Roll Out the Mat and Try Some Yoga

Here at Breathing Room, we are all about helping people find ways to improve their lives and reach their goals, whether they are physical, nutritional, mental, financial, or any other type of goal. One way to work on both the physical and mental or spiritual side of wellness is through the practice of yoga. Yoga, which has been gaining popularity in the U.S. lately, focuses on movement, breathing, and often meditation. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, yoga can help:

  • Reduce stress
  • Improve sleep
  • Manage anxiety
  • Improve balance

For more information about the benefits, check out this article https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know

I got into yoga in high school because I was having a hard time getting to sleep at night and my doctor suggested it as a way to relax before bed. I bought a book that came with a DVD (I know, its been awhile since I was in high school. We had DVDs then) and started practicing some basic yoga movements before bed. For me, slowing down my breathing to match the movements helped me to relax my body and calm my mind. I still find it to be an effective way to get to sleep if I’m having a hard time.

For me, one of the hardest parts of yoga is convincing my dog, Dakota, that I am on the floor to exercise and not to play with her.

After college, I would occasionally go to yoga classes at a local gym with my mom and sister. I really enjoyed exercising with them and felt my balance really improving from the exercises we did in class. But as life got busier, it became more and more difficult to get to the gym for the in-person classes. My sister then introduced me to some online resources where you can find free videos to guide you through many different types of yoga practices. One of these YouTube channels, Yoga With Adriene, has become very popular. The channel currently has 11.4 million subscribers!

For me, yoga has been an on and off journey. Some months, I will do several classes or workouts and some months I might not do any at all. While doing it more consistently is a goal of mine, I really appreciate that I can always find a way to jump back in when I’m ready. There are so many different options out there, so I always feel like I can jump back in without it being too difficult to get started again.

So, if you’re interested in seeing if yoga might be a tool you can use for reaching your wellness goals, give it a shot and check out some of these resources to help you get started!

  • https://www.doyogawithme.com/ – Do Yoga with Me is a website where you can sort yoga videos by length, type, and level of difficulty. It is really helpful for finding something that meets you where you are.
  • https://www.youtube.com/c/yogawithadriene – Yoga with Adriene has a ton of different videos and options, but I like her monthly playlists. There is a different video for each day of the month which range in length and focus. They are a great way to get started with building a habit of practicing yoga.
  • Senior Centers and Recreation Centers – If you check with your county or city, you might have a local center with free or low-cost classes available. They are usually led by a professional who can help you learn the movements. Also, it can be fun to workout with others in your community!
  • Local Gyms – Many gyms offer yoga classes similar to those offered at Senior Centers and Recreation Centers. But you might even have a local gym or studio that focuses exclusively on yoga. This can be great if you are looking for something more advanced or specific to your needs.

As with any exercise, it is a good idea to check in with your doctor before jumping in to a new exercise program (especially if you have any health concerns). But even if you are a total yoga beginner, there are some great benefits to incorporating yoga into your life. So, roll out the mat and see what yoga can do for you!

Celebrate Senior Health and Fitness Day Today!

If you read Breathing Room regularly, you know that I often write posts about physical activity. I’ve written about my dad and I exercising together, the mental health benefits of exercise, and tips for exercising outside. Since May 25th is Senior Health and Fitness day, I thought this would be a good time to talk about physical activity for seniors in particular. Regardless of age, exercise is important for good health, but for seniors, there are some specific things that can make it even more important (although occasionally more challenging too, but we’ll get to that).

So, why is it so important that we continue to be physically active as we age? Many of them are the same benefits we have mentioned before, but they become so much more important as we get older. To read about many of the benefits, check out this article from the National Council on Aging: https://www.ncoa.org/article/the-life-changing-benefits-of-exercise-after-60

But, let’s also mention a few important benefits now. First, exercise helps keep bones strong. Since bone density decreases more as we age, keeping bones strong can help prevent serious injuries from trips or falls. Second, exercise can help prevent illnesses that are common for older people like cancer, diabetes, and hypertension. And if people already have these conditions, exercising can help manage symptoms. Finally, exercise might help improve immunity, which helps keep seniors healthy.

It is also important to keep in mind that seniors might have more health factors they need to consider when beginning to exercise. The best thing to do is talk to your doctor before getting started. Your doctor, or some other healthcare professional familiar with your health situation, can help you determine if you need to avoid (or focus on) and particular type of exercise. For example, many seniors experience joint pain from arthritis or some other condition that can require them to avoid certain movements.

Changes in balance and muscle density can also make seniors feel unsure about exercise. Having a place to sit nearby, good shoes, or some other support can help improve confidence. So, make sure you have what you need to feel comfortable being active! Remember, any increase in physical activity can help improve health so whether it is swimming, walking, biking, gardening, or some other movement, every little bit helps.

If you are a senior who is looking to get moving, check out some resources for seniors in your area. Your local center for aging, senior center, or even AARP might have information about exercise programs that are specifically designed for seniors. You can also check out this link for some online resources: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-older-adults-can-get-started-exercise

 If you are someone who knows a senior, reach out to them and see if there is a way you can help them be more active. Having support from a friend or family member can help make it easier to get moving. Physical activity is important and although there can be more to consider when becoming active as a senior, the benefits make it worth the effort!

Everyone Can Celebrate Play Outside Day

I recently learned that the first Saturday of every month is National Play Outside Day! As someone whose family loves to get together and play games in the back yard, I think it is great that there is a day specifically set aside to remind everyone to enjoy playing outside. As the weather gets warmer, there are more and more options for places we can go and activities we can do outside. So, set a reminder for yourself on the first Saturday of every month (like this upcoming Saturday May 7th) and head outside for some fun!

Playing outside was a big part of my childhood and something that I still enjoy. When I was younger, my siblings and I would scour my mother’s gardens for ingredients we could use to create our pretend delicacies. I will always appreciate my mother’s tolerance of our pulling up her plants for our make-believe games! As we got older, we would play games like kick the can, capture the flag, and more. Some in my family might even tell you that the games would get so competitive that some might have cheated in order to win, but those allegations were never proven.  Kick-The-Can was actually a game designed to be played as it started to get dark because we would regularly play well into the evening. Even now, my family and I love to get together for some outdoor games like cornhole. On one occasion, we even made a homemade outdoor putt-putt course in the backyard!

If you are interested in getting outside to play but aren’t sure what to do, here are some ideas to get you started! Keep in mind that, especially for kids, part of the fun is in being creative and coming up with your own games and rules. So, try these ideas to get started, and then see if you can come up with your own even more creative ideas!

One thing you can do is create your own scavenger hunt or competition. You could send everyone out in search of the coolest rock or biggest leaf.  If you have sports equipment, you could also see who can come up with the best trick shot (with any ball and container you have available). You can use that same sports equipment to create a totally new game! Get out everything you have and then see if you can come up with new ways to use those things for a different game. It can be even more fun if you create your own weird rules. Don’t get hung up on the details, just get outside and find something fun you can play!

One last thing before we get outside and play, please consider safety as well. Playing outside is fun, but we want to ensure that we stay safe too!

  • Pay attention to the weather. If the weather is too hot, you’ll want to consider playing at a cooler time of day. Also, summer storms can come on suddenly. Know what to do if it starts to look stormy.
  • If it is sunny, make sure you are protecting yourself! Wear sunscreen or sun protective clothing to make sure you don’t get burned. Also, make sure you have water so that you can stay hydrated.

I hope you get to get your creativity flowing and enjoy some time outside in honor of National Play Outside Day!

Enjoying Winter Weather Safely

Often, my inspiration for a blog post will come from my own life. I will experience something or get curious about something and then do some research to answer my own question. During that process, if I find interesting information that might benefit others, then I write a blog post to share what I’ve learned. This week, I was reminded of the importance of being prepared if you are going to exercise outside when the weather is cold. I found myself about a mile from home, with the sun going down in leggings that were not thick enough for the cold weather… So, for myself and for anyone else who might need it, here are some key tips about being safely active during the winter!

As the old saying goes, safety first! Staying safe and warm is the main concern. We are going to address clothes a bit later, but first we are going to talk about safety concerns unique to being outdoors in cold weather (for more general outdoor physical activity tips, check out this post). First, days are short during the winter. So, if you are an early morning or evening exerciser, odds are that it is going to be dark. If you are going to be near a road or cars, you need to make sure you are visible. Reflective clothing, wearable lights, or walking in well-lit areas can all help you been seen when you are out in the dark. With the short days, cold temperatures, and less sunlight than other times of year, you might be tricked into forgetting how powerful the sun can be. When exercising at daytime, be sure to have sunscreen on any exposed skin. Winter sport lovers might also need sunglasses, as the sun shining off the snow can be very bright. Finally, pay attention to the surfaces outside. Ice can cause you to trip and fall, so if it’s cold enough for ice then pay attention to the ground!

As promised, we will talk about wearing the appropriate clothes (unlike me!). Sticking with the theme of old sayings, I’m thinking of “dress for the job you want”. In this case, we might say dress for the temperature and amount of time you are going to spend outside. Start by checking the temperature and wind chill. If the temperature is below 0° F or if the wind chill is bad, you’ll want to consider staying inside (unless you have some serious cold weather gear). If you think you can dress warm enough to brave the temperature, then your best plan is to dress in layers. As you exercise, your body will generate heat, you will get warmer, and being able to remove layers as needed will really help. Wool is a great bottom layer because it pulls sweat away from your body (you’ll sometimes see clothes that are advertised as moisture wicking, this is what they mean). Finally, as you’re getting your outfit ready to go, you’ll want to pay close attention to your hands, feet, ears, and head. They are all areas that can get cold more quickly than the rest of your body. Hats, gloves, thick socks, and even chemical warming packs can be your best friends!

My final tip is to make sure you drink enough water. Again, in the cold weather you might not notice your sweat as much as you do in warm weather. Even when it is cold, you are likely to sweat, so make sure you are staying hydrated. Especially if you are going to be outside for a longer amount of time, make sure you have water with you. Again, the cold can make things tricky. You might need to carry your water in something insulated so that it doesn’t freeze on you!  

Winter can be tough and for many, Mother Nature keeps them indoors. That is totally fine, as always, my main point is that you should find a way to move that works for you. If going out in the cold sounds miserable, then find ways to move at home or in the gym. But, if you are going to brave the cold temps and go for some outdoor activity, follow these tips to make sure you stay safe!

Holiday Dining Tips for Diabetes-Friendly Meals

November is American Diabetes Month. According to the 2020 Center for Disease and Prevention Report, over 1 in 10 people have diabetes and approximately 1 in 3 have prediabetes. Managing diabetes through diet, physical activity, and medication can be challenging anytime, but it can be even more difficult during the holidays.

November also begins the ‘holiday eating’ season as tempting foods are everywhere through December. Whether it’s a neighborhood party, work function, or family gathering, following a meal plan that limits the sugars and fat found in our favorite holiday foods can be overwhelming. Check out these healthy holiday eating ideas that will help you maintain good control of your blood sugar levels and allow you to still enjoy your favorite dishes.

1. It’s all about the carbs. Some holiday foods may be too tempting to resist. But you can still savor the flavor of these foods by consuming them in portions based on your diabetes meal pattern and by keeping track of the number of grams of carbohydrates you consume. Below are foods found on the USDA MyPlate and the number of grams of carbohydrates they contain:

  • Starches:(potatoes, bread, pasta, rice, cereal, beans, corn, etc.) 15 grams per serving
  • Non-starchy vegetables:(carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, etc.) 5 grams per serving
  • Fruits: 15 grams per serving
  • Milk and yogurt: 15 grams per serving
  • Meat and other protein: 0 grams per serving except for foods like beans

Note, beans (kidney, black, red, white, etc.) are starches and contain 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving You can find out more about serving sizes by visiting the USDA MyPlate website https://www.myplate.gov/

2. Choose carbohydrates wisely. Limit the amount of starches you eat, and try consuming non-starchy vegetables. They contain 1/3 of the carbohydrates and calories in starches and do not cause big spikes in your blood sugar. Consuming whole fruits with skins are better than canned fruit or juices because they contain fiber, which prevent spikes in blood sugar. Include low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt in your holiday meals. Milk and Greek yogurt are excellent sources of protein, calcium, and other nutrients and can be substituted in some of your favorite dishes. For example, use fat-free Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in your favorite dips and low-fat milk in your eggnog recipe.

3. The scoop on alcohol and diabetes. If you don’t currently drink alcohol, then don’t start. However, if you plan to indulge in some alcohol, consult with your healthcare team first. Whether you can consume alcohol if your diabetic is very personalized and may be based on your medications and other health conditions.

4. Work it out. Make time to be physically active. The more you stick with your year- long routine during the holidays, the more likely you will keep focused on your fitness and blood sugar goals too. 

5. Host your own holiday event! Take control of the ‘party foods’ you serve by providing your guests a list of healthy holiday foods they can bring. It reduces time you  spend preparing multiple dishes and provides your guests the opportunity to create festive healthy options that all can enjoy. For example, instead of cheesy dips, ask someone to bring a festive vegetable plate with hummus dip and red vegetables and green vegetables. You can also add a red and green fruit platter to the list too. 

Try this fruit tart recipe from the Dining with Diabetes program. It’s easy to make and one of my favorites. Wontons sheets are available in the produce section of the grocery store. To learn more about upcoming Dining with Diabetes program I’m teaching at the University of Maryland Extension, feel free to reach out to me at: bjackey@umd.edu

Happy holidays!

Fresh Fruit Tarts

Serving Information: Serves 12 (1 serving = 1 tart)

Ingredients:

  • 12 wonton skins
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar-free jelly or fruit spread
  • 1 1/2 c. diced fresh fruit*
  • 1 c. non-fat yogurt, any flavor
  • Cooking spray

*Select fruit combinations based on what is in season. Any of the following could be used: bananas, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, kiwi, raspberries, peaches, orange sections, etc.

Equipment:

  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Small saucepan
  • Muffin tin

Directions:

  • Preheat over to 375 degrees F and spray muffin tins with cooking spray.
  • Press wonton skins into muffin tins allowing the corners to stand up over the edges.
  • Bake wontons until lightly brown, approximately 4-6 minutes. Watch carefully, as wonton skins bake very quickly.
  • Remove from oven; carefully take each wonton out of the muffin tin and allow time for cooling.
  • Warm jelly or fruit spread and lightly coat bottom of each wonton.
  • Fill each wonton with fruit and a rounded dollop of yogurt on top.
  • Garnish with small piece of fruit or a dab of jelly/spread and serve immediately.

Walking Safety in the Woods

Earlier this month, we talked about how our communities can make themselves more walkable. Specifically, we talked about how safety issues in a community can make people feel more or less comfortable walking there. But what if you are someone who prefers to exercise outdoors and not in your local neighborhood? Well, Maryland has some beautiful trails for all those looking to get out and do some hiking! But, there are still some important things you’ll want to do to stay safe on the trail.

A group of friends hiking. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

First, you want to be prepared for everything the outdoors can throw at you! Weather is a big part of that. You might start your hike under sunny skies only for a sudden storm or shower to appear. So, you’ll want to bring layers. Ideally, you want to have some warmer or waterproof clothing you can put on or remove, depending on the situation. You’ll also want to make sure you have good shoes. Especially if shoes get wet, they can rub and cause blisters. So, make sure your gear is going to cover you, regardless of the weather.

Another part of being in the great outdoors is dealing with bugs. Although some bugs (like ticks) are more common in the spring and summer, they are still out there in the fall. Wearing long sleeves and long pants and using bug spray can help you avoid bugs.

While appropriate clothing and weather preparedness is helpful, accidents can still happen. So, you’ll want to have at least a basic first aid kit so you can handle cuts, blisters, stings, and bites that might occur along the trail.

A first aid kit is a great way to handle small injuries, but what about larger injuries or emergencies? The best way to handle these concerns is to be prepared and have a way to get help, if needed. When you get out on the trail, you can pay attention to whether or not you have phone signal. You likely won’t have signal all the time, but if you make note of places where you had signal then you can go back to them and call for help if needed. Another great way to stay safe is to hike with a buddy or group. That way, someone is with you to get help if needed. A final idea for staying safe is to make sure someone knows where you are going and when you should be back. That way, if you end up in a position where you can’t reach out for help, someone knows where you are and when to start looking for you if you aren’t back when you should be.

Hiking is a great way to get out and enjoy the beauty Maryland has to offer! Although accidents can happen, following these safety tips can help you be prepared on the trail. If you are prepared and want to get out and experience the benefits of a great hike, check out https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/default.aspx for information on Maryland State parks and https://www.visitmaryland.org/list/places-go-hiking for information on some great Maryland hiking spots. Then, get out and get moving on the trail to celebrate Walktober!

To learn more about Walktober and Maryland’s official state exercise, or to sign up to participate in Walktober events, go to https://extension.umd.edu/resource/walktober.

Walkability – What’s it all about?

October is right around the corner, and if you’ve been following this blog then you know what that means: Walktober is coming! I’ve written a bit about it before, but as an overview, Maryland has an official state exercise (which is walking) and every October the state gets together to celebrate, learn about, and get involved with all things walking. You can find more information about Walktober at http://www.mdot.maryland.gov/walktober.

There are so many reasons to get excited about walking. It has important health benefits and can be a fun way to spend time with family and friends. But for some people, finding a place to walk can be difficult. Walking in the area surrounding your home or workplace is easiest for many people because it doesn’t require extra time to get to the place where you want to walk. But there are many places where people don’t feel comfortable or safe walking. Recently, people have started talking more about how Walkable certain places are. Walkability is a way to describe how safe, comfortable, and accessible areas are for pedestrians (or people who are walking there). One of the things Walktober focuses on is pedestrian safety, so I thought it would be good to talk about what community members can do to figure out if there are pedestrian safety issues in their area.

 So what makes an area walkable? Things like even sidewalks, streetlights, landscaping, crosswalks and places to sit all make people feel walking in that area is safe and enjoyable. On the other hand, things like uneven sidewalks (or no sidewalks), litter, speeding cars, and lack of crosswalks makes people less likely to walk in an area. Often, people know right away whether they feel comfortable walking somewhere. However, it can be hard to explain exactly why you feel that way. As Walkability was researched and discussed, people also developed ways to measure Walkability. These measurement tools can be a great way to help you and people in your community identify changes that could be made in your area to encourage walking.

There are different ways to measure walkability. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a Walkability Checklist you can do on your own wherever you live. University of Delaware has a different tool, the Walkability Assessment Tool, for government officials or others involved in making decisions about policies affecting walkability. AARP also has a couple of toolkits, one for individuals and another for people who might be interested in leading a larger community effort around walkability. These tools and more are great ways to get an idea of how walkable your area is and what could potentially be improved to encourage walking. Youth development programs (like 4-H or scouting organizations), community groups, and neighborhood groups are examples of groups that might be interested in assessing the walkability of their area. After that, consider getting involved with local leaders or local government to see if there are efforts going on in your area to improve walkability!

Even if you aren’t sure you are ready for a full walkability assessment, stay connected with Walktober! There will be local events (more information about those will be on the Walktober website) and Walkinars where community leaders, experts, and other officials will cover a variety of topics related to walking and pedestrian safety. You can register for the walkinars here! We hope you will get involved and enjoy everything Walktober has to offer!

DASH to Heart Health

Almost half of the American population has hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and having high blood pressure puts you at risk for things like a stroke, heart disease, or even death. Not only are the numbers high, the CDC says only 1 in 4 of those people who have hypertension, have their condition under control.

The University of Maryland Extension health and wellness team are working to help remedy that issue by offering online classes to learn the DASH-Plus high blood pressure management program. DASH-Plus: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – Plus Physical Activities is a community-based education program designed for adults over 55 years old who are managing high blood pressure with or without medication.

The full program includes eight 1-hour sessions, presented online for easy learning from home. Classes include subjects relating to healthy eating habits and incorporating physical exercise into your everyday routine. Learn about salt solutions, dairy, the benefits of fruits and vegetables, and even grocery shopping and budgeting tips to create the healthiest diet plan for your heart.

DASH-Plus classes, led by dietitians and trained University of Maryland Extension Educators, are happening now with a new session beginning Sept. 9, 2021. Interested participants can sign up for all eight classes, or choose the individual workshops that fit your needs.

Go to https://extension.umd.edu/resource/dash-plus-september-session to find more information, a class list and registration information for each class.