When is it not good to exercise?

Part of my message definitely has to do with physical fitness–but I like to call it fun fitness because really, that’s what it should be.  Movement and exercise is about physical enjoyment.  It shouldn’t be something that we dread and it definitely shouldn’t be something that actually worsens our health status–because exercise can absolutely make you less healthy if it is not performed in the right way, the right amount, or the right time.

First of all, let’s address the issue of whether or not you should be exercising at this point in time.  Are you currently eating enough calories and/or nutrients to sustain exercise of any kind, even if it is for short periods of time (i.e. 20-30 minutes)?  Do you really have time for exercise right now?  Or are you overworked, extremely stressed out, and/or sleep deprived?  Is this the right time in your life to begin a new exercise regimen?

Many people believe that starting exercise is always a healthy thing.  Why?  Because that’s what we’re told from the time we’re extremely young.  That’s what society tells us; that’s what media sources tell us; that’s what our doctors tell us; and that what many people in the health and fitness world tell us.  But the truth is, if your body is under extreme stress at this point in time, it is best to first address that source of stress before adding a new stress to your life.

Yes, exercise is stress.  Generally, it is considered a good stress.  Our bodies undergo a short-term stress to actually create longer term health: that’s what exercise is meant to be.  However, for those of you who are currently inundated with stress (such as any of the aforementioned situations), exercise can add even more stress to your body, creating a worse situation.  When you’re under high levels of chronic stress, your cortisol levels are consistently elevated, which creates an unhealthy environment, often leading to fat-storage/weight gain and overall imbalanced hormone levels.  In this situation, adding more stress in the form of exercise can worsen your hormone levels, forcing your body to burn your fuel for energy as opposed to burning your fat for energy.  This is one reason why some people have a difficult time losing weight even when they are dieting and exercising.

If you’ve realized that this isn’t the right time to add exercise into your routine, then stop right there.  If you’re still unsure, answer these questions: 1.) Do I get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night and do I feel well rested at least 75% of the time?  2.) Have I recently been introduced to a new life situation, such as just starting a new job/career, starting a new diet for any reason, or becoming a new parent?  3.) Am I eating enough each day or do I have constant food cravings, am I counting calories/grams of anything, am I engaging in any disordered eating habits?  4.) Do I feel mentally and emotionally stable or am I feeling alone, depressed, or dealing with high levels of anxiety?  If you answered yes to these questions, then you may not be ready for physical fitness right at this very moment.  Begin to work on these issues first, and that may mean working with a professional, such as therapist or a dietitian.

So let’s say you’ve determined that it is a good time to start exercising.  Now, what type of exercise is right for you?  There are many factors to consider here, but the most important one is what makes you happy and feel good.  Are you someone who enjoys lifting weights at the gym or is this boring?  Do you dread going to the gym and have to find ways to force yourself to go?  Do you enjoy being outside, smelling grass and flowers while on a walk or bike ride through a park?  Do you enjoy the nature that surrounds a hiking trail?  Do you enjoy being in a pool of water?  Do you find the community and calmness of yoga to be welcoming?  These are all forms of activity that may or may not be right for you.  The key to healthful exercise really is about finding something that makes you happy.  If you don’t enjoy the form of exercise you participate in, it can make you miserable and less healthful mentally and emotionally.  Personally, I enjoy yoga and pilates, hiking, biking in nice weather, walking with friends, dancing, and strength training with weights.  But running and any form of cardio at the gym just bores me to death!

Okay, so now you’ve found something that you truly enjoy!  How much exercise is right for you?  30 minutes?  60 minutes?  90 minutes?  Well, of course there are recommendations from the government on the minimal amount of exercise we need.  However, the government doesn’t take into account our personal lives and circumstances.  Realistically, how much free time do you have?  If you have about an hour a day, then perhaps spend 30 minutes exercising and 30 minutes doing something that is relaxing, such as meditation or reading.  Taking at least 1 rest day per week is also important.  If you begin to dread exercise or it loses it’s fun, then that’s likely a sign that you need to switch it up.  Exercise shouldn’t feel like exercise.  It should be a fun activity that moves your body and makes you feel happy and playful.  It should help us stay balanced and well–physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It shouldn’t be about burning calories or losing weight.

All this to say that fitness is about your well-being.  If it’s not helping you feel good, then it’s not doing its job.  Move on to something else, decrease the time you are exercising, or take a look at your diet to see if you are consuming enough to support your body.  Food is just one way that we nourish our bodies; exercise, sleep, intimacy, and spirituality are some other ways.  So, sometimes physical fitness is not always the key to health–there may need to be another fix first.

Okay ya’ll, I’m off to feed a baby, or two 😉  Happy weekending!

I totally love toast with sunflower seed butter, almond butter, and Trader Joe’s blueberry jam!

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