Category Archives: Fitness

Confusion about Muscle Confusion

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Muscle confusion is a big selling point in the fitness industry these days.   It is built on the fact that as the body “gets used to” an exercise, or builds muscle memory, it burns less calories.  The belief is you need to mix up your exercise to keep your body burning calories.

First, lets take a step back.  Why do you want to lose weight?  To make everyday life and the fun things easier? To be more comfortable in your body? To reduce pain?  To feel better? To improve health?

And, I am guessing you want those great benefits to last, right?

If that sounds like what you want, muscle memory is your friend!

For the things you need to do in daily life to be easier, it takes practice.   If you are always practicing something different, your body does not build muscle memory as well.   In everyday life we need stregnth for movements like bending down and getting back up, stepping up, lifting overhead, pushing, pulling, lifting and carrying objects.  Doing these movements on a regular basis, at a level that comfortably challenges them over and above the level of daily life, will make them easier.   This is why muscle memory is your friend.  Instead of playing the calorie burning game, you get what you truly want from weight loss.

Second,  your body is still burning calories!  The total decrease in calories burned is small.  Instead of playing that numbers game, put your energy into reducing the calories you take in from eating for reasons other than hunger.  These calories can add up much more!

The muscle confusion approach is taking one piece of science and applying it in a way that is very profitable for the fitness industry.   Yet, it leaves people who want fitness for improves health and function missing out on building muscle memory, doing sustainable exercise programs and feeling better now and in the future.

The bottom line: Life can be complicated and confusing enough! Your exercise time does not need to be.  Your body does adapt and yes, because it is smart, it will burn a few less calories for an activity when it builds muscle memory.  The calorie difference is not worth what you are missing out on by focusing on muscle confusion.   Focus on muscle memory and enjoy a body that makes it easier to enjoy your life!

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 | June 7, 2017 · 5:38 pm

Myth #7: Sweat

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Two years ago I wrote a blog Know Sweat about the myth that one needs to sweat to “get a good workout”.  Today I was reading a research article and the subjects were instructed to exercise “to a point that worked up a sweat”(sigh!).    Because I still hear many people using sweat as a measure of the quality of their exercise, its time to re-visit this myth.

Facts:

  • Sweat does not mean you are burning extra calories or melting away fat!
  • The body needs water to function well.
    • over-sweating limits the body’s ability to function
  • Sweating depends on:
    • how you are dressed
    • the temperature of the air
    • amount of air movement (outside on a windy day vs. in a room with no fans)
    • the humidity (sweat does not evaporate as well so you feel the sweat more)
    • your genetics
    • your hydration level
    •  certain medications can make you sweat, like SSRIs (antidepressants).

Sweating is not a reliable way to monitor your exercise intensity nor the quality of a workout.

If you are someone who tends to sweat a lot, be sure to stay hydrated so your body can function well.

If you do not sweat much, don’t sweat it!

Check out the blog on sweating and the blog on cardiovascular exercise for more information about staying hydrated and the reliable ways to tell if you are really getting a “good” workout.

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 | March 22, 2017 · 6:42 pm

Fitness and Friends Save the Day!

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Its time for the 16th annual girls weekend in New Hampshire, filled with cherished friends and traditions that make the weekend special. One is winter hike along the river. The weather forecast challenges our tradition 7 degrees, feels like 8 below with the wind. But, we bundle up and agree to give it a try, even a short hike to keep the tradition alive. To our wonderful surprise, it was not too bad for the first couple of miles. We decide to take the longer walk as long as we keep moving, we feel fine. We savor the beautiful with the crisp blue sky and the sound of the blue grey water rushing over huge boulders in the river. We keep moving, filling the forest with the sounds of laughter and conversations as we go.

As we start the return trip one friend in our group stops and leans over. She has a muscle spasm in her groin. We slow down, give her some water. We walk slower with our friend as she struggles, bravely enduring the pain to keep moving. We start inventing all kinds of new ways to walk that are easier on the groin muscles, complete with songs that we can sing to keep us from thinking about how far we really have to go. Still laughter filling the woods, with the gradual realization this could not end well. My friend looks at me, ‘should I run for help’. I nod, its time for reinforcements.

Fortunately, she has been running regularly, committed to doing half marathons at national parks for vacations each year so her and her husband keep moving to avoid the winter blues. She takes off like a gazelle. The rest of us take turns letting our friend lean on our backs while we walk so she can keep moving and stay warm. It seems like a long time before our gazelle friend comes running back, bright orange toboggan in tow. Cheers, sighs of relieve and the realization that once our friend is in the toboggan she is at greater risk for hypothermia. Our gazelle friend takes off pulling the injured friend as swift as she did with it empty.

At last, the welcome hut is in sight. We made it! Cheers, sighs of relieve, hugs and more laughter this time as a celebration of friends and fitness.

Friends like this are one of the great things in life, thus a valuable source of health and well-being. Friends who will stick by you laughing and singing and dancing together through the joys and challenge of life.

