So we’ve established that sleep is a vital part to our health, but maybe you're thinking, that information is all good and well, but it doesn't change the fact that I still have a hard time falling asleep; or I still wake up a ton in the middle of the night; or I’m not getting nearly enough sleep and I'm exhausted. If those thoughts are crossing your mind, then this post is for you! We’re going to go through a variety of ways that you can get more, and better, sleep in order to reap the benefits that it provides (as well as avoid the risks that go along with not getting enough of it). It turns out there are a lot of choices we make during the day that impact the rest we get at night, so if we can address those, we can hopefully make some positive changes. Preparation and intention matter in the realm of health and wellness, and sleep is no exception. So let’s dive into some ways we can set ourselves up for a successful night’s sleep.
Because this is our “Exercise AND” series, a significant place to start when figuring out how to get more sleep is to consider how exercise and sleep are intertwined. Most significantly they are connected by the body’s core temperature. Exercise is going to increase the body’s temperature, which then increases alertness and communicates to the body’s internal clock that it is time to be awake. When the body slowly lowers back to its normal temperature range, it is triggered to feel drowsy, which of course is intended to help you fall asleep. When timed out right, then, exercise can help you fall asleep more quickly and hopefully give you a better night’s sleep.
Another connection between the two are those feel-good hormones - endorphins. Among their many physiological functions, endorphins create a level of activity in the brain that can help keep you awake. Then, about an hour or two after exercising, the endorphins will clear out and give the brain a chance to wind down into a more restful state. How often do you have trouble falling asleep because your mind is racing with thoughts? Perhaps exercising can help.
One thing to note, though, is that there is still some debate on what time of day, and what duration, is best to exercise in order to best impact your sleep. There are arguments that say it doesn’t matter when, as long as you do. But considering the impacts that exercise can have on the body, it can very well affect your sleep patterns. This is where it is important to listen to your body. Everyone responds a little differently, so if you are having some trouble sleeping, try to work out at different times of the day to experiment and figure out when might be the best time for you. If working out in the morning makes you crash by mid-afternoon, try an afternoon workout to see if that crash falls more in line with your bedtime. Or if you work out in the evening and feel wired by the time you lay in bed, try doing an earlier workout to see if you feel the same. It might take a little time to find your best rhythm, but doing so can help maximize the quality of sleep you get.
As for duration, studies have shown that even 10-30 minutes of intentional movement a day can make a difference in your sleep quality. Like we recommend in general here at Worth the Work Fitness, consistency is what matters. So find an exercise routine that you enjoy so you are more prone to stick with it.
Just like you budget your money, I’d encourage you to budget your time (in all areas of life, but especially with sleep). By going to bed and waking up around the same time each day, you can set your biological clock and train your body to expect when it needs sleep. So, if you have to wake up by a certain time, calculate 7-9 hours back to determine what time you need to try to go to sleep by, and then stick to it. Do your best to not compromise those hours for more work, studying, socializing, or even exercising. And adults should also try to avoid long naps during the day, especially after 3 p.m. Setting up a sleep schedule might take some trial and error, so approach it with intention to find out what your body needs.
So you set a bedtime for yourself, and stick to it, only to find yourself lying awake in bed because you’re not exactly tired yet; or your mind is still racing with thoughts. To avoid this dilemma, especially if you are trying to adjust to a new sleep schedule, it’s important to take some time to prepare yourself for your entrance into dreamland. By establishing a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine, you can train your body and mind to wind down and enter a better state of calm as you get ready for bed. I’d suggest giving yourself anywhere between 20-60 minutes to wind down for the night. Fill that time with relaxing activities like taking a bath, reading instead of scrolling, listening to calming music, doing some restorative stretching, or practicing meditation. Dimming your lights also cues your body to start melatonin production. But probably the most significant tip we can give: PUT AWAY ELECTRONICS. I say that in all caps, because I often need that reminder myself. I know I’ve given the excuse before that scrolling on my phone helps me wind down, but biologically speaking, it actually keeps us wound up. Both the mental stimulation and the blue light (which decreases melatonin production) can be major blockers for good rest. So it’s best to avoid using your phone, tablet, or television 30-60 minutes before bed.
If you follow a soothing bedtime routine, and you still end up lying awake in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing to briefly re-stimulate that rest. Just be careful to avoid anything that will busy the mind. If you are still struggling beyond that, look into taking a melatonin supplement to help support your sleep (just consult with your doctor first to determine if this will be a good approach for you).
Tranquil Sleep Environment
It’s not just HOW you go to sleep that matters, it’s also WHERE you sleep. If your bedroom does not foster a place of calm and rest, odds are you are going to have a harder time sleeping. For starters, make sure your mattress is supportive and comfortable for you, and use bedding that feels nice to the touch and keeps you at a comfortable temperature (this varies from person to person, but most people sleep better at a cooler temperature - around 65 degrees). You also want to eliminate as many distractions as possible. Block light with heavier curtains, an eye mask, or simply by turning off lights in your home that shine into your bedroom. Also, if sounds tend to wake you up or keep you awake, drown out noise with a white noise machine, fan, or even ear plugs if you find them comfortable. One more thing you can do is have calming scents in your room, like lavender, which is commonly known for its calm inducing properties. You can diffuse essential oils, or have a spray that you put on your pillow each night.
Healthy Daily Habits
Apart from exercise, there are many other healthy habits that you can practice throughout your day (or avoid) that will support your sleep at night. Getting exposure to sunlight is a key contributor to your circadian rhythm, which ultimately impacts your quality of sleep, so get outside for some sunshine during the day when you can. Cutting down on caffeine, especially in the afternoon and evening, will prevent stimulating the brain too late in the day. (Note: As much as you might love coffee, be aware of how much you are relying on it for energy. If you need an entire pot to make it through the day, try cutting back and implementing some of these other recommended tactics to improve your sleep). Try to eat dinner early enough in the evening so that you are done digesting your food by the time you’re ready for bed. And if you must, keep snacks before bed on the lighter side. Reduce your alcohol consumption, especially before bed, to avoid sleep disruptions. While alcohol might make it easier for you to fall asleep, it’s not always the best at keeping you asleep. Similarly, nicotine stimulates the body in a way that disrupts sleep. Smoking is actually correlated with numerous sleeping problems, among many other health issues, so ditching that habit should be a top priority for your sleep and your health.
So all in all, between exercise and practicing other healthy daily habits, setting a sleep schedule, establishing a bedtime routine, and giving yourself a tranquil sleep environment, there are many things you can do to get more and better sleep at night. While there are a lot of tips mentioned here, just like we do with everything in Worth the Work Fitness, we want to help you make small, sustainable changes that lead to a lasting impact. So you don’t have to change everything all at once. Just pick one or two new habits to start with and see how they impact your sleep - both in quality AND quantity.
One final, and significant, thing to note: the topic of sleep is a big one, and it’s too broad to cover everything about it in one blog post. Things like having newborns or young children, being a shift worker, or having a legitimate sleep disorder can all significantly impact all of the approaches mentioned here. So for more information, check out the Sleep Foundation (which is where the majority of this information came from anyways!). And if you try to implement some of these methods and you still have trouble sleeping, don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor to explore some options. Like all of the aspects of health, it all comes down to what works best for YOU. So be sure to give your sleep, and yourself, the attention and care that you need.
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Written by Kelly Pruim
So far in our “Exercise AND” series we’ve covered some of the biggest aspects that make up our overall health, including nutrition, hydration, stress management, and social support. All of these aspects - and more - are intertwined and work together as building blocks for our health as a whole. While it can be tempting to focus on just one aspect (like exercise), it’s important to not overemphasize some areas, while neglecting others. One area that is commonly neglected is the one that we are covering today: SLEEP. I think we all know that sleep is important. But do we treat it like it is as essential to our health as all of the other aspects? Well, we think it is so essential that we are going to take two posts to cover this topic. Today we’ll be chatting about exactly why sleep is so significant, as well as the risks of poor sleep. Then next week we’ll be offering tips on how to get better sleep. Let’s dive in!
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SLEEP
No matter your age, sleep is an absolute essential to survival. It’s a natural function our body knows it needs. Without it, our bodies will creep into dysfunction. While it is true that babies, children, and even teenagers need more sleep to aid their growth and development, adults still need a quality amount of sleep for their own healthy functioning (usually between 7-9 hours a night). We never outgrow our need for it. Even though it can seem “unproductive” because we’re not actively doing anything, the brain and body are at work to keep all of the body’s systems effectively functioning. Here are just a few ways it does that through the many phases of sleep:
RISKS OF POOR SLEEP OR SLEEP DEPRIVATION
It’s obvious that not getting enough sleep leaves us feeling tired during the day, but the more sleep deprivation becomes a chronic concern, the more your physical and mental health are negatively impacted. Here’s how:
But maybe getting adequate sleep is difficult for you for one reason or another. We’ll be helping you out with that next week when we cover how to get better sleep. See you then!
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Written by Kelly Pruim
I’m a firm believer that we are not meant to go through life alone. As humans, we are wired for community. And while how we engage in community can look different for our varying personalities, the universal deep rooted need for it is very real. That’s why it is no surprise that social support plays a significant role in our health and well-being - even when it comes to exercise. But these aren’t the only factors that make up our health. We’ve been covering a variety of the components of living a healthy life in our “Exercise AND” series, and so far we’ve covered nutrition, hydration, and stress management. Today we’re diving into what social support looks like in the context of health, the benefits of having social support on your health journey, and how to better establish your support system so you can keep on living your healthiest life possible.
FORMS OF SOCIAL SUPPORT
When it comes to exercise, a support system and community can take a variety of forms. And the more variations of it you have, the greater support you are going to get. Your social support could look like:
There are all kinds of roles that can be filled in your social support system.
BENEFITS OF SOCIAL SUPPORT IN FITNESS
So let’s say you’ve got one or two of these forms of support. What do they actually do for you? Well, whether you realize it or not, these relationships are actually providing you with a variety of benefits.
The desire for social support, community, and accountability is often what leads so many people to flock to and love group fitness classes. But what happens when going to the gym just doesn’t work for your life? Or if it just doesn’t fit your personality? Working out at home is convenient, but it’s hard to stick with it when you don’t have the face to face interaction that offers a great level of accountability and support. So through Worth the Work Fitness, we try to create ways to have it while still at home. From having your own personal trainer, coach, and accountabilibuddy, to being a part of a Facebook community to connect with others online, you can still experience all of these benefits from the comfort of your home.
TIPS FOR BUILDING SOCIAL SUPPORT
Now, it’s one thing to identify social support, and it’s another thing to tend to and nourish it. Here are some ways that you can find a supportive community, and be a good fitness pal:
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Written by Kelly Pruim
In a year like 2020, I think it can go without saying that we are all familiar with stress in some way. The number of people who experience stress on a daily basis only seems to be getting higher, and as a result, their health is even more compromised. That is why stress management is such a crucial part of living a wholly healthy life (along with factors like exercise, nutrition, hydration, sleep, social support, stretching, and rest - all of which we are covering in this current blog series). So today we are breaking down how exactly stress affects our bodies, and how exercise, specifically, can help.
First things first, it’s important to know that at its core, stress is not fully a bad thing. Our bodies have been designed to utilize stress in emergency situations for quick responses. By releasing stress hormones (i.e. cortisol and adrenaline) the body is triggered to respond in a variety of ways, such as increasing your heart and breathing rate to get a deeper intake of oxygen; constricting the blood vessels to send more oxygen to the muscles for more strength to take action; producing more blood sugar to give you more energy to respond; and tensing up your muscles to prevent injury .
Stress becomes a concern, though, when it does not dissipate. If we continuously feel stress on a day to day basis, or if we are experiencing stress for long periods of time (a.k.a. chronic stress), it starts to negatively affect our bodies, and puts our health at risk. An article on everydayhealth.com entitled “The United States of Stress 2019” explains it well:
When stress doesn’t let up and is paired with the feeling that we have little to no control over the circumstances that are creating it, that’s called chronic stress. Over and over again, the research points to one key fact: Prolonged or unremitting stress exacts a stunningly toxic toll on the body, brain, mind, and soul. Its ongoing assault wears us down, measurably aging — or “weathering” — our insides, for some of us much more than others."
So before we get into why exercise and stress management go hand in hand, let’s chat first about how exactly this kind of negative stress plays out in our bodies.
EFFECTS OF STRESS
Stress certainly affects us mentally and emotionally, but it also does a lot more to us physically than we might realize. Here are a handful of ways that chronic stress can manifest itself:
It certainly doesn’t help that the worry or discomfort that any of these physical symptoms may raise in us can put us on a cycle of creating even more stress. That is ultimately why chronic stress can be so concerning. And it is why finding healthy ways to manage stress is so incredibly important. There are a variety of approaches to stress relief, and the most successful tactics for each person vary, but a major one that we are going to focus on today is exercise.
HOW EXERCISE HELPS
The interesting thing about exercise is that it essentially imitates the effects of stress on your body, and so it helps your body work through them in an effective way. And considering the many connections the brain has with the body, the better you can make your body feel, the better your mind will feel. Here are some tangible ways that exercise can do that:
EXERCISE AS STRESS MANAGEMENT
Like we said, there are so many ways that you can practice self care and work to manage the stress in your life, but because of the benefits listed above, and because we’re about the kind of work that’s worth it around here, here are some tips for stress management that solely revolve around incorporating exercise more into your weekly routine.
The bad news is, stress is sometimes inevitable. Add in a worldwide pandemic and a divisive election season and it might feel downright unavoidable. But the good news is, there are so many ways that you can work to combat and overcome it. Exercise is just one of them. If that’s a route you are wanting to try to help you relieve your own stress, reach out to us and we’d love to chat about ways we can help you on your fitness journey. And always remember: YOU’RE WORTH IT.
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Written by Kelly Pruim
As we established in the first post of our ‘Exercise AND’ series, there is more to living a healthy life than just exercise. While it’s absolutely a significant part of it, it’s not the only part. Things like nutrition, hydration, sleep, self care/stress management, social support, stretching, and rest all together are some of the big areas that can make up our overall health. It’s important to not neglect any of these areas, but it can also feel daunting to take it all on at once. At Worth the Work Fitness, we’re all about making small, sustainable changes for our health and wellness so we can build habits that stick, so we’re spending time breaking down each of these big areas to remind you of their significance, and guide you in ways that you can put in the work to live a well-rounded, healthy life. Today we are focusing on hydration. Strap in folks - we’ve got a lot of great science-y information for you, as well as some great tips for staying more hydrated.
Importance of Hydration
Considering our bodies are made up of approximately 60% water, water is the most important thing for us to intake in order to not just thrive, but to function (apart from oxygen, of course). We have to intake it, because we have to replenish the fluids we constantly lose on a day to day basis through things like skin evaporation, breathing, urine, and stool. And if you are exercising regularly, you are losing even more. When we work out, our bodies shed water at an even quicker pace because of our faster, deeper breathing and increased sweat production. Therefore, when we are engaging in consistent physical activity, it’s all the more important to replenish ourselves with both nutrition AND hydration. Here’s why:
Does that seem like enough reasons to consume an adequate amount of water? And that's not even covering all of the other not-so-fun symptoms that result from dehydration such as dizziness, headaches, rapid heart rate, and more. It’s obvious from this that whether we keep a healthy level of hydration or not, we can severely impact our overall well being one way or another, especially when we are regularly exercising.
Exercise and Water
As mentioned above, your body loses more water than usual when you exercise, and just how much you lose is dependent on a few things. Your sweat rate, the heat and humidity of your workout environment, what clothes you are wearing, and how intense or how long you are exercising can all impact how much you sweat, and therefore how much water your body is losing. And if your body uses up its store of water it will be unable to cool itself through sweat, and could lead to dehydration and overheating. So if you are engaging in regular, strenuous, physical activity without increasing your fluid intake, you’re headed towards trouble. Therefore it is important to prepare your body by hydrating an hour or two before a workout, maintaining levels by drinking water every 10-20 minutes (or as needed) throughout a workout, and replenishing after a workout.
