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Naturotherapy incorporates a variety of natural approaches (actively through diet/nutrition and exercise and passively through rest and relaxation) to promote health and well-being on all levels: body, mind and spirit. Naturotherapy is complimentary and can be utilized on its own or together with conventional medicine to support health and healing in all of its aspects.

Your Naturotherapy Advisor is Anna Ambrosio, R.H.N.


Mind and Body Are One
by Anna Ambrosio, R.H.N.

Have you ever experienced a headache at the end of a very stressful day? Had a sick feeling in your stomach before an interview, exam or important meeting? Felt your heart race while watching a scary movie or after hearing bad news? In a similar way, long-term negative states of mind (low self-esteem, pessimism, etc.) may profoundly affect the body's vitality.

The mind and the body are one, work together as a whole, and constantly interact with and influence each other. This is not a new idea. Hippocrates, often referred to as the Father of Western medicine, believed that health depends on a balance of the mind, body and environment, while disease can be caused by imbalances.

The mind/body connection is the link between mental attitudes and their effect on a person's health. Defining where the mind ends and the body begins is impossible. This connection has been recognized by many cultures for centuries. In Chinese medicine, for example, it is believed that certain organs of the body represent various mental and emotional conditions. Therefore, the treatment will also consider a person's psychological state - what was happening in their life when symptoms began.

Western medicine prefers to have scientific data proving the existence of the mind/body connection and how it functions. Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a relatively new scientific field which studies chemical relationships between the nervous, endocrine (hormonal) and immune systems. The nervous system consists of the brain and the nerves which run throughout the body. This system sends information from the brain to the body and vice versa using chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.

The discovery of nerve endings in the lymph nodes, thymus, spleen and bone marrow (all essential components of the immune system) demonstrates the connection between the nervous and immune systems. Endocrine glands, such as the pituitary, thyroid and adrenals, are directly activated by the brain to release different hormones into the body.

Neuroscientist Candace Pert believes that our emotions exist in concrete biological forms called peptides. Her research shows that emotions are made in the cells of the brain and body with chemicals. These chemicals bind to specific receptor sites on the cells and transmit information. Nerve impulses traveling across cell membranes pick up changes and produce corresponding changes in mood and physiological activity. Therefore, depending on our emotional state (sad, happy, angry) different peptides are released and different messages are sent throughout the body. Receptor sites for these molecules of emotions are also found on immune cells, which would explain how and why our health is affected by emotions.

Research indicates that negative attitudes, emotions and stress are linked to the physical body via the nervous system and influence immune function and organ and tissue vitality.

It is the brain that recognizes a "stressor" and activates the body's 'fight or flight' system by releasing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol into the body. This surplus of hormones increases the heart rate and causes blood levels of glucose to rise quickly - both responses needed to fight or run from a threat. When the danger passes hormone levels return to normal.

In modern times this response is rarely needed in everyday life. However, the body reacts in the same way, producing the same physical changes when it experiences any type of stress, including job pressures, relationship problems or negative thoughts and feelings. Stress is part of life and to the body - stress is stress - whether it comes from an external factor (noise, pollution, environmental changes) or whether it is internally generated.

Positive stress, called eustress (working on a challenging and interesting project or falling in love) keeps us alert and inspires creativity and growth of the human spirit. Negative stress - distress - is the kind that compromises our internal balance and health. The effect stress will have on the body ultimately depends on individual perception. Imagine you are on a roller coaster ride. If you're terrified - distressed - your body responds by producing stress hormones. On the other hand, if you feel exhilarated your body reacts by producing powerful immune stimulators such as interleukins and interferons.

Learning to turn stress off is important to quality of life. The key to relieving stress is to express feelings; let them go. Think of emotions as energy in motion. Keep the "molecules of emotion" moving and allow them to flow freely through your body.

Different healing therapies such as holistic counselling, energy work and bach flower remedies can be helpful. Physical exercise is a great way to release negative feelings. Share your feelings with another person or write down your thoughts in a personal journal. Laugh often, love more. Add more fun to your life by doing things you enjoy and finding joy in what you do.

Headaches, muscle pain, digestive problems and fatigue are just a few indicators of a stressed and tense body. Many people who feel stressed may lie down on the couch, turn the television on and perhaps have one or two alcoholic drinks at the end of the day. However, this type of relaxation is physical inactivity combined with the body's reaction to what it sees on TV (remember the mind doesn't know the difference between what is real and what is imagined) and doesn't provide therapeutic benefits.

True relaxation is healing to the body, producing helpful chemicals and boosting the immune system. Studies suggest that we can change the way we react to stress. Work with your mind to create and maintain total well-being. Consider trying a therapy which induces the 'relaxation response' - meditation, visualization, breath therapy, yoga, massage or reflexology are just a few.

Visualization, also called guided imagery, is the conscious use of imagination to create a sense of well-being and bring about positive changes. A relaxed mind is more receptive to concepts and ideas that allow the creation of new thought and energy patterns.

Breath therapy works on the premise that breathing plays a central role in the body and mind. People under stress tend to breathe rapidly and shallowly. Low and deep breathing has been shown to reduce stress and induce the relaxation response. In yoga, there is the science of breathing techniques known as the pranayama, which promotes health. Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine consider the breath to be the most important metabolic function. Breath therapy is often used in conjunction with meditation and other mind/body techniques.

There are many forms of meditation but they all have the same goal - which is to calm and focus the mind. Beginners may find it hard at first to clear the mind of thoughts and worries but when performed on a regular basis it becomes easier. It is an efficient way to promote the relaxation response and can be used to ease the discomfort of many health problems, including chronic pain, tension headaches and asthma.

Meditation involves sitting or lying in a comfortable position and concentrating on the breath or perhaps an object such as a flower or candle flame. The idea is to concentrate deeply in order to calm the thoughts that typically fill the mind. There are many self-help books and audio tapes for people who are interested in trying some of these techniques on their own.

Mind and body are one and the same. Nothing is separate. Whatever is experienced in one becomes part of the whole. All types of complementary health care approaches are based on this premise and scientific research has been able to provide some solid evidence for it.

While perhaps it is too simplistic to believe that all illnesses have their basis in emotions, it is realistic to believe that they can positively or negatively influence our health. Diet, lifestyle choices, the way we perceive and cope with stress, negative and positive emotions, the way we interact with others and the environment, our genetic makeup - are all factors involved in the health of mind and body.

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General Recommendations For Healthy Eating
by Anna Ambrosio R.H.N.

  1. Listen to your body. Observe the relationship between what foods are eaten and what reactions they may cause. Example: Is the food digested easily or with difficulty? Does the food trigger a headache? Does it cause irritability or fatigue?
  2. Incorporate spices and herbs into the diet. They are important to metabolic processes. In general, they aid digestion, prevent flatulence and can be extra sources of vitamins and minerals.
  3. Eat at least one serving of raw vegetables every day. Living food promotes vitality and health. If eaten before meals, raw vegetables aid the digestive process because they are rich in enzymes.
  4. Most fruit should be eaten either one hour before meals or two hours after. However, fruits like kiwi, papaya, pineapple and sweet golden apples are rich in enzymes and are beneficial to digestion if eaten right after a meal.
  5. Read labels for hidden sugars - usually words ending in "ose". Industrial sugars affect almost everything in the body (pancreas, liver, adrenal glands, joints, teeth, metabolism and the immune system).
  6. Avoid drinking tap water. There are known risks involved because of the source and can contain metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic. It can also contain chemicals such as fluoride. Copper pipes or lead pipes used in home plumbing also add to the list of potential harmful side effects. A good source is bottled spring water that has not been ozonized and does not contain fluoride.
  7. Avoid caffeine completely or at least cut down on its consumption. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks and some medications. Even low doses increase the body's acidity level, robbing it of calcium. It inhibits zinc absorption and disturbs the nerves and spinal cord.
  8. Avoid processed foods. They can be high in salt, sugar, hydrogenated fat, chemicals and additives. The immediate and the accumulated effects of these non-nutrients are detrimental to good health.
  9. It is not necessary to supplement our intake of salt. There are adequate amounts of sodium in many foods. Adding table salt is unhealthy because sodium chloride is a chemical that our body cannot metabolize. A good alternative is unrefined sea salt.
  10. Cut down or eliminate meat in the diet. It is linked to digestive and elimination problems. Long time use promotes the development of bowel cancer, arthritis and heart and kidney disease.
  11. Add nutribiotics to vegetables. They replace nutrients that may have been lost from growing in poor, depleted soil, during transportation, refrigeration and cooking.
  12. Choose whole natural foods. Organic, locally grown and in season are the best choices.
  13. Chew 50 times. There are many factors that involve good digestion and maximum assimilation but the whole process starts with proper chewing. Food should be liquefied before swallowing.
  14. Eating a varied diet is important. It ensures that our body receives all nutrients and sensitivity to any one food is less likely to occur. For example, don't always eat bread made from wheat. Alternate with rye, oat or multi-grained bread.
  15. Eat foods high in fibre such as asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, whole breads and legumes. Fibre is important for good elimination. Avoid processed foods and refined flours.
  16. Seaweed contains vitamins A, C and B complex plus minerals such as iron, sodium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese and iodine. If a diet is low or non-existent of animal protein then eating seaweed regularly is even more important.
  17. Eat foods like pumpkin seeds, buckwheat and garlic. They promote healthy intestinal flora by helping to kill parasites.
  18. Meal time should be pleasant and eating too quickly or under stressful conditions may cause a number of digestive disorders.
  19. Unsaturated fats are an important part of a healthy diet. They provide energy, aid absorption of vitamin D, insulate nerves, protect organs and help preserve body heat. They can be found in cold-pressed oils, nuts and seeds.
  20. Take advantage of the many benefits that can result by changing even the type of foods that are consumed in small amounts. Example: Switch from black pepper to cayenne, table sugar to raw honey and white vinegar to apple cider vinegar.

Changes in diet require a gradual process. It took a lifetime to develop some unbeneficial eating habits and it is reasonable to expect that it can take years to change how, why, when and, very importantly, what we eat. Knowledge, awareness and the will to be healthy start with a healthy diet.

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The Power of Enzymes
by Anna Ambrosio, R.H.N.

Enzymes are powerful molecules of protein found in all living things. No enzymes - no life. They virtually run your entire body. You could not digest or absorb food, walk, talk or even breathe without the power of enzymes.

Enzymes are catalysts that trigger and accelerate chemical reactions in your body - millions of biochemical reactions every minute. No enzymes - no reactions. Dr. E. Howell, a physician and pioneer in enzyme research, called them " the sparks of life".

While good eating habits can provide vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy body and mind, it is enzymes that activate these micronutrients and make them available for the body to use. Vitamins and minerals are considered co-enzymes and work with enzymes as part of a team. The macronutrients, proteins, carbohydrates and fats are the building blocks of the body and also require enzyme power in order to be used efficiently.

As a holistic nutritionist, I will often explain the role of enzymes in this way: Building, maintaining or repairing a house requires materials such as wood, nails, insulation and pipes. This work is only possible with the use of tools - different tools for different tasks. To build, maintain and repair our body, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, water, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are the essential materials. Enzymes are the tools the body uses to get the work done.

There are hundreds of different types of enzymes in body cells - each acting a certain way in order to perform a specific function. Some examples of what they do: digest food, release nutrients, break down toxins, cleanse the blood, build protein into muscle, transmit nerve signals, repair tissues, organs and cells. Since enzymes are involved in practically all functions, it's not possible to name them all.

Enzymes can be classified into two categories - digestive and metabolic. Metabolic enzymes work to help build the body (using proteins, carbohydrates and fats), produce energy for cells, and act as antioxidants. Two very important metabolic enzymes are super oxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase. SOD protects cells by attacking super oxide, a common free radical. Catalase breaks down metabolic wastes and frees up oxygen for the body to use.

Free radicals are very unstable molecules that damage our cells - and they are everywhere! We are bombarded every day by environmental factors such as chemicals, pesticides in food, gas fumes, smoke and pollution. They are also formed by the body's own metabolism and even the oxygen we breathe converts into free radicals. Enzymes help prevent free radical damage to the cells.

Digestive enzymes are found all along the gastrointestinal tract. There are three main types of digestive enzymes. Protease breaks down protein, amylase breaks down starch and lipase breaks down fats. Digestion of food places a high demand on the supply of enzymes. While the body itself manufactures a supply of digestive enzymes, they are also available from raw foods.

According to Dr. Howell, we inherit an enzyme reserve at birth and over time this reserve decreases mainly by consuming a diet deficient in enzymes. His analogy is that each of us is born with an enzyme potential much like a bank account. This account can be either built up or depleted, but it must last a lifetime. If the body is depended upon to produce all the enzymes needed for digestion, less energy is available to produce metabolic enzymes, the ones that repair tissues and fight disease.

There are two ways to build up our 'bank account', to replenish enzyme levels - by eating foods in their natural raw state and by taking supplemental enzymes. Raw food is perfect. It contains everything - protein, carbohydrates, fats, water, minerals, vitamins and enzymes - all in the right amounts and proportions to sustain life. Raw food has the ability to digest itself, whether we eat it or whether it decomposes in nature.

Digestion begins in the mouth. As food is thoroughly chewed it mixes with amylase, a carbohydrate-digesting enzyme found in saliva. If the food is eaten raw, enzymes in the 'living' food work with the amylase to start digestion. The swallowed food then travels down the esophagus to the stomach where starch is digested further and digestion of protein begins. The food, called chyme at this point, will go into the small intestine and more digestion takes place. The nutrients are broken down into minute particles and can be absorbed into the bloodstream. We don't benefit from the food we eat, but from what we digest and absorb.

Whenever we eat anything devoid of enzymes we are asking the body to break down 100% of the food. Your body must supply all the missing enzymes for digestion and this creates a big demand on your enzyme reserve. As soon as food is cooked in any manner - baked, broiled or boiled, and as soon as food is processed - canned, pasteurized, or preserved - enzymes are destroyed. They are totally unable to withstand heat.

After years and years of eating enzyme-deficient foods, the digestive system becomes exhausted from overwork and stops functioning optimally. At this point, digestive complaints such as bloating, flatulence, heartburn, gas and indigestion are common. Poor digestion is one of the most common health problems in North America and it is the starting point of many illnesses.

The pancreas is also involved in digestion and secretes enzymes that break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Dr. Howell reports on studies showing that when the pancreas can't keep up with enzyme demand, white blood cells (part of the immune system) are called upon to finish the process of digestion. This means that there are fewer enzymes to do metabolic work and this eventually contributes to a weakened immune system.

The immune system is not supposed to be involved in digestion, but eating cooked and processed foods means that it will be. When the immune system is busy with digestion, it has less time and energy for its regular function of protecting us from the harmful viruses, bacteria and free radical damage. This constant overwork of the immune system is the foundation on which degenerative disease can thrive. The immune system will attack nutrients that are not fully digested. These undigested particles are not recognized as food! They get into the bloodstream and the immune system is forced to attack what it considers to be foreign invaders.

Other than incorporating a good percentage of raw foods into the diet, taking supplemental plant enzymes ensures complete digestion, thereby supporting the immune system. A formula that contains the three major enzymes (amylase, protease and lipase) is recommended. In general, enzymes should be taken with the first mouthful of food. Swallow the capsule or open it and sprinkle the contents on the food. This immediately starts digestion.

Supplemental plant enzymes can also be used as antioxidants. For this purpose it is best to take them between meals on an empty stomach.

It is important to include plenty of raw foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouts as part of your daily eating plan. Exercise, managing stress, sleep, rest and a positive outlook in life all contribute to help preserve the quality and quantity of our enzymes.

Lifestyle choices will affect you on all levels. So beware of enzyme destroyers - pesticides, chemicals, stress, too much cooked and processed food, over the counter and prescription drugs, alcohol, smoking and pollution.

The power of enzymes - yours for life!

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Coping With Stress: Dos and Don'ts
by Anna Ambrosio, R.H.N.

It is impossible to avoid stress. Life is stress. Demands at the office, raising children, personal financial states, marriage, divorce, moving, traffic jams, tests in school, meeting someone new, adolescence, pregnancy, aging and menopause are just a few stress factors.

And then consider the many types of stress:

  • Emotional: anger, fear, grief and worry.
  • Physical: prolonged exercise, weather changes, pollution and noise.
  • Chemical: exposure to pesticides, personal use of drugs, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.
  • Traumatic: sickness, injury and surgery.
  • Nutritional: vitamin and mineral deficiencies, food allergies.
  • Psychospiritual: relationships and the issues of life goals.

A certain degree of stress is good for us. It keeps us sharp, gives us an edge, an added alertness, and stimulates our growth and development. But when the stresses in our lives are too extreme or too many, they may result in all kinds of problems. It is important to realize, though, that stress itself does not induce illness. The effects of stress depend on individual perception. Your unique way of seeing things will determine what the impact will be.

Stress is reaction to a threat, an emergency or pressure. The classic fight or flight response - the instinct for self-defence or escape is located in the brain. When the brain perceives a threat, it alerts the adrenal glands to release hormones and other chemicals. These speed up the heart rate, force us to breathe deeper, put us in a heightened state of alertness and give us the burst of energy needed for action. It allows people to perform almost superhuman feats of strength in times of danger: a mother lifts a car off her child after an accident, a father tears a door off its hinges to rescue his family from a fire.

What does chronic long-term stress do to the body? A prolonged production and release of certain hormones and chemicals will affect all body systems. In particular, the digestive tract is very sensitive, leading to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn and ulcers. Also easily influenced are the cardiovascular system (high blood pressure, erratic heart rhythms) and the neuromuscular system (migraines, back pain).

So, what can we do?

  • Regular exercise relieves tension, increases energy and improves mood.
  • Get enough sleep and rest - your body must recharge and discharge tensions.
  • Express your feelings - unexpressed emotions are the seeds of stress, pain and illness.
  • Laugh often - it's a great tension breaker and enhances the immune system.
  • Love more - learn to use things and love people (not the other way around). Create fun, loving and supportive relationships.
  • Add more fun to your life by doing things you enjoy - and enjoy what you do.
  • When ideas or views are not serving you well, change them.
    Learn relaxation techniques: meditation, yoga, breathing exercises - and take the time to treat yourself to a massage or a reflexology session.
  • Eat well choosing nutrient-dense foods: whole grains, leafy greens, fresh fruit, nuts, seeds and low fat protein such as legumes, fish, tofu and low fat dairy products.
  • Commit to health and well-being. Develop your own healing program, drawing on the support of health care providers.

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We Are What We Eat, So Beware of Junk Food
by Anna Ambrosio, R.H.N.

Junk food is everywhere and can be a constant source of temptation for most children. They're exposed to it on TV, at stores, at a friend's house and even at school.

If allowed to choose a snack without fear of being scolded, most kids would pick soft drinks, chocolate bars, chips and candy. Their world of nutrition is ruled by taste buds and not knowledge of biochemistry.

Junk food is not only high in calories and nutritionally empty - it robs the body of essential nutrients in two ways: it diminishes the appetite for the next meal and certain chemicals such as phosphates, for example, can block the body's ability to absorb calcium and magnesium.

Junk food is full of what I call anti-nutrients - sugar, fats, salt and all kinds of chemicals from preservatives to food colour. Children are active and they need snacks to recharge them and sustain their energy until the next meal. Healthy snacks can also provide the nutrients needed for growing bodies and minds.

It is important that parents and kids realize that more than any one factor, the food we eat determines our short- and long-term health. Even a small child can understand that sugar and fat just fills us up without giving us the nutrients we need. Tell them that a healthy body needs protein, vitamins and minerals and that these things come from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, poultry et cetera.

Stress that good food is important to make you look good, feel good, be smart and strong and to keep you from getting sick.

What else can you do?

First rule - don't bring any junk food into the house. This really limits how often they're able to eat it. It even works with teenagers who are more independent than younger children and like to hang out at fast food restaurants. Let your home at least be the one place where they can get healthy snacks - colourful raw vegetables with yoghurt dip, popcorn, fresh fruit, nuts, low-fat cheese and crackers, homemade oatmeal cookies and muffins.

Second rule - set a good example yourself. Children learn eating habits in the same way they learn other behaviours - by imitation. So if you're snacking on Oreos, your child is not going to see anything wrong with it, no matter what you say. By choosing healthy snacks you're encouraging your child to do the same.

As you try to influence your child's eating habits, consider what they're eating over a period of weeks and months - not just for one day. Look for positive changes in the long term. Teaching your child to choose healthy snacks can help set a pattern of healthy eating for life.

And the third rule - let kids be kids. It's not an all or nothing approach. Making little changes is better than making no changes. Keep in mind too, that if your child is basically well-fed most of the time with nutritionally balanced meals and snacks, a party with soft drinks and cake or stopping at the donut shop won't be harmful.

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The Road to Optimum Health
by Anna Ambrosio, R.H.N.

Taking care of our body - eating healthy foods, sleeping soundly, resting and relaxing, being physically active - nurtures our mind and spirit as well. A holistic perspective of health embraces the reality that body, mind and soul are interlinked. The soul expresses itself through the body. Therefore, caring for our body can be thought of as one way to love our spiritual, inner self.

Often, fitness goals are viewed exclusively as a way to obtain a perfect body. But our body is not a machine that we can simply control or push to achieve particular results. In fact, this approach may foster a sense of disconnection from who we really are. Consider instead, that while any kind of exercise may be good for your body, it is the exercise that you truly enjoy that will provide optimum benefits for your physical, psychological and spiritual health - the whole you.

An analogy: Spinach contains an abundance of nutrients. Nonetheless, if you dislike spinach and force yourself to eat it because it's good for you, your negative state of mind affects digestion and absorption of its vitamins and minerals. Your body still gets some nutrients, but less than if you had eaten it with real pleasure. What can you do? Either find a way to make it more appealing by adding favourite herbs and spices and cook it differently or choose to eat another type of leafy green vegetable.

Similarly, you decide to try tennis but soon discover you don't like the game. Then because it's a healthy activity, you repeatedly push yourself to play. You will not get the maximum benefits this sport offers even though you're running around the court, burning calories and strengthening your cardiovascular system. I believe that if you loved the game and played with a sense of fun and laughter, the positive emotions would free your mind and spirit as well as condition your body.

There is virtually an endless list of sports, exercises and physical activities to choose from. Discovering what makes you feel happy can be an adventure. Even if you already have a program that you like, experimenting with something different can be fun and prevent boredom, a common occurrence when a routine is repeated for too long a period.

A lifestyle that includes regular physical activity has been proven to benefit every organ, muscle, bone and cell in the body. It increases endurance, energy, strength, joint and muscle flexibility, promotes lean body mass while burning fat, improves cardiovascular health, helps protect against cancer, type II (adult onset) diabetes and other diseases. Numerous studies show that regular exercise reduces stress and anxiety, factors that contribute to a variety of illnesses and conditions.

Aerobic exercise, such as running, brisk walking, or cycling, strengthens the heart muscle, making it a more efficient pump to provide blood, nutrients and oxygen to the brain and every organ of the body. It helps lower overall cholesterol while increasing the proportion of good (HDL) to bad (LDL) cholesterol. Sweating while exercising helps prevent disease by eliminating toxins through the skin. The lymphatic system, an important part of healthy immune function, relies solely on skeletal muscle contractions to move lymph fluid around the body.

A good example of resistance training is lifting weights. This increases strength, lean muscle mass and bone density. As early as our 20's we start to lose muscle mass. It is important to build and maintain muscle as it's the most efficient way to burn fat twenty-four hours a day. Bone density also declines with age and working with weights may help prevent osteoporosis.

Stretching exercises that help keep your body flexible are very important before a workout because they prepare your muscles and can prevent many kinds of injuries. Spending only eight to ten minutes stretching prior to your workout will give your muscles an optimal warm-up. Keeping flexible and limber also helps prevent injuries associated with routine daily chores. Yoga is an excellent example of this type of exercise and stretching for ten minutes first thing in the morning is a great way to start the day.

Many people begin an exercise program to improve overall health or for a specific concern: losing weight, controlling diabetes, or lowering cholesterol levels to name just a few. Often though, it is the psychological payoff that encourages a person to continue with the program.

Physical activity enhances mood. It releases endorphins - nature's tranquilizers responsible for euphoric feelings both during and after exercise. These hormones also help reduce pain. Brain levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters) rise to further boost mood and to help release tension. Another neurotransmitter, epinephrine, works with norepinephrine to increase the brain cells' ability to process information and to be more alert.

Any kind of exercise is a natural way of coping with stress. Instead of retaining the powerful "fight or flight" hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, it helps release them in a controlled manner. A short workout may be one of the best ways to deal with the first signs of stress or a case of the blues. The body quickly returns to a more balanced state and keeping it balanced through regular activity helps you cope with the inevitable stresses of day to day life.

We have all heard the number one excuse for not exercising - "I just don't have time!"

I see it as a question of priorities. After all, you make time for business meetings and doctor's appointments. It is necessary to recognize that being physically active is essential to living a long and healthy life. Who has time to deal with the ramifications of being sick or having a heart attack? It's up to you to find time to incorporate enjoyable physical activities into your daily life. Remember to choose an activity that you consider fun and you will find yourself looking forward to that time of day.

If you can fit in an aerobics class, bicycle ride or another type of vigorous activity, that's great. But if that isn't feasible for you, then walk. Research shows that walking two miles in 30 minutes, three or four times a week is enough to strengthen your heart. Yard work (gardening, weeding or raking) and housework are not glamorous but they can equal a workout at the gym if you do them at a faster pace than you normally would.

Are you still thinking that with a busy schedule it's just not possible to find or make time for exercise? A little creativity can turn your intentions into reality. How about small portions of exercise? Five minutes here and ten there; it all adds up at the end of the day. Lifestyle physical activity is just as good for your health as structured exercise. There's no reason to feel bad if you can't go to a gym or play a sport. Just look for opportunities to get moving.

What works for me when I'm too busy is to delay making dinner. I put on my favourite CD and dance up a sweat for 15 minutes. Then I'm in a great mood and have more energy.

Making lasting changes in our lifestyle takes time and patience. Think of the child who falls off his/her bike over and over again when they are first learning how to ride - most of us will need to make several attempts before we reach our fitness goals. Most children won't give up trying. They have an inner wisdom that helps them persevere no matter how hard it seems at first - because once they learn, it's for life.

An active lifestyle is a matter of choice and of commitment. It's the road to optimum physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Embrace each day as an opportunity to get moving and discover what gives you pleasure. As your body gets in shape, functions better and looks good, your mind feels happier and better able to cope with stress - and, in turn, your soul is nurtured.

Empower yourself with an active lifestyle and transform your body, mind and soul with total fitness.

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Snoring and Your Health
by Anna Ambrosio, R.H.N.

Snoring is a universal problem that affects millions of people. Although precise statistics are difficult to obtain, it is estimated that 45% of adults snore occasionally and one in four people snores regularly. Generally, snoring is more common in men and increases in intensity with age.

Television and movies tend to depict snoring as being funny, something to joke about - but in reality it is nothing to laugh at. Snoring can have serious effects on the quality of your life and health.

It also affects the quality of sleep for your partner as they struggle to fall and/or stay asleep through the noise. This in turn can have a negative impact on the relationship as anger and resentment build up due to loss of sleep night after night.

People who snore do not have a restful sleep and as a result can feel tired and sleepy throughout the day. Sleep deprivation causes psychological stress manifesting as mood swings, irritability, depression, intolerance and difficulties with memory and concentration. Physiologically, it can affect the immune system, cardiovascular health and sexual functioning.

Adequate sleep is also important for greater levels of mental performance. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that 200,000 car accidents each year (87% of which are fatal) may be caused by sleepiness.

When you breathe normally, air passes quietly through the nose and past the flexible structures in back of the throat such as the soft palate, uvula, tonsils and tongue. Normal, smooth, unobstructed breathing is vital to getting good quality sleep.

As the muscles at the back of the throat relax during sleep, the passage through which you breathe becomes narrower. In turn, the air passing through causes the soft palate and uvula to vibrate, creating the sound known as snoring. Other conditions that can produce a narrowed airway include:

  • an enlarged soft palate or uvula at the back of the mouth
  • poor muscle tone (aggravated by alcohol or sedatives)
  • a blocked nasal passage from polyps, a deviated septum, allergies or a cold
  • excessive weight causing tissue at the neck to be bulky and flaccid
  • tissue swelling from cigarette smoking
  • hypothyroidism

It is essential to uncover the underlying cause of your snoring in order to find and apply the most appropriate treatment. Often, there is more than one cause at the same time (having a stuffed-up nasal passage during hay fever season plus a recent gain in weight). Researchers have learned that most snoring can be cured by making lifestyle changes. The three major factors are being overweight, drinking alcohol and/or using sedatives at bedtime, and smoking cigarettes.

Being overweight is the most common cause of snoring. An increased neck size changes the anatomy and functioning of the throat. The increased fat in the muscles of the throat also increases the floppiness of the tissues. As you breathe in, the floppy walls move inward, narrowing the throat and begin to vibrate. Achieving a normal weight with a nutritionally sound eating plan and regular exercise is often the only thing you need to do to eliminate snoring.

Drinking alcohol makes your breathing worse in a few ways. First, it tends to relax the throat muscles a little too much. This narrows your throat, making it collapse during sleep. Alcohol acts on the central nervous system to suppress respiratory centres and awakening mechanisms. It also dilates blood vessels to increase swelling of the throat tissue.

Use of sleeping pills, tranquilizers or muscle relaxants can turn a non-snorer into one - or a habitual snorer into a heavy snorer. These drugs also cause throat muscles to over-relax and become flaccid. If you continue to smoke cigarettes while being aware of all the serious negative effects on health, consider that smoking also increases the risk of snoring. The smoke irritates and inflames upper airways. This inflammation affects the entire length of the airway from the throat to the bronchi leading to the lungs.

Aside from the three main lifestyle factors, there are other possible conditions that can be explored: allergies, a family history, a short thick neck, receding chin, deviated septum, thyroid problems, asthma and taking some medications that produce the side effects of nasal congestion and suppression of the central nervous system.

Sometimes an accurate medical diagnosis may be needed to determine the cause, as well as to determine if it is a case of simple snoring or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This is snoring in its most severe form. Apnea is from the Greek word meaning "without breath". People with this disorder can stop breathing, sometimes hundreds of times during the night - for ten seconds or for as long as a minute at a time.

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive apnea is the most common, caused by a blockage of the airway. In central sleep apnea the airway is not blocked - the brain fails to signal the muscles. Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of the two. As a result of OSA, sleep can be very fragmented and of poor quality. In severe cases, sleep apnea increases blood pressure and the risk of heart disease - mainly due to a lack of oxygen.

Remember that examining lifestyle issues is essential, no matter what other factors might be involved. The first thing to do if you snore is to make the changes stated above. Don't drink, especially before bedtime, don't use sleeping pills or smoke and, most importantly, lose weight.

Also check for allergies - there are several homeopathic and herbal preparations marketed for treating allergies. Don't sleep on your back, although some people snore in any position. If you breathe through your mouth, learn to breathe through your nose.

If these changes don't work, try an all-natural nasal dilator in spray form. There are also pills on the market that can help. These pills use enzymes and herbs to break up mucus and help clear airways. Some people have found it helpful to practice progressive relaxation before going to sleep - tightening different muscle groups in the body, one group at a time, and then releasing the tension to learn the feeling of relaxation. People often say that when they go to sleep feeling stressed, they snore more. Use tai chi, breathing or any other relaxation technique that works for you.

And keep a regular schedule for sleeping. Lack of rest can also make snoring worse. Try increasing the humidity in your bedroom, as dry and swollen membranes may also contribute to the problem. You should always see a medical doctor or a sleep specialist under the following conditions: severe snoring, stopped breathing in your sleep, excessive fatigue and sleepiness during the day and if you also have high blood pressure or heart disease.

There are other treatments that may be necessary in certain circumstances. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) involves wearing a mask that fits over the nose, forming an airtight seal. A hose connects the mask to a portable pump that blows a steady supply of air into the throat during sleep. This holds the airway open, allowing the person to breathe and sleep normally.

There are two types of oral appliances that can be worn during sleep - either acting on the tongue or on the jaw. Surgical treatments are also available but they are the most invasive and so are better to be considered as a last option in the most severe conditions. There is laser surgery to reduce and reshape the size of the soft palate and uvula. A very new procedure called somnoplasty uses radio frequency energy to shrink tissues that are blocking the airway.

Finally, you must realize that without changing lifestyle factors and finding and treating the root cause of the snoring, it is unlikely that you will be cured with surgery alone. Your well-being, your health, your energy and your enjoyment of life depend on your taking responsibility to look after the quality of your sleep.

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Anna Ambrosio, R.H.N.

Anna Ambrosio is a Natural Health Therapist, member of the National Association of Naturopaths and the Canadian Order of Practitioner's in Naturopathy. Her areas of speciality are nutrition and reflexology. She is a registered Holistic Nutritionist and is a certified Reflexologist by the Reflexology Association of Canada. Studies and training at the Institute of Natural Health Consultants and the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition ensure that her approach to health care is natural and holistic for harmony of body, mind and spirit.

Anna Ambrosio can be contacted at

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