Ladies, I've got a secret for you, and one that might change your life. Here goes:
Exercise isn't quite all it's cracked up to be.
Now, if you're not struggling with weight, fertility issues or outta-whack hormones, the advice in this post might not apply to you. But if you have or are struggling with any of these issues -- hear me out.
WHEN EXERCISE BECOMEs SELF-DEFEATING
Many women discover that the way they're exercising is directly conflicting with or even sabotaging their weight, fertility or hormone goals, both leading to and/or exacerbating imbalances in these areas (see more in the study + report links I've included at the end of this article).
When it comes to exercise, I find that too many of us women believe that we must do forced, formal exercise to the tune of "more" and "harder" for it to count or be worth our while. We may think that this approach makes us infallibly healthy. I think some of us elevate exercise to a state of near-holiness or exemplifies a coveted form of wonderwoman willpower + dedication. But the plain truth is: exercise doesn't make anyone holy. It also doesn't make us healthy if done in a manner that imbalances our weight, fertility or hormones.
Now, don't get me wrong -- moving our bodies frequently is absolutely essential in maintaining our fullness of health. I'm not advocating we become champion couch potatoes.
But we should investigate whether our current form of exercise has become a self-defeating practice. I believe this happens most often when exercise becomes part of our personal identity.
PROBLEMS WITH Exercise Identity Attachment
Too often, I see women whose physical health is suffering because of what I like to call "exercise identity attachment." My observation is that this attachment occurs most in runners, marathoners, triathletes, Crossfitters, dancers, kickboxers, weight lifters, body builders, swimmers, bicyclists, rock/mountain climbers, current/former athletes, fitness instructors, etc.
An exercise identity attachment is often not just rooted physically, but also at a mental, emotional, and/or spiritual level. When our preferred form of exercise feels like a central part of "who we are" it's become interwoven with our identity. It may be giving us a sense of freedom, release, belonging, achievement and/or community. We might feel physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually off, restless, or incomplete if we had to take a few days away from this exercise. Exercise identity attachment may not feel like much of a problem for us -- until it directly competes with or sabotages our health.
The hard truth here is that there may be times that our body just can't exercise the way we want it to and maintain its natural fullness of health and fertility.
When our preferred form of exercise begins to negatively impact our weight, fertility, or hormones, it can be can be hard to pull back, take a break and/or switch up our exercise. Our "exercise identity attachment" may make it extremely frustrating or challenging for us to accept that we just can't have it both ways. This can be especially difficult for us if we start to compare our current capacity to that of other women -- or even to our own past capacity.
So, HOW'S A GIRL TO EXERCISE?
Well...move. Not too much, not too little. Differently.
First, let's clarify something really important: there's a difference between movement and exercise.
Movement encompasses any state of physical activity. While movement certainly includes traditional forms of "exercise" it's actually a much broader term that includes any activity that takes us out of a sedentary state of bodily stillness.
Just because an activity is lower in intensity doesn't mean it doesn't count as physical activity.
Unfortunately, our modern view + practice of higher-intensity, forced bouts of exercise seems to have warped our thinking about this.
For women who want to overcome weight problems, infertility, lack of ovulation, hormone imbalance, adrenal fatigue, or thyroid conditions, I can't recommend most forms of formal exercise. This means no running, Crossfit, body building, heavy weight lifting, rock/mountain climbing, kickboxing, or competitive biking, swimming, dancing or other strenuous forms of exercise. It might even mean no pilates or yoga -- especially the heated, "power," sculpt, Bikram forms, etc. These forms of exercise are likely to be too stressful to the body to support a woman's health recovery.
Any time a woman is trying to combat weight, infertility or hormonal imbalance, she can support the natural healing efforts of her own body by getting a moderate amount of low-intensity movement instead of exercise. This would include activities like gardening; household chores; leisurely walking, hiking, biking or dancing; playing with and chasing after kids; cleaning/organizing; doing household chores; gardening; shopping; cooking; job-related physical activity; and heck... even that, err, fun "bedroom exercise" (hello bonus activity)!
I've seen the way a woman's body can change and heal when she switches to lower intensity activity -- focusing on movement vs exercise -- it's truly amazing and worthwhile!
EXERCISING AFTER OUR HEALTH BALANCES OUT
I know my recommendations against most conventional exercises while in a state of compromised health aren't bound to be popular or easily accepted.
But remember, they also may not have to be permanent changes.
It's entirely possible that a woman might be able to return to her preferred form of exercise after her body heals.
Each woman's body is unique. Some women can handle more intense exercise without compromising aspects of their health. Some women can't. Some women can exercise intensely at certain times in their life, but not at others.
She may need to step away from intense exercise until her body has a chance to fully recover, and at any time thereafter when her weight, fertility, or hormones warn her that she's starting to backslide toward a state of exercise-induced imbalance.
See my related posts on this topic:
other resources related to exercise + fertility/hormones:
- Fitness Magazine - How Exercise Affects Fertility
- US News Health - Trouble Conceiving? This May Be Why
- NHS - Exercise + Fertility Problems
outside resources related to exercise + weight gain: