Author Archives: wellnesswinz

About wellnesswinz

I'm Maggie Winzeler. I've been a fitness professional for 15 years. My experience has taught me that tough workouts are great, but wellness is even better. Wellness transforms our bodies and hearts.

20 Life Hacks to Move More

I was sitting on my couch shortly after the holidays, writing this list of life hacks in a note pad on my phone. I turned to my almost 4-year old son as he was playing on the floor and asked if he had any ideas for it. He replied that we should all “race around toy cars” if we want to move more. (Side note: It’s his favorite activity.) So yea, there’s that. But I’m guessing that’s not high on your agenda unless you’re a little boy or happen to have a young son of your own…

Here are some *other* ideas to help you keep your metabolism awake in between exercise sessions. I hope they help you kick off the new year on a healthy note and give you inspiration to maintain an active lifestyle outside of formal exercise time, especially since that’s where we spend most of our time.  

 

1) Keep a Local Bucket List

I love bucket lists. Most people think of travel when they think of bucket lists. Agendas for overseas adventures that seem to get longer and longer every year. But I personally adore local bucket lists! Make a list of local things you want to push yourself to do and you will be getting out and about before you know it! I like to try something new once a month. Even if sometimes this means a local brewery or something less “active,” other months it means a scenic hike or a fun exercise class across town. Either way, a person who is enthused about discovering and experimenting will be motivated to keep on the move for years to come!   

 

 

2) What Your Grocery Cart Habits Say About You

Answer this question in your head: “Am I the person who puts the grocery cart away in the cart receptacle – OR – am I the person who leaves it in the middle of the parking lot?  

This is going to sound random but I feel like grocery cart habits say a lot about a person. The way you answer that question might say a lot about your willingness (or not) to engage in basic movement and physical effort throughout the day. Consider turning into the person who walks the few extra steps to put the cart away. If you want to go the extra mile, you can grab other stray carts on your way. I routinely organize grocery carts in parking lots. Major pet peeve over here, haha. 

 

3) Don’t Waste Time Circling Parking Lots

One rule of thumb in life is to not waste time in your car doing what you can on your feet. That is all I have to say about that.

(Although when it’s raining and you’ve got multiple kids to haul in and out of the car, it’s a free pass to circle until the next day. I feel your pain.)

 

4) Grow a Green Thumb

I have a love/hate relationship with nature. I absolutely love spring blooms, mature evergreens, a manicured lawn, and tidy garden beds, but HEAVENS it takes a lot of work. The weeds in my mulch beds grow…well…like weeds. It takes a grand total of three sweaty hours every 3-5 weeks in the summer to pluck them all from the ground. I can’t stand it. I start weeding while cursing under my breath but somewhere in the midst of all the hard work I find my groove and it feels cathartic, kind of like a good workout. Same goes for watering and nurturing all 38 trees and plants we have put into the ground as a family in just 2.5 years. It’s tiresome work to weed and garden but it “keeps a girl young” and helps burn a lot more energy than you’d think. 

 

 

5) Get Physical About Property Management 

On the same note as #4, doing the manual labor around your property instead of paying someone for it will keep you honest about staying active. Anyone who owns a home on a semi-wooded property can attest to how long it takes to rake leaves just like residents of the Northeast know what it takes to keep their driveways and walkways cleared of snow in the winter. It’s a LOT of work…but it’s good for you! 

 

6) Play with Kids

Am I the only one who gets completely exhausted from a day spent shuffling the kids around town and playing with them in the living room? I mean, come on! It’s seriously tiring. By their afternoon nap time I’m a hot mess and talking myself out of having coffee because it will keep me up all night…and who can afford to stay up late when you have needy 6 am alarm clocks? Playing with children definitely burns energy and requires all kinds of movement (twisting, bending, rolling, reaching, pulling, picking up, getting kicked down and pushed off the couch, the works).

 

7) Burn Calories Cooking (that’s right!)

I do NOT believe in working to burn every calorie consumed. Exercise is NOT a punishment for eating. It’s a celebration of our health and a way to connect our bodies to our souls. All that said, a long day in the kitchen can truly burn a lot of energy. It’s kind of incredible. Ever tried hosting a dinner party for eight? Ever prepared homemade finger foods for a holiday party? Or spent all day making several dozen birthday cupcakes just right, frosting and all? Then you know how much your feet and back can ache after that effort.

But honestly, don’t cook for the sake of anything but the love of good food. Put your heart into it and enjoy! Many cultures believe the food will taste bad or have negative energy if you’re not joyful while making it. So, think back on those cute little dwarfs from Snow White and “whistle while you work.” 

 

 

8) Listen & Move

There are so many great podcasts and audio books out there these days. It’s not difficult to find them and they are usually pretty accessible (free or an affordable price). I love to put on a good audio book while folding laundry, getting ready for bed and doing chores. It motivates me to stay upbeat while I move through mundane tasks.  

 

9) Hydrate

Do you feel like getting moving when you’re tired and grumpy? Not so much. More like sit on the couch and zone out to reality tv or sports. Dehydrated adults self report higher than average levels of fatigue, anger and confusion. Even mild dehydration can impact our mood, cognitive function, and overall physical health. Do yourself a favor and carry water with you throughout the day so you can feel your best and stay engaged in an active and fulfilling life.

 

10) Treat Your Furry Friend to the Great Outdoors

Have you ever seen a dog’s entire body shake with excitement at the mention of the word “outside” or “walk?” Take poor Fido outside for some exercise and watch your pup leap with joy (literally). Enjoy the fresh air yourself, while you’re at it.

 

 

11) Eat Energizing Foods

That post-Thanksgiving dinner feeling…you know it, right? Eating too much or eating heavy foods can slow us down and crash our energy. Healthy, fibrous foods like vegetables and fruits rarely ever tank us. Lean, heart-healthy proteins like salmon and chicken also seldom make us feel like we can barely lift a limb from the couch. There’s a truth to the saying “you are what you eat.” When we eat energizing foods our bodies are given nourishment that boosts the metabolism and supports internal health, leaving us with plenty of energy to “get up and go.” If you’re struggling to fit in more movement then take a close and honest look at how you’re eating. 

 

12) Become a DIY Person

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it but the other month I made my forearm sore for a week after pressing down on a spray can for a DIY project. Our master bathtub jets were a dull yellowed color due to age and any time I walked into the room I couldn’t help but feel irritated by them. I know, I know…major first world problem here. I decided to take it upon myself to try a bright white plastic paint on them. The DIY project wasn’t very complicated yet it still took me a few hours. Holding the spray nozzle down for 20 or so minutes made my forearm seriously sore to the point that I couldn’t press down on buttons or turn knobs for days to follow. It was sort of pathetic…and sort of awesome because with all that effort I unintentionally gave my forearm the workout of a lifetime! In many cases, DIY projects require both creative and physical energy.

 

 

13) Take the Stairs

I made a commitment to myself that even though my gym is four stories tall that I would never take the elevator up and down. For the most part, I’ve stuck to that resolution – even during pregnancy! That’s right, I would trudge my big belly straight up eight flights of stairs (two per floor) to walk up to the cafe bar and breathlessly order my favorite post-workout smoothie. Walking the stairs is great for you! It trains your heart and glutes to be strong. 

Four years ago I made a similar commitment after having my first son. I decided that even in his infancy I would walk up the stairs to change his diaper at the changing table instead of doing it on the same floor. I was lucky that my delivery was uncomplicated so I could do this safely. Those early months whipped me right back into shape because I was going up and down the stairs allllllll day long. On days that I couldn’t fit in any formal exercise I knew that I was still doing plenty simply from moving around my own house. 

 

14) Actively Care for Others

Actively caring for someone can look a lot of different ways. It might be caring for an elderly family member or neighbor, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, coaching youth sports, performing acts of service for your significant other, or running errands for your children. When we’re caring for others we expend a lot of energy plus we address the needs of others in a selfless manner. If you want a thought-provoking article about the benefits of care giving you can read more.  Just don’t forget about self care. It takes a lot of energy to be caregiver and we must prioritize and refill our energy tanks too!

 

15) Keep Slip-on Shoes Handy

Keeping slip-on shoes by the door makes stepping in and out of your house or apartment much easier. It’s a simple thing we can do to make everyday decisions easier. For example, keeping slip-on shoes by the door might help you choose to walk outside to get the mail every day instead of only a few times a week. My husband rolls his eyes at me because I actually get upset if he checks the mail before I have a chance to. I’ve come to really enjoy taking a few deep breaths of fresh air on the way to and from the mailbox. It wakes me right up from my late afternoon energy slump! 

 

 

16) Organize Your Life

Organizing things is a great way to fit in more movement. Not only will you be bending, lifting and carrying but you will be clearing space for what’s important! A friend started her own home organizing business last year here in Richmond and she laughed one day that she “always sounds out of breath” in her video reveals of clients’ spaces following her services. I told her that it makes sense that she is out of breath – organizing requires a TON of energy! Which might be why so many people choose to use her!  

 

17) Make Things Inconvenient

Remember I mentioned taking the stairs to change diapers? Nothing screams inconvenient like that! But I must confess that for my second child I put a diaper caddy downstairs because going up and down the stairs all day while supervising two kids wasn’t feasible. But diapering aside, my husband and I currently make our recycling inconvenient. It would be much faster to toss recyclable items into a bin inside our kitchen but we opt to walk them out to the larger bin in the garage each time. It seems like literally every time we’ve taken a few things out there is something new that needs go. Suffice to say, it helps us get in our steps!

 

18) Shop

Online shopping sure is easy but it doesn’t get us moving, does it? Sometimes it’s refreshing to get out the old-fashioned way and shop on foot! Make a nice afternoon of it and pick an outdoor shopping strip or city street with a cafe or lunch spot that you’ve been wanting to visit.

 

 

19) Rest

Despite the fact that we aren’t moving when we are resting, it’s an essential ingredient for an active lifestyle. The two [rest and exercise] reinforce one another quite nicely. Daily exercise helps us get restorative sleep at night and adequate rest helps us feel energized enough to exercise. Some combination of sleep, rest, relaxation and restoration is crucial if we want the necessary fuel to stay active.

 

20 ) Find something you enjoy

Finding a hobby or exercise class that you enjoy is one of the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle. This sounds like a no-brainer yet so many people commit to things they feel they “should do” instead of what they actually want to do. It’s time to stop thinking about what kind of exercise class you’ve been told you “should do,” and start asking yourself which type you will enjoy the most. Trust the answer you come up with and go for it. If you hate every minute of exercise or movement then it will never serve you well. So, forget about “the rules” and just have some fun. Do it for you!

 

Cheers to a healthy year!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

The Benefits (and drawbacks) of Soul Cycle, Body Pump and Barre

 

 

Benefits of Group Exercises Classes

Group exercise classes are truly one of the fitness industry’s great gifts. They’re energetic and uplifting, not to mention an efficient use of time. Many gyms offer these classes for free with a monthly membership while other “boutique” studios offer options for people who don’t belong to big box gyms (think Pure Barre, Soul Cycle, OrangeTheory, SolidCore, etc.). Classes are a great way to stay in shape and ride the energy provided by the participants and instructor.

Common Challenges in Group Exercise Classes

There are drawbacks in group fitness too. Some instructors lack experience even though they outwardly appear to know what they are doing. This can lead to low quality coaching for participants. It can also be difficult to keep pace with group classes when you’re a newbie, sometimes making the exercises physically precarious and mentally intimidating. Overall, the benefits and drawbacks vary according to the studio/gym, instructor and format.

Three group exercise formats in particular have proven the test of time and have mostly positive participant experience; Soul Cycle, Body Pump and Barre. They are so popular that they have “cult followings” of people willing to pay top dollar to participate and attend class several times a week. It’s easy to get swept away in the results and excitement of these wonderful programs! But just as every class holds promise for results, each also has the capacity to wear down participants.

Let’s explore the benefits and drawbacks of each of these popular classes so that you can stay keenly aware of how to care for yourself when/if you participate.

 

 

Soul Cycle

I can still remember people in the fitness industry whispering about the increasingly popular Soul Cycle studio up in NYC. I was working in DC when Soul Cycle was just getting started up there and no one could believe the concept. Free weights on a bike? Candlelight during an energizing cycle class? And people are paying WHAT for it? It’s fairly ironic that Soul Cycle opened up in DC right across the street from the sports club that I worked at during my 20s. No one thought it could ever expand and transform the landscape of boutique fitness offerings in the way that it did.

Soul Cycle is incredibly fun and helps participants burn a lot of energy in a short period of time. It involves an engaging, full-body workout on the bike using upper body exercise equipment while pedaling away to loud music. It’s great to knock out exercising both the upper and lower body at the same time but when we step back from the excitement and think about it hard, we have to ask ourselves: Was the bike designed to be used for upper body exercise? Short answer: No.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with getting creative with exercise equipment. Switching things up can keep workouts fun and fresh. But when we use equipment in ways that it wasn’t designed to be used, contraindications can arise. In Soul Cycle, participants are at risk for low quality upper body movement because of the challenge engaging the core for stability without compromising the lower back. At best, the free weight workout will build a little bit of upper body endurance while helping people burn more energy on the bike. My professional preference remains keeping my hands on the handlebars and better utilizing the bike itself for energy burn (longer hills, interval work, heavier resistance, speed drills, in/out of saddle drills, etc.), but that’s just me.

Upper body exercises aside, Soul Cycle and many other cycle studios spend a lot of time out of the saddle (i.e. hovering above the seat). People tire very quickly in this position and tend to lose form, allowing their hips to drift forward in front of the seat. This creates a more upright posture and undue pressure on the knee joints. In a perfect world, instructors will correct form but more often than not, it goes unchecked.

Solution:

Enjoy Soul Cycle and pedal your heart out! Just remember to properly engage your core and do slower and heavier upper body exercises at another time too. And don’t forget – keep your rear in OR above the seat at all times!

