Thirsty?

Are you drinking enough water this winter? Chances are on these cold days, consumption of pure clean water decreases or might be replaced with dehydrating substances like coffee. If this is you, here are some thoughts as to why to get back to water.

Our body is approximately 60% water with some parts such as the brain and heart being 73% and the lungs 83%. Obviously it is a key element and without it we will not survive. Water is an important nutrient in every cell; it regulates body temperature, is a solvent for chemical reactions, transports metabolized protein and carbohydrates as needed, cushions our joints, it eliminates waste products and more.

In addition to the aforementioned, water is vital for our fascia. Our mobility, integrity, and resilience are determined in large part by how well hydrated our fascia is. When we think of stretching a muscle, we are actually gliding the layers of fascia along one another. With the absence of enough water these layers get glued together and become brittle, thus increasing our risk for injury.

According to the USGS Water Science School, “Each day humans must consume a certain amount of water to survive. Of course, this varies according to age and gender, and also by where someone lives. Generally, an adult male needs about 3 liters per day while an adult female needs about 2.2 liters per day.”

This may seem like a lot and yes you can get some water through foods but not enough. You need to be consciously drinking water throughout the day to reach an optimal level. Throughout is the key as it is best to sip on water continually rather than gulping a large amount all at once. And don’t wait until you are thirsty. The older you get, the less the thirst mechanism kicks in. Typically when you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated!

Still there is more to it than this. You can drink and drink all day long but if you are not moving your body the water will not go into your cells as needed. In addition, where posture is poor or repetitive motions are your norm, those tissues are particularly dehydrated and without movement will continue to be so.

Let us imagine our body is a natural sponge. When it is dry, it is rigid and brittle yet if you provide water it becomes very soft and pliable. Take that sponge another step. If that sponge were wet but full of dirty water, we would need to squeeze it out to remove the waste, allowing a bath of nice fresh water to enter.

Essentially this is what is going on in your body. You drink water but don’t move and instead sit all day. Like the rigid sponge, there is nothing moving it to inspire the water to enter and consequently your body remains in stuck dehydrated positions. However if you drink your water and then move in all directions, the muscles are acting like the hand that brings water to the sponge, squeezes it to free up waste, and then during the relaxation period, the sponge or tissues have the opportunity to fill back up with new fresh water and nutrients. It is really not all that difficult to do.

So make this be one of your New Year’s resolutions. Drink plenty of pure fresh water through the day and move in all directions like you would in an Essentrics workout! This will allow you to enjoy all the benefits of keeping your body supple and healthy!

Last, if you are a geek and would like to understand more about water in our body, here is a fun website to read more about the process.

It’s cold. I think I’ll skip exercising today…

I realize this is the time of year when your bed is warm, the coffee tastes extra good and it just feels too cozy in the house to leave so we skip our workout and stay home. I say don’t do it!! Find that extra bit of self will and make yourself go! Here’s why…

 

More and more research is being documented on the value of movement; especially for the connective tissue or fascia. Fascia is a casing or wrapping that surrounds your body throughout. It is located from just under the surface to deep down throughout your muscles and surrounding your organs, nerves, lymph and blood vessels. Fascia is so prevalent that it actually makes up 20% of your body weight! Did you know that you could remove all your bones and muscles and your shape would be the same due to the fascia? Amazing.

 

Previously these layers of fascia were moved aside to look at the muscles and organs. This has changed and the findings are remarkable! The fascia itself is made up of collagen or a type of protein fiber that provides strength and cushioning. Research has proven that fascia is very pain sensitive due to the encapsulated nerve endings that are located throughout it. It is also finding that more pain is sensed through these tissues than muscles.
Under normal circumstances layers of fascia glide easily on one another, keeping everything in a healthy state. However when movement is decreased the fascia actually starts to overproduce collagen and the area starts to get less and less mobile; resulting in potential increase of pain. This happens in an amazingly short period of time and if fact one fascial researcher, Dr. Robert Schleip of Germany, is now making sure to move every day to keep this from happening. You should consider the same!

 

In a recent documentary called The Mysterious World Under the Skin, you will find researchers all over the world coming to the same conclusions about the importance of movement for health of the fascia and reduction of pain. Although this video is fairly long, 42:25 min, it is well worth the watch. Here is the link. 

