I am a dancer. It’s in my blood. “Once a dancer, always a dancer,” is what I always say. The problem with being a dancer, as any athlete can attest to, is that you constantly push your body to do more. You continuously stretch for greater flexibility and higher elevations. You condition and strengthen for better control and stamina. In other words, your body is in a constant state of tearing and rebuilding each time you workout. This remains true no matter what your exercise of choice is.
For those who are healthy and whose systems are balanced, moderate, regular exercise is a benefit. But for those of us with hormone imbalances and autoimmune issues, adrenal fatigue included, moderate exercise is harmful. Why is this?
In addition to the rebuilding of muscles that puts stress on the body, the adrenal glands release spurts of cortisol during and immediately following a moderate to intense workout. This is a normal adrenal reaction in healthy and unhealthy persons alike. However, with regular workouts, your adrenal glands are having to work overtime. Chronically high levels of cortisol can lead to adrenal fatigue and other health problems, such as insomnia, chronic fatigue, weight gain, depression, and more. If we are already struggling with these issues, our symptoms are only compounded, and we end up running our adrenal glands into the ground.
I used to work in a chiropractor office that offered a variety of therapies and health education classes. Many of our patients were chronically ill, and many of those who were chronically ill were avid gym members, working out for hours a day. The gym was their life. They looked so fit on the outside, but they were experiencing some pretty severe symptoms on the inside that not only caused them to struggle through their workouts, but to struggle through their daily lives. We had the hardest time convincing them that they were pushing their bodies too far, that their symptoms were not going to improve, no matter how healthy they ate, no matter how many times a week they came in to see us, if they didn’t stop their intense workouts. These were some of our most stubborn patients. Their adrenals had crashed, and many other systems in their bodies were on the verge. The best thing they could have done to heal was to stop going to the gym.
Should I stop exercising altogether while my body heals? Yes and no. I would give a strong caution if exercising to you means lifting weights, running, or doing cardio. A good rule of thumb is, if you feel energized after a workout only to crash later, if you have trouble sleeping that night, or if you are fatigued the following day or are in pain, then you are doing more than your body can handle. While admitting that your body is in a fragile state may be hard, especially for those of us who used to take pride in our intense workouts and had a “no pain, no gain” philosophy, you need to remember that your workout is harming you, and you aren’t getting ahead. You are only falling behind. Health should be our goal, not keeping up with the person next to us in dance class or on the treadmill.
There is a good chance that your old workout needs to be thrown out the window, for the time being. That is my situation. I know myself too well to know that if I go take a dance class right now, I will push myself too hard. So I need to find other ways to exercise with a different goal in mind: Healing. For me, this means gentle training, that doesn’t seem like “training” at all. Light stretching, yoga, rebounding, swimming, and nature walks are ideal for getting the body moving while focusing on rebuilding the adrenals. The key is keeping your stress level down and not overdoing it. A nature walk doesn’t mean an hour-long hike. Yoga doesn’t mean taking a “hot yoga” class each day. I would even go as far to say that if you are looking at the activity as “exercise,” then you are probably doing too much. Think of these as movement activities, geared towards getting your body out of an idle state into motion. Ten minutes once or twice a day doing any one of these things is going to be more healing for your body than any “exercise” will. Of course, as you heal, gradually increase your workouts, and listen to your body for how far to take it. I know that I can’t wait to get back to dance class!