When we're used to exercise almost daily and be active outside of our workouts too, our understanding about the exercise we're actually doing every day, may get twisted.
It's funny to write this post and frankly a lot of other posts where I talk about hypothalamic amenorrhea, because they are 180 degrees opposite to those what you'd find in most typical women's magazines and fitness sites.
Those magazines and sites tell you to exercise more and harder, teach you how to “fool” your body and get away with less food, make you believe that getting rid of cellulite should be your life mission and that losing those last 10 lbs will make you truly happy.
We should stay away from this crap anyway, but especially us who are trying to recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea–we don't need more advice on how to skip food and make our workouts more intense.
But back to today's topic…
Too Much Exercise Got Us In Trouble
A few months ago I started working with a chiropractor. The initial reason was to figure out the pain in my wrists, but after I had told her that I'm having hypothalamic amenorrhea, it came out that this is even bigger problem from my whole health perspective than my wrists.
I had no idea that a chiropractor could potentially help with that, but in fact, she can. We've been doing a lot of testing to figure out my vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies and I'm actually taking quite a bit of supplements that she found out my body is craving.
While these things matter and help to speed up the recovery process, the most important thing to fix for most of us suffering from hypothalamic amenorrhea is to change our exercise and eating habits. Going overboard with working out and not eating enough to support this amount of exercise is likely what got us in trouble the first place, so that's also the first thing we need to get to work on.
When You Think You Barely Exercise…
Prior my first chiropractor appointment, I had already filled out a form and answered all the questions you could think of about my health. But on the first appointment, we talked tons more. One of the questions she asked me was how much I exercise.
I said that not too much anymore, because I have cut most of it out to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea. She asked more details. (She always does and that's what's so awesome about her.) So, I told her what my current exercise plan was, which, at the time, looked like this:
- 10K walk daily
- Yoga 2x / week
- Lifting weights 2x/ week, if I feel like it.
(Side note: now I'm doing 45 minute to 1 hour walk a day and yoga 2x a week. No lifting or other cardio except for walking.)
In my mind, this amount of exercise was basically nothing.
I had already cut it back a lot, because before I started recovery, I used to do 10K walk every day, 20-30 minute HIIT 6 days a week, an occasional 30-34 minute run once a week, sometimes riding my bike to work, and sometimes, if I felt like it, another mini workout a day.
When I was on a vacation, I worked out even more, because I did my workouts and then explored new places, always walking or hiking. I just loved it, and I still do.
But, workouts that were “basically nothing” for me, are a lot more than what most people do.
My chiropractor told me that it may seem to me that what I was doing – 10K walk, 2 yoga and 2 weight lifting sessions – is nothing to me, but it's still plenty. She said that it's more than what most people do, and that she definitely wouldn't want me to do any more exercise than that.
Why Our Understanding of Our Exercise Habits May Be Twisted
She's right. It is actually a lot, but I never realized it before.
When we're used to workout consistently for years, it may become hard to realize that we actually workout a lot. Plus, we're often doing other activities that we never consider as workouts. However, they do count.
Here are some of the ways I moved, but I didn't consider them exercise:
- Yoga didn't count as exercise–that was my rest day activity.
- Walking didn't count as exercise either, I was doing anyway.
- Back in my very intense running days (roughly years 2007-2012), I would go to the gym only occasionally and considered even that as my rest day, because anything that wasn't running, didn't count as a workout.
- I don't workout a lot when I train my clients or teach a bootcamp (these are not Bodypump classes where the trainer works out as well), but I do bring out the weights we need, carry them around, demonstrate exercises, run from person to person to check their form… Train 3-4 classes or clients a day like that and it does add up.
So, it's definitely more than an average person does, or what?
What the Guidelines Say
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the amount of recommended exercise for adults is following:
- For substantial health benefits, at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or combination of the two.
- For additional and more extensive health benefits, 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or combination of the two.
- Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
On one hand, only about 49% of Americans meet the aerobic exercise recommendation and only 21% meets that muscle-strengthening exercise recommendation. It's a big problem that those numbers are that low.
On the other hand, there are many of those people, including many of us suffering from hypothalamic amenorrhea, who do wayyyy more than these recommendations suggest.
Those recommendations also say that those 150 minutes a week are ideally spread out throughout the week.
But if we're honest to ourselves now, how many times in the past X months or years, have we spent 150 minutes a day working out? And how many workouts like this have we done in a week?
How Much Do We Actually Exercise?
I don't know about you, but during my most intense running years, I would run 75-90 minutes a day three days a week, and around 60 minutes another three days a week, so the total being somewhere 405-450 minutes a week.
Add to that all the walking and weight training on the “rest day” and restricting food, and you can see the recipe for your body to shut down.
I wish I had been aware of all that before…
For the past years, I've cut out most of the running and I've spent less time working out. Short and intense HIIT workouts with weights cut my exercise time significantly, which I was actually happy about, because I had more time for other things. I also really liked that thanks to working out with weights I was putting on muscle instead of just being skinny and also enjoyed more food. Yay!
But, at the same time, I wasn't still realistic about the other things I did: How much I walked, how many classes I taught, my bike to work 30 minutes one way and other 30 back… and how much rest I got in relation to all that.
I may have done 20 minutes of dumbbell HIIT, but I wasn't lying down staring the ceiling for the rest of the day. I do have days when I'm fairly sedentary because that's what my other job requires, and on these days, walking, some light bodyweight movement and stretching are non-negotiable for me. But there's no need to overdo it on days when I'm really active anyway.
What I should have thought is this: It's okay to skip my workouts on days when I'm training a bunch of clients and teach classes, or when I'm riding my bicycle to get groceries, or when I just got back from a 2-hour hilly hike on the weekend…
So, just do a quick reality check: If you think that I'm not working out that much, how come I still have HA? – think about other activities during the day, and make sure you're not overdoing it. Also, on the days you move more, eat more.
Through all those other daily movements, we're can burn hundreds and hundreds of more calories on top of the energy we burn in our workouts.
Doing daily activities are a great way to go for those who are having hard time moving at all, but for people like me and likely you, who are trying to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea, they create even more calorie deficit that we have to be realistic and aware about. And this can really contribute to wrecking our hormonal balance.
Edited: I am now recovered from hypothalamic amenorrhea. If you need help with your recovery, here are some ways how we can work together. Don't put it off, do your best take your health back as soon as possible!