The new year brings potential for a fresh start. You're all fired up about cleaning up your nutrition and putting the work in to burn off the extra pounds you just gained over the holidays. You hit the gym for a couple of weeks, but then your adherence begins to wane as the excitement dies down. How can you keep this from happening to you? How can you keep your New Year's resolutions year-round? Let's discuss some strategies.
PROPER GOAL SETTING
One third of those who make resolutions quit before the end of January. This is in part due to a lack of planning and detail of the resolutions being made. Any goal you make should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely.
CREATE AN ACTION PLAN
So now you've got your goals ironed out, and they're SMART. Not only that but you have smaller sub-goals lined up as well. From here you'll need to develop a plan of action: how are you going to reach your goals?
Outline your gameplan. Write it down. Talk to a friend or family member about it and get some feedback. Put this plan somewhere easily accessible and review it regularly. Set reminders on your phone or write your necessary actions down in your calendar. Review the following week before it begins so that you can mentally prepare yourself for your newly-adjusted schedule.
MAKE IT A TRUE PRIORITY
Once you've set your goals, it is critical that you make the actions leading to those goals a true priority. This requires a shift in mindset regardless of what your goal is. Losing weight (and keeping it off), eating better (indefinitely), keeping a clean house (indefinitely), spending more time with your children (indefinitely): all of these things require a long-term lifestyle change.
It's said that when something is truly a priority to you, you will find (or make) the time for it. If it is not a true priority, you will make excuses. It's not something that most people want to hear, but it is true all the same.
The trick to this is to think of your goal as an unquestionable daily requirement. Just as you get dressed, eat breakfast, brush your teeth and go to work you will also put in that time at the gym, cleaning house, with your kids, etc. Take out the notion that you have a choice. If you really want to reach that goal, you WILL take the necessary steps to get there.
Part of the way you can help steel your resolve is by employing visualization techniques. When you feel your intentions wavering, take some time out and mentally picture your goal being actualized: you've lost the weight and fit into that dress you wanted; you have more energy and feel great from eating a healthy, balanced diet; your house is pristine and visitors are complimenting how clean you've kept it; you share a stronger bond with your kids from the time you have spent together.
But don't just SEE it -- FEEL it. How do you feel now that you've lost the weight? How do you feel about your eating habits? How does it feel to have such a clean and organized living space? How does it feel to share that irreplaceable time with your children?
Keep those mental images and feelings on tap so you can draw from them whenever you need. Write down your goals and keep them in a place you see frequently such as your bathroom mirror or at your desk at work, or keep them with you and repeat them thoughtfully whenever you are struggling.
Your accountability can be anything from hiring a personal trainer to checking in with a friend or relative to posting about what you did on social media or blog. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you have someone else following along who can and will ask you about your resolutions if you don't tell them first.
Set clear expectations and be sure that wherever or however you are creating accountability, you receive that feedback and questioning piece.
FIND SUPPORT & RESOURCES
Having support along the way is crucial to your success, but the good news is that there are all sorts of accountability groups online even if you don't know anyone willing to be that cheerleader you need when things get tough. Join a Facebook group or forum, introduce yourself and make it a point to get to know a few other active members to generate the rapport you need. Find a training or support group either in your area or online. Spend some time on your search engine of choice looking for resources: websites, books, reference guides or (better yet) honest to God people who are knowledgeable about the subject of your resolution. The more access to data and interaction you have, the more likely you will succeed because your goals will be in the forefront of your thoughts multiple times a day as you engage with those people or materials.
Keeping track of where you started and where you're going is important during any pursuit. Take photos of yourself before you start working out or eating better, of your house before you begin your new cleaning regimen. Write notes about how your relationship with your children is before you begin making more time for them. Be aware that you will likely feel all sorts of negative emotions when you do this, because after all this is something that you wish to change about yourself. But if you don't record your starting point, how can you truly track where you are in your plan?
Don't just take "before" photos or notes, either. Be sure continue doing so at specific intervals: each week perhaps, or each month. Be sure you update your log at a regular interval that is not too spread out from your last entry.
Review your log each time you add a new entry and compare where you are to where you were before. If something is not going well, reflect back on your actions and behaviors to see if you can discern the root cause. This will help you to adapt your action plan (and possibly your goals) accordingly.
REWARD YOURSELF FOR REACHING MILESTONES
It's too easy for you to say, "I've been doing good so I'm going to eat a cheat meal" and then that quickly turns into a return to your prior poor nutritional habits. Establish a reward system for yourself: when X happens, I will Y. "When I have lost 10 pounds, I will get that scarf I've been eyeing" or "When I have consistently spent time with my kids each day for 2 weeks I will plan a special date with my significant other for a place I've wanted to go."
It's optimal if the reward you intend for yourself once you achieve your intermediate task is related or beneficial to your end goal. This isn't a requirement, but it does better set you up for success. Maybe you purchase a new piece of training gear or something you can use to meal prep more conveniently for example.
LEGITIMATE REASON OR EXCUSE?
When your visualization techniques aren't working and you're on the fence about whether to persist toward your goal or take a break for a day, I find that it is incredibly helpful to take a step back. Look at the situation and the argument against taking the necessary steps toward your goal. Is that argument valid reasoning, or an excuse?
Examples of potentially valid reasoning:
Examples of excuses:
IT'S OKAY TO MAKE MISTAKES
Everyone falls off the wagon from time to time. It happens to the best of us. It is therefore crucial that you cultivate a sense of self-forgiveness when you mess up. If this is an issue you struggle with, take some time to read this article from Psychology Today.
Another important thing is to prevent the mistake from becoming habitual. If this is a challenge for you, take a look at this article about how to break bad habits.
It is okay to make mistakes. Each time you do and learn from them, you gain a little more self-knowledge to help you succeed in the future. Just get back on the wagon, let it go, and keep on rollin' from wherever you are now.
The bulk of the nation is in the midst of travel or inundated with lots of dietary challenges with all the holiday parties, events with big dinners, and year-end celebrations as we ramp up for 2019. Historically this is the season that is busiest for me, and I don't have as much time to cook.
Although this week's article is about how to eat when on the move, it's also useful for people who are just too busy to meal prep. Nutrition is one of the largest factors in your overall health and wellness, so to toss that out the window because you have a lot going on or are traveling makes settling into your usual routine a nightmare once things calm down. So let's get to it: ways to mitigate the damage to your hard work.
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES
The actual transportation portion of your trip is the first place you have an opportunity to take responsibility for your own success. Here are some things you can do while in transit:
I'M HERE. NOW WHAT?
The next thing to consider is what happens when you get where you're going. While many will be eating home-cooked meals at least on the holidays themselves and it's hard to tell Grandma that you don't want three helpings, those who love us care about our well-being and we need to think in terms of the long con rather than short-term satisfaction.
In the information age we have all kinds of research at our fingertips, but not a lot of time to sift through to find the accurate advice from the chaff. There are also plenty of commonly-held beliefs that hold sway simply because we hear them all the time. Today we'll deconstruct some common misconceptions and myths and (hopefully) perform a little course correction.
Myth #1: Crunches Will Give You a 6-Pack
The Truth: Abs are made through a favorable change in body composition achieved through a combination of cardio, resistance and core training supported by healthy eating habits.
Core work including crunches increases muscular endurance, strength, spinal stabilization and posture. However, if you eat a poorly-balanced and/or highly processed diet, refrain from cardio and resistance training you will not get that 6-pack. In my personal experience, that nutrition piece has been the key that makes all the training fall into place when it comes to midriff muscle definition.
Myth #2: Eating Late At Night Will Make You Fat
The Truth: The total number of calories you consume throughout the day is what matters.
When you eat your daily allotment of calories matters less than your energy intake vs. output. That said, eating smaller meals throughout the day or engaging in intermittent fasting helps keep hunger at bay and may prevent you from overeating, which is the common late night culprit.
Myth #3: More Protein Means More Muscle
The Truth: Your body can only synthesize a certain amount of protein; excess is passed through the urine.
The maximum amount of protein one can assimilate for the use of building muscle per meal is 30g depending on body type, kind of training you do and metabolism. When you exceed that amount, you place a strain on your kidney and colon as you pass that protein out through your urine. You may even see weight gain (that is not muscle). Nutritionists say that one should focus on eating a balanced diet.
Note: it is also commonly believed that eating protein every few hours is important to maintain muscle. Research, however, indicates that as long as you consume the required amount through meals there is no need for more.
Myth #4: Weight Training Means Getting Bulky
The Truth: If you want to turn into the Hulk, you'll need to overhaul your nutrition plan in addition to pumping iron.
Women in particular are often terrified that if they train with weights they will bulk up, and that just isn't going to happen because women lack the chemical makeup required. Unless a woman adjusts to extreme training volumes, strict dietary habits and potentially supplementation she will not turn into a bodybuilder -- and nor will men for that matter! Take a look at this article for an in-depth look at this concern.
Myth #5: The More You Sweat, The More Fat You Burn
The Truth: The harder your body is working, the more calories you will burn.
If you're running outside in Houston in the summer you'll sweat more than you would indoors on a treadmill with the A/C set to 60. Your sweat isn't an accurate metric.
