Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Listen to Your Mind and Body

I still like to run, but I'm much smarter about it these day
Being an athlete is much harder behind the scenes than what you see on TV or social media. The grind is so monotonous and difficult to maintain over the course of many years. As a former athlete, I am fully aware of how hard it is to push yourself to your limits day in and day out. When I was going through that as a collegiate track and field athlete I just remember thinking that while this experience will definitely harden me mentally and physically in positive ways, that it will also continue to break my body down. As student in the Kinesiology program at James Madison at that time, I was just beginning to learn about the effects of over training and how it detracts from your performance. Now don't get me wrong...I loved my overall experience as a track athlete. However, that grind of constantly being tired and over trained really was difficult to work through. I am fortunate that I had this innate love of being fit so it kept me going after my collegiate running days were over. However, I can understand why so many athletes just stop exercising completely when they are done with their college eligibility or their professional career. Its hard to continue to go to the "well" so many times per week especially when that's what you have been doing for well over a decade straight. It just drains you physically and mentally. 

What's great for me now is that I train just as hard as I did then, but I am much smarter about my recovery methods and frequency of exercise. I do the one thing that I have the choice of doing these days which is....I listen to my body. This is something that I think is being totally ignored by the current 10% of regular exercisers. While we know that so many people just don't like exercise, there is a segment of the population who is crazy about it and that population is getting a lot of publicity on TV and social media. Meme's of squatting, bathroom pics in the gym and so forth are dominating our culture. Apparently being a gym rat is now a badge of honor among many groups and organizations who are big into fitness. 

However, as a long term fitness professional and someone who has a terminal degree in the science and psychology of fitness and wellness, I see the overzealous nature of hitting it hard all the time as a real detriment to the perception of fitness. More than ever people are not listening to their bodies. They are pushing through small injuries that become big injuries. They are maxing out on weights all the time or even worse lifting maximum loads for a tremendous amount of repetitions. This is a recipe not only for physical injury, but mental exhaustion/burnout. Which then ultimately leads to long periods of inactivity and misguided body image issues. It also leads to obsessive behaviors where everything else in your life is dictated by your exercise schedule. That's just unhealthy and does not promote a well rounded person. 

Listen, being fit is absolutely wonderful. I don't want people to mistake this blog entry for pushing against working hard. You should absolutely push yourself and try to reach your ceiling in terms of your physical fitness. However, it should be done in a smart and efficient way. MORE IS NOT BETTER. LIVING AT THE GYM ALL THE TIME IS NOT HEALTHY. Live a life full of rich experiences where fitness and wellness happen to be just one of the cogs of a well rounded person. It should not be your everything. You can take this principle and apply it to almost anything in your life. 

So, the takeaway...remember to listen to your body on a daily basis. Your body is a very active communication tool. It lets you know so many things regularly. You just need to increase your awareness of what it is telling you. And in the same token you need to listen to mental cues of exhaustion as well. You don't have to be a fitness hero on social media or try to be this impossible standard of fitness that you can't sustain over the long term in your life. Train hard, but more importantly train smarter. That's a viable long term approach to becoming and staying fit throughout your life. 

Until next time...

Dr. D

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