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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

How Getting Outdoors Helps Your Well-Being

GettyImages-857107456nGrowing up and continuing to live in the Midwest, I’ve grown to appreciate the summer months more and more. In fact, in Michigan we joke that there are really only two seasons:

  1. Sweltering summer with a side of construction.
  2. The endless frozen tundra that is 8 months of winter.

Long story short? When it’s nice enough to not have to wear a parka to brave the outdoors, you best believe I’m outside on a bike ride, relaxing by a lake, or unplugging on a hike in the woods during my down time.

Recharging Your Batteries with Nature

I’ve always felt like this has helped me recharge my batteries, anecdotally at least. But now, more and more research is mounting to support the idea that simply being in nature has numerous benefits to health and well-being. For example, a meta-analysis completed by Jones & Twohig-Bennett (2018) found statistically significant decreases in diastolic blood pressure, incidence of diabetes, and salivary cortisol (hello decreases in stress), while also reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and improving life expectancy and mental health. Not too shabby, right?

Spend Two Hours or More Outside Each Week

But how much time do you need to spend in nature to reap the rewards for health and well-being? It looks like current research is supporting the 120-minute threshold per week.

White et al. (2019) examined results from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey in England, which included 20,000 people over a three-year span. They found that those who reported being in nature for two hours or more during the week were overall healthier and had a greater sense of well-being compared to those who did not get outside at all. Spending 60 to 90 minutes came with some improvements, but it was not as significant an effect as two hours. And over 5 hours per week had no additional benefits. What’s more, these results rang true across all demographics examined in the study: age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, proximity to nature—all exhibited improvements to health and well-being at the two-hour mark.

So, the moral of the story? While the exact mechanism remains unknown, making time in your schedule to get outside in some way, shape, or form for two hours a week (in ANY increments of time) can not only help you mentally recharge, but also significantly improve your health and well-being going forward.

For some tips on exercising outdoors safely in the summer, check out this blog.

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: outdoors cardiovascular outdoor exercise stress relief longevity nature mental health well-being

Better Sleep = Healthier Living

GettyImages-820818020How often is it that you hear someone say, “Man, that was a great night’s sleep!” or “I slept like a baby!”? Not as often as we would like to hear, I would say! Being tired and feeling sluggish seems to be the new normal. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most Americans are sleep-deprived. Not getting enough sleep might be causing a lot more trouble than just that sleepy feeling. In fact, it could be seriously harming your health.

Why Aren’t We Sleeping?

Centuries ago, it was common for people to sleep anywhere from 8 to 9 hours each night. But now only about 25 percent of Americans get 8 or more hours of sleep. There are various reasons why we aren’t sleeping. We live in a society that is constantly on the go, 24/7. From fitness centers being open 24 hours to pharmacies and department stores being open later, around-the-clock convenience is there.

So many activities go on during a 24-hour period. From working long hours, transporting kids to their activities, trying to make time for friends, not to mention enjoying a little bit of entertainment—oh, and can’t forget about making time for our health and fitness goals. Sleep is typically the first thing to disappear from our lives, so it becomes second nature to not get enough of it.

Here’s the thing though: even when we do end up finally getting into bed, it doesn’t exactly mean we go right to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 60 parent of Americans have sleep problems. You heard it right—more than half of us struggle to sleep, and we are starting to pay for it.

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

“The foundations of good health are good diet, good exercise, and good sleep, but two out of the three doesn’t get you there.” —Dr. Anne Calhoun, neurology professor, University of North Carolina (source: CBC)

The three components that are needed to make up a healthy lifestyle are exercise, eating healthy, and sleep. Exercise and nutrition aren’t enough to make up for the danger that sleep deprivation poses to your health, however. Some studies indicate that adults can get as little as 7 hours of sleep a night and that can be sufficient. But shooting more for 8 hours would make a world of difference. And getting less than 7 can cause some serious consequences:

Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

If you get less than 6 hours of sleep each night and have disrupted sleep, you have a 48 percent greater risk of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15 percent greater risk of developing or dying from a stroke. Not to mention, lack of sleep can cause high blood pressure, blocked arteries, stroke, kidney disease, and dementia.

