“Calories in, calories out.” This has been the general rule for diet and exercise. The energy we consume through food has to be the same, if not less, than what we expend through movement. And while this still holds some truth to it, a regular exercise program incorporated into one’s lifestyle shouldn’t be as simple as burning whatever you eat.

When we take a guilt trip after an indulgent meal (or two), we try to make ourselves feel better by saying “I’ll just stay longer in the gym” or “Let me take that Power Yoga class over a Gentle Flow”.  And every year, as the summer season approaches, we work even harder, up to 6 days a week. Unfortunately, working hard is not the same as working smart.

Why slow down?
Our bodies respond to our environment and activities – including our workouts. Physical activity or exercise (when done correctly) causes micro-tears in the muscle tissue. These small tears are what cause soreness or DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) after trying a new workout or training after having been on hiatus for a while. One reason why we shouldn’t always go hard on our workouts is recovery. For muscle tone to develop, the body will need time to heal the small tears or “damage” on the muscle tissues. Thicker layers of tissue are formed as the body’s way of protecting itself from “further damage”, so to speak. Without active recovery or full recovery days, we do not give the body time to repair and heal its self. Pushing for one tough workout after another sets the stage for an injury.

Working out the stress
The stress we go through on a daily basis also matters when it comes to exercise programming. Women, most especially, are prone to hormonal imbalances caused by stress. And exercise is no exception to the stressors. Based on personal experience and the experience of female clients, high intensity workouts during periods of high stress can take a toll on energy output. Instead of feeling recharged, intense exercise when done in excess or during a stressful time (such as when going through relationship problems, trouble in the workplace, etc.) wears you out. Integrative Medicine expert, Dr. Taz Bhatia MD confirms this.  This is where our stress response kicks in – we tend to overeat, we get irritable and the hormones go out of whack, sometimes even getting our bodies to hold on to excess fat rather than burn it.

What can you do?

  • Plan out your workout regimen but be ready to make adjustments based on the amount of energy you have for the day. The general rule should be to get movement in for the day. It does not necessarily have to be an all-out sweat sesh all the time. Often, a 30-45 minute walk works wonders.
  • Make your movement program holistic, making sure to include slow gentle movements that train your mind to manage stress better along with strength-based resistance training for days when you have enough energy to handle it.
  • Keep in mind that the food we eat is meant for the body’s basic metabolic processes such as digestion, breathing and even as simple as holding yourself up when sitting or standing. It helps to change our perspective of exercise, seeing it as a way to improve our overall wellbeing, focus, clarity and performance, rather than a band-aid solution to burning off what we ate in excess.