Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Peace and Blessings Health Partners! 

I made a boo-boo

As a public health researcher, one of the things I am usually cautious of is speaking in absolutes. I do my best to thread lightly around conjectures, but alas, even the best of us find ourselves in a pickle from time to time. For me, my blunder came when I shared a post on the Health Partners WhatsApp group. The post was based on my conclusion of the Harvard Men’sHealth article, and was stated as follows:

Red Meat = higher risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer = 13% greater risk of dying

Processed red meat = even greater even greater risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer = 20% greater risk of dying

Let’s back up, and put this in context. It was the second week in March and the health challenge was to “Get rid of RED MEAT.” Let me acknowledged first that red meat consumption in my family, and in deed my community of Africans, African Americans, and Muslims from diverse cultures, can be quite excessive. The goal behind the ‘red meat’ challenge was to get Health Partners to explore and share alternatives to red meat, and not necessarily to eliminate it from our diet altogether. My post to the group, impassioned as it seems, was not the correct tone, nor the correct reaction to the article it was taken from. I should have known better! The experts among Health Partners were quick to point out that there are numerous benefits to red meat, including key essential vitamins, minerals, and protein to the diet, which helps aid in the muscle growth, provision of zinc, B vitamins, protein, iron, selenium, and retinol, which are all important for body growth (McAfee et al, 2009) that confer health benefits. I was also reminded that when it comes to healthy eating, moderation, balance, and variety is key. So, I stand corrected. Fortunately, my Health Partners are understanding and know that I meant no harm. However, if I could get a re-do, my post would read as follows:

EXCESSIVE red meat = higher risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer = 13% greater risk of dying

EXCESSIVE processed red meat = even greater even greater risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer = 20% greater risk of dying

In summary, the study documented the diet and health outcomes of 125,000 men and women who were followed over two decades. The study found that almost 20% of participants died from either cardiovascular disease or cancer, with their mortality linked to red meat consumption at a higher rate, and dying at a younger age. They also tended to weight more, exercise less, smoke more, and drink more alcohol than those who ate less red meat. Even more glaring is when the researchers controlled for unhealthy lifestyle factors, mortality and red meat consumption remained significantly associated (13%).

Our March health challenges were as follows:

*      Eat at least one fiber-rich food daily
*      Get rid of RED MEAT (no beef)
*      Curb your CARBS (no bread, no pasta, no rice)
*      Get at least 7 hours of sleep (8-10 hours of sleep is ideal)
*      Exercise portion size control

The first challenge was meant to encourage Health Partners to explore foods rich in fiber, with the aim of incorporating these into our diets. Dietary fiber is known to help prevent or relieve constipation and can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Other benefits include helping to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, lowering cholesterol levels, and controlling blood sugar levels to name a few. The second challenge on red meat and the benefits of cutting down on its consumption has already been discussed. The purpose of the third challenge, curbing the consumption of carbohydrates brought about very useful carb substitute suggestions. Health Partners offered up staples such as quinoa, which I used as my rice substituted and enjoyed very much.

The last two challenges, getting at least 7 hours of sleep, and exercising portion control were the two I found most challenging. In our fast paced lifestyles, I, and I would imagine several Health Partners as well, continue to be challenged with getting enough sleep. This is especially true for those of us who maintain a career life outside of the home and have “mommy duties” to fulfill at the end of the day. What helped me get through the challenge for that week was attempting to make use of my down time to complete many of the tasks that usually keep me up late into the night, ensure that my three kids (ages 2, 5 and 9 years) stay on a similar schedule as much as possible, especially at night, and just making a decision to finish up whatever was left the next day rather than stay up all night. On the days I successfully got in at least 7 hours of sleep, I noticed that I was well rested and thus more productive the next day. The very last challenge of portion size, I must confess, was the one that proved most futile for me. I would begin with the intention of keeping to an appropriate portion size, but typically found myself going for seconds, thirds, and sometimes, even fourths. Hey, remember, this is a NO JUDGMENT ZONE! I am definitely a work-in-progress in this area.

So, Health Partners, which of the weekly challenges were easiest for you, and which proved most challenging? Also share some of the strategies you used in completing them successfully.

Health Partners' fruit & veggie challenge

Our "H20 situations"

Soon enough, we began to see that we are our own competition! If I wasn't able to complete all 50 rounds of the fitness challenge one day, say the mountain climbers for example, then my goal was to do better the next day. I found that the encouragement of my Health Partners made it that much easier. Health Partners shared strategies that they enlisted in completing the challenges. These included breaking down the fitness challenges into chunks and completing them in multiple rounds, or sharing recipes for healthier snacks to meet the healthy snacking challenge.One additional step I took towards being accountable for my own health was to finally make use of "My Fitness Pal" app that was recommended to the group by a Health Partner. I'm not sure why I procrastinated on this for so long, but now find the app to be a true pal. It helps me track my caloric intake at the touch of a button on the smartphone, and makes it a breeze to log in the "ethnic" foods that I eat regularly consume. Visually seeing my daily caloric count, and the effect of exercise helps me appreciate the fact that diet and exercise truly do go hand-in-hand. The app is also filled with various nutrition facts and useful blog posts. For now, I'm sticking to the free version, which, surprisingly, has a ton of useful features that that help with basic analysis.

My Fitness Pal

Summary of activities
Kickboxing (2/2, 2/9, 2/16, & 2/23/2016)
Health Partners continued with the Cardio Kickboxing Group on Tuesdays to supplement our Sunday private sessions. It's great to see more and more Health Partners brave the cold, in our determination to meet our fitness goals.

Zumba (2/4, 2/11, 2/18 & 2/25/2016)
Health Partners have also kept up with Zumba on Thursdays at the community center. This helps us further supplement our Sunday workout in order to meet the recommendation to be active at least 3-days a week. Additionally, the cardio and other health benefits of Zumba are tremendous.

Walk/jog at Cabin John Regional Park (2/7/2016)

Health Partners explored Cabin John Regional Park, nicely tucked away in the city of Bethesda. What I especially enjoyed about this park is the mix of natural and hard (i.e., tarred) surface trails, which makes it great for both hiking and biking. As always, the kids, or rather, our Honorary Health Partners, are always welcome, and we had a few on this outing. They walked and jogged the trails along with us, and even helped the mommy and aunty Health Partners stretch out at the end of the trail. We ended the walk with some "sweet rewards" of healthy fruits and vegetables. I always look forward to the discussions that Health Partners have during these post-workout sessions. And the best part about it is that we still have the entire day ahead of us after bidding each other farewell at 9:30 am on a Sunday morning!

Health Partners settle in for a healthy post-walk/jog picnic

Post walk/jog stretching led by an Honorary Health Partner

Cardio & Endurance Training (2/14/2016)
Health Partners had a much needed cardio & endurance training session this month. The cardio routines continue to get more and more challenging, but we would expect nothing less from Saira. I know I have benefitted greatly from the endurance training as well. On this "leg-day" workout, we used some weights and enlisted everyday items such as chairs for another great workout session. Health Partners were amazing at those side kicks, chair hops, and chair dips routine. 

Making the Side Kicks look easy

Yoga (2/21/2016)
Health Partners thought we'd wind down a bit and do some Yoga, which we've had on our radar for quite some time. Personally, I'm no stranger to Yoga. I attend a weekly session at work with co-workers on most Wednesdays, but this session was different. Our instructor, Bahiyyah, took the time to teach us the correct poses and explained their benefits. She also taught us, or helped us better under stand the yoga lingo: Asanas, Chakras, Child-pose, Cobra, Downward-Facing Dog, Namaste, Om, Standing forward bend etc. We left the class super-relaxed and yet energized at the same time. I certainly hope Health Partners will have many more sessions like this. Here are some of my take-home from this single session:

  • Flexibility is not a necessary pre-requisite for yoga, but practice does help a ton
  • The breathing exercise is not meant to annoy (especially the Type-A personalities) but rather to teach us how to slow down from our "high-speed" lifestyle 
  • Yoga is a mental discipline where you must be willing to get out of your comfort zone, challenge your body, and trust that your body can do way more than we give it credit for
  • For those still on the fence about trying yoga, as I was many years ago, know that yoga poses are not necessarily reflections of Hindu beliefs, and neither are the meditations an imitation of Buddhist beliefs
So, there you have it, go ahead and give it a try! Bahiyyah will be showcasing her fitness instructions at the Women's Wellness Workshop on March 5th, and Health Partners will definitely be there to show our support.

Walk/jog at Fairland Recreational Park (2/28/2016)
Health Partners headed to Fairland Recreational Park in Montgomery County. Once again, the Honorary Health Partners joined us for the walk, truly helping us work towards making fitness a habit. They weren't the least bit phased by the distance or the nippy weather. Their reward came at the sight of the playground, which was fortunately at the end of the trail, allowing us to get some much appreciated workout before the kids decided it was playtime. We ended our walk on the trail with high-fiber fruits (raspberry, pears & apples) and kept hydrated with water.

The walk, the jog, the play, and the nourishment

In closing, I'd like to share the steps that I am taking to become more accountable for my wellness, and specifically my health and fitness. First, I've had to get rid of my excuses. It's too cold! It's too hot! I'm too tired! I need more sleep! I don't have the time! As a mom, the kids and what to do with them if I start working-out had been my excuse for years. I knew I had to somehow weave their interests into mine and include them in the things I did to stay active if I plan to succeed. Instead of making them an excuse, I make them part of the reason why I stay healthy and fit. Secondly, I've given up self doubt and procrastination and begun taking concrete steps that will help me reach my health and fitness goal. One that has been shared is my use of My Fitness Pal app to track my progress. Others include literally stepping out of the house to try out different fitness activities that I never thought I'd be able to do (e.g., going on a flying trapeze girls-night out). Lastly, I've learned to step out of my comfort zone, challenge myself a bit, and be willing to take my fitness goal to another level. I make it a point to not just meet, but get to know other woman engaging in some sort of health and fitness activity to see how we can work together to reach our goals. Women working to support each other can truly be a beautiful thing, because, after all, I'm in competition with none other than myself. I am not interested in competing with anyone else. My new mantra is:

I am my own competition! 
I plan to be better today than I was yesterday.

And with that, it's a wrap for February...until next month, I pray you live in peace and wish you many blessings and an abundance of good health. As always, I bid you success in striving to make health a priority and fitness a habit.

New to Health Partners? If you're interested in joining the Health Partners on our weekly health and fitness adventures, please fill out the membership form and we will be in contact with you. You may also send an e-mail to HealthPartners@HealthierPicks.com.

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Getting back to a healthy and fit ME

Peace and Blessings Health Partners! 

It's been a while...a long, long while. This past year has been a great transition for me and my family. Alhamduli'llah, things have settled down a bit. Here I am once again, and I hope to get back to blogging more regularly. The WhatsApp Health Partners group is still going strong, and the Facebook group is on and off. My hope is to be much more active on these outlets and to really help us get our health and fitness back on track, in shaa Allah (God willing).

The fasting in Ramadan has come and gone, but the hope is that we all continue to strengthen our spirituality beyond those 29 days. When it came to my health and fitness during, however, I must confess that I was quite the slacker during Ramadan. I did a couple of 5 mile walks/jogs, but was too scared to overexert myself, especially because the daily fast spanned over 16 hours most days (approximately 4 am - 8:30 pm). The good news is that I am slowly getting back to a healthy and fit ME. Just three days after the end of Ramadan, I joined a few sister friends for a hike on the Billy Goat Trail at Great Falls, VA. The embedded video tells the story of a fun and challenging experience for us. The hike was well worth it.

Billy Goat Trail at Great Falls, VA

At home, I've gone back to walking and jogging on my local trail and my treadmill. Ladies, that treadmill has had a ton of break and it's now time to get it back to working for me. My highest limit so far has been about 2 miles, but working my way back up to 5 miles.

Another fun thing I've gotten myself into, post Ramadan, was the Sister's Eid Party...for ladies ONLY! A fellow health partner and I attended the party over the weekend. This may not appear to be directly related to health and fitness, but it has a ton to do with mental health. It was a “Coming to America” themed party and it was lit! I had not partied like that since my college years and it felt intoxicating…except I do not drink. What I loved most was the fact that this was a party, just for us, young ladies, older ones…womenfolk. We got all dolled up...faces were beat, and outfits on point! I can't share pictures of us, but I'll give you all a glimpse of what the venue looked like.

"Coming to America" Sister's Eid Party 2017

Dinner tables are the party

Many of us on the older end of the spectrum chatted about how we never get to go out much and this was so uplifting and a great stretch from our daily wifey-duties and mommy-runs. That sense of camaraderie is priceless. Every minute of my two-hour commute to and return from the party was so worth it. I returned home feeling rejuvenated and already looking forward to next year.

That's it for July...until next month, I pray you live in peace and wish you many blessings and an abundance of good health. As always, I bid you success in striving to make health a priority and fitness a habit, and I leave you with these two questions to ponder on:

How often do you get to hang out and just chill with other women? 
What benefits do you get from it? 

New to Health Partners? If you're interested in joining the Health Partners on our weekly health and fitness adventures, please send an e-mail to HealthPartners@HealthierPicks.com

Remember to leave a comment below!