Well hello my gorgeous, sweet peeps – and woop – it’s 2014…!
2013 had a slightly funny energy to it; I’m generally not tremendously superstitious – but it did have thirteen in it; which I think did prove unlucky for some… anyway, t’is gone now and I genuinely, really like how 2014 looks/sounds/feels… :-)
So, today I want to jump right in on a topic that used to puzzle me *a lot*; exercise.
It’s that time of year where we tend to think about it; and make New Years resolutions around it – after all we all know it’s good for us and we should do more of it – but what isn’t always that well known or understood is that we may not all be suited to trying to do the same type of exercise; nor be expecting the same rewards….
For the last couple of years I have repeatedly tried to get into exercise, for a few different reasons – partially because so many people say how important it is for health (which, right of the bat, let me state I’m not disagreeing with), partially because it’s said to be uplifting – and *especially* at this time of the year I sometimes need a lil helping hand, and yes – of course – partially to lose weight.
So, over the course of the last – maybe 5 – years, I’ve tried a few different things; swimming, running, spin classes, cross trainers, body pump… and each time I’d decide to really *really* commit – so do it religiously for whatever schedule I’d set myself (generally three times a week) – and each time I would progressively feel worse, and worse, and worse… And I don’t mean the “fatigued muscles when you do new exercise that passes in time” kind of worse – I mean the *absolutely-exhausted-to-the-point-of-not-being-able-to-function-properly-in other-areas-of-my-life kind. Not cool.
But, being the determined (stubborn) – determined – person I am, I would persevere regardless, thinking “other people do this and rave about it – you must just be being lazy; man up, get over yourself and get on with it” (yes, lovely internal chat there Nadia – not) – so would continue to push myself until I’d end up literally bed bound in a puddle of tears.
Plus, to make matters *even worse* – I wouldn’t lose a single pound of weight (or measure even half a centimetre smaller anywhere on my body; as I know the controversy over scales / weight) – and in fact I’d quite often put on weight – particularly around my middle… what-the-fat?!
Suffice to say I’d eventually give up – at least for long enough to forget quite how torturous and soul-destroying the whole experience was – before I’d repeat the above all over again.
…what did Einstein say the definition of madness was again…
Anyway, I digress – the point being exercise clearly wasn’t working out so well for me – but I had no idea why.
Fast forward to last year and the whole type 1 diabetes diagnosis followed by spending 6 months locked away doing pretty much nothing but research; and I came to understood that high intensity, high duration exercise doesn’t suit all of us…
Don’t misunderstand me here: I know some people do great with it – in fact a fair few of my friends do *a lot* of excercise and they look friggin’ fantastic – but we’re not all built the same…
I came to learn that, for some of us, high intensity, high duration exercise causes our bodies to release too much cortisol into our systems; pushing our bodies to exist in a permanent state of “fight or flight”
Essentially, fight or flight is a hormonal response that helped us way, way back – when we either had to choose to run from the sabre tooth tiger that was heading towards us, or kill it for food… obviously we *don’t* need to do either anymore, but our bodies can’t differentiate between the feelings of stress created by a tiger or traffic jam- or in some of us, a triathlon…
When we enter fight or flight, cortisol gets released to help gear our bodies to deal with the impending “danger” – it’s released to give us the energy to fight or run… Basically, cortisol sets off an increased rush of glucose from your tissues to help you get away/deal with the situation… as remember, the body thinks something major is going down. In response to the rise in glucose comes a rise in insulin…. Do this again and again, day after day, and eventually you’re gonna start to get insulin resistant.
In the meantime – whilst we’re waiting for that delight to happen, the cortisol is signalling the body to store fat. (The body thinks it will need it after all – as it thinks there’s various emergencies it’s going to need to escape from!)
And more specifically, the body – doing what it thinks is best – directs fat storage in the abdomen and around the organs – where there are more receptors for cortisol, plus where it can most quickly release the energy again if needed.
– this is especially true for people who are already “stressed” in some way; be it emotionally or physically (i.e. if the body is already busy trying to help you not, say, tip over into diabetes… it just doesn’t then have the extra resources available to deal with the exercise you throw into the mix too).
In addition to the delights of making you store fat, cortisol also causes the body to shut down what it deems to be “non-essential” functions; which includes our immune system as well as our digestive system.
All of this would be OK if the cortisol spikes weren’t that frequent; but (for lots of different reasons) many of us are now walking around with elevated cortisol levels day-in-day-out…. In addition, many think that our bodies were never designed to do long spells of high intensity exercise – that we were much more likely to do short bursts of high intensity exercise (when we were running/fighting something; which presumably only happened once or twice a week max – unless of course you were having a really bad week…) – and the rest of the time we were using our bodies to do all the day-to-day stuff we now have machines/cars etc to do…
So, the idea definitely IS NOT that exercise overall may be bad for you / contributing to fat storage; but more-so that we might want to think about the type of exercise we’re doing; especially if our current routine ain’t make us feel (or look) that hot.
So I’d encourage you to play with this a little; for me a good balance seems to be walking at a fairly brisk pace – but not to the point of being out of breath – for an hour or so, three or four times a week… if you have a dog then that’s perfect. If not, you might want to think about walking a friends :-)
I mix this up with yoga; which I try to do at least three times a week. I tend to do the slightly more vigorous styles of yoga; such as Vinyasa – as that way I’m getting a weight bearing aspect (using myself as the weight!) and some cardiovascular benefits too. People sometimes think of yoga involving sitting cross-legged chanting “om” – and yes, there are some styles (and lots of benefits) like that – but there’s sooo many others too.
In fact I’ve recently gotten back into Bikram yoga; which is even more perfect, because it’s in a room heated to 42 degrees, plus the sequence of the postures means it’s perfectly designed to be cardiovascular (of the high intensity/short burst kind) without causing a cortisol spike – plus it’s super detoxifying too!
Anyway – as I said – play around with what works for you; I know for some short repetitions of weights work, for others doing short bursts of sprint running, rather than miles of the long distance stuff, works great – basically see what works for you.
Hope that helps shed some light on why you might not be shedding those pounds… and of course – it’s all good blood sugar balancing stuff too :-)
…. and – whatever new years resolutions you may or may not have made – here’s to a wonderful 2014! xo