Category Archives: Healthier Together

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 4D. Putting It All Together – Winter Well-Being

aaron-burden-cGW1w-qLix8-unsplashWinter in the Midwest – ice cold this year, but we don’t have the 7+ feet of snow as in Boston. The cold and darkness of winter are often used as excuses as to why someone is not exercising or eating as healthy. It’s used to explain “loss of motivation” to continue to make healthy choices. This “motivation” and “effort” may resume for a short time after the NEW year, but often dwindles away again until the days get much longer and warmer.

Here’s another option. Have “seasonal” wellness plans! Figure out what you need to include to maintain a healthy lifestyle: nutrition, physical activity and relaxation & sleep. There are many ways to incorporate those into each season. They don’t all have to be the same. In fact, the body will be optimized if you change it up periodically, so why not with the seasons? So change up your healthy lifestyle routines for the different seasons.

Here are some suggestions to get your creative juices flowing…Find what works for you.

If you workout in the mornings in the spring and summer, maybe in the winters, you meditate in the morning for a shorter duration than what your workout would have been? Maybe your workout is on the drive home from work or school or running errands- when you already are out of the house. Just DON’T go home first without the workout (as it can be hard to motivate to go out into the cold). Or maybe your workout is at home instead of at the gym. Maybe you use home workout DVD’s or smartphone exercise apps? The workout routine might be different – you may work more on strength or core training or take a different exercise class this season. If you have snow, you may choose to incorporate winter sports into you life – ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing, etc. A good friend introduced me to snow shoe-ing last year, and it’s wonderful! What a treat to be out in nature and having the brightness of the snow recharge me!

You may choose to rely on the crockpot more (especially if you are going to be working out after work and have less time to cook in the evening). You may get more of your veggies in a soup or stew. These also make great lunches the next day! You may cook more winter root vegetables- they last longer after purchase (less frequent grocery shopping trips).

The winter seems to have more quiet times of the day when it might be easy to stop and meditate, even if only for a brief time. There are many smartphone apps that help facilitate and time meditation sessions. You may even find incorporating meditative activities with physical activity is the answer for winter – Tai Chi and Yoga are popular ways to get both the relaxation and physical activity in one.

Sleep changes with the seasons and with stressors. Allow yourself to have a day once a week, when you can sleep in as much as you need. It will help you bring it all together and help keep your mind young and keep you upbeat throughout winter.

Please share what works for you!

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 4C. Relaxation & Sleep — Meditation

filip-mroz-zK049OFP4uI-unsplashThe act of quieting the mind…Meditation.

Meditation comes in various forms and is easily misunderstood. It does not require one to empty the mind. How many times have I heard, “I can’t think of nothing!”?  In fact, you can let the thoughts pass by in your mind and observe them.

There are many ways to meditate, but the focus is on practicing to quiet your mind. You might learn to quiet your reactions to thoughts and events in the past and future. You may work on focusing on the present and practice bringing your mind to the present and experiencing the present (Mindfulness Meditation). You may train your mind to be quiet by distracting it, such as with a mantra (Transcendental Meditation) or deep breathing exercises or by incorporating specific physical activity (Tai Chi or Yoga).

It does not require too much time. In fact, you can choose and you can meditate for various amounts of time based on time you have available or stress level in your life. Also, as you practice, like any sport or activity, it gets easier and you are more effective and efficient with the time. There has been evidence that as little as 12 minutes a day can make so much of a difference that it structurally changes your brain (for the better) and improves your overall function. It reduces stress, improves depression, anxiety, reduces pain, improves chronic disease management, improves quality of life, trains our minds to be more adaptable and flexible and it works for children too!

Meditation can be done anywhere, but it is easiest in a quiet place. There are apps on the phone/computer/tablet and there are books, classes, meetings and audio files. It can be learned on your own or with a guide or teacher. It’s pretty cool because it’s about you and it’s good for you and you can notice positive changes in other areas of your life pretty quickly. Your neurons in your brain start to work together and coordinate. Your body has a chance to check in with itself and reconnect.

Find a way to incorporate some practice of meditation on most days of the week. Work to find a time when you can disconnect from the electronics and focus on you, in the present moment. Give yourself a time out and allow yourself to be You. Just right. Right now. Exactly as you are.

