Pain, exercise and mindfulness – Part 3

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In parts one and two we reviewed how pain can put us in a spiral of inactivity, gradually reducing strength and stamina which can limit function and lead to secondary pain from inactivity.  Exercise designed right can reduce pain by improving mobility and strength, yet too much exercise can increase pain.    Mindfulness has been shown to reduce pain.  When we combine exercise with a mindful mindset, we are more likely to make movement a tool for helping with pain.

When exercising to lose weight, we can get focused on burning more calories and getting enough steps each day.  This focus makes it tempting to ignore signals that the body cannot tolerate that amount or type of movement.  Add to that all too popular  “no pain no gain” approach and the use of competitions or challenges to boost motivation.  These are just a few of the ways popular approaches to fitness promote ignoring your body rather than listening to it.

Many people want to lose weight in order to reduce pain.  While weight loss may help to some degree in some cases, we need to look at what happens in the body with weight loss.  The fact is that weight loss without exercise promotes muscle loss. Muscle loss means less support on those painful joints that are trying to tell you they need more support.  This is one way weight loss alone could make the pain worse, not better.

Pain research is telling us that when we ignore pain, the body only speaks louder to get our attention, in the form of more pain.   If we practice ignoring pain while losing weight,  we are missing out on the benefits mindfulness offers to help us quiet the pain signals.    Mindfulness does not mean focusing on the pain, it is shifting mindset about the pain.  Three qualities of mindfulness are paying attention with:

  • Curiosity:  when we shift to curiosity, we move away from frustration about the pain and the temptation to either push past it or let it keep us from moving at all.  Instead we can try moving lightly at first and be curious about how to move in a way that could reduce the pain.  If you are an “all or nothing exerciser”, this can take some practice. However, the shift is key to getting out of this cycle of doing too much, ending up in pain and then moving less.
  • Openness:  This means being open to trying different approaches to and types of exercise. It means being open to learning about what your body needs right now,  letting go of comparing yourself to what you did in the past or what you think you should be able to do now.    Openness means focusing on what your body can do now as the way out of the exercise and pain cycle. For example, stretching may not burn a lot of calories, but it may be a way to start moving on a regular basis and build up your body’s movement tolerance so it is ready for more movement down the road.
  • Kindness:  Mentally beating yourself up while you exercise (or paying someone else to push you) can actually be keeping you in a pain cycle.  Think of how you would treat someone else you care about, a pet or a small child, who is in pain.  You would want to do what you can to help.  That is the attitude of kindness you can apply to yourself when you exercise.  The interesting thing about research on self-kindness is that is leads to more motivation, not less. Kindness does not mean letting yourself off the hook or being too easy on yourself. It just means you will work with your body rather than against. it.

The research is becoming more and more clear that movement and mindfulness both promote healing.  In order for these two resources to work together though, we need to shift how we approach exercise for weight loss away from pushing the body to burn calories and sculpt it into the shape we want to using exercise as a resource for taking care of this body we are trying to help through weight loss.  Just like anything else, it takes practice.  Practice exercising with a mindset that is curious, open and kind you will begin to find ways to use exercise t  help yourself feel better not worse.

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

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.

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

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by | December 11, 2017 · 7:19 pm

Pain, exercise, and mindfulness – Part 2

Last week we looked at how pain can put us in a spiral of inactivity.  The decrease in movement can lead to more pain,  less movement, more pain… and so on and so on.  Exercising when you have pain is tricky.  There is a fine line between doing  enough to feel better and doing too much ending up in more pain.  Pain, in the end, lowers motivation, keeping the spiral stuck in the downward direction.

There is a key ingredient we can add when approaching exercise that can help us with this dilemma – mindfulness.  Research is showing mindfulness can be very effective in dealing with pain.    Mindfulness meditation has been shown in clinical trials to reduce chronic pain by 57 percent. Accomplished meditators can reduce pain by over 90 percent!  Mindfulness is not just a form of meditation.  When practiced regularly, it helps us to have a mindset that is open, curious and kind.  Mindfulness and pain research tells us that our thoughts about pain – its history, our fears, memories, beliefs, all affect the levels of pain we experience.  This three-part article explains the process in more detail.  It’s worth a read if you are dealing with pain issues right now.

meditation-1000061Exercising for weight loss can promote the opposite mindset. When we ignore our body’s symptoms in order to push the body to burn more calories, we are being anything but curious, open and kind.  The “no pain no gain“,  “if some is good more is better” and “just do it” mindsets promotes mindlessness.   These mindsets work for sports training but not for lasting success with weight loss and health.     There is no evidence that our muscles need to be sore in order to get stronger.  Studies show something really is much better than nothing when it comes to exercise.  And when we “just do it” we miss out on the helpful signals our body is sending us.

Next week we will blend our approach to exercise for weight loss with this skill of mindfulness to discover an approach to exercise that can reverse the spiral of inactivity and pain.  This week, check out the article on the connection between mindfulness and pain management so you are ready to apply it to approaches to exercise for true weight loss success.

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

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.

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

 

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by | December 5, 2017 · 2:39 pm

Pain, exercise, and mindfulness: Part 1

Pain is one of the biggest barriers to exercise.  Beyond the obvious limits it creates, pain leads to what we call a spiral of inactivity:

Cycle of inactivity

Pain makes us move less. Since our body is a “use it to keep it system”, when we use our body less, we lose strength, stamina and mobility, which means movement is more challenging, and so we move less.  Over time this inactivity causes stiffness, making movement less comfortable.  After a time of less activity we lose muscle mass which means less support for painful joints.  Both of these can lead to more pain, and the spiral continues.

The way out of this spiral is to move in order to regain strength, stamina, mobility, function and support around joints. However, what if you have pain when you move? Should you push through pain or listen to it?  It feels like a catch 22 and the spiral seems irreversible.

Add to that the all too common “no pain no gain” approach to exercise and the “suffer through in order to get to your goal” approach to weight loss.  These can often make pain worse, and leave us believing we need to work through the pain to get to our goal. This discomfort and the frustration it causes can create not only physical but  mental barriers to weight loss.  It may seem hopeless, but it is not.

The first step is awareness about how our approaches to exercise and to weight loss are making it more difficult to turn the spiral around.   Athletes need to push through pain to gain a competitive edge.  For health and well-being, pain is your body trying to tell you it cannot tolerate that level of movement right now.   Ignore it and it will only “speak” louder.   There is no gain in pain.

If you have tried the “get through the first few weeks of a diet until you see results” approach to weight loss, you know it is just not sustainable in the long run.  There is no badge of honor for those weeks of suffering through hunger, derivation, sore muscles and fatigue.  Not only does it leave us with less motivation to try again next time, it makes our brain look for comfort – and food is a quick and easy source of comfort.

If you goal is to lose weight to feel better, why suffer through exercise in order to feel better?   Why not take a direct line to feeling better even before the scale moves?  It is possible when you drop the “suffer through” approach and listen to your body with exercise.

This week simply notice your mindset when it comes to exercising for weight loss and the long term effects of it.  It helps to keep in mind, weight loss is not a goal.  Goals have an end.  Sustainable weight loss is a shift in what we do and how we think.  Mindfulness helps us make that shift. Next week we will take a closer look at the research on mindfulness and pain to uncover how it can help with exercising when you have pain.

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

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.

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

 

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by | November 29, 2017 · 7:05 pm

An Exercise in Gratitude

happy-1060140_1920Happy Thanksgiving to each of you and yours!

This time of year, exercise can slip to the back burner.   No one wants to be rushing around, over stressed, and emotionally drained.  It can simply be a by-product of the added to-do’s and emotions of the season.

I invite you to let go of the “exercise to burn off those extra calories” approach to staying motivated this season.  Honestly, it is near impossible to know how many calories your body is burning with exercise.  There are just too many factors that effect how many calories we burn that vary person to person and change day to day in each person.  Besides, the calorie burning motivation only distracts us from the real benefits of exercise this season.

As we discussed, exercise is different than physical activity because it is focused, purposeful and consistent.    This makes it a perfect opportunity to be mindful.  Mindfulness is paying attention in tpexels-photo-255381he present moment, on purpose, with kindness.  The overlap between these two resources makes them perfect partners for restoring calm, health and well-being.

Gratitude is a shortcut to mindfulness.  When we turn our attention to what we are appreciate, we are automatically brought to the present moment in a way that is purposeful and kind.  A simply way to bring mindfulness to exercise is practicing an attitude of gratitude about exercise.  What are you grateful for about your body; its abilities, its possibilities? What opportunities are you grateful for that allow you even a brief moment to exercise?   What knowledge or skills are you grateful for that allow you to move in a healthy way?  What are you grateful for about how exercise makes you feel?  What do you appreciate about what you see and hear around you as you move?

Take a walk, stretch, lift some weights, dance, move intentionally in some way while focusing your attention on what you appreciate in each moment.  Keep it playful, see how many gratitudes you can brainstorm.   As you do, know that you are not only strengthening your body, but your ability to stay present as well.

Keep Moving, In Gratitude,

Janet

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by | November 23, 2017 · 1:36 pm

10 ways to exercise in winter

  1. walk indoors at a mall, large store, hospital, university
  2. try exercise videos online (i.e: Leslie Sansone)
  3. embrace strength training as spring training
  4. try a winter activity such as snow shoeing or cross country skiing
  5. have a spontaneous dance party before dinner each night
  6. fire up the active video games (i.e: Wii)
  7. take a class like line dancing or ballroom dance
  8. invest in a piece of exercise equipment so you are ready for winters to come
  9. invite a friend to exercise with you instead of hibernating
  10. try something new like tai chi, yoga, kickboxing or MUVE

 

Keep moving, Be Well (stay warm!)

Janet

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.

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

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by | November 13, 2017 · 8:33 pm

Is stacking wood exercise?

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“Wood warms you many times” my friend said when we first got our wood stove. So true!  We had a truckload of wood delivered yesterday and I was “warmed” for the first time by this wood while stacking it into piles in the wood shed.

Whether you are preparing your wood for winter, raking leaves, cleaning your home, or running around after your kids, you might wonder – does this count? It must! I am tired after. I worked up a sweat. My muscles are sore. Look how many steps I got!  This must count for exercise. Surely I don’t need to go to the gym on top of all of this, do I?

I had these questions in mind as I stacked wood yesterday.  I did my strength training in the morning.  Did I need to do that if I was stacking wood in the afternoon?

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While stacking wood I could keep some of my attention on my body, but not all.  I had to pay attention to the job I was doing.   Knowing the days are getting shorter, I felt the pressure together this job done, so was driven push through fatigue and discomfort in order to get it done. Fortunately, once it is done, I will not need to do it again until next year!

The word exercise means something performed or practiced in order to develop, improve, or display a specific capability or skill”.   Remember from a few blogs ago the qualities that make something an exercise:

  • structured
  • consistent
  • purposeful

My strength training was structured into my schedule,  every other day in the mornings.  It is done consistently year round, because I want the benefits all year long.   The exercises I do are purposeful with movements of daily life that I want to get and stay strong  – squatting, climbing, lifting overhead, pulling, pressing.  The sets, reps and weights are chosen for the purpose of strengthening my body and metabolism.

Compare this with stacking wood.  Structured only by the need for wood so I do it for about a week once a year.   (unless someone else decides to start doing it or I get rid of the wood stove).   It is only consistent for that one week of the year.  (thankfully!).  It is purposeful, but not for the purpose of strengthening my body even if that is a side effect for that one week. The purpose is to get the job done so that I can stay warm this winter.

pexels-photo-302810So, is stacking wood (or something like it) exercise?  Nope.  It is not consistent, purposeful or structured enough to keep my body strong all year long.  Is it still a great physical activity that will give me health benefits from moving more?  Yes!  Both add to health and well-being.  Both are important… but one does not replace the other.

Strength training consistently and purposefully made stacking wood easier.

The extra bonus is, exercise “warms” me up too!

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

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.

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

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by | November 8, 2017 · 4:00 pm

I don’t mean to nag, but…

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This time next week the sun will set at 4:30pm! 

The “frost was on the pumpkin” this morning! (and on my windshield!)

Holiday decorations adorn the end isles in every store

What does this mean?  Physical activity is reduced simply because of less daylight.   Exercise routines are at risk of being squeezed out of schedules by holiday “to do’s”.   Hibernating often replaces moving at the end of a work day.

This blog is a quick check in.  How is your spring training plan coming along?

Its time to get excited about the possibilities of exercise boosting your mood this season, take this opportunity to try something new for exercise and set your sights on that first spring day when your body and mind will be ready to enjoy it!

Take a moment now to post your plan in comments here or email it to me or a friend.

I look forward to hearing what you have planned!

Keep moving, Be well,

Janet

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by | November 1, 2017 · 3:05 pm