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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

“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

How Getting Outdoors Helps Your Well-Being

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

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

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

Recharging Your Batteries with Nature

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

Spend Two Hours or More Outside Each Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stress Relief with Physical Activity: Sweat Therapy

GettyImages-896274520Throughout your life, you will come across times and situations that are tough, making you feel as though getting through it all is inconceivable and hopeless. There are more traditional ways to deal with these ups and downs of life, such as therapy, but there are other ways to overcome stress in life that can be as easy as taking a walk, shooting some basketball, or even lifting weights.

Forget Your Worries: Emotional Benefits of Exercise

There seems to be something about exercise that allows us to forget our worries and deal with our stresses while also improving our lives through wellness and fitness. With as much stress as we see in people's lives today, it would seem as though fitness would stand out as a blessing to anyone who wants to make their life better. Because this isn’t always the case, you can start as slow and as basic as needed to make sure you are getting the right exercise at the right amount at the right time.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has determined that exercise is essential for good mental well-being and that the benefits go beyond just reducing stress. Improved mood, increased energy, better sleep, reduced anxiety, and improved self-esteem all are payoffs too.

Get Your Endorphins Going

You might have heard of endorphins. They are the hormones that are released from the brain and nervous system and into your body. We feel good when endorphins are released into our bodies. This can happen as a result of almost anything that stimulates your brain, ranging from riding a rollercoaster to seeing your favorite band perform. With fitness, the same endorphins can be released through exercise, giving you similar feelings. We call this the “runner’s high.” You don’t have to be a runner to achieve this feeling, but exercise is the key ingredient, however you decide to score those endorphins.

Thomas’ Tips for Getting More Active

  • Start small, start smart. Take a walk around the neighborhood or with friends after work at the mall. Walking is definitely exercise and has many benefits. .
  • Do activities you like to do. If you are trying to keep this fitness and wellness going for a long time, you’d better like what you are doing (at least some of the time).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not only are there fitness professionals who can help you, there are other individuals who are in the same boat as you. Make time to commiserate and help each other overcome obstacles together.

Getting started in fitness can be a daunting task. Even knowing the benefits associated with exercise might not be enough to light your spark. NIFS has certified and degreed individuals ready, willing, and able to assist with every aspect of wellness and fitness, ranging from fitness programming to nutrition and wellness. Let us know how we can help you reach your goals and hopefully reduce stress along the way. Make a choice to be a better you 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: NIFS Thomas' Corner stress relief fitness and wellness endorphins emotional physical activity

Yoga: What Is It, and How Do I Choose the Right Class?

Yoga3Yoga is pretty popular, and not just in the fitness industry. It’s getting lots of press for its ability to aid in living a generally healthy lifestyle. When people hear about healthy living, they often associate that only with exercise, and sometimes neglect the importance of a balanced diet and de-stressing techniques. Studies are now showing that it’s important to balance out all areas of life; not just one part should have dominance.

What Is Yoga?

By definition, yoga is a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation. Yoga was developed in India up to 5,000 years ago as a comprehensive system for well-being to balance the body physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Contrary to common thinking, yoga is not a belief system but a guidance technique to enrich living and aid in attaining goals.

Forms of Yoga

There are many types of yoga you might have heard of, including Vinyasa, Hatha, Iiyengar, Bikram, Ashtanga, and restorative, just to name a few. When it comes to picking the "right" yoga class, I say give them all a try because each of them is unique. Some involve lots of moving, some involve lots of deep stretching, some involve heat, and some even involve the use of nature and animals. The whole concept of yoga is to breathe and relax the mind. If you take a class that does not bring out those feelings in you, don't give up! Try that format a couple of times and see whether it is enjoyable. If it's not, research what you are looking to get out of your class and try one that offers that. 

Yoga to Me

Yoga means so many things to me. I began my yoga journey in 2009 to relax during a tough family situation. I was in love with the way it made me feel, and every week I looked forward to my Sunday night time on my mat. In 2011, my mom’s medical condition worsened and I began going to yoga 3 to 4 times a week. In 2014, I decided I was so impressed with the way it changed my mindset that I wanted to become certified, so I spent 3 months intensively training to get my 200 hour yoga certification. My yoga journey has a lot more depth, but that was the beginning. I never knew cancer would lead me to a career path of success and happiness, which is ultimately living a daily life of yoga.

Yoga at NIFS

Yoga is a growing class at NIFS. With a wide variety of instructors, you won’t find your standard “gym yoga.” All of the NIFS yoga instructors are 200 hour or more certified. You might take a class with a “flow” to it, be in a class with a more restorative approach, or even see that Yoga for Athletes is offered for those who want a strength-based yoga class. Check the Group Fitness Schedule for classes and times.

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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: NIFS yoga group fitness strength relaxation healthy living meditation stress relief