Tag Archives: Wellness

It’s Time to Laugh off Stress!

Do You Need to Laugh?

Have you felt stressed this year? Has your body been more tired or tense as the result of anxiety? Have you felt disappointed about missing celebrations and milestones with loved ones? There are a million reasons why 2020-2021 has increased stress levels, but the good news is that healing can start now. It’s simply a laugh away!

It’s time to laugh your stress off…literally.

I’m not suggesting that difficult emotions must get buried or left unprocessed. That would be unhealthy for long-term wellness. What I am recommending is that you find things that make you joyful so you can lighten the mood and laugh along with life.

 

 

“Laughter is the best medicine in the world.”

-Milton Berle

 

The Scientifically-Proven Benefits of Laughter

According to the Mayo Clinic, a good laugh immediately stimulates your organs through the intake of oxygen-rich air. As you laugh, your heart rate and blood pressure rise but both drop after the giggles subside, producing a calm and relaxed feeling. Your stress response “cools off” following a laugh and muscle tension eases for up to 45 minutes afterwards.

Also, laughter increases blood circulation, which is good for your heart and lungs, and boosts the release of mood-enhancing endorphins. This  all contributes to the calorie-burning effect of laugher which may not be equivalent to formal exercise but is just one more benefit of a hearty laugh.

Laughter even improves pain, strengthens the immune system, and extends the lifespan!

 

Humor for Pain Relief

Endorphins, our body’s natural feel-good chemicals, are commonly known for their stress relieving benefits following things like exercise and laugher, but they also help improve pain! In a study on the effectiveness of humor therapy for older adults living in nursing homes, it was found that individuals who completed a “humor therapy program” experienced significant decreases in chronic pain and perception of loneliness. Study participants reported enhanced happiness and life satisfaction compared to a control group that didn’t complete the humor therapy program.

The study concluded that “Nurses and other healthcare professionals can incorporate humor in caring for their patients. Telling a joke and encouraging clients to tell a funny story may have a therapeutic effect. Asking patients to make a “My Happy Folder” is also a good way to involve and empower them in their own pain and symptom management. Regardless of their physical condition, patients need to allow themselves to be happy, to let humor play a greater role in their lives, and to enjoy life. Using humor therapy is a good method of health maintenance.”

Hunter “Patch” Adams, who was portrayed in the film “Patch Adams” by Robin Williams, has long understood the medicinal effects of humor. Adams is an American physician, comedian and clown who organizes volunteers to travel around the world dressed as clowns so that orphans, patients, and others in need can enjoy their humor. Adams is also a social activist who founded the Gesundheit! Institute, a free community hospital. In its latest plans, the Gesundheit! Institute will be built as a healthcare eco-community in West Virginia that incorporates alternative medicine with traditional hospital care. Of all people, Adams understands that traditional medicine isn’t always the only answer. Humor and alternative healing approaches can improve pain and outcomes of medical interventions.

 

 

“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

-Mark Twain

 

Bolster the Immune System with Belly Laughs

Laughter has long been praised for boosting the immune system; however, researchers face inconclusive evidence about the benefits of laughter on the actual various immune system components. That said, the scientific community knows that increased and chronic stress weakens the immune system response. Humor, it seems, might just do the opposite by influencing the rise of immune cell levels and infection-fighting antibodies.

My two cents: Laughter can’t hurt.

As we continue to suffer and/or recover from the effects of a global pandemic, a good laugh is easily the most accessible, free, and unlimited medicine that we have for healing. I say use it!

 

Laughter and Longevity

A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that women with a strong sense of humor live longer than peers despite a variety of illnesses that they may suffer. The Norwegian study was conducted over 15 years and included over 50,000 adults. Researchers stated:

“The findings show that for women, high scores on humor’s cognitive component were associated with 48 percent less risk of death from all causes, a 73 percent lower risk of death from heart disease and an 83 percent lower risk of death from infection. In men, a link was found only for the risk of death from infection—those with high humor scores had a 74 percent reduced risk.”

This is highly compelling evidence that it’s never too late in life to benefit from a good laugh. And why wait? Start incorporating daily or weekly humor now!

 

 

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.”

-Victor Hugo

 

Bonding and Togetherness in the Giggles

Laughter is contagious and can bring people together, strengthen relationships, diffuse disagreements, and release inhibitions. It comes in the form of swapping jokes and spending time with family and friends. Laughing can help people feel happier, more positive and relaxed in stressful situations.

As the world attempts to gain immunity from Covid-19 it’s a good time (once safe) to visit with select loved ones face-to-face and to engage in the powerful social aspects of humor, storytelling, quality time, and in-person interactions. These are all important for mental health and have been lacking for many of us over the past year.

Laughter helps people “get out of their heads” and better connect with others. The collective healing capacity of humanity depends on simple daily acts and moments like… giggling with a girlfriend, tickling your toddler, swapping playful jokes with parents, belly laughing to a comedy movie, reading something humorous, and finding the levity in life. Despite all the recent heaviness, there is always something to laugh about. Doing so may even give you the hope and healing you need.

 

“If you become silent after your laughter, one day you will hear God also laughing. You will hear the whole existence laughing – trees and stones and stars with you.”

-Rajneesh

 

 

 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Building Lean Muscle Boosts Immune Function

Building lean muscle has been boasted for reducing fat and toning the body, but it’s seldom discussed in relation to the immune system. Lean muscle is a powerful medicine and has a protective effect for our immune systems.

The Evidence

In studies of mice it has been observed that mice with more muscle fare best when fighting a chronic viral infection. Many chronic illnesses like infections and cancers exhaust the immune system, but in muscular mice the skeletal muscle tissue releases cytokines. This small protein triggers a phenomenal reaction. The cytokines influence “T-cell precursors” to settle within the muscle, creating a sort of back up reserve of cells that can migrate out and develop into fully-functional T-cells when needed. Thus, when the immune system’s regular T-cells are too exhausted to support the body in the face of chronic illness, the precursor cells get released from muscles and become new, disease-fighting T-cells at the sight of infection.

(I don’t know about you, but when I learn something like this about the body I REALLY geek out!)

While this specific protective mechanism between the immune system and muscles has only been proven in studies on mice, there’s a strong chance the same thing happens in our bodies. For example, it has been known for a while that immune cells play a critical role in repairing muscle. This is called myogenesis. In this process, immune cells help regulate stem cells within the muscles to regenerate healthy tissue. The immune system’s critical role in muscle growth and repair may help explain why muscle mass diminishes with age. In other words, the aging immune system results in reduced muscle stem cell function.

In another study, people who regularly bicycled had more immune cells thanks to their muscle mass. Their muscles produced more hormones to regulate the thymus, the organ where T-cells are manufactured (these little fighters help detect infections, including covid-19). The cyclists’ bodies also produced more cancer-protective proteins like the interleukin-6 protein (IL-6).

In summary, the muscle-immunity connection is very real. Now, let’s talk about how to take advantage of it…

How to Maintain Muscle

First off, please don’t feel upset if you don’t look muscular. You don’t have to flaunt a six-pack or chiseled legs to be strong and healthy. Bodybuilders and fitness models have lots of lean muscle, it’s true, but they also have very low BMIs. In other words, they work extremely hard to trim down fat. Sometimes, this can be to the detriment of women’s health if they become amenorrhoeic (i.e. their menstrual cycle stops), so try hard not to compare your body to someone else’s. Perfectly normal people can have immune-fighting and health-boosting muscle mass while also retaining healthy amounts of fat.

In general, I recommend for healthy people under the age of 40-45 to focus on exercises that are moderately intense for 45 minutes/day, 4-5x/week to maintain good health and lean muscle mass. Other days of the week can be used for rest days, low-intensity exercise days, walking, stretching, gentle yoga, meditation, gardening/yardwork, cleaning the house, or other light activities. Adults over 45-years old can follow the same framework but should keep exercise bouts lower in intensity. This programming is extremely basic but demonstrates how weekly exercise can be scheduled for general fitness and muscle maintenance.

You can build strength and muscle through virtually any exercise; running, low-impact cardio, HIIT, strength training, dance, swimming, sports, yoga, pilates, barre, you name it. It’s all fair game. What matters the most is that you regularly stimulate and stress your body (in a good way, of course) with exercises that get your heart rate up and challenge your efforts. As long as this is done safely then you can enjoy many lifelong benefits for your overall health.

Strength Train at Least 2x/week

Although it might be out of your comfort zone, I recommend that everyone (yes, everyone) do strength training twice a week.

Why?

Strength training offers focused bouts of effort that can allow you to train weak areas of your body to improve overall strength, balance and postural support. Incorporating strength training into your weekly regimen (even if you only do 20 minutes twice a week) will allow you to troubleshoot weak muscles so that the exercises and sports you enjoy the most can be enjoyed for years to come.

While performing strength training exercises, the number of sets and reps needed is highly subjective to your level of fitness, ability to maintain form, and knowledge of the movement pattern. Whether you choose to use free body weight exercises, weight machines, or props is also dependent on your individual needs. You can gain enormous benefits from any and all of them. For a highly detailed tutorial about strength training, check out my contribution to a MyFitnessPal article on the topic: Fitness Basics: Strength Training.

You deserve to feel amazing in your body. A little muscle might help. This doesn’t mean that you have to be excessively skinny or lacking fat. It doesn’t even mean that you have to be super strong! Feeling amazing is a balance that only you can define and at its heart is wellness.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Spiritual bypassing was coined by John Welwood, a prominent psychotherapist and author. …

Do an Annual Blood Panel (right now!)

Getting your doctor to run an annual blood panel can be life changing and life saving. A yearly peek into your internal health helps you get familiar with your baselines and can offer a quick diagnosis if there are any issues. You don’t have to be symptomatic or unwell to get a blood panel done. You can simply request one at your annual physical with your general practitioner. I highly recommend it for several reasons that I will share, especially in the depths of winter.

My husband and I started requesting annual blood panels six or seven years ago. We wanted to know what our baselines were before trying to conceive our first child and also wanted to check that my husband’s vitamin D levels weren’t too low (without proper supplementation his levels can fall off a cliff). Since then, we have done an annual blood panel every year.

You Might Get Paid to Do Bloodwork!

Every year my husband and I upload our bloodwork results into a health benefits portal through my husband’s employer. Not only has this been beneficial for keeping tabs on our health but we actually get paid for doing it. If you get health insurance through your employer it’s worth looking into whether or not they offer health perks or incentives. Many large companies do. Rewards for reporting basic biometrics such as weight, height, age, blood pressure and cholesterol levels (collected through blood analysis) might include a discount on the premium for your health insurance or a cash bonus for your health savings account (HSA). Even if your employer doesn’t offer these benefits, it’s still important to do a blood panel.

Internal vs. External Health

It may seem obvious but external health doesn’t always equate to internal health. Thus, it’s critically important that we occasionally peek into what the blood reveals about our holistic health. An overweight individual doesn’t always have internal risk factors present for diabetes or heart disease. The converse is true for an individual whose weight falls within what is generally deemed a healthy range; this person might have hypertension and high blood sugar that a trip to her GP and a blood panel can reveal.

Sometimes, a blood test is the only way to get answers for health factors that aren’t discernable to the naked eye and don’t always correlate with one’s body weight. For example, a woman complains of chronic fatigue. She is a normal body weight and practices good nutrition. She also maintains a daily exercise schedule. A blood panel can reveal if this fatigue comes from low iron or thyroid dysfunction. If a problem is found then iron supplements or thyroid treatment may begin. If not, the woman might take a closer look at whether she is sleeping enough, feeling undue stress, or over-exercising. Each of these lifestyle factors can also cause crippling fatigue.

What Can Different Blood Panels Evaluate?

  • Organ function
  • Heart disease risk factors
  • Presence of disease (ex: cancer, diabetes)
  • Blood clotting factors
  • Hemoglobin levels and anemia
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Efficacy of certain medicines
  • Clinical allergies (usually requested by allergist not GP)

What are the Most Common Blood Tests?

Below are descriptions of the most common blood tests that doctors do, but the list is not exhaustive. As mentioned, my husband has specifically requested checks on his vitamin D levels before. I have also taken my toddler for two blood analyses for different suspected allergies (milk and soy when he was a baby, almonds as a toddler…all negative). Most recently, I had a blood analysis done to assess my recovery from blood loss during emergency surgery. The panel looked at my hemoglobin levels, red blood cell counts, and the size of my red blood cells. I also asked for a folate and thyroid panel check out of curiosity and a desire for hormonal balance and nutritional well-being. All levels were within normal ranges and I was assured that I had recovered from acute anemia. The peace of mind was wonderful. If something had been “off,” I would have been grateful to know so that I could take swift corrective actions.

Complete Blood Count

What it measures:

Blood diseases and disorders like anemia, clotting issues, blood cancers, and immune system disorders. Components included in a CBC: Red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, hemoglobin, hematocrit and mean corpuscular volume.

Basic Metabolic Panel

What it measures:

A BMP can reveal information about the heart, organs, muscles and bones by looking at different chemicals typically found in the plasma (fluid) part of the blood. Components included in a BMP: Glucose levels, calcium, electrolytes, and more.

Lipoprotein Panel

What it measures:

Heart disease risk analyzed through total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (i.e. “bad” cholesterol), HDL cholesterol (i.e. “good” cholesterol), and triglycerides. This test often requires fasting for 12 hours prior to the blood draw.

Other Tests:

As mentioned, there are many reasons to do a blood test. For example, a blood enzyme test can look at enzyme levels related to heart attacks to rule them out or confirm them. Blood clotting tests may be done if your doctor suspects you may have a clotting disorder or before/after certain major surgeries. Even covid-19 patients have been undergoing blood tests at hospital intake to evaluate their risk of mortality based on elevated red cell distribution width (RDW). According to medical professionals, elevated RDW “has previously been associated with an increased risk for morbidity and mortality in a variety of diseases, including heart disease, pulmonary disease, influenza, cancer and sepsis.”

Conclusion

I’m not a doctor. I don’t pretend to be one either. This is why it’s imperative that you become your own health advocate. Ask your doctor for a blood panel on an annual basis. It might simply reassure you that your health is on the right track. Or it might be the thing that helps save your life.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

How Vibration Machines Affect the Neuromuscular System
Neuromuscular conditions are some of the most debilitating health concerns plaguing humanity. …
It’s Time to Laugh off Stress!
Do You Need to Laugh? Have you felt stressed this year? Has …
Trauma Recovery & Mental Health Support for Mothers
The last year has taught me a lot about recovering from trauma …
Spiritual Bypassing: Why it Hurts Wellness
Spiritual bypassing was coined by John Welwood, a prominent psychotherapist and author. …

Healing Requires Courage

The world is slowly inching towards a new year and possible solutions for moving the pandemic towards its end. Even once a vaccine is proven effective and administered to the masses, there is still global healing that must follow. No doubt many of us have suffered physical, mental and spiritual repercussions from this scary year. Survivors of covid-19 sometimes say that they have lingering and chronic symptoms from the virus. Still others are grieving losing loved ones who they longed to hold tight in their final days but could not. The whole world needs healing…and it may take a very long time for that to happen, even if and when global immunity is established. We must step into 2021 with bravery and hope like never before. 

 

 

At the outset of the pandemic I felt very fortunate to have escaped its nasty jaws (so far). My family’s livelihood was not majorly hampered and most of our professional work was already based out of our home. In fact, the pandemic meant that my husband’s part-time work travel was made obsolete. Suddenly, he was more available to help with the children, errands, dinner prep and chores. The atmosphere around the dinner table was still tense with pandemic-related stress but we felt like we could count our blessings and muscle onwards.

And then…well, then we were dealt a terrible blow. Our perceived invincibility went racing down the gutter. I was left quite literally dumbfounded and broken, brought to my knees by the great and tragic twists of life. I’m currently on my own unique healing journey. One that requires healing from emergency surgery and pregnancy loss.

My body has had to heal physically on many levels (at two months out it’s still ongoing, of course).

My hormones are finding their way back to equilibrium. The layers of tissue under the incision on my stomach are gluing themselves back together. My core strength and stamina is slowly returning. My heart is pumping to replenish from blood loss and recover from anemia. Emotionally…well…grief takes a while, and you can bet I’ve linked up with a mental health counselor to wade through the trauma. Spiritually, I feel like I’ve grown tremendously…but I still have lots of unanswered questions to make peace with.

Healing takes time. It’s complex. And most of all, it requires courage. 

 

 

Before diving into why healing requires courage, let’s explore how healing is defined to better understand it. Who better to ask than Wikipedia, right? According to wiki:

Healing is the process of the restoration of health from an unbalanced, diseased, damaged or unvitalized organism.”

Said in other words, being healed implies ongoing balance, wellness, safety and vitality. From this standpoint, healing is quite different from modern medicine. Prescription medicines are often masking while surgeries are considered curing in many scenarios. Healing isn’t either; it’s a holistic process.

For example, let’s say a woman is “cured” from breast cancer through a lumpectomy or mastectomy. Does this mean that she is also healed? No, not yet. Healing will take place in the post-operative room following surgery and in the weeks ahead as she regains strength and mobility. It will happen as she begins to deal with the emotional impact of being diagnosed with cancer in the first place. Additional mental healing may be necessary as she adapts to a new body image (in the case of mastectomy) and grieves aspects of the diagnosis and/or trauma. Perhaps healing must also occur on a spiritual level for her; she may be angry at God, questioning the existence of a higher power, or seeking to assign spiritual meaning and value to the experience as a whole. 

Nurses are often given credit for facilitating patients’ healing in hospitals. In nursing literature, healing has been explained as “the process of bringing together aspects of one’s self, body-mind-spirit, at deeper levels of inner knowing, leading toward integration and balance with each aspect having equal importance and value.”

Prior to my recent trauma, I learned the aforementioned definition of healing firsthand after being hit by a car. The healing process took over five years in my twenties. Yup, five full years – partially because my body began to dysfunction in response to the acute injuries I sustained. Also, I was going through a spiritual and emotional crisis at the time. You could definitely call that time a “coming of age” experience but it went hand-in-hand with lessons on physical, emotional and spiritual healing, and the complicated web that entangles them all. 

In the seasons that followed the bike accident, my eyes were opened to the powerful role of inflammation in our bodies, the complexity of pain pathways, the nonlinear nature of healing, and the difficulty involved when advocating to partner with the right health professionals, to name just a few lessons. But most of all, I discovered that healing requires courage. A lot of it. 

 

 

There are powerful stories we rehearse in our heads like “I don’t deserve to feel better,” and “No one can fix me,” or even, “I’m too tired, sad, angry (etc.) to find the resources I need to heal.” Other times, the mental narratives relate to the trauma or inciting incident itself: “It was my partner’s fault when he did ____,” or “I feel like I’m drowning when I think about the day ____ died.” Whatever image or phrase repeats in your head and causes a negative physiological and/or emotional response becomes a footpath in your mind.

As you rehearse or relive that negative experience or belief, that footpath expands into a one-lane road. Over more time and left unchecked, the road gets wider and wider, making it much easier to travel down than another path that is still overgrown and untrodden but which contains a positive belief about the experience. Your brain will keep choosing and reinforcing the wider road until there is courage to step away and intentionally choose to trailblaze a new path. Oftentimes this is a process, not an overnight fix, requiring intentionality and professional help.   

It can be very scary to choose to heal. It entails confronting “inner demons” and misbeliefs, working through trauma, and more. All of this can feel extremely daunting and draining. But being brave enough to heal isn’t about waiting for the fear to subside. It’s about stepping into the fear and moving through it. 

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”

-Ambrose Redmoon

Each individual is responsible for being courageous and owning their healing process. Oftentimes, healing feels like a lot of small quiet victories, unannounced to the world but felt profoundly in a person’s daily life. These small “wins” add up and are just as significant as the big ones. Healing requires being brave enough to take action; setting boundaries, self care, and saying no to things that will deplete you too much or that you’re not ready for. Healing will look and feel different for each person.

We can also learn a little something about healing through understanding what it looks like at a cellular level in our bodies:

“With physical damage or disease suffered by an organism, healing involves the repair of living tissue(s), organs and the biological system as a whole and resumption of (normal) functioning. Medicine includes the process by which the cell(s) in the body regenerate and repair to reduce the size of a damaged or necrotic area and replace it with new living tissue. The replacement can happen in two ways: by regeneration in which the necrotic cells are replaced by new cells that form “like” tissue as was originally there; or by repair in which injured tissue is replaced with scar tissue. Most organs will heal using a mixture of both mechanisms.”

 

 

In other words, if we take what cellular repair and regeneration look like and blow this out to the entire organism or person, we might conclude that healing looks in part like an evolution of the self (regeneration) and in part like a return to the original self (repair). Both are paradoxically true: Through healing we return to ourselves just as we become brand new beings. As I’ve said once before, it’s a metamorphosis.  

I would like to leave you with this parting thought:

In what ways have you been healing recently? What parts of you feel steadfast and true, a return to your authentic self, and what parts of you feel transformed? Lastly, is there anything you can do as we head into a brand new year to heal more completely? 

Sending out a little prayer and some good energy in hopes you find the courage you need. And guess what? If you don’t find it right away, that’s okay. Sometimes healing looks much slower and more painful than we would like. It’s important to remember that living in a season that feels stalled does not make you “lesser than” or imply that you aren’t trying. Sometimes the most profound hope can be born in the midst of what feels like an unending dark night…  

Oh, one last thing:

In case you want some ideas for actionable things you can do in the healing process, here are a few from a very, very long list of options: 

  • Prayer
  • Mental health counseling
  • Herbal supplements, teas and tonics
  • Nutrient-dense meals
  • Restorative sleep
  • Meditation
  • Guided visualization and/or progressive relaxation
  • Rejuvenating exercise
  • Engaging with communities for spiritual growth
  • Omkar chanting and/or mantra recitation
  • Yoga and stretching
  • Aromatherapy and/or essential oils
  • Sound therapy
  • Nature therapy and grounding
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Chiropractic adjustments
  • Journaling
  • Leisure time and hobbies
  • Joyful activities with friends
  • Reading

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

The Best Diet for Optimal Immune Function

As we head into winter 2020-2021 with the coronavirus pandemic hovering over our heads, rearranging the American lifestyle, and threatening many individuals’ well-being, let’s consider what we can control in a world that feels very much the opposite. Let’s equip our bodies with the best medicine that nature provides: nutrient-dense food.

That’s right, I’m voting for food over exercise, if I’m forced by sword to choose one, and only one, to focus on this winter.

Here’s why…

 

 

Exercise routines have been altered for many people through this pandemic and while at-home exercises are excellent alternatives to gym machine and group exercise favorites, it can be difficult to exercise at home with nonstop work and children demands or equipment that isn’t ideal. Others who have been exercising outdoors through walking, running and biking might find themselves sidelined from their cardio routines due to winter weather. Plus, too much exercise isn’t a good thing for an overstressed and exhausted person…or even a healthy, happy person…the right balance is essential for immune health.

Likewise, food impacts our immune function by raising or lowering inflammation levels and can even impact our mood, brain health and risk for chronic disease. In a perfect world, we will always rely on both fitness and nutrition for our health.

But right now, we’re not living in a perfect world…

With the threat of lockdowns, quarantines and snow storms abound this winter, I think it’s wise to get ahead of things by adjusting your meals and snacks to focus on inflammation-fighting foods so that your body has a strong immune system in place if/when your exercise plans have to change. 

I’ve worked with many personal training clients who hail from Italy, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, Brazil, Argentina, India and the Philippines, to name a few. These individuals have varied in gender, age, ethnicity and race, but nearly all of them have lamented to me about their struggles with weight gain and fatigue since moving to America. Even when they try to control portion sizes and calories, many of them complain that they’re still bigger than ever before. The short answer to their weight gain challenges is wrapped up in one word: inflammation.

 

 

Western diets are rife with refined white carbohydrates like breads, pastries, crackers, cereals and bars, all of which promote inflammation. Western diets also center on red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fried foods, not to mention bouts of alcohol consumption exceeding healthy limits for men and women.

(Need proof? Check out how alcohol consumption has changed since the pandemic began: Yikes.)

Many people try to beat the fat-hoarding that our bodies do on a western diet by resorting instead to popularized diets like low-fat, low-carb, keto, intermittent fasting, and more. Although weight loss is possible on any diet through caloric restriction alone, the aforementioned diets tend to miss out on certain essential vitamins and minerals that are optimal for health, hormonal balance and immune function.

For instance, consider the intermittent fasting diet known for improving metabolic health. The diet is more about timing of eating rather than quality of eating. Misinformed individuals might start out on this diet and presume that their “feeding windows” can be filled with as many calories as they want or whatever foods they crave. In some cases, an individual cutting calories might lose a large amount of weight while consuming mostly nutrient-poor foods. Although they are dropping weight on the scale there can still be underlying inflammation and overall poor health.

Weight loss is not always correlated with good internal health.

 

 

According to Lisa Mosconi, author of Brain Food and The XX Brain, the only diet that has been scientifically proven to improve women’s brain health is a Mediterranean diet. If you’re wondering why brain health is important to overall body health, let’s just say that Mosconi makes countless compelling, evidence-based, scientific arguments demonstrating that brain health is the epicenter of women’s hormonal health and regulation (and thereby also largely influences inflammation). In fact, according to Mosconi, more women over the age of 60 will be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s than with breast cancer.  

The brain is the dashboard for our bodies and when we eat in ways that promote its health we are also reducing inflammation and equipping our immune systems for disease prevention over the entire lifespan. Mosconi’s evidence-based research points to a Mediterranean diet full of omega fatty acids found in nuts, fatty fish and legumes as being crucial for women’s brain health. Fresh vegetables and fruits along with nutrient-dense whole grains and extra virgin olive oil are also staples of the Mediterranean diet. 

Two of my favorite examples of how nutrition can play a role in our inflammation levels, brain health and hormonal balance come from Mosconi’s The XX Brain:

Mosconi cites studies that demonstrate how increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy can help reduce incidence rates of postpartum depression in women. She also discusses how whole cow’s milk contains more estrogens than skim or low-fat cow’s milk and thus promotes better hormonal balance and fertility for women. Mosconi explains that the skim and low-fat cow’s milk consumption promotes a higher level of male-dominant hormones in women’s bodies, tipping the scales towards fertility challenges for some.

 

 

Personally, I find this fascinating and eye-opening. Nutrition plays a huge role in the complicated web of inflammation, hormones and immune function. For that reason, I encourage any curious woman out there to pick up The XX Brain and spend some time in Chapter 9: Food Matters for Your Grey Matter and Chapter 10: Eight Steps to a Well-Nourished Brain. You will come away with a ton of new knowledge to help you improve both immune function and hormonal balance, even if you’re already well versed in women’s health.   

In summary, a Mediterranean diet has been scientifically proven to focus on all the nutrients we need for optimal health and low levels of inflammation. The great news is that you can consume these foods in whatever “style” of eating you wish; intermittent fasting programs, three big meals a day, six small meals a day or whatever works best for you! 

If you’re not sure where to start then check out drool-inspiring recipes on Pinterest or any one of 500 go-to Mediterranean recipes in this cookbook: The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook. Remember, just because this cuisine has been proven to improve health and reduce levels of inflammation doesn’t mean you have to throw out your other favorite foods and styles of cooking. There’s still plenty of room in a week of cooking to enjoy healthy meals of all kinds; Indian, Thai, Mexican, Italian, you name it. Just keep the focus on nutrient density this winter and into the future; we’re living in an era when our natural defenses against bacteria and viruses, not to mention chronic diseases, is even more crucial. 

To your health and safety, 

Maggie

 

 

Glimmers of Joy Amid Grief, Loss and Loneliness

I’ve been quiet on the blog and social media for the last month or so – and for good reason. Starting in mid-September, my husband and I started to get some bad news about the prognosis for our third son’s health and pregnancy outcome. We were devastated thinking about a child being born into a life of pain and suffering, and at the same time, we were mortified of losing him prematurely.

My body had been sending me signals that something was very “off” throughout this pregnancy and I feared for the worst. When I found out it was another boy (I have two sons already), my gut instinctively pulled hard: This little one is not okay. I could feel this truth deep down.

Sure, every pregnancy is different. I was told this countless times. “But this feels really different,” I kept repeating to friends and family, at a loss of what else to say.

As a health professional, who is very in tune with her body, I knew this time was wildly different from both of my other pregnancies. I couldn’t take a deep breath, my lungs struggling against some intangible resistance, and I couldn’t read bedtime stories without my heart racing. Every time I climbed the stairs in our home to retrieve a child from naptime or to help with brushing teeth, I would gasp for air.

In all of my adult life, I’ve never been sidelined from exercise. Not after having either of my other sons and not after being hit by a car. At these crossroads, I carefully scaled back my fitness efforts, focused on reducing inflammation, and moved my body through gentle, therapeutic exercises. During this pregnancy though, I could barely do anything. I felt crippled and perpetually exhausted, like life itself was invisibly seeping out from my pores, escaping me.

I told myself it’s all worth it for a healthy baby.

But…what happens when we don’t get our happy ending? What happens when our plans become undone? Or worse yet, what becomes of us when loss and grief strike with the force of a wrecking ball to the jaw?

 

 

That’s where I landed this pregnancy: At the pit of loss. The valley of the shadow of death. The mysterious somewhere between here and there, the intersection of heaven and earth, the place of struggle between shattered dreams and hope. The great purgatory of life where, at our worst moments, we must find the strength to pull ourselves up and out, despite being exhausted to our bones and filled inside with the stuff of nightmares.

I had already experienced loss with a former pregnancy that took place before the conception and birth of my second son. That miscarriage filled me with sadness and dashed hope, but I managed to put myself back together rather quickly, all things considered, and was soon thereafter filled with a complicated mixture of excitement and anxiety when I became pregnant again.

The impending nature of this loss felt different given what we had learned. It felt anticipated, agonized over, feared, and maybe, if I’m being completely honest, like something that might be the safest thing to happen to our child. This impending loss held implications that our child might not have to suffer from complicated surgeries after being born with a slim chance of survival. It would mean that his big brothers would never shed tears and sob into their parents’ arms about something so traumatic that their little-big hearts would strain to understand while simultaneously feeling it deeply. No parent ever wishes to lose a child. When we found out that we had lost our sweet Jake, we broke apart.

 

 

We prayed over our son’s loss with a chaplain at the hospital before surgery. Funeral arrangements were already in place. We felt a sense of peace in the middle of this loss, strange peace, the variety of which only comes from a greater power in the universe. Leading with a spiritual mindset, I prayed and said one last goodbye to my son as my vision went black on the surgery table.

When I woke up, I saw that the clock on the wall was showing a time that was alarmingly late in the day. I expected to wake up nearly four hours earlier than those glaring, sharp red numbers indicated.

What happened? This isn’t right, I recall thinking.

And I assumed correct: Things were definitively not right. 

While still in an anesthesia fog, the surgeon explained to me that I had experienced rare and unexpected medical complications during what is otherwise a routine and short surgery. Although the medical team thought that everything had gone smoothly, I began to bleed excessively. The doctors tried to find the source of bleeding but faced the grim truth that the bleeding was internal and the only way to get it under control was through emergency abdominal surgery. 

My throat felt tight and dry from being intubated as I regained consciousness and blinked at those red clock numbers. I groggily repeated the same questions over and over again to the surgeon, trying to grasp the reality of what had just happened. The doctor kept explaining to me that an artery and one of my fallopian tubes had ruptured and that I now had stitches from my naval to pelvis, both internal and external. As I looked down at my body I noticed large needles secured into veins on both hands from blood transfusions.

Minutes away from a hysterectomy, they said, but thankfully it was averted at last minute. 

Almost a hysterectomy? Potentially life-threatening blood loss? Emergency open surgery? My mind was in a panic. I tried to sit up straight in the recovery room only to be pulled backwards onto the hospital bed with the unbelievable force of a thunderous headache. 

The complications were so much for me to mentally and emotionally process that I briefly forgot about the grief we had been feeling. When it finally resurfaced, I felt like I might not be able to breathe. It felt like my entire life was ending and beginning, all at once.

My recovery nurse at the hospital said, “We’re going to take it one hour at a time, sweetie. Today is your day one.” And somehow, that’s exactly what it felt like. I was no longer the same woman – not emotionally, physically or even spiritually. I had been stripped down and given the chance to rebuild myself from the deepest parts of grief and loss.   

The rebuilding part is all very fresh and new…and painful. But, as an eternal optimist, I know that I will find a way to rise up from this, bearing in mind what I have learned through the years about the intricate web of wellness and how it steers the healing process. Although it’s a long story, and one I’m not ready to share in detail, there was a period of time both right before and after the surgery when I felt so much connection with the universe; with God; with a higher power calling me to lean into faith and trust. 

I can’t say with any measure of confidence that every bad thing that happens in life has profound meaning or a silver lining. I don’t believe that rock solid faith equates to good outcomes for a person. Sometimes, bad things simply happen to good people and there’s no sense or reason to it. Lives can be derailed and sometimes tragically never get back on the tracks.

But when the busy and self-centered nature of our lives fades to the background, and when all the noise is just so…noisy…that suddenly it sounds far off in the distance…in that place of great tragedy, I have felt that there is a hidden presence. A great comforter. Something – or someone – that is there, despite all logic and denial. And it is enough.   

“How is it enough?” You might ask. 

I can’t claim to have the explanation. It’s something that is simply felt; a raw and honest truth that is born from deep within, whispering to us that we are beautiful. We are loved. We are safe.

Contrary to logic, my husband and I have also felt glimmers of joy in the middle of this season of suffering… Not because we wanted to lose a child or felt relieved of all grief because he would never experience pain. Joy doesn’t come from those horrors… 

 

 

True, unbridled, unexpected joy openly presented itself to us through the love and compassion that we received from those who walked through this tragedy with us.

Thanks to loved ones checking on us, we felt glimmers of hope on the other side of exhausting, anxiety-riddled nights spent tossing and turning in our beds, awaiting whatever the future might hold. Friends who sent thoughtful gifts and messages of support from far and near helped us feel a little less lonely and scared while we sat at the doorstep of loss in the midst of an already-very-lonely pandemic. Because of social distancing no one ever stepped into my kitchen to hug me tightly while I cried, but it felt like they did, just the same. The love was so palpable and tender. So near.

Genuine compassion is rare…and we recognized in the middle of our deepest hurt that what we were receiving from others was one of the truest gifts possible in this short life of ours. For this, we are eternally grateful. Not everyone experiencing grief and loss has a solid support system. I know there are many lonely, hurting people out there in the world. To all of these people, and in particular, to women walking through an unexpected season of child loss from any reason – miscarriage, stillbirth, ending a wanted pregnancy, infant loss, or the death of a child at any age, young or old, I hope you know that a hidden presence exists near your suffering. You’re never truly alone.  

 

 

I’m battling fatigue from all this trauma alongside feelings of anxiety and grief every time that I catch a glimpse of the newly-forming scar in the center of my stomach. I know that there is a lot of work to do; physically to recover, mentally to become whole again, and spiritually to persevere and allow my scar to slowly…somehow…become beautiful. Today, my healing incision serves as a reminder of one of the hardest times of my life. It’s easy to resent the sight of it. But, as one who has recovered from trauma before, I know that pain can become beautiful. It’s peculiar how life can happen like that. And I know that wellness of all kinds is necessary for facilitating the metamorphosis. 

So, off I crawl…

Off I fly.

 

“Wounds don’t heal the way you want them to, they heal the way they need to. It takes time for wounds to fade into scars. It takes time for the process of healing to take place. Give yourself that time. Give yourself that grace. Be gentle with your wounds. Be gentle with your heart. You deserve to heal.” -Dele Olanubi

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Reasons Why Running Hurts

More people than ever are turning to outdoor running as a safe option for exercise during the pandemic. Whether you’re new to running or a regular runner, it’s likely that you’ve experienced pain associated with running at some point. This is extremely common. We tend to believe that running is something everyone can and should be able to enjoy since it’s one of the most natural forms of exercise. Unfortunately, the reality is that running without pain is not always the norm. Regular running takes a toll on the body and requires proactive measures for it to remain pain free. 

Below are eight commons reasons that running might cause pain, along with exercises, stretches and actions you can take to keep yourself healthy and ready to hit the pavement.

Please note: I will be posting videos on my IGTV over the next few weeks to help people better understand the exercises and stretches under “actions to take” for each issue. Join me on Instagram for the latest updates.

   

1. IT Band Syndrome

Pain Location: Lateral aspect of knee, top of hip or both

What it is: Overuse of the connective band of tissue that runs from the hip to the knee on the outside of the thigh. Although most commonly associated with overuse from running, the IT band can also get excessively tight from weak muscles in the glutes, hips, legs and low back. If you feel pain or tightness on the outside of your knee when your heel hits the ground during running then your IT band is in need of stretching and/or cross-training for injury prevention.

Actions to Take: A balance of flexibility and strength training is usually key for preventing IT band syndrome. Foam rolling is a great first action to take even though it may feel uncomfortable on the outer thigh if your IT band is especially tight. It will get easier the more you do it. (I recommend a high-density roller by SPRI.) Stretching the IT band can also be done by crossing the tight leg behind the other and leaning the torso away from the affected side. Lastly, strengthen weak muscles and replace a couple days of running with strength training for a while. Two great exercises to start with are clam shells and hip bridges while squeezing a medicine ball, pilates ring or yoga block between the thighs. 

 

2. Weak Transverse Abdominus

Pain Location: Low back, hip flexor tightness, sometimes achilles pain too

What it is: The transverse abdominus (TA) is a muscle that wraps around the core and stabilizes it. Subsequently, it also helps stabilize the pelvis and the spine. When the TA is strong, it helps prevent low back pain and keeps the pelvis in the correct position. When it’s weak, the pelvis drifts into an anterior tilt and places strain on the lumbar spine. The TA can become weak from lack of use, incorrect use or improper pelvic and spinal posture. 

Actions to Take: Physical therapy and Pilates training are both great options for learning how to properly engage the TA. If these options are inaccessible then simply start with supine pelvic tilts, dead bugs, and planks drawing the belly button to spine so that the stomach flattens.  

 

 

3. Large Q-angle

Pain Location: Medial aspect of knee; can result in patellofemoral pain syndrome, chrondromalacia or ACL injuries

What it is: The q-angle is a measurement from the patella (knee cap) to a point on the pelvis. This measurement tends to be larger for women due to greater pelvic width (“them birthing hips!”). The larger the q-angle, the greater the stress on the knee due to the patella tracking more laterally instead of smoothly up and down.

Actions to Take: Although structural width of the pelvis is obviously out of our individual control, women can take proactive measures to strengthen the medial aspect of the knee and to keep the lateral aspect from being too tight. This might include wall squats and glute strengthening for enhanced stability as well as isolated quadricep extension with rotation to target the vastus medialis obliqus (VMO) – i.e. the most medial muscle fiber in the quadriceps group. Stretching tight muscles such as hamstrings, calves and the lateral aspect of the quadricep can also prove helpful.

 

4. Unstable Ankles

Pain Location: Ankle pain or weakness and/or plantar fascia pain. Can also impact higher joints resulting in knee, hip and/or low back pain. 

What it is: Unstable ankles result from weak muscles in the feet and/or lower legs. Core stabilization also impacts how stable the ankles are. If you notice discomfort in the ankles or feet when running then you might need to improve stability, especially if you are prone to ankle sprains.   

Actions to Take: Balancing exercises can be useful for improving ankle stability. It’s easy to get creative with how these are done too (single leg reach, balancing side leg lifts, dancer’s pose, warrior III, and more). Towel grabs and other foot strengthening exercises can also prove useful. Rolling out the plantar fascia with a pin roller or on a lacrosse ball can help release tight areas that compensate for weakness. 

 

 

5. Improper Footwear

Pain Location: Pain usually begins in the foot but higher joints can eventually become painful if footwear is not corrected

What it is: Improper footwear can be the result of shoes that are worn out, tied too tight or loose, or are not correctly fitted to your foot shape, length and/or width. Running shoes that fit properly should have approximately 1/2-inch room after the toe before the end of the shoe. They should not cut off circulation when laced up and also should not slip down the heel. A proper fit for your arch is extremely important too. Whether you have a neutral, high or low arch matters a lot for running comfort and shoes should be fitted according to your individual needs. You know you’re ready for a new pair of shoes when you’ve run between 300-500 miles and the tread of the shoe is worn down. If you’re not sure how many miles you’ve run then a good rule is to replace shoes every six months.  

Actions to Take: I like to tell people to visit smaller, local running stores to get fitted. Most have die-hard, passionate runners working in them and they are often trained in basic gait analysis so they can get you the right shoe.

 

6. Weak Abductors

Pain Location: Weak abductor muscles (think the lateral part of your glutes that stabilize your hips, low back and outer thighs) can result in IT band syndrome, patellofemoral pain syndrome and/or abductor tears. Most of these injuries are from overuse of the muscles while running and/or jumping during sports. Overuse doesn’t always mean that a muscle is strong. As is usually the case with abductors, these injuries stem from weak muscles.   

What it is: Weak abductor muscles can be identified in one of several ways: 1) Perform a squat and note if your knees drift inward. This is a telltale sign that the abductors are weaker than the opposing muscle group (the adductors). 2) Make note of your foot’s arch. Many people who are flat-footed and excessively pronate tend to have weak abductors. 3) Perform a clamshell or side lying leg lift with the leg that is lying on top. If this feels difficult right away or quickly after starting, your muscles may need strengthening.

Actions to Take: Clamshells and side-lying leg lifts are two of the first exercisees I recommend to clients, as well as supervised side lunges with correct form. Once a baseline of strength is established therabands are a great way to ramp up resistance and build on progress. 

 

 

7. Poor Running Gait

Pain Location: Poor running gait can impact any joint or muscle in your body from head to toe depending on what the issue is. 

What it is: Normal running is smooth and not “jumpy” looking. When there is excessive up/down movement that places extra stress on the joints. There should be a brief “flight phase” when both feet are off the ground but it shouldn’t look like a person is jumping rope or doing jumping jacks. Posture should be upright, not slumped, and arms should be bent at roughly 90 degrees at the elbows, staying relatively close to the body and swinging gently forward and back with slight rotational movement. If you notice that you’re bending forward in your torso while running or that your arms swing really low, high or wide then you may experience some upper body discomfort as well as lose energy efficiency in the exercise. Feet should be landing and rolling from mid-foot to forefoot smoothly, not striking hard with the heel first. Lastly, stride length should be appropriate for your size and athleticism. For most people, a large stride length reduces hip extension and causes issues. If you feel that you’re a “heel striker” then correcting your stride length might be the place to start. 

Actions to Take: It’s extremely hard to analyze your own gait. As you may be able to tell, gait analysis is complicated and takes an expert’s experienced eyes and feedback. You can start by filming yourself running outdoors or on a treadmill and seeing if anything stands out as appearing unusual – sometimes you might surprise yourself! But your best bet is to get with a running coach or personal trainer who specializes in running. You could even test your luck at a local running store when you get fitted for your next pair of shoes. Sometimes these stores have treadmills set up so that experts can help offer feedback on your shoe and running gait needs. 

 

8. Poor Running Posture & Thoracic Weakness

Pain Location: To be fair, I already mentioned poor running posture in the last section about running gait, but it warrants more attention. Nearly every week I see a handful of runners in my neighborhood alone who are in dire need of postural help. You may consider improving your posture while running if you feel pain in your upper back, neck and/or shoulders afterwards. Poor posture can translate down your body and result in weak glutes, tight hip flexors and improper foot strike. 

What it is: When thoracic and spinal extension muscles such as traps, rhomboids, lats, rear delts, erector spinae, multifidus and more are weak then it becomes difficult for the torso to maintain an upright position during running. As the body slumps forward the lungs close off, making breathing more labored, and the hip flexors take over work that hip extensors should be driving. 

Actions to Take: Strength training several times a week is critical to correct posture so that you can run pain free and so that you can *live* pain free. Posture impacts quite a lot. One of the most important places to start is with thoracic extensions. In other words, teaching your body to isolate and lift tall from the upper back. Trunks lifts from a mat or prone on a bosu ball are great options. Also, it will be important to do full spine extensions from a mat. Quadruped exercises and supermans are great beginner exercises. Dumbbells and weight machines might also come in handy to target the rotator cuff, traps, rhomboids, rear delts, lats, etc. To sum, kick-start a strength training program focused on the back and/or find one to follow along with.

 

Run and be happy (& pain free)!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

My Favorite Wellness Products Right Now

I’ve been averse to product pushing for years. I can’t tell you how many pyramid scheme companies and product rep opportunities I’ve turned down – it’s a lot. It’s just not me. I’m a writer and services girl – here for you always if you have fitness and wellness questions or needs! All that said, I recognize the value in trusted recommendations, especially as we collectively seek to improve our wellness and quarantine-life experiences. So, here are my favorite wellness products at the moment…

Molekule Air Filter 

This Molekule Air Filter might be the ideal solution for your seasonal allergy, dust & dander, mold, virus and bacteria concerns. The Molekule is designed to filter *and* destroy these particles, meaning that they won’t get recirculated in your living space. Molekule is designed to help you breathe easier thanks to its Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) nanotechnology. It even removes things like VOC fumes and odors from the air. The design in the photo below is for 250 sq ft but other models cover larger rooms (for a price). I think this is a really wonderful option for some people, and well worth the price – especially for city dwellers in apartment or condo buildings. 

 

Good Days Start with Gratitude

Five years ago I wrote a deeply personal blog article titled My Diary. Air France. A Happy Ending. It was about losing my self-made version of a gratitude journal in an airport in France and how it miraculously made its way back to me months later. I will confess that I’ve fallen out of the habit of keeping a gratitude journal and have substituted other forms of gratitude practice and self care in its place, but I will be the first to resume the daily habit should I ever find the need….and honestly, that timing might be soon. This Good Days Start with Gratitude journal might be the perfect thing for your mental health too. But feel free to start or end your day with it. As someone who used to struggle with sleep, I found that reflecting on positives at the end of the day helped me the most.

 

Booty Kicker

If you’re interested in sticking to your Barre routine but don’t want to venture away from the comfort of your bedroom then check out the Booty Kicker! My best friend (you know who you are!) is a hardcore Barre girl and swears by the Booty Kicker. It has a rack for dumbbells built in (weights sold separately) and is easy to mount a screen onto so you can follow along virtually with your favorite instructor. It also folds down for easy storage. I’ve found that many group exercise classes are relatively easy to simulate with props at home, with the exception of Barre, but that’s now a thing of the past!

 

Sports Research Collagen Peptide Powder

I guess I’m finally getting on board with the whole Collagen supplement thing. Although collagen can help with skin and hair health, that has never motivated me to use it. I generally find that my skin and hair are healthiest when my nutrition is well balanced and natural. But recently, I learned more about how collagen supplements might help joint pain thanks to helping the body rebuild cartilage. As someone who sometimes struggles from back pain due to an old accident, I’ve often wondered what my old age has in store for me with joint health. Collagen supplements just might be worth the cost! Plus, this Collagen Peptide brand is unflavored so it can be added to virtually any beverage – even hot coffee or tea!

 

SPRI High Density Foam Roller

I have and will always be a raging fan of foam rolling. I do it almost every day and the benefits are tremendous for my physical comfort. Foam rolling helps relax the myofascial tissue surrounding our muscles, reducing areas of restriction, tightness, discomfort, and aches. My favorite style of foam roller is high density like this one by SPRI and it comes in 3 sizes; 12 inch, 18 inch or 36 inches long. If you’re thinking of traveling with it then opt for the 12 inch, but if you want one for the house then I suggest the 36 inch. A long foam roller will allow you greater freedom of movement when rolling out and is a great tool to lie on vertically for chest-opening stretches.

 

URBNFit Pilates Toning Ring

Pilates circles like the URBNFIT Pilates Toning Ring are often overlooked by people stocking up on equipment for their home gyms. I’m here to get this magical prop on your radar! Not only are Pilates rings extremely versatile props but they are also one of a few pieces of home exercise equipment that’s excellent for targeting the inner thigh muscles. The URBNFIT ring comes in 3 colors and includes an accompanying smartphone app that guides both seasoned athletes and beginners through appropriate and effective Pilates exercises. This is a great combo for anyone looking to switch up their home workout routine. 

 

Zyllion Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager

Are you as big of a fan of massage as I am? The fact that two products on this short list of favs include massage-like functions should tell you a little bit about me (and how often I pester my husband for foot and neck rubs). But *this* Zyllion Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager is a dream for anyone who has tight neck and shoulder muscles from uncomfortable work-at-home conditions and/or pandemic-related stress. Not only does the Zyllion massage sore muscles but it also helps them relax through heat. No more need to miss the spa! You can attach it to a high back desk chair or simply lean against it on the couch. Once you return to the traditional schedule of commuting to work you can even put it across your driver’s seat so you can decompress to and from the office! 

 

Fit Simplify Resistance Loop Exercise Bands

Leave it to a pandemic and social media to take resistance bands (which have been around forever) and make them look sexy. Almost everywhere you turn there are so-called fitness influencers using them in exercise video clip tutorials – because they work! These resistance loop exercise bands by Fit Simplify are a popular choice in the sea of options and come in 5 different levels of resistance. The bands are portable and easy to store. They can also be used for a wide range of exercises from physical therapy and stretching to strength training. 

 

What are your favorite wellness brands? Have you found anything to be especially useful or enjoyable during the pandemic? Please drop your favs in the comments so we can all help each other out!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

*Full disclaimer: I will receive a small sales commission for purchases from affiliated links in this post. Any and all proceeds will be used for the blog’s maintenance and future content. 

 

 

A Guide to Using the Gym During COVID-19

Gyms are carefully reopening in some places, taking action under government guidelines to increase cleaning and sanitation procedures. Gyms are also implementing new social distancing measures to ensure members’ safety. Although it’s intimidating to get back into the gym, your health is paramount during this pandemic and exercise bolsters wellness in many ways.  Getting back into the gym is a personal choice that must be carefully considered based on health risk factors, mental comfort, and the extent to which your gym has taken appropriate actions to protect its members.

Here are some things to look for when/if you return to the gym or consider doing so. I’ve included a few recommendations on how to improve your safety from the minute you step into the gym to the moment you walk back into your home. Lastly, check out the tips for how to make the experience time-efficient and effective.

 

 

Considerations When Returning to Your Gym

Before stepping foot in the gym, check its website for COVID-19 updates. There’s a decent chance that your gym will have adjusted hours of operation and updated check-in procedures that you will want to familiarize yourself with. Reinstating your membership may also be a step that you need to take with a membership director prior to walking in for your first workout. This is likely done over email or phone right now while membership directors are working remotely and social distancing.

If your gym doesn’t have clear COVID-19-specific policies and adjustments then I strongly urge you to freeze your membership until it is safe to return or they adopt new policies. Many gyms have responded professionally and appropriately to the new operational challenges because 1) they need to stay in business, and 2) they care about their members. To help with this, many are using advance online registration for group classes and capacity trackers like Club Automation. These capacity trackers use real time data to reflect how busy (or not) the gym or fitness facility is, so you can decide from the comfort of your home whether or not you want to pay the gym a visit.

 

 

Gym Safety Check List

Below is a list of COVID-19 safety measures you should check for at your gym. Please note, this list is not exhaustive.

  • Temperature and wellness checks at sign-in.
  • Masks required in busy corridors such as the entrance/exit, stairwells, cafe, locker rooms and restrooms.
  • At least 6 ft of social distancing required between all members. 10 ft is even better indoors.
  • “Out of Service” signage on alternating pieces of gym equipment to ensure social distancing and/or rearrangement of equipment to create more distance and open space.
  • Encouragement of wearing face masks in areas with cardiovascular exercise equipment (when you’re breathing heavily and fast you expel more viral and bacterial particles into the air).
  • Ample supplies of hand sanitizer at check-in and on the gym floor as well as stocked soap dispensers in restrooms.
  • Limited capacity in any and all elevators on site.
  • No gym towels allowed on the gym floor (reduces spread of germs).
  • Signage asking members to wipe down equipment before and after use as well as ample supply of equipment wipes.
  • Reduced capacity for gym classes and enforced social distancing during participation.
  • More outdoor exercise class options with social distancing when/where feasible.
  • Possible signage and floor markings indicating traffic flow/walking directions through hallways and corridors.
  • Possible reduced overall gym capacity depending on government regulations and directives.
  • Possible upgrades to air filtration systems (can’t hurt to ask if your gym has the ability to invest in one that eliminates viruses and bacteria in large spaces).

Use this check-list to gauge which safety measures your facility of choice is leaning on and let it inform your decision about returning for exercise.

 

 

Gym Childcare – Is it Safe?

This is a really tricky one to answer. Scientists have seen hints that children pass COVID-19 among themselves at a lower rate than adult-to-adult transmission; however, research is fledgling at best. Unfortunately, it may take seeing how transmission rates change once school is back in session in some places come fall (hopefully they don’t get worse). Part of what will weigh your decision about the gym childcare will be:

  • Age of your child; children who are under 2 years old and mobile are likely putting everything in their mouths…which is probably, unfortunately, not so ideal.
  • Age of children who are able to wear masks versus those who are too young, and whether or not these different age groups will be playing in close proximity.
  • Health status of your household and family members.
  • Enhanced hygiene measures of the gym’s childcare; additional temp and wellness checks, modeling covering coughs/sneezes, hand washing upon entering and exiting, routinely cleaning toys and floors, etc.
  • Type of flooring in childcare – for gyms that have wood, tile or otherwise non-carpeted flooring, the facility should be deep cleaning it daily. Unfortunately, gyms with carpeted childcare areas are likely unable to deep clean the carpet every day because of how long it takes to dry. This may affect your choice, especially for parents with babies who are crawling.

Again, as long as safety measures are in place, this must be a personal choice you make. Please note: Bringing a symptomatic child into the gym childcare for the sake of your workout is irresponsible both during a pandemic and otherwise. Let’s all agree on this…please!

 

 

Extra Measures You Can Take to Boost Your Safety

Here are a few extra steps that I personally take when coming and going from the gym. I’ve done most of it since years ago when my oldest son was 15 months old and came down with a nasty case of bronchiolitis that landed him in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. To see a loved one struggle for air is a horrible experience. I don’t wish it on anyone.

  • Leave wedding bands and rings at home to keep them both clean and safe – bleach-based gym wipes and cleaners can erode certain metals.
  • Bring and wear workout gloves or disposable gloves if you have sensitive skin and/or allergic reactions to the gym wipes, sanitizer, etc. Also not a terrible idea to help reduce overuse of hand sanitizer.
  • While exercising at the gym, consider wearing a face mask for your entire workout, even if it’s not required. Double-layer masks that include some type of air filter sandwiched in the middle and masks that fit snugly (but are breathable) are great options because they offer you a little bit of protection while also boosting safety for others.
  • Store hand sanitizer in the side pocket of your car door or in your hand bag/gym bag in case you forget to wash your hands when you leave.
  • Remove gym shoes before entering your home.
  • Immediately put your reusable gym water bottle into the dish washer or sink for cleaning.
  • If you used your phone during your workout then clean the phone with a phone-safe wipe, cleaning solution, portable UV sanitation device, or PhoneSoap container at home. I like to clean my keys with my PhoneSoap too.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds, even if you already used hand sanitizer.
  • Promptly remove your gym clothes and face mask and place them in the washer or laundry basket – then go take a shower!
  • Now take a deep mask-less breath in the safety of your home and be glad you kept yourself both healthy and safe at the gym!

 

 

Tips for Making Your Gym Experience Time-Efficient & Effective

Wiping down equipment before and after use combined with certain machine restrictions will force you to think outside of your normal gym routine. I hope these tips are helpful so that you can have an effective workout on day one. If you have any other tips to offer please drop them in the comments!

  • If possible, limit workouts without masks to less than 45-60 minutes since the viral load of COVID-19 is shown to increase in this amount of time in enclosed spaces.
  • Use machines that you don’t have at home; save body weight and mat workouts for home.
  • Instead of rotating weight machines between sets (because machines will be limited and in need of wiping), complete all sets on one machine with short breaks between sets or do stationary exercises like squats/lunges/push-ups/planks in front of the machine during rest periods.
  • Buy a few sets of affordable dumbbells for home and use props like the roman chair, bench press, squat rack, plated machines, etc. while at the gym.
  • Skip the treadmill and save running for your neighborhood – choose the Stairmaster or ARC trainer on an incline for a great low-impact glute workout to switch things up.
  • Set a goal to finish your workout in less than 45 minutes and plan it out in advance. Your determination and effort might surprise you when you’re working towards a time goal.
  • Focus on three main things: Building cardiovascular health, muscle, and a sense of calm. We could all use a bit more of these things right now.

I hope you have a GREAT workout whether it’s at the gym or at home. Remember, staying healthy and well is the only critical component here, and that can happen essentially anywhere.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

What You Need to Know About Wellness in 2020

This year is not going according to plan. We’re halfway through and needless to say, nothing is as we expected. First, a failed impeachment of the President of the United States followed quickly by a novel virus that has brought destruction and changed the way of life around the globe. Most recently, a brand new era for the civil rights movement has taken hold in America and other countries too. Change is in the air. It’s stressful and emotional for everyone involved, but there are promising whispers of a better future, if you listen closely. We are learning and growing every day, but it takes work, time and vulnerability. With our energy pouring out to so many different things right now, we must pause to ask ourselves:

How do I keep myself sound of health in body and mind during such a uniquely difficult time in history?

 

 

Well, here’s the thing…

Wellness can look and feel very different in one person’s life versus another’s. Our self-care routines and preferences all look different. Our spiritual desires and practices greatly vary. Some people love healthy home-cooked meals and invest in all-natural cleaning products while others scoff at spending $20 on a pound of organic wild-caught salmon, or flat-out can’t afford it.

I’m not here to prescribe a list of self care habits for your every day life, nor am I advocating that everyone should start a running program, eat flax seeds every morning, and add collagen to your smoothie mixes. And actually, wellness isn’t any of these things.

Wait, wellness isn’t a routine of working out five times a week? It’s not meditating for 10 minutes right after waking up at 5:00 am each day? It’s not a vegan diet? Or keeping track of my calories and steps with a FitBit?

Nope.

The components of wellness can vary according to person, age, time, place and situation. The only two things that consistently define wellness are flexibility and growth.

Wellness is an ongoing lifelong process, a never-ending journey of balancing mental/physical/spiritual health, and it takes vulnerability to see where we need to grow and change. It requires learning from our past, taking action in the moment, and moving forward with mindfulness. In a lot of ways, wellness is *exactly* the journey we must inwardly take through these uncertain times.

Take me for example…

I spent much of last week pouring over videos and social media posts of the heinous crimes committed against black people. I empathized and grieved every day, often finding myself distracted from caring for my children and full of despair. Like many white people, I finally fully identified my privilege for what it is and ran head first into my ignorance about just how systemic racism is. I can only imagine the tremendous grief abound in the black community given the weight of my small glimpse of it. The enormity of the emotions took a toll on my immune health. Yup, just one week of opening my heart to the raw pain fueling the civil rights movement caused me to go so high on the stress scale that my immune system tanked from excess cortisol, disturbed sleep and, admittedly, a few too many heavy pours of wine in an unhealthy attempt to calm my nerves. To think that some people must live in a high-stress state all the time is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.

(Note: I do NOT want to make this “about me” nor do I want to distract from black voices and platforms at this pivotal moment in history – please feel and listen with your hearts to the Black Lives Matter movement on matters of racism.)

Has anyone else shared my experience this year? The experience of fight-or-flight, adrenal overdrive, fear, anxiety, pain, confusion, guilt, shame, denial and so many other negative emotional experiences that drive our health off the road and into the gutter? I’m pretty sure most of us have experienced something profoundly hard at one point or another.

 

 

But here’s the invitation we have…

Bend and flex. Open up. Grow.

We can move through 2020 with our heads down, teeth gritted and foreheads stuck in a frown. Or…we can move through 2020 becoming increasingly aware of how to care for our mental, physical and spiritual health so that 2020 becomes a year marked by growth and strength in the midst of what sometimes feels like chaos.

When we look at our flaws constructively, with a vulnerable willingness to change, then we can start to take action on both a societal and personal level to better ourselves and the world around us.

Like I said, too often people define wellness by “the things” that are actually under its umbrella (ex: exercise, meditation, nutrition, sleep, etc) instead of taking a step back to see wellness for what it is; an evolving sense of self coupled with self-love actions.

Hear me when I say…

Your body wants your self-awareness more than it needs another broccoli floret.

Your mind craves peace more than scouring the web for answers to all your problems.

Your soul needs authentic love for growth more than a regimented meditation routine.

I have my moments of feeling anxious and slipping up too (read: too much wine), but we have a choice to move on from the 2020 weight gain and stress spirals. We have the opportunity to live bravely through uncertain times. We have the chance to stay flexible and GROW more than ever before.

 

 

And as a side note, if you want advice and resources for “the things” that fit under the wellness umbrella (ex: workout advice, product reviews, nutrition tips, discounts, etc) then I invite you to hop over here to sign up for my *free* monthly newsletter.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie