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children-runningWith the rise of electronic media, U.S. kids are spending more time glued to a screen and less time engaged in physical activity—a trend that could have far-reaching implications when it comes to their overall health. But adding just an hour of exercise each day can make a big difference, and not just for a healthy body but for a healthy mind.

In a recent study funded in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, researchers from the University of Illinois followed more than 220 schoolchildren between the ages of 7 and 9, half of whom were enrolled in an after-school program with a high level of physical activity while the others remained on a wait list. The 2-hour program included about 70 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, which researchers say resulted in big “brain gains” for those enrolled.

The kids who attended the weekday program showed significant improvement in a range of cognitive skills: memory, concentration, the ability to focus and ignore distractions, and multi-tasking (being able to switch back and forth from one task to the next). These so-called “executive functions” have been linked to fewer conduct problems and less risky behavior in the adolescent and teenage years.

“I think these are the hardest evidence we have available that time spent in physical activities, which would include physical education and recess, not only doesn’t detract from academic goals, but it might enhance academic performance,” said lead researcher Charles Hillman. He and his colleagues encourage schools to consider providing more opportunities for physical activity and parents to encourage regular exercise. According to the study results, the children in the after-school program also had smaller gains in body mass index (BMI).

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fruitThe bounty of summer produce may be coming to an end, but the fall season has a lot to offer in the way of healthful fruits and vegetables. And since a recent study found that eating seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily reduces your risk of death at any age by 42 percent (and decreases your risk of heart attack and stroke), here are five of our favorites!

Apples: In addition to beneficial vitamins and antioxidants, apples are chock full of soluble fiber—which is not only important for digestive health and regularity but also promotes cardiovascular health and healthy cholesterol levels. Because of their high fiber content and fewer digestible sugars, Granny Smith apples are a great choice. They have also been shown to help increase the numbers of beneficial bacteria in the gut and may support weight loss and healthy weight management, according to a recent Washington State University study.

Pumpkin: Put down the carving knife… unless you’re carving up that pumpkin for soups and smoothies! The Halloween staple is loaded with essential nutrients like vitamin A for healthy vision (a cup of cooked pumpkin contains more than 200% of your RDA), vitamin C to support immune health, the antioxidant beta-carotene, potassium, iron and of course plenty of fiber. And did we mention the seeds? In addition to magnesium and zinc, pumpkin seeds contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is linked to serotonin production and a positive mood.

Arugula: Spice up your fall salads with arugula! Dark leafy green are essential for healthy detox, gut health and overall wellness—and arugula stands out in particular. Its peppery leaves are high in fiber, antioxidants and health-promoting plant compounds called glucosinolates, as well as vitamin K (needed for calcium absorption), essential B vitamins and beneficial compounds that support a healthy inflammatory response in the body. Arugula is also an aphrodisiac!

Cranberries: Cranberries are low in sugar and loaded with vitamin C and fiber—not to mention they have more immune-supporting antioxidants (including vitamin E) than nearly any other fruit or vegetable. In studies, cranberries have been shown to support immune function as well as promote healthy blood pressure levels, and research shows they also promote urinary tract health. Just remember to avoid high-sugar juices and sauces!

Brussels Sprouts: Gone are the days of turning up our noses at these little green bulbs. Belonging to the same family as broccoli and kale, non-starchy Brussels sprouts are loaded with good things like fiber, vitamin C, folate, iron, potassium and B vitamins—along with powerful antioxidants and other plant compounds shown to support immune function and overall health. And the best part? Brussels sprouts are really simple to prepare: just cut off the ends, mix them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast them in the oven for about 35–40 minutes.

When shopping for fall fruits and veggies, go organic whenever possible and check out your local farmers market first. You should be able to find locally grown, in-season produce that’s fresh and affordable—in addition to being a healthful and delicious addition to your table!

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