Challenging Times Call for Challenging Measures

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As we launch deeper into 2021, change is on all our minds. The irony of so many things becoming clearer in the year 2020 is not beyond me.  Our personal fitness training business, Arete Athletics, went from 100 percent in person fitness training to 100 percent online fitness training and many changes seeped into our personal life as well. Our kids no longer went to school, Myles (my husband) was home training in our living room on zoom, and we were all stuck in our house, all day, every day for what seemed like it might be an eternity. At first, I felt claustrophobic, what happened to “me time”? But as the days, turned to months, turned to a year, I witnessed a change in our family. We actually enjoyed all being home together, and I relished in my new-found time abundance, since I wasn’t shuttling kids around all day long. We were lucky we had each other and felt fortunate we were having a positive experience during a time when many other people were facing the exact opposite reality.

We knew our clients needed something to focus on other than the daily deluge of terrible news and seemingly unending chaos and uncertainty. Our goal as fitness professionals has always been to help people reach their individual potentials, and we believed training people in the gym was the most direct way to achieve this goal. With the onset of COVID-19, both Myles and I realized we had to find a new way to reach people in the shifting environment of the pandemic. We put our heads together and decided to write weekly challenges to entice our clients to push themselves in new ways – whether it be physically, mentally, or both. Our weekly emails were met with enthusiasm and gratitude from our audience, so we knew we had hit a chord.

We felt especially equipped to offer advice and guidance, given our family’s experience facing adversity and challenges that come with raising a medically fragile child with multiple disabilities. The “R” word -- Resilience -- has been used ad nauseum this past year, but we felt we were in a position to explain why and how resilience is a skill you hone just like a muscle you train. We’ve been knocked down and gotten back up many times and the more it happens, the better we get at bouncing back. Often people will ask us how we can keep enduring the trauma and disappointments we face, and our answer is always the same. We don’t have a choice. We push through because we have to be strong for our daughter and our family. Our resilience muscles are jacked!

Being in the health and wellness industry, there is so much BS to wade through, it can boggle your mind. Is red wine good for you or not? Is yoga or Crossfit more beneficial? Keto is really good for you, right? Myles and I read many articles, blogs and studies that come out that are related to nutrition and fitness. We weed through what we know is crap, and then summarize what we think is actually good advice. This is the basis of our wellness challenges. Well-researched ideas that we put our own spin on. Of course, we have our own biases and opinions about different facets of our respective areas of expertise, but we try to be upfront about those in our posts or videos.  

We also try not to add to the confusion. Our industry is constantly changing with more data and studies released every day, so our perspectives may shift over time. We aim to explain why we were swayed to change course on a particular idea, and back it up with other supporting articles or studies. It’s really amazing how little we know about the human body; science is discovering new things all the time. And even fundamental theories are proven false when new data is released.  

When we first started writing our challenges in March of 2020, we kept the mood light and focused on areas our clients could easily control like hydration, breathing and sleep schedules. These foundational challenges were meant to be a platform our clients could build upon to directly support and bolster their immune systems during a time when a healthy immune system was of utmost importance. We were not interested in telling our clients to lift ‘X” amount of weight or run 30 miles. That is not what they needed at that point in time. As a society, we all felt vulnerable and scared, and the last thing anyone needed was to be pushed outside their comfort zone any further.

As the months dragged on, we continued to gauge our audience and apply pressure when it was needed and back off to allow time for reflection and rest when that is what would serve them best. We had a direct line into our community since Myles was training them virtually and chatted with many people each day. This allowed us to get a good read on how our general population was feeling during any given week. The common themes that kept cropping up were stress and lack of physical activity, combined with poor eating habits and a general feeling of malaise.

Stress: 

The abrupt and continued disruption of routine accompanied by the overwhelming feeling that the world was ending in 2020 was a lot for everyone to handle. When things are out of their control, people feel anxious, nervous and can get a little bitchy (let’s be honest). If we felt the stress level was rising, we focused our posts on self-reflection and how important it is to take a break.

We don’t delve too deeply into meditation but mindfulness in general is a wonderful way to de-stress and let your mind rest from the worries that surround you. In this article about walking meditation the authors explore the benefits of meditation and how walking meditation adds a dynamic aspect into your practice of mindfulness.

In our challenge titled: Stop, take a breath and reflect on where you are, we asked our clients to really dig into their success and failures as a way to celebrate small wins during a challenging time and reflect on the reasons why certain things may not have worked well. It’s easy to keep grinding away during stressful times without ever stopping to think about what you have accomplished and then taking it a step further to figure out why you did it well. On the flip side, it’s equally easy to keep spinning your wheels without examining how well you are performing given tasks or if they are even worth doing.

Lack of activity and poor eating habits:  

Being stuck at home resulted in two things: People moved less and ate more. Quality nutrition and adequate movement plays a huge role in overall wellness. This is not news to anyone.  However, during the “dark days” of the pandemic, our ability to get out of the house was limited and downright frightening, given the risk of exposure. Giving clients a way to incorporate movement and activity into their daily schedule was a topic we addressed often. Our post about mobility breaks assigns one movement per day of the week for clients to focus on that day.

But exercise doesn’t even have to be that structured, just moving (think playing with kids, changing positions while working, or fidgeting) is beneficial. In Practice movement daily, we explored the idea that simple movements throughout the day can add up and help your body stay healthy even if you don’t get a typical “workout” in that day. Getting outside when the weather allows is another way to get unstructured movement into your day with the added benefits of vitamin D and fresh air!

And what about the kids? There was no PE or sports teams or gymnastics to participate in. They were sitting in front of a screen more then they ever had in their young lives and moving less; this was a recipe for disaster. In our post Move like an animal, we enlisted our older daughter to film a video with Myles where they practiced different movement patterns pretending to be animals. Movement is fun and adults need to play too!

Access to food 24/7 with no co-workers observing your eating habits gives new found freedom to “grazers”. The pantry and fridge are always open and stocked with foods you love to eat. And is that coffee or wine you have in your mug during your 3pm zoom meeting? When our routines are disrupted, our patterns change which allows us to form new habits. Unfortunately, many of the new habits people developed were not helping their waistlines.

Giving our clients tips on ways to normalize their routine to help bring their nutrition into check was a topic we frequently wrote about it. In Fat loss hacks are a hack, we explore how adding “good food” into your day is easier then trying to eliminate the “bad food”. Understanding how much food we should be consuming is always relevant and often we underestimate how much we eat and overestimate how much we burn.  We have a whole series on Pack your lunch. Prep your breakfast, and Protein snacks on the go. Encouraging clients to prep for the day even though they are home in an effort to help eliminate poor food choices and pantry raiding when they are starving or worse- bored!

Malaise: 

I’m not going to use the term “depression” that’s a bit too clinical for what many of us have experienced this past year. Instead, I would say there has been a general sense of unhappiness, or melancholy if you prefer. Human connection has been in short supply this year and ironically, we have been weaning ourselves away from contact prior to the pandemic. With the increased use of smart phones and tablets, our need to actually engage with others in person has diminished. Now, when we are physically restricted from seeing and touching other people, we are finally recognizing how important those human connections are to each of us. Hopefully this epiphany of sorts will serve as a catalyst for change and increase personal interaction once again.

We struggled with how to address this issue within our weekly blog posts.  We aimed to take the focus off the circumstances out of our control and turn their attention inward. In our New Year’s post we steer our audience away from making lofty resolutions and encourage them to make small incremental habit changes that gradually shift behavior and create a huge impact down the road.  Simple activities like rolling your feet, or breathing can be enough to refocus our energy on to what we can control AND it makes us feel better.

The link between exercise and mental health is not new to any of us so we aimed to help our clients benefit from utilizing their physical movement to improve their mental wellness. We are not yogis- nor do we pretend to be, but we understand the value of a well-designed yoga practice and the benefits of breath control and flexibility. Yoga can be used in so many ways- as a way to relax, a way to control breath, as a mindfulness practice and a way increase strength and flexibility. Another tactic we employed was to encourage our clients to walk daily as a way to reduce inflammation and assist with recovery and shared ways for them to incorporate it easily into their routine.

Our overarching message to our readers this past year was to encourage everyone to see the positive changes they could make during a time when positivity was scarce. The recent circumstances have required us to practice patience, resilience, and grit, and I believe we will emerge from this period stronger then when we ventured into it.

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