Health and Fitness Tips for the Modern Woman
It seems that everywhere you turn, modern women are on the brink of burnout. The expectations are insurmountable. They’re to be it all and to have it all. Take the modern mumpreneur, for instance, she’s rushing around, running several businesses, all the while forfeiting sleep so she can spend some quality time with her little ones too. Corporate women are working longer hours. The traditional working day doesn’t often finish until late into the evening as workers find it ever more difficult to switch off. We’re a 24-hour nation, after all.
There’s a lot of pressure on women. Often this extrinsic pressure comes at the expense of our personal wellness. There can be a lot of guilt for simply taking time out for ourselves. Take our phones, for instance. We have them next to us- and if you’re anything like me- beeping on our wrists through our smart watch devises, that we rarely, if ever, have time to ourselves. We are a generation that needs to show up. The guilt we feel can weigh us down and we often don’t get the time just to be.
I turned my back on the corporate lifestyle several years ago. There, I was burnt out, frustrated and frenetically running from one task to the other. On the brink of despair, having worked endless hours and surviving on very little sleep, I decided to make big changes.
They say a career in fitness is the ultimate anti-corporate vocation. But, for me, starting my own business in the health and fitness industry was about living out an optimal lifestyle. One that prioritised health and wellbeing. I can safely say that I am much happier, relaxed, and in much better health. But, as a psychologist, I am also able to give back, because I work with organisations and individuals in an holistic manner. I help them make better lifestyle choices that see their energy, and, therefore, their productivity increase.
Fitness and Food and its Impact on Mood
Exercise and healthy eating are of paramount importance. Food is fuel. It also plays a fundamental role in our mental wellbeing. Without adequate nutrition, we’re prone to depression and anxiety and simply cannot perform at our best. Lack of magnesium and B vitamins, for instance, can leave us feeling anxious and worried. Food, therefore, plays a pivotal role in mood. Without it, we can be prone to the classic case of hanger, turning from little miss nice to the incredible hulk.
In trials evaluating the effectiveness of exercise on psychological wellbeing, exercise has been shown to have the same impact as anti-depressants. Exercise switched the ‘game on’ mode of our brain. It is linked to enhanced positive emotions, self-efficacy, and productivity. The brain releases endorphins and your level of protein called Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) also become more concentrated. BDNF release chemicals that promote brain health and muscle tissue and activate the production of new neurons in the hippocampus, alleviating depression and anxiety. Micronutrients such as magnesium have also been shown to have an impact on stress levels, and there have been a number of studies on the use of herbal L 5-hydroxytryptophan (5 HTP) in increasing serotonin levels. The amino acid, tryptophan, has also been linked to comparable results, hence, the term ‘a banana a day keeps the psychiatrist away!’
Neurotransmitters are the vehicles used to transport information between neurons and other cells. Serotonin and dopamine are the two most important neurotransmitters responsible for mood regulation and these communication vehicles are made from amino acids, which come from the protein we eat.
Since our good mood regulators (i.e. the two neurotransmitters mentioned earlier) come from amino acids, one might think that it is good to eat lots of protein. However, this is not entirely true. Eating too much protein in one go is not the way forward. The various types of amino acids compete with each other meaning that the brain finds it confusing to process this.
The medical field did not value the link between food and mood for many years. It is only recently, ironically, that they have been enlightened to this notion. It goes without saying that food would impact our wellbeing. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep and appetite, mediates mood, and inhibits pain, is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. The digestive system doesn’t just process and digest food, but it also helps guide our emotions.
The production of neurotransmitters like serotonin are influenced by the billions of ‘good’ bacteria that make up the intestinal microbiome, and these are essential for your health. They protect the lining of the intestines, provide a barrier against toxins and ‘bad’ bacteria, and they reduce and limit inflammation. They also improve how well you absorb nutrients from food and activate the neural pathways between the gut and brain. The nerves in your gut actually communicate directly with your brain. Because of this, upping your gut friendly bacteria is vital to optimal wellbeing.
Good bacteria are found in probiotics such as natural yoghurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut, for instance. Fermented diets are said to act as natural probiotics. Those that eat a traditional Mediterranean or Japanese diet are said to have less chance of developing depression. The risk of depression is 25-35% lower.
It is important to start paying attention to how eating different foods makes you feel. Listen to your body. How does it feel after you have eaten those foods? How does it feel the next day? Try eating a clean diet, low in processed foods, for a couple of weeks.