Just like any herbal supplement, exercise must be initiated with the proper dosage to have a therapeutic effect without causing undue stress on the body. Too little exercise…well…we all know the consequences of this. Too much exercise can be just as bad however. Due to the action of oxidative stress, your body can age prematurely by being overworked, regardless if that overwork occurs from a daily trip to the gym or a 10 hour workday at the manufacturing plant. We must be wise about exercise and seek to understand how it is helping us in order to get the dosage right.
The simplest mental construct to draw to understand exercise dosage is to break the term exercise into two discrete concepts: activity and conditioning. Activity is the use of your body to perform a specific task. The goal of any exercise program should be to increase the amount and types of activities that you can safely and competently perform. If exercising enables you to walk further without being winded and lift a box without being strained, then your exercise routine is successful in making you stronger and more resilient, better adapted to respond to the stresses of life. If your chosen form of exercise reinforces one specific activity at the expense of your total metabolic condition, you have rendered yourself less functionally capable. An example of the latter is an individual who trains for a marathon while their upper body atrophies and their ability to sprint dissolves.
Conditioning is the generalized strengthening of your body to perform numerous and unforeseen tasks. This is the goal of any athlete who trains to perform optimally for competition. A basketball player may spend hours shooting the ball (activity) to obtain the muscle memory necessary to score points, but in order to outperform his/her competitors, must achieve peak fitness and seek a global strengthening of the body (conditioning) with which to handle all the physical rigors of the game. We are not all athletes, but we all do participate in the game of life. We too should therefore adopt a global conditioning program to prepare our bodies to meet life’s physical demands. This should, in theory, be the objective of a school’s physical education program. What often results is a lackluster appreciation for how joyous a well conditioned body can be.
The solution to this fitness crisis is not to drive to your nearest gym and take up aerobics classes 6 days a week. To go from couch potato to exercise addict or weekend warrior is very stressful on the body, particularly the joints. I have treated many a patient who consistently feel worse following their exercise routine, continuing their form of self-torture under the misguided premises of “no pain, no gain.” The best medicine for these folks is to shift the focus away from activity for the sake of activity towards conditioning their body slowly and surely. Exercise does not necessarily lead to a well conditioned body, but becoming conditioned will naturally bring about the desire to be more active. This is key. You can’t put the cart of increased activity before the horse of conditioning.
There are many great ways to shape up while sparing your body from excessive stress, swimming and yoga being two examples. The form of conditioning I advocate to my patients is slowly lifting weights to muscle failure in a protocol described in the book Body By Science by Dr. Doug McGuff and John Little. Giving your body a brief and intense stimulus to grow stronger while allowing an adequate recovery period will condition your body without burning it out. I have done this routine for almost a year now and am amazed with the results. I am stronger, more capable, and suffer from far less joint instability as my body has cinched up courtesy of the extra muscle mass. The best part of all is that you can accomplish this with only 20 minutes a week at the gym.
I can’t say enough good things about the Body By Science protocol and I thank Dr. McGuff for so eloquently teaching these principles. I encourage you to give it a try and grow stronger with each passing day. Thanks for reading and thanks for lifting!