Whether you’re banging on percussion, chanting ohms or listening to a recording, music is a strong tool that can alter mood and mindset. Media often use it in this fashion; for example eerie music is often played when something is bad is happening.  On the other hand, a bright, sunny scene often opens with an upbeat tune that automatically makes you happy – you might even smile! link to smile post It’s a motivational tool you can even use to improve your exercise intensity.

Use music to relax and alleviate stress by listening to music that you enjoy, or simply by having fun making your own music (even if you’re bad at it). I’m tone deaf but love singing karaoke from Youtube link: for stress relief. Of course, I refrain from singing at the top of my lungs at work and generally close the windows at home to spare my neighbors. Even though I’m bad I have a lot of fun, and it definitely takes my mind off of everything else!

Music therapy is increasingly used in hospitals around the world to reduce anxiety and boost people’s spirits because so many people attest to its power. It’s been shown to reduce depression in patients that listen to music over an extended period of time, and reduce a mother’s anxiety prior to a cesarean section. [1] [2] Listening to soothing music while going to bed can even help insomniacs fall asleep![3] Also, listening to music is the third most-cited way for med school students to de-stress. [4] Even recreational lap swimmers that rated no increase in their enjoyment of swimming with music in the pool swam faster when it was played.[5]

Due to the ubiquity with which music is used to help people, it should be clear that you’ll benefit from its effects. So find a tune you enjoy, or make a new one of your own, and rock on!



I used to be amused when my relatives would come visit from Europe and make fun of American food. They have an expression that doesn’t translate particularly well but in essence means that everything in America is made from corn. Sadly, it’s true; corn is in everything from fireworks to printing inks. It’s in more than 90% of the products sold by most supermarkets.

My relatives also look at all of the ingredients on food labels.  I thought it was the weirdest habit. It’s a habit I’ve taken up now that I understand how much food manufacturers overuse corn, as well as other ingredients.

Corny ingredients

Many of us recognize the main corn product used as sweetener, which is high fructose corn syrup. But many other ingredients derived from it do not have corn in the name. Corn products include: cornstarch, modified starches, dextrins, cyclodextrins, maltodextryns, glucose (also called dextrose), crystalline fructose, corn oil, corn gluten feed, corn gluten meal, germ meal (sometimes just called germ), steapwater, ethanol, organic acids, amino acids, polyols and xantham gum.

Even hominy and grits are just processed corn!

A grain of corn


As the diagram shows, a grain of corn has a small amount of fiber on the outside that covers the mostly starchy and glutenous inside. However, many of the corn derivatives used in processed foods have stripped the hull and fiber off of the corn.  This fiber is the only part of corn that is actually useful to our digestive health! And most of us eat too many starches because they are the primary inputs for processed foods.  Not to mention that many of the animals we eat were primarily fed corn. Even cows benefit from a high fiber, low starch diet. [1]

Because diversity is key to satiation and nutritional balance, we should strive to avoid these proliferous corn ingredients. And because corn is in most processed foods, the more single-ingredient foods we choose to eat the better.


Debunking Myths About Running


Many people choose running as a primary exercise because they think it’s something easy and free. Not only do they spend a lot of time hurting themselves with improper form but they also tend to only run, foregoing other types of workouts. This is a problem because it only works a few muscles in a limited direction, and these are the same muscles that we use anyway whenever we walk!

Myth #1: Running is easy

Proper running form does not come naturally.

In fact, the incidence of running-related injury is high. This is regardless of how quickly you ramp up running intensity, according to a recent study a graded training program for novice runners that was centered on reducing the risks of injury failed to prevent injuries. About 20.8% of runners that were in a graded training program got injured, compared to 20.3% of runners that got standard training. The study disproved the most frequent advice given to novice runners, which is to increase running intensity (duration and speed) by no more than 10.0% at a time.[1] [2]

Despite countless studies, sports scientists are still unsure what training errors are most likely to lead to which running injuries because sports are so complex.[3] Lastly, maintaining proper running form is hard for many of us because we’ve been running in bad form for our entire lives.

