The New Healthy

How to Make 2021 Your Healthiest Year Yet

From enrolling in a Zoom fitness class to consulting with a genetic counselor, we’ve compiled dozens of ways for you to make 2021 your best ever.

Edited by Cooper Levey-Baker Illustrations by Jordan Kay December 29, 2020 Published in the January-February 2021 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Take a deep breath… 2020 is over and a new year has just begun. After months of fear caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s time to turn the page, look ahead and start taking care of yourself. And we’ve got all the info you need to do just that. From enrolling in a Zoom fitness class to consulting with a genetic counselor, we’ve compiled dozens of ways for you to make 2021 your healthiest, and best, year ever.


Image: Jordan Kay

Remote Fitness Classes Are Here to Stay

For local fitness instructors, offering workout routines through Zoom or other video platforms has been a godsend during the pandemic. The technology allows them to reach clients who don’t feel comfortable coming to the gym, and it also makes it harder to wiggle out of a workout. Running late and don’t have time to drive to the gym? That excuse won’t cut it anymore.

Many local fitness studios, like Chica Boom Fitness and Anytime Fitness, have begun offering workouts on Zoom or Facebook. Local trainers will guide you through daily workouts that mix weight training for specific muscle groups and both high- and low-impact cardio workouts.

Some even offer creative substitutions if you lack the necessary workout gear at home. Don’t have kettlebells? Grab two full gallon water jugs instead. Dani Williams, who owns Nxt Generation, a fitness company that offers classes at the Sarasota studio Definition Fit, says Zoom classes offer flexibility for both the trainer and the client.

Williams works primarily with children and young adults, many of whom have special needs. Remote classes make it easier for them to show up each week, wherever they are. “Travel is a big thing that prevents people from keeping a routine,” says Williams. “It’s a really nice feature to have.”

Even once the pandemic passes, Williams thinks remote fitness lessons will only grow in popularity. Local athletes can train with coaches all over the world, and local trainers can reach customers anywhere. “I’ve found great success with it,” Williams says. —Cooper Levey-Baker

Coping With Mental Health Apps

Sarasota counselor Audrey Oxenhorn says committing to regular appointments with a therapist can make a huge difference in one’s mental health, but the real work happens in between those meetings. “An hour a week is never enough,” says Oxenhorn.

To help people stay on track, Oxenhorn often recommends The Tapping Solution, an app that guides people as they tap on specific acupressure points on their body. The tapping, combined with calming sounds and words, is intended to reduce stress and anxiety. The app relies on a method that has been around for decades, but it has made it more accessible for millions of people. The technique and the app don’t work for all of Oxenhorn’s clients. “But when it does, it’s spectacular,” she says.

The Tapping Solution is only one of dozens of apps that offer guided meditations and other programs that target anxiety, stress, fear, anger and other negative emotions. Headspace, for example, claims it has more than 65 million users in 190 countries, and has partnered with major companies like Nike and Starbucks. Other popular options include Moodfit, Sanvello and Happify.

According to Oxenhorn, apps make it easier for people struggling with mental health to take that first difficult step toward getting help and they give them tools to improve their mental health outside of a therapist’s office. “I especially want to teach people to do the work themselves, so they can be happier and more fulfilled in what they do,” Oxenhorn says. —Cooper Levey-Baker


Image: Jordan Kay

Melatonin Can Give You Sweet Dreams...Maybe

More and more people who have trouble falling, and staying, asleep are turning to melatonin, but does it work? According to Dr. Glenn Adams, a sleep medicine specialist and the medical director for Sarasota Memorial’s Sleep Disorder Center, the answer is: sometimes, for some people.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring substance in humans. Levels typically rise when it gets dark, cueing our bodies that it’s time for sleep. But as we grow older, our bodies produce less. “At a young age, we have more than enough melatonin,” says Adams. “When you’re 20 or 30, any benefits of taking it will be placebo.”

Adams says there are no rigorous studies about melatonin’s benefits, but some do show that it may help you fall asleep 15 minutes sooner. That might help if it normally takes you 30 minutes to fall asleep, but if it usually takes you two hours, the benefit may be minimal.

With over-the-counter melatonin, the customer doesn’t know exactly how many milligrams of melatonin he or she is getting, so Adams recommends sticking with the same brand for a consistent dosage. Side effects can be occasional nightmares, or even feeling a bit hungover when you wake up in the morning. If you do try melatonin, Adams says that once or twice is not enough to see if it’s working. Give it longer. —Kay Kipling

Beet Juice Can Power Your Workout

Beet juice is the latest superfood to gain widespread attention, and what’s not to like? It’s low in calories—one cup of beet juice has just 100 calories—and it’s full of nitrates that improve your blood flow and help lower your blood pressure. According to one national study, people who drank beet juice for six days had better stamina to exercise more intensely.

That’s why it’s such “a great pre-workout juice,” says Lynn Morris, the owner of SaraFresh, which recently opened a retail store in the Rosemary District. SaraFresh specializes in cold-pressed juices, which have more nutritional value than pasteurized juices you find in the grocery store.

Morris says her new crowd favorite is something she calls Beetiful, a blend of beet, apple, lime and ginger, and she also offers 2.5-ounce beet shots. She’s also adding beet juice to her La Vie En Rose vegan ice cream to give it its signature rose color. By the way, don’t panic if, after drinking beet juice, your urine turns reddish. That’s perfectly normal. —Ilene Denton


Image: Jordan Kay

Gadgets are Bringing DIY Health Care to the  Masses

Telemedicine has been around for years, but the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a massive rise in the number of doctors who offer consultations over the phone or through apps. But physicians can’t take your vitals over the phone, so, more and more, they are relying on clients equipping themselves with tools to monitor their own data.

