Most of us know a few friends who seem to have “cracked the code” on maintaining a healthy body and managing their weight. We may even do many of the same things as these friends - attending HIITLAG classes, drinking lots of water, etc., only to find that our results are very different. As frustrating as this can feel, the issue might be some missing pieces of the equation, and the “Three-Legged Stool” provides a good metaphor for the major components of optimal health. This common fitness reference is a great starting point for evaluating wellness. The crucial “legs” of the stool are Nutrition, Sleep and Exercise, and each has an important role to play in supporting the “stool” that is Optimal Health.
Good nutrition is the foundation of good health, as food is the fuel that allows our brains and bodies to function. Unfortunately "good nutrition" is often confused with deprivation and calorie restriction, or marketing messages on the side of a food wrapper, which ultimately lead to burn out, fatigue and falling short of overall health goals. The truth is that a balanced mind and body depends on eating rich sources of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates AND fat! These performance-enhancing foods include healthy fats, quality proteins, whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables - very few “low calorie” or “fat-free” processed foods are going to provide the nutrient density that you find in real, whole foods. When we feed our bodies “premium” fuel we have the nourishment for optimal physical performance, cognitive function and mental health, as well as the tools needed for healthy weight maintenance.
Sleep plays an important role in regulating our hormones - including the hormones that decide to hold onto fat or to burn it. In fact, research has suggested a direct association between sleep and obesity. Sleep is a restorative process that provides both mental and physical health benefits, including regulation of glucose metabolism, decreased appetite and caloric intake, and a decrease in overall desire for sweet and salty foods. This can be explained by the effect that sleep has on the energy-related physiologic controls in our bodies and by the fact that short sleep duration leads to less physical activity and energy expenditure as a result of being tired. Good sleep hygiene is essential when it comes to overall wellness - getting 7+ hours of uninterrupted sleep in a dark room is often the missing piece when it comes to effective weight management.
If you’re reading the HIITLAG blog, there’s a good chance you’re already exercising or at least know how important it is, so let’s look at ways to tweak your routine to get a greater benefit from what you’re already doing.
During class, ask yourself if you’re working as hard as you could? For example, do you always choose modified push-ups instead of full or Chaturanga on your knees? Try starting on your toes and switching to modified for a few sets.
Have you been using the same set of dumbbells for 3 months or more? If so, it’s probably time to add 2-3 lbs and challenge yourself. If you’re not getting that same muscle fatigue at the end of a set that you did when you first joined, it’s time to move up!
Add intensity to the moves you’re already doing in class. As instructors, we often give a high and low intensity/impact version of a move. Challenge yourself to choose the high intensity version at least 3 times during each class for a big difference in how you feel after!
Add a new class. Already coming 3 days a week but never tried PiYo or Yoga? Challenging your body to exercise in a new way will give you a boost in metabolism, strength and endurance as your body works harder to adapt to a new type of activity.
These three “legs” are interconnected, and support each other as well as your overall health. Intense exercise can lead to sleeping more soundly. Good nutrition can help you power through a tough workout. And good sleep helps you choose healthier fuel for your body when you get hungry.