If you’re like the majority of the population then December was probably an enjoyable but slightly excessive month. Maybe you drank and ate a bit more than usual and maybe you had a few late nights. No big deal, we all earned the right to enjoy ourselves at the end of the year. But now you’re feeling like you need to redress the balance and get things back on track. Now its time to help the body detoxify and recover from the stress of excess.

It’s more than likely that part of your January plan is to get back to some form of regular exercise, and rightly so. You won’t have to look very hard to find out why exercise is so essential for good health. One of the most obvious benefits we stand to gain is better defence from illness and disease. This has a lot to do with how well our bodies can defend against the oxidative stress that is constantly occurring in both our internal and external environments.

What is oxidative stress? It occurs internally during normal metabolism where your body produces unstable molecules called free radicals. These molecules can damage your cells in their quest to attain molecular stability. In our external environment we are also exposed to free radicals in the form of things like cigarette smoke, environmental pollutants, radiation, UV light and certain drugs.

To combat the potential harmful effects of free radical damage the cells of our body produce free radical scavengers called antioxidants. The two main kinds of antioxidants are endogenous (produced inside your body) and exogenous (consumed from diet and other sources). When free radicals overwhelm your antioxidant defenses, your cells are damaged. This damage is called oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress isn’t all bad, in fact it’s essential. In the right amounts it can help to strengthen your body’s cells by prompting increased production of antioxidants (along side a diet rich in fruit and vegetables). This is essentially how exercise helps to protect us from free radicals. In actual fact all forms of exercise cause some oxidative stress. It’s the recovery an adaptation to the exercise that helps to better protect us against cellular damage.

However, to make the most of this protective mechanism people need to approach their exercise in a gradual and progressive manner. This is especially true at this time of year when most people are probably not at their best thanks to the indulgences at Christmas and New Year. Unfortunately many recreational exercisers may feel the need to go as hard and as long as they can to make up for their festive misdemeanors and this is where people can often run into trouble.

There are many things that can go wrong if people train too hard for too long when they are not properly prepared for it and in the context of oxidative stress your antioxidant system may not be strong enough to protect you from free radical damage. In fact most people today have inadequate levels of antioxidant protection before they even start an exercise regime. Often if people go all out when they are not physically ready it can take them a long time to recover and they find themselves more susceptible to illness. This has the knock on effect of needing to take a break from exercise and the New Year’s resolution doesn’t make it past January.

So how do you prevent this from happening? The main point to consider is that oxidative stress and the positive antioxidant response to it isn’t necessarily dependent on how much or how hard you exercise. It’s more to do with how much you train relative to your current level of fitness. If you keep your training specific to your ability, then you are more likely to gradually increase your antioxidant levels enough to protect you from excessive oxidative damage. As your fitness levels improve you can begin to increase both the volume and intensity of your training in the confidence that you’re protected by your stronger antioxidant system. This will allow you to exercise more consistently over a longer period of time so that 2015 ends up being the fit and healthy year you wanted it to be.

How do you know if you’re doing the right amount of exercise? The best way to answer this is to get some help from the professionals.  As part of our service at Matt Roberts we take all our clients through a comprehensive fitness assessment so that we can devise a plan that means they train specifically to their current level of fitness. This along side appropriate nutritional guidance means that our clients use their exercise to improve their defenses instead of depleting them.