Healthy Living

Fast and easy ideas to keep yourself and all those people you’re in charge of at least mostly healthy.

I recently interviewed Chris McDonald, CEO of Path to Hope Counseling, about managing stress in today’s busy world. Watch the video below for some quick, easy tips to help reduce stress even if you only have a couple of minutes available.

 

A Healthy Lifestyle Does Not Worry About Armpit Fat.

I was browsing through Pinterest the other day, looking for things to add to my Healthy Living board. I put in the keywords healthy and lifestyle, then hit search…

Wow.

I scroll through pin after pin of ‘Lose 20 lbs!’,  ‘Get rid of armpit fat!’ (really? is that a thing?), ‘Waist slimming challenge!’, and “Bigger butt plan!’. Interspersed are ‘Grow new hair!’, ‘Fat burning superfoods!’, and clean eating plans that, well…don’t let you eat.

When did healthy living start to mean ‘you’re not good enough, do things that are bad for you so you can look like someone’s imaginary idea of the human body’?

HMPF.

I’ve got news for you. You are good enough. And the sheer variety of body shapes, body sizes, hair types, skin colors, and heights is absolutely amazing and beautiful. How about we marvel at the glorious diversity around us and our part in making it, and focus on real healthy living instead?

But what is real healthy living? Well, it’s a lifestyle (not a quick fix, 10 day plan, or miraculous insta-cure) that supports physical, mental, and emotional well being. In other words, it’s living your life so you are healthy and happy.

I know what you’re thinking. How do we do that? I mean, it all sounds good, but let’s be practical. We live in a busy world, and we are busy people. What you just said sounds…difficult. Time consuming. Yeah. The same thought occurred to me. So I sat down, wracked my brain, and came to this conclusion:

It doesn’t have to be hard.

In order to be happy and healthy we only need to do a few simple things. Being the kind, generous soul that I am I made a list.

(oh, wait…I just LOVE lists…ok, so maybe it had more to do with my desire to write things down in an easy to read, linear format that could be checked off as things were accomplished. So.Satisfying.)

Anyway. Without further ado, here is:

Shawna's Guide to Healthy Living Pic

See? It’s actually very simple. Laughter and gratitude relieve stress and improve your outlook on daily life – they make you more resilient and able to bounce back from those inevitable set backs.

Playing – whether it’s tag with the kids, bowling, or a rousing game of Just Dance on the Wii – is just a form of exercise that is fun, rather than work.

Eating and sleeping as your body demands will give it the resources it needs to fight off illness and repair injuries, and the mental clarity to make good decisions.

Time with loved ones relaxes and centers you, and gives you a respite from the outside world and its demands.

Curiosity? Well, it may have killed the cat, but it’s great for us. It leads us to try new things, learn about new interests, and go new places. It keeps us from stagnating.

And most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously. Life is too short, and there are too many amazing things to discover.

 

What do you think? Are there things missing? What would you add? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To preserve, or not to preserve…

If I were Shakespeare, I would continue on with “…That is the question.”

But I am not Shakespeare, and it’s really not a question.

Preservatives have gotten a bad reputation. And let’s be honest, many of them deserve it. From formaldehyde donors, to endocrine disruptors, to compounds that react either with what they are preserving or your own body to create cancer causing chemicals, many common preservatives are not so great for you.

This is why there is such a rise in the claims of ‘preservative free’ or ‘naturally preserved’ products. But are they really preservative free? Are they safe? I mean, bacteria, mold, and fungi aren’t exactly something you want to be spreading around on your skin.

Well…

Some things really don’t need a preservative. Those nasty critters mentioned above need water to grow. So if you have a product made entirely from oils, with no chance of water getting into it, then it doesn’t need to be preserved. Our body butters, deodorants, and lip balms are good examples of this. Made with oils, not used in the shower, and applied with dry hands. Those are legitimately preservative free, and absolutely safe.

I know, I know…you’re saying “But, don’t oils go bad? Doesn’t it still need a preservative?”

Nope. When an oil goes bad (rancid) it’s due to a process called oxidation. This is a natural chemical process in which molecules lose electrons. In order to slow this process, we add – you guessed it – an antioxidant, which works to prevent oxidation by donating electrons to the molecules that lose them. It has nothing to do with preventing the growth of unwanted critters in your shower gel.

On the other hand, even if something is oil based, if it is likely to get water in it, it needs a preservative. For example, our body polish. It’s made with oils, but is used with wet hands in the shower or by the sink. It needs to be preserved – unless you enjoy rubbing bacteria and mold all over your skin. That goes double for products such as lotions, facial cleansers, and gels that contain water.

So how come some companies make water based products and claim they are preservative free? Well, there are three main things I can think of.

  1. They are selling single uses packaged under sterile conditions.
  2. They are lying liars who are lying to you.
  3. They don’t care about your safety.

Of these three, the first is the most legitimate scenario. A single use packaged in sterile conditions and sterile packaging should be safe. Unfortunately, the second scenario is the most common. After all, preservative free is a big selling point. So large companies pay copious amounts of cash to have new compounds formulated that both smell good and have preservative properties. These compounds are classified as ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance’…because they are. However, they also kill bacteria, mold, and fungi…because that’s what they were formulated to do. Companies can now use these compounds in place of their traditional preservatives and legitimately claim to be ‘preservative free’. I will leave it to your judgement as to whether something that kills bacteria and also smells good is a fragrance or a preservative.

The third scenario, thankfully, is almost non-existent. There are occasionally misinformed or uneducated local makers, but on the whole no one is deliberately selling products they know will go bad.

“But what about ‘naturally preserved'”, you ask. “What does that even mean?”

Good question.

Naturally preserved is slightly misleading terminology, but true enough. An oil based or dry powdered product that, due to its nature, doesn’t need a preservative because there’s no water for critters to grow in could use this claim. The product is ‘naturally preserved’ because the nature of its ingredients prevent bacteria, mold, and fungus from growing. Basically, it’s a marketing term.

So we’ve learned that some products don’t actually need preservatives, and some do.

“But…But…preservatives are BAD!”, the internet yells. “Cancer, disease, horrible, unnamed side effects!”

Not really. Older preservatives can be quite horrible, no question. In fact, many have been banned in recent years. But there are several newer ‘natural’ preservatives that (so far) seem to be safe. Many indie makers, myself included, use these. They can be tricky to work with and they are more expensive (which makes the final product more expensive), but they are effective and safe. So no, internet, not all preservatives are bad. And when it comes to water based products, they are non-negotiable.

Do you have things you try to avoid in your skincare? Why? Tell me in the comments below!

 

 

Take a hike!

No, seriously. Science has found out it’s good for you.

If you follow my facebook page or instagram, you’ll notice I post a lot of pictures of, well….trees. Most of these pictures are taken while on walks with my family.  We love to hike, and it turns out there’s a reason for that.

Hundreds of studies show that spending time in nature:

  • increases your mental health
  • increases your physical health
  • improves your general happiness
  • lowers your stress levels
  • improves your memory and attention
  • increases your immune function

And I could go on. Time in nature – not just time outside, but in nature, surrounded by grass and trees rather than concrete and cars – is vital to our well being.

But what if you live in the city? Does going for a walk through town have the same effect?

Sadly, no. But never fear! Cities have parks, and that’s all you need to reap the benefits of nature. Even if you can only manage it once a week, hop on the bus and spend a couple of hours in the park. A study on Japanese forest bathing suggests that the benefits of a walk in nature can last a full week.

Now, taking one walk in the woods isn’t going to miraculously heal you of all your ailments. As Lucy McRobert, nature matters campaigns manager for The Wildlife Trusts says in this BBC article:

“Nature isn’t a miracle cure for diseases,” says McRobert, “But by interacting with it, spending time in it, experiencing it and appreciating it we can reap the benefits of feeling happier and healthier as a result.”

And don’t you want to feel happier and healthier?

I know you’re busy, and life seems like a never-ending merry-go-round of things to take care of, but do me a favor. Skip that load of laundry, or order a pizza for dinner, and spend that time somewhere surrounded by grass and trees. Bonus points for flowers and water. Then come back here and let me know if you noticed any difference.

How’d I wind up here?! (pt. 4)

Wow. Who knew I could talk about myself for this long? If you’ve made it this far, Congratulations! You are patient, determined, and most likely have a bottomless beverage and well trained bladder.

We’re on the home stretch now. You’ve read about how even as a kid I messed around with trying to improve products, about the Bathtub Epiphany, and about the dangers of browsing the internet while bored. Now it’s time for the really important question.

What up with tea?

I’m so glad you asked. Obviously, I have deep love for tea – it’s in my products, it’s in my business and blog names, and I may have an entire kitchen cupboard overflowing with more varieties than a dedicated shop would carry.

Now, I can hear your doubt. “But Shawna,” you say, “You always joke about needing ALL THE COFFEE. I never hear you say anything about needing ALL THE TEA.”

True. Coffee is for productivity. Remember, I make products for the ‘busy, stressed out woman’. Why? Because I am one, and I know many others. Coffee allows me to function when I get much less sleep than desired, and gives me something to fill my mouth with so I don’t scream when I open the dishwasher and realize the kids loaded 4 pans in upside down and ran it without soap. Again.

Tea, however. Tea is for my soul. Tea is for my mind. Tea is for my health.

IMG_0182

My teapot has a home on my desk, for easy access while I work.

The process of making tea – and I’m not talking about the ‘nuke a cup of water and plunk a bag in’ process – is soothing. It forces you to take your time and slow down – even though it’s only for a few minutes. You have to wait for the kettle to boil and the pot to warm. You have to choose the right blend – do you want something floral and calming? Or maybe something energizing? Fruity? You have to wait for it to steep. It’s an intentional process.

And once you have your pot brewed? That first mug you pour is a little bit of heaven. Rich, fragrant steam. The sound of trickling water. Beautiful color. Warmth seeping into your hands as you wrap them around the cup. And the first sip. Complex, rich, and stress relieving. It engages all of your senses and resets your body and mind.

And those are just the mental and emotional benefits. Study after study has shown that tea is good for your physical well being too, both when taken internally and when applied topically. High in antioxidants and full of trace minerals, tea is a complex compound that scientists are still studying.

So, that’s what’s up with tea. And that’s how I ended up here, making bath and body products. It was a long, winding path, but I’ve been headed here since I was a kid and am loving every minute of it.

 

If you’ve never indulged in a ‘proper’ cup of tea, I urge you to give it a try. Focus on the sensory experience. Then come back here and let me know what you thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunscreen? I’ll pass (sometimes)

I often joke with my husband that I’m solar powered. The first warm spring day, you’ll find me on my deck swing, face tipped up and arms outstretched, soaking up the sun. All summer, I wear sleeveless tops and shorts or above the knee skirts so I can revel in the feel of the sunlight on as much of my skin as possible. And mid winter calls for a trip to Florida to see relatives…and get a dose of sunshine and warmth to hold me through the rest of the dark, cold weather.

Turns out, I really am solar powered. At least partially. There is a fascinating article (link here) published in 2016 that looks at the risks and benefits of sun exposure. The conclusion? The current sun avoidance/sunscreen advice is creating a major public health problem. Yup. That’s right. We need unprotected exposure to the sun for optimal health.

“Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking” Lindqvist et al. 2016

It turns out that non burning sun exposure is linked to a reduced risk of just about every major health problem you can think of. Melanoma, breast cancer, and bladder cancer? Reduced. Hypertension, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimers, and dementia? Reduced. Liver disease, macular degeneration, myopia, and obesity? Also reduced. In addition, sunlight affects your brain’s serotonin and endorphin levels. It makes you feel good.

How does sunlight do this? Well, we don’t know exactly. Your skin takes UV radiation and converts it into Vitamin D, a hormone that almost all the cells and organs in your body have receptors for. But tests have shown that Vitamin D alone isn’t the answer – dietary supplementation does not produce the same results. So they say there are (and I quote) “…health outcomes related to sun exposure independent of vitamin D, health outcomes dependent on serum 25(OH)D levels but not vitamin D supplementation, and health outcomes dependent on mediators other than vitamin D…” Basically, the sun does stuff we don’t understand yet, but it’s really, really good for you.

Now, does that mean we should just go willy-nilly unto the beach and turn ourselves lobster red? Of course not. Remember – non burning sun exposure is good. Sunburn is bad. Very bad. Besides being painful, it is linked to an increased risk of melanoma, squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas. So, if your plans involve activities that you know will likely make you burn, slather on the suncreen. But for everyday life? Give it a pass. Your health will thank you.

Santizers, Soaps, and Sniffles, Oh My!

It’s that time of year again. The weather is fickle – hot today and frost tomorrow. The annual tissue and tea supply has been laid in, and the never-ending refrain of ‘Wash your hands!’ has begun. Cold, flu, and rampant stomach virus season is upon us.

It’s also the time of year that I start looking for the magic bullet – the guarantee that this year will be illness free – the one elusive product that will kill any germ that dares to so much as look at my family. Antibacterial soap? No, tried that in ’04 – the year of the Killer Stomach Virus From Heck. Hey, what about this hand sanitizer? It kills 99% of germs! Oops…nope. Tried that in ’09 – the year of the Foul Flu of Forever.

Truth is, not much works better than plain, old-fashioned soap and water. In fact, the CDC likens handwashing to a ‘do it yourself vaccine’. Simply by wetting your hands, lathering up, scrubbing for 20 seconds (hum Happy Birthday twice), rinsing well under running water, and drying you significantly reduce your chances of getting ill. And no need to run out and stock up on antibacterial soaps. To date, studies have shown that there is no added health benefit for consumers using soaps containing antibacterial ingredients compared with using plain soap.

What about hand sanitizers? Well, they work. Sometimes. If your hands are already clean. A hand sanitizer needs to be 60-95% alcohol to be effective, and the CDC says that they don’t work well on soiled hands. Why? Hand sanitizers work by killing microbes that come into direct contact with them. If there is dirt, food, or some other type of soil on your hands, the sanitizer can’t reach all the microbes. So, if your hands are clean, and you just want some extra insurance after grabbing onto that stair rail in the subway, then a hand sanitizer should work just fine. But if you’ve been helping with craft time at the local school? Soap and water is the way to go.

So, this year we’ll stick with soap and water. And maybe a tape recording of me saying ‘Wash your hands!’. My throat gets sore after the hundredth time.