Archive - June 2019

1
Stretch It Out!
2
Summer Kids Gardening and Eating Adventures
3
Summer Means Free Outdoor Music Concerts
4
Food as Medicine for Mental Health

Stretch It Out!

By: Emily Neilsen

For as long as I’ve exercised, I’ve had some inkling that stretching played a role in physical fitness. Flexibility was measured in the Presidential Fitness Tests administered every year in elementary school and gym teachers and coaches diligently included a few stretches during warm-ups. But the message I always took away was that stretching was an afterthought – good to do, but much less important (and more boring!) then cardiovascular and strength-building exercise.

Photo of the author practicing yoga in her third trimester.

I took this perspective with me into the yoga studio when I first began attending classes. I loved the challenging flows and strengthening poses instructors guided us through. But as things wound down toward the end of class and slower stretches were introduced, I returned to my old thinking. “This is boring and not all that important.” It’s a bit surprising, I suppose, that I would later become a yoga instructor with a deep appreciation for the benefits of stretching. In fact, I now truly enjoy doing them.

Why the change? Adopting a regular yoga practice provided me an experiential understanding of the benefits. Quite simply, I felt markedly better in my body whether I was in motion or at rest. I came to appreciate the feeling of slowing down, focusing on my breath, and noticing my body becoming more flexible. Beyond these positive feelings, the benefits of stretching are wide-ranging. Stretching improves range of motion, enables muscles to work more effectively, decreases the risk of injury, and can greatly improve athletic performance. And, as we age, flexibility becomes essential as it improves mobility and independence. In fact, stretching is now considered as important as cardiovascular and strength-building exercise.

The good news is, you don’t have to devote your life to becoming a yoga instructor to enjoy the benefits of stretching. If time is a concern, try 10-15 minutes of stretching a few times a week or pick a couple of days a week to practice a form of exercise, such as yoga or pilates, that incorporates stretching.

If you’re stretching on your own, there are a few things to remember:

  1. Stretching is not a warm-up: Stretching cold muscles can cause injury.  Stretch after at least 10 minutes of light to moderate exercise.
  2. Be aware of pain: stretching can be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. Stop stretching or take a less intense stretch if you notice pain, especially in your joints.
  3. Get some guidance: It’s worth knowing which muscles to stretch and how. Take a class, borrow a book, or do some research online.
  4. Be patient: The benefits of stretching are cumulative and you may not notice a huge shift right away. Over time though, your muscles will become more flexible, efficient and healthy, and you will likely notice an improvement in your joints.

For more information, visit https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931.


Emily Neilsen is a mother and educator, who loves asking big questions, digging in the soil, swimming in natural bodies of water, and playing outdoors. She is a 500-hour and Prenatal certified yoga instructor. Emily currently plans arts & cultural events and reading initiatives, and works with first-year students at Northern Vermont University-Johnson. She cares deeply about health and believes mental health, movement, and diet play essential roles in wellness. Emily lives with her husband and 2-year-old, as well as a husky and a calico cat in Hyde Park, VT.

Summer Kids Gardening and Eating Adventures

By: Julie Swank

Warm summer days have finally arrived in Northern Vermont and it’s been a fun family project to get our garden started for the year. My son has been lugging buckets of water to his favorite plants and helping plant seeds…everywhere. If you’ve spent any time with a toddler, you know that you can’t always plan where the plants and holes end up in your garden, but the time spent exploring and learning about plants is endlessly worth any of the garden “surprises” that happen along the way.

After many years of teaching in the garden and on the farm, I’m convinced kids will eat almost anything if they get a chance to grow it themselves. Even a bold-flavored radish can be enticing when picked glowing and colorful from the ground yourself. This vegetable devouring transformation doesn’t always happen overnight. Something happens organically (pardon the pun) as time passes in the garden and kids watch these amazing living things turn sunlight, water, and soil into something they can eat and enjoy. Spending time tucking a seed into the earth, waiting for the sprout to grow, to watching the kale grow up and unfurl curly leaves – who says plants aren’t magic?

Connecting food through stories and books is another way to inspire healthful food adventures. My son and I have been enjoying a book about a father and son making a pizza with ingredients they harvest in their garden. It still amazes me how even pre-literate kids can remember so many details from books. If that story involves characters eating a new tasty crunchy vegetable, all the better!   

