Economy of effort...

Finn Health
  • Economy of effort...

...macro impact with micro changes

So this month is all about renewing our resources, from choosing re-usable coffee cups, to becoming a more conscious recycler, from remembering to take shopping bags with you when you’re out doing the weekly run, to windowsill gardening and starting your own home compost.

It seems at the minute like we’re all plagued with so many new initiatives and new ideas that sometimes we become paralysed in actually making the change, and we do the worst thing - nothing.  What can help is if sometimes we just take the bitesize piece, the tiniest corner of an idea or a new way to do something - even just to buy a new bin that helps us segregate our rubbish more effectively.  Micro change, macro impact.

The lovely thing is when you choose the right idea for you, your life and your household - the thing just comes together with what seems like minimal effort and self perpetuates to the point where you don’t even notice you’ve made the change at all.  That’s how we want to do things, and it’s probably the only way we’ll make it stick.

Speaking of’s about a carrot!  We engage change too much with the penal, punitive attitude that makes us feel guilty when we fall off the wagon, and paints our good efforts in a negative light.  It’s so important when we make changes to reflect on how well we’re doing, and to feel good about what we’ve managed to achieve so far. And even if we don’t ACHIEVE any great goal, the first goal is just to feel change.  Yes you guessed it, it’s gratitude journaling time...

So what on earth is this article all about?  Well with all this talk of social change, of outward looking initiatives that focus on making positive impacts on the world around us, we thought it’d be nice to pull it back to our internal dynamic - to helping us make the ever needed changes that will help us to physically bare the load that the world is asking us to carry later and later into our lives.  So in our physical body, how can we make some simple switches that might help us to feel better, move better, to think more clearly.

Hydrating - shift your pH

What do you do first in the morning?  If it isn’t drinking a big glass of water, then now’s the time to make a change!  Water doesn’t only quench our thirst, it

  • Helps us regulate body temperature

  • Keeps our gut moving

  • Supports nerve impulses and muscle contractions

  • Improves the flow of oxygen and nutrients in and around our cells

  • Keeps us calm and clear, improving our stress resilience

  • Regulates our sleep patterns

The list goes on but you get the point!  We come across so many customers on the shop floor that are engaging in complex and expensive supplementation regimes, maintaining seriously restrictive dietary patterns and generally leading highly constrained and onerous lifestyles.  More often than not, a lot of what they’re forcing themselves to do could be dropped if they just….drank more water!! Yes it sounds too simple to be true, but it so often bares out and when we tell them they’ll save €60 a month in supplements and be able to eat more freely, sometimes the lightbulb goes off and serious change happens with one little switch.

We recommend drinking at least 2 litres of water (or juice or herb tea)  per day, more if you’re exercising, and more in the summer when we all lose a bit more through sweating even when we’re sitting still!  Also, if you’re drinking coffee and (traditional black or green) tea, make a habit of chasing the cuppa with a glass of water - not only does it balance out the diuretic effects of the hot drink, it helps reduce staining on your teeth too! Double whammy.

Just think - when we’re born we’re made of roughly 90% water, and when we die there’s only about 65% of our body made of the stuff, so as a longevity protocol it’s not a bad plan to get an extra glass or 5 of water on the days when we remember!!

Fasting - the easy way out

Ok so here’s where you tune out haha!  But don’t! When I say “fasting” I am NOT talking about the 72 hours of nothing but juices, water and the toilet, and I am not interested in helping anyone drop 2 dress sizes in 10 days.  What I would love to see you try - and what myriad studies are finding serious longevity benefits from - is just a little extension of the time between meals. It’s called time restricted eating.  It sounds awful I grant you, but if you engage it in a gradual way you’ll see it’s not tough at all.

Basically start by finishing your last meal of the evening as early as possible, and not snacking after (that’s definitely the tough bit).  Make it a big meal. Stuff yourself by all means, even have dessert, but once it’s done it’s done. The aim here is to use the 8 or so hours of your sleep time as an incidental fast (unless you’re a dream eater in which case you’re a lost cause!) and to tac on a few hours either side.  Before you know it you’ve fasted for 14 hours!

I know there’s a LOT of old sagely wafflings like “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”, and to some degree these have merit.  If you’re going out into the fields to drag a horse drawn plough from dawn till dusk then yes, you’re going to need your Ready Brek (not literally). But if like most of us, your morning may consist of a short amount of activity after which it’s mostly sedentary, perhaps punctuated by the odd gym visit where you get yourself into a sweaty mess mimicking the man and his plough for 45 minutes, then holding back on your first meal of the day could make lots of sense.

Once we fast for anything longer than 12 hours or so our body starts to produce ketones for energy, which can have the effect of improving insulin sensitivity (cos your body isn’t working off sugar for energy anymore), supporting cognitive function and generally regulating energy levels, along with some other pretty profound health benefits.  Just google “cellular autophagy fasting” if you don’t believe me. Basically, as your body gets a break from eating it goes into house cleaning mode, sweeping up and clearing out waste products and not so healthy cells out of circulation.

Even if you can only last 10-12 hours to begin with, just play with the idea, extend it gradually and I promise you will feel like a better person for engaging with this idea.

Activating BAT - weight loss gold

WTF is BAT?  Well in this case it doesn’t live in a cave and come out at night, nope, this is the most metabolically hungry tissue in our body - Brown Adipose Tissue.  Brown Fat if you will. As opposed to white fat, which hangs out on our thighs and our bellies, a lovely receptacle for energy storage just waiting for the long nuclear winter of our nightmares, brown adipose tissue (BAT) is its fit country cousin, hard working, honest, out in the fields all day (remember our guy with the plough?).

BAT demolishes our white adipose tissue even when we’re not physically active, and there’s some studies that show we can even convert white fat to BAT with a couple of strategies.  You’re not going to like the first one…

Cold water exposure

Sooorryyyy….yup here we go, it’s what everyone’s been talking about, and what I started doing personally about 4 years ago.  I used to gasp in total panic as I turned the temperature all the way to freezing at the end of my showers, but after a couple of weeks of regular 30 second freezes, the pain began to dissipate and I began to extend the time I spent in there, getting past the initial shock reaction and, yes, actually meditating and revelling in the sensory experience as my body adapted to the mountain stream pouring over my head.  

If you get really good at that, and actually get to the stage of enjoying it like I have - why not try a sea swim, the more immersive option.  It constitutes a serious shock to the nervous system, but it could help get the BAT out of bed and start to improve your overall body composition.  Plus, there’s a great community of sea swimmers these days so you could even make some nice new friends!

Omega 3 Fats

Just a quickie here but Omega 3 fats have also been shown to increase the “browning” of fat i.e. the conversion from white to BAT.  So perhaps supplementing with fish oils or a vegan fatty acid supplement such as Udo’s Oil could be useful for this (it’s already been shown to be supportive for just about every other physiological process!!).

Switch Off Your Phone

Golly this seems like boring advice to give at this stage, when we all know it’s sound wisdom, but easier said than done.  But here’s just another reason that we should avoid blue light in the evenings. Melatonin production is switched on in our bodies in response to low light conditions, and what does melatonin do apart from helping us feel sleepy?  You guessed it! It activates BAT, helping your body to burn calories WHILE YOU SLEEP.

Exercise Snacking

Sticking with the micro changes for macro outcomes theme, we can apply this principle to exercise as well.  We don’t have to build a 2 hour daily gym habit in order to reap the benefits of exercise, in fact, in many cases those habits become unhealthy both mentally and physically, and to prevent ourselves from pushing too hard and causing injury if we just make a mental shift in our daily lives we can realise most if not all of the body composition enhancing, endorphin releasing benefits we get from iron pumping gym workouts.  

The principle of exercise snacking is just about having a healthy exercise oriented attitude to our built environment and our daily routines.

On the Stairs

Walk, jog, run - whatever you want but taking the stairs is such a great habit.  It’s amazing how easy or tough we can make it for ourselves. And if there’s nobody watching (or heck even if there is), try going up backwards, going 2 up and 1 down, sidestepping, jump lungeing a few of them, or inserting a few body weight squats at the top of each flight.  Stair workouts are all over youtube so head over there and get a few ideas for the office climb.

Behind the Wheel

Yes it sounds like lunacy but your car seat doesn’t have to be purely the place of audiobooks and americanos, you can practice some really effective exercises that will make the time fly, keep you awake and help you hop out of the cab fitter than when you entered.  Just one little caveat, do make sure to practice these whilst stationary so you’re not distracting yourself in traffic - arrive alive please.

  • Whole Arm Tension

Set your shoulders back, pinning your shoulder blades against your ribcage and grip the steering wheel locking your elbows straight and rotating them inwards so that the inside of your elbow points to the sky.  Take a long inhale and on the exhale focus all your tension on gripping the wheel as hard as you can. Try to feel every finger in your hands and each muscle in your arm supporting your effort. Hold if possible for 3-5 breaths.  Repeat at least 3 times. But if you’re on the M50 in rush hour you might get a few more in!

  • Belly Brace

All you need to do for this one is imagine you’re about to take a punch to the gut.  Feel as your abdominals instinctively tighten and hold this position for 5 shallow breaths.  Repeat as above.

  • Hollow Belly/Pelvic Tilt

Take a deep breath in and on the exhale draw your navel towards your spine, at the same time tilting your pelvis forwards.  Feel your obliques engage as your bum presses forward and into the car seat. Try to hold the position as you take 3-5 shallow breaths.  Repeat as above.

  •   In front of the telly

One of my favourite exercise toys is a balance board.  It sits under my couch, and any time I’m at home either listening to a podcast in the evening or watching telly I take it out and just have balance.  Although it’s hard at first, you get good at it quickly and start to do single leg balances and squats. The challenge is not only to balance, but to make it so that your corrections to maintain balance become smaller and smaller, and the response, even though it doesn’t feel that tough at the time, is amazing.  If I practice for half an hour or more, my hip flexors, quads, glutes and abs all feel well worked the next morning.

HIIT workouts

So we’re finishing on the toughest bits, but still keeping our economy of effort theme in mind, it’s important when we decide what type of workout we want to get into, to know what we want to get out of it.  For me, the two things in my mind are longevity and functional fitness. I’ve grown out of some childish ambitions to really change my body shape, but I’m ever more aware of the need to make my body resilient to ageing.  

So building up and strengthening my core to help support and stabilise my spine, enhancing my cardio and improving range of movement, mobility and flexibility are the goals that I hope will allow my body to age somewhat gracefully and minimise injuries associated both with age and exercise.  I also find that I’m far too busy to spend 2 hours lifting weights when my body responds far better to a tough 20-30 minutes. Plus it’s more fun.

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training and it does what it says on the tin - short bursts of intense activity (usually 30 seconds to 1 minute) with equally short rest periods in between.  There’s no point in me adding to the deluge of workout videos and articles already posted online, but I really love using a cable system called a RIP60 (a bit like a TRX) and combining with kettle bells.  If I get 5-6 of these in a week, my body feels great, but even if you have no equipment to play with you’ll find plenty of bodyweight workouts you can do in the comfort of your own home, in your garden (my favourite place to play) or even in a cramped hotel room, you’d be amazed what’s available on youtube for you to access for free.

It’s amazing how we actually have such built in reward systems that it must mean our body really wants us to move, maybe not a lot to begin with, and staying in line with what we actually want out of our effort, but with targeted strategies like some of those above hopefully you can begin to reap the fruits of being an active human being, and to feel good about what you do, for you.


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