The true, universal value of exercise boils down to only one thing – your quality of life.
Despite tragedies out of our control, genetic dispositions both physical and metabolic, and our society’s
shared struggle to prioritize exercise above the myriad seemingly more pressing responsibilities,
heedlessly trust that deprioritizing concentrated physical exertion is tantamount to forfeiting the
opportunity to live your longest and most enjoyable life possible. Our functional ability and stamina
depend on our physical strength – the more we have, the more we can do, and the better we will age
(and the more fun we will have doing it). Put simply, use it or lose it.
As modern professional women, we do it all these days: career, family, interests, social networks,
higher personal development, etc. But if meaningful exercise isn’t carved out, do know that your
quality of life takes the hit. Whether that hit presents in your real-time, day-to-day living or in the
ultimate cultivation of a possibly-avoidable, better managed, or even reversible genetic pre-
dispositions. You will pay the opportunity cost somehow, at some time.
While we continue to be a visually oriented society, having long exercised predominately to “lose
weight,” the presumption is often still that if we look good, we feel good, and as a corollary, are fit
and healthy. That presumption is dead wrong, so even if just for a moment, ditch the notion of
exercise having anything to do what’s attractive, and focus on your health.
More skeletal muscle, in conjunction with a balanced diet will ensure that your insulin levels remain
steady and suppressed. Alternatively, high insulin triggers your stress hormones, adrenaline, and
epinephrine to activate a process to metabolize large amounts of fat. Your insulin will block fat
metabolism and will instead direct that sugar to be stored as fat, and the resulting body composition
will put you in metabolic danger of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and sarcopenia.
Or, if you’re one of the millions of women suffering from osteoporosis (or at risk), building muscle
directly increases bone density by putting increased stress on the bones, making them stronger,
healthier, and less prone to fractures and breaks. Not only does increased bone density slow the
devastating bone loss associated with getting older, it also helps to counteract any future loss by
building additional bone matter. Your new muscle mass will also serve to protect your bones,
guarding them against injury and cushioning the blow in case of a fall.
Aesthetically, well-developed back and shoulder muscles will improve posture, toned arm and leg
muscles, calves too, improves appearance (and helps prevent the formation of varicose veins),
pectoral muscles enhance the lift of the bust, etc. If you are after a younger looking, more vibrant
feminine body, you want more muscle. And, added muscle improves our appearance with definition
and helps to fight gravity, holding up our desirable body fat in the right places.
Building muscle is the best way to proactively combat the myriad problems associated with ageing,
supercharge the metabolism and increase cardiovascular endurance. Indeed, osteoporosis,
diabetes, impaired cardiac function, weight gain due to decreasing metabolism and loss of glucose
sensitivity, joint pain, loss of balance and injury, etc., can all be traced back to the fact that we lose
vital muscle as we age. Logically then, one of the best things you can do to enhance your overall
health and fitness now is to build muscle, whilst arresting the natural course of muscle loss that
occurs as we age. Remember that our skeletal muscles serve as the engine, chassis, and shock
absorbers of our bodies.
Are you Nuts?
For some folks, I recommend starting each day with a 20-gram shot of saturated fat. Then, I may suggest they repeat that decadence at least one more time that same day. Sound nuts?
Many people swear by coconut oil’s health benefits – and I’m one of them! The regimen prescribed above would ensure a daily 2-3 tablespoons minimum intake of coconut oil. I would also use coconut oil to fry eggs, sauté vegetables, and lather your skin after a hot shower.
Why? The health benefits of coconut oil are almost too many to list, but here are just a few:
- maintain cholesterol levels
- increased immunity from disease and infection
- improved digestion and metabolism
- relief from kidney problems, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer
- augment dental and bone strength
- lend to better weight loss, hair care, skin care, and stress relief
What about Heart Disease?
Coconut oil consists of roughly 90% saturated fat. This fact often condemns the oil as being bad for the heart, but that is a misconception. Coconut oil is actually beneficial for the heart because it contains about 50% lauric acid – a unique fat, proven to prevent various heart problems, including high cholesterol and blood pressure. The saturated fats present in coconut oil are not harmful like other man-made vegetables oils and do not increase bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. Moreover, the saturated fat in coconut oil reduces the incidence of injury in arteries and therefore helps in preventing the thickening of artery walls.
