I honestly try to be strategic about my toy purchases (despite what my husband thinks!) but after COVID hit and daycare was closed, I was faced with an energetic 15 month old (now 2.5 years!) who needed to move her body and develop her strength. I had gravitated towards fine motor play, because that was what Wren had gravitated toward, but once we were all stuck at home together I knew I needed to create BIGGER play for BIG development. Below are the gross motor play toys I’ve come to love.
These things are great. Can be used indoor and outdoor, and can grow with the child. We first started by trying to balance on the small stones, and now Wren has progressed to climbing the largest stones herself! When she gets even bigger we can place them farther apart and play The Floor is Lava.
Ahh the beloved Nugget. I was first introduced to these by North Carolina friends who got their orders in before the Nugget sky rocketed in popularity. We use this for forts, obstacle course, pretend ponies, lounging, reading nooks. Its very versatile and kids just go gaga for it.
This is a kids version so it has a weight limit, versus a mini trampoline built for adult exercise. I honestly could not see myself doing tramp exercise like it was 1992 so I was ok with the weight limit. Kids versions are cheaper as well.
This I found at Big Lots for $5 and was SO THRILLED at such a steal. There are other versions that may be longer or have a bigger diameter, but for the price this one does the trick. Wren likes to crawl through it, hide in it, flop down on it, just roll around and get her wiggles out.
Those are my hits! Do you have any other gross motor play toys that you recommend?
As I mentioned in my previous post about my experience with the first trimester of pregnancy, I had it pretty good. The only real issue I was facing was fatigue. But as my energy came back in the second trimester, I got back into exercising more and was averaging about 2-3 times a week. I haven’t felt like running or doing heated yoga, so my exercise has been walking and a pregnancy strength training program called Expecting and Empowered. The ladies who put the program together are a women’s health PT and a personal trainer, and have been through 5 pregnancies themselves, so they have experience with what is good for my changing body.
It’s been nice to get back in the gym and lift some (light) weights since before this I was really focused on yoga and running. I had a trainer in college who made me love powerlifting, and this program has made me want to get back into true strength training after the baby comes.
There were a couple twinges and issues that cropped up in the second trimester. I had to teach myself not to go from laying to sitting up using my abs, because one time I forgot and it felt like my chest had ripped in two! I read I was supposed to sleep only on my left side, but my hip felt sore from having all the pressure on it. I didn’t really struggle with insomnia, but I did have to get up to pee about 5 times a night.
The worst little panic from the second trimester was what I call me “weird pregnancy rash”. I never got a good answer on what it was, or what the cause could have been besides “hormones.” But starting at about 15 weeks, I felt like the mosquitoes in our backyard were being particularly aggressive. It seemed like now that I had more blood flowing through my veins, they were targeting me specifically.
But then the itching got worse. And it didn’t stop with a bug bite here and there. After about a week of itching, I realized I hadn’t been attacked by mosquitoes, I had been attacked by my own body! I was covered head to toe in what looked like bug bites, and man they itched like crazy. Antihistamines really didn’t work, because whatever was causing the itch was triggering the response that the antihistamines targeted.
I googled and researched and crowd sourced, but I could never figure out what was actually happening. There is a pregnancy rash called PUPPS, (polymorphic eruption of pregnancy), but it was supposed to start on the stomach and usually not until the third trimester. I had barely cracked the second trimester and it started on my legs and arms so I was at a loss for what problem was. And the other disheartening thing about PUPPS? According to The Internet, there is nothing you can do about it, and it will clear up on its own- AFTER THE BABY COMES.
I was itching out of my mind so I could not FATHOM the idea of spending SIX MONTHS itching like I was covered in chiggers. I kept googling, and pursued just about every home remedy I could – I bought aloe vera gel and added it to my smoothies; I started drinking nettle tea in the afternoon; I bathed with black tar soap (it’s a thing?). Keeping cool helped, but here I was in the middle of a Georgia summer. At the worst of it, the only thing that really helped was ice.
Just when I thought I couldn’t take another day, and I was going to go out of my mind, the itchiness started to lift. Little by little, the bug bite looking spots started to heal, and I felt less and less of an urge to claw at my skin.The rash lasted probably 4 or 5 weeks, but it felt like forever. After it subsided, I felt completely normal and great! I had energy, I was motivated to work out, I wasn’t itchy any more.
We had the anatomy ultrasound and everything looked good so I was a happy camper! We found out we were having a girl, which was so amazing. 🙂
I started to have a real bump, which was fun to dress up. We had a wonderful gender reveal with family in Brevard.
Everyone says the second trimester is the best, and I have to say, from my experience, I agree.
I’m sitting at my desk, staring at my note pad. I know what I need to do. I just can’t seem to muster up the energy to actually start. I don’t want to do all these administrative tasks that go along with adulthood. Why can’t someone else pay this medical bill, call the insurance provider, schedule the dog’s vet appointment, unload the dishwasher, etc etc etc. The mundane tasks of life can sometimes feel like a mountain, and i have to admit that I sometimes resort towards moving piles of clutter from one room to another, rather than putting them away.
But, little by little, slowly but surely, I am getting better at tackling these ugh-i-dont-wanna tasks head on. My key? The 10 Minute Rule.
If you google “10 Minute Rule” you’ll get wide interpretations on what it means. Some see it as breaking each task into 10 minute chunks, or interpret it as delegating what can’t be performed without 10 minutes (that would be a lot of delegation lol). Others view it as doing things as soon as they think of it, if it can be completed in 10 minutes or less.
For me, the 10 Minute Rule is more about tackling procrastination, and it’s really simple: If there is some task you are dreading, just do it for 10 minutes. If, at the end of 10 minutes, you don’t want to do it any more, you can stop guilt free.
I’ve experimented with different lengths of time. At first it was 30 minutes. But a free 30 minutes can be hard to find during a busy day. I know I have spent 10 minutes poking around on Instagram when I want a brain break, so I know how quickly 10 minutes can pass and how easy it is to find an extra 10 minutes.
For me, usually the things I am dreading take 10 minutes or less. Scheduling that doctor’s appointment, paying that one bill that isn’t on autopay, vacuuming the living room rug. So when I institute the 10 minute rule, I find I can tackle a lot more of my to-do list, without have to look at my piles or reminders and feeling guilt about passing it by, one more time.
The 10 Minute Rule has also helped me on days where I just do. not. want. to. exercise. Strap on those running shoes and get out the door. Put on your clothes and bust out some squats. Usually after 10 minutes, I am warmed up enough that I can keep going and get a full workout in. But there have been days where at the end of 10 minutes I still say nope, and head back home. But since I at least got my 10 minutes in, I feel less guilty than if I didn’t move at all.
I’ve noticed I have become significantly more efficient since implementing the 10 Minute Rule. Things that would tend to linger now get done, and I am more relaxed because of it. I don’t walk around the house looking at all the reminders of things I need to do, because for the most part, they have already been done!
If there are things you are dreading, why not give it a try and see if it works for you! If you have any other strategies for tackling the things you tend to avoid, please tell me about it in the comments below!
A question that is often on my mind is “What the heck am I going to eat for dinner?” (Deep thoughts, I know) And not only what am I going to eat, but how am I going to get it together with everything else I have to do today? Every day you gotta eat, which can quickly deplete your inspiration and begin to feel like drudgery. You can end up defaulting to fast casual or take out, which can be tough on your wallet and your waist! This soyrizo hash is a healthy meal that comes together quickly, and is full of nutrition and flavor!
One Dish Dinner
I am half Cuban, so I grew up eating a lot of chorizo in my grandfather’s Cuban dishes. I love the spiciness of chorizo, but I as I got a little older and more health conscious I was sort of grossed out by how greasy the sausage was. With Isaac and I trying to eat less meat, but still get an adequate protein intake, I was really excited when I saw my Trader Joe’s had a soyrizo in stock! Their soy chorizo has 11 grams of protein per serving, and is a very good dupe for the real thing, in terms of spiciness, color, flavor and texture.
This meal comes together in legit 30 minutes (not 30 minutes if everything is already prepped) – I timed it from start to finish, because nothing is more irritating than being promised a 30 minute meal and it takes 45 minutes to an hour. Looking at you, Rachel Ray. Not all of us have our ingredients prepped for us.
To cut down on chopping time, you could use a food processor if you have one to shred the sweet potatoes, but a regular box grater/cheese grater worked just fine for me. Also, I used pre-chopped kale in this recipe. Normally I chop my own because I find pre-chopped to have too many stems, but I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that Aldi’s pre-chopped kale is actually mostly leaves!
I love a combination of flavors in a one dish type of meal, and this hash delivers – the sweetness from the sweet potato, the crunch and bitterness from the kale, and the meaty spice of the soyrizo. We topped it off with a fried egg and avocado to add some creaminess, and it was worth the little bit of extra effort!
So when you are a loss for what to eat, this quick recipe can do just the trick!
Sweet Potato, Kale, and Soyrizo Hash
2 medium sweet potatoes
3 Tbl olive oil
12 oz soy chorizo (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
2-4 cups chopped kale
4 green onions
2 eggs (optional, omit to make vegan)
Salt and Hot sauce to taste
Peel and grate sweet potatoes. Heat olive oil in pan (we used cast iron) over medium high heat and add sweet potatoes. Cook until slightly crispy, 5-10 min (to speed up crisping, don’t stir the potatoes too often).
Remove soy chorizo from casing and add to pan, crumbling as it cooks, mixing into sweet potato. Cook until crispy, another 5-10 min.
Stir in kale, handfuls at a time, and cook until wilted. Stir in ¾ of the green onions, reserving the rest for garnish. Toss and let the whole mixture sit while you fry the eggs.
In a separate pan, fry two eggs to your liking. I like to keep the yolk slightly running so it will act as a sauce on the whole hash.
Serve in a bowl, topped with the fried egg, remaining green onion, and avocado slices. Enjoy!
Hi everyone! So since we have announced that Baby Bradley will be joining us in December (!), I wanted to share what my experience with the first trimester was like.
First let me start by saying that if you are thinking you want to get pregnant, it is worth putting in a little effort to be prepared. No, you don’t have to go on a cleanse and avoid everything plastic (good luck with that in this day and age), but doing some research to really understand the mechanics of how conception works is very helpful in moving the process forward. I read “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” and I cannot recommend it enough, if you are trying to conceive. The art of knowing when is the “perfect time” is tricky, but there are multiple ways that you can increase your odds of timing everything right. The book also goes into trouble shooting, if you will, when you have not been successful after a few months. Pick yourself up a copy. It doesn’t hurt to know enough about your body to give nature a little boost.
Since we were well educated, so to speak, Isaac and I were intentional in our plan to try to conceive, and I was prepared with pregnancy tests before I even missed my cycle. About two days before my cycle was supposed to start, I took a digital test that read “Yes” or “No” on a screen. I was very happy I didn’t have to scrutinize a pee stick to see if there were in fact two pink lines or not. I highly recommend a digital test, and also not testing TOO early. If you are eager beaver like I am, I wanted to know as soon as possible, but you have to be as patient as possible (up to three days after your cycle is supposed to start) to get enough pregnancy hormone built up to have an accurate result. I took a second test when my cycle was three days late, just to be sure, haha.
When I first found out, I was THRILLED!! I’d been wanting to start a family for some time, and I was concerned that we might have a hard time concieving, just because it happens so often (and you only remember the bad stories you hear!). We actually had a very easy go of it, which I credit to the research I did beforehand to prepare and “time” everything right.
But of course, I couldn’t just celebrate that I was pregnant. Who would I be if I didn’t set lofty goals? I wanted to cap my weight gain at 25 pounds (I felt like I started out with 5 extra bonus pounds anyway), exercise 4 times a week, eat super clean and heaven forbid any sugar crosses my lips.
I did really well for about a week.
And then reality kicked in. Now luckily, I really didn’t feel nauseous at all (except for that one time we made shrimp… no go), and I never felt the urge to vomit. I know a lot of women struggle with that majorly, so I was sooo happy I was able to avoid those symptoms. I was however, totally ZONKED. I would sneak in naps whenever I could and go to bed at 8:00 or 8:30, which is much earlier than my normal bedtime of 10:00 or 10:30. It just seemed like my brain was in a fog and I couldn’t get over the hump to be engaged in life. I felt the most tired from about 6 weeks to 13 weeks. I didn’t really rebound in terms of energy until I was closer to 15 weeks. But overall, since I didn’t feel like I needed to throw up all the time, I was pretty happy! I will take fatigue over nausea any day.
