Author Archives: wellnesswinz

About wellnesswinz

I am the Winz that writes WellnessWinz. The blog is mainly for women, but sometimes men can relate too. It's all about fitness, wellness and, most importantly, happiness. I believe in holistic living, humor and humility.

Remedies for Neck Pain and Stiffness

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 20% of adults report that they experience some degree of neck pain. Many of us will encounter at least one bout of neck stiffness or discomfort in our lifetime, whether from a bad night of sleep or poor posture from computer work. Recently, I’ve heard a cascade of complaints from friends and clients that their necks are bothering them and it makes my insides squirm to see them in discomfort. Let’s try to change that, shall we? Here’s my experience with neck pain and why I empathize, followed by at-home remedies and an upper cervical chiropractor’s expert advice.

 

Benefits of Natural Posture

As a young child, I thought it was normal that I could tilt my head ever-so-slightly and relax my gaze into double vision. It wasn’t until high school, body bent forward over text books and SAT-prep exams, that I realized I couldn’t see clearly when I shifted my visual attention from close to far (ex: it was difficult to read the time on the clock when I looked up from studying). I thought I needed glasses. It turned out that my vision was just fine; however, I was diagnosed with a “convergence insufficiency.” This condition, while minor, has caused me to tilt my head to reduce eye strain since childhood.

In a perfect world, I should be maintaining a straight gaze and posture, and forcing my eyes to work together to see clearly. But our bodies LOVE to be lazy. Instead, I’ve compensated and caused myself neck problems and tension over the years, especially during graduate school and when I was a nursing mom. So for all of you in pain, I feel ya! Been there many times. Every time my neck is out of alignment it strikes me how much it affects my energy and overall well-being.

You see, the neck is like the gateway for the entire nervous system. When part of it is inflamed, tight or out of alignment, unexpected problems can happen in the rest of the body, too.

Ideal neck alignment results in a happy nervous system.

When the body is in “neutral” or “ideal” alignment there are three natural curves in the spine; the lumbar, thoracic and cervical curves. These three curves make an “S-shape.” This is considered natural, healthy posture.

Other benefits of natural posture include:

  • Reduced back pain
  • Less frequent headaches
  • Regular bowel movements
  • Improved attention and mental clarity
  • Corrected scoliosis
  • Healthy pregnancy and female organ function
  • Improvements in asthma
  • Improvements in arthritis and joint pain
  • Lower incidence of ear infections
  • Lower blood pressure
  • ….and more: http://bit.ly/28QsqHw

If you have a minute, check out this video, from Chiropractors Without Borders!, where a nonverbal, wheelchair-bound child goes from a near-vegetative state to walking after one simple neck adjustment that frees up his entire nervous system, allowing it to jump start for the first time in years:

 

 

How to Relieve Neck Tension and Prevent Future Problems:

First, it’s important to bring attention to the one thing we tend to overlook when it comes to spinal health; NUTRITION! 

Poor nutrition and inadequate water intake can result in inflammation which consequently places stress on the nervous system. So, hydrate well and eat REAL food! You may even try giving inflammatory stuff like processed foods and alcohol a big break for a few weeks to months and see if that alone makes a difference in your quality of life and neck comfort.

 

Other Remedies for Relief…

  • Make sure your computer monitor is at eye level and directly in front of you

 

  • Avoid long periods of consecutive driving or looking down at your smartphone

 

  • Sleep in a neutral position; avoid pillows that cause your head to tilt up in one direction and try to regularly alternate your sleeping position to avoid tight muscles on one side of the body

 

  • If you find that the tension radiates from your neck down to shoulders, try to sit more upright during your work day (better yet, stand!) and hug a pillow at night to keep shoulders “stacked” and from rounding forwards

 

  • Get your partner, a professional or YOUR OWN HANDS to massage tight areas of your head, neck and shoulders. Some pressure points you can target with your fingertips include:
    1. the middle of the back of the skull
    2. behind the middle of your ears
    3. top of the jaw
    4. eyebrow line
    5. on your face slightly down from your nose (both sides)
    6. your temples
    7. all 10 fingertips on top of your head to massage various aspects of the head/scalp
    8. the top of the neck, right below the occiput (i.e., back of the head/skull)
    9. the inside front of your shoulder/top of chest
    10. the back of your shoulder/rear deltoid
    11. space between the clavicle and shoulder
    12. several inches below the armpit on the side of the chest
    13. …and last but not least; INSIDE YOUR MOUTH! This is crazy to try but SO EFFECTIVE thanks to the complex relationships between your facial and neck muscles. With *clean hands* try pulling the inside of your cheek out to stretch/rub it. Try the same with the inside of your lower lip all the way into the bottom of the cheek.

 

  • Put your neck into a gentle extension stretch to correct poor posture – this is often done through the use of a special “pillow” for support: http://bit.ly/2jNvjRU

 

  • Try the following gentle exercises for your neck, recommended by the Cleveland Clinic:
    1. Roll your shoulders backwards and down 10 times
    2. Squeeze your shoulder blades together 10 times
    3. Push your head backwards into your car head rest or hands and hold for 30 seconds
    4. Bring your ear to your shoulder 10 times on each side

 

 

  • Strengthen your posterior muscles for overall improvements in posture through the following exercises (note: these are best done for alignment maintenance and after knowing your body is in a neutral position. If you’re in pain or think you have a misalignment, seek a chiropractor first):
    1. Reverse flies
    2. High-to-low rows
    3. Lat pull downs
    4. Rotator cuff exercise
    5. Cable pulls in different angles for general back strengthening and endurance
    6. “Superman” back extensions
    7. Static cobra pose and/or cobra press-ups
    8. Back extensions from mat with gentle twist at top

 

  • Use heat or ice to provide relief from tension. A rule of thumb I tend to suggest for clients is to use ice if the pain is acute and heat if the pain lasts more than 48-72 hours. Note: Most professionals advise against sleeping with heat pads due to the risk of burns and interference with deep, quality sleep. Also, using ice for prolonged periods (over 15 or so minutes per application) can be bad for your nerves. So, use both in moderation and listen to your body for what it needs!

 

Misalignment in the Cervical Spine (i.e., neck)

A person’s neck can become misaligned due to one of the following reasons:

  • “A vertebra going out of place (‘misalignment’) because of a slip or fall (i.e., ‘macrotrauma’).
  • The entire spine misaligning globally due to poor posture.
  • Joint swelling caused by damage done to the intervertebral joint.
  • An inflammatory response caused by a poor diet, lack of pure water or psychological stress.
  • Osteoporosis or degenerative changes of the spine or intervertebral discs.
  • Trigger points and tight back muscles that pull the vertebrae out of place.”

Read more: http://bit.ly/28QsqHw

 

 

How to Identify Misalignment in the Spine

True misalignment can be present with or without pain. In both scenarios, misalignment lowers the optimal function of the body due to changes in internal health and physical performance. Note: Physical performance doesn’t just pertain to athletes. It can encompass how effectively one squats or stands up from a chair, and much more.

According to Upper Cervical Chiropractor Dr. Lauren Dodds, when a spinal misalignment is present, the body’s level of function is altered. Its fight-or-flight response becomes dominant. Although the body is trying to help itself survive, the fight-or-flight response can actually hinder the body from healing and growing, perpetuating more stress to an already overtaxed system.

Dr. Dodds explains that “thoughts, traumas and toxins” can all cause spinal misalignment. In other words, our spinal health is impacted by our emotional/personal lives, physical state and external environment. Dr. Dodds adds that although the strongest motivating factor for people to visit a chiropractor is pain, that shouldn’t be the only reason since, as mentioned, the impacts of misalignment are profound.

So, how do you know if you’re misaligned if you’re not experiencing pain?

Dr. Dodds suggests looking in a full-length mirror to see if you notice any asymmetries. You might notice that one shoulder is a little higher than the other or that one side of your hips juts forward. You can also have a trusted personal trainer or Pilates instructor do a postural analysis for you. In short, if you find that you’re out of alignment (or even if you simply suspect that you are), it’s a wise idea to find a chiropractor near you to visit.

Good news… *most* insurances will cover the visit and *most* chiropractors will accept it, so cost shouldn’t be a giant hindrance in a lot of scenarios. Either way, when you take care of your health through preventative measures like visiting a chiropractor and getting hands-on about relieving your own neck tension, your WHOLE BODY feels better and you prevent future problems from arising!

Cheers to living with optimal function and health! You deserve it.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

Advertisements

The Reason I Avoided Ab Exercises During Bikini Season (Pelvic Floor Health)

Let’s dive into an awkward subject, shall we? In fitness, we’re accustomed to discussing our hamstrings, glutes, biceps, the like. We explore the ins and outs of the large muscles in our body because they’re familiar and frankly, easy to feel (and sometimes see) during exercises. We’re less apt to talk about the small muscles deep in the pelvis because it typically involves discussing the big “V-word”…that’s right, VAGINA. I said it. Now let’s embrace the elephant in the room. 

Many of us are hesitant to talk about incontinence, leaking, prolapse and pains “down south.” We hear that mysterious exercises called “kegels” help, but we wonder whether we’re doing them right or not. Beyond that, we’re left in the dark. We assume that surely, these issues only happen following childbirth or into old age as we decline in fitness, but that’s not the case. Women can suffer from weakened pelvic floor muscles at any age, with or without having given birth, despite high or low levels of fitness, and even when knowing how to perform kegels. Sounds a bit daunting, but fear not… 

Confession Time

Take me, for example. I was at the gym doing a HIIT workout a few months ago when BAM. A gush of fluid rushed out of my “V-word” during a squat jump. I felt my face flush. What the ****??? I scaled down my workout that day and was nervous to run or jump during my next couple workouts. I wasn’t having any more leaking following that incident but I felt an increasing urge to pee, like all the time, for the next few days. And my girlfriends who have road-tripped with me already know about my notorious “tiny bladder” and its pit-stop needs. 

It was about four days later and my body still felt off. My husband and I decided to spend that Sunday evening taking our toddler to the grassy park overlooking Reagan National Airport to watch the planes coming in to land. Our son was giddy with excitement, having seen these planes many times from afar. Everything felt blissful and I was entranced by my child’s smiles. We were walking back to the car to head home when I felt a very sudden and very alarming feeling. It was as if something had fallen out of my vagina. It freaked me the heck out. Big time.

When I followed up with my OBGYN, I was told that my bladder was slightly lower than normal but that I wasn’t even a stage-1 level of pelvic organ prolapse. I was shocked because I thought certainly this feeling had to be associated with a more extreme condition. I was told to go home and do more kegels. That just wasn’t good enough for me, though. As a fitness professional, I know to always question one-stop-shop solutions, even healthy ones like performing kegels more regularly. That just couldn’t be enough, I thought, especially if I’m at a higher risk for developing true pelvic organ prolapse moving forward.

Let me take a step back and give you a little background as to where my body was at the time:

  • It was almost 1.5 years after giving birth to my son and I had recently finished breastfeeding
  • I stayed in shape during my pregnancy and postpartum, and was still regularly exercising
  • I had experienced zero issues with my vaginal health as I returned to pre-pregnancy fitness levels following childbirth – no vaginal tears (wowzers, I got lucky there) and no leaking or issues with bladder control
  • I was confident that I was doing kegels right but, admittedly, hadn’t done them as much following the first 6 months of the postpartum period

I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me at this point in time, so late after giving birth to my son, and with no warning signs. I knew there had to be a professional who could shed more light on the situation…and there was.

