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Tug of War

Note: I highly recommend this video from Crash Course if you are new to this topic. It presents in-depth concepts in an entertaining and easy to understand way.

There is a constant tug-of-war going on in our bodies between ‘fight or flight’ and ‘rest and digest’. Maybe you’ve heard of the two subdivisions of our autonomic nervous system — sympathetic vs. parasympathetic.

In an ideal world, these two “teams” are fairly equal in strength with each one taking it’s turn to pull the rope in one direction then ultimately being balanced out by the other. In the real world, however, major time commitments — relationships, careers, finances, traffic — are most often driving the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ response. It’s almost like the sympathetic team is filled with hulking, burly athletes while the parasympathetic team only gets the final two kids picked in middle school P.E. class.

This mini-challenge we are focusing on adding a little more might to the parasympathetic team. While it’s easy to dismiss stress as something that is unavoidable and unchangeable, adding even a few minutes of parasympathetic activity to each day can make a difference in these key areas:

  • Digestion (the ability to absorb and utilize those calories we are diligently consuming — or not consuming)
  • Insulin Sensitivity (how well our body utilizes carbohydrates)
  • Muscle preservation during periods of caloric deficit
  • Metabolic rate

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that investing a little bit of our time and resources to dedicated parasympathetic activity can pay back significant returns when it comes to body composition improvement.  Often times I find that clients that already have sufficient training volume can simply re-allocate a small amount of their training time to parasympathetic activity and see better results with no additional time spent.

Implementation

What are some real-world examples of parasympathetic activity?  Here are six popular ones:

  1. Meditation/Prayer — For guided meditations, check out HeadSpace or Meditation Studio in your app store
  2. Reading
  3. Floating — check out Float Nashville,  Pure Sweat & Float Cool Springs, or Float Alchemy (Boro)
  4. Massage*
  5. Yoga* — preference to Restorative or Gentle practices/classes
  6. Walking* — leisurely pace (<50% heart rate max)

*The last three items on the list have the added bonus of stimulating blood flow and potentially improving recovery.

Implement these once (i1), weekly (i2), or daily (i3), and see how it impacts you over the next two weeks!

 

Kurt Lockhart

CISSN, ACSM-CPT

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