Do you stress out about getting to the gym, obsessively scheduling your days to grab that precious hour or hour and a half so you can go work out?
Do you feel the burn of guilt when you haven’t made it often enough, thinking things like “I’m never going to be fit, I’ll always stay fat and a loser because I just can’t get to the gym”.
Is your gym membership burning a hole in your pocket? Like wow, I pay 60 bucks a month for this thing, and I haven’t been for 3 weeks.
So now we’ve got money guilt AND fat guilt.
And when you finally do haul your lazy butt to the gym, do you exhaust yourself for 45 minutes or more, running yourself ragged on the machines, and getting so freakin sore the next day, that you COULDN’T go back to the gym for a week, even if you wanted to or could find the time?
Well, I want to share an idea with you. Maybe this whole gym, exercise, workout thing is a BIG. FAT. HOAX. Maybe it’s just a sad excuse for health & fitness that’s an unfortunate byproduct of our modern post-industrial lifestyle.
Unfortunately, the popular wisdom of the past 40 years – that we would all be better off doing 45 minutes to an hour a day of intense aerobic activity – has created a generation of overtrained, underfit, [flabby], immune-compromised exerholics. (extraordinarily well put, Mark Sisson!)
It turns out exhaustive occasional exercise won’t help you lose weight or get healthier. And by “exhaustive occasional”, I mean anything that happens in a burst, including even if it’s for 45 minutes every evening after sitting at a desk for 8 hours, or a couple of times a week sprinkled into a mostly sedentary lifestyle. Even a single daily burst isn’t enough to make up for the 95% of the time that we spend with our butts parked in a piece of furniture or a car.
According to Mark Sisson of The Primal Blueprint:
The fact is, our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t ramp up their heart rates significantly for over an hour every day, and I don’t think we should either. They walked at a very low level of exertion, burning almost entirely stored fats. Once you get into the zones where less fat is burned [ie typical sustained “cardio” exercise] and where there’s a big dependency on glucose to fuel muscles, your body goes into a less efficient mode of fuel oxidation. […] I don’t recommend pushing this limit or even approaching it. Why bother? This kind of training (and diet) raises cortisol levels, increases oxidative damage, systemic inflammation, depresses the immune system and decreases fat metabolism. (source)
Here’s another tidbit from holistic health expert Chris Kresser, about how the typical way most of us “exercise” these days is actually leading us to poorer health and burnout.
While short, intense workouts can be great for inducing fat loss, increasing aerobic capacity, and reducing risk for cardiovascular disease, excessively intense exercise can cause a variety of health problems, especially for those dealing with other concurrent stressors. […] Another major effect that extreme exercise has on our bodies is an immediate increase in cortisol, the hormone that is released when the body is under stress. […] Chronically high levels of cortisol can increase your risk for a variety of health issues, such as sleep disturbances, digestive issues, depression, weight gain, and memory impairment. Excess cortisol also encourages fat gain, particularly around the abdomen. (source)
Chris goes on to explain that this can be the reason exercise leaves us feeling rundown, we have trouble gaining muscle mass and losing fat, and feel constant exhaustion. These can all be signs of excessive exercise of any type.
I want to share a mind-shift with you. Let’s stop beating ourselves up about getting to the gym. It’s not helping us anyway (as explained above).
I’m proposing a more loving, holistic approach to exercise, that’s less about guilt and prolonged self-torture sessions on the treadmill, and more about smart functional movement for a strong resilient body. (specifics to be discussed in a future post, for now check out great resources at this page or this page)
Why exercise is about way more than weight loss
Let’s explore some of the incredible things movement does for the body, so we can get into that holistic self-love space. Be in awe of how your body is a self-regulating organism that WANTS to be balanced and youthful and healthy. Cultivate awareness of how your body feels and what it needs, so you can move more regularly because you WANT TO, and in ways that support whole health, rather than pushing yourself toward burnout.
We all know the heart pumps blood around the body, and this is called our circulatory system. Turns out there is a second part to our circulatory system, which is called lymph.
Your lymphatic circulatory system works directly with your cardiovascular circulatory system to keep blood and lymphatic fluid levels in balance and flush toxins out of the body. It also carries immune cells throughout the body to help defend against infections. (source)
I find this SO interesting: The lymph fluid doesn’t actually have an organ like the heart to pump it around. It relies on us moving our bodies to create a flow. That’s why you feel sort of “blech” when you sit around for too long – your lymph is stagnating!
SOLUTION: Get up and move around as often as you can, at least once every half hour. Jump, dance, do squats, wave your arms!
Exercise keeps us youthful not only through the direct effect of being toned, strong and balanced. We also actually age slower on a cellular level thanks to regular movement.
In particular, exercise appears to keep the telomeres from unraveling and becoming damaged. Telomeres are areas on DNA at the end of chromosomes. If these areas become damaged and unravel, DNA does not continue to replicate in the proper fashion and the end result is aging. (source)
Moderate healthy levels of impact during exercise also increases bone density. We actually need to walk to stay healthy. The vibrations from our feet hitting the ground travel up our bones and spur the release of minerals to build healthy bone density.
Explosive movements that use our big muscle groups spur the release of anti-aging and fat-burning hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone. When you do squat jumps, it sends a message that you should stay lean and strong, not fat and shlumpy.
SOLUTION: Try these anti-aging exercises, as recommended by the Huffington Post.
Digestion and detox
Exercise is a great way to improve the major detoxification pathways through the skin and the digestive system. Sweat isn’t nasty and dirty, it’s beautiful and healthy! If you stink when you sweat, it just means you’re not sweating often enough – and when you do, there’s too much nasty junk coming out.
SOLUTION: Get a light sweat going, and heart rate boosted, once a day if you can! Even jogging up a couple flights of stairs will probably do it. Or try doing 30 jumping jacks! Phew! You can even do these in the bathroom at the office, or in an empty meeting room ;)
Exercise also promotes a faster travel time through the gut, meaning you’ll have healthier poops. Movement helps resolve bloating and gas, and moves things along to prevent constipation.
SOLUTION: Try this simple detox yoga flow to help your tummy feel super.
Pelvic floor and organ health
Your organs are suspended in a bouncy, stretchy network of tissue within your abdomen. If you sit still all day, your cortisol rises, your body gets cranky and kicks off an autoimmune response. This network of tissue actually begins to slowly calcify and harden.
SOLUTION: Move as often as you can to relieve tension, and keep your tissues soft and flexible! Practise deep squatting and as much walking as you can.
Stress, anxiety & mood
Have you ever watched a nature show, where the antelope gets chased by the lion, and after it gets away, it sort of “quakes” for a while? This is an instinctual, automatic way that animals actually physically discharge the stress hormones released during a ‘fight or flight’ situation.
We can use the same chemical pattern by purposely moving our body, or even by imitating the antelope and actually SHAKING ourselves. (source)
SOLUTION: Try it right now – just stand there and SHAKE your body for 20-30 seconds. It feels good right? This chemically shuts down your stress response! It’s a great way to relieve anxiety fast.
Exercise also releases endorphins – we all know that right? It feels GREAT. The body feels alive and well, the blood is flowing, the thoughts are clearer. Research shows that it’s as simple as moving those large muscles, like the glutes and quads. Just going for a quick walk helps tension resolve rapidly. (source)
SOLUTION: Again, even just something super quick like popping 10 quick squats or jumping jacks is enough to get that blood and lymph moving, and lift a storm cloud that might be hovering over your head. It’s so quick, there’s no excuse!
Memory and mind connection
Although this seems like a bit of a no-brainer (PUNNY!), exercise also helps protect a healthy memory and ability to learn. Studies show that getting your heart pumping “appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.” (source)
SOLUTION: The study involved just 120 minutes of brisk walking per week. That’s only 17 minutes a day! Get walking!
Has this inspired you to move because you love your body?
I find that when I learn the amazing things my body can do, I appreciate it more, and want to take better care of it! Please share some of your favourite awesome effects of movement and exercise below. Or maybe you have a story about how you quit chronic cardio and started a more self-loving approach to movement. Share in the comments!