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ARTICLES

Scientific Stretching

Somya Sahay

Anyone who is looking to be pain free and have optimal performance needs to consider the importance of a balanced physical body. To the extent that our bodies accumulate excessive amounts of tension, our systems can develop imbalances and dysfunctions. When we understand which tissues are short and tight, we can perform corrective stretching to bring the body back into balance. Let's take a look at some of the benefits of stretching:

Why Should I Stretch?

Stretching can improve posture. Posture is defined as the position from which movement begins and ends. Any dysfunction in posture, therefore, leads to faulty loading mechanics and puts unnecessary stress on the body. Stretching can be used to bring the body back into alignment. Please note that optimal posture requires certain length/tension relationships to exist between muscles; stretching too much of one muscle can make your posture worse. 

Stretching is a stress-reliever. Often times, stress manifests physically in certain areas of our body (most commonly the neck & shoulders). Stretching can help alleviate that tension, making you feel calm and relaxed. 

Stretching reduces the risk of injury. If you push past the threshold for your muscle's ability to extend, you can easily tear it. Stretching improves your range of motion, reducing risk of injury.

Stretching can alleviate pains associated with muscle tightness. When muscles become too tight, they can often lead to debilitating pain/inflammation, such as: plantar fasciitis, knee/elbow pain, headaches, etc. If the pains are related to muscle tightness, stretching will help alleviate them. 

Why Stretching Every Muscle is a BAD Idea

Postural alignment is the balance between your muscles and requires certain lengths/tensions to exist. Having a muscle too tight or too loose will put you out of alignment, setting you up for injury and diminished performance. 

Example: The relationship between your hip flexors/glutes/hamstrings and lower abdominals/low back muscles can make your pelvis either tilt too far forward or too far backward, depending on which group is tighter. Variations outside of the optimal range (I.e. Males 4-7°; females 7-10° anteriorly) can lead to severe injury--most commonly in the low back. 

While stretching is imperative to good health, having too much mobility can destabilize joints. As such, do NOT stretch what does not need to be stretched! If you are having trouble identifying which muscles are out of balance, we advise reaching out to a C.H.E.K. Practitioner (such as one of our Fresh Holistics coaches) or a skilled therapist for a proper length/tension & comparative range of motion assessment. 

How Should I Stretch?

Before starting any stretching routine, make sure your body is warm and hydrated. A cold body increases your chance of injury and reduces the effectiveness of the stretching program. Having said that, there are 3 basic stretching techniques that we find are best used in different circumstances. These are:

  • Static Stretching
  • Contract-Relax
  • Dynamic Stretching

Static stretching is the most commonly prescribed method of stretching. It is defined by holding a stretched position for a prolonged period of time. While this is effective in improving flexibility, it is not ideal before a workout or event requiring at least moderate intensity. If a stretch is held statically for prolonged periods of time the muscle spindle cells cannot communicate effectively with the brain. This creates a discrepancy between what your body can perform and what your brain thinks it can perform. This disconnection can lead to altered movement patterns, motor control loss, and destabilization of joints--greatly increasing your risk of injury. Static stretching is best used for corrective stretching in the evening before bed when your activity level is low. 

Contract-Relax is a much more effective method for pre-event corrective stretching if significant ROM (range of motion) is needed. This is defined by short periods (typically 3-5 sec) of muscle contraction followed by short periods of muscle lengthening. 
    
 Example: Start with the muscle in a slightly stretched position. Taking a deep             diaphragmatic breathe in--hold it. Contract your muscle for 5s. Exhale after the             contraction and immediately go deeper into the stretch (for 5s). Repeat 3-5 times. 

This sudden increase in ROM is due to the autogenic inhibition reflex. The autogenic inhibition reflex is the sudden relaxation of a muscle after contraction under high tension to prevent itself from injury. Use the contract-relax method for corrective stretching before workouts if extensive range of motion is needed. Otherwise, use dynamic stretching for pre-workout mobilization. 

