What are kettlebells? What are the benefits of using kettlebells? How do you use kettlebells?

While the name may remind you of cows, kettlebells in fact have nothing to do with farm life! They are the cast iron weights with a single rounded handle on top, thus resembling a kettle, that you have most likely seen lying around your gym. Kettlebells originated in Greece centuries ago and have been used in Russian gyms for decades. More recently they have gained popularity in the west and have become extremely popular in American fitness classes and gyms.

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Organic Ordeal

Buying and eating organic foods is an increasingly popular trend throughout America and while organic items used to only be found in health food stores, they are now readily available in almost all supermarkets. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in charge of establishing the qualifications that foods need to meet to be considered organic and has created strict production and labeling guidelines that production companies must abide by. To be labeled “organic”, foods must be minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation, which have all been shown to have detrimental effects on one’s health. Additionally, the farming of these foods must maintain and replenish soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides, nitrates, and fertilizers.

Organic products are constantly being marketed as the healthier, tastier, and more nutritious choice, yet they cost more than their non-organic counterparts, leaving many consumers wondering whether or not buying organic is worth it. As it turns out, according to the Organic Consumers Association, organic foods, especially raw or non-processed, are in fact 25% more nutritious in terms of vitamins and minerals than the foods derived from industrial agriculture. They contain higher levels of beta-carotene, vitamins C, D, and E, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and chromium that are all severely depleted in foods grown using fertilizer high in pesticides and nitrates.

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The Struggle of Self-Control

Food cravings – we all get them. But why are some so hard to control? While the answer to this question may seemingly be that we crave the foods we love most and cannot get enough of them simply because they taste so great, the science behind cravings is actually much more complicated. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), published a study in 2002 that investigated the neurological connections between food-addiction and dopamine, one of the brain’s neurotransmitters that help to control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. She found that when people were presented with their favorite foods, but not allowed to eat them, they experienced dopamine surges through the part of their brains involved with wanting and craving called the striatum area. In addition, the dopamine traveled through the areas of their brain that is involved in habit and addiction.

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Caffeine: A Blessing or a Curse?

There’s nothing like a hot cup of coffee or tea in the morning and many of us will be the first to admit that we need our daily dose of caffeine to get our day started. Given that about 68% of Americans in 2006 claimed to be addicted to coffee, according to the National Coffee Association, an important question we should all ask is, “How is caffeine affecting our health?” The truth is, there are many pros and cons to which each person should weigh in determining their own answer to this question. In honor of the widespread love for the cup o’ Joe we are so fond of, let us begin with the positive effects that caffeine has on our health.

Benefits of Caffeine

Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant. In addition to giving us an energy kick and a decrease in fatigue, it temporarily increases our mental processes. As a result, it can help boost our short-term memory and reduce the risk for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other memory loss related health problems. Many caffeinated drinks such as green tea also contain anti-oxidants that reduce inflammation throughout our bodies and may reduce the risks for cancer and heart disease. Additionally, nutritionist Rania Batayneh attests that caffeine releases the neurotransmitter Dopamine, which increases productivity and alertness.

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Television Epidemic

Television entertainment is one of America’s favorite past-times. With the average U.S. adult spending about five hours per day in front of the TV, it comes as no surprise that children are beginning to fall into this pattern as well. While television can be very useful at times for busy parents who need help keeping their children busy, in excess it can be extremely destructive to a child’s wellbeing. The Harvard School of Public Health has conducted studies that have found a strong association between the rising childhood obesity rates and the increasingly extended periods of time that children are spending sitting in front of the TV. They found that the more TV children watch, the more likely they are to be at risk for obesity throughout their childhood, as well as adulthood.

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The Group Dynamic of Healthy Living

As many of us know, having the best of intentions to lead a healthy lifestyle and keep up with our annual New Year’s fitness resolutions isn’t always enough. With work, school, family, and countless other obligations taking the majority of our time, it is all too easy to fall off the fit-track – especially if you are embarking on the journey alone. Many fitness experts agree that the motivation and support, as well as the variety of activities that fitness and health groups can provide their members with can be very beneficial in keeping them on-track with their short and long-term health goals. Lucky for us, there are many local nutrition and fitness groups here in Santa Barbara that are available to all those looking to maintain healthy lifestyles and learn more about food, exercise, and overall well being.

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