How Exercise Can Cause You To Gain Weight

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Are you exercising too much?

Being in the health and wellness world for over 17 years, I have seen my fair share of exercise advice — push harder, do this new program, slow it down, lift heavier — the advice goes on and on.

Yet, proposing the question of how much is too much is rarely asked or even encouraged. It seems that the fitness industry often speaks to and caters those that are in need of that extra push. That extra encouragement. That little kick you might need to move your body and better your physical health.

But what about those fitness enthusiasts that are regularly pushing themselves? Or, those in love with high intensity competition? What about those who are already living stressful lives and want to incorporate the right kind of exercise?

They are a special breed when it comes to exercise, at least exercising the right way for the best results.

It is common knowledge that exercise is one of the healthiest forms of self-care that we can indulge in. Strength training helps to build muscle and cardiovascular exercise helps to keep your heart healthy. But, if you do too much of either of these, a normally healthy habit can begin to break the body down and, inversely, cause you to be weak and overly stressed. It doesn’t stop there…

If you live a lifestyle that is high in stress, this is going to compound and add to the extra stress placed on your body from regular intense exercise. It doesn’t matter if your stress is related to  work, family, mental health, or emotional turmoil — it all equates to extra stress in the body.

How do you know if the exercise you are doing is placing too much extra stress on your body? It is not always so easy to spot, but there are a few signs that do begin to present. When your body can no longer take the over-exercising, signs of overtraining typically creep in. Overtraining can signal the body to start burning muscle for fuel and store more fat, resulting in some weight gain.

Overtraining shows up as —

  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of motivation
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Muscle loss
  • Increased weakness

Probably not what you are hoping for with your exercise plan!

How Over-Exercising Impacts The Body

Over-exercising places excessive stress on the body. With this onset, your hormone levels begin to change — especially testosterone and cortisol (yes, women have testosterone too!).

Testosterone is important to help build lean muscle, increase bone density, and keep your heart and blood healthy. Having healthy, balanced, levels of testosterone are super important for gaining the results you want in your workouts. When excessive stress is placed on the body, cortisol levels increase and steal from your testosterone, throwing off your healthy hormonal ratios.

With the body’s delicate hormonal balance upset, it begins to signal to the body to burn muscle instead of fat. As a result, you may notice that the lifting of your usual amount of weights, running your usual distances, and performing the same type of exercises may be much more difficult than easy.

If cortisol levels rise too high and stay elevated for too long, the adrenal glands may become imbalanced and cortisol levels drop below normal. This is when weight gain occurs.

Your body has an amazing capacity to adapt, which is what makes your body so resilient.  If you keep demanding too much from your body, without the necessary rest and recovery, it will start to compromise and compensate in an effort to keep functioning.  Your stubborn body fat —especially belly fat — is just one of the ways in which your body compensates when exposed to too many stressors.

What You Can Do

Here is where I want to emphasis the importance of looking at the stress in your everyday life. Not every day will be stress-free — every day shouldn’t be — but it is about the flow of how stress enters, exits, and dances around the moments in your day. When you step back and look at the big picture, this will help guide you in the right kind of and right amount of exercise for you and your lifestyle in this moment of your life.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest), how much stress do I realistically have at work, at home, and in my personal life? List out the stressors if this helps you see the big picture more clearly.
  • How am I feeling right now (i.e., tired, sore, heavy, sad, stressed, light, happy, so-so)?
  • Would pushing harder make me feel better or worse? Would slowing down make me feel better or worse?
  • Can I give my body what it really needs?

You may be quite surprised to find out how much stress you unknowingly deal with on a daily basis. When you can honestly say how much “daily stress” you are experiencing, then you can step back and look at your exercise regimen. If your “daily stress” is high, then it might be counterintuitive to hop on the elliptical trainer for an hour. It is common that people who lead a more stressful lifestyle tend to gravitate towards longer cardio as a way to deal with stress — the inner push is already in their nature. Instead, try yoga or a stretching class to emphasis stress-relieving and add gentle movement that your body is craving.

If this sounds like you and you believe you are over-exercising, here are some places you could begin:

  1. Add in more energy balancing practices. Perform low to moderate amounts of exercise and save some time to do daily stress relieving practices, such as meditation, visualization, deep breathing, and journaling. You could even sign up for a Reiki session or other energy work to help you get realigned. This allows your adrenal gland hormones to begin balancing and it helps to stabilize your blood sugar, both important for properly functioning adrenals.
  2. Stop doing long cardio sessions. If you’re doing long cardio workouts, you’re only adding to the problem.  Long cardio eats away at your lean muscle mass which is essential for increasing your metabolism to burn more calories.  And it dramatically increases your appetite making you more susceptible to unnecessary snacking and over eating. Not to mention that it can create imbalance in your blood sugar, opening you up to more food cravings and inflammation in the body. Instead of long cardio, try doing short, high intensity workouts (i.e., HIIT programs).  These workouts are much more effective at promoting fat burning hormones that target your stubborn fat. It is important to mention that if you are already dealing with more severe over-training symptoms or adrenal issues, high intensity workouts may still be too aggressive for you at this time.
  3. Change the way you lift weights. Lift heavier weights at lower repetitions instead of lower weights for higher repetitions. Lifting heavier weights has been linked to increasing testosterone levels, therefore, helping to keep the hormone balance more, well, balanced. It will also help to increase lean muscle mass and increase your overall metabolism.
  4. Make sure that you are getting adequate rest. Recovery and rest are often more important than exercising.  If you’re feeling sluggish or drained of energy, do an active recovery such as an easy walk, hike, or a leisurely bike ride. If you’re really tired, take the day off! It’s during periods of rest that your body does most of the fat burning, so don’t short change yourself.  Proper rest and recovery means you’re enabling your body to burn more fat.
  5. Feed your body (the right way). The foods we eat can place large amounts of stress on the body. A diet full of sugar, processed carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats can place a significant amount of stress on the body and increase systemic inflammation in the body. Eat a well-balanced nutrition plan of whole foods that contain plenty of vegetables, lean proteins, high quality carbohydrates, healthy fats, and a few fruits. Plenty of vegetables and colorful fruits are also high in anti-oxidants (which helps to fight the negative effects of stress on the body)! Limit your alcohol and sugar because as the body become stressed, you crave both of these more!

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How To Stimulate The Vagus Nerve To Improve Your Health

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Are you feeling a little out of control? Like you don’t know how to calm yourself down? Have you ever felt stress so deeply that it feels overbearing and like you might be swallowed up into a black hole at any given moment? 

You try so many practices to calm the mind or lessen the grip of that stress, but it still feels like a black cloud hanging over your head. 

So, you turn on some music — sometimes your favorite song and other times a song that feels emotionally strong — and you start to hum. You start to sing. And then it happens…

A break in that black cloud. A lessened grip. You know the stress is still there, but something feels different and a level of relief fills you. 

That relief might be minimal or it might be gigantic. All you know is that there is a shift in how you were feeling.

You are not imagining your relief! The lessening of the stress is all so real and that is because of what you have physically stimulated. What you activated. 

What you might not know is that a simple humming or a singing of your favorite song stimulated a nerve that is critical to help you not only manage your stress, but to also help you boost your immune system, optimize your gut health, balance your blood sugar — along with a slew of other health benefits. 

The Vagus Nerve

Your sympathetic nervous system is the part of your nervous system that moves you into action. It is your fight or flight system and if it detects a threat, real or perceived, it will trigger your fight or flight response. If there isn’t a real threat, and you do not need to activate the sympathetic nervous system, then you lean in and recruit the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part that calms you down. 

The vagus nerve is the most influential nerve in your parasympathetic nervous system. It functions like your body’s natural reset button — playing heavily on both your emotional and physical body. The vagus nerve extends from the brainstem down into your stomach and intestines, through your heart and lungs, and connecting your throat and facial muscles. Movement or recruitment of these areas help to stimulate the vagus nerve so it can learn how to be more flexible (vagal tone). Healthy vagal tone can be thought of as an optimal balance of parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system actions that allows you to respond with resilience to the ups and downs of life. Learning how to stimulate your vagus nerve allows you to bring the calm and feel more collected.

Vagal Tone

Chronic stress and unresolved trauma can be a real bummer! Not only do they impact your life deeply, but it can also create a great imbalance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic functions of your nervous system. Because we live in a world that is over-stimulating and activating for the sympathetic nervous system, many of us need access to tools that help us engage the parasympathetic nervous system on a daily basis. 

Like I mentioned, the vagus nerve has a calming effect on the sympathetic nervous system activity. But, it is also important to recognize that individuals with unresolved PTSD or trauma often resort to a primitive expression of the parasympathetic nervous system which can lead to symptoms of fatigue or depression. When left untreated, chronic stress and unresolved PTSD can disrupt your physical, mental, and emotional health. The good news is that practices that focus on stimulating the vagus nerve can help regain balance if you are either keyed up with anxiety or shut down with fatigue.

This is why the tone of the vagus nerve is so significant.  Higher vagal tone is associated with better general health — better blood sugar regulation, reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, improved digestion and a reduction in migraines. Most importantly though, it is associated with increased emotional stability, resiliency and longevity, that which helps to balance out every other area of your life. 

Curious what your vagal tone looks like? You can easily measure it at home! Heart rate variability is a way to measure vagal tone. Your heart-rate speeds up a little when you breathe in, and slows down a little when you breathe out. The bigger the difference between your inhalation heart-rate and your exhalation heart-rate, the higher your vagal tone. The higher the tone, the more efficient you are at relaxing. 

An increase in vagal tone is linked to a reduction in overall inflammation and an increase in emotional health and well-being. Lower vagal tone is associated with mood instability, depression, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, cognitive impairment, chronic inflammation, and cardiovascular disease. 

Activating Your Vagus Nerve

  • Do yoga, but specifically any yoga practice that stimulates the path of the vagus nerve can have a profound influence on the tone of the vagus nerve.
  • Meditation — especially loving-kindness meditation, mindfulness meditation, and Om chanting increased heart rate variability
  • Slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing. In studies, ujjayi breathing showed quite effective. This type of slow breathing involved 6 breaths per minute, which would be about 5 seconds per inhale, 5 seconds per exhale.
  • Humming, chanting, or singing — especially emphasizing the long, slow exhalation to stimulate the vocal cords.
  • Thinking positive thoughts of others and increasing social connection — this stimulates the heart center of the vagus nerve.
  • Using cold water. Take a cold shower or splash cold water on your face. You can also achieve the same effect by holding a ziplock bag filled with ice cubes against your face and holding your breath. Or submerge your tongue in cold liquid.
  • Laugh more and laugh out loud!
  • Practice the Valsalva Maneuver — Exhale against a closed airway by keeping your mouth closed and pinching your nose while trying to breathe out. It increases the pressure inside of your chest cavity thereby stimulating your vagus nerve.
  • Take your probiotic. Cultivating healthy intestinal bacteria improves the mind-gut connection and your vagal tone.
  • Get some mild exercise in — it stimulates gut flow and vagus nerve activation needed to initiate this response.
  • Do some gargling. It activates the vagus nerve by activating the muscles in the back of the throat while exhaling slowly.
  • Get a massage. Neck, foot, and pressure massages may stimulate the vagus nerve, as can gently massaging around the carotid sinus located on the sides of your neck.
  • Get enough zinc. This was shown to increase vagus stimulation and is a common mineral that some people don’t get enough of.
  • Eat more seafood — According to several scientific reviews, omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA increase heart rate variability (HRV) and lower heart rate. HRV is directly linked to vagus nerve stimulation.
  • Engage in prayer and pray out loud.
  • Spend time in nature. Nature is soothing and calms the nervous system, but some studies link sunlight to increasing vagal tone.

Stimulating the vagus nerve stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turns reduces your neurophysiological experience of stress — super important for optimal health and wellness. It reduces your heart rate and blood pressure, influences the limbic system in your brain (where emotions are processed), and stimulates digestion so your body can absorb the nutrients you are giving it. Start practicing the art of stimulating your vagus nerve to relieve anxiety, depression, tension and the general sense of unease when stress builds up. 

Try to practice daily as a preventive measure to ensure greater emotional resilience and improved health!

Are you looking for a quality probiotic to help get your gut health (and ultimately your immune system) in better balance? I use and love Just Thrive probiotic.  If you want to try it, you can get 15% off with the code Tansy15 !

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The Complex Relationship Between Sleep and Weight

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This blog is guest written by Sheila Johnson at https://www.wellsheila.net .

Are you struggling with stubborn body fat while suffering from insomnia? Or perhaps you’ve gained a few pounds and aren’t sleeping as well as you used to. It’s easy to write these connections off as coincidence, but there’s a complex relationship between weight and sleep. Not only does your weight affect how well you sleep, but sleep also impacts your ability to maintain a healthy weight. Wild Flowers Grow invites you to read on if you’re ready to get better sleep and lose weight. 

How Weight Affects Sleep (and Vice Versa)

Excess weight is linked to sleep disorders

Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes the airway to become obstructed during sleep. Because sleep apnea reduces sleep quality, it can lead to further weight gain due to sleep quality’s impact on appetite, exercise, and metabolism.

Poor sleep makes you hungrier

Sleep deprivation causes the body to release more appetite-stimulating hormones and suppresses leptin, a hormone that tells your brain when you’re full. If that’s not bad enough, insomniacs are also more likely to reach for high-fat, high-sugar, and high-calorie foods.

Poor sleep makes it harder to exercise

People are less likely to exercise when sleep deprived. Even if you work up the will to hit the gym, workouts tend to be shorter and less intense when you’re not well-rested.

Poor sleep leads to weight gain

There’s also research that suggests poor sleep lowers resting metabolism and increases insulin resistance, two things that make it even harder to lose weight.

These facts are scary, but you can break the cycle of insomnia and weight gain.

How to Sleep Better with Excess Weight

Before you get serious about losing weight, you need to address your poor sleep quality. These are some things you can do to sleep better when you’re carrying extra weight:

Get a supportive mattress

If you’ve gained weight, your old mattress might not be as supportive as it used to be. Many heavier individuals find foam mattresses don’t provide enough support to align their spine, which can lead to back pain and difficulty sleeping. If you’re on the heavier side and tend to toss and turn most nights, switching to a larger size innerspring mattress for more support could be the perfect solution to help you achieve better sleep.

Avoid eating and drinking before bed

Overweight people are more likely to experience acid reflux. To reduce nighttime heartburn, stop eating and drinking three hours before bed. If you’re a side sleeper, sleep on your left side.

Exercise more

Exercise is proven to improve sleep. Vigorous aerobic exercise like running or HIIT is best for sleep, but even moderate-intensity exercise makes a difference. However, avoid intense exercise right before bed. If you’re looking for a nighttime workout, try a mindful yoga routine instead. Better yet, making yoga a regular activity can enhance your ability to feel more relaxed since it’s a great stress reducer. If you need some extra motivation, use discounts to splurge on some new activewear from stores like Nike or Finish Line. 

Talk to your doctor

Sleep apnea and snoring may go away with weight loss, but in the meantime, it’s important to address sleep disorders that leave you waking up groggy. Talk to your doctor about sleep apnea. You may be prescribed a sleep study and a PAP machine.

Weight Loss Tips for Better Sleep (and Health!)

Now that you’re sleeping better, it’s easier to conquer your weight loss goals. There are tons of weight loss tips out there, but these simple tips are at the core of any weight loss plan:

Eat filling foods

Controlling your appetite will be a challenge at first, so avoid empty calories and instead, focus on filling foods like proteins, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates.

Find exercise you enjoy

Consistency is the most important thing when it comes to exercise, so find something you can commit to. Again, yoga is fantastic when you’re starting a weight loss journey because it’s low-impact, beginner-friendly, and adaptable to every body.

Focus on the dos, not the don’ts

It’s common to approach weight loss by taking things away — junk food, calories, lazy nights on the sofa. Instead of focusing on what’s off-limits, work on building healthy behaviors. Planning your meals, eating more vegetables, and getting active are positive goals that build you up.

It’s hard to find the motivation to get healthy when you’re not sleeping well. Unfortunately, poor lifestyle habits also make it harder to catch quality rest. If you’re stuck in the cycle of sleep loss and weight gain, use these tips to get your sleep and your health back on track.

Image via Unsplash

This blog is written by Sheila Johnson at https://www.wellsheila.net . For more info and to contact her directly, head over to her website and see what she has to offer! 

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9 Immune-Boosting Foods

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The topic of immune health is quite popular, especially during times of the year when it feels like we are highly susceptible and don’t have time to get sick.

Getting sick and being sick can feel like your world stops — everything is put on hold. And that is part of why we get so intense about the extra measures taken to NOT get sick in the first place.

*Cue in all the health books, wellness podcasts, and immune boosting products…

Keeping a strong immune system was once thought only important during the cold weathered months when catching a cold or the flu was high. What you may not know is that a strong immune system proves to be important at all times of year and at all stages of life. Getting and being sick is not just about the germs we encounter. It starts way before that and with the rise in sugary drinks and processed, packaged foods dominating the store shelves, protecting your immune system is a key component to long-lasting vitality and health for years to come. 

Did you know?  Taking care of your gut health is key when wanting to boost your immune system — 70% of immune cells are in the digestive tract. We want to keep the gut strong and feed the body the nutrients it needs, all at the same time. 

Here are 9 foods that are power-packed with immune-boosting health benefits:

  1. Dark green leafy vegetables: Naturally low in sugar and high in life-giving chlorophyll, green leafy vegetables give you more sustained energy. They are also high in fiber, Vitamins A, C, and K. Eat a variety of greens such as kale, spinach, mustard greens, dandelion, collard greens, beet greens, swiss chard, just to name a few. 
  2. Vegetables: Vegetables are packed with a variety of immune builders and it pays to eat a variety. They are high in prebiotic fibers which help to nourish the growth of good bacteria that exist naturally in your gut by contributing to an environment that is optimal for good digestive health. Gut health is critical for immune health. Vegetables are also high in Vitamins A, B6, C, K, copper, and polyphenols. Try foods such as broccoli, carrots, brussel sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, cabbage, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, kale, onion, root vegetables, and seaweed.
  3. Bright colored fruit and berries: Even though fruit can be high in sugar, they still give your body a healthy dose of Vitamin C, antioxidants, and polyphenols. And, foods like apples, bananas, and berries are loaded with prebiotic fibers. Since fruit can be high in sugar, stick to 1-2 servings of fruit a day. Try noshing on guava, kiwi, currants, or any other fruit that fits your tastebuds. 
  4. Nuts and seeds: These gems are not only loaded with heart-healthy fats, but they are also high in Vitamins B6, E, thiamine, selenium, and zinc. Boost your immune system with almonds, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, and pistachios. 
  5. Fish/Seafood: Choosing a high-quality fish or seafood is an excellent source of protein that nourishes the immune system as well as the heart and the brain. These are high in Vitamins B12, D, selenium, phosphorus, and zinc. Make sure to buy wild-caught instead of farm-raised. Try mixing it up with fish, sardines, mackerel, cod liver oil, oysters, salmon, and trout. 
  6. Fermented foods: Like prebiotic fiber, fermented foods are good for gut health. They help to boost the good gut bacteria and create a stronger gut lining, important for a strong immune system. Try foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, fermented and/or cultured foods, etc. 
  7. Bone broth: Bone broth improves your gut health, enabling the immune system cells there to function effectively and prevent pathogens from moving from your digestive tract throughout your body. It also helps to restore the intestinal lining, resulting in improved intestinal functioning.
  8. Herbs and Spices: Busting at the seams with antioxidants, antimicrobial, antibacterial, and/or antiviral properties, herbs and spices are likes the icing on top of the proverbial cake — they boost the power of your food. They are also abundant in Vitamins A, C, B6, E, K, folate, and iron. Try chili, cayenne, tarragon, garlic, turmeric, thyme, basil, bay leaf, curry, oregano, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, etc.
  9. Beans and Lentils: Not only are beans delicious, but they are also rich in fiber to keep things moving along. Eat a serving of beans and you will also get folate, thiamine, and iron. Try aduki beans, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils.

Want to really get the best bang for your eating buck? Eating these foods locally and seasonally will boost your immune system even further. Seasonal foods are at their freshest and most dense in nutrients, giving you the biggest bang for your buck. And the local food benefits? Not only do they support your community and local farmers, but they have less travel time and can be picked when they are at their ripest! 

Are you looking for a quality probiotic to help get your gut health (and ultimately your immune system) in better balance? I use and love Just Thrive probiotic.  If you want to try it, you can get 15% off with the code Tansy15 !

Want more?

Join my Patreon and become part of my garden of wild flowers! Not only will you be part of the exclusive content that I ONLY share with my Patreon members, but you will also be helping a community of holistic health like-minded people push forward!

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I love inspiration through story-telling! If you liked this article, then you will love my other blogs.

Click here to get my Free 10-day body reset detox guide. You will become part of my tribe and get weekly blogs delivered straight to your inbox (along with a free gift and other insider tips that only my tribe will get)!