We all know that we need to move our bodies, especially as we get older and things like joints, bones, tendons, etc. get weaker – not to mention muscle loss increases greatly after the age of 50.
But why is it that we see people at the gym working hard and getting sweaty, yet their bodies don’t seem to change?
I’ve been going to the same gym since 2006, and used to teach a lot of the group exercise classes. I don’t teach anymore, but will see some of the same folks still taking the classes I used to teach. And you know what? They haven’t changed – and some look a lot older than they are.
What in the world? If exercise and staying active is supposed to be the Fountain of Youth, then what’s going on here?
And let’s look at marathon runners. Did you know that a whopping 30% of marathon runners are obese? And I would venture to guess, some of that 30% ended up more obese AFTER training for their marathon than before. Being obese is not just a cosmetic issue – it sets one up for all kinds of diseases and stresses the body and is a key factor in getting old before your time.
In their book, Primal Endurance, Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns discuss this phenomena at length. Mark also talks about his days as an elite competitive runner, who at age 28, started suffering from extreme osteoarthritis in his ankle and had to retire from his competitive career.
But you know what? I can relate…while I was never in the competitive leagues, I DID experience so many things that Mark talks about: chronic inflammation, frequent respiratory infections, a slew of injuries – and, at the ripe old age of 32, I received a prescription from my doc for osteoporosis meds. I didn’t take them, but I also didn’t change my ways until about 8 years later.
I highly recommend reading it, especially if you tend to lean toward the “more cardio is better” side. The first 115 points in the book definitely gave me some “a-ha’s”, and I bet they will for you too.
So what is it about exercise that can age you faster? It boils down to these five things:
1. You’re doing too much “moderately intense” exercise, and for too long
We’ve all heard the phrase “go hard, or go home”, and this is just what happens in spinning and other classes, right? Thing is, by staying in this “moderately intense” area for too long adds a lot of stress to the body – basically it puts your body in “fight or flight” mode for an extended period of time. Our bodies were only meant to be in this mode for very short intervals – think being chased by a lion. What happens when you keep your body here? You get an excess of cortisol and other stress hormones that hang around, causing excess inflammation and yep, you guessed it, fat gain.
Ever wonder why we’re hearing about so many more cases of adrenal fatigue and metabolic damage, especially in group exercise instructors AND participants? It’s because they stay mostly in this, as Mark Sisson calls it, “black hole” of exercise. It’s definitely hard, but not quite hard enough to be considered an all-out sprint, AND it’s not slow enough to be considered a low aerobic, stress-relieving activity.
I lived in this black hole area for many years!
2. You don’t emphasize stress relieving activities
I am admittedly guilty about this. I love intense exercise, and slowing down for a nice leisure walk afterward challenges my attention span. But I know that my body needs it, and it responds well to it.
Case in point – last weekend I was in Austin for a conference. Workouts were either non-existent for very short and intense. But there was a ton of walking and downtime, as well as good food and wine. And you know what? I came back a teeny bit leaner than when I left.
Has this ever happened to you on vacation? Where you cut back on exercise, relaxed a lot but ate a little less healthy than normal – yet, you came back the same or even lighter? It’s those stress hormones again – keep them happy with stress-relieving activities, and your body will respond in turn.
3. You have a “no excuses” attitude and feel that recovery is overrated, even when you’re tired and sore
Yep, guilty again with this. There have been so many times where I pushed through workouts, even though I was exhausted and sore. This did nothing at all for my body but make it more inflamed and feel “old”.
4. You are a slave to your “plan”, and deviating from it stresses you out, even when you’re not seeing the results you want
You love the phrase “consistency is key”, and yes this is true for a lot of things, but shouldn’t training be more intuitive? This is where that other phrase we love to hate, “listen to your body” comes into play. This is particularly hard for those Type A’s like me who thrive on structure and routine. On Monday, we do hill sprints. Tuesday is tempo, etc. etc.
Well what if I don’t FEEL like doing hill sprints on Monday? Do I do them anyway just because that’s what the plan says? And if I don’t do what the plan says, am I going to wrack myself with guilt because I didn’t stick to it AND worry that I’ll lose momentum?
Again – the “S” word…Stress. And excess stress ages you…period.
5. You don’t prioritize sleep, and will sacrifice it for the sake of getting a workout in
This used to be my schedule:
3:30am: wake up
4:30am: go to gym and run for an hour
5:30am: teach hour long spin class
8am-5pm: work in an office all day
5:30pm: back to the gym to run for 30 minutes or so
6pm: teach hour long spinning or “pump” class
7pm: teach “ab blast class”
7:30pm: home, hyped up from all the activity
11pm: bed, toss and turn all night, only to get up and do it all again the next morning
It’s NO WONDER my body was aging faster than it should! I was going on hardly any sleep, and the sleep I did get was not quality.
This past weekend in Austin, one of the girls asked me as we were winding down for the night if I was going to workout the next morning. My response?
“Depends on how much sleep I get.”
I prioritize sleep over workouts now. I know that white-knuckling my way through a workout when I’m sleep-deprived does more harm than good.
So, what in the world DO you do to achieve the delicate balance of “just enough” exercise to both aid longevity and get the results you want? We’ll talk more about that in the next blog post.