This is the second in a two part series on lifestyle factors that may be contributing to anxiety.
In part one we discussed what anxiety disorders are. We also talked about performance anxiety and how many of these strategies are helpful for that, as well. And finally we explored the role of nutrition in anxiety and what foods may be exacerbating anxiety and what foods can help relieve it. If you haven’t read it yet you can find it here: Beating Anxiety - Part One: Nutrition
This week our focus will be on the role of exercise in relieving anxiety.
How Does Exercise Help?
There have been numerous studies on the beneficial effects of exercise on anxiety and depression. Exercising can be as effective as drugs for the treatment of anxiety. Why it works is still under consideration, but there seem to be many possible contributing factors
One possible explanation is that the stress pathway called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, undergoes changes that affect stress reactivity and anxiety under the influence of exercise.
Another possibility is that exercise increases serotonin synthesis, metabolism, and release. Serotonin being one of the major mood hormones necessary to our well being.
There is evidence that exercise stress can affect gene expression that affects the area of the brain rich in neurons that produce norepinephrine – a neuro-transmitter that plays a vital role in the fight or flight response.
Another possible mechanism for the anxiety relieving effects of exercise is by the body’s production of natural opioids and endocannaboids, which have a role in the regulation of mood and emotional responses. Exercise may induce a euphoric state with the release of these naturally occurring chemicals in the body and reduce pain – no weed necessary.
Aside from these physiological explanations, there are also some psychological reasons for the role of exercise in reducing anxiety.
Exposing someone with high anxiety sensitivity to the physiological symptoms they fear, such as rapid heartbeat, in the context of physical exercise may increase their tolerance for such symptoms as the brain soon realizes that there is no serious threat Repeated exposures through regular aerobic exercise may also help in getting used to the feared sensation.
Distraction is often a technique used to help those with anxiety and depress, so it’s another reason why exercise is effective at reducing anxiety.
Likely, it’s a combination of many of these reasons that help reduce anxiety. Whatever the reason may be, it’s clear that exercise is helpful.
How much exercise do you need to get the effects?
Regular exercise is important, so aiming for 3 to 5 times a week.
In a study on college musicians with musical performance anxiety, it was found that those who exercised regularly had lower performance anxiety scores than their more sedentary counterparts.
On a daily basis, it’s been shown that 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise has more benefit than less than 30 minutes, but there didn’t seem to be any more benefit past 45 minutes. However, even 10 minutes daily to start will start providing some relief.
And what are the best exercises?
As I like to say, the exercise you are willing to do is the best exercise. However, a study from the University of Missouri suggests that high intensity interval training seems to have the greatest anxiety-relieving effect compared to steady state cardio.
As always, it’s important to check with your physician before starting any new exercise program and work up the intensity gradually to avoid injury.
If you want exercise ideas and more anxiety busting tips, join our Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Facebook group.
Over the last 20 some years of teaching singing I've noticed an increasing number of singers that struggle with anxiety, Performance anxiety has always been a problem for many singers, but anxiety disorders are on the rise. In my health coaching practice it's also a common thread.
This is the first in a three part series on how lifestyle can help anxiety, both clinical disorders and performance anxiety. I will be giving you tips and strategies to help you get back to feeling confident on and off the stage.
In this part we will discuss the impact of nutrition and what foods will help the most. The following parts will deal with physical exercise and sleep.
My own story with anxiety goes back to my childhood. I was a very VERY shy child. Though it was never diagnosed, it was social anxiety. Even as an adult I had a hard time in social situations and felt very awkward. The stigma of getting help was very real and my family had so many other issues that it seemed to me that my problems weren’t that big, so I never sought treatment. However, when I did change my lifestyle through exercise and nutrition it was if a veil had lifted! I suddenly found myself more willing to take chances socially and felt so much more confident in myself.
Though lifestyle factors can go a long way to helping alleviate anxiety, it’s important to realize that it can have many underlying factors that need to be addressed. A combination of improving lifestyle and working with a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders is the most effective way to treat anxiety.
Anxiety DisordersFirst let’s have a little background look at anxiety.
Anxiety is prevalent in our society. According to Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) 54 percent of woman and 46 percent of men experience some form of anxiety disorder.
Some common disorders are generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder and specific phobias.
Many use medication to help alleviate their anxiety. Paxil and Zoloft, two of the more popular anti-anxiety medications, ranked 7th and 8th in the top ten prescribed medications in the US. However, singers should use these medications with caution since they can cause a dry mouth and dry out mucous membranes that can result in hoarseness, sore throat and voice changes leaving the vocal folds susceptible to injuries such as nodules.
Mental and physical health are closely linked. People with a mood disorder are at much higher risk of developing a long-term medical condition.
Just a few of the symptom of those who have an anxiety condition include:
Some level of performance anxiety is expected for any performer. Some even say that if you don’t feel nervous, you won’t give a good performance. It’s a natural state of being faced with an unfamiliar situation; your body’s fight or flight response. Usually the anticipation of performing is usually worse than the actual performance. However, for some performance anxiety can be debilitating.
There are many ways to learn to cope with performance anxiety that incorporate cognitive strategies (mindset, meditation, triggers). However, lifestyle here also plays an important role. It can help give you a reliable instrument for singing; energized, healthy, with an alert mind.
If you are tired or unwell, there is always the worry that you won’t perform as well as you would like and the very real worry of vocal injury.
Nutrition to boost you mood and performance
Studies have shown that adopting a healthier diet can boost peoples' mood. In particular, eating more nutrient-dense meals, which are high in fibre and vegetables, while cutting back on fast-foods and refined sugars. Likewise, studies have shown that a “junk food” diet can have negative psychological effects.
Making healthy dietary change can reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. These conditions have been linked to inflammation in the body due to how chronic stress adversely affects the body’s inflammation response. Eating an unhealthy diet, such as junk food, high sugar foods, and stimulants, stress the body, which can contribute to inflammation problems. Chronic inflammation is also linked to many diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and multiple sclerosis, to name a few. Eating a healthy diet can reduce the body’s stress load causing a reduction in inflammation.
Women in particular seem to benefit from dietary interventions for symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Though that’s no excuse for the guys to get complacent, since they are still at great risk of inflammatory conditions that will affect their health.
Performance anxiety also benefits from supportive lifestyle factors including physical exercise, sleep and healthy diet. The best strategy is to adopt healthy eating as a lifestyle choice. This will ensure decreased inflammation, which as we already discussed can prevent (and in some cases, reverse) many diseases that can affect your ability to sing and to sing with confidence.
On performance days you should avoid alcohol, high caffeine, high-sugar, high-fat and spicy foods before performance and eat easily digestible complex carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, which will produce a sustained release of energy during performance. This will also help you better maintain concentration and focus.
Some great meal ideas include whole grain pasta with a mild primavera sauce, lentil soup, or a bean and rice burrito bowl. Avoid wheat/gluten products if you have irritable bowel syndrome or have a known sensitivity to wheat products.
Foods that boost your mood
Some of the causes of anxiety have to do with nutrient deficiencies. The nutrients and foods listed below will help boost your mood and make you feel energized.
B Vitamins and Folate:
Studies have indicated that many people who suffer from anxiety and depression have an elevated incident of folate deficiency. Vitamin B6 helps the body make several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which influences mood. Other B vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, have positive effects on the nervous system. Deficiencies of these vitamins have been linked to increased anxiety.
Foods rich in B vitamins:
Aparagus, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, beets, citrus, spinach, avocado, broccoli, nuts and seeds, brussel sprouts, papaya, banana, carrots, sweet potatoes,
Antioxidants including Vitamins C and E:
When we’re anxious and stressed, our bodies crave vitamin C to help repair and protect our cells. Researchers7 at the State University of New York found that anxious symptoms are linked with a lower antioxidant state.
Foods rich in antioxidants:
Kale, dark green leafy vegetables, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, dark chocolate, pecans, goji berries, artichokes, beets, goji berries, red cabbage, beans
Researchers have shown that magnesium may be an effective treatment for anxiety-related symptoms, as inadequate magnesium reduces the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.
Foods rich in magnesium:
Whole grains, nuts and seeds, black beans, spinach, quinoa, avocado, tofu
Omega-3 fatty acid:
According to a study from Ohio University, omega-3 fatty acids are particularly effective when it comes to foods that help with anxiety. They are known to be highly effective anti-inflammatories and are the kind of fats our brains crave.
Foods rich in magnesium:
Chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds
They call the gut the second brain and it’s actually powered by our gut microbiome. Feeding the good bacteria in our gut can help with serotonin production. A link has been found between the consumption of fermented, probiotic foods and a reduction in social anxiety.
Foods rich in probiotics:
Sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, sourdough bread
I would love to hear about your experiences and if you've ever thought of food as a way to deal with anxiety. Leave a comment below or contact me.
If you want more ideas of how to get more of these anxiety busting foods into your diet, join our Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community where I frequently share recipes and other anxiety busting tips.
Joseph Firth et al, The effects of dietary improvement on symptoms of depression and anxiety, Psychosomatic Medicine (2019). DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000673
The Science & Psychology of Music Performance: Creative Strategies for Teaching and Learning by Richard Parncutt and Gary McPherson | Feb 18 2003
My friend Kate, a professional singer for a decade, had a rude awakening about 3 years ago. In the middle of singing a song her voice snapped. She had a vocal hemorrhage. On closer inspection it turned out she also had pre-nodules and significant stiffness in her right fold.
She chronicles her journey back to vocal health in her book “Just One Voice”, but one of the underlying causes of her injury was reflux.
This is the stuff singer’s nightmares are made of. The thing is many singers are not even aware of their reflux. When you feel heartburn or have a distinct backflow of acid to the back of your throat, you can be sure you are suffering from Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), but many singers don’t feel this, yet they may still experience Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR).
LPR occurs when stomach contents come up the throat in a gaseous form or as a mist. This allows for easy access to the larynx as the mist can be inhaled. And you won’t even know it.
Though it was previously thought that the acid was doing the damage, more current research suggests that it is actually not the acid, but inflammation due to the action of pepsin.
Pepsin is a digestive enzyme, specifically for the breakdown of protein. Guess what the pharyngeal and laryngeal tissue is made of? That’s right. Protein. So the pepsin is digesting your tissue! Gross!!! Right? The stomach has a special lining that prevents this from happening, but outside of the stomach all tissue is fair game for the pepsin.
To make matters worse, Even if pepsin stops digesting and lays dormant, it can be reactivated by acid. So that coke or orange juice you drink can be reactivating it starting the cycle all over again.
What does this mean to your voice?
If you have LPR you may be experiencing inflammation in the vocal folds and even a thinning of the epithelial layer of the vocal folds. This puts you at greater risk of nodules, polyps, and hemorrhages when you sing. It also increases the risk of laryngeal cancer (though this is still a very rare form of cancer at 1% incidence).
If you have a very active singing life, this is a disaster waiting to happen.
Look out for the symptoms:
Chronic cough and throat clearing
Feeling of a lump in the throat
See an ENT if you have any of the above issues that are not associated with a common cold and persist for more than 2 weeks.
What can you do?
I’ve already laid out some basics in Acid Reflux and the Singer: What Every Singer Needs to Know. Paying attention to what you eat does matter. There is now evidence that a plant-based diet together with alkaline water is as effective as proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) therapy.
Why is the alkaline water important? Remember earlier I mentioned that the pepsin is active in acid (that's a pH of 2 – 6.9) and can be reactivated by coming into contact with more acid? Well, it turns out that pepsin is permanently deactivated in an alkaline environment.
An alkaline pH of 8 – 10 is most effective to deactivate pepsin.
You can buy alkaline water, or you can buy expensive machines that can mineralize your water to make it alkaline. It’s also possible to make your own by adding baking soda to water, however, this has a high sodium content, which is not recommended for your health. Buying bottled alkaline water may be the best way to go if can’t spring for a machine. If you are on a tight budget, then instead of drinking the baking soda water, try gargling after a meal.
These are the dietary steps Kate took to help with her reflux: An anti-inflammatory plant-based approach, avoiding triggers like soda, caffeine, chocolate, citrus, tomatoes and strong spices and alkaline water. Her folds are now pristine.
If you suspect you have reflux, get checked by and ENT, and if you want to get back on track vocally, you may be interested in The Fit Singer’s 14 Day Vocal Reset, which includes a reflux friendly meal plan.
Doucet, Kate J, Just One Voice A Book on Vocal Sustainability and Injury Prevention, 2018, Outskirts Press, Inc.
Colds, flu, sore throats. Winter is the time for getting sick. Of course that just won’t do for a singer. Every singer's nightmare is to get that tickle in the throat and sniffles coming on just before a performance.
Usually I try to promote prevention through a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, good nutrition, stress management, and sleep. However, there are times but even the best laid plans go awry.
So what’s a singer to do when that illness comes along?
Let's start with what you shouldn't do.
Do not sing with a severely sore throat.
Though you may be able to get by singing with a bit of a head cold if you feel it in your throat chances are your vocal folds are also inflamed and you put yourself at risk of vocal injury.
Don’t sing if you feel really lousy.
Aside from the possibility of inflammation in the vocal folds, if you are not feeling well and have to increase your effort to sing, you will put your voice at risk of vocal injury.
Do not use over the counter cough and cold medications if you are going to sing.
Many of them contain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. These drugs will numb the pain and then you won't be able to feel if there is a vocal problem. You could end up with a vocal hemorrhage. Same goes for any herbal remedies that numb the pain, even good old Throat Coat tea is not safe to use if you are actively singing.
Do not drink alcohol.
Alcohol can affect your gut microbiome which is essential to your immune system. It's also a diuretic that will dry you out. When you're sick you need to hydrate more than ever.
Do not take antibiotics unless you know you have a bacterial infection.
Over-prescription of antibiotics is a problem these days. Taking antibiotics kills off good and bad gut bacteria throwing your immune system off balance.
Do not eat sugar.
If you feel a cold coming coming on, cut out the sugar and simple carbs. Sugar is inflammatory and lowers your immune system.
Do not use Facebook recommendations for wacky remedies.
Many can be ineffective and at worst can put you at risk of vocal injury. Ever hear of putting onions on your feet? Or using colloidal silver? Please, just don't.
Now let's talk about what you should do and some natural remedies that you can use.
Do increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Even if you haven't been eating them regularly before your cold they will still help boost your immune system and shorten the length and severity of your symptoms.
Drinking lots of water will improve your body's ability to function and fight off the infection. In addition to water, soups and herbal teas are great are great to have for hydration and may have other soothing and healing benefits. Some good herbal teas to include in your cold and flu fighting arsenal are ginger tea with lemon, marshmallow tea which is good at suppressing coughs and soothing sore throats, peppermint tea. You can also have water with a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar. Raw apple cider vinegar is known to kill germs and bacteria. Drink it a few times a day when you have a cold or flu.
Do make sure you are taking vitamin D.
Especially in Northern climates where we don't get much sunlight Vitamin D deficiency can be a problem and it is known to be important to your immune system. Read more on vitamin D here.
Steaming will help open up your sinuses and hydrate your vocal folds providing you with some relief. Adding some essential oils such as peppermint, rosemary or oregano can help clear up and soothe even more.
Do gargle with salt water.
Salt water can help kill germs lurking in the back of your throat.
Do some light vocalizing.
Using semi-occluded vocal tract exercises (SOVT), especially straw phonation, can help with healing of inflamed vocal folds.
Do see an Ear, Nose, Throat specialist (ENT) if you are concerned or if symptoms last for more than two weeks.
You want to make sure you're voice stays healthy for a lifetime of enjoyment.
Here are a few other natural remedies you can try.
For congestion make a rub of coconut oil with a few drops of peppermint oil or eucalyptus oil. Other essential oils that are antibacterial and antiviral are thyme and rosemary which can be incorporated in rubs, steaming or diffusers.
Licorice root is known to soothe coughs however use in moderation and for no longer than two weeks at a time as there may be side effects from overuse.
Eat lots of garlic. Garlic is known to have natural antibacterial and antiviral properties. Try mashing two cloves of garlic with little bit of honey and lemon juice and chewing on this every 3 to 4 hours at the first signs of a cold.
Apply coconut oil to your nostrils and ears and mouth. Coconut oil has antibacterial properties make sure you were using unrefined coconut oil that will still have the enzymes in it. This will prevent entry of germs into your system it's a great preventative when you are traveling on planes where the air is very dry.
Try some of these strategies the next time you get sick. Let me know what works for you.
If you need help revitalizing your voice after a cold or flu then the 14 Day Vocal Reset is for you. Check it out here.
As the days get shorter and the clocks have recently fallen back, many of us in northern climes are lucky if we get to see the sun through the day. This can be a bad thing, especially when we talk about Vitamin D. This is especially so for singers who need to maintain their energy and immunity during this busy season.
When we think of "vitamins," we know they're super-important for health.
But vitamin D is special. First of all, it's not even really a vitamin, but actually a hormone.
And, unless you live in a warm sun-drenched climate, it's difficult to get enough vitamin D; vitamin D is, therefore, a very common deficiency.
So, let's talk about how much of this critical fat-soluble vitamin we need, and how you can get enough. The three ways to vitamin D are exposure to the sun, consuming vitamin D containing food, and through supplements.
Why is vitamin D important, and how much do we need?
Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium from our food and as a hormone it helps us build strong bones. Vitamin D can also help with immune function (this is especially important for us singers when cold and flu season hits hard), cellular growth, and help to prevent mood imbalances such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.
Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to low energy and getting sick more easily, but it can also lead to more serious problems such as to bone diseases like osteomalacia. Inadequate vitamin D can also increase your risk of heart disease, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, and even death. The "official" minimum amount of vitamin D to strive for each day is merely 400-600 IU. However, many experts think that this is not nearly enough for optimal health. The Endocrine Society recommends 1500 - 2000 IU for the average person (more if you have severe deficiency or are obese).
To ensure you get adequate amounts of vitamin D, you can implement any combination of the three vitamin D sources mentioned above on a weekly basis.
How can I get enough vitamin D from the sun?
Your skin makes vitamin D when it's exposed to the sun; that's why it's referred to as the "sunshine vitamin." How much vitamin D your skin makes depends on many things. Location, season, clouds, clothing, all affect the amount of vitamin D your skin can produce from the sun. One standard recommendation is to get about 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. to the face, arms, legs, or back. This should be done without sunscreen, at least twice a week. Of course, we should always avoid sunburns and of course in some locations (and seasons of the year) it's not easy to get sun exposure. So, how can we get enough vitamin D in other ways?
How can I get enough vitamin D from food?
Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish, liver, and egg yolks. Some mushrooms make vitamin D when they're exposed to the sun.
Some foods are "fortified" (which means vitamin D has been added) with vitamin D. These include milk, some orange juices, breakfast cereals, and yogurt. It will say on the label how much vitamin D has been added per serving. As always, I lean to the whole food plant-based choices.
Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, you can increase absorption of it from your food if you eat it with some fat (healthy fat, of course).Between sun exposure and food, it still may be difficult to get even the minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D each day; this is why vitamin D supplements are quite popular.
How can I get enough vitamin D from supplements?
It's easy enough to just "pop a pill" or take some cod liver oil (which also contains vitamin A, which is a potentially toxic vitamin if consumed daily in this form and should be avoided if you are pregnant). Either of these can ensure that you get the minimum amount of vitamin D, plus a bit extra.
There is also some evidence to suggest that taking vitamin D3 may be more beneficial for longevity than vitamin D2 (the kind made by mushrooms), though either form will improve your blood levels
But before you take vitamin D containing supplements, make sure you check that it won't interact with other supplements or medications you may be taking. Always read your labels, and ask a healthcare professional for advice.
Do not take more than the suggested dosage on the label of any vitamin D supplement, except under medical care.
The maximum amount recommended (for the general population) is 4,000 IU/day. Too much vitamin D can raise your blood levels of calcium (to an unsafe level), and this can affect your heart and kidneys.
The best thing, if you're concerned, is to ask your healthcare professional to do a blood test and make a recommendation about how much vitamin in supplement form is right for you. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend higher amounts of vitamin D supplementation for a short time while under their care.
Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin which; many people have a hard time maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D. There are three ways to get enough vitamin D: sun exposure, through certain foods, and in supplements.
I've given you some ideas how you can get your daily dose of vitamin D.
If you're concerned, it's best to request a blood test that tests your vitamin D levels to be sure what's right for you. Always take supplements as directed.
Singers, in our competitive industry the total package matters. There I said it.
It is a sad truth, but it's there. No matter how glorious your voice, for some companies, directors and fans that just isn't enough.
If it was a perfect world we wouldn't have to put up with that. However, we still should be concerned about our health and most people will agree that excess weight can be a health concern that can ultimately affect our singing and our day to day lives.
Is weight really the issue though?
You totally want to ditch your scale, don't you?
You may have this weird kind of relationship with your “weight”.
I mean, it doesn't define you (obviously) and it doesn’t prevent you from singing up a storm.
What you weigh can matter (as I said, it's unfortunate that some casting is based on the outer package more that the voice for singers), but if we’re talking about health, then weight only matters to a certain extent.
Let's look at your waist circumference (well...you look at yours and I'll look at mine).
Waist Circumference (AKA “Belly Fat”):
Do you remember the fruity body shape descriptions being like an “apple” or a “pear”? The apple is kinda round around the middle (you know – belly fat-ish, kinda beer belly-ish) and the pear is rounder around the hips/thighs.
THAT is what we're talking about here.
Do you know which shape is associated with a higher risk of sleep apnea, blood sugar issues (e.g. insulin resistance and diabetes) and heart issues (high blood pressure, blood fat, and arterial diseases).
Yup – that apple!
And it's not because of the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that you may refer to as a “muffin top”. The health risk is actually due to the fat inside the abdomen covering the liver, intestines and other organs there.
This internal fat is called “visceral fat” and that's where a lot of the problem actually is. It's this “un-pinchable” fat.
The reason the visceral fat can be a health issue is because it releases fatty acids, inflammatory compounds, and hormones that can negatively affect your blood fats, blood sugars, and blood pressure.
And the apple-shaped people tend to have a lot more of this hidden visceral fat than the pear-shaped people do.
So as you can see where your fat is stored is more important that how much you weigh.
Am I an apple or a pear?
It's pretty simple to find out if you're in the higher risk category or not. The easiest way is to just measure your waist circumference with a measuring tape. You can do it right now.
Women, if your waist is 35” or more you could be considered to have “abdominal obesity” and be in the higher risk category. Pregnant ladies are exempt, of course.
For men the number is 40”.
Of course this isn't a diagnostic tool. There are lots of risk factors for chronic diseases. Waist circumference is just one of them.
If you have concerns definitely see your doctor.
Tips for helping reduce some belly fat:
Get continuing motivation, tips and accountability to reach your goal when you join the FREE Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community. Join now by clicking here.
Recipe (High fiber side dish): Garlic Lemon Roasted Brussel Sprouts
1 lb brussel sprouts (washed, ends removed, halved)
2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
dash salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400F.
In a bowl toss sprouts with garlic, oil, and lemon juice. Spread on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper.
Bake for about 15 minutes. Toss.
Bake for another 10 minutes.
Serve and Enjoy!
Tip: Brussel sprouts contain the fat-soluble bone-loving vitamin K. You may want to eat them more often.
Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
For singers the topic of gut health is usually restricted to gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD) and it's cousin Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LRP), but with so many other health conditions beginning in the gut that can ultimately affect a singer's ability to perform it's time to look at the full picture.
While "All disease begins in the gut" may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. And we're not just talking about heartburn (which includes GERD and LPR), constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. We're talking about all kinds of issues like allergies, which is a common complain among singers, as well as pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It's here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients (and toxins) through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body. We're just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of "the gut-brain axis"). Not just our gut per se; but, its friendly resident microbes too. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health.
So, let's talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. Then I'll give you tips to improve your gut health naturally.
Our gut’s role in our overall health:
Our gut’s main role is as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want to pass right through and out.
This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can break down in so many places.
For one thing, our guts can "leak." Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins). You name it, whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it's not supposed to. And when your gut wall gets irritated, it can "leak." When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don't seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there. This includes colds, flus and sore throats, which every singer dreads!
FUN FACT: 70-80% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.
A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated. Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health.
The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.
So, keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health!
How to improve gut health:
There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with what to stop. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts junk to deal with. How about eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol? Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.
You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.
By eating nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into our gut to maximize the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colourful fruits and veggies, and fish.
The second pillar of gut health is our microbes. By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet.
Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Not eating enough fiber increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fiber also helps to feed our friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.
And don’t forget the uber-important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.
The function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes.
The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.
To find out more join our free Facebook community here.
Recipe (Probiotic-rich): Fermented Carrots
Yield: 12 servings
1 L warm water
4 tsp salt
4 carrots, medium, peeled, sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)
Make a brine by dissolving the salt in water.
Place carrots into a clean canning jar, packing them in tight. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of head space at the top.
Fill the jar with brine, making sure to cover the carrots completely. Weigh the carrots down to make sure they don't float (you can use a "fermenting weight").
Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 days. The longer it sits, the more the flavor will develop. Feel free to open and taste.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Use this as a side dish, or even a snack.
Valentine’s Day – the perfect time to talk chocolate! And share a decadent chocolate recipe that only has 3 ingredients!
As singers we are told to avoid chocolate prior to singing due to increased mucus production. This is mostly due to dairy and refined sugar being present in most chocolate and contributing to thickening of mucus.
I actually was not able to find any research that used raw cacao as the basis of these kinds of studies. This may be great news for you as a singer because cacao has many great benefits for you!
The best benefits of chocolate can be found in raw cacao powder, raw cacao nibs and raw cacao beans, along with dark cocoa powder and very dark chocolate, containing at least 80% or higher cacao content. Raw chocolate will contain many more antioxidants than heated forms like standard cocoa powder or processed chocolate bars, so stick to the raw forms whenever possible.
Raw Cacao has a huge number of health benefits that will have you singing great! This includes increasing the release of endorphins which can help to create a ‘feel good’ buzz and help improve your mood. Perfect before heading out on stage.
More importantly, it can help you stave off those nasty colds, flu and sore throats that threaten every singer. Cacao is a powerful antioxidant that boosts the immune system. It also contains a number of important vitamins & minerals such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, potassium, B-complex vitamins and iron.
Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing un-roasted cocoa beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cocoa and removes the fat (cacao butter). Then, you heat it to a certain temperature and enjoy as a warm or hot drink. When consumed regularly, raw cacao has the ability to help you feel more energized, boost your concentration and fuel your body's immune system.
Did you miss the boat and ended up with a cold that’s now turned into a persistent cough? Cacao has got you covered there, too!
Skip the honey and lemon — and grab some chocolate. Researchers claim that cacao has demulcent properties, which means it relieves inflammation or irritation. Essentially, it's stickier than typical cough syrup, and better forms a coating to protect the nerve endings in the throat that trigger the urge to cough. Just suck on a square of extra dark chocolate so that it has time to coat the throat.
To keep with the Valentine’s mood I have a great simple recipe for Raw Cacao Truffles to share with special someone. (Did I mention that cacao also has benefits for fertility?)
Raw Cacao Truffles
1 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup cocoa powder (or raw cacao powder)
1 cup dates, pitted (I used halawi dates, but medjool would work just as well)
2 tablespoons water
extra cocoa or cacao powder, for dusting
Grind the cashews in your food processor until they have a flour-like consistency, add the 1/4 cup cocoa powder and pulse.
Toss in the dates and water and process until a ball of dough starts to form.
Shape into 1 inch balls with the palms of your hands. Dust each truffle with cocoa powder, and chill until you’re ready to serve!
Have you said “bye bye” to sleeping through the night?
Are late night performances messing with your sleep routine?
Are you feeling exhausted or “running on stress hormones” all day?
Do not fear, I have some great tips (and an amazing recipe) for you!
The science of sleep is fascinating, complicated and growing
Sleep is this daily thing that we all do and yet we're just beginning to understand all of the ways it helps us and all of the factors that can affect it.
Lack of sleep affects just about everything in your body and mind. People who get less sleep tend to be at higher risk for so many health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer; not to mention effects like slower metabolism, weight gain, hormone imbalance, inflammation, and poor immunity. And don't forget the impact lack of sleep can have on moods, memory and decision-making skills. Ever had a memory gaff during a performance? It could be lack of sleep.
Do you know that lack of sleep may even negate the health benefits of your exercise program? (Gasp!)
OMG – What aspect of health does sleep not affect???
Knowing this it's easy to see the three main purposes of sleep:
Do you know how much sleep adults need? It's less than your growing kids need but you may be surprised that it's recommended that all adults get 7 - 9 hours a night. For real!
Try not to skimp! And I know it can be hard as a singer if you have a day job, but for your healthy and longevity as a singer it's best to try to find a solution.
(Don't worry, I have you covered with a bunch of actionable tips below.)
Tips for better sleep
So how many of these tips can you start implementing today?
Recipe (Caffeine-free latte for your afternoon “coffee break”): Caffeine-Free Chai Latte
1 bag of rooibos chai tea (rooibos is naturally caffeine-free)
2 cups of boiling water
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon almond butter (creamy is preferred)
2 dates (optional)
Cover the teabag and dates (if using) with 2 cups of boiling water and steep for a few minutes.
Discard the tea bag & place tea, soaked dates, tahini & almond butter into a blender.
Blend until creamy.
Serve and Enjoy!
Tip: You can try this with other nut or seed butters to see which flavour combination you like the best. Cashew butter anyone?
These days it seems like every time you ask someone how they are the answer is “busy”. In an age where technology is supposed to ease our workload, the average person is actually working more.
The life of a singer can be exceptionally busy. Since most singers don’t make a living wage off their singing, they need to supplement with other income, so add to a daily job and household responsibilities the time for lessons, research, practice, rehearsals and performances and you can be busy from early morning to late in the night.
If you’re lucky enough to be a successful professional singer, life is still a hectic whirlwind of travel, lessons and coachings, auditions and, for some, 8 performances a week or MORE!
A singer’s life is full of stress.
It’s not just the busyness, but the emotional stress that we need to get through dealing with auditions, performance expectations (ours and other’s), reviews, rejections, competition and worrying about our vocal health.
You as a singer are already most likely a sensitive soul. Singers, as other musicians, feel deeply. This gives us the ability to transform the notes and words on a page into a profound emotional experience for your audience. This also makes us more vulnerable to mental health issues.
What is stress?
Stress is a natural response to external stimulus. It’s part of our fight or flight instinct. You sense a threat and your body starts to release a number of stress hormones into the body, mostly from the adrenal gland.
A stressor is the stimulus (or threat) that causes stress, e.g. exam, audition, performance, divorce, death of loved one, moving house, loss of job.
Sudden and severe stress generally produces:
This explains the pre-performance shallow breathing and loss of appetite, and the post-performance colds that many singers experience.
Usually, when the threat is past, your body goes back into a balanced state.
Problems start to occur when the stress doesn't dissipate or occurs with great frequency. This is chronic stress. It can affect the immune, metabolic and cardiovascular systems, and lead to atrophy of the brain's hippocampus (crucial for long-term memory and spatial navigation).
Cortisol (one of the main stress hormones), stays elevated. This is the hormone that releases glucose for energy. This can lead to unregulated eating and the craving for “comfort” foods, to maintain the energy levels that the stress response is asking for. Outcomes of this can be obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
In fact, untreated chronic stress can result in serious many serious health conditions. In addition to the above it can also lead to anxiety and depression, insomnia, muscle pain and heart disease.
Despite its connection to illness, it’s estimated that 33 percent of Americans never discuss ways to manage stress with their healthcare provider.
So how can you tell if you are over stressed or approaching burnout?
If you’re to stressed you might feel:
If you’ve reached the point of burnout you will be experiencing:
If you are experiencing burnout or chronic stress symptoms then be sure to address this with your health care practitioner.
8 Tips to Manage Stress:
The best way to manage stress is to make it a priority to do so. So here are 8 tips to help you reduce the stress in your life.
If you want more stress busting tips and a supportive community of singers, then click here to join our free group Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
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Take a transformative journey to become an empowered singer that performs with outrageous confidence. Go from feeling exhausted, worried about your vocal folds, deprived, overwhelmed and stuck, to feeling comfortable in your own skin, completely energized, with renewed mental clarity and reinvigorated in a matter of weeks.
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