Grind Less, Flow More: When Your Exercise Routine Stops Serving You
My views on exercise have changed a lot over the years.
For a long time, I used to run long distances multiple times a week.
At another point, I used to go to bootcamp several times a week.
I also used to struggle with hormonal issues, insomnia, joint pain and leaky gut.
Revolution in my health began when I discovered that my workouts weren't serving me. The frequency, the high intensity, the time of day (evening), and the types of workouts in general, were further elevating stress hormones in my body. As much as I was enjoying the exercise I was doing, the consistent stress of the workouts fatigued my adrenals. My digestion and hormonal balance suffered because of this.
THE IMPACT OF ELEVATED CORTISOL
When cortisol levels are consistently elevated, your body is a chronic fight or fIight mode.
When your body is in this mode-- its sole focus is on being efficient and keeping you alive-- it doesn't digest well as your internal energy is flowing elsewhere (like to your extremities and your heart getting you ready to run and through some punches). It doesn't care about healthy fertility or sex hormones when it's worried about your survival-- in fact, it will steal the precursors to these important hormones to keep up with the high "need" for more cortisol.
If this is kept up for too long, high cortisol and stress becomes a chronic issue. This is when symptoms start to arise.
From fertility issues, to feeling all like "Libido?! Libido, who?!", to anxiety or crippling fatigue- the symptoms of chronic stress are so vast and common that we have a tendency to throw blankets over them and think of them as normal. Learn more about this here.
Cue- the root of so many health issues impacting our society today.
After intense evening workouts, I would be too elevated at night and I stayed up late. Because I stayed up so late, I was not getting enough sleep to recover fully before having to get up for work in the morning.
Stimulants would get me through the work day and afterwork, through another hour long, high-intensity, adrenaline spiking workout -- "my stress relief". After stimulating myself all day with caffeine and revving myself up with adrenaline before bed with the wrong kind of workouts, I'd wonder why I couldn't sleep at night. Ironic right?
When I look back, I see that I was a walking recipe for adrenal/hormonal disaster.
At the time, I always considered myself "healthy" and I was surprised by the symptoms I was experiencing... the anxiety, the restlessness, the bad skin, the terrible PMS, the brain fog, and the low energy. When I spoke to my doctor about it, the solution presented was the birth control pill and the reassurance that these symptoms were "normal" for a woman my age.
It took taking a step back for me to realize that working the extra physical pressure I was putting on myself was not only burning out my body, but also my joints (and I was still in my 20's).
I reflected on this a bunch.
I realized that this path was not supporting optimal health long term. If I wanted to enjoy exercising and feeling good well into my later years, then I better start respecting and taking good care of my joints (and the rest of my body) now... and stop burning everything out with high intensity everything.
These were some of the key changes to my routine that helped me quench the raging cortisol fire within:
- I started making sleep a priority (learn more about the importance of this here)
- I embraced morning workouts so I could spend my evenings winding down instead of amping myself up.
- I embraced yoga and more restorative workouts.
- I embraced faster, shorter runs and less intense strength building workouts.
- I made sure my diet was on point and balanced. (Get help with this here)
Even though I loved going for long runs and loved the community and fun that intense bootcamps offered, I discovered new ways to stay strong, fit and healthy while embracing better sleeps and happier hormones. It didn't mean cutting these things out completely forever either, it meant regaining balance and bringing them back in from time to time. It was about establishing that healthy balance and respecting my body.