Hormones, Fat Loss and Your Health:
I am a firm believer that things come into your life for a reason, whether those things are good or bad or just simply to make you stop and think. I believe that what we hold onto emotionally and spiritually manifests itself in our physical bodies. That toxic relationship you are holding onto, that job you should of left months ago and then bang…..the sickness or injury occurs like a bolt out of the blue to gently remind you ‘I told you so’. These ‘reminders’ may manifest in minor symptoms like a flu or a common cold, or they can be more serious such as a weight gain, an auto-immune dysfunction, thyroid issues or a more sinister chronic disease.
Upon researching the topic for this article I thought it would be relevant to survey the people I come into contact with on a day to day basis, namely my personal training clients and secondly, my social media audience. I wanted to find out the health issues that were important to them. What were the burning topics they wanted more information about.
Quite surprisingly, the overwhelming response to the survey was ‘hormone health’. This was not isolated to women going thru menopause but women experiencing inflammatory problems bloating, poor digestion and elimination, skin problems, auto immune dysfunction, thyroid disorders and body fat that they just could not shift no matter how they little they ate or how hard they exercised.
As I dug a little bit deeper to find out more about what all of these women had in common it seemed that they were all ‘rushed’, ‘stressed’, ‘had no time for themselves’ let alone ‘not enough time in the day.’ A lot of them felt overwhelmed with life, coupled with trying to do it all and be it all! (sound familiar?). In regards to their diet, they were living off multiple cups of coffee throughout the day coupled with processed food and bookended with some wine of a night! (A concoction for a minor and major health melt down!)
Naturally as adults we all want to be liked, loved and to fit in on some level. If we pulled the curtain back and were completely honest with ourselves what frightens a lot of us is what other people think of us. In this pursuit of other people’s approval we have exhausted ourselves from keeping up the appearance of being kind, thoughtful, energetic, inspiring, funny, independent or strong or whatever other adjective we think we should live up to. It is more important for people to see us like this to maintain this like/love familiarity, unfortunately at the expense of our health.
The “Rushing Women’s Syndrome”:
Dr Libby Weaver a Nutritional Biochemist first identified the term ‘The Rushing Women’s Syndrome’ due to the health issues of the women she started seeing in her practice. They were stressed out, strung out and busy, busy, busy. Dr Libby observed in her clients the effect that long-term stress was having on these women. Some were presenting with polycystic ovarian syndrome, adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalances, auto immune diseases like Graves disease and hashimoto’s, unexplained weight gain and infertility problems.
Dr Libby looked at the biochemistry of what happens to your hormones when you are in this long term stressed state and the role that nutrition and other lifestyle factors has on your overall health.
What Dr Libby found was that when we get stressed our bodies ‘sympathetic nervous’ system or our ‘fight or flight’ response is activated. This stress response causes our bodies to release adrenaline, our blood pressure fluctuates, and our digestive system shuts down. This elevated adrenaline changes the fuel that your body perceives as safe and appropriate for you to use. During this process the body is making a decision whether to use glucose (carbohydrates) or fat as the fuel it burns. Most of the time when our lifestyle is in balance, the nervous system uses a combination of both glucose and body fat as fuel. When we operate on a high level of stress all of the time the body thinks it is in danger (fight or flight) and it recruits a fast acting fuel to make it feel safe again, which is glucose.
Over time, us women have lost the ability to use body fat as a fuel because our bodies are under constant stress. This inability to burn body fat results in our fat levels increasing, our clothes getting tighter, our moods fluctuating and as a result we turn to sugar to top up the fuel tank.
“The body cannot differentiate between different types of stress whether it be financial, emotional or environmental our bodies response to this stress is always the same.’
Sarah Wilson’s Story (I Quit Sugar):
Sarah Wilson an Australian journalist, built an entire “I Quit Sugar’ movement off the back of her thyroid problems. Her burnt out thyroid later escalated into infertility, her hair started falling out, her nails started pealing off in sheaths and eventually she was diagnosed with leaky gut syndrome. At the time of her sickness she was editing Cosmopolitan magazine, running 30 miles a week, sleeping 5 hours a night and propping herself up on black coffee and red wine. She was burning the candle at both ends until her body crashed and her thyroid completely ‘imploded’.
