Tag Archives: Wellness

The Importance of Spiritual Wellness for People from all Faith Backgrounds

People use the phrase “mind, body, spirit” all the time. We acknowledge that an equilibrium of these three dimensions is foundational for our thriving and wellness, and yet we give very little attention to the spirit. Our energies are poured into exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, meditation, and even therapy, but tending to the spirit feels unfamiliar and intangible, especially in the many hours spent living beyond the walls of religious institutions.

The idea that spiritual wellness is tied exclusively to places and rituals of formal religious groups is a notion that keeps many people afraid of diving deeper into spiritual exploration. There are an overwhelming number of people who have experienced some form of church abuse or disillusionment, and who cast aside their spiritual needs thinking that if they are unchurched or unsure of their religious affiliations that spiritual wellness is something unattainable or irrelevant, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

 

 

I’m one of the lucky ones. I was raised in a healthy religious community by parents who gave me a stable foundation but also allowed me the freedom to think critically and explore my own beliefs. For this reason, I’ve felt comfortable contemplating what spiritual wellness means to me within the context of my own faith while also considering its importance and application to people from diverse backgrounds.

These are some questions I’ve sat with over the years and that have guided my journey for clearer answers:

Is spiritual wellness the same for people from different spiritual belief systems?

Does spiritual wellness require identifying with a specific religion or is a person still able to pursue it if they’re temporarily (or permanently) disaffiliated from a formal place of worship?

Is spiritual wellness attained by adhering to specific daily practices or is there flexibility to engage in different aspects of spirituality depending on the circumstances?

Is spiritual wellness best achieved alone or in community? In quiet meditation or group worship and prayer?

How and why is spiritual wellness relevant for atheists and non-religious individuals?

The answers I have found are not elitist or exclusive. They come from many years spent studying wellness and striving to better understand and educate others about it. In the simple diagram below you will see the various main components of spiritual wellness including morals & values, prayer, community, compassion, beliefs, meditation, private contemplation, and service.

 

 

Each of these eight aspects of spiritual wellness are important for a person’s well-being; however, each person will find that they gravitate towards certain expressions of spiritual wellness more than others. For example, an atheist might be more drawn to compassion or service over prayer. A Christian might pour more energy into prayer and community than meditation. A Buddhist might practice meditation and private contemplation more than community. A Hindu devoted to practicing Ashtanga is potentially and uniquely engaged in all of the components of spiritual wellness, or is at least encouraged to pursue them.

It’s okay to spend more energy in one area of spiritual wellness over another, and what we focus on or need is likely to ebb and flow throughout life. The important thing is to recognize that ALL of these eight components are fulfilling to humans and aid us in spiritual meaning and growth. Also, despite some beliefs to the contrary, each of these components is applicable across religious and non-religious belief systems.

 

 

There are some Christians who believe meditation is sinful because it allows the mind to wander and be tempted by “the evil one,” but meditation can be practiced in a Christ-honoring way, focusing the mind on the Cosmic Christ’s love, peace and light within. Similarly, atheists might feel that prayer is ridiculous because they don’t believe in a higher power, but prayer can come in the form of communicating with creation (“Dear Universe”), privately and intentionally confessing one’s overwhelm or needs, or saying a prayer directed towards expressing love and learning from one’s ancestors or hope and healing for future generations. In this way, you begin to see how each component is important even if a bit unfamiliar or uncomfortable.

I want you to consider how the components of spiritual wellness work within your own life. I invite you to ponder which areas could use more growth, which ones intimidate you (and why), and which ones feel most organic for how you desire to live with purpose.

Lastly, I encourage you to lean gently in the direction of what puts you out of your comfort zone. I believe wholeheartedly this is where we are invited to grow the most in unexpected and beautiful ways that foster greater spiritual wellness and mind/body/spirit health.

 

 

I hope that putting spiritual wellness into a tangible framework and terms helps you focus on it in more meaningful and holistic ways. All of our souls are thirsty, but they can be quenched and live life to the fullest.

The world is in dire need of more people who recognize and recommit to living a spiritual life. Will you be one of them?

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

What the Transition Phase of Exercise Can Teach Us About the Body and Life

In my 15+ years spent working with people’s bodies, I have yet to see a single person willingly slow down during the “transition phase” of an exercise. The body’s tendency is to rush through it, but this is unquestionably the most important part of every exercise movement. The transition phase is where we experience the greatest challenge and reap the most benefit.

So, what is the transition phase and what can it teach us about how to optimize our workouts? Better yet, what can it teach us about living a life of wellness?

 

 

What’s the Transition Phase? Why is it Important?

Simply put, the transition phase is the hardest part of any given exercise movement when the muscle(s) goes from a shortening action to a lengthening one, or vice versa. In weightlifting terminology these actions are called concentric (shortening/contracting) and eccentric (lengthening/elongating). Every single active exercise involves muscular transition phases including running, walking, lifting, dancing, team sports, and more. Static exercises that involve holding a posture or position are the only ones that don’t (ex: a plank hold or staying in down dog) .

Transition phases typically happen at the top or bottom of an exercise movement. For example, the bottom of a squat is a transition phase and the top of a shoulder press is a transition phase. Both of these examples are when the direction of the movement is changing and the muscles have to work harder, especially when lengthening and becoming less stable. This is when many people begin to feel fatigued and rush through the movement. For example, a person a doing squats will pop back up to standing as quickly as they can or will avoid going as low as earlier reps. A person doing the shoulder press might also rush, limit range of motion by not fully extending in the elbows, or forget to breathe.

As long as a person isn’t risking injury, it’s best to slow down during the transition phase instead of hurry up. While this leads to greater discomfort in the short term, it yields far greater returns in strength, stamina, and flexibility.

Not all reps are made equal.

People can rush through the transition phase for 12 reps of a shoulder press and have so-so gains in strength or they can take their time and work with their breath to slowly move through those same 12 reps and yield far greater muscle breakdown from the workout. As you probably already know, muscle breakdown is what leads to soreness. Recovering from soreness is part of the necessary equation for muscle and strength gains.

Slow Transition Phase = More Muscle Breakdown = Sore Muscles =

*Greater Strength

(*after recovery)

We humans have a fondness for physical comfort but ironically, that’s not what propels us forward the most.

 

 

Approach the Transition Phase with Wisdom

I’m not one to preach “go hard or go home” about anything, especially fitness. I used to be gung-ho about working out and putting myself through the gauntlet but that’s no longer my approach. I’ve matured over time and now see how harmful that mentality can be – for my own health and for my clients’ well-being. Pushing hard even when our bodies scream to stop or slow down is a really good way to risk injury.

With this in mind, it’s crucial that we approach the transition phase of each exercise rep with wisdom. Listening to our bodies is crucial to avoid injury and burnout. There are times when working hard helps us grow and other times when it can have quite the opposite effect. If we’re sick, run down physically, emotionally depleted, overcome with stress, or under-rested then we serve our bodies best by choosing to recover. At the very least we must learn to balance our strenuous exercises with meditation, stretching, and relaxation to calm our nervous systems.

In summary: You must be judicious about how much and when you push hard through each movement. Never ignore warning signs from your body such as dizziness, sharp pain, joint discomfort, lightheadedness, nausea, the sensation that you might drop the weight at any moment, etc. It’s important that you know when to stop.

 

 

Life Lessons from the Transition Phase

Change takes time

We’ve all heard the old adage “change takes time” and that’s true with more than exercise. Certain things take time even when we would prefer them not to – like pregnancy, education, wine making, you name it. The real life examples are endless and there are tangible consequences for shortchanging seasons of transition and growth.

I used to be the kind of person who wanted to get everything done in a hurry. When I had my first child a full month early for no clear reason I wondered how much of my innate desire to control and rush through life had harmed things. Although my son turned out to be healthy, the experience compelled me to approach my following four pregnancies quite differently. I allowed myself a lot more rest and took things slower than I might have otherwise done. The need to be patient and calm as my body changed was crucial during the major physical and emotional transitions of each pregnancy.

Breathe through stress

Learning to breathe is crucial during the transition phase in exercise. Inhaling gives us the necessary oxygen for exercise and exhaling gives us a burst of force (and a tighter core) to get through the hard part of a rep. The same goes for life. We must learn to breathe deeply for optimal health and nervous system regulation. Shallow breathing results in staying in a fight-or-flight mode with high stress hormones that wreak havoc on our health. Breathwork can help us physically and emotionally regulate our bodies during overwhelming transitions like moving homes, starting a new job, preparing to get married, trying to conceive, etc.

 

 

Spiritual Transition Phases

Transition phases can happen physically, emotionally and spiritually. The world is more interconnected digitally than ever before and this exposure to new ways of thinking and living has the potential to change people’s worldview and beliefs. I personally believe we are collectively moving away from religious exclusivism and elitism but that this slow-moving evolution (i.e. transition phase) comes with growth pains and pushback, especially from fundamentalist groups. I will be curious to see if humanity can find new and healing ways to come together spiritually. If we can, I believe the health of both humanity and the earth will improve. Women’s individual and collective wellness will benefit too.

 

 

Wellness is Defined by the Transitions

Wellness will always be inclusive of the things in life that push us through discomfort and challenge us to grow. Wellness is more of a holistic approach to living than it is a static state of unchanging good health.

The next time we find ourselves in a “transition phase,” be it mid-workout or mid-workday, I hope we can slow down, lean into the discomfort, breathe deeply, stay patient, and grow.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Leaning into Limitations: A New Era of Wellness

When I initially sat down to write this first article following maternity leave, my infant decided to wake up wailing after no less than five minutes. Eventually, I was able to get through writing the first half. The second day I expected to carve out some time to write was the same day as my youngest’s 6-month check up, which turned into a sick visit because my toddler’s classroom had a Covid exposure. The day got turned upside down from there, masking to grab groceries in the event of a quarantine, picking up test-to-stay kits from my child’s school, and so on. Such is the nature of the season that I’m in as a parent with limited childcare for the summer. This state seems to mirror the pandemic-era world of canceled events, last minute changes in plans, and constant iterations for how we live. All of it leaves me (and I assume many of us) feeling limited.

 

 

No one likes feeling limited, least of all Americans. We are so completely entrenched in our own ideas and plans going exactly as expected that the fast moving trains we set in motion are bound to run off track. But when they do, we fuss and complain. We dig our heels in harder and claim that grit and perseverance are our best assets. The ones that will win us the race, earn us the promotion, get our waistline back, buy us the house, and fill us with full satisfaction. Limitlessness is the dream and beyond the sky is the destination, but we remain forever bound by skin, neediness, hunger, sleep, and a desire for connection.

I’ve worked with not hundreds but thousands of individuals, some in depth and some more surface level. I’ve witnessed nearly every one of them (and myself) pine for achievement, a sense of completion, and – most noteworthy – the ability to do more. The opposite of living limited. The bedrock of Western culture in a word is MORE. Consumerism is defined by more, as is the fitness industry in which I have spent many years of my professional career. More reps. More sets. More weights. More distance. More speed. More strength.

Even places of worship are tempted into the deliciousness of “more” by trying to gain additional members and achieve greater things in the name of their God. As a woman of faith, I see a great danger emerging as certain Christian denominations and groups threaten America’s collective wellness with their desire for more power and control. The entire crisis of the war in Ukraine has been driven by one individual’s bloodthirsty desire for more – more land, control, power, dominance, and fear. The poison of more even impacts gun violence. Automatic weapons are especially deadly because of the greater potential number of victims in each assault on human life. And so it would seem, this thirst and hunger for more is quite universal but perhaps, when we sit with its reality, we can see how dangerous it is. Not just for dictators and fringe extremists but for all of us.

For the past half year I’ve been tending to the needs of my third child in the first months of her life. I’m constantly feeling the pressure of “more.” I wish I could divide myself into five parts at once – one of me to tend to my oldest child, one for my middle child, another for the breastfeeding babe, one for my work, and another to collapse in a heap of exhaustion and *finally* get that nap that I so desperately need. But I too am bound by my own skin. My own limitations. God, help me to accept them.

 

 

The problem isn’t that we are limited creatures in this existence. The problem is that we resist limitations even when they are a part of our very makeup. Denying them and trying to play the more, more, more game breaks us. Yes, we hear stories about executives who start at the bottom and work 20 hour days to make it big and athletes who train eight hours a day year round to win the Olympics (I just watched the “Untold: Caitlyn Jenner” documentary on Netflix), but let’s face it – none of us can outrun the exhaustion forever. There is always a price to pay either mentally or physically. Sometimes we can recalibrate and reverse the damage and other times, it leaves its mark.

Pushing myself past the limit always follows the same pattern:

Life gets busy yet I pressure myself to do even more during already maxed-out daily schedules. The overwhelm of this traps me in a state of anxiety which only serves to drive me forward harder and faster, more determined to get everything done quickly – and done well. My body enters into sympathetic nervous system overdrive, feeling on edge, hyper and anxious most hours of the day. Eventually, an acute stressor enters the equation such as something traumatic happening in the nation or world or my toddler bringing home a nasty virus. This added mental or physical stress is enough to tip my system past its breaking point and I burn out and crash (usually with a head cold).

Do you have a vicious cycle too? One where you know you’re past your limits but keep pushing anyway?

Time and maturity have helped me identify this harmful pattern of pretending and trying to do more than I can. I’m not perfect at avoiding or fixing it though. It’s a gradual process and I constantly have to remind myself that the rat race and nose-to-the-grindstone mentality are no way to live in true wellness. Both tear down the individual and the collective in very tangible and harmful ways. I find myself in a much healthier place when I openly and lovingly acknowledge my limitations.

 

 

Here are a few things that limit me:

Breastfeeding all three of my children has limited me for the better part of the past decade. It’s time consuming, forces me to slow down, and means that I opt for less help with childcare for the first year of their lives due to the frequency of nursing and sub-optimal pumping output in substitute of direct breastfeeding.

My back limits me. I used to be a marathoner but I was hit by a car while riding my bike in DC and ever since have dealt with ongoing spinal instability. Long mileage doesn’t work with my body anymore and I have to heavily favor foam rolling and strength training despite wishing I could run days upon days in a row without issue.

My scar limits me. It’s from an emergency C-section from a pregnancy loss and then the planned C-section for my third child. The underlying tissue is still healing and I’m actively working to keep the fascia from forming tight adhesions that could some day cause me problems. This whole process sets off the instability in my back. The visual scar challenges me mentally and emotionally in many ways too, although less than it used to.

The list is longer but you get the idea. We all have things that challenge us to slow down or do things differently than we would ideally choose to. Again, that’s okay. This is human. Normal. The thing that’s NOT okay is allowing our limitations to steal our joy or question our worth, and yet so many people fall prey to these fear-based mentalities, as though not being able to do more means our inherent value is less. But that’s a lie.

 

 

I cope best with my limitations when I remind myself that I’m enough as I am – and that I’m not all things. Sometimes, it can help to run through a list in your head or write down all the traits you possess and are proud of while also making note of a few things you’re not the best at but beat yourself up about. If you do this, I would ask you to thoughtfully sit with the things you feel guilt, frustration, anxiety, or sadness about and consider if you might be able and willing to accept them with love or let them go in such a way that they can’t allow you to feel shame anymore.

Living limited can lead to a beautiful and flourishing wellness. When I embrace living this way I’m able to breathe deeply and rest peacefully. My priorities become clearer and I let go of the voices in my head threatening to measure my worth based on productivity and accomplishment. In the next few months I will share with you all what one of those crystal clear priorities is and how it’s taking shape but for now, let’s part ways after repeating these affirmations a few times silently:

 

My limitations are where I can find my strength.

My worth is not based on appearances or output.

I am enough.

I am not all things. And that’s okay.

I can find peace in the moment.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

How to Manage Chronic Fatigue with Exercise

I’ve long preached that exercise is a double-edged sword. It can help or hurt our bodies depending on an individual’s health status at the time of exercise combined with the mode and intensity of the workout. We must remain mindful of how and when we workout, especially when battling fatigue. When used improperly, exercise can be EXTREMELY harmful for a person battling chronic fatigue syndrome.

Data shows us that women suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome far more than men. So, let’s explore how to identify if you’re suffering from regular fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome, and then what kind of exercise is appropriate under each circumstance. Every woman is worthy of feeling healthy. Let’s make sure we equip ourselves – and each other – for this worthwhile endeavor.

(Please be patient while the video loads – thanks!)

For more videos and content while I’m on maternity leave, you’re welcome to follow along on Instagram:

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

The Science of Uncertainty and Mental Health

Many of us have sat in the great waiting room of uncertainty. Sometimes we wait on an important medical diagnosis, job contract, fertility outcome, or financial assistance. There are endless situations (including the pandemic) that place enormous stress and anxiety on us due to uncertain outcomes. Today, we’ll dive into how you can manage stress during uncertainty using an evidence-based and accessible strategy. Every woman is worthy of mental/emotional wellness, even in the face of the unknown!

(Please be patient while the video loads – thanks!)

For more videos and content while I’m on maternity leave, you’re welcome to follow along on Instagram!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

The Healthier My Relationship with Fitness, The Less I Exercise

Confession: I’m a fitness professional who used to ignore her personal boundaries and physical needs. (Yikes.) It’s true though…I used to be oblivious to the ways that I would abuse my body through too much exercise and physical stress while simultaneously coaching clients on how to find balance. These days, I practice what I preach but it has been a journey to get here and find peace. Sharing my story via video below and wishing everyone the best of physical wellness and balance.

(Please be patient while the video loads – thanks!)

For more videos and content while I’m on maternity leave, you’re welcome to follow along on Instagram:

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

Every Woman is Worthy

Out with the old and in with the new!

