Today we continue our ongoing series on the five components of well-being. We’ve covered the creative self (your thoughts, your emotions, what you do for work/study, and your sense of humor), and coping self (what you do in your leisure, your stress management, and your self-worth). In future posts, we will focus on the social self (family, friendship, and romantic love), the essential self (your spirituality, cultural identity, and self care), and for this issue I would like to highlight the importance of tending to the physical self (exercise and eating well).
Nutrition and exercise are the two main aspects of the physical self. From a holistic view, we are less concerned with living up to our culture’s ideals of physical strength or beauty, and more interested in honoring our bodies, increasing vitality, and achieving optimal health for better quality of life. Rather than dieting to look thin or bulking up to look muscular, exercise and nutrition for well-being means eating foods that are nourishing, and engaging in activities that feel good, give you energy, and build a sense of appreciation for the body’s innate creativity, strength, and flexibility.
As humans, we are designed to move, yet many of us work in jobs where we sit or stand for long hours and we come home feeling exhausted. It is understandable that many days, we just want to sit down to rest and recover. Getting enough rest and relaxing is key to our overall health, but we also need to counter our modern lifestyle with pleasurable activities and exercise.
High intensity exercise is a popular trend these days, but you don’t have to push yourself to extremes in order be fit and energetic. In fact, research like this article in Psychology Today shows that practices like Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga, Aikido, and NIA—all slow movement combined with awareness of bodily sensation—can have greater benefits compared to traditional exercise in reducing pain, increasing mobility, and decreasing depression and stress. Dancing improves brain function and reduces the risk of memory loss, and has many physical benefits. Following a diet of whole and healthy meals rather than sugary, processed foods can improve mood and decrease depression, in addition to improving physical health.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started in your journey to wellness in the realm of the physical self. If you’d like to explore this or any of the parts of well-being a little more in depth, we can do coaching around creating a wellness plan.
- Experiment with different movement. Take the time to explore group fitness or dance classes, online workout videos, or individual exercise like swimming or running, until you find a fitness routine that you enjoy and will feel motivated to keep up with. Find fitness classes on the cheap through your local Parks and Recreation, try out fun dance-inspired options like NIA or Zumba, shoot some hoops at the playground, or hula hoop to some funky music, pull out your rollerskates, skateboard, or bike. Connect with your inner child and play! Or, try out a free yoga class online in the comfort of your home or choose from one of these many free dance, stretching, or cardio videos.
- Start your day with stretching. Take 5 minutes right when you get out of bed to slow down, notice your breathing and do some simple stretching. Instead of rushing into the day, pause and check in with your physical self. Make up your own movements or refer to this website for inspiration. Stretching can improve circulation and reduce stress.
- Try healthy snacking. Find a healthier alternative for one of your favorite “bad” foods. When you crave the junk food option, experiment with substituting with the healthier version. Some ideas for sweet and savory snacks include frozen grapes, celery and peanut butter, Greek yogurt with honey, cinnamon sprinkled on apple, trail mix or nuts, carrots and hummus, baked sweet potato with cinnamon, balsamic vinegar drizzled on mozzarella and cherry tomatoes.
- Practice Mindful Eating. Sometimes we eat out of boredom, sadness, or habit. This raisin, chip, and chocolate exercise can help us to pay attention to when and why we eat and to notice what our food really tastes like and whether we enjoy what we are eating.