 

 

Body Pump

Next year will be the 30th year of Body Pump’s existence in the fitness realm. It was developed by a man named Phillip Mills and his wife Jackie, a doctor and former gymnast. Phillip was inspired by his father Les Mills who was a former Olympian. Phillip created the Body Pump class and checked all the boxes for what can make a successful group fitness experience. For this reason, many big box gyms train instructors to teach Body Pump for their class offerings.

Body Pump is a full-body workout and it consists of the same exercises every class, with some variations here and there. There is a lot of technique instruction for squats, lunges, deadlifts, presses, push-ups, rows and chest presses, to name a few. Each exercise is set to a song so there is plenty of time to focus on each move. The class creates an environment where dedicated participants get to master the moves and watch their progress improve as they place heavier plates on their bars.

Although Phillip created an amazing class, it does have its challenges too. In practice, a newbie walking into Body Pump can get easily overwhelmed if they rack their bar with heavier plates than they can handle. Many people feel peer pressure from the quick tempo of the regular participants and won’t stop to adjust their weights to what they can safely do. This creates a major injury risk for people doing several minutes straight of a single exercise without any breaks! It’s also challenging to get the full range of motion for the exercises in class due to the fast tempo. This can make some movements ballistic and contraindicated.

The endurance nature of the weight lifting in Body Pump isn’t for everyone, especially people who like to lift heavy and have rest intervals. A lot of people also mistakenly assume that Body Pump is strength training but it’s not…at least not according to the true definition of what strength training is: 10 or fewer reps until muscle failure. So while it will create definition and muscular endurance, it doesn’t create “strength” according to classic standards.

Solution:

Body Pump away! But remember to slow down and/or adjust the weights to your needs, even if this means pausing mid-class or setting your own speed to stay safe. Also, it’s a good idea to hit the gym for some heavier and slower weight lifting exercises from time to time. You will find that your technical foundation from Body Pump along with your improved endurance will make for success on the gym floor! 

 

 

Barre

Barre is a ballet-inspired format that utilizes – go figure – the bar! I’m guessing this isn’t news to you though. Barre tends to be a popular option for women, particularly those who have a dance or gymnastics background or who don’t love weight machines and classes focused on lifting. Barre classes can vary greatly depending on the studio and instructor but they typically involve time spent working the core and hips at the bar, and a free weights portion to incorporate more upper body exercises. Each class incorporates stretching intermittently through class or at the end.

Barre is a great way to challenge the glutes and lower body muscles. Rapid pulsing movements are used to get a solid burn in muscles being worked. The burn comes from the exercises being fast and endurance in nature, and also from focus on the “transition zone” of the muscle. This zone is where the muscle goes from shortening to lengthening. Exercising in it can cause muscles to be very sore  and can result in positive neuromuscular adaptations.

While the transition zone is a great sweet spot for exercises, it’s difficult not to become ballistic with moves in it. A good barre instructor will be quick to catch participants who are getting ballistic but unfortunately in many cases participants start to put work that belongs in the abdominal muscles into the lower back. Additionally, some barre classes instruct participants to keep a “C” curve in the core, which can actually heighten risk for the lower back because it’s being stretched for long periods of time before being worked in rapid contracting movements again.

Solution:

Be a Barre babe, if that’s what you want! Just remember that every studio and instructor varies on form critique and safety. So, if an exercise feels uncomfortable in any part of your core (and I’m not talking tired or burning because there IS a difference) then flag down the instructor and ask how you can do the exercise better or differently. Low back injuries are no joke. Don’t flirt around with them!

 


Conclusion:

Every group exercise class comes with inherent risks. It’s up to *you* to be proactive about your safety and health. Don’t hesitate to be brave and advocate for your own health by asking instructors for help or modifying for your individual needs. The world of group exercise classes should feel wide open for you to choose what you enjoy!

 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

How I Lost the Baby Weight (Again)

It’s important to start off by saying that my ability to lose the baby weight within the first six months postpartum has very little to do with the fact that I’m a fitness professional. I haven’t used any voodoo magic for my body or resorted to any intensive training programs to lose weight. I also haven’t done any formal diets or eating plans to lose weight. You might be wondering how this is possible then…how does a woman lose the extra pounds after baby is born? Here are my three main guiding principles when coaching postpartum women back to pre-baby health (I use them for myself too):

  1. Be gentle and give yourself LOTS of grace
  2. Stay consistent (when possible) and remember that there is no perfect day for exercise, only the determination to make time for it
  3. Find eating and exercise habits that jive with your lifestyle and that are enjoyable to you 

There are many approaches to losing the baby weight and the only one that is “right” is the one that speaks to you. This is why I customize every single workout plan and session according to each mother’s individual needs (PS – if you need any prenatal or postpartum support feel free to check out my Services).

 

 

Some women enjoy structured eating and exercise plans, and that’s fine too! Many of my clients desire a well laid-out program so they know what they’re working towards. The only caveat is that the first 6-12 months of motherhood are anything but predictable. Each month brings unique health and schedule challenges/milestones so it’s important to stay flexible and pivot when necessary. For this reason, I don’t personally put the pressure of any structured weight loss plans on my own postpartum agenda but I still aim to drop weight.

The following lays out my approach for postpartum weight loss after baby #2. As you will see, it’s very gradual, progressive and flexible, adapting month to month as my postpartum needs and energy changed. Perhaps this will help you remove a little bit of stress from your own postpartum weight loss journey or will inspire you to realize that it doesn’t have to be very formal or complicated.

 

Background: My Postpartum Life

I want to briefly share about my first six months postpartum as a mother of two. It has been unspeakably hard at times but not impossible. I know lots of moms have things way harder. That said, my baby has had multiple health complications including subluxating hips. He had to wear a rhino hip brace 24/7 during his second month of life. It affected his latch and caused my milk supply to tank so I had to get a LC and milk donor’s help for a while. At month three, right when life started to feel a little normal again, I had to return to a newborn nursing schedule. So, I’ve basically been on a newborn feeding schedule of every 1.5-2 hours for half a year. Thank heavens he finally dropped down to 7-8 feedings/day! #momwin

My baby also [still] has torticolis which has affected his neck positioning for nursing and sleep. I take him to a chiropractor every week and monthly physical therapy along with daily home exercises. In addition, this poor child has reflux that coats everything within a close radius. It’s a rare hour of the day that I’m not wearing something covered in colorful spit ups (yaaayyyy solid foods…ugh) All of this is the big stuff, to say nothing of the little challenges or oh yea, continuing to parent a strong-willed three-year old. Side Note: The threes are when things get painfully real. Anyone else?

Why do I mention this?

To show you that my life isn’t perfect. I don’t have tons of time on my hands and there are many days that I would rather just throw my hands up in the air and surrender. But I’ve continued to commit to my health and bite off small workouts and healthy meals/snacks where and when I can. That’s all. That’s the secret: Commitment. That one simple commitment to myself, even on the hectic and sleep-deprived days, is why I’ve been able to lose the baby weight. And you can too!

I’m at my goal weight now. It’s not my skinniest size but it’s my pre-pregnancy weight that is easy to sustain and which keeps healthy stores of fat and nutrients for my body as it continues to provide fuel (aka mama’s milk) for another life. If I gain or lose a couple pounds then I’m still in a happy place. Stressing about getting to my “smallest” would be too much pressure right now and would likely compromise my immune system and milk supply – neither of which is ideal or necessary during the first year.

 

 

The First Month Postpartum – Recovery Mode

The first month of motherhood is filled with almost as many trips to the bathroom as the third trimester, except that the process takes way longer (moms, you feel me). The graveyard shift with baby is exhausting following labor or a C-section delivery and life is forever altered for couples who were formerly childless and big siblings who have to learn what it means to have a new family member hogging all of Mom’s attention. The first month is such a roller coaster of sleep deprivation and emotions that it’s remarkable when women make it past their home’s front step. There should be zero pressure to get back into shape or to resume exercise so soon after baby. But…

If you exercised during pregnancy or even if you didn’t but feel stir-crazy or the baby blues, some light walking and exercising is generally fine if the mother isn’t suffering from complications. Taking things at a very slow pace is critical though. Your body will tell you in more ways than one when you overdo it that first 4-6 weeks. A simple stroll around the neighborhood or gentle stretches and exercises on your bedroom floor are the way to go.

Exercise:

I enjoyed getting outside for a few walks with my three-year old during our unseasonably warm end of winter. It gave my legs a chance to stretch and it was a great opportunity to show my oldest that I was still able to spend quality time with just him. On days I didn’t go on a walk I usually did anywhere between 5-20 minutes of gentle movement before hopping in the shower. That movement plus the shower became my “me time” and helped me feel rejuvenated each day. I kept things very simple and focused on stretching, gentle flow-based yoga, deep breathing, modified core exercises and planks, and hip stability exercises such as bridges and clamshells. The goal was to support my loose ligaments and open up my posture following the stress of labor and breastfeeding.

Diet:

During the first month there were zero food restrictions – nor should there be, in my opinion! You just had a freaking baby!! I allowed myself to eat to my personal delight and satisfaction. I enjoyed each and every home-cooked meal and baked good that friends and neighbors dropped by and ate a several-hundred calorie snack in the middle of the night each night to satiate my ravenous appetite! It was glorious even though I knew it wouldn’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t last that way for long.

 

 

Postpartum Months 2-6

Exercise:

As I regained stamina and strength, I gradually increased the intensity of my workouts. During months two and three I began to incorporate low-impact exercise on cardio equipment at the gym for short periods of time and low-resistance strength training. Once I felt I had the hip, core and pelvic floor strength necessary was when I finally let myself go out for a brief and very slow jog. I refrained from running during my second pregnancy so that first postpartum jog marked the end to the longest period of time in my entire adolescent and adult life combined without running. And ohhhh my goodness….everything hurt. The next day I was so sore that – *confession time* – I popped one of my postpartum pain pills to go to sleep that night. Yikes! Thankfully it didn’t take long to feel better but I did limit myself to just one run a week until month four, for the sake of my pelvic floor health (and I would encourage a lot of women to consider doing the same).

Around month four I allowed myself to run a little more and I began to increase the intensity of my workouts across all fronts. I let my heart rate go higher when I had the energy for it and I let the weights get heavier. I will admit that I had a few setbacks due to low back pain but most of it was due to a lack of spinal rejuvenation during sleepless nights and poor breastfeeding posture around month three. I continued to refrain from HIIT workouts and anything too strenuous that could compromise my immune system. My goal was to exercise four times a week, sometimes five, for anywhere between 30-45 minutes at the most. At least two days were dedicated to full recovery every week. We’re talking extra sleep (thanks to my husband) and lounging on the couch for a breath or two before one of my small humans made demands of me.

As you can see, this exercise approach was gentle and progressive. It allowed me to pick which days I had energy to go for a run and when I just needed 15 minutes of yoga and a hot shower. It was simple and low pressure, and I believe those are the reasons it worked. Being a mom is pressure enough without an overly prescriptive weight loss plan on top!

Diet: 

I stayed as flexible as possible about my postpartum diet, pivoting my approach to eating month to month. As mentioned, I ate like a happy cow during the first month but eventually I could tell my appetite wasn’t that strong anymore and I was only eating larger portions out of habit. I decided to cut back portion sizes and tossed a few leftover baked goods in the trash. I found that I was comfortable cutting my middle of the night snack in half and it was rarely necessary by the end of the second month.

I got a little bit discouraged when month three rolled around. The weight wasn’t dropping off as much as I would have liked and certainly not as fast as it did after my first baby. I had 12 lbs left to lose compared to only a few pounds at that point after my first baby. I decided to watch my macronutrients. I was honest with myself about my carb intake being too high so I focused on having protein-based snacks in the morning and afternoon to fill me up and keep me from mindless snacking. I also ramped up healthy fats in my diet.

Watching my macros helped me drop about half a pound a week. By month four I was feeling a little impatient so I turned to the tried-and-true method of calorie counting. I never had under 2000 calories/day because of breastfeeding and exercising but I made sure I wasn’t eating say 2500-3000+ calories (except maybe one day of the week because we went out to dinner and I let myself eat a big meal and have a couple glasses of wine). The weight started to come off at a faster rate of about a pound a week. By month 6 I was back at my pre-pregnancy weight and feeling happy with my figure again. That said, my belly button still looks stretched out and I’m carrying a little fat around my middle that I know from experience won’t fall off until I’m better rested and my baby has weaned. But I’m happy!

I never did anything too drastic or cut out any food groups or treats. I basically eat dessert every day, enjoy carbs and relish in my weekly allotment of a couple glasses of wine. I’m a normal person! And that’s all there is to it. If you accept being normal (flaws, cravings and all) and let the process be organic then you may be surprised at how much weight you can lose and effectively keep off. You win a million times over again when you tweak your exercise and diet plan according to your own needs and lifestyle.

 

My little critters deserve a mom who prioritizes her own needs too!

 

These Are a Few of My Favorite Foods

When I take a step back to look at my diet I guess you could say it’s mostly a Mediterranean style of eating. I enjoy a lot of fish, fruits and vegetables (and olives!). I’m not sharing these lists to say that you should eat these foods too. I’m just trying to help spark foodspiration! In my opinion, eating should be pleasurable! Find what foods and style of eating work for you.

 

Carbs I Eat & Love Every Day:

Rolled or Steel-Cut Oats, Banana, Apple, Raspberries, Blueberries, Salad Greens, Sweet Potatoes, Fresh Raw/Steamed/Baked Vegetables (Favs; brussel sprouts, green beans, bell peppers, kale, carrots, arugula, broccoli)

 

Proteins I Eat & Love Every Day:

From Land (chicken, turkey, pork or beef) – OR – From Sea (usually salmon, cod, tuna or shrimp), Also; Hardboiled eggs or egg whites, Whey protein isolate or Pea protein powder once a day

 

Fats I Eat & Love Every Day:

Rotation of Almonds/cashews/peanuts/pistachios, Avocado, Olives and/or olive oil, Ground flaxseed

 

Daily Indulgences for My Sweet Tooth:

A.M. – Mug of coffee with coconut creamer and organic stevia, P.M – Mug of unsweetened chocolate almond milk with a square of 95% dark chocolate

 

I hope you can see that I’m not doing anything dramatic or challenging. I’ve simply found healthy foods I enjoy in a variety of food groups and portion control them in my diet. I enjoy exercise on the majority of the days of the week but I play things by ear according to my energy and sleep needs too. There’s nothing wrong with following a weight loss program (heck, I’m even happy to be the one to design it for ya!) but there’s also nothing wrong with living mom life and accepting imperfect plans while loving on your perfect and new little person.

 

Yours in health and wellness,
Maggie

What I Did Differently in My 2nd Pregnancy (and why)

As a fitness professional, I’m hyper-vigilant about documenting little details regarding my wellness and changing body. I have charts and notes recording mileage and training plans from various marathons, bulking/cutting programs, my bridal workout plan, and both pregnancies, to name a few. I’ve come to appreciate these notes, even while admitting they’re a bit over the top. Referring to them has led to some helpful insights, especially in regards to my first pregnancy.

I kept detailed notes on every week’s symptoms throughout my first pregnancy (with my son Carter, now a true “threenager” whose favorite angsty response to questions is “nothin”). That pregnancy ended abruptly when I experienced PROMS at 36 weeks 2 days (Premature Rupture of Membranes – aka my water breaking before full term). My mom had my oldest brother at 6 weeks early, for no apparent reason and without any strong risk factors, so I suppose I had filed away the possibility of an early baby in some remote corner of my mind, but it still shook my world. I didn’t have any risk factors for preterm labor outside of my mom’s single experience (the rest of us kids were full term). So, when approaching the preconception planning of a second child I was torn on whether or not to accept the advice that OB after OB gave me; to receive weekly progesterone shots throughout the pregnancy to reduce the risk of preterm labor.

 

 

If I had given birth a few weeks earlier than 36 weeks (which is considered “late preterm”), then I think I would have accepted the progesterone shots without question. But I felt like I was so close to full term that maybe…just maybe…if I looked back over my pregnancy notes and did copious amounts of evidence-based research, I could consider alternatives. As it turned out, my notes were very revealing and made me realize a couple of things; 1) my cervix is very sensitive when pregnant so internal checks and even sex can trigger changes more rapidly for my body than other women’s, and 2) my signs of preterm labor began around weeks 34-35, a time when progesterone temporarily dips down in pregnancy before jumping back to new highs in the last month.

I had to ask myself a difficult question:

Could I risk going against doctors’ advice and try natural approaches for preventing preterm labor and increasing progesterone throughout all 40 weeks of gestation? Could I live with myself if my actions didn’t work out? Could I live with myself if I didn’t try to let my body self-regulate with a little extra TLC from a healthy lifestyle? 

I decided to give Mother Nature one more shot… and I delivered my second baby at exactly 40 weeks. I can’t be sure that my actions deserve credit for a full term birth – it might just be happenstance or luck. And I can’t recommend that women at risk for preterm labor do the same. But I can share my story a bit and help women consider all the ways we can help our bodies along, regardless of whether we’re also using additional medical interventions, like progesterone treatments, to prevent preterm labor.

To start, let’s talk a bit about what preterm labor is and how to identify it…

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are not medical advice. If you have concerns about preterm labor you should contact your medical provider to discuss your risk factors. If you believe you are currently experiencing symptoms of preterm labor contact your medical provider or call 911 immediately.  

 

36 weeks 2 days…aka day one of my oldest son’s life

 

Preterm labor

*All information in this section is quoted directly from the March of Dimes.

Definition: Babies born before 37 weeks.

According to the March of Dimes, signs of preterm labor in a pregnant woman may include:

  • Change in your vaginal discharge (watery, mucus or bloody) or more vaginal discharge than usual
  • Pressure in your pelvis or lower belly, like your baby is pushing down
  • Constant low, dull backache
  • Belly cramps with or without diarrhea
  • Regular or frequent contractions that make your belly tighten like a fist. The contractions may or may not be painful.
  • Your water breaks

 

 A few of the top risk factors for preterm labor include:

  1. You’ve had a premature baby in the past.
  2. You’re pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets or more).
  3. You have problems with your uterus or cervix now or you’ve had them in the past.

 

Medical risk factors before pregnancy for preterm labor and premature birth:

  • Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy. This can include having an eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia.
  • Having a family history of premature birth. This means someone in your family (like your mother, grandmother or sister) has had a premature baby. If you were born prematurely, you’re more likely than others to give birth early.
  • Getting pregnant again too soon after having a baby. For most women it’s best to wait at least 18 months before getting pregnant again. Talk to your provider about the right amount of time for you.

 

Coming home from the hospital with baby #1 (my son Carter)

 

Things I Did Differently in My Pregnancies

Although I did a lot of things differently in my second pregnancy, there are a few things I did the same that I feel are worth mentioning first. In both of my pregnancies I avoided smoking and alcohol. Some moms feel like by the third trimester the baby is “fully baked” and an occasional glass of wine or beer won’t do any harm. I can see the logic, and to each their own, but I feel that the evidence regarding baby brain growth accelerating in the third trimester (the brain triples in weight!) is enough to confirm that I don’t want to flirt with any toxins beyond an occasional “taste sip” of someone else’s beverage.

In both pregnancies I followed a healthy diet, eating plenty of fruits, veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats (plus a daily sweet indulgence after dinner!), and maintained an exercise regimen focusing on lots of hip and core stabilization. Lastly, as is my nature, I nested like a crazy person both times. My husband may be experiencing PTSD from my latest “honey do” list that had him scrambling up ladders, re-caulking our kitchen, and car shopping for a new vehicle. 

The things I did differently the second time I was pregnant were primarily actions driven by the desire to avoid another preterm labor. As mentioned, it’s impossible to say whether these actions influenced my body’s ability to get to full-term this time around or if I was always going to have a second baby at full term. Either way, these natural approaches to preventing preterm labor are ones any woman can incorporate into her prenatal care after talking to her OB about her personal risks for preterm labor and whether or not progesterone shots are strongly encouraged for her…

C-Reactive Protein

This protein can be high in a mother’s bloodstream because of acute or chronic infections, and may be the reason why women with urinary tract infections during pregnancy are more susceptible to preterm labor. C-reactive protein is a marker of inflammation but it can be lowered and controlled by a Mediterranean diet, adequate vitamin C, and probiotics. Hence, I tried to eat fruits higher in vitamin C during my pregnancy (kiwi, strawberries and citrus), started a new, higher CFU probiotic designed for prenatal health, and made sure that I ate the maximum allowance of low-mercury fish for pregnant women alongside other healthy fats like nuts, flax, avocados and olive oil.

Omega 3s

There is some evidence that an increase in Omega 3 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of preterm labor primarily thanks to their effect on balancing prostaglandins (which help the cervix ripen in preparation for labor and help the uterus contract – hence a better balance of this hormone would do the reverse and slow down physical preparations for labor). Thanks to this research, I made sure to bump up my Omega 3s, starting with adding a serving of ground flaxseed to my morning oatmeal.

