The words Health and Fitness are often used interchangeably but is there a difference? Can a person be Fit but not healthy? Often we are too quick to judge health by external appearances.
Just because someone looks good in the mirror it does not make them healthy
Bodybuilders often struggle with bad digestive problems and constipation due to excessive protein consumption and supplementation. Cyclists can have serious mobility problems due to prolonged seated positions and ultimately muscle shortening.
Many Sportsmen and women consume excessive amounts of simple carbs that are damaging to both the body and the brain due to a process known as glycation. Many athletes suffer from the strains of competition resulting in depression, and peer pressure can lead to terrible unhappiness.
In my opinion you can have a good level of fitness but still be unhealthy. Organ health is far more important than muscular-skeletal health, the Paralympics is a superb example of this.
You can survive without a leg or an arm but see how far you get without your liver!
In order to live a happy and healthy life we need to look at our lives holistically. We need to combine not only the Physical but the Mental and Emotional too! I approach personal training from 3 Natural Angles: Movement, Nutrition and the Mind.
Here’s how it all breaks down:
Are you managing your stress? Stress causes hormonal reactions in the body that literally over power everything from fat loss to sleep. When I work with clients my first priority is always Stress.
The body reacts to stress in the same way no matter what the simulant may be, whether it’s Physical Stress, Mental Stress, Emotional Stress, Chemical Stress etc. So whether you are worried about losing your job, drink too much coffee or work in an environment with lots of pollution the stress on your body is the same.
Stress accumulates until you can take no more and that’s when diseases starts to occur. Generally if you are slow to heal, suffer from lots of injuries, catch colds frequently or struggle to put on muscle mass you are suffering from stress related issues. Time to chill out!
The best way to combat stress is to address your largest cause of stress first. Put together a tick list of everything that stresses your out. Don’t forget all the different types of stress listed above. Arrange your list in order of biggest to smallest and then address each one. You will usually find that by addressing your biggest stresser first that things improve quite quickly!
Do you understand what really matters to you? Try to lead your life fighting your true values and you will lead a life of resistance and constant struggle.
When I first started as a Personal Trainer I thought that exercise had all the answers. Later I discovered that exercise was only one small part and that nutrition was far more important. Finally I realised that both exercise and nutrition don’t mean a thing unless you get the mind in order. Why do you think people make excuses to avoid exercise or eat well? Why do most diets and exercise programs only last for weeks or only a few months? The answer lies in our Values.
For many people they do not Value exercise or Nutrition as an important part of their Values. Your Values are at the centre of every decision you make. They are fundamental. So when an exercise or nutrition program is thrust upon people by the media then their is often a conflict of values. The only true way to succeed is to first discover your values and then live in accordance with them.
For example one of my core values is: Autonomy. I need to be in charge of my own time and govern how I spend it. If I go against this value and try working for someone else then I struggle. Another one of my Values is: Health. Unless I can exercise and eat well I’m not happy so arranging my schedule to allow for this is very important.
If your Values don’t include Health, Wellness or Fitness then you need to find someway to anchor health to one of your other values. For example if friendship is one of your values then spending time with friends hiking or cycling could be a solution. If adventure is a value then going on active holidays is also a good choice. If Education is a value then going on a cookery or language course could be a step in the right direction.
Take some time to think about what and who inspires you. Often the people that inspire us share the same value or values. Start making a list of these values. Be honest with yourself. Once you have a long list of values arrange them into order from strongest to weakest. Next compare your life to your most strongest values. How do they match up? If your life and values don’t match up their will always be an internal conflict. Start making some changes.
The body is governed by natural laws inherent in all of us. Do you get to bed on time? Adjust your diet according to the seasons?
We have evolved to sleep and rise with the sun. Hormonal changes happen during the day that result in a cascade of reactions throughout the body. When we rise with the sun cortisol levels are at their highest. The morning should be action time. Our ancestors would have been up and hunting early. As we move through the day cortisol levels drop, until finally at night cortisol is at it’s lowest point before sleep. During sleep anabolic hormones are released to heal tissue damage.
The natural cycle of stimulation in the morning and relaxation in the afternoon and evening is frequently disrupted by stimulants like coffee or bright lights in the evening or late sleeping patterns.
Get to bed on time. Try to get head on pillow by 10:30pm. Wind down in the evening by reading and relaxing. Don’t watch TV in bed or minutes before sleep. Dim lights to reduce of stimulation
Most people don’t rest enough. They think they are resting while watching TV but this is often not the case. Rest and recovery affects all aspects of life, both body and mind. You should plan recovery periods into your life just the same as you plan active periods. If you exercise a lot then you need to rest a lot in order to recover. If you are stressed a lot then you need to rest, perform some mediation and free your mind more often.
If we look at Taoist Philosophy then exercise can be classed as the Yang and rest as Yin. Both must be of equal measure or there will be problems.
Work rest into your timetable. Consider meditation, tai chi, yoga, walking in nature, quietly reading, or having a regular massage.
Are you doing what you want to do in life? Nothing enlivens the spirit more than achieving something you really want in life. Setting goals and having dreams is an important part of being happy. Once you set a clear goal and commit it to paper something special happens. That written down goal starts to communicate with your sub-conscious. It gives it something to work on. Sometimes we don’t have all the answers but once a goal is written down and thought about things start to happen.
A simple goal setting method is to think about the future. Dream about what you want in 5 years time. Imagine everything: how you look, feel and what your world will be like. Commit all this to paper.
Don’t think about constraints or ways of achieving your goals, just dream. Once your 5 year image is clear then you can work backwards. What skills will you need to get there? How much time commitment? Do you need more money? Break the 5 year plan up into manageable chunks. I like to think: 5 years, 3 years, 1 year, 6 months, 3 months, 1 month, and then weekly. Now you have your 5 year road map. You can plan every week month and year in order to achieve that 5 year plan.
Nothing feels better than knowing every day you are getting closer to your goal. That is a true feeling of happiness!
We are all different on the inside just as we are different on the outside. The idea that a “one diet fits all” is totally ridiculous. Many of us now suffer with food intolerance’s. Some people can tolerate Gluten others can’t. Some struggle with dairy and are lactose intolerance others aren’t. Some are totally allergic to foods like nuts. Some of us require more fat and protein in their diet and others require more carbs. Do you think a builder or manual laboured requires the same amount of protein as a journalist?
The climate also has a large part to play in the food and drink you eat. Generally we eat more fat and protein during the winter months and more salads (high in water content) and carbohydrates during the summer.
You can also look at your ancestry to get a better idea of the foods that may better suit you as an individual. According to Weston A Price those of use originating from close to the equator are more suited to carbohydrate based foods and those in much colder climates are suited better to Fat and Protein.
Discovering your own food and drink identity is about discovering what works best for you. Try foods and see what reaction you have to them. Do you feel energised? Full for longer periods? Do you have bloating or constipation? Finding your individual diet is about listening to your body and through a process of elimination discovering what is right for you.
Do you eat food that you have evolved to eat? Or are you eating processed, sugar enriched foods that have been designed to make people rich but you physically poor.
The healthier the food the healthier the body
Although the mind has advanced at an incredible rate the human digestive system is still fairly primitive. In essence we should only eat whole foods. Foods that come from nature. Foods that bring life into the body and not take it away.
Allergens are causing big problems today, as are stimulants like caffeine and sugar. My advice is to keep your nutrition simple and bare in mind your natural individuality.
Be very careful with the following foods:
Stimulants: Sugar, Caffeine and Alcohol all cause huge hormonal responses within the body. Give your nerves and blood sugar a break and keep these foods to a minimum.
Gluten: An alarming amount of people are intolerant of gluten causing problems from bloating and depression to a leaky gut and arthritis. Avoid all wheat from breads to pasta.
Dairy: Another allergen, many people lack the enzyme Lactase that is required to break down the milks sugar lactose. Anyway cows milk is meant for baby cows not humans.
Are you jacked up on coffee, and energy drinks all day because you lack natural energy? Do you give your body what it really needs like 2 litres of clean water?
We come from nature, we are nature! Have you tried watering a plant with Coke or an energy drink? The only drink that we should be consuming is water. In the Body’s Many Cries for Water, Dr. Batmanaheldj discusses how we are often not hungry but thirsty, as we can extract water from foods and the signals are often confused.
Drink a minimum of 2 Litres of water a day. Glass bottled spring water is best, but if you can’t find this don’t deny yourself. In the UK a lot of the tap water is good enough to drink either filtered or not.
How do you prepare your food? Do you destroy it with microwaves or turn good fats rancid by overheating natural oils.
Eating whole live food is important but the way you prepare the food can have a drastic effect on the nutrients and how they get absorbed by your body.
Avoid Microwaves: microwaves work by rapidly oscillating the molecules of the food, this ultimately changes the molecule structure of the food and makes it unrecognisable to the body. There was an interesting recent study performed by a school girl who watered 2 identical plants one with cooled boiled water and the other from cooled microwaved water. Within days the plant watered by the microwaved water was starting to wilt and die.
Eat Raw: Raw food is always a good option, try to eat a good portion of your daily food raw.
Steam: I’m crazy about steaming food. Steaming preserves a lot of the nutrients and is far better than boiling.
Boiling: Boiling foods leaches most of the nutrients into the water. If you do boil then use the water for soups and stocks.
Fry: Shallow fry with stable fats like coconut oil, butter, lard, and ghee.
Slow Cook: Another of my favourite cooking methods. Buy a slow cooker and add your ingredients and leave for the day for a ready prepared meal after work
Do you know where your food comes from? The healthier the food the healthier it is for you. Do you think sick animals that have been filled with drugs make good building blocks for your body?
I’m a great believer in buying organic food. I know many argue that the nutrient value is the same but I have to disagree. Good foods come from good soils. Soils that are over used and destroyed with chemicals do not make a good foundation for food. Remember that the soil is alive. You can’t make healthy foods from dead soils.
I also don’t like to eat all my vegetable with a serving on chemicals sprayed all over them. Many think that washing the vegetables removes chemicals but these chemical are designed to withstand water otherwise rain would remove all the chemicals from the plants.
How did you develop as a child? Can you still move around like you used to? Are you limited in what you can and can’t do now?
From the moment babies are born they are working to develop stability. We all know how flexible babies are but they lack joint stabilisation strength. First the baby develops strength in the neck as they support their own head. Later they mange to push up from the prone position in order to look around. Next they start to roll from prone to supine. Later they crawl, squat, stand and finally walk. The whole process is a miracle.
Babies EARN their strength and stability we don’t give it to them
Now look at the way we train today. People ignore the stabilising muscles. Machines take stabilisation out of exercise, concentrating only on prime mover muscles that look good in the mirror but can’t stabilise a joint in daily life. Many people due to sedentary lifestyles lack even the fundamental stability that they earn as a child. It’s no surprise that people get injured during exercise.
For many clients I have to go back to the beginning. I have to teach people to earn their joint stability again. Many people can’t crawl, roll or squat anymore.
I like to keep movement simple. The body is designed to move economically. We don’t just push with our arms but our core muscles and legs too. For the majority of fitness purposes we want to utilise as many muscles as possible, this ensures maximum strength development, growth hormonal stimulation and energy expenditure.
Paul Chek was the first to popularise a form of movement patterning that ensured movements were performed naturally. When we look at the way the body has evolved certain movements become clear:
Squating: think about sitting onto the toilet or intro a chair. Ensure the thighs break parallel with the floor to achieve maximum glute engagement
Lunging: whenever you walk up steps or take long deep strides you are lunging. You can lunge in all directions forwards, backwards, sideways or diagonally
Deadlifting: if you correctly pick something up off the ground with a nice flat back then you are deadlifting
Pushing: you can either push things forwards in front of you or push them overhead
Pulling: similar to pushing, you can pull things in front of you closer or pull yourself upwards like when climbing a tree
The above movements can be made more difficult by adding rotation or by using one arm or leg. When you exercise it is usually a good idea to utilise all of the above movement patterns this way no muscle is left untouched and the body is balanced beautifully.
How do you look in the mirror? Is your posture good? How much energy do you think a bad posture requires to maintain balance? Is it time you stretched out and stopped training only the front of your body.
In a world of chairs, desks, laptops and sofa’s, many of us have developed dreadful posture. The Kyphotic Upper Back is starting to get seen everywhere as the upper back continues to flex forwards and the head gravitates forwards to compensate.
What makes matters worse is that most people are addicted to forward flexion exercises like Crunches, Cycling Machines and Chest Exercises.
More time needs to be spent correcting the bad posture that gravity and a day of sitting causes. Here is a simple method you can try:
- Ensure you divide all your workouts between equal Pushing and Pulling Movements
- Squats and Press Ups are Pushing movements. Deadlifts and Rows are Pulling movements
Stretching can really feel good but you need to question how much you should stretch. Spending 10 minutes 3 times per week will never correct a tight muscle that is held in a shortened position due to sitting for 8 hours per day. In order to really make gains in stretching you need to treat stretching as a separate programme. Stretching for 3-4 times per day will yield much better results.
Stretching is highly neurological. You need to make corrections to the neurological system in order to make lasting change. PNF stretching is effective but only short term.
Start to divide your workouts based on pushing and pulling patterns, this will ensure that you balance out your body equally. Stretch only tight areas but ensure you stretch more often and only the areas that require attention. Stretching every muscle the same will only increase your overall imbalance.
Do you suffer from back pain? Do you have bad knees? Do your shoulders hurt? The ability to move through all joints is fundamental for a pain free life.
Strength Coach Mike Boyle wrote an excellent article on a Joint by Joint approach to the body. As you look at the stack of joints from bottom to top you notice an interesting pattern:
- Foot – Stable Joint
- Ankle – Mobile Joint
- Knee – Stable Joint
- Hip – Stable & Mobile Joint
- Lower Back (Lumbar Spine) – Stable Joint
- Upper Back (Thoracic Spine) – Mobile Joint
- Shoulder – Stable & Mobile Joint
- Neck (Cervical Spine) – Mobile Joint
Notice how mobile joints and stable joints alternate? So the Foot and Knee stay stable while the Ankle provides all the movement. The Lower Back remains stable while the Hips and Upper Back move freely.
The above pattern is how things should work. But what happens if the Ankle is stiff from an injury or tightly laced footwear? What happens is the knee or foot is forced to be more mobile than it should be, and this causes problems. Knee problems are all too common due to a lack of ankle mobility. Lower back problems are due to a lack of hip and Upper back mobility. Shoulder problems are common due to lack of Upper back mobility.
Keeping the joints mobile that should be mobile is vital to avoid punishing all those joints that should just remain stable.
Spend time as often as possible working on the mobility of the joints that should be mobile: Ankles, Hips, Upper Back and Neck. Never work into pain just try to increase their range of movement.
Do you exercise too much or too little? Are you exercising from the inside out? Is the exercise you perform right for you or some model in a magazine?
Exercise needs to begin at the centre. You need to provide your body with a stable platform. The stronger and more stable your Core muscles the less injuries you will receive and the more powerful and efficient you will be.
Here is a simple progression that I believe ever exerciser should go through:
- Develop your Inner Core Muscles – these muscles include the TVA (Transverse Abdominus), Pelvic Floor, Diaphragm, and Multifidus. Together these muscle form a compression chamber that keeps your spine safe and stable.
- Strengthen the Outer Core Muscles – these are the more popular muscles and include the Internal & External Obliques, Rectus Abdominus, Quadratus Lumborum, Latisimus Dorsi, Erector Spinae, Glutes. Once these are strong you have a stable platform for your limbs to work from.
- Start with Bodyweight through 3 Planes – next work through the fundamental movement patterns listed under Natural Movement. Make sure you address all 3 planes of movement: Forwards and Backwards (Sagittal), Side to Side (Frontal), and Rotational (Transverse).
- Begin with High Reps – connective tissue takes a lot longer to condition than muscle so take it easy at first. Keep the load low and the reps high. I would recommend 20 reps to start.
- Start to Add Load – finally you can start to load the Fundamental Movement Patterns and begin to lower the Reps. Spend 6 weeks at 20 reps, 4 weeks at 8 – 15 reps and 4 weeks at 1-8 reps
How much of this Health & Fitness checklist can you truly say you are doing right now?
Love to hear your comments below…..