The Pelvic Floor 

I met a fantastic professional named Dr. Jennifer Nelson (PT, DPT, COMT, CMTPT) with Therapydia in Washington, DC, and she was the one who helped me get to the bottom of why this could be happening to me…and let me tell you, the answers were completely unexpected, but perfectly logical, at the same time. Here’s why she believed *my case* of near-prolapse occurred:

  1. Overly TIGHT muscles, not weak ones, particularly in my abdomen.
  2. Years of being in the fitness industry, sucking every core muscle in unnaturally, shifting the tilt of my pelvis under muscle tension and creating excess intra-abdominal pressure.
  3. An accident from nearly 10 years ago that caused my left piriformis to stay cramped up, causing a chronic stress on my pelvic muscles (this was something that could only be released through INTERNAL, manual palpation…that’s right, through the vagina).
  4. Caffeine consumption irritating the bladder and causing it to become hyper-reactive and perhaps inflamed (ahem…yes, I confess I was drinking more coffee than I should have been due to normal mom-fatigue). Apparently artificial sweeteners and alcohol can cause similar irritation.
  5. Hormones adjusting back to pre-pregnancy levels following the natural weaning of my son. In other words, breastfeeding hormones can keep joints and muscles more loose and tender, just like during pregnancy, so my body’s sudden, enhanced tightness may have been from hormones acting like a roller-coaster.

Every woman’s experience with prolapse symptoms, whether they’re full-blown or not, is different and brought on by unique causes.

 

Reality Check: Prolapse is Common (albeit not talked about)

While learning more about my own experience with these sensations, I discovered how common pelvic organ prolapse is. Prevalence in post-menopausal women is over 40% and in younger, pre-menopausal women, who have given birth to one child, mild to moderate prolapse has been discovered to be quite common as well. While weakened pelvic-floor muscles are thought to be one of leading causes of prolapse, there is still more being discovered.

 

Running, Lifting & Pilates

There are some researchers who suggest that increased abdominal pressure, created from lots of endurance running, heavy lifting, and/or Pilates and core exercises, contributes to prolapse issues. This begs the question: Are we hurting our bodies through modern exercise?!? 

My thought is that we are doing our bodies GOOD through modern exercise, but that we need to increase our awareness of the excess pressure we create in our core which contributes to the “downward push” of our organs, when not kept in check. We also need to keep in mind that just because contemporary images of beauty align with a flat stomach, devoid of any of the natural roundness which has marked beauty and women’s bodies for centuries, doesn’t mean that standard is right. Modern women are sucking in their tummies at the expense of their vaginas. That’s the unfortunate truth, ladies.

 

How Do Women Prevent Prolapse?

For starters, it’s important not to ignore those good, ol’ trusty kegels. They help maintain the integrity of the small, but oh-so-crucial, pelvic floor muscles. The key is to practice these regularly (I know, I know…not the first thing most women add to their to-do list at the start of each day) and to hold the contraction for the appropriate amount of time; 10 seconds per kegel. Focusing on the release of the muscles from the contraction is just as important as the tightening of them. This is a good rule to apply to gym exercises too.

Another way to stay on top of preventing prolapse is to take a gradual approach to getting back into shape following childbirth. Upcoming app Matriarc is a great place to start. It helps women regain fitness during the postpartum period with a heavy focus on SAFE core and pelvic exercises.

Additionally, allowing the stomach to be soft and relaxed, in its natural state, is important. Frankly, it sucks to think about the damage our egos (mine included) could be causing to our bodies. So, let’s all be confident women in the shapes we possess rather than twisting and contorting (and sucking in) to conform to society’s “norms.” Our bodies are pretty awesome without all the [intra-abdominal] pressure. 😉

*Please note that this list of suggestions is not all-inclusive. If you’re concerned about your risk of pelvic organ prolapse or are experiencing leaking, incontinence or a feeling of pressure in your vagina, please contact your OBGYN right away.* 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

I’m Out of Shape

Hello. My name is Maggie Winzeler. I’m a fitness professional. I’m out of shape.

This is how I feel about it…

Less than thrilled…wouldn’t you say?! Lol.

Over the last few months, my life has been a whirlwind; one weekend-long hospital stay for my toddler while he was *conveniently* getting all his molars in (blessed that he is OKAY!), closing on the sale of a town home, closing on the purchase of a single-family home, several weeks of packing and moving, one month of contractors doing work in the new place, adjusting to relocating in a brand new city (grocery shopping at new stores is crazy overwhelming with a toddler in tow…just saying), lots of baked goods hitting my front door as housewarming gestures, and a child who decided to hit the “terrible twos” at 18-months old. Who has time to work out in the midst of all this beautiful chaos? Not me. Plus, I was told by a physical therapist NOT to do abdominal exercises this summer…fun fun during bikini season, right? We’ll talk about this next time.

…At first, not working out for a stretch felt perfectly natural. I was busy-busy and on my feet all day during the moving process, not to mention on my hands and knees cleaning at every day’s close because contractors were threatening to derail my sanity by turning my home into a construction zone every day. Complete with exposed razor blades and nails scattered about within lethal reach of my toddler. Fun times. 

…After the rapid pace of moving and house work slowed down, I tried really hard to figure out how to work out but somehow it just wasn’t top priority. The summer heat and humidity were discouraging. The amount of home decorating that “needed” to be done felt way more pressing than hitting the weights for the millionth time in my life. My attempts at stroller runs in my new neighborhood threw my body off thanks to weeks of long days, short nights, and tight muscles. And then there was vacation.

