I get asked about my muscle health routine all the time. Questions such as who do I see when I need treatment? Or, what do I do when I get injured? It may surprise you that many lifestyle factors that are good for your muscles are also good for your general well-being. Here are my top 5 tips for keeping your muscles healthy. Read, tweak, repeat!
- Eat Healthy
- I follow a healthy eating plan most of the time. My breakfasts rotate between eggs and veggies, smoothies or protein shakes and sometimes homemade kefir coconut yoghurt with nuts and berries. My lunches are a serving of protein such as wild caught fish,free range eggs or grass fed meat; a fat such as olive oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter or ghee with a big piles of salad or veggies and dinners are the same. I also add some sort of fermented food such as kraut, kimchi or kombucha and include prebiotics with my vegetables such as asparagus, arthichoke or on lazy days a glass of potato starch (completely tasteless). Snacks consist of nuts & seeds, home made very dark chocolate or the occassional homemade cookie, brownie or desert loaf. 1 day per week I increase my carbohydrate intake via healthy vegetable type carbs and lower my protein for anti-inflammatory purposes.
- This is what works for me, it has taken years of battling pain, weight, acne, stomach complaints and adrenal fatigue issues to figure this out. What works for you is probably going to look different to what works for me, but most of the research is pointing towards keeping our gut flora healthy with ‘real’ foods as appose to processed food, so that is a great place to start if that’s where you are at. I have put the name of a trusted nutritionist at the bottom on this blog if you would like some professional help to tailor your nutritional program. (1)
- I exercise in some way, shape or form everyday. This helps to keep my stomach bacteria healthy and happy, helps me to get a good nights sleep, helps with stress management, helps get me away from the computer, the list could go on! There are so many good things are about exercise. Australian Government guidelines state that adults should get between 150 – 300 minutes of moderate cardio or 75 – 150 minutes of intense cardio and at least 2 strength training sessions per week.(2) In regards to the cardio it is like a bell curve, the benefits occur to a certain point and then the benefits start declining to the point where over doing it can be detrimental to your body.
- In regards to the types of exercise I like to keep it varied for boredom reasons, life gets busy reasons and to allow different muscles to be used. I like Pilates, yoga, walking, running, cycling, swimming, 30 minute intense circuit style classes, weight lifting, rock climbing and hiking. Now I certainly don’t do all of these every week! I might have a few things planned ahead such as my weight days on Mondays and Thursdays but the other stuff just fits in around the rest of my life. But my rule without fail is I will exercise every day! My health and fitness is important to me, so I make it happen!
- Stress Management
- A big part of my stress management are the above mentioned categories. Eat right = feel right. My brain does not function well when I don’t eat well. I feel sluggish, sometimes get a headache and then my stress goes up because I can’t do what I want to get done! Exercise as well; when I exercise I tend to forget about my day during that 30-60 minutes, forget about all the deadlines, treatment options, how much study I have left to do… and just focus on me and how my body feels. Just letting the brain switch off from all that helps the rest of the day go smoothly.
- Meditation is also a key player. Every night I put on a meditation track as I go to sleep, it helps my body and mind to relax and switch off so I’m not left with issues of the day swirling in my mind. If I am finding a day particularly stressful I will also do a mini meditation on my lunch break or even a 1-minute meditation between patients if I have to! There are plenty 1 minute mindfulness meditation phone aps and websites you could take a look at, they are very good to bring you back to your present and focus on what is next rather than letting the past or the future concerns cloud your now.
- Talk it out. A close friend or family member is a must when it comes to handling stress. For me it’s not about venting (although I have learned over the years that people enjoy venting and it can be quite stress relieving for them) it’s about being able to see a situation from another perspective. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own world view we think that it’s absolute, but most of the time there are 10 different ways of thinking of a situation and therefore possibly more than 1 way to come up with a plan on a particular issue.
- Magnesium (& other nutrients)
- Okay, so it’s not just all about magnesium. There are plenty of nutritional factors researchers are finding linked to muscle health. Healthy gut flora, vitamin D, B-vitamins, omega-3’s, iron and so on. The reason I highlighted magnesium for myself is that my Naturopath discovered I have a tendency to be low in this electrolyte. My symptoms when low are thirst, tight or cramping muscles, muscle twitching (especially the eyelids) and vivid dreams.
- I sometimes take a magnesium supplement but I prefer not to. I make sure that my diet is as rich in magnesium foods as possible. If I do a lot of exercise I replenish my electrolytes through Himalayan salt which is rich in trace minerals, and I soak in a bath once a week with magnesium chloride flakes, magnesium sulfate (epsom salts) and bicarb soda. I also use magnesium chloride gel or oil on my skin most days. When it absorbs through the skin your body takes what it needs so you avoid the risk of getting too much. The signs of getting to much magnesium are weakness in the muscles, I have never had this reaction and don’t know anyone that has, but not to say it can’t happen. The nutritionist mentioned at the bottom of this post will be able to help you determine any areas of your nutrition that might be lacking and it may change over the course of your life or as you make lifestyle changes, so it is always a good idea to have a professional on your team.
- Early Intervention
- If I do happen to injure myself or start to tighten up. I seek assistance early. Sometimes I use the spiky ball or foam roller, I might get a Myotherapy treatment or a Osteopath treatment. I make sure I do the correct exercises to help relieve the problem such as specific stretches or strengthening exercises and because I do, I normally recover very quickly.
- I know because of my training that I have had the opportunity to learn a lot more about pain than my patients, but I do try to explain it as best I can. Understanding that pain is not a sign of tissue damage but rather the sign of the threat of tissue damage is a huge relief to me personally. It means when I get hurt, I don’t panic anymore, I take the appropriate action without getting emotional about it and therefore I don’t ignite the brains “danger, danger” responses. If you haven’t heard about this mechanism before I point you to this youtube clip that explains it in a humerus but informative way.
So there it is. My routine of how I keep by muscles performing as they should. It may sound like a lot of work, but I guess I have been doing it so long, it has become second nature. If you are just starting out on this journey I would recommend taking one component of what I mentioned above and researching and implementing just one thing at a time until it becomes habit, then move on to the next thing. Like I said at the start. Read, tweak, repeat!
Thanks for reading. If you have questions please feel free to post here or email me. Sarah x
- Sarah Leung owner and nutritionist at Healthy Energy in Glen Waverley click here to go to her website.