Treadmill: Friend or Foe (Or Why I’m an Idiot When I Exercise-The Final Chapter)

I’ve been procrastinating. Big time. Not sure why, but this particular post most certainly has not written itself. And believe me, I’ve tried letting it.

My motivation for finally getting this done? I have some recipes I am dying to share, and I won’t let myself move forward until I’ve wrapped this up. I’m kinda funny that way.

(In case you missed it. This is the final segment of a three part series. You may want to read this first. And then this.)

The treadmill.

(Take note. I’m also talking about the elliptical. And the stationary bike. And if there were any other piece of exercise equipment that I used, I would list it here as well, but there aren’t, so I won’t.)

So…friend? Or foe? 

Well, to be honest, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the piece(s) of equipment. Rather, it has everything to do with the user—me.

And for me, what it boils down to, is competitiveness. Being competitive isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but it can become a bad thing when it overrides common sense. You know…when you stop listening to your body. And of this, I am definitely guilty.

Thankfully, I came to this understanding a while ago. It was a gradual process for me. And one in which I am still evolving. 

So now, as embarrassing as this may be, let me share my past treadmill issues.

When walking into the fitness center at the Y, I always looked for the most athletic person to work out next to. Even though they didn’t realize it, we were in competition. It may have meant speed, it may have meant distance or it could simply could have been the length of the workout. Whoever stayed on the longest won. Whoever had the fastest pace won. Whoever ran the farthest won. You get the picture. And yes, I totally get that I am not painting a very pretty picture.

Now, if for any reason (removal of sweatshirt, tying of shoes, stretching of tight hamstrings) my competition hopped off the belt, and placed their feet on the side, I automatically won. And no, I didn’t jump up and down and yell, “Yes! I win!” I do have some semblance self-control.

The elliptical is a tad bit more interesting, as I couldn’t alway see the screen of my competition, so I wasn’t always aware of the type of workout they were doing. Personally, I tend to do intervals on the elliptical. So, what I resorted to was arm movement. My arms needed to be moving faster than their arms. And if they didn’t use their arms? Well then, no competition. Or worse yet, if they locked their arms on the handrails? Ha! They were DQ’d. 

Competing on the bike? Who does that? Not me, that’s for sure. And I really didn’t. See, on the bike, I’d already won. Or at least that’s what I told myself, because I had lifted before hopping on the bike.  I didn’t compete, because my legs were shot. Very mature of me, I know, but I really didn’t like losing.

But, like I’ve said, I’m past all of this now, Yep, that’s right. I have gotten a whole lot smarter.

These days? I compete against myself.

How long can I sustain a certain RPM? How high of an intensity level can I maintain for a minute? How many calories can I burn in a minute? (And YES…I know the calorie count is totally inaccurate, but that’s not what I am talking about here, people! I gave up exercising for calorie burn YEARS ago. Or maybe a year ago…something like that, anyway.) The possibilities of playing with numbers are infinite! (Where’s the winking emoji when I need it?!)

Pandora’s also great for personal competition. Let’s talk about that for a minute, shall we? I listen to the Spin station on Pandora and match my cadence to the rhythm of the music. I’m feeling all kinds of awesome, and then the resistance and the incline increases. How long can I maintain the same cadence?

Good times, good times! But healthy?

I can honestly say yes, because now I am listening to my body. Workouts are no longer set in stone. I am conscious of how I feel, and I am okay with switching things up if need be.

You are probably wondering how I managed to accomplish this. What made the difference? Well, it certainly wasn’t experience. I had years of exercise experience and that didn’t help me one iota.

What helped was learning the science behind exercise. I became intrigued with how a workout affected my body. I now know why more isn’t always better. I understand the role of cortisol in my body.

Cortisol (lovingly called the stress hormone) is crucial in the body’s effort to carry out its processes and maintain homeostasis. It is secreted in higher amounts when stressed. Exercise stresses the body. Small increases of cortisol are good. Among other things, a quick burst of cortisol can increase memory, and immunity, and it can lower sensitivity to pain.

Higher and prolonged increases? Well, these are not so good.

Unfortunately, higher and prolonged levels of cortisol create problems like an imbalance of blood sugars , decreased bone density and muscle tissue, elevated blood pressure, and lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body. Elevated cortisol levels correlate with higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), in the body. Plus elevated cortisol levels increase abdominal fat.

Not good at all.

Bottom line? I understand the importance of balance when it comes to exercise. I realize that my body is a whole lot smarter than my brain (thank goodness), and all I need to do is listen to it.

I am happy to say I now exercise for my health instead of against it.

So…treadmill. Friend or foe? My newfound friend.

(If you are curious about whether or not you may have too much cortisol in your body, check out this article by Dr. Lissa Rankin.)

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