#57: Will Exercise Reduce Stress? Yes and No.

Exercise is healthy – except when it isn’t, as in some cases of chronic stress. So should you ditch the Peloton? Lift weights? Do more yoga? Listen to this episode and find out where your exercise sweet spot is. And to shift from worrying about how you LOOK to how you FEEL, get Michelle’s free system at http://ShesGotPower.com/HowIFeel.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • The bell curve between a sedentary lifestyle and strenuous exercise
  • What to look for in an exercise program that doesn’t exacerbate stress
  • Michelle’s Woodstock ‘99 memories

If you enjoyed the audio version, be sure to follow the She’s Got Power podcast on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts. Love what you hear? Please share with your friends and leave a review on Apple Podcasts so more women can finally overcome the health issues associated with chronic stress and burnout.

Were any of you at Woodstock in 1999?

The one where the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage and the crowd started lighting things on fire? I was there. I walked past the fires. It was a little bit scary. It was surreal, actually. 

My more vivid memories of that weekend, however, were the raves at night.

Moby, Fatboy Slim — when was the last time you heard those words? There were glow sticks, everyone was dehydrated and doing ecstasy. Not that I would know personally, but I have heard that a person gets very, very thirsty. 

I remember hearing a story that somebody actually drank so much water they died. I don’t know if that’s true, but you can actually die from drinking an exorbitant amount of water in a short time. Google it. 

That always sticks with me as an illustration of the concept that anything in excess becomes its opposite. Even Woodstock! It was supposed to be all peaceful, then our generation came along in ‘99 and overdid it, lit it on fire. 

Everything in moderation, even with exercise

This whole idea that anything in excess becomes its opposite — that’s where my mind goes when we’re talking about exercise. 

I hardly need to tell you that exercise is healthy, but as chronically stressed women, our lives are on overdrive and we turn to exercise to lose weight. We have new year’s resolutions to join the gym or sign up for an exercise program, maybe we’re thinking about exercising to de-stress. 

Maybe we’re thinking about it because we try to do and be all things because we’re used to doing and being all things. So why not also run a marathon or become a CrossFit champion? 

Here’s the thing. Exercise is cool, but sometimes it can be counterproductive. Imagine a bell curve and it’s your own very adorable personal bell curve; yours might look different from the next person’s. On the left of the bell curve, we’re sedentary, and this is what we all know we should avoid, right? Lack of movement is definitely a stressor on the body. We’re inflamed. We have a higher risk of disease. 

All the way on the right side of the bell curve is where we’re doing intense or strenuous exercise, running marathons or doing CrossFit or cycling. You would think that more exercise equals more benefits and a healthier body, but studies show time and time again that on this side of the bell curve, we are more likely to experience dysregulated cortisol or a dysregulated stress response. 

Think about that, especially when you’re doing exercise to help relieve stress. Also on this side of the bell curve, you’re more likely to experience leaky gut. You have an increased susceptibility to autoimmune disease, respiratory infection and, of course, injury.

How stress impacts your weight loss efforts

If you’re trying to manage your stress through exercise, but this type of intensity brings you to the right side of the bell curve, exercise becomes a stressor. It becomes something negative for your body.

If you’re trying to lose weight, this side of the bell curve can also be counterproductive because when your stress-response system becomes dysregulated (when you’re too stressed out), that’s when your body holds onto weight. 

Your body says, “Oh no, we’re in stress mode. Better hold on to this extra fat around the middle just in case we’re going to go into a famine.” The same thing goes for when your body experiences inflammation or autoimmune disease, the body holds onto excess weight in these cases. 

We don’t want to be on the left side of the bell curve and we don’t want to be on the right. There is a sweet spot in the middle and this is where you’re moving, but you’re not adding stress to your body. You’re actually able to relieve it. 

The middle of your particular bell curve may look different than someone else’s, but the point is that we all want and need to move our bodies, just not in a way that fires up our adrenaline and cortisol. 

Find the right exercise routine for your body

I used to take these intense group classes where the music was super loud and aggressive, the instructor yelled at you the whole time, I was drenched in sweat, and felt like I was going to throw up. That’s too far right on my bell curve and that puts my body into a state of fight-or-flight. For me, what feels better is a combination of a daily walk, yoga, light weight training, and dancing.

What’s better for me may not be better for you, so I want you to assess this for yourself. 

Over a year ago, I started using the Tracy Anderson method (not affiliated, it’s just working for me!). I definitely feel myself working and getting stronger. I live in a house with a lot of stairs and we’re on a hill. I can run right up the stairs and I can get the groceries out of the car and carry them all back down with no problem. So I know that I’m strong and that really is helpful in my life. I know I’m working and I know I’ve gotten stronger, but I’m never going into that stressed-out overdrive place. 

Doing this type of exercise has been wonderful for my body, but it never gets me stressed out. That’s what I look for in an exercise program. This is what I would advise you to do as well. Something that reduces stress. 

I know doing this every morning helps me loosen up my limbs. You know when you get out of bed, sometimes you’re a little bit cranky, especially after 40? I’ve been noticing that finding an exercise routine that works for me helps me loosen up, calms my mind, and sets the stage for a really good day. There are so many reasons to exercise if we do it the right way. 

Setting goals without ever weighing yourself

Remember, the goal isn’t a number on the scale. The goal isn’t a certain dress size. It’s how we feel and how we show up in the world. We want to exercise and move our bodies in ways that feel good and in ways that we enjoy and we want to do it often. 

If you want to keep yourself on track based on this notion of how you feel, download my free tracking system at ShesGotPower.com/HowIFeel