How Stress Affects Your Immune System

Stress is a normal part of life. It’s a natural condition our bodies are designed to deal with quite effectively.  But people are often not aware of the negative consequences of modern day chronic stress on their health until it’s too late. Some people are able to cope with stress better than others. Some take practical steps to reduce their stress each day to diminish the wear and tear on their bodies and minds.

Most of us, though, are not aware of just how much stress is harming our health. It is not until we are diagnosed with a serious illness such as heart disease that we’re told we need to make drastic changes to our lifestyle and reduce stress if we wish to live longer.

So what exactly is stress? Stress is the body and mind’s response to any unusual event or situation which challenges us or that we perceieve is a threat or some kind. Stress provides the body with a burst of energy, outting us into the “fight or flight” response so we can react to the perceived threat.

People either run away from the thing that stresses them (flight), or they turn and try to deal with it (fight). Some strategies are more effective than others depending on the situation. The system is designed to be temprary, though. Once we rid ourself of the threat or danger, we should then return to a normal relaxed state of physiolgy. In the modern world, this stressed state is unfortunately not temporary for most people which leads to problems.

Our life is stressful from the moment we are born. There is the stress of birth, of feeling hunger, or needing our diaper changed. At school, there is the stress of performing well on exams, in presentations in front of the class, the school play, or on the school sports team. In our university years, there are the stresses of needing to maintain a good enough GPA to stay in school, or perhaps even get a scholarship or acceptance to grad school. Then there are social stresses, dating, relationships, friendships, peer pressure, and more.

As adults outside of school, there is the stress of whether or not we will find a job. If we don’t, there is the stress of trying to make ends meet. Even if we do get a job, we must keep it, let alone try to get a raise, promotion, and so on. Even happy occasions such as a new job, business, wedding, baby or home can trigger major stress responses in the body.

Most of us work very hard ‘burning the candle at both ends’ in order to try to keep up with all the demands on our time every day. This can lead to a lack of sleep and “downtime” for relaxation to help recharge the body and mind. The lack of rest and downtime can in turn lead to a weakened immune system. Sleep is when the body heals and repairs itself.

A lack of sleep has been shown to have the same effects on the immune system as stress. Stress in turn can interfere with one’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. This in turn can create a vicious cycle of even more stress through sleep deprivation, which can leave your immune system vulnerable and open to attack.

If you’re a workaholic, not getting enough sleep, and not taking time out for relaxation, it’s time to get your stress under control. Above all, you must avoid burning out. This is a serious situation that damages your immune system and leads to excessive inflammation which has been linked to many conditions, such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

There are many ways to reduce stress effectively –  yoga, meditation, tai chi, a relaxing bath, a good night’s sleep, doing something fun that you enjoy, spending quality time with friends and family. If you have been overworking, it’s time to make some new appointments on your calendar for you. Add exercise and a good sleep habit to your daily routine to better support your immune system.

by  Dr Robert Inesta DC L.Ac CFMP CCSP

Choosing Your Workout

Working out is not always fun. You are not always motivated to go outside or go to the gym. So what can you do to motivate yourself??

Do you brush your teeth every day? Do you enjoy it or look forward to it? Perhaps after eating garlic knots or drinking some nasty green drink, you may want to brush your teeth but few people look forward to cleaning their teeth. You brush your teeth every day (hopefully) because it is part of your routine. You don’t think about it, you just do it every morning after you shower and before you go to bed because that is what you do. This strategy needs to be the same with working out. It is as simple as making part of your daily routine.

I go to the gym every morning, except my surgery day, before work. Many days I don’t really feel like going, but I just end up going because it is what I do. I almost always feel better afterwards. I have more energy after and feel better about myself. Some workouts are better than others, but even my worst workouts make me feel better than if I did not work out at all.

In choosing your workout, do what you enjoy. If you hate running you will never want to do it. If you love the elliptical or swimming, that is what you need to do. It is important to vary your workout so you don’t get bored and so you shock your body to challenge different muscles and make more gains, but don’t do things you don’t like.

