The Power of Nature
A piece of advice that I was given during my training with Operation Flinders was ‘nature does 90% of the work’. This resonated powerfully with me. In my early 20s I climbed my way out of a self-inflicted hole riding a Mountain Bike acquired via a trade with one of my dodgy mates. Toiling up hills against nature, inhaling lung-full after lung-full of crisp, clean air was the catalyst for me righting the direction of my life. What I have learnt since is that it was not the battle against the wild that was so critical for me, it was the immersion in it.
The Science of Greenspace
There is a mountain of evidence proving the myriad health benefits of what the researchers call, ‘Greenspace Exposure’. A systematic review by Twohig-Bennet & Jones (2018) detailed the following benefits of Greenspace Exposure across the 143 studies included in their paper:
- Decreased heart rate.
- Decreased diastolic blood pressure.
- Improvements in Heart Rate Variability (HRV).
- Decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Decreased all-cause mortality.
- Decreased cardiovascular mortality.
- Decreased incidence of stroke, hypertension, dyslipidemia, asthma and coronary artery disease.
Furthermore, a systematic review by Wendelboe-Nelson et al (2019) found that approximately 70% of the 263 studies included in their paper reported a positive effect of Greenspace Exposure on Mental Health and Well-Being. This followed a 2018 Systematic Review of Greenspace Exposure on Children’s and Adolescents Mental Health (Vanaken and Dackaerts). This study highlighted the following benefits in young people:
- Reductions in hyperactivity.
- Improved attention.
- Reduced depressive symptoms.
To sum it up, our mind and body are tremendously grateful to us when we spend time in nature.
Watching it in action
I would not define the young people’s experience with Operation Flinders as ‘Greenspace Exposure’. Rather, it was a week of complete immersion in a wild, rugged and potentially dangerous environment.
Hydration and skin protection against the heat of days was of paramount importance. Then we rugged up and built shelter to fend off the cold and wet of night.
At lunch we’d sit and watch falcons work as a team to hunt a flock of finches. Then marvel at small rock pools filled with fish the size of my hands. How the hell did they get in there? We’d also keep small creatures for company at night- some with four legs, some with six, some with eight!
We would have our minds blown by gazing up and the stars at night and attempting to comprehend the reality of what we were looking at.
Over the course of the week, there was a clear change in all of the boys. Despite the mounting fatigue there was a loosening, a lightening. Conversations became more relaxed, but also deeper. There was more laughter and more tears as the week progressed. It was their toil in nature that did this.
The Critical Factor
Up at Yankaninna Station, there is no telephone and internet coverage. The boys were told to not bring their phones- most complied, but those that disregarded that advice had devices that could really only function as cameras, and could not be recharged. They were forced to disconnect from their online world, and spend a week wholly in the real world. This disconnection from the internet is crucial if you are to reap the rewards of ‘Greenspace Exposure’. If Operation Flinders ensured full internet coverage and recharge facilities for all of their participants I am confident the program would not be nearly as effective.
When I am out hiking, running or riding out in one of Adelaide’s beautiful conservation parks I am always a little dismayed when I see people with earphones in, or sitting and scrolling. If you do this, you are leaving so many benefits of your time outdoors on the table. Take your phone with you, but only as a safety device, not an entertainment device.
Nature has provided you with a symphony of sounds and spectrum of colours for you to enjoy. I urge you to show your gratitude by giving nature your full attention.
Twohig-Bennett, C., & Jones, A. (2018). The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes. Environmental research, 166, 628-637.
Vanaken, G. J., & Danckaerts, M. (2018). Impact of green space exposure on children’s and adolescents’ mental health: A systematic review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(12), 2668.
Wendelboe-Nelson, C., Kelly, S., Kennedy, M., & Cherrie, J. W. (2019). A scoping review mapping research on green space and associated mental health benefits. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(12), 2081.
PCOS is a fairly common condition in women (1 in 10), however there are many misconceptions out there about it. Check out these 7 myths about PCOS…
PCOS = infertility.
Having PCOS does not mean you are infertile. PCOS is a common cause of infertility due to the hormonal imbalances in the body blocking ovulation. PCOS women are still able to fall pregnant, and may or may not need a little help from their doctor.
You must have ovarian cysts if you have PCOS.
Wrong! The Rotterdam diagnostic criteria for PCOS requires 2 out of 3 of the following;
- Irregular menstrual cycles, AND
- Hyperandrogenism (excluding other causes), OR
- Polycystic Ovaries on an ultrasound*
*You do not need to have cysts on ovaries to have PCOS and cysts on the ovaries does not mean you have PCOS.
You have to be overweight to have PCOS.
Incorrect! In fact about 20% or more women present as healthy or underweight and are categorised as having lean PCOS.
There’s no cure for PCOS so there’s nothing you can do about it.
So soo wrong! It is true that there is no cure for PCOS, however, there are many ways to manage your PCOS and reduce your symptoms, including exercise, diet and supplements, some medications**, stress management and positive sleep behaviours.
**This depends on the underlying driver of PCOS. See Finding Your Root Cause of PCOS.
If you’re not trying to conceive there’s no need to worry about PCOS.
Unfortunately, PCOS can increase the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and anxiety and depression. If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS it is important to manage your condition to reduce your risk of developing other chronic health conditions.
All symptoms of PCOS are the same for every woman.
Not true. There are many symptoms of PCOS and you won’t experience all of them, or even experience them to the same extent that another woman does.
(Symptoms can include: irregular periods, hair loss, unwanted hair growth, acne, bloating, weight gain, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, or even loss of libido.)
There is a one size fits all way to manage PCOS.
As mentioned before, there are different drivers of PCOS, as well as differing symptoms, and most importantly… different outcome goals. Therefore managing PCOS will be different for each woman. If you’re looking to get pregnant your journey will look very different to if you’re looking to reduce your symptoms, or improve your health outcomes.
This is why it is so important to work with YOUR body and tailor your management plan to YOUR goals. And if needed working with health professionals who understand you and what you’re going through.
And there you have it! 7 myths about PCOS busted!
Every single woman on the planet will experience it during their 45 – 55’s. If you asked two different women, they’d tell you two different versions of what menopause was like. That’s because although the symptoms are common, not everyone experiences menopause in the same way….
Not to worry though, there is something you can do to help manage your symptoms and help you through this change in your life.
The 7 Benefits of Exercise for Menopause!
Exercise has been shown to provide several health benefits whilst you are going through menopause. Exercise can…
1. Help Manage Symptoms! (Woohoo!)
Exercise can actually help to manage and reduce some of the symptoms of menopause such as; aches and pains, loss of libido, and fatigue. Increasing physical activity will result in a positive cycle of feeling better, which will increase motivation to exercise, making you feel better, and so on. You’ll end up feeling better on the inside and out!
2. Boost your Mood!
Women going through menopause commonly struggle with mood changes, anxiety, depression, and stress due to the hormonal changes within their bodies. However, exercise can increase positive mood and also protect against anxiety and depression.
3. Prevent Weight Gain!
Due to changes in hormone levels during menopause women may find they gain weight more easily than before (especially around the belly). Exercise and healthy eating is a great way to reduce weight and prevent any extra kilo’s creeping on.
4. Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Disease!
Oestrogen plays a protective mechanism against cardiovascular disease. During menopause, oestrogen is reduced which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine can strengthen your heart and reduce risk of heart disease
5. Reduce Risk of Osteoporosis!
Oestrogen also plays an important role in maintaining bone density. The reduced oestrogen production during menopause can lead to decreased bone density, and thus increase the risk of osteoporosis. Exercise can strengthen bones and muscles, and improve balance reducing the risk of fractures due to falls.
6. Reduce Risk of Diabetes!
Changes in hormone levels during menopause can also affect the way your body reacts to insulin, potentially leading to diabetes. Exercise helps the body respond to insulin and remove excess blood sugars reducing the risk of developing diabetes.
7. Help Maintain Physical Function!
As our bodies age they start to decline in physical function (loss of muscle, loss of bone, decrease in balance, etc). Exercise is the perfect way to keep up your function and ability to continue to live the life you love. (And run around after your energetic little grandchildren!)
Awesome right?! You don’t have to just deal with this change you’re going through… There is something YOU can do to help yourself through it!
General Exercise Guidelines
150 mins of moderate exercise a week (or 30 mins a day over 5 days)
75 mins of vigorous activity a week
2-3x strength training days a week (non-consecutive days)
About the Author
My previous blog discussed admitting to my grief along with finding practical ways to contract skeletal tissue throughout the day. I want to build on from my previous blog, discuss routine and the importance to establish one during these times.
Whether inadvertent or not, you’ll have some form of routine. Routine maintains a strong sense of order and control which is definitely not obsessive or compulsive. More so, having your morning routine structured, along with a neat and organised environment decreases time wasting and increases efficiency.
When my routine was initially disrupted there was a sense of entropy which bought on a feeling of unease. I am now almost three weeks into my new morning routine. I’d like to share with you all what my morning now looks like. This may or may not provide some useful strategies to implement into your day. However, I am being a little bias to suggest that one or two of my morning rituals are very helpful! And of course evidence based!
Here we go:
4:30 am – arise
4:35 am – caffeine
4:40 am – Coronacast on RN (staying iNformed) along with a short stoic meditation podcast to increase my focus and drive for the day.
4:55 am – Twenty minutes of stretching for specific muscle groups that are restricting my mobility. Each stretch is timed with a countdown to enhance efficiency and maintain structure.
5:15 am – Four sets of 40-30 single leg calf raises (my calf’s are weak!) and I have Raynaud’s phenomenon.
5:25 am – Thirty minutes of guided meditation using the Ten Percent Happier app. (My morning meditation is working on good intentions for the day along with prolonged exhaling)
6:00am – Shower, dress, floss and brush my teeth.
6:20 am – Check emails and social media (social media time is restricted, which I’ll elaborate on)
So the above is now my new morning routine. I realise that not everyone is going to have the time that I have to dedicate to this. However, I strongly advocate that by creating calmness and stillness which ultimately is called mindfulness, you will greatly enhance mood, reduce blood pressure, increase creativity and so forth for the day ahead. Lastly, I found great benefit by delaying checking my emails and social media accounts until all of the aforementioned had been completed. I found that I was spending inappropriate amounts of time on social media trying to feel connected. When on reflection I was feeling more disconnected, whilst wasting time and thus not being productive. You may have noticed that I haven’t included any physical activity. I am exercising in the afternoons now. However, a brisk morning walk is highly valuable and a mindfulness activity in its own right!
In conclusion, if your routine has gone awry as mine did? I encourage you to plan and structure a productive routine to start your day. You won’t regret it!
About the Author
What would you say if I told you that there’s a health component that is more important for healthy ageing than the COMBINED effects of smoking, obesity, and diabetes?? Yet, the average GP is unlikely to mention this to you, much less actually test it. Could they be missing one of the most important assessments they should be taking at your check up? and consequently, not giving you some of the best health advice you could be getting?? Ok, enough with the cryptic questions. This is going to be a short but powerful article, because I know you don’t have time to waste. The answer to these questions is aerobic fitness. That’s right, your aerobic fitness is your best health predictor and effector. Not sure how, or if, you should tackle this? Read on!
Aerobic Fitness is your best health predictor
The graph below shows the highly significant effect that cardio-respiratory fitness (CRF, or aerobic fitness) has on premature death, particularly with its effect compared to other more commonly discussed health issues. I am truly baffled that while this SHOULD be common knowledge to health and medical professionals, they rarely apply it as part of their assessment or targeted treatment!
Attributable fractions (%) for all cause deaths in over 53000 participants in the Aerobics Centre Longitudinal Study. This is an estimate of the number of deaths in a population that would have been avoided if a specific risk factor had been absent. That is, if all smokers were non-smokers or all inactive persons were
getting 30 minutes of walking on at least 5 days of the week.
Effect of increasing fitness
Sure, you have been advised by your health professional that you should introduce exercise in your life… that you should get out for a walk or two during the week. The graph below shows us two critical things about this advice. First is the obvious difference in protective effect of general physical activity vs fitness. You are busy, and ‘exercise time’ is hard to schedule, so the last thing we want is for you to not get the best possible return on your time investment! This data show the multiplied protective effect that increasing your fitness has on your health compared to just ‘being active’. While your low level general incidental activity is important, having a focused and safe approach to improving your fitness will reap huge returns on your investment.
Second, if you don’t know where to start, this data show that just getting underway will give you great returns. In fact, as the graph shows, even if you shift the needle from being very inactive or unfit, to being just in the lowest quarter of either ‘active’ or ‘fit people’ you achieve the greatest return on your investment! For example if you are in the lowest 10% of either ‘active’ or ‘fit’ people, you get very little protective effect; but if you move to the 25th percentile in activity levels, you get about a 10% protective effect, but a whopping 40% protective effect for being in the 25th percentile in FITNESS levels!!
Estimated relative risk of cardiovascular disease by fitness and physical activity.
Williams, PT (2001) MSSE 33:754-761.
Let me summarise the point I’m trying to make: While being generally active (such as going for regular easy walks, etc) is good for your health, spending time getting FITTER will give you multiplied returns, in body composition, general capacity, and primarily in health, so you can get the most out of life for as long as possible! So if you are short on time, and have high expectations on your investments, then this makes a lot of sense. NOW, if you are concerned about increasing the intensity of your exercise due to health issues, or risk of injury, please get in touch with us. We have proven systems to improve your fitness in a safe and progressive manner.
I’d like to thank Associate Professor Lance Dalleck from Western State Colorado university for presenting to the iNform team and sharing his expertise on this topic.
About the Author
So you’ve been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
You might be sitting there wondering where to go from here? You FINALLY have an explanation for why you’ve been experiencing all those symptoms; hooray! This is good news (even if it doesn’t feel like it) because NOW you can do something about it.
Root cause of PCOS
Managing PCOS enables you to take back control of your life and it starts by finding the root cause driving your symptoms.
PCOS occurs when there is an imbalance of hormones in the body (this is what causes all those annoying symptoms you’ve been experiencing). So it makes sense the aim of managing your PCOS should be to determine what’s causing this imbalance and work towards re-balancing your hormones.
Insulin Resistance & PCOS
This is the most common type of PCOS. Insulin resistance occurs when the body stops responding to insulin, and both sugar and insulin levels in the blood start to rise. High levels of insulin can stimulate androgen production, thus disturbing the normal balance of hormones.
A blood sugar test from your GP can determine whether you have insulin resistance. If insulin resistance is driving your PCOS it’s particularly important to adopt a healthy and nourishing diet, and exercise regularly to manage and improve your blood sugar levels.
Inflammation & PCOS
Inflammation can be present in all types of PCOS. Things such as; stress, food sensitivities, poor gut health can lead to long term inflammation in the body. Long term inflammation can disrupt the body’s normal hormone levels and wreak havoc on both your physical and mental health.
Symptoms of inflammation are things like; fatigue, anxiety, IBS like symptoms, or joint pain (to name a few). If inflammation is the driver of your PCOS: determine your underlying source and start including positive lifestyle behaviours to support your body and manage your symptoms.
Adrenal & PCOS
If you don’t fit the insulin resistant or inflammatory type PCOS you may be one of the few women who have an adrenal form of PCOS. This occurs when the ovaries function as normal but the adrenal glands produce androgens in response to “stress” which can then result in an imbalance of hormone.
A blood hormone test (testing for DHEA/DHEA-S) from your GP would help determine whether adrenal glands are functioning as normal. If your stress response system is driving your PCOS, learning to manage your stress and support your nervous system is vital!
Knowing your root cause can be a game changer when it comes to better managing your PCOS. Now you can work towards re-balancing your hormones, improving your symptoms, and get back to feeling better day to day!
About the Author