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

Healthier Together Series: 4B. Physical Activity – Crisp Weather

dan-freeman-VAWqURK_Th0-unsplashToday’s physical activity note:
Master the Common Fall Excuses

Enjoy now and prepare for what’s to come. In the Midwest, fall marks the changing weather and beautiful sounds and colors around us. Leaves are changing colors, sunsets and sunrises are beautiful, the crinkly leaves on the ground and rattling in the trees are lovely. Kids are in school so there are quieter times of the day in the neighborhood…depending on where you live.

However, with these changes, comes some more frantic moments – before and after school- coordinating with others regarding schedules, homework, work, feeding the family, extracurricular activities, social activities, etc. running the household- whether you are alone or with others, is busy. And when the days get shorter and it gets cooler out, our body’s natural responses may mean we start to decrease our vigilance and focus in taking care of ourselves. Waking up gets harder, getting out of the warm bed and into the cold air is a challenge, the weather outside starts to seem too uncomfortable to go out there. On top of it, if you are also needing to worry about getting the kids up and ready for school, that takes up precious time so it’s easy to run out of time in the morning to squeeze in some physical activity. By evening, you are tired and hungry, have to drive everyone to their activities, cook, run errands, go through the mail, help with homework and “projects,” maybe even do some of your own work, etc. etc.

This “Fall transition” often manifests first, in skipping workouts or cutting out or cutting down on our physical activity. Where to squeeze it in?!

First: Plan ahead and be prepared. You know what interfered with your health plans in the past. “I am tired and have so much going on, there isn’t enough time” and “I need more sleep” and “it’s too cold” are common excuses of why those workouts fizzled out.

Master Fatigue
If you keep active through the changes of seasons and cold weather, your metabolism will continue to rev at a higher burn rate through winter (instead of the usual “metabolic slow down”) and especially during those times you may eat foods you wouldn’t normally eat (hello holidays). Also, if you remain active, you will feel less fatigued in general.

Remember, you need less time in bed and you get better sleep the more fit you are. In other words, you add time to your day when you are fit! So if you are tired of being tired, getting fit and staying fit, will help with that! Organize your sleep around your workouts! If you wake up early and are still sleepy, nap later, go to sleep earlier, deal with any sleep debts at times other than your physical activity time. Keep your physical activity a top priority.

If you are tired at the end of the day or after work when you normally workout, do your physical activity and THEN rest. The physical activity can be abbreviated or an alternative less intense activity- it still counts! You may find that once you start exercising and get in the habit of exercising, you develop MORE energy and are no longer too tired to do other things! Again, regular physical activity gives you MORE effective awake time in your day!

Master the Cold
About the cold, if you workout outside and you live in a climate with brutal winters, have alternative workouts for those days you can’t workout per your planned routine. Of course, if you are able and want to keep working out outside, you can find appropriate winter sports or go to an outdoor recreation store and get the appropriate cold weather gear so you can continue to be physically active outside.

When you have the right gear, it’s so much more fun and motivating! My personal cold weather outerwear is from the NorthFace. Initially, the cost prohibited me from trying it but after spending way more in multiple different jackets that each had limitations, and therefore limited
my options, I invested in a NorthFace jacket. I can wear my jacket indoors or outdoors and my body temp feels the same and unaffected by the temperature. No overheating or freezing and it is lightweight and easy to move in. Some days, I wear it all day long- inside and out. It has revolutionized my options for winter activities.

Here are some additional thoughts and tips. See also the earlier blog about how to manage excuses.

1. Pick a shorter workout to do in the morning, that you will do. Maybe you will workout at home and do a DVD workout program or use one from YouTube which is only 15 minutes? Or try high intensity interval training so that you get more out of your workout in less time?

2. Remember it is cold when you get out of bed whether it is to get ready for work or the kids or if you are going to treat yourself to some personal time to move and enjoy the quiet of the morning before others wake up. Use this early morning time for yourself first. Keep your workout gear, clothes nearby so you just start before you are fully awake. Have some warm cushy outer covering to put on over your usual workout clothes (or PJ’s) so you are warm as you get up to start moving. Get into those workout clothes, ie. sports bra. Just getting into my workout clothes – mainly my sports bra, makes it 99% more likely I will exercise.

If you can set your thermostat on a cycle to warm up 30 minutes before waking up, that will help too.

Then, see #1 above – move your body- Tai Chi is great or take a brisk walk outside. Do some stretches. Whatever will get your blood and fluids circulating…it is such a great way to start the day.

3. Plan to do some movement in those brief moments throughout your day when it’s not enough time to do something else, it may be the times you might check email or social media. Find some physical activities you can do at those times. At least standings is better than sitting. Walking is even better. Plank pose is good. Push-ups- even modified push-ups against a wall. Some crunches. How about some lunges or squats or plies? High knees? What about calf raises where you go up and down onto your tip toes? Do you like jumping jacks or jumping rope? Swing your hips while you are standing. Overhead reaches to stretch out. Gently roll your neck and shoulders. How about some arm circles?

Please share your tricks to maintaining or incorporating physical activity into your day as you master the excuses.

 

Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 4A. Nutrition – Go To List

dan-gold-4_jhDO54BYg-unsplashREAL food. Here are some of my go-to REAL food ideas. A little planning & prep can go a long way.

Remember: Avoid foods and drinks that are artificially made “low fat” or “no fat.” If nature made it with fat, that’s how it’s best managed by your body. Avoid artificial sweeteners. If you are having something sweet, own up to it and only have a little. You can modify the list below to remove grains or dairy. 

Snacks to have on hand (**Always available, keeps longer):

In the Fridge:

  • Raw veggies – usually have 2-4 varieties in fridge for week:
    • carrot sticks
    • sugar snap peas
    • celery sticks
    • radishes (eat salted- yum)
    • cucumbers
    • peppers
    • romaine hearts
    • grape tomatoes
  • salad/baby spinach packs
  • hummus
  • Greek plain yogurt
  • Baby bell (or other individually wrapped) cheeses**
  • crumbled smoked blue cheese or feta cheese
  • blue cheese or other salad dressing**
  • boiled eggs (boil a dozen at beginning of week- remember boil older eggs & add 1 tsp baking soda to water helps make them easy-peel)
  • crispy oven baked nitrite/nitrate free bacon (line on cookie sheet & bake)
  • deli meats, (pasture raised IS better)
  • leftovers: roasted veggies or meats
  • Berries occasionally
  • dark chocolate covered cocoa dusted almonds** (Buy in bulk & stored in freezer)

NOT in the fridge (often in my desk drawers in office or pantry at home)

  • nuts** (various flavors ie. wasabi soy sauce almonds, smoked almonds, salted peanuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, etc.)
  • nut butters** (peanut, almond, cashew, etc.) – great to add to other foods or when in a pinch, just scoop it out in a spoon and eat 1 spoonful- surprisingly satisfying.
  • beef jerky** (pasture raised is best)
  • tuna packs**
  • salmon packs** (great way to get wild salmon, instead of farm raised “Atlantic” salmon – which doesn’t have the higher omega 3’s of wild salmon)
  • olives**
  • pickles**
  • Kind bars** – there are many varieties…these are when I want something sweet

Rotating foods:

  1. Kale Salad: kale- 1 bunch (julienne or chopped fine, massage leaves with drizzled olive oil), juice of 1 lemon juice, sprinkling of pine nuts, grated Parmesan to taste
  2. “Everything” Mix: nut butter + flax seed + chia seeds + old fashioned rolled oats (optional) + few choc chips + coconut flakes (unsweetened) (which is combined & put together with some maple syrup & stored in fridge in balls or crumbled…then when I want it, mix it into plain Greek yogurt +/- berries). Recipe for a no-bake snack.
  3. Chopped Colorful Salad or Wedge salad – nitrite/nitrate free bacon, boiled eggs (as above) +/- avocado/blue cheese +/- grape tomatoes on salad pack (or quarter of iceberg lettuce or cut up hearts of romaine lettuce) with leftovers from dinner
  4. Tuna/egg/salmon salad on romaine lettuce leaf (use like taco shell) or on cucumber slices/boat (scoop out the seeds) or on salad pack. (If you like capers, add some to your egg salad – it is divine!)
  5. Nut butter on celery or apple slices or stirred into Greek yogurt
  6. Deli meat (as above) or tuna/egg/salmon/chicken salad wrapped in romaine with hummus or cheese +/- additional veggies like peppers slices or tomato or avocado (wrap in saran wrap like nori-maki to store in fridge if making ahead)
  7. Spinach with almost anything (can saute or eat fresh or put in microwave. Then, put dressing or soy sauce or vinegar w/olive oil or sprinkle with cheese & bacon or toss berries in it)
  8. Broccoli slaw – saute or add to almost any dish. It’s easy and an excellent source of vitamins and delicious.
  9. Eggs: fried/scrambled/boiled with tomato slices & avocado (+/- sprouted ezekiel bread-if occasionally eating whole grains, found in freezer section only) +/- salsa
  10. Homemade Trail Mix: mixed nuts with some dark chocolate chips/carob chips +/- unsweetened coconut flakes
  11. Cabbage – sauteed as “base” for other foods in place of pasta or rice
  12. Spaghetti squash -baked – to eat with spaghetti with meat sauce
  13. Cauliflower – as “mashed potatoes” or “rice” or baked with parmesan or roasted or raw, etc. etc.
  14. Meatloaf, prefer grass-fed ground beef or ground lamb – great as leftovers & easy to add to almost any other meals (if have extra time, would make it into meatballs)
  15. Green beans (blanched) & grape tomatoes halved (soy sauce, chopped garlic & sesame oil)
  16. Edamame – boil x 5 minutes & sprinkle with salt over pods. Good hot or cold.
  17. Eggplant slices – baked or fried with some olive oil & salt or grated Parmesan or other seasonings. Add some tomato or marinara sauce on it with a sprinkling of Parmesan or Asiago & baked- it is AMAZING.
  18. Mushrooms – stuffed. Or baked with soy sauce or cheese
  19. Cheese crisps (sliced or shredded cheese placed on parchment & baked or microwaved until melted & flattened out, then browned just a bit to make them crispy when cooled down)
  20. Stir fry veggies +/- protein
  21. Hummus with veggies
  22. Peppers stuffed with deli meats (see above), tuna salad or sliced with hummus or in stir fry or salads
  23. Leftover meats cut into strips (Always cook extra protein for dinner & cut up the leftovers. Strips are easy to grab as snack or put in romaine boat or toss in salad or stir fry or with cabbage stir fry)
  24. Coconut granola (I did not use both honey AND maple syrup, so it wasn’t too sweet)
  25. Golden Low Carb granola from the Low Carb Diet Doctor

Keep healthy food options easy and readily available and you will improve your nutrition and your health from inside…out. Please share some of your suggestions for easy healthy real food ideas.

 

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 3D. Putting it all together — Power Recharge!

tracey-hocking-tq1J9imFJ3g-unsplashIn our 3rd cycle, we covered healthy responses to hunger, that little bits of physical activity count & add up, and the power of nature in our abilities to recharge. Here’s how it might look:

1. In the morning when you first wake up, drink a glass of water, maybe with a lemon. Or drink some tea. Or some coffee with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Spend some time walking (it can be a leisurely pace or as fast as speed walking), doing some enjoyable exercise (including the obvious like lifting weights, interval training, treadmill, biking, elliptical, nordic track, but free form dancing also counts!) or some other physical movements of the body (tai chi, yoga, pilates, Nia technique, Callanetics, etc.). If you wake up before others in your home, this is your GIFT time. It’s ALL yours, to spend how you want. I cherish this GIFT time in my life. I can choose EXACTLY how to spend it.

If you have beautiful nature nearby, you can take your activity outdoors, as is commonly done with Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese practice of coordinated physical movements that used to be a martial art for self defense. Moving your body outside in nature is a VERY nice way to start your day. Have another glass of water/tea/unsweetened coffee when you move onto the rest of your day. After your physical activity, have a breakfast with protein for better function later in the day. In nicer weather, have breakfast outdoors- what a dream!

Once this routine becomes your regular routine, you will find that this is a FANTASTIC way to start your day. It’s great to start out your day as your own perfect person, fully recharged and ready to face the day!

2. At work, when you would normally take a break to walk to the coffee machine/break room/vending machine/bathroom, grab a cup of water/tea/coffee and stand or walk a bit extra. Take a step outside if you can, or look out the window. At least move your body: This can be stretching your arms up high, arching your back (especially if you sit hunched over a desk or computer),  or bending forward at the waist to stretch out your lower back. You might pull out your travel yoga mat and do a floor stretch or two, maybe downward dog and plank pose? A sun salutation? You may take a walk by the potted plants or a window and shake out your legs, roll your shoulders. Bottom line, make an effort to hydrate and move and expose yourself to nature. If you are hungry, go for the protein snack you have as back up.

