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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Lockdown Lessons: Learning from a Crisis

GettyImages-823912910Daily, life provides countless learning opportunities that, if processed properly, can make us strong individuals capable of accomplishing extraordinary things. Some lessons stem from positive experiences in our lives, but I think the strongest lessons are derived from strife, hardship, and even failure. These lessons can hurt, and you can either live in the pain or learn from it. We are currently living a life full of learning opportunities that have and will continue to test our ability to grow.

I have learned so much during this time of crisis—about facets of daily life and of my profession, about myself and about people. In one of my recent posts outlining ways to “pivot” during stressful times, I encouraged you to write down and define a list of things you are grateful for. That same activity can be applied to lessons you learn each day. Take a moment daily, or weekly, to write down a few lessons that challenged you and how you learned from them. If you think about it, you should ink it for self-processing and to refer to later.

Here is a brief list of some of the greater lockdown lessons I have learned and have grown from.

I Don’t Hate Working from Home

In the past, I have always thought I would hate having a home office and not going to a physical place of work. Being in the people business and with the multitude of distractions that home life can add to your workday, I didn’t think I could be as productive, or that I would enjoy it. Now don’t get me wrong, I am counting the minutes until I can be back with people; that’s who I am. But I really don’t hate working from home right now. There is freedom in it, and it has provided ample time to really focus and get things done. It has helped harness my self-discipline, creativity, and a balance of work and life duties. I found some key behaviors to get the most out of your day working from home:

  • Keep a schedule: The early bird gets the worm. This goes for eating, too.
  • Dress up to show up: Get cleaned up and put on some proper attire.
  • Designate a work area: That is where you put in work.
  • Get up and move around often: I rotate work and chores to stay fresh.
  • Work out: Duh, exercise is crucial no matter where you are working from.
  • Don’t eat and work: Enjoy the quick break.
  • Log what you do: Some people are required to do this, but I think it’s a great reflection tool as well.
  • Shut it down: When your day is over, shut it down.

A New Appreciation for the Breadth of Social Media and Technology as an Educational and Behavioral Tool

I still consider myself quite the caveman when it comes to social media and all the technology that connects us as a community. But I have learned so much in a short time about so many ways I can affect others’ lives using many technological and media applications. From Zoom workout sessions to the many ways to post on all social media channels, there are countless ways to funnel information and great content to the masses. And although nothing can replace the feeling of connecting with someone in person, these tools provide a close second to reaching people. The strategies I have learned during this time using technology and social media will be used far after the lockdown is over and have made me a better fitness professional to serve people.

Great People Show Up in a Crisis

A crisis can bring out the best or the worst in people, but great people show up no matter the situation. Health care workers, first responders, and officials on the front line of the pandemic are owed our deepest gratitude for the work that they do. But I am also referring to coworkers, family members, and friends. Great people relish challenges and step up to provide solutions and take action to complete tasks and help others. I’ve learned a lot about many folks during this time, and that most people want to help as much as they can and find ways to do so. Your instructors and professionals at NIFS have answered the call and are proof that great people show up.

Fitness Matters

Once the stay-at-home order was set, it was amazing to see how many people were clamoring for ways to get their fitness fix. Fitness continues to be a huge part of so many lives, and as a fitness professional it was awesome to witness how important fitness and our industry are to people. Physical activity and exercise are still, and will always be, the best medicines to prevent and treat serious illnesses. I have seen so many stories of people who are healthy because of regular physical activity beat COVID-19 into submission.

Not only that, the response of so many people who wanted—nay, needed—to work out either virtually with others or family time fitness had been huge. Countless posts of people being active flooded social media, and folks flocked to virtual training sessions. It is not a new lesson to me that physical activity is the answer for so many things in our lives. It was great to learn that so many have heard the message and will do anything to get and remain active.

Adapt and Adjust

Don’t be that person who is the first to complain about a situation and the last to do something about it. We are going to encounter so many more challenges in our lives, both big and small, and the ability to adapt and adjust will be a lesson we use forever. Having the strength and grit to pivot and find ways to thrive during adversity are attributes that I believe are fortified during a crisis or negative situation.

The strategies and positive approaches you learn to implement during strife will pay huge dividends further down the road, whereas allowing the situation to consume you coupled with a negative mindset will lead to greater hardships even from smaller issues. Staying positive and taking time to think about how to adapt is how you learn to take on anything that may stand in your way. Taking action right away and not sitting on your hands waiting for something or someone to bail you out can be hard at times, but will be the only sure way to make it through and be a better version of yourself.    

School Is Always in Session

Last lesson: school is always in session, kids. Lessons can be found in any situation, and it will be those lessons that will serve you the rest of your life in great times and crisis. We will get through this; but “will you be new and improved because of it?” is the question. We will all need to learn a new way of living, at least for a little while. Find those lessons that are waiting for you and be a lifelong learner.

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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: exercise at home attitude technology mindset social media quarantine covid-19 lockdown work at home personal growth

“We’re Not in Kansas Anymore”: Take a Breath to Relieve Stress

GettyImages-544661136In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy woke up after a terrible storm in a world she didn’t recognize. The normal that she had known no longer existed. We are “not in Kansas” (or Indiana, for that matter) anymore after COVID-19 erupted around the world. Normal is gone for the time being. Some people have lost jobs and incomes, or are forced to work from home. Some have had or are fighting the disease, and some unfortunately have lost their lives.

We Are All Experiencing Stress

We have one thing in common. We are all experiencing stress. The level of that stress can vary greatly from one individual to another, but it is chronic “fight or flight” that takes a serious toll on mental and physical health. It distorts your moment-to-moment perceptions and experiences and your relationships, and clouds the bright light of hope. But we have tools to reground ourselves and loosen the constricting pressure of the stress anaconda.

Formal exercise and physical exertion (such as gardening and dog walking) release endorphins, your body’s own pain reliever and mood elevator. With the gym currently closed, we have posted workout ideas (blogs and videos). Knowing that the refrigerator is just too inviting, we have nutritional support as well. But now I want to focus on a different strategy for reducing stress: breathwork.

Breathwork

Your breathing is both automatic and self-regulated. But it is the controlling of your breath that can have an amazing impact on your quality of life. Yes, I know you have been breathing all your life, but that doesn’t mean you have been doing it correctly, especially when we live in a culture that worships flat stomachs and six-pack abs. Most people don’t use the diaphragm properly in breathing, and they don’t get incoming air deep into the largest area of the lungs. Let’s fix that.

The Complete Breath, Part 1

Try this breathing exercise for a few minutes with your focus on two places: the air passing in through the tip of your nose and the upward movement of your abdomen as air fills the lower lungs, slow and gentle as the air moves in and out.

  • Lie on the floor face up.
  • Bend your knees upward with the soles of your feet flat on the ground.
  • Place your right hand on your lower abdominals about 2 inches below your navel and put your left hand on the center of your chest.
  • Breathe out (don’t strain) and slowly breathe in through your nose.
  • Keep your attention on your hands. Which moved first, the right hand on your lower abdomen or your left hand on your chest? If you’re using your diaphragm correctly, your right hand should have moved first.
  • Key: Slow breaths, this slow movement calms the sympathetic nervous system and allows the parasympathetic nerve system to relax the body and mind. Stress can affect organs and tissue adversely, so calming the mind by slowing and controlling the breath can positively affect your body as well.

The Complete Breath, Part 2

  • Now place your hands on your bottom two ribs at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions and repeat the preceding exercise.
  • Instead of just feeling your abdomen raise straight up, with your hands more toward your sides, you should now feel the abdomen movement moving outward as well.
  • The entire area should be relaxing, and more air should be moving in and out with each inhalation and exhalation.
  • The next step is to gently inhale more to the point where the upper rib cage starts to fill and the ribs start to rise. As you exhale, the upper ribs will sink before the air is released from the lower abdomen.
  • Do not force the volume of the inhalation. This can do more harm than good and introduces stress into the breathing process, which is what you’re trying to release.

Graduate-level Breath

  • Consider the low back/mid-abdomen as a clock face. The navel is 12 o’clock and the lumbar spine is 6 o’clock. Left side is 9 o’clock and the right side is 3 o’clock.
  • The challenge now is to see if you can breathe just into each part of the clock face.
  • Stomach up and down first then hold the stomach flat and breathe by moving the low back up and down.
  • Next hold the stomach and low back in place and breathe by allowing just the sides to move in and out.
  • Now sit up with your back straight and breathe into all sections at the same time.
  • Key: It is not easy, but it is certainly an interesting challenge and you will learn how much of your body can be involved in the act of moving air in and out.

Another Benefit: Stronger Lungs

COVID-19 is the elephant in the room. Whatever you can do to maintain your physical and emotional/mental health will help you get through this. Besides the stress-reduction benefits of breathwork, remember that COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, highjacking cells and through protein synthesis spreading through surrounding tissue. Deep-breathing exercises can wake up lung tissue that has had little use and bring more flexibility into the lungs. Healthier lungs support a healthier you.

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This blog was written by Rick Huse, CSCS, WKC Competition Coach. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: stress relief illness prevention covid-19 coronavirus breathwork breathing exercises

Staying on Track with Your Healthy Routine During Quarantine

GettyImages-1215666910Take these next few weeks or so and use them to your advantage. We know this is an extremely challenging time, and we want to make sure you feel like you are taken care of. Circumstances are tricky right now, so even if you adopt one new technique, consider that a win! Don’t expect yourself to “eat the rainbow” every day, feel like you fall asleep easily at night from a relaxing day working at home in your pajamas, or get in a 10-mile run each morning. While you shelter at home and stay healthy, keep these tips in mind.

Create balanced meals with shelf-stable products.

Use fresh produce first, and if you feel like you won’t finish your fresh produce before it spoils, freeze it. Try to make half of your plate produce such as spinach, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, or cauliflower. Add some protein like beans (canned or dried) or tofu, and quality carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, potatoes, or quinoa. Remember, beans and grains will get you all of the essential amino acids you need, so don’t shy away from trying shelf-stable beans in place of your usual fresh meat. (Here are some meatless meal staples to look for.)

