Tag Archives: Success

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 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

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

How much is enough exercise for a healthy weight?

Blog imagesIn my 20’s I was living down south and worked at a busy ‘southern-style cooking’ restaurant right off the interstate. Customers were tired travelers, who wanted food fast so they could get back on the road. The kitchen was so full of chaos and ‘choice words’ that I would dread an order change because it meant getting my ‘head bit off’ by the cooks.  At the end of the night managers had a list of criticisms, and never gave a pat on the back for a job well done.  I would collapse when I got home, physically and mentally drained from the constant state of working hard and it never being ‘enough’.

Ever feel like that with exercise?  Like you always should be doing more?   It’s easy to get caught in the thinking that if you could step it up a bit you could get to the next level, burn more calories, or “fix” other parts of your body.  It can make the mere thought of exercise mentally and physically exhausting.

While working on a goal is motivating, the need to continuously come up with new more challenging goals to keep you motivated relies way too much on willpower, and not enough on the natural intrinsic motivation that made you want to lose weight in the first place.

After hearing story after story of patients, “stepping up” their exercise efforts only to get injured or lose motivation, I urge you to take time to find your level of ‘enough’.   It could save you a lot of time down the road!  Unless you are in athletic training of some kind, there is a level of ‘enough to achieve a healthy weight in a way that lasts.   Studies show that most of the the health benefits of exercise are enjoyed, regardless of weight.   Finding ‘your level of enough’ with exercise means you are taking charge of your health,  and that is one of the most compelling reasons most people give for losing weight.

Here are the estimated levels of exercise needed to get the health benefits from exercise. (I emphasize estimated because this is ‘in the lab’ and in real life I often see improvements with lower levels of exercise as long as they are done consistently):

  • Strength training for your whole body, twice a week, 8-12 repetitions, one set that brings your muscles to a comfortable challenging level that does not cause muscle soreness the next day.
  • Cardiovascular exercise three days a week for thirty minutes of continuous movement at a level that causes a moderate to comfortable challenge for your breathing.
  • Movement breaks for every hour of stillness done in a way that give you a mental and a physical break from the sedentary activity; ie: taking a brief walk, stretching, doing balance or agility exercises.
  • Stretching daily as movement breaks and after physical activities to help maintain or improve mobility, reduce inflammation.  This includes moving joints through their range of motion or holding stretch positions in a way that does not cause pain or discomfort.

This amount of exercise takes less than 2% of your total time. The key is doing quality exercise, the kind that is based on the science of how your body is designed to move,  so you don’t keep feeling like you need to increase the quantity of your exercise.

You might choose to do more, but know that you don’t have to do more to be healthy at any weight.

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

1 Comment

by | November 5, 2018 · 5:07 pm