USA Wellness Café
Stress Management Take-Out Course:
Physical Fitness

Written by Staff Writers of USA Wellness Café ™

Key Point

Ask yourself: What small changes can I make right away? How can I use small segments of time, even 15 minutes here and there, to improve my physical fitness?

Mental health is easier to achieve if we have excellent physical health. Feeling strong and fit helps facilitate pleasant thoughts, creative thoughts and a sense of humor. Ill health and tiredness contribute to frustration and depression.

You are a unique individual, so work on fitness in ways that correspond to your personality and personal preferences. For example, some people like to pump iron three days a week, while others enjoy hiking or dancing.

To gain good physical health, make some small changes in several key areas and make them stick. What you do consistently over a long period of time will sustain you. Putting on a “health campaign” now and then is not the answer.

If your eating habits are poor and your workout program is sporadic, your body will feel the impact. Worse, your heart and other muscles may start to weaken over time.

Sleep Supports Health

Key Point

Ideally, we all need four complete 90-minute sleep cycles per night. If you don’t sleep deeply enough to dream, your body will not produce specific hormones that are critical to well-being.

First, address your specific sleep issues. Target key problems that affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Review your situation in order to make changes for real impact. Go over ideas for getting quality sleep, reflecting on what you might improve. Look at options such as naps before dinner or going to bed early three nights per week.

Figure out needed changes by reviewing issues such as the following:

  • Should you invest in a high-quality mattress? A well-made mattress will help you fall asleep and stay asleep. If you don’t believe it, try spending one night in a five-star hotel with expensive bedding.
  • Would a darker room help? A dark room facilitates falling asleep faster. Simply closing your eyes might not sufficiently screen out light, because the eyelids are thin. Wearing a cloth eye mask or installing room-darkening blinds can help, especially if you’re a day sleeper.
  • Do you need to calm down before bedtime? Don’t figure your finances, hold intense conversations, or listen to loud music before turning in. Instead, read or listen to soft music. Either activity helps the brain relax and prepare for sleep.

Leave no stone unturned in addressing sleep problems. You might need a natural sleeping aid, such as herbal tea, or you might need a prescribed sleeping medication for a certain period of time.

Food Choices Matter

Key Point

While some people can eat 4,000 calories per day, and stay slim, most of us cannot. It’s vital to know the types of foods that are healthy for you and how many calories your body utilizes each day. To get an idea of how your body burns calories, select a specific number of calories for your weight and height. Eat this amount of calories daily to see if you start to lose or just maintain weight.

It takes discipline to say no to the wrong types of foods or avoid eating the wrong amount of food. For example, it’s easy to eat too much protein in a given day. If you enjoy a trip to the local steakhouse or the best seafood restaurant in town, it’s likely that you will ingest enough protein for three or four days at one sitting.

Over time, you’re likely to feel best with a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains with a moderate amount of protein and dairy products. Keep in mind that eating foods with natural color (such as melons, beets, oranges, and sweet potatoes) is a good way to acquired needed vitamins and minerals. White foods (potatoes, white rice, white bread) do not provide the same nutrients.

Foods fuel the body, so pay attention to snacks as well. Eat apples, oranges, and other fruits while you’re sitting in front of the TV or computer. It takes longer to eat an apple than it does to eat a candy bar, so plan your fruit snacks around time spent sitting down.

A cup of low-fat yogurt with fruit or a granola bar are typical healthy snacks. Take a cooler with you in the car, if necessary, to transport yogurt or low-fat ice cream to the soccer field for yourself and your kids, too.

Key Point

Water is essential for plumping up your muscles. Emergency responders report that they can carry 300-pound patients more easily if they’ve had plenty of water. If they neglect to drink water, they report that it’s a real strain on their backs to lift heavy patients at a scene.

These tips can help:

  • Educate yourself about food and shop more wisely. Switch to multi-grain cereals and organic milk, free of added hormones and pesticides, for example. Add just one healthy food to your shopping cart until buying that food becomes a habit. Wait awhile to add another healthy choice, ensuring you stick to your changes.
  • Find recipes for healthy foods. Try recipes for cooking fish on the grill or baking it versus frying it. Find recipes for vegetable soup that you can cook in large batches and freeze in containers.
  • Drink water to curtail hunger. Your system will crave food when you’re thirsty. Get in the habit of putting bottled water in the refrigerator instead of colas. Buy a glass pitcher for water and ice to put on the dinner table. Or, you might carry a mug of water when you do yard work.

Self-Assessment is Critical

Key Point

All of us are different in how we metabolize food. Get to know how your body responds to eating patterns or types of food. For example, a stack of pancakes with syrup might give you a boost in the morning; however, this kind of indulgence might put you on a blood sugar roller coaster the rest of the day.

Reflect on your eating patterns, food choices, exercise or the lack thereof, and overall wellness plan. Determine what’s not working for you.

For instance, drinking alcohol before bedtime is typically calming. But, alcohol can cause you to wake up an hour or two after falling asleep. This is due to a rise in your blood sugar as the alcohol is metabolized.

Take a look at all of those issues that impact you negatively. Working long shifts, traveling constantly, or attending a sick child for days will make anyone feel zombie-like and a little crazy. Eating a lot of sugar, grabbing too much fast food, or skipping meals may affect you a little or a lot.

By paying more attention to your own body, you will learn what’s best for you. For example, many people report feeling more alert and clear-headed after starting a gluten-free diet. If you’re foggy-headed and tired almost every day, you might consider seeing an allergist. You might be allergic to beef, wheat, eggs, milk or coffee, for example.

Will positive changes be easy? Not necessarily. You will likely have to discipline yourself and make yourself uncomfortable to some degree. But, the results will be worth it.

Questions Can Help

Key Point

When we’re under stress, we tend to push all of our personal needs further into the background. Physical self-neglect causes emotional pain, however. We subconsciously know when we’re sacrificing too much. Something inside us is screaming for attention.

To become physically fit, you will need to become familiar with what works for you in all situations. If you enjoy running, but your knees hurt, try losing some weight first. See if the weight loss helps your situation. Your knees might not hurt at all, if you’re lighter on your feet.

Start paying attention to your energy levels and how you feel in everyday life. Ask yourself these types of questions:

  1. Do I feel better if I go to bed at the same time every night?
  2. Do I feel stronger if I drink 8 glasses of water every day?
  3. Do I feel less hungry if I take a multiple vitamin every day?
  4. Do I feel refreshed after taking a 10-minute nap at certain times?

Physical Wellness Affects Mental Health

Keep in mind that your thoughts are affected by your physical well-being. If you are sleep-deprived, you will likely become irritable and cranky. If you feel refreshed, you can more easily overlook a lot of challenging behaviors from others.

When you feel energized, you can think productively and create better plans to accomplish your goals and dreams. If you’re taking care of your body, this is a powerful demonstration of self-respect.

Becoming strong and physically fit will benefit you for many years to come. In fact, individuals who play ball, do gymnastics or work out with weights can usually feel the positive impact well into their senior years.

An exercise program works best if you enjoy what you’re doing. Take a Zumba class, do water aerobics, or join a basketball team. Figure out if you like biking, hiking, dancing or aerobics.

You may enjoy group activities part of the time. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t enjoy exercising all alone, take this into full consideration. Walk or run by yourself, for example, two days per week. Then, sign up for a group activity on two additional days each week.

It’s what you do consistently that will pay off. It’s better to exercise moderately for twenty minutes per day than to go to the gym just one day each week.

Develop the discipline to do some kind of intense physical exercise at least two days each week. Work up a sweat and burn some calories. Get your heart racing to strengthen your cardio system.

Investing in your body will have huge payoffs throughout your life. Take time to practice this kind of self-care, even if you have to get up early or stay up a little later.