What If Our Fitness Industry Is Doing More Harm Than Good?

A controversial piece, I’m sure; some of you might already be reacting but may I ask you to read till the end of my reflection and observation?

Many of us know ‘Exercise is Healthcare’ and ‘Exercise is Medicine’ – there is an overwhelming amount of evidence out there citing the numerous benefits of exercise. Some of these include mood improvement with endorphins production and the reversal of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

So why more harm than good?

Well, it was meant to trigger your train of thought: When is too much of something or too fast of something, detrimental?

In this new era of the Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, and recently the Mu, we find ourselves in an increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.

We are experiencing stress from almost all aspects of our life and the state of both our physical and mental health has taken a serious toll.

Modern stress is a different beast compared to the type and amount of stress the body has evolved to deal with. Nowadays, people are almost always under stress at work and then there’s all the “little” stressors of everyday life like a passive-aggressive IG message, a troll on Twitter, an email with exclamation marks, train delays, bad traffic, not getting your bubble tea etc. that also cause a cortisol response in the body.

Firstly, I’d acknowledge that cortisol has a vital physiological role. By raising plasma glucose levels at times of stress, cortisol provides the body with the energy it needs to face bodily attacks from injury, illness, or infection. It also has potent anti-inflammatory effects easing irritation and pain.

However, because our stress response is constantly telling our systems that we’re under attack, even when that ‘attack’ is just the go-go-go pace of everyday life; and over time, this can cause your cortisol levels to get out of whack.

Exercise is perceived by the body as a form of stress and stimulates the release of cortisol. In general, the more your fitness improves, the better the body becomes at dealing with physical stress. This means that less cortisol will be released during exercise and also in response to emotional or psychological stresses.

However, research shows that the time and intensity of exercise can affect the level of cortisol release. When it comes to exercise, more may not be better. Training for more than 60 minutes, even at a low intensity will burn up the body’s glycogen stores and stimulate cortisol release.

A 30-min moderate to high intensity (60% – 80% of VO2 max) exercise such as popular HIIT classes, provokes an increase in cortisol levels. Coupled with short recovery periods, this becomes more harmful than good. This is particularly significant if you exercise when starved or nutritionally depleted. The cortisol surge also increases when you train in the early morning when cortisol levels are naturally higher. The response to exercise can be more.

When your adrenal glands become exhausted over time and the hormones they produce start to deplete, it may cause severe imbalances such as estrogen dominance in women or testosterone deficiencies in men.

As an industry, what message are we exacerbating? No pain, no gain? Go hard or go home?

We need to do better, and we can. We need to stop making things worse for our members, clients, and community.

We need to train smarter and recover harder.

Yours respectfully,

Coach Dexter

Education & Development

FIT Asia & ExPRO

Author: Michael Lyons