Tag Archives: Wellness

New Study: Even Light Drinking is Deadly

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

 

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

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

 

A Lesson from The History of Cigarette Smoking

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

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

 

 

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

*Pause for contemplating* 

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

 

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

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

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

This is confusing stuff!

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

 

 

The Study that Addresses Many of Our Burning Questions:

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

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

*The Results*

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

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

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

 

 

Implications for the Future

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

My personal stance:

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

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

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The Vagus Nerve: Lose “The Last 5 lbs”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

5 Ways Our Bodies Are Connected to The Earth

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

 

 

Seasonal Hormonal Changes

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

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

 

 

Green Space & Mental Health

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

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

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

 

 

The Sun Connection

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

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

 

 

Brain Waves & Nature Sounds

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

 

 

The Practice of Grounding

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

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

 

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

You Had Me at Namaste

It’s a very simple scene.

Me: Shopping for some curtain rods in Bed, Bath and Beyond over the weekend.

Two Women: One pushing a shopping cart alongside the other. 

Woman #1: “What does namaste mean?”

Woman #2: “I think it’s something like ‘the light in me honors the light in you.'”

*Long Pause*

Two Women: Laughing insecurely and hysterically.

Here’s why this scene knotted my insides. And here’s what namaste means and why it’s not really a laughing matter…

 

 

When I studied yoga in India, I found it fascinating that people would greet one another with the phrase “Hari Om.” The direct translation of this Sanskrit is broken into two parts: Hari relates to the Hindu God Vishnu who is considered “a remover of sins or bad karma,” and Om is considered a sacred syllable that encompasses the entirety of creation from start to finish. As yoga teachers-in-training we were told simply that the phrase loosely means “remember God.” And so, every asana practice (physical poses of yoga) began and ended with this phrase, reminding students from all around the globe and of various belief systems that the divine exists within the physical.

“God” doesn’t seem like a topic that has to do with fitness and wellness but that’s actually a false notion. One of the six branches of wellness is spiritual wellness. It’s as fundamental to our overall well-being as physical and emotional wellness. Just as important as our careers. As essential to our vitality as having a healthy network of friends and family to lean on. In my opinion, even though I consider myself a Christian and could preach on the merits of Christ, not every person has to share similar beliefs to access higher spiritual energy and fulfillment. By keeping our spiritual dimensions awake – whatever they are – we pave the way for better health and improved healing, patience, gratitude and joy.

 

 

When I heard the two women shopping at Bed, Bath & Beyond, laughing at the meaning of “namaste,” a part of my heart broke for them. The fact that they scoffed at a word that means spiritual and mutual respect for other humans and the places within ourselves that are deeper, truer, and purer than the surface, is upsetting to me. Not because I was offended by these women but because I see how much more one can gain in health when these deeper layers within can be unearthed. Looked at without fear and insecurity. These women both appeared to be suffering from various physical ailments and I wondered if they opened themselves up to being vulnerable with a higher power if their health might begin to move in a new direction.

Other rough translations and interpretations of the word “namaste” include:

“I honor and appreciate you”

“The divine in me honors the divine in you”

“I bow to you in respect”

“We are equals”

“Whatever is beautiful in me honors whatever is precious and beautiful in you”

 

In Western cultures, namaste has become synonymous with a feeling of relief at the conclusion of yoga class, a feeling of appreciation for the teacher or gratitude for the brief span of time carved out from life’s busyness to exercise and stretch. The word has become so popular and, at times, generic, that word-play t-shirts are now sold with phrases like “Namaste in bed today” and “You had me at Namaste.” It’s cool that the phrase is becoming less obscure but, as we all know, anything that becomes mainstream can lose a bit of its origins. And namaste’s origins start and end with something intangible and within. The invisible lines that connect us. That level the playing field of our bodily struggles, making us all the same.

 

 

Let’s not forget these lessons in our haste or quest for higher physical beauty and fitness.

Namaste to you.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

5 Health Buzzwords in 2018

Every year there’s a new flurry of health and fitness buzzwords that give rise to a mix of curiosity and anxiety. We’re tossed into the sea of second-guessing and confusion as trends ebb and flow, and the definition of wellness races forward in a new direction. Our minds spin over how to incorporate all the new information. Detox is out and “pretox” is in? Wait…what’s a mitochondria and why should I care? Sometimes, we’re sidetracked for months trying the latest trend in fitness or nutrition.

We’re going to break down five of the latest buzzwords in health today; Femtech, Microbiome, Mitochondria, Pretox and Recomposition, and we’re going to cover practical, non-intimidating ways they can fit into your lifestyle. Begone stress in 2018! Begone!

Femtech

Am I the only woman who is starting to think she may never become pregnant (again) without the help of the Ava Bracelet? Some time around the holidays, when social media was already blowing up with engagement and baby announcements, I started seeing numerous Facebook and Instagram ads featuring well-known Bachelor and Bachelorette stars with their spouses (“casually” lounging around in their pjs at home…while filming ads for millions of viewers, of course). The stars raved to cameras about getting pregnant thanks to the Ava Bracelet. The wearable device helps women track their cycles and become familiar with the timing of ovulation. Is it just me, or is that not what peeing on the stick is for? One Ava customer says:

“I had migraine headaches randomly throughout the month. With Ava, I realized that I always get them like clockwork right after I ovulate. Ava didn’t solve my headaches (if only!) but it does help me be more prepared for them, so they never take me by surprise anymore.”

This is the first of many examples of technology aimed specifically at women. And all of our many complex, men-suck-because-they-don’t-have-’em hormonal and physiological ebbs and flows. Fun, fun, fun. 

Femtech is becoming a billion dollar industry and encompasses technology designed to help women with “fertility solutions, period-tracking apps, pregnancy and nursing care, sexual wellness, and reproductive system health care.” According to Wikipedia…and who doesn’t trust Wiki? All I can say is: IT’S ABOUT TIME. Finally, we’re living in an age where public dialogue over women’s health isn’t quite as taboo. I’m not talking about women’s fitness and weight loss, I’m talking about the tough stuff. Miscarriage. Incontinence. Prolapse. STDs. IVF. Breastfeeding. Egg freezing. Cysts. Fibroids. Menopause. You name it. We’ve likely all dealt with something a bit sensitive and felt like we didn’t have *quite* as much support as we needed at times. With femtech, that just might change.

Not only are there apps and gadgets helping you learn more about your body’s rhythms but there are also some that help you troubleshoot and improve them. For example, MyFlo is a mobile app that helps with menstrual cycle tracking. It goes a step beyond telling you when to expect ovulation and “The Flo,” and offers up interesting tips for how to exercise and eat to nourish your body through the four unique hormonal changes a woman experiences in each cycle. This is what we call “functional medicine.” In other words, lifestyle changes that can impact your health all the way down to the hormonal and cellular level.

Lifestyle Fix:

Don’t worry about trying to track every single aspect of your health through Femtech products because 1) you may break the bank, and 2) you might not need to go overboard. Hone in on the one thing you care about most; fixing PMS headaches, tracking your baby’s heart rate while pregnant, improving your sex life, or curing pelvic pain and dysfunction. You may find that by tackling just one aspect of your health, many other components of wellness fall into place too.

 

Microbiome

What IS this thing called the “microbiome?” So scientific sounding but I promise it’s not an untouchable topic for us common folk. The simplistic definition for microbiome is: “a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment and especially the collection of microorganisms living in or on the human body.” In short, “microbiome” encompasses the bacteria/fungi/viruses that colonize your skin, gut, colon, mouth and more.

There are emerging, evidence-based theories that the microbiome develops during the birthing process. MICROBIRTH, a film released in 2014, explains that a baby is exposed to its mom’s vaginal bacteria (cough cough, and sometimes fecal bacteria, cough cough) followed by skin and breastmilk bacteria at birth. The exposure to all this foreign stuff ramps up the baby’s immune system and sets them up for fewer non-communicable diseases later in life, such as Type-I Diabetes, Celiacs Disease, Asthma, etc. This is considered a “seed-and-feed” theory for how our microbiome gets its start.

While the diversity of the microbiome has been studied since as early as the 1600s, we’re still learning about it. Scientists are discovering new revelations that change the way they approach the use of molecular techniques and the study of the microbiome. They understand that there are differences in the microbiome between healthy individuals and those with diseases, and that the makeup of bacteria/fungi changes from site of the body to the next, just as it can from one individual to the next. Perhaps most compellingly, scientists now believe that the microbiome is extremely plastic, not just diverse.  In other words, it can change over time. Thank goodness…because my tummy is still a wreck from the flu last week.

Most recently, “microbiome” has been at the edge of every health fanatics’ lips because it has been discovered that gut fungi serve a very important role in our overall health. That’s right, fungus is officially good. Apparently, the growth of good bacteria in our gut is aided by the good fungus in it. Moving forward we’re going to hear a lot more about probiotic supplements that incorporate fungus and “prebiotics” (supplements and foods containing fiber that properly nourishes gut bacteria). Stay on the lookout! 

Lifestyle Fix:

I’m not going to tell everyone to go out and buy the next probiotic overstuffed with prebiotics and fungi (might not hurt, though). But what I will say is that we can all take a moment to consider how out gut health impacts our mood, energy and overall health. So, a simple lifestyle fix is asking yourself which foods/beverages/supplements you regularly consume which might hurt vs aid your gut health. Making simple adjustments in your dietary choices is easy and it might change the makeup of all those bacteria/fungi that you’d rather not think about on a daily basis.

 

Mitochondria

I’ve talked about mitochondria more than any of my clients and friends know. If you’ve studied kinesiology or exercise physiology then you have too. If you stretch your mind back to high school biology class and can remember anything about the Krebs Cycle or ATP, then you’re getting warm. To refresh your memory; the mitochondria are organelles (had to look it up to remember that word, haha) in the cell which regulate cellular metabolism. Think of them as tiny power generators in every cell of your body.

“Mitochondria” rarely comes up during coffee break. But that’s all starting to change. Prominent doctors such as Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Frank Lipman and Dr. Vincent Pedre are educating the public on how these organelles impact all aspects of our health. According to these doctors, when people suffer from “Feel-Like-Crap Syndrome,” their mitochondria aren’t functioning well and aren’t receiving proper support.

Lifestyle Fix:

So how do we support these microscopic organelle thingys? Answer: Healthy fats. This is part of what spurred the popular ketogenic diet in 2017. But I’m not telling you to start counting macros and making every dietary choice a high-fat one. If you reeeeaaalllly want to go down that path, talk to a registered dietitian about your options (don’t come to me – I’m not a raving fan of any extremist diet). If you want to help nourish your mitochondria through simple but powerful ways, just stock up on healthy fats in your weekly meals. Don’t worry about counting macros or eating all fats, just make sure you’re eating some or all of the following on a regular basis:

Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Olives, Nuts, Seeds, Avocados, Salmon/Fish, Eggs, Edamame, Ground Flaxseed, Chia Seeds, Lean Grass-Fed Beef & Pork, Full-Fat Milk, Full-Fat Yogurt (And guess what?! Dark Chocolate and Parmesan Cheese make the cut, too. YAAAAAASSSS!)

 

Pretox

“Pretox is the new detox.” Apparently. Instead of focusing on detoxifying one’s body from all the bad junk one ate and drank, some health professionals [and supplement companies] are recommending that people “pretox.” It sounds very oh-la-la, fancy, elusive and, like many health trends, expensive. But it’s not! For once. 

“Pretoxing” is simply giving your healthy lifestyle a gentle makeover. It’s getting those extra hours of sleep, exercising, drinking enough water, cutting back on processed foods, caffeine and alcohol, and all those tried-and-true steps towards a healthier lifestyle. These measures are called a pretox because they’re given even more attention and focus preceding a big event or vacation where one knows overindulgence will be involved. Supposedly, these measures make the detox phase of getting back on track easier.

While I certainly haven’t seen any scientific studies backing up these assertions (i.e., that the detoxing after partying is easier done if pretoxing has taken place), these steps certainly can’t hurt. If anything, they probably make someone more aware of the negative effects of too much alcohol or too little sleep, and cause the individual to curb their behavior mid-wedding reception or beach vacation.

I’ve often found that the healthier we are, the more sensitive we are. What I mean by this is that we are more aware of the negative effects of toxic substances and choices. For example, someone who strips common food allergens like soy, alcohol, gluten, eggs and dairy out of their diet will be more capable of telling whether or not they have a negative reaction after reintroducing them. The body’s reaction will be more loud and clear versus when they’re immune suppressed and experiencing the aforementioned Feel-Like-Crap Syndrome due to assaulting their body with things they’re sensitive to.

Ironically, this goes hand-in-hand with the urban dictionary’s definition of pretox: “When you know you’re going have a ridiculous amount of alcohol over the weekend and you decide to go out for a few drinks the night before as preparation – it’s the drinking equivalent of stretching.” The fact that this is a real definition kind of kills me. But to sum, drink more = less sensitive to effects of alcohol. Drink less = more sensitive. And so it can go with other things, too. 

Lifestyle Fix:

There’s no need for anyone to get their feathers ruffled over this buzzword. Just stick to the health basics for “pretoxing” and “detoxing.” Get sleep. Eat plenty of fiber, lean protein, healthy fats, antioxidant rich fruits and veggies. Drink a crap ton of water every day. Exercise and get out of your desk chair from time to time. Reduce stress. Overcome and banish negative thought patterns like guilt and shame. Curb caffeine and alcohol. Stuff like that. Please don’t feel the need to overspend on some fancy supplement or juice diet that boasts it can reclaim your youth. Just don’t. 

 

 

Recomposition

I was recently interviewed by Shape on the ins-and-outs of this buzzword. Definitely check that article out for a full explanation of “recomp.” A few highlights:

Recomposition is a fancy term for losing fat at the same time as putting on muscle. This is done to achieve a “lean and strong” body with overall improved fat:muscle ratios. The fat loss and muscle acquisition processes are very different but can be achieved together. The rate of muscle acquisition will not be quite as fast for someone trying to simultaneously lose weight but that’s okay.

For general nutrition, we need around .8 grams of protein per kg body weight every day (1 kg = 2.2 lbs). When trying to acquire muscle, this amount should be closer to 1 gram or higher. If someone is trying to lose weight by cutting calories at the same time as trying to gain muscle then they should aim even higher for protein intake; 1.5-2.0 grams protein per kg body weight a day. This amount of protein is easiest achieved through animal sources such as lean meats, fish and eggs since they have a high quality and quantity of amino acids. But a balanced diet incorporates a variety of whole foods so yogurt, quinoa, beans, lentils and other foods are healthful and contribute to the grams of protein, too. To sum, protein is essential for muscle growth and thereby altering body composition. A low-protein diet will not yield impressive muscle-gain adaptations, especially if there is a lack of exercise.

As for the exercise component to recomp, strength training via machines, free weights or body weight is an important part. This is not to say that cardiovascular exercise can’t add muscle to a person’s body (have you ever seen how impressively strong and dense an Olympic sprinter’s thighs are?!) but that strength training is a surefire way to add lean mass thanks to tapping into Type II muscle fibers (ironically, the same muscle fibers utilized by the aforementioned sprinters). Type II fibers are highly responsive to overload and will quickly adapt in size and contractile efficiency. These muscle fibers are best stimulated through reps in the range of 6-12, with muscle failure happening in that range. Muscle failure is a key element to building muscle. If you could keep going for a few more reps above the 6-12 rep range then you need to increase the amount of weight. True muscle failure is often accompanied by the inability to maintain form or continue working. So, when you reach that point, it’s the end of the set. Don’t compromise form for a few more reps because 1) you might hurt yourself and 2) there actually isn’t much of a point if your target muscle has reached fatigue.

There are a lot of ways to train for strength; supersets, circuits, alternating upper/lower body days, super slow or eccentric training, explosive exercises, and more. What’s important is that there is both a frequency to the training and adequate recovery. Muscle regeneration isn’t very effective when the body is chronically stressed (this can apply to mental stress or a lack of sleep, too!) so recovery days are critical. As for frequency of training, three times a week for strength is typically sufficient for the general population with basic weight loss and toning goals. For women looking to really lean down below 16-18% body fat, it will take a lot more dedication. Typically, women with these goals are athletes and/or competing in bikini or bodybuilding competitions. These individuals are usually on tight regimens, lifting 4-6 days/week and carefully monitoring their macronutrients with “bulking” and “cutting” phases built in.

Lifestyle Fix:

If you want to put on lean muscle in an effort to improve body composition then simply try to gradually increase the amount of protein you consume and increase strength training volume, frequency and/or intensity. If counting macro-nutrients isn’t your thing then just focus on getting some quality protein at least two out of your main three meals. If strength training isn’t your favorite, try some explosive sprints or HIIT exercises that push your muscles to the point of fatigue. Even just two workout days a week that focus on explosive or strength movements will guarantee some margin of results and health improvements!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

New Research: Is Strength or Cardio Better?

Common Questions: Is strength or cardio training better? Where should I spend my time and energy for optimal health results?

The Answer: Both are important. But for different reasons. And now we finally know which types of diseases and mortality are reduced by strength vs. cardio training.

The Research

The American Journal of Epidemiology published an observational study that followed over 80,000 adults to compare mortality outcomes associated with different types of exercise.

The Findings

The main takeaway from this research is that *STRENGTH TRAINING* REDUCES CANCER-RELATED DEATH!

The numbers… In the study, strength training exercises were found to be associated with a 23% reduction in all-cause mortality and a 31% reduction in cancer mortality. (WOW!!! Go pick up some weights. Like ASAP.)

Also, good news… The benefits of strength training can be achieved via traditional equipment-based exercises in a gym OR through using one’s own body weight to work out (ex: push-ups, squats, lunges, pull-ups, planks, tricep dips, etc.).

But… Strength training was NOT associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality (this is where cardio training comes in, people!).

Summary of Findings

Optimal health and reduction of all-cause mortality is highest for people who commit to the World Health Organization’s cardio AND strength guidelines; 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise every week, plus two strength-training days. Exclusive strength training is positively associated with a reduction in all-cause mortality and cancer mortality, while exclusive cardiovascular training is positively associated with reductions in all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality.

What We Still Don’t Know:

More research should be done to determine the appropriate intensity and duration of the strength-training days for optimal health benefits. Additionally, it may be interesting to see whether or not upper vs. lower-body exclusive training days confer different benefits from an internal health standpoint. We already know how changing training focus and intensity affects muscle growth and strength, but it’s time we learned about what’s going on deeper.

Lastly, why exactly does strength training have such a profound impact on cancer mortality? Is it because of metabolic adaptations, endocrine adaptations or changes in body composition? Are there additional benefits for women if they increase the intensity or frequency of strength training since, in general, women’s sex hormones suppress optimal expression of proteins in their bloodstream which increase muscle mass? I would love to know…  

How to Balance Cardio vs. Strength Training

Based on these findings, my suggestion for *disease prevention* is to attempt to keep cardio and strength sessions separate. In general, I love mixing the two from time-to-time; throwing in some lifting after a cardio session or ending a strength-training day with 10-15 minutes of HIIT training. My gut instinct and background in exercise physiology tells me this isn’t bad for health; it’s quite good for keeping the body sharp and incorporating a variety of movements and challenges into one’s routine – HOWEVER – I’ve also always known that for BEST strength-training results, let strength days stand on their own. Give them your full attention and reap the benefits. Like whoa. 

But, here’s the thing…if exercising is a challenge and you’re feeling like all these overarching guidelines overwhelm and discourage you, just do something – anything – for exercise that feels good and motivates you. Drop the rules and just GET AFTER IT!!!! 🙂

(Psst… hit me up if you have questions about “proper” strength and/or cardio training. I don’t ignore messages or leave them unanswered. Just not my thing.)

