Did you know…exercise can be a stress on the body?
Yes, this is true. And like any other kind of stress, if it’s taken to an extreme, it can be bad for you. Bottom line: if you’re working out too much, too intensely, and even doing the wrong exercise for your body, you can cause more damage than good. But this will vary by individual based on the level of stress his/her body can handle.
This information is the perfect example of why everyone needs to better understand their bodies so they can make sense of why something they were told was good for them can actually be bad. Because when you understand the WHY behind something, you don’t have to listen to or follow the trends and fads you hear in the media.
Now to explain the WHY:
- When your body is under stress, it activates the stress response (aka fight or flight response), which is defined as “a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival”. The reaction to the stress starts in the brain, which immediately releases hormones (adrenaline, cortisol) that cause a number of reactions in the body in an effort to help you survive. Reproductive, immune and repair functions are halted because they are nor priorities in the moment. And as your body quickly prepares to fight or flee, a few other things happen: your pupils dilate (so you can see your threat clearer), various tissues are broken down into glucose, increasing blood sugar levels (so your body has energy to fight or flee), and your heart pounds and blood pressure increases (to send oxygen and blood to your muscles so you can fight or flee from your threat). But just like when you get nervous or angry and your heart rate and blood pressure go up, this intensity on the walls of the vessels can result in disease. The added pressure of the blood puts added force on the artery walls. Over time, the arteries can become damaged from the force, and eventually narrow because of the cholesterol that is trying to heal the tears on the overworked vessels. The resulting narrowed artery limits the flow of blood to the heart and the end result is that the heart is deprived of oxygen.
- Everyone is different and reacts differently to stress. When you think of a typical stressor – whether that be a conflict at work, finances, traffic – you already know that you might handle that stress differently than someone else. You might get worked up about it (heart racing, cortisol and adrenaline pumping through your body) while your friend might be calm, cool and collected. In this case, the stress response (and the subsequent release of hormones) in your body will likely be more intense than the one in your friend’s. I say this because the exercise that works for your friend may not be the exercise that works for you. Even Genomic Medicine (the study of a person’s DNA to provide clinical care) is teaching us that genetics plays a role in which type of exercise programs is optimal for different individuals.
So what does this mean to you? From my perspective, it means that everyone should be finding exercise that they enjoy, not exercise that is leaving them stiff and sore day after day. If we consume the right foods and treat our insides well, we won’t need to participate in intense exercises that leave us feeling the need to exert ourselves so intensely. Not everyone is made to do crossfit. Not everyone is made to do yoga. Do what you love. Use exercise as a form of movement to get your body moving and lymphatic system pumping, not as a way to burn calories or fat. Our bodies were made to move. As some fairly well known shoe brand once said “Just do it.”