Our nervous system is one of the most of overlooked aspects of our health. It's what makes a good health program great. If you think back to high school biology (or a recent training session!), we have the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. In short, the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our "fight or flight" response - we want to be here when we exercise! Our parasympathetic nervous system is our "rest and digest" response - this is how we sleep and recover.
How do we maximize our control of these systems, especially as it pertains to our health and energy? Think of your morning routine -- it's get up and go, right? What helps us in this mode? Sympathetic. The secretion of our stress hormone, Cortisol is vital early in the day. Now think of your last several hours before bed -- hopefully, you are "winding down". What does that mean? It means allowing your body to switch to a parasympathetic state and "destress".
We live in a culture where prioritizing our health is fairly low on the totem pole. But here are three very basic things you can do each and every day (in addition to your workouts and nutrition) that can greatly improve your quality of recovery and your energy:
- Light! Early in the morning, one of the first things you should do is get bright light into your eyes (no, do not look directly at the sun...). This will signal to your nervous system (via your Hypothalamus) that it is time to be awake.
- In the evening, remove as much bright light as possible. Darkness will signal to your body to secrete melatonin and that it's time to get ready for rest. "Bright light will drop your melatonin levels to 0." - (minute 13:45)
- Breathing! Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing stimulates both the sympathetic (inhale) and parasympathetic (exhale) systems. This can dramatically improve your Heartrate Variability (HRV), which is vital to your cognition and reduction of chronic stress.