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Lifestyle Perspectives Uncategorized

Sleep Well with S.E.L.F. Correction

Rest and recovery are often undervalued components when it comes to fitness and achieving performance goals.  Many people feel that they need to do more in order to achieve more, which may be true if you’re currently not doing much, but if you’re already grinding away, then doing more is often not the answer.  Quality restoration is crucial to optimize performance and so I’d like to share some of the highlights and strategies that I found valuable from Eoin Lacey’s presentation on Sleep at the 2018 SWIS Symposium interlaced with some of my own findings on the topic.

Your body rests in cycles as you sleep and there are 4 stages within a sleep cycle.  There used to be 5 stages, but recently stages 3 and 4 have been lumped together as researchers have stated that there were no physiological changes between the two stages to necessitate having two different stages.   Each cycle can last from 90 to 120 minutes in length.

Stage 1 – Is usually the shortest stage lasting from 5-15 minutes where your eyes are closed, but you can still be easily awakened.

Stage 2 – Is a little longer in length than stage 1, but your body temperature and heart rate starts to drop along with a reduction in muscle tone as your body prepares for deep sleep.

Stage 3 – Is usually the longest stage where you are in a deep sleep.  In this stage physical restoration such as tissue repairs occur along with strengthening of the immune system.  If you were to be awakened during this stage, you would feel a little disoriented and groggy.

Stage 4 (REM Sleep) – REM stands for” rapid eye movement” and happens around the 90-minute mark of the sleep cycle.  In the first cycle it usually lasts about 10 minutes but increases with each successive cycle of uninterrupted sleep.  During your final sleep cycle REM sleep may last up to 1 hour.  The REM stage is where you may experience intense dreams as your brain is the most active during this phase of sleep causing the rapid eye movements.  Heart rate and breathing quickens along with an increase in oxygen consumption by the brain.  This stage is thought to be the most restorative stage for our brain and central nervous system.  While some may use alcohol to aid in falling asleep, it interferes with the body’s ability to achieve REM sleep and will reduce your overall REM sleep.

Ideally, we would like to get between 3-5 uninterrupted sleep cycles each night.  That’s about the popular 7-9 hours we’re accustom to hearing, but 1-2 hours should be a deep REM sleep.  According to studies, most people get about 60% of the sleep they need for optimal functioning.  Most of us are going through our daily activities only having a 60% recharge!  Most of us don’t like leaving for work in the morning with a cellphone that’s only got 60% of a recharge, yet we do this with our body and mind regularly.  If you consider that studies revealed that people who suffer from sleep apnea are 3 times more likely to develop diabetes and 23 times more likely to have a heart attack, that drives home the importance of getting proper restorative sleep.

So how can we improve our sleep at night?  There’s an array of tips out there for what is known as Sleep Hygiene that we’re familiar with such as sleeping in complete darkness, set a cooler temperature, avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime, reduce blue light exposure, etc.  While many of these tips have been shown to help, they are usually part of a wind down routine performed close to bedtime.  But it’s what you do upon waking in the morning and your habits throughout the day that have a greater impact on how you sleep at night.

S.E.L.F. Correction is an approach that might be of greater value, especially if these habits are stacked with good Sleep Hygiene.  Before I break down the S.E.L.F. acronym, I’m going to quickly explain the hormone cortisol because it is mentioned a few times throughout the S.E.L.F. Correction approach.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands and released into your bloodstream.  It helps with many of the body’s functions including the control of blood sugar levels, metabolism regulation, blood pressure, helps reduce inflammation and assist with memory formulation.  It is a crucial hormone for wellbeing.  It has a bad rap as it is well known as being the “stress” hormone.  There’s a lot of articles about lowering your cortisol levels, but we absolutely need cortisol for proper balance.  The problem comes when we secrete too much cortisol too often and have sustained high levels.  Sustained stress is one of the top culprits for that happening, which causes the release of too much cortisol as our body tries to combat the stress.  Cortisol is trying to help us, it’s not the bad guy.  We want to lower stress to properly balance our cortisol secretion.  That generally means a lifestyle shift that involves less stress.  Proper sleep habits and S.E.L.F. Correction can help with this by boosting cortisol when it’s supposed to be high and having it taper throughout the day.

Here’s what S.E.L.F. stands for:

Social stimulation – within your first hour of waking, interact with someone or people.  Whether it be your partner, children, possibly even some emails if you can’t be face to face with a real person.  Social stimulus boosts cortisol levels which is what you want in the morning to feel awake.  As the day goes on cortisol levels should taper down as adenosine (sleep drive) levels rise toward the evening.