3. In many countries, people take extra “rest” time at lunch, commonly known as a siesta. In the US, we don’t traditionally incorporate that into our day, but we do commonly take a break for lunch. At lunchtime,  get as close to the outdoors as possible so that you can see the weather, you can see something naturally green or view the sky or a natural body of water. Spend at least a few minutes just seeing what’s “out there.” If possible, stand or walk in places you find peaceful or that allow you some exposure to nature. It can be surprising how enchanting this habit can be. To complete the picture, take a bottle of water with you on the lunch time walk outdoors. If you eat lunch AFTER your walk, you will be much more alert later in the day and you may find you make better food & drink choices. Choose water/tea/coffee, protein, and some non-starchy veggies for lunch & you are good to go.

4. In the evening, stay away from caffeinated beverages like tea and coffee. Drink water. Taking some time in the presence of nature, stop to connect with other people and give them your full attention. Taking an evening stroll with friends or significant other is a great way to do this. Having a meal with someone(s) you care about is also beneficial to your health. Think about, talk about, journal about the events of your day. Process your day…better with someone, but OK with nature. Think about what you learned that day and consider 3 things you are grateful for or appreciate. In this way, you will be refreshed and able to be recharged for tomorrow.

5. When you find you have greater time, unplug from the electronics and spend some time reading, writing, drawing, moving, singing, or communing with others- ideally in person. Sip some water or tea or coffee. Move around, walk a bit. This is the equivalent of “hanging out on the piazza” and recharging your soul. The more regularly this becomes a part of your life, the more relaxed and comfortable the rest of your life will become- the ripple effect.

Please send me your ways of bringing it all together.

Photo by Tracey Hocking on Unsplash

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 3C. Relaxation & Sleep — Missing Nature

behzad-ghaffarian-LBjA0WPtUhQ-unsplashAre you wired 24 x 7? Do you ever unplug? Maybe it’s all about missing nature.

We are busy. There’s so much to do & often, not enough time. When we are staring at a screen for much of our day (smartphone or tablet or TV or computer or movie or presentation), we are missing an opportunity to view nature, other beings in 3-D, in real life. We may be focused on driving to our destination or doing a task (often with electronics involved), we may miss the subtle beauty and appreciation of the world around us. We lose the ability to process and recover from our daily events and it becomes easier to close ourselves off to the joy and vibrant world around us and we may gravitate towards UNhealth: increased stress, poor sleep quality, more frustrations, poor nutritional choices, less time spent making healthy choices, increased blood pressure, more chronic disease issues, less enjoyment,  more depressed or anxious moods, diminished sense of humor, fewer interpersonal relationships, decreased sex drive and burn out.

In addition to meditation, journal-ing, listening to beautiful music, singing, dancing, physical activity, connecting with others (people/animals), one of the simplest ways to recharge is by spending some time in nature. Just being in nature. It has been shown that even having a picture of nature in plain site, improves overall well-being in those who see it, so imagine how powerful it is if you can see it in real life. All it takes is a few potted plants outside where you can sit or stand. Or a small path you can walk along with plants or pond or water along the way. A place where you can feel the wind on your skin and hear the birds or the waves or the movement of water or leaves.

This small but powerful exposure to nature doesn’t have to be exotic or take a long time or require time off from work. In fact, put some plants in your office or home. Put a cut flower in a vase. Step outside into the sun (or rain or snow) for a midday break. Take a walk in the woods or arboretum or park or neighborhood. Allow yourself to pause and notice the nature around you. Seeing and appreciating the natural world around you will nourish you. Think about whatever you want. Spend as much time as you plan – whether it is based on need, ability or desire. Nature accepts you as you are and you are part of nature. Remind yourself that you are human and it’s OK to take a small break and recharge.

Over time, if you allow yourself regular exposure to nature, no matter how brief, you will notice a small change inside of yourself. That internal flame, your life source can glow and grow. Then there’s the ripple effect. Things will start to improve. You will start to feel better. You can gain perspective, remember the beauty and awesomeness of nature and learn to love and accept yourself and others as nature intended. There is always change around us, and we can’t control it all and that is how life is supposed to be. We can more easily accept and adapt to those changes, improve our sleep, enjoy more relaxation and our continue to improve our overall well-being by allowing nature to recharge us. We are natural beings. Give nature a chance. You may just be missing nature.

Photo by Behzad Ghaffarian on Unsplash

Healthy Together Series: Cycle 3B. Physical Activity – It only takes a little.

toa-heftiba-fmQh9ouUofY-unsplashToday’s physical activity note:

Increasing your overall activity level adds up.

  • Stand instead of sitting if you can.
  • Tap your foot if you are sitting.
  • Use a stability ball in place of a desk chair.
  • Take the stairs.
  • Plan to walk or bike places instead of driving.

The more you move, the better.

  • Walking and getting up and down from a chair or seated position is very good for you. Stand up when you take a phone call or if you are on a conference call.
  • Go up and down steps or stairs- it is working against gravity and aging. Walk upstairs to use the bathroom on a different floor.
  • Dancing or swinging your hips is good for everyone. Solo or with a partner or in a class, great music makes it way more fun.
  • When you raise your arms overhead, it’s hard to feel bad or to cry. Smile at yourself when you reach up.
  • Stretch your arms  up and out if you’ve been staring at a computer screen or smartphone. You can feel your body open up.

Find ways to just increase your overall daily energy expenditure. Moving is what keeps your body and mind young and able to adapt to changes around you.

 

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 3A. Nutrition — When you’re hungry…

josh-bean-i817tD8-Ly4-unsplashNutrition notes today:

How to stay in control and eat for nutrition and health and achieve a healthier weight.

Do you frequently have times when you make poor food choices because you were too busy or tired to prepare ahead or cook? It’s all about having a plan and easily available options for when you get hungry. Make a list and make it a habit to keep a few options on hand ALWAYS.

First, recognize that sometimes, it’s not hunger but boredom or loneliness or feeling bad in some way and needing to fill a void. A walk, connecting with nature, listening to music, meditating or journalling for 5-10 minutes may resolve the “hunger.”

If you are still hungry, drink water first. Add lemon or lime or cucumber slices and even mint leaves if you like. Thirst can present as hunger.

If still hungry, eat protein. If the thought of eating protein doesn’t sound appealing, reassess if you are hungry. Boiled eggs or some meat, chicken, turkey, canned fish, precooked shrimp can be easy to keep available. Make some extra chicken tonight and store it in the fridge in strips that can be eaten tomorrow as a snack dipped in dressing, on a salad, in soup or in a Romaine lettuce wrap (like a taco). Nuts and nut butters are also easy to have on hand.

If you eat some protein and are still hungry, eat non-starchy veggies- like celery, leafy greens, cucumbers, peppers, jicama, radishes, cauliflower, zucchini, etc. Crunchy seems to be more satisfying sometimes!

If you are needing something creamy, Greek yogurt, smoothie, hummus, or a nut butter works.

Want something cheesy? Have a cheese stick or small individually wrapped cheese or real cheese dip for your crunchy veggies.

Craving chocolate? Dark chocolate covered almonds dusted with cocoa works wonders. This is also good when you want something sweet and/or crunchy.

If you HAVE to have fruit, a handful of berries are good.

Remember, most of us are chronically dehydrated- so drink water. When you eat, you are supposed to be nourishing your body with essential nutrients that are found in proteins and veggies. So if you are hungry, provide your body with those essential nutrients.

Make your list of “Go To” foods and have a couple of them available regularly. Then, when you are urgently needing some nutrients, you will be able to fill that need without resorting to the foods that don’t nourish you and that you will regret later.

 

Photo by Josh Bean on Unsplash

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 2D. Putting it all together — What it looks like now…

Today’s post is an example of putting it all together.

No matter the time of year, we should nourish our bodies. This 2nd cycle included much of the basics of nourishing ourselves. After a brutal winter, I am definitely needing to make sure my body & mind has what it needs to continue to function at its best. Spring is here & I get the feeling of fresh beginnings and new blossoms.

At this time of year, in addition to looking for a new haircut, outfit or makeup, I reassess my nourishing health behaviors and make sure to keep moving forward. In one of my favorite books, Joe X, the author, Avery Hunnicut, notes that we are never just maintaining. We are either moving forward or moving backwards. If you don’t move forward, you will move backwards by default. So, of course, I choose to move forwards every day.

At this time, I make sure I am continuing to stay hydrated ideally with water. During the winter, sometimes I get into habits of drinking other fluids too, so often in the Spring, I switch back to more water. I have a couple of water bottles that I LOVE — they are bright and colorful & girly and cheer me up when I see them, so I take a swig of my water. Sometimes, I will add lime or lemon or some mint leaves to the water – my favorite is a squirt of lime in my ice water.

So, I drink an entire large water bottle of iced lemon/lime water with my workout in the morning on waking. I’m wearing my heart rate monitor while I work out and I am logging my “data.” I keep track of my daily activity with a FitBit.

Although I feel active at work, I notice on the day I don’t do any planned work out, on Monday, I am lucky if I walk 4,000 steps at work! Yikes! I guess I am NOT so active at work. Now that I know, on Monday evenings, I will incorporate an evening walk with one of my boys, my dog or my husband. I also have great music I can listen to if I want to walk alone. My goal: to make sure I bump up that number closer to 10,000 steps!

On my workout days, I definitely hit the 10,000 steps. If I seem to be going way over, then I don’t feel so bad if on Monday (my day off from working out), I log fewer steps.

In addition, I note that my baseline (resting) heart rate is low (which is good when due to regular exercise). I also monitor how long it takes my heart rate to come back to baseline (my recovery time- remember shorter time to recovery means better fitness) & am very pleased it is still improving. I’m also excited because I am able to do so much more with the same effort. I’m continuing to move forward!

Finally, I have to check my sleep. I use the Sleep Cycle app on my iphone. I notice a pattern: 2 nights a week, I get only 5 hours of sleep. The rest of the week, I am getting enough sleep. I feel extra good about this because one of the reasons I continued working out regularly was so that I could function just as well on less sleep (which leaves me an extra hour a day to do what I want). I had learned that when people are fit, their sleep-time needs decrease. I needed to function on less hours of sleep in medical school, so I knew I had to maintain my fitness.

In addition, to make up my 5 hours of sleep debt in the week, I found I can make it up on most Friday nights if I am not on call & don’t have Saturday clinic. Also, I can add 30 minutes over several other days in the week depending on the week- I just have to schedule it. And, I realized that I will need to make a conscious effort to get in bed on time so I get adequate sleep. The boys, my sexy husband, the iphone, emails, internet, books & journals are easy to get lost in…Time flies & next thing I know, I am cutting into my sleep time! Note to self: set a pleasant alarm to remind me to put all that away & get in bed! If I can’t sleep, I will meditate quietly.

Summary of Cycle 2:
1. Assess daily water intake and find ways to increase water intake. Attractive water bottles help.
2. Assess baseline activity level (count your steps every day) & aim to increase it 10% every 2 weeks (NOT TOO FAST) until your average number of steps is at least 10,000 steps or more.
3. Learn your baseline heart rate by checking first thing in the morning & then learn how much time it takes your heart rate to return to that baseline after you have been active or exercising. As you get more fit, the baseline gets lower and your body return to the baseline faster after strenuous activity or exercise. That is fitness!
4. Figure out your average number of hours of sleep over 5 days & make sure you get at least 7.5 hours of sleep per night on average. If you are sleeping less than 7.5 hours on average, then you need to make it up over several days and find a way to get adequate sleep in the future. Determine which nights you can make up your sleep on a regular basis…your “make up sleep debt” nights. These are often the days when you can sleep in as late as you need.

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 2C. Relaxation & Sleep — How much is enough?

jordan-whitt-EerxztHCjM8-unsplashToday’s notes are about sleep.

Everyone needs it. Your brain is very active during sleep & it helps process all the events of the day, create memories and it performs repair, healing, maintenance and building functions during sleep.   Without adequate sleep, our body & mind suffers. We make mistakes not only in our awake activities, but our body cannot repair, heal or perform maintenance or building functions as well and may also make mistakes. With chronic sleep deprivation, our body and mind starts to wear down from the daily stresses and we may develop mental & physical health problems including weight gain, chronic diseases, illnesses, depression, anxiety, fatigue,  etc.

At different times in our life and depending on different circumstances, our  needs for sleep will change. During times of intense brain growth and development, we need more sleep (think babies, toddlers, children & adolescents). When we are sick or have chronic diseases, we may benefit from more sleep as we need more time to repair, heal and maintain. When we travel across time zones or have shift work, we may need more sleep because we often develop a sleep debt (I will talk about shortly). We may need more sleep in the colder, darker months than in the warmer, lighter months.

The average adult needs 7.5 – 9 hours of sleep a night for optimal function. [**NOTE: If you are fit, you may be able to get away with less sleep as your sleep is more efficient.] Each sleep cycle is approximately 90 minutes and is divided into deep sleep stages and then REM (rapid eye movement) sleep stage.

Note that sleep is different throughout the night. In the earlier cycles of sleep, more of the 90 minute cycle is spent in deeper sleep stages which are restorative. Later sleep cycles have more of the 90 minutes spent in REM sleep, when you are dreaming. If you have missed sleep, your body naturally will try to make up the sleep stages it is missing, but it throws off your sleep balance and takes time to get back into your natural sleep/awake rhythm.

Overall, you want to maintain a regular sleep routine as much as possible. Remember how important your sleep time is & plan AROUND it as much as possible. Your mind and body will be in a better state if you get enough sleep because it will be able to do all the repairing, healing, maintaining and building functions it needs to to function at its best. Bottom line, you will feel much better and have fewer health issues if you allow yourself enough sleep.

So, prioritize sleep and make sure you get enough. How can  you get enough? First, assess your sleep:

1. Add up 5 days’ worth of sleep hours. (I get the number of hours of sleep from my smartphone app). If it is 37.5 – 45 hours, you are fine. If you have LESS THAN 37.5 hours total over 5 days, you have not given yourself enough sleep time.

2. You can also figure out the average number of hours of sleep over 5 days.  It should be at least 7.5 hours daily on average. (I add up the number of hours over 5 days & divide by 5. That’s my average number of hours of sleep each night.) The average is nice to know so that you can see how much more time you have to add each night in the future (after you have made up your sleep debt).

3.  If your your total sleep time is less than 37.5 hours OR your average number of hours sleeping each night is less than 7.5 hours, you have a sleep debt you need to make up. 

Good news: If you have a sleep debt ( you are sleep deprived),  you CAN make it up over several subsequent nights.  

Here is how you can make up your sleep debt:

1. Figure out how many hours you need to make up & make them up over the next several days. For example: Total sleep was 32.5 hours. You are short 5 hours. You will have to make it up over the next several days (not all at once!). You may have a couple of weekend days when you can sleep in a little longer or you may want to go to bed earlier.

Note, that in the example of total sleep = 32.5 hours (there is a sleep debt of 5 hours total), also means on average, 6.5 hours of sleep per night. You would want to plan to make up the 5 hours over the next several days, such as sleeping 8.5 hours each night for 5 nights. But also note that in the future, you will need to find a way to add 1 hour of sleep per night to stay out of the sleep debt. Adequate sleep is important so that you don’t burn out your mind or body and you can maintain optimal functioning.

2. If your sleep debt is more than 9 hours, you may need to allow extra make up sleep to catch up, maybe 10 or 11 hours of make up sleep over the next week to make up a 9 hour sleep debt. So don’t let the sleep debt build up! It pays to pay off the sleep debt earlier, before it adds up to too many required make up hours where it becomes harder to catch up!

3. If you have insomnia or cannot sleep, that’s ok. You will still benefit if you allow yourself to lay quietly for the time you have planned. Whether you fall asleep or not is not as important as turning yourself off to the outside world for a period of time. You can still allow yourself much of the restorative functions of sleep by closing your eyes and meditating or relaxing so that you do not have to respond to anything. Laying quietly or with some soothing sounds will allow your body some time to perform some of the maintenance and repair functions that might have been skipped due to lost sleep hours.  With regular routine rest times, over time, your natural sleep/awake cycles will coordinate with your timing needs and allow you to sleep as your body and mind needs.

Sleep is important. It’s the time your body takes care of you and gets rejuvenated, healed, repaired, tuned up and restored. Protect your sleep time and work to respect your needs for sleep. Prioritize it. Take care of your body and mind & they will take care of you! Humans were designed to be healthy!

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash