The cold, damp, dark days of winter affect us not only on mental and emotional levels, but also on a physiological level – as the metabolism slows, weight is gained and we feel a general sluggishness, both physically and mentally. But as we come out of winter and enter spring, we start to get more physically active. In this newsletter, I will look at how physical activities can provide support and nourishment, rather than leaving us stressed and drained.
In our modern society, we like to push things to the max. The concept of less is more is not a readily accessible one. We tend to think that if we are not breaking a sweat when doing a physical activity, then it is not of any health benefit. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You don’t need to break a sweat or even go to the gym for over an hour, three times weekly, to achieve good health. While physical activity is a necessity for good health and wellbeing, too much of a good thing will have negative results on overall health. If you feel that you are forcing or pushing yourself to maintain your health or your weight, then you are already taxing your natural reserves.
If you check any of the following points, then your physical activity is having a negative impact on your overall health:
- Exercising outside in the elements without enough layers to protect the joints. The body has to spend more energy keeping itself warm – energy which can be conserved for more important matters. Repetitive opening and closing of joints, as in running, can let cold and humidity into the joints, contributing to future arthritic health conditions.
- Exercising too soon after a meal will stress the digestive organs by redirecting the focus from the gastrointestinal system to the musculoskeletal system. Anytime the digestive processes are hampered, the seeds of future health issues are sown. Any kind of physical activity should be done at least one and a half hours after a meal.
- Exercising before a meal or on an empty stomach will stress the system by depleting the natural reserves as the body tries to tap into them for energy. This energy should come from food sources.
- Exercising when the body is dealing with an acute condition such as a mild cold, or just feeling off should be avoided. It takes energy for the body to deal with and heal an acute condition. Failure to rest will create lingering health issues that will further tap the body’s resources.
- For women, exercising during their cycle will tax their hormonal system as well as general health. This is meant to be a time of slowness and self-care, although gentle movement exercises such as yoga, tai chi or walking are encouraged.
- Exercising after sexual activity is very damaging and taxing, especially for men. After sexual activity, we need to rest and replenish energy and resources.
- Exercising in extreme conditions such as extreme heat (hot yoga), extreme cold (Wim Hof-type exercises) or extreme dryness (desert marathons) is really only suitable for a very small percentage of people with “supernatural” fitness. While some people can train towards building up the kind of stamina and physical health needed for these extreme conditions, for the average person, these approaches can be very taxing and draining long term.
- Exercising vigorously too late in the evening and after the sun has set, will awaken the adrenals at a time when all our efforts should be geared towards calming our nervous system down in preparation for sleep. Moderate movement exercised are perfectly fine at this time.
- Exercising too vigorously in fall and winter will weaken the body energetically. In these seasons, we are meant to conserve energy and warmth while hibernating and going internal. Again, gentle movement exercises are great in the colder seasons to counter the contracting nature of the cold but also to ensure that we do have some mobility even at the time of conservation of energy.
Intensive exercises get our adrenals going by creating a stress response, which then makes us feel energized and elevated. The challenge with this is that we then get caught in a cycle of adrenaline addiction where we feel elevated when we exercise but somewhat down and flat the rest of the time, which then makes us go back to the adrenaline kick. In comparison, gentler forms of exercise such as moderate forms of yoga, tai chi, walking, Pilates or weight and resistance training make you feel good when you do them, but also good when you do not. This is primarily due to the fact that you are not pushing yourself too hard, or engaging the adrenals as the body tries to generate more energy.
The adrenals are our source of emergency energy for times when we need to fight or flight. If we are intentionally pushing ourselves on a regular basis in the name of exercising, our emergency reserves will be depleted, leaving us with no backup when we actually need it for life-threatening situations or health conditions. Generally, 15–20 minutes of a daily gentle movement exercise such as walking, tai chi or yoga is more than sufficient for the vast majority of people to maintain good health. It is also realistic for most people. Often, it is the thought of having to go to the gym for an hour or more that stops people from exercising in the first place.
Generally, the people who are very regimented with their exercise routines that experience more health issues: physical, mental and emotional. On the opposite end, people who are very sedentary and lack movement also experience health issues. A balanced lifestyle, dietary habits and mental/emotional wellbeing generally reduces the need for extreme and intensive forms of exercises. Such exercises help us force our way through congestion (physical, mental and emotional) but are not necessary if root causes of congestion are addressed first and foremost. Once again, the middle path is the winner and for our times the motto “less is more” is extremely pertinent.
Armin Madaninejad R.Ac