Research taken from Dr Elissa Epel and Dr Andrew Huberman
What is Stress? – Many different dimensions to the word stress, there is good and bad stress and chronic and acute stress. Technically, it means anytime we feel overwhelmed or the demands are too much for our resources.
So much of our lives is about meeting challenges and we are not going to ever get rid of stressful situations completely. If anything, they are increasing so it really comes down to not the stressors or what happens to us but how we react to them or our stress response.
It’s worth thinking about what stressors are in your life that may be difficult – ongoing situations like caregiving, health problems, or work stress and how are you coping with it? When something happen’s we mount a stress response and we recover which is positive. Problems arise when we keep it alive in our head with our thoughts – our thoughts are our most common form of stress. Overthinking or ruminating can lead to chronic stress which can affect us in ways not just mentally but also physically.
The Most Effective ways for Dealing with Overthinking and Ruminating On Stressful Topics
3 Key Areas:
Firstly, we need to have some kind of awareness of how our mind works or whether are thoughts are real. Instead of accepting every thought that comes into our heads as gospel we must learn to identify and challenge what thoughts are serving us in a positive way and what thoughts are irrational. I have a very acute stress response to flying in an aeroplane, I start thinking about being stuck on a plane where I can’t get off and the turbulence makes me think we are going to crash. Quite a common stress response for a lot of people. I have gotten better at separating myself from my thoughts and now I understand that these thoughts are just thoughts, not reality, if I don’t attach myself to them it helps get my stress under control. In my case I have released this type of stress thru awareness and mindset, this may also be a strategy that can help you manage yours.
Post covid 46% of people found they are experiencing stress of some description (more research has suggested these numbers can even be higher). This can have more serious implications for young adults who experience 4 x the level of stress to others and minority groups. People over 65 tend to be less stressed as the research found they have already been thru so much in their lives and are more resilient and better at problem solving.
- Changing the Body
Certain studies have found that High Intensity Interval or HIIT training is a great way to release endorphins. These endorphins make us feel good and also help us work stress out of the body which makes us feel positive and happy. Exercise has also been proven to be 4 x more effective than anti-depressants so next time you are feeling stressed go out for a walk, hit the gym or play sport.
- Changing the Scene
By changing the scene try to remove yourself from the environment that may be contributing to your stress. Find an environment that is calming and comforting places that have your pets, favourite photographs, smells or music can help.
Different Forms of Stress and How we can Recognise Them:
Stress is not always related to our mind, it can be measured thru the nervous system or holding tension in the body, it is sympathetically dominated (fight or flight). Our bodies when stressed are vigilant and are searching for safety cues to help alleviate our feelings of overwhelm. When we are stressed, we are mobilising a lot more energy (ATP) than we need too, this huge energy expenditure will often leave our bodies feeling exhausted and tired. Some other physical signs and symptoms of being stressed are clenching your jaw or hands, shallow or difficulty breathing and sweating.
Acute (short term) stress response – creates a situation where every hormone or cell in our body is having a stress response. This acute stress response is not always negative as it allows us to re-orient, focus and problem solve which is necessary for coping with life. Even if it last minutes or hours we eventually recover, this is also know as ‘Eustress’ or good stress.
Moderately Stressful events may take days or months to cope with – it is helpful to notice in the moment right now am I coping acutely with something or can I restore it?
Chronically Stressful (long term) situations which go on for years, many of us have these in our lives eg caregiving which may be hard to change. Whilst we may not be able to change these in a hurry we can use radical acceptance strategies to live well with them. Really important for people who feel like they have a harder life. A radical acceptance strategy may be along the lines of allowing yourself to feel negative feelings, find practices that make the stress feel easier to cope with breathwork, meditation and learning to accept your resistant behaviours.
Relationship Between Stress and Eating:
Most people when they feel stress either eat more or less food. For some people, stress makes our digestion shut down which reduces our appetite. This is a high sympathetic stress response (fight or flight) is triggered. This leads to more alertness and arousal and it can also lead to losing weight.
The more common pattern is binge eating or over eating when we experience stress and that looks different both in the brain and biologically. What is looks like in the body is the stress response is driving cravings and high insulin or an insulin resistant state. What goes along with that is a tendency to be overweight or obese. Stress can exacerbate tendencies to overeat or binge, not feel satiated and compulsive traits. We tend to crave high sugary foods, fast foods and processed foods. With repeated bouts of stress we will just gain weight particularly in the intra-abdominal area. This has been demonstrated in rat and mice studies and now also with people. 10 year study by Dr Elissa Epel found that what was happening in rats and mice was also happening with people.
In studies with mice if you stress them out and give them sugary foods to eat they develop binge eating and get compulsive. They get metabolic syndrome where their belly fat expands, which is an immediate source of energy when we are stressed. If our body thinks we are under chronic stress we are going to store abdominal fat which is easily mobilised.
Breaking Overeating Cycles and Mindfulness:
In certain weight loss trial’s (Dr Elisa Epel) in her lab researched the way to break the cycle of compulsive eating what she found was:
- In healthy, mindful eating trials they found that mindful eating is not going to cause a lot of weight loss. But the people who benefitted most from learning this kind of calm, self-regulation where you check in with your hunger you slow down, you increase your awareness of your body (teraseptic awareness). That type of skill is really critical for people with compulsive eating. In these trials by Dr Epel they found that people with compulsive eating who took on this mindfulness skill do better in terms of their long-term weight loss, insulin resistance and glucose.
- The ‘Positive Stress Pathway’ is also important also for breaking the compulsive eating cycle. Examples include high intensity interval training (HIIT) or other ways we can get rid of stress thru the body can help with the cravings.
If you are finding yourself in that Binge eating mode or using food to comfort then you can use the following strategies.
Top Down Check In
The compulsive drive to eat is one of our strongest impulses. If we have developed that neural pathway it is important to develop awareness around separating emotions from hunger. These two can easily get intertwined together, so labelling how you are feeling, numbering your hunger from 1-10, asking yourself, am I really hungry or is it just boredom? These strategies help people and if you do this check in right before you eat it is the most beneficial.
Ride the Craving or Surf the Urge:
This can be practiced with foods or drinks that are highly addictive such as sugar ie. Soft drinks. This practice includes watching your craving pass and knowing that it is only a matter of time that you can surf without jumping to consuming. This practice helps some people the exercising, the changing the scene the going for a walk is another strategy.
Stress Intervention Studies & Ageing
Meditation has been found to slow down the biological ageing in people. These meditation interventions we practice – even short-term ones have been proven to lengthen cells that help slow down the rate of ageing.
In addition to this meditation has been proven to reduce our Inflammatory pathways and boosts our protective enzymes which also helps slow our ageing. These studies suggest that if someone was to continue meditating they might keep up this slower rate of ageing even more.
So in summary the most effective 3 ways you can reduce your stress is by:
- Being aware and mindful of it,
- Secondly change your body – the power of movement
- Thirdly – change your scene – seek out environments that help you feel calm
To manage overeating and compulsive eating:
- Top Down Approach – mindfulness around emotions and hunger
- Positive Stress Pathway – again thru HIIT or other forms of exercise.
We have seen an explosion in the wellness market in terms of recovery offerings – everything from traditional sauna’s to infrared sauna’s, cryotherapy and ice baths.
I recently jumped on the band wagon and had an infrared sauna installed in my gym. I have to admit, I didn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about. I knew I felt better, relaxed and calmer after being in one but surely there were other health benefits apart from relaxation?
As it turns out there was! This led me down a rabbit hole of research papers on this very topic and what I discovered changed the way I do recovery forever more.
Heat and cold therapy have become a non-negotiable part of my daily and weekly protocol, and I must admit, I have never felt better.
Before embarking on any heat journey of your own it is important to take note of some safety considerations. Using sauna’s that are too hot can be detrimental to your health.
So, what is too hot? According to Dr Andrew Huberman a Professor at Stamford University this will depend on the individual. He recommends starting off slow using cooler temperatures that don’t significantly increase the heart rate. Hyperthermia (abnormally high body temperature) and dehydration are a real risk so proceed with caution.
Pregnant women, children under 16 and men trying to conceive should also avoid using saunas as this can reduce their sperm count.
What’s All the Fuss About:
Heat is a remarkable stimulus, meaning when we are in a hot environment it has a profound effect on our biology. Heating up from the outside or the inside has a profound effect on many different aspects of our health including our metabolism, both in the immediate and long term, our cognition (meaning our ability to think more or less clearly). If you assume heat negatively affects the way we think you are wrong, heat applied as a stimulus can engage certain neurochemical systems in the brain and body that can allow your brain to function far better.
How do we Heat Up?
We heat up in 2 ways –
- From the outside meaning the things we come into contact with our clothes that we put on our body. Whether there is heat in the room, whether it is cold inside or outside in our environment.
- From the Inside – Our body has the capacity to generate more heat or to cool down or to turn off the heating process. It can do that in ways that match the external environment.
Heat & Cardiovascular Health:
Study 2018 – “Sauna bathing is associated with reduced cardio vascular mortality & improves risk prediction in men and women – a prospective cohort study”)
One of several papers that clearly demonstrates that regular use of sauna or other forms of deliberate heating exposure can reduce mortality to cardiovascular events but also other events like stroke etc.
This study looked at a sample of 1688 participants (mean age of 63) and of whom 54% were women and the rest men. Basically, what they found was the more often that people do sauna the better their health was, and the less likely they were to die from a cardiovascular event.
Further, the use of sauna has been studied by other clinical groups and positively correlated with a ‘reduction in all-cause mortality’ – a catchall term referring to death from any cause.
What do we Mean by Sauna and What are the Parameters?
Firstly, the temperature ranges that were used in this study were 80 degrees celcius (176 degrees farenheit) and 100 degrees celcius (212 degrees farenheit). What temperature should you use? This all depends on how tolerant you are and heat adaptive you are, yes this tends to get better over time.
Recommendations are to start on the lower end of the temperature scale and work your way up. These people were going anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes per session. Even if it just 5 mins of heat exposure can make a difference as long as the temperature is enough for you.
In this particular study they compared people that did sauna 1 x a week to ppl who did 2-3 x a week or 4-7 x a week. What they found was remarkable, what they observed was that people that went into the sauna 2 or 3 x per week were 27% less likely to die of a cardiovascular event than people who went into the sauna 1 x per week. The temperature levels and the duration levels as above.
This data points to the fact that going into the sauna at least 2 x per week can lower mortality to cardiovascular events and the benefits were even greater for people going into the sauna 4 x per week (50%) less likely to die of a cardiovascular event compared to people that went in 1 x per week.
This study also looked at confounding variables as to whether people smoked were overweight, exercises or not etc and they were able to separate out these variables.
Sauna as a Mood Enhancer:
The use of sauna’s has been around in Scandinavian culture for hundreds of years. Even back then it has been well known about the correlation between sauna use and improved mood.
The body responds to heat by releasing hormones such as dynorphins and endorphins in the brain. Dynorphins are responsible for causing discomfort thru heat exposure in the short term. These dynorphins create impulses in the brain, for example, like wanting to get out to avoid the discomfort or feelings of agitation.
This dynorphin leads to a further biochemical reaction, the release of endorphins (feel good hormone). The release of endorphins improves our mood leading to feelings of euphoria and happiness.
Effects of Sauna on Stress & Overall Health:
According to Huberman, “Hormesis is mild, tolerable stress that stimulates the body and helps it to positively adapt’. Heat is a form of hormesis stress and there are plenty of other forms such as exercise etc. Studies have found that regular use of sauna can reduce cortisol levels (stress hormones), enhance the activation of DNA/longevity pathways and promote heat shock proteins (HSP) in the body. These HSP are a protective mechanism in the brain and body that help rescue cells in the body that are damaged or misfiring. Damaged or misfiring cells can develop into more sinister illnesses and disease which is why these HSP are so important to our health and wellbeing.
Huberman found that in order to gain the benefits of deliberate heat exposure for general health, including improved mood, stress management, and the enhancement of the bodies hermetic (mild stress) response pathways, use sauna for a total of:
- 1 hour per week, but not all at once, rather split that into 2-3 sessions.
- Sauna temperature should be between 80-100 degrees.
Use of Sauna to Increase Growth Hormone:
Growth hormone is a hormone we naturally secrete from our pituitary gland (resides near the roof of our mouth). Growth hormone plays a key role in stimulating muscle growth (growth spurts), increasing bone density, repairing tissue and increasing metabolism.
Growth hormone is released at night when we sleep which is why sleep is an important factor on our overall health. Growth hormone tends to decline as we age which can lead to decreases in bone health, loss of muscle mass and decreases in metabolism.
In one study – ‘Endocrine Effects of Repeated Sauna Bathing” 1986 paper found dramatic increases in Growth Hormone by up to 16 fold.
The protocols from this study found for improved release of growth hormone use the sauna:
- 1 x per week or less
- On the days you do sauna go in for multiple sessions per day of 30 minutes each with cool down periods of 5 minutes in between. This study found this protocol works well to increase growth hormone repeat this process 2-3 times.
- Have a few hours off and repeat the above again
- That’s a lot of sauna’s!
- Use the sauna in a semi-faster state to get maximum release of growth hormone having not ingested food for 2-3 hours prior.
For what it’s worth, the best heat exposure for you is the one that you can readily access and the one that fits in with your lifestyle.
It also depends on what results are you after!
If you are after growth hormone then try the 1 x week 4 x per day for 30 minutes – more beneficial when fasted.
If you want the health benefits of cardio vascular reduction then stick to 2-4 times per week for 5-20 minutes at 80-100 degrees.
If you are looking for stress reduction then sauna 1 hour per week broken up into 2-3 sessions of 80-100 degrees.
When you go into the sauna make sure you replace water that you lose in the sauna. Drink 500ml of water for every 10 minutes you are in the sauna. Either before, during or after.
Do you find it a challenge to stay healthy over the holiday period? Does your food and exercise derail completely when out of your routine? Whilst it is necessary to have time away from the daily slog it doesn’t mean that the wheels need to fall off completely. So, whether you are holidaying or just spending time at home with family and friends here are my 7 tips to keep you on track over this period.
Tip 1 – Incidental Exercise & N.E.A.T
Incidental exercise is the physical activity required to engage in normal daily activities across our day. Think of taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking to work instead of driving or cleaning the house as some examples. The reason why these daily tasks are so significant is due to the acronym known as N.E.A.T.
According to NASM.org, Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) “is the energy expended for everything we do that does not include, sleeping, eating, or exercise; and ranges from simple things like standing and fidgeting to moving about.’
There has been some interesting research in recent years whereby researchers have begun investigating the remaining 110-115 hours of the week that we are awake as a weight loss solution, rather than the few hours a week spent trying to exercise.
The results are impressive. NASM found that a 65kg person burns approximately 102 calories per hour in their office job in a seated position (1.7 cals/per minute), but burns 174 calories per hour if performing those same office duties while standing.
The importance of NEAT is truly significant for those of us that cannot squeeze any more exercise into our busy lives. Just by making some minor adjustments to how we go about our everyday lives our entire day can be more effectively managed in terms of our energy expenditure.
Tip 2 – Cook at Home Where Possible
When the weather starts to turn better over the Summer month’s we may find ourselves going out socially a lot more. After work drinks and Christmas parties may start to roll in and whilst fun, it can be disastrous for our healthy eating and alcohol consumption. It is absolutely necessary to find the balance in between but we can mitigate some of the effects of these social events by putting some positive lifestyle choices in place beforehand.
Where possible, always try to eat something 60-90 minutes before going out preferably a meal or snack containing protein and good fat. These foods tend to line the stomach and are slower to digest. This will also slow down the rate of which alcohol is absorbed in the blood stream. Pre planning a meal at home before going out will also help stop us from demolishing the snack table at these events.
Tip 3 – Stay Protected from the Sun
According to Cancer Australia “Melanoma of the skin was the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia in 2018. It is estimated that it will become the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in 2022.”
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. This is largely due to the harsh climate in which we live and our close proximity to the equator (higher UV levels) plus our outdoorsy lifestyles.
Quite often, especially at the start of the season we get that one bad sunburn where we end up pink and eventually peeling all over. To try and mitigate the risk of sunburn apply an SPF factor 30+ or above every time you intend on going outdoors (reapply it every 2 hours). Combined with this ensure you have a hat and a pair of sunglasses whenever you decide to venture outdoors.
Tip 4 – Get a Good Night’s Sleep
2 out of 5 Australians struggle with sleep on a regular basis according to James Lee a certified sleep coach. In his blog “16+ Shocking Sleep Statistics Australians Need to Know” he reveals that 10.3 million people or 40% of Australians are not napping the recommended 7-9 hours. I have to put my hand up and agree that I am one of these people, having a job which requires you to rise at 4.50am every morning can play havoc on your sleep/wake cycles.
Even more alarming was the statistic that 20% of Australians have fallen asleep whilst driving and 5% of these have been met with an accident (Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults 2016).
A lack of sleep is fraught with a multitude of health issues with links to diabetes and to heart disease. There has also been numerous research into the potential connection between weight and sleep. Numerous studies have suggested that restricted sleep and poor sleep quality may lead to metabolic disorders, weight gain, and an increased risk of obesity and other chronic health conditions.
While there is continuing debate within the medical community about the exact nature of this relationship, the existing research points to a positive correlation between good sleep and healthy body weight.
What is known is lack of sleep can affect our neurotransmitters ghrelin and leptin which control our hunger and feelings of satiety. During periods of poor- quality sleep ghrelin is thought to be stimulated more often, signalling it is time to eat.
Leptin on the other hand, signals when it is time to stop eating. It decreases your appetite, and signals to your body that it is ok to start burning fat for energy.
When both of these hormones are working well, we have a better metabolic rate, mood regulation, memory, brain function and mental sharpness.
Tip 5 – Practice Daily Mindfulness for Mental Health:
Being mindful is about being aware – of your surroundings, being aware of who you are and what we are doing. It is the mindset of being able to regulate our emotions, decrease stress, anxiety and depression.
Daily practices of mindfulness can enhance our lifestyle by helping us deal with stress and anxiety. It allows us to be present without judgement, fear or worry and just be in the moment.
Mindfulness techniques can include practices such as Yoga, Meditation, breathing exercises, Tai Chi, Stretching or simply sitting quietly and emptying our minds from all thoughts.
Mindfulness helps improve our concentration and helps reduce ruminative thinking that contributes to the high levels of stress which are so prevalent in today’s society.
When we are mindful, we experience our life as we live it. We are present with our family and friends and we experience the world directly through our 5 senses, we taste what we are eating and we recognise the thoughts we are having. When we allow ourselves to get out of our heads and experience the world directly without the endless commentary of our thought’s we may just open ourselves up to the limitless possibilities that life has to offer.
Tip 6 – Take that Much Needed Holiday –
We have all lived thru a challenging 2 years and now the world is slowly going back to ‘normal’ and things are starting to open up it is time to book that much needed holiday. If you are still a little nervous about travelling internationally it does not mean that you need to shelve that much needed break.
Taking time off work, even for a long weekend, allows the body to replenish and repair itself. Leisure activities contribute to higher positive emotional levels, lower levels of stress hormones, less depression and lower blood pressure.
Taking a break, gives us an opportunity to recharge our batteries, spend quality time with family and friends and push the reset button so we can come back with renewed vigour. When we don’t take time off regularly it does affect particularly our mental health and can lead to depression, anxiety and burn out.
Wherever and whatever you have planned for this Summer, by being mindful of some of the above tips you can live your life to it’s fullest potential.
In the health and fitness world we have been a society that has been obsessed with flat stomach’s and ‘six packs’. I have a good understanding of this all-consuming obsession from the thousands of clients I have trained over the years. When it comes to the part where we talk about a client’s goals, more often than not, references are made to wanting to ‘flatten’ their stomach or to have some type of visible ‘abs’ in their stomach area. This is quickly followed by, the said client, suggesting their program include lots of ‘ab exercises’ to achieve this result. Now there is nothing wrong with having aesthetic goals around certain parts of our bodies as long as we are realistic with how we go about achieving this.
A basic understanding of the what muscles make up the core and why they are important is a good place to start.
What Muscles Make up the Core:
Without overwhelming you with too much anatomy terminology there are basically 7 major muscles that make up the core (there are some minor ones as well). The deepest layer of our abdominal muscles are our Transverse Abdominus and these are often referred to as our ‘corset muscles’ these muscles help stabilise our spine and pelvis. Then we have 2 layers of Oblique muscles the Internal and External Obliques (think like sliding your hands into your front pockets) they control lateral flexion, rotation and other spinal movements. The topmost or more popularly known muscle is the Rectus Abdominis, which runs vertically in front of your abdomen and are the ones you can visibly see if you are lean (six pack). It flexes your torso forward like you are doing a crunch. Last, but certainly not least, is your Pelvic Floor, the back muscles that stabilise your spine (Erector Spinae, Multifidus) and your Diaphragm which assists you with breathing.
Having a good understanding of the complexity of the Core muscles is important as this allows us to prescribe exercises effectively in order to strengthen these many muscles. It should be noted that it is not possible to ‘spot reduce’ or reduce body fat from a certain area of your body by doing certain exercises for it. For example, stomach crunch’s will not make your stomach look smaller or help you reduce fat in this area. Specific exercises for these areas will however strengthen them.
What are the Benefits to Having a Strong Core:
Our core muscles wrap around our entire torso including the muscles at the sides of our body and our back. These muscles help support the spine and stabilise the trunk. Not only that they help keep us upright which helps improve our posture. Sitting at a desk all day switches off a lot of our core muscles, a better option is to use a standing desk, sit on a swiss ball or take regular breaks away from your desk.
As mentioned, the core is a key stabiliser of the trunk. Any weakness in any of the 7 core muscles can result in your balance being compromised. This can lead to an increase in injuries, lower back pain or poor posture. It can also lead to instability of the body as it has to rely on other muscles to assist with balance.
Protects your Organs:
Our organs are a vital part of our bodies function and a strong core can help protect them and keep them safe. Organs like your kidneys, spleen, liver and stomach live right underneath your abdominal wall which acts like a shield from the outside elements. As a result, the stronger your core the better protection from any external force or damage.
Makes Moving Around Easier:
Your core basically underpins every move that you make in everyday life from getting in and out of the car, picking something up off the ground and even rolling over in bed. You can imagine then, that even the smallest everyday activity can be difficult if you core is weak and not functioning correctly.
Reduces Bodily Pain:
Having a strong core does improve your quality of life dramatically. A lot of my clients suffer from lower back pain caused by weak muscles in the core and spend a great deal of time and money at Physio’s and Chiro’s in an attempt to get out of pain. If the core was doing the job it was meant to be doing such as supporting the back and trunk, then the ripple effect would be better movement, posture and balance.
Better Power & Strength:
Executing exercises correctly involves a certain amount of strength in the muscles, especially for big lifts such as squats and deadlifts. We are only as strong as our weakest muscle and a lot of the times an individual’s core strength is what holds them back from lifting more weight. The same goes with power, swinging a golf club or a tennis racquet requires a lot of speed and load moving thru the body at once. If there is a weak link in the chain then this can lead to inefficiencies and injuries.
