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The power of Micro Breaks when you are really busy at work
When we are very busy, working long hours, barely making time for exercise family or friends can take a big toll on our health. We know that long term elevated levels of stress are implicated in the major chronic diseases, we tend to eat and drink too much when we are stressed, tend to exercise less and spend less time with family and friends. We can keep doing this for a while but eventually we won’t be able to keep going and may end up sick- plus it’s a miserable situation to be in. The personal and economic cost of getting sick is huge but when you are in the trenches at work it may seem like the most efficient way is to keep at it however we know that Micro Breaks are a very helpful and efficient way to be able to keep going during these periods.
Micro Breaks are small periods of proper down time during your day. These will help you keep going a little longer and boost your system to help calm your stress response. (You won’t be able to keep going like that for ever- no one is super woman but it will help you day to day). Micro-breaks are when you fully down tools for at least 5 minutes at intervals during a really busy day. So instead of sitting at your desk all day for hours with not even a toilet break you should try the following:-
✨set your alarm at hourly intervals and get up and get a glass of water .
✨ get away from the desk and think about something else more pleasurable - I keep shells as a reminder of holidays and this fills me with happy emotions .
✨Too busy for lunch? Take a walk outside for 15 minutes to get some air and vitamin D .
✨walk away from the desk and listen to your favorite song - again this counterbalances stress in the body.
✨ do a 3 minute breathing exercise to calm and centre the body and the mind.
These are doable- you don’t need loads of time for any of these and they will help dampen your stress response and will help your brain function better- it may seem counter productive but it’s the opposite and it is better for your health.
Busy periods with long working days may be a given - we have to find ways to stay well during this time.
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I talk about sleep a lot and the health and wellness industry generally is starting to have more conversations about the importance of sleep. It is such a simple thing when it is going right for people but when it is not working it is absolutely miserable to be walking around sleep deprived, wanting to sleep but not being able to get a good night sleep and it can really impact our health, happiness, memory and learning. From time to time my sleep gets impacted and I can wake at 3am and clock watch for the rest of the night – I have learnt that for me it is a symptom of something else needing to be attended to, something I am worrying about or something which is on my mind, something I need to do which I haven’t yet got my mind in the place to do it – once I figure out what is going on for me then usually it gets back into its proper routine.
We all have unique patterns of sleep and they change with our stage in life from most of the day as very small babies, to staying up later as teenagers (and wanting to wake later) to 2 phase sleep as an older adult with the amount of time in very slow wave deep sleep shortening with age.
Some of us jump around a lot as we enter sleep and then of course there is problem of snoring or having a partner who snores (not mentioning anyone in particular!) which can really disrupt both theirs and others sleep. Heavy snoring should always be investigated to rule out sleep apnea and their unfortunate partner might find ear plugs a benefit.
Some people swear by a nap in advance of nights out but actually all the research shows that unless you have insomnia, that naps can really disrupt your sleep pattern and if you really need one then keep it under 30 minutes so that you don’t start to enter deeper sleep .
Sleep Hygiene habits are good to develop and here is my favourite list of things which work for me but remember that insomnia is not something that is cured by normal sleep hygiene recommendations but all the research shows that it responds pretty well to a structured program of CBT I – cognitive behavioural therapy for sleep (not what you might understand as CBT).
1. One of the best regulators of your circadian rhythms (which help regulate your awakeness and sleep) is daylight so any day you can get outside is a help as well as helping you get some Vit D – if you like camping then a weekend of camping is just the thing to help reset your internal clock.
2. Blue Light at night tells your Pineal gland to stop emitting Melatonin which we need for sleep so I know you have heard it before but seriously, what are the devices doing in your room?
3. Magnesium – Can help sleep, a good quality spray to rub into legs and arms just before bed.
4. Warm bath or hot water bottle – Your body responds to the heat to lower its temperature so you start to have better sleep conditions as it prefers to be cooler.
5. Blackout blind – sleep in total darkness is best.
6. Ear plugs – if you are a light sleeper or have a partner who snores, invest in a pair.
7. One of the best things you can do to keep your circadian patterns in synch is to maintain a regular sleep schedule. This means getting into bed and up at roughly the same time every day including your weekends.
8. If you tend to wake in the middle of the night very suddenly, this can be a sign of elevated Cortisol levels causing stress, this is an article for another day but we have written lots on managing stress and if you need help check our articles.
I have often been asked what can you do if you are on the night shift and the truth is that it is very hard on the body to be on night shift, it is completely contra to the way we are wired. All well and good for those of us not having to do it for work so I always suggest you should consider eating well before or as early into the shift as possible or even eating very lightly until back in day light hours (Ideally do not eat between midnight at 6am) Avoid caffeine during the night shift and supplement with Vitamin D. Try and get exercise in too to give you all the help you can get as all the evidence says that the body finds it very difficult to remain healthy If under conditions of constant night shift.
I have always been fond of an early night, getting into the bed all nice and warm with a good book and when I was young and still living at home, I loved to read often into the late hours until I had the book read. Nowadays as a parent I treasure my sleep even more and I rarely stay up late watching TV as I would much rather be in bed getting some rest or reading a book I am enjoying. Either way, make sure you are giving your body the respect it deserves with some decent sleep for health happiness and recovery or seek help if you are having trouble.
If you have been training and eating well all year then Christmas is a time when you can really undo all that great progress. We aren’t advocating sticking to celery sticks and water so we have compiled a list of ways in which you can minimise the weight gain or even maintain the progress you have made. Above all we don’t want anyone carrying around a load of guilt come January so read on and above all have a Happy Christmas from all of us at www.thisistheway.ie
1. Awareness – by this we mean make a conscious decision every time you eat or drink rather than mindlessly eating everything. A simple ‘Am I hungry’ , ‘Am I going out for dinner later?’, anything that just helps you pause for a moment will ensure you are actually consciously making a decision.
2. Control your environment – I know and you know that we all can crack under the pressure of a tine of Roses and suddenly we are ten wrappers deep, 500 calories in and need to be forcefully removed from the tin before it gets worse. My solution for any of these highly rewarding, highly calorific foods is to take out 1 or 2 and then put them out of sight. It’s always easier to control your environment than control your willpower so put the tin away!
2. Have that drink but be clever – the reason we all pursue a healthy lifestyle with training and eating well is to feel good and be able to live our life. So, have that drink or 2 but drink lots of water and if possible choose a drink with the lowest impact in terms of calories. I have noticed a trend lately especially on social media how some express how strict they are with their nutrition. This might be necessary for certain goals but if you can’t go a little off-piste during the festive season and get away with it then you really need to address what it is you’re actually doing in your training
3. Balance it out – it can be easy to fall out of habits especially when hangovers are involved so the best approach is to do a lighter form of workout. We are all human and feel the associated guilt of overeating and drinking. The automatic response can be to want to a training session at a really high intensity, yet this is the exact opposite of what should be done. You need to do a session to get you back on track and then the day AFTER that you can push it a bit more. The reality is that you might have drunk and eaten too much but one intense session that leads you to not be able to move for a few days from muscle soreness, is not going to make a dent in the calories you consumed so think ‘Work it off over a few lighter days’ NOT one hour of eyeballs out inducing training that could lead to injury, raise cortisol and potentially lead to other ill effects.
4. Drink more water – Yes, the easiest thing you can do for yourself but often gets forgotten. Fill a large reusable bottle with water and carry it with you everywhere, drink two of these daily. Will it negate the effects of the four mince pies you ate? No chance, but it will mean you might not go completely off the rails and become one of the people that gains on average 9lbs over Christmas simply because by drinking more water you’ll be less likely to drink soft drinks and often times it’s not more food you need, just more water.
5. Intermittent Fasting – This is a clever way to help reduce calorie intake over Christmas. When you wake, don’t automatically reach for food, experiment with IF on mornings when you don’t feel like you need anything.
6. Juices and Smoothies - Load up on fruit and veg when you are hungover, rather than a big fry, make yourself a smoothie with spinach and kale which can help with detoxification (in the alcoholic sense), fresh ginger to help settle your tummy, coconut water which is high in electrolytes and great for rehydration, throw in a handful of oats which give B Vits for energy, some Turmeric which is an anti-inflammatory, an apple for a bit of sweetness and loads of ice.
Have a great Christmas everyone and remember the goal is to maintain the improvements you’ve made leading up to this point. If you gain a pound or two then don’t sweat it because let’s face it no good party ever started with salad and herbal tea.
Sitting at the desk all day, even through needing to pee because you just want to get that report done and sent? (Been there!) Head down all day not talking to anyone because you are so busy, not taking lunch breaks or even a water and walk break? Sound Familiar …..
Life and work can be like that and its ok if it is from time to time but for so many of us this is the daily grind of our work life. And it’s not good for us at all. The science behind how our brain works shows that taking breaks is essential to being able to work at your best, build your baseline resilience, reduce stress, make better decisions, think more creatively and anyhow spending workday constantly in lockdown in front of your laptop is pretty miserable – right? And we spend at least 1/3 of our day working so how about making sure you are making the best of what you are doing while you are doing it?
Why take a break?
I think most of us would agree that constantly working without taking proper breaks is pretty miserable, it is also stressful on the body, we know that sitting down for long periods of time is detrimental to our physical health but our emotional health and our executive functioning (using our brain) are also affected. Higher levels of obesity, heart disease, type II diabetes are associated with sedentary jobs, higher levels of depression are associated with social isolation which is what happens when you sit on your own all day not taking the time to talk to someone, give your brain and your body a rest from working.
It’s also not that productive – diminishing marginal returns usually set in and our clarity of thought, speed, cognition levels and memory all decline the longer we go without a break and here’s the thing, most of us think that we are being MORE PRODUCTIVE BY DOING THIS. This beings me to lunch - Take your lunch break because unless you are actually in the middle of doing surgery, there are few jobs which are that important that you can’t take a break. I have done this myself often but research shows that your Cortisol (Key Stress Hormone) stays elevated when you sit in front of your laptop even if you are eating your lunch, reading about your favourite celebrity. You need to get away from your work area, get outside if you can and connect with someone, all will help those hormones get back in balance.
Remember when you were studying and you were told to take regular breaks – Its true, our body and our brain works better when given short regular breaks.
Breaks improve your creativity and problem solving and help you to see things more objectively. Taking time out from what you are doing often results in those unexpected eureka moments when everything drops into place and the answer seemingly appears out of the blue.
Easy Habits for taking Breaks
1. Put a visual cue somewhere on your desk to remind you to take a break
2. Emails – see how many emails can actually turn into a quick face to face chat rather than sending an email. It might seem more productive to quickly send the mail but all the studies show that taking breaks contribute to work productivity and speaking face to face with someone- lets face it, its much nicer to have some human contact and interaction… course there will always be some people and emails you would rather not meet the person for 😊
3. Do you work from home or by yourself? This is me and some days I realise I have sat down for hours without a break – the answer for me is to make sure I get outside at least twice during the day and always at lunchtime. Being outside naturally boosts physical and mental wellbeing as well as giving me exposure to light which can be really lacking in modern offices or when you are cooped up inside.
4. Put something on your desk which reminds you of the things you love to do or the people you love. I have a few pebbles from the beach in Wexford and it reminds me of time with my family and my friends. This helps link what I do to me sense of joy and this boost of positive emotions helps with better decision making and improve memory – so even if you are too busy to take a break, a small micro break to focus on what ever it is you have put on your desk will make a difference. I take this time to practice my heart focused breathing which is an amazing replenishing activity to build my resilience and boost my energy.
5. Micro Breaks – it doesn’t have to be a formal break even micro breaks when you chat with colleagues, check in on family or walk to the water cooler all help give your brain and your body a break. Taking a moment to stretch and stand up will also help give you a micro break.
6. Coffee meetings – When I was working in a large office and had meetings with just 1 person, I loved to make them a coffee meeting, Walking away from the desk, walking up the street with the person all contributed to the feeling of having a break, sitting with someone and chatting to them over coffee was an all together more useful productive meeting than sitting in a sterile office.
I give the last word to checking in on how you are feeling – if you are really on a roll, and loving what you are doing at the moment then chances are you don’t need to take a break and are actually mid flow which is that perfect balance where what you are doing, thinking and feeling are all aligned and you are completely absorbed in your work at a high degree of performance. When this is the case, you don’t need a break, keep going but remember when you are done you have to recharge to get back to 100% so that you can get back to that feeling once more.
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Stop saying Yes when you mean No
You know that moment when you are asked to do something or come to something and you agree to it all the while knowing you are going to spend the next week stressed out trying to work out what excuse will work to get you out of it. Start practicing to say no when you actually do mean no and it is amazing how much stress falls away. A simple, ‘thank you but No I cant’ is polite, honest and much much easier in the long run. The person asking has usually moved on the the next person they want to ask and they aren’t left disappointed in the end when you finally think up the excuse you think will work.
When It is a work request, it can be trickier but If I simply don’t have the bandwidth, I say ‘Based on my current workload, I can’t take that on today but I can do it for you on this day by this time… Does that work? …. If it is your boss and its urgent, agree what comes off the current to do list so that you can make it ‘yes’ and mean it!
Having Predictable Downtime & Setting Boundaries
If we are to avoid burnout or chronic tiredness due to our every busy lifestyles it is essential that we find ways to properly rest our body and mind. Affording ourselves predictable downtime through setting reasonable boundaries is a useful way to start some better habits to sleeping better, better energy levels and enhanced feelings of health and well being.
One of the worst things for keeping our brains active, pumping out cortisol and preventing us from starting to relax is our smartphones. These are responsible for extending our working day way beyond what is a reasonable expectation for contribution to your job. If you want to remain productive and more importantly healthy, happy and well then have a time in the evening after which you don't check your email or use your phone.
Signal rest for the body with a nightly wind down ritual such as a cup of tea or a bath. This should also be the signal to the rest of the family that you are now 'off duty' '
If it is an intensely busy period at work rather than cut out your time for exercise altogether, make the workouts shorter or get a quick class done at lunchtime or early in the morning before the day gets really hectic.
If you have a period of time where lots of extra weekend work is required, decide when it is going to get done, do it then draw a line under it and put it out of your mind. Don't allow it to impinge on the other part of the weekend or you might as well not have stopped working. Easier said than done sometimes so the best thing is to get outside, get some time with friends or family, attend to your hobby. This 'down time' will mean you get to work more refreshed more relaxed and in a better state to make decisions and be more productive.
Plan a reasonable bed time and stick to it rather than sitting in front of the TV. Better leadership, productivity, decision making and levels of personal happiness are all outcomes of a regular good nights sleep.
Our internal chatter is a huge contributor to stress and most of us aren't aware of this going on in our heads. Constantly replaying memories, annoyances and past mistakes or worrying and projecting how things will turn out is exhausting and turns out also activates our stress response.
A moment of mindfulness will really good for taking you out of your head. It helps to reset the body to a better state of ease. Try this quick technique to activate the Parasympatheic Nervous System (also know as Rest and Digest!) and return to calm.
Do a quick body scan and see what is tight – usually the neck, shoulders and jaw.
Relax them, peel your shoulders away from your ears and pull them back if you have been hunched over the laptop
Slow everything down by taking a few slow, controlled, deep belly breaths to help you calm yourself and give yourself some space before you begin.
Breath deeply into your belly on a slow count of 5, hold for as close to the count of 5 as you can, then breath out slowly for a count of 5.
Repeat this a few times to help bring a state of calm and centered energy to you.
If you are in an interaction with someone that is heightening your feelings of stress, just 'pause before action' and examine your thoughts and decide how best to respond. Ask yourself: am I jumping to conclusions here, am I reacting rather than responding, what is the perspective of the other person in this interaction and what will serve me best when I respond?
This is a great quick hack to break the cycle of automatic behavior and improves decision making to being based on a place of calm and coherent thought.
Understanding back pain and how to help it
They say you don’t truly appreciate your health and fitness until you lose it and that couldn’t be more true than if you have back pain. We’ve worked with everything from helping clients rehab from spinal surgery to that ache you get in your back that just won’t go away or at times gives you shooting pain down your leg.
The key to understanding back pain is to understand that the lower back is a stable joint that doesn’t like excessive amount of movement, yet the joints above and below it, the hips and thoracic spine respectively, should be mobile and move freely. Problems often arise when you start asking a stable joint (your lower back) to become mobile because the mobile joints (your hips and thoracic spine) are stiff, weak and tight.
There is a solution to most of the back pain we see, and it can be resolved through three main relatively low investment means –
1) Stretch and roll the front and side of the hips. (covered in video below) Use a foam roll and ball to work on soft tissue work around the hips and use the couch and pigeon stretches respectively (also shown in the video below) to assess what your hip mobility looks like and repeat the stretching and rolling daily.
2) Walk more. One of the easiest ways to help improve back pain is to simply walk for 30-60mins daily. If that’s too much to begin with then start with 10mins and build up or try walking in a swimming pool to build up to walking outside. If you have a sedentary job like most people, it is especially essential to introduce more movement into your life. Take time at lunchtime for a walk outside, your back and your head will thank you!
3) Strengthen your core. If the back is being asked to become excessively mobile, then one of the common reasons for this is a weak core. You can overcome this and strengthen your core to force the it into a more stable position. The best exercises we suggest are shown in the video below and in particular covers the most common mistake in the plank exercise which if performed incorrectly can actually hurt the back.
Video link – Lower back pain solution - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mAjbv4FDzE&t=3s
In summary, the lower back is essentially a stable joint and in order to keep it that way we should keep the joints above and below it mobile, strengthen our core safely and ensure we’re taking regular walks. When we have no pain, keeping it that way will be greatly enhanced by following this guide.
For more on the essential mobility movements see Move Train Nourish, The Sustainable Way to a Healthier you by Dominic Munnelly and Grainne Parker
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Things to think about in your Digital Diet
Most of us have smartphones and our lives are intertwined with them often for both work and our personal life. Our lives have been transformed in the last 10 years but being ‘always on’ has become a way of life for most of us and this is having terrible consequences for our Wellness in this age of the smartphone. Many of us are totally addicted to them, look at people on a busy street and most of them are head down walking starting into their phone. The huge increase of chronic stress, poor sleep, poor self image and feelings of inadequacy when we compare ourselves to the beautiful curated collections of images all essentially to inspire us to buy more stuff so that our lives will be better. Around the pool recently on holidays I noticed a trend of lots of young kids with smartphones and big sets of headphones on – all essentially shutting out the real world for an online soulless connectionless world. If we continue like this, we will be raising our kids for a lifetime of poor sleep, poor self-esteem, an inability to connect and form lasting friendships hence a lifetime of loneliness and much increased risk of depression and other mental illnesses.
So just because we have smartphones and they can do so many things for us, what I have thought about is having a charter on how I want to use my phone. With this in mind, this is mine:-
1) Digital Mindfulness; Ok, I get that it's an overuse of the term but I am trying to make conscious decisions about what I want to use my phone for and to establish clear rules around my use of my phone, when I go online, when I check my email, when I update Instagram etc; Its not the first thing I do when I wake up, and it certainly shouldn’t be the last thing I do at night. I need to use the phone for our work but I don't have to be on it all day.
2) Parental Role : It is our role to educate our daughter on the technologies I will allow her use. It is not up to the school and it is not up to her. I am not particularly popular holding this position as she would love a smart phone but I intend to make the decision based on need and appropriateness and there is no case to be made for her to have one right now.
3) In real life : It’s easy to stay in contact with people using the smartphone but this is no substitute for actual connections, being with people, having a laugh with your friend and family in person. Become aware of what the agenda of these technology companies is, they want us to have a ‘frictionless life’ where we spend the majority of our time on line, shopping, interacting, consuming services, media, TV, heck even Netflix says it ‘competes for sleep’.
Become aware of this and rather than mindlessly consuming technology spend your time on line with intent and purpose so that technology serves you and not vice versa.
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Not all stress is unnatural and there is no way we can avoid having stress in our lives so it’s important to remember that stress is meant to occur either to save our lives or to help us perform when something matters to us…. you know, like exams, work presentations, interviews and the like. As the saying goes ‘Just another cold night on the side of Everest’ feeling the stress during these situations is perfectly natural and not to be feared - it will eventually pass and there are lots of things you can do to help you stay resilient during these stressful periods.
It is the other type of stress – the always on chronic stress that many of us have in our lives and for some of us has become such an everyday occurrence that we don’t even realise how tightly wound our internal elastic band is. For me, I was chronically stressed with work and poor sleep when Eva was a toddler and she was sleeping really badly in response, as she felt my stress and needed me even more when my only thought was to try get her to bed and asleep so that I could work. Eventually my elastic band snapped and I started yelling for her to go back to sleep ☹…. That was my wake-up call to finally realise how out of control my stress had become and when I look back at this period in my life I realise there were so many signs I had missed on the road to getting to this point.
What are your personal stress signals and how can you recognise them and deal with them so that you don’t let yourself get over whelmed? Any or all of the following are pointers to being over stressed:-
Feeling panicked or overwhelmed
Inability to think clearly and make decisions
The ideal situation is that we never let it get to this point and to be proactive in taking responsibility for our mental, emotional and physical needs. Find your own ‘Stress Resilience Prescription’ – those things which help you burn the feelings of stress away. There are lots of known stress relievers - find what works for you and have a little of it every day!-
Exercise – burns stress, just make sure you don’t constantly over do it in a workout as you are just adding fuel to the fire if you are very stressed
Good Food – Lots of good food, fresh veg and fruit all help and do your best to avoid highly processed sugar laden good or excess alcohol during times of stress
Talking and Time with friends – a good laugh works wonders but the science behind t is that talking and time with friends releases oxytocin which protects you in times of stress so the temptation might be to duck away from meeting people but don’t!
Accentuate the positive – we always hear about trying to avoid stressors or people who cause us stress but allowing ourselves to remember good times and really staying in the moment during good times, feeling gratitude for what we have, builds a resilience bank which helps us cope if in times of stress.
Finding time for our hobbies and being outdoors – these two are central to staying resilient during stressful times – finding time to get outdoors is central to keeping our connection to the earth we live on and feeling part of something bigger than ourselves, and keeping time in the diary for our favourite hobby allows the body and mind to recharge especially if we can get so absorbed in it that we find our flow. Even if it is crazy at work, some predictable down time will help you cope and perform better!
Finally, one of the most common behaviours which leads to huge stress is cognitive distortion or what I like to all ‘disasterising’ where your mind puts a spin on things, always in a negative pattern, assuming the worse will or has happened when the truth is usually innocuous. You know when someone hasn’t phone you when they said they would and you assume ‘Oh no, I bet they met someone else’ or you see your boss with what you assume is a cross face and think that you have done something wrong or they weren’t happy with your work….. This is so common (Hand up!) and the problem is that our poor bodies get the stress response as if it has happened because it doesn’t know the difference between what your mind is telling it has happened and what has in fact happened! Think about this and if it is you, try recognise this for what it is and stop these thoughts. The more you recognise it, the easier it will be to nip it in the bud.
It’s not always easy but getting good at recognising your stress signals will mean you can cope better and stay well during periods of stress.
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Steam Rooms and Saunas
I am a big Steam and Sauna room user and for me they are not just a way to relax or chill out. I find them hugely beneficial in terms of post workout recovery as well as helpful if I am recovering from a winter cold. I’m still working on finding room in the garden to build one!
Here are just a few ways in which Steam or Sauna Rooms are helpful:-
1) Recovery and Tension
The heat relaxes muscles, soothes nerve and joint pain as well as relieves headaches.
2) Removes Toxins and helps clear skin
The heat makes your body sweat which helps relieves the body of waste products as well as improving circulation helping skin look better.
3) Can Increase Flexibility
I find that combined with regular work to stretching muscles, a sauna or steam room means that the heat penetrating muscles helps improve their flexibility.
4) Increased Muscle Gain
Spending time in a sauna is know to increase muscle gain by increasing protein production, through introduction of heat shock proteins, growth hormone and improved insulin sensitivity.
5) Stress Reduction
The heat helps to release endorphins that reduce the feelings of stress in our bodies. I love to chill out in a sauna when life is very busy.
6) Post-workout Relaxation
This is essential for anyone working out a lot. Simply being in a steam room or sauna is time to relax which aids recovery.
7) Promotes Healthy Blood Flow
The bodies capillaries dilate when they are exposed to the heat of the sauna or steam room which allows blood to flow freely and easily throughout the body, transporting oxygen to all areas of the body which needs it.
8) Sinus Pain relief
Many people suffer from pain in their Sinuses. The heat from saunas and steam rooms opens and thins the mucus membranes all around your body. If you have a cold this is also a great help as they aid in unblocking sinuses and improving your breathing.