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?
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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.”
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:
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.
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.
I’ve been quiet on the blog and social media for the last month or so – and for good reason. Starting in mid-September, my husband and I started to get some bad news about the prognosis for our third son’s health and pregnancy outcome. We were devastated thinking about a child being born into a life of pain and suffering, and at the same time, we were mortified of losing him prematurely.
My body had been sending me signals that something was very “off” throughout this pregnancy and I feared for the worst. When I found out it was another boy (I have two sons already), my gut instinctively pulled hard: This little one is not okay. I could feel this truth deep down.
Sure, every pregnancy is different. I was told this countless times. “But this feels really different,” I kept repeating to friends and family, at a loss of what else to say.
As a health professional, who is very in tune with her body, I knew this time was wildly different from both of my other pregnancies. I couldn’t take a deep breath, my lungs struggling against some intangible resistance, and I couldn’t read bedtime stories without my heart racing. Every time I climbed the stairs in our home to retrieve a child from naptime or to help with brushing teeth, I would gasp for air.
In all of my adult life, I’ve never been sidelined from exercise. Not after having either of my other sons and not after being hit by a car. At these crossroads, I carefully scaled back my fitness efforts, focused on reducing inflammation, and moved my body through gentle, therapeutic exercises. During this pregnancy though, I could barely do anything. I felt crippled and perpetually exhausted, like life itself was invisibly seeping out from my pores, escaping me.
I told myself it’s all worth it for a healthy baby.
But…what happens when we don’t get our happy ending? What happens when our plans become undone? Or worse yet, what becomes of us when loss and grief strike with the force of a wrecking ball to the jaw?
That’s where I landed this pregnancy: At the pit of loss. The valley of the shadow of death. The mysterious somewhere between here and there, the intersection of heaven and earth, the place of struggle between shattered dreams and hope. The great purgatory of life where, at our worst moments, we must find the strength to pull ourselves up and out, despite being exhausted to our bones and filled inside with the stuff of nightmares.
I had already experienced loss with a former pregnancy that took place before the conception and birth of my second son. That miscarriage filled me with sadness and dashed hope, but I managed to put myself back together rather quickly, all things considered, and was soon thereafter filled with a complicated mixture of excitement and anxiety when I became pregnant again.
The impending nature of this loss felt different given what we had learned. It felt anticipated, agonized over, feared, and maybe, if I’m being completely honest, like something that might be the safest thing to happen to our child. This impending loss held implications that our child might not have to suffer from complicated surgeries after being born with a slim chance of survival. It would mean that his big brothers would never shed tears and sob into their parents’ arms about something so traumatic that their little-big hearts would strain to understand while simultaneously feeling it deeply. No parent ever wishes to lose a child. When we found out that we had lost our sweet Jake, we broke apart.
We prayed over our son’s loss with a chaplain at the hospital before surgery. Funeral arrangements were already in place. We felt a sense of peace in the middle of this loss, strange peace, the variety of which only comes from a greater power in the universe. Leading with a spiritual mindset, I prayed and said one last goodbye to my son as my vision went black on the surgery table.
When I woke up, I saw that the clock on the wall was showing a time that was alarmingly late in the day. I expected to wake up nearly four hours earlier than those glaring, sharp red numbers indicated.
What happened? This isn’t right, I recall thinking.
And I assumed correct: Things were definitively not right.
While still in an anesthesia fog, the surgeon explained to me that I had experienced rare and unexpected medical complications during what is otherwise a routine and short surgery. Although the medical team thought that everything had gone smoothly, I began to bleed excessively. The doctors tried to find the source of bleeding but faced the grim truth that the bleeding was internal and the only way to get it under control was through emergency abdominal surgery.
My throat felt tight and dry from being intubated as I regained consciousness and blinked at those red clock numbers. I groggily repeated the same questions over and over again to the surgeon, trying to grasp the reality of what had just happened. The doctor kept explaining to me that an artery and one of my fallopian tubes had ruptured and that I now had stitches from my naval to pelvis, both internal and external. As I looked down at my body I noticed large needles secured into veins on both hands from blood transfusions.
Minutes away from a hysterectomy, they said, but thankfully it was averted at last minute.
Almost a hysterectomy? Potentially life-threatening blood loss?Emergency open surgery? My mind was in a panic. I tried to sit up straight in the recovery room only to be pulled backwards onto the hospital bed with the unbelievable force of a thunderous headache.
The complications were so much for me to mentally and emotionally process that I briefly forgot about the grief we had been feeling. When it finally resurfaced, I felt like I might not be able to breathe. It felt like my entire life was ending and beginning, all at once.
My recovery nurse at the hospital said, “We’re going to take it one hour at a time, sweetie. Today is your day one.” And somehow, that’s exactly what it felt like. I was no longer the same woman – not emotionally, physically or even spiritually. I had been stripped down and given the chance to rebuild myself from the deepest parts of grief and loss.
The rebuilding part is all very fresh and new…and painful. But, as an eternal optimist, I know that I will find a way to rise up from this, bearing in mind what I have learned through the years about the intricate web of wellness and how it steers the healing process. Although it’s a long story, and one I’m not ready to share in detail, there was a period of time both right before and after the surgery when I felt so much connection with the universe; with God; with a higher power calling me to lean into faith and trust.
I can’t say with any measure of confidence that every bad thing that happens in life has profound meaning or a silver lining. I don’t believe that rock solid faith equates to good outcomes for a person. Sometimes, bad things simply happen to good people and there’s no sense or reason to it. Lives can be derailed and sometimes tragically never get back on the tracks.
But when the busy and self-centered nature of our lives fades to the background, and when all the noise is just so…noisy…that suddenly it sounds far off in the distance…in that place of great tragedy, I have felt that there is a hidden presence. A great comforter. Something – or someone – that is there, despite all logic and denial. And it is enough.
“How is it enough?” You might ask.
I can’t claim to have the explanation. It’s something that is simply felt; a raw and honest truth that is born from deep within, whispering to us that we are beautiful. We are loved. We are safe.
Contrary to logic, my husband and I have also felt glimmers of joy in the middle of this season of suffering… Not because we wanted to lose a child or felt relieved of all grief because he would never experience pain. Joy doesn’t come from those horrors…
True, unbridled, unexpected joy openly presented itself to us through the love and compassion that we received from those who walked through this tragedy with us.
Thanks to loved ones checking on us, we felt glimmers of hope on the other side of exhausting, anxiety-riddled nights spent tossing and turning in our beds, awaiting whatever the future might hold. Friends who sent thoughtful gifts and messages of support from far and near helped us feel a little less lonely and scared while we sat at the doorstep of loss in the midst of an already-very-lonely pandemic. Because of social distancing no one ever stepped into my kitchen to hug me tightly while I cried, but it felt like they did, just the same. The love was so palpable and tender. So near.
Genuine compassion is rare…and we recognized in the middle of our deepest hurt that what we were receiving from others was one of the truest gifts possible in this short life of ours. For this, we are eternally grateful. Not everyone experiencing grief and loss has a solid support system. I know there are many lonely, hurting people out there in the world. To all of these people, and in particular, to women walking through an unexpected season of child loss from any reason – miscarriage, stillbirth, ending a wanted pregnancy, infant loss, or the death of a child at any age, young or old, I hope you know that a hidden presence exists near your suffering. You’re never truly alone.
I’m battling fatigue from all this trauma alongside feelings of anxiety and grief every time that I catch a glimpse of the newly-forming scar in the center of my stomach. I know that there is a lot of work to do; physically to recover, mentally to become whole again, and spiritually to persevere and allow my scar to slowly…somehow…become beautiful. Today, my healing incision serves as a reminder of one of the hardest times of my life. It’s easy to resent the sight of it. But, as one who has recovered from trauma before, I know that pain can become beautiful. It’s peculiar how life can happen like that. And I know that wellness of all kinds is necessary for facilitating the metamorphosis.
So, off I crawl…
Off I fly.
“Wounds don’t heal the way you want them to, they heal the way they need to. It takes time for wounds to fade into scars. It takes time for the process of healing to take place. Give yourself that time. Give yourself that grace. Be gentle with your wounds. Be gentle with your heart. You deserve to heal.” -Dele Olanubi
I recently had the pleasure of joining MyFitnessPal as a featured expert for the fourth time. I’m so honored! The pandemic has proven that nothing beats the medicinal power of getting outside of our homes for fresh air and a brisk walk. Oftentimes, the weight loss potential that can happen with daily walking is underestimated. Check out Your Fail-Safe Walking Formula for Weight Loss to learn how to use this healthy habit to shed pounds and feel great!
More people than ever are turning to outdoor running as a safe option for exercise during the pandemic. Whether you’re new to running or a regular runner, it’s likely that you’ve experienced pain associated with running at some point. This is extremely common. We tend to believe that running is something everyone can and should be able to enjoy since it’s one of the most natural forms of exercise. Unfortunately, the reality is that running without pain is not always the norm. Regular running takes a toll on the body and requires proactive measures for it to remain pain free.
Below are eight commons reasons that running might cause pain, along with exercises, stretches and actions you can take to keep yourself healthy and ready to hit the pavement.
Please note: I will be posting videos on my IGTV over the next few weeks to help people better understand the exercises and stretches under “actions to take” for each issue. Join me on Instagram for the latest updates.
1. IT Band Syndrome
Pain Location: Lateral aspect of knee, top of hip or both
What it is: Overuse of the connective band of tissue that runs from the hip to the knee on the outside of the thigh. Although most commonly associated with overuse from running, the IT band can also get excessively tight from weak muscles in the glutes, hips, legs and low back. If you feel pain or tightness on the outside of your knee when your heel hits the ground during running then your IT band is in need of stretching and/or cross-training for injury prevention.
Actions to Take: A balance of flexibility and strength training is usually key for preventing IT band syndrome. Foam rolling is a great first action to take even though it may feel uncomfortable on the outer thigh if your IT band is especially tight. It will get easier the more you do it. (I recommend a high-density roller by SPRI.) Stretching the IT band can also be done by crossing the tight leg behind the other and leaning the torso away from the affected side. Lastly, strengthen weak muscles and replace a couple days of running with strength training for a while. Two great exercises to start with are clam shells and hip bridges while squeezing a medicine ball, pilates ring or yoga block between the thighs.
2. Weak Transverse Abdominus
Pain Location: Low back, hip flexor tightness, sometimes achilles pain too
What it is: The transverse abdominus (TA) is a muscle that wraps around the core and stabilizes it. Subsequently, it also helps stabilize the pelvis and the spine. When the TA is strong, it helps prevent low back pain and keeps the pelvis in the correct position. When it’s weak, the pelvis drifts into an anterior tilt and places strain on the lumbar spine. The TA can become weak from lack of use, incorrect use or improper pelvic and spinal posture.
Actions to Take: Physical therapy and Pilates training are both great options for learning how to properly engage the TA. If these options are inaccessible then simply start with supine pelvic tilts, dead bugs, and planks drawing the belly button to spine so that the stomach flattens.
3. Large Q-angle
Pain Location: Medial aspect of knee; can result in patellofemoral pain syndrome, chrondromalacia or ACL injuries
What it is: The q-angle is a measurement from the patella (knee cap) to a point on the pelvis. This measurement tends to be larger for women due to greater pelvic width (“them birthing hips!”). The larger the q-angle, the greater the stress on the knee due to the patella tracking more laterally instead of smoothly up and down.
Actions to Take: Although structural width of the pelvis is obviously out of our individual control, women can take proactive measures to strengthen the medial aspect of the knee and to keep the lateral aspect from being too tight. This might include wall squats and glute strengthening for enhanced stability as well as isolated quadricep extension with rotation to target the vastus medialis obliqus (VMO) – i.e. the most medial muscle fiber in the quadriceps group. Stretching tight muscles such as hamstrings, calves and the lateral aspect of the quadricep can also prove helpful.
4. Unstable Ankles
Pain Location: Ankle pain or weakness and/or plantar fascia pain. Can also impact higher joints resulting in knee, hip and/or low back pain.
What it is: Unstable ankles result from weak muscles in the feet and/or lower legs. Core stabilization also impacts how stable the ankles are. If you notice discomfort in the ankles or feet when running then you might need to improve stability, especially if you are prone to ankle sprains.
Actions to Take: Balancing exercises can be useful for improving ankle stability. It’s easy to get creative with how these are done too (single leg reach, balancing side leg lifts, dancer’s pose, warrior III, and more). Towel grabs and other foot strengthening exercises can also prove useful. Rolling out the plantar fascia with a pin roller or on a lacrosse ball can help release tight areas that compensate for weakness.
5. Improper Footwear
Pain Location: Pain usually begins in the foot but higher joints can eventually become painful if footwear is not corrected
What it is: Improper footwear can be the result of shoes that are worn out, tied too tight or loose, or are not correctly fitted to your foot shape, length and/or width. Running shoes that fit properly should have approximately 1/2-inch room after the toe before the end of the shoe. They should not cut off circulation when laced up and also should not slip down the heel. A proper fit for your arch is extremely important too. Whether you have a neutral, high or low arch matters a lot for running comfort and shoes should be fitted according to your individual needs. You know you’re ready for a new pair of shoes when you’ve run between 300-500 miles and the tread of the shoe is worn down. If you’re not sure how many miles you’ve run then a good rule is to replace shoes every six months.
Actions to Take: I like to tell people to visit smaller, local running stores to get fitted. Most have die-hard, passionate runners working in them and they are often trained in basic gait analysis so they can get you the right shoe.
6. Weak Abductors
Pain Location: Weak abductor muscles (think the lateral part of your glutes that stabilize your hips, low back and outer thighs) can result in IT band syndrome, patellofemoral pain syndrome and/or abductor tears. Most of these injuries are from overuse of the muscles while running and/or jumping during sports. Overuse doesn’t always mean that a muscle is strong. As is usually the case with abductors, these injuries stem from weak muscles.
What it is: Weak abductor muscles can be identified in one of several ways: 1) Perform a squat and note if your knees drift inward. This is a telltale sign that the abductors are weaker than the opposing muscle group (the adductors). 2) Make note of your foot’s arch. Many people who are flat-footed and excessively pronate tend to have weak abductors. 3) Perform a clamshell or side lying leg lift with the leg that is lying on top. If this feels difficult right away or quickly after starting, your muscles may need strengthening.
Actions to Take: Clamshells and side-lying leg lifts are two of the first exercisees I recommend to clients, as well as supervised side lunges with correct form. Once a baseline of strength is established therabands are a great way to ramp up resistance and build on progress.
7. Poor Running Gait
Pain Location: Poor running gait can impact any joint or muscle in your body from head to toe depending on what the issue is.
What it is: Normal running is smooth and not “jumpy” looking. When there is excessive up/down movement that places extra stress on the joints. There should be a brief “flight phase” when both feet are off the ground but it shouldn’t look like a person is jumping rope or doing jumping jacks. Posture should be upright, not slumped, and arms should be bent at roughly 90 degrees at the elbows, staying relatively close to the body and swinging gently forward and back with slight rotational movement. If you notice that you’re bending forward in your torso while running or that your arms swing really low, high or wide then you may experience some upper body discomfort as well as lose energy efficiency in the exercise. Feet should be landing and rolling from mid-foot to forefoot smoothly, not striking hard with the heel first. Lastly, stride length should be appropriate for your size and athleticism. For most people, a large stride length reduces hip extension and causes issues. If you feel that you’re a “heel striker” then correcting your stride length might be the place to start.
Actions to Take: It’s extremely hard to analyze your own gait. As you may be able to tell, gait analysis is complicated and takes an expert’s experienced eyes and feedback. You can start by filming yourself running outdoors or on a treadmill and seeing if anything stands out as appearing unusual – sometimes you might surprise yourself! But your best bet is to get with a running coach or personal trainer who specializes in running. You could even test your luck at a local running store when you get fitted for your next pair of shoes. Sometimes these stores have treadmills set up so that experts can help offer feedback on your shoe and running gait needs.
8. Poor Running Posture & Thoracic Weakness
Pain Location: To be fair, I already mentioned poor running posture in the last section about running gait, but it warrants more attention. Nearly every week I see a handful of runners in my neighborhood alone who are in dire need of postural help. You may consider improving your posture while running if you feel pain in your upper back, neck and/or shoulders afterwards. Poor posture can translate down your body and result in weak glutes, tight hip flexors and improper foot strike.
What it is: When thoracic and spinal extension muscles such as traps, rhomboids, lats, rear delts, erector spinae, multifidus and more are weak then it becomes difficult for the torso to maintain an upright position during running. As the body slumps forward the lungs close off, making breathing more labored, and the hip flexors take over work that hip extensors should be driving.
Actions to Take: Strength training several times a week is critical to correct posture so that you can run pain free and so that you can *live* pain free. Posture impacts quite a lot. One of the most important places to start is with thoracic extensions. In other words, teaching your body to isolate and lift tall from the upper back. Trunks lifts from a mat or prone on a bosu ball are great options. Also, it will be important to do full spine extensions from a mat. Quadruped exercises and supermans are great beginner exercises. Dumbbells and weight machines might also come in handy to target the rotator cuff, traps, rhomboids, rear delts, lats, etc. To sum, kick-start a strength training program focused on the back and/or find one to follow along with.
I’ve been averse to product pushing for years. I can’t tell you how many pyramid scheme companies and product rep opportunities I’ve turned down – it’s a lot. It’s just not me. I’m a writer and services girl – here for you always if you have fitness and wellness questions or needs! All that said, I recognize the value in trusted recommendations, especially as we collectively seek to improve our wellness and quarantine-life experiences. So, here are my favorite wellness products at the moment…
This Molekule Air Filter might be the ideal solution for your seasonal allergy, dust & dander, mold, virus and bacteria concerns. The Molekule is designed to filter *and* destroy these particles, meaning that they won’t get recirculated in your living space. Molekule is designed to help you breathe easier thanks to its Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) nanotechnology. It even removes things like VOC fumes and odors from the air. The design in the photo below is for 250 sq ft but other models cover larger rooms (for a price). I think this is a really wonderful option for some people, and well worth the price – especially for city dwellers in apartment or condo buildings.
Five years ago I wrote a deeply personal blog article titled My Diary. Air France. A Happy Ending. It was about losing my self-made version of a gratitude journal in an airport in France and how it miraculously made its way back to me months later. I will confess that I’ve fallen out of the habit of keeping a gratitude journal and have substituted other forms of gratitude practice and self care in its place, but I will be the first to resume the daily habit should I ever find the need….and honestly, that timing might be soon. This Good Days Start with Gratitude journal might be the perfect thing for your mental health too. But feel free to start or end your day with it. As someone who used to struggle with sleep, I found that reflecting on positives at the end of the day helped me the most.
If you’re interested in sticking to your Barre routine but don’t want to venture away from the comfort of your bedroom then check out the Booty Kicker! My best friend (you know who you are!) is a hardcore Barre girl and swears by the Booty Kicker. It has a rack for dumbbells built in (weights sold separately) and is easy to mount a screen onto so you can follow along virtually with your favorite instructor. It also folds down for easy storage. I’ve found that many group exercise classes are relatively easy to simulate with props at home, with the exception of Barre, but that’s now a thing of the past!
I guess I’m finally getting on board with the whole Collagen supplement thing. Although collagen can help with skin and hair health, that has never motivated me to use it. I generally find that my skin and hair are healthiest when my nutrition is well balanced and natural. But recently, I learned more about how collagen supplements might help joint pain thanks to helping the body rebuild cartilage. As someone who sometimes struggles from back pain due to an old accident, I’ve often wondered what my old age has in store for me with joint health. Collagen supplements just might be worth the cost! Plus, this Collagen Peptide brand is unflavored so it can be added to virtually any beverage – even hot coffee or tea!
I have and will always be a raging fan of foam rolling. I do it almost every day and the benefits are tremendous for my physical comfort. Foam rolling helps relax the myofascial tissue surrounding our muscles, reducing areas of restriction, tightness, discomfort, and aches. My favorite style of foam roller is high density like this one by SPRI and it comes in 3 sizes; 12 inch, 18 inch or 36 inches long. If you’re thinking of traveling with it then opt for the 12 inch, but if you want one for the house then I suggest the 36 inch. A long foam roller will allow you greater freedom of movement when rolling out and is a great tool to lie on vertically for chest-opening stretches.
Pilates circles like the URBNFIT Pilates Toning Ring are often overlooked by people stocking up on equipment for their home gyms. I’m here to get this magical prop on your radar! Not only are Pilates rings extremely versatile props but they are also one of a few pieces of home exercise equipment that’s excellent for targeting the inner thigh muscles. The URBNFIT ring comes in 3 colors and includes an accompanying smartphone app that guides both seasoned athletes and beginners through appropriate and effective Pilates exercises. This is a great combo for anyone looking to switch up their home workout routine.
Are you as big of a fan of massage as I am? The fact that two products on this short list of favs include massage-like functions should tell you a little bit about me (and how often I pester my husband for foot and neck rubs). But *this* Zyllion Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager is a dream for anyone who has tight neck and shoulder muscles from uncomfortable work-at-home conditions and/or pandemic-related stress. Not only does the Zyllion massage sore muscles but it also helps them relax through heat. No more need to miss the spa! You can attach it to a high back desk chair or simply lean against it on the couch. Once you return to the traditional schedule of commuting to work you can even put it across your driver’s seat so you can decompress to and from the office!
Leave it to a pandemic and social media to take resistance bands (which have been around forever) and make them look sexy. Almost everywhere you turn there are so-called fitness influencers using them in exercise video clip tutorials – because they work! These resistance loop exercise bands by Fit Simplify are a popular choice in the sea of options and come in 5 different levels of resistance. The bands are portable and easy to store. They can also be used for a wide range of exercises from physical therapy and stretching to strength training.
What are your favorite wellness brands? Have you found anything to be especially useful or enjoyable during the pandemic? Please drop your favs in the comments so we can all help each other out!
Yours in health and wellness,
*Full disclaimer: I will receive a small sales commission for purchases from affiliated links in this post. Any and all proceeds will be used for the blog’s maintenance and future content.
Breastfeeding…ugh. Even after three collective years of doing it, I’m still baffled by how difficult it can be. Breastfeeding is by far and large the most challenging thing I’ve done in my life. Period. And that’s saying a lot for someone who has rehabbed an injured back following getting hit by a car. I’ve run several grueling marathons too. Breastfeeding still takes the cake. Unmedicated labor (I shudder in memory) or breastfeeding? I can’t believe I’m about to say it but yes, breastfeeding. But here’s the thing, through all the self-sacrifice and uphill battles to exclusively breastfeed, I would do it again for the next baby, if possible. It’s one of the things in my life that I’m most proud of.
I’m sharing my stories and struggles today to shed light on how hard breastfeeding can be. It’s not always hard for every mom, but it was for me and I know it is for many. If it weren’t so complicated and if moms felt better supported then I imagine that the 4 out of 5 moms who start out nursing their newborns, presumably with the goal of breastfeeding, wouldn’t drop in numbers so drastically and quickly. By 3 months old only 50% of babies are still exclusively breastfed and by 6 months old only 25% still are. If you’re asking yourself,
“Why does it feel so hard, unnatural, exhausting, painful, time-consuming, emotional, lonely, etc. to feed my baby?”
…then you’re not alone. Many moms think this but shame themselves into keeping silent about it because they feel it’s a sign they are “bad moms.”
If you struggle with breastfeeding please hear me when I say:
You are NOT a bad mom.
We are all doing our best. End of story. I hope sharing my personal breastfeeding journey will help some tearful or tired mom out there to feel less lonely. There are many tips and tricks for successful nursing that you can read about on other websites such as KellyMom and United States Lactation Consultant Association, but that’s not my objective today. For now, we’re talking simply about you, mama, and the emotional experience of the whole boob and baby thing.
Breastfeeding Baby #1: Carter
My first son was born a full month early. As a new mom I was completely bewildered. He was so tiny – his fingers, toes, nose, and mouth. Mouth…mouth…if you’ve ever had pain from a full-term baby’s latch just imagine that pain with a smaller, preemie mouth. According to the Loire Infant Follow-up Team (LIFT) study, only 16% of premature babies were breastfeeding at the time of hospital discharge, an indication of how difficult it is to nurse them. Having a premature baby is overwhelming and taxing in more ways than I can list, and every mom is dealing with unique health challenges and concerns for their child. I got lucky that my son, Carter, didn’t have to spend any time in the NICU but not so lucky for the fact that he had jaundice that required returning to the hospital for a bilirubin treatment amid a colossal blizzard.
Despite everything, I was feeling very empowered about breastfeeding in the first few days of my son’s life…that is, until returning to the hospital and having to place Carter’s wet diapers in a plastic bin to be weighed throughout a sleepless night while snow stacked up over 10 feet high outside. Carter’s scrawny limbs flailed under the bilirubin lights and he wore nothing but a diaper. The urge to snuggle and swaddle him tore me apart. Carter was crying all night and trying to claw the protective eye wear off, despite multiple nurses’ attempts to change the fit and even tape it to his delicate skin. I was confused about how I was only supposed to take him out of the lights once every 2 hrs for 20 minutes when it took him about 40 minutes total to nurse at that point.
I started trying to pump for the first time (not recommended in the heat of stress and without proper support) so that I could bottle or syringe feed him under the lights. I proudly showed a nurse what I got from pumping for a few minutes and she shook her head and told me that it wasn’t much of anything and that “some moms will pump several ounces from each breast.” I will never forget how deflated I felt in that moment. I was trying my best in challenging circumstances and needed emotional support that was completely absent. In retrospect, I think I actually pumped a normal amount of milk for only a few days postpartum and a premature baby. That nurse should have boosted me up and encouraged me to keep honing my new craft. Instead, as can so often be the case, new moms are made to feel that their bodies are insufficient and can’t be trusted. This is so far from the truth that it brings me to tears.
That night, as my baby flailed under the bilirubin lights, I made a decision based solely on my maternal instinct, and which defied doctors’ orders. I let Carter nurse on/off all night long, with none of the called-for time restrictions, and I swaddled his arms to help him sleep, letting the light shine on his face and legs. I changed diapers under the lights too. Otherwise, and mostly, he was pulled to my breast as I fought off sleep with every weary muscle in my body. In the morning, Carter’s jaundice had improved enough to be discharged. In my most sincere opinion, it was because of the power of breastmilk, not the lights.
Did I mention that Carter was born with a tongue tie? Yes, well…this explains some of the difficulty nursing too, doesn’t it? A tongue tie makes it nearly impossible for a baby to latch and nurse properly, almost always causing severe pain and nipple bleeding for the mom. I can still recall how he would pull on and off, trying to find an effective latch. I had severe letdown pain each time that felt like someone stabbing a knife in my chest. I would practice deep breathing and wiggle my toes until he finally settled and the letdown pain subsided. I burned through so many tubes of nipple cream that first month while we waited for the procedure to resolve his tongue tie.
Those initial challenges were substantial and it was *very* tempting to quit. After the first month, my sore nipples healed and things settled a bit, but Carter being born early meant I needed to keep nursing him frequently through the night instead of letting him dictate the pace. By the time Carter weighed enough to go to on demand at night, he was so habituated to waking frequently that he never slept longer than a few hours until 6 months old when we did some sleep training. Sleep deprivation was and will continue to be the one thing that physically, mentally and emotionally wrecks me.
All the early struggles were followed by normal breastfeeding hurdles like teething, biting, feeding frenzies, pumping, etc. When I reached my 12-month goal for breastfeeding I was shocked that I wasn’t ready to wean. I kept counting down to Carter’s first birthday but then suddenly, weaning didn’t feel right. Nursing was finally snuggly, “easy,” and something I came to enjoy. Sitting down to rest after chasing a young toddler around and enjoying the sweet stillness together was absolutely lovely, even with toes dancing across my face and hands tangling my necklaces. I couldn’t believe how I had transformed: I turned into a mom who liked nursing and shed tears when the bond reached its conclusion when Carter was around 1.5 years old.
Breastfeeding Baby #2: Colby
When my second son arrived right on time at 40 weeks with a great latch from the start (unlike his older brother), I thought to myself: “I’ve got this. I’m a pro by now.” I really tried to boost my ego and relished in staying more laid back than the first time. We took our full-term baby home with no known health complications and celebrated that this time would be “easy.” Oh how wrong we were!
My second baby, Colby, was a content little guy. Except for 15-20 minutes of crying each night at 10 pm that first month, he was happy, slept well and nursed like a champ. Well, so I thought. Colby was gaining weight but not as quickly as the doctor wanted. He slipped a little from his growth curve but there was nothing of major concern. This confused me because I was very engorged at the time and felt I had an oversupply with a strong letdown. The pediatrician anticipated that the stress of traveling with my baby a month after his birth (I was matron of honor for my cousin’s wedding) had taken a toll on his feeding schedule and my milk supply. I worked hard to add nursing sessions when we got back home, even though my baby didn’t seem to demand them. In retrospect, this is when I needed to get with a private lactation consultant. The hospital-led lactation support group I attended was warm and fuzzy but not helpful enough.
Around the second month of Colby’s life we were told that he needed to be put in a rhino brace for clicking hips. This is protocol for hip dysplasia and although Colby didn’t have full-blown hip dysplasia he was at risk for it, ironically the result of his tight positioning in the womb (which hadn’t been fully stretched in my prior pregnancy due to pre-term labor). I could always tell that Colby’s latch majorly suffered once in the rhino brace, especially on one side due to torticolis that would be soon diagnosed, but I was so sleep deprived and the hip brace was such an ordeal to take on and off all day for diaper and outfit changes that the latch issue slipped to the back of my mind. To this day, I wish that it hadn’t.
By the time Colby’s hip brace was no longer needed he had dropped precipitously in weight and had reached the 3rd percentile, perhaps in part due to increasing reflux that was made worse by the brace. Even still, I couldn’t understand – I know what I’m doing, right? I successfully breastfed another child for 1.5 years already! My dilemma just goes to show how every baby is wildly different, even for veteran moms, and that breastfeeding must be flexible and responsive. I was very grateful that the pediatrician never guilt-tripped or shamed me for Colby’s weight struggles, and she never threw out that ugly term “failure to thrive.” Except for his weight, Colby was thriving beyond my expectations. The feisty little guy was rolling BOTH directions by 8 weeks old and started social smiling at a month old when he first heard “Canon in D” by Pachelbel. His curiosity and energy felt unsurpassed for such a little man.
At the 3 month postpartum mark a talented LC finally came to my home and gave me the rundown of what it would take to get my milk supply and Colby’s weight back up. Let me tell you this: It was NOT easy. Her plan was for me to breastfeed 10x/day, supplementing with donor breastmilk after 6 of the feedings. I was to pump to empty any time my breasts didn’t feel drained and I had to pump after nighttime feedings. Basically, I had zero time for anything except breastfeeding, bottle feeding and pumping. In addition, I took fenugreek and did breast compressions for every feeding. There were times I wasn’t convinced I could do it. It was insanely hard, especially at that point when most moms have the luxury of longer nights of sleep and less rigorous nursing schedules. I felt exhausted and guilty that it was difficult to tend to my older son.
