For better health, try fitness from the inside out

But over the years, the health lessons that stuck with me weren’t about physical change. The biggest improvements in my own health and well-being have come from inner fitness.

Inner fitness means focusing your energy on your emotional well-being and mental health rather than scolding yourself about your diet, your weight, or not getting enough exercise. This 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 promote resilience,” said Tina Lifford, author of “The Little Book of Big Lies: A Journey Into Inner Fitness.” “I would love to see the idea of ​​inner fitness become as ubiquitous, well-understood and actionable as physical fitness.”

Lately, because I’ve decided it’s time for a change, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned about inner fitness since starting the Well section nearly 15 years ago. As I leave The New York Times for a new opportunity, I’d like to leave you with some of the most memorable indoor fitness tips I’ve collected in recent years.

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 treat a friend in need. Support. About 75% of people who find it easy to support others score very low on self-compassion tests and aren’t very kind to themselves, said Kristin Neff, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. and expert in self-compassion. compassion. If you often berate yourself for perceived failures, such as not losing weight or not being a better parent or spouse, try taking a self-compassionate break. Start by asking yourself: what do I need right now?

Be generous: Our bodies and minds benefit in various ways when we help others. Studies show that volunteering, donating money, or sharing tips with friends can release the brain’s feel-good chemicals and activate its reward system. The volunteers had fewer stress hormones on the days they volunteered. “One of the best anti-anxiety drugs available is generosity,” said Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, when I interviewed him for one of my favorite stories about pandemic, titled “The Science of Helping.”

Pay attention: Good things happen when we pay attention. We are better able to deal with negative thoughts when we take a moment to notice negative thoughts. Observing the little wonders that surround us when we take an “admiring” walk can amplify the mental health benefits of exercise. Identifying your feelings and naming them — something scientists call “emotional labeling” — can calm your brain and reduce stress.

Find Your Calm: Learning to calm my mind and ease my anxiety has been the biggest benefit I’ve had from writing about health. I often use meditation apps – lately I listened to the teachers of the Unplug app, who helped us create “Meditations for Uncertain Times”. I learned the “Five Finger Meditation” from Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center. I also like to find moments of mindfulness in everyday activities, like brushing my teeth or enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning.

Give yourself the best times of the day: In which one or two hour period of each day do you feel the best? Your most energetic? Your most productive? Now ask yourself: who gets those hours? Chances are you’re spending those highly productive hours on work requisitions, paying bills, sorting emails, or managing household needs. But now that you’ve identified the time of day when you feel your best, try making that time for yourself instead, advises Jack Groppel, executive trainer and professor of exercise and sports science at Judson University in Elgin. , Illinois. For me, this advice was transformative. Giving yourself the best time each day to focus on your personal goals and values ​​is the ultimate form of self-care.

Make a fresh start: Katy Milkman, a Wharton professor and author of the book “How to Change,” has studied the science of fresh starts, which she calls the fresh start effect. She and her colleagues have found that we are more inclined to make meaningful changes in our lives around “time markers” – those times we naturally associate with new beginnings. New Year’s Day is the most obvious time marker in our lives, but birthdays, the start of spring, back to school, or a new job are all time markers that create psychological opportunities for lasting change.

As I leave The Times for my own fresh start, the hardest part is leaving you, the readers, who have supported me so much and asked so many intelligent questions over the years. It was your curiosity and skepticism that made me better understand what it really means to be healthy – both on the outside and on the inside.

Stay well!

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