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7 Ways To Brain Health

Current ideas about brain health are a convergence of neuroscience between East and West traditions. Eastern ideas have been focused on mindfulness and right brain dominant activities and the West often focused on language and math. There is much that the West can learn from the 2,500 year old idea of mindfulness. Western science has produced several breakthroughs that indicate our brains are constantly changing with the reorganization of existing neural networks. We know individuals can produce new neurons (neurogenesis) AND change the neural circuitry of the brain (neuroplasticity)…but how? Our brains will change whether we direct them to or not. Would you prefer these changes occurred randomly or would you rather direct these changes and make them purposeful (self-directed neuroplasticity)? Can the practice of mindfulness help us control and direct brain changes? What are other ways that we keep our brains healthy?

Individuals have two basic brain circuits: the threat circuit and the reward circuit. The threat circuit is the need to survive. It is an individual’s fight or flight reaction which is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. When this circuit is activated the body releases cortisol (our stress hormone). The reward circuit  is all about thriving and here the body experiences relaxation through the release of oxytocin by the parasympathetic nervous system. Oxytocin is our trust hormone. We want more oxytocin! We know that coritsol can be harmful to the mind and the body if released often and for long periods of time. How then does one create a reward circuit rather then a threat circuit?

The creation of self-directed neuroplasticity and an increase in the production of oxytocin through the reward circuit can be achieved with better brain health. Here are 7 ways to create a healthier brain that work for you instead of against you.

1. A Nutritious Diet.

It is well known that food affects our brains. If the brain is starved it can’t function properly. The following foods are recommended for better cognitive function, increased mental focus and stamina and better memory:

Colorful vegetables, wild salmon, foods high in Vitamin E, C and Folic Acid, foods high in B vitamins and regular, unflavored coffee.

2. Focus Sequentially.

Our brains cannot multitask. This is a mythical activity. The human brain cannot consciously pay full attention to two things at a time. Individuals who multitask spend 50% more time on tasks and make 50% more mistakes. Multitaskers have an always “on” attitude. This may cause the brain to trigger the threat response. Tips to avoid multitasking include organizing and prioritizing tasks in advance. Be familiar with your natural rhythms and schedule tasks accordingly. Our brain likes variety. Try breaking up the day with a variety of tasks and create “interruption-free zones” when you need to focus and concentrate. One task at a time…complete and repeat. Acknowledge the good feelings that come from task completion.

3. Be Physically Active.

Moderate exercise promotes neurogenesis. The brain also benefits from small – moderate movement. A 5-year study at Laval University found that people who did not engage in physical activity were 2 times more likely to develop Alzhemier’s disease than people who were physically active 3 times a week. Physical activity does not have to be consecutive. Movement that takes place in short bursts (ex. walking up a flight of stairs) has a positive cumulative effect. A little extra movement makes a huge difference in brain and mental health. I suggest parking farther away, taking the stairs, walking to a colleague’s desk, walking your dog, playing with your children and cooking/baking. There is a strong interconnectivity between movement, emotion and thinking. When we stimulate one center we are stimulating all the centers of the brain.

4. Participate socially.

A John Hopkins study found that women 65 and older who mentored youth saw improved mental and cognitive health. Social groups help us to connect with others, bond and create a sense of belonging. The reward circuit is activated and more oxytocin will be released. This will help us to feel more relaxed and calm.

5. SLEEP well.

A sleep deprived brain works harder and accomplishes less. Sleep deprivation causes our judgment to be impaired and our ability to solve problems more difficult. Sleep deprived individuals are less creative and have impaired decision making. Good sleep hygiene is key. Turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime, do not watch TV in bed, and practice soothing activities

6. Challenge Yourself Mentally.

Individuals have three basic learning preferences…auditory, visual and kinesthetic. Ideally, when we are challenging our brains using all three learning preferences we will remember and understand more. Multitasking bad…multisensing good! The more of a workout the brain gets the more we remember. I suggest that individuals take notes, involve movement, smell and sound…pay attention to your environment.

7.  A Positive Attitude.

The main reason our brains underperform is due to stress. Stress is detrimental to our brains and activates the threat circuit. Reduce stress and relax, laugh often, focus away from any perceived threat. Stress is not what happens to us but how we respond to what happens to us. Move away from stress and the threat response by practicing mindfulness. Be aware of and accept your thoughts, feelings and circumstances without judgment and reaction. We can reverse the threat response and create the reward response by focusing on immediate sensory input. Pull yourself into the present. When we are not complaining we can appreciate are current situation. Avoid self-criticism, be grateful and compassionate. Thrive and enjoy life.

SuperFoods Spotlight: Kefir, Blueberries and Walnuts

If you want to live a long and healthy life, experts will agree that there are some simple ways that can unlock the secrets to a healthy lifestyle. A balanced diet, exercise, restorative sleep and stress management are all important. Choosing a diet that is rich in superfoods is an easy step to improving how you look and how you feel.

So what are superfoods?

The theory is that certain foods can have a lasting and profound effect on our health and well-being. This isn’t a new “fad”…even Hippocrates wrote about the link between diet and health. All foods have some nutritional value, but superfoods are particularly high in certain vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and phytochemicals. Most physicians and dietitians believe that superfoods can prevent and treat disease including cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, stroke, cataracts and skin diseases. Some superfoods will boost your immune system’s capability to prevent illness, improve your mental focus and productive output, counteract the negative effect’s of poor lifestyle choices, improve digestion, eliminate headaches and stabilize blood sugar levels.

Spotlight: Kefir, Blueberries and Walnuts

1. Kefir

Kefir is less known than its cousin yogurt. Kefir, however, has rejuvenating and immune-enhancing properties that are making it increasingly popular. Adding kefir to your diet will have positive effects on your digestion. Kefir destroys harmful, invading bacteria while balancing the good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract. Kefir is believed to slow the growth of certain tumors and fight pneumonia with the live probiotic, Lactobacillus casei. Kefir is easier to digest than yogurt, boosts energy, helps to relieve skin disorders and promotes longevity. It has all the protein and calcium benefits of milk but is easier to tolerate for people with mild lactose intolerance.

Kefir can be found in health food stores and can be made at home with coconut water. Use kefir as you would yogurt…add to smoothies! Lifeway also makes a wonderful, delicious yogurt smoothie with kefir cultures.


2. Blueberries

Blueberries were one of the first fruits to be named a superfood. Blueberries are rich in antioxidant properties, high in Vitamin C and fiber. They contain the compound pterostilbene that has been found to be effective in reducing cholesterol and may help prevent diabetes and some cancers. They also contain anthocyanins which can help to prevent heart disease and memory loss. Blueberries can also prevent urinary tract infections and contain lutein and zeaxanthin to keep eyes healthy.

Blueberries are best eaten raw and can be added to boost the nutrient content of muffins, smoothies, pies and fruit salads.


3. Walnuts

Walnuts are known for their unusually high content of Omega-3 fats, fiber, B vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. An adequate and balanced intake of omega fats has been linked with protection from cardiovascular disease, cancers, arthritis, skin problems and nervous system diseases. Walnuts can lower bad cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure.

Purchase walnuts with their shells on, if possible, and store in the refrigerator. Walnuts should be consumed shortly after purchase because they do spoil easily. Eat walnuts raw as a snack and/or add to baked treats and breads.


Next month ~ Superfood Spotlight: Spinach, Oranges and Green Tea

The Top Five Worst Lifestyle Choices

I guess I have lived long enough now to be able to have the education and experience in order to write this blog post ;). I know this post may offend some and that is truly not my intention. This post may also seen redundant and/or patronizing. Again, not my intention. As a health coach, my responsibility is to increase awareness, share, educate and guide individuals to better choices…diet/nutrition, physical activities, stress/mood management, spiritual wellness and lifestyle decisions. Most of my social media posts are related to nutrition, exercise and general health and fitness. Today I will focus on lifestyle decisions. This is a list of the top 5 worst choices one can make when it comes to health and wellness.

1. Smoking

This is perhaps the most obvious yet ironic lifestyle choice. According to the American Heart Association, of the estimated 48 million Americans who smoke cigarettes, most are either actively trying to quit or want to quit.

Most people are familiar with the related health effects associated with smoking. These include emphysema, cancer and heart disease. Smoking can also have negative effects on the eyes, the throat, the urinary tract, the digestive organs, the bones and joints, and the skin.

A 30-year-old smoker can expect to live about 35 more years, whereas a 30-year-old nonsmoker can expect to live 53 more years. The children of a parent or parents who smoke may be at risk from the genetic damage done to the parent before conception (because of their previous smoking) and the direct effects to them in the womb. Children are also at risk because of the passive smoke they are exposed to after they are born.

The amount of life expectancy lost for each pack of cigarettes smoked is 28 minutes, and the years of life expectancy a typical smoker loses is 25 years.
{“Dying to Quit,” 1998 book by Janet Brigham} 

Every cigarette an individual smokes reduces his life by 11 minutes. Each carton of cigarettes thus represents a day and a half of lost life. Every year an individual smokes a pack a day, he shortens his life by almost 2 months.
{University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, April 2000}

2. Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Regularly drinking more than the recommended daily limits risks damaging your health. There is no guaranteed safe level of drinking, but if you drink less than the recommended daily limits, the risks of harming your health are low.

The hidden harms of alcohol use typically only emerge after a number of years. Unfortunately, by then serious health problems and/or risk for injury may have developed. These include:

  • Chronic diseases such as liver cirrhosis (damage to liver cells); pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas); various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx (the voice box), and esophagus; high blood pressure; and psychological disorders.
  • Unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns and firearm injuries.
  • Violence, such as child maltreatment, homicide, and suicide.
  • Harm to a developing fetus if a woman drinks while pregnant, such as fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Alcohol abuse or dependence.

According to the CDC:

  • Men should not regularly drink more than 2 drinks a day.
  • Women should not regularly drink more than 1 drink a day.

Even drinking less than this is not advisable in some circumstances. Drinking any alcohol can still be too much if you’re going to drive, operate machinery, swim or do strenuous physical activity.

3. Overeating

Overeating is a huge problem, even for healthy individuals. The solution can be much more that just putting down the fork. The mechanisms that make us overeat are thought to be hard-wired. ASAP Science explains that when your stomach is empty a hunger-stimulating hormone (Ghrelin) is released and tells your brain to eat. When we are full, your body releases another hormone called Leptin, which kills your appetite. The theory is that high energy (fatty, sugary, carb-loaded) foods used to be scarce and our bodies are biologically wired to crave them when they’re available, overwhelming our body’s natural hungry/full response. Since we can get them all the time now, we want them all the time.

Take a look at the ASAP Science video that illustrates this theory and how to beat overeating:

4. Lack of Physical Activity

There is a growing body of research suggesting that long periods of physical inactivity raises your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. In January 2010, British experts linked prolonged periods of sitting to a greater likelihood of disease. And that same month, Australian researchers reported that each hour spent watching TV is linked to an 18% increase in the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

We are meant to move. “Human beings evolved as a walking entity, exploring the world on our feet,” says James Levine, MD, author of Move a Little, Lose a Lot.

“The strangest thing in the world is that people spend all day scrunched in a chair. It’s a form of physical entrapment,” Levine, who strolled on a treadmill in his office at a 1 mile-per-hour pace while being interviewed for this article, says.

Levine’s advice: Fight sitting disease by taking steps to become more physically active.

5. Poor stress management

Stress is something we all experience. How we manage our stress is extremely important to our health. Persistent and severe stress is associated with a wide range of health problems both physical and psychological.

Here are some common responses to stress. Think about how stress affects you.

Aches and Pains

  • Headache
  • Backache
  • Neck ache
  • Stomach ache
  • Tight muscles
  • Clenched jaw

Energy and Sleep

  • Feeling tired without a good reason
  • Trouble sleeping


  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Helplessness
  • Out of control
  • Tense

Other Emotional Signs

  • Easily irritated
  • Impatient
  • Forgetful

Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This may not be as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress may not always be obvious. We tend to overlook our own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that leads to deadline stress.

