Matt, we need your help. The campaign has taken its toll, mentally and physically.
My co-host of “Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What” described it this way:
“The road to Election Day stretches over two years’ worth of missed flight connections, gas station pizza, pointless controversies, angry flacks, 11 p.m. rallies and 5 a.m. charter plane takeoffs, interchangeable motel rooms with the same popcorn-finish ceilings and about 2,000 cups of coffee.”
You can imagine that leaves a person feeling sluggish and weak.
I’m thinking we need the recipe for a “campaign cleanse.”
So Matt, here are a few questions for you…
What’s the most important first step — nutrition, exercise, or sleep?
When it comes to managing the stress of this election cycle, sleep is definitely the first place I would start. Stress can be a great thing for our bodies when it is acute and followed by an adequate recovery period (this is how adaptation occurs). However, when it becomes chronic and we are not permitted enough time to recover, there can be serious negative health implications. A missed flight, an intense workout, waking up to a new WikiLeaks release, or the thought of Trump having the nuclear codes all have the potential to stress our systems (some more than others), but a good night’s sleep (7–9hrs) will leave us more resilient and better prepared to handle whatever comes at us the next day. On the other hand, if we were kept awake all night by noisy neighbors in and adjacent hotel room, we would wake up vulnerable to new stressors and their effect would further compound the prior damage. Trying to build fitness on a system that is already under-recovered will lead to illness and/or injury, so if you want to make it to November and through the next four years start making sleep and recovery a priority.
Do you recommend trying to go cold turkey or easing your way back onto the right track?
How many of us have woken up on a Monday morning after a long weekend of dining out swearing off sugar and alcohol for a week? I know I have. Now how many of us after that week (if we even made it through the entire thing without breaking) found ourselves outdoing our previous indulgences as soon as the self imposed ban was lifted? If your answer is no, congratulations, because you are in the minority. For the rest of us lacking an iron will, cold turkey strategies will generally end in a relapse and feelings of guilt, which may take us further down the spiral. Consistency is the best way to get on track and stay there, so realistic expectations and a sustainable strategy are imperative. Small improvements made over a long period of time will help change our behaviors and create healthier habits. If we overreach with our goals or go to extremes with our interventions, we will be destined to repeat the cycle.
So — cutting one cup of coffee, one glass of wine, and one cigarette — is a realistic goal? (By the way, I don’t smoke…asking for a friend…really!)
Cutting one of each might be realistic for some, but for others it might be as simple as switching from a venti coffee to a grande. The key is making the changes easy to implement and maintain. In the coffee example, once your body has adjusted to the reduced caffeine content in the grande you can make a seamless transition to the tall. Also, in this scenario you are simply reducing the amount which is generally easier for people to handle. “Cutting” things from your diet can feel like a punishment and the denial of certain items may lead to increased cravings.
Let’s say that a person hates kale (that would be me), what are some go-to foods that can help feed the brain and shed whatever ails a person (whether they’ve gained weight on the campaign trail, or picked up bad habits — too much caffeine or even started smoking again)?
Not a fan of kale? No problem. There is no shortage of options when it comes to green leafy vegetables, but they are only part of the equation. If you really want to optimize your health try keeping your diet as colorful as possible (no, skittles do not count), by consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Fresh, colorful foods contain a broad spectrum of phytonutrients not found in your gas station pizza, which can boost energy levels, improve immune function and aid in cellular repair. In addition to phytonutrients, healthy fats like those found in avocados, coconut oil, salmon and eggs (whole eggs) are high in omega-3 fatty acids which are known to enhance brain function and reduce inflammation.
What is a phytonutrient?
They are chemicals produced by plants used to keep themselves healthy (you may also hear them referred to as phytochemicals). They work in combination with each other as well as with the vitamins and minerals also found in plants, to provide a number of health benefits (antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, improved immune function, etc.)
— Sounds delicious! (I’m trying to have a positive attitude).
You’re a proponent of rest days — how can you convince these hard charging individuals that their bodies and minds will be better off if they take some time to relax?
Rest days are an important part of any well rounded program, but trying to get a motivated, hard charging individual to hit the breaks is usually much more difficult than getting a sedentary person to move. Most of the time the problem lies in the literal interpretation of the word rest. People generally think of it as a day off, which may work for some, but for others it can simply mean a decrease in the intensity of their workout. If the thought of a day off scares you than take a yoga class, go for a walk, get a massage or engage in any low threshold activity of your choosing.
So it doesn’t mean you get to lie catatonic on a couch for the weekend?
Lying catatonic is definitely my preference (although my kids never allow it) and could be a welcomed change of pace for those who are constantly on the go. When was the last time you had nothing to do? Seriously think about it. We tend to over-pack our schedules, running from one place to another and stressing about if we will be able to get everything done. In that case, even getting to a yoga class or booking a massage could be more of a stressor than a way to relax. If your life sounds similar to the scenario I just mentioned, then schedule yourself some downtime and allow your brain and body some much needed time to recharge.
If you could suggest three things that someone can do immediately to jump back on the healthy bandwagon, what would you have them do?
At Equinox we look at health and performance through an MNR (movement, nutrition and regeneration) lens because they all play an equally important role, so any plan to get back on track should incorporate elements of each. My top three interventions to begin immediately would be as follows. First, normalize your bedtime/wake schedule to restore balance to your circadian rhythms and allow for enough sleep opportunity. Second, begin to reintroduce colorful, phytonutrient dense fruits and vegetables into your diet to increase energy and boost immune function. Lastly, get up and move daily. Initially what you do will be less important than the fact you are doing it, so start with activities you enjoy and begin creating new healthy habits.
Basically, you’re saying we’re not all total failures and everything is going to be ok?
No, we are not total failures. However, this “more is more” mentality that most of us have come to adopt as somewhat of a mantra is not improving our chances at longevity. If you want to work hard and play hard you need to recover equally as hard…and if you want everything to be okay in the long run, I would suggest finding a healthy balance between the three.
And I recommend getting a dog — then you’ll have to go for lots of walks!