It’s definitely more fun hanging out on the beach trying to kiss pudgy cheeks than breaking a sweat. Definitely.

…After getting back from our annual family beach trip, thoroughly stuffed from crab cakes and hush puppies, I was determined to establish a routine. And then the crappy, free-week trial at a local gym began. I wanted to crawl into a ball and cry. I hated that gym experience for many reasons. I knew that wasn’t how someone was supposed to feel in a gym and reminded myself of what I always tell clients and gym-goers; “you’ve got to find a place that FEELS good and meets your needs, or else you’ll never want to go.” I put on my big-girl pants and walked through the front doors of a different fitness facility, one that put a sparkle in my eye the second I entered it. I took a deep breath of relief.

I suppose I’m a bit mad…this was the second longest stretch of rest from formal exercise that I’ve taken in my adult life. As a woman in her early 30s and a fitness professional for about 12 years, I’ve only taken a full month off from exercise once; during my honeymoon in Europe (sooo worth it and hilariously people told me I looked like I had LOST weight when I returned…maybe there IS something to be said for the “European lifestyle”). So, I guess when I look at being “out of shape” through the lens of how much stress I’ve put on my body over a decade, I don’t feel guilty about it at all. But, despite not feeling remorse I did start to feel a bit blue….

Food truck nights in the new neighborhood both helped and hurt the situation. 😉

After a few weeks, being out of a routine can start to change my mentality. It starts to feel harder to mentally get on board with working out again. It feels easier not to, to be frank. Exercise is work! I start to feel like my clothes fit a little differently and I definitely feel bloated, in part from not exercising and partially because the food choices I make when I’m out-of-routine aren’t as “clean.”

But heeeyyy, home decorating is coming together! Woo!

What’s a girl to do?

I’ve found time and time again that when I feel out of shape, I just have to force myself to do a workout. It might be a completely pathetic, reading-my-phone-for-30-minutes, barely-breaking-a-sweat cardio session, but it’s something. I might mentally procrastinate and throw a temper tantrum over the ordeal, but I get it done. And I repeat my actions a couple more times over the next week, getting in maybe 2-3 forced days of exercise, through gritted teeth and all. And guess what happens then?

Suddenly, just a few sessions into reestablishing a routine, I don’t feel out of shape any more! I mean, of course, I still am, but I don’t FEEL it because I’m not thinking in terms of how scary or tiring it is to get myself back in tight spandex and push some weights around. I’m just doing it and leaving each sweat session just a little more confident than when I walked in. Within a few workouts, I’m back. Of course, I still have a ways to go to perform wind sprints with oomph and squat near my max, but that doesn’t matter anymore because I’ve discovered that once again, the only thing telling me exercise is difficult is my mind. Once my mind gets on board, my body follows suit.

What does it take for you to get mentally back in shape? I bet once you figure that piece out that you’ll be exercising again and feeling pretty awesome in a very short period time.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

The Marathons in Life

I’ve completed three marathons and the third was the hardest, not easiest. The first was the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach. I was an idiot and ran it when I was completely under the weather, just because I was [am] stubborn and don’t like to give up on my goals, even when it’s wise to. The second was the Walt Disney World Marathon. That was a fun one. Lots of high fives with costumed Disney characters and pauses in front of iconic Disney backdrops (think Magic Castle) for mid-race photos. Ah, to feel young and innocent again whilst putting your body through a gauntletThe third marathon…the hardest marathon…was not your typical road race. It was a 17-month long commitment to breastfeeding. Yup, it was a marathon in every sense of the word; equal parts difficult and fulfilling, challenging yet beneficial for one’s health, and mentally grueling while simultaneously inspiring. Here’s how the lessons I learned from my road-race marathons applied to my commitment to something else. Gotta love exercise-life parallels. I’m all about ’em.

Good Things Don’t Come Easy 

Nursing was not something I was passionate about at the beginning of my journey with it, whereas I have always been very passionate about running. But my experiences running road races (shorter ones like half marathons, 10-milers and 10Ks, too) have taught me that tough commitments can have unexpected rewards. Thus, I stuck out the breastfeeding thing, using my stubborn, marathon mentality to get me through its challenges (of which there were many, including the fact that it was extremely difficult for me to produce enough milk through pumping…in order words, I had to be present around the clock to provide).

Somewhere about a year after my son’s birth I experienced a dramatic shift in perspective; instead of knowing I should appreciate the ability to provide for him in his infancy into toddlerhood, I finally truly appreciated it. It hit me one day out of the blue. I saw how much intimacy we shared, how quick the years ahead would pass us by, how much like a little boy instead of a baby he already was, and I knew. My heart finally understood that it was the hardest and best decision I had made for us both thus far.

Physical Discomfort Makes Us Mentally Tough 

I never knew that bloody heels and almost passing out during my first marathon would be things I would become grateful for. The painful experiences taught me not only to wear more protective socks and to avoid physical competitions when sick, but also that I was capable of enduring pain and moving forward a little bit tougher. This made shorter distances mentally easier in the future, and left me with the reassurance that, for better or worse, my body is capable of anything I might ask of it.

When my motherhood marathon began, I also endured pain…but it was much worse. TMI ahead, folks. In the first few months of nursing I had cracked nipples because of my son’s small mouth and his tongue tie (he was born a month early and we had to wait over a month for an ENT appointment). My hormones were crazy and at the start of every nursing session I experienced unthinkable letdown pain. I would literally cry out in pain or attempt to take deep breaths through tears. Getting through those upfront challenges built up my resolve that no matter what normal challenges lay ahead (nursing strikes, mastitis, maintaining supply) that I could handle it. Mommy’s battle gear was ready!!

The Second Time Around Will Be Easier

If there’s one thing I know it’s that being a novice is tough. Most first-time road runners don’t know how to fuel properly and typically don’t learn proper negative-split and cross-training techniques. But over time and with some effort, runners refine and evolve. They implement strategies to help them run faster while enduring fewer injuries.

Similarly, first-time moms encounter  many challenges that force them to be more strategic and build up their tolerance for future issues. For example, my nursing experience was initially tough, but I have no doubt that it paved the way for an easier experience next time. Aren’t most things easier for mom after the first child? Please tell me yes! 

No one said nursing a toddler was free of complications! Lol.

You Can’t Marathon Straight Through Life

In a study published by the NIH, the Mayo Clinic found that there may be an “upper-dose limit” for endurance exercise. In other words, marathon after marathon and sustained competition at an elite level can have detrimental effects on an athlete’s heart. Think of it kind of like overdosing on a medication…it goes from helpful to hurtful very quickly. Cardiac tissue can have multiple negative adaptations to intensive training, including large-artery wall stiffening, coronary artery calcification, myocardial fibrosis, ventricular arrhythmia and more. These devastating effects of exercising TOO much strip away all the benefits and longevity that come with exercise in moderation (which can increase life expectancy by 7 years!). At some point, we have to intuit when we’ve gone too far, when it’s time to move on from the marathon…for our health’s sake.

Similarly, what I consider the “marathon of motherhood” (i.e. nursing) isn’t intended to be something the mother and child practice forever. At a certain point, life’s demands, the child’s distraction or disinterest, or the mother’s need to focus wholeheartedly on her own health again, come into play. In fact, the volume of milk that a toddler needs goes drastically down after the 12-15-month mark, and too much milk or dairy can stand in the way of getting enough of other key nutrients. To continue “marathoning” the nursing in the same frequency as when the child was in infancy isn’t ideal for the child’s health (that’s not to say that some nursing isn’t still healthy, nutritious and emotionally satisfying for the child). Anywhere between 18-months and 3 years old is when experts say children naturally wean, meaning they lead the process based on their physical and emotional needs.

That said, my son was just under the 17-month mark and I knew it was time to stop pushing us both through our once-a-day nursing that remained; the morning nursing. I had been pushing him to continue for weeks, even though he was showing disinterest. We might get a few minutes of nursing in and that was that. I knew he was gearing up to quit – he loved his sippy cup with whole milk way more than me (well…my boobs) at that point and had recently found new ways to share cuddles and affection with me on/off throughout the day, filling the emotional gap that I was worried would be created by stopping nursing. I could also feel my own hormones and emotions crashing over the whole ordeal. It didn’t feel the same anymore. I felt like after nearly 1.5 years I really needed a few mornings to pass the torch to my husband so I could sleep in and get the rest my body was begging of me.

One morning a couple weeks ago, my son just flat-out refused to nurse. I tried everything I could to get him to and he just wouldn’t. I set him down to play instead and off he went on his merry little way. I knew. That was it. My marathon had ended. And it was actually a good thing for us both, I found.

Was it easy to nurse 17 months? Heck no. But it got easier over time. Was it worth it? Yes. 100% worth it. All marathons are. 

What’s your marathon? What have you been tasked with that requires every fiber of your being to persevere through? Most importantly, even when it’s hard, can you see the potential for the long road ahead to mold you for the better? Hang in.

 

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. It’s that I had the courage to start.”

-John Bingham, American Marathon Runner and Author

 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Discovering God in Movement

I’ve discovered in my foolish efforts to move faster, through exercise and life, that happiness alludes me. The more I try to align my purpose with the values of this world (my image, finances, and outward success), the more spiritually depleted I become. The more my spirit suffers, the more my physical and emotional health precipitously decline. The inner parts of me [and you] are interconnected. That said, the best part of discovering my weaknesses is that I’ve witnessed an eternal strength of God, who serves as my backbone during the movement of life, even as I am spinning in its tornado. These are just a few examples to ponder, when my body and mind were swept away by the hurried pace of life, but my spirit was called back to place of staying grounded.

…There are different ideas about meditation. Common Eastern meditation practices are a way of clearing the mind and simultaneously opening it up to receive the eternal, energy, detachment from superficiality, whatever the specific practice or belief encourages. You probably find a lot of these meditative forms in yoga classes. As an exercise professional who teaches yoga, I’m well acquainted with them. The Christian view of meditation is fixing one’s mind on scripture or the way of God, and allowing that to guide one’s adoration and intentions. Some Christians believe Eastern forms of meditation are “corrupt” because they don’t focus specifically on God and thereby open the mind to “satanic” and Godless thoughts. Yes, I’m a Christian. But no, I don’t believe Eastern forms of meditation are corrupt. In fact, I have experienced the Spirit through both forms of meditation, and have seen firsthand how each has a positive and transforming power; how God can be in written words, in the stillness of opening one’s mind, and in the focus on eternity. God is omnipresent. I’ve also experienced spiritual growth through another, less-talked-about form of meditation: movement.

…It all started when I was in high school. Field hockey tryouts were every August, so the summer evenings were spent running the hilly road that my family’s house was on. As I ran up and down, one hill after the next and my heart racing, I felt like life tilted just enough to see it from the right angle. Juvenile worries faded and my mind wasn’t distracted by the whir of emotions that accompany teenage years. I felt like I was one with God, the universe, life. Some might call it a runner’s high and attribute it to endorphin hormones, but if you’ve experienced a similar spiritual experience then you know just as well as I do that it’s more. So much more.

My running became less routine during my first year of college. Evening runs were traded-in for “pre-gaming” frat parties or cramming for morning exams. I lived in a cloud of stress and under a haze of booze, wondering if my pre-law coursework was really taking me in the direction I was supposed to go with my career and life. After my first year of college came to a close, I resumed running that hilly route on summer evenings, even though making the field hockey team was a thing of the past. I pined for the feelings of connection to God that I experienced on those high school runs and hoped I could find Him again that summer. The faster I ran and the harder I tried to force it, the less I could see of that Great Spirit. I was devastated. Where did God go? Had I been abandoned?

One evening run, mulling over my directionless academic experience and dim prospects for personal happiness in practicing law, I hit a different cadence. Instead of running fast and furiously, I just ran steady. My breath matched my step and a rhythm established itself. With every exhale, my mind began to clear of the stress. With every few steps, I felt more calm and began a true communion with God, there in that moving meditation with my feet loud on the pavement but His words whispering softly to my mind. It was in that moment of moving meditation when I let go of the things of the world, the lies I was telling myself about what “success” should look like. In letting go, I fell seamlessly into a new purpose. I realized I wanted to help other people feel amazing in their bodies, like I did in that moment. I didn’t even know about the Exercise Physiology degree option at that point in time, but I understood I had to figure out a way to help people move and find freedom for their bodies and spirits. So, that’s what I did.

Since that day, when my entire future turned on an axle, I’ve found it surprisingly easy to connect with God via exercise. It’s been my favorite form of meditation. It’s in the other forms of life’s movement that being spiritually centered has been a challenge. The hurried movement from one deadline to the next, from email to email, and all the busy-busy stuff in between that takes up mind and heart space. But, I’ve found that even though its undeserved, God is still there amidst the distracted movement of life.

…It was my last walk-through of my post-college apartment in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. My now-husband and I had just made the decision to begin our lives together. We were making engagement plans, picking out furniture, and feeling the initial butterflies of settling in together. I walked through the apartment and felt stale feelings prickling up. Memories of the sleepless, scared and lonely nights in that space caused my throat to tighten. I had lived there three years and almost every experience had been marked by extreme growing pains. Late nights panning through spiritual books, trying to understand how to approach the “real world” as myself. Afternoons collapsing into my bed to nap, my body inflamed and suffering, before waking up to go back to work for another evening shift of clients. I heaved a sigh of relief that I was finally moving on. As I finished sweeping the last room’s dust bunnies I remembered that I hadn’t swept my bedroom’s closets out. I walked to the back of the house, opened the glossy black closet doors and began sweeping. A faint clatter sound on the ground caught my attention. As I knelt to inspect, I discovered the top piece of a broken prayer box that I’d long forgotten about, laying in the heap of dust. Someone had been with me through all the tears and loneliness, even when my unintentional inclination was to leave Him hiding in the closet.  

…It was my last walk-through of our first apartment together before moving. We had just bought a town home that we were giddy about. As I walked through the apartment, I checked cabinets and corners, almost 100% certain that we had collected all our belongings, but the paranoid perfectionist in me beckoning one last inspection. I pulled back the mirrored closet door and looked through the now-empty space where clothes had formerly been stuffed on hangers. My heart caught in my chest. Again? On the opposite wall inside the closet hung a cross made from Popsicle sticks, one I had long forgotten about and hardly remembered hanging there. It was a gift from a friend I had made while working in Sedona, Arizona, the capital of “New Age” practices, as a personal trainer. That friend made the cross in prison, where he was now serving time for turning back to drugs after several decades of fighting to find freedom from them and enjoying brief reprieve that summer we met. When he sent me the cross, he included a note with the quote:

“Peace,

It does not mean to be in a place

where there is no noise, trouble

or hard work. It means to be in

the midst of those things and still

be calm in your heart.”

(unknown)

…It was a handful of months after moving into our new town home. When we bought the home, we were thrilled that there was a lot of green space in front of it – a unique find in the city, let alone just one block from public transportation. The green space reminded me of being back at my childhood home and made me feel more spiritually centered. When we did our first walk-through of the home after getting the keys (it was officially ours!), we videoed the empty rooms exclaiming over the things we loved and things we planned to change. I was walking in front of the camera, my husband filming me from behind, when I approached one of the front windows. “And this beautiful park!” I declared. “If anything ever happens to it, I’ll die.” I replayed that moment in my mind while standing in front of our home, tears streaming down my face as I looked at the spray-painted grass and miniature white flags butting up right next to our property. These marked where a construction company would soon excavate this slice of nature to carve out space for an underground garage and apartment building. I was devastated.

I was spouting my frustrations over the phone to my husband, regretting our decision to buy and worrying over what living with a crane over our heads would be like. He was calming me down and reassuring me that we were still going to love our home. My crying reduced to sniffles as he explained that this “misfortune” might be an asset for improving our home’s future sale price. As this thought sank in, I took another long look across the expanse of greenery before turning my attention down to the ground in front of our home. It was still a painful thought; that the green oasis would soon be destroyed. As I kicked my feet against some loose rocks and dirt, a cream color caught my eye. I reached down, thinking I would pluck a large rock out of our front planter. But what I unearthed was something unexpected. “Hold on, Casey…” I paused him mid-thought. What is this??

It was a miniature St. Joseph’s statue. I’m not Catholic so I didn’t know what this signified. After a little investigation, I learned St. Joseph is the patron saint of families and homes. Catholics bury the statue in gardens and yards to bless the sale or purchase of a home. I’m not sure if the former homeowners put it there for their sale of the home or to bless its buyers [us], but that home afforded us many happy experiences and a tenfold profit (from our modest down payment) when we sold it just five years later. I still have that statue in my bedside drawer, a selfish part of myself unwilling to part with it now.

…It was just a few months ago, my husband and I experiencing butterflies on the drive home from Richmond, VA where we had just walked through a home we felt excited about putting an offer on. Are we crazy for moving to a new city where we have no jobs? Are we uprooting our lives for no purpose? We were both voicing our doubts and worries out loud on that drive, even though both of our heartstrings were being pulled in favor of the home. As the waves of giddiness and nervousness passed over me, I looked upwards to the sky through the front window. The light that had been pouring in through the car windows suddenly seemed dim. I wondered if it was about to rain. As my eyes cast upwards, I saw that the entire sky was covered in billowy white clouds…except for one small patch of pure blue in the shape of a well-defined heart. I knew. While only caring about the future amid my busy plans, God was steadfastly with me in the present.

….

Whether I’ve been moving fast or slow, looking up or down, focusing on meditation or tripping through life absentmindedly, God has proven that He is always there. And when I realize that I’m more than the sum of my physical parts, thanks to something greater, it’s pretty awesome. It puts a bounce in my step as I hit the pavement for a good run.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

The Big Fat Lie in Fitness

I’m going out on a limb here, people…but I’m willing to do it for my readers. Yes, that would be you. There are plenty of fitness folks, pros and enthusiasts alike, who will disagree with this statement because it completely counters their marketing efforts and maybe even their lifestyles. But I’m doing it anyway because…well…I suppose because I’m finally sick of the phony, inflated, trying-to-get-your-money and, most importantly, FALSE claims out there.

In my professional opinion, what is the biggest, fattest lie being passed around in the fitness industry?

 

 

Answer: That working out EVERY DAY is the only way to be successful and see results.

Insert mega eye-roll from yours truly. 

This kills me. Clearly. Or else I wouldn’t be writing about it.

I hope this brings you a sigh of relief because honestly, YOU. DO. NOT. HAVE. TO. WORK. OUT. EVERY. DAY.

The best fitness professionals and athletes out there take days off. They have active recovery days of stretching or light movements. They take time-outs for massage, therapy and R&R. Why? Because it’s hugely important. I’ve elaborated on the importance of recovery one too many times already but if you’re thirsty for more reasons to enjoy tea time instead of treadmill time then you can read one of these articles…

When You Are Tired (of being tired)

Don’t You Deserve a Break?

Frenemies: Exercise Myths We Hold Onto

Recovery Time is Forgotten

Back to the point…the claims that you need to relentlessly work out to see results are plastered all over Pinterest and Instagram. “Fitspirational” messages assault people from bloggers, Twitter and Facebook, too. Unfortunately, I think we’ve all become a little numb to well-intended messages that sting our open wounds again and again.

Let’s take the following examples that make my skin itch…

WHHHAATTT??? The “Keep Calm and Move On” people are pestering us to work out every day, too?! *Gulp.* Whhhhhyyyyy? Maybe it’s just me, but there is nothing, nothing, nothing “calming” about this message. How are we supposed to stay calm when we’re being told by society that we’ve gotta get our adrenaline pumping every 24 hours? Geesh. Just in case this message speaks to you, don’t worry – you can buy sweatshirt, coffee mug and candle-adorned paraphernalia bearing the reminder. Because a soothing candlelit dinner with “WORKOUT EVERYDAY” staring you down sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? 

Okay. Enough. I actually really like most of the “Keep Calm” messaging, so I don’t want to drag them through the mud too much on this one. Maybe I’ll forgive them. Maybe.

On to the next glorious image. This one is reminiscent of a lot of generic Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter posts. Take a good hard look…

Okay…let’s spin this a little. I want to ask you the following question: “Is every day a good day to work out?”

Are you thinking about your answer???

If you’re still debating the answer then STOP!

Correct response: NO!

No, not every day is a good day to work out.

I mean…we get sick sometimes, don’t we? We all occasionally experience nasty shin splints, twisted ankles, broken bones, deflated energy, dry spells of motivation, and unexpected obstacles. I will argue, quite strongly, that these are all times when working out is put on the back burner, at least for a few days. And that’s FINE.

These are two simple examples hand-picked from the flood of “fitspiration” quotes out there that mean well but wear people down more often than they build people up.

The bar is set far too high by messages like this. People come to me all the time, totally intimidated to start an exercise program because unless they can commit to it every day, they feel like they’re not giving enough. This is SO upsetting to me. Seriously guys, this is the stuff I cry to my husband over.

Again, I’m here to set the record straight…

If exercising every day is something you WANT to do and have TIME to do, then great! But, be wary. Our central nervous systems can easily become overrun by relentless programs and our hormones can get thrown way out of whack from over-training.

Plus, once again, be encouraged because…

You DON’T have to exercise every day to see GREAT results.

*Official end of rant.*

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

*Image Sources: 

http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-workout-everyday-3/

http://www.coupons.com/thegoodstuff/6-ways-to-create-good-habits/

Where Does Belly Fat Come From?

Belly fat is both bad and good (yes, good!). Hoarding fat around the stomach is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the human race during times of stress and unpredictable food intake. Why is the stomach the place it’s stored? Here comes the “good” part… Because fat in the abdomen is the most metabolically active fat. This means that just as easily as a little extra pudge can accumulate, it can be rapidly recruited for energy and burned off. When you think about it, it’s really quite clever. It’s like a squirrel tucking some acorns into the fold of its cheek for safekeeping. Our caveman bodies do the same thing. But belly fat accumulation isn’t just about what we eat and how active we are. Let’s take a look at some of the ways it gets put on our waistlines…

The Usual Suspects for Belly Fat

You guessed it; the usual suspects for belly fat include nutrition, physical activity and genetics. Let’s do a brief review…

Nutrition

This is perhaps the most obvious source of stubborn fat in the tummy. It should come as little surprise that sugary foods, trans fats, low-protein diets and alcohol can be detrimental when it comes to keeping off this kind of fat.

What You Can Do: Eat lower-sugar, healthy, natural and unrefined foods that are high in fiber or protein, and keep alcohol in check.

 

 

Physical Activity 

You’re more likely to get a spare tire if you’re sitting at a desk all day and doing little to get moving during your free time. This is fairly obvious. But, what’s less obvious is that just 5-15 minutes of movement in small segments throughout the day can truly help keep your metabolism and calorie-burning engine going. So, formal exercise isn’t always a “must” if you’re leading a truly active and healthful lifestyle. Although it certainly never hurts.

What You Can Do: Be consistent and realistic about your exercise habits and goals. One of the worst things we can do to our bodies is workout like a dog for two or three weeks and then take a month off. Equally taxing on our bodies and minds is setting unrealistic expectations for the kinds of routines we should maintain. Over-lofty plans for exercise do us no good if they end in failure and guilt. Decide how you plan to lead an active lifestyle and/or get in formal workouts. Make sure your plan is integrated into the rest of your life’s priorities and schedules to ensure successful commitment.

 

Genetics

Body shape, appetite and metabolism can be strongly influenced by genes.  Some people are prone to being more “apple-shaped” (i.e., retaining weight in the middle) while others are “pear-shaped” (i.e., retaining more stubborn, less metabolically active, but less dangerous fat in the hips and thighs). Leptin levels, a hormone that controls hunger and calorie intake, can vary according to a person’s genetics. Cortisol regulation can vary family-to-family and influence weight, too.

What You Can Do: If you’re trying really hard on the exercise and nutrition front, and belly fat still refuses to come off, then your genes may be at play. But, this doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do about to help your body. Focus on being holistic and putting more energy into the following…

 

The Sneaky Culprits of Belly Fat

Sleep

There have been lots of formal studies demonstrating the power of ZZZ’s on our health and weight. Both short and poor-quality sleep can lead to hoarding fat around the mid-section. Unfortunately, our busy-busy lives lend themselves all too easily to skimping on sleep, going to bed late and ignoring the snowball effect of increasing cortisol, inflammation and insulin resistance.

What You Can Do: Apparently, the later we go to bed the more we are skimping on deep, non-REM sleep, which occurs in the earlier part of the night. Pay attention, night owls! According to Time Magazine this is a serious problem that is linked to obesity and other health problems. So, go to bed earlier instead of only counting the total hours of sleep you get. Help yourself commit to this by creating a soothing bedtime routine for yourself about 45-60 minutes before you plan to fall asleep. Kids need a bedtime routine…and we do, too!

 

 

Stress

I can always tell I’ve had a few extra-stressful weeks because my stomach will start to feel a bit softer and fuller, even if I’ve been eating healthfully and exercising. Stress takes its toll on my body, and I know I’m not alone in this. Some people are more sensitive to stress than others by nature of their personality, goals and preferences, but none of us, even the most laid-back individuals, are 100% immune to its effects. Studies have shown that some women, with higher waist-to-hip ratios, may be more prone to the negative effects of cortisol production in response to stress than others.

What You Can Do: Sometimes we are in a stressful season of life and there’s not a ton we can do to move through it any faster. In these times, it’s especially important to care for your health through good nutrition, sleep and exercise so that the effects of stress on your waistline are minimized. Finding a relaxing or enjoyable activity to turn to on a daily basis can help release a bit of the tension and keep it from spilling over.

 

Gut Health

Brace yourselves…this one is pretty mind-blowing…apparently, there are different kinds of bacteria in your gut linked to obesity vs leanness, and overall gut health. In other words, obese individuals tend to have more of certain kind of gut bacteria that changes their energy absorption levels from food (i.e., causing them to absorb more calories from food). Say whaaa? This is part of the reason some experts blame baby formula for contributing to the obesity epidemic – the baby’s gut flora is not developed in the same way that a breastfed baby’s is and thus, energy absorption and overall inflammation may be different. This is also part of the push from some doctors who encourage both children and adults to use daily probiotics, to build up the good bacteria in the gut as a line of defense against a “hostile” gut environment and the damaging effect of processed and sugary foods.

What You Can Do: Probiotics can be expensive but worth it. You might be able to bargain hunt on brand prices online, or strike a better deal by buying them in bulk. Either way, search for a probiotic that has at least three of the five main helpful bacteria strains your tummy will appreciate: L. acidophilus, B. longum, B. bifidum, L. rhamnosus and/or L. fermentum. I have personally heard debate over whether the number of total bacteria in a supplement is important or not. Science is unsure just how helpful the total number is, but I figure it can’t hurt to have more. If you want to play it “safe,” I suggest a supplement with over 10 billion bacteria. For more information check out this article: How to Choose the Best Probiotic Supplement.

 

 

Hormone Changes

Here comes the miserable truth, ladies…menopause changes things. If you’ve been through menopause then I’m sure you know this firsthand. A dramatic drop in estrogen about a year after a woman’s last menstrual period triggers the body to shift from storing fat in the thighs and hips to the stomach. Gooooood times. There’s not much women can do to change the course of nature; HOWEVER…..

What You Can Do: Weightlifting is an excellent way to keep extra tummy fat and those pesky hormones in check. By increasing lean muscle mass, women can help their metabolisms stay sharp through peri-menopause and post-menopause. Bonus: Lower levels of estrogen might allow women to acquire lean muscle mass more easily in later age. With effort, of course.

Best of luck as you figure out how to battle the bulge! It’s something we ALL do throughout our lives so please don’t stress and feel like you’re alone, unattractive or unworthy if your pants are a little tight. No need to stress – just take action and express self-love through the process!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie