Tag Archives: Stress Management

What is your Spark?

9 May

Twice a year, all of our staff get together to read and dissect a book; these are usually not directly related to fitness, but instead subjects that will get us thinking.  At the end of the day, though, we DO become better trainers and coaches because the topics help us improve our skills as: goal managers, psychologists, motivators, and health promotors.  Last month we discussed the book, “SPARK: the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” by Dr. John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman.


Generally speaking, Dr. Ratey discusses the connection between physical activity and cognition.  While very science forward, this is an approachable book that should be required reading for anyone who wants to think and reason clearly, and stave off the mental decay brought on by aging, mental disorders, and inactivity.


The biggest take-aways:

1 – All stress is not bad.  Proper stress – even at the cellular level – is actually beneficial.  It is what helps to stimulate the body.  Judicious and properly applied stressor will make us healthier and more able to handle dangerous and debilitating circumstances in our futures.  Miniscule amounts of toxins in the foods we eat actually make us more capable of fending off disease.


2 – Age is not a deterrent.  We can improve at the cellular level and increase brain size at any age.  Aging really at its most basic view is the body’s cessation of regeneration and growth.  By exercising, we are not only improving our muscular and cardiovascular systems, but increasing neural connections and positive hormonal and neurotransmitter levels in our brains.


3 – The same general principles apply to most of everything we do and how we can change, correct, or influence our circumstance and environment to improve our lives.  Whether it’s dementia, anxiety, depression, or addiction, exercise, both physical and mental, can help ameliorate and control these problems.


4 – Inactivity is the ultimate killer.  Lack of physical activity will rot not only our bodies, but also our brains and cognitive abilities.  Just like slowing aging, physical activity helps to (re)build pathways in our brains that make us more productive and improve focus and attention.


5 – Exercise is a great way to bolster our mental faculties, regardless of the task at hand.  The hormonal and neurotransmitter cascades that occur after exercise help to “grow” our brains and leave them in an environment more capable of learning and retaining information.


Now before you get intimidated by thinking that this means that you have to go out and train for a marathon or throw 1,000 pounds over your head, know this: a little is better than nothing, and every little bit more is beneficial.  Taking your current state, adding just 30 minutes of brisk walking daily is enough exercise to make improvements – in your physical health, but also in your thinking and mood.  Try a new sport, add an after-dinner walk with your spouse, or come in for an additional 30 minute session each week.  These will all help you on your path to improving your life and vitality.

The Cure for Gray, Not Far Away

6 May

A couple of months ago, I was laying face-down on my [then] nine-year-old daughter’s bed and she climbed on my back. She began to run her fingers of both of her hands through my hair and said, “Wow, Daddy, you have so much gray hair!”

“You do realize how it all got there, right?” I replied.


“Well, before you were born, I didn’t have any. After you were born and as you have gotten older, it has increased. So clearly, it’s your fault,” I sarcastically replied.


Good thing she understands my sense of humor.

However, there really is some good news in the world of science that was recently published. It appears that the reason we get gray is because of a tremendous accumulation of hydrogen peroxide in the hair follicle that causes our hair to bleach itself from the inside out. A topical treatment of narrowband ultraviolet B (UVB) phototherapy-activated compound called PC-KUS (a modified pseudocatalase) appears to do the trick and get rid of the gray. Catalases are natural enzymes that breakdown hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen.

Even better, this same treatment may appear to benefit people with vitiligo, a condition that causes depigmentation of sections of the skin. Exposing the skin to UVB light from UVB lamps is the most common treatment for vitiligo. Therefore, it did not seem too far fetched to see if the PC-KUS might benefit people with vitiligo besides helping those get rid of the gray in their hair.

To read more about this potential treatment of gray hair and vitiligo, please click the link below:


And regardless of what my daughter said about my gray hair, I STILL get carded!

To resolve or not to resolve, that is the question.

9 Jan

This time of year there is a lot of chatter about resolutions. Regardless of how you feel about new year’s resolutions, it never hurts to set goals and re-evaluate how all is working in your life. The key here in doing so is to set SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. In this digital age there are thankful a number of apps that can help you not only set goals but track them, incentivize them, and share them. I came across this list that might come in handy. I have tried a few but certainly not all. If you are using or decide to try any of them, please share your experience in the comments below.
ny resolution
Changing habits is almost always easier in theory than it is in practice. As a staff, we recently read The Power of Habit, which was enlightening. Based on what I learned from that and my previous successes and failures with new year’s resolutions, I’ll be trying Way of Life: The Ultimate Habit Maker and Breaker. Look forward to hearing what you choose.

Exercise Reduces Neuropathic Pain

3 Jun

ScienceDaily recently reviewed an interesting study examining the effect of exercise on nerve pain such as that caused by trauma or diabetes. The study suggests that “Exercise helps to alleviate pain related to nerve damage by reducing levels of certain inflammatory factors.”


The Gist

Researchers examined the effects of sciatic nerve pain in rats. Post-injury, some rats performed progressive exercise including swimming and walking on a treadmill over several weeks while researchers monitored observable pain behaviors.

The researchers noticed a significant reduction in neuropathic pain in the group that performed exercise post-injury. Those suffering from nerve injuries are known to have abnormal pain responses to changes in pressure or to changes in temperature. The researchers observed that the exercise group did not show abnormal pain responses when they encountered changes to these elements and thus the researchers attributed this to a reduced pain response.


The Nitty-Gritty

Previous studies have suggested that inflammation (including pro-inflammatory cytokines) play a significant role in the neuropathic pain response to nerve injury. Researchers found that exercise led to an increased expression of a protein which may have contributed to a reduced expression of the inflammation-promoting cytokines in sciatic nerve tissue.


Why We Care

When dealing with nerve pain that cannot be controlled with conventional pain medication, many attempt to regulate nerve pain using antidepressant drugs or others that carry unwanted side effects.

We know that exercise can help reduce pain in people with chronic conditions, so why not also in those with neuropathic pain?

While exercise may not eliminate nerve injury pain, if it can reduce pain up to 50% as demonstrated in this study, this is a significant step in the right direction towards reducing the inflammation in injured nerve tissue.

The 9 Visual Rules of Wellness

8 Feb

Most of you are aware of Mark Sissson’s 10 rules of living a healthy life (if not, read them here).  Very similar but slightly different are Visual MD’s “The 9 Visual Rules of Wellness.”  Visual MD has created a website off of the premise that most of us are visual learners and that most of us respond to a story.  The result is a very comprehensive website full of information regarding your health told via videos, pictures and stories.

Below are the 9 visual Rules of Wellness as stated by Visual MD:

1) Baseline Your Health

2) Define Your Wellness Mission

3) Develop and Maintain Nutritional Balance

4) Get Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise

5) Never Smoke, But if you smoke now, QUIT

6) Take a Moderate Approach

7) Make Sleep a Priority

8) Manage Your Stress

9) Embrace Joy

To learn more about Visual MD, listen to the TEDMED video by Alexander Tsiarias and visit their website http://www.thevisualmd.com.  Have fun exploring and learning!

It is the little things that make us happy…

19 Oct

In light of the upcoming screening of the movie Happy on Thursday, November 10th @ FIT,  I’ll be sharing a weekly “happy post”….observations, definitions and/or happy experiences.

Many are on a lifelong quest to find happiness – I believe instead of searching and hunting, we need to do more creating.

We often try to define what makes us happy – Not everything needs a concrete definition – it can place constrictions and restraints on something that has potential to constantly change.

Instead of searching and hunting, describing and defining – STOP – look in front of you, around you, maybe even behind you because as you are searching, hunting, describing and defining you could be missing out on some of the littlest things that can and would lead to that happy feeling you are on the hunt for.

FITBuddies’ is a group that constantly reminds me that it’s the little things that can make you happy.  They remind me that we all can have our own definition and ideas of what makes us happy but together we can create a entirely different kind of happy.

Kristen completes her warm up and cheers like she has won an olympic gold medal.

Jeremy says his goal is to make people happy every day at starbucks as he greets them at the door.

If you are really in need of a definition of happiness, come meet Spencer!

But it’s the little things, like Bowling on a Tuesday as a group, that make us all happy….


23 Sep

It is a busy time of year for those of us with kids as we settle into the routine of school, activities and the like. Both our children have birthdays this month too – 4 days apart. And life at FIT has been busier than usual. And . . .I’m sure every one of you could repeat much the same scenario. Thom walked in to the office this morning and said, “I just need to slow down. I feel like I don’t have time to enjoy anything I’m doing.” Or something like that. I agreed and turned to my computer to receive this message from a friend. I found it so timely and appropriate that I thought it worth sharing.

So often we get caught up in what we are doing and getting there that we forget why we are doing it in the first place. My favorite example to illustrate this point is when one finds themselves rushing to a massage to go relax . . .hmmm. There are plenty of others and would love for you to comment on this post to share you mindfulness moments. The point is that long term health and lifelong vitality are about more than exercising a certain number of times for a set duration or about eating the right things in the right quantities – while those are important, there is much to be said for the experience of our days.

THE SITUATION In Washington , DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent – without exception – forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:*In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? *If so, do we stop to appreciate it? *Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made . . ..

How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?

For full text article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html

Scott Gets His Blood Checked

10 Feb

After a discussion with my mother concerning my family’s health history and heart disease, I did some investigating into heart healthy diets.  I was influenced by the low-carbohydrate research referenced in Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, and the Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain.  According to these books, and a recent review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in March, 2010, in order to decrease cardiovascular risk we should reduce excess body fat and limit refined carbohydrates in our diet, such as processed starches (i.e. crackers, pastas, breads) and sugar.  That sounded like an interesting proposition to test for myself.  In addition, I wanted to challenge the notions that 1) dietary fat does not raise LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), 2) that sugar and refined carbohydrates do raise LDL cholesterol, and 3) a high saturated fat diet would actually increase HDL (the “good” cholesterol) .

I have followed the guidelines of a low-carbohydrate diet for approximately two years that kept overall carbohydrate intake (including fruit and vegetables) to approximately  100 grams per day, ate little to no bread, and consumed a higher-fat diet, especially saturated fat.  While I am at work, with poor meal-preparation and needing to eat between clients, I have two Muscle Milk shakes and/or a protein bar(s) per day.  During the week, I eat an assortment of meat, seafood, nuts, fish and whole eggs.  As for vegetables, I eat primarily dark green veggies, such as broccoli, spinach, arugula and asparagus, but I also include cauliflower and watercress. Additionally, I exercise 4-5 times per week with at least 3 intense Crossfit routines ranging from 8-30+ minutes and 2-3 heavy lifting exercise routines.  I am 35 years old, with two children (4 & 7 years old).  My current body fat is around 10%, I average six hours of sleep six days per week, and I sleep in on Sundays.

There has been an extensive amount of research concerning the benefits and consequences of a deficiency in vitamin D.  With the importance of an adequate vitamin D level in mind, and because I go to work and return home in the dark during the winter (vitamin D is called the “sunlight vitamin” because our bodies make it from sunlight), I inconsistently supplement with 5,000-10,000 IU of vitamin D3.  Unfortunately, a specific test needs to be ordered to determine an individual’s vitamin D level – it is not a part of a regular physical exam blood profile.  So, I was looking forward to seeing my lipid profile and vitamin D level in order to determine how healthy my blood might suggest I am.  Otherwise, exercising regularly and eating a specific diet is not worth missing the lounging around, consuming pies and doughnuts, and watching television. ☺

Here are the results of my lipid profile:

Component                            My Value                        Standard Range*
CHOLESTEROL                        144                                      < 200-  mg/dL
TRIGLYCERIDE                        79                                        < 150-  mg/dL
HDL                                              69                                        > 55-65-  mg/dL
LDL CALCULATED                  59                                        <100-129-  mg/dL
VITAMIN D, 25-HYDROXY    34                                        30-100 ng/mL

*Standard range based on desirable or optimal ranges http://www.reducetriglycerides.com/Arisksheartattacksblp.htm

My physician said my laboratory tests all look great.  At one time, the cholesterol ratio was considered better for physicians to assess a patient’s risk of heart disease, but it appears times have changed.  Physicians are more interested in the raw numbers.  However, my lipid profile is unique in that my HDL cholesterol is actually higher than my LDL cholesterol.  I attribute this aspect of my lipid profile to my higher-fat diet.  Short-term and long-term low-carbohydrate studies consistently show to increase in HDL cholesterol with increased saturated fat intake.

As for the vitamin D results, although I am in the “normal range”, I am alarmed that I am in the low normal range after supplementing with vitamin D3.  The conversion of vitamin D3 in the body is dependent on the concentration of a certain enzyme, and the concentration varies among people.  Although controversial on the optimal level, evidence suggests vitamin D3 level should be above 50 – 80 ng/dL.  Therefore, either I need to increase my vitamin D3 supplementation, get more sun, or a little bit of both.  Either way, I need to have another vitamin D3 test in another three months to see if I am increasing my levels effectively.

In conclusion, I am happy with my results, but the vitamin D test was a novel piece of health knowledge. Everybody should have a yearly physical to record personal markers of health, and identify detrimental changes.

So, when is the last time you had your blood tested?

Stress and the Holidays

6 Dec

Parties, social events, festive celebrations, and gatherings with family and friends are part of the holiday season.  Entertaining, sending cards, and wrapping gifts are part of the holiday season.  Shopping, cooking, cleaning, and traveling are part of the holiday season.  Feeling over whelmed with additional “Do To” items, strained budgets, and dealing with family conflicts are part of the holiday season? In other words, have your holidays become a stressor?  With a few tweaks, the holidays don’t have to be a stressful season.  Here are a few tips to reduce holiday stress.

Creating the “perfect” holiday can be overwhelming; and attempting to please everyone and do everything can leave you feeling tired and resentful.  This year simplify.  Choose and prioritized the events and traditions that you value most, and cross the rest off the To Do list.  Be open to creating new, less demanding, traditions.  For example, have a potluck or a cookie party instead of a sit down dinner.

Healthy habits.
How often has a cup of coffee made up for the lack of a full nights sleep? Or an exercise session is skipped to fit in another “to do” item?  Many times the vary things that help us reduce stress are the first things off the “To Do” list.

Oh Silent Night.

Stress and sleep (or lack of sleep) is a double-edged sword.  Stress not only interferes with the quality of sleep (all those thoughts and worries that keep us up at night), but lack of sleep also increases the release of hormones involved in the stress response.  So, you’re not sleeping because you’re stressed, and you’re stressed because you’re not sleeping.  If a good nights sleep has eluded you, napping has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, increase reaction time, and even enhance learning.  Studies have shown that a 20-minute nap provides more wide spread benefits than 20 minutes extra sleep in the morning.  If possible, rather than hitting the snooze button once, twice, or (“oh no you didn’t”) three times, opt for an afternoon power nap.

Physical activity increases endorphins.  Have you heard of the runner’s high; that feeling of euphoria that happens during physical activity?  That is the effect of endorphins.  Endorphins reduce stress and relieve pain.  They are also believed to enhance our immune system and even postpone the effects of aging.  A brisk walk on a cold winters day is fantastic for clearing the mind and reducing stress.  Twenty minutes of yoga or calisthenics have a wide range of physical and emotional benefits.  However, exercise is not the only medium to a healthy dose of endorphins; try a few minutes of meditation or deep breathing, or doubling over with laughter.  Yes, laughter produces endorphins.  Have you ever felt stressed after a really good belly laugh? 

This season, let’s add more laughs and less “To Do” items to our holiday celebration.  I wish you a stress free holiday and a happy New Year!

Give Back By Giving To Yourself

6 Dec

I recently read a story where a rabbi was quoted as suggesting that by giving an EXTRA ONE percent of daily effort, one could self-improve 365% by years’ end!  Everyone defines success differently, but fulfillment is almost always a primary component.  With the goal of giving one extra percent of effort a day towards our own personal success, we can ensure that we are keeping our eye on the ball and maintaining our commitment to leading a fulfilling life, not just a life that’s full.

The same rabbi also said, “People who are fortunate enough to have a partner who loves them, kids who idolize them, and friends who support them, MUST take this one percent for themselves.”  In essence, there are two forms of giving: giving of thyself and giving to oneself.

Ever notice that you are generally in a better mood on the days you workout?  That you sleep better?  That you are more fun to be around?  When you give to yourself, you nurture yourself, which in turns rejuvenates your soul and enables you to have more to give.  In the end, rather than feeling completely tapped and depleted, you will feel good about yourself AND good about all you were able to do for others.  You give, you get.

Think of it this way; if you only succeed in giving the extra 1% a day, for a third of the year, you will still be approximately 100% better off.  Think of the benefit of that 100% if it’s split between all the things that matter to you. All of a sudden, you are a better spouse, mother, friend etc… You will then be setting an example for those around you to follow the same principles and in effect, giving them the same gift that you allowed yourself to receive.

Having never really considered the origins of these holidays, it was recently brought to my attention that most are related to the celebration of light during the dark days of winter, so on that note, on behalf of all of us at FIT, we are thankful to the light that you bring to our days and wish you and your family a happy, healthy new year.