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Finding Your Fitness Balance

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Movement is such an important aspect of health, but you may be wondering how much and what types to practice. As is true with most wellness matters, balance is key. However, what  that looks like will likely vary from person to person. So let’s share some of the benefits and  impacts of different workouts to help guide you.  

 

Exercise is one of the most important things we can do for our health. A few benefits of regular  physical activity are that it circulates blood and body fluids, promotes digestive motility, boosts  energy, improves mood, productivity and calms anxiety. Exercise truly is medicine! In addition  to these broad benefits, many of us go for it to help improve our body structure as it is also  good for muscles, bones and maintaining a healthy weight. This is important throughout our  lives, but even more so as we age because the trend is for muscle mass to reduce and  metabolism to slow down in our older years.  

 

Most popular forms of physical exercise can be categorized as either cardiovascular (i.e.,  aerobic) or strength based. Cardiovascular is great for your heart, lungs, brain and stress levels.  This builds stamina and endurance and burns a significant number of calories. Strength training  is broadly any type of muscle resistance work and can involve balance or core strengthening practices. Examples including lifting weights, using stretch bands, barre, most forms of yoga, and Pilates. Resistance training improves strength and is key for building and maintaining skeletal muscle. Good muscle mass is so important because it burns calories and uses energy  while you’re actively performing the exercise, as well as while you’re at rest. When we stress  our skeletal muscles, they will have to repair and remodel themselves, and this consumes even  more calories. 

 

Relative to cardio, the body may not burn a whole lot of energy to perform resistance forms of  exercise, however having greater muscle mass can significantly improve one’s resting metabolic  rate. In other words, our bodies adapt to the needs we create for our muscles, and the muscles  that we have will become more metabolically active in response to weight bearing exercise. If  one only does cardio, the body will likely shed fat, however it’s also feasible that the body will  pare down muscle in order to be more streamlined for the exercise stressors that it is  repeatedly exposed to. A leaner and lighter body is better adapted for speed, after all.  

 

Studies have shown that the muscles of people who perform regular strength training have a  resting metabolic rate that is 5-9% higher than those who train only with cardio forms of  exercise. This may not sound like a lot, but it is substantial in terms of maintaining and  sustaining a healthy body weight. Ultimately, this helps burn fat and keep it off because the  muscles you have will become more efficient.  

 

If you’re worried about maintaining a sleek physique, resistance training will not necessarily  result in bulky muscles. Gradual, progressive training that rotates through different muscle  groups is a great approach for toning muscles and losing inches, which help the body look more defined but will not necessarily cause one to bulk up—the bulking aspect usually takes a  concerted effort, not to mention targeted nutrition. Because muscle weighs more than fat, one  may not lose weight with resistance training, but there will be a difference in physique.  

 

Obviously there are great benefits to including both aerobic and resistance exercise into your  weekly routine. But how much of a time commitment is necessary? For starters, consistency is  key, particularly at the outset. Regular repetition helps the body remodel and adapt. A typical  goal for healthy adults is 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week to improve cardiovascular  health, which translates to 30-45 mins, 4-5 days per week. If this works well for you, you may  want to move beyond this to a daily practice if you can. Finding a way to incorporate some  aerobic fitness activity into our daily lives is ideal, because moving blood is such a necessary  counter to an overly sedentary lifestyle. It needn’t be intense—just something as simple as a  brisk 20-minute walk is enough to yield benefits.  

 

When it comes to resistance training, expert advice recommends 30 minutes, two or three  times per week in order to see results. If you’re developing this as a new habit, there’s an inherent psychological benefit to being consistent with weights because you will soon begin to see the payoff in terms of increased strength. Mild muscle soreness will let you know that  you’ve made an impact. Seek professional guidance to help structure your workout and to be  sure you’re using proper form to avoid injury. This can have a very low price tag if you prefer— there are so many free videos available online to suit every preference. Working to develop your core strength is a fabulous place to start. It improves posture, balance, and helps relieve pressure on joints. 

 

It’s never too early or too late to begin, no matter one’s age. Children benefit by improving  coordination and developing habits and body structure that can last a lifetime. Older folks who are physically active benefit from improved cognition and better balance. Elders who are new  to fitness or have special considerations should be sure to work with a trained professional, at  least at the outset, to help understand one’s limits and get a handle on proper form. 

 

For people of all ages, moderate, regular exercise boosts the immune system, helps reduce  anxiety and has been shown to reduce inflammasomes. But the amount of exercise matters.  Pushing it too hard can actually increase inflammation in the body, dysregulated immune  function, and adds more burden to the adrenal system. Heavy exercise has been shown to  increase inflammation, muscle damage, oxidative stress, immune dysfunction for hours or even  days following prolonged intensive exercise. Running a marathon is likely to increase cytokines,  stress hormones and significantly decrease both the innate and adaptive immune response  markers. This makes sense when you consider how stressful this is for the body. Not to mention  that increasing inflammation and stress hormones can detrimentally impact our sex hormones  because they share the same parent substance.  

 

In other words, more is not always better, particularly if you are under a lot of stress or have  been feeling sick or run down. Likewise if you are trying to conceive, it’s best not to add  unnecessary stressors to your system when resources should be focused on fertility instead. 

 

Excess exercise will be too depleting. This may not be obvious to fitness buffs whose bodies are  accustomed to high performance because the more immediate feedback is the positive  sensation of an endorphin rush, but that is actually a stress response that masks the overall  impact of the exertion. Scaling back is often advisable for those needing to conserve or  consolidate reserves. This can look like a shorter duration (15-20 minutes is enough), a more  moderate heart rate, and or switching to interval training. A good rule of thumb for figuring your target heart rate is to first find your maximum by subtracting your age from 220, and then  calculate 75% of your max to find a good estimate for moderate.  

 

If after hearing all of this you’re still itching to get back to high impact workouts, have a chat  with your health care advisor about when is the best time to start ramping things back up. As  with most things in life, balance is key. Find a level of exercise that moves your blood and  boosts your energy without kicking in your stress response.  

 


Resources 

Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., Doyle, W. J., Miller, G. E., Frank, E., Rabin, B. S., & Turner, R. B.  (2012). Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(16),  5995–5999. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.111835510 

Iwata, M., Ota, K. T., & Duman, R. S. (2013). The inflammasome: pathways linking psychological  stress, depression, and systemic illnesses. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 31, 105–114.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2012.12.00 

Nieman, D. C., Wentz, L. M. (2019). The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s  defense system. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 8(3), 201–217.  

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009 

Paolucci, E. M., Loukov, D., Bowdish, D. M. E., Heisz, J. J. (2018). Exercise reduces depression  and inflammation but intensity matters. Biological Psychology, 133, 79–84.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2018.01.015

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