It’s no secret, I love talking about brain chemistry! Have you heard about my “Winning Trifecta of Wellness”? The trifecta includes stress management, exercise and nutrition, which are actions that produce optimal brain chemistry.
When you cultivate optimal brain chemistry, you feel good.
When you commit to consistently cultivate optimal brain chemistry, you look good.
Isn’t it incredible how your thoughts and actions directly affect your health and happiness? Isn’t it empowering to know that you’re in control of what you think and how you act?
The following ten books have given me tangible new insight into improving my health and happiness.
They’ve helped me become more aware of the effects of my thoughts and actions – and more empowered to improve my health and happiness.
I hope you’ll find them interesting and insightful too!
1. Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-body Medicine by Candace B. Pert
2. Must Have Been Something I Ate by Peggy Kotsopoulos
3. Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Natures Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality by Alan C. Logan and Eva M. Selhub
7. The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body by Drew Ramsey and Tyler G. Graham
8. Love 2.0: How our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become by Barbara Fredrickson
9. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey
10. Super Brain by Deepak Chopra & Rudolph Tanzi
Reluctant to stick to your gym routine? Exercising outdoors can increase your motivation, says New York Times columnist Gretchen Reynolds. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
New York Times, March 13, 2013
For most people, exercise elevates mood. Repeated studies with humans and animals have shown that regular workouts can increase stress resistance, decrease anxiety, lessen symptoms of depression and generally leave people cheerful. But what if someone sincerely dislikes exercise and works out only under a kind of emotional duress, deeming that he or she must do so, perhaps because a doctor or worried spouse has ordered it?
Psychology Today, March 12, 2013
If you’re like most people living in our fast-paced world, you wish you could be less stressed. You are constantly on the lookout for ways to reduce your stress and that’s most likely why you clicked on this blog link. Perhaps you’ll learn something new to help you manage the many demands you feel on your time and energy. Or perhaps this will another one of those pop psych articles that tell you what you already knew or have read about many times before. I don’t want to promise what I can’t deliver, but I think you’ll be honestly surprised by the six secrets to stress that I’ll reveal in this blog. Even if you just learn from one of them, you’ll be on your way to better managing those worries, anxieties, and preoccupations that, though perhaps minor on their own, can add up to erode your mental and physical health.
Psychology Today, February 28, 2013
Healthy children come in all shapes and sizes. Being physically fit is more important than Body Mass Index (BMI) when it comes to getting good grades. A new study by Dr. Robert R. Rauner and colleagues from Lincoln Public Schools and Creighton University in Nebraska found that aerobic fitness has a greater effect on academic performance than weight. The study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that although BMI is an important indicator for overall health, it did not have a significant effect on test scores. “Although obesity is a concern for children, this study shows that aerobic fitness can have a greater effect on academic performance than weight,” the Journal said.
Chalkboard, February 22, 2013
In her book The Slim Calm Sexy Diet, author Keri Glasman walks readers through the all-important rules of getting stronger, calmer, healthier, more balanced and yes, thinner – all goals that have likely made it across your New Year’s to-do list… but, calmer? How does getting calmer fit in to all this hubbub about our health?
New York Times, February 21, 2013
While the allure of the gym — climate-controlled, convenient and predictable — is obvious, especially in winter, emerging science suggests there are benefits to exercising outdoors that can’t be replicated on a treadmill, a recumbent bicycle or a track. You stride differently when running outdoors, for one thing. Generally, studies find, people flex their ankles more when they run outside. They also, at least occasionally, run downhill, a movement that isn’t easily done on a treadmill and that stresses muscles differently than running on flat or uphill terrain. Outdoor exercise tends, too, to be more strenuous than the indoor version. In studies comparing the exertion of running on a treadmill and the exertion of running outside, treadmill runners expended less energy to cover the same distance as those striding across the ground outside, primarily because indoor exercisers face no wind resistance or changes in terrain, no matter how subtle.
New York Times, February 9, 2013
Think for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings?
New York Times, January 17, 2013
A frequent traveler, Soozan Baxter never bothers with the hotel gym. Instead, she checks with the front desk to make sure there is a tub in the bathroom, an iron in the closet and a sturdy bench or ottoman in the room. Ms. Baxter’s solution for staying in shape while on the road: a 30-minute routine designed by her Manhattan-based personal trainer, Nicole Glor, that lets her exercise without having to pack hand weights or exercise mats. “I don’t want to carry a lot of stuff with me,” said Ms. Baxter, 37, a commercial real estate consultant who travels from one to three days a week throughout the year.
New York Times, January 9, 2013
It is well established that exercise bolsters the structure and function of the brain. Multiple animal and human studies have shown that a few months of moderate exercise can create new neurons, lift mood and hone memory and thinking.
But few studies have gone on to examine what happens next. Are these desirable brain changes permanent? Or, if someone begins exercising but then stops, does the brain revert to its former state, much like unused muscles slacken?
