Thursday, September 7, 2017

REST IS THE NEW SPORT, unique focus on preventing and resolving underlying reasons for fatigue.

"A person with normal fatigue feels tired, a person with abormal fatigue," feels sick. This book by my good friend Jef Geys deals with preventing and addressing unspecified fatigue."

Dr. Chris Mertens, foreword to REST IS THE NEW SPORT

I  don't know about you but I have always been less than an enthusiast for sports and physical exercise. I acknowledge the health benefits and currently lap swim but much prefer mental exercise so I found the title of this book intriguing. The story behind it is all the better because it's true.

When Jef Geys was a competitive cyclist, he believed that the more you train the better you are, until he faced exhaustion so complete he was forced to rest.  After an extended time without training, he entered a competition and won a race. His belief changed to the question, How little should I train to be in top shape; and a new quest—to understand how to achieve maximal health, not for professional athletes but anyone undergoing the stress of modern life.

REST IS THE NEW SPORT, a bestseller in Europe, (PrimeFit Nov.), will soon be available in the first English language edition. Geys has a refreshingly scientific approach. He looks at stress and its relationship to fatigue, identifying types—mental, hormonal, physical, metabolic--and ways to prevent it, recover and create balance.  Because reducing stress is not as important as expanding the capacity to adapt and recover, “silver bullets,” like diet, exercise, meditation that only treat symptoms, are less effective than identifying the underlying problem.

That was a surprise, what I thought were solutions are just bandaids. This book allows any reader to assess both his condition AND his goals. Why is this important? Many personal trainers begin with a person's goals, not assessing their actual condition, though "getting in shape" has different risks for an individual who's not a lifelong athlete. I once tried lifting weights and, while enthusiastically performing the expected "beginner"repetitions, suffered a back injury. Then there was the knee injury on the Versa Climber that led to surgery. With a real assessment, I might have learned to curb my enthusiasm. 

Like many urban dwellers, I suffer mental fatigue and try to treat it with physical fatigue to little avail. I found it interesting to understand the physical processes in fatigue and how they affect the body’s major systems. Every chapter shows basic principles, such as Geys’ Daily Nutrition program for everyone, which shows individuals how to eat by type of fatigue and stress level.  In the process, questions such as how people can relax when mentally fatigued and when exercise may be detrimental, are answered.

This very thorough book enables readers to evaluate their conditions, consider the underlying reasons and solutions to preventing fatigue, and ultimately target their optimal health. Holistic is an often misunderstood term, yet in this clear and factual book, Jef Geys gives real substance to the idea of balancing, mind, body and spirit.  It is a new classic. 

Jef Geys, sports physiotherapist, osteopath, and former cyclist, starts with the premise that the body must first be in balance and good condition before effort. A native of Flanders, Belgium, he has successfully treated Olympic athletes, and regular people concerned with maximal health. 

A short interview with Jef Geys

Q. How did your experience as a competitive cyclist change your belief that "the more you train, the better you are at it?"
A. At 20 years old, once in a while I would win a race but I was without a doubt the champion of training. I could train longer and harder than anyone. But when overtraining syndrome hit me, I was forced to stop completely for the first time in my life. I was training within the limits of human capacity and I would never get sick, yet my body didn’t let me continue. I was extremely confused because I was one of those rare people who actually follow doctor’s advice, almost obsessively, so something couldn’t be right. I had no virus or infection.

Q.  What happened when you entered a competition after enforced rest and no training?
A. Two weeks after absolute rest, I was given the green light to test myself and “slowly” begin training. I was simply going to start with the same routine, after all what had happened to me was clearly something unrelated to my physical condition (or so I thought). I had always felt great training. Following my usually impulsive nature, I inscribed myself in the next race, just to see if I was still in shape, not expecting much. As I started the race I felt very strong and wondered when the rush of energy would wear off.  To my own amazement, it didn’t and I found myself winning the race effortlessly.

Q.  Is that how your question became "How little should I train to be in top shape?"
A. I didn’t win too many races or become a legend of cycling, but this was the moment I realized there was a strong relationship between rest and performance. Somehow that was being undermined. I experimented for the rest of my cycling career with rest and performance with surprising results.

Q.  What are signs of fatigue and when should a person pay attention to them?
A. Most people have a routine (average sleeping time, waking up at a certain time, showering, breakfast, work, leaving work) Within this “usual” routine a person expects a certain daily performance. If this changes for no apparent reason (prolonged sleeping schedule changes, sickness, new babies at home) and they wake up feeling tired and it takes  longer to feel  rested; if  they experience brain fog, muscle pain, they should take note of the changes. This fatigue is abnormal and they may want to seek medical opinion to check what's wrong.

Q.  What is fatigue, when is it normal or not?
Fatigue is a feeling of weakness. When we speak about physical fatigue, we experience our muscles not responding, a lack of energy. When we speak about mental fatigue, it's difficult to focus. There can be brain fog, irritation, lack of initiative. Fatigue is a nonspecific symptom, meaning it can be caused by many different factors. If you’re sick, then feeling tired is undoubtedly normal. But if you’re in good health and one day your usual morning walk to work leaves you panting, catching your breath and dizzy; we are talking about something abnormal.

Q.  Can trainers create a personal fitness plan based on a type of fatigue and its severity?
A. No. In my experience, a trainer starts assuming the body is in balance. They can be aware of the fatigue or impact of the training on the body, but most of them assume generalizations such as: after high intensity training your muscles need between 48-72hs of recovery. Most trainers are not aware of the general population with no sports past, so even if the results/performance that they get from them may be the same as someone with an athletic past, the biological cost is probably much higher. For a trainer to achieve this, they should understand the impact of their schedule, family situation and be able to monitor to assess the readiness (best moment of the day to train maintaining risk of low injury while getting the highest performance).

Q.  What is the relationship between stress and fatigue?
A. Inadequate stress management may lead to fatigue. Stress is not itself the problem, stress is necessary. For example in situations of extreme danger like a terrorist attack or a natural disaster we are able to perform extraordinary feats, like the mother who lifted a Jeep with her bare hands to free her baby. This reaction is normal, the problem today is that we get stressed by insignificant things, for example a long queue at the supermarket, the battery of your smartphone died too early, a traffic jam. When we don’t have enough time to recover from so much stressful stimuli, it results in fatigue. The impact of these small stressors accumulate and sleep is not enough anymore to regain balance.

A. The title was supposed to be a provocation, because at the end of the day many more things than just good rest should be correctly managed to achieve a balanced body. But in this rat race we’re at, too often without choice, we find ourselves in a performance loop where if we need REST we are somehow considered weak, so we devalue our sleep. Sleep is the most accessible, inexpensive medication and yet it has become a luxury, but we spend more and more in medication to treat symptoms that could probably be handled with proper rest in the first place.