by Jenny Gaal,Fitness Director

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” — Mother Teresa

The holidays are a time for gratitude, celebrations, family, friends, and, of course, gifts. However, most of us are bombarded with heavy advertising trying to convince us that we need the latest and greatest, it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters and overlook the art of thoughtful gift giving.  Thoughtful giving comes from a practice of mindfulness. Being mindful means paying attention to the present moment without judgement, bringing greater clarity to the mind and more insight and creativity into life.

The holidays are the best time to practice the gift of giving. The concept of giving and receiving gifts is closely tied to compassion, love, and gratitude. When you give someone a gift, no matter how big or small, you convey that you were thinking of him/her—it’s a type of caring.  The true gift of giving is how you make someone feel when you offer heartfelt energy. Mindfully considering the person to whom you are giving is a wonderful way to express care and deepen connections.  Here is a list of the top tips for joyful giving:

1. Plan Ahead

The holidays can be crazy enough so plan ahead.  You don’t have to wait until the holiday frenzy begins. Start early!  Planning well ahead of the holiday rush season allows you the time and energy to brainstorm ways to make your gifts meaningful. It also reduces the stress of last-minute shopping or reaching for a quick, but not so meaningful choice.

Consider these questions to dig into the meaning behind your giving:

·         How do you measure the value of a gift?

·         What do you hope to convey to your loved ones?

·         How can your values be transformed into holiday gifts?

·         How do you want to share your energy with people you care about?

2. Give the Gift of Presence

We each have unique skills and talents. Offering someone your time and expertise can be a truly thoughtful gift and also deepen your connection. Material items don’t last forever, but the memories of sharing an experience or learning something new can last a lifetime.  Think about a skill you can share by providing lessons for a loved one. It’s a heartfelt way to spend time with a special person and share your passions. Teach them how to:

·         Cook

·         Play music

·         Paint

·         Take photographs

·         Practice yoga

·         Fish

You can also give your time and energy by creating a gift certificate for:

·         Babysitting

·         Gardening

·         House cleaning

·         Meal preparation

·         Lawn mowing

·         Massages

3. Share from the Heart

A heartfelt note can be a gift in itself. Offer forgiveness, gratitude, or love to remind someone you care about them and that they are cherished.  Letters that come from the heart show a mindful connection.  Similarly, gratitude or memory jars can be thoughtful gifts. Here’s how to put one together:

1.      Contact friends and family members of the recipient and have them submit special memories, a favorite photo, or something they appreciate about the person.

2.      Place these all in a jar, decorated box, or special journal.

3.      Give the jar to the recipient and encourage him to choose one memory each day during the upcoming year so he can see what other people cherish about him.

4. Personalize It

When planning a gift, think about who the recipient is and what he/she values. Recall what he is passionate about or what makes him laugh.  Use this to inspire heartfelt, personalized, and thoughtful gifts.  If your mom hates to run to the grocery store, consider a healthy meal delivery service, membership in a CSA for organic produce, or providing regular grocery runs for her.

You will find that a little mindfulness adds tremendous value to the process of honoring your loved ones during the holidays or anytime throughout the year.



School Lunch

by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

It is the return of the brown bag! As many of us return to school and routine coming up with a packed lunch every day can be tough. How do we pack a lunch that is both healthy and versatile? Here are some tips for making a nutritious lunch that is an effortless part of your daily routine.

  1. Make enough dinner for leftovers.

One of the most obvious tips, but one we heard over and over, is to make dinnertime work for lunch too.

  1. Put leftovers in the lunchbox right after dinner.

Great way to save time, put your dinner leftovers in the lunchbox or lunch container right after dinner, before you clean up.

  1. Cook a big batch for lunch on Sunday.

Spending a lazy weekend day is a great time to prepare for the week. Package right into the single-serving containers that go into the freezer. In the morning, grab and go! Make sure to pre-package healthy snacks like vegetables, berries and nuts that are ready to grab anytime during the week.

  1. Keep your kitchen stocked with essentials.

Stock it up with plastic ware, napkins, seasoning and condiment packets which are easily tossed into a lunchbox to spice things up!

5.  Make a Smarter Sandwich

  • Use different breads like 100% whole-wheat tortilla wraps (choose wraps low in saturated fat and made with no hydrogenated oils) or 100% whole-wheat pita pockets.
  • In addition to lettuce and tomato, try shredded carrot or zucchini and sliced apple or pear with a turkey sandwich.
  • Try avocado or hummus as a swap for cheese or mayo.
  • Try a leftover grilled chicken in your sandwich as a switch for lunch meat.
  1. Let Them Dunk

Sometimes it’s OK to let your kids play with their food, especially when they are getting extra nutrition. Try packing one of these fun dunks with dippers:

  • Apple and pear slices to dip into low-fat plain yogurt or peanut butter.
  • Carrot, celery and sweet pepper strips to dip into hummus, fresh salsa or homemade bean dip.
  1. Get Them Involved

When kids help pack their lunch, they’re more likely to eat that lunch! On nights you have a bit more time, like a Sunday night, have them choose which piece of fruit or what type of whole grain bread they want and let them assemble their lunch. Make this a weekly routine – it’s another great way to spend family time together and make an influence on nutritious choices.


Having a tough time motivating yourself to work out? Just imagine if exercise was your job. Here is a list of the top tips to stay motivated from athletes in the know….


  1. Workout buddies are key. Group classes at the gym—kick boxing, weight training or yoga—can not only help you stay committed it can also motivate you to work harder. Social engagements afterward- coffee, tea or just conversation- is a nice post workout treat!
  2. Put it on paper. Keep track of your workouts and progress. Jot down what you plan to accomplish at the gym before you go, bring a pen or pencil and keep track as you go.
  3. Schedule it. SO important!! We are all busy and if you don’t schedule and prioritize chances are it probably will not happen. Even if it is only for 20 minutes- it all adds up!
  4. Rest doesn’t always mean sedentary. Just because you’re taking a day off from working out doesn’t mean you should sit on the couch for the next 24 hours. Take a walk and get the blood flowing!
  5. Always have a goal in mind. Always be working toward a new goal.   If you don’t have something to work for, it’s easy to get distracted. You might not be reaching for a gold medal, but you can sign up for an exercise challenge, like a 5K or a mini-triathlon.
  6. Take vitamins as insurance. In ideal conditions, everyone would get the necessary vitamins and nutrients from food, but sometimes that’s not possible, so taking a multivitamin as a backup plan might be a good idea. Talk to your doctor about your daily diet and see if it could help you.
  7. Stay hydrated. Besides the obvious need for water when you’re exercising (and sweating) a lot, keeping yourself hydrated can help you stay energized. It is recommended to drink half your body weight in ounces of water.

Cutting calories on white background

by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director


Sorry to break it to you—burning a pound of fat isn’t as simple as burning through 3,500 calories.

There’s tremendous variability in how a 3,500 caloric deficit affects different people.  Why’s that? Well, one huge factor determining the results of dieters is body composition.  The more fat a person has to give, the quicker she/he will lose weight and weight from fat.  Meanwhile, when you get closer to your body weight, your body holds on to fat stores for dear life and sacrifices muscle over fat because the body is perpetually afraid that it will starve; it’s perhaps biology’s most un-welcomed survival mechanism.

Meanwhile, how you try to hit your caloric deficit (which is a necessity to lose weight) has a huge impact on whether you lose weight from muscle, fat or just water.  The faster you try to achieve a deficit, the more weight you will lose from muscle as opposed to fat. However, exercise—and most markedly, strength training—and protein consumption promote muscle growth so that you will not lose as much muscle. In fact, if you consume an adequate amount of protein, you could potentially increase your lean-muscle mass while reducing your body-fat percentage.

Take it a step further, if you are cutting calories from carbs, you will also lose water weight. In the body, every gram of glycogen (carbohydrates) in your body is stored with a few grams of water. So when you go low-carb, your metabolism breaks down those glycogen reserves for energy, and you end up naturally flushing out the accompanying water. That’s another reason why, calorie per calorie, obese people tend to drop weight drastically: They have a lot of water to lose.

You also need to realize that your calorie-cutting strategy does alter your metabolism—and what it takes to take in fewer calories than you’re consuming over the long haul.  People’s metabolic rates slightly decrease as they lose weight. That’s because it takes more energy (calories) to fuel a 280-pound human than at 180-pounds.  More importantly, if you lose most of your weight from muscle, your metabolism will plummet—which is one more reason why extreme diets do not work.

The math is simple.  Aim to take in 300 to 500 fewer calories per day to lose weight and fit in a healthy exercise regimen.



by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. However, UV radiation can also come from tanning booths or sunlamps. The most dangerous kind of skin cancer is called melanoma. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 10,000 people will die this year from melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer.

