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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Better Sleep = Healthier Living

GettyImages-820818020How often is it that you hear someone say, “Man, that was a great night’s sleep!” or “I slept like a baby!”? Not as often as we would like to hear, I would say! Being tired and feeling sluggish seems to be the new normal. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most Americans are sleep-deprived. Not getting enough sleep might be causing a lot more trouble than just that sleepy feeling. In fact, it could be seriously harming your health.

Why Aren’t We Sleeping?

Centuries ago, it was common for people to sleep anywhere from 8 to 9 hours each night. But now only about 25 percent of Americans get 8 or more hours of sleep. There are various reasons why we aren’t sleeping. We live in a society that is constantly on the go, 24/7. From fitness centers being open 24 hours to pharmacies and department stores being open later, around-the-clock convenience is there.

So many activities go on during a 24-hour period. From working long hours, transporting kids to their activities, trying to make time for friends, not to mention enjoying a little bit of entertainment—oh, and can’t forget about making time for our health and fitness goals. Sleep is typically the first thing to disappear from our lives, so it becomes second nature to not get enough of it.

Here’s the thing though: even when we do end up finally getting into bed, it doesn’t exactly mean we go right to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 60 parent of Americans have sleep problems. You heard it right—more than half of us struggle to sleep, and we are starting to pay for it.

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

“The foundations of good health are good diet, good exercise, and good sleep, but two out of the three doesn’t get you there.” —Dr. Anne Calhoun, neurology professor, University of North Carolina (source: CBC)

The three components that are needed to make up a healthy lifestyle are exercise, eating healthy, and sleep. Exercise and nutrition aren’t enough to make up for the danger that sleep deprivation poses to your health, however. Some studies indicate that adults can get as little as 7 hours of sleep a night and that can be sufficient. But shooting more for 8 hours would make a world of difference. And getting less than 7 can cause some serious consequences:

Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

If you get less than 6 hours of sleep each night and have disrupted sleep, you have a 48 percent greater risk of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15 percent greater risk of developing or dying from a stroke. Not to mention, lack of sleep can cause high blood pressure, blocked arteries, stroke, kidney disease, and dementia.

Obesity

Sleep shortage is directly linked to obesity. When you don’t get enough sleep, two very powerful hormones that control hunger are disrupted, resulting in you feeling hungrier and having fewer sensations of fullness.

Not getting enough will also cause you to feel more stressed, which boosts the production of the hormone cortisol in your body. The cortisol hormone causes you to crave high-carbohydrate foods such as chips and brownies, which then turn into the fat around your belly, which is the most dangerous place to store fat.

Another reason sleep is important is that the risk of pre-diabetes goes up. When trying to make it on less than 6 hours of sleep per night, your glucose tolerance becomes impaired.

Immune System Becomes Depleted

Ever wonder how two people can be exposed to the same germs, but only one of them gets sick? The answer: their immune systems. When you have a well-functioning immune system, you are capable of warding off many illnesses. But when something is causing your immune system to not function the right way, like sleep deprivation, you become vulnerable to infections, bacteria, viruses, and even some autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and asthma.

Less sleep = more stress and a compromised immune system

Low Exercise Performance

As if the threat of heart disease, obesity, and immune suppression isn’t enough to deal with, lack of sleep can negatively impact your fitness regimen as well. A recent study in Lipids in Health and Disease came to the conclusion that exercise can help increase insulin sensitivity and sleep quality while decreasing body fat.

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At the end of the day, lack of sleep does far more harm to your health than you might realize. Although it might take some rearranging of your schedule, putting sleep first means that you don’t have to worry about making time for illness—because, let’s be honest, who has time to get sick?

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, Weight Loss Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: disease prevention sleep immunity cardiovascular obesity sleep deprivation heart health

Heart-Healthy Trends: Weighing Nutrition News

GettyImages-636162332When it comes to nutrition and your heart, the things you hear in the news can be very confusing:

Don’t eat eggs.
Eggs are good for you.
Coconut oil is amazing and should be in everything.
Coconut oil is full of saturated fat and is bad for your heart.
Fat-free dairy is the only kind you should eat.
Fat from dairy is good for you and your heart.

A lot of time there is a study that comes out saying something isn’t good for us, and then there is one that follows that says it is good for us. Hopefully after reviewing some of the tips below, you will feel more confident in making the best nutrition choices for your heart.

Remember the Basics

When it comes to heart health, we know that unprocessed whole foods are best. These foods are higher in fiber, which is helpful in lowering cholesterol. They are also lower in added sodium and preservatives that can affect your blood pressure.

As much as possible, aim to eat foods that are fresh and not packaged or processed. This includes fruits and vegetables, lean meat and eggs and beans, milk and yogurt with minimal or no additions, and whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and whole-wheat pasta. At each meal aim to incorporate at least three of these food groups. At snack time, choose two food groups that have some fiber and protein to help keep you full.

Everything in Moderation

Eggs, coconut oil, and dairy can definitely all be a part of a balanced diet. However, if you are eating a dozen eggs per day, putting scoops of coconut oil in everything, and consuming dairy all day long, that can affect your health and your heart. Anything that you consume to excess will provide excess calories, which leads to excess fat being stored in the body if it isn’t burned off.

Therefore, remember to enjoy all foods, but in moderation. One or two eggs per day at breakfast is ideal. A teaspoon of coconut oil to sauté your veggies in is an appropriate serving size, and 3 servings of dairy per day is recommended.

The moderation rule applies to not only these foods but also sweets, higher-fat foods, and alcohol. Learn to enjoy these foods in moderation, with the majority of your choices coming from whole and unprocessed foods, and you will keep your heart healthy.

Pay Attention to Details of Health News

If you are watching a news story or if you see an article on the internet that is talking about the newest trend in nutrition, dive a little deeper. Check to see whether this was a major study that was done by a reputable source. Or is it just an article written by someone who doesn’t have the credentials that are important when trying to come up with recommendations for health.

Something else to look at is the sample size of the study and how long it was. Did they only have a handful of subjects do the testing, and was it for a short period of time? If so, then this isn’t something you can rely heavily on. Studies that have very large sample sizes (think thousands of participants) and go on for years (20+) are the ones that most nutrition recommendations come from, and these are the ones you want to pay attention to. Otherwise, remember to stick to the basics and enjoy a balanced diet with all foods in moderation.

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition protein fiber whole foods whole grains heart health

Five Questions About Healthy Eating Habits for Your Heart

GettyImages-643764514mnew.jpgFebruary is Heart Health Month! Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One of the most important things you can do to increase your heart health and decrease your risk for heart disease is to take a look at your diet. Are you eating the foods that are good for your heart and sparingly consuming the foods that aren’t?

Here are five questions to ask yourself about your diet.

  • How much sodium are you eating? Hypertension or high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. One of the best ways to decrease your blood pressure or to prevent high blood pressure is to watch the amount of sodium in your diet. It's in everything these days. However, it is not in fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables, and lean meats. The worst foods are those that are typically processed and packaged, and food when you are dining out. When grocery shopping, try to stay on the outside aisles of the store and avoid purchasing a lot of items down the center aisles. This tends to be the area where the higher-sodium foods are located. Try to decrease how many times you eat out per week. When you do dine out, be sure to drink plenty of water to help flush out the excess that is bound to be in your food.
  • Are you choosing low-fat animal protein sources? Saturated fat is the fat that is found in animal products and is directly linked to elevated cholesterol and increasing the risk for heart disease. Most individuals get their protein from meat, resulting in high saturated fat consumption. The best way to watch the amount you are taking in is to choose lower-fat protein sources such as those from fish that is grilled or baked, white-meat chicken and turkey without skin, center cuts of pork, and lean cuts of red meat such as filet or sirloin.
  • Are you eating fruits and veggies with every meal? Prepare them any way you like, and shoot for a few portions at each meal. Toss fruit into your oatmeal or yogurt and add veggies to your eggs at breakfast. At lunchtime it’s easy to grab a veggie as your side to your sandwich. Fruit is an easy and portable snack any time of day, and half of your plate should be covered with vegetables at dinner! These nutrient powerhouses are loaded with fiber. Fiber helps to decrease the cholesterol in your body, which can be very heart protective.
  • Where are the high-fiber carbohydrates? Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap in recent years, mainly due to the increased intake of highly processed and unnatural carbohydrate sources. Carbs are important and help supply the body with energy it needs to run various systems of the body. Portion control is key here (1 to 2 cupped-hand-sized servings) and so is choosing the kind of carbohydrate. Choose whole grains, beans, lentils, and fruits that are unprocessed the majority of the time.
  • Are you eating the right kinds of fat? Fat in your diet is important; however, the type of fat you are choosing is key. Remember that animal fat is the not-good-for-your-heart fat, along with foods that are packaged to have a long shelf life and those that are deep fried. The good fats are those from vegetable sources such as nuts, olive oil, avocado, and fatty fish like salmon. Choose these types of fat the majority of the time, being aware of portion sizes though, since they carry a lot of calories with them also.

If you have a family history of heart disease, you should definitely be asking yourself these five questions and working toward healthy eating habits. Take time this month to reflect on your heart health, decrease your sodium intake, and increase your fiber and good-for-you fats!

Like what you've just read? Click here to subscribe to our blog!

This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy eating protein heart disease fiber sodium hypertension fruits and vegetables portion control heart health eating habits