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Your Health
January 26, 2024

5 tips for instant migraine relief

4 minutes

Heat packs, cold packs, turning off the lights, using essential oils, and drinking plenty of fluids can all help ease migraine pain.

If you've ever had a migraine, you understand that the pain associated with the condition can be incapacitating. Thankfully, there are options that may help you ease a migraine at home. Here, we'll take a look at options you can try to get quick relief from migraines.

Understanding migraines

Migraines are not fully understood, but researchers have several theories on why the condition occurs. Current migraine researchers believe that certain chemicals and hormones, including estrogen and serotonin, contribute to migraine pain. Today's migraine theories suggest that waves of brain activity trigger chemicals (like serotonin and estrogen) to narrow the blood vessels. This narrowing of blood vessels may result in migraines.

Serotonin-based migraines can occur for both men and women, while estrogen-based migraines only occur in women. 

A migraine with aura is known as a complicated migraine, while a migraine without aura is known as a common migraine.

Symptoms of common migraines include:

  • A drilling or throbbing headache that lasts between four and 72 hours
  • Pain that begins on one side of the head and spreads to the other side
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Mood changes
  • Speech changes
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

About 20% of people who experience migraines have a migraine aura that happens before the pain begins. A migraine aura is often confused for a stroke. The condition can last for up to an hour, and may cause a number of symptoms, including:

  • Blind spots in vision
  • Seeing bright flashing lights, sparkles, or wavy lines
  • Tingling skin
  • Changes in speech
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Temporary vision loss
  • Changes in sensory perception, especially in smell and taste

Some people experience a condition called silent migraine. When a silent migraine occurs, a person may only experience the debilitating effects of a migraine aura, such as visual, language, sensory, and/or speech disruption. While less painful than a standard migraine, silent migraines can still be debilitating. Silent migraines typically last less than an hour.

Some people also experience a postdromal phase of migraines. This phase occurs after the headache has subsided. People who experience a postdromal migraine phase may feel fatigued, mentally foggy, and experience aches throughout the body. This phase typically lasts for about six hours following the end of a migraine.

Migraines can be extremely painful, and can make it impossible for you to move through your daily activities. Thankfully, there are some home remedies you can try to alleviate your pain and help your migraine symptoms subside.

An important note: While most migraines will go away on their own with home treatment, this isn't always the case. If you or a loved one experience a severe and sudden headache, a headache that you would describe as the worst of your life, a fever with a stiff neck, signs of dehydration, visual changes that are not related to a migraine aura, seizures, or you've recently experienced a head injury, it's important to go to the emergency room. It's also important to seek emergency medical care if your migraine has lasted for more than 72 hours.

5 tips for instant migraine relief

Try these simple at-home remedies to get the relief you need when you feel a migraine coming on.

Use a cold pack

Placing a cold pack on your head can help reduce migraine pain. The application of a cold pack provides you with a mild numbing effect, which can make it easier to feel comfortable. Applying a cold pack can also help decrease swelling, which can help to relieve pain.

Turn the lights down

A 2017 study by Harvard Medical School showed a pathway that connects the eyes to the brain's areas of heightened activity during a migraine. Light can make this pain worse, as it can activate the areas of the brain that are already working overtime. Relaxing in a dark, quiet room can help minimize stimulation to the brain, providing you with pain relief. If you need to be out and about (to make it to a doctor's appointment for treatment, for example), it's important that you don't drive, and that you wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.

Use a heat pack

Sometimes, heat can help with migraine pain, especially if your migraine has been triggered by stress or muscle tension. It can take some time to discover whether hot or cold therapy is a better fit for alleviating pain. Placing the heat pack on tense areas of your body near your head--such as your neck, upper back, or shoulders--may help your muscles relax and allow your migraine symptoms to dissipate.

Hydrate

Dehydration can trigger migraines. Many people who suffer from migraines find that drinking plenty of water can help lessen the number of migraines they get, as well as lessen the pain they feel during a migraine. In addition to drinking water, you may want to try drinking an electrolyte solution that can help your body rehydrate faster. If you're experiencing severe dehydration, you may need to head to the emergency room to get IV fluids.

Essential oils

Essential oils are plant-based liquids that are highly concentrated and give off a strong scent. Some people who deal with migraines find that diffusing essential oils or applying them topically using a carrier oil can help to provide migraine headache relief. There are several essential oils that are known for helping with migraine headaches, including peppermint, rosemary, lavender, and chamomile. Less is more when it comes to essential oils--start with just a few drops, as the smell of oils can be quite strong.

If you get migraines frequently, it's smart to talk with your doctor about solutions that can help you experience the condition less frequently.

Evidation: Here to help you feel your best

It takes work to feel your best--and we're here to help. The Evidation app provides you with suggestions and guidelines to help you feel your best. Download the app today and start making your health data work for you.

Your Health
January 24, 2024

How to prevent asthma: a comprehensive guide

9 minutes

Asthma symptom prevention strategies include avoiding triggers, using acute and preventative medications, lowering stress, getting exercise, changing your diet, and more.

There's no way around it: asthma is complicated. If you’re at risk for asthma, or you've been diagnosed with the disease, it makes sense that you're interested in learning more about how to prevent the breathing difficulties associated with the condition. Many parents who experienced asthma as children are also curious about the steps they can take to stop their children from developing the disease, or from experiencing severe symptoms if they've already shown signs of asthma.

Here, we'll take a look at everything you need to know about preventing asthma, including triggers that can cause asthma to develop, how nutrition, exercise, and stress management can help to prevent or temper asthma symptoms, and how to set up an action plan in the event that you experience asthma.

Understanding asthma

Asthma is a chronic disease, meaning it is a long-term condition. People with asthma experience problems with the airways in their lungs. The airways in the lungs are comprised of small tubes that work to carry air into and out of the body.

When a person develops asthma, these tubes can become inflamed and/or narrowed, making it difficult for your body to get the oxygen that it needs to thrive.

If you, your child, or another family member are concerned about developing asthma, it's important to understand how the disease can develop. While the exact cause of asthma has yet to be discovered, research supports the idea that a combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of the condition.

Some people who have asthma experience issues with their breathing daily, and may need to rely on daily preventative and acute prescription medications in order to maintain healthy oxygen levels. Others may only experience asthma symptoms occasionally (such as when they're sick or when they're exercising), and may be able to rely on acute medication only. Those who experience mild asthma may be able to manage the condition by identifying triggers and making lifestyle changes that help to keep their symptoms at bay.

Asthma can present in a variety of ways. Some of the most common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheezing (a high-pitched squeaking sound) when breathing, especially when exhaling
  • Shortness of breath that doesn't have a clear cause, or shortness of breath after activity that doesn't resolve in a reasonable amount of time
  • A feeling of tightness or pain in the chest
  • Difficulty breathing while experiencing a respiratory virus (like the flu)

An important note: if you're experiencing an asthma attack, it's important that you seek emergency medical care right away. Left untreated, severe asthma attacks can be fatal.

Thankfully, there are several steps you can take to make it less likely that you’ll experience asthma symptoms. Over time, asthma can go into remission, allowing you to experience a symptom-free life. Here, we'll take a look at what you can do to lower or eliminate your asthma symptoms.

