A pervasive theme among many in the fitness world is still too often: Get’er done no matter what. No excuses. Work now, rest later! The absence of learning how to listen to our bodies has resulted in problems like pre-mature aging, over-worked joints, brain fog, hard-to-lose fat, and thyroid dysfunction, just to name a few.
It’s sad to know there are still those who feel an extreme amount of exercise is what will yield the best results. Let me give you some freedom here, girls…it won’t. Before finding out I had Hashimoto’s (read my story), or understanding anything at all about thyroid health, I exercised far too much. All it did was wreck my hormones, cause early aging in my joints, and left me so fatigued I could hardly interact with my kids, or life, for that matter. Finding out I had thyroid issues led me down a road of being more informed than I ever would have been otherwise. Fast forward 15 years, and although I’m doing it right now, I’ll be working on reversing past mistakes for years to come. I would love to help prevent others from walking the same road.
Exercise Should Supplement Movement
For the rest of this blog, I want you to keep in mind that exercise should supplement movement, not the other way around. Movement is what we should be doing throughout the day. Think treadmill desk, standing while working, walking the dog, etc. 10,000+ steps a day remains a great guideline for daily movement. Rule of thumb: 10 minutes of movement for every 1 hour of sitting. A few days a week of exercise will NEVER replace hourly movement. Got in 10,000 steps today and 9,000 of them was your exercise class? Doesn’t count! Our bodies were designed to walk and move through space. Sitting for too long at a time increases your risk of developing diabetes, heart issues, and even cancer. Let me say it again, exercise is supplemental to movement. Movement is vital to longevity.
So what is the sweet spot when it comes to exercise? I’m a big fan of Minimal Effective Dose (MED). That is, what is the biggest benefit to my body in the shortest amount of time? Strength training is so important, no matter your gender, but for women, it’s absolutely crucial for hormone regulation. I’m not talking about deadlifting your weight, I’m talking about functional strength that will enable you to get up and down out of a chair when all your friends need assistance from their own aging kids. We’ll break down the specifics on time in a minute.
Women need muscle. Period. We need it for daily functional fitness, to aid in fat burning, to help regulate blood sugar, to increase metabolism, and bonus…it looks good! Lifting a combination of your body weight and actual weights will give you a great return on all of those things! A total body workout, 2-3 days a week (on non-consecutive days) will yield the HGH (human growth hormone) we are all after as the benefits are far-reaching, without taxing your adrenal system so you still have some energy reserves left.
Getting in your 10,000 steps throughout the day can look like the ideas we mentioned, but consider adding in walking at a brisk pace for 3 days a week for 30 minutes to an hour. Or a dance fitness class (learn more about REFIT® here), or some other form of movement that you LOVE. Doing your cardio in an interval style is a great way to train without taxing your adrenals or thyroid (unless you do it too often). Think of interval as a roller coaster for your heart. Your heart rate is elevated for a short time, then it’s allowed to come back down, and then it’s elevated again, and so on.
If you walk into any hour long class where cardio is the focus and your instructor has your heart rate elevated above 180 minus your age the entire time, you are going to pay for it in some way. It may not be noticeable immediately, but chronic cardio will more than likely make you run into issues with hormone regulation, eventually leading to possible thyroid disorder, compromised heart health, and increased production of cortisol making your body hold onto body fat, all while stressing other bodily systems. Your cardio should be enjoyable and leave you feeling refreshed, not beat down and worn out.
The Best of Both Worlds
Let’s go back to Minimal Effective Dose. How do we get the most benefit in the shortest amount of time possible? This is where HIIT (high intensity interval training) can be your best friend. The key to this kind of efficiency is to hit it hard while maintaining excellent form, which is pretty relative. For sedentary non-exercisers, this may look like 5 squats before they’ve depleted their resources and are winded with screaming muscles. For the more advanced, it may look like 20 jump squats holding a 30 pound weight. The point is to take your body, wherever it is, and push it to its near limit, wherever that is.
So How Often Should I be Exercising?
You have to learn what works for your body. There is no one size fits all, but there is certainly a good place from which most can begin. 2-5 days a week is my recommendation. 5 DAYS? Isn’t that too much based on everything you just said? Yes and No. Yes if your training is lasting 1-2 hours. No if it’s lasting 10 minutes or so. The key is to hit it hard, while maintaining excellent form, to get the most benefit in the shortest time. This is the approach in my Fit Chix on Demand online workouts.
When To Say No
Listen to your body. What my classes never hear is “Just push through, no matter what!”. What they have often heard is, “Go Home”! If you have a bad night’s sleep and then push through a hard workout, you are not doing your body any favors. Energy has to come from somewhere and sleep is paramount to energy. If you are out of those reserves, your body will pull from other vital organs, glands, or whatever is available. You don’t have unlimited resources, so learn to listen to your body and give it what it needs. The same holds true if you are sick. What you will be using up to get you through that tough workout is best spent on healing your compromised immune system.
But Wait! What about my hour long HIIT class?
Group classes have benefits that reach beyond the workout and many of us have made lasting friendships through the community provided. I’ve got good news. You can still enjoy this class IF you can take care of yourself in the following ways:
- Keep it at a maximum of 3 days a week
- Skip it if you feel exhausted from lack of sleep or body weariness
- Don’t do any other long, difficult workouts on your off days
- Back off if you start feeling brain fog, ongoing fatigue, or consistent lack of sleep
- Basically, listen closely to your body…it’s always talking to you.
As women, we can sometimes be all or nothing, and finding the balance and the grace to say no when it’s necessary can make us feel like we are failing. We’re not. We need to re-wire our thinking here because it will change our joints, our metabolism, our sleep, and our lives if we do! Ok, now it’s time to go get your workout on, …or is it?
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