Tag Archives: women’s health

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

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The Controversy Over Fit Moms

Whether you love ’em or love to hate ’em, there’s little doubt that a big splash has been made in the blogosphere and on social media by self-professed “fit moms.” The cliche image of a fit mom is that of a woman stripped down to her sports bra, wearing tight-fitting spandex, working out while her little ones run around her, sit on top of her, and tag-along as she does her errands and chores. Why the fuss over these healthy mamas? What is it about them that’s so alluring, intimidating and inspiring all at once?

 

Here’s the truth about “fit moms”…they’re NORMAL. Yes, I promise. They are.

They’re normal women who are trying their best, through controversial posts and all, to inspire other women to improve their health. And even though their posts might look picture *perfect* their lives most certainly are not, and neither are their bodies, regardless of the glam poses they strike while they flash their six-packs. Every mom, dare I say every WOMAN, is imperfect, even when striving to appear the opposite way.

There are thousands of Instagram celebrities who strut their hot stuff while manipulating their body angles to look their best, deleting all the flawed and REAL trial runs before selecting the most flattering video or picture for a post. This is all phony, it’s true. BUT, I will also say that *most* of these women (although certainly not all) are trying to figure out how to inspire others. The problem is that not every woman is positively influenced by these images.

As a fitness professional, even I can feel intimidated and shamed by these posts when I’m having a bad day. Or even a good one. I can feel self-conscious, wondering if I should be working out harder even though I have vowed not to overdo it on exercise during years of my life where childbearing and a healthy balance for my body are essential. But then I take a step back and ask myself what these feelings say about ME instead of “THEM.”

 

 

The thing is…in our society, and particularly in all forms of media, image is glorified. Obviously. But when I ask myself who I am without my image, and without the typical titles of wife, mom, daughter, fitness professional, writer, UVA and Georgetown graduate, and lover of interior design, I come up with something more authentic. When I strip away the materialistic, the aesthetics, and the titles, I’m so much more. And so are you.

I’m a spiritual being. I’m positive energy. I’m a woman who pours out her heart to strangers because it seems better to connect than disconnect. I’m a listening ear because I believe everyone has a story to tell. I’m a believer in God, even when there are a thousand reasons to doubt and buy into all the lies this world tells me about who I am and who I should be. I’m a hopeless romantic because I believe wholeheartedly in love itself rising above all things. I’m a constant giver-to-others who has been learning to return some of that love to herself….by reminding myself who I am, not relying on the world to do it for me.

 

 

When we only look at the surface of fit mom posts we see the following…

Amy Updike

A fit mom who competes in beauty/fitness pro competitions, baring her sculpted, bikini-clad body before judges to be pitted against other ripped and lean women.

When we look deeper and listen we see…

A woman who desired to live a healthy lifestyle through fitness competitions and who was faced with feelings of stress when she began competing with “deflated” boobs post-breastfeeding her first child. Amy explains that her chest wasn’t just flat but wrinkled too, making it impossible to “push up” anything in her bikini competitions. Amy states that she actually liked her athletic-looking body (flat chest and all) and enjoyed the freedom of lifting weights without her chest in the way, but felt pressured by her competitions to take action. She decided to get implants and underwent multiple surgeries that caused complications and ongoing pain. Amy finally decided to “explant” and tell her network about the news. Amy explains in a video confessional that she knew the implants were for shallow reasons but she thought it would make her feel a little better about herself. See…even people who win bikini competitions can be self-conscious at times.

Sia Cooper

A mom of two whose Instagram following is gigantic and who is sought-after for endorsements. Sia’s beach life and abs are swoon-worthy but there’s more to the story…

When we look deeper and listen we see…

Sia is a woman who has overcome a tough childhood and a mother telling her that she was never good or pretty enough. She is a woman who has suffered from body dysmorphia, depression and gender disappointment. She is a woman of grit who is trying to prop up others through honesty and humility. And yes, maybe a little oversharing, but when you have 630K+ followers…that’s what they demand. So they can’t complain! Plus, oversharing the bare truth is where we find meaning and empathy.

Maria Kang

Mom of three boys, Maria was slammed for posing for a picture in a sports bra alongside her sons as babies/toddlers (3 yrs, 2 yrs, 8 months), with a caption over the photo saying “What’s Your Excuse?” To some people, the photo appears intimidating and arrogant, until you learn more…

When we look deeper and listen we see…

Maria has suffered from depression and bulimia, and was filled with fear when she was unemployed, lacking health insurance and pregnant with her first child out of wedlock. She experienced all the feelings you would imagine for a woman in this position, but as she started pushing forward and hoping a little harder, her fear gave way to perseverance. And a self-created mini empire for fitness fanatics. 

 

 

You see…just like Maria Kang’s burning question, “What’s Your Excuse?” all of these fit moms are confessing to be filled with the same excuses, fears and challenges as the rest of us are, yet they find a way to harness their self-doubt and become proactive for their health. None of them has a perfect life or perfect body. Heck, I’m sure many of them battle old demons regarding their body images, but they still try. They still try to find “healthy” in the middle of their snot-smeared, toddler-tantrum, sunrise-to-sunset days.

When I ask myself if I’m a “fit mom” I guess the answer is yes. I may not have a million followers…or even feel entirely comfortable with social media, to be honest…but I’m proactive about taking care of my health, in and out of the gym. So yea, in addition to being a fitness professional, I’m also a fit mom, a tired mom, a reaching-for-a-glass-of-red mom, a bath-time-singing mom, a trying-hard-to-work-hard mom, and a NORMAL mom. Just like ALL of us. Toned abs or not. And the sooner we lift each other up, instead of size each other up, the faster we all rise.

 

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

The Reason I Avoided Ab Exercises During Bikini Season (Pelvic Floor Health)

Let’s dive into an awkward subject, shall we? In fitness, we’re accustomed to discussing our hamstrings, glutes, biceps, the like. We explore the ins and outs of the large muscles in our body because they’re familiar and frankly, easy to feel (and sometimes see) during exercises. We’re less apt to talk about the small muscles deep in the pelvis because it typically involves discussing the big “V-word”…that’s right, VAGINA. I said it. Now let’s embrace the elephant in the room. 

Many of us are hesitant to talk about incontinence, leaking, prolapse and pains “down south.” We hear that mysterious exercises called “kegels” help, but we wonder whether we’re doing them right or not. Beyond that, we’re left in the dark. We assume that surely, these issues only happen following childbirth or into old age as we decline in fitness, but that’s not the case. Women can suffer from weakened pelvic floor muscles at any age, with or without having given birth, despite high or low levels of fitness, and even when knowing how to perform kegels. Sounds a bit daunting, but fear not… 

Confession Time

Take me, for example. I was at the gym doing a HIIT workout a few months ago when BAM. A gush of fluid rushed out of my “V-word” during a squat jump. I felt my face flush. What the ****??? I scaled down my workout that day and was nervous to run or jump during my next couple workouts. I wasn’t having any more leaking following that incident but I felt an increasing urge to pee, like all the time, for the next few days. And my girlfriends who have road-tripped with me already know about my notorious “tiny bladder” and its pit-stop needs. 

It was about four days later and my body still felt off. My husband and I decided to spend that Sunday evening taking our toddler to the grassy park overlooking Reagan National Airport to watch the planes coming in to land. Our son was giddy with excitement, having seen these planes many times from afar. Everything felt blissful and I was entranced by my child’s smiles. We were walking back to the car to head home when I felt a very sudden and very alarming feeling. It was as if something had fallen out of my vagina. It freaked me the heck out. Big time.

When I followed up with my OBGYN, I was told that my bladder was slightly lower than normal but that I wasn’t even a stage-1 level of pelvic organ prolapse. I was shocked because I thought certainly this feeling had to be associated with a more extreme condition. I was told to go home and do more kegels. That just wasn’t good enough for me, though. As a fitness professional, I know to always question one-stop-shop solutions, even healthy ones like performing kegels more regularly. That just couldn’t be enough, I thought, especially if I’m at a higher risk for developing true pelvic organ prolapse moving forward.

Let me take a step back and give you a little background as to where my body was at the time:

  • It was almost 1.5 years after giving birth to my son and I had recently finished breastfeeding
  • I stayed in shape during my pregnancy and postpartum, and was still regularly exercising
  • I had experienced zero issues with my vaginal health as I returned to pre-pregnancy fitness levels following childbirth – no vaginal tears (wowzers, I got lucky there) and no leaking or issues with bladder control
  • I was confident that I was doing kegels right but, admittedly, hadn’t done them as much following the first 6 months of the postpartum period

I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me at this point in time, so late after giving birth to my son, and with no warning signs. I knew there had to be a professional who could shed more light on the situation…and there was.

The Pelvic Floor 

I met a fantastic professional named Dr. Jennifer Nelson (PT, DPT, COMT, CMTPT) with Therapydia in Washington, DC, and she was the one who helped me get to the bottom of why this could be happening to me…and let me tell you, the answers were completely unexpected, but perfectly logical, at the same time. Here’s why she believed *my case* of near-prolapse occurred:

  1. Overly TIGHT muscles, not weak ones, particularly in my abdomen.
  2. Years of being in the fitness industry, sucking every core muscle in unnaturally, shifting the tilt of my pelvis under muscle tension and creating excess intra-abdominal pressure.
  3. An accident from nearly 10 years ago that caused my left piriformis to stay cramped up, causing a chronic stress on my pelvic muscles (this was something that could only be released through INTERNAL, manual palpation…that’s right, through the vagina).
  4. Caffeine consumption irritating the bladder and causing it to become hyper-reactive and perhaps inflamed (ahem…yes, I confess I was drinking more coffee than I should have been due to normal mom-fatigue). Apparently artificial sweeteners and alcohol can cause similar irritation.
  5. Hormones adjusting back to pre-pregnancy levels following the natural weaning of my son. In other words, breastfeeding hormones can keep joints and muscles more loose and tender, just like during pregnancy, so my body’s sudden, enhanced tightness may have been from hormones acting like a roller-coaster.

Every woman’s experience with prolapse symptoms, whether they’re full-blown or not, is different and brought on by unique causes.

 

Reality Check: Prolapse is Common (albeit not talked about)

While learning more about my own experience with these sensations, I discovered how common pelvic organ prolapse is. Prevalence in post-menopausal women is over 40% and in younger, pre-menopausal women, who have given birth to one child, mild to moderate prolapse has been discovered to be quite common as well. While weakened pelvic-floor muscles are thought to be one of leading causes of prolapse, there is still more being discovered.

 

Running, Lifting & Pilates

There are some researchers who suggest that increased abdominal pressure, created from lots of endurance running, heavy lifting, and/or Pilates and core exercises, contributes to prolapse issues. This begs the question: Are we hurting our bodies through modern exercise?!? 

My thought is that we are doing our bodies GOOD through modern exercise, but that we need to increase our awareness of the excess pressure we create in our core which contributes to the “downward push” of our organs, when not kept in check. We also need to keep in mind that just because contemporary images of beauty align with a flat stomach, devoid of any of the natural roundness which has marked beauty and women’s bodies for centuries, doesn’t mean that standard is right. Modern women are sucking in their tummies at the expense of their vaginas. That’s the unfortunate truth, ladies.

 

How Do Women Prevent Prolapse?

For starters, it’s important not to ignore those good, ol’ trusty kegels. They help maintain the integrity of the small, but oh-so-crucial, pelvic floor muscles. The key is to practice these regularly (I know, I know…not the first thing most women add to their to-do list at the start of each day) and to hold the contraction for the appropriate amount of time; 10 seconds per kegel. Focusing on the release of the muscles from the contraction is just as important as the tightening of them. This is a good rule to apply to gym exercises too.

Another way to stay on top of preventing prolapse is to take a gradual approach to getting back into shape following childbirth. Upcoming app Matriarc is a great place to start. It helps women regain fitness during the postpartum period with a heavy focus on SAFE core and pelvic exercises.

Additionally, allowing the stomach to be soft and relaxed, in its natural state, is important. Frankly, it sucks to think about the damage our egos (mine included) could be causing to our bodies. So, let’s all be confident women in the shapes we possess rather than twisting and contorting (and sucking in) to conform to society’s “norms.” Our bodies are pretty awesome without all the [intra-abdominal] pressure. 😉

*Please note that this list of suggestions is not all-inclusive. If you’re concerned about your risk of pelvic organ prolapse or are experiencing leaking, incontinence or a feeling of pressure in your vagina, please contact your OBGYN right away.* 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Where Does Belly Fat Come From?

Belly fat is both bad and good (yes, good!). Hoarding fat around the stomach is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the human race during times of stress and unpredictable food intake. Why is the stomach the place it’s stored? Here comes the “good” part… Because fat in the abdomen is the most metabolically active fat. This means that just as easily as a little extra pudge can accumulate, it can be rapidly recruited for energy and burned off. When you think about it, it’s really quite clever. It’s like a squirrel tucking some acorns into the fold of its cheek for safekeeping. Our caveman bodies do the same thing. But belly fat accumulation isn’t just about what we eat and how active we are. Let’s take a look at some of the ways it gets put on our waistlines…

The Usual Suspects for Belly Fat

You guessed it; the usual suspects for belly fat include nutrition, physical activity and genetics. Let’s do a brief review…

Nutrition

This is perhaps the most obvious source of stubborn fat in the tummy. It should come as little surprise that sugary foods, trans fats, low-protein diets and alcohol can be detrimental when it comes to keeping off this kind of fat.

What You Can Do: Eat lower-sugar, healthy, natural and unrefined foods that are high in fiber or protein, and keep alcohol in check.

 

 

Physical Activity 

You’re more likely to get a spare tire if you’re sitting at a desk all day and doing little to get moving during your free time. This is fairly obvious. But, what’s less obvious is that just 5-15 minutes of movement in small segments throughout the day can truly help keep your metabolism and calorie-burning engine going. So, formal exercise isn’t always a “must” if you’re leading a truly active and healthful lifestyle. Although it certainly never hurts.

What You Can Do: Be consistent and realistic about your exercise habits and goals. One of the worst things we can do to our bodies is workout like a dog for two or three weeks and then take a month off. Equally taxing on our bodies and minds is setting unrealistic expectations for the kinds of routines we should maintain. Over-lofty plans for exercise do us no good if they end in failure and guilt. Decide how you plan to lead an active lifestyle and/or get in formal workouts. Make sure your plan is integrated into the rest of your life’s priorities and schedules to ensure successful commitment.

 

Genetics

Body shape, appetite and metabolism can be strongly influenced by genes.  Some people are prone to being more “apple-shaped” (i.e., retaining weight in the middle) while others are “pear-shaped” (i.e., retaining more stubborn, less metabolically active, but less dangerous fat in the hips and thighs). Leptin levels, a hormone that controls hunger and calorie intake, can vary according to a person’s genetics. Cortisol regulation can vary family-to-family and influence weight, too.

What You Can Do: If you’re trying really hard on the exercise and nutrition front, and belly fat still refuses to come off, then your genes may be at play. But, this doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do about to help your body. Focus on being holistic and putting more energy into the following…

 

The Sneaky Culprits of Belly Fat

Sleep

There have been lots of formal studies demonstrating the power of ZZZ’s on our health and weight. Both short and poor-quality sleep can lead to hoarding fat around the mid-section. Unfortunately, our busy-busy lives lend themselves all too easily to skimping on sleep, going to bed late and ignoring the snowball effect of increasing cortisol, inflammation and insulin resistance.

What You Can Do: Apparently, the later we go to bed the more we are skimping on deep, non-REM sleep, which occurs in the earlier part of the night. Pay attention, night owls! According to Time Magazine this is a serious problem that is linked to obesity and other health problems. So, go to bed earlier instead of only counting the total hours of sleep you get. Help yourself commit to this by creating a soothing bedtime routine for yourself about 45-60 minutes before you plan to fall asleep. Kids need a bedtime routine…and we do, too!

 

 

Stress

I can always tell I’ve had a few extra-stressful weeks because my stomach will start to feel a bit softer and fuller, even if I’ve been eating healthfully and exercising. Stress takes its toll on my body, and I know I’m not alone in this. Some people are more sensitive to stress than others by nature of their personality, goals and preferences, but none of us, even the most laid-back individuals, are 100% immune to its effects. Studies have shown that some women, with higher waist-to-hip ratios, may be more prone to the negative effects of cortisol production in response to stress than others.

What You Can Do: Sometimes we are in a stressful season of life and there’s not a ton we can do to move through it any faster. In these times, it’s especially important to care for your health through good nutrition, sleep and exercise so that the effects of stress on your waistline are minimized. Finding a relaxing or enjoyable activity to turn to on a daily basis can help release a bit of the tension and keep it from spilling over.

 

Gut Health

Brace yourselves…this one is pretty mind-blowing…apparently, there are different kinds of bacteria in your gut linked to obesity vs leanness, and overall gut health. In other words, obese individuals tend to have more of certain kind of gut bacteria that changes their energy absorption levels from food (i.e., causing them to absorb more calories from food). Say whaaa? This is part of the reason some experts blame baby formula for contributing to the obesity epidemic – the baby’s gut flora is not developed in the same way that a breastfed baby’s is and thus, energy absorption and overall inflammation may be different. This is also part of the push from some doctors who encourage both children and adults to use daily probiotics, to build up the good bacteria in the gut as a line of defense against a “hostile” gut environment and the damaging effect of processed and sugary foods.

What You Can Do: Probiotics can be expensive but worth it. You might be able to bargain hunt on brand prices online, or strike a better deal by buying them in bulk. Either way, search for a probiotic that has at least three of the five main helpful bacteria strains your tummy will appreciate: L. acidophilus, B. longum, B. bifidum, L. rhamnosus and/or L. fermentum. I have personally heard debate over whether the number of total bacteria in a supplement is important or not. Science is unsure just how helpful the total number is, but I figure it can’t hurt to have more. If you want to play it “safe,” I suggest a supplement with over 10 billion bacteria. For more information check out this article: How to Choose the Best Probiotic Supplement.

 

 

Hormone Changes

Here comes the miserable truth, ladies…menopause changes things. If you’ve been through menopause then I’m sure you know this firsthand. A dramatic drop in estrogen about a year after a woman’s last menstrual period triggers the body to shift from storing fat in the thighs and hips to the stomach. Gooooood times. There’s not much women can do to change the course of nature; HOWEVER…..

What You Can Do: Weightlifting is an excellent way to keep extra tummy fat and those pesky hormones in check. By increasing lean muscle mass, women can help their metabolisms stay sharp through peri-menopause and post-menopause. Bonus: Lower levels of estrogen might allow women to acquire lean muscle mass more easily in later age. With effort, of course.

Best of luck as you figure out how to battle the bulge! It’s something we ALL do throughout our lives so please don’t stress and feel like you’re alone, unattractive or unworthy if your pants are a little tight. No need to stress – just take action and express self-love through the process!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Stressful Life Events + Self-Sabotage

Many of us have heard mention of the “five biggest stressors” in life, to include:

Death of a loved one

Divorce

Serious illness/injury

Moving

Job loss

Lots of people live out the truth that these experiences and even happy life events can bring unusual amounts of stress and uneasiness. Brides balk in the face of too many wedding-planning details and recently-promoted employees experience a sense of urgency and unrest as they work to prove themselves in their new role. Personally, in the face of major stressors – both the bad and good – I tend to self-sabotage. It’s something I’ve done for a long time and I don’t think I’m alone in doing this. But, as the years have passed, I’ve learned not to. In the spirit of openness and evolving in wellness, here’s a little insight into my life right now, where I’ve come from and where I’m heading, and how you might relate.

If you hadn’t already noticed, it’s been a little over a month since my last blog post. Since having a kiddo and writing two manuscripts, I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to blogging, but I still make it a goal to get a couple posts out every month. So, why the recent delay? You guessed it. I’m going through one of life’s major stressful events; moving. My house hasn’t even hit the market yet and I’m already feeling like the process of buying/selling and moving to a new city is so dizzying that it should be over by now.

Past stressful events in my life have included launching my personal training career the month the American markets crashed in 2008, getting hit by a car in 2009, experiencing the deaths of loved ones, and moving after college to busy-busy Washington, DC from small town Charlottesville, VA. My stressors may pale in comparison to other people’s but they’re mine, and the ownership over my own drama and circumstances is what has helped me evolve into the woman, professional and mother that I am today. Here’s what used to happen to me when I got stressed…

When the markets crashed, I felt manic and the need to impress everyone around me, working double-time and internalizing other people’s misfortunes as my own. When I was hit by the car, I felt like I had to push as fast as humanly possible, turning on all engines and running on all cylinders, as if the harder I tried, the quicker I would physically recover and emotionally heal. When I experienced the loss of a close family member, I felt like it was my mission to work harder to prove that my life efforts were a worthy legacy. And when I moved to Washington, DC, I was too intimidated by the accomplished and city-smart colleagues and professionals around me to calm down and be unapologetically myself. As you can see, stress doesn’t slow me down. It speeds me up.

My inability to cope with stress has led to self-sabotage. The kind that isn’t intentional but nonetheless does a very good job of chiseling away at a person’s soul. I’ve seen the same kind of thing happen with countless personal training clients. People have sought out exercise as a means of escape, an effort to feel some kind of control as the world spins like a crazy twister around them. At first, it seems to help them. Over time, and without containment, it steadily wears them down.

This time around, on the frontier of the unknown and leaving my entire life from the past decade in Washington, DC with one large leap of faith, I refuse to repeat past mistakes. Wellness is about evolving. Figuring out how to better care for oneself in the many facets of the body, mind and spirit as each gently molds into new forms over time. Hence, no blog post for the past month and no pressure on myself to spit out new ones “just because.” I’m also not putting pressure on myself to tackle my crazy, sky-high “to-do list” this time (isn’t prepping one home for sale and planning contractors for another enough?!). Sending query letters to agents for my books shouldn’t be rushed just because I’d love to feel like all my big goals have been reached before leaving the area. Pushing myself to stick to my normal workout regime isn’t worth it when it takes too much of a toll on my already-taxed body. I swear, I’ve probably burned a million calories anyways, cleaning and running after my toddler to keep him from messing it all up! The things of the past, that I used to lump on top of stressful experiences, aren’t going to get the best of me. I deserve better than some unrealistic standard that I’ve set for myself. Self-sabotage has no place in this season.

Do you act as your own worst enemy at times, too? Other common forms of self-sabotage include:

People-pleasing

Addiction; alcohol, drugs, caffeine, overeating

Procrastination

Extreme Modesty

Dodging Emotions

Self-harm

These things may seem initially helpful to the person who is under stress but all of them are dangerous, even the ones like “people-pleasing” that don’t raise an immediate red flag like “self-harm” does. Somehow, a lot of us women tend to make things harder on ourselves during some of life’s most trying times. Instead of setting the bar super high or resorting to behaviors that aren’t helpful in the long run, here are a few things to consider trying to get you through turbulent circumstances:

1) Use exercise as a stress-release not as punishment

I see this happen ALL the time. Exercise is used as “punishment” without people even realizing it. They rationalize in their minds that if they can get into great shape to get up-and-over an ex-boyfriend or ex-husband that sadness can’t touch their hearts. They unknowingly make up their minds that because they lost their job, they must pound the pavement and hit the weights for hours every day, as though the harder they test their physical limits, the closer they will be to feeling invincible again. Exercise can build people up, but not when the intention behind the action is fraught with insecurity and a feeling of unworthiness.

2) Avoid over-caffeinating or drinking away your feelings

Sure, it seems like a good idea to push through the afternoon on a caffeine high and to unwind after a long day with a little wine buzz, but the more we repetitively consume these things in excess, or even in more-than-normal proportions, the more we tax our bodies. When our bodies get taxed, our minds get worn out, too.

3) Use food as comfort on occasion, but not all the time

I’m very different from some other health advocates out there who stick to the Whole30 Program or paleo diets year-round. I believe in eating healthfully most of the time, but I also strongly feel that food IS a very emotional experience. There’s no denying it. It’s part of our cultural and personal identities, and conjures memories and emotions. Enjoy a few comfort meals when you’re going through a tough time. It’s OKAY to emotionally eat once in a blue moon. Just don’t make a habit of it. For the record, I’m never going to only eat salads for a month. Not. Gonna. Happen.

4) Don’t let the bark be worse than the bite

Fear is a common reason for resorting to people-pleasing, procrastination, over-committing, and more. What if I’m not good enough? What if they don’t like me? What if my dreams don’t come true even why I try? If you hide “under a rock” and put off self-care, emotions and/or your goals, you’ll never overcome fear and you certainly won’t accomplish anything for your authentic self. For example:

My Situation: Afraid to hold back from blogging for a month while undergoing extreme stress. Fearful that people will judge me for not being committed enough. Guilt-ridden over not sticking to my commitment of producing content more often.

Action: No blog writing for a handful of weeks.

Result: Seemingly, no one has judged me, and I have had more time and energy for myself and my family during an important and unique time.

Bonus: No more fear.

5) Ingratiate YOURSELF

Too often, when life hands women lemons, we make lemonade, lemon meringue, roasted chicken with lemon and fennel, amaretto sour cocktails, and elderflower lemon cake (?!?!?). Instead of tasting life’s bitterness and adjusting to what that means to us, we try to make ourselves appear more likeable and put-together to everyone around us. Social media has only exacerbated this tendency. Been there – I tend to post way more often when I’m struggling than when I’m happy. Isn’t it time we ingratiate ourselves? What can you do to make yourself more likeable to the only person who truly matters – YOU?

These are just a few ideas for how to survive and stay healthy during life’s most stressful events. I will be trying to keep myself in check on ALL these fronts as I pack up my bags this summer and move on from the Washington, DC area after a decade of urban living. I may have experienced my childhood elsewhere, but I truly grew up after moving to DC. The people I’ve met – some of which are among the readers of this blog – have changed my life. But the relationships and the experiences are not over – no one said I can’t take my laptop and WellnessWinz with me! So, cheers to DC AND cheers to change!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

The Best Indoor Exercise for Winter

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When it comes to exercise, I’m wary of using overarching phrases like “the best” and “the ideal solution” because each person’s body has its own unique demands and needs. Forgive me for making an exception to my rule. Today, I’m going to tell you that I think this specific exercise can be enjoyed by the vast majority of people and can offer a plethora of benefits, especially during the more sedentary winter months. It’s quite simple to learn and has a variety of ways it can be done to offer you whatever you need in the way of stretching, toning and/or cardio. Bonus: No equipment needed! I’ve also included two 4-week workout plans; one for beginners and another that is more advanced. So, what is this mysterious exercise? Time to find out… sun salutation

