Updated: Feb 11, 2022
We are all aware that physical activity is essential for humans to stay fit and healthy. The current generation has a better understanding of the importance of physical activity. While it is great that the younger generation understands the importance of physical activity, the shocking aspect is, we are still in the dark when it comes to how much physical activity is needed for the body. What happens when one exercises extensively? Can extensive physical activity have adverse effects on the body?
To explain this in layman terms, our bodies are just like cars. To maintain the good condition of a brand-new car, we must add the right fuel, repair it when necessary, and allow the car to cool down through periodic rest. We cannot let it gather dust in the garage for fear of wear and tear nor can we use it non-stop even if we use the right fuel. Add the wrong kind of fuel and the car will malfunction. Overuse the car without giving the engine any rest, and parts of the car will start damaging. Overrun this damaged car and it will have no choice but break down!
Our bodies are similar. They require food with all the nutrients in every single meal. They also require good amounts of rest every single day and some movement all day to function efficiently and be in optimal health. Consuming unhealthy food, even occasionally, and not resting well regularly can cause internal damage and inflammation. Adding intense physical activity to this ongoing inflammation and over-stressed organs is disastrous. Sooner or later, the body breaks down. It is also possible that it may become fatal under certain conditions.
Free radicals are generated during normal cellular function and are part of the natural physiological process of all living beings. Intense physical activity increases free radical production leading to chronic inflammation and internal damage (cells/tissues/cellular lipids/proteins/DNA, etc.). If this kind of intense activity is accompanied with unhealthy eating, lack of rest, and increased amounts of stress, the inflammation multiplies and has disastrous effects on health leading to chronic diseases like heart problems, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, allergies, autoimmune disorders, and bowel diseases like crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Healthy eating: Increased quantities of fresh produce like fruits, vegetables, and green leafy vegetables (both raw and cooked) provide huge amounts of micronutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals which nullify the effects of the free radicles (inflammatory agents) and aid repair/healing. This is only effective when coupled with the removal of refined/processed foods and inflammatory foods like sugar, deep fried and animal products from our diets.
Healthy resting: Resting regularly is important as it provides a window for repair, rejuvenation, and healing without which damage and deterioration will perpetuate. Sound sleep at the right time (repair hormones are produced to the optimum levels during the first few hours of nightfall) till the body feels rested and fresh, small breaks between activities, focusing on activities one at a time and slowing down are all essential parts of healthy rest. Rest in seven areas is necessary regularly – physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social, sensory, and creative.
Healthy activity: A moderate and programmed physical exercise has often been reported to be therapeutic. All one needs is natural movement – the movement of muscles, joints, blood, and oxygen (circulation), lymph (drainage), intestines (peristalsis), prana, and regulated slowed-down thoughts(mind). A simple, safe, and cost-free way to get all the above is to practice traditional slow yoga asanas, pranayama, and meditation. These not only provide the necessary movement but also tone up the parasympathetic nervous system (which aids in rest & digest) and calm down the sympathetic nervous system (which stimulates the production of stress hormones). Today, when stress is becoming more and more common in our lives, this becomes all the more necessary. Multitasking can worsen this stress and its impact on our health.
A comfortably paced walk in fresh air among trees and under sunlight a few times a week can add value to the above. This can be woven into our lifestyle without having to dedicate specific times for it - shopping, small errands, visiting friends etc. Activities like gardening, swimming, dancing, playing a game can also serve the same purpose. It is equally important to listen to the body and not overdo it if in discomfort or pain. Do not indulge in physical activity after a meal because it can disturb the process of digestion. Large muscles in the legs require blood and oxygen in huge amounts to support any physical activity. Yes, walking after a meal increases insulin sensitivity, and Diabetics might benefit from lower blood glucose but not at the cost of poor digestion which is the first step towards health. Walk barefoot on the earth(soil) few minutes every day. Mounting evidence suggests that the Earth's negative potential can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems.
Bodyweight should never be a problem with eating right with a healthy lifestyle. Intense physical activity may be required for a short period of time with caution (eat healthy and rest well) in obesity till you reach ideal body weight - IBW (your height in centimeters minus 100 gives your ideal body weight). After reaching IBW, all we need is “movement”.
The assumption that any junk food consumed can be burnt off through intense physical activity is misleading and can only lead to ill-health. With enormous effort, you may be able to achieve a balance in calorie intake and calories burnt but the damage caused by unhealthy foods goes unaddressed - sugar/salt, processed fats, animal protein, flavoring agents, coloring agents, preservatives, and more.
The fitness industry has historically idealized high metabolic rates for weight loss. This is a myth. Increasing metabolic rate is inversely proportional to longevity and health and attempting to increase it by consuming specific foods and supplements or performing specific exercises is unhealthy. It accelerates aging because of the cumulative damage caused by reactive oxygen species. We have some scientific evidence in this direction and an undoubted prescription from Yogic philosophy.
Muscle building is another aspect to be concerned with today’s generation. Increasing huge amounts of protein - especially animal proteins and protein supplements - can be harmful to the liver and kidneys and highly inflammatory. Consuming tons of protein doesn’t build muscle. Instead, the safer option would be to consume good amounts of whole plant protein sources coupled with exercise to the required specific area which stimulates building muscle by producing IGF1 locally.
Moderation is the key. Just learn to listen to the body(not mind – mind craves for all the wrong things) eat right and set your lifestyle right and all else will fall into place. This has been beautifully explained in just two lines in this shloka of Bhagavad-Gita, thousands of years ago.
युक्ताहारविहारस्य युक्तचेष्टस्य कर्मसु |
युक्तस्वप्नावबोधस्य योगो भवति दु:खहा || 17||
yuktāhāra-vihārasya yukta-cheṣhṭasya karmasu
yukta-svapnāvabodhasya yogo bhavati duḥkha-hā
yukta—moderate; āhāra—eating; vihārasya—recreation; yukta cheṣhṭasya karmasu—balanced in work; yukta—regulated; svapna-avabodhasya—sleep and wakefulness; yogaḥ—Yog; bhavati—becomes; duḥkha-hā—the slayer of sorrows (Souce: https://mahaprana.wordpress.com/)
For one who is moderate in food and recreation, whose actions are disciplined, who is moderate in sleep and waking, can mitigate all sorrows by practicing Yoga.
From moderation comes equanimity and from equanimity comes peace. Though seeming modest at first glance, moderation can lead to profound levels of self-awareness and a willingness to remain centered in the moment as all things arise and fall.