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How to kick start your motivation during colder months.

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It's that time of year again. Cold, dark mornings and overwhelming urges to indulge in comfort food. Yes it's hibernation time! A time when the motivation to exercise and make healthy choices is often at an all time low.

This is the time of year when you see that monthly direct debit from your bank account and think “Geez I really need to get to the gym”. While at the time you had the best of intentions to hit that gym 4 times a week (and you may have achieved that over the warmer months), several weeks later....as the weather gets colder,  that initial surge of motivation dwindles and you are left with the residual guilt that comes from that monthly reminder that you are wasting your hard earned money on a gym membership that’s gaining some serious cobwebs!

It’s a vicious cycle leading to feelings of failure and guilt.

So why does this happen? Here are a few of the main reasons:

  1. Our expectations and goals are too big. In a nutshell, we are impatient!
  2. We are way too hard on ourselves (see point 1!!)
  3. We let our negative emotions sabotage our attempts at being healthy (e.g., emotional over eating)
  4. We get bored
  5. We focus way too much on what we “should” be doing, and not enough on what we “are” doing.

So how do you get motivated and stay motivated, especially during winter? Here are my top tips to help you kick start your inner health mojo and keep it going!

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  1. Find a virtual soul sister. This is all about selecting a role model. Someone who inspires you, not someone who you compare yourself with. Becoming part of an online #fitspiration community can provide awesome inspiration and motivation, as long you always bring it back to what’s realistic and achievable for you. Unless you are a professional athlete, chef, or some other type of health or fitness guru, it’s unlikely that you would be able to sustain a lifestyle (and body!) that mirrors those who have made a career out of health and fitness. Your aim should always be about being the best version of yourself you can be, not to be a carbon copy of Michelle Bridges or Cameron Diaz.
  1. Get Real. Who wouldn’t love a six-pack right? To stay motivated you really need to keep checking your expectations. Are they realistic? If you aren't sure, do your research or ask an expert. There is little point striving to achieve something that is out of reach. That’s a motivation killer! By setting realistic and achievable goals your self-esteem will thank you and the confidence you gain will drive you forward.
  1. Keep Score. Visit the online app store. There are some fabulous apps around which can help you set realistic goals, and then track your progress. Not measuring your progress is like having a competition without a scoreboard! So for all you runners out there take a look at Couch to 10km (or half marathon), RunKeeper, Nike running. For all round fitness and nutrition look at My FitnessPal, 7-min workout, Fitness Buddy, Lorna Jane App and FitBit.
  1. Get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions. A recent study in Obesity by Teixeira, Silva and colleagues, showed that one of the predictors of sustained health and weight loss is lowering emotional eating. Understanding the emotions and feelings that trigger overeating, or the tendency to stay in bed rather than exercise, is really important, if you want to keep on track with your health and fitness goals. Learn to sit with these feelings rather than react to them. All emotions are transient, so remember that even the most distressing emotions don’t stick around.
  1. Be flexible. To be perfectly healthy you don’t have to be perfect. There is real power in embracing imperfection. You will make a mistake at some point. Whether it be missing a few training sessions, or over eating at a buffet. Accept it and move on. Don’t get stuck beating yourself up, this is another big motivation killer! Learn from it and move on. Simple. Now lets move on…..
  1. Mix it up. When you start skipping too many boot camp sessions, or sneaking in too many unhealthy snacks (and it becomes a pattern as opposed to an occasional boo boo), think about whether you may be getting bored with your routine. You also need to adapt your routine according to the weather. For example, in the cooler months consider trading outdoor bootcamp to the warmth of a gym class, and swap salads for soups and veges. Once boredom begins to set in, motivation has a tendency to slide at the same time, so get to know the early warning signs. Sometimes, something as simple as changing your playlist, or buying some new training gear can give you another boost of motivation just when you need it.
  1. Be Patient! Change takes time, doing too much too soon is not sustainable for long-term change. In fact research has shown that big changes over short periods of time might give you quick results, but they don’t tend to stick around for long. Keep your focus on what you have achieved, rather than what you want to achieve, and always remember to reward your achievements!
  1. Be Present. It’s great to have goals, but they should guide you and not become your sole focus. The only way you will get to where you want to go is by focussing on the here and now. Stop saying “I should”, as this immediately assumes “you won’t” and replace it with “I will”. Adopting a mantra is one way to keeping you focussed. It’s also a way of balancing out that little negative voice that sits in your head waiting for you to fail. Imagine something like “I’m strong” or “just do it” in the voice of Commando. Now if that doesn’t motivate you nothing will! (note: steer clear of negative self deprecating mantra's...they may work for US Marines or Special Forces recruits but generally not for everyone else ;-))

Remember your body has a wonderful way of giving you vital information, which can help you stay on track. Learn to listen to your body. If you are unwell or injured, focus on healing your body. Respecting your body is an important part of having a positive body image and healthy self-esteem. A recent study by Miriam Eisenberg from The George Washington University found that a positive body image leads to positive changes in exercise frequency and habit. In other words, learn to respect your body now by listening to it and giving it what it needs. Don’t wait until you have lost those extra kilos.

And finally…..

Accept that motivation will always come and go. However if you have a range of tools and strategies to kick-start it again, you can stop being a passenger on that familiar motivation roller coaster and start being the driver!

The "What If" Syndrome

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You know that tight knot in the pit of your stomach? The one that comes with sweaty palms, nausea, and an inability to think straight? Say hello to anxiety. The bad news? We all experience it from time to time. The good news? It’s both normal and necessary.

So what IS anxiety?

The word “anxiety” has come to mean a few different things. “Anxiety” and “stress” are often used interchangeably. For example, you may feel “stressed” or “anxious” about a work presentation. For the most part, this is quite normal and the feeling usually passes after the event.

However “anxiety” can also refer to a general feeling of dread or uneasiness that exists for no apparent reason. This can be much more debilitating, impacting on your life in a number of ways. It can impact on your sleep, for example spending what seems like hours tossing and turning, waking continuously or even just waking every morning with that familiar feeling of being hit by a bus. It can also impact on your relationships, causing irritability, low libido, and depression. And of course lets not forget the impact on your physical health; hypertension, headaches, gastro intestinal problems, increased risk of heart attack and weight gain. This kind of anxiety is certainly not your friend.

So what causes Anxiety?

In short, we don’t really know. What we do know is that there are a number of factors that increase a person’s risk of developing anxiety. This includes temperament, personality, whether you have a family history of anxiety (especially a parent), increased life stress and poor stress management skills.

Either way, one of the main things that keep this type of anxiety hanging around in your life is avoidance. This is where your life really starts to suffer. You start avoiding situations or events that make you anxious.

Lets face it; it’s human nature to avoid stuff that makes us uncomfortable right? Well sure, and that’s handy if you are avoiding a cage of tigers, but avoiding situations simply because they make you feel uncomfortable – only serves to fuel the discomfort and anxiety.

And here is why.

For example, your anxiety makes you start avoiding going out with your friends, you start frequently calling in sick to work, or you opt to take the stairs of a 40 story building instead of using the lift. Sure, it’s a neat way of avoiding that immediate discomfort, but it makes it increasingly difficult to push back on the anxiety because you have no way of challenging those irrational thoughts that are telling you that going to that party or taking the lift will be disastrous. In other words, avoidance convinces you that there is no way you could cope in that particular situation.

Alternatively, by not avoiding what makes you anxious, you start to accumulate proof that the situation will not be disastrous, and you can argue against those recurring thoughts that nearly always start with “what if….”

The “What if” Syndrome

Avoidance is a behavioural choice. The reason it doesn’t feel like a choice is because it’s fuelled by some pretty powerful and automatic thoughts. “What if” statements.

Now our minds are designed to wander. They are supposed to be filled with random thoughts. You only need to spend time with a 4-year-old child so see this in action. Although our brains are thankfully very different to the average 4-year- old, the nature and frequency of our thoughts remains just the same.

The difference? It’s all about attention. As a child, our attention span is quite short. As such, a thought only captures our attention for a little while before we move on the next one. We are also much less likely to fear judgement, and the absence of a social filter means that children say what ever is in their mind.

As an adult however, our attention can get “stuck” on certain thoughts. Not only that, but we develop a social filter – so add in an “over thinking” component which is all about anticipating how other’s will “judge” you for that particular thought. Before you know it, previously “random” thoughts become the things that anxiety feeds off.

So how do you get rid of these thoughts?

In short, you can’t. We all have these thoughts, it’s just that some of us pay more to attention to them than others. Those who pay too much attention to them, are much more likely to suffer from debilitating anxiety.