After hitting rock bottom with her health, Sarah was forced to look at alternative ways of healing herself. A pharmaceutical drug was prescribed to help regulate her thyroid but this was a band-aid solution. Sarah knew in order to get well she had to completely overhaul her lifestyle. This lifestyle change involved a multi directional approach of eliminating all processed sugar out of her diet and starting a daily meditative practice.
The role of Nutrition on your Hormones:
The most important question to ask oneself when making a decision about what to eat is ‘will this nourish me?’ We want to eat foods that helps us stay alive and to drive the biochemical pathways of our bodies so we have the energy to look, feel and function at our most optimal level. We want to be focused on whole and real foods that give us the nutrients we need to drive the inner workings of our bodies.
When selecting what to eat, go for foods in their most natural state such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean cuts of protein that are packed full of macro and micronutrients. When we eat a diet of processed food or when we don’t eat enough we become deficient in certain micro-nutrients like iron, zinc and magnesium. When we restrict our food, or cut out certain food groups, this results in our biochemical pathways not functioning properly, which can have major ramifications on our health both immediately and later on in life.
How do we have ‘happy hormones’:
There are a number of things we can do on a daily basis to bring our sympathetic nervous system down which are:
- Firstly, start to recognise when you are in that sympathetic stressed out response state. Are you experiencing symptoms of feeling rushed?, Is your heart racing?, Do you have shortness of breath or are you sighing a lot? All of these are symptoms and signs of adrenaline which is driving that sympathetic dominance. Ways to overcome this are to start exploring your perception of urgency and pressure. Is what you are experiencing really worth stressing about?
Start saving this stress for situations when your’e really need to rely on that fight or flight response such as a medical emergency vs not stressing about the 200 unopened emails in your inbox.
- Get brutally honest with yourself about how much caffeine you are drinking. A lot of people would really benefit from taking a break or cutting their intake right back to ideally 1 cup per day. Caffeine is a stimulant that increases our blood pressure and our heart rate and too much of it can increase our anxiety our heartbeat and cause heart palpitations.
- Take note of what is stressing you out, is it in relation to what other people are thinking about you? Try to see situations for how they really are, rather than what you perceive is to be happening. Cull your circle of influence down to 5-10 people and take on board their opinions rather than those of strangers on social media.
- When you feel stressed and exhausted, try to reduce the amount of high intensity exercise that you do as this releases more stress hormones (cortisol) into the body. Instead, try to activate the ‘green zone’ of the parasympathetic nervous system by participating in activities that energise you rather than deplete you. This could involve Yoga, pilates, tai chi, meditation, stretching or some concentrated breath work (diaphragmatic breathing). Start listening to yourself and tuning into your body. Ask yourself the questions ‘what feels good for me?’ and ask yourself ‘why’ are you working out.
- Eat a diet that is rich in micro and macronutrients as this governs the inner workings of our bodies and determines how we think, feel and act. Eat food that is good for your soul occasionally such as take out or alcohol, everything in moderation
- Lastly, avoid restrictive dieting as this slows the metabolism down. Our bodies do not understand that we have a choice about whether to feed it or not. When we restrict our body, it thinks it is in a famine and it’s not sure when it is going to get fed again. When this process takes place we start producing an enzyme that breaks muscles down, when our muscles break down we lose energy and with less muscle mass our body fat increases. This is a very important reason why diets don’t work in the long term. No one can sustain a diet of deprivation, nor is it healthy. Instead of focusing on how little you need to eat or how intensely you have to work out, focus on how you can nourish your body optimally so it performs at it’s best.
Remember that the true currency of health is not how much we weigh, but how much energy we have!
The ‘How To Guide to Better Sleep’
One of the biggest obstacles I come across when I am coaching clients, particularly corporate or executive level clients is getting them to understand the importance and impact of sleep on their health. We live in our world of rapidly changing technologies, cities that never sleep and an increasing reliance on devices such as phones, laptops and i-pads. All of this has resulted in our bodies natural sleep patterns being interrupted and for most of us, not getting enough good quality sleep that has an enormous impact on our overall health.
