Up-level Your Running

You’re doing all the things at this point.

Following your plan.

Tracking your progress.

Tweaking your fueling.

Looking forward to the upcoming taper.

ftw win GIF

You’ve got this whole running thing down. But have you thought about how your life and “non-running” items may be impacting your performance?

Today we’re going to dive into the less obvious lifestyle factors that influence how you show up on race day.

Lifestyle Medicine is a newer subspeciality of medicine that focused on a holistic approach at health. There are 6 main pillars of health, all of which we will briefly cover today.

Nutrition

This is one area that is usually identified pretty quickly as a major component of success with running. You can’t go far without hearing about the importance of fueling before, during and after a run. If you have specific questions about fueling, I did a guest post you can check out here!

The piece of lifestyle medicine I would like to touch on here is the importance of plants. So here’s the deal – not all carbs are created equal. Carbs from soda, cookies and ice cream are not going to fuel you the same long-term as those from whole foods.

I would argue that during a race carbs are just carbs, so take in what you need and what works for you to get through. But when we look at the big picture, a diet rich in whole foods is linked with improved health and less chronic disease. This is because whole foods are loaded with things called phytochemicals. Phytochemicals work together with vitamins, minerals and macronutrients to help the whole system (our bodies) work better. 

If you’ve been running for awhile, you likely have noticed that you can tell when your diet starts to slip. I have been subject to this many times. Not fueling properly, too few vegetables, or an inconsistent eating pattern often leads to sluggish runs and not performing how you typically perform. To help your body recover and function better, try to increase the vegetables you eat. 

I usually don’t tell people to eliminate things – this just makes us want them more. Instead, I focus on what to add to your diet. If you are eating intuitively and mindfully (check out this blog post, podcast and freebie), you will naturally start to cut out items that aren’t serving you.

Action Item: Pick 1 day this week and go meatless. Check out No Meat Athlete for recipe ideas and inspiration!

Physical Activity

You’re reading this because you are already accomplishing this first pillar – activity! Nice work! 

But, there is one piece I’d like to add. It is essential that you aren’t just running. To make your body work it’s best and improve your running, you should be participating in multiple kinds of physical activity and exercise. I did a podcast on this topic you can listen to here.

Each week you should do 1-2 days of strength training and 1-2 days of mobility work. I’d argue that most people don’t need to run more than 4 days a week if you incorporate cross-training. Runners who do more than just run are more likely to continue running injury free (read about it here).

Runners World has a great article with strength and mobility exercises to prevent injuries

Action Item: Add a strength and mobility day to your running this week. If that means you need to cut out 1 running day do that, it’s ok! It’ll make your running better in the end.

Mental/Emotional Health

Your mind is more powerful than you may imagine. Many runners use running for the mental health benefits. Even if that wasn’t your initial intention, you may have noticed you are in a better mood on days after you’ve ran compared to before.

You may have also noticed that when your stress levels rise despite running, that your runs may start to suffer.  Here’s the deal – stress is stress. Whether it is emotional, physical, or illness, our bodies sense there is something stressful going. 

If you begin to notice your runs are struggling, I would encourage you to take some time to reflect on which type of stress you may be experiencing. Overuse? Maybe you need to rethink your training plan. Recent illness? Taking a few extra days slow might help your body bounce back quicker. Stress? Taking time to address or identify the underlying cause of your stress will help your running get back on track. 

Sometimes it is just stress. If that’s the case, I’d recommend starting a daily journaling practice that also includes some form of meditation or mindfulness. I talk about this a bit on this blog post

Sometimes it’s more than stress. If you think it might be more than standard stress, please consider doing this survey to assess if you are suffering from depression or anxiety. Then bring those results to your doctor to talk about options. Mental health visits are on the rise, especially given the stress we are currently experiencing with COVID. We are all here to support you. 

Action Item: Spend 5 minutes each morning doing a mediation, unprompted journaling or mindfulness exercise.

Avoiding Risky Substances

We all know what “risky” substances are and that we should avoid them. Drugs, drinking, and tobacco don’t mix well with running. So aside from stating the obvious, I’d like to you take some time to assess your use of commonly used substances.

Drinking alcohol socially typically won’t adversely affect your running unless you are drinking too much or too often. Take some time to reflect on your drinking habits. Do you find yourself having “just one more” more often than not? Do you have trouble stopping at just one? Do you notice that you drink when you are more stressed? These are just a few signs that you may be drinking more than is ideal. While alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation, it should not be used as a coping or numbing mechanism. 

“Mommy wine culture” has become pervasive in society and many women are turning to drinking when life turns stressful. In fact, female alcohol use disorder in the United States increased by 83.7% between 2002 and 2013 (read more here). This article is a great overview of the problem we are facing and how to start changing the conversation. 

Action Item: Take this quiz to see if your drinking may be a problem or education yourself about risky drinking here.

Personal Connectedness and Positive Psychology

This pillar is a huge topic I am going to distill down to 2 main points.

First, we are not meant to do life alone. We all saw the effects of social isolation last spring when we were told to not see anyone that we didn’t have to see. We are social beings and being in the presence of others is an integral part of our evolutionary development. I talk about this in my last podcast and link to some great resources.

Second, having a positive mindset can dramatically improve your quality of life. Your mind is more powerful than you can imagine and studies have found that a practice of gratitude and compassion can lead to improved health outcomes and quality of life. There are even studies showing less chronic disease in people who are more optimistic.

How can you address both of these areas? Mindset work. Here are 3 possible practices:

  1. A daily practice of gratitude. This is as simple as writing down 3 things you are grateful for in your life each day. 
  2. Meditation. Headspace and insight timer offer guided meditations to foster positivity in your life. 
  3. Compassion Practice. There is also an entire practice of meditation called Loving Kindness that can help you find compassion for yourself and others.

Action Items

  1. Relationships: choose 1 person to connect with this week that you have lost touch with.
  2. Positivity: keep a gratitude journal for 1 week. Record 3 things that bring you joy. Bonus – do this on social media to help encourage others to do the same! Take a picture of the 3 things and post them daily.
  3. Compassion: start a loving kindness practice for 5 minutes a day

Sleep

Ahhh sleep. Who doesn’t love sleep? All the fellow parents out there can relate to that glorious day when the kids all sleep in and you get to wake up naturally, on your own.

Many items can influence our sleep, most of which are actually in our control if we take the time to assess the issue. Most people do NOT need a sleep aid and as a physician, I rarely (if ever) will prescribe one. The real intervention is to get to the root cause of why we aren’t sleeping well. Here are a few reasons your sleep may be struggling:

  1. Screen time 30 minutes before bed: the lights from screens can stimulate our brain and prevent us from sleeping well. No screens 30-60 minutes before bed. 
  2. Using our rooms for more than sleep: if you work, watch TV or just plain hang out in your room, it can be hard to actually fall asleep in your room when you need to. This can be because of actual distractions in the room or associations our brains make with the room. Move anything not necessary for sleep out of your room and see if that makes a difference.
  3. Trying too hard to sleep: if we get in a routine of not sleeping well we might find that we get anxious around bedtime or worry about not sleeping. This in-turn makes it hard to sleep and keeps you up longer. If you can’t sleep, leave your room and do a calming activity for 10-15 minutes. Then return when you are feeling drowsy.
  4. Inconsistent sleep patterns: if your sleep schedule is not regular it can make it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, or wake up rested. If you go to bed around the same time each night and wake up around the same time each morning, your body will be better able to regulate your sleep and help you feel well rested upon waking.
  5. Alcohol: yes that’s right. Alcohol before bed will prevent you from getting into a deep sleep. You may have noticed that when you drink alcohol before bed you have more vivid dreams. This is because you spend more time in REM and less time in deep, restorative sleep. 
  6. Stress: if you are feeling stressed you may notice you are having trouble falling or staying asleep. Try to address the underlying cause of your stress to help improve your sleep. You can also try doing a short guided meditation before bed to help clear your mind and drift off to sleep.

I have quite a few posts on my blog about sleep, some I wrote, others colleagues have written. You can check them out here:

I also did a podcast on this topic last spring that you can listen to here.

Action Item: keep a sleep log and reflect on your sleeping patterns. Find one thing you can do to improve your sleep and put that into place the following week!

Next Steps

We covered A LOT in this post. I hope you all have found at least 1 new thing you can do to try to improve your running and overall health. 

Need help getting started with some of the items in this article? I put together a podcast and freebie in May to help people manage their wellness during COVID. You can listen to the podcast here and fill out the workbook here.
Want to learn more about Lifestyle Medicine? Check out this free 8-week video series I organized through my work (Banner Health): https://www.subscribepage.com/lmevent2020

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