Dr. Sara’s Exercise Report Card: Chronic Cardio Gets a “C”
Posted on 22 June 2015
It is no mystery that working out is vital to a healthy, happy body and mind. However, when it comes to physical activity, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Recent data shows not only do you not have to spend countless hours at the gym to benefit from exercise, but also that may be counterproductive to your hormones. If you have ever trained for a marathon or triathlon, you know that the traditional training schedule requires an amount of time that rivals that of a part-time job. Additionally, chronic and excessive long-duration training (over an hour) can actually have a negative impact on your health and hormones. I call long-duration cardio training by a specific name: chronic cardio. Even if you aren't training for a specific event or sport, racking up countless hours on the road or treadmill will likely trigger an undesired hormonal response, which is not helpful if you are already trying to manage chronic stress or adrenal fatigue. You are also at risk for overtraining and injury.
Spending countless hours at the gym to benefit from exercise may be counterproductive to your hormones and isn't necessary.previous posts, I addressed how an imbalance of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to fatigue, moodiness, muffin tops, and poor memory. It is important to remember that cortisol increases in response to an elevation in stress, both emotional and physical. The longer your workout, even at a moderate intensity, the more cortisol your body is releasing. The cardinal rule of hormone balance is to banish stress, not add more to your plate. When applied to your exercise regime, the idea is to be adaptive and resilient, and not to feel like your exercise is another source of stress. For some people, including me, chronic cardio raises cortisol too high and leads to an overactive stress response system. It’s like overstepping your fitness boundaries, and causing more harm than good. Here are a few signs that chronic cardio is not for you:
- You feel depleted after exercising
- Your muscles are sore, and taking a rest day doesn’t resolve the discomfort
- You’re exhausted and can’t sleep it off
- You feel you are aging too fast—wrinkles, memory, and stiff joints
- You feel like you need a massage every week
- You experience injury or can’t bounce back from recent injury
- Tabata squats: Do as many squats as you can for 20 seconds, that number of squats is your score. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for 8 rounds. Your final score is the lowest number of squats you completed in any round. So if in round 1 you completed 17 squats, but in round 2 you only did 10 squats, 10 is your new score. This can be done with push-ups, sit-ups, you name it! If you squat, be sure to use good form as women seem to be at greater risk of hemorrhoids from squatting, especially if you’ve had full-term pregnancies.
- Sprint intervals: Run 400m hard! Then rest and repeat for at least 4 rounds, keeping track of your time each effort. You can rest as needed; until you feel ready to hit the run hard again. Or you can shorten the rest to a specific amount of time. The distance can vary, 100m, 200, etc. Just keep it short enough to keep intensity high, so nothing over 800m.
- Weightlifting: There is a difference between lifting weights or sitting on a weight machine, and the sport of weightlifting. Weightlifting as a sport includes several different moves including the deadlift (it sounds kind of scary, but think picking up something off of the floor), presses (lifting things over head), and weighted squats. Check out a gym in your area for guidance on proper lifting technique.