Exercise and stress
Exercise - can you overdo it?
By Steve Hennessy, Barefoot Health
‘Exercise more and eat less’, right? The magical formula for our weight loss goals lies in this simple sentence and we just need to ‘get off our arse’, ‘push harder’, and, ‘go that extra mile’ to get there.
Now, I’m here to tell you that this mentality can do more harm than good. In my experience as a personal trainer, it’s often those that adopt a ‘less is more’ approach and prioritise ‘working in’ that achieve their goals of weight loss and performance.
My belief around the ‘working in’ side of health stems from a taoist, yin/yang balance that applies to life and health. That is to say, if we party hard (yang) without rest (yin) then you’ll be left tired and lifeless. If you talk too much (yang) without listening (yin) then you’ll miss the important points and be an annoying friend. And in the fitness world, if you exercise every day without any care about rest, nutrition and down time, then your results are going to be severely limited.
This ‘exercise more, eat less’ belief comes up short when we start talking about hormones. Turns out that our bodies aren’t production line machines that take in calories and exert energy and are far more sensitive organisms that are sensitive to a variety of factors, and in this case it’s the stress hormone, cortisol.
We secrete cortisol when we’re under stress; physical, emotional, environmental etc., and it serves as a mechanism to survive in a threatening situation. Think 1,000 years back, and you are being chased by a sabre-tooth tiger through the Savannah. Cortisol is going to help us sprint to the nearest tree and climb it for safety. Then, we rest under the campfire and rise when the sun comes up. Good system, right?
Now, what if this was happening regularly? Like it does to many of us in our modern lives? What if you were secreting cortisol from the moment your alarm sounds (environmental stress), you down your bowl of cereal (nutritional stress), and you speed to work because your boss is really on your arse at the moment (physical, emotional stress). Then we start thinking about that elusive goal of losing weight but ‘it’s just so hard!’. What we may not realise is, that this cortisol is circulating through our system and blocking all of our fat burning abilities! Think about it, why would our bodies want to lose fat (fat is a survival tool), if we appear to be in a life threatening situation?
What I’m saying here is that we could be more likely to burn fat through sitting on a beach drinking coconuts then slamming calories on the treadmill. Sound crazy? Think about that time when your friend or family member treated themselves to a relaxing holiday, and came back thinner, brighter and with a natural ‘glow’. They might even say, “all I did was relax on my holiday…oh, and I lost 5kg!”
Now, obviously this ‘less is more’ advice is not a license to couch sit five nights a week. We’re better off taking on ‘yin’ activities such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, walking (without spandex and hand-weights), or concentrated breathing.
A good start would be three short, high intensity training sessions per week, with at least two ‘yin’ or ‘working in’ sessions.
Above all else, listen to your body, it’s a wonderfully intelligent organism and if we take the time to listen to it, then we’ll find some powerful answers.