To identify your true sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses:

  • Do you explain away stress as temporary (“I just have a million things going on right now”) even though you can’t remember the last time you took a breather?
  • Do you define stress as an integral part of your work or home life (“Things are always crazy around here”) or as a part of your personality (“I have a lot of nervous energy, that’s all”).
  • Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events, or view it as entirely normal and unexceptional?

Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.

What are some healthy ways to manage stress?

  • Physical activity – find an activity you love!
  • Meditation/Visualization – take a breath, close your eyes and imagine the most peaceful place on Earth (real or imagined)
  • Nurture your relationships – have coffee with a friend, meet your spouse for lunch, have a girls’ night out, play catch with your kiddos!
  • Eat well and eat clean – the better you fuel your body the more resilient it will be.
  • Sleep – strive for 7-8 hours of restorative sleep on a consistent basis
  • Time management and balance – don’t forget yourself in our crazy world. We all need time to honor our passions and take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others.
  • Learn to say “no” and ask for help.
  • Challenge negative thought patterns. We say horrible things to ourselves all day long. Stop this vicious cycle and create a positive, rational and effective cycle of thinking and perceiving.

Team Beachbody and Shakeology…Why, What and How

As most of you have probably already read on my Team Beachbody website ( I have been involved in physical fitness and wellness (body, mind, and spirit) most of my life. I enjoy researching new fitness programs, activities, nutrition, self-care and spiritual wellness. I want to be the best I can be and I want to help others do the same. We have nothing if we don’t have health.

I didn’t get involved with Team Beachbody lightly. I took my time and researched the company, programs and nutritional support (Shakeology). I really dreaded the “protein shake” and was always told never to drink my calories and just eat clean to get everything your body needs. I refused to even try one for a very long time. Nutrition seemed so complicated and I never really understood what I should be eating and what I shouldn’t (except for the obvious junk). After my research I decided to give Team Beachbody a try. I became a coach so that I could get the 25% discount and placed an order. I had already been introduced to P90X and had this in my library. I knew it was an effective, high-quality workout. I just needed to design a space for myself at home and a new schedule/routine that included home workouts. I was eager to start challenging my body in different ways beyond my usual running, elliptical workouts, cycling, strength training and aerobics.

The Shakeology I received (Tropical Strawberry) was an instant hit! I loved the taste and it made making breakfast for myself so easy. I bought a $15 personal/mini blender and it fit perfect next to my coffee maker on the counter. You could barely see it. Nutrition was now super simple! I began to notice small changes after about a week. I had so much more energy! I was staying up later and was more productive. I started to feel lighter and my headaches reduced. After three months, I had lost 15 pounds, lowered my blood pressure to normal and felt better than I had in years. I was thrilled and sold! I couldn’t wait to share it with others and this is how my business took off. I shared Team Beachbody and Shakeology to everyone I knew…if it could help me what else could it do? I stumbled across case studies of individuals lowering their cholesterol and reducing their symptoms of diabetes, autoimmune diseases and chronic pain. I had to share.

But what was in this shake that made it so different from all the other ‘protein shakes” on the market? Why did I feel so much better? I quickly learned through research and Team Beachbody produced videos that Shakeology was really not a “protein shake” at all. It is a nutrient-dense, whole food, low-calorie product…it is the healthiest meal of the day. With over 70 ingredients, it is packed with 23 vitamins and minerals, prebiotics and probiotics, essential amino acids, antioxidants, phytochemicals, adaptagens, digestive enzymes, whey isolate and super foods such as Camu-Camu, Flaxseed, Chia Seed and Gogi Berry. Most of these super foods are derived from the countries that grow them…Peru, Himalayas and Brazil. Shakeology is caffeine-free, gluten-free, soy-free, and has no artificial/chemically processed sweeteners. There are even two complete vegan formulas that are dairy-free.

So how do I get this stuff? It’s super easy! Since I am a Team Beachbody coach you can order Shakeology directly from me on my website/Team Beachbody Store at If you need any assistance please contact me through my website…happy to help!