Vancouver Sun, December 31, 2012
My favourite thought of the year came from CIHR researcher Antony Karelis at the University of Quebec, who told me that long-term studies on the effects of various weight loss programs are impossible to do because nearly everyone who loses weight puts it right back on again, usually within a few months. My second favourite thought on weight loss strategies came from Sheila Innis, the director of UBC’s nutrition and metabolism research program, who rather irritably pointed out that starving and stuffing lab mice is not a reliable means for designing a sensible diet for humans (though it is a fine way to learn about things like the effects of insulin on fat cells).
Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2012
Go take a hike – it’s good for your brain. So says a new study that supports something called Attention Restoration Theory, which holds that exposure to nature can replenish our cognitive reserves when they are worn out by overuse. And if you live a modern urban or suburban life, your cognitive reserves are surely depleted: A typical teenager spends more than 7.5 hours per day juggling a computer, cellphone, TV and other media, and the number is surely higher for a typical adult, according to the study: “Our modern society is filled with sudden events (sirens, horns, ringing phones, alarms, televisions, etc.) that hijack attention. By contrast, natural environments are associated with a gentle, soft fascination, allowing the executive attentional system to replenish.”
Catherine Roscoe Barr, left, and Mana Mansour talk about multi-muscle exercises at Steve Nash Fitness World and Sports Club.
I was so happy to share a little of what I’ve learned along the way through my work as a fitness professional and wellness writer, as well as my voracious appetite for new books and information on how to live your best life.
Everyone talks about fat loss and dieting and this pill and that exercise. But being well is simple.
I shared with Mana what I call The Winning Trifecta of Wellness: actions that produce optimal brain chemistry.
If you strive for optimal brain chemistry, everything else will fall into place.
The Winning Trifecta of Wellness includes stress management, exercise and nutrition.
The effects of stress management, exercise and nutrition on the mind are more powerful than their effects on the body – think of fat loss, muscle tone, flexibility, strength and endurance as pleasant side effects.
The effects on the mind are immediate. You feel happy, alert, positive, creative, vibrant, energetic and confident when you take time to rejuvenate your mind, move your body and provide it with the right fuel.
Once you discover the immediate effects of the Trifecta on your brain chemistry – how you feel – you’ll be more motivated to regularly take time for stress management, exercise and nutrition, much more motivated than working towards long term goals like losing 6 inches or dropping 15 pounds.
See the go! Vancouver segment below.
You can’t control what’s going on in the world around you but you can control how you react to it. Thoughts and feelings are chemical communication in your mind and body so do as much as you can to create a healthy environment, not a toxic stew.
- Take 10 deep breaths
- Start a gratitude journal
- Get out in nature
- Take time to pursue a hobby
- Build community – get together with friends and family, perform random acts of kindness, volunteer your time or money to help others
- Move. Period. Look at housework in a whole new light. Be thankful you have to walk your dog. Dance more. Take a quick stretch break. Do 20 jumping jacks. Walk to as many errands and meetings as possible. Have sex! Anything is better than nothing – just 10 minutes a day will produce positive changes.
- Move as many muscles as possible in as many different ways as possible. Choosing multi-muscle exercises will give you the most bang for your buck, by revving up your metabolism and moving oxygen and nutrients throughout your body.
- Have a contingency plan. Listen to your body and be flexible with your schedule. Some days a vigorous workout, where you break a sweat and get your heart pumping, will feel great. Some days you need gentle movements like a bike ride along the seawall or a restorative yoga class. Sometimes, if I can’t be bothered to drag myself to the gym, I workout in my living room. If I’m too tired or running too late for a morning workout, I’ll workout right before I eat lunch, and if that fails, I’ll workout right before I eat dinner.
- Choose fresh and un-processed products – if you do this, you can’t go wrong
- Shopping local, sustainable and seasonal may cost you a little more in the short term but the long term benefits to your health and wellbeing are priceless, not to mention the deposits into your karmic bank account by supporting your planet and community.
- Every time you make a purchase, you’re voting with your money. When you purchase local, sustainable, seasonal, free-range, organic, un-processed foods, you’re voting for the humane treatment of animals and products that aren’t pumped full of hormones or sprayed with chemicals.
- Also, by knowing where your ingredients come from and preparing most meals from scratch you can control what you’re putting in your body and eliminate as many chemicals, fillers and junk as possible.
- Hydrate with water! Drink a glass when you first wake up because you’re likely dehydrated and keep drinking throughout the day. If you’re not keen, try making it more fun by adding citrus, cucumber or frozen berries or have a mug of hot water with a squeeze of lemon.
- Fuel your body throughout the day, especially after a workout and after fasting overnight – going to bed on an empty stomach improves sleep quality because your body is able to focus on repair and rejuvenation, not digestion.
- Ideal day of eating: 7AM, 10AM, 1PM, 4PM, 7PM = 12 hour fast
- Eating every 3 hours ensures that your blood sugar levels stay steady
- Spreading calorie intake throughout the day increases metabolism and also helps you to avoid binge eating and poor choices because you’re starving
So, forget about the long-term goals and focus on the now. Focus on how you feel. Don’t make weight loss your new year’s resolution – resolve to feel good by creating optimal brain chemistry through stress management, exercise and nutrition.
By making optimal brain chemistry your new year’s resolution, you can immediately feel energized, positive, creative, happy and vibrant – and fat loss, muscle tone, flexibility, strength and endurance will be icing on the cake of health and happiness!
Last January, the lovely Dawn Chubai told me about a new workout called Ugi. I went to investigate for myself and co-founder Sara Shears led me through a workout at her former studio in South Granville, which I wrote about for BCLiving.ca. Read the full story here.
The Ugi at home system – currently on sale for$169, regularly $189 – has quickly become my go-to workout. I love how challenging it is (I call it hysterically hard), varied it is (the DVD and workout book have 5 different workouts), it only takes 30 minutes, and I can do it in my living room or anywhere I can carry the Ugi ball to.
Here are some highlights from the BCLiving.ca story:
- Developed by Vancouver celebrity trainer Sara Shears
- 30 exercises, 30 minutes, and just one piece of equipment – the Ugi ball
- Barefoot training is encouraged to challenge the underused muscles in the ankles and feet
- Ugi stands for “you’ve got it!” You’ve got the tools, you’ve got the power, and now you’ve got it, so show it off!
- The at home system includes a Ugi ball (which comes in six fun colours and 6-, 8-, 10- or 12-pound weights), a DVD with five total body workouts (drawing from 140 exercises), a Ugi workout flipbook with pictures of the exercises, a healthy eating guide, access to Ugi’s online exercise library, and a smartphone app that provides an interval timer for the workouts
- The initial intention was solely an at-home workout but the concept proved so popular that Ugi has taken off and landed in studios, gyms, bootcamps, schools, and even seniors’ centres around the world
In Good news about good news, writer Misty Harris shares “that happiness craves an audience” and quotes researcher Nathaniel Lambert: “When you show others that you’re a safe person to share their good news with, you make a huge deposit in their emotional bank account,” says Lambert. “Being an active, constructive listener is one of the least utilized, least-taught skills there is.” Pictured above, my husband is always willing to lend an ear and make a deposit in my emotional bank account.
Globe and Mail, October 29, 2012
Can a little bit of exercise make you smarter? Or, stated more precisely, can regular activity help slow the cognitive declines associated with aging? A small but intriguing study suggests that the answer to those two questions is Yes. “The message from this research is that exercise is not just good for your heart, it’s good for your brain,” Dr. Martin Juneau, director of prevention at the Montreal Heart Institute, said in an interview. “If you’re looking for a little bit more motivation to exercise, hopefully this is it.”
New York Times, October 26, 2012
Remaining physically active as you age, a new study shows, may help protect parts of your brain from shrinking, a process that has been linked to declines in thinking and memory skills. Physical exercise not only protected against such age-related brain changes, but also had more of an effect than mentally and socially stimulating activities. In the new report, published in the journal Neurology, a team at the University of Edinburgh followed more than 600 people, starting at age 70. The subjects provided details on their daily physical, mental and social activities.
Vancouver Sun, October 25, 2012
A team of experts has cooked up a new book that interweaves scientific facts about brain health with some tips on lifestyle choices in an effort to reduce users’ likelihood of developing dementia. The e-book, called “Mindfull,” was inspired by a belief that scientific information about brain health hasn’t been presented in a way that people can incorporate into their daily lives, said co-author Carol Greenwood, a scientist and professor of nutrition and brain health.
Vancouver Sun, October 25, 2012
Everyone knows misery loves company, but a new study shows that happiness craves an audience as well. And in this case, there are rewards. Researchers find that sharing good news amplifies its positive benefits, above and beyond the pleasure that comes from reliving the event and the social interaction itself. The boost is so powerful, in fact, that individuals who impart uplifting news to another person at least twice a week report greater life satisfaction than those who simply journal their good news with the same frequency. The hitch, however, is that not just any company will do: the listener must be someone who responds in an enthusiastic and supportive way.
New York Times, October 24, 2012
Is laughter a kind of exercise? That offbeat question is at the heart of a new study of laughing and pain that emphasizes how unexpectedly entwined our bodies and emotions can be. For the study, which was published this year in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers at Oxford University recruited a large group of undergraduate men and women. They then set out to make their volunteers laugh. Most of us probably think of laughter, if we think of it at all, as a response to something funny — as, in effect, an emotion. But laughter is fundamentally a physical action.
New York Times, October 17, 2012
Just as we were all settling in front of the television to watch the baseball playoffs, two new studies about the perils of sitting have spoiled our viewing pleasure. The research, published in separate medical journals this month, adds to a growing scientific consensus that the more time someone spends sitting, especially in front of the television, the shorter and less robust his or her life may be. To reach that conclusion, the authors of one of the studies, published in the October issue of The British Journal of Sports Medicine, turned to data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study, a large, continuing survey of the health habits of almost 12,000 Australian adults.
No need to exercise “like a maniac” says the Globe and Mail’s Andrew Picard in Why the sedentary life is killing us. “Activity really matters – to your heart, to your brain, to your bones and to your sexual health.” In the picture above, taken at a Semperviva Yoga retreat, I’m celebrating hiking to the top of Mount Galiano on Galiano Island, BC.
Globe and Mail, October 15, 2012
“You may think you can get by on four or five hours of sleep, but your fat cells beg to differ. Lack of shut-eye reduces fat cells’ ability to respond to insulin, a hormone that regulates energy, researchers have found. In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, participants were limited to 4-and-a-half hours in bed each night. After four nights of reduced sleep, their fat cells behaved like those of obese people and patients with Type 2 diabetes.”
Globe and Mail, October 15, 2012
“Sitting is the new smoking. Get used to that expression because you’re going to be hearing it a lot. Inactivity has become public enemy No. 1. The reason sedentary behaviour is so worrisome is well-illustrated by a new study, published on Monday. The research, led by Dr. Emma Wilmot of the diabetes research group at the University of Leicester in Britain, analyzed 18 existing studies involving almost 800,000 people. The paper, published in the medical journal Diabetologia, compared disease rates between the most active and least active among a broad cross-section of adults.”
Globe and Mail, August 28, 2012
“Jamie Burr is not one to sit around – not even when he’s meeting with colleagues at the University of Prince Edward Island, where he’s a kinesiology professor in the faculty of applied human sciences. An expert in the health effects of inactivity and a proponent of “walk-and-talk” meetings, Dr. Burr maintains that moving around makes your brain work better. “Research shows that it’s not just fitness that’s important for overall health but that sedentary time can have negative health consequences,” he adds. “People shouldn’t be sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time. Doing so affects everything from mental health to the musculo-skeletal system to cardiovascular health and brain health.”
New York Times, August 29, 2012
“Can people become better, more efficient runners on their own, merely by running? That question, seemingly so innocuous, is remarkably divisive at the moment, with running experts on one side suggesting that runners should be taught a specific, idealized running form, while opponents counter that the best way to run is whatever way feels right to you. Little published science, however, has been available on the subject of whether runners need technical instruction or naturally intuit the skill. Now a timely new study suggests that new runners eventually settle into better running form — just by running more.”
New York Times, August 27, 2012
“What would it take to persuade you to exercise? A desire to lose weight or improve your figure? To keep heart disease, cancer or diabetes at bay? To lower your blood pressure or cholesterol? To protect your bones? To live to a healthy old age? You’d think any of those reasons would be sufficient to get Americans exercising, but scores of studies have shown otherwise. It seems that public health experts, doctors and exercise devotees in the media — like me — have been using ineffective tactics to entice sedentary people to become, and remain, physically active.”
Huffington Post, October 15, 2012
“Both professional athletes and weekend warriors alike hydrate themselves silly with any number of sport drinks, electrolyte-enhanced waters, gels, blocks, or jelly beans. Gatorade and similar products can be purchased at any grocery store, gas station, hardware store, or vending machine. Beyond athletes, these specialized hydration drinks are used by other laborers as well as the public in general. We have fully embraced the ideas of hydration and proper nutrition. The revolution has come, and what was once radical is now mainstream. What was the advantage of a few is now in the hands of many. Sure, there will be variants and nuance when it comes how we achieve our proper nutrition and hydration balance, but this is largely academic (and clever marketing). So what will be the next big performance revolution?”
Sports Illustrated, December 26, 1960
“Beginning more than 2,500 years ago, from all quarters of the Greek world men thronged every four years to the sacred grove of Olympia, under the shadow of Mount Cronus, to compete in the most famous athletic contests of history—the Olympian games. During the contest a sacred truce was observed among all the states of Greece as the best athletes of the Western world competed in boxing and foot races, wrestling and chariot races for the wreath of wild olive which was the prize of victory. When the winners returned to their home cities to lay the Olympian crowns in the chief temples they were greeted as heroes and received rich rewards. For the Greeks prized physical excellence and athletic skills among man’s great goals and among the prime foundations of a vigorous state.”
(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
I love the ocean. As a little girl growing up on the Alberta prairies, I dreamed of being a marine biologist. Many magical childhood experiences informed that desire, including family vacations to Galiano Island where my parents entertained my brother and I during countless hours of ocean discovery.
With net and bucket in hand, we’d head down to the shore at low tide and see what weird and wonderful creatures we could find. Then we’d hop in the row boat, in search of a tangerine-orange ling cod (I stand corrected, my dad says they were blue) or to check on the crab trap, with my father, the expert fisherman and outdoor educator, taking advantage of every teachable moment.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m participating in another form of ocean discovery, with ocean-loving yogi, surfer, and blissologist Eoin Finn.
Yoga with Belugas
(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
World Oceans Day is an annual global celebration with over 600 events in 55 countries held this year.
The Vancouver Aquarium celebrated the day by organizing a series of events which included co-hosting the yoga class with SeaChoice, and co-hosting a dinner at YEW restaurant + bar in the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver marking the venue’s launch as a new Ocean Wise partner.
Thea Gow-Jarrett, in blue tank, leads a lively dance session. (Image: Flickr | eoinfinnyoga + blissology)
For the Yoga with Belugas event, over 75 eager participants packed the underwater viewing area, the floor tiled with a rainbow of yoga mats, and we began with a dancing warm-up led by Thea Gow-Jarrett, founder of Just For Fun Dance Party.
We grooved, bopped and shimmied to Big Blue Wave by Hey Ocean!, which has since become one of my all-time favourite songs. It’s impossible to listen to it and not be happy.
We Are Deeply Connected to the Ocean
Eoin Finn, in blue wig, leads an evolutionary-inspired yoga class. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
Next, Finn led a yoga class where our movements symbolically evolved from that of single-celled organisms to crustaceans to mammals, and he pointed out the universal connections of all beings and the staggering importance of the oceans.
“I have a longing to merge the teachings of yoga with the ecological movement,” says Finn. “I wanted to create a yoga class with a theme that we have animals, and especially ocean animals, in our DNA. Where do we end and where does the ocean really begin? Every drop of sweat and every tear comes and goes from it. Our cells are made largely of water.”
And water is only one of the ways we need the oceans. According to National Geographic, about 70 percent of the world’s oxygen is produced in the ocean, much of it by phytoplankton – single-celled organisms that absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen through the process of photosynthesis.
“The ocean is a shrine of interconnection, worship there often,” says Finn. “Feel that everything is connected. The key thing is to feel this and not just think it. This comes by accessing the still place inside of us daily.”
We Protect What We Revere
(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
“There is a wisdom centre in all of us that takes the focus off us and our own selfish desires and connects us more to other people, the land, the ocean, and all the creatures that inhabit them,” says Finn. “It’s the essence of the sustainability movement that isn’t talked about too much.”
“Cultivate a sense of awe for the ocean. If we can develop awe for the ocean, we will make choices to protect it. Ultimately, we protect what we revere.”
Yoga was a powerful conduit for the message of connection to our oceans, and Finn’s sentiments agree with David Suzuki’s. In fact, Finn shared a few quotes from Suzuki’s book, The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature, which inspired me to read it – it was excellent.
In an article for the David Suzuki Foundation announcing the launch of their 30×30 Challenge, Suzuki says, “with more than 80 per cent of Canadians now living in urban settings, many of us lack a meaningful, regular connection with the natural environment that sustains us. Getting in touch with the outdoors has another great benefit: those who know and love nature work harder to protect it.”
What Can You Do?
SeaChoice national manager Lana Gunnlaugson, left, and Blissology founder Eoin Finn. (Image: Flickr | eoinfinnyoga + blissology)
So, what can you do to protect our oceans? The Vancouver Aquarium’s president, John Nightingale, says that overfishing is currently the number one issue for the world’s oceans.
“One of the key messages we hope guests took away is that Canadians can be part of the solution by choosing their seafood responsibly,” says SeaChoice national manager Lana Gunnlaugson, who worked with the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program and Finn to create the Yoga with Belugas event.
“By creating a demand for sustainable seafood from coast to coast, together we can ensure that fish are caught or farmed in ways that don’t harm the ocean,” she says.
Finn adds, “Be responsible for what goes on your fork and learn what fish are sustainable and which ones aren’t.”
If you missed this year’s event, don’t despair – when I asked Finn if there will be Yoga with Belugas for the World Oceans Day celebration in 2013 he said, “Of course! The vibe has been created and who can stop it now?”
Two of the Coast Mountain Cycling Club guys – about to experience a little pain in the name of fitness – headed out for a ride on a recent trip to California.
Globe and Mail, June 2, 2012
“As Canadian Ryder Hesjedal clawed back from a 31-second deficit in the final stage of the 3,500-kilometre Giro d’Italia to win by 16 seconds last weekend, the country was left to marvel at one man’s ability to push through the pain. It’s the intangible element that sets world beaters apart from the middling competition.”
Globe and Mail, May 27, 2012
“In Japan, they call it shinrin-yoku – literally, “forest bathing.” Here, we might just call it a walk in the park. Either way, people around the world have an intuitive sense of the restorative power of natural environments. The question is: Why?”
Georgia Straight, May 22, 2012
“Do you want to be happier, healthier, and smarter? I have just the prescription for you: add a daily dose of nature to your routine.”
New York Times, May 4, 2012
“For more than a decade, Gretchen Reynolds has been writing about the science of health and fitness. Her weekly column, Phys Ed, is one of this paper’s most popular features, regularly appearing on top of the “Most E-mailed” list. Now Ms. Reynolds has distilled the knowledge gained from years of fitness reporting into a new book, “The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer,’’ published last month.”
New York Times, April 18, 2012
“The value of mental-training games may be speculative, as Dan Hurley writes in his article on the quest to make ourselves smarter, but there is another, easy-to-achieve, scientifically proven way to make yourself smarter. Go for a walk or a swim. For more than a decade, neuroscientists and physiologists have been gathering evidence of the beneficial relationship between exercise and brainpower. But the newest findings make it clear that this isn’t just a relationship; it is the relationship.”
Things have been a bit busy lately and sometimes any barriers to exercise make it seem a little overwhelming. I purchased a gym membership at the gorgeous Steve Nash Sports Club in downtown Vancouver but sometimes, with deadlines looming, it seems like too big an ordeal to get myself there for a workout – and that’s when I turn to my collection of workout DVDs.
There is no excuse not to spend 30 minutes or less in my living room, working up a sweat and preparing my mind for a creative and productive work day.
One of my former employers, Dr Stacy Irvine who owns the gorgeous fitness club and sports medicine clinic Totum Life Science with her husband Tim, wrote an article for the Huffington Post about exercise’s effects on the brain and cited one of my favourite books, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J Ratey (which I mentioned in a previous post). The article and book are a must-read for anyone who uses their brain.
Core Conversion DVD
One of my best friends, Zenia Martynkiw, is a phenomenal physiotherapist and she gave me this DVD as a gift. I love it, it’s my current go-to workout. Core Conversion is a workout developed by the Gray Institute that trains the body in all three planes of motion using different variations of shoulder raises, lunges, squats and push-ups. It’s like nothing you’ve ever done and it’s awesome.
Power Yoga with Rodney Yee DVD
Yoga is a great way to prepare you mind and body for the day, and following a yoga DVD is a great way to get it done without leaving home and dealing with how disheveled you look. Rodney Yee is one of my favourite yogis and Power Yoga for Strength and Flexibility with Rodney Yee is a great DVD with two different workouts: power yoga for strength and power yoga for flexibility.
Vega Sport Pre-Workout Optimizer
The problem with many supplements is that they pretend to be health-boosting formulas but when you take a close look at the label they’re full of weird chemicals and unhealthy preservatives.
As a personal trainer and fitness enthusiast, I spent a lot of time searching for supplements that would boost my performance and supply my body with quality ingredients. I was never satisfied…until I found Vega.
Developed by Brendan Brazier, a vegan, former professional Ironman triathlete and author, Vega is 100 percent plant-based and has a range of products from meal replacement shakes to energy bars to the new sport performance system that includes my favourite, the Pre-Workout Optimizer (formerly Performance Optimizer) in lemon lime, endurance gel, electrolyte hydrator, recovery accelerator and more.
Under Armour ColdGear Tights
One of the keys to sticking with your workout routine is to be prepared, and having suitable gear – especially for inclement weather – is a must. It’s that time of year again when a chilly morning can leave me feeling iffy about my planned run.
Under Armour ColdGear Tights to the rescue! They’re cozy and warm, nice and long so that there’s no skin peeking out at my ankles, and the waist is high and snug so that my pants don’t migrate south when I’m pounding the pavement.
In the good old days, at 21, not long before I started getting greys.
Globe and Mail, August 22, 2011
Whoah, here’s an interesting article about going grey. I am going grey.
I foolishly dyed my hair in grade eight without my mother’s knowledge (or any knowledge of hair dye) and it came out the worst orange imaginable. It took about ten years to regain the desire to change the colour of my hair and I had it “expertly” coloured at a salon. It turned out a horrible purple-red.
Fast forward nearly another ten years and I decided to give it another go out of necessity – an ever-growing patch of hair right at my crown, of all places, is grey. Again, I had it coloured at a salon and, again, the colour is much to my dislike.
So I’ve decided (for the time being) to embrace grey. But this article suggests that I actually have some power in the matter. Researchers have shown that stress can lead to decreased levels of a protein called p53 which “protects cells from developing abnormalities and helps humans stay healthy.”
“This could give us a plausible explanation of how chronic stress may lead to a variety of human conditions and disorders, which range from merely cosmetic, like greying hair, to life-threatening disorders like malignancies,” says Robert Lefkowitz, a professor at Duke University Medical Center.
Globe and Mail, August 18, 2011
I tweeted about this article last week. Aren’t these findings great? There’s absolutely no excuse now. Anyone can do 15 minutes of exercise a day: turn on your favourite tunes and dance your heart out; go for a jog with your dog; drag a yoga mat to a quiet outdoor space for a few sun salutations. You can do it!
BBC News, August 18, 2011
Got a picky eater? It’s probably your fault. But don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just relaying information from an article by Dr Helen Coulthard for BBC News.
“By relying too much on ready prepared foods, with their attractive packaging of fruits and vegetables, we may be making it more difficult for our children to eat fruits and vegetables when they are older.
“Packaged foods may seem to parents like a convenient and safe weaning option. But an over-reliance on packets and jars sets a pattern of using ready-made foods. And it denies babies the chance to try the variety of tastes, textures and appearance that fresh foods have to offer.
“Research shows that there is a window of opportunity for introducing tastes and textures to young infants, before the age of 12 months. After 12 months, infants become much more difficult to feed, and often become wary of new foods.”
Signing up for a charity event that involves physical activity is a great way to help yourself while helping others. Last week my husband and I participated in a charity bike ride in support of the Children’s Wish Foundation and Win4Youth.
It was a very small start – only 15 km – but we only decided to participate at the last minute to support my dear friend Lana who is the branch manager at Holloway Schulz, a professional recruitment company owned by the Adecco Group.
Adecco’s Bike Across America tour, with participating branches from Vancouver, BC to Jacksonville, Florida, is part of their Win4Youth initiative for which they donate money for every kilometre cycled to “support organizations that help prepare children for success in the world of work.”
In addition to Adecco’s charitable efforts with Win4Youth, each branch got to pick their own local, youth-oriented charity that also received a donation for every kilometre cycled, and Holloway Schulz chose the Children’s Wish Foundation, an organization for which Lana sits on the board of directors.
I had a really fun time on the ride through gorgeous Stanley Park and got to meet Adecco staff from Toronto, Ottawa and New York, local employees and clients from Holloway Schulz, and a few athletes from the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific. All that fun has me thinking about signing up for another event. What great motivation to get out there and train for a bike ride, run or swim, knowing that your efforts will also benefit others.
If you’re thinking of signing up for a charity fitness event, here are a few places to get started:
I love trying new things, especially when it comes to food and fitness, so when I first heard about hot yoga I decided to give it a try. I hadn’t done a lot of yoga before then, but I knew that I liked stretching and being really hot so combining the two sounded like something right up my alley. I liked it so much that I started going regularly, but the problem was my Type A any-stretch-you-can-do-I-can-do-better attitude, and after a short while I had myself a nasty hamstring injury.
Fortunately I was working at a fitness club and sports medicine clinic at the time and I went to see my friend the chiropractor about my injury. At first I hadn’t put two and two together and couldn’t figure out how I’d hurt myself. My new yoga practice couldn’t be the culprit, I thought, because yoga was just stretching. It turned out that I wasn’t the first, or last, injured hot yogi to walk through his door. He explained to me that the extreme temperatures, sometimes over 40 degrees Celsius, cause the muscles to become very pliable and increase the risk of over-stretching. And over-stretch I did. Sadly, it took over a year for my hamstring to completely heal but I learned that lesson the hard way: listen to your body, give yourself a break when starting a new activity, and never, ever push through pain.
I’ve since been back to hot yoga and absolutely love the crazy-sweat-inducing heat, challenging poses and post-class glowy skin, but I’m very careful to honour my personal limits and opt out of any poses that are more than uncomfortable.
If you’re thinking about trying hot yoga or are already doing so, check out this recent Globe and Mail article, Thinking of trying hot yoga? Read this first, which comments on hot yoga-related injuries and fainting spells, and gives tips on safely preparing for a class.
Standing on the front lawn of my house at Beauvais Lake Provincial Park in my snazzy uniform.
An article I just read in the Georgia Straight about Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park and park interpreter Bonnie Moffett got me thinking about the good old days when I was an Alberta park interpreter at beautiful Beauvais Lake Provincial Park.
From May to August for three summers while I attended university I led guided hikes on the natural and cultural history of the area for groups of up to 30 school children, park visitors and campers.
Leading an activity with a group of elementary students (left) and showing our love of trees with a fellow interpreter (right) at Beauvais Lake Provincial Park.
To be outside for nearly the whole day almost every day was truly awesome, even on my days off I was outside running, hiking, canoeing or just enjoying the view from my very own little house on the lake.
Having a paddle around Beauvais Lake with my little brother.
I haven’t done a lot of hiking since moving to Vancouver almost four years ago – it sounds so awful when I say it out loud. Four years? – so it’s time to get back to that wonderful activity that is deeply woven into the fibres of my being.
There is something so special about walking around in nature that goes well beyond the physical benefits of using your muscles and exercising your lungs. The smell of toasting pine needles heated by the sun, the buzz of hummingbirds foraging for nectar and insects, the sight of ground squirrels poking their heads out of their burrow, or discovering the incredible abundance of life in a quiet wetland does something magical to your soul.
I’m in my element leading a wetland discovery program at Beauvais Lake Provincial Park.
Experiencing the natural environment recharges your battery on a different level than food and exercise alone can do. With the soul-filling awesomeness of the great outdoors in mind, here are some resources for planning your own invigorating adventure in BC.
- Hiking Opportunities in BC Parks: www.bcparks.ca
- Hello BC Trip Ideas for Outdoor Adventures: hellobc.com
- Mountain Equipment Co-op Outdoor Clubs Directory: www.mec.ca
- Canada Trails Hiking Clubs in British Columbia: www.canadatrails.ca
- British Columbia Outdoor Adventure: www.britishcolumbia.com
- Vancouver Trails: www.vancouvertrails.com
Having an active hobby, like surfing, helps to offset the negative effects of sitting in front of a computer for long hours. Image: David Roscoe
During my years as a full-time fitness professional I always took pride in my physical health, and maybe even took it for granted a little. I was on my feet for most of the day, teaching fitness classes and instructing personal training clients. Even before then my summer job while at university was active; I led multiple daily hikes as a nature interpreter for Alberta Environment. I was young, fit – and I didn’t have a sedentary job. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand, that I didn’t have a firsthand grasp of, until I started sitting at a computer for the bulk of my work day.
I’ve always felt rather strong and invincible, and with a base of good genes, an active lifestyle, and a physical job, I didn’t get all of the complaints from my sedentary peers. I worked long, hard hours too. What was the problem? But I get it now. The eye strain, the hunched shoulders, the lower back fatigue, the tight hip flexors: painful reminders that the human body is absolutely not meant to sit all day, every day.
Even though it’s been a bit of a shock to feel weakness in the body I figured would always be strong, I feel blessed to now have inside reconnaissance to better help me help others.
There have been a few people that have added insight to the conundrum of why my body has disagreed with my gusto for taking on too much and being perpetually desk bound.
Take time to stretch and sweat every day
First on the list of helpful people is my wonderful husband. He never fails to have great advice, and I always trust that he’ll shed light on any predicament I come across. He’s been a technical artist in the film industry for the past ten years – having worked on The Thing, Legend of the Guardians, The Wild, and more – which means he has spent a staggering amount of time in front of a computer. I’m the kind of person that jumps out of bed and switches off my alarm half way through the first beep – the exact opposite of my husband who could probably set a world record for lingering in bed. I used to wonder what the heck he was doing but was too busy getting my day started to notice. Well, now I know.
Just like a cat, he spends a considerable amount of time stretching and limbering up before grudgingly climbing out of bed. Smart. The other thing he does without fail is go to the gym nearly every day at lunch. He says it’s a great way to break up an inactive work day and it helps to keep his body in tune and his mind alert. I’ve adopted these habits and try to start my day with some stretching and take a midday walk with my dog, or head to the gym if I haven’t already done so first thing in the morning. And what a difference it makes to do some vigorous physical activity – or at least enough of something to break a sweat. Read more about my fit tip, “sweat once a day”, here.
Build regular movement breaks into your daily routine
Even though a morning stretch and midday break are a great start to combating the effects of a sedentary career, it’s just not enough to offset sitting all day. I recently signed up for the Publication Coach newsletter, a great writing newsletter created by Daphne Gray-Grant with tips on time management, productivity, and, of course, writing. I’ve been using a trick from a recent article, How to get more writing done, which involves using a timer to measure periods of time where you focus on one task to the exclusion of all others. For example, researching and taking notes on a subject you’re going to write about after closing your email, turning off your phone, and removing any other distractions. This idea is based on the Pomodoro technique, and involves working in 25-minute bursts followed by 5-minute breaks. Gray-Grant recommends doing little exercises during the breaks and it’s definitely helped to have a little stretch multiple times throughout the day.
Acquire physically active hobbies
Our best friends live in Whistler and are one of those irritatingly fit couples who just can’t seem to sit still. It makes it much less irritating, and actually quite inspiring, that they are joyful, positive and full of boundless energy. And their active lifestyle has definitely rubbed off on us. They welcomed my husband and I onto their soccer and volleyball teams when we first met, and they continue to be sports that we enjoy today. While I spent the past winter drinking hot chocolate spiked with fireball whiskey, they collectively hit the slopes over 120 times. When I am wrapping up my workday with a glass of Merlot, I’ll get a text saying they’re about to embark on a “little” 50 kilometre bike ride or 20 kilometre run.
My brother is another example of someone with itchy feet. He is a fish biologist and although he spends a fair bit of time in the field, and therefore being active, he also spends a lot of time at a desk, sorting through data, researching, and writing. But in his off-time you’d be hard pressed to find him sitting still. In the winter months he spends as much time in the mountains, telemark skiing, as he possibly can and in the summer he’s either surfing, kayaking, hiking, biking, or skateboarding. And when it’s not possible for him to be doing one of those things he’s concocting inventive exercises that he can do in the meantime to become better at those things.
And the apple didn’t fall far from the trees because my parents, both avid walkers, walk me within an inch of my life every time we get together. Last time my parents visited me in Vancouver a morning walk turned into an entire day of in-depth walking tours of Yaletown, Gastown, Downtown, and the West End. I drew the line at Stanley Park and took a bus home.
So if you’re feeling the sedentary blues like I have lately, try starting your day with a stretch, taking time out to sweat, building in mini movements breaks, and taking on active hobbies in your spare time.
New research shows these gorgeous little numbers might put me at risk for arthritis.
My daily reads include a range of entertainment and celebrity gossip as well as real news like the Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun, and BBC News. Following is a roundup of interesting health and fitness news that I’ve recently come across.
Globe and Mail, June 12, 2011
This seems like a no-brainer to me, but one point I’d like to add is a benefit of a healthy diet and regular exercise regime beyond battling obesity (which the article is about), and even beyond overall physical health: improved mental health.
BBC News, June 10, 2011
Ack, why do things that look so good have to be so bad for you?
Globe and Mail, May 30, 2011
I worked in seniors’ fitness for a number of years and, unfortunately, it’s very true that “Falls often mark the beginning of a deadly downward spiral in the health of seniors.” I also agree with Karim Khan of Vancouver’s Centre for Hip Health and Mobility that “falls can be reduced through strength and balance training”, and think that it’s never too early to start. My oldest clients were a couple (one of the sweetest couples I’ve ever met) and were 102 and 98 years old. They were active their whole lives and it showed. Even at their age, they went for walks and played pool nearly every day. What an inspiration!
Vancouver Sun, May 25, 2011
I seem to have a lot of girlfriends who are planning on starting families very soon, so I thought this was timely. According to the article, researchers have “discovered that caffeine prevents smooth muscles in the Fallopian tubes from contracting — and it’s those slow, rhythmic contractions that shuttle eggs down the tubes, from the ovaries to the womb.” So ladies who want babies, put the java down!