Lesson 6 of 12
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Taking Care of Your Health

One surefire way to improve your self-esteem is by exercising. The obvious reason for this is that you’ll improve your physique which will make you more attractive and more capable. You won’t feel as physically threatened by other people, you’ll win respect from others who are impressed by your new shape or envious even (you’ll find that you become a font of knowledge for anyone who wants to do the same), you’ll be better at sports and all physical activities, and you’ll be more attractive to the opposite sex.

Not bad right?

That’s not all exercise is about, however. If you train regularly you’ll soon find that it affects you in ways that you wouldn’t have expected. Training your body is something you can do regularly that has a visible and practical effect. Over time you will see that you’re directly controlling an aspect of yourself. Every time you go to the gym, you come away a little bit better than you were before you go in and that’s one productive thing you’ve done that day. Even more, when you’re in the gym, trying to run an extra mile on the treadmill or lift an extra 10kg on the bench press, you’re testing yourself and coming out better.

You’re challenging yourself and overcoming it on a daily basis – over time you’ll learn that you can do the same in any aspect of your life. Working out is a true life-affirming activity that can help you to grow both mentally and literally physically.

Working out will also increase your mood, and so your self-esteem, in other ways too. The actual act of working out causes your body to release the feel-good hormone serotonin. On top of that, it also leads to neurogenesis, the birth of new brain cells. In short, training will lift your mood and improve your cognitive performance both immediately and over time.

Getting Started With a Fitness Regime

To begin training then you need to assess your current condition. If you’re currently overweight you need to be doing large amounts of CV (that’s aerobic exercise such as running or sprinting) and cutting your caloric intake. If you’re currently very thin you need to do the opposite – using fewer repetitions of a heavier weight while increasing the amount of protein you eat (that’s meats and dairy products).

You can even take either a protein shake or a weight gainer to supplement your diet. Similarly, to lose weight you need to train
more regularly – about five times a week, but to get stronger and larger you need to train more heavily and less often to give your muscles time to recover and build.

To begin with, you can train using a simple full-body routine. While ‘split’ routines and the like are more conducive to training when you’re more advanced, to start with you need to get your body used to training.

Each session should last about forty minutes and each exercise should consist of three sets – that means you lift the weight however many times, take a rest then repeat for three sets. Once you begin to see progress start reading into the process in more detail and learn the tricks and techniques used by the pros.

The most important thing though is that you find a program and then stick with it. Even if that program isn’t perfect, it will bring some results simply due to the fact that you’re doing some kind of training. That also means it’s much better to do something very simple two or three times a week, rather than being too ambitious right away. Adherence is what really matters here.

Nourishing Nutrition and Sleep

Nutrition can make a huge difference to the way you feel about yourself and to your mood in general. That’s partly because your diet will impact your looks and your energy levels, but also because it can directly influence your mood.

Foods that contain vitamin C for example will improve your mood because they provide an influx of serotonin – vitamin C is used to make serotonin. Likewise, foods high in tryptophan will do the same thing.

Almost any food will trigger a release of dopamine, which is a reward hormone. Conversely, if you don’t eat regularly, you will have high cortisol leading to stress and anxiety.

Foods high in zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D (among others) can all help to increase testosterone production, which in men and women are closely linked with enhanced mood, energy, and drive.

Conversely, though, foods that are high in processed sugars can cause low-level inflammation. This is modulated through the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can also affect the brain. Ever wondered why you feel sad and low energy when you have a cold or stomach bug? Brain inflammation is quite possibly the answer!

Simple sugars and processed foods (especially acellular carbs) can also negatively impact the ‘gut microbiome’. This means that they can feed the bad bacteria that live in our guts and starve the good ones. That, in turn, has a big impact on mood and energy, seeing as these bacteria release numerous neurotransmitters and hormones, and play a big role in energy metabolism.

Sugary foods also spike the blood with sugar and insulin, which then quickly dissipates. This results in a ‘crash’ where blood sugar is low and cortisol is high again.

Of course, processed, simple sugars also typically don’t contain healthy nutrients (hence the term ‘empty calories’) which means you don’t get all the hormone and mood support you get from the
good stuff.

So if you want to feel good, then you need to eat well. Treat yourself yes, but do so by using fruits, vegetables, yogurts, and other healthy treats. That way, you’ll feel better in the short term
AND the long term.

Sleep
Sleep is just as important. Sleeping poorly will cause your physical appearance to deteriorate, as well as your mental health and your mood. Bad sleep causes bags under the eyes, bloodshot eyes, blotchy-red skin, and the deterioration of hair and nails over time. It also leads to weight gain.

In the short term, poor sleep will leave you with low energy and will increase stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. You’ll be wired, anxious, and fraught.

The solution is to sleep longer, and to sleep better! Consider this a crucial aspect of your self-care, that will help you to look and feel your very best.

Here are some key tips to consider:

• Get at least 8 hours every night – this is non-negotiable!

• Aim to go to bed at the same time each night. Our bodies love predictability.

• Find out your own ‘chronotype’ by experimenting. What times work best for you to sleep and wake up?

• Take a hot shower or bath before bed

• No technology 1 hour before sleep. Read a book and try to stay calm. This is ‘winding down’ time.

We can also use a little CBT to fall asleep faster. Instead of worrying about not getting enough sleep or trying to force yourself to sleep, instead focus on just enjoying the relaxation. The irony is that when you do this, you fall asleep much faster!