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

How to Overcome Obstacles and Negative Thinking

Hands down, the biggest obstacle in my life sits right between my ears. The discouraging inner monologue and negative spiral my mind can go down at times is incredible (in a bad way, to be clear). Oftentimes, I dwell on the things I haven’t accomplished yet. I let mom guilt overwhelm me as I attempt to be present for my child but fret over a lack of productivity for my career. I feel it creep up again when I frantically play catch up on work during my son’s naps and days at school, not wanting the solitude and “me time” to end, yet simultaneously glancing at the clock every hour wondering when I can pick him up and snuggle him close again. Gosh, I need him just as much as he needs me. 

I know I’m not alone in being hard on myself because I’ve heard my clients and friends open up in similar ways; pouring out frustrations that are born primarily from internal strife. A lot of people who come to me for personal training frequently fall into discouraging self-talk. At first, they don’t admit it. But as our relationship and trust grow, they share their insecurities and reveal the ways they get trapped in their minds while pursuing things like exercise and professional goals. The fact that these people are accomplished CEOs, lawyers, celebrities and government officials shows me that this propensity to feel insecure is a common human experience. But just because something is common doesn’t mean it should be normal. I like to think that we DESERVE to feel empowered to overcome obstacles and negative thinking.

It can be scary to tackle our goals with confidence. It’s easiest to talk ourselves into all the reasons why things WON’T work out the way we dream. I’ve been there. I have recently shifted from the manuscript-writing phase of a book to the pursuing-publishing phase. The two couldn’t be more different. While I savor the feeling of sitting at my desk and writing for hours, I don’t necessarily feel exalted at the prospects of getting turned down by potentially a LOT of literary agents. Time will tell…I’ve only just started. EEeekk! If I allowed discouraging thoughts to run my decisions then I would freeze before ever moving forward.

How do we conquer such deflating feelings? How do we ensure we’re in charge of our own minds, in a positive way?

Whether you’re tackling a new professional endeavor or stepping into the gym during a vulnerable time for your body or mind, there are effective ways to coach yourself through the process. Here are some strategies you can try…

 

1) Get Out of Your Head

Avoid Comparisons

Women seem especially prone to comparing themselves against one another. I’ve done it, too. It’s such an awful trap to fall into. Unfortunately, there’s no way we can “win” doing this. When we compare our lows to other people’s highs (a.k.a. the world of social media) we feel that we are perpetually failing. We badger ourselves over our perceived inability to be as successful as the woman we know who is dominating her executive position at a fast-growing company. We feel deflated when we have children that are a mess (and who are showing us who’s the real boss) when we see images of moms with a whole brood of little ones who are pristine, groomed and on good behavior. We feel silly for being proud of ourselves for lacing up our sneakers on a Saturday morning for a brisk walk when we are confronted by women boasting photos of their sculpted bodies after hours of hitting the weights.

I’m already feeling a little depressed after writing that last paragraph. Yuck! The thing is, we have to stop with comparisons. We have to hold ourselves back from them because they get us nowhere. A pastor I know said “Just play your own position. Know your own role.” In other words, know your “lane” in life and own it. Be proud of what YOU bring to the table and remember that you can’t be or do everything at once. The world is blessed with people of diverse talents for a reason; it’s how we keep the whole thing moving.

Recognize Negative Thought Patterns

One of the most helpful things we can do for ourselves is to openly acknowledge negative thought patterns. These are repetitive and unproductive thoughts that leave us stressed and/or depleted. They don’t serve any purpose, yet they can fill our minds and bodies with disease. If we start to recognize these negative thought patterns then we can choose how we react to them. For example, one of my clients used to say “I’m sorry” any time I corrected her form during a workout. There was no need for her to apologize – my entire job was to help guide her towards better success and health! Yet every time “I’m sorry” escaped from her lips without her thinking. We talked it out over time and finally managed to keep her from going down a negative path in her mind. Instead of allowing thoughts of failure and inferiority to dominate any time she received constructive feedback, she took it in stride. She kept her head high and didn’t divert her gaze with a defeated sigh. It was a huge win for us in our training relationship. Thereafter, both her body language and communication exuded better confidence.

A good place to start improving your mental process is writing down your most obvious and common negative thoughts. Next, list out several positive reactions or thoughts you can counter them with. The reason this is important is because negative thoughts are like quicksand; the more we struggle in them, the faster we sink. We need something hopeful to turn to.

Address Discontent

Another way we need to get out of our heads is by getting rid of discontent. In order to move forward in a healthy and happy life, we can’t focus incessantly on what we don’t have or what we want more of. This way of thinking causes people to feel that their lives aren’t good enough. You can see how this is a negative thing, right?!?!

It seems painfully obvious that this kind of thinking leads up down a bad path, yet we do it anyway. ALL. THE. TIME. Often, we focus our energy on what we don’t have or what we crave to have without even thinking. To be questing after a status or promotion seems purposeful in life, maybe even positive and healthy! The challenge is where our mindset is rooted. If happiness hinges on your “not-there-yet,” “some-day-I-hope-to” aspirations, then there isn’t enough joy available in the present to fulfill you. Turn your focus to gratitude. What do you have right now that you’re grateful for? Who are you and why is that enough to sustain you here, today?

 

 

2) Gain Confidence

Act the Part

As we shed negative thinking and pursue our goals with the right intentions, we can gain confidence in simple ways. Acting confident (even if you don’t feel it at first) and expressing yourself with upright posture will impress upon those around you that you’re a force to be reckoned with. It can also affect your brain chemistry. Tall, confident posture can stimulate the release of hormones that keep you feeling good. Hence, if you act confident then you just might become confident.

Accept that Obstacles Happen

Obstacles happen. They do. In my fitness career I’ve had many; one major accident that made my body feel like it belonged to a 90-year old, numerous setbacks with fitness startup companies, managers telling me to pick a niche focus in fitness even though my passions encompass a lot of areas (apparently that’s not very conducive to creating a “brand”), and more. In writing, I had a professional offer me feedback on my first manuscript that made me take pause for the next decade. A whole decade while I waited for that “aha” moment when I could revisit the book with fresh, mature eyes.

We can look at obstacles as unfair or frustrating if we believe they shouldn’t happen, but obstacles are a part of life’s growing pains. We should anticipate them so that we can bounce back from the inevitable way they will trip us up. We don’t have to give them power to make us insecure.

Find Meaning

When you’re having trouble staying confident because of setbacks, try to find meaning in the tough times. This sounds full of cheese, I know. For example, getting hit by a car years ago helped me become a well-rounded fitness professional because I became more capable of addressing people’s old injuries and back pains. In the moment it wasn’t always evident that I was growing in a positive way from the pain, but in time it became crystal clear. In fact, over the course of my life I have grown and learned the most through hardships, not good times.

Random Aside… This is similar to trees when you bring them home from the nursery. Removing them from a supported environment causes them stress. They might look weak and lean over after you plant them. But in response to the stress of having to support themselves, the roots shoot out and create a broad base. This allows the tree to slowly right itself and shoot up towards the sky. Similarly, we can thrive if we respond to stress by growing our roots deep, making it harder for the next big storm to tip us over in its wind.

 

3) Tackle Your Goals

Break Things into Small Tasks

Procrastinators and perfectionists alike can benefit from taking broad, longer-term goals and breaking them down into simple, actionable steps. For example, if I’m training someone to run a marathon we can’t focus immediately on the long runs. We have to start with the short and intermediate runs to build up stamina and train the muscles for the stress to come. We can’t think for too long about the total mileage that will be logged over the course of the training program or we may never begin. It’s intimidating to go from running a couple times a week for fun to logging 30-50 miles per week! My runners simply need to trust that each run will have a cumulative effect as we head in the direction of the race.

STOP Method

Per Psychology Today‘s recommendation, we can use the STOP Method to effectively move past emotions of fear, shame and self-doubt when we’re tackling our goals. STOP stands for:

STOP

Take a Step Back

Observe

Proceed Mindfully

By taking a moment to calm our emotions, we can look at our feelings from a different perspective. For example, if someone else had a similar emotional reaction, what would it look like to you? What would advice would you give them?

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a way of approaching our life, goals and relationships with better appreciation, service and enjoyment. Mindfulness allows us to better discern what’s worth our time and effort. As we make better, more confident and healthful decisions, we become productive in the ways that matter and fulfill our authentic selves. When our goals are aligned with what we truly care about, there’s no stopping us.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie