Exercise, Self-Care, and Finding the Right Balance to Boost Your Overall Wellness

Photo credit: Pixabay.com

Please check out this excellent article by Shiela Olson which explores the delicate balance between pushing yourself to the next level and nurturing yourself at the same time.

– By Sheila Olson of fitsheila.com

You’ve decided you’re ready to stop perpetuating a cycle of sleeping in on weekends, spending weeknights slumped over in your couch, and eating out at greasy burger joints every other meal. You’re ready to live a healthier and happier lifestyle, and you’ve known the answer all along — diet and exercise. Diets aren’t very effective when practiced every other week, and fitness requires you to keep up and even build up the intensity over time.

So, what’s the secret?

The Importance of Prolonging Good Fitness

When someone decides they are ready to start running every day, or some other form of exercise, they typically feel this fire within themselves to keep it up. You go in for your first day, and you feel exhausted, but you also still feel pretty good knowing that you’ve taken your first step at getting healthy. After a few more gym sessions, you notice that you aren’t just tired but also sore, and that goodwill for better living starts to feel a little less compelling.

It’s natural to give it your all the first few times before your mind and body start to naturally resist the transformation that is occurring. It’s the kind of transformation that people from all walks of life seek to make their lives better. It’s why so many recovering addicts start running and bodybuilding. Exercise not only changes how we look on the outside but how we feel on the inside. It reduces stress and boosts positive self-image and confidence.

The process of transformation can be difficult and uncomfortable at times, especially when you’re just starting out, which is why it is important to not overdo it. If you work too hard or put too much emphasis on your physical fitness, you run the risk of burning out and not making the kind of progress you are looking for.

The Meaning Behind Self-Care

Right now, the buzzword of the day seems to be self-care. People are starting to collectively realize that we don’t need to punish ourselves to live our best lives. Exercise shouldn’t be something you dread to do but something you look forward to. To remedy this natural resistance to living healthier and a fitness-oriented lifestyle, people are turning to self-care as a way to supplement diet and exercise and avoid burning out during the process.

One of the ways you can practice self-care is by leaving plenty of rest days in between workouts to give your body time to recover. Recovery is essential to practicing good physical fitness and ensuring you have enough energy to keep going back to grind week after week. Self-care also addresses showing yourself love in alternative ways. Exercise is important for our physical health, but we also need to consider our mental and emotional health as well. Beyond exercise, there are a number of activities you can do, such as meditation, reading a book, or pursuing a hobby, that can all fill a specific need you have in your life.

The Need for Balance in Your Life

When you approach your physical fitness as just one piece of the puzzle, then you can start looking at other ways to enhance your life, while not overdoing your diet and exercise. You won’t just be working hard, you’ll be working smart. You’ll know that there are many activities you can work on to improve your overall well-being. By balancing out these different self-care activities, you will always make yourself better while also keeping a very diverse routine. Some days, you will be focused on your physical fitness, but when you need to rest and recover, you can then switch gears and focus on your mental and emotional health as well.

Once you decide it’s time to make a change, you’ve already started your journey to improve your wellness. You may have attempted to change your life a few times now, but all of those past experiences were just the lead up to this one moment where you finally committed to achieving personal wellness and living your best life.

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Consistency (Updated Post)

As a physician, I am as much a therapist as I am a physical healer, and am well aware of the vital connection between mind, spirit and body. I have also seen how closely linked emotional stress is to development and exacerbation of physical ailments. What concerns me is when people abandon healthy habits during times of adversity, because it is at those times that some structure would provide balance to their lives.

A common question I hear from patients, clients, and strangers I meet is, “How can you maintain a regular exercise schedule and pack your food all the time with your busy careers?”, to which I respond, “I just do it.” Working out and eating right are as essential to me as sleeping and brushing my teeth. It never occurs to me to abandon healthy habits during stressful times. I recently went through a particularly difficult month during which I took a rigorous board certification exam, went through a residential move, and traveled to four destinations (two for my medical career, two for fitness and bodybuilding) over a two week period. Though I didn’t work out my usual six days per week, I did manage to train four to five days per week, every single week. The regular workouts gave me structure and balance which helped me to burn off some of the stress I was under, regulated my sleep cycle, and just plain felt good. In addition, I traveled with clean foods and lots of water, packing them and making sure I stayed on track.

Why would I push myself like this? Because I know that consistency is key to maintaining balance in one’s life. When I am consistent with my workouts and food, I maintain structure and focus and do not allow excuses of an insanely busy schedule to deter me from my mission to live an optimally healthy lifestyle. I know that if I were to deviate from a healthy lifestyle, I wouldn’t have the energy to push through my to-do list, and I certainly wouldn’t be very happy either. No matter whether I am traveling, working, or enjoying a rare free day for myself, I make sure to invest in myself every single day.

When I worked the Arnold Sports Festival Expo in Columbus, Ohio earlier this month, I made sure to drink plenty of water, filling up my one liter container 3 to 4 times each day. I also brought my Hot Logic Mini with me (https://youtu.be/GQltYTRLTC4) and had meals from Icon Meals with me, and I made sure to consume a meal every 3 hours to keep my energy levels up. If you are committed to living a healthy lifestyle, you will find ways to stay in line!

If you make an investment in yourself by being consistent with your exercise and meal habits, you will be rewarded with greater balance in your life and better health. Don’t you deserve that?

Flossing

No, I’m not talking about the urban meaning, i.e., showing off. I’m talking about flossing your pearly whites.

I’m willing to bet that many of you neglect to perform this important task on a regular basis. I am not lying when I tell you that I floss NIGHTLY, and have been doing so for the last two years. Yes, that’s right, not for the last several decades like you might have thought. I got lazy, as many people do, and my gum health suffered as a result. So when my dentist implored me to floss regularly during one visit in June of 2015, I actually heeded his advice and forced myself to re-learn the habit which my mother had gotten me into when I was a child, one which I would follow somewhat erratically as an adult.

Now, before you go thinking that I never flossed, let me just set the record straight by saying that though I wasn’t good about doing it every single day, I still flossed. I would typically be diligent about flossing daily about a week before each dental visit, and for about a month after those visits, but then I’d slack off, perhaps flossing once or twice a week when I remembered to do so. So it wasn’t a surprise that my gums would bleed every time I had my teeth professionally cleaned, and that my dentist would berate me.

Now I will not allow myself to go to sleep before flossing. I won’t even allow myself to brush my teeth at night before grabbing a pre-threaded flosser and going to town on those dental crevices. According to the American Dental Association, we all should clean between our teeth once a day. Why? Because interdental cleaning removes plaque, which is the main causative agent for formation of cavities and development of gum disease.

I personally can’t stand the idea of winding floss around my fingers. The thought of food-laden floss wrapped around my digits makes me squirm. In addition, I contend with forearm tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and arthritis in my dominant (left) hand, and as a result find it very challenging to wield a rope of dental floss. My solution is to purchase the pre-threaded flossers which are available. They’re easy to use and just as effective, provided you use them correctly. When flossing between teeth, gently arc around the column of the tooth to remove any plaque which has built up there.

Happy flossing! Your teeth and gums will thank you for it.

Taking Youth For Granted – Part 2

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Though there are plenty of young people who are fitness-conscious and practice healthy eating habits, there are also many who tempt fate by eating poorly, avoiding exercise and physcial activity, and who party every weekend. When I am at fitness events, I tend to see the fit people, but as a doctor, I see the individuals who don’t know how to take care of their bodies. As an example, I remember seeing one patient who, at the age of 20, was disgusted with herself, and who begged me to give her some advice on how to get in shape quickly and easily. She was about 20 pounds overweight, and it was obvious that she didn’t exercise at all. Her skin was dull and peppered with acne, and her eyes were bloodshot.

I was in the midst of giving the patient general recommendations on eating healthy and getting regular exercise, when she interrupted me. “Ummm, excuse me doc, but I’m not gonna stop eating at Burger King! It’s my daily stop for dinner, and it’s right by my work, so I can just pick it up and eat it in the car before I get home.” I was so stunned that I had to clarify the frequency of her visits with her to make sure I heard her right. Yes, she would visit the Burger King drive-thru every single night after she finished work, and would wolf down a burger in the car because she was always famished from not eating all day. Then she would go home and eat chips while sitting in front of the television. When I told her how unhealthy her eating habits were, she stated, “I don’t see what the big deal is anyway. I mean, I hate vegetables and all that healthy crap other people eat. Besides, I’m young, so it doesn’t even matter!”

That patient wasn’t the only one I have seen who refused to eat right and exercise, but she was particularly stubborn and set in her ways. She walked into that office not wanting me to truly help her, but instead wanted me to give her a prescription for a diet pill so that she could slim down for bikini season. I shook my head and told her that I don’t believe in them, and that I would not give her a prescription, whereupon she hopped off the examination table and said, “Whatever. I thought you were supposed to help people with weight loss shit, but I guess not. See ya.”

When I see young people eating all kinds of crap on a consistent basis, it saddens me, because I know that poor eating habits will have consequences on their health. Nine times out of ten, those same people will hit the clubs on the weekends and go on drinking binges. Some of them don’t even wait until the weekend to get their party on. I can guarantee that people who adopt atrocious habits like these will show signs of age much faster, and will put themselves at a much greater risk for developing diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cancer. Though they may think that their youthfulness protects them, they usually will get a wicked surprise down the line when disease processes begin to rear their ugly heads.

If you want to optimize your health for the long term, make sure to consume healthy food options the majority of the time, limit alcohol consumption, don’t smoke, and get plenty of regular exercise. Those measures can serve as the best insurance policy for wellness as you get older.