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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

The Hidden Wellness and Fitness Benefits of Yoga

Yoga3.jpgMany of us know that yoga serves as a form of physical activity that increases flexibility for participants. Yoga focuses on putting the individuals in body poses that elongate muscles from head to toe. While this is very true, and I encourage anyone looking to improve their flexibility to incorporate yoga into their weekly workout routine, yoga has so much more to offer than just improvements in flexibility. In fact, the original context of yoga had very little to do with improving flexibility at all.

Originally the purpose of yoga was spiritual development practices to improve mind-body awareness. Over the years, however, many have begun to focus more on the physical benefits of yoga than the mental and spiritual benefits, which has led the practice of yoga to take on newly defined purposes. However, it is important to understand the mind-body awareness benefits of yoga, as they can be just as if not more beneficial than the physical attributes. Let’s take a look at what some of those hidden benefits are.

Nervous System and Digestive System

One major focus of yoga is to become more aware of and to control your breathing patterns. By learning to control breathing, you can move from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system almost instantaneously. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, or the part of your nervous system designed to respond to stress. When the sympathetic nervous system is in control, heart rate and blood pressure rise as a response to fight a possible threat. You want to limit the activity of this side of the autonomic nervous system. This is important because when the parasympathetic nervous system (or rest and digest) is in majority of control, your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels lower while your digestion rate increases. Once your body reaches this relaxed state, anxiety becomes something of the past. A faster digestive system helps your body make the most of nutrients found in the food you consume while regulating regular bodily function.

Focus and Creativity

If you ask an experienced yogi what the hardest part of yoga is, you might be surprised by their answer. Typically, one might assume that holding the different yoga poses would be the most challenging aspect; however, there is an even bigger challenge, which includes focusing—on nothing. Meditation is another crucial component of a successful yoga session. Experienced yogis are able to focus their attention on nothing but their inner self; all outside distractions are eliminated, at least temporarily. This may sound very simple, but if you have ever tried to completely clear your mind of all inner thoughts besides what you are feeling at that exact moment, you may be able to grasp how difficult a task this is to successfully complete.

However, once one is able to control their center of attention, they will find their ability to stay focused on one particular task (especially those that require attention to detail) becomes better and better. In a 2012 study published by the journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers were able to determine those who practiced meditation for at least 10 minutes a day for up to 16 weeks performed better with divergent-thinking tasks than those who did not participate in meditation at all.

Strength and Muscle Definition

Just in case you are not fascinated by the mind-body awareness benefits of yoga, there is a less discussed muscle defining and strengthening benefit as well, for those who are solemnly interested in the physical benefits. Who knew that yoga is actually great for improving muscle definition, and in rare cases even muscle hypertrophy? Because yoga focuses on moving and upholding your own body weight in various positions, it serves as a great strength workout in addition to flexibility and mind-body training.

Unlike traditional resistance training, which focuses primarily on the concentric contraction (the muscle contracts as it shortens) of a muscle, yoga focuses primarily on the eccentric contraction (the muscle contracts as it stretches) of a muscle. The eccentric contraction component gives muscles a more elongated look, while concentric contractions give muscles a shorter, more bulgy, look. If you have ever seen an experienced yogi’s physique, it may resemble that of a gymnast, basketball player, or even a track athlete versus those who participate in more traditional forms of resistance training, who might resemble a football player or bodybuilder with more muscle hypertrophy.

Yoga tends to train small and large muscles all over the body due to its high demand for muscles to work in conjunction with each other to perform the different body movements in various planes of movement. This is good for the reason that you often tend to work smaller muscle groups that may get little to no attention when practicing machine-oriented resistance training. With a machine that focuses on a one-dimensional plane of movement, it’s often impossible to train multiple muscle groups at the same time. Therefore, yoga tends to be a better option for improving overall body strength along with achieving a more proportional muscular physique.

Other Wellness Benefits

Some additional notable benefits of yoga also include (but are not limited to) immune system boost, pain management, increase in gray brain matter and increase in balance, and function ability. As noted above, the mental and nervous system benefits of yoga must begin to take back priority. Although improving flexibility can be a great thing, many have found that these additional benefits are what separate this form of physical activity from any other form.

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This blog was written by Darius Felix, Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: yoga muscles focus flexibility digestion wellness nervous system mind-body

Short Sleeps, Big Benefits: What a Power Nap Can Do for You

ThinkstockPhotos-530249969.jpgCan you remember preschool when the teacher would turn down the lights and break out the cots? Nap time! You might not have had that exact experience, but as humans we are prone to napping. In our go-go-go life, time is money. To society, sleeping during the day is seen as a luxury that we cannot provide ourselves, and is usually thought of as a sign of laziness.

Unfortunately, napping doesn’t pay the bills. Even so, many physicians as well as wellness-oriented CEOs have championed the idea that a little afternoon snooze is actually beneficial, and can not only provide enough rest to fight off fatigue, but improves your alertness, improves motor learning skills, boosts memory, and enhances creativity (Soong, 2010). Can napping actually make you a better employee at work, give you better results in the gym, or enable you to have a better social life with your family and friends? Yes, in fact, it can! Here is a closer look at napping and its benefits.

What Is the Optimal Nap Length?

First, I’d like to break down naps into two parts. The duration of nap that you are taking will be specific to you, but there is information that gives a good indication that for optimal power naps, 10 to 20 minutes of sleep will provide the best results. Longer naps can make you groggy; this is known as sleep inertia (Dvorsky, 2013). The longer naps, such as a 60- to 90-minute siesta, can put you in a state of REM (otherwise known as our dream state). There are some links to cognitive function associated with longer naps, but the time frame doesn’t always work with our hectic schedules.

When Is the Best Time to Nap?

The second part deals with necessity. Our naps can be planned, in which you know you are going to need extra rest for a long night, so you take a nap. Another would be an emergency nap, where you take a nap because you otherwise would have put yourself in a dangerous situation (think about getting sleepy behind the wheel and then deciding it’s best to pull over at a rest stop for a nap). Then there is the always popular appetitive napping—in other words, taking a nap for the sheer enjoyment of it (Dvorsky, 2013).

What Are the Benefits?

Your health and wellness can benefit from a simple, short nap. At the right length, your nap can provide much-needed alertness, mental capacity, creativity, energy, reduced stress (in turn reducing the risks of heart disease), and more effective learning abilities for children. With all these positives attached to something that can be done quite simply, it’s hard to understand why anyone would not take more naps. For businesses, your employees would be better workers with higher productivity; for teachers, your students would have a better chance of learning; and for you, your overall well-being would be improved. Don’t wait; take a nap TODAY!

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To read more about the other NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: stress Thomas' Corner employee health sleep productivity heart disease wellness naps memory

Hawaii 5-0: Five Island Wellness Habits We Should All Practice

ThinkstockPhotos-124816527.jpgBack in March I spent 5 fantastic days in Maui with my wife and her family, and as you can probably imagine, I had the best time of my life there! I have been so lucky these past 9 years to be included on my wife’s family vacations and have had the opportunity to visit some amazing places, each one better than the last. For that, I am extremely thankful!

Having the opportunity to travel is a pretty new concept to me, and the memories that are made and the realignment after some time off are priceless. I am beginning to believe that taking time to travel and explore new places ranks pretty high on the wellness scale, and I would urge anyone to make it happen. Maybe it’s not Maui, but do make it a goal to travel to a new place often and experience what the world has to offer.

Maui provided so many new experiences for me, some very surprising and unexpected and some life-changing. For example, wild chickens run around all over the place and are not that afraid of the human folk. SPAM isn’t discontinued; it thrives in the islands (still scratching my head on that one). And oh, jet lag is truly a thing; I never put much stock in the jet lag phenomenon, but it’s legit.

What I will take with me forever after this amazing, probably once-in-a-lifetime trip, are some of the life habits of the true islanders. Now of course it is still America, and there are those who take the island for granted and act as many do here in the mainland. But those who are native to the island or who are truly captured by the immense spirit of its origins and traditions, these are 5 habits they practice. I think anyone can benefit from them, no matter where they are in the world.

Aloha the One You’re With

Easily the most recognizable Hawaiian term, aloha has a lot more meaning than simply “hi” and “bye.” Hawaii is not the Hi and Bye state! Aloha means love and affection, as well as hello and goodbye. I think it’s a very good thing that when you see someone you let them know you care about them, and when they must go, you remind them that you love them. Make it a point to tell the ones who mean the most that you love them the most. And while you’re at it, share a little love with a stranger by simply holding the door for them, or buying that cup of coffee for the next person in line. Saying Mahalo, or thank you, for everything to everybody can go a long way toward making someone’s day. Bottom line: share the love!

Pau Hana: Make Time for Recovery

Work is done (pau hana); it is time to chill! Hawaiians work hard so they can relax even harder, and how can you not find relaxation in a place like that? But we usually don’t find time to relax and recover; instead we find more things to do, work out even harder, and not get a good night’s sleep of 7–8 hours a night. Taking time off, in this case from exercise, should be viewed as part of your training. When you find times throughout your day to relax, even for a few minutes, it can add productivity to your work day and help keep you fresh for family time when you get home as well as help lower stress levels. Now we may not be able to stretch out on the beach for a nice long nap every day, but we can find ways to chill out and retool that work for us.

Ono Grinds: Good Nutrition That’s Delicious

Good food (ono grinds) can be found all over Maui and includes items you may not find anywhere else. Have you ever had eggfruit? Neither had I until I visited Maui, and it is delicious. You can find fresh local fruits and vegetables as well as lean meats that are native to Hawaii all over the place there. Hawaiians take their food very seriously, I found. And I can argue that you can find the same quality of foods near you. You may have to skip out on the eggfruit for now, but there are plenty of markets, even year round, that can supply you with fresh fruits and vegetables. I don’t think I need to reiterate the importance of choosing foods that are close to their source; we’ve covered that many times in the past. Find a market and go shop there! While you’re there, pick up something you’ve never tried before and go for it. You never know; you might find your new favorite food. Hawaiians take pride in their food and how they enjoy it, as should we.

Hoike ia & Nani: Adventure and Beauty

Search for hoike ia (adventure) and find nani (beauty) whenever you can! Some of my fondest memories of my trip were long, relaxing walks along the ocean to soak up and be mesmerized by the beauty that surrounded me. Breathtaking views of sunrises and sunsets, whales breaching, and turtles swimming were served up in abundance. It was impossible not to become entranced with it all and find yourself searching your soul and losing yourself in the moment. So many opportunities for adventure and being surrounded by nature were available to me daily, and I took advantage of every minute. From snorkeling and whale watching, to watching the sunrise at the top of the largest volcano on the island and then riding a bike down the side of it, there were so many adventures and so much beauty to be had.

You may not have a volcano right outside your back door, but there is beauty and adventure to be had anywhere, you just have to take time to act on it and then appreciate it. This beauty and adventure will not be found in the television or on Facebook, you have to get out there and seize it.

Ohana and Moolelo: Family and Tradition

I learned the Hawaiian translation for family (ohana) early in the trip and found that ohana means a great deal to the people who live there. I couldn’t help but feel the overpowering sense of family and moolelo (tradition) with the people who live on the island. I truly felt as if I was part of the large Hawaiian ohana by the way I was treated by most. We attended a luau during our time there and the tradition that was on display was captivating. We were treated as if we had lived there for years, and they truly felt that we were a part of the family, even if it was just for that night. That’s a feeling that is pretty rare in most places, but it doesn’t have to be. I was pretty jealous that they make such a huge deal about their heritage, traditions, and ohana that we here in the mainland just don’t do.

If you take anything from this post, please make your ohana the most important thing in your life. Don’t let a day go by without telling those people that make up your ohana how much they mean to you. These most important people in your life may not always be here; cherish and celebrate them with your own ohana mau moolelo (family traditions) as much as you can.

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My trip to Maui has left me with long-lasting changes to the way I view the world and treat each day. And although I am describing takeaways from the islands, you can find inspiration and meaning anywhere. It will all be determined by the way your eyes perceive what you are looking at. Find the beauty, search for some adventure with your ohana, take time to relax and recover while enjoying some ono grinds, and spread the love!

Mahalo and Aloha!

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This blog was written by Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition stress recovery inspiration wellness

10 Winter Fitness and Wellness Tips

ThinkstockPhotos-619079130-1.jpgAs much as no one wants to admit it, the winter months are in front of us. Even though I grew up in a northern snow belt along the Great Lakes, cold weather is not my thing. In fact, I really don’t like anything about it. And often along with the winter blues comes a decrease in health and fitness due to the lack of motivation. To counteract that feeling, let’s look at ten tips that can help you be healthier this winter.

  1. Work out. I know it’s easy to lose motivation to keep working out when it’s cold out, it’s dark by 5, and you have to put on your snow boots and warm up the car before going to the gym. But working out actually helps to build your immune system and keep you healthy. So make sure that you build those workouts into your schedule.
  2. Eat well. It’s important to make sure that you stick to clean eating, especially through the holidays. All the additional sweets, snacks, drinks, and other goodies that come with the holidays are sometimes hard to resist; do your best to stay focused on your goals.
  3. Drink lots of water. Being sure that you have proper hydration is always important regardless of the time of year. Carry around a water bottle everywhere you go and make sure you keep drinking.
  4. Cover your head in outdoor workouts. If you do decide to work out outdoors, be sure to wear a hat or something to cover your ears. Making sure you stay warm and don’t catch a cold will be vital to your winter wellness success. (Here are some more tips for dressing warmly for winter workouts.)
  5. Get some sun if possible. Studies show that getting your vitamin D is essential. If you can dress appropriately, try to get outside on a nice day or plan that beach vacation during the cold winter months.


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  6. Wash your hands. I know this is the standard thing you see in every public bathroom or on the back of the stall doors. But for real, wash your hands to help prevent you from getting the flu or other illnesses going around. Catching something could really set you back in getting in your workouts and healthy eating.
  7. Set a goal for the spring. Have a goal in place as the winter months start so that you can keep it on the forefront as something to work toward.
  8. Get a trainer or workout buddy. There is no better time to treat yourself to some additional accountability. Hire a trainer for the winter months or find that accountability partner to keep you in check!
  9. Watch your intake. You must be mindful, especially around the holidays, of what you are taking into your body. Also, keep in mind that drinks add a lot of unwanted calories, so watch what enters the black hole!
  10. Join something. The options are endless…group exercise, HIT classes, group training, a training program of some sort, co-ed sports…the list can go on. Find something you like and sign up to keep you engaged.

Whatever emotions the winter months may bring you, use these tips to be successful with your winter fitness and wellness!

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This blog was written by Amanda Bireline, Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS winter fitness nutrition fitness center goal setting equipment group training accountability NIFS programs hydration HIT outdoors personal training wellness vitamin D

NIFS Dietitian Reviews Hello Fresh Meal Delivery Service

Hello Fresh Box.jpgWhen I ask people why they don’t cook more, I get a lot of answers. Typically it’s along the lines of “I don’t have time,” “I haven’t been to the grocery store,” “I don’t know what to cook,” or “I don’t know how to cook.” So I was intrigued by the meal delivery service options that are available for individuals who don’t cook as often as they’d like.

Some of the more popular services are Blue Apron, Plated, Hello Fresh, and one local to the Indianapolis area called Fresh Artistry. I had an offer for 50% off my order with Hello Fresh, so that is why I chose to try that one. Here is my experience.

Ordering and Delivery

I went to the Hello Fresh website to sign up. I was able to choose three meals to feed two people (from a selection of six meals) for $35 (originally $70). If I were getting vegetarian choices, it would be a little cheaper, and they also had an option for a family of four. After choosing a beef dish, chicken dish, and fish dish, I was able to pick my delivery date. I chose a Tuesday delivery so I could enjoy the meals during the week when time is short for meal prep.

The box arrived on my front porch with many ice packs to keep the food fresh. Each meal was nicely distributed into its individual boxes, which I appreciated, so I knew which ingredients went with which dish.

Hello Fresh Instruction Card.jpgHello Fresh Ingredients.jpgMaking the Meals

I pulled out the colorful instruction card for the first meal that it suggested I make to guarantee freshness, which was Bayou-Spiced Rockfish. It also listed the prep time, that it was gluten and nut free, the difficulty level, the ingredients I would be using, and a picture (this I really appreciated!) of the final product. When I flipped over the card, it listed the nutrition facts for the meal, what tools I would need to use, and detailed instructions with more photos! So far I was really enjoying my purchase!

I started to work on prepping the veggies and potatoes. What I really enjoyed was the fact that I had minimal dishes getting dirty in the kitchen. When I was finished, the only items I needed to clean were a knife, cutting board, and skillet. This was a plus for sure! After the veggies and potatoes were prepped and ready, I switched those out for the fish. The pan was hot so it didn’t take long at all for it to cook.

Hello Fresh Meal.jpgHello Fresh Veggies.jpgThe final thing to do was to put it all on the plate and taste it. I thought it was delicious! The portion size was ideal, the flavor was great, and the prep and cleanup were easy! From start to finish the time was around 30 minutes before eating.

The other two meals that I was shipped were also tasty. Each of those took around 35 minutes to prepare (due to a longer cooking time for the chicken and beef), and they both involved one extra piece of equipment to wash.

The Verdict: Thumbs Up!

Overall I was very happy with the service. What I really liked was the option to skip weeks easily when you don’t want a delivery. I was really delighted with the Hello Fresh process. If you have been wanting to cook balanced meals and do more healthy eating, this is the easiest way I know of to get started. Try one soon and let me know what you think!

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS nutrition healthy eating wellness cooking dietitian

Goal Setting: What’s on Your Fitness Bucket List?

Do you have a bucket list? Your bucket list includes many dreams and aspirations that may be obtainable but take some effort on your part to complete. Items on a bucket list could include (but are not limited to) visiting other parts of the world, furthering your education, and even going to see your favorite musical artist in concert. All of these things are great, but how can you create a bucket list of ideas for your health and wellness? The answer may or may not come to you right away, but given a little thought and strategy, you can begin a good, realistic fitness bucket list.

Setting Your Fitness Goals

ThinkstockPhotos-497641362.jpgMy fitness bucket list was created using SMART goals. SMART goals were first developed in the early 1980s by George Doran in Management Review magazine as a way to be more effective in goal-setting strategy situations. The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound. To tie this in with your bucket list, think about goals that may be a little adventurous or challenging, but not too easy. I would avoid having goals such as “go to the gym” and “stop eating cake” and include goals such as “climb Machu Picchu by the time I’m 40 years old” and “complete a marathon in less than two hours.”

What are your dreams and aspirations? Including fitness and wellness goals on your bucket list can have a positive impact on your health. Keep it fun and don’t forget about your short-term goals as a barometer to determine whether you are progressing toward completing your bucket list objective.

Get Help from a NIFS Personal Trainer

So, create your bucket list today. Refer to a NIFS HFS or personal trainer for assistance in taking the right, necessary steps toward your goals. Although your list can be private, sharing it with others can help hold you accountable. If you are comfortable in doing so, please share 1, 2, or 3 of your bucket list items below.

As always, muscleheads evolve and rejoice.

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, Health Fitness Instructor at NIFS. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers click here.

Topics: NIFS fitness Thomas' Corner goal setting health personal training wellness