Now what about the workouts? As I mentioned I already knew P90X and certainly was aware of how challenging and effective the workout was. P90X is based on the science of muscle confusion. Your body will not plateau on this program. I was happy to restart the program and really enjoyed the intensity. I then got excited by other programs and purchased Turbofire, Les Mills Pump for home use and Slim in 6. By far the most enjoyable program I purchased was Shawn T.’s Insanity. It was fun, challenging, effective and simple to follow. Insanity is based the HIITS model which includes power, speed and agility work. I felt like an athlete! Shawn T is genuine in his desire to help others…it shows through at every workout. The best part of all Team Beachbody at-home fitness programs is that they are safe, effective, low cost and offer a range of workouts for every fitness level and interest. There is a program for everyone.

Perhaps the best thing about Team Beachbody is their online/social media support system. I am held accountable for my personal health and wellness goals as well as my business goals. I find encouragement and education at every step. My team is closely connected…helping each other to be the best they can be. I have pushed harder and farther because of my team.


2013 Goals, Hopes and Action

I encourage my clients to create a vision board or a dream board at the beginning of each year. These are effective tools to keep your goals and dreams a top priority even when life gets crazy (and it will!). Vision boards are a hands-on, creative and stimulating way for us to become more consciously aware of what our ideal life could be or what we what to have. The images you place on your vision board may be material things, ways to improve your relationships, how to balance your life better, ways to improve your own health and fitness, family goals, wishes for your spouse/children, things you want to accomplish/achieve, travel/vacation, job/career related goals and educational goals. 

As much as I love this exercise, I am very aware that these “boards” are visions, wishes and hopes. In order to make your vision board a reality you must take ACTION. 

“Everything you want is out there waiting for you to ask. Everything you want also wants you. But you have to take action to get it.” – Jules Renau

Even The Founder of the Vision Board Institute, Joyce Schwarz, encourages action and the incorporation of gratitude and acknowledgment into vision boarding.

“The power of the vision board comes from YOU! From your brain and your thoughts. The board is not magical beyond the magic with which you empower it. Thus, whether it is actually on a board or you have figured out another way to wrap your brain around focusing on your goals, it can still work.” ~ Neil Farber, M.D., Ph.D. (2012)

Acceptance and Healing

15998_10200399206326883_1788560373_nI wanted to write a blog post last Friday evening but I couldn’t muster the energy. I just felt so overwhelmed and unfocused. The tragedy of Friday morning in Newtown, CT will never be forgotten. It was unimaginable, horrific and at times too much to even think about. I don’t believe we will fully understand what happened or why. It is unexplainable and far too evil to be reasoned.

I could choose to write about so many things…how to speak to your children about the event, how I feel about gun legislation, school security, religion, mental health issues, etc. Instead, I want to help you find the gift of radical acceptance. We must accept what happens to us. Life can be dark and dreadful. Evil exists everywhere. Your grief will bring you from pain and disbelief, to anger, to profound sadness and loss and then to acceptance. It will be triggered again and again when you least expect it and at holidays, anniversaries and birthdays. Even if imperfect, the grief process will end in acceptance and that’s a good thing.

When we have radical acceptance we understand that “bad things happen to good people”. We refuse to become a victim to our victimhood. We have clarity and the understanding that what happens to us is part of the quixote human condition. Radical acceptance is the end stage of healthy grief. We become easier to live with and we create a spirit and soul of peace.

In between our trials learn to nourish your body, mind and spirit. Be patient…be kind…nurture your relationships and your community. When life sends you challenges (and it will) you will be ready.

Can we truly heal from such horror? Is this beyond our human endurance? I may not know the answer to this but I do know that we can try…together.

Getting Started Right

We all understand that getting regular physical exercise will make you healthier and happier. Keeping physically active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But unfortunately many of us feel we don’t have the time or motivation to exercise regularly.

The good news is, it doesn’t take much to make a difference: as little as 30 minutes moderate exercise a day has fantastic health benefits. So if you’re not as fit and healthy as you could be, now’s the time to get started on a fresh exercise regime.

Why be active?

Scientific evidence clearly links regular physical activity to a wide range of physical and mental health benefits. People who enjoy regular physical activity tend to:

  • Live longer.
  • Reduced risk for heart attack, cardiac disease or stroke.
  • Reduced risk of developing diabetes, metabolic syndrome and some cancers.
  • Feel more energetic.
  • Manage their weight better.
  • Have a healthier blood cholesterol level.
  • Have lower blood pressure.
  • Have stronger bones and muscles.
  • Feel more confident and happy.
  • Sleep better.

The good news is that the important health benefits associated with physical activity can be gained through moderate intensity activity, such as walking, swimming, gardening or playing golf. This 30 minutes can be broken down into 10 minute blocks, making the daily amount of physical activity recommended much easier to achieve for busy people.

People who wish to be active in a more intense manner by participating in activities such as organized sports, aerobics, cycling, jogging/running and specialized at-home workouts such as Team Beachbody’s INSANITY, P90X and TurboFire should continue to do so as these activities can provide additional health benefits.

How Do I Start?

Always choose an activity you enjoy at a time convenient to you.

Be active every day in as many ways as you can:

  • Make a habit of walking or cycling instead of using the car.
  • Park your car further away so that you can get in a brisk walk to the door.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk up escalators.
  • Get off the train or bus a stop earlier and walk the extra distance.
  • Do some work in your backyard or garden.
  • Engage in active play with your children.
  • Choose a walking meeting instead of sitting in an office.
  • Pace in your office while on a conference/phone call.
  • Walk to your work colleague’s desk rather than texting or using the phone.
  • Choose to take a walk, run or just jog in place when you are stressed.
  • Take your dog for a walk.

Many people find it motivating to exercise with friends or as part of a group:

  • Join or start a local walking/jogging group.
  • Find a Team Beachbody Coach and join Team Beachbody’s club for daily motivation and support.
  • Get together colleagues at work and organize a “health and fitness” support group.
  • Join a Team Beachbody Challenge Group for the support to reach your goals.

You are more likely to be committed if you schedule physical activity into your weekly routine.

  • Think ahead and plan what activity you are going to do on each day of the week.
  • Think of the times that suit you to be active, whether it be in the morning, at lunchtime or in the evening.
  • Record your weekly activity plan in a diary or calendar.
  • Build an activity routine – before long it will come as naturally as getting out of bed.

How Do I Prevent Setbacks?

  • Review the times that you are being active – do they still fit in with your lifestyle?.
  • Try a new activity if you are battling boredom. Team Beachbody has numerous at-home fitness programs to reach all levels and interests.
  • Don’t let the holidays sabotage your schedule. Be ready and anticipate the stress and  extra activity around the holidays.
  • If you feel too tired to exercise remember that physical activity can help increase your energy levels. Just do it!
  • Find a friend with similar interests. Join a Team Beachbody Challenge Group and/or online club community. You will be more likely to keep your routine when you are held accountable and have support from people just like you.

What About My Diet?

Our research shoes that weight maintenance, life long health benefits and a reduced risk for many major diseases and illnesses comes from a lifestyle that includes 70-80% healthy diet and nutrition and 20-30% activity. You should, therefore, be complementing your physical activity program with a healthy diet.

The United States Department of Agriculture ( recommends that you should:

  • Focus on fruits and vegetables. One half of your plate should contain a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • Make at least one half of your grains WHOLE grains. Whole grains include: whole wheat flour, bulgar, oatmeal, whole cornmeal and brown rice. If you are gluten sensitive choose from options in the “gluten-free” section of your local grocery store.
  • Choose low fat/fat free, calcium-rich dairy products.
  • Go lean and stay varied with protein choices…meats, poultry, seafood, beans and peas and nuts and seeds.
  • If you drink alcohol, limit your intake.
  • Reduce/eliminate added sugars and artificial sweeteners.
  • Go light on the salt.
  • Eat foods containing iron. This is particularly important for girls, women, vegetarians and athletes.

New research supports that it can take an average of 66 days to form a habit. Please don’t give up on yourself! The small decisions to be active and eat healthy everyday WILL compound into great rewards down the road. Start small…easy and manageable steps. I know you can do it!