Exercise, Health and a Bit of Balance

May was National Walking Month so hopefully you’ve enjoyed taking the occasional stroll in the lovely weather.

Moving your body every day is a good thing. It’s only a minor factor for weight loss but crucial when it comes to health. For many conditions it’s better than any medicine, even having value in preventing and treating cancer. However, in common with many other good things, more is not always better and too much can hurt you.

I’ll just back up and do a detour to deal with the weight loss thing in case you fell straight off your chair. Food is the main factor for weight loss – not exercise. Weight training and high intensity interval training are best. If you’re one of the 1000s pounding the treadmill every day watching the calories tick, you need to know that aerobic exercise is the worst for weight loss. It generally burns very little and makes you quite a bit hungrier. Even if energy balance worked at all (which it doesn’t), the way diet clubs teach it is very misleading as Zoe Harcombe explains here. The energy you burn, above what you always burn at rest, does not cancel out that bun and a latte in the gym cafe. As Dr Aseem Malhotra says, you can’t outrun a bad diet. What matters for weight is the type of food. Some you’ll burn, some you’ll store. Different foods affect different hormones. But I write about that most of the time so I’ll get off my soapbox and end my diversion. Oh, but while I still have one foot on my soapbox, energy drinks are terrible, especially for children, and no one should drink them. More on drinks next month.

 

OK, where were we? Exercise and Health.

I always ask people on my courses to listen to their bodies. It isn’t something we’re used to doing. Life is all one mad charge forwards regardless of how we feel. We’re driven by external expectations, work, family, social norms. If our bodies complain, the usual reaction is to take over-the-counter drugs to silence the messages.

Most of us recognise that too much work is a bad thing but surely any amount of exercise is good.

If you feel generally snoozy and sluggish, it could be a sign that you need to move more.

France 2009

If you are very tired and exercise doesn’t energise you, it could be a sign that your body needs some recovery. We often underestimate the importance of rest. It can seem a bit soft to take a nap or a day off. When I was on the Great Britain Field Archery team I remember hearing that the commitment to rest is as important as the commitment to train hard.

Shame I didn’t take more notice at the time!

I used to have a stressful job and I used exercise as an antidote. The more stressed I got, the more desperately I exercised. Adding to the burden, I didn’t know then about eating right for your metabolic type. My diet was full of sugar but lacking the fat that I needed. And there were toxins in the low-fat products I ate. I believed the adverts saying they were better for me; how wrong can you be? I got more and more run down and relied too much on cortisol and adrenalin to keep me going. I dragged myself out of bed each day feeling like death and forced myself onwards. You can scrape the bottom of the barrel of your resources for so long but the end result for me was a hole in the barrel. I suffered total exhaustion and chronic fatigue. I was incapacitated for a year and half.

I’m not the only one to fall into the excess exercise trap. Sometimes the consequences are more severe than I suffered and can appear suddenly. I was saddened by the death of a Cumbrian chef at this year’s London Marathon. Here’s a piece about the dangers of over-doing it and how extreme sport scars your heart.

Nowadays I prefer a bit of balance and self care to punishing my body with gruelling regimes.

What do you think counts as exercise? Have you realised it doesn’t have to be done in a special place (eg a gym) or for a certain period of time (eg an hour)? Actually your body is designed for continuous movement and you can include lots of things you might not have counted before. Vacuuming, washing the car, playing with the kids, digging the garden, dancing, walking the dog, doing a few squats while the kettle boils, reaching up to hang out the washing.

I’m a fan of Dr Mercola’s NO dump (developed by Zach Bush). I love Michael Mosely’s book on Fast Exercise – here’s a little HIIT video. And have a listen to this podcast on primal play Dr Chatterjee and Darryl.

Dr Chaterjee’s book The Four Pillar Plan talks about movement snacking and Dr Joan Vernikos explains the need for non-exercise movement throughout the day regardless of whether you do ‘exercise sessions’. Just standing up from your chair every 20 minutes lets your body engage with gravity and brings many health, strength and weight benefits.

Do you take your health for granted? I used to but not any more. Having experienced life without it, health is really important to me now and that’s why I don’t compromise on food, exercise and rest. I don’t want to ever go back to that misery.

Good health is a lot about self care. It’s about getting some exercise every day, but not so much that you burn yourself out. It’s about nourishing your body with good food, but not sticking so rigidly to a dietary regime that it prevents you from living a rich, happy life. It’s about deep sleep, rest and fun. It’s about balance.

Top tips: Real food is good. Exercise is good. Rest is good. Balance is good.

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