Exercise – get moving sooner than later upon waking.  There is a post exercise spike in cortisol levels which will contribute to that wakefulness, not to mention increased circulation and the array of other health benefits exercise has to offer.

Light – natural light is preferred, but light first thing in the morning will help shut down melatonin and boost cortisol levels to wake your body up keeping your circadian clock on a healthy sleep/wake cycle.  It’s recommended to get at least 1000 lux of light in the eyes for about 20 minutes upon waking.  (This does not mean stare at the sun.  Please do not do that.  You will go blind.)  1000 lux is comparable to an overcast day.

Food – What you eat and when you eat it throughout the day will affect cortisol levels and mood.  Food creates stimulation in your body so eating breakfast and consuming the majority of what you will eat throughout the day earlier on will help make winding down at the end of the day easier.  Foods such as legumes, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, leafy greens and colorful vegetables, whole grains, dairy, lower sugar level fruits such as berries, and healthy fats are good options for breakfast and early day meals to help boost morning cortisol.  Starchy carbs boost adenosine and serotonin levels and actually help you wind down, which is one of the reasons why you feel nice and lethargic after eating meals with a high carbohydrate content.  I can sum this up as saying eat balanced meals comprised of real food, don’t get crazy with extremes.

I hope that you have found this information useful!

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Lifestyle Perspectives Uncategorized

3 Tips to ensure you stick to you New Year’s fitness resolution

Consistency is the key element.  You need to be consistent to ingrain a new habit.  That may be a good habit or bad.  You didn’t become a couch potato by sitting on the couch once or twice, it took a consistent pattern over the long haul to get you there.  Likewise, going to the gym a handful of times at the beginning of the New Year isn’t going to transform you the way you’d hoped.  It will take a consistent pattern, and sorry to burst your quick fix bubble here, but it’s going to have to be a lifetime habit.

So, here’s 3 quick tips to ensure you stick with your habit:

  1. Choose a physical activity you will actually enjoy!  If the gym isn’t for you and you hate going, don’t go!  You won’t stick with it and it will deflate your mental wellbeing doing something you hate or hating yourself for missing your workouts because you hate them.  Choose an activity that suits you.  Once that is consistent you might find that an extra gym day or two added on might become palatable and add more value to the other activity you like.  They will feed each other and you’re on your way!
  2. Choose one new thing. Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking you need to do everything at once.  You can’t, so you won’t be able to maintain it for the length of time needed for it to become a habit.
  3. Make Space. Many people start a new thing in an already cluttered life without actually making space to fit it in.  It’s sort jammed in because you think you have to.  This additional pressure is unhealthy and makes your life harder, not easier.  If you’re going to start something new, you’re going to need to make space for that thing and take something else away.  Think of it as purging a crowded closet.  Creating this space makes everything visible so that new thing doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.  You see it every time you look in the closet, so you’ll use it.
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Lifestyle Training

Movement Tip: The Banana Stretch

Most of us are one-side dominant in our daily activities.  We typically open doors, carry groceries, get in and out of vehicles more frequently on one side than the other.  Over time these unconscious movements add up and create imbalances in our body which can sometimes lead to insidious aches pains or injuries.  One of my favorite stretches that can both expose imbalances from left to right and help restore some balance is the Banana Stretch.  Here’s a quick video tutorial! Hope you enjoy!

The Banana Stretch can also be performed in a door frame.
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Lifestyle Perspectives Training Uncategorized

Tips for Healthy hips!

Our hips play a huge role in our mobility.  They are at the center of where all the action takes place.  Just about every way we move involves the hip joint in some capacity, whether it be direct or indirect when we initiate movement, forces travel through the area.  It’s needless to say that keeping them healthy will have a huge impact in our overall well being and quality of life.

So, how do we keep them healthy you ask?  With 21 muscles crossing this incredible piece of architecture you might think that the answer is going to be complex.  Many experts will give you numerous stretches and exercises to take to task however the most important thing to do is keep them greased by keeping them moving regularly through all their movement ranges.  This is something that should be done daily however most of us have set patterns throughout our day that have us using our hips in a very limited capacity and so they become limited to that.

There are 6 primary ranges of motion that the hip joint provides for us:

Flexion – when the thigh bone moves forward ahead of the hip.

Extension – when the thigh bones moves backward behind the hip.

Abduction – when the thigh bone moves out to the side of the hip.

Adduction – when the thigh bones moves across our mid-line.

External Rotation – when the thigh bone rotates so that the knee points out away from the body.

Internal Rotation – when the thigh bone rotates so that the knee points in toward the body.

Do you move your hips through all these ranges in a deliberate manner daily?  Chances are that you don’t and by limiting the range of motion and freedom of your hips the cascade effect of compensatory patterns and the insidious onset of pain occurs.

To help mitigate this terrible outcome, I’m going to provide you with one simple dance that takes just seconds to perform to keep those hips greased and mobile daily.  Whether you’re young, old or currently experience some form of discomfort, this little jig has got you covered.  I have to give full credit to Kevin Darby, strength coach/educator extraordinaire and the authority in Canada for Fascial Stretch Therapy, as I picked this up from his playbook.

You can read this description, but the video provides a clear and easy visual as well as instructions.  While my mother is from South America, you’ll see that I clearly didn’t inherit those well greased dance hips often associated with South American populations.  Enjoy!

The Dance:

Step 1:  Take one foot and plant it to the ground.  Remember, plants don’t move so this foot will stay where it is for the whole dance as we maneuver around it.

Step 2: Take your other foot and step forward. (Planted foot hip is now in extension)

Step 3: Take that same foot and step back. (Planted foot hip is now in flexion)

Step 4: Now take a step across your planted foot to the side. (Planted foot hip is now in adduction)

Step 5: Step over to the other side. (Planted foot hip is now in abduction)

Step 6: Step back over to the other side crossing that planted foot and facing your whole body that way. (Planted foot hip is now in internal rotation)

Step 7: Now step back over to the other side again and rotate your whole body to face that direction without moving that planted foot.  (Planted foot hip is now in external rotation)

Can you see how we’ve just covered all of the primary ranges of motion for our hip?  It’s genius!  You can repeat these steps and each time you go through them as your hip frees up, you can take larger and deeper steps increasing the range of motion.

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Lifestyle Nutrition Perspectives

Meal prep – you don’t have the time to not do it

Food Prep

Preparation in general is a habit that pays back tenfold.  Meal prep in particular (in my opinion) is one of the best foundation habits you can have.  It’s close to the base of the pyramid in that it supports and affects so much of your daily structure.  There are a plethora of studies that show how proper nutritional balance improves everything from cognition and sleep to performance and body composition and much more.  Basically everything you need to be the best version of you, yet so many resort to the habit of, “Oh, I don’t have time to prepare a proper meal, so I’ll just grab something on the go.”  That’s okay every now and again, but that shouldn’t be the norm.  With all of the positive outcomes that can occur from one simple habit, it should be a priority, which is a nice segue into a few suggestions that might help make it so for you.

 

Make it a priority – because it is!  Do it during the hours that you feel the most productive so that you can get it done and out of the way efficiently so it takes less time and you can put the quality into it that it deserves.

 

Build an arsenal – Thinking of what to cook is an age old dilemma, but slowly building an arsenal of recipes that become easy to prepare, is a key element in being consistent with food prep.  Try learning a new recipe every couple of weeks and before you know it, you’ll have a wide variety of meals to choose from.  This takes a little bit of time in the beginning, but once it’s in place it will always be there for you.

 

Batch Cook – If you don’t like leftovers, get over it.  Batch cooking is one of the most effective methods of meal prep.  Each week I’ll take a couple of hours to prepare a few different meals all at once so that there’s variety and I have them ready to go for the week.  A lot of recipes will use similar base ingredients, such as onions, garlic etc.  So, if you’re chopping those up already for one meal, you might as well chop up what you’ll need for a different dish as well and prep that too.  It saves more time in the long run, plus it frees up intellectual real estate throughout the week when you don’t need to think or worry about what to cook or eat.

 

Have the right tools – Having the right equipment to perform a task makes it far more efficient and a lot more enjoyable.  A few good quality kitchenware items such as a good knife and frying pan can really make a world of difference.  This plays into something that I mentioned in a previous post about creating an environment that is conducive to the habit you want to create.  What items do you find yourself using the most when you’re cooking?  Do you feel miserable when you have to use them?  Get quality items for the tools you use the most that help you the most and you’ll find a much more enjoyable experience.

I hope these tips give you some food for thought!  Enjoy your week.

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Lifestyle Nutrition

Super shake recipe

Super Shake Recipe – Custom-Fit Wellness

Super shakes, smoothies, whatever ever title you want to give them, are awesome for packing in a lot of nutrients in a simple manner.  The hardest thing is deciding on what you want to put in it.  So, here’s a recipe that I like to use from time to time that’s more veggie dense.  Again, measurements are not my strong suit and should also be adjusted to your particular needs.  These are just averages.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp. grated ginger root
  • 1-2 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1-2 tbsp. hemp seeds
  • 20-30g plain protein powder
  • 1-2 cups spinach
  • ½ cup parsley
  • ½ cup beets
  • ½ cup carrots
  • 1 banana
  • 300ml water

Instructions:  Throw it all into a blender and blend until smooth.  You can add ice to give it a nice cool texture.  Protein powder is optional as well.

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Lifestyle Nutrition

Energy Balls!

Homemade Energy Balls! – Courtesy of Custom-Fit Wellness

I went a little crazy with this last batch of energy balls!  I’ve made these on a few occasions now, and this experiment basically came about from reading the ingredients on a Lara Bar wrapper one day and thinking, “I could probably just make these at home.”  So here we are.

These bad boys are an awesome source of dense calories.  They’re perfect for endurance activities and I like them as a sweet pick-me-up if my energy level is weaning or I don’t have time to eat a full meal during the day.  They can be a good alternative to that chocolate bar hiding in your desk, but they are still calorie dense, so moderation is key.  You can be downing these like a puppy and liver treats!

Here’s the recipe, but note that these are averages because I don’t ever use a measuring cup (hence the oversized batch in the picture) so you may need a little more or less of some of the ingredients to get the consistency right.  I take no responsibility for how these may turn out if you follow this.  Enjoy!

Serves:  Maybe 15-20?

  • 250g of raw cashews
  • 400g of pitted dates
  • 3-4 tbsp organic natural peanut butter (crunchy)
  • 4-5 scoops plain whey protein
  • 2-3 tbsp organic coconut oil
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Cocoa powder to roll them in if you like

I use a blender because I don’t have a food processor, but you want to grind up the cashews into a fine meal.  Empty the meal into a large mixing bowl and then put the dates into your blender/food processor, handful at a time to make a sticky paste.  Add the pinch of salt, peanut butter and dates to the mixing bowl with the cashew meal and begin to mix together creating a consistent paste and then slowly add the whey protein.  I save the coconut oil for last because I only add as much as I need to get the batter consistency that’s needed to roll into balls, or pack into a flat pan to make bars.

Highly experimental instructions, hopefully it works out for you!  Maybe one day I’ll actually measure things and repost.

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Lifestyle Perspectives Training

Why do I Keep Straining My Neck?


By Gavin Buehler, RMT

Disclaimer:  Please consult your healthcare provider before engaging in any of the activities or suggestions that are highlighted in this article/video.

During this time of the season the coaches and therapists at Active Life tend to notice a rise in complaints surrounding the neck and shoulder area.  Generally it’s a little more stiffness than usual or mild “tweaks” frequently around the posterolateral (side/back) area of the neck. 

So why the sudden rise in these occurrences during this time of the year?  Our posture seems to change with the colder weather and maybe even from the stresses that may have been incurred over the holidays.  We channel our inner turtle power (everyone knows Raphael was the coolest Ninja Turtle) and manage to suck our heads into our protective shells between our shoulders, usually with our chins poked forward, and with added stress our breathing becomes shallow adding more to strain to some of the neck musculature that assists in breathing.  Spending more time in this type of posture can make the neck and shoulder area more susceptible to these aches and injuries. 

To understand why this is happening we need to take a closer look at the functional anatomy of these muscles, and since there’s a lot of them, I’m going to focus in on a muscle that I’ve found to garner the most complaints, the levator scapula.  This muscle takes a lot of abuse and is one of the most common reasons why I see people on my table.

As you can see in the diagram, the levator scapula originates from the transverse processes of C1-C4 in your neck and attaches to the superior aspect of the medial border on your scapula (shoulder blade).   Looking at the fiber direction and attachment points, we can see that its functions include scapular elevation (lifts shoulder blade up), scapular downward rotation (rotates shoulder blade down) and ipsilateral cervical flexion and rotation (rotates and flexes neck to the same side).  The most prominent action is the downward rotation of the scapula and it’s important to recognize this along with the cervical attachment points due to the impact this can have on overall shoulder movement.  Explanation is provided in the video along with a demonstration of actions.

When we’re in a forward head carriage postural position, this puts tension on the levator scapula pulling the shoulder blade into downward rotation.  This is generally the opposite movement of where we want our shoulder blade to go for the majority of our daily activities seeing as they are performed with our arms in front of our bodies where upward rotation of the scapula is required.  So we have a muscle that’s connected to our neck that’s pulling in the opposite direction we’re trying to go with our arms, inhibiting optimal movement of our shoulder causing compensatory muscle activation and firing patterns.

The postural placement of our head can interfere with the range of motion in our shoulders.  So if our heads are forward and our shoulders a little shrugged up and we go and try to do anything with our arms, such as reaching for a door handle or shoveling, we’re putting added strain on a muscle that’s already in a stretched position making it easy to “tweak.”

Be conscious of your posture and stand tall and proud with your ear in line with your shoulder to minimize your risk of injury and maximize your shoulder movement.

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Lifestyle Perspectives Training

How Poor Posture Creates Tight Calves

By Gavin Buehler, RMT

Disclaimer:  Please consult your healthcare provider before engaging in any of the activities or suggestions that are highlighted in this article/video.

An issue that’s becoming more prevalent in my practice is lack of ankle mobility, particularly with dorsi flexion (foot flexes up toward shin).  I’ll hear comments about how calves always feel tight even though the individual is always stretching them out.  While the calves feel like they have an issue, the problem might stem from somewhere else.   In a case where I hear comments such as above, looking at the body globally and assessing postural alignment can help find the source.

Two fairly common postural patterns that are just about guaranteed to produce limited ankle mobility as well as many other problems that I won’t dig into in this article are “sway back” and “hyper lordosis.”  In both cases a dysfunction through the core triggers compensatory patterns in order for the body to keep balanced.

Sway Back Posture

Sway Back – In the case of the sway back posture the pelvis shifts forward off the plumb line usually presenting with a posterior pelvic tilt and flattening of the lower back.  There are many possible reasons for this that may include weakness in the transversus abdominis (TVA), imbalanced internal and external obliques, glute weakness, poor sequencing etc.  But it’s the lack of support through the core that displaces the weight creating an “S” like posture when viewed from the side.  With the pelvis shifting forward, the upper torso needs to shift back making the head shift forward.  In the lower body knees will usually lock out in hyper extension and due to the angle that the weight is being driven through the tibia, a constant posterior glide at the talocrural joint (ankle) stresses the Achilles tendon.

Hyper Lordosis Posture

Hyper Lordosis – With hyper lordosis a slightly different “S” like pattern forms as the pelvis dumps forward in an anterior tilt which tends to create a flatter upper back and exaggerates the arch in the low back shifting the torso forward off the plumb line.  The weight displacement of the upper body causes the lower body to compensate by pushing the pelvis backward as well as the knees in a lockout position.  As with the “Sway Back” posture, this places the tibia at an unfavorable angle to bear load through the ankle joint.

There are a number of other issues that are also formed with these postures, but since this article is about tight calves, I’m just going to highlight how they are affected.  In both the sway back and hyper lordosis cases, these postures produce a constant stress on the calves through both the knee joint as well as the ankle joint.  The calves are in a lengthened state crossing the knee and working hard to fight hyper extension and stabilize the joint.  Through the ankle, because of the way the weight is being distributed through the tibia (lower leg) and the angle that it is forced to meet the talus (foot bone), they’re again stretched and working hard to combat the posterior glide and stabilize.  The body’s nervous system will perceive these areas as being unstable causing the calf muscles to brace for stability making them tight.  No amount of stretching will remedy this type of tension.  In order for mobility to take place in any joint, there needs to be stability for your nervous system to allow the movement.  

To address the constant tension through the calves, postural improvement is needed first to place the load of the body in an optimal position where the joints are stable.  Improving the function of your core will generate the greatest success in these situations.

In this video I explain the compensatory patterns and offer a simple tool to help improve your posture.

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Lifestyle Nutrition

Quick Food Tip: Quick & Easy Chicken

Today I have another fantastic quick food prep tip that I wanted to share with you through a short video, where you can once again be exposed to my hyper energetic and overly expressive nature! Lol!

So food preparation is definitely a sticking point for many when it comes to adopting healthy eating habits.  While I generally like to bulk cook and have many things prepared in advance, sometimes you just aren’t able to do that.  But it doesn’t mean that you have to cave and grab fast food.  You can still whip up something healthy and usually quicker than it would take you to run and grab “fast food.”

Below I’m sharing with you one of the quick and easy ways that I will cook chicken when I’ve missed my bulk cook day, or just feel lazy.  Hopefully this helps stir your creativity in the kitchen and shows you that healthy can be pretty quick too!  The recipe isn’t that important, it’s the method that you should take away.  Enjoy!

Quick Explanation:

  • Mix together your favourite dry spices (in this video-cumin, turmeric, smoked paprika, chilli powder, red chilli flakes, thyme, cinnamon, salt, pepper)
  • Spread spices on to large flat surface
  • Rub or mash chicken cuts of your choice into spices coating them well
  • Heat cooking oil over medium to high heat in a frying pan (I like butter or coconut oil)
  • Place spiced chicken cuts into pan and let the magic begin
  • Cooking time will vary depending on the meat cut and thickness. Generally about 4-5mins per side
  • Before eating, check to make sure there is no pink jelly middle in your chicken! Cook for longer if there is.