Obesity

Sleep shortage is directly linked to obesity. When you don’t get enough sleep, two very powerful hormones that control hunger are disrupted, resulting in you feeling hungrier and having fewer sensations of fullness.

Not getting enough will also cause you to feel more stressed, which boosts the production of the hormone cortisol in your body. The cortisol hormone causes you to crave high-carbohydrate foods such as chips and brownies, which then turn into the fat around your belly, which is the most dangerous place to store fat.

Another reason sleep is important is that the risk of pre-diabetes goes up. When trying to make it on less than 6 hours of sleep per night, your glucose tolerance becomes impaired.

Immune System Becomes Depleted

Ever wonder how two people can be exposed to the same germs, but only one of them gets sick? The answer: their immune systems. When you have a well-functioning immune system, you are capable of warding off many illnesses. But when something is causing your immune system to not function the right way, like sleep deprivation, you become vulnerable to infections, bacteria, viruses, and even some autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and asthma.

Less sleep = more stress and a compromised immune system

Low Exercise Performance

As if the threat of heart disease, obesity, and immune suppression isn’t enough to deal with, lack of sleep can negatively impact your fitness regimen as well. A recent study in Lipids in Health and Disease came to the conclusion that exercise can help increase insulin sensitivity and sleep quality while decreasing body fat.

***

At the end of the day, lack of sleep does far more harm to your health than you might realize. Although it might take some rearranging of your schedule, putting sleep first means that you don’t have to worry about making time for illness—because, let’s be honest, who has time to get sick?

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, Weight Loss Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: disease prevention sleep immunity cardiovascular obesity sleep deprivation heart health

Ready to Try Cycle? Here's What You Need to Know

Cycle is NIFS class of the month! This high-energy cardiovascular workout uses various performance levels and speeds to get you cycle fit. Music is a big motivator and will help you get through the hills, flats and intervals!

If you have never tried a cycle class there are things you might want to know that will make the class experience more enjoyable. In this video I will show you how to setup your bike properly including:

  • Adjusting your seat position and height
  • Adjusting your handlebars
  • How to adjust tension
  • What to do the first time you come to class

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 12.01.38 PM.png

I hope these tips help you get more comfortable before you jump into your first cycle class! Let's get started! Check out NIFS group fitness schedule for the next cycle or RPM™ class.

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This blog was written by Rebecca Heck, Group Fitness Coordinator and NIFS Trainer. To find out more about our bloggers, click here.
Topics: cardio group fitness group training cycling cardiovascular indoor cycling Group Fitness Class of the Month

Annual Checkups and Health Assessments Can Save Your Life

As we age, it’s almost inevitable that our bodies are going to age as well. Yes, there are plenty of ways to keep our bodies from feeling like they have aged, and to keep our bones protected, and nutrition and exercise lifestyles go hand in hand to assist that. However, there are certain aspects, such as genetics and health history, that still play a very important role in keeping us healthy.

Pete-Binhack.jpgI sat down with Pete Binhack and his wife, Julie, both active and longtime NIFS members, and listened to them share Pete’s story about making a decision to get a simple $50 heart scan to check his cardiovascular health—a decision that ended up saving his life.

First tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you have been living a healthy lifestyle.

I am currently 58 years old, and have been running regularly for the last 18 years; I made a declaration to myself when I turned 40 that I would start running and have kept it up ever since. Since then I have completed about six full marathons so far, and as of this year I have completed 18 mini marathons. I found that running is what contributed to taking care of my work stress; I have a fairly physical job in the HVAC/refrigeration industry and that has encouraged me to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Do you normally make sure to schedule annual checkups with your doctor?

Yes, I actually have always kept up an annual checkup with my doctor since the age of 18. I always took advantage of the free annual checkup that I was given from each of my employers when I would begin a new job, and then would make sure to get one every year in between.”

For some of us, an annual checkup is sufficient, and it’s a wonderful start for those of us who do not currently have a doctor that we see annually. Many of us go years without seeing our physician until we find that we have to make an appointment because we just can’t kick a cold on our own or because we are feeling “off our game.” However, when it comes to more specialized appointments to check for a specific disorder (cancers, cardiovascular disease, etc.), many of us tend to not even think twice about getting checked.

What made you decide to get a heart scan?

My brother had major open-heart valve replacement surgery when we were younger, in the early ‘60s. Then I saw it via advertisement last year while visiting a friend in the hospital after having a heart attack. To be honest, I procrastinated on it until after going to a funeral for a 58-year-old high school friend of mine who died of a heart attack. The funeral was on a Wednesday; I called and made an appointment for the following Thursday.”

What were the results?

My doctor called me within two hours of receiving the results to tell me to stop my running. I had a more thorough scan set up and was then recommended to a thoracic surgeon for our next steps.”

“We thought we would be seeing her for medicine options,” his wife, Julie, stated, “We had no thoughts in our heads about surgery.”

“Later after going to the Cardiovascular Center at Methodist to see the surgeon, she showed us a 3D picture of an ascending aortic aneurysm in Pete’s heart,” Julie said. “It was 5½ centimeters wide, which is two times the size of where it should be.”

The results were shocking for both Pete and Julie, and it was crucial to move quickly in their following appointments and surgery.

“If it had ruptured, I would not be here today,” Pete replied. “My surgeon said she was pretty positive that I would not have lived through the rest of the month. Surgery was the only option. Within five days I ended up having open-heart surgery to remove the aneurysm on March 19, 2015, during which they also found a significant amount of plaque on my valve.”

Needless to say, it is important to schedule routine appointments with your doctor—not only a yearly physical or regular checkup, but also more specific appointments to get a deeper look at high-risk areas. This requires us to make sure we have a good understanding of medical history in our families.

Do you have a history of heart disease in your family?

“Yes, so my issue was more of a genetic situation. I have six brothers and sisters, four of whom have heart valve issues that are currently being monitored, and two of whom have gone out and had heart scans done since I had my surgery.”

Now that you are recovered, are you able to continue doing all the things you enjoyed before? Is there anything different?

“Yes and no. Recovery went well, but physical therapy was hard because they wanted to slow me down, while I, naturally, wanted to go faster. However, within six weeks I was able to complete the Indy Mini-Marathon with my daughter, and within three months time I went back to work. Now I am just naturally cautious of things, such as bumping my chest, etc.”

“Sometimes I forget that it has only been one year since the surgery, and I have to remember that,” Julie said. “I also have to make sure to have a little more patience with Pete’s progress. Currently I’m not sure if he’ll be returning back to his original running level, but we are very fortunate to even have him back at 60 percent of what he was.”

What advice do you have for those who haven’t gone to the doctor in a while?

“Make the appointment and sincerely evaluate where you want to be in the future,” Julie stated. “If you have never gotten a heart scan done, or any other assessment, and [certain diseases] run in your family, there’s no excuse. We got very lucky with our doctor and it was a positive influence for the both of us.”

“Don’t be afraid to make that first step and just get it done,” said Pete. “The sooner the better; make the appointment and sincerely evaluate where you want to be in the future. What we thought would be a routine appointment turned into a life-changing one, but it was all for good in the end.”

I know that for many of us, myself included, we often forget about annual checkups and assessments, or simply neglect making the appointment because we are afraid of hearing bad news or having to make changes in our lifestyle that stray from our comfortable routine. But the fact is, the sooner and more often we check in with what’s going on inside, the quicker we can catch the things that can be treated in the early stages. This will help us be better off in the long run, and we can rest easier knowing that we are taking care of ourselves from the inside out!

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This blog was written by Rebecca Newbrough, Lifestyle Program Coordinator and Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS heart disease cardiovascular assessments

Making Sense of Cardio: Running vs. Walking

ThinkstockPhotos-78754936Cardio, short for cardiovascular exercise, has been around for a while—really, since the beginning of time, if you think about what cardio is and what it does for our bodies. In essence, we are doing cardio all the time, just at various intensities (if we weren’t, we would not be reading this!). The primitive man did cardio to stay alive, the Pan-Hellenic Games of Ancient Greece introduced cardio as a sport, and in modern times we do cardio to replace the manual labor that produced enough calorie consumption and expenditure to keep our bodies lean and strong.

There are many types of cardio that we do to stay in shape, and many arguments about which equipment is best for burning calories. Of the cardio that is mentioned, running and walking usually come up most in discussion about which is the better cardio. Here, I discuss this topic and get to the bottom of this fitness impasse.

Running Pros and Cons

There are always two sides to a story. Running, obviously the more rigorous of the two, carries many benefits, including strengthening the heart and lungs, improving blood flow and circulation, burning calories, etc. 

There can also be a case made that running isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A lot of wear and tear on the body occurs over the course of a runner’s life, whether it is your feet, knees, or hips (Weil, 2015)

Walking Pros and Cons

On the other end of the spectrum, we can look at walking for cardio in the same light. The benefits of walking include calorie burning, but vary to include stress reduction. The impact of walking is definitely less on the cardiovascular strength side, but it provides much-needed exercise to individuals who cannot physically run (Caton, 2012)

From the calorie-burning standpoint, walking can burn as many calories as running, assuming you do the same amount of work. This means that it will take you longer to burn 100 calories walking versus 100 calories running. 

Running and Walking Are Both Good!

One thing that I have learned both professionally and personally is that not everyone is a great marathon runner, and not everyone has time to be a successful cardio walker. The main thing to take away from this message is that cardio, whether it is through walking, running, biking, or swimming, is essential to good health, feeling your best, and sustaining a long and productive lifestyle (Thompson, et al, 2013)

I encourage anyone who is not currently doing cardio to start (albeit slowly) incorporating a cardio program into your life. The discussion here really isn’t about whether running is better than walking, but that we do something to get going and make the effort to better ourselves. There are no sabertooth tigers to chase us around anymore, but we can see results by incorporating the most simplistic of exercises, walking and running, into our routines.

We can help! NIFS training staff is eager to meet you and help you develop your fitness program. Stop by the NIFS track desk to schedule a consultation today!

Rejoice and Evolve,

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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 cardio Thomas' Corner running walking cardiovascular

Learn About Cardiovascular Health During American Heart Month

heart-1There is no better time to get your cardiovascular health on track than right now, during heart health month! February is American Heart Month, and a time that the CDC is trying to help us be aware that heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure are the number-one killers of men and women. Heart disease can be scary, and although not 100% preventable in all cases, it is reassuring to know that there are thing we can do to prevent it.

Who Is at Risk for Heart Disease?

Let’s start by taking a look at understanding who is at risk for heart disease and how it can play out in your life. First off, the number of preventable deaths has gone down in recent years, but is still at an alarming number. What most of us know is that if we have a close relative who has died from cardiovascular disease, it does put us at a higher risk for getting it later in life.

Here are some things maybe you didn’t know:

  • Men are more than twice as likely as women to die from preventable heart disease.
  • Health disparities based on geography also contribute to it (in previous years, deaths due to heart disease were highest in the south and lowest in the west).
  • Race can affect your risk level. Nearly half of African American men and women have some form of heart disease, and the American Heart Association also tells us that African Americans are more likely than any other ethnic group to have high blood pressure and to develop it earlier in life.

Many of these things can be prevented by healthier habits and management of conditions.

Preventing Heart Disease

The good news is that there are some things that we can do to help prevent heart disease. Being active and exercising on a regular basis is one of the biggest things that can help! Exercising for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and maintaining a healthy weight makes the payoff even greater. You want to have a healthy mixture of both cardiovascular exercise as well as weight training and strength training to keep yourself in tip-top shape.

Another big contributor that can help is to not smoke or chew tobacco. Chemicals in tobacco damage the blood vessels of the heart, narrow the arteries, and could lead to a heart attack.

Eating a diet that is heart healthy is also important. Foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help reduce your potential risk factor as well as keeping to a low-fat diet and eating good sources of protein like chicken and fish. Getting enough sleep and keeping a low level of stress is one of the most manageable factors in heart health.

And lastly, be sure to get regular health screenings to monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and sugar levels to steer clear of diabetes and other health issues.

Managing Cardiovascular Disease

FEAR NOT! If you already have cardiovascular disease, there are still things you can do to help slow down the progress of it. Though things may seem a bit more difficult after suffering a heart attack, coronary heart disease, a blocked artery, or other cardiovascular problem, it’s vital to your health to work on many of the things listed above. Even with heart disease, things like exercising on a regular basis, maintaining healthy eating habits, keeping a healthy body weight, not smoking or using tobacco, and watching those “numbers” at the doctor’s office can significantly aid in your heart health.

Be sure to consult your cardiologist before putting an exercise plan into place in case you have any restrictions, but get started on your new way of life ASAP! And most importantly, be aware of your condition, take time to learn about it so that you can manage it the best way possible.

Like what you've just read? Click here to subscribe to our blog!

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


Topics: healthy habits heart disease cardiovascular

American Heart Month: Preventing and Living with Cardiovascular Disease

There is no better time to get your heart health on track than right now, during heart health month! February is American Heart Month, and a time that the CDC is trying to help us be aware that heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure are the number-one killers of men and women. Heart disease can be scary, and although not 100% preventable in all cases, it is reassuring to know that we can help ourselves to keep it away.

Who Is at Risk for Heart Disease? heart

Let’s start by taking a look at understanding who is at risk for heart disease and how it can play out in your life. First off, the number of preventable deaths has gone down in recent years, but is still at an alarming number. What most of us know is that if we have a close relative who has died from cardiovascular disease, it does put us at a higher risk for getting it later in life.

Here are some things maybe you didn’t know:

  • Men are more than twice as likely as women to die from preventable heart disease.
  • Health disparities based on geography also contribute to it (in previous years, deaths due to heart disease were highest in the south and lowest in the west). Race can affect your risk level.
  • Nearly half of African American men and women have some form of heart disease, and the American Heart Association also tells us that African Americans are more likely than any other ethnic group to have high blood pressure and to develop it earlier in life.

Many of these things can be prevented by healthier habits and management of conditions.

Preventing Heart Disease

The good news is that there are some things that we can do to help prevent heart disease. Being active and exercising on a regular basis is one of the biggest things that can help! Exercising for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and maintaining a healthy weight makes the payoff even greater. You want to have a healthy mixture of both cardiovascular exercise as well as weight training and strength training to keep yourself in tip-top shape.

Another big contributor that can help is to not smoke or chew tobacco. Chemicals in tobacco damage the blood vessels of the heart, narrow the arteries, and could lead to a heart attack.

Eating a diet that is heart healthy is also important. Foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help reduce your potential risk factor as well as keeping to a low-fat diet and eating good sources of protein like chicken and fish. Getting enough sleep and keeping a low level of stress is one of the most manageable factors in heart health.

And lastly, be sure to get regular health screenings to monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and sugar levels to steer clear of diabetes and other health issues.

Managing Cardiovascular Disease

FEAR NOT! If you already have cardiovascular disease, there are still things you can do to help slow down the progress of it. Though things may seem a bit more difficult after suffering a heart attack, coronary heart disease, a blocked artery, or other cardiovascular problem, it’s vital to your health to work on many of the things listed above. Even with heart disease, things like exercising on a regular basis, maintaining healthy eating habits, keeping a healthy body weight, not smoking or using tobacco, and watching those “numbers” at the doctor’s office can significantly aid in your heart health.

Be sure to consult your cardiologist before putting an exercise plan into place in case you have any restrictions, but get started on your new way of life ASAP! And most importantly, be aware of your condition, take time to learn about it so that you can manage it the best way possible.

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

Like what you've just read? Click here to subscribe to our blog!

Topics: healthy habits heart attack disease prevention heart disease cardiovascular