Updated: Jan 16
Whether you are a professional athlete or someone who loves hitting the gym, these suggestions can help improve your fitness and ultimately, your life.
Sleep. I dare say sleep is the single most important aspect of health and therefore, your fitness. Sound sleep is required for our body to heal, recover and reset. Without adequate sleep all aspects of your health suffer. A night with too little sleep can leave you feeling like you are hungover without having had anything to drink. Your neurons aren’t firing as fast and you are more prone to accidents and injuries. There are a few different ways Chinese medicine can help you balance your systems so a restful night’s sleep becomes your norm, even if you are a chronically poor sleeper. It is important to understand what aspect of your sleep is lacking. What is the quality of your sleep? Do you wake up rested, refreshed and ready to begin each day? Is it difficult to fall asleep or do you fall asleep ok, but then wake a few hours later? Are you waking several times during the night? While some find relief with pharmaceutical interventions, these are generally not considered a good long-term options. Many patients will respond very favorably to some simple evening routine and lifestyle changes or to acupuncture and/or herbal formulas.
Nutrition. Just as the right fuel is required for your vehicle to operate properly, so too is optimum nutrition required for our bodies to function at their best. The tricky part is that no two human bodies are the same, therefore an individualized approach to nutrition is required. What is best for you? Start paying attention to the energy you are putting into your body and increase consumption of those foods that make you feel clear, light and energized and stop eating foods that make you feel heavy, sluggish or dull, no matter how good they may taste. Packaged and processed “food” often contain chemicals and fillers that will slow down almost everyone. Pay attention to absorption. If your system isn’t properly assimilating what you eat, then you aren’t reaping the rewards of the nutrition you are putting into your body. If you tend towards constipation, and food is moving through your system too slowly, you may be reabsorbing toxins even if you eat clean. Conversely, if you are having too many bowel movements, you are likely not benefiting from full absorption. Acupuncturists and most natural medicine practitioners consider one bowel movement a day to be ideal. If you find yourself significantly deviating from one-a-day, seek the advise of a natural medicine practitioner to figure out why.
Water. While water could be put alongside fuel, it really deserves its own category. We are made of 55-85% water depending on age, gender and body fat. Lack of water leads to dehydration which can cause a number of noticeable problems like dizziness, fatigue, and muscle weakness just to name a few. Water also helps to flush out waste. Your muscles, blood, lymph, brain, etc. require water to survive. Drink it! Aim to drink half your weight in ounces. If you weigh 150 lb. drink 75 oz. of water or 9.37 cups. Tell yourself you love it. All water is good, but as with the fuel analogy above, the cleaner the better.
Recovery. *Disclaimer: Before you think I’m nuts and click away from this post, read this paragraph in its entirety: I am going to go ahead and say it…exercising damages the body. Each workout is specifically designed to break down and damage a specific region of the body. Even a short run puts tremendous strain on the joints of the legs and feet. The very act of strength training is designed to cause micro-tears of muscle tissues while stretching and straining joints, tendons and ligaments. So why do we do it? Because recovery is hugely beneficial and you can only get to recovery by exercising and working out. It is during recovery that our bodies respond to all the insults of exercise by making us better, stronger, faster. So, by all means, exercise, but never loose sight of the need to recover and that it is only during recovery that you reap the benefit of your workout. The more vigorous the workout, the longer the recovery needs to be. Indeed, the other 4 suggestions of this post will aid with recovery, but it still takes time.
Heat. Heat aids recovery, ice impedes it. While far too many trainers, doctors and coaches still recommend icing acute injuries, yet much of the research on the topic points in the opposite direction. Acupuncturist have a saying, “Ice is really, really good for dead people”. Generally speaking, we prefer heat. Sound crazy? Here is what some of the leading scientific journals have to say on the topic:
“Topical cooling (icing) delays recovery.” -Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research/National Strength and Conditioning Association (2013)
“Ice is commonly used after acute muscle strains but there are no clinical studies of its effectiveness.” -British Journal of Sports Medicine (2012)
“There is insufficient evidence to suggest that cryotherapy [icing] improves clinical outcome.” –Journal of Emergency Medicine (2008)
“…Ice may not be the best treatment for aching muscles — in fact, it could even be detrimental to recovery.” University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (2011)
There are dozens of excellent articles and even a few books written on the problem with the “icing” advice. Just do a quick google search on the topic if you want more info.
While we do not recommend applying heat to a fresh injury, heat is a fabulous tool for overcoming the aches and pains that follow most workouts and can help speed the benefits of recovery. Heat is also the best option for old injuries and chronic pain. Find a sauna, steam room, hot tub or heat lamp and park it for 5-10minutes. Heat opens the vessels, relaxes muscles and tissues bringing more blood to the area which both nourishes and cleans out the system.
I hope you find inspiration to incorporate these suggestions into your regime to improve your fitness. Try taking one suggestion on at a time. Give it a good month to incorporate into your life and then move onto the next. Adjustments take time and practice. If you have questions and would like to learn more, please contact GoodMedizen Acupuncture and Herbs. We have highly trained practitioners and are happy to assist you in your health and fitness goals.