Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The ex factor

I do get a few odd looks when I tell people how much I love going to they gym .. but I don't think I'm as perculiar as some of my friends make out - I'd say amongst clients the number who need to do more exercise and the number who exercise too much is roughly equal.

I think it's because us city types can be very driven and don't do things by halves, so we can be a bit all or nothing. This means it's not uncommon to meet city folk who've been overexercising for sometime and suddenly find that their energy has crashed - and this is something that I've experienced. If I had my way I'd work out for two hours a day but on top of a busy schedule and without enough time to rest and relax I know this just isn't good for me.

The reason for this is that exercise, particularly high endurance or duration, is stressful on the body. This stress wears out our adrenal glands by making them produce too much stress hormones - and once they are fatigued all sorts of things go out of wack - thyroid function is impaired, immune function starts over-reacting (frequent colds and food allergies), we are no longer able to cope with stress (tearfulness/getting angry or anxious easily) and fat burning is reduced and sometimes impossible (you can exercise every day and not lose a pound).

On top of this, high intensity exercise produces alot of antioxidants in the body, this can impair immunity, damage cells, accelerate ageing and increase your risk of diseases related to oxidative damage such as cancer and cardiovascular disease ... "wow, exercise should come with a health warning!" I hear you say! My intention isn't to put anyone off from exercising but it is important to put some consideration into your routine and nutrition to make sure your exercise routine is being beneficial. Here's how:

- Never exercise on an empty stomach - the 90s trend of exercising first thing on an empty stomach to burn fat is a sure fire way to create stress in the body. Even if you just have a couple of bites of banana, a small amount of carbohydrate before exercise can move it from stressful to beneficial. Fruit and fruit smoothies are good for this, as is fruit juice if you can't stomach anything more solid.

- your muscles need two things to recover from exercise - protein and rest. This means having at least two rest days a week and not doing weights on same muscle group two days in a row. Along with regular rest it's also a good idea to have a full week off twice a year. As for the protein it's best if you can have this within 1.5 hours of completing your exercise. Good options are whey or rice protein mixed into a fruit smoothie, a tuna sandwich, natural yoghurt.

- after high intensity exercise - spinning, running, rowing - for more than 40 mins then it's a good idea to have some fast digesting carbs straight after - infact this is the only time you should have high GI carbs. These will lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and replace glycogen stores stoppingthe next day insatiable appetite for carbs you can get after an intensive workout.

- don't undertake intensive exercise over 40 mins more than once a week (a 1 hr gym class is ok with warm up and cool down and stretch). If necessary break up weights and cardio into two separate workouts. Exercising over 40 minutes can significantly increase stress levels reducing recovery and slowing muscle building and repair. Because of this I think splitting personal training sessions into two 30 minute sessions a week is more beneficial than having a 1 hour session.

- if you do exercise regularly and intensively make sure you counteract this will active relaxation, take a yoga class, have a massage and get plenty of sleep.

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