Mental Health and Risk Taking

That's me taking a risk a couple years ago.  Yikes

That’s me taking a risk a couple years ago. Yikes

Risk-taking is one of those things that can be both good and bad for mental health.  Examples of unhealthy risk taking:

  • speeding
  • taking illegal drugs
  • having un-protected sex with strangers
  • playing with firearms in unsafe ways

You get the idea.  Sometimes when people engage in these behaviors continuously, it can be a sign of mental illness.  But what I really want to talk about is the positive side of risk taking – the part that is actually good for your mental health.

Here’s how it works: when we get to a certain age with certain responsibilities and drive minivans (OK, maybe that’s just me), adrenaline can become noticeably absent from our lives.   I’m talking about the good kind of adrenaline, the kind that kicks in when we do daring, thrilling and sort of scary (in a good way) things.  Examples might be:

  • taking a rock climbing class
  • dancing on stage
  • giving a talk on world religions
  • participating in an improv comedy sketch

The first part of our life is filled with risks.  Swim races, class presentations, new schools, riding a bike  – childhood is chock full of risky, daring events that are scary at first but almost always work out in the end.  And after the adrenaline and nerves have subsided, kids are left with a new found confidence – something that is immensely important to good mental health.  The problem is, when we become old boring mature, these opportunities are harder to come by.  So we have to seek them out.

I wrote this quote on my phone at least a year ago after I heard someone say it in an NPR interview.  I am sad to say I didn’t write down who said it or what they were talking about, but here it is:

The key to keeping yourself fresh and relevant is to do things you don’t know how to do

I love this idea, and it fits perfectly with the notion of risk taking being a part of good mental health.  Now get out there and do something that makes you nervous!




The Picture of Happiness – Dance Jam

May is The Picture of Happiness month on Dr. Stephanie.

Today’s guest is Sarah Zook.  She says:

Pure happiness is sweat, laughter, loud music and choreography. I teach a class called Dance Jam three times a week at Life Time Fitness. We have dancers, stay at home moms, working women, men, wallflowers, all ages – all young at heart. Whether or not they think they’re the worst dancer or best dancer, it never matters. We just come to have fun, and burning lots of calories is the added bonus. You can be whoever you want in a Dance Jam. Dance Jam doesn’t care, Dance Jam helps you let down your hair!

Sweat + music + choreography = happiness for trainer Sarah Zook

Sweat + music + choreography = happiness for trainer Sarah Zook

Here's me at at "Wear your wedding dress bunco party" where we didn't play a lick of Bunco. Just more like wear your wedding dress because it's fabulous. I am a group fitness instructor and personal trainer at Life Time Fitness. I've been fitness teaching and training since 1997 and love seeing people get stronger, more fit, become empowered inside their bodies and be able to have a good time while doing it.

This is Sarah Zook at at “Wear Your Wedding Dress Bunco Party” where she didn’t play a lick of Bunco – but looked fabulous.  She’s a group fitness instructor and personal trainer at Life Time Fitness. She’s been teaching fitness and training since 1997 and loves seeing people get stronger, more fit, and more empowered about their bodies -  and to be able to have a good time while doing it.

Gardening and Mental Health

Did you know that digging in the dirt, planting a few flowers or veggies, and turning on the hose is all it takes to improve your mental health?

It’s true!

And it’s the perfect time of year to take advantage of this stress-busting, patience-improving, physically-active hobby.  Check out my most recent article over at Produce for Kids to learn more about how digging in the dirt can improve your psychological health:

Produce For Kids blog


Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice

I recently wrote an article for the fantastic non-profit organization LiveWell Colorado.  If you are not familiar with them, take a look:

LiveWell Colorado

The article I contributed was about making healthy choices easy.  Here’s a bit of it:

We all know what we should do: eat more fruits and veggies; drink more water and less soda; move our bodies more and look at screens less.  The challenge is putting this knowledge into action and making healthy choices each day.

So, how do we make the healthy choices the easy ones?

Give yourself a chance.  If there is cake in my house I will eat it.  All of it. I know it’s not healthy, but cake and I have a serious love affair going on.  It’s not possible to say no if frosting is anywhere near me, so instead I keep it far away (except on special occasions, of course). We all have foods that call to us, so why keep them nearby?  To give yourself the best chance of making healthy choices, minimize the unhealthy options in your pantry.

For more ideas about making healthy choices easy, check out the rest of the article here.

Sexy exercise? One Way to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Image credit: Five Words

Image credit: Five Words

I use Grammarly’s Plagiarism Checker because who would I rather be, than me?

According to losing weight and exercise are among the most popular New Year’s resolutions.  According to my 9 year old we should all stick to our resolutions because it will “make the world a better place.”  And according to me making and reaching personal goals can provide a good boost to self esteem and thus mental health.

But what happens when we find ourselves running out of steam when it comes to our “get fit” and “exercise more” and “be more active” resolutions and it’s only January 16th?

I’ve done quite a bit of thinking about this.  I want to offer some tips that are fresh and unique, as most of us already know the standard:

  • exercise with a buddy
  • find something you love to do
  • set small, attainable goals

While these are great pieces of advice, they’ve been shared a million times (and at least 3 or 4 times by me!).  So after searching my brain, my gym and those exercising around me I’ve come up with some new ideas to keep you moving in 2014:

Be someone you’re not.  In this post I wrote about the rush I got when I participated in a flash mob.  One of the things that was so exciting was that I felt like I was someone I’m not: a young dancer.  We can use this same idea when it comes to exercise.  Take Zumba for example.  This super-popular salsa dancing workout is not only fun and good exercise, but it also makes participants feel like they are young, hot, Latin Lovers with sex on their mind and on their hips.  Who doesn’t want to feel like that – if only for a moment?  And I’ve heard boot camp-style class participants say things like: “I feel like I’m a soldier” or “I can pretend I’m a professional athlete” during the intense workouts.

Who do you want to be?  A zenned-out yogi?  A Las Vegas showgirl? A prima ballerina? An NFL player? Let your fantasies dictate your workouts – and who knows who you might become.

Do something you shouldn’t.  I used to have US Weekly delivered to my office each week; but I stopped my subscription a couple of years ago when I determined that the magazine and its covers (about fat new moms, cheating spouses and boozy celebs) were not consistent with good mental health.  But here’s the thing: I miss it.  Like a creme-filled donut, I know the magazine isn’t good for me, but there are times I crave it anyway.

Here’s my trick: I let myself read trashy magazines ONLY when I am on the elliptical, stationary bike or treadmill.  My theory is, the good of the exercise cancels out the smut of the magazine and just like that all my problems are solved. phew.

Be a little bad.  Being a little bad can sometimes feel pretty darn good.  Incorporate this conundrum into your workout routine.  While working out, wear something a little risque, listen to music that is explicit but with a super-motivating beat or watch videos you wouldn’t want anyone else to see.  Why not? I bet the prospect of getting a glimpse of someone wearing those see-through Lulu Lemon pants steered quite a few people to yoga classes they wouldn’t have otherwise attended.

Be a little naughty, and those workout resolutions will be a lot easier to keep.


Happy (Healthy) New Year!

cute cuties

I don’t know about you but but December 31st each year I am super-ready for some healthy eating after a month of splurges, parties and cookies galore. I wrote some tips for “getting back in the healthy saddle” over at LiveWell Colorado.

And I will be putting those tips in place right after I go to that party tonight, then make that delicious french toast tomorrow, then have that big pasta dinner to celebrate New Year’s Day – well, maybe on the 2nd 🙂

Here’s a teaser:

After a long couple of months of parties, holiday cookies and all other manner of food indulgences, January 1st can be a time to “get back in the healthy saddle.” Some of us look forward to going back to the routine of work, school, exercise and more moderate food intake; but others of us can struggle to give up the sweets and treats that have been so abundant since Halloween.

So how can you return to (or start) healthy and sustainable eating and exercise habits in the new year?

One step at a time.

It can be tempting to set lofty goals like exercising everyday, never eating dessert and giving up soda on January 1. But for most of us, setting multiple, large goals at once just isn’t realistic.

To increase your chance of success, try setting one or two small, manageable goals at a time. For example, take a walk two times per week, and limit sodas to once per day. Once you have achieved your initial goals, add more – eventually you will get to where you want to be.

Read the rest of the article at LiveWell Colorado.

Making Classroom Parties Healthy…and Fun!

fun and healthy treats

For lots of school age kids, the holiday season means school parties, pageants and plays. These can be a lot of fun, of course, but they can also mean an abundance of sweets and high fat foods.

Sure, we all love to have a treat now and then, but a recent LiveWell Colorado survey found that Colorado moms estimated their young kids can eat up to 2-3 sugary snacks per week (cupcakes, cookies, cereal treats) in the classroom.

That’s more than a “treat” – that’s a regular part of the diet!

Most of us enjoy an indulgence once in a while. In fact cupcakes and other desserts and snacks can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. Making sure that moderation (and not domination!) is in place, however, can be tricky, particularly when it comes to treats outside of the home.

So what is a family to do? How can we help our kids stick to a healthy eating routine while having fun at the same time? How can you be “that parent” who monitors nutrition at school but who isn’t at the same time annoying, embarrassing or pushy?

….Check out the rest of this article over at LiveWell Colorado – including 5 easy tips for hosting healthy school parties.

Making Healthy Changes That Last

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Sam Lomeli of TipsOfTheScale.  TipsoftheScale is a podcast celebrating weight loss success stories from around the world and discussing the challenges faced on individual’s weight loss journeys.  In his podcasts, Sam Lomeli also interviews health experts who share their favorite tips, discuss common weight loss myths, and share their knowledge and expertise to help listeners make healthier choices.

Thanks so much to Sam and TipsofTheScale for hosting me – and for your great questions.

To listen to the interview – in which I talk about the importance of getting support from family and friends, what you’re already doing to make lasting change and share my thoughts about weight-loss surgery – click on the graphic below.

Click this image to listen to TipsofTheScale interview with Sam Lomeli

Click this image to listen to TipsofTheScale interview with Sam Lomeli

Is Exercise Stressing You Out?

Hiking anyone?

Hiking anyone?

Do you ever find yourself confused about exercise?  I do.

There’s so much conflicting information out there, it’s hard to know what to do.  So many of us do nothing.  And our inactivity is making us sick.

I recently went to a conference for fitness and healthcare people, and the news is bad: we are getting bigger and less active.  Our unhealthy lifestyles are leading to all sorts of chronic diseases and conditions.  And it’s just getting worse as the years go on.

As I sat there listening to the dire news in one ear, in the other I heard fitness professionals debate the different forms, modes and means of exercise:

  • strength vs. endurance
  • yoga vs. crossfit
  • running vs. walking

By the end of the two day conference I felt overwhelmed and ready for a Snicker’s. Then it hit me.  Lots of people feel like this too: caught between experts feuding about gluten and the exact number of minutes of exercise we need for optimal performance. And what do we do while these feuds are going on? Watch TV and eat Doritos. Just digging ourselves deeper into the hole of our unhealthy lifestyles.

So what can we do?

Stop listening.

No, I’m not saying that fitness, health and medical professionals (including psychologists) don’t have lots of good things to offer.  But when the constant stream of advice and directives becomes paralyzing, perhaps it’s time to turn it off and actually get active. Most of us can find something we enjoy doing: walking, bike riding, dancing, gardening – maybe your “thing” isn’t the newest craze or the hottest trend but it sure beats sitting on the couch.