Friday, January 8, 2010

Shutting It Down

The Indianapolis Colts have had one of the best seasons ever. They won 14 straight games and had a shot at winning 16 straight games. But they shut it down the last game and a half of the regular season. I, like a lot of fans, were upset. They had a chance to go undefeated and win the Superbowl! How could they do that to their fans?

After reflecting on the Colts decision to shut it down, I realized something very profound about human physiology that we are all ignoring. Bill Polian had to step in and make the unpopular decision because we got caught up in all of the excitement of the last three months. The Colts had to shut it down or it would have shut them down. It being the cumulative physical and mental stress of pushing hard for the last third of the year. We worry so much about them being in sync, but forget that one of the barriers to performing well physically and mentally is fatigue. We are no diiferent, even though we don't have a chance at the Lombardi trophy.

The adverse effects of prolonged physical and mental stress are well know (I recommend reading Robert Sapolsky's 'Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers' for a great overview). All aspects of our physiology are negatively affected by chronic stress, from trouble concentrating to a weakened immune system, to diminished reaction time to loss of muscle mass. The list is long.

We need to shut it down on a regular basis, too. Or, we will be shut down by chronic stress. Shutting it down for us should be done on a daily and weekly basis. We can't burn the candle at both ends.

It is so easy to not rest and recover in modern times, especially if you have kids and/or a demanding career. But, we also are more challenged by the amount of electronic stimuli we have in our lives. We need to proactively rest. This doesn't mean sitting and watching television. You trully don't rest while you are watching television because it constantly bomabards you with stimuli. I recommend shutting down as much auditory and visual stimuli as early in the night as you can. If you have trouble getting to sleep, try a safer, more innate alternative to Ambien. How about turning the television, cell phone, and computer off at 8:00pm. Pick up a book and read for and hour. I bet you will easily sail off of to la la land with an hour free of stress.

Exercise training, especially high-intensity training, is a big stressor for our bodies and needs to be dosed appropriately. For those of you who train regularly, understand that you need to back off regularly. Remember, the training is the stimulus to improve, you actually improve physiologically when you are not training! Research has shown that training programs with planned variations in exercise intensity (periodization) produce better results than pushing hard every workout. Low-intensity exercise, such as walking and mobility exercises, work well for 'recovery' workouts. I also like to do a good bit of self myofascial release (foam rolling) and new movement patterns (Hacky Sack, anyone?) during recovery times.

In our busy, sedentary worlds we need more exercise, but we also need more regular, real stimulus-free rest and sleep. We, like NFL football players, are biological systems that are designed very well to handle short-term stress. However, the same system that allows us to handle this short-term stress wreaks havoc on our bodies in the long-term. Sometimes we get caught-up in the excitement of out current situtions and need someone wiser, like Bill Polian, to make us shut it down for the benefit of our own long-term health and performance.

No comments: