Fit or Fanatic?

Lucky for me, I am actually someone who likes to exercise and needs to move from an energy standpoint.  However, I have had a long, complicated relationship with exercise that has included instructing aerobics, power weight lifting, competitive roller hockey, running, hiking, mountain biking, softball, and a multitude of tried and failed attempts at a yoga practice.  I have over exercised to the point of physical injury including three foot surgeries, a torn shoulder, knee injuries and a multitude of pulled muscles, shin splints and down right fatigue.  I have used exercise to make up for poor eating habits, over indulging and fluctuating weight between my teens and 40’s.  At best, you could say my relationship with exercise was complicated, but it definitely involved disordered eating patterns, extremism and dysfunction at many levels. 

Exercise is one of the most socially accepted ways to exhibit extreme behavior and to check out on your body.  How often to you hear “wow, you should really cut back on your exercise, it’s not good for you”?  The marathon runner, triathlete, cross fitter, or any other extreme athlete is revered and often envied in our society.  And while I absolutely love that the athletic build, especially for women, has replaced the stick thin model of beauty, ask yourself: what is your motivation behind the activity or exercise?  If striving for perfection, feeling good enough, or outside validation is your motivation, it may be a slippery slope to injuries, addiction, or the perfect platform for your inner critic.  All of this is part of the dysfunctional behavior I have certainly brought to my life long relationship with exercise, resulting in 30 years of the issues above.

When I started in the fitness/nutrition business 35 years ago, the thought on weight loss back then was calorie in = calorie out and you should eat less and exercise more.  While that worked in theory and in the short term, what we ignored back then was the effect that stress has on your body in terms of hormones, hunger, and body composition.  While exercise needs to be intense to increase cardiovascular fitness, that stress can also trigger stress hormones that favor fat deposition and increase hunger.  Throw in our stressful lifestyles that often include traffic, long workdays, and overly committed lives, and we are under constant stress levels our bodies were never meant to handle. 

If you are reading this and you are an over exerciser, you may want to look at the motivation behind the activity.  While I can honestly say I enjoyed all of the activities I listed above, if I am being really honest with myself, I did not enjoy the competition aspect.  My competitive attitude was an opportunity for my inner critic to show up and tell me I was not good enough.  I actually quit softball over feeling “not good enough” in a co-ed non-competitive league!  Last year I ended up tearing my knee on a benign fall in hockey probably because I had been competitive with myself running and was trying to run a 10K in less than a 10-minute mile.  I am happy to say I just ran the Wharf to Wharf (local 10K) at a 12-minute mile, after not really running the last year, and had fun doing it with a friend!! 

We will talk about the complete stress response, body composition, and high intensity interval training in future blogs, but what can you take away today?  Increase your activity anywhere you can in your day to day activities.  Start by walking to the store, library, or any place that is within a mile to 2 miles from your house or always park in the back of the parking lot and take the stairs.  Next, try finding something you love to do which could be an African dance class, spin class, jogging/light running, walking with friends, club sports, or anything that creates fun and joy in your world, in addition to activity.  If you work a desk job, you should try and get 10,000 steps a day to offset the lack of activity which can include some of the suggestions above.  Any time you can find a way to include social activities and nature, you get additional bonuses through shifting your hormones by producing oxytocin, the feel-good hormone.  An active lifestyle does not have to involve running races or training for a triathlon, just find fun ways to move more and get out and enjoy life, friends, family, and nature whenever possible!!