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Which excuses to skip a workout are valid, according to an expert
Stressed? Work out anyway.
Whether it's hitting up SoulCycle or taking a run in the park, exercise is key to stress management, good sleep, happiness, productivity — and above all, health.
But when should you push yourself the hardest, and when should you take a break? Which excuses to skip a workout are valid, and which aren't?
It's important to distinguish between "overreaching" and "overtraining," Jimmy Bagley, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the muscle physiology lab at San Francisco State University tells Thrive. Overreaching is what you want to be doing, Bagley notes — you work a little harder each day, week, or month, slowly maximizing your goals. As a result, you cause "overload" in your body (in a good way), which leads to adaptation and, ultimately, improvement. Conversely, overtraining is when you don't give your body enough time to recover between workouts.
We've rounded up six of the most common excuses for skipping physical activity (think: because you had a stressful day at the office), along with tips on whether you should work out or chill out for the sake of your well-being:
The excuse: "I'm stressed."
The verdict: Work out anyway.
Exercise helps relieve your stress. Rather than being an excuse for why you don't work out, stress should be a reason for why you do hit the gym.
"Exercise is physiological: Your blood flow to the brain increases, your breathing rate increases, and your heart rate increases. All of this is great for how you will feel a couple hours after completing an activity," Bagley tells Thrive. "When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, and those go to your brain. They stimulate the sensors in your brain that are related to rewards."
This means that even if you enter the gym stressing over a big work project, your brain chemistry will help you feel happier by the end of your sweat session — and it will continue for hours afterward. So yes, you should go to that spin class — especially if you're feeling overloaded. Your brain will thank you.
The excuse: "I don't feel like it."
The verdict: Lighten up.
If you aren't in the mood for an intense HIIT class, that's okay. But it's worth choosing an easier, more manageable alternative.
"If you're just not feeling it — say, if you have kids at home and they were up all night — you don't have to necessarily stick to your plan for that day. You can do something else lighter," Bagley says. Examples of lighter exercise that you can do instead include walking slowly (less than 2 m.p.h.), bicycling, and light yoga (like yin, not vinyasa power flow).
The key is to not view each workout as independent, Bagley explains. Look at your year-long plan and say, "I've got 100 training sessions this year. Is it okay for me to take this day, and not make it a super challenging workout?" In the grand scheme of things, one day won't change things. Just keep the bigger picture in mind.
The excuse: "I'm sore."
The verdict: It depends.
How long after your last workout does your soreness continue? Your answer to that question will determine whether to go hard or take it slow. "The day of your exercise, if you're a little sore, that's fine, but if you're still sore two to four days after you've exercised, you've got delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)," Bagley tells Thrive.
If you're experiencing manageable next-day soreness, go for it, and don't let that alter your planned exercise. But if you have DOMS, Bagley says that working very hard is actually detrimental: Your muscles are inflamed and trying to repair themselves, so training intensely on top of that would damage the muscles and delay recovery. Instead, turn down the dial and rest. Pushing through would be overtraining, so don't go all out.
The excuse: "I'm tired."
The verdict: Push through, but listen to your body.
Mild fatigue isn't a reason to ditch the running shoes, Bagley says. This is a case when you should push through. Exercise can actually help increase your energy, so it's worth going through with it. That said, you want to be careful not to do too much if you're truly very tired, and should pay attention to how you feel throughout your workout. "Listen to what your body is telling you," he suggests.
The excuse: "I'm really tired."
The verdict: Skip it.
Fatigue is one thing, but full-blown sleep deprivation should be an exercise red flag for you. Bagley takes this distinction seriously. "Sleep deprivation has a lot of physical and mental effects. Physiologically and psychologically, exercising is probably going to be detrimental to your health that day," he tells Thrive. If you got very little sleep last night, know that taking the time to rest is more beneficial than your workout.
The excuse: "I don't have enough time."
The verdict: Get creative.
You definitely don't need a two hour session at the gym to see the mental and physical benefits of exercise. Bagley cited this excuse as one of the most common among his clients during his time as a personal trainer.
According to The Department of Health and Human Services, 150 minutes of exercise a week is optimal, which is equivalent to 30 minutes, five days a week. "Any amount of moderate to vigorous activity can add up to 30 minutes. It doesn't need to be a structured program," Bagley tells Thrive. "You can spread it out." You can try three 10-minute walks a day, or two 15-minute quick in-home workouts, one in the morning, and one in the evening.
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Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.
- The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
- The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
- The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>Completing the race in 25 minutes means the cars will need to average about 110 miles per hour. So, while the race may end up being a bit slower than a typical Indy 500 competition, in which winners average speeds of over 160 mph, it's still set to be the fastest autonomous race featuring full-size cars.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is no human redundancy there," Matt Peak, managing director for Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit that develops technology for the automation and energy sectors, told the <a href="https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2020/06/01/Indy-Autonomous-Challenge-Indy-500-Indianapolis-Motor-Speedway-Ansys-Aptiv-self-driving-cars/stories/202005280137" target="_blank">Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</a>. "Either your car makes this happen or smash into the wall you go."</p>
Illustration of the Indy Autonomous Challenge
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>The Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://www.indyautonomouschallenge.com/rules" target="_blank">describes</a> itself as a "past-the-post" competition, which "refers to a binary, objective, measurable performance rather than a subjective evaluation, judgement, or recognition."</p><p>This competition design was inspired by the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge, which tasked teams with developing driverless cars and sending them along a 150-mile route in Southern California for a chance to win $1 million. But that prize went unclaimed, because within a few hours after starting, all the vehicles had suffered some kind of critical failure.</p>
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>One factor that could prevent a similar outcome in the upcoming race is the ability to test-run cars on a virtual racetrack. The simulation software company Ansys Inc. has already developed a model of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on which teams will test their algorithms as part of a series of qualifying rounds.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We can create, with physics, multiple real-life scenarios that are reflective of the real world," Ansys President Ajei Gopal told <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/autonomous-vehicles-to-race-at-indianapolis-motor-speedway-11595237401?mod=e2tw" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a>. "We can use that to train the AI, so it starts to come up to speed."</p><p>Still, the race could reveal that self-driving cars aren't quite ready to race at speeds of over 110 mph. After all, regular self-driving cars already face enough logistical and technical roadblocks, including <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53349313#:~:text=Tesla%20will%20be%20able%20to,no%20driver%20input%2C%20he%20said." target="_blank">crumbling infrastructure, communication issues</a> and the <a href="https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/would-you-ride-in-a-car-thats-programmed-to-kill-you" target="_self">fateful moral decisions driverless cars will have to make in split seconds</a>.</p>But the Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5da73021d0636f4ec706fa0a/t/5dc0680c41954d4ef41ec2b2/1572890638793/Indy+Autonomous+Challenge+Ruleset+-+v5NOV2019+%282%29.pdf" target="_blank">says</a> its main goal is to advance the industry, by challenging "students around the world to imagine, invent, and prove a new generation of automated vehicle (AV) software and inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>