8 Ways to Take Better Care of Your Body

Simple tweaks to improve your overall health and fitness

Face it, even if you try to live a healthy lifestyle, there is always more you can do. Here are a few things to consider tweaking in your daily and weekly routine.

1. Improve Your Sleep

It’s easy to get distracted at night and literally forget to go to bed. Or sometimes your mind is so busy, you just can’t fall asleep after you turn off the lights. Before you know it, it’s midnight and you’ve caught a second wind. Good sleep is vital for recovery—especially for runners pushing their physical limits. Try to keep the same sleeping routine on the weekend as you do on the weekdays. Set “time for bed” alarms on your phone 15 minutes prior to your bedtime so you allow yourself time to wind down and eliminate screen-time. When you need to get a second run of 5 miles in after work, don’t wait too late or do it too close to bedtime. Remember, too that naps aren’t just for kids. Research shows that even naps as short as 10 to 15 minutes (particularly in the early afternoon) can improve cognitive abilities.

2. Be Aware of Your Breathing

Too often as runners we use the upper quadrant of our lungs to breathe and neglect the rest. Before your next workout, try lying on the ground for just 3 minutes to bring awareness to the expansiveness of your lungs. Put your hands on either side of your ribs and bring awareness to expanding laterally into your hands. Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your back in the opposite spot. Consciously expand your breath into your back and belly.  While breathing is involuntary, we often take for granted how conscious awareness and intentional breathing exercises can improve our performance.

3. Follow Rituals

Research published this spring suggests athletes who follow strict rituals are less shaken by error and therefore more confident, which leads to success. In the research, ritual is differentiated from routine in that a ritual is not something that obviously has an immediate impact on performance. For example, one might have a routine of upper-body weight training on Tuesdays and lower body on Thursdays, and a ritual of always listening to the same song right before a race.  American ultrarunner Dylan Bowman, 7th at this year’s Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc trail race in France, has a ritual of wearing a brand new pair of socks before each new race.

4. Get a Massage (Or Do Self-Massage)

Most athletes know that massage can increase range of motion, reduce swelling and decrease delayed onset of muscle soreness. Research shows massage can also reduce breathing pattern disorders and support the immune system to prevent sickness. It varies for everyone, but, considering it’s recommended to get new shoes every 400 to 500 miles, try to get a massage every 250 miles and reward your body for its work. That might be every two weeks or once a month, depending on how much you run. In between those massages, do self-massage work for maintenance. Spend at least 10 minutes a day three times a week before and after workouts to roll out tight areas. The time and money you’ll spend on massage will definitely make up for time and money spent on physical and mental therapy should you become injured.

5. Strengthen Your Glutes

Most runners glute muscles are notoriously both tight and weak because of moving in a continuous plane of motion and a lack of specific work. Strength and conditioning coach and Olympic runner Colleen De Reuck recommends runners do strengthening exercises twice a week. “Monster walks with tubing around your ankles is a must to strengthen the glutes,” she says.  De Reuck also suggests lying on your back in bridge position. Start with both legs on the floor and then slowly lift one leg in the air, then place it back on the ground and do the same with the other leg. Keep the pelvis neutral so that one side isn’t higher than the other.  These exercises (as well as lunging to stretch out your psoas/iliacus) are particularly important if you go straight from your desk job to your workout.

6. Adjust Your Perspective

Most of us would agree successful people are more positive and speak affirmations in the present tense (not the future tense). Jerry Lynch, sports psychologist and author of The Way of the Champion, says, “I teach gratefulness. Be more present to recognize, like an antennae, what is an opportunity.”  If you keep a journal of your workouts (paces, distances, etc.), consider adding a column for daily gratitude related to your running.

7. Hydrate Often

According to nutritionist Megan Forbes, many runners neglect proper hydration. “Running causes a lot of heavy breathing for most people and in dry climates this can lead to dehydration if not replenished,” she says. Sore muscles, headaches, and fatigue can result from dehydration. “Your urine should be a pale yellow throughout the day. Remember that caffeine may make your urine clear, but it still dehydrates you,” Forbes adds. She also recommends drinking a tall glass of water 20 minutes before eating to prevent confusing thirst for hunger.

8. Have Fun

When is the last time you considered running as a form of play? Started skipping in the middle of a run?  Dressed up in costume with friends for a run? Mentally dedicated a run to someone you know who could use your strength and energy? “I think there’s a time to be focused and a time when things can get too serious,” says USATF coach and Olympic runner Kathy Butler. “Some athletes need to be reminded to have fun. Sometimes I incorporate circuits for my athletes on a playground for example.” And who doesn’t like a slide?

 

Amanda McCracken
Amanda McCracken is a licensed massage therapist with more than 10 years of working on professional and recreational athletes. She is also an accomplished writer, runner and running guide for the blind. Read more of her work art www.amandajmccracken.com and follow her on Twitter at @writermccracken.