Boost Your Fitness with Greater Recovery!
More often than not, a health and fitness regime is a two pronged approach: make sure you’re being active, and make sure you’re eating healthily. And following these 2 rules can help anyone to make great progress, however, this narrow focus can miss one of the critical foundations of health and fitness development. A secret not often shared…
Our body has the capacity to grow and positively adapt when our nervous system is in a calm state.
Meaning: you’re body is better prepared and ready to adapt to new challenges (physical and otherwise) when you’re not stressed out!
The nervous system has 2 divisions that can be stimulated:
- More commonly known as the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘feed and breed’ state.
This is a slow system, responsible for controlling homeostasis: the balance and maintenance of the body, ensuring it can function properly. This is when your muscles are relaxed and your body is able to rest and heal. It’s also responsible for the digestion of your food, as well as detoxifying and building immunity. Activating the ‘rest and digest’ nervous system will decrease recovery time after exercise, enhancing your adaptation and getting you ready for your next session sooner.
- More commonly known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.
This is our response to stress: responsible for fast energy and a heightened state of awareness, typically used for fueling our survival in extreme circumstances. Traditionally, this was fighting rival tribes or running from dangerous animals, however, it can be stimulated as a response to the stresses of modern life and when our lives are full of work pressure, financial strain and over stimulation, we can end up in a permanent state of moderate ‘fight or flight’. This state releases adrenaline, which is great when we need it, however it also blocks our ‘rest and digest’ state, diverting energy from healing, and building tissue .
Restoring rest and digest dominance.
Once we understand the difference between the 2 divisions of the nervous system, we can actively try to address the balance. ‘Fight or flight’ will always be there when we need it, but to be in a growth state, we need to cultivate a ‘rest and digest’ dominance.
Here are 7 strategies for restoring balance:
Evaluate your stressors.
Take some time to think through the stresses in your life. Is it feasible to remove some of them? Great! If not, can you truly accept that stress as a part of your life, to try to reduce your reaction towards it?
Sometimes, the impact of stressors on our nervous system can be increased when we are sleep deprived. To reduce our negative reactions, the most impactful intervention on reducing stress is to ensure you are getting a good 7-9 hours sleep.
Even on a good night’s sleep, we can’t remove all external stress. Meditation is another way to decrease our reactivity to stress we can’t control. It helps prevent us from leaping into every stressful thought, as well as reducing our pace of breathing, slowing our hearts, and decreasing our blood pressure: all signs of ‘rest and digest’ activation.
Regular massage really helps to restore nervous system balance. Massage makes us stronger, calmer, and more able to resist infection. Recovery from exercise will also be enhanced by the increased blood flow.
Ask your trainer to help you with some self-massage techniques using a foam roller or massage ball.
Breathing is completely linked to our nervous system. Remember the last time you became stressed and how your breathing rate became shorter and more rapid? Whilst this is an automatic process, we can reverse engineer our ‘fight of flight’ activation by practicing deep breathing.
Try taking 3-5 minutes out to focus on your breath. Inhale for 3 seconds, hold your breath for 5, exhale for 7 and repeat. Try to breathe into your belly instead of your chest.
Like meditation, yoga will heighten your ‘rest and digest’ division of your nervous system, whilst also giving you more resilience to cope with fight or flight activation.
It’s also great for increasing flexibility and balance.
Book into a yoga class at one of our centres and enjoy the focus on yourself.
Can what you eat affect your stress response? Absolutely yes!
Too much sugar, caffeine or alcohol (as well as cigarettes), can produce the ‘fight or flight’ response. Eating real food rather than processed, boosting your vitamin and nutrient intake as well as limiting your daily caffeine, can be highly beneficial to balancing your stress.
Yep, we’ve gone full circle.
It’s not alllll about exercise, but exercise is still very important. In fact, light continuous movement for 30-45 minutes will radically increase your ‘rest and digest’ activation for the next 24 hours.
The key to getting healthy, stress reducing exercise, is to monitor the appropriate scaling of each activity to ensure it suits your current health, function and capacity
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