When we consider the Highly Sensitive Person and Exercise, the natural question to pose is what type of activities are most appropriate? In his book entitled “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide,” Dr. Ted Zeff addresses productive exercise protocol for HSP’s. Chief among them is the concept of replacing high-intensity exercise with activities that promote inner peace, noting that it’s important for HSP’s to exercise at a comfortable pace. Dr. Ted suggests exercising at 50% capacity, where one is able to breathe through the nose while exercising. At this pace, Dr. Ted notes the aerobic benefit of stress reduction, reduced blood pressure, strengthened heart and weight loss. Suggested activities include walking in nature, bicycling and hatha yoga, which are all outstanding opportunities to decompress. Dr. Ted also suggests that individual sports might be better suited for Highly Sensitive Children (HSC’s), noting that group sports can create a lot of pressure, performance anxiety, and poor self-esteem, especially in the case of a non-athletic child. He suggests group sports such as soccer or volleyball in lieu of intense sports such as tackle football. Should you crave intense exercise and/or group sports, HSP’s and HSC’s alike will benefit from plenty of physical rest and mental down time in between activities.
I would add that Martial Arts is a wonderful activity for HSC’s (plus HSP’s), and the benefits are plentiful: moderate activity to include strength, cardio and flexibility training; the opportunity for both individual and group activity; heightened self-confidence and self-esteem; enhanced and prolonged focus (which tends to improve grades in school); ability to train year-round while practicing at home; developing an “attitude of gratitude”. HSC’s wishing to participate in team activities may indeed benefit from a year or more of Martial Arts training. This doesn’t mean that your HSC has to engage in sparring activities, unless desired. Look for a martial arts facility that caters to children and families…..shop around, ask lots of questions, watch a few classes, and try out a class before joining. More about this and self defense in a future post.
For “aging” HSP’s or anyone adverse to high-impact activity, you can’t beat the benefits of brisk walking, bicycling, or hatha yoga. I would add another activity to round out the group: Strength Training is extremely important as we age for maintaining muscle mass, bone density and overall strength. My father thankfully introduced me to weight training as a teenager, which is an activity he himself enjoyed in high school. We mainly focused on upper body exercises, which supplemented all the running I did playing soccer. I began training all major muscle groups in college, and the activity served as wonderful HSP down time after a full day of classes.
Strength Training has been the one core activity I’ve always enjoyed, even finding a way to do some of it while recovering from my life altering event in 2012. Strength training is a more accurate term than weight lifting when incorporating body-weight exercises such as squats, lunges, push ups, dips and planks. And you don’t need to spend a lot of time with these exercises. Former Mr. Olympia and Mr. America bodybuilder Mike Mentzer was popular for his brief workout sessions which were 45 minutes or less. His focus was high intensity, and minimizing time between sets. Once Mike recovered from what he termed “cardio-respiratory insufficiency”, he would move on to the next exercise. What can we learn from this? By minimizing time between exercises we maintain an elevated heart rate which adds aerobic benefits to our otherwise anaerobic strength training workout!
Those interested in a strength training program (presuming your doctor approves) may benefit from Steve and Becky Holman’s “Old School/New Body” web program. Steve is the former long-time Editor in Chief of Ironman magazine. I’ve followed Steve and Becky’s program for the past year. It’s a great reminder of the benefits of strength training, over endless hours of cardio, and offers suggested exercise that I believe to be well-suited for the HSP community. Their newsletter includes plenty of cutting edge research that addresses both exercise and general health tips!
So there you have it……the key to continuing a fitness program is in finding an activity you enjoy, and keep doing it! If you like this post, please consider signing up for my newsletter.
All the Best!
“Coaching to Thrive through Sensitivity”