Exercise and the Mind/Body connection
- 1. Introduction
Exercise and mental health go hand in hand. It was once said “exercise not only has power over the body but it also has power over the mind as well”. That is a very accurate statement; exercise creates numerous benefits to mental health including improved depression symptoms, reduced anxiety, reduced stress levels, and improved self confidence and self worth. On the other hand the mind can also be very influential on exercise performance. Through the use of visualization, meditation, and positive statements subjects are able to improve their exercise and sports performances. Another way the mind is beneficial to improving exercise and sports performance is by limiting four important factors that often hold subjects back from reaching their full athletic potential. The four factors are limited self confidence, fear of failure, destructive criticism, and one pointed attention. Creating a better understanding of how exercise interacts with the mind body connection can greatly improve both mental health and athletic/exercise performance.
- 2. Exercise Benefits on Mental Health
It is well known that exercise provides participants with a wide variety of physical benefits. However, exercise can also be a valuable way to improve mental health as well.
- a. Depression
Clinical depression is a major health problem that affects 5 to 10 percent of the American population (Taylor). One of the major issues associated with the treatment of clinical depression deals with the negative side effects of anti-depressants that are prescribed. A better way to fight depression might be through exercise. A study conducted by James A Blumenthal, PHD compared the effects of exercise to anti-depression medication. The study took 156 men and women who had Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and randomly assigned them to a program of aerobic exercise, anti depressant medication or combined exercise and medication. The results showed that people who were given the medication saw results faster however, after the end of the sixteen weeks of treatment exercise was equally effective in reducing depression among participants with MDD (Blumenthal). This proves that exercise can be used as an alternative to the dangerous anti-depressant medication or as a means to replace the need for an anti-depressant.
- b. Anxiety
Physical activity and exercise has also been shown to decrease anxiety (Taylor). Experimental studies of both acute and chronic exercise of vigorous intensities have consistently shown a reduction in anxiety. One study conducted by W. P Morgan on acute physical activity showed promising results. In the study a series of events involving males and females was conducted. The purpose was to evaluate the state anxiety prior to, immediately following, and 20-30 minutes following exercise. He found that state anxiety decreased following acute physical activity below base line for people with normal anxiety as well as clinically anxious individuals (Morgan).
- c. Stress
Everyday life can cause tremendous stress on the body. One positive way to combat stress is through exercise. Exercise can help reduce stress a couple different ways. Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Although this function is often referred to as a runner’s high, a rousing game of tennis or a nature hike also can contribute to this same feeling (Mayoclinic.com). Another way exercise can help reduces stress is to allow one to focus on their body rather than their problems. After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten the day’s irritations and concentrated only on your body’s movements. As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything that you do (Mayoclinic.com).
- 3. Mental effects on Exercise/ Athletic performance
The mind is a powerful tool. Athletes who are able to effectively use their mind have more success than those who cannot. “Studies have shown that between 70 and 85 percent of successful and unsuccessful athletes can be identified using general psychological measures of personality structure and mood state…” (Raglin). Athletes with poor to average mental health should on the whole, perform worse than athletes with good mental health (Raglin).
- a. Mental Imagery (Visualization)
Mental imagery also known as visualization is defined as experience that resembles perceptual experience, but which occurs in the absence of the appropriate stimuli for the relevant perception (Plessinger). In short, any act of imagining an action without physical practice is called imagery.
In a study done by Gershon Tenenbaum on the effectiveness of mental approaches to improve strength, one of the studies had subjects perform a form of visualization before performing a weight lifting exercise. Five minutes before the strength test he had the subjects visualize their best performance before they actually preformed the test. The results showed a significant increase in peak force and peak power by the subjects who used the visualization technique compared to the control group (Tenenbaum).
- b. Positive Statements
In the same study by Tenenbaum the participants were also asked to use positive statements in an effort to look into the effects it had on strength. The subjects had to come up with two positive statements that were related to the resistance exercise they were going to be tested on and write them down. The results were greater than expected in both peak force and peak power (Tenenbaum). This shows how important and powerful thinking positive is to performing at optimal levels.
- c. Meditation/ Four obstructions
Meditation is the beginning of the body mind mastery. Body mind masters have learned in sport and life to focus their attention on the present moment (Millman). Patricia Carrington, author of The Book of Meditation, wrote, “Meditation tends to reduce anxiety levels, making the mediator calmer, less worried and more quietly self-confident.” This is obviously useful attributes for an athlete who is about to enter a contest or exercise session. Relaxation and ease of mind can be helpful in almost any undertaking, but in sports it is important that the person not be so relaxed that he stops caring and loses sight on the task at hand.
Andy Rimol conducted a study on the effectiveness of meditation in motor performance. He took three groups of college students; the first two groups have been practicing meditation for at least five months and the third group of students was non mediators. Rimol tested the subject’s motor skills through using a rather demanding game called the “Labyrinth game” (Carrington). The subjects were given a “pre test” and a post test. Before the “post test” the first group was asked to relax for twenty minutes but not meditate. The second group was asked to meditate and the third group was asked to just relax for twenty minutes. He found that right from the start the mediators scored significantly higher than the non mediators both on the pre and post tests (Carrington).
According to Dan Millman there are four obstructions that plague most athletes. Overcoming these mental obstructions is a key to improve athletic performance.
- Limited Self- Concept
Your progress in life tends to consistently follow your expectations. If you expect to do poorly, you will be less motivated and most likely you will do poorly. By having your expectations real low it is almost impossible to be successful. This deals with self concept. Without a high self concept it is difficult to become successful.
- Fear of Failure
Failure is a natural part of the learning process. People who are afraid to fail will never take enough chances to be successful or will they have the experience necessary to succeed.
- Destructive self criticism
There are two kinds of criticism, constructive and destructive. Constructive criticism is more conducive to success rather than destructive criticism. Self criticism is a learned habit pattern that usually starts in childhood when children receive destructive criticism. It is important to not be too hard on yourself in athletics.
- One pointed attention
There is tremendous power in total attention to the matter at hand. The most successful athletes are able to focus on the task that is in front of them. Too many people try to balance a bunch of different things instead of focusing all of their attention on what they are doing.
How to Survive the Holidays
The holidays are a time when we as individuals come together and spend time with family and friends. This time of year can also wreck havoc on all of our training and dieting goals. However, this does not need to be the case. There is a way you can make it through the holidays without destroying all of your progress. Here is your own “Holiday Eating Blue Print” to stay on track!
– Train Hard
Just because its the holiday season does not mean you can take your workouts lightly. In fact the opposite is true. This time of year is perfect for working out harder. By training harder it makes it increasingly more difficult for your body to store fat. Also you might as well put all of those extra calories consumed to good use… building muscle! Also if you are not currently doing cardio add in 20-30 minutes of low intensity cardio over the holiday season for some extra calorie burning. The best time to do cardio is first thing in the morning and after your lifting session when your glycogen levels are at their lowest.
– Consistent meals
The biggest mistake people make around the holidays is skipping meals. You know what I am talking about; you have a big dinner planed so you starve yourself all day to make up for it. The worst part is people think that actually helps them! What happens is when its time for dinner they end up consuming twice as much food and more junk then they would normally. The better option is to stay on your 5-7 meals per day as you should all be doing. However, It can be beneficial to “plan in” extra calories but that just means to go a little lighter on the meals leading up to the big meal. DO NOT SKIP MEALS!
– Eat Veggies
Eat all the veggies you want with your meals. This is something I have my clients do year round and it can be even more beneficial around the holidays. I very rarely count veggies in a calorie count and consider them FREE. For a list of all of the veggies I approve to be FREE, check it out the Hunt Fitness Clean Food List . Veggies are low in calories and loaded with fiber which creates a feeling of fullness and can help you eat less.
– Make quality choices
The good news is most of the holiday meals have healthy options, the trick is finding them. For starters one of the best lean protein sources is turkey breast. Like always you want to include a lean protein source with each meal so load up on the white meat! As for the side dishes sweet potatoes are excellent carb sources as long as they are not loaded with sugar. If possible ask whoever is cooking the meal to leave some plain sweet potato out for you. Those are two excellent options right there. I have turkey breast and a sweet potato almost every day! Add some veggies to that and you have a solid meal! Of course I don’t expect you to only have turkey breast and sweet potatoes but its an option.
– 72 hour window
If by chance you go wild and chow down on a meal wait at least 72 hours before checking your weight. It will take that long for your body to readjust. Sugar/fatty/salty foods cause water retention so you will most likely be bloated for a few days, that’s normal. If you have been following your program the rest of the time you will bounce back without much noticeable difference after a couple days.
– Enjoy Yourself
That brings me to my next point….enjoy yourself! The holidays are supposed to be a fun time so don’t stress too much about blowing your diet. If you want to eat something then eat it. Consider it a high carb/high calorie day. You can even use it to your advantage on a carb cycle but that is a whole different article haha!
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Importance of Stretching
By: Richard Sirianni
Many forget about the importance of stretching or are too tired or lazy to do it prior to or after their workouts. We allow ourselves to not realize the full potential of stretching. For nothing else, it can improve strength by getting the muscles loosened and an increase in nutrient supply to the stretched area. This allows for quicker healing and greater muscle growth. The faster we deliver nutrients into the torn muscle fibers, the faster they heal and cause less soreness. Moving the lactic acid from our muscles into the bloodstream allows for this (lactic acid) to be excreted from our bodies and water, minerals, nutrients to occupy that space that lactic acid occupied. Thus stimulating more growth in our muscle fibers,
On a functional side, stretching helps prevent injury in sports and out everyday lives. I found this out the hard way. I have been training bodybuilding style for 4 years. I have had low back pains from herniated disc when I was 17. I always chalked all pain in that region to my injury. Recently I have been seeing a long term care chiropractor to help with some pain. Mid September 2010, I had such intense cramping in my lower back, hips, and oblique’s of my right side. The problem was the damage from my injury caused me to compensate my weight to my left side to alleviate my pain. I believed I had slipped a disc with the amount of pain I was in. Come to find out, my psoas muscle (internal obliques) cramped and spasmed, without letting go for 3 days. I began a rigorous stretching regiment and within a week the spasms and cramping had relinquished themselves and my everyday back pain also was gone. I now incorporate stretching into my pre-workout home routine. That way when I get to the gym I’m ready to wage war on my body.
For prevention of injuries we look for two types of stretching, static and dynamic. Static stretching is an older method in which you reach to a point of tension and hold that for a designated count. The more preferred method is dynamic stretching. This involves extending and retracting our stretch with our breath. This allows the body to slowly reach a point further into your stretch, but is not forced by anything more than ourselves. A simple example is the unweighted walking lunge. The walking lunge stretches the hip flexors/extensors, glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
I found out the hard way the importance of stretching, and I write this to inform us all that we need to stretch. It promotes better health, prevents some injury, and can lead to greater muscle growth. Even if you’re not into bodybuilding, it still can help our everyday life with a better posture and in turn can a better life.
“One Dream, One Reality”
The Magic Formula: Is there really a secret to fitness success?
The question in the title can be taken in many different directions. I know there are people reading this right now that are looking for me to explain a short cut or an easy way for them to achieve success. Sorry, that’s not what I mean. Other people are more realistic and think there is no magic formula and it takes years of hard work to actually achieve substantial fitness goals. Unfortunately the second group is also wrong, however hard work is very important. What I am about to explain is what I refer to as “The Magic Formula”. The Magic Formula contains three pillars of fitness. Once you have each one of the pillars mastered you hold the keys to achieving your goals.
The Magic Formula
Pillar 1- Nutrition
Pillar 2- Recovery
Pillar 3- Training
This is a fool proof plan. If you have all three pillars in “The Magic Formula” mastered I can personally guarantee success will be much easier. The hard part is mastering the formula and applying it properly. Remember everyone’s body does not react the same way, therefore there are a bunch of different nutrition, recovery and training techniques to get the job done, your job is to figure out what works best for you.
Part 3 Muscle Building Tips: Training
Ok so in the first two parts of this miniseries we covered nutrition and recovery tips to help you gain muscle! Now in part three we are going to cover the top 3 muscle building training tips. Once you put all three into action (nutrition-recovery- training) you will have the necessary tools required to look Huge!!!
Tip #1 – Heavy compound movements
– This may seem like common sense but in order to gain muscle you need to lift heavy weights. I see way too many people in the gym looking to gain muscle but their workout consists of 75 percent machines. If muscle building is your goal (which it should be for most everyone who wants to look and feel better) then focus on heavy free weight compound movements. Machines have their place but your workouts should not be built around them.
Tip # 2 – Progression
– In weight training there is three main ways to make progress in your training, lift more weight, do more reps, or take less rest in between sets. Each workout you want to progress in one of these three ways. A key point to remember is you want to stay in your hypertrophy rep range for the most part so make sure the weight you’re using allows you to achieve muscle failure between 8-12 reps. Go to muscle failure! That is why choosing the correct weight is so important. You are missing out if you stop at 10 just because that was your target for that set. Pick a weight that forces you to stop at 10; you will see much better results if you do.
Tip # 3 – Use proper Form
– This is a big one. If people make one mistake with their training it normally has to do with form. There is a reason exercises are meant to be done a certain way. Make sure you are doing the exercise properly and in a controlled manor. If you are working back but you have an awesome pump in your biceps there is a problem. Get the form down before you start adding weight.
Make sure to check out the “Online Bodybuilding Club” at the top of the site!