What does 'being fit' or 'fitness' mean to you? I think if you asked this question to the majority of people, they would suggest that 'being fit' or the level of someones 'fitness' relates overwhelmingly to the shape of someones body or how they perform at physical activity. The more accurate description, however, corresponds directly to a person's ability to operate within their given environment.
If you consider Darwin's theory of evolution and the concept of 'survival of the fittest'. In his studies, Darwin recognized that the most important aspect for the survival of any species was the rate at which they could adapt to the changing state of the environment in front of them.
Now then, relate this concept to your everyday life. How well are you adapting to the changing state of your environment? Take a moment then to think about your current operating environment. What does it look like? Think about what you did yesterday. Does any of this sound at all familiar; Up early, skipped breakfast, stuck in traffic, getting the kids to school on time, long meetings, tight deadlines, lunch at my desk, getting that report in on time, up late finishing that assignment, feeling exhausted, there is just so much to do.
Now think about what all of this is doing to you. Research has confirmed that stress and stress-related activity is having a dramatic impact on people's overall well-being. In essence, today's stress-laden environments are ending people's lives earlier than needed and if something doesn't change, like that of other species that failed to adapt, yourself and others could become extinct far too soon. The first step is recognition of the problem if there is one, the next is taking action.
One of the most important aspects related to the success of someone operating in today's environment is the extent to which they successfully manage what is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be the negative aspects of their particular circumstance. If handled poorly over time, these negative aspects of a person's situation can without warning spiral into some form depression. Depression is more common than people realize. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression and 1 in 6 people (1 in 5 women, 1 in 8 men) will suffer some form of depression during their lifetime. The WHO also suggests that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of health-related illness in the world.
The big question now is how can I decrease my chances of depression and improve my level of 'fitness'? A simple answer could be to completely remove yourself from your current environment. However, for most people this is not a suitable option. So, let's look at nine very simple tools and techniques that can assist you in increasing your overall level of 'fitness'.
1. Breath. Breathing is an essential source of life and although it predominately works without any unconscious effort on our part, conscious breathing can be a great source of relief from everyday challenges. An inspiring yoga teacher of mine would always mention that your breath is your best friend in this world, and rightly so. Just closing your eyes and breathing deeply for 15-30 seconds with an exhale longer than that of your inhale is an extremely easy and effective way to release stress and tension. Physiologically, this type of breathing is transferring your nervous system from a sympathetic to a para-sympathetic state. Too much time spent in the sympathetic nervous state is problematic for your body and mind as it can actually result in degrading your ability to return the body and mind to a calm and collected state. When in doubt, breath.
2. Calming Your Thoughts. When something happens that puts your mind in a stressful state, repeated thoughts about the same subject often make people believe that their problems are larger than they actually are. The most effective way, in conjunction with breath to calm your thoughts is through simple mindfulness and meditation techniques that bring you into the present. The first step in using these techniques is self-realization of the thoughts that are currently circling in your mind. The easiest way to do this is just sitting or lying down in any position (preferably with your spine straight) and taking one or two minutes a few times a day to just be with your thoughts. In this position, allow all your thoughts to come and go, then after each 15-30 second period reflect on the type of thoughts you are having. You will be amazed just how many thoughts come into your mind and the subjects involved. After realizing just how many of these thoughts are related to the same subject, you are in a better position to show yourself just how exaggerated some of your negative thoughts really are.
3. Creative Activity. Any activity that calms your thoughts and takes you away from any negative or obstructive thoughts is a good thing. It is hard to think about all the things that you perceive are going wrong in your life whilst you are enjoying expressing your creativity through one of your favorite activities. If thoughts come up around reminders that you need to do, either telling yourself that you will get onto them later or having a pen and paper at hand to quickly write down an important point will allow you to enjoy your activity and is a great way to practice living in the moment.
4. Exercise. The body was constructed to move. As well as creating stiff and sore muscles and joints, and allowing the build up of toxins that leads to an unhealthy body, continual inactivity is also problematic for your thoughts and feelings. Over time, an unhealthy body and mind can have a spiraling negative effect on your life. Your body and mind need at least 30-60 mins of exercise 3-4 times a week. I would recommend trying several types of exercise and attempting to incorporate basic forms of exercise within your daily routine.
5. Sleep. Everyone is aware that sleep is critical to a healthy body and mind, although many are not getting enough. Sleep allows your body and mind to heal and the amount of sleep needed is individually determined. Denying your body sleep is denying your body and mind the ability to repair itself. Whilst sleeping your mind has the ability to process and take stock of what happened throughout the day. Continual use of sleeping pills to attain sleep does not allow your brain to process information and can cause negative side-effects in the long term. If it comes time to sleep and you are struggling to fall asleep, look at your routine before settling down to sleep and try relaxation techniques such as Yoga Nidra (Yoga sleep).
6. Nutrition. The old adage is you are what you eat. A more to the point explanation is 'crap in, crap out'. What you are eating has a dramatic effect on how well your body as well as you mind is able to operate and cope in normal and stressful situations. Some of the easiest approaches to improve your nutrition are to; fill your diet with as many raw fruits and vegetables as possible, decrease the amount of red and processed meats as well as low fat and high sugar products, and do not eat anything that contains something you can't spell is also a good guide.
7. Letting It Go. Do not let yourself hold onto negative feelings and thoughts about people, places or things. Continually remind yourself to not sweat the small the stuff and most importantly, that everything is small stuff. One way to think about this is asking yourself at the time something happens that triggers a stressful reaction 'will this really matter in three or six months time'. In almost all cases, if you were to look back on events you considered major six or even three months later, they have very little impact if at all on your future state of living.
8. Community. Surround yourself with people that you aspire to be like. Try to avoid being around people that consistently complain, are negative or make you feel negative. Who you are around makes a massive impact on your state of mind.
9. Give Back. Try to each day do something completely selfless for someone else without expecting anything in return and attempt to not get caught doing it. It is amazing the state of mind doing something completely selfless for someone else can put you in. You feel great knowing that you helped someone else and receive recognition from yourself that you did something of worth, which is far more important than receiving praise from someone else.
Most people could easily suggest that they do not have enough time in their busy day to use all of the tools and techniques provided, and they are probably right. The two most important aspects in succeeding to increase your level of 'fitness' is firstly disciplining yourself to take on the beneficial habits and reducing the non-beneficial habits. The second aspect is incremental change in the right direction. It does not need to be dramatic, as incremental change in the right direction will always eventually get you to where you want to be, or potentially in this case, where you need to be.