Early Risers

Do you ever long to be one of those people who wakes up early enough to have the time to exercise, have a nice breakfast, and get a head start on the day? How about feeling more proactive and more productive right from the get-go? Of course, both genetics and lifestyle impact our circadian rhythms. Giving myself ample time to start the day is something that I apply myself to cultivate on a daily basis. For the longest time, I didn’t see myself as a morning person, per se, but I now realize that by tweaking just a few things, this can actually change. Six simple strategies can be used in order to enjoy seeing the sunrise every day if you wish!

Progressively Modify Your Wake Time

Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier each day until you reach your desired wake-up time. Keep that same time on the weekends too to better reinforce this new habit.

Plan Something You Love Doing

Start the day with something you are really looking forward to like a delicious cup of coffee or tea, a morning yoga routine, or a sitting meditation session. It can easily be 20 minutes of “me time.”

Let the Light In

Let the light in as soon as you wake up by opening the curtains/blinds and turning on some lights if it is still dark. Light directly impacts our internal clock. Even better, go outside between 2 and 10 minutes within half an hour of your wake-up time, if possible. Even on a cloudy day, we are exposed to a whole lot more light outside than if we stay indoors under bright lights. You can get a free “lightmeter” app to check this out!

Eat at Regular Times

Along with daylight exposure, eating at regular times helps establish and maintain a normal circadian rhythm. Eat breakfast when you wake up, lunch at approximately the same time each day, and dinner no later than 7:00 p.m. (2-3 hours before bedtime).

Exercise 

Exercise is another wonderful cue for circadian rhythm alignment or reset. Exercising in the morning stimulates the brain and body by increasing blood flow. Exercise has been shown to lead to improved memory recall, focus, and cognition. Exercising outside, enjoying the natural outdoor light is even better of course to feel fully awake!

Go to Bed Earlier

In order to wake up earlier full of energy, you need to go to bed earlier too. As mentioned in 5 Steps to a Better Night’s Sleep, turning down the lights at night, avoiding exercising near bedtime, and not drinking coffee late in the day are three important steps to follow. Deep breathing exercises can help you de-stress at the end of the day. Avoiding digital devices at least an hour before bedtime is also highly recommended as those will keep you engaged when it’s time to wind down.

Sooner than you think, chances are, you will wake up ready to take on the day like never before!

Until next time!

Reference

Henderson, Kim. “6 Simple Ways to Become an Early Riser.” Brain Health Blog | BrainMD | Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D., 11 Nov. 2020, brainmd.com/blog/6-simple-ways-to-become-an-early-riser. Accessed 31 July 2021.

You can also find me on Instagram.

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Biohacking: What is it? 

Last Saturday, I attended the second Virtual Biohacking Conference hosted by Dave Asprey. It was just as interesting and enriching as the first one, with renowned speakers talking about a variety of topics such as cellular regeneration, fasting, metabolism, sleep, longevity, resilience, brain cognition, nutrition, meditation, functional medicine, the science of energy, and stress control. As explained by Dave Asprey, biohacking is “the art and science of changing the environment around you and inside of you so you have full control of your own biology.” Biohacking is about using the available science to make informed choices that will lead to a better you! What follows are 8 biohacks most “biohackers” implement progressively. These were mentioned at the conference in a talk by Nicole Petersen, RD.

Fasting

Intermittent fasting can be done by skipping meals, time-restricted eating, alternate-day fasts, or multi-day fasts. Fasting has been shown to help with weight loss, blood glucose control, and a cellular cleanup process called autophagy which may help promote longevity.

Sleep 

Consistent good-quality sleep is needed for your body to repair and your brain to clean itself of toxins. As mentioned in a previous post, to improve your chances of having a good night sleep, you may want to do the following: do not drink coffee after 2 p.m. (for most people), limit your exposure to blue and bright light at night (different software -like f.lux– and blue-blocking glasses are available), and sleep in a room that is fairly cold (around 60 to 67-68 degrees Fahrenheit) and pitch-dark. To get more tips on how to establish and maintain a normal circadian rhythm, check out this very informative Huberman Lab podcast

Cold

Regular exposure to cold may allow your body to burn more fat, help with recovery after exercise, and enhance your immune system and mood. So give it a try! It can be taking a cold shower (just a few seconds at first is fine), swimming in a cold body of water, or using a cryotherapy chamber. Exposure to cold can make you feel so energized and alert!

Light 

Adequate sunlight exposure helps with sleep, mood, and allows your body to synthesize vitamin D. Vitamin D3 helps with inflammation in the body, boosts proper immune cell function, and aids with optimal insulin production. Aside from the full spectrum of light you get from the sun, there is also red light therapy (at about 600 nm wavelength). The latter may help with mitochondrial function, increase circulation, and lessen inflammation. Light is a nutrient we definitely want to take advantage of (in a responsible way, of course).

Food  

The food you eat has a great biological impact on your body. Food provides nutrients and energy. It also encodes information (instructions telling your body what to do). The great news is that we have full control over what we eat (or do not eat) every day. See which foods are the most beneficial to you and eliminate the ones that make you weak.

Supplements  

You may choose to buy a few supplements too depending on your needs and goals. Make sure the supplements you select are from trusted sources and definitively consult your personal physician beforehand.

Movement

We are meant to be active, engaging in regular physical activity throughout the day, each day. This means any type of movement depending on your preferences and routine. The main idea is to “build your day around movement.” It can be a morning stroll, strength training, HIIT, shifting positions throughout the day (if at a desk at work, for instance), etc. Regular physical activity is shown to help with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several cancers. It further helps with hypertension, keeping a healthy body weight, enhancing mental health, quality of life, and well-being.

Breath   

Learning how to breathe consciously will help you become more calm, present, and centered. You want to breathe in and out through the nose, doing belly/diaphragmatic breaths at a slow pace (6-12 breaths per minute) and in a rhythmic way. Beyond this basic breathing pattern, there are numerous breathing exercises you may want to experiment with to have a better handle on your autonomic nervous system. Deep breathing techniques can aid with lowering heart rate and salivary cortisol levels, enhancing mood, and lessening stress.

Now the choice is yours: which biohack will you implement first? 

And don’t forget meditation and gratitude!

Until next time!

Thinking About Going Primal/Paleo for the New Year: What Does That Entail?

As mentioned in my previous post, going primal/paleo is about adopting a new lifestyle that emphasizes building new habits to clean up our diet, exercise more optimally, have better sleep hygiene, and learn how to manage the stress in our lives. It focuses on adopting an ancestral health approach. 

In my previous post, I listed which primal/paleo staples were good to have on hand to start eating in a more “ancestral” way. I am now going to explain what exercising in a primal/paleo way means.

So What About Exercise?

Exercising in a primal way is approaching daily movement and exercise in a non-demanding way (the opposite of chronic cardio). It is embracing a life of daily activities that makes time for frequent breaks to stretch and move around enough. Exercising in a primal/paleo way (as explained in The New Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson) comprises of:

  • Flexibility/Mobility practices: yoga and pilates, for example, allow for greater mobility and flexibility, while strengthening muscles, including the core. Mobility exercises are beneficial to the tendons, ligaments, and fascia that support the entire musculoskeletal system.
  • Move frequently: make everyday movement (short walking breaks, evening strolls, etc.) a default habit, along with well-designed cardio workouts at 180-minus-age heart rate in addition to the flexibility/mobility practices mentioned above.
  • Schedule: Try to align your workouts (type, frequency, intensity, and duration) with your energy levels each day. Having an Oura ring (which I recently purchased) can help you track your overall readiness each morning.
  • Shoes: progressively allow some barefoot time for low-risk activities to strengthen feet and replicate natural range of motion. Opt for shoes with minimalist design (like Vibram Five Fingers, Nike Free, Merrell, Inov-8, etc.), but make sure you go from a regular 8mm shoe (to maybe a 4mm shoe) to a zero-drop shoe gradually in order to give your body enough time to adjust.
  • Sprinting: all-out efforts of 8 to 20 seconds every 7 to 10 days only if fully energized. Some easier “wind sprint” sessions for conditioning can also be included more regularly.
  • Strength training: brief, intense sessions of 10 to 30 minutes; twice a week is plenty. Go for full-body, functional exercises that help with athletic competency.
  • Stretching: minimal, full-body, functional stretches (like the Grok Hang and the resting Grok Squat) after exercising and/or simply at the end of the day are recommended too.

On a Final Note

You can also check my article on The Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid which sums up what should be at the core of an individual’s movement regimen in order to be fit in the most down-to-earth way.

Until next time!

Reference
Sisson, Mark. The New Primal Blueprint : Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy. Oxnard, Ca, Primal Blueprint Publishing, 2017, p. 482.

You can also find me on Instagram.

A Good Stretch Can Go a Long Way!

No matter what our daily activities are, standing or sitting, we can easily tax our backs. So it is essential to incorporate movement throughout the day along with regular stretching to loosen tight muscles and enhance circulation to help nourish the spine. When we do this every day (making sure the form is correct for each movement/exercise of course), this can help strengthen the back, making it more resilient with a spine that is strong and flexible.

What follows are five stretches that can help strengthen the back.

Child’s Pose

This helps with mobility of the spine and relaxation of the lower back muscles.

  • Begin on all fours. Sit your hips back on your heels if possible (if not, you can put a pillow on your heels and sit back on the pillow instead). Your knees are wide open and your big toes are touching. 
  • Reach out your arms forward while your forehead is resting on the floor. 
  • Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds at a time. Repeat 3 times while breathing in and out deeply for maximum relaxation. 

Cat Back

This exercise helps with spine flexion and extension. It promotes proper movement and function of the spine as a unit. The directions are from an Egoscue Method zoom session I attended this year.

  • Start on your hands and knees, where your wrists are placed directly under your shoulders and your knees directly underneath your hips. 
  • Starting with your hips, tuck your pelvis to round your lower back and spine up towards the ceiling while dropping your head and pulling your shoulder blades away from each other. [Breathe out as you are doing this].
  • Starting with your hips, roll your pelvis forward to put the arch in your back while collapsing your shoulder blades together and look up toward the ceiling. Be sure not to shrug your shoulders towards your ears. [Breathe in as you are doing this].

Hip Crossover Stretch

This exercise helps with hip and spinal rotation. The directions are from an Egoscue Method zoom session I attended this year.

  • Lie on your back with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor pointed straight ahead. 
  • Place your arms out to the side at shoulder level, with your palms flat on the floor. 
  • Cross your left ankle over your right knee and rotate the ankle/knee junction down toward the floor. Your left foot should now be flat on the floor, along with the outside of your right leg. 
  • Look in the opposite direction and relax your shoulders. 
  • Press the left knee away from your body using the left hip muscles. 
  • Hold [for up to 1 minute], then switch sides and repeat. 

Hamstring Stretch

When we have to bend and lift things (making sure we practice the hip hinge), having flexible hamstrings lessens the stress put on the back. 

  • Lie flat on your back. Place a yoga strap over and around the toes of the left foot and grab both ends of the strap firmly with your hands. Slightly activate the core muscles.
  • Slowly raise the left leg (pulling on the strap) until you feel a stretch in the back of the left thigh.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Psoas (Hip Flexor) Stretch 

If we sit a lot, the front of the hips (where the psoas muscle is) gets really tight and this puts stress in the lower back when we do things upright by pulling the lower back forward. Stretching that muscle can help with that issue. 

  • Step forward with the right leg and bend the knee at about a 90-degree angle. Keep the right knee positioned above the right ankle. (If you have any knee issues you can instead put the right foot on a stable chair or couch, for instance, and bend the right knee. In that case, the left leg will not lie on the floor, of course). Hold on to something if needed.
  • Extend the left leg behind the torso and touch the floor with the left knee. The lower leg lies on the floor. 
  • Move the hips forward (doing a slight pelvic tilt and activating the glutes), pushing the right knee in front of the right ankle. Make sure to keep the right knee pointing forward. You should feel the stretch in the hip area on the left side.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Hope this helps whatever you have to do this holiday season! (And always consult your personal physician before starting anything new). 

Happy Holidays!!

References

“5 Best Back Pain Stretches for Immediate Back Pain Relief.” Dave Asprey, 20 Aug. 2018, daveasprey.com/best-back-pain-stretches-pain-relief/. Accessed 29 Nov. 2020.

Nelson, Arnold G, and Jouko Kokkonen. Stretching Anatomy. Champaign, Il, Human Kinetics, 2007, pp. 98–9, 104–7.

You can also find me on Instagram.

What to Prioritize

No matter where we are in age, there are always things we can tweak in order to feel better. To improve or simply maintain our health and energy levels as we get older, there are numerous things we need to work on. Once you start digging, it can look like a never-ending list of strategies to implement and it can be overwhelming. Maybe you don’t know where to start or maybe you are not sure at times that you can keep the goals you have set for yourself.

It’s important to keep in mind that only three things are at the foundation of feeling better: adequate sleep, nutrient-dense foods (which implies doing away with processed foods), and enough exercise/movement throughout the day. These are the pillars needed to build a stronger you. There is more to add to that, of course, but if you don’t prioritize these three things first, whatever else you implement will fall short.

Adequate Sleep

In How to Be Well, Dr. Frank Lipman said, “Some reasons to make sleep a priority: it’s when your body repairs, restores, maintains, and detoxifies itself. How you sleep is as important as how you live during waking hours.” Dr. Lipman recommends, for instance, to:

  • Go to bed when you’re tired.
  • Don’t eat your evening meals too late.
  • Avoid alcohol close to bedtime.
  • Leave technology (and TV) out of the bedroom.
  • Sleep in a very dark room.
  • Stay comfortably cool at night (in a room that is around 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit) as it has been demonstrated that one sleeps better that way.
  • Don’t go to sleep angry.