Identifying asthma triggers

One of the first steps necessary toward controlling asthma symptoms is identifying the factors that cause you to have trouble breathing. These symptoms can vary from person to person. Keeping a journal of your symptoms and factors that may be exacerbating your asthma can help you pinpoint your triggers.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • Air pollution: If you spend a significant amount of time in an area with poor air quality, you may experience a flare-up. Seasonal wildfires can create a sudden downturn in air quality that may cause an increase in symptoms.
  • Allergies: Seasonal allergies, as well as pet allergies, are a common asthma trigger. People with severe asthma may find that even visiting a home with pets can cause their symptoms to worsen.
  • Exercise: Working out can be a double-edged sword for people with asthma, as the increased breathing rate that comes with exercise can exacerbate symptoms. Moderate exercise helps overall asthma symptoms to decrease over time, however, and it's key for long-term health (more on that in a bit).
  • Cold air: Many people who have asthma find that exposure to very cold air (such as going from a warm house to freezing outdoor temperatures) causes their symptoms to flare.
  • Illness: Respiratory viruses and sinusitis are common triggers for asthma symptoms. If you have asthma and your symptoms are exacerbated by illness, it's a good idea to talk with your doctor when you feel like you're getting sick, so you can make adjustments to your asthma action plan if necessary.
Infographics of bronchial asthma causes flat cartoon style, vector illustration isolated on white background. Respiratory disease triggers, lungs and inhaler and asthma risk factors icons

Maintaining a healthy environment

Keeping your environment as clean as possible can help to decrease triggers that may exist in your home or workplace. Dust mites, pests, and smoke can all trigger asthma.

Some simple steps you can take to support your respiratory health in your environment include:

  • Stay away from smoke. If someone in your household smokes, it's important that they do so outside. The residual irritants on their skin, hair, and clothes can be especially triggering, and encouraging them to quit can be a valuable conversation that can benefit you both.
  • Control pests. Bugs, mice, and other pests can leave behind dander and waste that can trigger asthma for many people. Keep your kitchen as clean as possible, and make sure you put away food and wash dishes immediately. It's also important to get rid of clutter, clean spills immediately, and to keep food in airtight containers.
  • Ask a family member or friend to vacuum. If possible, it's a good idea to have someone else in the house vacuum for you. While regular vacuuming can help keep dust at bay, the process may irritate your asthma. If your budget permits, purchasing an automatic vacuum that can run while you're away from home may be a good idea if you don't have someone in your household who can vacuum for you.
  • Wash your bedding regularly. No matter how clean you keep your home, dust mites will take up residence in your bedding. Washing your pillow and bedding weekly in hot water kills them, and can help to lessen your nighttime asthma symptoms.
  • Run a dehumidifier. Dust mites thrive in humid environments. Keeping your home between 30% and 50% humidity can help to lower their numbers and lessen the effect they have on your asthma.

Nutrition and asthma prevention

Many people find that making changes to their nutrition plan helps to alleviate some or all of their asthma symptoms. Let's explore the steps you can take to ensure that your nutrition plan is helping--not hurting--your efforts to reduce or eliminate asthma symptoms.

Increasing your vitamin D levels may prevent asthma symptoms. Research shows a link between low vitamin D levels and asthma attacks. Increasing your intake of orange juice, eggs, salmon, and fortified milk can all help you increase your vitamin D levels.

Boosting your vitamin E intake can also help to reduce symptoms, as the vitamin contains tocopherol, a compound that can help to reduce asthma symptoms. You can boost your body's levels of vitamin E by enjoying hazelnuts, almonds, raw seeds, mustard greens, kale, broccoli, and Swiss chard.

It's also smart to know what foods to avoid in order to prevent an increase in asthma symptoms. Avoiding sulfites (found in pickled food, alcohol, maraschino cherries, shrimp, dried fruit, and bottled lemon and lime juice) can help. It's also a good idea to avoid foods that make you feel bloated or gassy, as this can make it feel harder to breathe. Pay attention to how you feel after drinking coffee or tea as well--both contain salicylates, a naturally-occurring chemical that can increase asthma symptoms in some people.

Incorporating physical activity

Many people who have asthma understandably feel nervous about exercise. That being said, healthy movement is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Your asthma action plan can help you get the activity you need while keeping your asthma symptoms at bay.

Some tips for exercising with asthma include:

  • If it's a part of your asthma action plan, take your acute relief medication (such as an albuterol inhaler) within 15 minutes of beginning to warm up. Take your time warming up before beginning to exercise. If you notice that your warm-up is triggering symptoms, utilize your asthma action plan and consider taking it easy for the day.
  • Pay attention to your asthma symptoms while you're exercising. If you're developing symptoms, stop exercising, take your acute relief medication, and wait for your symptoms to resolve. If you experience symptoms again after you return to your workout, it's recommended that you stop exercising for the day.
  • Don't exercise when you're in the middle of an asthma flare-up. Controlling your symptoms is an important part of setting yourself up for success with exercise.
  • Keep paying attention to your symptoms after you cool down. Many people experience flares after their workout is finished as their breathing begins to return to normal. Take your acute relief medication after exercising if necessary.

Stress management and asthma

An increased respiration rate is a common response to stress, but for people with asthma, stress can set off a cascade of asthma symptoms that can be difficult to stop. Many people who have asthma experience additional stress when they feel their symptoms begin to flare, creating a pile-on effect on the original stressor.

There's no way to avoid stress, unfortunately. That being said, changing your approach to stress management can be an important part of your asthma action plan.

If you're experiencing acute or chronic stress that's increasing your asthma symptoms, it can be helpful to talk with a therapist or other trained professional who can help you examine your thoughts and develop new thinking patterns that can reduce stress.

Taking time to reset throughout the day with meditation and exercise can help. If you're experiencing a flare up and don't feel comfortable exercising, moving through a gentle stretching video (like this one) can provide a chance to reset without triggering additional symptoms. Getting plenty of high-quality sleep can also reduce day to day stress, as can limiting sugar, alcohol, and caffeine.

Creating an asthma action plan

If you've been diagnosed with asthma, or you're experiencing asthma symptoms, it's important that you talk with your healthcare provider about developing an asthma action plan, which will include signs that indicate that your asthma symptoms are worsening, triggers to avoid, what medicines you need to take, and what to do in the event of an asthma emergency.

Many people with mild asthma or asthma that only shows symptoms during exercise only need acute relief medication. These work to open airways quickly, often allowing you to return to your normal activity in just a few minutes. If it's your first time using acute relief medication, it's important to reach out to your doctor if you feel that your symptoms aren't fully relieved by using your medication. You may need long-term control medication to keep your symptoms at bay.

Your doctor may prescribe long-term medication that can help reduce the likelihood of an asthma attack. It's important that you carefully follow your doctor's instructions, as missing a dose of your long-term control medication can make it more likely that you'll experience asthma symptoms.

Your doctor will also talk with you about what situations or environments you need to avoid in order to lessen the likelihood that you'll experience an asthma flare-up. Your doctor will also talk with you about the signs of worsening asthma (such as needing to use your acute relief medication more often, or struggling to fall asleep at night due to asthma symptoms), and how to know when you need to go to the emergency room.

Many asthma action plans also include a point of contact who you can call or text in the event that you need help or support getting the care that you need during an asthma attack.

Get the support you need with Evidation

Whether you're just getting started with learning how to prevent asthma or you're looking to create a healthier, happier life for yourself, we've got you covered. At Evidation, we're here to provide you with the guidelines and support you need to become your healthiest self. Download the app and start making the most of your health data today.

Your Health
January 19, 2024

Recognizing and managing asthma symptoms in kids

9 minutes

Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and a feeling of tightness in the chest are all signs of childhood asthma.

More than 6% of children have asthma. The condition is manageable, but can make it hard for your little one(s) to fully participate in the joys of being a child. Thankfully, understanding signs of asthma in toddlers and older kids can help you understand how to give your child the help they need to breathe easily. With treatment, the vast majority of children with asthma are able to live full, healthy lives, unencumbered by the condition.

Here, we'll take a look at the common symptoms shown by kids who experience asthma, how asthma is diagnosed, and how you can make adjustments to your environment to help your toddlers or kids with asthma get the medication and support they need to thrive.

Common asthma symptoms in kids

It can be tough to figure out if your kids are showing symptoms of asthma. Many kids exhibit common asthma symptoms, such as coughing or wheezing, when they have a cold or other illness. While asthma symptoms can increase when a child is sick, they tend to come and go, even in times of wellness.

Asthma can present differently from person to person, and it's important to keep an eye on your child's symptoms so that you can describe information to their healthcare provider.

Common symptoms of asthma in kids include:

  • Breathing problems, including gasping, breathing rapidly, or experiencing shortness of breath
  • Poor sleep (signs may include feeling tired and irritable, or having dark circles under the eyes that don't go away)
  • Coughing (tends to occur most frequently upon waking or just before going to sleep
  • Chest tightness (your child may describe the feeling as itchy)
  • A whistling sound when they breathe out (wheezing)
  • Infants and babies may struggle to eat or suck
  • Symptoms can come and go. Your child may experience symptoms more often when sleeping, which can make it harder to track how often they experience flare-ups.

While asthma is typically a controllable condition, some children (and adults) experience asthma attacks.

An asthma attack is different from the day-to-day symptoms of asthma. During a severe asthma attack, it may be hard for your child to control their symptoms with medication. Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening, and may include a variety of symptoms such as serious breathing problems, uncontrollable coughing, a very pale or blue appearance (especially in the face, lips, and fingernails). If your child has an asthma attack, it's essential that you get immediate medical attention.

Diagnosing asthma in children

It can be difficult for healthcare providers to diagnose asthma in babies, toddlers, and children. As we mentioned, many common childhood conditions--such as run-of-the-mill respiratory issues--can cause asthma-like symptoms. Before meeting with your child's healthcare provider, you may want to keep a journal of their symptoms so they have the information necessary to assess the frequency and severity of your child's breathing issues. If your child is in school, take a moment at the end of each day to ask them about their asthma symptoms.

Your child's doctor will likely use a number of measures to diagnose your child's condition. Asthma diagnosis tools can include:

  • Physical exam
  • Chest x-ray
  • Discussion and review of your child's health history
  • Tests that show how your child's lungs function (very young children may not be able to perform these tests)
  • Blood tests or allergy skin tests if your child has had allergic reactions in the past

After your child is diagnosed with asthma, your physician will work with you to help you create your asthma action plan. Having a plan in place for the prevention, management, and treatment of asthma can help your child live an active, healthy life after their diagnosis.

Managing asthma triggers at home

Both genetic and environmental factors can contribute to the development of asthma symptoms. Paying attention to the environmental factors that seem to trigger your child's asthma can help to lessen their symptoms over time.

Asthma triggers differ from person to person. Some common triggers that can exacerbate asthma symptoms include:

  • Pest waste (such as waste from mice, rats, and cockroaches)
  • Pollen
  • Pets
  • Dust mites
  • Mold
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Cleaning chemicals
  • Scented home and body care products
  • Exposure to cold air
  • Physical activity

Your child's asthma triggers may change as they get older. Children with asthma who exercise regularly are likely to show an improvement in asthma symptoms and quality of life, according to recent studies. If your child is beginning to exercise for the first time, or is exercising at a new intensity level, it's important to carefully monitor symptoms and have rescue medication readily available.

Understanding asthma medications for kids

While lifestyle changes and trigger avoidance can go a long way in preventing asthma symptoms, medication is typically necessary, even if your child doesn’t have to use an acute rescue inhaler very often.

It can take some time for your child's care provider to discover what medicine, or combination of medicines, works best to alleviate their symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe your child medicines on a trial basis to see what works best for their needs. Asthma medicine can be prescribed in several forms, including pills, liquids for nebulizers, inhalers, and injections. For most kids, inhaled medications are most effective for the treatment of asthma.

It's likely that your child's provider will prescribe at least one acute rescue medication. These medications are given in the form of an inhaler or nebulizer. Albuterol is the most commonly used acute rescue medication for kids with asthma. Your child will only need to take this medication when they have symptoms. If you find that your child's acute rescue medication doesn’t work, or that they need to take it more often than prescribed to keep their symptoms at bay, it's important to seek medical attention right away.

Preventative medicines work to control your child's symptoms long-term. These medications are taken every day and can ease your child's reliance on their acute rescue medication. 

If your child shows symptoms of asthma more than two times per week, it's likely that their care provider will provide preventative medicines. These medications are typically in the form of corticosteroid inhalers, combination inhalers, or tablets that can work to keep the airways open. If these options aren't working for your child, your doctor may talk about adding an injectable medication that can work to control their symptoms.

An important note: Asthma is a nuanced, highly individual disease. While the medications described here are often prescribed for asthma symptoms in kids, it's important to work closely with your child's pediatrician to understand their unique symptom management needs. 

If your child has an asthma attack and their rescue medication does not relieve their symptoms, it's important to seek immediate medical attention by calling 911.

Creating an asthma action plan

It's important that you and your child have a plan of attack when their asthma symptoms appear or worsen. Talking with your pediatrician or respiratory therapist can help you decide when your child can manage their symptoms at home--and when they need to get specialized medical care.

Managing triggers is an important part of any asthma action plan. While many triggers can be avoided (such as spending time in enclosed spaces with someone who is smoking), others cannot (such as pollen and other seasonal allergens). Avoiding triggers when possible and limiting exposure time to triggers that you can't avoid can help to lessen your child's asthma symptoms.

Your child's pediatrician or respiratory therapist may ask that your child use a peak flow meter to understand the severity of their asthma from day to day. To use a peak flow meter, your child will simply forcefully breathe into a plastic tube. The meter will provide their peak flow rate, which indicates how quickly they're able to move air out of their lungs.

In many cases, preventative medication is a key factor in creating a successful asthma action plan. Not all children need preventative medication (especially those who have mild asthma), but kids with moderate to severe asthma symptoms can benefit from daily medication that works to support healthy breathing. Preventative medications are usually in the form of an inhaler or a pill.

Acute rescue medications are key for kids with asthma. It's usually recommended that your child keep their asthma medication with them whenever they're out of the house. Keeping the medication in a teacher's desk or nurse's office can work if your child isn't old enough to use their medication responsibly, but taking this route can cost your child valuable seconds in the event that their symptoms begin to flare.

Finally, it's essential that you have a plan for swift action in the event that your child's rescue medication isn't providing them with the relief they need. Your child's pediatrician or respiratory therapist may recommend that they keep a nebulizer (a machine that delivers a fine mist of asthma medication over an extended period of time) at home, which can help to relieve exacerbated symptoms. It's also important to know the signs that you need to take your child to the emergency room, or call 911.

Signs that your child with asthma needs immediate medical attention include:

  • A peak flow rate in the yellow or red zone (less than 50% of their normal peak flow rate)
  • You suspect the attack may be caused by an allergic reaction
  • Struggles to lie down flat (more comfortable to sit down)
  • Shortness of breath while resting
  • Severe trouble breathing, talking, and/or crying
  • Ribs pull in with each breath
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Change in appearance, including a bluish face or lips, or looking very ill
  • Severe chest pain
  • Need to use acute rescue medication more than every four hours

It's important to keep teachers and coaches in the loop. Even the most conscientious child can get caught up in a fun activity and miss the signs that their asthma is beginning to act up. Talking with your child's teacher, coaches, and other caregivers about your child's asthma warning signs can help ensure that your child gets the help they need, even when you're not around.

Promoting overall wellness in kids with asthma

Tips to help your child with asthma fully enjoy physical activity include:

Keep it fun. Exercise is important for kids with asthma, and many parents and kids find that asthma symptoms in kids begin to dissipate when exercise is included as a part of their normal routine. If your child has recently been diagnosed with asthma, there's a good chance they haven't had a great experience with exercise thus far. Talking with them about what type of activities they enjoy and participating with them--even if you're just playing tag in the backyard--can help boost their health and their confidence.

Teach your child to monitor their symptoms (in an age-appropriate way). Sudden breathing difficulty can be scary, and the feelings of panic that come with the onset of asthma symptoms can contribute to an attack. Helping your child understand how to recognize and treat their symptoms can provide them with a sense of agency over their asthma. Teaching your child to understand when they need to take their rescue medication--and when they need to ask for help--can be an important part of helping your child navigate asthma.

Keep their medication current. Most inhalers have a number on the back of the activator that shows how many doses are remaining in the canister. It's important to keep an eye on this number, so your child doesn't run out of medication. It may not seem like a big deal to skip a dose of preventative medication, but doing so can cause your child's symptoms to flare, triggering an attack.

Evidation: Here to help you feel your best

Just like you track your child's asthma symptoms, it's important to keep track of your own health. At Evidation, our team works to give you the suggestions and tips that you need to be your healthiest self. Download the app today to start making your health data work for you.

Fitness & Exercise
January 17, 2024

Is Pilates good for weight loss?

9 minutes

Discover the many benefits of Pilates for weight loss and general health in this post

No matter where you are on your health journey, consistent physical exercise and activity is a critical part of losing weight and improving your general health.

Finding an exercise class that meets you where you are can be daunting. Walking into a class is intimidating, especially if you’re new to fitness or getting back into a regular routine.

Are you on the hunt for a low-impact workout that you can perform consistently? Pilates is an effective workout for beginners, long-time athletes, and everyone in between. The exercises done in Pilates are challenging for the muscles but easy on the body as a whole.

If you’re working on losing weight, Pilates is an excellent tool to add to your fitness routine. This post highlights the benefits of Pilates for weight loss and general health, types of Pilates to try, and much more.

We’ll help you set realistic expectations about what this popular form of exercise can bring to your life, so you can enjoy the movement and health benefits it provides.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a form of exercise originally developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates.

This muscle-building and body-conditioning exercise consists of small, technical movements that improve muscle tone and core stability. The movements in Pilates are designed to lengthen and sculpt muscles for a stronger body.

As a low-impact exercise, Pilates focuses on strength, mobility, and alignment within the body. The primary muscle at play here is the core; Pilates focuses primarily on strengthening and stabilizing the core and then training other muscles in the process.

How Pilates Works

Pilates is performed on an exercise mat on the floor or through the use of an apparatus called the Reformer. Designed to target posture, balance, and flexibility, seven general types of Pilates are taught and performed.

Pilates participants experience a full-body workout via around 50 repetitive exercises designed to increase muscle strength. At first, these movements won’t seem that difficult, but as the class continues, they may become very challenging as your muscles become tired.

If you’re new to Pilates, don’t stress. Most instructors provide modifications to each exercise should you need them at any point.

Is Pilates good for weight loss?

There’s a certain stigma that when exercising for weight loss, a person has to be out of breath and dripping with sweat. This is nowhere near true or accurate. Take walking, for example.

Consistent walking is widely embraced as an effective form of exercise that contributes to weight loss. Walking promotes a faster metabolism, burns calories, and improves cardiovascular health; all of these help with healthy weight loss. While you may not work up a sweat on a brisk walk, your body is working hard.

The same goes for Pilates. Pilates is a stellar example of a highly effective weight loss exercise that won’t result in you panting or sweating. Because it’s a low impact exercise, Pilates puts less stress on the joints and muscles, making it a great introductory exercise for those new to working out.

Pilates for weight loss is highly recommended if you have limited mobility or are new to this type of exercise because it’s not a highly intensive workout. Make no mistake - you will be sore later, but soreness is normal.

For weight loss, in particular, Pilates is gaining in popularity. While you won’t burn hundreds of calories during a class, Pilates can help you lose weight through the following:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Improved body function
  • Building lean muscle (which helps burn fat)

This 2021 study revealed that for adults with obesity or who are overweight, Pilates significantly decreases body weight, BMI (body mass index), and body fat percentage.

Weight loss comes with its own complications, and navigating the number on the scale is one of the most significant for so many. However, it’s crucial to remember that while losing weight may be your goal, you will also gain lean muscle from Pilates.

While the number on the scale may not drop in the way you expect, you’ll start to notice muscles you didn’t have before, and then you’ll build on those with muscle definition and sculpting.

In time, Pilates will help you create your own vision of what your body should look like rather than focusing on the numbers on the scale.

So, does Pilates help you lose weight? When paired with healthy eating and cardiovascular exercise, Pilates can absolutely contribute to weight loss.

Can you lose weight doing Pilates everyday? Yes! While Pilates is considered low-impact, every form of exercise should be done in moderation. If you’re just starting, try doing Pilates three days a week. You can add more Pilates workouts to your daily routine as you build strength and endurance.

Benefits of Pilates Beyond Weight Loss

When paired with other forms of exercise and lifestyle changes, Pilates can significantly impact your health journey, no matter where you’re at right now. Aside from weight loss, here are a few of the impressive benefits of Pilates.

Improve Muscle Tone

The core muscles consist of the abdominals, lower back, and hip muscles and are emphasized in a Pilates class. After consistent practice, participants notice significant toning and strength in the abdominal area and other muscles in the body, including the glutes, inner thigh muscles, and upper back.

Increase Flexibility

While Pilates movements work to strengthen muscles, they also mobilize the joints and improve muscle flexibility. As your body builds strength, stretching and activating the muscles in this stretched state promotes flexibility. Your muscles will slowly but surely warm up early in a class, and as they do, they become actively engaged, so you can stretch further.

Boost Stability & Endurance

Performing more reps at a lower weight is Pilates' bread and butter, and this action slowly builds muscular endurance. Some classes and instructors will add resistance training to their classes, which adds to the endurance you’re building on.

Promote Healing

Many Pilates participants use the exercise as a form of healing and recovery. Because it’s both low-impact and weight-bearing exercises, Pilates is ideal for those working through injuries and improving joint mobility and control. The exercises don’t cause any stress or tension to the body, allowing muscle groups to heal and strengthen.

Improve Posture

As you better align and strengthen your core in regular Pilates classes, your posture will naturally improve. Sitting correctly at a desk all day takes concentration and effort, but with strengthened core muscles, you’ll sit taller and potentially experience less back pain or fatigue from sitting or driving.

Manage Stress

While nearly every form of exercise helps to decrease stress, Pilates takes it a step further. The practice is designed to improve the mind and body connection and increase mindfulness in every participant. You’ll learn to focus on the current moment rather than stress about your to-do list and gain clarity for the day-to-day.

Improve Sleep

As you learn to relax and center yourself in Pilates, your sleep habits may also improve. This is likely because Pilates relaxes the body and the mind, promoting longer and better sleep.

Performing specific exercises at night, like Pilates, can help the mind wind down and relax the body. Low-impact movements release tension, help us relax, and re-center the body for sleep.

Increase Energy

Aside from physical movement, Pilates heavily emphasizes breath control and the mind-to-body connection. As you learn to control your breath, your body’s circulation and lung capacity will improve. Deep breathing can also stimulate the spine and your core muscles, increasing your overall energy level.

Convenient Form of Exercise

Pilates is a fantastic workout you can complete at home if you’re busy and getting to the gym is out of the question some days.

All you need is a mat, some space on the floor, and a positive attitude to get your workout done. At-home workouts are great for parents, those who travel often, or people who prefer to avoid the gym or classes – you can definitely enjoy Pilates at home.

Realistic Expectations: What Pilates Can and Can't Do

If you have high hopes for Pilates and what it can bring to your healthy lifestyle, we highly recommend jumping in and getting started! Half the challenge of exercise is finding the motivation to work out and sticking to a routine that works for you.

Consistent Pilates practice can help with weight loss, muscle strength and definition, and various other health benefits. However, some unrealistic expectations about Pilates need to be debunked. These include the following:

1. Pilates alone will achieve your weight loss goals

No weight loss plan recommends one single action to meet an individual’s goals. A combination of diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes gets the job done. Anyone who says all you need to do to lose weight is perform Pilates daily is incorrect. It can certainly aid in the process, but it’s not a magic tool (unfortunately!).

2. Pilates will give you a 6-pack

While core strength and stability are at the foundation of Pilates, few participants see quickly-toned abdominal muscles after taking Pilates classes. Many see muscle definition in time, but Pilates focuses on strengthening the core muscles to improve your overall stability, flexibility, and posture. Building a 6-pack takes proper nutrition, burning belly fat, and consistent core workouts. Pilates can help you get to that point, but your diet will be the most significant factor in achieving those toned abdominal muscles.

3. Pilates is not a cardio workout

Taking a Pilates class is not the same as going for a long run or walking. You won’t challenge your cardiovascular system as much as you would while performing aerobic exercise.

Types of Pilates to Try

One of the best things about Pilates is how versatile it is for any health journey. There are seven types of Pilates you can try, and most of them can be performed at home or in the gym if you don’t have access to a class.

Mat Pilates

This is the most popular and accessible form of Pilates, as all you’ll need is a mat and floor space to complete the workout. You’ll use your body weight for resistance, but some choose to add light weights or resistance bands to make it more challenging.

Reformer Pilates

The Reformer is an apparatus that is controlled by springs to target specific muscle groups and add resistance to movements. The Reformer is increasing in popularity for Pilates classes and many prefer it to classic mat Pilates.

Megaformer Pilates

The Megaformer is an advanced version of the Reformer with additional attachments and features for more advanced Pilates movements. The Megaformer focuses on high-intensity exercises while the Reformer utilizes low-impact movements.

Hot Pilates

Similar to hot yoga, hot Pilates is a great way to increase the intensity of your workout and get your sweat on by adding heat. These classes are a bit different from classic Pilates because they work to get the heart rate up, heating up the muscles faster, and improving flexibility.

Clinical Pilates

This form of Pilates focuses on body alignment and core strength. It’s ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels because of its low-impact nature. Clinical Pilates improves coordination, balance, and flexibility while enhancing overall physical health.

Classical Pilates

Classical Pilates follows Joseph Pilates’ original teachings, involving six principles that help to center the body and mind. Participants will focus on core strength, alignment of the spine, and joint mobility.

Contemporary Pilates

This modernized form of Pilates leverages traditional Pilates movements with treatments from physical therapists who utilize Pilates for their patient’s recovery. Participants will focus on breathwork and relaxation techniques during this practice.

Achieve Your Health Goals With Evidation

Making the most out of your workouts is one of the most effective ways to ensure you stick to your exercise routine. It’s critical to know where you’re starting, your progress, and your goals for the future.

Creating a healthy lifestyle is all about building sustainable habits, and that’s where Evidation comes in. Get rewarded for healthy actions, access personalized health content, and more. Download the Evidation app today and utilize essential health data and trends to your advantage. Get started today!

Your Health
January 12, 2024

Navigating health: understanding obesity as a risk factor

6 minutes

Have you ever asked, "What does obesity cause?" If so, then it's time to learn more about conditions that have obesity as a risk factor.

Obesity is a disease that affects nearly 42% of Americans, according to the CDC. If you are a person with obesity, you’re not alone. And it’s important to know this health condition affects more than just your weight. Obesity is connected to many serious health concerns, and understanding these risks and comorbidities will help you understand why prioritizing your health is so important.

Obesity as a risk factor: health risks associated with obesity

Obesity has a clear connection to several serious health conditions. That’s why doctors are so careful to recommend healthy changes if they see a patient’s weight increasing. While there may not be a direct link between obesity and specific conditions, the increased risk is clear.

Why is this? For one thing, too much extra weight takes a toll on the bones, joints, heart, brain, muscles, and additional body systems. Visceral fat, which is the fat around internal organs, can raise blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels while also increasing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Fatty material can build up in the arteries. Sometimes, this can lead to clogs that can prevent blood from flowing properly to the heart or brain. This fact, combined with the higher risk of high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, increases your chances of developing more serious heart health issues.

Cardiovascular disease is just one health risk people with obesity may face. According to the CDC, other health factors include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Cancer
  • Mental health concerns
  • Body pain

This list can feel a little overwhelming, but remember, you’re not alone. If you have obesity, many others are also facing these challenges. Understanding these risk factors will help you take the best possible care of your health and wellness.

Obesity and comorbidity

While obesity is a risk factor for several serious conditions, it’s also often found along with other conditions. This is known as comorbidity. Comorbid conditions don’t necessarily cause each other, but they are found together. Interestingly, there’s some overlap between risk factors and comorbid conditions when it comes to obesity. Specifically, obesity is often comorbid with:

Diabetes

According to Harvard, Type 2 diabetes is the health condition most strongly influenced by body weight. Someone who has a BMI of 35 or higher is 93 times more likely to also have diabetes. Researchers theorize that inflammation produced by fat cells may contribute to this link, especially abdominal fat cells. Too much inflammation affects blood sugar levels, which may be why these conditions are often found together.

Cardiovascular disease

Several cardiovascular diseases are directly connected to obesity. For instance, Harvard also indicates excess body weight is directly associated with coronary artery disease. In one study, individuals with obesity had an 81% higher risk of developing this condition. Stroke is also connected to excess body weight. Many people who suffer cardiovascular death also have obesity.

Cancer

Cancer and obesity are also connected, but the connection isn’t as clear as the connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease because there are many different types of cancers with different causes. Some of the types of cancer connected to obesity include cancers of the:

  • Digestive system
  • Esophagus
  • Pancreas
  • Breast
  • Endometrium
  • Kidney
  • Gallbladder

Many of these cancers have the highest connection to fat in the abdominal area rather than other areas of the body.

Reading a list like this can feel overwhelming. Yet it’s important to know these connections so you can make informed choices about your health. With some changes, you may be able to lower your risk and lessen the chance of developing a comorbid condition.

Impact on energy levels

When someone has obesity, they often have lower energy levels or overall feelings of just being tired. There are several reasons for this. First, many people with obesity struggle with their sleep, often due to sleep apnea. Also, the body has to work harder to move when it carries excess weight. Finally, excess body fat can impact the hormones connected to energy levels. 

Thankfully, if you’re dealing with lower energy levels, there are some positive steps you can make to improve. One idea is to move your body more often. Exercise may feel difficult when you’re tired, but as soon as you get moving, you’ll start feeling the impact of endorphins, which can increase your energy and boost your mood. Movement doesn’t have to be strenuous, either. A simple walk around the block can have great positive impacts on your energy.

Second, consider drinking more water. Hydration increases energy levels, and water intake requirements have a direct link to your body’s size. You may need more than you think!

Obesity and mental health

Poor energy and other health conditions can all impact your mental health. You may be a victim of body-shaming as well as over half of all adults experience stigma related to their weight in some way. As many as 20 to 60 percent of people with obesity are also suffering some sort of psychiatric illness, which is a higher rate than the general population. Understanding that you aren’t alone in these struggles, and empowering yourself to make positive health changes, may help lessen the impact on your mental health. Always remember to seek professional care, too, if you have a mental health concern. 

Practical tips for health prioritization

These risks of obesity are serious, but the good news is that positive health changes make a big difference. While each individual’s approach to health will be unique due to their personal life experiences, most people can make changes that will lower their risk of developing these conditions. The key is to prioritize your health. 

If you’re struggling with being overweight and are aware of obesity risk factors, you may already know changes you can make that could help you live a healthier lifestyle. If these changes feel challenging, remember that every small step you take can have a big impact on your overall health. 

Before you start any health changes, consider having a check-up with your doctor. You might have underlying health conditions making it harder to work on your weight. If you treat these, you might find your healthy lifestyle changes are more effective. You can also get the green light from your doctor for the changes you want to make.

Another strategy to consider is a change in your diet, which can start with portion control. Eating smaller portions can help you lower your calorie intake, which is a good first step. You can also increase the number of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins you eat, which give you more nutrients than other foods. As you start making dietary changes, check out some common health myths, such as the idea that all carbs are bad, and make changes a little bit at a time. 

Remember that water is a way to boost your energy? It’s also a way to achieve other health goals. Drinking the right amount of water for your body and your activity levels can not only increase energy, but it could also help you eat less. If you add water a little bit at a time, you’ll likely find that it becomes a habit, and it also may help you eat less as you work to reduce your body weight.

Finally, remember the importance of exercise! Find times when you can incorporate more movement into your day, such as by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or having a dance party at home at the end of the day. If you have mobility challenges, a seated workout might be a good way to get started. You’ll likely find that doing so boosts your energy levels and your motivation.  

Making health changes and embracing healthy living can feel overwhelming at first, but every little change adds up over time. You can use tools to track these changes to help you stay motivated. You can also pair Evidation with your favorite health and fitness tracking program to reward yourself for the healthy changes you make. Download the app today to take back your health with Evidation.

Lifestyle & Wellness
January 10, 2024

How to maintain weight: a practical guide

5 minutes

Utilizing tracking apps, staying active, and revamping your nutrition are all keys to how to maintain weight as you age.

While weight is just one measure of health, maintaining a healthy weight for your body can be an important part of feeling your best. If you've ever been curious about how to maintain weight after losing it, or you're concerned about gaining weight as you get older, we've got you covered. Here, we'll explore how to understand your body's needs and simple steps you can take to help you stay within the weight range that's healthiest for you.

Comprehending your body's needs

In order to maintain your weight, it's important to understand your body's caloric needs (this is especially important if you have special health conditions, or if you've had weight loss surgery). There are many factors--including age, body composition, gender, and activity level--that can play a role in how many calories your body needs in order to thrive.

Using a simple calculator--like this one from the Mayo Clinic--can give you a baseline idea of how many calories your body might need each day. Of course, calculators like these only account for age, height, weight, and gender, and it's a good idea to talk with your primary care provider about whether you need to change your caloric goal based on your body's unique needs.

Metabolism--the amount of energy your body needs to maintain its weight and activity levels--changes with age. Around age 20, the body's metabolism begins to slow down. This change continues over time, with the body's metabolism slowing down by about 10% each decade. There are several factors that contribute to this change, including changes in physical activity levels and loss of muscle mass.

Once you understand your body's caloric needs, you're able to make decisions that can help you feel your best for years to come. Here, we'll take a look at some actionable tips you can use to maintain your weight at any age.

Create sustainable habits

Creating habits is an important part of maintaining your weight in a healthy way. Many of us have experienced the dip in willpower that comes after a surge of motivation (such as resolving to overhaul eating habits as a New Year's resolution). Willpower almost always fades, but habits are more likely to stand the test of time.

Rather than changing your entire life to work toward maintaining your weight, implementing small habits that you can stick with can be a more effective way to create lasting health. As you browse through the habits discussed below, think about the small ways that you can incorporate these ideas into your day-to-day life.

Balanced nutrition matters

Woman with basket full of fresh vegetables in kitchen

It's important to work with your health care provider to get an understanding of what a balanced diet means for your body. That being said, following general guidelines that prioritize foods with a higher nutritional value can help you make the changes that will allow you to maintain your weight as you get older.

While foods with a lower nutritional value (such as baked goods, salty snacks, and sweets) can fit into most nutrition plans from time to time, it's important that the bulk of your calories come from whole, unprocessed foods. Incorporating vegetables, fruit, protein (like meats, fish, and nuts), and whole grains into your daily diet can help you maintain your weight and feel your best.

Mindful eating

Busy schedules can make it tough to sit down and fully enjoy a meal, but doing so is vital to help you maintain your weight over time. It's easy to eat more food than your body needs when you're always on the go, and it's even easier to forget to track foods that you pick up from the refreshment table at a meeting or at the drive-thru on a lunch break.

Planning, recording, and taking time to enjoy your meals can make it easier to stay on track with eating the foods that make you feel your best. Preparing meals as a family, trying a new fruit or vegetable each week, and carving out time in your calendar to sit at the table--distraction free--can all contribute to a heightened sense of satisfaction from food.

Incorporating physical activity

Exercise matters! While keeping your body moving will certainly help you maintain your weight as you get older, the benefits don't stop there. When you're active, you're lowering your risk of diabetes, cancer, cancer, stroke, and heart disease.

While it's recommended that you get about two and a half hours of exercise per week, you don't need to start there if you haven't exercised in a while. Going for a ten-minute walk around the block after dinner, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and choosing the farthest parking spaces while you're running errands can all help you begin to incorporate movement into your life.

Using a step tracker and checking your data each week can help you set achievable yet challenging goals that will encourage you to keep moving. Invite your friends and family to participate as well--when the people around you are prioritizing movement, it's easier to stay on track.

Utilize tracking tools

Like we mentioned, using tracking tools is key to increasing your physical activity and understanding your nutritional habits. Consistency is key, and it's important that you know where you're at in order to make the changes that will boost your health. Integrating an app that allows you to utilize data can provide you with support and insight on how to make changes that can help you maintain your health over time.

Evidation: Here to support you as you move toward your health goals

With Evidation, you get both the tracking and support that you need to work toward your health goals. Our clear guidelines help you know the steps you need to take to optimize your health--and our data tracking allows you to celebrate your progress. Our team is here to support you. Download the app today to make the most of your health data.

Healthy Eating
January 5, 2024

The Ultimate List of Iron-Rich Foods

4 minutes

Are you low in iron? Check out this list of iron rich foods you can add to your diet today.

Making healthy food choices starts with understanding the nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, that you need to support your health goals. Iron is one of the minerals you need. If you’re struggling with low iron, or you want to prevent yourself from becoming iron deficient, this list of iron-rich foods will help.

The vital role of iron in health and its benefits

The mineral iron works in the body’s production of hemoglobin. This part of your red blood cells carries oxygen to the body, so it directly affects energy as well as growth and development. Hemoglobin, which requires iron, is also an important part of brain development.

People of all ages need adequate iron in their diets to support these functions. The American Society of Hematology estimates that 1.2 billion people around the world are deficient in iron. This condition, known as anemia, can cause people to feel weak or tired, have concentration problems, experience irritability, and have numbness or tingling of the hands, according to Penn Medicine.

Because of the impact on growth and development as well as the uncomfortable symptoms of iron deficiency, getting enough is quite important to your overall health. Luckily, this is a mineral you can get from your food, as long as you don’t have an underlying health issue that makes absorbing iron difficult.

Top iron-rich foods for a balanced diet: How you should consume it

Iron comes naturally from many foods. There are two types of iron you can get from your diet. Heme iron is the type found in meat and fish. The body can easily absorb this type. Non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods and eggs. It’s less easily absorbed by the body.

One way to increase your absorption of iron is to consume iron-containing foods with foods high in vitamin C, such as peppers, sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, citrus fruits, kiwi, and papaya. You can also opt to take a vitamin C supplement with your iron-rich meals if you prefer.

Animal-based iron sources

If you want easy-to-absorb iron, you’ll need to look to animal-based iron sources for heme iron. Heme iron comes from hemoglobin, and you’ll find it in meat and seafood. Most meats are good sources of iron. Red meat is well-known for being a solid source of iron, but it’s also found in chicken, turkey, ham, pork, shrimp, tuna, and lamb.

One food that is particularly rich in iron is liver. A 3.5-ounce serving has 6.5 mg. This is 36% of the recommended daily amount for the average adult.

If you’re a meat eater, consider adding one of these protein sources to every meal. This will increase your iron and ensure you get the easily absorbed type.

Plant-based iron sources

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, don’t worry. You can get ample iron from plant-based sources. This is non-heme iron, so it’s not as easily absorbed. This fact means you should add in the vitamin C rich foods to help with your body’s absorption.

The best fruits, vegetables, and grains to use for non-heme iron include:

  • Peas
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Enriched bread, pasta, and cereal
  • Rye
  • Whole-grain breads
  • Figs
  • Dates
  • Lentils
  • Soybeans
  • Raisins
  • Prunes
  • Broccoli
  • String beans
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Cabbage
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Seeds and nuts, except peanuts
  • Hemp seeds

Cooking and meal ideas to boost iron intake

So how can you create meals that are practical and iron rich? Here are some easy meal ideas that include foods high in iron and are also tasty.

Steak salad

Steak salad is a great option to add some leafy greens and some red meat to your diet. You can top the salad with raw broccoli, cabbage, and even some hemp seeds to increase the iron content. The addition of peppers will add the vitamin C you need to assist with absorption as well. This makes a very balanced lunch option.

Steak and eggs

Steak and eggs is a healthy, iron-rich breakfast idea. Add some spinach in with the eggs to make it even more nutrient-dense and to get some produce in your meal.

Taco Tuesday

Yes, tacos can be an iron-rich option for your dinner meal. Use ground beef or ground pork to give the meal an iron boost, and add cabbage or dark leafy greens as a topping. Roll them into a whole-grain tortilla to give even more iron to the meal.

Soup

One of the beautiful things about soup is that you can add just about anything to it to change up the flavor profile and make it fit your needs. Start with beef or chicken broth, choosing bone broth if possible to get more nutrients. Then, add some protein from the list of foods rich in iron. Include vegetables, such as spinach and peas, and then round it out with an iron-rich legume, like lentils. The spices you add will change the flavor profile to be exactly what you want, changing with your tastes.

Stir fry

Beef and chicken are high in iron, and peppers are high in vitamin C. Making a stir fry with these ingredients will bring both into your diet, and this increases the absorption of the iron. Many stir fry recipes also work well with broccoli, an option that has both vitamin C and iron.

Liver and onions

Liver and onions is a great way to start trying liver, especially if organ meat isn't something you’ve developed a taste for. To make this dish, soak your liver in milk for a while to remove the bitterness. Then, saute some onions in butter until soft. Dredge the liver in a mixture of flour, salt, and pepper, and fry it in the same pan as the onions. Serve together.

Add an iron-rich food to your favorite recipe

You don’t necessarily need to cook recipes specifically for their iron content. You can get a similar benefit by simply adding iron-rich foods to your favorite recipes. For example, do you usually eat manicotti? Consider mixing in some spinach with the cheese before you stuff the noodles.

Start tracking your food with Evidation

As you focus on making smart food choices, including adding more iron into your diet, Evidation can help. You can use the app to reward yourself for smart food choices that support your health goals. You can also use your favorite app to track your water intake and count calories, then earn rewards by pairing these apps with Evidation. Start rewarding your healthy choices with Evidation today.

Evidation Highlights
January 3, 2024

Happiness and its relationship with health

4 minutes

Happiness is increasingly recognized as an important part of overall health. Find out how happy Evidation Members are and what impact it has on their health.

We recently asked our members about their level of happiness: “All things considered, how happy would you say you are?” More than 93,000 people from all 50 states answered, telling us that:

  • 53% were “Very happy”
  • 17% were “Happy”
  • 20% answered “Neutral”
  • 10% were “Not very happy” or “Not at all happy”

With 70%, or more than 65,000, of our members saying they were very happy or happy, we thought we’d dig into what this means and share our insights here.

Happiness is increasingly recognized as an important part of overall health. March 20 has been the official International Day of Happiness for the last 10 years, a day that recognizes happiness as “a fundamental human goal” and encourages countries around the world to consider happiness in their public policies. The United Nations also issues its annual “World Happiness Report” on that day. In the 2023 report, Finland was considered the happiest country in the world for the sixth year in a row!

What does it mean to be “happy"?

The simple dictionary definition of happiness is a “state of well-being and contentment,” but as you can imagine, having a sense of well-being and contentment can mean different things for different people. What you consider important for your well-being, and therefore happiness, is probably not the same as your partner, your parents, your neighbors, or your friends.

For the World Happiness Report, the United Nations takes into account 14 different physical and mental health items, including our relationships with our family, at work, and in the community, as well as the amount of social support we feel that we receive, satisfaction with our work situation, and the amount of personal freedom we believe we have.

Researchers specializing in happiness also suggest that happiness is made up of many different aspects of our life, including our:

  • Feelings of joy, pleasure, and cheerfulness
  • Sense of purpose in life
  • Satisfaction with our quality of life

The researchers drew this diagram to show how different factors contribute to our happiness:

Steptoe A. Happiness and Health. Annual Review of Public Health 2019;40(1):339-359

What did we find out about happiness in the Evidation community?