…SUN SALUTATIONS!!! Whether you’re a yoga-lover or scared to death of spending time on the mat reaching for your toes (they seem so far away sometimes!), sun salutations are a great way to start or end your day. You can limber up with just a few rounds of sun salutations (also called Surya Namaskara in Sanskrit), a process that can take anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes, or you can devote a longer amount of time to them for additional stretching, toning or cardio benefits. Yoga teacher Krishan Verma said, “It is better to practice daily for 20 minutes than to practice for an hour occasionally.” The beautiful thing about sun salutations is that you CAN reap benefits from them very quickly, so you can easily do them every day – no hour-long gym sessions or equipment needed!

What is Surya Namaskara?

“Surya” means “sun” to Hindus and is revered as the center of the physical and spiritual worlds. Sun salutations are a sequence of asanas (physical poses) intended to salute or show respect to the sun. Some texts claim that the sequence originates as far back as Vedic times, approximately 2,500 years ago. Western cultures adapted the practice in the early 1900s and now people of all different spiritual practices from around the world enjoy it as a physical exercise and outward expression of the desire to connect deeper within. Here is a quick video from a yoga school in Brooklyn which shows how to perform the poses…

Tutorial Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73sjOu0g58M

*I love this video because it takes people through the full traditional sun salutation and how to make each pose work for them. The only thing I don’t like about this tutorial is that it doesn’t show harder modifications of the lunge (with the knee lifted), full chatturunga and upward facing dog. Feel free to choose these harder modifications in the sequence if you are experienced and know them.

Why is Surya Namaskara so ideal for winter months?

  • It’s all about focusing on the warming energy from the sun – something we need to harness during the cold and dismal winter!
  • It doesn’t require equipment
  • It doesn’t require space
  • It can be done at different tempos to meet needs for relaxing, stretching or strengthening
  • It helps give a full-body stretch to weary limbs and rigid spines that are tight and fatigued from long hours inside and sitting
  • It can be done in just a couple of minutes or a longer stretch of time like 20-60 minutes
  • It helps clear the mind
  • It connects you with your breath – bringing awareness to the breath in general can help you calm down during tense moments of the day
  • It tones muscles that might be otherwise neglected while the tennis racquets, swim goggles, hiking boots and soccer shoes sit in the closet waiting for warmer weather

 

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BEGINNERS SUN SALUTATION WORKOUT PLAN:

This plan is ideal for anyone looking to limber and find a little energy to start the day. It’s simple and fast but just tough enough that committing to it takes effort.

Week 1: 5 Sun Salutations/day

Week 2: 10 Sun Salutations/day

Week 3: 15 Sun Salutations/day

Week 4: 20 Sun Salutations/day

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ADVANCED SUN SALUTATION WORKOUT PLAN:

This plan requires a lot of commitment and work but can leave a person feeling very accomplished and in great shape. I have built the plan around the goal of accomplishing 108 sun salutations on the final day. 108 is considered a holy number according to several religions and is meaningful in science, literature, martial arts, sports and more. For this reason, many schools of yoga will use 108 as a goal for the sun salutation practice.

                                                             Week 1: 10×2, 15×2, 20×2, REST

Week 2: 20×2, 25×2, 30×2, REST

Week 3: 40×2, REST, 50×2, REST, 60×1

Week 4: 70×1, REST, 80×1, REST, 40×1 REST 2-3 days

Final: 108 Sun Salutations

My highest hope is that in performing this practice you can find new energy and happiness! Connect with your breath, find the rhythm in your body and get lost in this sequence! Ommmm….

Namaste!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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