LONDON, (Newswise) — Sleeping enough, eating well, exercising and coping with stress are all components of good health, but who can really do all four at once — all the while managing a hectic schedule?
Safia Debar, M.B.B.S., an expert in tailored medical exams at Mayo Clinic Healthcare, explains that “[b]y pulling any of these levers, you can have a big impact on your health.” She explains how giving a little extra attention to one of these areas can improve the others.
It all starts in the brain, she says. When the brain is in a state of “rest, repair and relaxation,” and the body, assuming general good health, is functioning suitably, the brain can focus on healthy activities.
Yet, when the brain is in a stress state, its primary concern is handling perceived threats. In this state, physical needs are relegated to a second-place ranking. Dr. Debar explains that the perception of threat and real threat are the same, as the brain does not distinguish between the two. Once that button is pressed, she explains, the same cascade ensues.
Stress can impact sleeping, eating and exercising. “It’s all intertwined,” she explains. For example, when the brain is in a stress state, it is thinking in the short term and focused on feeling better immediately. That’s why it’s common to crave sugary or fatty foods and not make the effort to exercise when stressed: The brain tells the body it needs immediate energy, Dr. Debar says.
“The brain wants to feel better right now, so it’s not going to think about how much better you’d feel after exercising. It won’t consider that a good night’s rest might make it all seem better in the morning. The brain wants a quick fix.
Yes, sleeping, eating and exercising affects how we handle stress, and, while stress affects how we sleep, eat and exercise.
Dr. Debar therefore explains that laying down any foundational elements to good health can impact your life in big ways.
She recommends asking yourself these key questions:
• “What is my sleep like?” If it’s not good, maybe that’s where to place your attention, by going to bed earlier or changing another aspect of your sleep routine, Dr. Debar says.
• “How is my gut functioning?” If you are having digestive problems, it may help to optimize your nutrition, Dr. Debar says.
• “What is my social support like?” That can affect mood, she says.
• “What kind of exercise am I getting?” If the answer isn’t much, try to find ways to incorporate more movement into your day, she says.
• “Do I find certain things are making me feel stressed?” For example, if checking email before bed or immediately upon waking generates stress, think about how to change that part of your routine to maintain calm, Dr. Debar says.
Helping your gut may be enough for you, or helping your sleep may be the key, she explains. “It’s those simple foundational elements that can have huge impact.”
When you understand the foundations of health, it shouldn’t be about not having enough self-control, procrastinating, or not being disciplined enough, Dr. Debar says. Instead, it should be, “how do we take what you have in your life and embed these practices in it?”
Be intentional about the basics — sleep, nutrition, exercise, and handling stress. Improving on any one of these elements can be empowering.