5 Ways to Achieve Mental Fitness

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting up with Cara Bradley, who is a best selling author (On The Verge: Wake Up, Show Up and Shine), mental strength coach and recently named as one of the most powerful women in the mindfulness movement. Cara exudes a sense of presence and calm that’s apparent when you are with her. Cara’s belief is that similar to the fitness craze that started several decades ago, we are now heading into the mental fitness era and so she developed a protocol that outlines her cross-training strategies to feel alive and vibrant. Here, I’ll highlight the key pillars of the protocol. For a full read, you can submit a request to get your own copy.

First, what does being “mentally fit” mean? It is a mind and body approach that optimizes your physical and emotional state to provide you with clarity, sharpness and resiliency.

Movement

Daily exercise and movement are key to building physical and mental fitness. And as we age, it’s not only aerobic exercise but resistance training that is critical to keep our bodies strong. Aim for 30 minutes most days of the week. Need motivation? How about a workout buddy? Or use a friend to help track progress; for example, I tell my friend that I’m committing to X days a week on resistance training/swimming/walking/hiking and then update her on my progress several times a week. I can do it myself but it’s nice to know someone is keeping tabs on me to make sure I commit to getting it done.

Nervous System Regulation

We are bombarded by negativity and news of calamity which promotes fear, anger, anxiety and stress. Cara suggests that rather than succumb to these ill effects, choose to shift to a calmer state through mindfulness meditation, yoga, proper sleep, spending time outside and optimizing the gut-brain connection.

Sleep

We all know the importance of sleep (check out my earlier blog on getting proper sleep). Poor sleep leads to not only foul moods but also a weakened immune system and even weight gain –  it makes you hungrier and promotes insulin resistance according to this study. So make sure to develop good sleep habits and make sleep a priority. Here’s a 3-minute mindfulness movement for sleep that Cara recommends: https://www.mindful.org/mindful-movement-ease-sleep/

You can also check out my tips on ways to optimize sleep.

Mind Training

Meditation is a practice of being present with your mind while sitting still and breathing. It’s called “practice” because you need to keep doing it on a consistent basis to achieve mental fitness. Here are some tips from Cara to get you going:

Purpose of meditation:

https://www.carabradley.net/50-stable-body-stable-mind-and-the-purpose-of-meditation/

Meet your mind:

https://www.carabradley.net/episode-20-meet-your-mind/

Guided meditation with deep breathing:

Gut-Brain Optimization

Have you heard the famous Hippocrates quote: “All disease begins in the gut”? Well, Cara proclaims that “Mental fitness begins in the gut”. Recent studies have shown that our gut microbiome is made up of more than 100 trillion bacterial cells and they produce more of the feel-good transmitters like serotonin and dopamine than the brain itself.

So, to improve our mood and mental clarity, we need to combine psychological approaches with dietary ones to optimize our gut microbiome. A healthy whole foods diet is a foundational pillar but did you know that the nutrient density of our produce grown in the US has declined in the past 50 years? According to The Rodale Institute, we are eating plants that are nutritionally starved thanks to all the industrial agriculture depleting soils worldwide. So, it’s also important to take supplements to ensure you are getting all the vital nturients critical to your health. I am happy to make what naysayers call ‘expensive urine’ as I don’t have my own soil-rich organic garden nor live in a toxin-free bubble.

I’ve been a long-time fan of the products that are produced by Amare Global – they are a mental fitness company with high quality natural products.  Here’s info on the mental fitness pack:

http://ltl.is/xq9tks2

And Last But Not Least, Get Going!

You don’t need to commit to all of the above at once, but gradually adding one of these practices will form your new habit and an established cross-training routine for your mental health. 

You can check out more of Cara’s mental fitness podcast episodes here: 

https://wavve.link/wvo80HTdW/episodes

Your Gut & Weight Loss Connection

Have you heard all the buzz lately about the role that your gut microbiome has on your weight? There’s an ever-growing body of research around this with plenty of evidence for the association between gut bacteria and obesity in both infants and adults. In fact, the microbial changes in your gut can be considered a factor involved in obesity development as modifications to the bacteria in the digestive tract can reshape the metabolic profile. So, if that has you thinking about popping bottles of probiotics or even a fecal transplant to lose that extra baggage, read on…

Awesome bacteria

We have many hundreds of different species of bacteria in our gut and while some are harmful and cause illness, most are necessary for human health. They produce vitamins (like vitamin K) and can help your body fight off invaders. They determine how the foods you eat are digested and can promote satiety. So, having a lot of varied, beneficial bacteria is clearly good for you. This study conducted on human twin subjects showed that the obese twin had lower bacterial diversity compared to the non-obese twin.

The bacteria in your gut can even impact how fats from foods are absorbed and stored in the body. I envision these bacteria running around my gut doing aerobics to burn off the dietary fat I consume so it’s not stored in my thighs.

Sharing awesome bacteria

I am definitely not advocating sharing any fecal matter with anybody (unless you absolutely need a transplant) but this research is part of a growing body of evidence that your gut CAN shape your weight. A fecal microbiota transplant, also known as a stool transplant, is the process of transferring fecal bacteria and other microbes from a healthy individual into another individual. FMT is an effective treatment for C. difficile infection. This study showed that the sharing of thin mice fecal matter prevented the development of increased body mass and obesity-related markers in obese mice mates.

So, how do we cultivate awesome bacteria? As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

  • Fiber

One of the reasons why the whole foods-based approach to eating is recommended is due to its high fiber content. So, it should come as no surprise that studies are showing that people eating a high fiber diet have lower weight. This is not just due to the fact that fiber lowers insulin levels and promotes satiety but also the role that the gut bacteria has in digesting that fiber. This review shows how fermentation of dietary fiber by gut microbiota leads to the production of short-chain fatty acids (butyrate, propionate and acetate) which suppresses inflammation, carcinogenesis and maintains a healthy balance of the digestive tract.

Remember, processed food = no good fiber (cardboard has fiber but your gut won’t process it)

Whole food = good fiber

Eating a diet rich in high-fiber vegetables and fruits will keep the bacteria in your GI tract busy and happy and help you achieve a thin-person gut microbiome. 

If you feel like you need some help as no one has a perfect diet, you can try supplementing with probiotics. There are numerous studies done on various strains of probiotics and its impact on weight loss. Here are a couple for you to check out:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24299712/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25473159/

Strains containing Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus have the most evidence for assisting with weight loss – here are ones that have been independently tested for strength and quality:

Lactobacillus:

Bifidobacterium:

  • Flavonoids

Did you know that your gut likes to digest antioxidants commonly found in plants called flavonoids? And that studies have shown that flavonoids can prevent weight gain? Flavonoids are a class of compounds (with six different subtypes) that are rich in antioxidant activity to help ward off inflammation, rid toxins and keep you svelte.

Here is a list of foods rich in flavonoids:
  • Fruits – apples, all berries, peaches, grapefruit, lemons, limes, red and purple grapes
  • Vegetables – broccoli, kale, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, scallions, celery, red peppers
  • Herbs/tea – chamomile, parsley, peppermint, white/green/oolong/black tea
  • And don’t forget dark chocolate!

Injury Prevention Tips for Weekend Warriors

If you enjoy the great outdoors, yardwork, gardening, sports but like many of us, have sedentary jobs, you may be labeled a ‘Weekend Warrior’. These folks typically sit in the office all week and then physically exert themselves on weekends to ‘catch up’ on all the activities they love. Unfortunately, this can be a shock to our bodies particularly as we age, and can often result in a whole list of ailments including shin splints, pulled/strained muscles, plantar fasciitis (heal pain), tennis elbow, knee pain, back pain, neck pain, tendonitis, rotator cuff injuries, ankle sprains – and more! Many of us are no longer 20-somethings but continue to dive into activities forgetting how much more pliable, fit and well-trained we were as youngsters. If you are not frequently training to improve your core strength, flexibility and endurance, you are almost certainly putting yourself at risk for Weekend Warrior injuries. 

So, in this first blog of a series, I’ll cover tips on how to enjoy your activities without getting hurt.

Gradually increase your activity level and do it often!
  • Increase your workouts 10-20% a week to give your body time to build and include enough rest days to ensure adequate repair. The older you are, it’s likely you will need more time to recover so don’t try to keep up with the teenagers but go at your body’s comfortable pace. Keep in mind that even young, competitive athletes train to gradually build strength and endurance over time. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I would push myself to do 5-6 intense workouts a week but was constantly catching a bug/cold. If only I knew then what I know now…
  • If you are active most days of the week with exercise and resistance workouts, you are ‘conditioning’ your body for the weekend ahead and preventing injuries. So don’t be a couch potato during the week – aim for at least 20-30 minutes of exercise daily. If weather is not cooperating, you can do resistance training at home or a short Tabata workout (intense 20-40 sec movement with 10-20 sec break) which requires no equipment. Here are several to try:
Wear the right gear!
  • In addition to safety gear (helmets, knee and elbow pads) and comfortable/supportive clothing, you need proper footwear. If you like to run, buy running shoes that support your shins and feet. You can have the right ones measured for your sport and foot form at stores like Fleet Feet. And make sure you replace the shoes after 350-500 miles. Click to find a Fleet Feet store near you: https://www.fleetfeet.com  
  • To protect your bones and muscles, you can try compression socks and wraps to help reduce inflammation and swelling. I wear compression socks for long plane rides so my shoes will still fit by the end of the journey! They are widely available in different lengths and styles. This one got high marks but make sure you hand wash them so you can wear them for a long time.
Stretching and posture
  • You should incorporate a stretch routine daily even if you are not working out. Stretching can improve flexibility and range of motion while reducing muscle tension. If you’re like me and have little patience for stretching, here’s a 5-minute full body one to try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2L2lnxIcNmo
  • Have you heard of the Egoscue technique? It was designed to build proper posture and body alignment to prevent injuries and pain. When you are in alignment, the spine and muscles  work in sync with optimal function instead of trying to compensate for each other’s weakness. Try out this 5-minute Egoscue exercise to start your day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdNS95hpL-o
Keep hydrated!

It’s important to keep yourself hydrated especially during the summer heat to avoid cramps, muscle pains and other injuries. Your body sweats out water, electrolytes and even toxins so you should replenish all of it minus the junk. These are good tablets to have around to add to your water. They taste good and have calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium:

To take a comprehensive approach to hydration, you should also add the trace minerals that your body needs. Trace minerals are essential but only needed in small amounts. Your body depletes them through activity and sweating so it needs to be replenished in small quantities. I like the fulvic and humic trace minerals because they are plant-based, 100% bioavailable and work in concert to support hydration, optimize nutrient uptake and assist in removing cellular waste. As a fan of fulvic/humic mineral complexes, I take it daily even if I’m not doing any physically exerting activities. There are many on the market but this one is pure, odorless and tasteless so mixes in nicely with whatever drink you are having: