Tenet One – Wellness Is Holistic

In a previous article, I introduced you to wellness coaching pioneer Dr. Michael Arloski’s Ten Tenets of Wellness. Because I believe these concepts are so important, I’d like to go beyond that introduction with a deeper dive into each of the ten. Over the next several articles, we’ll look at each tenet, explore it a bit further and hopefully find some practical but powerful things you can do to make that tenet a part of your life.

The First Tenet – Wellness Is Holistic

With our busy lives, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we can just pick one area on which to concentrate and let everything else go. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not naive enough to think we can all live completely ‘balanced’ lives. Depending on your circumstances and what stage of life you are in, you will likely have to choose where to direct most of your resources in time, energy and even money, for the most return.

As I said before, most people choose a wellness area they think they need to work on and concentrate on that because they believe it’s easiest, or it’s the area that’s bothering them the most or, perhaps, a spouse or friend has given us some ‘friendly’ advice and told us there’s something we need to change.  Dr. Arloski frames the first tenet this way: “Wellness is a choice…a decision you make to move toward optimal health.” This means it’s your choice, not what someone else wants for you.

It’s key to recognize that the concept of wellness has to be understood holistically. You have to look at your whole self, as well as whatever approach you are considering. I could compare this to the experience of taking your car into the shop and having the mechanic tell you that you need a new tire. In addition to replacing the tire, the mechanic, because he or she is (hopefully!) looking at your vehicle holistically and as a system, is going to recommend a schedule of regular tire rotations so your tires will wear evenly and last longer.

Embrace A Systems Approach

As an example, if you are going to start a weight loss program, it’s important to look at how the program you are considering is going to affect the rest of your life. Are you going to be getting enough calories for your activity level? Is the diet going to cause you needless stress because it’s complicated and you are constantly having to plan and/or make time consuming meals? How will that affect the rest of your family? Is it going to affect your sleep because you wake up at 2 AM with hunger pangs? Do you have any medical conditions which would make this diet an unwise choice for you? I think you get the picture.

I’m not picking on diets and weight loss programs; the point is to keep in mind that all of us, as human beings, are composed of complex and interrelated systems. What you put in place in one area is absolutely going to have an effect, negative or positive, on every other system; mind, body, spirit and yes, even your environment.

So remember the first tenet, wellness is holistic! Next time, we’ll take a closer look at Tenet Two: Self-Esteem Is Critical.

Living The ‘Well’ Life – Dr. Michael Arloski’s Ten Tenets Of Wellness

Fall is definitely in the air here in Colorado – the aspen are turning gold, and the night air is chilly.  I love  fall.  It has always felt like a fresh start to me – the school year starts, everyone’s back to business after summer vacation, and the air is crisp and energizing. I’ve been hearing the whole “September is the new January” thing for a while and I got to thinking it’s a perfect time for a refresher on what it means to live a truly “well” life – one that takes into account body, mind and spirit.

To that end, here’s a formula for well-being I really like.  I think it covers all the wellness bases, and I’m hoping you can find some inspiration in it for yourself this season.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What is wellness? Just what exactly does living a ‘well’ life really mean?  The answer is highly individual but for sure it’s going to lie in how we take care of ourselves – all aspects of ourselves.

Only by answering these questions for yourself can you know where to aim, what you are reaching for and how to measure your progress.

I ask these questions a lot, both for myself and my clients. One of my favorite resources comes from a paper written by Michael Arloski, Ph.D., first published in 1994 – the Ten Tenets of Wellness. He later expanded on these tenets in his book Wellness Coaching for Lasting Lifestyle Change. [Your Amazon link here] These ten tenets or principles have withstood the test of time and are valuable and powerful guidelines to living a ‘well’ life that is full of meaning and not focused solely on physical health.

The Ten Tenets

Dr.Arloski says that wellness is always asking this question:  Why don’t people do what they know they need to do for themselves? For me, this goes beyond wellness and into every area of our lives. It’s an ancient question and has confounded human beings (as well as philosophers and scientists!) for centuries.

And it’s so true today, with our lives literally overflowing in information, that we already know what to do to improve our wellbeing. With the Internet, we have at our fingertips the latest research findings on nutrition, exercise, stress relief, heart health, relationships and more. So the question isn’t ‘What do I need to do’ so much as how do we motivate ourselves to implement solutions and real behavior change.

I like the Ten Tenets not only for the useful insights into what living a ‘well’ life looks like, but also because they serve as guideposts in how to get there. Let’s look briefly at all ten. In subsequent articles, I’ll delve more deeply into each one.  (I’m grateful that Dr. Arloski has encouraged other coaches to use and expand on his material so I can introduce you to these principles through my own lens.)

One – Wellness Is Holistic

It’s easy to pick out the wellness area we think we need to work on and just concentrate on that alone. Maybe it’s the area we think is easiest, or the problem that stands out most to us, or perhaps, it’s the area our spouse or a close friend has told us in no uncertain terms we need to correct.

Wellness, though, has to be understood holistically through looking at the whole person – body, mind, spirit and environment – and designing a program through that lens.

Two – Self-Esteem Is Critical

If you don’t have a sense of self-worth, you won’t care enough about yourself to make a change. Perhaps your sense of self-worth comes from always caring for others, putting everyone else before yourself. Or you have a negative sense of self-worth that stems from growing up in a particular community with your own experiences with parents, siblings, and other relationships. Exploring this (as uncomfortable as it can sometimes be!) may be necessary in order to gain the insight needed to make changes.

Three – Supportive Relationships Are a Must

We all need supportive relationships. Sometimes trying to make changes in your life can threaten those close to you, and they may withdraw their support or actively try to sabotage you. Finding one or more supportive people who will truly be a cheerleader and sounding board for you is essential.

Four – Wake Up!

Many people go through their lives on auto-pilot, never thinking about their choices, such as how a heavy meal is going to make them feel or how certain foods or behaviors may impact their health. Making the choice to wake up and live a conscious life can be one of the most important moments in your life and start you on the journey to wellness.

Five – Connectedness Works

I’ve already spoken about the importance of supportive relationships and this tenet goes beyond our human relationships into loving and grounding relationships with other species and our environment – animals, plants and the earth itself.

Six – YOU Are Responsible

Yes, genetics and environment play a big role here, but ultimately for most of us, our health is under our control through choices we make every day.

Seven – From Self-sufficiency Comes Confidence

Anything that you can do to become more competent, in your career, in a sport or a skill, has the result of increasing self-sufficiency. Facing your fears (large or small) increase feelings of self-sufficiency.  When you become more self-sufficient, you naturally become more confident. And a healthy self- confidence can be invaluable in navigating every day life.

Eight – Solo Time Is Essential

We live in such a “24-7” world these days, quiet time sometimes feels almost unthinkable. But time to oneself, quiet space, especially in nature, is essential for really getting to know who you are and where you are going.

Nine – Perfectionism Is Not Required

It’s tempting to adopt an all or nothing attitude when first beginning a wellness program. That can be a set up for failure if the new plan goes out the window the first time you slip up.  Accepting and acknowledging that you will make mistakes – and that you can keep going in spite of them – is more realistic and will serve you better over the long haul.

Ten – Go Play!

When was the last time you really played?  Often, as adults, we wait for ‘permission’ to lighten up and really play.  But guess what? That permission comes from within you!  Even at work, it’s possible to make a conscious effort (Tenet No. Four) to bring humor and lightness into your day.

These are the Ten Tenets of Wellness. In future articles, I’ll be going more deeply into each of these with examples of how you can use them to expand your own sense of what a ‘well-lived’ life can be!

Enjoy the changes of the season!

Stress vs. Burnout – What’s the Difference and How You Can Cope

I hope you have been enjoying these last days of summer!

Stress levels are on the rise.  “Stress” has been labeled the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century” by the World Health Organization, and is estimated to cost American business up to $300 billion a year. Workplace and job-related stress seem to affect us the most but, whatever the source, the effects of stress on mental and physical health can be overwhelming.

If you were to ask a dozen people, even therapists or physicians, the definition of stress, you would likely get back a dozen different answers. And burnout – you’ve heard about it, too, but are stress and burnout the same thing? If not, how do they differ?

Stress and burnout are different. Let’s look at both of these, and some possible strategies to neutralize their negative effects on our physical and emotional health.


Stress – Acute or Chronic?

First of all, let’s look at the definition of stress. I like to think of stress as a person’s response to a change in environment. This is not just any change, but a change that requires your body and/or mind to adapt to it. The ways that we react to stress can vary widely from person to person but always involve a response that is physical, emotional, or mental and frequently involves all three. Because people react  differently to the same stressors, the symptoms of stress can vary widely from person to person.

Stress can be acute, as when you are suddenly confronted with a snarling dog while out for a run, or chronic, such as when you are a caregiver with a chronically ill parent or child day in and day out. When stress is acute, as in the snarling dog example, your body prepares you rather quickly to get yourself out of danger by activating your sympathetic nervous system, releasing hormones which increase your heart rate, slow your digestion, reroute blood flow to your major muscle groups and increase your blood pressure and blood glucose (sugar) as well as speed up your respiratory rate. Once the snarling dog is gone (or you have successfully outrun it!), your body gradually returns to its normal state in about 20 to 60 minutes. In this case, your body did a superb job of getting you out of danger. This hard wired response to danger is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.

When stress is chronic, though, your fight or flight response stays permanently switched ‘on’ and if this continues, it can wreak havoc over time. The constant flood of stress hormones, particularly cortisol, causes a major disturbance in nearly every bodily process and can lead to many health problems, including anxiety, trouble sleeping, digestive difficulties, heart disease, impaired memory and difficulty in concentration, headaches, depression and weight gain.

If chronic stress goes on for too long, it can lead to what is known as burnout, which is a psychological state characterized by disengagement from life and work, depression, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, blunting of emotional responses, and loss of motivation and hope.

Burnout and Its Symptoms

Notice I said chronic stress ‘may’ lead to burnout. People who are chronically stressed can still be fully functional and many of these chronically stressed people never experience burnout. But for some people, there seems to be an additional psychological factor that pushes them from being chronically stressed into full scale burnout. People who are experiencing burnout often experience physical and emotional symptoms including lack of energy, trouble sleeping, frequent colds, digestive problems, and headaches, as well as feelings of sadness, frustration and irritability.

It’s important to develop ways to manage chronic stress in order to prevent burnout from paying us a visit.

Because stress begins primarily as a physical response, the body is a good place to start. Go ‘back to basics’ by making sure you are getting adequate nutrition, sleep and exercise. Unfortunately, for many people, these three are the first to go by the wayside when you are under stress. An excessive intake of unhealthy foods, too little sleep and no exercise will only make you feel worse and can perpetuate the stress response, making you an even more likely candidate for burnout. If you are suffering from chronic stress, do your best to eat well, get enough sleep and at least get out for a brisk walk regularly.

The One Technique

There is one ‘technique’ I highly recommend when facing stress. This practice will support and augment all your other efforts. And no, I’m not talking about meditation, although that’s been proven helpful as well. I’m referring to breathing.

Breathing is the one process in our body that is both voluntary and involuntary. Thank goodness you don’t have to remember to breathe! But when you choose to, you can have a lot of control over how often and how deeply you breathe. This means that you can choose, at any time, to interrupt your body’s involuntary stress response.

Here’s what you need to take away from this: your nervous system has two branches, the sympathetic (the accelerator) and the parasympathetic (the decelerator). When these two systems are in balance, with neither one having dominance, you are in a state called coherence. When you are under stress, your sympathetic system has dominance and your parasympathetic system is dampened down, so you are always running at full tilt, like having your foot on the accelerator and never touching the brake.

This is where having control of your breathing comes in.  When you breathe in, your heart rate accelerates and when you breathe out, it slows down. (If you are a ‘show me’ kind of person, try this: put your fingers over your pulse at the wrist and breathe in slowly and deeply. Your pulse will speed up. Then breathe out. Your pulse slows down.)

Here’s the really cool thing:  Your heart rate information is sent directly to the part of your brain that helps to regulate your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. When you practice a pattern of regular inhalation and exhalation, you are helping to re-establish the balance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, leading you back towards that state of coherence.

Here’s a simple 3-step process to try, whether you are feeling particularly stressed out or not. The more you practice the better, so that, when you are stressed, you can just move into it without too much thought.

One – Choose a verbal cue.

When stress comes your way, as soon as you recognize the symptoms, give yourself a verbal cue, such as saying the word ‘breathe’ to yourself. This primes your mind.

Two – Begin conscious breathing.

Take two or three long, deep breaths and just allow yourself to notice any physical sensations that arise when you do this.

Three – Transition to ‘signal’ breathing

Transition to signal breathing by inhaling, through your nose, as far as you comfortably can. Then just let your breath flow out naturally through your nose, allowing your chest to collapse naturally but not using your muscles to force the breath out. Then at the end of the outbreath, simply wait…for a ‘signal’ or urge to breathe in. Don’t hold your breath while you are waiting. Simply relax and wait for the signal. You may be surprised at first by how long your body takes to signal you to breathe in and this interval may vary from breath to breath. Breathe this way for as long as you are comfortable. This is a very, very effective technique to stop the stress response in its tracks.

Stress and burnout are complicated topics.  I hope this has given you a primer on what stress is, the difference between acute and chronic stress, how chronic stress can lead to burnout and how taking care of your body and control of your breathing can go a long way toward mitigating its effects.

Remember to breathe!

The Positivity Ratio – Formula for Happiness

In our previous look at the science of positive emotions, we looked at the intriguing concept of positivity and identified ten positive emotions that, when incorporated regularly into your life, are key to a happy, fulfilled and meaningful life. And we also explored the work of Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, author of the book Positivity, who is one of the most well respected and influential positive psychology researchers in the world today.

The word ‘positivity’ is not just a coined term for book marketing purposes, but a real word that has been in use in the English language since the middle of the 17th century.  Merriam-Webster defines it as: 1) the quality or state of being positive or 2) something that is positive. Sounds simple, right?

The Positivity Ratio

The concept of being positive is indeed simple, but when you go deeper, as Dr. Fredrickson has done, the results and impact on your life can be profound. Her research* shows not only how to incorporate positive emotions into your own life; it also looks at the ideal amount of positivity you need that will make the difference between just getting by in life and really flourishing. This ratio of positive emotions to negative emotions is known as the positivity ratio and Dr. Frederickson recommends aiming for a ratio of 3:1. This means that for every negative emotion you experience, try to counteract the effect of these by experiencing three positive emotions. Of course, your ratio of positive emotions to negative ones will shift from day to day. A full 80% of Americans fall far short of the ideal 3:1 positivity ratio that predicts flourishing.

Ten Keys to Happiness

Knowing what your positivity ratio is important  The next step is seeing what you can do to increase it. This ‘controlling’ of your emotional experience may seem a little strange at first.  Most of us don’t usually go out of our way to consciously and deliberately have a specific emotional experience. Bear in mind, also, that this is not asking you to deny or try to suppress your negative emotions, but simply to counter them with positive ones.  This simple practice can make a big difference in your life over time.

Let’s take a look at those ten key emotions discussed previously.  If you need to review them, just go over to my prior article here.

One:     Joy

Two:     Gratitude

Three:  Serenity

Four:    Interest

Five:     Hope

Six:       Pride

Seven:  Amusement

Eight:    Inspiration

Nine:     Awe

Ten:       Love

Even though ‘love’ is listed as number ten, it’s the emotion we humans most frequently experience. Each of the others, from one through nine, is listed in the order of frequency of experience. There are two parts to increasing your positivity ratio. The first thing to do is simply to begin to recognize when you are experiencing these feelings. Positive moments can be fleeting, so you’ll need to tune in to your own experience. Once you become conscious you are experiencing one of these emotions, take a few moments to appreciate it and savor the experience. This doesn’t have to take a long time or be complicated at all. Keep it simple.  You’ll get better at this over time.

The second part to increasing your positivity ratio is that when you do experience one of these positive emotions, ask yourself these questions: When was the last time I felt this feeling? Where was I at the time? What was I doing?  Start to explore for yourself the question: What else gives me this feeling? The answer to this last question can really open up a whole new world of positivity for you.

Some people find it helpful to keep a positivity journal to write down reflections.  It’s interesting and fun to read about your journey over time and adds a real richness to the experience.  And feel free to keep me posted about your journey in the comments below!

*If you happen to do some Googling on the positivity ratio, you may see some sites claiming the research on the positivity ratio has been discredited and is no longer applicable. Dr. Frederickson has addressed criticisms of her work here and there is ample evidence that a higher positivity ratio predicts a better outcome than a lower one.

Positivity: Ten Key Positive Emotions for a Fulfilled, Meaningful Life

Have you ever been felt down about something and had someone say to you ‘just think positive!’? I know I have. And here’s what immediately comes to mind: “Easy for you to say. You aren’t going through this!’ I think all of us have experienced this scenario at least once and, maybe because of that,  tend to discount the power of positive emotions, dismissing them as some sort of “pie in the sky’’ solution that doesn’t really work.

But let’s go beneath the surface and get a deeper look at positive emotions and some of the really fascinating research that’s being done in this area, and see how you might go about applying this to your life. Harnessing the power of positive emotions is really at the heart of the relatively new science of positive psychology, founded by Dr. Martin Seligman and others back in the 1990’s.  Traditionally, psychology focused on dysfunction, negative thinking, and mental illness and its treatment. The new domain of positive psychology focuses on exactly the opposite: human happiness, flourishing, and how to achieve a meaningful and fulfilled life.

The Broaden and Build Theory

As the field has matured, one of the researchers who has greatly influenced my work in positive psychology coaching [link to positive psychology coaching article here] is Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Frederickson is most well known for her ‘broaden and build’ hypothesis, which theorizes that experiencing positive emotions (such as interest or joy) tends to open up your awareness and enable you to build new skills and resources. This is in stark contrast to the negative emotions (such as fear or sadness) that tend to narrow or restrict behavior.

In addition to Dr. Frederickson’s many academic papers, she has also authored several books on positive emotions for the layperson, including Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection and Positivity: Top Notch Research Reveals The Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life. [Amazon link here] In her book Positivity, [Amazon link here] Dr. Frederickson reveals ten positive emotions that she believes, if leveraged in the right way, can make the difference between simply languishing and flourishing in life. A pretty bold claim indeed!

The Ten Positive Keys

Let’s get a brief introduction to these ten key positive emotions and, next time, I’ll focus on how to experience more of these in your life and also talk about what Dr. Fredrickson calls the ‘positivity ratio’…the magic ratio of positive thoughts to negative thoughts that will push you over the tipping point toward flourishing. Here are the ten key positive emotions and how to recognize them:

One – Joy

Joy arises when something good happens in your life that you don’t really expect, or when you receive good news, such as when you find out you are going to be a parent or grandparent, for example.

Two – Gratitude

You feel gratitude when you acknowledge another person or, for some people, the Divine, as the source of something good in your life.

Three – Serenity

This positive emotion is also known as contentment and is felt when you are in a situation or circumstance that just feels completely right or satisfying.

Four – Interest

You feel interest when you come across something that is mysterious, challenging or novel, but are in a safe environment in which to explore it.

Five – Hope

While the other positive emotions arise from safe circumstances, hope is the exception. Hope can come even in dire circumstances, and you can see or feel even a glimmer that things may get better.

Six – Pride

Even though you most likely have been cautioned that pride goes before a fall, healthy pride is felt when you accomplish something that is socially valued and you take appropriate credit for it.

Seven – Amusement

Amusement is an interesting emotion, occurring when something non-serious happens that is incongruous with the situation, just as a physical blunder or slip of the tongue.

Eight – Inspiration

Witnessing human excellence in action can be inspiring, and may very well inspire you to excel yourself. Athletic events such as the Olympics offer us an opportunity to observe human excellence and experience this kind of inspiration.

Nine – Awe

The positive emotion of awe occurs, as Barbara Fredrickson puts it, when you ‘encounter goodness on a grand scale.’ Observing something that is larger than life and beautiful or powerful can inspire awe.

Ten – Love

This is the positive emotion people tend to feel most often. A complex emotion, love is a melding of many other positive emotions and is usually felt in the context of an interpersonal relationship.

So there you have them – ten key positive emotions that can lead you on an upward spiral to living a more fulfilled and meaningful life.  Next time I’ll discuss how to leverage these emotions with that goal in mind as our positive emotions journey continues!

Has one of these positive emotions made a significant difference in your life? I love to hear from you, so leave a comment on my blog and I’ll be sure to answer.

The Top 10 Habits of Successful People

Have you ever really thought about what makes someone successful, whether in business, athletics, relationships, or any other area?  It’s not a secret. Success is a habit!

Successful people are successful because they have developed, not just one, but a series of good habits they regularly repeat. This makes overthinking about how to be successful impossible because, in a sense, when you quit plotting and stressing about the actions you should take and begin to rely on a series of well thought out habits, your success goes on automatic pilot.

Of course, if you focus on the wrong habits, like overspending or never getting enough sleep, then success will elude you. So how do you know what habits to develop? The easiest way is to look at what other successful people have done and then do what they do. I’ve rounded up ten good habits that most successful people make a part of their daily routine:

One – Successful People Read. A Lot.

The founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, and technology executive Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, share this habit. They read. A lot. Reading exposes you to new ideas, inspires and motivates you, and helps you learn from (and avoid) the mistakes of others.

Two – Successful People Take Care of Their Bodies.

Ramit Sethi, who is a very successful financial author, found that a commitment to exercise was the number one habit successful people have in common.  Need help getting started?  Take a look at my article on how you can easily start a running program using a method that takes only 20 minutes three times a week.

Three – Successful People Make Time for Deep Work.

Cal Newport, a Georgetown University professor who wrote the book, Deep Work, defines it this way: “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit, [which then] create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to duplicate.” Take a look at Deep Work then incorporate this habit into your life.

Four – Successful People Meditate.

In today’s distracted world, it’s important to do something every day to relieve stress and quiet the mind. Meditation improves ability to focus, boosts mental clarity, and calms the mind, body and emotions, all characteristics that support success.  See my recent blog devoted to developing a mindfulness practice.

Five – Successful People Batch Their Distractions.  

Distractions abound online, and it’s easy to get off track by checking email or getting on Facebook ‘just for a minute’ to see what‘s going on. Before you know it, you’re responding to messages and looking at YouTube videos! Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week, recommends checking  email only twice a day, say 11 am and 4 pm, but not before you have finished at least one must-do item in your to-do list, both morning and afternoon.

Six – Successful People Just Say No.

Every time you say ‘Yes’ to one thing you are saying ‘No’ to something else. Here’s what billionaire investor Warren Buffett has to say: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

Seven – Successful People Think Big.

As Peter Diamandis, entrepreneur and founder of the X Prize Foundation puts it, “The reason, I believe, is even if you fail in doing something ambitious, you usually succeed in doing something important.” Check out his New York Times bestseller, BOLD: How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World.

Eight – Successful People Get Enough Sleep.

Contrary to the myth that successful people burn the candle at both ends, successful people get enough quality sleep. Albert Einstein was said to function best on ten hours of sleep a night. Here’s a primer on sleep that is part of my series on anti-aging.

Nine – Successful People Cultivate a Positive Attitude.

They see opportunities where others see problems. They see lessons when others see only failure. Positive psychology professor Barbara Frederickson, author of the book, Positivity comments, “Positivity doesn’t just change the contents of your mind…it widens the span of possibilities that you see.”

Ten – Successful People Take Action.

They don’t just think up great ideas, they execute them, even imperfectly if need be. They also know that even the most successful people need a sounding board, a coach or an experienced mentor. I’d love to help you incorporate your own set of success habits into your daily life. Contact me by clicking here to set up a complimentary, no obligation consultation. I’m here to help!

Have you incorporated a habit that has helped you be more successful?  I love to hear new ideas so leave a comment on my blog and I’ll be sure to answer.

Enjoy these first days of summer!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Building A Strong Core – Five Essential Exercises

We all know the importance of regular exercise, and you most likely know that keeping your muscles strong and toned is key to your overall health. What you may not realize is that, when it comes to increasing and maintaining muscle strength, working your ‘core’ is vital to your success.

Core strengthening exercises are important for everyone, not only bodybuilders or those out to impress with their six-pack abs.  A strong core trains the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work in harmony, leading to better balance and stability.  A strong core can help reduce the risk of back injury, alleviate back pain, aid mobility in the spine, and improve posture.

You may think that your core is composed of only your abdominal muscles. In reality, your core musculature is a series of muscles going far beyond your abdominals and includes all the muscles in your trunk…..everything but your arms and legs. Your core even includes your diaphragm and pelvic floor.

When you do any sort of movement, from swinging a golf club to mopping the floor, your core muscles act to stabilize your body and transfer power to get the job done. A strong core helps prevent injuries.  Research studies have shown that athletes who have a strong core have fewer injuries.

Knowing the benefits of a strong core, what sort of exercises do you need to incorporate into your health and wellness program to get one?

You’ll be relieved to know that doing endless sit ups and crunches is not recommended. In fact, these exercises don’t do much to strengthen your core and they can be bad for your back as well, as they put unnecessary stress on the discs in your spine.

While the popular plank and side-plank exercises are good for core strength, if you are a beginner, your best approach is to begin slowly and recondition your muscles with these five simple exercises I’m going to outline. I’ve also included a video below so you can see exactly how to do them.  Note that these exercises are geared towards the beginner level.  You can include more advanced exercises as you build strength.

  • Tummy Vacuums – good if you sit for long periods of time, you are a woman who has had children or you just haven’t been active for awhile.
  • Clam Shells – this one will strengthen your glutes or ‘butt’ muscles.
  • Dead Bugs – (don’t let the name put you off!) – this exercise will build stability in your hips and trunk.
  • Anti-band rotation – This is the one movement most people don’t know about incorporating into their routine, yet it’s essential.
  • The Bird Dog – This is a super exercise which combines a lot of movements into one.

Ok, that’s a description of the five exercises and here’s a video I like from the JungleFit folks that demonstrates how to do these.

Comments, thoughts, questions?  I love to hear from you so leave them below.  I’ll be sure to answer.