Archive for December, 2013

Healthy Inspirations Recipe of the Week – Chilled Green Chicken

December 26, 2013

Healthy Inspirations Recipe of the Week - Chilled Green Chicken

Serve with cherry tomatoes and red capsicum for a very healthy Christmas treat.

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40 Ways to Let Go & Feel Less Pain

December 22, 2013

"One of the simplest ways to stay happy is... letting go of the things that make you sad." #happiness quotes #happy

“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.” ~Ajahn Chah

Eckhart Tolle believes we create and maintain problems because they give us a sense of identity. Perhaps this explains why we often hold onto our pain far beyond its ability to serve us.

We replay past mistakes over and over again in our head, allowing feelings of shame and regret to shape our actions in the present. We cling to frustration and worry about the future, as if the act of fixation somehow gives us power. We hold stress in our minds and bodies, potentially creating serious health issues, and accept that state of tension as the norm.

Though it may sound simple, Ajahn Chah’s advice speaks volumes.

There will never be a time when life is simple. There will always be time to practice accepting that. Every moment is a chance to let go and feel peaceful. Here are forty ideas to get started:

Let Go Of Frustration with Yourself/Your Life

1. Learn a new skill instead of dwelling on the skills you never mastered.

2. Change your perception—see the root cause as a blessing in disguise.

3. Cry it out. According to Dr. William Frey II, PH.D., biochemist at the Ramset Medical Center in Minneapolis, crying away your negative feelings releases harmful chemicals that build up in your body due to stress.

4. Channel your discontent into an immediate positive action—make some calls about new job opportunities, or walk to the community center to volunteer.

5. Use meditation or yoga to bring you into the present moment (instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future).

6. Make a list of your accomplishments—even the small ones— and add to it daily. You’ll have to let go of a little discontentment to make space for this self-satisfaction.

7. Visualize a box in your head labeled “Expectations.” Whenever you start dwelling on how things should be or should have been, mentally shelve the thoughts in this box.

8. Engage in a physical activity. Exercise decreases stress hormones and increases endorphins, chemicals that improve your state of mind.

9. Focus all your energy on something you can actually control instead of dwelling on things you can’t.

10. Express your feelings through a creative outlet, like blogging or painting. Add this to your to-do list and cross it off when you’re done. This will be a visual reminder that you have actively chosen to release these feelings.

Let go of Anger and Bitterness

11. Feel it fully. If you stifle your feelings, they may leak out and affect everyone around you—not just the person who inspired your anger. Before you can let go of any emotion, you have to feel it fully.

12. Give yourself a rant window. Let yourself vent for a day before confronting the person who troubled you. This may diffuse the hostility and give you time to plan a rational confrontation.

13. Remind yourself that anger hurts you more than the person who upset you, and visualize it melting away as an act of kindness to yourself.

14. If possible, express your anger to the person who offended you. Communicating how you feel may help you move on. Keep in mind that you can’t control how to offender responds; you can only control how clearly and kindly you express yourself.

15. Take responsibility. Many times when you’re angry, you focus on what someone else did that was wrong, which essentially gives away your power. When you focus on what you could have done better, you often feel empowered and less bitter.

16. Put yourself in the offender’s shoes. We all make mistakes, and odds are you could have easily slipped up just like your husband, father, or friend did. Compassion dissolves anger.

17. Metaphorically throw it away. For example, jog with a backpack full of tennis balls. After you’ve built up a bit of rush, toss the balls one by one, labeling each as a part of your anger. (You’ll need to retrieve these—litter angers the earth!)

18. Use a stress ball, and express your anger physically and vocally when you use it. Make a scrunched up face or grunt. You may feel silly, but this allows you to actually express what you’re feeling inside.

19. Wear a rubber band on your wrist, and gently flick it when you start obsessing on angry thoughts. This trains your mind to associate that type of persistent negativity with something unpleasant.

20. Remind yourself these are your only three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it. These acts create happiness; holding onto bitterness never does.

Let Go Of Past Relationships

21. Identify what the experience taught you to help develop a sense of closure.

22. Write everything you want to express in a letter. Even if you choose not to send it, clarifying your feelings will help you come to terms with reality as it is now.

23. Remember both the good and the bad. Even if appears this way now, the past was not perfect. Acknowledging this may minimize your sense of loss. As Laura Oliver says, “It’s easier to let go of a human than a hero.”

24. Un-romanticize the way you view love. Of course you’ll feel devastated if you believe you lost your soul mate. If you think you can find a love that amazing or better again, it will be easier to move on.

25. Visualize an empowered single you—the person you were before meeting your last love. That person was pretty awesome, and now you have the chance to be him or her again.

26. Create a space that reflects your present reality. Take down his pictures; delete her emails from your saved folder.

27. Reward yourself for small acts of acceptance. Get a facial after you delete his number from your phone, or head out with friends after putting all her things in a box.

28. Hang this statement somewhere you can see it. “Loving myself means letting go.”

29. Replace your emotional thoughts with facts. When you think, “I’ll never feel loved again!” don’t resist that feeling. Instead, move on to another thought, like “I learned a new song for karaoke tonight.”

30. Use the silly voice technique. According to Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap, swapping the voice in your head with a cartoon voice will help take back power from the troubling thought.

Let Go Of Stress

31. Use a deep breathing technique, like ujayii, to soothe yourself and seep into the present moment.

32. Immerse yourself in a group activity. Enjoying the people in your life may help put your problems in perspective.

33. Consider this quotation by Eckhart Tolle: “Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.” Questioning how your stress serves you may help you let it go.

34. Metaphorically release it. Write down all your stresses and toss the paper into your fireplace.

35. Replace your thoughts. Notice when you begin thinking about something that stresses you so you can shift your thought process to something more pleasant, like your passion for your hobby.

36. Take a sauna break. Studies reveal that people who go to sauna at least twice a week for ten to thirty minutes are less stressed after work than others with similar jobs who don’t.

37. Imagine your life 10 years from now. Then look twenty years into the future, and then thirty. Realize that many of the things you’re worrying about don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

38. Organize your desk. According to Georgia Witkin, assistant director of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, completing a small task increases your sense of control and decreases your stress level.

39. Use it up. Make two lists: one with the root causes of your stress, and one with actions to address them. As you complete these tasks, visualize yourself utilizing and depleting your “stress supply.”

40. Laugh it out. Research shows that laughter soothes tension, improves your immune system, and even eases pain. If you can’t relax for long, start with just ten minutes watching a funny video on YouTube.

It’s a long list, but there’s much left to be said! Can you think of anything to add to this list—other areas of life where we need to practice letting go, and other techniques to start doing it right now?

Article written By Lori Deschene, sourced from: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/40-ways-to-let-go-and-feel-less-pain/

Recipe of the Week – Pan-fried Lemon Fish with Parsley Potato Salad

December 19, 2013

Pan-fried lemon fish with parsley potato salad
Serves:4
Time to make:30 minutes
Full ingredient list:
600g medium potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks
1 cup peas, cooked 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon 97% fat-free mayonnaise
2 tablespoons low-fat, natural yoghurt
4 x 150g white fish fillets
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 cups broccoli florets, steamed

Instructions and steps: 

Step 1 To make potato salad, boil potatoes for 15 minutes, or until cooked but not soft. Once cooled, place into a medium-sized bowl and add peas, parsley, mayonnaise and yoghurt. Fold through carefully so cubes are still intact. Chill until needed.

Step 2 Place a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat and spray lightly with oil. Once hot, place fish into pan and top with half of the lemon zest and half the lemon juice. Turn and fry on each side for 4–5 minutes, until fish is cooked through.

Step 3 Divide potato salad between 4 plates and top with fish and cooked broccoli. Serve with the remaining lemon juice, chopped fresh parsley and remaining lemon zest.


Variations
To increase your omega-3 intake, choose a salmon or tuna steak instead of using a white fish fillet.

– See more at: http://www.healthyfoodguide.com.au

25 Healthy Ideas for the Holiday Season

December 17, 2013

Enjoy a tasty and fulfilling December followed by a regret-free January. Here are 25 healthy holiday choices to make, starting now.

Eat early. Don’t skip breakfast, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietitian. “Don’t let last night’s big meal keep you from having a healthy breakfast today, and every day,” she says. If you don’t commit to breakfast, you may spend the rest of the day overeating.

Graze. Eat small meals throughout the day. It helps you keep your blood sugar and energy levels in check. You’ll be less likely to feel moody or stressed, and you’ll be less likely to overeat at parties. Also, if you don’t arrive at the party with an empty stomach, alcohol won’t hit you as hard.

Work out.  Exercise keeps your metabolism going, helps you digest and burn off calories, and can stabilize your mood.

