Stressed? Then you have to read this

Sometimes I think that there must be some kind of “blanket” that envelopes us all. That can be the only explanation for how it can sometimes seem as if everyone is going through the same thing, all at the same time. This week, so many people I know seem to have had a tough time, be they colleagues, friends or family.

Whether it’s been miscommunication or unwanted surprises, it’s all boiled down to the same thing – feeling horribly stressed and perhaps also overwhelmed.

We have a lot on our plates. We are asked to lean in, to be a breadwinner (if not also the main breadwinner), to be a leader, a mum, and the very many roles we take on in our lives. We are so good at multi-tasking, that we often overlook that we’ve taken on too much, and often forget to put ourselves into the picture.

If this is you, here’s what I really want for you to hear.

You deserve to put yourself first. Take time for yourself. Be kind, to yourself.

Sometimes, this might mean not striving 100% of the time, because 80% is perfect. When I was growing up, I remember hearing someone say that even God took a break on the seventh day. 🙂

Giving ourselves a break – physically, mentally and emotionally – is truly central to de-stressing. The funny thing is, getting tense and stressed is unconscious. It’s like breathing. It happens without you thinking about it at all. But destressing and relaxing is conscious, and what this means is that you have a choice. You can choose to turn relaxation on.

But because we are so busy, we often choose not to. We cut ourselves off from the neck down, ignoring our body’s messages that it needs a break, and we carry on, pushing through tiredness, hunger, anxiety, pain….

I’ve been there too. Not even that long ago, and because this week has been so stressful for so many people I know, I wanted to remind you, to invite you, to take a break and to destress.

The key is to begin to make it a habit – to build in reminders throughout the day to step back, if only for a moment, to take that break, and to bring your body into a more relaxed place. Over time, as you begin to tune back in to your body’s messages and you begin to notice your stress levels starting to rise, take that break. The best thing of all is that you can begin to reverse the impact that stress has had on your life.

Here are some things you can do when you take that break, to bring your body into a relaxed state. Pick and mix, if you’d like.

  1. Breathe the 6/7/8 – Sit upright in your seat, feet placed flat on the floor, relax your head, neck, shoulders, body, legs, hands, feet, fingers and toes. Now, take a deep breath for the count of 6, hold it for the count of 7 and then exhale for the count of 8. Repeat this 5 times. How do you feel now?
  2. Stand up, stretch and gently bend backwards. Hold for the count of 3. Repeat 3 times.
  3. Shrug and roll your shoulders a few times, then gently bend your neck backwards, stretch your neck and look up. Hold for the count of 7.
  4. Close your eyes, and visualize somewhere peaceful and serene – the beach, a meadow, the forest, a lake…the choice is yours. Allow your mind to calm down and watch any thoughts that may arise float off into the distance. You’ll know when to open your eyes again 😉
  5. Tense all your muscles at the same time – clench your fists, your buttocks, straighten your arms and your legs, squeeze your eyes, scrunch your face, and hold for the count of 5, then release. Repeat 3 times.

There. Just a few ideas. What others might you have?

And of course, there’s food. What you eat, how you eat and when you eat, all have an impact on your stress levels too. Remember:

  • Eat within ½ and hour to an hour of waking up.
  • Eat protein, healthy fat and fibre with every meal and snack.
  • Eat regularly throughout the day, to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Typically, this means breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks.
  • Minimise the junk food, refined carbs, caffeine and alcohol, which mess with your hormones.
  • Try out one of my favourite snacks – an orange with a teaspoon full of almond or cashew butter. Yum!

Not too much biochemistry this week, haha. Now, over to you. Let me know how you go.

Make your next years your best years.

 

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Do women in their 40’s and 50’s really have to lose their waistline?

 

What a week! The “busy bug” found me and bit me. 🙂 But I am otherwise very well, and I hope the same goes for you too.

After my last newsletter, Elaine wrote with a great question (thanks, Elaine). She asked, “Question about the weight gain around the middle. Is it unavoidable or even essential to have that belt of fat? A good friend of mine, who is also a qualified yoga teacher, told me that it is essential to have that belt of fat to retain or compensate for the lower level of oestrogen in the menopausal years. She said her gynae told her that. Say goodbye to the hourglass shape once past fertile years and accept the rectangle because it is nature’s way. True or false?”

Interestingly, this last weekend, one of the lectures on my degree was on “Nutritional Therapy and Healthy Aging.” Our lecturer asked if getting to 50 inevitably means you’ll get middle aged spread, and then proceeded to show us that that isn’t true, as she is living proof of that.

So why is it that we often see evidence of the thickening waistline, and an apparent shift in body shape from the pear (wide hips and thighs, with more weight below the waist, consisting of subcutaneous fat – that is, surface fat surrounding the muscle) to the apple (fat around the middle, and often, also around the organs, known as visceral fat)?

The short answer is, unbalanced hormones.

During our fertile years, oestrogen is produced by the ovaries, and as we get into our 40’s and 50’s, and we begin to stop ovulating, the body looks to its fat tissue to help with oestrogen production. Fat tissue contains an enzyme called aromatase, which converts testosterone to oestrogen, so this becomes an important element of our hormone mix, because oestrogen helps with other bodily changes too, such as slowing down postmenopausal bone loss (which itself also happens because of less oestrgen).

Overall, therefore, as we get into our 40’s and 50’s, we produce less oestrogen, and lower levels of oestrogen lead to a change in the distribution of fat, depositing more fat around the middle. This happens even without any weight gain.

The trouble is, fat around the middle (specifically visceral fat) is more metabolically active than subcutaneous fat, and increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Plus, it is highly receptive to stress, and with ongoing stress being common in our modern lives, the depositing of and holding onto fat in this area is exacerbated. Why? Because with the ongoing stress, the body thinks that it’s going to need readily accessible fuel for “fight or flight”, which is the only way it knows how to interpret stress.

However, in our modern lives, we generally don’t fight or flee, but we do tend to have chronically elevated stress levels. So the body continues to circulate energy in our bloodstream that it means for fighting or fleeing, upsetting our balance of hormones further, and depositing even more fat around the middle for the ongoing stress it believes it needs it for. And now, it’s not just oestrogen, there’s also the interplay of cortisol and insulin.

So does it mean that we have to say goodbye to the hourglass shape and accept the rectangle, and place all the blame on oestrogen?

The bottom line is that our bodies are hugely complex systems, and it isn’t as simple as saying that oestrogen on its own makes you fat around the middle. Too much is just as problematic as too little, and it’ll also be relative to other hormones like progesterone. It’s really about hormonal balance.

That’s why it’s especially important for women in their 40’s and 50’s, to manage their stress levels, to eat the right foods that help to keep their hormones balanced, and to have the right kind of movement, and daily moderate movement, such as walking in particular – because this uses up the energy in the system that the body thinks it needs for the ongoing stress. See how it’s all inter-related?

I’m not a hormone expert. This is something I’m learning more and more about. But what I do know, is that I used to have much more belly fat, and it all came to a head when I started getting episodes of hot flushes, night sweats and insomnia. And when I changed my diet and lifestyle, some of my waist returned, and the hot flushes and night sweats went. The insomnia took a little longer.

Perhaps the most interesting thing of all, is that if I tip the balance on my eating habits for long enough that I cross the threshold, some of those symptoms come back. And the good news is, I know exactly what to do to get right back into balance again. Now, my next target is to get into optimal balance. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, where are you at? Are there changes that you know would be beneficial for you to make, so that you can get some of your waistline back? How would that feel?

Make your next years your best years.

 

Hate exercise? I did


As I write to you, my legs feel like jelly. I have just finished a session with my personal trainer. It is the only way that works for me, to get the right kind of movement for me, at the right kind of level.

But there was a time when I wouldn’t even have done that. Because I simply didn’t want to move. At all.

It was when I read that book, that I realised that the many years of repeated dieting with the mistaken idea that I needed to exercise more and eat less to shed the extra pounds, had compounded things, and I had ended up with a body that didn’t want me to move.

Crash diets, counting calories – skimping on what were essential foods for my body and saving the calories for treats like Crunchie bars (fun sized ones, of course….except that I’d end up eating at least 6 of them) led to nutritional starvation.

And because of nutritional starvation, my body needed to conserve whatever nutrients I ate, to divert them to more essential bodily functions. In the context of things, movement wasn’t one of them, adding instead to the drain on the body’s already scarce resources.

When I realised the biochemistry of what was going on, I felt liberated. I could let go of all the “shoulds” I had been carrying around in relation to exercise! I could stop beating myself up and feeling bad about the fact that I didn’t particularly like moving. There was a reason for it, and what’s more, now I knew what to do. “All” I needed to focus on, was eating the right foods – nutrient-dense foods – that would allow my body to heal. And then, in time, my body would actually want to move! Of its own accord.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a relief that was. Perhaps if you’ve been doing the same thing, exercising more, eating less, and wondering why nothing seems to happen, other than that it takes more and more effort and willpower, and a lowering of your self-esteem, then you can relate.

Fast forward to two years later after having made changes to my nutrition, (that was how much I had damaged my metabolism through yo-yo dieting and not eating the right things), I actually found that I did want to move. I put on my shoes and walked down to the train station to meet Jeff. For the first time in countless years, I had just felt like a walk.

Now, I have to emphasise that between that book and my walk to the train station, I did do my best to move. I had taken part in 10,000 step a day challenges and I had engaged in movement regularly, but it was erratic, and it always needed an element of willpower. The walk to the station, however, was different. My body had wanted me to move. And so, I had wanted to move.

Since then, I have learnt that for women around the age of 50, exercise usually needs to take on a different profile than when we were in our 20s or 30s. Hormone fluctuations add physiological stress. Plus, the change in the mix of hormones means that we tend to gain weight around the middle. As if that isn’t enough to contend with, we also move into a different balance between “breaking down” and building up”, meaning that we lose muscle and bone, if we don’t take specific action to keep and/or build them.

What this means is that we want to balance of all those elements and include it as part of our activity, like the following:

  1. Moderate movement on a daily basis, such as walking
  2. Resistance or strength training, to help maintain and/or build muscle and bone strength and mass
  3. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), twice, perhaps 3 times a week, for fat burning
  4. Restorative and relaxing exercise, such as stretching and yoga, to help your body relax and counter the additional effects of stress

Now, here’s the thing. There was a time when even reading a list like that felt like too much to take on – except for the restorative and relaxing exercise. I get it. If you find yourself in that boat, start by making sure that you eat well – real foods, nutrient-dense foods. Nourish your body. And then find one piece of movement that you enjoy, and do that. Perhaps with a friend, if that helps you show up. Just as my personal trainer does for me. ☺ And I’ll let you into a secret… even then, my favourite moment is when I’m all done and she lets me lie on my back on the mat for a few moments, just before stretching – in the savasana yoga pose.

Now over to you. Eat well, rest well and move some.

Make your next years your best years.