Guest Post By: Brad Krause
Is self-care a part of your fitness regimen? We don’t mean going for a run when you’re feeling stressed out, we’re talking about doing things outside the gym to preserve your physical and mental wellness. A lot of athletes spend so much energy on fitness that they neglect self-care, but self-care is an important part of cultivating a healthy body and mind.
Of course, exercise in itself is a form of self-care. When you work out, you’re not only improving your physical fitness, you’re sweating out stress, strengthening your mind, boosting your mood and self-esteem, and making it easier to get the quality sleep you need.
However, if exercise is your only form of self-care, it could be doing more harm than good. TIME reports that although people who exercise between two to six hours a week report better mental health, people who work out more than five days a week don’t see the same mental health benefits.
It’s important to take a break from hitting the gym to pay attention to the other aspects of your health. Is your stress in check, are your relationships strong, and is your self-esteem solid? Are your sleep and dietary habits as healthy as your exercise routine? Are you taking steps to prevent injury? If you can’t answer with a confident “Yes” to each of those questions, your self-care habits need some work. Here’s where to start.
1. Get enough sleep
If you’re waking up at the crack of dawn to head to the gym, you should be going to bed early too. Sleep deprivation not only affects athletic performance and recovery, it impacts your ability to think clearly, regulate your emotions, and control your appetite. Head to bed at least eight hours before your alarm goes off so you’re getting the right amount of rest.
2. Care for your muscles
Your muscles get a beating at the gym. With every workout, your muscle fibers undergo microscopic damage that must be repaired in order to grow bigger, stronger, and prevent injury. Training different muscle groups on different days and taking rest days helps those muscles heal, but massage can also relieve muscle pain and stiffness. If a professional massage isn’t in your budget, pick up self-massaging tools to help relax sore muscles.
3. Eat tasty food
Protein powders and bars are good tools for meeting your macros, but sipping on whey powder is no substitute for a good meal. Make sure you’re eating plenty of real food like whole fruits and vegetables, quality meats, and plant-based proteins, and mix up your meal plan so your meals are enjoyable, not boring.
4. Spend time with friends and family
Between work and your gym schedule, it can be tough to find time for a social life. But if you let important relationships fade, you’ll have bigger problems than empty weekend calendars. The Boston Globe reports that social isolation is as bad for your health as not exercising. So the next time you’re thinking about skipping an evening with friends to squeeze in an extra gym session, go out instead. It’s good for your health.
If your friends and family are outdoorsy, then you spend some time in the fresh air and get in a little exercise at the same time. You don’t have to embark on an odyssey through the mountains or sign up for a local baseball league; doing something as simple as walking can provide your body with plenty of benefits, both physically and mentally. So, the next time you want to hang out with your friends, find a local nature trail, get some gear (comfortable shoes, a nice waterproof backpack, and some snacks), and get walking!
When you’re a dedicated athlete, it’s easy to prioritize working out over everything else. But if you want to be a better athlete and a happier, healthier person, self-care needs a slot in your schedule.
About the Author:
After spending years in a corporate setting and far too long neglecting his own self-care, Brad followed his calling and became a full-time life coach. He spends just about every waking hour helping people find ways to put their wellness above all else.