Author Archives: Tracey Downing

Covid Reality Check – Health Matters

Earlier this week, I listened to Dr. David Katz being interviewed on the MindBodyGreen podcast. I have been thinking about it (and listening to it over again) ever since.  Dr. Katz received his MD From the Albert Einstein School of Medicine and has a Masters of Public Health from Yale University School of Public Health.  He completed sequential residencies in Internal Medicine and Preventative/Public Health.  All this to say, professionals like Dr. Katz have deep expertise and use science to interpret data correctly to offer sensible guidance.  There is so much great information shared that I encourage you to listen to the podcast yourself!

Living Amidst an Infodemic

As I was ruminating on the information Dr. Katz shared, I came across a Facebook post from a friend stating ‘This disease does not discriminate.’  While this may or may not be true, Covid-19 does have a strong preference for who it will affect most severely  and that is something that is not being spoken of enough.  Here are some things to consider:

  • A 2018 study out of UNC-Chapel Hill determined that only 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy
    • Metabolic health was defined as ‘normal body weight and optimal levels of five factors: blood glucose, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure and waist circumference without the need for medication
    • All of these factors benefit from lifestyle intervention

Let that sink in – 12% of Americans being metabolically healthy means that 88% are not.  AND some experts believe 12% is an inflated statistic!

  • The worst Covid cases and outcomes are highly correlate with individuals who have chronic health conditions
  • Long term health liabilities (chronic conditions) develop over time, they creep up on you (pre-diabetic, borderline hypertensive . . .), hiding in plain sight, but impair immune system function and inflammation increasing the likelihood of poor outcomes
  • Our society is so used these long term health liabilities that they are considered ‘normal’

Poor Health in America is Greatest Risk

Simply stated, health in America is terrible – 60% of people have chronic health conditions — 40% of Americans have two or more.  If Americans on their way to developing these conditions are included, the size of the at-risk population is staggering.  Unfortunately, it is the norm, not the exception, to be overweight and in less than ideal health in the United States.

Reasons to Be Optimistic

While this may sound scary, it is important to remember that all of these conditions can be positively impacted by changes to lifestyle.  Have this information puts us in the driver’s seat, not the virus.  Dr. Katz reminds us that ‘a lot of what makes us vulnerable to poor outcomes is within our control and can be changed by orders of magnitude in days to weeks to months.’  The good doctor was very clear and we here at FiT are in total agreement – we must respect this virus because the minute we don’t, it will kill someone we love.  However, we can and should be taking steps every day and in every way possible to address the long term health liabilities that are linked to poor outcomes.  Sars-CoV-2 is not going anywhere and a vaccine could be years away.

‘The acute threat of Covid shines a spotlight on the chronic liabilities in American health.  There has never been a more crucial time to think about all the ways we can engage in health promotion . . .’ Dr. Katz states.

The declining health of America has been a public health issue for decades.  Covid is an acute reason to address the decline once and for all.  It’s a win-win proposition as improving health not only dramatically reduces the risk of poor outcomes from Covid, but generally speaking, healthier people live happier lives.  Whether you feel safest continuing to shelter in place or you are comfortable venturing out in the world with appropriate precautions, there has never been a better time to address the aspects of your lifestyle that are keeping you from optimal health.

Get on the Right Track

FiT’s Health Optimization Program has been supporting clients all over the country to adjust their lifestyle to optimize health for years.  We are excited to announce an enhancement and expansion to this program through a new partnership with Dr. Yumi Ando.  Together we are offering clients a program combining medical oversight, biometric tracking, and coaching on lifestyle interventions to take meaningful and lasting control of their health.  Click here to take charge of your health and improve your quality of life today!

SIP Exercise Recommendations

Feeling energetic, vital and balanced depends on your habits and routine in each of FiT’s 5 tenants of optimal health (eating strategy, sleep hygiene, stress management, exercise prescription and self care).  Not surprisingly, the strength of our immune system is tied to the balance and harmony of these aspects of our lifestyle as well.  

 The benefits of regular exercise are well known and, now more than ever is the time to make regular low and moderate intensity exercise a priority. That being said, when choosing what, how much and how hard to push, cumulative stress must factor into the equation.  When ‘dosed’ appropriately, the effects of exercise on mental health and overall wellbeing are both scientifically supported and profound.  However, these are, as we have all heard, unprecedented times that are taking a toll on all of us.  While exercise is a healthy habit, it is also a stress on our system meaning this is NOT the time to engage in multiple HIIT sessions each day and give intermittent fasting a whirl at the same time.  

While you, and we, cannot go to the gym these days, our health and sanity pretty much demand that we exercise regularly.  Here are some guidelines for you to follow.  

  • Using a perceived rate of exertion (PRE) scale of 1-10, 75-85% of your physical activity should be in the 2-5 range.  If you were exercising regularly before SIP, 15-25% can be in the 6-8 range.  Simply, we are not looking to set PRs presently and are instead looking to boost your immune system, enhance mood, and manage stress
  • Getting outdoors where it is safe to do so for walks, runs or bike rides offers the benefits of fresh air, sunlight and exercise so this is a great place to start or continue your efforts to do so, especially as the weather gets nicer.  Build low-intensity physical activity (PRE of 2-5) into your daily routine and reap the benefits of improved cardiovascular fitness and decreased stress.
  • Consider adding in micro-workouts and short (5-8mins) moderate to high-intensity intervals (PRE of 6-8).
    • Random, unscheduled micro workouts could be incorporating walking lunges into your walk every so often, calf raises on the curb, doing air squats at every stop sign or trail merges you encounter, push-ups every time you go up the stairs in your home, crunches every time you come down.  When incorporated randomly throughout the day, the added stress is minimal but the total volume of work adds up.
    • Your fitness and stress levels on any given day should determine what moderate-to-high intensity is for you.  Moderate intensity intervals could be adding a power walk or jog in at regular intervals – ie. walk for one and a half minutes, jog for 30 seconds.  To increase the intensity, simply decrease the amount of rest.  
  • A note about wearables/activity trackers . . . If you have a Fitbit, apple watch, or something similar,  that is serving as a positive trigger or reminder to move more, keep using it; however, if it is causing stress or making you feel bad, put it back in the drawer and do your thing.

When combatting stress, the benefits of strength training are many.  Given the current state of affairs, one often overlooked benefit that may offer additional motivation in this area is the feeling of strength that is derived from training.  Most of us are feeling a lack of control or power to change our present situation and the physical feeling of strength helps with more than musculoskeletal strength but mental fortitude as well.

  • As the duration of this mandate has been extended and the end date is unknown, continuing or getting back to strength training as a key part of your routine is recommended.
  • If you have children, they are likely spending more time sitting than is typical – get outside with them, incorporate micro-workouts into their day with daily or weekly family challenges, or have them check out Virtual PE with FiT.
  • Incorporate FiT’s daily movement breaks into your schedule.

As you consider the suggestions above, we encourage you to think about what habits and rituals have you or can you establish presently that will serve you well in the post-pandemic world?  Incorporating regular exercise and developing sustainable habits around physical activity will benefit you in the present and pay dividends in the future.  

No Weights, No Problem

Resourceful, empowered and dedicated are words we are using to describe our clients, trainers and others who have chosen to prioritize their health and wellbeing  while they shelter in place.  With parks, beaches, and other venues for physical activity being restricted and limited exercise equipment on hand at home,  it can be hard to stay motivated.  As we wonder, possibly fantasize, about returning to our normal routines, it may be time to consider optimizing our current situation and kick things up a notch now that we’re settled. 

Gains in strength and fitness occur when ‘imposed demands’ force the body to adapt – this is referred to as the SAID principle (specific adaptations to imposed demands).  In order for progress to be made and even to maintain strength, the imposed demands need to change – we do this through manipulating body position or joint angles, changes to the number of repetitions and sets, by changing the load and manipulation of other variables.  Whether because most retailers are sold out of these traditional forms of resistance or other challenges, those exercising at home have turned to alternative forms of resistance to get the job done – gallon bottles, laundry detergent jugs, backpacks and suitcases loaded with books.  These are great options but can also be uncomfortable and difficult to use – if you haven’t already seen this video of home exercise fails, it is good for a laugh.  While all of these are great options in a pinch, The Empack is readily available to ship, offers a variety of loads and is specifically designed to be used as a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell, enabling users to safely add resistance to a wide range of movements.  A variety of sizes are available based on the amount of weight you are seeking which is in the form of reservoirs that hold either 15 lbs of water or 21 lbs of sand.   The largest empack holds 4 reservoirs.  If you have ever tried traditional movements with water filled resistance, you will agree that the instability of water adds a whole new dimension.  

Adding to our endorsement of this product is that it is easily stored and perfect to travel with – the empty reservoirs collapse to be stored compactly and the bag itself can serve as your carry on luggage – yes, we will be able to travel again someday!  The empack ticks a number of boxes, not the least of which is helping to keep your workouts varied, safe and enjoyable as we continue to shelter-in-place.  Use code FIT20 to receive a 20% discount on your purchase!

As we continue to look for ways to stay connected to our pre-pandemic habits and routines, we encourage you to consider what helps to keep you motivated to take care of yourself.  If you feel like adding a new form of resistance or adding resistance to your new workout regimen, we encourage you to consider the empack as it may be the answer you are seeking.

The Individual Journey of Warriorship

Contributed by: Fern LaRocca

As we ended our 6-week journey together practicing and exploring the meditation mindfulness process, I was touched by the feedback that Thom and I received. We started with leaning in with our bodies. The proper posture that allows us to touch in with the breath and also to feel relaxed. As we softened to the nuances of the stillness of the body, we started working with the mind. The stream of thoughts that come and go are like the various clouds in the sky. We watch them pass and we watch how they affect our bodies and we watch how they bring up emotions. Yet we always bring our attention back to the breath – the clear blue sky

Pema Chodron led us into how to develop the mind of compassion for ourselves and for others. We used the tool of curiosity. Looking into our thoughts with the curiosity of a child to see their transient nature. 

When we catch ourselves with the heaviness of the darkness of the world, we look to appreciation to remind us of the simple beauty that surrounds us- the laughter of the children, the chirping of the birds, the sound of cars passing just outside of our sacred space. 

Tonglen or the compassionate breathing exercise helped us take in the suffering of the world and give out love and compassion on the spot and as an extended meditation. The instructions for both mindfulness meditation and tonglen are in the back of the book for you to refer to.

I also shared some of the latest research about mindfulness meditation:

  • Meditation almost certainly does sharpen your attention. mindfulness may be able to slow cognitive decline, even in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Long-term, consistent meditation does seem to increase resiliency to stress.
  • Mindfulness may improve your immune response mindfulness meditation appeared to increase levels of T-cells or T-cell activity in patients with HIV or breast cancer. This suggests that mindfulness could play a role in fighting cancer
  • Meditation does appear to increase compassion. It also makes our compassion more effective.
  • Mindfulness may help reduce psychological pain
  • Mindfulness could have a positive impact on your relationships.
  • Mindfulness seems to reduce many kinds of bias.
  • Meditation does have an impact on physical health—but it’s modest. meditators seem to have increased activity of telomerase, an enzyme implicated in longer cell life and, therefore, longevity. 
  • Mindfulness could help people at risk for heart disease by bringing blood pressure down.
    • Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital

“According to the Shambhala teachings, however, we have to recognize that our individual experience of sanity is inherently linked to our vision for a good human society.  So we have to take things one step at a time. If we try to solve society’s problems without overcoming the confusion and aggression in our own state of mind, then our efforts will only contribute to the basic problems, instead of solving them. That is why the individual journey of warriorship must be undertaken before we can address the larger issue of how we can help this world.

Still, it would be extremely unfortunate if the Shambhala vision was taken as purely another attempt to build ourselves up while ignoring our responsibilities to others.  The point of warriorship is to become a gentle and tamed human being who can make a genuine contribution to the world. The warrior’s journey is based on discovering what is intrinsically good about human existence and how to share that basic goodness with others.” – The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa: Volume 8 Great Eastern Sun; Shambhala

FIT will announce our second program starting March 29th, and we will study and discuss Pema chodron’s book, Awakening Loving Kindness. I look forward to seeing you then. Be aware that FIT is taking all precautions to keep us safe and we as individuals will be mindful of the safety to ourselves and others during this difficult time. We are evaluating options for you to join virtually should that be your preference and will keep you posted. 

Additional resources:

Books

Podcasts

Recycling is Part of my Self-Care Plan

Bizarre, right?  Why would I think of recycling as self-care?  Stick with me, and hopefully, it will make sense.

How It Started

In June of last year, we joined another family on a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  We spent our days in and on the water. The amount of plastic we collected was astounding.  Bottle caps, individual pill packaging, 6-pack rings, and my personal favorite – a large, black trash bag that we ‘hooked’ while trawling for fish. 

The water was so beautiful, and yet, it was filled with trash. Like you, I have seen Instagram posts and news stories about ocean clean up efforts, but I have to say, as someone who grew up ‘down the shore’ in NJ, seeing the amount of plastic we removed from the ocean daily had a profound effect on me – it made me really sad, for today and for the future. I decided then and there to double down on my efforts to reduce my use of non-recyclable packaging and to learn more about how to recycle properly

Some Surprisingly Easy Changes in Consumption

I had already been putting effort into reducing my environmental impact for some time by using reef and environmentally safe sunscreen, safe skincare, recycling and composting but knew I could do more.  Coincidentally, Beautycounter, my safe skincare and sunscreen vendor of choice for years, began switching it’s packaging from plastic to glass.  I found a toothpaste, Bite, that comes in a glass vile and sends refills packaged in 100% compostable packaging.  Did you know that about 1 billion toothpaste tubes are sent to landfills annually?

Speaking of landfills, cleaning supplies were also on my hit list.  I wanted to find products that were environmentally friendly, effective and would contribute minimally to landfills. Supernatural checked all the boxes.  They work well, the house smells great after use, and the containers are glass with concentrate refills being sent in small glass vials and cardboard. 

Joy and Its Connection to Self-care

But this post is about self-care, not product promotion, so you are probably asking, what’s the connection?  This question begets another, which is ‘What is self-care anyway?’. The simple answer to this question is that self-care is activities or actions that you intentionally engage in to cultivate joy in your heart.  So, how does my conversion to safe, sustainable products bring me joy? Every morning, I see the lovely pink glass containers of Beautycounter’s Countertime regimen alongside the simple glass bottle containing my Bite toothpaste bits, and I am reminded that small changes add up, I start my day with a sense of optimism that makes me happy in that moment.  Every time I use Supernatural to wipe down my countertops or appliances, I enjoy reaching for a glass bottle and am rewarded with a fresh, natural scent that lingers after the surface is clean. This sounds silly, I’m sure, but for the fleeting moments in which I interact with these products daily, I feel good.  

The Fifth Domain of Health Optimization

Self-care is an oft-overlooked domain of optimizing health.  On the one hand, who wouldn’t want to invest in self-care? On the other hand, who has the time?  Much like the other four domains of health optimization, it is not a matter of having time; it is a matter of making time.  Our health can’t wait until life gets less busy. And similar to meal prep or sleep hygiene, self-care is a habit.  It can involve a significant investment of time, or it can be small, intentional acts performed more frequently, or it can be a combination of the two.  Whatever your self-care plan entails, remember that adopting new habits is hard. Say you decide to journal for five minutes every day – the first day you might spend ten minutes just trying to figure out what to write!  But as you begin to journal daily, it becomes more natural and takes less time.  

I filled my self-care bucket last weekend by carving out a Saturday night to have a group of girlfriends over for movie night in our jammies – we ate (on compostable plates), we talked, and we laughed. At some point in the evening, every one of them asked, ‘why don’t we do this more often?’ 

The answer is simple, we don’t make the time. If I waited for the next ‘movie night’ to check the self-care box, I could be waiting a long time so in the interim, I have found smaller, easier ways to integrate self-care into my daily routine: Using skin care products that are good for me, good for the environment and come in pretty pink glass bottles that make me feel good; activated charcoal toothpaste bites that keep tubes out of the landfill and complement the pink skincare bottles nicely on my bathroom counter; using household products that leave behind a clean, natural scent that reminds me that I am taking care of myself, my family and that I am doing what I can for the planet.  While not the entirety of my plan, incorporating these items into my daily routine serves as a trigger to consider my actions and choices in all five domains while also ensuring self-care is not overlooked. 

Welcoming the Unwelcome: a Path to Happiness

Contributed by: Fern LaRocca

In meditation and in our daily lives, there are three key qualities that we can nurture, cultivate, and bring out: precision, gentleness and the ability to let go.  We already possess these, but they can be ripened. There is a kind of innocent misunderstanding that we all share, something that can be turned around, corrected, and seen through as if we were in a dark room and someone showed us where the light switch was. It isn’t a sin that we are in the dark room. It’s just an innocent situation, but how fortunate that someone shows us where the light switch is. It brightens up our life considerably. We can start to read books, to see one another’s faces, to discover the colors of the walls, to enjoy the little animals that creep in and out of the room. 

Precision, Gentleness and Letting Go 

In the same way, if we see our so-called limitations with clarity , precision, gentleness, good heartedness, and kindness, and are then able to fully let go and open further, we begin to find that our world is more vast and more refreshing and fascinating than we had realized before. In other words, the key to feeling more whole and less shut off and shut down is to be able to see clearly who we are and what we’re doing. 

The innocent mistake that keeps us caught in our own particular style of ignorance, unkindness, and shut-downness is that we are never encouraged to see clearly what is, with gentleness. 

Instead there’s a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to move away from painful things, and that if we could just learn how to get away from the painful things, then we would be happy. That is the innocent and naive misunderstanding that we all share, which may keep us unhappy. 

Open Minds and Open Hearts

Mediation is about seeing clearly the body that we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation that we have, the job that we have, and the people who are in our lives.  It’s about seeing how we react to all these things. It’s seeing our emotions and thoughts just as they are right now, in this very moment, in this very room, on this very seat. It’s about not trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly with precision and gentleness. Throughout this meditation practice, we will work with cultivating gentleness, innate precision, and the ability to let go of small mindedness, learning how to open to our thoughts and emotions, to all the people we meet in our world, how to open our minds and hearts.  -excerpt from Awakening Loving Kindness- Pema Chodron