The best way to demonstrate the impact of not enough sleep or poor quality sleep is to share the experience of one of my clients named Amanda*.
Amanda had been a client of mine for over 10 years, during this time she had given birth to 2 boys and got back into the workforce. Amanda started working for a large Corporate and quickly moved up the ladder, which resulted in more travel, more responsibility and thus more hours being dedicated to her job. Amanda started taking work home in an attempt to stay on top of her workload and would find herself often on her laptop until 1am in the morning. What started out as a ‘one off’ became a common place theme most nights of the week. When the alarm would go off at 6am Amanda would feel like she had been hit by a bus the fog was that bad in her head.
During our sessions, Amanda would discuss how she was starting to feel anxious and overwhelmed with everything, she felt she was always cranky and moody with her husband and kids. She was having a hard time ‘holding it together’ at work and she felt she had no patience with her staff. Physically her body reacted thru a 10kg weight gain, her skin broke out in rashes and hives and she started suffering from headaches.
Amanda was getting approximately 5 hours sleep a night and waking up exhausted and tired. I explained to Amanda that it didn’t matter what she did, unless she got to bed by 10.30pm each night she was wasting her time and her money.
Whilst at first, these changes were overwhelming and hard, Amanda followed my advice and started changing her schedule by going to bed by 10pm. The changes in how she felt were dramatic, the headaches abated, her concentration and focus returned and she lost 2.5kg in the first week. From this experience Amanda started to pay attention to her sleep/wake cycles and her health improved dramatically.
Sleep/Wake Cycles and Hormones:
Our natural sleep/wake cycles are influenced by our environment and the movements of the sun, this hasn’t changed from ancient times. Animals as well as humans are designed to go to sleep when it is dark and wake when the sun comes out. Whenever light stimulates your skin or eyes, regardless of the source, your brain and hormonal system think it is morning. As a response to this light, your hormonal system releases cortisol.
According to Paul Chek in his book “Eat Move & be Healthy” (1993)
“Cortisol is an activating hormone that is released in response to stress, light being a form of electromagnetic stress’.
This cortisol production peaks between 6-9am which activates the body for movement, work or any other activity. This is why we may feel our energy is best at the start of the day and as time goes on this cortisol production starts to drop off significantly. As the sun goes down, decreasing levels of cortisol allow for the production of melatonin and increased levels of growth and repair hormones. If we are to follow the bodies natural hormonal production we should be winding down when the sun sets and should fall asleep by 10pm -10.30pm at the latest.
According to Chek (1993) the physical repair of the body takes place between 10pm and 2am when the body is asleep. After 2am, the immune/repair energies are more focused on psychogenic (mental) repair that lasts until we awaken.
The physical repair that takes place when we sleep assists in repairing our body at a cellular level strengthening our immunity and our ability to stay healthy. Our cardiovascular system is constantly under pressure and sleep helps to reduce the levels of stress and inflammation in the body. High levels of inflammation are linked to heart disease and strokes and getting your 7-8 hours every night can reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol as well lowering stress hormones.
Interrupted sleep cycles can have a detrimental impact on our physical health as well as causing us to gain weight. Shift workers such as nurses or doctors who often work thru the night can have a endless list of physical injuries, headaches, anxiety and other neurological disorders. When our body has not had enough repair, the hormone that stimulates our appetite called ‘ghrelin’ is released which makes us crave foods rich in fat and carbohydrates. Coupled with this increase in ghrelin is a reduction in the satiety-inducing hormone called ‘leptin’ which tells us when our body feels full. The flow on effect of sleep deprivation can also result in decreases in physical activity as we have less energy for our and motivation for our workouts.
Interrupting the sleep/wake cycle can also lead to ‘adrenal fatigue’. Chronic exposure to stress and light of a night -time can overload the adrenals which causes them to produce more cortisol than normal. Excessive production of cortisol can lead to adrenal fatigue which presents itself by headaches, chronic fatigue symptoms, viral infections, bacterial and fungal infections.
So how can we ensure we get a better nights sleep?
– Minimise your exposure to electro-magnetic stress such as laptops, phones and i-pads. The blue light emitted from computers, tv’s and phones causes sleep problems because it tricks your body into thinking it’s sunlight. According to research from the ‘Sleep Health Foundation”, around 44% of Australian adults are using the internet most nights before falling asleep, which is ultimately sabotaging our chances for a good nights rest. For tech addicts switch your phone over to a ‘night mode’ function, or you can download a filter application to switch to yellow or red light at night, which has a weaker effect on melatonin.
Try unplugging all electrical appliances in your room including tv’s, clocks and lights. Rearrange your bedroom furniture so that your exposure to electrical devices are as far from your bed as possible.
– Try eating more foods high in tryptophan for dinner. A 2015 study found that university students consuming high amounts of dietary tryptophan reported improvements in sleep quality and lower levels of insomnia. Good sources of tryptophan include yoghurt, milk, pumpkin seeds or cherries.
– the consumption of stimulants such as energy drinks, caffeine, soft drinks and nicotine after lunch. People who put away soft drinks and energy drinks regularly are more likely to get inadequate sleep, researchers at the University of California, concluded. In their paper published ‘Sleep Health’, they noted that participant’s who slept about 5 hours per night, drank 21% more caffeinated, sugary beverages than survey respondents who get 7-8 hours of shut eye.
– Get to sleep by 10.30pm. Start winding down by 10pm so your body is ready to fall asleep by 10.30pm.
– regular exercise can help improve sleep quality. Beware however of the time of day you exercise and the intensity. You may find that sleep quality is disrupted if you exercise after dinner, particularly if the exercise is intense. If you’ve ever gone for an evening jog you may actually feel more awake by the end of it. Some studies suggest this lack of sleep post exercise is related to body temperature. Most experts agree that the room temperature should be around 15-20 degrees for the best sleep. Vigorous exercise can raise your body temperature and it can take 5-6 hours before it drops so it’s essential to give your body enough time to cool off before going to bed.
Shredding for Summer
There is nothing like a hint of a balmy breeze and days spent by the water after the cold winter months to inspire us to start thinking about getting healthy. The Summer months are definitely a time where we are more conscious of what we are eating and how we are feeling. You would be forgiven for being confused about what are the best foods to eat and the right type of exercise to participate in, for you to feel your best.
There is a proliferation of information out there especially on the internet, advertising the latest diets and exercise plans. This combined with ‘fitspo’ influencers spruiking the latest and greatest supplements and training gadgets can cause an overwhelming information overload for anyone researching these topics.
The old adage ‘if it sounds to good to be true it generally is’ a good philosophy to adopt when you are reading about the latest Celebrity weight loss plan and wondering whether it is for you. Unfortunately, there is no ‘quick fix’ to losing weight or getting fit! It takes time, consistency and is often one step forward and two steps back!
In order to cut thru the white noise of the health industry the best approach for looking and feeling your best is a ‘Balanced Lifestyle Approach’. This process looks into all areas of your lifestyle from nutrition, movement, hydration, stress management , sleep and mental health. The philosophy around the balanced lifestyle approach is, if any of the above lifestyle factors are being neglected, then you have a problem with this health equilibrium.
Lets address some of these lifestyle factors that could be inhibiting you from getting the results that you desire.
The best part about the warmer temperatures is our food persuasions move away from stodgy heavier meals to lighter foods such as salads and fruit. Berries, melons, mangoes and kiwi fruits come into season allowing us to make up some delicious fruit salads as snacks or a healthy dessert option.
When it comes to eating healthy, it’s important break the overnight fast of a morning with an energy fuelled breakfast that helps set us up for the rest of the day. Try to include a protein, carbohydrate and good fat source in your breakfast so that your body feels fuller for longer and you are getting all of your essential nutrients and vitamins.
Proteins could be anything from lean cuts of meat, eggs, dairy or a range of vegan options such as beans, tempeh, edamame, lentils, chickpeas or beans.
Healthy carbohydrates include vegetables, healthy grains such as quinoa, brown rice or pearl barley. Good fats can include olive oils, avocados, butter, nuts and seeds.
Some healthy vegan options for breakfast include coconut yoghurt with granola and berries with a hint of honey. A non-vegan option would be scrambled eggs with roast tomatoes, mushrooms and a slice of spelt toast with butter.
Picking the perfect snack is where a lot of us fall down as we are unprepared and often opt for snacks made of convenience rather than what is necessarily good for us. Coffee and a sweet laden muffin or biscuit tend to be our ‘Go To’s’ which give us an initial surge in blood sugar and energy only to come crashing down some time later. All of this processed sugar and caffeine send us on a viscous cycle of peaks and troughs of energy and concentration throughout the day that can be disastrous when we are trying to lose weight. You can find yourself caught in a mouse wheel of chasing energy throughout the whole day and craving empty carbohydrates.
More optimal snacks to keep your energy on an even keel include a piece of fruit combined with a small handful of activated nuts a tub of coconut with berries or some vegetable sticks with some homemade hummus.
Remember ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ and preparation is the key to success when trying to lose body fat. Pack a lunchbox the night before that includes a healthy lunch and snacks so you have everything you need to support your healthy eating plan.
In terms of lunch and dinner selections, you cant go past a lean source of protein such as chicken, fish or for a vegan option of tofu, lentils or beans. Combine this with a fresh salad of walnuts, feta cheese or pomegranates for a refreshing take on a plain salad.
Supporting your healthy eating should be a solid hydration plan that involves drinking 2-3 litres of good quality water per day. Drinking enough water allows our body to get rid of excess toxins and promotes healthy digestion. Excreting toxins regularly enables us to lose weight and diminishes bad cells that can cause cellulite.
The right type of exercise for you is the one that you are most likely to stick with whether it be Pilates, weights or Zumba. Obviously training variety is the key to obtaining the bodies most effective result’s.
Your body is uncannily smart and will adapt to the same type of training very quickly. Adaptation generally occurs after 6-8 weeks of performing the same type of exercise so it is important to mix up some component of the weights you are lifting or the type of cardio exercise you are participating in.
In today’s world we are restricted with the amount of time we have to dedicate to exercise so there has been an explosion in popularity of 20-30 minute options such as HIIT or class style circuit workouts. Both of these type of workouts combine both cardio and strength training elements whilst getting the heart rate up, a popular choice for many time poor people. These formats tend to offer ‘bang for buck’ for people looking to burn a lot of energy and get a good sweat on.
In order to change the shape of your body you cant go past some form of resistance training. Resistance training can be in the form of weights, body weight or using more functional equipment pieces like cables or resistance bands to name a few. Resistance training increases our lean muscle tissue that in turn assists us in burning energy even when we are inactive. This is very useful when we are tying to lose weight as lean muscle tissue will help us burn off excess body fat whilst also giving our muscles the appearance of looking firm and toned.
It is also hard to go past Mind/Body classes like Pilates or Yoga for their holistic health benefits and stress management techniques. Ten minutes a day should be spent practicing some ‘quite time’ such as meditation, journaling or listening to music to recalibrate your spirit and your mind.
Balancing Your Lifestyle:
Did you know on average that most of us spend 10 hours a day at working including commuting to work?
This is a pretty scary statistic when you combine that with 7- 8 hours sleep that only leaves us with approximately 6 hours a day for leisure and relaxation.
The quality of your time off makes all of the difference to balancing your lifestyle. Invest time into activities that are good for your mental health such as exercise, meditation, reading, or spending time with friends and family.
Balancing our lifestyle helps reduce our stress levels which in turn reduces our levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that can cause excess amounts of sugar production and in turn increased blood sugar levels. Carrying excess weight particularly around the mid section is a sign of excessive amounts of cortisol and long term stress.
Long terms stress can cause mental health problems like anxiety and depression and physical problems like high blood pressure, muscle weakness and fatigue.
In summary, the right weight loss program for you is one that is sustainable and fits into your lifestyle. Sustainability is the key here, if it involves too much deprivation or sacrifice the body will feel overwhelmed and it will only end up being a short-term weight loss solution.
If you want to transform your health then all of the 5 key lifestyle factors need to be addressed from mental health, movement, nutrition, water, sleep and stress management.
Small changes over time is the best approach as trying to change too many things at once will be overwhelming and again you may abandon all of your efforts before you have even started.
How to adjust your exercise routine whilst doing a detox/cleanse
There has been much hype in the health industry recently about the merits of ‘cleansing’ or ‘fasting’. If you care to research this topic further there is alot of literature supporting the merits of both to achieve optimal health. Results range from greater mental clarity/focus to decreased blood pressure and possibly even slowing down the ageing process. Fasting for even 8 hours, causes the body to dip into glucose stored in the liver and muscles as a source of energy. As well as aiding weight loss, Dr. Razeen Mahroof, of the University of Oxford in the UK, explains that the use of fat for energy can help preserve muscle and reduce cholesterol levels. “A detoxification process also occurs, because any toxins stored in the body’s fat are dissolved and removed from the body,” he adds, noting that after a few days of fasting, higher levels of endorphins – “feel-good” hormones – are produced in the blood, which can have a positive impact on mental well-being.
What is a detox:
- Endongenous – (made from inside of you) hormones, brain chemicals, cellular waste from fatigue exercise. Or chemicals from the good/bad bugs that live inside your stomach and membranes.
- Exogoneous – (comes from outside) hormones, pollution, natural or synthetic food chemicals, poisons, venoms. Not to mention synthetic or natural drugs, inhalants, cosmetics, dental fillings, vaccinations, pesticides, electromagnetic radiation and fertilisers to name a few.
When should you detox:
How to Detox:
- Starting each day with apple cider vinegar or lemon in warm water
- Drinking fresh vegetable juice daily full of super greens
- Eliminating alcohol and caffeine
- Eating more raw foods such as vegetables and fruit
- Reducing your intake of red meat or meat products
- Using only natural cleaning, bathing and hygiene products
- Eliminating white sugar and processed foods
- Eliminating toxic people out of your life
- Drink more green tea or herbal teas like dandelion and ginger
- Exercising more and stressing less
Exercise Recommendations whilst on a Detox/Cleanse:
Your goal, whilst on a detox is to let your body do what it needs to do, that is rid itself of toxins. The right type of exercise can actually facilitate this process, but the wrong type, or too much exercise can detract from it. Exercising provides a great pathway for detoxification to naturally occur simply by sweating and breathing. Sweat increases our blood flow to our working muscles and carries away damaged cells which make us less sore after a workout. It also dials up heat-shock proteins (a special set of responders that safeguard other proteins from damage) repair any damaged ones and produce new ones. Exercise also stimulates our digestive and lymphatic systems so we expel toxins quicker and more efficiently. The key whilst detoxing/cleansing is to pick the right cleanse and pair it with the right type of exercise.
Here are my recommendations around certain exercises and cleansing:
- Yoga (Hatha or Gentle Yoga): The purpose of Hatha yoga is to stretch and restore energy due to it’s relaxing nature. The more intense cleanses can be completed whilst still practicising Hatha. These include 3-5 day juice or aw food cleanses. Opt for juices full of vital greens to restore iron levels or juices full of red beets, oranges and carrots to stimulate and sustain you.
- Power/Hot Yoga: The more dynamic Yoga’s do need more energy to perform and usually more sweat to be expelled. For these types of mind/body classes opt for a more protein rich drink to aid in recovery, especially taken after the workout itself. Add ingredients such as almond or any other nut milk, coconut water for hydration or a pea protein to assist with any breakdown in muscle.
- Weight/Strength Training: Similarly to Power Yoga, heavy strength work can cause tiny tears in the muscle fibres which require protein rich foods to repair them. Include a higher level of protein in your detox/cleanse if you would still like to weight train. Some of these foods include green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, sprouts, brussel sprouts. Fruits to include are avocados, guavas, apricots, peaches, kiwi fruit, blackberries, oranges, bananas, rock melon and raspberries. Ensure you supplement your shakes with a good quality pea protein powder.
- Walking/Low Impact Exercise: Even low intensity exercise still requires energy, ensure walks and low impact exercise are no more than 45-60 minutes in duration. You may want to add metabolism boosting spices such as cinammon or jalapenos to kick start your weight loss . Citrus fruits like limes, oranges, grapefruits also have chemical properties that help decrease insulin levels and promote weight loss. Not to mention, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower and bok choys being cruciferous vegetables that help jump start your metabolism and assist with weight loss.
