Self-Care That Includes a Balance of Fitness and Relaxation
by Sheila Olsen
Finding an exercise balance
It’s important to maintain a healthy level of activity—but don’t underestimate the value of relaxation, which helps balance your physical and mental health. Your fitness should fit into the context of your overall self-care, because you can put your health at risk by over-exercising. In fact, studies have shown that people who engage in moderate exercise are less likely to die than those who exercise more strenuously. Excessive exercise can force your body into a catabolic state, when the muscles you’re trying so hard to build are, instead, broken down to give your body the energy it so desperately craves. An over-exercised (or stressed) body produces excess cortisol, which can lead to increased pain sensitivity; trouble sleeping; weight gain and cravings for unhealthy foods; a less effective immune system; a lower sex drive; and increased anxiety and depression.
A very heart-healthy exercise program that combines short bursts of intense activity with active rest periods without the stress of endurance training is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). You can get all the benefits of moderate (and hard core) exercise in less time without hurting your heart.
Create a relaxation regimen
Relaxation is as critical a component to overall self-care as a good exercise program and healthy eating. If the word conjures up pictures of someone flaked out on the couch or swaying gently in a hammock but that’s not what relaxation looks like for you, worry not! There are many ways to relax. Reduce stress by taking up a hobby like knitting, coloring, or baking. And if you prefer more active pursuits, take up dancing or hiking instead.
Establishing a pre-bedtime routine for better sleep habits isn’t that hard. Keep consistent sleep and wake times every day, including weekends. Avoid nicotine and caffeine too close to bedtime. Make your room peaceful, with room-darkening shades, a noise machine, good pillows and sheets, and a quality mattress. Any of these techniques works to shake off a stressful day or manage stressful situations: meditating, practicing mindful breathing, indulging in a good belly laugh, listening to music, getting moving, calling a friend, and eating well.
Create the perfect home meditation space
You don’t have to set aside a dedicated room to meditate, especially if space is tight. A spot in your backyard, where you’re out in nature, might be just perfect! Fresh air, a mix of sun and shade, and soft grass for your mat’s really all you need. Your bedroom—already a sanctuary—is perfect, too. It’s private and secluded, and generally, an environment that fosters calm and positive feelings for sleeping works well to create an atmosphere for meditation, too. The space you choose should feel peaceful and quiet; fill it with a few meaningful items to help it become a place of reflection. It’s all about balance, and exercise provides a myriad of physical and mental benefits. But its effectiveness wanes when it overtakes the rest of your daily routine and lifestyle.
A Healthy Blend
Pairing exercise with a blend of healthy eating, plenty of rest, and activities that promote relaxation is the best recipe for self-care. For most people, moderate exercise hits the sweet spot.
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