Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Healthy Gut for Life: Healthy Habits for Whole-body Health

GettyImages-962782170 (1)I keep finding more and more news stories, magazine articles, social media ads, and even store displays that contain the words “Gut Health.” 10 years or more ago, you never heard that phrase anywhere, but now it’s all the rage. So, why all the buzz? Well, it turns out that research has linked gut health to a variety of functions in your body.

Let’s Dig Deeper

Gut Health is basically a generic term referring to a diversity of issues that can occur in the GI tract or digestive system. The GI tract includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus. The digestive system includes the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. That’s a large variety of issues and organs for such a small term. “Gut microbiome” is another phrase that goes hand in hand with gut health and refers to the community of bacteria that makes up your digestive system. There are billions of bacteria in your gut microbiome, and much of that bacteria is very beneficial. However, when there is bad bacteria or damage to your microbiome or gut, your body reacts in a negative way.

The Unhealthy Gut

Some signs of an unhealthy gut include upset stomach (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn), unintentional weight changes, lack of sleep or sleep disturbances, skin conditions or irritations (eczema), autoimmune conditions, or food intolerances. Researchers and physicians are finding more and more conditions that are directly linked to gut health.

Now comes the big question: what do you do? Fortunately there are a lot of ways you can change your gut health. It definitely takes time, but you will notice a difference in how you feel.

The Healthy Gut

Here are some things to do to prevent bad bacteria from forming in your microbiome, and boost those healthy bacteria levels to increase your gut health. Even if you don’t experience any symptoms mentioned above, these are good practices to keep your whole-body health in check:

  • Lower your stress level. Easier said than done, of course! Exercise, meditation, socializing with friends and family, and even having a pet are all ways to reduce stress.
  • SLEEP! You truly do need that uninterrupted 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Believe me when I tell you that sleep really matters! My gut health tells me when I am not sleeping well. I can’t digest any food properly and I feel groggy, bloated, and ill half of my day. As soon as I have several days of good sleep in a row, my body thanks me and responds appropriately.
  • Eat slowly and chew your food. Your food will digest better, and it helps decrease any bloating, gas, constipation, etc.
  • Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated helps the mucosal lining of the intestines and promotes digestion.
  • Take prebiotics (food) or probiotics. This is something you should discuss with your physician or healthcare provider because probiotics are not for everyone. Prebiotics are in foods and help generate good bacteria. Some examples are bananas, apples, oats, garlic, and onions. Probiotics are actual living bacteria and can be taken in a supplement form or in foods such as yogurt, kefir, and kimchi. Too many probiotics can cause bacterial overgrowth, so be sure to discuss it with your physician.
  • Check for food intolerances. If you notice consistent gas, constipation, bloating, rash, nausea, fatigue, or abdominal pain after eating certain foods, you may have a food intolerance. Your healthcare provider can help you test for these. Once you identify trigger foods and eliminate them, your digestive system and how you feel may improve.
  • Change your eating habits. Eliminating processed foods, trans and hydrogenated fats, refined oils and sugars, conventional meats, and even pasteurized dairy products could lead to better gut health and a healthier microbiome. These foods have been shown to cause inflammation in the body, which can contribute to an unhealthy gut.

It’s Your Turn

This is a lot of information, and may even sound overwhelming! However, this is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. Much of your body functions based on your gut health. The healthier your gut, the healthier you are in general. I am speaking from experience when I tell you that making the small changes listed above can truly help you feel better and be healthier.

You can read more about gut health here.

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Topics: hydration sleep stress relief gut health digestion

3 Techniques to Relieving Stress that Don't Involve Going Overboard 

When it comes to stress, my belief is that you need a full tool kit of remedies for the different levels and types of stress that life tends to throw your way. Daily stresses or, “good stress” is defined as eustress. For me, this form of stress is fairly manageable with a routine that keeps my body grounded and focused, and allows me to burn off that extra energy with exercise. Eustress is short-term, it can cause your body to feel excited or energized, can serve as a motivational force to get tasks accomplished and is deemed as they type of stress people can “cope” with. 

NIFS | Tips for Stress Relief

However, when life decides to start pulling back the bow, stress can get more difficult to manage. When the arrows start flying, that’s when you need an arsenal of serious stress coping tools. This is the stress we all dread and is more challenging to cope with and manage. It’s called distress; it causes anxiety, can lead to physical illnesses or pain, and it can cause a decrease in performance.

[Read More: How Stress Affects the Body and Your Health]

It can make you feel pretty crummy if it sticks around a while. Tension can build from stress so watch for signs of this in your neck, upper and lower back, temples, and head. For me, these pains are red flags that stress is starting to cross over into the distress area. Without immediate attention you can become more susceptible to developing a cold, suffering headaches, or sleeping poorly. This is an area you want to stay away from so don’t ignore these symptoms! 

You want to be armed with different tactics depending on the stress, so let’s discuss some options to help you build your own stress reliving tool box. Just as perception of what leads to positive and negative stress varies from person to person, stress management techniques are also individual. I need physical activity to help my mind decompress at the end of the day as compared to some who need to take a hot bath before bed. The key to winning the battle against stress is to find what works for you. Below are some of my tools for keeping different levels of stress at bay and how they can help your mind, body and soul get through stressful situations.

Exercise 

This can happen in many forms. My daily go to is something that increases the heart-rate and challenges the body. It offers my mind a chance to wander, to think about non-work related items, and to day dream. When I really need to pound it out, I use workouts to push my physical limits. At other times, if I have a lot of head and neck tension from stress, I don’t always choose heart-thumping cardio exercise; sometimes a Yoga class is the right choice to ground my thoughts and body.

Research has proven that exercise packs a punch when trying to reduce stress. This natural medicine can put stress in its place by increasing endorphins which help improve your mood. Exercise can also take your mind off of the daily pressures just by allowing you to divert your focus elsewhere. Other benefits of exercising can include lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety and depression and improved sleep.  

Mind, Body, Connection

There are times when your mind will just take over and it causes a disconnect from your body. Call it what you will, up in your head, the ego, losing your mind, etc. Whatever you refer to it as, the risk is that you’ve become separated from what your body is telling you. We’ve all seen examples of this. Think of the guy on his cell phone that starts to cross the street without realizing there are cars coming right at him. Or maybe you’ve had the experience of driving home from work and suddenly finding yourself at your driveway without realizing how you got there. You show up to work with two different shoes or mismatched socks, or you drop the kids off at swimming when they should be at violin practice. These are signs that your mind is probably in overdrive dealing with the stressful factors of life. Your coping abilities are being pushed to the limits.

To avoid these scenarios, meditation is a great way to clear your mind. Studies have shown that even short bouts of meditation and shutting your brain off (or even trying) can have significant impacts on stress. The benefits of meditation surpass just stress relief and tip-toe into physical and mental benefits. If you’re not in to meditation or Yoga, check out these alternatives for mental relaxation and stress relief.

Take Comfort

A little self-love goes a long way.  Consider a long bath with a splash of lavender oil and a good book!  Old-fashioned rest can be just ask effective for relieving stress for many people; put your phone down and your feet up with a bowl of popcorn and your favorite TV series or a movie. Or, maybe taking your time in the kitchen and cooking your favorite dinner brings you comfort. Sometimes a complete wind down (as opposed to a workout) is the best choice to manage your stress. Think about what will take your mind off of the daily pressures and bring joy back into your life. Literally, slowing down to smell the roses can put stress into perspective and signal to your body that everything really is going to be okay. We have other tips for stress relief so we hope you'll click below to learn more. 

12 Unconventional Tips for Managing Stress

Topics: stress stress relief distress stress management eustress

The Power of Massage Therapy in Senior Wellness

senior_back_painI am a firm believer in massage therapy because a little over a year ago, I woke up in agonizing lower-back pain that did not allow me to move. My first thought was maybe I should go see a chiropractor. I had been to one before, but was not the biggest fan because they cracked my back and sent me on my way after charging $65. 

This time, I did my research and found a well-rounded practice that offered a full evaluation prior to the treatment to be sure they could help me and not further injure my back. Here, they first did a 30-minute session with a massage therapist, applied heat while rolling the back, and then I saw the chiropractor. In my situation, I needed the full run-through. Now that my injury is better, I can maintain the relief with strength exercises, stretching, and massage. 

So when I began working at a senior living community and found that the community had a regularly visiting massage therapist, I thought, “How very lucky we are to have a certified massage therapist!” She has her own room and setup that the resident can enjoy, or she can meet them at their apartment if that is more comfortable for them. I have found, though, that many CCRC residents do not take advantage of this resource just because they aren’t fully educated on the benefits.

How Often Should You Visit a Therapist?

Believe it or not, it can be to your greatest advantage to visit a massage therapist a two or three times a month. Often, it is thought that massage is a luxury visit to a spa once in a blue moon for some rest and relaxation. While it is great for that, massage is something that can be done in a less expensive setting and more often so that you can reap the benefits. 

What Is Massage?

What exactly is massage? Massage is a general term for pressing, rubbing, and manipulating the skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The combination of movements and sequence in which the therapist works is meant to alleviate pain, reduce the stress we carry in that area, and treat a wide variety of conditions. And the great thing? If it isn’t your cup of tea, you can just forget about it and try something else. 

Types of Massage

There are different variations of massage, depending on what the need is. Need relaxation? You’ll want a Swedish massage. Have a pain in the low back? You may need a deep-tissue or trigger-point massage. The great thing is, the massage therapist will know which is likely best for your situation. 

Benefits of Massage Therapy

While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of massage, some studies have found massage may also be helpful for the following conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Digestive disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia related to stress
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Paresthesias and nerve pain
  • Soft tissue strains or injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ)

Here are some additional benefits of massage therapy.

Ask Your Doctor

One last thing, massage isn’t meant to replace regular care from your physician, and when a member complains of a pain that sounds most like a muscle or ligament pain, I suggest they ask their doctor whether seeing a massage therapist would be a good idea. 

When Massage Might Not Be a Good Idea

If one of these is something you suffer from, massage may not be right for you: 

  • Bleeding disorders or take blood-thinning medication
  • Burns, open or healing wounds
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Fractures
  • Severe osteoporosis
  • Severe thrombocytopenia

Before I go, I want to encourage you to take a look at this alternative medicine and the role it can play in senior wellness. It has relatively low risk and can be very beneficial. Does your community offer this onsite? Would you like for them to? If you have a leisure services or wellness department, that might be the place to start. 

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Topics: senior wellness CCRC continuing care retirement community stress relief injury prevention massage

Power in Silence: Discover Mindful Meditation

old_man_meditatingMeditation is the ultimate mobile device; you can use it anywhere, anytime, unobtrusively.” ― Sharon Salzberg

So you have some stress in your life. You might turn to exercise to deal with these stressors. Or maybe you had a date with your couch and Ben & Jerry or Sam Adams? Did you zone out to the latest CSI or “reality” show? Out of these three, exercise is the best choice. But what do you do when you come home from a horrible 12-hour day and you don’t have any juice left for exercise. Do you have a room, a floor, and 20 minutes? Why not try a little meditation?

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Initially, seekers and gurus used it to get in touch with a spiritual and mystical dimension. Practitioners would meditate, in silence, for days at a time in order to reach a desired state of mind. In modern times, we can’t carve out days to reach a higher spiritual dimension (try asking your boss for a little personal time off to meditate for three to four days), but we don’t have to commit hours and hours to the practice to reap the rewards. Meditation isn’t just for reaching a higher plane. There are proven emotional and physical benefits to practicing it as well.

Benefits of Meditation

According to the folks at the Mayo Clinic we can gain the following emotional benefits:

  • Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
  • Building skills to manage your stress
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Focusing on the present
  • Reducing negative emotions

If you feel like you are even keeled most of the time, meditation can help to control some of these chronic conditions:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • High blood pressure
  • Pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Heart disease

Famous People Who Meditate

At this point you might be considering meditation as a real prospect to achieving a healthier and happier you, but you still are on the fence. Sitting still and quieting your mind is that beneficial? Well these folks seem to think so, and they are pretty successful. A bunch of celebrities (and high-powered business folks) meditate, and I looked up a list to share with you. Check out who is getting in their daily silence:

  • Sheryl Crow
  • Paul McCartney
  • Katy Perry
  • Jennifer Aniston

Those are just a few who practice meditation. Their names might not surprise you, but these might:

  • Rupert Murdoch
  • Hugh Jackman
  • Howard Stern
  • (and this one really shocked me) Clint Eastwood!

Getting Started with Meditation

So now that you are convinced that meditation is worth a try, what do you need to start your practice? The best news of all is that you don’t need anything. I have found some great resources online and some terrific podcasts on iTunes. Check out these websites for free guided meditation scripts, music, and mantras:

Check out these podcasts:

Even Pandora has a Meditation station with terrific music to quiet the mind, and to help you find your inner peace.

Meditation often goes hand in hand with yoga, and here's some information about yoga at work.

So go out and find your inner self, quiet the thoughts, and open your mind!

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Topics: relaxation stress relief meditation

Yoga in the Workplace for Employee Health and Productivity

workplace yogaTwenty years ago, would you have ever thought you would be checking out the break-room bulletin board and coming across a yoga class being offered in the office or onsite gym? Chances are it would have been highly unlikely, not to mention overlooked because it did not have the buzz or trendy reputation it does now.

Hopefully, most of us now know that the benefits of yoga practice in a chair, studio, or corporate fitness center go beyond meditation, headstands, flameless candles, thin sticky mats, and soothing music. I have seen yoga become an increasingly positive influence in workplaces all over the country with a melting pot of populations. You might even see children and pets taking advantage of the yoga inspiration.

The interest in increasing productivity and improving employee health has weighed heavily on corporate America. Long hours at a desk, aching back, neck pain, burnout, and emotional discontent are all repetitive stressors corporate employees face each day. Did you know that this, in turn, amounts to less productivity? What is your company doing about it?

Think about this, as an employee: What would you do with an extra 15-minute mandatory stress break built into your day?

Offering free stress-relief options such as yoga is a simple and convenient way to help employees find stress relief in the office. True, it’s up to each individual to start their practice, but I promise once you start you won’t stop. The great thing about yoga at work is that it’s a time to take a break from your desk and relieve stress. It’s convenient, and it feels good!

Chair yoga is becoming popular among executives as a boardroom break; this is a great alternative to unit meetings or exercising at your own desk. That’s the greatest benefit of yoga: it can be done anywhere and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time!

Yoga won’t cure all, nor will it be chosen by all. But it sure has shown to be a great addition to corporate wellness offerings. Many of the yogis tell me they love doing yoga at work because they can practice in a noncompetitive and nonjudgmental atmosphere and experience it with coworkers. Many of the participants enjoy the multiple benefits. After final relaxation, it helps guide them to a calmer state of being as they return to work. It also helps improve core stability and balance, and helps increase total body strength. We try to make sure all energy is left at the door. Each person is focused on their own practice of the day.

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Topics: corporate wellness exercise at work employee health stress productivity yoga stress relief