The Dangers of Stress

Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of physical, emotional, or mental demand. It is a real or perceived threat to your mind and body which can wreak havoc both physically and mentally. When the body perceives stress, it commands the sympathetic nervous system to slow down. This results in increased hunger, decreased metabolism, and fat storage.

When your body perceives any kind of demand or threat –whether life threatening or not – it reacts as if you are actually in a life or death situation. It releases chemicals to give you added strength and energy to protect yourself. This is widely known as the “fight or flight” response. In the proper situation, this response can help your body meet challenges by staying more alert, energetic, and focused. However, if you experience the fight or flight response on a daily basis, the heightened stress can damage your quality of life by suppressing the immune system, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, enhancing the aging process, and promoting mental and emotional issues.

In order to reduce the harmful effects of stress, it is important to recognize the signs of stress overload. Some of the major external causes of stress are work, school, relationship problems, financial issues, children, family, major life events/changes, and an overly busy schedule. Common internal causes of stress are pessimism, chronic worry, lack of flexibility, unrealistic expectations, and an all-or-nothing attitude.

Everyone tolerate stress differently. Stress management is dependent on many factors including the quality of your relationships, your life experiences, your genetics, and your emotional intelligence. Individuals with strong support networks of friends and family often deal with stress better than those who are lonely and isolated. People who have a sense of control and confidence seem to persevere through life’s challenges better than those who are all over the place. Those who are optimistic and capable of dealing with their emotions tend to manage their stress better than those who get overwhelmed easily and cannot calm and sooth themselves. Stressful situations are easier to cope with when a person is more knowledgeable and realistic about the specific event.

It is important to learn how to manage stress and cope with stressors. Many people cope by drinking too much, eating excessively, taking pills, or lashing out at others. This is unhealthy and unproductive. To take care of oneself, one must learn how to rest and relax. Exercise is extremely effective in managing stress. Additionally, yoga, meditation, prayer, hypnosis, saunas, steam baths, massage, acupuncture, and breathing techniques are all proven relaxation methods. It is also important to get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet. Some dietary changes to help alleviate stress are to avoid refined sugars, increase fiber intake, and increase omega 3 fatty acids. Supplements shown to decrease stress levels are B complex vitamins, magnesium, zinc, Vitamin C, Coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid, ginseng, licorice, rhodiola, and aswagandha.

Don’t let stress overwhelm you and take over your life. Learn to manage it so you can live every day with a glass half full attitude!

Time to Start a Yoga Practice

Do you want to do something good for both your mind and body at the same time?

Try yoga.

Yoga is a mental, physical and spiritual practice which originated in India. The term yoga comes from the Sankskrit word “yuj,” which is defined as “to unite or integrate.” The practice of yoga focuses on the idea that the body, mind, and spirit must all be integrated in order for a person to be in harmony both with himself and his environment. To achieve this integration, emotions, actions, and intelligence all need to be in balance, and this can be achieved through exercise, breathing, and meditation – the three main yoga structures.

There are many different types of yoga. The most common type of yoga in the US is hatha yoga, which is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. Hatha yoga is the foundation for many other types of yoga. In hatha yoga, physical poses, called asanas, are used in conjunction with breathing techniques and meditation. Often, classes labeled as hatha are gentle and move at an easy pace.

Other types of yoga include ashtanga, bikram, hot, iyengar, vinyasa, anusara, and restorative. In ashtanga yoga, the poses are always performed in the same order and are linked to the breath. It is physically demanding. Bikram yoga is practiced in a hot room and is a series of 26 poses that always follow the same sequence. It is also very physically demanding. Hot yoga is any type of yoga that is practiced in a heated room, so you should be prepared to sweat! Iyengar yoga focuses on finding proper alignment in a pose and uses a variety of props such as blankets, straps, and blocks to do so. It is physically and mentally challenging, but it will not increase your heart rate too much. Vinyasa yoga is known for its “flow” and the transition from pose to pose in fluid movements. It is intense and will increase your heart rate. Anusara yoga is a new form of yoga that strives to open your heart and connect with yourself and others through alignment. Restorative yoga is used to relax and rejuvenate. It uses props to help the body experience the pose without too much effort.

