Health & fitness is not all about the ‘Go hard or go home’ mentality, and pushing your body to do things you don’t want to do. It’s really about giving your body what it needs, and caring for yourself to facilitate health & happiness, right?
Now the reality is that the human body DOES actually need some stress in order to be optimal (that’s what exercise is, stress), but in a world of EXCESS stress, it helps to arm ourselves with the tools necessary to counteract the inherent stresses of modern life, (work, kids, lockdowns, Covid, running a business, home-schooling etc.), if we can pro-actively engage in activities which help to calm our brains, minds, and body’s, this will actually go a long way in improving health AND fitness, both physically & mentally.
If you can control & calm your breathing you can control and calm your brain. This is such a free gift, which gets so overlooked. This is not supposed to be a technical guide to breathing but long story short, if you set aside some time to lie down, close your mouth and breath through your nose, focus on expanding your belly and ribs as you inhale, and slow relaxing exhales, you will soon enough start to drop a level into your parasympathetic nervous system or your ‘rest & digest’ state. I have not met a client yet who wouldn’t benefit from adding this routine or ‘exercise’ into their lives on a daily basis. If the benefits & effects it can give you, were through the push of a button, or by swallowing a pill, you would do it all the time.
Exercise doesn’t HAVE to be grueling or even challenging. Just MOVING the body is beneficial, in fact the longest-lived people are generally those who did A LOT of low level physical activity, as compared to shorter bouts of high intensity work. The reality is that both types of training have advantages, but MOST people think they need to be killing themselves when they exercise to make the most of it, and it just isn’t necessary.
But the other benefit of movement is the calming effect it can have on the brain, almost immediately. Even just mobility drills or yoga poses, mixed in with breathing can have a huge effect, with our brain also responding positively to rhythmic movement (like dancing or sport) and forward movement (like walking).
I start every morning with some light moving, whether it be bodyweight squats, push ups, exercises on the floor, and it really does have a powerful influence on the mental state and sets the stage for the day. I encourage all my clients to do the same or go for a regular morning walk, try it for 30 days and see.
As someone who has been through patches of insomnia, I understand first hand just how important sleep is for everything. But sleep is often the first thing that we ‘borrow’ from when life gets busy and overwhelming, and stresses and worries have a way of creeping in to our minds in the middle of the night, just when we are trying to forget about it all!
Whether you want to improve mental health, energy, weight loss, strength, fitness, or just general health, more sleep will assist with everything.
I follow a simple little set of rules, with the concept of 10, 3,2,1
Before I go to bed:
- 10 hours since I had my last coffee
- 3 hours since I have done some ‘work’
- 2 hours since I have eaten
- 1 hour since I have stopped looking at screens
Do I always succeed in following this? NO…
But I do a lot better in TRYING to, and it’s a good guide.
The other suggestions for those who struggle with sleep is keep a pen and paper on your bedside table and do a ‘brain dump’ before going to bed, write down everything you have to do the next day with any open-ended problems, questions or concerns that you can keep. ‘on hold’ till the morning. This closes a few of those ‘open tabs’ in the mind which tends to get the thoughts racing at 3am.
It should come as no surprise, that ‘unplugging’ from technology and screens on a regular basis is a necessity when it comes to managing your mental health. Our phones, tablets and computers are a constant source of alerts & reminders about things we have to do, and obligations we have to meet. They’ve become a big source of stress for many people as our body’s have been conditioned to treat phone alerts as REAL threats in our environment.
If you spend all day on your phone running around doing a million tasks at once, ALL THE TIME, your body’s physiology will respond accordingly on the inside, and you will burn out.
It’s also easy to rely on our phones as a constant source of distraction, it is rare we are left alone with our thoughts to just experience the world without a million bits of information coming at us every second. Sometimes our phones can cover up our problems, or at least hide them away for the time being (never for good).
Think about it, if meditation is good for you…if the act of practicing NO thoughts, and tapping into our sensory system and state of awareness is beneficial for the mind and body, then being endlessly distracted and ‘entertained’ by our phones is the exact OPPOSITE of this state, and most of us practice this every day unwittingly.
Break the cycle by giving your brain some quiet time every day, meditating would be even better, it WILL help the cause of optimizing your health & wellbeing, and its free.
Writing & Journaling
After our last point about unplugging, it’s not hard to understand why our brains are just FULL of data and information about so many different things. Every day we are bombarded by information and opinions at a rate like we’ve never seen before and it becomes overwhelming.
Not only that but we are connected to so many humans through technology, that we’re able to communicate and interact with so many people, further adding to the ‘noise’ and constant chatter in our brains.
This leads to a lot of constant inner dialog and rumination. It’s not uncommon to spend a disproportionate amount of time replaying your daily interactions, stewing over what someone said to you, worrying about something that MIGHT happen, frustrated with endless choices, or getting angry at something completely imaginary.
Writing things down and putting your thoughts on paper can be a very underrated exercise, it sounds so simple, but its very effective at managing stress, anxiety, and racing thoughts, especially when you’ve been shown how to do this properly by a good coach or therapist.
As mentioned in the above point on sleep, a good example, and a very simple one is just a nightly ‘brain dump’ before bed. Put pen to paper (not your phone!) and literally write down everything you have to do the next day, write down all your worries and concerns (if you quickly question the validity of them you’ll discover most of them aren’t actually real) and make a few notes about how you felt today, what events were good, and what situations made you feel stressed, angry, frustrated or overwhelmed.
There’s a lot more we can do with this process of self -enquiry to help with our health & fitness goals, especially as it relates to overcoming limiting beliefs holding us back, but the ongoing management of stress & anxiety is probably the most overlooked, underused but most POWERFUL way to change habits & behaviours, and therefore outcomes & RESULTS.
If YOU need help dialling in your healthy habits & lifestyle OR are interested in a Functional Movement Assessment – just click HERE to book a chat with one of our trainers.