Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.
My thing is connecting sleep, food, mood, and exercise. I love to discuss how these four groups of habits are connected and how improvements in one can make it easier to make improvements in the others.
But improving one habit is already a challenge, never mind improving habits in 4 categories! Agreed, doing so can sound daunting and effortful (if you don’t know my full process, that is :wink:), so today I’d like to share ways that will improve your health and simultaneously save your energy.
- Sleep All You Need:
The vast majority of adults living in the developed world are sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation is the cause of many suboptimal bodily processes, such as poorer brain power and weaker immune function.
As if this wasn’t challenging enough already, lack of sleep also causes our biochemical activity to be out-of-whack, which in turn makes it harder for us to implement other healthy behaviors. (For more about how this works, click here.) So sleeping enough is definitely a great step in the right direction.
- Eat by Design:
Food can serve many purposes other than nutrition. We often use it for celebration, distraction, consolation, or as a way to connect with others. Paying attention to all the ways you use food, and then replacing purposes other than nutrition with something else can make a big difference.For example, rather than celebrate at a bar or restaurant, why not do it with a manicure and pedicure, or with a round of golf? If you wonder why this fits in my lazy strategies, it’s because it has to be a very clear rule, taking any debating out of the process. Am I hungry? If the answer is no, then food isn’t an option. Turn to something else.
- Do a Mini:
The nervous system is divided in 2 parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems (SNS and PNS). The 2 function much like the gas and brake pedals on your car (as Wayne Jencke describes here). To arrive safely to a destination in a car, you’ll need to use both pedals. Similarly, if you want to maintain good health, you’ll need a balance between your SNS and PNS.Since modern lifestyles tend to overstimulate the SNS, regular relaxation sessions to boost the PNS are in order. To do so, close your eyes and take deep and full belly breaths while mindfully quieting your internal chatter. Doing this for just a few minutes several times a day can make a difference.
- Don’t Make It a Big Production:
We all have an internal lawyer that is ready to argue the case for whatever we want. For example, if you’re in the mood to go for a walk, your internal lawyer will preach the benefits of outdoors exercise. If you’re not in the mood for a walk, then your internal lawyer will bring up the possibility of rainfall or remind you that you are a little short on time. One way our internal lawyers rationalize inactivity is by arguing that exercise takes a lot of preparation and recovery.
I once worked with someone we’ll call Jane. When I first met Jane, she thought that she needed to have eaten a light meal at least 2 hours before any workout session, brought her favorite gear including her most comfortable underwear and socks, her water bottle, a sweat headband, and a stop watch, planned for at least 75 minutes but at a time when the gym was not crowded, be prepared with photos of the latest moves from her favorite magazine and with her iPod filled up with her favorite songs, have a change of clothes, a brush, and hair dryer on hand, and have enough time to redo her hair post-workout – all this before she could head to the gym. Whew! I’m tired just thinking about it! So the point here is, whatever requirements you have for yourself prior to being active, see if you can lower the bar, and make it simpler for you to start a workout.
- Exercise on Company Time:
Taking advantage of any chance to move around and be active contributes to a stronger, leaner body. On a long conference call? Do it standing, and perhaps you could pace in your office, do a few calf raises or discreet knee bends at the same time. Meeting with colleague? Go for a walk-and-talk session. Time to use the restroom? Go to the one on the next floor, and if no one is in there at the same time, use the counter-top to do a few push-ups. Keeping your body as active as possible will make a difference in your health, weight, and alertness.
I presented these strategies to Karel Vredenburg’s Life Habits podcast series, available here on iTunes. If you liked them and want to learn more, check out Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which I co-wrote with Kathryn Britton. Please excuse the shameless self-promotion, but I think it can make a fabulous holiday gift, since most of us have a hard time following through on our resolutions… Speaking of which, if you’d like support with your 2012 resolutions, here’s a 6-week program, Smarts and Stamina for the New Year, to help you do just that.
Bauer, K. & Sokolik, C. (2002). Basic Nutrition Counseling: Skill Development. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Benson, H. (November 2010). Introduction to the relaxation response & the biopsychosocial- spiritual model of health. Presented at the Harvard Medical School conference, One-Day in Mind-Body Medicine. Boston, MA.
Dement, W. (2000). The promise of sleep: A pioneer in sleep medicine explores the vital connection between health, happiness, and a good night’s sleep. New York: Random House.
Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.
Kessler, D. (2009). The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. New York: Rodale.
Kimiecik, J. (2002). The intrinsic exerciser: Discovering the joy of exercise. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Shaar, M. J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press.
Shaar, M. J. (2011). 5 Lazy Ways to Get in Shape. Podcast in Karel Vredenburg’s series, Life Habits: Learn habits to optimize your life and stay sane in this crazy world.
Sleeping Tiger courtesy of Tambako the Jaguar
Active Dad & Son courtesy of Scott Ableman