Well I’m here to tell you that there is no “one way” to become fit and healthy.
I know, I know. When it comes to fitness and nutrition, there seems to be an endless list of do’s and don’ts. The worst part? There’s no real “holy bible” on this. You’ll find new research explaining the next big thing that everyone has been doing “wrong.” You have people promoting the “right” diet or workout routine that everyone is missing out on. Well I’m here to tell you that there is no “one way” to become fit and healthy. There is not an absolute “correct” approach that every single person should be placing their money on.
Then, what should we be doing instead?
Do What Feels Right
No one exercise works best for everyone. Different forms of exercising give different results to different people. Clear and simple. A lot of it comes down to genetics, gender, metabolism, natural body physique, nutrition, on-going stress levels, and other factors. Therefore, not everyone should be hitting the treadmill for an hour every day.
For some, their body may require more resistance training or more power-focused work. Some require movement that incorporates higher focus on the breath. Others may need a cocktail of methods to really get the most out of their workout routine. No size fits all. Therefore, stick to a routine that leaves you feeling energized. Your workout routine should feel like an overall body enhancer that is strenuous but only to the extent where you’re becoming stronger, fitter, more agile, or conditioned.
Focus and Mindfulness
When you think of someone working out, you might imagine someone at the gym, wearing their headphones with music full-blast, simply trying to get through the reps without really taking into consideration the connection between mind and body. When we move and work our bodies, a series of mechanical, chemical, and electrical mechanisms are activated. The energy system being used changes. Our breath shifts. Our heart rate is altered. Toxins are being released and nerves fire neurochemicals to allow our bodies function as we please.
In being more present with our workout, in matching our breath to our movement and really being aware of our bodies, we lessen our risk of injury. We intake more oxygen with every breath. We may allow ourselves to move with a fuller range of motion. We even contract our muscles better and may even get more out of our workout with less amount of time. Workouts shouldn’t be the time when we tune out of our bodies, they should be when we tune in the most.
Proper Fuel Intake
Some athletes believe that they can out train “a bad diet.” Mmm, maybe if you’re 15 or 16 years of age? But even so, what we eat and drink will have a large contribution to the amount of inflammation our body produces and how well we recover from our workouts despite our age.
Many fitness magazines will often promote sports drinks as the right way to hydrate or energy bars as the best way to fuel up. The issue is that these products are often high in sugar with refined carbohydrates and are highly processed. Sure, they might give you an energy boost in a matter of minutes. But the short-term and long-term aftermath usually outweighs the immediate benefits you may find. For example, short-term, your blood sugar will spike and quickly fall right after. Leaving you feeling tired or even anxious. You will also experience acute inflammation, causing your body to work even extra hard to have more energy in combating the inflammation building up. Long-term, these products can eventually lead to cardiovascular problems, diabetes, or cerebrovascular disease. Even if your blood work comes out healthy now, it’s the small little habits that we overlook that later build up and lead to larger issues.
Recovery and Restoration
Our modern lifestyle often makes it difficult for us to get a real recovery from our workouts. Sitting for long periods of time tenses our hip flexors, glutes, and hamstrings. Causing them to shorten and pull on our muscles. Many of us spend hours in front of the screen without the utter awareness that our posture is poor. Our shoulders may be stopped downward, our spine curved, and our head leaned forward. Causing extra weight to pull on our neck and tense our chest muscles. We might also find ourselves indulging in fast food or highly processed meals out of convenience. And if we’re on our phone, computer, or laptop till the wee hours of the night, the blue light being emitted from the screen may cause us to achieve poor sleep. Overall, inducing body tension, undernourished, and fatigue. Making quality recovery and restoration almost impossible to obtain.
Luckily, taking frequent breaks to stretch, walk around, or do a few reps of a body weight exercise has been proven to be an effective way to counter some of the negative consequences of sitting on a chair for most of the day. Having at hand prepped meals or snacks that are mostly whole food also makes obtaining proper nutrition easier. Finally, setting limits of when to use your technology and making sure to avoid blue light an hour or two before bed can make a big difference.
Check Your Psychological and Emotional Health
For those of us who like to be high achievers or perfectionists, we tend to load our plate with countless obligations that pull from our internal resources on a frequent basis. Workload, family responsibility, financial problems. For some of us, these obligations come with other stressors that we need to navigate or learn how to cope with such as supporting a child that has a learning disability, caring for a chronically ill loved one, or trying to make ends meet after a major catastrophe. It’s important to recognize that these obligations raise our cortisol levels. And when these stressors demand from us on a daily basis, they’ll keep our cortisol levels chronically high. Leading to built up inflammation and stress.
If you take this chronicity with you to workouts, you may actually be doing more harm than good. Exercise is a physical stressor that inflames the body. Even though there are benefits while we exercise, like toxins being released and burning calories, the greatest benefits come afterward when we recover. Muscle forms. Our bodies release cytokines. Our immune system strengthens and repairs. But if we’re already chronically inflamed, our body won’t have the resources to recover and repair. It’ll simply stay in “survival” mode. In times of great stress, a combination of high and low demanding exercises or a priority of only low demanding exercise may be the best way to go, including having some more rest days as part of your routine. It’ll give our body a low graded physical stressor that may offset the body’s chronic stress levels to go back to equilibrium.
If you’re just starting your fitness journey, you may find all the do’s and must’s overwhelming. Or if you have been in the ballpark for quite some time now, there might be a few things that you expected to work out but haven’t. As mentioned before, different forms of exercising give different results to different people and no one exercise works best for everyone. That’s not even mentioning all the other factors that may be part of the equation. Therefore, it may be more productive to focus on what your mind and body needs. Keep it simple and listen to yourself.