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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Have You Gained Weight Since the Start of the COVID-19 Pandemic?

GettyImages-1286893989According to the American Psychological Association’s latest Stress in America™ survey conducted in late February 2021, 42% of adults reported undesirable weight gain since the beginning of the pandemic, with an average weight gain of 29 pounds. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to many, since almost everyone was stuck at home, the gyms were closed, and people turned to food for comfort.

Six Tips for Losing Pandemic Weight

If you’re struggling to manage your weight following the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown, and restrictions, try some of the following suggestions for getting back on track.

1. Establish a healthy eating routine.

Aim to eat three well-rounded meals each day. Meals don’t have to be complicated: the easier and quicker, the better. Try pairing a protein source (such as chicken, salmon, or ground turkey or lean beef) with various grilled, roasted, or steamed vegetables and seasonings and sauces of your choice for a quick, inexpensive, and easy meal.

2. Count calories.

The only tried-and-true method for losing weight is to eat fewer calories than you expend each day. Often when people eat healthy but don’t count calories, they tend to overestimate the number of calories they expend and underestimate the number of calories they eat, leading to weight gain/maintenance and frustration. To determine your individualized caloric needs, speak with a registered dietitian or get an estimate from the USDA’S DRI Calculator for Healthcare Professionals.

3. Stay active.

Fifty-three percent of adults reported that they have been less physically active than they would prefer since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Stress in America™ survey. Physical activity is a great method for managing weight and stress, and has even been shown to improve sleep. If you don’t feel comfortable going to the gym, take a walk outside. If you’re not able to safely walk outside, create your own walking route inside your home or apartment and take several brief walks throughout the day to keep moving. Try to incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity into your routine every day.

4. Limit alcohol consumption.

According to the Stress in America™ survey, 23 percent of adults reported drinking more alcohol during the pandemic as a coping mechanism for stress. The calories in alcohol tend to add up quickly, and too much alcohol can lead to unhealthy habits like overeating. To prevent alcohol-associated weight gain, be sure to drink in moderation, which is defined as no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

5. Manage stress.

There is evidence to suggest that increased cortisol, the hormone released during stress, may result in an increased appetite, leading to overeating and potential weight gain. Instead of turning to food for comfort, be sure to control stress through mindfulness and meditation, exercise, and social support.

6. Get enough sleep.

The Stress in America™ poll also found that 35 percent of adults noted getting less sleep since the start of the pandemic. Sleep plays an important role in losing weight, as inadequate or poor-quality sleep can affect the hormones that control hunger and satiety, may result in less energy for exercise, and could make you more susceptible to making poor food choices. The National Sleep Foundation recommends between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night for most adults.

Weight-loss Help from NIFS

NIFS can guide you in your weight-loss journey. Our popular Ramp Up to Weight Loss program has been adapted so that you can participate virtually from home  or at NIFS.

Find out more about Ramp Up to Weight Loss. Contact us today!

This blog was written by Lindsey Recker, MS, RD, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: stress weight loss calories alcohol covid-19 lockdown pandemic

NIFS Supports Your Physical and Mental Wellness

GettyImages-1216431174The current COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything most have experienced in their lifetimes. The dangers of this virus are still real and need to be taken seriously. Even though it seems monotonous, it is important to recognize the importance of wearing a mask and maintaining physical distancing, because at times it seems the public is becoming numb to these terms.

We know that many people are still working from home as we are at the one-year mark of shutdowns. We all want to reach a sense of normalcy sooner rather than later. But with new stressors of the inability to “unplug” from work, balancing work within family life, and keeping businesses afloat that rely on in-person transactions for revenue, these times are arguably more stressful now than they have ever been.

What Is Wellness and How Can NIFS Help?

Wellness is the act of practicing healthy habits daily to attain better physical and mental health outcomes so that instead of just surviving, you’re thriving.

We want to encourage you to eat, exercise, and sleep like we are not in a pandemic. Plan a routine, eat on a schedule, set aside a time to increase your heart rate, and rest.  

We offer virtual personal and small-group training options as well as nutrition coaching to create your very own personal action plan. Our trainers can work with you at a time that is convenient for you from the comfort of your own home. In addition to tailored workout programming, we also offer a variety of group fitness classes livestreamed on Zoom weekly.

Why Is Prioritizing My Wellness Important?

Numerous areas of your lifestyle tie into your overall wellness. Those areas include social connectedness, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and mindfulness. Every single one of these aspects impacts your physical and mental health. To starts, consciously make one or two simple and healthy choices each day. Go on a walk, try new food, or call a family member or friend. Making small changes daily can lead you to a better-rounded and well-balanced lifestyle during the current pandemic. 

Implementing new habits that you look forward to can make a positive impact on your life. By consciously making the daily choice to be well, your actions will lead you on the path toward reduced stress, positive social interactions, and optimal wellness.

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NIFS wants to help provide you with the tools you need to be well both physically and mentally. Our facility is open with sufficient distancing, mask-wearing policies, and additional cleaning measures in place. However, we understand that in-person is not the best way we can serve everyone at this time. NIFS is meeting you where you are to support your wellness. If you want more information about online classes or online training please contact us today at 317-274-3432 ext 262 or by email.

Let us help you positively impact your well-being.

This blog was written by Payton Gross, Group Fitness Coordinator and Barre Above Instructor. Learn more about the NIFS bloggers here.

Topics: NIFS fitness center personal training small group training fitness and wellness physical fitness mental health covid-19 pandemic remote fitness virtual training

Get Back on Track with Fitness Motivation Habits in the New Year

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When we began the early stages of the pandemic lockdown, the sidewalks were full of runners and walkers, and living rooms were a blur of new spin bikes and uncoordinated bodyweight lunges. Out of boredom from being home, I would bet physical activity levels were peaking right before restrictions began to be eased this summer.

Like a New Year’s resolution, motivation to exercise has gradually faded. It was a lot easier to exercise when you had only two choices during this pandemic, stay at home all day or get out and get moving. But now, after months of shifting social restrictions, many have lost their motivation to exercise again.

Five Quick Motivation Fixes

Here are some quick fixes to help get back on track with ways to improve your fitness motivation in the New Year.

Plan your exercise for when it’s easiest to do and then treat your workouts like appointments.

This might mean exercising as soon as you get up in the morning, like me, or mid-afternoon or after a day of work at home. Whenever you start your workout for the day, before temptations and obstacles begin, be organized and have a routine. Do not miss your workout session; going in with the mindset that you have to accomplish it is an excellent way to increase adherence and motivation.

Make it easy to exercise.

Do not make it a challenge to plan exercise ahead of time. For example, I lay out and pack up my workout gear in the evening as to be ready for when I go off in the morning. Do as many things as you can beforehand so that, when the time comes, starting your workout is easy. Break the process of exercising into chunks and then maximize your workout time:

  • Step 1, requiring a little bit of effort: Get changed into workout gear.
  • Step 2: Step out the door and on your way to your planned workout.

Before you know it, it’s harder to not exercise than to exercise.

Reduce your time.

Workouts shouldn’t take hours on end. No one has the time or motivation to be stuck working that long. Instead, change up your workouts with supersets. A superset is two or more exercises stacked together with little or no rest between them to create a more efficient workout. It’s your best friend during workouts because it helps you get more done in less time.

Ideal for building strength, pair two or more exercises that work opposing muscle groups, like Chest Press and Bent-over Rows.

While working the same muscle groups, for example Squats and Glute-Bridges, compound sets work on muscle endurance and are great for improving muscle definition.

Lastly, if you are working two different muscle groups like lower- and upper-body, this is considered a circuit. It’s great for burning fat. An example would be a push-up and squat, row and lunge, or RDL and Triceps Pushdowns.

Get excited to go shopping!

A huge motivation is to buy a new piece of workout gear. Get yourself excited to get back into exercise by buying something you’ve been eyeing. Workout gear could be anything, as long as it gets you excited to use it: a new watch with a GPS tracker, new workout clothes and running shoes, or even a new jump rope or dumbbells for your home gym.

Do what you enjoy.

If you find yourself wanting to jump rope or take a fitness class instead of doing burpees and bench press, it’s better to do what you want to do. Keeping it simple requires a lot less mental effort and requires minimal motivation. Repeat exercises that felt good and don’t try to force yourself to do something you think you should do.

A New Start for 2021

While many of us aren’t looking forward to further social restrictions, this New Year will give you another opportunity to develop a healthier lifestyle. If you don’t know the exercise lingo I used or you are a novice at working out, talk with a personal trainer or fitness professional who can help you put together workouts that are time efficient and effective routines that you’ll enjoy. By making some of the easy changes I have suggested, you can make enormous improvements in your motivation as we head into the New Year.

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This blog was written by Michael Blume, MS, SCCC; Athletic Performance Coach. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy habits motivation resolutions personal training new year's superset covid-19 lockdown

Can Vitamin D Protect You Against COVID-19? The Latest Studies

GettyImages-1280576988Healthcare providers and scientists are all working diligently to find ways to prevent, treat, and cure COVID-19. Many of us are eager for answers and probably getting tired of not knowing what to believe. One of the hot topics floating around is about Vitamin D’s role in preventing COVID-19. Can Vitamin D really protect us against COVID-19 or at least lessen the effects? Let’s take a look.

The Role of Vitamin D

Vitamin D serves many purposes in the body, the most commonly known purpose being assisting calcium absorption and bone mineralization for good bone health. It is less well known that Vitamin D plays an essential role in immunologic function—keeping your immune system strong. Vitamin D inhibits both B cell and T cell (lymphocyte) proliferation/rapid increase, affects T cell maturation, and facilitates the induction of T regulatory cells. It also helps regulate monocytes production of inflammatory markers and inhibits dendritic cell (DC) differentiation and maturation. All of this leads to a decreased production of inflammatory markers and an increase in anti-inflammatory markers. In short, it has an anti-inflammatory role.

Vitamin D and COVID

Now that you understand the role of Vitamin D in immune support, let’s look at the link between that and COVID-19. When healthcare providers check your Vitamin D levels, they request a lab called 25-hydroxyvitamin d. This is the circulating Vitamin D in your body. Ideally, we want to see that number be at least 30 ng/dL. In theory, having enough circulating Vitamin D should reduce complications by preventing the “cytokine storm” that providers are seeing in response to COVID-19 infection. The cytokine storm is when the level of inflammatory proteins rapidly rises to dangerously high levels. It is what leads to complications such as ARDS, myocarditis, and acute renal and heart failure, especially in those elderly patients with previous cardiovascular comorbidity. Researchers have started requesting this lab from patients with COVID-19.

Study Shows Decreased Risk for Adverse Affects

One cross-sectional study of 235 individuals showed that patients with at least 30 ng/dL had a significantly decreased risk for adverse effects, such as hypoxia (low oxygen levels), death of individuals over 40, and unconsciousness. Serum C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) was lower and lymphocyte percentage was higher in Vitamin D–sufficient COVID-19 patients. In the study, 67.2% of the 235 COVID patients had Vitamin D levels less than 30 ng/dL. The study saw no significant difference in hospitalization duration, ICU admissions, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), and intubation between insufficient and adequate Vitamin D levels.

Similarly, a study showed Vitamin D levels were significantly lower in COVID patients with severe symptoms than those with mild symptoms or no COVID at all. Of the symptomatic patients, 54 were admitted to the ICU due to ARDS—all of whom had lower Vitamin D levels than the patients not needing the ICU. Sadly, 19 patients died, and again they found that these patients had lower Vitamin D levels than the ones who survived.

Another Study Finds Lower Levels of Vitamin D in Hospitalized Patients

A study of 216 COVID-19 patients and 197 population-based controls saw significantly lower levels of Vitamin D in the patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 than the controls (of similar age and sex), which lines up with the previous studies. On the contrary, they did not find a relationship between severity of infection and Vitamin D levels like the other studies found.

Study Finds People with Vitamin D Deficiency More Likely to Test Positive

Another study of 489 patients found that those with Vitamin D deficiency (<20 ng/dL) were 1.77 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than those with sufficient Vitamin D levels. The study above by Hernandez et al supports this finding, showing that 82.2% of COVID-19 cases were deficient in Vitamin D compared to the population-based controls, where only 47.2% were deficient (which is significant).

Correlation Is Not Causation

Something to note: These studies are observational studies. Thus, we cannot determine a cause-and-effect relationship between vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 infection outcomes. Correlation is not synonymous with causation. So, while these results are important and useful, we must be careful to not go as far as saying, “Vitamin D can protect me from COVID-19 or lessen the impact if I get sick with COVID-19.”

Further research is being conducted since we do have strong observational support that suggests low Vitamin D levels may favor respiratory dysfunction and even death in those with COVID-19. Several Randomized Control Trials are in process. Many are trialing high-dose Vitamin D in those with COVID-19, such as the registered study by University Hospital in Angers (France). One has already concluded, but it was small with only 50 hospitalized patients being given a high dose of Vitamin D (calcifediol) and 26 not given a high dose of Vitamin D. Only 1 of the 50 high-dosed patients needed ICU treatment, whereas 13 of the 26 not given Vitamin D needed ICU treatment. 

GettyImages-1147455976Vitamin D Recommendations

Let me be real clear: You do not need to start taking a megadose of Vitamin D! Doing so can actually lead to toxic effects because it is a fat-soluble vitamin. The goal is to prevent deficiency to help keep your immune system strong.

I do suggest reflecting on your Vitamin D intake and exposure. Do you get out in the sun 10–30 minutes several times weekly? Sun exposure is less common in the winter, which hints at why more people are Vitamin D deficient in the winter months. When the sun’s UV rays hit our skin, Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) synthesis can occur. Do you eat Vitamin D–rich sources? If not, start to add some foods that are rich in Vitamin D. This will help you reach the RDA of 600 IU for young adults under 70 years old and 800 IU for adults older than 70 years old.

Here are some Vitamin D–rich foods:

  • Trout, rainbow, cooked (3 oz = 648 IU)
  • Pink salmon, cooked (3 oz = 444 IU)
  • Halibut, Atlantic or Pacific, cooked (3 oz = 196 IU)
  • Portobello mushrooms (1/2 cup = 316 IU)
  • Canned tuna (3 oz = 228 IU)
  • Milk, whole, 1%, 2%, and nonfat (1 cup = 115–128 IU)
  • Yogurt, various types and flavors (8 oz = 80–120 IU)
  • Soy milk (1 cup = 116 IU)
  • Orange juice, fortified (1 cup = 100 IU)
  • Eggs (1 large = 44 IU)

If getting your RDA by eating these foods is not realistic for you, I would suggest a Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplement to help increase your intake. A Registered Dietitian can help you adapt your nutrition regimen to meet Vitamin D requirements.

Finally, speak with your healthcare provider. They can always request that your 25-hydroxyvitamin d (circulating Vitamin D in your body) lab be checked. If you’re found to be deficient, you may require larger doses for treatment.

The Bottom Line

We do have strong observational support that suggests low Vitamin D levels may favor respiratory dysfunction and even death in those with COVID-19. However, we simply do not have enough strong data to conclude that Vitamin D sufficiency can treat or prevent COVID-19 infection until Randomized Control Trials are complete.

In the meantime, the best thing to do is continue to stay healthy (or improve your health) and keep your immune systems strong, which includes eating enough Vitamin D or having adequate Vitamin D exposure.

As always, please reach out to a NIFS Registered Dietitian for any nutrition support you need.

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition immunity vitamins vitamin D registered dietitian covid-19 pandemic

Safe Meals and Snacks for Going Back to School or Work

GettyImages-1257082950As many of us are confronted with the decision of whether to send our children back to school or continue with online learning, we are faced with many questions that we had never had to ask ourselves before. Breakfast, lunch, and often snacks are mainly consumed during these hours at school, so as we continue to see Indiana trying to return to normal and reopen, we might need to tailor our eating habits to ensure we are not risking unnecessary exposure to COVID-19 when refueling our bodies throughout the day. These ideas also work for adults who are returning to the workplace or have already returned to the workplace.

Keep in mind, you want each meal to be comprised of plenty of fruits and veggies (half of your plate), while one quarter of your plate is filled with a protein, and the remaining quarter is filled with a minimally processed grain like brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. Make sure to use leftovers to make the next day’s meal prep easy—think large-batch cooking. Snacks should have a protein (such as nuts, peanut butter, etc.) along with a high-fiber carbohydrate like a piece of fruit (think banana or apple) to keep you feeling satisfied throughout the day.

Tips for Safe Eating at Schools and Work

Here are some actions to consider when eating meals at work or school amid a pandemic:

  • Cut back on items that require heating up in the microwave to avoid touching a community microwave.
  • Use a thermos if you would like to take hot items (such as coffee or soup).
  • Pack a bottle of water (drinking fountains are likely to be closed).
  • Practice “hands-free” snacking. An example for kids: toothpicks already placed into small sandwich squares that they can pick up like an hors d’oeuvre makes for a fun and safe way to eat finger foods!
  • Use packaging to avoid touching food prior to ingesting food items.
  • Practice good hand hygiene. Scrub with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds and don’t touch other items prior to eating.
  • Bring your own utensils, napkins, and condiments.
  • Vary the times you visit the cafeteria if possible to avoid high-traffic times.
  • Keep your mask on as long as possible and try to sit at least 6 feet apart.

Meal and Snack Ideas

Take a look at some of these meal and snack ideas and give them a try. Keep in mind that these are suggestions, and I hope they provide inspiration. Although they don’t cut out your risk 100 percent, every little bit helps during this crazy time.

Breakfast Ideas

  • Smoothie: 1-2 cups of frozen fruit, a handful of leafy greens, a spoonful of peanut butter, and milk of your choice blended to your preferred consistency. Pack in a thermos and bring your own straw.
  • A banana and a squeezable almond butter packet (such as Justin’s).
  • Overnight oats: soak rolled oats in milk in the fridge overnight with a dollop of peanut butter. Add fresh or frozen fruit on top. Eat cold or throw in the microwave before leaving the house (it retains heat well!).

Lunch Ideas

  • Sandwiches on whole-wheat bread: wrap in parchment paper to avoid touching the sandwich when eating it. Skip the deli meats and try to load up on colorful and crunchy veggies with hummus in this option.
  • Pasta salad: bring your own utensils. Make a big batch of whole-wheat pasta and sautéed veggies and toss with balsamic vinegar and olive oil in the morning. Toss in a can of pinto beans or a handful of pine nuts for an easy protein.
  • Spinach salad: top with carrots, cherry tomatoes, walnuts, and chickpeas. Toss dressing on at lunch.

Snacks and Sides Ideas

  • Squeezable applesauce pouches
  • Larabars
  • Mamma Chia Squeeze pouch
  • Yogurt with a banana—I love the Silk soy yogurt for a dairy-free option
  • Individual bags of prepopped popcorn (try pouring it into your mouth straight from the bag—it might not look graceful at times, but it keeps your fingers out of your mouth!)
  • Precut fruit salad (apples, strawberries, blueberries, etc.)
  • Precut/bite-sized carrots, cucumber, and celery that you can easily stab with a fork or toothpick and dip into a little hummus

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While this is not an easy time for anyone, trying to keep up your routine in eating habits is important so that your body is properly fueled and healthy. Best of luck this year, and stay healthy!

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

Topics: healthy eating snacks lunch breakfast disease prevention kids school viruses covid-19 coronavirus pandemic

Returning to Play and Activity Safely After Quarantine

GettyImages-1014940186The uncertainty of the last few months has taken a toll both mentally and physically on everyone. Many people did not have access to gyms and instead did at-home bodyweight workouts or virtual workouts—or did nothing at all. As time has passed, we are now returning to gyms and everyday normal lives. Returning to play and activity must be done in a strategic way. Going all out upon return can lead to many detrimental effects on the body. Making sure to take proper steps back into working out is vital to your body and your overall health. Sleep paired with hydration and a balanced diet will aid in the process of coming back stronger and more efficient. Taking a slow approach will also allow your body to get acclimated much more easily and quickly.

Safely Returning to Activities

You should return to play and activity with moderation. Jumping right back into the gym 5-6 times a week will lead to overtraining and other soft-tissue injuries. Trying to max out upon return after not lifting heavy weights is another challenge that will lead to injury or worse. Gradually getting back into the swing of things is the way to go, and will lead to the safest and most effective return.

Starting with bodyweight exercises and lighter weight is a great way to return. Focusing on form and taking the time to relearn movement patterns is another safe, effective tool to use. This is a great time to identify other imbalances you might have neglected before, or things that were brought about by the pandemic. Giving you the best possible options will not only help with longevity, but will also help with overall quality of life. 

There Is No Rush to the Finish Line

During lockdown, your focus should have been on trying to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and staying as physically active as you possibly could. I know times were hard and days were long, but it shouldn’t have derailed all the hard work you put in before the pandemic hit. That is why it is essential to take proper steps to gradually get back and acclimated to the weight room. Continue to set goals. Keep them within reason. There is no rush in achieving them. Staying healthy and creating longevity is the name of the game.

If your numbers are way down since the pandemic, trust that the process will lead you right back where you were and beyond. Find alternatives and alternative exercises that will gradually get you back into the swing of things. For example, if you love the squat, find other squat variations that will keep you healthy as you gradually work your way back to heavy squatting. Goblet squats are a great alternative. Cyclist squats are another great tool for developing the quadriceps. Utilize the TRX; it is a great functional piece that will aid in your return to play and activity.

Enjoy Being Back Outdoors and at the Gym

Staying healthy during this time is the ultimate goal. Doing it safely and properly is the way to go. Utilize your trainers and dietitians to help you on your journey. Never hesitate to ask professionals for advice on returning to the gym. We love seeing you back as much as you love being back. Continuing to practice safe and effective training methods with proper sleep and nutrition will make for a great rest of the year!

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This blog was written by Jason Quarles, IUPUI Athletic Performance Coach. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: exercise at home injury prevention weight lifting overtraining bodyweight quarantine covid-19 lockdown

10 Emotional Wellness Insights from the Pandemic

GettyImages-1247301039It’s safe to say that 2020 has been one a heck of a year (and it’s barely half over!)—the good, the bad, the ugly. At times, it’s felt as if an entire decade has passed. No matter how you slice it, the fact that we’ve experienced something as novel as a global pandemic still feels weird to say, think about, and sometimes fully appreciate. It has been a tumultuous time outside of COVID-19 as well, and every person has had a unique experience, a unique perception, and unique challenges along the way.

We’ve all probably learned a thing or two about ourselves. We’ve had time to reevaluate what is important to us, and maybe find a few things that aren’t. Here are just a few things I’ve left quarantine with, in no particular order:

My Quarantine Takeaways

  • I needed to uncouple productivity from self-worth. In working from home, I found that I accomplished most tasks in spurts. I’d work for 2 hours straight, then go for a walk, then jot down ideas for projects for 30 minutes, then get in a lift, then eat while watching a show, and on and on. Other days I just wouldn’t have it—no juice, no gas in the tank. Responding to emails felt like a win. And then the eventual guilt would sink in. Why didn’t I do more? How is this all that I got done today, this week? After a few weeks of this cycle, I finally told myself, “STOP.” It’s okay that there are things left on your to-do list. Its okay that you’re not motivated every second of every day. What we lived through, and are still living through, is something that we have literally never seen or experienced (at least I haven’t!). So give yourself some slack, be a little more forgiving, and start each day fresh.
  • My “best days” involved some semblance of structure. Don’t get me wrong, I love a little bit of spontaneity. But for much of quarantine, I found that my good days involved a level of consistency. When I woke up gradually with coffee and water, got a little bit of work done first thing, cleaned up the bedroom/loft, got in a workout, completed any errands like grocery shopping, blocked off time for reading, and got outside for some vitamin D, I felt energized. I felt accomplished. Obviously, there were variations. But blocking off time, working through chores and work intermittently, taking time for myself with activity and self-care—more often than not these days fell into the “good” category. On days where I had no schedule, stayed up too late and slept in too long, binged a TV show, or had little activity, I felt like garbage by the end. I can still hear my high school statistics teacher saying, “correlation does not imply causation,” but at least my chances for a good day skyrocketed with a little routine.
  • The importance of “idle time.” Full disclosure: I’m not sure that working from home always meshed with my personality or temperament. I would check my email every five seconds, even though I just cleared my queue seconds before. I would write down three sentences, hear the ping of a new email dropping into my inbox, and lose my complete train of thought. I would sometimes go for a walk and feel myself getting tempted to check in. Like many of us, I’m already addicted to my phone, feeling incomplete if I leave a room without it (unhealthy, I know; I’m working on it). But I found that literally scheduling in time to do nothing did wonders for my focus. I wasn’t scatterbrained when I returned to writing or working on a project. In fact, just sitting doing nothing, or having a casual conversation with my housemates, seemed to just calm my nerves and anxious thoughts in general. Just 5-minutes of unplugged silence was powerfully calming as well. Moral of the story? Sometimes doing nothing is more productive than trying to do 42 things at once.
  • The power of connection. I’m sure by this point, most of us have come to a conclusion similar to this, so I’ll keep it brief. You don’t need to be in close proximity to be close to those you love and appreciate. Some of my simplest joys came from FaceTimeing with family or having a quick phone call with a friend. It’s a quick recharge for the mental and emotional batteries.
  • It feels great to make your bed first thing. It’s simple. It’s quick. It sets your day in motion on the right foot. And at the very least, you have a tidy place to come home to when you’re ready to hit the sack for the night. It just feels good.
  • My mood is correlated to the amount of news and social media I consume. See #3 from above, and you’ll get the idea. A little news is okay. Knowing what is going on in the world around us is crucial in my mind. But the constant onslaught of “breaking news” hour after hour, minute to minute, is completely exhausting. When I limited my consumption to short periods, one stint in the morning (after coffee of course) and one in the evening, I found that my day’s trajectory was a lot more positive overall.
  • Whether good or bad, this too shall pass. No matter how large my to-do list was, no matter how much uncertainty and worry crept into my thoughts, and no matter how cathartic a workout I had, every day came to an end eventually. Sometimes I found myself muttering “this too shall pass” under my breath when I would be feeling a particular amount of anxiety or stress. And you know what? It actually did help put things in perspective. Take the good with the bad, because it’ll all be over eventually one way or another.
  • It's okay if you binged that show or played that video game. Hey, we’re all human. Don’t beat yourself up for indulging a little bit here and there! (Refer to #1 as well!)
  • Take advantage of the sunny days. Growing up in Michigan, the second most cloudy state in the US (for real!), I had a bit of a head start on this lesson. But the pandemic sure as heck hammered it home. When it was a beautiful, sunny day, I made sure to get outside for some amount of time, even if it was only 20 minutes on the back deck in between meetings. It boosted my mood, calmed me down, and made me take a second to just have a little gratitude for the simple things.
  • There is a feeling of zen I have when lifting. I know: this is an obvious one coming from a coach. But that’s also why I left it until the other insights had their time to shine. Everyone has their own interests, their own ways to unwind, and for me that is under a barbell or with a couple of dumbbells in hand. My brain shuts off, the music blares, and I can just get lost in it. If you haven’t found something, some activity that brings you a sense of calm, I highly encourage you to start exploring! Hobbies and interests shouldn’t be left by the wayside just because they’re not your main hustle.

Lessons We Will Take with Us

I’m sure that everyone will leave quarantine changed in some way, shape, or form. And the lessons you’ll leave with will be completely unique to your experience. Whether positive or negative, try to carry these into your life post-pandemic. Because more often than not, they’ll help you in the long run moving forward.

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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 outdoors wellness vitamin D emotional self-care quarantine covid-19

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