If you’re reading this, you already know that working up a sweat regularly is good for you —and you’re probably already addicted to the thrill of a good exercise-induced endorphin buzz.
But are you doing everything you can to make the most of your workout? After all, there are 24 hours in the day and your workout is just one of them. Getting the best results can be as much about what you do outside of the gym as what you’re doing in it.
Few things sabotage your health journey quite like stress, which triggers our body to release cortisol. This stress hormone can affect all of our body’s functions, from the immune system to digestion. It also signals the body to store fat, particularly in the abdomen, and can hamper your ability to recover quickly from a workout.
The good news is that you can stop stress in its tracks. These practices in mindful, intentional living will boost the effects of your workout, and probably make your life a little sweeter and smoother along the way.
Sleep deprivation is a sure way to wreck havoc on both your stress and hormone levels. In fact, getting enough sleep may be the most important thing you can do to optimize your workout. When you’re not getting enough shut eye, growth hormone levels drop and muscle recovery becomes less and less efficient.
Lack of sleep also brings changes in the levels of hormones such as leptin, ghrelin and cortisol, which can effect your appetite, blood sugar and metabolism. The result? Not getting enough sleep can actually cause you to gain weight — being tired may actually make you more likely to reach for bad-for-you foods.
Seven to nine hours a night is a good benchmark to aim for. Power naps are also an excellent practice. A twenty-minute catnap can work wonders for your energy levels, keep your hormones balanced and boost the effects of your workout.
If you’ve been resisting adopting a mindfulness practice, it’s time to give it a try. Practicing meditation keeps your stress levels down, reducing the body’s response and supporting your wellness goals. A little daily stillness goes a long way, improving matters in the brain and beyond.
Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has been shown to reduce psychological stresses, including anxiety, depression and pain. Meditation practice also has a wide-range of physical effects, including lower blood pressure, reduced joint inflammation, and improved skin.
Not sure where to start? Meditative practice can be as simple as setting a timer, sitting comfortably, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breath. Seek out a good teacher to help you cultivate a practice that will support you through all of lives ups and downs.
One of the best mindfulness tools available is also one of the most easily accessible: Breathe. While you breathe all day long without a second thought, adding a little intention to your respiratory activities has been show to reduce stress and relieve a range of ailments. A little mindful oxygen intake also helps build muscle, decrease cortisol production and improve your anabolic response.
Lightening up can be as simple as, well, lightening up! That funny YouTube video you love might actually be helping to keep you healthy. Laughter reduces stress, helping keep our hormone levels stable and balanced. Having a good giggle has also been shown to increase your sense of psychological well-being, improve your relationships and even make your smarter. Taking time out each day for something you find enjoyable is an important practice, both for achieving your wellness goals and improving your general happiness.
If these things seem simple, it’s because they are. Stress levels don’t soar because of how uncomplicated our lives are, after all. Taking time for these basic practices isn’t just a way to optimize your workout results. It’s a move toward valuable decluttering in the day-to-day. The result: happier, more mindful, intentional living — with a welcome side of muscle mass.