Yoga has been shown to have many benefits. It is not just about stretching! In fact, it is really about creating balance through increased strength and flexibility. Almost every yoga pose helps build core strength as well as strength in other muscles of the body. Yoga can help improve posture, since you become stronger and more flexible through your practice. Yogis also notice improved body awareness so that they are more aware when they are crouched or slouching. Other physical benefits are improved circulation, decreased stress, increased relaxation, decreased heart rate and blood pressure, and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Additionally, those who practice yoga seem to lessen chronic pain and reduce insomnia.

Anyone can start a yoga practice as there are many different kinds of yoga and modifications for every type of pose. It is individual, and you can go at your own pace and explore your limits. It is a great way to get in tune with both your physical and mental self and engage

Are You Really What You Eat?

There is an old popular adage that states, “You are what you eat,” implying that in order to be fit and healthy you need to eat good food. While this notion is certainly true, it is complicated by our modern food supply. It is no longer enough to eat a balanced diet full of whole grains, lean meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables and expect to have adequate nutrition. Data collected by the US government shows that there has been a decline in the nutritional content of our fruits and vegetables. The USDA has proven that store-bought fruits and vegetables have far less vitamins, minerals, and nutrients than they did 40-50 years ago. One study shows we would have to eat 8 oranges today to get the same amount of vitamin A our grandparents would have gotten from one orange!
The past five decades have been known as the “Green Revolution” which is demonstrated by the increased production and yield of the fastest growing and greatest producing plants. The decline of the nutrients in our crops is due to soil depletion during this mass agricultural phenomenon. The soil that most of our crops is grown on is so deficient in mineral content that our produce contains only about 10% of the vitamins and minerals they should have! Our soil quality has decreased because of the modern intensive agricultural methods that are used to improve size, growth and pest resistance.
Most plants require nitrogen, phosphorus and water in order to grow. However, if they are grown in soil without other nutrients present, the plants will be devoid of any nutrition, even though they will look good to the naked eye. The absence of nutrients in the soil creates plants that are less able to defend themselves against natural predators, and thus they require pesticides in order to protect themselves from damage. These chemicals sprayed on our fruits and vegetables are poisonous and have not been properly tested to determine their effects on humans.
Even though fruits and vegetables are not as healthy as they used to be, we should not avoid eating them. They still have beneficial nutrients, fiber, and phytochemicals, and they are much healthier than processed foods and other snacks. Buying organic and local fruits and vegetables helps preserve the nutrient content in our produce and helps us avoid damaging chemicals and pesticides.
So, continue to eat the rainbow of foods in front of you, but also realize that it might not be enough. You may need to replace the missing vitamins and minerals in your diet with nutritional supplements. A good multivitamin might go a long way in helping to ensure optimal health and nutrition and to make sure that you are, in fact, what you eat.

The Importance of Being Flexible

Flexibility is often under-used and under-rated in both the fitness industry and in life in general. Physically, a person’s flexibility refers to the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion. It is important to attain a full range of motion to perform activities of daily living and to reduce the stress on muscles, which in turn decreases injury rates.

Flexibility is joint-specific, since each joint has a potential range of motion. Static flexibility refers to the range of motion that can be attained while not in motion; dynamic flexibility refers to the range of motion that can be attained during movement. Dynamic flexibility is important to athletes because range of motion is limited by the amount of time it takes for a muscle to lengthen, which affects athletic ability. The more a joint can flex, the better the athlete can improve sport specific skills.

Greater flexibility of the muscle around the joint translates into better posture, reduced risk of injury, and less muscle tension and soreness. We need to be flexible to perform every day activities, from sitting to standing, and from lifting items to turning the body in different directions. Joints become stiffer as people age, and it is crucial to achieve a full range of motion to perform simple tasks, like tying shoelaces. When our muscles are sedentary and inflexible, our bodies create poor posture habits and movements that reduce the mobility of joints and compromise body positions. Flexibility helps prevent this loss of mobility.

Stretching helps to reduce soreness after exercise and gradually elongates the muscle through its full range of motion, which improves muscular balance and resting posture. Additionally, stretching promotes muscular relaxation, which increases flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors, and quads. This decreases the likelihood of both sporadic and chronic back pain. Stretching also increases blood flow and nutrients to soft tissue, increasing joint synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints and improves greater range of motion and decreased joint pain and degeneration.

Stretching can be part of a workout or a workout all by itself. As a rule of thumb, before a workout, stretching should be dynamic. Static stretching should be reserved for after a workout. When stretching, always be gentle and never jerk the muscle into position. Instead, smoothly move the muscle into position to safely lengthen the muscle tissue. Mild discomfort is normal during stretching, but there should never be any pain. Pain is an indication that the muscle is being overstretched or has been excessively stretched. Find 5-10 minutes per day to stretch to reduce stress and improve your health. Your body will thank you for it!

Keep On Spinning

Spinning has become all the rage, with spin studios like Soul Cycle and Fly Wheel opening up exponentially. Indoor cycling is a great low impact cardiovascular workout that increases both strength and endurance. However, as with any exercise program, it is important for the cycling enthusiast to make sure she/he is burning calories efficiently while simultaneously decreasing the risk for injury. And, as with many other routines, it can be too much of a good thing.

Proper alignment and biomechanics are the most important part of spinning effectively. Form starts with ensuring that the bike is set up correctly. First, make sure the seat height is correct by clipping your feet into the pedals (or putting your feet in the toe cages) and rotating your feet until one leg reaches the bottom. You should have a 25-35 degree bend in that leg when your foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke.  It is common for people to sit too low, which can be dangerous for ligaments and joints. After adjusting the height of the seat, the seat needs to be adjusted fore-aft. The idea is to have your kneecap directly above the center of the pedal or when both pedals are level with each other, so that the front of your knee is right in line with the ball of your foot when the pedal is farthest forward. Lastly, the handlebars should be set so it is comfortable for your back and neck. A new cyclist should raise the handlebars to take the stress off his/her back or neck. However, those with a stronger core and lower back can lower the handlebars.

Form on the bike is also extremely important to avoid injury. Because cycling is a non-impact exercise, it might take longer for injuries to present themselves, and our goal is to prevent recurrent stress to the body. Make sure the balls of your feet are directly over the pedal and do not lock out your knees. In fact, your knees should be slightly bent towards the center of the bike.  Also, try to pull up with your legs instead of only pushing down.

Keep your head high and look in front of you at the road ahead to keep your neck aligned. Further, if you keep your abs tight, you can strengthen your core and help maintain your hips in proper alignment over the pedals. Additionally, it is important to keep your upper body relaxed; the handlebars are meant for balance and you should not be leaning too far forward or using your upper body to support your weight. You do not want to feel sore or tight in the forearms or triceps. As far as upper body movements on the bike, keep in mind that leaning while clipped in puts a lot of stress on the hip and knee joints and increases the risk for injury.

When biking out of the saddle, be sure to add resistance to the wheel to maintain balance from seated to standing. Also, your hips should be back on the saddle so your butt is only 1-2 inches above the nose of your saddle to ensure you are using your legs. Also, keep your upper body as still as possible with as little swinging or bouncing on the pedal to focus on core and leg muscles. You don’t want to pedal too fast or too slow; if you pedal too fast without the proper resistance, you will start bouncing in your seat and if you pedal too slowly you will be inefficient. It is more important to focus on intensity than on leg speed.

To maximize your workout, what you do off the bike is just as important and what you do on the bike. Resistance training to strengthen your core, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and back is extremely important to maintain proper form on the bike. The goal is to use exercises with a similar motion to cycling with lower and upper body while simultaneously increasing muscular endurance and core strength. Lack of glute strength is a major cause of muscle injury. Planks, lunges, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and rows are all good exercises to utilize to improve your spinning experience.

Don’t forget to stretch! Don’t rush out of the studio after class; the two to three minutes of stretching is the bare minimum necessary to prevent injury. Spin classes can leave you feeling tight and sore, and stretching helps prevent muscle soreness by increasing blood and nutrient supply to the muscle and improving flexibility. Concentrate on the hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, calves and hips. Spinning  causes a tight psoas, which causes back pain and discomfort.

Moderation and diversity are key to any exercise program. Spinning 5-7 days a week will undoubtedly lead to repetitive stress on the same muscles and joints since your body is in the  same position doing the same motions. Injuries caused from spinning range from lower back pain due to tight hip flexors and knee pain due to imbalances in surrounding muscles.

Spinning can be a fun and effective part of any exercise program. If you do choose to spin, be sure to complement it with other exercises, especially those that strengthen the core and glutes. To be truly fit and functional, remember proper form on the bike, muscle strengthening, stretching, and changing up your exercise routine.

 

The Skinny on Stress

Have you ever tried to lose weight and found it impossible….even when your diet was perfect and you were exercising like a madman? Well, that’s because weight is not always all about the calories. Sometimes, other factors in our lives, like stress and sleep, affect our ability to lose weight and stay fit.

Stress is defined as your body’s way of responding to any kind of physical, emotional, or mental demand.  It is any real or perceived threat to your mind or body.  When our bodies are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system slows everything down. Our metabolism decreases, which increases our hunger and increases fat storage Further, blood sugar levels increases and because food isn’t moving properly, we may experience reflux or
constipation

Stress also causes hormonal imbalances that affect weight status. It decreases testosterone, which is related to muscle loss and fat increase. Additionally, it increases cortisol, otherwise known as the “stress hormone.”  Cortisol is responsible for stimulating insulin and effecting blood sugar levels,  which affects fat and carbohydrate metabolism.  Levels of cortisol vary at different times of the day. It is usually highest in the morning to increase appetite and energy levels and lowest at midnight to help sleep and repair.  During psychological and physical stress, the normal amount of cortisol in the blood is disrupted and may promote weight gain, especially around the abdomen. This fat around the midsection is typically linked to increased diabetes and heart disease. Increased cortisol is also responsible for increasing cravings for unhealthy food, especially carbohydrates. Increased carbohydrate intake increases insulin, which then stores fat. Additionally, cortisol may decrease sensitivity to leptin, a hormone that makes you feel full. Therefore, increased cortisol is dangerous in 2 ways: it decreases metabolism and increases hunger…both contributing to weight gain.

The most important thing you can do to decrease your stress levels is learn to relax! Relaxing increases your metabolism, increases your insulin sensitivity and helps you lose weight.  You can train your body to relax through yoga, meditation, prayer, hypnosis, deep breathing, mindfulness, acupuncture and saunas or steam baths.  Adequate sleep is necessary to decrease stress level as a lack of sleep is linked to an increase in cortisol levels. Exercise is also great for stress because it helps the body relax while burning calories. Physical activity helps to keep insulin and blood sugar in control.

Diet is another key factor to controlling stress and weight.  In order to decrease insulin production and eventually reduce cortisol levels, it is important to keep your blood sugar levels steady by eating a balanced diet.  Never skip breakfast and try to consume six small meals a days with a variety of foods.   Avoid refined sugars and simple carbohydrates, which increase insulin and contribute to stress inside the body. There are many supplements you can add to your diet which have been shown to help the stress response. These include B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, vitamin c, vitamin E, lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, ginseng, rhodiola, aswaganha, licorice, and passion flower extract.

Don’t get frustrated if you are having trouble reaching your ideal weight.  Take a closer look at how stress may be affecting you. If you use the above tips to help mange your stress levels, you may soon find yourself closer to reaching your weight loss goals.

Heart and Sole

February is Heart Health Month, so it is a great time to think about eating foods that make your heart healthy! Fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, benefit the hearts of both healthy people and those with cardiovascular disease. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish (especially fatty fish) twice a week. This is because fish is high in protein, low in saturated fat, and as stated before, is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Eating fish baked or broiled instead of fried is important since fried foods may cancel out the benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids.