Have a plan for your meals.

Think “first-in, first-out” and make sure to use your fresh produce and proteins first in order to prevent spoilage. Create a meal plan list for the week and utilize one meal’s leftovers to create the next night’s meal to avoid wasting food. For example, if you had plain white rice to add to a veggie-stir-fry on Monday, consider keeping some white rice on the side to make rice and bean burritos for dinner the next night!

Keep food fun!

Get the family together and have fun experimenting during the week to see who can come up with the most creative meals. It’s like an episode of “Chopped” in your kitchen! You never know what some instant mashed potato flakes mixed with some flour and spices could turn into—potato pancakes perhaps. And make sure to not only keep healthy snacks in the house like nuts, carrot sticks, or apples for nourishment, but some of your favorite comfort foods will go a long way in lifting everyone’s spirits. We have had a lot of fun making popcorn in a pan and homemade bread this week.

Line up activities to do.

Plan a play date for the kids via FaceTime or Zoom. Schedule a remote “girls’ night out” and chat in the basement while watching the same TV show. Don’t go more than a few days without checking in on your friends.

Try meditation and stress-reducing activities.

There are several apps on the market that aim to help you meditate and fall asleep at night. It’s worth a try just to download one and listen while you are in bed at night. Coloring, doing puzzles, going for walks, and virtual therapy sessions with a counselor are other ways to put your mind at ease.

Stay healthy, stay calm—we’ve got this!

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition stress attitude wellness meditation illness prevention meal planning quarantine covid-19

7 Things You Can Do to Avoid Cabin Fever

GettyImages-1185186125It goes without saying; we’re living through some pretty odd times. With the onset of COVID-19, many of our lives have been flipped on their heads. For some, there has been less structure, and maybe a little more downtime, and that has the potential to make even the sanest of them all go a little stir-crazy.

Here are a few things that you can do today to help break the monotony (or break that Netflix binge) and add some flavor to your day.

Learn to play a new card or board game.

Remember that time your friends from Michigan asked if you wanted to play Euchre, and you responded with a shrug and said, “I’ve never played, can you teach me?” But they were too competitive to have the patience to do so? Is this oddly specific? Yes. But now is a perfect time to pick up a new game to play around the kitchen table. Whether its Euchre (I’m still working on it), Catan, or even perfecting your Poker face, take a break from professional development and instead work on learning a new game.

Play a round of Chopped: Home Pantry Edition.

For those of you who don’t frequent the Food Network, Chopped is a show in which four chefs compete against each other. In each round there are four “basket ingredients.” These basket ingredients must be used in some way, shape, or form, and typically end up being some off-the-wall, unexpected item that must then be used to create an appetizer, entrée, or dessert. After you’ve reorganized your pantry (because goodness knows there’s time now), take that flavored olive oil, an overly ripe banana, a packet of oatmeal, and a can of tuna and see what you come up with! Okay, maybe use some more tasty items, but you get the idea. Now, grab that apron and get cooking!

Reorganize your living room furniture.

This has the built-in benefit of killing two birds with one stone. Not only do you try your hand at being Joanna Gaines (you know, from Fixer Upper), but you also engineer a little extra movement into your day. Sometimes just a quick rearrangement can make that space you’ve been spending a lot more time in feel brand new. Just make sure you don’t take it a step too far and channel your inner Chip Gaines for a demo-day. (Jokes!)

Make a scrapbook of that awesome vacation from 3 years ago.

We all know you probably took a bajillion pictures when you were out West on that road trip, many of which didn’t make the Instagram cut. So break out the scissors, cardboard, stickers from all the places you explored, and of course all the goofy photos you snapped, and get down to business!

Finally finish that book that’s been sitting on your bedside table.

We’ve all seen those articles, right? Something along the lines of “How CEOs Read 247 Books a Week.” Well now’s a great chance to pick up that half-read book and finish the darn thing! Even if you’re not a bonafide bookworm, maybe check out something like a history of your favorite sports team, a biography from a standup comedian you love, or the book version of one of your favorite movies or shows to see how they compare.

Call a loved one or a friend you want to reconnect with.

While we’re adjusting to this new normal and practicing social distancing, that doesn’t mean that social isolation has to be part of the equation. As humans, we are social creatures by nature. So, that quick phone call to check in on your mom or dad, your good friend from college, or that coworker you really miss can go a long way in lifting your spirits, as well as theirs.

If you’re restless, get up and move!

As a blog writer for a fitness center, this one may seem like “duh, Lauren, we get it.” And I know most of us have probably had our Facebook page, Instagram timeline, and Twitter feed bombarded with versions of at-home workouts. But I think there is a lot of truth behind the notion that movement is medicine. If you’re restless, do a one-minute workout. If the weather’s nice where you are, get outside for a breath of literal fresh air. If you have a makeshift garage gym, blast some “Eye of the Tiger” and duplicate a Rocky training montage. However you choose to move, chances are you’ll come out in a better mood on the other side.

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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: attitude mindset illness prevention mental health quarantine covid-19 coronavirus