Nutrient-dense Foods

I had mentioned in a previous post about The Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid which types of foods someone should consider eating (according to the primal/paleo template). The bulk of any meal is vegetables. In smaller quantities then comes meat, fish, fowl, and eggs. The middle of the pyramid highlights the importance of consuming healthy fats, followed by certain foods you can eat in small amounts. Lastly, herbs, spices, extracts, and supplements top the pyramid of primal-approved foods.

Keep in mind that even these primal-approved foods may not work well for everyone. It is up to you to experiment and see how your body responds to each food you consume. To be more attuned to your body and how foods make you feel on a daily basis is part of becoming more knowledgeable about your health and overall wellness.

Exercise/Movement Throughout the Day

In a previous post about The Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid, I had explained how moving and exercising enough shouldn’t feel like yet another challenging goal to put on your to-do-list. Our ancestors were doing basic functional movements (squat, crawl, walk, run, jump, climb, carry, throw, etc.) when going about their daily activities.

Our lifestyle has changed tremendously over the centuries, especially in the last 100 years, but this doesn’t mean that we cannot throw in a few stretches and bodyweight exercises (for instance) as simple 1-2-minute-breaks throughout the day every day. Moving frequently, exercising your muscles and getting your heart rate up occasionally is all you have to do.

In Summary

Adequate sleep, better-quality foods, and exercise/movement throughout the day are the necessary first steps on your quest to feeling better before implementing other strategies. The same goes if you want to address daily stress. When we feel rested and with a nice flow of energy, we feel grounded and able to deal with each day’s ups and downs.

Until next time!

References

Gottfried, Sara. Younger : A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years. New York, Ny, Harperone, 2017, pp. 68–69.


Lipman, Frank M D. How to Be Well: The 6 Keys to a Happy and Healthy Life. Houghton Mifflin, 2019, pp. 108-9.

You can also find me on Instagram.

The Importance of Daily Movement

As I mentioned in my previous post, Why Everyday Movement is Non-Negotiable, it is said that when we have to sit for long periods of time, we should get up to stretch and walk around every thirty minutes or so. The same goes for if we are at a standing workstation. It is important to incorporate movement throughout the day to nourish our cells. A few squats or other simple exercises can be nice little breaks throughout the day. That way, going to the gym after work can be optional.

As a matter of fact, if you think that going to the gym for one hour can make up for a long day of sitting for hours, that is not the case. We want to shape our daily life so that it is as similar as possible to how it was during hunter-gatherer times. And when it comes to movement, it has to be varied motion throughout the day. Taking short walks in the morning, at lunch, or after dinner, whenever you have a few minutes can be a great addition to your daily movement regimen. Start trying whatever fits your schedule best and be sure to only implement one change at a time in order to ensure adherence to it. 

Each day, I do a certain amount of stretches. Stretching is a habit most of us can benefit from, no matter what our fitness level is (Just make sure you get the okay from your personal physician before starting any new exercise routine). What follows are 5 simple leg (& hip) stretches that can easily be done every day.

Calf Stretch

  • Stand facing a wall 1 to 2 feet away.
  • Place your hands on the wall.
  • Keeping the right foot in place, position the left foot 1 to 2 feet behind the right foot.
  • Bend the right knee and lean towards the wall as you are keeping the left heel on the floor, 2 to 4 feet away from the wall. 
  • Hold the stretch for about 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Quad Stretch

  • Stand upright with weight balanced on the right leg (hold on to something if needed).
  • Keep the right foot pointing straight forward and the right knee almost straight.
  • Bend the left knee by grabbing the left foot or ankle tightly and pulling the left heel backward and upward without over flexing the knee. Also, do not let the left knee go out at the same time.
  • Push the hips forward by doing a slight pelvic tilt.
  • Hold the stretch for about 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Hamstring Stretch

  • Lie flat on your back. Place a yoga strap over and around the toes of the left foot and grab both ends of the strap firmly with your hands. Slightly activate the core muscles.
  • Slowly raise the left leg (pulling on the strap) until you feel a stretch in the back of the left thigh.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Psoas (Hip Flexor) Stretch

  • Step forward with the right leg and bend the knee at about a 90-degree angle. Keep the right knee positioned above the right ankle. (If you have any knee issues you can instead put the right foot on a stable chair or couch, for instance, and bend the right knee. In that case, the left leg will not lie on the floor, of course). Hold on to something if needed.
  • Extend the left leg behind the torso and touch the floor with the left knee. The lower leg lies on the floor. 
  • Move the hips forward (doing a slight pelvic tilt and activating the glutes), pushing the right knee in front of the right ankle. Make sure to keep the right knee pointing forward. You should feel the stretch in the hip area on the left side.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Piriformis (Hip Rotator) Stretch

  • Sit on the floor with the left leg extended.
  • Bend the right leg and place the right foot on the outside of the left knee.
  • Bend the left arm and place the outside of the left elbow against the outside of the upraised right knee.
  • Put the right arm on the floor near the right hip. 
  • Push the left elbow against the right knee, twisting the trunk as far as possible to the right. Maintain enough pressure with the left elbow to keep the right knee in a stable position. Do not arch the back or bend forward at the waist.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

So, which one is your favorite stretch?

Until next time!  

Reference
Nelson, Arnold G, and Jouko Kokkonen. Stretching Anatomy. Champaign, Il, Human Kinetics, 2007, pp. 78–9, 98–9, 104–7, 130–1.

You can also find me on Instagram.

How Easy Staying in Shape can be

Moving and exercising enough shouldn’t feel like yet another challenging goal to put on your to-do-list. Our ancestors were doing basic functional movements (squat, crawl, walk, run, jump, climb, carry, throw, etc.) when going about their daily activities. Our lifestyle has changed tremendously over the centuries, especially in the last 100 years, but this doesn’t mean that we cannot throw in a few stretches and bodyweight exercises (for instance) as simple 1-2-minute-breaks throughout the day every day. The Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid highlights how easy staying in shape can be without going overboard on any type of fitness activity. Moving frequently, exercising your muscles and getting your heart rate up occasionally is all you have to do.

Move Frequently

The base of the Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid is comprised of three types of activities:

  • Flexibility/mobility, such as with Pilates, yoga, tai chi, gymnastics, dancing, and dynamic rolling/stretching/therapy work
  • Cardio workouts at your target heart rate (Cycle, hike, walk/jog, water activities) – Your target heart rate is a simple calculation: 180 BPM – your age
  • More general daily movement to avoid prolonged inactivity

As mentioned in my post, Why Everyday Movement is Non-Negotiable, when we have to sit for long periods of time, such as when working at a computer, we want to get up, stretch, and walk a little bit every 30 minutes or so. The same goes if we are at a standing workstation. Enough movement throughout the day is necessary for proper blood flow to be delivered to the different muscles we use, which means more oxygen and nutrients, along with “waste removal.” In short, moving throughout the day (along with other variables) ensures proper cellular health.

We also want to add a few cardio sessions done at a comfortable heart rate. No chronic cardio here. Whatever fits your schedule the best. Cycling, swimming, running, or even just walking are all good options, whatever your energy levels of the day make you feel like doing.

When it comes to working on improving flexibility and mobility, there are a plethora of options, as listed above. Yoga is my favorite, but I also do some basic stretches every day and some tai chi exercises. Having a foam roller handy is helpful too in order to massage muscles and break up knots.

Lift Heavy Things

To lift heavy things refers to strength training: brief, intense resistance exercises. It doesn’t have to be more than twice a week for 10-30 minutes at a time. In this category, you find basic bodyweight exercises like the 4 Primal Essential Movements (planks, pushups, squats, and pullups). Keeping things simple and not too demanding is a sure way to build a habit in a concise way. I like to do planks, squats, and bridges on a regular basis. You can also use free weights and resistant bands.

Sprint

Every 7 to 10 days, if you are 100% energized, you can do several 8-20 second bursts, during a cycling or running session, for instance. There is no need to do more than that. These short all-out sprints are a great addition to moving frequently and lifting heavy things on occasion for optimal primal fitness.

In Summary

The Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid highlights what should be at the core of an individual’s movement regimen in order to be fit in the most down-to-earth way. It is modeled after the ways our ancestors moved in everyday life. Simplicity is key. Moving frequently, lifting heavy things occasionally, and sprinting when you are fully rested is all you have to do. Including time for recovery, which includes adequate sleep and relaxation is mandatory. And it is also good to include play, which refers to any spontaneous outdoor physical activity like running around with your kids outside, or your dog. Being and staying fit is not a difficult goal to attain. The main thing to keep in mind is not to be in any specific position for a prolonged period of time. As they say, “The best position is the next one you will be in.”

Until next time!

Reference
Sisson, Mark. The New Primal Blueprint : Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy. Oxnard, Ca, Primal Blueprint Publishing, 2017, pp. 314–369.

You can also find me on Instagram.