According to the leading health authorities, the five pillars of great fitness include power, speed, balance, flexibility, and endurance. While those are all certainly crucial to achieving peak human physical fitness, we’d urge you to also bear in mind some of the softer methods for enhancing your body that will help you see results. We’re talking about your mindset.
“When people discuss getting fit, it almost always revolves around ‘diet and exercise,'” observe the terrific coaches over at Nerd Fitness. “A big component that’s overlooked is one’s mindset. All the workout and nutritional information in the world won’t help you if you’re stressed out and not able to focus on the creating habits.”
With that in mind, here are some lifestyle habits you can adopt that will help you create the habits you need to become a healthier, more active, and fitter person. And for more on the connection between your mind and your body, see here for The Single Most Effective Way to Work Out Every Day, According to Psychologists.
There’s plenty of scientific research that proves that the practice of journaling on a daily basis is great for your mood and your stress levels. One study, published in JMIR Mental Health, found that journaling soothes anxiety and promotes a better sense of wellbeing. Another study, published in the journal Stress Medicine, found that journaling can help your immune system. And another study, published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, found that journaling and “expressive writing” can actually help bolster your brain function.
A 2013 study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine even found that adults with physical wounds who spent at least 20 minutes every day journaling about their feelings actually healed faster than those who did not use a journal.
There are benefits to keeping a fitness journal, as well. Scores of coaches make their athletes keep journals to help them stay accountable to their regimen, monitor progress, and help them reflect on successes and failures.
“Most folks have a tendency to associate meditation with sitting in lotus pose on a mountain overlooking a valley. But a meditative approach to all forms of exercising—personal training to group fitness to extreme sports—is an excellent way to prepare your mind as well as your body,” observes the top trainer and dance choreographer Ceasar Barajas.
Plenty of studies have delved into the health benefits of meditation, which can help with pain, high blood pressure, stress, and insomnia. But trainers would urge you to also meditate for the sake of your fitness. Not only will a more positive outlook on life spill over into your workouts, but also some of the basic “be present” strategies can help you during exercise.
“The mere physical act of placing a hand over your heart activates your parasympathetic nervous system. It calms and decompresses you. In addition, the deep conscious breaths you’re taking actively lower your blood pressure and oxygenates your bloodstream,” described Barajas. “Then, boom! You’ve not only finished your workout, but took your body past the initial point of where you thought you could.”
Simply put: If you’re not sleeping well, you’re making it incredibly difficult to be fit and healthy. Sleep is crucial to muscle recovery and your energy levels. If you’re looking to build strength, you need sleep, as quality sleep helps your body produce the necessary hormones. “And when we are older, it helps us build lean muscle and helps our body repair when we have torn ourselves up during a hard workout,” W. Christopher Winter, MD, the author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It, explained to Everyday Health. “Growth hormone is essential for athletic recovery.”
For tips on getting a full eight hours, see here for the 20 Best Ways to Double Your Sleep Quality.
“I’ll bet procrastination is the biggest barrier to getting and staying in shape,” writes Bill Knaus, Ed.D., co-author of Overcoming Procrastination. “Among the different forms of procrastination, discomfort dodging procrastination is probably the most common. This is an automatic tendency to avoid what you think is unpleasant, uncomfortable, or difficult, even if the activity is highly important or necessary. For example, you like the benefits of exercising. But you’d rather watch TV, play computer games, chat with a friend, or nap.”
If you’re looking to beat procrastination once and for all, the leading scientists will tell you that the single best way to do it isn’t creating a massive to-do list. It’s practicing more self-compassion. After all, according to Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., an expert in procrastination at Carleton University, in Canada, people don’t procrastinate to actually avoid the task at hand. They’re trying to avoid the “negative feelings associated” with that task.
If you’re kinder to yourself, “not only does it decrease psychological distress, which we now know is a primary culprit for procrastination, it also actively boosts motivation, enhances feelings of self-worth and fosters positive emotions like optimism, wisdom, curiosity and personal initiative,” observes the The New York Times. “Best of all, self-compassion doesn’t require anything external—just a commitment to meeting your challenges with greater acceptance and kindness rather than rumination and regret.”
So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t want to exercise. Simply remind yourself that “exercise is hard”—and that it’s totally fine to dread it—but then focus on the positives, such as how well you’ll feel after doing it. And if you’re looking for some great workout advice, check out The 15-Second Exercise Trick That Can Change Your Life.