Clare's Blog

Sleep Deprivation may be making You Fat

In Kindergarten, nap time was mandatory when we had all the energy in the world! Now that I'm all grown up, I would love a little siesta in our busy American culture, because most days, I am only fueled by about 5 hours of sleep. I'm not the only one; sleep is elusive for 52% of women and 45% of men, especially as we age. If you are one of those unlucky individuals, you know how an occasional sleepless night can affect your mental sharpness and energy the following day. What if you have many sleepless nights, or if you average less than seven hours of sleep per night on a regular basis? What are the effects? You may be surprised to find out that weight gain is the most common side effect.

Studies show that women who slept 6 hours per night were 12% more likely to experience major weight gain, and 6% more likely to become obese, compared to women who slept 7 or more hours a night. The worst part is that those who slept less, actually ate less and exercised more than their well-rested friends, but gained more weight. Ouch. Tired and chubby. Not the combo we wanted, right?

The reasons are multi-faceted. The body produces more cortisol, which is the stress hormone, when you don’t get enough sleep. Additional cortisol levels increase appetite and causes the body to store fat, usually in the belly. Further, lack of sleep interferes with the body's ability to metabolize carbohydrates and causes high blood levels of glucose, which leads to higher insulin levels and body-fat storage. This metabolic syndrome, also called insulin resistance syndrome, is a cluster of symptoms that increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. Signs of the syndrome are belly fat, low HDL ("good") cholesterol, and high triglyceride levels, elevated blood pressure, and blood sugar. These findings were true regardless of the age or gender of the sleep-deprived person.

The best way to get a full night’s rest is to go to bed tired. Seems like a no-brainer. However, with today’s “busy” lifestyle, we are everything but physically active. Exercising daily can actually help you to sleep better because your body will be fatigued from the effort. Simply walking the steps rather than taking the elevator will have a tremendous impact on tiring your body out so that you rest well. Getting the CDC's recommended hour of physical exercise per day, CAN be done every day... just break it down into smaller bits of time on days that you can't get to your favorite Pilates, Yoga or Spin® class.

Remember how a parent gets their child ready for bed: a bath, a book, quiet time and to bed at the same time every night. "Slept like a baby!" You can again too. A few suggestions for getting your much needed seven to eight hours: set an alarm as a reminder to begin your “wind-down” time about an hour before you need to go to bed, read a book or listen to music you enjoy, and then lights out 8 hours before you have to wake up. Dimming the lights in your home and shutting off the TV, computer, IPad and Smart Phone an hour or so before bed will allow your melatonin to release. Melatonin regulates your sleep and awake cycle, and more is released when it is dark, helping you to sleep. A mild-sleep aid may be occasionally used, but not for extended periods. If you feel that you need a sleep aid more than a few nights per week, see your doctor. You may have an undiagnosed medical condition.

I used to think that getting enough sleep was only important for mental clarity. I now know that overall physical health is critically connected to a good night’s rest.

Clare Westwood

H2O, Agua, L'eau, Acqua, Water

Most of you have probably made some sort of New Year's Resolution relating to improving your health, fitness and energy level. What if there was ONE thing you could do to improve all three? You already know what it is, but we all need a reminder every once in a while. Drink water! Eight, 8 oz. glasses per day for the average adult is what is commonly recommended.

Why? The functions of water in the human body are vital. Water transports nutrients and oxygen to the cells, thus increasing energy; it moisturizes the air in the lungs, protects our vital organs, moisturizes our joints, helps our body absorb nutrients and detoxifies our bodies. The brain consists of 90% water; you could significantly increase brain functions just by drinking enough water. Proper hydration can eliminate headaches and that fuzzy fatigued feeling you may experience late in the afternoon.

Water has been proven to be the most powerful diet tool. Drinking water before each meal has been shown to help promote weight loss. Brenda Davy, PhD, an associate professor of Nutrition at Virginia Tech and author of a new study, says that drinking just two 8-ounce glasses of water before meals helps people melt pounds away. One group drank two cups of water before meals and the other didn't. All participants ate a low-calorie diet throughout the study. After 12 weeks, water drinkers lost about 15.5 pounds, compared to non-water drinking dieters, who lost only 11 pounds. Water gives a dieter a full feeling in their stomach and results in fewer calories consumed. It also allows the body to absorb the nutrients from the food, which reduces cravings for more food if the body is lacking certain vitamins and minerals.

Does proper hydration increase your metabolism? No and yes. The only way to increase your metabolism is to increase muscle mass. Muscle tissue is about 25 times more metabolically active than fat tissue, so an additional two pounds of muscle burns up to 100 additional calories per day. 75% of muscle is water, so drinking plenty of fluid helps the muscle to strengthen when you do strength training exercises. (think PILATES).

For those of you who want to look good as well as feel good, hydrating from the inside out can help the skin to feel soft, reduce the appearance of fine facial lines and minimizes dry, cracked lips. Ironically, proper hydrationa ctually reduces that bloated feeling by "washing" out water that is retained in the body. The body recognizes that it is consistently being hydrated and therefore doesn't react by holding on to additional fluid. It also helps to eliminate excess sodium in our body so that we don't retain water from salt intake.

Seems simple enough, so why don't we all do it? Practically, in a busy day, who can handle the inevitable side effect of frequent trips to the bathroom? If you have a two-hour conference call, a deadline to meet or back-to-back appointments, getting up to use the restroom can be unproductive and disruptive. Here's the solution: nobody said when you had to drink the water! Drink a glass when you wake up in the morning and sip more on the way to work. Drink a glass before lunch and have water rather than other beverages during lunch (we're half way there!). Drink more on the way home from work, another glass before and during dinner, and a final glass before bed. Centering your water drinking around meal time will allow your body to process it before the productive time of your day ensues and helps to reduce the amount you eat at each meal.

By: Clare Westwood


Lolita San Miguel and Clare

Lolita San Miguel and Clare

In October of 2011, I was one of a small group of Pilates instructors  honored with an invitation to train for a day with Lolita San Miguel.  In the Pilates world, this would be equated to a Business School graduate being invited to dine with Bill Gates!  Lolita holds the distinction of being one of the only two known practitioners to have been officially certified by Joseph and Clara Pilates, and she has been awarded degrees by the State University of New York to teach the Pilates Method. Lolita has also been certified by Polestar Pilates Education and was awarded a Gold Certificate by the Pilates Method Alliance. She is one of the four “Distinguished Elders” of the Pilates Method Alliance.

The day began with Lolita relaying her history with Pilates, and she was able to give first-hand account to the instructors and additional observers of what it was like to train under Mr. Pilates.   When a client walked in to Joe’s studio in New York, he would hand Clara $5, which she slipped into the pocket of her nurses uniform, and then take a seat to wait.  It was like a barber shop; there were no appointments, and a client might wait a few minutes or a few hours for his session to being.  Joseph was German and had a very impatient and demanding demeanor.  In contrast, his wife Clara was soft and kind, and often scurried behind Joseph to wipe the tears of his disheartened clients.  He would tell them “Now you won’t be bored.   You have something to practice!”  in his heavy German accent.

The most interesting points that Lolita made to the group were that most of the exercises which are currently taught and executed in “Pilates stance,” were actually taught in parallel leg by Joseph.  It was Joe’s apprentice, Romana, who actually modified the exercise and insisted on the change when she taught.  There are several schools of Pilates which focus on the breath – when to inhale and when to exhale.  Joe apparently never focused on that at all.  If a client asked him how he should breath, he would grimace and say “just breath.”  Joe was also very depressed late in his life.  He understood that his method of exercise was 50 years ahead of its time, but he worried that it would never “catch on,” and that people would not experience its life-changing benefits.   If he were alive today, I do believe he would be happy to know that his work was not in vain. 

Lolita taught the instructors a mat class which focused on the fundamentals of Pilates and Joe’s intent for the exercise (great to hear first hand!) and a class on the reformer, where she taught variations to the classical reformer exercises.   She is 77 years old and can still do it – ALL!  A perfect testament that if you stick with movement, movement will stick with you.  It was a wonderful experience to absorb the wisdom and knowledge of a woman who learned from the man himself – a once in a life time experience which I was honored to receive!