Because HiiT is a bandaid not unlike alcohol, recreational drugs, energy drinks, a poor diet, and even certain prescription medications, it gives the illusion that the stress level of our life is temporarily less leading us to go back for hit after hit of HiiT (again not unlike alcohol, etc…) to help us manage, cope, to keep us moving, because the “show (i.e. our life) must go on”.
Because HiiT works in the short term, and because we live in a drive thru, yesterday is still too late, instant gratification society where anything that takes actual time is too long too even consider a solution, it has become our go-to.
So what is the process that causes HiiT to work in the short term, but fail in the long term?
Let’s say that your day to day stress level between work and home on a scale from 0 to 10, averages a score of 7. This is not a manageable level of stress because daily you are at your red zone threshold, at your limit, and with so little slack in your system that any one thing or any one that goes off, wrong, late, … there is no capacity. As a result, during the course of each and every day you are repeatedly pushed beyond healthy stress levels and into the “red zone” (refer back to post  in the thread on more about the “red zone”).
When this happens in life, when we are constantly riding our limit, there are two options:
- We have the option to reduce our stress load by subtracting stressors, reducing the number of commitments we have to put back a bit of slack, a bit of wiggle room, breathing room, add capacity and flexibility to our day allowing average stress levels to fall to a sustainable level (as in sustainable health-wise), or
- We can decide that instead of reducing our stress load, instead of admitting that we have over-promised and are under-delivering (everywhere in life), we alter our perception of our stress by taking on or doing something even more stressful to make our day to day life appear less stressful.
In option 1, we reduce the total amount of stress.
In option 2, we reduce the perceived level of stress by changing how stressed we feel.
Can you see why HiiT works until it doesn’t? You can manipulate how you perceive stress, but only for so long. When the underlying stress level isn’t reduced, the damage from the prolonged stress triggers protective inflammatory processes within your body and brain. In time, the inflammation compromises your ability to function, and your health starts to deteriorate. By delaying dealing with stress for long periods of time your health will deteriorate to the point that you will self-inflict enough damage that your body and brain will yield to injury, to illness, to full blown medical conditions, even medical emergencies (e.g. an heart attack or stroke).
When you arrive at this point, stress levels are so far off the chart and have been for so long, that one day off, a vacation is not even close to being a solution. By this point, your body has been deprived of so much rest and rejuvenation and daily repair that the recovery process requires a complete commitment to health being prioritized above all else. At this point, exercise and diet changes are insufficient without drastic lifestyle changes and can actually add to greater stress because they each become one more commitment on top of an already ridiculous list of ‘to dos’.
As an aside, this is where the entire gluten free craze enters. Remember that only about 1% of the population actually has an adverse reaction to gluten, the rest… well the rest are going gluten free in order to attempt to reduce stress somewhere in their life. Instead of dropping ‘to dos’, they will spend insane amounts to eat gluten free. By the time you are going gluten free to try and make the stress needle drop… your stress levels are so far gone off the chart that this is at best a bandaid situation. Yes, it will buy you some time, but its not a long term solution.
Its old news, but news that should be repeated… 80-85% of doctors visits are for conditions which are entirely stress related. We do it to ourselves, we burn the candle at both ends, believing or hoping that we can get away with it… and then surprise surprise… heart attack, stroke, TIA, insomnia, food sensitivities, urinary retention or incontinence, male impotence, and other pelvic floor issues, and so on and so on.
This is where HiiT, alcohol, recreational drugs, technology/social media, energy drinks, a poor diet, and even prescribed medications come into play. We ‘use’ all of these (and this is by no means an exhaustive list of the distractions available to us) to alter our perception of life, of our stress levels.
If your day to day stress level is a 7 out of 10, but you go to the gym and grind through an intense workout… a spin class, a Tabata or CrossFit workout, a masters swim or triathlon team training session… a workout that is an 8+ out of 10, how do you think your perception of stress will change?
The greater the gap between the intensity of your stress level at work, or at home and that of training and guess what happens? Your perception of how stressful was your day changes. All of a sudden, after pushing yourself even further you realize that you have another gear, that you have more in you, that you can handle the stress, that a stress level of 7 out of 10 is ‘nothing’ because you just crushed a workout where the effort demanded of you was no less than 8 or 9 out of 10… and you survived (yeah yeah… in pain, popping anti-inflammatories, chugging sugar in some form, to cover up the damage… but I did it!)
There is an healthy way to push your limits and there is an unhealthy way to push your limits.
When your perception of your limit is a 2 or 3 out of 10, then absolutely, exercise performed in an healthy manner that pushes you to appreciate that you do have “another gear” and can perform at a 4 or 5 out of 10 level… that’s healthy.
Using exercise to manipulate a life that’s at the edge, at a 7 or 8 out of 10 day in day out by going into beast-mode in the gym (i.e. 10/10 all out, no pain no gain sessions) is not only unhealthy, its mentally and emotionally unstable to think that inflicting repeated ‘exercise’ to the point of self harm is actually doing any good. When coaches and trainers do this – especially to children (i.e. 15yr who died from doing HiiT… after suffering numerous silent heart attacks) – then perhaps you can see why I rail against HiiT, against the ignorance that all exercise, no matter in the context is healthy.
The long term consequence of teaching yourself to repeatedly spend the reserves your body has set aside for absolute emergency situations (like life-death situations)? Look around…
- A society which has 2/3rds of everyone overweight, obese if not morbidly obese.
- A society where morbid obesity has just hit an all time high of 7.7% (almost 1 in 10).
- A society which is the most medicated and most addicted to recreational and prescription medications ever to exist. A society excited about the legalization of marijuana!
- A society buckling under skyrocketing deaths due to painkiller overdoses.
- A society collapsing under the weight of mental health disorders, where anxiety and depression are predicted to be the primary diagnoses by the year 2020 (as in 2yrs).
- A society which is more interested in cosmetic health, then true health.
You do not become healthier by learning to lie to yourself, by deceiving yourself, by manipulating stress levels to pretend that your true stress load is lower than it is in reality.
You do become addicted to HiiT, to so-called sports nutrition, to factory food, to distractions including smartphones, apps, toxic relationships, and anything else that will stress you to no end, helping you pretend that your stress levels are manageable, are healthy.
You know how you become a master of stress management? You train: aerobically, you develop cardio-respiratory capacity, you stretch, regain your flexibility, then translate it into mobility. You train to become a dynamic individual with a keen sense of self awareness, one who has a long list of strategies for engaging and handling all types of stress. You develop a core, a core which allows you to say ‘no’, to stand your ground, to make healthy decisions, to impose limits on others and yourself. It takes time, it takes practice, it requires a balanced lifestyle that has the space and slack in it to allow you the time, the energy, and the freedom to have a home life, a work life, for rest, for exercise, for play.
There are two options to start dealing with stress in an healthy manner: (a) insight – these blogs are to serve as a warning that if you do not heed, if you do not take action prophylactic-ally, will lead to option (b) after suffering sufficient pain that you are made to finally lift your head up from your dead end life and realize that it is a dead end you hopefully appreciate that something has to change.
Which will it be? The less painful road or the all-out blow to head (hopefully not a fatal blow) from which you will have to go cold turkey with all the changes? Up to you… but it will be one or the other that I can guarantee.