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Daily exercise is a must. Or so you think.

Posted Jul 23 2010 1:42pm
The whey protein display at the health club pushed me over the edge. So I decided that it’s time to address exercise and your food intake to clear up some myth-information. I realize that my blog readers are not homogeneous—some of you struggle with eating disorders with restrictive intake, some compulsively exercising and some wishing you could motivate and begin to move your body and lose some weight healthily. So I will try to tackle the exercise topic without triggering people (thank you reader for heightening my awareness of this potential problem!).

A popular belief—you must exercise daily or you won’t maintain a healthy weight. Many of you believe that exercise, typically an excessive level, is necessary. I mean every day. Or else. You may feel compelled to exercise for fear that your jeans won’t fit the next day, or that the scale you so rely on will show the damage. Or else you’ll restrict your food intake to make up for the missed workout. Or you may decide that you've blown it if you missed a day, and sabotage your healthy eating habits and activity.

But this is a myth. Your body burns calories 24/7, every minute of the day.  Yes, even while you are sleeping. Sure, you use more calories when you are active, but even at rest, doing absolutely nothing but breathing, you need fuel. And what happens to those calories you consume when your activity is low? Much of it goes into fuel stores called glycogen, stores of starch made from carbohydrate.  And this is the primary fuel source our bodies turn to when we are in between meals and when we are exercising. It is the source of nourishment that helps us maintain a normal blood sugar level, even though we are not being fed every minute of the day.

In fact, over exercising can even prevent you from meeting your goal of maintaining a healthy weight. If you are eating significantly fewer calories than you are expending it is no different than if you didn’t exercise at all and severely restricted your food intake. Neither will work for you. Your metabolism will slow, meaning that your calorie need per day will drop, requiring fewer and fewer calories. And if you’re trying to build muscle, forget it! Your body, desperate for fuel in this situation, will use any available calories just to function.  Building new muscle becomes a very low priority. Whether you eat plenty of protein or not.

And about that whey protein? Fine if you are a vegan just barely meeting your protein need. But most of us consume far in excess of our need for protein. And there is no magic to whey or protein supplements as opposed to food sources of protein for building lean tissue. Building muscle requires just enough protein (about 1 gram/kg body weight), adequate calories, and weight training to work your muscles to fatigue.

At this point you may be thinking that I’m not in favor of exercise. But that is the furthest thing from the truth. For disease prevention, stress reduction, improving sleep, weight control and simple enjoyment, there is nothing like exercise. Personally, I love to hike, road bike, kayak, cross-country ski and snow shoe. But I am no athlete. I love swimming, but I’d love it more if I were better at it. I tolerate the gym, when weather and time prevent me from my true passions.
Some what do I recommend?
        -Work hard. That is, to limit over exercising. Plan a day or two of rest per week.
        -Set a limit on the time spent at the gym. And, on your total workout time, if it is becoming   obsessive. Start by reducing the total workout time by 15 or 20 minutes., even every other day to start.
        -Observe that you have survived without your feared weight change!
        - Focus on the enjoyment of being outside—of hearing the birds, feeling the wind in your hair, and seeing the flowers in bloom. Or the personal accomplishment of reaching your goal. And choose activities you truly enjoy.
        - Remember that you still need to fuel yourself, whether you may feel inactive and undeserving, or you are biking and hear the call for a slush or ice cream
        - And for the greatest success, please set realistic goals.

For those of you needing assistance with getting the ball rolling with exercise, check out my next blog post.

Thanks!
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