Woman in christmas sweater enjoying a cup of hot cocoa at a table

Overindulged Over The Holidays?

Christmas and the New Year can be a tough period for a lot of people. Even in the best of situations, there is no shortage of delicious food and drink (and more food, and more drink), less exercise or physical activity than many of us intend to have, and likely a late night or two.

It’s definitely not the daily routine!

If you’re feeling a little guilty about how much you enjoyed the holidays, reconsider. There are silver linings that go along with a great holiday season, especially the great memories are yours for a lifetime.

Think back to what you did over the holidays. What were your favorite dishes, meals, festive beverages? Did you get to sleep in? Do some fun outdoor activity instead of cramming in a gym session or home workout before rushing off to work?

Rather than wincing at the memories, enjoy them. Don’t stress about what’s done – it can’t be changed now, and even it shouldn’t be changed, either! Fun and downtime are important, and stress and worry can actually do more damage than anything that you might have enjoyed in the last several weeks. Good memories are always worth making – for me, escaping sticky Brisbane for the beach, and daily early morning beach runs and swims more than makes up for slacking off on strength training and eating more cake than strictly necessary!

Ask yourself: Were the holiday choices I made worth the memories that go along with them?

The goal is to turn an enjoyable holiday season into a guilt free experience. You can use your above answer to make the next round of holidays even more enjoyable, with even less potential guilt around health and fitness choices.

Food and drink indulgence is a huge source of post-holiday stress. Eating is a mainstay of celebrations worldwide, and is often the chance to go all-out with treats. When your once-in-a-while treat foods are readily available, it’s very easy to have “just a little” here or there (there’s nothing wrong with enjoying this, either – see above). The key to enjoying the good stuff is to really enjoy the good stuff and leave the stuff you don’t really love alone. I’ve eaten so much low-quality chocolate in the last several weeks, and every time I do, I think about how much I don’t really like it. Why do I keep doing that? It’s one of life’s mysteries that we solved yesterday when we threw the rest of the Christmas chocolate out.

Ask yourself: What did I eat or drink that I didn’t really like, and how can I choose less of that next time?

Non-food-related: It’s also easy to let the sleep-ins and company keep us from other healthy choices we normally enjoy, whether that’s your favorite gym class or a long early morning walk. This can also lead to post-holiday guilt, and sometimes to the hassle of getting back in the habit. But catching up on sleep has its own benefits, as does reconnecting with family and friends – there is significant research showing that these are key elements in overall good health. The change of routine can also provide an opportunity to evaluate what you do enjoy in your daily routine.

Ask yourself: Were the extra hours of sleep/family connections/holiday parties worth it? What are you looking forward to getting back to?

Take a few minutes to think on these questions, and you’ll set yourself up for a good holiday season the next time around. As a bonus, you can open up your calendar or diary to 11 months from now, and pop in some reminders to help you get the most out of the holiday season, without the extras you don’t need or even want.

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Creating happiness for yourself

How To Be Happy

Happiness has demonstrated health benefits, including decreased risk of heart disease and stroke, and there is scientific evidence that happiness is more than just the absence of sadness or depression. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that we have a great deal of control over our happiness levels.

Written to be your choice of a quick skim or a long read, this compilation piece from the New York Times details great ideas to get more happiness. Take your time to read through it all, or just start with a quick browse through the headings. Information from numerous studies forms the base for these practical recommendations to help improve mental health boost happiness at home and work, around money matters, in relationships, and enjoy improved overall quality of life.

Read the article How To Be Happy to find the happiness options that will work best for you!

 


Muscle and Joint Health In Three Steps

Ready to start an exercise or physical activity program? Already active or working out? These three steps will keep your body happy and healthy, minimizing aches, pains and injury risk.

You probably know: Regular movement is really important to maintaining lifelong health. Keeping your body injury- and pain-free is really important to being able to keep moving.

Increasing daily movement can come at the end of a rehab program, or you may (correctly) see it as a way to get rid of ongoing sore spots. It may be your path to improving your health, or feeling even better than you do right now. These three DIY steps focus primarily on loosening and lengthening your muscles and connective tissues – leading to decreased joint stress – and then getting your muscles strong and fit. Following these three steps will keep your muscles and joints working efficiently and minimize the stiffness and pain that can prevent good quality movement. Improved movement ability directly leads to better health and quality of life.

Step 1: Loosen

Muscles that are overly tight (aka hypertonic) don’t work efficiently. Excessive muscle tension can decrease how quickly a muscle can contract and how much force it can contract with. Since the speed and force of contraction are what creates movement and supports your body, this is less than optimal (plus, tight muscles don’t generally feel good).

