The impact of Sleep

A while ago I jumped on the wearable activity tracker bandwagon, which I was trying fiercely to avoid, as I tend to try to avoid anything that seems like a trend. I have to say that I am enjoying it, knowledge is power right?

Do I really care how many steps in a day I take, or how many floors I’ve climbed?

What I like about my activity tracker is it tracks my heart rate. After I finish with my workout for the day I sync my activity tracker and check out what my heart rate zone was in during the routine. It estimates, based on my normal resting heart rate, when I am in the cardio zone and in the fat burning zone. Reviewing this data after helps me plan for next time, maybe I want to increase my intensity a little bit and see how much further I can push myself.

I also find my sleep data to be pretty useful. I am the queen of sleep, OK I’d like to be queen of sleep, I don’t always get as much sleep as I know I should, or that I would like to have, but it is a huge priority of mine.

Sleep, or lack of, effects our entire bodies, from an increase in inflammation, reduced immunity, depression, weight gain, raised cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and muscle break-down.

When you are asleep your body is in healing and recovery mode. In the deepest levels of sleep (stage 4) your body replenishes critical neurotransmitters needed by your body to repair and rebuild the muscle that you have broken down with you training during the day.  Sleep deprivation magnifies the stressful impact of exercise on your body and puts you at risk for injury.

So, there is your excuse to sleep in, your body will thank you!


Sunday, a day for rest…

Well, in theory anyway. I do take the day off from the gym on most Sunday’s; however, I am not all that capable of actually resting. Sunday is household project day and meal prep day.

This is what Sunday looks like at my house, sweatshirt, jeans, slippers and me standing by the stove making my lunches for the week.


The best way for me to stick to a healthy diet during the work week is to plan ahead and make all of my lunches on Sunday. I am OK with eating the same thing every day for lunch so it works out well for me. Usually I have a protein and veggies and a complex carbohydrate, like sweet potatoes or whole grain brown rice. In addition to making lunch for the week I also boil a dozen eggs and eat two for breakfast with some veggies during the week.

Taking a part of you day of relaxation to plan for the week ahead is a good strategy to stay on track.


Lifting for Health & Aesthetics

When I started strength training, it was for health reasons mostly. I started training during my third pregnancy, in the dead of winter (in the freezing snowy climate of Maine) out of boredom. It quickly became a fun hobby for me, especially when I started seeing results and feeling great.

Fast forward to my MS diagnosis and I realized that I needed to step up my game so that I could remain as mobile as possible. After the initial anger that “this is happening to me” I decided to throw out that attitude and just hit it with all I’ve got. Now lifting has become my passion.

I have to admit that I don’t just lift for health reasons anymore… yes I lift for aesthetic reasons too. In addition to my new found strength, I realized that my body was beginning to take on a new shape; fit, muscular! So maybe, that has fueled my passion, just a bit.

I’ve always been “skinny” (I hate that word!) and never really had much of a uh, well an ass….until I started lifting. Here is my favorite lift for tightening those glutes and also the hamstrings, today I finally hit a new personal best at 100 pounds.



Workout Wednesday

Is it really Wednesday? My schedule has been interrupted this week and my days are off – I unfortunately did not make it to the gym on Monday! I always put in my best effort when I am at the gym, but today felt extra important since I have had a few days off.

My focus today was on my core and upper body. I began with deadlifts, as I love to start my workout fresh and warm up with those. I grip the bar using a mixed grip, one overhand and one underhand on the bar. This is best for me because of my decreased grip strength. Impairment in hand function and grip strength is common in MS. I find ways to deal with that by using a mixed grip when lifting heavy and I wear lifting gloves with wrist straps for added support.

Next up, pull-ups. I love pull-ups because they are highly efficient, working the lats (the latissimus dorsi muscle runs from the low back and hips to the top of the upper arm), traps (The trapezius a major muscle of the back, responsible for moving, rotating, and stabilizing the shoulder blade and extending the head at the neck), biceps and pectoral (chest) muscles.

My goal is to be able to do body weight pull-ups independently; however, I am not there yet, so that means I use an assisted pull-up machine. This machine is counterbalanced so the higher amount of weight you set, the easier the exercise becomes. Start by setting the weight at about half of your body weight. If you can do 10-12 repetitions easily, try decreasing the weight.

I have been using the assisted pull-up machine for quite a while and that is OK! Building strength takes patience and time, don’t get discouraged if you aren’t where you want to be just yet, results do not happen over night.


Weight Lifting and Your Brain

Not only does lifting weights improve your body’s physical composition, it actually improves your mental health. Exercise has been show to improve mood and cognitive function.

Recently the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, published and article on Resistance Training and White Matter Lesion Progression in Older Women. The study involved 155 women ages 65 to 75 who had never participated in any type of resistance training. Some had preexisting white-matter lesions in the brain. The study found that those who did some type of strength training workouts twice a week for about 40 minutes at a time had a slower progression of these white matter lesions.

Since white matter lesions in older adults tend to impact their mobility and cognitive functions, I was curious what this means for people living with Multiple Sclerosis? First, what are white matter lesions?

What matter lesions are groups of dead cells that form together in the white matter of the brain. The brain is made up of gray and white matter; information is stored in the gray matter and the white matter is responsible for sending and receiving information throughout the body. These types of lesions can be found in the the brains of the aging population, people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias and Multiple Sclerosis, to name a few.

So, if there is any chance that strength training in particular (my favorite) can reduce or slow the progression of lesions forming in my brain, I’m going to do what I can. My hope is that more research can done and that Neurologists start to implement exercise into their therapy recommendations for their MS patients.


Modifying Exercises

Living with MS means sometimes having to modify your exercise routine to accommodate your abilities. Because I have issues with balance related to my MS (not general clumsiness I swear) I find myself unable to do lunges with proper form. Not having proper form while exercising can lead to injury and can be a waste of time if you are not properly working the muscle you set out to work.

Lunges are a great quad and glute exercise, so as a substitute for that I do a split squat with the support of a weight bench. I rest one hand on the barbell on the weight bench for balance (being careful not to put any weight on that arm), holding a dumbbell in the other hand, I sit back and squat down.

The main muscles worked here are the quadriceps but you are also recruiting your glutes, hamstrings and calves, I love this exercise for strengthening my lower body, while working on my balance.


Physical Activity & MS

I think most everyone would agree that physical activity should be a part of everyone’s lives. For those of us living with a chronic condition that may affect mobility or cause extreme fatigue, it can be hard to find the motivation to make it a part of your life.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society states that a study published by researchers at the University of Utah, found that individuals with MS who participated in an aerobic exercise program benefited from: better cardiovascular fitness, improved strength, less fatigue and depression and a more positive attitude.

Yes, exercise can actually reduce fatigue!

Some day’s it is difficult for me to get out of bed – you know you’ve been there. You wake up feeling like you haven’t slept at all, your body feels like it weighs 1000 pounds and you can’t imagine walking down the stairs – never mind going to the gym!

I have those days often but I push through them because I know the end result will be worth it. I get up, I go to the gym, I lift heavy, I push myself hard and I admire my strength.

I never in a million years thought fitness would be the cornerstone of my life. When I got my MS diagnosis that all changed. I am determined to maintain and improve my physical and cognitive health, though fitness and proper nutrition.

It doesn’t matter what you do, lift weights, swim, yoga, run, just do something!