You might think that working out could never possibly become an unhealthy habit, but that’s actually not true. If your goal in life is to run every marathon in the world before you turn 50, I’m going to guess that you rarely take the time to put your feet up and simply relax. But relaxation is one of our best ways to combat stress, and if you’ve ever read about the horrible things that stress can do to your body, you know that it’s simply terrifying. For overall well-being, continue working out, of course, but make sure you prioritize relaxation and self-care.
Dangers of too much exercise
Believe it or not, less can truly be more when it comes to working out. Studies have shown that people who engage in light to moderate exercise have a lower risk of dying than people who engage in intense exercise. It makes sense when you look at the actual effects of too much exercise on your body.
Endurance exercise, like long-distance running and triathlon training, put your heart at risk by thickening the muscles in the heart, causing arrhythmias and even inducing sudden cardiac arrest. It also can make your body go into a catabolic state, when your body starts breaking down its own muscle and tissues in order to find energy. Also, because extreme exercise literally stresses out your body, it releases excess cortisol, which wreaks havoc on your body.
But what if you exercise in order to de-stress? Just as long as you remember to not overdo it, you can still de-stress, as opposed to cause stress, through exercise. Also, if your de-stressing fitness routine is part of your recovery from addiction, it’s even more important to not overdo it. Exercise can be a great way to practice self-healing when in recovery, but you don’t want to replace one addiction with another one or experience burnout.
How to workout instead
One form of exercise that is surprisingly more heart-healthy than endurance training is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), in which you alternate short bouts of intense activity and active rest periods. HIIT workouts provide all of the benefits of moderate exercise, accomplish them in less time and strengthen the heart without stressing it out.
If HIIT workouts aren’t your thing, then stick to a basic routine of three to four 30-minute moderate workouts a week.
Take advantage of the many benefits that relaxation offers your body. It lowers your blood pressure and your risk of heart attack and stroke. Relaxation also reduces your inflammation levels and strengthens your immune system, improves your memory and even wards off depression.
You may feel you don’t have the time to relax, but you can and must make time for it. Go for walks, during which you do not think about how many calories you’re burning. Read a book. Take a nap. Meditate. Listen to some soothing music. Watch a movie. Spend time with friends. Go hiking in nature. Take a vacation. It may sound cheesy, but light some candles and treat yourself to a bubble bath. You deserve it — and your mind and body need it.
Do yoga, tai-chi or qi-gong
If you truly can’t stand relaxation, chill out while you workout! Yoga can be a great form of relaxation. For ultimate relaxation, choose yin yoga, gentle Hatha flow yoga or restorative yoga rather than the more intense Bikram or Ashtanga yoga. Or, try a meditative martial art such as tai-chi or qi-gong.
So many of us have a “Go, Go, Go” mentality, where we wake up, go to the gym for two hours, work from 9 to 5 or even later and then wake up and do it all over again. What we don’t realize is that we are stressing our minds and bodies out. It’s important to practice self-care by literally chilling out. For the sake of our overall well-being, we need to stop overdoing our fitness routine and start taking the time to relax, however we choose to do so. Our bodies will thank us for it.
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