Sleep, Exercise, Eat, and Relax Your Way to a Stronger Immune System

By Tara Patriquin, RMT Staying healthy is a balancing act between immune boosters and immunity drainers. After all, we’re surrounded by things that compromise our immune system on a daily basis, whether it’s pollution, questionable lifestyle choices, or viruses, to name a few. It seems that at no time do we hear more about “immune boosters” than in the winter. The common cold is one of the leading reasons for medical visits during the winter. But, building a healthy immune system is a year-round job. It is big business to sell products designed to strengthen your immune system. You can Google any number of lists offering the best immune boosters, with everything from the now mainstream Echinacea to the little known Graviola extract. But I’ve never been the most compliant with a supplement regimen, and I’m a simple girl after a simple approach. I keep my immune boosters old school: sleep, exercise, diet, and manual therapy. After all, these are the pillars of health and you always have them at your disposal; no hunting for rare ingredients required! Sleep The most basic and important thing to understand about sleep is that this is when many of our critical metabolic processes do their best work, like regulating body temperature, hormone levels, heart rate and other vital body functions. In other words, when we sleep we heal. In fact, a Chronobiology International publication as recent as August 2013 explores the link between the circadian clock and the body’s natural biological clock that regulates our immune cells and activity. The researchers discovered that the crosstalk between these clocks had potentially grave consequences on a person’s overall health in states of sleep deprivation. One of my favourite bedtime routines is to practice some Pranayama: the art of mindful breathing. The extra oxygen that you will take in will not only help to alleviate muscle tension, but it will relax the mind too. The rhythmic pattern of breathing can also be calming and meditative. And since stress can interfere with the immune system, a little meditation can go a long way. I’ve written more in-depth on the science of Pranayama. Exercise You don’t need to be a genius to know that exercise, particularly strength-training exercise, is the best support to our musculoskeletal health. Did you know that it is also an incredible immune-booster? However, the trick is in finding the amount of exercise that is right for you and your immune system. The biggest risk is in chronic overtraining. The idea that we need to sweat it out for an hour at the gym 5 days a week is rapidly falling by the wayside. Just as we heal in our sleep, we rebuild our exhausted muscles during our rest days. Remember that building tissue is a metabolic process that requires the right combination of stimulation, nutrients, and rest. The most beneficial exercise approach is...

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“What position should I sleep in?”

Does it matter to your body what position you sleep in? Well, yes and no. I would like to give you a short answer, but in order to make sense, I am going to have to take the detour route on this one.  Let’s start with a little background and a bit of a review from a prior post (May 2010 “Help Yourself Help Your Neck”). The musculoskeletal system of our body, meaning the stuff we can actually control in some manner (good luck altering the position of you liver…) is made up of muscles, bones/joints, and nerves.  Nerves basically tell our muscles how to move our joints, though this process function is much more complex than that.  Muscles are pretty much reactors to what our brain is sending signals through our nerves to do, and since they really only know how to do one thing, and that is to either contract (shorten) or relax (lengthen) to move the joints and nerves that are attached to them, I consider them sort of the “dumb brother” of the three siblings. Here’s why: Muscles only know how to move (by contracting and relaxing), and when they do, the joints and nerves they are moving are happy.  The problem is, when we aren’t moving (most of us aren’t like 2 year olds who are in a constant state of changing position), the muscles still want to contract, and will.  And then they get stiff, tighter, and they make you feel stiff and tighter, along with not allowing the joints to get the lubrication they need because of the lack of movement and the nerves may even get a little sensitized because you have been sort of ignoring them. Now imagine your daily routine. You go to work, you sit at a desk, you look straight ahead most of the day and your back gets slumped until the 5 o’clock bell sounds.  You go home, make some dinner, watch some tv or read a book, and then maybe go for a light walk if it’s a nice evening.  How much do you think your neck and back muscles have actually moved through their full range of motion (meaning flexing, extending, rotating, and side bending)?  My guess (from hearing the history of seeing many clients) is not much.  That being said, do you think your body is stiff before you even go to bed?  Yup. So that brings you to the end of your day when you are going to be in a mostly static position for another 8 hours.  I’m thinking you shouldn’t be looking for a “looseness miracle” in the morning to make you feel like you are 15 years old again.  Proper positioning during night is helpful (see below) but even more importantly is having a good, quality sleep. That means your are rested and relaxed and you have a better...

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Take a Deep Breath

By Tara Patriquin, Massage Therapist Breathing. Seems simple enough, right? For something that is so innate and natural, many of us could be doing it wrong. I used to be a shallow breather, filling up my chest and carrying all my tension in my shoulders. It wasn’t until I started practicing Yoga, and the art of mindful breathing (Pranayama), that I started to take note of how my breath was making me feel. Relaxed breathing should see a loose abdomen expand with inhalation, with a mild contraction on the exhalation. The rib cage will spread out to make room for the lungs that are expanding to take in the extra demand of oxygen. So why do many of us do the opposite? Pull in our abdomen and puff out our chests when inhaling? Anxiety? Stress? Habit? Science has shown us that breathing patterns will change when the emotional or physical patterns change; faster and more shallow when we are anxious or angry, we might hold our breath when we are distracted or in pain, and so on. Studies have also shown that the reverse can be true. We can change our emotional or physical patterns (or at the very least, our reaction to said pattern) by consciously altering our breathing rhythm. You have likely been asked to slow and deepen your breath during a massage or physio session; thereby, breaking an unconscious pattern and the negative energy that goes with it. In today’s society, we have a tendency to over-stimulate our sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response to stress), and we under-stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest responses). Living in a heightened state of stress has been shown to contribute to a number of illnesses, ranging from heart disease, diabetes, sleep disorders, and a host of pain. A daily breathing ritual will strengthen your parasympathetic nervous system, providing you with the long list of benefits and reducing the risks associated with having an over-stimulated sympathetic nervous system. Start and end your day with one of these exercises designed to strengthen your diaphragm. The diaphragm is possibly the most important muscle for efficient breathing. 1. Lying on your back with a phone book on your stomach breathe deep in to your stomach allowing the phone book to rise and fall with your breath. When you have taken a deep breath in, hold for 10 seconds and the release, letting the gentle weight of the phone book aid you in letting go of all air before breathing in again. 2. Breathing in to the belly as practiced in the first exercise, plug one nostril and breathe deeply through the open nostril. Then plug the open nostril and breath out the opposite nostril. Repeat several times each side. 3. Breathe through a straw for one minute or until you start to feel dizzy then return to regular...

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I Heart Naps!

By Tara Patriquin, Massage Therapist One day, upon waking up from a nap, I looked to my computer for the time. There, staring me in the face, was a post-it: “BLOG”! So it hit me: I’ll write about napping. Recently, our colleagues at OneUp shared a link about the benefits of proper sleep.  There is more and more interesting research coming out supporting the idea of segmented sleep cycles. The topic of sleep has always fascinated me, from the hormonal balance of our circadian rhythms, to the metabolic processes that occur during sleep, and even the dreams that we have. While establishing a good sleep routine is critical to your overall health, I am a firm believer in the power of the power nap! You see, growing up in my family was a dream. We were not only allowed – but encouraged – to take a nap if we were tired. My parents were of the belief that a healthy body and mind was a well-rested one. I suppose part of this stems from the fact that my dad worked shift work and my mom suffered from severe migraines. Nevertheless, a goodnight’s sleep and naps are still commonplace in my life. Napping gets a bad rap, but the average adult could benefit from this often-tabooed activity. While diet and proper energy maintenance can help reduce the effects of the afternoon crash, researchers are discovering that our body’s natural sleep rhythm may dictate a midday nap. Studies have even shown that a 20-minute power nap is more beneficial to the body than taking those extra 20 minutes in the morning. Ancient Yogis knew the benefits of a cat-nap on the immune and nervous system. And, to this day, many countries include a siesta in their workday. Originally the siesta was intended for family time, and time with friends, not necessarily a nap. Over the years, however, the term has become synonymous with an afternoon nap. Japan has introduced “nap salons”, with some companies covering the fees for their workers as part of their health benefits. And, in China the right to rest in the afternoon is an actual Constitutional right. Being fatigued can interfere with your mental productivity, your physical alertness, and your emotional stability. All of these impairments can interfere with many activities of daily living and your motivation to stick to your fitness regimen. Not to mention, many people’s clean eating falls victim to fatigue, since we are more apt to reach for sugar or stimulants when feeling sluggish. Sadly, because we are such a fast paced society, our work schedules are now conflicting with our shut-eye time and the natural rejuvenation of a power nap has been replaced by the artificial stimulation of a 15-minute coffee break. But you can reverse the formula; trade your second cup of coffee for a nap! So, just how long should...

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Do you suffer from headaches?

By Keltie Cheney, Physiotherapist Every visit I have with a client I ask how they are doing. I often hear, “Oh, pretty good, but I have a headache. I get them all the time but I can’t do anything about it”.  Are headaches supposed to be just a normal part of life, like tired muscles from a tougher-than-usual work-out or sore feet from standing all day?  Well, no actually.  Headaches should not be taken so lightly.  There are many kinds of headaches which mostly classify into three main types: 1) Migraine  2)Tension  3) Cervicogenic.  Let’s discuss a bit what each of these classifications mean: 1) Migraine: Symptoms are usually unilateral (one side of the head), pounding, usually quite intense, photophobia (sensitive to light), phonophobia (sensitive to sound), can have nausea, is helped by resting/sleeping, and lasting usually between 4-72 hours.  Treatment is often pharmacological agents like prescription medicines or simple analgesics as well as antiemetic medications (for nausea/vomiting). The cause of a migraine is still unknown but it is generally thought to have a lot to do with spasms of the arteries that go to the brain and supply it with blood. Triggers to this spasm can include food substances e.g. chocolate, red wine, dairy products, as well as dehydration, fatigue, and stress. But also importantly, improper or not enough exercise, physical loading, improper ergonomics and musculoskeletal factors (such as stiff neck, tight jaw) can also be major triggers. Talk to your physiotherapist if you experience migraines because there may be treatment that does not have to be just reactive (medication) but proactive (e.g an active, healthy lifestyle and proper positioning at your work desk) that will help prevent your migraines from occurring as often. 2) Tension:  Symptoms include dull pressure with a band of pain from forehead to the back of the head. It often involves neck muscles becoming very tight and stiff as well.  Most often the cause is not known but improving muscular function around the neck and shoulder blades are often effective in preventing reoccurrence while relaxing the over-active muscles of the neck and head give good relief.  Your physiotherapist understands the biomechanics and anatomy of the neck, head, and shoulder blades very well and can be very useful in relieving your tension headache and hopefully enable you to have them less frequently. 3) Cervicogenic: Symptoms often last longer than a migraine, two days and up to a week, but are less acutely painful.  Sleep does not change the pain which is usually localized to one side of the head, around the eye, cheek, and jaw (therefore co-existing temperomandibular joint (TMJ) pathology may compound the diagnosis). Pain is likely referred from one or more muscular, neurogenic (nerves), osseous (bones), articular (joints), or vascular (veins and arteries) structures in the neck.  Ask your physiotherapist to do specific exam of your neck to see if there may be...

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