Germs at the gym

We all know that working out is great for your health, and many of us prefer to get our sweat on at the gym. But while they can be an important part of your healthy routine, gyms can unfortunately also serve as hotbeds for pathogens (just look at unsettling news articles like this one). 

Viruses love hard surfaces like metal, plastic, and glass, while bacteria thrive on moist, porous surfaces. Think treadmills, kettlebells, saunas and showers. Some germs die almost immediately when outside the body, but others can thrive for hours or days.

So, what might you come in contact with at the gym?

One study found 25 different types of bacteria on everything from stationary bikes to toilet handles to free weights. Another study focused on a strain of Staphylococcus aureus (also known as Staph) and found high instances on medicine balls, treadmill handles and weight plates. Staph is one of the most common types of bacteria and is the culprit behind skin infections, food poisoning and septicemia.

Here are other infections you can contract at the gym and what causes them:

  • Athlete’s Foot – Caused by fungi that thrive in warm, dark, moist environments, like your sweaty sneakers or locker rooms.
  • Ringworm – Another fungal infection that can appear as scaly circles on your skin anywhere on your body.
  • Cold and Flu – Viral respiratory infections usually transmitted through the air via droplets from coughs or sneezes.
  • Plantar warts – Caused by a strain of human papillomavirus (yes, HPV), which can be picked up by walking barefoot at the gym.
  • Hot tub rash – Caused by a bacteria and can flourish in hot tubs or pools

Before you vow to never set a (hopefully not bare) foot in the gym ever again, note that you can protect yourself from these and other potential germs by simply following precautionary measures like getting a flu shot and using common sense (like not walking barefoot at a gym). 

Be sure to wipe down all equipment before and after you use it, wash your hands often and don’t touch your eyes, mouth or nose while you’re at the gym.

Stay safe out there!

Raise a (tea)cup to better health!

An ongoing study is showing pretty exciting results when it comes to taking care of your brain: you can actually improve neuro-efficiency by steeping a simple cup of tea.

Assistant Professor Feng Lei from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine’s Department of Psychological Medicine revealed that “regular tea drinkers have better organised brain regions – and this is associated with healthy cognitive function – compared to non-tea drinkers.” The study followed older adults who were drinking a variety of tea types several times each week. It was conducted by a collaborative team that was interested in finding benefits to tea drinking in addition to previously studied aspects such as heart health, diabetes and improved mood. 

What’s so magical about tea? 

Ok, so let’s just assume all these studies are correct in their findings. Let’s say drinking tea several times a week will help maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, will keep us calmer, level out blood sugar issues, plus make our brains work better than ever. All these results beg the question of why? The quick answer comes from Harvard-led studies which pinpointed health-promoting substances like polyphenols, particularly catechins and epicatechins. In fact, “lab and animal studies say these molecules have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.” One thing researchers urge (in addition to making tea a part of your healthy habits checklist) is to keep the sugar out of your cup! Authors are quick to note that any benefits imparted by drinking tea will surely be cancelled out if you load up your cuppa with the sweet stuff. 

What else can tea do for me? 

In addition to these scientific studies, there are great tea producers out there making specific recipes based on supporting women’s health in particular. We’ve been a big fan of what’s happening at La Luna Tide, where women can get a subscription to a box of four teas that support a more balanced experience, all month long. 

With all the good teas can do, we’re hoping to work more of the drink into our daily routines. Maybe we’ll bring back high tea parties, or switch to a relaxing hot tea in the morning instead of a latte on the run. 

Are at-home workouts right for you?

Everyone knows that exercise is beneficial to both physical and mental health. A regular exercise routine can increase your fitness level, elevate your mood, and can reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases. A gym or yoga studio membership is a great way to get a workout, but they put you at the mercy of traffic, weather conditions, and the gym’s hours and class schedules.

Whether you’re new to exercise or just want to change things up from your regular routine, here are a few things to consider when deciding between home and gym workouts.

For home workouts

  • Setting up a home gym can be relatively inexpensive.
  • You don’t need to travel anywhere or worry about hours and schedules.
  • Childcare is not required. Plan your workouts around sleep or school schedules.
  • It’s your home turf, so snacks, water and a bathroom are always available. 
  • You have more privacy; so don’t worry about messing up or looking silly.
  • Germs! They’re everywhere at the gym.

Against home workouts

  • It’s easy to procrastinate or just skip your workout altogether.
  • You need some imagination to keep your workouts fresh.
  • Working out with a group in a gym setting can be motivating, and you have an instructor or trainer watching your form.
  • If you work from home, working out at home may not sound like fun.
  • Gyms have a greater variety of equipment.

Home workouts can be just as effective as gym workouts, but you will need to put in some thought and effort into creating a sustainable, enjoyable routine. The only way to figure out if working out at home works for you is to try it out. Many online fitness classes offer free trial periods, and you can also try a free 30-day fitness challenge, which provides a different set of exercises every day.

Happy exercising!

Use your HRV to personalize your workouts and maximize your athletic potential

Ever wonder why a workout regimen is not working for you? Maybe it’s written in the stars, or maybe it’s written in your heart rate variability (HRV).

If you sport an activity watch or fitness wearable, it’s likely you are tracking your heart health. Unlike a metronome, your heart does not beat consistently at the same rate. Instead, there are healthy irregularities between the times of each beat. This “variation” in time intervals between heart beats is called your heart rate variability (HRV), and it can tell you a lot about your state of health.
  

HRV is commonly used by elite athletes as a measure of systemic fatigue and recovery. It can be an indication of overtraining, a reflection of recovery status after a workout, and show how an individual responds to a specific training regimen [1].

Just like heart rate, HRV fluctuates throughout the day, responding to your body’s stimuli. A decrease in HRV indicates an activation of the sympathetic (or “fight or flight”) branch of your nervous system, which can be caused by activity or stress. An increased HRV shows an activation of the parasympathetic (or “rest and digest”) branch, indicating that you are in a state of recovery.

Paying attention to these patterns in your own HRV can help you personalize your workouts and maximize your athletic potential.

Studies show that training guided and adapted by your HRV is more effective for developing aerobic performance than pre-planned workout regimens that do not account for real-time changes in HRV. [2, 3]. In a study that tested the aerobic performance of individuals during a four-week endurance training period, results showed that those who monitored and adjusted their training regimen according to their HRV had an increased maximal running velocity (load_max) without a significant difference in peak oxygen consumption (VO2_peak), concluding that aerobic performance can be effectively improved by using HRV for a “daily training prescription.” [3

~~~

So you’ve checked your HRV. Where do you go from here? Use your HRV as a tool to understand how your body responds to certain factors such as:

  • Sleep patterns (hours of sleep, sleep quality, wake-up time) [4]
  • Specific workouts (HIIT, running, resistance training, swimming, etc.)
  • Hydration [5]
  • Therapeutics (stretching, yoga, meditation) [6]
  • Stress [7]

By tracking how these factors correlate with your HRV, you can better understand what workouts and methods work best for you. So get out there,and happy tracking!

References

[1] Bellenger, Clint R, et al. “Monitoring Athletic Training Status Through Autonomic Heart Rate Regulation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26888648.

[2] Kiviniemi, Antti M, et al. “Endurance Training Guided Individually by Daily Heart Rate Variability Measurements.” European Journal of Applied Physiology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17849143.

[3] Kiviniemi, Antti M, et al. “Daily Exercise Prescription on the Basis of HR Variability among Men and Women.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20575165.

[4] Michels, Nathalie, et al. “Children’s Sleep and Autonomic Function: Low Sleep Quality Has an Impact on Heart Rate Variability.” Sleep, Associated Professional Sleep Societies, LLC, 1 Dec. 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24293769

[5] “The Influence of Hydration Status on Heart Rate Variability after Exercise Heat Stress.” Journal of Thermal Biology, Pergamon, 11 Aug. 2005, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306456505000495.

[6] “Mindfulness Meditation, Well-Being, and Heart Rate Variability: A Preliminary Investigation into the Impact of Intensive Vipassana Meditation.” International Journal of Psychophysiology, Elsevier, 22 June 2013, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167876013001888.

[7] Kim, Hye-Geum, et al. “Stress and Heart Rate Variability: A Meta-Analysis and Review of the Literature.” Psychiatry Investigation, Korean Neuropsychiatric Association, Mar. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5900369/.

Waking up tired? Air quality could be your problem

You’ve tried just about everything. A new pillow, mattress, and even some new bedsheets, but nothing seems to be working. There is one important element you may have overlooked – indoor air quality can play a significant role in how well you sleep. 

Bedroom Air Quality

You close your window and your door and slip into bed. You’ve got the privacy and quiet you want, but now your room is poorly ventilated. Research shows that bedroom air quality, specifically carbon dioxide levels, can adversely impact your sleep quality. With your room closed off, the CO2 your body generates builds up in your room. Studies have shown that people who slept in rooms with higher levels of CO2 (due to poor bedroom ventilation) slept worse and performed worse on logic tests the next day. 

Kitchen Air Quality

How well is your kitchen ventilated? A study on how cooking oil fumes affect your sleep showed that those with poorly ventilated kitchens reported overall worse sleep quality. Prolonged exposure to cooking oil fumes were also positively associated with poor sleep quality. 

What You Can Do

Okay, so you get the overall point: the air you’re exposed to on a daily basis can have a significant effect on how well you sleep. But what can you do about it? Here are two easy changes you can make that could make a difference in how well you’re sleeping: 

Get an Air Monitor 

Air monitors can help you identify any problems in your indoor air quality such as elevated CO2 or particulate matter levels. This can help you pinpoint other changes you might need to make like replacing your air filter.

Ventilate

Aside from installing a ventilator in your home, there are many things you can do to improve air flow. Turn on a fan, keep your door open, or just crack open a window. These practices can ensure that CO2 doesn’t build up in your bedroom, and help protect you from dangerous cooking fumes. If you choose to use oil the next time you’re cooking, turn a fan on, or cover your mouth and face, and keep it short!

Are you really in ketosis?

Probably not, and that’s ok! 

Ketosis is a normal metabolic process, occurring when the body does not have enough glucose stores for energy. It instead burns fat, which produces a build up of acids called ketones that the body can then use for fuel. Because ketosis uses fat instead of glucose for energy, low carbohydrate diets have been popular for decades.

The ketogenic diet didn’t start as a weight-loss method. Physicians began using it as a treatment for epilepsy in children about a century ago. Doctors found children with epilepsy stopped having seizures after two days of absolute fasting – the point when their bodies would have been forced into ketosis. 

Keto diets may sound like a piece of cake (or lack thereof, actually). You just need to reduce the amount of carbs you eat, right? Wrong. The whole point of a keto diet is to deplete the body’s glucose stores so it’s forced to use body fat as fuel. 

Your body really doesn’t like that. When you run out of glucose, your body goes into “starvation mode,” meaning it’s missing an important macronutrient. At this point, your body starts to break down protein into carbs.

Here’s why it’s difficult to maintain a keto diet. You need to give your body the right amount of protein. If you give it too much, it will break it down into carbs. If you give it too little, it will break down the proteins from your own muscles. This would be very, very bad.
Keto diets also wreak havoc on your metabolism, because the human body is designed to run on carbs. Your best bet for losing weight and maintaining overall health is to follow the recommendations everyone has heard before: eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, eat fish twice a week and limit your sugar and alcohol intake.

Keeping a food diary can help you reach your nutrition goals

Have you ever tried to recall everything you ate or drank on any given day? Remembering just one meal is tough. What about the free supermarket samples or that one bite of your kid’s PB&J sandwich?

These forgotten nibbles can add up quickly and derail your health goals. Here’s where a food journal can come in handy. 

Whether you’re trying to lose weight or keep to a well-balanced diet, journaling can help you stay on track and keep yourself accountable. It can also just help you be more aware of the foods you eat, portion sizes and the timing of your meals and snacks. 

When you write down what you eat and when, you can keep track of your good habits and identify bad habits. A food journal is also useful for helping you and your doctor identify food allergies and intolerances, as well as triggers for gastrointestinal problems

Before you start your food journal, decide on a format that works best for you and your doctor or dietician. If you are digitally inclined, you can use spreadsheets, document tables, or diet tracking websites and apps. If you prefer the old school method of pen and paper, you can keep a list on blank paper or jot down your notes in a daily calendar.

Here are some useful journaling tips:

  • Time of day – write it down immediately
  • Portions – include all beverages, sauces and extras
  • Location – at home or out at a restaurant
  • Activities – including working, watching TV or socializing with friends
  • Mood – be specific about your feelings

A food journal is a great way to get and stay on track to optimum health, but it may not be for everyone. If it makes you feel bad about yourself, talk to your doctor about other ways to reach your health goals.

Are you sleep deprived? Here’s how it can affect your overall health

Sleep deprivation can be caused by a range of factors including lifestyle choices, caring for an infant and sleep disorders.

Sleep debt

Not getting enough sleep results in what the National Sleep Foundation calls “a slow accumulation of sleep debt.” Sleep deprivation can have an adverse effect on brain function, leaving you feeling forgetful or unfocused, which can result in mistakes at work or impaired driving.

The good news is that, according to a Harvard Medical School article, it’s possible to repay your sleep debts. You can add a few hours of sleep to your weekend schedule or take a relaxing, sleep-filled vacation to make up for lost rest. Depending on how much sleep debt you’ve accumulated, it could take a while for you to see the results – but setting clear sleep goals for yourself and tracking your sleep can help you get there.

Immunity and chronic illness

Have you ever noticed that you catch a cold when you haven’t slept well for a while? Lack of sleep causes your body to make fewer cytokines, a molecule that regulates immunity and inflammation. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also linked insufficient sleep to the development chronic diseases and conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.

Get better sleep

Good sleep habits have a direct, positive effect on mental, physical and emotional health. Here are some tips from the CDC for a better night’s sleep:

  • Have a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime
  • Get regular exercise
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and comfortable
  • Limit the use of electronic devices before bed

Sleep is usually the thing we do after we do everything else. To stay healthy, especially during cold and flu season, make sleep a priority and get the recommended hours of sleep for your age group. It can be helpful to track your sleep using and app or journal (visit mynano.com to get on the waitlist for Nano’s wellness app) to better understand your sleep patterns and where you can improve your routines. Your body will thank you for it!

Feeling drained or fatigued? Boost your energy naturally

It’s 9 a.m., and you have things to do. So why do you feel like taking a nap? If your usual cups of coffee aren’t cutting it, you may need to look at other factors. 

Most of us love coffee – but some of us can’t or shouldn’t ingest caffeine or other stimulants. The following caffeine-free tips for boosting your energy are also great habits for a healthier lifestyle.

Check your nutrition and hydrate

If you’re feeling the mid-morning or afternoon slump, chances are you might need a snack or water. Obvious, right? For most of us, it isn’t. Keep water and some power snacks on hand, specifically foods with protein, fat and fiber.

Get some sleep

Most adults need about 7-9 hours of sleep. Be honest with yourself – are you really getting your full quota? To get the most out of this important time, set a bedtime routine, limit screen time and go to bed at around the same time every night.

Stay active

This may seem counterintuitive, but slowly increasing your physical activity can have a cumulative effect on your overall energy levels. According to a Johns Hopkins article, you only need about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise to see a difference in the quality of your sleep.

Reduce stress

People of all ages can feel stress and anxiety, which can take a toll on your physical and mental health. Relaxing activities, like meditating, reading a book or knitting are great for reducing tension and increasing energy levels.

Take your vitamins

Even if you eat a balanced diet, you may be missing a vitamin or mineral. A daily multivitamin could be the key to alleviating your low energy levels. Some pregnant women may experience iron-deficiency anemia, which can be treated with a supplement.

Natural energy boosters are great ways to beat fatigue. However, excessive fatigue could be a result of a serious medical condition like depression, sleep apnea, or chronic fatigue syndrome. If you have persistent low energy levels, be sure to contact your medical provider.