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STRESS! We know it all too well. We all experience it on a daily basis at work, at home, and everywhere we go. In the AMC business, many are preparing for the busy meeting season along with site visits for future events which can mean lots of travel and deadlines. Stress, in manageable doses, can actually provide the needed motivation and energy needed to survive these seasons. So…stress in and of itself is not the enemy. Our reaction to it, however, is key!

Author Andrew Bernstein said “The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about your circumstances.”

Before, I offer a few ideas on stress reduction, I must provide the disclaimer that I have in no way mastered a state of total inner peace! As one of the newest members of the AMPED team, this is my first ever blog post, which in and of itself has generated a considerable spike in cortisol levels and therefore qualifies me to speak on the topic — right?! Actually I have had a long-time passion for natural health solutions and organic, clean eating.

First a little chemistry. Stress is, in part, the result of heightened levels of cortisol. What is cortisol? DrAxe.com offers the following explanation:

“The adrenal gland, following signals from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, is responsible for the secretion of cortisol, a type of essential glucocorticoid steroid hormone. Cortisol levels are highest in the morning around 7 a.m. and lowest at night (called a diurnal rhythm). Cortisol is also present in both chronically stressed individuals and those who are perfectly healthy. This vital hormone possesses dozens of different purposes within the body and makes numerous chemical interactions every single day.”

In fact, we depend on cortisol production in order to respond to our surroundings, stay motivated, and to stay awake. However, overproduction can lead to “brain fog”, mood swings, and fatigue and insomnia-just to name a few. Chronic, long-term elevated levels of cortisol can lead to high blood pressure, compromised immune system and a whole host of diseases. Okay, enough about cortisol for now.

Natural solutions to help curb everyday stress are numerous so I will simply mention a few I have incorporated or whose effectiveness I have closely witnessed on someone else.

1. Exercise - Most of us have experienced the positive mental effects and energy boost from regular, moderate exercise. Just a caution that the risks of overtraining are as great as doing no exercise at all.

2. Acupuncture - Can help reduce symptoms like pain, insomnia, headaches.

3. Essential Oils - Breathing in lavender, ylang ylang, bergamot, and frankincense, for instance, can effectively help with sleep, cortisol reduction, balance hormone levels and improve immunity.

4. Deep breathing exercises.

5. Humor - Laughter is, of course, the best medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, it enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.

6. The great outdoors - Simply getting out in the natural world around us and unplugging can promote relaxation. Also, a daily dose of unfiltered sunshine hitting our skin creates a reaction that allows our skin cells to manufacture vitamin D. The growing list of diseases and conditions linked to vitamin D deficiencies warrants further investigation of specific sun exposure guidelines recommended for your skin type and where you live. Regardless, it is well documented that light therapy boosts immunity and mood, thus reducing stress.

7. Sleep - Adequate and quality sleep allow the body’s cortisol levels to naturally drop in the evening and rise again in the morning giving us energy. Those with chronically high stress will likely experience the opposite by being “wired” at night and fatigued all day.

8. Adaptogenic herbs and superfoods - They have the ability to help balance blood pressure and blood sugar levels which in turn help lower fatigue and provide a natural antidepressant.

One superfood we almost all love is Cocoa. Yes, CHOCOLATE, for example, has been used for thousands of years to promote better overall health. Keep in mind, choosing dark, minimally processed chocolate will yield the maximum benefit. (This of course goes for all food — choosing unprocessed or minimally processed fresh, organic, seasonal, grass-fed meats, and wild caught fish whenever possible will give your body the proper nourishment to combat stress.)

Avocado is another superfood that has gained popularity for good reason. It is a healthy fat, containing 20 essential nutrients including fiber, potassium, vitamin E, B vitamins, and folic acid. It acts as a natural hormone balancer which helps protect the heart and improve mood. Whether you love avocado or you avoid it, give the following recipe for Chocolate Avocado Spread a try and you just might change your mind! (recipe-courtesy of erikaelizabethnutrition.com).

There you have it! A few of my favorite ideas to consider as you approach the busy meeting/travel season! Lastly, credits to some of my favorite sources in natural health: JJ Virgin, Dr. Axe, holistic nutritionist Erika Peterson, Dr. Mercola and many more that influence the choices I make.

What’s one of your go-to stress reduction tips?

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Since entering the workplace I have seen more and more people stand while working. I’ve always thought how uncomfortable that must be to stand all day. At AMPED I’ve seen a few of my colleagues hack their own standing desks, while some have adjustable desks. All the hype about standing verses sitting, and now even lying down, at work made me wonder what’s really the best for you?

Standing vs sitting research
Over the last decade there have been numerous studies conducted on the health benefits of standing while working, including lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. This is because when you are standing you are using muscles in your legs and abdomen which consume sugar and can lower cholesterol. In addition, researchers suggest too much sitting leads to more disability as we age and can even shorten our lifespan. As a result of these findings, there has been a 50 percent increase in sales of standing desks over the last year. Standing desk manufacturers are pushing the common belief that their product will eliminate the “sitting disease” and health problems caused from sitting an average of nine out of 14 waking hours each day.

Sitting vs standing research
While many organizations are following the “trend” of standing desks, can they be sure they’re receiving the right message? Occupational health specialists now fear that many office workers have taken research suggestions too far. Specialists are finding many workers believe standing in one place, rather than sitting, will improve their heart, reduce weight, and fight off other negative effects associated with sitting too much. However, they caution that standing all day is not the best answer. Prolonged standing can lead to issues such as curvature of the spine, varicose veins and backaches. Researchers state that although standing does burn a few more calories because our heart has to work harder to circulate blood, it also puts more strain on our back, joints and veins.

And lastly, lying down
Recently introduced to the market is the Altwork Station. This workstation allows users the flexibility to sit, stand and lie down using four modes: standing, collaboration, regular and focus. However, they are really pushing the “focus” mode, when the chair is completely reclined and the desk and monitor follow. The idea behind the Altwork Station is that individuals need multiple configurations throughout the day to complete different tasks. More specifically, individuals need the product’s “focus” mode to complete tasks they need to intensely focus on. The main drive behind this creation is that the way people sit at desks hasn’t evolved since the late 1800s and that today’s workers need a variety of positions in order to increase efficiency.

So what’s right?
Unfortunately, I can’t give you this answer. Studies have not yet determined how much standing verses sitting helps in regard to your health. Research is still being conducted to try to find the answer for all of us desk users. Until an answer is determined, it is recommended that workers incorporate a combination of sitting, standing and walking. Researchers are suggesting that, instead of standing still or sitting all day, we sit 20 out of every 30 minutes at work, stand for eight minutes, and then move around for two. For some of you this may sound easy; others may find this pretty challenging! For those who are up for this 20-8-2 challenge, set an alarm on your phone or a timer on your computer to follow these guidelines. And hey, if you are successful with this it means you will be standing up and sitting down 32 times in a workday which has benefits of its own. For those of you who are not up for this challenge, try to increase your movement throughout the workday by planning a walk at lunch, taking a lap around the office, getting up to fill your water bottle, or, for us at the AMPED headquarters whose historic building has no elevator, climbing all of the stairs to our third-floor office.

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2014 was the year I finally decided to focus on my health. And oh boy did I! I joined a gym and got excited about working out. I learned how to fuel my body with clean, unprocessed foods. I grew stronger. I lost 30 pounds and gained some killer biceps! But of all the things I accomplished this year, perhaps the most healthful and life-extending decision I made was to reduce the time I spend sitting on my bum.

The Sitting Disease
Here’s what I know: Research shows that excessive sitting can be lethal. Most of us do it all day long: in the car, on the couch, in the office. It’s so bad, that experts say it can’t be negated by exercise and can lead to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancers and early death. There’s even a name for this inactivity: the “sitting disease.”

I knew if I was really going to take this health thing seriously, I needed to sit less and move more. That’s tough to do when you have a desk job. So I set out to find a sit-to-stand office solution that would work for me.

In search of a solution
I started with a cheap hack that consisted of a 2’ x 3’ board set across two cardboard boxes. On top, I put my keyboard and my mouse. This got me on my feet, but, as you can really only stand for an hour or two at a time, it was awkward to break it down and set back up again throughout the day.

Then I started being conscious about standing while doing activities that didn’t require sitting: conference calls and meetings, or reading, for instance. And rather than sending an email to my colleagues a few offices away, I got up and paid them a visit.

This was all fine and good, but not enough to truly counteract the effects of sitting. I needed a permanent solution.

There are an amazing number of sit-to-stand options out there, ranging from adjustable desk tops to fully mechanized furniture. Some of the best I found were desktop workstations that turn your existing desk into an adjustable one. Ergotron, Kangaroo, and Veridesk are all attractive options and range in price from $300 - $600.

I wanted a full-desk option, however, to fit my two-monitor set up. Among the contenders in the height-adjustable desk category were Jesper, Evodesk, Ergo Depot, Stand Desk and XDesk. These can be pricier, ranging from $800 to over $2,000 depending on features that can include electronic adjustment, power management solutions and even add-on sound systems. Some also come with apps that alert you when it’s time to sit or stand (as if our bodies can’t tell us the same thing!).

The results
As I tend to have champagne tastes on a beer budget, I set my sights on a full sit-to-stand desk and scoured the Craigslist ads for something second-hand. Then last month — Bingo! — my dream desk appeared in the form of a beautiful bamboo-topped NextDesk. It required a two-hour drive across the state and back and another three weeks to get all the additional parts I’d need to make it complete, but it was well worth it.

I’ve lived with my new sit-to-stand desk for over a month now and have reduced my workday sitting time from about nine hours to three. I can write, design and hold meetings all while standing and I’ve noticed I have more energy than when I sat slumped over a desk all day. I love it!

I truly believe that adjustable desks and sit-to-stand solutions will become more commonplace and affordable very soon as we continue to learn about the dangers of sitting. But I wasn’t willing to wait. If sitting less and standing more can boost my chances of living a longer, healthier life, why not start right away?

A few final tips

Get a mat. Reduce the stress on your legs by getting a good desk mat. I purchased this one from Amazon.

Wear the right shoes. You’ll stand longer if you’re feet are happy. I have an extra pair of comfy shoes near my desk in the event that I’m wearing heels. Or I go barefoot.

Keep moving. Yes, sitting too much is bad, but standing too much in one place can lead to varicose veins. Who wants that? Be sure to shift your weight as you stand. Or, do what I do: turn on some tunes and dance!

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