THE MAN THAT CAN: DISCUSSING THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION WITH LACHIE STUART
Time to read 6 min
Time to read 6 min
Have you ever allowed the reflection in the mirror to determine how you feel about yourself as a person?
On a good day, what you see will make you feel like a superhuman, and on other days, it could ruin your whole day. Welcome to the mind-body connection!
I spent much of my late teens and early 20s training to get the physique I thought would make all of the girls love me and the guys envy me. I later realised that I was putting so much effort into my physical body, without really giving two thoughts about working on who I was as a person. I was neglecting a side of myself that really needed work. My body was growing and improving but my mind remained in the self-conscious, unfulfilled space.
It was 2003 when I was first made aware of the mind-body connection. My mother used to get me to practice ‘brain gym’, which is essentially visualisation. Unfortunately, because I was so young, that lesson never really stuck with me. Eventually, it came back to the forefront of my mind when a good mate gave me a book. It finally clicked: “I work hard to physically be better, yet I never work hard to mentally be better”.
I decided I was sick of how I felt. I had bouts of depression, anxiety and just always felt like I had more to offer. Over the next few years, I kept reading, listening to podcasts and learning from people. I made a connection of how my mental health and physical health worked together.
I could take so many lessons away from my physical training that could be related to improving my mental health. If there was an area I wanted to improve mentally, I could relate the process to improving an area physically.
Decide what you want to improve
Make a plan or hire a coach
Read & listen to podcasts (learn new lifts)
Understand that challenges will arise (like injuries)
Create new habits and realise it takes time
Nothing is guaranteed (focus)
Don’t quit, just modify your approach as you continue to learn
Now, whenever I set a physical goal, I highly prioritise how my mental wellbeing will be impacted. Whenever we set a goal that requires a lot of work, it creates a new ‘balance’ in our life. I know that in order for me to achieve my goals, I need to work out my priorities. Training, nutrition and adequate rest are imperative, however, I now understand that I can’t neglect my mental health. In my training plan I also include:
Getting outdoors in nature
Time with my partner and friends
Although it sounds like a lot to fit into a ‘plan’, I know how much my physical goals will be impacted if I don’t keep working on my mental health. Understanding all of this has helped me to get clear on what I need to prioritise in order to achieve my goals. I don’t feel ‘busy’ anymore... I feel productive.
When I work with a new client, the first thing we do after goal setting is to build a holistic plan to focus on physical health and mental health. I don’t believe it is possible to be truly healthy without both.
In today’s world, what does it really mean to be healthy? Contrary to many dictionary definitions, health extends far beyond merely being the absence of disease. While it’s no secret that the mind and body are distinct entities, when it comes to mental and physical health, the two are closely intertwined. When our mental health is compromised, so too is our ability to perform to our full physical capability, and vice versa. With many studies beginning to take a holistic approach to health, we can now look at physical, social, emotional and mental health as a whole, with each individual element just as important as the next for achieving optimal health.
Wondering why? How we think can affect how we feel, and how we feel can affect how we think.
Your body responds to the way you think, act and feel by giving you cues and signals when something is not right. For example, in a highly stressful situation, you might develop headaches, pain, tense muscles, a stomach ulcer or even high blood pressure, which is your body’s way of alerting you of the internal threats. Just as your brain sends signals to your body to keep you out of harm's way when crossing the road, so too does your brain send signals to your body when it’s overrun by negative emotions.
While studies into this topic are ongoing, what current research indicates is that the brain appears to have a direct effect on stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, which subsequently impacts the nervous system and immune system. While stress is extremely important as it acts as our body’s natural defence mechanism to keep us safe in threatening situations, if we’re stuck in a constant state of stress over a prolonged period of time, our immune system is forced to work in overdrive. The result? A weakened immune system, which makes us more susceptible to catching a cold or other infections. Additionally, when you are feeling stressed, anxious or emotionally wired, you’re unlikely to take care of your health to an adequate standard - which includes a lack of exercise, nutritious foods, and sleep.
While many stresses cannot be completely avoided, we do have the ability to reduce certain stress and the way we react to stressful situations. Much like your physical health, your emotional health is never a fixed state - it too can change if you train it to. While you may already be aware that exercise is beneficial for improving your physical health, did you know that it’s also just as important for improving your mental health? Here’s why:
It makes you feel good - Exercise releases feel-good chemicals in your brain, including endorphins and serotonin, which improve your overall wellbeing through enhancing mood, positivity and energy.
It improves your sleep quality - Exercise, particularly moderate aerobic exercise, is suggested to increase the amount of deep sleep you get, which in turn helps to rejuvenate the body and brain. Exercise is also suggested to help stabilise your mood and alleviate your mind, which is a cognitive process important for naturally transitioning to sleep.
It creates a sense of fulfilment - Setting micro and macro goals as part of your exercise regime is a fantastic way to keep motivation high and give you a sense of accomplishment as you begin to progress and tick off your goals.
In light of Men’s Health Week, we’re shining a spotlight on the state of male health in all of its forms. The harsh reality is that poor mental and physical health is all around us and affects men of all shapes, size, age, profession, status and so forth. While there are some forms of poor health we can see, there are others that we cannot. Let’s take a quick look at current men’s health statistics from around the world…
Men live 4.4 years less than women
Men are more likely to die from heart disease at earlier ages
Suicide kills an average of eight people a day in Australia, six men and two women.
Men are at significantly higher risk of dying from liver disease and have an increased risk of dying from diabetes
The top three reasons for reduced lifespan in men are cardiovascular disease, suicide, and motor vehicle accidents
Globally, alcohol kills almost six times more men than women
Inactive men are 60% more likely to suffer from depression than those who are active
Men who sleep 7-8 hours a night have about 60% less risk of fatal heart attack than those who sleep 5 hours or less
Men who climb 50 stairs or walk 5 city blocks a day may lower their risk of heart attack by 25%
Did you know that only 30% of a man’s overall health is determined by his genetics, with 70% controlled by his lifestyle? Whether you aren’t sure how to implement exercise and optimal nutrition into your daily routine or are struggling to prioritise your mental health and improve your headspace, your current situation does not have to be your final destination.