Dancer Health

For years, calcium has been considered the gold-medal winner when it comes to optimal bone health. But recently a new champion has been unveiled: vitamin D. And experts are convinced that Americans are coming up considerably short in their consumption of it—especially young ones.

A study reported in the March issue of Medical News Today confirmed that one in seven teenagers in the United States is vitamin D deficient. It also found that more than half of African American teens are vitamin D deficient, and that females are at more than twice the risk of deficiency than males. Overweight teens had nearly double the risk when compared to those of normal weight.

So dance teachers take note and advise your students wisely—vitamin D–deficient diets can lead to stress fractures, scoliosis and osteoporosis, leaving dancers sidelined for weeks or even months, or with permanent damage. Poor nutrition, disordered eating and excessive training can also contribute to suboptimal vitamin D intake. Keep reading to discover how getting the recommended amount of this multitasking vitamin can lead to a long and healthy dance career.

Body-Boosting Benefits

Calcium and vitamin D are key partners in the well-choreographed bone and tooth dance; without them, bones wouldn’t grow stronger. After vitamin D facilitates the absorption of calcium in your stomach, it continues to help the body maintain the correct amount of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. These minerals are essential for normal bone mineralization, growth and remodeling. For a dancer, this means avoidance of thin, brittle or misshapen bones.

Researchers have also found that adequate vitamin D can boost the immune system to help you dodge colds, flu and other nagging illnesses that could keep you out of class and performances. This is in addition to its ability to curb inflammation caused by tough training sessions, performances and competitions, and its positive impact on normal muscle function. Vitamin D is even believed to have a significant protective effect against the development of diabetes and heart disease, along with breast, prostate and colon cancers.

Proper Dosage

In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued recommendations for the pediatric and adolescent population that exceed those established by the Food and Nutrition Board in 1997. Currently, the AAP recommends that children and adolescents aim for 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin D every day—200 IU more than the previous study. For those who do not obtain 400 IU a day through vitamin D–fortified foods, the AAP recommends a daily 400 IU vitamin D supplement.

However, vitamin D experts believe there is now more than enough evidence to support increasing the recommended vitamin D dosage for all Americans to 1,000 IU, especially during the winter months for some parts of the country. But stay tuned for the final verdict: The Institute of Medicine is revisiting vitamin D and calcium recommendations with a new report expected in the spring of 2010.

If you’re concerned about the possibility of overconsuming vitamin D, don’t fret. The maximum recommended intake since 1997 has been 2,000 IU, but a 2007 risk assessment suggested that healthy adults can easily tolerate as much as 10,000 IU.

Vitamin D–Enriched Diet

There are only a few natural food sources of vitamin D, including fatty fish and fish oils. (Three and a half ounces of cooked mackerel, salmon, halibut and sardines contain 270 to 360 IU of vitamin D.) Consuming fatty fish at least two times a week will not only boost your vitamin D level, it will also provide your body with heart-healthy, inflammation-preventing omega-3 fats.

Most other foods high in vitamin D have been fortified, such as milk and yogurt (100 IU and 80 IU per eight ounces, respectively), margarine (60 IU per tablespoon), some cereals (40 to 50 IU per 3/4 cup) and orange juice (100 IU per eight ounces). Aim for two to three servings of low-fat, vitamin D–fortified milk or yogurt each day, in addition to a variety of vitamin D–fortified foods.

Vegetarians who avoid dairy should take a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement with meals that contains at least 400 IU of the more absorbable vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, versus vitamin D2. And when checking food labels, be aware that the Daily Value (DV) is understood as 400 IU, so aim for 100 percent of the DV and don’t be shy to consume 200 percent of the DV (800 IU). (See page 100 for an ideal meal plan.)

Environmental Factors

Unlike any other nutrient, vitamin D can be produced in the skin when it’s exposed to natural sunlight. Fair-skinned individuals should aim for 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure to the face, arms and hands two to three times a week, and those with dark skin can get 30 minutes. (Best time is between 10 am and 3 pm.) But don’t worry. Excessive exposure to the sun cannot result in vitamin D toxicity, since constant heat on the skin causes this vitamin to degrade, and the older you are, the less efficient your skin is at making vitamin D from the sun.

There are a few catches, however, when it comes to relying solely on the sun to meet your vitamin D requirements. If you use sunscreen with an SPF of eight or greater, your body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D is drastically reduced. Put sunscreen on right before heading outside, since it takes at least 20 minutes for this product to become fully effective. And for those living north of an imaginary line between Los Angeles and Atlanta, Georgia, your skin is unable to synthesize any vitamin D between the months of November and February, due to less sunlight.

And what about using alternative sunning methods, like tanning beds, if you’re strapped for time? The ultraviolet rays in tanning beds can produce vitamin D in your skin, but don’t be fooled—they can cause deadly skin cancer. Instead, implementing a balanced combination of foods, supplements and natural sunlight is a much safer bet to ensure you get your necessary Ds. DT

Karlyn Grimes is a registered dietitian and a nutrition and biology faculty member at Simmons College in Boston.

Put More D in Your Diet

Not sure if you’re getting enough vitamin D? Take note of the following sample menu for a diet that will provide more than 850 International Units of vitamin D. Add a daily multivitamin, and you will easily meet the current vitamin D recommendation of 1,000 IU. Enjoy!

3/4 cup whole grain, vitamin D–fortified cereal (50 IU)
1 cup low-fat milk (100 IU)
1 cup vitamin D–fortified juice (100 IU)

Turkey sandwich on two slices of vitamin D–fortified whole-grain bread (40 IU)
Low-fat yogurt sprinkled with vitamin D–fortified, whole-grain cereal (125 IU)

Cheese stick
Whole-grain crackers

3 1/2 ounces salmon (360 IU)
Large colorful salad
Whole-grain roll
1 cup low-fat milk (100 IU)

Photo copyright Brey

Dancer Health

Are you a sound sleeper or are your nocturnal habits more in line with those of a night owl? Adequate shut-eye is essential for teachers. Yet according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 35 to 40 percent of Americans have problems falling asleep or experience daytime drowsiness. With this in mind, it’s surprising that we’re such a productive country. Could we perform even better? Definitely.

The long hours and stress typically associated with running a studio can get the best of anyone, but the effects are magnified when you skimp on sleep. Since a day will never have more than 24 hours, learning to manage your ZZZs is crucial. Read on to find out what sleep actually is, why it’s sacred and how to implement smart snoozing strategies.

The Need for Downtime

Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury, and without it your mental and physical systems cannot operate properly or productively. Although the body rests while you sleep, the brain alternates between active and calm states—also known as REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM—cycling between the two for approximately 90 minutes at a time.

Initially, you enter non-REM sleep, which is composed of four stages, progressing from light to deep, restorative sleep. During this quality sleep, blood pressure drops, breathing slows, muscles relax, tissue grows, maintenance and repair occurs and hormones that control growth and appetite are released.

After you have completed the non-REM cycle, your body switches to the REM stage. This is the active phase during which you dream and the mind is engaged. The eyes move back and forth under the eyelids and the brain and body are energized. Between the two types of rest, which are both necessary to feel truly refreshed, your entire being becomes rested and reinvigorated.

Healthy Slumber

While doctors recommend seven to eight hours of sleep per night (depending on the individual), most people don’t get anywhere close to this amount. Aside from annoying symptoms like yawns, a fuzzy head and bleary eyes, sleep deprivation can impact your body on deeper physiological levels:

  • Sleep for Your Belly.

Deep sleep is key to the release of hormones that play a role in hunger and appetite. A lack of rest can therefore cause you to overeat and crave foods high in fat and sugar. Sleep also reduces the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that, in high amounts, can contribute to obesity and other chronic diseases.

  • Sleep for Your Heart.

The quantity and quality of sleep can also affect cardiovascular health. Studies show that if either is insufficient, you may be setting yourself up for obesity, heart disease or diabetes. Add the stress of owning a studio, and the risk for these conditions increases.

  • Sleep for Your Well-Being.

Without sufficient rest, the immune system is less able to knock out foreign invaders that come your way. This is a helpful tidbit to pass along to staff members. If they remain robust and healthy, you can spend less time searching for substitute teachers on sick days and more time boosting your business.

  • Sleep for Your Sanity.

Concentration, creativity, productivity and patience are all top priorities for an innovative entrepreneur. If you are unenthusiastic, ineffective and edgy with students or staffers, your studio’s profits may follow a downward trend. You worked hard to get to where you are today; don’t let sleep deprivation interfere with your success.

Shut-Eye Strategies

Now that you know why sleep is essential, you may be wondering how to get some rest in a world that constantly operates at high speed. Here are a few hints.

  • Be Consistent.

Hitting the sack and waking up around the same time each day will encourage regular sleep patterns that will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to go when the rooster crows.

  • Get Comfortable.

Temperature extremes and bright lights aren’t helpful. Create the ultimate sleeping haven each night by setting up a cool, dark and quiet bedroom environment. If noise is a problem, try earplugs or a soothing sound machine that emits white noise.

  • Feed Your Sleep.

Some foods, such as warm milk, are believed to induce sleep. Your best bet may be a light carbohydrate snack, such as crackers, toast or cereal with milk. They tend to boost the sleep-inducing hormone serotonin. A warm cup of decaffeinated chamomile tea may also help relax your nerves and bring on drowsiness.

  • Go Easy on the Java.

Caffeine and work often go hand in hand. Having the occasional latté, tea, diet soda or Hershey bar for a pick-me-up during the day is fine. But as bedtime approaches, decrease or eliminate your consumption of these items. It can take four to six hours for the effects of caffeine to wear off, so plan accordingly.

  • Call Off Cocktails.

Unlike caffeine, which keeps people awake and kicking, alcohol tends to induce sleepiness. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, it’s not actually a sleep aid. That cocktail or glass of wine may help you nod off quickly, but it can also lead to wakefulness throughout the night. This prevents you from entering the restorative stages of REM.

  • Stamp Out Cigarettes.

Nicotine is a major stimulant. Try kicking the habit so you can sleep longer quality hours. Your heart and lungs will thank you, too.

  • Avoid the Burn.

Health experts believe that more than 50 million individuals suffer from nighttime heartburn at least once a week. Keep tabs on foods that may trigger indigestion, gas or heavy-hitting heartburn so they don’t interfere with your snooze time. Alcohol, coffee, chocolate and spicy, acidic and fatty foods are common culprits of that uncomfortable burning sensation.

  • Make Time for Exercise.

Working out and sleep can be a tricky combo, but if you get it right, you’ll enter dreamland more easily. In general, aerobic activities get the helpful hormones going and stifle stress. But there’s a catch: You must work out three or more hours before bedtime. Exercise too late and your system will still be revved up, along with your body temperature. Both of these states can inhibit sleep, so schedule workouts to allow plenty of time to cool down. If you don’t have time to squeeze in a fitness routine after work, try incorporating some exercise during the day.

  • Stay Away from Supplements.

Certain supplements and herbs, such as melatonin and valerian, have received quite a bit of attention for their alleged sleep-inducing effects. That doesn’t mean you should rush out to your local health food store and stock up on pills, however. Research is limited and dietary supplements are highly unregulated. To be safe, work toward unassisted shut-eye.

You Snooze, You Win

A few simple changes in your exercise, diet and sleeping routine can make a world of difference in your energy and focus. In turn, they will undoubtedly enhance your efficiency and enthusiasm both at the studio and at home. Facilitating healthier sleep might take a bit of time and effort, but with so many rewards to reap, it should be top priority for a smart, yet tired, teacher. DT

Karlyn Grimes, a registered dietician, holds a dual master’s degree in nutrition and exercise physiology from Boston University. She is also a faculty member in the nutrition and biology departments at Simmons College in Boston.

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