Three Easy Ways To Drink More Water

Want to drink more water? We all have the best intentions when it comes to staying hydrated, but for such a simple task, it can still be tough to keep up with. It doesn’t have to be though. Try one of two of these simple options and keep your body happy.

Start The Day Right

Are you a coffee or tea drinker? (I am a coffee drinker. A lot of coffee.) While you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or the coffee to brew, get yourself a glass of water. Drink at least some of it while you wait. Make it interesting if you want: I drink mine warm, sometimes with lemon. I hear I’m weird like that.

Use A Straw

For whatever reason, it’s way easier and faster to drink a lot of water (or anything) through a straw. Invest in a plastic tumbler with a straw and keep it full and nearby. You’ll be amazing how often you’ll need to fill it up. Bonus: Most of those cups are double walled, so your cold drinks stay cold.

Stick With Small Glasses

Think a bigger glass will help you drink more? Well, it might, but it also might not. One of the biggest truths in the health and fitness industry: Success breeds success. Drink one small glass and it’s easier to drink another. Drink several glasses today, and you’ll be more likely to tomorrow. String together a few days and you’re well on your way to a great habit.

Looking for practical ways to improve your health and fitness? Four weeks can change your next forty years. Spend some time with a HealthFit health coach and find out just how healthy you can get. Find out more.


Cartoon of two people sitting down having a conversation

Why Healthcare Is Like Dating

You’re looking for someone to care about you, enough so that they want the best for you.

Could be dating, could be finding a new healthcare provider. Whether going well or not, these two situations have a lot of similarities. They boil down to some base questions:

Are you meeting the right kind of person?

In dating, you want to meet someone that you have something in common with.

In healthcare, you want to meet a provider that has training “in common” with your condition. A doctor for illnesses, a dietician for nutritional advice, a massage therapist and exercise physiologist for muscle imbalance and injury prevention – the list could go on and on.

Are you meeting them at the right time?

I recently had a client come in with debilitating back pain. She could hardly move. She’d already been to the physiotherapist, who had given her some exercises to increase her core strength (the right solution, long term)… that she couldn’t do, because she could hardly move. What she needed was the right type of healthcare for her present condition – in this case, remedial massage to relieve the muscle spasm and allow the exercises to work. For the most effective and efficient outcome, you need the right healthcare at the right time.

Do you like them?

In healthcare and dating, there are many fish in the sea. Your doctor, exercise physiologist, dietician, remedial massage therapist, physiotherapist, etc. has approximately the same training as all the others in their field. But, as with dating, just because a person meets basic criteria doesn’t mean that you have to stick with them. Better healthcare happens when you have good communication, and good communication happens when you connect with people. Look for someone who listens to you, asks good questions about how you feel, wants your input, looks to make you a part of the solution, and is nice to you!

(And just like dating, when you find a good one, hang onto them!)


Brain-Boosting Exercise

Exercise 101:  It builds muscle, and increases fitness, and can make life a little easier – and not just physically!

It’s well known that exercise and physical activity helps you maintain good physical health. Did you know that exercise is good for your mental health too? Maybe you’ve heard that it’s a primary treatment recommendation for depression, or heard a friend describe getting a mental boost from a workout. Maybe you’ve had the really strong “I FEEL GREAT” feelings after you’re done. But where does that boost come from?

exercise fun

While these “feel-good” feelings are stimulated by exercise, their actual source is in the brain itself. During times of stress, which is how the body perceives exercise, the brain releases endorphins, a type of hormone that we commonly associated with a rush of euphoria. These hormones help block any pain signals that the stress might be causing, as a preventative measure of sorts.

They also make you feel damn good. As above, endorphins create feelings of euphoria – they are chemically similar to morphine! – and can increase positive thoughts and feelings. The “endorphin effect” can be both immediate and (with regular exercise) long-lasting. My first-hand experience with post-workout elation and exhilaration has made me a strong supporter of exercise as a useful element of treatment for depression and anxiety, both of which have popped up in my life. And there’s growing support that exercise can play a role in treatment and prevention of other mental illnesses, including helping to manage physical health challenges that can sometimes occur alongside.

It’s not just about feeling good, though. Long-term mental health can also get a boost from exercise. During times of stress, the brain releases another biochemical protein: brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein protects brain cells and their connections with each other, called synapses, which in turn helps improve brain cell signaling and can reverse cell damage. Improved connections between brain circuits mean improved memory, attention span, and processing speed. In some studies, increased levels of BDNF have actually been shown to have a reparative effect, and may eventually help us restore learning abilities and memory. Even low-key or modest levels of exercise, like going for a walk every day, have been show to produce BDNF-related improvements.

Neurons

The protective effects of BDNF extend throughout life. Many studies of brain health in older adults have shown that people who were more physically active earlier in life were less likely to develop degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In the early stages of these diseases, people can also benefit from exercise: the aforementioned walk can help prevent disease progression. We tend to produce less BDNF as we age. Given the benefits, it makes sense to get moving regardless of current age or mental health.

Biochemicals aside, exercise actually benefits the brain in some of the same ways that it benefits the rest of our body. The blood vessels in our brains are very small, but still susceptible to the same types of damage as any of our other blood vessels. A stroke is one of the most common types of cardiovascular disease, and is the brain equivalent of a heart attack. While large strokes are usually quickly noticeable, small ones may occur without your knowledge. Tiny blockages leading to potentially unnoticeable mini-strokes can damage small areas of the brain and may lead to long-term mental health decline. You can vastly decrease your risks though: Your brain’s blood vessels are positively affected by exercise – the same way as the rest of your blood vessels throughout your body. Good blood vessel health (also called vascular health) also means optimal blood flow to the brain, and with it, optimal delivery of nutrients and oxygen. Sounds like a good idea to keep those channels open!


Sick middle age woman blowing her nose

Client Question: Should I Exercise When I’m Sick?

Another great question from one of our exercise physiology clients in St Lucia:

Should I exercise when I’m sick?

In broad terms, moderate exercise and good fitness support good health. But improving your fitness levels doesn’t guarantee that you’ll never catch a cold or the flu. Here are your science-supported guidelines for exercising when you’re sick.

  • Consider how sick you actually are. If your illness is moderate to severe, with an associated fever, aching muscles, extreme fatigue, or swollen glands, skip your workout and rest up. Do what you would normally do to get yourself better, whether that’s heading to the doctor or heading to bed with some extra vitamin C.
  • If you are severely ill, with the above symptoms, you may need as much as two to four weeks away from moderate to intense exercise. Illness and exercise both stress the immune system in the same way, and depending on what type of viral or bacterial infection, pushing through to work out when you’re sick can actually make your illness worse. In extreme cases, this can lead to lasting damage to your heart or lungs.
  • If your illness is minor, without any associated fever, muscles aches or fatigue, or swollen glands, you might be ok to exercise. General guidelines suggest that:
    • If your symptoms occur above the neck (stuffy or runny nose, dry cough, or sore/scratchy throat), you’re safe to start with easy exercise or activity – think short sessions that are low intensity, like heading out for a walk. If you find your symptoms get worse, stop exercise until they improve.
    • If you’ve got symptoms below the neck (fever, aching muscles, vomiting, diarrhea, or anything else to do with your digestive tract), rest up until your symptoms go away.
  • Use your common sense. Do you feel too tired to work out, or otherwise just don’t feel up to it? Your body is giving you the answer right there! You wont make any gains when working out under fatigue or illness, and in fact you may prolong your recovery. Get some extra sleep and get back to quality exercise when you’re feeling ready for it.

Putting your workouts on hold can be frustrating, especially when you’re working hard to build your momentum and maintain your progress. If you’re feeling this, take a minute to step back and look at the big picture: You could push through and do your workout, but will it be worth it? You’re unlikely to make any gains in fitness, and may prolong your illness and recovery. We all need more sleep anyway, so indulge in that, get better faster, and get back to life as you want it!

For more information:
Gleeson, M. (Ed.). (2006). Immune function in sport and exercise. Sydney: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
Plowman, S. A., & Smith, D. L. (2017). Exercise Physiology For Health, Fitness, and Performance (5th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

 

 

Get started with a safe exercise that will improve your health and fitness with an in-home exercise physiology program from HealthFit Coaching. Regardless of your current health levels, you can safely work out to improve your health, fitness, energy levels, and quality of life. Contact us now to find out how.


Deep sleep in a comfortable bed

Over-extended?

The last few weeks have been HECTIC. I’m prone to working a lot. A lot, a lot. All the time. I’m way interested in what I do, I’m passionate about helping people feel better, and I have a lot less anxiety when my To-Do list is at a manageable level. Every now and then these tendencies lead to me over-extending myself, and then being somewhat (very) sorry.

I’ve spent the last three weeks working what felt like triple overtime, without taking a break from the hour or two of research, planning, and reading that I try to do daily AND maintaining some semblance of a workout routine… Turns out that burning the candle at both ends will in fact catch up with you.

No big surprise, I got sick. I’m finally on the tail end of a head cold, which doesn’t sound terrible (and isn’t, as far as sick goes) but really knocked me down. One of life’s not-so-subtle reminders to slow down, I’ve been prompted to remember:

  • Sleep is ok. Seriously, your job will be there tomorrow and your body doesn’t expect you to kill yourself over the job. That’s a big one for me, and I also have to remind myself that all my little projects that I’d like to finish and the entire internet will be there for me to look at tomorrow too.
  • Prioritizing is ok. We all have long lists of things that we would like to get done, feel like we should get done, or actually have to get done. I’m trying to be a little more conscious about the fact that an extra 20 minutes cooking a healthy dinner that will also be my lunch for tomorrow is way better than eating two cheese sandwiches and snacking my way through the next workday. I’m working on putting down the things that aren’t making me happy and healthy, sooner, so I can more quickly get to the things that ARE good for me.
  • Easing back into exercise is ok. Fatigue sticks around, especially when you’ve got to jump right back into other commitments and hit the ground running. I did a half hour of yoga when I got home this afternoon, and took the easiest option for every pose. And I still feel like I had a workout. So even through I’d love to go out for a run tomorrow… The smart thing to do will be to keep it to a low-key walk. Or sleep a little longer (see above).

We all have habits that challenge our health rather than support it. I’m working on recognizing mine and giving myself permission to look after myself first and foremost – playing catch-up isn’t much fun.

How can you take care of yourself today?

 


Middle age man sitting in a relaxed position

Deep Breathing For Better Energy

How often do you feel exhausted, sluggish, weary or worn out?

People frequently feel like they don’t have enough energy for the things they have to do, let alone for the things that they want to do! In fact, about 20% of the population reports feeling fatigue that lasts for a month or more.

It’s probably no surprise that there are strong associations between high levels of fatigue, low levels of energy, and a number of physical and mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, and diabetes. Even if you are otherwise healthy, low energy levels and high fatigue can be a huge drain on your quality of life. We’d all like to get home from work and still have the energy to connect with family, walk the dog, or spend some time on hobbies.

Numerous activities can increase or decrease energy levels. Think of how you feel after a poor night’s sleep or hours of work on a presentation, or the effect of a short walk or powernap. Hundreds of scientific studies have found that mind-body interventions, including yoga practices, are effective in treating stress-related mental and physical disorders. The calming effects are attributed, in part, to the emphasis on controlled breathing, which can lead to neurological, and biochemical changes that impact our feelings of stress and energy.

Admittedly, working to create calm might not seem like a great way to create energy. But science has shown that the relationship between breath and emotions is a two-way street. Stress levels can change your breathing patterns, but the way you breathe will actually significantly influence your stress levels. Deliberate deep breathing creates a physical effect that is the opposite of the famous “fight or flight” response. It can decrease heart rate and blood pressure, enhance immune function, and increase stress tolerance. The combined physical effects of deep breathing and attention on the breath can lead to sharpened focus and clearer thinking. After even just a minute or two of deep breathing, many people report feeling both calmer and more energized.

Here’s how to do it: Find somewhere where you can sit comfortably and not be disturbed for at least a couple of minutes. Focus on taking slow, deep breaths, expanding your rib cage from top to bottom and side to side as you breathe in. Aim to slowly inhale for five seconds, and slowly exhale for five seconds, or as close to that as you comfortably can. Continue this breathing pattern for up to five minutes – though even a few breaths like this can be helpful.

 

Are you looking for more practical, easy to apply advice like this? HealthFit Coaching provides in-home health, fitness, and nutrition coaching all across Brisbane. Contact us for a free, no-obligation call and find out how we can help you.


Dog sleeping soundly on a bed

Quick tips for a good night’s sleep

It’s easy to just fall into bed at the end of the evening, but a few simple tips can take you from dozing to dreaming.

While much of the HealthFit focus is on exercise, movement, and healthy eating, you can make all the right choices when you’re awake and still not make great progress if you aren’t getting quality sleep. Poor sleep has been definitively linked to hormonal and metabolic disturbances, and is associated with a number of cardiovascular, metabolic, and psychiatric disease states. Also (not surprisingly), poor quality sleep can lead to a next-day impact on levels of sleepiness, mental performance, mood, patience, and general wellbeing. If you’re finding that you aren’t waking up well-rested, or that you have high levels of fatigue day after day, try the tips below to boost your sleep quality literally overnight!

Black out your bedroom. While it might not be possible to completely black out your bedroom, minimizing light sources can make a big difference to your sleep quality. Close the blinds or curtains as much as possible, and minimize electronics in the room. Even though they are small, the blinking lights on your phone, TV, clock, or other electronics can still disrupt your sleep. If you can’t move your devices, try covering their lights with a bit of tape, or throwing a towel over them at night. An eyemask is also a good option for keeping out the light.

“Goldilocks” it: Keep your room temperature just right. Not too cold, not too hot. Research has shown that the best temperatures to sleep at range between 60° to 67° F, or about 16° to 19° C. Keep an extra blanket nearby as well, as you may find that you cool off substantially in the middle of the night.

Keep your bedroom quiet. You may feel like you can sleep well regardless of noise levels. Your brain doesn’t handle noise very well though! Even relatively quiet noises at night can lift the brain out of deeper sleep levels, in turn decreasing REM. Some research has shown sound-reducing tools like earplugs, and sound masking tools like white noise, can improve sleep quality in noisy environments, though there is also evidence that even white noise can be disruptive to sleep. As always, stick with what works for you.

Stick with a sleep pattern. From a biochemical perspective, your body likes a routine. Production of the hormones and biochemicals that prepare your body to sleep can adapt to long-term changes in sleeping patterns, but if there’s no pattern at all, your body won’t be preparing for sleep at its best. (To start your day well, try the same wake-up time as well, as your body also prepares for waking with biochemical fluctuations.)

If you try any of these tips, or have another that helps you get restful, satisfying sleep, please share in the comments! Sleep tight!


fit middle age woman standing with good posture at a standing desk in a blue office

Are Standing Desks Better Than Sitting?

Short answer: probably, but actually not by much! But there’s a third – and much better – option.

Ever since standing desks became widely available several years ago, people have been asking: are they really worth it?

Spending hours every day sitting is definitely not great for your health, and society is moving more and more towards jobs that keep us at a desk and computer the majority of our working hours. You’re probably aware that prolonged sitting can leave you feeling stiff and sore. Muscle fatigue can actually build up from holding a single position for an extended time, and seated positions allow the abdominal muscles in particular to slacken and weaken. This leads to increased pressure on the vertebral discs of the lower back, and can increase the risk of significant lower back injury over time, especially coupled with changes in muscle tension that occur in this position.

If sitting for so long is so bad for you, should you rush out and get yourself a standing desk? Actually, no. Though it might be a better option than sitting for hours per day, going cold turkey and standing for the same period has its own set of problems. A standing desk is by no means a guaranteed cure for a tight neck and shoulders stemming from computer use, as it’s just as easy to slouch with these desks – sometimes easier, since you may end up leaning on it to a greater extent. Standing for hours on end can create muscle fatigue in the lower body, as your legs may not be used to supporting your body weight for long periods. As a result, most people tend to shift on their feet and can end up in awkward standing positions, putting more stress on joints of the lower body, hips, and lower back. Prolonged standing is also more challenging to the circulatory system than sitting is, so it may not be a healthy option for people with circulatory conditions, and it can contribute to varicose veins.

So if sitting for hours is bad and standing for hours not much better, are you doomed to discomfort for the rest of your working days? Not necessarily. Your best bet is to invest in a sit-stand combination desk. These desks allow you to vary the height of your desk to allow for both optimal sitting and standing heights, so you can choose your working posture as you see fit. Studies have shown that the body doesn’t handle being in any posture for long periods of time, and responds well to this mix of movement as shown by decreased aches and pains (and subsequent days off work and/or medical treatment) and increased feelings of comfort and productivity while desk-bound. Physically, frequently changing positions also helps maintain normal nerve function and maintains good blood supply for the muscles.

If you don’t have access to a variable height desk, there are a few options. Desktop additions are available that allow you to raise or lower the height of your monitor, keyboard, and mouse, effectively turning any desk into a sit-stand desk. And no matter what kind of desk you have, frequently getting up for a walk around the office is one of the nicest things you can do for your body. Put a reminder in your phone or email to get up for a walk or a stretch and get yourself moving!

 

Image By Kennyrhoads (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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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Very happy woman giving thumbs up after health coaching

Get Motivated With An Awesome List

I read a piece from the Smarter Living section of the New York Times earlier this week discussing reader tips for outsmarting procrastination. While one reader had gotten his do-it-now mantra tattooed on his arm, it was another reader that submitted the tip that really struck me as spot-on:

Make your list.

Not the list you might be thinking of though – decidedly NOT a To Do list and not quite a wish list, either. The reader in question titled her list “I Will Feel Great About Today If I…” and noted that this particular list is all about giving yourself the reward of feeling awesome every day. This “reward” can be directly linked to the release of dopamine – the feel-good neurotransmitter – and the pleasure centers of the brain.

Why is this important?

Procrastination can be defined as the absence of progress, or the voluntary delay of an important task, despite knowing that you’ll suffer as a result. Avoiding a task or activity that you know is good for you, or that you need to do, often will lead to guilt, anxiety, or shame, and then to further avoidance of the task. Even thinking about those feelings is not fun! In the long run this can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health.

Back to the list!

I’m calling it The Awesome List. As a concept, recognizing that you can help yourself feel awesome is perfectly aligned with the Be Nice To Yourself bedrock of HealthFit Coaching. As a practical tool, this concept is simple and easily applied (though it may not make the actual tasks any more fun). I love this so much that it’s immediately gone into the coaching processes.

The biggest benefits of making and sticking with your own Awesome List:

  1. It will help you prioritize. Keep your daily Awesome List short, with no more than three tasks. Remember that this isn’t a To Do list and will not encompass all you’ll get done in a day. Rather, this is about decreasing the dread that comes with the To Do list. Think of which task(s) you’ll be the most relieved to get done, or are the most challenged by. Start with one task a day.
  1. You get to Recognize the Suck! Many tasks we put off doing are challenging, outside our comfort zone, or things that we just plain don’t want to do. It’s not uncommon to think of the task, think “ugh, not looking forward to that” and then immediately think “But I should be better at it/should enjoy doing this/should be more motivated/etc. etc. etc.” You may recognize some of these thought patterns! Like ripping a band-aid off, admitting that you don’t want to do it can actually make it easier to get the task started and get it done!
  1. You’ll get a mental boost. This is the crux of The Awesome List! Anytime you do or get something that you wanted, your brain releases dopamine. Checking items off your Awesome List will lead to dopamine increases, and you’ll also get to bask in your accomplishment! Yay for you! And yay, because it will make it so much easier to do it again tomorrow.
  1. Reinforces your competence and ability to get things done! We often hold ourselves back because doing new or unusual things can be intimidating. Hopelessness at starting a new task and fear of failure can loom large. But as the saying goes, done is better than perfect, even if you feel challenged by the process. No longer will you feel hopeless. You did it!