Category Archives: Exercise and the Brain

Pain, exercise and mindfulness – Part 3

pexels-photo

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 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

Fitness part 4: The power of enjoying the scenery

enjoy exercie 2Enjoyment of exercise is often dismissed as a n0n-essential part of fitness. It can seem frivolous, even counterproductive.  If I am enjoying it, it must not be hard enough to be worth it. Yet, research shows this factor can make all the difference in gaining long term benefits.

Why is enjoyment an essential part of fitness for health and well-being?

  1. We are motivated by pleasure and reward.  This is just the way our brains are set up to help us survive and thrive.  When exercise is something to “get through” or “just do”, motivation is not as sustainable.  Working with our natural motivation toward things that are rewarding and pleasurable is much more effective than gritting our teeth just to get through a workout.
  2. Success breeds success:  Accomplishment counteracts laziness! Have you ever noticed that energizing feeling of finishing a project.  After exercise we often move on to the next thing without thinking, missing out on the chance to boost our motivation for next time we are stuck.    Or worse, we are left feeling like it just was not good enough, we should have done more.  Pause and savor how you feel after exercise, even if it is just that sense of accomplishment of doing something (always better than nothing).   Taking a moment to celebrate the small victories has big payoffs for sticking with your plan long term.
  3. The Belief Effect:  Research has shown that the placebo effect is so real it is now called “The Belief Effect” . What we believe about a medical treatment actually changes how the body responds to it.  Well now we have that evidence of the belief effect for exercise too.  Check out this study about how what we expect from exercise changes the benefits in the mind and the body.  What you are thinking when you are exercising can change what you get from it.  If you are exercising so you can gain the great benefits of fitness, it is worth taking the time to create a plan and a mindset for enjoyment!

 

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 | August 17, 2016 · 6:09 pm

Fitness Part 3: Choose a destination

many pathsWhen it comes to fitness, there are so many paths to take.  Not all lead to the same destination.  It depends on what you want from fitness. 

Remember the definition….

Physical Fitness= 

The ability to do activities of daily life with ease

and have energy left over for recreation and to meet emergencies.

Choose your destination:  Get clear about what you want from weight loss and exercise, then train for what you want.  If you goal is to do burpies better, then do burpies.  If not, skip the burpies!!!  If your goal is to have the stamina to travel and walk around amazing places with friends and family without fatigue – then walk often at the level your body can do now and gradually build up your tolerance of walking.  Even if you start with 15 seconds several times a day, you are training for YOUR goal.   These are the questions to ask yourself to know where you want to go:

  • What daily activities do I need to do?
  • What do I want to be able to do for fun?
  • What is important for me to be able to do to meet emergencies? (ie: get up off the floor if I fall, be able to climb the stairs)

You are here:  Where are you now?  Again, another important questions if you are going to get the destination you want.  What are you able to do? What gets in the way?  Awareness is key.  Taking a day or two to ponder these questions can make getting to your destination much easier.   Jot down some thoughts before moving forward with your exercise plan.

Stay on course:  How do you know if you are on course?  Expert advice is helpful.   However, what your body is telling you is  more reliable and accurate than any outside measure (like how much weight lifted, how many miles you moved, or the latest fitness trend).  Here are some ways to help you from getting caught in a detour:

  • Physical or mental fatigue:  Learn to tell the difference between feeling tired because you were physically active all day and feeling tired because you were more mentally active.  Mental and physical fatigue can feel the similar. When it is mental fatigue, give your body what it needs by moving in some way.  If you get energy from moment, it was definitely mental fatigue.
  • Tired or lazy?   A better term for lazy is just not motivated.  This is very different than being physically tired.  They can feel the same unless we really take a closer look.  If you are feeling lazy, check to see if your goal is too big and overwhelm is draining motivation. Lower the goal and see if that cures laziness.  Check to see if you have just lost sight of your destination,  the whole reason you want to get moving in the first place.  Remind yourself of your destination and see if that gives you some energy.
  • How do I feel after exercise? If you walk away from exercise feeling worse about yourself or physically exhausted, it was too much!  The right exercise for you right now is the one that makes you feel better physically and mentally. Choose what makes you feel better, and you found what is right for you.  Do that exercise as often as you want to feel better!

More next week….

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.

Leave a comment

by | August 1, 2016 · 5:43 pm

One Thing I have Never Heard a Patient Say…

walking long road

After listening to patients experiences with weight loss over the years, I can say one thing I have never heard:  “I re-gained weight, but have not changed my exercise and physical activity level”.  Never, not one patient that I can recall has reported this scenario.

Why?

Because the two tend to go hand in hand.  Lower activity level, increase weight.  I am pretty sure you know this first hand.

Now, exercise is not the magic bullet for weight loss.  Food habits have to be a main focus for weight loss success.   However, physical activity and exercise add a huge boost that is hard to beat:

1)” Wiggle room” in your food intake for the occasional slips and celebrations.

2) Maintaining metabolism, which lowers as one loses weight without doing strength training.

Certainly, a consistent activity level is not a 100%  guarantee that  you will maintain weight loss – but it is a pretty good bet.

Life, however, is not consistent.  How do we keep life from getting in the way?

  • Keep your exercise program sustainable: The quick-fix exercise programs may have great results, but if you cannot sustain it, the results will quickly fade. When setting up an exercise program ask yourself, Is this sustainable?
  • Plan A, Plan B…:  Have at least one back up plan if your scheduled exercise time is interrupted.  Schedule Plan A into your calendar.  If there is a conflict – don’t delete – reschedule to Plan B.   For example, you plan on exercising in the morning for 30 minutes, but hit the snooze one too many times.  Reschedule it to two 15 minute  bouts, one at lunchtime and one in the evening.
  • Use lifestyle activity to fill in the gaps:  Lifestyle activity is simply the amount of movement you do during your daily life.   Its about taking advantage of those moments when you can take a quick walk, dance for one song, sneak in some exercises.  It has been shown to work well for weight loss.  Tracking with an activity monitor is helpful here when your regular activity level is lowered for some reason,  such as a longer work meeting or caring for an ill relative.  Armed with the information from your activity monitor,  you can ensure you are burning about the same amount of calories by keeping your step level the same as when you are regularly exercising.
  • Use movement to manage stress:  With plenty of life stressors to go around, if exercise is your go-to remedy, you will have many reasons to keep moving.  In your body, movement is the antidote for the response to stress – so this strategy is a way to naturally work with your body to lower stress level.
  • Connect with your “why”:  Why do you want to lose weight? Keep physical activity connected to your real, bottom line reason, instead of just exercising to make the numbers on the scale go down.  Your “why” is your natural motivation.  When physical activity is connected to your own personal “why”, your natural motivation will remain.

So, while it is great to challenge yourself with fitness goals – one of the best ways to boost your odds for lifelong weight loss success is consistency with exercise.  Hows that for a challenge?

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.

Leave a comment

by | June 16, 2016 · 3:29 pm

Mindfulness and Fitness

mindful walkingThis is a link to a brief audio program from the creator of the Mindfulness Summit about the biggest obstacle to mindfulness. 

Over the past 30 years that I have been teaching about exercise and fitness, I have seen a growing trend.  This trend is, from what I can tell, one of the biggest barriers to exercise motivation.  It seems to be getting worse, not better.

The trend?  Never enough.  The push harder, be stronger, go faster, be better, do more approach to fitness keeps us in the never enough trap.  And in that state of mind with exercise (or anything), contentment, happiness and thus health and well-being are constantly out of our reach.

Research on the mind/body connection is now way too strong to ignore that fact and longer.  Being fit but chronically stressed counteract each other. Fitness cannot work its magic on health if one is in a constant stress response.   If the mind is never content, if negative stress is the state most of the time, health is effected.  So exercising to improve health needs to now consider the state of mind as well as the state of the body.

Combining mindfulness with exercise is an antidote for the “never enough” trend while boosting the health and well-being benefits.

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to what is happening with an attitude of kindness, openness and curiosity, in the present moment.  Mindfulness means “to see clearly”.   It is not about being happy and content all the time, it is certainly not about stopping thoughts – it is about simply being in a mindset that allow us to recognize what is happening, so we can make an informed choice toward contentment.

In fitness and weight loss, we can get so focused on future results, on reaching the next level or taking off the next five pounds, that we miss what is happening right now.  And when we do, we miss contentment.

Many patients would say,  but I do not feel content at my current weight! As you will hear in this audio, the present is the only place to find contentment.  If we can’t practice it now, in the future there will be some other reason not to be content. The next goal, the next event, will keep contentment just out of reach.  Practice contentment now.  It is just a practice, and practice makes this skill stronger.

If you have not experienced mindfulness yet, it is difficult to understand with just words and descriptions.  Look into options in your area.  We are so fortunate to have our Center for Mindfulness right here in central Massachusetts.  They even offer online options for learning mindfulness.

The great news is that exercise, when designed to be, is a tool for mindfulness.   Mindfulness is paying attention with curiosity and kindness.  Movement is an opportunity to focus on the body, taking care of it, listening to it.  Movement is an antidote for the changes that stress cause in the body.  Stress prepares the body for movement. When we are in a stress response but not moving, those changes can cause damage.

Exercise and movement can be a pathway to contentment – right here, right now, when we practice mindfulness with movement.

Pause when taking a walk with a friend and notice what is good about that moment.  Pause after exercise and really savor the contentment you feel from movement.  Put on music and dance – and enjoy simply moving to music.  Move in a way that you enjoy, and really enjoy it, and you are more likely to find health and well-being in mind and body.

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.

 

 

1 Comment

by | June 6, 2016 · 4:06 pm

Mindset Matters

Pause for a moment.  Notice what you are thinking.  Notice the quality of your thoughts; positive or negative, fast or slow.

Can what is going on up there really change the body?

Lets experiment – imagine going to the refrigerator and taking out a bright yellow juicy lemon. Cutting it in slices and taking a big bite of the juicy pulp.  What is happening in your mouth right now?

Same if you think of a happy event, a smile comes to your face? Think of a nerve wracking event, butterfly’s in your stomach?

Our brain 1mind and body are connected by a two way street. What happens in one affects the other.

So can our thoughts actually change how our body responds to eating and exercising?

Research is pointing to a big “yes!”.  Check out this TED talk by Dr. Alia Crum.

Great news because it means we could very well have an added way to improve our health and well-being – by switching our thinking – in any moment.

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC

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.

Leave a comment

by | February 24, 2016 · 8:16 pm