The Wholistic Runner Part 4 - Relationships

Health, August 15, 2017

In the 4th part of the WHOLISTIC series I discuss the importance of relationships and connection to general WELLNESS

As an endurance coach and physiotherapist it has become increasingly apparent to me that peak performance is linked to healthy personal relationships. This is another important component to allow for training adaptation. Moving towards an overall state of wellness is key for any athlete if they desire long-term performance. Wellness is a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving our full potential, it is multidimensional and "wholistic", incorporating lifestyle, mental and spiritual well-being, including the environment we live in (this includes our homes, our workplace, and on a larger scale our world).
What is the single most important predictor of general health and wellness? Most people that I have spoken to responded with eating healthy food, exercise, or having a purpose driven life. Recent surveys of young adults show that they believe fame and money are the most important predictors of happiness. We should ask Robert Waldinger (Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and Zen priest). He is the director of  the "Harvard Study of Adult Development". This is one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history with over 75 years of data that lifts the lid on what really matters when in comes to long term health and happiness (both are linked of course).   This particular study tracked 712 men over 75 years asking questions about their lives. 60 of the men are still alive and still participating in the study. The study is now tracking (with questionaires, extensive medical testing, and video interviews) the more than 2000 children of the original participants. The one clear message that comes out of this study with tens of thousands of pages of data is...


"Good relationships keep us happier and healthier"


1) Social connection is REALLY good for us and loneliness is very unhealthy. People who are more connected to family and the community (in a positive way) live longer, are healthier, and happier. We are social beings designed for interaction.


2) You can be lonely in a crowd, and in a marriage. It's the QUALITY of the relationship that matters. Living in conflict states for periods of time is VERY bad for our general health, no matter how many kale smoothies we consume, and yoga classes we attend. Good relationships are the most protective factor for our health.

3) Good relationships protect our body and brain. Peoples memories stay sharper when they are in secure relationships. This is when they can really count on the other person in times of need. The relationships don't have to be smooth sailing all the time, normal bickering and disagreements doesn't affect the positive effect if you can still count on your partner.


The biggest predictor of good health from the men in the study when they were 50 years old wasn't cholesterol levels it was relationship satisfaction. The men who were the most satisfied in their relationships at 50 were the healthiest at 80. Maybe our "health" system is asking the wrong questions and focusing on the wrong parameters?

Having a good relationship protected individuals from some of the "arrows and barbs" of getting old. More emotional pain was reported on days when physical pain spiked in old age when people were in bad relationships or alone. As humans we don't work as well alone - "A person standing alone can be defeated, but two can stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken" Ecclesiastes 4:12.

We gain strength in numbers especially when bound by a cause and wanting to make positive change. There is an old African proverb that states "if you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far go with others". This is displayed in human expeditions, and also in the animal kingdom. When geese fly in tight formation they are able to fly over 70% further than if they were going alone.

Practical tips
1) Replace screen time with face to face time. Schedule in a coffee catch up with your people.
2) Organise date nights with your partner, and family dinners when possible.
3) Minimise conflict with open communication and defining roles within a relationship. Assumption of roles is the start of an argument. It helps to have wall planners up with the months fixed appointments written down. It's a great idea to set boundaries around how many training sessions/sports/activities adults and children are doing on a weekly basis. Remember QUALITY time rather than spreading yourself too thin should be the focus.
4) For an athlete (even if you are a professional) it works better to train around family life rather than fitting family around training. This means getting up early and being purposeful and efficient with your exercise sessions. Too many athletes prioritise training over what really matters. Be authentic with your actions towards your more important roles in life. Missing a training session due to "family events" is far better for overall long term wellness.  5) Schedule in time for activities that promote joy as an individual and as a family group. Get the mix right and the individual joy enhancing activities will recharge you for all aspects of life = making you a better partner, parent, friend, worker, and athlete. 


Bronnie Ware is a palliative care nurse who cares for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She interviewed her patients and wrote a book with her observations called "The top Five Regrets of the Dying. I think it's worth looking at them to help direct our lives now. "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."  You need to ask yourself what do you want to achieve while you are still able, then make small steps towards that on a daily basis. "I wish I hadn't worked so hard." Almost every male mentioned this; lamenting missing out on their children's youth. Make the most of the precious moments with family now. "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings." Many of the patients carried resentment towards people that probably contributed to creating disease.  "I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends". Don't let friendships slip. Schedule in time to keep in touch. Bronnie documented that EVERYONE misses their friends when they are dying. "I wish that I had let myself be happier." Don't get stuck in habits that don't allow you to be yourself - strive to laugh, and have a little silliness everyday. If you struggle with this - schedule in some time with small children. 

"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realise they were the big things." Robert Bault. 

This information is not new but our "quick fix" society doesn't take it up very readily. Real relationships take time and continued effort. Why not consider building and strengthening your relationships with family, friends and your community NOW rather than chasing the almighty dollar to buy stuff to make you feel superficially happy, and impress others. I believe many athletes are putting training over loved ones on a consistent basis - the irony is this upsets balance, the evolution towards wellness, and therefore performance. If you want to invest in creating a healthy future and better race results put your time and energy into developing great relationships. It's an investment with an intangible yet priceless return.


"Any success that you achieve at the expense of your family is not real success" Dave Willis 


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