The fall is officially here, and as the days get shorter and the TV lineup gets stronger, many of us will find ourselves “couch potato-ing” more than we’d like to. In the spirit of keeping us all on a healthy track, I thought I’d give you more mental ammunition to stay in action.
Here are the top 5 reasons why being a couch potato makes anyone more tired over the long run (and why you should stay as active as you can despite the pull of the couch!):
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 a (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 files before getting the day at work started? Whew! I’m tired just thinking about it!
4- Poor nutrition. We’re already said in point 1 above that 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 allow 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.
Isn’t it amazing how our sleep, food, mood and exercise habits are so intimately related? I just love that!
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. Feeling better starts with being more active. If all you can bring yourself to do is some light stretching for 10 minutes, then try it out, and I’m persuaded you’ll realize that’s already enough to feel better.
Need extra motivation to get moving? Here’s how to set fitness goals that get results. Here’s one way I have found helps many truly enjoy their exercise. Here’s how I stay engaged when motivation runs low. And we offer 10 ways to increase your enthusiasm to exercise in our book – click here to check it out on Amazon.
This article first appeared in the Positive Psychology News Daily ©.