You’re stressed, not sleeping well, and life feels like it’s dragging you along. You want to exercise, but when you do, it just leads to anxiety and a heavy feeling in your body. In fact, you rarely experience the buzz that everyone else seems to get after they work out.
Yet they all tell you that there’s nothing like a good sweat, right? Well-meaning friends and self-help articles say that feeling that burn will uplift your mood.
The truth is, however, that a heart-pumping workout can sometimes become the source of stress, and actually cause more harm than good when it comes to your health.
I know this all too well. In my early 20s, I had fun working in gyms, teaching classes filled with vibrance and positive energy with a side of sweat. But after a few years, I started getting sick over and over again. I lost the energy to get through my sessions and started to experience anxiety, low moods, and muscle soreness that rarely went away.
Having first joined a gym at 14 years old, I’d spent so much of my life turning to movement for an emotional boost. It used to make me feel good no matter what was going on, and helped me create the energy to keep up with life itself. But by my mid-twenties, I’d fatigued my system to the max, was overtraining and had pushed myself to burnout–emotionally, physically, mentally.
I realized I needed to overhaul my lifestyle. So I began to optimize my sleep, eat better, and take on less. And, crucially, I refined the balance of types of exercise I was doing.
You see, I wanted to continue to move. I could not do nothing. But I certainly needed to listen to what my body was telling me. To give my nervous system a chance at restoring,
I pulled back from what I thought of as traditional forms of gym sessions (cardio, strength work, core, weights, circuits, boxing) and instead embraced Pilates, yoga, stretching, and meditation.
Now, at 40, I know how to take a sustainable approach to working out. Instead of trying to keep up with my peers like I used to, I approach every week with a new level of self-honor. I check in with how much energy I have based on my time, my business, my boys, my capacity. And I respect it. I push where I can, but pull back as I need, and move with purpose, focus, and control at all times.
A typical week for me now involves (at most) five days of 30-minute sessions: two Pilates-based full-body strength routines using bodyweight and resistance bands, two low-impact cardio sessions including low-impact HIIT or a brisk walk outdoors, and one full-body weights session, plus a short, 15-minute yoga-based mindfulness/stretch session including meditation on most days.
Exercise is now a constantly evolving, yet enjoyable part of my life. Not a burden, not a stress, but always a positive uplift–even on a hard day. Because I’ve decided that, at 40, I do not have nor even want the capacity to struggle to push myself when it’s just not happening. “Getting exercise” is not worth my health or happiness.
Interestingly, I’ve found that when you learn to balance more intense workouts with lighter, more controlled movement, you’re more likely to reach your fitness goals because you create space for your body to recover. And when you prioritize parts of your fitness that you may never have given a thought to before (like your nervous system, or the effects of hormonal changes), you start to see things from a fresh perspective.
My idea of exercise has evolved, and I now see fitness primarily as a way of connecting my body and mind. This approach has relaxed not only me, but also countless clients of mine to be able to exercise smarter, not harder. We work strong, but build an incredible foundation, honoring our health at every stage along the way.
The great thing is when you always question, “How will this activity make me feel?” and, “Will this truly help with my energy, body, and health?” you release a lot of anxiety around keeping up with what you think fitness should be.
It’s old-school thinking to believe you need to go hard or go home. Respecting that taking things a little lower impact due to changed pelvic floor, for instance, may be the way to go. Decreasing your workouts from 60 minutes to a balanced, effective 20- or 30-minute routine a few days a week may actually help you build more strength. (Science even backs this up.)
Consider how you feel after various forms of movement, and if the balance of your workouts is something you can enjoy for the next 10, 20, 30 years or more.
The next time you’re looking to take it easy, try this gentle flow: