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Caregiver Gut, Heart, and Brain Health

I'm beginning to see more early morning walkers and runners as the seasons are changing yet again. As I begin to prep flower beds I'm reminded about what I have gleaned from gardening and maintaining indoor plants. Finding the optimum soil content, light levels, and temperature or protection from the environment is similar to caregiving. The indoor plants are a bit more temperamental. Having indoor plants not only contributed to my overall mood but it helped with the added oxygen in the room too. This topic is a show in it of itself, but if you can imagine that caregivers and our loved ones are a variety of indoor plants then you might realize we need special consideration to thrive.

This consideration I'm referring to is the health of our hearts, guts, and brains. When we are in the midst of the day plugging away at our To-Do lists or caring for our loved ones the thought of our brain-gut connection is not exactly driving the day. We are in somewhat of a survival mode without even considering the best way to survive. Taking this one step further, we may not even consider life beyond surviving towards healthy living. I know I had to retrain myself in what healthy living looked and felt like to me.

Today's guest, Iwan Williams, resides in the UK and is the founder of Vitalize Health and Fitness where he has become a Mood and Body coach. Iwan is a coffee lover and health nut who understands on a personal level what is feels like to struggle with low energy. This kind of struggle affects our mindset, behaviors, and happiness in connection with our flow of movement, sleep, and choice of nutrition. Beyond his own journey of self-care, Iwan obtained a Degree in Sport and Exercise Science while becoming a Qualified Level 3 Physical Trainer and Precision Nutritionist. The Precision Nutrition certification is the world's most respected nutrition education program.

With this training, Iwan is able to help people not only become more physically fit but also understand the physical and mental effects on their bodies. He does this by incorporating mindfulness approaches, meditation, and other aspects of physical, mental, and spiritual health to reach root causes of poor health. He helps people like you and me go beyond an exercise regimen and begin a journey of self-discovery and healing. After all, we are our own best advocate when we can tune into what our body needs.

I never considered myself as my own best friend and advocate for mental health until I had my own scare of having a heart attack when I was 40 years old. I was so stuck in an autopilot mindset to push through the workday then saving very little energy in the evenings for family time which left me with no time for myself. This created a cycle of slow decline that I kept dismissing as just getting older so I accepted the lower levels of energy. Self-medicating with caffeine, junk comfort foods, and pain killers to induce an alert mode for higher production only masked the root causes.

One morning in late September of 2015 I woke in the middle of the night from a jolt that felt like I was being punched in the chest. My mind was so embedded with the corporate work routine that I got up took some Aleve and attempted to go back to sleep thinking I would schedule a doctor appointment once I arrived at work. I did not recognize the wake-up call and divine intervention this moment was intended to be. The next morning I slipped right back into my routine at work with eating my breakfast at work while I sifted through email. I had forgotten all about scheduling an appointment until the tightening of my chest, right arm, and lower back pain crept back into my body.

Rather than take more Aleve I stepped outside to call the doctor to schedule an appointment with hopes that I would get a simple explanation of reducing stress or possibly a prescription for the pain. My other symptoms were not registering in my mind as being connected because I became too good at dismissing and justifying it as aging or some other event happening at the time. The nurse I spoke with heard my description of all my symptoms and said get to the emergency room immediately. Women present with heart attack symptoms differently than men do.

When I heard this instruction the panic set in and yet in my mind I was still blaming aging factors because my parents had experienced similar problems in their 40s as well. Neither of us knew better. I learned through their habits what survival looked and felt like through nutrition and exercise from school athlete training programs designed for seasonal sports. Overall, I had been ignoring my check engine light. This trip to the emergency room revealed that it was not a heart attack, thankfully, but my gall bladder had to be removed. Four large dice size stones were wreaking havoc on my systems. This became my first significant eye-opening moment into how important nutritional habits can be for my body.

Once my gallbladder was removed later that October. My digestive system had to reacclimate and eating healthier started as the reactive response which gradually turned into a deliberate proactive lifestyle. My lifestyle finally changed on purpose and then I became more energetic in my early 40’s than I ever was throughout my 30’s. I was very fortunate that this was not a heart attack and grateful I was given this wake-up call. This was also my opportunity to meditate more and begin to transition my autopilot routine into a more meaningful lifestyle.

 I began to eat better, exercise more, sleep better, and feel clearer in mind. An opportunity was presented for me to help my heart more than I ever considered doing before. Tuning into my body more taught me a great deal about nutritional habits in connection to emotional stability. I started to refer to my body as a high-performance sports car, like a Ferrari. Before I did not realize I was doing this, but this shift made me begin to see others in public and think of which type of vehicle they were or who had more emotional junk in their trunk. Walking through the grocery store passing by people with their children or individuals carrying a basket for a short trip made me see food as a weapon or medicine.

Our gut is our second brain which is more than part of the digestion process since it affects our mood, health, and even the way we think. The food we choose to eat is more often a subliminal choice directed by the bacteria in our gut. This is why some diets are often referred to as detoxifying. This is was Iwan also learned in his studies and real-life application. Realizing that there are so many more aspects of health which are all as important as the physical varies between individuals. We have tools at our disposal that we do not utilize often enough or even understand how simple these positive changes will allow us to reach our highest potential, regardless of age.

Tools to consider:

1) Mindfulness exercises - Gratitude journaling will assist with daily check-ins to document your mindset to become more aware of where you are in your journey and why.

2) Meditation - Practicing the act of giving your attention to only one thing to induce a state of calm, relaxation, and mental strength.

3) Spiritual connection - Seeking a level of harmony, understanding, and peace creates emotions that resonate and come from deep within our core or the heart, physically and mentally. Some may consider this as a soul mate connection but when we learn to connect to the universe through nature first then connecting in other relationships can be more powerful and peaceful.

4) Gut health - Get control of your cravings by understanding your emotions and when they fluctuate. The gut microbiome connects the health of our gut to our immune system, mood, mental health, autoimmune disease, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, and cancer. Our gut is the largest hormone-producing organ. Nutrition is key! Good fuel versus bad processed fuel must be respected.

5) Exercise Regularly - You do not need a gym to get cardio and strength training exercise. The outdoors for walking and indoors with practices such as Vinyasa Yoga provides physical and mental health opportunities that only require time and dedication to a regular routine.

6) Restorative Sleep - Balance your hormones for energy by replenishing levels of dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin as you achieve regular restorative sleep. This also helps to balance hormones such as Ghrelin, the hunger hormone which is produced in the stomach that tells our brain the body has to be fed. It is followed up by Leptin to tell our body it is full. All hormones influence our moods through low energy and the ability to replenish adequately.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite app. If you're not finding it there, then let me know and I will do what I can to get it added!

Thank you for joining in and listening with us today. You can find more about this topic on the blog at I hope this gave you more food for thought and until next time, BE PROACTIVE. Take care, everybody.



Intro: Vacation Time by Khris Paradise

Outro: Misty by Khris Paradise

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