Are your exercise habits wrecking your mitochondria? Maybe.
When it comes to exercise, we’ve come to believe in the mindset that more is more. It starts out innocently enough–you want to drop a few pounds, or a friend tells you that you should do this great new program with her. So you start working out more frequently, increase the length of your sessions, or you increase the intensity–or all of the above. Weirdly enough though, it doesn’t work. So you increase it again–maybe at this point you’re exercising pretty hard every day.
And yet, the scale doesn’t budge and you’re actually not feeling all that great. You notice that your back is hurting more than usual or you have some aches and pains that don’t seem to resolve. But you just keep going! You’re to the point that skipping a day is giving you some anxiety though. Friends ask you, “how do you stay so motivated?” and you tell them that exercise is your “me time”, and that you do it for your mental health or to relieve stress. Maybe, but I’m guessing there’s a lot of other, better methods you should be using to cope with your stress. Remember–exercise IS a stressor.
Now, back to the mitochondria thing. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of your cells that produce the energy you need to function. To put it simply, mitochondria are SO important–and that’s putting it lightly. But, excessive exercise has actually shown to cause damage to your mitochondria! Specifically HIIT workouts are especially damaging.
A 2021 study showed that with just 152 minutes of high intensity exercise per week (or about 21 minutes per day), participants displayed WORSE metabolic health and had a harder time regulating their blood sugar. They also showed increasing amounts of oxidative stress, a type of cell damage that is known for causing premature aging, chronic disease, fatigue, and inflammation. Yikes.
Now don’t get me wrong–exercise IS important, and doing challenging workouts is important. It’s the toxicity of fitness culture that has us all screwed up. Your workouts should leave you feeling strong and capable. If you feel more tired after your workouts, it would have done you more good to skip it and rest or go for a light walk. If you find that you have to drag yourself to the gym or are really struggling to get through a workout, you’re probably overdoing it. Excessive soreness or nagging injuries are also a sign that you need to slow down.
Instead of buying into the newest workout fad or pushing just a little bit harder when you’re not seeing results, try listening to your body instead. Go for a walk, do some gentle yoga, or stretch out those sore muscles. Symptoms like extreme fatigue, injuries, and lack of motivation are NOT something you just need to push through. These are your body’s way of screaming at you that it needs a break!
Also, twice daily workouts or programming that you purchase from a friend looking to make a buck? Don’t even get me started. Even when they include “rest” days in the programming, this doesn’t account for your body’s individual needs and just leaves you feeling anxious and disappointed in yourself when you don’t complete it perfectly. Let’s just not.
How about instead of using calorie trackers and forced motivation we break the mold and actually LISTEN to our bodies?!? Is that really so crazy? Ignore the noise of social media, ignore fitness barbie’s six pack abs–she probably tanked her hormones to look that way. Each day take an inventory of the stress–physical, mental, emotional, and sleep. Use that to decide what your body TRULY needs in that moment. Maybe its a walk in the sunshine, some heavy lifting, or something in between. Only you will know best.
As it turns out, there really CAN be too much of a good thing.