Psychoneuroimmunology and Brain Hacking Your Way to Fitness Progress
Ever imagined a wonderful vacation in your head before it happened? Ever had a first kiss and replayed the moment in your mind? Ever had big event approaching that you are mentally rehearsing everyday, replaying every scenario in your head? Everyone has. Worry is wistful. It’s living that stressful situation it one too many times. Once in real life, once or more in your head.
Our minds have incredible and inventive imaginary capacities. At it’s peak at 5 years old, we dream up impossible and somewhat illogical stories of dragons, pirates and genies, but I don’t think adults are all that different. Adults have similar imaginary capabilities to consider more real-life scenarios, that which has not happened yet.
Being a 4th year medical student I am fascinated by the mind and it’s undeniable effects on the body. In particular, the study of psychoneuroimmunology is a field that recognizes these interrelationships of how our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors impact our physiology including our immune system. Essentially, when we feel happy, our feel-good hormones increase and our stress hormones decrease resulting in benefits to our physical body. When we physically feel healthy, our emotional state is often cheerful. Interestingly, the opposite is also true: Negative thoughts can create a defeated physical state as far as your immune system goes. Is it any wonder why everyone seems gets sick around or after finals week?
"...when we feel happy, our feel-good hormones increase and our stress hormones decrease resulting in benefits to our physical body."
That means our thoughts can have a direct influence how susceptible we are to getting sick. Negative, depressive thoughts even affect the probiotics found in our gut, which in turn impacts our digestion. It’s no wonder that those suffering with depression also have digestive issues. The opposite is also true: those studied who consumed probiotic foods established healthy bacteria had better brain function.
A report from UCLA said that ”researchers have known that the brain sends signals to your gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. This study shows what has been suspected but until now had been proved only in animal studies: that signals travel the opposite way as well. Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street”.
Goals and Fitness Gains
How does this all relate to fitness? If we have stronger immune systems, we are likely to stay healthy and therefore able to hit the gym. And as for positive thoughts, we are more likely to be motivated to hit the gym. Conversely, hitting the gym will give us MORE positive emotions.
We can use this knowledge of psychoneuroimmunology and imagination to our advantage in generating fitness goals. We can picture ourselves at our best. For many this happens at the lowest of lows. The highest weight, the worst fatigue, the frustration of missing out.
We can ‘trick our mind to believe that we are already there. Studies show that the mind can’t distinguish between an actual scenario and a mentally rehearsed, imagined scenario.
We can use brain hacks to trick our mind into believing and feeling like it’s already happened. We can make a vision board of what that looks like. We can discuss with a friend or write down a landmark we want to achieve. Picture it happening ‘n our ‘minds eye’.
"We can use brain hacks to trick our mind into believing and feeling like it’s already happened."
Write out the top 3 steps in order to get there, map them out on your calendar (buy a paper one if you don’t have one!) and commit to making it happen. Taking these actions reinforces our belief that your strong calves, leaner waist or bicep muscle gains will actually happen. Positive thoughts towards our vision (aka hope) will drive us to make it happen.
How To Win
Ideally, in my experience is to address anything is both internally and externally. Elevate your belief in your own personal progress and surround yourself with people who support your vision and goals. One tip: Find a motivational talk or youtube video that speaks to you. Or record positive self talk on your iPhone recording app and listen to it daily. This can be done on a commute or walk outside.
If your gut and digestion isn’t healthy, correspondingly your brain probably isn’t able to be completely healthy either. If you need help sorting this out, find a Naturopathic Physician who can bring clarity to what’s happening with your internal biochemistry and get to the root of the problem.
Keep Thinking Big & Living Bold!
The author, Amber is 4th year naturopathic medical student at Bastyr University and founder at Thrive + Well, a brand devoted to helping stressed, busy professionals and entrepreneurs to recharge health, so they can enrich the world through their successful work. Amber has:
• Graduated with a B.S. in biological sciences with a pre-med emphasis.
• Moved to the West coast (Seattle, WA) at age 22 for medical school. She graduates June 2018.
• Been a former group exercise instructor, ran a half marathon and several other 12 mile races.
• Been a member of several book launch teams like those of Lewis Howes, Dale Partridge and Shawn Stevenson.
• Been named Miss Fit Babe March 2015.
One day she hopes to create her own holistic health product line to serve the world on a larger scale. Follow her journey at www.thrivepluswell.com.
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