If you’re even remotely familiar with the Mediterranean diet, you know that olive oil is king. And that's not just because olive oil can add even more flavor to oven-baked foods or because it’s essential for crafting delicious salad dressings. Olive oil is also fantastic for your health! Keep reading to learn more about “olive the benefits” of this superfood and start incorporating it into your diet this 2021 year... making it a resolution gift to yourself!
Olive Oil Benefits
While there are many controversial opinions surrounding the health effects of dietary fat, including debates about seed oils, animal fats, and everything in between, most experts agree that olive oil -- particularly extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) -- is great for you and incredibly healthy.
In fact, studies show that the antioxidants and fatty acids in olive oil offer several powerful health benefits, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease… and many other reasons why you should consider adding olive oil to your diet include:
- Olive oil is a powerful antioxidant.
- It can help reduce inflammation due to its strong anti-inflammatory properties.
- It may reduce the risk of other chronic diseases caused by chronic inflammation, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and even obesity.
- It can help protect your blood cholesterol from oxidation.
- It has several cardio-protective effects, making it very heart-helpful.
- It is high in vitamins E and K.
- It can be a source of monounsaturated fat which is known to reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. Several large studies have found that those who consume olive oil have a lower risk of suffering a stroke.
- Extra-virgin olive oil has numerous heart-healthy benefits, including the ability to lower blood pressure, protect “bad” LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation, and improve the function of blood vessels.
- It puts less strain on the liver and kidneys than other saturated fatty oils like coconut oil.
- Consuming olive oil won’t increase your risk of gaining weight, and moderate consumption may even improve your weight loss efforts.
- It can help reduce joint pain and swelling from rheumatoid arthritis, and the benefits are greatly increased when combined with fish oil.
- Known to contain a number of antibacterial properties, olive oil may also have the ability to shield the body from Helicobacter pylori, a type of bacterium that can cause stomach cancer and stomach ulcers.
- It can be great for all types of cooking and is resistant to high heat, but it has more health benefits when not exposed to high heat.
Olive Oil Shopping Tips
Now that we’ve covered many reasons why you should think about adding olive oil into your daily diet, let’s talk about how to make that happen! When shopping for the first time, look for cold-pressed (like EVOO) or cold-extracted olive oil in a dark or covered glass bottle. Consider how you will consume the oil since oils other than EVOO are better as cooking oils, while EVOO is best for drizzling on foods or salads. Olive oils that are certified by the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) are tested to meet standards set by the International Olive Council, indicating that the product has been tested for both authenticity and quality.
Once you have decided on a product, check the bottle for the harvest date and purchase within 15 months of that date. After opening, olive oil is best-used within 30 days; use cooking oils within three months. Since olive oil does not get better with age, look on the label for the stated shelf life date, which should be no more than two years from bottling. Also, consider buying smaller bottles of olive oil at a time. That way, you can taste different products and perhaps find a favorite -- plus, you’ll be able to consume them within the recommended time period and keep them from losing their health benefits by sitting too long. Make sure you keep the olive oil away from heat and seal tightly, storing it in a cool, dry place.
Keep in mind that EVOO is unrefined and chemical-free, making it the best (and healthiest!) type of oil you can buy. Additionally, the fresher the olive oil, the more polyphenol content and, therefore, the more health benefits. Like wine, expensive olive oil isn’t always the best for taste. If nothing else, trust your taste buds rather than the price tag.
How to Become Your Own Master Olive Oil Taster
Believe it or not, but olive oil experts, like sommeliers, do exist! They’re called “master tasters,” and they know everything there is to know about all things olive oil. You, too, can earn this distinction -- and it’s all going to come down to your own taste buds and personal taste preferences.
Begin by tasting a plain, non-EVOO olive oil so you can see the difference in taste. The olive oil should taste more oily and without a lot of scent or taste. On the other hand, EVOO should hold a nuttier taste with peppery undertones and aromas -- almost like you can taste the tree the olive came from! Keep in mind that the undertones and aromas will also vary depending on many factors such as the brand, location, and price of the product.
For instance, you might find distinct differences in olive oil tastes that use the same olives but that are harvested at different times. Other variations in taste can come from the degree of ripeness and pressing methods. Some more expensive olive oils are priced higher because of the extra care and attention made to these types of variables.
If you have the option to try different EVOOs, do so with only a teaspoon amount and consume them straight. No bread. No veggies. Just the olive oil on its own. If you wish, you can clear your palate with a little bread afterwards before the next taste. Don’t forget to sniff the olive oil for the aroma before tasting!
Finally, certification on bottles of olive oil indicates that these products have been thoroughly tested, so make note of that as you taste each product. Some of our favorites here in the SportPort family come from Croatia, Greece, and mostly other Mediterranean areas like Italy and Spain. But overall, we just love any good olive oil!
How to Cook With Olive Oil
Olive oil satisfies the appetite, provides a generally pleasing texture in the mouth, and helps to carry the flavor of spices and foods. And, as we’ve seen, using it liberally will also enhance both sweet and savory dishes without feeling guilty, thanks to its incredible health-boosting properties. Virgin and extra-virgin olive oils are best used either uncooked or cooked at low to medium temperatures below 375 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because the higher heat breaks down and destroys the compounds in the oil that offer health benefits. Olive oil grade oils and refined oils are the better choices for high-heat uses like frying.
Although virgin and extra-virgin olive oils can take a little bit of heat, they also lose their flavor in the process, so it’s best to use them for uncooked dishes. Use them to add body and depth, to build and enhance flavors, and to harmonize the spices in a dish. Olive oil can also balance the acidity in certain foods like lemon juice, wine, vinegar, and tomatoes. Overall, treat your oils as you do your wines -- carefully pairing the taste of each oil with the flavors in the other dishes you are preparing. Here are some ideas for cooking with olive oil to get your creative juices flowing:
- Drizzle over vegetables or cooked pasta.
- Add right before the end of cooking for a quick burst of flavor.
- Mix it into salad dressing or drizzle it over salad.
- Use instead of margarine or butter for a heart-healthy dip for bread. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar for an extra oomph and visual appeal.
- Use in sauces or marinades for vegetables, poultry, fish, and meat.
- Make a healthy, tasty dip by mixing olive oil, garlic, and cooked white beans in a food processor. Add your favorite herbs and season to taste.
- Use in place of butter on baked potatoes or in mashed potatoes. Whip together olive oil, roasted garlic, and cooked potatoes for the ultimate mashed side dish.
- Prepare a delicious appetizer within minutes by toasting baguette slices, rubbing them with a little fresh garlic, and adding a drizzle of your favorite olive oil.
- Replace other ingredients in your sauces with olive oil -- whisk to help blend, or emulsify, the watery ingredients with the oil.
Keep in mind that the most versatile version, virgin olive oil, is the ideal choice when you’re looking for quality and flavor without a strong olive taste. Sprinkle it on brown rice, drizzle over toast, or add to eggs. Brush it on meats before broiling or grilling to seal in the juices and meat flavor and create a crispy outside texture.
As you can see, olive oil has the potential to enhance the flavor of almost any dish. And due to its many health benefits, including powerful antioxidants that help your joints, brain, heart, and more, this superfood may just be the healthiest fat in the world.
All SportPort™ activewear garments are unique, signature designs, all Made in the USA. Our passion for excellence is what drives our brand! When you wear SportPort™ activewear, you know you are wearing an original, one of a kind garment engineered to perfection.
With a new year comes thoughts of resolutions, and the areas of doing better with your health, wellness and exercise are no exception in those thoughts for new starts. Even amidst a global pandemic when people need to social distance and stay at least six feet apart, many are looking for safe ways to push their pandemic weight off and just stay in shape. After all, any exercise is better than no exercise! But what if your gym is still closed or you’re too nervous to even go because of record-reaching coronavirus numbers in your area? What if you simply lack the motivation to get up off the couch at all?
Ways to Make Yourself Look Forward to Exercising
“It’s cold and wet outside.”
“I’m too stressed.”
“I’m so tired.”
“The couch is so comfy.”
“I don’t want to be around people.”
“Coronavirus cases are surging.”
Sound familiar? We know it’s tough to get started in a normal year, let alone during a pandemic. Our inner couch potato is our own worst enemy, and we waste a lot of energy trying to motivate ourselves to exercise. If you find yourself struggling to get moving, check out these following tips that are sure to help you break those mental barriers and get your sweat on. Keep in mind that since gatherings and group sessions really aren’t safe to do yet, these tips can apply to you whether you choose to work out at home or in a public gym setting that is following CDC safety guidelines.
- Rethink positive thinking.
Studies show that exercising the brain can help promote mental motivation, allowing us to think more positively about working out as a whole. In fact, visualizing the benefits of a behavior is one of the best motivational strategies you can do. For instance, when you are deciding whether or not to take that early morning run, it might help to picture the rising sun and how it will feel on your face. Consider how you’ll feel and what it will look like when you start to lose the weight and develop new muscles. Remember, though, that positive thinking is half the battle -- it’s up to you to make it an action item.
- Remember why you started.
The key to finding the motivation to get up and out there is to find your “why” -- the reason you want to even do this in the first place -- and then remind yourself of it whenever you feel that motivation slipping. Whether it’s because you want to look fantastic in shorts or because you’re looking to improve your overall health, ask yourself if you want to start from the beginning again just because you didn’t feel like working out that day.
- Plan your schedule ahead of time...
...and put these dates on your calendar! Thinking of your workout days just like any other important appointment essentially transforms them from “optional” activities into “mandatory” obligations. However, allow yourself a couple of days as buffers in case there’s an emergency or something else unexpected happens that forces you to reschedule your workout. Keep in mind that “reschedule” is the key word here -- not “cancel”! Need helping getting started with a personalized schedule? Check out our calendar of various free exercise routines!
- Put on your workout clothes.
Getting dressed in the right workout clothes is one of the best ways to boost your motivation to wanting to exercise. Think about it: How silly would you feel plopping yourself on the couch after putting on your sports bra, leggings and running shoes? Yes, we know everyone is wearing their comfy, stretchy yoga pants everywhere now, but… if you find something that is specifically designed for exercising and workouts, fits your body size and shape nicely, and that also makes you feel good when you wear it, you might find yourself moving, running or dancing around whether you want to or not!
- Wear a fitness tracker.
Gone are the days of $1,000 exercise devices. Today, there are many more affordable options for wearable workout technology -- many of which include hourly or daily reminders to hit the mat or take those steps! Some come with food, water, and exercise trackers as well as challenges that allow you to compete against your friends during the work week. From smartphone apps, traditional pedometers, and wearable watch-like devices, fitness trackers can help boost your motivation and increase your steps per day, especially if you have a heart-smart daily goal in place!
- Develop a safe buddy system.
If coronavirus has shut down your gym or you don’t feel comfortable working out in public spaces near others, you can still find a support system, whether that be an online community or a safe close relative or friend. Connecting with someone else -- even if you don’t actually workout together -- can be a great way to boost your motivation. Tip: Create a private fitness board on Pinterest and update it for each other for extra support! Checking this board can be super-motivating, especially if you workout alone, because someone is there with you, keeping you accountable.
- Base your workouts on your mood.
The key here is variety! By basing your workouts on your mood, you essentially get a more therapeutic experience that is sure to keep you motivated. For example, if you’ve been stuck inside the house all day (thanks, COVID!), you might do an outdoor run or focus on cardio. If you had a late night and have zero energy, plan a relaxing session that focuses on foam rolling and stretching with some easier mat-based flexibility moves tossed in. If you’re in beast mode, try strength training or heavy plyometrics. Whatever you do, make sure it either puts you in a good mood or keeps you there!
- Surround yourself with motivation.
Hang up motivational photos on your mirrors, whether they are exercise-specific phrases or just phrases that make you feel good. Label Post-its or sticky notes with positive messages about the benefits of exercising. Also write your goal down everywhere -- on your calendar, refrigerator, alarm clock, computer, car mirror -- so that you have a constant reminder of what you’re working toward.
- Designate a space.
Creating an area in your apartment or house that is dedicated solely to exercise can help minimize distractions that could be motivation killers, allowing you to get in the right mindset to burn those calories. Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to involve expensive gym equipment. Basements, spare bedrooms, or even sectioning off a corner of the living room will provide you a sacred space to bust out a round of burpees or practice yoga.
- Make whatever you do your favorite thing.
Let’s face it: The more we dislike something, the less we want to do it. So, if you find an activity or sport you love that gives you happiness and confidence, you might never need to motivate yourself again! For instance, if you enjoy getting out on a bike, you can turn cycling into a favorite workout and even set things up so that you can do it indoors or out. With something you actually like doing, even at a basic or simple level, you might notice your body changing without any extra effort at all.
Sure, we already looked at the best ways for staying motivated while exercising at home just a couple of months ago. But we also know that 2020 was a difficult year, so we are taking the opportunity to once again touch on these awesome motivational tips for helping you to keep your body -- and mind -- in tip-top shape as we move forward into 2021!
All SportPort™ activewear garments are unique, signature designs, all Made in the USA. Our passion for excellence is what drives our brand! When you wear SportPort™ activewear, you know you are wearing an original, one of a kind garment engineered to perfection.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been ingrained in our daily lives for nearly a year now and seems to be here for a bit longer. In the midst of its impact on the lives of everyone and the health of many, the way we think and act around food and food safety continues to change.
According to the 2020 Food and Health Survey conducted by the International Food Information Council, as many as 85% of Americans made changes in how they prepare food as well as changes to the food they eat as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But are these changes positive or negative? Turns out, they’re a bit of both.
COVID-19 Changes Eating Habits in 2020
The survey, conducted online from April 8, to April 16, 2020, included a nationally-representative sample of 1,011 Americans between the ages of 18 and 80. According to the results, cooking more at home saw the most significant change (60%), but Americans are also snacking more (32%), washing produce more than they did before the pandemic (30%), and thinking more about food in general (27%). Consumers under the age of 35, women, and parents are the most likely to have made changes due to COVID, both in terms of less healthy and healthier choices.
Cooking at home: It makes sense that the biggest change is more Americans are cooking at home, especially considering that restaurants across the country are limited or shut down. However, consumers are torn between healthy and less healthy eating. According to the survey, 14% of Americans said they’re eating less healthy than they did before the pandemic, and approximately 22% said they’re eating healthier than usual. Overall, those who cook at home are typically healthier and consume fewer calories, less fat, less sugar, and fewer carbohydrates than those who eat out.
Another survey found that some Americans are making healthier choices, while others aren’t. Specifically, 30% of respondents are eating more protein now than before COVID, 42% are eating more veggies, and 43% are eating more fruits. On the other hand, 19% are eating less protein, 21% are eating fewer fruits, 24% are eating fewer veggies, and 47% are eating more sweets. These findings aren’t surprising; research has found that when levels of cortisol -- the body’s stress hormone -- increase, even non-stressed, healthy adults will eat more junk foods and snacks.
Snack attacks: According to the survey, approximately one-third of consumers are snacking more often now than they did before the pandemic. Fewer than 10% of respondents reported snacking less. However, snacking habits differ by age, with more than 40% of younger consumers under the age of 25 snacking more, compared to 26% of consumers over the age of 50. Parents are also snacking more to relieve coronavirus-induced stress, with 29% of adults without children under 18 snacking less, compared to 41% of adults with children. The type of snack also plays an important role as to whether these changes are positive since snacks can be healthy (like nuts and fruits) or they can be unhealthy (like donuts and Fritos).
Since early March, when Americans began to change what they were buying due to lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, national sales data shows that salty snacks have been the top food item. In fact, sales of savory and salty snacks have increased more than 15% in the last eight weeks, online snack sales have risen 44% since March 1, and cookie sales have soared 147% during the pandemic.
Health improvements: Despite the fact that sales of snacks and cookies are booming, Americans are trying to be healthier, the survey found. For instance, 43% of respondents reported that they’re following a diet in 2020, compared to 38% in 2019 and 36% in 2018. The most common diet followed is intermittent fasting, kicking last year’s top competitor -- clean eating -- down to second place. However, the survey didn’t come out and say why Americans are dieting now nor why they’re placing more of an emphasis on their weight and overall health.
One strategy that is more popular now than in decades past that is helping consumers to make healthier choices is the use of fitness trackers. The survey found that 18%, or nearly 1 in 5 Americans, are using a mobile health monitoring app or device, and 66%, or two-thirds, of those using them say it’s caused them to make healthy changes that they wouldn’t have made otherwise.
Consumers Report Concerns Over Food Safety and Preparation
Worrying about the coronavirus has also led to significant changes in how Americans view food safety. While Americans’ confidence in the country’s food supply remains virtually unchanged (68% in 2019 and 67% in 2020), food preparation and handling related to the risk of contracting COVID are now at the top of the list of food safety concerns. Approximately 24% of Americans reported COVID as the top food safety issue, while the top four concerns from 2019 -- pesticides/pesticide residues, carcinogens in food, chemicals in food, and foodborne illness -- declined.
Where consumers eat and purchase their food also influence how they feel about food safety and COVID. According to the survey, 49% of Americans are somewhat concerned about food preparation outside of their homes such as delivery or takeout. Similarly, 46% of consumers are concerned when they eat in restaurants or establishments outside of their homes. Trailing behind are individuals who worry about food safety when grocery shopping online (42%), those who shop in-store for groceries (36%), and those who prepare meals at home (30%).
2020 Diet Myths: Debunked
Amid the ongoing pandemic and the change in eating habits, 2020 was also full of diet myths and poor nutrition advice. As people tried to find the best diet to reduce their risk of contracting the coronavirus, nutrition advice took on a new urgency. In 2020, research has begun to question the legitimacy of claims about celebrity diets, fat-loss teas, and immune-boosting superfoods, while new research has also shed a new light on previous “hot topics” like vegan diets, intermittent fasting, and whether coffee is good for you.
Myth: You can lower your risk of contracting COVID-19 or prevent it completely by changing your diet.
Truth: Not even a truck full of oranges will stop you from getting sick if you are exposed to the coronavirus or another contagious illness. While it’s no surprise that diet fads have focused on ways we can boost our disease defenses, cutting out sugar and processed food won’t boost your immune system. Sure, these foods can cause health issues over time, but eating a slice of pizza is not going to increase your risk of contracting COVID-19. The bottom line is that there are no super-diets or superfoods that will prevent (or cure!) a contagious disease. Instead, your best shot at staying healthy is to eat a balanced, nutritious diet which will, in the long run, reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease.
Myth: Intermittent fasting is the best way to shed unwanted pounds.
Truth: Studies have suggested that intermittent fasting (IF), or only eating within a certain window of time, offers many benefits for weight loss, metabolism, and longevity. Researchers theorize that IF provides some type of health boost, perhaps by allowing your digestive system to take a break. However, the truth is that fasting doesn’t seem to make a difference and that possibly the health benefits are a result of the fewer calories one eats throughout the day. Again, there’s no one magic diet solution for health -- as much as we want to believe there is.
Myth: You should avoid coffee to lose weight and get healthy.
Truth: Many fad diets prohibit coffee, but emerging evidence shows that your morning cup of coffee is not as bad as it seems. In fact, coffee has recently been linked to health benefits like better cognitive and mental health, stronger bones, and a lower risk of chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and a few types of cancer. While we don’t know what exactly is in coffee that provides these benefits (as it’s made up of more than 1,000 different compounds) and consuming it in excess can certainly be detrimental, it is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols -- plant-based micronutrients known for increasing friendly bacteria in the gut and lowering inflammation levels.
It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Americans to make major changes in their lives, including how they eat and diet. So, we’re faced with the question of: Will a few -- or all -- of our healthy behaviors and attitudes take the place of the unhealthy ones and stick around in the long run? We can only wait and see what happens when this pandemic is over. And hopefully your body and choices haven’t been terribly affected by the “Quarantine 15” pound weight problem too!
Be Healthy. Stay safe. Welcome 2021!
References & Additional Resources:
2020 Food and Health Survey - explores new topics, such as how food and health behaviors have changed in the past decade (2010-2020) and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our eating habits.
SportPort Healthy Recipes & Meal Swaps – offering comfort food and holiday menu recipe standards as well as alternatives (great for vegans or vegetarians).
SportPort blog: Add These To Your Grocery List: Some Foods to Help Boost Your Immune System – find 10 foods that may help to supercharge your body and also boost your immune system and try to avoid any sickness that might come your way.
All SportPort™ activewear garments are unique, signature designs, all Made in the USA. Our passion for excellence is what drives our brand! When you wear SportPort™ activewear, you know you are wearing an original, one of a kind garment engineered to perfection.
2020 isn’t over yet, and COVID is still here -- just in time to add anxiety and tension to the normal holiday stress that comes every year. Between the gift shopping and wrapping, the meal preparing and cooking, and a long list of to-dos, the weeks leading up to 2021 are likely feeling overwhelming, especially given the ongoing pandemic. With new travel restrictions, a heated election, extra financial challenges, health concerns, and the general dumpster fire that has been 2020 thus far, we’re all feeling a little more exposed and raw than in a “normal” holiday season. Where’s Clark Griswold and his holiday cheer when we need him?
If you’re looking for ways to ease the stress in your life, it’s a known fact that exercise can help by releasing endorphins that act as feel-good neurotransmitters to the brain! But if you’re not a gym rat or you simply can’t (or don’t want to) get moving, what else can you do to relieve holiday stress and actually enjoy this time of year? Let’s take a look.
- Be social. It’s human nature to want to be a part of a group or fit in with like-minded people, so spending time with others is important for remaining healthy. However, interactions really should be done remotely rather than physically since things are a little different this year. Make a phone call or plan a Zoom meeting to talk to family and friends while still staying as safe as possible. Conversations and socializing can help to reduce stress by calming your nervous system, allowing you to feel supported, and giving you a moment to be mentally alert.
- Limit social media. One of the most important tips we can provide this holiday season is this: Stay away from social media if you’re feeling stressed. Just. Stay. Away. Those picture-perfect Pinterest and Instagram feeds won’t do anything but force you to compare yourself to what you see -- which is not entirely accurate anyway. Those images don’t show the family arguments, the burned turkeys, or the insurmountable mountain of credit card debt. Instead, spend your time looking into eyes, not screens. Hold hands, not phones or gaming controllers. Choose laughter, joy, and human connection over retweets and “likes.”
- Give back. It’s easy to focus on our own thoughts as well as material things during the holidays. But these feelings often lead to more anxiety as we try to figure out how to keep up with the Joneses. Instead of agonizing over what you have (or don’t have), why not give back to those less fortunate? Donate money to a non-profit organization, donate warm clothing to the homeless or toys to underprivileged children, or volunteer your time and serve food at the community shelter. Helping others will hopefully help you appreciate what you have and lead to feelings of connectedness -- both of which can lower stress levels.
- Just breathe. Let’s talk about breathing exercises! Oops! Did we say “exercise”? Well, this one can be done anytime, anywhere! It’s also more for clearing the mind or simply for mindfulness instead of stressfulness. When you breathe, you take in fresh oxygen into your bloodstream, which ultimately feeds your body’s organs such as the central nervous system and the brain. When you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, inhale deep breaths into your nose and exhale through your mouth. Yoga can also be a helpful activity (that’s not quite as strenuous as a traditional workout) to lower stress levels by focusing on breath control.
- Smile more. Not only does smiling bring joy to others, but it’s been suggested that smiling can also reduce your body’s response to stress and lower your heart rate in tense situations. Studies and research also linked smiling to decreased blood pressure and suggested that smiling may lead to longevity. It doesn’t matter whether your smile is genuine or forced -- your brain still sees the activity and assumes that humor is happening, meaning that things are okay! Pretty wild, right? Did you know that smiling can actually be an exercise, too? To work that smile (and your facial muscles), check out these exercises designed to make you happy and keep you healthy.
- Get enough sleep. One of the most powerful tools you have in your arsenal to fight holiday stress and anxiety is sleep. Instead of pulling another all-nighter while binging those much-anticipated Hallmark Christmas movies, put your sleep first. Not only will getting at least seven and a half hours of shut-eye keep your anxiety and stress under control, but it will also give your immune system a boost -- which is now more important than ever. Washing your hands, getting outside, staying active, and resting will all help you feel healthy, peaceful, and strong. Avoid burning your candle at both ends by getting up early and staying up late. Get enough sleep.
- Meditate. Stress can come in many forms: depression, weight gain, sleeplessness, brain fog, irritability, and anxiety, to name a few. If you’re experiencing one or more of these, it’s understandable to want to clear some headspace, especially during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Enter meditation. Did you know that meditating can fight stress, decrease anxiety, boost your mood, and even curb unhealthy cravings? There are many different ways to practice meditation, but it’s often recommended to start slow and simple and build to more complex techniques as you progress.
- Eat healthy. It goes without saying that you’ll need as much energy as you can get to make it through the busiest time of the year, so cook wholesome meals with nourishing ingredients and make eating healthy a priority. We’re not saying you have to pass on eating Grandma’s famous sugar cookies or watching “A Christmas Story” with a steaming mug of hot chocolate, but consuming too much sugar disrupts your brain’s neurotransmitters, your insulin and blood sugar levels, and your natural hormone responses. Combine that with a packed schedule and a lack of sleep from too much caffeine, and you’ve got a recipe for a rush of stress and anxiety. Opt for these 10 healthy foods to reduce stress and boost your immune system.
- Keep a journal. There are many reasons one might keep a journal. From prayer journals and gratitude journals to dream journals and travel journals, we keep daily writings for many different aspects of our lives. Recording the day’s events and making observations is important for understanding our world. In fact, without diarists like Samuel Pepys and Anne Frank, we wouldn’t have nearly the amount of historical knowledge that we do. Try your hand at journaling by writing down three positive things that happened to you each day, no matter how small or meaningless they may seem. Describe these bright spots as best you can and make note of the role you played in each one. You’ll boost your mindfulness and be more aware of how much control you have over the happy moments in your life.
- Take a shower. Don’t underestimate the healing powers of a shower -- and a locked door. Hydrotherapy is the use of water, both externally and internally, at different temperatures for health purposes. For instance, the steam in hot showers acts as a natural decongestant that can break up stuffiness, while cold showers are known to improve blood circulation, increase endorphins, and decrease cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone. Also, a chilly shower may temporarily take your mind off of your stress since you’re more likely to focus on the temperature of the water itself. This mindful practice keeps you in the moment rather than worried about things that you can’t control. Consider adding a eucalyptus plant in the shower or room to make the space all the more rejuvenating and relaxing.
- Create a relaxing environment. After all, your home should be a tranquil retreat. The last thing you want to do after a long, busy day is return to a chaotic and hectic house, which can ultimately exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress. To create a positive space, decorate quickly and simply by choosing one item like bows, miniature trees in various sizes, or ornaments in decorative bowls. Use that item in abundance instead of trying to pair different items together. Looking for soft lighting? Set up some aromatherapy candles designed to calm and relax. We also love using tea lights across a mantle or along windowsills. Finally, add easy ambiance with some holiday carols or soft, jazzy music -- whatever eases your stress and puts you in the holiday spirit.
- Engage in safe sex. If you have a partner living with you safely in your home, don’t forget the value of intimacy and sex on stress. Not only does it feel good, but sex can also alleviate pain, bolster your immune system, and make you happy -- all things necessary for getting us through the go-go-go of the holidays. Keep in mind that stress can also have a hand in low libido, particularly during this busy season, but even simple acts like hugging and touching can boost your self-esteem and happiness, too.
- Stay at home. Most of us would love to travel to visit our family and friends during this holiday season. After all, 2020 has been a roller coaster of a year for everyone, and there’s nothing we’d love more than to relish the companionship of our loved ones. Unfortunately, taking a trip just isn’t the safest thing to do in a pandemic -- but that might not stop others from asking you to visit. If you’re feeling guilty about staying home, there are nice ways to say “no” to visits, trips, or social gatherings. To take the stress out of declining a social gathering, suggest an alternative way to hang out, keep your response honest, make your answer short and sweet, and be positive. Remember: It’s absolutely okay to say “no.”
Regular exercise has many benefits for your overall health -- mentally, physically, and emotionally. It can help to increase your focus, energy, and self-confidence while lowering your anxiety and stress levels. However, exercise is not the only way to reduce your stress levels this holiday season. If you’re feeling worried or anxious because your holiday plans look different during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not the only one. But with some practical tips and helpful advice, you can minimize the stress that usually accompanies the holidays and instead find some peace and joy. You might even end up enjoying this season more than you expected.
Is COVID-fatigue bringing on exercise-fatigue? Is your gym not able to open yet due to restrictions in your area or have you recently been informed that it will shut its doors yet again? Is it starting to get too cold to be outside? Well, we know life in general hasn’t been easy over the past several months, but keeping your distance and staying at home is still the safest thing you can do. To help chip away at the cabin fever you might be feeling, here are some practical and fun ideas for staying motivated to remain at home and either start -- or keep -- exercising.
10 Tips to Stay Motivated and Workout at Home
We get it. It’s not easy to stay motivated while working out at home -- especially if you live by yourself. While it’s certainly tempting to cozy up on the couch and binge your favorite Netflix series rather than hit the mat for that dreaded workout routine, don’t throw in the motivational towel just yet. Below are 10 tips or tricks to try that will hopefully make it much easier (and more exciting!) for you to exercise without stepping foot outside your house.
- Make a plan.
The first thing to do when trying to stay more motivated is to create a clear plan with milestones for the coming weeks and months. Focus on actionable, small goals like “I want to work out five days a week” instead of dwelling on the big picture like “I want to lose 50 pounds.” While a variety of exercises like stretching, cardio, and strength training works best, every “body” is different. Make it a point to check in with your plan from time to time to make sure you’re staying the course.
- Create a dedicated space.
If possible, try to find a room or safe area in your home to do your workout without risking injury, and make sure it’s also a spot you actually enjoy being in! While you certainly don’t need to go crazy and buy the latest, fanciest home exercise equipment to create your own personal gym, having one room solely for working out can make exercising more of a reality and less of a chore. If you don’t have the space for an entire room, even something as simple as the corner of your living room where you keep some free weights and a treadmill can be just as effective.
- Schedule your routine.
Think about how many days you want or need to work out and physically schedule these dates on your calendar -- just like you would a doctor’s visit or dentist appointment. It might seem pointless and unnecessary at first, but when you plan your workouts ahead of time, you are essentially moving them from the “optional” category to the “must-do” category. Make sure to leave a day or two open as a buffer in case something unexpected comes up and you need to reschedule your workout that day.
- Use our calendar of free, different exercise routines to create your own personalized schedule.
- Keep a workout log.
Whether it’s a file in your phone’s Notes app or a physical book, tracking body fat percentage and measurements like weight as well as the progress you make after every workout will keep you motivated more than analyzing yourself in the mirror every morning will. Being able to see on the screen -- or in print -- that your hard work is paying off can be exactly what you need to stick to your workout routine.
- Find a partner or community.
Just because you’re not going to the gym doesn’t mean you’re in this alone. Whether it’s an online community, a close friend or relative, or a few people you invite into your home (safely, of course!) every week or even once a month to exercise, finding real-life support and friendly competition can be a huge motivational boost. You might also consider meeting other fitness-oriented people on social media or organizing a group workout on Zoom -- whatever it takes to motivate you to keep exercising regularly.
- Turn your workout into a game.
If you find your workouts are getting dull and repetitive and you’re often lacking the motivation to do them at all, why not turn exercise into a game? Boasting more than 200 missions and 1 million participants, Zombies, Run! is just one popular downloadable fitness game. This app turns what would otherwise be a boring run into a survival adventure as you collect supplies to dodge zombies, build a town, and explore with each mile you run. Zombies not your thing? Try RockMyRun, an app designed for music lovers that plays music with tempos based on your steps per minute or heart rate. Check out some of these other fun at-home activities that are more like a game than a workout!
- Set (realistic) goals.
You must create goals for yourself, especially if you are working out without anyone to push you. Your goals can be large or small -- whatever works for you. For example, you might have a goal of doing 10 pushups in a row without putting your knees to the floor or a goal of holding a squat for 30 seconds. Signing up for some type of event or race -- if done with proper precautions, of course -- can also be an excellent goal and motivator. Whatever you choose, make sure you are working toward something tangible instead of simply exercising just because you should.
- Reward yourself.
No, we don’t mean that you should grab a Snickers every time you successfully complete a workout, but rewarding yourself with something tangible when you accomplish your goals can be a wonderful motivator. This could be a new piece of exercise equipment for your home, a nice dinner out with your significant other, or that pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. The important thing is to make sure that you really, really want that reward so that you are truly motivated. In other words, that kale smoothie is probably not going to cut it.
- Switch up your routine.
It goes without saying that doing the same workout day in and day out will get pretty boring pretty fast, particularly because your body adapts to repetitions. When you switch things up, you’ll be more likely to stick to your regimen and thus avoid mental boredom. To make your workout routines more interesting and less monotonous, try to spice things up by setting up stations with kettlebells, exercise bands, jump ropes, and weights. Get outdoors on nice days and go for a run or walk laps around your yard and home. Run up and down your stairs in between your weightlifting sessions. When you find your body is sore at the end of the week, try Zumba, Pilates, or Yoga as a reward.
- Get new workout clothes.
If you’ve been living in your yoga pants (and you’re definitely not the only one!), try to set aside a good pair of leggings just for when you exercise. Sure, you won’t be heading to the gym, but you’ll want to have your gym shoes and clothes within reach. Some studies have found that what you wear during your workout can have a direct impact on your performance -- a psychological phenomenon known as enclothed cognition*. Plus, buying a new workout outfit, leggings, or sports bra can be an awesome treat or reward when you meet your fitness goals!
While the country is still finding ways to navigate a “new normal” amid the coronavirus pandemic, you might be finding it hard to stick to your regular workout routine -- or even feel motivated to exercise at all. However, engaging in routine physical activity on a regular basis will not only benefit your physical health in the long run but also help to take away some of the stress and anxiety you might be experiencing. Sure, working out can be hard and downright miserable at times, but Stephen Hawking says it best: “half the battle is just showing up.” Let's get going and get there!
* enclothed cognition: a term that relates to the effect which clothing has upon a person’s mental process and the way they think, feel, and function, in areas like attention, confidence, or abstract thinking.
Would you believe us if we said that sitting like your ancestors could save your health? You’d probably be at least a little skeptical. After all, the science surrounding our health is often boiled down to the idea of eating healthy, sleeping well, getting on your feet and exercising regularly, and our bodies will be in tip-top shape. Rarely do we hear anything suggesting that the things we sit on and the way we sit might be impacting our bodies. But is there truth in this? Are we missing a crucial part of our workouts?
Some experts maintain sitting in chairs and on sofas all day, every day destroys the quality of our connective tissues, movements, and overall health. More importantly, we’re neglecting to use “archetypal resting positions” that have been in place and utilized by humans for hundreds of thousands of years. To put it simply, sitting on sofas and chairs isn’t great for our bodies, but what’s even worse is that we’re not taking advantage of the handful of ancestral floor positions that could actually help us.
Wait, What’s Wrong With Chairs?
Once a luxury item reserved only for the upper classes, chairs are now common-place in our lives. The typical Neolithic humans sat on benches, chests, or the ground until the time came when chairs were readily available and affordable for everyone. But paleolithic posteriors weren’t designed with chairs in mind; humans were meant to squat, kneel, and rest upon stumps and logs and rocks when they needed to take a break.
Sitting in chairs pushes weight on our glutes incorrectly, making them weak, loose, and inactive since, over time, most of us have forgotten how to activate our butt muscles. Sitting also keeps our hip flexors in a contracted, tight, short position for long periods of time. The result? Full hip extension and possibly even the hunched over position that we often see in older folks. Plus, there’s an extensive (and growing!) amount of literature that shows how sitting for too long increases degenerative disease and mortality. Scary, right?
What’s even more frightening is that sitting in a chair doesn’t allow us to rest in a full squat position -- something we know how to do when we’re born but forget how to do as we get older. Sitting becomes a passive act, where we’re slumped over with rounded shoulders and our feet twisted up. Rather than depending on a chair to support our weight, we should be relying on our muscles and skeletal system to support ourselves. So, are there any benefits to going back in time? Did our ancestors have it correct from the very beginning?
What are the Benefits of Archetypal Resting Positions?
Where we sit, and the way we do it, changes the way our bodies function. In countries where floor living and squatting are woven throughout everyday life, people are still able to retain mobility and function well into their golden years. Unfortunately, here in Western countries, where we stop floor living around four or five years of age, we might never quite reach that point -- but we can do much better than we are right now.
In fact, by hanging out on the floor more, we may begin to notice improved glucose tolerance and enhanced recovery from workouts as well as increased range of motion, more muscle activity, and increased flexibility. Prolonged chair-sitting can make your hips feel stiff and tight, but sitting on the floor allows you to easily stretch those hip flexors. Ultimately, these archetypal sitting positions encourage natural stability since, without the support of a sofa or chair, sitting on the floor forces your body to engage its core for stabilization.
Sitting Stiffness, Aches & Pains
Feeling stiff or aches and pain after sitting for long periods of time? Your muscles might not be to blame. While basic stretching can increase your range of motion, it does little to boost your flexibility. In other words, your range of motion is how well your muscles can elongate, while flexibility is how well you move in all directions, including lengthening, torsion, and contraction. The key to boosting flexibility? Engaging the fascia tissue in your body.
What is Fascia Tissue?
Fascia is a thin casing of connective tissue that almost resembles a spider’s web. Fascia surrounds and keeps every muscle, nerve fiber, blood vessel, and organ in place. This tissue does more than simply provide structure to our internal bodies; it also has tiny nerves that make it almost as sensitive as skin. The key to increasing your flexibility and range of motion is to find as many different ways to contact the ground as you can and use gravity to stretch your fascia in as many positions as you are comfortable.
6 Archetypal Resting Positions You Can Incorporate Easily Today
Ready to get back to Earth with some ancient habits that can actually renew and rejuvenate the body? Below we’ve outlined some easy, no-impact, ground-based resting workouts that you can do inside on the floor or outside on the ground -- wherever you feel most comfortable!
- Full Squat: This is one of the most ancient default sitting or resting positions before the invention of chairs. Start by standing with your feet planted on the floor and hip-width apart. Slowly lower your butt until its just inches above the floor. Although it might be easier to rest on the balls of your feet, the goal here is to get (and keep!) your heels on the ground. This position stretches the back, glutes, quads, and calves.
- Side Sit: Also known as the “z-sit,” begin by sitting with your butt flat on the ground. Lower your knees to the left and position them on the floor. Rest the bottom of your left foot against the front of your right thigh. Make sure you keep your spine neutral by ensuring both hips are on the floor. Repeat in the opposite direction. This position stretches the inner thighs as well as the external and internal hip rotators.
- Long Sit: A sitting position that comes easier to some people than others, the long sit involves sitting on the floor with your legs extended straight ahead of you. Flex your toes and point them upward, making sure your belly is positioned over your hips. This position stretches the quad muscles and hamstrings. From the long sit, you can also transition into a straddle sit by moving your legs wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Low Kneel: Kneeling is a common position with several variations, including a high and a low kneel. The low kneel involves sitting with your knees on the floor and your butt on your heels. In Japanese culture, this position is called “seiza.” You can choose to point your toes either up or back -- whichever feels more comfortable! This position stretches the quads, Achilles tendon, and fascia in the feet.
- Half Kneel: Similar to the low kneel, the half kneel involves keeping one leg flat and perpendicular to the floor and bending the other knee so that the foot is planted flat on the floor. This position is great for reducing pressure on your knees and is helpful for stretching the quads, Achilles tendon, and fascia in the feet.
- Cross-Legged Sit: A common yoga position and one of the more natural ways to sit, the cross-legged sit involves sitting on the ground with your legs crossed in front of you -- either with your feet flat against each other or at the calves or ankles. Try decreasing pressure on your hips by placing cushions beneath or knees or sitting on the edge of a folded blanket. This move is beneficial for those looking to stretch the hip adductors and rotators.
- Make Up Your Own! Our limbs are bendy, funny things, and we have the ability to contort ourselves into many different positions. As long as you’re on the floor, able to support your own weight, and feel comfortable doing it, it’s hard to hurt yourself. Our bodies are great at letting us know when something’s about to go really wrong. So, if your toes go tingly or your arm begins to get numb, switch it up! Come up with your own variation for sitting on the floor or ground and report back!
There’s no need to feel lazy on the sofa while watching TV or sitting still behind a desk at work all day! Toss the chair aside and plop yourself on the floor, propping your TV or computer screen up on a low-sitting table or shelf. Keep in mind that there is no right way to do this. There is no wrong way to do this. There is no perfect amount of time to spend in each position. Simply listen to your body and change positions to get more comfortable… and healthy!
Looking for free at-home online exercises, meditations, health & fitness workout ideas?
We’ve put together a great selection of totally FREE (no trials, no credit cards) events, classes and instructions in a monthly Calendar form to cover you for each and every day, and for any day you choose. We’ve made sure to include an “add to calendar” option so you can pick your favorites to create your own personalized workout schedule.
Have another favorite virtual workout or event that’s online, free, and can be done at-home? Let us know and we will share it for all our workout friends to see, access and do… together!
Let’s stay fit. Let’s do it at home!
For many women, the words “breast cancer” are scary and can cause panic and worry, but they’re hard not to think about sometimes. Many people know a friend or loved one who has been touched by the disease, and there are many concerns about the causes of it. You might find yourself wondering if there’s anything you can do to be more proactive and help reduce your risk. The answer is “yes”. You can make some lifestyle changes to help reduce your risk of breast cancer.
To understand a bit of the current statistics, about 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer during their lifetime. It is considered the second most common cancer among U.S. women, behind skin cancer. Breast cancer occurs more often in women who are 50 years old or older, but men can also develop the disease. Although scientists have identified many risk factors that increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer, they do not yet know what causes normal cells to become cancerous. Experts tend to agree that breast cancer is caused by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors.
10 Things You Can Do to Help Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer prevention begins with identifying causes and maintaining healthy habits. While there is no surefire way to completely prevent the disease, there are a number of things you can do to help lower your risk of getting it.
Exercise more often. Engaging in regular exercise can help boost your body’s immune system, maintain a healthy weight, and possibly even lower your estrogen levels, thus decreasing the chance that you’ll get breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society(1), adults should engage in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity every week or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity each week to lower your risk of developing cancer -- that’s a minimum of just 20 minutes per day! And, if you have daughters, statistics have shown that women who exercised or played sports more than seven hours a week during ages 5-19 had lower risk of breast cancer as adults.
You can find some helpful, regularly updated, at-home exercise routines in our Monthly Calendar of Free Online Exercise, Health & Fitness Events.
- Maintain a healthy weight. According to research(2), women who gain at least 55 pounds after 18 years of age are 45% more likely to develop postmenopausal breast cancer. The more fat tissue you have in your body, the more estrogen your body has the potential to produce. It’s this excess estrogen that puts women at an increased risk for both breast and uterine cancers. Also, overweight women tend to have higher insulin levels, which have also been linked to breast cancer. Practicing portion control, making necessary dietary shifts, and regular physical activity are all components of a successful weight loss/management effort and can help protect against breast cancer.
Balance your diet. It’s never too late to start improving your diet. Choose whole grains, opt for lots of fresh fiber-rich vegetables and colorful fruits, eat smaller portions, and limit sugar and processed foods to reduce weight gain and lower your risk of developing breast cancer. Specifically, experts suggest eating a range of cruciferous veggies like kale, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli that contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Eating lean poultry like fish instead of red meat and adding other foods like nuts, salmon, and olive oil may also help lower your cancer risk.
Taking your vitamins can help too. Postmenopausal women who had higher levels of vitamin D in their blood or who reported taking vitamin D supplements at least four times a week had lower rates of breast cancer.
Get enough sleep. Easier said than done, right? We get it: Sleep is a luxury and an afterthought for many women, particularly new mothers. However, it’s important to try to get between six and nine hours of sleep every night. A 2017 study(3) found an increased risk of breast cancer among women who had higher exposures to nighttime light, thus supporting the idea that disrupted circadian rhythms -- or the 24-hour cycle of day and night or wake and sleep -- are part of the equation.
And, try to find ways for consistency in your night’s sleep. An association was found between having trouble sleeping four or more nights per week with increased breast cancer risk.
- Limit alcohol. Compared to women who drink no alcohol at all, women who consume three alcoholic beverages per week are 15% more likely to develop breast cancer(4). Experts estimate that for each drink you have each day, your risk of developing breast cancer increases 10%. According to the American Cancer Society, women should consume no more than one alcoholic drink per day(5), which is the equivalent of 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of regular beer.
- Don’t smoke. We all know that smoking is unhealthy. But on top of causing wrinkles, bad teeth, and a smelly breath, smoking also lowers your quality of life and increases the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and at least 15 different types of cancer -- including breast cancer. The age when you started smoking, how much you smoke, and how long you continue to smoke all affect your likelihood of developing the disease. Now, that’s motivation to work to get smoke-free or stay smoke-free!
- Breastfeed your littles -- if you can. Not only does breastfeeding have great health benefits for your child, but studies also show that breastfeeding for at least 12 months can reduce the risk of breast cancer(6). This can be attributed to the fact that women who breastfeed have fewer menstrual cycles and, therefore, lower estrogen levels. These women may also be more likely to lead healthier lifestyles and eat more nutritious food while breastfeeding.
- Think twice about HRT. According to the American Cancer Society, the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause can increase the risk of breast cancer(7). While post-menopausal HRTs that use a combination of progestin and estrogen can help to prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and osteoporosis, experts recommend that women only take HRT for the shortest time possible -- and only if absolutely necessary. You may be able to manage your systems with estrogen-only hormone therapy or non-hormonal medications and therapies instead. If you’re considering HRT, be sure to talk to your doctor about the associated risks and whether HRT is right for you.
- Know your family’s health history. Women who have a family history of cancer -- about 5 to 10% of breast cancer is hereditary -- can take steps to lower their risk, so it’s important information to know. If you aren’t sure, now is the time to reach out to family members who may be able to help. You may be at high risk of developing breast cancer if you have a sister or mother who developed ovarian or breast cancer or if you have several family members -- including males -- who developed prostate, ovarian, or breast cancer. A genetic counselor or doctor can help you understand the disease as well as your family history.
- Schedule your mammogram. Despite some controversy, studies show that getting yearly mammograms can save lives, particularly because mammograms detect malignant tumors and other abnormalities that are often missed in a self-exam. While screening doesn’t prevent cancer per se, it can help your doctor detect cancer in its early stages -- when it’s most treatable. Although most women can begin getting regular mammograms as early as age 40, specific recommendations can vary by risk and age. For instance, mammograms are recommended every year for women between the ages of 45 and 54 and every other year -- or yearly, if desired -- for those 55 years of age and older.
Environmental Factors that Can Increase Your Risk of Breast Cancer
While we’ve covered just 10 things that are in your control, it’s just as important to be on the lookout for other potential risk factors that might be associated with environmental factors or toxins. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has an informative report on Breast Cancer Risk and Environmental Factors.
This report includes concerns for environmental exposures from things like chemicals found in common household and personal care products, pesticides, or other chemicals we come into contact with through foods and beverages, creams or lotions we use on our skin or the air we breathe and more.
Is There a Link Between Cell Phones and (Breast) Cancer?
In short, we don’t fully know, but we do know that more research is needed. 5G technology is here now, and there are increasing concerns about the effects that this new technology -- and its cell phone towers and stations -- will have on our bodies and overall health. While some experts believe that 5G produces radiofrequency radiation that can disrupt cell metabolism, can damage DNA, cause oxidative damage that results in premature aging, cause cancer, and possibly paves the way for other diseases by way of stress protein generation, others aren’t convinced. So, what can we do?
We can continue to take a proactive approach by making sure we’re keeping the recommended safe distance between our phones and our bodies, reserving the amount of time we’re on our phones, using hands-free technology like wired headsets whenever we can, and incorporating other, safer phone use options.
It’s also why we’ve developed our patented cell phone pocket for those times when we absolutely have to keep our phones on us -- and close to our bodies! This pocket is designed to keep your phone working while also helping to protect the body’s soft tissue, like breast tissue, from potentially harmful EMF that might cause bodily cellular disruption. You can currently find these protective phone carrying pockets in many of our sport tops & sports bras, with more designs coming soon!
While we should be able to trust that scientists will do everything they can to keep us safe, for now, we can remain diligent, proactive, and protect ourselves in as many ways possible. Ultimately, when it comes to breast cancer, it’s important to be informed, particularly because there’s a wealth of incorrect information out there about the disease.
To address some common myths(8):
- Wearing a bra, underwire or not, does not affect your chance of developing breast cancer in any way.
- Consuming a lot sugar in our diet will not put you at risk for breast cancer, however, it can put you at risk for other health issues like diabetes or heart disease.
- You will not increase your risk of getting breast cancer if you use antiperspirants or shave your underarms, but the safety of some antiperspirants is still being studied.
While October brings about pink ribbons, awareness of the disease, and fundraising for breast cancer research, it’s important to be proactive about your overall health and, specifically, breast health all year round.
References & Additional Reading:
(1) American Cancer Society – Fitting in Fitness
(2) Susan G. Komen - Factors that Affect Breast Cancer – Body Weight & Weight Gain
(3) Environmental Health Perspectives - Outdoor Light at Night and Breast Cancer Incidence in the Nurses’ Health Study II
(4) Breastcancer,org – Drinking Alcohol
(5) American Cancer Society – Alcohol Use and Cancer
(6) Susan G. Komen – Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer Risk
(7) American Cancer Society – Menopausal Hormone Therapy and Cancer Risk
(8) Breastcancer,org – Breast Cancer Myths vs. Facts
As we continue to navigate the still-uncertain waters of the coronavirus pandemic, the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also continue to shift. Some areas of the country remain under strict stay-at-home orders, while others are trying to open back up and loosen their physical distancing rules as well. With everything continually changing, you might be wondering: Should I even go outside and, if so, how can I do it safely?
We get it: The idea of getting outside just to get a little fresh air is very appealing, particularly if you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, and/or stress brought on by the current times. It goes without saying that exercise and spending some time outdoors is truly beneficial for our mental health and overall well-being. But how can you do that safely with as little risk as possible -- for both you and other people? Let’s take a look at whether or not you should be going on walks as well as what precautions you should consider each time you set foot outdoors.
Take a Walk for your Health
Want to live longer? Lace up those sneakers and...start walking! Experts agree that walking just 30 minutes a day, five days per week can add as many as three years or more to your life! If strenuous exercise isn’t your thing, the simple activity of taking a walk has so many powerful health benefits all by itself. Done correctly, it can be the key to easing depression, boosting your memory, keeping your mind sharp, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and losing weight as well as reducing your risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and more! In fact, in the words of CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden, walking is now being touted as “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.” How easy… how perfect!
Not convinced? Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of taking a walk. Walking for just 25 minutes a day can decrease your risk of heart disease by as much as 35%, and a quick, post-meal walk can lower blood glucose levels and reduce your risk of diabetes. It can also prevent osteoarthritis by helping to lubricate the joints. Even a shorter walk has its perks! Experts report that for every minute of brisk walking, women can cut their risk of obesity by 5%. According to some estimates, this no-equipment-required, do-anywhere activity could save Americans more than $100 billion per year when it comes to healthcare costs.
Taking a stroll can even boost your mood and clear the mind. Several studies have found evidence that walking is just as effective as medications when it comes to lowering depression. Looking to relieve everyday stresses? As the open road stretches out in front of you and your mood-elevating endorphin levels rise, you’re more likely to feel that tension melt away. In fact, mindful walking provides you with the same stress-relieving benefits of meditation without having to sit still.
Not only does walking benefit your individual health, but it can also help to make your community stronger. Social scientists maintain that as more people get outside and take regular walks, neighborhood crime rates fall and the local economy ultimately improves. It’s also a wonderful way to connect with neighbors and meet new people -- while keeping a safe distance and wearing a mask during the current pandemic, of course. Walking can also benefit the littles, as well! Take the kids for a walk after supper to improve academic performance, reduce behavior problems, and promote better communication.
How to Go on a Walk Safely
While health experts are saying it’s safer to go outdoors (depending on what time you go and the area in which you live), we are adding an extra layer of what safety means when taking a walk outside. Here are some best-practices for staying safe as you hit the pavement.
- Wear a facial covering or mask -- or at least have it ready to put on if you happen to come across others on your stroll. Remember that a mask doesn’t protect you from getting the virus, but it does help you from spreading particles that might carry the infection.
- Try to find times (like early mornings and evenings) and areas where it’s less crowded but still safe. If necessary, scout out alternative routes such as on streets and sidewalks in residential areas where you might encounter fewer people.
- Make your walk shorter that day if you find that your usual spot is more crowded than you were expecting.
- While keeping a 6-foot distance is recommended, staying 10 feet apart is better -- and this applies even when you’re jogging in your neighborhood, walking your dog, or going for a hike.
- Avoid meeting up with strangers and/or friends for just a little while longer unless you plan to stay 6 feet apart at all times. A distance of 6 to 10 feet is farther than you might think, so if you’ll struggle to hold a conversation at that distance, go solo for now instead.
- Know the area and stay on designated paths. Venturing into unfamiliar territory is a dangerous idea -- coronavirus or not.
- Carry a fully charged phone with you and safely keep it close to your body and away from harmful EMF with a SportPort sports bra or top with a phone pocket.
- Consider other safety items to carry with you that running enthusiasts find useful. They can work great when going for a walk, too!
- Try to avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth while you’re outside until after you’ve washed up properly with antiviral soap.
- Sanitize door handles and anything else you touched when you reenter your home, including your phone if you took it out on your walk with you.
- Immuno-compromised people or high-risk elderly individuals might want to consider staying home, just to be on the safe side, especially if they live in a hard-hit area. There are plenty of exercises and activities that older adults can do from the comfort of their living rooms instead.
Remember that even if you’re not experiencing symptoms of the virus, you could still be a carrier. Even if you tested negative for COVID-19 yesterday, today is a new day. Every moment you spend around others who are not in your immediate household is a moment with risk. Be careful, cautious, smart, safe, and... healthy!
References & Additional Resources:
The ongoing pandemic caused by Covid-19 has forced the world into unchartered waters, with all sorts of new obligations, different requirements and rules set to help keep everyone safe and healthy. Wearing a mask, washing your hands, and keeping things hygienic is at the forefront of messages to everyone for safety now. But many have rising concerns about mental wellbeing and feeling good, putting those before the importance of diet, fitness or strength. With these new stressing concerns along with unprecedented disruptions in our daily lives, the pandemic has given way to many more sleepless nights. While sleeping may not be high on your priority list of to-do’s right now, it is high on the list of importance in overall “being healthy” (as seen in this chart and data from Euromonitor International on wellness trends), so maybe it’s time to consider cleaning up some sleep habits a bit!
What is Sleep Hygiene?
No, sleep hygiene doesn’t mean washing and changing your sheets more often! While the word “hygiene” brings about images of house cleaning and hand-washing, the term “sleep hygiene” actually refers to the specific habits and practices that you can do to get a good night’s sleep. These habits encourage sleeping well at night while also helping you stay awake, aware, and refreshed during the day.
More than one-third of Americans aren’t getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep that we need for our overall wellbeing and health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, getting good sleep is easier than you might think. Your behaviors and routines during the day -- particularly before bedtime -- can affect your sleep quality. Replacing poor habits and activities that disrupt your sleep with the following healthy sleep practices, or sleep hygiene, can mean the difference between a restless night and a restful one.
What Are the Signs of Poor Sleep Hygiene?
Before we get into what you should or shouldn’t be doing to hone your sleep hygiene habits, let’s take a look at what is considered to be poor sleep hygiene. The most obvious signs are disrupted sleep, difficulty falling asleep, and -- of course -- feeling foggy, sleepy, and fatigued throughout the day. Sleep deprivation saps creativity, sabotages our decision-making, and slows our reflexes. We may also experience feelings of sadness and anxiousness, particularly because we struggle to divert our attention away from negative ideas and thoughts. So, if you’re reading this and you’ve decided that you’re tired of feeling tired, you might be thinking about giving sleep hygiene a try. But where and how do you start?
Tips for Better Sleep Hygiene
One of the most important things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene is to make sure you are spending an appropriate amount of time asleep -- not too much or not too little. While sleep needs vary depending on age and are impacted by health and lifestyle, there are recommendations that can help you figure out how much sleep you need based on your age. The following are 10 other proper sleep hygiene practices that can help create ideal conditions for a restful, healthy sleep:
- Set a consistent schedule. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, including weekends. Creating a framework for sleep sets your body’s internal clock, allowing it to expect rest at that particular time. Keep in mind that, even if you have a poor night’s sleep, it’s best not to sleep in later the following morning. Do your best to get up at your usual or set time to heighten your “sleep drive” and sleep better the next night.
- Create a relaxing routine. A regular bedtime routine essentially lets your body know that it is… bedtime. A routine could include light stretches, reading a book, listening to calming music, meditating, or taking a warm bath or shower. These activities help to create a gentle transition between wakefulness and sleep. Whenever possible, avoid emotionally upsetting activities and conversations before settling in for the night.
- Keep the sleep environment pleasant. Your pillows and mattress should be comfortable. The bedroom itself should be kept cool -- between 60 and 65 degrees -- for optimal sleep. Consider using fans, humidifiers, “white noise” machines, ear plugs, eye shades, blackout curtains, and other devices to help make the space more relaxing for you.
- Unplug before bed. It’s worth repeating, although you’ve probably heard this many times before: Sleep and screens are not friends, so keep your screen time to a minimum and unplug at least an hour before bedtime. Aside from the fact that the bright lights disrupt your body’s internal clock, social media, work emails, videos, and online games all keep your mind active -- and keep you awake longer than you should be. (Another benefit: Turning your phone off and keeping it as far from your body as possible while you sleep may also help reduce your risk of EMF exposure!)
- Get regular exercise. Being physically active during the day is proven to be effective for helping you fall asleep more easily at night -- and regular exercise helps your overall mental and physical wellbeing, too. Keep in mind, however, that you might not see the benefits of improved sleep because of exercising right away; it may take a couple of weeks or even months before your workouts create a substantial impact on the quantity and quality of your sleep.
- Expose yourself to natural light. If you’re someone who doesn’t venture outside often, this tip is especially important. Ensuring adequate exposure to sunlight during the daytime hours, as well as darkness during the nighttime hours, helps to make sure your body’s sleep-wake cycle is in tip-top shape.
- Avoid foods that disrupt sleep. Heavy meals, fried or fatty food, spicy food, carbonated drinks, and citrus fruits are all tough on the body’s digestive system and can ultimately trigger indigestion. If you frequently experience heartburn, eating the wrong foods or eating too close to bedtime can mean a miserable night. Why? Your stomach needs three to four hours to empty itself, so when you try to sleep after a hearty meal, your digestive juices are still going strong. The result: chest pain and disrupted sleep.
- Steer clear of stimulants close to bedtime. While we can certainly appreciate a cup of coffee as a late-afternoon pick-me-up, caffeine is a stimulant that can hinder your body’s ability to sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, stop consuming foods and beverages that contain caffeine, including chocolate, colas, tea, and coffee, at least six hours before bedtime.
- Nix the nightcaps. Although alcohol can help you fall asleep faster because it initially makes you feel drowsy, consuming too much alcohol too close to bedtime can actually disrupt your sleep in the second half of the night as your body begins to process the alcohol. Alcohol affects your body’s “sleep architecture” -- the natural flow of sleep through stages like light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Consuming adult beverages can also lead to poor sleep quality and lighter, more restless sleep, which means you’re more likely to wake up tired and fatigued.
- Limit or avoid daytime naps. Did you know that Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and Salvador Dali were all fans of the catnap? Today, companies are also embracing the idea, establishing rooms specifically for the purpose of napping in the workplace. While napping doesn’t make up for poor nighttime sleep, a short 20- or 30-minute nap can help to improve performance, alertness, and mood. However, if you’re having trouble sleeping at night, consider avoiding daytime naps altogether since late-afternoon snoozing decreases your homeostatic sleep drive and makes it harder to catch those ZZZs at bedtime.
Does Sleep Hygiene Work?
Let’s get down to brass tacks: Sleep hygiene does not work for people who have had trouble sleeping for at least three months or for those with chronic insomnia. Yes, sleep hygiene can be helpful for improving sleep quality in people who generally have few sleep problems. Yes, sleep hygiene can be helpful if you are experiencing a handful of bad nights because you are adjusting to stress or dealing with changes like may be happening now due to Covid-19 situations. Yes, sleep hygiene can be helpful if you would otherwise have no trouble sleeping but you’re trying to do so in a poor sleep environment. In some cases, implementing solid sleep hygiene habits can even prevent long-term sleep problems. But sleep hygiene simply doesn’t work once those chronic sleep difficulties take hold.
In fact, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine asserts that “Although all patients with chronic insomnia should adhere to rules of good sleep hygiene, there is insufficient evidence to indicate that sleep hygiene alone is effective in the treatment of chronic insomnia. It should be used in combination with other therapies.” Behavioral therapies beyond sleep hygiene can include cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, cognitive therapy, sleep restriction therapy, and relaxation. In other words, developing and maintaining good sleep hygiene is only a piece of the puzzle -- but it’s a good place to start!
At the end of the day, your nighttime behaviors can impact your sleep in a major way. Getting a good night’s sleep is important for your health since it can improve your memory and mood, lower your risk for health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, help you maintain a healthy weight, strengthen your immune system, and support better problem-solving skills and comprehension. Experts also indicate that we’re also likely to feel more confident and less anxious after a good night’s sleep. When you sleep better, you feel better -- and proper sleep hygiene can help to make it happen.
Physical distancing can reduce the chance of a person getting the coronavirus, but staying home can flatten the curve and slow the spread of the infection even more. Fortunately, being at-home does not mean you have to give up your fitness routine -- and it may actually be the perfect time to start one! Whether you are an older adult and you feel yourself beginning to resemble a couch-potato or you have aging parents or grandparents at home and you’re worried they aren’t getting the activities or exercises they need to stay healthy, check out this list of the top 10 ways to stay active at home. You can also find some of these and many other at-home routines for all ages in our calendar of free online accessible exercise routines and ideas (meditations and dance classes too).
Exercise is Important, Especially for Older Adults
According to past science, older people are likely to suffer the most health impacts from being confined at home. In fact, studies show that when adults (of any age) reduce their physical activity due to injury or illness, they quickly lose endurance and strength and begin to experience muscle loss and early signs of insulin resistance. While these effects usually reverse in younger people once they start exercising normally again, in older adults, the negative health effects can linger for much longer.
That’s why experts are worrying about how the quarantine is affecting older adults during the stay-at-home orders, mainly because the lockdown could potentially cause health declines similar to those that happen when aging adults are bedridden or hospitalized. If you or someone you love is an older adult or has functional limitations such as joint replacements or arthritis, engaging in regular physical exercise is critical for staying healthy and delaying the onset of frailty.
10 Activities to Try While Staying at Home
The following activities and exercises are perfect for older people who are stuck at home and looking for ways to maintain their overall health and stave off the negative effects of aging. However, all of us, regardless of age, should try to move however and whenever we can, using whatever equipment we already have in our homes.
Formally known as “aerobic conditioning” walking can help to keep the body flexible while boosting your heart rate. Try strolling from room to room during a commercial break. Walk up and down the hallway or around the room while talking on the phone. If you have stairs, climb a flight or two to strengthen your legs. Aim to take a walk at least three times per day.
- Wall Squats
A wall squat requires no equipment and little expertise, but it can significantly improve leg strength. Keeping your legs shoulder-distance apart, stand a foot away from a wall. Press your back against it and gradually lower your body until your legs are parallel to the floor and form a 90-degree angle. Hold this position for as long as you can, whether that means five seconds or 30 seconds, and slide back up carefully.
- Arm Curls
Looking to boost your upper-body strength? Check the pantry! Water bottles or cans of soup are great for arm curls. Hold an object in one hand, resting your arm by your side. Keep your palms facing forward, and slowly bend your elbows to curl the bottle or can upward. Lower your arm and repeat on the other side.
- Shoulder Raises
Similarly, to strengthen your arm and shoulders, fill an empty gallon jug halfway with water, hold it in front of you with both hands, keep your arms straight, and lift it out in front of you to about face height. If you are able, continue to raise your arms until they are straight above your head. Lower slowly and repeat. This exercise is great for those with weak legs and ankles as you can easily do it while sitting down and watching television.
Whenever you are in the kitchen, try countertop push-ups. Stand back a few feet from the counter, lean toward it, flex from your ankles, and keep your back straight. Hold onto the counter and bend and straighten your elbows. Complete as many as you can or try to coincide your push-ups with the time needed to warm your coffee or soup in the microwave. Doing push-ups off of a wall is also a great modification if you find that countertop push-ups are too strenuous.
Being stuck at home doesn’t necessarily mean you are confined within your walls. If you have the space and a green thumb, consider creating a garden in your backyard. Even ordering seeds online and arranging an indoor herb garden, as easy and inactive as that might seem, is still a great way to get older adults up out of their chairs and moving around.
- Online Exercise Classes
If you prefer to add a little variety to your day and you enjoy group activities, why not check out all free instructional videos and our calendar of online exercise classes? The internet is overflowing with live or do-anytime events, along with options for the first-timer or elderly. Try a Zumba or dance class if you feel coordinated and vigorous or Tai Chi for something that’s a little gentler on the body.
Take a sock, a t-shirt, or a hand towel, anything fabric, and grasp it firmly in both hands. Place your hands, thumbs together, under your chin with your elbows raised out to either side and your forearms parallel to the floor. Pull with both hands to stretch the towel and have a “tug-of-war” with yourself. Allow your right side to win, then relax back to the center, and allow your left side to win.
- Dance, Dance, Dance
If taking a stroll doesn’t make your once-active soul soar, why not dance instead? Put on some music for 15 to 30 minutes per day, and let it all out! Alternate between fast, blood-pumping tunes and slower songs that can provide a much-needed break. Remind yourself that there’s no need to feel self-conscious about your moves (or lack thereof!) since you’re in the comfort of your own home.
If you have ever watched Miranda Esmonde-White’s specials on TV such as the Classical Stretch show, the Aging Backwards docuseries, or the Forever Painless workouts -- that is Essentrics! In addition to being on TV, check out YouTube, where you can find several free programs designed specifically for older adults that embrace the aging process and include workouts for every fitness level. We’ve included some in our calendar of online exercise classes.
Regardless of whether you are an older adult looking to stay active or you are concerned about the health and mobility of a loved one during these unprecedented times, there are plenty of at-home activities and exercises designed to keep us active while quarantined. We included options above designed for everyone from the sedentary to the active, so choose based on your current physical abilities. However, keep in mind that, above all, the best exercise is the one you do.
With Covid-19 stay-at-home orders beginning to lift and the pandemic seeming to calm down (it’s going to end sooner or later, right?), fitness centers and gyms will start to open again. However, this will almost certainly bring about many questions and concerns from fitness fiends such as: Is it safe to go back to the gym? How vigorously do I need to clean the equipment after use? Am I still required to stay at least six feet away from others?
Of course, you can always choose to exercise with household objects or continue your newly scheduled at-home workout routine to stay safe, but those who are eager to engage in community-based fitness are also asking a few other important questions: Should I exercise while wearing a face mask? Do face masks impair my breathing or lower the amount of oxygen my body gets? Will wearing a face mask slow me down?
I think we can all agree that the idea of exercising with a face mask on sounds utterly miserable. However, even if you are forced to wear one, there are ways to ensure you get enough oxygen and stay safe in the process -- and it all comes down to developing better breathing techniques and calmer breathing habits. Keep reading to learn more about how breathing exercises can help you develop stronger lungs and improve your overall health.
16 Frequently Asked Questions About the Benefits of Breathing and Breathing Exercises
- Are breathing exercises good for your health?
When you’re stressed, your body’s breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate all increase. When the stress passes, these reactions typically return to normal. However, if the stress continues, your body goes into overdrive, interfering with your ability to enjoy life and leaving you vulnerable to health problems. Symptoms connected to long-term stress include a lowered immune system, blood pressure issues, chronic pain, intestinal and stomach problems, high cholesterol levels, sleep problems, depression, and anxiety. By understanding proper breathing and using deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques, you can overcome these stress reactions to improve your mood, concentration, digestion, and sleep.
- What is the healthiest way to breathe?
Believe it or not, there actually is a right way and a wrong way to breathe. While breathing through your mouth is sometimes necessary (sinus congestion, increased physical activity), breathing in through your nose filters, humidifies, and warms air in a way that the mouth can’t. Proper breathing begins in the nose and moves into the belly as the diaphragm contracts, the stomach expands, and the lungs fill with air. Ultimately, if you’re breathing effectively, your breath will be controlled, steady, smooth, and quiet -- even if you must wear a face mask.
- What is deep breathing and what is it good for?
Deep breathing is the process of taking controlled, focused breaths that draw extra oxygen into the body -- more oxygen that you would consume with a “normal” breath. Deep breathing is one of the easiest, most convenient, and most natural tools to decrease stress, relieve pain, improve immunity, stimulate the lymphatic system, increase energy, improve digestion, and lower blood pressure. By engaging in deep breathing exercises, you can also essentially develop stronger lungs that may lower the negative effects of the Coronavirus should you happen to become exposed to it.
- What are the advantages of deep breathing?
Engaging in deep-breathing exercises sends a message to your brain that has a calming effect. Deep breathing can reduce muscle tension, lower your blood pressure, decrease your heart rate, and reduce general stress -- all of which are crucial for your health and overall well-being. Other advantages of deep breathing include feeling more in touch with your emotions, sleeping better at night, feeling more energetic, focused, and peaceful, and having less neck, head, back, and shoulder tension. What’s more, breathing requires no equipment or additional supplies since it’s something you do naturally every day!
- What are some deep breathing techniques?
Here are some common breathing techniques that offer a variety of deep breathing exercises that can help overall body health:
- Mindful Breathing
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Mantra Breathing
- Square Breathing
- Nostril Breathing
- Pranayama Breathing
- 4,7,8 Method
- Belly Breath
- The Wim Hof Method.
- Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training
- ... to name a few!
- What is Mindful Breathing and what is it good for?
Mindful breathing is a powerful yet basic mindfulness meditation practice. The idea is simply to focus all of your attention on your breathing -- to its natural flow and rhythm as well as the way it feels on each exhale and inhale. Mindful breathing is particularly helpful because it acts as an anchor -- something you can focus on at any time if you start to feel anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed with negative emotions. It also allows you to sharpen your concentration skills and establish inner calm by grounding yourself in the present moment.
- What is Diaphragmatic Breathing and what is it good for?
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped, large muscle nestled at the bottom of your lungs. Your abdomen muscles are responsible for moving your diaphragm to help you more efficiently empty your lungs when exhaling. Therefore, diaphragmatic breathing trains you to use your diaphragm properly while you breathe. This technique is essential for decreasing oxygen demand, strengthening your diaphragm, using less energy and effort to breathe, and slowing your breathing rate to lower the amount of work your body must do to breathe.
- What is Mantra Breathing and what is it good for?
A mantra is a word or phrase that you can repeat over and over to help yourself focus. Therefore, mantra breathing is a technique that involves repeating a mantra so that you can focus on your breath. The phrase or phrases should coincide with each exhale and inhale. Since you are staying attentive to the mantra and remaining in the present, your mind is less likely to wander, and you are able to better relax and meditate.
- What is Square Breathing and what is it good for?
Also referred to as four-part breathing, 4x4 breathing, or box breathing, square breathing creates focus through visualization. Square breathing is a type of breath-work that can both connect you more deeply with your body and shift your energy. Start by inhaling for four seconds as you visualize one side of a square. Hold for four seconds as you picture the second side of the square. Exhale for four seconds and visualize the third side of the square. Hold for four seconds as you picture the final side of the square.
- What is Nostril Breathing and what is it good for?
Alternate nostril breathing is a breath control technique that is typically done as part of a meditation or yoga practice. As such, it can be quite helpful for reducing anxiety and agitation. Begin by closing off your left nostril as you slowly inhale through the right. The breath through the right nostril is known to increase physical energy to revitalize the body. Then switch, closing off your right nostril while slowly breathing through the left. Breathing through the left can direct energy and oxygen flow into your brain’s right hemisphere, which effectively turns on the body’s parasympathetic nervous system and enables relaxation.
- What is Pranayama Breathing and what is it good for?
Pranayama breathing, or yoga breathing, is the foundation of yoga practice. According to experts, this method can clean 72,000 channels in your body since it clears the respiratory system and cleanses the blood. By using Pranayama, you are essentially sending clean oxygen to your brain and heart. Begin by inhaling through your nose, keeping your mouth closed, until you reach your lung capacity. Hold your breath, keeping some of it back in your throat like you’re going to whisper, and slowly exhale through your nose.
- What is the 4-7-8 Method and what is it good for?
Also referred to as “relaxing breath,” the 4-7-8 method aims to help people get to sleep as well as reduce anxiety. Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, the 4-7-8 method is one of the simplest, most straightforward breathing techniques you can do. Start by inhaling through your nose as you count to four. Next, hold your breath as you count to seven. Finally, exhale through your mouth by making a whooshing sound as you count to eight. Repeat as necessary.
- What is Belly Breathing and what is it good for?
Sometimes referred to as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing, belly breathing is a great technique if you’re only beginning to learn about training your breathing muscles. It’s easy to practice since you can actually feel and see your body inhaling and exhaling, simply by paying attention to how your belly moves. Lie down on the floor or on a bed, and place one hand on your stomach. Notice how your belly rises as you inhale and lowers as you exhale.
- What is the Wim Hof Method and what is it good for?
A vibrant and colorful technique, the Wim Hof Method is based on three pillars: commitment, cold therapy, and breathing. Specifically, the breathing component focuses on techniques that strengthen the immune system, rebalance the nervous system, reduce stress levels, detox the body, and improve your energy level. There are four parts to this technique. First, get comfortable in a meditation posture. Next, take 30 to 40 deep breaths -- inhale through the mouth or nose and exhale unforced through the mouth -- while clearing your mind and remaining conscious of your breath. After the last exhalation, take one more deep breath, exhale, and stop breathing. Hold for as long as possible. Finally, take one big recovery breath to fully fill your lungs, holding for around 15 seconds. You’ve now completed the first cycle. Repeat three to four times as needed.
- What is inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) and what is it good for?
Inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) is typically geared toward those who suffer from emphysema, COPD, bronchitis, and asthma -- individuals who experience difficulty breathing daily due to swelling in their lungs and narrow airways. IMST can be helpful for enhancing physical performance and for improving the function of the respiratory muscles through specific breathing exercises. IMST is effective for improving cardiovascular or aerobic exercises such as cycling or running where endurance is particularly important. We generally use between 10% to 15% of our total lung capacity. With IMST, you can exercise the lungs for increased capacity.
- Does wearing a mask impede my breathing?
Compared to normal breathing, wearing a face mask can decrease the flow of air into your lungs, meaning less oxygen is able to enter your bloodstream. Depending on the type of face mask you wear and the level of filtration it offers, it can affect the oxygen and CO2 levels. If you are an athlete or exercising with a mask on, your body may get less oxygen to convert glucose into energy, meaning that athletes can expect to fatigue faster when exercising with a face mask. It’s better to leave the N95 masks to the medical community and consider a cloth or cotton mask as an athlete, of course, while considering the best practice of maintaining a safe distance from others if you can and for a while longer.
One simple deep breathing exercise:
While breathing is natural, deep breathing is not. It actually takes time to practice -- just like learning any new skill! Many deep breathing exercises take only a few minutes, although you can do them for as long as you want. To start, get comfortable in a chair or lie on your back in bed or on the floor. Breathe in through your nose and count to four, filling your belly with air as you inhale. Hold your breath and count to seven. Gently and with control, push the air out through your mouth and count to eight. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. As you breathe in, notice your belly rising. As you breathe out, feel your belly lower. Take three more deep, fully breaths.
One simple mindful breathing exercise:
The purpose of mindful breathing is to notice, accept, and be aware of your breath. Begin by sitting quietly in a chair or lying in your bed. Notice and relax your body, paying close attention to the touch of the bed or chair and the sensations you feel. Next, bring all of your focus to the physical act of breathing. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your nostrils or throat, or it might be in your chest or abdomen. See if you can feel the sensations of breathing, one breath at a time. Don’t try to do anything else -- just be aware of these physical sensations. It’s okay if your mind begins to wander. Simply acknowledge these thoughts, allow them to be, and gently refocus your awareness back to your breath. Continue for five to seven minutes, building up gradually each day.
At the end of the day, you can strengthen your breathing muscles by lowering the amount of oxygen they need, leaving more oxygen for other muscles! By understanding the benefits of proper breathing and practicing the breathing exercises above, you can train your body to perform at its best -- with or without a face mask!