Food, Exercise, & Stress: What's The Best Way To Train Your Body For Life?

Food, Exercise, & Stress: What's The Best Way To Train Your Body For Life? Hero Image

Ideas about what's healthy and what's not are always changing. Take food as an example. I remember the fat-free craze in the 1990s; fat-free muffins, fat-free cookies, fat-free fat. You could eat as many of those puffy chocolately snack well cookies as you wanted. It's safe, no fat!

Well, it turns out fat isn't what makes us fat, so forget that one. Walk the center aisle at the supermarket today and you'll see that FDA "Heart-Healthy" stamp on those big bags of crunchy chips. Looking at the label, they have every nutrient imaginable packed in there. Everything you need! Well, maybe not.

Same goes for exercise. We need to move. We need to get away from our desks and get into our bodies, every day. We know it's good for our heart, and also our mood. But does it help us lose weight? Ten years ago, most sources would give you a big YES. Today, we've got a mountain of data that suggests otherwise. If exercise doesn't change how we eat for the better, all the exercise in the world won't help us lose weight. And the other big question: does all this exercise help us get healthy? The answer is, it depends. What does that mean?

Our bodies are incredible listening and response devices. They listen and respond very carefully to what we do every day. When we eat foods that don't work well for us, we get a signal from our body: we don't feel so good. If we ignore that signal for long enough, our body concludes that we're not interested in that conversation. Feel bad long enough, and we just stop feeling. Until a much louder signal comes along. But if we respond to that signal by eating something better, we get a new signal: we feel good!

It turns out stress is a huge driving factor in health and disease. Stress will always be here. How we live each day can allow stress to make a home in our bodies, or how we live can allow stress to move right along. How we exercise relates to stress in the same way. If we exercise with a great deal of aggression — maybe we beat ourselves up for a bad food and alcohol week, or maybe we're mad that our bodies aren't looking or feeling the way we want — then we're putting stress into our bodies. We're practicing frustration with ourselves. Our body is listening, and this practice isn't a path to health.

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By contrast, if we move easily through our exercise — no forcing or struggling, just breathing and getting into our bodies — we're working in a way that releases stress. It doesn't find a home in us. In fact, we've triggered what Harvard Medical School scientist Dr. Herbert Benson first described in the 1970's as the Relaxation Response: an important set of physiological responses to stress and ease, that are central to how our body heals and establishes good health.

For athletes, it's worth noting that moving easily doesn't mean moving lazily. You can compete at the highest level moving with ease; in fact, it's a necessity if you want to move from good to great. Pushing and forcing puts tension into your body, which prevents effective movement, reduces endurance, and limits strength. Focus your training on trading struggle and force for easy movability, and you get the opposite effect: substantial increases in range of motion, power, and endurance.

Science And Miracles: How To Take Control Of Your Health

Doctors perform miracles for people all the time. It's amazing what medical expertise can accomplish for our health. People also perform miracles for themselves all the time. It's amazing what the expertise you already have can accomplish for your health.

Doctors are on our team, but they can't do everything for us. It's as important, maybe more, that we be on our own team.

Some people believe that science is a steady march to perfect knowledge and unlimited capability. Others believe that science is only one way of understanding complex systems, that stands alongside other equally powerful means for gaining and applying knowledge.

Wherever you fall in this debate, we know that right now science is not limitlessly capable. Every 10 years, medical science substantially contradicts itself as it tries to guide us to better health. It's trying, but it isn't perfect. It needs help. It needs you.

Understand that you are the world's leading expert in you. Tune in. Feel. Act on how you feel. Perform your own health miracles.