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Posts Tagged ‘stress’

PostHeaderIcon Great News About Stress

I started reading more about the mindset of stress after hearing about the ground breaking study that interviewed thirty thousand adults. They were asked how much stress they had and if they believed that stress was harmful to their health.

After eight years, the records were checked to see who had died. It turned out that those who were stressed and believed that stress was harmful to them had an increased risk of dying by 43 percent. People who reported high levels of stress but did not think stress was harmful had no increase in mortality. In fact, they had the lowest risk of death of anyone in the study, even lower than those who reported very little stress.

You can read more about this study here:

Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association with Health and Mortality

As you may already know, I’m always reading the latest findings on health and fitness. One subject that has greatly interested me is that of the new field of epigenetics, the science of how our environment affects and changes our genes. I became interested in telomeres, repeating segments of non coding DNA that live at the ends of cells. They wear down as cells divide. Scientists are saying that these telomeres are a great indicator of health and how long one will live. If they are short and worn down, it is a sign of deterioration. I read a whole book on this phenomena called “The Telomere Affect” by Elizabeth Blackburn PhD and Elissa Epel PhD. I learned from this book that the worst thing one can do to one’s telomeres is to be “stressed,” but their research also found that those who stressed about stress being bad for them were in far worse shape than those who had a “challenge” mentality. Those who responded to life’s hardships with an attitude to tackle it as a challenge had longer telomeres than those who reacted with fear and worry.

In Kelly McGonigal, PhD’s book, “The Upside of Stress,” she explains that two hormones can be released when faced with a “stressful” situation: Cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). While both hormones are released by the adrenal glands, they serve different roles. Cortisol helps turn sugar and fat into energy but also suppresses biological functions such as digestion, reproduction and growth. DHEA, on the other hand, helps your brain grow stronger from the stressful experiences. It also counters some of the effects of cortisol. It speeds up wound repair and enhances immune function. The ratio of these two hormones can influence the long-term consequences of stress.

For example, Alia Crum, PhD, psychology and mindset expert, conducted an experiment in which half the participants were shown a video that opened with the message, “Most people think that stress is negative… but actually research shows that stress is enhancing.”  The other participants were shown a video that started with, “Most people know that stress is negative… but research shows that stress is even more debilitating than you expect.” Both videos cited real research, so in this sense they were both true. But each video was designed to activate a specific perception of stress.

Next, the participants were put through a mock interview wherein the people they were supposed to impress acted very indifferent and critical. After this ordeal, saliva samples were taken. While all the subjects had a similar rise in cortisol levels, those who had watched the positive stress video had higher levels of DHEA, which has been linked to reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease, neurodegeneration and other diseases we typically think of as stress-related.

I was excited when I read about this experiment because it gave physical evidence of why our mindset is so powerful, something I have always encouraged in my students. Other studies have confirmed this idea such as research that hanging on to stereotypes about aging can effect older adults’ behaviors, IQ and even their health; a phenomenon known as ‘age-based stereotype threat’ (ABST).

You can read more about that here:

Old Age And Stereotypes

The wonderful thing about Crum’s experiment is that it shows that our environment can immediately change our mindset which can immediately change our biology. It’s as easy as choosing which video to watch.

According to Kelly McGonigal, the best definition of “stress” is that which arises when something you care about is at stake. Her book and many other studies points to the fact that people who say they experience a lot of stress have more meaningful lives. You don’t stress about things you could care less about. So, people who have a positive stress mindset, the kind that actually contributes to better health, believe in finding meaning in their stress and learning to grow from it. This doesn’t mean they sugar coat the horrible things that happen to them. It simply means that they try to use their experiences to make them better people. We all know people who have been destroyed from horrible circumstances, but we’ve also seen people who have grown from them and have used these situations to find strength, resourcefulness and empathy for others in the same situation.

I also learned that it’s usually better to capitalize on that fight and flight response. It’s there to make you perform better. More research shows that trying to calm down when your blood is racing usually doesn’t work. But what you can do is tell yourself that this is a good thing. Use that surge in hormones to help you score that goal, ace that test or wow that audience.

To quote McGonigal, “We get stressed when our goals are on the line, so we take action. We get stressed when our values are threatened, so we defend them. We get stressed when we need courage. We get stressed so we can connect with others. We get stressed so that we will learn from our mistakes. The stress response is more than a basic survival instinct. It is built into how humans operate, how we relate to one another and how we navigate our place in the world. When you understand this, the stress response is no longer something to be feared. It is something to be appreciated, harnessed, and even trusted.”

So what else can we do to create a mindset that helps stress work for our health instead of against it?

Limit the amount of news you watch. According to a major U.S. survey, exposure to the news was one of the most commonly reported source of daily stress. 40 percent of those who reported high levels of stress said watching, reading or listening to the news was a major contributor. This increases a sense of hopelessness. Studies also show that it creates post traumatic stress disorder in the viewer, whether they witnessed the situation being aired or not.

Be open about your problems and look to others for help. Try to reject the viewpoint that other people are a source of stress. When we isolate ourselves from others, we take away many coping mechanisms like realizing that someone else may have been in a similar situation. It also takes away our ability to share and help those in need. Research has shown that helping others is actually a great stress reliever as it counters that feeling of hopelessness and gives our life purpose.

Find time to exercise. Of course I would add this as my final thought. I’m a fitness professional. Lol! But everything I study points to the fact that exercise is that magic pill, if done properly and at the right amount. It also gives us time to unwind or clear our minds. When I go to the local Y or teach a yoga class, it also gives me a sense of community. This past year, there were two deaths in my family. During these times, it was very difficult for me to come to class and motivate others but when I expressed the fact that I had to take some time off to be at funerals or memorials, some students and colleagues shared similar stories with me and I realized that I wasn’t alone. So, while I may not be free of stress, my life is full of meaning. Thank you to all of my students, followers and clients for sharing this journey with me, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

Btw, this December is Live Healthy month at the Porter Ranch library. I will be teaching a pilates class on Saturday December 8 at 1:30pm. This event is free and open to the public. For more information, click here:

Special Events

If you enjoyed this blog and would like to read more about mindset and belief, here is my very first blog ever written about mindset:

Empowering and Disempowering Beliefs

For more motivation on exercise, the magic pill, click here:

The Limitless Pill

My thanksgiving love blog to all my students who give my life so much meaning:

You Inspire Me

PostHeaderIcon Should I Sacrifice Sleep for Training?

Over the years of being a trainer, I have noticed a marked difference between people who achieve the results they want and the ones who have a much harder time. Much of it has to do with how people eat and sleep on top of how they train.

Today I am bringing up the subject of sleep because I heard a motivational speaker say that you should sacrifice sleep in order to get the things you want. As a health professional, I do not agree with this statement due to the evidence I have collected over the years. You can sacrifice mindless television watching, video games, negative thinking and junk food, but one thing you should not sacrifice is sleep. A large number of studies have linked lack of sleep with obesity.

Proof of How Lack of Sleep Can Make you Fat

According to a study from the University of Chicago, people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to indulge in candy, cake and other sweets than they are in eating fruits and whole grains. Another study that appeared in “The Annals of internal Medicine” measured hormonal levels in people who do not get enough sleep with those who do. They found that sleep deprivation decreases levels of leptin, a hormone that tells you that you are full. It increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry and makes you crave sweets. Additional studies followed how many snacks people who aren’t getting enough sleep eat. The conclusion was that people who are sleep deprived are twice as likely to eat unhealthy snacks.

Lack of sleep also causes stress, releasing the hormone cortisol which also causes us to crave high-fat foods. Cortisol also triggers survival mechanisms in the body that causes us to store fat in our abdominal area.

For more information on how stress leads to belly fat, check out this post:   http://heroestraining.com/?p=417

A study from Case Western University tracked the weight fluctuations and sleep habits of 680,138 women for sixteen years. They found that the women who slept five hours or less per night were more likely to become obese and the women who only got six hours of sleep a night were more likely to be overweight than women who got seven hours of sleep.

Researchers from the University of Warrick, England followed thousands of children and adults and found that sleep deprivation almost doubles the risk of obesity for adults and children. Another study from Stanford University found that people who sleep less have higher BMI (Body Mass Index) levels. In conclusion, there are a huge number of studies that show that lack of sleep can make you fat.

What is just as remarkable is a study conducted by Glamour Magazine to see if sleeping more will help you lose weight.  They enlisted seven female readers and asked them to sleep at least seven and a half hours each night for ten weeks. They were not allowed to change their dietary habits for those ten weeks. All of these women lost weight.

It is very difficult to train clients who are sleep deprived. They have absolutely no energy. I usually train them as a lesson and tell them that they need to get more sleep if they want to get results. When they experience how poorly they perform and how much they struggle, they realize how important sleep really is.

Sleep is Nature’s Steroid

Some recent studies are being done on HGH (human growth hormone) and how this helps people recover, stay young and gain muscle. When we sleep, human growth hormone is released. This is when injuries are healed, when children grow, when cells in the body are restored and when muscles are repaired to gain strength. If athletic performance or strength gains are your goal, then sleep should be on the top of your priority list. Sleep has also been called “nature’s steroid” by many health professionals for this reason. Before you start your intake of experimental HGH, see if you’re getting enough sleep first.

Sleep Increases Athletic Performance

Mah, Mah and Dement studied college swimmers. They tested their athletic performance for two weeks during their usual sleep-wake cycles. Then they tested them after they extended their sleep to 10 hours a day for 6-7 weeks. The results showed that the swimmers swam the 15-meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds sooner off the start blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds and increased kick strokes by 5 kicks.

They also did a study on 11 male college basketball players. After extending their sleep for as much per night as they could, their timed agility sprint improved by 0.07 seconds; their free-throw percentage increased by 9%; and their 3-point field goal percentage improved by 9.2%.

They also studied seven Stanford University football players. They were tested before and after the sleep extension and their 20-yard shuttle run times decreased by 0.10 seconds. Forty-yard dash times also decreased by 0.10 seconds and daytime sleepiness and fatigue scores fell significantly.

Sleep also helps with memory, strengthening the immune system and alertness. This increases athletic performance, work performance, school performance, and wellness. It also makes you less cranky which should help with your relationships.

How Can I Get More Sleep?

–One of my favorite cures for insomnia is exercise or yoga. This helps release stress and burns energy that can lead to a better night’s sleep. Excess exercise can lead to burn out and insomnia so make sure you are getting just the right amount

–Get your life organized. Set aside time for checking emails, spending time with the family, eating dinner etc. so that everyone can get to bed on time.

–Take a warm bath or shower

–Try chamomile tea, which is known for its ability to calm the body, before going to bed

–The smell of lavender is known to calm the senses and release stress, making it easier to go to sleep.

–Instead of sacrificing things that are good for you, such as sleep, how about cutting out things that are bad for you such as excessive alcohol. Though it can make you feel tired, too much alcohol can mess with your sleep cycles.

–Tobacco is a stimulant that can make it hard to sleep

–Too much caffeine is a stimulant that messes with your sleep-wake cycles.

–Overeating can make it hard to sleep so give your digestive system a break. Also, don’t eat too much processed carbs or sugar right before bed

–Sometimes it is hard to sleep while hungry so a healthy snack like a fruit might help. Just don’t overeat.

–Too much television or video games can also lead to inability to sleep. Try reading a book before going to bed, meditating or listening to soft music. Even cuddle with a loved one.

–Take power naps if sleeping at night is not possible. If you have a hard time sleeping at night, limit nap times.

–Make sure your bed and pillows are comfortable

–Turn out the lights. Bright lights can fool the hormonal system into thinking it is still day time so avoid the television and other lit screens. Let your body know that it is time for bed.

–If you feel your inability to sleep might be a medical issue, check out AASM (the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.) Here is their website:

http://www.aasmnet.org/

How Much Sleep Should I Get?

These are the sleep guidelines according to the National Sleep Foundation:

AGE DAILY SLEEP NEEDS
NEW BORNS (0-2 months) 12-18 HOURS
INFANTS (3 to 11 months) 14-15 HOURS
TODDLERS (1-3 years) 12-14 HOURS
PRESCHOOLERS (3-5 years) 11-13 HOURS
SCHOOL –AGE CHILDREN (5-10 years) 10-11 HOURS
TEENS (10-17 years) 8.5-9.25 HOURS
ADULTS 7-9 HOURS

PostHeaderIcon Release Neck and Shoulder Tension

Today, I’d like to address a subject that I see a lot in people, shoulder and neck tension. Many have told me that this is getting in the way of their fitness goals. I also see a large amount of shoulder injuries due to lack of strength and flexibility in the rotator cuffs. Another cause of injury is that many people use bad form due to lack of posture awareness or muscle imbalances that have not been addressed. Lack of core strength ’causes people to overcompensate by straining their neck and shoulders. Lifting weights adds stress to an already dislodged area, aggravating the issue. Another reason this has become such an epidemic is because people simply do not know how to relax. Living in a “no pain, no gain,” society has made us tense up, thinking that holding on to stress will somehow get us somewhere.
How did this happen and how can we address these issues?

Unfortunately, many of these problems start in elementary school where children are forced to sit in chairs for long periods of time. These chairs are rarely created to fit their size. They are also forced to carry heavy back packs. Sadly, I see many teenagers enter my classes with the kyphotic hunch of an older adult. To make matters worse, children grow up to be adults who live sedentary lifestyles, often making a living by sitting at a desk, hunched over a screen. A reliance on texting and portable devices has developed a society of people who spend more time hunching over a screen than they do anything else, not to mention the fact that we drive this way as well. If you watch a a toddler or pre-schooler crawl, walk, squat, lunge and pick things up of the floor, you will find they use perfect form. The imbalances start when television, video games, and forced chair sitting creep into their everyday lives.

Until recently we have evolved to move our shoulders, to hunt, throw and dig with our upper bodies. In our modern society, a lack of proper movement has caused the muscles that support our scapulae to weaken and become inflexible.
An average sedentary American doesn’t lift his hand higher than his desk. This lack of movement leads to inflexibility and weakness in our core muscles. Also, many people work in awkward positions, spending all day with their head thrusted forward to read the screen. This puts the alignment of the spine out of balance. The weight of the head (about ten pounds) causes the spine to fuse in an unnatural position.
The tightness this brings to the shoulders and neck can cut off nerves that run down the arm and into the fingers, causing pain and numbness in the wrists. Often, neck impingments are misdiagnosed as carpel tunnel or tendonitis of the wrists.
Shoulder tension can also lead to lower back pain. The misaligment of the upper spine, can cause the lower spine to curve unnaturally. So pain that starts in the neck can radiate into the arms and lower back. Tension in the neck and shoulders cuts of circulation to the brain, causing headaches. As you can see it is absolutely imparative that we address this part of our bodies. Fortunately, with proper movement and awareness, we can reverse this damage. I will be teaching all of the methods below in my upcoming Shoulder and Neck Release Workshop on March 3, 2013
Click here for more information:
NECK AND SHOULDER RELEASE WORKSHOP

How do we address imbalances in the neck and shoulders?

Ergonomics:
Since most imbalances and chronic pain are caused by things we do everyday, we have to look at how we move when we aren’t exercising. Are we contorting our bodies unnaturally in order to fit into our work spaces? We need to make sure that we can lean back on our chairs without curving our backs or stressing our shoulders. Our keyboards should be close enough to us so we don’t have to reach our arms out to type, causing tightness in the front of our shoulders. Are we hunching forward in order to read the screen or do we make the characters on the screen larger so we can see them while balancing our head on our neck where it should be?

Myofacial Release:
There is a sheath of tissue surrounding our muscales and organs known as “fascia.” This tissue gets tighter the more we move in the same ways. If we hold our posture in an incorrect position for too long, the fascia hardens in that position and it is very hard to release it. Also, our muscles can get swollen. This makes it very hard for blood to circulate. We start forming “knots” in our shoulders and neck that can only be released through myofacial techniques such as massage. Fortunately, we have found many ways to use self massage by using foam rollers and small balls so we don’t have to pay for a regular weekly massage. Once we have softened our fascia and reduced swelling in our shoulders, we are more able to move this area.

Add Mobility:
Seeing how our greatest problem is lack of movement, we should start releasing tension by moving this area. This brings energy currents, circulation and neuromusclular connections to a once dormant area. Over time, we start achieving more ease and mobility

Strengthen rotator cuffs and core:
The weaker we are, the more likely we are to get sore. The smallest things will ’cause pain. Most people have weak rotator cuffs (the muscles that surround and protect the shoulder blade) Due to lack of movement, these muscles lengthen and get weaker, making it hard for us to sit straight,with our shoulders back and down. In order to fix this imbalance, we must strengthen our upper back and the back of our shoulders by rowing, pulling down, or just drawing our upper back muscles down. It is imparative that we strengthen these muscles that protect our shoulders if we have trouble standing straight with our shoulders back. Doing advanced weight training with weak rotator cuffs can cause injuries in the lower back and shoulders.
Also, our dependence on chairs and machines has made our core muscles completely dormant. Often, people strain their necks to make up for lack of strength in their torso.

Learn how to relax:
Living in a “no pain, no gain” society has made us create pain for ourselves. Our subconscious belief that pain will lead to gain has caused many people to hang on to pain, thinking it will lead to success. In reality, this tension is an obstacle to health and freedom. Fortunately, there are meditations and stretches we can do to change this pattern.

Breathing

Poor posture can constrict the muscles that allows us to breath deep into our diaphram. Since our body needs oxygen, lack of proper breathing can cause more lack of circulation and anxiety. This leads to more shallow breathing. Instead of using the diaphram, shallow breathers use muscles that lift the shoulders, causing even more strain.
For more information on how and why to breath properly, check out this link:
DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH

During my NECK AND SHOULDER RELEASE workshop, we will learn how to address these issues without relying on a massage therapist or chiropracter. This workshop is designed for people who suffer from chronic tension in the shoulder and neck while at work or during exercise. It is not geared to people who have an accute injury that may require a specialist or surgery.

During this workshop, we will learn to assess our own imbalances by applying techniques using ergonomics, mobility movements, myofascial release, core strengthening, relaxing stretches, breathing and meditation that teach us to let go of our stess and prevent us from being stressed out by others.

I will be providing the best information on this subject after many years of being a personal trainer, pilates and yoga instructor. I will also offer mind/body techniques I have learned from studying the Alexander Technique and chi kung.

If you are interested, please click here: RELEASE NECK AND SHOULDER WORKSHOP