Author Archives: keepitmovingweekly2

Why exercise for high blood pressure?

Exercise in the age of distraction(1)

High blood pressure has been called a silent disease because there are often no symptoms. This medical condition could be undetected for years if you don’t have your blood pressure measured regularly.  But what is the big deal about high blood pressure and why is exercise an important part of the treatment?

What is it?  Blood pressure is the pressure of blood on your blood vessel walls.  Two parts of your cardiovascular system effect blood pressure:

1. Your Heart:  The force with which blood is pumped from your heart puts pressure on blood vessel walls.  This varies depending on the strength of your heart as well as if you are moving or still. When you are moving, your heart not only pumps faster, it pumps stronger.     Think of an untied balloon filled with air.  The more air you put in the balloon, the more forcefully it will fly around the room when you let it go.   The more of your body that is moving, the more blood that is circulated back to the heart and pumped out again.  The more blood that fills the heart with each beat,  the more forcefully it contracts, the more pressure that blood puts on the blood vessel walls.

2. Your blood vessels:  Blood vessels can tighten and relax to help control where blood is sent in your body.   When you move,  blood vessels relax, especially in moving muscles to allow for more blood flow to bring  oxygen and fuel to moving muscles. In fact, when you exercise your body releases Nitric Oxide. This chemical helps blood vessels relax to compensate for the higher pressure from the stronger heart beat (described above).  This way your blood pressure does not go as high when you exercise.

Your blood pressure goes up during times of stress because the blood vessels are more stiff than elastic when you are stressed.  This causes higher pressure on the walls of your blood vessels. Over time this pressure on the walls can wear down the smooth, slippery lining in your blood vessels, increasing the chances plaque with stick to the walls.  This process is called atherosclerosis and is what can lead to heart attack or stroke.

When you exercise  your blood pressure goes up, but it is because your heart is pumping stronger (and getting stronger in the process), while your blood vessels are relaxing.  This raise in your blood pressure does not cause the wear and tear on your vessel walls because at the same time the walls are more elastic, not stiff like when you are under stress.  This combination helps prevent, rather than lead to the build up of ‘stuff’ on the walls of your blood vessels.

That’s in part because the effects of the Nitric Oxide lasts for up to 22 hours after one single bout of exercise!  Long after you stop exercising, your blood vessels stay a bit more relaxed. This helps to reduce the wearing down of your artery walls because your blood vessels are more relaxed, helping you manage high blood pressure for a whole day after one single bout of exercise.

Bonus: Exercise also helps to reduce the fats and sugars that are in your blood that could stick to vessel walls.  More on that in another blog.

When it comes to your blood pressure though, exercise is one of the great ways to keep your blood pressure lower and reduce the effects of high blood pressure, naturally.

Keep Moving, Be Well,
Janet

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by | May 15, 2019 · 7:14 pm

Exercise in the age of distraction

Exercise in the age of distraction

There is no denying we are living in an age of distraction.  So many ‘bright and shiny’ things to capture our brains attention, its a amazing we get anything done.  It takes extra brain energy to shift attention, and when your brain has to do it all day long, it can really drain your energy and dampen your ability to get things done.

You probably have heard the term Executive Function. It is a way to describe how your brain helps you get things done.  If your energy and time are limited by your life, or a medical issue or a medication, boosting your executive function could make life a bit easier.

There are mixed results on the various methods for improving executive function.  There is however,  one research-backed method that seems to work with great consistently in people of all ages.   Yes, you guessed it, exercise!

 “ample evidence indicates that regular engagement in aerobic exercise can provide a simple means for healthy people to optimize a range of executive functions.”

What do you notice about how exercise helps your brain function?  If you are a regular exerciser, you may not notice any benefits until you don’t exercise and you feel a bit more distractable and less effective.  If you have not yet found that exercise helps your brain, here are three things to consider that may help:

  • Aerobic exercise (AKA Cardio):  This is when you move continuously using a majority of your muscles (IE: Walking, dancing, swimming, seated aerobics, biking) at a level that your breathing is moderate to a comfortable challenge.  Studies show as little as 10-15 minutes of cardio can improve executive function.
  • Use it as a tool:   Studies show the brain benefits are immediate; the brain functions better after one bout of aerobic exercise.  Exercise can be a tool for functioning better each day.  It can also be a way to ensure you are at the top of your game before a test, important meeting, or doing any task requiring focus and organization. Try a 10 minute bout of aerobic exercise before reaching food or caffeine when your energy is low and see if it works just as well (or even better?)
  • Your enjoyable time-out:   If exercise is stress-producing, it will not have as much brain (or health) benefit as when it is stress-reducing.  Exercise is your time-out from the strains of everyday life.  Make it enjoyable and your brain (and body) will thank you for it.

In this age of distraction, how can you make exercise one of your best tools to help make the most of every day?  Be your own investigator. Try different types and timing of exercise to see what works best for your brain.

Keep moving, be well,

Janet

 

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by | May 7, 2019 · 4:57 pm

Exercise can be easier than physical activity

how to lose ten pounds of gym guilt(3).png

 

Does that title make you scratch your head? Keep reading and it will become clear (and may change the way you think about exercise)

What comes to mind when you think of the word exercise?

Is it pain, discomfort, fatigue, time, ugh!?

The word exercise has come to be known as something that challenges your body, and this is partly true.  But we often think a challenge has to be painful, uncomfortable, or sweaty to be beneficial.  The ‘no pain no gain’ saying has been so connected to exercised for so long that we often say things like ‘I felt a good sore’.  We often discount something as ‘not counting’ because it does not cause a sweat, burn lots of calories or get your heart rate up.

The word exercise can have so much ‘baggage’ that there is a trend to use the words physical activity or movement instead of exercise.  This works because studies have certainly shown that some movement is way better than nothing when it comes to the healthy benefits of moving your body.

But what are we missing out on when we choose loosen the meaning of the word exercise?

Physical activity is any bodily movement.  It includes all of the movements you do for daily life; cleaning, yard work, job-related, child care, elder care, walking to get somewhere.. and exercise.

Exercise is movement done for the specific purpose of improving a skill or ability in your body (or your brain).  When you are doing anything to improve a skill or ability it takes more planning and attention.  When you do that activity on a regular basis, it will get easier.  This process is true for learning how to knit, speak a foreign language, or play a video game.   Its true for physical activities and movements you want to be easier too.

So exercise is when you do a physical activity in a specific way to make it easier.

Most physical activities are moving to get something done, to take care of something or someone.  Some can be very difficult for your body. Some can be very easy for your body. Some you do every day. Some you only do once a year.  But most are not done for the purpose other than taking care of your body, they are to get something done.

When you exercise, the way you move and how challenging it is for your body is up to you.

When you do a physical activity, the way you move and how challenging it depends on the task you are trying to get done.

Exercise then, can be easier for your body and your mind than some of the physical activities you need to do for your life.

So, I propose keeping physical activity and exercise separate. Why? Because exercise is for self-care.  When we call physical activity exercise, we miss that part of it.  And who could not use more self-care these days?

This week, ask yourself:  How can I protect my exercise time and keep it about self-care?

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

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by | May 1, 2019 · 3:14 pm

How to get the most from sitting less

how to lose ten pounds of gym guilt(2)

Like other health recommendations, the research on the risks of sitting for too long is a bit conflicting.  No matter what the latest research says, it is pretty much common sense that prolonged sitting is just not what our body is designed for and its a good idea to avoid it.

But is it enough to just get up and move during the day? Does a standing desk erase all that worry? How about wearing an activity monitor? Lets look at some of the research and see if we can come up with a way to know you are doing what you can to counteract the effects of the sedentary activities in your life.

This study published this month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found the following:

For people who sat a lot (6-8 hours a day or more), replacing sitting with vigorous physical activity was better than replacing it with moderate activity; and replacing sitting with moderate activity or walking was better than replacing it with standing.

What does that mean?

Replacing sitting with standing?  In this study, replacing sitting with standing did not reduce the risks.  This study even found that people with occupations that required long periods of standing actually had a greater risk of heart disease then those who sat or those who did mixed activities.  Every study has its limits but the bottom line is, standing and working is not necessarily better.  If you fought for a standing desk at work, don’t ditch it yet.  If changing your position while you work helps you feel better while working, that is a great thing. If standing and working just does not work for you, don’t feel guilty for sitting. There are other, more powerful options.

Do vigorous physical activity?  The word vigorous can sometimes be mistaken for exercise that makes you feel tired, sweaty and sore. but that is not what vigorous physical activity means.    The actual definition used in research is any activity that is six or more times the amount of effort as it takes to sit and rest.  Examples would be running, walking up hill, fast cycling, aerobic dance or other activities of similar intensity level.  The thing is, it’s all relative.  These may feel more moderate for one person and impossible for someone else.  Instead, if you want to add more vigorous activities, choose the level of an activity that challenges your breathing and your body at a challenging but still enjoyable level that you can sustain.

Do moderate physical activity? This study shows that moderate activity works to reduce risks. Moderate level activities are ones that are three to six times the amount of work for your body to sit and rest.  They include walking, housecleaning, dancing, gardening.  Again,  it’s relative to how your body feels when you do that activity.  Choose a level that takes your breathing to level where you notice your breathing,  it but feels comfortable enough you could continue the activity for a while without stopping.

So how to you know if you are doing enough?  Know that even if you can only do a few minutes of an activity to break up your stillness times, and do it consistently, you will probably counteract the effects of prolonged stillness.

But don’t take the advice from research or even my word for it.  What does your body tell you when you have been still for an extended period of time?  How much and what kind of movement makes it feel better?  Chances are your body is telling you what it needs.

Keep moving, be well,

Janet

 

 

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by | April 24, 2019 · 6:47 pm

How to lose ten pounds of gym guilt

how to lose ten pounds of gym guilt(1)

The trend in affordable gyms has made it so much easier for many people to exercise year round.

It has also expanded the problem many people have with a gym membership  – gym guilt!

In trying to get more exercise, you might be tempted to join a gym because it’s only $10 a month.    As you may have discovered, your exercise motivation depends on A LOT of factors so getting to that gym might be not so easy.   You may be busy right now and just cannot fit it in.    Often, when trying to lose weight, walking into the gym feels like a spotlight is shining on your extra weight. It’s just too embarrassing to go right now.   You might wait until you feel better about your body and then you will start.

The bigger problem with these low cost memberships is that they are not expensive enough to make you end the membership if you are not going.  When things calm down a bit, or when you lose some weight, you will go, so why cancel it?     In the meantime, that membership fee on your credit card statement each month is a constant ‘weight’ on your mind. Its a constant reminder that you are not exercisign the way you ‘should’.

(No, I am not reading your mind, you are just not alone in this. I see it all the time!)

Lets talk about how to lose the weight of that gym guilt.  Here are some questions to ask yourself so you can finally make peace with using, or losing your gym membership.

  • Is it the commute? Does it take more time to get to and from the gym than its worth?  If your time is limited, no matter how inexpensive the membership, you probably will not to choose to spend your time on a gym commute on a consistent basis.
  • Is it the environment? When you walk into the gym, how do you feel?  Happy to be there or counting the minutes until you can leave? That initial instinct about the gym is so subtle, you may not realize it is the reason your brain finds excuses not to go.  Either find a way to make it more comfortable for you or find a new place to exercise.
  • Is it the people?  There is a definite vibe in each gym.  Some are welcoming and friendly in a very authentic way.  Some are ‘friendly’ in a “my boss told me to say hello when members walk in so I am going to flash a fake smile and say a cool hello” kind of way.  Some gyms are meant for people with very definite exercise goals. If they are not the same as yours, you may feel unwelcome, no matter what you do.  Either give yourself a pep talk reminder that the attitude of others is not your concern or find a more welcoming place to exercise.
  • Is it equipment overload?  It seems that the less expensive the gym, the larger and more daunting it can be.    If you feel overwhelmed by the equipment choices in the gym, know that much of that equipment is not useful anyway.  Find the machines right for you and  stay focused on that.  You don’t need to do everything that is in the gym.  Get a comfortable routine going and do what you enjoy most. (well OK more than the sauna and massage chairs!) When you are ready for a change, learn only one new machine at a time to stay out of overwhelm.
  • Is it too crowded when you go?  Rush hour times at the gym are about as much fun as rush hour time on the highway.  If the crowds are getting in the way of efficiently enjoying your gym time, and you cannot go at another time, seek alternate routes to exercise.
  • Is your body not ready yet?   Some types of exercise are not great for starters.  The elliptical for instance starts at a higher intensity. If you are just starting out you are likely to feel like a failure in about two minutes flat.  Group exercise classes can be motivating but they also are more likely to make you do too much too soon. Gain skills in listening to your body before joining a group. Choose the types that feel best for your body to start and gain some stamina, strength and body knowledge before expanding to other more challenging forms.
  • Is it lack of know-how?  There is no time in adult life that we learn how to exercise correctly.  If you don’t know how to exercise, you are not lacking some skill that everyone else has.  There is a lot of useless exercise information available out there, much of it based on what is marketable, not how your body is designed.  If it does not feel good, it is not good for you.  If you are a UMassMemorial Weight Center patient, contact me to chat about how to strengthen your exercise know-how

Some times the healthiest decision is to let go of the gym membership and exercise at home or someplace else.  Most importantly, lose the gym guilt, it’s is not helpful for your mind or your body.  There are plenty of other options out there and exercising at a gym is not right for everyone.   Find a way to make it work or let it go.

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

 

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by | April 17, 2019 · 7:13 pm

“Exercise is Medicine for a Good Day”

consistency is the holy grail of exercise(1)

This is the patient quote of the week. I could not have said it better myself.  Design your exercise time, no matter how long or short it is, to be your medicine for a good day.  Enjoy!

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

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by | April 10, 2019 · 6:45 pm

Exercise motivation from an unlikely source

How calorie burning makes it harder to lose weight(12)

This article gives a surprising yet research backed perspective about will-power and making changes that stick.  It is pretty clear that our old way of  making exercise a habit works against us.    If you think exercise has to be hard, and you just need more self control to make yourself do it until it becomes a habit, there is a much more effective way.

We’re using tools that aren’t only weak; they’re also potentially harmful. If using willpower to keep your nose to the grindstone feels like a struggle, that’s because it is.

It turns out too, this way also puts a drain on our health

Those who were better at using self-control did have more success when it came to resisting temptations, but at a cost to their health. Their bodies suffered not only from increased stress responses, but also from premature aging of their immune cells.

What is this unlikely source that is better for our motivation and our health than good old fashion self control?   Fostering emotions like gratitude, compassion and awareness of your own strengths has a better track record for both sustaining motivation and for promoting health.

This is one of the most challenging mindsets to change about exercise.  From my experience the belief in grit, willpower and self discipline comes from the place many of us learned about exercise – through sports.  Think about it, athletes make up the majority of our images and messages about exercise in our culture.    They have amazing self control and discipline and achieve amazing levels of fitness.  How could that model steer us wrong?

An athlete has plenty of reasons to push through and stay disciplined – the competition, team mates, coaches, records – all of these external motivators drive willpower.   We ‘regular folks’ don’t have all of those, so we replace them with other external motivators –  weight goals, challenges, competitions, social media, and accountability partners.

The research is pretty clear though.  Trying to make yourself have more discipline and willpower is stressful and not built to last.   That stress strains health and energy.  It works, but it is just not sustainable, nor is it helping with exercising for long term health.

The easier and more lasting way to motivation for exercise is to  practice the skills of gratitude, compassion and pride (awareness of your personal inner strengths).

If your New Years Resolutions have faded, it may be time to dust them off and look at them through the lens of our updated understanding of lasting motivation.  You could:

  • Keep a gratitude journal, writing down one thing each day that you are grateful for about how your body moved that day
  • Practice a brief self-compassion meditation a few days a week, so you are practiced up on your skill of self compassion for those times you might use self criticism to make you motivated to exercise.
  • Do a Strength Survey to raise your awareness of your inner strengths and how you can use them to keep you motivated to exercise when life tries to get in the way.

How to you use these tools already to keep yourself motivated?  What else could you do to move away from trying to have more willpower to applying these positive emotions to help you keep moving and stay well?

Keep Moving, Be Well,
Janet

 

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by | April 2, 2019 · 6:04 pm