Reducing Stress to Maximize Your Fitness Goals
When it comes to getting fit, most people know that working out and nutrition are a part of the equation. However, those two don’t tell the whole story.
I’ve worked with many clients who are super eager to start getting in shape. “Give me whatever it takes!” they say, telling me they will push through any exercise I throw at them. At the same time, many of these people are also working 12 hour days regularly, barely getting 6 hours of sleep, and taking care of young children at the same time. In this scenario, the high level of stress will certainly interfere with making health and fitness improvements.
Stress affects so many aspects of health. In fact, stress management should be at the forefront of any fitness plan. Exercise places physical stress on the body, and the idea is that the muscles will repair and become stronger after that stress is placed on them and they have recovered. When we are constantly producing stress hormones, our adrenal glands are in overdrive and we simply don’t have enough resources to send to muscle and tissue repair. Pushing your body to perform high intensity exercise when it’s in a stressed and depleted state is like having your car be low on fuel and expecting it to drive across the country.
If you’re thinking “reducing stress is easier said than done”, I have some tips you can implement one by one to suit your lifestyle, and you will see improvements. It’s not about being a yogi and meditating on top of the Himalayas. It’s about finding management tools to incorporate into your lifestyle.
Mindful Breathing and Relaxation Exercises
When we are constantly thinking of the next deadline or thing on the to-do list, the mind is not only racing, but the shoulders stiffen, the jaw clenches, and breathing becomes short and delivers less oxygen to the body. When you are at your desk working away, be mindful of relaxing each muscle from head to toe. Inhale slowly through the nose, and when you let go of the breath, relax your jaw, neck, shoulders…work your way down and feel the tension relieve itself in each muscle with each breath.
You can do this simple exercise throughout the day, especially at times when you feel stressed. With any negative or stressful thought that comes up, just breath and let it go and continue.
Practicing a Good Sleep Regime
Sleep is when the body does all it’s “repair” and is a time us to rejuvenate for the following day. Unfortunately, for many of us we just don’t get that rest, repair and rejuvenation, and it’s really more like just lying in bed for 6 hours.
Two hours before bed, unplug yourself from electronics. No phone, laptop, last minute work stuff, or TV. Looking at that computer screen will keep your mind in busy mode and disrupt your rest. Besides that, filling your head with your upcoming deadline or watching the news will put negative thoughts you don’t want in your head before bed.
Another big factor in restful sleep is the amount of darkness in your room. It is well worth it to invest in blackout curtains. If you are getting some light in your room, you will not produce the melatonin needed to get a restful sleep. A sleep mask may help temporarily and is better than nothing, but it’s not the best solution.
An app I recommend is Sleep Cycle. This app helps to track movements during sleep and wakes you up when you are least likely to be in one of your deep stages of sleep (a reason many people wake up groggy is because their alarm happened to go off when they are at the height of a deep sleep cycle).
Proper Nutrition and Supplementation
Physical stress is no joke. It depletes nutrients from the body, which makes it even harder to get to where we want to be on the health spectrum.
Make sure to start your day with a blood sugar balancing breakfast which includes protein, healthy fats and fibre. Despite having a busy schedule, never let yourself skip meals. Take one day a week to make easy snacks or meal components so you can pack a super quick lunch every day of the week. There is no excuse not to eat all day long!
In terms of supplementation, there are many adrenal-supportive supplements that can help with chronic stress. You can speak to a nutritionist or naturopath to determine which are best for you to use and at what dosage. Also, many health food stores have an in-house nutritionist that can help you out.
Beginning a fitness program is very exciting. Being the eager beaver that you are, you are willing to do anything it takes to reach your goals. Don’t forget to build a good foundation of health to start yourself off, and that means reducing stress!