Simplify your 'health & fitness' journey
By basing your actions on science & self knowledge
The world of 'health and fitness' is getting more and more complex with innumerable workout styles to get the body moving, and countless ways of approaching our eating. For many of us, all this can be very confusing, leaving us wondering, "Is what I am doing right or should I be doing something else or eating in some other way?”
I will try to address this confusion in today's post by giving you evidence based, science backed information that you can trust. I will also share prompts to help you enhance your self knowledge (keep a pen and paper ready to do the work) and some mindset shifts to empower you on your journey.
So let's get started.
Good health is largely a function of your lifestyle habits. Of course, there is the genetic piece of having predisposition to certain diseases, but for the sake of this post, we will focus on what's in your control.
You can have a fairly good health, if you can get a fix on some of these areas:
A. Wholesome Nutrition & hydration
C. Exercise & activity
D. Stress Management
Here are some facts rooted in science on these parameters with prompts for increasing your self knowledge on how you are faring in these areas:
Many nutrition facts are getting debunked each day, & dietary guidelines are also revised on a continual basis. For most of us, it is difficult to keep pace with these changes. However, the fundamentals of good nutrition still remain the same, which is to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, & quality protein into one's diet, to minimize calories from added sugars & saturated fats and reduce sodium intake.
Before you get into any specific diet such as paleo or keto or GM or whatever else to meet your specific goals, focus on whether you are getting adequate nutrition to fuel and maintain the health of your body. In trying to meet a look based goal, we may unconsciously comprise on good nutrition which is necessary to keep the body functioning at optimal capacity.
Some Prompts for Self knowledge:
1. Am I eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and other whole foods on a regular basis?
2. If not, what are the barriers I am facing to nourish myself adequately?
3. Do I obsess over how I eat? (while it is healthy to spend some time meal planning & being conscious of how we nourish our bodies, it is certainly not, to be obsessed over it. The condition of going to the extreme with healthy eating is referred to as Orthorexia nervosa and can be detrimental to one's overall well being)
Sleep duration is a key factor when it comes to heart health. You may think that you don't need that many hours of sleep to function well, but that opinion of yours is not based on science. While the brain can function with 5 hours of sleep, the heart needs 8 hours. This is because the ventricles are constantly pumping blood against gravity and it can get tiring.
A study of nearly a half million people by researchers at CU Boulder, USA found that people who had a high genetic risk for heart attack could offset that risk by getting between 6 and 9 hours of sleep a night. (Source : Optimum nutrition, Autumn issue)
Prompts for Self Knowledge:
1. Do I get 8 hours of sleep?
2. How is my sleep quality?
3. If not good, what's coming in the way?
Exercise and activity:
ACSM (American college of Sports medicine) provides recommendations and guidelines for physical activity and exercise based on the latest science and insights from health professionals. And according to it, all healthy adults aged 18–65 yrs should participate in moderate intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 min, five days per week, or vigorous intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 min, three days per week.
In addition, every adult should perform activities that maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance for a minimum of two days per week. This is imperative to preserve & increase the strength of skeletal muscle which we tend to lose with age (If you don't use it, you lose it. It's as simple as that).
Other key benefits (there are innumerable) of strength training include improved bone mineral density and greater blood glucose regulation.
Prompts for Self knowledge:
1. Am I getting adequate exercise and activity each day?
2. If not, what's coming in the way?
3. Is Strength training part of my weekly schedule? If not, can I start including it by perhaps taking help from a professional for better knowledge & execution?
4. What activities do I enjoy doing that I can add into my weekly routine to increase my activity?
Research shows that almost every system in the body can be influenced by chronic stress. When chronic stress goes unreleased, it suppresses the body’s immune system and ultimately manifests as illness.
Prompts for Self knowledge:
1. On a scale of 1 to 10 how stressed do I feel ?
2. Do I have adequate tools to manage my stress?
Now lets explore some powerful mindsets to stay committed to the path of better health & fitness:
A. Treat yourself as an integrated unit - Body, mind, & emotions:
Oftentimes we think we can bully the body into adhering to a certain exercise and nutrition program, only to find the mind rebel against it, making our experience frustrating.
Cultivating mindfulness to your individual needs, feelings & inclinations can help you in choosing a path of exercise & nutrition that is sustainable. Instead of doing something your friend is doing or what the world seems to endorse, ask yourself how your exercise routine & eating style fits into your lifestyle & serves your needs.
The more your choices come from a place of self knowledge & awareness, greater would be your chances of sticking with it long term.
B. Know that actions, and actions alone bring results:
This cannot be said enough. Being committed to your well being and taking action is the only way to make progress on this journey.
C. Set yourself up for success with increased accountability:
Let's face it - our environment is not conclusive to our well being. Reduced activity, binge-watching Netflix, ordering & eating out at the drop of the hat are all becoming common place. In this environment, trying to remain ‘health & fitness’ conscious is a herculean task. And the only way to stay focused and make progress is to find ways to hold ourselves more accountable. You can do this by:
A. Joining a structured program under the guidance of a professional
B. Finding accountability partners or a support group
C. Looking at spending on ‘health and fitness’ as an investment instead of an expenditure
My Ask of you:
A new month starts today. It's a good time to set some ‘health and fitness’ related goals for yourself. Pick up your journal and begin to answer all the prompts in this article. Based on the evidence based information, chart a roadmap for your better health. Try to focus on one small change in each of these areas we discussed:
Write down one thing that you would like to focus on, to improve the quality of your daily nutrition. You could perhaps start with just planning one meal a day.
Exercise & Activity
Can you get 2 days of strength work & 3 days of activity (anything from walking to running to dance to yoga) into your daily routine? Put down your plan of action. Make sure it is something you can stick to.
Write down one thing you would like to address- sleep duration, sleep quality or a sleep routine.
Write down one thing you would like to do, to address stress. This month, I am working with my clients to increase awareness of the little things they can do to manage stress. Here is a snapshot of the calendar that they will be using. You can choose to practice these too, if you so desire.
I hope you now feel more empowered to architect your own path to better health and fitness, that is based on science & not on fancy whims.
Write back or post in comments your personal experiences with navigating this area of ‘health & fitness’ - roadblocks you face, challenges you have overcome, what you envision for yourself in the future. I would love to hear about your journey.