You’re trying to lose weight, so you’ve gone to the next level with high intensity exercise. But your weight won’t budge, you catch a cold easier, and digestion isn’t as good as it used to be. Is over-exercise to blame? Believe it or not, you can actually get too much of a good thing. Exercise has a “sweet spot” – an amount and intensity that’s healthy for your body. When exercise leaves you feeling exhausted, unable to get good quality sleep, sore for several days, irritable and depressed, easily catching every cold that comes your way, then you are either exercising too often or with too much intensity.
Over-Exercise and the Cortisol Trigger
One of the benefits of high intensity exercise is it stimulates production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). When HGH levels are low, this stimulates the aging process – the last thing we want! Once you’re fit and healthy, HGH levels stay high, and you don’t need frequent spurts of it being produced. When you’re fit, recovery is more important, and recovery from some forms of high intensity exercise can be as long as a week. But when your body isn’t allowed to recover before hitting the gym again, it goes from a healthy growth hormone burst to a cortisol burst, and fight-or-flight kicks in. Basically, your body has gone from building up to breaking down. Once cortisol is high, it triggers a cascade of dysregulation, which affects mineral and electrolyte balance, blood sugar and insulin, sex hormones, sleep, digestion, immunity and more. And this means you hold on to that weight you are trying to lose.
Over-Exercise Causes Leaky Gut
Endurance athletes are all too familiar with a condition known as runner’s diarrhea. This is explained by a new study from the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. It showed the intense physiological stress from over-exercising increased intestinal permeability, a conclusion reached by similar studies going back 20 years or more. This condition is commonly referred to as Leaky Gut Syndrome. The intestinal lining is fenestrated, which is the Latin word for “windows.” Over-exercise triggers the gut to basically open its windows (also known as tight junctions), which causes inflammation by allowing whole proteins into areas of the body they don’t normally go. This inflammation triggers everything from allergies and the common cold, to inflammatory bowel disease and autoimmune conditions.
Recovering From Over-Exercise
From a young age, we’re taught the key to a long and healthy life is to exercise and eat right. We’re even given presidential awards in grade school for physical fitness. And while fad diets come and go, the push to be more active stays the same. But when we push too hard, we need help recovering. It’s time to recharge through a nutrient dense diet, healthy exercise, and supporting adrenals.
Diet. Because we love our comfort foods, we turn to more intense, longer duration physical activity to fight the battle of the bulge. But physical activity is only responsible for 20% of your health, the other 80% is your diet. An anti-inflammatory, low glycemic, nutrient-rich diet high in healthy fats is key to supporting healthy cortisol and blood sugar levels and bringing the body back into balance. Addressing leaky gut and restoring healthy flora are also important. Taking a probiotic supplement before workouts has been shown to help prevent leaky gut issues. If all of this sounds like a foreign language to you, Super Nutrition for Women is a great handbook for a healthy diet and The Gut Flush Plan can help you get your digestion back on track.
Exercise. Have you ever seen a wild animal jogging? It’s not likely. Wild animals walk long distances then sprint as they chase their prey, or run from being eaten. And they rest after the run. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a form of exercise our bodies respond well to, because it closely mimics exercise patterns found in nature and promotes healthy cortisol levels. Whatever exercise you choose, the higher intensity you exercise, the greater your need for recovery. Muscles have fast, intermediate and slow twitch fibers. The fast twitch fibers are activated during high intensity workouts, and can take 48 hours or more to heal and recover. The slow twitch fibers are activated during low intensity and slow exercise, and take half as long to recover. Adequate rest and recovery periods are as important as the exercise itself.
Adrenals. If you have adrenal issues, listening to your body is paramount to healing. This is how you develop healthy exercise patterns. While healing, intense or long workouts are to be avoided. Restorative yoga, rebounding and walking in moderate temperatures are the best forms of exercise while adrenals heal. Supplements to support adrenals are helpful when cortisol remains high or you feel like you’ve crashed. Healthy sleep patterns are essential, but may need support while circadian rhythms restore. Your body will tell you when it’s ready for you to return to more intense exercise – you’ll have more energy, sleep better, feel uplifted, have healthy digestion, and a desire for more activity.