Regeneration

Women's Health Week // Sleep Specifics

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It’s Women’s Health Week and studies show that while women today are leading healthier lives physically, there are still quite a few missing pieces to the overall picture of health and well-being.

Over 6 days I’m sharing scientifically proven biohacking tips on taking charge of your overall health and wellness.

BIOHACKING 

Biohacking is the process of making changes to your lifestyle in order to “hack” your body’s biology and feel your absolute best. Everything we put into our bodies — our foods, our thoughts, our physical movement ­— are inputs to our biology and have an enormous impact on our outputs — how we behave, feel, function, and perform on a daily basis. 

If the goal is better outputs such as increased energy, clearer thinking, better moods, happier relationships, reduction in illness, optimum performance, and so on, then we need to adjust our inputs.


DAY 5 // SLEEP

Sleep is one of the most critical aspects of our overall health and most women aren’t getting enough of it. Especially the week before a new cycle begins.

Sleep is imperative to supporting optimal health, a healthy metabolism, energy production, immune function, proper digestion, good decision-making, training performance, regulating cortisol levels, and keeping a clear and calm mind. Unfortunately, more than a third of adults get the minimum requirement to keep health problems in check.

As adults, we need a minimum of 6 hours of sleep, but in order to function well and thrive, we need 7-9 hours.

Signs you aren’t getting enough sleep:

  • You struggle with your weight — Poor sleep disrupts appetite regulation and can lead to increased eating as well as an increase in the stress hormone cortisol which is related to weight gain

  • Your brain is foggy — Sleep is important for reinforcing learned experiences into memory. Without adequate sleep, you can experience confusion, impaired judgement, forgetfulness and reduced alertness and concentration

  • You get sick frequently — Lack of sleep increases inflammation and decreases T-cells which lead to increased vulnerability to viruses and bacteria as well as a risk for heart disease and other inflammatory-related disease

  • Your workouts feel super hard and you’re not recovering well — Your body uses sleep to recover and recharge the nervous system. Minimal sleep can lower energy levels, decrease reaction time, decrease your capacity for endurance, lower the desire to exercise, and lead to depressed mood

  • You’re unhappy — Sleep is imperative for hormone regulation and an interference can cause impaired regulation of emotions, heightened stress, decreased mood and an increased risk of depression

How to prepare for a better night’s sleep:

  • Wake naturally with light which naturally raises cortisol, a hormone we typically don’t want to see a big spike in except for the morning, which helps you feel more alert and relaxed.

  • Use an app to sync your sleep and wake cycle by sensing and waking when you’re at the lightest stage in your sleep cycle.

  • Avoid hitting snooze a million times and sit up and put your feet on the floor right away. (this is the hardest one for me).

  • Make sure to get exposure to daylight throughout the day to regulate the sleep hormone melatonin.

  • Get consistent and regular exercise. This helps normalize the body’s internal clock and regulates the nervous system and hormonal levels. Avoid intense exercise in the evening which can make it more challenging to fall asleep.

  • Avoid caffeine after 2pm and limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks in the evening.

  • Eat a balanced and small to medium sized that consists of protein, fat and slow digesting carbs and avoid caloric deprivation.

  • Do a brain dump before bed by writing down any thoughts that are on your mind, things you need to do, responses to emails you need to get out, a friend you need to call, etc. This helps promote true relaxation and reduces worry by getting the things swirling in your mind down on paper.

  • Stick to a schedule and attempt to go to bed at the same time every evening which teaches your body when to release appropriate sleep hormones.

  • Give your body extra time to wind down before bed and incorporate a magnesium supplement into your nightly routine.

  • Create a relaxing and quiet sleep environment with a white noise machine and free it of anxiety-inducing clutter.

  • Make the room as dark as possible to maximize melatonin production by using black out curtains and flipping your phone over.

  • Turn off electronics, phones, and computers at least 30 minutes before bed as artificial light interferes with our production of melatonin.

  • Try reading, meditating, light stretching, or sex which can release tension and activate chemicals that help calm the body down

  • Sleep at least 7 hours. Work your way up if you are currently getting far less than that. Even adding just 30 minutes can make a big difference.

Day 1 - Hormones. Are. Real.

Day 2 - Nutritional Biohacking

Day 3 - Lift Heavy and Periodize

Day 4 - Pelvic Power

LET ME KNOW…

Do you get enough sleep? Do you have any habits that work great or you in ensuring you get enough sleep?

What other adjustments have you made to your lifestyle to support your overall health and wellness? Share your favorite tips in the comments below — others in the community might benefit from your recommendations!

Come connect with me on Instagram @running_with_forks

Do you have any questions not answered in this post? Comment below or send me a note so I can continue to add information to answer your questions.

Travel Survival Guide

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Simple Strategies For Staying Active And Healthy On Vacation

Holidays and travel in general can be a challenging time to maintain consistency with your health and wellness. However, it can be easier than you think to maintain all the great progress you’ve been making at home with a few subtle shifts. So much of your success when getting thrown off your daily routine comes down to mindset, how you approach your travel, and having a plan. And you know I am ALL about balance. Use this guide to stay active and healthy over the holidays, on your next business trip, or your next vacation.


PLAN TO MOVE DAILY 

Move daily – but don’t stress about your normal routine. Just choose activities that require movement. Moving for shorter bouts more frequently is more important than getting in long workouts.

This movement can be a family activity like a hike, or taking advantage of walking and exploring a city.

If you know you won’t be that active on certain days, plan to get up an extra 20 minutes earlier and get a quick full body workout in before you start the day.

(DOWNLOAD THESE BODYWEIGHT WORKOUTS)

Build time into your travel schedule – and let whoever you are traveling with know ahead of time so the expectations are set in advance.

Don’t forget to PACK YOUR WORKOUT CLOTHES.


SET YOUR NUTRITIONAL MINDSET

Think ahead and make a few simple preparations to set your nutritional mindset for your trip.

Think of what to “ADD” to your meals rather than what to eliminate. Make sure to incorporate greens and protein at every single meal and fill in the rest as desired. Eating foods with little nutritional value, meals lacking balance, or too little water can throw your body completely out of whack, causing bloating, constipation, and digestive issues.

Base your approach to food on respect for your body and how food makes you feel. Vegetables, high-quality protein, and fiber-rich whole grains fuel your body and give you sustaining energy that leaves you feeling good.

Yes, there are definitely foods that are just simply delicious and pleasurable — and you are on vacation and life is meant to be celebrated. Duh. No one wants to be told not to eat pasta in Italy or that slice of pumpkin pie for breakfast. Live your life, fuel your body well, and remove the guilt from your thought process. It’s ok to indulge, it all comes down to finding balance in the day to day.


HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE

Drink plenty of water, especially mid-flight or staying at a high-altitude destination where air is dry and dehydration can cause jet lag and altitude-related illnesses.

Bring a water bottle with you to the airport and fill it up after you get through security and before boarding your flight. Drink the entire thing. Yes, I want you to get up and use the restroom. You can use that time to stretch your legs. And if you can, try to avoid alcohol mid-flight as well as those salty snacks.

And drink before meals and snacks to help prevent over-consuming.


IN-FLIGHT TIPS

Be prepared and pack your own snacks that fall in line with your current eating since healthy options may not always be available. Pack along nuts, fresh fruit, Rx protein bars, nut butter packets, collagen protein packets, greens powder packets, oatmeal cups, etc.

RELAX — Take a few minutes to do deep belly breaths in your seat to calm the nervous system and bring about relaxation. Bring one hand onto your belly and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in and expand your belly into your hand, feeling your ribs expand and your low back press toward the seat. Pause when you are full. Slowly exhale the breath out until you are empty, drawing the navel in and up and pause. Repeat for 2 minutes.

STRETCH — Being stuck on a plane or in a car for an extended period of time can leave muscles feeling tight and achy. Book an aisle seat so you can get up frequently and do these stretches or do them right in your seat. Make it a goal to get up once an hour to do a full body stretch and be the person in the back of the plane stretching their legs, back and shoulders. Your body will thank you — everyone else will be envious.

 

Seated Figure 4 — Cross right ankle over left knee and sit up tall to lift chest while tilting your tailbone back behind you to anteriorly tilt the pelvis and enhance the stretch. Hold for 30-60 seconds and switch sides.

Eagle Arms Shoulder and Upper Back Stretch — Sit up tall in your seat and hook right elbow underneath left elbow and cross forearms to clasp hands. Squeeze forearms together as you draw shoulders down away from ears and lift fingertips up towards ceiling while dropping chin down. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.

Seated Trunk Rotations — Sit up tall in the middle of your seat and turn your torso to the right to place both hands on the armrest, keeping hips forward. Hold spinal twist for a few deep breaths and repeat on the other side. 

Ankle Circles — Lift right foot off the floor slightly and keeping leg still, draw the largest clockwise circle that you can with your toes and repeat 5 rotations before switching to counterclockwise and then switch ankles.

Neck Circles — Engage your core and sit up tall. Keeping your torso and shoulders still, draw your chin down towards your chest, turn/rotate your chin towards your right shoulder, draw right ear towards right shoulder, extend neck back and around until left shoulder moves towards left ear, drop chin down towards shoulder and rotate back to neutral and reverse direction. Repeat twice in each direction.

Forward Fold — hinge at your hips and fold forward, hanging and holding opposite elbows. Relax shoulders, neck, and low back and take a few deep breaths.

Hip Flexor Stretch — Stand with left foot forward and right foot back about 2 feet apart with toes pointing forward. Tuck pelvis under into a posterior tilt, engage abdominals and gently shift hips forward slightly as you reach up through the right arm as high as you can. Repeat movement for 5-10 repetitions and switch sides.


POST-FLIGHT TIPS

Getting in a short and easy full body workout when you arrive at your destination has been proven to reduce fatigue and jet lag. A post-flight workout that falls within 24 hours of flying should be on the mellow side and purely just to bring movement and energy into the body. Think gentle mobility movements to warm up, 4-5 easy bodyweight exercises and a few stretches and belly breathing to cool down.


HEALTHY TRAVEL RECAP:

  1. Move daily

  2. Eat protein and greens at every meal

  3. Hydrate

  4. Pack healthy snacks

  5. Drop the guilt and enjoy yourself

  6. Stretch on the plane

  7. Try these workouts 



From Dysfunctional to Functional Breathing

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Master this breathing technique to unlock your body and enhance your overall well-being.

We all breathe. But the problem is, most of us do not breathe properly. And few people understand the impact improper breathing has on mobility, strength, and power. Correcting and realigning with the proper breathing biomechanics that we were designed for can improve not only our workouts, but our overall wellness and daily life. (Big statement, I know, but it’s absolutely true.) 

Are you a chest breather or belly breather? 

Self Check — observe right now, in this very moment, whether your chest is lifting or if your belly is expanding as you inhale. Don’t try to change your breathe, just observe it’s natural state. How long did you inhale and exhale for and were the durations of each comparable?

CHEST BREATHER: If you noticed you’re breathing primarily into your chest with a relatively large inhales and a shorter exhales, you are a shallow chest breather, along with 90% of the population. You’re not alone. But we need to change that.

 

BIOMECHANICS:

Shallow breathing dysfunctionally recruits accessory muscles such as your chest (pectorals), neck (scalenes and sternocleidomastoid), and upper trap musculature to inflate the chest and hold your ribcage in place, which takes your scapulae (shoulder blades) with it. Your body then uses the recoil of these muscles along with a dropping of the shoulders to perform the work of the diaphragm (dispelling air from your lungs).

This, unfortunately, can cause chronic tension, limitations in neck, shoulder and back, and poor posture…all making you more susceptible to injury.

 

NERVOUS SYSTEM RESPONSE:

Chest breathing has a purpose. It’s intended for our stressed states (like running from a bear!) as it stimulates the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS - aka, our fight or flight response). But when we chest breathe in what is supposed to be our relaxed state, we in turn trigger that same stress response.

If you’re someone who spends excess time living in a sympathetic state (anxiety, high stress, lack of sleep, overtraining), you are adding unnecessary stress to your body which ultimately, is shaving years off your life.

BELLY BREATHER: This is how we are meant to breathe. Yay, you. But so often we get pulled out of this pattern from either the stress mentioned above, postural changes from poor lifestyle habits, previous injuries, or trying to hold our bellies in all day long.

 

BIOMECHANICS AND NERVOUS SYSTEM RESPONSE:

Belly breathing relies on your diaphragm, intercostal muscles, internal obliques, and transversus abdominis (TVA), activating our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) and shifts us into a relaxed state which optimizes our body for rest, recovery, and digestion. 

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT:

Our ability to fully expand and contract the belly on our inhales and exhales increases lung capacity, improves sleep, digestion, and overall health and wellness, ensures a healthy relationship with the pelvic floor, deep core musculature, and diaphragm. (Postpartum ladies, get on this one), and gets our bodies moving properly. Contrary to what many people believe, core strength isn’t just about holding in our core and keeping our abs tight. The diaphragm is the king of the core.

From Dysfunctional Chest Breather to Functional Belly Breather:

The best place to start if you’re new to re-learning or re-wiring this breathing pattern is in a prone position (on your belly). Once you’ve mastered breathing in all four directions on your belly (belly into the floor, ribs laterally out to the sides, low back to the ceiling), you can practice supine/on your back, seated, standing and while walking.

Prone Belly Breathing:

  1. Lay on your belly and make a pillow with your hands to rest your forehead. Focus on deeply inhaling and exhaling through your nose (you can exhale through your mouth but consistently breathe in through the nose) with a 4-5 count inhale, a 4-5 count exhale, and a 4-5 count hold when empty. 

  2. As you Inhale, actively try to expand your abdomen and breathe your belly into the floor as well as breathe laterally into your side waist, as if your waist is an accordion.

  3. As you exhale, slowly let all the breath out with control and feel empty at the bottom of your breath, gently engaging the deep core musculature and holding for 4-5 counts to allow the diaphragm to functionally engage and initiate a proper inhale.

  4. Set a timer for 2 minutes (don’t poke your head up until the timer goes off).

Practice anywhere and practice often.

Working on breathing mechanics for just two minutes a day can significantly restore mobility and hardwire your body to begin naturally breathing in this way.

And if you’re a mouth breather… breathing through your mouth most often means you’re a shallow chest breather. I like to say that breathing through your mouth is sort of like trying to eat through your nose. (Not really, but, you get the point).

Got "TECH-NECK"? 10 Stretches To Relieve Neck Pain At Your Desk

Just about everyone that sits at a computer for extended periods of time experiences neck pain and unfortunately this can cause some serious complications down the road if not addressed. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to bring your posture back to its natural and upright position and reverse the symptoms you’re experiencing while at the office.

“Tech-Neck” is typically due to 3 things: poor posture and ergonomics while sitting at your desk, stress and how you carry it, and a need to balance and strengthen the muscles that get stressed from long hours at a computer with poor posture.

*NOTE: The below stretches/movements can help reduce or alleviate symptoms but it’s important to address the root of the issue. Deeper strengthening and focused work to correct imbalances is needed to make a difference in your lasting overall health.

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WHAT CAUSES NECK PAIN?

It’s important to know that neck pain doesn’t necessarily mean that the neck itself is the root cause of the pain. Since our entire body is woven together by connective tissue (fascia), tension anywhere in the body can be due to a build up of tension or pulling anywhere else down a fascial line.

The line of fascia most commonly affected by sitting at your desk is known as the superficial back line which runs from the forehead, up and over the crown of the head, down the length of the spine and back of the legs, over the heels and along the soles of your feet. This line is responsible for holding you in an upright position and extending the body.

