Fitness attributes – stress

This is the next in the series following my What do you need to do to be fit? post.

Being overwhelmed by stress impedes your ability to go about your life, both by occupying your mind and making you more susceptible to disease. To have well rounded fitness you should be able to manage the stresses of your life.

What is stress?

Stress is anything that activates the stress, or fight or flight, response. In its most basic terms it is a series of hormonal releases within your body designed to help you survive danger.

In the excellent book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert Sapolsky uses the example of how the stress response would affect an animal in the savannah. A very simplified version of the sequence may go something like:

  1. Lion wants to eat you
  2. Stress response on
  3. Hormones released
  4. Non essential systems shut down (includes things like digestion and saliva production)
  5. Extra blood and energy sent to the essential ones (i.e. legs).
  6. Run
  7. Escape (hopefully)

    When the danger passes a different set of hormones are released, you relax and all your bodies systems go back to doing what they should. This might happen once every day or two.

    The problem for humans in the modern West is that this happens multiple times in the day. The stress response is always on, your day might start something like this:

    1. Woken up by an alarm (heart pounding straight away)
    2. Rush through breakfast (I’m late, I’m late)
    3. Have pointless argument with wife about the location of your keys
    4. Rush for train
    5. Stand on hot uncomfortable train (getting very irritated in the process)
    6. Arrive at work, check to do list and instantly worry about its size.

      That’s all by 9am.

      This is no good. The negative effects on your health are endless but the big ones are: heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure. All very real, all can be caused by excessive stress and all are killing lots of people each year.

      So how do you control it?

      The things that cause stress are real and unavoidable parts of modern life but we often get stressed about things with limited long term effect. I know in my case I often put the stress onto myself rather that it be put on me by an external source. 

      When faced with a stressful situation like any of the examples above try think about the bigger picture. Will the thing that is causing stress matter to you in 5 years, or even 1 year? Can you change it? If you do care then try and get as much control over the situation as possible.

      If you don’t, or it is out of your possible control, then you are probably the source of stress so let it go.

      It’s easier said than done, but think about what really matters. In the grand scheme of things a lot of the things we stress about are of little consequence. If they don’t matter, let them go. The stress response exists for a reason, fight or flight – so if they do matter, use it.


      Further reading

      Chris at The Garage Gym Online has recently writeen an excellent, and detailed, series of posts on stress. You should check it out.


      Fitness attributes – freedom from illness

      This is the next in the series on each of attribute in my What do you need to do to be fit? post.

      I want to caveat this post by saying I have no medical training whatsoever and anything written below is the result of self experimentation. Although there are some basic principles we should all follow I would encourage you to experiment with your own lifestyle to see what works best for you – you might be able to get away with more than I can.

      The germ theory of illness is very simple: there is a germ that causes an illness – you come into contact with that germ – you get sick.

      As much as simple is good this doesn’t quite feel right. Do you ever notice when a bug is ‘doing the rounds’ a lot of people catch it but not everyone? There must be something else going on that means some people’s immune systems are doing a better job. Chris at Garage Gym Online has recently written a post about different theories on this topic.

      I don’t know how you would train your immune system to be stronger but there are certainly things you can do to not weaken it.

      Eat proper food
      There is a lot of stuff in shops masquerading as food that doesn’t really deserve that label. If it has a long list of sciencey sounding words in the ingredients you should probably steer clear.

      If you don’t understand the words, don’t eat the food. You can’t expect your body to fight off germs properly if it’s having to deal with that stuff.

      Avoid sugar
      This is really just an extension of the previous point. Sugar is pretty bad news and your body doesn’t like it.

      “But I like cake” I hear you say. Yeah, me too. Lucky for me my wife has a knack for making treats with a lot of the naughty taken out. Lucky for you she writes a recipe blog, you should check it out. (note I said a lot, not all – there’s still some naughty in there)

      Get some exercise, but not too much
      Exercise makes your body stronger and more resilient (good thing). Too much breaks it down, and leaves you exhausted (bad thing).

      Get enough sleep
      A good nights sleep makes you feel great and, if you are sick, sleep can be the best medicine.

      So, getting enough sleep has to help keep you well doesn’t it? It makes too much sense to not.

      Late night TV is rubbish anyway. Turn it off and go to bed with a good book instead ( or a good woman/man 😉 ). You’ll feel better for it.

      Avoid stress
      The things mentioned in previous points could be counted as stress but here I mean emotional stress. Avoiding it can be easier said than done as often stress seeks you out.

      Too much will wear you down, effect your sleep and ultimately your ability to fight germs. Fortunately exercise can help both relieve stress and provide a positive stimulus.

      Most importantly, chill out – it’s probably not that important in the big picture. If it is that important, then share it with someone that you love.

      I’ll be writing more on stress in a later post.

      Change your mindset – decide to not get ill
      Don’t worry, I’m not going to start writing about crystals and tarot but I do think the mind has more control over the body than perhaps we give credit.

      One change I have made over the last few years is deciding to not get ill. I’ve no science to back up whether it has had an effect and I have changed more things than just this, but I know I haven’t been ill much since.

      Wallowing in how sick you feel can make it worse. The opposite seems to work too.

      Try it, just refuse to get ill.