Fitness, Lifestyle

Sleep , Health and Fat loss – Are they related?

Nutrition and Exercise are the thoughts that instantly come to our mind when we think about losing fat, improving health or strengthening our body.  A critical factor or component that we tend to neglect is “Sleep”. Quality ‘zzzz’ or shut-eye is one of the most neglected and undervalued aspect of health.

If you have not got the desired results despite eating nutritious food and working out in a structured manner, the quality and quantity of your sleep should be analysed carefully. Clarity of thoughts, energy levels, performance in gym, digestion, immunity, depression, sex-drive and fat burn has a direct correlation to the proper/poor sleep you had in the previous nights.

Optimizing sleep pattern is crucial for health and weight loss. Studies suggest that, over a period of 6 years, people who sleep either less than 6 hours a night or those who do so for more than 9 hours have similar body composition outcomes and gain twice as much weight compared to those who sleep for 7-8 hours.

What happens when we sleep?

Restful sleep is when the sleep is deep, peaceful and without any body movement. During restful sleep our body repairs, rejuvenates and detoxifies itself so we wake up fresh having abundant energy for the next day. Our nerve cells are repaired ensuring faster communication inside our body happens, which means we can learn, memorize, and think faster and clearer.

Most of our hormones, including Thyroid stimulating hormone(TSH)Growth hormone (GH) and the sex hormones like testosterone , estrogen, Progesterone, LH etc are mostly secreted and released into the blood during sleep. Even though we slog in the gym for a chiselled/shredded look, the real chiseling happens when we sleep .

When we sleep after a workout, our muscles grow , restore and repair. Repaired muscles and optimal sex hormones are essential to sport that ripped look.

What happens when we sleep less?

Going for a weekend night out, pushing our work till the midnight, watching tv or a movie late night or any voluntary form of sleep reduction has become a mark of modern society.

Even if we sleep less for  just or a single night or several, it will cause damage. Some of the things that occur when we sleep less are

  • Decreased Thyroid function and Growth hormone
  • Increased hunger hormone and Decreased satiety hormone
  • Increased stress hormones – cortisol and Decreased insulin sensitivity

In short, Sleeping less is a perfect recipe for hormonal chaos leading to lifestyle diseases such as Diabetes, PCOS , High blood pressure, heart diseases, fertility problems, Hyper/hypo thyroid etc.

Are you hungry or sleep deprived?

When we are awake for longer time at night it is normal for us to feel hungry , as we need more energy to be awake than to sleep. Added to this our satiety hormone is reduced and hunger hormone is increased, which makes us raid our kitchen and eat energy dense processed junk food. Well, we don’t reach out for a fruit when we are hungry at 1am .

What affects our sleep?

Apart from the intended sleep curtailment, there are also other lifestyle factors that affect our sleep with or without our knowledge. Knowing those habits will help us change our lifestyle, which can improve our sleep quality.

Staying away from gadgets atleast 30 minutes before bed time is crucial for restful sleep,

  1. Exposure to artificial light around bed time

Artificial lights known as ‘blue light’ include light from lamps, devices like TV, Laptop, mobiles and other gadgets. The sleep hormone melatonin is produced only during darkness. Exposing ourselves to such gadgets and devices closer to bedtime will block the secretion of this hormone.

Sleep tip : Limit usage of devices(TV, phone, Ipad, Laptop) at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Reduce the intensity of lighting closer to bedtime.

  1. Lack of physical activity

Exercise reduces our stress and tires us out. Physical activity closer to the start of the day or noon is shown to have a positive impact on sleep as we get tired by the end of the day and fall asleep faster. This also improves the quality of sleep. Working out in the wrong way will also affect sleep and our results.

Sleep tip : Exercise in the mornings or early evenings to set your metabolism  and sleep wake cycle right.

  1. Our last meal of the day

A large supper will rev up our metabolism and makes it harder for us to have a good night’s sleep. The sleep that we have after a heavy meal will be less repairing and restful as our body must digest the heavy meal which is still lying in our stomach.

Sleep tip: Eat a light/ moderately heavy meal 2-3 hours ahead of your bedtime.

  1. Mental stress and physical illness

Physical illness, depression and other stress related disorders are linked to elevated stress hormones  – which results in sleep disturbances and reduces the quality of sleep.

Sleep tip : Try meditating a few hours before the bed time and create a peaceful bed time routine to reduce the stress hormones and to improve the quality of sleep.

Our sleep need, to restore our health to optimal may vary depending on our illness, age, mental stress(exams), stage of parenthood(new mom) and more.

The magic number or the amount of sleep each of us need to function at our best might vary between 7-8 hours , but the fact that sleep loss will reduce our productivity and performance be it in gym, home or at our workplace is certain.

 

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This article was originally written for and published in the October 2017 issue of ‘Stayfit’ magazine.

Lifestyle

Are you still not losing weight?

Most of us rely on the weighing scale/smart watch to judge our health and tend to use weight loss as a parameter to know the effectiveness of a workout/lifestyle change. Little do we realise that weight is not a great indicator of health. Unless you track your fat percentage, which gives you the breakdown of your weight, whether it comes from fat/muscle/water/bone,  weight is just a number.

smartwatch and scale (1)

There are other factors apart from your weight that will tell you how well your body is responding to a lifestyle modification or a workout.

 

  1. Energy level: Feeling energetic and up to a workout or cooking dinner even after coming from office? The most important sign that your lifestyle is healthy is your energy levels through the day. Fresh food and regular workout gives you a constant and steady supply of energy without having to reach for coffee or other stimulants. While good nutritious food helps you in alleviating vitamin/mineral deficiencies, regular workout helps increase your circulation; both of which are inevitable for good energy level. This means that you don’t have to snooze your alarm several times before you decide to pull yourself out of bed, don’t have to drag yourself till 6 pm in office or during meetings with a coffee/red bull every hour.
  2. Mood: Fresher the food you eat, better your mood. If your mood has been very calm, pleasant and your thoughts have more clarity, it’s a clear indication that your food/lifestyle change is having a positive impact on your body. Your mood is directly related to your gut health/intestinal bacteria. On the other hand, junk food and foods that harm your gut bacteria, causes anxiety, stress, depression and other diseases.
  3. Hunger and Satiety: Hunger and appetite are signs of vitality and good health. But not if you feel hungry all the time. Feeling hungry all the time is a sign that you are not nourishing your body with enough fresh food. When you eat fresh food that satisfies your taste buds, your gut and mind feels satisfied and body nourished and you won’t over eat. Eating highly processed food or consuming food aiming at sheer weight loss wont achieve this.
  4. Fitness and strength : Sometimes the scale doesn’t budge after regular workout and eating good food, but your clothes might start getting looser . You might also be able to do more reps with the current working set, or run more distance in the same time than previously. These are clear signs that your strength and fitness levels are increasing. The scale might even move up, which is a great indicator that you are getting more muscle mass and losing fat.
  5. Sleep quality : Feeling refreshed in the morning after a restful night’s sleep is priceless. This refreshed feeling is also one of the main indicator of a healthy lifestyle.Being sleep deprived and poor quality of sleep are some of the main factors that affect the over all health of a person. Reasons for this can be numerous, but the effect of this on the body is pretty much the same for everyone. Poor workout performance, foggy brain, low energy levels, slow metabolism , stress , increased risk of heart diseases, weight gain are the results. Eating light meals a couple of hours before bedtime and being active through the day can enhance your sleep quality which will help you recover better and improve your immunity. Watch this video on how to improve your sleep.

Like Helen Keller said, The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.

 

Do you rely on scale and watch to know about your body? Comment below your thoughts.

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Food

The Wonderberry – Manathakkali

mani

Did you know that Manathakkali has the phytochemical resveratrol , to which the health benefits of ‘Red Wine’ and ‘Dark Chocolate’ are attributed to?

In an era prior to video games and 24×7 TV,  one of the main pastime for children were to search for the ripe purple fruits of Solanum Nigrum/Solanum Americanum- manathakkali (aka kaagesoppu/kamanchi chettu/makoi/black nightshade  in other languages) and eat it.

It has amazing medicinal and nutritional values, which was known to and valued by our ancestors. Most things that are easily available wont be valued, and the same goes with manathakkali too.  Instead of consuming this whenever available, we have started buying varieties of exotic berries  sprayed with pesticides , imported from the world over.

This Wonder berry has anthocyanins and is a powerhouse of antioxidants and has anti cancer properties. It is also rich in Vitamin A, which will help improve eyesight and night blindness. It is used in traditional medicine to heal peptic and mouth ulcers,  improve gut health and digestion.

The ripe berries are either consumed directly or can be processed naturally at home. The ripe and unripe berries are mixed in spiced/yogurt/buttermilk and dried thoroughly in sun(to increase Vitamin D ). This mixture can then be stored and fried whenever required in oil/ghee.  This snack is generally given to expecting/ new/nursing mothers. The probiotics in the mixture, the Sun exposure and essential fat(Short Chain Fatty Acids) from frying in Ghee, put together ensures that this is a perfect recovery food for new mothers. It helps heal their internal wounds, strengthens their bones and improves their lactation and digestion.

The leaves of this plant are edible and are highly nutritious. They have high amounts of Vitamin K which is the miracle solution for the Vitamin D deficiency and low bone density. Instead of buying  Vitamin D and Calcium supplements to rectify your deficiency, include these leaves in your diet in any form that will suit your palette.

It’s time to move over the blue/black/goji/acai berries and find the wonder berry in your market or your backyard. Just because the spinach lady near your house doesn’t sell this with tags such as ‘heart-healthy’, ‘antioxidant-rich’, ‘organic’, ‘anti-aging’, ‘anti-cancer’ doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have all these properties. In fact it has all of this and one more, ‘ fresh’, as it grows close to you and not in a place you have seen/heard of only in a map.

Have you plucked this berry in your childhood? When was the last time you ate this? Pour in your thoughts via comments

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