Exercise, Stress, and Anti-Aging

As New Year goals are in full swing and the floors of the gym are packed tight with resolutioners, exercise is a much talked about topic right now. How much should I do? What should I do? How will I motivate myself? These are the big questions!

As important as these questions are, knowing what your goals are and what you want to achieve is even more important. This is the million dollar question!

Emotional and mental stress is typically the first place that we think of when we think of being under stress or having a strain on our day. What if I told you that stress goes much deeper than that? Stress can also come from the physical activity that we engage in. Some of that stress is vital for improving cardiovascular, pulmonary, and skeletal health, but too much of a good thing can be damaging.

This is why it is so important to know your long-term goals. If your life purpose or your bucket list is to run a marathon, then your training and exercise will consist of more aggressive cardio and lighter strength sessions. If your goal is to reduce stress and increase your anti-aging success, then long and aggressive runs may not be exercise-induced stress that is right for you.

What Is Stress?

Stress is produced through many pathways – physically, nutritionally, emotionally, and environmentally. It increases the production of cortisol, the stress hormone created to deal with stressful situations. Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands to signal to the rest of body that energy must be conserved.

Since skeletal muscle is the most inefficient tissue in the body when it comes to energy storage, cortisol will cause the stressed body to turn on its muscle stores as its first possible source of energy. What does that mean? Muscle gets broken down.

Fat, on the other hand, is the most energy-efficient tissue in the body. So, because fat is so efficient for energy, cortisol slows down your thyroid to conserve fat stores. Simply put, high stress breaks down muscle and stores extra fat. Since more lean body muscle keeps you burning more calories throughout the day, muscle is NOT something you want to lose!

If one of your goals is to lose body fat, then this is important to know. Keeping your cortisol levels from spiking for long periods at a time will help you lose that body fat.

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Exercise, Stress, and Anti-Aging

You already know that exercise is good for you. It’s not ground-breaking news that proper exercise has a lowering effect on cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin levels, stress levels, heart disease risk, osteoporosis risk, and of course, weight. Or that it can help maintain vital hormones, increase oxygen utilization, and boost metabolism. It keeps you healthy! You trust that avoiding a sedentary lifestyle will slow down the process of aging. But what if you were to hear that excessive exercise actually has the reverse effect, accelerating visible signs of aging?

Research from the University of Valencia Department of Physiology determined that when exercise is exhaustive, it increases the oxidation of glutathione in the blood, leading to cellular damage. It also puts an undue stress on many parts of the body, including the skin, which results in wrinkles and sagging. Damage can be prevented with regular intake of the vitamins A, C, and E. The body needs the right amount of antioxidants to help remove toxins and reduce oxidative damage, which is magnified when worked out to an extreme.

If your goal is to live a long life of vitality, then extreme workouts may not be your best bet.

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Are You Overtraining? 

Understanding exactly how much to exercise can be tricky. No activity is worse than some, while too much may be worse than none at all. The ideal lies somewhere in between — though not necessarily in the middle, but rather smack dab in the “just enough” section. And this is very dependent on your goals and your body’s needs. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), some signs that you may be over stressing the body are:

  1. Decreased performance. Slower reaction times, reduced speeds and lowered endurance levels are all common signs of overtraining.
  2. Agitation, moodiness, irritability or lack of concentration. Too much exercise and too little rest can wreak havoc on the hormones and cause mood swings and an inability to concentrate.
  3. Excessive fatigue and malaise. A body that never has a chance to fully recover from a previous workout will continue to feel more and more fatigued. Some people describe this feeling as “heavy legs.”
  4. Increased perceived effort during normal workouts. Overtraining takes a toll on the body, and workouts that were once a breeze can begin to feel like a grind.
  5. Chronic or nagging muscle aches or joint pain. Overused muscles and joints can cause constant aches, which may go unnoticed until the body is given proper rest.
  6. More frequent illnesses and upper-respiratory infections. Too much exercise taxes all of the body’s systems and makes it more difficult to ward off infections.
  7. Insomnia or restless sleep. During sleep the body has time to rest and repair itself. An overtrained body, however, is sometimes unable to slow down and completely relax, making it difficult to recover between workouts.
  8. Loss of appetite. Overtraining can cause an increase in hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine that tend to inhibit appetite. The physical exhaustion and anxiety that often comes with overtraining can also have the same effect.
  9. Chronically elevated heart rate at rest and during exercise. A clear sign of an overworked heart muscle is a chronically elevated heart rate. Also, people who overtrain will often find that it takes longer for their heart rate to return to normal after a workout.
  10. Menstrual cycle disturbances in women. Exercising excessively and not consuming enough calories may disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle. While some may experience irregular periods, others will stop menstruating altogether.

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5 Ways To Approach Exercise For Life-Long Health and Vitality

  1. Consistent bodywork: It is easy to forgo your post-workout stretches or rationalize why stretching is not that important. For less pain, decreased inflammation, and future injuries, staying consistent with varied bodywork practices is key to staying active and creating better results, regardless of your current goal. This includes simples static stretches — low back twists, hamstring stretch, doorway chest stretch, etc — and dynamic stretching, such as body squats or alternating knee raises. But it doesn’t stop there. Bodywork also includes routines like Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, or simply going for a walk. This area focuses on using your body, but in a less stressful way than a more aggressive cardio routine or strength session at the gym. Foam rolling is also an excellent bodywork technique that helps to not only massage the muscles, but also to loosen up any fascial adhesions that may be limiting your mobility. A tight body is a painful body!
  2. Proper rest-work relationship: Real body growth happens in the rest portion of a workout plan. So often, proper rest is overlooked in hopes of gaining more active body enhancing time. Make your rest times reflect your workout times. Have an extra hard workout one night? Skip the gym the next morning and focus on a restorative yoga routine instead. Went for a walk instead of your normal run one morning? Hit the weights and perform a solid strength training routine the next. Just like any other area of life where you work to manage stress, listen to what your body needs. Which leads us into the next…
  3. Listen to your body: What does your body need? Regardless of your goals, listening to what your body needs is key. If you have a nagging injury or super tight muscles, spending more time focusing on creating a strong foundation of flexibility and restorative work may provide better results than focusing on another pavement pounding run. If your goals require you to train more intensely, then listening to your body is even more important. Does it need some cryotherapy or thermotherapy to help with muscle soreness and pain? Do your sore knees need some extra stretching and lavender oil to help decrease pain and inflammation? Your body tells you what it needs. Are you listening?
  4. Evaluate your goals: One season of your life may bring a certain list of goals, while in another season of your life, those goals are just not that important. It’s ok to want to push yourself to do that marathon or to win a CrossFit competition. But are the goals the same month after month and year after year. Not only will you get to know yourself and keep yourself interested in exercise, but you will also be more likely to promote vitality and anti-aging if you are ebbing and flowing between more or less aggressive exercise goals throughout your life.
  5. HIIT or Tabata training: High-Intensity Interval Training or Tabata Training are excellent for a good butt-kicking workout, but also to limit the prolonged stress placed on your body at once. Short clips of intense exercise dispersed throughout timed clips of recovery put small amounts of stress on the body in a compounded state. Much less damage on a cellular level and less prolonged spiking of the hormone, cortisol.

HIIT Example

Unless you are training for a specific athletic event, keep your cardio sessions under 45 minutes and your total training sessions an hour or less, performing under 5 sessions a week, and varying the type and intensity of the cardio that you perform. Interval training is an excellent form of cardio to fit into your workout regimen 1-2 times per week. You can do interval cardio sessions or you can do interval training sessions that incorporate cardio and strength. Try this interval workout by picking any form of cardio equipment that keeps you motivated and inspired.

1.Warm-up for 5 minutes at an approximate speed of 3 mph at a resistance level of 1-2.

2. Increase your intensity by increasing your speed and resistance levels for 7 minutes at an RPE of 6-7.

3. Perform the following exercises:

  • Lunges (with or without weights)
  • Squat with bicep curl and overhead press
  • Push ups ( knee or regular)
  • Burpees with jump
  • Bicycles
  • Bent over row (with dumbbells or bands)
  • Dips off chair or bench

**perform 10 repetitions of each as a circuit

4.Perform 7 minutes of moderate intensity cardio with a RPE of 6-7.

5. Repeat circuit in step #3.

6. Perform 6 minutes of moderate intensity cardio with a RPE of 6-7.

7. Repeat circuit in step #3.

8. Decrease intensity to complete a 5 minute cool down. RPE should be 1 or 2.

** RPE: Rate of Perceived Exertion- subjective rating assigned to your intensity
level of your exercise based on how hard you perceive the activity is. Scale is
1-10 with 1 being “very easy” and 10 being “very very hard.”

All of this research runs counter to what we’ve been taught all along about keeping fit to stay young and healthy. Of course, it shouldn’t be interpreted as an excuse to avoid exercise entirely. But perhaps there is a threshold when healthy, moderate exercise spirals toward detrimental, excessive exercise. This limit is unique for each individual, as is the rate of visible aging and physical decline. The best we can do is to respond to our bodies and practice moderation. Even with exercise, you can have too much of a good thing.

Did you find this helpful? Comment below and tell me your favorite part of this article!


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