Finding Balance through Health by Jennifer Oechsner
The definition of health can vary person to person. For some, it means eating a healthy diet. For others, health is measured in physical fitness. For many people out there, weight is a measure of health. For me, health pertains to many aspects of ourselves and is certainly more than physical. Balance is at the center of my philosophy and is the foundation of my business, Warrior-Flow. I believe that work-life balance, a balanced diet, balanced exercise, and a balanced nervous system are all important for overall health and wellness.
- Work-life balance: Many of us are driven by career goals and it is easy to get swept up in working longer hours to get ahead. In many fields there is an expectation to work long hours, sacrifice vacations and to be available before and after the workday officially starts. Burnout is common and sick leave and vacation time are often insufficient to give people the downtime they need. Taking breaks to restore is an important aspect of health. Without sufficient rest, stress builds up creating tension in the body and wreaking havoc on the immune system. I encourage you to take some time to assess how you can create more space in your life for self-care.
- Balanced diet: Do you know how many servings of fruits and vegetables are recommended per day? Do you know what healthy fats are? Do you know how much protein you need? While specific dietary needs can certainly vary person to person, there are several principals that apply universally. Eat 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day (mostly vegetables). Include healthy fats such as nuts, avocado, olive oil and coconut oil daily. Consume some protein at each meal. Healthy protein includes items such as organic lean meat, beans and rice, free range eggs, wild fish and organic tofu.
- Balanced exercise: Exercise trends come and go. Remember the power walking trend? Long periods of lower intensity exercise was considered the way to go. Now we have high intensity trend, working to muscular exhaustion being touted as the way to get fit fast. There are a growing number of fitness videos that promise extreme results in 2-3 months through extreme workouts. I believe that exercise is also about balance. Do you enjoy an intense sweaty workout? As long as you are being safe, intensity is great. The important thing is to balance that out with an activity like yoga. Do you find yourself gravitating to slower paced exercise? Maybe it’s time to enlist the help of a professional (like me) to get your heart pumping once or twice a week.
- Balanced nervous system: The nervous system is quite complex and has more components than I will discuss here. The balance that I will touch on is within the nervous system, parasympathetic/sympathetic balance. In short, the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for relaxing the mind and body and for signaling our digestive system to do its job. It is commonly referred to as the “rest and digest” system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our stress response and is often referred to as our “fight or flight” system. When we don’t spend enough time in relaxation mode our fight or flight system is overused and our rest and digest mechanisms become suppressed. Stressful behaviors that overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system can include seemingly harmless habits like eating while working, overuse of media, constant multi-tasking and insufficient sleep. When your parasympathetic nervous system becomes suppressed your body doesn’t digest well and sleep becomes disrupted. When digestion isn’t optimal your metabolism slows and it is difficult for your body to absorb nutrients from the food you eat. When sleep is disrupted our concentration suffers, we feel more stressed out and the cycle of imbalance continues.
Figuring out how to find balance in all aspects of your life can be challenging. I recommend making small changes, one at a time. Over time, these small changes build into lasting and all-encompassing change. Keep in mind that balance is not about perfection, and that it evolves over time. Balance is about determining what you need to add, as well as what to subtract to be the best person you can be. What’s your first step to living a more balanced life?
Jennifer Oechsner is a holistic nutritionist, yoga instructor, martial arts coach and personal trainer. You can learn more about Jennifer and Warrior-Flow, here.