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,


Leave a comment

by | April 2, 2019 · 6:04 pm

Spring Training Check-in

How calorie burning makes it harder to lose weight(11).png

Back in October, I invited you to set some Spring-training goals. Now that the days are longer, and weather warmer, its time to check in on how it went.  Keep in mind, this check-in is not a pass/fail.  It’s all about learning, so you know more about how you can Keep Moving and Be Well all year long.

Winters in New England can be some of the most challenging times to exercise consistently.  Yet, it keeps coming back every year.  Adopting a mindset about your exercise plan in the winter is a key to use exercise as a tool to keep you feeling healthy and well all year long.

Mindset it so powerful.  It has been shown to change  how medications, foods and treatments work in our body.  What was formerly known as the Placebo Effect, is now called the Belief Effect because it has been proven to be real.  How you think about something changes how it effects your body.  It is shown to hold true for how you feel about exercise too.

This is why each year we address the winter exercise mindset and call it Spring Training here on Keep Moving Weekly.  Seeing winter exercise as a form of Spring Training changes the whole outlook and motive for exercising through the winter.  With a clear vision in your head about what you want to be ready to do when the weather is better,  you are no longer just waiting for spring, you are actively in training for it.   When that is connected to the activities that are most important to you in springtime, the whole approach and motive for exercising in winter changes.  When you design what you do for exercise in the winter as the way to be ready for all the activities you want to do in spring, your motivation gets a nice little boost of energy.

So, how did your Spring Training go?  What did you do this winter that is making your more confident you can get out and enjoy the spring activities?

What do you wish you had done more of so you had more strength, stamina and mobility for those things you want to do now?  If you fell short of your goals for your winter exercise plan, it is not failure. Simply learn from it and apply it to next winter.

Take a moment now to write down what you learned about your 2018-2019 Spring Training Season your calendar for October 2019.  We will use this valuable info to make your 2019-2020 Spring Training season even more motivating.

Keep Moving, Be Well,


Leave a comment

by | March 25, 2019 · 1:54 pm

The why’s and how’s of warming up

How calorie burning makes it harder to lose weight(10)

Warming up before exercise is one of those things that many people see as optional.  For your body however,  warming up is non-negotiable.  It can change your whole exercise experience, which can either drain or boost your motivation.   It’s worth taking a moment to know the why’s and how’s of warming up.

Let’s start with why warm up.

  • Body temperature rises:  Yep, the term warm up literally means, warming up.  Why is this important?  Because as blood temperature goes up, oxygen is released from blood easier, which means it is more available to muscles.  See our blog series on heart rate to know why the oxygen availability is so important for cardiovascular exercise.
  • Blood flow shifts:  If you are sitting and resting while you read this, about 80% your blood flow is going to your digestive system, your brain and other essential organs.  Only 20% is sent to your skeletal muscles.  When you exercise this flips;  about 80% is set to the moving muscles and 20% is sent to essential organs.  This shift takes time. Skipping the warm up means your muscles have less of what they need as you start and are more likely to fatigue faster.
  • Brain/body connection: This is called ‘neuromuscular” warming up.  When you warm up with movements you are using during exercise, it helps your brain and body communicate more effectively by waking up the nerve pathways the create smooth coordinated movement. This is most important during types of exercise where the movements involves  coordination and agility such as strength training, sports, or dance.   During sports doing the movements slower with full focus helps the body prepare for doing them wit more strength and power.
  • More mobility:  Mobility is freedom of movement.  Just like a gummy worm, when it is cold it would be less elastic.  When warm, more flexible.  Raising your body temp helps you have more freedom of movement.

So some pretty important things happen in those few minutes.  Here is how to make the most of your warm up time:

  • Mimic the moves:  Do the movements you will be doing during exercise, just at a lighter, slower level.  For strength training, do the first set at a light level and practice using core stability, proper breathing and whole-body awareness will help each  more challenging set(s) be more effective and less straining for your body.
  • Light breathing:  Start moving at a level that feels light for your breathing on cardiovascular exercise.  On some types of exercise that might mean just walking around before getting on a machine.
  • Listen to your body: Pay attention to your body temperature.  Notice when you start to feel warmer.  Your body will tell you when you are ready to increase the intensity of exercise.

Enjoy the warm up time to mentally check in on how you are feeling.  Using mindfulness will allow you to adjust what you are doing for exercise each time to match just what your body needs. The warm up time gives you a chance to figure that out before you dive into exercise.

Your body and your brain will thank you because exercise will be more enjoyable and thus more motivating to come back again!

Keep moving, Be Well,

Leave a comment

by | March 20, 2019 · 6:00 pm

Why all the hype about heart rate? Part 3

How calorie burning makes it harder to lose weight(8)

This is the last part of our series on heart rate.  Check out blog #1 and blog #2 for the full story. 

We have been looking beyond heart rate to see what is really going on in your body with cardio.  This ‘behind the scenes’ look is important because it lets you take charge of self-monitoring your cardio, so it feels right for your body.  When you know what is happening during cardio, it is clear that your breathing level, not your heart rate, is your best guide to getting good cardio exercise for weight loss, health and well-being.

When exercise feels light to moderate, your muscles are able to use oxygen to produce enough fuel. However when exercise starts to feel more and more challenging, it means your body is no longer able to produce energy using oxygen and needs to use other ways to produce energy.  This source of energy production is not as long lasting, so unless you slow down, fatigue will soon make you need to stop moving to let your body catch up.  

The more oxygen your body can use, the easier it is for you to keep moving without getting out of breath or tired and needing to stop or slow down.

The purpose of cardiovascular exercise is to build stamina in your whole cardiovascular system,  so you can move for longer periods of time without stopping.

When the level of an activity reaches a point where your body can no longer use oxygen to produce energy to fuel muscles, it has to go back to creating more energy through the process that does not need oxygen. The downside of using this non-oxygen requiring system is that it produces carbon dioxide. If levels of carbon dioxide get too high, your body starts to shut down, so getting rid of that carbon dioxide is really important. .

When you feel uncomfortably short of breath with exercise, it is because your body is getting rid of carbon dioxide, not because your body is trying to get in more oxygen. When you feel that uncomfortable shortness of breath, it means your body is producing energy in a way that is not sustainable. Its a sign you are not going to last very long at that level of movement. You either need to slow down, so your body is not using so much energy to fuel muscles, or stop so your system can catch up.

How do you build stamina so your body can use more of the long lasting oxygen using system for fueling muscles?  Simply getting your heart rate up will not make that happen.  Moving your body at a level that your breathing is at a moderate to comfortable challenge for an extended period of time, and repeating that on a regular basis will improve stamina. 

You could do this in three 10-minute bouts a day, two fifteen minutes a day, or three thirty-minute sessions a week. The key is consistently challenging your whole cardiovascular system to help your body build the equipment needed to provide fuel for your muscles in a sustainable way.  After about three days, your body starts to lose what it has started building, so do some cardio at least every three days.  

In the end, that consistently with sustained movement at a moderate breathing level will make  everyday activities are easier for your body so you have more energy left over for the activities you enjoy!

Keep Moving, Be Well,


Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

Leave a comment

by | March 12, 2019 · 7:50 pm

Why all the hype about heart rate, Part 2

How calorie burning makes it harder to lose weight(7).png

In the first part of this series on heart rate we discussed how it is not the faster, but the stronger heart beat that benefits your heart with cardio.  This is important because some types of exercise raise your heart rate but do not create a stronger muscle contraction.  Just because your heart rate goes up, it does not mean you are doing ‘cardio’. 

Using the word cardio for cardiovascular type exercise can lead to this misconception.  Cardio means heart, but the second half of that word is where more of the action really takes place.  Your vascular system is what delivers oxygen to the moving muscles.  ‘Cardio’ exercise involves not just your heart, but all parts of your cardiovascular system; your lungs to take in oxygen, your heart to pump the oxygen, your blood vessels to transport it, and your muscles ability to use it.  All of these parts of the system get stronger with regular cardiovascular exercise.

When you do regular cardiovascular exercise:

  • your lungs become more efficient at taking in oxygen
  • your heart becomes a stronger pump
  • your vessels grow to supply blood to more areas of your heart muscle and exercising muscles
  • Your exercising muscles grow more ‘equipment’ for using oxygen

Oxygen is the big deal because it is what allows your muscles to produce fuel in a long lasting way.  Without oxygen, fuel production burns out pretty quickly.    The better equipped your body is at using oxygen, the longer it can sustain a wide range of levels of exercise. The cool thing is, even when one part of this cardiovascular system is not functioning best, the other parts still adapt so you can improve stamina.  So even if you have asthma or heart disease, you can still improve your cardiovascular system and your exercise tolerance. 

The catch is, your body builds that ‘machinery’ to use the oxygen only when you do cardiovascular exercise regularly.   The good news is, with consistency over just a few weeks your body adapts to help you fuel muscles longer without getting as tired.  The important fact is, it only takes about three days of not doing cardio for your body to ‘forget’ and start to lose some of this equipment.  So consistency at least three days a week is your best bet for building and maintaining stamina. 

Next week we will continue to look at why cardio is so much more than heart rate. 

Keep moving, be well,




1 Comment

by | March 6, 2019 · 7:24 pm

Why all the hype about heart rate? Part 1

How calorie burning makes it harder to lose weight(6)Getting your heart rate up has become a ‘thing’. Why so much hype over heart rate? Let’s chat about what you need to know about heart rate. We will start by looking at why we use heart rate in the first place.

We use heart rate during exercise because your heart does beat faster as you move. The higher the intensity of that movement, the faster the heart beats. But the truth is, it is not the heart beating faster that makes your heart stronger.

When you do a cardiovascular exercise (aka: Cardio), your heart rate starts to increase to supply more blood to the moving parts of your body.  For the first two minutes of continuous movement, until more oxygen can be sent to them, your muscles use fuel stored right in your muscles to produce energy for muscle contractions. After about two minutes of continuous movement, your muscles can also use oxygen from the blood to create energy. The ‘with oxygen system’ is a more sustainable way to produce energy, so your body will use it whenever possible.

The muscle contractions also help send the blood back to the lungs to replace the used oxygen and then to the heart to be pumped back out to working muscles again. It is actually this greater volume of blood sent back to your heart during cardio that makes your heart stronger over time, not the faster heart beat. This is why your heart rate increasing from things like drinking coffee or getting stressed does not strengthen your heart.  It’s the stronger, not the faster heart beat, that happens specifically with cardiovascular exercise that makes your heart stronger.

When your heart rate goes up during typesexercise that do not involve continuous moment, such as with strength training, you don’t get as much of an increase in the blood returning to the heart as you do with exercises that are continuous.    So getting your heart rate up during a physical activity does not automatically mean you are getting a stronger cardiovascular system.  Your heart is beating faster because you are moving but it might not be beating stronger.   Circuit  training, where you do strength exercises  with some continuous movement between exercises, has been shown to improve both cardiovascular fitness as well as strength, but it does not improve each as effectively as doing strength and cardio separately. 

Continuous movement that is rhythmic and uses large muscle groups is best for making your heart beat stronger, not just faster.  Activities like walking, swimming, dancing, biking, cross country skiing are all great examples of good cardiovascular exercises because they increase the blood flow back to your heart to create a stronger muscle contraction. 

Next in this series on heart rate, we will look at why cardio is about so much more than your heart. 

Keep Moving, Be Well



by | February 27, 2019 · 8:18 pm

Why getting started is the hardest part of exercising

Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to get started with exercise? Maybe you have not exercised in years and you know that once you start again you will be motivated. Maybe you go regularly, but you always have to give yourself a big pep talk to get started.

Why is getting started the hardest part of exercising?

The fact is, it is not that starting is hard, it is that we make it hard. Starting does not need to be difficult. Unless you are an athlete being driven by a coach, you get to choose what you do for exercise. The problem happens when your brain sets a ‘goal’ of what you will do for exercise that day. That might be based on what you used be able to do, or the idea that you want to make progress so you need to push your body harder than last week. Your brain sets the goal based on the past or the future, but your body is only in the present moment.

Add the fact that chances are you are exercising at a time of day you don’t have tons of energy, such as first thing in the morning or right after work. Your brain is setting the bar based on some ideal of what you ‘should’ do and your body is saying “ugh, I don’t think I can do that right now!”. This is where the struggle happens. Your brains expectations are higher than what your body perceives as possible in that moment. Then it takes a lot of brain energy (AKA Willpower) to overcome this gap between your brain and your body.

What if you had an idea of what you might do, but no expectation of what you had to accomplish? What if you just decided to start exercising and listening to your body to decide what you will do that day? What if you started with what felt comfortable, not at all hard, and increased as your body felt ready?

The fact is, exercise does not need to be hard, painful or uncomfortable to be beneficial for health, well-being – or weight loss!

Starting easy is not a cop out. It will not diminish the benefits in any way. In fact, starting easy helps your body tolerate exercise even better. Starting easy lets your brain and body work together. Most importantly, it creates memories of starting exercise as not hard, but easy. That memory will start to become stronger than all those memories of exercise being hard. Those memories will create an upward spiral of motivation and getting started will become easier. This works with our best understanding of how your brain motivates with less energy.

Give it a try and let me know what happens.

Keep Moving, Be Well,


Leave a comment

by | February 19, 2019 · 8:44 pm