 

If you don’t have the time or patience to watch the entire video, here are a couple of notable moments:

 

  • 13:00 – Thoracolumbar Fascia and back pain
  • 16:10 – Look at how the fascia changes in just 3 weeks with an arm being in a cast. This one will definitely make you put that extra cup of coffee down and head out the door to exercise!
  • 23:18 – Emotional stress and fascia
  • 25:10 – How our bones float in the fascia
  • 32:15 – In addition to exercise, see how deep fascial massage can have a positive effect
  • 39:40 – Our sympathetic nervous system
After now watching this video more than once, I am convinced that not only is daily movement a must but incorporating Essentrics is one of the best ways to do so. Throughout the video the various scientists refer to active stretching. This is the definition of Essentrics! Of course there is the added benefit of strength with Essentrics in a non-aggressive way by using our own body weight to elongate, resulting in naturally getting stronger.

 

In my opinion, Essentrics is a no brainer and is available either in a live class, on PBS or through the Essentrics website. Do a combination of any of these so you can move eccentrically every day. Put down that coffee, put on those workout clothes and give your body what it deserves!

 

One last reminder… if you have pain or are stiff, chances are your body didn’t get this way overnight so it is not going to miraculously change immediately. You need to commit today, tomorrow and for the rest of your life! Be patient with yourself but be diligent. You are worth it!

Break That Fast!!

There is a reason why the first meal of the day is called ‘break’ ‘fast’. By the time we wake in the morning, we have used up the stores from foods eaten the day prior. Our body is ready to be replenished with healthy nutrients to support the regeneration process that has been happening during the night.
When we go to sleep at night we often don’t stop to think about what our body is actually doing. Somehow we assume it is sleeping too! Indeed the exact opposite is happening. There are two broad stages of sleep – non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). At different times during these stages many processes are taking place. Here are just a few:
  • Brain cells are rewiring themselves enabling us to process, retain and organize information
  • Muscles are being repaired from normal wear and tear
  • Skin is being repaired and rejuvenated
  • Your immune system is regulating and building itself up
  • Growth hormones are being produced for cell reproduction and repair
Amongst the list above, the brain is one of the most active at various times in these stages. Its source of energy to function is glucose, the sugar broken down from food. Although needing less than during the day where it uses about 20% of the glucose broken down from our food, it is still requiring a great deal.
By the time we wake in the morning, we have used up the stores from foods eaten the day prior. Our body is ready to be replenished with healthy nutrients. If we don’t eat or feed it junk food, it is going to rebel. What would you expect?
In the US we tend to be a bit irreverent with our body. In many cultures the opposite is true. Things like a warm vegetable and protein soup is the norm for breakfast. Soup? Yuck you say! Well let me tell you it is quite delicious! I’ve had the opportunity to experience a soup breakfast both in Thailand and in Bhutan. Both amazing and nourishing! And now in the winter I often make a soup filled with vegetables and protein for my breakfast. I can’t think of anything nicer than warming up that way on a cold winter morning. As for this time of year we have so many beautiful fresh vegetables out there that ideas for breakfast are endless!
In addition to the ‘ick vegetables for breakfast!’ comments I also hear are ‘I don’t have that kind of time’. Well frankly it doesn’t take long at all. You can throw veggies in a pan and cook them while you’re showering. If you know you’ll have a particularly hairy day the next day, you can make a frittata the first morning and save the other half to eat tomorrow. The point is just do it! No excuses. Your body will feel so much better!
In addition to providing your body with healing foods, another component is blood sugar. If you give your body healthy protein in the morning it will help to stabilize your blood sugar levels for the entire day. Since your body levels are low in the morning, if you feed it sugar like a scone or a Kind bar, your sugar levels will raise too fast and the pancreas will produce insulin to bring it back down, usually dropping the blood sugar levels too low. Consequently mid-morning you will be starving again and grab something else sugary to give you a boost. The body will go through the same process and you’ve now set yourself up for a pattern of highs and lows for the day. Most often the tendency is to eat more throughout the day to involuntarily ‘manage’ this. Disaster!
Also eating some healthy protein in the morning will help to ramp up your metabolism a bit. Who doesn’t want that? Remember the higher the metabolism is the more calories you burn! So in addition to exercising early and building muscle, a healthy breakfast will naturally help you become a lean machine. Not bad, hey?
You will be amazed how much better you feel throughout the day.
My challenge to you is to give it a try for at least 3 months. I prefer to eat mine about an hour before I exercise. If this just isn’t doable for your body, exercise and then follow it with breakfast. Again just do it! I can almost guarantee you that your body and mind will feel so much better!

It’s All a Balancing Act…

Balance in life comes in many forms whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. It is a key to health and vitality. Today let’s look at the physical side of balance. Whether young or old, balance keeps us healthy and reduces the potential risk of injury. For athletes, balance is the key for being either a mediocre or excellent athlete. For the rest of us, balance enables us to move through life freely and without hesitation.

There are key components that keep our balance in check; a combination of sensory input from our eyes, a correctly functioning inner-ear system, along with an awareness of the position and movement in our feet, legs, and arms. Especially with sedentary living, these components can be compromised as we age, making a lack of balance a key cause of injuries and increase in fearful attitudes. According to the CDC, “each year, millions of older people—those 65 and older—fall. In fact, more than one out of four older people fall each year, but less than half tell their doctor. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again.”

Does this mean we accept this as a part of aging? I say a resounding NO! Studies have shown that, even among adults over seventy years old, it’s not too late to start a balance-improvement program and get results. For example, a 2001 study published in the British Medical Journal showed that both men and women ages seventy-five and older had a 46 percent reduction in falls over a year’s time after working on their balance.

So what can we do about it?

Let’s begin by looking at the factors we can take responsibility for:

Vision – In addition to the obvious, use your eyes to focus more. When trying to balance, pick a spot about 20 feet ahead of you and focus on that spot while doing a balance movement. Often I see people looking down towards their feet and more so than not, this will cause them to lose their balance. Bring that head up and look ahead or on a fixed object.

Core Strength – Get those core muscles working for you! There’s a difference between holding in your stomach to look better verses using your entire core to lift that torso and engage in all the muscles around your waist and spine.

Get stronger! – The more you engage your muscles in movement, especially full range of motion, the greater feedback loops you will have to the brain. We will talk more about this in a moment.

Practice balance daily – If your balance is poor, start with static balancing. Stand on one foot. Stay up on your toes. Things like this. Once you’ve mastered this make your movements become dynamic. Stand on one leg and move the other one around. Stand on one leg and move your upper body. Put one foot behind the other and move. Use a balance board. Anything to keep the movement challenged.

Incorporate balance into your daily life – Get out of the habit of leaning on something to put on your pants or wash your feet in the shower. Center yourself on one leg, strengthen that core and go ahead and lift the other leg to put on those pants or wash that foot. We need to break those lazy habits now!

Learn to love those side leg lifts & kicks! – The muscles found on the outside of your hip, the Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimis and Tensor Fasciae Latae all help to stabilize your pelvis when standing on one leg. If they’re weak, they can’t fully support you and therefore need to be strengthened on a regular basis to keep your balance in check.  You may want to check out Essentrics for an instructor in your area, videos or PBS classes on this fantastic type of exercise!

Get those feet out of shoes! – We have so many joints in our feet and they need to move individually in order to send feedback messages to the brain. If we are always held tight into our shoes, those joints get lazy and rely on our shoes to keep us upright. This spells disaster over time. Get all those joints working independently again.

Work through that old injury – Proprioception is compromised after an injury such as a sprained ankle or a hip replacement. The only way it can be regained is to work through it. Be gentle on it but move it, take it through every range of motion that is normal for that joint. Of course honor pain but don’t let the pain stop you. Find that place where you can relax and move it ‘just before’ the pain starts. Over time you will find it moves more and more and those feedback loops are reawakened.

Exercise regularly – People that exercise regularly have better balance. You can even increase balance if starting over age 75. The point is just do it!

For better understanding, I’d like to talk briefly (I could go on all day but I’ll spare you!) about proprioception. This is our body’s awareness of where we are in space. Proprioception is a feedback loop from receptors located in our muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and joints that send messages to the brain about where we are. For every one message sent to the brain, up to 30 messages are sent out from the brain to the rest of the body to appropriately adapt to the necessary combination of movements. Think full glass verses empty glass. You lift a full glass of water to drink and the brain will need to determine the weight of the glass with the water to smoothly take it to your mouth. Once the glass is empty the weight has changed again and the brain needs to direct the glass back down to the table adjusting for a different weight. All this is easily and unconsciously accomplished through an efficient proprioception system.

One of the biggest feedback loops in regards to balance is in the ankles. This study relates the importance to enhanced sports performance and yet is equally important for all of us. The ankles and feet are our main contact with the floor and therefore need to be especially tuned in to avoid injury. Challenging them through various balance techniques is a key factor in keeping us upright, literally.

Change is inevitable. Let’s make that change in the positive direction rather than the reverse. Strengthen those muscles throughout your body so they can perform at their best, move in every conceivable direction to get those feedback loops functioning fully, get out of those shoes and bring that head up to focus on something rather than your own two feet. 🙂

To see this system at its finest while reading more about proprioception, check out this phenomenal video of a cheetah running. As you watch it, notice her head is upright, hardly moving while focusing. Enjoy the beauty of her musculature moving fluidly through space.  My favorite part – notice how she uses her ankles, lands heel to toe and spreads her toes with each and every landing.

We may not be cheetahs but we sure can move fully and gracefully throughout our life by participating daily in the art and beauty of complete balance.

Mexican Medley

Mexican Medley

This is one of my favorite meals for breakfast.  It requires a limited amount of time to make, can be doubled to have again another day, and keeps me going on those days that require a lot of energy.

Ingredients:

Olive Oil 1 T
Carrot, sliced thin 1
Onion, chopped 1/2 med
Zucchini, quartered lenghtwise then sliced 1/2 reg
Crookneck Squash, quartered lengthwise then sliced 1/2 reg
Reb Bell Pepper, sliced into 1″ pieces 1/2 reg
Cumin 1/2-1 tsp
Aleppo Pepper 1/2-1 tsp
Salsa 3.5 oz
Refried Beans, natural  1/2 of 16 oz can
Spinach, chiffonade 1-2 C
Egg, poached or Fresh Guacamole 1 or 2 eggs or 1 T Guacamole

Preparation:

In a med/lg saucepan add olive oil and sauté carrot, onion, zuccini, crookneck squash, bell pepper over medium heat for a few minutes. Add cumin, pepper and salsa. Cover and cook until vegetables soften; about 8 minutes on med/low. Add beans and cook an additional 5-8 minutes until heated through. Place spinach in bottom of bowl. Top with bean mixture. Place poached egg or guacamole on top. S&P to taste.  Garnish with cilantro if you like.

Serves 1-2 depending on how hungry you are!

My neck is killing me!

 

You’ve been sitting at your desk for hours on end.  You get up and think ‘wow, is my neck sore!’  Wonder why?  Let’s take a look at the more common thing that happens over time from extended sitting.

Initially you may start pretty upright in your chair.  The day is fresh and you are ready to go.  As the day progresses you start to slump a bit. The lower back starts to round, causing your abdominal and chest areas to come forward and shorten.  Naturally your head follows and starts to move forward and closer to the computer screen.  Your eyes need to see what you are reading so you slightly tilt your head up.  All these moves are unconscious yet by the time you get out of your chair your entire body positioning has been compromised.  After months or years of this poor posture, the muscles become adapted to this new position.  head-forward-posture

So what?

To begin, a natural position for the head is to be directly above the shoulder joint.  When it is sitting in this position, it requires the least amount of energy for your head to rest comfortably.  However as that head starts to move forward of that ideal posture, your muscles have to take over in holding the head up against gravity.  It may not sound like a big deal but according to Dr. Renee Calliet for every inch your head is forward of normal alignment it adds 10 pounds of pressure on the neck muscles.  Over time as the head migrates further forward it can result in 30 pounds of additional pressure on the muscles of the neck!  Talk about a heavy load!  Our head already weighs between 10-12 pounds on average and now we are throwing an additional 30 pounds or more onto it!  No light matter.

So who’s doing the work?  It is the neck muscles that run directly down the spine that end up taking the load.  Not only do they have to work hard to hold up that head, they are spending a great deal of unnecessary energy to do so.  That energy results in an output of waste products including lactic acid.  At the same time the muscles are tight from contracting, which results in decrease of blood flow causing those waste products to accumulate and irritate the nerve endings.  Pain!  Over time the spine will start to adapt to the position and finally recruits the body to lay down some extra connective tissue to assist.  Have you seen people with that lump on the back of their neck at about shoulder height?  It is called a dowager’s hump and is primarily a result of this head forward posture.

