Are you exercising out too much?

September 16, 2015 0 Comments

For years we've been told to "go hard or go home", "never give up" and "make every workout count". We've been told exercise will help with our stress levels, keep our weight in check, and give us that endorphin rush that will make everything right in the world. You can have too much of a good thing however, and instead of getting that fitspo body, ending up weaker, slower, sick and injured.

So in the name of research, I decided to conduct a little experiment. Since having Orlando, I have been pushing myself to be the overachieving mama believing I can do it all. While my Instagram feed would tell you otherwise, there have been days where I have struggled to get out of bed, and no amount of coffee would move me. There have been days where I've had to ask my mother in law to skip work, and help me with Orlando, because I had zero energy. And on those days, I would always feel so guilty for not being able to work out, so when I finally had the energy I would push myself twice as hard, only to smash my poor over exhausted adrenal system and make matters worse.

For some reason, it didn't click for almost two years, that all the exercise I've been trying to cram into my already over scheduled life, was of little benefit, and contrary to my believe was NOT helping me lose weight, yet rather make me gain.

How can this be? 

So let's take a little biology lesson here. You may have heard of a little hormone called Cortisol. In a dangerous situation, this stress hormone will give you an increased heart rate, and ninja-like focus to make sure you're at your best to deal with the situation at hand - saber tooth tiger, looming deadline, screaming child.... all of the above.... Thank you mother nature for that little "in case of emergency button".

For so many of us however, that button has become jammed as we try to cram more and more and more into our lives with the added stress of things running late for work, relationship problems, work stress, family dramas, not eating well, not enough sleep, not enough water etc.

Cortisol acts by breaking down proteins (from your muscle and bones) and turning them to glucose (sugar), making energy readily available for that previously mentioned ninja mode.

The problem with this, aside from the obvious break down of muscle and bone tissue, is that due to chronic levels of stress higher levels of cortisol circulating in the body can wreak utter havoc with your immune system. This will also create

  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • High blood pressure
  • Poor thyroid function
  • Poor sleep
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Decreased bone density
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Slow wound healing
  • Higher levels of abdominal fat, which has been linked to other health problems and the instances of heart attacks, strokes, and higher levels of LDL cholesterol.
  • It can also lead to chronic fatigue
So what does this have to do with working out?
Your body treats all stress the same. Doesn't matter if you're running for the bus, or running away from a sabretooth tiger, to your body, you're in a stressful situation that will require the release of cortisol. If you're already living a pretty stressful life, pushing yourself even more at the gym will add to those cortisol levels.

When the amount of stress on the body exceeds the its ability to recover,  instead of getting fiiter, faster, leaner and stronger, you can actually end up becoming slower, weaker, sick and injuired.

You see the same effect on professional athletes who do too much. Athletes undergoing a strenuous training schedule can develop a significant decrease in performance associated with Overtraining Syndrome, or OTS (source -The overtraining syndrome in athletes: a stress-related disorder). Overworking in other areas of your life, will create a similar effect on your body, and when you add an excessive training load this can lead to:

  • Chronic soreness, even long after exercise
  • Poor recovery
  • Constant injury
  • Increased rate of cold and infections
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Dramatic increase in appetite
So does that mean you shouldn't work out?
Before you cut up your gym membership, try this. Dr Frank Lipman M.D., author of Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again recommends interval training because "it teaches your body to recover". Dr Lipman also recommends opting for more restorative forms of exercise such as yoga. Most Type A's would choose the most intense yoga available such as heated, or Ashtanga, but this is again not serving you well. Opt for a more gentle styles such as yin or slow Vinyasa. Talk to your teacher to ensure that you're not overworking.

So how does my life look like now?

At the moment I'm doing a 30 day yoga challenge, so I'm doing yoga everyday. Every second day, say on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday I would do some interval training that I enjoy. This would be a class somewhere like F45, or a Xtend Barre at Stones Corner, or a run with friends. If it doesn't happen, or I'm not feeling it, I don't stress over it like I used to. Instead, I try to eat better that day, get an early night, and do what I can the next morning.

I feel happier, more energetic and the best bit is my belly fat has gone down dramatically, my cravings have virtually vanished and I'm a much more pleasant person to be around. I feel lighter, happier and more balanced. You can't ask for more than that right?

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