You might want to be sitting down for this news ... Apparently, 10 percent of people should truly embrace our inner couch potato and say to hell with exercise, because it's actually hurting them. I know -- this is so not the research our dear FLOTUS Michelle Obama, the Biggest Loser trainers, and all the other anti-obesity advocates out there want to hear right now. But it's true!
In a study of 1,687 people, about 10 percent actually experienced increased heart risk (based on worse blood pressure, levels of insulin, HDL cholesterol, or triglycerides) when they were rigorously working out. While they call the finding "bizarre," it really shouldn't come as that much of a surprise to anyone who acknowledges that not every body does best with a hardcore workout program. In fact, for some people, intense exercise can make it harder to get fit.
A few years back, there was quite a bit of buzz about exercise not being a one-size-fits-all solution for health. An article in Time blamed compensation: Although exercise certainly burns calories, it also stimulates hunger, which causes us to eat more and can negate the weight-loss benefits of busting through that spinning class or hitting the P90X DVDs. We might also end up eating more, because we want to "reward" ourselves after a tough workout.
While compensation is definitely a common trap, this new research has got me thinking about another issue with intense exercise regimens: Stress. Until now, it seems like no one really wanted to acknowledge the toll a high-intensity workout takes on the body and how that can contribute to heart risks and weight gain. We're so quick to tell people that their work stress or the road rage they experience commuting might be spiking their supply of the stress hormone cortisol and contributing to "belly fat." But what about when we're putting ourselves through the ringer at the gym and taxing our adrenal glands so much that adrenal exhaustion ends up undermining our efforts?
I honestly believe I'm living proof of this. Although I devoted myself to completing the Jillian Michaels Body Revolution DVD program to kick off my pre-wedding workout regimen, I've noticed that on weeks I've stuck to the program but been really stressed with other things in my life and found myself under-eating (not compensating!), I haven't seen the results I thought I would. By comparison, on weeks I've taken it a bit easier -- maybe skipped a workout or substituted yoga or walking, eaten to my Weight Watchers Points target, and been generally more relaxed -- I've lost weight and felt better overall. Interesting ... It's starting to make me believe those of us who are more taxed by stress require a lower-impact plan (say, 45-60 minutes of lower-impact activity vs. 30 minutes of high-impact) to enjoy the same benefits as those who can go hard.
That said, I don't think the new research should serve as an excuse to skip exercise altogether. But there's likely something to this idea that rigorous workouts aren't for everyone.
Does hardcore exercise work for you, or do you think you fall into the 10 percent?
Image via USAG-Humphreys/Flickr