This is only part of the story.  Remember I mentioned that you tend to tilt your head up to see the screen?  Our body naturally realigns itself to bring the eyes to the horizon by tilting that head slightly up at the base of the scull.  There are muscles there called the suboccipital muscles that hold your head in that position.  When they are shortened for a long period of time they can develop hyperirritable nodules that can actually cause headaches – like a tight band around your head at the eye level.  Ever had one of those headaches?

At the same time there are muscles in the front of the neck that end up short.  One in particular – the sternocleidomastoid (SCM for short) can also cause
temporal headaches and jaw pain.  Another group called the scalene muscles can press on the nerves that innervate the arm, causing numbness and tingling in the arm and/or hand.  It is a bit more complicated than this but you get the picture.

I could go on about the resulting effects of the chest muscles but let’s wait for another time.  For now, we should look at things that you can do to get yourself out of this positioning.  Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure your chair has correct back support. You need to have a slight curve in your low back or you are going to round that low back which will result in rounding your chest, bringing your head forward and starting a barrage of other problems over time.
  • Make sure your keyboard is in a position in front of you where your arms can relax by your sides with the elbows bent to 90 degrees. If your keyboard is too high, you will elevate the shoulders.  If it is too low, you will be more likely to round that upper back, cave in your chest and end up with your head forward.
  • If you work on a laptop, you might want to consider a monitor so you can look directly ahead rather than down onto the laptop screen.
  • Get up and move regularly! The longer we sit, the more our posture starts to get compromised.  Even if it is just a quick walk around your desk, when you sit back down you will hopefully be sitting more erect.
  • Stretch out the neck muscles in the front, sides and back of the neck.
  • Do some door stretches to stretch out the pectoralis muscles.
  • Don’t know the ideal positioning for these stretches? Check out my eBook.  It will give you full details for stretching these muscles and much more.
  • Think of lifting up the top of your head towards the ceiling to elongate the neck and slightly tuck your chin in towards your neck.
  • Set a timer every hour or two to recheck your sitting position and realign yourself accordingly.

If you are not sure if you have your head forward of ideal alignment, ask someone to take a picture of you from the side.  You may be surprised!

As I am sure you know, sitting is only one of the culprits for that head ending up in a forward position.  Many other factors can play a role including imbalanced musculature in the upper body and hips.  If you have chronic neck pain or regular headaches you may want to check with a physical therapist or neuromuscular therapist to assist in assessing your situation.  You may also want to look into forms of exercise that will help you rebalance your body such as yoga, Pilates or Essentrics.  Not only will these help in getting the blood flowing but over time will assist you in getting your body properly aligned.

These are just a few tips to get your started.

I hope you found this helpful!

To your health,

Julie

Movement is Key!

We started talking about movement last post.  I’d like to continue on that subject because, as mentioned, we have become way too sedentary for our health.  Even an hour or two of daily exercise can’t make up for the 8-10+ hours of static sitting that has become way too commonplace for most people!

With movement comes the stimulation of the musculature and various cellular processes throughout the body that keep all our systems functioning at a higher level.  We get more fuel to all of our cells, our pancreas does a better job of balancing out blood sugar levels, our brain gets fed the glucose it needs to function properly, our digestive system continues to work and our muscles get the blood they need to both flush out waste products plus bring new oxygen and nutrients to function properly.  And, as we talked last time, to assist with keeping full length in the muscles that tend to stay short after prolonged sitting.

The above is to just name a few of the many actions our body does when we keep moving as opposed to too much sitting.  Did you know that even getting up and moving your own body weight around for a few minutes will start your system moving again?  This is why it is ideal to walk around at breaks, work part of the time at a standing desk, use the steps rather than taking the elevator whenever you can and much more.  You get the picture.

Start getting creative as to how you can move around more even if you do have to be at your desk all day.  What about standing and doing squats while you are on a conference call?  This will get those glutes and quads working to increase metabolism and burn a few extra calories.  Need to read that paper?  Walk around your desk while you are reading it or do little lunges from side to side.  Perhaps do a little Tai Chi movement or two while you are reading something on your computer.  Don’t know Tai Chi?  Here is a video with some basic moves for you from  Jake Mace  Note side benefit:  This might just calm you down a bit at the same time!

Drink more water!   You will get the double benefit of rehydrating your system, which is most likely dehydrated, and it will make you get up and go to the bathroom more.  🙂  For more information on hydration, here is an article I wrote a while back about drinking water.

Of course none of this is meant to take the place of regular vigorous exercise but to help counter the negative effects of sitting too much.

Another benefit is every time you get up and sit back down, you are likely to sit in your chair more upright and out of that slumped position that seems to come so naturally when sitting for long periods of time.  You thought I forgot about the posture piece, didn’t you?  Nope.  Next time we will look at what often happens to the head and neck from sitting too long.

Meanwhile I hope this inspires you to move more and more throughout the day!

To your health,

Julie

 

Low Back Pain & Posture

As we discussed last time, the position of the pelvis has a lot to do with whether you are going to have low back pain or not.  The more your hips are rotated forward the more undue stress on the low back.  I hope you tried the Iliopsoas stretch to see if that started to relieve your back a bit.  Since the Iliopsoas muscle directly relates to the back and the muscles of the low back, as it starts to get full length back it will start to support a healthy position of the pelvis.  Did you try it?  How did you feel?

In addition to lengthening out the low back, it is important we stretch out the muscles in the front of the thigh that also cross the hip joint.  There are several stretches that can help you with this.  Here is a great one for addressing one of the main culprits:

To stretch the right Rectus Femoris:

  • Bend your right knee and grasp the front of your (right) ankle behind you with your right hand.
  • Bring your right heel to your right buttock while tucking your pelvis under; making sure your knee is always pointing towards the ground. Only go as far as you can and still keep your pelvis tucked.  (To give you the idea of how to ‘tuck’, tighten or squeeze your buttocks.  This will help to pull that pelvis into the correct position.)
  • While holding that position, push the front of your right hip forward, maintaining the ‘tucked pelvis’ position. You should feel the stretch in the front of your right thigh. Hold for a few seconds, relax, and then push the pelvis forward again.

Repeat on the second side.

Once you start to get some length into those short muscles it is then time to start to strengthen the ones on the opposite side of the joint, namely the abdominal and hamstring muscles.  We can talk more about those after you get some length back.

Meanwhile it is incredibly important to start thinking about the initial cause – namely sitting too much.  The new saying is ‘sitting is the new smoking’ since it is so hard on our bodies and health!

Let us begin by looking at what can be changed at your desk.  More and more companies are realizing the importance of getting off that chair and into a standing position.  Maybe you still have to be at your desk working but at least there are now options to do some of your work standing.  Check out these great new tools to turn your desk into a better work place at Varidesk.

Of course in addition to standing, moving is vital!  Rather than go grab a snack on your break, what about taking a walk around the building?  Perhaps start taking the stairs?  Park farther away from the door!  Take a walk after dinner rather than sitting in front of the TV!  Start finding creative ways to incorporate more and more movement into your daily life.  Your body will love you for it!

To your health,

Julie

Thoughts on why your low back might be killing you!

Does sitting ever drive you completely crazy?  I don’t know about you but I am a mover.  I get so fidgety when I have to do too much work at the computer.  I’d much rather be up and moving around!  Unfortunately in today’s society sitting comes with the territory.

Sitting is just one of the culprits that can start to cause low back pain.  The muscles in the front of the thigh that cross the hip joint are all hip flexors; in other words they lift your leg up in front of your body.  If you think about what that looks like, you can see the thigh perpendicular to the body when standing is the same as when you are sitting in a chair.  Stay in this position for prolonged periods of time and eventually those muscles won’t go back to their full length. The result?  When you stand those muscles pull the front of the hip down to compensate for being shorter than normal.

So what, you ask?  With that pelvis being pulled forward it ‘squishes up’ the lower back, which shortens and tightens those muscles resulting in pressure on the joints of the vertebrae.

The same thing can happen when you have a larger belly than you should have.  I know, you don’t like to hear that but it’s true!  That extra belly takes you out of gravity and pulls your whole body forward and down at the front of the pelvis.  Again this causes undue stress on the muscles and bones in the low back.

