How to Create a Resilient Immune System

immune strength

Your immune system is the quiet hero, operating in the background to deal with threats of all magnitude, from cuts and scrapes to increased toxin exposure and chronic stress. Building and maintaining a strong immune system is critical to functioning optimally. Implement the following lifestyle and diet tips to increase immunity.

stress relief

Stress Less

The stress hormone cortisol decreases the production of white blood cells, decreasing the ability of the immune system to fight off antigens. Maintain a strong immune system by keeping stress in check. Daily practices such as meditation, yoga, moderate exercise, journaling, and time outdoors can all help with this.

sleep

Get Enough Sleep

Research suggests that normal sleep cycles and circadian rhythm exhibit a strong regulatory effect on immune function, including the redistribution of helper T-cells to lymph nodes. To enhance sleep, create an evening routine. Avoid stimulants after noon and stop eating a couple hours before bedtime. Stay off screens (computer, phone, TV) at least an hour before you want to be asleep. Avoid bright lighting. Engage in relaxing activities, such as light reading or taking a bath.

immune

Take Adaptogen Herbs

This class of herbs is a key tool to enhancing immunity. Research indicates that adaptogens exhibit an immune-modulating effect by supporting the endocrine system and regulating homeostasis. They act on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, affecting key regulators of the stress response. Reishi mushroom, Ashwagandha, and Asian Ginseng are particularly helpful for boosting immunity. Though not an adaptogen, Astragalus also supports immune function.

play outside

Play Outside

Scheduling time to play in nature each day increases immunity by reducing stress and triggering the endorphins and beneficial hormones associated with exercise. Time spent in the sun will also enhance immune-boosting Vitamin D prodcution. Finally, exposure to the wide variety of microbes in the natural environment creates a balanced, resilient immune system.

salad

Eat a Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods Diet

Your diet can enhance or suppress immunity. Food is our primary source for the vitamins and minerals needed for our immune system to function optimally. Focusing on whole foods, especially organically grown fruits and vegetables, helps build a healthy immune system. Additionally, eating a whole food diet rich in fiber will support a healthy gut microbiome. It’s believed that 70-80% of our immune tissue resides in the gut, so good gut health is key to a strong immune system!

supplement

Supplement with Vitamin D, Vitamin C, & Zinc

Striving to get most of your nutrition from your diet is ideal, but sometimes we need an extra boost. This is particularly true during times of increased stress when our bodies are more susceptible to illness. During this time, consider supplementing your diet with key immune-boosting vitamins and minerals. Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and Zinc are essential to optimal immune function.

By using these strategies to build healthy habits, you’ll keep your immune system strong all year long. You’ll avoid catching the cold when everyone at your office comes down with it, and if any serious threats come up, your body will be better equipped to keep you strong and healthy!

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How to Improve Focus & Attention

attention focus

Increasingly digitized lifestyles have led to our attention spans being a mere 8 seconds, according to a recent study by Canadian researchers. However, the importance of developing focus is key to not only doing substantive creative work, but also for being present with those we care about. Use the following tools, tips, and habits to increase your attention span and ability to focus.

meditate

Meditation

Regular meditation can alter brain patterns, improving mental focus and improving cognitive function, according to research reviewed by Psychology Today. Compared to non-meditators, meditators had increased stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex, a brain region linked to spontaneous thoughts and mind-wandering. To get started, try an app, such as Headspace or Calm. Start with 10 minutes per day and build up from there.

exercise

Exercise

Evidence based on neuroimaging has shown cognitive improvements from aerobic exercise, across the human lifespan. Exercisers experienced increased processing speed and an improved capacity to allocate greater attention resources toward the environment. There’s a range of how much is ideal, but recent research suggests that the effect is cumulative and participants who exercised 52 hours over 6 months showed the greatest cognitive enhancements.

attention focus

Cognitive Enhancing Herbs

In conjunction with these other strategies, several herbs can support increased attention and focus. Ginkgo biloba improves circulation, acts as an antioxidant, and has a long history of use for brain health. Other herbs to consider for increased attention include Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Bacopa monnieri, Rhodiola rosea, and Gotu kola.

clean diet

Eat to Support Brain Health

Consuming a nutrient-dense diet enhances cognitive function, supporting an increased attention span and the ability to focus. To maximize antioxidant intake and protect the brain from free radical damage, eat several servings daily of a variety of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, consuming omega-3 fatty acids upregulates genes that are important for maintaining synaptic function and plasticity. Include a variety of other healthy fats as well, such as olive oil and nuts. Caffeine, in small amounts, can also improve focus and productivity.

productivity

Use Productivity Techniques

Try methods such as batching tasks, single-tasking, and the Pomodoro Method to increase attention span and focus. Group similar tasks into batches and schedule blocks of time to prevent the disruption and distraction that results from jumping from one project to the next. For example, rather than checking email throughout the day, check it only twice daily. Forget multitasking, and focus on one thing at a time. When you sit down to work, close browser tabs and turn your phone on airplane mode. Try the Pomodoro Method to stay hyper-focused on your most important task. The method traditionally involves setting a timer for 25-minute intervals of focused work, with short breaks in between.

By taking care of key aspects of our health and adopting a few new work habits, we can set up our lives and environments to support increased attention and focus. This allows us to do the work that matters most to us, to escape overwhelm, and to be more present in each moment.

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Oregon Desert Trail Resupply Planning

ODT resupply

Food Resupply Plan for the Oregon Desert Trail

This post details how I planned my food for the Oregon Desert Trail. I’ll post more on general trail information and planning resources in a separate post. This one is all about where, what, and how much I planned for food resupply for the ODT. I’ll do a follow-up post when I return about how this plan worked out.

Grab a cup of coffee. This is a long one, but hopefully you’ll find it’s jam-packed with useful info.

The following table details where I sent each box, the calorie goals for each day, the specific food I sent, and how that broke down in term of macronutrients (percentages of fat, carbs, and protein), as well as total food weight carried.

The calorie goal for each resupply box is in the top left corner of the table for each location. The actual calories in the box are at the bottom of the table for each section, which is also where you’ll find the macro breakdown and the food weight of the box.

ODT resupply

Determining Goal Calorie Intake

I loosely track daily calories and nutrients with the app MyFitnessPal. To create my calorie goals, I used that data of my current intake and expenditure, coupled with knowledge from previous hikes.

The numbers may seem low considering that I’m 5’7″, have a normal BMI, and I’ll be hiking 25-30 miles per day. However, I made them low for a couple reasons:  1) I’m still recovering from a hypo-thyroid issue, and the thyroid is the master regulator of metabolism, so my current basal metabolic rate (BMR) is lower than it has been in the past. I know this because I track my calorie intake and weight. While some might consider the downside of this being that ‘I have to’ eat less food to maintain my weight, the upside of a currently lower BMR is that ‘I get to’ eat less food to maintain my weight. That’s convenient when you’re backpacking and you have to carry it all on your back 🙂 And reason 2) The time frame (30 days) is relatively short, so I won’t get into full on hiker hunger, and if I do go into a calorie deficit, it won’t be for long.  You’ll also notice that in each box I include several hundred additional calories above the goal amount, just in case.

Macronutrient Percentages

Let’s start by saying that I strongly believe in bio-individuality. Every body is different. Figure out what works best for you. I mean that in terms of both what your diet is made up of, as well as in terms of calories and macronutrients, and in terms of specific foods you do or do not tolerate well. Food quality and a focus on whole foods is the constant and the details are variable.

I’ve found that I thrive when I eat a diet higher in healthy fats, moderate in protein, and slightly lower in carbs. The numbers in this chart show my diet as generally being 50-60% fat, 10-20% protein, and 30-40% carbohydrate. Off trail, the fat number tends to be higher and the carbs lower, but this is how it settled out for the trail and I’m comfortable with that. We’ll see how I feel.

Also, I’m aware that in the table, the macro percentages don’t always add up to 100%. In a couple spots they add up to 102 or 105%. I believe this is due to averaging values for different varieties/flavors of granola, bars, etc. While this is not ideal, the data is still accurate enough to give a good reflection of what the nutritional spread looks like.

Food Planning on a ‘Restricted Diet’ while Going Stoveless

All foods in this resupply plan are gluten free and dairy free. This list does also not rely heavily on grains or added sugars, though there are a few in there. The focus is on including real foods with either no ingredient list or very short ingredient lists made up of recognizable foods. To avoid toxin exposure, most of these foods are organic.

I firmly believe in doing the best you can, and not obsessing about being perfect. While I’m all for eating a high-quality diet on trail, don’t let the idea overwhelm you to the point where you give up before you start. Start where you’re at and any small improvements you can make in food choices and quality will translate into feeling better on trail and supporting a cleaner environment.

 

Supplements & Other Items in Each Box

There are a few items that went into each box that aren’t listed in the chart. This includes maps for each section, wet wipes, and supplements. Oh, and resupply baggies of coarse celtic sea salt 🙂

Supplements I’m carrying: Magnesium Citrate Powder to help with muscle relaxation and sleep; Turmeric capsules to reduce overall inflammation; Vitamin C for electrolyte replacement and antioxidants; and probiotics to maintain optimal gut health.  Not a ton, just the basics.

I also have cordyceps mushroom powder in my morning smoothie mix, along with the coconut creamer, collagen, chia, and spices. The cordyceps is for improved oxygen utilization and endurance. The spices, while not necessarily  supplements, serve similar anti inflammatory and medicinal roles.

Need help planning your own resupply? Learn more here.

ODT resupply

Specific Brands I Carried

In the table, I left most food descriptions fairly general because I want to convey that in many instances you don’t have to choose one specific brand, and you can often find healthy substitutions that are either more available to you or suit your preferences better. I want the focus to be on the overall quality of the food and the idea that you can fuel a long distance hike with whole foods, made up of real ingredients.

The following are the specific brands I carried on this hike. While some of this food was donated to me, these are all brands I had tried in advance and approve of the ingredients and nutrition profile. Trust me, I wouldn’t be carrying them if I wasn’t certain they would fuel my hike properly. Having gone through adrenal and thyroid issues in the past, I’m well aware that my energy and my body are my greatest asset on any long distance hike.

It’s worth it to me to be thoughtful in my food choices, as well as in what brands I support. I like to feel aligned with the brands behind the products I consume to the extent that I can. This also goes for the gear I purchase.

Laird Superfood Coconut Creamer

Laird Superfood Hydrate Coconut Water

Vital Proteins Collagen Powder

Amazing Grass Greens Powder

Nutiva Chia Seeds

Trader Joe’s Almond Butter

Trader Joe’s Organic Tortilla Chips

Supernola Granola

Gorilly Goods Trail Mix

Wild Zora Meat & Veggie Bar

Trader Joe’s 85% Cocoa Chocolate

Wild Zora Meals

Sante Fe Dehydrated Beans

Natural Grocers Dehydrated Bulk Veggies

Trader Joe’s Individual Coconut Oil Packets

Kate’s Real Food Bars

Four Points Bars

Trail Nuggets

Cusa Premium Organic Instant Tea

If you want ideas for additional foods on my shopping list beyond what’s listed here, download my free Healthy Hiker Grocery Guide here

Without further ado, the data…

calories/serving fat g/serving carb g/serving protein g/serving weight/ serving (grams) servings taken total calories total fat (g) total protein (g) total carbs (g) total weight (g)
Start/eastern terminus (5 days) @ 2000 cal/day = 10000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
chia seeds (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 5 300 25 15 25 65
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
organic corn tortilla chips 140 8 15 2 28 8.5 1190 68 17 127.5 238
trail mix 200 17 6 12 34 6 1200 102 72 36 204
granola 210 16 14 6 42 4 840 64 24 56 168
bars 260 12 31 10 70 4 1040 48 40 124 280
chocolate 250 20 13 4 2.5 625 50 10 32.5 0
jerky 110 6 10 7 31 4 440 24 28 40 124
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
wild zora dinner 310 7 38 35 85 1 310 7 35 38 85
TOTAL 9715 662 381 736 4.20
Calories from F/C/P 5958.00 1524 2944 pounds
Percent of Total 61.33 15.69 30.30
ROME (5.5 days) @ 2200/day =12,000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 135 3 3 0 4 5 675 15 0 15 20
chia seeds (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 5 300 25 15 25 65
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
hydrate mix 40 0 10 0 12 9 360 0 0 90 108
0
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
organic corn tortilla chips 140 8 15 2 28 8.6 1204 68.8 17.2 129 240.8
granola 200 16 14 6 42 6 1200 96 36 84 252
jerky 110 6 10 7 31 4 440 24 28 40 124
bars 260 12 31 10 70 8 2080 96 80 248 560
trail mix 210 17 6 12 34 6 1260 102 72 36 204
chocolate 250 20 13 4 2.5 625 50 10 32.5 0
0
wild zora dinner 340 2 32 41 85 1 340 2 41 32 85
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 13054 815.3 509.2 1053.5 5.73
Calories from F/C/P 7337.70 2036.8 4214 pounds
Percent of Total 56.21 15.60 32.28
(MCDERMITT: BUY IN TOWN)
FIELDS (3 days) @ 2500 cal/day =7500 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 3 225 9 0 9 12
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 3 90 15 3 21 30
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 3 210 7.5 30 3 45
chia (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 3 180 15 9 15 39
0 0 0 0
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
potato chips 140 7 17 2 28 7 980 49 14 119 196
bars 260 12 31 10 70 3 780 36 30 93 210
trail mix 210 17 6 12 34 4 840 68 48 24 136
granola 210 16 14 6 42 2 420 32 12 28 84
jerkey 110 6 10 7 31 3 330 18 21 30 93
0 0 0 0
wild zora meal 310 2 32 41 85 1 310 2 41 32 85
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 8435 550.5 363 656 3.82
Calories from F/C/P 4954.50 1452 2624 pounds
Percent of Total 58.74 17.21 31.11
FRENCHGLEN (4 days) @2500 cal/day =10,000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
chia (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 5 300 25 15 25 65
0 0 0 0
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
potato chips 100 7 17 2 28 10 1000 70 20 170 280
trail mix 210 17 6 12 34 5 1050 85 60 30 170
granola 200 16 14 6 42 4 800 64 24 56 168
bars 250 12 31 10 70 8 2000 96 80 248 560
chocolate 250 20 13 4 2.5 625 50 10 32.5 0
jerky 110 6 10 7 31 3 330 18 21 30 93
0 0 0 0
wild zora dinner 370 8 33 36 85 1 370 8 36 33 85
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 11420 767.5 476 961.5 5.24
Calories from F/C/P 6907.50 1904 3846 pounds
Percent of Total 60.49 16.67 33.68
PLUSH (2 days) @ 2500 cal/day = 5000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
chia (1 tbl) 60 5 5 3 13 5 300 25 15 25 65
0 0 0 0
wild zora breakfast 520 36 43 10 92 1 520 36 10 43 92
trail mix 210 17 6 12 34 4 840 68 48 24 136
granola 200 16 14 6 42 4 800 64 24 56 168
bars 250 12 31 10 70 10 2500 120 100 310 700
jerky 110 2 220 0 0 0 0
nut butter 180 14 8 9 32 1 180 14 9 8 32
wild zora dinner 370 8 33 36 85 1 370 8 36 33 85
TOTAL 6605 387.5 297 554 3.18
Calories from F/C/P 3487.50 1188 2216 pounds
Percent of Total 52.80 17.99 33.55
(LAKEVIEW: BUY IN TOWN)
PAISLEY (2 days) @ 2500 cal/day = 5000 cal
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
choc coconut creamer 35 1 2 0 3 12 420 12 0 24 36
wild zora breakfast 520 38 40 11 92 1 520 38 11 40 92
trail mix 200 17 6 12 34 4 800 68 48 24 136
granola 200 16 14 6 42 4 800 64 24 56 168
bars 260 12 31 10 70 10 2600 120 100 310 700
jerkey 110 6 10 7 31 2 220 12 14 20 62
wild zora dinner 340 7 38 35 85 1 340 7 35 38 85
TOTAL 6575 373.5 287 567 3.18
Calories from F/C/P 3361.50 1148 2268 pounds
Percent of Total 51.13 17.46 34.49
CHRISTMAS VALLEY (4 days) @ 2500 cal/day=10,000
coffee/tea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
laird superfood creamer 75 3 3 0 4 5 375 15 0 15 20
greens powder, cinnamon, ginger, cordyceps 30 5 7 1 10 5 150 25 5 35 50
collagen powder 70 2.5 1 10 15 5 350 12.5 50 5 75
choc coconut creamer 35 1 2 0 3 12 420 12 0 24 36
almond butter 190 17 7 7 32 14 2660 238 98 98 448
potato chips 100 7 17 2 28 10 1000 70 20 170 280
trail mix 200 17 6 12 34 6 1200 102 72 36 204
bars 260 12 31 10 70 7 1820 84 70 217 490
chocolate 250 20 13 4 2.5 625 50 10 32.5 0
jerky 110 6 10 7 31 5 550 30 35 50 155
beans 130 0 24 7 35 6 780 0 42 144 210
mixed veg 30 1 8 3 13 5 150 5 15 40 65
coconut oil 120 14 0 0 15 4 480 56 0 0 60
spices 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 9685 647 362 811.5 4.35
Calories from F/C/P 5823.00 1448 3246 pounds
Percent of Total 60.12 14.95 33.52

