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As a physical therapist and fitness professional, I dread January. After a month of celebrating and socializing over appetizers, mashed potatoes, and cookies in cold weather and crowded malls, our bodies are overfed, under-exercised and in desperate need of a little break and re-direction. So, what do we do? We sit down and write out our goals for the new year.
These goals usually include some pretty big ticket items: lose weight, quit smoking, get in shape, tone up, eat better, or maybe even run a marathon. By the end of January, half of our resolvers are back on the couch with the popcorn and the other half are filling up physical therapy clinics with their wonderful intentions and over-zealous pursuits. Resulting injuries are more than nuisances. They can mistakenly give the message that we are “too old” to exercise, that when I try to get in shape, “I hurt myself.” There is a better way. Actually, an easier and more comfortable way! You may think that I am the only trainer shouting “Take it
easy!” Actually, the new fitness mantra is “De-stress.” I would like to suggest some resolutions for the over-exerciser and under-exerciser alike.
First, take a deep breath, close your eyes and say to yourself “I am a tortoise, slow and steady.” Fitness is much more than just exercise or diet. Fitness encompasses all the ways we do or do not take care of our bodies, including the clothing/shoes we wear, the amount of sleep we get, the food we eat as well as when and how much we eat, the way we sit at our desk to work, the hours we put in without a break, how we maintain relationships with people or activities that sap our energy and feed into our bad habits, talking down to ourselves, or not giving ourselves proper credit for good health habits. If we examine the periphery of our fitness behaviors, we will find some very easy things to change. Take January to find and decrease your “loopholes.” Get 8 hours daily of sleep this month. Replace any exercise shoe that is more than one year old (yes, I mean it). Look at your personal fitness pyramid: cardiovascular, strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and relaxation, and decide on two areas on which to focus.
Second, slow she goes. Now, even slower and so slow you feel your eyelids drooping. Again, I’m not kidding. I now recommend 10-20 minutes of relaxation daily before starting someone on an exercise plan. Studies have shown a regular nap is tied to a healthier heart, and that stress is as significant a factor, as any lack of exercise in most disease cases. By taking some time out of each day to become quiet, we allow our breath and our bodies to separate from the stress of the day. As a result, we break the tension cycle that increase stress hormone production, fat production, blood pressure, and the muscle tension that help to create headaches, back pain, knee pain, and keeps us awake at night. The body uses this“down time” to actually create the healthy changes that exercise promotes. It is your own personal reset button. So find a quiet spot, turn on some classical music, and take some deep breaths. For those of you who find this stressful—and you know who you are—keep trying. It will get better.
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