How can we create a sustainable and healthy future? Part 1: Chronic Disease.

After a relaxing weekend in Lions Head, I returned to Kitchener on Sunday to have a very productive week. Early in the week, my boyfriend and I headed out to buy seeds from a local farmer as well as plants for our windowsill. We are in the processing of sprouting beans, alfalfa, red clove and a few other seeds as well as growing wheat grass, basil, mint, chives and rosemary. I’m pretty impressed with how quickly and easily this stuff grows! In only about a week we’re going to hopefully have tons of sprouted seeds to stick in just about everything we eat. Very excited about our in-apartment gardening we have going. I went to the hospital on Thursday to check up on my recovery, remove some staples and get a swanky new hot pink cast. The cast is a huge improvement from my last one- so much lighter and more durable. I was also informed by my doctor that I can safely resume training. I was very happy to do some three limb climbing and workouts shortly after and am in the process of putting together a training program for the 4 weeks until (if all goes to plan) I get my cast off. While it was bitter-sweet, I also went to watch a regional bouldering competition at my local gym yesterday. Although I really wish I could have competed myself, I was very happy to see all of my climbing friends from Ontario. Wish me luck on my first day of work tomorrow and continue sending me positive healing vibes :).

More winter climbing in Kentucky!
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Our windowsill plants! :)
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Look at all of those alfalfa sprouts after only 2 days in!
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After the leaps of the 20th century in medicine that lead to the prevention of virtually all transmissible diseases, the 21st century has been an age with a new and growing concern, paralleling our obesity epidemic. Since the 1950s, non-transmissible, chronic diseases have increased by as much as 400% in many regions, including diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, lung diseases and allergies. They are estimated by the World Health Organization to cause 36 million deaths around the world each year, accounting for 63% of mortality world-wide. In Canada, three out of five people over the age of twenty live with one of these diseases, and four out of five are at risk. Furthermore, chronic diseases cost over $90 billion annually for the combination of treatment and loss of productivity. In part one of this series, I discussed obesity and how properly addressing it can help pave the way to a healthier and more sustainable future. Building on obesity, this article will be about chronic diseases in the western world. Since obesity, inactivity and the overconsumption of unhealthy food are at the root of chronic diseases, addressing them with initiatives for early prevention could not only create a healthier future, but also one that is both more ecologically and economically-friendly. In future articles I will delve more into sustainability, the power of compassion and positive psychology and why we are currently unable to feed everyone. Am I missing anything that you think is important? Please share your opinions below!

Starting during the agricultural revolution and continuing through the industrial revolution, the foods we eat and lifestyles we lead have changed tremendously. Instead of transporting ourselves on-foot, we can sit in the comfort of a car. Instead of eating locally, a diet free of chemicals and hormones, our food is now brought to us from all over the world, with added sugar, salt and fat to create a tastier end-product. We spend our down-time plugged in and push our stress-limits at work. In an era with everything available at our fingertips, tucked away from the natural world, we’ve forgotten that we are in fact, still a component of the earth’s biodiversity. Our societal advances are not only destroying our environment, but also resulting in declining life-expectancies, quality of life and to generations more at risk to chronic disease. While inflammation is a normal and protective response from the immune system, unhealthy lifestyles can lead to excess inflammation that ultimately leads to tissue change and poorly functioning organs. These changes are the start points for a complex path of eventually irreversible damage that encapsulate disease. Since there are common risk factors for chronic disease, specifically the inflammation that is derived from our lifestyles, common solutions with an emphasis on prevention early in life are pivotal on our fight against chronic disease.

“Well”, you might say, “aren’t we just genetically inclined to certain diseases?” While genetics can have a small part in the development of disease, the bigger factor is our lifestyle and environment, the only explanation for the surge of chronic disease in the last century. In fact, only about 5% of the diseases of our industrial world are primarily attributed to genetics. Lifestyle and environmental influences can be demonstrated as early as in a new born in the form of allergy. A pregnant mother can have significant effects on her unborn baby’s susceptibility towards disease from the moment of conception to breast feeding patterns throughout the early life of her newborn. For example, the foods that the mother eats during pregnancy will influence the health of her child in the future. Diets high in fat or sugar, for example, have been demonstrated to result in a higher risk of obesity and diabetes for the unborn baby, ultimately enhancing the child’s risk of chronic disease. Breast feeding shapes the development of the baby’s immune system and reduces risks of obesity and disease with longer periods of breast-feeding up to around 7 months. As that child grows up, microbial exposure through non-sterile environments helps establish a healthy immunity and time spent playing outside provides ample vitamin D, a vitamin that is both commonly deficient and associated with inflammation and disease. Establishing healthy eating and lifestyle patterns (adequate sleep, exercise and healthy stress levels) early in life and maintaining those patterns through adulthood are pivotal in the prevention of chronic disease.

How do the foods we eat influence our risks for disease? Diets rich in refined foods, sugar, saturated fats, red-meat, excess calories and low in fiber and antioxidants will almost immediately result in systemic inflammation, and as a result, a lower immune function, blood sugar control, and internal antioxidant function, putting us at a heightened risk for disease. Our diets typically also have too high levels of omega-6 fats and too low levels of omega-3 fats (found in fish and many plant items). The skewed ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, sometimes reaching ratios of 30:1 in western diets, are another major factor for inflammation and disease (healthier ratios would be closer to 1:1). On the flip side, plant-rich and mostly unrefined diets result in just the opposite. Despite the health promoting effects of fruits and vegetables, less than half of Canadian adults and about 70% of children don’t consume enough. As mentioned in part one of this series, these devastating statistics can be attributed to the high cost and lack of accessibility of fresh foods to many individuals. By providing initiatives for the consumption of locally derived foods, by choosing to walk or bike instead of hopping in the car or by spending more time in nature and less time plugged in, we can not only reduce our carbon footprint but also enhance our overall health and well-being.

What steps can we take for a healthier and more sustainable tomorrow? Eat more fruits and vegetables and consider a more plant-based diet! Purchasing your food from local farmers can be an excellent way to support their farms as well as reduce the environmental impact of transporting foods from abroad. More and more farmers markets are popping up, making it easier to eat locally sourced foods. These options are often times more affordable when purchased directly from the farmer, making them better for both your wallet and local economy. Gardening is another way to reduce your carbon footprint and enhance your accessibility to fresh food. It’s easy, fun and helps you reconnect with nature. In an apartment? Try growing indoors! Sprouting seeds as well as growing herbs and certain vegetables can be done right on your windowsill (stay tuned for an article about my current sprouting and herb growing endeavours). Plant-based diets are both more ecologically friendly, consuming 11 times less fossil fuel, 7 times less land and 100 times less fresh water, and provide some significant disease preventing benefits. For example, processed meat consumption was associated with a 42% increase in heart disease risk for each 50g/day increase in consumption, whereas plant-based diets are consistently associated with better health. A pooled analysis of several cohort studies involving about 76,000 individuals over a decade reported that vegetarians had a 24% reduction in death from heart disease when compared to regular meat eaters. Epidemiological data also suggests that cancer and diabetes rates are also lower in vegetarians. A plant-based and locally derived diet can be an excellent tool for building a more sustainable and healthier future. Spending less time in the car or indoors and more time outside, opting for biking or walking whenever possible, is another strategy to boost activity levels, reduce our risks for disease and lead eco-friendly lifestyles.

That was my thoughts, now it’s your turn. How do you think we can create a healthier and more sustainable future and reduce our toll of chronic disease?

Boeing H et. Al. (2012) Critical review: vegetables and fruit in the prevention of chronic diseases. Eur J Nutr 51:637–663.

McEvoy C, Temple N, Woodside J. (2012) Vegetarian diets, low-meat diets and health: a review. PubHealth Nutri., 15:12.

Prescott S. (2013) Early-life environmental determinants of allergic diseases and the wider pandemic of inflammatory noncommunicable diseases. J Allergy Clin Immunol 131:23-30.

Renz H et. Al. (2011) Gene-environment interaction in chronic disease: A European Science Foundation Forward Look. J Allergy Clin Immunol 128(6 Suppl):S27-49

Ruiz-Nunez B et. Al. (2013) Lifestyle and nutritional imbalances associated with Western diseases: causes and consequences of chronic systemic low-grade inflammation in an evolutionary context. J Nutr Biochem 24:1183–1201.

How can we create a sustainable and healthy future? Part 1: Obesity.

And a big apology to all of my followers for taking such a long break from putting up posts. I took some time away from writing to reboot but I’m back on board and ready to start up again! A lot has happened during the last few months for me. I returned to Kentucky for the remainder of the fall season, making a short trip to New River Gorge in West Virginia. I had probably the best time of all of my Red River experience during my last month there. While temperatures got frigid and wet bouts were not uncommon, the need to keep warm and motivated had a way of bringing all of the people who were living on the campground together. In the last months there I made some of the best and most meaningful friendships with others who were crazy enough to endure climbing on literally freezing days and (never) sleeping in tents when temperatures dropped to -10 Celsius at nights. The harsh reality of outdoor life in November has done a number on my sense of willpower, perseverance and pure stubbornness to stick it out. I left Kentucky to return to Canada in December to a new born baby niece (who is absolutely adorable!), a spark to train and get stronger and a desire to get my career in nutrition going.

I have been living in Ontario for two months now and I am finally back to the swing of city life. The first few weeks were a serious adjustment period for me. While I found myself getting stressed about public transit, upset about the materialism and sometimes downright unkindness of civilization, and the cost of living in the city, I have to admit… a bed, warm room, walls and bathroom is AMAZING after 7 months of sleeping on the ground in a tent. Long hot showers, a kitchen to cook, a fridge instead of a small cooler, kettles, stoves, blenders… I could go on and on… I had no idea how much I missed them until I came home. I remember thinking, while I was in Kentucky, that I couldn’t remember the last time I was actually indoors. I look back on that fondly and hope to have the opportunity to get back outside and desperately miss all of the friends that felt like family during my stay down south.
Training over the last few months indoors has done wonders on my climbing. I saw serious improvements in all aspects of my climbing performance within just a week of training. I also was lucky enough to find myself practising yoga every day at an amazing studio right downtown and found myself loving yoga almost as much as rock climbing! It has done a lot for not only my climbing, but in keeping my shoulders and rotator cuffs healthy. I have been volunteering my piano skills at a nursing home and am now trying to get going with doing professional gigs again now that I’m back in the city (hopefully I’ll have a web page with music samples up in the next short while). I’ve also found myself spending large amounts of time at a cute little vegetarian café, Café Pyrus, which I highly recommend to anyone visiting Kitchener, Ontario. Lastly, I finally managed to get a job that will hopefully be a great starting point for me in the field of nutrition.

With all of that said, I have some sad news for both my climbing and yoga front. Last week I took a nasty fall, landing between two mats in the climbing gym. While I was apparently lucky to not have broken my neck, I did however break my tibia as well as tear a slew of ligament in my ankle. I was promptly treated in a hospital and had surgery to realign my bone and repair the torn ligaments. I may be a wee bit bitter that I spent so much time climbing full time outdoors injury free to come indoors and find myself with one of my most serious injuries to date. I guess at least it wasn’t my arm, shoulder or back so I still have a chance that I’ll be able to train. Another positive is that I now have quite a bit of time that is now freed up for writing :). I am currently in my first cast of a few, waiting until a follow up appointment next week to check in on my recovery and to switch to a different cast. I have begun doing pull ups again and am very hopeful that I will be able to resume training (arms only) following my appointment. Wish me luck! A big shout out to the Grand River Rocks climbing gym, who’s staff did an outstanding job helping me and getting me to the hospital, as well as my amazing boyfriend, who has been taking care of me since the accident.

Here’s a picture of me doing some cold weather climbing!
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My home during my stay down south!
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Here’s a picture of a great lookout in the Red :)
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Here’s a shot of my leg before my surgury… I’ll post more pictures of my (hopefully) road to recovery
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While American culture puts skinniness, youthfulness and beauty on a pedestal, the nation is the fattest in the world, with about 68% of the population classified as overweight (about a BMI of 25kg/m2). On the flip side to the chronic diseases and obesity that plague richer countries, poorer ones go hungry and are stricken with malnourishment. This century we are faced with, in the first time in human history, an equal number of overweight people as undernourished. When food production is so high that the bulk of what is brought to stores in western countries ends up in the garbage, why are so many of the world’s citizens going hungry, leaving the rich to become obese? Why can’t this food reach poorer countries? As it stands, our current agricultural practises are highly unsustainable and the idea that we need to make more food to feed more mouths would be a solution that would not only be ineffective, but also further destroy the fragile ecosystems that we have left. One of our biggest challenges for this century is to sustainably feed the billions of people on earth while reducing our environmental impact. While there are clearly different problems from developed to undeveloped countries, by defining what those problems are and learning from them I believe that we can pave a path for a healthier and more sustainable future. In this article I will begin to explore problems of developed countries with a focus on obesity. In future articles I will delve more into chronic disease in developed countries, sustainability, the power of compassion and positive psychology and why we are currently unable to feed everyone. Am I missing anything that you think is important? Please share your opinions below! :)

Obesity, a disease reaching pandemic proportions in western cultures, seems to be one of the primary problems of modern times in developed countries. The notion of willpower being the root of the problem has led to a culture of discrimination against fatness that reinforces the idea that obesity is simply a problem of eating too much and moving too little. These ideas are even common among physicians which may contribute to the fact that less than half of overweight participants in a recent national survey of Canadians had asked their physicians about weight loss. A culture that demeans overweight people, making them feel embarrassed to seek help, is certainly not a solution. Not only are we intensifying the issue of obesity, eating disorders are on the rise for even males nowadays. It’s quickly becoming clearer that obesity is contributed by complex interactions of our environment, neurohormonal system and transgenerational affects that should be considered when making both judgements and addressing an unhealthy weight. Properly addressing obesity would be a good start on the path to a healthier and more sustainable future.

Environmental influences are vast and far between. These influences include our consumer driven culture that uses commercialism and materialism, ideas at the forefront of our society, to target the most receptive populations (children are currently the hot target for big companies). Commercialism is so entrenched in the shaping of developed countries that, without it, we would have quite the hard time. American success has largely depended on convincing American citizens to buy. There’s always something new and trendy, including food, to advertise to the public that their happiness depends on its purchase. They also include the easy accessibility of highly palatable (more palatable through higher calorie, sugar, salt and fat contents), bringing rise to our westernized diets (High in unhealthy fats, sugar and calories and low in fruits and vegetables). Unlike earlier times, we are now also more stationary and find ourselves spending most our time sitting (in cars transporting ourselves, at work in a desk and at home in front of the TV). Our societal advances (e.g. agricultural, industrial, commercial and technologic) are making it harder and harder for us to be healthy and active individuals. The rise in lights (from light bulbs to digital screens) is another factor for obesity. For, example, the disruption of circadian (daily) rhythm genes (regulated by light) in our brains (hypothalamus) has been demonstrated to increase risks for obesity and chronic diseases as well as reduce our ability to feel satisfied after a meal and maintain blood sugar. For example, mice with mutations in these circadian rhythm genes became obese compared to the wild-type control mice, a speed which was intensified while eating high-fat diets similar to our western diet. Mice housed in 20h light-dark cycles (10:10) had significant weight gain, metabolic dysfunction (e.g. leptin and insulin levels) and a worsened blood sugar towards diabetes.

Like our environmental influences, neurohormonal and transgenerational influences are complex and variable. Neurohormonal systems in animals are important to regulate food intake and calorie expenditure. They include sugar and insulin (which rises in proportion to sugar to lower blood glucose, a molecule that’s concentrations must be tightly regulated in order to maintain physiologic functions) receptors, ghrelin (“the hunger hormone” that will increase both body fat and food intake) and leptin (“the satiety hormone” that increases in proportion with body fat and food intake). Leptin and insulin allows lean individuals to maintain their weight by resisting highly palatable foods after they have eaten sufficient amounts. While leptin and insulin levels are typically higher in obese individuals, leptin and insulin resistance is common via chronically elevated body fat and unhealthy fat and sugar intake, making their actions less effective. Here is an example of the devastating effects of our westernized diet. Examples of transgenerational effects can be demonstrated in a number of animal studies. In rodents, males with prenatal dietary restrictions (fewer calories consumed by the mother) reproduce offspring with lower birth weights and sugar tolerance and increased risks of developing obesity and chronic disease. Similar results can be seen with a mother who consumes a high fat diet (from preconception to weaning) on both her child and grandchild. Aside from these biochemical changes during reproduction, individuals who have been raised in an unhealthy household, without proper access to fruits and vegetables, without family support to exercise and without nutritional and health related education, are more likely to develop obesity.

Obesity and chronic diseases are intensified by the current cost of living. About half of Canadians say that they do not eat fresh and healthy foods because they’re too expensive. On average, healthier diets are approximately $1.50/day more expensive then unhealthy, westernized diets. Costs for a full household are simply devastating for the majority of Americans in today’s struggling economy (an issue amplified in America by the high cost of medical interventions). There are also startling variation for the cost and availability of basic healthy food from not just state (or province) to state but also city to city. In Kitchener, Ontario for example, the town that I am currently residing, peanut butter can be found for $4. Just down the road in St. Catharines you’ll find that same products price to be much steeper, at $7, almost double the price. 6 apples in Edmonton can be purchased for approximately $1.71 and in Calgary for $5.02. Brown rice was $2.19 in Toronto, $7.76 in Winnipeg and $11.99 in Rankin Inlet. These price variations have contributed to the resulting half of Canadian adults and about 70% of children who don’t consume minimum daily fruit and vegetable recommendations (even higher in remote communities such as our First Nation and Inuit people). When faced with the choice of buying a lot of something cheap but unhealthy that can fill your stomach, or buying less of a healthier option that is more expensive, won’t last as long and won’t have the same caloric value, many of us would opt for the first option. In Ontario, 92% of the average single person’s income goes to rent, leaving only 8% to cover food and other expenses. Unfortunately, the cost of eating a diet set out by the Canadian Food Guide would use about 32% of the average Canadian’s income. A price reduction should be an important goal of health and policy efforts since the consequence of not properly addressing this problem is overall higher health-care costs and low-income individuals who are sicker and less able to be productive in our society.

As it stands, it’s clear that obesity is a problem that is not fair to be addressed with the discrimination and blame obese individuals commonly are faced with. It is a complex issue that is not a simple matter of eating too much and exercising too little. For me the first steps for a brighter future include compassion, understanding and an end to the victim blaming that is common in our culture. We need to figure out sustainable ways to make healthy foods more accessible to everyone and we need to provide enough education and outreach so that people are able to make informed decisions about the foods that they eat. Properly addressing obesity can not only lead to a healthier population, but also one that has a more ecologically-friendly lifestyle. By reducing the purchase, waste and production of certain foods, maybe we could not only reduce the carbon footprint of feeding the developed world, but also spread our wealth to poorer countries. Thus concludes my thoughts on our obesity pandemic, now it’s your turn. Share your opinions below!

Huang C et. Al. (2013) Influence of Physical Activity and Nutrition on Obesity-Related Immune Function. Scie World Journ.:752071.

Karatsoreos I. et. Al. (2013) Food for Thought: Hormonal, Experiential, and Neural Influences on Feeding and Obesity. Journ of Neuroscie 33(45):17610–17616.

Kirk S, Penney T. (2013) The Role of Health Systems in Obesity Management and Prevention: Problems and Paradigm Shifts. Curr Obes Rep 2:315–319.

Rao M et. Al. (2013) Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open 3(12):e004277.

Broccoli: 6 Reasons to Eat This Healthy Common Superfood (+ Recipes!)

Another eventful few weeks for me! I am now home in Canada (until tomorrow), and have been staying with my parents for the past week. So what’s new with me? About a week before I left the Red River Gorge I came to the realization that my trip was coming to an end. The last month I was there went by so quickly that I had no idea how little time I had left. As a result, once I made the realization I had this sinking feeling in my stomach… apparently I have become very attached to Kentucky over the last few months and to the people who I have been living and climbing with. I had trouble sleeping the first few nights following my ‘epiphany’ until I finally decided that I was going to come right back after my trip to Canada (original plan was to move south to Chattanooga to do some bouldering) (I slept much better after that decision :p). Definitely not ready for my Kentucky experience to be over.

With that little melt-down aside (:P), before I left Kentucky I attended the annual “Rocktober Fest” (which was a blast!) and climbed 10 days (climbing hard!) straight (I was on day 2 when I had my realization… usually I would take the 3rd day off but I decided it would be best to run myself into the ground before I took a week-2week break :p). I left Kentucky last Monday with blood blisters on my pads, sore muscles and psyche to get back out there! During my time at home, I visited my grandparents, caught up with all of my sisters and my parents and attended and helped out with my sister’s baby shower. In just the month and a half that I was away, its amazing to see the difference in the size of her belly! I saw her stomach for the first time a few days ago, and I have to be honest… it was pretty freaky (weird outty belly button and super stretched out skin (almost alien like :p)… that can either whoow you or in my case… give you the heeby geebies :p lol). With that aside (sorry Michelle :p), I am very excited to be an Aunt! For my next trip to the Red (it’s going to be a cold one), I plan on staying put until American Thanksgiving and then coming home for the month of December to hopefully see the new-born baby and spend the Christmas season with my family.

Anyway, here’s a picture of me climbing in the Red. Can’t wait to get back!

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This article can also be found at http://www.onegreenplanet.org :)

Brassica vegetables, which includes broccoli, are both the largest and most commonly eaten plant group world-wide. At the same time, higher consumption of these vegetables is consistently associated with lower cancer risks. Broccoli is relatively inexpensive and can be found at just about any grocery store; it makes a great green addition to just about any meal making it easy to incorporate into your daily routine. With that said, why is it a great idea to eat more broccoli (something you’ve probably heard since childhood)?

1. Broccoli is a great source for the antioxidants vitamin C and antioxidant pigmantes ( beta-carotene, quercetin) which are renowned for quenching free-radicals and reducing risks for cancer. These antioxidants are also essential for good health, promoting enhanced immune systems, nutrient absorption (e.g. iron) and overall vitality.

2. Broccoli is rich in calcium, making it an excellent vegan source of a nutrient that supports strong bones. Adequate calcium intake helps promote healthy bones as we age, helping prevent the development of osteoporosis.

3. Broccoli is an important source for glucosinolates (and their breakdown products isothiocyanates and indoles), which are sulfur-containing chemicals. Glucosinolates have been demonstrated to prevent oxidative stress, stimulate the immune system, reduce cancer growth and ultimately lower risks for cancer (e.g. stomach, colon, esophageal, lung and breast). On top of that, they are anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and help eliminate toxins from the body by indirectly activating our detoxification systems.

4. Broccoli is a great source of potassium, helping maintain a healthier brain, overall nervous system and muscles. Potassium is especially important for athletes, being a vital electrolyte that is lost through our sweat during a hard workout in the heat.

5. Broccoli has large amounts of soluble fibre, making it effective at reducing LDL cholesterol and risks for heart disease. Moreover, soluble fibre is also excellent at improving satiety, weight loss efforts and blood sugar levels, making it not only effective at preventing heart disease, but also an amazing tool to prevent and manage diabetes.

6. Broccoli is excellent at improving bowel health, regularity and ultimately reducing risks for colon cancer. These benefits are largely associated with broccoli’s fibre content, but also the antioxidants and other nutrients that are contained within this delicious vegetable.

To get the most bang for your buck in terms of nutrition, eating broccoli raw is the best way to get the most nutrients. If you cook broccoli, cook or steam for only about 5 minutes in order to retain its nutrients. Here are some amazing vegan recipes to help you incorporate more broccoli into your routine.

1. Baked Broccoli Burgers
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http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/recipe-baked-broccoli-burgers/

2. Sesame tofu and broccoli salad
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http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/recipe-sesame-tofu-broccoli-salad/

3. Raw cream of broccoli and mushroom soup
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http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/recipe-raw-cream-of-broccoli-mushroom-soup/

4. The Sophie Dal
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http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/recipe-the-sophie-dal/

5. Pine Nut and Broccoli Cream Reginette with Chargrilled Peppers
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http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/recipe-pine-nut-and-broccoli-cream-reginette-with-chargrilled-peppers/

6. Roasted Buddha bowl
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http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/recipe-roasted-buddha-bowl/

4 Reasons to Reconnect with Nature – Health Benefits of the Great Outdoors!

Cannot believe it’s already October and I only have a few weeks left in the Red. Although I’m very excited to see all of my family and friends (especially my two oldest sisters who I haven’t seen since June!), I’m sad to leave the place that I’ve called home for the past half year! I cannot begin to describe how enriching of an experience living out here has been or how happy I feel getting out there every day with some pretty amazing people that have become my climbing partners. I haven’t quite figured out my way back to Canada (trying to leave as late as possible), but I should be back home in a few weeks for my sister’s baby shower. After that, I plan on sticking around for a short while and then hopefully heading out for a month long bouldering trip a bit more south… Although the changes that are ahead of me are probably going to take me to new and exciting places, I’m very nervous and kind of scared about leaving my comfort zone in the Red. Only time will tell!

On a side note, check out my friend’s website http://themorningfresh.com/ ! She’s been living with her boyfriend in their van and travelling across North America for a year long climbing trip! She managed to fund her travels through her website, where she posts updates on what she’s doing and writes some pretty awesome articles.

Here’s a picture of me climbing at the Solar Collector in the Red yesterday :)
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This article can also be found on the Sunwarrior website :)

As many of you know, I have been living in a tent for the past six months, climbing full time and enjoying the great outdoors. Something I have noticed in myself and other outdoor dwellers is the sense of enjoyment, healthfulness, and happiness that we exude daily. I have never felt more vibrant, alive and strong as I do now, living on approximately $5 per day in a way that most would associate with poverty. Now I know what I’m doing is a bit extreme (not that I don’t think more people should be doing it) for the average person, but is there something to be said for the benefits of immersing oneself in nature in terms of overall well-being? With approximately 80% of us living in urban areas, and the reported 36% of us living sedentary indoor lifestyles, would recommendations for more time spent outside be appropriate to support a healthier overall population?

The term “nature-deficit disorder,” coined by Richard Louv, has been used to describe the lack of time outdoors, which has been replaced by demanding schedules and electronic media. This disorder is associated with obesity, asthma, ADHD, and vitamin D deficiency, all of which are risk factors for many chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and mental health problems. Today, 21% of our youth play video games or browse the internet for at least three hours daily, and the average child spends another three hours in front of the TV daily. These numbers put us at greater risks for obesity, emotional and social problems (e.g. poor self-esteem), and reduced overall health.

With the increase in resource and time allocations to reading and math, programs such as gym, art, and recess have suffered serious reductions, and children have now lost about 12 hours per week of free time (including a 50% reduction in unstructured outdoor activities). While many may come to a conclusion that these changes are for the best, free unstructured outdoor play is an important part of childhood that allows children to develop creativity, strength, dexterity, conflict resolution, self-advocacy, and group work skills. In adults, chronic diseases and mental health problems are on the rise, coinciding with the reductions in outdoor activities and increases in go-go work schedules. As a population, social media is increasingly present and the average person now has a strong disconnect with nature. Could reconnecting ourselves with nature be an appropriate way to negate the outcomes associated with the “nature-deficit disorder”? With all of that said, here are four reasons to spend more time outdoors! (Don’t worry; tent-life is not required (but definitely recommended).)

1) Being outside more promotes higher activity levels!

Sedentary lifestyles are major risk factors for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental, and physical disability and are thought to be accountable for 1.9 million deaths annually worldwide. The health impact of inactivity in terms of heart disease is comparable to the impacts from smoking. Regular physical activity helps build and maintain healthy bones and muscles, reduces the risk of obesity and chronic diseases, reduces feelings of depression and anxiety, and promotes feelings of well-being. More time spent outdoors is associated with higher physical activity. For example, a study using children ages 10–12 demonstrated a 27 minute increase in weekly exercise and reduction of overweight prevalence from 41% to 27% with each additional hour spent outdoors. Proximity to outdoor recreation has also been demonstrated to influence childhood activity and weight, and children who live within a kilometer of a park with a playground were demonstrated to be five times more likely to be at a healthier weight than kids without accessible playgrounds. Motivating people to spend more time outdoors is an excellent tool to get people more active.

2) Being outside promotes mental wellbeing!

Being outside is widely known to have positive effects on one’s mental wellbeing, and experimental data has demonstrated a reduction of stress and mental fatigue with more time outside. Exercising in an outdoors environment has been linked with improvements in social networking, self-esteem, and feelings of connectivity. Our youth are increasingly being prescribed medication for mental health, with about 6% of teenager diagnosed with depression and 3% of kids younger than fourteen. Fourteen percent of adolescents categorized their stress as extreme and about half in the U.S. said their stress had increased over the past year. ADHD has also increased over recent decades, with around 9% of children diagnosed. About 9% of children (ages 4–17) were prescribed medication for difficulties with behavior and emotions and about 90% of these were treatment for ADHD symptoms. Natural environments have been demonstrated to improve attention (especially in those diagnosed with ADHD), reduce the impacts of stress, and reduce mental fatigue characterized by irritability, feeling distracted, and difficulty focusing.
3) Being outdoors reduces risks for vitamin D deficiencies!

There were 7.6 million U.S. children demonstrated to be vitamin D deficient and about 50.8 million had insufficient levels of vitamin D. In a recent study in a Boston hospital, about 42% of the adolescent patients examined had a deficiency and an estimated 1 billion people world-wide aren’t getting enough. In states of vitamin D deficiency, only about 10% of dietary calcium and 50% of dietary phosphorus are absorbed, leading to conditions such as rickets and osteoporosis, weakened immune systems, and a higher risk for seizures. Low vitamin D is also a risk factor for a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and asthma. Luckily, adequate vitamin D can be achieved by time spent outside with exposed skin. In the summer, a time of 6–8 minutes may be enough, while in the winter, times increase to 7–50 minutes or so depending on the latitude.

4) Being outdoors promotes overall health improvements!

Outdoor activity in nature may also benefit one’s health by improving asthma, myopia, and chronic pain issues. For example, surrounding tree density was correlated with a lower incidence of childhood asthma. Myopia, or nearsightedness, has substantially risen over the past few decades and affects roughly 9.2% of American children. These numbers may be heightened by the increase in illuminated screen viewing and reading time. A higher level of time outdoors was associated with less myopia. In a 1984 study, patients with a view of deciduous trees took fewer doses of strong pain medication than a group viewing a brown brick wall, had shorter postoperative hospital stays, and fewer postsurgical complications. These health benefits are only the start, making more time in nature a valuable part of your routine.

Bowler et al. (2010) A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural

Environments. BMC Public Health, 10:456. Coon et al. (2011) Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A

Systematic Review. Environ. Sci. Technol. 45:1761–1772. McCurdy et al. (2010) Using Nature and Outdoor Activity to Improve Children’s Health. Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care 5:102-117.

6 tips for dealing with stress

It’s hard to believe I’ve been living in a tent for close to half a year now and even harder to imagine living another lifestyle then the one I am living now. Spending under $5 daily, I have never felt more alive, happy and healthy as I do now. My days have been pretty simple in terms of most peoples standards; I have fell into a 2 days on, 1 day off climbing schedule, while trail running 3 times a week and helping out in a local restaurant and writing with the rest of my time. I cook my meals on a small camp stove and, since I`m living out here without a car, go with friends into town to the grocery store once a week. I have met travellers from all over the world, each with different stories and different outlooks on life. As a result, my eyes have been opened to what it means to live a happy life, where being giving, open-minded, un-materialistic and loving are a necessity (to me at least). I`ve had some trying experiences out here also, that have taught me the power of being positive and optimistic. While living outdoors has had its ups and downs for me, by living so frugally and simply I have had the chance for self-reflection. In a half year living in a tent, here`s 25 things that I`ve learnt so far…

1) Just because your tent says it’s rainproof doesn’t mean it will keep 2 weeks’ worth of heavy rain out
2) Your body needs rest
3) It`s okay to fall
4) Not everyone has to like you
5) Carrots, sweet potatoes and apples are money while camping
6) A little quiet time is important to maintain sanity (for me at least)
7) Surround yourself with positive people and spend less time with negative ones
8) Failure is an important part of improvement
9) Networking will get you a long way (e.g. rides to work, groceries, etc.)
10) Platforms under your tent is key for long-term camping in a generally wet location
11) Not everyone has as good of intentions as you`d like to think
12) Cherish your close friends and be picky of who you spend the most time with
13) Be sure your belayer is a good one
14) sirracha and peanut butter makes a damn good spicy peanut sauce
15) Don’t dismiss quirky people
16) If you want to do something then do it! Don’t just talk about it or why you can’t do it- sacrifices are often necessary to get what you want.
17) Only doing one thing all of the time (e.g. rock-climbing) is a sure fire way to get demotivated. Having more than one thing is important (and healthier)
18) It’s better to have too much clothes then not enough while camping- freezing throughout the day (and night) really sucks!
19) I absolutely love trail running and exploring
20) Actually listen to people (don’t just nod along or half listen)
21) Money won’t make you happy- it’s the experiences you have and people you meet that makes for a fulfilling life
22) Rock climbing is when I feel the most in-tune with myself
23) Confidence will get you a long way in whatever you do
24) Family is important- remember that wherever you are and however far away they are
25) Don’t sell yourself short!

Here’s of me climbing again in Lionshead! :)
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This article can also be found on the One Green Planet website :)

Stress is something we’re all familiar with, being ever so common in our 24/7 lifestyles. While a little stress once in a while is okay, long term stress increases risks for heart diseases, diabetes, poor weight control, reduced immunity, depression, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, reduced fertility and overall inflammation. These problems are largely derived from the stress hormones, such as epinephrine, that are released during stressful situations to aid to our ‘fight or flight’ response. While this was clearly advantageous to our ancestors, resulting in higher heart rates, cortisol levels, blood sugar, blood vessel constriction and ultimately more strength, speed and endurance, long term stress is detrimental to us in modern times. With that said, here are 6 stress busting tips to help you mellow out and relax!

1. Find the stressor

Is it work? A broken relationship? Or maybe even financial problems? The first step in dealing with stress is to face your problems head on. Solutions are highly individual and depend on what kind of changes you’re willing to make. While the best thing to do would be to eliminate your stressor, which is often not possible, the next best thing would be to brainstorm what could make your situation. Maybe getting ahead on your workload or confronting your significant other?

2. Aromatherapy

Lavender flowers and their extracts have been used for centuries for anxiety, sleep troubles and depression. The relaxing experience associated with lavender fragrance has led to its therapeutic use in aromatherapy. Aromatherapy with lavender has been demonstrated to be effective for anxiety, depression and overall stress in both small and medium-sized controlled and uncontrolled clinical trials. Want to give lavender a shot? Head to your nearest health store and pick up a bottle!

3. Laughter

A good laugh is an excellent form of stress relief with both immediate and long term benefits. Laughter stimulates the release of feel good endorphins, relieves stress responses, reduces tension, improves your mood, relieves pain and improves your overall health. Laughter is a powerful and under recognized form of medicine that is both easy and fun to incorporate into your routine! Go ahead, watch that funny TV show, spend a night out with friends or maybe head to your local comedy club! A little laughter will do wonders to help you bust your stress.

4. Sleep more

Sleep is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle but over the last 50 years Americans have reported getting less and less sleep. Modern work and school schedules constantly devalues a good night’s rest, with praises going out to those bold enough to pull an all-nighter to get more work done. While you can probably get away with a night here and there of poor sleep, resent research is linking sleep loss with our immune and inflammatory systems resulting in higher risks for not only stress and anxiety, but also chronic diseases including heart disease and diabetes. How can you get more Zs? Naps are great! Short naps under 20 minutes will avoid a lot of the grogginess associated with longer naps. Try getting into the habit of going to bed earlier. If you have problems falling asleep, it would be a good idea to avoid brighter lights (e.g. computer) before bedtime.

5. Exercise

I’m sure you’ve heard of the mood boosting endorphins associated with exercise, making exercise programs superior drug free options to elevate your mental state and relieve stress. While one bout of exercise is a sure fire way to leave you feeling fresh and happier, long term exercise programs have been demonstrated to be seriously effective at treating mental disorders. By just walking an hour 5 days a week, exercise will actually increase brain hippocampal sizes in previously sedentary people! Getting started can be daunting but it doesn’t have to be! Try taking walks on you breaks or taking the stairs more frequently or maybe even pick up a new activity! Head over to your local college and consider some fitness classes or try something a bit more daring (rock climbing anyone?).

6. Eat a healthy diet

Long term stress has been linked with tendencies to store fat around the midsection, poor sugar control and reduced metabolisms. For many, stress is a serious barrier for weight management, which can result in more stress and so on. How can we make healthy changes to deal with stress? Eat frequently throughout the day and be sure not to skip breakfast. This will help boost your metabolism, maintain blood sugar levels and help maintain energy throughout the day. Focus on mood boosting nutrients, such as potassium (bananas and avocados), vitamins B (leafy greens) and C (citrus fruits, tomatoes, and kiwi) and magnesium (nuts and leafy greens). Finally, reduce your intake of high-glycemic, refined carbohydrates and eat the rainbow in terms of fruits and vegetables.

References:

D’Andrea W, Sharma R, Zelechoski A, Spinazzola J.(2011) Physical Health Problems After Single Trauma Exposure : When Stress Takes Root in the Body. doi:10.1177/1078390311425187

Lucini D, Pagani M. (2012) From stress to functional syndromes: An internist’s point of view. doi:10.1016/j.ejim.2011.11.016.

Toda N, Nakanishi-Toda M. (2011) How mental stress affects endothelial function. doi:10.1007/s00424-011-1022-6.

10 tips on eating ‘plant-strong’ for athletic performance

Sorry for the break in posts- I was starting to feel less motivated to write so I figured it was a good time to take a short break from writing. I’m feeling quite refreshed now though and am ready to get back on the bandwagon!:) Anyway, nothing significant has changed with me over the past few weeks. I am very happy with my current tent setup- very dry, quiet and comfortable! A little bug has come through the campground and got me last week- feeling much better this week! Other than that I’m continuing to climb and am feeling pretty strong! Seriously considering moving south from Kentucky to Red Rocks in a few weeks- anyone else have suggestions on where I can head next? :D

Here’s a picture of me climbing at Lionshead in Ontario :)

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Here’s a fun little article I wrote for One Green Planet (onegreenplanet.com)- Enjoy :)!

Certain nutritional strategies go a long way in terms of recovery, adaptation and improvement, yet many athletes are at a loss on where to start. While formulating a performance boosting diet can be daunting task for vegetarians, I assure you that with a few minor alterations, you’ll be ready to pursue success. Here are 10 tips to set you on your way!

1. Carbs

Low carb diets (3-15% calorie intake) consistently are shown to reduce both high-intensity and endurance performance. They are crucial for enhancing glycogen stores and as a result, boost recovery between workouts. Luckily most of the tastiest foods are filled with carbs; bananas and sweet potatoes are my go to foods while I’m training.

2. Protein

Protein has long been a considered a key nutrient for success. Athletes are traditionally recommended to consume about 1.3g/kg per day. This can be a daunting for many vegans as most plant-based proteins are incomplete. Fortunately, current research has shown that as long as amino acid profiles are completed within a day, adequate protein can be achieved. By loading up with veggies, legumes and nuts, you’ll be good to go!

3. Nutrient Timing

After a workout, muscles shift from breaking down to building up. Muscles have an improved sugar tolerance and blood flow, making it a prime time for the replenishment of glycogen stores, adaptation and recovery. As a result, carbs and a high-quality protein are important within the first 45 minutes following a workout to enhance recovery and muscle development. Carbs are easy, but what about high-quality protein in a vegan diet? There are some great vegan protein supplements on the market that would be a smart investment for the plant-based athlete. My number 1 pick is the ‘Sunwarrior Vanilla Warrior Blend’.It mixes great in just about anything and is a tasty addition while baking as well.

4. B12

Deficiencies in B12 among vegetarians are alarmingly common and can put a serious damper on your athletic performance. With symptoms that include fatigue and lethargy, it is impossible to achieve your peak performance if deficient. B12 deficiencies are not to be taken lightly, and an on-going deficiency can cause anemia and permanent nerve damage. While there are a few vegan food sources, including nutritional yeast, supplements are a trusty way to ensure you’re getting enough.

5. Maca

This Peruvian root has a long history of being used to improve both libido and reproductive health. More recently, maca has been shown to be a great energy boosting plant, with benefits ranging from improved metabolism, reduced pain and enhanced stamina. It works great as an addition to your pre-workout drink, giving you a boost before you’re out the door. Maca has a nice marshmallow flavor that is a great addition to many baked goods and my personal favorite, hot chocolate!

6. Turmeric

Turmeric, used medicinally as far back as 6000 years, is truly an up and coming super food! Not only has it been shown to be protective against infections, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, it is also seriously anti-inflammatory, going a long way for recovery. Turmeric has a distinctly peppery flavor that will add a little heat to your curry entrees.

7. Iron

Iron deficiencies are quite common among vegetarians and have serious consequences in performance. By simply eating more foods rich in vitamin C (e.g. most fruits) and soaking your grains, nuts and legumes (to lower the phytate content), vegetarians can increase the bioavailability of plant-derived iron and get more than enough.

8. Ginger

On top of being effective at relief from arthritis, nausea, common colds and hypertension, ginger is particularly effective at reducing inflammation. It can be easily added to many dishes and has a nice zingy taste. Like smoothies? Try adding an inch slice to your next drink! My personal favorite is fresh ginger tea; grate ginger into boiling water, steep and add a little lemon and agave. This is my go to remedy whenever I’m feeling achy.

9. Vitamin D

Since vitamin D is derived from sunlight, deficiencies during the winter are extremely common. Deficiencies in vitamin D are a large part of the seasonal performance variability puzzle and vitamin D has been shown to be directly related to power, speed, strength and performance. While vitamin D is present to a small degree in mushrooms, a vitamin D supplement suspended in oil (e.g. soft-gel) is the most reliable source during the winter time.

10. Calories

While training for peak performance, it’s easy to not get enough calories to replace what you’ve burned, especially on a clean, plant-based diet. Not getting enough calories can be detrimental for your performance and recovery. While training, it is essential to match your calorie intake with your exercise demands to allow full recovery and adaptation. A quick an easy way to get calories with a lot of nutrition is to get creative with smoothies and mix in all your plant-powered ingredients into delicious and nutritious drinks!

5 tips to get a good night’s sleep!

Lots of change again! Had a great time climbing up in Ontario- met up with a few of my friends in Lionshead for the weekend. After that, I went home to Windsor to stay with my family for a few more days before heading back to the Red River Gorge for the fall season. I also finally got to my sister, who is VERY pregnant. It’s amazing to see the difference in the size of her belly since the last time I saw her in June! All in all, I had an amazing time in Ontario and am so happy I got to spend more time with all of my friends and family.

I’ve been back down in Kentucky since this past Thursday- I drove down with one of my Canadian climbing partners and climbed with him throughout the weekend. Before he left, he helped me upgrade my tent situation to a better spot! My tent is now lined with blankets and a comforter- so comfy! Next step- stick a tarp over it! So far my trip back to the Red has been excellent- I am very excited for the weather to turn for better climbing conditions!

Here’s a picture of me at mount nemo in Ontario, pulling through the roof of a route :)
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This article can also be found at onegreenplanet.com :)

About half of all Americans have reported to struggle with sleep while close to 20% are clinically diagnosed with insomnia. Sleep loss is a serious problem and results in reduced insulin sensitivity, increased appetites, whole body inflammation, and as a result, significantly greater risks for many mental and chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. On top of that, sleepless nights have a major impact on work performance and are thought to cost, directly and indirectly, around 35 billion dollars per year in the US. Why are we, as a nation, having such a hard time getting those vital 8 hours? Could it be out diets and rising weights? Or maybe it’s our go-go lifestyles or the rise in artificial lights since the 1900 (i.e. TVs and computers)? Pharmaceuticals aimed to treat insomnia are commonly prescribed to those struggling with sleep but come with many side-effects, including the potential for addiction, which would be best avoided. While nutraceuticals (e.g. melatonin) can be a relatively quick fix while working through a particular time of stress, lifestyle changes can be a powerful way to manage insomnia. With all of that said, here are 5 tips to help you catch those Z’s and sleep soundly!

1. Reduce your stress level!

Sleep and wakefulness are largely controlled by our sympathetic nervous system. In times of stress, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, resulting in a hyper-arousal around bedtime. The end result is often a racing mind that is hard to shut off. The first step to solving this problem would be figure out what the stressor is. Perhaps work, an unhealthy relationship (or even a healthy one), or school? While eliminating the stressor isn’t always practical, there are always steps that can be taken for improvement. For example, try to get a better work-life balance, talk to a loved one about things bothering you, or stay on top of your work-load at school.

2. Avoid bright lights closer to bedtime!

Sleep is also regulated by melatonin, released by the pineal gland and having a role in making us sleepy at night time. The secretion of this hormone is influenced by a number of factors including light, allowing us to have evolved a circadian rhythm that correlates to the sunrise and sunset. Bright lights close to bedtime throws off this rhythm and can result in less melatonin at the end of the day with an end result of restlessness and wakefulness. Try dimming the lights in your home throughout the day and avoiding electronics within the few hours before trying to fall asleep. This includes TV, computers and data phones which all have bright screens. While forming this habit will be tricky at first, given that most of us are quite dependent on technology, it will get easier in no time!

3. Consider your diet!

While most of us know by now that our diet has a major impact on our general health, many of us are unaware of the influence that the foods we eat have on sleep. Meal regularity, fewer refined carbohydrates, and more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes are seen to promote a good night’s sleep. The foods we eat typically promote sleep by increasing levels of serotonin, typtophan and ultimately melatonin. Many foods have these chemicals while others promote their production (e.g. foods high in B vitamins and magnesium). While most of these compounds are widely available in the above foods, vitamin B12 is a particular issue for vegetarians (generally only in animal products) and a deficiency can be a cause for insomnia. While some B12 can be in trace amounts on organic vegetables (from the soil) and in products like nutritional yeast, a B12 supplement is strongly advised for vegetarians.

4. Exercise!

Exercise is an excellent tool to both reduce stress levels and improve sleep. Getting started exercising can be a daunting task, especially if it’s been a while. Rest assured- starting a routing isn’t as hard as it seems and once you get going things will only get easier! Exercise can be added quite easily by making a few changes in your day to day schedule. Try walking to work, taking the stairs more often or taking a walk during your breaks at work. The best way to get going is to find something that you love so you’ll be more inclined to stick to it. Fitness classes are a fun way to get moving and are offered at most colleges and gyms, offering both instruction and support. Joining an adult sports league is another great option to find that new passion, meet new people and have a great time. Maybe even reconnect with the great outdoors; hiking, trail running, mountain biking or rock climbing anyone?

5. Consider a melatonin supplement!

If you’re dealing with a particular time of stress and sleeplessness, melatonin may be a good option to get you back on track with your sleep schedule. Melatonin doesn’t have the addictive potential or hangovers that many pharmaceuticals have and are both safe and well tolerated, even at high doses over years. Melatonin is especially effective in individuals over 55 due to an age related degradation of the pineal gland, a factor for the higher prevalence of insomnia in elderly individuals. Melatonin may also be a good consideration if you’re trying to take yourself off of sleep medication. If this sounds like you, I would recommend looking at an AOR product called ortho-sleep, one of the strongest neutraceutical sleep aids on the market currently. This product has been had quite the success rate in helping people with this transition.

References:
•Bittencourt L, Santos-Silva R, Mello M, Anderson M, Tufik S.(2010) Chronobiological Disorders: Current and Prevalent Conditions. doi:10.1007/s10926-009-9213-0
•Bixler E. (2012) Sleep and society: An epidemiological perspective. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2009.07.005.
•Cardinali D, Srinivasan V, Brzezinski A, Brown G.(2012) Melatonin and its analogs in insomnia and depression. doi:10.1111/j.1600-079X.2011.00962.x.
•Passos G, Poyares L, Santana M, Tufik S, Mello M. (2012) Is exercise an alternative treatment for chronic insomnia? doi:10.6061/clinics/2012(06)17.
•Peuhkuri K, Sihvola N, Korpela R.(2012) Diet promotes sleep duration and quality. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2012.03.009.
•Siebern A, Suh S, Nowakowski S. (2012) Non-Pharmacological Treatment of Insomnia. doi:10.1007/s13311-012-0142-9.