Exercise is medicine right ... ? Indeed it is – exercise is most definitely a kind of medicine or therapy - but only when the exercise that's prescribed or chosen is right for your needs at that moment.
Exercise may not be the universal good we take it for. And I don't mean to put a downer on the party, because if anything we all need to be moving more not less. But we have come to believe any form of physical activity is good for us. And not just that, but there's a belief that harder and longer is bigger and better mentality, and this is nothing more than a myth that needs debunking.
It stems from original intentions for exercise motivations which were based around toning up and losing weight – why people were first encouraged to join gyms – and ensured maximal calorie-burning and muscle-toning effects. But ironically this could be adding to the weight woes of many, as well as doing a disservice to the actual goals or outcomes we seek.
The exercise we embark on can be likened to drug prescription. If we prescribe the right drug based on what the patients presenting symptoms are, then the patient will be better off for it. But if we get the diagnosis all wrong, and the prescription drugs are then wrong, what happens to the patient? Not only do their symptoms not ease, but they'll probably end up with some other random side effects too - they could even get worse!
For instance, if we are tired from a poor sleep, are feeling the pressure from an urgent deadline at work, have a sick child, financial issues, an aching lower back, and haven't eaten anything since breakfast, then hard and fast exercise is not going to be the therapy or medicine we need.
However, some breath and restorative work, some gentle mobility work, or some playful games might be more what the doctor ordered, so to speak. The way we present when heading into an exercise or movement session, and the symptoms or elements of one's life that are directly apparent when we're in the pursuit of our daily movement fix, are factors that need to be deeply considered if exercise is going to be of beneficial gain to us.
We're so lucky to have an abundance of exercise modalities to choose from. When our energy is depleted, we haven't slept, are tense with stress, have aching joints, are dehydrated, have our period, feeling emotional, have niggling joint pain, have recently lost a loved one, haven't eaten nourishing foods, have exhausting workloads - these are not times to just "push through it". These are not times to do an "as many reps as possible" circuit, or a 2000 calorie sprint on the bike, or pump out the reps until you collapse.
Those are times when your body is screaming "listen". Those are times when the medicine or therapy you require needs to be completely personalised to your own unique circumstances. And those are the times when prescription really, really does matter. And only when it's given the consideration it requires, THAT is when the body will benefit. Because the drug that's been prescribed matches the client's presenting symptoms.
There is such an immense range of exercise modalities available to us these days – we have more freedom of choice than ever before. We therefore have the choice to choose wisely and to truly tune in and listen to our body's individual needs on any given day.
The more consistently we get it right, the more our body will surrender to the very ideals we are seeking for our health, be it weight management, greater strength, or a reduction in pain and restriction. Exercise and movement can be a powerful medicine and therapy when it's used appropriately.
There is great freedom and privilege in being able to use movement to help our bodies in any given moment. If we take time to listen thoroughly, and to only do what we feel our body is asking for on any particular day, we'll have happier bodies.
My finishing thought: Unless you're a professional athlete or are preparing for a big, hairy audacious goal like a half marathon, you should always finish a workout feeling more energised and more alive than when you began. If you feel exhausted or haven't got the energy left to walk to the car, your approach to your exercise might need a little tweaking – because movement should energise us, not deplete us.
• Corinne Austin is a Northland based health and movement coach (firstname.lastname@example.org)