Hi everyone, Dr. Junger here.
Last month we started the Clean Sleep Challenge and focused on the importance of sound sleep for our health.
This month, we’re jumping into the topic of Movement and Rest. These practices are like two sides of a coin, you can’t have one without the other.
They remain two of the most fundamental practices for living clean during and after you’ve completed the Clean Program and can help us make serious gains in our health, if we give them attention.
This is easy in theory: find one of the hundreds of exercise programs out there and do it, and then rest enough in order to recover and de-stress. Most of us have heard this advice many times, but the truth is we often don’t act on it.
Today, I want to tell a different story that I hope inspires you to find your sweet spot of movement and rest.
The race is over
We evolved in a very different environment from what we live in today. Our world was filled with a lot of movement, rare access to continuous food supply, and relative freedom from chronic stress.
But for most of us in the developed countries, we live in a world that our Paleolithic ancestors could hardly imagine—a world where food is always accessible, a lot of movement is not required to get the basic necessities of life, and chronic stress is the norm.
In essence, we’ve created a world our genes have always wanted, an environment where we save our energy for dangerous situations (which rarely occur anymore, but our genes don’t know that), food is abundantly available, and we can access media and means of communication nearly whenever we want.
So, it makes sense why we have difficulty getting ourselves to move more, refrain from overeating junk food, and unplugging ourselves from our toys. It’s not what our genes want.
As far as our genetic impulses are concerned, we’ve basically run across the finish line and are stuffing our faces full of never-ending cake.
Now what? Get back in the race
If we’ve crossed the finish line, and there’s nothing left for us to do, then that’s it. Literally, game over. The increasing incidence of chronic disease and health issues confirm this, and they also confirm that we have some work to do.
The next step is for us to get back in the race, but without the competition because we no longer need to compete for survival like our ancestors. That means, getting back to moving more and resting more. It’s part of our genetic history to get moving and then balance the movement with periods of deep relaxation and lots of sleep.
Think of moving and resting as food, part of your daily nourishment, free for the taking whenever you want them.
It feels good (most of the time)
The good thing about getting back into the race is that most of the time it actually feels good. When we exercise, we burn excess fat, create endorphins which make us feel great and improve our mood, and build strength and endurance. When we get enough sleep and unplug, we give ourselves time to recharge and reflect.
Both moving and resting help us reduce the amount of stress in our lives and make us better at handling stress when it does occur.
Biting off more than we can chew
The major challenge with getting back in the race is that we often try to take on too much at once. Unrealistic goals, such as losing twenty pounds or completely transforming our bodies in a week, set us up for failure. And with failure comes guilt and shame, hardly good motivators to continue with a program.
Small habits done consistently tend to work best. Focus on the “minimum viable dose,” the smallest amount needed to get you started, and then use our Health Commitment Worksheet to help you stick with it.
For example, a consistent walk after dinner each night or one minute of focus on your breathing can build the lasting foundation for an entire exercise or meditation program. The key idea is that something small when done consistently produces big results down the line.
Each time you practice a small habit (e.g. meditation, walk, or exercise routine), congratulate yourself. Give yourself a physical pat on the back to celebrate. It’s a small act, but that’s the point—the more you take pleasure in a habit, the more it will stick with you.
Then, increase the amount of time you do them, or add other habits.
A simple walk can turn into a running program or a day hike. A minute of meditation can turn into a consistent place of respite to reduce stress and fatigue. We’ll explore more of these tools and their practicalities in future newsletters.
Whatever method of exercise or stress reduction you choose, know that it is not only an integral part of living clean for life but also an integral part of who you are. Moving and resting are genetic impulses that are ready for the taking whenever you are. They are only asking for one thing: start small and start now.