Gradually, I was able to drop the bottle feedings and my son still gained weight (.75-1 oz/day) on my milk alone, even though he didn’t drop from 10 to 8 feedings/day until 7 months old, probably thanks to the introduction of solids. Right as I finally took a big sigh of relief, Colby began teething like crazy, waging nursing strikes, and pulling off the breast any time his big brother was around, eager to play instead of eat. I felt like I might go mad! All my hard work was in jeopardy. We pulled through the rough patch but the exhaustion and emotional toll finally set in. I began seeing a therapist for postpartum anxiety and I’m so glad that I got support. Frankly, I wish I had gotten it sooner.
Colby is now 17 months old and still nursing twice a day, morning and night. It’s mostly comfort nursing, not nutritional, but it’s a snuggly time that we both enjoy. I’m proud that we weathered the storm and can’t believe that I actually went from under supply to over supply around the 1-year mark. Small pumping sessions, getting just a few ounces each time, added up to roughly 150 ounces of breastmilk for my freezer stash. I could scarcely believe it! I have never been one of those moms who pumps a ton so for me, this was a true accomplishment and the result of my tireless efforts.
It was such an honor to be able to donate 100 ounces of *my breastmilk* this summer to a mom who had to leave her 6-month old to go serve our country. I couldn’t think of a more important thing to do with it than pay it forward. Once upon a time, a mom donated to me and now, I get to return that kindness to another mom who needs support. How amazing is that? (Not to mention, free!)
Breastfeeding is a two-way relationship between mom and baby. Sometimes you do everything “right” and it’s still hard. Some moms have milk that is very fatty and caloric while other moms have milk more like skim milk, packing fewer calories per ounce. Some moms have difficult babies with violent reflux like Colby developed and others have babies that are ravenous eaters like my Carter was, making even congenital obstacles less insurmountable.
Every mom’s set of circumstances is completely different. We have different birth stories, goals, careers, emotional needs, spouses, levels of support, babies of various temperaments, and more. I can’t argue that breastfeeding is going to work out for every mom’s life circumstances, but I can say with some measure of oomph that breastfeeding is a great way to set a child up for wellness which is why, despite every obstacle and setback, I committed to breastfeeding/breastmilk, even when that took another mom helping me out.
I think most women would be surprised to find that casual milk sharing and donations are relatively common. Support does exist but it seldom walks through our front door. Moms and their loved ones must collectively bond and work to support the breastfeeding relationship and the mom’s breastfeeding goals, whatever they may be. Without this support, many women will only know the experience of nursing a newborn and not the complex bond that forms from nursing an older baby throughout its first year (or more) of life.
Even with ample support, there is no one secret answer for making breastfeeding work. It takes grit, perseverance and a lot of self sacrifice.
Y’all…breastfeeding is hard. End of story. Anyone who commits to it, even for a very short while, deserves a damn medal.
Gyms are carefully reopening in some places, taking action under government guidelines to increase cleaning and sanitation procedures. Gyms are also implementing new social distancing measures to ensure members’ safety. Although it’s intimidating to get back into the gym, your health is paramount during this pandemic and exercise bolsters wellness in many ways. Getting back into the gym is a personal choice that must be carefully considered based on health risk factors, mental comfort, and the extent to which your gym has taken appropriate actions to protect its members.
Here are some things to look for when/if you return to the gym or consider doing so. I’ve included a few recommendations on how to improve your safety from the minute you step into the gym to the moment you walk back into your home. Lastly, check out the tips for how to make the experience time-efficient and effective.
Considerations When Returning to Your Gym
Before stepping foot in the gym, check its website for COVID-19 updates. There’s a decent chance that your gym will have adjusted hours of operation and updated check-in procedures that you will want to familiarize yourself with. Reinstating your membership may also be a step that you need to take with a membership director prior to walking in for your first workout. This is likely done over email or phone right now while membership directors are working remotely and social distancing.
If your gym doesn’t have clear COVID-19-specific policies and adjustments then I strongly urge you to freeze your membership until it is safe to return or they adopt new policies. Many gyms have responded professionally and appropriately to the new operational challenges because 1) they need to stay in business, and 2) they care about their members. To help with this, many are using advance online registration for group classes and capacity trackers like Club Automation. These capacity trackers use real time data to reflect how busy (or not) the gym or fitness facility is, so you can decide from the comfort of your home whether or not you want to pay the gym a visit.
Gym Safety Check List
Below is a list of COVID-19 safety measures you should check for at your gym. Please note, this list is not exhaustive.
Temperature and wellness checks at sign-in.
Masks required in busy corridors such as the entrance/exit, stairwells, cafe, locker rooms and restrooms.
At least 6 ft of social distancing required between all members. 10 ft is even better indoors.
“Out of Service” signage on alternating pieces of gym equipment to ensure social distancing and/or rearrangement of equipment to create more distance and open space.
Encouragement of wearing face masks in areas with cardiovascular exercise equipment (when you’re breathing heavily and fast you expel more viral and bacterial particles into the air).
Ample supplies of hand sanitizer at check-in and on the gym floor as well as stocked soap dispensers in restrooms.
Limited capacity in any and all elevators on site.
No gym towels allowed on the gym floor (reduces spread of germs).
Signage asking members to wipe down equipment before and after use as well as ample supply of equipment wipes.
Reduced capacity for gym classes and enforced social distancing during participation.
More outdoor exercise class options with social distancing when/where feasible.
Possible signage and floor markings indicating traffic flow/walking directions through hallways and corridors.
Possible reduced overall gym capacity depending on government regulations and directives.
Possible upgrades to air filtration systems (can’t hurt to ask if your gym has the ability to invest in one that eliminates viruses and bacteria in large spaces).
Use this check-list to gauge which safety measures your facility of choice is leaning on and let it inform your decision about returning for exercise.
Gym Childcare – Is it Safe?
This is a really tricky one to answer. Scientists have seen hints that children pass COVID-19 among themselves at a lower rate than adult-to-adult transmission; however, research is fledgling at best. Unfortunately, it may take seeing how transmission rates change once school is back in session in some places come fall (hopefully they don’t get worse). Part of what will weigh your decision about the gym childcare will be:
Age of your child; children who are under 2 years old and mobile are likely putting everything in their mouths…which is probably, unfortunately, not so ideal.
Age of children who are able to wear masks versus those who are too young, and whether or not these different age groups will be playing in close proximity.
Health status of your household and family members.
Enhanced hygiene measures of the gym’s childcare; additional temp and wellness checks, modeling covering coughs/sneezes, hand washing upon entering and exiting, routinely cleaning toys and floors, etc.
Type of flooring in childcare – for gyms that have wood, tile or otherwise non-carpeted flooring, the facility should be deep cleaning it daily. Unfortunately, gyms with carpeted childcare areas are likely unable to deep clean the carpet every day because of how long it takes to dry. This may affect your choice, especially for parents with babies who are crawling.
Again, as long as safety measures are in place, this must be a personal choice you make. Please note: Bringing a symptomatic child into the gym childcare for the sake of your workout is irresponsible both during a pandemic and otherwise. Let’s all agree on this…please!
Extra Measures You Can Take to Boost Your Safety
Here are a few extra steps that I personally take when coming and going from the gym. I’ve done most of it since years ago when my oldest son was 15 months old and came down with a nasty case of bronchiolitis that landed him in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. To see a loved one struggle for air is a horrible experience. I don’t wish it on anyone.
Leave wedding bands and rings at home to keep them both clean and safe – bleach-based gym wipes and cleaners can erode certain metals.
Bring and wear workout gloves or disposable gloves if you have sensitive skin and/or allergic reactions to the gym wipes, sanitizer, etc. Also not a terrible idea to help reduce overuse of hand sanitizer.
While exercising at the gym, consider wearing a face mask for your entire workout, even if it’s not required. Double-layer masks that include some type of air filter sandwiched in the middle and masks that fit snugly (but are breathable) are great options because they offer you a little bit of protection while also boosting safety for others.
Store hand sanitizer in the side pocket of your car door or in your hand bag/gym bag in case you forget to wash your hands when you leave.
Remove gym shoes before entering your home.
Immediately put your reusable gym water bottle into the dish washer or sink for cleaning.
If you used your phone during your workout then clean the phone with a phone-safe wipe, cleaning solution, portable UV sanitation device, or PhoneSoap container at home. I like to clean my keys with my PhoneSoap too.
Wash your hands for 20 seconds, even if you already used hand sanitizer.
Promptly remove your gym clothes and face mask and place them in the washer or laundry basket – then go take a shower!
Now take a deep mask-less breath in the safety of your home and be glad you kept yourself both healthy and safe at the gym!
Tips for Making Your Gym Experience Time-Efficient & Effective
Wiping down equipment before and after use combined with certain machine restrictions will force you to think outside of your normal gym routine. I hope these tips are helpful so that you can have an effective workout on day one. If you have any other tips to offer please drop them in the comments!
If possible, limit workouts without masks to less than 45-60 minutes since the viral load of COVID-19 is shown to increase in this amount of time in enclosed spaces.
Use machines that you don’t have at home; save body weight and mat workouts for home.
Instead of rotating weight machines between sets (because machines will be limited and in need of wiping), complete all sets on one machine with short breaks between sets or do stationary exercises like squats/lunges/push-ups/planks in front of the machine during rest periods.
Buy a few sets of affordable dumbbells for home and use props like the roman chair, bench press, squat rack, plated machines, etc. while at the gym.
Skip the treadmill and save running for your neighborhood – choose the Stairmaster or ARC trainer on an incline for a great low-impact glute workout to switch things up.
Set a goal to finish your workout in less than 45 minutes and plan it out in advance. Your determination and effort might surprise you when you’re working towards a time goal.
Focus on three main things: Building cardiovascular health, muscle, and a sense of calm. We could all use a bit more of these things right now.
I hope you have a GREAT workout whether it’s at the gym or at home. Remember, staying healthy and well is the only critical component here, and that can happen essentially anywhere.
I had the honor of sharing my advice for a MyFitnessPal article back in the winter but publication was massively delayed when Covid19 changed the face of the earth as we know it. With gyms shuttered, the article became less timely. Now that gyms are gradually reopening (or perhaps now that you have more at-home equipment to work with), it’s well worth the effort to get acquainted with the basics of strength training.
The reality is that most of us aren’t getting in as much daily activity and movement these days. Focusing on acquiring or maintaining lean muscle mass is perhaps more critical than ever for our metabolisms and overall health.