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What Really Causes Restless Legs Syndrome and What Can You Do About It?

We’ve all had one of those days when you simply can’t sit still. Maybe you drank too much caffeine, or perhaps you were anxious about an upcoming event. Regardless the cause, that jittery feeling and the need to be constantly on the move went away eventually.

For people with restless leg syndrome, the urge to keep moving your legs is uncontrollable and near-constant. Though it typically happens in the evening or during nighttime hours, it can become severe enough to interfere with daily activities and may even interrupt your sleep. But what causes this common condition and what can be done about it? Keep reading to find out.

What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, as many as one in ten American adults suffer from restless legs syndrome or RLS. This condition is less commonly known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, and the primary symptom is, as you already know, an overwhelming and often uncomfortable urge to move your legs. This symptom is most likely to occur when you are sitting or lying down, especially for an extended period of time such as a car ride or plane trip. Many people with RLS experience relief with movement which is, in and of itself, another symptom. Other symptoms may include nighttime leg twitching and a worsening of symptoms in the evening or at night.

Unless you have experienced restless legs syndrome for yourself, it may be difficult to understand exactly what it feels like. People with RLS often describe the urge to move as an unpleasant sensation in the legs or feet, typically on both sides of the body – it may even affect the arms. These sensations occur within the limb itself, not on the skin, and have been described as a creeping, crawling, pulling, aching, throbbing, itching, or even electric sensation. Most people with RLS agree that the sensation is very different from normal muscle cramps or numbness and symptoms may fluctuate in severity, even disappearing for a period of time before recurring.

What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?

Unfortunately, there is no known cause for restless legs syndrome. Some researchers believe the disease to be caused by an imbalance of dopamine in the brain, a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) that sends messages that control muscle movement. It is likely that heredity plays a role in this condition, particularly in cases where the disease manifests before the age of 40. Pregnancy and other significant hormonal changes can also trigger or temporarily worsen symptoms of restless legs syndrome, but they typically resolve after delivery.

Though there is still more to be learned about RLS, certain conditions have been identified that frequently accompany the disease. Peripheral neuropathy, for example, is often seen in cases of RLS and is commonly caused by damage to the nerves in the hands or feet resulting from poorly managed diabetes or alcoholism. Iron deficiency may worsen restless legs syndrome, as can kidney failure and anemia. Restless legs syndrome can also lead to complications in severe cases. Severe RLS has been associated with reduced quality of life, chronic insomnia, and even depression.

What Can You Do About It?

For the most part, diagnosis of restless legs syndrome is fairly straight-forward and can be made primarily based on an analysis of symptoms. Unfortunately, treatment for the condition is often a little more complicated because it may coincide with another disease or disorder. In cases where an underlying condition such as iron deficiency is present, addressing that condition may help to relieve symptoms of RLS as well. In cases where symptoms are severe and frequent, medications are available.

Some of the medications prescribed for restless legs syndrome include medications that increase dopamine production in the brain, drugs that affect calcium channels, narcotic medications, and muscle relaxants or sleep medications. Medical treatment for RLS can be tricky, and it may take several trials for you and your doctor to find a medication and a dosage that works for you. You should also know that some medications (particularly those that increase dopamine production) may work for a time, but then you may notice your symptoms returning or that they start to happen earlier in the day.

In addition to, or as an alternative to prescription medications, you might also consider certain lifestyle changes or home remedies to relieve RLS symptoms. Soaking in a warm bath and massaging your legs may help to relieve the urge to move, and some people find that using warm or cool packs helps as well. Try to establish good sleep hygiene to avoid fatigue and avoid caffeine as much as possible. Getting regular, moderate exercise has also been shown to benefit RLS symptoms as long as you don’t overdo it and you do not work out too late in the day.

Restless legs syndrome may not be life-threatening, but it can seriously impact your day-to-day activity as well as your quality of life. Speak to your doctor about your symptoms and treatment options and consider finding a support group as well. It may take time as well as some trial and error to find a treatment plan that works for you, but relief is certainly possible. Best of luck!

What is Gingivitis and How Do You Prevent It?

You probably make an effort to brush your teeth twice a day, and you might even use dental floss and mouthwash. As careful as you are with your dental hygiene, however, you could still be at risk for an inflammatory dental disease called gingivitis.

Gingivitis is one of the most common dental health problems, affecting up to 90% of the world’s population to some degree. Characterized by inflammation of the gums, gingivitis can progress to cause some serious complications including bleeding gums and tooth loss. Keep reading to learn more about what gingivitis is and how you can prevent it.

What Exactly is Gingivitis?

Gingivitis gets its name from the fact that it affects the gums or gingiva. A non-destructive form of periodontal disease, gingivitis is characterized by inflammation of the gums. Healthy gums should be firm, pale pink in color, and closely fitted around the teeth. If you have gingivitis, you may notice symptoms such as the following:

  • Swollen or puffy gums
  • Red or dark pink gums
  • Gums that bleed easily with brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Receding gum line
  • Tender or sore gums

In mild cases of gingivitis, the patient may not even know they have a problem. If the condition is allowed to progress, however, it can lead to serious complications including the loss of teeth. Gingivitis is most commonly caused by an accumulation of bacterial plaque on, around, and between the teeth. Plaque is a biofilm that forms naturally on the surface of teeth by colonizing bacteria. The more plaque that accumulates, the more likely it is to harden into calculus or tartar which can eventually spread under the surface of the gums, causing inflammation and irritation.

Though gingivitis is technically caused by plaque formation, there are several factors which can increase your risk of developing the condition. Poor oral hygiene habits are the most common risk factor – if you don’t brush, floss, and rinse your teeth often you have a much higher risk of developing gingivitis. Your risk for gingivitis may also be higher if you smoke or chew tobacco if you follow an unhealthy diet if you are of advanced age, and if you have a condition that decreases your immunity. Taking certain drugs like anti-epileptics and calcium channel blockers could increase your risk as well, as can hormonal changes that come with pregnancy, menstruation, or the use of birth control pills.

How is Gingivitis Typically Treated?

Brushing your teeth after every meal can work wonders to remove plaque from your teeth before it can harden. Once that plaque hardens into calculus, however, it can only be removed by a professional dental cleaning. Some procedures that might be used during a cleaning include scaling and root planning. Scaling is the process of removing tartar and bacteria from the surface of the teeth and beneath the gums. Root planning involves removing the bacterial products that are often byproducts of inflammation while also smoothing the root surface to discourage further buildup. Other treatments may include dental restoration to correct misaligned teeth, poorly fitting crowns, and bridges which may be contributing to plaque buildup.

Natural Remedies to Prevent or Treat Gingivitis

Though basic oral hygiene is your best bet for preventing gingivitis, there are some natural remedies that might also be worth a try. Here are some simple tips for preventing gingivitis naturally:

  • Reduce your intake of refined carbs. Processed carbohydrates contribute to plaque accumulation, according to a study that showed people who follow the grain-free Paleo diet had a reduced risk for gingivitis even when they stopped brushing and flossing.
  • Eat more omega-3s and fiber. Research shows that people who eat a diet rich in fiber, omega-3s, and vitamin C had a 50% reduced risk for gingivitis.
  • Try oil pulling with coconut oil. Numerous studies have shown that oil pulling can clean your teeth of plaque and bacteria – just swish some coconut oil for 8 to 10 minutes a day.
  • Chew some gum. If you suffer from dry mouth, chewing gum may stimulate saliva production which can help wash bacteria from the surface of your teeth. Just be sure to chew sugar-free gum.
  • Eat more fermented foods. Consuming natural probiotics like yogurt and fermented foods can help prevent gingivitis and protect your oral health in the long-term.
  • Drink some green tea. According to several studies, the antioxidants in green tea can prevent the spread of gingivitis and reduce inflammation.

These natural remedies and other treatment options should not be an alternative to basic oral hygiene. Brushing your teeth after every meal and flossing at least once a day is the best way to manage and prevent gingivitis. It only takes a few minutes to take care of your teeth, so make sure to do it right!

Stop Making These Heart Health Mistakes Before It’s Too Late

Every year, over 600,000 people die of heart disease – that makes it the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Though there is certainly a genetic component to cardiovascular disease, many risk factors are completely within your control. In fact, you are probably making some simple mistakes that, if you continue to make them, could have serious consequences down the line.

If you want to take control of your heart health now to prevent major heart problems later in life, you need to step back and take a look at your cardiovascular health and the habits you have which could be negatively impacting it. Keep reading to learn about the top 5 heart health mistakes you should stop making now to ensure a brighter and healthier future for you and your heart.

How Late is Too Late?

It is never too early to start making healthier choices in your life. Striving for a more balanced diet and engaging in regular exercise are two of the best things you can do for your health, both now and for the future. Simple things like this can add up and, over time, they will help your body run at its optimal level which will ensure that all of your organs and systems work more efficiently. So, while making a healthy choice is a good thing for sure, it is important that you continue to make those healthy choices each and every day if you want the results to last.

So, it’s a good idea to start thinking about your health sooner rather than later, but how late is too late? According to Deepak Bhatt, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at Brigham Women’s Hospital Heart & Vascular Center, several risk factors for heart disease start to go up in a person’s 40s. Though risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are always dangerous, these things become major drivers for heart problems in middle age.

What does that mean? It means that while it is best to adopt healthy habits early on to preserve your cardiovascular health for the long-term, it becomes even more important to make healthy changes once you hit 40 if you haven’t done so already. But what kind of mistakes are the most damaging to your heart and what can you do to fix them? Keep reading to find out.

Mistake #1: Carrying Around Too Much Weight

As you get older it is natural for your metabolism to slow down and that makes you prone to weight gain. If you are already overweight or obese, this could be all the more dangerous for your heart and your health. The first step in correcting this mistake is to make yourself aware of how bad the problem really is. Step on the scale and ask yourself just how much weight you’ve gained over the past few months, the past year, or even the past decade. If your weight has been steadily climbing, you could have some other health problems you need to address – talk to your doctor about doing a cardiovascular fitness test to see what kind of shape your heart is really in.

Eating a salad once in a while or going for a walk one day a week are good choices to make, but they won’t make much difference for your bodyweight or your heart health until they become frequent habits. Unfortunately, losing weight over the age of 40 can be tricky for many people but there are a few simple rules you can follow to make a change:

  • Aim for slow and steady weight loss – The goal is to lose the weight and keep it off, so aim for a 1- to 2-pound loss per week at most to ensure that your body adjusts properly so you keep the weight off after you lose it.
  • Make veggies the focus of your meals – Sure, you should include complex carbohydrates in your diet but try to fill up on veggies and lean proteins to limit your calorie intake and maximize your nutrient intake.
  • Eat smaller portions – Not only should you make an effort to eat healthier meals in general but watch your portion sizes as well. You can gain weight just as easily from eating too much chicken as you can too much pizza.
  • Don’t skip meals – Your metabolism is already struggling, so why mess with it by skipping meals? You’re better off drinking a smoothie or eating a small meal to control calorie intake than you are skipping the meal entirely.
  • Be mindful of treats – There’s nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence, but it’s probably not a good idea to go eating a bowl of ice cream after dinner every day.

In addition to making these simple changes, you should make an effort to move more as well. You don’t necessarily have to train for the marathon but going for a 30-minute walk once or twice a day will make a big difference for your cardiovascular health.

Mistake #2: Failing to Nurture Relationships

When you work a long day, it’s tempting to just go home and veg out in front of the television. While this is fine once in a while, don’t let your relationships fall by the wayside. You may not realize it, but nurturing social relationships is important for your heart health. According to a study conducted in 2016, social isolation and loneliness can increase your risk for coronary heart disease just as much as smoking. In fact, a lack of social relationships was correlated with an increase in a person’s risk for heart disease by nearly 30%.

Forcing yourself to go out with friends every night of the week may not be the healthiest choice, but you should take the steps necessary to preserve and grow your friendships. Men in particular are at-risk for letting relationships slide in their 40s, so you might need to make a concerted effort to keep in touch. Try joining a recreational sport league, take up a new hobby, or just schedule a weekly dinner out with friends. You don’t have to do anything crazy, just keep in touch!

Mistake #3: Going Too Hard at the Gym (or Not at All)

The benefits of physical exercise for your heart health are undeniable, but there is such a thing as working out too hard. While it is recommended that you get 30 minutes of exercise per day, if all of that exercise is high-intensity, it could be damaging to your heart once you reach middle age and older. If you choose to do high-intensity exercise like running, make sure you warm up your body properly and try to do something low-intensity in between your more intense workouts. If you are new to exercise, it is especially important that you start slow and build your fitness over time.

While hitting the gym too hard is not good for your heart, neither is avoiding it entirely. You don’t have to spend an hour on the treadmill every day or train for a triathlon, but you should be making a daily effort to get moving. Go for a walk after work every evening or play a round of tennis with a friend on the weekend. Whatever kind of exercise you enjoy, make that your focus and the heart health benefits will be a bonus.

Mistake #4: Not Managing Your Stress

Stress seems unavoidable in this day and age. Many people who suffer from chronic stress don’t even realize it because it has become the norm for them. What you may not know, however, is that chronic stress can wreak havoc on your body, including your heart. When you are faced with some kind of threat, your body has a built-in “fight or flight” response that revs up your heartrate and breathing and focuses your mind – these metabolic changes give you the energy and focus to tackle the threat head-on or to successfully escape it. When the threat dissipates, your body goes back to normal.

Unfortunately, the body has a hard time distinguishing between physical threats and emotional or mental stress. If you’re constantly busy, over-worked, and under-rested your body is operating at a low level of panic all the time and that can be incredibly draining on your heart. Taking just 15 minutes out of your day to rest and relax can work wonders for your mental and physical health. Try starting the day with a 10-minute meditation session or set aside a half hour every evening to read a book or soak in a hot bath. Even if you aren’t able to change your stressful situation, you can change how you handle it and giving your mind and body a break once in a while will do you immeasurable good.

Mistake #5: Smoking

According to the American Heart Association, smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States, accounting for more than 440,000 deaths each year. Smoking contributes to a number of serious chronic health problems, not the least of which is heart disease. Cigarette smoking can increase blood pressure, decrease exercise tolerance, and increase the risk for blood clots. It can also contribute to atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty plaques in the arteries which greatly increases your risk for heart attack.

When you quit smoking, the health benefits kick in almost immediately, though it may take a few years for your risk of heart attack or stroke to drop down to normal levels. Just know that these benefits may be limited if you continue to smoke other substances such as cigars or marijuana. Even secondhand smoke can increase your risk for heart problems.

Following a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise is a recipe for heart health, but you also have to take a look at some of your other habits to see if they might be harming you as well. If you want to keep your heart beating strong for another couple of decades, start taking care of it now by dropping the bad habits discussed above.

What is COPD and How Does It Affect Your Health?

It is completely normal to get a little winded while exerting yourself, but if you experience shortness of breath on a regular basis, it could very well be a problem. Difficulty breathing paired with cough, sputum, and wheezing are the hallmarks of a condition known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. Keep reading to learn more about COPD and its effects on your health.

What is COPD, Anyway?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes airflow from the lungs to become obstructed – difficulty breathing is the primary symptom. Though COPD is a disease in and of itself, it is often linked to two other common conditions – emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is characterized by inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes which are the structures that carry air to and from the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs. Emphysema is a condition in which the alveoli in the bronchioles, the smallest air passages in the lungs, are destroyed or damaged by cigarette smoke and other toxic or irritating gases.

What Are the Symptoms and Causes?

While difficulty breathing is the most common symptom of COPD, you may also experience cough, mucus or sputum production, and wheezing. Unfortunately, these symptoms often do not present until the disease has progressed and significant lung damage has occurred. In fact, the diagnostic criteria for chronic bronchitis include a daily cough and sputum production for at least three months out of the year for two consecutive years. Emphysema is also a disease that develops over time and can cause serious damage to the respiratory system.

The shortness of breath that commonly indicates COPD can happen anytime, but most frequently occurs during physical activity. Other symptoms of COPD may include the following:

  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Chronic cough
  • Sputum-producing cough
  • Cyanosis (blue lips or fingernail beds)
  • Low energy level
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Swollen ankles or feet
  • Unintentional weight loss

Another common symptom of COPD is having to clear your throat first thing in the morning, typically due to excess mucus in the lungs. Many people with COPD experience one or more symptoms on a daily basis, though there may also be periods during which symptoms worsen for a period of several days. Additionally, the severity of these symptoms is likely to worsen over time – especially if you keep smoking cigarettes.

Smoking cigarettes is the most common cause of COPD, particularly in the developed world. In developing countries, however, it is more commonly caused by inhalation of cooking fumes in poorly ventilated areas. While many smokers develop some degree of reduced lung function, only about 20% to 30% actually develop clinically apparent COPD. Other factors that contribute to COPD include long-term exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke, fumes, dust, and work-related chemicals. There is also a rare form of the disease caused by an alpha-1 deficiency. Alpha-1-deficiency-related emphysema is caused by a genetic condition that impairs the body’s ability to produce normal amounts of the alpha-1 protein which protects the lungs from damage.

How Does COPD Affect Your Lungs?

The lung-damaging effects of COPD are obvious in that the most common symptom is difficulty breathing, but how exactly does this disease affect your lungs and the rest of the respiratory system? In order to understand the effects of COPD, you need a basic understanding of how your respiratory system works. When you breathe air through your mouth or nose, it travels down your trachea or windpipe into the lungs through two large tubes called bronchi.

Once the tubes enter the lungs, they separate into many smaller tubes like the branches of a tree – these smaller tubes are called bronchioles, and there is a cluster of air sacs or alveoli at the end of each. Inside the alveoli are collections of tiny blood vessels called capillaries which absorb the oxygen from the air you breathe, allowing it to enter the bloodstream. From there, the oxygenated blood is pumped throughout your body, and you exhale the waste product carbon dioxide.

So, what happens when you develop COPD? Healthy lung function is dependent on the elasticity of the bronchial tubes and air sacs which enables them to physically force air out of your body. COPD causes those structures to lose their elasticity, allowing them to over-expand which prevents all of the air from leaving – it actually traps some of the air in your lungs each time you exhale. As you can imagine, it is difficult to catch your breath when trapped air prevents your lungs from filling properly.

How Else Does COPD Affect Your Health?

By the time you develop symptoms of COPD, it is likely that a significant amount of damage has already been done to your lungs, but what about the rest of the body? How else does COPD affect your health?

Long-term COPD can lead to a number of complications including frequent respiratory infections, heart problems, high blood pressure, and even depression. For people with COPD, respiratory infections are a double-edged sword. Having COPD makes it more likely that you will catch a cold, the flu, or pneumonia and any respiratory infection will make it more difficult to breathe, thus exacerbating the damage to your lungs and making your COPD worse. COPD can also cause high blood pressure in the arteries supplying blood to the lungs – this is known as pulmonary hypertension – and, for unknown reasons, COPD may increase your risk for heart disease or heart attack. Having chronic COPD may also impact your daily life to the degree that you develop depression.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is no laughing matter, and it is a very real risk if you are or have ever been a smoker. While COPD is very serious, it is also very treatable – quitting smoking and making other healthy changes to your lifestyle can help you manage the disease and improve your quality of life, but you should start sooner than later.

What Are Plyometrics and Why Should You Care?

We all lead busy and hectic lives that makes it easy to let certain things fall by the wayside. For example, you might put off doing the laundry in favor of spending a few extra hours catching up on work. You might swing by the drive-through after work instead of hitting the grocery store and preparing a healthy meal. Once in a while, you just want to take the easy route, but there are some things that shouldn’t be neglected – your health is one of them.

As busy as you are, it is absolutely essential that you find time to work out. Not only will regular exercise help you maintain a healthy body weight and support your cardiovascular health, but it’s great for your mental health and wellness too! If you think you don’t have time for regular exercise, think again – there are plenty of options out there for high-intensity workouts that can be completed in less than thirty minutes. Many of these workouts focus on plyometrics to burn calories and tone muscles in a fraction of the time a traditional workout takes.

So, what exactly are plyometrics and how do you do them? Keep reading to learn the basics about plyometric exercises and to receive tips for incorporating them into your own workout.

What Are Plyometric Exercises?

The term “plyometrics” used to be synonymous with “jump training” because this type of exercise is characterized by dynamic moves like jumping, skipping, and hopping. Plyometrics do more than just help you build strength; they also stretch your muscles while helps to tone them. Including plyometrics in your workout can boost power, balance, strength, and agility. What you need to remember about plyometrics is that they are not designed for cardio – they shouldn’t be performed in a fast-paced circuit because you need to focus on form for both safety’s sake and to get the most out of the exercise.

So, what are some examples of plyometric exercises: Here are a few:

  • Plyo Push-Ups – Being in plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders, your body in a straight line. Slowly lower your chest to the floor then push up explosively from your hands – use enough force for your hands to leave the floor for a split second then land softly and repeat.
  • Plant Squats – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and, with your weight on your heels, sit back and lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Then, in one quick motion, drop your hands to the floor and kick your feet back into plank position, keeping your body straight from head to toe. Next, jump your feet back to the squat position and repeat.
  • X-Overs – Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and, with your weight in your heels and then squat slowly down. Stop when your thighs are almost parallel to the floor then jump forward, gaining as much height as you can, and land softly on your feet. Return to the quarter-squat position and then repeat.
  • Broad Jumps – Again, start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and, with your weight on your heels, sit back and lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Jump up explosively and, as your feet leave the floor, cross your right leg over your left and back to land in the starting position. Return to the squat then repeat with the opposite leg.
  • Skater Jumps – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lower your body into squat position. With your weight on the right leg, push off to make a lateral move and land softly on your left leg, moving your right leg behind you like a skater. Repeat on the opposite leg.
  • Scissor Jumps – Begin in a standard lunge position with your right leg bent at a 90-degree angle, foot flat on the floor and your knee behind your toes. The other leg should be extended behind you, supported on the toe with the knee not touching the floor. Squat down then jump explosively up, switching leg positions in mid-air and landing softly. Repeat on the other side.

When performing plyometric exercises, you want to aim for more sets and fewer repetitions. The sweet spot is ten sets of three to five repetitions with 30 seconds of rest between sets. Using this formula and some of the exercises above, you can create a custom plyometric workout plan.

Sample Plyometric Workout

Now that you have a better understanding of what plyometric exercises are, you may be wondering what a plyo workout looks like. The beauty of plyometrics is that you don’t need any special equipment and you can generally use your own bodyweight for resistance.

So, whether you want to build power and balance, or you simply want to switch up your workout routine, plyos are worth a try. With this and other plyometric workouts, you can choose to perform all 10 sets of an exercise in a row, or you can alternate through them as you like. Here is a sample plyometric workout plan to try:

  1. Warm up with 10 minutes of light jogging and stretching to prepare your muscles.
  2. Exercise 1: Broad Jumps – 10 sets of 3 to 5 repetitions with 30 seconds rest between sets.
  3. Exercise 2: Plyo Push-Ups – 10 sets of 3 to 5 repetitions with 30 seconds rest between sets.
  4. Exercise 3: Scissor Jumps – 10 sets of 3 to 5 repetitions with 30 seconds rest between sets.
  5. Exercise 4: Plank Squats – 10 sets of 3 to 5 repetitions with 30 seconds rest between sets.
  6. Cool down with 10 minutes of walking or light jogging and stretching.

When it comes to getting your daily dose of exercise, it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you’re moving. If you want to get the most bang for your buck with exercise, however, consider switching from long, drawn-out cardio sessions to shorter high-intensity workouts featuring plyometrics.

Getting Over the Plateau: Simple Steps to Shed the Final Ten Pounds

Losing weight isn’t necessarily as complicated as many people make it out to be. That being said, there is no miracle cure either – it will take time, dedication, and hard work for you to meet your goals. If you’ve seen positive results with your weight loss plan, great! Keep it up! If you’re still struggling, however, you might need to take a closer look at your daily habits.

What many people don’t realize about weight loss is that you have to change your strategy as you go along. You’re probably already aware of your BMR – your basal metabolic rate or the minimum number of calories your body burns to maintain essential processes. What you might not know is that your BMR changes as you lose weight. This means that your calorie burn might decline as you lose weight – this is what makes it so difficult to lose those final 10 pounds.

Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to get over this weight loss plateau. Keep reading to find out what they are!

  1. Make adjustments to your calorie intake. As you lose weight, your metabolism is going to adjust, and you may not burn as many calories as you were burning before – when there is less of you, it takes less energy to keep your body running. After you lose the first ten pounds, it is important to adjust your calorie goals and then keep adjusting them every ten pounds or so.
  2. Clean up your diet. Weight loss is a little more complicated than calories in versus calories out – it also matters what kind of food you are putting your body. If you’re focusing mostly on calorie count and exercise, but you’ve hit a plateau, try cleaning up your diet and focusing on more high-quality whole foods like lean protein, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  3. Switch up your workout routine. In the same way that your metabolism changes as you lose weight, your body also adapts to exercise which means that you won’t be burning as many calories doing the same workout now as you did a few months ago. High-intensity interval training is a great way to break up your workout routine and to burn some extra calories while you’re at it.
  4. Buckle down on snacking. A bite here and a nibble there may not seem like much, but those calories can really add up when you’re trying to shed those final ten pounds. Take a closer look at your daily diet to see if you’re getting extra calories somewhere that haven’t been accounted for. If you don’t already, consider keeping a food journal for a week to really track your intake.
  5. Get plenty of sleep and avoid stress. It may not seem like sleep and weight loss are connected, but the simple truth is that your body cannot function at its optimal level without sleep and your metabolism is part of that. Your body also resets its hormone balance while you sleep, so you don’t catch enough Z’s, you could end up making hormone imbalances worse which could inhibit your weight loss or even reverse it, causing you to gain weight.
  6. Start lifting weights. As you approach the final stretch of your weight loss journey, it’s time to start thinking about how you are going to maintain your results. If you simply go back to your old eating habits, you may end up gaining back all the weight you’d lost. To prevent that from happening, and to shed those final ten pounds, start incorporating strength training into your workout. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so having more lean muscle mass will help you maintain your new bodyweight.
  7. Eat more protein and fewer carbs. Adjusting your macronutrient intake is a good way to jump-start your metabolism to help you get over the plateau to shed those final ten pounds. Protein is particularly important because it will help you maintain the lean muscle mass you built from the previous step – plus, it has the highest thermic effect of food (TEF) which means that your body burns more calories digesting protein than it does for fat or carbohydrates.
  8. Stay properly hydrated. It is always a good idea to keep your body hydrated, but it is particularly important for weight loss. Not only does hydration help support healthy digestion, but it will also help to reduce your appetite and curb cravings. Try to drink at least 8 (8-ounce) glasses of water per day and drink extra on days where you work out.
  9. Keep an eye on portion sizes. You don’t necessarily have to count every calorie that passes your lips in order to lose weight, but you do need to be mindful of what and how much you are eating. If you’re following a healthy diet but still struggling to lose those final ten pounds, it may be that you are simply eating too much. Take the time to learn proper portion sizes and then follow them!
  10. Cut yourself some slack. If you’ve been dieting for a long time, you might feel like you’re starting to burn out and struggling to lose those final ten pounds can be very frustrating. It may help to give yourself a bit of a break – a weekend off where you enjoy the foods you like (in moderation) without obsessing about the calories. Taking a break can be good for your mental health and your motivation, plus a day or two isn’t going to completely through off your results.

Every person’s body is different, so you may have an easy time losing weight, or it could be very challenging for you. No matter what your individual circumstances may be, losing weight is a long-term goal that takes time to achieve. By following the tips above, you can reach your goal and avoid that weight loss plateau during the final ten pounds.

Good luck!

Could an Emotional Support Animal Help with Anxiety or Depression?

Nothing is more soothing than spending an evening cuddled up on the couch with your canine friend. But what if you could take that feeling with you when you travel? Or what if you could enjoy that peaceful scene in an apartment building that doesn’t allow pets?

Emotional support animals are a unique class of service animals that can help people who suffer from anxiety and depression even in situations where pets typically are not allowed. With the proper documentation, an emotional support animal can accompany you on a plane or live with you in no-pet housing. Keep reading to learn more about emotional support animals including what they are, what issues they can help with, and how you can get one.

How Common Are Anxiety and Depression?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the United States. These disorders are so common, in fact, that they affect roughly 18% of the population or roughly 40 million people. Depression is a diagnosis entirely its own, affecting more than 16 million Americans, or nearly 7% of the adult population.

Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common form of anxiety and sufferers experience excessive anxiety or worry on most days for a period of at least several months. Other anxiety-related symptoms include the following:

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability or anger
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble sleeping

Some of these symptoms overlap with major depressive disorder, or depression, which is primarily characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness or lack of interest in things once enjoyed. Other common symptoms of depression include negative thinking, agitation or restlessness, difficulty with focus, irritability or angry outbursts, withdrawing from loved ones, exhaustion, and morbid or suicidal thoughts. Many people who suffer from depression also experience physical symptoms such as muscle aches and pains or a feeling of being slowed down.

What is An Emotional Support Animal?

If you suffer from anxiety or depression, you know firsthand how difficult it can sometimes be to get through the day, let alone deal with challenges like going on an airplane or living in a place where you don’t feel at-home. An emotional support animal is an animal that provides comfort and support in the form of companionship and affection for individuals suffering from mental or emotional illness. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not trained to perform specific tasks, and they are meant solely for emotional support.

Emotional support animals are usually cats or dogs, though they can technically be any animal that provides emotional support. Dogs are by far the most common emotional support animals and the most widely accepted. It is important to make a distinction between service dogs and emotional support dogs for this reason. While service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and are allowed in all public places, emotional support dogs are protected by the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) and the Fair Housing Authority (FHA). Under these acts, emotional support animals are allowed to accompany their owner on planes for free and they are allowed in non-pet housing as well. Outside of those things, however, it is up to the discretion of the business owner (such as at a grocery store or restaurant) whether to allow an emotional support animal or not.

Though the idea of bringing your beloved pet with you everywhere you go may be calming and it might, in fact, ease some of your anxiety or depression, there is little scientific evidence regarding the use of emotional support animals. There are numerous studies showing the benefits of interacting with animals on improving a person’s mental health, but the emotional support animal (ESA) designation is still fairly new and relatively unstudied. There is some concern as well about people abusing the system to gain free access to air travel for their pets.

How Do You Get One?

If you’re considering getting an emotional support animal, make sure you understand what the ESA designation does and does not allow. Having an ESA does not give you free access to all public places with your pet – after all, they are still pets because they do not receive special training and certification to obtain the service animal designation. If, however, you have a mental or emotional disability, you might qualify for an ESA and could very well benefit from having one. Here is a list of the conditions which have been or may be helped by an ESA:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Fears or phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Suicidal thoughts or tendencies

If you believe that you suffer from one of these disorders and you feel that an emotional support animal might help you, your first step is to talk to your doctor to receive an accurate diagnosis. Once you’ve received a diagnosis, you can work with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment. You can also discuss whether having an emotional support animal might benefit you. If so, your doctor can write an official letter recommending that you have an emotional support animal – you can then present that letter to airline staff when flying or to your landlord if you live in no-pet housing.

Emotional support animals are not intended to be a substitution for medical treatment of anxiety and depression, but they can certainly be a tool to help you manage your condition. If you’re considering getting an emotional support animal, talk to your doctor.

Understanding the Different Types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Do you suffer from frequent diarrhea or stomach pain and cramping? Have you lost weight without meaning to or has your doctor worried that you might have anemia? These are some of the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that many people misunderstand. IBD can sometimes be tricky to diagnose because the symptoms overlap with other conditions and because there are several different forms of the disease.

Though the symptoms of IBD may seem inconvenient at most, leaving this condition untreated can lead to serious complications such as malnutrition, intestinal rupture, and even colon cancer. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of IBD and how to manage them.

What Are the Different Types of IBD?

Irritable bowel disease or IBD is an umbrella term for several different conditions. The two most common types of IBD are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The former is characterized by inflammation of the large intestine and typically affects the entire structure from the rectum into the colon – the inflammation may also spread into the inner lining of the colon. Crohn’s disease, on the other hand, can cause inflammation in any part of the intestinal tract and typically occurs in patches of inflamed tissue which can occur anywhere from the mouth to the anus.

Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are chronic conditions, and both are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Together, these two diseases affect roughly 3 million American adults or about 1.3% of the population.  Some of the most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, anemia, skin reactions, and arthritis. Ulcerative colitis causes similar symptoms with the addition of rectal pain or bleeding, an urgency or inability to defecate, fever, and fatigue.

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors?

Unfortunately, the exact cause of IBD remains unknown. Research has revealed a link, however, between genetics and immune system problems and the various forms of IBD. Scientists believe there is a genetic component to the disease because patients who have immediate family members with IBD develop the condition at a higher rate. They also believe that there is some immune system involvement due to the fact that inflammation occurs in the GI tract independent of any infection.

Though researchers do not fully understand the causes of IBD, they have identified certain factors which may increase your risk of developing Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. The most common risk factors include smoking, ethnicity, age, family history, geographical region, and gender. People of Caucasian and Jewish descent have a higher risk for IBD, as do people under the age of 35. Ulcerative colitis is more likely to affect men, while Crohn’s disease is more common in women. If you live in an urban or industrialized area, your risk for IBD is higher, and smoking can greatly increase your risk.

How is IBD Best Treated?

The symptoms of IBD differ in severity from one case to another, so you’ll need to talk to your doctor about the ideal form of treatment. Leaving your condition untreated could increase your risk of developing serious complications including malnutrition, dangerous weight loss, fistulas, intestinal rupture or perforation, bowel obstruction, and colon cancer. In very severe cases, IBD can cause you to go into shock, and it could be a life-threatening situation.

When it comes to treating IBD, there are a number of different options. The first step in treating IBD is usually medication with anti-inflammatory drugs such as sulfasalazine or corticosteroids. These drugs are designed to reduce inflammation in the GI tract but, unfortunately, they come with a high risk for die effects. Immunosuppressant drugs may also be prescribed, including drugs that block TNF – a chemical produced by the immune system that can trigger inflammation.

Other treatments for IBD may include antibiotics, antidiarrheal drugs, and nutritional supplements to address malnutrition or specific deficiencies. Lifestyle changes are also important for treating and managing IBD. You’ll need to keep an eye on your stress levels and exercise regularly. Quitting smoking, drinking plenty of fluids, and avoiding dairy products will help as well. If nothing else works, surgery may be an option to repair damage or to mitigate symptoms of IBD.

Irritable bowel syndrome, in its many forms, is not the kind of condition you want to ignore. Though symptoms may be mild at first, they can worsen, and you may find yourself saddled with serious complications such as bowel obstruction, ulcers, intestinal rupture, or even cancer. If you have experienced any symptoms of IBD, or if you have some of the risk factors, talk to your doctor today.

Considering Surgery for Back Pain? Ask These Questions First

We have all experienced back pain to some degree. Maybe you strained a muscle lifting something heavy or perhaps you’re just sore from a tough workout. In cases like this, back pain may be unpleasant, but it is also short-lived. For some people, however, back pain is chronic and debilitating.

According to the American Chiropractic Association, as many as 31 million Americans suffer lower back pain at any given time, and it is the single leading cause of disability around the world. Additionally, back pain is one of the most commonly cited reasons for missed work and the second most common reason for doctor’s visits.

Back pain is difficult to treat because the back is a complicated structure of bones, joints, muscles, and ligaments with many potential causes. If you’ve been experiencing back pain for a significant period of time and nothing else has worked, you might be considering surgery. Before you agree to go under the knife, however, you should make sure you fully understand the choice you are making – ask yourself these questions to make sure surgery is the best option.

What Causes Chronic Back Pain?

Because the back is such a complex structure composed of myriad muscles and ligaments, bones and joints, there are many things that go wrong. Back pain can be caused by something as simple as a strained muscle or ligament, maybe even a muscle spasm. These things can be triggered by lifting something that is too heavy, lifting with improper form, or moving in an awkward or abrupt way. Fortunately, these causes for back pain often resolve on their own with time and with rest.

More serious causes for back pain are often related to structural problems affecting the spine itself. Ruptured or bulging disks, for example, can put excess pressure on nerves in the pine, causing back pain that can be moderate and chronic or sharp and shooting. Sciatica is caused by a bulging or herniated disk in the spine pressing on a nerve, and it causes a sharp, shooting pain that travels down the spine through the buttock and down the leg.

Some of the more long-term causes for back pain include various forms of arthritis and other spinal issues like scoliosis. Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine and, depending on the degree of curvature, it can cause mild to moderate or even intense pain on a daily basis. Arthritis is another chronic condition that can contribute to back pain and it is often also present in the hips, knees, and hands. In some cases, it can even lead to spinal stenosis, a condition in which the space around the spinal cord narrows.

Aside from medical conditions, there are also some risk factors which may make you more likely to develop lower back pain. Some of these risk factors include the following:

 

  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Pregnancy
  • A stressful job
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Advanced age
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Smoking
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Strenuous physical work

 

Because there are so many potential causes for back pain, diagnosis is often a complex process. It starts with a physical exam and a review of symptoms but may also include additional tests such as x-rays, MRI or CT scans, bone scans, and even electromyography. In some cases, further examination by a chiropractor may be warranted or at least consulted when it comes to determining the best course of treatment for the problem.

Questions to Ask Before Back Surgery

Treatments vary for the different causes of back pain. In many cases, pain can be managed with over-the-counter painkillers or prescription medications, but these treatments may not address the underlying issue. In more chronic cases, physical therapy may help to correct problems with the spine, muscles, or ligaments and cognitive behavioral therapy can help you learn coping mechanisms for dealing with chronic pain and mitigating its impact on your quality of life.

In rare cases, surgery may be the best option to correct the underlying problem causing your back pain. It is important to understand that back pain is only an option in certain cases – problems that might be resolved with surgery include the following:

  • Herniated disk
  • Spinal fracture
  • Infection in the spine
  • Tumor in the spine
  • Spinal instability
  • Loss of feeling in the legs
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

In cases where back surgery is warranted, there are several different options which include discectomy, percutaneous discectomy, laminectomy (for spinal stenosis), kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty, and spinal fusion. Like all surgery, these procedures come with serious risks, so you need to make sure you fully understand the procedure, the risks, and the recovery before you go under the knife. To ensure that you are fully cognizant of what you are agreeing to, ask your surgeon the following questions:

  1. Have you correctly identified the cause of my pain? Before you agree to go under the knife, you had better be sure that your doctor has correctly identified the problem – nothing is worse than an unnecessary surgery. Make sure your doctor has performed the necessary tests to diagnose your problem and then move to the next question.
  2. Is the cause of my pain treatable with surgery? Once you’ve identified the cause of your pain, you need to ask whether it is treatable with surgery. If your issue is a problem with the ligaments or muscles, surgery will not help – surgery is most helpful for infections, spinal instability, and structural or nerve issues.
  3. What are the chances of success with this type of surgery? There are no guarantees when it comes to back surgery, even if you are otherwise healthy and your surgeon is supremely qualified. Make sure you understand the risks completely and decide whether you are really willing to take them or not.
  4. How many of these surgeries have you performed? All surgeons go through a lengthy education but, like anything in life, practice makes perfect. If you aren’t absolutely sure that your surgeon is qualified to perform the procedure, ask for another surgeon.
  5. What are the prognosis and recovery like for this type of surgery? Surgery is incredibly invasive, and your body is going to need time to recover. During that recovery period, you should expect to experience some pain and there is a risk for post-surgical infection. Ask your surgeon about the recovery for this type of procedure to make sure you can handle it and that you will be able to take the necessary steps to ensure a healthy recovery.
  6. Are there any nonsurgical options available? This question may be the most important of them all because you do not want to put your body through the stress of surgery unless absolutely necessary. Ask your doctor about alternative therapies and consider doing some research of your own about natural remedies. You’ll have to decide for yourself if it is worth dealing with a little bit of daily pain to avoid the risks of surgery.

In addition to asking these questions, you should also ask your surgeon about getting a second opinion. Every medical professional has his or her own way of approaching problems, and some surgeons are more aggressive than others. Even if your second opinion makes the same recommendation, you will have peace of mind in knowing that you made the right choice.

What is Wheatgrass and Why Should You Care?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably familiar with the juicing craze. Juice bars and smoothie shops are popping up all over the place, offering blended drinks packed with nutritious ingredients. Among the top performers is wheatgrass, an ingredient that has taken the health food niche by storm. But what is it? Keep reading to find out.

What is Wheatgrass, Anyway?

Wheatgrass is simply the sprouted leaves of the common wheat plant, Triticum aestivum. This edible grass can be juiced fresh or milled into a green powder that can be used in a variety of different ways. Even though it is a product of the wheat plant, wheatgrass is completely gluten-free, and many consider it to be a superfood. Here are some important nutrition facts:

  • A teaspoon of wheatgrass powder contains about 10 calories
  • Just one teaspoon (3.5g) contains 1 gram of fiber, 2 grams of carbs, and no fat
  • A 1-teaspoon serving of wheatgrass powder contains 30% your RDA for vitamin A
  • Wheatgrass powder is rich in electrolytes like magnesium and calcium
  • This food contains vitamins A, C, and E as well as plenty of antioxidants and amino acids

Though it is important to note that wheatgrass is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, the one nutritional benefit worth extra attention is its chlorophyll content. Chlorophyll is what gives wheatgrass its bright green color, and it supports a number of important bodily processes. For one thing, it is a natural detoxifier that can help cleanse the liver. It also acts like an antioxidant, helping to reduce oxidative stress and fight free radical damage. Chlorophyll also strengthens the blood and gives you a boost of natural energy.

What Are the Health Benefits of Wheatgrass?

As you already know, wheatgrass is packed with healthy nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It also contains 17 different amino acids, 8 of which are essential – this simply means that your body can’t synthesize them on its own, so they must come from your diet. But what are the health benefits of wheatgrass? Here are a few of our favorites:

  • It has been shown to reduce both LDL or “bad” cholesterol and blood triglycerides with a similar level of benefit to atorvastatin, a common cholesterol medication.
  • In a 10-week study, wheatgrass juice was shown to now only lower total cholesterol, but it also boosted HDL or “good” cholesterol levels.
  • The antioxidant benefits of wheatgrass have been shown to decrease the spread of certain types of cancer and may help minimize the adverse effects of cancer treatments.
  • Wheatgrass may help manage blood sugar levels and reduce symptoms of hyperglycemia.
  • It may help reduce inflammation which can contribute to a number of chronic diseases including inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease.
  • Drinking wheatgrass juice may improve satiety and weight loss due to its thylakoid content.
  • It has an alkalizing effect on the body and may increase absorption of key nutrients including vitamins and electrolytes – it may also reduce toxicity from processed foods.

In addition to offering all of these health benefits and more, wheatgrass is very safe to consume, even for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Keep in mind, however, that you still need to exercise basic food safety precautions. Wheatgrass is highly susceptible to mold, so check it before using it – if it has a bitter taste or shows signs of spoilage, don’t use it. If you decide to take wheatgrass supplements, keep an eye out for side effects like headache, nausea, and diarrhea and decrease your intake if they happen. If you continue to experience side effects, talk to your doctor.

How Do You Use Wheatgrass?

Wheatgrass comes in a variety of different forms including powder, juice, capsules, and tablets as well as the fresh grass itself. When it comes to choosing the best form of wheatgrass to use, remember that nutritional supplements are the most beneficial when they are close to their natural form. This being the case, fresh wheatgrass or wheatgrass juice is the most nutritious, though wheatgrass powder comes in a close second. But how do you use wheatgrass? Here are some ideas:

  • Make your own wheatgrass juice in a juicer or blend it with water in a blender.
  • Add wheatgrass powder to fresh juices, smoothies, teas, or salad dressings.
  • Chop up fresh wheatgrass and use it in salads or side dishes.
  • Take oral wheatgrass supplements in capsule, pill, or tablet form.

If you’d like to give wheatgrass a try, one of the easiest ways is to use the fresh grass in a homemade smoothie. Here is a quick and easy smoothie recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach
  • ½ cup frozen blueberries
  • ½ small frozen banana, chopped
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 4 to 5 ice cubes
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds or ground flaxseed
  • 1 tablespoon wheatgrass powder
  • Liquid stevia extract, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender.
  2. Pulse several times to chop the ingredients then blend for 30 to 60 seconds until smooth.
  3. Pour the smoothie into a large glass and enjoy immediately.

While you might not be ready to start chugging a glass of wheatgrass juice with breakfast every morning, you should seriously consider adding this nutritional supplement to your diet. Stir a few teaspoons into your morning smoothie or add it to some fresh-pressed juice. The nutritional benefits are myriad, so take advantage of them!

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