 

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fatty acid with three common forms: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linoleic acid). DHA and EPA are found in fish and seem to have the strongest health benefits. ALA is found in vegetable oils, flaxseed, walnuts and dark green leafy vegetables. Our bodies do not produce omega-3 fatty acids, so we must get them through our food. Omega 3 fatty acids are also sold as supplements over the counter.

Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation throughout the entire body, including the blood vessels, where inflammation may lead to heart disease.  Omega-3’s also decrease the risk of arrythmias, decrease trigylcerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease stroke, and slow the growth of plaque formation in the arteries.  They may also improve pain and stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis, decrease depression, decrease dementia, and decrease ADHD.

It is important to note that some fish contain high levels of mercury, PCBs and other environmental contaminants. Fish that are larger and predatory, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish have higher levels of these substances. Fish with lower levels of mercury include sole, shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Eat a variety of fish, limiting the amount of predatory fish, to keep your mercury intake low.  Pregnant women and children should be especially careful and avoid eating fish high in mercury since there may be adverse affects.

If you find you are not eating the recommended amount of fish each week, omega-3’s are available at  http://wywnutrition.com/supplement-essentials/.

Fish is easy to prepare and can be made in a variety of ways, so be sure to get your minimum two servings a week. Your heart will thank you!

Is There A “Right” Time To Exercise???

Some people are early birds and exercise at the crack of dawn while others are night owls who wouldn’t dream of getting to the gym until the afternoon or evening. Is one group reaping more benefits than the other?  While research has shown little difference in calories burned or muscle gained by exercising at various times of the day, when you exercise can influence how you feel during exercise and throughout the course of the day.

It is most important to make sure that exercise fits into your family and work schedules, or you will never stick to a routine.  That being said, there are many benefits to working out in the morning hours. First, it kick-starts your metabolism and energizes you for the day. Additionally, exercising in the morning may decrease your stress levels when you get to work. People who work out in the morning often feel better about their work-life balance. If you need to work late, you probably won’t be as upset as you’ve already completed your workout.  Starting your day with a good workout also uplifts your mood and makes you feel good about yourself.

If you have trouble with consistency, morning may be the best time to exercise. This ensures that your activity is completed before any kind of stress or pressure from the day impedes your ability to get to the gym and interferes with your good intentions. You will be less likely to skip your workout for other obligations. Morning exercise has been shown to set your pace and focus for the day. If you exercise early in the day, you may also be more motivated to make healthier food choices.

Additionally, research has shown that morning exercise improves sleep, and better sleep is correlated with weight loss. This is because sleep controls the hormonal balance that helps control appetite. People who exercise in the evening may have difficulty falling asleep, throwing this balance off. It is important to wind down before bedtime and have regular, healthy bedtime habits so that your heart rate and body temperature come to a good rest zone.

While morning is shown to be a better time to exercise for the above stated reasons, many people find it extremely difficult to wake up early and get to the gym, especially if they did not sleep well the night before or are overtired. Some people just cannot motivate in the morning, or their schedule only permits them to exercise during lunchtime or in the evening.  If you do work out at lunchtime, make sure to eat after you exercise or your digestive system will be fighting with your muscles for energy. Working out after work can be beneficial to help you unwind and relax after a stressful day. If you can’t drag yourself out of bed in the morning, you are likely to have more energy and be more productive in the afternoon, so do what works for you.

It is of upmost importance to schedule physical exercise into your life and make it a daily habit. The most important thing is to get moving, no matter what time of the day it is!

Healthy Eating in a Hurry

In our modern society, it feels as if we are always running around and pressed for time. Between work, family, and personal obligations, it is often hard to find the time to prepare nutritious, healthy meals to eat at home. The myriad of processed, easy to prepare food, and fast food restaurants offer a great allure to the busy individual trying to squeeze a meal into his/her hectic day. However, eating high sugar, high calorie processed foods devoid of nutrients and vitamins can have long lasting negative impacts on your health.  With a little preparation and planning, you can feed your family healthy and delicious food, even after a stressful day.

First, you should come up with a meal plan for the week and make a shopping list of all the ingredients you will need at the grocery store. If you know in advance what you are making for dinner, you will not have the added stress of figuring it out last minute and not having what you need on hand. Always keep healthy stock items in your pantry and freezer, such as canned tomatoes, brown rice, quinoa, beans, low-sodium stock, olive oil, garlic, onions, frozen fruit and frozen vegetables. Prepare simpler meals on busier nights when there is less time for preparation. If you are not a cooking connoisseur, there are thousands of “quick healthy meals” to choose from on the Internet.

Second, cooking becomes a lot easier if you prep your ingredients in advance.  You will save a lot of time if you can wash and dice certain foods as soon as you get home from the grocery store so they are ready to use at a moment’s notice.  You can also buy pre-cut vegetables in the store. Just remember to save more delicate vegetables that may spoil until right before cooking.  Make sure to keep gadgets, like food processors, and garlic presses, readily available to make chopping and dicing easier.

Making meals in advance and freezing them is another great way to save time. Any kind of stew or casserole can be made in advance and heated up at a later time. You can make extra portions of chicken (like a whole roast chicken) to use in more than one recipe during the week!  Prepare a large salad at the beginning of the week and use it for a few meals (don’t add dressing or it will get soggy – store it dry!)  Lastly, utilize slow cookers, rice cookers and vegetables steamers so your food cooks throughout the day and is ready to eat when you get home.

Eating nutritious meals at home does not have to be difficult or stressful. Taking just 20 minutes per week to plan out your meals will not only save you time and money, but will lead to better overall health for you and your family.

Proprioception

Proprioception is defined as the body’s ability to sense stimuli with regard to position, motion and equilibrium. It is the sense of the orientation of one’s limbs in space; the ability to know where a body part is without looking at it.  Therefore, the body is able to sense the position of its parts, analyze it, and react with proper movement. Without proprioception, we would have to constantly watch our feet while we were walking.

Balance and proprioception are not the same things. The sense of balance originates from the fluids in the inner ear. Proprioception is provided by proprioceptors, which are sensory receptors. These nerves are located inside the body and transmit information from the muscles, joints, tendons and skin to the central nervous system.

Proprioceptors control balance, coordination and agility, and by training proprioception, we can improve balance, coordination and agility. Balance is a basic skill needed in practically every activity.  The key to efficiency is changing your center of gravity to match your moves. Agility is what allows us to move gracefully without wasting motion.  It allows our joints to move through the full range of motion smoothly and confidently. Proprioception also reduces the risk of injury. For example, ankle sprains are a fairly commonly injury for athletes.  These are often caused by a lack of balance or proprioception.  Even if a runner has strong lower limbs and good endurance and flexibility, slight deviations in the terrain during running require adjustments in balance. If the athlete has not trained the neuromuscular system to react appropriately when running on uneven ground or when they have a misstep, they may be injured.

Just like any other motor activity, proprioceptive ability can be trained. Any new motor skill that involves precise movement of our arms and legs– from baseball to painting to skiing – involves training our proprioceptive sense. And just like any new skill or exercise, it requires a progression during training. Start with simple exercises and make them more complex as the individual improves.

Proprioception can be tested by standing on one leg for 30 seconds with both eyes open and then standing on one leg with both eyes closed. Beginners should start with static balance activities and advance to agility and coordination activities. Balance exercises should start on the floor and progress to unstable surfaces, such as stability trainers or wobble boards. On the stability trainer, you can perform lunges, mini-squats, etc and progress to using a resistance band and then further progress to one leg. Wobble boards are good for static balance training and can be made more difficult by using a weighted ball. Be sure to exercise caution when using unstable surfaces.

After mastering balance, you can move on to more advanced proprioception for agility and coordination. Activities used to improve agility and coordination including pivoting, twisting, jumping and cutting. Progress jumping from two legs to one leg.

It is important to use correct technique when performing proprioceptive exercises. Reduce the intensity or level of activity if you cannot perform the exercise with proper technique. In order to reduce the risk of injury, perform these exercises before you are too fatigued. It is important to consider age and body weight when engaging in proprioceptive exercises. Performed correctly, this type of core stabilization or stability training is an invaluable tool to enhance overall fitness.

 

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