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Podcast Transcript

The Power of Healthy Habits

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:11  
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we're uncovering what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. Well, Marsha, this month has been a whirlwind with so many powerful conversations to help us all get intentional and aligned for the rest of the year.

Marsha Clark  0:33  
Well, that's right. And welcome back to you, Wendi. And I totally agree. This month's focus on intentionality and alignment is and I think it's a good one. It's that time of year. And you know, that's one of the reasons I'm so excited for today's episode. And I think it's another excellent chance for us to slow down and to focus on ourselves, but in a different way than what we've often talked about on this podcast. And it's in a way that helps us get clear on the power of healthy habits.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:33  
Yeah, and this is just perfect timing because I need a booster shot on this topic for sure.

Marsha Clark  1:07  
Well, that's exactly what we were thinking when we put this in the sequence and considered where in the lineup of topics that we wanted to pull in today's guest. And we wanted to lay the deeper foundation throughout the month around intentionality and then offer some deep dives in this case into the topic of overall wellness and well being. And that's why I'm very excited to introduce to our listeners one of my favorite experts on wellness, Meridan Zerner. So welcome, Meridan.

Meridan Zerner  1:38  
Thank you, Marsha. Well, I'm so glad to be here. This is such an opportunity. I would look at any opportunity to maybe educate, inspire, empower a few ideas around the idea of healthy habits.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:54  
Awesome. Well, one thing that we like to do on the show when we have a guest is to provide some context for how the guest is connected to Marsha. So Marsha, will you share a little bit about how the two of you met and know each other?

Marsha Clark  2:07  
I would love to. So I was delivering a multi month program, women's leadership program for a client. And we were doing this in a facility in Dallas called the Cooper Clinic, and it's a world renowned facility that focuses on health and well being. And the curriculum that we had designed for this particular client was intended to be holistic in several ways. And one was, of course, the personal and the professional. And then the second being at an intellectual and emotional and a physical level. So we talked with Meridan about what we wanted, and boy did she deliver. So she came in, you know, the Energizer Bunny, dare I say on steroids. But it's all natural because she's so good at this. But she talked about diet and exercise and sleep with the research, the tools, and I would say the empathy of how hard it is for working women to get all this right, and even stay at home moms. Our schedules are just crazy. And so I will tell you, I was so impressed with Meridan at that time that we've partnered with her several times since then, too. So thank you for being here.

Meridan Zerner  3:16  
That group of women that you brought me in to speak with was just such an extraordinary group of women and I think like many of us working so hard, so many responsibilities, kids family, work, additional activities, aging parents, and so to be able to share with them a few sustainable (I hope realistic) strategies to care for themselves, which can help them in the now but then also help with their future self, their future well being.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:45  
Yes, well, Meridan, I did some sleuthing on your bio, and I think I got a little winded just reading some of it. It says that you are a certified specialist in sports dietetics and a certified health and wellness coach. So what's the difference between the two? Well, what's the difference between a sports dietetics specialist and then just a regular nutritionist that most of us are probably more familiar with?

Meridan Zerner  4:14  
Well, if I may, I want to back it up even one step because it is so important to me that folks get their information from credible resources. And so when I see people getting their medical advice from maybe a tik tok influencer, it makes my heart hurt. And so I think it's important to know that hey, I have a Master's Degree in Nutritional Science with an emphasis in health promotion. You asked about the Registered and Licensed Dietitian, the CSSD, the Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. That means I've had hours upon hours of study, of clinical practice and have had to test to get those credentials. And I think that really matters because you're speaking to people who know the science and then hopefully know how to deliver it to the unique individual.

Marsha Clark  5:02  
I love that. I love that. And I know you're still very involved at Cooper and you're wearing many hats. So just for our listeners' benefit, who may be here, many of whom are in this Dallas area, what are some of the programs or services that you're supporting there?

Meridan Zerner  5:16  
Well, I do get to wear so many hats and I love each and every one of them. And so in the first part of the day, I might get to teach a fitness class. I work with our female focus program, which is very specifically geared to the health needs of just women. Additionally, I am a clinical dietitian in both our fitness center and in our clinic. I'm a personal trainer. And for me really the most important or rather, the most meaningful certification, which is a tool, was becoming a wellness coach, because it speaks to human beings, just our humanity and how behavior change is hard. So the 'I know what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm just not doing it yet', that's where the wellness coach comes in to say, "Okay, in the context of your real life, here's how we move forward."

Marsha Clark  6:02  
Yeah, I just want to say something, Wendi, too, in this. I remember going to Cooper Clinic. I was required to get an annual physical when I was an officer at EDS and Cooper Clinic was our place to go. And I remember talking to some of the doctors and they didn't have very many female executives that were coming in in the 90's, right. And so I love that you now have a female focus because as the research has evolved, women we know present medical health things in different ways than men. And we used to think it was all the same. So the fact that y'all are so focused on that now makes my heart happy. Tik tok advice makes your heart hurt. That female focus makes my heart happy.

Meridan Zerner  6:40  
And women are living longer. We're living longer and we want that to be a vibrant quantity and quality of life. We're out living men often so we've got to take care of ourselves. We've got to take care of each other.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:52  
So we had Renee Moorefield on the show last month and she talked to us about wellness in terms of thriving. So Meridan, how do you define wellness, well being and then thriving? Like let's talk about those three words.

Marsha Clark  7:07  
Really just your philosophy in all that.

Meridan Zerner  7:10  
Well, for me thriving is this amazing multifactorial recipe that would need to include your overall sense of energy, your overall sense of like strength and power that would include like, 'Hey, are you eating well? Are you moving your body? Do you feel good about your relationships? Are you asking for support when you need it? Are you financially where you need to be? Are you part of a community? Like so many things play a role in our overall health and happiness that to me, that is what thriving looks and feels like, when you have some of these things in balance. There is no such thing as balanced, by the way. I'm just gonna go with that. There's no perfect balance. But to continue to work toward that as an evolution in just our human experience, like that's thriving.

Marsha Clark  7:58  
And well being is just a part of, it's a contribution to that, the goal, healthy well being.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:03  
So Meridan, I've read that your wellness philosophy of 'do the best you can with what you have where you are', that philosophy is really resonating with me as a realistic and sustainable approach to building healthy habits. So what's an example of something we can do to help us get started on that path?

Meridan Zerner  8:25  
Well, I think the research is pretty clear when we look at positive psychology and we look at the important opportunity that is what is going well right now. It is very easy to get lost in things that are challenging, world frustrations, you know, life stressors. But what is going well, especially as it relates to your health and wellness? We can piggyback on that. We can use our atomic habits, skills, and layer one on top of the other. So if you are getting enough sleep, fantastic. We're going to appreciate that that means that your mental capacity, your agility, your cognitive quickness, that's all going to be there. That's also going to give you enough time to do the repair work from a very long day and then we hope have the energy, because of that sleep, to then maybe move toward getting 10 minutes of exercise, carving out a little bit of time for you know, a social life. So all of these things layer. And I feel like that's where we have opportunity. Appreciate what is going well. There are always going to be some things, here's where we are, that may not be our preferred state, and we can still move forward.

Marsha Clark  9:35  
Yeah, I will tell you that I used the word empathy earlier, you know that you can empathize with the craziness of a woman's life. And I know so much of this often is about guilt and body shaming. And we do it to ourselves and we do it to others. And so this idea of can I focus on the good stuff, can I focus on what I am doing well, and then over time build in small steps to get us to where we need to be. But that empathy of do the best you can with what you've got right now, I think that's a real, I feel seen, heard and valued when someone says that to me. It's not the shaming part.

Meridan Zerner  10:15  
Well, the shame and blame and the self judgment doesn't serve anyone. And I would always offer up. If you were talking to me or if you were talking to your best friend, the kind of grace and compassion you would offer them based on what they're going through and that, hey, you're still getting food on the table? Yeah, maybe we need to microwave it. Maybe it's not this pristine grown from your own organic garden out back. Okay. So let's just work with you know, we'll throw an extra side salad at it as best as we can. And also appreciate where, even if we still have physical and health goals, like my legs are working, I have enough strength to take out the garbage. You know, I can walk the dog. There's so many small gratitudes for the body that I have in this moment.

Marsha Clark  11:00  
Yeah, I carried my baby upstairs to put him to sleep tonight. Yeah, I mean, I love that. Yeah, I really do love that. So you know, something else that I really appreciate, Meridan, about your approach is that, in addition to being realistic, is how holistic it is. So share a little bit about the importance of looking at all aspects of a woman's well being.

Meridan Zerner  11:23  
Well, when I was a beginner dietitian, if you want to say first year or two out of the gate, I really wanted to spend all my time talking with you exclusively about the diet, your diet, your nutrition to find out later on that, gosh, you know, our diet, the foods we're choosing to energize our body with radically influences our movement capacity, and our movement radically influences our brain functioning and we need to be able to sleep well and manage our stress for all of these things to come together. Oh, and hydration matters. Oh, and do we need to fill in the gaps with a supplement from time to time. It's hard to get vitamin D, things like that. So really appreciating that when we're talking about self care, health and well being, we have to allow for these different areas to come together. It's synergistic.

Marsha Clark  12:14  
Yeah, I love that. And, you know, you talk about not all one size. One size does not fit all. So tell me how the more we understand and get the guidance, how does it work inside of us?

Meridan Zerner  12:28  
So this one size fits all kind of nutrition or health or dietary strategy that I think is spoken and unspoken out there, which is why the diet industry is billions of dollars. Oh, yeah, everybody should be doing the Keto, or everybody should be doing this, that, or taking this supplement. And when I can appreciate and when we can appreciate our own unicorn ness, our own uniqueness, right, your age, your height, your weight, your gender, your bone density, your genetics, all of that, hormones, lest we forget, hormones, all of these things play a very distinct role in trying to find the best recipe for you. And so your unique chemistry requires a unique plan, even for this particular chapter. So this is where checking in with the physician, checking in with a registered dietician, somebody who lives, eats and breathes this, is probably one of the best hours you could ever spend.

Marsha Clark  12:28  
I bet. I bet that's right.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  12:29  
I want to talk about inflammation because I have heard and read that inflammation is the conversation right now. Yeah, what does that mean? Where do we see it, feel it in our bodies? What are some signs?

Marsha Clark  13:06  
As a 71 year old woman, I get that. And there are many mornings when it's a little stiffer to get moving. Yes, so tell me about that.

Meridan Zerner  13:44  
So you're recognizing inflammation in your joints, right? We recognize inflammation in the arteries as heart disease. We recognize inflammation in the muscles as muscle soreness. More critically, too, we recognize inflammation in a brain cell in terms of cognitive decline and dementia. And so, inflammation is really the conversation. A little bit of inflammation in day to day life is normal. However, when it is chronic inflammation which can be due to inactivity, could be due to a more poor diet, can be due to extraordinary and excruciating life stress, we find that this rolls into, over time, conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes. And so managing inflammation as a frontline of defense is where we just feel better in the moment and then we're not at high risk for these diseases.

Marsha Clark  14:37  

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  14:37  
So let's talk about longevity. What's the research around having a greater not only quantity of life, but quality of life?

Meridan Zerner  14:47  
And I'll tell you, I honestly don't want quantity of life if it's not quality of life. We've seen it. And so how do we get there and it's a lot of the ideas I think we all know, right. We're checking in with our physician, we're staying on top of our labs. That could be an amazing one thing, when we think about a next step, even after listening to this podcast, go get your labs. Just check in and kind of know where you are to know where you want to go. We certainly think about not smoking, managing alcohol, but then all the pieces that really are in my wheelhouse which are going to be a better diet first and foremost.

Marsha Clark  15:27  
You also talk about the importance of water and, that whatever those vitamins are, that we need. Any, you know, thoughts, advice, what are three things we need to know, that kind of thing. Anything you can share with us on that?

Meridan Zerner  15:41  
So, start with fiber. I mean, fiber is your friend. That's a bumper sticker right there, that's a t shirt. Fiber is your friend and it needs a better PR person. But oh my goodness, 90% of us don't get enough fiber. And where are we going to find that? It's in the brightly colored fruits and vegetables, it's in the whole grains and the beans and legumes that are really inherent in the Mediterranean diet which is absolutely interchangeable with this idea of the anti inflammatory diet. So these elements are one in the same. This is where you're going to find fullness, you're going to find the fiber that lowers your cholesterol. We find that soluble fiber actually feeds this very complex environment in your small intestine called the microbiome. Now, that's a lot, but we want to appreciate what's going on in our small intestine. Mood is affected. It communicates with our immune system. So there's a lot there in terms of power and opportunity, if your takeaway is let me just get my fiber up to where it needs to be.

Marsha Clark  16:41  
I love that.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  16:42  
Okay, so what are some practical tips on being more intentional about our diet, nutrition, getting that fiber in?

Meridan Zerner  16:50  
Well, I love a good rhyme because that sticks in my brain. So five is fine, but nine is divine. This would be my recommendation or Cooper Clinic's recommendation for increasing or getting to the servings of fruits and vegetables that will be impactful. This is really the recommendation we know that this works. And again, progress not perfection, baby steps. Can you throw some blueberries, you know on top of your oatmeal in the morning? Can you throw some baby carrots in a ziplock to add to whatever you need to do even drive thru for your lunch? In what way can you double up on your vegetables at dinnertime? This is where we get the most return on investment, the most impact for health. I would also say we talk about sugar shockers, being aware that for women our goal is six teaspoons of sugar a day for good health. That's according to the American Heart Association. Men, you get nine teaspoons. Not fair. Not fair. And so that goes really fast. So I would love for everyone to have a sense of where is their sugar coming from and it might be in their, you know, sugar sweetened beverage, it might be in their triple mocha chino latte. No judgment here. We just want to know. We just want to know where is it coming from in your diet so that we can simply manage it. I always talk about dining out without doing yourself in. We're driving through, we're dining out, we're going to need to have better management strategies like how do we make that work? And I think about one dietary indiscretion when we're dining out.

Marsha Clark  18:26  
Hmm, okay. I can have dessert, or I can eat a lot of pasta.

Meridan Zerner  18:32  
Fun fancy appetizer or you could have the, you know, hot chocolate. Like I mean it's really a balancing act. So it's not about deprivation, but it's about really tuning into, and this is a mindful and intuitive eating strategy, what do I really need right now? What would be so satisfying and how can I slow down to savor it, really enjoy the moment and the food? But also that way you've budgeted a little bit so that you're still on track with your health, weight and wellness goal.

Marsha Clark  19:01  
And before you go to your fourth one, I just want to say this. Every time I took on a new job, each job required more travel, right? So I would be I was traveling almost 100% of the time in certain jobs that I had in my corporate life. Every time I took on a new job I gained 10 to 15 pounds. And part of it is because I ate alone at the hotel, and I'm a big extrovert and that's really hard for me. And I would reward my sadness with strawberry pie or whatever that might look like. And then I'd have to get that off and that yo yoing thing that goes on forever. And I still have to watch that and airplane food. I know and again, the reality of many of the women who are listening to this podcast. So I love that you're giving us strategies about that, again, balancing act of some sort. I love it.

Meridan Zerner  19:54  
I love that you said that out loud because I think there's such power in transparency and that we're all there. I mean, 60% of us are trying to create some kind of health change at any given time. And so the person sitting next to me may be struggling with that same sort of, you know, they're in the hotel with the strawberry cake as well. We just need to shrug off the judgment around it, start talking through it because there are mindful eating strategies we can learn. We can unlearn older behaviors and strategies as well. But there are tools in the toolbox for mindful eating, for emotional eating. Men do it, too. Like, let's just start the conversation.

Marsha Clark  20:31  
Yeah, I love that. All right, you have a fourth one that you wanted to share.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  20:37  
I mean, you lead the segue, Marsha, and the emotional eating, but I want her to share the stat about what happens when we're sleep deprived because I'm gonna guess a lot of our listeners are sleep deprived.

Marsha Clark  20:51  
Working women, and particularly working mothers, are the most sleep deprived in the world.

Meridan Zerner  20:55  
Yes, statistically, we absolutely are. And I don't even need to say that because y'all are feeling it right now. I think it's fascinating to look at when we are sleep deprived, your body does all kinds of cool chemistry, a lot of cueing internally. And one of the things that happens is, your body says oh, my gosh, where we have this sense of fatigue, it tends to cue appetite. So it increases your ghrelin, your hunger hormone by 25%. So where I want to go with that, first and foremost is sometimes we feel bad about ourselves. And we say, oh, it's willpower. I have no willpower. I failed again. No, you're fighting chemistry here. That's not a fair fight. Because when ghrelin is elevated, and your blood sugar is low, we consume 270 to 500 more calories every day. And that's according to studies, Journal of the American Medical Association. They've recreated it multiple times. So please take that weight off of your shoulders. This is chemistry. So that being said, we're armed with that knowledge, we try to work with that intellectual override, which is hey, when I'm exhausted, this is coming down the line. I want to be ready with some filling foods. I want to have, you know, the apple slices or something like that ready to go because my body is going to ask for it.

Marsha Clark  22:08  
Rather than a bowl of ice cream.

Meridan Zerner  22:10  
I want a Plan B, C and D. Haagen Dazs is looking really good.

Marsha Clark  22:14  
I love that and the idea of planning. But you know, and I know most of our listeners probably know this, because I think every woman I know knows this. 3,500 calories are a pound. Is that right?

Meridan Zerner  22:24  
That is about right.

Marsha Clark  22:25  
Yeah. So 270 to 500 more calories. And if you're doing that routinely, you gain a pound a week. Think about that.

Meridan Zerner  22:34  
But ladies, everybody, that's also a pound a week of change or loss if that's part of your goal. So some of these small steps go a long way. Hey, if we're moving 200 more calories on any given day, that's 20 minutes of walking. Could be in two 10 minute chunks. And we're just sparing or conserving 200 calories. Maybe we were planning for the sleep deprivation and you had the the orange instead of the Twix bar, that in and of itself in combination, that's change, that's loss. That small stuff.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  23:06  
That's right. So Meridan, since we've started talking about sleep, what are your favorite suggestions to help people fall asleep, stay asleep, and what are your recommended hours a night of sleep?

Meridan Zerner  23:20  
So I do want to have us all appreciate that less than seven hours is considered chronic sleep deprivation.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  23:26  
Seven hours, people.

Meridan Zerner  23:29  
Now, if you are listening right now and you only got four, tomorrow's a new day, tonight's a new night. We're just going to start again and do the best we can and even 15 additional minutes is a win. And we see that reflected in decreased stress response. Even 15 extra minutes of sleep in one study looked at 14 pounds of weight loss in a year. So just carving out a little bit more time and a sleep routine, exercise during the day getting light, like literally getting out in the sunlight can help us with a deeper night of sleep. We think about a hot bath or shower before bed. Maybe adding a little extra magnesium can help some people with a relaxation response before bed. Light in the room, even that small little blue light here or there can actually negatively affect your sleep. So we're putting all these tools together to see okay, now what do we have like what else is possible in terms of either managing hormones or, you know, mental stress that can keep us awake at night. So once we clear that first layer of sort of mental clutter, now what do we have to work with?

Marsha Clark  24:34  
Yes, and I remember something you told us before and this, I laugh at it, but it makes so much sense. Women will say well, I have to have my phone right by my bed because it's my alarm. And you said go buy a $5 alarm clock and keep your phone in another room. Because, you know, that's right. Most of us grew up in a world where we did not have our phone connected to our body. Right. So having your phone in another room and you can turn it to the do not disturb or whatever it is so people know you're not going to respond to them. And you know, if there's a family emergency situation that's a whole different deal. But invest in a $5 alarm clock. It, too, can wake you up in the morning as it has for years and years.

Meridan Zerner  25:12  
Sometimes old fashioned is good.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  25:15  
So Meridan, talk to us about mindfulness, meditation, breathing practices to help with stress and sleep management.

Meridan Zerner  25:22  
Well, this could be dropped in very nicely around bedtime because it could create a calming response, a parasympathetic response in the body, which is rest and digest, versus our usual day to day run and go, which is the sympathetic nervous system, which is fight or flight. One of the simplest ways to get there would be literally just taking a deep breath. And they've done all kinds of wonderful research on different kinds of breathing protocols that can (no pun intended) inspire us to drive that relaxation response. And so whether it's the simplicity of just a deep inhale, and then having a longer exhale, that's what I'd like you to walk away with. But there are some that they've looked at, even through yoga, Dr. Andrew Weil, who's a preventive medicine physician, the military utilizes certain calming breath breathing techniques. So one we could even try is a 4-7-8 breath. It's one of my favorites. You could do that, gosh, sitting at your desk, you could do that at the dinner table before everybody comes for the holidays, whatever that looks like. So it is an intentional breath in through your nose if you can for a four count. And then we hold our breath for seven count, and then it's a bold exhale out through your mouth or an eight count. So we could just try that.

Marsha Clark  26:44  
I just did it.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  26:45  
Without breathing into the mic. Very good, Marsha. Well, you know, so stress that we've been talking about here. I want to also bring up the point of loneliness, which our current Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, is calling a, almost a national crisis here in the U.S. right now. So talk to us about loneliness and what we can do there.

Meridan Zerner  27:17  
In so many areas around the globe where people are thriving, right, where they're living into their, you know, 100 plus and without disease we look at, yeah, they're eating well. We look at they're moving. But we have to look at they have a strong sense of faith, they have a strong sense of purpose. They have a strong sense of community. And I think we're more challenged by that in this country, right? People, families are living in different states. We may not see each other as frequently. Certainly, the pandemic, people were radically isolated. And then we got into more of a rhythm of maybe working from home where you're only really seeing the mailman, maybe. And that's just not how human beings are hardwired. And it affects our happiness. It affects our health because our happiness is affected.

Marsha Clark  28:11  
Right. I also just think about that I'm a firm believer that one's inability to interact with another human being and that's what our world has created over the last several years and now we're describing that as a mental health crisis. And we don't, we don't necessarily think or tag onto it as loneliness. We've got all other kinds of names we want to call it. But I, you know, when I talk about Will Schutz and the FIRO-B instrument, it's like one of the basic assumptions is people need people. And so talking or interacting through your device is not the same as connecting with a human being. And I just want, whether it's parents who, because we're so busy, it's easier to let them play on their devices than to have a conversation with them, or to this idea of the fear of young people going out. I just read an article yesterday that says the Gen Z's are overwhelmed to go to a restaurant, look the waiter or waitress in the eye and place their order. How scary is that?

Meridan Zerner  29:12  
And we forget that those are skills that would be taught when they were younger, because they're watching us. And it's all the little things about turning to face somebody, looking at what their eyebrows are doing. There's a lot of sort of physical communication. Even young people today are apprehensive about calling the doctor to make an appointment because oh my gosh, what's the other person gonna say? Like they need to practice with just engaging and seeing that it's going to be okay. There is the longest running scientific study on health, happiness and well being out of Harvard. And the author there, Dr. Robert Walldinger, he is going to say that the number one contributor to our health and well being and happiness is connection. So in terms of simplicity, it's like say hello to the person in the elevator. Make conversation with the guy at Target. Talk to the guy who's changed out your oil, whatever that looks like. We're trying to connect even in small ways.

Marsha Clark  30:09  
Beautiful. I, you know, I have a whole new appreciation after I read that article. My grandchildren, ages eleven, nine and five, they had been taught from early on (because we eat out a lot) and it's the you can talk to me about what you want, but I'm going to have you look at the waiter or waitress. And when I read this article, I thought, oh my gosh, I've just taken that for granted that all kids can do that. And the reality is no, they can't. And even whether it is if you don't eat out, I mean, you can still say pass me the mashed potatoes, or whatever, at the table and thank you. Thank you for doing so. There's all kinds of, like you say, small things that accumulate over time and make a big difference.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  30:54  
Another thing that Scott and I do, and I don't know if you do this with your grandchildren, Marsha, but we always. . . it's amazing to me how many times the waiter or waitress does not tell us their name. It drives me insane because I want to address you with your name. I mean, that is a human connection. So Andrew, tell me your name or whatever your name is. So maybe something else to to teach your grandkids is that they address the person with their name. So anyway, okay, so Meridan, what are your stress management tools?

Meridan Zerner  31:32  
Well and to appreciate that mine may not make sense for the person sitting next. . .  wonderfully, wonderfully diverse. If you told me to go golfing as a stress management tool that's going to have the opposite effect because I am a horrible golfer and it will be very stressful, and I will be searching for balls in the woods. I find that a mindfulness activity or a little bit of meditation most days works well. For me, I enjoy a yoga class. I really appreciate music. So I'm pretty intentional about what I listen to on the ride home because it's very calming for me. That may work for you. Some folks enjoy like a meditation, maybe they write or journal, lots of different hobbies. I mean, looking at babies and baby animals for some people is very calming,

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  32:15  
That is calming for me on Instagram. Baby goats. I love baby goats.

Marsha Clark  32:21  
And I would even offer prayer can, I mean because that's something that's a part of my daily ritual and it brings me great calmness and centeredness and that sort of thing. And, and I notice here on the list that we've got massage, please massage once a month. Once a week. That would be even better but I don't know if I can afford that. But once a month.

Meridan Zerner  32:45  
Then there's this idea of eco therapy. And it's really about just getting outside, which does set our circadian rhythm which sets our hormones right, and we get some vitamin D through the skin. But there's something very restorative and you may not even notice it, but maybe you will today that when you step outside, even in the evening, you automatically take a deeper breath. In other countries they call it forest bathing. But there is something about connecting with nature that is very grounding and settling and that I think is good for our nervous system.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  33:16  
Nice. Well, Meridan, in addition to improving sleep, do you have any other recommendations on how to manage stress?

Meridan Zerner  33:25  
The number one stress reliever and I would be absolutely remiss if we didn't spend a little time here, to get the best psychological response, to get the best night of sleep, is exercise. It's movement. And I like to call it movement because some people maybe had negative experiences with this idea of exercise when they were younger in gym class or, you know, you were either an amazing athlete or you weren't. Well, it's just movement. And so whether that is taking a walk, or it is horseback riding or it is dancing, it can look a lot of different ways. And yes, the recommendations from the American Heart Association and Cooper Clinic are 150 minutes of moderate exercise, it's 20 to 30 minutes most days, certainly you can do 75 minutes of more vigorous activity, if that's where you are. Again, where are you right now. But feel free to start slow, to start small, because it's a five minute walk that becomes an eight minute walk that becomes a ten minute walk and then maybe you pick up the pace. Allow for the evolution. We'll take what you've got. But I mean, there's no denying that when we look at every single scientific study that looks at decreasing the stress response, improving depression, reducing anxiety, exercise is right there.

Marsha Clark  34:39  
Okay, I'm gonna go off script for just a minute because I have women who love yoga because it is that calming thing. I have other women who are the 90 miles a minute person any way who crams every possible second with activity. They love hot yoga, right? And I just wonder, so if I'm active all the time, is hot yoga the best thing for me, or should I try, I mean, how do I flip those? I don't know, I'm just curious what you can say about what hot yoga brings you versus what meditative yoga brings you.

Meridan Zerner  35:15  
So I would start with this idea of the power of balance. And so we know that we need this sort of spectrum of intensity. And then we need to equally balance it with some sort of rest, restoration. So if I have somebody who's a really high intensity individual, has a lot of stress and inflammation, they don't necessarily need more of that, which would be this high intensity hot yoga, like running the marathon. Your body's already under duress, right? That individual would honestly do better with this calmer slow flow.

Marsha Clark  35:45  
So that was my intuition, but I didn't have any basis for it. I mean, I didn't know the research. But it makes sense when you think about if I'm gonna go, go, go go over here it's like, slow, slow, slow, slow, slow over here to bring that, to give our body even time to repair or slow down long enough to take care of itself.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  36:06  
It's reducing the cortisol which a big thing for women knowing that they're highly inflamed and high cortisol is belly fat. Like if you're thicker in the middle, and you can't lose that thickness in the middle, and Meridan's nodding her head, that's probably a cortisol stress response.

Meridan Zerner  36:25  
100%. And it's so frustrating. And that's, you know, even when our hormones are out of whack, we see the waist measurement increase. And so it's a cue that we need to or have the opportunity to bring it back into balance.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  36:40  
Okay. So Meridan, overall recommendations, and realistically, how do we get those done?

Meridan Zerner  36:47  
So I want everyone to hear this. Hey, movement matters. Like, period. End of story. And it's just not sitting as much as we do. And so if you're setting the alarm on your phone to stand up, if you are getting up to walk across the office to have the conversation instead of a quick email, not sitting really matters and then moving toward or accruing these 20 to 30 minutes most days. It can be more intense, less intense, it can be walking, it could be jogging, if you enjoy biking or swimming. Take a take an extra dog walk, Dr. Cooper from the Cooper Clinic always says walk your dog twice a day, whether you have one or not. Certainly I want women to weight train. And so if that's the next thing that you work on, allow for one thing at a time, right? Let it become part of your lifestyle. And then I would have you consider at least twice a week of some sort of resistance because this is where we're going to protect women's bones, our bone density, which is part of our strength and power. Additionally, that's where we get literal strength and muscle tone which positively affects our metabolism. And so that's really going to be the next nudge or encouragement. And then of course, we look at flexibility and balance. So even you know right now Marsha's standing on one foot, y'all, so she's working her balance challenge. By the way, a shout out to Marsha. In my time with her, when it was my time to go up to speak, she was always pacing in the back. And she was getting her extra steps in and I thought that's how you do it for a busy, you know, female professional in a mentoring and leadership capacity. She was back there getting it done. So I just, that's how you do it. Thank you, Marsha.

Marsha Clark  38:27  
Well, thank you for that. And I mean, you. It's something I believe in, too, because I feel better when I'm moving. Even when I'm on a coaching call I've got my notebook to take notes on the ledge but I'm walking back and forth while I'm talking, not at a fast pace where I'm out of breath and you think I'm on a treadmill or whatever it is. But it may not be fast movement, but it is movement and that I think is the point that is an important one to make.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  38:55  
Your last one I'm seeing on here, Meridan, is about HIIT training. Tell us what HIIT is.

Meridan Zerner  38:59  
So for everybody who's out there and would say, "Hey, look, I don't have a whole lot of time. You know, I'll give you 10 minutes, I'll give you 20 minutes. How can I maximize my time?" We offer up HIIT training, which is called high intensity interval training. But just to appreciate that it's the heart rate goes up, the heart rate goes down. And so it could look like even in a walk you walk moderately at a reasonable pace and then you power walk for one block or you walk for a block and you jog for a block, or you do two minutes on the elliptical trainer and then you do two minutes of resistance training. We get double the calories burned from fat in the same amount of time. And you literally change your DNA. You literally reduce the age of yourself. 300 different genes are positively influenced by these intervals made to the intensity of a HIIT training workout. So you have 10 minutes to give me and you can do it in kind of a high-low high-low intensity fashion, ah, efficient.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  39:57  
Yeah, well and I want to just double underscore the weight training because I think a lot of women are afraid of weight training. They think they're gonna get all bulky. Building muscle is what helps you burn fat the other 23 hours of the day or 23 and a half if you're not working out.

Marsha Clark  40:18  
Well and I think both of you would say that muscle weighs more than fat. So yeah, the scale may not be, it's not just a matter of. . . stop looking at the number. That I think would be the better deal.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  40:30  
Look at your clothes and how they fit on you and if they're getting looser. The number doesn't matter.

Meridan Zerner  40:36  
100%. I would always say let's find better measures of change. Because I don't want a number like that to even begin to erode your sense of power and strength or crack the door to that inner critic because it's not telling me anything about your health. It's not telling me anything about your strengths. So yes, how you feel in your clothes, your capacity to do all the cool things that you want to do in your life at work, with your family, your kids. That matters.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  41:00  
And so I also want to come back to the walking just very quickly. Meridan, when you say a 10 minute walk, again, pulling in the conversation that we just had about HIIT training, are we talking about power walking or on a treadmill or is this more like a nature trail kind of stroll. Like talk to us about that.

Meridan Zerner  41:20  
So it's actually all of the above and it's very dependent on your goal. So if we were trying to reduce stress hormones, get that deeper breath, facilitate getting a better night of sleep, a 10 minute moderate walk is really plenty and fine. And I'm really going to encourage that because it's not so stressful. If you have any extra energy to give or if you're feeling really frustrated and you need to get more of a response then, yes, you're going to pick up the speed, you're going to pick up the intensity. It all matters.

Marsha Clark  41:49  
I love that. So tell us how we can best get in contact with you. With all the things that you're doing - whether it be the nutrition and diet, whether it be the exercise, the classes you're teaching all of that - how do any of our listeners get in touch with you?

Meridan Zerner  42:04  
So the Cooper Aerobics Center, which is a preventive medicine facility in the Heart of Dallas has so many cool free resources, free newsletters. You can, you know, tap our physicians. You'll see me and the other eight dieticians that I get to work with at And I am just so excited about and privileged to work with individuals and so it would be my pleasure, if you wanted to reach out to me directly. You could email me at I would be happy to get you resources, to answer questions, to be your partner or your advocate. I mean, sometimes we just need a little support and some strategy. And that's what we do.

Marsha Clark  42:49  
I just want to say and I know you do that, because I know women who have reached out to you. And we've only scratched the surface on what one can do and what you have to share, Meridan. So I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you for all of that. And I know, Wendi, you always ask what's the one takeaway. I'm going to preempt that just a little bit because here's what's going through my head. For all of the women out there who have children, I want you to understand that you're not only taking care of yourself when you do some of these things, you're also modeling this for your daughters and your sons. Right? This idea of if all I talk about is I'm so fat, or I'm so this or I need to lose weight, much literature that I've read says part of where young girls' eating disorders come from is hearing their mothers talk about being too fat and needing to go on a diet. So recognize you may be sending an unintentional message. And so that's one piece. The other is focus on healthy, not skinny, or not size two, or any of those things. I've never been size two - maybe if I'd worn adult clothing when I was in the fifth grade or something, but that's not my body structure, right? I have my mother's legs, I have my aunt's, you know, chin, all those kinds of things. So that's one thing. But I also want to say you're also teaching your sons what beauty is, right? And if it's only size two whatever ever, ever, or that women do get to take time to take care of themselves and that's a good thing, those are important messages. And we can talk about it all day long. But our kids are watching us and they're going to model that. So that's one thing I would like to leave with our listeners today is it's not just for you. It's what others that matter to you and whose lives you want to positively influence can see in you.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  44:47  

Meridan Zerner  44:47  
Self care is not self indulgent. Self care is necessary to do all the good works in your world starting with caring for yourself and it affects everyone around you positively and your coworkers and the people you come into contact with. You know, this is your power. You've done hard things before. We're going to channel those skills. We're going to let go of a little bit of judgment and just carve out a little bit of time to care for yourself.

Marsha Clark  45:18  
You earn it. You deserve it. You're worth it.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  45:20  
Yep. So Meridan, what would you like to be sure that our listeners hear as a final takeaway from you?

Meridan Zerner  45:29  
I'm actually going to borrow from Mother Teresa. Was an easy one but, you know, she talks about 'I cannot change the world alone.' And there are so many resources out there in terms of inspiration for work and leadership with Marsha,  you've got resources under the health and wellness umbrella as well. So I cannot change the world alone, but I have people that I can partner with that can walk alongside me that have been there before. And so we're going to take your intention and energy and we're just going to build you up, make you stronger, happier, healthier. And then you're going to reach your hand out and bring your colleague or your female partner or friend along with you. Let's do it together.

Marsha Clark  46:12  
Well, I also just have to say this too. You know, the idea of well, it's so expensive, or that cost so much to have this person help me or that person help me. I just want to say you get a heck of a lot better return having a nutritionist help you or, you know, a sports dietetics specialist, or whatever it may be, than buying that $500 purse. I just want to say that. Now I know that is a reflection of my own value system and I will own that. But I want you to, I also want to, we've got to prioritize and prioritize yourself. That's what I really want to say. So, ladies, thank you again very much for listening today. And the men, too. I know we've got some out there. So I appreciate your attention to this. And I hope you really hear from us we care about you and we want you to be healthy. And we want you to be happy. And the things that we've shared with you in this podcast is really in service to that and we don't walk alone and we don't do it alone. And so as always, "Here's to women supporting women!"

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