Boosting your immune system through exercise.

Exercise may reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. 

A recent review of existing studies in light of COVID-19 leads one researcher to suggest that exercise may prevent or reduce severity of symptoms for those with the COVID-19 virus. More specifically, the CDC estimates that 20-40% of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus develop Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), and research suggests that for about 45% of those who develop ARDS, the condition is terminal.

Dr. Yan reviewed previous studies looking at the function of a particular antioxidant that is known to protect tissues and help prevent disease. Exercise, even a single session of exercise, increases the body’s production of this antioxidant, and he believes that the benefits of exercise could prevent or reduce the likelihood that someone will develop ARDS if they are infected with the COVID-19 virus. While the studies are not conclusive, and have not been done on this particular virus, as Dr. Yan says, “we do not have to wait until we know everything…regular exercise has far more health benefits than we know.”

But we already knew exercise was good for us!

I know, I know, it’s no surprise that exercise is good for you. But sometimes specific facts can help get us moving. So here are a few more reasons that exercise is beneficial.

Consider that exercise increases the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which helps brain growth by increasing new brain cells and strengthening the connection between brain cells. Exercise often helps with better sleep, increases productivity, prevents some chronic diseases, reduces the risk of Alzheimers, improves hormone regulation, and has been shown to be as effective as drugs in treating depression for some individuals.

Exercise also has tremendous mental health benefits and can help to reduce the stress we are under in light of the COVID-19 virus. The World Health Organization advises that “[e]ven a short break from sitting, by doing 3-5 minutes of physical movement, such as walking or stretching, will help ease muscle strain, relieve mental tension and improve blood circulation and muscle activity.”

Want even more information and sources? Get a copy of a previous article I wrote here.

I am stuck at home without my normal routine – how can I possibly exercise? 

How do you maintain a regular exercise routine when you must limit contact with others, gyms are likely closed in your area, and you are likely stuck with what you have at home?

Here are a variety of thoughts. It will depend on your starting point, choose a goal that works for you. And while regular exercise is great and something to strive for, regular movement is also important to – avoid sitting for extensive periods by getting up to stretch, walk around, or take a quick dance break.

So here we go, in no particular order.

  1. If you do not already have an exercise routine in place, start small and focus on movement. Take walk breaks around the house, do a little work in the garden, or go for a short walk in the neighborhood. Build up slowly in consultation with your body (yes, I should probably say doctor, if you think you should consult your doctor than do, but your body will be a good indicator of what you are capable of too).
  2. Set an alarm to get up and move every 20-30 minutes. (I have heard 60 recommended, but the World Health Organization recommends every 20-30!) so why not move at least every 30 minutes!
  3. Set a regular schedule. You may have more flexibility right now, so your natural routines may no longer exist. If you create your own routine, you are more likely to get exercise done. If it is not scheduled, it is much less likely to happen.
  4. Changes to your body through exercise – muscle building, flexibility, mobility, cardiovascular fitness – these all take a LOT of time to develop. Don’t expect changes to happen overnight or after the first few weeks. Set a pace you can stick with and stay consistent.
  5. Get your whole family involved. I have seen a family in the neighborhood out for a run the last few days. I have never seen them before. There are two parents and two kids. They aren’t quite at the same pace, but clearly a family out running. They wear masks, and yesterday I noticed at least one was in jeans. I’m guessing they aren’t a family of runners – but they are taking the opportunity now to start moving as a family! It’s awesome to see!
  6. What I am doing: I use Gymnastics bodies for a strength workout and I’m loving it, I ride my bike on my indoor trainer (though it is about time to start getting outside more), and I go for jogs in the neighborhood. I am also walking a lot more than I used to. I walk during phone calls, while listening to an audio book, or just because.
  7. Here are stretches from the World Health Organization.
  8. A list of some other free online exercise programs.
  9. Search YouTube and your search engine for other free (or paid) exercise programs that will work with whatever you have in your home. Or consider investing in some equipment if there is a program you think you will stick with – whether weights, yoga equipment – whatever works for you and that is something you will likely stick with.
  10. AirBnB is offering online experiences, which include some yoga, dance, and other exercise classes.
  11. Garden in the yard, clean the house, wash the dog, etc.

Have other ideas to share? Let me know in the comments or email liz@scerf.com.

*Thanks to Dr. Rhonda Patrick for sharing Dr. Yan’s research via Twitter. She is doing great work to share information to keep us healthy in light of the coronavirus, check out that work and her earlier work here.

*For some other ideas about increasing productivity through exercise, get an earlier article I wrote here.

8 Tips to increase your health and happiness this 4th of July holiday.

Here in the United States, this coming Thursday, the 4th of July, is one of our biggest holidays. It marks the day in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was signed, shortly after the first thirteen colonies in what would become the United States became independent from Britain.

If you have the day off work, the holiday can be filled with friends, family, fun, and celebration. It might also bring anxiety over relationships (family? strangers?), over food (that feeling of being stuffed or guilt over eating too much?), and could leave you feeling awful the next day (too much sun, unhealthy food, hungover, lack of sleep?). Here are a few tips that may help you keep it to the fun with family and friends and to avoid the negative.

  1. Move. Plan to be active throughout the day. Is it a nice day for you and the family to go for a bike ride? Walk a couple of miles to watch a parade? Or just enjoy a nice walk in your area? If you can’t fit in a longer walk or ride – where can you fit in shorter walks? If you are at a party – leave for 10 minutes and return more refreshed, or take someone with you who you want to catch up with. They will probably be happy that you asked. If you workout regularly, you might also feel better if you get up in time to fit a quick workout in before the rest of the day begins.
  2. Set an intention. If there is a big meal involved in your day, make an intention beforehand. Will you try all that you want to try? Will you just take tastes and go back if something is really good? Will you choose just one or two things to enjoy along with lots of vegetables? If you are going to drink alcohol – how much? If not, consider bringing a fancy sparkling water or other nice drink to enjoy.
  3. Plan & Prepare. If you are going to a potluck, bring a healthy dish so that you know you can get full on that if you don’t want to eat anything else. Here is the recipe for one of my favorite salads. It is likely to be a big hit, so you might want to make double.
  4. Choose nature’s sweets. Choose fresh fruit over store-bought desserts. What says summer better than red, juicy, watermelon?
  5. Taste. Take the time to taste (and chew) your food. It is easy in a social setting to grab food and devour without really noticing. Even if you are in a conversation, remember to take a minute and enjoy what you are eating.
  6. Relationships – family. If you know you will see a family member who makes your inner self want to scream, plan before you see them how you will react. You cannot control them, but you can control your reaction to them.
  7. Relationships – strangers. Perhaps you are going to a gathering and there will be people you don’t know. If you are not one who thrives on talking with strangers, think of three questions you will ask people before you go. Then, once you get there, aim to engage at least two people in conversation. Ask them questions about themselves, focus on just talking with them until the time is right to leave, and truly get interested. Your questions could be basic (So, how do you know [the host]?). Or, choose some of these juicier questions to get the conversation started.
  8. Most Important. Have fun and enjoy your holiday however you decide to spend it. If you set an intention and your day doesn’t quite go how you had planned, let it go. Tomorrow you may choose to think about why that happened, but holding onto guilt over it will get you nowhere.

Don’t abandon healthy forms of movement while traveling : A few simple tips.

Travel can cause a ruckus to any exercise routine. Here are some simple tips to keep you moving when away from home.

If you have a fitness routine at home, it can be difficult to keep it up when traveling, whether for work or pleasure. [If you do NOT have a home workout routine, these tips will still help, and also make sure to check out the final paragraph where I link up to my free guide to boost productivity through movement].

Whether you enjoy the break from your routine on vacation, or dislike the feeling of not exercising, continuing to incorporate movement of any kind into your travels can be easy, add fun adventure, and add to your overall feeling of well-being. Obviously there are endless factors that will impact what you can and cannot do based on where you are, but here are a few tips to think about the next time you are away.

  1. Walk. When on vacation, you likely have more time in your days and can walk more. That may be built into your trip (walking city’s to visit museums for example), but if not, can you make an effort to walk a little further between destinations? Can you get up a little early than others in your group, or even with others, to go for a walk before the rest of your day begins? Even on a work trip perhaps you also have more time without the same demands as you have at home, can you use a little time at the beginning or end of the day to walk more and see the place where you are visiting? Getting out in the early morning as a town begins to wake up can be a great way to explore a new area and see things you might not otherwise. For an added bonus, when walking, vary your pace a bit. Use landmarks to go faster and get your heart rate up for a bit, and then go back to a more moderate pace to the next chosen landmark (alternating approximately every 1 to 3 minutes). This increase/decrease has added benefits to your fitness than a constant pace, even if it’s constant at a higher pace.
  2. Ride. Can you incorporate sightseeing by bike into a trip? I know someone who’s employer allowed them to rent a bike instead of a car on a work trip, and many cities now have bike rentals that you pick up on one street and drop off at another.
  3. Fitness centers. Then of course is the hotel fitness center if you are at a hotel. Some are much better than others, but most every place has something you could use. Even just getting in there for 10 minutes before you start your day can give a good heart rate boost that will have you feeling better, and you will likely be happy that you made the effort. These often have at least a treadmill, elliptical machine, and a stationary bike. But they will also have weights. If you travel a lot, it would be worthwhile to develop a routine that is either entirely body weight that you could do in any room where you are staying, or mostly body weight that you could utilize the fitness centers for. There are many routines you can find online. My current favorite resource for ideas is Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Workout Prescription.
  4. Anything else. Movement is great, whatever type and form it is. Whatever the form of movement, count it, rather than feeling ‘bad’ if you are not following your typical workout routine at home. Life requires flexibility, and you will be more likely to return to your home workout routine if you do not move at all on vacation and then feel badly about it. Do what you can, have compassion with yourself if doing what you can is lacking from what you think you should be doing, and then return to your routine when you return home.

Don’t have a home workout routine? I recently published my free guide titled Let’s Get Moving: A Simple Guide to Boost Productivity Through Movement. It is a guide specifically for busy attorneys who have not found the time to fit any movement into their days because of the demands of work and family. I will show you why it is important, how it can be done simply and quickly, and how that effort will ultimately boost your overall productivity. Download your free copy (and sign up for my free monthly newsletter) here.

My Happiness Project: April

Well, May is almost over, so I better catch up and report on my April challenge. My goal for April was: “Swimming – Total Immersion. Try to find a buddy. Swim more often – make this my priority.” I will give myself a B- for my April goal.

First, a bit about my history of swimming. When I was a child I was on the swim team for a period of time. I do not recall if it was one year or a few more, but it was definitely only in elementary school, and let’s just say it didn’t turn me into a star swimmer. But, I grew up around water and have always loved it. In college it was part of my overall fitness routine. I recall going to the pool a few mornings a week (I’m guessing 2-3, but this is a distant memory, and perhaps it was one year during college or all 4, memory is an odd thing). I would swim continuously for a mile, very slowly and maintaining the same, consistent, slow pace.

From 2004 to 2013 or so, I didn’t swim a lot. I started up again as I became more and more involved in triathlon. A few years ago I was swimming 5 times a week, last year’s training was down to 3 or 4, and in the off season when I am not training for anything in particular it had dropped off even more. Hence, at the time of this challenge, I had a schedule to swim twice a week, but it was often the first thing to drop and I was swimming once a week more often than not, and only for about 30 minutes.

When I really started getting into triathlon, after a couple of years I got up the nerve to join the local Masters swimming group. There are Masters groups all over the country, and they provide instruction and structured workouts for adults. Some also provide a competitive atmosphere and there are races for adults who are interested. This was great for me, and it really helped my swimming. I would encourage anyone thinking about it to join a Masters group. However, about a year ago I quit as part of a reduction in expenditures as I was planning to quit my job to pursue health coaching and mediation full time.

I had heard about a program called Total Immersion from a few different sources, (one was an interview of the founder, Terry Laughlin with Tim Ferris right before Mr. Laughlin passed away this past year), and I wanted to try it in April and potentially get a group together so that we could watch each other doing drills to give feedback on what we actually look like versus what we think we look like. In April I did purchase a program, and I asked someone to go through it together. The timing wasn’t right for us to connect, but we may form a group in the fall to go through it together. And while I certainly could have gone through it on my own, or asked others, I didn’t. But because I took active steps in the direction and think that I will revisit it when I have a little more time and when the weather turns us back inside, I’m going with a B- grade on this.

Additionally, I did up my swimming starting in the month of April. I am now swimming a pretty solid 3 times per week, which includes one swim a little longer on the weekends. I may be cheating a little bit here, because I also signed up for my third Ironman race (mid-November), so I am also happily back to following a training plan which includes 3 swims per week and makes it less negotiable.

If you are thinking about triathlon, but worried about the swim portion, I encourage you to look into Total Immersion, and/or Masters programs. Because triathlon is really driving the adult swim industry, most Masters groups focus on triathlon and often will teach you specific skills, such as sighting so that you can efficiently stay on the course for open water swims. If possible for you, finding a swim coach or triathlon coach who can work with you individually is another super step, but if not possible right now, just keep getting in the pool (or better yet, find a group that swims together at a lake or the ocean). My experience is that getting better at swimming takes time, time, and more time of just getting in the pool and moving, and exploring how to move faster through the water. I am still not fast at all, but I have seen improvements over the years that largely come from just showing up, getting in, and doing the laps, along with some drills. You can incorporate triathlon skills on your own as well. Look in any tri book, or online, for tips about race/open water swimming. If you try any of these, I would love to hear how it goes! Happy Swimming!

5 Tips for a Happier & Healthier Vacation

Vacations are supposed to be about relaxing and/or adventuring and exploring new areas. But, while I just love vacation time, getting out of my food and exercise routines can be stressful for me. I am constantly experimenting with ways to enjoy time away from home and the 9-5 job routine while still feeling good about my overall health and what I am putting into my body.

We were just fortunate enough to get a spring break trip. My husband and I do not have kids, and neither of us are tied to a school schedule, but my in-laws are professors and we met them in Hawaii for a wonderful week over their spring break. Since it is the time of year that many sneak away, here are my top 5 tips to enjoy vacation while maintaining control of my health. Let me know if something resonates with you, and what you try to make your next trip a little bit happier and healthier along with what other tips you have!

1. Bring Healthy Snacks 

This will take shape differently for different people. At the least, bring emergency snacks if you cannot find anything healthy in airports or on your trip. But you can also pack all your food for at least travel day. I was recently gifted a travel cooler that fits on a roller bag. I am in love with it! It has been a total game changer, allowing me to bring meals instead of just snacks (and it has helped me bring Alaskan seafood to to family down south!) This is what I was gifted. I am sure there are others on the market, but since it was a gift I didn’t have to do my own research. Fortunately, ice packs are allowed through security if still frozen, and I can pack vegetables, fruit, my homemade muffins or cookies if I have them on hand, and sometimes a salad or leftover food for a meal in transit. I personally do not like spending money on food in airports, so for me this reduces both food and money stress.

I realize that many people will not want to devote 1 of 2 carry on bags to food! But here are some ideas for shelf-stable items to throw in your bag for your next trip:

  • Raw nuts or trail mix
  • Jerky (avoiding extra sugars. There are now some good grass fed beef items on the market).
  • Bars such as KIND or Lara that have few and good ingredients without a ton of added sugar
  • Vegetables – many can handle a day in your bag such as carrots, snap peas, and celery sticks
  • Fruit that you can keep from being crushed
  • Nut butter packets (or a jar in checked luggage)
  • Nuun drink tablets – I love these for hot climates when I really need electrolytes midday but do not want to drink the high sugar options in super markets
  • Coffee packets
  • Tea bags – Tea is great for so many reasons. It is great at helping me avoid other snack foods when I just want something in my mouth, I can sip on a nice tea rather than getting crappy food. It also helps me stay hydrated, and can help stave off colds that are commonly transported in travel. At $3 or more for a purchased tea, many cups on a layover will really add up, but coffee shops are happy to fill my mug with hot water for my sipping pleasure when I travel prepared.

2. Plan Your Treats

Hopefully you will have some awesome meals on your vacation. It’s a great opportunity to try new foods and enjoy some great treats. But if you plan those treats ahead, you take control over what they will be. Without some pre-planning, I know that I can end up overindulging and feeling horrible at the end of the vacation. This planning will be different for every individual because we have different comfort levels with treats and guilt, and of course different desires in the treat department. For example, this last trip I was able to eat well for most meals, but then enjoyed local rum with pineapple juice in the evening–intentionally and without guilt.

3. Move

My favorite vacations focus on movement (hiking/backpacking, skiing, and diving). But I don’t get to do those all the time. And I am never able to do the same type of training or exercise that I am doing at home. So, I focus on whatever movement I can; and I think that for overall health, it is movement that is the most important. Vacation can be a time, out of the office, to walk around much of the day – leisurely enjoying yourself, while giving your body a great benefit. I usually run or walk in the morning before others are up (unless I know I will be moving all day), but also make sure it is okay mentally if some days I cannot move as much. Try walking 30 minutes each morning on your next vacation (if in an area where it is safe to do so) and see how you feel both physically and mentally!

4. Cook for Yourself

Here again, I am fairly extreme and prefer to cook for myself even on vacation with just the occasional meal out. It’s cheaper and healthier for us, and we can still incorporate local foods. This past trip we stayed in condos with well stocked kitchens and brought my cooler with lunch each day – salad or vegetables and hummus for me and sandwiches for my traveling companions, along with cold drinks and other snacks. And I was able to start each day with a huge green smoothie, which was an awesome way to get going. I was in heaven. But even with fewer amenities, you can prepare some meals on your own that can at least be lighter than typical restaurant fare. For example, overnight oats or chia seed pudding make for a simple and quick hotel breakfast if you have a refrigerator, or a salad bar or bagged salad from a grocery store make a nice lighter lunch or dinner.

5. Practice Intentional Self-Care

This goes back to being intentional about what YOU need. In our culture of obligers, many people feel selfish about putting their needs and self-care as a priority, but it is actually a gift to those around you. When your needs are met, you are more present and able to give more to others. I have just recently discovered the power of being intentional about my own self needs. On a recent trip I decided beforehand that I would walk two hours a day. I split it up throughout the days which were spent visiting different family members and doing chores. But if I hadn’t set that goal ahead of time, I would have felt too guilty to get out and just walk by myself mid-day. Once it was my goal, I flipped that and would have felt guilty if I didn’t get my walking in. By going out and walking to take care of myself, others were not negatively affected. Quite the opposite; my time spent with family that trip was more valuable because I was more present with them, having my own needs met. For you that might not mean walking, and it will probably be different for different trips and different demands (on that trip for me, the walking was great mentally and physically, many other trips I don’t have that kind of time and my self-care might be a 30 minute high intensity workout first thing in the morning; but this can also mean that you take 30 minutes each morning to read or meditate or something else that will help you in your day but that might not involve your traveling partners). Think ahead and pick at least one thing you will do each day just for you!

Conclusion 

Bottom line – enjoy yourself and keep in mind that reducing stress and sleeping more is so good for your body and mind, and may just allow your body to let go of some stored fat regardless of activity level or a less healthy meal.

Let me know if you try any of these tips and how they work for you, and share your own healthy travel tips!