Dynamic stretching is a much better alternative to static stretching for pre-workout mobility. It is performed by repeatedly moving into and out of ranges of motion until muscles loosen up, holding no one position for more than a second. This stretch involves constant motion and feedback to the brain. It is best to mimic the general movement patterns you will be performing for the given task ahead. We recommend always performing a dynamic stretching routine before exercise, whether you are in the corrective phase of your flexibility program or your maintenance phase. 

When Should I Stretch?

There are essentially two circumstances for which stretching is necessary. The first is corrective, stretching to bring the body back into alignment. The second is maintenance, stretching to prevent your body from misalignment once it is already aligned. No matter which phase you are in, stretching pre-workout, post-workout, and in the evening is recommended.  

Pre-workout:
Stretching should always be performed prior to exercise. Your phase of stretching (corrective/maintenance) will determine how you stretch. If you are in the corrective phase, perform the required contract-relax stretches and follow that with dynamic stretching. If you are simply maintaining, dynamic stretching is sufficient. 

Post-Workout:
Stretching post-workout is necessary for optimal recovery as it not only restores the circulation to optimal levels but also relaxes the body, having a more anabolic (repair & recovery) effect on the body. Static stretching is a great for post-workout. 


Before bed:
Daily stretching is absolutely necessary for corrective purposes. We recommend performing your stretching routine shortly before bed, when activity levels are low. Whether you exercise or not, daily activities, especially long periods of sitting, puts a lot of tension on your musculature. For that reason, we recommend doing your maintenance stretches in the evening. The difference between your corrective stretches and your maintenance stretches will be the duration for which the stretch is performed and the muscles you will be stretching. Static stretching is best performed at this time. 

While stretching isn't the most exciting of activities, it is one that should be practiced daily if you are looking to be pain-free and perform optimally. 

 

References:

1. Chek, Paul. The Golf Biomechanic's Manual: Whole in One Golf Conditioning. 3rd ed. Encinitas, CA: C.H.E.K. Institute, 2001. Print. 

Top 10 Tips For Long-Term Success in Health

Tobias McGowan

1. Find Your 1 Love

       If you truly want to take your health to the next level long-term, you must have a love/passion that constantly pushes you to be healthy. A compelling reason for doing what your doing. This love is often synonymous with purpose or a clearly defined objective in life, whether it is in your personal or professional life. The inner depth of this love or purpose sparks authentic inspiration. Love and inspiration acts as a compass or a north star, which guides you to achieve and maintain optimal health and fitness. When you have related this concept to health it might include: the determination to hit the ball like no other on the golf course, to be pain free and energetic so you can be an amazing parent, or to be in peak condition mentally and physically for business. The key is to identify that inner fire and focus on it intensely! This will keep you on your game.

 

2. Making Health A Top Value

       Everyone has a set of values they live by, whether they have identified them or not. Values are things that are most meaningful, important and valuable to the individual. Your one love and inspiration stems directly from your values, and is always at the top of the list. These values are constantly dictating the choices we make in life. If we ever want to have long-term health, we need to have a value on health. Setting any type of goal around health without having a value on it is a delusion. If you are struggling with your health and fitness goals, it is probably an indication that you do not have a high enough value on health or you have not linked health to your one love. Each one of us prioritizes the different values in our life; therefore, some values are clearly more important than others. So you may have a value on health, but if it’s number 7 or 10 on your value list, you probably will not have much success. 

       Taking the time to identify your values is a crucial step in understanding where you are, and why you’re not staying focused on your health goals. The good news is that health almost always supports the other values in your life. If you are interested in automatically elevating health on your value list, consider this exercise. Answer this question at least 250 times: How can obtaining peak levels of health and fitness be of great service, benefit, and value to my life? This will bring a whole new level of clarity to your situation and value system. 

