The transition period at the end of a long year, is the perfect time for some serious health building opportunities. We are often tired from a hard and eventful year, but also excited about the prospect of time off, connection with loved ones, and all the promise of a shiny new year. It’s a great time of year to ride the peaking motivational wave (new year resolutions anyone?) and try some new things. It’s an even better time to reward and replenish your self, and do things you might not get time to implement during the year.
We know it sounds cliché, but a collection of healthy lifestyle habits is more important to your overall health than any one thing. We are the sum of our environmental influences (our exposome), and these many factors like nutrition, stress, light exposure etc have the power to alter the expression of our genes for good, or for bad. We decided to share 10 of our favourite simple tips to get you through the holiday period with less stress, wear and tear, and more wellness and joy.
1. Take Your Shoes Off
If you are barefoot or touching the earth with bare skin, you will experience a natural health building phenomenon called ‘earthing’ or ‘grounding’. Wearing shoes all of the time, and not spending enough time in nature, means we don’t get as many opportunities as our ancestors did to benefit from connection to the earth.The cost of our lifestyles, technology, electronic fields, aging, poor nutrition, stress etc all result in us producing numerous positively charged free radicals, which cause inflammation, oxidative stress, and speed up our aging process.
The earth’s surface has a negative change, and when we interact with the earth, there is a beneficial exchange of ions (we ditch positive and soak up negative ions) that has a restorative effect on our health. Grounding allows us to neutralise the damaging excess of positively charged free radicals. So take your shoes off and go walk in the grass, on the sand or in the dirt! It’s free and effective at reducing stress.
As most of you already know, being barefoot is great for building healthy strong feet. Training and moving barefoot over a variety of surfaces results in increased strength, mobility and efficiency of your foot (and rest of your body), as well as enhanced core strength, better force transmission (shock absorption) lymphatic drainage and circulation.
PRO TIP: Walk barefoot along the water at the beach for additional benefits, or walk on uneven surfaces like rock beds for rapid foot strength gains
2. Soak Up Sunlight Without Sunscreen
We all know how relaxing it is to lay in the sun and feel that deep warmth. Most people know that the sun can provide us with a healthy dose of Vitamin D. But did you know around 70% of the US population are deficient! Low Vitamin D can double a persons risk of dying among other negative health effects like increased risk for cancer, heart attack, auto immunity, asthma, type 2 diabetes and many more.
While we can supplement with Vitamin D, there are risks involved (Vitamin D toxicity is common especially in those people supplementing and not taking other fat soluble vitamins K2 and A.) The optimal way to get adequate Vitamin D levels, are from sunlight or UV exposure. Many people don't realise that sunscreen prevents cutaneous production of Vitamin D3 AND other benefits of sun exposure.
Sunlight exposure also helps structure the water in our cells to make EZ water which enhances cell health and mitochondrial function. UV radiation helps produce nitric oxide in our blood, which lowers blood pressure naturally helping us feel relaxed and healthy. Sunlight is also involved in the production of substance P, ACTH, MSH, calcitriol, and beta-endorphin, so as you can see there are many reasons to soak up the sunlight rays.
The following conditions have been studied and indicate that sun exposure resulted in greater health gains than just Vitamin D supplementation alone.
The multiple sclerosis severity score improved more with sunlight than vitamin D consumption alone
low infant sun exposure was associated with a twofold increase in type 1 diabetes.
Duration of sun exposure is inversely correlated to the severity of disease activity in Crohn’s patients
Higher levels of sun exposure were associated with less depressive symptoms and less fatigue.
Although sunlight is significant to health, of course too much is not a good thing in terms on skin cancer. Sunscreens block the UVB light spectrum, but still allow UVA skin damage to occur, which is the main reason sunscreen use is a contributing factor to malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
PRO TIP: Get sun exposure between 8-10am without sunscreen, and without sunglasses to further help regulate your circadian rhythm which is a key driver of health
3. Have A Cold Shower
No better time than summer to take a cold shower (it gets harder in winter!) It can take some getting used to, but those who do it regularly will attest to the vibrant feelings you receive, and the extra energy, alertness, pain reduction and freshness that result. You can add this easily to your routine by adding a 30 second burst of cold water at the end of your shower, or even better, cycle hot and cold through your shower, finishing up with cold only. It's also a great strategy to enhance recovery after a workout, and will help increase sleep on hot nights if you cold shower prior to bed. There is significant research around cold exposure or cold thermogenesis and it's many benefits.
Increased Fat burning and weight loss
Increased Mitochondrial density, Mitogenesis and ATP production
Increased insulin and leptin sensitivity
Increased cellular autophagy (cellular cleansing)
Increased BDNF (Brain derived neurotrophic factor)
Increased mitochondrial density and mitogenesis
Reduced pain due to the increase of norephinephrine
Increased production of glutathione, the master antioxidant and reduced oxidisation
Improved tone of the Vegas Nerve
Improved Thyroid Function
Earthing and increased negative charge (if swimming in the ocean
PRO TIP: go for a quick beach swim in the early morning for full body immersion with the added benefits of earthing and soaking up electrons, or take a cold water only shower on a hot day!
4. Pull Back on Intensity and De-Load
The festive period often involves indulging on food an alcohol, and is often a stressful period with higher expenses, family drama, and end of year maddness. When stress is high and daily readiness to train is low, it's not a good idea to train with too much intensity. High intensity training has tonnes of benefits, but is highly addictive, and often used too frequently, and often not the fastest route to fitness for many (read why here).
In addition, many people are on a break from work over this period, pulling back on intensity for a de-load week or two, will promote accelerated gains in fitness due to the enhanced opportunity to recover. De-loading means taking the foot off the accelerator, and pulling back to either lift lighter, train for less time or less often, and with less heart rate intensity.
To get the biggest bang from your de-load buck, do it for at least a week, and actively work on health building practices in this time. Use the time you would have spent training to engage in practices that will help boost your health. This might include more recovery based sessions that feature intelligent movement strategies like mobilisers, ground to standing practices, breathing practices, fascial freeing or vibration training. Mentally and emotionally it can be hard to take a week out of your routine, and to convince yourself that you are actually gaining more, from doing less.
PRO TIP: Limit heart rate intensity and stay below 75% heart rate max in training for a week or two for greater recovery gains, and a significant shift in fat metabolism.
5. Train Your Mind
2 of the easiest, and well researched ways to optimise your mindset are meditation, and a gratitude practice. Meditation can be challenging for many people to include in their routine consistently, so we love the 'Headspace' meditation app for 3-15 minute guided meditations. It's often free for your first month, and super easy to use.
Another option for those who struggle to wrap their heads around meditation is Heart Rate Variability Training with Heart Math. Heart Math helps you rewire your nervous system with a for of biofeedback that shows you how your thoughts are affecting your heart rate, and coaching you into better heart rate rhythms with breath.
Gratitude journelling is easily done in a blank diary or by downloading our simple form on this blog.
Intentionally being grateful helps to dramatically change your mental and emotional state, which has a key impact on your physiology. Gratitude helps us move away from negative thought loops by pointing out the blessings from each day, which ultimately calms us and helps us positively change our mental state and rewire our brain.
PRO TIP: spend 20-30 seconds pondering what are grateful for to help it ‘stick’. Research shows we need linger on the memory, and try to connect to the associated feelings associated, to gather greater benefits.
6. Intermittent Fasting - Skip A Meal
Holidays are a time of indulgence, and the best counter measure is intermittent fasting! Fasting is commonly done by fasting anywhere from 12 to 16 hours of your day, to eat in a smaller window of time. It’s easily achieved if you don’t eat after dinner, and wait at least 12 hours before eating breakfast. It's the perfect thing to try and implement when your belly is bursting from xmas dinner and you skip breakfast the next day. Read more about it here and make sure you don't have any of the contraindications for fasting before you try it. Oh and did we mention it's free and doesn't require any meal prep?
The benefits of intermittent fasting:
Fat burning – the fat cells can finally release stored energy to use as fuel
Fasting normalises insulin receptors to help your cells be able to better use blood glucose.
Fasting normalises leptin receptors. Leptin, the satiety hormone can become resistant if we constantly overeat, and fasting can help reprogram us to tell when we are satiated.
Ghrelin the hunger hormone is often dysregulated with poor nutrition or blood sugar issues. Even after weight loss, your ghrelin ‘set point’ might still be programmed for your higher weight, meaning your thinner body still has your fatter bodies appetite!
Burning fat or ketones is a cleaner burn for the mitochondria in the cells, producing more energy and less oxidative stress. Burning ketones are a more stable source of energy, and spike insulin less than glucose.
Cellular cleaning: fasting increases a process called apoptosis, and autophagy, forms of cellular cleansing. which renews cell populations, essential for good health. "Simply put, fasting cleanses the body of unhealthy or unnecessary cellular debris." - The Complete Guide to Fasting, Jimmy Moore, Jason Fung
Gut health - A stressed gut can't digest effectively, is often leaky and prone to inflammation. Giving digestion a break, ramps up healing.
Lower triglycerides as a result of eating less carbohydrates, and less insulin spikes
Lower inflammation and oxidative stress
Lower cortisol levels: Stress in any form increases cortisol levels which raise blood sugar. If the body has a stable source of fat as fuel, the stress response will not be ignited.
