Using the Exercise Training Window to Help Navigate Nervous System Regulation

The more I work with people using energy systems, the more I realize that one way into our experience is manipulating our “work” load. As we work on pushing up against our anaerobic threshold we can learn to expand our arousal level and increase our ability to self regulate.

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3 Ways to Give Your Body-Mind The Exercise it Needs

Hello, I am Dr Stacy Reuille-Dupont. I was an exercise scientist who turned into a clinical psychologist when I realized being healthy was about more than working out. Now I study how your body is changed by thought and emotion and how thought and emotion impact our physical systems. Here are some of the ways mental and physical health impact each other and 3 ways you can use exercise to optimize your health.

Photo Credit: Photo by Fitsum Admasu on Unsplash

For example your heart has its own electricalsystem that keeps it beating in rhythm, we strengthen it through cardiovascular exercise. This is things like running, biking, swimming, walking, anything you do with your big muscle groups for a period of time that makes your heart beat faster and breath rate go up. 

Equipment like treadmills, recumbent bikes, and elliptical machines are used to help people raise their heart rates indoors and get an effective cardiovascular workout done on limited time.

When we workout doing cardiovascular exercise we help our mood too. Our serotonin 2 endorphins, domaine, oxytocin, acetylcholine, all increase. These are the feel good hormones in our bodies. Doing just 2 – 30 minutes aerobic exercise sessions per week for at least 7 weeks is as good as taking a Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor (SSRI) anti-depressant medication for depression3

These feel good hormones do more than just make us feel good, they also regulate other processes in our bodies and decrease inflammation throughout our physical system. This is important because inflammation 4 wreaks havoc on our tissues. It creates brain fog, digestive issues, joint pains, weight gain and makes us feel more stressed out. 

When we feel stressed out everything is harder. It’s harder to learn, our relationships are more difficult, often because we are more irritated, it is harder to relax, and harder to get excited about doing fun things, which is exactly what we need to do if we are going to feel better. So it’s a double whammy of struggle. 

When we feel stress we are feeling the increases of chemicals in our endocrine system. Specifically through what’s called the HPA-axis, this is our hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. They work together to shift us into high gear and stay alive through a threat. However if we don’t move those chemicals out of our system they keep us inflamed and don’t help our tissues relax. And our body mind can’t tell if the threat is really happening to us or just something we saw on TV or in our video game5. We feel it in our physical system and then we respond as though it is happening to us even if we are just watching it or playing a game. 

Exercise is also considered a stressor and it works with the HPA-axis 6 too, but it gives us a mechanism to metabolize and use up those chemicals as our muscles, heart, lungs, and bones are working to move faster, lift heavy things, and challenge our fitness levels. So when we move our bodies and challenge ourselves we are building a stronger physical and mental system that works together 7.

Another big way exercise helps us is through our breathing. When we workout we breathe harder. Our lungs are one of four organs that help us get toxins out of our bodies. Exhaling even helps us lose weight8

Breathing is directly tied to our nervous system. When we breathe in we impact our sympathetic system, this is our high energy creative doing and fight/flight side of our nervous system. As we breathe out we impact our parasympathetic nervous system side9. This is our rest, digest, stay, and play, creative inspiration, feel good side. We want to be here more. This is where we feel safe and connected to people around us and something larger than ourselves. This tells our brains we are ok and the world is ok. We don’t have to be afraid. We have help and support when we need it. All humans need these feelings. When we are here our bodies and minds work better. 

So getting enough exercise is really important in our overall health. It helps our bones and muscles get stronger, helps our heart and digestive systems work better, and helps our minds learn faster, our moods feel more positive, and increases our self-confidence. 

Here’s 3 exercises you can do help your body-mind get the workout it needs. 

Running – Running is great because it asks the large muscles of our body to move over time – also known as cardiovascular exercise. Plus it’s hard for most of us and creates a mental game we must play if we are going to keep with it. It teaches our body how to function more effectively and our minds how to stick with boring things. 

Strength training – Strength training is about challenging your muscles to be stronger than they are now. There are lots of ways we can build our strength. So we can usually find something where we don’t get too bored. We just have to pick lifting, pushing, pulling things that are just a little bit heavier than what can comfortably do now. However it’s hard to lift heavy things. This challenges our muscles, builds our bones, and helps our minds remember we can do hard things. 

High quality yoga accessories at great prices!

Yoga – Yoga asana or postures are known for its ability to help us regulate our nervous systems through repetitive movements linked to our breathing. Remember above I talked about how our breathing is tied to our nervous system? This is part of why yoga works so well. Plus it asks us to contract and lengthen our muscles in a rhythmic pattern that helps our muscles stretch and become stronger under stretch. This is important for our range of motion – how much we can move a joint on our body – and keeps us moving throughout our lifetime. Yoga teaches us to be present to each experience as it happens and to just witness it, let it go as it has happened, and move to the next moment. We do not have to hold onto our judgment, frustration, fear, or joy because things are always changing. Yoga teaches us that change is ok and that we can make it through any changes, good or bad.

If you have a healthy and developed nervous system and strong mind you can handle anything that comes your way. Even the hard stuff, the boring stuff, the wanted and the unwanted stuff. A solid nervous system helps you regulate your emotions better and helps us stay present to our experiences which make our relationships, confidence, and ability to impact our world better. 

Today think about how you can move your body and help control your mind using movement. Challenge yourself to do hard things, lift more, run / walk further, or stay present to your breath. Use your body to experience everything that comes your way today. 

What you do today, impacts what you can do tomorrow. Many won’t be willing to put the effort in today to have the life they want tomorrow. 

Be different. 

Be willing to do the hard work of creating the life you want. This is called living an embodied life. 


Want help incorporating these ideas into your mental and physical fitness routines? 

Check out our integrative clinic at Studiob.life 

We work with people online and in person to learn more about how you can live more embodied everyday, understand how you can cultivate good feelings through simple movements and breathing exercises, and look closer at the science behind what’s happening in your psychology and physiology? 


References: 

1 – Silverman, M. E., Grove, D., & Upshaw, C. B. (2006). Why does the heart beat? The discovery of the electrical system of the heart. Circulation, 133, 2775-2781. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.616771

2 – Peluso M. A. M., & Guerra de Andrade, L. H. S. (2005). Physical activity and mental health: The 

association between exercise and mood. Clinics, 60(1), 61-70.

3 – Wipfli, B., Landers, D., Nagoshi C., & Ringenbach, S. (2011). An examination of serotonin and psychological variables in the relationship between exercise and mental health. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 21, 474-481. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01049.x 

4 – Dandekar, A, Mendez, R, & Zhang K. (2015). Cross talk between ER stress, oxidative stress, and inflammation in health and disease. In Christine M. Oslowski (ed.), Stress Responses: Methods and Protocols, Methods in Molecular Biology, vol. 1292, (205-214). Springer Science+Business Media. DOI 10.1007/978-1-4939-2522-3_15

5 – Cunningham-Bussel, A. C., Root,  J.C., Butler, T., Tuescher, O., Pan, H., Epstein, J., Weisholtz, D., S., Pavony, M., Silverman, M. E., Goldstein, M., S.,  Altemus, M., Cloitre, M.,  LeDoux, J., McEwen, B., Stern, E., Silbersweig, D. (2009). Diurnal cortisol amplitude and fronto-limbic activity in response to stressful stimuli. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34(5), 694-704, ISSN 0306-4530, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.11.011.

6 – Vassilakopoulos, T., Zakynthinos, S., Roussos, C., & Economou, M. (1999). Strenuous resistive breathing induces proinflammatory cytokines and stimulates the HPA axis in humans. American Journal of Physiology, 277(4), R10103-R1019. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.1999.277.4.R1013

7 – Cotman, C. W., Berchotold, N. C., & Christie, L-A. (2007). Exercise builds brain health: Key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation. TRENDS in Neurosciences, 30(9), 464-472. DOI:10.1016/j.tins.2007.06.011

8 – Meerman, R., & Brown, A. J. (2014). When somebody loses weight, where does the fat go? Gastroenterologocial Tracts. The BMJ, 349(7257), 1-3. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g7257

9 – Appelhans, B. M., & Luecken, L. J. (2006). Heart rate variability as an index of regulated emotional responding. Review of General Psychology (10)3, 229–240. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.10.3.229

Fighting Addiction With Exercise

While recovery from addiction takes many different forms and can be accomplished with many different treatment methods …

Guest Post by: Constance Ray from Recoverywell.org

Photo from: Pixabay

While recovery from addiction takes many different forms and can be accomplished with many different treatment methods, physical fitness is one aspect of the process that benefits just about everyone. You are attempting to help your body recover from a form of abuse, so it only makes sense to get your body in the best shape possible. 

Here are a few tips on how to build and maintain a healthy fitness routine during recovery from addiction, courtesy of Stacy Reuille-Dupont, PhD.

What Your Body Needs

As your body is adjusting to life without drugs or alcohol, it is undergoing some intense changes. While the end result is positive, the symptoms of withdrawal can include shakiness, increased heart rate, sweating, high blood pressure anxiety and more. Exercise can be a great way to fight these symptoms to make the withdrawal bearable; it can also be a healthy routine to continue even after your treatment is complete.

Types of Exercise

There is no one particular type of exercise that works for everyone who is in addiction recovery. Experience Life notes the key is to find a few kinds of physical activity that you enjoy and that helps you get closer to reaching your goals. For some people, this will be lifting weights, for others it will be cardio, for others it will be a sport. Many people find it helpful to mix hard training with activities that are more fun, such as rock climbing, kayaking or water skiing. If you enjoy the exercise, you’re much more likely to stick with it long-term.

Other alternative coping methods such as meditation, yoga and swimming can also relieve stress and anxiety and help you avoid relapse as you continue your fight against addiction. 

Whatever activities you choose, you might find it helpful to apply some tech to your program. A fitness watch, for instance, can help you monitor your progress and help you set goals. There are also numerous apps available to help. Some are dedicated to single exercise types — like Strong for weightlifting — and some are lifestyle apps — like MyFitnessPal or Whoop, which coaches your diet and exercise program as a whole. 

Along those lines, incorporating a holistic approach to your recovery is wise. Addressing your diet and adding meditation, time in nature, and time for socializing with supportive family and friends to the mix is wise. By remembering all your mental, emotional and physical self-care needs, you can raise your defenses that much more, and minimize your exposure to triggers.

Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Recovery

As the Chicago Tribune asserts, staying active can benefit you in several ways as you fight substance abuse. It can reduce your stress, improve your amount and quality of sleep, increase your energy levels, protect you against disease and reduce your drive to smoke and seek drugs. It will also keep you busy as you try to find ways to fill your time so you’re not dwelling on old, destructive desires.

In addition, focusing on exercise and physical fitness can improve your mental and psychological health. Studies indicate that exercise can reduce depression, ease anxiety, improve your self-esteem and lift your general mood, which are all important in the fight against addiction. It’s an avenue to release stress from your body and leave you feeling calm and refreshed. 

Keep a Healthy Routine

Once you have found an exercise program or activity that works for you, do your best to get into a regular daily and weekly rhythm so exercise is just part of your recovery program. You want to get to the point where you don’t have to decide whether or not to exercise – the decision has already been made by the way you have set up your life. This routine will not cure your addiction on its own, but it will play a vital role.

No matter what type of addiction you are facing, recovery is a long road. One way to make the trip smoother is to include a regular exercise routine in your daily life. You’ll find the physical and mental benefits invaluable as you fight to return to normal life without substance abuse.

Connect with Stacy Reuille-Dupont for more ideas to encourage your health and well-being.  Get a free WHOOP strap and your first month free when you join with Stacy’s link

What is Love? Understanding what is physically happening when we feel love.

Love is the most sung about emotion, it is the theme of our childhood movies, and our spiritual teachings. But what does it really mean to love? To love well? To find true love?

Love is something many of us spend time searching for, questing over, and trying to find. What is it?

Photo Credit: Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash 

What is love?

Love is often associated with terms like commitment, intimacy, attachment, passion, and jealousy, grief, heart-broken. 

Love is a feeling, it is a construct we use to identify somatic sensations we have and label as emotions. It is the word we use to describe what we like, want, appreciate. It is a word we use to differentiate where we will put our attention. We know love when we feel it and pine for it when we can’t find it. Most people describe love as a feeling of warmth, openness, and a sense of connection. Here’s what is physically happening when we feel love. 

The physicality of love.

The body communicates with many chemicals. Oxytocin is the “love” hormone. This chemical is responsible for our bonding. It is important when we give birth as it bonds us to the new baby. It is important and part of why we see such connection at rallies, group events, working toward a common passion, and helps our bodies regulate a variety of other hormones and processes to keep our physical system healthy and happy. 

The chemistry changes of vasopressin are also important in the love cocktail. Vasopressin is connected to our sense of protection and protecting those we love. It helps us get through and manage stressful events, and together these experiences help us bond with other mammals. 

We often symbolize love with images of our heart. From a basic anatomy, the heart, our symbol of love, is a unique organ. It is the only place we find cardiac muscle. This muscle contains its own electrical signal and communicates in its own system. The muscle sends electrical signals to its parts to beat and remain in rhythm. 

The heart is like our battery in our car. It keeps us going and sparks other systems. The heart is critical to our survival. It connects to every other part of our body through its role as the pump of our circulatory system and assisting our lymph system to rid our body of toxins. As the blood comes in and out of the heart it nourishes every other organ. It bathes our whole body in chemicals needed to facilitate a cascade of physical changes throughout our day. Carter and Porges (2013) state, “the protective effects of positive sociality seem to rely on the same cocktail of hormones that carry a biological message of ‘love’ throughout the body”, (pg 16), which the heart is responsible for trucking. Oxytocin plays a role in development of our fetal heart and protects our heart by converting stem cells into caridomyocytes (Carter & Porges, 2013). 

Take Care of your Heart with this wearable. It not only tracks your heart rate, but also your heart rate variability. Learn more about HRV.

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Love = Bonding, stress, and aggression.

Emotions are felt on the somatic level (physical sensations) and are also complex physiological reactions with motor responses. In our brains love helps facilitate goal directed behavioral activities that help us connect to another person. This ensures survival of the species. Feeling love helps us cognitively too. Bianchi-Demicheli, Grafton, and Ortigue (2006) found that being in love led to faster response times on a lexicon experiment when the participants were “primed” with an associated message about the person they were in love with. 

Carter and Porges (2013) state “The same molecules that allow us to give and receive love, also link our need for others with health and wellbeing” through the benefits that oxytocin has on our physical systems and due to its role in bonding us to others. When we have more social support we are more resilient in the face of stressors and our oxytocin – vasopressin experiences are supportive to our wellbeing. This could be due to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties oxytocin has. 

However when you have too much vasopressin without balancing oxytocin we have more aggressive behaviors. Infants with increased chronic exposure to vasopressin may over-react or be more defensive throughout their lives. Increased exposure may come from highly stressed or traumatized parents (Carter & Porges, 2013). 

Due to vasopressin’s link with androgen hormones (testosterone) males appear to be more sensitive to the effects of vasopressin. Following stressful experiences male prairie voles quickly form bonds with females, but females showed preference for other females following a stressful exercise (Carter, 1998). It appears males and females experience love and bonding differently due to differing pathways and experiences of these endogenous chemicals. 

Stressful experiences help us bond to others. This could be why we experience a sense of community following difficult events like storms, tests, rallies, assaults, and training exercises even when tragedy has occurred. 

Why love is helpful to your physical system and fear is not.

Love is Addicting. 

Love is so “addicting” is due to the way catecholamines reinforce our repeated behaviors. Catecholamines are chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine. They are well known as the reward and pleasure neurotransmitters. These are the ones we are after when we use stimulants like cocaine. 

As a result of experiencing a pleasurable experience we feel the joy of dopamine. We like it, we want more of whatever it was that gave us that feeling. In substance abuse we often look to dopamine as a reason for someone’s struggle letting go of the drug. 

Catecholamines link our experiences with our desire. Dopamine plays a role in the release of oxytocin and plays a role in pair bonding (Carter, 1998). Think about how much you like sex. This is the dopamine-oxytocin cocktail at work. Orgasm dumps a slew of the “feel good” endogenous chemicals into our system all at the same time. We relax, feel content, experience joy, and feel connected to the person we are laying beside. We may tag this experience as love or just good feelings based on who is next to us. But we go back and do it again and again and again. 

Why We Like to Be Around Others When Feeling Love

Love like any other emotion love is a chemical, electrical, and vibrational shift in our physical body. Love comes with an openness to experiences that “lifts our moods”. It makes us see things more clearly, colors become more vibrant, and we find the sparkle in each experience. This is in part due to the endogenous opiates and dopamine we experience along side oxytocin and vasopressin responses when experiencing a sense of connectedness.

We are vibrational beings. As atoms communicate they shift vibrational states to match other atoms in their vicinity. This is why we can “feel” an energy in different environments. Our bodies register the vibrational quality and signal our brain to label it. When our brains “see” it we label the emotion based on our past experiences. We have cells called mirror neurons that register what others in our environment are doing. They “mirror” what is being expressed in our brains. When our mirror neurons fire we can understand what others are experiencing. We are not always right in our assessment, but we often have an accurate sense when we are paying close attention. We share in that experience with them through mirror neurons and limbic resonance in our brains and it feels good to “know” another.

When we experience love alongside others we have a sense of “being in a bubble” with that person or feeling “like no one else was in the room with us”. These experiences speak to the physical changes happening in our bodies and being matched by another. As noted above, this “matching” is important to our sense of wellbeing, stress management, and overall health. 

Together love shifts our physical structure and changes the way our body communicates with others in our environment. When we are steeped in love and joy others know and we lift them up by sharing these energies. Our bodies are made to communicate beyond our physical systems.

Our nervous systems and mirror neurons communicate our internal state to other mammals. When we are feeling more content, open, and expansive others benefit from our emotional experiences. It is why we like to be in contact with other people who are experiencing positive emotional states too. It is why we like to gather with those who have a common goal and share our values around cultivating happiness and love. 

When we connect with others experiencing these similar emotions we synergistically raise the experience for us all. We are greater than the sum of our two parts by sharing our love. 

Here a few ways we can cultivate and share our sense of love in the world. 

1) In Eastern traditions we look at chakras and the heart line. The heart chakra connects us to humanity. When we feel connected to others we often feel a warmth in our heart space. Try “breathing through your heart”. In this practice breathe in and out with the visual of that air moving through the heart center bathing you and the world in a sense of peace, connectedness, and goodwill. 

2) We talk about “broken hearts” and my “heart hurts” as we explain our struggles with connection. The heart line is a nerve running on the inside of the arm. By applying pressure to this line it helps our nervous system calm, which allows us to feel more safe with others and in the world. 

We can activate this nerve by reaching out to other people – hugs, holding hands, physical touch – can all help us feel more connected. You can also karate chop one hand in the palm of the other to quickly calm yourself. By stimulating this nerve you are slowing the heart rate, which in turn will slow your breath rate. Together they will shift you from a sympathetic stress state to parasympathetic rest state. 

3) Work on truly connecting with others. When you are out use eye contact to convey loving kindness to those you meet along your path. On the street, in stores, with family, friends, and co-workers share a smile that goes all the way to your eyes. Let others see the joy you posses and benefit from your expansiveness by sharing eye contact and a smile. These two gestures help release dopamine and oxytocin in both you and the person you are smiling at. Plus you’ll usually get a smile back and that means you’ll get another dump of dopamine and oxytocin. See above for the addictive effects of love and why this might feel so good. 

You can also manipulate these structures through quick breathing and physical exercises that help you connect more to yourself and to others. Here are 3 ways to take care of your heart using exercise and breath:

  1. Fast Cardio Blast
  2. A Look at Heart Disease
  3. Good Cardio Exercise

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References: 

Bianchi-Demicheli, F., Grafton, S. T., & Ortigue S. (2006). The power of love on the human brain. Social Neuroscience, 1(2), 90-103. DOI:10.1080/17470910600976547   

Carter, C. S., & Porges, S. W. (2013). The biochemistry of love: An oxytocin hypotheses. European Molecular Biology Organization Reports, 14(1). 12-16. DOI:10.1080/17470910600976547  

Carter, C. S. (1998). Neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 23(8), 779-818.