For many years we have been told that in order to get in shape we need to pay attention to our nutrition and exercise. Although both of the above are right, there are other vital elements which have been neglected and are less talked about. I have seen people eating well and giving all they got in the gym and still don’t achieve their fitness goals. Our bodies constantly run in stress mode and go through the day with lack of sleep, dehydration, poor breathing patters and muscle stiffness. Top athletes always pay attention to recovery, and even though you don’t compete professionally, you should, too. This is the shortest way to improving your overall wellness level.
Let’s further look into the three pillars of physical well-being – of breathing, movement quality and recovery. All variable that we can easily control.
It sounds simple, yet all three are being neglected by all of us daily. We constantly feel exhausted, feel aches and pains and can’t wait for the next vacation to recharge. While the reason behind breathing and movement unawareness is clear as they are both unconscious processes, recovery is something we know is important, but we still fail doing it. The good news is that we can improve all three and create healthier lives for ourselves.
Breathing is unconscious process and it is easy to miss it as one of the causes for many of the modern health issues and diseases. Shallow breathing puts is in disadvantaged position and keeps our body in chronic stress. There are many different breathing techniques you can try. One of them is the The Buteyko method named after its founder Dr Konstantin Buteyko. It can be easily be incorporated into the daily life of any contemporary person. It doesn’t require your to interrupt your everyday activities to perform any sophisticated procedures. You can try this simple test:
- Sit straight without crossing your legs and breathe comfortably and steady.
- After an exhalation pinch your nose (optional).
- Hold your breath and start stopwatch.
- When you feel a slight discomfort resume your breathing and note the time.
Interval of time in seconds, you have just measured is called “control pause”. It reflects the tolerance of your body to carbon dioxide. If your breathing exceeds the metabolic requirements of your body resulting in chronic depleted carbon dioxide levels, you are ‘used’ to low levels of carbon dioxide and, as a result, have low tolerance to carbon dioxide and your control pause is shorter.
According to the Buteyko test healthy individuals with normal breathing pattern are generally able to hold their breath after exhalation for 40-60 seconds without any discomfort. From our experience, majority of contemporary people have control pause within 20-40s. Even if they have no current problems with their health, according to Buteyko they are likely to develop them in future. Although the method is neither a medical treatment nor procedure, clinical trials have been done using it and all of the people from the focus group have shown great improvement with their health and overall quality of life. You can find more practical applications of the method in the book The Oxygen Advantage.
If you are into yoga you are probably familiar with Pranayama breathing. It is the practice of voluntary breath control and refers to inhalation, retention and exhalation that can be performed quickly or slowly. In many yoga stories and literature the word ‘prana’ (part of the word ‘pranayama’ for breathing) refers to the ‘life force’ or energy. This has many applications, especially as it relates to the energy producing processes within the body. There is a direct connection between the ‘prana’ or energy of breathing and its effects on energy liberation in the body.
Cellular metabolism (reactions in the cell to produce energy) for example, is regulated by oxygen provided during breathing. The yoga purpose of breath training is not to over-ride the body’s autonomic systems; although there is clear evidence that pranayama breathing techniques can effect oxygen consumption and metabolism. In fact, much of the aim of pranayama breathing appears to shift the autonomic nervous system away from its sympathetic (excitatory) dominance. Pranayama breathing has been shown to positively affect immune function, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders.
Own practice – it doesn’t matter if you adopt any of the above practices or will follow your own, it all comes down to giving your body chance to optimize the oxygen intake and turn the parasympathetic nervous system or the so called fight-or-flight mode off.
Movement quality – It doesn’t matter if we talk about running, lifting, tennis, or any other physical activity better movement can prevent injuries and make us enjoy the activity longer. I hear people not practicing a sport or doing a movement in the gym because of pain and they tend to think it is the movement which is causing the pain. The truth is that the pain is indication for poor movement quality and has nothing to do with the exercise. People accept things about themselves as facts and never seek information or try to change it. This way they define themselves with a faulty pattern and use this as an excuse throughout their whole life. For example, I have flat feet. Can they work toward strengthening the muscles of the foot, yes. It’s not fancy, nobody sees your progress, and there is no vanity involved.