 

Mega-Hydration

Uterine irritability can be triggered by dehydration. I was informed of this when I went in to the labor and delivery unit at 24 weeks with pregnancy #2. I was throwing up uncontrollably thanks to a virus that my toddler and husband had been ill with just a couple days prior. They only suffered a fever and lack of appetite whereas my body went into full-blown chaos; fever, chills, violent vomiting, etc. While I was getting treatment for an anti-nausea medication at the hospital the nurses hooked my belly up to monitors to assess potential contractions. Extreme dehydration can throw some women into preterm labor or labor because uterus begins to experience contractions. My belly wasn’t contracting in full but it was “irritable” – aka experiencing an abnormal amount of tightening that could potentially progress to contractions. The nurse who was caring for me sent me home with one of those giant hospital cups that has a handle and straw, and that holds up to 32 ounces when full. She told me to drink 3-4 of them a day in addition to my other beverages. I was a bit shocked by the volume but took it to heart and can say with certainty that I stayed better hydrated in my second pregnancy than my first.  (Summary:  To prevent uterine irritability and contractions drink at least 10-12 cups water/day.)

 

Coming home from the hospital with baby #2 (my son Colby)

 

Dental Health

Believe it or not, it’s true; challenges in dental health (ex: gingivitis) can contribute to preterm labor. Say whaaaa? Yup, bacteria from the mouth actually migrates to the placenta and can cause inflammation that can trigger preterm labor. Most women who experience a direct correlation between poor dental health and experiencing preterm labor are women who haven’t had proper dental care, but that being said, it never hurts to cross your T’s and dot your I’s. This is why, despite not having any former dental problems, I became extra diligent about brushing my teeth for a long time and flossing each day during pregnancy. Admittedly, my flossing habits were in need of some improvement.

 

No High-Intensity Interval Training

We’ve known for a while that exercise can impact hormones. It helps women who are estrogen dominant become more balanced and it releases feel-good hormones like endorphins. Men and women benefit from a boost in testosterone during exercise too. Changes in body composition in response to exercise bring additional benefits for the endocrine system. As it turns out, progesterone is yet another hormone that can be impacted by exercise…more specifically, it can be lowered by high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

During my first pregnancy I did a couple HIIT workouts each week – it was my jam. I always kept my heart rate within safe ranges and I knew how to modify high-impact and intense exercises for safety. It felt like I was doing no harm. In retrospect, maybe that kind of exercise wasn’t the best. If nothing else, it didn’t kill me to put it on the back burner during my second pregnancy, plus I think my pelvic floor enjoyed a rest from high-impact moves – and for that, my body is already saying thanks (and I’m only 2.5 weeks postpartum!).

 

Lowered Physical Stress

Studies show that women who spend 5+ hours on their feet each day are at a higher risk for preterm labor. This is a tough pill to swallow for a busy body like myself who works in fitness. With this knowledge in my back pocket, I worked to lower physical stress during my second pregnancy. I took more naps and got off my feet when I was fatigued instead of powering onward in my stubborn determination to get stuff done. It was difficult to discipline myself at first but with a toddler to care for, this may have ended up becoming my saving grace.

 

Delayed TTC

Women who wait 18 months from giving birth to one child to conceiving another are at less risk for preterm labor. In other words, any woman who gives birth to or gets pregnant with subsequent children in under 1.5 years is at a higher risk for a preterm baby. Hence, I took my time gradually weaning my son around a year and a half old and let my hormones stabilize for a few months before jumping into the TTC roller coaster for the second time.

 

Right to Refuse Internal Prenatal Checks

It’s hard to feel like we have a right to deny basic prenatal routines like internal cervical checks in the third trimester – but as mothers, we totally can reserve that right! You have full control over the process and no one can force you to do something you’re not comfortable with. I was thrilled when I told my OB that I was concerned internal checks might cause my water to break early again (it broke a handful of hours after an internal check in my first pregnancy). Thankfully, my OB understood my concerns and said that internal checks don’t do a lot for most of the third trimester except satisfy curiosity. I was blissfully in the dark until 39.5 weeks when I got my first check and discovered I was already 4 cm dilated! (So *that’s* what the random back pain and cramps were at 38 weeks – early labor contractions!).

 

 

Visualization

I’m not sure if there’s any science to pointing to visualization helping you get to full-term in pregnancy but I will hang my hat on how a difference in my mindset facilitated a healthier and longer pregnancy the second time around. I was so anxious and ready to be “at the end” in my first pregnancy. Perhaps that caused me to have higher inflammation, push harder, ask for more internal checks and more. There are a number of ways this could have caused me to treat my pregnancy differently. I’m so glad that I wanted nothing but to be extremely (even painfully) pregnant instead of having a preterm baby in my arms. This mindset drove small daily actions that I believe added up and helped me achieve a healthy pregnancy.

 

I did a few other things differently in my second pregnancy too, like avoiding most decaf coffee brands due to how the beans are decaffeinated using chemical solvents and requesting that I be allowed to drink an organic fruit juice drink for my prenatal glucose screening instead of that nasty, unhealthy orange drink they offer in the office. I also stood my ground in labor and delivery, electing to avoid pitocin and an epidural and marveling in shock (and pain) when my natural labor efforts jumped me from 6 cm dilated to 10 cm in one contraction (in a warm bathtub!).

It wasn’t always comfortable trying to do things differently for my second pregnancy but it was well worth it (just check out the sweet, healthy glow of my full-term baby boy Colby!).

 

Worth the wait for this little sweetie

 

(Please forgive any typos…still only a couple weeks postpartum over here! See y’all in a few months for some fresh content…okay…maybe even longer…we’ll see how mothering two headstrong boys shakes out.)

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

How to Design Your Yoga Space at Home

Very pleased to introduce a blogosphere friend from the South Pacific today – meet Harper! She is from Auckland, New Zealand and is sharing her insights on how to create a zen at-home yoga and/or meditation space. Namaste! 

 

 

How to Design Your Yoga Space at Home

One of the great things about yoga is that you do not need much space in which to practice. That means that even in a small home you can create a special area that is exclusively designed to please you and to provide an ideal setting for meditation and yoga.

Here are some tips for creating your perfect yoga space at home:

 

  1. Where to create your home yoga space

If you are lucky enough to live in a warm climate, creating an inviting outside space is ideal. Ensure the ground is firm and level in the outdoor space you choose, as this is vital to being able to perform your asanas correctly. If you do not have an outside space available, try to find somewhere within your home that has plenty of natural light and good ventilation. Alternatively, if you have the room, you can create a fantastic yoga area at home from an empty shipping container. These are perfectly suited for creating a hermetic environment where you will not be distracted by the outside environment. If you can place it in your garden and open up one side, you can create a perfectly peaceful and relaxing place to practice yoga. Whatever space you choose, make sure that family members will respect your privacy and the intimacy of this special place.

 

  1. Why have a designated yoga area at home?

Creating a designated yoga space will help you to maintain regular practice sessions. It means you won’t need to head out to the yoga studio or to have to rearrange the furniture to spread out your mat. Whether you convert the spare bedroom, create a whole new room, or just designate a corner in an existing room, having a dedicated yoga space lets you create an atmosphere of peace where everything you need to use is at hand to make the best use of your time for yoga practice. Also, practicing daily in the same space can increase your awareness by making you more conscious of subtle changes in your environment and in your own body and mind.

 

 

  1. Declutter

First, in whichever space you choose, remove everything that is not essential to practicing yoga or that is not beautifully inspiring. Getting rid of unnecessary distractions will allow you to be able to concentrate on your meditations and asanas.

 

  1. Color

If you are going to repaint, choose calm, muted colors and use non-toxic, eco-friendly paint. Pale blues and greens or warm tones of white that recede rather than call your attention, are ideal for creating a relaxing and calming environment.

 

  1. Decorations

Keep them minimal but inspirational. A plant or two, a handcrafted wall hanging, a dream catcher, a statue of Buddha. Only include items that you personally find exceptionally beautiful and pleasing to raise your spirit and to center your attention.

 

 

  1. Lighting

Natural light is best – but hang lightweight curtains so that you can control the level of light that enters. Dimmer switches are essential, and discreet soft lighting that can be changed to match your mood is ideal.

 

  1. Essentials

Make sure all the things you need for your yoga routine are easily accessible such as yoga mats and towels, or bolsters and meditation pillows. A strap, blocks, and a yoga sandbag can also be useful.

 

  1. Accessories

Scented candles, aromatic oil burners and incense are good accessories to create special atmospheres in your home yoga space. Our sense of smell greatly affects our mood and choosing different aromas can influence both your mood and your state of animation.

 

 

A little more about our guest writer:

Harper is a creative writer and adventurer who is fond of anything related to fitness, design, and travel. When she isn’t busy freelance writing, you’ll find her buried in classic novels or meeting up with friends in a neighbourhood café. Be sure come to say hi on her blog.

 

Happy Yoga-ing!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Becoming Your Own Health Advocate (Tips, Tools, Resources)

I was hit by a car 10 years ago. It changed my life. Not just because I lived in pain for five years but because while in the midst of recovery, every health care provider I saw had a differing opinion on how to care for me. It wasn’t like I had an internal health problem that was elusive or resulting in conflicting medical test results – I had herniated and fissured spinal discs… That’s ALL! I mean, yes, they were excruciatingly painful, but not rocket science. The anxiety that resulted from being tossed left and right by well-intentioned doctors, physical therapists, psychologists, acupuncturists, massage therapists and chiropractors served to cripple me more than the pain itself. But being left adrift in the middle of the sea does have a way of forcing one to find a way to swim to shore all by themselves, doesn’t it?

 

 

I’ve been symptom free for five years now, not thanks to any one provider but because I learned, for the first time, how to advocate for my own health. Through the years I’ve come up with resources and tips for clients to help them do the same. My highest hope is that you can use this advice to find your own unique road map to better health. If you don’t find it for yourself, I can almost assure you that no one will try on your behalf. So, let’s get you started!

 

The Problem

The road blocks that keep people from properly advocating for their own health are manifold. Let’s review a few main ones….

For starters, there’s SO much health information out there these days. You’ve heard the term “Dr. Google,” I assume? Alas, we can be sent down an unending virtual funnel of information overload that only serves to make us paranoid, confused and convinced we can self diagnose. Google can be equal parts friend and foe, just like all the blogs, magazines and social media sites. How does a person learn to advocate for their health when it’s so confusing how to even take the first step? Welcome to the world we live in!  

 

 

Secondly, a large majority of health professionals (from fitness experts to surgeons) will have a “provider bias.” In other words, they have a specific perspective or approach that they trend towards as a solution for health concerns brought their way. Case in point: An extremely talented personal trainer I know would (unfortunately) put all of her clients, both male and female, on a similar bulking/cutting program involving specific nutritional parameters and weight lifting regimens. While it’s true that this style of training likely suited many of her clients, it’s highly unlikely that it was the best approach for every single one of them. Another example: A chiropractor who believes that spinal correction and releasing nervous system pressure is the cure-all for internal health ailments when, in fact, some individuals will continue to suffer even when in perfect alignment.

Lastly, many people simply don’t have the time, energy or confidence to actively pursue their health or to second-guess medical opinions. It takes a LOT of effort at times. For example, I’ve known of several people who have had to follow-up with doctors to get answers regarding sensitive medical tests when the doctors got the results weeks earlier and didn’t carve out a minute to call and inform the patient. It’s also very hard to trust our gut instinct that something is wrong when providers (and sometimes even scans) tell us otherwise. I know of multiple women whose breast cancers weren’t initially identified through scans and others who have been told to “wait and see” how ailments progress only to discover months or years down the line that action or treatment should have been immediately undertaken.

Alas, all of these challenges come up because people – both providers and patients/clients – aren’t perfect, and neither is medicine. We’re all just doing the best we can with the tools at our disposal. So, the real question becomes, “how can I better advocate for myself?”  

The Solution

Becoming our own health advocate involves several things. Here’s a short list:

  1. Asking well-prepared questions of providers
  2. Finding second, third and even fourth opinions
  3. Knowing where to look online for credible health information
  4. Balancing advice; traditional vs alternative, western vs eastern, etc.
  5. Coming up with our own solutions
  6. Finding the confidence to trust your gut

 

 

Let’s dive into more detail…

Asking Well-Prepared Questions of Providers

One sure sign of a good health professional is when they are willing to sit, listen and patiently answer your questions. We ALL have health questions (don’t pretend you don’t!), so it’s important that we seek answers through the professionals who are qualified to give them to us.

One of the most frustrating medical experiences I’ve had was when I was pregnant with my first son. I had so many questions and always felt rushed by the OBs at the office. I never felt that my questions were given thoughtful attention and it made me feel guilty for asking them. Not surprisingly, I remained pretty ignorant on many fronts and didn’t know that I could speak up for myself and tell them “no” when they started doing frequent internal cervical checks that I’m convinced led to my premature rupture of membranes and son coming into the world a month early. My current OB, though? Wow… WORLD of a difference. I just passed the point in pregnancy when I delivered my first child and feel confident that the second kiddo is staying put for at least a few more weeks – and most of it is thanks to my current, *new* OB! She takes the time to listen to me and answer my questions. She never insinuates that I’m taking too much of her time (which I totally know that I am, hah) and she is thoughtful in collaborating with me to come up with an individualized plan for my health and pregnancy (including ZERO internal checks that could throw me into preterm labor again).

Have your questions ready and find someone who will listen. Don’t hesitate to schedule follow-up appointments to seek additional answers. If the professional is available via phone, email or health portal then don’t be afraid – contact them! Especially if this saves you forking over another co-pay or deposit for an unresolved issue. Use the access points offered to you and don’t let up on communication until you feel comfortable doing so. There should be NO closed doors in the health realm and if you find yourself looking at one then it’s time to find a new professional to work with. Period.

