How Vibration Machines Affect the Neuromuscular System

Neuromuscular conditions are some of the most debilitating health concerns plaguing humanity. The ease of movement is something that we all take for granted until mobility restrictions begin to appear in our own lives.

Though age and genetics are regarded as the most common predisposing factors that initiate the beginning of degenerative neuromuscular concerns, there can be other influential variables too. Vibration exercise and therapy are increasingly integrated into prevention and treatment of these conditions. So, one may ask:

What is Vibration Therapy?

In simple terms, vibration therapy involves using an intense vibration or shaking within simple day-to-day workout routines to promote faster healing. To introduce vibration into the workout regime, specially designed equipment is used. These vibrating machines create a wide range of vibration intensities that can be custom manipulated based on the requirement.

 

The History of Vibration Therapy

In approximately the mid-1800s, Russian scientist Gustav Zander created a weight-and-pulley system to produce vibrations and used it to help improve the overall well-being of his digestive system. This was the earliest official record of using vibration therapy to improve health. Later on, the Russian Space Program also introduced vibration therapy for the astronauts and was soon followed by NASA’s similar endeavor. NASA scientists noticed that astronauts returning to earth after extended space missions experienced accelerated bone loss. They prescribed a daily regimen of 10-15 minutes of vibration therapy for the astronauts to help them regain bone density.

How Does Vibration Therapy Improve Neuromuscular Health?

Vibration can be categorized into two distinctive types:

  • Localized – The vibration machine is placed at a specific local area that needs immediate relief.
  • Systemic or Whole Body – Whole-body vibration requires one to sit or stand on the machine for the vibration machine to produce the vibrating effect.

The vibrations produced by vibrating machines can be vertical, horizontal or even circular in direction. As the vibration continues, the musculature of the body contracts and relaxes in a consistent yet frequent manner. This results in increased production of osteoblasts, a well-known and key component of bone formation. The increased production of these bone-forming cells promotes overall healthy growth and well-being for the skeletal system.

How is Vibration Therapy Incorporated into the Workout Routine?

Regular exercise moves like squats, pushups, crunches, deadlifts, etc. are widespread and easy to incorporate into vibration training. It’s simple – rather than a flat surface, a vibration machine is used as the base support for the exercise!

Since the vibration machine constantly produces vibrations while exercising, the muscular workout is intensified. This produces faster results in the form of leaner muscles, stronger bones, and decreased fat content within a shorter time span than workout programs that don’t include vibration.

What Are the Various Exercise Routines That Can be Done While Using a Vibration Machine?

As mentioned above, push-ups, crunches, and squats are great options, especially for beginners. Foam rolling devices are also starting to incorporate vibrations. However, as time goes on and the user gets accustomed to the constant vibration during the workout routines, numerous other exercises can be introduced.

These exercises might include calf raises, lunges, planks, bench press, side lunges, dead lifts, side planks, leg raises, sit-ups, v-sits, standing shoulder press, bent over rows, balancing exercises and more! Any free-standing or weight-bearing exercise is feasible.

 

 

Choosing the Right Vibration Machine

Vibration machines today come in various sizes and with numerous configurations. Choosing the best vibration machine from a wide range of options can be difficult and confusing. The simple solution is to choose a vibrating machine based on a few notable factors. They are:

  • Size – Larger vibrating machines are bound to be heavy and occupy a lot of space. Choosing a machine based on the overall size of the area where it will be permanently kept is the first point one should consider.
  • Requirements – There are certain scenarios where prescribed vibration therapy is restricted to specific regions of the body. In such cases, it’s unwise to invest in a whole-body vibration setup.
  • Functionalities – The best vibrating machines available today are equipped with a wide range of functionality based on the duration, intensity, and direction of the vibrating currents.

Additional Benefits of Using Vibration Machines

In addition to helping with neuromuscular improvement, vibration machines are also known to promote numerous other health benefits too. These include:

  • Weight Loss – Obesity is one of the primary global health concerns today as it leads to numerous additional issues like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and more. Adding vibration therapy to regular exercise routines can help burn calories faster and produce better results.
  • Improved Bone Density – Vibration therapy promotes osteoblastic cell formation; the key structures for increased bone strength. Using a vibration machine during a workout adds noticeable changes in overall bone density. This may be a special consideration for menopausal and post-menopausal women in preventing bone loss, and a tool for aging populations to stay strong.
  • Boosts Metabolism – Research has shown that vibration therapy is known to promote leptin production in the body. Leptin is one of the primary components that inhibits hunger.
  • Improved Lymphatic Drainage and Blood Circulation – Vibration therapy improves the fluidity of the circulating blood as well as the lymphatic drainage system. This helps with the faster removal of toxins and increased oxygen production within the body. Both of these factors promote the overall well-being for organ function and other bodily systems.
  • Reduces the Effects of Parkinson’s Disease – Vibration therapy machines may help to reduce the intensity of neuromuscular tremors and also decrease the muscular rigidity that occurs specifically in Parkinson’s disease.
  • Improved Sleep – The hormone ghrelin impacts sleep patterns in humans. Increased ghrelin hormone can cause spikes in hunger and sleep disturbances. Exercising with a vibration machine can help stabilize the release of the ghrelin hormone and improve overall sleep quality.
  • Reduced Back and Joint Pain – Joint and bone pain are often the result of osteoarthritis. Low impact and low-stress workout routines are often prescribed to people who suffer from these ailments; however, combining vibration therapy with these routines has been shown to increase glucosamine and chondroitin production in the body. Both of these components are essential for cartilage metabolism.
  • Decrease of Blood Pressure – Stress and other additional underlying factors can cause increased blood pressure. Vibration therapy relaxes the body and mind, and helps reduce stress while improving circulation.

 

 

 Contraindications of Vibration Machines

Despite the numerous health benefits vibration machines offer, there are certain scenarios where vibration therapy can cause more damage than good. This adverse effect is generally a result of interference created by the vibration.

The contradictory situations include:

  • Patients with pacemakers and other electronic implants
  • Patients recovering from operations
  • Pregnancy
  • Epileptic and other neurological disabilities

 

Conclusion

Vibration therapy has many benefits for the neuromuscular and skeletal systems, and can be used by astronauts, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts alike. It also offers many benefits for certain health complications such as osteoarthritis, back pain, Parkinson’s Disease, osteoporosis, and more. Choosing the right machine is crucial for maximal benefits. If you’re hesitant or unsure about starting vibration therapy then consult with a trusted fitness professional or physical therapist before getting started. They can help address your concerns and point you in the right direction so that you can enjoy vibration training in a safe and healthy manner!

 

Many thanks to my friends at Elliptical Ninja for collaborating on this content and helping us learn more about vibration therapy benefits!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

It’s Time to Laugh off Stress!

Do You Need to Laugh?

Have you felt stressed this year? Has your body been more tired or tense as the result of anxiety? Have you felt disappointed about missing celebrations and milestones with loved ones? There are a million reasons why 2020-2021 has increased stress levels, but the good news is that healing can start now. It’s simply a laugh away!

It’s time to laugh your stress off…literally.

I’m not suggesting that difficult emotions must get buried or left unprocessed. That would be unhealthy for long-term wellness. What I am recommending is that you find things that make you joyful so you can lighten the mood and laugh along with life.

 

 

“Laughter is the best medicine in the world.”

-Milton Berle

 

The Scientifically-Proven Benefits of Laughter

According to the Mayo Clinic, a good laugh immediately stimulates your organs through the intake of oxygen-rich air. As you laugh, your heart rate and blood pressure rise but both drop after the giggles subside, producing a calm and relaxed feeling. Your stress response “cools off” following a laugh and muscle tension eases for up to 45 minutes afterwards.

Also, laughter increases blood circulation, which is good for your heart and lungs, and boosts the release of mood-enhancing endorphins. This  all contributes to the calorie-burning effect of laugher which may not be equivalent to formal exercise but is just one more benefit of a hearty laugh.

Laughter even improves pain, strengthens the immune system, and extends the lifespan!

 

Humor for Pain Relief

Endorphins, our body’s natural feel-good chemicals, are commonly known for their stress relieving benefits following things like exercise and laugher, but they also help improve pain! In a study on the effectiveness of humor therapy for older adults living in nursing homes, it was found that individuals who completed a “humor therapy program” experienced significant decreases in chronic pain and perception of loneliness. Study participants reported enhanced happiness and life satisfaction compared to a control group that didn’t complete the humor therapy program.

The study concluded that “Nurses and other healthcare professionals can incorporate humor in caring for their patients. Telling a joke and encouraging clients to tell a funny story may have a therapeutic effect. Asking patients to make a “My Happy Folder” is also a good way to involve and empower them in their own pain and symptom management. Regardless of their physical condition, patients need to allow themselves to be happy, to let humor play a greater role in their lives, and to enjoy life. Using humor therapy is a good method of health maintenance.”

Hunter “Patch” Adams, who was portrayed in the film “Patch Adams” by Robin Williams, has long understood the medicinal effects of humor. Adams is an American physician, comedian and clown who organizes volunteers to travel around the world dressed as clowns so that orphans, patients, and others in need can enjoy their humor. Adams is also a social activist who founded the Gesundheit! Institute, a free community hospital. In its latest plans, the Gesundheit! Institute will be built as a healthcare eco-community in West Virginia that incorporates alternative medicine with traditional hospital care. Of all people, Adams understands that traditional medicine isn’t always the only answer. Humor and alternative healing approaches can improve pain and outcomes of medical interventions.

 

 

“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

-Mark Twain

 

Bolster the Immune System with Belly Laughs

Laughter has long been praised for boosting the immune system; however, researchers face inconclusive evidence about the benefits of laughter on the actual various immune system components. That said, the scientific community knows that increased and chronic stress weakens the immune system response. Humor, it seems, might just do the opposite by influencing the rise of immune cell levels and infection-fighting antibodies.

My two cents: Laughter can’t hurt.

As we continue to suffer and/or recover from the effects of a global pandemic, a good laugh is easily the most accessible, free, and unlimited medicine that we have for healing. I say use it!

 

Laughter and Longevity

A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that women with a strong sense of humor live longer than peers despite a variety of illnesses that they may suffer. The Norwegian study was conducted over 15 years and included over 50,000 adults. Researchers stated:

“The findings show that for women, high scores on humor’s cognitive component were associated with 48 percent less risk of death from all causes, a 73 percent lower risk of death from heart disease and an 83 percent lower risk of death from infection. In men, a link was found only for the risk of death from infection—those with high humor scores had a 74 percent reduced risk.”

This is highly compelling evidence that it’s never too late in life to benefit from a good laugh. And why wait? Start incorporating daily or weekly humor now!

 

 

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.”

-Victor Hugo

 

Bonding and Togetherness in the Giggles

Laughter is contagious and can bring people together, strengthen relationships, diffuse disagreements, and release inhibitions. It comes in the form of swapping jokes and spending time with family and friends. Laughing can help people feel happier, more positive and relaxed in stressful situations.

As the world attempts to gain immunity from Covid-19 it’s a good time (once safe) to visit with select loved ones face-to-face and to engage in the powerful social aspects of humor, storytelling, quality time, and in-person interactions. These are all important for mental health and have been lacking for many of us over the past year.

Laughter helps people “get out of their heads” and better connect with others. The collective healing capacity of humanity depends on simple daily acts and moments like… giggling with a girlfriend, tickling your toddler, swapping playful jokes with parents, belly laughing to a comedy movie, reading something humorous, and finding the levity in life. Despite all the recent heaviness, there is always something to laugh about. Doing so may even give you the hope and healing you need.

 

“If you become silent after your laughter, one day you will hear God also laughing. You will hear the whole existence laughing – trees and stones and stars with you.”

-Rajneesh

 

 

 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Trauma Recovery & Mental Health Support for Mothers

The last year has taught me a lot about recovering from trauma and coping with grief. The healing journey is never linear and yet it remains a steady part of my daily life. As anyone who has endured trauma will tell you, it can flash in and out of your life with unpredictable speed and timing for days, weeks, months or even years. Trauma often involves layers. After one layer is peeled back another is revealed, and then another, until you reach the core of the crisis. I’m not a mental health professional but as a wellness writer I feel that it’s my responsibility to point fellow moms in the direction of people who can help them.

Traumatic experiences in motherhood are common and yet we seldom label them as such. We brush aside birth and labor-related trauma when it happens because it’s an assumed “rite of passage” for mothers. Personally, I haven’t met a single friend who has experienced unmedicated labor and said it was a breeze. Rather, these women shudder at the memory and sometimes have flashbacks to the birth in the first few weeks as a mom. I experienced this firsthand after the birth of my second son. Thinking about the pain evoked a physical trauma response throughout my entire body for over a month after he was born.

 

 

Similarly, some mothers who have gone through C-section births recollect their nerves and fears while being conscious and cut open on the operating table. One friend of mine asked for anxiety medicine while having her fallopian tubes removed after her last child’s C-section delivery while another became temporarily paralyzed from the C-section spinal tap. It was an experience that scared her so much that she doesn’t want to have any more children now.

I also know of friends who experienced fear when birthing their own babies because of what happened to me last fall; I had a pregnancy loss followed by a D&E and my uterine artery ruptured during the procedure resulting in an emergency C-section. If that doesn’t spell out trauma then I don’t know what does. Unfortunately, the concerns for mothers don’t stop at “a friend of a friend’s” anecdotal experience; the maternal mortality rates in the United States are trending upwards, not downwards, for the first time in over 30 years.

Women’s fears are not unfounded. Women’s trauma experiences from pregnancy, pregnancy loss, childbirth and infant complications are very real. And yet…where is the support?

 

 

If you’re a mother, let me ask you this:

Did anyone offer to help guide you towards professional resources after your own personal trauma (if you’ve had any)? Were you able to find accessible, affordable and meaningful help? Or, like so many women, did burying the trauma feel like the easiest option within reach?

Whether trauma is related to having babies or enduring a scary hospital stay with your child, it’s a part of mom life at some point for almost every mother. As caregivers, it strikes us deep. I experienced trauma when my oldest son was unexpectedly born a month early and I thought I was losing him. I experienced it again in the PICU when a nasty case of bronchiolitis nearly took his life, and again when we learned he had a small hole in his heart. Traumatic flashbacks haunted me during night nursing sessions after my second son’s unmedicated natural birth and in a bigger way than ever before in the wee night hours upon losing my third son during the second trimester. It was a loss that felt far greater and harder to bear than a first trimester miscarriage I had endured years earlier that also left me reeling.

Even before having children I experienced trauma – when biking to work and getting hit by a car – and yet this mom stuff?

Way harder.

 

 

Anything involving my children’s well-being in addition to my own carries extra weight. As much as I always want to protect my children, sometimes real life steps in the way. Even though my boys are still very young I know that this feeling will come back to me when my oldest goes to kindergarten next year and when he learns to drive a car. When my boys move out of the house and into the real world as young adults, these raw emotions will likely pay me a visit again. I hope these emotions will be healthy and normal, without past trauma hovering over them like a cloud, but if I don’t deal with my trauma experiences over time or with professional help then normal milestones and rites of passage can come at a heavy price.

Here’s the thing about trauma:

It sticks with you even when you don’t realize it.

According to Psychology Today, “trauma is the inability to deal with a certain stressful situation, which leads to feeling overwhelmed and powerless. In short, it’s not being able to process difficult emotions to completion and then enact the solution. This is when trauma is internalized and has a life of its own inside our brain and nervous systems.”

Signs of trauma may include:

  • Anxiety that manifests as edginess, irritability, sleep disturbances, poor concentration and/or mood swings
  • Emotions such as denial, anger and/or sadness, and experiencing emotional outbursts
  • Physical symptoms such as lethargy, fatigue, racing heartbeat, panic attacks, and fuzzy thinking
  • An inability to cope with certain circumstances
  • Withdrawal and detachment
  • Hypervigilance
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Feelings of intense helplessness and fear

This list is not exhaustive of the signs and symptoms of trauma, nor does it demonstrate how “invisible” trauma can be. Some people display it very openly while others experience it internally and out of sight. Either way, trauma begs to be resolved on mental, emotional and physical levels. As moms, dealing with trauma is especially important so that we can stay present as caregivers. It’s our responsibility to deal with it so that we don’t pass it to our children. This doesn’t imply that we have to be “perfect” parents, but it does mean that we must hold ourselves accountable for healing and tending to our mental health.

We deserve wellness and our littles ones count on it. 

 

 

A good friend of mine, Lauren Goldberg, who owns Secure Base Mental Health, LLC explained to me years ago that babies and children co-regulate their nervous systems with their parents’ nervous systems, especially their mother’s. I think most moms would say anecdotally that this is true (plus, it’s backed by science). For example, when I returned home from my emergency C-section, my oldest son had a peculiar stress response for a few weeks and I knew immediately that it was because of what had happened to me. Although he didn’t know all of the details, children are intuitive and their bodies’ feel the energy that we adults put out. With this in mind, it’s important to recognize that addressing and healing from trauma are important processes for the entire family unit’s wellness.

The word “trauma” can apply to a swath of trauma-inducing situations, some of which are acute and others chronic. Sometimes, healing from trauma happens without interventions or professional help. More often though, trauma necessitates some professional help along with plenty of self-care, balance and boundary setting. This is where personal time and boundaries are critical for moms. It’s back to the analogy of “put your oxygen mask on first before you help put someone else with theirs.”  We have to prioritize our needs so that we can self-regulate in a healthy way and positively influence our children with their own emotional regulatory needs.

Again, I’m not a mental health professional but I’m an exercise professional who passionately pursues wellness in all its forms. Thus, I think this topic deserves some pause and reflection for moms. If you find that you don’t have any trauma to heal from – that’s great! But what about anxiety that tears you apart inside? What about depression that makes you sluggish through each day? What about low self-esteem that gets in the way of your goals and happiness? Mental health support is a crucial element of wellness and it deserves center stage in this whole mom thing.

Being a parent isn’t easy nor is it supposed to be. Other humans depend on us! We deserve to get the help and support we need without fear of guilt, shame, rejection or judgement.

 

 

Below I’ve compiled a list of resources for moms who have experienced trauma and are seeking mental health counseling, support services, and resources:

 

Post-Traumatic Stress After Traumatic Childbirth:

Postpartum PTSD

Birth Trauma Association

 

Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support:

Pregnancy Loss Support Groups

Baby Loss Doulas

Bereavement Doulas

 

Poor Prenatal Diagnosis Support:

Perinatal Hospice & Palliative Care Programs & Support

The TFMR Doula

 

Abortion Healing:

The Healing Choice

Support After Abortion 

 

Grieving the Death of a Child:

Losing a Child

Grief Coach

Virtual Support Groups

 

Postpartum Depression (PPD) & Anxiety Support:

The Motherhood Center

PPD Counseling

What is Postpartum Anxiety?

 

Mental Health & Substance Abuse:

National Helpline for Mental Health & Substance Abuse Disorders

 

Suicide:

National Suicide Prevention Line

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

Spiritual Bypassing: Why it Hurts Wellness

Spiritual bypassing was coined by John Welwood, a prominent psychotherapist and author. I owe Rachel Ricketts, author of Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy, thanks for putting this term on my radar. In her book, Ricketts makes excellent points about how damaging spiritual bypassing can be and how commonplace it is. So, what exactly is spiritual bypassing – and why does it hurt wellness?

 

 

Spiritual bypassing involves a large degree of avoidance and repression of emotions, resorting instead to spiritual ideals in pursuit of enlightenment. As described in Welwood’s book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening, spiritual bypassing is when someone uses “spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional ‘unfinished business,’ to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks.”

Spiritual bypassing is a means of side-stepping hard emotions and truths through spiritual ideology and idealism. It’s succumbing to binary thinking and accepting black-and-white views of circumstances. Through spiritual bypassing people avoid the often painful and complicated realities of life by always trying to find a silver lining in traumatic events or saying “everything happens for a reason” instead of facing deep-seeded and difficult feelings. This happens because people mistakenly believe that we must rise above our “unreliable emotions” instead of facing them and allowing them to serve as inner wisdom in raw form.

Spiritual bypassing can look like the following go-to phrases during hard times:

  • Everything happens for a reason
  • There is no pain without purpose
  • There’s always a silver lining
  • God will never give you more than you can handle
  • Only positive energy and vibes are welcome
  • Your life’s circumstances are a product of the energy you attract

These statements are commonplace in everyday conversation about tough circumstances. They’re a way of glossing over the situation; an often underrecognized defense mechanism. My guess is that you’ve heard one of these phrases or something along these lines over the past year as the world has battled a deadly and devastating virus.

 

 

According to VeryWellMind, other signs of spiritual bypassing include:

  • Avoiding feelings of anger
  • Believing in your own spiritual superiority as a way to hide from insecurities
  • Believing that traumatic events must serve as “learning experiences” or that there is a silver lining behind every negative experience
  • Believing that spiritual practices such as meditation or prayer are always positive
  • Extremely high, often unattainable, idealism
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Focusing only on spirituality and ignoring the present
  • Only focusing on the positive or being overly optimistic
  • Projecting your own negative feelings onto others
  • Pretending that things are fine when they are clearly not
  • Thinking that people can overcome their problems through positive thinking
  • Thinking that you must “rise above” your emotions
  • Using defense mechanisms such as denial and repression

Kelly Germaine, a trauma therapist, wrote on Medium that although Christians most notably use spiritual bypassing, “The church is not the only culprit. Those of us disillusioned with the faith lineages our people come from frequently escape into Eastern spiritual traditions.”

Kelly continues by explaining that when westerners pursue Eastern spirituality, it’s “often an attempt to escape the roots of violence our people have enacted and been complicit in. We run away to nature, India, or Latin America to meditate, tree pose, permaculture, and breathe our way out of the reality that we live in an empire dominating the world along the lines of class, race, and gender. Our attempts to go anywhere else on the globe to get away from this reality are futile. We cannot bypass the truth and holing ourselves off will not save us. We cannot escape our global, interlocking crises of oppression.”

These forms of bypassing, defense mechanisms, and escapisms deny our innermost feelings and needs on both individual and collective levels. As Kelly highlights, spiritual bypassing inherently denies the harsh realities of those who are oppressed by society or have difficult lives. It turns a blind eye to people who suffer at the hands of others who seek to explain away such undue hardships.

Spiritual bypassing hurts wellness. Big time.

We can never thrive or be collectively well when it’s at the expense or denial of others’ difficult circumstances. We also can never achieve individual well-being when we deny our feelings or refuse to face reality. This doesn’t mean that we can’t be spiritual or religious. We can!

 

 

True spiritual wellness is essential.

Spiritual wellness is defined differently by each person but it generally relates to a sense of greater meaning in one’s life and connection to others and/or a higher power. More specifically:

Spiritual wellness provides us with systems of faith, beliefs, values, ethics, principles and morals. A healthy spiritual practice may include examples of volunteerism, social contributions, belonging to a group, fellowship, optimism, forgiveness and expressions of compassion. Spiritual wellness allows one to live a life consistent with his or her’s own belief and moral systems, while we establish our feeling of purpose and find meaning in life events.”

Here are a few ideas to embrace spiritual wellness without resorting to spiritual bypassing:

  • Listen in earnest to the cries, laments and needs of others
  • Demonstrate compassion
  • Attune to your personal emotions and the roots of them
  • Live in the here and now
  • Admit when things are hard and you need help
  • Engage in works of justice, charity and service
  • Connect meaningfully with others
  • Bring honesty into your community of worship
  • Heal from trauma
  • Accept your anger, grief, shame, etc. and find professional help when needed to work through these feelings
  • Stay emotionally present with the people around you
  • Avoid telling someone in pain how to feel or behave
  • Admit that it’s OK to *not* be OK all the time
  • Acknowledge your personal trigger responses, work towards healthier responses where appropriate, and set boundaries

 

 

Spirituality can help us achieve wellness when we avoid spiritual bypassing and find positive beliefs within our faith and moral systems. As mentioned, a person’s propensity to be overly positive and idealistic can be a harmful form of emotional repression. Positive belief systems are a bit different though. Positive beliefs associated with a higher power and our connection to others can be beneficial to one’s health.

On the other hand, negative spiritual beliefs can be damaging in many ways. For example, one study of over 200 people suffering from a range of conditions such as cancer, traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, and more, found that individuals who harbored negative spiritual beliefs had increased pain and worse mental health than those who held positive spiritual beliefs. Negative spiritual beliefs were associated with feeling disconnected from or abandoned by a higher power. The people with negative beliefs attended religious experiences less often and had lower levels of forgiveness.

Sometimes, for our overall health’s sake, we need to push the pause button and tune in to how our spiritual wellness is doing: Is it positive or negative? Are we making time for it? Is is helping us become more self-aware and fulfilled? I really like the reflection exercise (below) that I found on the Laborer’s Health and Safety Fund of North America:

Personal Reflection

Take a moment to assess your own spiritual wellness by asking yourself the following questions.

  1. What gives my life meaning and purpose?
  2. What gives me hope?
  3. How do I get through tough times? Where do I find comfort?
  4. Am I tolerant of other people’s views about life issues?
  5. Do I make attempts to expand my awareness of different ethnic, racial and religious groups?
  6. Do I make time for relaxation in my day?
  7. Do my values guide my decisions and actions?

 

 

As you can see, spiritual wellness involves diving deeper within and connecting to our most authentic self, values and beliefs. In doing this, we also convene with a greater power that connects all of life. The authentic practice of spirituality has the capacity to change the world and it reduces the amount of spiritual bypassing that is used in an effort to avoid the real work of wellness.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

Building Lean Muscle Boosts Immune Function

Building lean muscle has been boasted for reducing fat and toning the body, but it’s seldom discussed in relation to the immune system. Lean muscle is a powerful medicine and has a protective effect for our immune systems.

The Evidence

In studies of mice it has been observed that mice with more muscle fare best when fighting a chronic viral infection. Many chronic illnesses like infections and cancers exhaust the immune system, but in muscular mice the skeletal muscle tissue releases cytokines. This small protein triggers a phenomenal reaction. The cytokines influence “T-cell precursors” to settle within the muscle, creating a sort of back up reserve of cells that can migrate out and develop into fully-functional T-cells when needed. Thus, when the immune system’s regular T-cells are too exhausted to support the body in the face of chronic illness, the precursor cells get released from muscles and become new, disease-fighting T-cells at the sight of infection.

(I don’t know about you, but when I learn something like this about the body I REALLY geek out!)

While this specific protective mechanism between the immune system and muscles has only been proven in studies on mice, there’s a strong chance the same thing happens in our bodies. For example, it has been known for a while that immune cells play a critical role in repairing muscle. This is called myogenesis. In this process, immune cells help regulate stem cells within the muscles to regenerate healthy tissue. The immune system’s critical role in muscle growth and repair may help explain why muscle mass diminishes with age. In other words, the aging immune system results in reduced muscle stem cell function.

In another study, people who regularly bicycled had more immune cells thanks to their muscle mass. Their muscles produced more hormones to regulate the thymus, the organ where T-cells are manufactured (these little fighters help detect infections, including covid-19). The cyclists’ bodies also produced more cancer-protective proteins like the interleukin-6 protein (IL-6).

In summary, the muscle-immunity connection is very real. Now, let’s talk about how to take advantage of it…

How to Maintain Muscle

First off, please don’t feel upset if you don’t look muscular. You don’t have to flaunt a six-pack or chiseled legs to be strong and healthy. Bodybuilders and fitness models have lots of lean muscle, it’s true, but they also have very low BMIs. In other words, they work extremely hard to trim down fat. Sometimes, this can be to the detriment of women’s health if they become amenorrhoeic (i.e. their menstrual cycle stops), so try hard not to compare your body to someone else’s. Perfectly normal people can have immune-fighting and health-boosting muscle mass while also retaining healthy amounts of fat.

In general, I recommend for healthy people under the age of 40-45 to focus on exercises that are moderately intense for 45 minutes/day, 4-5x/week to maintain good health and lean muscle mass. Other days of the week can be used for rest days, low-intensity exercise days, walking, stretching, gentle yoga, meditation, gardening/yardwork, cleaning the house, or other light activities. Adults over 45-years old can follow the same framework but should keep exercise bouts lower in intensity. This programming is extremely basic but demonstrates how weekly exercise can be scheduled for general fitness and muscle maintenance.

You can build strength and muscle through virtually any exercise; running, low-impact cardio, HIIT, strength training, dance, swimming, sports, yoga, pilates, barre, you name it. It’s all fair game. What matters the most is that you regularly stimulate and stress your body (in a good way, of course) with exercises that get your heart rate up and challenge your efforts. As long as this is done safely then you can enjoy many lifelong benefits for your overall health.

Strength Train at Least 2x/week

Although it might be out of your comfort zone, I recommend that everyone (yes, everyone) do strength training twice a week.

Why?

Strength training offers focused bouts of effort that can allow you to train weak areas of your body to improve overall strength, balance and postural support. Incorporating strength training into your weekly regimen (even if you only do 20 minutes twice a week) will allow you to troubleshoot weak muscles so that the exercises and sports you enjoy the most can be enjoyed for years to come.

While performing strength training exercises, the number of sets and reps needed is highly subjective to your level of fitness, ability to maintain form, and knowledge of the movement pattern. Whether you choose to use free body weight exercises, weight machines, or props is also dependent on your individual needs. You can gain enormous benefits from any and all of them. For a highly detailed tutorial about strength training, check out my contribution to a MyFitnessPal article on the topic: Fitness Basics: Strength Training.

You deserve to feel amazing in your body. A little muscle might help. This doesn’t mean that you have to be excessively skinny or lacking fat. It doesn’t even mean that you have to be super strong! Feeling amazing is a balance that only you can define and at its heart is wellness.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Do an Annual Blood Panel (right now!)

Getting your doctor to run an annual blood panel can be life changing and life saving. A yearly peek into your internal health helps you get familiar with your baselines and can offer a quick diagnosis if there are any issues. You don’t have to be symptomatic or unwell to get a blood panel done. You can simply request one at your annual physical with your general practitioner. I highly recommend it for several reasons that I will share, especially in the depths of winter.

My husband and I started requesting annual blood panels six or seven years ago. We wanted to know what our baselines were before trying to conceive our first child and also wanted to check that my husband’s vitamin D levels weren’t too low (without proper supplementation his levels can fall off a cliff). Since then, we have done an annual blood panel every year.

You Might Get Paid to Do Bloodwork!

Every year my husband and I upload our bloodwork results into a health benefits portal through my husband’s employer. Not only has this been beneficial for keeping tabs on our health but we actually get paid for doing it. If you get health insurance through your employer it’s worth looking into whether or not they offer health perks or incentives. Many large companies do. Rewards for reporting basic biometrics such as weight, height, age, blood pressure and cholesterol levels (collected through blood analysis) might include a discount on the premium for your health insurance or a cash bonus for your health savings account (HSA). Even if your employer doesn’t offer these benefits, it’s still important to do a blood panel.

Internal vs. External Health

It may seem obvious but external health doesn’t always equate to internal health. Thus, it’s critically important that we occasionally peek into what the blood reveals about our holistic health. An overweight individual doesn’t always have internal risk factors present for diabetes or heart disease. The converse is true for an individual whose weight falls within what is generally deemed a healthy range; this person might have hypertension and high blood sugar that a trip to her GP and a blood panel can reveal.

Sometimes, a blood test is the only way to get answers for health factors that aren’t discernable to the naked eye and don’t always correlate with one’s body weight. For example, a woman complains of chronic fatigue. She is a normal body weight and practices good nutrition. She also maintains a daily exercise schedule. A blood panel can reveal if this fatigue comes from low iron or thyroid dysfunction. If a problem is found then iron supplements or thyroid treatment may begin. If not, the woman might take a closer look at whether she is sleeping enough, feeling undue stress, or over-exercising. Each of these lifestyle factors can also cause crippling fatigue.

What Can Different Blood Panels Evaluate?

  • Organ function
  • Heart disease risk factors
  • Presence of disease (ex: cancer, diabetes)
  • Blood clotting factors
  • Hemoglobin levels and anemia
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Efficacy of certain medicines
  • Clinical allergies (usually requested by allergist not GP)

What are the Most Common Blood Tests?

Below are descriptions of the most common blood tests that doctors do, but the list is not exhaustive. As mentioned, my husband has specifically requested checks on his vitamin D levels before. I have also taken my toddler for two blood analyses for different suspected allergies (milk and soy when he was a baby, almonds as a toddler…all negative). Most recently, I had a blood analysis done to assess my recovery from blood loss during emergency surgery. The panel looked at my hemoglobin levels, red blood cell counts, and the size of my red blood cells. I also asked for a folate and thyroid panel check out of curiosity and a desire for hormonal balance and nutritional well-being. All levels were within normal ranges and I was assured that I had recovered from acute anemia. The peace of mind was wonderful. If something had been “off,” I would have been grateful to know so that I could take swift corrective actions.

Complete Blood Count

What it measures:

Blood diseases and disorders like anemia, clotting issues, blood cancers, and immune system disorders. Components included in a CBC: Red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, hemoglobin, hematocrit and mean corpuscular volume.

Basic Metabolic Panel

What it measures:

A BMP can reveal information about the heart, organs, muscles and bones by looking at different chemicals typically found in the plasma (fluid) part of the blood. Components included in a BMP: Glucose levels, calcium, electrolytes, and more.

Lipoprotein Panel

What it measures:

Heart disease risk analyzed through total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (i.e. “bad” cholesterol), HDL cholesterol (i.e. “good” cholesterol), and triglycerides. This test often requires fasting for 12 hours prior to the blood draw.

Other Tests:

As mentioned, there are many reasons to do a blood test. For example, a blood enzyme test can look at enzyme levels related to heart attacks to rule them out or confirm them. Blood clotting tests may be done if your doctor suspects you may have a clotting disorder or before/after certain major surgeries. Even covid-19 patients have been undergoing blood tests at hospital intake to evaluate their risk of mortality based on elevated red cell distribution width (RDW). According to medical professionals, elevated RDW “has previously been associated with an increased risk for morbidity and mortality in a variety of diseases, including heart disease, pulmonary disease, influenza, cancer and sepsis.”

Conclusion

I’m not a doctor. I don’t pretend to be one either. This is why it’s imperative that you become your own health advocate. Ask your doctor for a blood panel on an annual basis. It might simply reassure you that your health is on the right track. Or it might be the thing that helps save your life.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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My Emergency C-Section Recovery

Some of you already know that I experienced an emergency back in October when we lost and said goodbye to our third son at roughly 4 months gestation. When I went in for a routine D&E I experienced extremely rare complications and one of my uterine arteries ruptured causing excessive blood loss, several blood transfusions and emergency surgery intervention. For more about that experience and what I discovered in the wake of loss and grief, you can read here.

My first two sons were born vaginally and I had relatively easy recoveries. Even though I was only 4 months pregnant this time, an emergency C-section (with a vertical incision) to save my life was both shocking and traumatic. I struggled for months to recover, both physically and mentally, and only now at 3 months “postpartum,” if you would even call it that, I’m feeling a little more like myself.

I have a long way still to go in the healing process but I’ve learned some things along the way that I’d like to share with you since I’m a health professional obsessed with all aspects of the wellness journey. Whether you’re simply curious about my experience or have had (or anticipate having) a C-section, this video is for you…

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Kahlil Gibran

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

Will 2021 Be the Year? [we reclaim our health]

 

I’ve worked with throngs of individuals who feel the need to pay someone like me to get them in shape because doing it on their own feels impossible. I’m happy to oblige but if I’m being honest? My services are disposable. At least, I hope they are. I know that’s an odd thing to say but my heart’s desire for each of my clients is that they get this thing called “health” figured out for themselves for the long haul, joyfully parting ways with me when they’re ready and confident.

There are endless excuses and hurdles though. More work conferences to prepare for. Late evenings spent at the computer. Crappy nights of sleep that make things like exercise and nutritious food choices seem like mountains too big to climb. Task lists get longer. Soccer games and birthday party drop-offs swallow up whole weekend afternoons. Even Sunday church is followed by a brisk visit to the grocery store, weekly meal prep, and an hour at the desk to pay the monthly bills and tend to stray emails. There’s scarcely a chance to breathe let alone fit in the ever-popular “self-care” everyone raves about. Not to mention, all the hyped-up self-care can be darn expensive.

The cost of a gym membership is compounded with purchasing organic foods, slipping away for the occasional trip to a day spa, and finding the budget for weekend getaways with the spouse, after which…err…is there enough left to pay off the pile of student debt while adding to the children’s future college tuition? Maybe yes…maybe…gulp…no. Oops, did I forget to mention HEALTH INSURANCE?

Anyone else feel the room closing in?

Okay, okay, let’s just slow down for a second. Does it have to be this complicated?

As much as 2020 will be burned into our memories for all the bad things that have happened, all the loved ones lost, all the jobs and industries that have been damaged due to covid-19, what about the stuff that might actually be…dare I say it? Good for us.

The disastrous year we leave behind has established three facts that I hope people begin to embrace:

*Taking care of health is critically important, not optional.

 *Humans are social beings who need one another to thrive.

*Staying overwhelmingly busy and constantly on-the-go is not the only way to live and certainly not to thrive.

 

 

About that last one…let that sink in. Once it does, I would hope it becomes clear that there can finally be space in our lives for the ever-important acts of self-care. It’s a matter of priority and choice. And once we make room for these things, our health and well-being are finally where they ought to be: A part of our daily lives instead of always on the backburner.

Last year took a lot away from each and every one of us. There’s little doubt about that. During 2020, I lost my third son during pregnancy. A loss that I still grieve every day months later. Like many people, it’s getting lumped into my head as “2020…the year the world spun into chaos.” We each have our reasons for grief and longing even as they take different forms. But something that the interfaith pastor said during my son’s funeral stuck with me: 

That despite how powerless each family felt mourning a pregnancy or infant loss at the communal burial that day, we each got to decide how to move forward from this life-altering experience. We could let our losses turn us bitter or we could use them to change for the better, to be a source of light to a bleeding world, to allow empathy and compassion to be born from the trenches of despair.

I feel like her words ring true for all of us as 2021 begins. The hardships are not over and there is a long road of healing ahead, even as the pandemic rages on. There is no switch we can flip or button we can press that will immediately turn off the long-term effects of 2020. We simply have the opportunity of choice as we each move forward:

The choice to reclaim the good health we deserve.

 

 

Yes, covid-19 has dominated our lives for the better part of 2020, but what about the global chronic disease crisis? The latter has been on the rise for the last few decades, so much so that people seem numb to words like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Drug and alcohol use have also been on the rise, as has suicide.

The increasingly busy and interconnected world brings with it many advantages but it has tipped the scales away from wellness for far too long. My question is this: Will we continue to let it?

Will we allow the slower pace of our lifestyles during 2019 to be swallowed up by the rush to make up for lost time once a vaccination has been widely distributed? Or will we finally learn – and choose – to create space for exercise, healthy cooking and quality time with our families?

…I think of all the people we have been losing daily. There are no memorials for the covid-19 victims, only growing lists of names and death certificates to add to the pile. I think to myself…is this it? Will we allow 2021 to be the year we get a vaccine and a quick taste of “freedom” again before falling right back into our prior habits and unhealthy lifestyles? Is all we have to show for 2020 and the upcoming winter going to be loss, heartache and missed opportunities?

Or perhaps…perhaps…the way we build memorials to our loved ones and all the faceless strangers is to change. For the better. Starting now.

Let’s not let this long dark night of humanity be in vain. Let’s make the choice individually to reclaim our health and well-being, in their honor. So…

…Will it be the year? What do you think?

 

Psstt…if you have any burning questions for a fitness professional or would like advice on exercise form then please don’t hesitate to contact me (below) to take advantage of my best-ever rate on a fitness service:

Just $20 for a 15-minute consult to address your top fitness/wellness concern or question. I promise to give you lots of actionable advice and to point you in the right direction. Offers end 01/18/21. 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Healing Requires Courage

The world is slowly inching towards a new year and possible solutions for moving the pandemic towards its end. Even once a vaccine is proven effective and administered to the masses, there is still global healing that must follow. No doubt many of us have suffered physical, mental and spiritual repercussions from this scary year. Survivors of covid-19 sometimes say that they have lingering and chronic symptoms from the virus. Still others are grieving losing loved ones who they longed to hold tight in their final days but could not. The whole world needs healing…and it may take a very long time for that to happen, even if and when global immunity is established. We must step into 2021 with bravery and hope like never before. 

 

 

At the outset of the pandemic I felt very fortunate to have escaped its nasty jaws (so far). My family’s livelihood was not majorly hampered and most of our professional work was already based out of our home. In fact, the pandemic meant that my husband’s part-time work travel was made obsolete. Suddenly, he was more available to help with the children, errands, dinner prep and chores. The atmosphere around the dinner table was still tense with pandemic-related stress but we felt like we could count our blessings and muscle onwards.

And then…well, then we were dealt a terrible blow. Our perceived invincibility went racing down the gutter. I was left quite literally dumbfounded and broken, brought to my knees by the great and tragic twists of life. I’m currently on my own unique healing journey. One that requires healing from emergency surgery and pregnancy loss.

My body has had to heal physically on many levels (at two months out it’s still ongoing, of course).

My hormones are finding their way back to equilibrium. The layers of tissue under the incision on my stomach are gluing themselves back together. My core strength and stamina is slowly returning. My heart is pumping to replenish from blood loss and recover from anemia. Emotionally…well…grief takes a while, and you can bet I’ve linked up with a mental health counselor to wade through the trauma. Spiritually, I feel like I’ve grown tremendously…but I still have lots of unanswered questions to make peace with.

Healing takes time. It’s complex. And most of all, it requires courage. 

 

 

Before diving into why healing requires courage, let’s explore how healing is defined to better understand it. Who better to ask than Wikipedia, right? According to wiki:

Healing is the process of the restoration of health from an unbalanced, diseased, damaged or unvitalized organism.”

Said in other words, being healed implies ongoing balance, wellness, safety and vitality. From this standpoint, healing is quite different from modern medicine. Prescription medicines are often masking while surgeries are considered curing in many scenarios. Healing isn’t either; it’s a holistic process.

For example, let’s say a woman is “cured” from breast cancer through a lumpectomy or mastectomy. Does this mean that she is also healed? No, not yet. Healing will take place in the post-operative room following surgery and in the weeks ahead as she regains strength and mobility. It will happen as she begins to deal with the emotional impact of being diagnosed with cancer in the first place. Additional mental healing may be necessary as she adapts to a new body image (in the case of mastectomy) and grieves aspects of the diagnosis and/or trauma. Perhaps healing must also occur on a spiritual level for her; she may be angry at God, questioning the existence of a higher power, or seeking to assign spiritual meaning and value to the experience as a whole. 

Nurses are often given credit for facilitating patients’ healing in hospitals. In nursing literature, healing has been explained as “the process of bringing together aspects of one’s self, body-mind-spirit, at deeper levels of inner knowing, leading toward integration and balance with each aspect having equal importance and value.”

Prior to my recent trauma, I learned the aforementioned definition of healing firsthand after being hit by a car. The healing process took over five years in my twenties. Yup, five full years – partially because my body began to dysfunction in response to the acute injuries I sustained. Also, I was going through a spiritual and emotional crisis at the time. You could definitely call that time a “coming of age” experience but it went hand-in-hand with lessons on physical, emotional and spiritual healing, and the complicated web that entangles them all. 

In the seasons that followed the bike accident, my eyes were opened to the powerful role of inflammation in our bodies, the complexity of pain pathways, the nonlinear nature of healing, and the difficulty involved when advocating to partner with the right health professionals, to name just a few lessons. But most of all, I discovered that healing requires courage. A lot of it. 

 

 

There are powerful stories we rehearse in our heads like “I don’t deserve to feel better,” and “No one can fix me,” or even, “I’m too tired, sad, angry (etc.) to find the resources I need to heal.” Other times, the mental narratives relate to the trauma or inciting incident itself: “It was my partner’s fault when he did ____,” or “I feel like I’m drowning when I think about the day ____ died.” Whatever image or phrase repeats in your head and causes a negative physiological and/or emotional response becomes a footpath in your mind.

As you rehearse or relive that negative experience or belief, that footpath expands into a one-lane road. Over more time and left unchecked, the road gets wider and wider, making it much easier to travel down than another path that is still overgrown and untrodden but which contains a positive belief about the experience. Your brain will keep choosing and reinforcing the wider road until there is courage to step away and intentionally choose to trailblaze a new path. Oftentimes this is a process, not an overnight fix, requiring intentionality and professional help.   

It can be very scary to choose to heal. It entails confronting “inner demons” and misbeliefs, working through trauma, and more. All of this can feel extremely daunting and draining. But being brave enough to heal isn’t about waiting for the fear to subside. It’s about stepping into the fear and moving through it. 

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”

-Ambrose Redmoon

Each individual is responsible for being courageous and owning their healing process. Oftentimes, healing feels like a lot of small quiet victories, unannounced to the world but felt profoundly in a person’s daily life. These small “wins” add up and are just as significant as the big ones. Healing requires being brave enough to take action; setting boundaries, self care, and saying no to things that will deplete you too much or that you’re not ready for. Healing will look and feel different for each person.

We can also learn a little something about healing through understanding what it looks like at a cellular level in our bodies:

“With physical damage or disease suffered by an organism, healing involves the repair of living tissue(s), organs and the biological system as a whole and resumption of (normal) functioning. Medicine includes the process by which the cell(s) in the body regenerate and repair to reduce the size of a damaged or necrotic area and replace it with new living tissue. The replacement can happen in two ways: by regeneration in which the necrotic cells are replaced by new cells that form “like” tissue as was originally there; or by repair in which injured tissue is replaced with scar tissue. Most organs will heal using a mixture of both mechanisms.”

 

 

In other words, if we take what cellular repair and regeneration look like and blow this out to the entire organism or person, we might conclude that healing looks in part like an evolution of the self (regeneration) and in part like a return to the original self (repair). Both are paradoxically true: Through healing we return to ourselves just as we become brand new beings. As I’ve said once before, it’s a metamorphosis.  

I would like to leave you with this parting thought:

In what ways have you been healing recently? What parts of you feel steadfast and true, a return to your authentic self, and what parts of you feel transformed? Lastly, is there anything you can do as we head into a brand new year to heal more completely? 

Sending out a little prayer and some good energy in hopes you find the courage you need. And guess what? If you don’t find it right away, that’s okay. Sometimes healing looks much slower and more painful than we would like. It’s important to remember that living in a season that feels stalled does not make you “lesser than” or imply that you aren’t trying. Sometimes the most profound hope can be born in the midst of what feels like an unending dark night…  

Oh, one last thing:

In case you want some ideas for actionable things you can do in the healing process, here are a few from a very, very long list of options: 

  • Prayer
  • Mental health counseling
  • Herbal supplements, teas and tonics
  • Nutrient-dense meals
  • Restorative sleep
  • Meditation
  • Guided visualization and/or progressive relaxation
  • Rejuvenating exercise
  • Engaging with communities for spiritual growth
  • Omkar chanting and/or mantra recitation
  • Yoga and stretching
  • Aromatherapy and/or essential oils
  • Sound therapy
  • Nature therapy and grounding
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Chiropractic adjustments
  • Journaling
  • Leisure time and hobbies
  • Joyful activities with friends
  • Reading

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

The Best Diet for Optimal Immune Function

As we head into winter 2020-2021 with the coronavirus pandemic hovering over our heads, rearranging the American lifestyle, and threatening many individuals’ well-being, let’s consider what we can control in a world that feels very much the opposite. Let’s equip our bodies with the best medicine that nature provides: nutrient-dense food.

That’s right, I’m voting for food over exercise, if I’m forced by sword to choose one, and only one, to focus on this winter.

Here’s why…

 

 

Exercise routines have been altered for many people through this pandemic and while at-home exercises are excellent alternatives to gym machine and group exercise favorites, it can be difficult to exercise at home with nonstop work and children demands or equipment that isn’t ideal. Others who have been exercising outdoors through walking, running and biking might find themselves sidelined from their cardio routines due to winter weather. Plus, too much exercise isn’t a good thing for an overstressed and exhausted person…or even a healthy, happy person…the right balance is essential for immune health.

Likewise, food impacts our immune function by raising or lowering inflammation levels and can even impact our mood, brain health and risk for chronic disease. In a perfect world, we will always rely on both fitness and nutrition for our health.

But right now, we’re not living in a perfect world…

With the threat of lockdowns, quarantines and snow storms abound this winter, I think it’s wise to get ahead of things by adjusting your meals and snacks to focus on inflammation-fighting foods so that your body has a strong immune system in place if/when your exercise plans have to change. 

I’ve worked with many personal training clients who hail from Italy, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, Brazil, Argentina, India and the Philippines, to name a few. These individuals have varied in gender, age, ethnicity and race, but nearly all of them have lamented to me about their struggles with weight gain and fatigue since moving to America. Even when they try to control portion sizes and calories, many of them complain that they’re still bigger than ever before. The short answer to their weight gain challenges is wrapped up in one word: inflammation.

 

 

Western diets are rife with refined white carbohydrates like breads, pastries, crackers, cereals and bars, all of which promote inflammation. Western diets also center on red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fried foods, not to mention bouts of alcohol consumption exceeding healthy limits for men and women.

(Need proof? Check out how alcohol consumption has changed since the pandemic began: Yikes.)

Many people try to beat the fat-hoarding that our bodies do on a western diet by resorting instead to popularized diets like low-fat, low-carb, keto, intermittent fasting, and more. Although weight loss is possible on any diet through caloric restriction alone, the aforementioned diets tend to miss out on certain essential vitamins and minerals that are optimal for health, hormonal balance and immune function.

For instance, consider the intermittent fasting diet known for improving metabolic health. The diet is more about timing of eating rather than quality of eating. Misinformed individuals might start out on this diet and presume that their “feeding windows” can be filled with as many calories as they want or whatever foods they crave. In some cases, an individual cutting calories might lose a large amount of weight while consuming mostly nutrient-poor foods. Although they are dropping weight on the scale there can still be underlying inflammation and overall poor health.

Weight loss is not always correlated with good internal health.

 

 

According to Lisa Mosconi, author of Brain Food and The XX Brain, the only diet that has been scientifically proven to improve women’s brain health is a Mediterranean diet. If you’re wondering why brain health is important to overall body health, let’s just say that Mosconi makes countless compelling, evidence-based, scientific arguments demonstrating that brain health is the epicenter of women’s hormonal health and regulation (and thereby also largely influences inflammation). In fact, according to Mosconi, more women over the age of 60 will be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s than with breast cancer.  

The brain is the dashboard for our bodies and when we eat in ways that promote its health we are also reducing inflammation and equipping our immune systems for disease prevention over the entire lifespan. Mosconi’s evidence-based research points to a Mediterranean diet full of omega fatty acids found in nuts, fatty fish and legumes as being crucial for women’s brain health. Fresh vegetables and fruits along with nutrient-dense whole grains and extra virgin olive oil are also staples of the Mediterranean diet. 

Two of my favorite examples of how nutrition can play a role in our inflammation levels, brain health and hormonal balance come from Mosconi’s The XX Brain:

Mosconi cites studies that demonstrate how increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy can help reduce incidence rates of postpartum depression in women. She also discusses how whole cow’s milk contains more estrogens than skim or low-fat cow’s milk and thus promotes better hormonal balance and fertility for women. Mosconi explains that the skim and low-fat cow’s milk consumption promotes a higher level of male-dominant hormones in women’s bodies, tipping the scales towards fertility challenges for some.

 

 

Personally, I find this fascinating and eye-opening. Nutrition plays a huge role in the complicated web of inflammation, hormones and immune function. For that reason, I encourage any curious woman out there to pick up The XX Brain and spend some time in Chapter 9: Food Matters for Your Grey Matter and Chapter 10: Eight Steps to a Well-Nourished Brain. You will come away with a ton of new knowledge to help you improve both immune function and hormonal balance, even if you’re already well versed in women’s health.   

In summary, a Mediterranean diet has been scientifically proven to focus on all the nutrients we need for optimal health and low levels of inflammation. The great news is that you can consume these foods in whatever “style” of eating you wish; intermittent fasting programs, three big meals a day, six small meals a day or whatever works best for you! 

If you’re not sure where to start then check out drool-inspiring recipes on Pinterest or any one of 500 go-to Mediterranean recipes in this cookbook: The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook. Remember, just because this cuisine has been proven to improve health and reduce levels of inflammation doesn’t mean you have to throw out your other favorite foods and styles of cooking. There’s still plenty of room in a week of cooking to enjoy healthy meals of all kinds; Indian, Thai, Mexican, Italian, you name it. Just keep the focus on nutrient density this winter and into the future; we’re living in an era when our natural defenses against bacteria and viruses, not to mention chronic diseases, is even more crucial. 

To your health and safety, 

Maggie