Trouble Sleeping? Try This.

Whether it’s chronic insomnia or tossing and turning before bed once in a while, sleep deprivation can become a big domino that negatively impacts other aspects of our lives. Lack of sleep can lead to emotional disease, loss of productivity and energy, and other health issues.

When we can’t fall asleep, many of us turn to a distraction like a phone or a laptop screen. However, this blue light is often the worst thing we can do to signal our bodies to sleep. In fact, light will stop the natural production of melatonin, a natural hormone your body secretes that helps to maintain your wake-sleep cycle and can increase cortisol levels.

Read.

Swap the screen for a Kindle. Reading gets your mind of “trying” to sleep and puts you in a restful state. Plus, if you can’t sleep anyway, you might as well be enjoying your time and possibly learning something in the process.

Listen to music or a podcast.

Another way to help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system is to listen to music. According to the Sleep Foundation, "Music has the power to slow your heart rate and breathing, lower your blood pressure, and it may even trigger your muscles to relax. These biological changes mirror some of the same changes that your body undergoes when you're falling asleep,” per Livestrong.

If you’re not in the mood for music, you can find a podcast on almost every topic that can help reign in your mind and focus. Podcasts can be like bedtime stories for adults.

Meditate.

Chances are, you’re awake because of a busy mind. Integrating a mindfulness practice into your day will help alleviate stress and calm the mind when you are ready for bed. That said, if you are still feeling anxious at night, accept what is happening and come back to those tools.

Try a body scan, from the tips of your toes to the crown of your head, and imagine releasing tension in each little part of the body. If your own meditation doesn’t work for you, consider downloading an app like Calm or Insight Timer, which have many meditations specifically for bedtime.

Breathe.

Focus on the constant inhale and exhale. Notice how the air moves in through your nose, and out through your mouth, and how it feels in the body.

Then, you can practice lengthening the breath.

According to Livestrong, deep breathing “stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for activities that occur when our body is at rest.”

Michelle Drerup, PsyD, director of behavioral sleep medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center explains that the parasympathetic nervous system functions oppositely to the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates activities associated with the fight-or-flight response. She recommends trying the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise.

How to Perform the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise:

  • Sit up straight and breathe in silently through your nose to the count of four.
    Hold your breath to the count of seven.
    Exhale through your mouth to the count of eight, making an audible "woosh" sound.
    Repeat the cycle for four breaths, gradually working your way up to eight full cycles.

If your insomnia persists, there could be an underlying issue, and therefore you may seek out a medical professional.


Cold Therapy: What Is It and Why You Should Try It.

The latest research from some of the world’s leading longevity and health experts indicates that cold exposure is one of the best things you can do to extend not just your lifespan, but your healthspan.

While it’s true that many people are living longer, the prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia have led many people to suffer in the last years of their life. In order to slow down the process of aging and stay in optimal health, more and more people are experimenting with cold therapy.

Cold therapy is said to activate the body’s natural healing powers that can relieve the symptoms of many medical conditions and promote overall levels of health and well-being. When practiced regularly, cold water immersion has been shown to provide long-lasting changes to your body’s immune, lymphatic, circulatory and digestive systems that enhance the quality of life, per an article in 2mealday.com.

So, what exactly is cold therapy?

While cold therapy has been practiced for centuries across many different cultures, it has recently been popularized by Wim Hoff, AKA The Ice Man, who encourages daily cold showers and ice cold water immersion.

People who champion cold water immersion tout its ability to improve cardiovascular circulation, a critical component of overall health and well-being.

“With poor cardiovascular circulation, not only is the blood flow compromised, the heart becomes stressed. And this can ultimately lead to fatigue, headaches, high blood pressure, muscle cramping, or even heart attack and stroke. With improved circulation, on the other hand, we can improve heart health, enhance mental performance, boost the immune system and the metabolism, and simply give ourselves more strength and energy to live our lives," per 2mealday.com.

Many others also use cold therapy as a complement to high-intensity exercise. Because of its ability to reduce muscle inflammation, cold water immersion is great for those seeking to reduce muscle soreness, as cold water lowers the damaged muscle tissue’s temperate and constricts the blood vessels, reducing swelling and inflammation, while numbing nerve endings to relieve pain.

On an emotional level, cold water immersion may make you happier, too.

“A 2007 research study found that cold showers can help treat depression symptoms, and if used on a routine basis, may be more beneficial than prescription medications. This is because, cold water triggers a flood of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, which make you feel happy. A separate study that analyzed the effects of regular winter swimming on the mood of swimmers showed that after four months of routine cold water swimming, the subjects felt more energetic, active and spritely than the control group.”

Alongside a laundry list of physical benefits, cold exposure is a mental game that you will continue to get better at. By learning to breathe through discomfort and the stress that comes with it, you can increase your ability to manage your emotions in everyday life.

Let's get outside and embrace the chill!


The Best Foods for Eye Health

We’ve all heard that carrots are great for our sight -- but there’s a long list of other foods that can improve our eye health.

Of course, we know that maintaining our eyesight is important to our sense of wellbeing and ability to enjoy life, but for dietitian Maya Feller, R.D., eye care is “an indicator of internal health.”

She tells MindBodyGreen that certain health implications can be recognizable through the eyes.

Here's an excerpt from the recent article: “Feller has seen blood vessels burst in the eyes of patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure. While that conjures a pretty intense image, it's interesting that our eyes have the ability to showcase what's going on with our health.

She also notes that people who have diabetes have a significant amount of redness and yellowness in their eyes, which relates to their internal endocrine dysfunction. So, we should think of our eyes as our master communicators—they're a great way to see (pun very much intended) into what's going on underneath the surface.

That's why, according to Feller, it's important to keep our eyes sharp and healthy, starting with foods that provide essential eye-healthy nutrients and antioxidants."

Apart from carrots, which contain a high level of vitamin A, Feller recommends loading up on antioxidant-rich foods that decrease the risk of macular degeneration. Some of the best include spinach, corn, and broccoli.

Leafy greens, such as kale and dandelion greens, are high in vitamin K, which is known for keeping arteries from clogging, but also has been shown to improve eye health.

Berries, or “antioxidant powerhouses,” are also great for reducing macular generation. Feller is partial to berries with the darkest colors, such as blueberries and blackberries.


Sean Cowan

Mission Ambassador. Ultra-Marathon Runner. Film-Maker.

“For many of us, we are self-limiting in what we think we can do and allow ourselves to attempt,” says Sean Cowan.

Decades after his cancer diagnosis and treatment, in 2018, Sean met the founder of Mission and became involved with the organization. In Sean’s words, he was “fortunate enough to get testicular cancer, and fortunate enough to catch it and treat it early.” He says outside of annual check-ups, he doesn’t live with many of the after-effects of cancer, but that it has fundamentally changed the way he thinks about life.

Through Mission, Sean’s been inspired by the many community members that have defied the odds.

“Their strength, resiliency, and resolve made quite an impression -- enough so that I questioned my ability to push past limits myself,” he said.

Over the past 30 years, Cowan says his “two fitness towers” have been running and rowing. He’s run the NYC Marathon handfuls of times, including in 2017 and 2018 for team Mission, when he was first exposed to Mission’s Adventure Project.

Mission’s Adventure Project athletes inspired Sean to sign up for the oldest ultramarathon in the US, the JFK 50, and later, two 100 Mile Ultramarathons.

Sean’s other passions include film-making, which is what brought him into the world of ultra-marathon running.

“What is this world of weirdos who run so far?” Sean asked. While he wanted to know why they did it, he was more intrigued by what it felt like. He decided to investigate.

As he learned more about the world of ultra-marathoning, which dates back to the 70s, he started to meet key figures of the movement. It wasn’t long before he got hooked on long-distance running himself.

He was forced to unlearn his own limiting belief that just because he “didn’t look like a runner,” at 6 '4 and 215 pounds, that it was still for him.

Sean was recently accepted to run the Leadville 100 this August. Called “Race Across the Sky,” it’s the highest altitude ultra in the US, starting at more than 10,000 feet altitude and going up to near 13,00 across the Rocky Mountains.

Sean said it took him until his mid to late 40s to realize that “comfort is a lie.”

Most of us are taught to avoid pain in our lives. Sean is one of those people who noticed that by embracing it, things can actually improve.

“I’ve found that if I expose myself to more physical discomfort, it rounds out the edges of other things in life. That’s why I'm keeping myself in this place. I won’t say I love every long run, which can get rough, but I like the idea of having my body in motion and being in physical discomfort because it makes other things easy.”


A Better Way to Manage Loneliness

In an age where we’re more digitally connected than ever, our social media accounts look like vision boards rather than our real lives. Meanwhile, our levels of real-life social isolation are on the rise.

This is due to a variety of factors. Some look to smaller household sizes, with 10% of Americans now living alone. Two in five Americans report that they sometimes or always feel their social relationships are not meaningful, and one in five say they feel lonely or socially isolated. This feeling of loneliness can lead to chronic illness and inflammation on a cellular level. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

According to the 2016 VICELAND UK Census, loneliness is the number one fear of young people today—ranking ahead of losing a home or a job. The study found that 42% of Millennial women are more afraid of loneliness than a cancer diagnosis, by far the highest share of any generation.

Typically, when we feel lonely, we want to get rid of the feeling as quickly as possible and see it as a sign to do more in the external world. Yet perhaps this is exactly the opposite of what loneliness is asking of us.

Imagine your sense of connection and belonging as a building structure. It’s often standing on key pillars of our lives, like our romantic partners, friends, family relationships, creative projects, volunteer work, career (work friends), roommates, etc.

When one of these pillars falls, such as when we go through a breakup or live alone for the first time, or move to a new city and don’t have any friends yet, we see how fragile that building is.

We feel empty, like something is missing, a pillar of the foundation -- so we go about frantically trying to build it back up, or find a quick replacement because we can’t bear to feel lonely.

Yet if we just paused to focus on the foundation, we could form a long term strategy to dealing with loneliness instead of reaching for a band-aid. A sense of connection laid on solid, unbreakable, foundation, a deep relationship with yourself, a growing, compassionate, and patient relationship with yourself, is the most sustainable way to keep your structure standing.

In this view, when one of the structures falls, a better way to manage would be focusing on your relationship with you. Of course, seeking out connection and community in all those other ways, like supportive friendships and volunteering is important, but we overlook the most powerful tool of all.

Loneliness shows up to remind us to come back into alignment, starting with our inner self.

It asks us to sit with ourselves and work on building a thriving relationship from the inside out. We may decide to try new things and ask ourselves questions. To process trauma, celebrate wins, push ourselves to do the things we’ve put off forever, and start sharing authentically. Getting to know this new version of ourselves, refining our values and sticking up for them.

When the inner relationship is strong, when one or a few pillars fall, the entire structure does not tumble.

I love this Brene Brown quote from her book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging.

“True belonging is not passive. It's not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It's not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it's safer. It's a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments.”

Maybe loneliness scares us because it forces us to feel deeply. To integrate our experiences, take off our masks and gaze inward at our truth. To simply breathe.

Loneliness isn’t something to push away, it’s something to befriend, to spend a night with having quality time, getting clear about your values, your intentions and the impact you want your life to have on those around you. It’s an emotion to cozy up with -- cup of tea in hand, book in the other, after a day of plenty of water, clean food and a stroll in the park with your friend.

See, it’s not so bad after all. Here’s to one less stranger! Loneliness doesn’t ask us for much.


How to Have Successful At-Home Workouts

With winter in full swing, the idea of not needing to leave your house to get your exercise in might sound better and better every day. While many aim to skip the gym commute, save money, and get a good workout in at home, at-home practices are often forgotten or cut short.

In order to make sure that you enjoy the benefits of working out in the comfort of your own home (such as not needing shoes and having the locker room all to yourself), there are a few easy steps that will set you up for success.

Schedule it in.

Just because you don’t need to abide by a gym’s hours or the start time of a class, doesn’t mean it isn’t a great idea to schedule your workouts. If you simply wait around until you have an inclination to get active, you might end up sitting at your desk or watching TV all day.

Know yourself enough to understand if you need to stick by a strict timeline. You’ll thank yourself later.

Find an online class or program.

One thing that may hold you back from having an awesome workout on your own is a lack of experience in creating a workout regime. The good news is, there’s now an endless amount of resources and videos available online. While many of these resources are free, price can vary depending on what kind of content you purchase, and from who.

“If you don't know how to program (i.e., you're not a trainer), that's no issue. There are thousands of trainers (maybe even tens of thousands) who post workouts online, whether it be on Instagram, YouTube, or their websites,” says Lauren Kanski, NASM-CPT, as cited by MindBodyGreen.

Keep it simple.

"You don't have to do anything fancy," Kanski adds. "Standard body-weight pushups, square, lunges, stair climbs, jumping jacks, planks—any of the fundamentals—are all we need. Just move with intention! If you really want to invest in equipment, I recommend 5- to 15-pound dumbbells or kettlebells, a TRX, a yoga mat, and a set of resistance bands. These allow for some resistance, suspension, and cushion for moving."

That said, "All you need is a space the size of a yoga mat so you can move in all different planes of motion.”

Hold yourself accountable.

One draw of working out at a gym or among others in a fitness class is the push to perform. When you’re at home, you may be more likely to give up or go easy on yourself.

Recruit your roommate or your neighbor, or if you choose to do it alone, make sure that you tell someone your plan. Setting up a challenge with another person, whether they are doing the workout with you or not, is a great way to hold yourself accountable.


What Is Intuitive Eating and Why You Should Try It

A movement is gaining momentum in the US, and it is against the modern “health and wellness” industry. A viral New York Times op-ed called “Smash the Wellness Industry” gained popularity as the writer poked holes in the “wellness” culture that she views as extremely problematic and harmful for women in particular. In efforts to separate her sense of worth from her appearance and embark on a new relationship with food and body image, the author tried intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating is an evidence-based approach to eating that was originally designed to help chronic dieters get back in tune with their body’s unique needs, rather than rely on external food rules to determine what, when and how much they eat, according to Self.

The system at its core is listening to your body’s signs for when you are hungry, and when you are not, regardless of what time it is, how many calories you’ve consumed that day, and other factors.

The research shows that not only can this alleviate the emotional rollercoaster of “dieting,” but it can improve physical health. “Yo-yo dieting in women may increase their risk for heart disease, according to a recent preliminary study presented to the American Heart Association. They might also promote behaviors that increase community and connection, like going out for a meal with a friend or joining a book club. These activities are sustainable and have been scientifically linked to improved health, yet are often at odds with the solitary, draining work of trying to micromanage every bite of food that goes into your mouth,” read the New York Times op-ed written by novelist Jessica Knoll.

“I feel lighter than I ever have. Food is a part of my life — a fun part — but it no longer tastes irresistible, the way it did when I told myself I couldn’t have it. My body looks as it always has when I’m not restricting or bingeing. I’m not ‘good’ one day so that I can be ‘bad’ another, which I once foolishly celebrated as balance,” Knoll continued.

Intuitive eating is also about satisfaction and does not rule out any food groups. For example, you may eat foods that are traditionally thought of as “unhealthy” such as chips and fries, if you really want to eat them. This is intended to reduce the guilt associated with eating and satisfy cravings. This reduces the mental chatter associated with depriving yourself and decreases the chances of binge eating.

“My binges stopped once I stopped judging myself for wanting to eat the foods “wellness” vilified, sometimes for reasons other than physical hunger… The diet industry is a virus, and viruses are smart. It has survived all these decades by adapting, but it’s as dangerous as ever. In 2019, dieting presents itself as wellness and clean eating, duping modern feminists to participate under the guise of health. Wellness influencers attract sponsorships and hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram by tying before and after selfies to inspiring narratives. Go from sluggish to vibrant, insecure to confident, foggy-brained to cleareyed. But when you have to deprive, punish and isolate yourself to look ‘good,’ it is impossible to feel good. I was my sickest and loneliest when I appeared my healthiest," wrote Knoll.

One of the core principles of intuitive eating is respecting your body, or at the very least, learning to accept it as it is, per Self. In this regard, many advocates of intuitive eating see a focus on weight loss as contradictory to body respect. Instead, they would recommend listening to their body’s natural cues and letting go of your desire to control your weight. Unlike traditional diet culture, intuitive eating aims to improve your relationship with food (and as a byproduct see better health outcomes) and improve mental health.

If dieting and body image are topics that you struggle with, consider working with a licensed therapist.


Linda Elstun

Just before her 50th birthday, when elite-level athlete Linda Elstun was in the best shape of her life, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Four years later and cancer-free, she broke past her own records and finished third in her age group at the 2018 Reebok CrossFit Games, as featured on ESPN.

Elstun continued to do what she loved and worked out during her treatment. She says that focusing on the next best thing and committing to come back stronger than before helped her both mentally and physically.

"Did all the things I needed to do, did chemo, had the surgery, but through it all I kept training because I felt like it kept me human. It kept me from being just a cancer patient. In the end, I think I was able to deal with the cancer because I had CrossFit. I wasn't training like I do now, because I couldn't because of my health, but I was still working hard at trying to stay fit."

And stay fit she did. In 2014, before her diagnosis, Linda had qualified for the Games and finished in fourth. Soon after, for breast cancer awareness month, she had a mammogram and found the lump. While initially, Linda and her husband were crushed by the diagnosis, they knew she would come out on the other side.

Just a few years later, she had the best competition in her career, completing her nine tasks over five days with the third-best overall score. Events at CrossFit games can vary, including distance running, weightlifting exercises such as squats or deadlifts, climbing rope or even walking on your hands at 40 feet at a time. Examples of her workouts include running 300-meters, climbing an 18-foot rope, picking up a 300-pound yoke on her shoulders and carrying that 44 feet and then doing all of that four more times.

"To be doing something like that at my age is unusual to some. There's not a lot of women my age that do what I do and most women my age think I'm nuts for doing what I do. But then I get to the CrossFit Games and there are 19 other women who are 'nuts' also and it becomes a great environment for competition… To finish third in the world among that group of amazing women is incredible. I'm still on cloud nine, this was the highlight of my life."

Linda wants people to know that CrossFit is more than just competitions, and has the ability to improve wellbeing for people of all backgrounds. She says she even got her 80-year-old mom into CrossFit, and she loves it.

Sources: Fox17, Battle Creek Enquirer


New Study Finds High Intensity Exercise Is Best for Memory

The idea that the mind and the body are more connected than we previously believed is now being accepted by more and more people. We all know that staying active and treating our bodies right can help alleviate stress, promote wellbeing, increase our energy levels and promote longevity on many levels. 

According to a new study, when it comes to the effect of aerobic exercise and brain health, the level of intensity of the workout really matters. 

A report published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, examined the effect of aerobic exercise intensity on memory and general cognitive abilities. A group of healthy adults between the ages of 60 and 88 were analyzed during a 12-week period, in which they participated in three sessions per week. The participants were split evenly into three groups: one HIIT workout group, one moderate-intensity continuous training group, and one group that only stretched. 

“The researchers tested the amount of each group's "newborn" neurons—this type of neuron has been previously shown to be more active than mature neurons and can better form new connections in the brain and create new memories,” per MindBodyGreen. 

The researchers found that the participants in the HIIT group saw their memory performance increase by 30% after the three-month period, compared to no change for the moderate exercise group. 

“These scientists found that the HIIT group specifically boosted their high-interference memory, which typically helps people distinguish between similar information (think differentiating cars from the same make or model),” per MBG. 

Key takeaways from the study include:

  • High-intensity interval training results in the greatest memory performance in inactive older adults compared to moderate continuous training or stretching 
  •  Improvement in fitness correlates with improvement in memory performance

Overall, the new research supports the notion that exercise can help promote healthy aging and reduce the negative side effects of degenerative brain diseases like dementia. 

"There is an urgent need for interventions that reduce dementia risk in healthy older adults. Only recently have we begun to appreciate the role that lifestyle plays, and the greatest modifying risk factor of all is physical activity," wrote Jennifer Heisz, Ph.D., lead author of the study.