5 Keys to Raising Kids for a Lifetime of Physical and Mental Health With Brian Stenzler

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Katie: Hello and welcome to the Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com. And this episode is all about five keys to raising kids for a lifetime of physical and mental health, and it touches on a broad range of topics. I’m here with Dr. Brian Stenzler, who is the bestselling author of D.R.E.A.M. Wellness: The 5 Keys to Raising Kids for a Lifetime of Physical and Mental Health. He’s the co-founder of D.R.E.A.M. Wellness and he’s owned and operated multiple wellness centers in New York and San Diego, where he has helped thousands of families. And he is often a guest speaker on a lot of these topics and has had leadership positions in a lot of companies related to this as well.

But I love getting to go deep on his simple approach today. We start off with a fun story about him rappelling down a building to raise money for charity. The common factors he sees as contributing to the rise in disease in society, why the current system supports disease and not optimal health, the five keys to a wellness lifestyle with his system, which he calls D.R.E.A.M., how diet is everything that goes into your body from the outside world, including not just food, but relationships, books, information, etc. We talk about what he calls the five deal breakers in his household, how discipline is not about deprivation, it’s about making empowering choices. We talk a lot about nervous system health and how this comes into play for overall health and especially in relation to kids, and how if nervous system health isn’t optimal, no other aspect of health is going to line up, why the majority of people are living in sympathetic dominance and how to get out of it, steps to set your child up for better nervous system health and how to use HRV as a tool, and so much more. So a very wide ranging episode. We jump around to a lot of topics and let’s join Dr. Stenzler. Brian, welcome. Thanks for being here.

Dr. Stenzler: Thanks for having me, Katie. Really excited to be here today.

Katie: I am too, and we’re going to get into all aspects of raising healthy kids. But before we do, I have a note from your bio that I have to hear more about because I have a note that you rappelled down the tallest waterfront building on the West Coast. And I want to hear this story because I have rappelled exactly three times in my life and all three were a little bit terrifying. So I can’t imagine choosing to rappel down a building, but I would love to hear why you did.

Dr. Stenzler: Well, I do have this little bit of adventure seeker in me. I spent some time in Melbourne, Australia when I was speaking in a conference out there many years ago and had the opportunity to upsell, they call it there, instead of rappelling down a few mountains there. But it was very, you know, didn’t need any training or anything like that. And then when I was back in the States in San Diego, there was a charity that I was somewhat involved with called KIT, Kids Included Together for disabled children to be able to do cool things and be more integrated with society. And they had a challenge. They said, anyone that could raise X number of dollars will have an opportunity to rappel down the Hyatt Waterfront building in San Diego, which was the tallest building and still is on the West Coast waterfront.

And it was really cool because not only did we get to raise a bunch of money for that wonderful charity, but I had an opportunity to go up really high and come down, scale down the walls like Spiderman or some you’d see in Mission Impossible. But what was even more cool about that is we got to do it with some kids in wheelchairs and other disabilities that, you know, they set it up in such a way that would make it safe for them. So the ones that were more adventurous and not afraid for it, they really got to experience. And it was really just a great, very rewarding, not only for me, you know, being the thrill seeker, but to be able to do it with these other kids and have that opportunity to just experience that with them.

Katie: I love that. And actually, I have a somewhat related personal experience as well. My dad used to work for a company that would help create things that would help people with disabilities do whatever in their lives or their jobs that they needed to accomplish. And he loved it because he got to invent things that would help them. But every year they would host a camp for children with various different conditions and mostly like cerebral palsy or children who were in wheelchairs. And I always got to volunteer at that camp. And I would say it was one of the most formative experiences of my childhood. And I have friendships still from that camp. Those kids were so amazing and just such incredible kids that I like think back fondly of that very often. So I love that you got to do that. And sounds like a very cool experience, even with the repelling. So thank you for sharing that story.

And what you are also a world expert in is many topics actually related to health. And especially we want to go deep today on the topic of health for our kids and raising them with a solid foundation for lifelong health. And before we jump into solutions, I think it’s helpful to define what we’re facing. It’s no secret, obviously, that a lot of chronic diseases are on the rise. But what worries me the most is that we’re seeing them on the rise in children a lot. And this is a pretty recent shift and a kind of dramatic one from the numbers that I’ve seen. So I would love to hear your take on, do you see any common factors that are relating to the rise in all these chronic diseases? And why are we seeing this happen so rapidly right now?

Dr. Stenzler: Yeah, so that’s a really good question and a tough topic to discuss because it’s something that a lot of parents want to ignore, especially because the parents are the cause for a lot of these issues as well. That, what is it now? 60% of kids have at least one chronic illness and it’s on the rise. I mean, we see it like this statistic could be totally outdated in a year from now or six months from now.

And so I don’t like playing the blame game. I like playing the solution game and talk about what can we do differently? And so I think that there are a couple of different parts to this. For one, what’s their favorite game to play is follow the leader, right? So kids are following their parents. You know, whatever it is, it’s monkey see, monkey do, right? Whatever the parents are doing, the kids follow. I mean, you have six kids. How often do you hear them use your expressions and you never even realize probably that you even say that and they say that, I know I have a seven and a half year old and he says, I’m like, where did you get that from? me wife is like, from you, Brian, you say that. I’m like, oh yeah.

So it’s like, if we know that our kids are going to play follow the leader, we should be the leader that we want our kids to follow. And that’s with everything that we say, everything that we do, the way that we act, our emotions, how we manage our emotions and everything else. So that’s a huge part of it because we know how many chronic illnesses adults have right now. And, you know, I mean, the perfect example is, you know, when the whole, the pandemic hit, right, with COVID, who were the people that were most affected by it are people that had chronic illnesses, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and, you know, heart disease. And so we look at the lifestyle diseases that we have, COVID actually accentuated it, brought it out to the forefront that said, wow, America is not that healthy.

And so why are Americans in general not that healthy is well, for one, we don’t take responsibility for ourselves, right? We rely on the sick care system, right? We call it a healthcare system, but it’s not a healthcare system, it’s a sick care system. We rely on that for our overall health and wellbeing where we know that the majority of what we go to doctors for is not to maintain or even promote health, what I refer to as salutogenesis.

And then when you bring the government into it and health insurance, there’s no incentive to stay healthy because, oh, I pay all this money in premiums. If something breaks down, I’m just going to go ahead and just use my health insurance and take care of it. So, you know, we’ve looked over the years like, okay, so we have socialized medicine, should we not have socialized medicine? It doesn’t matter what kind of healthcare we have in the United States or in Canada, it just doesn’t matter because until education on lifestyle choices and on true health and wellness becomes the forefront conversation, we will always have a nation that is dealing with chronic illness.

And kids are the ones that are going to be suffering more and more. We have so many environmental toxins we’ve never had before that play into it. And if the parents did more research, if they all listened to your podcast and shopped on your site and everything, they would know that there’s so many better choices out there. So this is why I love what you’re doing because you have an opportunity to inspire hundreds of thousands of parents and moms, you know, to make better choices for their kids.

Katie: Yeah, and to your point, I do feel like we’re starting to see that tide shift. And I hear from so many moms who are doing this work and who are deeply invested, who are making the changes in their own family, which is, I think, where it starts and where we will start to see the shifts. But also to your point, you touched on two really important keys that I think are going to probably become themes of this whole conversation. The first one being, of course, modeling with our kids and that while they listen to some of what we say, they are going to pay a lot more attention to what we do. And this gives us permission to do the things that support our own health that often I feel like parents minimize the importance of in interest of taking care of their kids. But really, one of the best things we can do for our kids is to support our own mental and physical health the best that we can and to give them permission to do the same by modeling it. So I love that you brought that up.

And then another thing I say so often on here, people might be tired of hearing it, is that at the end of the day, we are each our own primary health care provider. And that while there are amazing providers who can become our partners in that, and that’s, I think, when the best outcomes happen, it all starts with us being having a vested interest doing the research, doing the experimentation on ourselves, because every body is different and what works for one person may not directly translate for another. Plus, we have the most and best data on ourselves. And so I’m really excited that we live in a time where we have access to information and data and practitioners who are great partners. And I am really confident that we’re going to be able to see these trends shift largely thanks to work like yours and many other people who are trying to contribute.

But I always like to remind people at the end of the day, the responsibility lies entirely with us. You can’t outsource that even to the best of doctors. The responsibility is still ours and as parents for our children as well. And I think you make this simple. I got to read through a lot of your work and you have a really simple five pillar system that I think is a helpful starting point for the rest of this conversation. So can you walk us through what those pillars are?

Dr. Stenzler: Yeah, so we talk about the five keys to the wellness lifestyle, living the DREAM, D-R-E-A-M. So DREAM is an acronym for the five keys to the wellness lifestyle: Diet, Relaxation, Exercise, Being in Adjustment, and Mental Wellness. So I’ll give a brief overview on all of them and then we could deep dive into whatever it is that you like. But I define diet as everything that goes into your body from the outside world to the inside world. It’s everything you eat, drink, taste, touch, smell, feel, hear, all the music you watch, all the people you spend time with, all the books you read is just as much part of your diet as the food you consume.

You may remember the old computer term, GIGO, Garbage in, Garbage out. Well, if we put garbage into our bodies, what do you think we’re going to get out garbage. And so it’s not just through our mouths that garbage gets in it, but it’s also through our eyes and our ears, all of our senses. So we have to be very mindful because we don’t want to be malnourished, which is not only with food, but it could be the types of movies that people watch or the naysayers that they spend time with. That could be just as much bad for your diet, that nutrition, that mental nutrition as the food you consume.

R is for relaxation. That’s giving your body a chance to call time out, to reset, repair, regenerate, rejuvenate yourself. It is a state of refresh and tranquility where you could start your day and you could be like, wow, I am ready to go. I’m putting on this armor. So this way little things won’t impact me. I will be inner directed. I can live my life to the fullest and not allow outside influences affect you internally, such as what I refer to as being inner directed.

Then we have E for Exercise. That’s any activity that requires physical or mental exertion. So obviously going to a gym, whether you’re doing cardiovascular training, physical training, resistance training with weights, but also going for a walk, taking your kid for a stroll, taking your dog for a walk. But then there’s also mental exercises, crossword puzzles, reading stimulating books and magazines, things that keep your mind sharp.

We’re going to skip A for a moment, and we’re going to jump to M. M is for mental wellness. That’s connecting your inner purpose and passion to your outer goals and tasks in all phases of life. Being right with your self-esteem, self-worth, self-values, and so on and so forth. And so when you have a strong D-R-E-M, you should stay in A, which is being in adjustment, which is being in balance mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, and having optimal brain body communication through the nervous system, because we live our lives through our nervous system, right? Every organ, every muscle, every gland, every tissue, every cell in the body knows exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, because the brain tells itself.

But if we’re not living that DREAM lifestyle, and we’re not able to adapt to chemical, physical, and emotional stressors, we go out of adjustment. So for the 25 plus years that I practiced pediatric and family wellness chiropractic, everyone thought that the A for adjustment was getting adjusted and it’s not. It’s being an adjustment. While chiropractors are an integral way of staying in adjustment and getting an adjustment, there’s everything that we do in our lifestyle that helps us stay in adjustment. So this way we make sure that we’re not encountering and unable to adapt to those stressors that are either chemical, physical or emotional.

Katie: I love that. And there’s so many sub points we get to unpack within this and I’d love to take them point by point. First of all, I love that you put all of our inputs under diet, not just food. I think this is an often overlooked points and people will maybe be perfectly dialed in on their nutrition, for instance, but have other factors in their life. And I’ve seen this play out firsthand in my own life where I had diet and supplements and all that dialed in to the point on a spreadsheet, but I hadn’t yet dealt with the inner and emotional side and when I fixed that side, all the physical stuff fell into place because I had built that foundation, but I was missing this key piece.

And I think also like to your point, things like community and relationships really come into play here. Probably also our inner talk, the way we speak to ourselves is an important part of this conversation. So within the diet piece, maybe give us your own 80-20 of when it comes to nutrition and supplements, but also these other factors. What are some of the key things we can do to put this in the optimal category?

Dr. Stenzler: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I basically have five deal breakers in my household that we don’t allow when it comes to diet, right? No artificial sugars, no artificial flavors and food colorings, no corn syrup, no hydrogenated oils and no gossip. Right? So we have four that deal with intake through the mouth and another intake through the eyes and the ears. And so that’s something that, you know, people like, well, where do I start when it comes to having a better diet? Well, it starts with first, you know, cutting out the things that could be most extravallant. Now, there are a lot of things that I could add to that list of five, but I just want people to start from one place. And that’s where we typically start from. Those are our five deal breakers in the Stenzler household.

Katie: I love that. And that seems like an easy to remember list for kids. I’m the same way where we don’t have those foods in the house. And then I try to, I also believe firmly that kids are really capable of understanding much more than we often give them credit for and also really capable of making great choices when we let them. And so I feel it’s my responsibility to keep nutritious food in the house and their responsibility to decide if they’re hungry or not to eat when they’re hungry. They don’t like a certain food. They’re welcome to not eat that meal, for instance.

But also I think a big key here, at least that I’ve seen with my younger ones is the mindset around food. And this was when I didn’t learn well until I was an adult, but realizing that it’s difficult to sort of what I did for a long time, try to like punish my body into optimal health, restrict it, over diet, all those things. And that when I could shift my inner focus into loving myself and nourishing myself, I then shifted away from a restrictive mindset around food into one of like, how can I most nourish my body and support it? And that was a much less mentally taxing process than, for instance, trying to diet. And I ended up just naturally wanting to choose the most nutritious foods.

So now in our house, we talk a lot about like nutrient density and micronutrient availability for food, not calories or not even macros. But how do we best nourish ourselves in whatever meal we’re going to eat that day? How do we make it as most nutritious as possible to nourish ourselves better? And so I think your approach is great. And that’s like an easy list of just top of mind things to avoid. And then let the kids build on there from their own preferences and the things they love so that they build that solid nutritional foundation.

Dr. Stenzler: Absolutely. And you know, it comes down to, there’s no age that’s too young to start talking to your children about healthy nutrition. I mean, we started it with our son, you know, from the moment he was born and teaching him the value about being healthy. And he doesn’t go out there and ask for the stuff with the corn syrup or the artificial flavors and the artificial colorings. Like he’ll bring it home and we’ll do a switch, which like we’ll trade in that for something that’s more wholesome, more organic, more natural. Might still have a little sugar in it, but it’s not going to have corn syrup in it. So we always, one of the things that I talk about in my book is that, you know, discipline is not about deprivation, right? Discipline is when you could take something that would be deprivation for one, but empowerment to another. So when you could actually feel good about the decision that you made, that is when you are truly living a life of empowerment and you’re benefiting from the discipline and you don’t feel that you’re missing out on something, but you’re excited and happy about the choices that you make.

Katie: That’s such a good reframe. And I think another, I’m going to skip around a little bit, I think another really important key that you talk about is that nervous system aspect. And I would love to talk more about how that comes into play, especially with kids, because I think this is also a really pivotal key for just stress levels and how harmonious a family is. And I think it seems like in today’s world, it’s often very difficult to get this nervous system piece dialed in, and especially to get into a more parasympathetic nervous system state. We just don’t tend to live in a world that sets us up easily for that. But I also believe that when we integrate a few core habits, we actually can make that a very much easier process and a very regular routine.

Dr. Stenzler: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I’m kind of a geek when it comes to the nervous system, in fact. One of the only jobs up until working now with the company that I’m working with, with KnoWewell, the only other job that I had as an adult besides having my own practices was teaching neurology on the college level. And so I kind of geek out on the neuro stuff.

And look, the nervous system is the mass controlling system, the body. Every organ, every muscle, every gland, every tissue, every cell in the body knows what to do, when to do it, how to do it, because the brain tells it. So I said that before and I’ll probably say it again. I know you could argue the gut. Um, you know, the, the, the digestive system is extremely important, but remember the nervous system controls the gut. So we need to put in the right nutrition into the body, right? The right food into the body. But if the nervous system is not able to break it down properly, if you’re in sympathetic dominance, which I’ll explain in a moment, you talk about parasympathetic. Well, then that food’s not going to break down properly. So you can eat all the nutritious food in the world, but if your brain’s not communicating with the digestive organs appropriately, you’re not going to function as well as it can. If your brain’s not communicating with the immune system as well as it can, you’re not going to be able to fight disease and over germs as well as it can. If it’s not going to the musculoskeletal system, your body won’t be able to move as well.

We need our nervous system to function at its highest level possible. So everything that I did in practice for 25 years was always geared towards nervous system performance. That was, my analysis was based on that. And I love that you brought up parasympathetic. So for your listeners, I know you have a lot of loyal listeners. They probably know what that means, but the parasympathetic is that division of the autonomic or automatic part of the nervous system that you don’t think about, right? The organs control all of that. And parasympathetic is basically for rest and repair, rest and digest. Whereas the opposite of that is the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight.

And so one of the things that I would always say to people, like when they would come in my office for an analysis, I would say, if you were sitting down somewhere and you heard a really loud explosion, how do you think your body would respond physiologically? And they’d say, well, I get scared. I’m like, yeah, of course you get scared, but what happens? Like, well, my heart beats really fast. I’m like, yeah. And what else? Like, well, my hair stands up. And what else? Like, well, I breathe differently. Like, my lungs are changing. Yeah, they’re opening and closing, right? All these things, your pupils dilate so you can see better, right? Why is your heart beating faster? So if you have to fight or flee the situation, fight or flight, you have the blood flow throughout the body, the circulation to do it. The lungs are opening and closing so that you can breathe and get the oxygen in and out. That is a normal physiological response to stress. It is a good thing. We need to have fight or flight in danger.

Problem is, the majority of Americans are living in fight or flight or what I’ll refer to as sympathetic dominance. And no, I didn’t come up with that term, but it really narrows down. And so parasympathetic is the opposite. And believe it or not, Katie, and you probably understand this, we don’t want to live in parasympathetic either. We want to live in balance. We want to live where our body is neutral. We have great heart rate variability. And that would be one of the tests that I use throughout many years of my practice. A lot of chiropractors use it. A lot of medical doctors, especially ones that do functional medicine. Naturopathic doctors use it. Heart rate variability is a great way to help determine. And I think like the Oura Ring measures heart rate variability. And there are a lot of Tools out there. You got yours. And that really helps you know, are you in stress mode? Are you in relaxation? Are you well balanced?

So given the fact that the nervous system controls and coordinates the functions of every single system in the body, I’ve always put that first and foremost, what am I checking? And then if the nervous system is not functioning as well as it can, I want to know why. And you think like, oh, a newborn baby. Well, a newborn baby would not be in sympathetic mode, would they? Well, they absolutely could be for many factors that we can discuss if you’d like to go in that direction.

Katie: Yeah, let’s go deeper on this because to your point, I think this is maybe one of the biggest keys for health that’s often overlooked because maybe it seems like a little bit hard to pinpoint or hard to understand for a lot of people. But I have seen firsthand and really believe this can be just as or more important than what you’re eating, what you’re drinking. It’s so tied in to everything.

So let’s unpack maybe some good habits related to this, some foundational things we can do in our families that help support that, to your point, that balance of being able to switch back and forth. And I would also love for you to explain and go deeper on the topic of HRV and how to improve it. Because I think as we have more access to data with things like the Oura Ring, people are now aware of this, but maybe don’t know how to interpret it or how to improve it. And it can actually become a source of stress because they don’t know how to use that data effectively.

Dr. Stenzler: Sure, absolutely. So the first thing is, if you want to set up your child for success, you find out how to have the best birth plan possible. Start them, you talk about, you want to stay at a stress from womb to tomb. So for those that are inclined to have a natural childbirth, great. What does that look like? Is it at home? Is it going to be in a birthing center? Is it going to be in a traditional hospital? Many people want to have the most natural birth possible, but they can’t do it for whatever reason. Maybe there’s a health limitation. Maybe one of the parents is not on board with it. Maybe it’s a financial thing. There are lots of reasons we don’t need to play a blame game there, but if you’re going to do a hospital birth, what kind of things can you ask the doctors and nurses? Can you hire a midwife to be there as part of your advocacy group? Maybe we can dim the lights. Like imagine a newborn baby, they come into this world, there are doctors and everybody’s screaming, making all this noise. Bright lights is the first thing that they see. Of course they’re going to start crying. Of course that’s not the reason that they cry, but that’s going to be the first stress response there.

In contrast, I was very blessed to have, we did a home birth. We had midwife, doulas and everything else, and it was great, but not everybody can do that. Some of the most natural people that I know were not able to do a home birth for various reasons. So there are a lot of in-between. So starting with that process is number one. Unfortunately, there’s a trend out there, not in your audience, of scheduled C-sections, right? It’s like, oh, I don’t have time to go into labor and do all that stuff. We’re just going to plan the C-section. Well, you’re already setting your kid up for failure in that aspect of it. Now, there’s a reason why you might need a C-section. That’s a totally different thing. But when it comes at a convenience, and some of your listeners might be like, oh, Dr. Stenzler is crazy. There’s no way anyone does it. People do that. I practiced in San Diego for 15 years. I know that people do this, right? They don’t want to deal with it.

Then you look at how long can you nurse your child for? We know that breast milk has so many, first of all, the breast milk itself has a lot of great chemicals in it. But even just the transference of the mom and the baby, sucking on the nipple and stuff releases hormones with the oxytocin and everything, creates bonding and decreases stress. So there’s a lot of aspects there. Again, I know not every mom can breastfeed. They can’t all nurse for various reasons. There are ways of making things as close to that as possible.

Then you think about what is your household like? How loud is it? I grew up in a very loud household, typical loud New York family, loving family, but we were loud. There was a lot of arguing, five kids, a lot of fighting. And so that is stressful. That puts a lot of people in sympathetic and fight or flight mode. So we think about how harmonious can we make our household? It was a tough adjustment for me to grow up in a loud household, to not have a loud household. And my wife Brooke, she will not stand for having a loud household, so that’s very helpful. So we want to be peaceful and think about the tone that we have with each other as partners in raising children and how we communicate with our children and what we accept from their communication back to us. And it’s not perfect in our house. We work hard at it. I work hard at it every day. I know my son, but it’s about being aware and striving towards it.

Of course, the foods that we consume is going to be a very big factor in it. If you’re having a lot of sugars, if you’re having a lot of other refined products, I mean, there’s so many different issues, even with the four food items that I talked about earlier, how those create stressors in the body, right? That will lead us into sympathetic. And then you have all these other environmental toxins. So we, as I mentioned before, chemical, physical, emotional stressors on a daily basis.

And one of the big stressor that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention is what we refer as a chiropractor, as a vertebral subluxation. You know, the first subluxation, for users that, for your listeners that don’t understand what a subluxation is, it’s basically vertebrae that are out of the proper alignment that don’t allow the proper communication between the brain and the body. There’s a lot of different ways of explaining it, but just think when the body doesn’t adapt to a chemical, physical or emotional stressor, you go out of adjustment, which is ultimately a subluxation. Birth is one of the most traumatic physically and emotionally experiences a person will ever go through. Even a home birth. You know, my son, when he was born at home, he had the cord wrap wrapped around his neck several times. And so thankfully, and he was kind of whistless when he first came out, he wasn’t even crying. So I actually, as I was handing my wife… you know, handing my son to my wife, I adjusted him. And it’s like he came to life immediately. And I think about how many children don’t have that opportunity because their dad’s not a chiropractor, or there’s not a chiropractor there as part of the birth, you know, birth plan, and which is very common, unfortunately. I’d love to see a chiropractor in every home birth and every, you know, labor and delivery room, that I digress.

These subluxations, they wean on us because it causes the nervous system to not be able to function the way that it can. And the brain and the body are not communicating and not doing what it needs to do. And so we see that in children as colic, ear infections, asthma, allergies. We see it as they get older in ADD, ADHD, and other problems that they have. And then we see it in adults as other behavioral and psychotropic, you know, they end up in psychotropic medications and stuff. And I’m not saying that chiropractic care is going to avoid all those things, but this is where chiropractic needs to be on everyone’s healthcare team, because we want to have our babies checked. And I never say that a baby should be adjusted. I don’t say every baby should be adjusted. I say every baby should be checked. by a competent chiropractor to make sure that the nervous system is functioning optimally. It’s that simple. If the chiropractor does not see the evidence of subluxation, they set them free and say, come back whenever it is based on their lifestyle, their goals, and their values.

Katie: Got it. And like we talked about a little bit, HRV can be a tool for understanding some of what’s going on here, though I know it can vary at different phases of life and there can be a difference between men and women and that there seems to be like a baseline that can be different for each individual. But I do feel like it’s a helpful metric, especially if it’s something you have regular access to the data on. I do always like to frame it as a in reference to yourself and your own nervous system, not as an in reference to an arbitrary number that you think is the right number, but break down for us what HRV is and maybe what someone might want to look for to see if theirs is where they want it to be and what would be some of the factors to improve HRV if it’s not.

Dr. Stenzler: Yeah, sure. So the way I explain heart rate variability to the general public. And I really keep it very simple, but it basically lets us know how our body’s adapting to stress and stressors. So people think that the heart should be like, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. but it doesn’t really beat like that. It’s like… especially if there’s a time of a stressful situation. So the heart rate variability is basically measuring the timing and the spacing between each beat, right? So that’s essentially what heart rate variability is. That’s how it gets measured.

Now we’re going to understand resiliency on a person, how they’re able to adapt based on how their score is. And Katie, I couldn’t agree with you more because using norms is not always a great way to go. Just like when somebody wants to get the perfect body fat, you know, composition, right? It’s like, there’s so many different tools to measure body fat. It’s like it could drive you nuts. How about you measure yourself where you’re at and where you want to go. And you want to be in the green or whatever the mode is and how you’re measuring it. So like I would use a tool in my office where you put your finger in a device and it measures it. For children, we use an ear clip or Oura ring is on the hand. There are so many different ways of measuring a heart rate variability. Some might be better than others, but something is better than nothing as long as you’re getting good information. And then ways of improving your heart rate variability. I mean, that plays right into the DREAM lifestyle.

Everything that you do in the DREAM is going to help you improve your resilience, your heart rate variability. I mean, I’ve seen chiropractic adjustments immediately change someone’s resilience. Acupuncture, Meditation, Prayer, Biofeedback, Neurofeedback, changing their diet. There’s just a number of things that you can do. And that’s why when I would meet somebody that had a low heart rate variability, I want to find out why that is. So I would ask them a series of almost a hundred questions based on my DREAM score that’s part of my book, where I basically want to know why are they in stressed out mode? Why are they not adapting to those stressors? Because finding a solution to it is ultimately going to be determined by finding out what the cause is and then what have they done to try to resolve it, if anything.

Katie: Yeah. And I love that you brought up both HRV and body fat as in reference to the individual, not as in reference to static numbers. Because just as an illustration, I will say I have a friend who is also an elite athlete that I work with on the nutrition genetic side. And he just maintains year round a body fat percentage of four to five percent because of the nature of what he does. And his HRV most days is upwards of 200. And if I looked at him and then decided that’s what the goal was and tried to set those targets for myself, I would A, constantly feel like I was failing at something. And B, if I met that target, especially a Body Fat as a female, I would be extremely unhealthy. And so I love that you talk about this is in reference to yourself and to your own optimal health, not into arbitrary guidelines that you may have read on the internet. I think that’s extremely important.

And I think with HRV too, it’s also you could look at and say certain numbers below a certain point can be indicative that something’s wrong. But correct me if I’m wrong on this. It seems like some people might have an HRV that for them naturally in a good range is somewhere in like the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s. Whereas others might have their average be somewhere in like upwards of 100 or even close to 200. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the person with that higher HRV is just that much healthier. That means that their baseline is at a different point. Or do you see that differently?

Dr. Stenzler: Yeah, so it’s just a parameter. And the numbers that you’re using, Katie, they vary based on the technology that you use. So, you know, one heart rate variability tool might say 200 is optimal. One might use, cause the tool that I use says 100 is the number that we want to be at, between 80 and 100. So the numbers don’t mean a whole lot except for the fact that it’s good to know what the parameters are and the ranges for the tool that you’re using and to try to be somewhat within that. But just because you’re in the middle of it doesn’t mean you’re healthy. It’s one parameter. There are so many different ways of measuring ones opportunity and ability to be healthy, heart rate variability is extremely important, but it’s not the only one.

And we’ve seen people that have had great heart rate variabilities that expire way before you’d expect them to. And people with really bad heart rate variabilities that they’re okay because they make it up elsewhere. You know, one of the other things that I’ve noticed, you know, for 25 years in practice of taking care of, you know, pediatrics and pregnancy is I noticed that pregnant women don’t have the best heart rate variability for various reasons. I’d love to see a study on why that is. And maybe one of these days I’ll spearhead it, but those pregnant women are not unhealthy. It’s just that the physiology is different at that point in their life. So I don’t worry about it. In fact, I prepare them because maybe they’ve been seeing me for five years. They have great HRVs. Now they get pregnant and their HRV is in a bad place and stuff like that. And I’m like, don’t worry about it. I know where your baseline is and we’re going to keep measuring you for the next eight, nine months, you know, to see where you are with it. I’m not worried about it during that time because everyone goes through different phases.

Katie: That makes sense. And I mean, during pregnancy, you have a much higher metabolic demand. You’re obviously building an entire human. It makes sense that some of your resources are going to go toward that and probably very helpful mentally for moms not to worry during that phase if they do see a dip.

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It does seem like purely anecdotal, but I’m curious if you’ve seen this as well with the chiropractic side. I do notice that people who regularly get chiropractic work and people who do regular mobility in a really functional way that like moves their joints in full range of motion and does like slower mobility work, those people tend to have from what I’ve seen, pretty good HRV. And so I do feel like maybe those things are both very supportive of the nervous system and that reflects in HRV scores. But do you see that as well? Like people who address that nervous system side tend to see the improvements in HRV.

Dr. Stenzler: 100%. And that’s why I used it for so many years as one of the tools in practice was because if I didn’t have a solution to that problem of having a poor HRV, I probably wouldn’t use it in my office. I probably would just recommend that they go get it. But I made HRV testing as part of my re-exam. So every 12 to 15 visits in the beginning, I would test certain neurological pathways through surface electromyography, thermography. Heart rate variability would take a little bit longer to really see significant changes. But after somebody had been under care, if they required corrective care and lifestyle care in my office, after six months to a year, they stabilized and had wonderful HRVs. And whenever somebody came to me for a first time, and I mean, I expected them not to have good HRVs because they typically didn’t do a lot of other good things for themselves. But when they came into my office and they had a really good score for their HRV and they’ve not been under Chiropractic Care, I always inquire as to what else they did. And there were a lot of things that they had in common. So, but yeah, I mean, chiropractic is definitely an acupuncture too is another major one that really helps reset and re-evaluate HRV.

Katie: And then probably I would guess a second tier to that would be things like breath work or tapping or anything that’s addressing the stress side of nervous system health, which I do want to go deeper on stress and sleep in a minute. But first you mentioned your DREAM score. And for anybody who’s not gotten a chance to read your work already, can you explain what that is and all the various things that you’re looking at when you evaluate someone?

Dr. Stenzler: Yeah, sure. So when I was writing my book, you know, DREAM Wellness, The Five Keys to Raising Kids for a Lifetime of Physical and Mental Health. I thought it was going to be like a 20 page pamphlet. When I was done with it, it was 450 pages. And I was like, oh my goodness, busy moms, busy dads are not going to have time to read this whole book. So I needed to come up with a way that you can get the information that you need in a very short period of time. And I combined it with the questions that I’d been asking these parents for 25 years in practice.

So I ask all these questions in the DREAM score about the lifestyle. I don’t ask about what your heart rate variability is. I don’t ask about your BMI. I don’t ask about your blood sugar levels. I don’t ask about your blood pressure. It’s not that I don’t care about those things, but I want to know why those things are what they are.

What is the lifestyle like? Like for example, what kind of food are you consuming at home? How much opportunity do you have for sleep? Who are the people you’re spending time with? What is your drive like, your commute like to work? Like, what are your friends like? Do people like being around you or do they not like being around you? What happens when somebody invites you to go out for dinner one night? Are you stressed about that? Are you excited for it? It’s all kinds of obscure questions like that. And it’s almost a hundred questions that fall into the categories within the DREAM that will ultimately give you a score and let us know where you are in your wellness walk. And then in the report, which all the way is, it’s all free by the way, there’s no sales pitch on this, but in the report, it’ll give you a little tip here and there about how to fix it. And if you happen to have the book, it’ll tell you exactly what page and paragraph to reference so you can improve that score. So you can bring your body back to homeostasis, back to balance and get a higher score the next time by making little changes here and there.

Katie: I like that that kind of gamifies it. You can improve your score over time and makes it tangible. And I mentioned, I want to go deep on stress and sleep because I feel like these two especially affect parents quite a bit and can be really tough to pinpoint and dial down, especially if you’re a parent. I know there’s of course going to be some variation in this when you have newborns, there’s phases of life that just come with less sleep.

And thankfully I’m a firm believer that our bodies actually are perfectly able to handle those times. And especially for moms when we’re in that newborn phase, our hormones seem to work out perfectly for us and help us get through that without too many negative effects. But with the understanding that there will be phases of parenthood where you don’t get to sleep on a perfect schedule, what are some of the things that parents can do both for ourselves and for our children to address the components of stress and sleep?

Dr. Stenzler: So that is, like you said, there’s going to be a lot of variability in this answer. So if no matter what is going to happen, you’re not going to be able to get your seven, eight, nine hours because maybe you’re nursing, you’re sleeping, co-sleeping with the baby, whatever the reason is. And there are other people even, not even just parents of newborns or kids and stuff, there are people that are taking care of an elder parent or something like that and they’re dealing with similar situations.

So the first thing is you do the best that you can in figuring out where can I nap here and there? Can I get that time in there? But also what are you doing in terms of your relaxation throughout your day? Do you make time to meditate? I mean, 30 minutes of Meditation, if you can get in 30 minutes of Meditation, that could count for like, the people have said, you know, anywhere between two to four hours of sleep, right? I love this tool called BrainTap. I don’t know if you’re familiar with BrainTap. I was introduced to it probably a little late in my life. I wish I’d known about it beforehand. The way I learned about it was I was flying from California to New Jersey to go speak at a conference on the Red Eye, get off the plane and I hadn’t slept obviously on the plane because I was never a great sleeper, but I didn’t sleep for two days before that. So I was just wiped out, went to the guy who runs the conference and he just saw I was exhausted. And I’m like, my room wasn’t even ready. I didn’t even have time to take a nap because I was going on stage an hour later. He’s like, why don’t you go do 20 minutes of BrainTap? I’m like, what is that? And he explained it to me and I’m like, all right. And they were one of the vendors there. So Patrick Porter, Dr. Porter was there himself, which was really cool. Puts this crazy thing on me with these flashing lights and I’m listening to this music and these messages. And after 20 minutes, I felt so rejuvenated. It really felt like I had a full night’s sleep. I was able to take the stage, do a great talk, or at least I think it was a great talk. Got applause, so that was good. But I felt amazing. And ever since then, I got one for myself, retrained my brain for sleeping because I was never a great sleeper. You know, I was lucky if I slept four and a half to five hours a night. Fortunately, I had a very good lifestyle that enabled me to make up for it, but that’s not sustainable long-term. Now I actually get full night’s sleep most of the time. And so BrainTap is really good to do.

There’s Neurofeedback, there’s Biofeedback. There are other Tools. The Oura Ring, I think, has a lot of tools in it where it can help get into relaxation and a meditative state, right? There are programs in there, I believe. So there are a lot of tools out there that if you can’t get a full night’s sleep, there are other hacks, if you will, like BrainTap, like meditation, like prayer and exercise, and eating the right foods are extremely important, because if you’re having caffeine to try to keep you awake, that’s going to mess up your cycle even more. You might not be able to fall asleep when you need to. If you’re having sugar, that might mess up your rhythms as well.

Also thinking about the times that you could actually sleep, maybe you’re not falling asleep because maybe that’s the little bit of time you have to catch up on Facebook or Instagram. And so you’re on your phone and you have that blue light on you, right? And you’re looking at that and that messes up your melatonin levels and everything. So we just want to really, and I have a lot of these tips in the book as well, but there are a lot of tools that nothing will make up for a full night’s sleep, but there are things that you can do to get you through the time. And like you said, our bodies are created amazingly well to be resilient. Moms can do incredible things. Nature has done amazing things. What’s incredible, I mean, you just think like, breast milk changes its chemical composition based on what the baby needs, right? If a baby is fighting a cold, it might have more lymphocytes and more white blood cells in it. If it’s fighting this, it’s going to have more of that. If the baby needs, if you could do that with breast milk, you can do that with sleep, the body has an incredible way to adapt.

Katie: Yeah, and I think keeping that mindset top of mind is also really, really key for overall health. I had another guest who reframed that as well really beautifully. And she said, you know, often, especially if you’re dealing with autoimmunity or any kind of condition, it’s easy to fall into that mental trap of thinking your body’s out to get you or your body’s working against you. And she was like, no, if your body wanted to kill you, it could do it instantly. Your body is always on your side. It’s always trying to move toward healing. It’s always your partner and it’s always got your back. And if we can figure out the things that are maybe making it difficult for your body to support your health and either give the things it needs or remove the things it doesn’t need, it will always move toward healing. And I think that’s just such a helpful reminder. And we’ve touched on parenting a decent amount, but I would be curious, you mentioned your son. Any other things that you and your wife are doing kind of maybe counterintuitively or counter culturally with your son or in raising him that might be different from the norm?

Dr. Stenzler: Yeah, so I mentioned a whole bunch already, you know, setting him up for success from the very beginning, you know, doing a home birth and, you know, he… has been to doctors when he’s needed a physical for school. You know, that’s pretty much his extent other than what we do at home for him. And so thankfully, seven and a half years, he’s never needed to take an antibiotic, never needed to take a medication or anything like that. Not every natural family has it. Things happen, right? So I get that, again, not blaming or, you know, pointing fingers at those that don’t, but we have done everything we can to set him up for success, mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

You know, God is a very important part of our life. We teach him about Prayer and how we believe that that’s the ultimate healer, right? Our bodies are in a natural state of healing. All we want to do is remove the interference, kind of like what you just said, Katie, from that other guest. Just remove the interference, remove the blockages that keep you from healing.

Teach him, we teach him why, why we make these choices so he never feels deprived. At least I don’t think he does. You know, he’s really good about when he wins something at camp or at school and he gets these candies. Or when he goes trick-or-treating and he gets this junk, he brings it to us and we use the switch witch and replace it with something else, you know? And I think those values are really important because the last thing you want to do is create resentment where they are feeling deprived and the second that they’re able to make the decisions on their own, they go ahead and they take it. So we kinda let him make that decision. I’m not saying he’s never chosen something outside of the house that has corn syrup in it, but we kinda let it be his decision and I would really say 95% of the time, he chooses the healthier option. And every now and then he’ll have something that’s not so good. And he understands what that means. But we don’t want him to fear it. We want him to look forward to. So it’s not scaring him, you know, scare care type of thing, scare to death, right? But we want to inspire him towards life and let him see that we want to move him in, you know, we want him to choose to move in this direction as a moving away from that direction. And I feel we’ve done a very good job with that. And like I say, there’s always learning experiences. We get better every day.

Katie: I really like that approach and I remind myself with my kids often, you can’t control them, you can’t make them and you can’t fix them. And that it really, these things only stick if the motivation eventually is intrinsic for them and not externally regulated by us. And so to whatever degree possible with their age level and as they grow and we can educate them, but let it be their decision with guidance and support and love. I think that’s how it really sticks and how we build foundational habits with them. So I love that you guys take that approach as well.

And a few questions I love to ask at the end of interviews. The first being if there is a book or a number of books, other than of course your own, that have had a profound impact on you personally and if so, what they are and why.

Dr. Stenzler: So the book that I’m going to say surprises a lot of people. Because I’ve read, I’m not a big reader, but I’ve read a lot of books in personal development. Bible is one of my favorite books, you know, for the stories, for the inspiration. But the most impactful book that has ever been in my life has been Arnold, The Education of a Bodybuilder, the 1979 version, I didn’t read it in 1979. But for me, I was a scrawny kid, I’m barely 5”4’, I was really skinny and not very coordinated. And I was like, okay, well, somebody had said, why don’t you start working out or something like that? I’m like, oh, I don’t know. And someone gave me that book, Arnold’s book, and I’m just so inspired by it. Started exercising when I was 15, started developing these things called muscles, then coordination and everything. And I know, had I not started with that, I never would have, I was a personal trainer in college, went to chiropractic college, got a master’s in sports health science, that my whole life, who I’ve become in my confidence started with what I learned in that book about Arnold as a human being, and then also how to exercise and build some muscle and stuff.

Katie: That is a new recommendation. I will make sure that’s linked in the show notes as well. But also a great topic we haven’t even gotten to touch on that much yet, which is statistically building and maintaining lean muscle mass is one of the best things we can do for longevity and for health. And I’ve seen a lot of women, I think this tied to shifting as well, but a lot of women shy away from that out of fear of getting bulky or having too much muscle. And I always like any opportunity I can say, like having now for several years tried to build muscle. I think it’s funny that I used to worry about getting bulky because I just, I see how much consistency goes into building muscle and how it doesn’t make you bulky at all if you’re doing it in a way that actually makes you stronger. So I love that you brought that up. I think that’s another important topic and one that contributes to all aspects of health as well. And lastly, any parting advice for the listeners today that could be related to one of the topics we’ve covered or unrelated life advice.

Dr. Stenzler: Yeah, I think that it would be drop this saying from your vernacular, “everything in moderation”. I don’t think that everything in moderation sets anybody up for success. It sets them up for mediocrity. And as I think it was one of the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson said, once you lick the lollipop of mediocrity, you’ll suck forever. And I first heard that from my mentor, Bob Hoffman, but I love it. Once you lick the lollipop of mediocrity, you’ll suck forever. What I believe in is excessive goodness and a little bit of bad stuff.

And when you have the bad stuff in your life, whether it’s through food or whatever it is that that bad stuff is, that you mitigate the badness of it. So an example of that would be, oh yeah, you know, anytime you go camping, you could have s’mores. Sure, you don’t go camping all the time most likely, so yeah, go have s’mores. But when you have s’mores, what if you went with dandies or organic marshmallows that don’t have corn syrup in them? What if you chose a non-refined flour graham cracker? What if the chocolate you used actually had chocolate and cocoa in it instead of macholate? So those are the things that we could think about that. Yeah, excessively do good things, not to the point where you’re depriving yourself from the other stuff, but where you feel empowered by it. And then when you don’t choose the best thing possible, find the best of the bad, right? Because that will make a change in life. And then you’ll go from mediocre, everything in moderation to a 50, 60. Maybe you’ll be in that 80 or 90 range of, I typically don’t like to categorize things as good or bad. I refer to it as constructive, destructive or neutral.

And so when you consume certain foods or do certain things, think about, is this destructive? Is this constructive? Is it neutral? Where does it fall in? Sometimes it’s a certain food product that has a lot of constructive things in it, and it has a lot of destructive things in it, right? So where do you categorize that? Moderation? No. We want to think about where we put everything without driving ourselves nuts with it, but really think about doing much more of the good than of the bad.

Katie: I think that’s a perfect place to wrap up for today. This has been a really fun conversation, Brian. Thank you so much for being here and for sharing today.

Dr. Stenzler: Thank you so much for having me, Katie.

Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the Wellness Mama Podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.



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