Myth #6: No PAin, No Gain
The Truth: Pain is not an indication of muscle growth; it is an indication that you are working beyond your body's current capacity, are fatigued or possibly suffering nutrient deficiencies. Increases to your number of reps, the weight you can lift, cardiovascular endurance, and physical appearance are more reliable indicators.
You need to listen to your body in order to avoid injury. If you are always sore after a workout, you are likely pushing too hard and have a greater potential for injury. If your pain lasts for several days, you need to get it checked out as it may be an injury.
Athletes in particular (and by 'athlete' I am referring to anyone who trains consistently) are more likely to ignore pain during their workouts, which actually sets them up for injury as they don't go to the doctor or take steps to treat the issue when symptoms arise. See this article about workout pains you should never ignore.
Myth #7: Vegans and Vegetarians Can't Build Muscle
The Truth: Plants have protein.
I have been vegan for 2 years, and was vegetarian for a decade before that. I certainly don't have any problem building muscle. As with anyone else with any form of diet, it's about balancing your nutrition and putting in the work. Have a look at bodybuilders Nimai Delgado, Jon Venus, or Torre Washington -- they are all vegan.
Myth #8: Longer Workouts Mean Better Results
The Truth: Quality over quantity.
Short, focused, intense workouts are as effective -- and sometimes more effective -- than long workouts where you are distracted or not giving your full effort.
With the exception of endurance athletes who are specifically training to be able to continue heavy labor over long stretches of time, it is safe to say that if you only have 20 minutes to work out, if you give it all you have for those 20 minutes you will come away with great fitness benefits.
Myth #9: With Hard Work, Anything is Achievable
The Truth: Hard work delivers amazing results, but if the transformation you envision is in contrast to your natural body shape you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Be realistic with your body goals and try to draw inspiration from people who have a similar body type. You may also opt to perform exercises that help balance your proportions, but keep in mind that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
Myth #10: Cutting Calories is the Key to Weight Loss
The Truth: Not eating enough calories can lead to weight gain as the body will go into 'survival mode' and store everything it can.
Consult your trainer, nutritionist or doctor regarding how many calories you need in a day in order to maintain proper energy and functionality and make sure your intake is aligned with this number.
Myth #11: Carbs Are the Enemy
The Truth: Imbalance in energy intake vs output (how many calories you take in versus how many calories you burn during your daily activities) is what causes fat gain.
With ketogenic diets being a hot item in the nutrition world right now, it's easy to believe the fallacy that carbs are the enemy. Carbs are actually the body's preferred fuel source, but it's important to eat healthy carbs like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans and legumes rather than refined carbs such as white rice, white pasta, processed snacks and sweets.
I personally have tried high-protein and high-carb macro ratios, and once my body adjusted to one or the other it functioned equally well. The key is to find an eating style that works for your lifestyle, as everyone's body performs differently.
Myth #12: Spot Reduction Works
The Truth: You need to perform exercises to tone the muscles while also working overall to burn away excess fat so that you will be able to see the muscles.
You can't tell fat cells to accumulate in a specific area, and you can't therefore burn them off in one specific area. Your focus should be on overall toning and weight loss, with strengthening work performed to tone the muscles you want to build up.
Myth #13: Early Morning is the Optimal Time to Train
The Truth: Consistency is the key, not the time of day.
My early bird clients always tell me that they love to work out in the morning because they get it done and have the rest of the day to do everything else. While it's true that morning workouts leave less room for other obligations to crowd out training time, everyone has a different circadian rhythm and preference. Train at whatever time works best for you, so that you can remain consistent.
Myth #14: Exercise is the Best Way to Lose Weight
The Truth: Slimming down almost always starts with significant changes to your diet.
Exercise burns calories, and the way to lose weight is to adjust that aforementioned energy intake vs output ratio. However, you can't just 'work off' whatever you eat -- truth be told, physically you feel worse eating unhealthy, processed foods and your performance suffers. Adjusting your nutritional hygiene is a major step toward seeing the results you want.
Myth #15: It Takes at Least 2 Weeks to Get "Out of Shape"
The Truth: Muscle tissue can begin to break down within a week without regular exercise, and degrades from there.
When you stop training, you will begin to see signs of de-conditioning in as few as 7 days of complete rest. Your body is programmed for "use it or lose it, so yet again consistency is key.
Our technology is great, but it comes with certain costs. One of those is the health of our cervical spine and our overall posture. Each and every one of us is guilty of holding our tablets, phones or other mobile devices such as wearables, laptops and gaming systems down low and craning our neck to look at the screen. This affects everything from hormone production to balance and eventually serious injuries which may require surgery to correct. Today we'll discuss what we can do to fight this new wellness battle.
