You may have noticed the difference this past year had on your stamina. When you were no longer walking from your car to the office or walking around a grocery store, your body ‘forgot’ how to use the equipment it has to keep you moving.
Your activity monitor is a great tool for staying aware of how active or inactive you are throughout the day. The bells and buzzes are great reminders to get up and move. In our new world where you may be moving even less than you were before the pandemic, a step goal can be very useful.
Since most of our daily activities, like shopping, cleaning, yardwork, working are stop and go, our aerobic system does not get much practice for producing lasting energy.
Stamina is the ability to move for extended time without getting tired and needing to stop. It is more than your heart strength, its about your whole cardiovascular system’s ability to produce energy aerobically.
Short term activities where you move continuously for less than two minutes use the anaerobic energy system. This system is designed to get you started, like a match and kindling starting a campfire.
But for you to sustain that energy, your aerobic system needs enough equipment to use oxygen to turn glucose and fat into fuel for cells. That means your heart, lungs, blood vessels, blood cells and muscle cells all need to be reminded to keep the necessary equipment to keep that fire going once the short term system runs out.
Yes your heart needs to be a strong pump, your blood needs to be able to carry the oxygen, and your muscle cells need the equipment to use the oxygen.
When you don’t move for an extended period of time very often, this equipment starts to fade.
The good news is, you can get it back, and fairly quickly too. Here is how:
Start stringing those steps together so your body rebuilds the equipment to do more than short bouts of movement. Even if it is brief five-minute bouts to start, that is enough to get your aerobic system working again.
go at the pace that keeps your breathing at light to moderate to start. If you go to fast and get out of breath, you are now using the anaerobic system again. Moderate intensity breathing ensures you are telling your aerobic system to get stronger.
Repeat often, especially if you can only do short bouts to start. Listen to your body to know when it is ready to increase minutes.
Keep in mind, your body can adapt to only about a 10% increase per week. That means if you are doing a 10 minute walk, increase by 1 minute the following week! Gradually build up to 30 minutes three times a week as your body is ready.
No need to push to high intensity or through pain because this actually slows your progress to greater and sustainable stamina. Working with your body means it will take less time to turn those steps into more lasting energy for everyday life and the fun things you are looking forward to doing again.
I am one week out of surgery. If it wasn’t for the exercises, I would of had a much harder time. I had plenty of strength right after surgery. I am strong in places I didn’t realized would be. The exercises before surgery help me so much with getting up and doing other things in these early stages of recovery.
This is a patient, who was a regular exerciser when younger, had a major back injury from a work related accident struggled put that on hold for a long time. Living with pain for many years had taken its toll on him not only physically, but mentally too.
When he committed to having surgery, he committed to regular exercise. He purchased exercise bands so he could exercise at home. He started walking short walks, listening to his body and not pushing through pain. He added small stretching breaks to his day to keep his body feeling as good as possible each day.
Motivation was also an issue. The gym used to be motivating but now it was a stark reminder of how far he had come from his younger more fit self. It made him feel worse and that led to put off going. He knew he needed to move more but was afraid of making things worse and struggling with motivating to get started. Doing a little at a time, at home where he felt comfortable helped him get out of the overwhelming state of thinking about how far he was from his goal. Instead he focused on what he could do to feel his best each day. He also committed to regular exercise visits every few weeks to ensure he was staying on track.
This is the struggle for most people who are trying to lose a large amount of weight. You know you need to exercise but your body is limited. You cannot just jump back into what you used to do or what everyone else is doing. You are in a unique situation and need exercises that are meant for the state of your body and your mind right now. This is why we need exercise programs that are specifically for people who are preparing for weight loss surgery.
The problem is, the area of prehabilitation before weight loss surgery has very few studies and most bariatric surgery programs do not include professional clinical exercise guidance as part of the preparation.
The current research shows that exercising before weight loss surgery provides the benefits that make surgery and recovery easier for your body and improves your chances of success with weight loss surgery. The key is, only exercise can provide all these benefits.
One of the most important benefits unique to exercise is the improvements in muscle strength and the prevention of muscle and metabolism loss with weight loss. Muscle loss is one of the down sides of weight loss surgery. Rapid weight loss has been shown to lead to loss of muscle mass, which is one of the largest parts of your metabolism. In one study, people who didn’t exercise after surgery, 22% of their weight loss was muscle. No wonder it is so difficult to keep weight off! But studies show those who exercise greatly slow or even prevent this loss during weight loss.
The common thought is that people who are carrying extra weight tend to have more muscle mass, and this is true but they tend to have lower muscle strength. This is like having a really cool sportscar in your driveway but not being able to use it. Strength and muscle mass don’t go hand in hand because strength is the function of muscles. That depends on how you use them. Exercise, specifically strength training, tells your muscles how to function well and be strong. Only exercise can do this for you. Since functioning better in daily life is one of the main reasons for weight loss surgery, exercise is an essential part of success.
Studies support other benefits of exercising before weight loss surgery is:
better blood pressure control
better blood sugar control
decrease of inflammation
improvement of cardiovascular function (Ie; less shortness of breath, lower risk of heart attack, more energy)
If you want to lose weight to be healthy, isn’t it nice to know you can be healthier while losing weight!
Fitness is a measure of your function in daily life. The image above shows that people represented by the grey line, who didn’t exercise before or after surgery don’t improve their fitness levels after weight loss surgery. Having weight loss surgery is too much work to miss out on this key benefit of weight loss!
As shown in the top two lines in the chart, people who exercise improve fitness and thus are probably enjoying the most success from weight loss surgery. Notice though, the people who do best are the ones represented in the blue line. They are the ones who exercise before and after weight loss surgery.
Exercising before weight loss surgery is one of the best ways to prepare for surgery and up your odds of success after weight loss surgery. Exercising prepares your body by giving it the strength and stamina it needs for surgery and recovery. You are also preparing your mind for making exercise part of your lifestyle, so you stay strong and function better with every pound lost. If you feel stuck, unable to exercise, know that the problem is not your mind or your body. You simply need exercise that is specifically for you, someone who is preparing for weight loss surgery. When exercise addresses the unique needs of someone preparing for weight loss surgery, those physical and emotional struggles with exercise are much less.
Hopefully in the future more research will provide the incentive for more bariatric programs to make exercise a part of their program. UMass Memorial Weight Center is unique in their commitment to including clinical exercise support and guidance as part of the preparation for surgery and success after surgery. If you are preparing for weight loss surgery, make the commitment to include exercise as part of that preparation, seek guidance and support from professionals who understand your unique needs, and give yourself the best chance for success before and after surgery.
Despite our ingrained belief that exercise needs to be painful, sweaty and uncomfortable to get results, there is no evidence that pain is needed to improve fitness. Yet, the belief lives on through media images and tough exercise programs all based on the four word mantra “no pain no gain”. Interestingly, there is plenty of evidence from neuroscience that pain will most certainly keep you from staying motivated. Do we really need to be in pain, exhausted and sweaty to get results from exercise? Lets take a look.
What results do you want from exercise?
The first question to ask yourself is “what results do I want from exercise?”. If you want to be an athlete and gain a competitive edge, yes, you will need to endure some pain. If you just want “aesthetic fitness”; to look better in a bathing suit or body building stage, ye,s pain and fatigue are likely going to be side effects of your training routine. If you are exercising to feel better mentally and physically, be healthy and well, both now and in the future, pain will actually take you in the opposite direction, leading you away from the results you really want.
“No Pain No Gain” Is Not Meant for You
The saying “No Pain No Gain” was invented for athletes to remind them that if you want to gain a competitive edge, pain is going to be part of the process. It was NOT invented to mean that you have to be in pain to get gain. If you are not exercising to be an athlete, this saying is simply not meant for you.
But What About a Good Sore?
The term a ‘good sore’ was born out of the misuse of the saying “no pain no gain”. It comes from the belief that muscle soreness means you are burning more calories and fat, getting more muscle tone and making progress toward losing weight and getting ‘in shape’. Yet, there is not one published study that shows muscle soreness is necessary for improving strength, burning calories or fat, or improving muscle tone.
Not a single study!
The term ‘good sore’ is really an oxymoron. There is no good reason to be sore.
Isn’t Soreness Part of Getting Back in Shape?
I often hear from patients, “yes it’s painful but its because I am overweight and out of shape”. When we take a step back from that statement, and see that there is no benefit to pain, we realize that it is not your body that is the problem, it is the exercise you are doing to get back into shape. When you adapt exercise for your body, rather than thinking your body just has to get used to an exercise you think you need to do, the pain goes away, enjoyment goes up and so does consistency.
Science Says: No pain, More Gain
So the body scientists agree, there is no gain in pain. The brain scientists also agree that pain is a sure sign motivation will fade. Your brain is hardwired to avoid what makes you feel worse, and repeat what makes you feel better. When exercise is painful, your body is telling your brain this is something to avoid. No matter how much you tell yourself it’s a good sore, your brain is going to believe what your body is feeling and eventually your will make excuses why you cannot exercise.
When you know how to adapt exercise so it does not cause pain, and instead leaves you feeling better, you gain something much more valuable for results – the ease of staying motivated! Consistency is how we get results that last.
Bottom Line About Pain and Exercise
If the ‘No Pain No Gain” mantra rattles around in your head when you are exercising (or thinking of exercising), trade it for a way of thinking about exercise that is meant for you. There is no gain in pain. Pain is simply a sign something needs to change.
Learn how to move the way your body is designed to move so exercises feels good
Notice when your brain is telling your body what it should be able to do and instead let your body tell your brain what it can do now.
Notice when exercise makes you feel better physically (less pain, more energy, less anxious, not sore, etc). That will help your brain want to choose to do it again.
Use a slow gradual progression when increasing exercise. Your body can adapt to only 10% more each week. Slow and steady gets you results.
Whew! Isn’t it great to know you don’t have to endure pain to get results!
Most people struggle with getting enough exercise, but not because there is a lack of information. All you have to do is open a magazine, scroll through social media, look in the self-help section of the bookstore or do a quick internet search and you can get answers to just about any question about exercise. In this sea of information, how do you know who to listen to as a guide? Here are three questions to ask yourself when you get advice about exercise:
What am I looking for from exercise?
Exercise is one word with several purposes. You could exercise to:
improve athletic performance
achieve a certain ‘ look’ in your body
improve your health and function in daily life
Although you could get a bit of all three results from any form of exercise, it is difficult to get what you really want unless you exercise specifically for what you want most. Its just the way our body is designed; you get what you train for. Getting really clear about what you want most will help you narrow down the search for an expert in that type of fitness. Is looking better more important to you than feeling better? Is athletic performance more important than staying healthy as you age? These are essential questions to ask yourself before you even search for information.
Exercising for weight loss is tricky though because weight loss is not a goal, its a method for getting what you want. You might want to lose weight perform better in sports, to look better, or be healthier or function better. I have not met anyone who said they just want the scale to go down but they don’t care about how they feel, or how they function at that goal weight. This is why weight loss is not a goal, its a method for getting what you want. You might want to lose weight for all three reasons but you need to ask yourself which is most important to you about weight loss so you find the right advice to get it.
What is their experience and training?
Exercise is a field of scientific study. Just like any other field, there are specialties and levels of training. Since anyone can call themselves a fitness trainer or expert, you need to do a bit of digging to find out about their experience and training. Look at their bio, do an internet search, and if possible ask them where they went to school, what their degree was in, what types of certifications they hold. If their qualifications are based on their own personal story but no official training, be wary. If their career has been focused on training athletes and your main goal is to be healthy, that is not the expert for you. If you are looking to lose weight to be healthy and function better and you have some medical concerns or pain limitations, you want someone who knows medical as well as exercise science.
Is exercise within their scope of practice?
Scope of practice is a term used to keep professionals from wearing too many hats. For example, as an exercise professional, nutrition is out of my scope of practice. I took a nutrition course and have worked alongside some amazing dietitians, but I am not qualified to give you advice about your diet. Nutrition and exercise are two humongous fields of study with constant research to stay up to date about. This information is larger than one person could realistically master. When someone gives advice about many fields of study, you miss out.
This can seem a bit over the top because we are so used to getting advice about exercise from many sources; from chapters in books about being successful in business to improving mental health. ‘Exercise regularly’ is great advice, but the details are best left to someone who specializes only in exercise. Ask yourself if the person telling you how to exercise is out of their scope of practice. If so, head to a book or a site by someone who focuses only on the type of exercise that is right for you.
There is one last question that is helpful “what is my gut telling me?” You need to trust this person because they are helping you take care of your body. When you heed their advice, listen to your body above all else, because you are the best expert on how it is feeling. Only you know if what you are doing is giving you what you want from your investment in exercise.
In November, we started Spring Training. Staying active and consistently exercising through the winter is challenging. It becomes more motivating when you realize you are doing it for a purpose, like to enjoy the activities you like to do on that first beautiful Spring day.
With are only five weeks until the first official day of Spring, it’s time to check in. Which direction are you heading in? Are you on the path to a Spring that starts with soreness and limitations or are you on the path to a Spring that allows you to do the activities you need and want to do with ease?
If your motivation has taken you off the path to an easy and enjoyable time in Spring, lets renew your energy for Spring Training.
Close your eyes and fast forward to the first beautiful day in Spring. Ask yourself the following:
What do I want to be able to do in Spring?
How do I want to feel?
What do I need to do that activity – more strength, stamina, mobility?
What is one thing I can do starting today that will tell my body to build more of that over the next five weeks?
The great news is, exercise does not need to take a lot of time, it only needs to be done consistently and your body will adapt. Starting your day with one set of an exercise that you know will improve your strength. Taking five to ten minutes before dinner to dance or walk. Before going to bed each night doing that one stretch that you know feels so good. These are so small you might think they are not worth it, but think again. It’s the natural laws of nature that they will work. Just like snow is designed to melt at a certain temperature, your body is designed to adapt to what you give it. Let it know you are in Spring Training and it will keep you on a path to a more enjoyable season ahead.