Mind & Spirit

Your health: 10 things to do in August

By: Kat Tancock

Author: Canadian Living

Mind & Spirit

Your health: 10 things to do in August

By: Kat Tancock

Good health doesn't come from a pill -- it comes from how you live your daily life. Try these 10 ways to improve your routine this month and end up healthier.

1. Make healthy friends -- or make your friends healthier
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that you're more likely to become obese if your friends and family members are overweight, too. The reason? Researchers speculate that if you're surrounded by people who are overweight, your perception of what's normal shifts to compensate. It's not too much of a stretch to think that the same link might exist when it comes to lifestyle habits. So instead of maintaining your circle's weekly ritual of pub food and beer for dinner, suggest healthier pastimes -- and extend your social circle to include new friends that share your interest in good health. The more friends, the merrier!

2. Feast on fresh fruit
Forget frozen, canned or imported -- this month, make the most of the summer's bounty. A wealth of fruit is in season now, including peaches and plums, apples and pears, and blackberries and blueberries. Buy some at your local farmer's market or visit a farm to pick your own. You can't beat the flavour, and freshly picked fruit is a nutritional powerhouse. Eat it fresh or try the following recipes:

Grilled Fresh Peach Salsa
Maple Apple and Blueberry Crisp
Plum and Almond Tart

3. Improve your balance
When it comes to staying fit, people generally think of cardio, strength and flexibility as the key components. But don't forget to include balance. Your sense of balance declines as you age, more so if you don't keep it up. Many physical activities will help you maintain your balance, including yoga, dance, skiing and martial arts. Or if you're not the sporty type, try testing yourself during daily activities: balance on one foot in the shower while washing your feet, for example, or while you're putting on your shoes.

4. Eat more garlic
And not just garlic -- all members of the allium family, including chives, onions and leeks as well as garlic, have fantastic health benefits. Liz Pearson and Mairlyn Smith, authors of Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health (Whitecap Books, 2007) say these foods are linked to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.

5. Get better sleep
It's one thing to get to bed at a decent time, but what if your nights are disrupted by your spouse's snoring -- or your own? Well, it's time to find a solution. Not only is snoring disruptive to sleep -- a health problem on its own -- but it's harmful to your health in other ways: for instance, interrupted breathing cuts the levels of oxygen reaching your blood, which can cause elevated cholesterol levels, according to Dr. Maoshing Ni, author of Secrets of Longevity (Chronicle, 2006). "To stop breathing through your mouth at night," says Dr. Ni, "sleep on your side, lose excess weight, and treat any sinus blockages you may have." Also make sure to check with your doctor to see if any other health issues could be causing the snoring.

Page 1 of 2 -- Do you have a sweet tooth? Good news: Find out how indulging in a sweet treat every once in awhile can be good for your health on page 2.

6. Eat dessert
Yes, sugar, fat and refined flour are on the hit list of unhealthy foods, but that doesn't mean you can't have them once in a while. Consider it a mental health break. The important thing? Make sure to enjoy every mouthful.

Consuming a sweet treat without paying attention isn't helping anyone. So savour your pie, pastry or ice cream sundae, and if you can, make it healthier: use some whole wheat flour when baking, pick fruit desserts over creams and custards, and top your ice cream with heart-healthy walnuts or almonds. Some recipes to try:

Red Currant Cherry Almond Pie
Crossover Apple Strudel
Chocolate Meringues with Ice Cream and Berries

7. Plan a winter getaway
Now's the time to start dreaming about how you'll fight the midwinter blues come February. Plan ahead by asking friends for tips and browsing through brochures, websites and travel guides to find the perfect spot for your sunny holiday. Not making it out of the country this winter? That's no reason not to take a break -- instead, plan a week (or even a long weekend) of fun activities to do nearby.

8. Make hemp a part of your diet
Hemp really is a wonder plant -- just don't confuse it with its cousin marijuana. The plant itself grows quickly in a wide range of soil without need for pesticides or herbicides, and can be used to make products such as paper, yarn and fabric. And the seeds are packed with nutrition: they contain all 10 amino acids, making them a superior source of protein, and have anti-inflammatory properties, notes professional Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier, author of The Thrive Diet (Penguin, 2007). To get started, buy some Canada-grown hemp seeds from your natural foods store, and sprinkle them on cereal and salads, or add hemp oil to salad dressings and smoothies.

9. Do nothing
Our days are packed with stimulation: news reports on the minute, ads everywhere and the background buzz of traffic permeate our lives. Give your brain a time-out by taking time to do nothing. Sit or lie in the sun and watch the clouds go by. Let your mind wander. And the next time you're feeling frazzled, bring yourself back to the state you were in when you let yourself relax.

10. Binge on beans
Rude rhymes aside, beans are an essential part of any healthy diet. "Beans or legumes are an incredible food," note Pearson and Smith. "They've earned a first-class reputation for their exceptional nutritional content, as well as their ability to fight heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and more." Try the following recipes for a healthy meal:

Curried Lentil, Wild Rice and Orzo Salad
Black Bean Avocado Salad
Juicy Portobello and White Bean Hummus Pitas

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Mind & Spirit

Your health: 10 things to do in August