Epsom Salts – Nature’s Remedy for What Ails You

If you’re of a certain age, you might remember your parents or grandparents soaking tired and aching feet in Epsom salt baths. This “old-fashioned home remedy” is still an effective way to rejuvenate tired muscles – and do so much more for our health.legs

Epsom salt isn’t really salt. First discovered in Epsom, England, its scientific name is magnesium sulfate; the “salt” comes from the fact that it looks like table salt. But there the similarity ends.

Table salt has the benefit of providing iodine, an essential nutrient that helps maintain a healthy thyroid. Table salt also is a major player in increasing our blood pressure. Epsom salt, on the other hand, can actually help lower blood pressure.

Importance of Magnesium and Sulfate

Magnesium and sulfate play an important role in the proper functioning of our bodies but we don’t get enough of either. Industrial farming has depleted magnesium from the soil and cooking can further diminish any benefits. The typical American diet contains much less magnesium than previous generations’ and the loads of fat, sugar, salt and protein we get actually works to speed up the depletion of magnesium from our bodies.
Magnesium helps regulate the activity of more than 325 enzymes in the body. It is an essential mineral for maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, keeping a healthy immune system, maintaining heart rhythm, and building strong bones. A deficiency in magnesium can lead to muscle spasms, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety disorders, migraines, osteoporosis, and cerebral infarction.

Sulfate aids in the formation of brain tissue and joint proteins and it can strengthen the walls of the digestive tract. It also plays an important role in muscle control, electrical impulses, energy production and the elimination of harmful toxins.

While eating magnesium-rich foods such as flax seeds and bran are vital to an overall healthy diet, magnesium and sulfate aren’t readily taken in through the digestive tract. But they are easily absorbed through the skin and that’s where an Epsom salt bath comes in.

Benefits of an Epsom salt bath

According to the Universal Health Institute in Chicago, some of the benefits of an Epsom salt bath include:

  • Improve heart and circulatory health
  • Reducing irregular heartbeats, preventing hardening of the arteries
  • Reducing blood clots and lowering blood pressure
  • Improve the body’s ability to use insulin, reducing the incidence or severity of diabetes
  • Flush toxins and heavy metals from the cells, easing muscle pain and helping the body to eliminate harmful substances.
  • Improve nerve function by regulating electrolytes. calcium is the main conductor for electrical current in the body, and magnesium is necessary to maintain proper calcium levels in the blood.
  • Relieve stress. Excess adrenaline and stress are believed to drain magnesium, a natural stress reliever, from the body.
  • Magnesium is necessary for the body to bind adequate amounts of serotonin, a mood-elevating chemical within the brain that creates a feeling of well-being and relaxation.

Here’s a simple solution for athletes, runners, martial arts aficionados and others who are suffering from sore muscles:

Pour 2 cups of Epsom salt into a hot bath. Soak for at least 20 minutes.



What is Plantar Fasciitis?

Do the muscles in the bottom of your feet ever feel tight and painful?

What you’re feeling isn’t the muscle, but thick tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot from the toes to the heel. This tissue is called the plantar fascia. When it becomes inflamed, it feels tight. It often hurts first thing in the morning because you’ve been off your feet.

I first developed plantar fasciitis when I decided to quit my gym membership and exercise in my basement to save money. I didn’t realize that doing STEP aerobics on the concrete floor without any padding would hurt my feet. I began to feel a pain in my heel and the tightness in the bottom of my feet.

I found out this condition is called plantar fasciitis. But I also found out how to prevent it, how to take care of it when it flares up, and who is likely to develop it.

I wrote an article on it here, at Hub Pages. If you feel a tightness on the bottom of your feet, especially in the morning, then read this for tips on how to take care of it.

And please leave a comment. I’d love to know if you found the information helpful.


Do You Meditate?

When I started this blog, I had more than just physical fitness in mind. I believe we need to be mentally tough and spiritually strong, also.

I’m not a religious person. I’m not even sure I’m a very spiritual person. But I do pray and I meditate – maybe those count for something.

I’ve heard it said that praying is asking God for something and meditating is listening for the answer. I love what meditation does for me – calms me down, opens my mind to creativity, puts my problems in perspective. And yes, I do get the answers I seek when I meditate regularly. But like exercise, it’s best done on a regular basis (something I’m still working on).

Everyone has their own way of meditating but if you never have and want to give it a try, below are some steps to take and pointers.

I like to listen to music. You want something New Age-y or Native American with flutes, drums, etc. Lyrics might be distracting if you’re a beginner. I also like to burn incense.

*  Sit on the floor (preferred over a chair), cross your legs (doesn’t have to be the lotus position) and place your hands palms up on your knees or in your lap. You could put them in the classic “Om” mudra if you want (first finger and thumb touching, palms up and on your knees.)

* Close your eyes and slowly inhale and exhale, counting as you go. Fill your lungs from the bottom up and empty them the same way, like a pitcher of water. Relax your tongue and facial muscles. Exhale to twice the count of your inhale. If you inhale to the count of 5, exhale to the count of 10.

* Continue until your breathing calms and slows. Focus on your breath. If your mind begins to wander, bring it gently back to your breath. One thing practicing meditation does is helps us control the “monkey chatter” of our minds – those voices in our heads that tell us we’re not good enough, or whatever else. The sense of calm and being able to handle all that life hands us will start to carry over into your “waking” moments.

* You’ll probably only be able to sit still and stay focused for about 5- 10 minutes at first and that’s ok. Practice every day and the time will lengthen. Also, some days it will just be easier than others, so don’t feel like you’ve “failed’ if you can’t sit still that day. Just try again and be patient with yourself.

As I said, I love it when I mediate because I feel so much better afterwards – at peace and calm.

Share your experiences in a comment below.

5 Apps I wish I owned

I don’t own a smart phone (yet). I can see the pros and cons of owning one and have been having this debate with myself for a few months already. I have a Mac laptop and am a big Apple fan so I would likely go with an iPhone if I do get a smart phone.

On the con side, I don’t want to feel like I’m connected all the time. Yes, I know I can turn off my phone, but I think most of us have gotten in the habit of leaving phones on all the time for easy access. Especially if you have an older phone, like I do, one that doesn’t turn on instantaneously. One of my concerns, though, is the cost of data use.

On the pro side, I can honestly tell my students not to expect an immediate response to an email because I’m not always at my computer. However, they – and my two boys – text more than email. Currently, I have an old flip phone and I have to scroll through A and B to get to C. That makes it very tedious for texting. Last weekend, my younger son got tired of watching me try to send a “quick text” to his brother and took over the job on his smart phone. It would also be nice to be able to take a photo at the end of a race and post it to Facebook right away instead of having to wait to get home to upload the pictures to my computer before posting them.

The big advantage, though, is all the apps that are available. I’d like to get into geocaching and my cousin told me “there’s an app for that!” There are also plenty of other fitness apps and I chose a few to look into just in case I decide to bite the bullet and get a smart phone. Hope you find these useful.

Pocket Yoga Practice Builder – $9.9

I used to practice yoga regularly a few years ago. I can really tell a difference in my balance and flexibility now that I haven’t. You can choose from a list of over 140 poses, including variations and transitional poses, mixing them up as you want. What I like about this one is that you can specify the order and duration of each pose and adjust what the voiceover will say after a pose is queued. This is definitely one I’d try

Runkeeper – Free (premium membership $4.99 month/$19.99 year)

A FaceBook friend said he likes just about everything about this app, Garmin imports being the “most important.” He said he dislikes minor data inconsistencies, such as his watch reporting that he ran further, or having to manually adjust the time for pauses. He said it’s also one of the most inexpensive “Pro” plans out there, around $19 a year.