Mankind has been consuming mainly saturated fats – in the form of butter, lard, coconut oil, etc. – for thousands of years, yet heart disease was rare before the 1920s. If anything, the recent rise of heart disease is most likely owing to the increased use of poly-unsaturated vegetable oils such as corn, safflower and canola, as well as margarine.
The bottom line on heart disease and coconut oil is that all saturated fats are not created equal. The operative word here is ‘created’ because some saturated fats occur naturally, while other fats are artificially manipulated into a saturated state through the man-made process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation manipulates vegetable and seed oils producing a rancid, thickened substance that only benefits foods’ shelf lives and corporate profits.
Weight loss, Digestion, Immunity and Infections
Coconut oil is nature’s richest source of medium-chain fatty acids, also called medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), is more easily converted into energy than other oils. MCTs are easily digested and immediately burned by your liver for energy (like carbohydrates, but without the insulin spike) and actually boost your metabolism and help your body use fat for energy. MCTs also help in healthy functioning of the thyroid and enzymes systems, and increases the body metabolism by removing stress on the pancreas, thereby burning more energy.
Coconut oil also helps control blood sugar, the secretion of insulin, and the body’s effective utilization of blood glucose. How does this contribute to weight loss? Reducing the workload on the liver, preventing the accumulation of fat, and treating diabetes are still just the tip of the palm tree. MCTs not only bolster metabolism, endurance, and performance, but they also improve overall digestion, immune function, and healing.
Your body converts coconut oil’s lauric acid content into monolaurin, a compound claimed to be toxic to viruses, bacteria, funguses and other microorganisms that cause other diseases. Coconut oil thereby enhances immunity strength and fights against a variety of infections due to its antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial and soothing properties.
These properties prevent the various bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc., that cause indigestion, thus improving the digestive system, while aiding in the absorption of other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Such important minerals include calcium and magnesium – essential for bone development.
Use and Dosage
Just as with any dose-response relationship, appropriate individual prescriptions for introducing dietary coconut oil will differ. Some people report experiencing mild nausea, but quickly build up a tolerance. If you are not quite ready to ingest coconut oil by the tablespoon, try substituting it for your butter or oil the next time you sauté your shrimp or roast your Jicama home fries. Coconut oil is ideal as a culinary oil because it can withstand high temperatures without losing its healthy properties and more importantly, it does not contain trans-fatty acids.
We’ve all challenged ourselves about our life perspective: am I approaching life with enthusiasm, or am I focused on reacting to the next event?
We all endeavor to carry a positive life view and live a life where our emotional anxieties and fears don’t dictate our choices. But where do we fall short? How do we manage a life where worries, fears, and stress don’t rule our mental health? One step is to by committing ourselves to daily meditative breathing.
We know that breathing is an instinctual activity for the sake of oxygenation; without breathing we can’t maintain health, much less improve it. But breathing also serves as an indicator and regulator of our emotional well-being. How we breathe, and what breathing exercises we engage in, determine much of how our body manages emotional and mental health.
It is precisely for the management of our physiological well-being that deep breathing exercises are so important. Blocking, suppressing, or denying our emotional responses to things around us stunts our breathing. How many times have you been in a stressful situation, sat down, and sighed a deep breath? It’s the body’s way of regulating our internal physiological processes. Relaxing while stressed is challenging, but intellectually we understand the importance of not making rash decisions or responding out of emotion. Breathing is a critical part of relaxing in these moments. By freeing our breath, we enable our bodies to stop the build up of stress, and we allow ourselves to physiologically decompress.
Staying mentally present is dependent upon proper breathing and enables us to be proactive in managing stress levels – serving as a prophylactic process. By maintaining a focus on our breathing patterns, we retain a degree of focus and concentration on ourselves – and avoid the anxiety from external people, places, and things which evoke emotional responses. The concept of emotional intelligence is predicated on exactly this state of being: the union between our physiological and emotional selves.
Breathing to Manage Anxiety
To be aroused is to be in a state of heightened physical and mental activity, resulting from internal and/or external stimulation. In contrast, anxiety is a level of heightened awareness characterized by stress, worry, and unease. While also occurring in response to internal and/or external stimuli, anxiety causes detrimental physiological responses such as increased and erratic blood pressure and heart rates, in addition to the release of immense amounts of cortisol from the adrenal glands –in elevated doses can trigger depressive and anxiety disorders.
So, while arousal is a state which can be positive in experience and outcome, anxiety is not. Arousal enables our bodies to perform mentally and physically at their best. Proper breathing is perhaps the most important tool we must ensure that we not only attain that optimal state – and mitigate anxiety – but maintain it throughout anxiety-filled experiences. The rewards of good physiological health are the result of proper regular breathing, good breathing exercises, and daily periods of meditative breathing.
What do these breathing exercises look like, which teach us proper daily breathing? Put simply, we inhale through the diaphragm – in the middle of our torso – and belly instead of our chest. The chest and shoulders contain a higher concentration of muscle groups, which only serve to create muscular tension conducive to building stress – which is exactly what we’re trying to eliminate. In simple steps:
1. Sitting upright with your back firm against a chair, and feet flat on the ground, settle your shoulders, and relax your body.
2. Place your left hand on your abdomen to measure the contraction of your diaphragm with each inhalation and exhalation. Look to exhale completely, allowing your lungs to collapse smoothly, and without force or strain. As you do so, feel your hand fall inwards on your abdomen. Then as you inhale again, control the air coming into your lungs smoothly and evenly, feeling your hand rise on your diaphragm as your lungs fill with air.
3. Breathing abdominally, relax into a natural breathing pattern. Maintain the same pace but allow your body to learn this rhythm. To do so, your mental state begins to merely monitor the process rather than control it. Maintain focus on the pattern, the pressure, temperature, and feeling of the air as it enters and leaves the body.
Try this for 5 minutes each day, and progress to 20 or more minutes.
It is part of our nature for thoughts to enter our mind while focusing on breathing. This isn’t something to be frustrated by. Instead, simply release the thoughts and avoid holding onto them; allow them to leave your consciousness as easily as they entered. As you progress in your exercises you’ll soon find that they no longer create a distraction.
Simple Inflammation Solutions
Our bodies are complex machines capable of incredible things. But something that they were never designed for is to contend with the daily exposure of toxins and stress which we’re exposed to in our daily lives.
Our lifestyles tend to place us in precarious positions where we are exposed to so much and make choices which expose us to more. A direct relationship between diet and lifestyle exists, and an even greater relationship between chronic inflammation and disease. Everything to which we expose ourselves – that which we eat, drink, breathe, and think – influences our physical selves; it’s either anti-inflammatory or inflammatory. When our bodies are inflamed the physiological response is defensive and confused. Our immune systems turn against themselves and begin destroying healthy cells, tissue, and the list goes on.
Chronic inflammation is the direct result of an overwhelmed immune system. Inflammation has a devastating effect on the body over time. It wears down the immune system leading to chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, COPD, Type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease, IBS, arthritis, and again: the list goes on. While we cannot shut off the inflammatory response from our bodies – which exists for a reason – we can counter the effects of an immune system run-riot.
Who is responsible for this?!
There are myriad causes and triggers of chronic inflammation. Though we’re not helpless in this battle, we do need to take ownership of the control to combat them.
First, we need to crowd out inflammatory foods by adding foods which have an anti-inflammatory effect. Plant-based whole foods have such an effect by providing our bodies with much needed vitamins, minerals, cancer-countering phytochemicals, antioxidants, and fiber which are all essential in fighting inflammation. These high-quality foods can all crowd out refined sugars, vegetable oils, trans fats, and refined grains which all have a devastating effect on our immune systems and promote inflammation.
Second, we must listen to our gut. Our gut contains nearly 70% of our immune system, and it’s the first step in fighting inflammation. Probiotics are an excellent way to promote a healthy gut through the proliferation of good flora and bacteria.
Lastly, as we age foods which never bothered us before may suddenly become problematic. Dairy products and wheat may begin to trigger indigestion and discomfort that immediately put our immune systems on the defense … leading to greater inflammation. Commons allergens such as casein and gluten (dairy and wheat proteins) are easy ways to start an inflammatory process which can cascade into much more severe consequences.
Quit with the food – what else can I do?
Good rest and recovery, to start. Our bodies are constantly at work repairing cellular damage and restoring cellular function. If we’re exhausted our immune system is the first to suffer, and it responds in the easiest way: inflammation. Ready for more?
We must examine the physiological stresses we expose ourselves to. One might say that we cannot change the demands in our lives, and in many cases that would be true. But we can change our reactions to them, and we can change how we manage them. Stress exacts a steady toll on our immune systems, our adrenal glands, and our nervous systems. Emotional baggage which we carry, negative thoughts we harbor, and unprocessed emotion are as physiologically harmful as physical stress, but we often overlook these influences. Good self-care is crucial to reduce and manage stress more effectively. Sleep more. Engage in exercise, meditation, yoga, walk the dog more, and spend less time on the devices. Even a much-needed short vacation can be the trick to saving you.
We must endeavor to reduce the toxic influences in our food, personal care products, and in our lives. By cutting down the exposure to these contaminants through better food choices whenever possible, making better choices about what we use on our bodies, and what we use to clean our environments we can drastically support our immune systems by making them work less and with greater resources.
My Resolution? Rest.
Allow me to confess for a moment: my best efforts to find balance in my life – whatever that is – seem to erode the things that I always seem to want to do more of. If I try to spend more time with my family, I rest less. If I commit to walking the dog, I sleep less. And yet I don’t bother trying to convince myself that I’m alone in this plight: none of us get enough rest.
We don’t have to fall asleep sitting in the waiting room to know that we’re tired. Other symptoms of insufficient sleep include fatigue, low energy levels, irritability, high stress levels, indecisiveness, poor dietary choices, and so on. So, does this sound familiar yet? A show of hands: how many of us know the barista at Starbucks by name?
Quite simply: we pack too much into the day, and we expect too much of ourselves when we fall short, so we look for ways to increase our abilities to do things that we know we cannot maintain. In essence: our way didn’t work, so we need to try our way harder – right? Hmmm. Let’s sleep on it.
We all intellectually understand that ample sleep is a critical part of life. So why don’t we do it? Not only is it necessary to be able to perform the things we’re engaged in and enjoy, but it also is crucial in maintaining a healthy weight and staying healthy, period. Staying healthy, we’re told, depends on good nutrition and exercise. But when did we lose sight of the fact that our bodies need sleep to be able to repair, recuperate, and rebuild?
Sleep is not merely about controlling our appetites, preventing weight gain, and providing more energy. Less sleep leads to bad dietary choices, increased stress levels, and all the other things we’ve listed above. So, it’s not only that a lack of sleep deprives us of what we need, it introduces things into our lives that we don’t need. The long-term effects from exhaustion trigger fat storage regardless of what diet we’re trying.
Moreover, research has shown that insufficient sleep can counter weight loss efforts and mimic low insulin sensitivity and high blood sugar levels. Even when we are stellar at eating right and exercising, we cede our progress to sleeping less than we need and sacrificing the time for our bodies to recover from the infinite demands we place on them.
Recent research from the National Sleep Foundation has shown that sleeping 6 hours a night – as opposed to the 7-9 that we need – increases our chances of obesity by 23%. Sleeping 5 hours each night increases that risk to 50%. And sleeping 4 hours? Our chances of obesity rise by 73%! So, what to do?
- Try to stop drinking 2 hours before you lay down – waking up for a bathroom run ruins good sleep patterns.
- If you wake up a few hours after falling asleep, trying to give up alcohol to see if it has an effect – alcohol’s effects severely disrupt sleep patterns and quality.
- It’s a good idea to have a journal in your bedside table that you can list your stressors in – quiet the mind.
- Look at your sleep environment: flip the mattress, adjust the temperature, get new pillows, turn off the devices before you get into bed.
- Quit drinking caffeinated beverages in the evenings. In fact, look for herbal teas and oils which promote relaxation and sleep (lavender is a personal favorite).
- Try to avoid medication as a solution to getting more sleep – solving one problem may create a host of other serious problems.
- Most importantly: schedule your bedtime. We schedule every other important appointment, we can schedule this, too!
If we can incorporate all of this into our lives and continue to struggle, then it may be time for a check up or sleep study. Undiagnosed and untreated sleep disorders are more common than we think and can have a profound effect on our lives. It never hurts to consult a specialist.