Tag Archives: physical health

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.

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.

3 Simple Ways to Improve both Mental and Physical Health (plus bonus tips)

“Mental health and physical health have a bi-directional and complex relationship” (Bhugra, Kar, and Lawton-Smith, 2014). 

Essentially what that alludes to is how our thought patterns, feelings, and attitudes can influence certain things in the physical realm, such as biological factors and outcomes, just as what we do physically can influence our mental state. The landscape for this topic is further entangled by various social factors.  Studies on the neuroscience involved with the tight connections between mental and physical health are emerging and the findings have been compelling.    

In a nutshell, the intricate dance between mental and physical health plays a significant role in our overall health and sense of well-being.  While it’s easy to get caught up with visuals and images of fit, tone bodies as a representation of good health.  It is also important to keep the health of our mind in check which also takes consistent “exercise”.

The good news is that there are ways to manage both mental and physical health in tandem throughout the year.

Pick a physical activity plan right for you with a focus on consistent daily movement and conditioning.

Movement improves circulation and, respectively, blood flow to the brain.  There is also a co-dependent relationship between physical activity and stress levels.  Appropriate daily movement can help reduce adverse stress levels which can lead to better mental clarity and focus.  Furthermore, exercise can also serve as a moving meditation allowing for concentration on the patterns of movement.  Each of these factors, physical activity and stress levels, influences how we sleep which is incredibly relevant for cognition and certain biochemical facets related to the health of our brain.

Bottom line:  stay physically active for both mental and physical health.

Bonus tip:  Lift weights to reduce anxiety!  Not only is weight-bearing exercise fantastic for your physique, including internal components such as bone health, but it can also be great for mental health as well.

Check-in on your mental patterns and habits. 

Destructive mental habits, such as repetitive self-pity or ruminating, can essentially hijack positive motivations.  When this occurs, it may prevent taking relevant action when doing so is needed the most.  It can also influence our health-related behaviors and outcomes, as well as relationships with others.

Working to re-prioritize mental tendencies and maladaptive behaviors to, then, focus on the proactive practice of more healthful patterns can enhance emotional well-being.  Furthermore, studies have suggested, for example, that exercises for mindfulness can be a helpful antidote to negative mental tendencies such as rumination.

Bottom line:  clearing negative, adverse mental patterns can positively influence a sense of well-being and lead to a greater sense of motivation which is critical when it comes to taking care of both mental and physical aspects of health.

Bonus tip:  Identifying and repositioning mental habits is also an area where a mentor or appropriate supportive professional can help with identify realistic and actionable steps for change, then support for staying on track.

Pay attention to breathing patterns and consider targeted approaches.

Appropriate breathing patterns are important during exercise and they can also play a role within the day to day through the activation of the relaxation response.  Targeted breathing patterns, such as mechanisms of deep breathing, are also thought to help improve blood flow, relax muscles, support metabolism, regulate the immune system, and reduce stress levels.  Incorporating targeted approaches to breathwork has not only been shown to support various mental related conditions, such as anxiety or depression, but it has also been influential in chronic medical conditions that may be impairing physical health.  Furthermore, the practice of yoga has been touted for its emphasis on breathing and physical conditioning.

Bottom line:  breathing techniques can be supportive of both mental and physical health, particularly due to the reduction of adverse, elevated stress levels.

Bonus tip:  Harvard Health provides a simple, implementable approach HERE.

Final thoughts

Winding down through methods such as spending time in nature or taking a “digital detox” can also be influential to both mental and physical health.  Also, general wellness, including nutrition, is supportive.

In closing, the focus of mind-body connections is emerging in emphasis.  Although certain principles have been around in sort of old-world wisdom for centuries, new research in areas such as neuroscience is further confirming the various connecting facets.

A solid, “whole-health” approach is to exercise both the mind and body.

Photo credit(s):  Jacob Postuma 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:

Bhugra, D., Kar, A., and Lawton-Smith, S. (2014, Jun).  Integration of Mental and Physical Health Services: Lessons.  Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Mental Health 1(1), 15-21.

Cherry, K. (2019, Sep 30).  Reasons to Do a Digital Detox?  Verywell Mind.  Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/why-and-how-to-do-a-digital-detox-4771321.

Chopra Center, The. (2018, Oct 24).  How Breathwork Benefits the Mind, Body, and Spirit.  Retrieved from https://chopra.com/articles/how-breathwork-benefits-the-mind-body-and-spirit.

Connor, P. J., Herring, M. P., and Caravalho, A. (2010, May 7).  Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults.  American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 4(5), 377-396.

Gordon, B. R., McDowell, C. P., Lyons, M., and Herring, M.P. (2017, Dec).  The Effects of Resistance Exercise Training on Anxiety:  A Meta-analysis and Meta-regression Analysis of Randomized Control Trials.  Sports Medicine, 47(12), 2521-2532.

Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. (n.d.).  Mindfulness|Defined.  Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition.

Harvard Health (2018, Apr 13).  Relaxation Techniques:  Breath Control Helps Quell Errant Stress Response.  Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response.

Kleckner, I. R., et al. (2017, Apr 24).  Evidence for a large-scale brain system supporting allostasis and interoception in humans.  Nature Human Behaviour, 1 (0069).

Madell, R. (2016, Mar 14).  Exercise as Stress Relief.  Healthline.  Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/heart-disease/exercise-stress-relief#1.

Palma, Z. (2019, Aug 12).  What is Breathwork and Does It Work?  Parsley Health Articles.  Retrieved from https://www.parsleyhealth.com/blog/breathwork-does-it-work.

Rupprecht S., Walach H. (2016).  Mindfulness at Work: How Mindfulness Training May Change the Way We Work.  In: Wiencke M., Cacace M., Fischer S. (eds) Healthy at Work, (311-327).  Switzerland:  Springer International Publishing.

Sartini-Cprek, N. (2017, Apr  12).  The Mind-Body Connection:  How Mental and Physical Wellness Are Linked.  Good Therapy Blog.  Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/mind-body-connection-how-mental-physical-wellness-are-linked-0412174.

Semeco, A. (2017, Feb 10).  The Top 10 Benefits of Regular Exercise.  Healthline.  Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-benefits-of-exercise.

Sultanoff, B. A. (2002).  Breath Work.  In: Shannon, S. (eds) Handbook of Complementary and Alternative Therapies in Mental Health, (209-227).  Elsevier, Inc.

Vago, D. R. (2014, Jan).  Mapping Modalities of Self-Awareness in Mindfulness Practice:  A Potential Mechanism for Clarifying Habits of Mind.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1307(1), 28-42.

Verplanken, B. and Fisher, N. (2014, Oct).  Habitual Worrying and Benefits of Mindfulness. Mindfulness, 5566–573.

Verplanken, B., Friborg, O., Wang, C. E., Trafimow, D., & Woolf, K. (2007).  Mental habits: Metacognitive reflection on negative self-thinking.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(3), 526–541.

US Department of Health and Human Services|National Institutes of Health. (n.d.).  Why Should Scientists Study Neuroscience?  Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/neuro/conditioninfo/study.