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.

Forget About Weight Loss

This year, I want to encourage my readers to forget about weight loss. That’s right, just rid it from your line of thinking. There are so many other goals that can positively impact your wellness and, ironically, can take weight off effortlessly. These “other” goals propel us in the right direction for our holistic health and release us from the mental stress of focusing on the scale.

 

I recently shared my thoughts with HealthiNation for its article:

6 New Year’s Resolutions That Have Nothing to Do with Weight Loss

 

If you’d like to check out my favorite “anti weight loss” new year’s resolution then scroll to tip #5. That’s me. And, just for fun, you can watch the accompanying video for a quick, visual summary of the article. My tip [#5] includes entertaining visuals of a puppy, Obama and Ariel (yes, the little mermaid). Hope you get a good chuckle like I did!

 

Here’s to your health and well being this year and always!

Maggie

 

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Should I Exercise When I’m Sick?

Did you know that the #1 reason people take sick leave is due to chronic low back pain? Well, exercise has been proven to reduce sick leave for these individuals. Water aerobics also reduces sick leave for pregnant women dealing with low back pain. Exercise programs combining both high and low intensity activities have been proven effective for cancer patients going through chemo too. It helps these patients “prevent and/or minimize physical inactivity, fatigue, muscle wasting and energy loss.” Amazing!

But what about exercise during a head cold or following a stomach virus? Should we exercise when we start to feel sick or stay home and rest? And how soon following an illness should we try to get back in the saddle with our exercise routine? How quickly do we lose fitness when we’re inactive? Let’s discuss both scientific findings and common sense…

 

 

The Impact of Regular Exercise on the Immune System

Research on exercise immunology shows that there are positive adaptations in the immune system with moderate physical activity. For those who routinely exercise in moderation this results in overall fewer sick days, including fewer common colds and upper respiratory infections; however, more exercise is not always better for boosting immune function. There’s an upper threshold that most people’s bodies will tolerate.

Studies show that heavy exertion lasting longer than 90 minutes can have negative impacts on the immune system for the next 3 to 72 hours, meaning an individual is more susceptible to viruses and bacteria while recovering from intense exercise and over training.

 

General Recommendations for Exercise During Sickness

“In general, if symptoms are from the neck up, moderate exercise is probably acceptable (and some researchers would argue even beneficial) when an athlete is sick, whereas bed rest and a gradual progression to normal training are recommended when the illness is systemic.”

*If you’re looking to get rid of a head cold check out my former post: Quick Tips to Kick a Cold

 

The Grey Area of Exercising While Sick

Although general recommendations are helpful, they’re just that – general. Not specific to your unique situation and how your body handles illness. For me, a head cold is almost always improved with some light to moderate exercise. My husband is a different story though. I try to refrain from judgement. If he feels a cold or sickness coming on and tries to exercise he’s almost always achy and more sick feeling later that day, So, it’s important to do some trial and error with exercise and your health through the years to learn how your own body responds to things.

Let’s talk through some common sense approaches for figuring out whether you should exercise or not when you’re feeling sick…

 

 

Ask Yourself These Questions When You’re Ill

What kind of sickness am I fighting?

How tired and rundown do I feel at this moment?

How often do I typically exercise?

How do I feel after exercise when I have this kind of illness?

 

Give Exercise a Try If…

  • Your illness is “above the neck” – meaning a common cold or mild sinus infection
  • You don’t feel overly winded walking up and down the stairs
  • You’re getting good sleep at night
  • You feel that you can go to the gym and keep germs from spreading (i.e., washing hands, wiping down equipment, covering coughs/sneezes, etc.)
  • You have a normal appetite and are well hydrated
  • Exercise tends to energize you
  • You’re currently in a regular exercise routine and know how to modify its intensity

 

Types of Exercises to Ease in With

  • Your regular routine with more rest following exercise days
  • Your regular routine but lower in intensity (i.e. lighter weights, longer rest intervals between sets, shorter total workout time, etc)
  • Restorative or gentle yoga
  • Walking or light jogging
  • Low-impact cardio for 30 minutes or less
  • Light to moderate weight lifting
  • Dancing or aerobics class
  • Swimming
  • Biking

 

 

Hold off on Exercise If…

  • You’re contagious with a stomach virus or the flu (wait at least 48 hours after extreme vomiting and/or diarrhea before trying light exercise)
  • The virus or bacteria is systemic (i.e. impacting your lungs and oxygen transport)
  • The infection or illness has you feeling extremely fatigued and incapable of performing your normal daily tasks
  • You’re dehydrated
  • You’re unable to eat a normal diet
  • Exercise makes you feel worse, even after a light routine
  • You’re highly contagious and/or unable to control the spread of your germs

 

How Quickly Will I Lose Results if I *Don’t* Exercise?

A week or two off from the gym won’t do any major damage to your fitness results but you will probably feel more fatigued getting back into the groove for the first couple workouts before quickly resuming your former levels of strength and endurance. Generally speaking, cardiovascular capacity will begin to decline more significantly after two weeks and you may lose some muscle mass after three weeks of not doing any strength training.

As with anything, consistency is key so two weeks off from the gym will have a much different impact on someone who only works out once or twice a week versus someone who works out daily. Think of it this way: The person who is less active doesn’t have as much to hang onto for their fitness so will decline in fitness more rapidly. The person who is more active has stronger cardiovascular function and more muscle mass so will potentially have an easier time regaining ground in their workouts.

 

 

*Stay well this season and make positive, proactive decisions for your health. Cheers!*

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Ways to Make Pregnancy Physically Easier (Part 2)

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

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

For Part One of this article Read Here.

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

 

 

6) Posture Support and Chest Stretches

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

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

 

7) Prenatal Probiotics & Antioxidants

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

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

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

 

 

8) Sleep Quantity and Quality

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

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

 

9) Braving the Neti Pot

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

 

 

10) Adjusting Footwear

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

 

Here’s to happy and healthy mamas!!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

10 Ways to Make Pregnancy Physically Easier (Part 1)

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

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

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

 

 

1) Chiropractic Adjustments

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

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

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

 

2) Regular Exercise Routine for *INCREASED* Energy

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

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

 

 

3) Stabilizing the Core

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

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

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

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

 

4) Stabilizing the Hips

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

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

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

 

 

5) Purse/Bag Carrying Techniques

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

New Study: Even Light Drinking is Deadly

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

 

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

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

 

A Lesson from The History of Cigarette Smoking

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

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

 

 

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

*Pause for contemplating* 

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

 

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

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

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

This is confusing stuff!

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

 

 

The Study that Addresses Many of Our Burning Questions:

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

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

*The Results*

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

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

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

 

 

Implications for the Future

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

My personal stance:

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

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

The Vagus Nerve: Lose “The Last 5 lbs”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

5 Ways Our Bodies Are Connected to The Earth

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

 

 

Seasonal Hormonal Changes

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

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

 

 

Green Space & Mental Health

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

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

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

 

 

The Sun Connection

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

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

 

 

Brain Waves & Nature Sounds

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

 

 

The Practice of Grounding

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

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

 

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie