Lifestyle Solutions for a Happy Healthy You!

Archive for September 23, 2012

6 Diet Strategies For a Sounder Snooze

6 Diet Strategies For a Sounder Snooze

 

A good night’s sleep is not just an extravagance—it’s essential for  maintaining short and long-term health.

If worry and stress are keeping you up at night, you’ve probably searched  high and low for information on relaxation and meditation techniques to help you  salvage some valuable snooze time.

But counting sheep isn’t the only way to get yourself to sleep—what you eat  right before you go to bed can also play a role. While no particular foods are  known to induce sleep; knowing what, when, and how much to eat and drink can up  your chances for a sound snooze.

Here are six things to keep in mind when preparing midnight  munchies:

1. Keep your pre-bedtime beverages virgin and decaf: If you  want a solid stint of shut-eye, stay away from alcohol and caffeine in the hours preceding your bedtime.  It’s true that alcohol, which is a depressant, can help you fall asleep, but it  won’t help you stay that way.Multiple studies have shown that  alcohol can wreak havoc on a person’s sleep cycles—first by reducing the amount  of time they spend in the REM (rapid-eye movement) stage, and then by causing  them to awaken multiple times throughout the night. On the opposite end of the  spectrum lies caffeine—the everywoman’s go-to stimulant. According to the  American Academy of Sleep Medicine, it can take anywhere from 8 to 14 hours for  the effects of caffeine to fully wear off, depending on how acclimated you are  to it. That’s why it’s a good idea to lay off of common sources of caffeine,  including: coffee, tea and chocolate, at least a few hours before you want to go  to bed.

2. Use your diet to master melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone  produced by the brain that plays a big role in regulating sleep cycles. Light is  the ultimate arbiter of melatonin production. When daylight fades, your body  begins to churn out more of the sleep-inducing chemical. It is also available in  supplement form and is a popular alternative to prescription sleep aids. As a  person ages, they generally become less capable of producing melatonin. Cherries  are one of the few foods that can lay claim to being a natural source of  melatonin and studies done by scientists from the University of Rochester and  the University of Pennsylvania have indicated that consuming tart cherry juice  can facilitate sleep in certain people. But chugging cherry juice isn’t the only  way to naturally up your melatonin production. Certain snacks, including:  bananas, some fish (salmon, tuna and cod), pistachios, peanut butter, chickpeas  and fortified cereals contain significant amounts of the vitamin B6—a key  component for making melatonin.

3. Smaller is better: The Mayo Clinic advises hungry  insomniacs to keep their midnight meals miniscule and low-fat. A big meal can  make you feel bloated and may cause painful heartburn. A small bowl of cereal  with milk, or a banana with a bit of peanut butter will generally be enough to  fight off hunger pangs so you can get some shut-eye.

4. Insufficient nutrients can equal insufficient sleep: A  rumbling tummy and certain vitamin deficiencies can contribute to insomnia.  Research has shown that maintaining a healthy level of vitamin D in particular  is essential for sound slumber. Aim for a nighttime snack that includes:  fortified cereals and dairy products, and eggs.

5. Carbo-loading isn’t just for marathoners: Bread lovers  rejoice—carbs are a key component of sleep-inducing snacks. Consuming  carbohydrates makes it easier for your brain to pick up and convert tryptophan (an  essential amino acid found in a variety of different foods, including: eggs,  cheese, oatmeal, potatoes, bananas and poultry) into serotonin and melatonin,  two hormones that make you more relaxed and drowsy.  When creating your  bedtime snack, it’s probably best to stick with complex carbs, such as: fruits,  oats, whole grain cereals and breads, and veggies.

6. Liquidate your pre-bedtime fluids: In order to prevent  unwanted trips to the bathroom at one o’ clock in the morning, the Mayo Clinic  recommends avoiding drinking too much in the hour or so right before you go to  bed.

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor

AgingCare.com provides online  caregiver support by connecting people caring for elderly parents to other  caregivers, elder care experts, personalized information, and local resources.  AgingCare.com has become the trusted resource for exchanging ideas, sharing  conversations and finding credible information for those seeking elder care  solutions.

 

4 Things That Help Stress (& 5 That Make It Worse)

4 Things That Help Stress (& 5 That Make It Worse)

 

Someone once told me that you get stressed not from  what you’re doing, but  from what you don’t get done. I’m not going to  tell you to just relax and take  time off, because you probably won’t do  that. I will, however, help you  understand why it’s important for you to  potentially make some changes that can  help you learn to deal with and  prevent stress.

For starters, being busy and being stressed are  not the same thing. Stress  is one of the greatest triggers of disease  and imbalanced living in our time  today. It’s something you have to face  and deal with, or it will deal with you.  The best solution is to learn  how to implement daily stress prevention and  nourishing self-care  habits.

The Stress Factor

Stress may start in your head, but your body will show you the signs  of  living with chronic stress. Do you ignore your body when it’s crying  out for  attention, downtime, and care?

There are different levels of stress and often,  we don’t recognize the first  signs of it. Our bodies are designed to  withstand it; it’s one of our most  refined survival tools. The problem  is, we were only designed to be stressed  for short periods of time, not  the way we live today, where stress has become  our lifestyle.

When the body goes into stress mode, our entire  nervous system is affected,  which includes our hormones. This means  when your body experiences stress, it  will stop doing what it normally  does to keep a smooth machine (you) running.  Instead it will put your  system on standby and focus on dealing with the  danger. That means your  adrenals, cortisol, and other hormones start racing.  These all affect  your heart, circulation, metabolism, lungs, and immune system.  Blood  sugar rises to increase fuel for energy and your blood’s clotting   ability increases to be ready for the potential danger of injury. Your  blood  pressure rises to push more blood to your muscles so you can run  faster, and to  the brain so you can think faster (which doesn’t  necessarily mean better).

In the 1930s, a researcher outlined the GAS effect (General Adaption  Syndrome), which is related to stress:

Stage 1: Adrenal Stress This is where you start feeling  the energy slumps, irritability, or  feeling wired. You may also experience  trouble sleeping and have some  digestive discomfort.

Stage 2: Adaption When you learn to adapt, your symptoms  actually lessen. It’s another survival tool.

Stage 3: Adrenal Exhaustion Most people first realize  they are suffering from stress at this  point. Your body no longer has the juice  to keep going, so there’s no  more fuel from which to take. You’re constantly  tired and get colds and  other viruses continuously.

Stage 4: Physical Burnout In this phase, your immune  system breaks down and you start  suffering from chronic conditions, such as  sudden onset of allergies,  depression, hypoglycemia, acid reflux, colitis,  chronic fatigue,  autoimmune diseases and severe disorders such as metabolic  syndrome,  diabetes, MS, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis. Even cancer is   connected to stress and severe emotional trauma, the greatest stressor  of them  all.

Common Signs of Stress:

  • You can’t sleep
  • You have digestive problems, stomach aches, excessive acid, and reflux
  • You have constant headaches and migraines
  • You have tightness or pain in your lower back
  • You have heart palpitations and high blood pressure
  • You get sick all the time, including colds or the flu
  • You have increased abdominal fat you cannot get rid of
  • You feel anxious all the time even when you have down time
  • You’re exhausted and fatigued
  • You cannot relax without feeling guilty

What Adds to Your  Stress?

Lack of Sleep Your body will see lack of sleep as  potential danger lurking. And being tired makes it harder to cope with  problems.

Caffeine It might make you feel on top  of the world after a cup or two, or  what gets you going in the morning but it’s  also what triggers your  stress hormone to rise and what makes you more  exhausted as the day goes  by. It drains your adrenals even faster than stress  alone would.

Dehydration We are mostly water. When  you’re dehydrated, your body will perceive  it as danger that you’re not getting  your first and most basic need  met.

Not Having Food at Regular Meal Times This is another  very basic need for our bodies, but unfortunately,  also the first thing we omit  when we don’t have time. Lack of food is  very much a red flag for your stress  hormones. In body and hormonal  language, no food is potential death.

Stimulating Foods That afternoon cookie or candy bar may  seem to be the only thing  that will get you through the rest of the day. But it  actually triggers  your blood sugar to spike too fast with the added anxiety and  then fall  down, which will cause you to drag your feet and feel fuzzy.

The Stress  Busters

Apart from healing your relationships, getting rid of your nasty  boss who  does not appreciate your efforts, speaking your truth, doing  one thing at a  time, and realizing that you can indeed only be in one  place at a time, there  are many things you can do to reduce stress in  your daily life.

Eat a Balanced Diet You need all the nutritional support  you can get from whole foods,  which means consuming foods that are vegetable  rich, contain good  essential fatty acids, have lean proteins, and also contain  wholegrain, a  good source of glucose for energy. Don’t skip meals, especially   breakfast, and don’t overeat.

Remember that food becomes your blood and your  blood feeds your entire cell  and hormonal system, your brain, your  muscles, and your organs.

Supplement Yourself Though I’m not proposing to stimulate  yourself with supplements,  during a stressful time these can help. Adaptogens  are herbs that  support you in coping and recovering from stress. You still have  to do  what’s required to manage your stressors, though. They are not miracle   cures. The best known adaptogens are Siberian Ginseng and vitamin C.  Other  adaptogens are Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, and Shizandra, which you can  combine or  take separately. For emotional exhaustion. Olive from Bach  Flower Essences is a  good supplement. If you feel really anxious, some  Rescue Remedy can help  too.

Supplements based on the adaptogen mushrooms  are helpful too, and boost the  immune system. Examples of this are  reishi, maitake, and cordyceps.

Have Some Fun Moving and having fun is the next thing you  can do to reduce stress.  Get out in nature, exercise, or do yoga. Also spend  some time being  creative—listen to music and sing along, journal to cope with  your  feelings, and in general do more things that give you some pleasure.

Take good care of your body. Try some lovely  baths, massages, and other  touch therapies. We offer quite a few at the  Path for Life Center.

Learn How to Be This is also called “get out of your  head,” and is better known as  meditation. It can be very difficult to sit still when  you’re stressed,  but the good news is that you don’t have to. Meditation can be  applied  in many ways.

Exercise and movement, stretching and  breathing—there are many ways to get  your body out of the grip of  stress. When your brain can finally learn to let  be, your body can  unravel too.

Remember this when life seems to take  over: actions may be positive or  negative according to the intention  that underlies them, just as a crystal  reflects the colors of its  surroundings. Stress is what you make of it.  It does start in your head.

By Jeanette Bronee, Path for Life via DivineCaroline

At DivineCaroline.com, women  come together to learn from experts in the fields, of health, sustainability,  and culture; to reflect on shared experiences; and to express themselves by  writing and publishing stories about anything that matters to them. Here, real  women publish like real pros. Together, with our staff writers, they’re  discussing all facets of women’s lives from relationships and careers, to travel  and healthy living. So come discover, read, learn, laugh and connect at DivineCaroline.com.

 

 

Feeling Overwhelmed? 5 Tips to Help

Feeling Overwhelmed? 5 Tips to Help

Feeling overwhelmed? You’re not alone! It’s a natural response to the  ever-increasing demands on our time. Even with all of the great technology and  time management tools we have, 24-hours can still seem like not enough time to  get a day’s work done. When you feel you are drowning in a sea of too many  commitments and not enough time to honor them, remember to keep these thoughts  in mind:

1. Everything will be okay. As overwhelming as this moment  may feel, everything will work out eventually. Perhaps the end result will not  be what you hoped or imagined, but you will be okay. What you are feeling now  won’t be how you will always feel. Ask yourself if what you’re fretting over  will be important one year from now, five years from now, or even ten years from  now.

2. Remind yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing. It  can be tempting to procrastinate or want to give up, but think about the bigger  picture. This can help if you tend to get bogged down in the smaller, more  insignificant details. Think about the end result that you want to achieve and  use that as motivation to keep going despite your feelings of uncertainty or  inadequacy in handling certain steps of the process.

3. Believe in yourself. When you’re overwhelmed, it’s easy  to get down on yourself or start to doubt your own abilities. But studies have  shown that thinking positively actually leads to more creativity (meaning your  brain is able to come up with more possibilities and solutions). Instead of  using what little reserves of energy you have concentrating on why you think you  are inadequate, use that energy to believe that you can do it. Visualize your  success when you begin to doubt.

4. Taking a break may be just what you need. When you’re up  against a deadline, it can seem counterproductive to take a break — but if  you’re overwhelmed, it may be just what you need to re-energize yourself and put  a renewed, fresher effort into what you are doing. Sometimes doing something  unrelated to what is your most pressing task can actually help to give you some  perspective and make it better.

5. Ask for help if you need it. A lot of times we feel  overwhelmed because we may have overestimated our ability to handle something.  Let go of your pride and ask for assistance — whether that means extending a  deadline or having someone take over the some of the simpler, yet time consuming  tasks of your project. There’s nothing wrong with delegating; in fact, that’s  the sign of a great leader.

Remember that feeling overwhelmed is normal when you care a lot about the  outcome of something or have a lot on your plate. But try to stay calm, breathe,  and know that giving your best is all that you can do. Keep your resources in  mind and use them to help you manage your projects. Be proactive, take  initiative, and ask for help if you need it.

Image Credit: Helga Weber / Flickr

Erika Oglesby

Erika Oglesby is a freelance writer and wandering nomad currently located in  Grand Rapids, MI. She is dedicated to helping people better their lives through  self-knowledge and alternative therapies —  especially women of color and women  diagnosed with autoimmune diseases. Visit her website at http://www.erikaoglesby.com.

9 Feng Shui Tips for Work

9 Feng Shui Tips for Work

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if you love working in  your office, you will spend more quality time there. And, if work feels like  play, you will be more creative and prosperity will naturally flow.

In Feng Shui, the “Career” area is about doing our life work. It is not about  work as drudgery. It is about doing vibrant work that flows from our deepest  core.Feng Shui offers some simple, practical, and  inexpensive solutions that    will support you in arranging a work space that  inspires creativity,    productivity, and prosperity.

As a Life Coach as well as a Feng Shui Consultant, I work with many people who want to  make a difference in the world. Whether they provide coaching services, sell  health-related products, or are a holistic health practitioner, their vision  encompasses enhancing the health and happiness of others and the planet. This is  why arranging an office that encourages you to spend time there is directly  connected to your vision.

Make sure your office reflects your passion, incorporating objects, words and  symbols representing that represent them and eliminating anything that does  not.

This is not the place for lots of family photos, objects from other hobbies  or past rewards not related to your current work.This is your palette for  creating the work that is uniquely you. Treat it as your sacred space.

1. Clear the clutter: Often home offices are a dumping ground of  all of those bits of things you can’t find a place for. Be diligent and don’t  allow anything in the space that does not support your vision, uplift your  spirit, or is necessary and functional to your current work. If you work at a  company, the shape of your office is broadcasting a message about your  competency. Make sure it is sending the message you want!

2. Get organized: If you are spending half your time looking  for things, you are losing precious time. If you are not good  at this, hire an  professional organizer to do the  initial set-up – budget permitting. If you  can’t pay for it, offer a trade of services to a  friend, colleague or  family member who has good organizing skills.

3 Arrange your desk so that it is in the empowered position:  This is where you can see the door from the desk but are not in direct alignment  with the door. This will make a huge difference in your ability to feel in  control of your destiny. If you can’t move your desk, get a mirror and place it  so that you can see who is coming in the door. These look like rear-view mirrors  and stick right to your monitor and  can be found at auto parts stores.

4. Create an ergonomically comfortable work station: Your  body must feel comfortable working there. Make sure your desk is the appropriate  height, have a comfortable chair, and arrange to have copy machines and other  chemical-emitting machines away from your work station. If your body hurts, or  you are smelling fumes, you are not only harming yourself, but it will create  another aversion to spending time there.

5. Balance open spaces with filled spaces:  This is called balancing the Yin and Yang. You need places for the eye to be engaged as  well as for it to rest. Organize all of the bits of office things such as  staplers, tape, etc. into colorful baskets. The eye will see one object rather  than many, creating a sense of organization, and peacefulness.

6. Make it a bright and happy space: This should be an  active space. You don’t want it to be so calming that you want to take a nap.  Bring in vibrant colors as well as art and objects that make your heart sing.  Replace fluorescent lighting when ever you can. Bring your own floor and/or desk  lamp to work, if possible. It will make a huge difference in your energy level  at the end of the day.

Use baskets to organize all of those “bits of  things”

7. Organize those snake-like computer cords so that you are  not looking at a  jumble of chaos. Radio Shack has cord organizers which allow  you to group them into long, wide tubes. Or roll them up, put a twist-tie on  them and drop them all into an attractive basket.

8. Make it inspiring: Bring in nature and collections that  you love. This is called balancing the Five Elements. Use book shelves to display a  beautiful vase, work of art, a shell, or a few objects from favorite  collections, and intersperse them  with your work books. (Use plants, water  fountains, and nature art; See Feng Shui Chi Enhancers.) Make it beautiful and inspiring  but don’t over do the collections.

9. For Feng Shui believers, arrange objects according to the Bagua  Map. (Click here for your Free Bagua Map.) The Bagua Map locates  the key energetic centers of a home or room. We then bring in environmental affirmations to enhance these areas. When we  strategically place objects that represent what we want to bring into our lives,  we set the intention for the chi or energy to flow in that direction.

We can use a “mini-Bagua” in our office by orienting the “entrance quadrant” from the direction we enter the room. Divide the room into nine equal sections  and put your affirmations (objects, words, artifacts, vision boards)  representing what it is you want to bring into each of these areas of your work  life into these quadrants.

An example of how to use Bagua enhancements in the  office:

  • Use a purple amethyst or favorite crystal in the Wealth area.
  • A water fountain, something made of glass, or a picture of flowing water in  the Career area.
  • Books pertaining to your work in the Knowledge area.
  • A lamp, an award, or a framed article about you or your company in the Fame area.
  • Pages of the book you are writing or projects you are working on in the Creativity area.
  • A green plant in the Health area.
  • A picture of the people you want to partner with in your Partnership area.  Note: when using the Bagua for business, substitute the word Partnerships for the Love and Marriage area.
  • Pictures or objects that represent helpful people in the Helpful People area. This area is also for travel, so don’t  forget all of the exotic places you want to travel to where you will be sharing  your gifts with the world!
  • Desk in the Center area, representing a grounded and balanced work life.  If this is not possible, just make sure the center is open and  clutter-free.

Make it up, make it fun, make it personal to what you want to bring into your  career, and enjoy the productivity that will come from being in an inspiring,  organized, and clutter-free space!

For your free Color Bagua Map click here.

By Erica Sofrina

Erica Sofrina is a  motivational speaker, author and life coach specializing in connecting people to  their spiritual essence. She is also an Internationally recognized Feng Shui  speaker, green living columnist, teacher and the author of the book Small  Changes, Dynamic Results! Feng Shui for the Western World and the Founder of  the West  Coast Academy of Feng Shui.  She is also the founder of Earth Spirit  Adventure Travel which takes people on retreats to powerful energy vortexes such  as Bali and Hawaii to facilitate their deep earth/spirit connection. Find out  more at www.ericasofrina.com

6 Ways Fitness Makes You Successful

6 Ways Fitness Makes You Successful

It’s 8:25 p.m. and you’re working late.  Again. The boss has gone home,  along with most of your coworkers. But  not you: you’re still chained to your  desk, and you’ll probably be there  for a while.

Over the last few months you’ve been cranking through work, though.  You’ve  pulled ahead of your competition, and you figure a significant  promotion — along with a bigger paycheck and more responsibility — is  right around the  corner.

Sure, you feel rundown and you’ve put on some weight. But you just  haven’t  had much time to sleep, much less shop for and prepare healthy  food. And the  prospect of squeezing in a workout when there is so much  to do seems  laughable.

Here’s what you tell yourself: I’ll work out when I clear these  projects. I’ll sleep after I get the promotion. I’ll start eating  better when the kids start school.

It’s a scenario familiar to many of us: too much on our plates, not  enough  hours in the day, and a persistent feeling that any time away  from work means  lost time, money and accomplishments.

Many of us have been brainwashed into thinking that stress and poor  health  are the price of success. We may even see our rundown bodies as  evidence of our  unflagging dedication to the demands of our careers.

New research shows that this zero-sum view of work and working out is   flawed. Far from detracting from your productivity and efficiency,  regular  exercise can make you smarter, and more effective, resilient and successful. And this is true whether your “profession” involves  tackling corporate mergers or taking your kids to soccer  practice.

In addition to helping you look and feel better, time invested in  upgrading  and maintaining your fitness repays itself many times over in  ways that  psychologists, brain experts and other researchers are only  beginning to  understand. And putting even a little effort into upgrading  your health and  fitness can have a surprisingly dramatic effect on your  professional  performance.

Fit for Success

You may have been hired for your brain power. But the condition of  your body  could matter more than you realize, particularly as you climb  the corporate  ranks. A 2005 survey conducted by TheLadders.com  found that 75 percent of top executives considered being physically fit  “critical to career success” and being overweight “a serious career  impediment” to advancement.

It turns out that employees’ salaries are influenced by how closely  their  body weight approximates an “ideal,” which frequently and unfairly  differs by  gender. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2011  found that slender women out-earned their overweight female  colleagues by a  significant margin. Men of moderate weight, meanwhile,  earned more than both  slender men and overweight men.

Being thin, in other words, tends to be an advantage for women and a   disadvantage for men. Being heavy is a disadvantage for both.

It’s unfortunate, to say the least,  that these sorts of prejudices   persist. Until attitudes change, though, it means that if you’re  overweight,  you’ll probably be operating at some level of professional  disadvantage.  Getting into better shape could give your earning power a  direct boost; it  could also benefit your confidence and self-esteem in  ways that amplify your  job performance.

That’s why Phyllis R. Stein, a career counselor from Cambridge,  Mass., with  more than 36 years in the business, says: “Whether you’re  looking for your next  job or trying to reach the next rung on the  corporate ladder, I consider  exercise an essential job-related  activity.”

Stress Case

Cultural biases notwithstanding, success-oriented people have plenty  of good  reasons to work out regularly, says Stein. One of the best:  Exercise improves  energy while decreasing stress and amplifying mental  focus.

Consider cortisol, a steroid hormone that regulates your energy   throughout the day. Under normal conditions, cortisol levels peak early  in  the morning to get you going, and then gradually decline as the day  progresses,  leaving you mellowed out and ready to sleep at bedtime. A  hectic work  environment can throw this natural circadian cycle into  disarray. Commuter  traffic, an irate boss or an impending deadline can  create small cortisol  spikes during your day, each one followed  immediately by a sharp decline in  energy and mood.

Worse, many stressed-out workers turn to junk food, sugary  snacks and caffeinated energy drinks to keep themselves going — all of which  can make the hormonal roller-coaster ride even wilder. Months of this  routine  can exhaust and ultimately kill off some of your brain’s  stress-regulating  neurons, leaving you perpetually listless.

“When you’re chronically stressed, the normal daily cortisol cycle  can  flip,” says Tom Nikkola, CSCS, CISSN, director of nutrition and  weight  management for Life Time Fitness in Chanhassen, Minn. “This can  leave you  barely able to get out of bed in the morning, but too keyed up  to sleep at  night.”

Though it may seem like a minor, inevitable annoyance to the  ambitious  white-collar warrior, sleep deprivation actually comes with a  steep economic  price. One 2004 study estimated that sleep disruption of  various kinds cost  Australia more than $4.5 billion annually in the form  of lost work, reduced  productivity and accidents — 0.8 percent of the  gross domestic product.

Here again, exercise can come to the rescue. “Easy movement, like  walking or  low-key yoga, before bedtime nudges the parasympathetic  nervous system into  gear, diffusing stress and helping to calm you  down,” Nikkola says. Even 10 to  20 minutes of stretching before hitting  the sack, for instance, could keep you  from tossing and turning,  resulting in an additional hour of slumber. And when  you’re sleeping  better at night, you’re also less likely to reach for the junk  food and  energy drinks that can wreak havoc with your daily energy cycle.

If you’re willing to kick your intensity up a notch to the “moderate”  level  (the equivalent of a brisk walk or anything that gets your heart  pumping), you  get other benefits, including improved mental focus. A  2008 study found that 45  to 60 minutes of a midday group exercise class  improved the mood, performance  and concentration of white-collar  workers.

“The clear and positive benefits of exercising only accrue on the  days when  it happens,” notes the study’s lead researcher, Jim McKenna,  PhD, professor of  physical activity and health at Leeds Metropolitan  University in the United  Kingdom. A second study, published in 2010 in  the journal Pain Med,  showed that just 10 minutes of exercise produced measurable reductions in  anxiety and depression.

So rather than skip that yoga class when you’re facing a day loaded  with  challenges, it’s probably wise to make it an even higher priority.  “You should  treat your workout like it’s the most important meeting you  have all week,” Nikkola says.

Reclaim Your  Brain

“When you’re stressed, your brain busies itself trying to keep you  safe from  threat — real or imagined,” says Sascha du Lac, PhD, associate  professor of  neurobiology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies  in San Diego.  Self-preserving thoughts can monopolize the brain space  that could otherwise be  used for scanning your environment, accessing  memories and relating to other  people.

Fortunately, physical exercise can help heal and hone the very same mental  abilities that are sabotaged by everyday stressors.

Picture yourself hiking or running on a trail. Though you’re not  conscious  of it, this relatively simple, pleasurable activity requires  you to make  hundreds of split-second choices — about foot placement,  balance and  navigation, for example — which can improve your capacity to  think, feel and  relate to others.

“The cerebellum, the area of the brain traditionally associated  mainly with  movement, is also involved with higher functioning, like  planning, socializing,  abstract thought — even creativity and emotional  intelligence,” explains  Elizabeth Beringer, director of the Feldenkrais  Institute of San Diego and  editor of Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe  Feldenkrais (North Atlantic Books, 2010).

“When you exercise regularly, your attention can broaden and shift at  will,” adds du Lac, “away from fearful, self-preserving thoughts and  onto what’s  actually going on around you: the responses of your  coworkers, your own  insights and ideas, the specific demands of the task  at hand.”

Psychological research has also shown that, for many people, a  regular  exercise routine is a “keystone” habit: a behavior that sets off  a chain  reaction of seemingly unrelated positive behavioral changes. In  a 2006 study  published in The British Journal of Health Psychology,  researchers  found that sedentary people placed on an exercise program  voluntarily began  smoking less, drinking fewer alcoholic and caffeinated  drinks, and eating  healthier. They also did more household chores, used  their credit cards less  often, and kept up more diligently with study  and work obligations. Everything  in their lives that required  self-discipline, in other words, became easier — almost by magic.

“Regular exercise builds self-regulatory resources,” explains Todd   Heatherton, PhD, professor of psychology and brain sciences at Dartmouth   College and an expert in habitual behavior and addiction. This ability  to  self-regulate, or exert willpower, say researchers, may be the most  significant  key to success in any work environment — it’s what  allows you to stick  to a task when others give up, and to overcome  obstacles that at first seem  insurmountable.

Small Changes, Real  Results

Improvements in mood, energy and productivity aren’t affected   significantly by the type of exercise you choose, so don’t fret too much   about whether you should be getting your work-enhancing boost from  yoga, a Zumba class or a run around the lake. The key is to do  something you enjoy — and maybe something a little novel as well.

“Learning is inherently enjoyable to humans,” says Beringer. “It  lights up  pleasure centers in the brain.” So mix things up, and try to  include activities  that build in some variety and progression, like team  sports, dance or martial  arts.

Also keep in mind that if your primary fitness goal is to boost your  work  performance, you can begin with a relatively small commitment of  time. “Researchers believe that 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous  exercise, a few  times a week, is all you need to see positive  adaptations in the brain,” says  du Lac. “You can do that all at once or  in small segments throughout your  day.”

And when you can’t spare even that much time and effort, just use  your head. “Imaginary movement lights up the same areas in the brain  that real movement  does,” says du Lac. Clinical studies show that  athletes who visualize an  unfamiliar exercise see gains in strength and  power similar to those who  actually practice the movement.

So when work is pushing you to the limit, spend a few minutes  daydreaming  about a jog down the beach, complete with the feeling of wet  sand beneath your  feet and the smells and sounds of the ocean. The  process could confer at least  some of the same benefits of a real  workout.

Of course, you’ll get the most significant advantages from moving  your  entire body on a regular basis. And now that you know the extent to  which your  professional future depends on it, you may find yourself  more motivated to do  just that.

The Efficient  Workout

If driving to and from the gym for an exercise class just isn’t in  the  cards, try these easy ways to get in a fat-burning, muscle-building  workout on  a busy day:

  • Hop in the saddle. Consider bike commuting. You get  to  skip the stress-filled commute, burn some calories, reduce your  carbon  footprint and save gas money all at the same time. Bonus: It’s  tough to flake  out on your after-work exercise routine when the bike is  your only way  home.
  • Grab a bell. A kettlebell, that is. Pick up a hefty  one at  your local sporting-goods store and stash it underneath your  desk at work. In  10 minutes, you can do a full-body, low-impact workout  that puts the treadmill  to shame.
  • Climb a skyscraper. Racing up the service stairs of  tall  city buildings is becoming an increasingly popular urban sport —  in large part  because it’s tough. If you work in a high-rise, lace on  your running shoes, hit  the stairs and scamper up 10 or more flights as  fast as you can. Take the  elevator back down (for recovery), if you’d  like, and repeat two to four more  times.
  • Make like a monkey. Mount a chin-up bar in the  doorway to  your office, and do a single pull-up every time you go in or  out. Can’t do a  pull-up yet? Stick with the self-assisted, jump-and-pull  variety until you can,  which will be soon, because you’ll net dozens of  reps per day. To avoid angry  memos from the boss, get a bar that mounts  over the door jamb — not one that  requires screws and a drill.

Fitness Tips for the  Time-Starved

“Keeping active doesn’t have to mean taking up residence at the gym,”  says  Elizabeth Beringer, director of the Feldenkrais Institute of San  Diego and  editor of Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe Feldenkrais (North  Atlantic Books, 2010). “The trick is to make movement a natural  part of  your day rather than another thing you have to make time for.”

  • Sound the alarm. “Staring at a computer screen can  pull  your attention away from your body. People often sit motionless in  front of  them for hours on end, and only later realize they’re in pain.”  So instead of  waiting till your lower back is begging for mercy, set an  alarm that tells you  to get up and stretch every 20 minutes or so.  These micro-breaks will help  stave off aches and improve your focus.
  • Reach out. Ergonomic experts will tell you to set  up your  workstation so that everything you need is right in front of  you. Beringer  suggests going the opposite route: “Extending your arms is  extremely  pleasurable, and we almost can’t do it enough,” she says. “So  put some things  you regularly need — important documents, a file  cabinet, the phone — an arm’s  reach away so that you have to extend and  shift in your chair every so  often.”
  • Rise up. Every hour or so, get out of your chair.  Go  refill your water bottle. Do some deep lunges and a few pushups.  Schedule a  walking meeting. Make a point of getting vertical several  times throughout your  day. You can also experiment with working at a  counter or other standing-height  surface.
  • Go mobile. “Mobile devices like cell phones were designed  to help us be more mobile,” says Beringer. “But few people take full  advantage of  that.” So don’t hunker down at your desk during a cell-phone call  when  you could be walking around the room or climbing stairs. Attending to   your body’s need for movement helps you think, interact and perform your  job  better.

By , Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness  publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic  lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in  favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com   to learn more and to sign  up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe  to the print or digital version.

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