Reduce Stress And Improve Your Health
Let me tell you the story of a recent client, Grant, to help illustrate a few simple processes that will have dramatic impacts on all aspects of your health. Grant came to my studio one Thursday afternoon after work. His head was spinning like a roulette table, and he explained to me that he had a ‘to-do’ list that looked more like a Christmas food shopping list.
He was overwhelmed, and he didn’t really know where to start. Grant drank alcohol at the end of work, found himself making poor food choices, his joints ached, he was heavier than ever and he was getting stressed about getting stressed!
It was time to take action.
Before I lay out the exact strategies that I used with Grant its worth noting that within 6 weeks his blood pressure went from hypertensive to almost optimal, he lost 18 lbs of body fat, 22 inches around his body including 6 off his waist. It didn’t stop here; he continued to lose fat in the remaining 6 weeks of his programme and lost over 2 stone (28 lbs.). Oh, and in that time Grant bought a house, entered a triathlon and continued to run his own business. So I didn’t lock him in solitary confinement to get the results!!
The first step is to reduce stress. A stressed body is unlikely to lose body fat and keep it off. Stress comes in many forms and is very well illustrated by Seth Godin, author of The Dip, with his stress bucket. This very simply illustrates that stress comes in various forms and if you continue to fill up your bucket, you will eventually overflow resulting in a relapse and sickness.
Simply adding the strategies below, without removing certain stressors, is likely to increase stress. For example adding high intensity training to your already excessive training volume is not optimal; it is much like adding supplements to a poor diet.
MATT’s THREE TIERED APPROACH TO REDUCING STRESS & IMPROVING HEALTH
I. Reduce & Remove
Remove before you add! What do I mean, often people want to jump straight in to their latest goal, training every day or adding time to each session. Unfortunately, if you don’t remove stress first, you will be running with the brakes on. Removing stressors is not just about nutrition, it’s not all about lifestyle, it’s not just reducing or adding exercise, it’s a more holistic approach and an integration of efficient and proven principles, rather than chasing the latest fad.
By adding a few specific principle-based approaches to your life, you too can experience dramatically improved quality of life and daily function.
Once you have got these systems in place you are ready to attack any challenge that life may throw at you. Whether it is a daily chore that used to wear you out or that ‘thing’ you have been meaning to do for years, now you are ready!
I. REDUCE NUTRITIONAL STRESS
Clean, Whole, Naturally Sourced – The Way Things Should Have Been
I am an advocate of the Elimination style of nutrition. I was first introduced to this approach by my mentor and coach Dax Moy. In a nutshell (no pun intended), this system removes known or suspected sources of intolerance. Many of the most common illnesses and pathologies could be reduced if not eradicated by using such simple protocols. Sure this is not the only nutritional strategy that works, but for me it lies comfortably within my philosophy of what food should be about.
Remove stressors and toxins – including sugar.
Knowing that something is potentially harmful or detrimental to your health, you would think that it wouldn’t be in our daily foods right? However, not all food companies and producers care about their customers, they are really interested in the number of packets they sell! One of the biggest fallacies that still seem to be lurking is the ‘low fat’ con! If you take a look at the back of the packet, there’s a fair chance that this product is very high in sugars. Sugar is one of the leading causes of obesity and data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in America shows that since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.
Sugar comes in natural forms in fruit and in milk and also in added forms. There are many pseudonyms that these hide under. A study conducted by the American Diabetes Association (2012) found that those people who had high fructose levels in their diets also had high levels of the dangerous visceral fat that surrounds their vital organs. It is worth noting here that overall weight is not always linked to fructose consumption, confirming that you can be a ‘skinny-fat’ person. This is someone who doesn’t obviously carry huge excess body fat, but on the inside they are not healthy. This is more dangerous than carrying the sub-cutaneous fat that looks unsightly but doesn’t carry the same risks in illness and disease.
[Greater Fructose Consumption Is Associated with Cardiometabolic Risk Markers and Visceral Adiposity in Adolescents. J. Nutr. 2012 142: 2 251-257; first published online December 21, 2011]
Now, whilst we would all love to get everything we need from our food, unfortunately due to the soil quality and methods of farming we cannot always guarantee the quality of our foods when they arrive at our door. To improve this, we can buy as local and fresh as possible and try to eat organically to avoid the pesticides that have a massive effect on our thyroid and ultimately our body’s ability to burn calories at rest.
There are only five (5) supplements that I would recommend taking without meeting you, but as always consult your doctor before thinking of improving your nutrition or exercise habits.
1. Milk Thistle.
4. A good quality Fish oil.
5. Tulsi tea
When all is said and done there is nothing like keeping it simple. A quote that I love is one by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which sums it up in one hit, “As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” So, just by sticking with a few principles you can see how you too can avoid the latest fad.
Having excessively acidic conditions in your body is one of the major causes of impaired fat loss and illness. Acidic conditions cause increases in cortisol and impaired function of other hormones that regulate fat loss. Processed foods are the ones you need to avoid. The green leafy and cruciferous vegetables are among the best at optimising blood sugars and reducing acidity. The fruits that buck the trend are avocado and tomatoes. Almonds and brazil nuts (unsalted and not laced in chocolate of course) are two great sources of good fats that are both alkaline, along with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and flax-seed oil.
Now in case you missed a lot of recent trials and experiments, High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T) is now getting the recognition it deserves. For too long people have been taking part in inefficient, time-intensive training, when they could have achieved better results in less time. It goes without saying that you should arrange a health check with your GP before starting any new exercise regime, but a really simple protocol that I like to use with my clientele to help improve blood pressure is to combine one upper body exercise with one lower body. This is known as blood shunting and reduces total peripheral resistance to blood flow by opening up all the arteries and capillaries around the body.
After a long day sitting at a desk or in your car, the last thing you want to be doing is to be seated at a gym, confined by the dimensions of another generically designed machine that will do nothing for the way you move, feel and perform. My simple instructions to you here are to seek exercises that use as many joints as possible, and also mimic the movement patterns that you want to improve on. This may be as simple as posture or as complex as sports performance, either way get out of the machine and use the best tool you have, your own body.
Supportive exercises are essential for improving your weaknesses. In our contemporary lifestyles, with much of it spent seated, we are all prone to certain movement dysfuntions. A lot of them manifest themselves in a forward head posture and an excessive kyphotic (upper back) and lordotic (lower back) curve. Tight or overactive quadriceps inhibit, arguably, the most important muscles for performance and fat loss, the glutes (buttocks)! My advice here is not necessarily to self- diagnose, but to be aware that working on the muscles that are on the back of your body will often help alleviate some of the common problems caused by contemporary living styles. What I did with Grant was to use two pulling exercises for every one pushing exercise to help address this. We also focused on hip- dominant exercises to help activate lazy glutes as a result of his sedentary lifestyle and occupation.
I put this at the end, not because it’s the least important, but because it’s the bit that needs the most attention in most clients that I meet.
Clients like Grant often ask me for advice, complaining of waking too often, feeling like they didn’t get a wink, or struggling to get off to sleep.
Sleep is crucial for producing the Human Growth Hormone (HGH), required to repair cells, aid brain function, increase enzyme production and improve bone strength. HGH is mostly produced during the early hours of sleep (between 10pm and 2am), hence why getting to bed by 10pm most nights of the week is so important. Shippen and Fryer (2007) attributed the decreased speed of healing and brain function, in middle age, to a decline in the production of repair hormones.
Locking your front door will increase your sense of security and enhance your chances of relaxing sleep. You have to shut down all social media sites at least 30 minutes before bed. It only takes one person’s status update to affect your sleep.
2. Being aware of your social circles.
Try to surround yourself with positive and proactive people. It’s not always possible, but you can to a large extent dictate with whom you spend your quality time. Avoiding ‘sappers’ as Clive Woodward (World Cup Winning England Rugby Coach) calls them, is essential if you want to feel good and create an environment of which you look forward to being a part. If your goals mean something to you, which they should do, share them with five people today. Why? Because this creates accountability and the more people who know when, what and why you want to achieve it, the more likely you are to achieve it. So go on, share it with your social circle, it’s powerful stuff!
3. Creating Win/Win situations.
When I first came across this I was reading a book by Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This book helped me to understand that if I could help more people get things they wanted, I would in turn create happiness in my life. What’s really important here is that your goals are not to the detriment of those around you (Win/ Lose). Often, when I speak with parents, I find they have spent too long prioritising others to the detriment of their own well-being. This is not about being entirely selfish, but you need to create situations more often than not where everyone is a winner.
For example, Grant asked his wife for 40 minutes 3-5 times per week so that he could exercise, and in return he took his two young children out for one afternoon each weekend to give his partner a break. A really simple one, but you can see how both partners are winning here.
4. Create Clarity and Consistency
Do you ever get that feeling that you are spinning plates, juggling your daily tasks? I did too, but now I spend a lot more time doing the things I enjoy and have created priorities in and around my weekly schedule.
The first thing I did was to draw a table on a white board. This acted as my ‘to-do’ list but it was in 4 quarters. Much like the diagram below.
This helped me to concentrate on the things that really needed doing versus the tasks that weren’t urgent or important. Give it a go, it’s very rewarding. To give you an example at this present moment, I have writing this chapter in the top left quadrant along with the preparation run for my half marathon and hanging out my washing in the bottom right.
This is one that you should definitely do if you are busy. Stop the mundane tasks running your life! To give you an example, I only do banking on Fridays, I only pay bills on Tuesdays and I only do washing on a Thursday and Saturday morning. Those are just three examples of how I limit busy-ness in my life and in the lives of my clients.
Create clarity in all areas of your life, starting with your goals. Just by simply knowing what you want and writing it down you will be far more likely to achieve it. Start by qualifying your goal, so if it is weight-related, then say how much and how many inches off your waist. Then start to understand what is necessary to achieve it. I often refer to this as the ‘metaphorical price’ you need to pay to achieve it. How many sessions do you need to do, how many hours sleep do you need or which foods needed to be added to your nutritional plan?
Next, the most successful clients are the ones who educate themselves, by reading around their chosen goal. This is one of the key principles in my mission statement, which empowers clients to make healthy decisions long after our time together. The excitement this creates can be phenomenal and I experienced this first hand last year when I completed the trek to Machu Picchu. Learning about this was almost as good as the trek itself, so you can imagine how excited I was when I got there.
With your goals you should then try to keep them in your conscious mind, and keep asking yourself what it will mean to you or what it will feel like. If this doesn’t get you excited then you either need to change the outcome, or change the way in which you intend to get there. Now it’s time to test your goal and find out what your first action will be.
Creating this kind of excitement around your goal is so powerful and it doesn’t always just have to be in fitness but in all areas of your life. It is fantastic. So go on, start plotting your journey by following the aforementioned steps.
I am excited for you.
To Your Success
p.s. we have a couple of programmes starting on Monday 5th November. This might be your last chance to get involved before christmas.
The At Home Bootcamp- http://www.theathomebootcamp.com is ideal for those of you who live far away, have family commitments, work patters that don’t allow you to train with us live.
The Blast Fitness Camp in Launceston- http://blastfitnesscamps.co.uk/launceston-sign-up-here/. We have two spaces left.
Owner of Functionally Aware Fitness Personal Training and Director of Blast Fitness Camps
International Best Selling Author – The Fad Free Fitness Formula
Voted The UK’s Most Innovative Fitness Entrepreneur 2012
Author of The Hot to Trot Cookbook and The Equestrian Athlete Plan