Stretching: Three benefits you may not know (part 1)

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (5)

When you think of stretching exercises, what do you imagine?  If the thought of stretching sounds boring, a waste of time, or something you just are not flexible enough to do,  let’s take a new look at stretching and three benefits you may not know.  

The science of stretching lags behind the research on other types of exercise.  With less facts, we have more myths.  One of the biggest myths is that stretching is about making muscles longer.  The fact is, stretching has less to do with your muscles and more to do with three other parts of your body; your nervous system, fascia system, and  lymph system.

We will take a look at what happens in your body when you stretch over three blogs because with more and more research on stretching, there is so much great information to share.

Lets start by talking about the Lymph System


Lymph is the fluid part of your blood.  The vessels run right alongside your blood vessels. (see image).  Lymph vessels, just like blood vessels are spread out throughout your whole body.   

The lymphatic system’s job is to maintain a healthy immune system by absorbing fluid from the blood so it can be transported to the spleen. The spleen acts as a filter, helping your body fight infection and detecting potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses. Your spleen and your lymph nodes create white blood cells to defend your body against these ‘invaders’.

However, this important system in the body needs you to move for all that to happen. Unlike the circulatory system, your lymph system does not have its own pump. It relies on movement to move the lymph fluid through the body. Stretching can provide that movement instantly, even in the smallest vessels in the body.

The lymph system is one of the big reasons‘sitting disease’is a health concern. But the name is misleading.  The truth is,  sitting is not the problem.  The health strain on the body comes from the combination of  being still and stressed.

Stillness keeps your lymph system from working at its best.  Stress adds to the inflammation in your body as it prepares your body for movement to deal with the stressor.  So the combination of stillness and stressed allows inflammation, the precursor for many lifestyle diseases, to build up.  

For this reason, stretching,  not just taking steps,  is a great way to lower your risks from prolonged sitting.  Unlike ‘getting steps, stretching reaches even the smallest parts of your body where inflammation can build up.  If you just focus on getting steps you might be tempted to multitask them, rather than take a break from stress.   When done mindfully, stretching gives your mind a break 

brooke-cagle-QJ1j4HOdNtI-unsplashfrom the stress, giving your body a chance to clear inflammation. 

Give it a try this week.  When you have a time you are still for a while, take a big morning style stretch and imagine how your muscles are pushing on your lymph vessels giving them help with doing their job!


Keep moving, Be Well,



by | January 15, 2020 · 5:17 pm

How to keep moving and be well, even when life changes

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I am totally dating myself here, but do you remember the song by the Brady Bunch “When its time to change you’ve got to rearrange”?   Remember the episode? They had a big recording session scheduled, but Peter’s voice starts to change.  It was so stressful. 😉 Were they going to be able to perform?  Maybe they should cancel? In the end they decided to embrace change and made it work!  (so inspiring!)   (If you are too young to know what I am talking about or just want to reminisce, here is a clip from the show)

Lifestyle changes are more challenging when we don’t account for the fact that life is always changing.  The weather, your schedule, the needs of loved ones, your body, are all in a constant state of flux.  When we set a resolution to exercise regularly, we don’t always account for this fact.  That new years motivation is so strong, we can forget that it is not just a statement, it is a way of approaching life’s changing nature.  If we don’t, when that dynamic state of life hits, it can seem like that resolution needs to go on the back burner until things return to ‘normal’.

Certainly, there are times we need to prioritize and exercise does need to go on the back burner.  This will happen more often when you think of exercise as a means to an end, rather than something you do to enjoy more of life.   When you think of exercise as a way to feel more like yourself through the challenging times in life, you are more likely to keep it as a tool you can use to stay grounded and reduce stress rather than a task to put off.

The key is knowing how much is enough to maintain your strength, stamina, mobility, and your sanity when life starts to get a bit overwhelming.

For your body, this is enough to maintain:

  • Strength training: one day a week and one set of your usual exercises.
  • Cardio: three days a week for 10 minutes at a moderate intensity.
  • Mobility: Stretching for even just a few minutes once a day.

For your mind, this level is also enough to churn up some great mood boosting, stress reducing chemicals in your brain.

Isn’t that convenient!

Bottom Line:  The way to keep moving and be well is to stay flexible with what you do, so when life changes, you simply rearrange.

Keep Moving, Be Well,


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by | January 8, 2020 · 3:18 pm

The science of making New Year’s exercise motivation last

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (2).pngAhh, that fresh start feeling of a brand new year.  Your mind is now free of that holiday to do list and your body is ready to get back to healthier eating and sleeping.  This wave of motivation feels great and hopeful.  Let’s give it a boost and talk about what science says about making that New Year’s motivation last!

Create a habit loop:  Neuroscientists  have spent decades studying the brains of people in many different scenarios and have come up with a simple explanation for habits.  As described in this TED talk by Judson Brewer, MD PhD, the brain is hardwired to do what leaves you feeling better and avoid what makes you feel worse.  This gravitation toward instant gratification is there to keep us safe.  Avoiding plants that gave you a stomach ache and traveling to get to a safer location was what helped our ancestors survive.  Using this with exercise in our modern day life means  listening to your body. Just like our ancestors, trusting your body is the best guide. That takes letting go of the idea that more is better and pain is a sign of progress and letting your body signal your brain that exercise is something it wants to keep choosing to do again and again.

Be Kind (to yourself):  Over and over in many studies, criticism has been show to work for motivation in the short term and to burn out motivation in the long term.  Putting a picture on the fridge to make you feel bad about yourself so you go to the gym is one common self-criticism strategy.  As described in this TED talk by Kristen Neff, PhD, studies have consistently shown that using the same encouraging and supportive tone with yourself that you use with those you care about is the way to make motivation last.  Notice how you talk to yourself before during and after exercise.  Shift the tone to be encouraging, empathetic and supportive.  Contrary to popular belief, this will not make you ‘wimp’ out, it will actually help you sustain motivation.

Motivate yourself:  Studies show that having someone push you will help you reach a goal, but once that push is no longer there, motivation will go too. As described in this TED talk by Daniel Pink, the more lasting way to motivate is from the inside out.  Relying on steps, calories and miles to motivate you will work, but more lasting is being motivated by how you feel and how it connects to what is most important to you in life right now.   By listening to your body and using supportive self talk, you can be your own best personal trainer and inspirational speaker rolled into one!

It takes time to build these skills, but it is the way to lasting motivation.  If previous years you have relied on other people, self criticism and ignoring signals from your body in order to get to a goal with exercise, notice where it has led you.  If it led you back to trying to get motivated again, this year, make a resolution not to waste time with temporary sources of exercise motivation.  Why not invest the time and energy by using your New Years Motivation to build these self-motivation skills from day one.

Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy new year!

Keep Moving, Be Well all year long!



by | December 31, 2019 · 7:47 pm

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (1)This time of year, getting enough exercise can seem next to impossible.  The solution starts by knowing what it means to ‘get enough exercise’.  Here are some tips on how to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life.

Typical tips would be to multitask like march in place while you are on the phone or do exercises while sitting at your desk or watching TV.  Although they seem logical, this is where we lose motivation and the ability to get enough of what we truly need from exercise when we are busy.

First, lets get clear about what is exercise. Physical activity is any movement.  But the word exercise literally means to practice.  Exercise is when you move specifically for the purpose of taking care of your body, practicing a skill or ability you want more of now and in the future.   Like any quality time spent practicing, movement goes from being just another task to exercise when it has the following qualities:

Consistent:  practicing something for five minutes a day will be more effective than just during the times of year you have time to practice.    Your body is a use it to keep it system, which means the movements you do regularly you get to keep.  It is easier to make it part of your daily life when you see it as a way to feel better.  That brings us to the next two qualities.

Focus:  When practice of any skill is done with full focus, it is more time efficient. If you multi tasked learning a new skill by doing it while watching TV, you just would not get as much out of the time you invest in it.  When you move with full focus on your body for the purpose of taking care of yourself,  you not only improve the quality of your exercise time, but you also ramp up the benefits by practicing mindfulness while you move.  Focusing on the present moment calms the nervous system. So does movement. The two together are just what we need when we are busy and stressed. Since stress deteriorates motivation, exercising to reduce stress is the way to stay motivated.

Just right level:  If you practiced a skill at a level higher than your abilities, you would get frustrated and probably lose interest.  That just right level of challenge is key for exercise too. Your body and brain both benefit from exercising at a level that feels like a comfortable and motivating challenge.  Listening to your body allows you to find the just right level without wasting time doing more than your body needs that day, causing you move less because you are in pain the next day.  More is not always better.  When it comes to exercise, constantly trying to do more usually leads to lower motivation long term.

Those steps you might be racking up at the mall doing holiday shopping or shoveling your driveway ‘count’ for physical activity.  However, shopping or shoveling can be stress producing instead of leaving you feeling or functioning better because they are often missing the three elements that turn physical activity into exercise.  

Exercise for being healthy and well is not about keeping score, its about feeling better and functioning better, now and later.  Think of exercise as a time to practice improving the function of your body and calming your mind.   Instated of putting exercise on hold when you are busy, adapt how much you do so you can stay consistent while using exercise as a ‘time out’ to de-stress.  This way you are more likely to keep moving and stay well through all the seasons of your life, 

Keep Moving, Be Well



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by | December 18, 2019 · 3:35 pm

Moving past plateaus; one patient’s story

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Mary* came in for an exercise visit last month. She was less than two months post weight loss surgery and she hit a plateau. Her weight would not budge.  Although this is normal, she began to worry she was doing something wrong.

We had spoken about strength training since before surgery  She had not started it yet though.  We reviewed how muscles are the largest contributor to metabolism. The muscles you are not using during weight loss down-regulate, to help your body conserve energy.  She decided it was worth giving strength training a try to see if this was part of the weight loss plateau.  

We reviewed a basic program, designed to help her use as many muscles as possible by ‘teaching’ them to work together in movements, rather than exercises for each muscle group.   This way she was learning to move better too.   We put some extra tools in place to help give strength training the best chance for helping her metabolism.

  1. Presence:  since your brain is what controls muscles, you need it to help you use as much muscle as possible while doing strength training. The more muscle used, the more chance of raising metabolism.  Lifting weights while your brain is doing something else, like watching TV, lessens your chance of using as much muscle mass as possible during strength training.  Your brain is one of the most important parts of your body for building strength.
  2. Consistency: The metabolism effects of strength training last for about 24-48 hours.  Doing strength training every other day helps you keep that metabolism benefit all week long, even between strength training days.  She set an alarm on her phone to go off right after her favorite morning-time TV show.  She has consistently been doing it when the alarm goes off on Monday, Wednesday and Friday
  3. Gradual:  Like a plant, your body changes slowly.  Doing too much too soon is a sure-fire way to feel sore, strain your body and tell your brain to avoid exercise at the first chance it gets!  We started by reviewing how the body moves, how the core is part of all movements, and how the brain and nerves control it all.  She spent the past month focused on using light or no resistance in this muscle memory building phase.  By resisting the urge to ‘jump start’ her strength with heavy weights, and found she felt great, and actually enjoyed strength training.

Mary came in today for a follow up after doing strength training in this way for a month.  Her weight was down eight pounds!  The scale told us that this was just what her body needed, to re-activate muscles that had gone dormant to help her conserve energy.

Most importantly, she is feeling great and moving better. She has really embraced strength training with a sense of curiosity and engagement with her body and how it is designed to move.  I believe what made the difference is those three factors – paying attention rather than multitasking, a dedication to consistency, and patience while her body and brain worked together to learn how to move well.

“I always thought of strength training as going to a gym and lifting heavy weights.  I never thought it could be this simple to do at home”  

There are many factors that cause a weight plateau.  Strength training is just one part of the toolbox of things to try to help your body when weight loss stalls.   The beauty is in the details though.   How you do strength training determines if it will tell your whole-body to be strong and function at its best during each stage of your weight loss journey.

Keep Moving, Be Well,


*patients name changed to protect privacy

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by | December 4, 2019 · 4:02 pm

Happy Thanksgiving!

Why exercise for diabetes_ (3)

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by | November 28, 2019 · 4:50 am

How our supervisor keeps moving strong into her seventies

Linda Guerin is our supervisor here at the surgery clinic at UMass Memorial. Outside of work she is active with her grandchildren.   I have known her for many years and her energy level has not wavered.  Her secret?  Healthy eating and exercise!  Read below about what she does for exercise and how she keeps moving strong in her seventies!

Team blog series (5)

What do you currently do for exercise? I currently work out 4 nights a week and have been for over a year- I take a variety of classes including Zumba, P90x, and HIIT class.

What has been your biggest challenge with exercise in recent years?- I need to have both my knees replaced but it does not prevent me from attending classes

How did you overcome that challenge to keep moving?  I just keep moving, I was doing a fitness program with weights for over five years and decided it was no longer working for me and my knees and joined FIT Friendzy Studios over a year ago and I just over the variety of classes they offer and I love to challenge myself.

Why is exercise important to you right now in your life? I’m determined to stay healthy and fit especially the older I get it’s even more important to me. I will be 71 in January. I  work full time and I eat healthy.  Over a year ago I gave up junk food and sweets (sugar) and don’t miss it at all. It’s so important to me to be healthy, you never know what tomorrow brings but it will not be because I didn’t work on my health.  I have also lost 90 lbs since I changed my lifestyle.

I love spending time with my grandchildren and family and friends. I also love to tent camp for a couple of weeks in the summer when I’m visiting my son and family in Michigan. I need to be healthy to do that. I also found a way to exercise while camping. I truly enjoy being active, it’s a big part of my life.  I stay late at work just not to miss my classes. I truly love my life!

Thank you Linda!




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by | November 25, 2019 · 4:19 pm