Immune Health:  Important things to know (pandemic or not)

Immune health has become more relevant this year.  Perhaps more so than ever before!

No matter how you look at it, there are a few core principles to optimizing immune health.  There are also a few specific science-backed nutrients and nutritional compounds worth considering.  Scroll down to learn more.

First of all, our body is a system and should be treated as so.  One size fits all solutions and quick fixes are rarely the answers for good, life-long health and well-being.  Consistent practices that are realistic and strike a balance across all influencing factors can help to support your success and overall happiness.

Within our internal ecosystem, various checks and balances are continuously at play.  Facets of our lifestyle and environments can make or break the health of these systems.  Let’s explore this a little further.

Inflammation & Oxidative Stress Wreak Havoc on Health

Chances are that you have heard about inflammation, but oxidative stress may be less familiar.  Oxidative stress is a tricky thing that happens within our bodies.  This natural chemical reaction can result from environmental, physical, and mental or emotional stressors within our daily lives.  It also triggers inflammation in the body!

Scientists go back and forth, but generally believe that low levels of oxidative stress (oxidative eustress) could help the body to build internal resilience.  Also, this may be a mechanism to treat diseases like certain types of cancer.

However, when oxidation becomes excessive and chronic, the imbalance is too much.  As a result, the body goes into a bit of an overload and can’t handle it.  This is when oxidative stress can contribute to damage to the cells and tissues within our bodies.  It also reduces the body’s ability to defend itself!

Chronic oxidative stress contributes to the onset of diseases and increases the risk of infections.

Agents in our environment and lifestyles, such as pesticides and air pollution, cigarette smoking, and processed foods are known contributors to oxidative stress.  Antagonistic substances, such as high-fructose corn syrup in food or chemicals in consumer products, may contribute further to the havoc.  Also, our body’s response to overloads of psychological and emotional stressors may induce oxidative stress.

In the modern world, it is pretty safe to assume that excessive levels of oxidative stress will be likely and that measures to combat this threat should be taken.  Also, if you have already developed a chronic condition such as diabetes or autoimmune diseases, then paying attention to sources of oxidative stress will be of utmost importance.

Nutrient-rich, healthy eating is one of the best approaches to oxidative stress.  Anti-inflammatory foods and supplements provide the body the antioxidant boost it craves.  Even better to know, the mitochondria in our cells (our little energy creators) are sensitive to environmental factors and oxidative stress yet respond well to good nutrition.

Other behaviors, such as consistent, moderate-impact exercise, managing psychological and emotional stress, prioritizing sleep, and taking precautions with chemicals, may also support the body to combat the negative effects of oxidative stress.

A Healthy Gut and Immune Health are Linked

Gut health more or less equates to immune health.  An estimated 70% of our immune cells reside in the gastrointestinal tract (aka gut), making it integral to our immune system. 

Our digestive organs and gut bacteria play critical roles in our body’s natural detoxification, hormone regulation, and overall internal defense.  Essentially, when functioning properly, the gut helps us to get rid of what we don’t want and keep what we do. 

Furthermore, research on the human gut microbiome, the bacteria residing in the gastrointestinal tract, has led to critical findings on human health and diseases, including the impact on immune health

Gut bacteria and health outcomes are intricately linked.  In a nutshell, if you fail to nurture the health of the gut, you will also be setting yourself up for poorer immune health. 

Poor food choices and chronic exposure to chemicals and pollutants will burden the gut and contribute to dysfunction in the body.  These factors may also lead to a “leaky gut” where the composition of the gut lining becomes compromised and allow parts of food to escape.  Imbalanced nutrition can also compromise the immune system and leave it more vulnerable to infections.

Intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut) can lead to impaired nutrient absorption and may trigger food sensitivities.  Also, particles that pass through the gut lining will rev up your body’s immune response in an unintended fashion.  When this happens, a range of health problems may result.

Lifestyles that are sedentary or imbalanced may lead to further disruption of a healthy microbiome.  Microbiome disruption contributes to an imbalance within the composition of gut microbiota.  This may lead to a weaker immune system.  This cascade, so to speak, can set you up for the higher likelihood of infections and the manifestation of chronic health conditions.

Essentially, cultivating an environment where your gut and body can effectively operate, then rest and restore itself is the aim.  This can be supported through a consistent, daily focus on enhancing good gut health.

The same measures you would take to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body will help to improve gut health.  A few other things to help boost the health of your gut microbiome include the following:

  • determining if you have any food sensitivities
  • increasing intake of pre- and probiotic foods
  • reducing sugar in your diet
  • increasing fiber intake
  • reducing chemical exposures from products in your day-to-day (skincare, food storage, etc.)

Sleep, Sleep, and More Sleep for Better Health

Sleep deprivation is commonly underlooked.  When life gets busy or hectic, it’s often the first thing that people slough off.  However, based on what we know from sleep science, there is no reason to make such excuses.  Doing so will only short-change yourself and could have significant implications on the health of your immune system.

Sleep is the time within our circadian rhythms that our bodies restore themselves.  Adequate sleep is critical to immune functionality, hormone regulation, and healthy digestion.  (Notice a theme?)

Sleep and immune system health are also intricately linked.  Lack of sleep may lead to the suppression of the immune system and weaken its ability to function. It can also lead to higher inflammation and greater susceptibility to infections.  If sleep deprivation continues over prolonged periods, the body’s defense system will get confused.  This dysregulation may contribute to the onset of chronic health conditions and diseases.

The importance of sleep should not be overlooked.  Good health and sleep habits often go hand in hand.

No one is saying to set up a bear cave for prolonged sleep.  Generally speaking, experts suggest 7-9 hours consistently across your days with the encouragement to keep bed and rise times the same.  People with chronic health conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, may find that 8-10 hours is more conducive for their health and wellness.

Sleep experts support establishing a sleep schedule and supplementation when needed.  Also, reducing the use of technology at least an hour (or more) before your bedtime may prove relevant.  This is due to the blue-toned lighting used in technological devices and the mental stimulation that engaging in certain digital activities may provide.  Finally, keeping social stressors in check may also lead to a better, more effective wind-down process before bedtimes.

The Meaningful Impact of A Healthy Relationship with Stress

Psychological and emotional stress, like oxidative stress, is much about finding a balance.  Some stress in our lives can help challenge us both mentally and physiologically.  However, persistent and enduring stress is what should present some concern.  Long-term mental or emotional stress may result from aspects within our lifestyle or as a result of a traumatic event.

The effects of stress on the immune system have been studied for some time.  Although acute psychological stress, (meaning circumstantial events that challenge us mentally), may provide boosts to the immune system and body’s overall resilience, chronically stressful lifestyles can cause trouble.

Over firing of stress hormones can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system.  Furthermore, researchers believe that chronic stressors may dysregulate the immune system.  This type of stress may contribute to weaker immune systems and a greater likelihood of developing illnesses.  Also, as we age, this risk may become higher.

As one expert describes it, the chronic, less-predictable stress is what throws our bodies out of balance.

Stress hormones and hormone-producing glands naturally spring into action when stress is experienced.  To the body, stressors are like threats to our livelihood that require an immediate response.  It is a natural way for the body to defend itself from what it perceives as threats.  However, this mechanism can also down-regulate some immune functions.  (It’s a little like putting them in reserves so the body can respond to the threat).

With short-term bursts of the body’s natural stress response, a healthy body will rebound.  However, if hormone levels like cortisol stay elevated for prolonged periods then, negative effects within the body will begin to initiate.  This cascade could set the stage for longer-term health consequences.

There are also compelling connections between sleep quality and the effects of psychological and emotional stress.  It’s nearly impossible to discuss one area without address the other.  The dynamic between stress and sleep is codependent.  In a nutshell, sleep deprivation may impair the regulation of stress hormones.  While the dysregulation of hormones that stress can trigger may impair sleep.  Needless to say, it’s an unproductive cycle.

Other stress-related effects on the immune system include increased inflammation, poor wound healing, a change in how the body responds to infectious agents, and impairments to digestion and, including the microbiome.  (Wow, can you see how all these factors are interrelated?!?)

Keeping stressors at bay through stress management, relaxation, and other techniques to calm the body should promote a healthier immune system.  A few options include the following:

  • Meditation and Deep-breathing exercises
  • Mindfulness therapies and/or Mind-body approaches
  • Daily movement, Coordinated exercise, and Yoga
  • Hormonal regulation therapies or supplements
  • Calming techniques such as EFT (tapping)
  • Remaining connected socially (with positive social connections)
  • Having a little fun or Laughter
  • Spending time in nature
  • Snuggling or playing with pets

Final Tips to Boost Immune Health

The areas detailed above are entangled.  Other things we know about keeping the immune system healthy include the following:

Immune system health has a lot of components.

It can be best to take a realistic and measurable approach.  First, do what you can to avoid unnecessary havoc on the immune system (i.e. clean up the junk).

Identifying a few realistic “start small” areas to gradually integrate into your daily life can be an effective strategy.  While other people may find the most success in identifying their most critical area of need and, then, starting to make changes related to it before moving on to other priorities.

Reducing burden or overload on the body while simultaneously boosting its processes and systems will help to support your body for overall health and well-being.

In terms of immune health, this can contribute to the lower risk of infection or improve the body’s ability to better manage infections that occur.  There are no guarantees, but factoring in the facets above and staying on track can increase the likelihood of favorable outcomes.

The good news is that much of the lifestyle measures and behaviors most supportive of good immune health have benefits that extend well beyond the health of the immune system.

Photo credit(s):  Corinne Kutz on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

How to Pick a Stellar Fitness Professional

Summer can be significant to fitness goals. 

When I started drafting this blog post early in the year, I never dreamed just how relevant it would become at the time it would publish.  Fitness is one of the aspects of life that was completely turned on its head for many people due to the various changes in lifestyle required in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finding personal connections with reliable fitness professionals was likely something that helped to support many people.  This could have positively influenced overall stress and peace of mind through the various unexpected interruptions and changes.  I’m glad we were able to connect with an ambitious entrepreneur in the fitness field who had launched a unique virtual model last year.

So, what matters most when picking a fitness professional?

As Kira, co-founder of Comfy Fitness reminds, it can be easy to spend more time with your personal trainer than your best friend.  So, make sure you like them.

Furthermore, this Huffington Post article reminds us to look for knowledge and expertise, but also a natural fit.  Also, to prioritize individual goals and working with someone who will provide the best motivation, inspiration, and comfort levels throughout the process.   An optimal location or schedule to match your daily habits and priorities can also be important.

Meanwhile, the American Council on Exercise (ACE), which is one of the leading training institutes for fitness professionals, suggests asking for references, consider specialties, and check for liability insurance.

Many gyms and trainers also offer a trial period.  If this isn’t clear in the business policies, be sure to ask.

It can also be great to vet them out on knowledge of medical conditions, particularly if you have one!  Although this may take a little time and trial and error to find, it could bridge the gap between mediocre or marginal and great success.

Finally, cost considerations are often relevant.  Although this shouldn’t be the final straw.  A good fitness coach that is a true fit for you may not come that easily.  However, avoiding overpayment without achieving the desired results should be the perspective here.

To wrap it up, some “quick and dirty tips” to choose a personal trainer are recorded and embedded within this blog post.

Bottomline; trust your gut for the final choice.

Photo credit(s):  Wellness Stock Shop

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

5 Things That Lead to Greater Happiness

A happy, healthy life is something to aspire to.  There are a few things that can help to achieve one.

The first thing to keep on the radar is that happiness and health are interrelated as this article from Healthline elaborates on.  Therefore, working on either area as an overarching aim will also influence the other.  Pretty neat! 

Furthermore, setting specific, clear goals that contribute to each area will help ensure attainability.

The simple act of placing focus on the things that provide positive emotion can also play a role in achieving a greater sense of happiness.  Pursuing things that are enjoyable, positive thinking and visualization techniques, and having a sense of purpose are all supportive of finding this focus.

Lowering stress levels can have compelling results that can range from boosting the mood to reducing inflammation in the body.  Interconnected with this is getting sufficient and good quality sleep.  This includes both nightly sleep and other facets of rest such as naps or meditation.

Bursts of physical activity will release endorphins which will then trigger a cascade of biological functions in the body and lead to more uplifting feelings.  Much of this is associated with hormonal related activity in the body which is significant to mental health.  The great news is it doesn’t necessarily need to be higher-level athletic activity.  Although keeping up a motivating fitness regime is fantastic in many ways, even daily walking will get the “happy” hormone cascade going within the body.

Finally, a focus on good, quality nutrition could one of the best things to help achieve a happier, healthier life.  Even business-focused magazines such as Forbes have highlighted the connections between maintaining a healthy diet and positive mental well-being!  Although a specific, individualized dietary structure is a rather specialized area, the focus on a rich variety of vegetables and fruits is the one theme that is salient across all nutritional research. 

To recap, 5 things that lead to greater happiness are:

  • Set specific, clear goals
  • Do things that lead to positive emotion
  • Lower stress & Sleep well
  • Stay physically active
  • Eat well

It is important for overall happiness to strike a balance and not scrutinize over various ebbs and flows, for example, the occasional pleasure food that isn’t necessarily 100% nutritionally optimized, a missed fitness day, or other monkey wrenches that may come into the mix of a good, healthy routine.

Photo by Caju Gomes on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Sources:

Arab, A., Mehrabani, S., Moradi, S., & Amani, R. (2019, Jan). The association between diet and mood: A systematic review of current literature. Psychiatry research271, 428–437.

Blaszczak-Boxe, A.  (2016, Jul 14).  Eating More Fruits & Veggies May Make You Happier.  LiveScience.  Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/55407-eating-more-fruits-veggies-linked-with-life-satisfaction.html.

Bradt, G.  (2015, May 27).  The Secret of Happiness Revealed by Harvard Study.  Forbes.  Retreived from https://www.forbes.com/sites/georgebradt/2015/05/27/the-secret-of-happiness-revealed-by-harvard-study/#25a4c2e26786.

Bridges, F.  (2019, Jan 26).  Healthy Food Makes You Happy:  Research Shows A Healthy Diet Improves Your Mental Health.  Forbes.  Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/francesbridges/2019/01/26/food-makes-you-happy-a-healthy-diet-improves-mental-health/#5ae265f326f8.

Coyle, D.  (2017, Aug 27).  How Being Happier Makes You Healthier.  Healthline.  Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/happiness-and-health.

Głąbska, D., Guzek, D., Groele, B., & Gutkowska, K. (2020, Jan 1). Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mental Health in Adults: A Systematic Review. Nutrients12(1), 115.

Grohol, J.M.  (2018, Jul 8).  The Connection Between Mental & Physical Health.  PsychCentral.  Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-connection-between-mental-physical-health/.

Harvard Medical School (n.d.).  The Happiness-Health Connection.  Harvard Health Publishing.  Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-happiness-health-connection.

Mead, E.  (2019, Nov 21).  6 Benefits of Happiness According to the Research.  PositivePsychology.com.  Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-happiness/.

Siahpush, M, Spittal M, Singh, G.J. (2008, Sep-Oct).  Happiness and Life Satisfaction Prospectively Predict Self-Rated Health, Physical Health, and the Presence of Limiting, Long-Term Health Conditions.  American Journal of Health Promotion, 23(1), 18-26.

Veenhoven, R.  (2019, Aug 14).  Will Healthy Eating Make You Happier?  Research Synthesis Using an Online Findings Archive.  Applied Research in Quality of Life.

How to Boost Your Health as a Busy Working Mom

Do you struggle as a busy working mom?  It may seem hard to maintain balance and keep health a priority.

According to the Pew Research Center, mothers are spending more time in the labor force, as compared to prior generations, and many of them report feeling a lot of pressure to find an appropriate balance between their roles as a professional and a parent (2019).

This study summary, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, honed in on psychological factors related to working mothers.  The researchers concluded that the mother’s sense of well-being dropped when feelings of inadequacy, pressures, or less social connectedness were present (2017).

Some of these feelings could easily arise when a sense of balance is challenged and schedules feel hectic or erratic.  Furthermore, this could lead to overwhelm and be emotional taxing which can increase adverse stress levels.  Also, it could inadvertently put positive self-care and health on the back-burner.

Three ways to bring about a little calm to the chaos and, therefore, recenter focus on balance and good health could include the following;

Establish an iterative routine – Routines can help to keep various facets on the priority list.  They are great when they are realistic.  However, chances are pretty high that, as a busy working mom, there will be the need to incorporate a little flexibility.  Therefore, planning various buffer time or blocking off a few extra time slots in the calendar can help to plan for unexpected interruptions.

Create a personal wellness zone – This is a tactic used in workplace wellness and some may be the lucky ones with access to these companies that provide wellness zones.  However, others may be working from home or amid of work-related travel.  Therefore, a little creativity to set up a tailored wellness zone may be necessary.  This could include designating a place for meditation, finding a quiet area for napping, or structuring a space for a workout.

Leave time to wind down – Sleep is one of the most significant factors in human health.  Yet, it can be easily disrupted as a person’s anxiety levels increase.  Similar to elevated and adverse stress levels, inadequate sleep can wreak havoc on the human body and lead to feeling pretty crumby.  Also, depending on the age of children, there may be uncontrollable disruptions.  Emphasizing good quality sleep when possible can be well-worth the priority.  Finding ways to wind down can help ensure that sleep and times of rest are both adequate and more relevant in quality.

Other tips and tricks to find greater balance and boost health include the following:

  • Prioritize family communication
  • Carefully delegate tasks and to do’s
  • Spend time in nature
  • Leave time for creative thought
  • Use a journal
  • Incorporate mindfulness approaches

Finally, this Thrive Global article, 21 Productivity Hacks for Working Moms, provided a pretty fantastic list of suggestions to help simplify while also getting a lot of things done.

Sense of accomplishment from and contributions made to work can be significant intrinsic motivators as well.  Finding a good balance between this role and other responsibilities, such as that of a parent, can be supportive of good overall health and well-being.

Photo credit(s):  Sue Zeng on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Stress and Well-being are Top of Mind in 2020 {ironically, April is Stress Awareness Month}

Are you concerned about your stress and well-being?

Stress and the sense of worry have catapulted.  The various unexpected circumstances and interruptions this year (2020) have led to significant changes in many people’s lives including daily routines.

All of this sheds further light on stress health.  Times that are riddled with unexpected circumstances can present a great opportunity as well.

It is not uncommon for people, in their busy day-to-day, to put stress health on the back burner.  Yet, excess elevated stress levels that are not appropriately dealt with can cause a cascade of other health-related impairments.

…furthermore, making it more challenging to stay healthy.

This includes interference to our immune health, sleep, physical health, mood, and emotional well-being.  More details can be found from sources such as The American Institute of Stress.

An important concept to understand is that not all stress is bad.  Stressors can help to build resilience and, in a sense, make us stronger.  The New York Times recently published a nice write-up on this facet.

Finding ways to focus on how you respond to stressors in the day-to-day can be well worth the while.  Often, it is just about getting started…  pressing that imaginary “begin” button.

Developing a healthy relationship with stress can catalyze improvements in health and well-being as a whole.

If you are one of those people who have put stress health on the back burner OR need a simple format to get started, I have something for you.

In my service business, I have unlocked a 3-day workshop focused on a “keep it simple” approach to addressing stress in your daily lives.

Visit our News and Updates section to learn more.

Photo credit(s): Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

5 Ways Good Wellness Helps to Optimize Your Productivity

There are some compelling connections between good wellness and your overall productivity.

Whether you are a business owner, employee, freelancer, or stay-at-home parent, taking these associations into account may be of significant help to reap certain rewards.  Honing in on good wellness in support of personal productivity can be great for the following:

  • Help you to get things done
  • Contribute to meaningful progress towards your goals
  • Ultimately, lead to a more flawless journey from point A to B when it comes to your Achievements, Desired Outcomes, and other areas of Success

Implementers of workplace wellness offerings have been rather keen on this for years.  Studies on these programs have observed improvements in various productivity measures across the workforce population that were enrolled.  Also, positive changes were shown in both people considered healthy and sick, such as those with at least one chronic health condition.

As an individual, a proactive approach to wellness is certainly an area to consider for both personal health outcomes and productivity-related results.

Poorer health may interfere with the ability to function well.  Furthermore, it can result in certain limitations.  Although not all health conditions are within our immediate control, engaging in wellness programs and activities can help to prevent certain impairments in our health and well-being.

5 ways that good health and wellness can influence productivity include the following;

  1. Improved mental clarity and focus.  People who are in good or better health tend to comment that they also feel better mentally.  Also, certain activities and habits, such as physical activity, meditation, getting sufficient sleep, and eating well can help out our internal biochemistry and the brain which can lead to better memory, executive functioning, and overall cognition.
  2. Stress-reduction and reduced burnout.  Wellness can also support people to learn coping mechanisms for when life puts on the pressure, especially considering that many people are juggling to maintain a good balance across priorities.  The American Institute of Stress has been monitoring facets related to the onset of stress, including work-related factors.  High-stress levels may lead to missed days at work, less focus while completing tasks, and a poorer outlook.  Many health-related activities lead to reduced stress levels.
  3. Greater levels of happiness.  Although complex, research suggests that “happy workers” feel more satisfied and are more productive.  The exact path leading to someone’s happiness includes several factors, however, people participating in various health related-activities and wellness programs report a greater sense of well-being including overall happiness and a favorable outlook on life.  Furthermore, more engagement in healthy activities may also reduce loneliness.
  4. Enhanced motivation and well-being.  Health and wellness as a whole is a great area to plan, work for, track, and achieve goals.  The function of this alone can encourage positive motivation which can have a bit of an amplification effect for other aspects of both productivity and positive well-being.
  5. Fewer unplanned interruptions due to illness.  Better immune health can serve as a catalyst to avoid the onset of illnesses or, at least, reduce the severity.  Certain good health practices can help to take a proactive approach to protect and boost the immune system.

Habits such as nourishing the body through good food, taking breaks for physical activity and social time, leaving time for creativity or creative thought, and getting enough quality sleep are all areas that make up “good wellness”.  A more comprehensive list of suggestions is included in a Thrive Global article focused on correlations between well-being and higher performance.

Photo credit(s):  krisna iv on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

References:

American Institute of Stress, The (n.d.).  Workplace Stress.  Retrieved from https://www.stress.org/workplace-stress.

Gubler, T., Larkin, I., and Pierce, L. (2017, Dec 19).  Doing Well by Making Well: The Impact of Corporate Wellness Programs on Employee Productivity.  Management Science, 64(11), 4967-4987.

Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School (2020, Jan 29).  12 Ways to Keep Your Brain Young.  Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/12-ways-to-keep-your-brain-young.

Krause, W. (2017, May 7).  Wellbeing is Correlated to Higher Performance.  Thrive Global.  Retrieved from https://medium.com/thrive-global/why-well-being-has-everything-to-do-with-productivity-bc89ecc09959.

Peiró, J. M., Kozusznik, M. W., Rodríguez-Molina, I., and Tordera, N. (2019).  The Happy-Productive Worker Model and Beyond: Patterns of Wellbeing and Performance at Work. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health16(3), 479.

Raghupathi, W. and Raghupathi, V.  (2018, Mar).  An Empirical Study of Chronic Diseases in the United States:  A Visual Analytics Approach to Public Health.  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(3), 431.

Nichols, H. (2018, Jan 10).  How to Boost Your Brain.  Medical News Today.  Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320576.php#1.

A Wellness Journal for Your Best, Healthy Life

A wellness journal can be important in achieving your goals.

The use of a journal can help to Clear the mind, allow for Self-reflection and Emotional expression, Provide accountability, Reduce stress, and improve overall Problem-solving.  It can be supportive of personal growth and may lead to a greater sense of empowerment in one’s life.

It is also considered an inexpensive form of self-care!

Writing therapy with the use of a journal has been used in a range of scenarios related to overall health and wellness.  Essentially what can make journaling supportive to health is when it is leveraged in a concerted way.  More on this can be found through PositivePsychology.com under “writing therapy”.  Also, a brief synopsis on the history of journal writing as a form of therapy is available from the Center for Journal Therapy.

In scientific studies, various associations between creative expression and health outcomes have been observed.

Self-reflection exercises, such as those that can be applied through the use of a journal, have been used to support people in overcoming grief or trauma.  The rationale behind this is that expressive writing can help people to acknowledge traumatic events, organize thoughts, and, then, help them to make sense of things.  Essentially, it is a way to learn from the experience and move forward.  Experts in this area point out the need to find the right amount of time spent on journaling vs. over-reliance on the tool which could result in rumination.

Studies that have focused on people with chronic health conditions have shown improvements in overall well-being even if the act of journaling was only once a week.  Furthermore, there has been some evidence to suggest the simple act of using a journal can boost the immune system and, therefore, benefit health overall.  This could have been a bi-product resulting from stress reduction.

Improving immune health is especially relevant when health conditions have been diagnosed.  

For general wellness and personal growth, journals can be used to create healthy habits.  A few ways in which a journal is supportive for goal setting and forming habits include;

  • Definition and visualization of goals
  • Organization of information and supportive details
  • A catalyst to plan necessary steps and your time
  • Leverage of self-accountability and check-ins

Furthermore, the use of a journal can be a great way to notice patterns in your behavior and possible triggers that throw you off track.

When incorporating health and wellness into your journal, you can also use sections to monitor Food and Water intake, Sleep or fatigue, Exercise, Self-care, and factors or symptoms associated with a health condition.

Using a wellness journal is not only a good way to plan out your favorite healthy activities, but also to draft and track other personal goals, such as those related to Productivity, Altruism or Volunteerism, and/or Relationships.

In my wellness practice, I leverage a symptoms journal approach that also incorporates factors related to well-being.  It never ceases to amaze me how quickly participants will notice something they hadn’t before completing the journaling exercise.  Recently, I added a simple journal tool for general health and wellness.  It is conveniently named Live Your Best, Healthy Life!

Photo credit(s):  Wellness Stock Shop

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Sources:

Ackerman, C.E.  (2019, Nov 20).  Writing Therapy:  Using a Pen and Paper to Enhance Personal Growth.  PositivePsychology.com.  Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/writing-therapy/.

Baikie, K.A. and Wilhelm, K.  (2005, Sep).  Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Expressive Writing.  Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346.

Center for Journal Therapy  (n.d.).  A Brief History of Journal Writing.  Retrieved from https://journaltherapy.com/get-training/short-program-journal-to-the-self/journal-to-the-self/journal-writing-history/.

Murray, B.  (2002, Jun).  Writing to Heal:  By Helping People Manage and Learn from Negative Experiences, Writing Strengthens Their Immune Systems As Well As Their Minds.  American Psychological Association, Monitor on Psychology, 33(6), 54.

O’Connor, M.  (n.d.).  Evidence of the Healing Power of Expressive Writing.  The Foundation for Art and Healing, The UnLonely Project.  Retrieved from https://artandhealing.org/evidence-of-the-healing-power-of-expressive-writing/.

Pennebaker, J. W. and Smyth, J.M.  (2016).  Opening Up by Writing it Down:  How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain, (3rd edition), New York, NY:  The Guilford Press.

Smyth, J.M., Stone, A.A., Hurewitz, A., and Kaell, A.  (1999, Apr 14).  Effects of Writing About Stressful Experiences on Symptom Reduction in Patients with Asthma or Rheumatoid Arthritis:  A Randomized Trial.  Journal of American Medical Association, 281(14), 1304-09.

What Are Superfoods and How Can They Help You

You may be hearing about “new superfoods” this year.

What does this mean and how can you fit this information into a realistic plan for health and wellness?  (Hint, see below for 3 tried and true tips).

Essentially the term “superfood” is not necessarily one that is scientific but may still be relevant to consider with identifying food sources that are packed with nutrients.

“Superfood” is indicative of a food source and the compounds within it that have been linked to certain health benefits or the prevention of adverse health conditions.  Many of these foods are derived from plant-based sources, although not all.

You will likely hear about the power of these foods concerning a range of health topics including, but not limited to the following:

  • weight loss
  • reversing or preventing cognitive impairments and our overall brain health
  • help in mental and emotional wellness, such as conditions like depression
  • overall health of the gut
  • stress reduction

The health benefits from these foods may include reducing excess inflammation and adverse oxidative stress which are two key factors involved in the discussion of chronic health conditions.  This is also a key reason for the emphasis on these “superfoods” when it comes to your health outcomes.

It seems that each year there is a new list of hot topic food options that can apply to your health and wellness but may also be trendy and, therefore, will show up in restaurants or product offerings.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of as an empowered health consumer.

So, what are a few of these “2020 superfoods” that you may be hearing more about this year?

In somewhat of a continuation from recent years past, you will be hearing and learning more about fermented foods, seaweeds and algae, and seeds that are both edible and carry significant nutritional benefits.  Furthermore, food sources that may aid in your digestive health such as those with prebiotics, fiber, or digestive bitters.

A term that you may hear and could be new to you is “nervines” which are adaptogenic herbs supportive of your nervous system or are “neuroprotective”.  Nervines can also influence hormone regulation so can be important in many health-related conditions.  Also, these food sources may be good to include in your health plan for approaches to stress.