When we look at the diagram above, it’s clear that happiness is affected by many different parts of our lives, some that we can control and others that we can’t. To look at some of the traits of our Evidation community that influenced their happiness, we used the answers about happiness we reported at the beginning of this article and linked those with where our members live (by zip code), the size of their cities or towns, and their relationship status.

We found that the five happiest states were:

  1. Kentucky
  2. Arkansas
  3. Mississippi
  4. Louisiana
  5. Utah

Interestingly, four of the five states are located in the Southeast. 

  • People in Kentucky were more likely to be married or living with partners (74%) than people in California (60%) or New York (58%), who reported lower levels of happiness. 
  • People in Kentucky were more likely to live in smaller towns and rural areas. 
  • For people in the Southeastern states, happiness generally was higher in more rural neighborhoods.
  • Compared with people living in the Southeast, people in California and Montana (who were not as happy) said they were less likely to receive or provide help or support from people close to them.

How does happiness affect health and vice versa?

Now that we’ve looked at what can affect our levels of happiness, what does that have to do with our health? It’s not really an easy question to answer because of how complex both happiness and health are, but research over the last couple of decades has shed light on ways that being happier or having greater well-being can be positive for health, including:

Some of the findings we had from the Evidation community might be related to how connected we are to the people around us, regardless of how many people there are. Having close relationships has also been linked to greater happiness and a longer lifespan in a long-term study. Positive social relations can also improve your ability to overcome stress and maintain a positive outlook.

It’s for these reasons that the United Nations and other global organizations emphasize the importance of a population’s happiness in government planning.

What are some actions you can take to improve your well-being and happiness?

Each of us can also take actions to improve our own levels of happiness and therefore our health. Not every action needs to be large. In fact, results from a study called BIG JOY showed that micro-acts or small actions performed every day had a big impact on emotional well-being (life satisfaction, happy feelings, meaning in life), positive emotions, enhancing relationships, and improving sleep. Below are some suggestions for ways you can add to your well-being.

Enhance your social support network by reaching out to friends, family, and coworkers or joining a professional organization, sports club, church group, book club, or other group-based activity.

Perform selfless acts for others by volunteering at a local organization, helping a stranger in need, or donating money to your favorite charity.

Fit in some physical activity by taking a walk, parking further away at the grocery store, joining a fitness class, or dancing to your favorite song.

Spend time in nature by eating your lunch outside, sitting on a bench in your local park, or joining a guided hike.

These are just a few examples of ways research has shown can enhance well-being — try one, many, or all and find others that fit into your life and bring you joy.

Want to receive personalized health insights? Complete cards daily in the Evidation app and, if you haven’t already, connect a compatible health app. 

Don’t yet have an Evidation account? Download the app today!

Your Health
December 29, 2023

Does blood pressure rise after eating?

4 minutes

Is eating a case of sudden high blood pressure? For some people, the answer to this question is yes. Here's what you need to know.

There are many factors and lifestyle events that can cause your blood pressure to increase. Exercising, while healthy for your heart, can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure. Stress can be a cause of sudden high blood pressure as well. But what about necessary lifestyle factors, such as eating? Does blood pressure rise after eating? For some people, it does.

Generally speaking, when you eat, your blood pressure goes down temporarily. This is because the body sends blood to the gastrointestinal system to help you break down your food, and the rest of your body experiences a drop in blood pressure. Increases in blood pressure are less common, but they can still happen. If you suspect your blood pressure’s increasing after eating, here’s what you need to know.

The physiology of eating: how the body responds

When you eat, your body must send extra blood to the digestive organs to help with breaking down the food and using its nutrients. When this happens, the blood vessels away from the digestive system narrow. This process also triggers an increased heart rate after eating. All of this happens so that the body maintains sufficient blood flow to the brain and extremities, even though more blood is going toward the digestive system.

These physiological processes cause a slight dip in blood pressure that’s rarely a cause for concern. Sometimes, the blood vessels and heart don’t respond the way they should to these natural changes, causing a more severe decrease in blood pressure accompanied by symptoms, such as dizziness and lightheadedness. This is a condition known as postprandial hypotension. Having high blood pressure after eating is less common, but it can happen.

How do you recognize high blood pressure after eating?

Having high blood pressure after eating is a condition known as postprandial hypertension. This rare occurrence is hard to spot because high blood pressure doesn’t cause many symptoms. Most of the time, people only realize they have this issue if they take their blood pressure after eating for another reason.

That said, extremely high blood pressure spikes can cause symptoms, according to the World Health Organization. These may include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Changes in vision
  • Anxiety

If you have any of these symptoms after eating, talk to your doctor right away. This can indicate a severe increase in blood pressure that needs immediate medical attention.

Factors influencing high blood pressure changes

There are several factors that can influence your blood pressure and cause it to rise. These include:

Cuff size or reading errors

If you're getting an unusually high reading after eating, make sure you're using a blood pressure cuff that's the right size for your arm. If it's too small, you will get an inaccurate reading, and that reading will be high. Similarly, make sure you are reading the blood pressure properly and are sitting still, with your arm gently resting on a table or the arm of the chair.

Food choices

If you eat foods that are high in salt or saturated fat, you’re going to be more likely to notice an increase in blood pressure after eating. The salt and fat content triggers this change. Monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG, is also connected to blood pressure increases.

Stress

Stress can cause increased blood pressure. This isn’t directly connected to eating, but you may notice higher readings if you’re in a period of high stress.

Caffeine

Caffeine intake can cause your blood pressure to increase. If you consume caffeine at your meal, then you’re more likely to notice increases in blood pressure after you finish eating, but the beverage, not the food, is the trigger.

Alcohol

Very Well Health indicates alcoholic beverages can trigger an increase in blood pressure. This increase in blood pressure is short-lived, but if the spike is high enough or if you already have high blood pressure, it can be dangerous.

Managing post-eating blood pressure: lifestyle strategies

Eating is not usually a cause of sudden high blood pressure spikes, but for some people, it does cause a slight increase. If you’re dealing with blood pressure problems and have found a connection between eating and high levels, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to help.

First, know that temporary increases in blood pressure, as long as it’s normally at a healthy level, may not be a cause for concern. Talk to your doctor about your cardiovascular health so you can know whether or not this is an issue.

If your doctor is concerned, take measures to improve your cardiovascular health and lower your cholesterol levels. Increased exercise and water intake are both good strategies to create overall improvements in your heart health.

You can also focus on what you eat if you’re seeing a connection between your blood pressure and your eating schedule. Healthline indicates the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is a good place to start. This diet focuses on foods that are low in salt and saturated fats, including fresh produce, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. It also recommends limiting added sugars. With these changes, you can lower your blood pressure up to 11 mm Hg, which could significantly impact the changes in blood pressure after eating.

Healthy eating also means adding some factors into your diet. For example, potassium and magnesium can help lower blood pressure levels, according to one study. Lean protein and fiber are also beneficial to your cardiovascular health.

Blood pressure increases after you eat are rare, but for some people, they can be normal. However, if you’re already dealing with elevated blood pressure, or if those increases are substantial, you’re going to need to pay attention to them. Being mindful of this type of postprandial blood pressure change, and making lifestyle adjustments when needed, can help you take better control over your health. By prioritizing your health and staying informed about factors that influence it, you can enjoy better wellness in your life.

If you’re looking for help with achieving your health goals, consider Evidation. Our clear guidelines and support have helped many people reach their health goals. Start tracking your health with Evidation today.

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