Category Archives: Exercise and Movement Science

Toning and spot reducing. Both are a myth.

Toning is spot reducing. Both are a myth..pngWe are constantly flooded with information about exercises that “work” to tone certain areas of the body.   We are told how we can “get” a body that looks a certain way.   It can provide motivation to exercise, (for a while anyway) believing you can change the look of your body.  But, what does it mean to tone?

Spot reducing is the idea that you can exercise a certain part of your body and burn more fat in that area.  Most people I talk to know this is a myth. But what many do not realize is that “toning” or “working” certain areas is just another name for spot reducing.  It is doing an exercise to change the look of a certain part of your body.

The problem is, this is just not how our body works:

  • Fat:   Exercising a muscle does not make it burn the fat in that area. The muscle gets its fuel from what is stored in the muscle and the blood supplied to it.  It does not use the fat around the muscle to fuel it during the exercise.
  • Muscles:  Whether the shape or “definition”  of a muscle shows on the outside depends on many factors including the genetic make up of your muscles (this is the main one!), the intensity and consistency of your strength training,  and the amount of body fat you have in that area.  The fact is, we just don’t have that much control over how much muscle definition we see.  Yes, you can work a muscle hard to strengthen it, but it does not mean you will see more definition.
  • Skin: There is some evidence that strength training can help tighten the skin. While this is limited, it is the only evidence we have that you have any control over your skin.  So do strength training for your skin if that motivates you, but don’t expect huge changes.

Then, what does happens when you “work” an area of the body?

You miss out on the chance to teach your muscles to work as a team.   “Toning” or “sculpting”  and bodybuilding style strength training  mainly trains muscles individually, separating areas of the body. (ie:  triceps exercises, thigh exercises, core exercises)  In life, muscles work together.

For example, the core muscles stabilize and allow the hips and shoulders to be stronger for lifting and carrying and reaching.  They do not work alone in daily life.     Doing core work to “tone” your middle means these muscle miss out on doing their job of stabilizing while you move your arms and legs.

You are also likely to miss out on your motivation.  Since “toning” is a marketing term, backed by many Photoshoped images, doing those exercises isn’t likely to give you the “results” you want.  This is a sure-fire way to lower your motivation to exercise over time.

If you try to tone while doing cardio, you could be missing out on the stamina building benefits. You could also be putting more strain on your joints.  Using weights during walking or aerobics strains the shoulders and does not “tone” the arms.  Choose the type of cardio you do that feels best for your body, not because it will “work” certain areas.

Lets stop chasing the “toning” dream and missing out on the benefits that add so much to life.   Do strength training to improve your function and keep your muscles, bones and motivation strong as you lose weight.   Exercise in the way that lets your body know it is not “a problem to be fixed”, but a miracle to be celebrated!

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

 

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by | May 1, 2018 · 5:43 pm

The Catch 22 of Exercise

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When it comes to the recommended amounts of exercise that we hear all the time, there is a huge Catch 22. Each time guidelines and recommendations are updated, there is more and more evidence about how much exercise can help us live healthier lives.  It should be very motivating.

For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) first put out guidelines  for physical activity recommendations in 2008.  A 2018 scientific report was just released to the public and it will be used for the updated guidelines coming out later this year.   The report highlights some updated findings about the benefits of exercise:

The Scientific Report demonstrates that, across the full age spectrum, regular physical activity provides a variety of benefits that help us feel better, sleep better, and perform daily tasks more easily. The report also demonstrates that some benefits happen immediately. A single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can improve that night’s sleep, reduce anxiety symptoms, improve cognition, reduce blood pressure, and improve insulin sensitivity on the day that it is performed. Most of these improvements become even larger with the regular performance of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity…  There is newly documented health benefits” as well

  • reduced risk of excessive weight gain in adults, children, and pregnant women
  • improved cognitive function
  • a reduced risk of dementia
  • reduced risk of cancer of the bladder, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach
  • for adults who have a chronic disease or condition such as osteoarthritis, hypertension, or type 2 diabetes, a reduced risk of developing a new chronic condition and reduced risk of progression of the condition they already have, plus improvements in quality of life and physical function

We now have more reasons we should increase our physical activity and exercise regularly.  This is where we get into tricky territory, with that word “should”.   More should’s do not lead to more motivation. In fact, the opposite is true.  The bigger our “should” the lower our motivation.

choice-2692575_1280We as humans are motivated by having a sense of choice.  When we are told what to do, we tend to shut down.  Sure, we can tough it out for a while to “do the right thing” or because we “have to” or “make” ourselves do something we know is good for us.  The problem is all of this takes will-power.  As it turns out, will-power is a limited resource because it takes brain energy.  Eventually, we will need to use our will-power for another area of our life, without enough left over for exercise.   This is how “life gets in the way”  and our best plans to “be good” are out the window.

The things we want to do because they are important to us are instantly motivating.  Hobbies, spending time with family and friends, working for a cause you are passionate about, these are most likely instantly rewarding in some way.  Yes of course you want to lose weight and be healthy, but that is not instant enough.  Our brain likes instant positive “rewards” or benefits, a lot!   (which is why comfort foods are so attractive to our brain)

Life is dynamic.  We need will-power for those unexpected changes that are a normal part of life.  Everything from changes in weather to major life changes take will-power to push through.  We can’t rely on having the will-power to do what we should do for exercise in any sustainable way.

Those instant benefits mentioned above are a key. Pick the ONE instant benefit that you want the most each day.  Do you want to sleep better, feel better, elevate your mood or calm nerves?  Pick the ONE that is most energizing now and make THAT your reason to exercise each time. Design your exercise to get those results.  Let’s make exercise motivation easier.  Letting go of the should’s is one of the first steps to exercise motivation that lasts.

 

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by | April 17, 2018 · 7:47 pm

Read between the lines

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With so much information about exercise available everywhere, it is challenging to know what is the right advice for you.   I want you to be a savvy fitness consumer.  This means having skills for knowing what is myth based and what is science based.

It also means knowing what is the right advice for what YOU want from fitness.  If you were planning to take a trip to a big tourist destination, you would pick and choose attractions that were most important to you.  Some attractions would not be of interest to you, so you would not waste your time and money on them.  It is the same with fitness.  Knowing what you want is key for using your exercise time and resources well.  Sounds simple right?  But check out this headline that I cam across as an example of why we need to carefully read between the lines:

Healthy Outlook: Coping with aches and pains of muscle gains

Given the category “healthy outlook”, one might assume this is about fitness for health and well being.  However,  the title contradicts that assumption.  Aches and pains are a sure sign this is meant for people training for competing, not for health.    We know there is a big difference.  Be on the lookout for who the article is directed toward. The writer may not be clear about the type of fitness they are writing about.

And then there is the mention of science-based information to catch your eye:

We’ll take a quick field trip back to our anatomy, physiology and biology classes…

Keep in mind, sports training is a branch of exercise science too.  It is a very different field of study from exercise science for health.   This is definitely where being a savvy fitness consumer pays off.  Since you know there are different kinds of exercise science, you can decipher if the science based information is right for you.

If you click on the website of the expert interviewed, “strength and conditioning for athletes.” you would have another indicator this is not right for you. Here is your last two red flags, in the conclusion sentence…

“The road to getting ripped is long and winding. Here’s to manageable soreness, raising the bar and learning to love that fleeting agony.”

You may have heard the slogan many times… “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” (and if you are in a certain age group you have that image of a skier tumbling down a mountain in the Olympics).  Again, the reference to agony being a normal part of exercise is a great subtle clue.    If your goal is to “get ripped” then  you need to train like a body builder, which is an athletic event.

If your goal is to improve health, sustain weight loss, and feel better to enjoy more of life, stay aware.  Read (and listen) between the lines of everything about exercise and fitness, they are mixed up often in the media.   Look for the signs that you are being told what to do to be a successful athlete.  To keep moving and motivated, seek advice specific to your reasons – to be healthy and well.

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 | April 9, 2018 · 6:15 pm

Exercising with Asthma

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When doing cardiovascular exercise, there is a line between the level that is a comfortable challenge for your breathing and the level that feels uncomfortable for your breathing.  When you have asthma, the difference between these two levels is a very thin line.  It often does not take much to cause breathing that is not only uncomfortable, but also scary.  The fear of an asthma episode with exercise can really drain motivation to do it at all.

This recent study found that people with elevated body weight and asthma had fewer episodes of asthma when exercise was part of weight loss when compared to a group losing weight without exercise.  They also had less depressive symptoms, improved sleep quality and improved sleep apnea too!

That sounds great in theory, but when it comes down to it, if you are concerned about your ability to breathe while exercising, this information still does not lead to motivation. The fact is we are motivated, or de-motivated, by what we experience, not what we think.   So exercising with asthma (or any breathing limitation) means you need to make sure your experience with exercise feels safe and comfortable for your breathing.

It is possible when you use your ability to self-monitor your exercise intensity.  Staying mindful while exercising means you can tune into the signals from your body as you start approaching that line, before moving into an uncomfortable challenge level.   The more in tune you are with those warning signals, the sooner you can slow down to bring it back to a comfortable breathing level.  Practicing the art of self-monitoring your breathing level while exercising means you are more likely to reduce your risks of an asthma episode with exercise.  That probably means you will have an easier time getting yourself motivated to do it regularly.

The bonus of regular exercise is your body adapts and with asthma the line between just enough and too much gets a little less fine.  You start building the ability to do more exercise before you reach the uncomfortable breathing level.  That can mean fewer episodes and freedom to do more activities at a comfortable breathing level.

If you have asthma, you know what triggers an asthma episode can change day to day and with different environments, so use this information in the way that is right for you.  But this skill is a key part of using regular cardiovascular exercise as part of the treatment for asthma and many other breathing limitations.

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 | March 19, 2018 · 5:51 pm

Tracking True Fitness

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In a past blog, we looked at why fitness trackers do not really track fitness, based on the definition of fitness for health and well-being:

“The ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In other words, fitness is measured by how well you can do what you need and want to in every day life.  Exercise is training for life!

One important part of fitness for daily life is your stamina – how easily can you do the activities in daily life that require you to move continuously for an extended period of time?   If you feel short of breath or tired after doing an activity like walking from your car to a store, or doing housecleaning, it’s a sign your  cardiovascular system is overworking for the task at hand.

Measuring your total steps or miles per day does not necessarily improve stamina.   For  building stamina we need continuous movement done regularly so your body can adapt, making it easier to move for longer period so of time. To build stamina, its best if the level of that activity is at a comfortable challenge for your breathing.  These regular longer bouts of movement at the just right level for your body provide the practice your cardiovascular system needs to improve stamina.

The Active 10 program by Public Health England is focused on helping people focus on building stamina in the same way fitness trackers help people remember to move more during the day.  Instead of total steps, the goal is to move continuously for three 10 minute bouts a day.

They recommend walking at a “brisk” pace, but remember, brisk is relative to your body’s ability. Brisk means moving so your breathing is at a moderate to comfortable challenge – NOT uncomfortable.  It does not really matter how fast you go or how many miles you cover.  The Active 10 App is a wonderful free tool for tracking your bouts of walking in this way.

You can track true fitness by making a simple list of all the things that currently make you short of breath or fatigued if you do them for too long.  Check in each month to see if these activities are getting easier.  This is a true measure of fitness –  that ability to do daily activities with more ease.

Let your fitness tracker reminder you to avoid prolonged stillness. This is an important health goal.    But also remember fitness is about building stamina and for that we need longer bouts of movement.  The bonus is, when you use your daily life as a measure of your fitness, your motivation to move is more likely to be stronger as well.

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

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by | March 12, 2018 · 6:09 pm

But, is that enough?

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Work when there is work to do.  Rest when you are tired.  One thing done in peace will most likely be better than ten things done in panic. I am not a hero if I deny rest; I am only tired.