Despite my best efforts, this chart is a bit difficult to read. For a copy of the chart, as well as a template for your own resupply planning, click here: ODT resupply.

Questions? Post them in the comments below.

Need help planning your own resupply? Learn more here.

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Coconut Walnut Cookies

coconut walnut cookies

I don’t eat many cookies, but when I do, I’m looking for high fat, low sugar snacks that pack well for long days in the mountains.

I’ve been hiking 14ers a lot on the weekends this summer and keeping a batch of these coconut walnut cookies in the freezer has been key to getting me out the door quickly with healthy fuel in tow. I throw a few of these in my food bag, along with some nuts, and I’m out the door. I like knowing that I have a clean, home-made snack that’s going to fuel me for the day. No more processed, sugary, chewy bars.

coconut walnut cookies

These cookies can be whipped up in about 30 minutes, including bake time, and they are gluten free and dairy free. The high fat content keeps me satiated on long hikes.

They are definitely less sweet than your average cookie, having just a hint of sweetness from the honey. In addition to the high fat content, the cinnamon also adds a blood sugar balancing effect. The sea salt on top replaces minerals lost through sweat and, well, it just tastes delicious. I like to have big chunks of walnuts in mine, but you could grind the walnuts to a finer consistency. Alternatively, you could substitute other nuts or seeds there.

I believe I found the original version of these on a keto forum and then adjusted it to suit my needs. If anyone knows the original source, please feel free to comment below.

coconut walnut cookie

Coconut Walnut Cookies

1/3 cup hemp seeds

1/2 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened

3 large eggs

1/2 cup coconut flour (or almond flour)

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted (or ghee or grass-fed butter)

2 teaspoons cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice mix)

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped

1/8 teaspoon himalayan salt

1/8 cup honey

Mix all ingredients together in mixing bowl. Portion 1-2 Tablespoon size balls onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Top with coarse sea salt.

Bake at 325*F for 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden brown.

cookie batter

cookies

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