Making it Stick!

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been talking about four elements of wellbeing: Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise. I’ve also discussed how these four areas interact and support each other. Understanding these interactions can play a major role in being able to maintain changes in lifestyle habits over the long haul.

Changing habit patterns isn’t easy and maintaining those changes over time can be even trickier. Even with all the helpful information we have today, lifestyle-related illnesses are more widespread in modern culture than ever. Heart disease, stroke, obesity, Type II Diabetes – all are influenced by lifestyle factors. Unfortunately, despite our having choices in these matters, our best efforts at change are often met with limited success. We may lose the fifteen pounds, or start the exercise program, only to have our progress derailed and eventually fall by the wayside. We then find ourselves back at square one, feeling a little less confident in our ability to succeed in making the changes we desire.

One of the big benefits in looking at these areas of Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise is that, because they do interact with and influence each other, it’s possible to leverage these interactions and move towards creating lasting change.

Let’s take sleep. We all know how we feel after a good night’s rest – we’re energized, focused, and our mood is uplifted. Losing sleep, on the other hand, can make us feel lethargic, less alert and irritable. Research is coming out all the time on the health and performance benefits that result from a good night’s sleep. But did you know that the amount of sleep you get can affect your appetite?

Insufficient sleep affects your body’s hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Sleep deprivation increases the amount of ghrelin your body produces. The function of ghrelin is to signal your brain that you need to eat – it’s an appetite stimulant. The hormone leptin, however, suppresses appetite. When you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels in the body drop, prompting feelings of hunger. With an increase in ghrelin and decreased leptin, controlling your appetite is that much harder.

Another area impacted by sleep is exercise. There’s a reason why elite athletes in training are in bed early! Research shows that athletic performance is improved by even one additional hour of sleep per night. Most of us aren’t going to make careers out of being competitive athletes but if one extra hour of sleep can make a difference at that level, it’s going to affect the rest of us, too. All bodies need sleep for rest, repair and optimum functioning.

Research is ongoing in this area, but the foods we eat also can affect our getting needed shut-eye. Most everyone knows that caffeine is a stimulant and things like coffee and soda should be avoided if sleep is an issue. Alcohol can also be problematic. Even a couple of drinks before bed can interfere with a normal sleep cycle. However, did you know that spicy and/or acidic foods can cause heartburn, in turn interfering with sound sleep?

Returning for a moment to exercise – studies have shown that exercise relieves stress, positively affecting your ability to get a good night of sound rest. Exercise also impacts mood. It’s well documented that exercise increases the biochemicals serotonin and dopamine, both of which contribute to feelings of wellbeing. Feelings of wellbeing, in turn, increase the likelihood of our making healthier choices.

By now you’re getting the picture of how these four areas interconnect with and support each other. Focusing on any one of these separately may work for a while, but it’s key to leverage these interactions in order to maintain lasting change over time. Not only will you set yourself up for success in maintaining those hard-won changes, you’ll feel, look and operate at your absolute best. Nice!

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