WHAT IS TECH NECK?
"Tech neck" is the layman's term used to describe the consequences of long-term forward-leaning flexion of your head and neck while looking down at your phone, tablet or other device. It can cause muscle strain, disc injury, nerve impingement and arthritic changes in your neck -- as well as the development of added neck wrinkles, continual neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and shooting pain down your arms.
The average human head weighs 10-12 pounds, but according to one study, with the head tilted 15 degrees forward the effect of the head's weight is equal to 27 pounds. By the time you tilt your head to 60 degrees, that effect shoots up to 60 pounds. As that weight increases and the spin falls out of alignment and extra pressure is placed on the spine. This will trigger neck pain, herniated discs, and in more serious cases surgery may be required.
Correct posture has been linked to increases in testosterone (male hormone), decreases in cortisol (stress hormone), and increased feelings of power and comfort with risk-taking. In short, our posture affects us in many different ways and fixing postural imbalances should be a priority especially in our primarily sedentary, tech-driven society.
All of us have some degree of tech neck, due to the culture we live in. First, let's talk about ameliorating the symptoms we have:
I covered many neck and shoulder stretches and exercises in my prior article, Stretching & Strengthening for Computer Users. As applicable, I will indicate below when details of the stretch/exercise can be found in that article.
As regards the damage to the skin itself, dermatologists recommend that you exfoliate your chest and neck once a week using a mask, mild scrub or peel. You may also use neck rejuvenation patches, which are made by a variety of companies to reduce wrinkling and skin damage.
You likely already suffer the effects of tech neck, but in order to truly correct it, you will need to engage not only with treatment methods, but also take preventative measures to ensure you don't exacerbate the condition. Here are some things you can do in order to maintain proper cervical spine health:
If all of the above steps have been taken and your pain is still a problem, seek help from a qualified medical professional.
A common struggle for most of my clients has been related to overall feelings of tiredness and a struggle to find enough energy to cook or become more active. There are several different strategies to combat the sensation of exhaustion, and so today we'll be going over what all you can do to boost your energy levels so that you may improve your overall health and wellness.
Sleep is the one of the primary culprits of chronic fatigue. Even if you are in bed for the appropriate amount of time, your sleep may not be restful or you may have an ongoing sleep debt that needs to be recuperated before you will see benefits from improved habits. I discussed this topic including strategies to improve your sleep hygiene on last week's post, All About Sleep.
The next major factor which helps decide your overall energy levels is your nutrition.
Limiting the amount of processed food you eat will help ensure that you are consuming a greater mix of nutrients. Studies show that three-fourths of the average American's diet includes moderately (15.9%) to highly processed (61%) foods and beverages. The amount of convenience food we eat is ever-increasing, and it's affecting our overall health.
Eating foods and consuming beverages low on the glycemic index will help prevent sugar crash or reactive hypoglycemia. High-GI foods contain simple sugars and starches that are quickly processed. After these have been absorbed, you may feel a sense of tiredness, lethargy, irritation or even hangover. Avoid white bread, pasta and rice as well as breakfast cereals, yogurt etc with added sugars; eat whole grains and complex carbohydrates with high fiber (5 or more grams per serving).
Include protein with your carbs to maintain sustained energy throughout the day. Protein helps control blood sugar levels, thus assisting in preventing sugar spikes and crashes. Great energy-boosting snacks are those with both carbohydrates and protein in a balanced mix.
Try making whole fruit-and-veggie smoothies to boost nutrient and fiber consumption -- I recommend trying the 7-Day Green Smoothie Challenge. Bear in mind that these still contain sugar and calories, but these recipes are solid, tasty and packed with vitamins. The challenge (which is FREE) even includes a shopping list for the week and a guidebook to help you along the way.
Use caffeine to your advantage, but don't overdo it as it may cause insomnia (especially if consumed after 2 PM) and lead to dehydration as it is a diuretic. Caffeine provides an energy boost, but too much and you may get the jitters. Avoid energy drinks as they are often laden with sugar -- sometimes as much as 10 teaspoons per serving.
Limit your alcohol consumption as it is a sedative that is particularly strong at midday. When you drink, do so in moderation at a time when you don't mind winding down.
I've mentioned foods you should avoid above, but here are some things that you should eat:
I talked all about hydration in a prior post. Believe it or not, this plays a role in your energy levels! Review A Hydration How-To for more information.
Exercise helps you sleep more soundly at night, and also gives your cells more energy to burn while also circulating oxygen throughout your body. When you work out, your body produces epinephrine and norepinephrine, stress hormones which in modest amounts can make you feel energized. You don't need to join a gym to reap the benefits, though: even a brisk walk around the neighborhood is a good starting place for boosting your energy.
STRESS AND OVERWORK
Stress-induced emotions consume vast amounts of energy. If you cannot reduce your level of stress, consider the following suggestions for management:
Working too much is one of the primary culprits of fatigue. You can overwork yourself not just professionally, but also via family and social obligations. Try to work on streamlining your "must do" activities; set your priorities in terms of the most important tasks and pare down those which are less important. You may need to ask for extra help at work, or from your domestic partner or roommate at home. It is important to note that you cannot give 100% of yourself to each of these areas of your life consistently without eventually burning out; something has to give. When considering your priorities, it may be a good idea to discuss with your domestic partner or a good friend.
Sleep is important for both mental and physical health. With it our productivity increases, our recovery time is shorter, our immune system is boosted and our mood improves. Everyone can benefit from better sleeping habits, although not everyone is aware of the various ways that sleep hygiene can be improved. That's the topic of today's post, so read on.
THE STAGES OF SLEEP
First, let's run through the stages of sleep. There are five total*. Stages 1-4 are non-REM sleep; stage 5 is REM.
*The sleep profession in the US eliminated the use of stage 4 in 2008; stages 3 and 4 are considered stage 3 or N3.
Stage 1 is light sleep when you drift in and out and can be awakened easily. Your eyes move slowly and muscle activity slows down. It is during this stage that you may have sudden muscle contractions (twitches) or experience the sensation of falling.
Stage 2 is when your eyes stop moving and brain waves slow down for the most part, with occasional bursts of rapidity. Your body temperature drops slightly and your heart rate slows down.
Stage 3 is when delta waves (very slow brain waves) are interspersed with smaller, faster waves. This is considered deep sleep and is the point where people may experience parasomnias (abnormalities or undesirable behaviors while sleeping) such as sleepwalking, night terrors, talking in one's sleep and bedwetting.
Stage 4 continues deep sleep, but the brain produces almost exclusively delta waves. People awakened from this stage feel disoriented for a few minutes.
Stage 5 is the stage where you experience REM (rapid eye movement). Brain waves mimic activity during the waking state; the eyes remain closed but move quickly from side to side, possibly related to the dreams and brain activity during this stage.
Progressing through all five stages is considered one sleep cycle. The first sleep cycle takes approximately 90 minutes; after that, they average between 100-120 minutes per cycle. Typically, you will go through 4-5 sleep cycles each night.
Deep sleep (stages 3 and 4) provide the most restorative sleep. This is why if you take a short nap during the day you can still sleep at night, but taking a longer nap which allows you to fall into deep sleep will result in you having trouble going to bed in the evening.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SLEEP?
During deep sleep, human growth hormone is released and repairs and builds up your body and muscles from the stresses of the day. Your immune system strengthens itself. Your blood supply to the muscles regenerates and you experience an increase in new cell production. It is suspected that during REM, the brain refreshes itself for new learning the following day.
When you sleep well you reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer. You reduce inflammation and lower stress and blood pressure. Sleeping improves memory and makes you more alert. It may reduce risk of depression and possibly help you lose weight as the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which regulate appetite, are disrupted by lack of sleep and insulin production increases with lack of sleep, leading to increased fat storage.
WHAT IS SLEEP HYGIENE?
The term sleep hygiene refers to the rituals, behaviors, and norms that you follow near bedtime. Improving it is an easy way to help correct trouble sleeping and should be the first thing you adjust when this trouble arises. Sleep hygiene education is in fact an essential part of the cognitive-behavioral therapy used to treat insomnia.
Poor sleep hygiene includes behaviors such as regularly pulling all-nighters or sleeping in on the weekend to "make up" for lost sleep during the week. The opposite of any of the below tips will lead to less restful sleep.
Good sleep hygiene involves following a regular sleep schedule and avoiding stimulants in the early evening through lights out. See the below information for details of other positive bedtime habits.
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO I NEED?
The very first thing you need to know is how much sleep you need. Our sleep needs change throughout our lives due to factors such as age and stress. As a general rule, adults require 7 - 7.5 hours of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation conducted a study regarding sleep duration and came up with this handy chart of average requirements:
Note that if you regularly sleep more or less than the recommended or 'may be appropriate' times, you may have a sleeping disorder and should consult a physician.
WHEN SHOULD I SLEEP?
This question may seem like a given, but it actually isn't. In addition to varying work schedules, everyone has a different circadian rhythm. A circadian rhythm is a roughly 24-hour cycle in the physiological processes of all living creatures which determines their sleeping and eating patterns. There are clear patterns of brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and other biological activities linked to this cycle. Ever wonder why you're absolutely not a morning person but that chipper coworker of yours seems most alert before dawn? That's a difference in circadian rhythm.
A recent study by the University of Basel has shown that the mitochondrial network (the network of 'powerhouse' organelles within your cells) produces energy according to the circadian rhythm. If you are resting and working in sync with your rhythm, your energy production is boosted. If your actual sleep-wake cycles are out of tune with your internal clock, you will struggle to find the energy you need to perform your daily tasks.
How do you suss out your circadian rhythm? It's pretty intuitive actually. Our alignment to our internal clock is called a chronotype which in layman's terms would translate to being a "morning person" or "night owl." This chronotype is primarily a factor of genetics. Although it can change some over time according to age, overall it's something we're born with. There is actually a fancy wearable called the Oura ring which tracks your pulse, movement, body temperature etc and recommends an optimal sleep time. On the other hand, if you don't have money to burn you can keep notes on your wakefulness, energy levels and sleep patterns in a sleep journal to see what works best for you -- experimenting with different patterns (adding a short nap or taking a nap out, adjusting bedtime or wake-up alarm, etc) is another way to do the same time and best of all, it's free.
STRATEGIES TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP
There are all sorts of ways to improve the quality and regularity of your sleep. Here's a list of ideas:
If you have tried a combination of the above and still have trouble sleeping, you may have a sleep disorder or another health issue which complicates your rest. Keep a sleep diary and consult your doctor.
CONSEQUENCES OF POOR SLEEP HYGIENE
An occasional sleepless night will make you tired and irritable the next day, but it won't harm your health. However, after several nights without proper sleep you may experience foggy thinking, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You may fall asleep during the day (this is called microsleep), and will experience increasing levels of depression, moodiness, quick temper and/or being excessively emotional. You risk injury and accidents at home, work and on the road and this risk level rises the longer you continue with poor sleep habits. Long-term sleeplessness will affect your overall health, weakening your immune system. Your sex drive lowers, and your balance and coordination suffer.
A lack of sleep may also trigger mania in people who have manic depression. Sleep deprivation prompts your body to release higher levels of insulin after you eat. Insulin controls your blood sugar level and higher insulin levels promote fat storage and increase your risk for diabetes as well as obesity.
Sleep affects processes which keep your heart and blood vessels health, including your blood sugar, blood pressure and inflammation levels. It also plays a vital role in the body's ability to heal and repair the blood vessels and heart. Studies show that people who don't sleep enough are more likely to have cardiovascular disease including heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.
As mentioned previously, human growth hormone is released during deep sleep. These hormones build muscle mass and repair cells and tissues. For testosterone production you need at least three hours of uninterrupted sleep. If you are not sleeping enough, you are also compromising the benefits of your fitness regimen as it is during rest that your body builds itself.
We're heading into cold and flu season now, so other than encouraging folks to keep their vaccinations up to date I thought to broach the subject of training when you are sick. This is a question that comes up with a good deal of frequency especially heading into the fall. There are a LOT of opinions on this subject and most research focuses on cold and flu. I'll do my best to summarize the research-backed verdicts here.
Before going any further, let me say this: never disregard the advice of your doctor. A trained medical professional who has examined you and prescribed your treatment will know the most about what ails you and how to best recover.
If you DO train when sick, do not do so at the gym or in a group setting as you will likely infect others. Viruses and bacteria travel through your breath, so you don't even need to cough in order to infect those around you. Do your training at home and/or on your own, where you will not share your illness.
Finally, eating a nutritious diet and engaging in regular physical exercise has a protective effect and boosts immunity.
HOW SICK ARE YOU?
The first thing you need to suss out is how sick you actually are. Understand that there are different levels of sickness just as there are different levels of hunger, tiredness and any other physical ailment or discomfort. Whether or not pushing through is the wisest choice depends on a number of factors.
An easy way to gauge whether or not you can participate in physical exercise is to use an above the neck/below the neck principle:
Above the neck means exactly what it sounds like: you have a stuffy (or runny) nose or sore throat. Mild cold or sinus/allergy symptoms fall into this category unless severe.
Below the neck means anything from fever and extreme tiredness to muscle aches, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest congestion, light-headedness, diarrhea, vomiting, swollen lymph glands etc.
Above all else, listen to your body before you decide to train.
HOW SHOULD YOU TRAIN?
Light physical activity such as walking, gardening, Tai Chi, gentle yoga, low-intensity outdoor bike riding etc (also employed during active recovery) should not cause a worsening of symptoms.
Moderate exercise such as lower-intensity (non-panting) outdoor cardio actually boosts the immune system provided that symptoms are not severe. Moderate exercise does not affect the duration or severity of the common cold.
Prolonged vigorous exercise has an immunosuppressive effect and should be avoided when sick. There have been instances of chronic fatigue syndrome developing and lingering for months or even years when athletes have continued training when ill without adjusting intensity.
If your illness is classified as above the neck and symptoms are mild, you may train as normal and still see the session as wholly productive.
If your illness is above the neck but has also moved into the throat, most of the time you can still train BUT you will have to dial your workout intensity and duration back especially if your nutrition is lacking, you are under a lot of stress or your immune system is compromised. Ways to adjust would be to do 1-2 sets of lifting instead of your normal 5, or walking or light jogging (or walk/jog intervals) for 20 minutes instead of the 40 minutes you were going to run.
If your illness is below the neck, rest, recover and sleep. If your nutrition hasn't been the best, get some healthy food into your system and let your body heal itself.
The below handy infographic was made by the folks at Precision Nutrition:
If you are using a decongestant, your heart rate will increase more rapidly than it would based on the intensity of the workout alone. This may cause shortness of breath and/or difficulty breathing. Dial back your training if taking a decongestant, or avoid all together.
If you have asthma and exercise while you have a cold your asthma symptoms may worsen.
Diabetics may have an issue as well because being sick causes an increase in blood sugar at rest as well as a decrease in blood sugar during activity. Diabetics need to monitor their blood sugar more closely when sick.
Other factors which affect how the body responds to exercise when sick include:
Age: our immune response can break down as we get older. The good news is that staying active and eating a nutritious diet can offset much of this effect.
Gender: Menstrual phase and oral contraceptive use may affect how the immune system responds. Estrogen usually enhances immunity while androgens suppress it.
Sleep: Poor quality sleep and/or prolonged sleep deprivation decreases immune function.
Training Age: The more often you exercise, the better your body will handle exercise when sick. As stated above, higher levels of fitness have a protective effect and may limit stress response to exercise.
GETTING BACK TO THE GRIND AFTER ILLNESS
Any significant lapse in training will cause a little fall back in your performance. After being sick, give yourself 2-4 weeks to build back up to the level you were training at prior to your illness. Be sure to give yourself extra rest, as even after symptoms abate your body is cleaning up the remnants of the virus or bacteria which knocked you out in the first place. Jumping back in too soon may cause the illness to relapse, and/or you may injure yourself because you've taken on too much too soon. As stated previously, listen to your body as you get back to your grind and be kind to yourself.
Everyone knows that water is essential to wellness because it is what the body is primarily composed of. The proper balance of water and electrolytes determines how our bodies function, including the responses of our nerves and muscles. Water removes metabolic waste, controls body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure and maintains a balanced metabolism. Without it, our bodies begin to shut down. But how much do we need, how can we work that requirement into our daily lives, and how can we check our hydration levels? Let's dig in.
HYDRATION AND PERFORMANCE
Everyone knows that both urinating and sweating results in loss of water, but there are other ways in which our fluid levels are reduced throughout the day: in bowel movements, by breathing (we exhale water vapor; the exact quantity depends on the humidity level of our environment), in the processing of medications, via a moisture-deficient diet (dry foods require more water to process and store nutrients) and via heart rate and breathing related to stress. We are constantly losing water, which is why we need to replenish.
In both anaerobic and endurance exercise, athlete hydration levels are critical to performance. It is crucial for anyone engaging in intense and/or prolonged physical activity to go into said activity properly hydrated, and to develop a plan of fluid replacement based on their individual fluid loss ratios.
The body's work capacity drops in direct relation to the degree of dehydration an athlete suffers. Aerobic activity sees a sharp decline in performance whereas sports or exercise requiring muscle strength and endurance see a variable decline.
The primary causes of performance decline include reduction in blood volume, decreased skin blood flow, decreased sweat rate (therefore decreased heat dissipation and increased core temperature), and increased rate of muscle glycogen use. The fluid in your body is the highway, and with less of that medium available your body has to work harder to circulate the necessary fuel to the active muscles and remove the cell waste.
HOW MUCH WATER DO I NEED?
Ever hear the old "8 8oz glasses of water daily" prescription? This is a good rule of thumb, but it is nevertheless a generalization and doesn't hold true for every person due to differences in activity level, environment, body size, diet, medications and medical requirements, etc.
The easiest way to tell if you are properly hydrated is the urine color test. A properly hydrated individual goes to the bathroom every 2-4 hours.