The stretches, movements, and habits below can all be done while sitting at your desk to help ease tension and improve the mobility and stability of your neck, shoulders, and upper back.

POSTURE/ERGONOMICS:

Poor positioning while staring at a screen for hours at a time can lead to added stress on the superficial back line and result in a semi-permanent (or permanent if no changes are made) body positioning consisting of a forward head carry and rounded shoulders. This posture causes the extensors of the neck (back of the neck) to be locked in an overstretched or “long” position while carrying the weight of your head, the flexors of the neck (the front of the neck) to be locked “short” and weak, the chest to be locked short and tight and the mid and upper back to be locked long and weak. Depending on the degree of forward head carry, this can add up to an additional 50-60 lbs of added stress to the neck.

 

PROPER DESK POSTURE:

I know you’ve seen a million articles on proper posture, but here is my advice. Sit either at the edge of your chair on your SITS bones with a tall spine, feet flat on the floor, and chin parallel to the floor (computer should be eye level from this position) or sit all the way at the back of your chair with your lumbar spine supported, feet flat on the floor and chin parallel to the floor. From both positions, roll your shoulders back and keeping your elbows by your side, pronate your hands and turn your palms down.

COMPUTER POSITION/WORK SURFACE:

Elevate your computer (and cellphone!) to alleviate tension and weight onto the neck and spine. Adjust your chair, desk, or standing desk into a proper position for your height – computer at eye level and elbows bent to 90 degrees for a position you can easily type on your keyboard.

SITTING DURATION:

Take frequent breaks and try to avoid sitting for longer than an hour at a time. Set a timer to get up, walk around, grab some water (so important to keep your connective tissue hydrated!), and realign your posture.

SEATED DESK STRETCHES:

STRETCH/LENGTHEN:

Subocciptal Stretch: Place thumb crease in chin crease and draw chin toward chest. Gently assist with hand behind head. Hold for 5-8 breaths.

Levator Scap Stretch: Rotate head to right and drop chin down toward armpit. Gently assist with right hand. Hold for 5-8 breaths.

Neck Circles: Irradiate tension and isolate from your neck only. Draw chin down, rotate head to side, draw ear toward shoulder, circle the neck smoothly all the way around until ear reaches opposite shoulder, drop chin down and rotate back to neutral. Reverse direction. Perform 3 circles in each direction.

Passive T-Spine Rotation: Sit upright in chair, twist to the right placing left hand outside right thigh and grab edge of chair with right hand to gently assist stretch. Hold for 5 breaths.

Upper Trap Stretch: Place left arm behind back and draw right ear toward right shoulder. Gently assist with right hand and hold for 5-8 deep breaths.

Chest and Shoulder Stretch: Interlace hands behind low back. Draw shoulders back and lift the chest. Hold for 5-8 breaths.

Eagle Arms: Cross right elbow underneath left elbow and then cross forearms and place palms together. Squeeze forearms together and draw shoulders away from ears as you lift elbows up toward ceiling. Push forearms forward and gently draw chin down slightly. Hold for 5 breaths and repeat on other side.

Thoracic Extension: Hold arms of chair and place base of shoulder blades on back edge. Begin to lean backwards and place hands behind head to support neck and continue extension. Hold for 3-5 breaths.

ACTIVATION:

Active Thoracic Spine Flexion and Extension: Round back and bring hands together in front of chest. Open arms as you lift chest and squeeze shoulder blades together. Repeat x 8.

Active Thoracic Spine Rotation and Reach: Sit up tall with arms straight and palms touching. Draw right arm back, engaging upper back and return to start. Alternate sides. Choose to look back or keep eyes forward. Repeat x 5

STRENGTHEN:

Strength training is incredibly important for maintaining spinal health. Focus on strengthening the muscles that support your neck and spine such as the rhomboids, mid/lower trapezius, and core (abdominals, spinal erectors, lats, psoas, and glutes).

