When writing about improving you health more than, my columns focused on the physical body: healthy diet, exercise, and disease detection were common topics.
But the health lessons that stuck with me haven’t been about physical change over the years. The most significant improvements in my health and wellness come from inner fitness.
Inner fitness means focusing your energy on your emotional well-being and mental health instead of beating yourself up about your diet, weight, or not getting enough exercise. It can include mindfulness and meditation techniques, a gratitude routine, or a variety of other practices.
This inside-out approach to health can also lead to changes in your physical well-being. Research shows, for example, that mindfulness can lower blood pressure, improve sleep, lead to better eating habits, and reduce chronic pain.
“Inner fitness means developing the mental, emotional, and spiritual skills and practices that foster resilience,” said Tina Lifford, author of “The Little Book of Big Lies: A Journey to Inner Fitness.” “I would like to see the idea of inner fitness become as ubiquitous, well understood and actionable as physical fitness.”
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned about inner fitness since starting the Well section nearly 15 years ago because I’ve decided it’s time to change. Although my talented colleagues at the Well desk will continue to write this newsletter weekly, this is the last time I will do so.
Give yourself a break
The field of self-compassion has exploded since I first wrote about it in 2011. The concept is simple: treat yourself as kindly as you would a friend who needs support. About 75 per cent of people who find it easy to support others score very low on tests of self-compassion and aren’t very kind to themselves, said Kristin Neff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and expert in self-compassion. Compassion.
If you often scold yourself for perceived failures, like not losing weight or not being a better parent or spouse, try taking a break from self-pity. Start by asking yourself: What do I need right now?
Our bodies and minds benefit in many ways when we help others. Studies show that volunteering, donating money, or sharing tips with friends can release feel-good brain chemicals and activate your reward system.
The volunteers had lower stress hormones on the days they donated their time. “One of the best anti-anxiety medications available is generosity,” said Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, when I interviewed him for one of my favourite stories from the pandemic, called “The Science of Helping .”
Good things happen when we pay attention. We can better deal with negative thoughts when we take a moment to notice negative thoughts. Observing the little wonders surrounding us when we take a “wondered” walk can amplify the mental health benefits of exercise. Identifying your feelings and naming them — something scientists call “affects labelling” — can calm your brain and reduce stress.
Give yourself the best hours of the day
In what period of one or two hours each day do you feel better? Are you most energetic? Are you most productive? Now ask yourself: Who gets those hours? Chances are you’re spending those highly effective hours on work demands, paying bills, checking emails, or managing household needs.
But now that you’ve identified the time of day when you feel your best try to give yourself that time advises Jack Groppel, executive coach and professor of exercise and sports science at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois. For me, this advice has been transformative. Giving yourself your best time each day to focus on your personal goals and values is the best way to take care of yourself.
A few simple steps can go a long way toward improving your eating patterns and wellness. Still, if you’re trying to live a healthier life, do not just focus on the foods you eat. Exercise, sleep, and social relationships are also important.
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