Old habits don’t have to die hard! As you age, evolving your exercise habits to keep in tune with your body's changing requirements is vital for optimal health.
Being fit and healthy doesn’t always have to mean slogging it out at the gym or running endless miles. As we go through life our body’s requirements and physiology alter. Therefore, you shouldn’t be afraid to shake up your exercise routines a little to support this. Forcing your body to keep up with its 20 or 30 year old self can be punishing and could in time have massive negative consequences to your overall health.
I’ve exercised for as long as I can remember…literally! One of my first memories is running around our local park behind my dad, trying to get a PB (personal best) which resulted in an ice cream on the way home. As a competitive swimmer I trained before and after school, 4 hours daily. Falling asleep in lessons and stinking of chlorine was pretty normal to me. This escalated to triathlons, marathons and then I made exercise my career. No escape!
I’m not complaining though- I adore exercise! I love the energy and buzz it gives me, the way it clears my mind, keeps me focused and basically makes me feel alive. At that stage of my life I was constantly pumped high on endorphins and always wanting a new challenge.
I was addicted to exercise and felt sluggish and awful if I had a few days off.
This was all fine for a time. I was young and my body could keep up. I was in my late 20’s and nothing could stop me! However, as I got older, gradually this heavy exercise regime started to take its toll on my body. My muscles constantly ached, and I remember being terribly moody at times as I was so, so tired, my sleep was awful and I constantly experienced bouts of insomnia. I was doing so much exercise that it was difficult to maintain enough nutrition to support it. I wasn’t eating enough to fuel my habit and so my weight and body fat dropped to unhealthy levels. Without knowing it, I was jeopardizing the one thing I’ve always thought my fit and healthy body would provide me with…my fertility.
I was diagnosed with Exercise Induced Amenorrhea.
This basically means my periods stopped and I was no longer ovulating. With excessive exercise and not enough nutrition to support it, my reproductive system was left with no energy to function properly. It went into a dormant state and stopped producing oestrogen, which is the hormone required for ovulation. Without oestrogen being produced, I had little chance of conceiving.
I’ve always prided myself on being healthy. I’m never sick, I eat a good "clean" diet and exercise regularly. But, can being "too healthy" or exercising too much at certain points of our lives can be detrimental? That's the question I've had to answer for myself and my future.
Since this diagnosis, I’ve had to work on turning my life around, changing up my diet and exercise routines and listening to what my body needs on a daily basis. I’ve had to learn to relax more. My adrenal glands have been worn down by the constant secretions of adrenaline! I’ve had to reset my goals and mindset. I desperately want children and so I need to give my body a rest and provide my reproductive system with the energy it requires to function again as normal. This means throwing out the long distance runs, the high intensity sprints and everything I’ve focused on for so long as those endorphins were causing me exhaustion.
In some respects this transition has been really difficult. It involves changing a lifetime of exercise habits which I’ve more than enjoyed. Running along the river as the sun rises I would honestly say is one of my favorite moments! But, by focusing on what I really want from life right now, I have managed to change my exercise habits to benefit myself in my present moment.
Instead of running endless miles to exhaustion, I now practice yoga 2-3 times a week, and I’ve found that I actually love it!
My body doesn’t ache all over anymore which is a strange yet amazing feeling and it really helps calm my mind too. I use bodyweight and light resistance work to maintain my overall body strength and place particular focus on my core muscles.
Strengthening the core muscles, particularly the muscles of the inner core unit, is so important at this stage of my life as I am hoping to conceive. The more work I do now to strengthen these muscles, the less chance I will suffer from Diastasis Recti (should I be lucky enough to fall pregnant). It will also help my abdominals recover far quicker postpartum and reduces my chances of suffering from lower back pain or pelvic floor dysfunction. These chronic conditions are widespread yet often overlooked consequences of Diastasis Recti in new mums.
As a Pre- and Post-natal Exercise Specialist with Tangram Wellness, I’m helping prenatal, postnatal and women on the fertility journey become more aware of the importance of specific core strengthening techniques which must be included in their present exercise routines. I see so many new mums who have snapped back into old exercise habits too fast, in a bid to lose their baby weight. This usually results in a protruding mummy pooch, a weak and very sore lower back and quite often, stress incontinence. This doesn’t have to be the case- don’t be scared to change your old exercise habits!
It's so easy to get addicted to endless exercise, push your body too much and never change up your routine. I’m urging you though to get more in tune with your body. Are you training with focus or simply pushing yourself to exhaustion each time? Overtraining is a common yet unnecessary problem. Take time to make sure that you recognize its signs and adjust your exercise accordingly before it effects your physical and emotional health.
The most common signs of overtraining are as follows:
Increased muscle soreness
Recurrent injuries or illness
Lack of motivation
Loss of menstruation
It's been really challenging for me not to go running as it’s my passion, but I’ve realized it’s a worthy sacrifice. I’m so glad I’ve finally listened to my body and recognized my symptoms of overtraining and exhaustion. I’m optimistic that my body will thank me for making these changes soon.
Are you also on a fertility journey, and wondering how exercise fits into the equation? Have you ever ventured into the waters of overtraining or exercise addiction, and if so, how did you make the shift? Do you have questions on overtraining? Leave your thoughts in the comments section- we always love to hear from you. Anna Kwan runs several post-natal classes a week, and will be launching a pre-natal class soon. She also works with mothers one-on-one. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for a consultation or to book in.