If you could plot your health on a graph, where would you sit?
The theory being that the way we live our lives determines where we sit on the graph. We can adjust our lives to move us further into the “fitness” zones and away from the “sickness” zones.
We should all strive to live our lives in between “wellness” and “fitness”. The further into the “fitness” zone we are, the less likely we are to develop life altering, life limiting illnesses. Of course, there are some unexpected, unavoidable and completely unforeseen events which can set us back; some cancers, type 1 diabetes, a car accident etc. but if we can do all we can to avoid the avoidable, shouldn’t we do just that?
Chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertrophy (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, kidney failure, heart failure, dementia and depression can all be avoided, managed or reversed by taking care of our health through exercise and nutrition.
If we drink alcohol in excess, we tick the dial closer towards the sickness, raising our risk of kidney failure. Carrying excess weight? We move the dial closer to sickness and therefore raise our risk of heart disease, hypertrophy and type 2 diabetes. Smoke, eat a poor diet and have poor cardiovascular health? We are increasing our risk of developing dementia and other age related illnesses.
Not only are we increasing our chances of developing health problems in the long run if we sit further into the sickness end of the spectrum, it also effects our ability to recover from short term set backs. A common cold, a strained muscle, a broken bone are all easier for our body to recover from if we are striving to sit on the fitness end.
So what can we do to move us closer to fitness and keep us from sickness?
- Take regular exercise; walk, run, lift. Push, pull, squat. Swim, stretch, throw. It doesn’t matter what. Just move. Do anything you enjoy that raises your heart rate for a period of time.
- Work on flexibility and mobility. Keep joints moving in the range of motion they are designed for and keep muscles balanced and supple.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet full of protein, healthy fats, complex carbs and fiber. Fill your plate with a variety of colours (natural, from fruit and veg.. not skittles!)
- Avoid processed food, excess sugar and alcohol.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Don’t smoke.
- Get outside, breathe fresh air and soak up as much vitamin D as available to you.
- Supplement omega 3 and vitamin D if you can’t get enough from your diet and lifestyle.
- Above all, give your mental health the time it deserves. Meditate, take time to yourself to de-stress, recognise when life is getting too much and find a way to take a step back and breathe.
We can take gradual steps in the right direction and turn them into lifelong habits. As a result, we give ourselves the best chance to live long and healthy lives.
If you are worried you are slipping too far into sickness but are unsure how to pull it back drop me a message now. Together we can work on putting steps into place to move you in the right direction. A complete overhaul of your current lifestyle will most likely be unsustainable and overwhelming. However, taking each week at a time we will slowly build habits that will last you a lifetime.
Sleep quality and the amount of sleep we get a night is important for so many factors in our lives.
We all know we should be aiming for about 8 hours of good quality sleep a night.
As little as a couple of nights of sleep deprivation (averaging 5.5 hours of sleep) can cause damage to our body and mind.
Sleep Deprivation and Weight Loss
When we don’t get adequate amounts of sleep appetite increases and we crave higher calorie, quick energy releasing foods like sugar and processed food. If you are already in a calorie deficit in an attempt to shift some weight then a not getting enough sleep can spell disaster for your will power. Studies show that, in otherwise healthy women, just 4 days of sleep deprivation can lead to a 20% increase in calorie intake. Sleep deprivation can also effect your nutrient partitioning – whether calories are used/stored as fat or muscle. It’s a vicious cycle, sleep less, eat more and store more as fat rather than muscle. It also work the other way around. If you do manage to maintain a calorie deficit while sleep deprived, your weight loss is more likely to be from muscle mass than stored fat.
The occurrence of insulin resistance, hypertrophy (high blood pressure) and obesity are all increased by lack of sleep. With insulin resistance comes a greater risk of diabetes. Although there are studies which show a greater risk of insulin resistance of continued prolonged sleep of 9+ hours. (Oh how lovely would that be!)
Cognitive Function and Memory
Impaired sleep goes hand in hand with impaired cognitive function. We know driving tired is dangerous. Not only because we might fall asleep at the wheel, but we are slower to react and make more mistakes; missing turnings, unintentional speeding, not spotting a cyclist when turning out from a junction etc. REM sleep is also the time our brain converts short term memories into long term memories. The term baby brain is there for a reason!
Cortisol – the stress hormone
Cortisol is the stress hormone. It runs on a fairly consistent cycle of peaking in the morning to help us wake up and dropping off in the evenings to help us sleep, leveling out throughout the day. The stress hormone, it is an important hormone to have, as long as it is kept in balance. Regular occurrences of sleep deprivation can cause all-day cortisol levels to rise. This adds to the metabolic syndromes noted above as well as lowering mood and reducing energy levels.
So what if we CAN’T get enough sleep?
This all sounds pretty bad right? If you’re a mum (or dad) of a newborn or shift worker are you doomed to a life of crashing your car, over eating and forgetfulness?
Unless you’re very strict on your sleep, and have no work or small people to mess with your sleep cycle, we will all have some degree of sleep deprivation over our lives.
