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Beat the Christmas Bulge

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The holiday season is fast approaching.

For many, that means a period of excessive eating and drinking and minimal activity.

With all the celebrations happening at this time of year the temptation to indulge is greater, and failing to plan for a healthy holiday can often lead to unwanted weight gain.

According to Nutrition Australia, Australians gain an average of 0.8-1.5kg over the holiday period. This may not sound like much, but research indicates that this weight is rarely lost over the coming year so it can quickly add up over time.

With Christmas less than a week away here are some tips to help minimise the damage from the excess of the festive season.

Avoid Going Hungry to Parties

Eating a meal or snack that is high in fibre and protein before going to a party can help to reduce hunger and increase satiety, without being heavy on the calories.  The less hungry you are, the less likely you are to snack on high-calorie party food.

If eating beforehand is not an option, try to start off with some healthier options before indulging in the Christmas pudding or pavlova.   Foods such as fresh fruit, nuts, olives, quality cheeses, salads, lean meat, fish, seafood & eggs are all good options over the sweets, chips, breads, potato bakes, pasta salads, crackers & dips.

Create a Calorie Deficit

If you know you are going to have a bit of a blowout on Christmas day you can create a calorie deficit throughout the rest of the week.  By eating less than normal or fasting on the days before, after or both, you can reduce the impact that a day of feasting can have on your diet and waistline.

This can also be done on a daily basis.  If you have a planned Christmas dinner where dessert, alcohol and other calorie dense foods will be enjoyed, you can reduce the size of meals or have a fasting period before the event.  If you’re going to have a big dinner, eat a lighter lunch.   If it’s a big lunch, plan for a light breakfast and dinner.  Try to keep the overeating to the special meals, there may be only one or two.

Exercise

It is highly likely that you will consume more calories around the holidays due to the parties, large meals, and gifts of chocolate, sweets, and alcohol.  Therefore continuing to exercise is just as important throughout the holidays as at any other time of year.  A high-intensity exercise session can burn off those extra calories, speed up your metabolism and also help you deal with the added stress that sometimes comes with the season.  In addition, you may be less likely to overeat knowing that you worked so hard at the gym that morning.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be structured exercise either.  It can be as simple as going for a ride or a walk while your kids are on that new bike that Santa brought them, getting involved in a game of backyard cricket or going for a swim or a play with your children while at the beach or pool.  Kids love when adults join in and play with them, make the most of the extra leisure time that usually comes at this time of year.  Getting outdoors can also give you a healthy dose of Vitamin D which is beneficial for healthy metabolism and body composition.

Drink Plenty of Water

Because it is summer in Australia over the Christmas period it is important to keep yourself hydrated.  Drinking enough water will keep you looking, feeling and performing better throughout the holiday season.  Staying well hydrated can help boost your metabolism and make it easier for your body to burn unwanted fat.  It can also help to fill you up preventing you from overeating and can help to minimise effects of a hangover if drinking alcohol.

Limit Your Alcohol

Parties and alcohol often go hand in hand this time of year, but if you are trying to be health conscious, limiting your alcohol consumption is a good place to start.  When drinking, it’s not only the extra calories in the alcohol you need to be worried about but also the food you eat whilst drinking.  Your body can’t store calories from alcohol as it does from food so these need to be processed first, essentially pausing the metabolism of your calorie intake from whatever you’ve eaten.  Also, it’s generally not the celery sticks and hummus you’re reaching for when having a drink either.  Often it’s the bowl of chips or the late night souvlaki you’re having when drinking.

If you are having a drink, try alternating alcoholic drinks with a drink of water.  This will help to keep you hydrated and may also lessen the after-effects of a heavy drinking session.  Not all alcohols are created equal either.  White spirits such as vodka and gin are generally less calorie dense than darker spirits, beer, and wine.  If you are looking to minimise the caloric impact of your drinks vodka or gin with soda is a good option.

Have a Plan

If you are the type of person that has to eat whatever is on their plate try using a smaller plate instead of a full size one.  Fill your plate once and don’t go back for seconds.

If you don’t love it, don’t eat it.  How often do you take a bite of food and it’s not that good but eat it anyway? What wasted calories!

Try not to keep treats or “problem foods” in your environment if you have trouble controlling your intake, or at least, hide them.  You can always regift that box of chocolates if you think they will undo your healthy eating.

While it can be good to indulge and have a good time this time of year, it’s best not to completely throw your health out the window.  Remember that Christmas parties and family dinners are not all about food and drink, they are about the people you love and want to celebrate with.  If you already have a healthy eating or exercise regimen try not to change it too much just because it’s the holidays.  Think of your accomplishments throughout the year, is it worth undoing those for a week of indulgence?  Maybe.  That’s up to you to decide.

Try not to “fall off the wagon” completely.  If you do, the new year is just around the corner.  Perfect time to build a new one.

Weightlifting Shoes

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If you started running regularly, you would most likely buy a new pair of running shoes.  Likewise, if you started playing tennis, football or basketball you would probably buy a pair of tennis, football or basketball shoes.  Each of these shoes are made with different features that are specific to their purpose.

Weightlifting is no different.  It is a sport, and if you are pretty serious about getting stronger and want to lift heavy weights you should be using the right footwear.

That’s not to say that you can’t lift without weightlifting shoes, but they will help you perform better and limit the chances of you getting an injury when lifting.

What Are They?

Weightlifting shoes have been used for a long time by competitive Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters to help move heavy weights around and have become increasingly popular among all strength sports for their abilities to support an athlete’s performance. The availability of these shoes has increased dramatically and training in weightlifting shoes isn’t such a weird thing that only a handful of hardcore lifters do anymore.  You may have even seen someone wearing them at the gym and wondered what they are for.

Compared to a lot of other shoes, weightlifting shoes/lifters/oly shoes, whatever you like to call them are usually heavier and more solid.  They have a raised heel made of hard, non-compressible material, a firm, flat sole and usually some sort of midfoot strap for a secure fit.

Lifting shoes are designed to increase a lifter’s stability, support mobility, and enhance platform feedback. They help you get into a more upright position in the bottom of the squat which translates to better positions/postures for the snatch and clean & jerk.

Main Differences Between Sneakers and Weightlifting Shoes

Solid/Rigid Heel

A solid, rigid heel allows for better stability and efficient force transfer. In contrast to a regular running shoe which has a cushioned heel to absorb impact, the solid heel in weightlifting shoes allows you to transmit more force through your contact points with the ground.  The greater the force you can generate through your lifts the more weight you can move.

The solid heel and sole are designed to bear as much weight as possible without any compression. Your foot will not sink into the thick cushioning typical of most running shoes. This means there is less unwanted movement making it better for your joints and helping to prevent injury.

Older weightlifting shoes were generally made with wooden or stacked leather heels. Newer shoes are typically made with high-density plastic and are designed to cup and hug the heel for greater stability.

Raised Heel

The raised heel in weightlifting shoes makes it easier for you to achieve a deeper squat.  The ankle has to perform less dorsiflexion to reach this position due to the change in angle the raised heel provides. This will help to improve your overall position allowing you to sit more upright. A more upright torso means you have more chance of holding onto the barbell when handling heavy loads.

The raised heel also provides a stable base for lifters to sit back on.  This allows you to activate far more of the musculature needed to keep that bar moving in the right direction, upwards.

The height of the raised heel is expressed as the offset or heel to toe drop. A heel raise of around 19 to 25mm or .75″ to 1″ is common for weightlifting shoes.  A typical running shoe has a heel to toe drop of around 10mm – meaning your heel is about 10mm higher than your toes. Newer style running shoes that encourage “midfoot striking” have a lesser drop of around 4 to 6mm.

Most weightlifting shoes have a 3/4 inch or 19mm heel meaning the heel to toe drop is 2 to 3 times that of most running shoes.

Lacing and Strapping System

Weightlifting shoes are made to be stable both under and around your foot.  The lacing and strapping systems are designed to keep your foot as secure as possible in all phases of your lifts.

Lifting shoes generally have more laces than typical athletic shoes, allowing you to tighten them right to the toes rather than just around the midfoot. Most shoes will also have at least one strap or in some cases two straps or some sort of mechanical tightening system. This allows for greater support around the midfoot preventing the foot from sliding or moving around too much when performing heavy lifts.

Grippy Sole

The sole of these shoes is usually firm and grippy providing maximum traction.  High traction is important to prevent slipping or too much unwanted movement when performing lifts, especially on smooth surfaces like Olympic lifting platforms.  These soles are generally softer than other types of shoes and will wear out quicker if used on the wrong type of surface.

Do I Need Them

As mentioned earlier, weightlifting shoes are not completely necessary but they may help increase your performance and decrease injury risk when training with weightlifting movements.  The shoes benefits can also be psychological. If you believe you can lift more weight with them on, then you very well could.

These shoes can help to enhance your lifts and can help you achieve better positions if you have mobility issues but they will not fix these problems. If poor form, mobility or flexibility are your issues, you should focus on improving these and use the shoes as a supplementary tool, not a quick fix.  Like any aid, if you ignore the underlying issues, you will form a reliance.  The shoes will help to mask the issue but it will affect things down the line and come back to bite you at some point.

When Should I Use Them

The biggest drawback to weightlifting shoes is that they are really only good for one thing – weightlifting. This can also be a good thing though. Because you will generally only wear them when you are lifting they will often last a long time.

Wear them when squatting heavy and when performing your Olympic lifts, especially full squat variations.  They can also be used in workouts where squat based movements are being performed, but because they are a lot heavier than most other shoes they may impede you in other movements so think about what the workout involves.

Where Do I Get Some

It can be hard to find stockists where you can actually go and try these shoes on in store. Some Rebel Sport stores stock Reebok weightlifting shoes so this can be a good place to have a look first so you can try some on before you buy them.

Major shoe brands such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and Asics all make weightlifting shoes and these can usually be found on their websites.  Nike Weightlifting shoes can also be purchased on https://www.ironedge.com.au and https://thewodlife.com.au stocks Nike, Adidas, and Inov8 brand shoes.  Each of these brands will have different pros and cons but they will all be a great addition to your gym bag, especially if you are just starting out.

It is important that you get the right size when buying weightlifting shoes.  It can be hard choosing the right size when purchasing online but a lot of suppliers will let you exchange shoes for free if the wrong size is purchased.  The shoe should be a snug fit to ensure maximum stability and support.  You don’t want your foot sliding around in the shoe when performing your lifts.

You can often find weightlifting shoes on sale on certain websites or at Rebel Sport.  If you are not too concerned with colour schemes or the latest style you can sometimes pick up a good bargain, so have a look around if you are looking at purchasing some.

 

 

 

Physiotherapist, Chiropractor, Osteopath – Which one is best for you?

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If you are recovering from an injury, experiencing aches and pains or having trouble with pain-free movement and mobility there are several types of practitioners that can help you.

Many of your friends and family may have an opinion on whether a Physiotherapist, Osteopath or Chiropractor is best.  Often when you tell these people about an injury or niggle they will insist on you seeing someone they swear by, someone that has helped them in the past.

So who do you listen to?

How do you know which one is best for you?

The distinction between the three health professions can sometimes be confusing.  Each of them has unique origins and backgrounds, However, over the years the lines between them have become quite blurred.  Although some parts of their practice will overlap they all have their own areas of expertise and will take a different approach to treatment and use different techniques.  Despite this, their ultimate aim of improving physical health and wellbeing through non-invasive, drug-free, manual techniques is essentially the same.  Ultimately, it depends on the practitioner’s expertise and what you are seeking treatment for as to whether they are suitable for you.

So what is the difference between the three health professions?

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is an evidence-based health science focused on movement and function, often following injury, surgery, or when dealing with physical disability.

Physiotherapists use a variety of techniques to help the body move to its full potential.  Their treatment approach involves not only correcting abnormalities but also preventing the recurrence of those abnormalities through tailored exercise programs.

Along with manual techniques such as soft tissue work, joint mobilisation, and manipulation, Physiotherapists also use things like electrotherapy, laser therapy, and ultrasound to treat their patients.  Patients may also get homework in the form of stretching or light exercise when seeing a physiotherapist to help them take control of their own rehabilitation.

Physiotherapy developed within the established medical system and tends to use a more evidence-based approach to treatment compared to that of Osteopathy and Chiropractic.  Practitioners are generally required to use treatments only if their effectiveness has been demonstrated in scientific research.  They are also more commonplace, as they are found not only in private practice but also within the public and private hospital system.

In Australia, Physiotherapists require completion of a minimum four-year degree, but many have additional post-graduate qualifications in specific areas of interest.  While Physiotherapists are mostly known for their treatment of sporting injuries as well as neck and back pain, they can be consulted for a wide range of health conditions and doctors refer to them more than any other health practitioner.  Physiotherapists must be registered with the Physiotherapy Board of Australia, part of the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency, to practice in Australia.

Chiropractic

Chiropractic is a form of complementary health care based on the diagnosis of joint misalignments, particularly those of the spinal column and pelvis.  Chiropractors believe that any vertebral misalignment causes compression on nerves and can refer symptoms and problems to surrounding tissues and other parts of the body.

Chiropractic treatment is focused on treating and preventing musculoskeletal problems throughout the body and is nearly always associated with spinal and neck manipulations.  It can also involve soft tissue work, strengthening and rehab techniques, and other physical therapy modalities such as ultrasound.

The primary reason Australians seek Chiropractic care is for spine-related musculoskeletal disorders, especially back pain, neck pain, and headaches.  Chiropractors often use spinal x-rays to help with any diagnosis and some chiropractors have on-site facilities to conduct these x-rays.

Despite Chiropractic’s surging popularity, its proven benefit is fairly limited. The only strong evidence is related to lower back pain.  Reviews of spinal manipulation found that it could alleviate back pain, but that it was no more effective than other common therapies, such as exercise therapy.

In recent times, the Chiropractic profession has attracted criticism for the promotion of anti-vaccination views and promoting treatment of a wide range of diseases, infections and childhood illnesses through spinal manipulation.  These issues recently lead The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners to discourage its fellows from referring to Chiropractors.  It is important to note, however, that many Chiropractors reject this approach and follow a more evidence-based approach, specialising in musculoskeletal issues and conditions relating to the spine.

Chiropractors work in private practice and do not require a referral.  They complete a double degree that takes five years, and practitioners are regulated by the Chiropractic Board of Australia which is part of the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency.

Osteopathy

Osteopathy is also a form of complementary healthcare that recognises the important link between the structure of the body and the way it functions.  Osteopaths focus on the health of the entire body, rather than just an injured or affected part.

The core belief of Osteopathy is that if one part of the body is restricted then the rest of the body must adapt and compensate. They look at how the skeleton, joints, muscles, nerves, circulatory system, connective tissue, and internal organs function as a holistic unit, believing that the body as a unit is capable of self-regulation and health maintenance when functioning properly.  Using skilled evaluation, diagnosis and a wide range of hands-on techniques, Osteopaths can identify important types of dysfunction in the body.

Osteopaths use techniques such as stretching, massage, myofascial release, articulation, joint mobilisation and spinal adjustments to release areas of restriction within the body.  They may also recommend exercises and dietary modifications.

If you see an Osteopath for a sore knee, they may also take a look at your ankle, pelvis, and back. The practitioner might also ask about your medical history, as well as factors that don’t appear to be directly related to your current injury.

Similar to Chiropractic, Osteopathy’s proven benefit is fairly limited with little high-quality research investigating the effectiveness of its holistic approach.  There is some evidence for its treatment of lower back pain, typically through spinal manipulation and manual techniques, but the benefits appear to be modest.

In Australia, Osteopaths work in private practice and do not require a referral. Osteopaths complete a minimum 5-year double degree or masters degree and must be registered with the Osteopathy Board of Australia, part of the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency, to legally practice.

Choosing the Right Practitioner

Each of these health disciplines will overlap in some way, shape or form. Many of the modalities used in treating patients are similar and the practitioner will be working towards a similar end goal.  Your choice of practitioner will depend on your expectations, what you would like to achieve and what type of issues or symptoms you are dealing with.  Is it muscular? Skeletal? Back pain? Headache?

Whether you see a Physiotherapist, Chiropractor or Osteopath, the most important thing is that you find a practitioner you are comfortable with.  All of these practitioners will treat with manual techniques and they will be quite hands on.  They may require you to wear minimal clothing and may need to know more personal information such as detailed medical history, diet, digestive function, and reproductive function.

You also want to find a practitioner that helps you look after yourself, gives you exercises you can do to help your progress and teaches you strategies for dealing with ongoing pain.  It is important that they understand what you do on a day to day basis, for work, leisure and exercise.  A practitioner will not be able to effectively help you get back to doing your activities of daily living if they don’t know or don’t understand what you do.  If you have a particular area of concern, you may need to seek out a practitioner who specialises in that area.

It’s important to remember that neither Physiotherapists, Chiropractors or Osteopaths are doctors and medical advice should always be sought from a qualified medical practitioner.  Keep in mind that Chiropractic and Osteopathy are considered complementary or alternative medicine, and some critics point to a lack of scientific evidence.  However, they may still be beneficial to you when seeking treatment for any musculo-skeletal injuries or conditions.

Starting Your Fitness Journey Right

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Getting started on a new fitness or exercise program can be a bit overwhelming.  When walking into a new gym for the first time it may be quite intimidating seeing all these fit people doing movements or lifting loads you could never imagine doing yourself.  It doesn’t have to be too hard though.  You can make the beginning of your fitness journey a lot easier by following some of these tips.

Focus on Form

To ensure you get the most out of your training and remain injury free it is important to build a strong foundation.  Make sure you take the time to learn and use correct technique for all exercises.  Developing your technique and form can take time.  Don’t rush it, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help when you need it.  Learning how to do things properly from the beginning will ultimately lead to more progress and fewer injuries over your training journey.  You may have to go a bit lighter or do less volume to start with but it will benefit you more in the long run. 

Be Coachable

Great.  You have been training for years, or you have a personal training background.  You may have a better understanding of biomechanics and movement than others.  But you might not.  Everyone can learn from others as long as they’re prepared to listen and take advice when given.  Don’t be that person who acts like they know everything yet barely knows the difference between a dumbbell and a kettlebell.  If you’re willing to listen, learn and take on board any advice given, you will progress a lot faster. 

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

It is important to remember not to compare yourself to others, especially when first starting off a new exercise program.  A lot of the people you see may have been training for a long time, probably much longer than you have.  You might not be able to do the same movements, lift the same weights or do as many sessions as some of these people.  That’s ok.  You’re at a different stage in your journey.  Comparing yourself to others and trying to copy what they do can sometimes leave you disheartened, or even worse, lead to injuries.

Focus on yourself.  Compare yourself to you.  Work on building up your strength, fitness, training volume, and technique base.  Constantly trying to better yourself and improve your own performance will be more rewarding and meaningful.  Before long you will look back and see how far you have come in a relatively short time.

Celebrate Your Wins

Even the little ones.  There will likely be many points on your journey that you struggle or things don’t go as planned, but there will also be many successes on the way.  So celebrate them.  You don’t have to make a big song and dance about them, but take note of it and focus on the positives.  Keeping track of your progress and success over time will keep you motivated and keep you progressing towards your goals.

Factor in Recovery

Of course, it can be exciting starting a new exercise program and you may want to dive right in and get into the gym as much as possible.  Going too hard too early though can often lead to burnout or injury, especially if you don’t have much of a fitness base to begin with.  Make sure you factor in recovery time and listen to your body.  Take rest days when you need them.  Do your stretching and mobility work.  Get on top of any niggles before they become injuries.  Hydrate and eat well to ensure you’re giving your body the fuel it needs to perform optimally.

Set Goals

Goal setting is a great way to keep yourself motivated and on track.  Structure your goals using the SMART principle (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound).  Goals can be either performance or aesthetic based, as long as they are specific and relevant to you.  Break any larger goals down into smaller, more achievable goals that you can tick off along the way.  This will help keep you motivated and on track towards achieving your main goal.  Your goals may be fairly small and simple to begin with, but as your training progresses you can revisit and reevaluate your goals to keep you moving forward.

Like with most things in life, you get out what you put in.  With a bit of effort and the right attitude, your fitness journey can be a very fun and rewarding one.  So follow these tips to help you create a better, healthier, fitter version of yourself.

Quick Guide to Goal Setting

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If you want to succeed, goals are a must. Without them, you lack focus and direction.

Setting a goal is more than simply saying you want something to happen.  It is a process that starts with careful consideration of what you want to achieve and ends with a lot of hard work to actually do it.

Goals help give you direction, keep you focused and motivated, and increase your chance of achieving something.  People tend to increase the amount of time and effort spent on an activity, and develop effective strategies when they have a goal to achieve.

Whether your goals are big or small, the first step in achieving them is deciding what they are.

Start with things you enjoy

The goals you set need to be meaningful to you.  They shouldn’t be things that you think you ‘should’ be doing or someone else wants you to do.  You need to see value in achieving them.  If you have little or no interest in the outcome or it is irrelevant to you, then you most likely won’t put in the work to achieve that outcome.

Break your goals down into your top two or three, the ones with the highest sense of urgency.  This will help you stay focused and allow you to channel your energy into achieving them.

Write them down

The physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible.  Have it written down somewhere visible to remind yourself daily of your intentions.  Put it on a wall, desk, computer monitor, bathroom mirror or refrigerator as a constant reminder.  Having it on display for others to see can also help to keep you more accountable and more likely to put in the effort required to achieve your goal.

Make an action plan

This is something that is often left out of the goal-setting process.  It’s easy to focus so much on the outcome that you forget to plan the steps needed to get there.  How are you going to reach your destination if you don’t know the way?

By having individual steps that you can tick off as you complete them, it will help you see that you are making progress towards your ultimate goal.  This is especially important for long-term or larger goals.

Seek out the advice of your peers, a coach or a mentor that can give you some insight into the steps needed to reach your goal.

Set SMART goals

You may have heard of this already, but it can be a powerful tool to help you structure your goals so that you are more likely to achieve them.

The acronym stands for:

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Relevant

Time Bound

Set Specific goals.  Your goals should be clear and well defined.  Vague or general goals will not provide sufficient direction.  Ambiguous goals produce ambiguous results

Always set goals that are measurable.  How are you going to know that you have succeeded if you don’t have a measure of success?  If your goal is to get pull-ups for example, are you successful when you get 1, 5 or 10?

Are your goals achievable?  Be honest with yourself.  Is the time frame you have set to achieve your goal realistic? You may need to break larger goals down into smaller ones to make them more achievable and help keep you motivated towards achieving your larger goal.

Are your goals relevant to your life? Do they fit within your training or what you do on a daily basis?

When do you want to achieve your result? Every goal should have a timeframe attached to it.  Having a deadline helps to create a sense of urgency and makes you more likely to put in the work needed to achieve your goal.  Without a timeframe, it is easy to procrastinate and not make the effort required.

Common mistakes people make when thinking about goal setting are:

Setting goals too high – unrealistic goals can lead to stress or becoming demoralised and giving up altogether.

Too many goals – Having too many goals will not allow you to focus your energy enough to achieve those goals.  Goals that conflict with each other can also make it more likely that you will fail to achieve them.

Goals are not specific enough – not having specificity will mean you lack the direction needed to achieve that goal.  It’s also important to adjust goals to fit in with all aspects of your life.

Use this short guide to help you structure some goals for yourself today.

 

5 Supplements to Optimise Your Health and Nutrition

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The typical western diet is high in nutrient-poor processed foods, full of refined grains and added sugars and has a highly imbalanced ratio of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.  All of which are linked to chronic inflammation and disease.

But you already knew this right?

If you’re reading this blog you are probably already health conscious.  You follow a healthy lifestyle, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, prioritise your sleep, drink plenty of water, and get outdoors as much as possible.

So why would you need supplements at all?

In an ideal world, everyone would get their daily nutrient needs from food alone.  Yet even if you eat a healthy well-balanced diet, you may still fall short of your nutrient requirements.

Many foods today don’t contain the same nutrient content as foods previous generations were exposed to.

Most of the animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy found on supermarket shelves contain less Omega 3s and other nutrients than wild or grass-fed animals.

Modern farming techniques and fertilisers deplete the soil of nutrients meaning conventionally grown produce is often lacking beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Nutrient content is further degraded through modern harvesting, shipping, processing, and storage techniques.

On top of this, some preservatives used on fruit and vegetables actually decrease the bioavailability of nutrients in the food and increase your nutrient demands in order to process those chemicals.

But I only eat organic, that doesn’t matter to me, does it?

Even eating fresh, organic produce does not guarantee you will get the nutrients you need.  Some studies have shown that organically grown foods contain more nutrients, but many studies also conclude that there is no significant difference.

Not only are we getting fewer nutrients from our food, our nutrient demands are much higher.  Modern life brings with it numerous external stressors.  Constant work deadlines.  Interrupted circadian rhythms.  Toxins in our environment.  Even exercise.

When the body is placed under stress and toxins are present, it needs more nutrients to deal with them, often more than food can provide.  To make these matters worse our ability to absorb nutrients also decreases as we age.

So if you are interested in living a long healthy life, you have likely thought about supplementation.

But it can be difficult to know where to start.  It can be quite confusing when looking down the supplement shelf at your local supermarket or pharmacy and seeing hundreds of bottles of vitamins, minerals, and other unpronounceable supplements.

This list will help take some of the guesswork out of it.  These five supplements will give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to optimising your health and nutrition.

Fish Oil

Many experts agree that if you were to take only one supplement, fish oil would be the one to take.  Fish oil is sourced from the tissues of fish.  Primarily fatty, cold-water fish and contains the essential Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.  These molecules are incorporated into the outside lipid layer of all your cells, allowing for better signaling between cells.

Fish oil supplements have been shown to regulate inflammation, enhance cognition and mood, and support healthy heart and brain function.  They can also improve insulin sensitivity, aid fat burning and increase metabolic rate because of their high thermic effect.

You should aim to get 1 to 3 grams of EPA and DHA daily.  You can get some of this intake from eating oily fish such as salmon and tuna, but it is very hard to get enough from eating fish alone.  When it comes to fish oil supplements quality is important, so do your research.  Many fish oils on the market can be contaminated or rancid and can be harmful rather than beneficial.

If you do not eat meat another good source of omega 3s is flaxseed or flaxseed oil.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin primarily synthesised in the body through exposure to UV rays from sunlight.  It is naturally present in very few foods, mainly fish, eggs and mushrooms, and is difficult to obtain enough from diet alone.  Most people only get five to 10 percent of their vitamin D from food.

Vitamin D is important for strong bones, muscles and overall health.  Achieving healthy vitamin D levels is one of the easiest ways to prevent chronic disease, promote long-term health, optimise body composition, and reduce injury and illness rates.

Adequate vitamin D levels help to support a healthy immune system, decrease the likelihood of depression and other mood disorders, support muscular strength and power and have been linked to fighting many cancers including lung, breast, colon, and prostate.

Conversely, Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to heightened risk of heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, and obesity.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is necessary for the production of vitamin D in the skin and is the best natural source of vitamin D.

20-30 minutes outside in the middle of the day is adequate for most people to get their recommended vitamin D levels.  However, because most people spend the majority of their time indoors and are protected from the harmful effects of UV rays when they are outside, many people do not get adequate levels.  Unless you actively seek out daily sun exposure without sunglasses or sunscreen, especially in the winter months, you’re most likely low in vitamin D.

Those with darker skin are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency.  The melanin, or pigmentation in the skin, reduces the amount of UV absorbed by the skin, thereby reducing vitamin D production.

If testing vitamin D levels it is important to do so periodically due to seasonal differences. Testing every 3 to 6 months is recommended.

Supplementing with 2,000 to 5,000 IUs daily to achieve a blood value between 50 and 80 ng/ml is the easy alternative if you have limited sun exposure.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an abundant mineral that plays a role in more than 300 processes in the body.  It is one of seven essential macrominerals, meaning it needs to be consumed in relatively large amounts to maintain healthy levels.

Magnesium is an important mineral for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and plays an important role in diabetes prevention.  It is a key mineral in bone formation and helps to keep bones strong and prevent osteoporosis.  Because of its calming effect on the nervous system magnesium helps to create healthy sleep patterns and aids in stress management and prevention of depression and other mood disorders.

It is rare to be extremely deficient in magnesium because the kidneys regulate excretion of this mineral.  However, due to dietary changes and a drop in soil quality, intakes below recommended levels are common.  Even drinking filtered or bottled water often means you are missing out on essential minerals like magnesium.

Because of its role in so many processes within the body the signs of low magnesium levels are vast.  Some symptoms linked to low magnesium include muscle cramps/weakness, fatigue, mental disorders, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, asthma and irregular heartbeat.  The symptoms are usually subtle unless levels are chronically low.

The best way to check magnesium levels is to get a red blood cell magnesium test with optimal values being between 5.6 and 6.8 mg/dL.  Blood contains only about 0.3 percent of magnesium in the body, with the rest stored in bone, muscle, and connective tissue, making typical serum blood tests useless for assessing magnesium status.

A recommended daily dose of 10 mg/kg/bodyweight of magnesium is generally recommended for supplementation. Supplement quality is important.  Cheap magnesium chelates like magnesium oxide can cause overrelaxation of the bowel, leading to urgency going to the bathroom.

Probiotics

Probiotics are naturally occurring bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.  They are also live microorganisms that can be consumed through fermented foods or supplements.

There is a good reason why fermented products such as Kombucha and Keffir and Kimchi have exploded in popularity in recent years.  Consuming adequate amounts of probiotics help to promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria and provide a wide range of health benefits.

More and more studies show that the balance or imbalance of bacteria in your digestive system is linked to overall health and disease

Probiotics aid digestion and nutrient absorption in the gut, ensuring your body can absorb vitamins, minerals, and protein from food.  They affect the production of neurotransmitters in the GI tract leading to better cognition, and boost mood and motivation levels.  They can also aid fat loss, boost your immune system and help to keep the heart healthy by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Probiotics improve the body’s ability to eliminate waste products and foreign compounds.  They also help prevent toxicity and organ damage caused by alcohol or other common medications.

Probiotics can be consumed by adding fermented foods and drinks to your diet.  Kombucha, Keffir, Kimchi, and Sauerkraut are some examples of probiotic-containing products.  Probiotic supplements can also be taken although it’s important to find one that actually contains live microflora bacteria.  Many products are only guaranteed at the time of manufacture, meaning that the majority may have died off by the time you take them.  Instead, only buy probiotics that are guaranteed through to the date of expiration.

Another thing to look for in supplements is that they contain strains that have been tested in research and shown to have worthwhile outcomes.

Some examples of what to look for are:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM
  • Bifidobacterium lactis BI-07 or HN019
  • Bacillus Indicus HU36
  • Bacillus Subtilis HU58
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001
  • Saccharomyces boulardii

Multivitamin

As mentioned above it is hard to get all of your recommended nutrients from food, even if eating a varied, whole food diet.  Nutrient levels in the body can also be further depleted due to prescription drug use and chronic stress.  While aiming to get as much of your nutrient needs from food sources is important, a good multivitamin can help to top up any nutrient deficiencies you may have.

Because multivitamins combine so many nutrients in one, quality is often compromised.  All minerals are bound with another compound for stability.  Companies decrease production costs by using mineral salts for binding.  Mineral salts, which can be identified as carbonate, oxide, and sulfate are very poorly absorbed.

Poor absorption can be largely avoided by choosing minerals that are bound with an amino acid because they are treated like proteins by the body and are easily digested.  Examples include taurate, glycinate, orotate, arginate, lysinate, and citrate.

It’s also important to keep an eye out for multis that have high levels of preformed vitamin A (called retinyl palmitate or acetate on the label) and manganese because these can be toxic at higher levels.

As with the other supplements on this list, quality is important if you don’t want to be flushing your money down the toilet.  Do your research and buy the best quality supplements your budget allows.

Trying to stick to practitioner brand supplements generally ensures you are getting the quality you’re paying for as these are held to a higher standard than many brands found on supermarket shelves.

 

Supplementation should not and will not replace a healthy well balanced diet, but if you are serious about optimising your health and nutrition this guide can help to

Sam’s Story on Multiple Sclerosis

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Sam is not only a much-loved member of our family at CrossFit Bayswater but she also has an amazing story to tell.  Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Sam could have easily let her condition define her, but she continues to live life to the fullest and inspires many of the people around her.

Have a watch of this video for a healthy dose of inspiration and maybe a tear or two.

Finding Your Motivation

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Finding motivation to exercise can be hard at times. When its cold and wet your motivation levels can dip more than the temperature in the middle of winter.
 
You may have experienced it before.  You start a new exercise program.  You’re excited.  You’re going every day for the first couple of weeks, but then you get bored.  The novelty wears off and the training becomes monotonous.  It doesn’t seem as fun as it was to begin with.  You miss a session, then another, maybe even a few days or a week.  Then you stop going altogether.
 
If this has happened in the past, you may feel frustrated or discouraged. Don’t be.
 
We all have bursts of motivation, generally followed by periods of wavering enthusiasm.
Having strategies to maintain your motivation levels long-term is important.
 
It is not always easy, but here are some tips to help you build your motivation.

Find Your Why

One of the most important factors for maintaining motivation is being clear on your why.  Why are you doing what you do?
 
A strong desire for a dream or goal can motivate you into taking action towards achieving it.
 
Intrinsic motivators tend to be more powerful than extrinsic ones.  Learn to identify your own personal desires.  Tap into what inspires you and use this to motivate you through the tough times.  Remind yourself of what these are when your motivation starts to wane.

Set A Goal

Having a short-term achievable goal can also be a great motivator to keep you on track when things are going tough.  The goal can be anything you like. Lose 2 kilos, string 20 double unders together, train more than 3 times a week.  Doesn’t matter what it is as long as it fits within your lifestyle.  It should also be achievable and have measurable parameters.
 
Be as specific as possible and set a time frame. Write it down somewhere, or tell others about it.  This helps keep you accountable, on track and motivated towards achieving that goal.
 
Long-term goals are good too.  Break them down into shorter, more achievable goals to help keep motivation levels high while working towards that long-term goal.

Harness the Power of Others

Humans are social creatures, it’s in our nature to want to be with and around other people.  The sense of belonging or being part of something can provide us with a strong source of motivation.
 
Joining a gym, sporting team or community can be a great source of external motivation.  At CrossFit Bayswater (shameless plug), we are not just a gym but a community of like-minded individuals.  This awesome community helps to keep our members motivated.
 
The key is finding somewhere that feels right for you.  You want it to be enjoyable.
 
To get the most from a community, become active within it.  Don’t stand in the corner and work out alone.  Join in the banter, have a laugh and use the energy to motivate you.

Fun and Variety

As well as being social creatures, humans are also playful and like to have fun.  Even while we’re working out.
 
Adding variety to your training helps keep things interesting.  It makes exercise more enjoyable and easier to stick to.  Workout variety challenges your body and can introduce you to muscle groups you didn’t know you had.
 
Try out new things.  Attend a yoga session, go rock climbing, throw in a trail run or mountain bike session.  Exercise doesn’t have to be something you hate.  Find something that you love and have fun with it.

Get Some Help

Find a friend with the same interests or passions that you have.  Join a gym together, schedule a workout together, go try something new together.  Hitting the snooze button and rolling over is easy if it’s just you, but a lot harder if you know someone is waiting on you.
 
The right training partner can be a great motivator.  You have someone to share the fails, successes and all the ups and downs that go along with training.  It’s much easier to push through a painful session with a friend by your side than it is going it alone.
 
Make sure it’s the right person though. The wrong person could have the opposite effect on your motivation levels.  You could end up being a counselor for your friend rather than a training buddy.  No one wants that.

Change Your Perspective

Instead of looking at exercise as a chore, look at it as a privilege.  If you are telling yourself you “have” to go to training, this can often take the fun out of it.
 
Think about the reasons why you want to be there. The sessions are fun, I get to hang out with my friends at the gym, I always feel better after going.
 
Relate these reasons back to your goals. Shift your thinking from couch potato mentality to thinking like an athlete.  Always look at the positives rather than the negatives.

Schedule a Regular Workout Time

The most committed people generally have a regular workout schedule.  Whether it is before the sun comes up or late at night when the kids are in bed.  Find what works for you and make it part of your routine.
 
If it’s in the morning, try to have your stuff ready to go as soon as you wake up.  Pack your bag the night before.  If it’s after work, try to fit it in on the way home.  Motivating yourself to get off the couch after a long day is a lot harder than going straight to the gym on the way home.  Whatever works with your schedule, try to make it part of your regular routine.

Find a role model

Find someone you look up to.  This may be someone at your gym, one of your friends or even someone that you follow on social media.  Having someone to look up to who possesses qualities you are aiming towards can help keep you stay motivated towards your goals.
 
Be careful not to let this become a negative and make you feel worse about yourself.  Use others as motivation.  Don’t compare yourself to them.  Everyone is at different stages on their journey.  We all have different genetics, body types, strengths, and weaknesses.
 
Social media can be motivating but is not always a true reflection of someone. People only show what they want you to see so you shouldn’t read too much into it.

Be flexible

Rest or adjust your training when you feel the need for it.  Nobody operates at 100% all the time.  If you need a break, take it.
Recognise that you are on a journey.  Recognise when you’re tired or stressed and adjust your training to accommodate your mood and interruptions of daily life.  
Sometimes it is okay to do less rather than more. Burning yourself out is one of the easiest ways to sap your motivation.

Recover

Make sure to recover properly after your workouts.  Eat well, sleep well and manage your stress levels as best you can.  Feeling tired and beat up from one day to the next will not help your motivation levels. Be mindful of how you are feeling and look after any niggles before they become injuries.

At the end of the day don’t be too hard on yourself. If you miss a session, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself and have a beer or burger every now and then if you want to.

 

 

 

 

 

Mobility, the Often Neglected Part of Your Training Routine

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Muscle, strength, endurance and fat loss are the things often thought of when thinking about fitness.  Another important component to fitness, that is often overlooked, is mobility.  Athletes often drop it down on their priority list, of course, it’s not as cool as a muscle up or a 200kg deadlift, but mobility is a good indication on how efficiently we move and can make a huge difference when it comes to progress in the gym.

While they are often used interchangeably, flexibility and mobility are not synonymous, they are different concepts with important impacts on your fitness and health.  Knowing the difference between the two, and how to apply them, can help you move better and reduce the likelihood of injuries.  In the past, trainers would generally just instruct their clients to do a few stretches to loosen off any tight muscles and increase flexibility.  These days, especially in CrossFit circles, we tend to focus on mobility or mobilisation techniques.

So what’s the difference?

Flexibility generally refers to the ability of connective tissue (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) to temporarily elongate when placed in certain positions.  Mobility, on the other hand, is an umbrella term for many factors that may affect the range of motion around a joint, which also includes flexibility.  A person with great mobility is able to perform functional movement patterns without a restricted range of motion in those movements.  A flexible person may not necessarily have the strength, balance, or coordination to perform those same functional movements.  If the ankle is restricted due to a mobility issue, then just stretching the calves won’t fix the problem, movement or mobilisation is needed to fix a mobility issue.

Traditional flexibility techniques, such as static stretching, focus on lengthening the soft tissue of your body that is pliable enough to stretch, primarily the muscles.  While stretching muscles can be beneficial and may be conducive to a greater range of movement around a joint, it’s basically useless if your mobility is constricted by other factors.  The muscle will never be able to lengthen to its full extent if the joint won’t allow it to move far enough.  Mobilisation is more effective than traditional stretching alone because it is based on movement and motor control.  That being said, both mobility and flexibility are important.  You need to have the strength and motor control to support your movements, and muscle elasticity which allows you to move freely.  By incorporating some stretching and mobility work into your routine you can help to reduce your risk of injury, correct muscle imbalances, decrease pain in your joints and release tension in your body.

So what is mobility or mobilisation?

Kelly Starrett, Author and mobility guru, describes mobilisation as

a movement-based, integrated, full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance including short and tight muscles, soft tissue restriction, joint capsule restriction, motor control problems, joint range of motion dysfunction, and neural dynamic issues. In short, mobilisation is a tool to globally address movement and performance problems”.

Mobility is not only essential to our fitness but also our overall quality of life, especially as we get older.  The ability to move without restriction or pain means that we can comfortably perform our activities of daily living as well as any strength or fitness training that we make part of our routine.  If you have mobility issues that affect how you move, your body won’t be functioning the way it’s supposed to and over time you will experience more wear and tear and general discomfort.  When you exercise you will essentially be performing faulty movements under higher intensity, causing greater stress on your body, which can lead to injuries over time.  This can be prevented with some focused mobility work

Mobilisation can be separated into three primary categories: soft tissue work, mobility drills and stretching, which are explained a little bit more here.

Soft Tissue Work

This mostly refers to Self-myofascial release (SMR)  but also incorporates work done by a practitioner such as a massage therapist.  SMR techniques are a form of self-massage, usually involving the use of mobility tools such as a lacrosse ball, foam roller, massage stick or floss band.  These techniques can sometimes be tortuous but can be very effective at freeing up tight muscles and improving circulation.  Sometimes SMR alone isn’t enough and an athlete will have to seek out a physiotherapist, osteopath or massage therapist who is trained to deal with issues outside the scope of a trainer or coach.

Mobility Drills/Exercises

The primary focus of mobility drills is to improve positions and they are geared towards increasing the functional range of motion around joints by breaking up adhesions in and/or stretching the joint capsule itself.  These drills sometimes require the use of bands and other pieces of equipment used in SMR, like balls and rollers.  Websites such as mobilitywod.com and romwod.com are excellent resources for mobility drills, as is Kelly Starrett’s book “Becoming a Supple Leopard”.  You can find different movements to mobilise specific parts of the body depending on your needs.

Stretching

Traditional “static” stretching normally involves holding a muscle in a lengthened position for a short period of time (normally around 30 seconds).  Stretching after workouts can help with flexibility, although this type of stretching isn’t always necessary, especially if you’re already naturally flexible.  But if you’ve always been fairly stiff, and it’s stopping you from performing exercises correctly, some short duration stretches can be beneficial as part of your warmup routine, and save longer stretches for after your workout.

To get the maximum benefit from your mobility work, you will need to do it often, ideally every day! It is better to move gently and regularly rather than go full-force every now and then.  It should be a proactive approach rather than a reactive one.  Don’t wait until problems arise before you address them.  This doesn’t mean you need to spend an extra hour in the gym every day limbering up all your joints, focus your work to make it more effective, even five minutes can be beneficial.

So where should you start?

Incorporating some focused mobility into your warmup can help to improve your positions, thereby improving power output and performance.  Mobility work prior to training also allows you to strengthen your body in your new and improved range of motion, solidifying the effects.  Warmups are generally designed to prepare the body for movements in the coming workout so it is important to add in additional mobility work to help correct any positional issues you may have.  While addressing all areas of mobility is important, you should focus on specific areas that you know are tight and have a history of limited movement.  Common problem areas include the hips, shoulders, knees and upper back, but every body is different so you should try to tailor your mobility work to your own needs as best you can.

When you are trying to determine your mobility needs, it’s useful to make honest assessments of your movements and abilities.  Are you comfortable in the starting position? Are you comfortable in the end position? Can you move with control and stability throughout the movement? If not, try to ascertain what is limiting you.  Instead of overthinking which muscles are tight, what needs to be strengthened and what needs to be stretched or mobilised, ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish during specific tasks or movements and how you can improve those positions.

Focus on your joints first, joint movement is king, it helps to lubricate the joints allowing you to achieve greater ranges of motion more easily.  Gradually and consistently work on the elements of the shape you are trying to make.  Slowing things down and paying attention to your position can be extremely helpful for building usable strength and motor control.

Use the Range of Motion you have. You may only have a few inches to work with at first, which is fine.  The more you work on your mobility, the better it will get over time.  Try to get comfortable in the positions you are trying to mobilise, don’t force it.  Your body needs to know that this is a safe position to be in for it to become a natural movement, get your mind used to getting into it.

Move regularly, if you don’t use it, you lose it.  At the end of the day, simply moving more in a variety of ways helps to increase mobility; however, specific athletic goals require more flexibility and mobility than others.  Adding some yoga into your routine can be very beneficial, because not only are you increasing your flexibility by holding stretches and poses, you are also creating body awareness and motor control by working with your breath.

Make the foam roller your friend.  While this alone won’t make you more mobile it can certainly help and is easy to do after a workout or even at home in front of the TV.  Ask a coach for some advice on what to work on or some specific movements to add to your routine, or check out one of the resources above.  The more tools you have in your mobility toolkit, the better you’ll be able to keep your body running like a well-oiled machine.

Like all aspects of fitness, there is no magic pill, but a little bit of work and a lot of patience can go a long way.

 

Sleep. Why is it so Important?

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Although it is often overlooked, a good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your overall health and wellbeing, just as important as healthy eating and regular exercise.  Sleep is a restorative process for your mind and body and adequate levels are essential for the basic function of many bodily systems.

We all know that grumpy, lethargic feeling the next day after laying in bed all night tossing and turning, but short-changing your sleep on a regular basis can have long-lasting consequences that extend beyond physical tiredness.  It drains your mental abilities and puts your physical health at real risk.  Poor sleep has been linked to many health issues from weight gain to mental health disorders and cardiovascular disease.

Studies have shown that the average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep per night, yet in our busy society, many of us underestimate the body’s need for sleep and are not getting the amount our body needs to perform the wide variety of processes it relies on sleep for.  During the night, our bodies cycle through two recurring phases of sleep: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep.  Both of these are important for different functions in our bodies, so quality uninterrupted sleep is just as important as the quantity of sleep.  Some of the detrimental effects of poor sleep quality are outlined below.

Sleep and Weight Gain

Along with eating too much and not exercising, short sleep duration has been shown to be one of the strongest risk factors for obesity.  The effect of sleep on weight gain is mediated by numerous factors, including hormone, appetite and motivation levels.  Sleep, or lack of, affects the levels of leptin and ghrelin, hormones which act upon the hypothalamus in the brain to regulate appetite.  Without adequate sleep, production of leptin, an appetite suppressant, is diminished and production of ghrelin, an appetite stimulant, is increased, leading to an increase in appetite.

Not only does a lack of sleep stimulate appetite, it can also decrease motivation and stimulate cravings for energy-dense foods.  Poor sleep leads to low energy levels, prompting your body to begin looking for glucose for energy to help you through the day.  The most readily available sources of energy are generally highly processed foods meaning you will crave more of these when tired.

In addition to searching for energy, cortisol (stress hormone) levels are often elevated when functioning on little sleep.  Excess cortisol directly contributes to excess belly fat and can also increase appetite.  As a result, your body boosts insulin to help bring down cortisol and control your blood sugar levels.  Higher insulin levels, in turn, promote fat storage and increase your risk of type 2 diabetes

Sleep and Immune Function

Sleep deprivation leads to increased levels of inflammatory proteins in the blood. Inflammation, often referred to as the silent killer, is linked to many other conditions including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging.  Inflammation also reduces your sensitivity to insulin and drives up cortisol production.

While sleep deprivation leads to inflammation, during sleep your immune system produces protective, infection-fighting substances like cytokines.  Some cytokines are used to help promote sleep and others are needed to help fight off infections and inflammation in the body.  Sleep deprivation reduces the ability of the body to protect itself from bacteria and viruses making you more prone to common illnesses and influences how the body fights these illnesses, increasing recovery times.

Sleep and Mental Health

Sleep plays an important role in the facilitation of brain growth and development and also supports learning and memory.  During sleep, new neurons and neuron pathways are formed daily in the adult brain and damaged cells and toxins are removed.  Disturbances to these processes cause stressful conditions and disrupt normal brain physiology.  These disruptions can negatively affect your mental ability and emotional state.  You may be more prone to mood swings and impulsive behaviour and feel more impatient.  It can make it difficult to concentrate or learn new things and affect your decision-making processes and coordination skills.  Prolonged sleep deprivation can have more serious consequences and lead to things like depression, anxiety, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, and hallucinations.

So knowing how important sleep is to both your physical and mental wellbeing, here are some tips to help you achieve better quality sleep and get more of it. 

Create a comfortable sleeping environment

Make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet, dark and free from distracting noises and light.  If your bed or pillows are uncomfortable, change them.  Turn your smartphone off, or at least on silent and face down, so you are less likely to be distracted by notifications going off through the night.

Keep a Routine

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day including on the weekends if possible.  Just like your workout or diet, trying to keep to a routine is an excellent way to set yourself up for success.  Understand your sleep requirements.  Most people need at least seven hours of sleep for optimal recovery so try to commit to a certain amount of sleep each night.

Bed is for sleep

And maybe a bit of intimacy!  Avoid watching television, studying, working, eating or drinking in bed.  Your brain should associate your bed with sleeping.  Keeping all other activities out of the bedroom will help your brain switch to sleep mode when you do get into bed at night.  Also, there’s nothing worse than having food crumbs all through your bed when you are trying to get to sleep.

Disconnect

Try to disconnect from any gadgets (phones, computers, TVs) an hour before bed.  The blue light that is emitted from screens prevents your body from signaling that it is time for bed.  Try reading an actual book rather than looking at facebook before laying down for the night.

No Caffeine in the P.M.

We all know caffeine is a stimulus that helps keep us awake, but it is sometimes hidden in things we are not aware of.  Coffee and tea are obvious sources of caffeine but it can also be found in many workout supplements, soft drinks, and even chocolate.  Try to limit intake of these things after lunchtime and limit your sugar intake also, as too much can have the same effect.

Limit your alcohol

Alcohol may help you relax and fall asleep faster, but it can mess with your sleep cycles.  Alcohol decreases deep sleep, increases arousal and may make you need to use the toilet more often, so sleep quality will be diminished.  If you do have a drink of an evening, try to have it earlier rather than later and drink in moderation, so it’ll wear off by the time you lie down.

Relax

Try not to engage in stimulating activity before bed.  Vigorous exercise, playing competitive games, watching exciting programs, or holding important discussions can all keep your brain wide awake and have it racing when it is time to switch off and go to sleep.

Stretch or meditate
Try to calm your mind as much as possible before getting ready for bed.  Some meditation, foam rolling or gentle stretching/yoga before you hit the sack can help relax your mind, steady your breath, and reduce muscle tension without raising heart rate or body temperature.

Keep cool
Many people have a hot bath to help them relax, but this can actually make it harder for you to fall asleep.  Anything that raises your body temperature too close to bedtime can hinder you from falling asleep because your body needs to cool to a certain temperature in order to reach a sound slumber.

Overall, quality sleep is one of the best habits you can adopt to improve both your physical and mental health.  So if you have been struggling to get a good nights sleep, use some of these tips to improve your sleep quality and reap the many rewards that come with it.