As men we like to push it – sometimes too far. A new study printed in the New York Times reports on research published in The Journal of Applied Physiology. The gist of the study was: long term hard endurance exercise can damage your heart.
Are you exhausted?
As men we often think if some is good, more is better. Well, it seems moderation is an important variable. In my private practice and in our Mindfulness Stress Reduction Program I saw men who “had to exercise.” They would be training for a marathon with a bad knee making the injury worse each day. These clients were almost always men and would insist that without their run, bike ride, swim or whatever it was they couldn’t exist.
Often they would wake up tired if not exhausted. Their exercise would “give them energy” or release their stress. Then their cycle would start over the next day, exhausting them and their body more. These men were addicted to exercise. Maybe it didn’t give them a rush, but it did get them moving. Without their exercise they would feel the chronic underlying exhaustion.
Running for your life
It felt like they were running for their lives, while in actuality they were running themselves into the ground. The lucky ones would develop a bio-mechanic injury that would slow them down or wake them up to what was happening. The unlucky ones would have a heart attack, develop cancer or a chronic illness.
As more research is done on chronic stress and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) we discover that when exercise is done from a place of stress (the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system) the body is on overload. Dealing with the strain of intense exercise with the constant strain of stress is a recipe for early death.
I call this combination the Jim Fixx phenomenon. Jim Fix inspired us to run with his 1977 best-selling book, The Complete Book of Running only to die of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 52. Then there is the marathoner, Alberto Salazer who nearly died from a heart attack at the age of 49. How they were running was doing more harm for them than good.
Listen to your body
Men, get honest. Is your exercise more of an escape from your body and stress than an enhancement to your health? Do you exercise when you are tired? I don’t mean mentally tired, but physically exhausted? Take your pulse every morning before getting out of bed. Find your baseline. The days that it is fast are the days when you are physically tired. On those days a long run will add to your chronic exhaustion. I know this sounds heretical – go for a walk instead.
I have had clients who refused to slow down until I told them either they slow down or I wouldn’t work with them. Forced, they slowed down. Then their bodies began to heal. Before then, all their resources were being used to deal with stress and exercise. After a month, occasionally longer, these men would go back to their exercise better than they were before they quit. Amazed they weren’t worse, but better, I told them now they can exercise and build their body and not break it down.
It’s not exercise – it is stress
More than exercise it is stress and how you deal with it that can kill you. Bad running form will cause a knee injury. The cues from not dealing with stress effectively are more subtle. As a society we don’t often know until the major signs such as a heart attack shows us that we over did it.
If you feel tired, feel like you must exercise, continue to develop injuries, feel wired or feel a general malaise there is a good chance you are over doing it. Deal with your stress. Check out a local Mindfulness Stress Reduction Program, a Rolfer that understands elite athletes, a good acupuncturist – someone that works with the underlying cause. Unfortunately medicine has no treatment or drugs that turn around stress. In no way do antidepressants help – they just make this problem worse. See my post on depression.
You can do it
I’m a guy. I know how hard it is to slow down, to take care of myself and ‘quit’ – to achieve a more important goal.
Needing time alone is important. That daily run might need to be a daily walk or, as in the Mindfulness Stress course, the daily practice can be your renewal time until your body heals. See the time off as part of a long term goal of having a healthy body and performing well.
Are you one of these men? What is difficult about slowing down for you? Please share your comments. Speaking about how we use exercise in less than beneficial ways is something we men don’t often discuss.