It is important to do cardio workouts as well as resistance training with weights. I find the gains I make from weight training motivate me more since you can see the results in the mirror and feel it in your strength. The cardio is extremely important to give you energy and help you live longer and healthier. Weight lifting prevents weakness in the bones especially in people predisposed to osteoporosis. Your bone strength peaks at around 30 years old and after that you lose bone. Resistance training will help prevent bone loss and prevent fractures as we get older. I have seen too many old people with spine and hip fractures because they let their bones get weak. You don’t want this to happen to you.

We all need workout at least 5 days a week. Find what you like to do and make it part of your daily routine like brushing your teeth. I promise you will feel better afterwards and the gains you make will be noticed not just by you but by others as well.

 

by

Rick Weinstein, MD, MBA

Director Orthopedic Surgery Westchester Sport & Spine at White Plains Hospital

Enhancing Peak Performance from the Inside Out

Trust, confidence, and being in the present moment express the sensation that we experience when we are 100% focused on a task without entertaining mechanical or distracting thoughts in our minds. When we are totally focused, we achieve our goals, become productive, and feel proud for having moved forward. If being totally focused is so positive, what prevents us from being in that positive mindset for longer time?

It appears that, for some people, staying focused seems to come more naturally while for others it requires a greater amount of conscientious effort. Even for those fortunate individuals, their genetic “focused” gene pool barely counts enough to completely do away from acquiring new experiences and conscientiously putting effort to promote being in the present moment.  By far, experiences and effort much more so than genes are the primary learned source of knowledge that lead to achieve a greater level of emotional regulation in stressful experiences, which in turn, promote focus and enhances results.

The neuroscience behind focusing

Two individuals having a pleasant social interaction not only leads to fun and laughter, but also, unbeknown to them, promotes self-regulation of emotions at a non-verbal language. While having a good time, their respective nervous systems are simultaneously “talking” with one another synchronizing emotions. The nervous system from person A is reading the smiley face from person B, which causes a calmer demeanor and, in turn, responds with another smile. The nervous system from person B reads A’s positive verbal and non-verbal cues, which promotes being in the present moment. The human ability to expand on the capacity to be in the present moment is experience dependent, not genetic dependent. Hence, the quality in the human interaction between athlete and coach has a powerful effect on the ability to enhance peak performance.

The learning pyramid

Picking up a game requires a skill development process. How to properly hold a racquet, hit drive shots, lobs, and serves need technical instructions. Eventually, those skills become a second thought and the athlete moves to the second phase of needing to learn the strategies of the game. Reading the breaks of a golf green increases the chances of making putts. Learning how to talk with a soccer teammate helps to create passing opportunities to score. The third phase is physical development. Athletes require physical stamina, flexibility, and strength to sustain the demands of each sport. However, when the pressure is on, it is the mind that will take over and become pivotal in helping athletes to remain focused and achieve the best possible results. At that moment, the pyramid flips upside down and, unless athletes either learned or were taught to regulate emotions, it means they are less likely to use mental skills to promote a focused state of mind which was not practiced. Based on research, the main factor leading to peak performance in Olympic athletes is the coach-athlete relationship over optimal training environment. When looking at coaches’ behavioral traits that promote peak performance, a 2005 survey found looking at the athlete as a whole person rather than primarily focusing on strategies and skills made the significant difference.

The inside out of peak performance

Achieving peak performance requires teaching athletes how to trust in themselves. When the pressure is on, athletes pay less attention on their skills and more on their emotional regulation. Coaches can promote trust by positively supporting the learning process. When a mistake is made, coaches need to provide a corrective instruction in a positive and encouraging demeanor. Even when the athlete knows the drill and still makes a mistake, motivating rather than using a punishing tone of voice promotes focus rather than fear of making the same mistake again. When making positive progress, applaud the effort more so than the innate talent. Also, coaches should not take progress for granted. They need to keep encouraging and reinforcing mental focus. Help athletes to express the skill they are using that enhances focus as it will be easier to recall their own words rather than the coach’s. Maybe it is a positive cue that crosses their mind or maintaining awareness to a relaxed breathing is what is helping them to remain focused. Whatever works better for them, the easier will it be remembered and used when it really counts.

The more they “own” their sense of being able to regulate their emotions, the more likely they will tap on such an internal source of knowledge. Once the athlete takes ownership of their own ability to promote mental focus, the higher the likelihood that they will achieve their best results. When the game in on the line and the athlete feels most pressure, it matters most the athlete’s inner knowledge and language than the coaches’. Having a sense of confidence and trust come from within. Once it is learned, it is stored in the athletes’ implicit memory for life.

 

Alex Diaz, PhD

Sports Mental Edge

What is Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)?

SIBO, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth, is a condition where there is an excessive number of bacteria in the small intestine, which affects digestion and absorption. Bacteria are a natural part of our digestive tract, but the highest concentrations of bacteria are usually in the large intestine/colon. Usually the small intestine only houses a small amount of bacteria. SIBO is the cause of 85% of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Digestion of nutrients takes place in the small intestine. When a person has SIBO, nutrients are often malabsorbed because the bacteria interferes with the process of digestion and absorption. In fact, the bacteria consume some of the nutrients, which may lead to symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including gas, bloating, and pain. The overgrowth of bacteria may also cause intestinal hyperpermeability, also known as leaky gut.

Besides gas, bloating, and pain, other symptoms of SIBO are heartburn, constipation and/or diarrhea, osteoporosis, nausea, flatulence, belching, malabsorption, and steatorrhea. There may be deficiencies in vitamin D, K, and B12 as well. Additionally, fatigue, joint/muscle pain, some dermatological conditions, and headaches may be present as well.

Many conditions may be responsible for the development of SIBO. These include dysmotility and slow transit time (gastroparesis), inadequate hydrochloric acid, aging, pancreatitis, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulosis, and inadequate bile acid or pancreatic enzymes. Additionally, the use of certain drugs such as antibiotics, immunosuppressant medications, and proton pump inhibitors may cause SIBO.

The lactulose hydrogen breath test is the most common test for SIBO. A baseline breath test is taken followed by ingestion of a solution that contains dextrose or lactulose. The breath is tested every 15 minutes for two hours to determine the levels of hydrogen and methane, which determine a diagnosis of SIBO. If a diagnosis is made, patients are often put on conventional antibiotics or herbal antibiotics. Some herbal antibiotics are oil of oregano, berberine, lemon balm oil, and wormwood oil. Even with antibiotics, SIBO is extremely difficult to treat.  The use of probiotics to help symptoms of SIBO is controversial. Various herbs, including glutamine, are used to repair the GI tract after removal of the bacteria in the small intestine.

A low FODMAP diet is also recommended for at least two weeks. FODMAPs are short chain carbohydrates which are not properly absorbed in the gut, and they trigger symptoms associated with IBS. They ferment and feed the bacteria, which makes it harder to eliminate the bacteria in the small intestine. FODMAP stands for: fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. To learn more about the FODMAP diet, visit https://www.monashfodmap.com/i-have-ibs/starting-the-low-fodmap-diet/.

How Often Should You Exercise

People often wonder how often you should exercise and how long your workouts should be. As a general rule, you want to exercise at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week to achieve optimal health. If you have specific goals, such as muscle building or weight loss, you will need to do more. You don’t need to spend a ton of time or be in a gym to get a good workout. You can get your daily exercise by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away from your office building, or even taking a lunchtime stroll. Another rule of thumb is to reduce the amount of time spent sitting. The more hours you sit each day will increase your risk for metabolic problems, regardless of whether or not you achieve the recommended amount of physical activity. No matter what, make it a point to exercise more throughout your day. It will be good for your mind and for your body.

 

by Gina Stallone

Fitness Isn’t a Seasonal Hobby. Fitness is a Lifestyle.

Summer is here! Time to break out the bathing suits, suntan lotion, and to start planning that trip of a lifetime! Let’s face it – we’ve all been guilty of considering a vacation our “reward” after dedicating ourselves to eating healthy and working out. It’s perfectly fine to indulge a little and let yourself truly enjoy your vacation. However, you can make tons of memories without destroying all of your hard work!

For starters, you can keep up with your workouts. A great way to get exercise while on vacation is to run or walk by the beach. Get up a little early and hit the boardwalk before the heat kicks in! You can even add some strength training to the mix. Be creative and just soak in the moment – after all, it’s not every day that you can run next to or on a beach. Another great idea – hiking. Find a trail or mountain near where you’re staying and spend your morning exploring. You can even include your friends &/or family in on the fun! Lastly, you can work out in the hotel. Even if the hotel you’re staying at doesn’t have a gym on-site, you can get creative and do a short workout in your room. A short workout is better than none at all!

One of the hardest parts of a vacation is avoiding all of the delicious food and drinks available to you. Often people use a vacation as an excuse to just eat everything in sight. You’ve spent months getting ready for this vacation – so why throw it all away now? You can still eat reasonably healthy while enjoying a few treats from time to time. Pick and choose! For instance, if you want that Belgian waffle for breakfast, make sure to have a salad for lunch and a sensible dinner. If you want to enjoy a few frozen cocktails by the pool, just make smart choices elsewhere throughout your day. If you decide to go to a buffet, load your plate with salad, protein, and vegetables so that you only have a small amount of the more decadent things.

Whether you’re hitting the Vegas strip, heading to the Caribbean on a cruise, or just heading to your nearest shore point, you can still be healthy while making memories that will last a lifetime. The most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself and to not spend every waking second agonizing over a few extra calories or a few less workouts. Don’t stress; just do your best to be as healthy as possible while having the time of your life.

by Gina Stallone

Of Exercise, Mice, and Men?

Would you exercise if it meant you’d have smarter babies?  In a new study that was published in Cell Reports, exercising male mice produced offspring with enhanced brain activity.  Physical exercise has been shown to alter gene expression- turning certain genes on and others off, and now it looks like these changes can be passed along to the next generation- a phenomenon known as epigenetics.

There has been plenty of research showing how exercise has a positive effect on our brains, from improving mood, increasing neuronal connections, enhancing brain activity, as well as improving memory.  But for the first time, albeit in male mice, we can observe an epigenetic effect of exercise and brain activity.  Furthermore, the mice had not been active until they were adults, and still passed along the beneficial changes in their brain activity to their pups.  The exercising and non-exercising male mice were paired with sedentary female mice.  Only the offspring from the male mice who exercised showed the same enhanced neuronal connections that result from exercising as their fathers.  They also learned faster and remembered better than the mice whose parents were sedentary, even though none of the pups ran.

For this study, the scientists also focused on two particular microRNAs, molecules that are known to have an effect on genes.  Levels of these two microRNAs increase in the brains of mice after they start exercising, and are believed to enhance the connection between brain cells.  For the first time, they also found increased levels in the sperm of the running mice.  But the increase in microRNAs in the active adult mice were not found in their sedentary pup.

What this research tells us is that exercise can have a positive impact on brain activity in both adult mice, as well as their sedentary offspring.  But the epigenetic effect stops at the second generation.  None of the sedentary second generation mice produced pups with the same enhanced brain activity that they had inherited from their parents.  In order to pass along the benefits of increased neuronal connections for generations to come, it is essential for each generation to exercise.  The bottom line:  Start moving, and keep moving at any age, to have smart babies… and encourage them to exercise too!

by Rima Sidhu, MS Exercise Physiology

Maze Sexual and Reproductive Health

Exercise Your Way Out of Boredom

Bored with your daily routine? Sick of the same, monotonous schedule? Switch it up & add some exercise into the mix! Exercise is beneficial for your mind and body. Incorporating just 30 minutes of exercise into your day can lift your energy and boost your mood. You can do anything from taking a quick walk around your work premises, some light exercises at the gym, a bike ride around the neighborhood, or even meditation & yoga. Maybe you always wanted to get into a certain sport – this would be the perfect opportunity! Find something you’re interested in or passionate about & it will help cure your boredom.

Studies show that boredom also leads to weight gain. This is due to emotional eating, often triggered by boredom. We reach for unnecessary snacks, which pack on unwanted calories. Instead of reaching for that pack of cookies or bag of chips along with your remote control, stand up and exercise instead. Your mind…and body…will thank you.

by Gina Stallone

What is ART (Active Release Technique)?

ART, which stands for “Active Release Technique” is a type of soft tissue massage that was created and patented by P. Michael Leahy. It treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and fascia. It focuses on relieving nerve trigger points and tight muscles. By manipulating the soft tissue, less stress will be placed on the joints and nerves, which can help relieve a wide range of chronic pains and injuries.

The goal of ART is to restore the mobility to the muscles so they can move easier around nerves. It also stimulates the lymphatic system and lowers inflammation by moving joint fluid around the body. Many times, overused muscles can develop scar tissue, tears, pulls, strains and inflammation.  Specifically, when a muscle is overused, the tissue can transform by either not getting enough oxygen, accumulating small micro-tears, or through an acute condition, such as a pull or tear. All of these can cause the production of scar tissue, which binds the tissue and prohibits it from moving freely. As a result, the muscle is weaker and shorter, which may entrap nerves or cause tendonitis. This results in pain and reduced range of motion. Some possible symptoms of scar tissue in the body are neck stiffness, stiffness in the elbow, hands, knees or back, increased pain when exercising, loss of muscle strength, inflamed or painful joints, reduced flexibility, and signs of nerve damage, such as tingling or numbness.

During an ART session, the therapist will use tension combined with patient movements to treat the affected areas. There are over 500 treatment protocols used to correct the issues of the individual clients. The protocols use precise, targeted movements, and each treatment is individualized for the patient. ART works to actively release and break up the scar tissue to restore range of motion, increase flexibility, improve performance, and prevent running injuries. Some of the conditions that can be alleviated by ART are lower back pain, tension headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, plantar fasciitis, knee problems, frozen shoulder, bursitis, and sciatica. ART is different from a massage because a massage may decrease pain by utilizing pressure points, but it won’t break up the scar tissue in your body.

ART is an aggressive therapy, and it may feel painful during the treatment. The amount of sessions needed will vary by condition and range in the frequency needed. Make sure that the practitioner is a certified ART provider, and they can be found on the ART website.

 

by Denise Groothuis

What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a disorder in which there is a sideways curvature to the spine. The curves are often s-shaped or c-shaped. While there is no known cause and people of any age can have this disorder, the most common form of scoliosis (idiopathic) occurs in children during the growth spurt just before puberty. There are several signs & symptoms you should look out for with your child and/or loved ones.  Look for uneven shoulders, one shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other, an uneven waist, or one hip being higher than the other. If a scoliosis curve gets worse, the spine will also rotate or twist, in addition to curving side to side which can cause the ribs on one side of the body to stick out farther than the other.

Mild curves can develop without the parent or child knowing it because they appear gradually and usually don’t cause pain. Most cases of scoliosis are mild, but some children develop spine deformities that continue to get more severe as they grow. Severe scoliosis can be disabling. An especially severe spinal curve can reduce the amount of space within the chest, making it difficult for the lungs to function properly. Seek medical attention if you notice signs or symptoms of scoliosis in your child.

 

by Gina Stallone