Tag Archives: learning

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

2202_Lymphatic_Capillaries_big

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,

Janet

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by | January 15, 2020 · 5:17 pm

Is it your body or your mind holding you back?

Why exercise for diabetes_(12)

The header at the top of this page is a collection of pictures of people who are on a weight loss journey. They are all at various stages on that journey, most are not at their goal weight yet.  However, each of them are now doing things they could not do before losing weight.  It is quite inspiring to see these smiling faces enjoying life while on the journey. How did they overcome their body and get so fit?  It took changing their mind so their body didn’t get in the way.

 The brain is a reality simulator.  What you imagine can seem very real.  Just think of how you feel when waking up from a dream.  The feelings can stay with you for a while, even though it was all in your head.

When your body is carrying extra weight, it can hold you back from exercising and doing many other activities you once easily enjoyed.  It can seem like you cannot exericse and it would be better to wait until you lost some weight to get started.  What you are feeling in your body is very real.  Just like a dream however, what your brain believes about how much is enough exercise may not be the reality.  Your expectations could be based on your memories of what you used to be able to do and what you want to be able to do now.  They could also be based on recommended amounts, which are really general guidelines.    Just like your dream, your mind can hold beliefs about what your body should be able to do, even when your body is telling you that it cannot do it.

This can feel like your body is getting in the way, holding you back from exercising.  However it is really your ideas about what it means to exercise that is holding you back.  Your body does not know the recommendations.  It only knows what it can do now, in this moment.  Your body does not know how many calories you want it to burn, it only knows what it will burn based upon what will be keep you healthy and well.  Your body does not know the numbers displayed on the weight machine or the treadmill or your activity monitor.  It only knows if it can tolerate what you are asking it to do.

If it cannot tolerate it, your body will let you know through pain and fatigue. Pain and fatigue are a sign of too  much too soon. Contrary to popular beliefs, pain is not a sign of progress (nope, not even muscle soreness). If you body has what it needs to do what you are asking it to do, it will let you know instantly through more energy, greater freedom of movement, more focus and a better mood.  Basically, your body is smarter than your brain when it comes to exercise. Your body and brain work best when they work together, that means your brain observes your body rather than dictates what it should be able to do.

So the next time you start thinking your body is working against you, ask what it is trying to tell you.  The answers may not be clear right away, and usually it is not telling you to stop exercise completely.  It is usually telling you it needs less for a while until it has time to adapt. You will know you have found the just right level and type of exercise by how you feel during and after exercise.  Your body  will tell you if and when it is ready for more. Until then, keep the peace between your brain and your body, by trusting you body to tell your brain how much is enough exercise right now.

Keep Moving Be Well,

Janet

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by | September 18, 2019 · 6:44 pm

Exercise and diabetes

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If you have been told your blood sugar (glucose) is too high, you probably have also been told to exercise.  But why?  Knowing how exercise helps lower blood sugar levels is a key for staying motivated to exercise regularly.  Let’s take a look at the inside story of exercise and blood sugars. 

Sticky Blood: When sugar gets wet, it gets sticky.  One of the biggest problems with having high blood sugars is that sugar makes blood “sticky”.   When sugar is at higher levels in your blood for too long, it is concerning because that “sticky” blood is now traveling to every part of your body.   This is why diabetes puts you at risk for so many different medical issues.  Nearly every part of the body is strained when blood sugars are high; your kidneys, your nerves, your eyes, etc.

Natural blood sugar management: Two of the most important ways your body is designed to move sugar out of your blood after you eat is (1) the movement system (2) the insulin system.  The movement system is meant to be the main system for keeping blood sugar from getting too high. The insulin system is designed to be your back up system, for use when you are not moving.

When you move:

  • your body uses the sugar in your blood to help fuel moving muscles
  • your body is able to use its own insulin more efficiently.  After exercise, your body is more sensitive to its own insulin, making this back up system work better for hours after exercise.

When you don’t move often:

  • your main (movement) system for managing blood sugars is not available
  • your body needs to use the back up (insulin) system to bring sugar into cells to be stored as fat
  • over time your back up (insulin) system gets overused and can ‘wear out’

When you have type II diabetes, your body is resistant to insulin, causing sugar and insulin build up in your blood.   When you move your body, you activate the main natural system for lowing your blood sugar.   Exercise then, temporarily reverses the cause of type II diabetes.

Not all movement is created equal.  However, if you move all day for your job or for child care, your movement system could be counteracted by another system – the stress system.  When you are moving but stressed, your body releases more sugar into your blood.  That means the movement system cannot do its job as effectively.  This is what sets exercise apart from your every day physical activities.  Exercise is when you are moving for the purpose of self-care. When movement reduces, rather than increases stress, it is able to do its job of lower blood sugars. 

Plus, exercise has GREAT side effects. The bonus is, exercise also helps you manage diabetes in other ways too:

  • Think clearly:  Moving your body can help your brain function better, giving you a better mood, focus and ability to make healthy choices
  • Health protection:  Regular exercisers have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke.  When you have diabetes you are at greater risk for health concerns, so the extra protection from exercise comes in very handy.
  • Weight managementExercise (specifically strength training) counteracts the metabolism lowering effect of dieting by keeping your muscles strong and functioning well while losing weight.
  • Improved sleep: When sleep deprived, the stress response in the body is triggered, raising blood sugar and making weight loss more difficult.  Using exercise to improve sleep has a ripple effect to many other parts of your life.
  • Reduce Arthritis pain: stronger muscles around joints can decrease arthritis pain and make moving easier.  Less pain means you can move more and moving more helps keep blood sugar in check.
  • Reduce Back Pain:  The job of the core is to protect the spine from wear and tear. Exercises that teach the core muscles to do their job in a functional way can reduce back pain.  Plus, stretching in a way that helps to improve tolerance of things like bending and lifting and helps the body recover from strains of daily life can reduce back pain flare ups. Again, less pain, more movement, better blood sugar control.
  • Counteracts depression, anxiety, and improves mood and focus:  Exercise, when used properly, has been shown to be very effective as part of a treatment plan for depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other areas of mental health.  Living with a disease like diabetes can be overwhelming at times and can affect mood.  Exercise can help boost your ability to cope with the stress and pressures of having diabetes

Bottom line:  Moving your body, in a way that reduces stress, activates the natural blood sugar management system in your body.  Keep moving to keep this system working for you and your health.

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

 

 

 

 

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by | May 28, 2019 · 8:55 pm

Who can you inspire to move?

Who can you inspire to move_

My whole team is doing the stretches as part of our morning huddle.  We don’t have pain during the day and have more energy at the end of the day!

This week a patient shared with me an inspiring story.

She is a dental hygienist and she would always get pain her her neck and shoulders from being in that position all day long. That pain drained her energy too.  In her first visit, we did some stretches that she could incorporate into her day to see if they help with this energy draining discomfort.

They really worked for her.  So she showed the stretches to her co-workers one day at morning huddle.   Now they all don’t have that pain any more and they have more energy at the end of the day too.  They decided to make it part of their morning routine.

Kudos to you for inspiring others to move and feel better!

Who could you inspire today to keep moving and be well?

Share your story!

Janet

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by | May 22, 2019 · 4:44 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

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