How Exercise Can Cause You To Gain Weight

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Are you exercising too much?

Being in the health and wellness world for over 17 years, I have seen my fair share of exercise advice — push harder, do this new program, slow it down, lift heavier — the advice goes on and on.

Yet, proposing the question of how much is too much is rarely asked or even encouraged. It seems that the fitness industry often speaks to and caters those that are in need of that extra push. That extra encouragement. That little kick you might need to move your body and better your physical health.

But what about those fitness enthusiasts that are regularly pushing themselves? Or, those in love with high intensity competition? What about those who are already living stressful lives and want to incorporate the right kind of exercise?

They are a special breed when it comes to exercise, at least exercising the right way for the best results.

It is common knowledge that exercise is one of the healthiest forms of self-care that we can indulge in. Strength training helps to build muscle and cardiovascular exercise helps to keep your heart healthy. But, if you do too much of either of these, a normally healthy habit can begin to break the body down and, inversely, cause you to be weak and overly stressed. It doesn’t stop there…

If you live a lifestyle that is high in stress, this is going to compound and add to the extra stress placed on your body from regular intense exercise. It doesn’t matter if your stress is related to  work, family, mental health, or emotional turmoil — it all equates to extra stress in the body.

How do you know if the exercise you are doing is placing too much extra stress on your body? It is not always so easy to spot, but there are a few signs that do begin to present. When your body can no longer take the over-exercising, signs of overtraining typically creep in. Overtraining can signal the body to start burning muscle for fuel and store more fat, resulting in some weight gain.

Overtraining shows up as —

  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of motivation
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Muscle loss
  • Increased weakness

Probably not what you are hoping for with your exercise plan!

How Over-Exercising Impacts The Body

Over-exercising places excessive stress on the body. With this onset, your hormone levels begin to change — especially testosterone and cortisol (yes, women have testosterone too!).

Testosterone is important to help build lean muscle, increase bone density, and keep your heart and blood healthy. Having healthy, balanced, levels of testosterone are super important for gaining the results you want in your workouts. When excessive stress is placed on the body, cortisol levels increase and steal from your testosterone, throwing off your healthy hormonal ratios.

With the body’s delicate hormonal balance upset, it begins to signal to the body to burn muscle instead of fat. As a result, you may notice that the lifting of your usual amount of weights, running your usual distances, and performing the same type of exercises may be much more difficult than easy.

If cortisol levels rise too high and stay elevated for too long, the adrenal glands may become imbalanced and cortisol levels drop below normal. This is when weight gain occurs.

Your body has an amazing capacity to adapt, which is what makes your body so resilient.  If you keep demanding too much from your body, without the necessary rest and recovery, it will start to compromise and compensate in an effort to keep functioning.  Your stubborn body fat —especially belly fat — is just one of the ways in which your body compensates when exposed to too many stressors.

What You Can Do

Here is where I want to emphasis the importance of looking at the stress in your everyday life. Not every day will be stress-free — every day shouldn’t be — but it is about the flow of how stress enters, exits, and dances around the moments in your day. When you step back and look at the big picture, this will help guide you in the right kind of and right amount of exercise for you and your lifestyle in this moment of your life.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest), how much stress do I realistically have at work, at home, and in my personal life? List out the stressors if this helps you see the big picture more clearly.
  • How am I feeling right now (i.e., tired, sore, heavy, sad, stressed, light, happy, so-so)?
  • Would pushing harder make me feel better or worse? Would slowing down make me feel better or worse?
  • Can I give my body what it really needs?

You may be quite surprised to find out how much stress you unknowingly deal with on a daily basis. When you can honestly say how much “daily stress” you are experiencing, then you can step back and look at your exercise regimen. If your “daily stress” is high, then it might be counterintuitive to hop on the elliptical trainer for an hour. It is common that people who lead a more stressful lifestyle tend to gravitate towards longer cardio as a way to deal with stress — the inner push is already in their nature. Instead, try yoga or a stretching class to emphasis stress-relieving and add gentle movement that your body is craving.

If this sounds like you and you believe you are over-exercising, here are some places you could begin:

  1. Add in more energy balancing practices. Perform low to moderate amounts of exercise and save some time to do daily stress relieving practices, such as meditation, visualization, deep breathing, and journaling. You could even sign up for a Reiki session or other energy work to help you get realigned. This allows your adrenal gland hormones to begin balancing and it helps to stabilize your blood sugar, both important for properly functioning adrenals.
  2. Stop doing long cardio sessions. If you’re doing long cardio workouts, you’re only adding to the problem.  Long cardio eats away at your lean muscle mass which is essential for increasing your metabolism to burn more calories.  And it dramatically increases your appetite making you more susceptible to unnecessary snacking and over eating. Not to mention that it can create imbalance in your blood sugar, opening you up to more food cravings and inflammation in the body. Instead of long cardio, try doing short, high intensity workouts (i.e., HIIT programs).  These workouts are much more effective at promoting fat burning hormones that target your stubborn fat. It is important to mention that if you are already dealing with more severe over-training symptoms or adrenal issues, high intensity workouts may still be too aggressive for you at this time.
  3. Change the way you lift weights. Lift heavier weights at lower repetitions instead of lower weights for higher repetitions. Lifting heavier weights has been linked to increasing testosterone levels, therefore, helping to keep the hormone balance more, well, balanced. It will also help to increase lean muscle mass and increase your overall metabolism.
  4. Make sure that you are getting adequate rest. Recovery and rest are often more important than exercising.  If you’re feeling sluggish or drained of energy, do an active recovery such as an easy walk, hike, or a leisurely bike ride. If you’re really tired, take the day off! It’s during periods of rest that your body does most of the fat burning, so don’t short change yourself.  Proper rest and recovery means you’re enabling your body to burn more fat.
  5. Feed your body (the right way). The foods we eat can place large amounts of stress on the body. A diet full of sugar, processed carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats can place a significant amount of stress on the body and increase systemic inflammation in the body. Eat a well-balanced nutrition plan of whole foods that contain plenty of vegetables, lean proteins, high quality carbohydrates, healthy fats, and a few fruits. Plenty of vegetables and colorful fruits are also high in anti-oxidants (which helps to fight the negative effects of stress on the body)! Limit your alcohol and sugar because as the body become stressed, you crave both of these more!

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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.

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How Over-Exercising Causes Weight Gain (And What You Can Do About It!)

It is common knowledge that exercise is one of the healthiest forms of self-care that we can indulge in. Most of us know that we should do more of it. But how much is too much and is too much really a bad thing?

Strength training helps to build muscle and cardiovascular exercise helps to keep your heart healthy. But, if you do too much of either of these, a normally healthy habit can begin to break the body down and, inversely, cause you to be weak and overly stressed.

Unless you are specifically training for a competition and your nutrition and lifestyle is set up to support the extra exercise intensity that your body is receiving, you can actually begin to break down your lean muscle tissue and cause other health concerns. Nutrition, lifestyle changes, supplementation, and other habits need to alter in order for extra exercise to not cause as much damage — but, most of us do not change other areas of our lives!

When our bodies can no longer take the over-exercising, this is when overtraining typically creeps in. Overtraining can signal the body to start burning muscle for fuel and store more fat, resulting in some weight gain.

A few examples of how overtraining shows up —

  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of motivation
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Muscle loss
  • Increased weakness

Probably not what you are hoping for with your exercise plan!

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What exactly happens with over-exercising?

Over-exercising places excessive stress on the body.

And, with this excessive stress, your hormone levels begin to change — especially testosterone and cortisol (yes, women have testosterone too!).

In regards to exercise, testosterone is important to help build lean muscle, increase bone density, and keep your heart and blood healthy. Having healthy, balanced, levels of testosterone are super important for gaining the results you want in your workouts.

But, when excessive stress is placed on the body, cortisol levels increase and steal from your testosterone, throwing off your healthy hormone ratios.

When the body’s delicate hormone balance is upset, it begins to signal to the body to burn muscle instead of fat. As a result, you may notice that the lifting of your usual amount of weights, running your usual distances, and performing the same type of exercises may be much more difficult than easy.

If cortisol levels rise too high and stay elevated for too long, the adrenal glands may stop working properly and as cortisol levels drop below normal, weight gain occurs.

Your body has an amazing capacity to adapt, which is what makes your body so resilient.  But, if you keep demanding TOO MUCH from your body, without the necessary rest and recovery, it will start to compromise and compensate in an effort to keep functioning.  Your stubborn body fat —especially belly fat — is just one of the ways in which your body compensates when exposed to too much stressors.

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What should you do?

There really isn’t just one simple solution to over-exercising. It would be best to start looking at your daily life!

How much stress do you have at work, at home, in your personal life?

You may be quite surprised to find out how much stress you unknowingly deal with on a daily basis. When you can honestly say how much “daily stress” you are experiencing, then you can step back and look at your exercise regimen.

What kind of exercises are you doing? What kind of exercises do you need to do to support your body?

If your “daily stress” is high, then it might be counterintuitive to hop on the elliptical trainer for an hour. It is common that people who lead a more stressful lifestyle tend to gravitate towards, long mind-numbing cardio as a way to escape from it all. Perhaps, trying a yoga class or stretching class may be more stress-relieving and gentle on your already stressed body.

If this sounds like you and you believe you are over-exercising, here are some places you could begin —

  1. It is totally fine to use exercise to relieve stress! Actually, it is healthy. But, it is not so good to have it as the only form of stress relief. Perform moderate amounts of exercise and save some time to do daily stress relieving practices, such as meditation, visualization, deep breathing, and journaling.
  2. Put a halt on your long cardio sessions! If you’re doing long cardio workouts, you’re only adding to the problem.  Long cardio eats away at your lean muscle mass which is essential for increasing your metabolism to burn more calories.  And it dramatically increases your appetite making you more susceptible to unnecessary snacking and over eating.  Instead of long cardio, try doing short, high intensity workouts.  These workouts are much more effective at promoting fat burning hormones that target your stubborn fat.
  3. Lift heavier weights at lower repetitions instead of lower weights for higher repetitions. Lifting heavier weights has been linked to increasing testosterone levels, therefore, helping to keep the hormone balance more, well, balanced. It will also help to increase lean muscle mass and increase your overall metabolism.
  4. Make sure that you are getting adequate rest. Recovery and rest are often times more important than exercising.  If you’re feeling sluggish or drained of energy you can do an active recovery instead like an easy walk, hike, leisurely bike ride or if you’re really tired, take the day off.  Remember, it’s during periods of rest that your body does most of the fat burning, so don’t short change yourself.  Proper rest and recovery means you’re enabling your body to burn more fat
  5. Eat a healthy diet because when you are feeding your body junk, it places more stress on your body— therefore, increasing your cortisol levels and decreasing your body’s ability to function properly. Eat a well-balanced nutrition plan of whole foods that contain plenty of vegetables, lean proteins, high quality carbohydrates, healthy fats, and a few fruits. Plenty of vegetables and colorful fruits are also high in anti-oxidants (which helps to fight the negative effects of stress on the body)! Limit your alcohol and sugar because as the body become stressed, you crave both of these more!

Are you curious about how to manage the stress that can be causing more sugar cravings and indulgences during the holiday seasons? Get my instant download of the “5 Simple Morning Tips To Instantly Create Your Distressed Day” (It’s Free!)

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