We are all told numerous times by the media, family, friends, and our trainer that we need to exercise! Not only do we need to exercise, but it needs to be intense enough to burn lots of calories and strengthen our muscles, bones, heart, and lungs. For many people, exercise is a way to get in touch with their bodies, while for others, it is a struggle to connect with the one and only body that they live in. Listen to your body as it pays attention to you.
Your body is wise. It knows when you need to nurture it with food, water, breath, warmth, and other life essentials. It also knows when you need to move it, stretch it, protect it, and speed up or slow down.
If it is so wise, then why do so many of us struggle to listen to it? In this day and age, a lot of people spend a lot of time plugged into their computers and in front of TV to “relax” at night. OK, maybe that is really not going to change all that much unless you start to listen to the signals that your body gives you.
When you feel that urge to stand up from your computer and go grab a cup of coffee, could that be a signal that your body wants to get moving? What a prime opportunity to take it one step further and find the stairwell for 5 or even 10 minutes of walking some flights.
Listening to that signal might be the little alarm that goes off in your head that it is time to hit
the gym for a lunch-time workout or stand up and stretch your neck, shoulders, and chest muscles, which so desperately need to be stretched from the long hours hunched forward at the computer.
In another scenario, you get home after a tiring day at work and hit the couch. Is that really what your body needs? If you listen carefully to the signals, you might hear instead that it needs to get moving. A walk or run before or after dinner, 20-30 minutes of yoga or Pilates, a quick circuit workout at home or at the gym all are options.
Put on some good music and dance for a few minutes. Leash up the dog and head out for a walk. Your dog will thank you! Maybe you prefer to put dinner in the oven and do 20 squats, 20 pushups, and hold a plank for one minute.
One of the strongest signals is that feeling that you just need to clear your head and relieve some stress. Another signal could be that strong feeling that you need to stretch. Maybe your low back feels tight. Getting your body moving can be a huge relief, both physically and mentally.
Sometimes our bodies tell us that we need to back off a bit from exercising or during a particular exercise. Perhaps you feel a sharp pain in your knees while doing lunges that you hadn’t felt before. That could simply be an indication that you need to stretch out your quads, or, that you have overdone it. Maybe you go out for your regular run or swim and feel like the entire time was up a huge hill. Your body will tell you that it is time to back off. Take a rest day (or two).
So many injuries can be prevented if people just listen to their bodies! That nagging elbow tendonitis will get better by stopping the action that is aggravating it. Sure, it might mean that you have to find something else to do, or your biceps might get a little weaker while you stop working them out for a few weeks , but you have to listen to your body! When you keep pushing an injury, it fights back.
There are some signals that you absolutely cannot ignore, such as difficulty breathing, dizziness while exercising, chest pain, etc. For the most part, however, the signals that you will receive will still be obvious once you learn to listen.
What about hunger cues? You find yourself sitting at your desk at 10:00 a.m. and are starting to feel a little headachy, spaced out, and fighting off immediate cravings for a sweet treat. In another situation, maybe your stomach has been growling during that meeting and you realize that it has been over 4 hours since you last ate.
In the first case, you are likely fighting low blood sugar. Symptoms of low blood sugar can include sweating, rapid heartbeat, shaking, skin tingling, trouble concentrating, sudden mood changes, fatigue, and more. Low blood sugar is known as “hypoglycemia”. It is a real physiological condition that many people struggle to get control over. Very low blood sugar can lead to loss of consciousness, seizure, or even in extreme cases, coma. This is obviously a medical emergency.
When your blood sugar “crashes”, you want to do whatever it takes to get it back up so that you feel normal again. It can take hours, or even days, for some people to level back out. [picture of someone feeling tired at their desk] As your blood sugar starts to drop, if you pay attention to the cues, you need to eat something with some carbohydrates to bring it back up.
You will want to balance those carbs (preferably healthy carbs such as veggies or whole grains) with some protein and fat. Keeping snacks in your desk, purse, or car will help when you find yourself in these situations. Try some mixed nuts or a balanced energy bar, for example. Prevention is key to maintaining stable blood sugar.
In the second case, you are truly hungry! Everyone is different with regards to how often they need to eat. Some people need to eat every 3-4 hours, while some can go longer. If you are trying to lose weight, you definitely want to eat regularly in order to prevent binging brought on by low blood sugar, or being so hungry that you overeat.
Food is necessary for our survival, yet many people rush through their meals and barely experience the pleasure of eating. This is one big reason for overeating. According to Nutritional Psychologist, Marc David, MA, by eating too fast, we don’t give the brain enough time to register that we are full.
If we slowed down we would not only experience the pleasure of eating and ultimately reduce overeating, but we would also send proper signals to our brain which, according to David, confuses pleasure for hunger. In an article David states that there is a “direct biochemical connection between eating with pleasure and our digestion and long-term calorie-burning metabolism”. Check it out in his book: The Slow Down Diet
The simple truth is that your body is very smart. By learning to listen to it, you will cue in on some very important signals that you would otherwise miss. Pay attention to those signals. When you get the urge to stand up from your desk, or get up from the couch, do it. Get up and stretch, move around, take a few deep breaths.
When you get those hunger signals, take a look at your watch. When did you last eat? Are you really hungry? Assess your blood sugar. Remember, many times, declining blood sugar sends people running to the vending machines or cookie counter at the coffee shop when it is really quite simple to prevent this from happening in the first place. Eating is meant to be pleasurable. Take the time to enjoy and digest.