- Running/High Intensity/Cycling/Endurance: For endurance or high intensity activities such as running or cycling an intensive 3-5 day juice only cleanse is probably not optimal for replenshment and repair. Food is required for these type of activities especially to sustain energy and to repair muscle and cells. Alongside food, green juices are good because they are high in potassium which helps with muscle contraction and prevents cramps. Ensure you get plenty of raw solids too—like avocados, nut butters, nut milks, whole fruits, and vegetables. Aim for a minimum of 1500 calories a day and add some pea protein for muscle repair. Coconut water will help for added hydration and maintaining your electrolyte balance.
- Swimming/Pilates: Toning exercises like swimming and pilates still get the cardiovascular system going. Try adding ‘super foods’ such as goji berries, acai berries and spirulina to a vegetable mix for extra vitamins and minerals. Lastly, throw in a blend of almonds, plant protein, dates and omega-rich flax to boost tissue repair.
The 5 Key Lifestyle Factors for Improving Your Health
Recently there has been a shift away from the terms ‘health and fitness’ to a more encompassing term used to describe our overall health called ‘wellness’. You only need to look on social media for an increase in the amount of people describing themselves as ‘wellness warriors’ using hashtags such as #nourishing and #fitmotivation whilst striking the latest Yoga pose. I should know! I am one of the converted as well!
The shift for me has been a positive one as more and more research has come out to support the fact that our overall health is made up of much more than what we put into our mouths and what type of exercise we do.
Whilst our diet and exercise play an important role in how we look and feel, these are just smaller parts to the bigger picture to what I describe as, our ‘Holistic Health’.
Our Holistic Health is comprised of the following 5 lifestyle factors:
We have somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts on any given day that is 35-48 thoughts per person per minute. As you can imagine that is a lot of information for our rational brains to process. When we think, we manipulate information to form concepts, engage in problem solving, reason and make decisions. Not all thoughts are deemed equal, and sometimes when we are under stress or are feeling tired or depleted our rational brain finds it hard to make decisions and think positively this can be described as ‘stinking thinking’.
Long-term stress can wreak havoc on our physical health thru the presence of injuries and mental health concerns. If left untreated, the ill effects of stress can lead to time off work, niggling injuries that don’t get better and even the breakdown of oneself and our relationships.
In order to maintain positive thinking and manage stress levels it is important to take time out everyday to ‘switch off’ from distractions and allow yourself to be present with your own company and thoughts.
Options to help manage stress levels include mental awareness apps such as ‘Head Space’ which encourage you to take 10 minutes out of everyday for some mental wellbeing activities. Other ways you can help manage your stress include participating in a Yoga class, practicing some meditation or Tai Chi and even doing some adult drawing or colouring in.
How we breathe effects the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood at any given time replenishing our brain and other vital organs with essential nutrients. We take on average 20,000 breaths per day which, makes it an important part of our health to get right.
Breathing correctly can reduce your stress levels, improve the performance of your workouts and boost your immune system. Poor breathing can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, hyperventilation and even insomnia and depression.
When we are stressed our body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode and our breathing becomes more shallow and frequent. This causes us to breathe like we are hyperventilating which in turn increases our heart rate, leading to palpitations and contributes to feelings of anxiety and being out of control.
In order to breathe correctly we should focus on what we call ‘diaphragmatic breathing’. This technique involves placing one hand on our chest, say our left hand, and our right hand on our abdomen. When we breathe in and out your left hand should remain still and your right hand should move up and down. If your left hand is moving your breathing is too shallow and you are not using your diaphragm correctly. Practice taking slow deep breaths in and out until you perfect the technique. Take note of how this correct breathing technique will help boost your workouts and your health.
The average amount of water contained in the human body is approximately 50-65% for the average adult person. Considering our bodies are largely made up of water then it is crucial that we consume enough good quality water on a daily basis.
Water in the body is responsible for flushing wastes and toxins thru the body as well as metabolising and digesting food. It is also the primary building block for all of our cells, as well as helping to insulate and lubricate the body, and assist in regulating our body temperature.
The research around how much water to drink does vary but you should aim to consume 35-45ml/kg of fluid which translates into about 2-3 litres per day. An active person who trains for longer than 40 minutes per day training at a high intensity should add an extra 500-1000ml a day with athletes or people exposed to extreme heat more again.
Generally, an indication of being thirsty is the bodies way of telling you, your already dehydrated. Just losing even 1% of the bodies water has an impact on our physical performance as well as impairing our mental performance. Up to 70% of people are dehydrated at any one time a result of drinking too much coffee, juices and smoothies which are loaded with caffeine and sugar.
If your having trouble drinking enough water daily, try carrying around a drink bottle with a slice of cut up lemon or lime. Add vegetables such as sliced up cucumbers, carrots or mint leaves for a fresh zesty flavor. Add a glass of water before every meal and snack to help you feel fuller for longer and to stop the urge of wanting to overeat. Add a pinch of rock salt to assist in replacing essential minerals and salts lost thru perspiration as well as to help slow down the urination process.
Life is a about balance and when it comes to nutrition nothing beats a strong foundation of carbohydrates, good fats and proteins or what we commonly refer to as macronutrients. Where a lot of people get it wrong is when we start eliminating certain food groups in an attempt to lose weight often replacing proteins and carbs with foods loaded with hidden sugars.
The need to refuel throughout the day will largely depend upon your workload and individual energy requirements. If for example, you are a Personal Trainer like me and get up before 5am every morning to train and work, then I often need 2 small meals before lunchtime to keep me going. If you exercise during your lunch break you may find that you need a small snack before you train and a bigger meal after training to help manage hunger and energy levels or vice versa. As a general rule of thumb try not to leave longer than 3-4 hours between eating as this will help regulate your blood sugars and prevent you from overeating at your next meal.
Your 3-4 meals a day should consist of lean proteins to help build lean muscle and keep you feeling full as well as good fats such as olive oils, avocado’s nuts and seeds. Green vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, beans and peas should be eaten with every meal to ensure you boost your immune system and help you get all of your essential vitamins and nutrients in.
We are a nation of alarming statistics with obesity levels on the rise with data from the ‘National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’ (NHANES 2013-2014) stating that ‘1 in 3’ adults were considered to be overweight. More that ‘2 in 3’ adults were considered to be overweight or have obesity and ‘1 in 6’ children between the ages of 2-19 were considered to be obese.
‘Sitting’ has become the new ‘smoking’ with the majority of our adult population sitting at a desk for 8-12 hours a day up to 5 times a week. It’s no surprise then that the incidence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is also on the rise, this is adding more strain to an already overflowing health system. According to the U.S division for “Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention’ about 630,000 Americans die from heart disease every year – that is 1 in 4 deaths. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. According to the report also, the estimated cost of covering health care services, medications and lost productivity is approximately $200 billion each year.
Coupled with the heart disease facts is our current statistics on the incidence of diabetes. According to the “National Diabetes Statistics Report’ from the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)), 30.3 million Americans have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes that is 9.4% of the population. From this 30.3 million people, 7.2 million are undiagnosed which means they do not even know that they have it.
Alarming statistics aside, a strategy to help improve our current health situation is to get moving more often. When clients ask my advice on how often they should exercise my response is always ‘everyday’. Now this may seem a little excessive but exercise doesn’t always have to be in a gym environment it could involve taking the dog for a walk after work, swimming laps in your lunch break or playing some social sport of a weekend.
Try to stick to exercise that you enjoy doing as you are more likely to stick with it long term. For those times when you think your motivation may be an issue enlist the services of a Personal Trainer who can design workouts specifically tailored for you or grab a workout buddy as you are less likely to cancel on them.
When it come to exercise variety is the ‘spice of life’, your body is very good at adapting to exercise so ensure you do a variety of cardio, resistance training, body weight exercises and stretching.
Ultimately, the responsibility of our health and wellness comes down to 1 person….which is ourselves. In order to not be a statistic of disease we have to move more and watch the amount of processed foods and drinks we consume.
Perhaps one of your goals for 2018 is to prioritize your health, which involves quitting the excuses and putting more time into your physical and mental wellbeing.