Sleeping Tiger

Ancient Zen masters said “When hungry eat, when tired sleep.” Modern societies have the first part down pat since the majority of people in western countries are overweight. These busy people seem to have missed something in the translation of the sleep part. This carries over to fitness where many are too tired or say that they don’t have enough time to maintain a regular fitness program.

One of the biggest motivators to getting exercise is simply to be rested, healthy and energetic – impossible without enough sleep. This is simple and basic, like most of what the Zen masters taught. Science teaches that it takes a certain amount and quality of sleep to:

  • Metabolize carbohydrates properly,
  • Maintain leptin, growth hormones, proper blood pressure and insulin resistance,
  • Keep a positive attitude through decreased anxiety and perceived stress.

Most people fall off the exercise wagon after about three weeks. Their motivation for it crashes when they do not maintain or change to healthy sleeping habits. Without enough sleep, it becomes difficult to get motivated to go out and get proper exercise. In fact, the main excuse for not getting enough exercise is either being “too tired” or having “no time.” Often, it is the combination of both, making it extremely difficult to maintain a balanced approach as taught by these Zen masters.

The “no time” bit is basically a priority issue. If someone feels tired and beat up the day after a workout, there is a tendency to have the “no time” issue become an impediment to fitness. This is because they can feel less productive, more lethargic and so on while being stiff and sore. The tendency is to feel the need to work longer to make up the time spent for the exercise. If someone goes into the exercise well rested, that day and the next day goes by better with the benefits of the natural “endorphin high” and a generally positive sense of health and well being, the “no time” issue vanishes.

It generally takes about 7 hours of quality sleep for most people. Too few achieve that with today’s harried lifestyles. People often get the sequence backwards, working on sleep after getting going on a new exercise routine. Or worse, getting no sleep or less sleep than before. This is often because the exercise is simply added to the existing busy schedule.

Making an exercise program stick is a problem for many people. One way to do it is to combine the tracking of both sleep and exercise as part of the fitness program. For example, block out 8 hours of the 24 hour day for “fitness” and mark down the actual sleep time and the time in the gym or while out jogging, hiking or playing tennis. Measure the sleep hours and quality as carefully as tracking the weights used or mileage covered. Make this part of your reporting requirement if you have a personal trainer involved in the process.

Here are ten ways to ensure fitness success. A large part of the process is to ensure the program will stick.

  1. Get plenty of sleep – track your sleep.
  2. Set realistic goals and timelines for your fitness program.
  3. Join a clinic or group to surround yourself with motivated people.
  4. Track you progress.
  5. Tell everyone about your goals.
  6. Make it fun – mp3 player – music or business audio books – fun sports…
  7. Do not over train.
  8. Reward yourself – but not with a lot of food.
  9. Book it in hard – be consistent (5 times a week, not 3).
  10. Get professional help – personal trainer.

The point about 5 times per week rather than the 3 times often prescribed is important. It is really hard to form a habit at 3 times because there is often a conflict knocking out one of the days, reducing it to two which is useless. To build it into a habit, 5 times will work because even with 1 or 2 getting rescheduled or knocked out, there is enough there to make it work. Sometimes all 5 will work out which is fine.

The upside of this is that there is less need to worry about the dietary aspects when the sleep and exercise parts are handled well. Nike training program running coach Roy Benson often said “if the furnace is hot enough, anything will burn in it.” This probably shouldn’t be taken too far but the point is that the dietary aspects are more easily managed once the proper fitness routine has been in operation over a considerable period of time. This is much more easily enabled when the sleep part is properly managed – right from the beginning.

By building proper sleep into the fitness routine up front, more time is created overall. As the process becomes more streamlined, productivity goes up. Often, there is also less wasted downtime during the day. Someone who is rested and fit doesn’t need to head off to quiet corners or feel the need to head to a fast food joint for a break as often as others. Someone who isn’t as tired likely won’t be as hungry either. To avoid getting hit on the head with a stick by your Zen master, place sufficient sleep at the same level as enough food.

Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group, a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis now available.

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