Spring is here, even in the most stubborn parts of the country. Get outside and make the most of it! Here are 10 ideas for ways to celebrate the season and take care of your health.
1. Get on your bike
Enjoy the newly balmy weather by going for a bike ride, whether it's for competition (read: racing with a friend) or a leisurely cruise with the kids. It's a great way to socialize and, of course, an excellent form of low-impact cardio as well. "Bicycling for 60 minutes, three times a week, over a 10-week period dropped blood pressure an average of 13 points in a group of middle-aged people," notes Dr. Maoshing Ni, author of Secrets of Longevity (Chronicle Books, 2006). So what are you waiting for?
2. Feast on artichokes
Spring is artichoke season, so take advantage of these delicious treats while you can. Not only are they an easy-yet-gourmet addition to the dinner table, they're good for you as well: they're especially high in antioxidants, and Dr. Ni considers them a powerful liver protector. Feeling ambitious? Try planting artichokes in your garden this year.
3. Boost your antioxidant intake with herbs and spices
Antioxidants may have been the latest nutrition trend a couple of years ago, but they're still going strong -- and it's no wonder. They're free-radical-fighting superstars that help keep our cells in tip-top shape, thereby preventing disease. Try making antioxidant-rich foods a part of every meal. Yes, blueberries – and other berries as well – and still-on-trend pomegranates are definitely great sources. But did you know that herbs and spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, oregano and cloves are also packed with antioxidants? In their book Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health (Whitecap Books, 2007), Liz Pearson and Mairlyn Smith suggest the following ways to add herbs and spices to your meals:
• Sprinkle ground cinnamon on apples or oatmeal.
• Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1 to 2 mL) of ground cinnamon or cloves to shakes or smoothies.
• Add whole cloves and cinnamon sticks to your pot of tea.
• Add a variety of herbs and spices to salad dressings and meat marinades.
• Use recipes that feature turmeric (most often found in curry powder), cinnamon, cloves or oregano.
4. Plant a herb garden
Were you paying attention in point number three? Pearson and Smith also mention that fresh herbs are higher in antioxidants than dried – and we all know that when it comes to produce, the fresher, the better. So to get the freshest oregano of all – not to mention other favourites like basil, chives and sage – plant some in your garden. Most herbs thrive in containers, even on sunny windowsills, so don't let lack of space be an excuse to stick with dried.
5. Hug someone
There's nothing like a good hug from someone you love to make you feel better when you're down. But you don't have to wait until you're grumpy to get in some snuggles – and help your health. "Human touch elicits elevated production of endorphins, growth hormones and DHEA, all of which lengthen your life span," notes Dr. Ni, "and touch lowers the levels of stress hormones that can shorten it." If you're lucky, your doctor will even give you a prescription.
Page 1 of 2 – Find 5 seasonal ways to boost your health on page 2.
6. Buy new dishes
Had your eye on a gorgeous set of crockery that will coordinate just so with your dining room draperies? Go ahead and splurge – with one caveat. Skip the oversize dinner plates and soup bowls and stock up on smaller dishes. You'll help prevent the mindless eating that is a proven result of eating from large plates and bowls. "As the size of our dishes increases, so does the amount we scoop onto them," explains Brain Wansink, author of Mindless Eating (Bantam, 2006). In one of his studies, for instance, Wansink noted that "people with a large bowl and a three-ounce scoop dished out 57 per cent more ice cream than those given a smaller bowl and smaller scoop."
7. Cook up some rhubarb
Once you've polished off the artichokes you had for dinner, feast on rhubarb for dessert. It's got decent amounts of fibre, potassium and calcium, it tastes divine and if you find a kindly neighbour with an overgrown rhubarb patch (that's assuming you don't have your own), you'll have enough for a new dessert every night. Try one of the recipes below, or check out our collection of rhubarb recipes for more ideas.
8. Bake a batch of muffins
It's three o'clock, your tummy's starting to growl and there's nothing to eat but the candy bars and chips in the vending machine down the hall. No wonder you can't resist the junk food. But rather than succumbing to the convenience trap every afternoon, fight back by planning ahead and making sure you always have something with you to feed your midafternoon hunger. While muffins may be the wolf in sheep's clothing at the bakery (they're often so high in fat and calories you might as well pick up a pastry), when you make them at home, you can make them as healthy – and tasty – as you like. Here are a few healthier suggestions:
9. Eat more organics
Few topics have been more hotly debated in nutrition circles than whether organic foods are better for your body (the fact that they're better for the planet as a whole is a lot less under dispute). But a number of studies have shown that organic produce is better for you. For instance:
• Researchers at Newcastle University in the U.K. showed that rats fed an organic diet were healthier than those who didn't.
• A study published in the magazine Chemistry & Industry found that organically grown kiwifruit contained higher levels of polyphenols, antioxidants and nutrients such as vitamin C than their conventionally grown counterparts.
• Research from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that fruits and veggies grown organically contain more antioxidants.
Even if you can't buy organic food all the time, consider increasing its presence in your shopping cart, especially for those fruits and veggies considered to contain the highest levels of pesticide residues: Pearson and Smith list apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach and strawberries as prime culprits.
10. Buy yourself flowers
Nothing brightens up your home – and your mood – like a fresh bouquet of flowers. Need an excuse to splurge? Dr. Ni cites one study that showed that "people who sat near a bouquet of colourful flowers were able to relax better during a five-minute typing assignment than those who sat near a foliage-only plant." So next time you're feeling stressed, pick up a bunch of your favourite flowers – just remember to place them somewhere you'll enjoy them.
Page 2 of 2