Most important, wear your sunscreen of at least a SPF of 30 or higher. Set a timer to re-apply every 90 minutes and/or after you get out of the water. There is no such thing as waterproof — it will come off. You need some sun exposure for your vitamin D, so limited amounts of time in the sun are healthy- for most. If you are going to be out for hours, you need to put that sunscreen on and re-apply — the big thing is to avoid being sun burnt. Wearing a hat, or sunglasses, when out in the sun for long periods is also important; sun’s UV radiation can also damage the eyes.

The good news is skin cancer can almost always be cured when it’s found and treated early. Regular medical checkups can prevent skin cancer or detect it early on.

What to Look for?

*A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that:

  • changes color • increases in size or thickness • changes in texture • is irregular in outline/asymmetrical • appears after age 21 • is bigger than 6mm or 1/4″, the size of a pencil eraser

*A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored

*A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed

*An open sore that does not heal within three weeks

Want more protection?

Besides the sun (more than half of the solar energy skin gets are from IRA rays), these rays can also come from heat. When you blow-dry your hair, or even get a gel manicure, your skin is exposed to them. IRA rays travel even deeper into skin than UVA and UVB rays, causing free radicals that further accelerate skin damage.  New SPF lines (Obagi, SkinMedica) now cover infrared protection.

What else can you do?

Potent antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E counteract the free radicals from sun damage and protect the skin.  Look for these ingredients in both supplemental and topical skincare forms.

When shopping for your next SPF consider a super broad-spectrum protection of UVA, UVB and Infrared screen. The largest organ in the human body is the skin- time to protect it.


by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is reported that in the United States, nearly one in three adults has hypertension, but only about half (47%) of those have it under control.

Hypertension is another word for high blood pressure, and blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. If the blood pushes against the arteries too hard for too long, serious health problems can develop. In fact, high blood pressure is often called “the silent killer” because it has no symptoms but can seriously damage your brain, heart, and kidneys. The CDC revealed that “Each day in the United States, nearly 1,000 deaths are associated with hypertension.” Moreover, roughly 67 million Americans already have high blood pressure.

To find out your blood pressure, all you need is a blood pressure test. You can have a test done at your doctor’s office, and it’s totally painless. Here’s what to make of your blood pressure numbers…

Systolic Blood Pressure (Top Number)

  • Less than 120: Normal
  • 120-139: Prehypertension
  • 140-159: Stage 1 High Blood Pressure
  • 160 or More: Stage 2 High Blood Pressure

Diastolic Blood Pressure (Bottom Number)

  • Less than 80: Normal
  • 80-89: Prehypertension
  • 90-99: Stage 1 High Blood Pressure
  • 100 or More: Stage 2 High Blood Pressure

Remember, high blood pressure usually has no symptoms, but it can cause serious problems such as stroke, heart failure, heart attack and kidney failure.  However, you can control high blood pressure through healthy lifestyle habits and taking medicines.

Here are 3 ways to reduce your risk of high blood pressure or bring your blood pressure back to normal if you’ve already got hypertension.

Tip #1: Skip Sodium

You can take action to prevent high blood pressure by reducing sodium (salt) intake. Most Americans consume too much sodium, and it raises blood pressure in most people. Reduce the salt in your diet by cutting back on frozen, canned, and restaurant foods (huge sources of sodium), and checking the Nutrition Facts panel on the foods you buy. Daily sodium intake should be less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg if you are among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.

Tip #2: Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

You know what’s really low in sodium? Fruits and vegetables!  Of course, replacing sodium-rich foods with fresh fruits and vegetables isn’t the only way you can use them to reduce your risk of hypertension. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with healthful nutrients that reduce the risk of chronic disease, help with weight control, and even manage blood sugar.

Tip #3: Stay Active

Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure. For adults, it is recommended to fit in at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week. Children and adolescents should get 1 hour of physical activity every day!  Bing physically active can help you reduce your risk of hypertension in two ways — by directly helping lower your blood pressure, and by helping you manage your weight, which is another high blood pressure risk factor.

Why is Exercise Important

by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

#1 – Right now, you probably don’t have enough muscle mass

A major reason, especially for women, to avoid the weights is the fear of looking like the Incredible Hulk. Here’s the truth about bodybuilding: It takes a lot of work and a very special, special diet to look bulky and muscular. The typical person working out a few times a week is in no danger of getting too big. The fact is that if you do get a little bigger after weight training, your muscles probably weren’t big enough in the first place. As we get older, we lose muscle mass. This is called sarcopenia and it can lead to low bone density and injuries.  Instead of worrying about gaining too much muscle, we should all be worried about losing our muscle and getting weaker.

#2 – Strength builds better posture and stability

So, if you don’t have enough strength, what does that mean for your daily life? In order to move correctly, while doing anything, you need a strong foundation. You need your muscles to be strong. Muscle mass and full body strength gives you good posture, the ability to move correctly, consistently, and the stability that prevents injuries. Postural strength is the ability to maintain good posture over time. You can think of postural strength as core strength, but it’s really much more than that. It is the ability to actively support the spine in concert with the shoulder and hip joints. Without this strength, you slouch. When you slouch, your back hurts, your neck hurts. If you sit at a desk for most of the day and slouch, you don’t have enough postural strength.

#3 – Being stronger improves your quality of life

As a trainer I hear a lot of reasons that people want to get in better shape.  Many share their goals of improved sports performance, household task endurance, and/or keeping up with the family not realizing strength training was the answer to their problems.

#4 – Muscle mass improves all kinds of health conditions

You’ve heard of osteoporosis right? Losing bone density with age does not have to be inevitable, and gaining some of it back is possible…with strength training. Strong muscles reduce chronic pain that might otherwise be treated with invasive and risky surgeries. Strength training can even reverse or reduce the severity of chronic health conditions like heart disease and type II diabetes.

#5 – Even endurance athletes need strength training to perform

Athletes that include regular strength training reduce their risk for injury and improve their performance in endurance challenges. Muscle strength gives you the ability to move correctly to avoid injury, including the kind of chronic pain and damage to joints that sidelines athletes for weeks or months.

Lessons learned…

• Gaining muscle mass gives you several benefits

• Greater bone density

• Less pain

• Better quality of life

• Improved posture

•Reduction in symptoms of certain chronic illnesses

• Better endurance performance


by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

Joints are located throughout your body and play a key role in your mobility and overall well-being. While a variety of factors can affect your joints, such as injuries, inflammation, muscle atrophy, and overuse, there are things that you can do to protect your joints and prevent degeneration. The following lifestyle, diet, and supplement recommendations could help keep your joints healthy for as long as possible.


Do daily physical activity. Movement increases the circulation of synovial fluid (a liquid that protects and lubricates joints) and nutrients through joints and strengthens bones and muscles—which, in turn, protects your joints. It is best to include stretching and strengthening in your exercise routine.

Maintain good posture. Sitting with a straight spine while in front of a computer screen or driving, using an ergonomic chair, wearing flat shoes rather than high heels, and carrying your book bag or purse with the weight balanced equally on each shoulder can go a long way in protecting your joints. Poor posture can misalign your bones and put unnecessary strain on your joints.

Manage your weight. Just 10 pounds of extra body weight can increase the force on your knee by 30-60 pounds with every step you take. Shedding extra pounds through exercise and a healthy diet can not only prevent future knee problems—it can also help reduce pain if osteoarthritis has already developed in your knees.

Exercise safely. While staying active is important, it is possible to push your body too much. Moderate your activity levels. Whether you are stretching in a yoga class or training for a marathon, be sure to always warm up before exerting yourself, practice safe alignment, and listen to your body. If your joints are painful, they’re telling you something!

Sleep deeply. Falling into a deep, relaxed sleep for at least seven to eight hours each night can allow your body to more fully repair itself, including your joints. Before going to bed, practice stress management techniques, such as deep breathing or warm baths, to help your body slip into a more relaxed state.


Inflammation is a huge contributor to joint problems, and fortunately there are several dietary strategies that can help reduce inflammation systemically.

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on fresh, whole foods, including a lot of green leafy vegetables. Load up on your alliums—garlic, onions, and leeks—because they contain bioactive compounds that can help protect against osteoarthritis. Cherries are also highly anti-inflammatory.

Avoid inflammatory foods. These include foods that are processed and contain and artificial additives, sugar, and alcohol. Work with your doctor to determine food allergens, such as gluten, which may be contributing to inflammation.

Drink enough water. Water helps to lubricate your joints. Aim to drink at minimum eight glasses of water—preferably filtered or purified—each day.


There are a few supplements on the market that can help lower inflammation and protect your joints. Always check with your doctor before beginning a new supplement. Helpful supplements include:

  • Boswellia Serrata. This anti-inflammatory tree extract has historically been used for prevention and treatment of arthritis.
  • Vitamin C. This vitamin can help prevent arthritis when taken within the, key word, recommended daily allowance. Too much can harm your joints!
  • Vitamin D. According to researchers, vitamin D may help lower your risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Curcumin. An extract from turmeric, curcumin has high anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM. These agents can be taken in supplement form individually or in combination, and can have a positive effect on overall joint health.



by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

Exercising early in the morning “jump starts” your metabolism, keeping it elevated for hours, sometimes for up to 24 hours! As a result, you’ll be burning more calories all day long—just because you exercised in the morning.