I’m excited to (verbally) introduce the new slogan for WellnessWinz: Every Woman is Worthy!

In the video below, I dive into why this slogan gets to the core of wellness and the heart of the site’s content over the past seven years. Included in our discussion are the four aspects of wellness covered through long-form content on WellnessWinz – physical wellness, emotional/mental wellness, spiritual wellness, and most recently, social wellness. There are a handful of other dimensions of wellness that are important such as occupational, intellectual, creative, environmental and financial, but I will leave other more qualified experts to dive into those.

So, for now…let’s explore what “Every Woman is Worthy” means, how judgement of the self and others holds us back, and why living this message out is so important for women from diverse backgrounds.

(Ps – An alternative to watching me through the whole video is to start playing it but listen as though it’s a podcast while you cook, clean, exercise, etc.)

(Please be patient while the video loads – thanks!)

I would love to hear what you think every woman is worthy of. Fill in the blank in the comments:

Every woman is worthy of ______.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

5 Tips For Women to Get Better Sleep

Today, WellnessWinz is hosting Morgan Adams as a guest writer to discuss insights about women’s sleep needs and solutions. Morgan recently launched a new website for her Sleep Coaching services. Check it out and read on. Sweet dreams! Yours in health and wellness, Maggie

 

5 Tips For Women to Get Better Sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, up to 67% of women say they’ve had a sleeping problem at least a few nights during the past month—and 46% said they had problems almost every night. The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, fewer than two thirds of women (according to the CDC) actually get that much sleep each night.

This pre-pandemic data clearly speaks to the fact that many women are getting suboptimal sleep. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I would argue that women’s sleep situation is actually worse than these statistics suggest. Pandemic-related anxiety, lack of boundaries between work and family life, and women often shouldering more of the household duties have created the perfect storm for sleep struggles.

While many of these issues seem beyond our control, I want to share 5 strategies I’ve been helping my clients implement:

 

 

  1. Avoid starting prescription sleep medications

In my mid-30’s, I had a personal crisis that caused insomnia. I sought a prescription for a popular sleeping pill which I became dependent on for almost a decade. The downsides for me were late-night binges without any recollection of these episodes the next morning and feeling extremely foggy the next day up until close to lunchtime. 

According to Dr. Matthew Walker, author of the best-seller Why We Sleep, “Sleeping pills do not provide natural sleep, can damage health, and increase the risk of life-threatening diseases.” While prescription sleep drugs can help you become unconscious, sedation isn’t the same as sleep. These drugs can actually restrict the deeper brain waves that happen during REM sleep, which is why so many people experience grogginess the next morning.

So what should you do if you’re already on prescription sleep medicine and no longer want to be taking it? Work with your healthcare provider on coming up with a plan to gradually reduce your dose. 

 

  1. Pay close attention to what you consume in the evening

Avoid eating a heavy dinner 3 hours before bed. This could help you avoid potential heartburn or indigestion, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Have an alcohol curfew. If you’re going to enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine, it’s better to do so at Happy Hour as opposed to an after-dinner drink. I’ve personally found that I (and my clients) sleep much more soundly when we stop drinking about 3 hours before bed. While alcohol can help you get to sleep faster, the downside is that it impairs your REM sleep which you need for consolidation of memories and processing of emotions.

If you’re going to chill with Netflix before bedtime, consider the type of content you’re watching. Shows that are disturbing and overstimulating could impact your sleep. So go for “Ted Lasso” instead of “Handmaid’s Tale.”

 

 

  1. Track your sleep

Tracking your sleep is important because you want to 1) identify whether or not you’re getting enough of it and 2) make sure it’s quality sleep. You can opt for logging your sleep data in an online or paper tracker. My preference for really drilling down to get some hard stats is to use a sleep tracking device.

In a recent study in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep, several popular wearable trackers were evaluated. The findings concluded that there were large variations between devices and that the greatest amount of confidence was measuring Total Sleep Time, Total Wake Time, and Sleep Efficiency. Where all the devices fell short with regard to accuracy was measuring sleep stages (eg. REM and deep sleep). Fitbit and Oura were both noted as being the most accurate devices.

Personally, I’ve had an Oura ring for a year and a half and have gained so many insights from using it nightly. Its ability to measure your body temperature could be of interest to women who are closely tracking their fertility or menstrual cycle. One piece of advice I’d offer to those who are using wearable sleep trackers is to pay more attention to your weekly trend lines than what data the tracker reports each day. If you lean toward perfectionism you don’t risk developing an unhealthy obsession with achieving perfect sleep (AKA “orthosomnia”).

