10 Ways to Make Pregnancy Physically Easier (Part 2)

Life has a really funny, not-so-funny way of putting you in your place, doesn’t it? In the first half of this two-part pregnancy article, I expressed pride about my pregnancies being relatively pain-free. Well, life thought that was just hysterical enough to knock me off my feet. I’ve spent the last couple weeks miserably sick and aching every which way. Just a personal reminder not to make anyone out there think for a second that I don’t go through challenges too (because I do…and if a toddler with a 5-day fever on breathing treatments coupled with a mama violently throwing up isn’t convincing enough, I don’t know what is.)

Nonetheless, I stick by what I said: There are plenty of comfort and health measures women can take to help the pregnancy journey feel a little less bumpy. Minus the one large and necessary bump, of course.

For Part One of this article Read Here.

For the next five pregnancy-related suggestions, read on…

 

 

6) Posture Support and Chest Stretches

As both belly and bosom get bigger, a woman’s center of gravity changes. Pregnant women often find themselves slouching and feeling “off” when these body changes take off, typically in the second trimester. It’s important to correct and support poor posture, especially since it will continue to be challenged once baby arrives from around-the-clock feeding and snuggling. Proper posture and strong back muscles help alleviate neck and back discomfort, and chest tightness.

Prenatal back exercises are best done on weight machines or with light-to-moderate free weights and resistance bands. Helpful exercises include the following: Reverse Flies, Rotator Cuff, Lat Pull Downs, Rows and Modified Back Extensions. Chest stretches with the arms behind the back or in a door jamb are also extremely effective at helping keep the front of the body open and comfortable.

 

7) Prenatal Probiotics & Antioxidants

Microbiome. It’s one of the 5 Health Buzzwords in 2018 that I blogged about at the start of the year. And so here we are again, revisiting what this word means for expectant mothers…

Our body is made of more bacteria than cells. Bacteria outnumber cells by 10 to 1! Not only is this large colony of bacteria (aka the microbiome) the foundation of mom’s immune system but it also largely influences the developing immune system in the baby. For a long time it was thought that the baby got exposed to its first bacteria as it passed through the vaginal canal and then again through skin contact and breastfeeding, but now scientists know that mom’s bacteria migrates to the placenta to support the fetus before birth. (And most of this bacteria has made its way there from mom’s mouth!!!)

Mom’s diet and gut health can affect her immune function during pregnancy making the ride easier vs. harder. But equally important is how a woman’s diet affects her baby’s gut health. So, expectant mamas – consider investing in a monthly prenatal probiotic that has both probiotics and prebiotics (my favorite: Garden of Life Prenatal) and eating a diet rich in antioxidants (ex: berries, sweet potatoes, pecans, black beans, apples, spinach, kale and more). You may have an easier time fending off pesky colds and runny noses that plague prenatal life. You may also reduce your risk of preterm birth and boost the odds that your baby has a happy tummy (there are babies who are happy tooters and fussy tooters…trust me, you will want the former…I’ve had the latter).

 

 

8) Sleep Quantity and Quality

Sleep is even more important when pregnant and can make or break the rest of mom’s day. Both long nights of sleep and quality rest are crucial for helping mama feel her best. Alas, pregnancy has a cruel way of trying to wreck both as moms toss and turn due to changing hormones, aches from all the stretching, and/or racing minds.

One thing you can do to support your sleep (literally) is use pillows. I’m not a raging fan of the traditional, long pregnancy pillows for a couple reasons – they run the length of mom’s body and cover her tummy, increasing her core temperature and potentially making sleep more difficult. Also, the length of the pillows makes it tempting for some moms to sleep with their hips askew, throwing one leg farther in front of the other, which can cause a lot of back and hip discomfort. My personal preference and recommendation for prenatal clients is to simply use one or two regular pillows and save the cash on an expensive pregnancy pillow for a spa day or something. One pillow can be used between the legs for hip support in a side-lying position – be sure to keep legs on top of one another for relief and comfort. The other pillow can be used on nights when your upper back is aching or chest is feeling tight. Simply hug it under the top arm while you lie on your side to offer support for the shoulders and upper back.

 

9) Braving the Neti Pot

So many people are timid about using the neti pot and okay, it can feel weird at first. Sending salt water up your nose isn’t exactly the most exciting concept. I get it. But during pregnancy women are prone to congestion that can drag down their energy and/or spiral into a sinus infection. Stay comfortable by using this time-tested nasal cleanse to keep breathing easy and clear. It may also help you avoid having to turn to pharmaceutical drugs for congestion and antibiotic use for an infection that won’t clear on its own. All good things.

 

 

10) Adjusting Footwear

It’s not a surprise that all the changes in hormones can result in growing feet too! If mom doesn’t recognize the need for new footwear during pregnancy, a number of discomforts can arise (and they don’t have to!). Avoiding high heels most of the time, if not all the time, is a good start. But you may notice the need for a half or full size larger in tennis shoes. This is one area where you shouldn’t draw your purse strings tight. Go ahead and invest in the bigger shoes – there’s a strong chance your feet are staying larger after pregnancy. Having the right, comfortable footwear impacts how every other joint in your body functions during both exercise and normal everyday movements. It’s critical to treat your feet to some TLC since they’re what you use to get around the world!

