Treating You Like Family

I’ve noticed a trend in the health and fitness industry, and I bet you have too:

Long waits, and short appointments.

This actually is tough on everyone involved in the process: your health care team, including doctors, medical staff, and allied health practitioners, and of course, YOU.

Part of my success has stemmed from my willingness and ability to take plenty of time to get to know you, your body, what you want and need, and importantly, what a realistic program for achieving this looks like. This is a departure from the rapid turn-around times that are rapidly becoming the norm in health care (and is one of the reasons I really like being the boss!).

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not faulting the medical or allied health community at large. These people got into their work to help others, just like I have. They are often working within larger systems and sometimes under constraints that demand high patient volumes and ever-shortening appointment times. Couple this with the time it takes to clearly explain the basics of any given health condition, sometimes numerous treatment options, potential outcomes and side effects, and it’s no wonder that many patients are confused about what’s going on in their bodies. It’s not an outcome anyone is looking for.

Since I have the luxury of time, I want to use it. My goal for each patient I see is that I give them the gold standard of health care: A patient-centred approach. This means making sure I realllllly understand you. As well providing you with the best exercise and nutrition programs, I want to get what’s important to you, what your priorities are, and what achieving your goals will actually mean for your quality of life. After all, what’s the point of dieting so strictly that you miss out on your kid’s birthday party (or are too grumpy to enjoy it!)??

It also means taking the time to make sure YOU understand what you’re dealing with. I want you to understand what’s going on with your body, how your program will help, and what this means for your quality of life. In understanding your body and how it’s working, you’ll be able to more easily make informed decisions about your health care and fitness. My ultimate goal is that you are comfortable with, and confident in, your own approach to living a healthy life.

In treating you like family, I mean that I’m driven to give the same care and kindness that I want my mother to be treated with. There’s no yelling, no guilt, and no expectations other than what you’ve set for yourself. You’ll get all the time you need to understand your body and how to help it work better, and support to help you fit your new healthy habits into your lifestyle. Really, it’s all about making your program work for you, and feeling great because of it!


Woman asleep in white bed in wood paneled room

Wake Up Happy

Sleeping well is the most underrated and overlooked thing you can do for your health and fitness. Not only does a good night’s sleep help you feel better and get through your day more easily, it also keeps your body systems ticking along in tip top shape.

According to Sleep: A Health Imperative, published in the journal Sleep, 37.1% of American adults experiencing inadequate sleep; the number of Australian adults is similar at 39.8%, according to a report commissioned by the Australian Sleep Health Foundation.

That’s a lot of people not sleeping well, or enough. And as long as daily functioning isn’t impacted, why not spend more time on work and play? Well, because eventually sleep deficits can catch up to you. And it’s not just feeling it (things like simple tiredness, poor daytime function, and microsleeps) — it’s also your health.

Most research shows that 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night is what will keep you healthy. Less than 6 hours per night will drive a cumulative sleep deficit that stresses cells and changes how the brain (and therefore the body) functions. In turn, this changes the way your metabolism, immune system, and nervous system work. This sets the stage for:

  • Increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary heart disease, and possibly stroke.
  • Increased risk of obesity, possibly due to changes in hormonal control of hunger signals, as well as decreased glucose tolerance and development of type 2 diabetes.
  • Increased risk of numerous types of cancer, including break, colon or colorectal, and prostate, which may be linked to an overall increase in cell damage throughout the body.

Ok, so it’s not good for you – you know that. Does that mean it’s time to make an appointment to see the doc for some sleeping tablets?

Nah. For most of us, good sleep is a matter of making some easy lifestyle adjustments. Start with the easiest and work your way through the list as you can or need to. Everything you do will help!

  • Make your room dark. Blackout blinds will limit light from outside. Inside the room, minimize any lights (from electronics or other devices), and a trusty eye mask will help if your partner insists on reading in bed.
  • Keep your room cool. Research suggests that optimal room temperatures range from 16-18°C, or 60-67°F, since that’s neither too cold (keeping you from falling asleep), nor too warm (causing restless sleep).
  • Make your bed comfortable. Find a mattress that gives you enough space, support, and comfort. The best mattress and pillow will allow you to stay in good posture while you sleep: with your head, neck, and spine in alignment. A mattress that is too soft will cause you to slouch, and a mattress that is too firm will put pressure on contact points like hips or shoulders. Pillows should allow your head and neck to stay in a straight(ish) line with your spine in your preferred sleeping position.
  • Make your room quiet. Loud or unusual noises will disturb your sleep, which you probably already know! If you live somewhere where this is common, using a white noise player (via specialized machines or simply any number of Youtube tracks) can help mask outside noises and lull you to sleep.
  • Develop a bedtime routine. When you create a routine around the tasks of going to bed, it helps your brain recognize that it’s time to wind down. This makes it easier to fall asleep, especially if your routine is a relaxing one.
  • Make your room a haven. Bedrooms should not be multi-purpose rooms; sleep scientists recommend only using your bedroom for sleep and sex. Choose paint, sheets, curtains or blinds, and other decor that you love, and going to sleep will be the best part of your day!
Want more information? Try these references:
Sleep – A Health Imperative, from the academic journal Sleep  https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/35/6/727/2709360#124879694
The Sleep Solution, by Dr. W. Chris Winter https://www.amazon.com/Sleep-Solution-Why-Your-Broken/dp/0399583602
Asleep On The Job: A Sleep Health Foundation Report http://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/files/Asleep_on_the_job/Asleep_on_the_Job_SHF_report-WEB_small.pdf

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!

 

Have your own question about your health and fitness? Submit it to info@healthfitcoaching.com to get a clear answer on how you can move easily and feel great.

 

 

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