Don’t get me wrong, abs is nice thing to have, but improving your movement always wins in the long run, because if you something hurts you don’t really care about how you look in the mirror. If you want to live healthier life you need to improve your movement quality and create awareness of your deficits. A lot of you would say that it is overwhelming and that you don’t know where to start. Information you seek should be challenging your beliefs.
Use child like fascination when you learn about your body. Have you ever seen a child give up walking or pursuing a type of movement just because it’s hard or challenging? Having the adult rational thinking is not always in our favor when we talk about movement because we think more about the movement rather than actually doing it. I have seen this with many clients, and this just paralyzes them. Start with progressions and give your body time to adapt and train for connective tissue adaptation. Coach Christopher Sommer, the founder of GymnasticBodies, stresses in many of his interviews that primary goal has to be to train the connective tissue first because it takes more time to adapt than the muscle, and if your muscle is strong, but the connective tissue is not, you risk to injure yourself.
A few things you can pay attention and change instantly is the way you walk, how you climb stairs (I hope you all do), the way you hold the steering wheel in your car, the way you sit. There are many other example from our daily lives, but changing even the ones above will have great impact on your movement patters. It is not only important to walk your 10 000 steps, but it’s also important how these steps are done. More about the topic is to follow in another article.
The last one of the pillars is recovery, and again it is a broad topic, but I will only cover sleep as the main way for our bodies to rest and recharge.
We all love the feeling to wake up rested in the morning, without the stress of the alarm clock, but this is rarely the case. Have you noticed that often times even when you sleep more it doesn’t help to feel better when you wake up. The rule of quality over quantity applies to sleep, too.
There are some prerequisites for better sleep quality and we know about some of them, but for the sake of the article I will mention them again. For most people caffeine consumption before or close to bed time is not the best idea. A study shows the caffeine consumption even 6 hours before bedtime can have important disruptive effects on both objective and subjective measure of sleep. These findings provide empirical support for sleep hygiene recommendations to refrain from substantial caffeine use for a minimum of 6 hours prior to bedtime. Although there are people with different genes which metabolize the caffeine at a faster or slower time, it is safe to say that for the majority of us having our last dose in the early afternoon is a good call.
Light, particularly of the blue variety, can keep the pineal gland from releasing melatonin, thus warding off sleepiness. You don’t have to be staring directly at a television or computer screen: If enough blue light hits the eye, the gland can stop releasing melatonin. So easing into bed with a tablet or a laptop makes it harder to take a long snooze. Changes in sleep patterns can in turn shift the body’s natural clock, known as its circadian rhythm. Recent studies have shown that shifts in this clock can have devastating health effects because it controls not only our wakefulness but also individual clocks that dictate function in the body’s organs. In other words, stressors that affect our circadian clocks, such as blue-light exposure, can have serious consequences. In our modern times it is hard to stay off the computer, phone or other devices long before bed, but there are ways to block the blue light on your electronic devices such as Iris.
Bedroom conditions are important as well. Make sure to install solid blinds, find a comfortable mattress and pillow (since you spend around 30% of your life on them), lower the room temperature.
We also need to consider sleep cycles and timing, too. You might have had mornings where you wake up after 6 hours of sleep and other after 8 and still felt better rested with less sleep. This is due to the natural patterns of sleep and which stage of sleep you wake up. There are three stages of sleep as all three combined last around 90 minutes and cycle a few times through the night. I will try not to bore you with the science. If you want to read more about it, you can review the Harvard article.
There you have it, a few tips, hacks or just common sense, which you can easily incorporate into your daily routine. I can guarantee that only by following the practices suggested in this article you will notice significant improvement in your daily life and will feel boost in your energy and health. Give them a try and share your experience.
If you think this article might help someone, please share and be the change is their life. Because helping people is easy.