 

Finding Second, Third and Even Fourth Opinions

There’s a reason that the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic and UCLA Medical Center are all highly reputed. It’s not just that they have the most technologically advanced tools for cancer screenings and treatments that makes them so great. Part of what makes these centers so well trusted and successful is the teamwork and collaboration efforts of the doctors who work there. It’s well understood that certain cancers can be confusing and need a multi-pronged treatment approach; one that is best found when multiple voices and experts weigh in to craft a custom treatment plan. Very few health professionals can claim to have all of the answers on their own.

 

 

One big reason to consult various professionals is so that you can try out different treatment options. This works best when you either have a gut instinct that your current treatment plan or program isn’t right for you (and therefore isn’t worth your time and investment) or when you have given your current program all of your earnest effort and are not seeing the desired results. Another big reason to shop around for different opinions? R-E-S-P-E-C-T. If you don’t have respect for the health professional – or they don’t express respect for you and your needs – then onward you go! There are other fish in the sea, I assure you.

 

Knowing Where to Look Online for Credible Health Information

There’s no denying that finding credible information online can be a doozy. Top this fact with the rise of fake news and it’s hard to know where to turn. Here are a few ideas to get you started in your virtual hunt for answers and solutions:

  • Ditch Dr. Google and opt for Google Scholar (!!!)  This works just like regular Google except when you put in search terms you will get populated results from peer-reviewed journal articles (aka where the real research and findings are published – not someone’s subjective interpretation of them). It can be a tad overwhelming at first but with a little self-educating you will learn how to search for relevant terms and scan articles for key takeaways.
  • Trust the big guns (and occasionally your fav blogger, hehe); long-time established health websites are going to offer objective information over subjective or anecdotal. Examples: Mayo Clinic, Medscape, WebMD, Livestrong, to name a few. Wikipedia also remains a straightforward place to find information that has been combed through and objectively vetted by the masses. A couple of my lesser-known favorites (but highly credible and evidence-based): Precision Nutrition (this is one of the top nutritionist certification programs on the market and they have free articles in their blog section) and Evidence Based Birth (great articles AND podcast to inform mothers-to-be)
  • Look at what governing medical bodies, associations and foundations are recommending – the latter two may not always take into account the most recent, emerging research, but you can bet that they hang their hats on what has been well-reviewed and widely accepted in the relevant industry. Examples: World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health,  The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG), American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society, American Dental AssociationAmerican Heart Association
  • Find one or two sites you love and trust so you can avoid the temptation of reading articles from 10 different websites on a single niche subject (unless you want to…I’m admittedly a bit of an info junkie and do this often…). But be warned: Clinging to your subjective bias has downfalls at times, too. I could rattle off dozens of popular “health” Instagram handles that are highly subjective, ill-informed, and alas, being widely accepted as true and reputable, when in fact they’re not. This can be tricky territory and we’ve got to ask ourselves if the information is merely serving our subjective bias or is holistic and credible.

 

 

Balancing Advice; Traditional vs Alternative, Western vs Eastern, etc.

It can be daunting when one kind of health practitioner pushes pills our way while another insists that with the right kind of diet we don’t any prescriptions. Equally confusing is when we’re told by one doctor that we need surgery and by another that regular physical therapy is sufficient to pull us out of pain. Go to a western-trained doctor and you will likely be told that improving heart health depends on cardiovascular exercise and eating a heart-healthy diet…go to an eastern-influenced guru and he will tell you the key to improving cardiac function lies in specific yoga poses and pranayama (yogic breathing practices).

Who do you listen to? Whose advice do you give a fair shot? Who’s right?

Answer #1: It depends.

Answer #2: They all are.

Allow me to elaborate…most professionals have good reasons for taking the approach that they do. Under specific circumstances, some of them may be right on the money while others may miss the mark. This is largely because it depends on the person being treated, their lifestyle, mindset, commitment to a health plan, and unique health situation. So, that aforementioned person who needs help with heart health may be overweight, sedentary and have a family history of high cholesterol. This person should definitely get on a cardio exercise plan and begin eating a more heart-healthy diet. But what about someone who already eats pretty well and regularly exercises but has high blood pressure due to excessive stress and sleeplessness? She may benefit most from learning the recommended yoga poses and breathing practices. You can start to see how taking multiple angles and approaches to health solutions into consideration may be the wisest thing you can do. This will help you find your own way. Your own solution…

 

Coming Up with Our Own Solutions

Some of the best fitness, wellness and health plans are those that don’t fit into a program designed for the masses. As successful as she is, Kayla Itsines’ “Sweat With Kayla” program is NOT the fitness solution for every woman on the planet. And frankly, I’m sick of women thinking that it is! The paleo diet is NOT the holy grail for everyone’s health. And as wonderful as exercise is, it’s NOT the cure-all for the everyone’s blues just because it releases endorphins. This is where therapy comes in, friends.

I started healing from getting hit by a car when I decided to glean little bits of advice from each of the roughly dozen health professionals I worked with instead of committing to just one’s treatment plan. From one chiropractor, I learned that my upper back needed to be stronger to support my lower back (where the herniated discs were). From a physical therapist, I learned the power of muscular release through dry needling (my multifidus needed some TLC!). From an older-and-wiser fitness professional, I learned how to correct my foot alignment and strike so that both sides of my body balanced out again. From a psychologist, I learned the power of creating a safe, mental space for myself to overcome PTSD. From a nutritionist, I learned how to better craft my diet to become anti-inflammatory. And from an acupunturist, I learned how to harness vital energy while simultaneously letting go of toxic grief.

As you can see, my healing was not straightforward…at least not in the sense that I could turn to one person to reveal all the answers and solutions for me. It took time, patience and acting as my own personal investigator to solve the mystery.

 

 

Finding the Confidence to Trust Your Gut

If you feel that you need a second opinion, get it. Trust your gut.

If you find that a health professional just isn’t working for you – even if you think they’re a good person and you like them enough to maaaybe hang around longer – move on. Trust your gut.

If you find the best solution for a health problem is a combination of both modern medicine (aka prescription or over-the-counter drugs) and alternative medicine (ex: herbal supplements and an Ayurvedic diet) then enjoy the benefits of both. Trust your gut.

If you have the nagging feeling that something is wrong with your body even though not one but two doctors have said you’re in perfect health then keep searching until you find someone who will be your teammate in the investigative process. Trust your gut.

It’s not easy to learn how to speak up for ourselves in this impressively vast network of health professionals and insurance plans but it’s critical we start practicing. We all need to learn to trust and depend on our own voices for our health. The point isn’t to turn a blind eye to quality advice or completely distrust health professionals – the idea is to learn how to take proactive steps towards living our best lives.

 

Become your own health advocate!!!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

NBC News: My Thoughts on 2019 Wellness Trends

I’m very honored to kick off the new year in conjunction with NBC News! The network has a “BETTER” news section on its website that covers Diet & Fitness, Careers, Money, Wellness and Relationships. I worked with journalist Nicole Spector to highlight what I feel is one of the foremost emerging trends in wellness this year: restorative exercises and experiences.

If this sounds intriguing to you, or if you’re finding you need a little more TLC this year, I encourage you to check out the article:

From sleep to restorative exercise, 2019 wellness trends are about owning self-care

 

I encourage everyone to take a good, long look at what “wellness” means to them this year!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

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

 

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