This month, we focused our blogs on the pillars of health that we cover with all patients—sleep, nutrition and stress. All of these play a major role in how you feel, how your body functions and the pain you may feel.
Our society is riddled with stress due to packed schedules, short attention spans and growing involvement of technology. It may seem simple, do less and stress less. But for many, there doesn’t seem to be TIME to do LESS.
When it comes to stress, it manifests in 2 major ways: MIND and BODY
Mind(n)- the element, part, substance,or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges, etc.
The mind is a powerful thing- particularly when it comes to how your body feels, reacts, copes, and heals. It is how we process the world around us. The environment in which our mind is processing will set us up for stress and anxiety or relaxation and control. When we are constantly in a stressed mindset, our nervous system ramps up the epinephrine. This is a hormone that elevates heart rate and blood pressure to enhance our awareness and prepare for an attack. You've probably heard of fight-or-flight. This is necessary for survival, but the problem is that every day we have this chronic increase in epinephrine due to stressful lives. Our bodies are staying in "fight or flight" mode for hours each day, even though we are simply sitting at desks or working a relatively low risk job. This leads to chronic fatigue, decrease immunity and various health issues.
What can you do to mitigate the effects?
For some, just deciding to put the time aside- in the morning, after work, etc- is enough for them to incorporate this in their day. Others might need a reminder or piece of accountability. Something that I suggest, at least to help you get started, is an app like Headspace. It gives you 10 minutes each day of guided meditation/relaxation. I learned that meditation & quiet time is not about just having a blank mind or taking a quick snooze, rather directing your mind to a different place, away from stress.
Try it for yourself. It might not sound like something you would enjoy or buy into, but you may be pleasantly surprised. I was!
Body (n)- the organized, physical substance of a human.
The body is what we, as physical therapists, are trained to treat and manage. However, the tissue- muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons- are all directed and supplied by the nerves. What makes this difficult, is that healing of the tissue can be slowed by a heightened neurological system. That is, chronic stress leading to poor immunity, heightened fight-or-flight hormones (epinephrine and cortisol), poor diet choices due to the stress, lack of sleep again due to stress... Do you see how this turns into a vicious cycle or sickness, weight gain and general un-wellness?
The easiest way to stop this in its tracks is to address stress immediately. We can mobilize, offer corrective exercises, dry needle, cup, manipulation, etc endlessly, but if we don't address the state of their neurological system, then we are doing this person a disservice. My two favorite drills for this will address tissues but also has an effect on relaxing the neurological system.
The diaphragm has a close relationship to the nervous system; breathing deeply can stimulate your vagus nerve. The vagus nerve functions to trigger the “rest and digest” hormones of the body- a.k.a the opposite of “fight or flight.” This will help keep the heart rate constant and controlled.
Don’t I breathe all day? What’s different?
We often take shallow breaths throughout the day, which also falls in line with “fight or flight.” It’s not often that folks stop and take a few deep breaths! Try these out and see how it feels:
All you need for this is a wall that you can put your feet on!
For this, we like to use a soft inflatable ball. The one Danny uses in the video is from The Roll Model, or go to Target and buy a $2 kids ball with Elsa or Spiderman on it!
Stress directly affects the results that you will see in the gym, sport, health, wellness, happiness, and so on. If you don’t have time every day for an hour workout, at least take about 10 minutes to breathe deeply and clear your mind. You will see a world of difference!
Thanks for reading,
First of all, I kind of hate the word “diet.” It's often associated with a rigid way of eating for a specific time frame and usually involves giving up foods you love. Or at least that’s what most people think they have to do when they go on a diet, i.e. lose weight. And yes, eliminating certain foods may be beneficial to some people for specific health reasons, which could impact their weight loss. However, most people can dramatically change their body composition, improve their athletic performance, and feel better overall when they make simple, realistic changes by adopting healthier lifelong eating habits.
Having said all of that, do I think that tweaking what you eat to reach certain goals is a bad thing? Of course not. In fact, it’s a great skill to have. When you listen to your body and figure out how you respond to certain foods, and especially how to time your meals properly to fuel your workouts, that’s where the magic happens. For example, I have figured out that I don’t do well following a strict Whole 30/Paleo style of eating. It leaves me feeling sluggish and hangry and my gym performance suffers. This girl needs her oatmeal! Plus, I don’t feel bad when I add in a little wheat or dairy. I’d say 90-ish percent of what I eat does fall into the Whole 30/Paleo category, and I usually opt for gluten free and low sugar options, but I allow myself to add in things like cereal, yogurt, and even the occasional donut. Admittedly, sometimes my definition of “occasional” may come into question, but you gotta live your life. And if I’m still meeting my performance goals, who cares? Not me!
Here is a quick breakdown of what I feel are not only the most popular eating methods today, but also the most realistic and healthy approaches:
Paleo: This is a way of eating focusing on real, whole, minimally processed foods that support gut health, hormonal balance, stable energy, and lean body mass. Approved foods are meat, seafood, eggs, veggies, fruit, healthy fats. Banned foods include grains, legumes, dairy, added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol (although some will argue that 100% agave tequila is approved, so… just gonna leave that bit of info there).
Whole 30: A month-long elimination plan created by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, the strategy is to help people learn about their relationships with potentially problematic foods, then develop a plan for which foods to avoid long-term and which to reintroduce. It’s basically a super clean version of Paleo. Whole 30 advises to “eat moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re whole and unprocessed.” The same banned foods for Paleo apply here, with the added no-nos of no alcohol; no carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites; as well as no baked goods, junk foods, or treats with “approved” ingredients.
Zone: Invented by Dr. Barry Sears, the Zone advocates eating five times a day, with three meals and two snacks, and includes eating proteins, carbohydrates (those with a lower glycemic index are considered more favorable), and fats (monounsaturated fats are considered healthier) in a caloric ratio of 30%-40%-30%. Meals are made up of blocks: one block of protein is 7 grams; one block of carbohydrates is 9 grams; one block of fat is 1.5 grams (actually 3 grams, but you go with 1.5 to account for fat “hidden” in protein). This will require you to weigh and measure your food at first, but they do offer a list on their website of several foods that will always be counted as a certain number of blocks, which makes putting meals together a lot easier.
Macro Counting/If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM): Macros is basically shorthand for macronutrients, a term used to describe the three key food groups we all require for our bodies to function: carbohydrates (to fuel energy), fats (to keep you satiated), and proteins (to build and repair muscle). To maintain, lose, or even gain weight, many people rely on counting macros to make sure they're eating correctly. When counting macros, you simply add up how many grams of fat, protein and carbs you ate that day and hit your numbers. Apps like My Fitness Pal are very helpful for this, and you will need a food scale. Like, 97% of the time.
So, how do you know what course of action is best for you? Trial and error. It’s taken me a few years to figure out on which “style” of eating I am most successful. And, to some degree, all of the approaches I tried worked, which has usually been geared toward weight loss. However, when I decided to take my performance in CrossFit more seriously, I experimented with vegetarian/vegan, Paleo, Zone, Whole 30, etc., and eventually found a healthy balance in macro counting with a loose Zone influence, eating mainly whole foods and timing most of my carbs before and after my workouts. That works for me and, most importantly, I don’t feel deprived and overwhelmed. My advice would be to give these lifestyles (again, I hate the word diet!) I’ve mentioned above a try and find out which one you like the most. Keep in mind: Success is going to come with consistency, and consistency is going to heavily depend on your sanity, so whatever option that is for you, figure it out and do it.
Thanks for reading!
Claire (Office Manager at Athletes' Potential, CrossFit Coach, Performance Nutrition Enthusiast)
To quote Dr. Kirk Parsley, renown sleep expert who improved the sleep of some of the most revered badasses on the planet, Navy Seals, “Sleep affects everything you do and everything is affected positively by better sleep."
As snake oil-like as it may sound, good quality sleep literally improves everything: every marker on a blood panel, weight management, sport performance and recovery, productivity, and numerous types of disease management. The list goes on and on, yet the percentage of sleep deprived Americans, particularly in Urban areas, continues to rise at an alarming rate. In fact, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 30% of Americans are sleep deprived getting fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night, and that’s a problem. Study after study proves that we need 7-9 hours of sleep per night in order to recover appropriately and prevent the many negative consequences that come from sleep deprivation.
I see people with sleep deprivation all the time in the clinic. Parents with young children, serial entrepreneurs and CEOs, students cramming for exams, and countless people who simply have a hard time “turning on their off switch” in order to fall asleep. However, in many of these cases when we have these patients make dedicated efforts to average 7-9 hours of sleep per night for just one week, something wild happens. All of a sudden their back pain isn’t as severe, or their elbow pain thats nagged them for weeks is no longer there, or their knees no longer hurt when they squat. The benefits of good sleep cannot be understated, and the mechanisms behind how sleep benefits you and what exactly goes on while you sleep are both complex and incredibly fascinating, but that’s for a later article.
One of the biggest reasons adults have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep is because they lack Sleep Hygiene, which is simply having the appropriate routine to put themselves in an environment to promote sleep.
For those of you reading this who have young children, think about their night time routine. You give them a bath, brush their teeth, tuck them in, read them a story, and give them a kiss and rub on the back as you shut off the lights.
Now compare this to what we do as adults. Read emails on our computers, watch our favorite show or sports team, check our social media feeds, and then immediately try to get in bed and fall asleep. No bueno.
Just like when we were kids, we need to have good sleep hygiene as adults, and below you’ll find the top two ways to do just that put yourself in a better position to optimize your sleep.
Optimize your Environment:
In order to optimize you sleeping environment, you must do three things: Make it dark; make it cold; make it quiet.
Create A 10-Minute Routine:
This isn’t some crazy, convoluted process. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Your nightly routine should be something that you will be able to perform on a consistent basis and be easily replicable regardless if you're at your home or in a hotel room. This could literally be something as easy as drinking a cup of your favorite (non-caffeinated) drink, performing light stretches, reading a book, or working on various breathing techniques. However, there are some simple rules to keep in mind with your routine:
Consistency is key with your night time routine. We are creatures of habit, and after doing the same routine a few times in a row your body will start to recognize that you're winding down to sleep and will up-regulate the the portion of your brain responsible for helping you fall asleep.
At our clinic here in Decatur, Georgia, the number one excuse for poor sleep is lack of time. Well, your health is pretty important and you only get one body... you need to take care of it. Sleep is a crucial part of that process and should be made a priority in your life. Just try the steps we covered in this article for seven days straight, start optimizing your health, and feel great in the process!
If you've been struggling with a nagging injury or are frustrated with your current medical provider, give us a call. We work one on one with all of our clients and they see a highly qualified Doctor of Physical Therapy every time they come in. We help people get back to living an active life full of movement and interactions with the ones they love most.
If you'd like to set up a 15 minute phone call with one of our Doctors for free, we'd love to do that. If you're not an ideal fit for what we do, we can help get you to the right person, no strings attached. Click the image below to request a phone consultation with one of our Doctors.
Thanks for reading,
-Dr. Jake, PT, DPT
Dr. Danny and staff's views on performance improvement, injury prevention, and sometimes other random thoughts.