Many circumstances can lead to excessive muscle tension. Muscles can spasm and hold tension to protect a sore or injured area, or tension can build from long term movement compensations that result from an injury or tissue damage. Tension can also be caused by posture and occupational or lifestyle demands.

“Loosen” is step one because it has the greatest impact on the other two steps. A muscle with optimal tension and with minimal adhesions – what we commonly think of as “knots” – will be able to stretch and strengthen better.

Different “loosening” techniques include hands-on techniques like deep tissue massage, remedial, or sports massage therapy, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy, as well as self-massage techniques using a foam roller, trigger point ball, The Stick, and other similar tools. You can also help manage muscle tension by staying hydrated, using a heat pack or hot water bottle on tight muscles, and ensuring a diet high in magnesium.

Step 2: Lengthen

Muscles that are too short can lead to poor joint alignment and repetitive strain or overuse injuries. For most people, stretching after doing soft tissue work will give you the best results, as adhesions and tight areas don’t stretch well (and can potentially cause the tissues around them to overstretch). Appropriate stretching will keep joints moving freely and easily, and can also help prevent tension buildup caused by poor postures and movement patterns that shorten and stress muscles.

One caveat to the Lengthen step: If you are hypermobile (i.e. double jointed), stretching may actually aggravate muscles and joints. In hypermobility conditions, the tissues surrounding a joint are longer and looser than optimal, giving the joint very high degrees of movement (aka joint laxity). As this can predispose to injury, and your body’s #1 goal is to not get hurt, ever, the reaction to this laxity is to create more tension in the tissues around the joint. This can leave you feeling like you need to stretch, but that’s actually the opposite of what your body needs. If you are hypermobile, skip this step and do more self-massage (or go and good a good remedial or deep tissue massage) to decrease muscle tension. The strength work in step three will help further build joint integrity.

There are many ways that you can stretch, like traditional static stretching, or partner variations like assisted or PNF stretching. Regardless of how you do it, hold your stretches for a very minimum of 30 seconds, as it takes at least that long for the tissues to lengthen to a beneficial degree. And don’t bounce! It’s a recipe for disaster.

Step 3: Strengthen

The first two steps are all about getting the muscles ready. Now it’s time to get going! The right strength program identifies any areas of strength or activation imbalance, and will selectively target them build on the movement quality you’ve already achieved with the Loosen and Lengthen steps. For maximum benefit, get some advice from a movement professional who will help you determine your weakest links. This information will allow you to build a strong foundation, further decreasing any injury risks and making any ongoing physical activity or exercise much more effective.

Strength programs come in many, many forms. The best programs are created based on both your physical needs and the types of movement you enjoy, and may include components of body-weight exercises, band-resisted exericses, yoga, pilates, and traditional strength training.

How much work you do in each of these stages will depend on your starting point (current movement quality, activity levels, injury and health history, and the like). The art of creating the best program for YOU means understanding what your body needs in order to handle the activities you love, and then simply working through the steps.

While including all of these components is becoming more widely used in strength and fitness programming, there are many people and places that still miss a step or two. If you have questions about how these steps apply to you, leave a comment here or jump on our Facebook page – we’re happy to talk specifics!


Healthy Habits to Prevent High Blood Pressure

Have high blood pressure, or at high risk for it? Building healthy habits can really help your blood pressure levels. In fact, though there is a genetic component to your individual level, lifestyle choices have an enormous impact on blood pressure – for better or worse!

How is high blood pressure dangerous?

Picture this: You’re filling up a water balloon. As you put in more water, the balloon stretches, and the walls start to thin, which makes them much more susceptible to damage (like when you throw it at someone and it bursts on impact!!). On the other hand, a balloon with only a small amount of water in it will be much harder to damage.

High blood pressure (known in medical terms as hypertension) works in much the same way. The increased pressure on the blood vessel walls makes them more susceptible to damage. Vessels can become more stiff and build up deposits of plaque, leading to the blockage of blood that causes heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure can also damage small blood vessels in your kidneys, eyes, and other organs, which in turn damages the organs themselves. And like the water balloon, blood vessels can also weaken and bulge, forming an aneurysm. An aneurysm that bursts can quickly be life-threatening. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for other diseases and health conditions, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even cognitive conditions.

These high blood pressure complications are not especially appealing! But the lifestyle choices that keep your blood pressure at healthy levels and help prevent complications can be easy, and even enjoyable.

Simple Changes to Lower Blood Pressure

Get daily exercise or physical activity: A healthy heart and blood vessels can be achieved and maintained with as little as 30 minutes of daily activity. You can even break this up into smaller blocks – there is significant evidence that multiple, short bouts of activity have the same health benefits as one longer one. So if a brisk half-hour walk doesn’t sound good, you could try a 10-min walk in the morning and evening, and another 10 minutes of exercise or even active chores like vacuuming to hit your 30 minutes. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active or exercising, please chat with your doctor prior to starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have health problems.

Make healthy food choices: Choose fresh foods that are as close as possible to their natural state. That is, pick lean steak over salami. Eat more whole foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, legumes (beans, lentils, etc.), and fewer pre-prepared foods, as these are generally higher in sodium, cholesterol, and trans fats. Choosing foods with no added sugars will also help. Don’t forget to include beverages in this category too!

Achieve and maintain a healthy weight: Carrying extra body fat can cause blood pressure to rise, and increases physical stress on the body’s systems. Even a small amount of weight loss can have a big impact on blood pressure levels, and additional weight loss can lead to additional improvements. The above two ideas will certainly help with this.

Choose healthy stress management strategies: Gentle physical activity like walking or tai chi, meditation and breathing exercises, keeping a journal or working on arts and crafts are all healthy relaxation ideas. Take some time to have some fun!

Avoid unhealthy stress management: Two common but unhealthy stress management choices that many people make are alcohol and tobacco use. Keep your alcohol consumption under one standard drink per day for women, and two for men. And we all know that tobacco use is deadly – spiking your blood pressure is just one reason why.

Sleep well: Restful sleep is key to stress management. Poor sleep quality can impair your body’s ability to regulate stress hormones, which can lead to increases in blood pressure. On average, adults under the age of 65 should get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Adults over 65 should get 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. If you have trouble getting this amount of sleep, or don’t wake up feeling rested, please talk to your doctor about this. It’s one of the single biggest things you can do to improve your health!

Taking action in any one of these areas can make a significant difference. Making more than one of these choices on a regular basis will help you easily control your blood pressure, and potentially even prevent the need for medication. What’s one change that you can make today?


How To Be Nice To Yourself

This is for you, for me, and for anyone else whose brain has them feeling guilty about their day to day choices…

One of the biggest things I see my clients struggle with is the concept that they should be doing more for themselves in order to reach a particular goal. Exercising more or harder, cutting out carbs, drinking less coffee – I hear this stuff all the time, quite often starting with “I really should…” In fact, their battles with these shoulds are a huge reason my clients seek my help in the first place.

I am intimately acquainted with the way should can rule your life. I, too, often feel like I should be working out more. Shouldn’t be eating toast for dinner when I’m too exhausted to even take the healthier leftovers out of the fridge. Should go to my yoga class because I know I’ll be so much less stressed afterward. Should go to bed so I can get some good sleep, but should also stay up to finish this blog post. (You have just seen a snapshot of my day yesterday. I went to bed.)

Does this sound much like you? I think about my day yesterday and I’m frustrated. I think about all the things I should do today, and I feel guilty because I know right now that there are simply not enough hours in the day to tick all my to-do’s off the list. Neither of these feelings are helpful.

It begs the question: Why do we make ourselves feel so bad?

I am not a psychologist, and I don’t have the answer to “why”, but I do have a great solution. At least, it’s a solution that has been very helpful for me. This is something taught to me by my psychologist, a wonderful woman who is helping me keep my brain from making me miserable.

Rather than telling yourself day in and day out that you should be doing X or Y, what happens if say you prefer to do X or Y??

Since we’re all different, I’m not sure if this is a thing that will click with you. I’ll tell you what happened for me, though, when I made that change.

I went from “I really should go running and eat something healthy for lunch” (Subtext: “If I don’t do these things, I’m ruining my life because I’m still not as fit and healthy as I would like to be and I’m going to have to work so much harder to get to that point and I don’t even have the time to do it eeeeever which is the problem in the first place…” with a rock in my stomach and my shoulders up around my ears.)

… To “I would prefer to go running this morning and eat something healthy for lunch” (Subtext: Those things sound great and enjoyable and I’m looking forward to being able to do that…” and my shoulders haven’t felt this relaxed and loose in ages. Even with the knowledge that those things might not happen.)

I lost the stress and tension surrounding the shoulds, simply by allowing myself to NOT be obligated to do them. Instead, by thinking of them as things I would like to do because I enjoy them (or their benefits), I actually look forward to doing them (and if I don’t get them done, it’s no big deal). The reality is that there are a limited number of hours in a day, and some things can’t be multitasked – hard to run and eat at the same time!

Give yourself a break. You might even find you start rocking this life business even more.


Staying Informed About Your Health Care – A How-To List

Going to the doctor or other health care practitioner can be stressful, and it’s easy to feel rushed when you’re at an appointment. It’s quite often “hurry up and wait”, and that pressure can lead us to rush through our part of the visit as well. We worry we’ll seem slow on the uptake if we don’t understand what’s being told to us, or that having questions will make us seem pushy or uncooperative.

It’s totally normal to feel this way – we’ve been brought up with the concept that doctors are busy and important, so who are we to get in the way? It’s important to remember though, that you are uniquely positioned to discuss your health with your doctor, and you have a duty to yourself to take the best care of your body that you can. After all, you’re the only one with the knowledge and experience of living your life, in your body, and how that feels. No one will care more about your life than you!

That’s not to say your doctor doesn’t care about you – they do want the best for you. But when appointment are set 10-15 minutes apart, if you don’t speak up, it can be easy for the doctor to hit the highlights of what’s happening and what they want to do about it. Unfortunately, hitting the highlights can be easy for a doctor with the background knowledge of how a healthy body works, what might be happening with yours, and what can be done to move back towards good health. Take advantage of this knowledge – you’ll find that your doctor is happy to explain things in more detail. You’ll be better informed, and will likely be able to make better choices about your healthcare for years to come. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your doctor’s appointment, though these points apply to any visit with anyone taking part in your health care, including exercise physiologists and personal trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists – you name it!

Come prepared. Whether you have a list of questions or a list of symptoms – no matter how simple, or how complicated – writing these down in the lead up to your appointment will help you make sure you don’t miss anything. This goes even if it’s just a general check-up.

Take notes at your doctor’s appointment. Your doctor went to school for YEARS to simply begin to understand what they are trying to tell you in five minutes. You probably won’t remember everything they are saying, so be a smarty-pants and write it down. Your doctor will be impressed.

Find out in detail what you can expect from a prescription or treatment. If you don’t know what to expect, how will you know if it’s working? Additionally, some treatments and prescriptions can have heavy-duty side effects, and you should be aware of what to look for.

If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask for clarification. Doctors LOVE patients who are actively engaged in their own medical care, and they’ll take more time to explain things and make sure that you understand to your own satisfaction. Don’t hesitate to ask.

Keep track of your treatments, prescriptions, supplements, and surgeries. Don’t count on your medical office to have an up-to-date list, especially if you are seeing multiple health care practitioners. Helping them stay current will help you get better care.

Pay attention to what happens when you do (or don’t) take your prescriptions, supplements, or otherwise follow doctor’s orders.
Taking (or missing) a tablet, an appointment, or a workout may or may not have an immediate effect (and I’m certainly not suggesting you experiment with skipping things you should be doing!) Sometimes we forget things though, and it’s handy to reflect on whether that makes a difference to how you’re feeling in the days after the fact.

Ask your doctor if they have additional materials that can help you understand your condition or treatment. This is especially useful if you’ve recently been diagnosed with a health condition, or have been prescribed a new treatment of some sort. People learn and retain information in a variety of ways. If your doctor can show you a video, give you a booklet with pictures and information, or otherwise find ways to help you understand what’s going on with your body, you’re likely to gain a much better understanding. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words!

Talk to the nurses! The nursing staff is a collective goldmine of experience, and can answer many of your health questions just as well as the doctor. You might have a little more time with a nurse, as well, so you might as well make the most of it.

Bring a second set of ears. If you have someone close enough to share your health information with, it can be handy to have a second set of ears to help absorb information, and they may ask some good questions that you don’t think of.

Find out how to get further information. It can be tough to get all your info in one visit, and Dr. Google is a BAD doctor. Find out who you can get in touch with, and how to do it, if you have additional questions or want more information.

Don’t be afraid to change doctors. There are pros and cons to this – in many ways, it’s great to be working with someone who is deeply familiar with your health history. But if you find that your doc is unwilling to share information, or you’re otherwise unhappy with your care, it’s worth finding someone you click with.

Don’t forget, your doctor actually works for you. Stay healthy, my friends!


Knowledge Is Power

I recently read an interesting article in the New York Times Health section discussing informed consent in medical treatment. Sounds exciting, right?

Informed consent – a term your doctor probably uses quickly, if at all – sounds in-depth and jargon-y and like it will take a long, painful time to get through, and I’m sick and just fix me already, would you? Wading through the medical-and-legalese can be eye-glazing and overwhelming. You probably don’t need to read this story to know what I’m talking about.

Despite this, as patients we often hastily agree to whatever our doctor recommends rather than risk appearing to not understand what our doctor is telling us, or not wanting to waste their time with our questions. This is human nature, so don’t feel bad if this sounds like you! This is also unfortunate, because whether you’re in for heart surgery or a sinus infection, you should know what your doctor plans to do with your body, what you should expect to happen because of this, and what else could happen by following the treatment plan or by rejecting it.

Sometimes this knowledge doesn’t change a treatment plan: When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, we spend an hour with my oncologist going through his proposed treatment plan, how he expected my body to respond, and what I might experience with side effects. He was very thorough and I’m sure I didn’t hear more than about 20% of what he said. Regardless, when he asked at the end if I wanted to go ahead with treatment, I said “You Bet” and we got started. But after everything sunk it, you can bet that over the next month I pestered every nurse and doctor involved in my treatment about the fine points of this drug, that pill, what does what, and why is this other thing happening. If I didn’t understand the answer, I would ask them to dumb it down. And I’m glad I did…

Sometimes this knowledge does change the plan: About two months into my chemotherapy treatment, I had turned into a rage machine. I was angry all the time, at everything, and truly awful to be around. When I realized I was livid as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning, I knew there was something going on beyond the whole “mad that I had cancer” phase. I knew that the steroid doses given to prevent nausea after a chemo treatment can make a person more prone to anger and depression, so I called my doctor. We dropped the steroid dose, and I was back to a much more normal, tolerable state. If I hadn’t been aware of that potential side effect, I may have been murdered by my family before I could finish cancer treatment.

It pays to know your treatment’s side effects, and to know your body!

This is true whether you’re in a serious situation, as I was, or if you have a mild sinus infection that your doctor wants to treat with antibiotics. I want to emphasize that in no way am I saying that you should outright reject the suggestions of your medical team. What I am saying: knowing and understanding what the plan may entail is useful knowledge, particularly when you’re paying attention to how your body actually reacts to the plan once it’s put in place. No one will know that better than you, and no one will care as much as you do.

This is why it’s so important to me that the information you see on the HealthFit Coaching website is evidence-based (i.e. has scientific research to back it up) and accurate, giving you tools to understand your body and your health, and to make decisions that YOU are confident are in your best interest.

Knowledge is power, and you have to be your own best advocate, because no one else will.


Three Great Benefits Of Hiking

Want a workout you don’t have to think about? Head out for a hike!

Every time my husband and I go hiking (bushwalking in Australia), I wonder why we don’t do it more often. It’s so many things I love. Good exercise, beautiful scenery, very relaxing – just a great time with friends and family. I’m always really happy to get my exercise in a non-gym setting doing something I enjoy.

Hiking is also a kick-ass way to exercise, whether you are trying to or not. Here are three reasons why:

It’s a different way to walk.

Hiking trails are not usually smooth and level. There are rocks, roots, puddles, streams, holes in the ground, branches falling across where they shouldn’t be – all things that you have to step over and get around. This results in a change from our normal walking gait, which changes how we use our muscles. Moving in unusual directions – like when you have to step up and sideways to step over something – is a greater challenge than simply moving forward in a straight line. That results in better joint mobility, functional flexibility, and more calories burned.

Stepping up and over this stuff is a bit of a stretch!

Stepping up and over this stuff is a bit of a stretch!

It can throw some great intervals at you.

You can’t adjust the incline in nature! Hiking is great for climbing up hills, then coming back down, often with repeated ups and downs. And even if you are more or less just headed uphill, you can stop when you feel like it to catch your breath and get a drink. Just like any interval training you do at the gym, working hard for a period and then allowing your heart rate to come back down is a really effective workout.

Taking breaks on the uphills turns your hike into great interval training.

Taking breaks on the uphills turns your hike into great interval training.

Relax!

Getting out into nature and exercise that consists of repetitive movements (i.e. hiking, walking, etc.) both have been shown to decrease stress on their own. This is a result of a decreased level of stress hormones and an increased production of endorphins, biochemical that elevate your mood and work as the body’s natural painkillers. Combine them and get an even bigger bang for your buck. Plus, unlike other workouts where you’re counting reps or desperately counting the seconds until you can stop running, you get to just head out, follow the trail, and enjoy the scenery.

Made it up the hill and enjoying the view.

Made it up the hill and enjoying the view.

Need additional reasons to get outside? Getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city means cleaner air, beautiful landscapes, and friendly people. I’m always surprised at how many people will stop for a quick chat to tell you about a not-to-be-missed lookout, or give you a heads up if there’s a significant obstacle ahead. Even for an introvert like me, it can make the experience a lot more enjoyable. Want to share your favorite hike? Let us know in the comments – we’ll understand if you want to keep it a secret though!