Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ramblings of an Exercise Science student....

Let me start first by making it clear... I am a senior (read: not yet graduated) in an Bachelors of Science Exercise Science degree... I am not (yet) a personal trainer (though maybe better educated than some of them) and I am not a nutritionist (a designation that means little) or a Registered Dietitian (a designation that means A LOT). I have been an athlete to varying degrees for most of my life and love seeing people be active and healthy, regardless of what form your activity takes. Some take the dogs for a walk, play on the Wii Fit, do pylometrics, run a marathon, lift weights, hike, ride a bike, play on a sports team... it doesn't matter! What matters is that you MOVE YOUR BODY! There are scores of scientific articles that point to the healing powers of moving our bodies, improving symptoms of depression (I know I move instead of taking a pill everyday, I've done that, and its not for me), decreasing the effects of arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic infections, lowering your risk of obesity related disease, some types of cancer, and so many other illnesses and diseases it is nearly impossible to even begin to list it all here... truth is we are only beginning to know the true impact being active can have on our bodies... and the possibilities are infinite.

I read Twitter a lot. I follow some wonderful people who have incorporated activity/exercise/movement into their daily lives to build self-confidence, have more energy, be healthier, and for many, lose weight. This is a wonderful thing... research has shown that people who are active and lose weight are more likely to keep it off than inactive people. But exercise and losing weight can be a huge source of frustration when the scale simply doesn't reflect all the hard work and commitment we put into our training/exercise/workouts.

This frustration is understandable... and this is what I know:
  • There is absolutely no one-size-fits-all approach to diet or exercise. All bodies react differently to different stress. For one, a high protein diet might work, and for another its a disaster. In training for a marathon, one plan may work for one person, and will cause incredible over-training in another. You have to play around with things and find out what works for you.
  • In line with the no one-size-fits-all... exercise is a tricky subject. Some people can do 6 workouts a week and feel great, whereas someone (of similar fitness) would find that to be too much, or maybe too little. This also can be applied to workouts from week to week. Periodization is an incredible tool that I think everyone should use if they are regularly active. In my case, my body can handle about 3-4 weeks of progressively more intense workouts, but then I have to have a week of decreased activity. Sometimes this is less workouts over the week, or shorter workouts with the same number of days. It really just depends... but in order for your body to adapt to the conditioning stress it has to have time to rest. IMO, it doesn't matter if you workout with DVDs at home, go to spin class, lift weights, or train for a race or event, you have to have rest/recovery weeks built into your normal routine. Your body will thank you. On the flip side of this coin, if you want to see change, you must push your body, you must stress it. Adaptation only happens with stress... Just recognize that there is such thing as too much.
  • Weight-loss..... ah yes, shedding those unwanted pounds... Don't we all know that 3,500 Cal = 1lb? Here's the problem... that conversion assumes 100% of your weight loss in fat loss, and this is never, ever the case. The equation gets far more complicated when you factor in that up to 40% (this is in non-active, calorie restriction weight loss) of weight lost is in fact NOT fat loss, but instead muscle loss (mostly). So the usual assumption that if you burn 500 more calories than you consume everyday then you would lose 1lb a week... its simply not that easy. Add in that weight loss and exercise (along with mental/emotional state) can change the hormone levels in your body which will effect how you body uses fat for fuel and things really get complicated. I know it is frustrating... I've been there, I've lost the same 25lbs, twice, and working on the last 5-10. For me its a matter of having faith. Faith that even if the number on the scale doesn't reflect what I think it should, I'm doing the right thing for my body. On weeks where the scale doesn't move in the right direction I remind myself that my running is getting faster (my main training goal right now) or that I simply used my body the way it was designed to be used... our bodies were not meant to sit on the couch, they were made for moving!
  • Even with all this variability, it helps to talk to other people. Sometimes they have thought of something that you would never consider, and can bring new ideas to the table. Individuality is an amazing thing, its what keeps life interesting and engaging, but it doesn't mean you can't learn from others. The important thing is to remember that what worked for someone might not work, or work the same for you. Learn from every new experience and technique you try, take what works and discard what doesn't. The human body's ability to adapt and respond to what we ask from it is incredible, its just the response varies from person to person. :)
So there you have it, those are my ramblings. Its hardly all inclusive and might not be helpful, but for me, knowledge is power... Power to make good choices and continue to move forward in the face of frustration and uncertainty. But maybe that's just me. :)

“Nature has given the human body a wonderful engine management system. It actually responds to stress by adapting to cope with it better”
-Peter Keen, exercise physiologist and coach of Chris Boardman, World Champ Cyclist

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