Monday, October 29, 2012

NOVA Sleep

If you would like to explore this topic further, this NOVA website has a variety of links to more interesting sleep research:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sleep, Dreams, and Memories

Click here to watch this fascinating PBS video, where Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson explores the connection between sleep, dreams, and memory:

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Importance of Sleep

Hi Everyone,

This week I’d like to share another UCSF video. In this segment, Dr Ellen Hughes explores the importance of sleep and how it impacts our health and wellness.

Nancy Silva, ND
Health Science Faculty

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Birds of a Fitness Feather Part III: Flying Solo

I'll be honest, I'm a bit of a timid soul when it comes to exercise. Not the exercise itself, I like being sweaty, out-of-breath and sore; but the act of exercise, exercising *gulp*, alone.

Years ago when I was a long distance runner I preferred to run alone primarily because I was slow and when I ran alone, I could run as slowly as I wanted. I found a run group whose members were also slow, and I liked them, but unless you too were slow, I wanted to run solo.

But then I started doing Crossfit. Crossfit scared the heck out me, it was totally unlike anything this runner had ever experienced and it was hard. Like really hard. So I recruited a buddy to go with me (birds of a feather and all) and she and I would plan our schedules so we could workout together. After a few months my buddy moved on, but that was okay because I had met new buddies with whom I could coordinate. My dependency on the buddy system was such that there were times when my buddies wouldn't show-up and even though I was already at the gym and ready to workout, I'd skip it. Yep, it was that bad.

After years of Crossfit, I began to drift toward powerlifting, which is where my ship has harbored today. Powerlifting, like Crossfit before, scared the heck out of me. Luckily for me, my husband is a powerlifter (what a coincidence!) and I began planning my training schedule around his training schedule. Like the buddies before him, if he couldn't train, I didn't train.

But then something happened. We moved. We moved to an Army post in the middle of nowhere (like all good Army posts are). I didn't have any buddies and my most important buddy, my husband, well his schedule and mine don't exactly mesh anymore. With a powerlifting tournament looming, not training wasn't an option. So I had to do something rather terrifying for this timid soul: I had to train alone.

I've been training alone for two months now and I have to be honest, it's been the best thing to happen to my training. Some of the benefits have been big and some have been more discrete. A few worth mentioning are:

1) I have become more aware of my form and technique. When you train with a partner or a coach, you receive feedback about what you're doing wrong (or right, but in my case, mostly wrong). Of course this is valuable information, especially for a novice. But since I am no longer a novice, I *should* be aware of my form and technique errors most of the time without coaching. And more importantly, I *should* be able to correct those errors myself. And now that I have to, I have. Training alone has forced me to be more self-aware and self-corrective.

2) I have more space to think and reflect. Like everyone, I have a lot of chatter in my mind. The inner monologue bounces all over the place and contains an endless loop of to-do-lists, grading rubrics, doctor's appointments, dinner recipes and random observations about foreign affairs. Sometimes my brain is exhausting! But an interesting thing has happened since I started training alone: the chatter quiets. Since I must now focus on my form and technique (see: above) and I don't have any distractions (like gossiping with my buddies) I am able to quiet my mind and enjoy the solitude. Training as meditation perhaps.

3) I am no longer afraid. I have always feared the back squat. I became less fearful by relying on a buddy who could spot me. But when it comes to squatting, you can safely do it alone if you do so in a rack. And this process scared me. What if I got stuck? What if I couldn't stand-up? What if I failed and people stared? Training alone showed me these things aren't a big deal. And more importantly, because I didn't want to get stuck, not stand-up or make a lot of noise by dropping the bar, I worked a heck of a lot harder in my squats than I ever did with a spotter.

4) I am a strong, capable woman. Sure, I knew I was fit before I had to train alone. But walking into a gym (a gym where you have no buddies) alone can be intimidating. But every time I walked into that gym, did my training, didn't need help, could quiet my mind, I left there with more confidence. And now, now when I walk in, I feel like Helen Reddy, "I am woman, hear me roar!"

In summary, there is a lot to learn about training. By identifying "experts", mirroring them and being mentored, you can take your training to the next level -- find an elite flock to fly with. But be sure to on occasion fly alone. Training solo is a way to learn something about yourself, your abilities and your limitations. Find a flock, then soar to your own heights.

Happy flying friends.

Posted by Rachel May
School of Health Sciences


Monday, October 8, 2012

Birds of a Fitness Feather Part II: Be a Product of Your Environment

Several years ago when I was fat, my friends were fat, the guy I dated was fat and we all did fat things together. We went out to eat (a lot) and ate (a lot) of French fries, pizza and dessert and drank (a lot) of beer. What we didn't do (at all) was exercise; well unless you call eating a sport, as some do.

I won't bore you with my Oprah "ahh ha" moment, but I decided I didn't want to be fat anymore. I didn't want to feel bad, look bad and get winded when walking up a set of stairs in the parking garage.

At least for me (and many other friends I have spoken with) there is a natural shift that occurs when we begin to make fitness and our health a priority. For me, I had to distance myself from the fat friends I had who weren't interested in making changes. They kept eating out at the same greasy spoons, kept drinking beer too late on weeknights and kept sitting on their bigger backsides. For me, it was hard not to engage in those same behaviors when I was around them, so I had to spend less and less time with that group. If anyone is familiar with addiction counseling, this should sound familiar.

When I started working out, I joined a local gym. Over the course of a couple months I met some folks there who were in a similar boat -- they were trying to lose weight or get in better shape. We would chat at the gym, exchanged email addresses and then would make plans to meet at the gym or take a fitness class together. After a few months of exercise, I felt like I was capable of running (okay, jogging, slowly) a local 5K race. I did several of these and discovered that I saw a lot of the same people weekend after weekend. I started chatting with them at the starting lines. I learned about a run club that met several times a week nearby my house. I joined, I met more runners.

I think this is a natural progression for the fit-minded person: Start working-out, stop spending time as much time with people who don't, meet people who do what you do, spend more time with them. But while meeting new friends is great, I think we can create an even more contagious environment by seeking out environments and people who challenge us.

If you want to progress in your fitness you must (by definition) overload your body -- do different activities, do heavier things, do higher intensities. In my experience, the best way to accomplish these things is to find people that will expose you to different activities, will educate you, will encourage you and most importantly, will inspire you. So rather than finding the group of folks who look like you, here's what I recommend:

1) Shop Around: Joining a new gym, class or group? Look for the folks you want to look like. I've moved around quite a bit recently and when I start shopping for a gym, I join the place that scares the heck out of me. If I walk in and am intimidated by the heavy weights, hard training and hot bodies, that's the gym for me.

2) Find People Who Make You Feel Dumb: Not really, don't hang out with people who tell you you're an iditot (unless you like that), but do seek out and train with people who know a lot more about training than you do (then marry one, like I did). When it comes to fitness, learning new techniques, movements and programs is key to progress. Ask questions. Most fitness-minded people like nothing more than talking about fitness. I have to yet to meet anyone who didn't answer my question about their training and suggestions for progression. If anything, they usually talk too much.

3) Get a Role Model: When I first started training Crossfit and then powerlifting, I attached myself to the hips of the women who were the best in the area. The women who lifted heavy things, who crushed my times and who had years of experience. In my opinion, if you aspire to be like someone, you should be around that person. Everyone needs a mentor. I bet you have one at work, but do you have one for your workouts?

I think all of us have a natural tendency to want to associate with people who look like us and perform at the same level we do -- we want to "fit in". We don't want to be the least fit, the least fast or the least strong. But when we are looking for a training environment, we want to fight those urges. Find the place and the people who intimidate you. Train there. Make friends there. Become a product of that environment.

Posted by Rachel May
School of Health Sciences
Friday, October 5, 2012

Birds of a Fitness Feather Part I: Can Fitness Be Contagious?

A few years ago I read an article in the New York Times Magazine that fascinated me. The title of the article, "Are Your Friends Making You Fat" was written in 2009 and discussed the research of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler who believed that obesity (and other health behaviors and even attitudes) were contagious and could be spread among groups of friends and family members.

This idea really resonated with me. If we associate with people who are overweight, make poor food choices and are physically inactive, doesn't it just make sense that we would be more likely to be overweight, eat garbage and sit on our backsides? Modeling theory in psychology is based on the principle that people learn behaviors by watching and then imitating other's behaviors and that behaviors can be changed (ideally, for the better) by modeling behaviors in other people.

Nearly 70% of American adults are overweight or obese, less than 50% of us are getting the recommended amount of exercise; I heard David Katz, MD refer to the current American landscape as a "toxic environment" and certainly with numbers like these, it would be hard to disagree. So if obesity and related behaviors have a social contagion element, this could be Bad News Bears for our collective health.

But we can use the social contagion effect to our advantage when it comes to fitness by surrounding ourselves with fit people who are dedicated to exercise and healthy behaviors. In the upcoming blog posts I'll share my thoughts on how to identify (or create) a contagious environment and find especially infectious people. I bet you never considered that surrounding yourself with infectious contagious people would be good for your health, did you?

Posted by Rachel May
School of Health Sciences
Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book Review: Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi by Brian Leaf

Let me start, with full disclosure. 

I know Brian Leaf.  He lives in my community.  I've shared potluck meals with him and his family.  Our kids have even done Yoga together.  But now I know Brian Leaf.  After reading his book, I feel like I've been on an adventure with him. Learning about real life while traveling in a converted 1990 Toyota Previa minivan, and holding my sides because they hurt so much from laughing.   Honestly, my facial muscles have gotten a good workout while reading the book because I've been chuckling to myself all through it.

Misadventures of  a Garden State Yogi  highlights the many ups and downs of Leaf's journey as he quested for a connection. A connection to yoga, to health, to spirituality, and to happiness.  Through much experimentation and exploration he finds just what he is looking for. And what he finds is beautiful (most of the time).

Leaf's writing is interspersed with gleeful tangents that closely mirror what goes on in my mind when meditating.  I'm thinking about my breath, which reminds me I should be feeling my breath, which reminds me of a funny story about my Aunt Sally's breath.  Really, it's all connected. And Leaf does a beautiful job of showing the interconnectedness of everything.  Even something like Aunt Sally's breath. 

This book highlights how each of us is on a spiritual journey.  And it's okay.  It's okay to not know, it's okay to explore, and it's okay to not always be at your best.  It's about the journey.  Being in the present moment and finding those keys that truly can unlock your heart and set you free. 

Leaf found his set of keys.  Start finding yours at 

Be Well,

p.s. There's even a trailer!

About Me

Kaplan Center for Health and Wellness
View my complete profile