—Susan McHenry

When I describe the basic goals for exercise and physical activity, most of the time I get the question “But, is that enough?”

We have discuses that exercise training is specific.  You get what you train for.  When exercising for the goal of weight loss, we easily get pulled into the “never enough” spiral.

The problem is, we make weight loss the reason for exercise.  Well, isn’t it?  I mean, don’t we need to exercise to lose weight?

Very few people are exercising ONLY to see the scale go down. Most people want to weigh less to be able to do more.  THAT is the reason to exercise. To be able to do more.  Yes, weighing less will make it easier, but fitness makes it possible.

So how much is enough exercise depends on what you want to be able to do. List all the activities you want to be easier.  What do you need? More strength, balance, mobility, stamina?

In general, gradually make these four goals as consistent as possible to build strength, stamina and mobility:

1. Avoid prolonged stillness by moving your body every 30 minutes during sedentary activities.  This helps your body reduce the inflammation that happens when your body is still, especially when it is stressed and still.   This can be a short walk or a stretch. Just move your body in some way, preferably taking a break and not multitasking so your brain gets a recharge too!

2. Do cardio at a moderate intensity for your breathing three days a week for 30 minutes.  This helps your body build stamina so every day life activities require less energy.   If you can’t do 30 minutes all together, break it up into smaller bouts that you can do, such as six five minute, three 10 minute, or two fifteen minute bouts.

3. Do quality total body strength training twice a week.  This helps your body learn how to move efficiently so daily life is less strain on your body.  What is involved in quality strength training? Basically learn how to work with how your body is designed to be strong. (These are all things we work on in a session together at the Weight Center):

  • Learning how to use your core to stabilize while breathing.
  • Learning how to do movements for your arms and legs while your core is stabilizing.
  • Training your nervous system by focusing on what you are doing
  • When starting out, keeping the resistance light so your nervous system can move muscles most effectively (instead of starting out with heavy weights to “kick start”).

4. Stretch after exercise and as movement breaks during the day.  This helps your body stay mobile and move with more freedom by reducing the tightness that can happen with aging and inactivity.

Notice, there is no requirement that you are able to run a certain distance,  lift a certain amount of weight or be able to touch your toes.  Those are fitness goals used when comparing your body to someone else, like in physical education classes or in sports.  When weight loss is about functioning better in your life, you don’t need to compare to what anyone else is able to do.

Let’s stay out of the “never enough” downward spiral that drains energy and motivation.  Let’s remember there is such thing as “enough” exercise  for the goal of weight loss to  function and feel better.

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 | February 26, 2018 · 8:35 pm

Looking for Instant Results?

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Are you looking for instant results from exercise?  As we have discussed, programs that promise quick results are usually a red flag for a myth based approach to exercise.  However, there is some good news about the exception to that rule!

Scientists estimate the long term effects of exercise training only explains 27-41% of the cardio-protective effects of exercise. That means all those great benefits seen in people who have a sufficient level of cardiovascular fitness are not just from being fit. What is giving the protection then?

It is starting to look like most of the heart protection from doing cardio comes instantly, with your first session. Scientists are calling it exercise pre-conditioning.  They found that there is an early phase of protection for the cardiovascular system for two to three hours after a bout of cardio. Then there is a “more robust and longer period of protection that emerges after 24 hours and remains for several days.” They found each session of cardio is “reactivating protective pathways and leading to ongoing beneficial effects.”

Regular cardio will provide strong cardioprotection that cannot be explained by the changes in risk factors or the changes over time in coronary arteries. Cardio has the ability to activate several pathways that bring immediate protection against heart events and reduce the severity of a heart event. Cardio acts as a physiologic first line of defense against heart attacks.

Bottom line: You can feel good every time you do cardio, knowing you are healthier from it.  The more consistent you are with cardio, the more consistently you get to feel confident in your heart health.

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

 


Source: Association of Exercise Preconditioning With Immediate Cardioprotection: A Review.  D. Thijssen, PhD., et.al. Journal of the American Heart Association.  November 29, 2017.


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 | February 20, 2018 · 4:54 pm