…or why we all could do with relaxing a little bit more, about everything!
We are very pleased to announce that Xen-Do now offers a “resident” health expert on board: Louise O’Driscoll.
Louise will help provide advice to our existing students on the benefits of health eating & leading a healthy lifestyle.
This is Xen-Do’s first members’ newsletter and my first article for it – as a health coach I have so much to say about the ways in which we can live more healthily that it was a challenge to narrow it down to an introductory piece. But when I think about all the aspects of the work I do with clients, most of them usually boil down, one way or another, to stress. So I decided to start with Master Raf’s own consistent reminder when we are training…no, not when he yells ‘Stop crying, I don’t care if it hurts!’, the other one; ‘Relax, slow down, breathe‘. For the majority of us, it would be useful to have a mini Master Raf on our shoulder all day, uttering these words, because most of us are living in a constant state of low level stress and the ways in which this affects our health are innumerable. This, for me, makes it a great first place for us all to bring more awareness to living healthily.
Stress is a crucial aspect of our being – in caveman times it would have helped us escape predators, today it enables us to step up to the plate when we need to get challenging things done without crumpling into a tearful heap. Our bodies are designed to produce cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ for a short period of time, to get us through the immediate crisis, after which it should naturally drop back down. However, too often, our days are a series of stressful events – a typical day may involve getting several children fed and off to school, navigating the commute to work, drinking large quantities of caffeine, working under time pressure, exercising madly, grabbing a sugary snack, rushing home, sorting out domestic tasks, eating rushed meals, catching up with our emails and collapsing into bed where we may then, seemingly strangely, given our exhaustion, struggle to sleep. Living like this means our cortisol levels stay elevated and we exist in a chronic low-level stress response. This can physically manifest itself in headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, rapid breathing, lack of sex drive, digestive problems, weight problems (especially belly fat), anxiety, lack of motivation, irritability, restlessness, low mood, substance abuse, over or under-eating and social withdrawal. Left unchecked longer term, it leads to high blood pressure, heart disease, fertility problems, obesity, diabetes, strokes, depression, insomnia, a low immune response and cancer. There is almost no disease or health complaint in which stress cannot play an aggravating role, or any part of the body which is not affected by it – THAT is how significant a problem it is – forget having a fantastic diet and exercise regime, if you live in this state of being then it pretty much defeats the whole object.
Obviously we can’t eliminate all sources of stress from our lives, but there are some easy areas to reduce it.
Eating – my starting point with clients is almost always not what, but how they eat. Most of us eat far too quickly and very often with a lack of awareness. We grab food on the run, eat in the car, at our desks, in front of the TV, demolishing whatever it is without properly tasting or enjoying it. When we eat this way, we skip a crucial step in the whole process of digestion and metabolism (the bit that begins in the mind, when we anticipate what we are about to eat), and we put our body in a mild stress response. The stress response optimises our brain function and primes our body to act quickly, to fight or run. Digestion and metabolism aren’t important when we are in this fight or flight mode, so it is as if switched to a lower setting, meaning we don’t get the maximum benefit from the food. The simple act of pausing, relaxing, removing distractions and bringing attention to enjoying a meal can make all the difference to the way our body processes it. The result will be quicker recognition of when we have eaten enough, less stored fat, more muscle retention, better digestive function, improved absorption of nutrients and very importantly, a heightened sense of pleasure and satisfaction, which also reduces the chances of us feeling hungry again shortly after a meal. So practice taking time out for meals, sit away from your desk, preferably outside with your lunch, at a table for dinner and go slow!
Exercise – I love exercise, particularly kickboxing, but it is easy to get carried away with the idea that more is better. When we exercise we are subjecting our bodies to stress, tearing muscle fibres, stretching ligaments, pushing our cardiovascular system to its limits. Technically this isn’t what makes us fitter though – we actually get stronger and fitter after the workout, when our body rests, recovers from its experience in the gym or dojo and rebuilds itself stronger, so always allow recovery time. Keep in mind that if you are hurting the day after a tough workout, pushing through to do another one, telling yourself you will feel fine after you warm up, isn’t necessarily the best plan. The body’s natural painkillers, endorphins, produced when you exercise, are one hundred times more powerful than morphine – so you may well feel high ok ten minutes into a session, but make no mistake, your body is strongly self-medicating and the risk of injury (or at best, even more pain returning after your workout) is considerable. So listen to your aches and pains, take a day of active rest, a walk, a swim, maybe some yoga – your body will thank you for it and you will see faster improvements in your fitness and performance.
Powerful substances – alcohol, sugar, caffeine. Most of us consume one or all of these on a regular basis and their effects should not be underestimated. The response they provoke in the pleasure receptors in our brains keep us coming back for more and they play havoc with our hormonal balance, interfering with the natural rise and fall of cortisol and therefore our stress levels. Whilst I don’t believe in banning any of them completely, cutting them down or out for a week or two can be a surprising experiment. You may experience some pretty horrible withdrawal symptoms and if so its an indication that you may be over reliant on their ability to keep you going through the day, or in the case of alcohol, helping you to relax at night (though it will then often be the culprit that has you wide awake at 4am). If this is the case then think about cutting them down or eliminating them on a more permanent basis.
Relaxation – frequently, we don’t allow ourselves time in our day to relax and the effect of this on our stress levels is considerable. Relaxation means different things to different people but we would all benefit not just from making some space to do it, preferably every day, but by taking every opportunity we can, no matter how short. It could be a walk outside, doing yoga, taking a hot bath, reading a book, sitting outside with a cup of tea or 5-10 minutes meditation. Just slowing the mind, observing our lives as if from an outside point of view for a little while, can help calm and re-energise us, bringing cortisol levels right down. Make a list of all the things that relax you and think how about how you can fit at least one into every day. Prioritise tasks, if something can wait until tomorrow, leave it and choose a ten minute break to chill out rather than pushing on through, when we are stressed, we often place too much importance on keeping going, ticking off the ‘to do ‘ list when the reality is, some things can wait, the list will never all be done and your health is much more important. If necessary, add ‘relax and breathe’ to every day’s list!
This article is based on opinion:
– the author is not a qualified doctor or anyone who can dispense medical advice.
– any opinions stated are just that and people should consult a doctor before making any dietary changes or changes of any nature prompted by the articles published by or on behalf of Xen-Do.
– under 16’s please obtain parental permission before posting anything online.
– any opinions stated are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of Xen-Do.