Why You Should Own a Foam Roller

You’ve probably seen a foam roller at the gym or a chiropractor’s office, but did you know they’re one of the most versatile and practical tools for preventing and relieving injuries? While foam rollers are most commonly used in the realm of sports (such as strength, conditioning, and other athletics), they’re one of the most beneficial and affordable tools you can own for relieving vast array of bodily ailments.

High density foam rollerFoam rollers are overly simplistic in their design, and their names aren’t misleading. Foam rollers are typically 3 feet long cylinders made of — you guessed it! — foam. By utilizing your body weight, you can manipulate the roller and yourself into various positions to help stretch and massage your entire body. While this can be very important for athletes, it is also important for the average person. Think of how many people (maybe even yourself) that have chronic low-back pain, upper-back pain, neck or hip pain, or even sciatica. Many of these symptoms can be mitigated, if not completely relieved, by using a foam roller regularly. Foam rollers are unique because they help you manipulate fascia, the substance around your muscles that forms into knots. Fascia can be slightly manipulated through stretching, but other than receiving a massage, foam rollers and other similar devices are the only way to relieve fascial knots. It is these fascial knots that lead to the many pains we see so regularly; by working them out regularly, you’ll see a tremendous benefit in your body.

Preventing and relieving common injuries was one of the primary reasons foam rollers were invented and have become so widespread in the fitness world. For example, many athletes, especially runners, have injuries and pain in their IT band. By using a foam roller regularly, rolling on your side from your hip to your knee in this particular instance, you can help to relieve the fascial knots that develop. Sciatica is a common ailment that deals with compression in the sciatic nerve in the leg — performing similar motions on the foam roller can help to relieve this compression. Even if you don’t yet have injuries, frequently utilizing a foam roller will help stretch out fascial knots before they become and injury or painful.

Increasing your flexibility is a key benefit of using a foam roller, and is another component of why foam rollers will help to prevent many injuries and pain. Many of those common ailments (upper and lower back pain, neck and hip pain, etc.) are caused by lack of flexibility or tight muscles. For example, many cases of lower back pain are caused by having tight hamstrings or hip flexors — which can be caused from athletic training (such as running or strength training) or even from sitting or not moving for prolonged periods of time. Running your hamstrings along the roller and perching your hips on the roller so they are elevated will help relieve these common ailments. For upper back pain, you can lay on your back and place the roller behind your heart. Flexibility is a key component of overall health that is frequently overlooked — have a protocol that helps build and keep your flexibility is important for longevity.

Rolling helps you de-stress. Nearly all the benefits we know we get from receiving a massage we also receive from rolling frequently on a foam roller. When we get stressed, be it from a hard day at work, exercise, or from emotions, we tend to tense our muscles in key areas — the areas where we ‘hold our stress.’ Using a roller helps to relieve that tension before it becomes too painful or leads to an injury. Additionally, relieving any tension in your body feels wonderful! It’s a great way to get a natural high.

Nubbed foam rollerWe will have a series of future articles and videos regarding specific stretching and movements to utilize on the foam roller, especially regarding specific ailments. For now, I’d suggest investing in a foam roller and experimenting with it to find what works best for your body. Foam rollers typically cost around $25, and the benefits you’ll receive are tremendous for so little! If you have access to a roller at the gym, use it every time you go. Your body will thank you!

5 Ways to Lower Blood Pressure Without Medication

Blood PressureMany of us have, or know someone with, high blood pressure. Blood pressure medications are now the third most prescribed medication, and yet controlling your blood pressure is usually a matter of adjusting your lifestyle. Whether or not you choose to take blood pressure medication, adjusting your lifestyle will help you eliminate, minimize, or delay the need for medication.

Try adjusting your lifestyle with the following 5 suggestions. Add one at a time, and try incorporating them slowly, in a way that is most realistic and applicable for your lifestyle. Adding even a single suggestion to your repertoire will help significantly!

Exercise is an activity that will help aid many common ailments that affect our culture, and helping to reduce high blood pressure and maintain a healthy blood pressure is no exception! Aim for a goal of 30-60 minutes of moderate activity 5-6 days a week, whether this is aerobic activity (cardio exercises, walking, running, etc.) or anaerobic activityWalking (strength training), any exercise is beneficial! If this seems like a lot to start, aim for 15-30 minutes and work your way up. It is more beneficial to get your exercise throughout the week rather than all at once, so aim to spread out your activity as much as possible — you can even consider breaking up your day’s duration into multiple parts, such as 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. For individuals with high blood pressure, gradually build up your activity and intensity over time, as too much intensity too quickly can be risky.

If you have severe hypertension, it is especially important to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, as there may be some exercise restrictions specific for you.

VegetablesEating a Healthy Diet, like exercise, is a strategy that will help mitigate nearly all common ailments. Again, for lowering and maintaining a healthy blood pressure, this is no exception! When your body has all the essential nutrients it needs to survive, it will function more optimally. Reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet, and instead replace them with whole foods you make yourself, as simple and close to their natural form as possible. Be sure you add a full bounty of fruits and vegetables to your diet, the latter being most important for those with high blood pressure. Additionally, you’ll want to aim to eat some specific foods that will help to reduce blood pressure: foods high in essential minerals (potassium, magnesium, calcium), a good amount of fiber, and high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

If you’re looking for some excellent foods to add to your cooking routine, be sure to check out: 7 Foods to Help Lower Blood Pressure.

Reducing Stress is often something ignored in our culture with a go-go attitude, but it essential for lowering your blood pressure. Besides, doing so will also help your overall well-being! Stress and anxiety can temporarily increase blood pressure, but if you’re constantly stressed or anxious, your blood pressure will also constantly be raised! Take some time out of your day to identify what is stressing your most. Family? Work? Home? Friends? Think about what you can do to help reduce stress, and then take action and reduce it as much as possible. However, sometimes we have obligations we simply cannot give up that stress us. In this case, think of some alternatives. Take up some deep-breathing exercises, meditation, try yoga, get a massage, be sure you’re getting adequate sleep, or perhaps even see someone that specializes in helping to reduce stress (such as a therapist).

Losing Excess Weight is a tremendous key it lowering your blood pressure. When you have excess weight on your body, your heart and blood vessels must work harder to simply pump the blood to where it is needed in your body. Losing even just 5-10 pounds can help significantly, but making a goal to reach your ideal weight should be a priority! If you do decide to take blood pressure medication, losing weight will also help to make the medication more effective overall. In addition, keep an eye out for where you carry your weight: carrying excess weight primarily in your midsection increases your odds for high blood pressure. Make strides to lose those excess pounds, diet and exercise are key!

Reducing Sodium and Caffeine are two methods for helping to reduce your blood pressure. If your diet is primarily based around processed foods, it’s likely it contains a good amount of sodium. Replace processed foods with whole, natural foods as described in Eating a Healthy Diet (above), and you’ll help eliminate excess sodium. Once you’ve done this, if you still find you would like salt in your diet, try adding small amounts of unrefined Celtic sea salt or Himalayan pink salt, two types of salt that contain a significant quantity of minerals other than sodium. Additionally, add foods high in potassium and magnesium to help balance the sodium content in your blood. Limit your sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg per day.Caffeine

When you ingest caffeine, the caffeine temporarily raises your blood pressure. In the same way that stress can raise your blood pressure, a consistent stream of caffeine also means a consistently spiked blood pressure. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, and thus the effects will vary. However, caffeine can also be stressful for your adrenal glands, the organs that help us deal with stress in our daily lives. Stressed adrenal glands mean a more stressed body, and stress as a whole elevates your blood pressure. Try reducing the amount of coffee, tea, and soda your ingest on a daily basis. Be mindful of how you feel, and also monitor your blood pressure as you reduce you caffeine intake to see what intake is best for you.

Incorporate these suggestions into a balanced lifestyle and you’ll start to see results, whether your goal is to lower blood pressure or maintain it. Taking blood pressure medication is largely unnecessary, especially for the long-term. Your lifestyle is key. The decisions you make are yours!

Natural Treatments for Depression

Depression is a wide epidemic in the modern world. Estimates show that approximately 19 million adults in the United States are affected by depression, close to 10% of the population! Additionally, depression affects millions of adolescents and children, with an estimated 23% being affected. Depression in our culture, while common, is still taboo for many. Upwards of 70% of individuals are unlikely to seek treatment, and for those that do, they are mostly commonly prescribed anti-depressants as the ‘fix.’ There is no quick fix for depression, however, and its root causes can stem from lifestyle challenges, nutritional deficiencies, chemical/hormonal imbalances, and emotional struggles that must be addressed. Antidepressants have been shown to work for only 30-40% of the population, and many are prescribed a cocktail of numerous antidepressant and anxiety drugs when a single drug fails to be of benefit. Unknown to many, there are numerous natural treatments that can be used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, antidepressant drugs.

*As always, please consult your medical physician before starting any new routine or supplements, especially if you are utilizing them in conjunction with other medications or supplements.

Exercise is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for treating depression, and it’s also the most economical! It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do, whether it’s aerobic (cardio) or anaerobic (strength training), it’s getting it in that counts. As little as 15-30 minutes a day of exercise can substantially increase the mood elevating hormones in your brain, as well as help you to reduce stress. This process is largely attributed to your body creating a direct pathway for the amino acid Tryptophan to your brain while engaged in physical activity. You don’t have to give it your all to reap the benefits of exercise; even a brisk 20 minute walk, cleaning the house, or finding a group exercise class will help you on your way! Aim for 30 minutes of mild activity a day, or start with whatever you are comfortable and able to get in.

Diet, along with exercise, is the other crucial component in changing your lifestyle for helping to treat depression. It is critical to reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet as they lack the substantial nutrients your body requires to function at an optimal level. Replace processed foods with whole foods, those that you make yourself. Keep the food your put in your meals as simple as possible, as close to their natural form. Additionally, add a fully array of fruits and vegetables to your meals and snacks. Fruits and vegetables are packed with the antioxidants and nutrients your body craves. Try adding vegetables to every meal, especially dark leafy greens. You’ll also want to try reducing the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume — both can overtax your body’s hormonal systems.

Controlling your blood sugar is also especially important in conjunction with diet, and can additionally be helped with exercise. This includes reducing the overall sugar content of your diet, be it from white sugar or even sources such as honey and maple syrup. You’ll also want to check out how food combining will help maintain a steady blood sugar over a longer period of time, and how to control your sugar cravings. When you’re blood sugar is peaking wildly again and again, it puts an enormous strain on your body’s hormonal system, especially involving the hormone insulin. Control your blood sugar and you’ll be on an even keel, able to function and think more clearly.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids have been widely shown to benefit individuals that suffer from depression, especially in conjunction with another form of treatment (be it antidepressants or a supplement). You can choose to supplement Omega 3s in the form of krill/fish oil, flax oil, chia seed oil, or hemp oil. Additionally, you can also add foods rich in Omega 3 to your diet, such as fatty fish (such as salmon), or by adding various seeds rich in Omega 3 to your diet (flax, chia, hemp). While many studies suggest the benefit of Omega 3 for depression lies in the combination of EPA and DHA, adding any Omega 3 to your diet can help tremendously. We will have a followup article specifically for Omega 3 soon!

St. John’s Wort
is a widely utilized herb for treating depression. It is also one of the few herbs where clinical trials have shown it to be as effective, if not more so, than antidepressants for those that have used it for at least 4-6 weeks. As with antidepressants, the effectiveness of St. John’s Worst can vary widely depending on the individual. Additionally, it may have interactions with other supplements and medications, so it is especially important to discuss this herb with your physician. St. John’s Wort
is widely available, from health food stores to your local drug store.

Vitamin B -Complex are the vitamins your body utilizes primarily to create energy, and include a whole host of various B vitamins. However, there are two specific B vitamins shown to help with depression: vitamin B6 and Folate. Taking various medications, such as aspirin, birth control, and other medications, have shown to reduce your body’s B6 and folate. While taking such drugs may not put you in a state of deficiency, even being on a borderline deficiency can reduce your body’s ability to produce neurotransmitters, such as seratonin and dopamine. Eating a diet rich in whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, will help you to get the B vitamins your need. You can also choose to supplement with a B vitamin complex, which can be found at all health food stores. Another natural alternative is to add brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast to your food, a natural byproduct of alcohol fermentation loaded with B Complex Vitamins!

5-HTP is a free-form amino acid supplement, known as 5-hydroxytryptophan. 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin, one of the many feel good chemicals in your brain, and so can help boost the overall level of serotonin in your body. The dosage of 5-HTP varies depending the individual, and I highly suggest looking into the book The Mood Cure by Julia Ross for determining your individual dosage. As an individual that has suffered from depression for many years, I have found significant benefit in my life by taking 5-HTP, such as feeling more calm, relaxed, at ease, with a great mental focus. 5-HTP can be readily tracked down and almost any health food store, or online.

Healing depression can be a difficult road, and the road is drastically different for each individual. Finding and experimenting with the right supplement routine for you, be antidepressant or natural alternatives, will do wonders for your life. But again, there is no quick fix, especially for those who suffer from major depression. Couple these alternatives with a new lifestyle, including adequate rest, good food, moderate exercise, dealing with stuck emotions, and reducing stress, and you’ll be on your path!

Understanding Sugar Cravings

Is sugar an obstacle standing in the way of you and great health? Sugar can disrupt Candyinsulin levels, feed “bad” bacteria and fungus in the body, and if unused, be converted to body fat. So why is a sugar habit so hard to kick? Sugar cravings can be caused by multiple factors. Luckily, once you understand your sugar cravings, there are solutions.

Causes of sugar cravings:

  1. Dehydration/need for water
  2. Amino acid/hormone Imbalance
  3. Habits: Psychological and physical associations with food.
  4. Lack of “good” bacteria in the body and/or too much yeast or fungus in the body.
  5. Inflammation or disease that feeds off sugar.
  6. Body is agitated after ingesting food it can’t process well.

Problem: Dehydration/Thirst
WaterThis may seem too simple, but sometimes when you’re hungry for sweets, you’re just thirsty! This is especially true between meals. If you’re hungry only an hour or so after eating, you probably just need water.
Solution: If the thought of eating something healthy, like a salad or apple, doesn’t sound good, but candy does, you’re probably thirsty! Also, think about the last time you had a drink. You shouldn’t go longer than ½ hour-1 hour without water.


ProThe Mood Cureblem: Amino Acid/Hormone Imbalance
Many people lack certain nutrients and amino acids, or their hormone production/regulation is off. Lacking certain amino acids can cause sluggishness, depression, hyperactivity, or sleeplessness. A hormone imbalance can have similar effects. Lack of energy or low serotonin causes sugar cravings, since sugar gives a boost that gives temporary relief.
Solution: If you think you have a thyroid problem or an amino acid deficiency, get tested at a practitioner’s office. If you can’t afford a test, or you don’t have insurance, read The Mood Cure. The book offers self-diagnosis tools and a supplementation regimen that can be seriously helpful.

Problem: Habits-psychological and physical associations with food.
When we do something on a regular basis, our brain is carved with little neural pathways. This is a habit! Evolution has designed us to feel comfortable with habits. As long as the summer and rain came when it was supposed to, and winter was on schedule, our ancestors could predict food and migration patterns. Unfortunately, the cookie you eat after every meal is not beneficial to your survival. But our brain carves the neural pathway just the same, so every time you’re done eating, you will crave a cookie. The same goes for a drink after work, or chocolate every day at lunch break.
Solution: Catch yourself having “habitual” cravings! Break the habit by doing something different; change the association. Every time you get home from work, have strawberries instead of cheesecake. You will soon crave the strawberries! Habits can change.

Problem: Lack of Good Bacteria/Too Much Yeast/Fungus
This is a surprisingly common condition. The common diet today has almost NO fermented food, which our ancestors ate daily. Fermented food (i.e. raw sauerkraut, kimchi, nato, kombucha, and homemade ginger beer) contain beneficial bacteria that feed the “good” bacteria in our gut. This good bacteria helps digest food, fights off infections and supercharges our immune systems! Sugar can be harmful because it “feeds” the negative bacteria and yeast. This can cause digestive upset, low energy, and a sluggish immune systems. Sugar isn’t the only cause of a yeast imbalance (often referred to as “candida”), alcohol, over-consumption of starch, medications, and yeast also cause candida.
Symptoms: You may have a yeast imbalance if you have: Toe fungus, yeast infections, thrush (candida in the mouth and throat), digestive issues, bloating, low-functioning immune system,Wild Fermentation and constant sugar cravings.
Solutions: Take probiotic supplements. They come in the form of capsules, liquid, and concentrated yogurt. Eat fermented foods daily. Make they sure they are raw/unpasteurized and unsweetened. You can buy them at health food stores, or make your own! It can be cheap and fun. My favorite fermentation recipe book is called Wild Fermentation Stay away from refined sweets and starchy desserts for awhile. (Once your back in balance, you can give yourself a “treat day.”)

Problem: Inflammation/Sickness
Many things in our body feed off sugar, and most of them are harmful. There are plenty of helpful organisms (like the beneficial bacteria mentioned earlier), but there are plenty of harmful ones that make their livelihood leaching nutrients, causing disease, and giving us weird cravings. For instance, sugar makes cancer cells grow and multiply. Parasites thrive Fermented Foodsoff it. Even a fungus that grows during a sinus infection is fed by sugar. Sugar also causes inflammation, and inflammation is the cause of arthritis, Chrohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, and many other problems. Since sugar causes inflammation, eating less sweets can be a big step towards reducing it. (There are more lifestyle changes that reduce inflammation, and I will go into greater detail on this point in another post.)
Solution: Eat less sugar and reduce stress!

Problem: The body is agitated after ingesting food it can’t process well.
Even if you try to be healthy, it’s easy to slip off the wagon and grab a doughnut when you’re in a hurry. Don’t beat yourself up over small treats here and there, but there is more to that gas-station food than extra calories. When our body ingests something that it can’t process well (chemicals, hydrogenated oils, allergens, etc), it wants to push it out. There’s no use for it and it’s toxifying, so the body wants it gone! So it makes us crave sweets, since sugar is an intestinal irritant, and might “speed things along.” (In layman’s terms: You will poop the faster, before the toxic food has the chance to hang around in the intestines and cause more damage.) But as mentioned, this causes inflammation, which has its own problems.
Solution: Eat whole, chemical-free food that your body has use for. Cut down on processed food, and eat out less.

So pay careful attention to your sugar cravings! When are they happening? Why are they happening? Are you stressed, low on energy, or eating out of habit? Try keeping a food journal and chart your cravings! You can find unexpected links, and learn the ways of your mind and body. And hey, everyone once and awhile…it’s ok to have some ice cream.