According to a website, it has a built-in GPS so it can track your route, your pace and speed, (which does sound pretty neat). You can use RunKeeper for other outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, mountain biking and swimming. Get the free account on RunKeeper.com and you’ll be able to sync all your activities and routes.

Boot Camp Challenge – $3.99

This is an app that I would enjoy using. I like working out and have been in a boot camp class for the past five years. Veteran U.S. Army Trainer and Certified Personal Trainer Lori Patterson guides you through a progressive 18-day program. Each day combines cardio, stretching and muscular endurance training into one challenging workout. There are 125 body weight exercises but you can add in some equipment such as dumb bells to add to the challenge. Videos are included during the workout for each exercise so you can check your form. This is very important because if you lose your form, you can injure yourself.

MapMyRun – Free

I set up an account online and will occasionally log in to find a new route. This is one running app I would seriously consider getting, in part because I see it as an extension of what I already have used. The app would just let me make it more mobile. According to the website, the app lets you search by workout distance, running, biking, dog walking, hiking, and more. And of course you can create a new running route or find one that’s already been made.

Geocaching — $9.99

I’m anxious to try geocaching and this app looks like it has a variety of options for beginners and advanced geocachers. Beginners can search for traditional, regular sized geocaches rated Difficulty 1/Terrain 1. They can also check logs to make ensure the cache has been found recently (you don’t want to be wandering around looking for something that was buried in the last sand storm). Advanced search options allows you to filter by difficulty, terrain, location, cache type, and more. There are even levels for kids.

If you decide to get one of the apps listed here, leave a comment and let me know what you like best about it and what you don’t like.

The Health Benefits of Spring Greens

 Sweet Salad with Balsamic Fig Dressing

Sweet Salad with Balsamic Fig Dressing

Those of us who live in snow-bound parts of the country look forward to spring when we can get our hands in the dirt and start our gardensOkay, I’m not a gardener. I don’t even have much of a green thumb. I’m enthusiastic in spring, planting all sorts of flowers, but by the time the heat of summer comes along I’ve grown tired of weeding and watering.

I’m not a gardener but I’ve been a member of an organic CSA farm for about eight years. If you aren’t familiar with a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), it’s an agreement between shareholders and a farmer. Members pay money at the start of the season to have a share of the harvest through a 6-month season. They share in the risks and rewards of farming.

Each spring, La Vista sells spring greens, succulent baby lettuces and spinach chock full of good-for-you nutrients. The health benefits of eating leafy greens can’t be overemphasized. These babies are loaded with vitamins and phytonutrients that protect the body and fight diseases.

I wrote an article about the benefits of eating spring greens. You can read it here and check out the Chinese Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing I include. Or try Sweet Salad with Balsamic Fig Dressing, created by our farmer’s wife, Crystal Stevens. She’s a wonderfully creative cook who incorporates many of La Vista’s vegetables and herbs in her recipes.

Regardless, be sure to eat your greens!

How do you stay motivated?

It isn’t easy getting up at 5 a.m. (or earlier) to hit the road for a run. And the last thing most people want to do is to stop at the gym on the way home from work after a long day.

But the more often we can do it, the easier it is to get into a routine. And before you know it, running or working out has become a (healthy) habit.

It took me at least a year, maybe even closer to 18 months, before I started looking forward to my workouts. Now, I feel awful (physically and mentally) when I miss a class.  I have yet to reach that point with my running, but I can tell I’m getting closer. I’ve become more aware of how good I feel (physically and mentally) after a run and I remember that positive feeling when I’m debating with myself whether to get up and get out the door

Working out and running in a group has helped me the most. Through these groups, I’ve built a social network and made friends. Exercising with a group also helps because I have someone to be accountable to. Stop showing up after a few days and people will start asking where you are.

My niece’s family likes to bike. Her husband frequently tells their son to “get your game face on.” At times I just keep repeating to myself, “put one foot in front of the other, put one foot in front of the other….”

What are your tips for keeping yourself motivated? Whatever works for you, “just do it.”



Build a home gym with some basic equipment

A 2010 study showed that only about 31% of people do enough regular leisure-time physical activity to get health benefits — that is, moderate exercise for 30 minutes five times a week or vigorous activity for 20 minutes three times a week.

I’ve been working out since about 1986, when I was living in Mississippi. My husband was in the Navy and often away, so exercising gave me something to do. I started out watching programs on television, then bought some exercise videos and equipment so I could work out when it was more convenient to my schedule. The rest, as they say, is history.

One of the reasons people don’t work out is the cost of a gym membership. But with an initial investment of about $150, you can buy some basic exercise equipment that will get you started on building your own home gym. With just a few key pieces, you can give your muscles the workout they need and never be bored doing it.

I wrote an article on Hub Pages describing the equipment I have at home and their benefits. You can read it here and don’t forget to take the short poll at the end to let me know if you like working out and which piece of equipment you prefer.

Do you have to sweat to exercise?

What is exercise? When is an activity considered a workout?

Do you have to break into a sweat and get your heart racing? If so, then no one would disagree that chasing a tennis ball around the court is exercise.

But is yoga?

If you’re a yogi, you know you aren’t likely to break into a sweat unless you’re practicing hot yoga. And you probably won’t get your heart rate up doing tai chi. Some of their benefits are different than what you get from running several miles but they are no less important. Yoga and tai chi improve our balance and increase our flexibility. But they also help lower our blood pressure, as running does.

I live in Illinois, across the river from St. Louis, Mo. A popular activity around here in the summer is a float trip down a river. This is nothing like white water rafting or kayaking. On a float trip, you’re letting the river’s current do most of the work. Occasionally, you’ll paddle your canoe or raft to steer clear of logs.

While the heart may not get elevated cruising down the river, communing with nature has it’s own benefits as well. Being outdoors has been shown to have a calming effect on us, lowering our stress levels and feelings of aggression.

I saw something on the Internet recently that got me thinking about what, exactly, is exercise.

Joanna Rohrback, 61, created Prancercise in 1989. She revived the workout after she retired as a social worker and self-published a book, “Prancercise: The Art of Physical and Spiritual Exercise.” The exercise includes wearing ankle weights while prancing pony-like.

Rohrback says her book is about “liberating people from gyms.” Prancercise, she says, also is about “using imagery to imagine ourselves as a beautiful animal that’s a symbol of beauty.”

While imaging ourselves as a beautiful horse as we prance down the park trail might be liberating for some, we’re only going to burn about 128 calories.

If that’s our goal – great! If we want to take a slower path to fitness and take advantage of just getting up off our butts to move around, then that’s what we should do.

Fitness takes different paths. My preference is balance an aerobic activity such as running with a more calming activity such as yoga. The yin and yang of something like yoga.

But if all you can handle is prancing down the park path wearing ankle weights, then that’s where you should start.

Just start.



Where is your starting line?

I didn’t always love to work out. In fact, until I turned 50, I was an on-again, off-again exerciser and even then, I didn’t start in earnest until I turned 40. That was due in part to trying to get rid of baby fat that was hanging on for two years and a mid-life crisis.

For a long time, I didn’t  make exercise a priority. I was busy with a toddler and a school-aged child, going to school and working part time.

When I turned 50, I began to notice how poorly most people my parents’ generation were aging. It wasn’t because they didn’t have the resources, time, money or energy. They had all those. But I saw my mother drink and smoke and die of cancer and my in-laws’ health slowly deteriorate over the years, mainly from lack of exercise, even the most simplest of walks.

I saw all that and decided I was going to do things differently. It’s been almost six years since I made that decision. Life is a journey, they say, and so is the path to fitness. My path hasn’t always been smooth but it has been exciting and I love how I feel stronger every day.

Where and how did you start on your path to fitness? Are you just starting out or have you been doing this awhile?

Share your story with the rest of us or just leave a comment.

Stay strong.