How to PROTECT your Health by Exercising LESS
In my recent posts about exercise and weight loss (parts 1 & 2), I clarified the truth about the relationship between the two, and identified a few types of exercise that promote OVERALL health as well!!
Within the last 6 years, I have personally experienced both extremes in my life regarding exercise:
over-training (for my health status) and having VERY limited activity (due to my health status).
In 2011 to 2012, when I was feeling the best I had in my adult years (read my story here & here), I was training 6 days a week typically. Often this meant waking up at 5:30, and eventually at 4:30am. I definitely wasn’t going to bed by 8 or 8:30 pm either. However, I WAS getting to bed often by 9:30pm when I started getting up at the earlier time, which was about 7 hours of rest (not atypical for many; better than some; but not healthy for me). I was finding myself exhausted and almost falling asleep while driving. I blamed this for a while on my early rise time. I had daily internal stress and anxiety that went unchecked. I started having significant blood sugar issues. And I started getting injured more often. My body was obviously giving me signs that my current lifestyle wasn’t working for me. Unfortunately, I mostly ignored them. Eventually what followed was a complete unraveling of my health. Five years later I’m STILL working to recover my health to where I know it can be (again, check out more on my story to see what transpired).
Yet, even when my health issues really started flaring, I kept trying to exercise. I wasn’t ready to give it up. My body had become very reliant on exercise as a way to raise my cortisol (remember- exercise is often a form of stress, sometimes beneficial and other times not so much). So, when I didn’t work out, I felt worse initially.
At the time, I was doing some weight lifting, but I was also doing chronic cardio and too much (too often and for too long) high intensity interval training (anaerobic). Additionally, as I mentioned, I wasn’t getting enough rest between workouts, nor enough sleep and stress management. I also wasn’t eating enough food to sustain my active lifestyle. These will all greatly impact one’s ability to maintain health and activity levels that feel good.
In my post about intuitive exercise, I mentioned that exercise/activity should ALWAYS make you feel better, and never worse. Sure, there can be moments during intense exercise (like anaerobic exercise) where you feel like you want to lay down and die (no, not really, but sort of, right?). However, overall, within a few minutes of completing a workout and all the way into the next day, we should feel good if not somewhat better!!! Additionally, we shouldn’t feel horrible when we take a day off – emotionally or physically. Days off provide our bodies with the rest and recovery needed to maintain and continue to improve our health. Furthermore, feeling worse physically on a “rest day” may be a sign your body has become dependent on the stress hormones induced by exercise to feel good (as I mentioned was my situation). To me, this is a great “early” warning sign that adjustments would be in your best interest.
This is where I become SUPER PASSIONATE! I watch so many people OVER-TRAINING on too little food and rest, with un-managed stress! These are often women, but I’ve met plenty of men doing the same. Honestly – I feel like this is a HUGE part of the population. So many underestimate the high levels of stress that seem to naturally come from the lifestyles promoted in our society these days. We seem to idealize “busy-ness,” with little respect for grace and self-care. It also comes right back to the untruth being taught about diet and exercise – exercise more, especially lots of cardio, and eat less to look and feel good! We’ve been getting fed the WRONG MESSAGES for FAR TOO LONG! And it’s a recipe for a stress disaster!! Again, start with this post if you want more info about how this is wrong!
It is so often feelings of desperation, fear, and guilt that get people into these “OVERDOING” patterns. The end result, like the process, so frequently isn’t happy or healthy. The amount of time that someone can engage in these types of stressful, over-training, under-eating, busy patterns before experiencing negative effects will be different for everyone. I don’t say this to be pessimistic, but rather to PROTECT you or someone you know from this “mistake.” That being said, what I’ve found is that so often people have to experience some form of symptoms before they will heed warnings! I know, because mine literally had to scream at me before I reacted, and I’ve seen this time and again in so many others.
It is so often feelings of desperation, fear, and guilt that get people into these “OVERDOING” patterns. The end result, like the process, so frequently isn’t happy or healthy.
In terms of my own journey with exercise, sometimes my activity still consists mostly of yoga and walking, perhaps with some body weight movement breaks during my day. I follow a very intuitive exercise approach as I’ve learned so much about my body and what best supports my health over the years. At other times when my health is at it’s strongest, my workouts are more intense (following the tips provided in this post). In an upcoming post, I’ll share more about how I’ve increased my activity levels when my health has allowed, as I’ve had some questions about that.
All of that being said, if you’re finding yourself with one or many of the symptoms of OVERDOING, some of the things you can start DOING instead are: slowly reducing your exercise frequency, intensity, and/or duration, along with making adjustments in other areas that are critical factors of health, to see how you feel. GIVE THESE CHANGES TIME! Journaling about various health parameters can provide insight over time as well. Areas to consider tracking are: mood, energy, digestion, sleep, bowel movements, hunger, cravings, etc. If you’ve already gotten to the point of having significant symptoms of over-training, the changes may not feel great at first. It is ESSENTIAL to allow some time to see what these changes will bring. Remember, “Not all positive change feels positive at first!”
Steps to take to reduce risks of over-training:
Try one or more of these adjustments-
- If you’re currently training six days a week, try cutting back to 3-4 days. Use the time on the other 2+ days to do things like: work on mobility, go for a leisurely walk, meditate, or simply to rest. See how it feels after a few weeks.
- If you are always working out at an intensity of 7-10 out of 10, consider reducing your intensity to 5-7 of 10. Again, HONESTLY check in on how you’re feeling!
- If your workouts are always an hour or more, try reducing to no more than an hour, and perhaps down to 30-45 minutes.
- Focus your exercise types on those discussed in this post.
In addition to these changes, other factors must be considered such as ensuring-
- a nourishing diet, adequate in energy and nutrition;
- plenty of quality sleep, rest, and recovery;
- solid stress management practices;
- healthy social relationships;
- and for an even more advanced step, ensure a low-toxin home/work/school environment.
I understand that making all of these changes at once will likely feel like too much. In fact, trying to make all of the adaptations together may just induce more stress. I strongly advocate for 3 things: 1) decide on 1-2 steps to take at a time; 2) get support—someone to help guide you; 3) Once you feel comfortable with the each of the changes made, choose another 1-2 adjustments to make.
If you’ve made adjustments in all of the above areas and there is further need for reduction to ensure you’re feeling good, try—
- Cutting back to 2-3 days a week for most types of exercise (except maybe the more gentle forms like walking and restorative yoga)
- Reducing intensity to a 3-5 of 10, or even less
- Limiting workout times to 10-30 minutes
- Revisiting the other areas of diet, stress management, sleep, rest, and relationships. Examine whether there are additional steps that could be taken in any of these areas.
All of these are options that may give your body the time, rest, and nourishment it needs to stabilize or recover your health! If you need someone to support and guide you in the changes right for you, I’d absolutely love to support you! I’m truly passionate about this and don’t want to see you reach the levels of DIS-ease that I did!