Editor's Note: This is part two Ben's story. You can find part one HERE. There are people who need to exercise, and who absolutely benefit from exercise.
But exercise also has a dark side - dangerous disadvantages that affect thousands of people each day, and those disadvantages can be summed up in these top 10 reasons exercise is bad for you.
5. Exercise destroys diets.
Whether you are trying to eat a diet lower in inflammatory compounds to manage an autoimmune disease or cancer, trying to eat a lower calorie diet to lose weight or teach your body to eat less, or trying to switch to a low carbohydrate diet as mentioned earlier, it is very hard to accomplish these nutritional changes while you are engaged in heavy exercise patterns.
This is often what causes people to stop healthy lifestyle changes: they get excited about changing their daily routine, eating better, and exercising more, but heavy exercise volume causes food cravings that make it impossible to adjust to a healthy diet, the individual becomes discouraged, and simply quits altogether.
The Fix: In my "REV Diet" book, the first phase (Reboot) involves precise instructions for reducing calories and detoxifying the body, but a key component of that phase is limited exercise significantly while the body learns to burn more fats, use less sugar as a fuel, and become accustomed to the dietary changes. One very good substitute for exercise during this time is yoga, which doesn't burn a significant number of calories, and can be done without derailing the diet.
4. Exercise causes inflammation.
Endurance exercise can increase oxygen utilization to over 10 to 20 times the resting state, and all this extra oxygen consumption then increases production of free radicals, which are produced as the oxygen is used to convert energy into ATP for muscle contractions. This enhanced free radical generation causes oxidative damage to muscles and other tissues, and although regular physical exercise can build the antioxidant free radical defense system, intense and high volume exercise can overwhelm these defenses and cause significant free radical damage.
Oxidative stress from free radicals damages cellular proteins, membranes and genes and leads to a state of chronic, systemic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is implicated in diseases such as cancer, heart disease, strokes, MS, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, premature aging and almost any debilitating, degenerative condition you can name.
The Fix: You can certainly put a band-aid over the problem by consuming a full spectrum antioxidant, but you can only eat so many berries, nuts and dark leafy greens before your stomach gets full. Eventually, you must give your body a break from free radical damage and simply stop exercising so much. Since endurance, aerobic exercise is the biggest culprit for free radical damage, try to limit this type of training. Even in an Ironman build-up, I personally avoid doing anything more than 1 long bike, 1 long swim and 1 long run each week - and everything else is short intense bursts or high intensity interval training, which you can read about in my article which explains why interval exercise can cause lower blood sugar, increased hormonal response to exercise, lower insulin levels and increased fat burning with much, much less time spent exercising.
3. Exercise is stressful.
The adrenal glands are two thumb-sized glands sitting atop your kidneys. They produce hormones like norepinephrine, cortisol and DHEA, which allow your body to respond and make adjustments to physical or emotional stress. If the intensity and frequency of the stres becomes too great, then the adrenal glands can begin to become exhausted, and the hormones that they produce can become depleted, resulting in serious imbalances that can cause issue like estrogen dominance in women or testosterone deficiencies in men.
The end result is a tired, chronically fatigued individual who has disrupted sleep, low libido, worn-out looking eyes, a set and stressed jawline, and a "skinny fat" body look no matter how much exercise they do. Sound familiar? I just described 90% of the marathoners and Ironman triathletes out there.
The Fix: In addition to incorporating the other fixes I've described such as lowering exercise and enhancing focus on recovery, you can pull yourself out of adrenal exhaustion with complete rest and recovery, avoiding caffeine and central nervous system stimulants, and also by incorporating stress-fighting and cortisol-stabilizing compounds like maca root powder and phosphatidylserine supplements.
2. Exercise damages the joints.
I was playing on the trail with my boys yesterday and a man ran by with a scowl across his face. Perhaps his sour disposition was due to the knee brace on his right leg, the exercise strap above his left IT band, and the compression sleeve on his elbow. Despite his body falling to pieces, he was limping along the trail, trying to push his body through a run. Since exercise is addictive, you'll often see endurance athletes trying to push through and continue their chronic repetitive motion training no matter what, often to the continued detriment and breakdown of the body's worn and tired joints.
I worked with a sports medicine physician for 3 years, and most endurance athletes that came in were trying to figure out how they could still do their marathon or triathlon even though they had plantar fasciitis, IT band friction syndrome, or shoulder tendonitis. They'd be miserable during their event, but would still do it. While you can certainly be "patched together" with braces, bands, sleeves, and cortisol shots to complete your event, you can end up taking years off your joints.
If you like the idea of knee replacements, hip replacements, and not being able to play in the backyard with your grandkids without teeth-gritting pain then strap on that brace and head outside to run through the pain. Otherwise, just stop.
The Fix: Run on a wide variety of running surfaces and terrains, and avoid only exercising in one plane of motion (running, cycling and swimming are typically only "front-to-back" activities). Instead, choose side-to-side motions like tennis, basketball or soccer, and attempt to address a wide range of musculature with your exercise patterns. Know when to identify whether you're just pushing through pain because you simply must exercise, and find something else to do, like read a book.
1. Exercise causes premature aging.
In THIS story I describe how to make sure your outdoor, sunny exercise doesn't end up giving you a face like a prune. But excessively wrinkled skin, which is vastly accelerated by the free radical damage mentioned earlier in this article, is not the only reason that people who exercise too much look worn and aged.
The heart has a finite number of beats, the back has a finite number of bends, and the cartilage has a finite number of shock absorptions, and once you've reached your quota, your body begins to fail. Combined with a fibrotic heart, worn adrenal glands, and chronic, systemic inflammation, you have the perfect storm for a prematurely aged and broken down body.
The Fix: In THIS story I discuss why an exercise program of sprint interval training and brief, heavy bouts of weight training is probably better for the aging individual. When this type of protocol is combined with very limited amounts of steady endurance exercise, goals like Ironman triathlon or marathoning can still be completed without excessive body aging.
So those are the top 10 reasons why exercise is bad for you. Please don't misinterpret me, because I believe that a lifetime of healthy physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your body and your brain.
But a lifetime of indiscriminate, chronic repetitive motion exercise like a rat on a wheel is entirely another matter, and you ought to seriously reconsider your priorities if you are stuck in that rut.
Are you concerned that you may be exercising too much? Or do you think this is all blown way out of proportion? Feel free to leave your comments, questions and feedback below.
Ben Greenfield has been coaching athletes for over a decade from the website
http://www.pacificfit.net/bengreenfield.html. He also has a fat loss,
performance and nutrition podcast at http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com .