Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your overall health — but it can have a dark side. Too much exercise can lead to physical injuries, stress, and poor sleep, to name but a few problems. Of course, the amount that constitutes “too much” differs from person to person. The trick here is to work out in a safe way while boosting the body’s ability to recover from exercise between sessions. Here’s how to strike a healthy balance.
Exercise is not just about physical fitness. It’s just one factor of many in your total body wellness. So, before you even begin to set goals related to your health, take a minute to ask yourself what you want out of your fitness routine and why you’re working out in the first place. Weight loss and muscle tone may help you as you seek body confidence. More endurance and flexibility may make it easier to play with your kids. More physical activity and better food choices may be the answer to mounting health concerns. Once you’ve determined the “why” behind your fitness goals, you can move on to the more practical aspects of achieving it.
It’s important to warm up before every exercise session. This will reduce the risk of injury during your training, as well as help your performance by gearing up your nervous system. For aerobic exercise, a combination of light cardio and light stretches is ideal, as Fitness Magazine explains here. At the end of the warm up, you should also include a few mobility exercises. If you do the same sorts of exercises over and over, your joints can “lock” into that range of motion, which can lead to problems down the line. Mobility exercises involve moving your joints though their full range of motion to prevent them from stiffening up.
Time Your Workouts
When you workout, and for how long, can have a positive or negative impact on your overall health. For example, spacing three, 10-minute workouts throughout your day may have better long-term benefits than one, 30-minute session when it comes to blood pressure management. But who has time to head to the gym that often? To make it easy to work out whenever you please, consider investing in a home gym. With the right equipment and furnishings, you can head across the hall to your spare room, outside to the garage, or down to the basement instead of driving all the way to the gym. As an added bonus, the convenience of having a workout space at home may make you more likely to stick to a regular routine.
Meeting Your Nutrient Needs
Exercise increases the demands on your body, so you need to balance that by improving the quality of your diet. One of the main problems to tackle is the loss of electrolytes like potassium through sweating — bananas are a great way to replenish this and are a good addition to your diet. You should also make sure you stay well hydrated after exercise sessions. For people who train at a higher intensity, you’ll also want to make sure you increase your intake of lean proteins, which your body will use to repair your muscles. Generally, eat whole foods and use a range of natural colours in your meals. Avoid processed foods, especially sugar and simple carbohydrates — as this Medium article explains, the energy these foods bring will quickly be followed by a crash.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
Physical training puts your body into an intense state of activity — muscles are working hard, your heart is pumping, and your nervous system is highly active. That’s why it’s important to balance this uptime with some downtime. The American Massage Therapy Association recommends massage as a great recovery option due to its ability to reduce muscle tension, promote relaxation, and help prevent injuries. Another excellent downtime activity is meditation. Not only does meditation help calm the nervous system, studies show it has a powerful effect on body and brain health when combined with exercise. It’s a good idea to do your meditation right after exercising to help your body relax.
It can be tempting to push your body beyond its limits in pursuit of personal fitness goals. While you do need to step outside your comfort zone, you don’t have to step too far. Pay attention to your body, and if you feel excessively fatigued or sore, dial back your routine a little while increasing your recovery activities. If you do this, you’ll be able to get all the benefits of exercise while minimising the risks.
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Sheila Olson of fitsheila.com