Health is More Than Exercise and Performance Alone

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Once we decide to get serious about our health, it can be really easy to get tunnel vision.  I think we do this to avoid overwhelm. We want to make shifts manageable and digestible, so we FOCUS. Totally valid! Consequently, if we stay perpetually focused or obsessed on the same one thing over time, we can limit the opportunity to improve our physical, emotional and spiritual health. Exercise is a common place that people over-focus to "get healthy." I watch many people cling to exercise, athleticism, and burning calories with an iron grip, so much so that it can cause them to neglect other important parts of their whole health. This ultimately leads to subpar living. 

The truth is that in order to thrive, yes, we need to build strength, move our bodies, and work on mobility, but exercise is only part of the equation. If we hit the gym every day but are consuming loads of sugar and avoiding veggies we won't achieve optimal health. Likewise if we have a pristine diet but we don’t feel meaning and purpose in life, have a loud and destructive inner critic, carry chronic stress, feel disconnected in relationships,  or we aren’t getting adequate sleep, we will experience physical and/or emotional symptoms of dis-ease. I don’t say this to make you feel like you have to be perfect in every single aspect of your life, but rather to underscore the concept that we all need to set aside our comfortable routines, zoom out, and look at the big picture from time to time.

Many people who know me, or those who have ever been in a gym class with my (not-so-subtle) complaining, know that exercise is my least favorite health domain. To tell you the truth, I don't really like the discomfort of exercise. I wasn't ever great at sports, didn't identify as an athlete, and didn't see the point of going to the gym to run in place on a treadmill that counted calories while I obsessed about how much time was left and how much discomfort I was in. For many years, I convinced myself that if I ate well and stayed a certain weight that exercise was optional.  Even when I had a personal trainer write a plan for me, I couldn’t be counted on to reliably get to the gym to do it. Here’s the thing, though: by neglecting this aspect of my whole health, I’d also been cheating myself out of a whole slew of benefits that I preach about, but hadn’t been actually practicing until recently.

Last year, I  signed up for personal coaching at Elemental, and by this time my approach was different. I didn’t ask someone to just write me a plan and then assume I’d be good about following through. I worked with Steve one on one for each training session to start out, and now I regularly attend classes. While it’s more of a financial commitment, this was immensely helpful in terms of accountability for me. Steve's coaching helped me feel strong for the first time ever—seriously, at 36 years old I felt strong and fit for the first time in my life. It was an amazing feeling, and I noticed how the momentum I felt with fitness buoyed into other areas of my life, like a domino effect. 

While making these changes has created many “aha” moments for me, it has not been easy. I want to share some of my learnings in making this change, because they apply to making any health-related shift.

Tell yourself a different story.

“I just don’t like vegetables.” “My relationships are…fine.” “My job is sucking my soul, but the benefits are great.” “My body can handle less sleep than others.” Or, if you’re like me, “I’m just not into working out.” These (and many others) are the stories we tell ourselves to let ourselves off the hook for applying effort toward better work habits, nutrition, connection with others, stress management, self-talk, sleep hygiene, and physical activity. As you may know, Steve refers to all his clients as athletes, and when this word was applied to me, (after I stopped laughing in his face) it changed my whole mindset! Pay attention to those moments you’re telling yourself a negative story and work to flip the narrative to something more open-minded. “I’m on a mission to find the best way to prepare brussels sprouts,” for example, or “There’s a job out there that’s a great match for my skill set—now I need to find it.”

Making a change takes focus, dedication, and consistency.

At first, setting aside the time and the money to embark on my fitness journey was really difficult. Winding down in the evenings earlier than I ever have so I can get good sleep is hard. But the benefits I’m experiencing from these two habit shifts have given me extra energy to put other places. Now that I have a little momentum, I’m more motivated to continue these new habits.

If you feel like you’re stuck, reach out for help.

You already know that working with a coach or a trainer is a great way to increase accountability in fitness. Try applying this concept to other aspects of your life—there are other kinds of helpers all around us if we take the time to look for them. Our whole health can greatly benefit from working with life coaches, health coaches, nutritionists, personal trainers, career coaches, spiritual advisors, or counselors, and there is no shame in seeking help from time to time. And support doesn’t just come from trainers or mentors: I love the accountability and camaraderie I experience in the classes I attend. This makes coming to the gym fun and inspiring!

Look at the big picture.

We often go through life in triage mode, dealing with whatever problem seems most pressing until the next one looms so large that now we have to deal with it. I’ve found that I am more nimble to respond to problems when my whole health is in a good place. Ask yourself how you’re doing in all areas of health: exercise, nutrition, relationships,, meaningful work, stress management, connection to yourself, and adequate rest. Don’t try to fix them all at once. Plan a new habit in one area and practice it for several months—see what happens as you work toward improved whole health!

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Sarah Kolman RN, MA, CHPN, INHC is the mom of three boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master's degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family's Whole Health in a Busy World. Learn more at