Wellness

Big Presentation? Final Exams? Try this!

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Big test coming up?  Or maybe you have an important class presentation first thing and you need to be at the top of your game?  Try a cold shower first thing in the morning.  Cold showers are any showers with a water temperature below 70°F.  Cold water therapy (i.e. hydrotherapy) has been used for centuries to take advantage of our body’s tendency to adapt to harsher conditions. As a result, after a cold shower our bodies become more resistant to stress and allows us to increase alertness and overall mental awareness.  Check out the benefits of a cold shower below.

Increases endorphins

Depression affects at least 10 percent of American adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  One holistic method of treatment that’s gaining popularity is hydrotherapy. Taking a cold shower for up to 5 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week, was shown to help relieve symptoms of depression.

The cold water sends many electrical impulses to your brain. It jolts your system to increase alertness, clarity, and energy levels. Endorphins, which are sometimes called happiness hormones, are also released. This effect leads to feelings of well-being and optimism.

Helps improve metabolism

People that are obese can’t simply start taking cold showers to lose weight without changing other lifestyle habits. But taking a cold shower 2 or 3 times per week may contribute to increased metabolism.  The research about how exactly cold showers help people lose weight is unclear. Still, it does show that cold water can even out certain hormone levels and heal the gastrointestinal system. These effects may add to the cold shower’s ability to lead to weight loss.

Improves circulation

It can feel uncomfortable to immerse our bodies in cold water, but it can also be invigorating. That’s because water that’s colder than our natural body temperature causes the body to work slightly harder to maintain its core temperature. When taken regularly, cold showers can make our circulatory system more efficient. Some people also report that their skin looks better as a result of cold showers, probably because of better circulation.

Athletes have known this benefit for years, even if we have only recently seen data that supports cold water for healing after a sport injury.  By bringing the temperature of an area of the body down, we speed up the delivery of warmer, freshly oxygenated blood to that area. And that speeds up recovery time. Some people may benefit from cold showers as a way to help their blood move through their body more quickly. These include people with poor circulation, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Helps fight off common illnesses

Our bodies are designed to become resistant to the elements we are exposed to. For example, leukocytes help fight infection in the body. The shock of cold water in the bloodstream stimulates leukocytes. This means that taking cold showers can help your resistance to common illnesses, like colds and the flu.

One study even indicated that cold showers could make the body more resistant to certain types of cancer. And a clinical trial in the Netherlands showed that people who took cold showers called out of work less.

People that are preparing for surgery or other disease treatment that could lead to decreased immunity might want to start taking cold showers in preparation.

Outlook

The ideal way to take a cold shower is to ease in to the habit.

Start by slowly lowering the temperature at the end of a usual shower. Get the water cold enough that you start to feel uncomfortable. Then, stay underneath the water for 2 or 3 minutes. Breathing deeply will help decrease your discomfort in your mind. The next time you try this exercise, make the water slightly colder. Try to last for another minute or two in the colder water. After performing this activity 7 to 10 times, you’ll find that you might even look forward to turning the hot water down.

Stretching Do's and Don'ts

Stretching Do's and Don'ts

Stretching as a warm-up before exercise has been taught in schools for generations. Today experts debate the effectiveness of stretching cold muscles. The VarCity cold truth? Stretching is helpful, but keep these basics in mind:

1.  Avoid Stretching a Cold Muscle

Only perform "static stretching” (stretch and hold) after a five to 10 minute warm-up.  A warmed-up muscle can stretch longer and endure more stretching and you may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. 

2.  Use Dynamic or “Active” Stretching as a Warm-Up

Dynamic stretches mimic movements used in a sport or activity.  Warm-ups prepare the body for activity by helping to increase blood flow and muscle temperature.

If you're preparing to play tennis, for example, you’ll want to practice side and front lunges as part of your warm-up – movements you'll use to reach for the ball.

Light, gentle rhythmic movements work best for the average person.  Go through a shallow range of motion (e.g. a half-squat vs. a full squat) until you're thoroughly warmed up."

3.  Stretch at the End of your Workout

Stretching at the end of the cool-down phase (i.e. after exercise when your muscles are still warm) helps to maintain long-term flexibility benefits.

Our Favorite Smoothie Recipe

Blue and Green Smoothie

Here’s one of our favorite smoothie recipes to try for a nutritious boost. 

Blue and green smoothie

This blueberry and spinach smoothie whips up quickly and comes in at under 300 calories. It also has a good mix of macronutrients. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (plain, full fat)

  • 1/4 cup frozen blueberries

  • 1/3 cup almond milk (unsweetened)

  • 1 cup loosely packed spinach

  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder

  • 1/3 cup ice

Blend after adding every two ingredients. Add ice last. Serve cold. Enjoy with friends.

4 Ways to Improve Your Smoothie

Healthy Smoothie

Smoothies are an everyday part of life for most of us, but they can quickly become sugar bombs loaded with empty calories if you’re not careful. Below are our top 4 ways to make sure your smoothie stays a positive part of your diet!

Choose fruit that has a lower sugar content

Fruit is absolutely good for you, but too much of anything can have a negative impact. If you’re gonna load up on fruit, make sure you’re not also loading up on calories. Most berries, such as blackberries, raspberries, and even strawberries, are low in sugar. So are grapefruit, cantaloupe, and papaya, so stick with these smoothie fruit friends.

Avoid store-bought juice

Often the juice we buy in the store is loaded with added sweeteners. Instead, juice your own fruit, or use another liquid. You can try water or coconut water. The liquid from young coconuts is quite sweet. Unsweetened almond milk, flax milk, soy milk, and hemp milk are great nondairy substitutes. Regular milk can work, too. Just be mindful of the additional calories.

Go Green

Green smoothies are all the rage for a reason. A few handfuls of spinach, kale, or Swiss chard make your smoothie look virtuous without negatively impacting the taste. The blended flavor of these greens is very mild and usually masked well by the taste of the fruits you add. Plus, you’re getting the benefit of less sugar and lots of antioxidants, fiber, and other essential nutrients. If you decide to add more greens, tartness from fresh lemon or lime juice can help mask the bitterness without relying on sugar.

Sweeten Wisely

It doesn’t make any sense to choose low-sugar fruits and then dump in spoonfuls of honey or table sugar. Use a very light hand when adding sweeteners, or try using spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, or a dash of vanilla extract. You can also use a high-quality, flavored protein powder.

How to Recognize Signs of Teen Anxiety

Teen Anxiety

As we all have more and more distractions on a daily basis, it’s increasingly easier for parents and teachers to miss signs of anxiety among teens.

Here’s a list of symptoms you should notice and consider if they’re related to anxiety. They include:

  • headaches

  • stomachaches

  • physical distress (when they can’t put words to how they’re feeling)

  • not wanting to go to school

  • talking frequently about not feeling well

  • withdrawing from social opportunities

  • trouble sleeping

  • excessive fears

  • excessive worries

  • restlessness

  • hypervigilance

  • always being on the lookout for what might go wrong

  • performance anxiety

    If any one you know appears to be struggling with anxiety that interferes with school, friendships, family relationships, or other areas of daily functioning, it’s important to get an evaluation from a licensed mental health practitioner. Anxiety is treatable, and most teens can learn to cope with and manage their anxiety independently.

Hydrogenated Oils: What Are They and How to Avoid Them

Hydrogenated Oil

Food companies began use hydrogenated oil to help increase shelf life and save costs. Hydrogenation is a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat (e.g. olive or peanut oil) is turned into a solid fat by adding hydrogen. During this processing, a type of fat called trans fat is made.

While small amounts of trans fats are found naturally in some foods, most trans fats in the diet come from these processed hydrogenated fats.

Partially hydrogenated oils can affect heart health because they increase “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol. On the other hand, a fully hydrogenated oil contains very little trans fat, mostly saturated fat, and doesn’t carry the same health risks as trans fat.

Still, food manufacturers continue to use partially hydrogenated oils to save money, extend shelf life, add texture and increase stability.

5 Easy + Healthy After-School Snacks

5 Easy and Healthy After-School Snacks

The hours between the end of school and dinner can be tough for healthy eating. Pizza, Chipotle and subway are all easy after-school options that are loaded with calories and processed carbohydrates. Below are VarCity’s favorite quick and healthy after-school snacks.

1. Hard-Boiled Eggs

Eggs are one of the healthiest and most weight loss-friendly foods you can eat.

They contain protein, vitamin K2 and B12, to name a few.

Although their high cholesterol content gave them a bad reputation for years, new studies show that eggs don't have any effect on your risk of heart disease.

Two large, hard-boiled eggs contain about 140 calories and 13 grams of protein.

2. Turkey Roll-Ups

Turkey roll-ups are delicious and nutritious.

Turkey contains high-quality protein, which helps you feel satisfied, preserves muscle mass and burns more calories during digestion than fat or carbs.

3. Healthy Beef Jerky or Beef Sticks

Beef jerky or beef sticks make great high-protein, portable snacks. But make sure you choose the right type.

Some jerkies are loaded with sugar and preservatives. Beef sticks generally don't contain sugar, but many aren't made from high-quality meat and may contain other questionable ingredients.

Look for jerky and beef sticks made from grass-fed beef and salt, with as few ingredients as possible. Grass-fed beef contains more healthy omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef.

Most beef jerkies and sticks contain about 7 grams of protein per ounce (28 grams).

4. A Piece of Fruit

Healthy snacks don't need to be complicated. Just a single piece of fruit can be incredibly satisfying.

Examples of fruit that are portable and can be eaten with almost no preparation include bananas, apples, pears, grapes, grapefruit and oranges.

5. Mixed Nuts

Nuts are an ideal nutritious snack.

They've been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and may help prevent certain cancers, depression and other diseases.

Despite being relatively high in fat, they are very filling. Several studies suggest that eating nuts in moderation can help you lose weight.

Nuts contain the perfect balance of healthy fat, protein and fiber. They contain about 180 calories in a 1 oz (28 grams) serving, on average.

They also taste great and don't require refrigeration, so they're perfect for carrying with you when away from home.

Keep an Eye out for Added Sugars: Part II

Added Sugar

While there are times that it’s clear that we’re consuming added sugar, such as the teaspoon of sugar in your bowl of cereal, there are numerous other ways added makes its way into our diet.

For example, starting off your day with something like low-fat yogurt, fruit juice, cereal, or a granola bar may sound like a smart choice, but these healthy sounding foods can pack loads of hidden sugars. A 6-ounce container of Dannon All Natural Plain Lowfat Yogurt contains 12 grams of sugar while an 8-ounce glass of Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice contains 22 grams of sugar.

Below are a few names to look out for on your nutrition label when trying to avoid a diet loaded with added sugar.

Other Names for Added Sugar

Summer Tips: Tips for Running at the Beach

Beach Running Tips

Running on sand—while it definitely has lots of benefits—can be tricky.  On the plus side, the unstable surface provides extra strength training for your lower leg muscles, which have to work harder to stabilize your feet.  And when you sink into the sand, it makes it even tougher for your body to lift up for each step, amping up the intensity of your run. 

Thicker sand exaggerates each step making you feel like you’re climbing, so your calves are working that much harder to propel you forward.

But like any new activity, using your muscles in that different way can leave you super sore. Follow the below tips to enjoy your surfside run—and still feel good the next day.

Pick the Right Pack
Tighter, more packed sand (or even better, wet sand) is preferable to a dry, looser surface.  It’ll still be soft, but you’ll sink in less and be less likely to overuse your muscles while trying to stable.

Keep it Short (and Less Frequent)
Even though your muscles are working extra hard, you might not feel the impact of an hour-long beach run until the next day…when you wake up achy and barely able to enjoy your vacation, let alone fit in another run.  Start with just 20 to 25 minutes at a time (or even less) to make sure you don’t overdo it.  And if you live near the ocean, don’t start doing all your runs at the beach.  Once a week would be ideal.

Go Barefoot (if You Want)
If you’re prone to injury or require a very supportive shoe, you might want to keep them on.  Not sure?  Try walking a mile on the beach.  If your calves hurt the next day, you probably shouldn’t run barefoot.

Go Flat—and Out and Back
Shorelines are sloped, which can mess with your form.  Run on the flattest part of the sand that you can, and make sure you run back on the beach the way you came to even out any imbalances.

Stay Safe!
Wear extra sunscreen, since water and sand reflect rays.  And check the tides so you don’t get stuck in a situation where you’re far from home and can’t run back.

Think Twice Before that Morning Juice

Sugar Juice

Starting your morning with fruit juice is often perceived as a healthy way to start  your day.  That's understandable, given that it is natural and has the word "fruit" in it.

However, what many people fail to realize is that fruit juice is also loaded with sugar.  In fact, fruit juice contains just as much sugar and calories as a sugary soft drink... and sometimes even more.

Even if juice is labelled as "100% pure" and "not from concentrate”,  after being squeezed from the fruit -- the juice is usually stored in massive oxygen-depleted holding tanks for up to a year before it is packaged.

The main problem with this method is that it tends to remove most of the flavor, so the manufacturers need to add so-called "flavor packs" to the juice, to bring back the flavor that was lost during processing.

So even if you're buying the highest quality juices at the supermarket, they're still far from their original state.  Some of the lowest quality ones don't even resemble fresh-squeezed fruit juice at all...they are basically just fruit-flavored sugar water.

BOTTOM LINE:
Fruit juice isn't always what it seems, even the higher quality types have gone through processing methods that remove the flavor, making it necessary to add "flavor packs” (whatever those are!) to bring them back to their original state.