Would it be helpful to see some exercise video examples of recommended movements? Let me know.


**PLEASE READ:

If you or someone you know is in need of greater help correcting posture and alleviating symptoms, consider seeing a physical therapist or pursuing a personal trainer (me, or someone like me) to focus on the root of the problem rather than only alleviating symptoms. Treatment involves education on how to reduce stress and strain while focusing on exercises to balance the appropriate musculature to create faster rehabilitation.

If your pain persists or you’re experiencing severe or sharp-shooting pain, especially if it’s associated with numbness or tingling in the arm, there may be an underlying issue and you should see your doctor or therapist.

All About Omega's

Unless you're eating fatty fish 2-3 times a week, or bowls and bowls of kale, nuts, seeds and seaweed, you might want to consider supplementing your diet with this essential fat.

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Why? These fatty acids are extremely important in the day-to-day functioning of every tissue in our body and because we can't make enough on our own, and most likely don't eat bowls and bowls of the above, we must obtain them through our diets. Not to mention the modern diet creates an imbalance of Omega's in our body from over consumption of processed plant oils and processed foods...even more reason to supplement Omega-3 (too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3).

Deficiency and imbalance in these fatty acids can lead to a host of problems, symptoms and disorders ranging from organ and immune function, skin issues and mental health. No, thank you. But if you take care to ensure you’re getting adequate and balanced amounts in your daily diet, there are an incredible amount of benefits. Yes, please.

BENEFITS OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS:

  • Improves brain function and enhances memory

  • Promotes healthy skin

  • Reduces overall inflammation in the body

  • Fetal/Infant growth and brain development

  • Improves mental health and mood

  • Decreases the risk of depression

  • Helps with attention disorders

  • Moderately decreases blood pressure in those with hypertension

  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes

  • Improves eye health

  • Increases metabolism and improves body composition

  • Aids in healthy sleep patterns

  • Involved in the repair and regeneration of cells

WHere to get 'em:

There are 3 compounds that make up omega-3 fatty acids:

EPA and DHA - Available in fish and algae and have been shown to be the most beneficial. Primarily derived from algae... fish then snack on the algae...and we snack on fish, or supplement with fish oil.

ALA - Found in plant-based foods like walnuts, flax, and chia seeds. ALA needs to be converted to EPA and DHA in the body. Not all that you consume is able to be converted, which is why it takes a lot of plant based intake to get your requirements. If you are purely plant-based, you most likely need additional supplementation.

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FOOD RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Eat wild-caught, cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and albacore tuna 2-3 times a week.

    • If, like most people, your diet doesn’t include that amount, then you’ll need to supplement.

    • Note: Not all fish are created equal! A farm-raised fish may contain less omega-3 fats, more omega-6 fats, and more contaminants. Research where your fish comes from, rotate the type, and choose WILD over FARMED

  • Include plant foods like flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, green leafy vegetables, spirulina and seaweed

What to look for in a Supplement:

*Choose brand names that have proven reliability and you know they source well

*Make sure they are purified and have the USP verified mark (US Pharmacopoeia)

*Algae is the base of the food chain for fish and where they get all their EPA/DHA. Consider going directly to the source and choose a high-quality algae supplement

*If choosing fish oil, choose a high-quality oil that states it is highly-concentrated, molecularly distilled and purified with no heavy metal contamination

*Look for a company that doesn’t contribute directly to the depletion of fish and that uses smaller fish such as herring and mackerel that are less likely to carry toxins. 

*Avoid cod liver oil (cod are long-living fish that over time accumulate environmental toxins)

Supplement dosage recommendation:

ALGAE OIL – 200-300 mg/day if you have a balanced fat intake, 500-1000mg 2x/day for optimal benefits. Try this one

FISH OIL – 3-9g/day of total fish oil (1-3 g EPA + DHA) Try this krill oil

Let me know if you have any questions or need any more recommendations! 
 

Health Note: Check with your doctor first if you are on blood thinners such Warfarin, Coumadin, Heparin or if you regularly take baby aspirin.