Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Our Children Need A Breath of Fresh Air

Generally, if we look hard enough, we can find a little bit of truth in everything.  There are so many controversies going on right now, and my purpose here is not to add to the mix.  But I also can’t stay silent on this one minor detail and that has to do with the harm our children are facing by being forced to wear masks not only while exercising but also outside at recess.  

I don’t care to deal with the controversies around COVID-19. I don’t care to talk about the test cycles and rate of false positives or talk about vaccines. I don’t want to review the total death rates in North America, but maybe you should.  And as much as I don’t want to discuss mask-wearing, there is one factor that must be discussed which is, children, being forced to wear masks while outdoors. I just recently found out that our province has made it mandatory for the kids to wear masks while outdoors at recess.

 

Now you may think I am just another person frustrated with the system, but hear me out for just a minute, please.  I completed a Master’s Degree and studied the health benefits of nature and the outdoors.  I worked for over two decades in government, managing parks, and also managed a small business where I promoted health and fitness in the outdoors. It has been my life interest and a major focus of study with regards to the health benefits of being outdoors and the positive effect that fresh air has on both our physical and mental state.  So, all that I ask is that you give my perspective some serious thought and decide for yourself.  

 

I have worked with runners who improved their ease and distance by improving their breathing and running outdoors.  I have helped those with lung disease and asthma, improve their fitness because of the concentrated oxygen experienced while working out in fresh air.  I have seen others minimize their Seasonal Affective Disorder by doing so in the winter.  Everyone has felt the clarity of mind while being outdoors.  It can make us feel better physically, it can strengthen our focus, and often decrease our anxiety. The positives recognized are in large part is due to the benefit of pure, concentrated oxygen that is received in a few minutes outdoors. 

 

Fresh air also promotes the creation of white blood cells. Every time you inhale, your lungs fill with oxygen that thereafter gets transported in your blood, through organs and systems such as the lymphatic system, kidneys, heart, and colon. It not only can detoxify our body, even more important, that concentrated oxygen flowing through our bodies can fight infection within us.  

 

My best example is one I experienced personally while dealing with a chronic illness that impacted the body’s oxygen saturation level. One of the rehabilitation modalities was Oxygen-Induced Exercise, which included 15-30 seconds of exercise followed by induced oxygen, monitored by an oxygen saturation meter. The effort is to recover or stabilize the oxygen saturation by increasing the oxygen inhalation from the machine.  This was difficult to replicate at home until it was done outside.  I was always able to stabilize oxygen saturation so that it did not drop so low requiring mechanical recovery.   It was a real-world example of how fresh air increases our oxygen saturation just by being in it.  

 

Julia L. Marcus, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical Schools stated “I think going outside is important for health. We know that being outdoors is a lower risk for coronavirus transmission than being indoors. And since, aerosols (the airborne, droplet form of transmissions) are of great concern with the virus it was good to see that an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech, Linsey Marr was recorded as saying “I think outdoors is so much better than indoors in almost all cases. 


In a study of 25,000 authors Mike Weed, a professor, and researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University told AFP "There were virtually no cases that we could identify that took place in sort of everyday life outdoors," and a group of scientists and engineers, including professors from American, British and German universities indicated that "outdoors is far safer than indoors, for the same activity and distance."

 

At Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, scientists have been studying indoor air quality in schools for decades. Using surveys that ask students if they have any respiratory symptoms and correlating the responses with how much fresh air classrooms get, they’ve found that, after controlling for factors like socioeconomic status, more fresh air is linked to fewer symptoms, says Rengie Chan, a research scientist at LBL. 


Several studies are showing that the transmission of a respiratory infection such as SARS-CoV-2 is an indoor phenomenon.  According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. In general, the greater the number of people in an indoor environment, the greater the need for ventilation with outdoor air. But what’s happening is that after being in less ventilated higher-risk indoor areas, children are not able to realize the full benefits of the outdoor air because it's inhaled through a restrictive potentially contaminated mask

 

One of the strongest proponents of ventilation was Florence Nightingale, who trained nurses during the Crimean War. Increasing the flow of air reduced the spread of disease among soldiers, she found. “Keep the air he breathes as pure as the external air,” she famously wrote. Medical professionals of the time noted that sunshine and fresh air seemed to have salutary effects.

 

Other research found that students in better-ventilated spaces had better scores. “There’s pretty strong evidence that improved ventilation will get you improved student performance,” Chan says.The ability to better dissipate carbon dioxide by opening windows and doors was confirmed in a study explained in the same article when they placed dry ice, which produces carbon dioxide, in classrooms to mimic a room full of people. With a cheap carbon dioxide sensor, they could see how quickly the CO2dissipated. 

 

Every time we exhale we eliminate part of the body’s waste in the form of carbon dioxide. By breathing deeply we take in more oxygen that cleanses the body, and by exhaling deeply we eliminate more waste both actions have an overall detox effect on the body.  It's not just about the recycling of carbon dioxide inside a building or a mask, it’s also about mold, bacteria, and toxins that can contribute to deteriorating the quality of air inside a school or home. We feel the difference when we open a window or step outside, we can feel the difference in fresh air very easily and we feel the difference it makes in our body. 

 

All of this to say, this is how our body rids itself of toxic substances but also how it fights off ailments, that could wear the immune system down and make them more susceptible to viruses. That is what each human is trying to do with every breath.   

 

We can’t be sure at any given moment what a child’s body is fighting or trying to expel but consider this: Those few moments that a child is outside for recess are the perfect opportunity for the child to not only expel any contaminant it may be fighting and give its body a break. But even more importantly it is the best opportunity they have to infuse themselves with as pure oxygen as they can access daily.  Is concentrated oxygen not one of the key tools we use in medicine to help a person fight illness and survive? Can we at least agree that here in the winter a child's time outdoors may be more limited so these rare opportunities are important to their ability to thrive?  Can we consider that the time in a mask indoors could easily be rectified by getting some good, clear breaths of concentrated oxygen for a few minutes a day?  Can we consider there may be some real value to that for the children, to help their physical health but even more important their mental health, while also improving anxiety, focus, clarity, sense of calm and ease, cause that’s what good oxygen can do?  

 

Fresh air has so many health-fighting properties that there is just not enough time to list them all here.  Some of the key properties that are vital to the health and success of our children are:       -Increased energy

-Better concentration 

-Enhanced immunity

-Freeing the lungs of toxins (a very vulnerable organ during covid) 

-Enhanced digestion which is also known to impact our immunity 

-Improved circulation to help deal with blood pressure and heart rate (all important factors during challenging times)

- General stress and anxiety will benefit from improved breathing and oxygen concentration. 

 

What I think we are not considering for our children is during the winter months, time is limited during the day for them to be out realizing these benefits.  It's dark when they wake up to get ready for school and it is dark shortly after they get home.  Without even considering the temperature and weather conditions as factors, we should at least be able to agree that time is limited for them to be outside other than during school hours, just because of minimized daylight alone.  Their time out at recess is their only consistent opportunity to get fresh air, benefit from the health of concentrated oxygen, and recover from the challenges of new rules and new times.  Yet, we have eliminated that one chance of good health for these children. We have blocked it completely from their access. 

 

We should at least be able to agree that the negative ions found in the fresh air are known to improve one’s health.  This seems to be a concept that is easily studied and accepted.  But we also need to consider that it is difficult for those in colder climates to absorb these ions.  We are bundled up in clothing from head to toe, so our faces, specifically our nose and mouth are our best way to inhale the benefits of the fresh air.  It is our only way some days.  So, let’s consider how are our children getting this benefit if these sources are blocked? 

 

Studies in recent decades have demonstrated that terpenes (think of them as essential oils) exert immune-boosting benefits as well as, anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting various proinflammatory, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, skin inflammation as well as neural health.  But as with all fresh air benefits they are best inhaled or absorbed, but how? 


The opportunity to access all the health benefits of the fresh air in a very low-risk environment is not only lost by wearing a mask outdoors but also lost, is any chance to reverse the risk of infection while contracted inside.  At the very least we need for children to get their oxygen to carbon dioxide ratio re-balanced from the amount of time they have worn the mask elsewhere.   We want to eliminate the effects of too much CO2 exposure through mask-wearing  If you don’t believe me consider this Germany-wide mask-wearing study that showed out of 25, 930 children, 68% reported irritability, headache, difficulty concentrating, less happiness, malaise, impaired learning, fatigue in children. This can all be attributed to low concentrations of oxygen or high CO2 but also, ironically, these symptoms are similar to or worse than contracting COVID for these youth 

 

I understand the risk of spreading the illness between children is the key fear, while children are playing in close contact. But there are a few things that need to be considered along with this fear.  The one that we have already covered extensively is the drastic decrease in risk by being outside vs. inside.  But also studies show the virus dies quickly outside especially under sunlight, as one condition.   Let’s also factor in the World Health Organization’s claims that it is prolonged exposure in stationary situations that increase the risk of contraction.  That is the amazing thing about ventilation and the outdoors, it makes stationary impossible.  The aerosols emitted never stay stagnant, the circulating air that exists even with little wind, keeps the aerosols moving so for that reason alone two people standing still, technically are not at risk because prolonged exposure is impossible, the air is always moving, at least a little bit.  That key risk factor doesn’t exist for children outside to the same level even if they happen to get too close for a second.  



We need oxygen to survive, we can all agree on that. We need good oxygen to thrive.  And this time of year, during these more challenging times I am asking the question - are we sure we are giving our children what they need?  I should mention here, I have no school-aged children.  I am not trying to be controversial, I am just asking health professionals to reconsider this guideline with more consideration. I asked a few children if they are finding anything different about being in school this time and the most common answers were related to fatigue (including a normally very hyperactive child) and focussing issues (from academically accomplished students).  Our children need fresh air to succeed.  I hope the health implications of poor oxygen and lack of fresh air while at school all day, are being considered so that our children have the ability to succeed and not suffer.  I hope we are not sacrificing our most basic need for survival and freedom; breathing fresh air and forsaking our children. 



Friday, September 18, 2020

A Plea For Public Green Spaces During a Pandemic

When the first wave of the pandemic hit, everyone was faced with quick-decision making based on little knowledge.   I respect that little was known at the time and possibly the best decisions were made based on the information available.  One of those decisions being the closure of many public spaces, including parks, trails and green spaces. 

Now that time has passed, many places have opened up and people everywhere are grateful for the opportunity to get out in a safe manner and enjoy nature.  This time is our chance to review the initial decision and reflect on what can be done if we are faced with a similar challenge again. 

I bring this up because I have been in park management for over two decades. Uniquely, I also did a Masters degree studying the natural health benefits of spending time in nature.  And as a side interest, I became a certified trainer and did all my coaching in parks and natural areas.  Most of my life has been about making parks safe for people and people seeing the wellness benefits of being in parks.  

I don't think it takes a degree to know that we feel better in nature. Instinctively, I believe many of us know this. That was evident right after the parks were closed and people flocked to hidden trails and country roads to walk anywhere and anyway they could as long as they could be outside. So I thought maybe a more comprehensive look at the value might allow a different perspective to be considered if the situation arises again.  

There are hundreds and hundreds of studies that suggest that time spent in green spaces is good for physical, mental and social well-being. It is one of the easiest ways we can bring some wellness into our lives, and some of the data from these studies suggest that many of the repercussions of isolation can be mitigated to some level with time spend in nature. 


STRESS MANAGEMENT: An interesting study on happiness and well-being of students showed that these positive feeling were more directly correlated with exposure to natural environments than to the level of hardships being experienced in their lives.  In other words, many tended to manage stress and challenges better when consistently exposed to natural environments.  

Another study published in Frontiers of Psychology, revealed that stress biomarkers decreased after exposure to nature.  In this same study the following conclusion was made: "The results provide a validated starting point for healthcare practitioners prescribing a nature pill to those in their care."

A very encouraging finding was in the study that determined after a ninety minute walk in nature participants experienced a significant decreases in obsessive and negative thoughts and experienced a reduction in neural activity in an area of the brain linked to mental illness. 

A further study determined that all of these stress reducing benefits were noted when participants were exposed to forest environments: lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity. 


WELL-BEING: Many people report simply feeling better and more energetic when outside.  I saw this in every program I led.  Although exercise tends to make people feel good after, doing so in nature had an ability to re-energize while providing a great sense of calm that is not achieved many other ways. It is the ideal energy for our bodies.  There are just so many reasons why nature gives an overall sense of well-being but basically it stimulated our whole neuroendocrine system, which influences most everything in our bodies such as: regulation, balance, metabolism, energy utilization and the list goes on. 

Participants in my programs reported improvements with many challenges such as anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, energy, sleep and depression.  Most participants exercised regularly, so it seems that the combination of the two together made a greater impact and saw the greatest benefit.  The following study suggests something similar and the value of help with pandemic related emotions, showing that nature exposure reduced a feeling of isolation and induces a sense of calm and improved mood. 


MENTAL CLARITY : A 20% increase was recognized in mental clarity and cognitive testing after a short break walking in nature.  The same improvements did not happen when the same break happened while walking down a busy street. Numerous studies show a decrease in ADHD symptoms and advance cognitive development when playing in nature. Further benefits include an increase in confidence, self-esteem and independence. 

One study also showed that nature immersion improved creative reasoning and that creative reasoning not only helps us with creative and artistic endeavours but it also helps us problem solve, work through fears and reason through facts and challenges. 

As stated in an article in The Atlantic, How Nature Resets our Minds and Bodies,  "Nature restores mental functioning in the same way that food and water restore bodies."


RESPIRATION: Breathing outdoors lets in more concentrated oxygen to your muscles and brain helping us to function better. We know that one of the most effective ways to decrease stress is to breath more effectively allowing high concentrations of oxygen into our cells, telling our body all is safe.  

The benefits of breathing in fresh air goes well beyond oxygen. The air is also rich in phytonidices (chemicals released by plants) that have antibacterial and anti fungal properties to aid in fighting infection.  It also help you detoxify all organs in your body. Another chemical terpenes is also released by plants and has a anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic, and neuroprotective activities.  

We know that recycled indoor air runs the risk of recycling pollutants and that risk is reduced in natural areas.  Studies have demonstrated how as air pollution is reduced and children have improved lung function and fewer hospitalizations for respiratory issues and asthma


IMMUNITY BOOST : There are numerous reasons for improved immunity due to exposure to trees, forests, parks and natural environments, such as the many different beneficial bacteria that aid your immune system processes.  

The mircobiata found in natural environments are more beneficial for human health than those found in built environments. It has even been shown to reduce anxiety and depression in some studies. These bacteria are crucial to boosting immunity, which aids in reducing inflammation, sensitivities and resilience later in life. 

Free electrons transferred from the ground into our bodies without hindrance is a powerful antioxidant.  Anioxidants are not only supportive of ridding our body of harmful toxins, they also play a role in boosting our immunity, improve adrenal support, sleep quality, decrease hormonal symptoms and can help protect you from harmful EMF's. 


SOCIAL BENEFITS: Every anecdotal stories I am told of social experiments in nature, show a benefit to all who participate.  One psychology lab is finding undoubtedly the more connected people feel to nature, the happier they are. 

I think it evident that the belief is the virus risk is less in the outdoors compared to indoors. This is evident by comments from many health officials and especially by the protocols that are being put in place i.e. numbers are less restrictive outdoors than indoors.  Now more than ever, these natural green spaces are our safest zone for any level of social interactions. It's important for us to provide not only the best but safest opportunity for everyone to experience that.  


VITAMIN D: We are always finding out more and more about the importance of vitamin D. We do know it helps with general health i.e. fighting illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis as well as obesity, inflammation and immunity. Since sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D, it is only logical that spending time outdoors responsibly would increase your vitamin D in take.  

One of the key reasons it may be believed that the risk of contraction is less is in the outdoors could be due to the fact that Vitamin D is also a natural antiseptic; killing molds, bacteria and even viruses. 

Although controversial some recent studies have shown huge benefit from Vitamin D to fight virus' including COVID-19.  A significant crude relationship between average vitamin D levels and the number COVID-19 cases, and particularly COVID-19 mortality rates were found in one study.  Regardless of the where you sit on the discussion it may be considered that vitamin D sensibly sourced in nature could be one of the most basic, easiest and least expensive strategy you can use to ward off the virus.  

The following conclusion was made in the same study, "Much more attention should be paid to the importance of vitamin D status for the development and course of the [COVID-19] disease. Particularly, in the methods used to control the pandemic (lockdown), the skin's natural vitamin D synthesis is reduced when people have few opportunities to be exposed to the sun."

Recovery from any illness is proving to benefit from exposure to nature, for example, stroke survivors in the greater Boston area had a 20% reduction in risk if they lived near a high concentration of green space. This is easy to believe because even exposure to natural light and natural views has proven to improve healing time from different illnesses.  Helen Stokes-Lampard from the Royal College of GPs advises that getting outside can have a “really positive impact” on health. 


OUR CHILDREN: It has been proven that when outside children play longer and move their body more than they would when inside. These activities are the basic behaviours required to avoid health issues such as high cholesterol, obesity, blood pressure as well as many others. 

A very recent study provides evidence of immediate collateral consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak, demonstrating an adverse impact on the movement and play behaviours of Canadian children and youth. These findings can guide efforts to preserve and promote child health during the COVID-19 outbreak and crisis recovery period, and to inform strategies to mitigate potential harm during future pandemics. 

Tim Gill, a consultant on the matter states that "regular contact with nature is part of a balanced diet of childhood experiences. If children do not have those experiences then they are not going to thrive as if they did." 

At the World Health Organization International Healthy Cities Conference, which included national health services and public health organization a consensus was made that "Government should recognize our green space as key to the delivery of a wise range of sustainable public health." 


The basic point is that public green spaces are crucial to health of mind, body and soul.  With so much uncertainty, the one thing we can be certain of is that the majority of us find comfort, well-being and peace in nature and the outdoors.  So, my plea to all levels of Government, Public Health and all Park Managers is,  can we try our best to make these outdoor spaces the one safe refuge we have during trying times?

I am not suggesting every single park has to be open, but I also don't think every single park has to be closed. An operational and management analysis will show opportunity for certain parks, portions of parks or policies that could be implemented to make certain areas available within the guidelines of health and safety related to this virus or any challenge.  The nice thing about natural areas is each one provides a different management opportunity, allowing for unique protocols and the ability to enhance existing resources so everyone can enjoy them and be safe.  

At the end of the day, the simple fact is we are nature.  It is the place we belong the most.  We have a better chance of being in balance, finding peace and resilience there.  Nature is a simple blessing that can be awarded to everyone during the planets most challenging times.  Let's do what we can, get these policies in place and provide the most basic resource we have for the population's well-being so these valuable resources are not lost or unavailable during their most valuable time. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

My Secret To Your Health & Fitness Success and You Will LOVE It!

I have made the decision to focus my work and move on from the health and fitness world - where I loved exposing others to exercise and healthy practices in the great outdoors.  But before I do there is one final health and fitness message I feel necessary to share with all. In truth, it is probably the most important and maybe the only message I feel you need to know.  

First let me explain something.  I studied animal behaviour and habitat and as a result spent over two decades in park and trail management.  I never expected to work with humans directly except providing a space for them to enjoy nature.  In time I realized more motivation was needed and I developed outdoor programs to show people all they could accomplish and enjoy in the great outdoors. This was further developed into all the health benefits of nature and our environment.  But remember I really studied animals.  

So it became really interesting to me when everyone was seeking my direction as to what they should do for fitness, weight loss, exercise and even what to eat. My question was "what do you like to do and eat"?  Many didn't really think about it.  Others dowloaded diets and workout plans from the internet and followed them religiously for a week or two, maybe three and then found it too much.  No one had any idea of what they liked to do, they only wanted to know what someone else thought they should do.  

I realized we had lost sight of our instincts.  I studied animals who's every move was based on instincts and basically based on doing whatever they felt was right at the moment. It hit me, as humans, we look to everyone else for answers on what is right for us, besides ourselves.  We have been trained with all the easy access to information to stop listening to what our own bodies are trying to tell us.  We often don't even know what we like and what makes us happy.  We also believe that if it is to improve our life, it has to be hard, we probably won't like it and it is going to take a ton of willpower. So not true. 

So here comes my advise, the only thing I believe you really need to know when it comes to health and fitness, the only thing you need to do...QUIT DOING WHAT YOU DON'T LOVE.  Let me rephrase that.  Figure out what you love and do that!  I know it sounds very idealistic and too easy, but hear me out for a second.  

Your body is not going to create a habit of anything you don't truly like doing.  You don't realize that using willpower and making or forcing yourself to do something daily is causing so much stress on your body that not only are you going to do more harm than good, your body is going to be constantly fighting you to stop.  Something that is causing you to push yourself day in and day out is doing just that. When you don't have fun or love doing it, it is going to use all your resources and leave you with nothing in the tank.  There is a time and place for pushing yourself but it is not here. 

Your body is smarter than you think and it is going to do things to make you stop, before you completely wear yourself down.  That's usually the point when we think we failed and get down on ourselves for lack of commitment.  We feel we have no willpower and remind ourselves how we never stay at anything.  Well, it's a good thing, you weren't meant to do what the internet told you. You are meant to do what feels right, what makes you enjoy movement, makes you enjoy healthy food and makes you want to do it day in and day out, over and over forever.  That can only be the things we love to do.  

You know what's funny about all of this. Rarely do we ask ourselves what we truly enjoy doing, eating, having or thinking about.  We assume that if we like it, it is bad and if it is good for us we probably won't like it.  But that is also not true.  I used to begrudge some days going for a run when I was training for something. Until I got too sick for many years to do so.  Now, I enjoy each run, no matter how short or rare, because all of a sudden I can appreciate how much I enjoy doing it.  I now take the time to check my thoughts before a run and be sure I am in appreciation mode. Because the second I say "I have to do this" my body works against my mind and either slows me down, makes it hard or encourages me to stop. If we give ourselves a chance to ask whether we really like something or not, sometimes we may even realize we like it more than we acknowledge and may enjoy doing it even more. 

On the other hand, there will just be exercises and food that you don't enjoy and for some reason feel like you should.  Don't fight it or force, it just may not be for you.  I know many who love Zumba. I wanted to love it, people have so much fun doing it.  Yet I tried it many times, because I thought something was wrong with me if I didn't like it, when so many did.  Silly to think I tried to force something just because it was right for others.  My only disclaimer here is that you should try it, if you haven't, because there is no harm in trying everything once.  There is no better way to find out what you love. 

We do similar things with foods we just don't enjoy. Just because it is good for you doesn't mean you were meant to eat it every day or love it.  We are all different including our taste buds.  If we spent more time focussing on eating the good foods we loved then we would develop a whole new approach to food and eating and our bodies would respond willingly.  Like our ability to move, food is also a blessing.  It is not meant to be the evil addictions we see it as.  We all enjoy different foods and the only way to increase and improve the healthy foods is by eating the ones we love.  There is no point trying to muscle down a recipe or ingredients we dislike. Not only will you be more likely to indulge in bad foods as a result, you certainly will not continue to improve on your nutrition plan as you go.  Your body wants you to enjoy making new, healthy changes.  My best advice here is to start a list of fruits and vegetables you love on your fridge and add to is as you think of more.  It will be the first thing you see when you go to the fridge as a reminder, as well. Its a great way to stop forcing meal plans that don't work for you and focus on the good foods you do like and eat more of them.  But, only you can tell yourself what those are.  

And once in a while an indulgence that you treat yourself with can also be a good thing. Save it for special occasions and for goodness sake enjoy it.  Another funny human trait is that we make ourselves feel guilty anytime we do something we actually enjoy.  Of course you don't want to have a sundae every day. But when you do make the decision to do so, at least enjoy it.  Your body craved it because something about it made you feel good. So milk the feel good feeling for all its worth. Feeling guilty about it will only make you feel bad, take away any good that could have come from the treat, increase your stress hormones and probably make you emotionally eat more. If you love it and you made the rational decision to have it - THEN ENJOY IT!

My basic point is that when we focus on the things we love we are more likely to do them more and more likely to create a healthy habit.  And the more good things we realize we love, the more healthy habits and the more positive changes we can create in our lives. Our animal instinct is to do what we love, because our bodies will do it well and it is also the right decision for us. No one can know exactly whatis right for you, but you.  WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU IS SOMETHING YOU LOVE. 

So do things that are good for you that you love and love what you do that is good for you...that is the secret to your success when it comes to health and fitness.  My work here is done!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

FRESH AIR - Fuel for the Mind, Body & Soul

There is more to getting fresh air than just stepping outside.  But I think we can all agree we have experienced that moment when you step outside, take that deep inhale and instantly feel our body relax, the swirling in your mind takes a pause and the overall sense of what can best be described as a feeling of calm.  It seems impossible to believe that it can only be from taking a few deep breaths in the fresh outside air, but don't underestimate the power.

Getting a dose of concentrated oxygen not only clears our mind, fills our lungs and is absorbed through our body, it is making major physiological changes that is telling our body, it is safe.  It is known that when we are stressed our body focusses the oxygen-carrying blood to our vital organs, in order to support what is most crucial and needed at the time.  So breathing fresh air is not just something that feels good.  Breathing fresh air supports many of our physiological activities, it is most crucial during times of crisis, it is the main thing we preserve during stress and the one thing that can make all run as efficiently as possible. So it only makes sense that as soon as our bodies realize it has ample oxygen to support all activities, it can relax, it can make you feel relaxed and allow your body to operate as normal.

During times of isolation it becomes one of the most useful tools to support our health and happiness, yet we are being urged to stay inside as much as possible.  Which means, in times like this it is worth our effort to be creative, take extra steps and do all we can physically to seek out as much fresh air in our day, every day.  For some that can be extremely challenging but not impossible.

- Much like my advise on how to seek out nature; it is valuable to check out all of your sources of fresh air through windows, access points and outdoor spaces. Some may have a better breeze or airflow which is valuable for short, quick doses. Then there may be more sheltered sources or spaces, maybe those that get more sun that can be more valuable for longer periods because the air stays warm (assuming you are in a similar Canadian Climate as I am right now).

- Take your stationary workouts to a window or access point, or even better outside.  When at a clinic for Chronic Lyme I participated in one (of many) treatments, that was called Exercise with Oxygen Therapy, where you raise your heart rate for 20-30 seconds, then infuse your body with oxygen by every medial means possible.  Replicate the same; do a sprint or high intensity set, then go to the windows and take the largest, deepest breaths possible. Your body is calling for oxygen so it will absorb and intake as much as possible.  Think of it as an oxygen infusion.

- Take your yoga mat outside.  Wear a snow suit if you have to, even if only for 10 minutes.  You won't be cold for long and as ridiculous as you may feel, the overall good feeling as a result, will override any ridiculousness.  Make your focus any breathing technique you prefer.

- My favourite outdoor workout space is steps. It can be your front steps or a pile of rocks.  But it can allow you to do cardio type exercises (step ups, jump ups) or more resistance type ones (push ups, dips, one legged squats).  You literally only have to take one step outside your house for a full outdoor workout.  And remember your key purpose in doing this is to infuse your body with oxygen.  So before starting, take some deep breaths - then keep deep, long breaths your focus for the workout -  as you stretch maintain the same.

- If all else fails make it a daily practice to open a window for a few minutes a day (maybe several times a day) and take some deep, really deep breaths.  It will accomplish the same. I encourage nasal breathing when you can because it gets it rapidly, directly and most deeply into the lungs.  Not only does your nose filter the air, it moistens it making it more easily absorbed by the body.  If you have a cold or sinus issues, take some through your nose and then recover through your mouth if you must. Nasal breathing can actually improve sinus issues if you do a little every day. My favourite practice is a version of a long deep breath in, first into your chest and deep into what feels like your stomach, hold for a few seconds and then as slowly as possible out for as long as you can, getting every last molecule out. Then repeat.

Oxygen has the ability to kill certain infections on contact. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that will benefit from improved breathing skills and lung capacity. Vitamins and minerals in the air and outdoors drastically boost our immune system capabilities.  But in my mind, the mental and emotional calm that can be found by the stress reducing powers of fresh air is what makes it so powerful.  It will always be worth our time and efforts to take in a little fresh air.  It is one of the powerful tools we have at our disposal while we stay at home these days.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Make Space for Nature - In Isolation

As the rules of isolation constantly intensify people are slowly losing their access to nature, the one perk many were claiming was making it manageable.  So this blog post will start a series of articles to help you find that connection, that we all need so badly - now more than ever.

If you have no or almost no, access to the outdoors, I suggest some of the following ideas to help you bring the outside in, no matter what the four walls around you look like. There are advantages to viewing nature even when access is limited so try some of these out as they are meant to bring you some solace during challenging times.

- Do a scan of your home at several times of the day to find the brightest rooms, best views. largest landscapes and even different styles of landscapes. The reason being is different windows and access points can serve different moods and purposes.

- The sun may shine in one room in the morning and a different room in the afternoon.  Find a work space, rest space or workout spot based on the time of day you want to do it and where the most light comes in.  Yes, you can get a sunburn through a window (although the sun is not very intense right now).  And even if on a sunny day it seems too bright just remember your eyes and body may adjust, it just may seem extreme at first compared to the artificial light you have been exposed to.

- That light; the sun - your skin and your eyes want to absorb that, even if it is through a window.  It can change a mood faster than you know and make work, or a workout seem worth the effort just to be there.  And know that many health clinics in other parts of the world have sun rooms, with large comfy chairs that expose patients to natural light through the windows. So set up your favourite chair, rearrange your living room furniture or move a bed to make every possible exposure serve you now for all the things you do during the day.

- Even more than just seeking light and sunshine, sometimes a certain view can help a mood. If you are feeling trapped or too isolated, then an open view of a field or park or even lawn can provide and open feeling of freedom, helping to decrease more negative emotions. If you are feeling lonely or scared, then trees, forest and gardens can help ease that emotion just a little.

- Beyond the view you are looking at consider your activity.  I move my laptop around my house to compensate for the weather, what I am working on or the time of day.  I know the room that feels the brightest on a dreary day or when I need a large workspace, I can spread out on a big table but orientate it to look out my patio doors.  And patio doors are among the best places to place a yoga mat because the access to nature is available no matter what position you are in, lying down or standing.  It's as close to working out, outside as you can get, while still indoors.

- When you are feeling really disconnected from nature sometimes the best thing you can do is simply stand, sit and look out at at your favourite view.  It doesn't have to be a fully natural view.  Noticing a tree or roof top garden can do the same.  Just really take it in and notice what ever it is to make a connection.  My best exercise to do this is to try and notice one new thing each time you look, something you have never noticed before.  Such as, a bird almost hidden in a tree or the strange way a branch is growing.  Maybe there is a rock somewhere that you never paid attention to that now catches your eye or a new pot that will soon be planted.  It's all connection that your body is making, that can bring a similar ease that nature brings when you are out in it.

- You can also make the most of the nature you have inside.  Even if you only have one or a few plants in your house, gather them to a place together in the space you spend the most time.  Create your own indoor garden and tend to it unlike you ever have never before.  Split them and repot them if you can, clip and trim just a little everyday and spread the soil as often as you can.  It may seem silly, but the chemicals released from a plant and the organics in soil have proven health benefits,  that are hard to show, but proven by science.

- When all else fails you should know that natural scenes (produced artificially) have been shown in studies to evoke similar neurological reactions as nature itself can. Some of the reasoning is that your brain and body are reminded of the same feeling you had in nature and when you look at an artificial view, so it releases the same chemicals to create the same feeling as it did naturally.  So, change your screen saver to your favourite natural view, put an outdoor show on mute on your tv, pull out some family holiday photos of your time on the beach or favourite hiking spot or google your dream vacation or natural location.

It may all seem like rather basic advice but it holds more power scientifically than we know.  Nature is where we find balance the fastest and easiest. We are nature ourselves. So it holds more proven healing powers that are often not promoted.  We need it much more than we acknowledge.  We assume it will always be there and we can always go there.  It does more to support us emotionally than we recognize.  So as things change, we may feel lost without it.  Our ability to bring it in, take it in and benefit from it stands with our ability to be creative in these crazy times.  But I promise, it will be worth every small effort you make.

We can do this.  Just like nature our ability to be resilient and adjust with the conditions around us is nothing short of miraculous.

Next Blog: How To Take In Fresh Air When Things Feel Like Anything But Fresh




Thursday, March 5, 2020

Multi-Use Trails Can Be Great for Everyone...

I want to share an opinion on an issue that I have seen over more than two decades in my career and in many aspects of my recreational interests. I believe I can offer a few different vantage points on the issues surrounding multi-use trails.  

Let me start with my background.  I have managed over fifty parks and trails throughout my career.  I hiked and camped the Rideau Trail from Kingston to Ottawa and walked and biked the TransCanada Trail from the Quebec to Detroit border, by myself.  I can confidently say I walk, run, bike, snowshoe or kayak almost every day.  

But what you also need to know is that I have always been an avid snowmobiler and atv rider as well as, on and off road motorcycling, I see trail issues from every angle and can tell you three things for sure: 

1) Trail management is much more complicated than it looks from the outside because you are always trying to balance different interests with the surrounding natural environment as well as, the financial resources to do it.  

2) Managing multi-use trails takes all of those challenges to a whole new level and can be some of the most conflict-ridden projects I have ever encountered.  But, 

3) I believe multi-use trails to be among the greatest assets and resources for any community.

So, I thought I could share some stories with you that will show the value in multi-use and how with some effort and new perspective we can enjoy these great trails

·      In all of my 30-40 years of hiking, running and walking on trails I have never had a motorized vehicle speed past me in a disrespectful manner. Every-one has slowed to some degree (no exception) but sure, improvements could always be made.  If I am walking, my practice is to move to the side and look back, so that the driver knows that I am aware they are coming. Respect goes both ways. 

·      I have many stories of different users assisting others along the way.  For example, the man who travelled from France to hike across Canada on the Great Trail, never expected to hurt his ankle so badly that he could barely walk. But when he did, he was quickly assisted by the first ATV passing by, taken for help with the injury, food and overnight camping. 

·      One summer I hiked a solid 28 days, all day long.  There was never a hot day that a vehicle didn’t stop to either check if I was okay or if I needed water.  I have met so many incredible people using the trails. At minimum there was usually a wave or nod “hello”.  

·      There is something to cherish of every type of experience I have had on these trails from mechanical to manpowered.  There is something about riding a sled late at night weaving in and out of the forest on moonlit trails, to walking for hours upon hours noticing aspects of the area you otherwise might miss.  It's all something to experience in its own way; I wish it all for everyone. 

·       My background is Environmental Biology so managing these important natural resources is very important to me.  But I will also state that managing trails can be extremely intensive when it comes to maintenance and budgets, with little to no ability for return.  I have seen multi-usage be a huge benefit in that regard from many angles, such as decreasing maintenance burdens to increasing revenues.  

·      I have been involved in projects where trail managers attempted to create different trails for different uses. That concept in itself creates more issues and less benefit and I have determined without a doubt, is not the solution.  Restriction is not the solution. 

I feel the need to re-iterate my basic point that multi-use trails provide so much benefit, that I could talk about them all day to try and convince others.  Although these are just quick points without much context, I hope I at least offered some new things to consider in this debate. 

There is no doubt mutli-use trails bring challenges.  But I challenge all the users to work together to find better solutions so that everyone can experience these great resources.  It is possible.  The whole concept of multi-use suggests that the trail may not be perfect for anyone, but it can be great for everyone.  

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