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.


by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

February is American Heart Month. What better time to highlight the importance of good heart health than in February! This day is traditionally celebrated with expressions of love for one another through the presentation of chocolates, confections and other sweets. However, by incorporating some healthy changes into your traditional Valentine’s Day routine, you and your loved ones can celebrate together without sacrificing your health. Best in Fitness, Jenny Gaal

  1. Limit Sugars

The return of sugar…. Didn’t we just get through the holidays?  I know the packaged chocolates in heart-shaped containers are almost irresistible!  Keep in mind most of these candies are chock-full of preservatives, trans fat and chemical additives. Instead of giving these traditional gifts try a heart-shaped cookie cutter and whip up a few batches of your loved ones favorite cookies using all natural  and heart healthy ingredients, such as, apple sauce instead of butter/oil/eggs. If

  1. Get Active

Who says your Valentine’s Day has to include dinner and a movie? Try incorporating activity with a nature hike that ends with a healthy picnic, walking the local zoo or challenge the family to a game of dodge ball or miniature golf to keep the blood flowing and your metabolism.

  1. Express Yourself

Emotional and mental health is equally as important as physical health. Learning how to express your emotions is not only good for your relationships, but can improve your overall health in two ways.

  • The brain is a muscle, and just like other muscles in the body, the brain needs to be exercised to stay healthy. Tapping into emotions and learning how to communicate them effectively works those brain muscles, helping to keep them alert and healthy.
  • In addition, expressing your emotions will help you maintain a healthy emotional balance, which will have a positive effect on your relationships with others. Instead of browsing through cards in our local stationary store, write your own Valentine’s Day sentiment or poem.
  1. Prepare A Home-Cooked Meal

A healthier Valentine’s Day home-cooked meal from fresh, natural ingredients is a treat your loved ones will appreciate.

  1. Volunteer

Nothing makes the heart feel better than doing a good deed and helping others who are in need. There are many places where you and your loved ones can volunteer your time together, such as:

  • Homeless shelters
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Foster care homes
  • Churches
  • Food kitchens
  • Domestic violence shelters
  • Non-profit agencies such as Goodwill or Salvation Army
  • Assisted living facilities for adults with disabilities
  • Local charity groups
  1. Give A Favorite Food A Healthy Make-Over

Instead of omitting favorite dishes altogether, implement healthy cooking techniques and substitute healthier ingredients. Some examples of ways in which you can create a healthier version of your favorite meal include:

  • Bake, broil and grill instead of frying.
  • Avoid canned vegetables and use fresh or frozen instead.
  • Skip premade marinades and dressings and make your own.
  • Purchase lean cuts of meat to reduce fat.
  • Use fresh ingredients in place of prepared ones (fresh lemons instead of lemon juice concentrate, fresh garlic cloves instead of dried garlic, etc.)
  • Opt for fresh herbs and seasonings instead of jarred varieties.

Eat Clean

by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

Think these “healthy” foods are helping you lose weight or eat better? Here’s why they’re not as nutritious as you think.

Package Turkey:

Yes, turkey is good lean protein, and on a sandwich with whole-grain and lettuce, tomato, and other veggies isn’t a bad lunch choice. The problem here is sodium; a two-ounce serving of some brands has as much as nearly one-third of your recommended limit. Try to buy low-sodium slices (look for less than 350 mg sodium per two-ounce serving) or roast and slice your own meat.
Energy Bars:

If you’re going to eat them, pick ones with fewer than 200 calories and 20 grams of sugar per serving. Also key: Read labels to choose bars with as few ingredients as possible. Some bars from brands like KIND and Larabar contain just nuts, dried fruit, and seeds.


Bran Muffins:

Many bran muffins have more calories and sugar than a donut. While bran itself is a healthy whole grain source of fiber, it becomes less nutritious when baked into a muffin with heaps of sugar, flour, and fat. If you’re really craving a muffin, make them yourself and look for recipes that use whole wheat flour and substitute applesauce for butter.

Flavored Instant Oatmeal:

Flavored packets have more sugar and sodium than regular rolled or steel cut oats. A better option: Dress up regular oatmeal with fresh fruit or a small amount of honey.

Reduced-fat Peanut Butter:

The fat from nuts is good for you! The reduced-fat versions add more sugar to make up for the lack of fat. So choose the regular kind, and stick to 1 to 2 tablespoons per serving.


Trail Mix:

Most nutritionists will advise you to snack on a combination of carbs, protein, and fiber for sustained energy—and trail mix seems like a perfect example. Try to avoid the versions with yogurt-covered raisins, deep-fried banana chips, sesame sticks, or salty nuts or make a healthy mix yourself with mainly nuts and seeds and a little high-cacao dark chocolate and dried fruit.

With fewer calories and fat grams than most chips, pretzels seem healthy. But nearly every brand of pretzels is made from the same basic nutrition-less ingredients: white flour—wheat flour that’s been stripped of its nutrients and fiber—yeast, salt, and maybe some vegetable oil or corn syrup. Try looking for a brand made with whole wheat flour or eating whole grain crackers, soy crisps, or popcorn instead.


Spinach Wraps and Pasta:

Don’t let the green color fool you. The actual amount of spinach in these green tortillas and noodles is trivial compared with what you would get if you added your own spinach leaves to your wrap or pasta dish.

Bottled Green Tea:

Many brands of bottled tea sold in stores contain almost no ECGC, the potent antioxidant linked to cancer prevention and weight loss. If you are drinking tea to lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and a whole list of other degenerative conditions, brew your own.




by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

Metabolism is a process that involves biochemical and hormone reactions by which your body converts everything you eat and drink into energy. Age, Gender, Heredity and Body Size and Composition are all factors that affect metabolism. Metabolism directly impacts one’s fitness levels.

  • Age: For many, metabolism decreases 5 percent each decade after the age of 40. This is due to a loss in muscle mass. Muscle takes more energy to properly function, so it burns calories faster than fat or any other tissue.
  • Gender: Men usually have more muscle mass than women, and therefore metabolism is generally higher for men. Since women generally have less muscle mass, fat deposits tend to stay in the body longer, especially after the childbearing years.
  • Heredity: The way your metabolism works may be in your genes. Every function in your body is determined by your genes, including basal metabolism. The expression of those genes, like the rate in which your body burns fat, may be inherited; which means that it may run in your family.
  • Body size and composition: People with a larger body mass burn calories faster.

In addition to metabolism, Digestion and Physical Exercise determines the way your body metabolizes food and burns calories. The body needs essential nutrients—chemicals the body itself cannot synthesize—to maintain a steady metabolism. Major food groups like carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, and vitamins supply these essential nutrients. Minerals and vitamins do not contribute directly to the body’s metabolism, but they play an important role in metabolic pathways.

A healthy eating plan that includes a good balance of fresh foods from all food groups is key to having an adequate metabolism. Did you know that there are some foods that may increase your metabolism? This is because they contain important elements that are vital to maintain a steady metabolism, they take more calories to break down in the digestive system, or they contain protein.

Consider incorporating these nine foods into your metabolism-increasing diet:

  1. Green tea
  2. Coffee:
  3. Milk
  4. Egg whites
  5. Lean meats
  6. Water
  7. Chili peppers
  8. Whole grains
  9. Lentils

Others habits that may increase metabolism are:

  • Increasing daily physical activity
  • Exercise
  • Eating regularly



by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

fresh mixed vegetable salad studio shots

fresh mixed vegetable salad studio shots

Salad…the word alone makes you think “healthy,” right?   However, there are both bad ways to build one–and decidedly good ones.  Here is a guideline to creating the healthiest salad feast:

The Best
Crunchy veggies!  They make you feel full, and the very act of chewing them actually helps you enjoy eating your meal more.  Most important vegetables are high in fiber and vitamins.

  • Cucumber
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Bell pepper


But don’t stop there… including a source of lean protein to your salad completes a meal, containing the amino acids you need to build and maintain muscle.

  • Chicken breast
  • Tuna
  • White fish
  • Egg whites


The Worst
The funny thing about salad bars is that they usually have temptations that are creamy, high in fat, or just empty, nutrition-wise, all of which can send your otherwise-healthy salad into the calorie stratosphere.  Nuts, cheese, and dried cranberries can make a salad really fun to eat, but they can add calories too- it’s OK to add them- only in true moderation. The veggies and protein are the stars of the meal. Here are the toppings packed with sodium and sugar to avoid (or at least not totally pile on):

  • Wontons
  • Tortilla strips
  • Fried chicken
  • Croutons
  • Pasta
  • Dried fruits
  • Bacon
  • Starchy veggies (like corn niblets or potatoes)