When Exercise Might Not Be the Right Answer

Note: I'm on the road today. Typing on a keyboard while driving is probably still legal -- I mean, you can text while you drive -- but I thought it better not to risk it. So this is a vintage post that I've unpacked and brought down from the archives. Crabby will be back tomorrow with more fresh Cranky Fitness! -Merry

Sometimes exercise might not be the right answer.

I'm not talking about the retired professor who wrote "The Joy of Laziness," advocating that people exercise less and sleep in more. He felt that exercise made people more stressed, while laziness (such as hanging out in a hammock) made them more relaxed. I'd like to put that theory to further non-rigorous testing before offering an opinion one way or another.

I'm talking about an article in Psychology Today about how exercise might not be the best way to respond to stress. This is totally contrary to my oft-repeated mantra of exercise or else, but this article made me think. (In itself a good thing.)

Basically the author suggests that exercise might not be the best response to stress. Or at least, not all the time. She advocates positive social contact instead. (I'm grossly oversimplifying what the author wrote, but that's a side effect of my laziness testing.) She quotes a neuroscientist, "You may think exercise is curative... but the calm you get from jogging 10 miles is more analgesic than therapeutic."

This runs counter to everything else I've read on the subject. Everywhere you look experts are recommending exercise as a form of stress management. Exercise helps the body relax. It doesn't make my problems go away, but if I'm relaxed I'm better prepared to face them.

The idea of deliberately not exercising worries me a bit. It would be so easy to slide into the habit of using stress as an excuse not to exercise. Working out is the best way to blow off steam that I know of. Perhaps the solution would be for people in high-stress situations to exercise in a social setting: go to a gym, join a cycling group, something like that. I've always been a loner when it comes to exercise, but maybe I could persuade the dog to come along on a run.

I don't think there's anything wrong with positive social contact when you're having a stressed-out day; I just don't think it should take the place of exercise.

I remember reading of one woman who used to stuff herself whenever she was upset, taking the concept of comfort food to an extreme. Then she switched to exercising when she was upset, which at first was great. She lost a lot of weight, toned her body, and felt good about herself. But she felt good about herself only when she was exercising. So she ended up exercising for hours at a time (I believe her exercise drug of choice was dancing), to the point where she seriously injured the tendons in her legs but wanted to continue dancing anyway. Someone in that situation should probably try hammock testing for a change. Or social contact. (Or social contact in a hammock.)

Seems to me that if you have a tendency to take things to this extreme, then exercise might not be the right answer for you. I suspect this woman is the exception rather than the rule. But that's just my opinion. What do you think?

Note: the hammock up above is available for a mere $19,500. (Background setting not included.) I don't know how you're supposed to relax in something that expensive, but it does look nice.

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