Mikki Williden & I unpack HOLISTIC wellness

Education, May 17, 2024

I love connecting with others that are passionate about health and wellbeing. Getting the chance to talk to nutritionist Mikki Williden on her podcast unearthed a great discussion on my ongoing journey with wellness.

Brad, thanks for taking the time to speak to me today, stoked to finally sit down for a chat. Lots of shared interests and aligned values, really keen to dive into these today. Let’s start with a bit of your athletic background - were you always active as a kid?

My dad forced me into Saturday team sport - Soccer. I was pretty poor at it, but loved the training.  I released I enjoyed the individual aspect

You started young, as part of Dr. John Helleman's triathlon academy - did this shape you as an athlete and your career in physiotherapy?

I looked up to Dr. Helleman's. Trained with some exceptional athletes. Jenny Rose, Sarah Harrow, Craig Watson, Steve Gurney, and Ben Bright. International athletes would join us for stints like Pauli Kiuru (winner of 1990 NZ IM)  It instilled hard work, consistency, group dynamics aid fun and performance. Training QE2 park,  and sand dunes at New Brighton beach.

From upbringing - your interest in health  - is this from your parents or something that you adopted later in adulthood? Obviously physio is health related but you are more than just interested in physiotherapy.

Later in life. During physio school and after graduated and did my 2 years with rotations at Good Health Whanganui. Good grounding in health and our health system. It's a broken system - reductionist - in silos - holistic health is not practised - people get lost in the cracks of our 20 billion dollar a year 'sick' system.

When did yoga/meditation and the mind-body connection become important to you? Do you use these techniques with clients and athletes you coach? Are people more/less willing to explore these as part of their rehab/athletic journey

Listening to a variety of podcasts and listening to world class athletes and change makers talk about the benefits for performance, getting into a state of flow, and knowing yourself. Meditation is just a formal method of relaxation - focusing on the breath to bring you into the present. Yoga simply add some awesome full body stretching into the mix.  It's hugely beneficial. I try for 5-10min daily. Massive part of the reason I'm able to run following my knee meniscus tear.

How do you balance your own training and competition with your responsibilities as a physiotherapist and a coach?

Big changes after my uncle Murray passed away due to bowel cancer. 9 years ago I vowed to live life in a way that was slightly different to society. I think about death often so want to live a fulfilling,  balanced, purpose driven life now. I value time to do stuff that lights me up, fills my cup. In order to do that I make sure I don't work more than 25-30hrs a week in physio clinic - leaves my plenty of time to schedule in my training, and wellness activities - week has Tues long run with my training buddies and mates, Thurs is TEMPO with same mates. Wed lunchtime is my no wetsuit swim around Leisure Island with a different group of friends. Sunday I have a fellowship run with a different group of mates and afterwards we have a sea dip and a coffee and put the world right. My message of holistic wellness is more powerful with me walking the talk. Movement in our natural world with uplifting people that care for me but also hold me to account keep me holistically well. We all need to work more on 'soul' stuff.

Your holistic approach to wellness and a plant-based diet, how do you feel this approach contributes to your performance and recovery as an athlete, and how does it influence your advice to your clients?

A plant based diet was my first step into changing my health habits. I dived into it during the first time my meniscus  flared up and I wasn't able to run for a year (training for the Kepler Challenge 2014). I threw myself into cycling, swimming, and transitioned to a plant based vegan diet over the year. I came back a much faster runner. I lost 12kg, was able to recover quicker, and suddenly was challenging my best times over the half marathon distance. At 42 years of age I run 1hr 16min beating my PB by over a min  from 17 years before.  I always promote eating more plants. Include seasonal vegetables, fruit, nuts, and real food over highly processed  food choices.  Preparation, planning, to promote better food environments so not tempted to grab poor choices.

Can you speak to the importance of functional strength work and how you incorporate this into your personal and professional routines?

