Over the past several weeks I have been exploring methods of recovery. It’s not simply about resting the body after an exercise session, but about intelligently helping the body heal and functionally move to reach healthy balance within the body.
In the first post I explain there is a constant play of stability and mobility. Certain areas in our body function best when strong and stable and other parts of the body function best when flexible and mobile.
In the second post I explore how strength training helps build the body to function optimally. I highly recommend strength training with a plan designed by a certified personal trainer, as it’s important to have a solid program and system built to work with your unique set of strengths and weaknesses. More info about training here.
In the third post I delve into stretching and self-massage.
In today's post, I am exploring step four of six of my recommended recovery methods: ways to de-stress.
In an old post, called Healthy Habits Are Hard to Keep When Stressed, I wrote there is a biological reason why it's almost impossible to keep up healthy habits when stressed.
In a Precision Nutrition blog post Coach Craig Weller’s advice holds true:
(Clients say) “I was doing great with my workouts but then this thing happened and I got stressed / overwhelmed / busy and I stopped.” Coach Craig explains that there’s a reason for this: It’s neurobiology. Research has found that stress literally changes the parts of your brain involved in decision making, pushing us away from goal-directed behavior (“I do this, I lose weight”) in the direction of habitual behavior (“Me tired, me stay on couch”). No amount of lecturing or motivating will break the cycle of a bad habit. (We need to) help clients out of their anxiety, and they’ll have a brain that’s capable of making goal-oriented decisions instead of habitual reactions.”
A good amount of stress is needed to propel us forward, however, too much stress has detrimental effects on our health. So what do we do about it?
Planning ahead for those busy phases in our lives can be helpful. Perhaps something in your schedule has to give until the busyness lowers to normal levels again.
A quick and easy way is when you feel yourself getting stressed and life just seems to be getting too busy and chaotic, take out 3-5min and breathe. I have attached a short breathing video you can use to calm down your nervous system.
Carving out a small amount of time per day for quiet seems counterproductive, but it can help us cope with stress. I enjoy waking up 30 minutes earlier than the rest of my family for solitude. I have an English Breakfast tea, with my dog Sophie on my lap and I pray. Whether you make space for prayer, meditation, gentle yoga/stretching, a walk in nature, or reading an inspirational book—it doesn’t matter the activity—what matters most is your enjoyment.
In the ACE Personal Training manual, they devote an entire chapter on mind-body exercise. The ACE manual states “in its most unadulterated form, mind-body exercise is perhaps best characterized by low-to-moderate intensity physical activity performed with a meditative, proprioceptive, or sensory-awareness component.” Proprioception is the sensation and awareness of body position and its movements.
Any level of physical activity can be mind-body, but less intense may provide a preferable platform for cognitive benefits. As the ACE manual states “mind-body exercise can also be described simply as physical exercise executed with a profound inward mental focus”.
Studies are suggesting that this kind of exercise changes our normal stressful patterns in our brains. Certain muscle-brain pathways carry sensory information from the muscle and joints to a variety of thalamic (regulation of consciousness, sleep, and alertness), limbic (emotion centre), cortical (meaningful perceptual experience of the world) structures in the brain, which form a body-mind conduit, which directly connects muscular activity to the mechanisms of perception and cognition.
The ACE manual states “figure 13-2 depicts the fundamental neuroendocrine ‘mind-body’ interactions involved with meditative and breath work activities. Two key hormones of behaviour CRH (corticotropin releasing hormone) and ACTH (adrenocorticotropin hormones) inextricably bond brain (hypothalamus and higher brain centres) and body (pituitary and adrenal glands) together and play an extensive role in mind-body visceral and cognitive responses. This hypothalamus-pituitary CRH interface is truly the consummate ‘mind-body connection."
Mind-body exercise can reduce your stress levels in your brain and positively change the way you think. Pilates movements are linked with mindful breath. I am so fortunate to see the results of its de-stressing properties in my students. At the end of class students have relaxed grins, rosy cheeks, and calm, limber bodies.
A walk in nature. Easy stretching. Light bike ride. Strolling on the beach while watching the waves roll in. All have the same effects. Even a great invigorating workout, like a brisk walk or run, helps with our stress levels.
So to keep on track with our health goals we need to be less stressed. To become less stressed means making plans ahead of time to reduce stress when it arises. Even though it seems we don’t have time for those de-stressing activities, it’s actually the opposite, and we need those de-stressing activities to make us more productive in our day to day duties.