April 27, 2011
Spring is a time of year that is often associated renewal, reorganization and change, and is a perfect opportunity to re-think your approach to leading a more active, healthy lifestyle. Let’s discuss just three ways to “spring clean” your overall approach to health and fitness.
Get your zzzz’s. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, how is sleeping going to improve my health and fitness? The reality is, sleep plays a critical role in not only ensuring optimal health, but it is also a key factor when it comes to weight loss. Research has shown that lack of sleep may be a potential contributor to weight gain and the growing obesity epidemic, as it causes disruptions to a number of hormonal and metabolic processes. In fact, one study found that partial sleep deprivation can lead to increased appetite, as the hormones that regulate hunger are altered by decreased sleep.
Insufficient or irregular sleep has also been shown to increase the risk for developing diseases such as breast cancer, heart disease, colon cancer and diabetes according to several reports from a Harvard-run Nurses’ Health Study.
So how much do you need? Most researchers agree that 7-8 hours of sleep per night is optimal for most individuals. Regular exercise, establishing a comfortable sleeping environment (free of noise and light) and adhering to a regular sleep schedule are just a few strategies for helping you to get those 7-8 hours of much needed rest.
Be flexible. Now, you probably heard this tip and immediately thought I would talk about stretching, right? While flexibility training certainly is a key component of a well-rounded exercise program, the “flexibility” I want to touch on is in regards to your overall approach to leading a more healthy lifestyle. For many of us, we get caught up in what I refer to as “the all or nothing” mentality. That is, we think that leading a healthy lifestyle means that we have to hit the gym for an hour a day, and if we are unable to do so, then we often just say forget exercising today and we do nothing at all, right? Truth is, we all lead busy lives, and sometimes it can seem next to impossible to carve out 30 or 60 minutes in our day for exercise. The reality is we do not have to exercise in one continuous bout in order to reap the many physiological and psychological benefits that we know regular physical activity provides. In fact, research continues to emerge supporting the notion that small bouts of exercise accumulated throughout the day may provide many of the same benefits as one continuous bout of activity, including improvements in aerobic fitness and even weight loss.
So what can you do? Try restructuring your approach by breaking up your physical activity into three 10-minute bouts of exercise, which you can accumulate throughout the day. You could, for example, try 10-minutes of bodyweight exercises (push-ups, lunges, squats, etc) in the morning, take a 10-minute brisk walk during your lunch break at work and unwind with 10-minutes of yoga-inspired stretching in the evening. Remember, every little bit of physical activity goes a long way.
Think happy thoughts. And yes, I’m serious about this one. In exploring the effects of positive thinking, researchers have found that individuals who think positively tend to have lower rates of depression, a better ability to cope with and manage stress, an increased life span, and are more likely to adopt and adhere to an active, healthy lifestyle long-term. The process of consciously changing the way we think about something is called cognitive restructuring, and requires us to develop a mindful awareness of our automatic thoughts, or the “self-talk” that takes place in our minds all day long. Once you become aware of the thoughts that you have, especially those which are counterproductive, you can then begin to practice replacing those negative thoughts with more positive, realistic ones, and yes it does take some practice, but it most certainly is possible.
So for example, if you think to yourself “I hate exercise” what do you think will probably happen? More than likely you won’t exercise, or if you do, you won’t enjoy it and it turn the less likely you will be to stick with it long-term. Now, it’s probably not very realistic to replace that thought with “I love exercise” but what if instead you thought something like “I wouldn’t mind walking outside during my lunch break. It would give me a chance to enjoy some fresh air during the day and also be more physically active.” Now that’s just one example of a way to replace a negative thought with one which is more positive, and realistic. The key to changing the way you feel about exercise is to change the way you think about exercise, which starts by finding activities that you enjoy.