So Where is the Pelvic Floor?
Before all the males reading this tune out, did you know that you too have a pelvic floor? The pelvic floor muscles look like a hammock – they’re often referred to as a sling of muscle that runs from the front of the pubic bone to the back of the coccyx (tailbone). In women, these muscles at the base of the torso support the womb, bladder and bowel. The urinary tract, vagina and anus all pass thru these pelvic floor muscles, so the condition of the muscles in the area directly affects their function.
In men, the pelvic floor supports the bladder and bowel and can affect sexual function.
Why is the Pelvic Floor so Important?
Basically, in both males and females the pelvic floor muscles directly affect your sexual, urinary and bowel functions on a daily basis. These muscles can be too weak and even too strong (overactive pelvic floor). In both cases this will have an impact on:
- Whether you find it hard or easy to pass bowel movements
- How regularly you urinate and whether you have any leakage
- Recovery from childbirth or prolapse
- Sexual pleasure, discomfort or an inability to have sex
- Core engagement and overall strength
How do I Improve my Pelvic Floor?
If you thought Kegel exercises were just for women, think again! Find a quiet and private space for 10 minutes where you can focus on your breathing. As we breathe, the abdomen rises and falls as air enters the diaphragm. The pelvic floor muscles correspond to our breath, expanding and dropping on inhale and lifting on exhale. Take some time to engage and relax the pelvic floor muscles with each breath mindfully.
To identify the pelvic floor muscles, stop urination mid-stream or tighten the muscles that keep you from passing gas. Tighten these muscles for 3 seconds and then relax for 3 seconds. Try a few of these in a row. When you get stronger at these try doing them whilst sitting, standing or lying down.
For best results try not to tighten or flex the muscles in your abs, legs or glutes. Avoid holding your breath, mindful contracting and relaxing is helpful.
If you continue to have any pain, incontinence, or prolapse issues the assistance and support of a pelvic floor physiotherapist is advised. For any further erectile or painful sex issues then a counsellor or psychologist with experience in pelvic floor dysfunction can help. For advice and guidance around strengthening exercises for your core consult a physiotherapist or qualified Personal Trainer in this area.
Exercises for the Core:
Seeking the help of an expert (Physio/PT) in this area is beneficial. Post-Partum women will need to slowly work back to any kind of impact work as coming back too soon after delivery can weaken the pelvic floor further and cause a prolapse. In many cases, activation work and learning how to breathe properly using the diaphragm are all essential ingredients before any progressions of exercises should be programmed. PT’s and Physio’s can perform assessments on clients to see where they are at with their strength in this area. Please note it it important to perform any core exercises with sound technique as it can cause further injury to these areas.
“A tree that is unbending in easily broken’ Lao Tzu
Flexibility and mobility work in conjunction with one another when it comes to how well we move our bodies. True athletic performance and freedom of movement can only be achieved when our bodies have an acceptable passive range of motion (flexibility) combined with maintaining active control thru our joints (mobility). Healthy mobile joints (not too mobile (hyperextension) set the foundation for functional strength and fitness.
If we have sufficient range of motion and control over that range, everything else can become a lot easier.
The problem lies in knowing where to start.
How do you improve mobility and flexibility? What stretches do you need to do and for how long? Does Yoga and Pilates help with the above?
It can me a minefield of information out there so let’s try and break it down. I will also share some of the methods I have found useful over the years in self assessing my own body and that of some of my clients. Hopefully you can apply some of this information to assist your own practice so you too can achieve some freedom of movement.
Mobility is Key to Strength Training;
When it comes to achieving our fitness and strength goals there is a direct link between mobility and strength. Most people look at increasing reps and weight in order to achieve those elusive strength gains but in actual fact, the best thing we can do is to work on our mobility.
Basically, if we improve our mobility, we can improve our strength.
So, Why is Mobility so important to Strength?
Improved Mobility = Lower Risk of Injury
Trying to lift too much weight, poor technique thru lack of control and strength can put you at risk of injury. If you have mobility issues in one joint or another in the body, generally you will find another joint in the body will compensate for this lack of mobility. This can lead to compensation injuries and strains due to the added stress on these joints.
Most of us have experienced some kind of injury or pain in our bodies. In some cases, it can sideline us from working out hard and delay further strength and fitness gains until we recover.
When we improve our mobility and have a greater range of motion, this reduces the pressure on any one single area of the body. It also reduces our risk of injury and allows us to train with heavier weights and add more neuro-muscular demand on the body.
It is worth mentioning, the wrong type of random stretching, mobilising through pain, or doing a bunch of long static stretches prior to intense exercise can also increase your chance of injury.
A study published online by ‘Harvard Health Publishing’ on “The Importance of Stretching’ (March 2022) discusses the mounting evidence that has demonstrated that stretching the muscles before they are warmed up can actually hurt them.
According to David Nolan, a Physical Therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. David found that, ‘when everything is cold, the fibres aren’t prepared and may be damaged. If you exercise first, you’ll get blood flow to the area and that makes the tissue more pliable and amenable to change’.
All it takes to warm up the muscles before stretching is 5-10 minutes of light activity, such as a quick walk. You can also stretch after an aerobic or weight training workout.
He recommends that you hold a stretch for 30 seconds. ‘Don’t bounce which can cause injury. You’ll feel tension during a stretch, but you should not feel pain’. If you do, there may be an injury or damage in the tissue. Stop stretching that muscle and consult a professional in this area.
Improved Mobility = Faster Recovery
Lifting more weight is dependent upon several factors and one of them is consistency in your training. When our bodies are tight and restricted in movement it can take a long time to recover from a training session. This can affect our progress and strength gains as a result.
Improved Mobility = Better Technique
Good technique is the key to getting stronger and lifting more weight. Without optimal mobility, good form is hard to achieve. Through experience with training clients, if someone cannot get into the correct position for an exercise, for example a squat. They will not be able to perform the lift or movement properly. There are certain give aways in terms of restricted mobility that you need to look out for. An overhead squat assessment (OHSA) is one of the best measures of how healthy your kinetic chain is. Before you embark on any strength training program my recommendation would be to hire a professional in this area such as an exercise physiologist or an experienced personal trainer.
Other great assessments in these areas include:
- The FMS Screen by Gray Cook is widely used and I feel gives us a lot of useful information.
- A gait analysis is also useful for assessing running mechanics.
- The Landing Error Scoring System gives a decent overview of jump landing biomechanics.
How to Improve Our Flexibility and Mobility:
The right type of stretching is the most effective way to improve flexibility but it is often an afterthought for the majority of us. All too often I see gym goers finish a weight set or step off a cardio machine and walk straight to the changeroom or leave without any kind of warm down.
What is not known with 100% certainty is the right type of stretching. Static Stretching (holding a stretch for 30 seconds or longer) has been found to help increase hamstring strength but is it the best method when compared to other types of stretching?
In the case of Dynamic Stretching (active movements where joints and muscles go thru the full range of motion) it has been suggested that dynamic stretching shows the most improvement in flexibility. This effectiveness is not only linked to a loosening up of the muscles, but the increased movement during the stretch contributes to an increased range of motion.
Pilates (or the Pilates method) is a series of approximately 500 exercises inspired by calisthenics, yoga and ballet. Pilates lengthens and stretches all the major muscles groups in the body in a balanced fashion. It focuses on taking the exercises slowly and mindfully so that you spend time extending your muscles and regulating your breathing. Props can be used to progress movements such as Pilates balls, circles and blocks but generally all you need is some comfortable clothes and an exercise mat.
Yoga relies on improving your strength, flexibility and breathing through a series of increasingly difficult stretches. It’s designed to help you become more mindful through breathing techniques and building awareness of your body and mind connection. Continual yoga sessions and progression loosens the muscles and connective tissues of the body, which leads to a reduction in pain during and after exercise. Yoga is also relaxing. It is a calming and meditative practice that requires prolonged and mindful movements that increase your feelings of relaxation and lowers your cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
That being said, Yoga is largely positive if you’re looking to increase mobility or to improve flexibility for athletes. But it’s not 100% necessary and may not be individualised to your exact needs.
Resistance Training is normally associated with building muscle and strength but it can also be quite useful for flexibility and range of motion improvements.
The results of preliminary study published in the online National Library of Medicine by Morton, Whitehead, Brinkert and Caine “Resistance Training vs. Static Stretching: effects on flexibility and strength found that,
“Carefully constructed full-range resistance training regimens can improve flexibility as well as the typical static stretching regimens employed in conditioning programs”.
So there we have it, by no way an exhaustive list on how to improve your flexibility and mobility but hopefully it sheds a light more on this topic.
A few takeaways worth noting, the best mobility program will vary from person to person. There’s no one size fits approach. How often you practice your mobility will depend on the individual’s goals, preference and individual makeup.
In an ideal world the best results come from working with a coach in person who can assess your individual background, restrictions and goals. Some people respond well with 10 minutes a day whereas other people need more. The most important ingredient in all of this is ensuring it is sustainable and works in with your lifestyle.
Like any other training program compliance and consistence will yield the best results.
Like many Australians over the New Years period I found myself isolating due to contracting Covid. What started as a bit of a scratchy throat turned into headaches, sore eyes, lethargy and a wracking cough that was all in my chest. My 3 weeks I had taken off work to spend with family in Newcastle and down south was thwarted. At first, I felt angry and ripped off, I could of stayed with these feelings or I could make the best of a testing situation and use it in my favour. I started cleaning and decluttering my house, I read books that I had been setting aside for months and I also started listening to podcasts.
One particular podcast caught my attention by Dr. David Sinclair a Professor of Genetics at Harvard University. His research and findings around “The Biology of Slowing & Reversing Ageing’ (Huberman Lab podcast) left me intrigued and thirsty for the secrets of longevity and anti-ageing. If seeing is believing, David Sinclair who is 52 years old, not only looks like, but says he feels like someone who is many years younger than his biological age. Approximately 20 % of this can be contributed to somewhat good genetics but 80% or more comes down to our epigenetics (outside behaviours and the environment) which can cause changes with how our DNA work. This so called ‘fountain of youth’ investigating led me on a mission to find out exactly what are David Sinclair’s secrets to turning back the clock and how if any of these hallmarks I could apply to my own life.
Firstly, who is David Sinclair?
David Sinclair is a Sydney born Professor of Genetics at Harvard University. Sinclair has been a popular commentator on the Joe Rogan and the Huberman lab podcasts and has just released his own 8 series podcast called “Lifespan”. Lifespan looks at the science of ageing and why you can be healthier at any stage in life. Sinclair exploded into the U.S. celebrity circuit due to his 2019 book ‘Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To” and since then is a popular keynote speaker and expert around the topic of ageing.
Sinclair is also more famously known for being a key member on the scientific board advising 43-year old NFL star Tom Brady on how to stay young. Tom Brady, who is still winning super-bowls at the age of 43 attributes a lot of his success to the advice he has received from Sinclair calling him ‘someone who really can provide a lot of deep scientific information on the choices that we can make to really live healthier’.
In a nutshell, Sinclair’s research has scientifically looked at how our genomes (complete set of DNA in a cell) can be damaged (think of an old school CD that get scratches on it) and how as a result due to this damage (scratches) the message to the cells is altered. His research specifically looked at ways in which you can reverse this damage.
This very topic was proven in Sinclair’s lab studies at Harvard where he was able to reverse vision loss in old mice. Cells in the mice’s optic nerve were reprogrammed to become younger and regrow again. This was a massive break-thru for Sinclair as he proved that living cells could be made to revert to a younger state, potentially providing a cure for ageing. He found that, if you reset the epigenome to a younger version of itself, it starts to express the genetic code without the mistakes and incredibly, makes the cells young again.
Sinclair’s what he refers to as ‘hallmarks’ for longevity are as follows:
- Fasting – Going back 6 million years our bodies were designed to respond to adversity and we have largely removed this from our lives, this adversity includes going hungry. Sinclair explains, ‘if you never go hungry, your body never has to worry about survival, it relaxes which makes these genes lie dormant so to speak’. By decreasing our feeding window by either skipping breakfast or dinner these longevity genes have the opportunity to switch on.
There is no perfect best practice for this it really depends what works for you and how this can work into your lifestyle. Rather than throw yourself into a 16 hour fast, try just reducing your portions at either breakfast or lunch, then when your body adjusts to these smaller portions try taking out a meal altogether. Allow yourself to drink plenty of fluids, coffee, tea or a tablespoon of yoghurt or olive oil if you take supplements of a morning and need to line your stomach.
- Exercise – we all understand the significant impact that exercise has on our physical and mental health but it also plays a vital role in keeping us young. The proteins found in our genes are stimulated thru exercise by promoting new blood vessels, improving our heart and lung health and extending telomeres (found at the end of our DNA which protect our chromosomes and affect how our cells age). These telomeres are shortened when we age but can also be shortened thru stress, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and a poor diet.
Sinclair’s exercise of choice for improving longevity genes is HIIT (high intensity interval training) saying ‘it engages the greatest number of health promoting genes”. From his book ‘Lifespan’ he explains that ‘the right type of intensity is one whereby you should feel challenged and breathless. Your breathing should be 70-85% of your maximum heart rate. Getting to this state is enough to create a hypoxic response and to produce enough stress to activate your body’s defences against ageing without doing any permanent harm’.
- Cold Water Therapy: includes things like having a cold shower, Cryotherapy treatment and ice water plunges. By being cold this turns on Sirtuin’s which are proteins in a cells genetic code to control things like cell division, metabolism and also responsible for repairing DNA damage. These longevity genes get turned on when we are cold and even when we are hot.
The research around being cold according to Sinclair, suggests that when the body is cold it starts producing more brown fat which is packed full of mitochondria (battery packs). This brown fat is metabolically active so it burns energy even at rest, it also secretes proteins which signals to the body to stay young. Remarkably, you can turn normal fat into brown fat by including cold water therapies into your daily routine.
- Supplements (Vitality molecules): Whilst Sinclair is reluctant to tell people what to do, he does discuss what he does on a personal level that works for him. Again, he reiterates everybody is different so the following may not work for everyone and these dosages may need to be adjusted to the individual taking them. According to Sinclair it is possible to activate longevity genes with what he calls ‘vitality molecules’. These are available as supplements which help Sirtuin’s do their job.
Sinclair takes the following supplements:
NR – Nicotinamide riboside which can be found in trace amounts in milk.
NMN – Nicotinamide mononucleotide which can be found in avocados, cucumbers, broccoli and cabbage.
Resrvatrol – found in red wine
Metformin – diabetes drug
David Sinclair’s Anti-Ageing Routine
Fasting until 1pm drinking plenty of fluids like water, coffee, tea.
Cut out mostly bread, pasta, processed sugar
1g of NMN every morning
1g of metformin
Vitamin D and K2
Mixed in with some yoghurt or olive oil of a morning
In order to put these longevity hallmarks to the test I have for the past 2 weeks overhauled my own daily routine. I have swapped a warm shower of a morning for a cold 3-minute shower. I have incorporated the fasting into my day most days of the week. I delay drinking caffeine for at least 90-120 minutes upon waking and I try to view direct sunlight for 10-30 minutes in the am.
From these changes I feel I am better focused, more alert, less sluggish and I have lost weight from not always keeping my blood sugars peaking all day. It is ok to feel hungry sometimes!
I have just ordered a whole bunch of NMN and Resveratrol so will report back whether I notice a difference in how I feel after taking these for some time.
Whether some of these effects I am experiencing are psychosomatic or not, I feel better for having put them in place.
I also feel had I not done some of the above then my recovery from covid would have been way worse. I felt zero symptoms 5 days post from contracting the virus and back to my normal self.
For more information on David Sinclair’s work you can find him on:
Podcast: Lifespan with Dr David Sinclair (Spotify)
Book: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To – David A Sinclair PhD
Joe Rogan Podcast – #1670 David Sinclair
Huberman Podcast – Dr David Sinclair: The Biology of Slowing & Reversing Ageing
This has resulted in many of us being unable to see loved ones for extended periods of time (at the time of writing this I have been unable to see both my elderly parents since April and they both live alone). It has also meant that we have been disconnected socially from going out with our friends for a drink or a meal, which has had profound effects on our emotional and mental health. The temptation for many of us as life begins to go back to a somewhat ‘normal’ state is to go from abstainers to total teetotallers in the space of a very short time.
With the silly season fast approaching us we will soon be facing a barrage of end-of-year work lunches, afternoon drinks and parties you won’t be able to say ‘no’ to. Not to mention the Christmas and New Year’s get togethers all designed to make you gorge on food till your stomach hurts, drink way more than you intended and deprive you of sleep.
If you want to be the last woman or man standing at your long lunch, dinner or drinks then find my tips below to help you become a well-prepared social athlete.
Pre Going Out:
A common mistake people make when it comes to party season is overindulging on high fat foods like pastries, chips and dip which are consumed mindlessly while waiting for the ‘real’ food to be served. The easiest way to avoid overeating at parties and events is to make sure you don’t arrive hungry. Aim to eat a good fat and protein enriched meal at least 60-90 minutes beforehand. These macronutrients are found to be slower to digest in the stomach with in turn helps slow down the rate in which alcohol is absorbed.
Alcohol Fit Tip:
One of the most undervalued and unknown foods that helps break down alcohol enzymes is the Nashi Pear (also known as the Asian or Korean pear). However, it is important to note that, according to Professor Noakes from the CSIRO (2015) “that the effect was demonstrated if you take pear juice before alcohol consumption and not after”
Don’t Demolish the Snack Table:
This study by the CSIRO (2015) found that whilst pears have such benefits of lowering cholesterol, relieve constipation and contain anti-inflammatory properties “it also appears they can ward off hangovers AND lower blood alcohol levels”. The CSIRO’s research found that ‘consuming 220ml of pear juice prior to alcohol consumption could reduce blood alcohol levels by 20% and reduce the symptoms of a hangover”.
Don’t be fooled by canapes that are offered at gatherings, they may appear small and harmless but most of them contain an average of 200 calories or more. It’s easy to fall victim to mindlessly snacking on these between rounds of drinks and conversation. Limit yourself to 2-3 canapes at any one function which will ensure you still have an appetite for any main meals that are served.
Whilst it is often thought that alcohol does the most damage when it comes to weight gain, often it is the foods that we’re enjoying with those few drinks that are equally if not more to blame. Alcohol is metabolised before proteins or fats, therefore the snack food that you consume will more likely be stored if it is not burnt off. For this reason, eating a satiating meal before you go out will mean you will be less likely to overeat at an event. If you do wish to partake in some party food opt for healthier options such as sushi, salads, grills and vegetable snacks over the chips, fried food and sugary desserts.
Whether you are hitting up your favourite pub or club or just out celebrating with friends, there are some tips and tricks you should know that will help lessen the impact of your big night. Whilst some of these might seem completely obvious, common sense seems to go out of the window when we are having a good time!
1 Drink to 1 Water:
We all understand the benefits of this one, alternating one alcoholic drink with one water or soda water helps keep us hydrated and slows down our imbibing. If you don’t wish to look awkward ask for your water in a wine glass or low-ball glass with ice and no one will know the difference.
Keep Congeners to a Minimum:
Most people would not have heard of ‘avoiding congeners’ but they might of heard of ‘stick to clear or light coloured liquors to avoid hangovers’. Congeners are the toxic fermentation by-products largely found in dark liquors such as brandy, bourbon, tequila, whiskey, cognac, dark beer and red wine. Congeners are largely responsible for the upset stomach and sore head you feel the next day after drinking them. Drinks that are low in congeners are vodka, gin and lighter beers so stick to these types of drinks if you want to avoid that hung over feeling the next day.
Take it Easy on the Bubbles:
It’s not in your imagination if after a glass of Champagne you feel like it has gone to your head there is a very good reason for it. The carbon dioxide found in a glass of champers or fizzy drinks makes you absorb the alcohol faster. This is even the case if the champagne is lower in alcohol than a red or white wine.
It’s not exactly scientifically proven what specifically causes a hangover. Some of the most common symptoms of a hangover – headache, tiredness, nausea and being sensitive to light come down to dehydration. One of the main chemicals in alcohol is acetaldehyde, created when ethanol is broken down in the liver, it can be up to 30 times more toxic than the alcohol itself.
Replacing fluids when drinking is essential to avoiding a hangover, the ethanol acts as a diuretic in the body which makes you go to the toilet all night. Coupled with water, electrolytes can help bring your body back into balance faster so add a Gatorade or Hydralyte to help you bounce back to your old self faster.
Eat a Protein Hearty Breakfast:
You may be craving fast food or sugary snacks the next day to help absorb the alcohol but the ideal food to eat the next day is eggs. Eggs are full of amino acids like cysteine which breaks down that toxic chemical acetaldehyde and taurine, which boosts liver health and function.
How Does alcohol Affect Your Fitness & Strength:
You only have to experience attempting to train the next day or even up to a few days after a big night to feel the effects it has had on your strength and fitness. You may feel more lethargic, more tired after your normal workout and your strength may not be as great. A study that was conducted at Massey University in New Zealand (2010 -2011) looked at how much is too much? What was the magic number of when alcohol starts to affect your body. This study confirmed it does largely come down to bodyweight. They found that consuming more than half a gram of alcohol per kilogram of bodyweight after eccentric exercise (lowering a weight) affects muscle function. In an 80kg male this equates to ½ bottle of red wine or 3-4 full strength beers and for a 50kg female this equates to 1-2 glasses of wine.
These studies also found that drinking more than one gram of alcohol per kilogram of bodyweight can set you up more problems. The alcohol starts to affect protein synthesis, which is essential for muscle growth, and interrupt growth hormone and testosterone production.
The Best Exercise & Recovery:
There is no need to avoid exercise altogether after a big night as it does have the benefit of boosting our mood and stimulating our brain. Try to avoid any endurance type events or high intensity exercise and instead opt for gentler exercises such as walking, swimming, Pilates, Yoga or lifting lighter weights. Try to avoid exercise that is going to make you sweat a lot as chances are you are already dehydrated.
In order to feel like your old self drink plenty of water for the next 24 hours and focus on getting some good quality sleep. Wait at least 24 hours before hitting it hard at the gym again to prevent any symptoms from getting worse and putting extra strain on your body.
Don’t let all of your hard work thru the warmer months come undone with the first hint of a cool breeze. Your training regime does not have to be seasonal! Training in the colder months may make you feel like hibernating rather than springing out of bed for that 6am PT session. It’s far easier to make excuses not to when the weather starts to turn but there are many benefits to training in the cold weather.
In order to stay on top of your fitness goals use the following tips to help you achieve year- round fitness.
- Move your training Indoors – If training outdoors is your thing, then an indoor option may be the solution to keep you training year-round. I teach Cycle classes at my local gym, in the Winter months, or when it is raining, the hard -core outdoor cyclists enthusiasts will come indoors to roll the legs over. Many outdoor sessions like Bootcamps can be supplemented indoors for classes like HIIT or more traditional Circuit style workouts.
Indoor workouts can also be done in the comfort of your own home. There is a wide array of online classes available that you can stream live or at a time that is convenient for you.
2. Set a Winter Training Goal – There is no reason why you cannot set seasonal goals in relation to your health. Setting a goal in Winter will set you up for success for the upcoming warmer months. If the goal thru Winter is to increase your strength in all of your major lifts like squats, deadlifts and bench. Then a good practice to put into place is how are you going to measure this? Also consider how many days per week training would this involve?
Your goal may be to lose some weight. This may involve tracking your food and exercise for a period of time and taking some measurements to track your progress.
3. Pre- Pack Your Gym Bag: Having a pre packed and ready-to-go gym bag equipped with all of the essentials such as warm winter layers, healthy snacks, a towel and headphones will give you the best chance of heading out the door. The same rules apply if you are training in the afternoon, planning and preparing for your workout before you train will make the transition into the colder weather a lot more palatable. I know of some clients that set their workout attire out the night before especially if they are training early to make getting up in the cold more seamless.
4. Warm Up – Preparing your body for the workout that lies ahead is essential. Adequate warms ups involve mobilising your body thru a combination of static (held stretch) and dynamic stretching (movement based) such as jogging on the spot and swinging your arms, shoulder shrugs, arm circles etc. Try to recreate some of the exercises you will be doing in your training using your bodyweight, moving thru a greater range of motion as you get warmer. Warming up sufficiently will help you decrease your risk of injury and ensure you get the most out of your workouts.
5. Eat to Stave off Sickness: In the Winter months colds, coughs and sore throats become more prevalent. Instead of reaching for the comfort food the cooler weather is a good opportunity to explore the seasonal fruits and vegetables winter has to offer. Pre prepare soups with stock and seasonal vegetables such as parsnips, sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, broccoli and cauliflower. A great time saver and a wonderful way to bring out the flavours in foods are slow cooked meats and vegetables. A wide variety of foods can be cooked in a slow cooker including one pot meals, soups, stews and casseroles.
6. Vitamin D – It’s one of the great Australian paradoxes, in a sun loving nation with one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, we still have a vitamin D deficiency problem. The bodies main source of vitamin D is through sun exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, yet research shows roughly 1 in 4 Aussies don’t get enough sunshine to maintain healthy bones and muscles. According to Adjunct Professor Craig Sinclair, Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborative Centre for U.V radiation. ‘You only need a few minutes under the Summer sun to get adequate vitamin D, but if you go over that you are risking DNA damage. In the Winter months, on the other hand, when the UV index is less than 3, you might need a couple of hours of midday exposure during the week to get adequate vitamin D from the sun’, explains Sinclair.
Where you live can also make a difference. According to ABS data, vitamin D deficiency in winter is most common in the southern parts of Australia such as Victoria and Tasmania.
7. Stay Hydrated – It can be easy to forget about drinking water when you are not sweating, but you can quickly become dehydrated on the cooler days too. Keep a 2 litre water bottle on your desk when you are at work at take regular sips from it aiming to drink all of it by the end of the day. Whilst exercising try to drink 250ml every 15 minutes of exercise. Dehydration can cause brain fog, reduced athletic performance and even slows down the weight loss process
8. Try the 7 minute rule – I have been employing the 7 minute rule to my own workouts for over 10 years and I even share this method with my clients. On those days when your motivation for training is really starting to wane, put your workout clothes on and get to the gym. Put your favourite music on and if after 7 minutes of training you still feel like leaving then give yourself a free pass (without guilt) to leave. More times than not you will push thru and finish your workout and feel better that you gave it another shot.
9. Change it Up – The change of seasons is a good time to start to vary up your workout routine. In most cases we start to reach training plateau’s after 4 -6 weeks of doing the same activities. A plateau means that the results we got at the start of our new program start to decrease. This can manifest in both cardiovascular and strength training as well as in weight loss. Doing the same type of exercises day in and day out can make our motivation levels take a nose dive. Try to change up 1 day of exercise and watch your results start to increase and your motivation levels start to soar.
10. Buddy Up – Enlisting a workout buddy is the best way to establish accountability. When you can’t count on yourself to make it past the pre-workout coffee, calling in a buddy is one of the best ways to ensure you don’t hit the cancel button on that morning alarm. Having a friend by your side during those winter months will be likely to keep you moving during those extra tough times.
As we settle into 2021 it is time to reflect on the year that was 2020. For many of us it was the year that wasn’t, but off the back of this experience it has left many of us more resilient and more robust than ever. As a Personal Trainer and Health and Wellness coach I have witnessed a shift that has occurred within the health and wellness space. This shift has come about mainly due to Covid and the effect this virus has had on our the way we live we our lives and what we choose to focus on.
With that in mind, here are my observations on all things fitness, food and and wellness and what 2021 will look like in this space!
Here’s to a healthy and happy rest of 2021!
Online Fitness Subscriptions and On Demand Workouts:
While we were shut off from much of our lives physically, a saving grace was being able to remain connected digitally which allowed many of us to keep our exercise regimes going.
When gyms closed across the country due to Covid outbreaks, avid gym attendees started looking at online options for fitness motivation. Most commercial and boutique exercise facilities started offering zoom classes with an instructor that you could do in the comfort of your own home. These alternatives proved to be quite popular as they kept the social element of exercise alive, whilst also providing participants with a community in times of isolation.
On demand workout apps are so sophisticated now that they you can stream any type of workout anywhere, anytime from dance classes to weights-room workouts to your home. Not only are these type of workouts more readily available, but, according to some fitness experts they are here to stay. Charlie a client of mine who trained with me online was a big fan of online workouts; she says,
“Digital exercise options suited me for many reasons, those being, I didn’t have to leave the house to do it and I can still receive expert guidance from a professional in real time’.
If there is one thing that 2020 taught us, it’s that Mother Nature provides the perfect backdrop to deliver a butt kicking workout. You only have to look around in your neighbourhood to see an abundance of outdoor yoga sessions, run clubs, bootcamps and swim squads being run by fitness experts who have moved their businesses outdoors.
The great outdoors can provide the ideal environment to work on your fitness and change up your workout routine. Nothing compares to a run in natures backyard or a swim in the ocean to revitalise your energy. During the peak of the lockdowns one of the few permitted reasons to leave your home was to exercise outdoors which resulted in people running, walking and training everywhere there were green open spaces. For some of us getting outside and going for a walk several times a day broke up the monotony of being stuck indoors. I know of several clients whose exercise actually increased as they were no longer commuting long distances to go to work and could spend this time working on their health instead.
For a lot of health professionals these outdoor sessions are here to stay as their clients feel safer than exercising in an indoor space. Smaller gyms and exercise facilities might find it harder to adhere to the ever-changing social distancing requirements therefore the outdoors solves a lot of these problems as well as reducing costly overheads from hiring out facilities.
Mental Health & Self Care:
With long periods of time at home and isolated from friends and family this has brought into the spotlight for many of us issues that have been bubbling under the surface in terms of our mental health. I have had numerous conversations with friends and clients with whom have really struggled with anxiety, depression, addiction and loneliness during this time.
The resulting demand for self-care practices has seen these services increase in popularity and range from services such as counselling, psychology, meditation, breathwork, massage, and Yoga.
With pubs and clubs shut across the country intermittently last year and somewhat this year, the result of this has seen an increase in purchase behaviour from bottle shops according to a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (May 2020). Whilst alcohol consumption has seen a reduction from pubs and clubs due to these closures.
In a study collected from (Biddle et. al 2020) the most common reason given for alcohol consumption was that the person is spending more time at home (67% males/ 64% females). The next most common response was ‘boredom nothing else to do’ (49% males) whilst for females it was ‘increased stress’ (42%).
Whatever the reason some of us turned to alcohol more in 2020, 2021 is about the year of sobriety or trying to cut back on our alcohol consumption. During the calendar year we have events such as ‘Feb Fast’ and ‘Dry July’ campaigns which encourages participants to go a month alcohol-free.
Boom in Athletic & Eco Friendly Wear:
Sales of athletic wear have gone thru the roof as a lot of the world’s population are still working remotely. Some of us have swapped out our corporate attire for athletic wear and athleisure apparel. This athletic wear serves a multi-function as it can be worn to work and also for a cheeky workout during your lunchbreak.
From trainers to post-gym face scrubs and reusable water-bottles to bags, every facet of your gym locker will soon be responsibly sourced according to the ‘Third Space’ a popular gym in London. Predictably, larger brands are leading the charge here. This includes adidas, with a campaign fighting plastic pollution by intercepting plastic and turning into sportswear. Other brands are making shoes out of sustainable materials including algae foam or sportswear from recyclable materials.
During lockdown we saw a shift away from eating out as much as cafes and restaurants closed, this led to more of an emphasis on cooking healthy meals at home. The surge in home cooking has tapped into our ‘wannabe chefs’, that, combined with spending more time at home has seen us carry out some culinary experiments in the kitchen. Off the back of this cooking trend, we are looking for ways to streamline this process so kitchen equipment such as air fyers, microwaves and steam ovens have been placed on back order such is the demand for them.
Learning a New Skill or Picking up and Old One:
With the availability of more time on our hands and the closure of some of our favourite places this has led to some of us learning a new skill or picking up an old one. Take for example, one of my clients Tash. Tash was a keen Group Fitness Class participant and would fill her week with classes such as cycle, Circuits and Boxing. When her favourite gym closed, Tash found herself in desperation going back to running and which she used to do 10 years ago and online Yoga which she has never done before. Tash is loving the variety and whilst she has gone back to group fitness she has kept her online Yoga and running once a week!.
What is evident from the health and wellness industry in 2021 is that people value their health more than ever. Watch this space to observe what happens to the popularity of online classes and health apps as we move closer towards the end of the year and more and more people feel safe to go back to their previous routines. The lure of places like gyms and boutique offerings may prove too strong over the longer term as the social, competitive and communal roles that these facilities provide is integral part of exercise for so many of us!
It starts around late October, a sense of uneasiness, the chatter centred around the warmer weather, impending holidays booked and that c word… Christmas. Every year without fail a large portion of my clients start panicking when they feel the hint of a balmy breeze and start enjoying the lighter afternoons. Topics of conversation start centring around fitting into last year’s swim wear and the Covid kilograms that need to ‘just go’ before Christmas. It’s not only the physical appearance that creates dissatisfaction but also the feelings of lethargy and tiredness after being on the go 24/7. For many of us, a large sense of overwhelm is looming with no clear cut solutions on how to navigate the ‘forest from the trees’.
Knowing that we have all the same amount of minutes and hours in the day it really is about spending some time planning and thinking about what is important, setting some intentions at the start of each day and learning to prioritise those things that are important to us.
Instead of feeling like ‘blah’ going into the latter half of the year we can start to feel more like ‘Yah’ if we spend some time on the following:
- Move Your Body in Ways that Make You Feel Good
What is the best exercise for you? The one that you enjoy! Why? Because if you enjoy dancing or swimming for example you are more likely to stick to it long term. Just because you read somewhere that weight training is the best form of exercise (don’t get me wrong it has a multitude of benefits) if you don’t enjoy it won’t be sustainable long term.
When we exercise it helps us to release feel good hormones called ‘endorphins’ a neurochemical associated with feelings of euphoria. These feel good hormones can assist with a clearer mindset, creativity and an improved mental state. The other benefits of moving your body more is it helps burn off excess body fat, it improves our strength and fitness, this lends itself to a happier and healthier version YOU all round.
2. Create Healthy Boundaries:
Do you find it hard to say ‘no’ to people? Do you find yourself in situations where you think why am I doing this or I don’t want to be here? Creating healthy boundaries is about saying ‘no’ to the things you don’t really want to do. It is about putting yourself first and practicing on a daily basis more self- care. Does FOMO or the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ stop you from saying no to things when you know deep down you really should. Remember when we start saying no to the things that are not right, we start creating more room for other opportunities which are right!
When it comes to creating boundaries as well this also translates to people in our lives. Do you have a partner, friend, flat mate or co-worker that makes you feel less than?
One solution is to have an honest and open conversation with them about how their comments make you feel or if the idea of that is too scary write them a message asking that they respect you and what that looks like.
Another solution is to limit the amount of time spent with them, spend time with them on your terms and at a neutral place where you can leave the situation quickly if it starts to go pear shaped.
3. Design a Self -Love Mantra:
It is well known in the psychology world that our thoughts create an emotion and our emotions dictate our behaviour. Our self-talk and the language we use to describe ourselves has a direct impact on how we feel, and thus the way we behave. When creating a self -love mantra we need to silence our inner critic, you know the one that always pops up with judgements, negativity and criticism. This is hard to do, I know, especially when we experience up to 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day and most of them are negative. We are hard wired on a subconscious level to think this way.
Positive mantra’s take practice! It is almost like we are rewiring the brain to think differently. By practising positive mantra’s this in turn will help us open up different neural pathways in the brain and let those old negative ones wither away and grow less powerful. This new way of thinking will take some practice but remember what we water grows!
We can practice a self- love mantra by writing down 5 things everyday we like about ourselves. These 5 things should not relate to other people for example “I am a caring and kind friend’, this relates to how you make others feel. Instead try “I have been thru some tough times in my life which has made me resilient and strong” or “I am happy. I am enough’.
A self love mantra can be written down where you can see it everyday or you can say it out loud or in your head or anytime your inner critic comes out. These practices will help us to be kind, to heal and to experience some self- compassion for ourselves.
4. Purge your Social Media:
Comparison truly is the thief of all joy. Go thru any of your following lists and unfollow any accounts that make you feel less than. The point of social media is to stay in touch with friends, family and acquaintances or to educate or entertain you on some level. Whilst scrolling or tapping and you come across something that floods you with shame or self doubt you know to ‘click unfollow’. Keep this practice up regularly and use it across all of your social media channels.
You never need to explain your decision to unfollow someone. Or just say for example it’s a family member or a friend’s Instagram page that is triggering some unwanted feelings for you. You can try muting or snoozing their stories and posts so you see less of their content.
5. Practice Daily Mindfulness:
We live in an age of high speed this and digitised that which makes slowing down even harder to do. From the moment most of us wake up in the morning we are racing around trying to get kids ready for school, off to the gym or getting ourselves to work on time. Most of us don’t even sit down to eat a proper breakfast rather we grab a coffee on the run and then sit in front of a screen for hours on end. Our cortisol or ‘stress hormones’ are being continually dumped into our system and most of us are running off the flight or fight hormone adrenaline. It’s no great surprise then that our population is suffering under the weight of all of this stress and our physical, emotional and mental health is being compromised. We have seen an increase in the number of people suffering from mental health issues which has been exacerbated due to Covid.
If you want to know the value of mindfulness, you may want to consider this. Can you sit for 1 minute and completely quiet your mind? And can you do this without feeling like you are jumping out of your skin? If you have ever done this exercise it can prove to be quiet a challenge. Taking the time to quiet our mind and just sit with ourselves is a lot harder than what it sounds.
Mindfulness techniques can include practices such as Yoga, Meditation, breathing exercises, Tai Chi, Stretching or simply sitting quietly and emptying our minds from all thoughts. It is about learning to pay attention to the present moment with the intention of letting go of judgement, for the present is the only real moment we have. The problem for the majority of us, is we spend too much time bemoaning the past or catastrophising the future, we spend very little time in the present.
Mindfulness helps improve our concentration and helps reduce ruminative thinking that contributes to the high levels of stress which are so prevalent in today’s society.
When we are mindful, we experience our life as we live it. We are present with our family and friends and we experience the world directly through our 5 senses, we taste what we are eating and we recognise the thoughts we are having. When we allow ourselves to get out of our heads and experience the world directly without the endless commentary of our thoughts we may just open ourselves up to the limitless possibilities that life has to offer.