Months of sequestering ourselves to avoid a nasty virus and operating remotely from our own homes have made us all kinds of restless. So when gyms and fitness studios reopened once social restrictions eased, we literally jumped up and punched the air. Many of us returned to our fitness regimes or embarked on new ones. Either way, we began working out in earnest to shed the weight we’ve gained, as well as to alleviate any adjustment-related stresses.
Our first instinct is likely to push ourselves hard and control our diet at the same time. Certainly, it feels good to sweat it out, whether we were lifting weights or punching a bag of sand. Observing our bodies transform for the better then motivates us to get active more frequently. However, after several weeks, the body hits a plateau, and we notice the paunch we’ve worked so hard to get rid of slowly returning. Additionally, we began feeling more and more hungover despite not having had a drop of alcohol since adjusting our diet to a more nutritious one. What exactly is going on here?
The Perks Of Exercising
Regular exercise and a balanced diet have their benefits, of course. If you’re looking to lose weight, you should include aerobic exercises such as jogging, shadow boxing and cycling into your fitness regime.
A 2018 study by the American Diabetes Association reported that weight loss and fat mass reduction occurred with aerobic training more significantly than with resistance training after an eight-month trial. A random group of 16 men observed an average weight loss of 7.5 kilograms over the course of three months after burning 700 calories a day. This is probably why we observe significant weight loss when we first introduce regular exercise into our routine.
When we exercise, the brain produces three monoamine neurotransmitters – dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. Exercising stimulates their production, and this surge in our bodies brings about a “feel good” rush that lifts our mood even hours after cooling down. This is why exercising can be “addictive”, hence influencing our decision to hit the gym more frequently. Another plus point is that these neurotransmitters have proven to be effective in alleviating anxiety, offering some measure of protection against Parkinson’s disease, and improving memory in the long run as reported by the Brain Sciences journal in 2013.
Furthermore, exercising also helps with cardiovascular health. A 2019 study conducted by the Health and Human Services on 24 elite and well-trained endurance athletes demonstrated a 24 per cent increase in (healthy) high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels after a treadmill run. At the same time, levels of unhealthy low-density lipoproteins dipped by 19 per cent, for even greater net “gains”.
But if the effects of exercise are as great as these findings suggest, why don’t we see the results?
Too Much Of A Good Thing
The combination of stress relief, feelings of pleasure and positive physical changes (e.g. increased mass, sculpted limbs, reduced weight, etc) make it easy for one to get hooked on exercise. It’s not a bad thing until you start pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion. This is particularly true for those who are still new to the craft with little to no guidance from expert trainers.
What many of us don’t realise is that as much as it feels good to exercise, we’re still putting our bodies under a considerable amount of physical stress. A 2018 study conducted by Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine revealed that intense exercise releases a “variety of stress and inflammatory factors” including the hormone called cortisol. If you’re already pressured in the office, it is best to hold back on excessive physical training because stress caused by exercise can actually cause hypercortisolism. If unmonitored for extended periods of time, this can result in fats accumulating mainly on your face and abdominal areas. This is probably why we see unwanted results despite putting in the necessary, albeit excessive, work required to keep it. Furthermore, it also increases one’s risk of developing osteoporosis, diabetes and hypertension, according to a recent update on StatPearls.
One of the ways to counteract that is by giving your body time to rest and recover. Unfortunately, that’s not possible if your body is also producing adenosine and adrenaline. These two hormones result in alertness and increased heart rate, which are great if you’re starting your day with exercise. But if you’re working out in the evening, you need to be more careful.
The Importance Of Rest
Ironically, Dr Naras Lapsys, director of the nutrition and longevity arm at The Wellness Clinic, stresses the importance of rest, especially if you are balancing work and fitness during uncertain times like now.
“Hormones like adenosine and adrenaline disrupt your circadian rhythm and may cause you to stay awake longer than you should. Even if you sleep at a regular time daily, you won’t be able to achieve quality rest. This can then cause fatigue, brain fog, and even weight gain if this becomes a habit,” he warns. This then stresses your body further, and the start of an unhealthy cycle begins.
“You will start to crave high calorie, low nutrient foods, which can sabotage your entire fitness plan,” he adds.
He strongly suggests that we commit six to eight hours of sleep a day at regular timings to maximise the rhythmic impact of rest and recovery.
“As we sleep, the brain produces growth hormones that help the body to repair and recover after a hard day’s work,” he explained. “This helps to enhance the effects of your exercises in order to achieve your fitness goals.”
When you sleep is also important. He suggests giving yourself at least two hours for your body to settle down. This way, the body has time to unwind, preparing you for a night of quality sleep.