One of my dreams for DVRT was to eventually expand to where we could talk about anything that has to do with health. Don’t get me wrong, my expertise is in fitness coaching, problem solving, and prescription, but over the years I’ve also gained a great appreciation how other factors can improve our health and fitness.
In fact, I would say that if we do NOT address these issues better in our training world then we aren’t really building better health outcomes and we will limit our ability to achieve our fitness goals. Life has taught me these lessons the hard way with a chronic disease that has greatly changed the course of my life.
I think having the experience of coaching a wide array of people for over 25 years, being an athlete both in team sports and iron sports, and living with a debilitating disease, I do have a unique perspective and have worked with some top professionals that does allow me to bring real solutions to many of these issues.
An important one I thought we would tackle today is sleep. Recently it has been very popular in fitness circles to discuss how important sleep is to our health and our ability to accomplish our fitness goals. That is definitely true as research has shown even in young people that a lack of sleep can decrease our endurance, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, and strength. (1,2)
Lack of quality sleep can also greatly impair our mood and cognitive function. So, it makes sense that focusing on increasing the quality of our sleep would be a priority. Heck, lack of sleep can even impair our ability to lose body fat and increase our chances of becoming obese (3).
However, the WORST piece of advice I have heard given in the fitness industry is….”you need to get better sleep!”
While well intended this doesn’t help people actually solve their sleep issues. What I thought would be more helpful is explore some of the most important factors in helping people achieve better sleep.
#1: Identify The Main Issue
While it is great to give advice about sleep supplements and sleep hygiene (both things we will discuss), the most important first step is to identify why someone is really experiencing sleep issues. The most common reason tends to be stress related.
Fitness pros, strength coaches, and physical therapists are not trained to be mental health professionals. However, asking questions about what is going on in someone’s life can be very meaningful and impactful. Those that aren’t as welcoming of our inquiries can still be those we reach with a simple survey.
In our initial health questionnaire with people, we should not only ask how much sleep one gets and the quality, but ask about their perception of stressors in their lives. The main ones that people experience focus around:
Asking a simple 1-3 rating (1 being very little stress, 2 being moderate, and 3 being severe) can give us great and meaningful insight into what’s happening in someone’s life. Without playing therapist, we start to have a better understanding of what our clients are dealing with and why sleep may be an issue. Possibly over time people can open up to us and we can maybe refer them to a proper professional if needed.
What else can we do though, especially if we aren’t trained to professionally care for such issues? One great start would be to teach mindfulness. What is mindfulness? A very simple definition is, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
A way we can help people achieve this is through mindful meditation techniques. I know, you don’t like meditation, you have never been able to perform meditation, etc. The truth is I am right there with you, in the past I would have said the same thing, but to be honest, I never really understood meditation nor did I give it an honest effort.
It is kinda funny because in fitness we often talk about discipline in working out or our nutrition, but things like meditation we can dismiss quite easily. This is really a shame and problematic because meditation has SO MUCH research behind it to help a host of health qualities (such as reducing depression, anxiety, improving relationships with food, dealing with stress, and helping achieve better sleep).
Being disciplined therefore, to me, is much more about doing things you need to do that aren’t typical behaviors that you already enjoy and value.
Meditation is NOT about making you not think or having nothing on your brain. Rather, it is about trying to make you present in your life. I often think of my Star Wars hero, Yoda, who would yell at Luke Skywalker that he never thought about being present (Jedis were big into meditation btw).
You don’t have to be a meditation expert to start learning and benefitting from meditation. In fact, you can start as little as 5 minutes at a time. With technology, meditation is easier than ever with apps like Breethe or Calm (just to name a few of my own favorites). Chances are, your first few times meditating will make you more relatable to your clients. You will probably feel like you aren’t quite “getting it,” it could be unfamiliar to you and therefore make you feel like a fish out of water, but making it a priority and practicing meditation you will quickly start to feel some increased benefits (like sleeping better).
The best part about meditation is that even if you aren’t perfect or “doing it right,” nothing bad happens to you and you are out a whole five minutes. However, the more you start to learn to enjoy the process (sound familiar?) the more you will start to see and feel the benefits. Setting up time to lay in your bed and spend 5-10 minutes with these meditation apps can go a long ways in improving your sleep and helping you (as well as clients) deal with these very common life stressors.
Like training, no one can do it for you, and it is a little bit of a process. However, the more you buy into the value the faster the benefits will appear. There is strong evidence that not only can meditation improve your sleep, but it can do so better than drugs on the market (4).
I can’t make you recommend or practice meditation for yourself, but I can share with as someone who has battled a chronic illness since they were 14, has a family history of clinical depression, making meditation a part of my life has been one of the most impactful things I have done for my overall health. If anything, I hope you will just give it 30 days to see what it can do for you and your clients.
If you enjoy posts like this I hope you will let us know as I would like to continue to dive into topics and solutions that relate to all aspects of our fitness and overall health.
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