How Much to Drink
There are a lot of varied recommendations on what is the right amount of water to consume in a day, so it may be best to speak to your doctor to determine exactly how much is right for you, but a good rule of thumb is to cut your weight in half to determine how many ounces you should drink. For example, if you are 180 lbs, you should aim to drink at least 90 oz of water a day. Then if you exercise or exert yourself physically, you should add onto that amount to replenish what you likely lost. Other factors should also be taken into consideration, such as how heavily you sweat, if you are on any medications that act as diuretics, or if you have any medical conditions that require higher levels of hydration such as diabetes, heart disease, or cystic fibrosis.
Also, probably the best indicator of if you are getting enough to drink is paying attention to your urine. Dark, yellow color, and often more odored urine signifies dehydration, while pale, clear, and odorless urine means you’re doing well.
What To Drink
There are of course a variety of ways to consume fluids for hydration, but it is imperative to realize that not all varieties are the same. We’ve talked a lot about water, because it is hands down the best thing for you to drink in order to stay hydrated, and obtain the many benefits listed above. While we’re not going to tell you to swear off any particular drinks, we at least want you to be informed about the effects some can have on your body so that you make the best decision for you.
In some cases, it can be beneficial to hydrate after a workout with a sports drink to replace electrolytes that are also lost through sweat. This is especially beneficial for those who are doing high intensity exercise in very hot weather. But this is a category of fluids that should still be handled with caution as many sports drinks are high in calories because of added sugar or high levels of sodium. Some also contain caffeine, which has a diuretic effect on the body and can lead you to urinate more, which defeats the purpose of trying to hydrate. So pay attention to nutrition labels, serving sizes, and ingredients if you choose to hydrate with these kinds of drinks.
We also encourage you to be weary that fruit juices or sugary drinks, like soda, can be hard on your stomach - especially if you are dehydrated. And it’s also important to recognize that alcohol consumption can interfere with muscle recovery from exercise and negatively affect a variety of aspects of your performance, so be mindful of these things when choosing what to pair with your meals. Or, if you’d like to indulge yourself, be sure you’ve gotten enough water in throughout your day and consider these drinks as a treat, not a form of hydration.
Tips for Drinking More
So with this information overload of all things hydration and water, let’s make this a bit more practical. Because it goes beyond just knowing WHY hydration is important. It’s also a matter of making proper water consumption a habit in your life, which is where many people tend to struggle. Contrary to popular belief, simply feeling thirsty is not the best indicator for your need for water, because typically that's a sign that you are already dehydrated, so don't wait around just to drink when you feel thirsty. You want to be proactive about staying hydrated all throughout the day, so here are a few tips to help you do just that:
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Written by Kelly Pruim
If I’m being completely honest, my main motivation to exercise used to be so I could eat whatever I wanted without feeling guilty. I believed the “logic” that if I put in more effort at the gym, then I wouldn’t have to change my eating habits, and could enjoy a nice big bowl of ice cream whenever I wanted without any shame. Anyone else follow that same line of thinking?
While there are a variety of unhealthy perspectives laced in that logic that we can perhaps unpack another day, today I want to specifically discuss why focusing only on exercise, and trying to forgo nutrition, isn’t going to help you achieve your physical goals.
First and foremost, I think it’s significant to point out what feels like the obvious, but is often overlooked: there are multiple aspects of living a healthy life. Exercise is an important part of it. But it is not the only part. Exercise, nutrition, hydration, sleep, self care/stress management, social support, stretching, and rest all together make up our overall health. So when we overvalue just one or two aspects, we could still be living unhealthily if the rest are left by the wayside. For example, you could work out consistently every single day of the week, but still be unhealthy if all you eat is innutritious junk. Or you could be eating whole, real foods every meal of the day, but if you are overwhelmed with stress and only getting 4 hours of sleep a night, would you really consider yourself at your peak level of health?
Each of these aspects takes ongoing effort and attention, which can feel daunting to a lot of us. So we can try to focus on just one aspect at a time, and ignore the rest, because that’s all we can manage. But then we risk the others suffering. However, jumping headfirst into changing every single one of these areas all at once is not typically the most sustainable approach either. We’re all about small steps in order to make sustainable changes to work towards the healthiest versions of ourselves. So we are going to spend the next few weeks talking about each of these aspects of health to help encourage us all to do so.
Now, exercise on its own has incredible benefits. It’s imperative for keeping your body functioning well, giving you stamina, strength, flexibility, and more. But in order to effectively exercise, our body also needs to be fueled well - and that’s where nutrition comes in. In fact, nutrition is often considered to be far more significant for our health (and for weight loss) than exercise even is.
This example adapted from verywellfit.com spells it out best: Let’s say Susan exercises consistently with 3-4 weight training sessions and 3-4 cardio workouts per week, totaling a max of 8 sessions per week. That gives her 8 opportunities to make a positive change in her body through exercise in a week. Now Susan also eats 3 meals per day, meaning she has 21 opportunities per week to directly and positively impact her body through nutrition. You don’t have to be a mathematician to recognize that 21 opportunities is going to hold more weight than 8. It’s not to say that those 8 don’t matter, but it is important to accept that our nutrition has far more influence on our overall well-being than some give it credit for.
A common misconception is that exercise and nutrition can be a trade off. For example, if I went for a 20 minute run today then I earned the pizza I plan to have for dinner tonight. Or, since I exercised every weekday this week, I earned a “cheat day” over the weekend on my nutrition. It all balances out, right? But the truth is, in general the calories we burn in a workout usually do not zero out the calories we consume with a not-so-good diet, especially because it’s far easier to consume a large number of calories very quickly, and much harder to “burn them off.”
Our nutrition and exercise habits have a much more intimate relationship beyond using each other as an excuse to negate the other. They go hand in hand in a few different ways.
Food as Fuel
Having a well balanced approach to nutrition is what can help you get the calories and nutrients your body needs to fuel and replenish throughout your daily activities (including exercise). The nutrients we take in help determine the kind of output we are able to give. And if we are exercising regularly, it makes it all the more important that we are fueling ourselves well so we can sustain our routine. A good way to look at it is to eat to support your training, because if you don’t, you risk lower levels of energy, performance, and motivation for your workout. And if you can’t put as much into the output of your calories, then it debunks the calories in vs. calories out cycle even further because you aren’t effectively burning as much. In order to get the most out of your workouts, you need to feed your body the kind of foods that will help you endure and get stronger.
Food as Replenishment
Just like we need food to prepare for exercising, we also need food to recover from it. We use up a lot of our bodies’ resources when we exercise, so it is important to replenish them so we can get the most benefit from the work we put in. Also, when we exercise, our brain triggers a signal in our bodies that tells them to eat more in order to recover - so really you are going to find a way to replenish yourself one way or another. But if you end up replenishing with a stop at the first drive-thru you see on your way home from the gym, you are going to consume more calories than necessary, which will lead to weight gain. You want to refuel with nutrient dense food, otherwise you could end up feeling constantly hungry, leading you to consume even more excess calories.
Food as Health
Ultimately, what we eat affects our everyday health - whether we exercise or not. It affects how we feel today, tomorrow, and the rest of our lives. Think of how you feel after you eat a more-than-indulgent meal full of processed food. It can lead to bloating, sluggishness, and overall digestive issues that in some way or another affect your day-to-day well being. Not to mention how regularly engaging with a poor diet is linked with major health risks that lead to illnesses like heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer - no matter if you are at a healthy weight or not. On the flip side, think of how you feel after eating a nutritious meal - possibly more energized, more clear-headed, more stabilized hunger levels, more stabilized mood, and more. When you choose smarter, more nutritious foods for your body (especially combined with physical activity) you can more attainably reach and maintain a healthy weight, protect yourself from those risky health problems, and increase your overall health.
It’s a shame how many people can overemphasize the importance of exercise, while underemphasizing the importance of good nutrition. Doing so can lead to an unhealthy relationship with both. But instead, we want to help people be freed up to enjoy both. This post said it well: “exercise is what sustains weight loss, but a supportive nutrition plan is what drives it.” In order to work towards our health goals, and in order to live all-around healthy lives, we must place a level of importance on all aspects of our health, and that includes both exercise AND nutrition. It may feel like a lot to take on, but at Worth the Work Fitness we can help simplify the process and support you through it. Just head on over here to find out more about both the exercise and nutrition services we offer.
Written by Kelly Pruim