Over-Trained or Over-Stressed?
By Officer Fran Sur, Los Angeles Airport Police Wellness Coordinator
Some may categorize the work of a cop as one of the most highly stressful professions. There's no need to list here all the various "hot call" scenarios an officer responds to while on duty. With so much pressure on a day-to-day basis, you would think the one easy prescription for stress reduction would be exercise, right? Sure it is – if you do it right.
Exercise can be a great tool to relieve stress, but most people these days approach it like warriors, with the "go hard or go home" mentality. That does more damage than good by causing even more stress on the body. If there's a place where the "more" philosophy is prominent, the exercise world has to be close to the top. They've got everyone fooled that more is truly better. More weights, more cardio, more intensity, more sessions, and all for what? More Instagram selfies and Facebook check-ins? It's no wonder that the health and fitness industry rakes in over $80 billion a year. But the irony is that our society's obesity numbers continue to rise, with over 70% of the adult population now categorized as obese. Go figure (no pun intended).
Modern ExerciseSo many new and innovative exercise programs are popping up everywhere – CrossFit, Orangetheory, SoulCycle, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) – and each one is trying to top the last with how strenuous its sessions appear, boasting the number of calories burned per millisecond. Although hardcore training programs may appeal to eager exercisers, the human body can only take so much, and sooner or later it will shut down...leaving an overzealous participant stuck at home, utterly sick, ill or injured.
Aerobic Versus AnaerobicSo what type of exercise is best for the over-stressed cop or any working American? First and foremost, the priority for all should be a good base of aerobic exercise. Also known as "cardio," aerobic activity is basically the body in motion at a low to moderate heart rate or intensity. Aerobic exercise stimulates breathing and delivers oxygen to working muscles. Examples include walking, running, cycling, swimming, hiking and dancing. Remember, your heart doesn't know what activity you're doing; it just knows you're asking the body to move. Cardio activity not only improves fitness, but it's also known to improve physical and emotional health. Aerobic workouts can be done daily, as they rejuvenate us and give us more energy – the ultimate stress reliever.
In contrast, anaerobic ("without oxygen") exercise is activity that causes you to be quickly out of breath, like sprinting or lifting heavy weights. Anaerobic sessions are intense activity that has your body working to the max and can't be sustained for long. These types of hard workouts put lots of physical stress on the body and require disciplined recovery. If health and fitness is the goal, the only type of anaerobic training you should be doing is weight training for strength gains. But be wary: Too many sessions too often will wreak havoc on the recovery system.
Stress and Life BalanceLet's face it – we're not all professional athletes. We don't have the luxury to work out as much as we want and then spend the remainder of our time resting. No, we have other major life obligations we need to fit into 24-hour days, one being a full-time job. And if that job is stressful, the added need for recovery is something to consider.
You've heard it before: Stress kills. It's hard on the body, specifically the nervous system. There are various forms of stress, and our bodies don't discriminate between physical, emotional, environmental or relationship stress. Think of your body with a bank account of "recovery money" that you have in order to counter all the daily stress you go through. Because you only have so much of this money to help you recover, you really need to be cognizant of the amount of stress you put on yourself. The last thing you want is for your stress account to become overdrawn.
Exercise is a wonderful thing. Aside from giving you a body to be proud of, its biggest benefits are improving heart health and relieving stress, something we all could use. So when fitting it into your weekly routine, realize you don't need to do a superhuman routine in order to get fit; you're probably doing more harm than good. Your main focus should be aerobic exercise such as running, supplemented with a few days per week of strength training with weights. Balance is key. If you're often finding yourself tired and fatigued, some may say you're over-trained, but I'd call it over-stressed. Remember to always leave a little left in the tank – I mean, bank.