When those muscles get tight they cause pain.  As for the joints, there are small joints called ‘facet joints’ which are part of the vertebrae.  They are loaded in pain receptors so when they are unnaturally jammed together, they send lots of messages to your brain that says PAIN!!

So what can you do about it?  We will talk about this more on my next blog.  Meanwhile here is a great stretch to get you started on making some changes:

Give this a try on a daily basis and see if it doesn’t start to help with that low back pain.

To your health,

Julie

 

 

 

 

STRESS – WEIGHT GAIN & MORE

Stress often contributes to weight gain through emotional eating and the production of hormones associated with weight gain. Excessive weight is associated with many unwelcome and avoidable health issues.

STRESS AS A NATURAL OCCURRENCE

Our bodies are designed to handle variations from diet, exercise, stress and weight.  It regularly produces various hormones for a period of time to take care of these situations.  All this is a normal cycle for the body.

STRESS & HORMONES

The challenge is when that stressor continues for a prolonged period of time.  This causes the body to overproduce hormones thus stressing the entire system; breaking down cells, tissues, and organs.

When our body undergoes a stress, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline aka epinephrine.  This hormone stimulates the heart muscle, alters the rate of blood flow, and raises basal metabolic rate.  This is known as the fight or flight syndrome.  Epinephrine also prompts the secretion of glucagon by the pancreas, causing the release of nutrients from storage.  The steroid hormone cortisol is also produced.  It enhances protein degradation, which raises amino acid levels in the blood so that they become available for conversion of glucose.  The two other hormones induced by stress, aldosterone and antidiuretic hormone both help to maintain blood volume.[1]

Epinephrine does not stick around very long in the body however, when stress is prolonged, cortisol does.  This hormone will affect the body in detrimental many ways.  [2]Excess cortisol will:

  • Decrease metabolism by inhibiting thyroid function
  • Depletes protein in the muscles, bones, connective tissue and skin which can cause fatigue, weakness, thinning of the bones, and bruising
  • Decreases the production of androgens and growth hormones which build muscles
  • Can cause insulin resistance[3]
  • Increase fat accumulation, especially in the belly
  • Increase appetite and carbohydrate cravings
  • Will cause depression, anxiety, and mood swings
  • Is cortisol related to abdominal obesity?
    “Yes. There is a link between high cortisol levels and storage of body fat, particularly “visceral” abdominal body fat (also known as intra-abdominal fat). Visceral fat is stored deeper in the abdominal cavity and around the internal organs, whereas “regular” fat is stored below the skin (known as subcutaneous fat). Visceral fat is particularly unhealthy because it is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.”[4]

The challenge with cortisol and weight is this.  First, when you are stressed you produce more cortisol which will lead to weight gain.  When you are overweight the adrenal glands produce more cortisol so it is a viscous cycle.

ADDITIONAL AFFECTS FROM STRESS

Free radical production

THE NEGATIVE ROLE OF CERTAIN FOODS & DRINKS

Food can play an important role in both exacerbating the problem and relieving the problem.

The following list will cause the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol.  Over the long term this will eventually exhaust the adrenals:

  • Caffeine, especially beyond one or two cups a day on a regular basis will actually act like long term stress in the body
  • Chocolate in excess as it will act as a stimulant
  • Soda will affect blood sugar levels as well increase production of stress hormones
  • Heavy alcohol consumption will cause the adrenals to overreact
  • Refined foods and sugar will affect insulin production and consequently blood sugar spikes and falls
  • Refined foods will deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals thus stressing the entire system
  • Refined salt is chemically cleaned and devoid of all minerals and will increase blood pressure
  • Can create a more acid pH in the body, which allows for disease to develop

THE ROLE OF HEALTHY FOODS

The following is a list of vitamins and minerals that will support the body during stressful times and therefore should be included in your daily meals:

  • B Complex is necessary for the production of all neurotransmitters including Seratonin, which is a calming neurotransmitter, and it is vital for the functioning of the adrenal glands. Foods high in the B vitamins include:  dark leafy green vegetables, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, most grains
  • Vitamin C is depleted with prolonged bouts of stress and is also required for normal functioning of the adrenal glands. Sources include:  fruits especially citrus and berries, tomatoes and green vegetables
  • Vitamin A is an antioxidant thus maintaining the health of the cells. Foods rich in A include:  milk, eggs, butter, and fruit
  • Vitamin E is also an antioxidant. Foods rich in E include:  nuts, germ oils and green leafy vegetables
  • Minerals, especially magnesium which relaxes muscles. Sources of magnesium include:  leafy green vegetables, beans and legumes, vegetables, seaweed, nuts (almonds, cashews and filberts especially) and seeds (especially sesame)
  • Omega 3 fatty acids have a positive effect on moods. Sources include:  salmon, tuna, sardines, flax seed oil, pumpkin oil, dark green vegetables
  • Night shade vegetables as they have an expansive effect and therefore might be beneficial for someone tense from work, stress or activity which takes great concentration.[5] Nightshade include;  all peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant

WHAT YOUR DIET SHOULD INCLUDE

  1. Salmon
  2. Eggs
  3. Lots of leafy and dark green vegetables
  4. Night shade vegetables, if you can handle them
  5. Almonds, cashews, filberts and sesame seeds
  6. Beans and legumes
  7. Citrus fruits and berries

OTHER THINGS TO LOOK AT TO REDUCE THE AFFECTS OF STRESS

EXERCISE

  • Moderate levels are best with a duration lasting less than one hour
  • Critical to maintain optimal cortisol levels and hormone balance
  • Helps handle stress by improving cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems
  • Improves insulin resistance (studies have shown that as little as 3 weeks of regular exercise can lessen insulin resistance[6])

LAUGHTER

  • Using a similar protocol, the current research found that the same anticipation of laughter also reduced the levels of three stress hormones. Cortisol (termed “the stress hormone”), epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and dopac, a dopamine catabolite (brain chemical which helps produce epinephrine), were reduced 39, 70 and 38 percent, respectively (statistically significant compared to the control group).  Chronically released high stress hormone levels can weaken the immune system. [7]

MEDITATION

  • The study, done in China, randomly assigned college undergraduate students to 40-person experimental or control groups. The experimental group received five days of meditation training using a technique called the integrative body-mind training (IBMT). The control group got five days of relaxation training. Before and after training both groups took tests involving attention and reaction to mental stress.
  • The experimental group showed greater improvement than the control in an attention test designed to measure the subjects’ abilities to resolve conflict among stimuli. Stress was induced by mental arithmetic. Both groups initially showed elevated release of the stress hormone cortisol following the math task, but after training the experimental group showed less cortisol release, indicating a greater improvement stress regulation. The experimental group also showed lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue than was the case in the control group.
  • “This study improves the prospect for examining brain mechanisms involved in the changes in attention and self-regulation that occur following meditation training,” said co-author Michael I. Posner, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon. “The study took only five days, so it was possible to randomly assign the subjects and do a thorough before-and-after analysis of the training effects.”[8]

YOGA[9]

  • Asana are the physical postures that help with muscle relaxation
  • Savasana is usually at the end of a class and it is a pose for complete relaxation
  • Pranayama breathing practice

BREATHING

  • Pranayama / Yogic techniques[10]
  • Paradoxical

IN CONCLUSION

Stress is naturally occurring in our daily lives and has positive benefits.  Long term stress however can play havoc on our system resulting in poor health and unnecessary diseases.  We all need to take a closer look at how to reduce or eliminate chronic stressors in order to have a longer healthier life.

I hope this information has given you some thoughts about changes you can make to reduce chronic stress!

 

In health,

Julie

[1] Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, 7th Edition

[2] Hormone Balance, Scott Isaacs

[3] A reduced sensitivity to insulin in muscle, adipose, and liver cells, Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, 7th Edition

[4] Tom Venuto is a certified personal trainer, natural bodybuilder and author of the #1 best selling diet e-book, “Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle

[5] Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

[6] Per Hormone Balance, by Scott Isaacs

[7] The research is entitled Cortisol and Catecholamine Stress Hormone Decrease Is Associated with the Behavior of Perceptual Anticipation of Mirthful Laughter. It was conducted by Lee Berk with Stanley A. Tan, both of the Oak Crest Health Research Institute, Loma Linda, CA; and Dottie Berk, Loma Linda University Health Care, Loma Linda.

[8] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071008193437.htm

[9] Yoga can reduce cortisol levels, a finding which was documented in the October 2004 issue of the journal, Annals of Behavioral Science.

[10] http://www.kundaliniyoga.org/pranayam.html