I am totally wiped out...what do you think about exercise? How often and what types of exercise do you recommend?
We get a lot of these questions from our clients.
We love movement and it plays an important role in our lives. But how often and what type fluctuates like Colorado mountain weather. The answer depends on so many factors, because exercise can range from being highly beneficial to highly detrimental to your health, especially if you are struggling with HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis dysfunction, also known as “adrenal fatigue/adrenal stress”.
More often than not, we recommend that our clients do not partake in metabolically costly exercises such as running, spin class, cardio class, and other intense exercises for 3 to 4 weeks (sometimes longer) while they are working on rebuilding their metabolic reserves.
In other words, metabolically costly exercises are high energy-consuming movements that borrow the body’s critical energy for repair and restoration from tomorrow, or sometimes even up to 5 or 10 years down the road (I’m speaking from experience!).
Think of your metabolic reserve as a battery.
If you don’t stop and recharge your battery, it will slowly deplete and eventually will shut off. And it takes time to recharge it again. Over time, chronic use of your metabolic reserve without proper rest and recharge will not only deplete your metabolic reserve, but it will actually create a dysfunction in your system. It’s like spending what’s in your bank account without ever putting any money back in.
This will lead to expensive penalties, like fees for overdrawing your funds.
Another way to look at overdrawing your metabolic energy reserve is what Chris describes as building up a revolving balance on a credit card with a really high interest rate and compounding interest. If you pay what you owe every month, there is no extra interest or fees you have to pay.
But, if you can’t keep up with your monthly payments, you know what happens—additional high interest rates and penalties that could possibly push you towards declaring bankruptcy. And physical energy bankruptcy is what often causes and perpetuates HPA-axis dysfunctions (also called HPA-D).
If you are experiencing the familiar cast of HPA-D symptoms—chronic fatigue, difficulty waking up in the morning, fighting infections, needing coffee to get through the afternoon, feeling dizzy when you stand up too quickly, difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, suffering from chronic infections, brain fog, mood swings, constant low back pain, and weight gain especially around the waist line that won’t go away no matter how much you exercise—your battery has been depleted and you are now borrowing your precious energy from your future and paying a high price.
You need to rethink what your exercise routine is actually giving to your system—a net gain or a net loss.
Our suggestion to “hold off exercising for a while” invites many different reactions, from “Oh good… I really would much rather go home after work and take a nap”, to “Seriously? I can’t do that! That’s going to make me fat!” And some say, “I feel energized after exercise and it wakes me up”, because their bodies are addicted to the short-lived “energy boosts” that they feel during and after the exercise due to the breakdown of their own muscle tissues to create surges of glucose (blood sugar)—it is something like taking multiple shots of espresso, with a high followed by a crash.
When you are constantly exposed to the cultural value that cherishes being busy and undervalues stillness, silence, solitude, pauses, and sleep, it is very difficult to hear your inner cry for rest, repair, and healing unless your body starts to shout at you with a megaphone (pain, injury, illness, disease symptoms).
We have been taught to charge ahead with “mind over matter” or “no pain no gain” attitudes, in order to keep going way past our physical exhaustion state. This is why HPA-D plagues so many of us these days.
We all know what our inner critic sounds like.
The voice that says to cut your sleep by 1 hour so you can go work out before going to work for 8 hours, because “you can sleep when you’re dead”, right?? The voice that makes you feel guilty if you don’t work out at least a set number of hours every week. And the voice that cuts through your exhaustion and paints the most horrific future in your head where you are overweight and feel like a total slob, if you don’t get on a treadmill or engage in hardcore HIIT exercise NOW!
I had a very loud and constant inner critic for years, so I ignored some obvious physical cries like being cold all the time, getting dizzy when standing up, or being completely exhausted in the afternoon. I often made myself engage in intense exercise, because it made me warmer and the catabolic reactions made me have extra energy for few more hours, despite the fact that I was essentially breaking down my own body to pay for my “busy” life.
But after years of being busy and paying the price for not listening to my inner body’s screams for rest, I literally lost the ability to walk and couldn't get out of bed for several months. Finally, I was forced to listen to my body, and recharge my battery that was completely empty.
Many of our clients are close to empty when they come and see us.
And they are so desperate to feel better that some of them will listen to our suggestions and limit their exercise to light walking, restorative yoga, tai chi, Qigong, or “doing nothing” for a short time. And with nutritional interventions and other lifestyle changes, they do start to feel better.
But, like the saying goes, old habits die hard. Some of our clients start to slip back into doing the same exercise routine as before, as their restorative program begins to boost their energy levels and they start feeling “better”. I can’t blame them for wanting to jump back into their old routine, because this is also what I did for years. Every time I started to feel better, I pushed myself too hard, and eventually I fell down once again, until I was totally depleted.
This is because it is much harder to hold that same level of charge once you have depleted your battery completely. It has taken me years to get my charge back to, say 80%, but I can no longer push myself like I used to, because like any battery, it is hard to get 100% of the charge back. This was a hard lesson to learn for someone like me that didn’t know anything else but to push myself literally into the ground.
Once you have experienced intense HPA-axis dysfunction, like I did, you will have to pay even closer attention to how, where, and with whom you use your energy, and how much reserve you actually have left in you.
This awareness comes from—in addition to eating nutrient-dense foods, taking appropriate nutritional supplements, and digesting well—seriously looking at your lifestyle and your motivations behind pushing yourself.
Ask yourself how you can support your wellbeing today, so you can continue to shine as who you are on this earth. And the quiet answer that comes from deep inside may surprise you.
As Aldous Huxley advised after 45 years of researching and studying human behavior, we all need to “try to be a little kinder” to each other and to OURSELVES. Treat your body with kindness, and it will return the favor with lasting health!
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