Tag Archives: health

Exercise and 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

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

“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

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,

Janet


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.

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by | March 12, 2019 · 7:50 pm

Ready for a Resolution Reset?

February has become the month for taking another look at your New Years Resolutions. Have you noticed there are more and more adds now in February for weight loss programs, gym memberships, and diets? We know that those who started out the year with a sprint toward a goal are by now losing steam. Reality sets in. Oh yeah, my life is a bit full and I don’t have time for what it takes to reach that big lofty goal. Time to make it more realistic.

I have a good friend who is a career coach. Her advice is to wait until February to set goals for the year. She recommends taking January to recover from the end of year craziness. It gives you a some distance from the previous year, so you can use it to inform you about what you want the new year to be about.

I like that idea. It is more humane. It allows some space to breathe and reflect. What is the rush anyway?!

Are you ready for a resolution reset? Fast forward to a year from now. Imagine it’s February 2020. What changes do you want to see in yourself, your life? What do you want to make sure you keep in your life this year? What is no longer serving your well-being and needs to go?

Here is the best part. You don’t have to worry about the answers. Let the questions hang around in the back of your mind as you go through your week. This mindset is enough to help you see what is working and what you need to change to be able to enjoy life a bit more.

What does this have to do with exercise? Your body and brain are ‘use it to keep it systems’. Every cell in your body – muscle, bone, connective tissue, nerve – are adaptable. All parts of you are made up of cells that adjust each day to what they are given. Think about that for a moment. You are made up of about 35 trillion cells! Each one of them can potentially improve when you exercise. They adapt to when you don’t move and when you do.

One perfect example is bone cells. After about 20 years old your bone mass is at its peak. That means that you are at risk to start losing more bone cells than you are producing. When you contract your muscles during strength training exercises, your bone cells get a signal to produce more bone cells. When your muscles don’t pull on your bones, more bone is lost than produced. Use it to keep it!

Enjoy the ‘pause’ this week. Check in on what is most important to you about your well-being. Then set your mind to exercise in a way that gives you more of what you want in the coming year. Then step confidently into the rest of 2019!

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

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by | February 12, 2019 · 6:12 pm