Spirituality comes naturally, and it is typically a very healthy activity. If you have found meaning, hope, comfort and inner peace in your life, you know what I’m talking about here. Spirituality is available to you through religion, music and art, nature, exercise and possession of a high sense of principle and morality.
Being a spiritual person is the ability to engage in any or all of these activities. It’s the key to health and happiness too. The mind, body and spirit are connected — and when synchronized properly, your overall wellness spikes. But like anything that’s worthwhile in your quest to get healthy and stay that way, being spiritual takes practice.
And you do not have to join a gym to find it. You can be outside or inside to practice spiritual health — anywhere that is quiet and comfortable, a place where prayer and meditation comes easily. Good spiritual health gives you a sense of wellbeing both physically and in your mind. It brings comfort and strength and will power to live you’re your life to the fullest.
How strong is your spiritual health? Do you want to strengthen it? If so, here are some ideas to consider:
— Take some time daily to practice meditation. Get comfortable and sit down in quiet, pleasant surroundings. Cross your legs like a yogi as best you can. Hold your hands palm-side up while resting your arms on your knees. Sit up straight and relax. Simply clear your mind by focusing only on your breathing initially. This should not be difficult. Every time a thought enters your mind, cut it off by returning your focus back to your breathing. Slowly take in a breath and slowly exhale. Doing this regularly for about 20 minutes will give you a sense of inner peace, comfort, strength, love and connection.
— Do something good for others every day. Say “hello” when you pass a stranger. Hold a door for someone who needs a hand. Smile. These little things are acts of kindness, and they are very easy to do when you stop and think about it.
— Pray. Ask God to help you clear your mind of the senseless clutter that takes up valuable space in a place where goodness needs room to thrive.
— Read a good book about good people doing good things for themselves and for others.
— Learn about yoga and then give it a try.
— Sing if you can. If that’s a problem, take some lessons. It’s never too late to learn how to sing. This will surely help your breathing too.
— Exercise and eat right. Your brain works better when you do.
— Talk to your doctor about the importance of spirituality as a way to deal with stress. Good ones know how important it is for getting healthy and staying that way.
— And always be respectful of others. Practice the Golden Rule.
PERSONAL NOTE: Do you need help with your health? Doctors typically find out what’s wrong when you’re feeling bad, then go about treating your symptoms. They are trained to determine your problem then treat it in some way with drug prescriptions and surgery and the like. They may advise you on how to get healthy. But a doctor’s time is limited. Ultimately, it’s up to you to follow through and make healthy changes to your life.
That’s where a wellness coach comes in. A wellness coach works with you one on one, or sometimes in groups, to understand your problem and determine what’s important to you. They help you develop an action plan and provide accountability to get you started with new habits that will last a lifetime.
When we’re in our 50s, we tend to notice changes with our bodies: Metabolism, skin elasticity, energy, vision, hormones…
These things are inevitable, but there are some things we should not accept with age.
- I’ve put weight on around my middle.
This weight can increase your risk of health problems including heart disease and diabetes. If you’re a woman and your waist is bigger than 31.5 in (37 in for men), your risk of health problems tend to be higher than normal.
How do you address this? Make a plan and follow it. (Look up the best sites for diet advice for some tips).
- I urinate more during the night.Women in their 50s naturally have frailer bladders and bladder muscles. It’s a result of lower estrogen levels. But for men, regular nighttime trips to the bathroom could suggest prostate problems. For both genders, needing the bathroom more at night might also be a sign of diabetes.
How do you address this? Go to your family doctor.
- My vision is blurry.
People often start wearing reading glasses in their 40s and 50s because the lenses in their eyes start to stiffen, making focusing on close-up objects complicated. But blurred vision is a symptom of diabetes. Other symptoms are feeling very thirsty, very tired and unexplained weight loss.
How do you address this? See your family doctor. Regular eye tests can spot the early signs of diabetes, so don’t skip appointments with your eye doctor.
- My knee hurts (or hips, or fingers).
Aching, stiff knees, hips and finger joints suggest osteoarthritis, a condition that sends a million people to their family doctor every year, and usually progresses in people over 50. But you may be able to slow it down if you catch it early using modern medical or holistic treatments.
How do you address this? Consider taking joint health supplement such as fish oils or glucosamine. If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, ask your family doctor about non-drug treatments such as physiotherapy.
- I feel constantly worn out.
Getting tired more easily than you used to isn’t just a sign you’re not quite a spring chicken any more. There are several health conditions that cause deep-rooted, long-lasting fatigue, including chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), anemia, under-active thyroid, diabetes and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
How do you address this? If you’re getting plenty of sleep but still feeling worn out, see your family doctor.
- I can’t get it up like I used to.
Around half of all men between 40 and 70 have erection problems to some degree. While lifestyle changes such as losing weight and exercise can help, erectile dysfunction can also be a sign of something more serious, including heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure.
How do you address this? See your family doctor if you have erections problems that last for several weeks.
- I can’t stop burping.
Heartburn and burping aren’t just irritating, they can also be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a digestive condition that’s more common after the age of 40. If you don’t treat it, you can suffer with difficulties, including damage to the lining of your esophagus.
How do you address this? Your family doctor can recommend treatments. Help yourself by eating four or five smaller meals instead of having three big meals a day. Keep a food diary, as keeping a record can help point out to you the potential food triggers.
- My snoring is driving my partner crazy.
Snoring problems are typically in people aged between 40 and 60. If you snore loudly, it could be a sign you have sleep a condition that interrupts your breathing during sleep, increasing your risk of heart failure.
How do you address this? See your family doctor for a diagnosis. Losing weight, cutting down on alcohol and giving up smoking may also help.
- I keep saying ‘What?’
Hearing loss isn’t something that only happens in old age. Surveys suggest that many of us in our 50s have some deterioration in our hearing. Problem is, most people take up to 15 years to do anything about it. But the earlier you tackle it, the sooner you’ll prevent it getting worse.
- My legs ache when I exercise.
Aching legs while walking or climbing stairs may well suggest you’re not fit. But in your 50s it can also be a symptom of peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which is caused by a blockage in your arteries, which restricts the blood flow to your legs. If you don’t do anything about it, your heart attack and stroke risk could increase.
How do you address this? See your family doctor if you have leg pain regularly, especially if you smoke or you have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
1. Walk outside.
Skip the gym and head for the great outdoors. While exercise is a great boost to your mental health, going for a walk or a run offer even more vital health benefits. You’ll exert more effort and will have increased signs of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem, as compared to staying indoors.
2. Take vitamin B12.
You’ve always known taking vitamins is important, but do you know about the benefits of B12?
A severe deficiency of B12 can lead to depression, anxiety, paranoia and other harmful problems. Get your B12 dosage from supplements or by eating eggs, poultry and dairy products.
3. Write down simple goals.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness says setting simple, well-defined goals like, “I will smoke one less cigarette each day for the next three weeks,” is a great way to succeed. Set goals for yourself in relation to your mental health — such as, “I will take two minutes each day to focus on breathing” — and be as specific as possible.
Once you’ve accomplished that goal, reward yourself!
4. Listen to calming music.
Plenty of studies have shown that performing tasks while listening to classical tracks such as Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major” eases your mind and reduces anxiety. If you’re not one for classical music, opt for other tracks that are slow and soothing.
5. Use lavender oil.
Put a bit of lavender oil on your pillow. It can improve your sleep quality and ease insomnia. If you don’t want it on your pillow, try drinking lavender tea before bed to soak up its healthful benefits.
6. Spend money on someone else.
You know that victorious feeling you get when you find the perfect gift for someone? That’s your happiness levels skyrocketing. People who buy something for someone else feel happier throughout day. And you don’t have to break the bank every time — spending $5 for someone else is fine. It’s the thought that counts for others as well as yourself.
We know this is touted as the mind-clearing fix-all, but it’s for good reason. Mindful meditation increases the brain’s emotional regulator, and combats depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia and more. Start slowly by meditating for 3 to 5 minutes per day in order to get comfortable with silence. Listen to your breathing or use a mantra as a way to focus your mind on relaxation, and soon you’ll be getting 20 minutes or more of excellent calmness.
With every fitness regimen the body is used in different ways. Some workouts require power and strength; others require endurance and resistance; still others require flexibility and mobility. While it’s important to know how muscles function and adapt during exercise, understanding your breathing is another powerful factor that can make or break your workouts. Breath control is an effective tool to help workouts reach their full potential. By utilizing breath properly, you can steadily improve performance in any discipline. Regardless of the fitness type – whether yoga, running, cycling, or lifting weights – proper breathing can help the body adapt to the various challenges that arise when exercising. Just as different muscles are used during different types of training, certain breathing techniques better apply to different workouts. Here are some specific breathing exercises to complement your workout regimen. Yoga Breath awareness lies at the core of any yoga practice. Breathing techniques vary depending on the style of yoga being practiced. They fall into two basic categories: the relaxation breath and the active breath. In general, if a yoga class is gentle or restorative, it is appropriate to employ the relaxation breath. For a more vigorous class (like a vinyasa flow or power yoga), utilize the active breathing technique. In yoga, students are encouraged to breathe in and out through the nostrils. Relaxation Breath This is the breathing technique that is closest to a natural breathing rhythm. When inhaling, imagine the belly filling with breath (hence the term belly breathing). Then when exhaling, allow the exhalation to be long and slow. If the inhalation is a four- or five-count, for example, the exhalation should be a five- or six-count. This breathing technique is best learned while lying down, because the body is able to completely relax when in a supine position. As a result, there are no restrictions or physical tensions to inhibit deep breathing. Once the relaxation breath is mastered lying down, it’s easier to practice it in a seated position. While practicing gentle or restorative yoga, this breathing technique helps maintain focus on relaxation. If you start to hold the breath or feel breathing become labored, return to the relaxation breath and allow the body to adapt accordingly.
This breathing technique involves the deepest abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominus, and the pelvic floor muscles. The transverse abdominus wraps around the torso like a thick seatbelt and engages, along with the pelvic floor muscles, as the major player in a full, active exhalation. There are additional muscles at work, such as the spinal muscles and other abdominal muscles, but the transverse abdominus and pelvic floor muscles are the most important in facilitating an active breath. When inhaling, envision breathing into the lower belly, the ribs, and the chest. During the exhalation, draw up the pelvic floor muscles, engage the transverse abdominus (imagine a thick seatbelt tightening around the torso,) and push the remaining breath out of the body. Since the transverse abdominus and the pelvic floor muscles are key stabilizers for the spine and pelvis, utilizing this breath during a vigorous yoga class helps maintain a stable body when moving through the postures. The active breath assists with the development of a strong core, supports each movement, and keeps the focus on the body during yoga practice.
Running or Cycling
Running and cycling encompass a variety of workouts and intensity levels. Some workouts involve maintaining a steady pace, while others require speed or hill work. We’ve focused on two breathing techniques that apply to a steady-paced training session or to hill or speed training.
The steady counting breath is a technique that facilitates an even-paced breath. When inhaling, breathe in to the count of four (or five, or six) and then exhale for the same length of time. Aim for breaths that come in and out with relative ease. This breathing rhythm supports a steady running or cycling pace that corresponds with strides or cadence. When running, breathe in for two, three, or four paces, and exhale for the same number of paces. The same technique can be employed to maintain an even inhalation and exhalation on the bike. Controlled breathing keeps the heart rate down, which maximizes the ability to run or cycle efficiently. The counting breath helps to maintain a steady pace. By developing breath control in this manner, you can increase the breath count, or adapt it as necessary for each workout.
Counting Breath Variation
Training on the road, a treadmill, or bike inevitably involves hill or speed work. These workouts can throw off pace, test breathing rhythm, and challenge muscles differently than training on flat surfaces. For these workouts, adapt the steady counting breath to focus on a slightly longer exhalation. The breathing count will naturally be shorter than a steady counting breath because of the demands these workouts place on the body. For the counting breath variation, breathe in for a count of one and breathe out forcefully for a count of two. Running or biking places the body in a position that allows an easy inhalation, but takes abdominal strength and breath control to manage exhalations. When this variation of the counting breath is practiced, the abdominal muscles are trained by controlling the exhalation more than the inhalation. When running, for example, inhale for one stride, but focus on a two-stride exhalation. By concentrating on maintaining a breathing rhythm with a more powerful exhalation, which will vary according to the pitch of the hill or the pace of our speed work, we can use the breath as a constant source of energy to propel the body forward and get us up those hills.
When lifting weights, the body needs power, stability, and focus. It is common for people to hold their breath when lifting. Unfortunately, holding the breath reduces potential strength, because the full energy of the core and breath doesn’t underlie each movement. This breathing technique will energize and power the body throughout your repetitions. Power Breath The power breath is a combination of the active breath described above in the yoga section and the counting breath variation, with a focus on exhalation described in the running/cycling section. To practice the power breath, inhale deeply and then pause at the end of the inhalation. During this pause in the breath, mentally prepare to lift the weight, be it dumbbells, kettlebell, barbell, or machine. With a powerful exhalation, engage the transverse abdominus and the pelvic floor muscles at the same time as lifting, pressing, or pulling the weight. By using the power breath – which involves core stability and a focus on long powerful exhalations – it’s possible to maintain a stable torso, which is essential for safe lifting. A stable torso also helps protect the spine and back by utilizing the core muscles to support a strong, balanced body. The power and focus of the exhalation energizes the muscles when lifting.
Employing the relaxation breath between sets allows the muscles to relax and regain energy for the next set of repetitions.
One Last Breath
Regardless of the type of exercise, conscious breathing can give you a greater awareness of your body and its signals. It can help you recognize when you are not working hard enough or overexerting yourself. Whether it’s on the mat, on the trails, or at the gym, being in tune with your breathing for every inhale and exhale can enhance your workout.
Annabel is a writer, yoga and Pilates instructor, health and wellness speaker, playwright, runner and triathlete. She combines her enthusiasm for wellness with her love of words to encourage healthy and whole living.
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