Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year's resolutions. & Healthy resolutions.

New Year's Healthy resolutions.

As 2008 is put to bed and 2009 ushered in, many people are thinking about their New Year's resolutions.
While many of these often-unkept promises revolve around enjoying life more, spending more time with family or quitting smoking, taming the belly bulge is always high on the list.

The state of Vermont may have fewer nutrition-related resolutions than most states considering it was just named the healthiest state in the nation. The state also took the award in 2007.

The ranking was conducted by the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention, which have been ranking healthy states for 19 years. The state was given the award because of high public health spending, a low obesity rate, a large number of doctors per capita, low child poverty, low violent crime and a good high school graduation rate.

Many people in the Brattleboro area remain healthy by utilizing the abundance of alternative health options available. From yoga and dancing at Cotton Mill Hill to acupuncture and Chinese herbs at Watercourse Way, Brattleboroeans like their alternative exercise routines.

Susan Hebson has been teaching tai chi in the area for more than 10 years and says the soft, slow, flowing movements help chi (energy) flow through the body, thus promoting good health. Studies show that tai chi helps with blood pressure issues, arthritis, diabetes, respiratory disease, insomnia,

depression and stress, improves balance, promotes correct posture and more.
Hebson says many people are unhealthy because they're afraid, they complain, they worry and they stress about too much and that blocks the flow of energy, which is vital to good health.

"Tai chi is where you're at mentally. If the energy is blocked, it can cause health problems," Hebson said. "Most people say they feel so calm, more relaxed and centered (after doing tai chi)."

It's this state-of-mind awareness that is so beneficial for tai chi players. By concentrating on deep breathing, having a still mind and staying in the present, stress melts away and health benefits quickly follow.

"If you're not calm and centered in your mind, you're not healthy," Hebson said. "It's kind of like meditation and movement. You're not thinking about the future or lamenting the past, you're in the moment."

Hebson first became interested in tai chi after working as a CSA in an elderly home. She says many of the patients had very limited range of motion and they were "too far gone" for improvement. So, she decided to start teaching tai chi at the Senior Center to tackle this problem before it was too late.

Many area seniors signed up for the class at first and stayed with it for many years. Along with the meditation and energy aspect of tai chi, Hebson said it was beneficial to get these seniors out of their chairs and into a group situation.

"The most important part is people coming together to share energy," Hebson said. "People who are alone, they're really depressed, I think."

Hebson says exercising in any form is beneficial for people and important for general health, both physically and mentally. Yoga, she says, uses the same energy as tai chi and they both can improve a person's attitude and outlook on life.

"I really think your attitude is so important," Hebson said. "Being upset is what makes you sick."

In the long run, she says movement and energy keep a person healthy.

"How can you be healthy if you're not moving your chi at all?"

Hebson teaches tai chi classes at the Brattleboro Senior Center, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, with the Recreation and Parks Department and at Cotton Mill Hill. New classes start in January for all levels and all ages. More information can be found by calling Susan Hebson at 802-257-9425 or e-mailing

Alternative health is continuing to expand throughout southern Vermont. Bill Ryan and Brad Horn opened the Newfane Wellness Center in November to offer qigong, acupuncture, bodywork and other health options to residents of the West River Valley.

Ryan says they opened the center because of a lack of wellness options outside Brattleboro.

"The Newfane area has a lot of people but very few practitioners," Ryan said. "The center will give them one more options for taking care of themselves."

Ryan, who has been teaching the ancient Chinese qigong exercise for 15 years, says it's like a sister art to tai chi and works with energy in the body. The exercise can be done by people of any age and has been shown to reduce blood pressure and stress, improve balance and has been used to reduce repetitive stress injuries.

"It's been used in China for millennia to promote the flow of energy inside the body," Ryan said. "If you have enough energy and it's moving through the body, good health follows."

Ryan has been practicing qigong for 29 years and says he's in better health in his 50s than he was in his 20s. He says the slow, graceful movements of qigong promote better health and relaxation.

"It's very easy to do and has a lot of benefits," Ryan said.

An 11-week beginner course in qigong will begin at the Newfane Wellness Center on Jan. 8. Visit or call 802-365-9565 for more information.

Despite Vermont taking the healthiest state award, Rochelle Johnson, communication specialist from the New England Dairy and Food Council, says many Vermonters are still overweight and unhealthy.

"Vermont was named the healthiest state in the country for the second straight year in 2008, which is pretty big news for such a small state," she said. "However, with 56 percent of Vermont adults overweight, there is still a lot of health and nutrition work to be done."

Along with proper exercise, Johnson says healthy eating is important and starts with setting positive, realistic goals like choosing to eat nutrient-rich foods like low-fat and fat-free dairy, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats and beans.

"As we move into the New Year many will be making New Year's resolutions involving health and nutrition," Johnson said. "As a registered dietitian I know it is often frustration for people to know how to make small, realistic goals for themselves that are achievable."

The Nutrition Rich Foods Coalition offers some tips to help people reach their nutrition and health goals.

* Bank of breakfast: Studies show those who eat breakfast tend to weigh less than those who skip the most important meal of the day. Jump start the morning with a tomato, spinach and pepper omelet with turkey bacon and serve it with whole wheat toast, or oatmeal made with low-fat milk and topped with dried fruit and nuts.

* Stock the office: Eating small snacks during the day is a great way to resist overeating at meals and a good opportunity to get some important vitamins and minerals. Try instant oatmeal packets, light microwave popcorn, raisins, dried apricots and single-serve containers of peaches or pears packed in water or juice.

* Healthy choices: A hectic schedule and little time often leaves eating on-the-go the only option. At the drive-thru, choose nutritious options such as entrée salads with grilled chicken and low-calorie dressing, yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit, or beef and bean burritos with lettuce and tomato.

* Thinking about drinking: Kick the soda habit and upgrade to water or nutrient-rich beverages like low-fat milk or 100 percent fruit juice. Get real nutrition from calories even when they are from a drink.

* Veto dining-out: Meals cooked at home tend to be less expensive and more nutritious. Get the whole family involved in meal preparation and try new foods like arugula, lentils, low-fat ricotta cheese, avocadoes or kiwifruit.

"These foods provide a high amount of vitamins and minerals and relatively few calories, delivering the biggest nutrition bang for the buck," Johnson said.


Healthy relationships and the sound of success:

PsyBlog has just started a series of articles investigating the psychology of relationships by examining recent research looking at how relationships may do our health as much good as a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Another article discusses why music is so commonly talked about when we're getting to know someone. Partly, it seems, because we tend to see music choice as indicating something about personality.

Research has suggested that this might have some basis to it, as music choice seems to reliably indicate aspects of personality and reveals information not necessarily available through other sources.

Future articles in the series will explore other interesting aspects of relationships studied by psychologists.

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