Why You Should Stop Exercising – By Dr. Alan Christianson
Hey, there! Dr. Alan Christianson here. Let’s talk about why I want you to quit exercising. Sounds funny, right? Well, I mean it. If you are doing something you do not want to do, and if you think you are going to get healthier by making yourself more miserable, it will just not pan out. It will not work. Movement is important. Your body has to be mobile, circulating and functional. That is how we’re different from plants.
What happens is we build up a high level of stress response and stress hormones from our day. We have no limit of factors that set us off – from deadlines, to relationship pressures to financial worries. These things cause our bodies to go into this fight or flight state. (I call it fight or flight or famine, and we will talk more about that later.) The fight or flight state triggers us to fight or flight – to fight or run. It causes us to move in some way or to respond. In our modern life, we don’t really get opportunity for that. The things we are dealing with are issues that we are resolving and facing. We do not really fix things by fighting or running from them. At times, we may want to, but it is really not acceptable or encouraged. We usually deal with them by talking or writing checks or by doing things that involve paperwork. These are non-physical activities, and it does not satisfy our bodies’ innate, stress response. It does not pull us out of that state, unfortunately, so we stay stuck there.
One way to really get that reset of your stress response is by being away from modernity and in open air. There are times where access to the outdoors can be limited. There’s no doubt about that. When it is not, it is so worthwhile. Outdoors can even be urban. Just simply being in open spaces is so therapeutic. If you have parks, if you have access to the wilderness and beautiful places, that is so powerful and so restorative.
So, why wouldn’t exercise help reset your stress response? If exercise, to you, is going full throttle by yourself in the gym for an hour, it is not going to help. You are not going to enjoy it. If exercise is movement and exploration by chosen challenges and overcoming barriers, that is a whole different experience. What do I mean by chosen challenges? Find ways in which your body can adapt physically, and you can develop new skills. For example, a few days ago, I talked to a person who recently picked up Tango dancing, after thinking all his life he had two left feet! In the last year, he started taking some lessons. Now, he is competing in the Tango circuit! These are new challenges. It’s something he did not have in his life, and now, it has become his life’s passion and single most obsession. Try to think of things that require physical skill or ability you may not have. Think about things you may have admired others doing or things you did as a child. I promise, with a little creativity, or by talking to a friend, you can find versions of those that you can engage in safely and without undue embarrassment as an adult.
For whatever it’s worth, I have almost gone through a serial monogamy with my physical activities. I get way into something for a few years, and then, it might drift to the wayside, as I never get to be the best. I get to a certain level of confidence where I do not see big gains in skills. I hit the point where I can do things a little better, but there are no more big leaps. The big thing now is mountain unicycling. That was a huge challenge for many years. People just ride the dang thing. Then, there is the challenge to ride it well off-road. Now, I can go on trails and stay upright on terrain that I could not in the past. So, I can see a clear measurement of progress. Think about ways in which your skills can heighten because that is another way you can move and have a blast but not really be exercising, per se.
The funny thing is if you find some areas like that to focus on, you may find yourself wanting to train in more traditional ways out of the joyous effort of wanting to raise your confidence in the activity. It’s like my friend who is now doing Tango. In the past, he could never really stick with exercise regimes because they were boring to him and just drudgery. Thankfully, he saw through that and did not stress out or beat himself up over it. Now, he’s found he spontaneously wants to do more strength training and stretching because he can dance better. He wants to do more of the things he didn’t before because he has a reason to. People don’t get in shape to train; they train to get in shape. They will train and have fun because they will have a deeper reason for it.
Now, the last thing we will think about is the enjoyment of passing on skills to others. Are there things you’ve done in the past that you were very good at but aren’t a good fit for you right now? Maybe you were a good ballplayer, but now, there aren’t leagues you enjoy. Maybe you have a physical limitation, such as an overused injury, or something else that is slowing you down. The other way you can engage that and get some physical activity out of the deal is by helping train others – by sharing that passion with others. Coaching is a direct example. You can do some volunteering and assisting. Finding ways to help others achieve greater skills, can simultaneously amplify your own skills. That is a very distinct experience. It’s a powerfully good one. Some people experience even a greater level of efficiency to be able to show and guide others.
So, do not exercise. Do not think you have to go beat yourself up for an hour in the gym on the treadmill or on the weight machines – even things like CrossFit. If it is not something you are really loving or not naturally inclined to do, do not do it. If it something that is a passion, or you are enjoying, have fun with it. Find what your passion is. Find some way to have great, meaningful movement, and let that reset your body back to greater health and greater vitality.
Dr. Christianson here, and we will talk again real soon.