 

Here’s to happy and healthy mamas!!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

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10 Ways to Make Pregnancy Physically Easier (Part 1)

I’m right there in the middle of pregnancy challenges, like any other woman on the verge of entering the third trimester. Overall though, I’ve found most of pregnancy (both this one and my first) to be relatively pain free. It’s not that I don’t have discomforts. I do. But I have the tools to address them head-on so they don’t spiral out of control. And I never assume that pregnancy has to be an uncomfortable time in life. It both is and isn’t. There’s so much that women can do to help manage all the crazy, exhausting, frustrating, incredible, unbelievable bodily changes that take place.

*Please take a look at these suggestions if you’re pregnant, planning to be pregnant, or know someone who could use this guidance for their prenatal wellness.*

Oh yea – and skip to the end to learn why I’m diaper bag modeling in all this post’s pics (lol).

 

 

1) Chiropractic Adjustments

The nervous system is fascinating. I recently touched on this subject in my post The Vagus Nerve: Lose “The Last 5 lbs.” As mentioned in that post, nerves innervate our organs. They can also influence hormonal function and inflammatory markers. For these reasons, The American Pregnancy Association recommends chiropractic care for women struggling with fertility. The association states that “in many cases, fertility issues may be associated with improper nervous system function” and that “chiropractors are nervous system specialists.” So, from the outset, chiropractic adjustments may aid the fertility process. At the very least, they won’t do any harm and may help you feel more balanced in your body.

But let’s jump ahead and say that you’re already pregnant…chiropractic adjustments are *immensely helpful* for women undergoing nonstop physical and hormonal changes. I speak from firsthand experience! All throughout pregnancy, the body releases mega-doses of relaxin and progesterone hormones which help to “soften” and stretch the body’s muscles and ligaments to make room for baby and prepare for labor. The uptick in these hormones means that the spine and hips are often sliding in and out of alignment. But your back and hips aren’t the only joints affected – your wrists and ankles can get out of whack during pregnancy too! Many women also experience neck pain from misalignments caused by changing hormones and even changing vision, in some expectant moms. Say no to nagging back and neck pain!  

Need more incentive to commit to a chiro? Chiropractic adjustments may help some pregnant women with heartburn! Oh yea – and, towards the end of pregnancy, those sweetly stubborn breech babes can sometimes be flipped by a chiropractic adjustment called the Webster Technique (NOTE: This is different from a version). The Webster Technique helps adjust the mom’s sacrum and reduces torsion in the uterus, optimizing the chances for a baby to change positions on its own AND reducing the incidence of dystocia (awkward positioning on the baby) during delivery. Sign me up! 

 

2) Regular Exercise Routine for *INCREASED* Energy

Yea, yea…go figure. The exercise physiologist/personal trainer recommends exercising during pregnancy. No surprise there. But let me tell you this…not only do I make recommendations on prenatal exercise guidelines but I also follow them myself. Without a doubt, exercise made my first pregnancy way more energized. I wasn’t awake each day until I got moving and then *most* of my regular get-up-and-go energy would hit me. In my second pregnancy I didn’t feel as big of an energy return from exercise…well, at least so I thought.

Last week, I was put on modified bed rest by a very nice doctor in a scary labor-and-delivery room experience that I didn’t see coming. She told me I needed to stay off my feet for a week. This marked one of a few times in the last 15-17 years that I went an entire week without some kind of hard or easy exercise. (The other times I skipped exercise for a long-ish period were the first two weeks postpartum after my first child’s birth and when I was on my honeymoon in Europe. Yup. That’s it.) Throughout the week my energy tanked and my body started to ache something fierce. Now that my brief bed rest has been lifted and I’m two light exercise days (and one chiropractic adjustment) back in, I’m feeling pain-free again and far more energized. Incredible the difference a little movement can make.

 

 

3) Stabilizing the Core

A lot of women avoid core exercises or drastically reduce how they exercise their core muscles during pregnancy. I understand the need and want for caution but under-utilizing these muscles can contribute to back pain and overall weakness.

I have zero intentions of contributing to diastasis recti for any of my clients, friends, readers, and self. But the key for preventing this condition of abdominal separation and weakness is staying mobile and strong in the midsection. For this reason, I highly recommend all pregnant women engage their transverse abdominus during balancing exercises, lifting exercises with weights, and core-focused movements. I also strongly recommend staying mobile in all three planes of motion – that means that abdominal twists and side bends *when done safely* can be effective for keeping the core strong and preventing splitting. If you’ve never had a professional show you how to create a “bracing effect” with the muscles of your lower abdomen then now is a great time to schedule a quick personal training or physical therapy session. Invest a little time to learn now and save yourself potential pain and hardship later.

Side note: Crunches are generally unsafe for the core muscles once the belly begins to expand, typically at the beginning of the second trimester.

Check out @maggie_winz this week for a real demonstration of how to engage the transverse abdominus during pregnancy. You’ll watch my belly go from giant to just really large (hah) as I show you how these muscles can stay active and engaged despite growing size!

 

4) Stabilizing the Hips

The number one mistake I see soooo many pregnant women make is focusing on hip stretches during pregnancy. I’m not saying a little stretching isn’t good for pregnant women, because it is! But lots of hip stretching is often futile. With so much relaxin in our systems, pregnant women are getting A LOT of natural stretching and need to balance much of that with stabilizing exercises.

You see, the aching feeling in a pregnant woman’s low back and hips – you know, the kind that wakes you up and gets you out of bed in the third trimester – is often from those areas feeling strained from all the stretching that is happening. Women will often respond to these aches by stretching more (glute stretches, piriformis stretch, abductor and adductor stretches, etc). This creates the feeling of temporary relief because of increased blood flow to the muscles but doesn’t address the problem or get rid of the ache for long (if at all).

The key to hip stability is to take all those muscles I mentioned that women stretch (glutes, piriformis, abductors/adductors) and stabilize/strengthen them instead. It will feel mentally painful at first to get out of bed and exercise at 3 am, but it will leave you feeling relief that will allow you to slip back into that much-needed slumber before sleepless nights with a newborn begin. Some great go-to exercises: Squats, Side Lunges, Clamshells, Side Leg Lifts, Hip Bridges, and Squeezing Ball/Yoga Block/Pillow with Inner Thighs. If you still feel tight then try to stretch your hamstrings and hip flexors or do some light foam rolling in addition to the hip exercises. You’ll thank me for telling you to stabilize instead of stretch. Promise. 

 

 

5) Purse/Bag Carrying Techniques

Wondering why I’m modeling these beautiful diaper bags that look like designer backpacks?! Well, first off, Mina Kay Bags is owned by a local mom I recently met and I think it’s pretty awesome that she put her architecture degree to work designing something other than building structures – she designed every one of her handbags and mommy bag/bagpacks by hand because she got fed up with the missing features and functionality in ones she owned herself. These bags are truly gorgeous, fashion-forward AND exactly what women need…especially moms. Secondly, I didn’t realize how much I was missing until I owned my own Mina Kay backpack (the new top-zip design in Camel).

You see, I’ve toted a shoulder-carry diaper bag for a few years now. It gets weighted down by all the regular mommy gear but then is extra heavy and cumbersome when I try to shove my son’s water bottle and my own in it. I have to remind myself to switch shoulders when I’m carrying it because it can throw my back off so much to lug it around on one shoulder all day at a park or while running errands. So, I knew I was in the market for a bag with backpack straps once kiddo #2 comes around. I need something I don’t have to think about as I manage a second child and my extremely mobile, wiggly, toddler-turning-teenager-any-day. But when I received my Mina Kay backpack at 6 months pregnant I decided to go ahead and try it on for size before my second son’s debut.

Wow. I feel SO MUCH BETTER wearing a backpack during pregnancy than a heavy shoulder bag. Legit. It’s changing my life…and making me feel slightly less desperate for my aforementioned weekly chiropractic adjustments. The thing is, when you’re pregnant, balance and symmetry for the body is key to keeping the body pain free. I strongly suggest switching to a diaper backpack if you already have a kid or two, or a regular backpack if you’re pregnant with your first and on your feet for your commute or errands. I wish I’d done it sooner. And, as mentioned, function doesn’t have to mean a sacrifice in style.

Psst: You can have 25% off Mina Kay bags while supplies last with this code: HAPPY25

 

Part 2 coming next week! Because mom life and pregnancy are “winning” and I don’t have time to wrap this up all at once.   

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

New Study: Even Light Drinking is Deadly

We often hear that moderation is key to good health. In fact, I regularly preach this. But sometimes our definitions of “moderate” can vary, and what we think is a helpful amount of a food, beverage, supplement or form of exercise, is actually harmful. I love me a glass of wine, let me tell ya what. And right now, going into month six of pregnancy, I’ve got to confess that I miss it. So, trust me when I say that I’m just as disappointed as you may be to learn that a drink a day doesn’t in fact keep the doctor away. Read on for the latest research published earlier this month…

 

Before I dive into the findings, I want to say that I understand this is a niche topic finding its way onto my blog, but I think it’s important that we all stay current on relevant research. It can make a difference in our health habits and intentions.

For better or worse, it takes a while for new information to change our habits. Even when repeat studies are done it can be difficult for many of us to accept something that disproves our existing beliefs or biases. As an example of how long health information can take to impact the masses, let’s look at the history of cigarettes (which I feel parallels the history of alcohol use and research).

 

A Lesson from The History of Cigarette Smoking

Around the end of the 19th century, cigarette smoking became popularized. At the time, doctors were largely unfamiliar with lung cancer because it was such a rare condition for someone to have. Medical professors even often told students they would likely never see a case of lung cancer!

Around the 1940s to 1950s, cigarette manufacturers became aware that smoking had negative health consequences but, trying to protect bottom lines, worked to dispute such scientific claims. This wasn’t hard to do because the public was still trying to tease apart how many emerging cardiopulmonary issues were linked solely to cigarettes and how many were attributable to other issues of the era such as asphalt dust, air pollution, exposure to gas during WWI, and long-term effects of the 1918 influenza pandemic.

 

 

After multiple studies released undeniable evidence of the negative health effects of tobacco use, some of the American public began to buy into the idea that cigarette smoking should be avoided. Even still, with evidence on the table and a growing number of lung cancer patients, in 1960 only 1/3 of American doctors believed that cigarette smoking “should be considered a major cause of lung cancer.” In fact, 43% of all doctors were smokers themselves. Now, let’s pause for a moment to think about how this situation created a medical bias, misinformation for patients, and a preservation of a smoking culture for many more decades.

*Pause for contemplating* 

To this day, cigarettes cause 1.5-2 million deaths per year, 95% of which are believed to be entirely preventable. And we know they’re bad for us.

 

Alcohol Consumption is up Against an Even Greater Public Challenge for Two Reasons:

1) Alcohol has been around much longer than cigarettes. Alcohol is frequently referenced as far back as the Bible; both its abuse and its use for celebratory and spiritual occasions. Alcohol is highly cultural and prevalent throughout human history.

2) Studies on alcohol render conflicting results. For a long time, it was difficult to determine how “moderate alcohol consumption” should be defined. Even then, moderate consumption has rendered differing results; correlated with positive cardiovascular health effects (to the extent that some doctors have recommended a drink a day for certain patients) but negative impacts on cancer rates and conditions.

This is confusing stuff!

How much is okay? How much can we drink in moderation? And if we drink in moderation, is it possible to do so without drastically raising the risk of getting cancer?

 

 

The Study that Addresses Many of Our Burning Questions:

The latest study on the pros vs cons of moderate alcohol consumption was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental ResearchResearchers felt compelled to analyze the effects of moderate daily drinking (defined as 1-2 alcoholic drinks) on overall mortality rates because of conflicting research showing that moderate drinking is beneficial to cardiovascular health but simultaneously raises the risk of cancer.

The researchers analyzed two data sets; one of 340,000+ people from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and another of 93,000+ people from the Veterans Health Administration (VA). Both data sets were analyzed for associations between the frequency of moderate drinking (1-2 drinks at a time) and overall mortality.

*The Results*

Researchers found that moderate drinking (again, defined as 1-2 drinks) four or more times per week increases the risk of premature death by a whopping 20% across all age groups, both genders and non-smokers. These results were consistent across both data sets with very different populations (NHIS vs VA). This is fairly shocking because these findings refute what current guidelines say is healthy; 1-2 drinks/day. In other words, daily drinking cancels out the positive benefits for cardiovascular health and poses serious risks.

Moderate drinking with low levels of frequency is deemed safer than daily moderate drinking. The study discovered that moderate drinking (1-2 drinks) approximately three times a week or less is considered a safe range. With regards to overall cancer risk, abstinence from alcohol is the best bet.

Another recent study, published by The Lancet, evaluated over 700 studies on alcohol consumption from around the world and concluded that “no level of alcohol consumption improves health.” This study looked at both moderate and binge drinking.

 

 

Implications for the Future

It’s becoming more apparent that our culture’s enjoyment of alcohol is largely detrimental to our health. With these new studies emerging, doctors may suggest patients with heart health concerns have an occasional drink to help cardiovascular function but avoid daily drinking. More doctors will likely advise people to cut way down on alcohol consumption, especially patients with a personal or family history of cancer. Again, the safest consumption level is none followed by no more than three days a week consuming 1-2 alcoholic beverages at a time.

My personal stance:

I don’t plan on giving up my red wine entirely but I will definitely take this new information into consideration if I feel like I’m slipping into the habit of pouring myself a glass to unwind at the end of every day. I will keep myself in check and make sure I’m not drinking in moderation more than three days a week. Thankfully, this is fairly in line with my current alcohol habits. But, my eyes have been opened and I will be more cautious moving forward. That’s how I’m planning to use this information based on my individual health, family cancer risk factors, *and* enjoyment of a good Cabernet. But first, getting through my 9-10 months of sobriety in pregnancy.

How do you plan to adapt your drinking habits? What do you need to do?

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

The Vagus Nerve: Lose “The Last 5 lbs”

Although I’m currently in weight-gain mode (i.e. pregnancy), I’ve found over the last couple years that my body has slowly shed extra pounds without effort. I recognize this sounds obnoxious but trust me, I’ve spent over a decade exercising harder than the average person and putting my body through the gauntlet, so it’s not like I haven’t put in effort for weight loss. But ironically, my body was most willing to let go of those “last 5 pounds” when I stopped working out as much. When I put rest and rejuvenation for my whole system as top priority.

Over the last two years, I’ve slept like I’m a teenager again (minus snoozing until noon). I’ve eaten more intuitively and joyfully, and listened to my body each day for whether I’m in a “tackle-and-conquer-the-world” or “sit-back-and-accept-my-low-energy” kind of mood. I embrace both sides of myself equally and without judgement. This is a new thing for me. Although I’ve always known that stress reduction is positive for weight loss – and coach my clients accordingly – I hadn’t truly experienced this firsthand.

Before getting pregnant again I actually told my husband that it felt like my body wanted to let go of even more weight – but that I was going to work against it to keep my hormones level for the TTC process. It was so fascinating to me; to feel that my body was relinquishing fat stores, no longer in survival mode and depending on them for emergency reserves. It made me wonder…what exactly is the root of this change? Yes, my change in attitude and action, but what physical part of myself is aiding this whole-body physiological response? And how do I communicate about this “source” to others so that they can consider the implications in their own lives?

The answer lies at the root of the parasympathetic nervous system: The Vagus Nerve.

The vagus nerve is responsible for the parasympathetic control of your heart, lungs and digestive system, and is the longest autonomic nerve in the body. This means that the nerve is operating and acting on your body’s systems without your conscious thought, controlling the relaxation responses that calm your heart rate and make you feel like you can take a deep breath. It also helps keep digestive woes like bloating, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome at bay.

We often hear the terms “fight-or-flight” and “rest-and-digest.” The vagus nerve controls the latter, but its impact on our minds and bodies is much more complex and powerful than this simple statement. When we have good “vagal tone” our bodies are operating from a place of better wellness. When we are chronically stressed, our vagus nerve basically gets shut down. Think of it like the nerve is asleep. Not doing its job.

If the vagus nerve is less responsive this is a big problem and is linked with higher levels of inflammation, heart attacks, strokes, loneliness and depression, and more. You see, vagal nerve stimulation and responsiveness triggers the release of a substance called acetylcholine. (Fun fact – the first neurotransmitter ever discovered.) Acetylcholine acts like a tranquilizer for the body and has a major impact on inflammatory responses. Researchers have even found that implanted devices that stimulate the vagus nerve help people with inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis!

Numerous studies have also shown that “people with higher vagus nerve activity have lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and lower levels of TNF-alpha, the inflammatory immune marker. Studies also show that the vagus nerve regulates inflammation throughout the body, including inflammation associated with obesity.”

We clearly see through all of this evidence that the vagus nerve has a big impact on our bodies and lives…so how do we stimulate it? How do we “keep it awake?” How do we ensure that we’re not chronically stressed and suppressing the benefits this nerve has for our organs, waistline, internal health, and mood?

Methods for Improving “Vagal Tone” and Keeping the Vagus Nerve Alert:

  1. Getting enough rest
  2. Deep breathing
  3. Meditation
  4. Personal time
  5. Enjoyable activities
  6. Positive social connections & relationships
  7. Yoga
  8. Chiropractic adjustments to relieve nerve pressure
  9. Probiotics to assist gut health
  10. Outdoor and nature activities

It’s interesting…none of these things (above) seems particularly aggressive or proactive for weight loss itself, and yet, they’re exactly what our bodies need for it. I’ve seen this countless times with my clients – they don’t have to exercise as hard to achieve weight loss when they begin de-stressing, simplifying, prioritizing self-care, and generally not beating themselves up about “perfection” for their bodies, careers and relationships.

Over the last two years, I’ve found I do a little bit more of everything on this list. I go to a chiropractor once a week, get outside on the regular, started taking a new probiotic (with *prebiotics!*), find time to read and “do me,” attend yoga class once a week, sleep more at night, make time for friends and family, etc. It’s really not anything earth-shattering! These simple things are exactly what my body needed to let go of a little bit of inflammation and a few extra pounds.

I hope this serves you well on your weight loss or wellness journey, too.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

5 Ways Our Bodies Are Connected to The Earth

Funny thing…an uptick in arguments with my husband every Fall led me to wonder if tension was high just because of football season (sad but true) or if there was more to the story. I did a little digging and learned that our hormones are connected to seasonal changes in surprising ways. I also discovered multiple more ways that our bodies are connected to the earth and how we can improve wellness by forming a relationship with Mother Nature herself.

 

 

Seasonal Hormonal Changes

Apparently, like many mammals, we humans have what some scientists call a “mating season.” August and September hold the highest birth rates of any months in the calendar year, meaning that nine months earlier…people are getting busy. That puts November and December as the months with the highest rates of conception. Some evolutionary theorists believe this is because our bodies are fine-tuned to have babies in months where their survival is best…aka, not in the freezing cold temperatures of our prehistoric cave homes.

This “peak” fertility is thanks to a rise in testosterone in the autumn months. And it’s not just men who experience this (just in time for football season, I add with an eye roll), it’s also a phenomenon in women. While I can’t say that the fertility theory has proven true in my life (both my babies started baking in the spring), I will say that I’ve always wondered how and why my clients always seem to have the most energy for their workouts in the Fall months. I guess now I know why…

 

 

Green Space & Mental Health

There’s a theory in psychology called the hedonic treadmill. The theory assumes that each individual is prone to a certain baseline of happiness, to which they routinely return despite positive and negative changes and life circumstances. This theory has been debunked by one study evaluating people’s overall mental health when relocating to spaces with more nature and green space.

Even after accounting for income, employment, education, and more, the study shows that “people in greener areas showed markedly better mental health scores compared to the two years prior to moving. This is a metric that not only includes stress levels and the ability to concentrate, but also the ability to make good decisions, a person’s level of confidence, overall happiness and other factors.”

I can personally say that I feel more zen with some green around me, for sure. But I don’t think you have to move to the country to accomplish this (if you were born to be a city person). Urban green spaces may have the potential to help combat depression and anxiety.

 

 

The Sun Connection

We’ve long heard of the benefits of sun exposure for our vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is crucial for bone health and appears to play a role in preventing Type 1 & Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), cardiovascular disease, and more (people living at higher latitudes with less sun exposure have greater incidences of these conditions). Many of us have even heard about how sunlight helps us regulate wake/sleep cycles, especially when we get sunlight in the morning and, as a result, our melatonin production kicks in earlier in the evening to help us with sleep. But there are even more benefits of the sun… (!!!)

Sunshine may help autoimmune diseases thanks to immunosuppressive effects following exposure. It also helps limit oxidative DNA damage while increasing gene repair. As if that’s not fascinating enough, get this –  UV Radiation can increase blood levels of natural opiates (aka. endorphins, those feel-good hormones)! Pretty compelling evidence to find a balance between protecting oneself from sun damage and getting enough exposure to it!