What can we do to aid our sleep even with factors out of our control messing with the program?
Here are some do’s and don’t’s to help you get off to sleep easier and have better quality sleep overall.
DON’T – use devices with blue light before bed. The blue light of an iphone, tablet and TV disrupts your melatonin levels (the sleepy hormone). However this isn’t always an option. We work take, we check social media, we watch a film or series before bed as our way to unwind for the evening. If you don’t want to switch off all devices and actually talk to your partner in the evenings, have a look at the settings on your devices and see if you can turn the brightness down or onto a night mode to minimise the blue light disturbance.
DO exercise! Exercise not only burns more energy throughout the day leading to better sleep quality, but it also help to regulate hormones, so if you do work shifts or have a little person keeping you up at night, exercise can help to balance your cortisol, melatonin and insulin levels. Even if the only time you can fit exercise in is late at night, studies show it’s better than nothing. As long as you take some time after your workout to stretch off and shower it shouldn’t disrupt your sleep.
DON’T leave the TV or radio on to fall asleep. If you need to sleep while other family members are up and about try using ear plugs. If you struggle falling asleep in silence with the random noises of the outside world try using white noise to drift off. The consistent steady sound of a white noise machine is easier to drift off to and often quite soothing compared to the sound of people talking which we can’t help but tune in to.
DO have a bedtime routine. Ideally we would all go to bed at the same time every night and get a full 7-8 hours uninterrupted sleep. If this isn’t possible, you can help your body prepare for sleep by having a consistent bedtime routine. This can be as simple as brushing your teeth and putting on pyjamas. If you need a little longer to settle down try 10 minutes of meditation once you’re ready for bed, or read 10 minutes of a book once in bed to help you relax.
DON’T drink too much coffee or alcohol before bed. Both are stimulants, as well as sugar and nicotine, so are best avoided before bed. Depending on your caffeine sensitivity will depend on when you could have your last coffee without it effecting your sleep.
DO ensure you are getting enough magnesium in your diet. Athletes and the elderly are more likely to have lower levels of magnesium. If you find you are struggling to get enough in through diet alone then supplementing some magnesium before bed can help you drift off into a good nights sleep. Don’t go above the upper limit of 350mg of magnesium supplementation. If you are already getting enough through your diet then supplementing with more won’t help your sleep.
So if you are a parent of a little person who steals your precious sleep, remember this won’t last forever! One day they will be teenagers you struggle to get out of bed. In the mean time, stock the fridge with healthy snack to grab when the low energy cravings hit. Try to get a workout in. Even if its a quick 10 minutes in the garden it’s better than nothing at all. Try to avoid picking up your phone during the night feeds. I know it can be boring and make the nights feel never ending, but staring into the darkness will help you get back off to sleep easier than flicking through facebook to pass away the time.
Night shift workers; get a good bedtime routine, try to block out as much background noise and light as possible and make sure you are getting enough magnesium in your diet to help you get to sleep when your sleep schedule has to adapt to your shift pattern.
I’d love to hear any other tips for sleep from you. If you work shifts, how do you combat the irregular sleep? What are your top tips for getting to sleep while the rest of the world is wide awake?
Here’s my little sleep thief catching up on some zzz’s
Don’t write me off! I’m just a fungi!
How often do you try new foods? Or try foods you may not have enjoyed in the past?
I am not a fussy eater. There isn’t much I won’t eat, or at least try. I don’t get put off my food easily and enjoy a wide range of vegetables.
Mushrooms, however, are the one thing I have tried multiple times and never been able to enjoy. Until my first pregnancy! At the age of 26, pregnant with my first child I lost my love of veg, it all made me feel very nauseous. My cravings for fruit went through the roof and the only veg I could stomach was peas and spinach. That was until I was served the wrong burger in a bar which contained mushrooms. Instead of sending it back or picking them out I ate them and loved every bite! Since then, and especially most recently since the birth of my second baby, I can’t get enough of them. I add them to every meal possible. Mushrooms are packed full of fiber and protein as well as being a great source of B vitamins, selenium, potassium, copper, and vitamin D.
What are taste buds?
We are born with approximately 10, 000 taste buds. Like all living cells taste buds die and reproduce. Surprisingly the life cycle of a taste bud is only two weeks! They are designed to signal the digestive system to prepare to digest and absorb nutrients. The five recognised tastes are; sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami.
Our sense of smell also plays a part in how we taste foods. By breathing and chewing at the same time our brain helps us to detect flavours we recognise. (We have all tried holding our nose to try to eat something we are not keen on at some point in our lives.
Taste is also effected by a number of factors.
The process of taste buds dying and reproducing slows with age. After about 40 years of age fewer taste buds return (remember we have around 10, 000 to work with!) Our sense of smell also decreases which effects how we taste foods.
Have you noticed how your perception of foods change when you have a cold? This is due to blocked noses effecting our ability to smell foods.
Hormonal changes due to pregnancy, stress and sleep deprivation can also effect how we taste foods and which foods we lean towards.
The highly processed foods are made to be as tasty as possible so we keep coming back to them. They are packed with additives which tickle our taste buds and make your tongue do the tango! The more processed foods we eat the less we are able to appreciate the natural flavours in fruit and veg. Try cutting down on/cutting out processed foods and added sugar for a week or so and notice how suddenly fruit is all the more delicious and how veg suddenly has a whole world of extra flavour.
Try, try and try again
As with children, it sometimes take a few tries of the same foods for us to realise we actually like them. Don’t try something once and decide you don’t like it. Give it a chance and you may find it grows on you.
The point I am trying to make is that even if you think you don’t like certain foods you know you should be adding to your diet, don’t write them off completely. Keep trying them at different points in your life. Try them in a variety of forms; raw, sauteed, boiled or baked. Combine them with different flavors. You never know, you may just find a new favourite food!
Contact me for help with finding nutritional balance that works for you.
Easter weekend didn’t involve enough chocolate for me (I will catch up now I’m home don’t worry!)
Instead I spent the weekend in South Wales at CrossFit ION on a course to become a qualified CrossFit Gymnastics Coach.
The knowledge bombs were dropping like the Blitz and the gym was full of athletes and coaches who started the weekend feeling strong and competent in their movements and left broken but inspired to take their new skills back to their boxes.
So what did I learn? Well, way too much to fit into one blog post..
So I’ll focus on the two most important.
Doing away with ‘Rx’d’ when it comes to training gymnastics movements. If we focus on hitting the official Rx’d standards in our general workouts we compromise proper movement. Yes we may get our toes to touch the bar for toes to bar, or our chin over the bar for a pull-up, and we may well be able to get through a load in a workout, but will this help us improve in the long run? Hell no! Are we moving efficiently and with the correct movement patterns? Most likely not! As coaches, we need to celebrate our athletes achievements of their first toes-to-bar/pull-up/muscle-up just like we would a back squat PR, but not let that follow by ‘Rx’d’ movements with shitty form. If an athlete hit a back squat PR but only just making depth, we would still encourage deeper squats in training.
A number of cues and movement progressions went into a black box to throw out of our coaches bag of tricks and never spoken of again. These included things taught on the level 1 CrossFit course and on the gymnastics course from a few years ago. Why? Because our knowledge is constantly evolving. Not just the coaches in your local box, but the big dogs too! Jeff Tucker, head of CrossFit Gymnastics, adapts the course to grow with his knowledge. Level 1 courses are great but they only have a short amount of time to teach a lot of movements. The more time we have to drill into movements the more specific we can be with how and what we teach.
Let use toes to bar for example. Everyone knows the end goal is to touch both feet to the bar at the same time. This is easier to achieve by aggressively kipping, pulling back on the bar and driving our legs up to get that contact, followed by an aggressive drive back with the legs to cycle into a big arch for the next rep.
However, this switches a core exercise to a back exercise shifting the focus onto your lats and shoulders. If we lose our ego and are honest with ourselves about our abilities we perform scaled down versions of the same movement. The focus is now on a hollow core, a solid arch and only working to a level where those perfect positions are maintained throughout.
I quickly found I cannot perform ‘Rx’d’ toes to bar. I will no longer be performing official ‘Rx’d’ toes to bar until I can do using the correct movement patterns. This may take a little while, but I have drawn myself up a new core programme, I have all the skills and drills to help me develop and the determination to keep working on these progressions until I can. Virtuosity is key.
Another part of the weekend that blew my mind was the bar muscle ups. A movement I’ve avoided for a long time due to fear of falling forward over the bar. A fear I now know was completely legitimate. If you aggressively pull your hips to the bar, then throw yourself forward over the bar the only way you are going to go is forward. It’s simple physics. The same goes for ring muscle ups. Throwing yourself threw the rings is likely to end in falling forward through the rings. If you remain hollow in your kip, push down on the bar to bring your hips up, a slight pull in once shoulders have passed the hands to then push down on the bar the only way you are going to go is up! Makes sense right?
If you see me cheating on my movements you have full permission to kick me!
The importance of a solid hollow position. A hollow body gives us the ability to transfer the energy required of a movement correctly from core to extremity. If we’re soft through our midline our movements will be soft and lacking.
You may be able to perform handstand push-ups or multiple kipping pull-ups without a solid midline relying on shoulder strength, but how soon will that strength burn out? How long until you’re out of training for 6+ weeks with a torn rotator cuff or shoulder impingement?
If we lose our midline on a heavy squat we will crumble under the bar. Maintain tension through the core keeps the body strong, keeps the bar rising and makes the lift easier. The same goes for gymnastics.
Keep the arc of your kip tight; toes pointed, legs long, feet squeezed together, butt squeezed, tension on the bar. Use that elastic energy to rebound back into the hollow for the next rep.
When the muscles works in unison every movement is more efficient and every rep takes a little less energy.
Don’t be too proud to go back to basics. It will pay dividends in the long run!
Contact me now if you would like to book 1-2-1 sessions with a qualified CrossFit Gymnastics Coach!