The other stuff you should be doing for your health
By Shawn McClendon
Exercise and healthy eating are the two most talked about healthy living topics in our society. As a certified personal trainer, most of what I do to help people become healthier is indeed centered around those two topics. And no doubt, eating and exercise have a huge impact on our physical health.
That said, it’s easy for us to feel like we have it all covered when our diets are decent and we have a consistent exercise routine. You deserve a pat on the back if you have developed discipline in these areas. However, there is so much more that you can and should be doing to maximize your health.
Take sleep, for instance. The average adult needs somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep for optimal body function. While you sleep, a ton of important processes are occurring in your body, including brain recovery, hormone regulation and general repair of bodily tissues. Repeated subpar sleep is associated with heart problems, impaired memory, depression, anxiety, weakened immunity and a greater risk of obesity and type two diabetes. You can’t quite compensate for poor sleep in the gym, either. Guess why? When your body repairs itself, it does most of its repairs while you sleep, which means that those muscles that you stimulated during your workout actually grow while you get shut-eye.
Although I like gyms, I usually recommend the people I train to do as much of their exercising outside as possible for the purpose of getting sunlight and fresh air. Sunlight is our top source of vitamin D, one of the most protective substances to the body when it comes to balancing the immune system, protecting against viral illness, building strong bones, protecting from various cancers and providing a shield for the body from autoimmune disorders. When the warm sun hits your skin, your skin absorbs the ultraviolet radiation B rays, which react with a cholesterol in your skin that ultimately converts to this valuable vitamin (which, by the way, is technically a hormone).
As far as fresh air goes, did you realize that most household materials and products give off air pollutants? Yep: From cleaning products, pesticides, and air fresheners to carpet and paint, air pollution in houses and buildings is pretty much a given in today’s world. Indoor air pollution is responsible for a wide range of ailments, from minor eye and airway irritation to respiratory diseases and worse. While you can take various actions to reduce indoor pollution, perhaps the best thing you can do is get outside frequently to get large doses of fresh, clean outdoor air, particularly if you are fortunate enough to be away from major roadways that experience significant automobile pollution.
Stress reduction is huge when it comes to its implication in all kinds of diseases and illnesses. Chronic stress contributes to all the major chronic diseases in our society, including obesity, heart disease, cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s, and more. The human body is designed to be able to cope with a certain level of acute stress. However, in our busy, fast-paced world where real human interactions have been replaced with social media interactions in many cases, we deal with constant, unresolved stress that puts our bodies in a constant state of fight-or-flight and causes damage. The solution? Take time to disengage from busyness, develop real human relationships, find something to laugh about and, one of my favorites, sit down and do absolutely nothing.
Sleep, sunlight, fresh air and stress reduction are only a handful of other things you and I should focus on to maximize the health of our bodies. Yes, exercise and healthy eating efforts are great, but if you’re not careful, you can be the most disciplined person in the world with your diet and workouts and still be consumed with health problems. The human body is complex, so it only makes sense that the needs for a healthy human frame are complex as well.
Shawn McClendon is an ACE-certified personal trainer and owner of Back to Basics Health and Wholeness LLC, an organization dedicated to empowering people to take control of their health and avoid lifestyle disease. He hosts the health and wellness blog YourHealthAtTheCrossroads.com, conducts online fitness programs and has authored several health/fitness books.