Improving Fitness Isn’t Just About Working Out

So, you’ve decided to get in shape for Summer and start up a workout routine? Good for you!

You’ve been setting your alarm for the crack of dawn each morning, crawling out of bed, pulling on your sweatbands and going running around the block with Eminem pumping out your headphones. Then every night after work you’ve been hitting the gym, lifting weights like Rocky in a training montage.

Yet after a few weeks you find yourself feeling just as unhealthy as before, a simple flight of stairs still reduces you to a sweaty mess. What’s worse your trousers are still as tight as they were before. What gives?!

Don’t give up and don’t despair just yet, all you’ve done is fall into a trap countless before you have fallen into before – believing that fitness is all about working out. It’s not. In fact, working out isn’t even the most important thing on the list, sleeping is!

How can lying around in bed be the most important thing for my fitness levels I hear you cry! Well, read on friend and I’ll explain…

Sleep and weight loss

If you’ve been getting up early to hit the gym or go for a jog you might feel as if you’ve been taking active steps to improve your fitness. Unfortunately if you’ve been skipping sleep to train chances are you’ve actually been doing yourself a disservice.

In a fascinating study researchers at the University of Chicago discovered that our fat cells actually behave differently when they are sleep-deprived. They termed this unusual behaviour as ‘metabolic grogginess’. This is basically a fancy science person way of saying our fat cells lose the ability to use the hormone insulin correctly.

Insulin tells the body when to remove lipids and fatty acids from the bloodstream and what to do with them. When sleep-deprived our fat cells become upto 30% less sensitive to the messages insulin sends them. As result lipids and fatty acids end up being stored in random places instead of being burned as energy.

My advice, by all means get up early to hit the gym but if you do make sure you are going to bed substantially earlier. Getting more sleep will allow your insulin to do its job and make sure your body converts all that fat in as efficient a way as possible.

Combining more sleep with more exercise will soon see the pounds tumble off but knowing you should get more sleep and actually getting it are two very different things. One way to increase your odds of getting more rest is to ensure the thing you are sleeping on every night is as suitable as possible.

Seems obvious right, but it’s amazing how few of us take what we sleep on into our considerations. P.S If you are in the market for a new mattress I wrote a review on a ‘Purple bed’ recently which went down really well.

Sleep, hormones and will power

Getting fit is a lot about getting a handle on our diet. Hitting the gym alone isn’t going to have much of an impact if we continue to fill our bodies full to the brim with terrible foods.

Unfortunately willpower is a funny thing, just because we find the strength to workout everyday doesn’t mean we will be strong enough to avoid that plate of donuts sitting in the staff room at work.

Once again sleep can help us here. That’s because it isn’t just the hormone insulin that sleep impacts. When we sleep our body regulates the levels of a whole host of useful hormones and neurotransmitters and when it gets the cocktail right we not only feel great, our body also starts working better.

One of the hormones produced in our body during slumber is known as serotonin. You might have heard of this one? When we sleep well our body is flooded with the stuff and as a result we feel great. It’s for this reason that serotonin is often referred to as the ‘happy hormone’.

The happier we feel in the morning the less likely we are to opt for the grilled cheese and the more likely we are to opt for a healthy option for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Leptin is another hormone that sleep has an impact on. The more sleep we get, the more leptin is produced. The more leptin, the less we crave high calorie junk food. And vice versa. It’s for this reason that leptin has earned the title of the ‘obesity hormone’.

Thirdly is the hormone ghrelin, also known as the ‘fat hormone’. Unlike like serotonin and leptin, we actually want less ghrelin in our system not more as this is the hormone that makes us feel hungry. Thankfully, sleep actually reduces the level of ghrelin hanging around. Meaning the more you sleep the less food you feel the need to eat.

So as you can see being called hormonal isn’t all bad, hormones are our friends if we keep them well balanced and one the best way to ensure that is to get enough sleep.

Well there you have it – the key to improving your fitness isn’t simply working out more. Working out more without ensuring you are getting a healthy amount of sleep isn’t going to do you any good. In fact, working out more without looking after your sleep is a quick way to get yourself injured. Your body needs time to recover, repair and replenish itself after any exercise and the best way to do this is to sleep.

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