 

 

Brain Waves & Nature Sounds

There are many scientists who believe that our brain wave patterns evolved in response to the natural world’s frequencies and electromagnetic fields. In many studies, brain waves respond positively to nature sounds (ex: a babbling brook, ocean waves, rain fall, etc.), demonstrating an increase in waves associated with rest and digestion. In one particular study, researchers found that natural sounds elicited an “outward-directed focus of attention” for people’s brains whereas artificial sounds caused an “inward-directed focus of attention,” similar to a rise of in anxiety/depression or the experience of post-traumatic stress. Perhaps most interesting is that researchers found that people with higher anxiety or depression showed the strongest positive response to nature sounds. In short, if you’re feeling blue, reconnect with the world around you. Pause and listen. Relax and release.

 

 

The Practice of Grounding

Grounding is the practice of letting your body be in touch with nature. This may include sitting on the ground under a tree, walking barefoot through the grass or sand, or sleeping outdoors. There are many examples. Some people even say that walking barefoot on ceramic tile and concrete counts since these are made from natural materials. In short, grounding is connecting ourselves with the earth and its electron flow. Feeling skeptical? Just wait, there’s evidence this helps our health…

People who “ground themselves” often report feelings of well-being, citing that they feel less stressed and more strong. Outside of this subjective feedback, several scientific studies have been conducted to test these “grounding theories.” It has been scientifically proven that grounding can improve circulation, reduce pain, and improve sleep by helping normalize diurnal rhythms of the stress hormone cortisol! Time to ditch the shoes! 

 

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The point is simple: We are bound to this earth in more ways than one. When we embrace these connections we can achieve higher wellness.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

Mistakes to Avoid in the Gym

You’d think that January is the busiest time of year in the gym but I’ve found that it’s the fall. Approximately two weeks after Labor Day, to be exact. That’s when the momentum rises and gyms get packed. Everyone’s eager to kick-start the school year with a bang, tackle their fitness goals before the holidays, and shake the lazy feeling of summer. To help ensure you make the most of this season (or any, for that matter), I’m here to offer up some professional suggestions for mistakes to avoid in the gym. No one likes to look foolish…or get hurt!

 

 

Lack of Awareness of One’s Surroundings

The most surefire way to get injured in the gym is to be a space cadet and walk around in a daze. Heavy metal is being hoisted and dropped, people – pay attention!  I know this sounds so “duh,” but you’d be surprised at how many people walk directly into the path of someone who is doing reps. For example, I’ve had people saunter right into the space where I’m doing lunges, kettlebell swings, leg lifts and more, all while I’m exercising and at risk for hitting them! Most recently, I had a personal trainer and her client step directly into where I was working out. It was a major “for shame” moment in my book. She’s supposed to protect her client! 

 

Avoiding the Free Weights

It’s easy to get stuck in our comfort zones, especially if that’s on a piece of cardio equipment. But it’s of the utmost importance for our bodies that we move them functionally. That means putting your feet directly on the ground and moving! Free weights are a great add-on for functional exercises because they take up the intensity and allow you to get your upper body and core more activated. Full body workout in less time. What’s not to like?

 

 

Forgetting to Wipe and Wash

I’m a crazy person about personal hygiene in gyms. (I’ve seen people sneeze into their hands and then continue using equipment…gross.) Even in the most state-of-the-art facilities with full-time housekeeping staff there just isn’t any way to clean as quickly as equipment gets contaminated with microscopic germs. So, not only is it important to wipe off the equipment that you’ve used after you’re done, but it’s also imperative to wash and/or sanitize your hands upon leaving. If you want to go to the next level of paranoid (ahem, which I do), then switch out the water bottle or container you’ve used while working out with one that’s clean and use a phone-friendly cleaner or sanitary cloth to gently wipe down your phone since chances are that you were using it during your workout.

 

Improper Use of Momentum

Momentum is one of those things that’s tempting to rely on when working out but that ultimately takes away from pure strength. If you’re doing a plyometric or power workout then sure – use momentum per your training. But if we’re talking about gym equipment like lat pull downs and leg presses then it’s a different story. People using momentum to power through these exercises aren’t demonstrating proper control over the weight being lifted and are more prone to getting injured in addition to getting less bang for the buck for their muscular strength. It’s my personal theory that this is the issue at the core of many CrossFit injuries [over-reliance on momentum].  

 

 

Not sharing equipment

Remember the personal trainer I mentioned who dangerously stepped into my workout space with her client? Yea, I’m not done with her. She could have properly communicated with me and asked me to share the open/free space, to which I should agree. Alas, she made two mistakes; putting her client in physical harm’s way and not following one of the unspoken rules of the gym (taking turns between sets). It’s important to acknowledge that just because you have three sets to do on a shoulder press machine does not mean that it’s yours until you’re done. Gym etiquette 101 is to let people “work in” on machines. Aka preschool manners 101: SHARING IS GOOD!

 

Sticking to the Same Equipment

Changing up your routine is important for growth and accelerating results. If you’re a free weight person then try switching things up and seeing if one day a week of treadmill sprint intervals feels good. Or, you could change your workout game from 10-12 reps per set with free weights to working towards 3-5 rep max sets with heavier weights on machines where you’re stable and less likely to get injured. If you’re a cardio person then please, see the section above; “Avoiding the Free Weights.” Change is your friend.

 

Rounded Posture on Cardio Equipment

We’ve all seen it – those people slumping forward on cardio equipment, expressions of strain as though they’re working extra hard by leaning on the handrails. But that’s simply not the case. In the majority of these situations a person is working less hard, burning fewer calories, and hurting their necks and backs in the process. So, don’t be tempted to mimic this foolish posture. There’s not much good that can come of it.

 

 

Holding Your Breath

Holding your breath can be dangerous. Period. Especially if you’re doing an overhead maneuver or working at a hard pace. It may cause you to become dizzy! Nausea and lightheaded issues aside, holding your breath should be reserved for underwater swimming and athletes who have been properly trained in how to do this for power lifting maneuvers. The rest of us need the exhale breath to help get through the “sticking point” of an exercise and to help us engage our core. We need the inhale breath for…you know…oxygen.

 

Skimping on Core

It’s easy for a lot of people to skip out on core work or to hastily add it in at the end of a workout. But skimping on core work can hurt you in a number of ways. For example, did you know that runners who are prone to plantar fasciitis often have very weak cores? Did you know that a strong core can help you reduce back discomfort while also making you look taller and leaner? There are so many benefits that come with keeping our body’s center stable and strong. Finding creative ways to add core exercises into the beginning, middle and end of your routine will always be worth it.

 

 

Skipping a Warm-up

Please don’t give warm-ups the short end of the stick. They are an integral part of the workout, just as much as the “meat and potatoes” are your exercises. In fact, think of a warm-up kind of like the time when the meat and potatoes get warm and cooked so that they’re ready for you to eat! Weird analogy? I digress. The times when people are most tempted to skip the warm-up are when they’re pressed for time or running late, but even 3-5 minutes of limbering exercises and dynamic stretching is better than none.

 

Releasing too Quickly Through Eccentric Phase

The eccentric phase of a workout is when the muscle is lengthening. And it’s often rushed even though it has a lot of potential to benefit your strength gains when it’s approached with just as much attention as the shortening phase of the exercise. For example, many people take their time pressing dumbbells over their heads for a shoulder press but then allow them to quickly drop back down to shoulder level. Taking your time for both parts of the exercise is important for optimal strength and muscle building. The best way to ensure you’re doing this is simply to pay attention to what you’re doing and take your time in every part of the movement.

 

Happy Fall Y’all! 🙂

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Exercise Tips for the Flat-Footed

This may seem like a strange topic, especially if you aren’t sure whether or not you’re flat-footed. Unfortunately, statistics point to there being a strong chance that you fall into the flat-footed crowd, also called individuals who “overpronate.” Running Warehouse claims that between 50-60% of people overpronate and 20-30% do so severely. So forgive me for nerding out on you today…this science is important.

 

Pronation (also called eversion) is a desirable movement of the foot as it strikes the ground. The foot’s arch “collapses” in a controlled manner towards the ground and helps the body absorb shock and send the force up through the muscles of the body. This is an integral part of anyone’s gait cycle in both walking and running.

When someone overpronates their foot’s arch flattens excessively and their tibia (lower leg bone) is driven into unnecessary rotation that leads to torque on the knee, stress on the hips, poor utilization of the gluteal muscles and more (see diagram below). There’s a classic chain of muscular compensations that occur up through the body in response to overpronation. Unfortunately, this places excessive stress on the joints and causes some muscles to be overly tight and others to be inappropriately weak. Hence, overpronators are highly susceptible to running injuries, the formation of bunions, medial ankle sprains, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, MCL and meniscus tears, hamstring and hip flexor tightness, IT-band syndrome, lower back pain and more.

 

Image Source: http://healthlifemedia.com/healthy/what-foot-ankle-over-or-underpronation/

(Note: This is a basic diagram for a complex foot movement and does not accurately reflect what’s happening at the forefoot in addition to rearfoot.)

 

Traditional remedies for overpronation include getting custom orthotics, wearing supportive athletic shoes and kinesio taping of the foot to control pronation. These are all great and generally effective but I notice that they don’t solve the issue entirely. A lot of regaining comfort and function in the body comes down to awareness of how to intentionally correct misalignments and gait patterns, and how to appropriately strengthen and release muscles that are negatively impacted by this pattern.

I’ve taken people in their 60s and 70s and helped them correct overpronation simply by focusing on how they walk – and I’ve got to say, I feel confident that these corrections are going to keep them walking longer and without the use of aids like a cane. I’ve helped strengthen weakened muscles in young athletes who are overpronators and seen them take their performance to the next level – qualifying for the Boston marathon, passing military physical assessments with flying colors, and entering athletic competitions free of injuries for the first time in seasons. This stuff is powerful. It can mean the difference between daily comfort and function or pain and diminished performance.

 

Read on for how to correct overpronation and strengthen/stretch affected muscles in the body.

 

 

Gait Control

It’s very common for people who overpronate to walk with their feet “pigeon-toed” out, almost like a dancer in plie (though not quite so dramatic). Some people are only flat-footed/overpronators on one foot and thus, one foot finds a way to turn out while walking, running and even standing still. The problem with this is the asymmetry it creates throughout the whole body, leading to the aforementioned cascade of injuries, aches and pains. The nice thing is that it’s quite easy to correct for this turning out of the foot through active awareness. In other words, watch your feet while you move throughout your day and/or workout and make sure that both toes are pointing straight so that the feet are both in a neutral stance. You’ll be shocked at how unnatural it feels to walk with both feet straight at first but with some increased awareness and effort over time, this can do wonders for injury prevention and balanced strength.

(Fun fact – I’ve helped fix shoulder pain by teaching someone how to walk without turning out the feet. That’s how connected the muscles in our bodies are – that an issue at the foot can affect all the way up to the shoulder and neck!)

 

Go Barefoot

Walking and exercising barefoot (when safe and sanitary) can actually help overpronators. That’s because it forces people to avoid a heavy heel strike, which is something many flat-footed folks do without realizing it. You see, there’s not much soft cushioning in our heels but we can’t feel how much discomfort this causes when we wear heavy running shoes. By ditching the sneakers we can suddenly acknowledge that striking the ground heavy with our heels doesn’t feel so great. We naturally adjust our foot strike so that ground force is absorbed through the arch (which was “built” for just this purpose) and the muscles of the foot and leg.

Note: If a physical therapist determines that you have a bony alignment problem in your foot then going barefoot won’t help anything. So if barefoot work feels like it’s worsening the problem then go see a professional to get an accurate diagnosis.

 

 

Lace Up Those Shoes

This tip is pretty straightforward. To help correct overpronation you can lace your shoes all the way to the top eyelet and make sure the fit is snug. Many shoes come out of the box without being laced all the way to the top because it’s easier to try them on this way but don’t be afraid to lace farther up. You may decide you need to swap the shoe laces for a longer pair or you can try a few workouts with the current laces and tug on them to help them stretch out (which most do).

 

Roll Out the Foot & Lower Leg

Foam rolling or using a firm tennis or lacrosse ball can be very useful in helping tight muscles release. The flat-footed crowd is notorious for tight calf muscles and for shin splints, so applying gentle pressure (pressing upwards – not downwards – to avoid varicose veins) will help release fascial tissue and prevent/help heal shin splints. I also recommend rolling out the arches because as someone works to correct overpronation they are strengthening through the arch and causing new tightness that we want to be sure doesn’t become plantar fasciitis (again, this is all assuming the pronation isn’t caused by a mechanical/bony alignment issue that can’t be corrected via exercise).

 

Roll Out IT Band

Foam rolling the IT band in a combination of long and short/pinpointed strokes (like near the top of the hip) can help release this long band of fascial tissue. When the IT band is tight (which it often is due to the excessive rotation that’s happening with overpronation) then the knee is placed under undue stress and the glutes can’t function optimally. It’s common for foam rolling to be very uncomfortable due to extreme tightness of the IT band so it may help to start by having someone else move the roller up and down the sides of your legs while applying the amount of pressure you can handle.

 

Calf Raises

Although the calf muscles are generally tight for overpronators, they are often tight due to weakness, not strength. In my professional opinion, it’s important to work on calf raises and other exercises (such as practicing running on the balls of the feet while sprinting) to increase strength and thereby decrease tightness associated with weak muscles. It’s kind of a paradox, I know. But this is how muscles work – they can be tight from being over-utilized OR underutilized. *Pause for confused head scratch.* 

 

 

Balance Exercises

Something that’s highly interesting to the exercise science nerds in the world (ahem, like myself) is that overpronators overuse their big and second toes for balance instead of all the toes. While it’s true that the big toe’s primary role is to aid in balance, it’s detrimental to muscular balance to only or heavily rely on that for balance aid and “pushing off” the ground while walking and running. So, exercises focusing on using all the toes evenly for balance is a great start for strengthening neglected body parts.

 

Strengthen Quads (& VMO)

Many flat-footed individuals run with a tiny bit more flexion in their knees than their counterparts. Often there is also medial stress added to the knee thanks to the excessive rotation happening in the lower leg that drives rotation of the upper leg (femur). Thus, it’s important to strengthen the quads through isolated quad extensions and other functional movements such as squats and lunges. To help correct the medial knee stress, strengthen the most medial compartment of your quads (the vastus medialus oblique – VMO) by doing quad extensions with the feet turned out. This targets that medial muscle and allows it to activate. You can even try pulsing up and down gently to get this muscle to burn – which in this case, will be a very positive thing for your body.

 

 

Stretch Hamstrings and Hip Flexors

Tight hamstrings and hip flexors are routinely the result of glute (aka booty) muscles that aren’t working at full steam. Holding 60-120 second stretches will help release these tight muscles and any associated pressure they’ve created on the lower back and glutes. These long sustained stretches should be done at the end of a workout but you can do shorter stretches of 15 seconds or less to help them limber before a workout.

 

Glute Med Exercises

Think clam shells, side lunges and side lying leg lift series from Pilates. These exercises will help strengthen the “outer thigh” muscles located at the top and side of your legs. This area is a part of your glute muscle group and it helps decelerate rotation of the leg when walking and running. As mentioned, with overpronation there is excessive rotation and thus, these muscles are often stretched out and weak. When they’re strong we can better control overpronation and also decrease IT band tightness. Woo! 

 

 

Glute Max Exercises

The powerhouse muscle in the body (aka booty muscle) needs to be strong and in control at all times. The musculoskeletal system’s chain of command gets thrown off for the flat-footed crew so it’s important to place strength back where it belongs. Exercises can include hip bridges (see above pic with the modification of adding a leg lift – which makes it harder), squats, lunges, plie squats, side lunges, leg press, hip extensions, dead lifts, single leg dead lifts, incline work on cardio machines, and more. Don’t forget to do these with the toes pointing straight – not turned out!

 

Back Extensions

Last but not least, maintaining flexibility and strength in the lower back is important for preventing lower back pain that may result from excessive strain and ground-force impact associated with flat-footedness. Try back extension exercises on the mat such as supermans, roman chair back exercises, yoga extensions and chest openers, and more.

 

Cheers to moving better and feeling great!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie