Winters can be a bit gloomy for many of us and leave use feeling a little blue. This rings true here in Portland as winters tend to be quite overcast and wet. Did I mention wet? Almost all of my running days have been in the rain this winter. With two toddlers I don’t get to choose the perfect time to go for a run. It’s a now or never strategy. I just realized yesterday (it was a dry sunny day) that my feet haven’t been wet from the rain and endless puddles, but a hole in my running shoe (and you’ll love the “why” – from turning with my hoop).
Whether it’s the lack of fresh air, fresh vitamin D, dietary deficiencies or lack of exercise stimulating mood enhancing neurochemicals, all of these can contribute to us not feeling our best. We’re going to uncover how hooping specifically can help combat this, and also give you two new strategies to try to boost those feel good neurochemicals!
Hula Hooping Stimulates Critical Neurochemicals
Most of us have heard of runners high, but is there such a thing as hoopers high? Hula hooping stimulates neurochemicals in our brains that contribute to a “high”, particularly dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine reinforces behaviors that make you feel good. In contrast, serotonin is important for calmness and emotional well-being. Many of the brains neurochemicals are stimulated when we exercise in any way at all – so where does the benefit of hooping come in?
One of the reasons that clients don’t like to exercise is that they don’t consider it fun. It becomes more of a chore. Unless you’re hard core, jump squats, burpees, and sprinting have probably lost their appeal. But CONSISTENCY in any fitness and wellness routine is crucial for success and long term adherence, AND release of these feel good neurochemicals!
How do we get consistency? By doing something that’s FUN that we look forward to. Ahhh yes, hooping.
And not only is it good for the body, but attempting and mastering tricks gives you an extra shot of dopamine release. According to Mandi Smith at hooping.org, “Hooping requires motor control, working memory, and rapid decision making. When you plan and execute the perfect escalator move, you get an extra boost of dopamine as a reward. Heck, you get an extra boost of dopamine by just planning and anticipating the next move, even if it isn’t executed perfectly — a fact for which I am profoundly grateful. Experimenting with new moves and combinations of moves can also result in new synaptic connections, a vital part of learning and memory formation”.
And we’re not the only ones catching on to the mood boosting, meditative benefits of hooping. 50 of our Collapsible Infinity Hoops just made their way to Deepak Choprah’s clientele at the Chopra Center!
Hula Hooping Can Lower Cortisol
“The best time to relax is when you don’t have time for it”
If you are battling chronic daily stress (job, financial, marriage, move, LIFE) and/or are post menopausal, then you might just be familiar with cortisol’s effect on the body. Cortisol is a hormone that when chronically elevated, can disrupt normal functioning. It can reduce sleep quality, duration, create more stress, cause overeating, and increased fat deposits around the middle in post menopausal women. Over time you can end up with the effects shown below.
And most of us aren’t resting and engaging in activities that restore cortisol levels. Athletes do this quite well – they build in daily recovery time. Even though they are training at high intensities, they schedule daily rests and naps to help promote recovery. Since no clients I KNOW or have worked with can schedule nap time, creating exercise that promotes and has similar effects is a smart way to handle chronic cortisol.
Parasympathetic activities, such as hula hooping, meditation, breathing, leisure walking, and meditative yoga can reduce heart rate, and cortisol levels in the body. What in the heck is a parasympathetic activity and why should you care? Sympathetic activity is categorized as “fight or flight” activity. Parasympathetic is termed “rest and digest” activity. Most of us tend to be sympathetic dominant, as referenced above with the chronic daily stressors that disrupt cortisol levels. So focusing on exercise that increases our already dominant sympathetic activity may not be the best strategy. While a baseline of high intensity exercise is okay even with periods of high stress, balance is needed to fire off the parasympathetic activity. Enter hula hooping!
- In the evening, try incorporating deep breathing with abdominal hooping. Slow, rhythmic movements along with even breathing can help.
- Include 2-3 days of strength training and or intervals, along with 2-3 days of hooping. We included both in our Hoop Fitness DVD for this very reason.
Hula Hooping and the Grounding Connection
What in the heck is grounding? According to www.drweil.com “Earthing” also called “grounding” stems from the idea that in modern city life we no longer have direct physical contact with the Earth, and therefore are losing out on purported health benefits of exchanging electrons with the surface of our planet. A handful of small studies have found that grounding appears to provide some general health benefits, such as better sleep, less pain, reduced stress and tension, and better immune function compared to study participants who weren’t grounded. One study suggested that earthing eliminates the potentially harmful effects of the electromagnetic fields given off by all the electronic devices that surround us.
Hooping is a perfect activity to try out grounding. If you bring your hoop to the gym, or live in a concrete jungle, it may be something you haven’t given much thought to. I used to do more of this early on in my hooping days but moved away from it due to the cold wet winters, bald patches of grass from my practice and the habit of putting on my shoes and going outside to run, hoop, or do any physical activity.
But I decided to head outside today sans shoes (if you’ll remember from paragraph one my shoes now have a hole in them anyway) and give it a whirl (pardon the pun). Here’s what I noticed. With the sun shining in my face, the feel of the earth on my feet and the relaxing soundtrack from “Outlander”, it was a slice of heaven (until hit in the back with a flying arm hoop thanks to my son Austin).
I definitely felt very relaxed and peaceful, which also kicked off a string of creativity on both our parts. I came up with a new toss sequence, and Austin tested whether his lego plane was stronger than the arm hoop (verdict still out on this one).
In the end, I spent WAY longer than the few minutes I had originally planned to test this out. Both of us were out for an hour and I found myself saying “ok, just two minutes more and then we need to go inside”.
As someone who comes from a family with a history of depression, I’m certainly willing to make this a regular part of my routine again. Along with the feelings of being connected to the earth and increased awareness, the uneven nature of the ground presents some balance challenges, especially while leg hooping and hooping on one leg, all of which are good for core strength.
Beware however, that there are a lot of products designed to enhance grounding or earthing, which can add up. And the research is still out.
But next time we are all outside and the kids ask “can we take our shoes off? YES, YES YOU CAN, and I will join you.
STRATEGY: If you take your hoop to the park, or even right outside in your yard, ditch your shoes. You just might unleash the creativity to test out some new combinations and feel calm in the process.
Additional Resources and Reading
Precision Nutrition Coach
ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist
Creator of the Hoop Fitness DVD
To work with Leigh one on one contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org