As written for Lorna Jane.

We spoke to Naturopath Ema Taylor to find out how to exercise for optimal health and wellbeing. 

We all know that amazing feeling brought on by a workout, so it’s no surprise that studies back up the benefits of exercise for both our physical and mental health. Regular exercise helps with reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, builds strong bones and muscles, improves cardiovascular health, promotes longevity and enhances mood and brain development, all of which aid to boost self-confidence and happiness.

Like anything in life, balance is key and exercise is no exception. When done in moderation, regular movement is fundamental for our health, however when certain exercises are done in excess our hormones, mood, digestion and immune system can be impacted.

Our body is a miraculous organism that possesses many defence mechanisms for when we are in danger. When the body perceives danger our stress hormones (cortisol, adrenalin, epinephrine and norepinephrine) are released, which switches on the sympathetic nervous system (also known as fight or flight). When the sympathetic nervous system is ‘switched on’ our body temporarily shuts off systems that aren’t crucial when in danger, including the reproductive and digestive systems.

The thing is, we aren’t often in ‘real’ danger. Our body just isn’t able to distinguish between day-to-day ‘western world’ stress and that of real danger – think, running for our lives away from a tiger!

Many of us live fast paced lives with daily stressors that place us in a temporary sympathetic dominant state (such as work deadlines, traffic, commuting, social commitments etc.), couple this with 5 days a week of high intensity exercise and our stress hormones are having a party!

Prolonged release of stress hormones can weaken the immune systempromote depression and anxietyinterfere with digestion and wreck havoc on our delicate hormones resulting in insomnia, pre menstrual symptoms, low sex drive and irregular periods.

While we can’t change all of life’s stressors, we can implement an exercise routine that nourishes the nervous system and allows us to reap all the juicy physical and psychological benefits that exercise offers. The key is balancing cardio and restorative practices.

A nice combination aims to include 2 sessions of cardio (run, fast walk, boxing, bike riding, power pilates) coupled with 2 restorative (yoga, pilates, tai chi, slow walk) sessions per week, allowing time for your body to rest in between.

By finding this balance, you’ll be improving your physical health while also maintaining your delicate internal health and wellbeing.