Here’s a video that goes over proper running form in a simplified but step-by-step manner

Myth #2: Running is free

The majority of Americans run on a treadmill, for which they either have to buy a gym membership or the treadmill itself. To complicate the issue, people don’t generally realize how important it is to have proper running shoes. This has to do with the high-impact of running that can easily lead to injury. For example, I did not go to a running-specific store to get my walk judged and appropriate shoe recommendations until after I had developed a case of runners knee, which still bothers me two years later. The time commitment of going into a running-dedicated store is worth the investment to get customized advice because everybody’s feet are unique so you can’t just pick out the same running shoes as your buddy.[4] Also, sneakers should be changed more often than I had ever imagined, it depends on the brand so make sure to do your research! Good running shoes easily run $60, which still may be cheap compared to other exercise equipment but running is definitely not free.

An elliptical machine can be the solution to doing workout similar to running, but much lower impact. Also, there are many introductory offers for fitness classes, whether they are sport-specific, bootcamps or gyms, where you can learn new moves. Either way, if you just run or do cardio workouts exclusively, you end up hampering your potential health and strength wise.  Consider new kinds of workouts, like weight lifting, to reduce injury risk and amplify the effectiveness of the time you spend on fitness.

Dynamic Stretching

Arm circles
Dynamic stretching involves movement and action, as opposed to static stretching where you hold a specific pose. I generally do both types of stretches to warm-up and especially attend to the muscles that I plan to focus on during my workout. For example, prior to doing a routine that focuses on legs, I would do lunges (dynamic) as well as quad (static) stretches. Movement not only warms up and increases the flexibility of your muscles but also causes your heart rate to slowly rise, as opposed to a sudden jump if you go from static stretches to cardio.

If you’re planning on doing more of a cardio workout then the key is to slowly get your blood pumping. It’s best to do this while stretching out all of your major muscle groups and focusing on any smaller muscles that you find sensitive. For example, I’ll start a yoga routine with several sun salutations, during which I’ll hold plank before flowing through the rest of the vinyasa, and also bend one knee at a time in downward dog to stretch the opposite calf. The motions of the vinyasa are considered dynamic stretching, while holding plank or a calf stretch are static.

There’s also a third type of stretching – ballistic stretching, where you bounce around a bit in order to loosen up your muscles.  While doing this type of stretch, I always think of swimmers jumping around to loosen up their shoulders prior to a race. There are many contradictive sources when it comes to this kind of warm-up.  On one hand, ballistic stretches can increase your range of motion and promote greater flexibility than static or dynamic stretches alone. On the other hand, jerky, bouncy movements can severely injure you, especially if you’re not completely relaxed while doing them. I like to include ballistic stretches in the middle of a routine if I’m about to switch over to focus on a new muscle group. To each their own!

Some form of warming up is critical to getting your body ready for a work out. This is especially true if you just woke up or were sitting still all day because it reduces your risk of injury; cold, inflexible muscles make you more injury prone. Similarly, your body benefits from a cool-down stretch before you go back to sitting around or whatever. So take the extra few minutes and take care of your body.

Eating Disorders: Valentine’s day love

Facing a bad relationship or the lack of a relationship on Valentine’s Day naturally instigates self-criticism, and eating disorders thrive on self-hate. Eating disorders have touched many of the women and some of the men[1] in my life; my heart goes out to each of you.


The woman on this magazine cover symbolizes perfection, society’s ideal body type, and a call to action: “Shape Up”.  This insinuates that the reader is not perfect, unlike the model, of course. Other titles on the cover also play into our stereotypes, and suggest that events like “A Foodie Gets Fit” or “A Model Fights Her Eating Issues” are newsworthy. Yet the magazine’s main article that month was “Fashion to Flatter Every Figure.” Thank you Vogue for addressing eating disorders, but no thank you for ingraining these stereotypes even further into our minds in the process!

Here a chart depicting how someone with an eating disorder thinks:


This looks confusing because it is. Having an eating disorder means you’ve been misled into a cycle of self-ideology, self-criticism and self-disappointment – you constantly realize that you are not perfect (because nobody is) and yet you compare yourself to the model society presents: You look at that model on the magazine cover, see that idealistically airbrushed image, and then pick apart every way in which you are different.

People easily forget that they are unique and beautiful. We forget that there are many others out there who have gone through similar struggles, who would be willing to help support them and begin a healing process.[2] [3] [4] [5]

Planning a reasonable, healthy diet can support healing because eating disorders are about the loss of control and short-term emotional thinking, whereas being healthy requires full control toward achieving a long-term goal. Determining to follow a healthy diet that you’ve researched can help to prevent, moderate or even realize that you have a disorder. Eating regularly helps, as does avoiding foods that shock your system, like sugar, or foods that slow down your system, like highly processed foods (most packaged foods are processed). Planning balanced meals and preparing food helps you not only eat healthy but to take the time to appreciate the work that goes into it. This strategy can help you regain nutritional balance and boost self-control.

Have goals and stick to them as best you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you stray. Disappointment, especially self-disappointment, fuels eating disorders – don’t go there! If you mess up simply acknowledge it ws a mistake and go back to your plan as if you had never left it. In fact, a recent study on the psychology behind eating disorders concludes that “facing modern temptations [tasty foods abound], it is impressive how many people remain in normal weight range today.” [7] Nobody is perfect.


Rest Weeks

rest week
65 Little People Stretching Dimension by Eileen Kosasih

Just like we get a break in our schedules each week with the weekend, our bodies also benefit from a break from intensive exercise. The break gives muscles time to regenerate, allowing them to repair in a way that consistent strength-training workouts never do. Not only does the break work on muscles, but it also gives me a fresh perspective on workouts when I come back to them. Usually I’m amazed at how much more I can do.

For this reason, I schedule in a “rest week” every four to six weeks. During rest weeks I go easy on yoga, skip workouts like plyometrics, and weight lifting. If I was doing any other workouts pretty regularly, then I tend to cut those out during rest weeks to make sure that I’m adding variety and exploring new exercise routines. I also skip my abdominal exercises every five to six weeks-or-so to give that muscle group a break.


Rest weeks are similar to what professional athletes do before a competition, which is called tapering. In order to maximize their performance, athletes decrease their practice intensity during about two weeks leading up to a competition.[1][2] Tapering also involves other changes to routine, such as diet modification. This makes me curious about how switching up my eating habits during rest weeks could affect things!

Keep on truckin’

I don’t let myself fall out of my workout routine completely, but substitute my workouts for brisk walks, or other cardio exercises like kickboxing or stretching. Stretching is particularly important because flexibility can decline fastest when you lay off of more intensive workouts.[3] Just as with everything else, of course, every body is different.

Not to say that you should schedule in more-frequent rest weeks, but you may notice a benefit to toning down working out for a few days every couple of weeks in addition to scheduled rest weeks.

Diet vs. Exercise


If you had to pick one, diet or exercise, which should you focus on? The answer is that it depends what your goals are.

Living a long, healthy life

Exercise, especially as people age, can stave off illness and muscle deterioration. As a result it is more important than diet to elongating lifespan. In fact, even overweight or obese study participants benefit greatly from regular exercise, more so than from intensive weight-loss efforts that involve other factors like dieting. [1]

Weight Loss

Do they really? If you have any insights please comment/message! For more ab myth debunking see my earlier post: Debunking Abs Workout Myths

Exercise alone will not lead to pure weight loss because muscle weighs more than fat. Yet although exercise will lead to slower weight loss, it targets body fat. For example, a recent study of people coming out of the Biggest Loser competition found that those who maintained just their diets lost 34 kg on average, with 65% of the weight loss coming from body fat. Meanwhile, people who only stuck to the exercise routine lost just 27kg, with 102% from fat (it’s greater than 100% because of the lean muscle mass they gained). [2] However, I could not find any studies that broke down what % of weight loss comes from eating versus exercising if doing both. So I’m not sure where the often pinned adage that “abs are made in the kitchen” comes from.

The kitchen or the gym?

If you’re primary aim is an energy boost or quick weight loss regardless of muscle mass, then dieting is more effective. However, if you want to live longer or have a healthy, strong body, then you should maximize exercise. And keep in mind that you need to be energized with good food to exercise properly. So in my book, eating well goes hand in hand with exercising, and both are essential to staying fit.


Starting with Charles Darwin, scientists have observed that smiling is not only a positive response mechanism, but can also induce positive emotions in and of itself.


Studies indicate that self-conscious people are best at channeling their smile into positivity, but that there is a robust effect across numerous studies that were conducted on this subject!  Not only do studies indicate that a smile is translated into positive feelings, but other associated autonomic responses may also occur.[1]

So next time you’re stressed, or feeling down, summon some energy to lift the corners of your mouth upward and smile! At the very least a genuine smile will put others at ease and hopefully help you find some space to work through your problems.


Alcohol has screwed up countless lives; 40% of Americans have been exposed to alcoholism within their families[1], this figure doesn’t even include friends, coworkers or neighbors! Most of us have sat through classes teaching us the social dangers of getting drunk or driving drunk. We know it’s a potentially addictive drug, and that it reduces our inhibitions, resulting in poor decision-making that could get us into trouble. Most of us also choose to drink alcohol regularly, despite all of this information.

beer is addicted to me

This last point is what fascinates me: I’ve been drinking or not drinking off and on for a few years now, and tend to enjoy life more when I don’t drink. Yet the social awkwardness that comes with not drinking can be uncomfortable. So I sometimes have a drink to avoid the awkwardness, convincing myself that I would like to relax and unwind with an alcoholic beverage once in a while. But then again I don’t let myself drink soda and I could say that it might be nice to have one occasionally. But why isn’t it awkward to stick to water with soda drinkers, while it is at social situations that involve alcohol?

I’ve looked at several studies and come to the conclusion that this awkwardness has not yet been successfully explained away by science. Maybe then it’s just in my mind? A study that caught my eye in particular observed that people reported a better bonding experience in a group setting with alcohol than without it, yet concluded that the results were not robust and recommended further research on the subject. Their other observations included increased coordination between the group members with social cues like smiling and speaking after the group had enjoyed an alcoholic beverage for 30 minutes. It’s important to note, however, that the subjects were all male and didn’t previously know each other.[2] Now I’m not convinced that I’m missing out on anything if I choose not to drink, besides the drink itself.

Despite going for months without drinking and only having one drink most weeks for the past year, I still fall into a higher risk category than most people according to a short survey I took form the National Institute of Health. I’m surprised by the result and am probably going to be drinking even less after having researched alcohol in more depth for this post. Honestly having a drink is not worth the sluggish feeling the next day, or the effects of alcohol on the rest of your body.[3]

As for social awkwardness, I loved what my yoga teacher, Ally, said in class last week; while we were holding a long awkward pose she philosophized about accepting the awkwardness of situations because they’re bound to happen and you will only make it more awkward overall if you attempt to avoid awkwardness.[4] I’ve made her spiel sound awkward, but it makes sense to me! I’m going to continue to go out with people, party and not drink often; that way I’m even more present for the fun and have no regrets afterward.

Debunking Fruity Myths

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, or so the old adage goes. But does it really? It took me a long time to start debunking fruity myths like this.

When I started P90X I was shocked that it only included one serving of fruit a day in my diet. Before that, I had always been under the impression that fruit is all good and that I should eat as much as possible. I was probably eating three or four fruits a day.

Myth #1: Eat lots of fruit because it is full of vitamins and minerals

Fruit is mostly water and sugar. The vitamins and minerals found in a medium apple are minimal, you can look at the vitamin and mineral charts here; you would need to eat 7 apples to get your daily-recommended dose of vitamin C. Eating them would also mean you would ingest about 132 grams or more than ½ a cup of granulated sugar.[1] Even fruits deemed “superfoods” are relatively sugary, including blueberries[2]. Even natural sugar that is found in fruit, known as fructose, is highly likely to be stored by our bodies as fat. Some studies go so far as to conclude that fructose is the cause of the worldwide obesity, hypertension and metabolic syndrome epidemics.[3]

Myth #2: Pre-sliced fruit is just as good as whole fruit

Packaged fruit is actually more likely to be contaminated because nature’s protective seal, the skin, has been broken. Furthermore, bacteria that fruit are exposed to at packaging facilities could be harmful to you. Sliced apples, for example, were recalled as recently as August 2012 as a result of contamination.[4]

These fruits are also often processed to preserve their appearance. If they are not refrigerated with a near-term expiration date or frozen, then pre-sliced fruits must contain some sort of preservatives to maintain freshness.  Some pre-cut apples, for example, are sprayed with a lemon juice solution so that they do not brown.[5]; chemicals are used to treat some fruits, and some producers even add sugar to enhance flavor.

So if you are going to reach for a fruit, think twice about going the pre-sliced route or be extra wary of reading ingredients if you do. And most importantly, remember to be mindful of portion control with this sugary part of your diet.