best exercise for weight loss yoga in nature warrior 1

Best exercise for weight loss and health?

January is a time when lot’s of us decide to start a new fitness regime. We want to lose that holiday weight and feel healthier. But what is the best exercise for weight loss and health? In the online fitness world you see endless photos of “influencers” doing crazy workouts and high intensity training. They get millions of likes when they share photos of their toned thighs and shredded abs. But is it really necessary to train like an athlete to reach your goals? And is intense exercise for weight loss truly healthy?

The answer is, it depends! When it comes to weight loss, it always comes down energy out vs. energy in. Simply put, to lose weight, you need to burn more energy (calories) than you eat from food. In other words, your net energy must be negative to lose weight.

best exercise for weight loss energy balance

But the catch is that our bodies are far from simple machines. This makes the picture of weight loss much more complicated. To understand this, you need to realise that changing one part of the weight loss equation has an impact on the rest. And this is why more exercise doesn’t always result in faster weight loss. Your body like nothing more than staying balanced or in homeostasis. Therefore, it will use every power it has to keep things as they are. Especially when you use extreme tactics such as intense exercise to lose weight. You body will resist and fight back.

How your body responds to exercise for weight loss

I’ll give you some examples of how your body tries to compensate when you exercise intensely. Your body:

  • Minimises your natural movements throughout the rest of the day – aka the “active couch potato” syndrome
  • Ramps up your hunger hormones and decrease the hormones which make you feel full and satiated to make you eat more than usual after your exercise. Familiar with that bottomless pit hunger after working out intensely?!
  • Makes your metabolism efficient and learns to survive using less energy. This could look like a slowing of your heart rate, reducing body temperature and blood pressure
  • Slows or shuts down unnecessary functions like hair growth, cell repair and menstrual cycles

Does this mean that intense exercise is not the best exercise for weight loss and health?

Yes, intense exercise it is not necessarily the best exercise for weight loss. Challenging your body through cardiovascular exercise is a good thing. If you want to improve your physical fitness, moderate to high intensity exercise is great a few times a week. But slogging it out in the gym for 1-2 hours every day to burn as many calories as possible is more likely to be a stress on your body. This won’t help you to reach your health goals!

Athletes who train at this level for their job have a whole team to take care of them. It’s a full-time job to get the right nutrition, rest and rehabilitation to keep their body healthy at this level of activity. Nowadays it seems like everyone is training like an athlete for the sake of achieving a perfect physique. And your average Joe doesn’t have this level of support! This can result in injuries and chronic illness in those that over-excercise. I always say to stay aware that things you see online may not always be as they seem. People that you admire or compare yourself to might look healthy and fit on the outside. However, you never know what is going on inside.

I recently enjoyed watching the journey of Stephanie Buttermore. She is a well known fitness influencer who admitted that behind the scenes she was struggling with extreme hunger, fatigue and hormonal issues. She decided to go “all in” to recover her health as I did when recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Her issues were around restrictive eating and not eating enough to support her level of training. Restrictive eating and over-exercising can have very similar impacts. Extrememes in both can create too large an energy deficit for the body to handle. This creates a stress response and can lead to a cascade of other issues.

So what is the best exercise for weight loss and health?

To start with, I’d say any exercise that you genuinely enjoy and will stick to. It’s much better to build a sustainable habit of working out for 30 minutes three times a week that to go all out and exercise every day then give up after a week. With exercise for weight loss and health, consistency is key! Everyone is different and we all like different things. Some people really enjoy working out at the gym, others prefer running or cycling outdoors. You might like taking your dog on long walks or walking in the park with a friend.

For me, dancing and yoga are the two ways of moving my body that I really love. These activities don’t feel like exercise at all! I also love walking outside whether that’s a stroll around the area or a long hike in nature. The best exercise for weight loss is one that doesn’t feel like exercise but is a fun part of your life.

Walking is the best exercise for weight loss

In my opinion, walking is one of the best exercise for weight loss. Why? Let’s go back to the weight loss equation. Walking is a low intensity exercise which gets your heart rate up into the fat burning zone. However it is not usually to the point where you are out of breath or struggling to speak. This means it is a low stress type of exercise. Walking won’t cause your body to freak out and try to conserve energy or send you signals to over eat to compensate.

Going for a walk is a way of moving your body that can fit into your every day life. It doesn’t have to labelled as exercise or a workout. You can walk to work or to the shops, or you can meet a friend for a lunch time walk. Walking doubles as time to relax and to move your body too. You can listen to music that you like or a podcast or chat on the phone while you walk. Walking is suitable for all levels of fitness from absolute beginners right up to experienced athletes. Plus, it’s completely free!

If your goal is to lose weight, start by walking for 30 minutes every day and see how you feel. You can then add in other exercise that you enjoy to mix things up and have fun. Moving your body should be enjoyable and afterwards you should feel tired but not completely exhausted. If you are feeling totally depleted after your workouts then it’s probably a sign that you are over doing it for your current level of fitness. This is a sign to tone it down or you could risk burn out or injury.

If you are also trying to change your diet to eat healthier, go easy on yourself! It’s much harder to make healthier food choices when your body is starving after an intense workout. Often we can fall into the trap of binge eating on energy dense foods such as sweets and processed food. We want to be gentle and work with our bodies rather than against them. So always check in with how you feel after a workout and go from there.

Daily challenge: Go for a walk!

So your challenge for today is simply to go for a mindful walk. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for 10 minutes or an hour. Just be sure to pay attention to your surroundings and to how you feel in your body and mind afterwards. Notice whether you feel fatigued or energised and whether your stress levels have increased or decreased.

best exercise for weight loss walking in nature

Over to you…

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yoga for relaxation and letting go - twist

Yoga, relaxation and letting go

Last night I taught the last online “yoga for women” class of 2020 and the theme I chose was letting go. It seemed appropriate as we are coming to the end of the year and what a year it has been. I feel like the whole world is emotionally charged right now.. we have all been cooped up indoors, barely able to see friends and family for nearly 10 months now. I know I’m feeling a complicated mixture of frustration, anger, sadness, confusion most days and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. Of course there are good moments too and we are making the best of things, and I am so grateful that my loved ones haven’t been affected by the virus but still, these are testing times!

But back to the theme of letting go.. the end of the year is a great time to reflect on our lives and our inner world. How are we feeling? Are we living a life we love? Are we on track to reach the goals we set for ourselves? What patterns are we ready to break? The new year is a perfect time for a clean start, for us to let go of any habits which are no longer serving us, to let go of any heavy emotional baggage we have been carrying and to let go of any unhelpful self-judgement or criticism which is holding us back. Like that feeling of your body warming up and relaxing after you have been outside in the cold, tense and shivering to keep warm, letting go allows you to release tension from your body and mind and find comfort and relaxation. Sometimes we don’t even realise how some things are affecting us until they are gone.

Some things that I am ready to let go of are:

  • Comparing myself to others. This is a habit that is hard to break! I used to compare the way I look to others a lot and feel less than. Now it’s more about how my business is growing and feeling that I am “behind” somehow
  • Excessive screen time. I don’t use my phone too much but I’ve definitely noticed myself spending more time on my computer during the lockdown and I know it makes me feel tired and dazed. I want to at least have a couple of hours totally screen free in the mornings and evening
  • Negative self-talk and limiting beliefs about my physical fitness. I recently started to exercise again after being recovered from HA nearly 4 years and I am feeling a bit disheartened about my loss of fitness. I know I am improving and it takes time but it’s easy to fall into the trap of criticising myself

Yoga and letting go

So how can yoga help us to let go? Yoga encourages us to be present with ourselves and bring our awareness to what is happening in our body and mind. We are encouraged to notice any areas of tightness or tension and to use our deep, conscious breathing to let it go and relax, creating a sense of softness. Often when we arrive on our yoga mat and check in with ourselves, we find we are holding tension in our neck and shoulders, our jaw and face or our hips which we weren’t even aware of. As we move through yoga asana (physical postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) we can learn how to let these things go and over time this ease within the body and mind becomes our natural state.

A yoga practice for relaxation and letting go looks like moving slowly, finding ease in the poses and allowing your body to open up in it’s own time rather than fighting against it, trying to force yourself into painful positions. To help with letting go, practice longer holds, anywhere from 1-5 minutes, and really stay present and focused on the sensations within the poses and the steady rhythm of your breath. You can practice scanning your body for any resistance to the pose, maybe a feeling of clenching or gripping in your muscles and try to surrender into the posture, melting deeper with each exhale. If this feels difficult you can even try purposely clenching your muscles on an inhale and releasing everything on the exhale.

I find that seated or lying poses help the most with letting go and relaxation, any pose where you are close to the ground and can really feel supported by the mat beneath you. Poses like extended child’s pose, sleeping pigeon pose, supine twist and butterfly pose are all great for finding peace and relaxation by opening up the shoulders, lower back and hips. For an even more relaxing practice, you can use props to support your body in postures, especially forward folds and reclining back bends (like in my yoga sequence for your period). Supporting your body with yoga blocks, bolsters or cushions can help you to find the comfort that allows deep relaxation and true letting go.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this quick post on yoga for relaxation and letting go. Let me know in the comments if you have a favourite pose or sequence to help you relax and let go.

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