“If I’m going to exercise it has to feel like I’ve worked out…..”

Raise your hand if you’re guilty?

Well, guess what? The plentiful benefits of exercise do not require you to surge your heart rate to extremes, sweat, feel physically drained or even out of breath!

Not only do we live in a high-intensity stressful environment where most of us will happily admit to a poor work-life balance, we also feel like we have to spike our adrenaline and cortisol with high-intensity workouts too. Or at least apparently many of us believe they’re the only workouts that “count”.

Now, I’m not saying they’re bad, I’m not saying never do them, I’m not even saying I don’t like them. I’m just saying that there are plenty of other ways to keep active and glean the physical and mental benefits from exercise hight intensity or not. This is especially true if high intensity is a) not for you or b) causing you more stress and exhaustion than it’s worth. I am saying that they’re not the only workout that counts! Newsflash – ALL movement counts, rest counts, sleep counts, it ALL counts.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record but it’s the most enjoyable forms of movement for you that’s going to be most sustainable in your lifestyle and have the most benefits – team sports, pilates, horse riding, yoga, walking, skiing, dancing, you name it, it all counts and it’s not about proving anything to yourself or others.

Something that came up in clinic the other day was exercising despite knowing it may be having adverse effects which it can, and also feeling like the exercise had to be “worth it” or “count”.

I thought it might be helpful to devise a list of red flags which may indicate when exercise may be doing more harm than good. Just FYI this is a list of things off the top of my head, not medical guidelines, although I’m sure there’s some overlap!

Red flags 🚩

🔻Exercising to the point of physical sickness, such as vomiting.
🔻Exercising despite illness or feeling physically exhausted.
🔻Exercising despite injury or pain
🔻Feeling guilty for missing exercise
🔻Putting exercise above all else – family, social, sleep, rest.

If any of these relate to you it may be worth taking a break, switching up your routine, confiding in an adult you trust or speaking to a professional.

Over-exercising can have long and short-term physical and mental health consequences. Excessive exercise in females can induce amenorrhea and compromise bone health. Constant high cortisol can affect sleep whilst the stress on the body can cause inflammation. There is some evidence excessive running can induce anaemia through depletion of iron. Not forgetting excessive exercise can be considered a form of purging. The guilt bound up in missing a work out can have significant impacts on mental health, whilst putting punishing exercise above family and friends risks social and emotional health.

Exercise is a wonderful thing but just like health there is no one size fits all. There is no specific kind of exercise that counts or doesn’t count and it’s important to keep in mind that like with anything, exercise in excess may do more harm than good.

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