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Activate your Genes

We have all heard of exercise is important and that a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to diseases. Recent evidence has shown that an active lifestyle can increase your life by up to 9 years.

The World Health Organisation offer guidelines on physical activity which are detailed below but first it helps understand a little about the evolution of our species in order to understand why the way we move (as opposed to just doing any exercise at all) is so important.

Click here or scroll down to view the infographic

The way genes adapt to a changing environment is to mutate. Our species, ‘homo’ has been around for about two million years, with modern humans (homo sapiens) existing for around 200,000 years. The last significant gene that mutated (called the M168), occurred 45,000 to 50,000 years ago!

Since that time, there have been a few mutations, such as those to allow us to digest grains and dairy, but all in all, our genome hasn’t changed. However, our environment has changed (but we haven’t adapted to it).

Our ancestors moved a lot – today, however, many of us work in offices, call centres and due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, we move a lot less.

Steps

To be in line with our hunter-gatherer predecessors, we would need to take between 18,000 and 22,000. In fact, the average Australian and British office worker take just 3,000 to 5,000 steps per day. This is a significant shortfall and our health is suffering as a result.

Exercise is a powerful driver of gene expression and the famous American researcher and cardiologist Frank Booth once said,

We know of no single intervention with greater promise than physical exercise to reduce the risk of virtually all chronic diseases simultaneously’.

Incidental exercise

However, before you bring up lack of time to get to the gym, it’s important to understand that physical activity does not just mean an hour of sport/gym so many times a week or hitting a high step count. Both the global and Australian guidelines recommend those 18-64 years od:

  • Be active each day
  • Accumulate 15–300 minutes of moderate intensity each week
  • Accumulate 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity a week
  • OR an equivalent of both moderate and vigorous
  • Do muscle strengthening activities at least 2 days each week

So, what does all this mean? Many of us are relying on 10,000 steps each day for health benefits, so where does that fit in with the recommendations? And what does ‘be active everyday’ look like for you?

To simplify things, we have created rituals around ‘Active Minutes’ to minimise the gap between 10k steps and vigorous exercise. We show you the reduction you achieve to your BioAge from movement in the shape of the ‘Active Minutes Ritual’ (this encompasses steps, movement snacks and high/moderate intensity activity) rather than relying on calculating your activity themselves.

A few ideas to help you increase your active minutes:

  1.  At a minimum, take 10,000 steps per day (or 70,000 a week). A great way to keep track is with a device such as a Fitbit, Garmin or Jawbone Up.
  2. Introduce quick bursts of movement throughout the day (what we like to call Movement Snacks). Use TV advert breaks to do squats, push-ups or 30-second sprints.
  3. Do three to five workouts per week – ideally a combination of vigorous activity and strength sessions. If you don’t view yourself as a ‘workout person’ don’t worry, workouts can be short and sharp and can be completed anywhere without equipment – our timed Ritualize workout videos are a great start!
  4. Don’t sit for prolonged periods, as this along is a risk for chronic disease. Ensure you get up and move a little every 30 minutes or so.

What’s your personal target?

See how many active minutes you need to hit to reduce your BioAge each day by clicking Active Minutes on your Ritual Board and you’ll find it at the top of the page (on both app and desktop). What’s important for many people is you don’t need to be going to the gym for an hour every day to gain benefits of physical activity – all movement counts!

 

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Finding the Silver Lining

We all react to different problems in different ways. Ever noticed that some people can stay calm under adversity while others are obviously stressed out? One of the best ways to help change your emotional response to a bad situation is something called cognitive reappraisal.

Cognitive Reappraisal is:

1) attending to the emotional situation, which will elicit an automatic judgment of the situation,

2) a cognitive re-evaluation of the situation in a more neutral or positive direction.

What happens when you take a split second to cast a better light on an otherwise dark situation is that you can actually up-end your emotional experience entirely. What was once an idiotic, reckless driver, is now a guy just trying to get to work on time. What was once a bad interview, is now good experience and something to improve on next time. Studies have demonstrated that the use of cognitive reappraisal can change how you view the emotional experience very quickly and even decrease the physical effects of emotion on the body. For example, anger typically causes your heart rate, respiration, and skin conductance levels to elevate, but upon reappraisal, these responses don’t spike nearly as highly.

An effective way to do this is to create a Catastrophe Scale. Form your scale of how bad things are from 1 to 10 – 10 being the worst possible thing that could ever happen and 1 being something mediocre. Refer to this scale to get a bigger picture of how bad the situation currently is.

Here are some examples:  

  1. Getting caught in a rainstorm while on your way to work
  2. Kid fails a test at school
  3. Work presentation doesn’t go as well as you hoped
  4. Car breaks down and you’re late for work
  5. Miss a very important business meeting or job interview
  6. The doctor says that you have high blood pressure
  7. Broken limb and it interferes with work
  8. Losing a close relationship/marriage/friendship
  9. Someone you love dies
  10. The whole family dies in front of you and having to witness it in a war-torn country

Obviously, the circumstances surrounding all of these can be personal to you. But the point of a catastrophe scale is to step back and see the bigger picture and use it as a reference point whenever times call for it.

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Get Your Game Face On

Athletes regularly practise mental rehearsal, or what we like to call mental sculpting before a competition, and in little breaks during a competition. The top tennis players in the world use their mental strength to help them succeed. In fact, Serena Williams considers the game of tennis is 70% mental. Below is a list of positive statements which Serena Williams writes down and reads before and during the match.

  • “My good thoughts are powerful”
  • “My only negative thoughts are weak!”
  • “Decide what you want to be, have, do and think the thoughts of it.”
  • “Hang on to the thought of what you want. Make it absolutely clear.”
  • “Positive thoughts”
  • “You will look at balls”
  • “You will move up”
  • “You are #1 (No 1)”
  • “You are the best”
  • “You will add spin”
  • “You will win WIMBLEDON”

This approach can be used by anyone in their daily lives, not just athletes. One way we can do this is by thinking “what is my best self?” and presenting that version of yourself.  You can ask other people, friends or family, when they have seen you at your best and then create this best version of yourself. The You that is positive, the You that is open, friendly and welcoming to others, the You that is focussed and determined. You can also select a role model who has the traits you could benefit from in your own life. This could be a sporting star, an actor, activist or even your neighbour. Write down the traits you admire and if you are in a situation where you need them, ask yourself, what would they do in this situation?

The idea is to then use this lots of times throughout the day. Before you have a meeting at work or are one on one with someone, or a customer interaction. Just give yourself 20 seconds of space to say “Ok, what is my best self”, and visualise it. What are the emotions, the body language and the intention that you’re going to bring to the conversation? Emotions are contagious, so by doing this regularly throughout the day, you will actually improve your level of interaction and it will have a positive impact on those that you interact with. Plus you will notice that your performance level goes up.

The single most important time to do this Game Face or Mental Sculpting ritual is when you come home. It’s easy to bring the stress of the day home with you if you don’t consciously switch your mindset. Before you go into the house, just sit outside and for 20 to 30 seconds just say to yourself “What part of me does me or my partner, or my kids or my parents want to see?

Just do that visualisation, walk in with intention around your emotions and notice how that will impact positively on your friends and your family.

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Alcohol Free Days – Why Do It?

It’s very common for people to wind down after work with a drink. This may seem harmless enough, but the reality is that half of that bottle of wine or those few bottles of beer could be causing silent damage to your liver, with serious consequences.

It may surprise you to know that the majority of people who die from the alcohol-related liver disease are not alcoholics. Alcohol causes damage to the cells in your liver, which can lead to inflammation and scarring as it tries to repair itself. Even if you only have one or two drinks a day, your liver can’t cope and can’t repair itself, but you don’t have to become a ‘tea-totaller’ to fix it.

Your liver needs at least 48 hours without alcohol to repair itself.  Cutting back your daily intake won’t help your liver.  The 2 days have to be alcohol-free and it’s important they are ‘consecutive’. At Ritualize, we include an Alcohol-Free Day on our Ritual lists. By adding it to your personal Rituals, you’ll be giving your liver a break and bringing your BioAge down.

“The main advantage of  two alcohol-free days each week – as opposed to occasional alcohol-free days when you’re sick, for instance – is that it reduces your lifetime exposure to alcohol, which in turn helps lower the risk of both liver disease and alcohol-related cancers such as cancer of the breast, colon, oesophagus and mouth,” says Associate Professor Simone Strasser, a gastroenterologist and spokeswoman for  the Australian Liver Association. (1)

The Australian Government Guidelines recommends no more than 2 standard drinks on any given day for both men and women. (2). This can be confusing as it implies that drinking every day is safe.  The United Kingdom has recently reviewed their guidelines and now recommends that everyone should have alcohol-free days each week. (3)

Alcohol over time can cause also cause brain damage, heart disease, high blood pressure and increase your risk of many cancers such as breast cancer, mouth and intestinal cancers.  

Aside from reducing your risk of disease, there are other reasons to have a 2-day break from alcohol:


Your quality of sleep will improve.

When you drink before bed, you don’t fall into a natural slumber. It’s common for people to fall asleep quickly, so many think that glass of wine or 2 helps them get to sleep.  But then they wake up around 3am and are wide awake. This could be due to a sleep-inducing chemical in the brain called adenosine, which is increased after drinking. You fall asleep quickly, but the chemical is quickly depleted, which can cause you to wake before earlier than your body wants to. (https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/how-alcohol-affects-sleep)

Alcohol also blocks your rapid eye movement (REM) sleep which is imperative for growth and repair. Less REM sleep can cause you to be tired and lack in focus the next day.

You’ll lose weight

Alcohol contains empty calories, which means you are taking in calories that your body doesn’t need. A glass of wine can contain 120 calories and a beer about 150 calories. When you have a break from alcohol, you not only cut down on these empty calories, but you tend to make healthier food choices.

Your skin will glow

Alcohol dehydrates you, which can dry your skin and over time cause you to look older than you are. The increase in blood flow can cause a red pigmentation.

Your mood will increase

You may feel happier while you’re drinking, but the next day alcohol can make you feel down. This is because alcohol is a depressant and affects the balance of hormones in the brain. Having a few Alcohol-free days can make you feel a lot brighter.

It’s always advisable to drink alcohol in moderation on the days you do drink and know that you and your liver will enjoy your 48 hours without it.  Make it a weekly ritual and reap the benefits.

 

REFERENCES

(1) http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/why-your-body-loves-time-off-from-alcohol-especially-if-youre-female-20150129-1311rp.html

(2) http://www.alcohol.gov.au/internet/alcohol/publishing.nsf/Content/guide-adult

(3) http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-35252650

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Box breathing: The Military Secret

In 2012, the New York Times wrote an article, called “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, about how so many of us over-schedule ourselves in order to feel more important or to avoid being alone with our thoughts but our busyness can be self-inflicted. We often take on too much work and other obligations and can let our ambition or drive come before our health.  It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this; it’s something we’re collectively – albeit unknowingly – encouraging each other to do (1).

So, if being too busy – and not challenging ourselves to be more mindful of how we choose to spend our time – is ruining our health, taking time out of our day, even just 2 minutes, to relax, unplug and clear our minds can have enormous benefits.

Box Breathing, otherwise known as Four-Square Breathing or Controlled Breathing, is a great way to reduce stress and to give your mind a break for a few minutes. The Special Forces, public speakers, and surgeons use tactical breathing to help control their thoughts and emotions when faced with challenging situations that obscure their clarity. (2)

HOW DO YOU DO IT?

Box Breathing is a technique where you take slow, deep breaths while counting to four while you breathe in, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four.

  • Start by relaxing your whole body and be seated if possible.
  • Sit upright, and then slowly exhale, getting all the oxygen out of your lungs. Really focus on this and be conscious of what you’re doing.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four, very slowly in your head.
  • Feel the coolness of the air you’re breathing in and the way it fills your lungs, one section at a time until they are completely full.
  • Hold your breath for another slow count of four.
  • Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen. Be conscious of the feeling of the air leaving your lungs, how the coolness has become warmth.
  • Then hold your breath for another 4 counts and repeat the whole process again (3).

If you have trouble clearing your thoughts, trying humming in your mind or really focus on the counting.

 

WHEN AND WHERE CAN YOU DO IT?

It’s almost like meditating, and so it works best in a quiet, stress free environment. However if you cannot find a quiet place, it’s something you can easily do with your eyes closed in a quiet spot with your eyes closed, at work or at home or anywhere in between. Give it a go while you’re standing waiting for your kettle to boil, or on the train to work, or in the bathroom before a meeting, or after you park your car, before you head into your office for the day. Repeat your mantra and count to yourself and no one will even notice that you are performing a stress-reduction exercise.

WHY DOES IT WORK?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a medical research clinic in the United States, there is a sufficient amount of evidence to suggest that intentional deep breathing can actually calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system, a system which regulates involuntary body functions like temperature. It can lower blood pressure and provide an almost-immediate sense of calm, and improve your mood. But the benefits of deep breathing also extend beyond in-the-moment stress relief. It’s an exceptional treatment for conditions like generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. It can also help treat insomnia by allowing you to calm your nervous system at night before bed. Box breathing can even help with pain management (4).

References:

  1. https://www.wellandgood.com/good-advice/stop-glorifying-how-busy-you-are/
  2. https://thepreppingguide.com/box-breathing/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/box-breathing#tips
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/decrease-stress-by-using-your-breath/art-20267197?pg=2
  5. https://www.livestrong.com/article/225192-sudarshan-kriya-breathing-technique/
  6. https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/?_r=0

 

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Be Kind To Yourself

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete…” – Buddha

Be kind to yourself

We know that feeling compassionate towards others is a good trait to have.

Feeling compassionate means we are aware and are moved by the suffering of others. Research is showing that being compassionate towards other can increase our well-being.The part of the brain responsible for compassion and empathy is the cerebral cortex. If it’s working well, we feel kindness, care and understanding for people.

Self-compassion is where compassion turns inward and those feelings of kindness and understanding are directed at ourselves at those times when we feel inadequate or if we fail rather than drowning ourselves with self-criticism. With 3 million people in Australia living with depression or anxiety, it seems self-compassion may be missing in a lot of lives. There’s good reason to be self-compassionate and science is showing us why.

A study at Duke University, Wake Forest University, and Louisiana University on self-compassion showed:

  • People who were self-compassionate tended to be more optimistic and had a tendency not to believe that their problems were worse than other people’s problems.
  • A person with a high level of self-compassion experiences the feeling of kindness towards oneself, and takes on a nonjudgmental attitude towards their own inadequacies and failures, recognising that experiencing those failures is normal.
  • People who were self-compassionate had less sadness, anxiety, and negative feelings.


Top 5 Ways to Feel Self Compassion


DO WHAT MORE OF WHAT BRINGS YOU JOY

Whether it’s playing with your dog, gardening or working out at the gym, so more of what makes you happy. Write a list of things that you enjoy so when you are feeling negative you can read the list and choose something that works for you.


PUT YOURSELF FIRST

Many of us spend time tending to the needs of others that we put ourselves at the bottom of the priority list. Putting self-care higher up the list will improve well-being and therefore improve our ability to look after others.


BREATHE

Deep breathing such as Box Breathing or any meditation practice calms the central nervous system, alleviating stress and anxiety.


EXERCISE

Exercise is not only physically good for us, but it taps into the emotional parts of the brain that trigger the release of ‘feel good’ hormones. You don’t have to sweat it out at the gym as even smaller, short bursts of exercise have a positive effect on our mood.


EAT WELL

When we are feeling down about ourselves we often crave high sugar and fat foods which release the hormone, dopamine, making us feel good in the short term. Our brains are wired to seed pleasure, so we turn to these foods to seek the positive feelings they bring. Research is showing a link between mood and food intake which can lead to health problems (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4150387/) Eating a balanced diet of plenty of vegetables, fruit, protein, good fat, complex carbs and fibre will curb the sugar craving and stabilise mood swings.


BE SOCIAL

Being around friends and family who matter most can have a positive effect on your mental and physical health. If you’re feeling negative thoughts about yourself, call a friend you can confide in or even just have a chat. Often speaking with other puts a different perspective on things.

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Make Stress Your Friend

Our lives are busy juggling work, finances, marriage, kids, family, friends – the list goes on. We are constantly hearing from health experts that stress is bad for us and that we need to be less stressed which, ironically, often makes us feel more stressed. This is making us sick and people are even dying from stress-related diseases.

What if it’s not the stress that’s killing us, but instead it’s our responses and perception of stress that’s killing us? Research is showing that it’s in our body’s natural mechanism to cope with stress, and our reaction and belief around whether stress is a good or bad thing, that is the most harmful to our health.

A popular TED talk by Kelly McGonigal, a Health Psychologist,  “How to make stress your friend” is about approaching stress as helpful rather than being the enemy.

She based her talk on a study of 30,000 people in the US over eight years.  They were asked questions such as “How much stress have you experienced in the past year?” and “Do you believe that stress is harmful to your health?”.  Interestingly, those who expressed a great deal of stress but didn’t view it as a harmful experience had the lowest risk of dying, whereas those who said they had experienced a lot of stress and viewed it as harmful had a 43 percent increased the risk of dying.

McGonigal says if change our mindset and view our responses to stress as helpful to our performance, we will be less stressed out, less anxious, more confident. That pounding heart? It’s preparing you for action. Your increased breathing rate? It’s simply getting more oxygen to your brain. Your body will naturally manage the stress response and calm the nervous system down, as long as you don’t allow yourself to get worked up over a stressful situation.

There’s even a term for ‘good’ stress – Eustress pronounced YOU-stress. It is the type of stress we feel when we are out of our comfort zones, but working towards something bigger or feel excited or challenged in a good way. Eustress provides us with an energy boost to perform challenging activities – especially where we need to focus and put in the extra effort. So, what if you were to consider all stress as Eustress? There’s no difference between Eustress and Distress, other than our reaction to it.

As you can see, how you think about stress matters. The next time you are stressed, stop, take a deep breath and say to yourself “This is my body, rising to the challenge.”

Watch the full Ted Talks here: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend

 

 

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Movement Snacks

Most of us think we need to sweat it out at the gym or go for a long run to be active and if we miss those opportunities due to our busy lives, we beat ourselves up.  What counts as exercise has been institutionalised to the point that if it’s not a dedicated chunk of time in a dedicated place, it doesn’t count. There are a lot of ‘should’s’ going on – I should exercise, I should go to the gym.  It’s these ‘should’s’ that can set us up to fail, over and over again.  Sound familiar?

At Ritualize, we want to challenge the notion of what being active is and change how we view exercise.

What’s important is you find something you enjoy, not something you ‘should’ be doing.  The research is showing that if you enjoy your choice of activity, you are more likely to stick with the healthy behaviour over the long-term.  

A great way to rewire your brain around what counts as exercise is to discover what we call Movement Snacks.  If you don’t like exercise or are simply too busy to get to a gym class, you will be surprised how active you can be throughout the day.  Some suggested Movement Snacks are:

  • Housework (it counts!)
  • Meet for a coffee and a walk rather than sit in a cafe
  • 30 second on the stop sprint
  • Gardening
  • Running around with the kids
  • Squat while brushing your teeth
  • Have a walking meeting rather than in a boardroom
  • Walk while you talk on the phone
  • Park the car in the furthest car park from the shops
  • Ritualize ZUU workout at home

Of course, if you love your gym classes or your runs, keep doing it. I love to run because it makes me feel good, but if you are someone who doesn’t like it, don’t do it.  Choose something you actually enjoy.

I love this approach to how we think about physical activity because it allows those who think they are not active to discover they either are or they can be.

Think about what Movement Snacks can be incorporated into your daily life and make them count.

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6 motivational quotes for inspiration

If you need some words of wisdom to inspire you, motivate your mind, achieve your goals, or overcome your fears, read on..

It can be overwhelming trying to make lifestyle changes. Your goal can feel so far away and almost impossible to achieve, and this can dissuade you from staying on your journey. Thoughts in your head are telling you “this is too difficult”, “you’re not strong enough for this”, “what’s the point”, “I don’t have the time”, “I’m too old

Instead of letting these negative thoughts cloud your mindset, find quotes that inspire you. Jonathan Fader, psychologist and motivation expert says the message that someone else believes you can achieve what you want to achieve can be a powerful incentive to try harder. “There’s a little bit of implicit coaching that’s happening when you’re reading [motivational quotes]. It’s building that self-efficacy in that kind of dialogue that you’re having with yourself,” Fader says

Here are some of our favourites:

“It’s not about perfect, it’s about effort. And when you bring that effort every single day, that’s where transformation happens. That’s how change occurs” – Jillian Michaels, Well-known American Personal Trainer, author and presenter.

“Little by little, a little becomes a lot” – Tanzanian Proverb and a bit of a mantra of ours here at Ritualize. Think of change as small steps you repeat over time to that you don’t feel overwhelmed.


“Become a priority in your life” – Lori Bregman – Author of  The Mindful Mom-To-Be: A Modern Doula’s Guide to Building a Healthy Foundation from Pregnancy Through Birth


When life puts you in tough situations, don’t say “Why me?”, say “Try me!” – John Assaraf, spiritual entrepreneur, philanthropist and teacher.


“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” —Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If you quit once, it becomes a habit. Never quit” — Michael Jordan

Do you have a favourite quote? We’d love to read them, so share them with us in the comments below!

Thinking about your why can also be a motivation to reach your goals.