Pair drinks with exercise. “For every alcoholic drink you have during the holidays, tell yourself you need to be physically active for 30 minutes to burn it off,” suggests Jamieson-Petonic, who’s also an exercise physiologist.

Stay hydrated. Choose water or low-calorie drinks more often than not. A nifty tip: “Twenty ounces of water 20 minutes before each meal keeps you hydrated while reducing cravings and calories when you eat,” Jamieson-Petonic says.

Snack. Heading to the airport? Pack healthy snacks. Think trail mix, whole-grain crackers, or even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Map it out. Road tripping? Don’t wait till you’re starving then hit a fast-food joint. Plan ahead, so you can stop where healthy food is available.

No comfy pants. Loose fitting clothes make it easier to overeat, Jamieson-Petonic says. Wear form-fitting garments that will let you know you’re overdoing it.

Lighten your drink. A wine spritzer is a festive way to keep calories and alcohol content low. Not into that? Consider light beer or a mixed drink with half a shot in it — make sure the mixer is low- or no-cal.

Simply sip. Make that drink last all night by taking tiny sips. You’ll lower your caloric intake — and the chances you’ll insult Uncle Mort later.

Window shop. Buffet time?  Cruise the food before digging in. Think through what’s offered and pick only the things you really, truly want.

Veg out. Hit the crunchy vegetables. Hard. They’ll fill you up, making you less likely to overeat.

Go lean. Choose lean proteins: turkey (without the skin), fish (skip the fatty sauce), or pork. They can fill you up and give you lots of energy.

Embrace the season. Don’t completely avoid the festive holiday fare you can’t get any other time of year, like stuffing and pumpkin pie. Have those special foods in small amounts, but avoid things you can get all year, like mashed potatoes.

Give in. If a tiny portion of pie won’t cut it, then eat a full slice, just this once. But consider avoiding the crust, which is filled with saturated fat and calories.

Think small. Always use a small plate if there’s a choice. That way you can’t gather a mountain of food.

No touching. Don’t pile up your food. Play that game you used to play as a kid — don’t let your foods touch.

Do it yourself. Bring your own amazing dish you can turn to in times of need. Make your contribution a super-healthy, low-cal, extremely tasty dish that you can’t get enough of. If all the other offerings are too rich or fatty, you can rely on your own cooking.

Step aside. When you’ve had your fill at the buffet table, move away. The farther you are from the food, the less you’ll try to get back to it. If you have to stand in the same room with the food, keep your back to it.

Just a bite. Have all the desserts you want! But just a bite of each. That, Jamieson-Petonic says, is the way to not feel short-changed — but also not bloated or on the edge of a sugar freak out.

Choose fruit. Afraid of the treats and what they’ll do to you? Then contribute to the party by bringing a big fruit salad. The sugars in fruit can squelch your desire for other sweets.

Get chatty. Holidays are about catching up with friends and family you haven’t seen in a while, Jamieson-Petonic says. Focus on conversation and you’ll eat less.

Take your time. Savor the food. Appreciating each bite, Jamieson-Petonic says, can help you eat less and appreciate what you had.

Take stock. When holiday cravings hit, stop and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” Just a few seconds might reveal that you’re really just tired or sad. A little talk with yourself can spare you some unwanted calories.

Breathe and enjoy. Remember that the holidays are about love and time with relatives and friends. Take a deep breath, smile, and connect.

 

Information sourced from http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/25-healthy-holiday-choices?page=2

Christmas – tips to reduce the stress

December 15, 2013

Christmas is typically one of the most stressful events of the year. The expense of buying gifts, the pressure of last minute shopping, and the heightened expectations of family togetherness can all combine to undermine our best intentions. Some practical suggestions can help you reduce your ‘Christmas stress’.

Budgeting for Christmas

For many of us, the Christmas aftermath includes massive credit card bills that can take months to clear. Christmas doesn’t have to be a financial headache if you plan ahead. Stress reduction strategies include:

  • Work out a rough budget of expected Christmas costs as early as possible. This includes ‘hidden’ expenses such as food bills and overseas telephone charges.
  • Calculate how much disposable income you have between now and Christmas. A certain percentage of this can be dedicated each week (or fortnight or month) to covering your expected Christmas costs. Don’t be discouraged if the amount seems small. If you save $5, $10, or $20 per week over a year, it can provide you with a hefty nest egg.
  • If your nest egg isn’t enough to cover your estimated expenses, consider recalculating your Christmas budget to a more realistic amount.
  • If you have trouble keeping your hands off your Christmas nest egg, consider opening a ‘Christmas Club’ account.

Presents

If you have a large circle of extended family or friends to buy gifts for, it can be very costly. You might be able to reduce the stress and cost of Christmas for everyone if you suggest a change in the way your family and friends give presents. For example, you could suggest that your group:

  • Buy presents only for the children.
  • Have a Kris Kringle, where everyone draws a name out of a hat and buys a present only for that person.
  • Set a limit on the cost of presents for each person

Christmas shopping

According to a recent study by Roy Morgan Research, around 60 per cent of Australians dislike Christmas shopping, just 20 per cent plan their shopping expeditions, and the majority of us (nearly 75 per cent) often come home without a single purchase for our efforts.

Stress reduction strategies for successful Christmas shopping include:

  • Make a list of all the gifts you wish to buy before you go shopping. If you wait for inspiration to strike, you could be wandering aimlessly around the shopping centre for hours. Perhaps you could get to know the interests of family and friends to help you when choosing gifts (remember money is also a great gift as it allows people to choose what they want).
  • Cross people off the list as you buy to avoid duplication
  • Buy a few extras, such as chocolates, just in case you forget somebody or you have unexpected guests bearing gifts.
  • If possible, do your Christmas shopping early – in the first week of December or even in November. Some well-organised people do their Christmas shopping gradually over the course of the year, starting with the post-Christmas sales.
  • Buy your gifts by mail catalogue or over the Internet. Some companies will also gift-wrap and post your presents for a small additional fee.

The Christmas lunch (or dinner)

Preparing a meal for family and friends can be enjoyable but tiring and stressful at the same time.

Some tips to reduce the stress of Christmas cooking include:

  • If you are cooking lunch at home, delegate tasks. You don’t need to do everything yourself.
  • Consider keeping it simple – for instance, you could always arrange for a ‘buffet’ lunch, where everybody brings a platter.
  • Make a list of food and ingredients needed. Buy as many non-perishable food items as you can in advance – supermarkets on Christmas Eve are generally extremely busy.
  • Write a Christmas Day timetable. For example, 11.30am – put turkey in the oven.
  • You may need to order particular food items (such as turkeys) from your supermarket by a certain date. Check to avoid disappointment.
  • Consider doing your food shopping online. The store will deliver your groceries to your door. (Keep in mind this option is more expensive than visiting the supermarket yourself.)
  • Book well in advance if you plan to have lunch at a restaurant. Some restaurants may be fully booked for months before Christmas, so don’t wait till the last minute.

Relationships

Stress, anxiety, and depression are common during the festive season. If nothing else, reassure yourself that these feelings are normal. Stress reduction strategies include:

  • Don’t expect miracles. If you and certain family members bicker all year long, you can be sure there’ll be tension at Christmas gatherings.
  • Avoid known triggers. For example, if politics is a touchy subject in your family, don’t talk about it. If someone brings up the topic, use distraction and quickly move on to something else to talk about.
  • Use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or focusing on your breath to cope with anxiety or tension.
  • Family members involved in after-lunch activities (such as cricket on the back lawn) are less likely to get into arguments. Plan for something to do as a group after lunch if necessary.
  • People under stress tend to ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol, cigarettes and other drugs. Try to remember that drugs can’t solve problems or alleviate stress in the long term.

The little extras

Other ways you might be able to reduce the stress include:

  • Write up a Christmas card list and keep it in a safe place so that you can refer to it (and add or delete names) year after year.
  • Plan to write your Christmas cards in early December. Book a date in your diary so you don’t forget.
  • Christmas cards with ‘Card only’ marked on the envelope can be posted at a reduced rate during November and December.
  • Overseas mail at Christmas time takes longer to arrive. Arrange to send cards or presents in the first half of December to avoid disappointments (and long queues at the post office).
  • For great savings, buy Christmas necessities (such as cards, wrapping paper, ribbons and decorations) at post-Christmas sales.

General health and well being

Some other ways to keep your stress levels down include:

  • Try to be moderate – it may be the season to be jolly, but too much food and alcohol is harmful. Drink driving is a real danger and is illegal. If you can’t (or don’t want to) step off the social merry-go-round, at least try to eat and drink in moderation.
  • Get enough sleep – plan for as many early nights as you can.
  • Keep moving – keeping up your regular exercise routine can give you the fitness and stamina to make it through the demands of the festive season.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Financial planner
  • Your local community health centre

Things to remember

  • Save a percentage of your disposable income throughout the year to provide a nest egg for Christmas expenses.
  • Make a list of all the gifts and food you wish to buy and shop early.
  • Don’t expect miracles – if you and certain family members bicker all year long, you can be sure there’ll be tension at Christmas gatherings.

 

Information sourced from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Christmas_tips_to_reduce_the_stress?open&utm_term=Christmas_tips_to_reduce_the_stress&utm_source=&utm_campaign=newsletter

Healthy Inspirations Recipe of the Week – Creamy Mushroom Stew

December 12, 2013

Healthy Inspirations Coffs Harbour

imagesServes 4

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 250g Portobello mushrooms, chopped with tough portion of stems removed
  • 250g button mushrooms, sliced
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste;
  • ¼ cup beef stock
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • Handful of fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 spring onions, chopped

Preparation

  1. Heat a large skillet over a medium heat and add the butter. Stir-in the onions and garlic. Cook until they begin to brown, about 7 minutes.
  2. Add the mushrooms and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until moisture evaporates entirely.
  3. Add the stock as well and coconut milk and stir well to ensure that the flavours are dispersed evenly.
  4. Once the mushrooms have simmered for a few minutes, add the thyme leaves, spring onions and adjust the salt and pepper seasoning. Allow to sit on a low heat for a few more minutes so that it thickens.
  5. Serve with grilled steak and steamed veggies.

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Feeling Peckish Late at Night? Be careful what you choose to munch on!

December 10, 2013

We’ve all heard the warning: If you eat right before bed, you’ll put on weight while you sleep. I used to live in Spain, where everyone eats dinner late, around 9 or 10 p.m., and I’m here to tell you that Spaniards do not carry around more weight than people who live in countries with earlier dinner times. To take another example, during Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours and eat only after sunset. They make up for the daylight deprivations by celebrating with huge feasts of their favorite foods. Yet, a study at the Hashemite University in Jordan that monitored 57 Muslim women before and during Ramadan found that the women lost weight.

Researchers at the University of Texas at El Paso had 867 people keep diet diaries that divided the day into four-hour periods. It turned out that people who ate more in the morning ate fewer calories overall, and people who ate late at night ate more calories overall. This is the key. Typically, Americans who eat late at night are not simply postponing dinner from 6 to 10 P.M. They are actually eating more: snacking in front of the TV, eating junk food or adding calories with alcohol.

So it’s not when you eat, it’s how much you eat. The mystery of weight loss always boils down to this: If you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight; if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. You can’t argue with physics.

There’s no need to deny yourself a late-night snack if you’re feeling hungry, but you still have to think smart when it comes to eating late. Eating the wrong foods will disrupt your sleep while also adding a lot of unneeded calories to your day. Instead of just diving into the nearest, tastiest-looking item in your fridge, here are five types of foods to avoid at night and why.

  1. Greasy or fat-filled foods: Greasy, heavy, fatty foods not only make you feel sluggish the next morning, but they also make your stomach work overdrive to digest all that food. Stay away from things like fast food, nuts, ice cream, or super cheesy foods right before bed.
  2. High-carb or sugary foods: A little bit of something sweet before bed may be just what you need to rest happy, but if you gobble a huge slice of chocolate cake, the spike in your blood-sugar levels could cause your energy levels to spike and plummet, disrupting your sleep in the process. Avoid cake, cookies, or other desserts as well as carby snacks like crackers or white bread and munch on an apple instead.

Read more foods to avoid late at night after the break!

  1. Red meat and other proteins: Like fatty foods, eating red meats late at night will sit in your stomach and make it hard for you to fall asleep while you’re digesting (red meat may affect you the worst, but eating a large portion of chicken or pork would have the same effect as well). You don’t have to avoid protein altogether, just make sure you go for lean and small portions, like deli-sliced turkey breast or a cup of yogurt.
  2. Spicy foods: Spices may be a natural cure-all for a range of ailments, but when you’re craving something to eat late at night, step away from the hot sauce. Spicy, peppery foods may upset your stomach, and not only that, chemicals in spicy food can stimulate your senses, making it hard to fall asleep.
  3. Big portions: Late-night snacking shouldn’t turn into a late-night meal. Keep the total amount of calories under 200 so you won’t have any problems going and staying asleep. You’ll also feel good knowing that you didn’t undo all your healthy eating habits of the day right before bedtime.

So what should you eat instead? Small, light portions that will also calm cravings and help you sleep. Try these five sleep-inducing snacks under 200 calories that hit all your sweet or salty cravings. And remember to limit how much alcohol you drink as well, since too many drinks can keep you up at night.

We know scarfing down an entire plate of loaded nachos or pint of ice cream before calling it a night isn’t the way to go, but if you need to eat something before bed, make sure you choose foods that don’t impair your quality of sleep. As a rule, avoid any spicy foods, citrus fruits, tomato sauce, and other foods that cause indigestion or heartburn. Fatty foods will also hinder your ability to get a good night’s rest since they are harder to digest. Avoid huge meals that take a lot of energy to digest, and opt for small snack portions (around 150 calories or fewer) of easily digestible foods instead.

The best snacks to have before bedtime are those that are low in calories but also contain the amino acid tryptophan, which helps the body create niacin and serotonin, the calming feel-good hormone. Bananas are also known for promoting z’s, as research shows that potassium is an important mineral for deep sleep. They also contain tryptophan, which will help you drift into dreamland even quicker. Other serotonin-inducing foods include poultry, oats, and honey. So try subbing some of these foods into your late night snack whenever possible. Pairing complex carbohydrates with some protein can make for a nice, light bedtime snack. Here are some healthy options:

  • 1/4 cup plain oatmeal  with one extra small mashed banana : 147 calories
  • 1/2 cup Barbara’s Shredded Oats cereal with 3/4 cup skim milk : 156 calories
  • 1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt sprinkled with 1/8 cup  Almond Crunch Muesli : 160 calories
  • 1 slice whole-wheat toast topped with half an ounce shredded mozzarella cheese : 136 calories
  • Four-inch whole-wheat pita with two slices turkey breast : 140 calories

 

Information sourced from: Does Eating Late at Night Make You Gain Weight?

The Gift of Giving

December 8, 2013

Christmas may be the season for giving, but research shows becoming more giving year round can significantly boost your health and wellbeing.

give-freely

Amidst the sometimes stressful frenzy of Christmas shopping, the idea that giving to others can be good for your health and happiness can feel a bit of a stretch.

But a growing body of scientific research shows exactly that.

It’s now clear that doing good for others without any expectation of reward – known as behaving altruistically – can give you better physical and mental health and even help you live longer.

As US-based altruism and health researcher Stephen G. Post puts it: “A remarkable fact is that giving, even in later years, can delay death. The impact of giving is just as significant as not smoking and avoiding obesity.”

Indeed one study of 2025 older residents of California found those who volunteered for two or more organisations had a 44 per cent reduction in mortality over five years, even after accounting for factors like differences in prior health status.

And yes, even giving in a more material sense can boost your wellbeing – although not as much as “hands on”, face-to-face helping.

Sydney positive psychology expert Dr Tony Grant says most of the studies have focused on behaviours like volunteering or practising acts of kindness, but some have looked at spending. These have shown those who spent money on others or on a charity are happier than those who spent on themselves. “Part of the problem is that [at Christmas], we get sucked into commercial rituals that have become completely divorced from any sort of intrinsic meaning,” says Grant, director of coaching psychology at the University of Sydney.

“But if you focus on why you’re giving – to make another person happy – it really can make you feel better and there are physical changes that underpin that.”

Give and thou shalt receive

Exactly how giving boosts health is not fully understood, but reduced exposure to stress hormones such as cortisol may be one factor.

Knowing we’ve done something to improve the life of others not only boosts our self esteem and gives us a sense of purpose, it also shifts our attention away from our own stresses and worries, Grant says.

“Your attention is placed on making other people feel better, not on worrying about yourself.”

Giving also “integrates you more solidly and cohesively into your supportive social networks”, making it more likely you’ll have helping behaviour returned to you when you need it – such as when you suffer illness or a loss in your own life.

“Twenty year follow-up studies at Harvard [University] have mapped thousands of people and shown those who pay attention to others tend to move towards the centre of their social network, whereas those who don’t get pushed further and further to the edges as the network changes over time. This is very important. Shared social support is one of the things that would probably play quite a major role in longevity.”

Some of the other changes that happen when we give have even been observed in brain scans. Studies involving functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans have shown donating money to charity triggers the same pleasure and reward systems in the brain as food and sex.

How much is enough?

Wonder how much you need to do for others before you get the rewards yourself? About two hours a week, it seems.

A 2002 study of 4860 elderly people found strong positive effects from a combination of volunteering and paid work up to about 100 hours a year, with no extra boost to wellbeing for those who did more than 100 hours.

While the study couldn’t separate the effects of volunteer work alone, and there will always be variations from one person to the next, “it seems as if we don’t have to put too much time in each week to receive benefits”, Grant says.

“And even volunteering on a random one-off basis will have immediate effects on our wellbeing.”

But overdoing altruistic acts can be harmful if you don’t have enough support or respite.

Just be kind

If you don’t have time to commit to regular volunteer works, you can experience the benefits of altruism simply by practising acts of kindness, Grant says.

In one of the most famous studies, students asked to practise five random acts of kindness a week for six weeks experienced a more than 40 per cent increase in self-reported happiness levels, measured on a type of standardised questionnaire widely used in psychological research.

Examples of acts of kindness you could try include:

  • Helping out a soup kitchen or homeless shelter
  • Phoning or visit a housebound person
  • Collecting goods for a charity
  • Letting someone in front of you in the traffic or in a queue
  • Surprising a colleague at work with a snack, drink or coffee
  • Donating blood
  • Doing something for someone that requires time and effort

But there’s a hitch. If you volunteer, or do kind things, specifically to make yourself feel better, you might end up feeling worse or at least not as good as you’d hoped.

You might for instance feel resentful that others don’t appreciate what you’ve done, Grant says.

So it’s important that your primary motive is to enhance someone else’s wellbeing.

“It can be really small gestures, but the hallmark is that you do it genuinely as an act of giving. “When we feel good because we’ve made someone else feel good, that’s the secondary glow we can savour.”

This article was sourced from: http://www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2011/12/07/3384701.htm

Keep Fit During the Silly Season

December 3, 2013

At Christmas, exercise has to be social, says Sydney personal trainer Nikki Snow. Fitness routines slide as personal trainers leave town, gym classes are cut and social lives get busier. “If you’re meeting friends for a coffee, suggest you top it off with a walk along the beach. And get down into soft sand – it switches on the core muscles needed to hold you up in shifting sand.”

To maintain your level of fitness, Snow says three hard workouts are needed each week, but this standard can seem impossibly high over Christmas. “If you miss exercising for a week, it’s fine. You won’t lose condition and you won’t gain weight. Leave it any longer, and it will hurt when you return to your usual routine.”

Top fitness tip

If you’re travelling to visit family and friends, pack a skipping rope, suggests Snow. “It weighs nothing in your luggage and skipping can be done anywhere, at virtually any time of the day or night.”

How to Avoid Overeating

Most of us gain about two to three kilos over Christmas and the New Year, and this is largely because we drop our guard, according to dietitian Julie Gilbert. With a bit of planning, you can breeze through the season without it registering on the bathroom scales. Look at your week and how many functions you have on, says Gilbert. If you have invitations to three or four Christmas parties or dinners, then go ahead and enjoy them, but build in a buffer. “There are 21 main meals in a week, which means you can eat really well and cut back on portions for the remaining 18 meals.”

On Christmas Day, sample the food, rather than stuff yourself silly, and deal quickly with any leftovers. People often get through Christmas unscathed, but come undone when faced with the pavlova in the fridge the next day, says Gilbert. “Send leftovers home with guests, or freeze food in small portions.”

Break with tradition
Why not spoil yourself with a champagne breakfast? “Each year, my family goes to a hotel,” says Gilbert. It’s great! There are no leftovers to pick on and it’s all over by 10:30am.”

The Christmas coronary
Is it time to cancel Christmas? It seems the holidays truly are a stressful time. When US researchers looked at cardiac deaths over a year, they found a third more in December and January than mid-year. The peak was put down to the emotional stress of the holidays and overindulgence across the Christmas season.

Eat Before the Party

It’s a well known fact that when you’re hungry, everything looks good, so take the edge off before you leave the house. Have an apple and a slice of cheese, or a handful of nuts and fresh vegetables. You’ll be amazed how much more rational you are about food choices when your stomach isn’t acting like the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors, screaming, “feed me!”
P.S. Don’t forget to chase that pre-party snack down with a healthy glass of water, especially if you plan on cocktailing. You’ll feel fuller and it will help to prevent a hangover if you do overindulge.