Athletes, fitness enthusiasts and those who work outdoors require more water than someone with an office job and sedentary lifestyle. The exact amount required differs by individual for this population, too.
The biggest problem especially for those new to fitness is knowing when to hydrate. Oftentimes they gauge whether or not they need water by their thirst. The problem is that your body's thirst mechanism is turned down during exercise, so if you get thirsty while working out you are actually currently dehydrated and need to drink some water immediately and sip on it as you continue your activity, whether or not you are thirsty.
A good way to gauge how much fluid you lost during your workout is to weigh yourself directly before and immediately afterward. As you recover you will continue to lose fluid through sweating and urination. You will need to replace 125-150% of the fluid deficit in the subsequent 2-6 hours after exercise. 1 pound is 16oz, so if you lost 2lbs during exercise you will need to drink 40-48oz of water, which is 125-150% of the fluid you lost while working out.
If you are not exercising but still find that you don't get thirsty very often, your thirst mechanism is not functioning properly. This article has a great suggestion for how to kick it back into gear:
Get one of those small, Dixie paper cups, or a shot glass. Fill that cup up with water and drink three to five shots in quick succession, one right after the other. Wait 30 minutes then do that again. Do that in the morning and in the evening, and by the second day, you’ll probably start noticing your mouth getting dry more frequently throughout the day. Do that routine for a week, and your thirst mechanism should be in full functioning order.
Plain water is the best source of hydration, but there are other ways to meet your requirements including eating foods high in water content or consuming other beverages. Be aware that any alternate hydration source potentially contains sugar and calories. For some populations such as endurance runners this is advantageous, but for an average person doing an hour-long workout to lose weight, the best possible source of hydration is the one to stick to. Plain water contains zero calories, zero sugar, and is most readily absorbed by your body. Also note that you will absorb less water from alternate hydration sources; a cup of fruit juice or a smoothie is not equivalent to the same size cup of plain water.
Alternate hydration sources include:
Caffeinated beverages have a mild diuretic effect which causes you to urinate out some of your water, so the widespread rule of thumb is that for every caffeinated beverage you consume you need to drink an equal portion of plain water. Alcohol is a diuretic as well as typically being high-calorie and full of empty carbs. It is best to drink responsibly and limit your consumption. The 1 to 1 ratio of diuretic to plain water also applies to these beverages.
WHEN SHOULD I HYDRATE?
The easiest answer to this question is ABD: Always Be Drinking. If you drink a large volume of water at one time, your body will be unable to absorb it all. Sipping on your beverage is the best way to ensure proper absorption as well as preventing major bouts of thirst.
To ensure that your sleep is not interrupted, it is recommended that you finish any beverage you're working on at least two hours before bed. That way you have enough time to process it before settling in for the evening -- disturbing your rest by having to go to the bathroom every few hours overnight is counter-productive.
WATER AND WEIGHT LOSS
Maintaining proper hydration can assist in weight loss. Water is an appetite suppressant. Drinking before you eat helps make you feel fuller, thereby reducing how much food you eat. According to WebMD, drinking before eating results in an average reduction in intake of 75 calories per meal.
Focusing on your fluids, if you can swap out calorie-filled drinks for plain or infused water, that change alone can potentially result in weight loss depending on how many calories you drink. You can easily use a tea infuser to add cucumber slices or fruits to your water to give it natural flavor without the artificial sweeteners or food dyes. You could also grab a water infuser bottle or pitcher for the same purpose, or just add a slice of lemon.
Drinking it cold helps to slightly boost your metabolism as your body has to work harder to to warm the water up. This boost is very slight, but getting in the habit of consuming cold water also aids the body's absorption rate. Optimal temperature for maximum absorption has not been ironed out but studies indicate 45-55 degrees F to cause the water to empty from the stomach more quickly into the small intestine, where absorption happens much more rapidly.
CAN I DRINK TOO MUCH?
YES. Overhydration, or hyponatremia, occurs when the concentration of sodium in your blood is abnormally low. When you drink too much water, you throw off your electrolyte balance. Since electrolytes regulate the amount of water in and around your cells, without the proper balance your cells begin to swell.
Some of the symptoms of hyponatremia include headache, confusion, nausea/vomiting, loss of energy/drowsiness/fatigue, muscle weakness, spasms or cramps, restlessness or irritability, and eventually seizures and coma.
An easy way to prevent exercise-related hyponatremia is to consume sports drinks (which include electrolytes in them) during demanding and/or prolonged physical activities where you sweat and expire an excess of water, and checking your hydration level via the above urine chart. If your urine is in the safe range and you are not thirsty, you are getting adequate water.