6 Things You Can Do for a Summer of Happiness

sunshine girl

Summer of Happiness: Six Simple Things You Can Do This Summer to Let the Sunshine In
If your life could use a little lift, Todd Patkin says there’s no better time than summer to make small changes that will have a big impact on your outlook.

Summer is a time of warm temperatures, sunny skies, green leaves, neighborhood cookouts, family vacations, ice cream cones, and more. In short, it’s a season that’s full of opportunities for enjoyment—so why do so many of us drift through these warm weeks in the same hum-drum fog we’re lost in during the other three seasons? The fact is, most of us have become numbed by life, feeling that we’re victims of circumstance and simply trying to survive each day. So while a refreshing dip in the swimming pool might put a smile on your face while you’re submerged, your good mood usually doesn’t last long.

Don’t despair, though—you can influence your level of happiness to a much greater extent than you think. And the best news of all is that there’s no better time to start than during the summer.

“Most people don’t realize that happiness is a choice,” says Todd Patkin, author of the new book Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, www.findinghappinessthebook.com). “It’s true—happiness is learning how to live your best life by figuring out a better way to react to what happens to you. It’s the culmination of all of the little actions, choices, and habits that fill our days, as well as how we think about them.”

If that’s true—if your happiness really is determined not by what your life looks like but by how you look at your life—then why is summer an ideal time to start changing your focus?

“Life doesn’t completely stop in the summer, of course, but it does tend to slow down and give us more time to reflect on how happy we are with our lives, and to think about what changes we may want to make,” explains Patkin. “For many families, the daily pace is less hectic, and you’re more likely to spend time relaxing. Plus, since summer is a time of warmth, light, and growth, it’s naturally uplifting. Put together, that all means that over the next few months, you’ll have more time and (hopefully) energy to devote to making meaningful lifestyle changes.”

Patkin knows what he’s talking about. After realizing that financial success, recognition, accolades, and atta-boys didn’t bring the fulfillment he thought they would, Patkin set off to identify the ingredients of a happy and contented life. And he’s found that surprisingly simple lifestyle changes and habits can make a tremendous difference in your attitude, mood, and outlook.

“If you take the following suggestions to heart, I promise that you’ll be a much happier person by the time the leaves start to turn,” Patkin asserts. “And don’t worry—most of these habits will take only a few minutes out of your day, and some won’t take any extra time at all. Plus, they’re activities the whole family can get involved in and benefit greatly from.”

If you’re ready to put a genuine summer smile on your face, then read on for six simple ways to up your contentment quotient:

Enjoy the weather: Exercise. No one except the most avowed couch potato can resist venturing out into the great outdoors when the sun is shining and the grass is green. Take advantage of the wonderful weather and up your activity level! Exercise will begin to relax you, make you feel stronger, and improve your sleep. It’s also a natural anti-depressant that will boost your attitude and outlook. And as time passes, you’ll gain the added bonus of being happier with your physical appearance as well.

“I think exercise is the single most important thing you can do to improve your life right now,” Patkin asserts. “It’s a fantastic energizer, and it actually opens you up to future change by invigorating your mind and body. And don’t worry—I’m not saying you have to start training for a marathon. Commit to walking just twenty minutes every other day to start out. Or if circumstances allow, take a walk in the woods or swim a few laps in the pool instead. Lastly, take your kids along—you’ll be instilling exercise in them as a great habit that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”

Get some new sunglasses: Be easier on yourself. Most people tend to go through life as though they’re wearing glasses with prescriptions that allow them to focus only on the negative things: their failures, mistakes, worries, etc. This summer, put on a new pair of shades with a more positive prescription that enables you to focus on all of the good things in your life, too! The fact is, we’re all human—and thus fallible—so it’s normal to make mistakes. However, it’s not healthy or beneficial to dwell on them.

“Most of us tend to be out and about more in the summer than in the colder months, so really take note of all the positive interactions you have and compliments you receive,” Patkin urges. “For instance, let yourself bask in your family’s compliments when you grill a great meal and savor your neighbor’s praise of your backyard garden. Basically, extend to yourself the same love and kindness that you would to others you care about! Until you give yourself permission to break free of the cycle of self-blame and negativity that causes you to be stuck demanding perfection from yourself in every situation, you’ll never have a chance to be a truly relaxed, content, and happy person.”

Plan some fun activities: Play to your strengths. The days are longer, schedules are more relaxed, there are several holidays to look forward to, and you’ll probably be taking some vacation days. Resolve to spend some of that time developing your special abilities and talents! If you want to be happy, you need to recognize, use, and share your gifts. Each of us has been given special, unique strengths, and when we are using them, we’re happier and feel much better about ourselves—and the world at large is better off, too!

“If you’ve never done so before, sit down and make two lists: Write down your strengths as well as what you really enjoy doing,” advises Patkin. “Usually, many of the things on these lists will overlap. Then, make it a goal to spend more time doing these things that you enjoy and are best at. Focusing more on a hobby or personal interest you like is a good start, even if, like exercise, you do it for only twenty minutes every other day. After all, your kids get to go to special-interest activities and camps during the summer…so why shouldn’t you get in on the action, too?”

Smell the roses: Live in the present. There are so many moments to treasure throughout our lives, and they’re often especially vivid in the summer: the sound of your kids playing outside, the scent of the herbs in your garden, the feeling of sand between your toes and sun on your skin. The question is, are you really experiencing and enjoying these moments…or is your mind obsessing over the past or worrying about the future while only your body is physically present? If it’s the latter, you’re only exacerbating your anxiety and unhappiness by choosing to dwell on things you can’t control.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to truly appreciate the present moment,” Patkin shares. “And hopefully, this season will offer plenty of good opportunities to do that. Try to be aware of what your thoughts are ‘doing,’ and please don’t get discouraged when you find yourself going back to your old negative mental habits! In fact, pat yourself on the back because you’re noticing that you’re doing something you don’t want to do anymore. This is a fantastic start. By autumn, you’ll be closer to living the adventurous, wonderful life you were always meant to. Also, keep in mind that your children usually know when your mind is not 100 percent there with them. Don’t unintentionally make them feel less important in your life.”

Break out the barbeque: Strengthen close relationships. Summer is known for cookouts, pool parties, and front-porch sittin’. Don’t be “that family” who always keep to themselves—try to host at least one or two events between June and September and invite the people you love over for some fun. The truth is, it’s worth putting work into improving your relationships with your family and friends all year round, because the quality of your bonds with the people closest to you can make or break the quality of your life.

“Also, I’d like to specifically mention one relationship you need to focus on in particular: your relationship with your spouse or significant other,” Patkin says. “You must put as much time and effort into this relationship as you do your house, your car, or your job. Celebrate your spouse every day. Trust me: This can make such a great difference in your relationship, because when your partner feels as special as he or she did in the early days of your romance, he or she will feel just as loved…and the spark of your relationship will stay alight. Summer is a great time to pick a bouquet of wildflowers, plan a romantic getaway, or purchase tickets to an outdoor concert that you’ll both enjoy, for starters.”

Smile and say hello: Be friendlier. Yes, spend more quality time with the people who are most important to you this summer, but also continue to make new connections. You’re not the only one who ventures outside your front door more often in the summer—so make a conscious effort to be friendlier to others you encounter, too. Introduce yourself to the family next to you at the pool or beach, for example, and say hello to folks you pass while walking in the park. (You’ll also be setting a great example for your kids.)

“Extending simple human kindness to others can make a huge difference in their lives…and in yours,” Patkin promises. “You see, everyone on Earth is carrying some sort of burden. You can’t make their pain, stress, or grief just disappear…but you can be what I call a ‘lamp lighter’—someone who makes others feel just a little bit lighter and happier on their feet, if only for five seconds. When you make friendliness a habit, you’ll attract kindness and smiles in return…and you’ll feel great about yourself for making a positive difference in the world!”

“These suggestions are meant to be a starting point for you,” Patkin concludes. “My hope is that you’ll incorporate these habits into your life and experience a more sunshine-y summer…and that you’ll remember this season as the beginning of your journey toward happiness. It’s true—what may seem like small changes in your actions and attitudes really can make a huge difference in how you experience the rest of your life!”

 

 

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About the Author: Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In, grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next eighteen years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.

About the Book: Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.findinghappinessthebook.com.

 

 

 

The Whirlwind of Extracurricular Activities

child painting

by Rachel Jones

 

New moms, it happens faster than you think: all of a sudden your child is old enough for music classes and swimming lessons. Then in another year, he’ll be old enough for gymnastics, tee-ball, and karate. Not to leave out Boy Scouts, basketball and church youth group. I am caught in the spiral that is extracurricular activities, and my child is only 16 months old.

At this point, it is pretty simple. I have one kid. He is happy participating in just about anything. We have been enjoying a music class together, but we have to rush out of Bible study to get there. Totally doable because…I have one kid. As I plan for summer, I would love for my child to be comfortable in the pool. So, swimming lessons it is. But will that interfere with Bible study or music class? I hope not. Our plate is getting pretty full! At some point baby #2 (that is still just a twinkle in my eye) will enter the picture. I am all for baby wearing, but can I wear baby #2 while still participating in music class with #1? Probably. …but this is getting complicated!

Eventually, the child is going to have an opinion of his own. Forget that Dad thinks soccer is silly. Maybe kiddo thinks kicking a ball is awesome. What if the extracurricular activities our children prefer are not the ones we would choose for them? Of course we want our son to play basketball like daddy, but what if he just isn’t gifted in that area? My husband took piano lessons as a kid but stopped when it wasn’t ‘cool’ anymore. Now, whenever he sees a piano, he talks about how he wishes he could sit down and play something. Therefore, he insists that our children WILL take piano lessons….until he says they can stop. We’ll see how that goes.

In true ‘type A’ fashion, I’ve already thought about a plan to implement for when my children are old enough for multiple extracurricular activities. First, they will be allowed to participate in one sport and one other extracurricular at a time (or two non-sport activities, if sports aren’t their thing). Second, they have to continue each activity for the whole season or session. In other words, no quitting because they are no longer interested, or because their new best friend isn’t on the same team, etc. Third, they can participate in whatever activities they want, even if I am totally freaked out about (my) children playing football. Last (and this one is important), we will always eat dinner as a family, even if it has to happen at 8:30.

This plan isn’t going to keep me from feeling like I spend all day as a chauffeur. That’s part of the deal. And to be honest, I am looking forward to it. I enjoy wearing the many hats that motherhood has given me. I hope that by being supportive of my children’s interests and involved in their activities, they will let me be an active part of their lives.

I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, I am going to enjoy music class with my son and seek out a good place for him to take swimming lessons. Karate, Boy Scouts, and piano lessons can wait until next year.

 

 

Cruise for a Cure! Relay for Life – Fri May 17th

cancer ribbon

Want to go on a cruise that you don’t have to worry about getting seasick or being stuck at sea?Then join us on Friday, May 17th as we go “Cruisin’ For A Cure” with the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of Fayette County.This year’s Relay For Life event is being held at Fayette County High School’s Football Stadium from 4:00 p.m. until 11:30 p.m.Our Cruise Director, Zach Stutts, has lined up a fun entertainment schedule with the Torch of Hope starting at 6:15 p.m., leading into our Opening Ceremonies at 6:45.Other events that you won’t want to miss include the Dollar Dude and Divas as they try to buy themselves a title by gathering the most donations from 5:30-8:30 p.m. and the lighting of our torches and luminaria starting at 9:15.Our Survivor Activity Director, Emily Stastny, has been busy coordinating with Piedmont Hospital’s Cancer Wellness Center to have fun activities for all of our survivors from 4:00 p.m. until 9:15 p.m. with a break for the Opening Ceremonies.We are thankful to all of our sponsors that help us put on this wonderful event, but want to especially thank Pain Care of Georgia and Piedmont Hospital for being our major sponsors.

Be dazzled as you get to meet our local Relay Celebrities:Lisa Hedenstrom, our 2013 Honorary Chair, and Ken Williams and Ryann Hayes, our 2013 Relay Ambassadors.Be starstruck as you spot our amazing “Dollar Dudes and Divas” strut their stuff to try to get your dollars/votes to win the crown.Have fun as you participate in games, have a chance to “Dunk a friend” in the dunk booth, jump in the jumpy Castle, and do as many other activities you can fit in.Let out your belt as you sample the culinary delights that are sure to be there:chocolate covered strawberries, popcorn, hotdogs, sodas, chips, bbq, baked goods, and much, much more.Visit exciting ports of calls and purchase souvenirs.Be a part of the touching Luminaria Ceremony as we honor all our cancer survivors and remember all of those we have lost to cancer.All of this fun can be yours for a few dollars, if you join us as we go “Cruisin’ For A Cure!”

It’s not too late to register a team, register as a survivor, or to make a donation.Go to www.relayforlife.org/fayettecountyga to find out more information.You can also call Jennifer, our Senior Community Manager, at the local American Cancer Society office at 301 Kelly Drive, Suite 3, Peachtree City, GA 30269, at 770-632-6932.If you have any questions about the American Cancer Society, please go to their website at www.cancer.org or call the 24 hour telephone line at 1-800-227-2345.

A Healthy Heart is a Happy Heart

woman relaxing

February is American Heart Month. Do yourself a favor and incorporate these simplified ways of doing everyday tasks to save energy for active recreational activities that keep your heart healthy.

UTILIZE BODY MECHANICS. One of the easiest ways to save energy is to use your body correctly. This means distributing work over several sets of muscles and using the stronger ones whenever possible. By doing this, you are bound to have fewer accidents and less energy will be consumed, leaving you feeling “fresher” at the end of each day.

PACE YOURSELF. Find a rhythmic, relaxed way of doing things and you may accomplish more than you thought you could. Also, don’t procrastinate. Allowing enough time to do complete tasks means you won’t be rushing to the finish line at the last minute. Pace yourself, walk slowly with good breathing control and you’ll notice a definite decrease in stress levels as well. Stress management is a key component to heart health.

BE AT PEACE. Control of mind can be more difficult to achieve than control of the body but it is well worth the effort. Train yourself to accept things you cannot change and you will have more energy to change the things you can control.

SIMPLIFY WORK. Plan ahead as much as possible to minimize stress. Balance your work week by spreading out the heavy tasks and adding some of the lighter tasks in between. Make a schedule daily and allow for short rest periods between activities throughout the day to reset your mind. Organize the equipment at your work station and throw away things you do not use.

When tackling individual tasks, break down the operation into steps and figure out the most efficient way of accomplishing the task. Do them in the same way each time as repetition will make you more proficient and save time and energy. When you work more efficiently, you reduce the strain on your heart and cardiovascular system. Plus, you’ll minimize fatigue, shortness of breath and back pain, prevent injury and increase you energy level.

BREATHE EASY Slow, deep breathing is relaxing and helps slow and smooth out boy motion. Avoid taking short, jerky breaths or holding the breath when using the arms or when in a hurry. Slow deep breathing uses more of your lungs and gets more oxygen into your blood.

Once you master these tips, use that extra energy at the end of the day to engage in heart healthy activities like walking instead of watching TV.

 

Lisa Chaphe is an occupational therapist at Piedmont Fayette Hospital with 24 years of experience. She has lived in Fayette County for 11 years with her husband and two children, who are now in high school.

 

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Spinning: 5 Expert Tips for Newbies

spinning

If you’ve ever contemplated taking a Spinning class but were too scared to try, you aren’t alone. Many newcomers are intimidated by the loud music, the instructor’s barking orders and the unfamiliar terms. Part of getting fit, however, is leaving your comfort zone and trying something new. Once you have the basics down though, an indoor-cycling session can be one of the most beneficial cardiovascular exercises that delivers tons of dopamine for that post-workout bliss so many of us crave.

To help you prep for your first class, Digifit’s resident Spinning instructor Giovanni Massi breaks down the basics.

Seek recommendations
Each indoor cycling instructor has a different teaching style and music choice, which can make or break your Spinning® experience. I always say that group fitness instructors are like restaurants: the food may be great, but if it doesn’t tickle your taste buds you won’t go back! That’s why it’s important to find one whose coaching technique keeps you motivated and playlist inspires you. For help picking your first cycling class, ask friends, fellow gym goers and staff members which instructors they like and why. Otherwise, peek in on a class that’s already in session to get a sense of the overall vibe. After your first session, test out various classes to figure out whose instruction keeps you moving.

Know what to bring to class
One of the most important items to bring with you is water. Indoor cycling classes are typically held in small rooms where there’s less air flow which is needed to help your body cool down. Drinking plenty of water throughout class will stabilize your core temperature and pump blood to muscles. A towel to wipe sweat from your face, a pair of padded shorts and sweat-wicking clothing will keep you comfortable throughout the session. Heart-rate monitors are also recommended to ensure you reach optimal performance and stay within safe heart-rate zones. Digifit’s iCardio App not only measures your heart rate, but also tracks other keep fitness data like caloric burn.

Arrive to class early
Getting to class early gives you a chance to speak with the instructor who can make you feel at ease about your first session. The instructor will help you set up the bike properly, explain safety measures and proper form, plus provide an overview of how the class will flow. He or she may also watch you a little more closely during class and give you special instructions to help perfect your form.

Ride at your own pace
One of my favorite things about indoor cycling is that it is each person’s own ride. Unlike other group fitness classes, it isn’t obvious if you can’t keep up or if you miss a step. Though instructors guide speed, cadence and heart rate, the individual controls the overall level of intensity–so you can make the ride as easy or as hard as you want.

Don’t give up
Indoor cycling can be hard work especially for first timers. Many newbies become fatigued early on in the session and may consider quitting in the middle of class because they feel it’s too hard to finish. If this happens to you, don’t give up. Slow down your heart rate by lowering your pedal speed, removing any weight off the wheel, breathing deeply and drinking plenty of H2O. This will give you a chance to recover and give you energy needed to finish the class. Don’t be hard on yourself though, it’s natural to feel this way during the first session. Stay committed to finish and know that with each class you will continue building endurance and cardiovascular strength.

Giovanni Massi is a certified Spnning® instructor with over 22 years of experience. Feel free to use Giovanni’s beginner Spinning® tips with your audience with proper attribution. Giovanni is also available to comment on any Spinning or indoor cycling story you may be working on and is available for phone, in-studio, Skype or Satellite interviews. Please call Andrea at (914) 715-6612 to schedule an expert interview. Follow Giovanni on Twitter: GioFitness

Tips for Frugal Family Ski Vacations

snowboard family

My husband and I are avid snowboarders. We met on the hills and never wanted to stop snowboarding. Then came the kids. Since daycare on the slopes can cost upwards of $95, it was almost impossible to get to the mountains without dipping into our rainy day fund.

Though our kids are old enough now to join us on the slopes, it still makes for a costly adventure. My love for the sport drives me to save as much as I can when we hit the mountain. Hopefully the following tips for saving on lift tickets, equipment and extras will help you enjoy some good powder without freezing your bank account.

LIFT TICKETS

Think Small
If you’re kids are still a little wobbly on the mountain, consider a smaller, family-friendly resort like Eldora in Boulder, Colo.; Ski Cooper in Leadville, Colo.; or Snowy Range in Centennial, Wyo. These smaller resorts don’t have a fancy lodge or expansive runs, but you can’t beat the price of a lift ticket which ranges from $35 to $45. Hold off on going to the more expensive resorts until your kids are older and can ski or ride the entire mountain.

Score Ski Passports
5th and 6th graders can ski or snowboard for free at select destinations. The number of days and date restrictions will vary by resort, but planning your trip accordingly will save you a boatload. Check out 380 Ski Areas Where Kids Ski Free on Mr. Free Stuff for more information.

Buy at a Bulk Store or Grocery Store
If you’re planning a weeklong trip or are just an avid skier, look at places like Costco or Sam’s Club for discounted, multi-day passes. You can also save a few bucks by purchasing lift tickets from Safeway or King Soopers, though they may not sell tickets to every resort.

Ski Midweek or After Noon
If your kids are just learning or this is your first time bringing the whole family to the mountain, half-day skiing is your best bet. You can save up to $40 when purchasing a half-day ticket, plus you’ll get more bang for your buck since your kiddos won’t be up for a full day on the mountain. You can also check your local resort’s website for off-peak discounts on midweek passes.

EQUIPMENT

Save on Cold-Weather Gear
The best time to buy cold-weather gear is at the end of the season, but that advice doesn’t do you much good right now! In addition to scouting stores for deals, browse the web for other great discounts. For example, PromoCodes.us has a deal for 20-percent off your order from Sierra Trading Post.

Don’t Buy; Rent
Kids grow out of boots and skis in size as well as ability. For those who to ski consistently during the winter, consider renting for the season which is cheaper than renting for the day. Otherwise, rent from a ski shop a few miles away from the resort; you will likely find better prices, more size options and less lines.

ESSENTIAL EXTRAS

Pack Lunch and Snacks
Resort food can send a family of four way over budget. Pack a lunch and stash it in a locker to avoid paying $12 for a personal pizza. Bring a few snacks to the slopes to fend off your kids’ hunger until lunchtime. All mountain lodges offer free water so hydrate this way instead of shelling out cash on bottled water.

Keep Your Smartphone Handy
Your smartphone can come in quite handy on and off the mountain. Free apps like SnoCru show current snow conditions so you know how to dress yourself and your little ones for a day on the slopes. Heading out to the mountains, the CheapGas app directs you to the least expensive gas station on my route. And Foursquare offers discounts and freebies when you “check in” to restaurants.

Look for Package Hotel Deals
Ski season has been slow over the last couple of years due to economy and poor snow conditions. That means hotels in ski destinations are eager for your business and often roll out package deals offering hotel, breakfast and ski passes. Some hotels may also include complimentary daycare for the little tots who don’t venture onto the slopes.

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Maisie Knowles is a working mother of two with three-year’s experience writing on parenting and partner issues. She co-founded Kinoli Inc. with her husband in 2005 and currently spends most of her time at home with her two young girls. For more information, visit MaisieKnowles.com.

Patricia Dablah, Kareen Underwood lead with Zumba

Photos by Marie Thomas

Photos by Marie Thomas

Muy caliente! Zumba instructors Kareen Underwood and Patricia Dablah are heating up the dance floors at gyms across Fayette County, helping both women and men melt away the pounds while having fun. Spend any time around them and you’ll see — their energy is contagious.

At first glance, Kareen Underwood seems to have it all: a career in education (she teaches at Brooks Elementary School), a second career as a highly successful fitness instructor, and a loving husband and talented son. But it wasn’t always that way for her.

Kareen’s story begins in San Jose, Calif. Growing up, Kareen loved to perform and attended Lincoln Center Performing Arts School, where she specialized in dance and voice. Her home life, however, was troubled. Her mother, a full-blooded Sicilian, was absent for long periods of time, and her Mexican father was often at odds with the law. He went to prison when Kareen was in the tenth grade, leaving her homeless and without anyone to look after her. She dropped out of school and moved from place to place, even sleeping in a bus station for several nights. Kareen admits she could have easily gone down the wrong path, but she knew she wanted something different for herself. “I believe that we do not have to be products of our circumstances or our environments,” she says. “God has given us free will and the power to choose.”

Kareen and husband Woody on vacation in Florida

Ever resourceful, Kareen found a friend who took her in. The friend lived with her sister, a single mother caring for several children in a cramped one bedroom apartment. “There were eight of us living in that tiny apartment! I slept on the couch. That’s how tight the Mexican community was,” Kareen explains. “We took care of each other.”

Kareen knew the arrangement wouldn’t be permanent, so she enrolled in cosmetology school and worked evenings to save up enough money for her own place. She finished cosmetology school by the time she was seventeen and was able to support herself on her own for the first time. Kareen worked as a hair dresser for several years, but deep down she knew she wanted something else.

After her father was released from prison, she moved to Tacoma, Wash. with him and continued to work as a cosmetologist. She also began taking courses at a local community college where she was able to obtain her GED. More than anything else, Kareen wanted to go to college, though she realized that paying tuition would be difficult on her salary. She found the solution to her dilemma in the United States Air Force.

Kareen served six years active duty in the Air Force during Desert Storm at Hahn Air Base in Germany. She distinguished herself, and was eventually awarded an Accomodation Medal, an Achievement Medal and a National Defense Medal. She was also able to put her love of music and dance to good use while in the military, beginning when she entered a talent show at her base and won first place in the vocalist category. She went on to audition for the USAFE (United States Air Force in Europe) Showcase and landed a spot, which enabled her to tour Europe with the performing group and visit bases in Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Turkey. “It was amazing,” she says of the experience. “I got to see Europe doing what I love most — dancing and singing.”

Kareen with her husband Woody and son Josh

Kareen’s son Joshua was born in Germany in 1990, and shortly thereafter she returned to the United States with baby in tow by way of Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C. Although she was no longer in a relationship with Joshua’s father, she followed him to Dayton Beach, Fla. and finally did what she had always wanted to do: attend college. She went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Central Florida.

Kareen eventually married Robert (“Woody”) Underwood, an aircraft mechanic and fellow martial arts enthusiast, and the family moved to Georgia in 2000. She was first introduced to the dance/fitness movement by way of “Groove” — a pre-cursor to Zumba — at World Gym in Fayetteville, becoming a certified Groove instructor in 2006. She also taught Kick and Step classes.

Zumba was just a natural progression for Kareen, as it was for friend Patricia Dablah, whom she met at World Gym in Peachtree City. “Patricia is from Guadalajara, like my father,” Kareen says. “Dancing is in her blood.”

But Patricia seemed the most unlikely of dancers at birth. She was born with a congenital deformity, club foot, which required multiple surgeries in her childhood. Her father, an oilman, moved the family to Ciudad del Carmen, an island in Campeche, where she learned to dance with friends, something her mother discouraged. “I don’t know if she was afraid I’d hurt my feet or if she thought I might be embarrassed,” Patricia says, but she continued to dance anyway. Her love of music and dance couldn‘t be subdued.

Patricia with her father Jose Mora and her brother Eduardo Mora in Guadalajara, Mexico.

When Patricia was a teenager, her parents divorced, and she moved back to Guadalajara with her mother. The following year, when she was just 16 years of age, her mother died. Patricia remained in Guadalajara and finished high school on scholarship, but she knew she had to further develop her skills to be able to enter the workforce and support herself. Hoping to give herself an edge in the job market, Patricia enrolled in English and computer classes.

As John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Patricia was nineteen when she met and fell in love with an American studying medicine in Guadalajara. They married a year later and she followed him back to America in 1998. The couple spent time in Minnesota, where son Alexander was born in 2000, and New York, where daughter Victoria was born in 2002.

After another move to Washington state, Patricia, a stay-at-home mother, saw an advertisement for Zumba on the Latin channel. She ordered the Zumba DVDs and loved it. “I did Zumba in front of the TV!” she says. “It was so much fun to do and I loved the music!”

Soon Patricia was attending Zumba classes at the local YMCA, where she began to drop some of the weight from her two pregnancies. However, when she and her family moved to the Atlanta area in 2007, she had a hard time finding a gym that offered Zumba. “I couldn’t believe it — there was no Zumba here yet!” she recalls.

Patricia with her children Alexander and Victoria

World Gym in Peachtree City was the first in the area to add Zumba to their offering fitness classes. The classes were taught by Arlene Perez, who recognized Patricia’s talent and encouraged her to pursue certification. Patricia put it off, lacking confidence at the time, but then her world was knocked off-kilter when her grandmother died. Suddenly she found herself thinking more about what she wanted out of life. “I had been a homemaker for several years and I realized that I needed to do something for myself,” she explains.

She began by earning her GED after taking prep classes through Fayette County Parks and Recreation. She also studied at home and became a U.S. citizen. Bolstered by her achievements, Patricia finally worked up the nerve to attend classes for Zumba certification in Athens, but it took her nearly ten months to find the courage to actually teach a class. Her new friend from World Gym, Kareen Underwood, helped her along the way. “I remember telling her to look up,” says Kareen, “Project yourself — smile!”

Patricia’s first job teaching Zumba was at Ultimate Fitness in Peachtree City. As with most new Zumba instructors, Patricia’s classes started off small. “Once I taught a class to five people,” she remembers.

After two or three months of people peeking into the aerobics room to find out what all the noise was about, though, she had more than thirty people attending her classes. The gym was forced to start a sign-up sheet for Patricia’s classes because people were packing themselves into the aerobics room like sardines with no room to move. “I was up against the mirror!” Patricia says. “But I love teaching a big class. The energy is so amazing!”

Now Kareen and Patricia attend Zumba conferences together in Orlando every year. Both ladies have also participated in Zumba fundraisers. Kareen, who sees her work as a ministry, has organized and participated in fundraisers for organizations such as the National Breast Cancer Foundation and American Heart Association. She has also helped local organizations, including the Breast Cancer Survivors Network, based in Peachtree City, and Loving Me Phenomenally, a local organization that helps African-American teenage girls by working to prevent pregnancy, date rape and violence.

“The thing that makes Kareen and Patricia so special is that they are able to connect with their students,” says Art Sivertsen, Program Coordinator with Peachtree City Recreation and Special Events, who has worked with both ladies. “And both have what I like to call Zumba ‘swag’ — they are the best in the business.”

Today, Kareen, who earned a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, is in her seventh year of teaching. She’s come a long way from the teenage girl sleeping in a bus station. In 2011, she and Woody established Fitness Caliente, a physical training service, with the goal of helping others improve their quality of life and overall wellness through a personalized fitness program, weight loss, and proper nutrition.

Of course, Zumba is Kareen’s passion. “There are no barriers in Zumba. Everyone can do it and it makes people feel good,” says Kareen. She teaches Zumba six days a week, between Fayette County Parks and Recreation and World Gym in Peachtree City.

Patricia continues to focus on raising her two children, but balances it with a life of her own, thanks in part to Zumba. She currently teaches two nights a week at Glenloch Recreation Center and has recently picked up some classes at World Gym in Peachtree City. “You can transform your life if you really take the opportunities that you get,” she says. “I became a Zumba Instructor after being a homemaker for 12 years, and I met so many wonderful people and share this passion of mine — music, dancing and working out, all at the same time. It is in you to make those positive changes and have a better life.”

Kareen Underwood and Patricia Dablah remind us that we are not just victims of our circumstances. These two ambitious, hard-working, and tenacious Fayette women overcame adversity and defied the odds — and that is inspiration for us all.

 

 

Reap the Health Benefits of Gardening

gardener

Do you view gardening as “yard work” and see it as a chore? If so, you need to change your perspective. Numerous scientific studies emphasize the amazing health benefits associated with gardening. Gardening positively affects the body, mind, soul and spirit. Instead of looking for a wonder drug, why not try this wonder activity?

Gardeners are Healthier

In a nation of rising obesity rates, most people are looking for ways to get moving, lose weight and maintain their health. The National Institutes of Health lists gardening for 30-45 minutes as a recommended moderate-level activity, similar to biking or walking for 30 minutes. Gardening just 30 minutes a day can help you shed pounds, strengthen muscles and joints, increase flexibility, decrease blood pressure and cholesterol, slow the onset of osteoporosis, lower your risk for diabetes, increase your intake of vitamin D through sunshine and help you sleep better.

While working in the garden, you exercise all the major muscle groups and improve flexibility through stretching. Tasks like pushing a lawn mower, turning a compost pile, carrying a bucket of water, digging a hole or raking leaves provide strength training and build strong muscles. You burn an average of 300 calories per hour doing general gardening tasks.

Gardeners who grow their own food tend to eat healthier. They appreciate the exquisite taste and nutritional benefits of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, and the whole family can reap the health benefits. Children who are picky eaters and hate all vegetables have been known to enjoy those they grow themselves in the garden.

Nature has a powerful affect on our ability to heal. Research published in Science magazine by Roger S. Ulrich found that hospital patients recovering from surgery had much shorter hospital stays, took less pain medication and had fewer complaints when they had a view outside of trees. Other studies indicate that people heal more quickly when they spend time in a garden.

Horticulture therapy is a growing field of medicine that emphasizes the healing power of nature. Working in a garden in a hospital setting helps patients retrain muscles and regain coordination. Patients with psychiatric disorders are able to deal more successfully with their conditions. Gardening helps calm the acute anxiety and agitation associated with dementia and encourages better sleep.

Gardeners are Happier

Most gardeners view their gardens as places of sanctuary where they can relax, recharge and recover. When you are in the garden, your senses come alive; you focus on nature’s beauty and the simple tasks at hand and live in the moment. Soon the worries of the day are forgotten, at least for a little while. Many cancer patients enjoy gardening for the mental and emotional respite it provides. It becomes a place of peace. Some gardeners feel they are most in touch with God in the garden.

Gardeners score much higher than the average person in their “zest for life” and overall optimism. Gardeners are usually hopeful about the future and can get almost giddy with excitement in anticipation of spring. Gardening teaches planning, patience (plants don’t grow overnight) and being at peace with imperfection (a garden is never perfect). Gardeners have a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in seeing their landscapes thrive and their personalities reflected in their outside space.

Gardening is a way to connect with lots of different people and encourage lasting friendships. Once you know someone likes to garden, a common bond is established and the conversation will never lag; from talks about the weather to the latest bloom on the market, gardeners can happily discuss horticulture topics for hours on end.

Get Started Gardening and Reap the Health Benefits

You don’t have to be a master gardener to enjoy the health benefits of gardening. Start small. Pot up a few containers with herbs to season your recipes. Get some fresh air and exercise by raking up your fall leaves the old-fashioned way instead of using the leaf blower. Join a garden club and make some new friends. Plant a tree. Teach a child to love the outdoors. Take some time to linger and enjoy the day. Your body, mind, soul and spirit will be refreshed and healthier.

 

 

 

 

Have Fun Working Out!

exercising

Physical activity is essential to a balanced lifestyle, but it can be difficult to gather the motivation to actually do it.  Many people look at exercising as a chore, but it’s important to start viewing it as an accomplishment and something that makes you feel better.  TOPS Club, Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization, offers tips to make your workout routine more enjoyable.

• Find a partner. Exercising with a friend can make a workout more enjoyable, help you push yourself, and hold you accountable.  You can challenge each other, encourage one another on those days you don’t feel like exercising, and share new techniques.  Working out with another person can also make it seem more like social time than work.

• Increase time and intensity gradually. If you take on too much during your workouts, you may become burned out, lose motivation, or start to dislike exercising.  Listen to your body and decide how long or hard you’ll workout depending on how you feel.

• Vary your activities. Exercise sessions can seem tedious when you’re repeating the same workout at the same place every day, so mix up your routine.  Run on the treadmill.  Take a Zumba class.  Walk around a park.  Play a sport.  If you’re a runner or bike rider, change up your routes.  There are endless physical activity options and ways to spice up your workouts.  Try to pick activities that fit your interests, and understand your preferences so you know where you like to exercise, if you like to do it alone or with another person, and other options.

• Reward yourself. Give yourself something to look forward to after your workout – a movie night, new accessory, or other small, inexpensive treat.

• Join a club. Take part in a boot camp or fitness class to stay motivated and learn new exercises.

• Celebrate the small “victories.” Weight loss can be a slow process, and individuals often get frustrated – so celebrate the smaller feats!  Perhaps you did more push-ups, walked further, or exercised after work instead of watching television.  This will help you stay on track and see the progress you’ve made.

• Set a realistic goal each session. Decide what you’d like to accomplish for each workout and stick to it.  Do you want to reduce your mile time by one minute?  Or would you like to do 10 more crunches?  Smaller goals give you something to strive for during your workout, and it’s often easier to focus on them than your overall objective.  Make sure it’s something that will challenge you but isn’t impractical.

• Listen to music. Make a workout playlist on your MP3 device to help get your mind off of the task and give you a soundtrack to your activity.  It can also give you a boost.  According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), people who increase the beat frequency of music during a workout tend to go faster or work harder.

• Stay hydrated. Avoid dehydration and drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.  Bring a water bottle with you to help your performance and replenish the fluids you lose through sweating.

• Dress properly. It’s important to be comfortable when you’re exercising.  Make sure to choose appropriate attire for the activity and the weather, select sweat-wicking materials, use sturdy shoes, and wear protective gear, if needed.  Treating yourself to some new, attractive workout clothes can also boost your enthusiasm for exercising.

 

TOPS Club Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) is the original weight-loss support and wellness education organization. Founded more than 64 years ago, TOPS is the only nonprofit, noncommercial weight-loss organization of its kind. TOPS promotes successful weight management with a “Real People. Real Weight Loss.SM” philosophy that combines support from others at weekly chapter meetings, healthy eating, regular exercise, and wellness information. TOPS has about 170,000 members – male and female, age seven and older – in nearly 10,000 chapters throughout the United States and Canada.

Visitors are welcome to attend their first TOPS meeting free of charge. Membership is affordable at just $28 per year in the U.S. and $32 per year in Canada, plus nominal chapter fees. To find a local chapter, view www.tops.org or call (800) 932-8677.

Simple Changes Can Boost Your Health

emotional energy shutterstock

(StatePoint) Feeling a little off? Regardless of your age or fitness level, there are steps you can take every day to feel and perform your best.

“Many Americans ignore their pain and fatigue,” says Dr. Keith Overland, president of the American Chiropractic Association (ACA). “But just like world-class athletes who constantly search for ways to optimize their game, we can do better. Start with simple changes that promote greater health and wellness. You’ll feel better now and avoid bigger problems down the line.”

In honor of National Chiropractic Health Month, observed in October, ACA encourages Americans to “Find Your Game” by taking simple steps to promote optimal functioning:

• Get moving: Americans are more sedentary today than in the past. Lack of exercise can atrophy muscles and contribute to obesity, arthritis and other problems. You don’t have to train like an Olympian, just aim for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes of exercise three to four days a week.

• Stretch daily: Improving flexibility is crucial to avoiding injury. Make a habit of stretching your major muscle groups each morning.

• Don’t work through pain: The earlier an injury is treated, the sooner healing can begin. Masking injuries with painkillers to get back into action before you’re healed could worsen your original injury and lead to a chronic condition. Treat the cause of pain, not the symptom. Chiropractic physicians can treat many injuries and enable healing to occur—without drugs or surgery.

• Outfit your feet: Think function when shopping for shoes used for exercise and walking long distances. The wrong shoes or worn-out shoes can cause pain throughout the body. A doctor of chiropractic can help you determine your arch type, match it to your gait and advise you on the best footwear.

• Eat right:  Even a few simple changes in diet can have a positive impact on your health. Limit red meat and excessive quantities of sugar and salt. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. Consider consulting a health care professional to determine what supplements are right for you.

• Recharge: If you feel fatigued often, get more sleep. Instead of revitalizing with soft drinks or coffee, try a glass of pomegranate juice and a brisk walk. Have your B12 and iron levels checked at least once a year for deficiencies. Lean meats, nuts, legumes and green leafy vegetables can help put some pep in your step.

• Get the right stuff: From baby slings to telephones, small consumer choices can have a big impact on your well-being. Shop for products designed with the comfort of your neck and back in mind. If your job is causing you pain, talk to your employer about replacing your equipment with ergonomic models.

For more health tips, or to find a chiropractic physician near you, visit www.ChiroHealthy.com.

There’s no need to live on life’s sidelines. With a few key changes, you can feel and perform your best.

Top 10 Tech Tips for a Healthier Heart

health apps

(Family Features) The message that a healthy lifestyle helps protect your heart isn’t new. If you’d like to do more to take care of your heart, here are 10 ways technology can make that easier.

1. Stop Smoking.

Apps such as Smoke Reducer for Android, and iQuit for iPhone can help you wean off tobacco. You can also use the Firefox add-on Quitomzilla, which shows you how much money you save by not smoking, the number of cigarettes not smoked, and the overall time since your last smoke.

2. Stay Within a Healthy Weight Range.

Make it easier to monitor your weight-loss progress with the iHealth Wireless Scale. You can track your weight over time, and see results in relation to daily activity, time of day, diet, exercise, and more. The scale lets you set a milestone and share your results with doctors, fitness buddies and family. The free companion iHealth Scale app works with iPod touch, iPhone and iPad. Learn more at www.ihealth99.com.

3. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine.

Keep track of how much you’re drinking with the DrinkControl or Alcohol Monitor apps for iPhone, or the SoberApp for Android. They estimate your blood alcohol content and let you know whether or not you should drive. To monitor your caffeine intake, try the Caffeine Zone 2 for iPhone and iPad, or the Caffeine Monitor app for Android.

4. Take Care of Your Teeth.

Research suggests that there may be a link between periodontal disease and heart disease. Go online and check the American Dental Association’s database at www.ADA.org to find oral health care products that have the ADA seal of approval. At the ADA website, you can also watch videos on a variety of oral health care topics.

5. Keep Tabs on Your Blood Pressure.

The Mayo Clinic recommends you monitor your blood pressure at home and visit your doctor regularly. With the iHealth Blood Pressure Dock, (www.ihealth99.com), you can accurately measure your blood pressure, track your readings over time, and share that information with healthcare providers, friends and family members. The Dock comes with a blood pressure arm cuff and doubles as a charging station for your iPod touch, iPhone and iPad. The companion iHealth app is available for free.

6. Reduce Stress.

Try a portable biofeedback device, like the StressEraser, to help you relax by synchronizing your breathing and your heart rate. If having too much on your plate and too many interruptions causes you stress, try Quiet Hours. It lets you shut down your computer’s communication apps, like instant messaging, for a specified period of time.

7. Exercise Regularly.

The Online Activity Tracker from the American Heart Health Association lets you create a personalized walking plan, log time or distance traveled, plot and save walking routes, and more. Check it out at www.startwalkingnow.org. You can also use the AHA Walking Paths app for Android and iPhone.

8. Eat Right.

Tracking the foods you consume helps you better understand your caloric and nutritional intake. The Lose It! app for the iPhone allows you to enter and track your meals and snacks, and keep track of your weight loss progress and goals via the app, as well as access your account online. Visit www.loseit.com for more information. Offering many of the same capabilities, Android phone users can use the Diet Assistant app at www.dietassistantapp.com.

9. Make Sleep a Priority.

Not getting enough sleep can raise your blood pressure and make it more likely you’ll have a stroke or heart attack. Learn more about your sleep patterns with a sleep monitor. You can try a headband monitor, such as the Zeo, (www.myzeo.com), or an armband monitor such as the SleepTracker, (www.sleeptracker.com). Each keeps track of your sleep cycle and helps you wake up at the optimal time.

10. Know Your Family History.

Knowing your family’s medical history can help you identify patterns that might be relevant to your own heart health. There are a number of online tools such as My Family Health Portrait at https://FamilyHistory.hhs.gov to help you gather and store that information.

 

Tips for Conquering Childhood Obesity

kids exercise shutterstock_63699619

Today, health professionals encourage parents of even very young children to actively confront the childhood obesity epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention find that obesity rates for children ages 2 to 5 have more than doubled over the past 30 years, and The White House Task Force on Obesity reports that more than half of obese children became obese by their second birthday.

“With the obesity epidemic looming large, it’s absolutely crucial for parents to instill healthy habits right from the start,” says Dr. Laura Jana, pediatrician and award-winning parenting author. “While this may seem like a tremendous responsibility for those still adjusting to diapers, play dates and the many other demands of new parenthood, it’s not hard to help children grow up healthy by committing to some simple yet important lifestyle changes.”

Jana recommends some tips:

Downsize your plate, upsize the veggies.

An easy way to cut down on unhealthy eating is to use a smaller plate. Portion sizes are now two to five times larger than in years past, and studies have shown that the bigger the serving dish, the bigger the serving is likely to be. “The more we heap on our children’s plates, the more likely we are to unintentionally encourage them to overeat. Avoiding large plates can help you avoid serving supersized meals,” Jana says.

What belongs on that healthier-sized plate? The USDA MyPlate program recommends making half your plate fruits and vegetables and the other half protein and grains. Other important recommendations include serving fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk to children older than 2, choosing lower-sodium foods and skipping sugary drinks. This simple, fresh-plated picture-of-nutritional-health program even comes with online tools to create a customized food plan for your little one.

Swap screen time for playtime.

Young children thrive and learn best through interacting with others and playing with real objects in their environment. While watching TV may be fun and entertaining, or even appear to be educational, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports it does not support learning for children younger than 2. In fact, evidence suggests that screen time may interfere with young children’s healthy development and encourage sedentary behaviors and poor sleep – both are habits implicated in the obesity epidemic.

Dr. Mary Zurn, vice president of education for Primrose Schools, recommends independent play as an alternative to TV. “The early years are critical to a child’s development, so it’s important to ensure that children have opportunities to explore their surroundings and find out what they can make happen,” Zurn says.

Singing songs, drawing, playing with puzzles and stacking blocks are fun, “unplugged” activities children can do on their own that also support their creative, problem-solving and reasoning skills.

 

Get moving.

Pediatricians recommend children ages 1 to 3 get 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity every day, while preschoolers need 90 to 120 minutes. Regular exercise helps children grow to a healthy weight, build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints, and strengthen their hearts.

There are many fun ways to add physical activity to your family’s daily routine: turn a casual stroll into a scavenger hunt, play tag, race through the sprinklers or simply get up and dance. “I love getting children to dance because it not only gives them a healthy dose of exercise, it also supports their creative development and self-expression and, as a bonus, enhances positive family time,” says Jana.