Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.
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Last month I talked about How Physical Activity Enhances Productivity. To give the flip side of the coin, this month I’ll address the top 5 ways that inactivity increases fatigue.
1- Sleep difficulties. The relentless demands of modern life lead our bodies to produce excess cortisol, a stress hormone linked to insomnia. Excess cortisol comes at the expense of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep. For a better night’s sleep, you therefore need to reduce cortisol and increase serotonin. The best way to accomplish both simultaneously is through exercise. But if you prefer to hit the couch when you get home from work, you might be up watching longer than you’d like! Your out of balance biochemicals will retaliate and give you (another?) sleepless night. When getting a good night’s sleep is difficult, feeling energetic the next day becomes one big challenge.
2- Frail muscles. When it comes to muscle mass and strength, the motto “use it or lose it” definitely applies. People who are injured and have a limb immobilized start losing muscle cells as quickly as 6 hours after immobilization. Since muscle is a powerful calorie-consumer, consuming between 50 to 75 times more calories than fat does, lower muscle mass easily leads to weight gain. More importantly, less muscle mass makes anything slightly physical require more effort. Imagine how difficult it is for someone who has excess weight and weak muscles to carry that weight around just to get out of the car, climb a flight of stairs, walk down the hallway, and lift a box of paper before getting the day at work started? Ouf! I’m tired just thinking about it!3- Weak cardio-vascular performance. The heart is a muscle. Like other muscles, it atrophies with lack of exertion. A weaker heart pumps a smaller volume of blood with each beat, requiring more beats to do the same work. Sedentary people therefore tend to have higher heart rates and lower oxygen consumption than active individuals. Since the body needs oxygen to transform nutrients into energy, with lower oxygenation comes lower energy. Along with higher heart rates come fatigue. It’s a lot of extra work for your heart!
4- Poor nutrition. Physical activity helps balance cortisol and serotonin. These two biochemicals have a lot to do with food consumption. Indeed, people with higher cortisol levels tend to look for quick feel-good boosts easily found in sugary and fatty foods. With low serotonin, cravings peak and are harder to control. In other words, inactivity combines two very important ingredients that can lead to overeating. In the short term, overeating will require a lot of your precious energy for digestive purposes. It will also bring your sugar levels on a roller-coaster ride that will leave you feeling depleted within the hour.Over the long run, overeating leads to weight gain, which increases fatigue by forcing you to spend more energy for everything you do.
5- Low morale. This one is quite intuitive, but let me explain it just the same. Through its impact on biochemicals, physical activity is known to reduce stress, depression, and anger. It simultaneously elevates mood, self-esteem, and energy levels. Comparatively speaking, sedentary people are therefore less likely to be emotionally healthy than active individuals. More and more research is showing that inactivity is likely to bring about feelings of emotional exhaustion, physical tiredness, and overall lousiness.
What does this all mean for people who feel too tired to exercise? Simple: understand that being sedentary makes you tired – not the other way around! In order to feel better, you need to be more active. The body is somewhat like your smart phone: it runs out of power after a long day. But unlike your smart phone, plugging yourself in front of the TV will only perpetuate a bad thing. Get moving instead, and then enjoy a good night’s sleep! Exercise and Zs are by far your best battery-chargers!
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