 

3. Turn Your Discipline Into A Blissipline

       Developing great habits and behaviors is essential for optimal health, but it requires discipline. Unfortunately, most people have a negative connotation associated with discipline, but it does not have to be that way.  When you start coming from a place that is in alignment with your true values and what you love, you become disciplined because you are inspired. This discipline then becomes enjoyable and rewarding. Michael Beckwith invented the word “blissipline”, which is a combination of bliss and discipline. Your discipline around health can be a blissful and pleasurable ritual. So look at discipline in a new light, and use it to stay on track with your healthy habits. You will reap all the benefits of health and enjoy the process. Strive to change your disciplines into health blissiplines that you look forward to doing every day. 

 

4. Consistency Over Intensity

       Too many people are going to the gym with the mentality that they have to beat themselves up and burn X number of calories. Now getting a great workout in is important, but if you overdue the intensity for too long it can lead to burning out.  The most important thing is being consistent around the fundamentals. Sometimes just getting to the gym and moving is plenty. We have to consider the importance of building a ritual around working out, good nutrition and health in general. The fact is that if you decide to go hard for several weeks and then cheat hard, your body will react like ocean tides. I see countless scenarios were an individual gets great results in 7 weeks, and in one week of cheating the tide comes in! We need to strive for consistency. It’s better to have small progressive wins over time, then to fluctuate back and forth. Consistency is essential for optimal health; ups and downs will have detrimental psychological and physiological effects. 

 

5. The 80/20 Rule

       Nobody is perfect and you shouldn’t try to be. Perfection can lead to pre-mature abandonment. The 80/20 rule is all about focusing and being on your game 80% of the time. That means rocking your movement routine, eating the best quality foods, getting to bed on time, and making health a priority. Now the other 20% of the time is where you can let loose a little, and make a few sub-optimal choices without feeling guilty. This is the balance that you need to strive for to obtain long-term success. Health cannot be sustained when the ratios are 95/5 for a short period (which leads to burn-out) and then breaking down to 40/60. Again fluctuations will lead to highs and lows that can be seriously detrimental. 

 

6. Beta Version

       Each person is biochemically unique, and no two human beings are the same. This means that you are uniquely different, genetically and environmentally. Therefore, you have to find a method that is similar in the basics of health yet uniquely your own. Each person lives a life that is demanding in its own way, so your techniques and commitment level will not be the same as the next person. Unfortunately you cannot rely on a cookie cutter approach to movement, nutrition and lifestyle. This will take some experimentation, which most of you have already embarked on. 

       When you start this process you are essentially working on the beta version, which will undoubtedly have some bugs that need to be worked out. As you progress on your journey to health you will find what works for your circumstances and upgrade to version 2.0. The process of long-term health is all about trial and error, and you must be willing to play around with new tools and software. Most people make the mistake of trying a new concept and dropping it completely because they didn’t see results or have the persistence to learn or grow from it. This is fundamentally wrong, what you need to do is select and choose what worked for you and build on to your method, so that your software continues to upgrade. Completely dropping health will just make it harder to get back to it when you decide how necessary it really is. 

 

7. Shame Vs. Guilt

       So much of succeeding in health is dependent on how you view your mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes and falls down from time to time. But if you let your mistakes and your poor health define you, it will be hard to achieve long-term health. A big concept to consider is the difference between guilt and shame. We need to understand our communication with ourselves around mistakes and choices. We often feel shame and guilt because of our perceptions and ideas around what we should do and be. Brene Brown offers this great way to understand the difference. 

Guilt: “I made a bad choice” 

Shame: “I am bad”

       If you create shame around your mistakes you start to identify with them. Shame can create a sub-conscious failing attitude and cascade. Guilt on the other hand, is being aware that you made a mistake but not identifying with it. You need to observe the problem and view it as a learning lesson. Understand and define what your sub-optimal choices are and consciously shine light on them.  Never shame yourself because you ate a cookie or had way too much to drink. Witness what you did and make progressive changes when you’re ready. 

 

8. The Dream Team

       Having a team of individuals that support you will increase your likelihood of long-term health dramatically. It’s important to get friends, family and others that agree and work together toward the lifestyle and philosophy of health. A great team that is on the same page will make it much easier. If you’re constantly surrounded by friends and family that just want to go out for drinks, eat unhealthy food, and abuse sleep patterns, then following them will not be helpful on your journey. You must find a way to surround yourself with healthy people that are like-minded and encourage healthy habits. At times, everyone needs guidance and support, so it can be extremely helpful to reach out to health professionals that practice what they preach, and invite them to be part of the dream team. Start modeling the behaviors that you admire most from the healthy people around you. Work to build an awesome team that makes health a priority. 

 

9. Constant Learning

       Learning is a necessity for change. If you’re not willing to learn you cannot change. Understand that your body is always under different stresses and in different situations. As such, your approach will always be changing. Constantly strive to learn new knowledge that you can apply for upgrading your software. This doesn’t have to be elaborate either. Maybe it just means learning a new lesson about your body from each workout you do. This process of learning will keep you on top of the game. Build your health knowledge and constantly apply what works for your body-mind.

 

10. Take Responsibility

       Health is a pre-requisite to life. The sooner you accept that the sooner you start to take responsibility for your own health choices. If your health is truly suffering, your personal and professional life will depend on your ability to take care of yourself. Owning our health is a huge step. Your ability to be accountable for your own actions will allow you to take steps you have never taken before. Committing to health requires taking ownership for your authentic needs and wants. 

 

 

REFERENCES

1. Beckwith, M.B. (2008). Spiritual liberation. New York, NY: Atria Books

2. Brown, Brene. (2012). Daring greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books (Penguin Group). 

3. Chek, P. (2004). How to eat, move and be healthy. San Diego, CA: CHEK publications.

4. DeMartini, J. (2013). The values factor: the secret to creating an inspired and fulfilling life. New York, NY: Berkley Books (Penguin Group). 

5. Dwyer, D. (2012). Make shi(f)t happen: change how you look by changing how you think. Victory Belt Publishing Inc. 

6. Johnson, B. (2010). A philosopher’s notes: on optimal living, creating an authentically awesome life and other goodness. Fountain Valley, CA: Entheos Enterprises 

7. Spencer, J. (2008). Turn it up! How to perform at your highest level for a lifetime. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc. 

Insulin Resistance: 3 Major Causes

Tobias McGowan

            Regulating blood sugar levels can be a complex matter involving multiple systems within the body. One of the most common challenges at the cell level is insulin resistance, which is the precursor for a myriad of serious health complications, such as type 2 diabetes. When insulin resistance occurs the insulin receptors on the cell become dysfunctional, and prevents our cells from receiving glucose (our primary source of energy) properly. This results in high blood sugar and insulin levels in the circulation, which is certainly not a place we want to be.

            Before diving into the depths of insulin resistance, it’s important to understand the basics of blood sugar handling. If you need a quick refresher, check out our article on Blood Sugar Basics. Otherwise, let’s jump in!

 

INSULIN RESISTANCE

             Hopefully the basics have been covered and we can truly grasp what is occurring during insulin resistance. When this problem occurs, the insulin receptors located on the surface of the target cells become defective and non-responsive to the hormone insulin. Insulin attempts to make a connection with the insulin receptor, but insulin essentially bounces off because the receptor isn’t functioning properly. This forces insulin to stay in the circulation and levels to rise. Since glucose is dependent on insulin for transportation into the cell, glucose cannot enter and sugar becomes elevated in the circulation as well. The pancreas tries to compensate, due to elevated glucose levels, by secreting more insulin in an attempt solve the problem. This only makes matters worse. This is one of the major problems related balancing blood sugar levels, and maintaining energy levels. Consider the number of insulin receptors and cells in the body, it makes logical sense that there are different degrees of insulin resistance. So the goal is to address the cause of the insulin resistance, and make every attempt to increase insulin sensitivity.

 

The three primary factors that are related to causing insulin resistance are:

1.  Excessive stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline)

2.  Polyunsaturated fats

3.  Obesity & Estrogen

 

1. EXCESSIVE STRESS HORMONES

         When our primary stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) are chronically elevated, they can cause major complications to the cell. Cortisol will counteract the action of insulin, and excessive levels will block the hormone, leading to insulin resistance. As long as cortisol levels stay elevated, insulin cannot function and cells will be deprived of glucose. This is clearly seen with cortisol medications (prednisone and cortisone injections), which elevate levels and induces insulin resistance. Cortisol also catabolizes (breaks down) protein tissues in the body to amino acids for energy purposes. If these amino acids include tryptophan (broken down from muscle tissue) they will be eventually converted to serotonin, which stimulates the pituitary gland, which further increases the release of cortisol. Serotonin also perpetuates the situation by suppressing glucose oxidation (glucose cannot be utilized by the mitochondria of the cell) and thyroid function. The other major hormone, adrenaline, creates issues as well, but does this through the break down of fatty acids. The break down of fatty acids into the circulation turns off the release of insulin. Most individuals also have large amounts of polyunsaturated fats stored, which get broken down by adrenaline and cause insulin resistance and disrupt the beta cells of the pancreas. Excessive cortisol and adrenaline are major contributing factors leading to insulin resistance and eventual diabetes.  

 

2. POLYUNSATURATED FATS  

            Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are problematic for the pancreas (which produces and secretes insulin) and cause insulin resistance. These fats are coming primarily from nuts, seeds, certain vegetables, and their respective oil, which concentrates them and exacerbates the problem. Some common oils of concern include soy, canola, corn, and general vegetable oils. PUFAs impact the pancreas, and prolonged exposure can damage the beta cells that are responsible for secreting insulin. If this occurs there will be insulin fluctuations and glucose levels will be elevated in the circulation. PUFA’s also negatively impact the hormonal system and decrease thyroid function, which expose the body to higher levels of estrogen. Excessive estrogen can desensitize the action of insulin, encourage insulin resistance and stress the pancreas.

 

3. OBESITY & ESTROGEN

             There are usually little to no symptoms for insulin resistance, unless lab numbers are being checked. Unfortunately, weight gain and obesity present the most notable symptoms, which is also a direct indicator of some degree of insulin resistance. The visceral fat cells (around the organs) in the body can stimulate immune cells, and over time low levels of chronic inflammation develop. This constant inflammation and can damage cells and cell receptors that are necessary for the interaction with insulin, the cell, and glucose uptake. The progressive damage leads to insulin resistance, and the pancreas responds by trying harder and releasing more insulin. This additional insulin increases metabolic debris and chemicals that can cause more damage. Furthermore, the muscle cells get short-handed because the fat cells compete for insulin, and the insulin goes to the fat. Insulin is a storage hormone and the additional insulin encourages the conversion of glucose to more fat, creating a vicious cycle. The fat cells also store and produce estrogen. The beta cells of the pancreas have estrogen receptors, and excessive estrogen can exhaust the beta cells, which will interfere with insulin secretion. Estrogen is also highly taxing on the liver, which is deeply involved in balancing blood sugar levels. Therefore, excessive fat and estrogen create and drive further insulin resistance.       

 

               These concepts above highlight major contributing factors/reasons for insulin resistance. They can also be used as an outline for starting to address the problem. Anyone looking to overcome insulin resistance, or prevent it in the first place, needs to consider: stress management (various options here), avoiding PUFAs, and taking steps toward losing weight (in a healthy manner).    

 

 

REFERENCES

1. Langer, S.E., and Sheer, J.E. Solved The Riddle of Illness. New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2006.  

2. Peat, R. From PMS to Menopause. Eugene, Or., 1997.

3. Peat, R. Glycemia, startch, and sugar in context. 2009. Retrieved from

4. Widmaier, E. P., Hershel, R., Strang, K. T., Vander's Human Physiology: The Mechanisms of the Body Function (11 Ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2008.