Some insightful conversations on podcasts and articles have inspired me to write this blog post so I can summarise to you guys some of the more obscure and unknown effects of exercise on our body and brains. We all know that if you do more exercise and eat fewer calories you’re going to get that Instagram bod you always dreamed of. But I hope to highlight some of the lesser-known facts to try and mix things up a bit.

For example, did you realise those fashionable HIIT exercises you do three times a week actually might be more detrimental to your stress levels than just consistent small walks throughout the day?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a little HIIT session. There’s nothing like it to get your heart rate up and a good sweat on. But after listening to an interesting podcast with Dr Rangan Chatterjee and Dr Mithu Storoni I now have a different stance on it. Click here to listen to the episode.

Intermittent, regular bouts of exercise are much more effective at dealing with stressors in our body. If we feel some stress or anxiety during the day, walking for 15 minutes or so will buffer that. However, because of the modern lifestyle, where the majority of people have sedentary jobs and a lot of things can be done remotely by a computer, we’re moving less and less consistently throughout the day. People then try to counter balance this inactivity (and because they know they should be doing some type of regular exercise) by cramming in a high intensity workout at the end of the day, which in fact raises our cortisol levels even more, making us feel more stressed.

I’ve heard this idea more than once when referring to the world’s “blue zones” – areas where people live the longest and healthiest lives. Most of the people living in these blue zones are in the routine of regularly moving or pottering about – not going for 10km runs or trying to do as many burpees as possible in a minute. Just little things like walking around town, gardening, carrying shopping bags etc. This regular, daily movement has been proven to increase longevity in these populations.

There’s no question that HIIT workouts carry benefits as well. Otherwise they wouldn’t be so popular. But for the majority of the population, throwing yourself into a maximum intensity workout if you have a mainly sedentary lifestyle or without the correct conditioning before hand, may not be the most appropriate form of exercise.

Another commonly accepted effect of exercise is pain. No pain no gain right? This fitness philosophy has to lead to extreme forms of recovery such as cyro, compression therapy and foam rolling until there are tears streaming down your face (who doesn’t love a foam roll once in a while though?!). But if we really stop and think properly about exercise and our motives behind it, we shouldn’t really be finishing our workout in pain.

Other than increasing our risk of chronic injuries, pain during exercise can be an indication of gastrointestinal problems, sleep disruption, decreased sex drive, fat retention and muscle breakdown according to co-founder of “Lift” gym in London, who has bravely strayed away from the societal norm that exercise should always be pushing yourself to your mental and physical limits, and is instead trying to promote the “slow fitness” movement. Click the link below to read the full conversation.

By writing this post I’m not trying to rule out a specific form of exercise nor am I trying to put people off exercising at a high intensity. If people lead active lifestyles and regularly work out then HIIT can have amazing and unquestionable results. As with everything, it’s just interesting to stand back from the hype and take a different stance on things.