However, my exercise fell off the rails when the true fatigue set in. The month of May I only exercised 4 times total! So much for my “fit pregnancy” plans. But to be honest, I didn’t even feel guilty about it- I was that tired. I figured I would get back into it when I felt more normal, and all my friends with kids promised me that yes, I would feel normal again. Also, I’ve been trying to show myself more grace, and not busting it out at the gym during the first trimester was not the end of the world to me.
I think my fatigue was also coupled with the fact that I wasn’t really drinking any coffee. I have not sworn off coffee during this pregnancy, despite the midwives telling me “just drink some bone broth instead!” (yeah no way and barf inducing first trimester). I have been very consistently enjoying my one cup of coffee per day, or half caff at Starbucks because those folks are crazy. (Before you start telling me I am poisoning my baby, according to #science, up to 200 mg of caffiene a day is acceptable. The average k-cup, which is what we have at the office, has 100-140 mg of caffeine. Plus, my sister told me that if I drink it now, Baby will tolerate caffeine better when she is out of the womb and breastfeeding, which is when I will really need the boost.) But the first trimester, I just wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t want coffee, so I didn’t have any, and I had nothing to help me through the fatigue. Just sweet sweet naps. But, as the first trimester was winding down, my energy picked back up and I started feeling like a citizen of the world again.
In terms of weight, I swear to you that as soon as I took a positive pregnancy test, my weight shot up 5 pounds. I freaked because of course if I were gaining at a rate of 5 pounds a week I would gain 10,000,000 pounds (actual math). I felt super bloated immediately too, and could barely fit into my jeans pretty quickly. I ended up buying a belly band pretty early on just because I had so much bloat, and my pants weren’t comfortable, but I didn’t have enough size to transition to maternity. Also, I was ashamed of the idea of having to wear maternity clothes in the first trimester, so I refused lol. I bought two BellaBands from Nordstrom, one in black and one in white, which just looked like camisoles if anyone every saw the hem underneath my shirt.
My initial 5 pound gain was blessedly not a weekly occurence, and I actually didn’t gain any more weight the rest of the trimester. It was just water/bloat that got readjusted as time went on. But the belly bands were soo necessary and I just regret not getting them sooner. Let me tell you, that silly hair tie/rubberband trick did not work for me. The only thing that held my pants up were those bands.
I only had one doctor appointment during that time, a 10-week visit, so medical care was very minimal and I tried to be as zen as possible throughout the whole thing. At the 10-week appointment, I heard Baby’s heartbeat, and finally took a sigh of relief. My first thought when I heard the heartbeat? “It sounds like the dogs!” Because yes, I listen to my dogs’ heartbeats because I love them and I am obsessed with them. It was a little nerve wracking before I heard the heartbeat, just because miscarriage is so common. But I honestly just tried not to think about it and let time unfold.
So by the end of the first trimester I was feeling good because I had heard Baby’s heartbeat, I had kept my weight gain within the recommended limit (1-5 pounds is recommended), and I didn’t really struggle with nausea.
So that about sums up my first trimester experience! Stay tuned to second trimester!
Hello long lost internet family! When I started RoadtoRidges, I had a yearning desire to create – to put something out there into the world with my own effort. The creation bug struck in more ways than one, and in early April, I found out Isaac and I were expecting our first child!
Since that time, I’ve been focused more inwardly on growing and preparing for the expansion of our family. I’m now 6 months pregnant, and so so excited for all the things we have to look forward to. And yet, I still wanted to speak, to tell my story. It doesn’t have to be fancy or eloquent or insightful, because as long as it is mine, it is enough.
As you can imagine, 6 months means a lot has happened, and there’s lots to tell about, so instead of dropping all my updates at once, I’m going to do them piece by piece. Here’s what’s on the agenda:
Bumpdates: everything that’s been going on with this pregnancy, and where we are now. Only 11 more weeks to go!
Our Mountain House aka The DIY Project for the Next Five Years
What I’m Reading: because my brain is always all over the place and its fun to look at the randomness of my book selections
Fun Food Recently: because we all gotta eat, and ideas on what’s for dinner never hurt!
So stay tuned for all the details! I didn’t want to overwhelm you with text (because trust, its going to be a novel) so instead I’ll leave you with my most recent photos of the furbabies. We could all use more puppy and kitten pictures, right?
Have you ever fallen off the wagon? Whatever you decided to do, with the best intentions, falls by the wayside? Ever left a project started and half-finished? I have, and it’s a struggle/a lifetime lesson for me to keep moving forward.
I suffer from too much enthusiasm. I LOVE starting new projects, planning new things, making lists, experimenting. But staying consistent enough to see actual change, see actual results – that’s the hard part.
Mostly it’s my own fault- I think I can do more than I can actually handle, and I don’t have respect for my own personal limits. I see that so-and-so CEO wakes up every day at 4:30 to exercise, meditate, make and organic green juice, and bust out a 1000-word think piece. If she can do it, so can I, right?
But what I have been learning is that trying to establish habits or daily practices based on someone else’s ability is a guaranteed way to fail. You have to learn what YOU are capable of, what YOU can handle. Sometimes you don’t know what’s in your wheelhouse until you are in the thick of it, so that’s when I recommend starting off small.
I remember my first DIY project. I found some chairs on craigslist I wanted to paint and recover the cushions in the new fabric. Sounds easy enough right? In theory, yes it is. You sand the chairs so the paint will grip, slap on a couple coats of spray paint, unscrew the cushions from the base, staple on some new fabric. Bam- that can be done in a weekend, right? Maybe if you have superhuman diligence and a free schedule…
My chairs, they sat (not so) lovingly under the porch for a good six months before I was shamed into action. And when I finally did get the gumption to work on them, it way more than one weekend to get it all done. The first weekend I sanded the chairs- that was all I had the stamina for. The second weekend I put down a coat of spray paint. Oh wait, in humid NC it takes a minute to dry. That weekend was toast. Make that two weekends of putting down a coat of spray paint. (Not pro tip- if you are going from a dark wood stain to white, you’ll probably need three coats). Three weekends of putting on spray paint. Ok, finally painted. Now the cushions.
The cushions, bless their heart, were stapled on with the most industrial strength staples in the world. Some blah looking dining set may come from target, but those industrial grade fasteners are meant to hold. Removing the staples from the old fabric took another weekend itself (and more grip strength than I had used in some time!) then the final quick job of stapling on the new fabric.
Six months + SIX WEEKENDS. That’s what this “quick” DIY project took me. I had no idea it would be so much work! But therein lies my folly- I looked at the steps on pinterest, figured it would be easy, and dove in the deep end without checking for sharks.
Now for some, taking on a project that gives them more than they can handle is just what they need to rise to the occasion. They are the type of people who when someone tells them they can’t, they say, “oh yes I can,” and blast through their limitations. I aspire to be like those people. I am not those people.
I, for better or for worse, only like to stretch a minimal amount. I can move past my limitations, but I can’t leap over them. If someone tells me I can’t, I usually agree. I wish I was different, but here I am, and I am trying to be more honest with who I am, and not try to make myself something I am not.
So what does a lesson on DIY have to do with falling off the wagon? What I have learned, and what I am slowly implementing in all facets of my life, is to move more slowly toward whatever goal I want, and while I am moving, being totally and completely honest with myself about what my progress has been thus far, so I can learn and adapt in a way that will help me accomplish my goal without burning out.
If I want to eat out less, I don’t assume that I have done so based on how I feel at the end of the week. I get on Mint and I look at where my money has gone- oh yeah, I forgot about that panic snack I bought at the office on Tuesday. Oh yeah, we did go get Mexican on Thursday when I was too tired to cook. Hm. Maybe date night on Friday should be dinner in.
And then I look back at triggers- why did I have to get a panic snack on Tuesday? Oh that’s right, I went to bed late on Monday, woke up late on Tuesday, and left the baggie of almonds I packed on the counter in my rush to get out the door. Why was I too tired to cook on Thrusday? Oh yeah, it’s because I didn’t have a plan, didn’t have groceries, and didn’t have the brain space to put something together.
When you can honestly assess what your performance has been, and what your triggers have been, you can put a plan in place to account for those triggers and slowly improve your performance.
For me, falling off the wagon is a lesson in humility. If I get excited about a project, and then two weeks later it lies untouched, I realize that I approached it in the wrong way, set too lofty of goals for myself, was unrealistic about what I could actually accomplish. By looking back and assessing what happened, why I lost my oomph, I learn more for the next time, and I learn how to achieve what I am striving for.
If you know me, you know I love me some athleisure. But with two dogs and a cat, and lots of snuggles between all of them, finding some leggings that can withstand lint and pet hair is becoming extremely necessary.
I had been a devoted member of the Lululemon tribe since I learned about them in 2009. I was an early adopter of paying far too much for workout gear, and I have to say my lulus really have held up over the years, except with respect to one aspect- lint. I’ve followed all the care instructions (don’t wash with towels or other cottons being the major one), but it doesn’t change anything.
Fresh from the dryer, my lulus already look like I’ve rolled around on the floor. And the only way to truly remove all the pet hair or lint is to individually. Pick. Off. Every. Piece. Of. Lint. Needless to say, I rarely have the patience for that. I need leggings that are ready to go when I need them to be, and don’t need to be coddled like a child touring Willy Wonka’s factory.
So recently I have been experimenting with other leggings brands, to see which really hold up, and which are worth the money. Here are my favorite finds:
These leggings are sold at my yoga studio, and are at the top of my list. I love the patterns, with my personal favorite being the crazy “Punk Rock Stripe” – just looking at all those colors energizes me! The leggings are high-waisted, which I love, because then you don’t have to worry about hip chub showing or having them fall down with weight fluctuations. A high waist ensures everything stays put and looks smooth. The material of K-Deer leggings are a bit thinner compared to the standard Lululemon fabric that I was used to, and also has a bit more sheen. I was concerned that the thinner fabric would be more prone to show cellulite and the like, but thankfully I have found that not to be the case. The fabric is thinner, but still smoothes without constricting you so much you can’t breathe. I want to get a pair of the all-black to truly out their dog-hair shedding abilities, but I feel fairly confident that they would pass muster. One word of caution- with the thinner fabric, you really have to be careful where you sit. No sitting on curbs or porch decks because the fabric is more likely to catch and pull. Just stick to chairs.
I stumbled across these at Bloomingdale’s and I love them so much! Again, another thinner/shinier fabric than Lululemon, but I think that is key to repelling dog hair and lint. The more matte/fabric-y material just lets everything cling to it! Terez actually has a waistband, unlike K-Deer, and has two styles- a regular (about 1 inch) waistband, and what they call the “Tall Band” waistband, which is about 3 inches. I am a big believer in high waisted leggings, so I only tried out the tall band. I was worried the waistband was going to squish my hips, because even the thin little lip of a waist band that are on Lululemons always makes an unflattering dent. The Tall Band passed the test! They didn’t come up as high as true high-waisted leggings, but they definitely kept the stomach smooth. Terez leggings come with loads of fun prints, so they will be fun to experiment with.
Sweaty Betty is the UK’s answer to Lululemon, and I think it has just a devoted fan base. Both Sweaty Betty and Lululemon were formed the same year, so I can’t pass judgement on who copied who 😉 I tried out the Power 7/8 leggings, which are cropped right above the ankle. I personally love that length and feel like longer leggings always just bunch up around my ankles. I’m not one of those folks who pulls the extra fabric around my heels- it feels too slippery! The fabric on these is again a thinner feel, and a smoother weave overall. Compared to the K-Deer and Terez leggings, I felt like they were tighter in the hold and at the same time a little more revealing of cellulite on the legs. Not enough that I didn’t enjoy them, they moved well during HIIT workouts and didn’t bunch or sag. So these will be added into the rotation as well!
All athleisure, but leggings in particular, are pretty expensive ($90+ for a pair of leggings??? And yet just look at my collection….) so I know I need to pace myself in replacing the lint-covered leggings I have at the moment. I’ve been able to score multiple pairs for over half off by watching out for various sales, so it pays to keep an eye out. Do you have some leggings that can withstand dog hair that are your favorites? What makes them stand out?
Most families have had experience with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and my family is no different. My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2002, right after my grandfather died and the loss of cognitive function could be hidden no longer. She first lived at home, then had in-home caregivers, and was eventually moved into an assisted living facility where her neurological function continued to decline over time.
Everything went backwards for her. She was unable to recognize the youngest of the grandchildren first, but man she could still sing that Carolina fight song! There was a picture of the Old Well hanging in her room, and when I would visit (I was in college at Carolina at the time) we would sing together- “Rah rah Carolina-lina, rah rah Carolina-lina, rah rah Carolina-lina, rah rah RAH!”
But eventually, as what happens with the disease, she forgot even that. She was unable to sing, unable to communicate, and finally, unable to feed herself. She lived with the diagnosis for 13 years.
Today, there’s a 10% chance of developing some sort of dementia for people over 65, and people over 85 have a staggering 50% chance of developing Alzheimer’s. The likelihood of getting the disease is made even scarier by the fact that after a diagnosis comes, you are told to get your affairs in order and prepare for a time when you have life in your body, but no function in your brain.
Cognitive decline terrifies me. So I tend to keep my ears open when it is discussed in the media. Right before Christmas I learned about The Alzheimer’s Solution, a book by Dean and Ayesha Sherzai. I couldn’t wait to read it, and I was not disappointed. The book is chock full of up to date research and findings about how best to live in a way that prevents or delays Alzheimer’s. The conclusion is that with appropriate lifestyle changes, Alzheimer’s can be prevented in 90% of the population, and delayed 10-15 years for the most genetically susceptible.
So what is this secret sauce that can delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s? As with most solutions, it is not a simple one thing that you do, but an assortment of measures that can be applied. Their key is the acronym NEURO.
NEURO stands for: Nutrition, Exercise, Unwind, Recharge, and Optimize. All of these are components of a healthy lifestyle, which leads to brain health, and how one can prevent or delay Alzheimer’s. A healthy lifestyle means a plant-based diet, regular exercise, stress management, community involvement, and higher levels of cognitive activity (like playing music, chess, or bridge). Which aspect is highest priority for a person to implement depends on their current lifestyle, and what is at the greatest deficit.
A plant-based diet is recommended because cholesterol and saturated fats, which are prevalent in animal products, are closely associated with cognitive degeneration. Consumption of cholesterol and saturated fat also increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, and the brain is a heavy consumer of blood. The easiest way to avoid cholesterol and saturated fats is to avoid animal products.
Regular aerobic exercise is recommended because it increases blood flow to the brain. Anything that reduces blood flow, such as plaques in our arteries or being sedentary for long periods of time) reduces our cognitive function, especially short-term memory. Increased blood flow through exercise increases brain size, improves executive function, and protects against cognitive decline.
This aspect of a healthy lifestyle is all about finding a way to relax. Uncontrolled stress results in elevated levels of cortisol, and high levels of cortisol are linked to increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Ongoing stress interferes with the production of new cells and the growth of neurons, and can even destroy fully formed cells. The book talks specifically about the benefits of mediation, and alternatives to mediation if you just can’t sit still or are resistant to the idea of meditating, such as time spent in nature or simplifying/decluttering. The important thing is to make sure whatever you are doing works, and you are actually relaxing.
Restore is focused on rest, and how important sleep is to brain health. Rather than being a time where nothing happens, sleep is when your brain cleans out amyloids, the presence of which are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, and when you brain consolidates memories- turning short-term into long-term, getting rid of unneeded memories (although I wish I got to choose what was unneeded! Hah!), and organizing thought processes. The real kicker? Most people, regardless of age, needs at least 7 to 8 hours. Some people can thrive on 6 hours, and how much sleep you needs depends on how quickly you move through the various sleep cycles and phases. You need to look honestly and critically at your sleep habits to see if you are getting enough.
This chapter spoke about the importance of stimulating and challenging your brain to keep it healthy. Community engagement and social activities, or learning a new skill, practicing music, or playing bridge are all stimulating activities. Brain games don’t really do the trick, because they typically only focus on one aspect of brain activity- Sudoku uses mathematical centers and crossword puzzles use language centers. The key is engaging in complex and mildly challenging activities.
The book goes into much greater detail on all of the aspects of a healthy lifestyle, but I loved how comprehensive it was in painting a picture of health. You can eat nothing but vegetables, but if you are not engaged in your community, your health will suffer. You can volunteer every day and play piano at your church, but if you are not sleeping, you will see the negative effects.
One last thing the book touches on, but I wish was covered in greater detail, was the fact that even minor positive changes resulted in measurable improvements in outcomes. That’s to say that you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the list above. Pick your weakest spot, and start small. Work up to it. Every little bit closer you get to a healthy lifestyle, you give yourself that much more protection from Alzheimer’s.
If you want to hear more, the Sherzais were interviewed on the Rich Roll podcast, and they went into even greater details during their talk. You can listen to the podcast here.
Everyone who has a history of Alzheimer’s in their family should read this book, which means everyone should read this book. Here’s to brain health!
If you’re like me, you have heard a lot in the past couple years about the microflora inside our gut, and how critical it is to overall health. We’ve been told to eat yogurt, eat fermented foods, take a daily probiotic, all in the name of giving power to the good bacteria inside us that helps us to digest our food and source the nutrients inside of what we eat.
And most of us know that fiber makes us feel full, but is feeling full the only thing fiber does for us? I’ve read that fiber scrubs your intestines clean as it makes its way through you, but a recent study found that fiber’s benefits are more than just mechanical. Fiber actually feeds the bacteria in our gut, which keeps our digestive system in good working order.
As it turns out, fiber is needed to give life to the bacteria inside us. What we once thought of as nothing more than gut-scrubbing filler is actually fuel for the bacteria. Fiber, what we cannot digest from a plant, is actually digested by those bacteria, and is critical to them. We can’t break down the fiber and use it as fuel, but the bacteria in our gut can.
The study looked at mice on a low fiber diet, and found that the population of the bacteria in the mouse’s gut shrank dramatically without enough fiber to sustain it. More menacing was the fact that the mice on the low fiber diet actually experienced a shrinking of their intestinal wall, and a thinner mucus layer. This meant the gut bacteria was much closer to the wall of the intestines, and to the rest of the body, which triggered an immune reaction.
Imagine your intestines as a pipe inside your home, and the bacteria is water traveling along inside of the pipe. Everything is fine so long as the water is contained where it needs to be, inside the pipe. If the water starts to leak out of the pipe due to thin walls, your home is in trouble. Similarly, the body needs the bacteria in our gut to function, but the bacteria needs to stay safely in the intestines, and not travel outside and into the rest of the body.
With the dramatic rise of autoimmune diagnoses such as Hashimoto’s disease, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis, the results of the fiber study make me to question whether our current epidemic of chronic inflammation gone wrong is tied to our low fiber diets. The data certainly points in that direction, and there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence that rehabbing your diet can cure or drive into remission digestive disorders and even autoimmune diseases.
I loved this study, because was straightforward in terms of what you can do with the new discoveries: eat more fiber. And not just one type of fiber, or from one source. The study noted that some mice were given one type of fiber as a means of recovery, and other mice were given many types of fiber. The mice eating one type of fiber improved from their inflammatory-inducing diet, but the mice who were given a wide variety of sources of fiber had the best recovery. The researchers posited that the greater improvement from multiple sources of fiber was probably due to the fact that different bacteria require different sources of fuel. Just as we need a varied diet, it looks like our gut bacteria does too.
This study adds to the growing literature that indicates the best diet for us is one full of variety, and full of plants. To reduce inflammation and restore a healthy gut bacteria, ramp up your fiber intake from plant-based sources: vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. It’s important to note that microbiome recovery is slower if you haven’t been eating as many plants, so as always, patience is the key.
I plan on putting this into action by trying to vary my foods more. I can get into ruts quite easily, either through convenience or laziness, and this study shows how critical it is to get variety in your fiber sources, even if you have a healthy diet. I tend to stay safe when it comes to cooking with new ingredients, but I see a shake up coming in my future. Are you planning on making any changes? Let me know!