It's MASSIVE - probably one of the most important and underrated facets of physical health that dovetails in with mental health. Muscles are an endocrine organ. They don't just move us, when we move them, and work them especially with resistance training they secrete messengers into the bloodstream myokines - cross the blood brain barrier - act like a antidepressant - set off a cascade of biological responses that enhance LEARNING, boost MEMORY, and improve MOOD (Group of researchers in Copenhagen 2003).  Muscles are our longevity agents - as we age most people lose muscle at a rate of 10% per decade - this can be decreased to 1% with resistance training.  Studies show that we don't need to sustain the massive mitochondrial loss (50-70% of mitochondrial capacity from age 20-70) if we exercise with a combination of CV and strength work. Remaining functionally independent is worth more that 10million dollars. To be able to live independently, move and interact with our world is priceless. I complete daily push ups, and 2 x sessions of  strength - 1 of circuit style bodyweight and kettlebell exercises at home 10-15min, and one session HEAVY work in gym 25-30min - superset deadlift, bench press, pull up, sled push.

How do you balance your professional life, training, and family life? What strategies do you use to maintain this balance? An area people struggle with.

Don't waste time. My training is done EARLY. Up at 5am to get sessions in midweek so I'm around and present for family on weekends, especially when the kids were young.  Made the decision to work less when the kids were young - compromised my lifestyle. Haven't been overseas as a family. I drive a 2006 Toyota Avensis. Have a small house. Kept debt (relatively) under control so haven't felt overly financially stressed. As Peter Attia stated in his book "resume virtues and eulogy virtues" - key distinction between  accomplishments on our CV vs the things our friends and family will say when we are gone.  Family first - pay the bills - train.  Shape your life so you live within your means and you don't have to escape it with excessive holidays. Don't try and keep up with the Jones's. Be more, have less, find joy in the little things.

What is your core philosophy, and how does it permeate into your work as a physio and coach?

Built around expansive wellness. We can't be well in a sick world. We can't strive to be healthy if our environment is becoming more toxic.  We must aim to add long term value to situations we find ourselves in. Our society is sick and broken - MY PURPOSE is to empower everyone I met to move towards the best version of themselves so they are in a better position to be of service.  When you are part of something bigger than yourself you are expansive with your outlook. Joy is an expansive quality. Fear is restrictive; it leads to loss of confidence, shutting yourself off to opportunities for growth.  Less reliant on a broken, ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, reductionist, rushed 'health' system.

Rising tide lifts all boats in the harbour. We need to lift everyone up with application of simple FREE, daily habits, connect more positively with ourselves, each other , our communities, and our beautiful planet that has everything for everyone's NEEDS but not for everyone's GREED.

What advice do you give to athletes, both recreational and competitive, on maintaining a holistic view of health while pursuing athletic goals?

Play the long game. This is not a 12 weeks diet or a 8 week boot-camp, this is for life. Create a schedule that you will graft on for life. Do we stop cleaning our teeth tomorrow because they are clean today?  Graft on your craft - find some holistic health buddies, schedule some sessions in, move in our natural world, and be joyous.

With your wide range of experiences from various marathons and Ironman's, could you share some of the most valuable lessons learned, and how they impact your approach towards physiotherapy?

Make the journey enjoyable, make friends on the way then the event is just a bonus. Also make the start line - be smart, listen to your body and train around not through pain.

How has your approach to wellness and physiotherapy evolved over the years, and what has prompted these changes?

More holistic due to my experiences with patients and the books I've read. Understanding that the body, mind, and spirit/soul are meshed together. You can not separate them as we have attempted to do with Western medicine. More than that - we talk about the importance of macro nutrients and micro nutrients - what about MEGA nutrients. We can not last more than 5min without air yet our industries ruin our air, we can not last 5 days without water yet our waterways are being systematically destroyed. We must change our consumptive, destructive lifestyles and live more simply.

Can you tell us more about how your personal experiences, specifically those related to your father and uncle, inspired you to write "Holistic Human"?

My grandfather died of a heart attack; my father required a quadriple bypass in his late 50's and my uncle Murray died of bowel cancer. Daily habits - our lifestyles can dial up or dial down our genetic expression. I will do all I can to be healthy, functional, and vital.

How did your journey towards understanding the importance of daily habits evolve? Did you have an "Aha!" moment?

It was through a series of a thousand Aha moments. The more I read, the more I listened, everything started to fall into place. The most important health factors were readily available but not promoted as there was no money to be made out of them. Eating real food - hard to make profits on food with a short shelf life. Exercise, walking, cycling, lifting weights at home. going to bed early. Getting up and moving in the morning light. Living simply, fasting, drinking water. Striving for positive relationships with less division and concentrating on collaboration - we are all in this together

In your book, you emphasize that small daily changes lead to personal, community, and planetary transformation. Can you share some examples of these changes?

Cold shower - individual health benefits, saves 40,000L water a year per person, saves energy.
Riding bike to work - individual fitness, less pollutants - air quality, less CO2, better climate, takes cars of the road - less congestion. Less fossil fuel reliance.

Going to bed early - better health, less power used for lights, watching mindless TV, screen scrolling. Save money. Less temptation to snack on empty kcal on packaged food. Save money and better human being next day with interactions with people in the community.

Can you discuss the interconnectedness of personal health and environmental health, a theme you explore in your book?

We can't be well in a sick world. We live on a closed system that provides us with air, water, and soil to grow food. If we continue to destroy our environment there is no individual health. We are degrading our soils with synthetic fertiliser, then that is flowing off into our waterways and that is literally killing our oceans. It creates dead zones where life stops existing.  We are wrecking our life support system.

How did you arrive at the specific practices you advocate in the book such as plant-based eating, meditation, movement, fasting, and cold therapy?

Reading about them from many sources. Then trying them out for 100 days.

Could you elaborate on the role of positive relationships in overall wellness, as mentioned in your book?

One of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history with over 75 years date, tracking 712 men HARVARD STUDY of ADULT DEVELOPMENT - data to come out of it shows that good relationships keep us happier and healthier.  We know that ourselves.  This is why I believe communication and conflict resolution principles should be embedded in our schooling. Bullying and violence is the language of the unloved.

In "Holistic Human", you provide practical takeaway tips. Could you give our readers a sneak peek of some of these?

Absolutely at the end of every chapter I give practical tips for the particular habits.
SLEEP - look at establishing a consistent schedule. Go to bed and get up at a similar time. This gives your health a foundation with better hormone health, and improved sleep quality.
COLD - start with the last 10sec of your shower cold then progress.
STRENGTH - start with 30-60sec of push ups and squats daily. Start well within your capacity, then aim to be consistent.
FITNESS - Aim to go for a 20min brisk walk before breakfast as the sun is coming up.

COMMUNICATION - when talking to people PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN. Listen with no intention to answer. Really listen.

How has your personal story of change impacted the advice and wisdom you share in the book?

Made my message more authentic. One of my favourite mentors St Francis of Assisi stated - Preach the gospel always and if needed use words.  Living the message you want to promote creates more ripples and will create more change.

What is the one thing you want readers to take away from "Holistic Human"?

I have a final note at the end of my book. Most people are sleepwalking through life on an industry driven autopilot. This way of living takes you further away from who you are and who you are meant to be.  We all need to understand the importance of positive connection with ourselves, each other, and our natural world.  It's ALL connected, you play a part and you have the potential to be awesome.

Do you have a daily routine?

Yes, every day is slightly different. Today run, yoga, ocean dip, cold outdoor shower, made my wife coffee in bed told her I loved her.

What is your favourite food?

Plant based Mexican dish and Fruit, apricots, strawberries, watermelon, rock melon.

Any books that have inspired you?

How not to Die - Dr. Michael Greger
The mind-gut connection by Emeran Myer
Finding Ultra by Rich Roll
What doesn't kill us by Scott Carney
My Water Cure by Sebastian Kneipp
The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu
The Lost Religion of Jesus by Keith Akers
A new Earth by Ekchard Tolle
Endure by Alex Hutchinson
Outlive by Dr Peter Attia
How to do the Work by Dr. Nicole LePera

The Myth of Normal (Trauma, illness and healing in a toxic culture) by Gaba Mate


Fitter Radio with yourself and Bevan McKinnon and On the Line with Cam and Mikki
Huberman Lab - Dr. Andrew Huberman
The Drive - Dr. Peter Attia
The Rich Roll Podcast
Feel better Live More - Dr. Rangan Chatterjee

The Lentil Intervention - Ben and Emma.



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