The Roman poet Juvenal in his book of poems “Satires X” wrote “Mens sana in corpore sans”. That is latin for “a healthy mind in a healthy body”. For those of us on the quest for truly full living, we must never neglect the importance of having a healthy body. In our daily pursuit to quit the rat race we must always remember to place “Health before wealth”. As I lay here writing I’m reflecting on my own quest to get into the best shape of my life. I like many of you have been less than squeaky clean in my daily habits. Late night eating, those repeated final glasses of wine at that recent event and those “I’ll just work out tomorrow” days leave us all feeling guilty and conflicted. The good news is, it is never too late for a shower of rain. Whilst I am more than a little ways away from attaining Sparta like abs and obliques, I have already been experiencing marked improvement in some very valuable ways (I will give an update on my progress in a future post.)
Many of us are not fully happy with our current physical states and would love to better understand the various areas of impact to reach better physical conditioning. Our bodies are marvelous objects of creation, which with proper understanding and care can be transformed into a most wonderful source of expression and container for our mind and spirit. I will attempt to share with you some of my learnings and research on the topic of physical wellness. These areas include:
Diet– You are what you eat.
The food we eat is broken down by our digestive system to provide energy and nutrients for our body’s many processes and functions. Energy is measured in the form of calories. Therefore each item of food we consume has its caloric count. The source of calories in foods can be further classified into one of three macronutrients. These are:
- carbohydrates (e.g.: grains, juices, sugar, pastry)
- fats (e.g.: animal and plant fats and oils)
- proteins– (e.g.: lean meats, fish, nuts).
It is important to understand the role each of these macronutrients plays. As we go through our day, we require different amounts of calories to execute our tasks. To get the energy to run, walk, talk or dance our bodies use insulin to break down the carbohydrates we eat into their simplest form; glucose. As far as possible we should try to avoid simple carbohydrates. These are the more refined carbs (e.g.: food with flour, sugar, syrups) as these have a higher glycemic index, i.e. are broken down more quickly by the body and rush to the blood stream, spiking our blood glucose levels. Instead, complex carbs (e.g.: ground provision and whole grains) should be substituted as these have a lower glycemic index and convert more slowly into glucose.
To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, we should take in just enough calories to fuel our daily activities. Any unused glucose is converted to glycogen and is then stored in our body as fat cells for future use. However, technology and societal evolution have taken us far beyond the days of eating just to meet our daily needs. In this age of consumerism, convenience and sedentary lifestyles we have been stocking away this surplus of fat at alarming rates. This current generation is the heaviest in history. Some fats especially healthy i.e. unsaturated fats (fish oils, avocado, olive oil) are good for your heart and circulatory system. Proteins provide amino acids, which are needed to build and sustain muscle as well as for repair of damaged tissue.
With this understanding the whole matter of weight loss, gain or maintenance becomes a matter of balancing caloric inputs with caloric needs. To know how much calories you need to maintain your weight, just take your current body weight in pounds and multiply it by 14 and 17. Somewhere in between those 2 amounts will usually be your daily calorie maintenance level. For example, a 180 lb person would do 180 x 14 and 180 x 17 and get an estimated daily calorie maintenance level of somewhere between 2520-3060 calories. If we wish to lose weight, create a caloric deficit. If we want to gain weight, create a caloric surplus. To maintain your weight, simply eat just the right amount of calories. We will explore other nutrients and vitamins in a future post.
Exercise- Get Moving!
It should be no surprise that this point features in this article. Exercise is of prime importance in maintaining a healthy body and fitness level. It is also needed to sustain our muscle integrity (especially important for those of us looking to fight gravity and the effects of aging). Nice tight muscles not only look and feel great, aid us in attracting mates, but also increase our resting metabolic rate (the rate at which our bodies burn and make use of food, while in a resting state). When it comes to exercise, however it should be noted that it is not a one size fits all approach. Whatever you do the key is to just get moving! It is recommended that we get in between 3-5 times per week for approximately 1 hr (give up 1 hr of video games or TV time). This is less than 3% of our time available each week. For my part, to ensure I do it, I treat it as I would an appointment with a client or my boss. Even if I’m not quite up to it, I get dressed and turn up for numero uno!
It would be also instructive to spend a bit of time exploring the general categories of exercise, which should be incorporated in your program; despite whichever specific form it takes. These include:
- Cardiovascular exercise (aerobics)– The goal here is to increase our heart rates and keep it at a safe level above its resting rate for a sustained period. This conditions the heart and circulatory system, making them more efficient at transporting much needed oxygen and nutrients around our bodies. Aerobics is also important for creating the caloric deficit and for burning off excess fat stores. You can explore running, walking, cycling, the elliptical machine and swimming. I personally prefer walking very briskly on the treadmill (gentler on my knees and back than running etc).
- Resistance training– With muscles, you use it or lose it. Use weights, machines or plyometrics (exercises relying on ones body weight & motion) to create resistance for muscles in an attempt to make them stronger, firmer or for them to grow. To develop any muscle, put it to work in a consistent manner. This may also force the muscle fiber to tear in a very minute and harmless manner. The idea is that our bodies will repair this tear with the amino acids from the protein you eat. The body’s natural aim is to become stronger to prevent tears and be prepared for similar loads in the future. I have personally seen good results by training specific body parts once per week on a designated day. I recommend crafting a program to fit your needs and schedule.
- Flexibility training (stretches)– The objective here is to maintain our body’s full range of motion. It pays to be able to bend to reach for that $100 bill you so fortuitously find while running in the morning. Yoga and the stretching exercises are options. Be sure to stretch before and in between exercises.
Sleep and rest
Our bodies like our minds were not meant to do continuos work without breaks. Do not forget one of the most important sessions in Kindergarten, Nap Time… It is when we are asleep that our bodies rejuvenate; replacing cells and repairing damage from the previous day. Without adequate sleep (recommended 8 hours per day) we run the risk of ill health and premature aging. Be kind to your self. Allow your body to mend itself. Similarly, rest days should be strategically interspersed amongst work out days to allow for recovery. This will ensure you are in optimal form and will prevent injury during your workout program. It is also recommended that you take one full week off from exercise every 90 days. This prevents your results from plateauing as your body adjusts to accommodate its new routine.
Stress is really our body’s way of responding to and coping with pressure or unusual circumstances. Just as we have an adrenaline rush when facing imminent danger, so too do our bodies react to the seeming threats and distress of daily life. That approaching deadline, mounting financial woes, relationship challenges, big presentation to the board and impromptu challenge from your coworker as you pitch your big idea to the boss all are read as threats to which our bodies respond. Some amount of stress is healthy and dare I say required. How else would you know to skedaddle and remove yourself from the path of an approaching car. That is stress playing the role of a physicist and reminding you of the impossibility of two objects to occupy the same space at once. The harm occurs when there is no release. After narrowly escaping a hit, your adrenalines subside and you go back to normalcy. However, many of us are walking around in a constant state of fight or flight mode. Though initially unnoticed; over time the effects can be detrimental. Insomnia, physical illness, nervous breakdowns and poor cognition are all attributable to too much stress. Find an outlet… Pick up a hobby (knit grandma a sweater for a change), take that long earned vacation (They will survive without you), take up meditation or yoga (shalom!) or seek professional help to cope (this is 2015, it is the new normal, no need to be superwoman/man).
In summary, it should now be apparent to each of you that when it comes to your physical well-being the following are relevant:
- Consult a physician before you start- ensure you are capable of undertaking your planned routine. Get a check up if necessary to prevent any possible issues/ injuries
- There is no silver bullet- Nothing replaces hard work. (sure the latest water and lettuce diet may cause you to lose weight rapidly, but it is not only unsustainable; it isn’t worth the trip to the ER! Be wary of quick fix solutions. No one element discussed above supersedes the other. All are necessary to be healthy.
- Your physical wellness plan, like your financial independence plan is personal– Ensure your program addresses your specific needs. Whatever form of physical activity you select should be to your liking so it can be sustained. Tailor your routine to meet your needs. A personal trainer can help.
Where are you in your personal quest for physical fitness? Would like to share any tip or advice for those of us on our journey? Do you have a question on this topic? Please leave your comment or question below.