During the camping season – when school is out and days are longer – it’s easy for families to spend quality time together. But how about in the off-season, when days are shorter, the air chillier, and the pace more hectic?
Incentive to reserve time together may come from an unlikely source: the cold, distant planet Mars. Hear us out!
In a recent TED talk, a spacecraft missions engineer for NASA’s Martian rovers, who guides them remotely from a lab in Los Angeles, discusses the logistics of living and working on “Martian Standard Time” while simultaneously existing on Earth. The Martian day is 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth. This means that the people “working” on this distant planet need to report to work on Earth at the same time every day on Mars. One day that might be 8 am; the next day, 8:40; the day after that, 9:20. It is, says the speaker, “like moving a time zone every day.” Eventually, the dawn of the Martian day will coincide with the middle of the Earth’s night – and the crew will need to report to work at a truly ungodly hour. This forces family life to adjust: foil on the windows, black-out shades, quiet time in the mid-afternoon so Mom or Dad can nap.
The speaker, Nagin Cox, then shared a picture of a NASA director at a beach in Los Angeles with his family at 1 in the morning. Over the school vacation, his entire family had shifted to Mars time. “They had these great adventures,” Cox says, “like going bowling in the middle of the night.” Likewise, once the Mars workday was over, roving packs of NASA-employed “Martians” will cruise the traffic-less freeways to have dinner, or breakfast, at all-night diners.
Having camaraderie and company while living on another planet goes a long way toward countering the grueling physical demands, volatile schedules, and mental isolation of NASA’s Mars mission directors. It may take supreme feats of planning and dedication, but it can be done. And it’s a worthy reminder to really examine our default excuses of “not having enough time” to carve out minutes for the things that really matter—even in the camping off-season. After all, “not enough time” is all a matter of our (Earthly) perspective.
Do your memories of camping involve squares of chocolate melted onto Graham crackers, clinging to marshmallows, and licked from fingers? Does your winter routine involve mugs of hot cocoa after a day of playing in (or shoveling) the snow?
Good news: in the right form, this decadent delight is exceedingly good for your heart, your skin, your performance and your mood. (Okay, that last one you knew already.) Raw cacao nibs, beans and powder may require you to branch off the beaten path, but your brain and body will thank you.
Raw chocolate is actually cacao, the seed of the fruit growing on the cacao tree. And cacao is a certified superfood—one of those foods that boost immunity, pack nutrients and protein, and deliver major levels of antioxidants. In fact, experts say the raw cacao bean trumps the blueberry in terms of antioxidant levels. Here’s why that’s amazing news for chocolate lovers hoping to stay in shape for this summer’s adventures:
Gorgeous glow. Antioxidants can protect skin from sun damage, improve circulation to the skin, promote hydration, smooth imperfections, and imbue skin with that special glow. The higher the percentage of cacao in chocolate, the more antioxidants it packs. Opt for chocolate bars that are 70% or higher in cacao—especially raw cacao made with organic ingredients.
Better mood. Chocolate’s high levels of tryptophan enable the body to release the hormone responsible for making you happy. That’s why chocolate is a natural mood enhancer.
Healthy heart. One square of dark chocolate (70 percent cacao or higher) contains more phenols than a glass of red wine. Phenols help sweep arteries clean from the bad fats that tend to cling there. Chocolate also helps dilate the cardiovascular system, allowing the heart to function at top form.
More endurance. Energy and stamina are always advantages, whether you’re foraging or fishing in the great outdoors or simply fixing a home repair. Recent studies have found that dark chocolate can boost athletic performance. In particular, cyclists who ate dark chocolate prior to hopping on their wheels were more efficient in their oxygen use and were able to bike a longer distance in a timed trial.
Want to maximize the benefits of chocolate on your next camping trip? Make your own heart-healthy, mood-boosting, stamina-stoking trail mix with raw cacao nibs or beans, gogi berries, mulberries, raw nuts and seeds. Let us know how it turns out!
“Every food a person might eat either fights or contributes to disease.” – Stephen L. Kopecky, MD, cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic
Does it surprise you that most Americans would rather pop a pill than adjust their eating and exercise regimens.
While it’s true that medications like statins work—and are far easier to “swallow” (no pun intended) than major life overhauls—it’s a fact that the right kind of diet and exercise will maximize the benefits of any cholesterol-lowering drug, while providing a broad swath of protection against heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
The Mayo Clinic cardiologist quoted above endorses a Mediterranean diet, one that typifies the eating habits of people living in Greece and Italy. In those countries, it’s not uncommon to eat an average of nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables, as well as seafood each day. They enjoy healthy, heart-protective fats but treat processed foods as a rare indulgence. Besides the heart benefits, studies suggest this kind of diet reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s, cancer, Parkinson’s, arthritis, diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome that’s a cluster of pre-diabetic risk factors.
Should you want to dip a toe (or more) into the Mediterranean this month, here are ways to tweak your eating regimen without complete mutiny:
Taper your reliance on red or processed meats. There’s no need to swear them off; but make your primary protein source either fish, leaner cuts, or vegetable protein like lentils, black beans, and split peas.
Humans form an emotional brain long before a rational one, and a beating heart before either.
Last month, we talked about the destructive nature of stress – against body, mind and spirit – and the power of positive emotion to unravel the knots of negativity. As with any skill, positive thinking grows stronger and faster with practice. It may seem awkward or forced at first. But eventually, through dedicated practice, you will feel as comfortable in this “positive framework” as you will feel ill at ease in the negative one. It’s easy to get sucked into the downward spiral; but on the flip side, it’s just as easy to hold fast to the “upward spiral” generated by positive thinking.
How does HeartMath (heartmath.org) factor into the equation? And why is it exciting that HeartMath has just released an app?
The HeartMath Institute began 35 years ago as an inquiry into post-operative heart surgery patients. But along the way, researchers bumped into a key component of the heart and how it plays into our emotion—and how it helps us become good parents and good partners; focused athletes; and high-achieving students who don’t fall prey to anxiety. Heart intelligence, the theory goes, is the source of emotional intelligence and logical thinking. (The head and the heart don’t clash as much as love songs would suggest.) And when cultivated, it can help us bridge the connection between heart and mind; and build a connection to the hearts of others.
Like the gut, the heart has a direct line to the brain; and the two are in constant communication. But the heart relays far more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. Specifically, heart signals target the brain centers involved in decision-making, creativity, and emotional experience.
Early HeartMath research found that negative emotions threw the nervous system out of balance—creating disordered and jagged rhythms on the study’s heart monitor, and clouding thinking to the point of irrationality and confusion. Positive emotions, by contrast, were found to increase order and balance in the nervous system to produce smooth, harmonious heart rhythms that not only reduced stress; but also enhanced people’s ability to perceive the world around them. Positive thinking hones creativity, affords clarity, and boosts concentration. The coherence of synchronized systems—brain, heart, nervous—can yield reduced blood pressure for hypertensive patients, improvements in asthma, enhanced well-being, increased emotional stability, and improved cognitive performance. It can reduce anxiety and “helplessness” in favor of logical thinking underpinning plans of action. In short, it can help us feel completely at peace…with strength. What better Valentine’s gift to yourself and your loved ones?
Visit www.heartmath.org to learn more.