The Importance of Low Cortisol Physical Activity
Sometimes in our quest for health, we veer off course and make it all about burning calories. Fitness and health are not about burning calories. Although that will be a part of the equation if our goal is to lose weight but it cannot and should not be our end all, be all of our daily goals. It makes for misery and creates an obsession with control.
When we are talking about any long term journey, it helps to be both process and goal oriented at the same time. That is, you can see the forest, the trees AND the leaves. We are focus on our goal of changing our body composition (lose fat, gain muscle) and we are focused on the process of acquiring skills to make that goal happen (reading food labels, making healthy dessert substitutes, learning to order health meals at a restaurants, teaching out children about nutrition, learning to cook, learning portion sizes). We can say this with all long term goals: you have to keep the end in mind and make every movement forward count toward that goal.
If, on a weightloss journey, we stay only goal oriented we will drive ourselves mad. You cant keep thinking about calories in and calories out. Fitness will become poison rather than an enjoyable activity to blow off some steam, zone out, and enjoy being in our body. It will morph into something resembling a physical math equation that has one purpose: to burn calories.
The truth is, we don't want a workout to burn calories. We want a workout that builds muscle - and that muscle will cal burn calories all day long.
Getting caught up in chasing the calorie burn will inevitably burn us out as well. This has you going to pump and burn classes, HIIT classes and daily runs. I see many women often doing two workouts a day on top of all their other responsibilities. While this is fine for someone in their twenties, by the time you are 35, this stress will catch up with you. It is wholly unnecessary to make a routine of going for a morning run then hitting a class later in the day. Nor is it necessary to blast yourself everyday with a tiring workout that leaves you sore and sweaty everyday. We can probably fine tune your routine so that we are getting more results with less effort.
One of the biggest changes I make in every fitness routine I come across is work on getting women to participate in a low cortisol activity. Where lifting weight super hard, HIIT class and running are high cortisol (high stress) physical activities, a low cortisol physical activity would be something like walking, gentle yoga, and moving meditations (tai chi, light gardening).
This is usually a shock for women. “Why is she having me just walk???” Well, for many reasons, really. Most women I talk to are frustrated and burnt out. They keep chasing and chasing this fitness goal without luck. They wake up, slam some coffee to get juiced up for their day. They are ramped up at work or home taking care of what they need to. Then they go to the gym and get even more ramped up to workout and burn as many calories as possible. Then come home and have to take care of some more responsibilities before bed.
Where in there is room for just relaxing and enjoying the day? Where in there is you down time before you have to pump it back up again?
This constant up regulation is a serious problem and can lead to hormone issues and stress in the long run. It is also garbage for your temper, patience and relationships. Being regularly involved in a chill physical activity can offset a lot of these issues.
And the physical benefits of walking are great. Walking improves posture, improves cardiovascular conditioning, and burns calories without making you hungry. As appealing as that last on is for the control freaks, I really want to stress the importance of the first. We have a serious posture and spine issue int he modern world. Nearly everyone I meet has back and neck pain. This can be fixed by a simple 20-40 minute daily walking habit.
Walking also acts as a moving mediation. It is one of the oldest form of exercise we have. The rhythmic motion is easy to get lost in and frees your mind to relax and subconsciously solve problems. I recommend starting each walk out in 10 minutes of silence at least. My own walking habit is a daily 50 minutes early in the morning, usually in silence. I like to walk until I am not thinking about anything. This is marked by me just singing in my head. Some times I turn on a podcast, but usually I don’t. I treat the walk as meditation and posture improvement.
These low cortisol activities are many times the missing link in our weightloss, fitness, and health journeys. I have seen lives, mindsets and scaled changed just by picking up a simple walking habit. You can even listen to a podcast if you like. There are no real rules.
But find something. Get in a habit of throttling back every once and a while (*cough* around your period *cough*) and replacing your workout with some gentle exercise. Develop a habit of going for walks everyday. You can take the kids or the dog or just go by you wonderful self. You may be tempted to run, but take this time to purposely relax and move.