Keeping lean and healthy takes time and commitment but here at Your Fitness we also know the importance of quick health hacks to boost our emotional and physical wellbeing! So what can we do to go above and beyond our usual gym routine to reach our health goals and look and feel fabulous on the beach this summer? Surprisingly it’s some of the gentler complementary therapies that can really pack a punch. This is because they refresh and repair on a holistic level, treating both physical health and emotional wellness simultaneously. “Complementary therapies are like the icing one the cake when it comes to reaching peak health,” says body transformation coach Matt Hodge of the MPH Method (themphmethod.com), who recommends various therapies for his clients including sports massage, Chinese herbal medicine, energy work and nutritional therapy. So which ones will help you to achieve ultimate vitality? Take a look below at some of our favourite therapies and take your pick!
The scoop: This gentle practice teaches you a series of simple exercises to improve your posture and movement and to combat poor fitness habits – meaning that you get more out of your regular workout.
The science: According to the NHS, it can help to get rid of tension in your body and relieves problems such as back pain, neck ache, sore shoulders and other musculoskeletal problems.
Try it: Jane Wright of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique suggests ‘running tall’ next time you go out for a quick jog. This lifts your torso up out of your hips and lengthens your body. “By keeping your body upright, you will be able to land with your feet directly underneath your body rather than shooting out in front of you,” says Jane. This reduces the braking forces caused by ‘heel striking’ and also promotes a more efficient stride pattern.”
The scoop: Olympic athletes often use mental imagery or visualisation to up their game, so take a few tips from the professionals! By imagining your body getting leaner, faster and fitter, you can actually trigger physiological changes in your muscles to help you reach your fitness potential.
The science: Research published in Psychology Today found that, remarkably, brain patterns recorded when weightlifters lifted heavy weights were similar to those activated when they simply imagined lifting them! Another study in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that imagining exercise caused actual changes in muscle activity.
Try it: “The most important thing with imagery is using multiple senses, like sound, sight and smell,” explains sports psychologist Dr Steve Bull (gameplancoach.com). If you want a flatter tummy, close your eyes and imagine yourself in the gym doing stomach crunches, feel your muscles strengthening and tightening and see yourself looking super slim and sexy in your bikini! Try doing this for 10 minutes every day for maximum benefit.
The scoop: “Sports massage is a great add on to your fitness regime,” explains soft tissue and sports injury specialist Dan Worboys of Highwoods Health Clinic (highwoodshealthclinic.co.uk). “Massage increases blood flow to the key areas of your body, reduces muscle tension and neurological excitability. It also has a great effect mentally, give you an increased sense of wellbeing and helps you to hit those personal bests.”
The science: There is a mass of research highlighting the brilliant benefits of massage. A recent study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that massage reduces inflammation and promotes the growth of new mitochondria, the energy-producing units in the cells. Meanwhile another study in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that athletes recovered more quickly when they had a sports massage immediately after a training session.
Try it: Soft tissue release (STR) is a great technique you can use at home, says Dan. “You can administer this simple lock and stretch technique to nearly every muscle yourself. First locate the ‘tight’ fibres. Then apply pressure away from the joint you are moving. Then you just active the muscle by moving it. The pressure and movement is proven to rehydrate and repair muscle tissue.”
The scoop: This nurturing therapy uses essential oils from plants, herb, fruits and flowers to boost psychological and physical wellbeing. It’s a brilliant way to increase energy and motivation so is an excellent ‘top up’ alongside your usual workout routine. Even better, treatment often takes the form of a pampering massage so you can work on getting fitter and healthier while you relax!
The science: According to a study in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, athletes who used essential oil of peppermint improved their exercise performance and respiratory function.
Try it: Create an energising workout spritz by adding a few drops of uplifting oils such as rosemary, eucalyptus, geranium and peppermint to a spray bottle filled with water. Shake well and spritz on your pulse points between exercises at the gym. To banish cellulite try an invigorating massage with circulation-boosting rosemary, detoxing fennel and cleansing juniper. Having trouble sticking to your diet? Try sniffing essential oils of peppermint, lemon and grapefruit, which can help to curb appetite and boost your metabolism.
The scoop: Like acupuncture without the scary needles, this ancient Chinese tradition works by stimulating specific points on the body to restore the flow of chi, or energy. It can help to ease inflammation, soothe sore joints, promote healthy muscles and boost metabolism.
The science: University of Michigan study found two thirds of women who had moderate to severe fatigue returned to normal energy levels by using acupressure. In another study in Taiwan people who suffered chronic lower back pain had an 89 percent reduction in disability after six sessions of acupressure.
Try it: To boost your energy levels, try stimulating ‘acupoints’ on your body with a firm pressure for three minutes at a time, massaging in both directions. Top revitalising points include the fleshy pad between the base of the thumb and your forefinger; the sole of your foot one third of the way down from your toes and the back of your neck at the base of your skull, one finger-width to the side of the spine.
The scoop: This ancient form of exercise focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing. Not only does it increase your overall health, but it’s a great way to complement your regular workout, especially if you opt for more dynamic forms like ashtanga, power, jivamukti and dynamic yoga.
The science: “While yoga isn’t traditionally a cardiovascular form of exercise, the more dynamic moves increase heart rate and can provide a great workout,” explains Susie Howell, yoga teacher and director of Ibiza Retreats (ibizaretreats.com). What’s more, research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that yoga is linked to the reduction of key risk factors for heart disease, including lower body mass index (BMI), weight loss, improved cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and reduced heart rate.
Try it: Susie says that just 10 minutes of stretching daily is a great way to boost your fitness potential: “One great full body stretch is the rag doll pose. Begin standing and fold forwards from the hips, bringing hands to the floor. Ground down through the feet, keeping a micro bend in the knees. Hold on to the elbows and allow the spine to gently ‘hang’. Take 10 breaths, before rolling up gently to standing.”
The scoop: Often described as ‘meditation in motion’, tai chi is just one of the forms of energy therapies that can help you achieve your health and fitness goals. It’s known as a ‘soft’ or ‘internal’ martial art and is slow-paced, combining deep breathing and relaxation with flowing movements. Not only does this popular mind/body practice unblock energy in your body but it’s great for giving you focus and can help you burn calories too!
The science: A recent review published in the Medical News Bulletin found that regular tai chi practice improved flexibility and balance, aerobic capacity and lower limb strength.
Try it: Tai Chi is easy to do at home and there are loads of great tutorials on the internet to get you started. Try practising at least two or three times a week, at the same time of day. Try to aim for workout sessions of 20 minutes or more.