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Monday
Feb242014

4 Creative Ways to Support a Health Journey

While the basics of a healthy way of living remain constant – a nutrient-rich diet, a well balanced fitness routine and ample sleep – how we choose to “fill in” our lifestyles with activities that support our physical and emotional wellbeing can matter more than we realize. When we embrace the idea that we deserve to thrive and offer ourselves all we personally need to create meaningful and successful weight loss and health journeys, we open the door to many creative possibilities. The activities that follow will never be stand-ins for the basics, but they can offer us rich outlets for enhancing our physical health and for processing the emotional aspects of our journeys. The practices can easily be applied across a spectrum of purposes – from at-home activities we do ourselves for personal enjoyment and exploration to guided methods within a therapy setting as we process more complex concerns. See which of these four practices you’ve incorporated on some level, and consider which you’d like to explore as you envision greater wellbeing in your health journey.

Reflective Writing/Journaling

Oftentimes in a health or weight loss process, we associate the concept of journaling with a food or fitness log when we could be applying it in a much more expansive, personal way. Journaling can be an effective tool for self-monitoring, but it can also be a strategic means for relevant reflection and trouble-shooting. We can use creative journaling to examine everything from our assumptions about health and weight to our personal sense of body image. For example, what health-related messages/models did you grow up with? What did you learn about stress, eating and exercise? What did you learn about body image? How did people around you practice self-care – in terms of both basic health and healthy indulgence? What are the positive messages you’ve adopted in your life today as well as the emotional barriers that hold you back? In a given day, which of the two influence your motivational undercurrents more?

Sometimes giving ourselves the chance to “talk” on paper helps us say the things we wouldn’t likely share with anyone else. Other times, we don’t even know a certain thought or message holds as much sway as it does until we give ourselves the permission to explore what’s going on. Journaling over time can help us home in on the personal attitudes and limiting beliefs that make us resistant (perhaps unconsciously) to behavior change. It can also help us process anxieties about our health, weight loss and body changes during our journeys.

While research reviews in the area of writing therapy suggest those who have been through mental or medical trauma (e.g. serious illness, loss) may especially benefit from these types of reflective writing activities, those of us who are dealing with non-traumatic, run-of-the-mill difficulties can enjoy emotional and physical advantages as well. While research samples in studies have tended to be small with some outcomes better supported than others, observed benefits in writing therapy exercises have included better mood, reduced anxiety, better sleep, healthy autonomic and cardiovascular changes and improved immune and liver function. Furthermore, in these studies it didn’t appear to matter whether subjects expected their writing to be shared with anyone but themselves. Experts theorize that the written processing of our experiences – particularly difficult, disappointing or confusing ones – can help us give shape to them. Putting our experiences in a structured “story” helps organize and focus our emotional responses, and we experience less stress as a result.

One important note: If you find you are processing heavy emotions or traumatic experience, it’s important to seek out the guidance and support of a qualified mental health therapist.

Creative Art

Like reflective writing, creative art can help us explore the health and weight related messages as well as motivations that influence our journeys. Sometimes it’s easier to process difficult experiences through creative representation than through words. Creative art is also an amazing tool for visualizing our progress as well as our short and long term goals. For example, instead of simply envisioning a before and after photo for your journey, create a motivational collage board recording many highlights along the way like photos of you working out, enjoying new recipes or trying new activities or events that you wouldn’t or couldn’t do before. Additionally, add pictures of yourself with supportive people in your journey like fitness class friends, TEAM comrades, your trainer, dietitian or coach. Alternatively, make a vision board with visual representations of your goals – again, not simply numbers (e.g. weight or body fat loss) but the activities and adventures you want to enjoy with evolving health and fitness.

Nature Therapy

In this case, it’s not so much what we do but where we do it! Health care providers are increasingly prescribing time in nature for mental and physical health. Demonstrated benefits of outdoor activity/exercise include the reduction of tension, anger and depression, an enhancement of energy and wellbeing and a marked improvement of immune function. For example, a series of Japanese studies on “forest bathing” (trips to a wooded park) have found that time in the forest can significantly reduce stress hormones and raise the levels of anti-cancer proteins and both the number and activity of NK (“natural killer”) cells that are known for their anti-cancer role in the body. A single day trip with two 2-hour walks resulted in positive changes that could still be measured seven days after the day trip. Consider it more than ample reason to rethink your weekend plans!

Movement Therapy

It’s not uncommon for people embarking on a health or weight loss journey to admit that they lived in denial of their bodies for many years. Beyond the bare essentials, they may have experienced little joy in active movement and felt little appreciation for their physical capacity. Other priorities felt more pressing at the time (e.g. work, school, parenting) until many realized they’d handed over their health and vitality. Through our commitment to exercise, we can begin to get in touch with our bodies again – with all their power and potential. We can see what we are capable of with diligence and a little training, but there’s an element beyond strength and endurance that research shows can enhance our body image, general health and emotional balance. Movement therapy is a large umbrella term for movement practices that are applied for mental or physical therapeutic benefit. Common modalities in movement therapy include dance, tai chi, yoga and qigong.

Some practices like tai chi have been shown to help ease the chronic pain of musculoskeletal conditions like various forms of arthritis as well as the pain of fibromyalgia. Research suggests that qigong is effective for reducing anxiety and managing stress. Additional studies are needed to confirm some findings that indicate qigong’s benefits for reducing blood pressure.  Beyond the physical rigor of many dance forms, dance as a therapeutic practice has been shown to significantly enhance obese participants’ body image and health related quality of life. Moving creatively, as through these various forms of artful practices, ultimately puts us in different relationship with our bodies, facilitating both physical health and emotional healing.

Have you tried any of the above practices in your health journey? What classes or activities have made a difference for you? Which would you be interested in trying? Share your thoughts and experience. Thanks for reading today, everyone.

Written by Jennifer Wannen Zotalis, Content Manager

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

 

 

 

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