 

  1. Practice relaxation techniques

A common sleep complaint I hear from women is not being able to fall asleep because you’re having worrisome thoughts OR waking up in the middle of the night with random things running through your brain. 

If that’s you too, here are a few strategies that could be helpful. I’d suggest choosing one that resonates with you. If that doesn’t seem to help then try another strategy. The same techniques aren’t going to work for every person.

  • 4-7-8 breathing: Rest your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth. Breathe in quietly through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds. Exhale forcefully through your mouth, pursing your lips (make a “whoosh” sound) for 8 seconds. Then repeat this cycle up to 4 times.
  • Meditation: Research has backed up that mediation is an effective strategy to help those who struggle with sleep. In a 2015 study published in JAMA, researchers analyzed how meditation affected 49 adults who had moderate sleep problems. The participants were randomly assigned 6 weeks of meditation or sleep hygiene education. The study concluded that the meditation group experienced fewer symptoms of insomnia. There is an abundance of free meditation apps on the market these days, with dedicated sections devoted to sleep meditations. I’ve found that the Insight Timer app has the most meditations for sleep. Other apps to check out include Calm and Headspace.

 

 

  1. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary

When I’m coaching my clients, one of the first things we address is their bedroom environment. This is what I call the “low hanging fruit” because most tweaks in your sleeping environment are super simple to address. For example, adjusting your thermostat to 65-70 degrees can help you sleep better. Why is this? Studies have shown that we need to lower our core temperature by 2 to 3 degrees to prepare our bodies for sleep. Another simple tweak is to put electrical tape on any bright lights. Fun fact…your bedroom should be so dark at night that you shouldn’t be able to see your hand if you put it in front of your face. 

 

DO THIS NEXT!

Make sure your bedroom is optimized to help you sleep better. I put together a handy and SIMPLE guide to turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. Click here to download my Better Bedroom checklist today!

 

 

Random Things Every Woman Should Learn About Women’s Health

I learned a lot more about women’s health over the past year for two unexpected reasons: 1) a medical emergency that resulted in deeper understanding of female reproductive anatomy, and 2) being drawn to a book titled The XX Brain by Lisa Moscani, PhD. My takeaways from both were so unexpected and enlightening that I started bringing up these newfound facts in conversation with friends, family members, and my book club circle. I was surprised to find that these very basic facts about our bodies and health aren’t common knowledge.

So, here I am today as a wellness coach and fitness professional trying to shed light on some startling facts about women’s health. Bear with me if these seem unrelated to your personal situation at the moment…you never know when they might become relevant for you or a woman you know. Knowledge is power and women are worthy!

 

 

Reproductive Organs & Health

Fact 1: Removal of a single fallopian tube only reduces fertility by about 10%, not 50% as many women assume. (I told you this was random stuff.) But this is great news for those of us women with a single tube! I was surprised to learn this fact after losing one of my tubes last year. It gave me tremendous hope.

Fact 2: The ovaries sit closer together, somewhat behind the uterus, not far apart as shown in textbooks and anatomy diagrams. It’s odd to me that women are taught so little about their reproductive organs! We’re seldom taught how they really work sexually despite the basic education in sex ed. class, and conceiving a baby doesn’t seem like complicated stuff until a woman starts meaningfully tracking her cycle and figuring out peak fertility signs and symptoms. And lo and behold – now I realize that we don’t even really know what we look like “down there” without a mirror for the outside or a kind doctor explaining the intricacies of all the stuff on the inside. (Did you know your uterus has 3 layers?! My point exactly!)

Fact 3: Fallopian tubes are flexible and mobile. You heard me right – those skinny little suckers can move! This is why you can still get pregnant while having only one tube, assuming it’s healthy and undamaged. A single fallopian tube figures out how to intelligently move to the ovulating ovary, even if it’s on the opposite side, to suck up or “catch” the egg that is released. The next month, it will move to the opposite side in preparation for the next ovulation cycle.

This. Absolutely. Boggles. My. Mind.

Women are complicated and magnificent. Thanks to this phenomenon, I’m currently pregnant with a baby girl whose egg came from my ovary on the side *without* the fallopian tube. I’m still in shock.

 

 

Fact 4: Most aggressive forms of ovarian cancer start in the fallopian tubes, not the ovary itself. This is really eye-opening information to me. I hadn’t thought much about ovarian cancer and internal female reproductive anatomy until a year ago when my world tilted. Now, I’m processing the fact that my paternal great-grandmother died from ovarian cancer. I believe that the reason ovarian cancer is so deadly is because of its frequent origin in the fallopian tubes. You see, the tubes are wide open to the abdominal cavity on one end, meaning that cancer originating in the tubes can quickly and easily spread to any number of internal organs.

When I went to a fertility clinic to check if my remaining fallopian tube was healthy, the doctor did a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) procedure where dye was injected through my uterus up and into my fallopian tube to check for obstructions. I saw the thin line of ink on the screen and was told that was my tube. But then I also saw a fanning out of the dye as though it were spilling into open space. The doctor explained that’s exactly what it was doing – it was spilling from the open side of my tube into my abdomen (the doctor called this a “blushing effect” and sign of a healthy tube). While this was encouraging at the time, I must consider my family history of ovarian cancer and its risks for me. Which leads me to the decision to have my remaining tube removed after this pregnancy because research shows…(see fact 5)

Fact 5: Removal of fallopian tubes can reduce ovarian cancer risk by over 40%. Ovarian cancer has been shown to have a genetic component in some cases and is worth discussing with a genetic counselor if your family has a history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. If you’re a women intrigued by genetic testing then this is a good thing to check genetic risk for too, even in the absence of a family history.

 

 

Hormones & Brain Health

Fact 1: Did you know that the X chromosome is much larger than the Y chromosome and contains over 1000 more genes? And women have two X chromosomes at that! That’s a lot of genetic power, if you ask me. According to The XX Brain these genes primarily support hormone production and brain activity.

Fact 2: Men’s brains produce more serotonin (mood, sleep, appetite, “feel good” hormone) whereas women’s brains produce more dopamine (drive and reward-motivated behavior). Does this make a light bulb go off in anyone else’s mind? This fact produces such an “aha!” moment for me. It makes so much sense.

My husband sleeps like a log, has a fairly level mood every day, and seems generally content to watch football on the tv while playing a mindless video game on his phone. My day is much different. Sleep is easily thrown off by hormones, my mood is much more subject to fluctuations, and some evenings I battle feeling “unproductive” if I’m being a zoned-out couch potato. I wonder what life would feel like as a man for just one day…but then I remember that women have more brain power, so I quickly forget the notion 😉

Fact 3: Women’s Alzheimer’s risk is an emerging health crisis. According to Lisa Moscani, “two out of every three Alzheimer’s patients are women” and “a 45 year old woman has a one in five chance of developing Alzheimer’s during her remaining life.”

Does this startle anyone else? I’m mind blown and saddened by these statistics but also encouraged from reading The XX Brain because it helps dive into preventive actions, risk assessments and more, so that women can be proactive about their health.

 

 

Fact 4: Pregnancy-related gestational diabetes and preeclampsia may predispose a woman to develop heart disease around the time of menopause. This was a bit of a side note in Moscani’s book but one that really jumped off the page to me (page 49, for those interested). According to studies, women who experience gestational diabetes during pregnancy have a 26% higher risk of heart issues after menopause. Women with former preeclampsia are at a 31% elevated risk. If you suffered from one of these two prenatal health conditions it’s worth filing this note away for the future so that you can speak to a trusted medical professional about managing menopause and taking actions to boost and monitor heart health (good news – you can start ALL of these things well before menopause).

Fact 5: Removing a woman’s ovaries (or just one) before menopause can increase her risk of dementia by up to 70% (page 53, The XX Brian). If you’ve had one or both of your ovaries removed for medical reasons then please consider reading The XX Brain to learn what you can do about Alzheimer’s prevention. I was very alarmed by this data and hope that women will spread the word and get the preventative help they deserve.

Fact 6: While some aspects of menopause are out of our control, we have the ability to adapt our lifestyle behaviors before and during the process to help ease the intensity of the fall in estrogen. Although I’m still somewhere in my “fertile years” I know that I will inevitably hit menopause one day. For the longest time I thought menopause was just something that “happened” to you, like you step unexpectedly onto a roller coaster with no way off until it stops. Thank goodness this isn’t entirely the case! There are steps you can take to help your body manage the intense downshift in estrogen and the brain/body’s process of adapting to functioning on far less of it.

 

Thanks for hanging in with me and diving into the random, unexpected world of women’s health!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Can Positivity Be Toxic and Hurt Our Health?

 

A new buzzword has circulated the web since 2020: Toxic Positivity…

The pairing of these two terms can make some people feel prickly and others like someone finally gets it. It’s my nature to empathize with opposing views. I often find myself somewhere in the middle, chewing on it all. As a wellness and fitness coach, I see both perspectives and have lived both.

