Dwayne Clark

A HAPPY HEART IS A GOOD MEDICINE…AND CAN ADD YEARS TO YOUR LIFE

Whether you’re someone who has many, many friends, or is someone with just a few super close friends, relationships are vital to our emotional well-being. No doubt!

I sometimes wonder, though, if friendship should be called “healthship.” Social connec­tions not only give us pleasure, but also affect physical health. Many studies have demonstrated the health benefits of social connections—from a spouse/partner and extended family, to best friends and loose-but-friendly ties. Feeling connected to other people can give you a sense of purpose and meaning as well as confidence that you can face challenges, learn new things, and be resilient. Having a strong social network lowers your risk of dementia, too. 

One of the bright sparks of positivity at one of our Aegis Living assisted living centers is a remarkable African-American woman whose life mirrors the wrenching challenges of succeeding in segregated America. As a centenarian, her attitude is probably her greatest gift to herself and the wide circle of friends that have surrounded her for decades. 

Throughout her life, she had a vibrant community of friends. Apparently, her phone never stopped ringing and she constantly had vis­itors and all kinds of committees and projects she was involved in. 

When she thinks about what has been most important to her long life, she says:

I try very hard to be nice to people. I feel that down the road they too will be nice to everybody. I do things for someone, not because I want anything, but because I want the person to do the same thing— or more—for somebody else. The golden rule is one of the things I believe in. I feel it’s paid off. Not everyone has done for me what I’ve done for them, but I feel like I’ve got it from somewhere.

Make New Friends and Rediscover the Ageless You 

In the many interviews and conversations I’ve had with people over 80, one of the pieces of advice that has rung most true to me has been this: You have to have friends who are more than 20 years younger than you. 

When I asked why, the person said, “Most of our friends who would be our age have died. If we were to do this all over again, by the time we hit 50 or 60, we’d start making friends with people who were 30 or 40. Plus younger people keep you on your toes. You can’t live in the past. They make you think about the present and the future.” 

The octogenarians tell me, “Younger friends get us excited about things we wouldn’t normally get excited about. They stretch us physically, expecting us to keep up with them. They stretch our creativity and get us involved with things we wouldn’t normally do.” 

If you don’t know younger people, think about your friends’ children and your kids and their friends. One woman I know had a long habit of getting together with her girlfriends in her 50s, and one day she realized that some of the daughters and sons had interesting contributions to the conversations. Instead of just catching up with old friends, she decided to get to know their adult children better.

Great Relationships Infuse Your Life with Happiness 

Ultimately, I believe happiness is what many people want along with longevity; and happiness has been proven to be life extending. 

Research is proving what we’ve known from experience and observation about the value of a positive outlook and finding reasons to be happy even when faced with challenges. For example: 

  • People who perceive aging as a positive experience are more likely to prac­tice healthy behaviors. 
  • People who think they’re in poor health may die sooner than those who con­sider themselves healthy (regardless of their actual health status). 
  • Optimism, hope, life satisfaction, and happiness are associated with lowered likelihood of heart disease and stroke. 

Furthering this idea about health and happiness, researcher, psychologist, and ep­idemiologist Andrew Steptoe, DSc, DPhil, at University College London, led a team that studied 30,000 people over the age of 60 for eight years to learn more about aging, health, and happiness. The study found that those who were least happy were 80% more likely to develop problems with everyday activities like dressing than the happier participants. 

Dr. Steptoe and his team also analyzed the results of the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, which followed 11,000 people over 50. People who reported nega­tive emotions like feeling anxious or worried were twice as likely to die within five years as people who reported feeling contented and excited. Steptoe has pointed out that this holds true regardless of age, economic status, or health status. Being happy despite challenges is health protective.

How to Improve Your Relationships, Happiness, and Mental Health 

To enhance happiness and alleviate stress, depression, and anxiety, consider the following: 

  • Let happiness be a guide. Worry less about perfection and doing everything “right.” If you follow all the “rules” ofhealth but miss out on joy, pleasure, and a sense of purpose, you’ll miss out on the health benefits of happiness. 
  • Purchase experiences, not things. Research has shown that purchasing things like new clothes and electronics won’t make you happier overall. But buying experiences, such as travel or tickets to a play will maximize happiness. Anticipating the event and planning for it can provide even more enjoyment. 
  • Try joining a group and be open to friends from new, different, or unlikely sources. Read the flyers at the health food store and the library to find out what’s happening in your community. Is there a gardening club or a bridge game advertised? A lecture where you might meet people interested in the same topic you want to learn more about? Take a class at a community center, church, or local college or university. You might want to think about lecturing, teaching, or leading a workshop if you have expertise you would like to share. Or volunteer to work for a cause. 
  • Fake it till you feel it. Research has shown that when you’re feeling down, the mere act of smiling can cheer you up. Laughter can also slow your heart rate and reduce stress. Rent a funny movie or read a humorous book to improve your mood. 
  • Join a laughter club. Laughter is a tonic for health. Studies have shown that laughter can reduce stress, improve immune function, and even relieve pain. A number of laughter clubs have developed, where people gather to laugh and do breathing exercises. Find one at laughteryoga.org. 
  • Practice meditation. Meditation reduces stress, improves your mood, de­creases your heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, and increases your production of serotonin and HDL numbers. Meditation can help you sleep better and maintain a better mood, reducing anxiety and depression. It also can help you be more focused and creative. Considering all it can do for our brains, minds, and bodies, we should all be looking at ways to meditate more. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a conscious attempt to pay attention to the present moment in a particular way and in a nonjudgmental state. There’s increasing scientific evidence that mindfulness can reduce stress, boost the immune response, improve sleep quality, and lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. 
  • You can sit to do mindfulness meditation or do mindful listening, eating, or walking. Search the Internet for instructions on how to practice mindfulness. You don’t have to shut down all your thoughts and never let yourself get distracted. You just have to practice refocusing your attention on whatever you choose—your breath, or the feel of your feet on the ground as you walk very slowly.
To learn more about taking charge of your health, order your copy of my latest bestseller, 30 Summers More fromAmazon today.

Try yoga. Practitioners of yoga, the ancient Indian health care practice, use breathing exercises, posture, stretching, and meditation to balance the body’s energy centers. Yoga can reduce stress and anxiety and improve physi­cal fitness, balance, and overall functioning. Yoga should be seen as a gently flowing form of movement you can practice anywhere that will build strength, flexibility, and 

Become a healthy habits master. Getting enough sleep and physical activityeating right, understanding your body, and being proactive about getting the care you need can all help alleviate stress and build your resilience. 

Get specific help from a doctor or counselor if you’re struggling with stress and moods. There are treatments and medications that can alleviate depres­sion and anxiety. If you’re having a rough time managing your symptoms, talk to your doctor. Cognitive behavioral therapy is highly effective for the treatment of anxiety. It’s shown to help people examine how their thoughts promote or worsen anxiety and how they can change them.

Join or start an exercise club. Group activities will not only provide social support, but also promote healthy habits! For example, join a weight loss or walking club, or find a friend to walk with on a regular basis. Swimming or biking with others can get you out into the community and even into nature, depending on the climate you live in. 

Cultivating strong relationships is important for us all. I intentionally bring people into my circle of friends who I believe are kindred spirits, and I’ve also taken steps to release toxic relationships that drained me. Deep relationships with people other than your spouse/partner are shown to el­evate a person’s well-being because people with deep relationships are much more satisfied and happier than those who are lonely.

Next time, Wellness Warriors, I want to share with you one more thing that is a critical part of my healthy habits…namely, knowing my purpose—having a reason to get up in the morning. Your purpose can bring health-giving energy to your life as well. 

Until then, Live Well, Live Long!

~Dwayne

HOW’D YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT? 9 STEPS FOR BETTER SLEEP

So, you go to bed at a decent time, but you wake up groggy. Or maybe you’re a night owl and just can’t seem to go to sleep before midnight. Or maybe you’re not sleeping all the way through the night. Does this sound like you? As you may have read in my last blog, I think sleeping well is the most important health habit to develop.  

But how? What’s keeping you from getting the healthful night of sleep that your brain and body need? Here are 9 tips that I have incorporated into my health habits to get better sleep.

1. Put out the fire in your brain and go to bed with your mind clear. 

The first huge lesson I needed to learn was that I had to let my brain have downtime. 

Think about what thoughts you put in your head before you go to sleep. A work (or imagined) crisis that someone e-mails you about at 11 pm that will get your mind churning? A tension-raising text message that adds drama to a family issue? A stimulating action movie or a crime show or a disturbing news report? You fire your brain up by putting these kinds of thoughts in it right before you go to bed. 

When I started to unplug from all devices two hours before I went to bed and switched from watching TV to listening to music or reading a book before turning in, my sleep experience immedi­ately changed. 

The goal is to lower the intensity of your brain activity. If you go to bed with your mind clear, you have a much better chance of getting healthy, restorative, deep sleep. 

2. Shut off TV and electronics—the “blue lights”—one to two hours before bedtime. 

We’ve all heard this: bedrooms are for sleep and sex, not for TV and electronics. Studies are showing that lights from these de­vices can fool the brain into thinking it should be awake. Screens emit blue light, and the blue light spectrum suppresses melatonin, a natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. You need melatonin to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm (your internal clock that tells you when it’s time to fall sleep or wake up). A healthy, regular circadian cycle allows the body to turn off and get a good night’s sleep. 

To turn our minds and bodies off at night, we need to reduce or eliminate blue light before bed. The best thing is to turn all your electronic lights off one or two hours before bedtime and leave cell phones, tablets, and computers outside the bedroom. Second best is to try things like dimming your devices’ screens, or using orange-lens glasses and screens, and putting soft white bulbs in your lamps. There are also new software applications like “f.lux” for computers and “Twi­light” for mobile phones, which uses a red filter that protects eyes from blue light and allows melatonin levels to rise. 

3. No alcohol four hours before going to sleep. 

While alcohol in sufficient quantities will put you to sleep, it can prevent deep sleep and inhibit REM sleep. Alcohol may also cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, when it has metabolized and wears off. While studies have shown that one glass of red wine in the evening may help you sleep, three glasses will interrupt it. 

4. Cut evening caffeine. 

This may seem obvious because caffeine keeps you awake, but I’m not just talking about the big latte eight hours before you go to sleep. Eating choco­late at 9 pm is just as bad and may also keep you up because it contains caffeine. Other sources besides coffee and chocolate include nonherbal teas, some soft drinks, and some pain relievers. 

Don’t trust your perceptions. You might think you’re one of those people who isn’t bothered by caffeine and you’re able to get to sleep and stay asleep no matter what. Sleep lab monitoring is telling us that just isn’t so. Caffeine consumed a full six hours before bedtime is shown to have significant, detrimental effects on sleep. Why risk having caffeine interfere with that deep sleep you need, even if it doesn’t actually make you wake up or toss and turn? 

5. No foods, especially sugary foods and drinks, in the two to three hours before bed. 

If you take a big drink of orange juice at 9:30 pm, that’s going to set you abuzz because your body will race into action to handle all that sugar. Eating any food late in the evening is very likely to throw off your metabolism, so close up the kitchen well before bedtime. 

6. No strenuous exercise. 

If you’re the person who says, “Yeah, I like to go to the gym or spin class about 9 pm and then be in bed by 10:30 or 11,” sorry, but that schedule isn’t a good idea. Though your workout in the evening may not be intense enough to counteract the sleep-improving benefits of exercise, if you have any sleep problems or a history of insomnia, experts recommend you avoid exercise at least a couple of hours before bed. If you like some movement as part of your evening routine, try walking after dinner, doing light chores, or stretching and doing some gentle yoga poses instead, as long as you don’t push your heart rate above 100. 

7. Create a conducive, restful environment. 

Keep your room cool, dark, and comfortable. Our bodies cool down when we sleep and a warm room (above 68 degrees) competes with that natural cooling process. For women, dealing with hot flashes can be a challenge. It’s important to have light sheets, light sleepwear, cooling pillows, and discus­sions with a doctor if hot flashes disturb your sleep. 

While most of the steps for getting a good night’s sleep won’t cost you anything, this one will: to the extent you can afford it, spend enough money on your mattress, sheets, blankets, and pillows to be sure they help you sleep well at night. There’s a reason people say they sleep so well in nice hotels. The rooms are dark, calm, and usually quiet. The mat­tresses and bedding are stellar. Even as you are trying to manage your stress and shut down your brain before bedtime, having a comfortable bed that helps you sleep soundly can be a smart investment in your health.

About your mattress:

  • Make sure it’s not more than 10 years old. 
  • Make sure it’s not too soft or too hard for you to sleep comfort­ably. 
  • Don’t be afraid to return a new mattress that isn’t “just right,” and never buy a mattress you can’t return or exchange. 
  • If you and your partner have different sleep needs, consider a two-person option. There are mat­tresses that allow you to adjust the firmness and even temperature on both sides of the mattress so neither partner has to be uncomfortable. 

With bedding, different fabrics have different cooling and heat-trapping ef­fects. 

  • Aim for 100% cotton, but avoid thread-count gimmicks. Higher counts aren’t necessarily better. 
  • If you’re a woman experiencing hot flashes and night sweats, try moisture-wicking sheets. 
To learn more about taking charge of your health, order your copy of my latest bestseller, 30 Summers More fromAmazon today.

8. Develop shared sleep habits with your partner, or at least avoid disrupting each other’s sleep.

My wife and I have this discussion a lot, because I have really made sleep sacred. You have to be either on the same page with your partner about sleeping and waking times or respect each other’s rhythms. Rhythm is very important. If you married your spouse when you were 30 and now you are 50, your body has gone through changes and you have to adapt to them. 

If you and your partner have habits and schedules that don’t mesh, find ways to honor your partner—read in another room, avoid having lights on (or just use a small yellow-spectrum book light when reading in bed), use sleep masks, and so on. Having a shared ritual and commitment to sleep will be good for your relationship and your well-being, adding much-needed inti­macy, relaxation, and restoration to your life and your partner’s.

9. Track your sleep. 

Every night in bed, I wear a device that monitors my movements to track my sleep. There are ranges of affordable devices that can track your sleep patterns. Some you wear, some you place on the bed, and some you put on your night­stand. 

A good night’s sleep for me is over 7.5 hours with more than two hours of deep sleep and two hours of REM sleep. Many of us go to sleep thinking, “Oh, if I go to bed at 11 and get up at 7, I’ll have gotten eight hours.” Once you start tracking your sleep, you’ll be shocked at how often you wake up throughout the night. Each disruption can interfere with your ability to get enough deep sleep. 

Be aware of the total amount of sleep, the timing of that sleep (are you getting to sleep before 11 pm?), the consistency of your sleep (and thus your circadian rhythm), and the amount of deep sleep you’re actually getting to renew your body. 

Wellness Warriors, I hope these tips have given you a good idea for how to improve your sleep. Pick one or two of these habits to start with and gradually add the others into your healthy habits. The more of these tips you can incorporate into your daily life, the better and more restorative your sleep will be.

Coming next, I’ll be sharing about relationships and how your health and longevity benefit from having deep connections with other people. Could these deep connections protect you from serious illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? Join me next time to find out.

Until then, Live Well, Live Long…

~Dwayne

ARE YOU BEING BRAINWASHED EVERY DAY?

In this day of rush-rush-rush, we tend to neglect the things that are important to living our best, most healthy life. When we’re younger, we tended not to think about how these things would affect our longevity, but eventually it all catches up with you. Recently, we’ve talked about getting the sugars out of our diet and the importance of movement. All very important to aging gracefully and improving our longevity. But in my opinion, sleeping well is the most important health habit to develop. 

For me, in my younger days, no matter how well I was eating or how much I exercised, I was full-on from morning to evening, and I was good about getting a physical workout most days. 

However, when bedtime came, I was so excited about all the things that I was do­ing that after 17.5 hours of go-go-go, I didn’t know how to give my brain a break. I couldn’t turn it off. My brain was so fired up that even when I slept, I didn’t sleep deeply. My brain was taking all my body’s energy, even during sleep. I call this “fire brain”.

I woke up tired, my weight was going up even as I tried to diet, my blood pressure and fasting blood sugar levels were rising—even my cortisol levels were getting higher. My lack of sleep was actually interfering with my body’s essential healing and cleansing processes (though I didn’t know it at the time).

Any of this sound familiar? 

If the purpose of sleep is to knit the cares of the day (a nod to Macbeth) into some­thing you can put away as a memory and to refresh and clear the mind, I was defi­nitely doing something wrong. If I hoped to live a long and happy life, something, maybe everything, had to change. 

Who Needs Sleep? The Matter of Dirty Brains, Stressed Hearts and Bodies, and Emotional Overwhelm

In our 20s and 30s, it was a badge of honor to say we pulled all-nighters or kept go­ing on three or four hours a night. Being overbooked was the ideal for many of us and it was popular to think that sleep was a waste of time. Whatever the health impact of pushing your body’s limits, you could still manage; you had reserves of healthy capacity in your heart, lungs, circulation, and most important, your brain. You had an excess supply of neuron and cell production. You burned off some cells and replenished them faster than you could use them—until you got to a certain age, around 30, when the balance tipped. After that, your body started using more cells than it could replenish. 

All of us were hurting ourselves and per­haps, ever so slightly, shortening our lives, but we didn’t know it. We hadn’t heard experts like James Maas, PhD, formerly of Cornell University, say, “Good sleep is the best predictor of life span and quality of life.” Sleeping well is that important to our health and the actual cellular functioning of our bodies. 

Now comes the time of reckoning. 

Over the years, scientists have made amazing discoveries about what actually happens when we sleep. New techniques that peer into the brain show that sleep is essential for at least three distinct functions: 

  • Cleansing the brain of toxic buildup 
  • Storing memories 
  • Maintaining metabolic balance for neuron and cellular health 

That’s pretty powerful stuff. The results in terms of well-being are real: lack of suffi­cient or deep enough sleep leads to greater risk of brain and memory impairment, heart disease, insulin and hormone imbalances, and the emotional fallout of worry and anxiety when the mind can’t or won’t turn off. 

The Washing Machine Metaphor: A New Understanding of Brain “Washing” 

I tell everyone I meet: your brain needs sleep to detoxify. That’s what the new brain imaging studies are showing us. Our bodies need to cleanse themselves. Our skin naturally sloughs off its top layer. Our digestive system rids our bodies of waste and toxins. The body uses the circulatory system for transporting blood and nutrients to where they need to go and uses the lymphatic system for clearing the body of wastes. However, it was believed for a long time that the brain was the only part of the body that didn’t have its own built-in lymphatic system—just a circulatory one. 

Neuroscientist Jeffrey Iliff, PhD, and his team at the University of Rochester Medical Center, discovered that the brain does have its own washing system, which they call the glymphatic system. It has a unique role in cleansing our brains—at night when we’re asleep! 

Each of our cells functions like a miniature factory, producing chemicals and fuel­ing processes in our bodies. Like factories, and like all the cells in our bodies, our brain cells also produce waste that must be flushed out. 

Dr. Iliff and his team discovered that the human brain has developed an inge­nious system for ridding itself of waste. The clear cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is found between the cells in the brain, carries the waste along the outside of the blood vessels. But Dr. Iliff discovered that when the brains of mice go to sleep, their brain cells shrink and the space between them expands, allowing the fluid to rush through and clear out waste. During the day, the brain puts off this cleansing process. When you go to sleep at night, your brain flushes its dead cells out of your body. If your sleep is interrupted, it can’t wash your dirty brain. 

When you lack sleep, two things are going on—both of them bad. The first is that your body is not allotted the time it needs to produce new cells. The second thing is even worse. You see, the waste in the brain includes amyloid-beta, a protein that is continuously produced in the brain, which can build up and aggregate as plaque in the spaces between the brain’s cells. If you’re not sleeping well, you don’t allow the full wash cycle to take place, so that sticky plaque clumps and clusters—and guess what happens? Though the science is not yet definitive, it likely results in memory loss, Alzhei­mer’s disease, dementia, and other “dirty brain” diseases like Parkinson’s, which are caused by, correlated to, or sped up by the lack of sleep. 

Researchers at Johns Hopkins studied 70 older adults, average age 76, and using brain scans, they found that the participants who said they got the least sleep, less than five hours a night or who did not sleep well, had higher levels of amyloid-beta in the brain than those who slept more than seven hours a night. 

While the researchers couldn’t say whether poor sleep caused the buildup or the buildup caused the poor sleep, or if both effects were true, the study’s lead author, Adam Spira, PhD, explained, “These findings are important, in part because sleep disturbances can be treated in older people. To the degree that poor sleep pro­motes the development of Alzheimer’s disease, treatments for poor sleep or efforts to maintain healthy sleep patterns may help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.” 

So, How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? 

As we age, our sleep needs change. Newborns require 14 to 17 hours of sleep a day, teenagers need 8 to 10 hours and adults generally need 7 to 9 hours. Except for about 2% of the population (odds are, you aren’t in that group), everybody absolutely needs at least seven hours of sleep a night. Sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours is associated with increased health prob­lems and mortality, so if either fits your sleep pattern, you might want to look into whether you are getting too little or too much sleep.

Sleep becomes ever more important as we age. In our late 30s, the deep, memo­ry-strengthening and restorative stages of sleep start to decline. While the common belief that humans need less sleep as they age is a myth, older people do tend to sleep more lightly and for shorter durations. Thus we have to do everything we can to maximize our sleep in order to protect our minds, cell generation, and the peak functioning of our bodies.

Deep Sleep and REM: Timing Is Everything 

Getting enough sleep is only part of the sleep issue. Getting the right kind of sleep is just as important. A full 20% or 25% of the energy our bodies generate supports the activities of our brains. When we get “good” sleep, that energy can be used to support and replenish all the systems in our bodies, including essential cell growth. It’s a big if, however, because so many of us have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, as my fire brain experience showed. 

So what is “good” sleep? 

To learn more about taking charge of your health, order your copy of my latest bestseller, 30 Summers More fromAmazon today.

Sleep patterns are described in terms of eye movement. REM, or rapid eye move­ment, sleep is the stage of sleep that involves dreaming. Non-REM sleep happens in four stages: (1) drifting in and out of light sleep; (2) slowing of brain waves and disengaging from surroundings; (3) extremely slow brain waves (delta waves), interspersed with smaller, faster waves; and (4) almost exclusively delta waves. Stages three and four are what experts consider deep sleep, which is the most restorative, “good” sleep we are aiming for. You can track these stages with a sleep monitor. According to the National Sleep Foundation, you should be getting about 15% to 25% of REM sleep and 12% to 25% of deep sleep each night.

It’s during deep sleep that our blood pressure drops and our breathing slows. The blood supply to muscles increases and tissue growth and repair happens. Hor­mones that regulate growth and appetite get released. The brain takes the stimula­tion, events, learning, and insights of the day, sorts them out and processes them to determine their larger meaning, and transfers them to places in the brain where they are stored long-term.

REM sleep alternates with the four stages of non-REM sleep. During REM sleep, our breathing is rapid and irregular, our eyes jerk rapidly, and our limbs become immobile and relaxed as the brain’s usual signals to the muscles are turned off.

As the night wears on, our sleep cycles shift. Longer periods of deep sleep tend to occur in the early part of the night, before midnight, and longer periods of REM sleep happen toward daybreak. That’s true regardless of when you go to bed. If you generally retire after midnight, even if you sleep eight hours, you may not be getting enough of the deep, restorative sleep you need for peak cognitive function and memory.

Wellness Warriors, in my next blog, I will share with you 10 tips to getting better sleep. You’ll definitely want to catch that one! But tell me, how many hours of sleep do you average every night? Just curious!

Live Well, Live Long,

~Dwayne

DON’T JUST SIT THERE! HERE ARE 9 “STEPS” AND TIPS TO ADD MOVEMENT TO YOUR DAY.

Are you sitting right now? Come on, be honest. In our “age of the device”—my term—moving our bodies isn’t required anymore be­cause everything we need is right at our smartphone fingertips. We have remotes for every device and we even text each other when we’re in different rooms. There are even people who are replacing their lawns with pretty gravel, not so much to save water and help the environment, but to avoid the physical work and upkeep of a yard. 

Set goals and track your daily steps. 

One of the most important things you can do right now is begin to measure your actual activity, starting with tracking how many steps you take from the moment you wake up in the morning. 

If you do nothing during the day but sit on the couch or at a computer and you only get up to go to the bathroom, you may take about 2,500 to 3,000 steps a day. At less than 5,000 steps daily, your body will atrophy. It takes very roughly that many steps a day to maintain weight, health, and fitness.

The American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps a day. The more the better. I try to trick myself into getting the steps I need. I try to get about 5,000 steps before 9 am by taking a long walk with my dog, doing an exercise routine, or doing some other combination of activity. Then my daily routines will get me to 10,000 steps without much conscious effort. If I don’t get that number due to a packed meeting sched­ule or something else, then I make sure I’m the one cooking. I can get 3,000 steps moving around the kitchen and cleaning up and then a few more steps with an after-dinner walk. A CEO friend of mine does it another way. He gets exercise into his busy day by scheduling all his staff calls during the first two hours of the morning, while he’s on his walk. 

The main message is to set goals and measure, and always remember that some is good and more (within your own limits) is better. 

Minimize—and track—sitting time. 

While an anti-sitting movement isn’t yet in place, it’s time to start your own. In addition to tracking your daily steps, spend several days tracking the amount of time you spend sitting—or lounging. Use a timer and record all your inac­tivity. Then try reducing that time by one, two, or three hours a day—it will be the easiest, least expensive health dividend you can invest in. You might want to use an app or notification software to remind you to get up and stretch, change position, or do some other type of movement. 

If you sit at a desk much of the day, invest in one of the many standing or treadmill desks, most of which provide a flat space for laptops and tablets. Your hands and eyes can be busy while the rest of your body is moving. Most users report that far from being distracting, the movement increases their ability to concentrate as blood flows into the brain. Use extreme caution however. Falls on a treadmill can be lethal. 

For phone calls, use a headset, walk around, swing your arms, and get up on your toes while you talk on the phone. Walk to colleague’s offices rather than using the phone or text messages to communicate. If you want to write memos, dictate them into a device while you are stretching, walking, or climbing up and down stairs. If you still watch old-fashioned TV, stand up and stretch when the commer­cials come on or even during the program. Set up an ironing board and do the ironing you never get around 

Movementize your life. 

There are simple things you can do to “movementize” your life. Take the stairs instead of using the elevator. Have a walking meeting with a colleague after lunch and discuss an issue as you stroll around the block or to a local park. Tap your foot when you’re sitting in traffic. Do chores.

Park your car at the far corner of the parking area and walk to your office building. If you often order in lunch, place your order for pickup, skip the tip, and be your own delivery person. If you have an electronic garage door, get out of the car to open the door anyway. That adds steps to your daily count, works your muscles, and contributes to your flexibility. Ride your bike to the nearby corner market when you need to pick up just one or two things. 

Take vacations that include a lot a natural movement—plan for walks, hiking, golf, museum going, or swimming. You’ll reset your sense of what makes for a healthy day, which will carry over into your daily life once you’re back home. 

Get outdoors.

Location, location, location. Although any exercise you do is good exercise, getting your movement outdoors in a natural area has extra benefits that working out inside doesn’t offer. In a study of runners, it was found that the group that ran on a treadmill in a gym expended less energy than the group that ran outdoors and had to adjust for terrain changes and wind pressing against them. Running downhill as you often do outside flexes and engages different muscles than running uphill or on flat ground. 

Biking is another way of getting outdoors for exercise and working with the natural elements of wind and gravity to get extra benefit from your movements. Consider buy­ing an e-bike. It takes the intimidation out of tackling monster hills, rekin­dling the romance of riding a bike outside.

Look for ways to include the four elements of exercise. 

To realize the full health benefits of movement, look for ways to incorporate the four following elements of exercise into your daily and weekly routines, including training for strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance.

  1. Strengthening (resistance) training. Strong muscles mean we can lift objects and easily get up and down from a chair and ascend and descend flights of stairs. Being physically strong also creates an inner sense of confi­dence and capability. Strength, or resistance, training can include training with your own body weight, dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands, or weight machines two to three days a week, ideally using all the major muscle groups of the legs, abdomen, arms, chest, back, and shoulders. 
  2. Endurance (cardio or aerobic) training. Endurance fitness—including walk­ing, jogging, dancing, tennis, and other active sports—means we can do all the things we want to from climbing stairs (and mountains) to protecting our hearts, and much more. The National Institutes of Health guidelines say that we should try to get 75 minutes of intensive aerobic activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, but almost any amount of walking or aerobic exercise will help protect and improve your heart and health. 
  3. Flexibility (stretching) training. Stretching improves flexibility. Current thinking no longer recommends stretching before exercise but rather mid­way or afterward, when the body is already warmed up. Stretching activities that lengthen and stretch muscles can help you prevent injuries, address back pain, improve balance and posture, and basically increase your ability to use your whole body and range of movement. That’s a wonderful feeling. There are many, many exercise videos available online to get you started. Just be careful! Make sure your muscles are already warmed up and don’t push or force. 
  4. Balance training. Balance training is critical to prevent falls, and the Na­tional Institutes of Health says that people 65 and older should do balancing exercises to prevent falls—but why wait? People who sit a lot—at work, at home—can lose some of their sense of balance that they had earlier in life. If you’re noticing any balancing problems, and even if you’re not, you should make sure you’re doing some bal­ance training in midlife. 

Leg lifts (to the side and back and forth), the stork pose (balancing on one foot with arms held out to the side), yoga poses, and other exercises, such as heel-to-toe walking slowly, can help you develop greater balance and stability. 

Find a movement mate … or two or three. 

One of the challenges that we are faced with is staying motivated to exercise. About half the people who join a gym don’t stick with it beyond the first year. It can take a while to find the right companions who can help you get moti­vated to work out with them when you are in the mood to skip it, but hav­ing a walking or exercise class companion can make all the difference. 

One highly-fit 70-year-old I know, a retired philosophy and French professor with a lifelong passion for languages, met a Russian émigré at his local Y and the two of them started a weekly Saturday morning walk. He’d get a Russian les­son on the two-mile walk along the beautiful path they took. On the return they’d switch to a French lesson. 

Just walk. 

To learn more about taking charge of your health, order your copy of my latest bestseller, 30 Summers More fromAmazon today.

Remember, just walking each day has the potential to reduce risk for disease, and it’s something that most people are physically capable of doing with minimal risk for injury. Measure the steps you take daily and then find ways to double it. Just give it a try. 

Safety comes first. 

If you have any chronic health conditions, or have balance problems or any health issues that might limit your ability to exercise, be sure to consult your health care provider before you start an exercise program to find out about the types of activity that might be appropriate for you. Also, remember to drink plenty of water during physical activity. Older adults sometimes don’t feel thirsty even though they need fluids, and exercise will make you need to hydrate yourself.

Short on Time? 

One of my friends swears by “The Scientific 7-Minute Workout,” a form of high-interval intensity training that she read about in the New York Times. It’s a series of 12 exercises, all gentle on the joints, that combines aerobic, balance, strength, and some flexibility movements, each done for 30 sec­onds with short breaks in between. My friend thinks of her seven-minute workout as part of her morning routine, like making the bed, and she’ll add on a short jog or walk on most days. 

The original version and variations of the workout are on YouTube and there’s even an Alexa app. 

The important thing here is to get moving. Find something you enjoy, and better yet, find someone to do it with. Accountability partners are great! Track what you do, start small, and keep adding to what you’re doing. In my next blog, I’ll share insights with you about another thing your body needs…Sleep! 

So tell me, what is keeping you from moving more? What one thing could you start tomorrow? Share it with me below.

Until next time, Live Well, Live Long,

~Dwayne

ARE YOU SITTING YOURSELF TO DEATH?

Hey, Wellness Warriors! In my last two blogs, we talked about what you put in your body, the evils of sugar, and ways to keep your blood sugar in check. Today, I’d like to share about something I’m equally as passionate about: what we are doing—or not doing—with our bodies. Over the last several decades, natural movement in our everyday lives has dwindled significantly. I believe that this decrease in movement is a root cause of many of the health problems we face today. I also know there is a lot we can do about it, and the effort doesn’t have to be hard. Let’s take a look at this…

Sitting Is the New Smoking: The Medical Consequences of Inactivity 

The first time I heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking,” a light bulb went off. “That’s it!” I said to myself. 

After years of studying our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, James Levine, MD, PhD, director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initia­tive, put it this way in his book, Get Up!: “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking …. It kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” 

That is not a metaphor. While smoking rates have decreased, sitting rates are rising. According to current estimates, 5.3 million people die due to causes relat­ed to inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle compared with about 5 million who die from smoking. Studies repeatedly show that the effects of long-term sitting include health risks like weight gain, cholesterol problems, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and greater susceptibility to falls and broken bones. 

I would even go so far as to say that “technology is the new cancer”—the impact is silent and epidemic. It’s changing our lifestyle habits in ways that are pervasive and detrimental. 

The difference between sitting—that is, being sedentary—and movement is criti­cal. We know from many studies of the past decade that bursts of exercise several times a week does not outweigh to the risks of not moving. 

Movement Versus Exercise

We have been taught that without exercise, muscles will atrophy. But, there’s a problem with that bit of wisdom. It is notexercise per se that pre­vents atrophy and lifestyle-based aging. It’s movement. 

Now, let’s say you buy a car and think, “This is a great vehicle. I’m going to keep it in the garage for three years and never start it or move it.” What’s going to happen? The battery is going to die right away. The tires are going to disintegrate. The seals will rot. The metal will rust. The same thing happens to us. If we don’t move, we rust. We start to corrode from inside. 

So what kind of movement do we need? Many of us think we need to work all the machines in the gym or play fast pickup basketball on Fridays or do a step aerobics class a few times a week. Those might meet current guidelines for aerobic activities, but that doesn’t address our need to stop our sedentary patterns. 

I’ve had too many friends keel over and wind up in the hospital because they pushed themselves with their running, biking, or workouts but weren’t taking care of everything else. You can be healthy—even healthier—if you don’t push your heart rate to 150 or 160 beats per minute every time you work out. Just do some interval training to get your heart rate up and back down several times while getting your steps in. 

Researchers who study centenarians (people who live more than 100 years) pret­ty much discover that none of them “work out.” Most of these elders have never seen a gym. They don’t know what a trainer is. They don’t lift weights or run mar­athons.

What these centenarians share is a lifestyle that includes frequent and gentle exercise as part of their daily lives. Their movements are natural—the things the body does without contorting itself or put­ting excessive pressure on any single part, including walking, gardening and farming, climbing stairs and hillsides, and household chores, all of which they routinely do for more than five hours a day every day. 

Circulation: Our Inner Tree of Life 

Shirley Newell, MD, former chief medical officer at Aegis Living, explains why your body always needs to move, especially as it ages. It comes down to good circulation. “If your hands and feet are cold, the solution is to get out and exercise, not to put on gloves or stand in front of the heater. When you stand up suddenly on a hot day and you pass out, it’s because the blood is pooled to your extremities.” 

A young body has a heart that is pumping at full velocity. 

When you get older, it takes more effort to circulate your blood through your vascular tree, which runs throughout every part of your body to the tips of your fingers and toes. Your vascular system just isn’t as smooth, efficient, and powerful as it once was.  

You can think of the body as being like a tree with a sturdy trunk, larger branches, smaller and smaller branches, and a spray of leaves. In the body, oxygen flows from the lungs to the heart (trunk), to the great arterial vessels (large branch­es), into the smaller vessels, arteries, and arterioles (smaller branches), and into the capillaries (leaves). Keeping the circulatory system functioning well and having good flow and exchange down to the microvascular level is essential.

Microcirculation allows blood flow in the smaller arteries, arterioles, and capillar­ies that supply individual cells. This is where real health happens. This is not just for your lungs and extremities. The microvasculature of your brain is crit­ical to preserving brain function and cognition. Many believe that poor circulation and damage to the microcirculation are a central issue in dementia.

Good joint and spinal health rely on movement that provides a fresh blood supply and the removal of toxins. As we age, the cells that make up this system actually begin to break down, but exercise helps to maintain and restore the microvascular circulation. 

It is essential to get blood to flow into your capillaries–your fingertips and toes for example. You can do this through basic movement, yoga, stretching, and massage. I tell my friends there is a functional reason for massage. It isn’t just to feel good. It’s so capillaries don’t die. It gets blood into them so all parts of your body benefit, even your brain. 

Movement and exercise aren’t about bigger muscles or being more beautiful. It’s to enhance the flow through your circulatory tree, your strength and flexibility, and maintain your brain, bones, and moods. 

The Brain: Work the Body, Work the Mind 

As we age, our synapses—the connections between nerve cells (neurons)—break down or are destroyed. The hippocampus, that area of the brain that controls learning and memory formation, also begins to shrink. Chemicals called neu­rotransmitters, which relay signals between neurons, diminish. Beyond any doubt, physical exercise, no matter when you start, can slow down these changes. 

Since the fear of Alzheimer’s disease weighs on all our minds, there is good news on the relationship of exercise to memory and many studies are underway. In fact, many experts are coming to believe that vascular impairment may be more of a factor than Alzheimer’s disease in the surge of dementia related to aging. 

Though it was once thought that brain damage due to strokes was permanent, greater under­standing of brain plasticity is disproving that belief. One researcher, Teresa Liu-Ambrose, PhD, PT, of the University of British Colum­bia, looked at people with vascular-related cognitive impairment—that’s the com­mon form of memory loss caused by problems with blood flow to the brain usually due to stroke or small vessel disease. In her small study, participants who walked outdoors for 40 minutes three times a week over six months showed noticeable improvements on memory tests, compared with a control group that was sedentary.

Walk Your Heart: Pump Your Vital Muscle 

To learn more about taking charge of your health, order your copy of my latest bestseller, 30 Summers More fromAmazon today.

Our minds might worry us the most, but our hearts can take our lives away without warning. For a long time, research on heart health and the role of exercise focused on intense cardio workouts. In the 1990s, researchers began looking at the benefits of smaller amounts of activity. 

According to I-Min Lee, MD, MPH, ScD, of Harvard Medical School, “The research backs up what we all know intuitively: Almost any amount of regular exercise pro­motes longevity. Even small amounts of exercise can make a big difference.” 

One study of 55,000 adults showed that running just 5-10 minutes a day re­duced mortality from all causes by 30% and from cardiovascular disease by 45%— adding up to three years to a person’s life span. 

If you are out of shape and think­ing you don’t have time to exercise, here’s some news that will help you at least start to move more and get your heart pumping. A Taiwanese study looked at people who smoked, drank heavily, or had diabetes, all of which put them at risk for heart disease, and found they had a 14% lower risk for dying if they averaged just 15 minutes of low activity a day. 

I always tell people that while most types of exercise are beneficial, the type that works best is the one that you will actually do!

In my next blog, Wellness Warriors, I will share with you some of my favorite ways to increase your movement that are both easy and fun! In the meantime, I would love to hear some of the fun ways you keep on movin’! Just comment below! 

Until next time, Live Well, Live Long,

~Dwayne

Adopt These 10 Tips to Improve Your Blood Sugar Balance and Anti-Inflammatory Health

You can burn calories, but you can’t burn off bad nutrition. You also can’t wing your diet as you enter mid- and later life. In my last blog, I shared some eye-opening facts about sugar and how, until our blood sugar is in balance, the body will send all of its healing energy to try to balance it. Today, I would like to share some of my favorite tips to improve your blood sugar balance and anti-inflammatory health. (They are keenly connected.)

Adapted from the plan my nutritionist, Julie Starkel, taught me, this very straightforward approach is designed to create a foundation for eating right, longevity, and aging gracefully. It’s simple and has worked better than any other approach I’ve tried. It’s also easy to personalize or modify for your specific health needs. 

1. Make sure you have protein as part of every meal and snack, and make it your first four bites. 

Protein is the most satiating food we eat and it takes the longest to break down during digestion, so it allows our metabolic system to function as it was designed. Our goal should be to satiate ourselves with protein, and slow down and even out our blood sugar roller-coaster ride. Eating protein at every meal and snack helps us avoid rushes of glucose from sweet and starchy carbohydrates. 

Be mindful of these protein guidelines when choosing the type and amount of protein to eat: 

  • How much protein is enough? Very roughly, think in terms of 0.8 to 1.0 gram of protein per kilogram of your body weight (or your “reasonable” goal body weight). In pounds and ounces, that translates into: 

200-pound person = 91 kilograms 
73-91 grams of protein = 11-14 ounces per day 

150-pound person = 68 kilograms 
54-68 grams of protein = 8.5-10 ounces per day 

120-pound person = 54 kilograms 
43-54 grams of protein = 6.5-8.5 ounces per day 

  • One egg generally equals one ounce. Fish, chicken, beef, and other animal proteins all vary slightly, but these estimates should be sufficient. 

You can also get your protein from legumes, quinoa, and tofu—these are common choices for vegetarians. Vegetable-based proteins have slightly lower amounts of protein so you can add an ounce or two more of vegetable-based protein to balance the protein you’re getting each day. 

2. Eat approximately every three hours—and always include protein. 

If you wait too long between meals or snacks, your blood sugar will drop and that can be hard on your system. Low blood sugar has its own chemical that raises its ugly head: cortisol. High levels of cortisol increase inflammation by secreting inflammatory chemicals that break down muscle tissue for energy. Toward that three-hour mark, you reach your lowest blood sugar territory, and you probably won’t feel it right away because the symptoms come later.  

The best intervention if you go too long without food is a snack of protein and vegetables with fiber—maybe a small chunk of turkey with a little cucumber, or small egg with tomatoes. That kind of snack brings your blood sugar back up so your body doesn’t start producing reactive responses. 

3. Eat breakfast as soon as you can—preferably within 30 minutes of waking. 

This will jump-start your metabolism. I found that eating just two or three almonds has a metabolism-raising effect similar to eating a whole meal. 

What you choose to eat for breakfast is very important. If you eat something that is primarily made up of carbohydrates (all combinations of grain, sugar, and fruit), such as pastries, cereals, or even granola, you’re going to drive your blood sugar up. This will cause the body to secrete excessive amounts of insulin, which is not good. Plus, you’ll feel excessively hungry and tired later that afternoon, driving you to choose sweets as an afternoon snack as well. 

Instead, try eggs, turkey bacon, or even “regular” food like salad bowls with protein and vegetables for breakfast. 

4. Plan your meals and snacks for blood sugar sanity. 

Having multiple low-glycemic snacks throughout the day may cause fewer spikes in blood glucose than the three-meal-a-day method. The timing or order of snacks can be adjusted to fit your schedule and needs. 

Ideally, your dinner is smaller than your lunch and maybe even your breakfast. You certainly don’t want a large meal after 7 pm, except on occasion. It will tax your body’s whole digestive, detoxifying, and healing process. 

5. Don’t count calories! Plan your plate instead. 

So after you have chosen some protein to put on your plate, what does the rest of your meal look like? 

Julie advises her clients to “plan their plates,” and not count calories or measure portions. Your plate should look something like this: 

  • A third of your plate is protein. 
    • Half or more of your plate is vegetables—for example, a salad and/or two vegetables.
    • For the small portion of your plate that remains—about the size of a small slice of melon—is for starchy root vegetables (like sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, beets) or whole grains, but with a preference for the root vegetable since they have more vitamins and are more filling than grains.

Ideally, more than half your total consumption for the day is made up of colorful, non-starchy, or low-starch vegetables. Think of dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. Think of red, green, and orange peppers. All the nutrients and antioxidants you need are coming from vegetables, which will go a long way to helping you with your cravings, weight, and gut health.

Keep your total dairy to a minimum and limit your fruit to a couple of servings a day. Berries are an excellent choice because of their high fiber content.  

A Note About Gluten 

The plan-your-plate approach to eating takes care of most issues with gluten. It limits the amount of grain or bread you can eat to that “slice of melon” amount. If you avoid processed foods with added sugars (such as sweet muffins, cake, donuts, etc.), you’ll avoid most of the problems that come from eating gluten—and without a lot of effort. 

6. Aim for quality. 

If possible, choose organic foods and hormone-free and grass-fed meat. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly even if they are organic. Look for seasonal food, especially at local outdoor (spring/summer/fall) and indoor (winter) farmers markets. 

Though organic food is more expensive, if you avoid waste and eat smaller portions, you will be way ahead in the long run—with your body and your budget. 

7. Aim for 8 on, 16 off—16 hours in the day when you’re not eating. 

Eating only during an 8-hour window allows your liver to do its job. The liver is critical for digestion, and it takes six-eight hours for it to process all the food that comes in after a meal. So, if you eat dinner at 6 pm, your digestion process will go till midnight or 2 am. From 2 am to 10 am, your liver doesn’t have to deal with food and it can attend to essential repair and detox of our cells. Do this 1-2 times a week.

8. Beware of toxins, including coffee. 

Sugar can be seen as a toxin—or addictive substance—which certainly isn’t good! 

But did you know that coffee can also be considered a toxin? And, the FDA lists coffee as a food that contains high levels of the carcinogen acrylamide. If you must have that cup of coffee, though, don’t drink it on an empty stomach. The caffeine in coffee triggers cortisol levels to rise. Coffee is also an appetite suppressant, which can work against regular meals and blood sugar balance. 

9.  For weight loss, aim to match the amount you eat (your “fuel”) to your activity level—before you expend energy. 

If your activity is higher in the morning, make sure your breakfast supplies the fuel for that. If most of your activity is in the afternoon or both morning and afternoon, then lunch should provide enough fuel for your upcoming energy expenditure. Dinner isn’t typically as important for building up your energy—unless you go night skiing! 

At dinnertime, you’ll still want protein and vegetables, because vegetables provide important nutrients, but you don’t necessarily need anything starchy at the end of the day.

10.  Take a few basic vitamins and supplements for a healthy foundation, and develop a longer-term, personalized plan

To learn more about taking charge of your health, order your copy of my latest bestseller, 30 Summers More fromAmazon today.

I know from experience that taking a bunch of supplements willy-nilly will not improve your health. It’s all too easy to get seduced by magazine ads, store displays, and the latest thing your friend is trying. Unlike medications, the FDA does not regulate supplements, so do your research and make sure the supplements you take are really what you need (ideally in consultation with a knowledgeable nutritionist). 

Personalized vitamins are something I’ve tried and like because the vitamins are built to supplement the deficiencies my blood tests reveal. 

When you take this approach, it will likely change your life, as it has mine and so many others. 

In the past, I would eat like 3,500 calories a day. Today, it’s more like 1,900 and less than 400 at dinner—though I don’t count calories as a practice. 

  • I cut out foods with added sugars. 
  • I cut my protein down to four- or five-ounce (palm-sized) portions. 
  • I nearly tripled the amounts of fresh, raw, or lightly-cooked vegetables I eat. 
  • To encourage cell replenishment, I make super foods part of my daily diet. This includes foods like eggs, spinach, broccoli, avocados, and green tea. 

I don’t feel hungry and I’m not thinking about food all the time. More healthful foods have taken away all that urgency—physical and mental—that I used to feel about food. 

I still have treats, but they’re truly treats—small amounts I eat on occasion, not regularly, and most often in the company of friends and family. I have a growing appreciation for food as a social experience that feeds our need for connection, relaxation, and slowing down. 

Most of all, I’ve come to understand that what and how we eat is a lifestyle choice: we can eat “killing foods” or we can consume nourishing, life- and cell-enhancing foods. From that vantage point, healthy eating becomes, literally, a self-fulfilling way of being. 

Wellness Warriors, take these tips one at a time, and you’ll find it will be easier than you think. Tell me, what’s one tip you can implement right away? Please share it below.

Next time, I will be sharing some shocking facts about the need to keep moving…along with easy and fun ways to do it! Until then…

Live Well, Live Long!

~Dwayne