We all need movement. Our bodies are designed to move, to exercise, and sweat. It's a good thing and it's what most of us are lacking in our day to day.
So why am I writing about exercising less for health?
There's a few reasons really and it's pretty simple but something we often don't think about when it comes to getting our sweat on.
Before I get into why less exercise can be a good thing, I know there are some of you out there who are rolling your eyes about this topic/title and I get it. I used to be you.
I used to be the girl that believed in pushing myself with my exercise routine. I used to love to see how far my body could go whether it be running, lifting, HITT workouts, and so on. I loved the high of, "Wow, I just did that, I feel so strong and healthy." It didn't matter to me if I was first place or last, what mattered is that I did it to the best of my ability, of course I got competitive but mostly with myself. I constantly wanted to improve on whatever it is I was working toward - running times, how much I could lift, etc.
Here's the reality. While yes, at times I felt so strong, athletic, and capable, I once pushed my body so much with running long distances, I caused my IT Band to flare up (this is the connective tissue between the knee and hip and it causes lots of knee pain). This set me back big time and it happened because of a couple of reasons. One - I was focusing on logging all these long distance miles running and not on strengthening the leg, hip, and glute muscles I was using for running causing the flare up. Two - I was forcing runs even with irritation because I didn't want to be bothered to stop for an injury which further aggravated the flare up until I could barely walk.
I was so annoyed when this happened because I had been training for some longer distance obstacle races and I didn't want my training to be interrupted for any reason. This narrow-minded goal took a toll and instead of listening to my body to correct the issue before it got so bad I could barely move, I decided to go with the "I'll suck it up and fight through it" mindset. Well, you know how well that way of thought works out. This injury landed me in physical therapy for almost two months, going through painful treatments to get my IT Band to loosen up and then lots of strengthening of the muscles I had been neglecting with very minimal running in between.
Looking back, here is what I believe was the underlying issue - I didn't truly want to be out on those long runs. I actually dreaded them at times even though I wanted to prove to myself I could make it that far and log all those miles. Even while I was out on those long runs, I was counting down the miles until I would be done and then I would be nearly worthless the rest of the day from exhaustion. My body gave me all sorts of signs that those long runs were not truly benefiting my health, but I could justify the long runs because hey, it's running - I was out burning calories and getting cardio. I was also raised through sports with the mindset that pain = you're getting stronger. *Insert face palm here*
My IT Band injury was a manifestation of sorts, my body's way of forcing me to reevaluate. When we push, push, push doing something that we don't feel good about, it eventually blows up for us in some way or another (this is not just true for exercising). For me, it was my injury with running. The good thing that came out of all of this was that by being forced to slow down, to go through the physical therapy, I surprisingly felt so much relief, not just mentally but also physically. I didn't HAVE to go on those long runs anymore because I simply couldn't physically do it at the time. I was forced to find movement in other ways and you know what? My body thanked me for it tenfold. I felt better slowing down and taking a step back from those long runs than I had felt in months, the recovery was epic and exactly what my body had been trying to tell me it needed for so long!
You see, slowing down, changing our routines, and moving in different ways than we're used to can help us relax and see that we can feel healthier and strong if we just stop and listen to our bodies. Of course, this is an ongoing practice of constantly checking in with ourselves and making sure we're moving in ways that we're excited about and that makes us feel good both mentally and physically which is a win-win. Dreading a workout and counting the minutes until it's over isn't a healthy way of exercising. When we let go of that rigid way of thinking about movement and instead listen to our body, we get so much more out of our workouts.
It's taken some time for me to learn this lesson but I find now that slowing down to walk instead of run makes me feel light and healthy. I still get movement and cardio in and best of all, I slow down and notice simple things I wouldn't notice on a run- like kids playing tag and laughing, birds chirping, toads jumping across the sidewalk, and those little things make me so happy. It's uplifting and I actually want to get outside and go for a walk - I don't dread it. Of course, I still run but now it's with intention instead of constantly forcing it and working against my body and that's the point. Intention counts!
So how do you exercise with intention and know how to listen to your body?
- If you're not excited about your workout and it's being forced - you're probably not getting the most out of your workout anyway and it's time to mix it up and try something new. Working out with intention means being excited to move.
- Feeling drained is a bad sign. Keep in mind that minor aches and pains are a part of getting in shape but this should NOT be something you're experiencing on a regular basis, especially the same type of pain over and over. If you do have an ongoing pain or injury, this is your body's way of telling you that it's being pushed too far and could use some TLC- maybe even from a doctor!
- Be open to changing it up on a regular basis. There are so many different ways to move your body and get exercise, ask yourself on a regular basis what you want to try, what sounds interesting, what makes you feel physically excited and then give it a shot. Always remember to check in with yourself afterwards to see how you felt about it not just physically but also mentally.
While exercise is essential to living a healthy life, be mindful of the type of exercise you're engaging with on a regular basis. Don't be afraid to mix it up and slow it down (or speed it up if you've been taking it slow for a while). If you've been doing lots of high intensity workouts, try some yoga and see how your body reacts. Running a lot? Try throwing some walks in there.
I firmly believe that life has seasons in all realms. We're constantly going through periods of transition and sometimes when it comes to exercise, less truly is more.