Could working out be causing more stress to your body? Here's how to find balance.
Working Out vs. Working In
By Greg Schmaus, Holistic Trainer and Coach
We are constantly told the importance of working out for staying fit and healthy. Although this is true in the most general sense, there are many times when working out can actually do more harm than good. This is where I would like to introduce the idea of working out vs. working in.
Working out is any activity that spends more energy and resources than it acquires. Working out activates the Sympathetic Nervous System, which is the body's natural fight or flight response. During this time, your body directs all blood flow and resources to the working muscles and away from the glands and organs. Heart rate, respiratory rate, stress hormones and blood pressure are all elevated to assist you in "fighting or flighting." All digestive, immune, growth, and repair processes are put on hold. (Your body doesn't care about digesting food or fighting viruses when a lion is chasing you!)
Working in is any activity that cultivates more energy and resources than it costs to perform the activity. Working in activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is the body's rest and digest system. During this time, your body directs all blood flow to your glands and organs, supporting all growth, repair, digestive, and immune function. Sex hormones are released; stress hormones levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate are all reduced.
In reality, working out or exercise is a form of stress on the body. Our nervous systems don't compartmentalize stress. It doesn't know the difference between relationship stress, work stress, chemical or nutritional stress, or over exercising. The response is still the same.
Given the outline above, consider that the more stress you are under, the less of a need you have for working out. When we are under stress and in a sympathetic "fight or flight state," working out is further facilitating this imbalance. Using exercise to manage stress is putting gasoline on the fire.
Working out without an equal amount of working in is like constantly withdrawing from the ATM without ever making a deposit. Therefore, when you find yourself stressed out, wound up, or low on energy, consider a work in practice such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong, walking in nature, restorative yoga, stretching, meditation, or simple breath work. These practices will help balance your nervous system and provide you with the energy and resources that you need to stay healthy.