Posts Tagged "health"

Bringing back the woo-woo…or the ‘ain’t no woo woo.’ Mindfulness, meditation and stress

Posted by on Dec 9, 2011 in anxiety, health, general, Meditation/mindfulness therapy | 0 comments

Are you familiar with the end of the year crunch? I’m in the midst of it and although life is scheduled to slow starting next week, I am finding that I am having difficulty keeping up. So, today, I’m bringing back the woo woo in hopes that it might influence my own inability to calm down the adrenals right now.

Apologies for being self-serving. To be truly honest, this is one of my favourite posts of this year so I’m bringing it back. One word at a time. Let’s start with the first:



It’s so elusive for many of us. And yet, so important to our overall health and wellbeing. In fact, researchers are finally discovering how relaxation actually counters changes that occur in our bodies that result from exposure to constant stressors.

For decades, Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Mind-Body Institute in Cambridge, MA and an associate professor at Harvard University, has been writing about the relaxation response, a “mind-body intervention that elicits deep changes in the physical and emotional response to stress.” Strategies that elicit the relaxation response include meditation, yoga, tai chi, Qi gong, deep breathing, controlled muscle relaxation and guided imagery. And although many would like to point to the “woo woo” factor at-play, an evolving and wide body of published literature is indicative of how interested the medical community is in the mid-body connection and the positive changes that these practices promote, including a slowing or heart rate, a reduction in blood pressure, improvements in blood sugar and fats, and even boosts in our immune system. However, what has long eluded researchers is what actually happens in the body to achieve these improvements.

In a novel study published in 2008 in PLoS ONE,  Dr. Benson and his colleagues looked closely at 19 volunteers who had practiced relaxation response strategies (e.g. meditation, yoga, repetitive prayers) for as long as 20 years and compared them to 20 novices, individuals with no relaxation practice experience. These novices were provided with training sessions for 8 weeks that included information about how to reduce daily stress and the relaxation response and a 20 minute, individually-guided session comprising diaphragmatic breathing, a body scan and meditation.For 8 weeks thereafter, the novices then used a 20-minute relaxation CD at home and were asked to review the informational brochures. Blood samples and analysis of gene expression between experienced and novel relaxation practices, and pre- and post-training were then compared.

Importantly, while the researchers observed distinct changes in the genes in experienced relaxation practitioners compared to novices, when the novices started to incorporate relaxation practice into their lives, they also started to express similar positive alterations in their genes. Moreover, these changes are directly related to how cells respond to stress and create free radicals and inflammation that can lead to long-term damage. Additionally, type of relaxation strategy that was practiced was of no important; by achieving a relaxation state, individuals could make positive changes in their cellular structures thought to promote health.

Both inner and outer psychological states and environmental factors play a role in how women experience peri and post-menopause, their self-esteem, attitudes and severity of symptoms. If a daily practice of some sort of relaxation strategy can actually alter genes in a way that improves health and well-being, why can’t that daily practice also improve the menopausal/midlife experience?

While I’ve long embraced the idea, I’ve never actually made a concerted effort to incorporate some sort of relaxation strategy into my daily activities. I’m going to change that. Ain’t no woo woo but a woot woot so far as I can tell.

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Wednesday Bubble: Exercise and Sexual Health – How you move affects how you groove. Guest post by Alexandra Williams, MA

Posted by on Sep 7, 2011 in aging, exercise, sexual health, women's health | 0 comments


Every now and then I like to shake things up in this space, which is why I asked fitness professional writer, speaker and radio host Alexandra Williams (aka @alexandrafunfit on Twitter) to lend me her expertise for a day. What I didn’t expect, however, was for her to rock the sexual health world with the revelation that exercise, i.e. how you move, affects how you groove. Frankly, if all it takes is exercise, you will find me adding an extra hour or so a day at the gym!

Show Alexandra some love. She’s witty and has been putting the fun back into fitness for for some time now…


Sexual health is defined by Mosby’s Medical Dictionary. as “a capacity to enjoy and control sexual behavior without fear, shame or guilt.” Sexual dysfunction is broadly defined by the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine as “disorders that interfere with a full sexual response cycle. These disorders make it difficult for a person to enjoy or to have sexual intercourse.”

The good news, especially for older adults, is that most sexual dysfunctions can be treated or alleviated through exercise. It has been found to increase sexual drive, functioning, activity and satisfaction, due to the physical endurance, muscle tone and body composition derived from exercise. In addition, exercise activates the sympathetic nervous system, which encourages blood flow to the genital regions. Even low levels of physical activity can elevate mood and help keep sex organs and muscles in better working condition. A 2000 study found that after just 20 minutes of vigorous exercise, women became more sexually responsive, while men had increased testosterone levels after short, intense bouts of exercise.

Frequency, level of desire, and enjoyment are also affected positively for those who engage in regular exercise, at any age. In 2004, a study of college-age students a strong correlation was found between fitness levels, self-perception, body image, social meaning, outward appearance and sexual performance and desire. These findings were replicated in studies of people in their forties and sixties. And of course, sexual activity itself counts as exercise!

One really interesting comparison of exercise and sexual activity, looked at heart rate and blood pressure during treadmill exercise and sexual activity (not simultaneously)! Unsurprisingly, participants spent more time in sexual activity than they did on the treadmill, but here’s the intriguing point – the treadmill exercise duration predicted sexual activity duration. For each minute of treadmill time, there was 2.3 minute increase in sexual activity duration!

There are also a number of sexual diseases and dysfunctions that are radically improved through exercise. For example, exercise has a protective effect on Type 2 diabetes, with pelvic floor exercises of specific value. A minimum of approximately 50% of overweight men with Type 2 diabetes have erectile dysfunction, a frustrating condition that is helped enormously by cardiorespiratory fitness.

Urinary incontinence is markedly improved via pelvic floor muscle training, with 100% of women reporting decreased incontinence frequency and duration. And it works for men too – after the strengthening training, incidences of urinary and fecal incontinence decreased, and erectile function increased. Pelvic floor exercises are also an effective modality for primiparous (giving birth only once) women who have vaginal deliveries. Desire and satisfaction go up, and pain goes down for these women.

Breast cancer survivors consistently report an improved quality of life (better physical functioning, reduced fatigue and pain) when they participate in physical activity. In addition, prostate and bladder cancer are positively affected by exercise, including its stress-reducing aspects.

Sexual activity itself has been found to help with cardiovascular disease, with researchers finding that sexual activity corresponds to light to moderate physical exercise and entails no significant risk to the majority of patients with cardiovascular disease (severe angina or chronic heart failure are exceptions).

There’s been a lot of research on the relationship between exercise and erectile dysfunction, which affects over 100 million men. The link between cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and erectile dysfunction is strong, and exercise is a mitigating factor on all three. Doctors who prescribe movement to patients with these three issues have reported high success rates. This is good news, especially considering that exercise is a less invasive treatment than medications, surgery or testosterone replacement therapies.

Sexual functioning and health is something everyone should have at any age. Exercise just may be the magic pill!

About the author…

Alexandra Williams, MA, has been in the fitness industry for over 25 years. She is the co-owner of Together with her twin sister, she writes, teaches and speaks on fitness-related topics, using wit and research! For more, be sure to write to Alexandra and Kymberly at if you are the sort of person who likes to put a voice to an image, be sure to check Alexandra and Kymberly out on their radio program ‘Fun and Fit.’


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Finish Line for the Big-M Was in Sight. Guest post by Sarah Bowen Shea

Posted by on Jul 25, 2011 in Early menopause | 4 comments

When writer/author Sarah Bowen Shea first pinged me on Twitter about her post, I was a bit skeptical. I had never had a conversation with her nor had she ever been on my radar. And let’s face it; I get a lot of daily solicitations because of Flashfree and my interest in menopause. However, when I clicked on the link, I discovered that not only did I love her writing, but that I loved her post. Moreover, a lot of you have been asking for posts on early menopause. 

I hope that you’ll show Sarah some love after reading this post and head over to her blog, Another Mother Runner and check it out; if you are interested in running, you may find some gems lurking  in the lines!

Despite being the one behind our sometimes-outrageous TMI Tuesday status updates (hotel sex, anyone?) on our Facebook page and writing the chapter in The Book about peeing, pooping, passing gas, and periods, I’m hesitant to pen this post. It’s about…menopause. My top three excuses? 1. My mom never had “The Talk” with me, so I’ve never been fully comfortable talking about, ahem, menstruation (or lack thereof). 2. There isn’t enough good slang for menopause (let’s rectify that, ladies!). 3. I am not 100% comfortable with being 45 years old…and getting dogged with early onset menopause. (There, I typed it. A first step, right?)

But I’ve decided to broach the topic because several fans have told us they wish we’d talk about it. Here goes: I’ve suspected for several years that early onset menopause  might be coming my way because I had secondary infertility due to elevated FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) levels. My doc said the two aren’t necessarily linked but they often are. Always a glass-half-full kinda gal, I didn’t dwell or worry—until last summer, when I started bleeding like crazy. If I’d gone swimming in shark-infested waters, I would have been fish-food: Heavy bleeding for a week, then 10 days off, then another heavier-and-longer period, then an 8-day reprieve, then another bleeding session…you get the bloody (literally) picture. Never one to rush in for medical advice, I merely grumbled, contemplated buying stock in Playtex, and fared forward until a good running friend urged me to see my OB/GYN. The doc did some bloodwork and said nothing was wrong except that, well, lookie there, my hormone levels showed I was already in menopause. (Gulp!) But she said menopause was a slippery thing: The real marker was absence of a period for one year.

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Wednesday Bubble: it truly is the best medicine

Posted by on Jun 29, 2011 in humour, Inspiration | 1 comment

I’m especially happy to write this Wednesday Bubble because it’s inspiring and makes me want to jump for joy! Or better, yet, laugh a little. And even though this has been posted previously on Flashfree, it’s never to late to remind ourselves of the lighter side.

Several years ago, researchers discovered that humor therapy and anticipation of laughing or being amused (also known as mirthful laughter) positively affects immunity. In fact, findings from a series of five separate studies among healthy men demonstrated that just anticipating watching a funny video could increase beta-endorphins (hormones that elevated mood) as much as 17% and human growth hormone (which contributes to more optimal immunity) by as much as 87%. Elevated hormones levels were maintained throughout the video and as long as 12 hours after. Conversely, hormone levels did not increase in men who who did not anticipate watching a humorous video and instead, browsed magazines.

Similar results were seen in another study among healthy adult women; this time mirthful laughter was associated with significant declines in stress hormones and improvements in natural killer cells, which contribute favourably to immune function.

Over the past two years, researchers have been examining the effects of mirthful laughter on actual disease states. Findings of a year-long study presented two years ago at the Experimental Biology Conference suggest that watching a funny, 30-minute video on a daily basis may impart a long lasting impact on health that includes:

  • Lower stress hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine) and related stress levels
  • Lower levels of inflammation that can contribute to disease
  • Significant improvements in HDL cholesterol
  • Significant reductions in harmful C-reactive protein levels (a protein that increase the risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke and death)

This particular study evaluated laughter in patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol who were also taking medication. Notably, similar positive outcomes were not seen in patients who did not have the benefit of watching the funny video.

What can we take away from this work and what does it have to do with menopause? Actually, I’d like to ask, what doesn’t it have to do with menopause and midlife?

During the transition, women are subject to hormonal stressors that affect mood, functioning, wellbeing as well as disease risk. If there are simpler, more natural ways to improve healthy states, for example, by daily laughter, shouldn’t we reach for them? I’d rather take a dose of funny over pharma any given day.

Here’s my gift to you: laugh today. And tomorrow. And the next day. And spread the joy. Nothing like a deep belly laugh to take some of life’s challenges away.

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Mindful living: learning to ask for help

Posted by on Feb 28, 2011 in women's health | 4 comments

How often do you ask for help? Better yet, how easily do you ask for and receive help?

Reading Karen Rosenthal Hilsberg’s “Lessons in Living” and her struggle to make sense of a life unraveled as her husband dies, I can’t help but reflect on a close friend who is ill. Despite a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude, he has had trouble acknowledging the seriousness of his condition and even more trouble asking for support. Quite honestly, he doesn’t do too well in that department and neither do I. However, like him, I readily offer assistance to those I love and care about, whenever I can.

So, why the divide between offering and taking?

Hilsberg writes that “what I learned during this intense time of life was profound. I learned to ask for help from others.” Utilizing the mindfulness practice of the Zen Master, Buddhist monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh and the Buddhist Master Thich Phuoc Tinh, she says that she discovered that asking for help really wasn’t much different than providing it, that the helper and ‘helpee’ were intertwined, unable to exist without the other.  By allowing assistance, she was able to provide others who cared about her and her family an opportunity to “be of service and to practice generosity” and in doing so, make a shift away trying to do everything on her own. Most importantly, by reflecting on how much she personally enjoyed being of service when loved ones needed her, she was able to accept how appropriate and okay it was to actually ask for help from others — to allow them to “do” as much as she did. The result? Her “wellbeing improved as [she] felt [her] burden shared by many hands.”

As caretakers, many women often do not adapt well to being on the “receiving end.” And yet,  most of us are aware of the importance of social ties, friendships and support to our health and wellbeing, particularly as we age. So why do we find it so difficult to ask for and receive help? How do we acknowledge that be cared for does not equate to losing power or control but actually improves outlook, wellbeing, and ability to deal with any challenges that we might be facing, that allowing others to “do” empowers and does not ‘de-power?’ Is it fear of refusal? Or fear of letting go?

Mastering the art of asking for help is difficult. However, it behooves us to do so, not only for our wellbeing but for the wellbeing of those around us who wish to help.

My friend deserves the kind of care that he has provided to others in his life for most of his life.

Guess what?

So do you.

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