ACSM Physical Activity Guidelines
When it comes to exercise, the benefits far outweigh the risks. A program of regular exercise – beyond activities of daily living – is essential for most adults.”
The basic recommendations – categorized by cardiorespiratory exercise, resistance exercise, flexibility exercise and neuromotor exercise – are as follows:
Where can we find true happiness? In the modern world, we are surrounded by unparalleled levels of material wealth and comfort, yet our sophisticated exterior often masks feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and depression. Ironically, it often seems that the more “progress” we see in the world around us, the less content we are with our lives.
Meditation shows us that true happiness is found within. The feelings of contentment and wholeness that we often seek outside ourselves are actually part of our basic nature. Unfortunately, we have become so habituated to looking outside of ourselves for happiness that we often do not know how to discover this “inner wealth.” Though we all have the potential to find a deep and lasting happiness that does not depend on external circumstances, simply hearing that we already have what we need to be happy is not enough; we need practical methods to uncover our true nature, practices that will enable us to move beyond the cultural conditioning that perpetually tells us that we are incomplete.
The practice of meditation awakens us to the joy of the present moment. By cultivating attention and awareness, even challenging situations like chronic pain, destructive thought patterns, and difficult emotions can be transformed into sources of inner peace and joy. This inner transformation does not require us to retreat from the world. On the contrary, daily life is filled with endless opportunities to use the practice of mindfulness to find the preciousness of every moment. Meditation is not meant to remove us from the world, but to open our hearts and minds to the beauty of what we already have.
For centuries, various forms of meditation have been taught and practiced in virtually all of the world’s religions. While there are important differences between the techniques found in each tradition, they share the belief that true happiness cannot be found in the shifting conditions of the external world, but rather by turning inward and exploring the landscape of the heart and mind.
In recent years, meditation has also received a great deal of attention from the scientific community. Researchers from Harvard, MIT, the University of Wisconsin, and many other renowned institutions have explored the effects of meditation on everything from high blood pressure to peak states of consciousness. Their research has shown not only the profound effects that meditation can have on the brains of advanced meditators, but also how practicing meditation for only a few minutes a day can create a dramatic increase in the parts of the brain associated with happiness and wellbeing. Meditation has also been shown to boost the body’s immune system, to improve the brain’s capacity to concentrate for extended periods of time, and to be an effective treatment for many psychological disorders.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is the art of cultivating awareness and insight. It can be used as a practical tool to undo destructive emotional patterns, to develop positive qualities like wisdom and compassion, and to access the mind’s fundamental nature of pure awareness. For centuries, meditation has been taught and practiced throughout the religions of the world.
There are two main forms of meditation: awareness and insight. Awareness meditation is used to calm the mind and to improve concentration. Rather than taking us away from the elements of our lives, awareness meditation allows us to experience what we have in the present moment more fully, using everything we encounter, including what we think and feel, as a way to deepen and expand our awareness. This expansion of awareness brings with it a stable feeling of peace and serenity that is not dependent on outer conditions.
Some of the more well-known forms of awareness meditation involve focusing on or counting the breath, paying attention to a visual object such as a candle flame, or repeating a sacred sound or prayer. Awareness can also be cultivated by focusing the mind on thoughts, emotions, or even by resting in a state of open presence, without focusing on anything at all. All of these techniques are designed to still the mind and increase the meditator’s ability to consciously direct his or her attention to a given object.
Insight meditation cuts through the deluded ideas we have that create suffering and allows for a flowering of wisdom. Once we have stabilized the mind in awareness meditation, attention can be directed to the workings of the mind and the natural world. This experiential inquiry enables us to see how thoughts and emotions shape perception, how our misguided ideas create suffering, and how our own basic nature is fundamentally good and pure. As a result of insight meditation, we will be able to see things as they truly are, rather than through the distorting lens of preconceived ideas and concepts. This insight into the nature of reality uproots the causes of suffering and puts us in touch with our own basic goodness.
Some forms of insight meditation employ the rational mind to analyze different experiences to discover their underlying reality. Certain techniques, for example, enable the meditator to discover that all phenomena are impermanent and devoid of any stable identity. Other forms of insight meditation do not use the conceptual mind to investigate the nature of reality. Instead, they take a more direct approach, allowing the meditator to directly experience the mind’s true nature of radiant clarity.
Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
How you feel during your waking hours hinges greatly on how well you sleep. Similarly, the cure for sleep difficulties can often be found in your daily routine. Your sleep schedule, bedtime habits, and day-to-day lifestyle choices can make an enormous difference to the quality of your nightly rest. The following tips will help you optimize your sleep so you can be productive, mentally sharp, emotionally balanced, and full of energy all day long.
The secret to getting good sleep every night
Well-planned strategies are essential to deep, restorative sleep you can count on, night after night. By learning to avoid common enemies of sleep and trying out a variety of healthy sleep-promoting techniques, you can discover your personal prescription to a good night’s rest.
The key, or secret, is to experiment. What works for some might not work as well for others. It’s important to find the sleep strategies that work best for you.
The first step to improving the quality of your rest is finding out how much sleep you need. How much sleep is enough? While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need at least eight hours of sleep each night to function at their best.
How to sleep better tip 1: Keep a regular sleep schedule
Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle—your circadian rhythm—is one of the most important strategies for achieving good sleep. If you keep a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, you will feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times. This holds true even if you alter your sleep schedule by only an hour or two. Consistency is vitally important.
Find a period of time (a week or two should do) when you are free to experiment with different sleep and wake times. Go to bed at the same time every night and allow yourself to sleep until you wake up naturally. No alarm clocks! If you’re sleep deprived, it may take a few weeks to fully recover. But as you go to bed and get up at the same time, you’ll eventually land on the natural sleep schedule that works best for you.
How to sleep better tip 2: Naturally regulate your sleep-wake cycle
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production is controlled by light exposure. Your brain should secrete more in the evening, when it’s dark, to make you sleepy, and less during the day when it’s light and you want to stay awake and alert. However, many aspects of modern life can disrupt your body’s natural production of melatonin and with it your sleep-wake cycle.
Spending long days in an office away from natural light, for example, can impact your daytime wakefulness and make your brain sleepy. Then bright lights at night—especially from hours spent in front of the TV or computer screen—can suppress your body’s production of melatonin and make it harder to sleep. However, there are ways for you to naturally regulate your sleep-wake cycle, boost your body’s production of melatonin, and keep your brain on a healthy schedule.
Increase light exposure during the day
If you make a consistent effort to relax and unwind before bed, you will sleep easier and more deeply. A peaceful bedtime routine sends a powerful signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down and let go of the day’s stresses.
Make your bedroom more sleep friendly
If you associate your bed with events like work or errands, it will be harder to wind down at night. Use your bed only for sleep and sex. That way, when you go to bed, your body gets a powerful cue: it’s time to either nod off or be romantic.
Relaxing bedtime rituals to try
Your daytime eating and exercise habits play a role in how well you sleep. It’s particularly important to watch what you put in your body in the hours leading up to your bedtime.
For some people, a light snack before bed can help promote sleep. When you pair tryptophan-containing foods with carbohydrates, it may help calm the brain and allow you to sleep better. For others, eating before bed can lead to indigestion and make sleeping more difficult. Experiment with your food habits to determine your optimum evening meals and snacks.
If you need a bedtime snack, try:
Some people prefer to schedule exercise in the morning or early afternoon as exercising too late in the day can stimulate the body, raising its temperature. Even if you prefer not to exercise vigorously at night, don’t feel glued to the couch, though. Relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.
How to sleep better tip 5: Get anxiety and stress in check
Do you find yourself unable to sleep or waking up night after night? Residual stress, worry, and anger from your day can make it very difficult to sleep well. When you wake up or can’t get to sleep, take note of what seems to be the recurring theme. That will help you figure out what you need to do to get your stress and anger under control during the day.
If you can’t stop yourself from worrying, especially about things outside your control, you need to learn how to manage your thoughts. For example, you can learn to evaluate your worries to see if they’re truly realistic and replace irrational fears with more productive thoughts. Even counting sheep is more productive than worrying at bedtime.
If the stress of managing work, family, or school is keeping you awake, you may need help with stress management. By learning how to manage your time effectively, handle stress in a productive way, and maintain a calm, positive outlook, you’ll be able to sleep better at night.
Relaxation techniques for better sleep
Relaxation is beneficial for everyone, but especially for those struggling with sleep. Practicing relaxation techniques before bed is a great way to wind down, calm the mind, and prepare for sleep. Some simple relaxation techniques include:
It’s normal to wake briefly during the night. In fact, a good sleeper won’t even remember it. But if you’re waking up during the night and having trouble falling back asleep, the following tips may help.
A disrupted sleep schedule caused by working nights or irregular shifts can lead to sleepiness in the work place, affect your mood, energy, and concentration, and increase your risk of accidents, injuries, and work-related mistakes. Shift workers tend to suffer from two problems: sleeping at home during the day and staying awake at work during the night. To avoid or limit these problems:
If you’ve tried the tips above and are still struggling with sleep problems, you may have a sleep disorder that requires professional treatment. Consider scheduling a visit with a sleep doctor if, despite your best efforts at self–help, you are still troubled by any of the following symptoms:
Nothing weakens diet willpower faster than craving sweet, salty, or fatty foods. Find out how to stop cravings and stay on your diet. Everybody has weak moments in their diet when they can practically taste the salty, sweet, crunchy, or fatty foods they crave. Yet these are often the very foods that undermine your efforts to lose weight. After all, when is the last time you complained about craving cauliflower? Follow these strategies to stop cravings in their tracks.
10 Ways to Stop Cravings
1. Get enough sleep. Loss of sleep increases hunger during the day, which leads to cravings. Getting the right amount of shut-eye could stop cravings.
2. Eat a healthy breakfast. For some people, cravings are part of a cycle of blood sugar highs and lows that can be kicked off almost the moment their feet hit the floor in the morning. A breakfast featuring fiber and protein is more likely to control this cycle. Consider a scrambled egg on whole-wheat bread or a turkey sandwich instead of sugary cereal or a Danish.
3. Fight hunger. “The core [to fighting cravings] is hunger suppression, since hunger amplifies other triggers,” says nutrition researcher Susan B. Roberts, PhD, a senior scientist at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. If you often feel hungry on your diet you may want to revisit your diet plan. You might do better eating more frequent, smaller, balanced meals throughout the day or eating more of the foods that will keep you full longer, like whole grains and vegetables.
4. Eat meals at scheduled times. The secret to stopping cravings is to manage hunger and “only eating at set times — no casual eating,” says Roberts.
5. Budget cravings into your diet. “Craved foods can be incorporated into meals if they are used as the 100-calorie treat allowance, but only in the middle of meals, never alone as snacks, when they are too hard to control,” says Roberts, author of The Instinct Diet: Use Your Five Food Instincts to Lose Weight and Keep it Off (Workman Publishing Company, 2008).
6. Make the foods you crave difficult or impossible to get to. No matter how much you love brownies, if you don’t keep any at home or at work, chances are your craving will pass unsatisfied. Instead, make healthy alternatives easy to access in your eating plan and prepare ahead for those times when you’ll need a healthy snack within easy reach, like when you’re on the road.
7. Find healthy alternatives. If you tend to crave sweet treats in the afternoon, having a light yogurt and some fruit on hand could prevent a mad rush to the vending machine for a chocolate bar. “I think the best way to replace a craving is with something similar that has fewer calories and more fiber — you fill up on a similar taste, but the food is digested slowly to reduce craving over time,” advises Roberts. In a pinch, you could melt a little chocolate over high-fiber cereal and have it with milk — you get the chocolate taste but with more fiber, says Roberts. If you're craving salty chips, Roberts suggests, “have some with meals — a whole-wheat sandwich and salad, not chips alone — so they are more manageable.”
8. Keep a food journal. This may not totally stop cravings, but it could keep you from acting on them if the thought of writing down the calorie and fat content of a steak is more painful than going without it. A food journal will also help you identify the times of day when your cravings are the strongest.
9. Identify your craving triggers. Emotional eating is a real phenomenon. If you pay attention, you may find that your cravings are worse when you are stressed or depressed. Managing those situations will help stop cravings.
10. Eat a varied diet. Sticking to the tried-and-true may help you count calories, but it could also leave you feeling unfulfilled. People need variety in their diets, so try new dishes or combinations of foods to stop cravings. Just because you’re on a diet doesn’t mean it can’t be satisfying.
By Madeline Vann, MPH | Medically reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD
Sometimes we mistake pleasure for happiness, but it is possible to have one without the other. Pleasure is a stimulation of the five senses that comes from external people, places and things. Happiness is something that exists within you. It is a supernal energy that no one can take away from you unless you let them. The only illusion we must overcome to find happiness is the one that convinces us that it originates from an outside source.
No one wakes up in the morning thinking, "I wish I could suffer all day, and if possible my whole life." We all strive, consciously or unconsciously, competently or clumsily, to be happier and to suffer less. Nevertheless, we often confuse genuine happiness with merely seeking enjoyable feelings. Happiness is a state of inner fulfillment, not the gratification of inexhaustible desires for outward things. The universe is not a mail-order catalogue for our desires and fancies.
Happiness is often equated with a maximization of pleasure, and some imagine that true happiness would consist of an interrupted succession of pleasurable experiences. This sounds more like a recipe for exhaustion than for genuine happiness. There is no reason to deprive ourselves of the enjoyment of a magnificent landscape, of swimming in the sea or of the scent of a rose, but we must understand that the experience of pleasure is dependent upon circumstance, on a specific location or moment in time. It is unstable by nature, and the sensation it evokes can soon become neutral or even unpleasant.
Unlike pleasure, genuine happiness may be influenced by circumstance, but it isn't dependent on it. It actually gives us the inner resources to deal better with those circumstances.
Thus, happiness is rather an optimal way of being, an exceptionally healthy state of mind that underlies and suffuses all emotional states, that embraces all the joys and sorrows that come one's way. This way of being comes together with a cluster of human qualities, such as altruistic love, compassion, inner peace, inner strength, and wisdom, which can be cultivated. Happiness is a skill that requires effort and time.
It is the mind that translates good and bad circumstances into happiness or misery. So happiness comes with the purging of mental toxins, such as hatred, compulsive desire, arrogance and jealousy, which literally poison the mind. It also requires that one cease to distort reality and that one cultivate wisdom.
Moreover, we can never be truly happy if we dissociate ourselves from the happiness of others. The pursuit of selfish happiness is bound to fail. It is a lose-lose situation in which we make ourselves miserable and create misery around us. This in no way requires us to neglect our own happiness. Our desire for happiness is as legitimate as anyone else's. We must realize that in the deepest part of ourselves, we fear suffering and aspire to happiness. We should then realize that all sentient beings want to avoid suffering just as much as we do. This should lead to the strong aspiration to do whatever we can to ease other's suffering and contribute to their lasting well-being.
“Happiness depends upon ourselves.”
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