One of my all-time favorite companies for herbs, spices, teas, and essential oils is Mountain Rose Herbs.  They break down Understanding Nervines and Adaptogens in their blog.  Furthermore, Healthline, a leading source for consumer information related to health and wellness, also provides an overview of Adaptogenic Herbs.

Then, of course, there are the tried and true options such as berries, avocados, beets, dark leafy greens and microgreens, mushrooms, and fatty fish like salmon or sardines.  An important attribute to many of these foods is the rich pigments (i.e. color) of the food.  In natural foods, color is often indicative of nutrients critical to human health.

So how can you make sense of the term “superfood” used in media and marketing?

According to the leading global consulting firm, Accenture, consumers are changing to be more health-conscious and aware.  Also, the emphasis on personalized approaches to diet and nutrition is growing.

As a health and wellness professional myself, it is an exciting trend to observe.  Yet, it is also one to monitor for quality and overall relevance of the information.  As alluded to above, there is an intersect of science and marketing with the term “superfood”.  However, there are certainly ways to remain clued in and empowered as a health consumer.

In closing, 3 simple, tried and true approaches to include superfoods in your health and wellness are:

  • Eat colorful foods in variety
  • Incorporate nutrient-dense foods into snacking
  • Include herbs and spices in food preparation and cooking

If you simply start with and focus on these 3 tactics, you will undoubtedly be at an advantage when it comes to living most healthful and well.

Photo credit(s):  Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

Amazing Links Between Social Interaction and the Brain

Remaining socially active could be just what your brain needs.

Research has shown that social interaction influences health in several ways.  When social dynamics are of an appropriate type and level, the favorable benefits possible include the following:

  • Engagement in behaviors that lead to good health
  • Boost to mental and emotional health
  • Reduction in stress levels
  • Improvements to internal health
  • Self-confidence
  • Outlook on life and happiness
  • Longevity
  • …and, you guessed it, brain health!

Multiple studies have demonstrated that positive, meaningful social relationships may have protective effects on human health.

A few attributes indicative of a favorable social relationship are those that encourage personal growth, provide emotional support, entail mutual respect and trust, and focus on positive attributes of one another.

So how exactly can social interaction influence the health of our brain???

Studies have demonstrated a relationship between social interaction and memory, cognition, and rates of neurodegeneration.  The evidence observed thus far has led to further emphasis on these areas within research.

On the flip side, social isolation may be a contributing factor in the onset and development of degenerative conditions affecting brain health.

As Dr. Eugene Rubin points out in a Psychology Today article on social interaction and brain cells, “there are specific nerve cells in the brain that are directly influenced by social experiences” which plays a role in the neuroplasticity of the brain.

Neuroplasticity is essentially the brain’s ability to change and adapt over the course of a lifetime.  It can apply to the better or the worse and is a critical component to brain functionality.

Also, other factors that social interaction influences, such as stress levels and emotional health, impact various internal mechanisms within the human body which could be affecting the brain.  Excessive mental and emotional stress is thought to lead to inflammation, another key facet to consider in brain health.

The evidence to suggest that positive relationships, maintained over your lifetime, support overall health and well-being is compelling.

The various dynamics between social experiences and the brain are a hot topic within neuroscience which could lead to new approaches and treatments to a variety of health-related areas including overall wellness of the brain.

One of my favorite ideas to nurture the body, brain, and social relationships is walking book clubs.  This approach provides social engagement, mental stimulation, and physical activity for a 3-in-1 healthful activity.  It can also be impactful to integrate mental stimulating activity into any social experience.

Photo credit(s):  Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

References:

Cleveland Clinic (2020).  Healthy Brains, 6 Pillars of Brain Health:  Social Interaction.  Retrieved from https://healthybrains.org/pillar-social/.

Cohen, S.  (2004, Nov).  Social Relationships and Health.  American Psychologist, 59(8), 676-684.

Cohut, M. (2018, Jun 1).  Research Confirms that Social Interaction Protects Memory.  Medical News Today.  Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321976.php#1.

Davidson, R.J. and McEwen, B.S. (2012, Apr 15).  Social Influences on Neuroplasticity:  Stress and Interventions to Promote Well-being.  Nature Neuroscience, 15(5), 689-695.

Donovan, N.J., et al (2016, Dec).  Association of Higher Cortical Amyloid Burden with Loneliness in Cognitively Normal Adults.  JAMA Psychiatry, 73(12), 1230-1237.

Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School (2010, Dec).  The Health Benefits of Strong Relationships.  Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/the-health-benefits-of-strong-relationships.

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T.B., and Layton, J.B. (2010, Jul 27).  Social Relationships and Mortality Risk:  A Meta-analytic Review.  PLOS Medicine 7(7), e1000316.

Rohrer, J.M., Richter, D., Brummer, M., Wagner, G.G., and Schmukle, S.C. (2018, Aug 1).  Successfully Striving for Happiness:  Socially Engaged Pursuits Predict Increases in Life Satisfaction.  Psychological Science, 29(8), 1291-1298.

Rubin, E. (2012, Jun 7).  Social Interactions and Brain Cell Connections.  Psychology Today.  Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/demystifying-psychiatry/201206/social-interactions-and-brain-cell-connections.

Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010, Mar 1). Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior51 51(1) Suppl, S54–S66.

Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010, Nov 1). Social Relationships and Health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Retrieved from https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2010/11/executive-summary/social-relationships-and-health.html.

Watt, R.G., et al (2014, May 30).  Social Relationships and Health Related Behaviors Among Older Adults.  BMC Public Health, 14(533).

Yang, Y.C., et al (2016, Jan 19).  Social Relationships and Physiological Determinants of Longevity Across the Human Life Span.  PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of American), 113(3), 578-583.

Prioritizing Your Health and Finances To Get The Most Out of Life

Taking care of yourself, including both health and finances, is a sure-fire way to cultivate various positive aspects of your life.  Financial health is a critical element within self-care.  A positive stance for financial wellness can expand your abilities, contributions, and impact you have on others.

There are a fair amount of psycho- and sociological factors and, often, stigmas around making financial decisions that can be rather entangled.  Regardless, mental, physical, and financial health are inextricably linked.  Therefore, it’s worth placing focus on this area as part of a proactive approach to leading an overall healthful life.

Financial worry can set off a cascade of challenges.

In many people, it can lead to chronic stress which, furthermore, can impair sleep, lead to greater levels of anxiety or states of depression, may influence self-esteem, and could trigger less healthful behaviors.  Furthermore, psychological distress and negative emotions may indirectly contribute to increased inflammation in the body, higher blood pressure, and the onset of other chronic health conditions.

Financial stress could even inhibit seeking out appropriate care in the first place.  According to the American Psychological Association, the cost of health care is a leading concern and cause for stress (2019).

Essentially, financial stress can be disruptive in nature.  However, there are facets that can help the mental-emotional relationship to finances.  Like any other aspect of life and goal-setting, expectations should be realistic.  It may also be beneficial to take self-inventory for how you make decisions.

One review of five studies suggested that “affective decision-makers” may be more likely to avoid making decisions related to financial matters.  This was due, in part, to the perception that decisions related to finances are very analytical in nature.  Affective thinking has lent towards having a distinct sense of feeling or emotion present when making decisions.  Affective decision-makers may have considered financial decisions “cold” in nature and, therefore, less relatable.  Furthermore, the complexities of financial products and instruments could have been intimidating (Park and Sela, 2017).

It is not to assume that affective thinking is inefficient and absolutely leads to a less proactive approach to finances, but it could be important to understand where you fall on the spectrum in case this is a mediating factor.

Ignoring your finances can create more money problems and increase the resulting stress.  Acknowledging and accepting any negative feelings you may have about dealing with your money is a critical step.

Other areas that studies have shown to be influential include the following:

  • one’s social environment and/or level of emotional support
  • relationships and social standings within communities
  • previous experiences with financial stressors

According to Gallup-Sharecare, five essential elements of well-being include:

  • sense of purpose, including within a career path
  • social relationships
  • financial security
  • relationship to community
  • physical health

Furthermore, they have defined “financial” as managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.

Like with any big challenge, breaking out small, actionable steps and a clear timeline can be beneficial.  Working with appropriate professionals, including both those with financial expertise and emotional health resources (or therapeutic options), can help to refine your perspective and address any blocks in the mindset.

As experts will point out, this area is complex and laced with emotional drivers.  There is also a difference between knowing what to do and understanding how to do it.

Not all support options have to cost an arm and a leg.

Many cities and towns have finance-related programs through their city/public affairs divisions or library systems.  Meanwhile, a hack to mental health is seeing a psychologist in training who will be under supervision but have more nominal fees.

Although exact financial circumstances will vary from person to person.  Taking steps to ensure financial behaviors are healthful can help to reduce mental fog from financial stress and, therefore, lead to a greater level of productivity.  It can help you move forward and feel more positive about what’s to come in life.

Photo credit(s):  Fabian Blank on Unsplash

Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

References:

American Psychological Association (Nov, 2019).  Stress in America 2019.  Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2019/stress-america-2019.pdf.

American Psychological Association (2015, Feb 4).  Stress in America, Paying with our Health.  Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2014/stress-report.pdf.

Connolly, M. and Slade, M. (2019, May 7).  The United States of Stress 2019, Special Report.  Everyday Health.  Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/wellness/united-states-of-stress/.

Gallup-Sharecare Well-being Index (2017).  State of American Well-being, 2017 State Well-being Rankings.  Retrieved from https://wellbeingindex.sharecare.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Gallup-Sharecare-State-of-American-Well-Being_2017-State-Rankings_FINAL.pdf.

Park, J.J. and Sela, A. (2018, Aug).  Not My Type:  Why Affective Decision Makers Are Reluctant to Make Financial Decisions.  Journal of Consumer Research, 45(2), 298-319.

Sturgeon, J.A., et al.  (2016).  The Psychosocial Context of Financial Stress:  Implications for Inflammation and Psychological Health.  Psychosomatic Medicine, 78(2), 134-143.