<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=424649934352787&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Fight Back Against Back Pain: Fitness and Wellness Solutions

GettyImages-866081050With millions of people around the world suffering from back pain, is there any hope for relief outside of traditional methods? Low back pain can be excruciating and immobilizing, but there is still hope. When dealing with any pain or injury, exercising might be the last thing that crosses your mind, especially if it’s chronic low back pain (CLBP). However, that’s exactly what is recommended and what can help.

Research is revealing that people who exercise and stay flexible are better able to manage pain than those who are sedentary. So my charge to anyone reading this, whether or not you are living with low back pain, stay proactive and make health and fitness a priority. Rather than be forced into reacting to an injury that might have you sidelined for months, take a step toward low back pain relief.

The Impact of Lower Back Pain

Alarming statistics reveal that the single leading cause of disability globally is none other than low back pain. According to the American Chiropractic Association, “Back pain is experienced by 31 million people at any given moment.” After all, it is the third most common complaint during doctor visits and accounts for more than 264 million lost work days annually.

What Causes Low Back Pain?

Low back pain can flare up and subside in the blink of an eye. Often there is no warning and there are no other accompanying symptoms. Pain can occur in varying intensities and pain levels. It is important to take back pain seriously because it is your body trying to tell you that there is something wrong and that you need to make a change. Common causes include the following:

  • Muscle strain/sprain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Bulging discs
  • Arthritis
  • Skeletal irregularities

What You Can Do: Fitness and Wellness Ideas

Fortunately, there are several precautionary steps that you can take to prevent low back pain episodes as well as further injury. Keep in mind that humans are complex beings and it is important to address overall health.

  • Start and maintain an exercise program. Our NIFS staff can work individually with members to develop a proper strength-training program that addresses cardiovascular fitness as well as flexibility and mobility.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. According to the National Arthritis Foundation, “Every pound of excess weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees.” Therefore losing a few pounds can take pressure off the back and knee joints.
  • Limit and manage stress levels. Paying attention to stress levels can help you avoid behaviors that lead to obesity such as overeating and a sedentary lifestyle. If stress levels stay low, it can help improve overall health.

Always keep in mind that we are complex beings and it is important to address our overall health needs. It might take multiple methods to address back issues, but why not jump ahead and try to prevent them through proper health and wellness strategies? Visit www.nifs.org to find out more information, see the up-to-date Group Fitness Schedule, and start your fitness journey now.

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

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

Topics: stress group fitness muscles weight management pain fitness and wellness lower back pain low back pain arthritis

Healthy Lifestyle: Three Key Ways to Prevent Disease and Illness

GettyImages-926422030What’s your motivation for working out? Eat healthy? What’s your motivation to get enough sleep or practice de-stressing with yoga or foam rolling? What’s your motive to get your friends and family to go on a walk or to the gym with you?

What’s YOUR Motivation?

In a matter of minutes you can change your mindset. In a matter of minutes, you can be inspired to want to live a healthy lifestyle and to prevent disease and illness. But it involves commitment and no excuses.

“I have cancer.” Those are the three tragic words that no one wants to hear. But I’ve heard my mom tell me this three times. These words changed my mind in three seconds. They are the three words that motivate me to motivate you.

Did You Know?

Some statistics about illness in America:

  • Approximately 38.4% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2013–2015 data from https://www.cancer.gov).
  • Did you know that about 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes each year?
  • Did you know that about 735,000 Americans die from a heart attack each year?
  • Did you know that about 32.3% of males and 35.5% of female adults are obese in America?

These statistics are not meant to scare you; they are meant to bring awareness. And these are the conclusions of just a few of the studies relating to health issues in the US.

Did you know... you have the power, through your choices, to not become one of these statistics?

Where to Begin

Mapping out goals to create healthier habits for different areas of your life can be a great first step in preventing deadly diseases. So what are some things that doctors recommend you do on a daily and weekly basis to help prevent becoming one of these statistics?

  1. Movement is Medicine: A study showed that Americans are sitting an average of 13 hours a day and sleeping an average of 8, which means they are sedentary 21 out of the 24 hours of the day. This is a leading factor for disease in America. Get up and incorporate movement into your day to get your heart beating and blood flowing. Incorporating movement for blood flow helps carry oxygen and nutrients to cells and organs for nourishment. If cells are not activated, it can lead to their mutations, which leads to cancer or other diseases.
  2. Proper fuel: The average American eats way too much added sugar and processed foods because they are convenient. But as important as nourishment is to the cells, you want to nourish them properly with fuel. What we put into our bodies effects what nourishment and vitamins our bodies receive. Eating fruits, vegetables, healthy carbs, and lean meats gives you key nutrients to fuel properly. Eating in a caloric range that is appropriate for the body and practicing portion control is just as important. One way to figure out what your body needs is to get a BodPod or RMR assessment test to find the range best for your body’s needs. In addition to food, our bodies need water to flush out toxins constantly and properly hydrate the control systems. Drink lots of water every day.
  3. Relaxation: Stress is arguably one of the leading causes of disease. When someone is stressed, it often leads to the other healthy habits going out the window. Learning to clear the mind and de-stress can be so beneficial in the long run. There are many ways to do this, but a few cheap methods that you can incorporate daily are meditation, yoga/stretching, and foam rolling. Releasing built-up toxins in the body can aid in natural detoxification and preventing cell and organ mutations.

There are many other methods of prevention to incorporate into your lifestyle, but these are the three key factors. Make it a goal to start incorporating these and then slowly add more disease and cancer-prevention modalities. 

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

This blog was written by Brittany Ignas, BS in Kinesiology, 200 Hour Yoga Alliance Certified, Stott Pilates Certified, and Fitness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition stress motivation disease prevention cancer relaxation sitting assessment movement

Relax and Lose Weight: How Relaxation Helps with Weight Loss

GettyImages-954596030Getting healthy and losing weight go hand in hand. If your goal is to get healthy and lose weight, I need you to RELAX! No, really! Relaxing is good for you, and managing stress effectively doesn’t only help with weight loss; it makes us healthier overall. So sit back, relax, and read on for more tips.

How Cortisol Plays a Role

Cortisol is a hormone that your body releases when it is stressed. If you only have small amounts of cortisol, there is no problem. But when stress is constant, as it can be in many of our lives, the amount of cortisol in your bloodstream rises and stays elevated. This all leads to weight gain. Relaxation can help prevent overproduction of cortisol.

When cortisol is released, those cravings for potato chips, candy bars, pastries, and so on are what provide a quick energy boost. As if those choices aren’t bad enough, cortisol goes on to store those extra calories as fat, mainly around your abdominal area. There is also the interference with hormones that control your appetite. You will start to find that you are hungry more often and have a hard time staying satiated.

And if that doesn’t make you want to stop stressing, cortisol can also cause decreased muscle mass because it lowers testosterone levels. The lower your muscle mass, the less fat you will burn when working out.

Ways to Relax

Here are five tips for relaxing.

  1. Meditate. This is an excellent method for cleansing your mind of all the negative and stressful thoughts. Refresh and think positively. Whenever you feel heavy or burdened, or even when you feel tired of doing work, take a deep breath and allow your body to relax. Really focus on your breathing by using a 5 count: Breath in for a count of 5. Hold your breath for a count of 5. Release that breath for a 5 count. Try this a few times a day.
  2. Avoid distractions. To fully relax your lifestyle and live a stress-free life, limit all distractions, such as television, cell phones, or laptops.
  3. Become more active. Exercise alone can be the best stress reliever. Try grabbing a friend for a walk/jog outside in the fresh air. Take a new group fitness class like the various types of yoga classes NIFS offers. Join a small group where you can laugh, work, and have fun with goal-oriented individuals, or have a Health Fitness Instructor design a program dedicated to your needs. The possibilities are endless.
  4. Eat healthy. Like regular exercise, eating a healthy, balanced diet can make a significant contribution to a less-stressful lifestyle. By making healthy eating choices, you can make yourself both physically and emotionally stronger. Eat vegetables, drink plenty of water, and control your portions. Not sure about where to start with your nutrition? Meet with one of our Registered Dietitians to get you going on the right path. If you want the whole package of eating healthy and exercising, check out our Ramp Up to Weight Loss program.
  5. Get enough sleep. The average adult requires between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Not only can lack of sleep lead to increased stress, but chronic sleep deprivation can impair your judgment, reasoning ability, appearance, and performance at work. Start by establishing a daily sleep schedule. Do something relaxing before bed and turn off electronic devices.

It would be wonderful if we could constantly live in a vacation state, but for most of us that’s not quite possible. By utilizing just a couple of these resources, you help not only your body get to a better state, but your mind as well, which in turn allows for weight loss to occur.

Ramp Up to Weight Loss program  LEARN MORE

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

Topics: stress weight loss group fitness healthy eating NIFS programs sleep relaxation small group training

Overcoming Life Challenges with Fitness: You Don’t Forget the Hills

IMG_2506Fitness is a great tool to use to train the mind. Yes, often people work out for physical health, but exercise is also getting a lot of hype from psychologists. Many studies are proving that exercise and movement increase brain function, memory, and thinking skills. Not just that; the motivation, positivity, and strength learned and gained from an exercise session can all be used in daily life situations. 

I began doing yoga and running in 2009 as a way to de-stress when my mother was ill with cancer. At the time, I never knew that the real-world challenges I was going through would turn into my passion and lead me to my full-time career. I can honestly say that the motivational lesson of learning through sweat sessions helped me overcome daily life challenges and inspired to me share that with others.

From Yoga to Real Life

Yoga taught me to breathe. Breathing is a necessary human function, but one of the hardest things to do in a challenging situation. Learning breathing and mindfulness on my yoga mat taught me how to take it into my daily life. If I’m facing a challenge, it probably means I need to slow down, breathe, and evaluate what needs to be done.

Running taught me that there are days you are tired, sore, and don’t want to do something, but showing up and doing it will always feel better. My mom’s motivation to wake up every day on her weakest, saddest, and scariest days helped inspire me along my fitness journey to be fearless and “Just Do It™.”

As I began doing yoga and running, I fell so in love and developed such a deep passion for these things that I wanted to continue to learn about them. I got my 200 Hour yoga certification in 2014. I never knew that it would turn into a full-time career in NYC where I was inspiring packed rooms and training celebrities. That sounds great and glamorous, and honestly it was, but again yoga really just taught me to breathe and open my mind. I realized that going to New York was running away from dealing with my past. I was ready to face it again. New York is a stressful environment. I was keeping up just fine, but was pushing out family because I was “too busy training Victoria’s Secret models,” although I knew the real reason was fear and not fully living out what I was learning.

Letting go of ego is another lesson I learned on my yoga mat, and I knew that I could find balance between family and doing what I loved if I took some deep breaths, tuned in, and followed my head and heart at the same time. After three years in the Big Apple, I decided to live out my fitness and move back home to build my family bond and let go of anything from my past that challenged me, just as I had been doing for years in the gym.

From Running Away to Running Home

Along with my personal training success came my “glory days” of running. I was a runner because I loved how it felt. I had no clue I would one weekend wake up and call a friend asking whether I could run a marathon in her city the following weekend, and then show up and actually complete it. Well I did. And I don’t remember much about that race except a few things—the times I was challenged the most. My first challenge came at mile 6, my first hill. I remember that thing looking like a mountain. The second thing I remember was turning to my family in my time of need. At mile 13.1, I called my dad, crying:

“What am I doing? Should I just run a half marathon today?”

He responded with, “Just take a deep breath.” Well, at that moment my heart might have felt like it was going to burst out of my chest, and my mind was in a negative state underestimating my strength, but that connection and reminder to take a deep breath and tune in to my ultimate goal helped me complete 26.2 miles that day, and with the biggest smile on my face. I now coach others in running, and in the challenging times I bring out some of the lessons I learned to teach and inspire them, letting them know that I get it and understand because I’ve been in that headspace too. But I also remind them that this is no challenge you can’t overcome if you just take a deep breath and tune in. I also like reminding people that if 30-second fitness challenges or hills are the hardest struggles in their day, week, or life, they are pretty lucky!

At-Home Exercise Your Mind

So, here’s your chance to exercise your mind:

  • What has challenged you in the gym?
  • What did you do about it?
  • What words of encouragement helped you overcome it?
  • What was the feeling of overcoming challenge?

Now take that into your daily life. What is challenging you, and can you breathe and stay positive through that situation?

“JUST DO IT ™” —Gary Gilmore

Just Do It is a trademark of shoe company Nike.

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

This blog was written by Brittany Ignas, BS in Kinesiology, 200 Hour Yoga Alliance Certified, Stott Pilates Certified, and Fitness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

 

Topics: fitness stress yoga running attitude marathon emotional

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

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

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

What Is the Optimal Nap Length?

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

When Is the Best Time to Nap?

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

What Are the Benefits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha the One You’re With

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

Pau Hana: Make Time for Recovery

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

Ono Grinds: Good Nutrition That’s Delicious

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

Hoike ia & Nani: Adventure and Beauty

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

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

Ohana and Moolelo: Family and Tradition

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

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

***

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

Mahalo and Aloha!

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

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

Topics: nutrition stress recovery inspiration wellness

5 Ways to Keep Up with Workouts When College Stress Hits

ThinkstockPhotos-135551982.jpgWhen it comes to settling back into school, adjusting to the crazy schedule can become one of the biggest tasks. From classes each day, to group project meetings, to homework due dates and the dreaded semester exams, how are we supposed to find the time to keep ourselves healthy and fit?

In the summer you may have had no classes or potentially just one, leaving you with a hefty amount of extra free time to spend how you like. Getting back into those fitness goals that you wanted to accomplish wasn’t such a hard task. However, when school stress sets in, students find that that time gets cut short and they tend to give up on focusing on their own health.

Tips for Fitness in College

Here are a few tips to help you stay focused and driven to keep exercise in your daily schedule, without falling off the wagon, all while being successful in school:

Drink water throughout the day. We all know about the strategically placed dorm and community food/drink venues that are available at our fingertips when we are moving from class to class on campus. However, a lot of them tend to be full of extra sugar and unnatural ingredients. Simply remember to pack a bottle of water. There are many places across campus to refill it, and I would even challenge you to see how many times you can do that in one day! Drinking enough water will keep you hydrated and healthier. It will also assist in brain function to keep you focused during those long lectures and tedious late-night homework assignments you need to finish.

Keep a daily agenda. Whether it be just a few reminders on your phone or a hand-held planner, having something that tells you what you are doing throughout the day can only help keep you more organized. It can also help to keep you more accountable. If you have your workout scheduled and written down as a reminder, you are more prone to complete it. Find what works for you: a set time each day like after your last class, meeting a friend at the gym to work out together, or an alarm on your phone can be the secret to success.

Plan out your workouts. Knowing what you are going to be doing for your workouts is essential when it comes to saving time and being efficient in the gym. Take some time at the end of the week to plan out what you will be doing for the week to come. This not only saves you from walking around the gym wondering which exercise to do next, but it keeps you on task with something that you can build from and see more results. If you need help planning your workouts or some extra guidance, NIFS has qualified trainers who can sit down with you and help you plan out specific goals and personal training. They can also assess your movement through personal fitness testing and a functional movement screen, and then create a personal workout program that works for you. Click here to learn more about setting up your free fitness sessions with a NIFS trainer!

Incorporate HIIT into your busy days. High-Intensity Training (HIT) is a GREAT tool to use for those jam-packed school days where you don’t have much time. Days like that can elevate your stress level, which can have an effect on your blood pressure and fat retention. Workouts in the form of HIT training are shorter, with bouts of high heart rate and little rest in-between. They get the job done in less time, and are a great pick-me-up to burn calories and relieve some stress during your busy day. Click here to check out our HIT schedule and to try a class for free!

Find an accountability partner. If you feel like you are one who tends to start on something and not always complete it, an accountability partner is an awesome thing to have to keep you on track. An accountability partner can be anyone in your life who can commit to help keep you responsible for staying on track with your goals. For example, your best friend, roommate, classmate, family member, and even a coworker are all great options! This needs to be a person you converse with or see on a regular basis, so they can make sure to ask you regularly whether you trained that day or stayed on whatever new eating plan you may have started. This person can even have similar goals as you and work out with you, so you both can cheer each other on. This strategy will help increase adherence and get you closer to success with your goals.

Stay Focused on Fitness

So, while there are plenty of things that can distract you from staying on track, you can use these simple tips to keep focused! If you simply adopt a few new habits like the ones above, you will be more likely to keep on top of your fitness goals.

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

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: fitness stress workouts accountability HIT personal training college high intensity functional movement school

How Stress Affects the Body and Your Health

ThinkstockPhotos-164471602.jpgThere are so many things in life that can affect different aspects of the human body, and stress is one of the biggest! During a stressful time in life, the body can undergo several physiological changes that can be detrimental to your overall health. Though sometimes we cannot avoid certain stressors that fall into our path of life, there are some things that can be done to help you cope during those times.

What Stress Can Do to You

Let’s take a look first at how stress affects the body.

