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Spring Training Check In: What direction are you heading?

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (10)

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.

Keep Moving, Be Well, Think Spring!

Janet

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by | February 11, 2020 · 8:58 pm

How can exercise keep your immune system strong?

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (9)

Cold and flu season are in full swing. With news stories of worldwide of flu rates, you are probably trying to do the extras to stay healthy this season.   Here is how exercise can help keep your immune system strong.

How does exercise help your immune system protect you from illness?

Some of these theories according to Medline Plus are:

  • Exercise may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
  • Exercise causes change in antibodies and white blood cells (WBC). WBCs are the body’s immune system cells that fight disease. These antibodies or WBCs circulate more rapidly, so they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before. However, no one knows whether these changes help prevent infections.
  • The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing. This temperature rise may help the body fight infection better. (This is similar to what happens when you have a fever.)
  • Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones. Some stress increases the chance of illness. Lower stress hormones may protect against illness.

How much is enough exercise to help keep your immune system strong? 

This study found that just twenty minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise was enough to have significant improvements in immune system function by having an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.  Some studies show that exercising over an hour or exercising to exhaustion can actually lower the immune systems ability to fight off those germs you are encountering every day.  Moderate intensity is the amount that feels comfortable, not uncomfortable,  for your breathing.

How does exercise help you recover well from illness?

Even if you do end up with a cold or flu, exercise is an important part of ensuring your body gets back to its usual functioning level as soon as possible.  When you are recovering from an illness, bed rest is needed.  During bed rest your body can lose up to 12% of its strength per week. Your connective tissue, bone and cardiovascular system all lose function during that time too.  Getting back to a regular exercise routine helps you regain what you have lost so your body can make a full recovery and your immune system can bounce back quicker.  When you restart exercise, start at less than 50% of what you were doing before you got sick.    Most importantly, listen to your body!  If it increases fatigue, cut it back even more.   If it gives you energy and makes you feel better you know you found the right ‘starting dose’ of exercise to help your recover.  Increase by about 10% per week, and continue to listen to your body. 

Bottom Line:  A simple lunchtime walk or family dance party before dinner could be all you need to use exercise as part of the ways you stay well this season.  Exercise does not need to be complicated or fatiguing, just consistent so those everyday germs don’t stand a chance in your healthy and well body.

Keep moving, Be well!

Janet

 

 

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by | February 5, 2020 · 7:31 pm

Stretching: Three benefits you may not know (part 3)

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (8)

In part 1 of this series on Stretching; the three benefits you may not know, we discussed how stretching helps the lymph system do its job to help your immune system function. This makes stretching one of the best ways to reduce the effects of sitting for too long.  In part 2, we reviewed the fascia system and it’s effect on your whole body and your mind.  Stretching then becomes a way to help your body feel less stiff while improving whole person health.  In this last part, let’s take a look at how the effects of stretching on your nervous system can lead to more comfort, less pain and more freedom of movement.  

The nervous system is what controls muscles. When a muscle is tight, it is your nervous system trying to protect your muscles from tearing. A muscle spasm is when your nervous system has to take extreme measures to protect a muscle that is holding a lot of tension. The spasm happens to prevent it from tearing. That spasm is not the result of that one movement, but rather the accumulation of tightness over time. The movement that resulted in a spasm was the final straw, so to speak. Regular stretching helps to keep that tightness from accumulating.  

When you stretch regularly, you are helping your nervous system build up tolerance of movements, so it is less “hyper-protective” of the muscles.  

Nervous systemThe way to get this benefit though goes against the way you may have been taught to stretch in the past.  The word stretching implies you are stretching a muscle like a piece of cloth, and the more you pull the more the muscle will relax.  Because the nervous system is in a large part what is ‘allowing’ the muscle to ‘stretch’ or not, pulling harder means your nervous system needs to go into that ‘hyper-alert’ mode to protect the muscle from injury.

We now know that starting with a gentle stretch and only going into a light to moderate stretch sensation is more likely to result in relaxing a muscle.  Stretching to a point of pain or discomfort can have the opposite effect of what you are trying to do by stretching.

This means, paying attention to how you feel when you are stretching, and listening to your body is the way to get the most from stretching.  When you do a stretch mindlessly, quickly or forcefully, you lower the quality of the stretch and thus waste your time. Rethink stretching as a way to help your body restore and recharge so it becomes a way to reduce the stress in your mind that is held in your body.  Sprinkle your day with stretch breaks to avoid that accumulation, and you raise the quality of your movement breaks while gaining more freedom of movement in daily life.  

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

 

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by | January 28, 2020 · 4:28 pm

Stretching: Three benefits you may not know (part 2)

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (6)

In the last blog, we covered how stretching helps your Lymph System function, which helps your immune system reduce the effects of being still and stressed.  The second benefit of stretching you may not know about is its effects on the Fascia System.   Fascia is the connective tissue that extends to every structure of the body. It intertwines and surrounds all organs, muscles, bones and nerve fibers, and enables all body systems to communicate with one another to maintain health of the body and mind.(1)

fascia

Fascia responds to mechanical forces, meaning it changes with how you hold your body during the day. It even changes with your emotions!  The above image is from a video called Strolling Under the Skin, that shows what this connective tissue looks like and how it changes with movement (this is a two-minute clip of a longer video also available for viewing). I find it helpful to hold the image of this webbing connecting the whole body when stretching. It is a reminder that when you stretch one area, you are not just stretching a muscle, you are restoring and re-connecting your whole-person.  

The important point is that fascia is always changing and adapting to what is happening in your body and brain moment by moment. Stretching helps the fascia restore its elasticity instantly, leaving you feeling more comfortable, free to move easier. The effects seem to last for anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, which is another reason why stretching is best done as movement breaks through your day.  

In addition we are just beginning to understand the importance of the cells in the fascia system for our health, immune system function, and mental well-being.  Stretching is one of the most accessible ways to help your fascia system, and thus your whole body.  

Take a stretch break now, in a way that feels good (not painful), and notice the effects on your whole-person. There is still so much more we do not know about this system in the body. As I learn more, I will share it here on Keep Moving Weekly. In the mean time, keep taking those stretch breaks knowing the effects stretch way beyond your muscles.

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

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by | January 22, 2020 · 6:19 pm

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

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

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (4).png

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,

Janet

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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!

Janet

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by | December 31, 2019 · 7:47 pm