Category Archives: Exercise and Movement Science

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

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

Why it matters, part 2

 

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Last week we clarified the difference between exercise and physical activity and why it matters.   Another important reason why we need to be clear about the difference is because the two are mixed up often in the media.  Here is an example I came across on the internet:

Don’t overthink your exercise: just 2.5 hours per week of any kind could help you live longer

The article is a wonderful write up reviewing a one of largest global studies ever published on the heart health benefits of physical activity.  “The researchers found that 150 minutes spent exercising per week could cut a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and death. And, most importantly, the Lancet paper demonstrated that all kinds of physical activity were equally good for the heart.”

The great news from this article is that this huge study showed that the “people who reported at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week were much healthier than their sedentary counterparts: They were less likely to have heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular disease, and less likely to die from any cause. Getting only two and a half hours of weekly exercise was associated with a 28 percent reduction in premature death, and a 20 percent reduction in heart disease.”

Wow! That is awesome!  On one hand it is a message to relax a bit, don’t worry if you are not super fit, you are getting a nice protection just by making efforts to be sure you move in some way for 150 minutes a week.

On the other hand though, what about all we do to fit in exercise time?  If we can get that nice protection from vacuuming and yard work, why waste time lifting weights and walking?

Articles like these miss the chance to promote both exercise and physical activity.  We need to talk about two different goals here:

Reducing sedentary time by increasing physical activity in bouts during the day. This offers great health protection because begin still for more than 30 min at a time strains health, even if you are a regular exerciser!   Studies indicate that going to the gym in the morning does not protect from the risks of being sedentary the rest of the day.  Even regular exercisers get added health protection from avoiding prolonged stillness all day long .

Exercise as practice to make physical activities easier.  What exercise does for daily function is a bit more difficult to measure in studies like these.  It is individual, often only you see the difference.  When you can climb the stairs without stopping or get up off the floor without grunting or do housework for longer without resting, you know you are benefiting from exercise.  Remember, exercise is time set aside to practice making what you want and need to do everyday easier! In this way, exercise helps you be more physically active.

If you are not doing either right now, the great news is you can start right away by just moving every thirty minutes in some way.  Know that you are getting health protection from this simple act.  If you are doing one but not the other, what can you do today to give yourself the best of both physical activity and exercise?
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 | October 10, 2017 · 4:19 pm

Whats the difference and why does it matter???

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We hear the words physical activity and exercise used interchangeably.  Yet, there is a distinct difference between the two that is a key to getting the benefits and staying motivated for doing both.

Physical activity. Any bodily movement produced by the contraction of skeletal muscle that increases energy expenditure above a basal level.   – Centers for Disease Control

Physical activity is an umbrella term for any movement; activities related to your job, housework, yard work, play, recreation, exercise, etc.  Any level and duration and type counts. As long as you are moving your body in some way it counts as physical activity.

Exercise. A subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and purposeful  in the sense that the improvement or maintenance of one or more components of physical fitness is the objective. – Centers for Disease Control

Exercise is when we do a physical activity in a structured way in order to improve stamina, strengthen or mobility (physical fitness).  Exercise is done with the focus on our body, not on another activity.  It is the same process for learning any other new skill, like a new language or a musical instrument. Your brain and body need to be working together with your full focus in order to improve that skill.

Physical activity is for the purpose of doing something else–  cleaning the house or doing your job.

Exercise is when our focus is on the physical activity itself in order to improve it in some way.

So exercise practice –  for the purpose of making physical activities you want and need to do every day easier, less tiring, less straining for your body.  Just like learning any other new skill, it is something you set aside time to practice.  Even a little bit of practice done consistently and with your full focus will make that skill easier.

The great news is, both regular physical activity and exercise improve health, burn calories, and boost longevity.  Both are powerful health habit.

  • Get physical activity every day in small bouts during the day. Every 30 minutes of inactivity get up and move in some way.
  • Spend 2.5 hours a week (30 minutes five days a week) dedicated just to exercise (practice) time.  Split that time between stamina building cardio and strength building strength training.  This will make the physical activities you want and need to do easier.

Create these two powerful health habits and enjoy the MANY benefits of both physical activity AND exercise.

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 | October 2, 2017 · 2:08 pm

Lower the risks, raise the benefits!

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We hear stories of people getting injured or having a heart attack during exercise. You might have even experienced this yourself.    At the same time, we are flooded with all the reasons we “should” exercise.  How do we make sure we are getting the benefits and keeping the risks low.

The risk of having a heart attack or dying as a result of exercise is relatively low.  Only 4% to 17% of heart attacks in men are linked to physical exertion, with much lower rates observed for women.  The risk is greater for people who are unaccustomed to exercise and for those at the lower fitness levels.   Compare that to the fact that regular physical activity cuts the risk of getting heart disease by about 40%.  In fact, regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from any cause by 40%.

Does anything jump out at you with that last set of facts?  The risk goes up if your fitness level is low and you get protection as your fitness level goes up.  Regular physical activity offers amazing protection, and irregular physical activity increases risk.

One of the best ways to protect yourself is be consistent with some physical activity because it provides protection from doing nothing.   Notice also the statistics from the Exercise is Medicine Fact Sheet   are for physical activity – which is a broad term that includes regular movement, not necessarily a rigid exercise program.  Bottom line, move and move often and regularly!

The second big factor that has been shown to increase risk is the intensity.  Vigorous exercise tends to increase risk.  Doing a moderate intensity lowers the risk while keeping benefits.  But what does vigorous or moderate mean?  Often you will hear it described as an absolute level; vigorous is jogging 6mph and moderate is walking 3mph.  But in reality, it all depends on your fitness level!   For some 6mph jog will be moderate and for others a 3mph walk will be vigorous.

Exercise at the level that is a moderate to comfortable challenge for your breathing – above what you would feel when you are resting but not so uncomfortable that you can’t wait to stop.   Avoid vigorous intensity where your breathing is heavy or uncomfortable.

The risks also go up with a sudden burst of intense (vigorous) exercise followed by a sudden stop in activity.  When you do feel like your breathing is uncomfortable (like when climbing stairs or a hill), keep moving slowly until breathing level comes back down to moderate to light before stopping completely.

Finally, if you have concerns with your heart, diabetes or high blood pressure and are not exercising regularly, discuss your plans to start with your doctor. Your best bet is to start with a light intensity activity that you can do on a very regular basis.  As you improve your fitness level, your risks will reduce and the benefits go up.

If you have symptoms such as pain anywhere above your waist that comes on with exertion and goes away with rest, or have more shortness of breath with usual activities, tell your doctor.  If you have pain in joints with activity, adjust what you are doing so it does not cause pain.  (either by doing that activity for less time or lower intensity or do something different until your body is stronger).  Pushing through pain only requires your body to “speak” louder to get your attention to let you know something is not right.

The bottom line is listen to and be kind to your body!  When you move it regularly at the just right challenge level, you can relax about the risks and enjoy the benefits of exercise.

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 | September 20, 2017 · 6:48 pm