We all know that exercise is the hallmark of a healthy lifestyle. A good blend of cardio and weight-bearing exercise helps maintain or reduce weight and is good for cardiovascular health. Exercise is also a wonderful stress reducer since feel-good chemicals called endorphins are released by your body when you exercise. We’ve all heard of a “runner’s high.” We see all the fitspo’s on social media touting the benefits of their particular fitness regime. We hear our practitioners and leading wellness professionals urging Americans to get in their exercise.
But what about times when your body NEEDS healing? What about those times when you feel energetically run-down? What about the times in life when you’ve started a major life-change or a new wellness protocol?
Is a good sweat session at the gym exactly what you need? Or does your body need something else?
While a good sweat session can be very therapeutic, when your body is under stress in the case of illness, HPA Dysregulation (aka adrenal fatigue) or even mental stress, a lighter approach is necessary. It seems counterintuitive, but when you’re trying to heal your body, vigorous exercise can actually do more harm than good. Stress, whether it’s emotional or physical, releases cortisol and when you partake in intense exercise your body releases cortisol as well. In the case of an HPA Dysregulation the last thing you need is an another surge of cortisol or other stress hormones.
Don’t worry! There are many activities you can choose that will keep your body moving in a gentle way.
I remember my devastation when I started my healing journey four years ago and was told to stop exercising. Up until that point I was participating in Crossfit and maintaining a heavy workload. At first, only being able to do restorative exercising seemed like a drudgery. But once I embraced it I found a whole new appreciation for the slower forms of exercise.
Healing Exercise Examples:
You don’t have to do a 10 mile run to get a good cardio workout. Walking at a fast pace (aka power-walking) can be just as beneficial to your heart as a good run, but with much less physical impact on your body. Walking is easier on your joints. Studies are showing that people who walk while listening to light-hearted podcasts (like Everyday Wellness) are reducing their cortisol outputs at great rates. Try walking at a fast pace—fast enough to where you can’t talk without being out of breath— while pumping your arms. Do this for at least 30 minutes, 4-5 times a week and you’ve got a solid cardio routine. If you’re a runner, you might scoff at walking, but remember – race walking is an Olympic sport!
Your grandma was on to something with those water aerobics classes! Swimming is the ultimate low impact exercise that is gentle on the joints. It is a common physical therapy modality for many. Swimming provides an aerobic workout that works every muscle in your body … this is why a “swimmer’s body” is an eviable physique! There is just something so healing about the water. Something happens on an another level when we submerge ourselves in water and let the stress of our lives slide away. Whether you calmly glide through the water or concentrate on faster-paced strokes, your body will benefit from swimming.
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial arts tradition that is now practiced as a form of exercise involving a series of movements accompanied by deep breathing. Often called meditation in motion, Tai Chi is a well-known stress reducer. The health benefits of this weight-bearing exercise are numerous and include improving balance and flexibility, fall prevention and acting as a mood booster. Tai Chi is wonderful for people of all ages and fitness levels. Check with your local Parks & Rec department to see if they offer any group meet ups, you could make a few new friends and gain health benefits.
Yoga is my personal favorite! Yoga is now so main stream that you can learn more and start a practice right this very second. Doing even a little yoga every day can make a huge impact in your overall health. There is Vinyasa Flow, Hatha Yoga, Hot Yoga, but I would suggest starting with Yin Yoga. This is a gentle, basic style of yoga that focuses on individual poses and deep focus on the breath. Many local libraries host yoga classes, there are yoga studios nation wide but most accessible is the internet. You can find free yoga sessions from expert yogi’s on YouTube and other search engines. There are free yoga apps for your phone, books, magazines and more all dedicated to Yoga! Dust off that Yoga mat you’ve got stashed in the back of your closet and get your practice going!
You may experience headaches, sore shoulders, sore back, maybe even a stiff jaw that happens when you’re particularly stressed. That’s because stress makes your muscles tense up and become sore! Stretching is a great way to combat this issue. I try and stretch as much as possible, fitting it in whenever I can. It’s easy to do a stretch here and there when you’re doing chores or even when you watch TV. Of course yoga is a great means to a good stretch, but you don’t have to achieve a yoga pose when you stretch. Really, it’s just any way of gently lengthening a muscle. Do what feels good to you. I particularly like doing some gentle stretches at the end of a day while the family is enjoying TV time and winding down.
Want the ultimate stretching experience? Try Thai Yoga Massage! This technique will leave your body feeling limber all week combining yoga stretching and massage into one amazing experience. Just trust me on this!
Friends, these healing exercises are great any time your body is in healing mode. I recommend a combination of these gentler ways of enjoying fitness. Even if you are feeling good and exercising harder, incorporating some of these modalities can help your body to recover faster after a heavy lifting session or run. As always, listen to your body. If you tune in, your body will tell you how much you can handle and when it’s time to add more vigor to your routine.