Archive for September, 2010

Music: A Healing Art

If I had to guess, I would say that 99.999999999% of the people who live on this Earth listen to some sort of music.  The type of music, I’m sure, varies as widely as the people that listen to it, but music is a cross-cultural, cross-generational phenomenon.  Archeological evidence suggests that music came before any language.  If you are human, chances are music is a part of your life.

I think we all understand the power that music has on us, especially when it comes to mood.   Most of us have experienced it first-hand.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found her bad mood lifted by an upbeat song she loves.  (Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen does it every time.)  Or alternately, her joyous mood dampened by a piece that evokes sad or angry emotions.  (Prime example:  Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.  It, too, gets me every time but it is an exquisite piece of music that I love listening to.)

If you exercise, I’m sure you understand the power music has on the quality of your workout.  Music can motivate you to push through that last set or rep, or to sprint that last mile when every muscle and fiber in your being is begging you to quit.  It is also pretty well known, although sadly ignored, that music positively effects learning.  Children who play a musical instrument often perform better in math and language skills.  In musicians, the corpus callosum (the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres) is more highly developed.

One of music’s first important social roles was as a means of healing. Today, music therapy is being employed in many different settings to promote both physical and mental healing.  For example, it is used today to help people suffering with depression.  While the research about its effectiveness is limited, it does indicate that music therapy does well to ease depressive symptoms, often being used when more conventional therapies are not as likely to be successful on their own.   It can help to tap into a patient’s emotions and memories that are otherwise repressed.  Music has been shown to also physically affect the body in a therapeutic manner.  It has been proven to help slow down heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress, encourage better breathing, and help patients rest and recover.

Bottom line, music is powerful.  It has an influence over us that is, in many aspects, unparalleled.  Used wisely, it can be a great tool to help us all navigate daily living.  For the days where you find yourself feeling blue, have a play list or CD ready that you know will put you in a better mood.  Have one ready for those days when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed and nothing seems to be going right. Have one ready for when you are feeling angry or agitated or anxious that will help you feel calm and serene and peaceful.  Have one ready for when you are feeling down on yourself, when you doubt whether you can achieve or accomplish your goals.  (I would suggest the Rocky theme music for this one :) )

I will conclude with some great quotes about music:

“My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.” Martin Luther King

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.” Victor Hugo

“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” Plato

“Music is love in search of a word.” Sidonie Gabrielle

“When the music changes, so does the dance.” African Proverb

1.  Social Support

Social support is a key factor in helping you stick to and achieve your fitness goals.  Ideally, you want to tap into as many social support networks as you can.  Find a workout buddy – someone who will help keep you motivated and accountable.  Cultivate friendships with other active, healthy people.  Join an online community of people with similar health goals.

2.  Group Classes

Taking a group class is a great way to find and develop a network of exercise buddies.  Your fellow classmates will also help keep you accountable.  Group classes (when they are good) tend to be lots of fun and highly motivating as well.

3.  Small Group Personal Training

If you can afford it at all, seriously consider investing in small group personal training.  This is like one-on-one training, only with 2 or 3 other people.  It will typically cost less than the traditional one-on-one training session, and research has shown that the benefits are often greater.  Those other people training with you will help encourage you and drive you to try harder and do better.  They will also help keep you accountable.

4.  Plan Your Workouts

On the days you are not taking a group class or a small group personal training session, it is vital that you plan your workouts.  There is nothing less motivating or inspiring than to stand in the middle of the gym with no idea what to do.  You will naturally start second-guessing everything you attempt to do, and you will find yourself wondering if it’s really helping you at all.  This is not a plan to keep you on track; it is what will throw you off it.  There are a variety of sources you can use to help you design your workouts such as healthcare professionals or certified personal trainers you know personally, sports-specific health magazines (Men’s Health and Women’s Health to name two), and reputable exercise and health websites.

5.  Diversify

If you get bored with your exercise routine, you will drop off it, guaranteed.  Keep your body guessing (which will get you better results) and keep your mind from going crazy with boredom by switching things up.  Go on a bike ride one day, take a class the next.  Go on a hike or run the day after and then meet for your semi-private training session the day after that.  Meet your exercise buddy for a tennis match the following day and then end the week with a swim, or boxing class, or MMA class, etc., etc.

6.  Set Goals

Avoid goals that go something like: “I want to lose _____ pounds.”  Often, as we exercise more and more regularly, we build muscle (if we are doing things right), which weighs more than fat.  Therefore, the scale is deceiving and can cause frustration and perceived plateaus and setbacks where there are none.  Rather, buy a pair of jeans or a dress 2 sizes too small for you and make it your goal to fit into it.  While you may not be continually losing pounds per say, if you are exercising and eating right, you should lose inches.  Fitting into a smaller size is an attainable goal.

Another great goal to help keep you motivated and on track is to enter an event, like a sprint triathlon or a half-marathon.  These types of goals will help push you towards your fitness goals.

7.  Share Your Goals

While it may be scary to tell everyone your health goals – “What will they think of me if I fail?” – it is very important that you do so.  Beyond helping to keep you accountable, the people in your life whom you will naturally tell can be a great support system for you if given the chance.  These are the people who will love you and help you on your path to health.  They will be the ones who are there to help pick you up if you stumble or fall along the way.

8.  Hang Out with Active People

There is a lot of evidence that demonstrates the influence that the people we see regularly have on us.  That’s why it is so important to cultivate and develop friendships with other active and healthy people.  They will help keep you on track for life.

9.  Make Your Social Life an Active One

Beyond simply hanging out with active people, try to also make your social life more active.  Instead of always meeting friends for dinner and a movie, try going on a bike ride, or a hike, or play basketball or tennis with them.  This will help keep you active every day.

10.  Find Your Personal Motivation and Keep It Visible

Guaranteed you will have moments where you will want to throw in the towel.  Guaranteed there will be times when you will fall off the horse, so to speak.  At those times, it is important that you know your motivation and that you can see a visual representation of it.  Say, for instance, your personal motivation is to get healthy so you can be a better father.  Keep a picture of your kids with you always.  Or say you want to get back to a former size – find an old picture of yourself and keep that with you.  Whatever will help get you back on track in those darker moments and remind you of your personal motivation, find a visual representation of it and keep it with you always.

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