Six ways to increase your energy

One of the most common reasons for people to see a naturopath is that they are really tired and lack energy. If you are feeling like this at the moment its important to understand why your energy is low but there are also several things you can introduce which may help improve your energy levels on a permanent basis.

The area of the body that produces energy is a component of each cell called a mitochondria, think of them like little factories. As we get older the number of mitochondria in the body can reduce, typically we see a halving of the levels between 20-40 and then again by the time we reach 70. These mitochondria can also be damaged by a range of environmental factors which means they don’t work as effectively and produce less energy.

There are a number of “hacks” which can improve both the number of these little factories and also the quality. Most people are aware of the benefits of regular exercise however they may not be aware that muscle cells will build more mitochondria as a result and they will operate more effectively. However often when people are really fatigued they are not in a position to exercise so these are my top six strategies for improving cellular energy. There are other strategies however this list focuses on those with minimal costs.

  1. Thirty minutes of daylight as close to waking as possible. This is an invaluable reset for your body’s circadian rhythms and helps you produce a reasonable amount of melatonin. Melatonin is important to generate sleep but turns out it also helps with cell repair and can improve energy. Literally one week of eating my breakfast outside followed by a short walk saw a significant improvement in my energy levels.
  2. Mild stressors for the body such as cold can improve energy quality. Its really important with this strategy to start with a very modest amount and slowly increase. A cold swim in a mountain stream might be the goal but start by having a minute or two of your shower with cold water. If you are very temperature sensitive start with it on your arms and legs and then gradually move to the trunk.
  3. Eat in a 11-12 hour window. Allow the bodies waste systems to function effectively by giving them a reasonable window to operate with. This is particularly important if you suffer from brain fog as a result of tiredness. This is really fairly straightforward and may just see you have breakfast at 8am and dinner at 7pm.
  4. Reduce your exposure to blue light from computers and devices. This could involve using blue light blocking glasses however a lower cost solution is as simple as switching off all devices at least one hour before your bedtime. Blue light blocks the production of melatonin and results in more difficulty in getting to sleep. Low melatonin will also reduce the ability of the mitochondria to repair themselves and result in a worsening of fatigue.
  5. Sleep in complete darkness using blockout curtains and turning off all lights and devices. Good quality sleep is essential for energy as cell repair happens during our deep REM cycles. Typically if you aim for 7-8 hours of sleep you will have between 3-5 REM cycles. Each cycle tends to be longer with the first being about 90 minutes. For more information on improving your sleep quality read my blogs on Can you build up sleep Pressure and Six Sleep Myths Debunked
  6. Reduce inflammation in your diet as much as possible. Chronic inflammation reduces your ability to produce energy in your cells. The first step could be avoiding any known allergens or intolerances and the second to try and ensure that you are having at least three cups of vegetables a day. For more information on reducing inflammation my blog on Post Viral Fatigue has some useful resources. More generally to understand which vegetables are most useful for your health What are the best vegetables for feeding your gut ?

There are also a range of strategies to improve energy using tailored diet plans and supplements however these need to be prepared in consultation with a practitioner to ensure that underlying triggers are identified and addressed.

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. You can make appointments on 02 8084 0081 on online at Elemental Health .

The high points of 2021

Lately I have had a song stuck in my head, not sure what its called, but I just remember the line – I fall asleep counting my blessings. So rather than making a bunch of New Year’s resolutions this year I prefer to reflect on the positives from 2021, both personal and professional ( and there were some!!).

First up for me was my son returning from Canada where he had decided to stay after the border closures in March, 2020. The return trip was a little fraught as he had had COVID a few weeks before departure. We were a little worried about him testing positive still and being unable to fly. At the point in time many flights were cancelled and friends of his had multiple attempts at getting home. Anyway lots of worry but at the end of the day turns out a flight on JAL when the Olympics was on was a good call. It kept to schedule and he made it home. Not only that but the flights were fairly empty and there was lots of room to spread out and sleep. Two weeks of hotel quarantine after he had already done two weeks of COVID isolation was a bit much for him but many care packs were delivered to his room. His sister organised technology to entertain him and we sent in food as well as recommending deliveries from Lettuce Deliver for in room salads.

Inevitably when he got home I was on a Board call on Zoom but pre-warned I just ran to the door and hugged him for a long time (and there were a few tears as well).

The protracted lockdown starting in June, 2021 came with new restrictions regarding your LGA and distances you could travel. This actually resulted in the family focussing on finding new walks as much as possible. Two big positives were finding some lovely walks in the Lane Cove National Park to add to our rotation and meeting a friend on a regular basis to walk around the Wildflower Gardens at St Ives. The weather through this lockdown fortunately was very favourable and we did improve our fitness levels overall.

Another big decision for me at the start of lockdown was continuing to do a weekly Pilates class with Village Pilates on Zoom. Initially I wasn’t convinced but it was a great decision to try it and it really gave my week structure as well as helping to maintain the fitness and balance that classes had already developed. The other benefit was having three other people to catch up with on a weekly basis and this led me to developing my own webinar series initially “Reset in Lockdown” and then a “Spring Reset”. Each week I really looked forward to the challenge of developing content and also the great questions each group asked. (If you want to listen to some of the content click here for the Reset and Recharge in Lockdown ).

Zoom or Microsoft Teams was also instrumental in giving me access to a range of Government consultations and meetings on behalf of my two Boards, COSBOA and the Australian Traditional Medicine Society. In one week I attended consultations on re-opening in three States and our CEO did a further consultation for Tasmania, something that would not have been possible before as physically I would have been unable to attend meetings in three different States. Online access really assisted in my advocacy efforts as it enabled me to participate in a much broader range of meetings than our association budgets would have enabled. Further it helped keep me sane as I love being able to assist in solving problems and working for small business and natural medicine.

The real eye opener for me about inclusion was in part due to an event I attended in early May as part of my COSBOA role. The National Innovation Games was in Newcastle where the theme was Inclusion 365: Navigating physical and digital worlds. For many people with disabilities COVID had opened up access to a broad range of events through digital access, as well as providing better access to medical services with the broader provision of telehealth. The National Innovation Games is a design and critical thinking challenge where teams work on real world challenges for businesses. In this Games we were working with the City of Newcastle to develop concepts to support disability access. The team I was working with developed a concept for an app which would provide information on the best path for someone to travel around Newcastle, incorporating real time updates from existing sources to advise of possible obstacles. We did come in second place although another team with a similar concept came first so we will claim equal first place.

Another personal highlight for me was being told by my daughter that she had referred to being brought up by a strong kick-ass woman. So I will finish the year on that high point. Strong women, may we be them and may we raised them.

Wishing you all the best for 2022, please share your highlights from 2021 in the comments.

Can you build up sleep pressure?

Good quality sleep means that we can build up enough pressure to induce sleep. It is part of the equation with your circadian rhythm. If you are finding it difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep it may be that you haven’t build up enough sleep pressure.

What stops you building pressure to sleep? The major areas that you can influence are chronic pain, blue light, and stress. Age and genetics also play a part but these factors are less influenceable.

Chronic Pain affects your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. Lack of sleep can also increase the risk that you develop a chronic pain condition. There are a number of natural medicine options in pain management however it will depend on what medications you are taking. Generally these conditions will be helped by regular gentle movement. Supplements which can be helpful include high strength fish oils, curcumin and PEA.

It can also be helpful to manage chronic pain with regular bodywork such as osteopathy or massage. If you are very sensitive it can be worthwhile to look at gentle treatments such as craniosacral therapy or lymphatic massage.

Most people seem to know that they shouldn’t use devices in bed but don’t necessarily realise that using the devices for up to 3 hours before bed may affect their sleep. How does it do that? At night the body increases its production of melatonin, this helps activate and maintain sleep. The blue light emitted by your device signals the brain that it is still daytime and can delay production of melatonin for 1-3 hours. Ideally stop using your phone or other device at least 1-2 hours before bed. Watching TV from a distance of up to 2 metres and looking away every 20 minutes can be a good way to reduce the impact.

Some non- pharmaceutical options for blue light exposure include wearing anber reading lenses two hours before bed which improved sleep quality after just a week. Getting morning sunlight has also been shown to be helpful in resetting the circadian rhythm. the nutrient lutein and Zeaxanthin assist in filtering blue light. These nutrients are found in green leafy vegetables and egg yolks.

Stress is of course another big area for interrupting sleep. Chronic long term stress elevates cortisol and can result in the pattern of early morning waking (4-5) and difficulty getting back to sleep. Stressors are different for different people but two of the most common concerns at the moment are unrewarding jobs and anxiety about health. Generally being in a job where your efforts are not rewarded can be a source of ongoing stress.

There are a number of stressors which result in a job being perceived as unrewarding and surprisingly its not about dollars for many people. A British study by Micheal Marmot found that cardiovascular risk as a marker for stress was not highest amongst those at the top but actually lower. It actually correlated with the amount of control that people had over their work and working environment. It is essential to build in processes that allow people flexibility in their work and increase their control as well as avoiding micro management. If you are in an environment where your work is subject to rigid control and micro management it can be worthwhile looking at whether changes can be made.

The second area of anxiety for many people is anxiety about health and this can be particularly acute when a “pandemic” is declared. Worse still with the media constantly triggering you with daily corona counting it can be difficult to stay calm. If this is affecting you generally staying off social media and looking at some routines to calm your brain such as meditation can be helpful. There are a couple of useful apps in this regards including Calm and my current favourite Gaia, which has a range of meditations as well as yoga classes. Still its ideal to do this a couple of hours before bed and avoid screen time before bed as recommended.

The other way to reduce your anxiety about health is to ensure all your regular health checks are up to date and there is no physical reason for the anxiety. For some people who may be prediabetic or insulin resistant difficulties with blood sugar can result in problems with sleep. It can be a good idea to not only get a fasting blood glucose test done annually but also consider whether a more comprehensive test like a 2 hour glucose tolerance test may provide more insight. Frequently in clinic the problems are early stage and occurring at the one to two hour mark.

Reducing caffeine intake and incorporating some carminative herbs can also be useful and you could substitute some calming chamomile tea or peppermint tea as an alternative. These teas before bed could assist in improving sleep pressure.

For more information about sleep have a look at 6 Sleep Myths Debunked .

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health St Ives. If you would like more help with identifying the causes of your poor quality sleep and modifying them you can book in for appointments on 02 8084 0081.

Upskilling and recharging

Spending time at home gives you the opportunity to try things that you may have been wanting to try but may never had the time.  One of my goals is to meditate daily and work my way through all the webinars I signed up for but never got the time to watch. Below are a few ideas to keep you occupied over the next few weeks whilst nurturing mind, body & spirit.

Take an Online course

There are lots of online courses available to cater for every need. TAFE NSW is currently offering 21 courses free of charge.  These range from business administration through to e marketing and are aimed at upgrading skills and giving a qualification which can be used to get back into the workplace.  Further information can be found at Tafe NSW Fee Free Courses .

Coursera offers a range of courses from business and universities, some of which are free.  These are mainly IT and technology based.

Khan academy offers short videos on a range of subjects from mathematics, science through to history.  These are informative and very easy to follow.

Udemy also offers a wide range of short courses free of charge.

Exercise

Staying physically active is important not only for cardiovascular health but also for flexibility.  If you are not used to exercise, then it is important to start with postural exercise to prevent injury.  If you use Instagram then #Move U have some good stability demonstrations.  If you are looking for classes then the Les Mills app is great for classes ranging from Bodypump through to Bodyjam which is a dance type class. F45 in Mona Vale are live streaming HITT classes but do require a membership.  Conny Pulvermacher is livestreaming Yoga classes from The Yoga Room at St Ives have a look at the timetable and see what works for you.

Get Google Arts and Culture

Google arts and Culture, allows you to take virtual tours of some of the top museums, galleries and theatres of the world.  So whether you want to visit  the Natural History museum in London or the teatro bibiena then try Arts and Culture google.

Meditate

Life at the moment can leave many of us feeling stressed, anxious and overwhelmed not knowing what the future will bring.  Meditation and mindfulness apps can help aid in relieving some of these feelings.  Puregym gives a good summary of some of the more popular mindfulness apps. My personal favourite is Gaia which offers you the option to choose the length as well so I have a favourite 12 minute meditation.

Ferment

Fermented foods are great for gut health and general wellbeing, but can be quite expensive.  They include Kombucha, Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Kefir and a whole range more.  Each different type of ferment has a different array of friendly bacteria.  Once you get the hang of them they are very simple to create and quite addictive to make.  If you would like to know more then Holly Davis has written a beautiful book called Ferment.  She also has some beautiful recipes on her website .

Learn a language

There are a number of free online language courses available so if you have ever thought you would like to expand your lingual skills try these websites.

French http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/french/

Spanish http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/

Italian http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/italian/

Go to the Theatre

Whilst we can’t travel overseas one advantage of the current situation is that theatres are opening up production libraries to enable us to have the experience from the comfort of home. Time Out has produced a list of productions with streaming options in New York and London and Sadler Wells dance company is offering a range of shows free online as well .

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. You can make appointments for an online consultation currently but she will be back in her clinic at St Ives from 1 May.

Greening Christmas

XmasThis year think about reducing your footprint and making Christmas a little greener. Here are a few suggestions from fellow Naturopaths for you this year.

  1. Brown Paper Packages – most gift wrapping can’t be recycled so this year use brown paper and some fun stamps or fir sprigs to create an attractive Xmas wrapping. Brown paper is also highly cost effective at $10 for 30m at Officeworx.
  2. Kris Kringle – avoid buying lots of gifts which may end up in landfill and consider doing a Kris Kringle where everyone draws a name and buys one gift for the person on the list. The best thing about a Kris Kringle is that it saves hours of driving around looking for gifts as well.
  3. Gift of expertise – is there something you make or bake really well? Consider making some delicious chutney, jam or fermented vegetables in bulk and giving them at Christmas. Berries are in abundance at this time of year so its perfect for making jam. My husband’s Scottish grandmother made the most amazing shortbread and every year she would bulk buy butter when it was on sale to prepare her shortbread at Christmas. It’s still the best shortbread I can remember eating.
  4. Buy a real tree it has already sequestered some carbon. It is recyclable and in some countries now they run pickup programs to turn them into mulch for parks. Better still support your local Scouts group who often organise a Christmas tree sale as a way of fundraising for their activities. Check out scouts.com.au for details.
  5. Go Local First – cut down on the driving and support local businesses. Its also easier to drive to your local shops and pick up all your Christmas food at one time. Have a look at the @golocalfirst campaign on Instagram and Facebook for inspiration as to local or Australian owned businesses you can support this year. Great gift options could include Australian bush flower themed gifts from local supplier Bell Art or vouchers from local businesses that have had lockdowns like your local massage practitioner or beautician.
  6. Share the load – if friends or family are running an event offer to bring something like a dip and vegetable platter to help with the catering. That way you have a healthy option to eat and you take a load off your host or hostess. If you are the host for Christmas day ask family members to bring along part of the meal. Its a lot easier if everyone contributes and it reduces the stress on the host considerably.
  7. Presence is presents – catch up with friends for a cuppa at a local cafe and spend time with them. Maybe put the phone on silent for an hour too unless you need it for pictures of the kids or to Instagram the meal.
  8. Regiftmas – if you do end up with a number of presents that aren’t really you consider organising regiftmas. Everyone brings a gift they won’t use and puts it in the middle. Each person takes it in turn to “steal” a gift someone else has received or unwrap another present themselves. Alternatively look at giving them to a local charity. Women’s refuges are often happy to receive new toiletries and local charities often appreciate clean unworn clothing.

Christine is a Naturopath based at Elemental Health St Ives and available for appointments on Tuesday and Wednesday if you need help managing Christmas stress on 02 8084 0081 .

Six sleep myths debunked

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Sometimes I think we are dealing with an epidemic of insomnia. The number of people that I see who have problems falling asleep or staying asleep is concerning. Recently I was fortunate enough to go to a seminar by a Sleep Physician which looked at all the research on sleep and I was surprised to find that some of my beliefs around sleep had in fact no basis in reality whereas other areas were more critical than I thought. Let’s start with some of the myths that originated from the Puritans.

  1. 16 hours awake, 8 hours asleep. This myth originates from a time of the Puritanical work ethic but is the root belief that we need 8 hours of sleep is derived from this time period.
  2. Sleep before midnight is more valuable – well actually no if you are a night owl trying to get to sleep earlier may result in more stress and less valuable sleep than if you work with your natural time clock. Going to bed at twelve and waking at eight may be a much better fit for you and result in better energy through the day. However if you need to get up early on a regular basis you may need to wind bedtime back to an earlier time to operate effectively.
  3. Waking is not normal. Actually the evidence shows we start with a deeper sleep cycle that gets progressively lighter and we usually experience up to 4 of these a night. For women over fifty it is normal to have the cycle peak and result in waking at least two to four times a night. Being stressed about waking will probably extend the period between cycles.
  4. Screens affect sleep . I have always told people that screens in the bedroom are not a healthy option either for their relationships or their sleep patterns. Turns out that it is partially right. TV screens at a distance are actually much less problematic than devices close up, largely due to the blue light of the devices. This blue light triggers wakefulness and can affect sleep adversely. Also the noises that most phone make even on silent can interrupt sleep.
  5. Eating impacts sleep but primarily if it represents a change in routine. Eating dinner at eight or nine isn’t a problem as long as its your regular option. The body will produce digestive enzymes in accordance with your regular routine. Its only when you change your routine that it may impact your sleep.
  6. Wake up refreshed actually less than 3% of people wake up like that. For most of us it takes two hours to get to 80% of your cognitive ability. Give yourself time to wake up in the morning before kicking into work mode.

For a lot more useful information about sleep check out the website sleephub.com for a variety of podcasts and other resources. Lets hope in future you wake up more like this.

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Hopefully after reviewing these myths and making a few changes you will start to feel as though you are having better quality sleep. If not make an appointment to see me and see how we can work on the causes of poor quality sleep. Appointments can be made on 8084 0081 or online at the website