, I can’t remember where I first heard this one suggested as a pattern to use when you want to be “on.” (I also use this one before presentations or other times where my performance is important.) In general, controlled breathing patterns stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the relaxation response. I have not been able to find documentation about why 4-2-6 works to increase focus and is beneficial before performance. I think it may be as much the act of the ritual as anything, but it is effective for me, so I do it.
  3. I think of my quote as I center my mind.
  4. I have found the addition of an evocative question to be particularly effective at inducing great thinking and inviting inspiration on the bike. On my most recent emotionally and spiritually powerful ride, I used four questions that Rich Litvin asked some of his coaching clients: 1. What are your three biggest gifts? 2. What are your top three professional successes? 3. What holds you back the most—and always has? 4. What is the dark side of each of your gifts? Wow! What I learned about myself by asking these questions was incredible and led me to some clear conclusions about where my energy and priorities should be focused. More often, it is just one question, frequently inspired by the quote I choose as my mantra.
  5. I set an intention for my ride. This usually includes the all-important “staying safe,” but my most introspective, insightful and impactful rides are the ones where I set an intention to have questions answered, problems solved, to be open to the best the Universe has to offer or to find peace around a concern. The more specific I am, the better.
  6. Then, I ride. I usually settle into the ride for a few minutes and get out of town before recalling my mantra. I will often visualize around the mantra and may even recite it out loud.
  7. I reiterate my intention and my openness to receive.
  8. I ask myself the question or questions and ponder them.
  9. My mind opens, and I pay attention to the wisdom and guidance that comes my way. When this happens, I find myself feeling lighter, happier, more excited and stronger on the bike. I often notice that I am smiling. I may want the ride to go on and on.
  10. Eventually, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, I must return home. I have recently become more consistent about reflecting as quickly as I can—maybe just after my shower—on what I have learned on the bike. This is best done in my journal, or, occasionally, in a document on my laptop. Much like waking from a dream, I find that I am more likely to be able to remember and use the insight from the ride by capturing it as soon as possible.
  11. I decide where to take action. This is key. Without action, if the insight calls for it, I squander the wisdom the Universe has offered. I have learned to act, if only by taking a tiny first step. It is a way of appreciating what I have been given.

This blog post is one of the actions I am taking after a particularly insightful, if short and cold, ride I had last weekend. I sense that there is much more to come from what I learned on this ride. I am grateful and look forward to creating possibilities, based on my guidance on Saturday’s ride.

The bike is where I remember who I am. It is where I reclaim my power after work and daily life and stressors have eroded my belief in it and loosened my grasp of it. It is where, even more than in my daily meditation, I find myself to be the most open vessel to collect the best wisdom the Universe has to offer. It is a gift to know this about myself, and it is a gift that I want to give you—the awareness of mindful movement as a tool for growing into your Highest Good, Greatest Self and Grandest Life. I have not reached any of those yet, but I know that my bike rides propel me more quickly down the long, winding, head- and crosswind-riddled road of my journey to realizing these things in my own life. I believe the intentional pursuit of them is my responsibility, as well as my gift, even if it is painful and challenging at many junctures, not unlike some bike rides.

“Say ‘meditation’ to someone, and they usually picture someone sitting in a quiet, dark room. But you can just as easily meditate, relaxing yourself and visualizing, while your body is in motion during a Moving Meditation. It’s where the real you pops out. It’s when your true integrity, drive, passion, perseverance, tenacity, grace, and patience start to show and shine.” –Stacey Griffith

“But, I was only in my late 70s when I did that.”

“But I was only in my late 70s when I did that.” When I heard those words, I knew this chance encounter was even more special than I had initially realized.

I wanted to write this post the minute I got off my bike on Sunday, because I was so pumped about meeting Dale, but life has been very full, so it had to wait a couple days.

I look forward to my longer weekend rides all week. Work and family obligations encroached on my time this past weekend, and I anticipated Sunday morning’s ride feeling frustrated that I would not be able to ride as far as I would like. However, I was determined to make the ride a positive experience and celebrate the miles I would get.

Empowered movement combines mindset and movement. Before I get on the bike (or practice yoga, do strength training, go for a walk, etc.), I choose a quote on which to reflect and set an intention for the ride. On this ride I decided that I would reflect on my quote and repeat some mantras and affirmations each time I turned a different direction.

One of the advantages of riding on quiet, rural roads is that I can talk out loud most of the time. Each time I turned a corner, I spoke my quote, some related affirmations and other words that came to my mind. It was all very stream-of-consciousness. I felt more inspired and energized each time I voiced my empowering words.

I was excited by the time I stopped for a bathroom break 23 miles into my ride. As I came out of the bathroom on a rail trail just off the road where I was riding, an older man rode up and propped his bike against a park bench. We greeted each other, and then he said, “I see you all the time on 21st Street. We are usually going opposite directions, and I say to myself, ‘There is the lady on the white Fuji, and she goes WOOSH!’” He introduced himself as Dale, and we shook hands.

We talked about how lucky we are to have great areas to ride and about various organized rides we have done. He said he had seen me riding with my son on the Wicked Wind this year, a ride in May, where it was pouring rain. We commiserated about how cold we got on the Wicked Wind. He told me about riding the Katy Trail and how well-supported that ride was. We were just two cyclists, enthusiastically sharing stories and our mutual love for cycling.

I asked Dale if he had ever done Biking Across Kansas, which I ride every year. This is when the conversation took an amazing turn.

Dale said, “No, I have never done BAK, but my brother and I rode across Kansas in four days. (BAK is an 8-day ride, often with multiple days in the 70-90-mile range.) But, I was only in my late 70s when I did that. I’ll be 90 in two days.”

Holy smokes!!!!!

Dale told me that he started riding at age 71, when he purchased a $10.00 bike at a garage sale. He said, “I went for a ride and thought, ‘This is fun!’”  He bought many bikes after that, including some very nice ones, but said he had trimmed his bike stable from seven to two, just in the last few weeks.

“Until I was 85, I rode 7,000-7,500 miles a year,” he told me. (I ride 4,000-4,500 miles a year, and that is quite a bit.) “Now, I only ride 3,000-3,500.” Still, not too shabby for a nonagenarian!

“The Lord’s been good to me,” he said. “I don’t take any medicine, and that’s pretty good for my age.”

No kidding!

Then, he said, “I’m kind of a health nut, too. My wife and I have been vegetarian since 1951.” I said, “That’s awesome! I’m vegan.” “To be honest,” he said, “we eat vegan all the time, except when a relative is trying to be nice and makes us mac & cheese because they know we don’t eat meat. When that happens, we’ll eat it. But, otherwise, we eat vegan.”

We talked for several more minutes, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. Despite our age difference, we clearly understood each other.

Finally, we parted ways because we were heading different directions. I was excited and energized as I got back on my bike, really uplifted by our conversation.

Then, it hit me. Dale was a gift from the Universe, helping to affirm that I am doing the right work with my coaching practice, including my free Facebook group. My mission is to teach the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world. Some of the key pillars of what I teach (and practice in my own life) are mindfulness, plant-based nourishment and empowered movement. Dale is the embodiment of living and aging with power and purpose.

And, seriously, what are the odds of running into a nearly-90-year-old, nearly-vegan cyclist on this particular ride, where I was putting so much energy into manifesting the conditions I want to create in my life . .  . in KANSAS?! He had apparently noticed me for years, but we had never talked until that day.

One of my mantras on that ride and since was, “I am grateful that I am attracting exactly the right people, at exactly the right time, for exactly the right reasons.”

As I pedaled north, I knew, really knew, that Dale was one of my people—a true gift from the Universe to encourage me to continue working toward my goals.

I am grateful for Dale and look forward to seeing him again. Meeting him was amazing! My only regret is that I didn’t think to ask him if we could take a selfie together. I have a great, warm picture of him in my mind, though. What a gift!

Closing the Gap

In a previous post, I mentioned that I took The True Vitality Test, on The Blue Zones website and was jolted by my results.

The test indicated that, based on my responses in December 2017, my predicted life expectancy is 88.9 years, and my predicted healthy life expectancy is 78.1 years. The third number, 97.5, is my potential life expectancy. As I get older, witnessing the aging of family members and friends, I have become acutely aware that I am only interested in extending my longevity if I can be as healthy as possible for those additional years. Upon seeing my results, my personal mission immediately became closing the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy. I believe that I have a responsibility to optimize the gifts I have been given, so that I can add value while I am on this earth. To do that, I must take the best care of my body that I can.

While my lifestyle already included many of the features that contribute to a long life of health and purpose, I knew there were refinements that I could make to close the gap. I am committed to continually monitoring my habits to ensure that I am doing the best I can to stay consistent and that I am getting back on course when life throws challenges my way.

The mission of my coaching practice is to teach the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world. Essentially, I want to help other people close their gaps, too.

Toward this end, I will offer an opportunity within the next several weeks designed to guide people on their journey toward living and aging with power and purpose. The key components of it are the pillars of my coaching practice and my own way of life.

Mindfulness consists of a range of techniques for being present, managing stress, sleeping well and focusing energy in a healthy, proactive way.

All the healthiest, longest-lived cultures in the world emphasize plant-based nourishment, which is one of the foundations of both my life and my coaching practice.

Empowered movement combines physical activity and mindfulness to maximize the benefits of both.

Because social connection is a vital part of living a long, healthy life, the opportunity that I will reveal allows participants to share the journey with others who are working to close their gaps.

I am aware that it is impossible to control every variable involved in our length and quality of life; however, our daily choices do make a difference. It is within our power to cultivate habits that enhance our chances for living long, healthy lives. Personally, I believe that I have a responsibility to foster those habits and position myself as well as possible to add value in the world. This is my way of paying my debt of gratitude for the gifts I have been given.

Stay tuned for more information on the upcoming opportunity Close the Gap opportunity.

February Funk

I promised myself to publish at least two blog posts per month in 2018. It is late February, and I am just writing my first for the month. It is not the post I planned to write. Hopefully, I’ll still get that done in the last few days of the month.

For now, I just need to acknowledge that February has been an “off” month and move forward.

There is no major reason for my February Funk. Through introspection, I have come to recognize some contributing factors.

One of my problems has been vertigo attacks and the residual symptoms. All in all, I am very grateful for my great health, but I have dealt with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo occasionally, since January 2017. I wrote about my first attack here. After months of feeling fine, I had a severe attack, with extreme nausea, on December 10, 2017. That one really knocked me down. My most recent attack was January 23, 2018. It came on after a prolonged period lying flat at a periodontist appointment. I treated it with the Epley Maneuver, which a vestibular therapist taught me to perform on myself, so that I don’t have to see a doctor every time I have an attack. I am grateful for that, but I have not felt “normal” since my last two attacks in January. I feel a sense of disequilibrium in variety of positions, and, frustratingly, I have felt a bit limited. I am very grateful that, unless I am in an active attack, my cycling is largely unaffected. I have had to modify resistance training, yoga and other exercise, though, and I don’t like that. I am afraid to sleep in any position, except on my back, propped up on two thick pillows. The sensation that it would not take much to send me into another attack has left me feeling vulnerable in a way that is uncomfortable.

Combined with the vertigo, winter weather has added to my funk. I am a summer girl, so Kansas winters are always tough on me. Winter driving is a particular fear of mine. While I know that this winter could have been (and still may be) much worse than it has been, but I have had a few very stressful driving experiences this season. The worst one occurred unexpectedly earlier this month, when I was driving back from Manhattan, Kansas, after a Biking Across Kansas volunteer staff meeting. While I knew northern Kansas had a winter weather advisory starting at 6 p.m., south central Kansas was not under any kind of advisory. I left Manhattan by 5 p.m. and drove south. The first half of my drive was fine, but I suddenly realized, while driving 75 mph on the interstate, that freezing precipitation had started. My heart started was pounding. I reduced my speed and took deep breaths to calm myself. My biggest problem was that my defroster was not keeping up with the precipitation in the subzero wind chill. No matter what I tried, the portion of the windshield through which I could see grew narrower and narrower. My anxiety became overwhelming on the dark, icy interstate. I desperately needed to exit, but could barely see to do it. I turned on my emergency flashers and slowed even more, barely able to see at all. Finally, I made it to an exit with a truck stop. Shaking because of my greatly reduced vision, I managed to make my way onto the street and then make a left turn into the truck stop. I could not really see where I was going and ended up among the diesel pumps and semi-trailers. Somehow, I weaved my way to an access road and then into a McDonald’s parking lot. I got out, scraped my windows and sat for several minutes, with the defroster on full blast and the windshield wipers running. Eventually, I found the courage to head the remaining 22 miles home on county roads. I was grateful to make it home safely, but the experience was terrifying and left me feeling completely spent, even the next day.

I fully realize that these are small problems, in the big scheme of all that people face in this world. Still the disequilibrium of my lingering vertigo symptoms, my fear of setting off another attack of vertigo and the adrenaline crash after my frightening drive have left me feeling drained and off and ineffective this month. I have felt an unsettling lack of clarity around goals for my coaching practice and other areas of life, and I have felt a heavy inertia settle in and weigh me down.

In my coaching practice, I work with people who choose to live and age with power and purpose regardless of life’s challenges, so I must make the conscious decision to get back on track and do the same. The JustWind philosophy teaches that we can face the Kansas-strength winds of life and still look around and appreciate what we have and choose to keep taking brave steps forward. I talk to my coaching clients about viewing their mistakes, shortfalls and steps backward with curiosity, not judgment. I have to remind myself to do the same. I realize that sometimes we need to take a step back to look around and make sure we are headed the right way. Maybe that is part of what is happening for me.

I just can’t stay here. I need to keep moving forward and making progress and evolving and growing. As part of that process, I am in day three of a reset cleanse. This is not a fast. That works for some people, but it is not for me. I don’t function well at all without food. I am just taking extra care for the next two weeks to emphasize whole foods even more diligently than I usually do. During this period of feeling off, my chocolate cravings have returned. This reset cleanse will help me eliminate those. It will also allow me to lose the sense of heaviness that I have been feeling. Some sunshine (which we have for the first time in a week!) and warm weather would certainly help that, but those things are out of my control, so I will control what I can and eat very cleanly, while incorporating empowered movement and engaged mindfulness.

I will treat myself with compassion, acknowledge the impact of the vertigo and the terrifying drive, and view my feelings of the last several weeks with curiosity and openness, learning from them and carrying those lessons forward, as I resume my journey.

Intention

Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines “intention” as “a determination to act in a certain way” and “what one intends to do or bring about,” among other usages.

Bringing intention to just about anything can enhance both the experience in the moment and the effectiveness and level of satisfaction induced by the activity. Several synchronistic encounters have generated a resurgence of interest in practicing intention in my everyday life. Here are a few of the ways I am doing that.

Sleeping: Right before I go to sleep, as part of my nightly journaling practice, I set an intention to answer a question or solve a problem. I write it in my journal and ask my inner guidance to help me find the answer or solution. This sometimes leads to vivid dreams that steer me to a resolution. Other times, I awake with greater clarity or peace around the issue. Either way, I find that it is crucial to take a moment immediately upon awakening to record and process the guidance in my journal. Doing so contributes to deeper understanding and an increased chance of remembering and implementing what I learned in my sleep.

Eating: Adding intention around eating can be life changing. For me, intentional eating manifests in many ways. First and foremost, I eat plants, not sentient beings. My primary intention behind doing so is to add to the compassion, as opposed to the suffering, that exists in the world. A bonus is that the most compassionate way of eating is also most life-enhancing for my own body. By eating whole plant foods, I am intentionally doing what is best for raising the level of compassion in the world and for optimizing my own wellness. Beyond this most critical intention, I have committed to checking in with my emotions before I eat, to consciously and thoroughly chewing my food and to putting my fork down between bites. It is amazing how this can transform eating from a function to a practice. It can be challenging to accomplish this in the midst of a hectic day, with lunch squeezed tightly between appointments, but I make every effort to maintain my intentional practices around eating even then. I find that it helps my body to be in a calmer, more peaceful state to accept the nourishment that I give it.

Exercise: Physical activity, in itself, is wonderful for our bodies, minds and spirits. Engaging in regular physical activity has been one of the most transformative habits of my life. I have been a consistent exerciser since I was 23. My focus has shifted from gym to running to cycling over the years. While each has played an important role in who I have become, cycling is an absolute passion. I find the mood-enhancing and spirit-boosting effects of physical activity are elevated when I add another layer of intentionality to my exercise. I am committed to exercise because I know that moving my body in challenging ways makes me far, far happier and healthier than not doing so. I can get even more out of the movement when I meditate on a resonant quote and/or repeat affirmations to myself. On a recent bike ride, the quote that formed the basis for my intentional mediation was this one by Lucius Annaeus Seneca
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

This is a poignant reminder for me as I work toward some challenging goals. I also include on my rides affirmations designed to reprogram long-held beliefs that are not serving me. I find the combination of powerful physical activity that I love (cycling for me, but it might be something else for you) with positive self-talk and deep pondering of a worthwhile idea to be a particularly potent strategy for improving my confidence and my sense of well-being.

I recently read the excellent book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, by neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki. She explained how a workout called IntenSATI changed her life. The creator of IntenSATI, Patricia Moreno, combined a fusion (dance, martial arts, yoga and interval training) workout with powerful affirmations. Suzuki found that the intention this brought to her exercise changed the way she thought about herself, her body and what is possible in her life. She noticed that her creativity was enhanced, and she was more willing to take reasonable risks in her work and social life. I related strongly to what she said. My experiences on the bike, particularly combined with positive messaging to myself, permeate every aspect of my life and bring me renewal on a regular basis.

I am not necessarily successful at bringing intention to everything I do, but the areas where I do are more rewarding and help me to grow. In our highly distracted world today, the more intention we can introduce into our daily lives, the better. I believe that I have a responsibility to live my life with as much focus and purpose as possible so that I don’t miss the moments that comprise the whole of my existence.

Beans in My Smoothie and Other Life-Saving Habits

Beans_in_My_Smoothie“How can I add beans to this?” Dr. Michael Greger asks himself at every meal. This is just one of several simple tweaks I have adopted since reading his new book, How Not to Die.

I cannot overstate the value of this book and its companion app, Daily Dozen. Information about both is available at www.nutritionfacts.org. I absolutely loved the book and, although it was long, I was sad to see it end. This is a book that will stay with me for the long haul, however, because I have incorporated the lessons into my daily life.

I have eaten a generally healthful diet for a long time, but HNTD gave me so many good ideas for easy, evidence-based tweaks. Since January 1, 2016, I have further optimized my nutrition with the very handy, free Daily Dozen app, available through Google Play Store and the App Store.

Dr. Greger has dedicated his career to promoting health and wellness through nutrition. He introduces the book with the inspirational story of his grandma who was sent home in a wheelchair to die of heart disease when he was a child. She saw a 60 Minutes segment featuring Nathan Pritkin’s then-new lifestyle medicine center and traveled across the country to give herself one last chance by checking into it. After adopting Pritkin’s plant-based diet and beginning to exercise, she left death’s doorstep at age 65 to live a rich, full life, until she died at 96. Dr. Greger was so moved by his grandma’s amazing recovery that he vowed to become a physician and help people transform their own lives through the way they lived them.

This wonderful book is the most well-researched, comprehensive nutrition and lifestyle book I have ever read . . . and I have read quite a few.

Part One is a fascinating, detailed presentation of solid scientific evidence for using nutrition and lifestyle to prevent, fight and even reverse 15 leading causes of death: heart disease, lung disease, brain disease, digestive cancers, infection, diabetes, hypertension, liver disease, blood cancer, kidney disease, breast cancer, suicidal depression, prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease and iatrogenic (caused by medical care) causes. Chapter by chapter, Dr. Greger highlights scientific studies in each of these areas and presents evidence illuminating the most health-promoting foods, as well as the riskiest ones, for each health condition.

Then, in Part 2, Dr. Greger introduces his Daily Dozen, from which the app was born, and explains chapter by chapter why he strives to include each component in his day. I love this app and am using it every day. I truly believe that the adjustments I have made to achieve the Daily Dozen goals have taken my largely whole-food, completely vegan, diet to a new level of wholesomeness and quality. I am not perfect, but I do my best to set myself up to achieve each Daily Dozen objective.

The components of his Daily Dozen are these:

Beans: Dr. Greger makes a compelling case for consuming three daily servings of beans (including tempeh or tofu, which are soy foods). Toward this end, I have adopted the practice of adding some variety of bean to my morning smoothie. I put so many good things in there anyway, and beans add a wonderful creaminess. I also have simplified the lunches I pack for work: a variety of bean, a large serving of greens (heated together at work) and guacamole. It may sound boring, but it is wonderful . . . and simple.

Berries: A daily serving of berries is easy and delicious to include in a smoothie or as a snack. They are so full of antioxidants and fiber that they are widely recognized as a “super food.”

Other Fruits: Dr. Greger cites studies indicating that increased fruit consumption is correlated with better weight management. This is just one of many reasons he recommends three additional fruit servings per day.

Cruciferous Vegetables: Sulforaphane is the component in cruciferous vegetables that earns them a separate category in the Daily Dozen. Dr. Greger presents persuasive evidence that sulforaphane is a cancer-fighter.  It has been shown to have potential benefits for vision, nasal allergies, type 2 diabetes and autism. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bok choy and Brussels sprouts are just some of the tasty routes to accomplishing the daily cruciferous vegetable serving goal.

Greens: I have added greens to my smoothies for years, and Dr. Greger presents many strong reasons to incorporate at least two servings of raw or cooked greens into our diets each day, on top of whatever cruciferous vegetable we are eating. I firmly believe, and Dr. Greger presents corroborating evidence, that these are some of the most healthful foods we can eat.

Other Vegetables: Besides a serving of cruciferous vegetables and two servings of greens, eating two more vegetable servings each day will add a variety of other valuable nutrients to our dietary profile. Most of us have heard the recommendation to “eat a rainbow.” Dr. Greger explains that richness of color matters not just in greens, but in other fruits and vegetables, too. For instance, red onions have more phytonutrients than white onions, and sweet potatoes are more nutritious than white potatoes.

Flaxseeds: Omega-3 fatty acids and lignans have been shown to be protective against cancer and to promote heart and brain health. Dr. Greger recommends a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds per day. I already made sure to include an Omega-3 source in my daily smoothie—flax, chia, hemp or walnuts—and now I include flax and possibly one of the others, but always flax, at minimum.

Nuts and Seeds: Sure, nuts and seeds have a high fat content, but it is health-promoting monounsaturated fat. Because these foods are satiating, one serving a day can nourish us with healthful fat and protein, while lessening the chance of overeating less healthful foods.

Herbs and Spices: Specifically, Dr. Greger recommends ¼ teaspoon daily of turmeric because of its documented ameliorative benefits for a host of conditions ranging from pulmonary disease to rheumatoid arthritis. This is easy to incorporate into my daily smoothie, if I am not going to be eating other foods that lend themselves to turmeric flavoring. Dr. Greger encourages the liberal use of most herbs and spices to add a range of phytonutrients, while minimizing the need for salt.

Whole Grains: Dr. Greger promotes the consumption of three servings daily of whole grains because of evidence that they are associated with reduced risk for stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There are so many from which to choose, and Dr. Greger recommends eating a variety of different grains.

Beverages: Water is high on Dr. Greger’s list, but he also presents evidence for drinking green, white, black and herbal teas. Green tea has particularly healing benefits. Dr. Greger acknowledges that hydration needs are quite individual and even vary within a given person, depending on weather and exercise conditions. However, he recommends five servings as a minimum each day.

Exercise: Although not a food, exercise is part of Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen because of its well-documented benefits for physical and mental health. Rather than sell the public short with his recommendation, he prefers to provide evidence for a relatively high dose of exercise daily. Especially during the cold, dark off-season from cycling, it is difficult for me to meet Dr. Greger’s exercise recommendations every day, but I give it my best effort, within the confines of real life. I remember the mantra from my graduate Exercise Science program, “Any exercise is better than no exercise, and, to a point, more is better than less.” I have lived this for a long time. Even if I can’t go for a bike ride every day, I exercise daily, and I love (often to my son’s frustration) to build in opportunities for exercise, like parking as far as possible from a store, taking the long way to or from the bathroom at work or walking, instead of driving, to a basketball game here in my small town. It all adds up.

Besides his Daily Dozen, Dr. Greger promotes eating according to a “traffic light” system. Foods that get the green light—unprocessed plant foods—should be emphasized. Yellow-light foods are processed plant foods and unprocessed animal products. These foods should be minimized. Processed animal products and ultra-processed plant foods comprise the red-light category. These should be avoided completely.

Dr. Greger defines “unprocessed” as “nothing bad added, nothing good taken away.” Ultra-processed plant foods have no redeeming nutritional value.

His simple model is an easy way to make choices on a daily basis. He sees room for yellow-light foods to the extent that they promote consumption of more green-light foods. His example is his fondness for hot sauce that contains added salt. He eats more greens because he likes them with this hot sauce, so it has a place in his diet. While I have long emphasized unprocessed plant foods, I have taken that to a higher level after reading HNTD. For example, I am using dates in place of agave nectar or maple syrup when my smoothies need a sweetener. Dates are whole and unprocessed, while agave nectar and maple syrup are processed. Vegan yogurt (Daiya cherry!) is a treat for me. I eat more whole-grains and berries, as well as nuts and cacao nibs, when I eat it, so I have continued to eat it as an occasional treat, although it is a yellow-light food, since it is processed. The bulk of my daily food is unprocessed plant-based goodness, though, and this feels wonderful.

Dr. Greger states that he is not promoting a vegan diet, so much as he is promoting an “evidence-based” diet. It just so happens that the diet that promotes health and minimizes sickness is also one that increases compassion in our world. He entered the plant-based world because of its demonstrated health benefits, but he has become a strong supporter of the ethics behind veganism over the years.

I respected Dr. Greger’s work before reading HNTD, but I am a true fan now—so much so that I plan to become a regular donor to his foundation because it aligns with all of my most important core values: compassion, excellence, integrity and fitness.

I will end this post with the quote that Dr. Greger used to conclude his book. Dr. Kim Williams, upon assuming the post of president of the American College of Cardiology in 2015, explained his rationale for eating a completely plant-based diet this way, “I don’t mind dying. I just don’t want it to be my fault.” I love that. We all have so much power to maximize our chances for a long, healthy life. Yet, so many of us abdicate our responsibility for our own well-being, relinquishing this power to genetics or chance or fate. Yes, things happen. Yes, we will all die of something. Yes, sometimes people who lead apparently very healthful lives die prematurely of cancer or heart disease or stroke. These things are all true, but it is also true that many more deaths and so much suffering could be prevented if we all took the steps Dr. Greger recommends in How Not to Die. His book is a tremendous gift in an immensely readable and highly accessible package. Please read it, adopt this lifestyle and save yourself, the animals and the planet in the process.