Fasting is one of the few things proven to stimulate adult neurogenesis, the growth of new brain cell
PRO TIP: Try a 12-16 hour fast after overeating during the Christmas period, or work up to longer fasts with bone broth or fats only, or daily fasts followed by 2 healthy meals later in the day.
7. Take Some Time Away From Your Phone
As most businesses wind down for the year, and many people are on holidays, there couldn't be a better time to detox from your mobile phone. The average person checks their phone 150 x a day. Reducing screen time and the addictive dopamine fueled cycle of refreshing social media every few minutes offers powerful health benefits.
Too much time on our phone is bad for your posture, but it also messes with our mood, cognitive function, metabolism and hormones, especially if we are looking at the screen after dark. Read more about why you need to take a break from your phone here.
PRO TIP: Turn your phone on aeroplane mode when you are with friends and family, give yourself a phone budget whereby you only check your phone 3 x per day only, or even better leave the house without your mobile phone!
8. Eat Your Vegetables - And Then Eat Some More!
You can't go wrong with an abundant, and varied intake of vegetables for health. It's one of the easiest nutrition upgrades around that applies to various health conditions or goals, and unfortunately something many people are desperately deprived of in their diet. Traditional hunter-gatherers ate an estimated 100 different species of plants but many of us rotate through the same vegetables, and struggle to get the recommended 6-8 servings per day.
This lack of diversity in our vegetable intake affects our phytonutrient intake, nutrition status, digestive system and our microbiome. Vegetables are low calorie, anti-inflammatory, full of good nutrients, antioxidants, polyphenols, and high in fiber which promotes balanced blood sugar and feeds beneficial gut bacteria. If we are not eating enough vegetables we are likely filling our plates with more calorie dense, nutrient deprived foods, tipping the scales even more towards negative outcomes.
Add more variety to your plate by 'eating the rainbow' and buying local, seasonal produce. Try adding fermented vegetables to your place if tolerated, and increasing the serving size of vegetables to cover the majority of your plate. For optimum health, a plant based diet with healthy grass fed, pasture raised protein sources or seafood, organ meats and healthy fats is ideal.
PRO TIP: Buy vegetables you have never had before, and try to see how many different varieties you can include in your diet.
9. Move More Through Your Day
Just as you cannot out train a bad diet, you can't out exercise a predominantly sedentary lifestyle. Vigorous exercise is not able to prevent the detrimental effects of too much sitting or sedentary behavior. Increased physical activity, incidental exercise, or consistent small blocks of movement throughout the day has been increasingly shown to provide greater health benefits that structured exercise programs. This concept is hard for many people to fathom!
The average office worker expends around 10 calories per pound of body weight each day compared to the 43-55 calories expended by hunter–gatherers. In addition studies of hunter–gatherer populations indicate they averaged around 10,000 steps per day, punctuated by frequent bouts of more intense physical activity. The average American adult today, reaches approximately 5,900-6,900 steps per day.
Moving more throughout the day, in small spread out doses will give you better benefits than 1 hour of structures exercise a day! Dan Pardi came up with the SWAP guidelines to health increase daily physical actibivity. SWAP stands for Stand Walk and Push.
STAND - Stand for about half of the day.
Use a standing desk at work if possible, take standing breaks, try setting an alarm on your phone to move, take a brief walk or do some light stretching or stand up at meetings.
WALK - Walk 10,000 steps daily.
Take walking meetings, use the stairs whenever possible, walk or bicycle to work, do your own chores, choose a hobby that requires physical activity.
150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week (like walking, yoga, mobility)
75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week (like running, circuit, or sports)
30 minutes of highest-intensity exercise per week (like sprinting, HIIT)
PRO TIP: Increase low intensity physical activity by moving through your day with our online daily movement program 'Move It or Lose It' which gives you 10 minutes of guided mobility.
10. Laugh. Lots
Laughter is infectious. It breaks tension, enhances connection and makes everyone feel good. The positive mental and emotional benefits of laughter are obvious, but have you thought about the physical benefits?
When you laugh, your whole body shakes and contracts. Usually the most felt areas after a good laugh are the jaw and the core muscles, which ironically are key areas where people hold stress in their body. When you laugh in this deep and hearty way, your core muscles are contracting hard and subconsciously, an then relaxing fully, to create a fantastic pump through your visceral organs.
The best way we know to add healthy laughter to your life is through games based fitness. And hey, while your family are gathered around over the holidays, why not make the most of the connection and interaction with some game play. Try playing old child hood favourites like tag, scarecrow tiggy, ball games, wrestling with your partner or kids, or chasing your dog.
PRO TIP: Buy a $3 pool noodle from kmart, cut it in half and have a duel with a partner. Slap them together, or tag each other on the but for hours of entertainment, subconscious movement, joy and connection!