QardioArm, for example, is a home blood pressure monitor that delivers results to your phone and can share your numbers directly with your physician. Withings, meanwhile, is a smart scale that can also measure your bone, muscle and fat mass, and even adjusts for different gravity levels where you live to accurately determine your weight. Pulse oximeters that measure the oxygen level in your blood have also been flying off the shelves since the arrival of the coronavirus, as have affordable no-touch thermometers that read your temperature by scanning your forehead. —Cooper Levey-Baker

Sweat with Micro HIIT Workouts

At Scorch Fitness—which specializes in HIIT, or high-intensity interval training—a typical in-person session might last 45 to 50 minutes. But even workouts as short as 10 minutes can yield results, says Scorch owner Liz Lowe. Such brief sessions are known as “micro HIIT” workouts and are done at your own home. No instructor is needed. Just pick a combination of workouts (squats, a forearm plank and mountain climbers, for example) and get to work.

Micro HIIT workouts have become an increasingly popular way for people to squeeze in a good sweat between Zoom meetings, picking up the kids and running errands. “I think micro HIIT is great for people who are strapped for time or if you’re just getting into training,” Lowe says.
HIIT works by combining aerobic and anaerobic exercises that get your heart rate soaring, then alternating those with shorter periods of less strenuous activity. The Scorch program was adapted from workouts Lowe created for professional athletes, and it is designed to help you simultaneously burn body fat, add muscle and increase your resting metabolism. Micro HIIT exercises do the same thing, just in briefer windows of time.

If you’re interested in trying them, Lowe recommends starting by finding exercises that just use your body weight. If you reach a point where you want to begin using weights, she recommends consulting with a trainer to make sure your form is correct. “The last thing you want to do is get injured,” Lowe says. —Cooper Levey-Baker


Image: Jordan Kay

A Healthy Gut Makes for a Healthy Body

When people talk about “gut health,” they’re not just talking about your stomach. The term “gut” refers to your whole gastrointestinal tract, which is covered in trillions of microscopic living organisms that help regulate a host of bodily systems, including immunity and weight.

But maintaining a healthy gut isn’t always easy. Tens of millions of Americans suffer from digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, bloating and constipation.

Gastroenterologist Nihar Shah of First Physicians Group says you can keep your gut healthy by eating foods rich in pre- and probiotics, such as apples, garlic, sweet potatoes, oats, chia seeds, onions, berries, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut and yogurt. Shah also recommends colonoscopies once every 10 years once you reach 50 to screen for colon cancer. A healthy gut can play a role in preventing that, too.

“There’s a direct link between colon cancer and consuming red meat and processed meat, so I recommend decreasing both of those things, as well as processed and genetically modified foods,” says Shah. Also important: maintaining a healthy weight, getting a good night’s sleep and exercising regularly.

And if you’re taking any antibiotics, make sure to supplement your diet with those probiotic-rich foods, which can wipe out the good bacteria that’s so important to a healthy gut. —Megan McDonald

Genetic Testing Is on the Rise

Over the last 20 years, genetic testing has emerged as a valuable tool for analyzing and even mitigating all kinds of medical conditions—including cancer. But testing is more road map than crystal ball. “Nothing is definite. Everything is just about risk,” says Nicole Wood, the oncology genetic counselor for Sarasota Memorial’s Genetic Testing for Hereditary Cancer program.

The genetic testing process begins with an extensive conversation with a genetic counselor, who will ask about your own medical history as well as your family’s. If you opt for a genetic test, it only requires a blood draw.

“[Your genetic makeup] is not new. It’s something you’ve always carried since birth,” says Wood. “We use it to modify what we’re doing with your cancer care, screening, medical management, etc. Whatever train you’re on that might lead to cancer, we can redirect it.”

Still, genetic testing isn’t for everyone, and there’s good reason not to rush out and get tested willy-nilly. “Once you know this information, you can’t un-know it,” says Wood.

Genetic testing technology continues to evolve at warp speed. Wood estimates that the number of genes that can be tested for cancer risk will double in two years. Wood even sees the probability of genetic manipulation in the future. “Can we change these genes?” she asks. “Maybe." —Hannah Wallace

foil boarding

Image: Jordan Kay

Foil Boarding Is This Year's Hot Outdoors Activity

Fitness experts say switching up your workouts is a good thing. You won’t risk repetitive injuries and you’ll stimulate your brain at the same time. Foil boarding, a combination of windsurfing and wakeboarding, fits the bill.

Foil boarding starts with the hydrofoil, a wing-like structure that extends below the board into the water and lifts the board up so the rider looks like she (or he) is soaring a couple of feet above the water. This propeller allows riders to achieve speeds six knots faster than recorded gusts on a windy day. Add a parachute, and riders can really fly. The sport has become popular along the Gulf Coast, where you’ll spot riders levitating and landing tricks.

If you’re looking to give it a try, you can purchase a board from the Venice board-making company Phase Five. The company has three different boards to choose from: the Gizmo ($1,270), the Chip ($1,270) and the Gadget ($989), which range from 44 to 54 inches long. Beginners should start with a longer board and foot straps to assist with training. Experienced surfers can try out shorter boards to glide through the air and land tricks.  —Allison Forsyth

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