Theme gardens or beds are a great way to connect the dots for little ones to understand how food grows from the ground. If you haven’t planted your garden yet, consider popping in some starts or seeds that you can cook together later into a tasty treat with your little helpers.  Then read a story in the shade on a warm day after all that hard work – what could be better? Here are my favorite pairings for garden plantings based around meals and some stories to go along!

Stir fry bed: Pac choi, carrots, broccoli, napa cabbage, peas, and beans. The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin. Don’t let the title fool you, this is a veggie-positive story!

Salsa bed: Tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, and cilantro. Add a jalapeño pepper plant to the mix if you have really brave kiddos – they’re one of the mildest chiles.
Green is a Chile Pepper, by Roseanne Greenfield Thong

Salad bed: Lettuces, green mixes, radishes, edible flowers (calendula, nasturtium, viola, pansies, Bachelor’s button).
Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole or Up in the Garden Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner (a Vermont author!) have beautiful pictures and descriptions of the cycle of a garden through the seasons.

Pizza garden – Tomatoes, peppers, basil, onions. If you can find wheat seeds, plant a row or strip for the “crust.”
Pizza Day by Melissa Iwai

Check out your local library or bookstore to find these books. Happy summer gardening, reading, and eating!


Julie Swank is a farmer, a school garden and nutrition educator, and most recently a mom, which has put all of her skills to the test to keep her busy two-year-old healthy and fed. She loves to connect people to their food by sharing advice from the kitchen and getting hands in the soil on the farm.  You can find her in the kitchen cooking meals for her son’s preschool, Four Seasons of Early Learning, and tending gardens in Greensboro, VT.

Summer Means Free Outdoor Music Concerts

By: Leah Hollenberger

Listening to music while hanging out with friends in the park is one of the best things about summer. The fact that we can do this on three nights every single week – for free – is amazing!

I am so grateful to all of the volunteers, musicians, and local sponsors who make these fun events happen. So pack up a picnic dinner or bring some cash, as most have local food vendors providing refreshments, and enjoy!

Here are some of the free local music festivals in the area. Click on the link for their concert line-up and details.

Gazebo Concerts, Stowe Free Library, Tuesdays at 6pm-7pm, July 23 – Aug. 13
https://www.stoweperformingarts.com/concerts/gazebo-concerts/

Tuesday Night Live in Johnson, Legion Field by the elementary school, 6pm-8pm-ish, July 9 – Aug. 27
https://www.facebook.com/johnsonvt05656/.

Wednesday Night Live, Oxbow Park in Morrisville, 5:30pm-7:30pm-ish, June 12 – Aug. 21
http://www.morristownvt.org/images/oxbow_schedule_final.jpg

Thursday Nights on the Lawn at the Alchemist in Stowe, 4pm-8pm, May 31 – Aug. 29
https://alchemistbeer.com/#events

If you can travel, Catamount Arts presents a free late Sunday afternoon concert. The Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series at Dog Mountain, Sundays at 4pm, July 14 – Sept. 22
https://concerts.levittamp.org/stjohnsbury

Do you know of other free concerts this summer? Which free music series is your favorite?


Leah Hollenberger is the Development and External Relations Officer for Northern Vermont University. She helped create the Live Well Lamoille Blog while serving as Vice President of Marketing, Development, and Community Relations for Copley Hospital. A former award-winning TV and Radio producer, she is the mother of two and spends her free time volunteering, cooking, playing outdoors, and producing textile arts. Leah writes about community events, preventive care, and assorted ideas to help one make healthy choices.

Food as Medicine for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

Around 400 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” While this quote is commonly used in reference to physical health (think about doctors prescribing heart-healthy diets to reduce rates of heart disease), in today’s blog post we will be extending the tenet of “Food As Medicine” to mental health as well. Indeed, recent research confirms what Hippocrates said so long ago: nutrition is a key pillar for supporting positive mental health outcomes. 

Simply put, our mood and food are intimately connected and bi-directional, each impacting the other. When we pay attention to the cues our bodies give us, we can often mitigate unwanted and unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms. For example, when I have clients tell me they are anxious, one of the first things I ask them about is their caffeine and sugar consumption. If you are experiencing a racing heart, pressured speech, or a cranked/on-edge nervous feeling, it may likely be that you have thrown your body chemistry out of balance by either over-consuming caffeine and/or eating too many-fast burning carbs which can lead to blood-sugar dysregulation or hypoglycemia, resulting in a yo-yo effect on your mood and energy levels. Perhaps an easy first step is to be curious about how you might feel differently if you were to reduce your caffeine use or eat a more nutrient-dense breakfast that stabilizes blood sugar levels and evens out your mood.

Did you know that our mental health is dependent on our body’s ability to make neurotransmitters, such as our “feel-good” chemicals, serotonin, dopamine, GABA, glutamate, and norepinephrine?  Did you know that we need amino acids to make the neurotransmitters and that amino acids come from the proteins we consume?  While the importance of eating good quality proteins cannot be overemphasized, it is equally as important that our bodies are digesting and breaking down these proteins into the amino acids that are the building blocks in the production of neurotransmitters. Approaching our consumption of food in a more intentional and slower manner and taking the time to awaken our senses as we eat is an important step in ensuring optimal digestion. With peak digestion comes prime production of the neurotransmitters that support positive mental health. 

Lastly, there is growing research on the link between gut permeability (a.k.a. leaky gut), inflammation in the body and depression. Doing whatever you can to reduce inflammation by watching your stress levels and eating the types of foods that soothe and heal your intestinal lining helps support positive mental health outcomes (more on this in a later blog post).

Specific steps that can support positive mental health:

  • Hydrate with water immediately upon waking. Drinking water supports cellular health and helps with mood, energy, mobility, and pain. Aim to consume 50% of your body weight in ounces of water every day. For example: If you weigh 150 pounds, shoot for 75 ounces of water per day. For every cup of caffeinated beverage you consume (these have a dehydrating effect on the body), compensate with an additional 2 cups of water.
  • Eat food before consuming your coffee in order to mitigate the impact of the caffeine on your body’s nervous system. 
  • Choose longer-lasting sources of foods in the morning to prevent the mood swings and irritability often associated with eating sugary, processed foods. For example, make a simple breakfast sandwich with bacon (cook a few pounds of bacon over the weekend and store it in your freezer for easy use throughout the week) or sausage, eggs and greens, or make a breakfast bowl with rice, quinoa, scrambled eggs, greens, and cheese. This website offers multiple ideas on how to start your day with superfoods that support your physical and mental health.
  • Eat your meals slowly, chewing each bite longer than you think you need to (or want to) to ensure the proper breakdown of nutrients in the body.
  • Consider consulting with some of our local nutritionists or working with a health coach who can help you follow-through on meal planning and support the changes that can sometimes be difficult to make initially.
  • Remember that even small changes will impact your mental health. Start to identify what foods make you feel poorly and what makes you feel best. Paying attention to how you feel helps. Keep a food/mood journal for 3-4 days, writing down everything you put into your mouth – solids and liquids. Notice your moods and digestive issues. Are you bloated and uncomfortable, is your heart racing, do you have energy, are you experiencing foggy brain, are you angry or irritable? Charting this information will help you remain objective and clear about what is and what is not supporting your mental and emotional health. Food is information, thereby, putting healthy ingredients into our bodies helps optimize both our physical and mental health and functioning.
  • Understand that Excitotoxins – aspartame, sugars, artificial sweeteners – all have an impact on our focus, energy, and mood. Consider exchanging them for stevia, raw honey, or maple syrup. Similarly, eliminating additives and preservatives from foods will reduce their damaging impact on your mood.
  • Eliminate harmful trans fats and oils, which lead to inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. As you work to decrease inflammatory processes by using healthy fats and oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter, you will be supporting optimal mental health functioning and reducing the risk of depressive symptoms.

Additional Resources to Further your Education and Information:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201509/when-food-is-medicine

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/09/food-mental-health

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rhythms-recovery/201703/eat-right-feel-right-mental-health-nutrition

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/28/well/eat/food-mood-depression-anxiety-nutrition-psychiatry.html?utm_campaign=Chris%20Kresser&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=71957723&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_XeO7wHLYkxiu89irzH7xIryxnphpBSEiG-mBm2s66VwSbfQV4jPINyWWiq582Wj6EaACKW-vtinV-rd5ifqtjbpE2WQ&_hsmi=71957723


Julie Bomengen is a Vermont Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with 22 years of experience in the field of mental health. Julie is also a Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC), a certification of the Nutritional Therapy Association. She lives, works and plays in Lamoille County.