Fitness and Fatigue

Last updated: September 2022

It has been made abundantly clear in recent decades that staying fit, strong, and mobile is an essential ingredient of good health. That sounds fabulous. I hope, if you are reading this, that you too are feeling fit, strong, and mobile. And that you’re in good health. But for some people, balancing fitness and fatigue with insomnia presents added challenges.

Fitness and fatigue

Insomnia is a bugger of a thing and it can impact every aspect of our lives – including fitness. If you’ve ever suffered through an evening of insufferable insomnia, you will know the last thing you want to do after a night or 2 of zero sleep is to drag yourself to the gym, up a mountain, or behind a wheelbarrow.

Let’s face it – energy levels are dismal when we don’t sleep and expending any more energy than absolutely necessary is exhausting. The natural inclination when fatigue overwhelms is to curl up with a cup of tea and stare out the window. I have frequently felt so fatigued I couldn’t even read a book – too much intellect required.

A "catch-22" situation

When insomnia is chronic, i.e., occurring at least 3 days a week for 3 or more months, one of the things you will hear (amongst many other things) is the importance of maintaining good physical health and staying active. That is great advice. I love it. My new philosophy on wellness is that we must eat well, sleep well and move well in order to be healthy. But life isn’t simple, is it?

There is a catch-22 situation happening with fatigue and fitness – it’s very hard to be active when you’re fatigued. While I have most definitely had times where I experienced an increase in energy levels after exercising, that is not always the case. As night after sleepless night goes by, exercising (in whatever form is meaningful to you) becomes more difficult. The little amount of energy that is left is not enough to climb that last hill, do that last squat, or weed that last patch.

Balancing fitness and fatigue with insomnia

Google “exercise and insomnia” and you will find 24 million articles extolling the virtues of exercise on sleep. But in my personal experience, it is a balancing act. If you do no exercise whatsoever and lead a largely sedentary life, chances are that lack of mobility is having a negative impact on sleep. But if you are tossing and turning and barely throwing together an hour or so of sleep, exercise drains that energy away faster than it restores it.

So how do we find that balance? We have to sleep. We have to move. Sometimes things get in the way of 1 or both of those things and when that happens it is so important to work on strategies for improvement.

I have come to the conclusion that for me (and I can speak for nobody else) a regular nap is a lifesaver. An extra 30 minutes of sleep sometime in the day is just enough to rejuvenate me and keep me going throughout the rest of the day. I may not always be able to sleep well at night but I can take what I can get during the day.

My exercise goals

For me, staying active is also important. I am not super fit. I am not an exercise junkie. But I do make an effort to move within my capacity most days. I love walking and if I’m going to be active it may as well be something I love. Some people love dancing or gardening or vacuuming. It’s important to find your thing.

My goals are to attend the gym a few times a week and to walk on all the other days. I’ve even set the lofty goal of climbing Borneo’s Mt Kinabalu in 2023. I find goal setting can be motivational – as long as it remains realistic. But regardless of mountains, as I stare my 50s and stare 60s in the face, it is essential I stay as active as possible for as long as possible.

I’ve been through periods of my life where I was so fatigued I didn’t exercise at all. In the end, that made my fatigue worse and kept me stuck in a cycle. But I’ve also been through periods where I pushed myself to exercise through fatigue and that also made me feel worse. My body and my relationships struggled and my sleep did not improve. Balance is the key. Sleeping when you can, moving when you can.

To be well: eat well, sleep well, and move well.

How do you balance fitness and fatigue with insomnia? Please share a comment below.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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