Yes it pains me to steer away from my preoccupation with Britney and title something after an Olivia Newton John song, but hey, sometimes these things have to be done. This week’s topic is exercise, an essential piece of the total health experience. I’ve dabbled in many forms of exercise at varying intensity levels ? ranging from 13-hour bike rides over mountain passes pulling a 50-pound trailer to 15-minute stretching sessions. What have I learned from all this?
Well, a lot. Let’s discuss this intelligently shall we?
Every nonhuman animal on the face of the earth has two primary goals for survival. The first goal is to eat as much as it can. When an animal is hungry and there is food present, it eats. It doesn’t have this complex brain that is capable of confusing when and when not to eat. The wisdom of its physical body is its guide. Its brain rarely veto’s physical needs by foolishly saying, ?I’m hungry, but I shouldn’t eat because I might get fat.
The second goal is to rest a lot. There is no nonhuman animal that I’m aware of that exerts itself beyond its limitations unless its survival is on the line. Sure, animals play, and exercise, and exert excess energy when nothing else in their day has caused them to do so, but when they are tired, and a lion is not chasing them, they rest. Again, there is no mental veto power that says, as many of us have, ?I’m exhausted and feel like I’m about to pass out? Run harder you pussy! You have sinned in the form of having too many beers and eating dessert with dinner! Move, move, move, move, move you maggot!
The fact of the matter is that for the first time in the history of the world there is a prevalent notion that it’s healthy to maximize exercise and minimize food intake. If you subscribe to this belief, then you have been drastically misled. This is a departure from history, from nature, and most of all, from common sense.
Are there people out there that are eating too much and exercising too little? Yes of course, but there is a physiological reason behind that in almost all cases. Suffice it to say, since this is not the focus of this edition, that overeaters/underexercisers are displaying physiological characteristic of starvation. This is due, more often than not, to hormonal imbalances (chronic high cortisol and insulin levels) that channel food into fat storage instead of making that energy available for normal bodily functions. In other words, people are receiving only a portion of the calories they ingest (more on this next week).
So before I go on too big of a tangent on that one, let’s take a real look at exercise?
Intense cardiovascular exercise that pushes your body beyond its normal limitations will cause an outpouring of adrenal hormones, including cortisol. Forms of exercise to avoid if you seek a long life of effortless good health and freedom from disease, are any exercises that raise your heart rate close to its maximum long enough to release a lot of endorphins and adrenaline (panic emergency biochemicals released only when the body perceives an imminent threat to its survival). Shaking or trembling, nausea, headaches, exhaustion, cramping, etc. are all symptoms, not of having really kicked some high-five worthy butt, but of having exercised to the point of physiological trauma. Don’t do this unless you need to do so to save your life, or if someone is waiting with a large sum of money at the finish line.
Strenuous exercise sometimes forces the mobilization of fat tissue (fat loss) because of a heightened state of starvation in the body, the fat loss is usually temporary, and the underlying problem (insufficient available calories for the maintenance of good health) often becomes worse over time. Then you become dependent on huge amounts of exercise to keep from gaining weight ? a vicious cycle indeed. Joints deteriorate, bones deteriorate, structural proteins are lost, risk of injury and pain increases, hunger increases, cortisol increases, energy decreases, and a state of subclinical malnutrition is virtually guaranteed. Anyone can tell you that stopping a rigorous exercising program (which almost always eventually happens because it is unsustainable) leads to rapid weight gain. I call it ?yo-yo exercising,? and other than being even more abusive to your body in many ways, it’s no different from yo-yo dieting.
Exercises, or movements as they’re sometimes called to differentiate, that cause reasonable and natural hormonal fluctuations and promote physical and mental health are simple body movements and stretches (including tai chi, qigong, pilates, most forms of yoga, Feldenkrais, and less organized forms of movement). Any and all of these stimulate lymphatic circulation, build muscle strength and flexibility, increase cellular oxygen, and enhance mental clarity.
The ultimate and most natural form of exercise is without a doubt walking. It doesn’t have to be speed walking. You don’t have to climb mountains. You don’t have to be miles away from civilization in the woods to get the benefits. Walking, at a natural pace, is the most balancing and nurturing activity I’ve ever found. No other activity is more beneficial for long-term weight management either. Just spending time on your feet can be helpful.
Moderate cardiovascular exercise being good for the heart is true only in relation to those who underexercise and do not eat properly. Cardiovascular exercise is also more tolerable to those who are healthy. I would say that it is contraindicated for those with insufficiency of the adrenal cortex (i.e. ? most who have allergic reactions to things, asthma, eczema and psoriasis, bursitis, tendonitis, inflammatory bowel diseases, etc.). A lot of cardiovascular exercise is not required for good health, but it is refreshing to break a nice sweat and get the heart pumping from time to time as long as it’s not taken to extremes.
Weightlifting (great link) is fine as long as you don’t build too much muscle and get sufficient rest in between sets. Keep the heart rate low, don’t exhaust yourself, maintain steady breathing and don’t allow yourself to get winded, and don’t do too many sets (warmup + 1-2 sets only). Again, if you feel light-headed and shaky, you’ve pushed yourself to the point where the exercise is detrimental and not beneficial.
Swimming is fantastic, but if you’re landlocked it’s better to sunbathe by a chlorinated swimming pool than to actually get in the ?water.
Being primarily sedentary is what I recommend for those needing to heal themselves from a health disorder, including a body fat storage problem. When you are ill, you need rest (although there’s no need to exclude non-strenuous movements and walking). Do not do cardiovascular exercise to lose fat, as this often allows you to lose fat without healing the underlying condition. Eat perfectly balanced meals until your hormones stabilize and metabolism begins to heal, then begin incorporating more vigorous exercise. Depending on age and your current state of health, this can take weeks or years. Be patient.
A variety of exercise is best to maintain balance, as our bodies are meant to do a variety of physical tasks. The point of this week’s post is to simply steer people away from the false belief that pushing your body beyond its limitations, ignoring its pleas for rest, and in turn eating as little food as you can is not an accomplishment. Your success there is not something to feel good about. It is just plain ignorance, of which I was once the king (now I’m more of a prince?okay fine, a jester). I also wanted to emphatically state that in many circumstances exercise slows healing. I share this because taking months of legitimate rest, after 15 years of intense physical activity, was personally one of the greatest facilitators of the improved mental, physical, and emotional health that I enjoy today.
Taking time to rest is not always wasted time or laziness. Put rest on your list of goals, and realize that every time you take a break from a busy life to kick back and relax you are achieving something ? improving the body and mind that facilitate all of your accomplishments. Rest facilitates us being all that we can be, and I owe much of my improved health to this new paradigm. Life is an endurance activity, not a red line sprint, and proper rest and relaxation, physically and mentally, is priceless. When you do exercise, do it lovingly, do it intelligently, and wear pink leg warmers while listening to Olivia Newton John.