Physical training is meant to be a stress reliever, an outlet for the frustrations of the day, and an opportunity to improve yourself. Similarly, eating and recovering well is supposed to improve your vitality, boost your immune system, and make you feel great. But in this age of FOMO (that’d be Fear of Missing Out), a non-stop barrage of health-related blogs, podcasts, and clickbait articles is constantly telling us that extra 1, 5, or 10 new things we need to be adding to our daily routines. Then there’s the scaremongering and flip-flopping. One minute fat’s the villain and the next, the hero. Carbs are bad, carbs are good, these carbs are OK but those will kill you.
Next you have that fitness tracker telling you to do more and pay attention to a bunch of numbers you don’t understand, and your sleep monitor informing you that you’re not getting enough shut-eye. Add in the unrealistic body image expectations set by so-called stars in their Photoshopped social media pictures, and it’s easy to reverse what health and fitness is meant to be about and end up feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, and stressed out.
So you don’t succumb to health anxiety, follow these five tips:
1. Stop Measuring Yourself Against Photoshopped Celebrities and Pro Athletes
We live in the Age of Social Media and the selfie reigns supreme. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms abound with pictures of buff guys and impossibly toned girls who look like they spend every waking moment in the gym. A lot of them are somehow famous just because of certain body parts (the infamous “belfie” crowd), and are being paid ludicrous amounts of money by companies wanting them to sell you on the latest green smoothie that supposedly led to them looking like this.
The truth is much more complicated. Many of these people are filtering the heck out of every single shot into the mirror. And when it comes to the Marvel superhero physiques of pro athletes, well of course they look like that – it’s their job to be in peak physical condition. The rest of us aren’t, so we should stop trying to compare ourselves to such folks as it’s messing with our minds. It’s also worth noting that someone can look good but be profoundly unhealthy on the inside. As long as you’re eating well and getting some activity most days and you feel good, then you’re doing just fine. Focus on being the best possible version of you, not trying to emulate celebs and athletes.
2. Stick to the 80/20 Rule
If there’s one area of wellness that can stress us the heck out, it’s food. It seems that just as the media has accepted something as healthy, another study comes out to contradict it. If a diet gets some actors, musicians, and TV doctors on board, it’s all the rage for a few months, before people get tired of it and the next fad comes along. Atkins, Paleo, keto…the list goes on and on. Figuring out truth from hype with nutrition and hopping from one bandwagon to the next can be exhausting.
Instead of going all out for an elimination diet that you secretly loathe because it makes you feel like a zealot and forces you to cut out many of your favorite foods, try to follow some common-sense guidelines in the kitchen. Primarily stick to whole (see: real, not made in a lab) foods and when possible, make these organic. Eat a lot of fresh and frozen produce, some lean meats, fish, and dairy, and whole grains like oats, quinoa, and sprouted bread. Aim to eat healthily 80 percent of the time, and give yourself a little more leeway for the other 20 percent.
As long as you’re hitting the target with most meals you’ll be just fine, with no need to go to extremes.
3. Beware Fitness Crazes
To see which fitness trend is in vogue today, all you have to do is drive (or better yet, walk) past a few local strip malls. It’s likely that there’s some new studio that, like Hansel in Zoolander, is so hot right now. Just as with fad diets, fitness crazes seem to come and go at an alarming rate. Right when you were down with your soul-crushing spinning class, that’s out and circuit training is back in. Then you turn on the TV and see some celebrity trainer torturing poor unsuspecting folks with yet another new kind of workout routine. Phew!
Rather than trying to keep pace with such things, a more healthful approach is to find a sport you like – whether by yourself or with family and friends – and play it a couple of times a week. Balance this with some kind of functional training at a gym or studio with coaches that know their stuff. This could include using TRX Suspension Training equipment, kettlebells, barbells, battling ropes, and other tools that work major muscle groups through full ranges of motion. It’s best to find an approach that emphasizes good quality movement above all, as this will allow you to progress steadily with minimal chance of injury. Just getting 20, 30, or 40 minutes a day of purposeful exercise is going to give you everything you need to function well in your sport of choice and in life. Focus on nailing the fundamentals and finding a physical practice that gives you more than it takes out of you. You don’t need to end up sobbing in a pool of your own sweat to have had a good workout, no matter what the trendy studio instructors might tell you!
4. Don’t Make Fitness Tech Everything
If you find that your fitness tracker or smartwatch is helping you stay motivated or you’re a data geek who loves crunching the numbers, stick with it. But a lot of people find that being low-jacked to a device is actually doing more harm than good. One survey reported that 79 percent of people who used a popular wearable felt pressured to reach their daily targets, with 59 percent saying it controlled their daily routines, and 30 percent viewing it as their “enemy.” Plus, if you’re looking to machines to assess how hard you’re working, one study conducted at UC San Francisco’s Human Performance Center found that cardio equipment over-estimated calories burned by an average of 19%.
This doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. You could use fitness tech to connect the dots between how you’re feeling and what the numbers tell you about your performance, and it’s often useful to track progress over time. Balance this by sometimes going for a tech-free run, cycle, or workout. This will allow you to fine-tune your self-awareness and listen to your body better. If you feel like you need to map your run, ride, or whatever, then don’t look at your device until after you’re done so you can be fully immersed in your activity.
5. Do the Basics Well
One of the most beneficial habits you can add into your day is to take a 20 or 30 minute walk in nature. Research shows that this goes far beyond merely burning calories or accumulating more steps, lowering your blood pressure and inflammation markers, reducing anxiety, and improving mental health. Remember that when it comes to your vitality, it’s moderation and consistency that are key, not extreme fitness classes, radical diets, or getting selfie-worthy abs. Rather than going all out one day and then sitting on the couch and hitting the fast-food drive-through the next, try to maintain simple, positive practices that you can stick to most of the time. And give yourself a pat on the back once in a while! By eating well, moving often, and avoiding society’s unrealistic expectations for what “fit” looks like, you’re already well on the way to good, lifelong health.