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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

What Happens in Vagus: Jump-start Recovery by Increasing Vagal Tone

GettyImages-1182821901Raise your hand if you’ve been here before: You get to the end of a great workout. You’re spent, fatigued, but in a good way. In a way that you know you’ve put in some quality work. But you look down at your watch and realize you’ve run a bit over your time. So you grab your things and rush out of the gym. You don’t have time for a cool-down, right? You’ve got to get to the car and rush to the next thing on the docket.

Without realizing it, you’ve kept up that same stimulus from your workout: that amped-up, fight-or-flight response. Only now it’s been hours since its conclusion. In short, your body has never left that stress response behind. Instead, it’s been carried around perhaps all day, and your body has not had time to transition into a rest, digest, and recovery mode. In other words, you’ve never shifted from a sympathetic (fight-or-flight) to a parasympathetic state (rest, recovery). This may sound like a “so what?” problem. But if left unchecked, this can not only stall out your workouts, but can also eventually lead to chronic issues with inflammation, sleep problems, or altered hormonal responses.

Appropriately managing your stress response isn’t something that only applies to workouts. We all face stressors on a daily, weekly, or hourly basis (perhaps in today’s world now more than ever!). If it starts to get out of hand, numerous aspects of our health and well-being are affected. Learning to mitigate and manage chronic stress can have positive effects on both physical and mental health. One way to do this is to address your vagal tone.

What Is Vagal Tone?

The longest nerve in the human body is the vagus nerve. It innervates numerous organs such as the intestines, stomach, heart, liver, and lungs (fun fact: “vagus” translates to “wanderer” in Latin; because it wanders around the body). The vagus nerve is a key part of the parasympathetic nervous system, and vagal tone refers to the activity of this nerve. If it is impaired, low vagal tone results, which is a contributor to stress and increased anxiety, a pro-inflammatory response, and a disruptor of normal gut functioning.

What Are the Benefits of Increased Vagal Tone?

A high vagal tone is associated with lower blood pressure, improved blood-sugar regulation, improved digestion, better mood, reduced anxiety, and reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Perhaps one of the largest benefits of a higher vagal tone is the ability to relax faster after stress. So whether you’re talking physical stress from a workout or mental stress from everyday life, having an increased vagal tone can help you navigate the stressors of everyday life and be better prepared for the next one!

Additionally, researchers have discovered a positive feedback loop involving increased vagal tone, positive emotion responses, and physical and mental well-being. In short, the vagal response, or parasympathetic drive, actually works to mitigate stress and foster positive emotions. Definitely a win-win!

How Can You Increase Vagal Tone?

Okay great, now how the heck can I start working to stimulate the vagus nerve? Here are a few quick hitters that you can do today to improve your vagal tone.

Deep or Diaphragmatic Breathing

If you have virtually no time to cool down after a workout, a few deep, slow, diaphragmatic breaths can help quickly shift you toward more of a parasympathetic state. Lying on your back, elevating your legs so that your knees are at 90 degrees (on a box or bench), and taking 10–20 slow, deep breaths helps to gradually lower the heart rate and reduce blood pressure, all while stimulating the vagus nerve. Try having one hand on your upper chest and one hand over your belly button, and as you inhale try to see if your lower hand (belly) is moving upward. If you notice that only your upper hand is moving upon inhaling, take a few reps to practice filling your belly with air. This is a skill just like any other; it takes a bit of practice. But if you’re short on time, this technique is a bit of a cheat code. You can even try it before bed to help relax!

Singing, Humming, or Gargling

Yes, you read that correctly. One of the branches of the vagus nerve, the superior laryngeal nerve, actually innervates the vocal cords. As a result, we can mechanically stimulate it by singing, humming, gargling, chanting, etc. So belt out those tunes for car karaoke, hum that song that’s stuck in your head at work, and increase that vagal tone in the process!

Cold Exposure

For all us Midwesterners, we should have this one covered for about 7–8 months of the year! In all seriousness, gradually increasing your exposure to cold, and eventually becoming more habituated, causes a shift to greater parasympathetic activity. This doesn’t mean you need to go out and run two miles barefoot in the snow. You can start by splashing cold water (and I mean cold) on your face 10–20 times. Or going out to get the mail in December in a t-shirt and shorts. Or finishing off your shower with a quick 10-second blast of cold. Overall, try small interventions first to get the ball rolling. And if you’re looking for a laugh, check out my previous blog, when I put myself through hot-cold contrast showers for a week!

Omega-3s

The body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids naturally, so they must come from the diet. They are found readily in fish (especially cold-water fish like wild-caught salmon), extra virgin olive oil, avocados, walnuts, and flaxseed, among other foods. Their benefits are wide-ranging: they positively affect brain and mental health, mitigate inflammation, and aid in improving cardiovascular health. Studies have also shown that omega-3 fatty acids also increase heart rate variability (a good thing!) and stimulate vagal activity.

Social Interaction

We are social creatures. As humans, we are hardwired to find and belong to a community. So it should come as no surprise that social connection, laughter, and having a stable support system improves our mental and physical health. While this may have been more difficult or a bit unorthodox with COVID-19, its importance has never been greater. Research has shown that laughter increases heart rate variability, and that even reminiscing about positive social connections and prior engagements improves vagal tone and increases positive emotions. So even if you can’t physically be near those you love and appreciate, making that effort to continue to reach out and connect goes a long way in your recovery from stress.

Jump-Start Your Recovery

We all face stressors on a daily basis. Whether it’s the low-level background noise of the news, or a large deadline looming in the future, learning to navigate and respond appropriately to stress is a must for maintaining physical and mental well-being. By increasing your vagal tone, you can help jump-start your recovery so that you’re more ready to tackle the next thing on your to-do list, be it a work project or a workout!

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

Topics: stress workout recovery nervous system

Finding Community in Group Fitness

Screen Shot 2020-10-20 at 11.38.06 AMDo you want to be part of a community and hold yourself accountable while working out? Group fitness classes just might have what you are looking for!

Group fitness has been around for decades. Many probably remember classes such as Jazzercise and aerobics that were common in the 1970s and ‘80s, followed by Tae Bo and step aerobics in the ‘90s. Not much has changed in the realm of group fitness except the current trending workouts. Today, group fitness participants enjoy Zumba, Barre, CrossFit, as well as Pilates, yoga, and Boot Camp formats. Nevertheless, all group fitness classes have essentially the same benefits.

Benefits of Group Fitness

What are some of the benefits of group fitness? Group fitness…

  • teaches you motivation and to push others to be their best
  • adds variety to your workout
  • supplies you with people to work out with
  • leads to positive competition

As the Group Fitness Coordinator here at NIFS, I have witnessed firsthand throughout my years of experience that group fitness communities are unlike any other. I have developed lifelong friendships with those who have pushed me and held me accountable. As an instructor, there is no better feeling than watching others achieve their fitness goals. I look forward to my "regulars" in my classes, and often over time they feel like family. The community of group fitness is not just people who work out together, but also individuals you enjoy spending time with as a de-stressor from daily life.

Group Fitness Is Where You Need to Be

If you are looking for a group of likeminded individuals who enjoy setting goals, exceeding expectations, and using each other as motivation to complete challenges, group fitness classes are exactly where you need to be. I look forward to seeing you participate in our group fitness offerings here at NIFS! 

Try a Class for Free!

There are lots of options when it comes to group fitness classes. Come try one of our classes for free!

GF_E-news Header 1This blog was written by Payton Gross, NIFS Group Fitness Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: stress group fitness accountability competition fitness community group fitness culture friendship

Dear Soon-to-Be and New Mommies: You Can Do This!

GettyImages-1060547970Today, the realities of the human body immediately after giving birth are less mysterious than ever, a development some attribute to a changing climate around motherhood. In the past women felt like they couldn’t talk about the after-effects of having a baby, let alone caring for other children at the same time.

Everything Is Different and There Is Pressure from All Directions

People don’t talk about the messy postpartum “situations” that take place, the frustrating and sometimes painful process of figuring out breastfeeding, the wound care necessary for the area the baby came out from, oh and let’s not forget waddling around the house wearing whatever undergarments can hold everything together. And how about the best-kept secret of icepacks!

And how can we forget the added stressors of life in general. Maybe you’re hearing and feeling things like this:

  • Make sure you work out during your pregnancy.
  • Be sure to only gain 25–30 pounds throughout this whole 9 months.
  • Don’t forget to take care of the other kid/kids you have.
  • Please make sure that report is on my desk by 9am tomorrow.
  • Clean the house.
  • Work 40+ hours a week.
  • Make dinner.
  • Drive the older ones to school and sports.

And on and on and on…

DON’T PANIC! It’s natural to feel exhausted and unfamiliar in your new body and new life. From the time you become pregnant to the time that you give birth, each is a new beginning and an exciting chapter in your life.

The mental difficulties of pregnancy and the first few months after giving birth can be more challenging than the physical effects. Your body will begin to change from its previous state back to its new normal: shedding water weight, frequent trips to the bathroom (again), after-birth contractions as the uterus shrinks back down. If you are breastfeeding or not, there will be pain involved. Let’s not forget the hormonal change that will take place. All of this can lead you to having “baby blues” or feelings of postpartum depression. You are trying to adjust to a new life and a new baby, and these stressors can cause low self-esteem and doubt.

Tools for Confidence in the Postpartum Time

Do not give up! You are the same strong woman who just grew a child and gave birth, and you are who you have always been, but now you have someone else to share your strength with. The more you start to believe in yourself, the happier you will feel and be. Some stress relievers that helped me during my “baby blues” moments are the following.

Get Some Fresh Air

Getting outside for fresh air can help lift your mood. There are also many benefits of walking that include stress reducers. Take a walk by yourself, or take that precious new baby out for some fresh air.

Communicate

Having a new baby can make you feel as though you are alone. Making an effort to connect with friends, join a mommy and me group, or reach out to other moms can help you indulge in adult conversation and not feel isolated.

Take Time for Yourself

Ask for help. Making time for yourself will not only allow you a minute to breathe, it will also help you become a better mom by taking care of yourself.

Feel More Secure

Body confidence is typically the first issue that woman deal with after giving birth. Your body has spent the last 9 months stretching to make room for a growing baby. As long as that took, your body needs time to recover. Most of us do not bounce back as quickly as we would like and that’s okay. After having my first child, I felt like I bounced back better than I had anticipated, but the second one made me feel otherwise (and still does!). My body changed so much after having my second child. One of the hardest things for me was not feeling confident and realizing that this is my new body.

Love the Skin You’re In

Even if you don’t have anywhere to go, try to get up and make an effort every morning. Wear your favorite outfit, put on a little bit of makeup. Find a way to feel good about the day at the very beginning.

Make Time for Healthy Eating and Exercise

Probably the hardest of them all are these two! Without a doubt, eating healthy and exercising tend to be the last things on our minds after having given birth. The best advice I can give you is to plan ahead. During those months where nesting sets in and you have energy to get things done like the nursery and shopping, throw meal prepping in there as well so that you’ll have some healthy options ready to eat after the baby comes.

When it comes to exercising, once you are cleared after 6 weeks, start slow and build from there. Try bodyweight exercises, or walks working into a jog/run. When stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, find a friend to join you at the gym, find a class that you can ease intensity into, or join a program geared toward weight loss/strength. Find what fits you and your schedule.

The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love

Well soon-to-be, new, and veteran moms, I am here to tell you that the world is unfair, the jobs we have as mothers will continue to be the hardest jobs we’ll ever have. We will have good days, we will have bad days; we will have days that we want to run, and days when we have conquered the world. There will be days where we ask ourselves why we decided to do this, and days where we doubt every decision we made. It will be a constant cycle, of good, bad, bad, good, and so on.

Whatever situation you are in currently, I can say with confidence that YOU WERE MADE FOR THIS and YOU CAN DO THIS! There is no greater creation than that of a woman. LOVE YOURSELF! TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! and ASK FOR HELP!

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

Topics: depression stress walking anxiety bodyweight pregnancy self-care self-esteem postpartum self-confidence

Speaks to the Soul: Music for Better Emotional and Physical Health

GettyImages-1146590025Picture this: You’re sitting in the car, in stop-and-go traffic. Your mood is just shot and all you want to do is get home. Now try this: Turn up the volume on your radio and let the music take over your soul!

According to Harvard Health, music is a fundamental attribute of the human species. All cultures, from the most primitive to the most advanced, make music. And thank goodness they do! As humans we sing, hum, make music with our hands by clapping; we sway our bodies or bob our heads back and forth when a catchy beat comes on; and we even dance to celebrate. Music is essentially wired into us by the sound of our heartbeats.

Music for Happiness

As obvious as it sounds, if you are ever in need of an emotional boost, let it be known that it only takes 15 minutes of listening to your favorite tunes to get a natural high. Your brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that leads to increased feelings of happiness, excitement, and joy.

Improved Performance

Scientists have found that when people listen to motivational music, they run faster than those who do not listen to music. The key to enhancing your performance lies in the choice of music that motivates and inspires you to move forward and faster.

Decrease Stress; Increase Health

Sixty percent of illnesses and diseases are caused by stress. To lower your levels of stress means increasing your uptake in music (and other things, but we’re focusing on music right now). Listening to music decreases the levels of cortisol in your body, which counteracts the effects of chronic stress.

During those much-needed breaks from work or even while you are working, play some inspiring, motivating music to help boost your mood and your health.

Sounds of Sleep

Hearing or singing lullabies is known to help children go to sleep. Over 30% of Americans suffer from insomnia. A study showed that listening to classical or relaxing music within an hour of going to bed significantly improves sleep, compared to listening to an audiobook or doing something else before bed.

Motivation Playlist

See how music motivates your fitness professionals at NIFS. We asked Tony, Thomas, Ashley, Lauren, and Tinisi to each name songs that help change their moods, motivate, and help them relax and enjoy the sounds:

Can you guess the songs chosen by each fitness pro?

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

Topics: stress motivation sleep music happiness emotional performance

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

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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

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