Perhaps the balanced discussion of toxic positivity in this post will help inform you about where positive thinking helps health and when/where it may hurt it. And per usual, I write this with one big caveat – every person is unique and will find themselves at a different place on the “positive vibes” spectrum.

Take my experience, for example…

I was the classic American, privileged, white girl with a stable family and home growing up. I saw the world through rosy-colored lens and stood at a comfortable arms length from any real suffering. In middle school I ran around proclaiming “Life is good!” shortly before it was coined on popular t-shirts in the 90s. I was 100% Miss Positive Vibes. I didn’t have any reason not to be.

 

 

As I grew up and got a little more kicked around by life (you can read about some of those experiences here: Hit by a Car and Pregnancy Loss), I came to better understand the people who met my youthful enthusiasm and can-do attitude with quiet irritation or outward eyerolls. This fresh understanding doesn’t mean that I’m not going to do my best to move forward in life with a hopeful disposition, but it certainly changed how I speak to and empathize with people in the jaws of suffering, grief and loss.

I don’t think our culture is obsessed with people being miserable as some other wellness advocates have suggested. By contrast, I think our culture is addicted to numbing. We find ways to avoid pain or offer quick fixes for it rather than addressing its roots. [Enter: “Toxic positivity,” substance abuse, fear avoidance, spiritual bypassing, grief hierarchies, food addictions, and more.]

A positive disposition is not in and of itself a harmful thing until it prevents us from really sitting with other people in their pain. The very definition of compassion is to suffer together and be motivated to help the suffering person. In other words, compassion compels some people to sit with the person who suffers, acknowledging and hearing their pain, and motivates others to “fix” the suffering. This is where some people in a place of hardship may feel frustrated by futile attempts from loved ones to offer solutions for the painful circumstance. [Hello again, toxic positivity phrases such as “at least you still have…things could be much worse…try to see the bright side…I have a book you should read to help with this,” etc.]

 

 

The complaint against positivity is that it’s not okay when it denies acknowledging hard feelings to the exclusion of positive ones. We are whole beings with ALL the feels at one time or another. This is natural. This is life. This is still within the wellness spectrum; to be fully human.

When we only offer up ideas to solve the pain of another, we miss the other, perhaps more genuine, side of compassion: the “suffer together” side. I would personally rephrase this and call it the “I’m here for you and whatever you need” component of compassion. In times of great need, people must feel free to tell you what they need rather than the other way around. We’re all different and thus, our grief and healing needs will be unique too. We can’t slap boilerplate fixes, numbing tools, and “perk up buttercup” messages to all of humanity.

To sum, positivity becomes “toxic” (i.e., not situationally sensitive) when it:

  • Diminishes the feelings of another
  • Puts another’s grief or hardship into a hierarchy to suggest it’s less difficult than “X”
  • Dismisses or minimizes another’s lived experience
  • Addresses a complicated situation with a cliché phrase or one-size-fits-all perspective
  • Suggests that you’re unwilling to listen due to your own personal discomfort around the subject

Negative emotions can actually inform and grow us emotionally, mentally and spiritually when we work through them. Denying emotions – both negative and positive – can result in distress. As evidenced by one study, suppressing emotional reactions of all kinds can lead to increased heart rate and other physiological symptoms of overwhelm and anxiety. In short, we must authentically confront and work through ALL emotions.

 

 

But if toxic positivity is the harmful denial of negative emotions then doesn’t it stand to reason that “toxic negativity” exists too?

YES.

Negative feelings left unchecked can spiral and wreak havoc on our physical and mental health. That said, it’s entirely natural to oscillate back and forth between positive and negative feelings. So long as we don’t assign labels like “good” and “bad” to the variety of emotions that we humans experience then we’re making at least some small steps of progress.

The wellness industry has been bashed for selling “positive vibes only” for the last decade or two, and heck – even my site’s tagline can be interpreted as toxic positivity. I picked “start believing you can” as the tagline years ago because I saw (and still see) the way that negative self beliefs limit people when it comes to their health and fitness. This does NOT mean positive thoughts will fix all things or that people in a state of suffering can simply adapt an optimistic attitude and “think” themselves better. What it does mean is that faith in ourselves, even in the face of great adversity, is fundamental to persevering the many highs and lows that life doles out.

So, toxic positivity and toxic negativity…meh. They’re just words. Don’t get too hung up on them. Instead, put your energy into embracing authentic living and sincere compassion. These are some of the best tools for wellness.

Start believing you can.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie