If you are exercising to reduce stress and lose weight, listen up! Most of us believe exercising is a panacea for all our health woes. That’s indeed true but to some extent. Did you know certain forms of exercise do more harm than good to your body when you have a hormonal imbalance? This is especially true if you are experiencing chronic stress due to work (or life!). It’s okay if you didn’t know this. I didn’t know until about five years ago, either! Twenty years ago, I was taking 5 a.m. spin classes before I commuted an hour into NYC. Then a decade ago, I was doing Crossfit five-six to six nights/week, and I had belly fat that wouldn’t budge. I had zero clue that I was overtraining.
When done improperly, high-intensity exercises, and prolonged workouts can trigger hormonal imbalances. Let’s dive into why.
What is overtraining?
One of the most common issues that people face when trying to lose weight is overtraining. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true. Working out too much can actually hinder your weight loss progress (it happened to me!). Overtraining occurs when the body goes beyond its limits with excessive exercise. This usually happens alongside not enough rest and recovery time. This can lead to negative effects such as:
- Muscle fatigue
- Decreased performance
- Hormonal imbalances
- Even injury
Hormone imbalance #1 – stress
Both chronic work/life stress and strenuous forms of exercise cause a cortisol spike. Cortisol is a hormone the adrenal gland produces that helps our body cope with stress. Are you always stressed? This can lead to overproduction of this hormone. That can then lead to weight gain and other health issues.
Strenuous exercises can also trigger that same cortisol spike. This can lead to insulin resistance. This is when the muscles, fat, and liver cells become desensitized towards insulin. As a result, the body absorbs glucose ineffectively from the bloodstream. This leads to increased hunger and belly fat. Additionally, when cortisol finally drops, it may lead to depleted adrenals. Depleted adrenals AKA Adrenal Fatigue.
Hormone imbalance #2 – no rest days
No stress management or significant rest days in place? This leads to insulin resistance, too! Remember that the body requires ample time to rest and recover so make sure you give it that. Proper stress management techniques are key. Try meditation or deep breathing and get enough sleep!
So how do you know if you are overtraining? Some signs include:
- Persistent muscle soreness
- Increased fatigue
- Decreased performance
- Increased hunger
It’s important to listen to your body. Give it adequate rest and recovery time between workouts.
How to avoid overtraining?
Have a well-rounded workout routine that includes both strength training and cardio can help you avoid overtraining. Additionally, try incorporating rest days into your workout schedule! Try short and frequent sessions of burst training, power yoga, Pilates, or walking on a treadmill for about 10 to 15 minutes. These exercises are practical as they burn fat and increase metabolism. This signals the body to improve insulin sensitivity and lower cortisol.
Is exercise important to lose weight?
It’s less crucial than your diet to heal those hormonal imbalances I mentioned. Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein help regulate hormones and promote weight loss. Limit processed sugar and carbohydrates. Make sure to:
- Stay well-hydrated
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption
- Add antioxidants
- Avoid trans fats
It’s best to be cautious when it comes to exercise and hormonal balance and seek the opinion of a healthcare professional if you have any doubts (shameless plug!). Often, overtraining is a simple fix!