I am a big advocate of physical activity, of stressing the system productively and pushing your body to its limit. But this all is to be done within reason. Having the correct balance between all this exercise and rest is key to maintaining a healthy body and mind. I’m going to talk a little bit about what happens when this balance is not in check and what can happen.
As a physiotherapist we deal with the musculoskeletal system. However, if this is our sole focus we end up being very narrow minded, lack good results with our patients and get frustrated about why certain patients aren’t improving. We need to look at the body as a whole and learn about how the different systems are all connected. The musculoskeletal system effects respiratory system, which in turn can affect the digestive system, which in turn can affect the immune system. Connecting all of these systems together is our nervous system. We have 3 modes which we function at 1) rest and digest, mainly when we are sleeping, 2) Fight or flight, mainly when we are exercising or responding to a stressful environment and 3) equilibrium, when mode 2 and 3 are functioning smoothly. Mode 3 is where we ideally want to be most of the time. However with our lifestyles at present this is often not the case. We tend to spend a lot more time in mode 2 than we really are suppose to.
Take for example this case. Shane has just had a really stressful month at work. He’s having some family issues at home and he’s also just found out he needs a new car as his old one has broken down. Shane is not sleeping well. He is easily agitated. He is not eating well and is feeling run down. He is feeling very stressed. He goes to the gym 5 times a week and feels like pushing himself more and more to try and help with his life’s stresses. Next thing he knows he is experiencing intense burning pain through his lower back and into his glute. He can’t sit at work and this is distributing his already excessive workload. He is even more run down and his sleeping patterns are even more disturbed.
Shane’s system is completely out of sync. It is running in a fight or flight mode 24-7 and there is the potential of Shane developing chronic fatigue / burnout / adrenal fatigue. This is not sustainable and now Shane’s system is starting to break down. He needs some balance. He needs some rest. But how? He can’t leave his job, he can’t afford a new car. There are however lots of things Shane CAN change. Here are some simple things Shane and you can do to help reset your body and mind.
Controlled breathing exercises are some of the most powerful exercises we can do. By simply slowing down your breath and respiratory rate this slows your heart rate. As your heart rate slows your nervous system slows down. When your nervous system slows down your digestive system and musculoskeletal system begin to reset. Starting with five minutes of controlled slow deep breathing in the evening time can help you detach from the day’s stresses. As you get better and better at this you can build up to 15-20 minutes. There are also loads of really helpful mindfulness apps available which are great in guiding you through some relaxation. Instead of your normal high intensity work out maybe a gentle restorative yoga class is a better option or even a nice relaxed walk in a place that always brings a smile to your face. Instead of eating fat filled takeaways and missing meals, start eating healthy nutrient rich foods like fish, fruit and vegetables to aid in a healthier digestive system. All of these tips are aimed at improving one thing, your sleeping patterns. Good sleep is so valuable to a balanced system. It is vital in tissue repair. It allows the brain to prepare for the following day and helps you stay focused. It keeps your immune system strong.
These tips will allow you to gain control of your body again and create some balance. But a change has to happen for this to have a positive response. You need to take control of your own body. You need to recognise the stressors, address them and introduce change where you can.