Exercising in the morning energizes you for the day—not to mention that gratifying feeling of virtue you have knowing you’ve done something disciplined and good for you.

Studies have shown that exercise significantly increases mental acuity—a benefit that lasts four to ten hours after your workout ends. Exercising in the AM means you get to harness that brainpower, instead of wasting it while you’re snoozing 

Assuming you make exercise a true priority, it shouldn’t be a major problem to get up 30 to 60 minutes earlier—especially since regular exercise generally means a higher quality of sleep, which in turn means you’ll probably require less sleep. (If getting up 30 to 60 minutes earlier each day seems too daunting, you can ease into it with 10 to 20 minutes at first.)

When you exercise at about the same time every morning—especially if you wake up regularly at about the same time—you’re regulating your body’s endocrine system and circadian rhythms. Your body learns that you do the same thing just about every day, and it begins to prepare for waking and exercise several hours before you actually open your eyes. That’s beneficial because:

Your body’s not “confused” by wildly changing wake-up times, which means waking up is much less painful. (You may even find that you don’t need an alarm clock most days.)

Hormones prepare your body for exercise by regulating blood pressure, heart rate, blood flow to muscles, etc.

Your metabolism, along with all the hormones involved in activity and exercise, begin to elevate while you’re sleeping. As a result, you’ll feel more alert, energized, and ready to exercise when you do wake up.

Many people find that morning exercise has a tendency to regulate their appetite for the rest of the day. Not only do they eat less (since activity causes the release of endorphins, which in turn diminishes appetite), they also choose healthier portions of healthier foods.

People who consistently exercise find, sometimes to their great surprise, that the appointed time every morning evolves into something they look forward to. Besides the satisfaction of taking care of themselves, they find it’s a great time to plan their day, pray, or just think more clearly—things most of us often don’t get to do otherwise.

Exercising first thing in the morning is the most foolproof way to ensure that other things don’t overtake your fitness commitment, particularly if you have a hectic family life. (It’s so easy to wimp out in the evening, when we’re tired or faced with such tasks as rustling up dinner and helping with homework.)




Tax Day Stress

by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

If you are like many people, you feel increased stress around April 15. Tensions can run high from the pressure of getting the forms filed on time or coming up with the funds to pay your (hopefully not too big) tax bill.  Now is the best time to find a healthy way to manage stress.  You owe it to yourself to keep your stress under control as much as possible. When your body is subjected to ongoing stress, unhealthy changes occur at the chemical level, and these changes can lead to food cravings and weight gain.

How does your body react to stress? When you experience stress, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. In small amounts, cortisol does not present a problem. But when the stress is chronic, such as during the weeks surrounding tax season, the concentration of cortisol in your body stays elevated with undesirable results. For example, you will crave foods that will give you quick energy, such as candy bars and potato chips. And the presence of cortisol will cause many of these extra calories to be stored as abdominal fat. It is hard to eat in moderation while stressed, because cortisol interferes with the chemicals in your body that control appetite.

Good news… While you can never get away from all stress, there is a lot you can do to manage your tax time stress!

  • Exercise. You can reduce cortisol levels in your body by exercising just thirty minutes each day. To make the most of your workout time, try intervals. Alternating between lower and higher intensity periods of exertion allows you to achieve an overall more challenging workout than exercising at a consistent pace. • Eat Well. During times of stress, fuel your body smartly. Be intentional about eating nourishing foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and nuts. If you eat these foods, you will keep your blood sugar level steady, and you will be less likely to give in to the cravings that cortisol causes. • Don’t skimp on sleep. By getting at least eight hours of sleep each night you can reduce your cortisol level by more than half of that of people who get less than six hours. You really can sleep away your stress! • Identify your stress. Generalized anxiety can be paralyzing. Take the time to sort out exactly what is causing you to feel stressed. Rather than saying, “My taxes are causing me so much stress,” figure out the specifics. Perhaps you are stressed because you can’t find a form that you need or you are trying to do your taxes alone without the skills that you need to pull it off. Once you pinpoint exactly where the stress is coming from, you can take steps to take care of the problem. • Make time to relax. Taking time to unwind is not a luxury; it is a necessity if you are going to master your stress. Find something that makes you laugh and smile, get a massage or just breathe deeply. Your mind has a profound impact on your body; take advantage of this by finding time to relax every day.