Tag Archives: Wellness

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

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

 

 

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

 

The Problem

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

The Solution

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

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

 

 

Let’s dive into more detail…

Asking Well-Prepared Questions of Providers

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

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

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

 

Finding Second, Third and Even Fourth Opinions

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

 

 

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

 

Knowing Where to Look Online for Credible Health Information

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Answer #1: It depends.

Answer #2: They all are.

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

 

Coming Up with Our Own Solutions

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

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

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

 

 

Finding the Confidence to Trust Your Gut

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

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

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

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

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

 

Become your own health advocate!!!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

NBC News: My Thoughts on 2019 Wellness Trends

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

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

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

 

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

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

Forget About Weight Loss

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

 

I recently shared my thoughts with HealthiNation for its article:

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

 

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

 

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

Maggie

 

Should I Exercise When I’m Sick?

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

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

 

 

The Impact of Regular Exercise on the Immune System

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

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

 

General Recommendations for Exercise During Sickness

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

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

 

The Grey Area of Exercising While Sick

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

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

 

 

Ask Yourself These Questions When You’re Ill

What kind of sickness am I fighting?

How tired and rundown do I feel at this moment?

How often do I typically exercise?

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

 

Give Exercise a Try If…

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

 

Types of Exercises to Ease in With

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

 

 

Hold off on Exercise If…

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Study: Even Light Drinking is Deadly

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

 

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

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

 

A Lesson from The History of Cigarette Smoking

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

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

 

 

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

*Pause for contemplating* 

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

 

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

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

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

This is confusing stuff!

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

 

 

The Study that Addresses Many of Our Burning Questions:

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

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

*The Results*

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

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

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

 

 

Implications for the Future

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

My personal stance:

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

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

The Vagus Nerve: Lose “The Last 5 lbs”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

5 Ways Our Bodies Are Connected to The Earth

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

 

 

Seasonal Hormonal Changes

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

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

 

 

Green Space & Mental Health

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

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

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

 

 

The Sun Connection

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

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

 

 

Brain Waves & Nature Sounds

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

 

 

The Practice of Grounding

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

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

 

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie