Why Your Steps Matter

By:  Lynsey Bish

Marathoners are the thoroughbreds of high performance, but even if you are a slow and steady jogger or walker, a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that even five or ten minutes a day of low-intensity activities can be enough to extend life by several years.  This minimal healthy “dose” of exercise is smaller than many might assume.

Running is a widespread and convenient physical activity with a steady growth, despite some public concerns about the possible harmful effects of running[1]. It is well-known that physical activity has significant health benefits. The World Health Organization and the U.S. government have recently released evidence-based Physical Activity Guidelines, recommending at least 150 min. of moderate-intensity or 75 min. of vigorous intensity aerobic activity per week[2].

This also applies to those who enjoy a brisk walk in the park with pets or friends. Without a doubt, making a decision to even start exercising – whether it’s walking, jogging, cycling, or using an elliptical machine – will pay dividends in the long run.

Although running can trim away some of your existing risk of cardiovascular disease, it doesn’t completely eliminate it. The combined effects of lifestyle, diet, and family history still contribute to your lifetime risk.

Mood Enhancement

If you’ve ever gone for a run or workout after a stressful day, chances are you felt better afterward. But the effects of physical activity extend beyond the short-term. Research shows that any form of exercise can also alleviate long-term depression[3]. Some evidence comes from broad, population-based correlation studies, and there is epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people.

Fight-or-Flight

Researchers have also explored running as a tool for treating – and perhaps preventing – anxiety[4]. When we’re spooked or threatened, our nervous systems jump into action, setting off a cascade of reaction in our body. People with heightened sensitivities to anxiety respond to those sensations with fear.

The book, Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression  and Enhancing Well-being, by the Anxiety Research and Treatment program at Southern Methodist University, reasoned that regular workouts might help people prone to anxiety become less likely to panic when they experience fight or flight like symptoms. The science behind this theory states that your body is producing many of the same physical reactions as anxiety like heavy perspiration or increased heart rate.

There lies a problem with only prescribing exercise for mental health. Researchers don’t yet have a handle on which types of exercise are the most effective, how much is necessary, or even whether exercise works best in conjunction with other therapies. The is potential exists, but further research needs to be conducted.

Going Green

Go green, minimize your carbon footprint, recycle, are all common words and phrases that are often used in relation to the environment. There are countless opportunities to get out and exercise. More than just a training environment, it turns out that people who exercise outdoors, in their natural settings, are benefiting from more than just their sweat efforts.

Research has shown that time spent in nature has numerous benefits for a person’s well-being, from reduced feelings of tension and anger to overall improvements in mood[5].

So why do we feel so much better? One theory is that by spending time in natural environments, our concentration and overall functioning is restored. By comparing this to our indoor environments, which are full of mentally fatiguing stimuli (TV, phones, computers), our outdoor environment requires effortless attention.

If you’re new to exercising outdoors, take time to adapt: start with a few minutes at the end of your workout to do some cool down stretches, relax, and enjoy your surroundings.

Sign your company up today for the SparkPittsburgh Company Step Challenge and prove that you are committed to being one of the healthiest and most active companies in Western Pennsylvania.

To sign your company up visit sparkpittsburgh.com.


Resources:

[1] Statistics. Running USA. Available at: http://www.runningusa.org/statistics. Accessed July 19, 2017.

[2] Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. World Health Organization. Available at:http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_recommendations/en/. Accessed July 19, 2017.

[3] Journal of the American College of Cardiology Sep 2012, 60 (12) 1064-1066; DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2012.05.015

[4] Journal of the American College of Cardiology Nov 2010, 56 (20) 1681-1682; DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2010.07.022

[5] 1. Brown K, Stanforth D. Go green with outdoor activity. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2017

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Crock Pot Low-Fat Beef Stew

It’s summertime but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a tasty beef stew on those rainy days that are a natural part of our Pittsburgh summer weather.  If you are looking for a healthier option than usual, check out this recipe from skinnyms.com.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean beef stew meat, cubed in about 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons flour for coating the beef
  • 1 cup red wine, (optional non-alcoholic wine or vegetable broth)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced red peppers
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 sprigs of thyme, remove leaves from 4 sprigs
  • 2 cups beef broth, fat-free and low-sodium
  • 1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

Directions

Coat the beef with the flour, then sprinkle ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper.

In a saucepan over medium heat, brown the floured beef.  Once browned, pour in the wine.  Keep cooking until the sauce is slightly thickened and there is no more alcohol smell (typically about 5 minutes).  When this is done, you can transfer the beef and the sauce into the crock pot.

Start adding to the crock pot, with the sauce and beef, your minced garlic, onion, potatoes, carrots, celery, red pepper, thyme, bay leaves, broth, tomatoes, and the last ½ teaspoon of salt and pepper left.  Place the cover on top and cook on low heat for 8 hours or on high heat for 4-6 hours.

Serve with a thick, artisan bread to complete the meal, if you are so inclined.

Once done, enjoy!


Sources:  http://skinnyms.com/slow-cooker-low-fat-beef-stew-recipe/

NASA Guide to Air-Filtering Houseplants

By:  Lynsey Bish

Surprisingly modern furnishings, synthetic building materials, and even your own carpet carry more chemicals than expected and can make up to 90 percent of indoor air pollution. NASA researchers Clean Air study found that plants can play a major role in effectively removing benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, ammonia, and xylene from the air. This list of chemicals have been linked to health effects like headaches and eye irritation.

So how do houseplants clean the air? Carbon dioxide and some particulates for the air are processed into oxygen though photosynthesis, but that’s not all! Microorganisms associated with the plants are present in potting soil, and responsible for much of the air purification. Beyond air purification indoor plants have shown to boost our mood. For example, patients who were placed in a recovery room after surgery with plants were more positive and had lower stress and blood pressure.[1]

For those of us who don’t really have a green thumb, I’ve selected five indoor houseplants that are almost impossible to kill.

Spider Plant

(Image from lovethegarden.com)

Spider plants are one of the easiest plants to take care of. So, if you forget about watering it for a few days, it’s okay! If you do notice that it is particularly dry, hang them in the bathroom while you’re in the shower. Spider Plants are non-toxic to pets and children. They love bright, indirect sunlight and can grow in any soil.

Pollutants removed: formaldehyde and xylene

Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law’s Tongue

This plant is one of the hardest houseplants to kill, just make sure that you water it occasionally. Although, this plant does prefer drier conditions and some sun.

Pollutants removed: formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and benzene.

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera is one of my personal favorite houseplants, in addition to being easy to care for; aloe has some hidden additional benefits. This plant is full of a clear liquid that is packed with vitamins, enzymes, and amino acids that have wound-healing, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Pollutant removed: formaldehyde

Peace Lily    

You may not think that a Peace Lily will really make a difference with air purification based on its size, but it packs a punch with some major air-cleaning abilities. They enjoy shady areas and a moist soil. Just be mindful that they do bloom throughout the summer which can contribute some pollen and floral scents.

Pollutants removed: ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene

Garden Mum

The Garden Mum is the air-purifying champion! This plant is inexpensive and available at local garden stores. Mums love light and lots of water. They are simple to grow and to propagate. Mum’s bloom through the months when other plants are completely spent. Take advantage of this unique plant and spruce up your home or office with an array of colorful Mums.

Pollutants removed: ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene

 


[1] Park, Seong-Hyun, and Richard H. Mattson. “Ornamental Indoor Plants in Hospital Rooms Enhanced Health Outcomes of Patients Recovering from Surgery.” The Journal of Alternativeand Complementary Medicine 15.9 (2009): 975-80. Web.

 

Designing a Healthful Diet

By:  Lynsey Bish

What exactly is a healthful diet? A healthful diet provides the proper combination of energy and nutrients. It has four characteristics: it is adequate, moderate, balanced, and varied. No matter how young or old, overweight or underweight, healthy or ill, if you keep these characteristics in mind, you will be able to select foods that provide you with an optimum combination of nutrients and energy each day.

What tools can help you design a healthful diet?

Many people feel it’s not possible for them to eat a healthful diet. They mistakenly believe that the foods they would need to eat are too expensive or not available to them, or that they’re too busy to do the necessary planning, shopping, and cooking.

Although designing and maintaining a healthful diet is not as simple as eating whatever you want, most of us can do with a little practice and a little help. Here are some tools to help get you started.

Dietary Guideline for Americans

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are a set of principles developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health to promote health, reduce the risk for chronic diseases, and reduce the prevalence of obesity among Americans though Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity[1].

They include twenty-three recommendations for the general population, but you don’t have to remember them all! Instead, they encourage you to focus on the following four main ideas.

Balance Calories to Maintain Weight

An important strategy for balancing your calories is to choose nutrient-dense foods (foods that provide the most nutrients for the least amount of calories). For example, skim milk is more nutrient dense than whole milk, and a peeled orange is more nutrient than an orange soft drink. At the same time, being physically active for at least 30 minutes each day can reduced your risk for chronic diseases!

Limit Fat and Sugars

Fat is an essential nutrient and important part of a healthful diet but, because fats are energy dense, eating a diet high in total fat can lead to becoming overweight. Less than 7-10% of your total daily calories should come from saturated fat, and you should try to consume less than 300mg per a day of cholesterol[2]. You can achieve the goal by replacing fats, like butter and lard, with plant oils, and replacing full-fat milk, yogurt, and cheeses with low-fat or nonfat versions.

Limit foods and beverages that are high in added sugars, such as sweetened soft drinks, cookies, and cakes. Many foods that contain added sugars often supply calories, but no essential nutrients and no dietary fiber. Sweetened foods and beverages can be replaced with those that are low in or have no added sugars. Sweetened beverages can be replaced with water and unsweetened beverages[3].

Consume more Healthful Foods and Nutrients

  • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Each day, try to eat a variety of dark-green, red, and orange vegetables, along with beans and peas.
  • Make sure that at least half of all grain foods (breads, cereals, pasta, and so on) that you eat each day are made from whole grains.
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, which include milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified soy beverages.
  • When making protein choices, choose protein foods that are lower in solid fat and Calories, such as lean cuts of beef or skinless poultry. Try to eat more fish and shellfish in place of traditional meat and poultry choices. Also choose eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
  • Choose foods that provide an adequate level of dietary fiber as well as nutrients of concern in the American diet, including potassium, calcium, and vitamin D. These nutrients help us maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce our risks for certain diseases. Healthful foods that are good sources of these nutrients include fruits, vegetables, beans and peas, whole grains, and low-fat milk and milk products[1].
  • Follow Healthy Eating PatternsThere isn’t a healthy eating pattern that everyone should follow. The best recommendation made in Dietary Guidelines is designed to accommodate diverse cultural, ethnic, traditional, and personal preferences that still fit into your food budget. MyPlate.gov is free for everyone to help find a healthy eating style and build it throughout your lifetime. MyPlate will focus on helping you make healthy food and beverage choices and include all five food groups. It’s about making small changes to create a healthier eating style.

    Overall, the Goals of the Dietary Guideline are to promote health, reduce the risk for chronic diseases and improve nutrition and physical activity.


[1] Abou-Samra, R., et al. 2011. Effect of different protein sources on satiation and short-term satiety when consumed as a starter. Nutrition Journal 2011, December 23(10):139.
[2] Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The science of nutrition. Boston: Pearson, 2014. Print.
[3] 2010 Dietary Guidelines. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2017

Spring Activities Around Pittsburgh

This past Sunday, thousands participated in the Pittsburgh Marathon and half marathon.  Racers from all over the world took to the streets of Pittsburgh to show us all that dedication, perseverance, and endurance can get us all across our personal finish lines.

But, if you are suffering from the post marathon blues, or are just looking from some great ways to get out and active in the Pittsburgh area, we have curated a list of great opportunities for you to do just that.

Kayaking, North Shore Location

Do you like to kayak or want to try something new?  Located right next to PNC, you can rent a solo or tandem kayak, and spend an hour or two exploring to the sights along the Allegheny River, from Point State Park to Washington’s Landing.

Yoga in the Square

If you like yoga or are interested in beginning, Yoga in the Square might be right for you.  Every Sunday morning, starting May 28th, local yoga instructors take turns leading an hour long yoga class that yogis of all levels will enjoy.

Skydiving Over Pittsburgh

Looking for an adrenaline boosting thrill?  Then skydiving is definitely for you.  At Skydiving Over Pittsburgh, you will get to experience a tandem skydive with a seasoned professional while getting the most amazing aerial views of the Steel City.

Moraine State Park

Sometimes it’s great to get out of the city and spend some time in nature.  Moraine State Park offers a plethora of outdoor activities that will delight you and your friends and family.  From biking and picnicking along a beautiful trail to spending the day on the water swimming, fishing, or boating, there is something for everyone at Moraine State Park.

Lend a helping hand

Last week, we highlighted some of the wonderful organizations our employees donate their time and money to, on our social media pages. Volunteering is a great way to help the people in your community do the work that needs to be done.

Below we wanted to feature a few more non-profits that are always looking for donations and volunteers to further their efforts in the Pittsburgh community.

Animal Friends

Animal Friends is a compassionate advocate for disenfranchised animals.  Their mission is to try to end over population, abuse, and to stop the unneeded overuse of euthanasia to lower populations.  They provide for the well-being of animals in their care and create resources for pet owners in need.  Animal Friends is committed to outreach, education, and community programming.  They are the champions for the thousands of voiceless animals who are abandoned and unwanted, providing them a home, care, food, training, and most importantly, love.  They are dedicated to finding the best homes for each animal that ends up in their care, but for those that are either unadoptable or don’t get adopted, they are devoted to providing a compassionate and humane lifelong home for them.  To help you can volunteer your time by fostering an animal, helping with special events, becoming a dog walker, or donating money and/or items the shelters need.

Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank

As a proud member of Feeding America, the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank is passionate about feeding people in need and helping to eliminate hunger.  Their vision “is a hunger-free southwestern Pennsylvania”.  This food bank is always looking for people to donate, volunteer, become advocates, and organize a food drive.  Currently, they are asking people who are already running the Pittsburgh Marathon to join their team to raise money for those in need within our Pittsburgh community.

The Pittsburgh Glass Center

The Pittsburgh Glass Center is one of the top glass art centers in the world, providing education resources, and glass production.  They are dedicated to helping Pittsburgh connect to its history as a major glass producer and has created an atmosphere of creativity for students of all levels of artistic abilities.  Devoted to continuous education in glass blowing and its history for everyone from advanced glass blowers to “newbies” wanting to create a glass pumpkin.  Pittsburgh Glass is a hands-on, interactive museum that combines science and art that is fun and affordable for everyone.  If you would like to get involved, you can take a class or make a donation that directly helps make classes affordable for all students.

The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh

The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh is a proud leader integrated health care, education, and social services for children with special health care needs.  The goal is to help improve the quality of life for children to reach their potential.  Not only do they help children, but they provide resources and education for parents and families as well.  They provide medical therapy services, instructional education to improve children’s skills, and creates a loving atmosphere for children and their families.

WQED

As the nation’s first community-supported television station, WQED has be providing educational public broadcasting since April 1, 1954.  Partnering with local communities, they work tirelessly to bring quality programming in education, the arts and culture, health, economics, history, and so much more.


http://whirlmagazine.com/whirl-nonprofit-giving-guide-2014/

An Apple a Day…

By: Bree Leyer, M.S., EP-C

Today is National’s Doctors Day – a day specifically set aside to honor and thank those in the medical profession for their work and their contributions to society in terms of prevention and the treatment of illness and injury. Next time you see your doctor, make sure you thank them for all that they have done!

Since prevention is a major focus by doctors, we thought we’d take advantage of today to remind you to schedule your annual preventive exam with your doctor. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has produced specific recommendations regarding preventive medicine and primary care, specific to your age, gender, and risk factors. Be sure to check with your doctor and with your health plan provider to see what tests are appropriate for you and are covered.

What is a Preventive Exam? A preventive exam is a routine physical that can help to identify potential health problems in the early stages. The focus of the exam is on prevention, not on current health problems. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, most health plans must cover an annual preventive exam at 100% – meaning there’s no cost to you! Check with your health plan provider to determine if you are eligible for a preventive exam covered at 100%.

What is included in a Preventive Exam?

A preventive exam may include the following:

  • Complete physical exam and review of body systems
  • Review of healthy history and medications
  • Immunizations
  • Review of age and gender specific screening tests

Visit https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Name/recommendations to learn what is recommended for you.

There’s an app for that!

Get the USPSTF recommendations on your smart phone by downloading the ePSS app which can allow you to search for recommendations by specific criteria such as age, gender, and behavioral risk factors.

#NationalDoctorsDay