Exercise is NOT Optional...
and I encourage you to explore why you may want so badly for that to be untrue.
But it is, 100%, and this post should get your wheels turning on why.
Now, before I lose you, here is what this post isn't:
- It is not a post to convince you of anything (not my job).
- Nor is it to shame you for not wanting to exercise (human instinct dictates that resting is way better).
- Nor is it to suggest that going to the gym is the only form of exercise (because, of course it is not and I HATE THE GYM!).
Now, onto the heart of the matter....
Well, lets begin right there. The heart is this miraculous organ/muscle that keeps ticking at a steady rate all day and every night. It ticks up as you sip your coffee or have an argument, it ticks down as you rest or slowly exhale. But it thrives when you cycle it up and down through efforts like rushing up a flight of stairs to the office, or chasing your toddler, or pushing a heavy wheel barrow around your garden. Are these exercises? Yes, of course they are. Are they just a part of your every day? Yep, that too.
Why do I say it is not optional to cycle the heart this way? Because the heart learns how to cycle up and back down through your efforts on those stairs, with your toddler, or in the garden. This is important for when life's stress brings your heart rate up. You want your smart heart to naturally come back down when the stressor has passed. Otherwise you are left possibly on the edge of a panic attack, or high blood pressure, or angina. Your heart learns by practice that up is good, and down is better. Exercise is a great teacher here.
If you read my post a few weeks back on Calcium supplements, then you read how exercise is the BEST way to improve bone health. Supply and demand baby. Challenge your skeleton = a stronger skeleton. You can not eat your way to a stronger spine without exercising it! The Skeleton is a living organ in the body. It is a vital force in your immune function as well and in how your body responds to stress. I bet you never heard that before. But it is true, your bones are a key component in your blood cell production and is responsible for managing the hormones released and cleaned up during a fight/flight/freeze/forget situation. Healthy bones help a healthy body and exercise using your body weight or lifted weights is how you get there.
I know most of you may feel that people who exercise a lot do so for a thin or fit physique. Sure, but many of us do it to get strong and be able to do our own heavy lifting or to be able to have the endurance for all life throws at us. Also, some of us just enjoy it! All reasons to exercise should be respected as should reasons you aren't exercising, however, that still doesnt mean you get a pass not to move. (sorry, not sorry)
On to the muscular system and how exercise benefits beyond a fit figure. Having more strength in your muscles enables your body to utilize glucose far more efficiently which combats the #1 health concern in the U.S., obesity. This is a heavy topic (no pun intended), so I will leave many details out, but the fact is, the more muscle you carry, the more effectively you will process sugar/insulin/glucose. This is why "skinny" people may have elevated blood sugar. Being thin or heavy is not the bottom line. Being rich in muscle strength is how you can stay away from blood sugar concerns, high or low. Just like with the heart and cardiovascular system, your muscles communicate and learn about what to do with the sugars you ingest from all kinds of foods. The very best communication is low intake + repeated motion.
Along those lines, it is a misconception that the more you exercise, the more you eat. Actually, the more you exercise, the lower your Ghrelin. Ghrelin is a hormone that controls your appetite. The more Ghrelin = the hungrier you are. Conversely, with increased exercise, you produce more Leptin which is a peptide that the body produces when you have had enough to eat. The more Leptin = the less hungry you are. All this is to say, the 2 major players in hunger/satiety cues are governed by your fitness and once again how much muscle you carry.
Are you beginning to catch my drift? The body you live inside of REQUIRES you to move. It was built that way and there is just no alternative option. 'Objects in motion stay in motion' and all that is true for you, your body's systems, and pretty much all carbon life forms.
But maybe you say, "great, Marissa, but I work a ton and I am simply too tired to to this all the time".
Okay, then I have a follow up question for you (or a few actually)...
How do you sleep? Is it quality sleep? Do you wake feeling refreshed? Do you go to bed only to feel 'wired but tired'? Do you sleep through the majority of the night?
Exercise is a way to improve sleep quantity and sleep quality. I know every one of my patients and students are looking for more and better sleep. I hear it every day. The ones who aren't telling me their sleep is poor have a solid bedtime routine and much of that is supported by their desire to exercise the following day. They know exercise today = better sleep tonight = exercise tomorrow. While I recognize that sleep disturbance is a complicated subject, I am not to ignore the first simple solution, MOVE! Perhaps a blog post is coming soon on sleep hygiene.
While there are probably 100 reasons I could cite and back up for why we need to exercise, I will mention only one more here so you can get off screen and maybe outside for a walk. Mental Health. The elephant in the room that you may have been wondering if I would risk writing about. And, to state the obvious, I am NOT suggesting you stop mental health meds in anyway. I am am however suggesting you evaluate if you are also doing what is necessary for your mental health through the machine you were born into additionally to your medications.
Look, I am no dope. I fully recognize that Olympic athletes and weekend warriors get depression. I know couch potatoes who have a shiny outlook on life. But, for the common (wo)man, exercise has proven again and again and again to stand up to and better than antidepressant drugs. I will cite no references here, because there are too many, I will simply tell you to take on the challenge for yourself. If you increase your exercise, actually and naturally, every day of the week, will you feel better? Well, lets restate notes from above...
Your heart will beat slower and recover quicker with increased movement. Sounds like a way to manage anxiety.
Your bones will support your production and removal of stress hormones like cortisol,. adrenaline, and nor-adrenalin. Again, anxiety management.
Your blood sugar will rise and titrate down carefully and without cause for Hangry behavior or blood sugar crashes you may be accustomed to. This will leave you TIME to exercise as you will not be governing your schedule around meal times, but around sleep / wake / move times. Plus the absence of the Hangry and crashing sensations will give you a far more steady dose of feel good energy.
You will sleep. Mic drop. Only 5 year olds fight going to bed. The rest of us love a solid night of sleep and many enjoy a great nap in the middle of the day.
More sleep = better blood glucose balance = more muscle tone and bone structure = more energy for life
Last time I checked, this was the recipe for better overall mental health. Feel well, live well, repeat.
Okay, so now what? Are you going off to join a gym, CrossFit, a yoga studio, a Barre class? Maybe.
And/Or, maybe you are going to go take a walk outside and get your heartrate elevated in the sunshine or moonlight. Maybe you are going to actively clean your house and jog up and down your own flights of stairs in the process.
If you Google "ways to exercise", you get 2,320,000,000 hits. Somewhere in that vast # of suggestions are at least a handful of ideas you can get on board with and regularly practice. Keep in mind that staying active often throughout the day is as important as getting 30-90min of dedicated fitness each day. There is mounting evidence that shows when you are idle all day, as in not-in-motion, and then go all out for an hour at night, you increase the stress on the entire body system. As in going from 0 to 100 is just too hard on the body.
This point should not be frustrating. It can empower you because it says that each time you walk out to get your mail, walk down to the basement for the laundry, straighten up your child's room, take the stairs at work, walk to get lunch, carry your groceries yourself, scrub your own bathroom.... you are MOVING and it all adds up.
At the InHara System, I work one on one with clients all week in many ways including exercise. As a certified personal trainer, I help people to see that there is a way to move every body. The rest is up to you.
Time to GET UP and GET GOING!