So instead of trying to get rid of these thoughts, consider the following points;

  1. Accept that your mind will wander. Don’t judge it, or fight it. Remember, thoughts are just thoughts!
  2. Learn to tolerate being uncomfortable. Anxiety causes discomfort. If you learn to recognise the feeling and sit with it instead of trying to avoid or distract yourself – the feeling will pass. ALL feelings are transient, even anxiety.
  3. Learn your triggers. What are the themes? Do you worry about a loved one being hurt? Or do you worry that you won’t be able to cope in a particular situation? Think of a positive mantra or “argument” against this fear, which reinforces all the evidence against those fears.
  4. Remove unnecessary stress from your life. Ok that might sound obvious and simple, but ask yourself; Are you always rushing? Running late? Not meeting deadlines? Letting people down? Maybe you need to make a few important changes in your life such as better time management and learning to say “no”!
  5. Learn to relax. People who experience anxiety are generally more highly strung. By learning ways to relax you will give yourself a much better chance at catching the feelings early, and preventing them from escalating by not judging them and accepting them – as opposed to freaking out and making them worse.

Like anything, having realistic goals is important. Trying to completely get rid of anxiety is impossible. By accepting it you will ensure that it comes and goes in much the same way as any other emotion. Whether it sticks around and impacts on you in a negative way is entirely up to you.

Buddah

Training after illness. When is the right time to get back into it?

 

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It seems that nearly everywhere I look at the moment – I’m surrounded by illness, and that’s despite that fact that the flu season has not yet hit!

Of course these types of viruses tend to spread when the weather becomes colder because we tend to stay indoors, in close proximity to others – often with the heating on, as we sneeze cough and splutter……it’s no wonder these viruses quickly spread through classrooms, households and workplaces! As for public transport, well that’s another story!

In the event that you do catch a dreaded cold or flu, any health practitioner will advise that you rest, keep up the fluids and support your immune system to do its thing. If you develop a secondary infection (e.g., bronchitis) then often antibiotics are prescribed. During this time, it’s always a good idea to give the gym a miss while you recover.

Recovery means looking after yourself. Loads of vitamins and minerals (this is a good time to up those green smoothies and juices!), and always remember to look after your tummy, especially if you have been taking antibiotics. Antibiotics kill off all of those wonderful bacteria that enable your digestive system to function effectively. As such, probiotics – Greek yoghurt, miso and kombucha are all good ways to help your digestion recover from an antibiotic onslaught!

Now hitting the pause button from training can be incredibly frustrating. Not only do your symptoms make you feel like crap, but also if exercise is your way of relieving stress, then taking time off from this healthy strategy can send you a bit bonkers.

My advice? Turn your attention inward to your body. If you try heading back to the gym or hitting the pavement for that morning run too soon – your immune system will become stressed, causing your illness to either worsen, or draw out for another week or so! Think of your immune system as a good friend who is asking you for help and support. Would you ignore your friend if they needed your help?

Your goal should be to get better ASAP. For this to happen, you must give your body what it needs.

As you start to recover, a few things are likely to happen. When you start to notice that you are feeling better – you feel relieved and optimistic. You may even have the urge to go for a run or lift some weights. Before you give in to this urge STOP and THINK.

If you are still experiencing chest congestion, or any type of infection for that matter – Don’t do it!

If you are still experiencing a fever – Don’t do it!

If you’re sleep is poor, and/or you have not been eating properly – Don’t do it!

If you have asthma (which is exacerbated by your illness) - Don't do it!

Having said that, if you are experiencing residual symptoms such as a runny nose, dry cough or sore throat (symptoms that are above the chest), your sleep is back to normal and you have been eating well (giving your body fuel to train), then by all means go for it.

However…….

Here is the second that tends to happen as you recover from illness. You feel flat, deflated and a little depressed even. Sound familiar?

This is because as you recover, your attention shifts from an “illness” focus, to a broader “wellness” focus – and with that, your usual health and fitness routine finds its way back onto your agenda. The only thing is, your body is still recovering and so you cannot expect it to bounce back to 100% straight away.

The key to a swift and full recovery is to pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you are tired, sleep, if your muscles feel weak – take the weight right down and do fewer reps.

If you are a runner, start by going for a walk – and maybe a light jog down the hills ONLY if your breathing and muscles tell you they can do it. If you start to jog and your chest hurts, or your legs feel shaky….STOP and walk.

Most importantly don’t give yourself a hard time. When you start training after illness, you often need to pull back and go back to basics. This is not because you have gone “backwards” in your fitness/strength, it’s simply because you are in recovery mode.

If you treat your body with the care and respect it deserves, it will reward you by getting back to full health in no time.

 

 

Why Women need Testosterone

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Testosterone is a sex hormone typically associated with men. However, what many people fail to realize, is that this hormone is also extremely important for women.

So what exactly does Testosterone do for women?

Well, basically the same as it does for men! In women, testosterone is produced by the ovaries. In addition, a small amount is also released by our adrenal glands.

Despite the fact that women produce only one tenth of the testosterone that men produce, this very important hormone is responsible for helping maintain muscle mass, healthy bones, maintain mood and libido, and is also one of the hormones responsible for energy levels in both men and women.

 

What can cause my Testosterone levels to drop?

 The not-so-good-news is that by around the age of 45, women’s levels of both testosterone and oestrogen drop significantly.

Women produce increased amounts of testosterone during puberty, and it tends to peak when we are in our early 20’s. It’s around menopause that our levels drop quite markedly. The associated decrease in libido and sex drive due to age is often exacerbated by oral contraceptives, which suppress all sex hormone production. Yes, that’s right oral contraceptives wreak havoc with our natural hormone production! By the time a woman has reached natural menopause, she may have only half of the level of testosterone she once had.

Low testosterone in women not only leads to increased fatigue and low sex drive, it also tends to change women’s bodies – due to an increase in abdominal weight gain.

Another thing that can dramatically reduce our testosterone levels is cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone released from our adrenal glands. Small amounts of cortisol released during times of stress is an adaptive (and necessary) chemical response to a perceived threat.

However, when cortisol levels are elevated for prolonged periods of time (in the absence of a “real” perceived threat), there are a number of negative physical implications.

 

What does Cortisol do?

 Cortisol’s main role is to modify the way our body uses various fuel sources.

In a nutshell cortisol makes our cells resistant to the effects of insulin, causing our blood sugar levels to increase. Why? Because it’s preparing our body to either fight or flee – both of which require immediate sources of energy.

The result? Our body (pancreas to be specific) releases more and more insulin….while our cells keep crying out for more energy!

Now because there is no immediate threat (no bears or tigers threatening to eat us), we don’t use all that extra energy, and so our body stores the unused energy as visceral fat. Hence, weight gain.

Prolonged elevated levels of cortisol eventually lead to excessive protein breakdown, as it fulfils its task of converting fuel for immediate use. This in turn leads to muscle breakdown (and no one wants that!). Another unpleasant side effect from prolonged elevated levels of cortisol is that it blocks testosterone’s effect on the body.

 

Testosterone and Cortisol

Research has shown that there is an inverse direct relationship between cortisol and testosterone. In other words, when one goes up – the other comes down.

This means that if your are a stressed out person with elevated cortisol, it is highly likely that your testosterone is quite low. Both of which are associated with weight gain. Double whammy!

 

How much Testosterone do I need?

 This really depends on the individual. The key is to maintain an optimum level as too much Testosterone can cause problems such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

The first step is to work out whether your testosterone levels are too low. Basically if you are experiencing any of the following, then it may be an idea to pop along to an Integrative GP, Naturopath or Chinese Medicine Practitioner to have your levels checked. Remember though, these symptoms are non-specific and can be due to a range of other issues.

  • A sudden decrease in energy levels
  • A noticeable decrease in muscle strength and/or endurance
  • A decrease in libido
  • Feeling overly sleepy after a meal (especially dinner)
  • Emotional changes (anxiety and/or depression)
  • An increase in abdominal fat
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Weak bones

 

What are some natural ways I can boost my Testosterone?

 Now for the good news!

There are some natural ways you can help boost your Testosterone and/or protect your current levels.

Exercise.

All forms (cardio and resistance). Exercise improves our body’s sensitivity to insulin and cortisol, so we don’t need as much! This in turn allows our testosterone to remain at an optimal level.

A large number of studies show that the best type of exercise to boost testosterone is compound exercises that require the largest muscle groups. For example squats, deadlifts, lunges, and step-ups.Having said that, certain forms of high-intensity training will also improve testosterone release.

However beware! Overtraining or too many high-intensity workouts per week can lead to increased levels of cortisol. Overtraining can be a releasing factor that stimulates the anterior pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which induces the adrenal cortex to discharge cortisol. So don’t over do it on the exercise!

In fact you most certainly don’t need to be a bodybuilder or triathlete to notice the benefits of exercise on testosterone levels. Even light physical activity 3 times a week can trigger a range of benefits such as lowering blood pressure and improving mood.

Reduce your intake of processed food, and sugar

Basically, anytime you eat foods high in sugar or refined carbs, blood sugar and insulin spike, which causes testosterone and the body’s ability to use fat for energy to drop.

Although refined carbohydrates are a no-no when you want to boost testosterone, vegetables, fruits, and other lower glycaemic foods that allow you to maintain steady, lower blood sugar levels can raise testosterone, while reducing the stress hormone cortisol. For example, high-protein diets that completely lack veggies, fruits, and other carbs can lead to reduced testosterone.

Specific foods to include in your diet that have been found to elevate testosterone include Brazil nuts, oysters and other high-zinc foods, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, and the green leafy veggies like spinach and chard because they are high in magnesium.

Practice meditation

People who meditate regularly have higher testosterone and lower cortisol. In addition, when people who meditate experience extreme stress, they have a more robust hormone release so as to better respond to the threat.

Get plenty of sleep!

For many women with low testosterone, poor sleep is the most important factor. A lack of sleep affects a variety of hormones and chemicals in your body. This, in turn, can have a harmful impact on your testosterone.

Reduce your exposure to oestrogen mimickers!

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Oestrogen mimickers exist in the form of chemicals (xenoestrogens), and foods and plants (phytoestrogens). They mimic the action of oestrogen produced in cells and can alter hormonal activity.

Unfortunately, these imposters are everywhere. Xenoestrogens are in cosmetics, cleaning products (both for your house and your body, such as shampoo), candles and fragrances (yes, even perfume), and pesticides from produce.

Phytoestrogens exist in a number of foods such as legumes (especially soybeans), some cereal brans and beans and flaxseeds, alfalfa sprouts, pinto and lima beans. Unfortunately caffeine is also a culprit!

Here are a few super simple ways to limit your exposure to oestrogen mimickers:

•    Use natural cleaning and personal care products. Choose plant-based cleaners and check labels. Use natural shampoo, conditioner, and avoid anything that has the word “paraben” in it, as in “methylparaben.”

•    Avoid scented candles and air fresheners. Some may contain essential oils and are safe, but beware of the word “fragrance” because it may refer to hormone-altering chemicals.

•    Avoid plastic containers for food and water. Use glass and get a stainless steel water bottle.

•    Eat organic as much as possible to avoid ingesting oestrogenic pesticides and growth hormones.

•    Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables because they contain a compound that helps the body metabolize chemical oestrogens efficiently.

Natural Supplements

Of course eating a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, limiting your intake of processed foods, sugars and alcohol, and increasing your intake of wholegrains, lean protein and healthy fats is your first (and best) line of defence against hormone imbalance.

Combine this with daily meditation, good quality sleep and plenty of water and you have a fairly impressive suit of armour working for you. However, in the event that you feel your body needs more support, consider the following natural supplements.

Zinc

Zinc is important for testosterone production. Research has shown that restricting dietary sources of zinc leads to a significant decrease in testosterone, while zinc supplementation increases itand even protects from exercised-induced reductions in testosterone levels.

The best dietary sources of zinc are protein-rich foods like meats and fish, milk, cheese, beans, and yogurt or kefir made from milk.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D increases levels of testosterone.

It is an essential vitamin required by the body for the absorption of calcium, bone development, immune functioning, and alleviation of inflammation.

Vitamin D is fat soluble, which means you need to eat fat to absorb it.

Natural foods high in vitamin D include fish oils, fatty fish, mushrooms, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Vitamin D is also naturally made by your body when you expose your skin to the sun. In addition, vitamin D is widely added to many foods such as milk and orange juice.

Ginseng

Ginseng is a herbal supplement, produced as a tea, powder or capsule form. It is also sometimes used in energy drinks or nutritional juice supplements.

Ginseng naturally balances out sex hormones in the body through stimulation of the hypothalamus gland.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that is vital to every organ in the body, particularly the heart, muscles and kidneys.

Adequate levels of magnesium are also important for healthy, balanced hormones. Low magnesium throws off the hormone balance for both men and women. Multiple studies show low magnesium in women can cause an imbalance of the androgen hormones, leading to bone loss.

 Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps reduce the enzyme naturally produced by your body that converts testosterone into oestrogen. Vitamin C at higher doses has also been shown to lower cortisol responses to heavy exercise.

About 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C is enough for the average adult.

 

Caution: Always remember to check with your GP or Health practitioner before commencing any supplement program, as natural supplements can interact with a number of prescription and over the counter medications.