Time to put your health first!
With the current COVID-19 pandemic, here’s a reminder people, put your health first!
I’ll get straight to it, unless something changes, we’re all f**ked. This was written originally before the world was on lockdown due to COVID-19, but I’ve updated it, as it’s now probably more relevant than ever. If you heard that only those with “underlying health issues” were more at risk, and had a bit of a panic, you’re not alone. I’ve seen lots of questions this week, generally about “how healthy do you need to be for this not to apply?”.
Ask yourself, could you do more for your health? Not your abs, not just your fitness, but your health? Because let’s be honest, when the chips are down, that’s what really matters to everyone.
Lucky for you, you’re reading this, and therefore its now up to you. Will you go with the flow, keep the same routine, and then when the chips are down, know you could have done more,?
Or do you use this as a wake up call. Take note, make a change and improve your overall health and life.
This post will cover a part of the problem. How our lives current lead to this “health last” attitude. But also, I’ll provide a solution. So sit back, get brave, take responsibility, and when this is done, come out of it a healthier, and all around better person.
Harsh? Maybe, but true, because if you’re not putting your health first, you’re not doing any favours. FOR ANYONE. So don’t try to justify it.
The thing is, life has changed so much over the past few decades. Mainly in awesome ways, but a few elements of this have left us overweight and/ or unhealthy.
Here’s the killer points (so to speak)-
1. Activity- you know this, but we don’t exercise enough.
2. Stress- you know this, but you don’t see the MASSIVE physiological health impact this has.
3. Sleep- blatant lack of it, regardless of how much of a “warrior” you think you are.
4. Food- you know this, our diet is poor. Our attempts to make it healthy are often even worse!
Get these aspects wrong, and heart disease, diabetes, and multiple other long term disorders are far more likely to have a devastating impact.
Where does COVID-19 fit into this? For a start, compromised health is never a good place to be when fighting this type of virus. But honestly, that moment you stopped for a second, and realised that you should be doing more. That’s where it fits. I honestly wish you absolute safety for you and loved ones throughout this time, but if it helps you to make a change regarding other risks we don’t think about day to day, well maybe that’s a glimmer of hope.
Here’s a little more detail, but more importantly, your potential solution to this complex, integrated problem of failing health.
Activity (and the lack thereof)
It amazes me more and more every time I hear the old “I don’t have time to work out” excuse. Crazy really. We know that in general, we don’t do enough exercise. We need to do more activity out of the gym too! Most of us sit working for long periods of time, meaning we burn less calories in a day. This give our body the opportunity to burn very little, and start to build all of the metabolic and physical issues that are now commonplace- low energy, physical pain, high BP, poor blood sugar control, high resting HR, obesity.
And to make things worse, the “solution” may be adding to the problem. Look at the list of issues- now, for someone starting at this point, if the exercise approach as I often hear is to “go all out” (the approach taken by many so called personal trainers- luckily here at FX we know better) then this leads to higher injury risk, more physical pain, less energy, increased BP, and all sorts of acute issues.
The fact is, that sitting all day, getting mentally exhausted at work, dreading the gym, getting to the gym with low energy, smashing a session, increasing physical pain, going home, not sleeping, feeling you’re incapable because you felt so shitty during the workout, and repeating it, all so you can tell yourself well done- isn’t going to help you to make a real change. And that brings us nicely onto our next area to be aware of- stress.
Stress is undoubtedly linked to all sorts of illnesses and issues, but lets focus on the metabolic issues. We are evolved perfectly to have our stress response work to prepare us to run away from the lion, chase and catch our food, or fight over the remote*. But we’re clever. Our stress response see’s danger and prepares us for activity via chemical and hormonal changes acting on us- increased Blood pressure, increased heart rate, and more in preparation for this intense burst of energy.
Here’s the problem, when you last got a massive stress response, chances are, it was to an email, or a meeting, or traffic. Not something that required a burst of intense activity. Unfortunately, our body struggles to differentiate the two when it comes to stress, so this preparation to work hard isn’t dealt with by physical work, and our body needs to kick the opposite into action to then control this response. The thing is, several times a day, for months on end, leads to a chronically stressed individual- which means a lot, but the key point is that this individual is far more likely to be physically and mentally unhealthy, in pain, less productive, and unhappy.
So, how do we manage this? There’s some great ways, such as meditation, organisation, and being realistic about how much you’re able to do. Then some less productive ways- namely, comfort food.
Here’s something you should really pay attention to with regards to food and our diet in general- and if comfort food is your go to, it only makes the issue worse. And not to mention that stress can really F. up your sleep. Here’s why that’s disastrous.
*I’m not going to state the obvious here…..
“I can’t sleep until this is sorted”. “Nope. I can’t get this done if I’m asleep!”. “I manage off 5 hours a night!”. “What do you mean you’re not up until 8am!?”.
We neglect sleep. Sometimes its due to stress, and not deliberate. That happens, and short term, we’re ok with it. We just need to make sure we put things in place. manage the stress, get more sleep.
The other time we miss sleep is simply going against everything your body want, and DECIDING to sleep less. It’s almost seen as a positive. Only sleeping a few hours is seen by some as showing you’re a grafter. You put in the work. But guess what.. it’s not helping you to work better. It’s not helping you to be more productive. And it sure as sh** isn’t helping your health. And that’s not even mentioning the increased risk of sudden death when you’re sleep deprived, that for another day.
For today, let’s stick to health.
You see, not getting enough sleep isn’t good. The urge to squeeze in the extra Netflix episode, or to wake up before you’re ready every morning with a screaming alarm has consequences.
It’s going to increase your appetite throughout the day, making healthy eating FAR more difficult. In addition, it will make you tired, and lethargic, making you want to work out and move less. It’s going to make you less focused for key tasks.
Not only this, but it’s going to change your physiology. Even if you work out, it’s less effective- high strain, low adaptation. Even if you’re “working” more, it’s going to make you spend more time on the same tasks, making mistakes, unable to hit your flow. You’ll waste time and energy, feeding back into this idea of “do more work”. It’s a vicious cycle.
And it’s going to change how you’re body processes food, fights illness, perceives situations, and more. A sleep deprived you is NOT going to make for a happy, relaxed, focused, loved, healthy and successful you. Not in the long run.
Make no mistake, lack of sleep is a killer, even if it’s more subtle than the rest.
Let’s be honest, as a society- our diet is pretty horrendous. We eat foods that are literally made to make you want to eat more than you need. In addition, they’re generally difficult for your body to cope with- high salt, high sugar, high fat, and can cause all sorts of digestion issues. And even worse the nutrient density of these foods is generally low, leading to deficiencies in various areas. This combination of low nutrient density, high calorie density, abundance of food, and the psychology of great advertising campaigns for junk food is making us fat.
And here’s another HUGE issue in the context of food- most of the advice you get on what’s important is probably not right for you. Go vegan? Go Carnivore? Just get the numbers and you’ve nothing else to consider?
All of these approaches are over simplified- great if the underlying advice is right for you- not so much if it doesn’t solve your problem. For example, a low carb diet may be great for someone who consumes an abundance of carbs a day and uses this advice to cut out a lot of junk foods- not so good for someone who see’s this as advice to cut out fruit and veg, but live off unlimited burgers and Bacon.
In general, people buy into a diet type (maybe based on bad advice), often falling between either a diet that’s too low on energy density, too low on nutrient density or generally unsustainable for other reasons, leading to the “diet” being dreaded*.
This leads to the “I can’t lose weight” attitude- leading to helplessness- leading to the lack of activity because “what’s the point?”….. leading to increased stress…. And so on.
*As a side note, I was told not to use the word diet when I was first studying nutrition, as it puts people off wanting to lose weight….. come on, really? Yes a “diet” may sound tough, but it will also help you to get control of your health, happiness, performance, and body. It’s not something to fear or avoid!
Now, the combined impact on health.
Activity, stress, sleep and nutrition are ALL crucial in health, and all impact each other. Exercise is a form of stress, but with a little planning, can be an awesome tool to improve health. Exercise can also help to manage stress and improve sleep. Or done differently, it can have the opposite effect. And of course, nutrition can’t be completely seperated from exercise. How much you do will directly impact how much, and what types of food you’re body needs.
So, stress. Stress impacts nutrition- how we digest food, what foods we want, our metabolism, and more. Exercise can help to manage stress and metabolism, but high stress will have an impact on exercise performance and RECOVERY AND ADAPTATION. And stress is going to mess up your appetite, both through habit and physiology. And with stress, well high stress, low sleep, high sleep, easier to hit low stress (to a point).
Sleep then? We’ve discussed this briefly, but here’s the crux. Sleep well, be more likely to exercise, perform well with exercise, and recover from it. Be more realistic about situations- less emotion driven, and more rational, allowing you to both practically and perceptually improve stress levels. And again, good sleep wont neccessarily fix your appetite, digestion and metabolism, but you can be confident a lack of it will mess it up.
Ok last one, nutrition. Nutrition can reduce sleep quality and duration. It can reduce overall health via obesity and diabetes considerations. It can ramp up stress and sympathetic drive. AND IT CAN DO THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF ALL OF THESE.
Now we know, let’s fix it. Put health first!
It’s all linked- so let’s start to appreciate that fact a little more.
The above may all sound like doom and gloom, but the solution is generally pretty simple. Exercise, sleep enough, eat appropriately and manage stress.
This is where the usual “how the hell do you expect me to do that with ………?!”.
If that’s your response- go back to the start, and re read this article. Your current approach is probably leading you down a dark path…. Now is the time to change.
Activity– make exercise a priority every day- even just a short walk- 10-15 minutes when you wake up in a morning. If you can add some aerobic training and resistance training in too then great- but don’t guess when it comes to exercise. Get some advice and go from there.
Stress– take a step back… what tasks are essential, and what are adding to your stress that can be managed better or passed to someone else? Make sure you set aside time for yourself to relax (it’s ok to be selfish sometimes), sleep enough, meditate, and start to view controlling stress as a key part of your health.
Sleep– get a bedtime routine. If possible, play to your physiology as to late nights and early mornings, but aim for a solid 8 hours of sleep. Try to wake up several times a week without an alarm. Use daylight in the morning to help you to wake up, and be mindful of artificial light and stimulants late in the evening (P.S. at different points, your physiology will shift as to what time you want to sleep, so cut your teenagers some slack for sleeping later than you!).
Nutrition– start to understand your food a little better. Appreciate the value of both the energy AND the nutrients in food- control calories by choosing nutrient dense foods and do this alongside consuming appropriate macronutrients. Eating a vegetarian diet with meat on the side, and calories somewhere reasonable is probably a great place to start.
Final Point on putting your health first
Here at FX, all of these areas are key considerations for us, and taking an individual approach using our proven systems is guaranteed to get you great results.
Results are never just about the training programme, or the diet, or the stress management, or the sleep. Real results, game changing results, are about all of it. That’s how you level up your health long term.
Sure, we have tools for this. The gym itself, sleep trackers, food trackers, mediation apps, yoga classes. All useful tools, but at the end of the day, that’s all they are. Tools, and without them, you can still make amazing progress by implementing the advice above.
Times are tough at the minute, and I honestly wish you all the best for the coming months. But If you’ve seen some mistakes you’re making by not putting health first, please take this opportunity to make a change. We’re here to help.
If you’re ready to make a change to your health, physique or performance, simply fire me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will help you to get started on your journey.
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Josh Kennedy MSc, ASCC, CSCS
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