  • Sleep: Stress disturbs sleep routines, typically making it hard to fall asleep as the mind wanders, tossing and turning, and constant interrupted rest.
  • Upset stomach: Another effect is having a constant feeling of being queasy or nervous.
  • Loss of appetite: Along with having an upset stomach, loss of appetite comes with either consistent or high levels of stress.
  • Rash: Stress can cause hives, which are a type of skin rash. Be sure during stressful times to take care of your skin by washing and moisturizing.
  • Change in eye pressure: When under high amounts of stress, the pressure of your eyes can change, causing something called ocular hypertension, which affects your vision.
  • Increase in blood pressure: Whether it’s short-term or long-term stress, spikes in your blood pressure can be detrimental to your overall heart health.
  • Increase in resting heart rate: The number of times your heart beats per minute can increase with stress levels and cause your heart to work harder than it normally would.
  • Weight loss: Excessive weight loss can come with stress as your body loses its desire to eat.
  • Chronic headaches: Anxiety and stress can increase the amount of headaches you get, as well as the intensity.
  • Back pain: Each person holds stress in their body in different places, oftentimes residing in the back and neck muscles, making it painful to move.
  • Sweating: Stress triggers sweat glands to become more active, causing you to break out in cold sweats (like you are nervous).
  • Tremors: Sudden twitches or tremors can be caused by stress, resulting in the contraction or continuous spasm of the muscles.
  • Bowel issues: One way or the other, bowel issues can happen when under stress.

Overcoming Stress

Now, I know that sometimes stress is out of our control, but when those times come there is something we can do about it. Exercise is one of the proven ways to keep stress levels low. If you are feeling stressed out, try coming to the gym or fitness center to workout, run or walk, do yoga, or whatever you like to do to help you decompress. 

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

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

Topics: exercise fitness center stress health

Wakey Wakey: Why Waking Up Right Is Just as Important as Sleeping

Since the dawn of time (I’ve always wanted to start a sentence like that), humans have slept for a little while, and then were awakened by something or someone that told them it was time to start the day. We know now the huge roles that sleep plays in so many aspects of our health:ThinkstockPhotos-453226511waking

  • Physical recovery
  • Healthy hormonal environment
  • Stress regulator
  • Cognitive retention and memory
  • Appetite regulation
The list can go on and on. (For more reasons why sleep is essential to your overall health, check out this article from Precision Nutrition.) Bottom line is that we need ample and quality sleep to be at our best every day; I don’t think anyone can argue against that. But there is a pretty important aspect of our daily ritual of rest and recovery that is not always worthy of the front page, and that is how you WAKE UP. 

The Science Behind Sleeping and Waking

We have circadian rhythms that act as an internal clock of sorts, which usually run on roughly a 24-hour cycle. Researchers have identified that circadian rhythms can influence our sleep-wake cycle, and abnormal circadian rhythms have been associated with obesity, diabetes, depression, and other disorders. 

Why am I telling you all this? Well, your circadian rhythms are produced by natural factors in your body, but can also be influenced by the environment. Light is the major cue influencing the rhythms that turn on or turn off genes that control your internal master clock. Having a normal, healthy circadian rhythm can be the difference between waking up ready to conquer the day or having to hit the snooze button a hundred times. 

Using Light to Wake Up

So if light is one of our biggest cues to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, use it! My beautiful wife gave me a gift on my birthday recently that I have found to be so helpful in waking up and feeling rested and ready to go. It’s a Phillips Wake-up Light, and it allows you to wake up naturally with the warm glow of the sun-like light that radiates from this futuristic-looking alarm clock. I absolutely love it! 

The light will begin to glow anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes prior to your set time to wake up (how hard you sleep will determine how much time you should have the light begin glowing). The light begins a reddish color to simulate the sun rising, and gradually becomes brighter and brighter until you wake up and turn it off. And if you were to sleep through the 20-minute light glow, you would be awakened by birds chirping. 

I have definitely noticed a difference in my energy level when I wake up these days, as well as my attitude and mindset heading into a tough day. I was experiencing some not-so-positive reactions to my alarm clock, which really set me up for rough start to the day, which in turn affected me throughout the entire day. Now that I am waking up naturally, and not shot out of a cannon to the sound of the buzzer, the morning is much more pleasant and meaningful.

Other Benefits of Waking Up Naturally

Some other fantastic benefits of waking up naturally include the following:

  • Improved insulin regulation. This is important in managing body weight and body composition.
  • Improved parasympathetic response. Instead of waking up in a “fight or flight” sympathetic response, which will result in elevated resting heart rates affecting many other aspects of health, we stay in a calmer state, allowing the internal environment to adjust appropriately to stress.
  • Decreased muscle tone. I am not talking about losing muscle tissue. I am referring to “turning down” the tone of certain muscle groups that can be putting you into less-than-optimal body positions. For example (and one of the most common), toned-up lats will cause you to be in extension, which can lead to lower back pain. When we are calmer, and not so jacked up, we can allow the body to tone down when needed to improve positioning and movement patterns.
  • Better mood! Life is way too short to be miffed all the time, and it just causes problems in so many facets of our lives. Most of this bad mood is communicated nonverbally, which in most cases is so much stronger than anything you could say. Take my word for it, be happy in both your message and how you deliver it. This can be greatly improved if you feel good and not groggy, which started hours earlier with the whack of the snooze button. 

I highly recommend implementing some sort of a natural wake-up process that works for you. Most of us have smartphones. There are plenty of apps out there that can do the same thing as the wake-up light I describe above. Many of the newer fitness trackers such as a FitBit can also be set to gradually wake you up. Give it a try and let me know what you think, but have a back-up just in case it doesn’t work for you right away—don’t be late to work on my account!

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

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: stress attitude sleep technology energy

Overcoming Stress, Exhaustion, and Overtraining

Kris-1Are you having one of those days (or weeks, or months) where you feel like the gerbil on the wheel? You are going along just fine, and then a stressful situation crops up and you to need to spin the wheel faster. Soon, that’s not fast enough. When you finally realize you are going to be thrown off the wheel if you stop, it hits you: you’re exhausted. I get this way every few months.

It doesn’t take much, as you look back, to see how all the mess got started. But we are here for solutions, so let’s find a plan to get us out of the wheel safely.

Take a Break or Try Relaxation Techniques

A weeks’ vacation would be great at this time, but most of us cannot just get up and go. What we can do is plan a short vacation or “staycation” for a long weekend or one day of the week. For me, it helps if I can involve my family, as we seem to be together less and less during these stressful times.

If a vacation week, weekend, or day off is not possible, you need to find time each day for meditation, reflection, and relaxation. Now, I am not about legs crossed and chants, but finding a quiet time and place where you can just STOP is a good place to begin your unwinding.

Deep breathing will help you get to a calmer place. I am not setting a time limit on this, so do as much as you can. Sit quietly and listen to your breath: good, long inhales and longer exhales. Fill your lungs and diaphragm, feeling your belly rise and fall with the breath. Do not think of anything, and try to block out your distractions. Music, it has been said, can calm the savage beast; well, you and I are that beast and we need calm, so that may help.

Here’s another blog about deep-breathing exercises for stress relief.

We cannot determine how stress adds to our weight gain or failure to lose, but it does factor in. If you can find a calm place to take yourself, to get rid of this stress, you will feel better, and thus your body will react better.

Overtraining, Stress and Your Heart Rate

“I’m not overtrained; I’m just not fit.” No, you probably are overtrained and need a break. One good way to tell is to take your heart rate first thing in the morning. (Make sure you don’t have full bladder, or it will raise your heart rate.) When you are rested, recovered, and feeling good, that’s the best time to figure out your rate. If your rate is up three to five beats, you need a break. So if you start now when you know you are stressed, try to take your rate a few days in a row, as you are taking it easy. See whether the morning rate drops.

Usually we don’t need to do the heart rate test very often (one time every two weeks or so), but in the beginning take it for a few days (three to five if possible) to get an idea where you are at.

Overtraining can cause injuries. See what the NIFS experts say about some of these types of injuries here.

A Plan for Resting on “Taper Weeks”

Most runners will tell you that taper week is the toughest week to train. Basically, this week you rest and cut down your running to be ready for race day. There is a great quote about this: “It is better to be over-rested than under-recovered.” Your body is calling (perhaps screaming) for a break, and you are going to have to learn to back down the exercise for a good week and possibly more.

In my mind, two weeks would be crazy, lazy, fattening, and maddening, but this is the bargain I have made with myself (thanks to my training partners for playing along): one week of easy, short workouts; the next will be more challenging and fun. All intense work will be very short, 15 to 20 seconds with long breaks (up to three times as long).

After my hiatus I would like to get on a race training plan or a strength plan and start at it full bore. For now I am going to nap, eat well, go as hard as I can, OR LESS, and enjoy the freedom from any strenuous workouts. If you are feeling the same, I hope you will join me!

This blog was written by Kris Simpson, NIFS Personal Trainer. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: stress marathon training injury prevention overtraining