Walktober Comes to Maryland

Despite the recent weather, October is the perfect time to get outside and celebrate Maryland’s official state exercise — walking! Officially, yesterday was Walk Maryland Day with events planned across the state, but all month offers opportunities to get outside and enjoy the fall.

Walking offers many health benefits, and among them getting out in nature can improve your mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, spending time outdoors can lead to improved attention, lowered stress, better moods, and even increased empathy and cooperation.

Maryland offers ample places to get out and spend time in nature, from state parks to local trails, and we’ve collected a list of localities where everyone can work on improving their physical, mental and emotional health, just by taking a walk amongst the trees.

To find the list of walking trails by county, go to https://extension.umd.edu/resource/walktober and click on “County Walking Opportunities.” Also find more information about Walktober, how you can become a walk leader, or join in next year’s celebration.

Try Golfing – Or Anything New – This Month

August is National Golf Month and in honor of that, I thought I would share with you all a little bit about my own golf journey. Much to the surprise of many people who know me, I’ve recently gotten into golf. My husband has enjoyed playing for many years, but I had not played before. I starting walking the course with him as fun way to spend some time together and get in some physical activity. After walking along for a few rounds, I wanted to try it myself. So, I started going to the driving range to learn the skills I need to start playing. It’s been really enjoyable and a fun way to keep myself active, especially on a Saturday morning.

Like many other types of physical activity, there are mental and physical health benefits to playing golf. We’ll get to those in a little bit, but first, I want to talk about the growth that can come from trying new things. I think for many of us, life gets busy and we might not feel we have time to learn a completely new skill. I know for myself, there are times when I want to try something new but am worried that I won’t be good at it. But, this is where we can benefit from a change in perspective. Focusing on learning, growing, and small improvements over time can encourage us to think more about how many new things we are learning and how much we are improving. I’m by no means an expert golfer, but I can hit the ball further and straighter than when I first started, and I’m proud of that improvement!

Josh Sorenson (Carrie’s husband) on the course. Photo by Carrie Sorenson.

According to this NPR article, the process of learning a new skill and improving over time can be very important for brain health. When you challenge your brain to learn something difficult, you help strengthen the connections your brain needs. So even if it isn’t golf, challenging yourself to try a new (and difficult) activity could be great for your brain in the long run! My husband recently decided to learn to play ice hockey, and although it has been difficult to learn, he has a great time playing on a local recreational team and improving his skills. For me, learning golf has been challenging, but also a great way to relieve stress and get outside. Whatever your interest may be, stepping outside your comfort zone and learning a new skill is a great way to keep your brain healthy as you age.

Even if golf isn’t a new skill for you, there are still benefits to hitting the golf course. Walking the course, carrying bags, and hitting the ball are all forms of physical activity. If you walk an 18-hole course, that is usually five or more miles of walking (depending on the size of the course). Even folks who use a cart when they play end up walking a good amount over the course of a game. Additionally, the time spent playing is that much more time we are spending outside. In a previous post I explained many of the physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors, so check that out if you want more information about why time outside can be so beneficial. But in general, adding any physical activity and time spent outside is beneficial for our physical and emotional health. So, there are some great potential health benefits of getting into golf.

So, for National Golf Month, consider heading to your local golf course or driving range to try (or continue) playing golf!

Mental Fitness for Incoming Freshmen

As high school seniors are making their way across the graduation stage, their minds are turning to thoughts of leaving for college in the fall. Making the transition from living at home to living on campus can be exciting but also overwhelming.

During this shift, it is important for students to check in with themselves and regulate their mental health. Being away from home can lead to additional stress and strain on students because living on campus often means taking on more responsibilities. Freshmen must learn how to coordinate their schedules to attend class, study, show up to social events, and bear the responsibility of caring for themselves.

Since we all struggle with this balance, here are some resources and tips for improving and maintaining good mental health.

One of the most important resources available to students on campus is the counseling center. Students can visit the counseling center for mental health care including individual counseling, group counseling, couples counseling, career counseling, drop in hours, and referral services. The counseling center or the disability support center can also provide accessibility and disability services in order to accommodate students in their classes. It is important for students to keep in mind that professional mental health experts are available on campus because a busy semester could mean that students may not have time to seek these resources outside of campus.

Listed below are some mindful tips for taking care of your mental health during the semester.

  • Staying active. Physical exercise is a key component of good mental health. Taking time to go to the gym or going for a walk can be a good way to improve your mental health.
  • Reaching out. Maintaining regular social engagement whether it be with family or friends can be extremely beneficial to your mental health. Isolating during stressful times can lead to even more stress, so it is important to stay connected to your loved ones throughout the semester.
  • Eating and sleeping. Many college students skip meals and avoid sleep in order to get their work done, but a consistent diet and enough sleep is essential to maintaining good mental health. Eating and sleeping keeps our brains and bodies functioning as well as possible.
  • Meditation. During the rush of classes and assignments, meditation can be a simple practice to keep your thoughts focused and your mind at ease. A few minutes of meditation and quiet time on a daily basis can reduce stress and improve mental performance.
  • Seeking resources. Even when you’re trying your best to keep up with yourself and school, it can still be tough to deal with certain issues. Knowing what resources are available to you and seeking them out during times of crisis can help you solve a problem much easier.

This blog written by Mumtahina Tabassum, FCS senior intern, class of ’22

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!

Why Couldn’t I Keep My New Years’ Resolution?

Now that we are over a month past the New Year, it is a good time to assess the status of our New Years’ resolutions, if you made any. Although this might be a disappointing moment for those of us who have not been able to sustain the commitments we made, it is still important to look back on them and identify what worked and what did not. This reflection enables us to learn from any mistakes that we made during the process. 

First, let us acknowledge that change is hard. There is quite a bit to the process of change that is involved before we even make a commitment to change . We have to recognize that something is a problem, weigh the options of changing or maintaining the status quo, and create a plan that is sufficiently detailed and achievable (more on this later), all before we make our first attempt at a new behavior. Furthermore, once we do take our first steps, we have to monitor for pitfalls and ensure that we can sustain the new behavior long-term.

For the sake of this article, we will take the commitment to a New Years’ Resolution as evidence that you had some kind of plan (or intent) to change, which would indicate that you had already recognized a problem and decided that change was more appealing than the status quo. Some of the most common pitfalls in creating lasting change are that the goal itself is either too vague or too lofty.

Too vague: I want to get fit.

This goal is not specific or meaningful enough to spur organized action. What does being fit mean to you? Being able to run a mile without stopping? Being flexible enough to play with your grandchildren on the floor? Having a specific goal focuses your effort and reduces the chance of feeling overwhelmed by possibilities.

Too lofty: I (never was a runner, and) am going to run a marathon next month. 

Lofty goals impose harsh expectations that may ultimately demoralize you, even if they are specific and meaningful. The pride of achieving smaller milestones will provide the motivation to keep moving toward the loftier goal.

As your goals become more specific and achievable, it is important to celebrate milestones as a chance to both feel good about your accomplishments and set the next achievable goal for yourself in that realm. 

What if you set small achievable goals that are meaningful to you, yet still find yourself unable to follow through consistently? 

Unexamined Root Issue 

A lack of sustained change indicates that the status quo might serve a more important function in your life than you have imagined. Say you are a parent of two young children who wants to start a workout regimen in the mornings. If working out every morning means you aren’t able to cook the healthiest, warmest breakfast for your children, guilt may be keeping you from changing. In essence, you value providing for your children in a specific way more than you value the personal fitness changes. For another example, what if you resolved to stick to a reasonable budget each month by reducing frivolous spending? Inflation and price hikes aside, perhaps you have not identified that shopping gives you a sense of freedom – a compelling reason NOT to stick to a budget where that sense of freedom is limited.

Whether it is guilt, feeling restricted, or some other emotional issue, it is often difficult for people to identify and tackle these issues alone. Friends and family are a good place to start the conversation about some of these root issues, because sometimes close associates can see our blind spots – personal qualities or circumstances we are unaware of but that are visible to others. Talking about our goals with others also helps us rehearse our belief in their importance. Licensed mental health professionals can help us look deeper into the emotional issues that may be holding us back, and can also help us develop more specific, achievable goals that keep us motivated in the long-run. They can also help brainstorm new ways of meeting formerly unacknowledged needs in ways that do not interfere with the changes or resolutions that you are trying to make.

The blog written by Breathing Room special guest contributor Alex Chan, Mental and Behavioral Health Specialist with University of Maryland Extension.

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.