Fitness is one of the best things in life too, thus another valuable source of well-being. Fitness gave us the freedom to enjoy time together laughing and catching up surrounded by a living tapestry of nature’s beauty. Most importantly, fitness also allowed us to meet an emergency with ease. In the end, friends and fitness saved the day!

THIS true tale embodies what fitness is REALY about. Its not about winning races or fitness competitions. Its not about burning calories so the scale goes down. Its not about working target areas trying to fix your body. Its about being well. Its about freedom to live life with a bit more ease, with energy to enjoy life with those you love and being ready to meet emergencies.

This day could have gone either way. I am grateful for fitness for giving us a story we can laugh about many annual girl’s weekends to come. Hooray for fitness and friends, you saved the day!

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 | March 6, 2017 · 1:32 pm

Myth #5: Core Strength

crunchIf I had a dime for every crunch I did in my lifetime ,  I would have that dream home in the Caribbean by now!  Doing abdominal exercises in various forms, such as crunches, oblique crunches, sit ups, reverse crunches,  V-sits, and planks are a staple in most routines.  When I was teaching aerobics years ago, if I skipped the abs portion, I would have been run out of the gym by 30 people in leg warmers and “big hair” (OK, it was the 80’s!).  However, this is often still the case (minus the “big hair”).  It is time for this fitness myth to catch up with the science.

The trunk  contains some pretty important parts of the body –  the organs, spinal cord, spine, heart, lungs.  The purpose of the core muscle group is to stabilize and protect this area of the body during movements of daily life.

core-musclesWhen we are “working” the core, we often mean we want to reduce the size of the trunk area – AKA spot reduce fat in the abdomen.  Spot reducing is a myth (period).  Yet,  take a look most popular core programs and you will see the myth of spot reducing  alive and  well! (even if it is just implied).   We need to be very savvy fitness consumers to recognize myth based marketing when we see it.  The reality is “working” the core does not really “slim” the core!

What does it mean to strengthen the core?  We can plank longer, do more crunches or sit ups, lift more weight with our core muscles?  While this would be a measure of core strength, the real question is, does it lead to better function of the core in daily life?  Does a strong core mean these muscles can do their job to hold the spine in alignment and reduce daily wear and tear, minimize the risk of back pain, enable us to do daily tasks with ease?

coreRemember the principle of specificity of exercise?  If we want the core muscles to do their job, we need to learn to consciously activate these muscles with our brain during motions of daily life. Exercises done lying down do not mimic daily life and relies on gravity instead of conscious control from the brain to activate the core muscles.

What we want is core control.  This means you can consciously activate your  core muscles to hold your spine in alignment when lifting a heavy object, reaching overhead, twisting to reach an object, etc.  Here is how:

  • First, learn what alignment is for you.  When the spine is out of alignment, the core muscles are not “lined up” to work their best and this increases wear and tear on the back.
  • Notice when you are pulled out of alignment and practice using the brain to activate core muscles for that movement.
  • During ALL strength training exercises, incorporate core bracing with proper alignment, without holding your breath.
  • Practice turning off these muscles when you don’t need them. (ie: during cardio exercise).   Often we are taught to “hold in the core muscle” when we really do not need them.  Relax those core muscles in between activities so they can recharged for when you do need them

Admittedly, this will require a mindset shift away from the hope of spot reducing the abdomen and the idea that traditional core exercises will improve function in daily life.  The payoff is real “results” from an exercise plan based on the reality of movement science rather than long-standing fitness myths.

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 | February 13, 2017 · 3:57 pm

Myth #4: Fitness Challenges

 

Squat challenge

Dream Arms Challenge

14 Day Toned Arms Challenge

30 day Butt and Gut Challenge

Fun Fitness Challenge

Burpies Challenge

These are just a few that came up in an internet search for “fitness challenges”.  There are several myths wrapped up in one here:

  1. I need rigid structure to be motivated 
  2. I will have “dream arms” (or other body part) from doing more of the “right” exercises
  3. Someone else knows what is best for my body
  4. I just need a jump-start and THEN I will be motivated

Lets take these one at a time:

  1. I need the structure of a program to stay motivated:  Research indicates true lasting motivation comes from the inside.  When we rely on external sources, such as a program, a trainer, and exercise partner,  a challenge, it does not last.   Internal motivation is when we connect what we are doing with why we are doing it.  Exercising not to lose weight but because of what you want from weight loss – to be able to play with kids, feel more comfortable and confident in your body, to travel and enjoy social activities, etc.  Structure, boundaries and habits are only motivating when they are keeping you on the road to your own personal definition of success.
  2. I need an exercise to work this part of my body.  Spot reducing is a myth.  Exercising to “work” a certain part of the body is exercise based on this myth that is widely promoted in the media.   This is a big red flag for most fitness challenges – the promise of slimming or sculpting a certain area of the body.  Lets face it, dream arms, or any other body part is based mainly on the photo-shopped images we see in the media.    Every image we see is touched up to perfection.  Very few people actually look like that, and if they do it is a combination of great genetics and a lot, (a lot) of time and effort.  Most of all, any changes are temporary, disappearing once the program is done.
  3. What is the right program for me? The fact is that what your body tells you when you are exercising is your best guide.  The right exercise for you is the one that provides a comfortable challenge for the body systems (ie: cardiovascular system, the muscle-skeletal system, the nervous system)  and leaves you feeling better, mentally and physically, than before exercise.  If your goal is to lose weight in order to feel better, and exercise leaves you too sore the next day to enjoy life, you just missed another day to feel good.
  4. When I see “results” I will be motivated to keep going.  What are the results we are looking for?  Weight Loss?  Sculpted arms? Lost inches?  As we discussed in number 1, these are external goals and they don’t last.  Instead ask yourself why do you want to lose weight, have sculpted arms, or less inches?  So you can feel confident, have energy, feel good about your self?   Those are your internal results.  Now, exercise so you feel more confident, have more energy, feel good about yourself today and every day.  That is what provides the true motivation to keep going.

If you are looking for lasting motivation, skip the fitness challenges and go for the real challenge in fitness for well-being.. Learning to trust your body.  Practicing being kind to yourself.  Then you will be much more likely to want to take the best possible care of you every day.  You will discover how to move so you feel better today and every day going forward!

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 | February 7, 2017 · 7:30 pm

Myths that Build Barriers. Part One: No Pain No Gain

myth truth.jpgWhen I read the statistic that only 20% of the US population are getting the recommended amount of exercise consistently enough to reap the benefits, I wonder “what is getting in the way?!”  There is certainly no shortage of reasons to exercise, yet there are plenty of barriers too.  Lack of time, pain issues, low motivation are very real barriers.   However, these barriers are built up by myths about exercise, kept alive by infomercials, reality TV shows and “fitness experts” selling their own personal (not science based) success formula.  Movement is a science.  Lets rely on science rather than myths to keep moving and be well.

We will tacno-pain-no-gainkle the biggest myth first: “No Pain No Gain!

I find this one seeps into everything from infomercials to even the more well-regarded articles and podcasts.   The idea that muscles need to be sore to get stronger is offered as a fact, even though there is no scientific basis for it when we are talking about exercising to improve health and well-being.

Part of the confusion is that in sports and military training, pain is just part of the package.  To excel and compete in these activities, the body needs to be pushed  beyond its limits.  Pain will be part of that.  Yet we have discussed how training for athletics and training for well-being are opposites. Since this is where many of us learn about exercise, and sports are a big part of our culture, it makes sense that the myth lives on.  When listening to any information about exercise, be aware of this confusion. The sports training is so often intertwined with discussions about exercise for well-being they can seem like one and the same.  But we know they are not.  Please spread the word!

Reality TV shows certainly do their part to keep this myth alive as well.  They send the motivation sapping message that in order to lose weight you must suffer. If you are not suffering, you must not want it bad enough!  Reality TV shows are NOT reality.  They are not science based. They are concerned about keeping viewers (period).

If you are looking to help you body lose fat and preserve muscle and metabolism, soreness is not needed, nor is it helpful.  Start with a light intensity and over a few weeks gradually work up to challenging your muscles.  Starting with a very challenging workout is like over-watering a small seedling of a plant – it is too much of a good thing and prevents, rather than promotes growth.     Some light soreness is normal with any new activity, but if it happens with each workout, and /or if it is so intense that you do not want to move, it was too much.  It is pain without gain.

Bottom line:  If you are looking to exercise to improve health and well-being,  learning to move without pain is the goal!  Striving to enjoy movement, as a source of boosting mood, energy and vitality is how we truly gain from exercise in the long run.

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 | January 10, 2017 · 9:19 pm

Fitness – a strong protector

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If there is one common thread between patients coming to the Weight Center, it is that they are here because of concerns about their health.  Whether the goal is to improve current health issues affecting their life right now, or prevent health issues from limiting their life in the future, health is a big motivator for weight loss.

It has been known for some time that elevated body weight is a health risk.  It has also been known for a while that low fitness level is a health risk as well.  Recently, there has been a debate over which is more “important” and a better predictor of health and longevity. Weight or fitness level?

Weight is much easier to measure, to see, to “assess”, than fitness level.   We can tend to assume that someone who is slim is “fit”. In reality, they might not be fit at all!  Since fitness is not easily assessed and measured , how do we know if we are fit enough?  There are many components to being fit as well, so to measure all aspects of fitness we would need several tests.   These are some of the reasons why weight tends to be a focus for assessing health; it is just easier to measure than fitness level.

But which really gives you more health and longevity for your efforts: focusing on fitness or weight? Over the past two years there have been large scale studies and analysis of large scale studies to answer this question.   And the answer (drum roll please….)

“After completing the meta-analysis on the joint association between Cardio-respiratory  fitness and Body Mass Index (BMI) on mortality (death) from all causes, the results indicate that the risk of death was dependent upon cardio-respiratory fitness level and not BMI. Therefore, fit individuals who are overweight or obese are not automatically at a higher risk for all-cause mortality”   (Fitness vs. Fatness on All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-analysis)

Translation:  Being fit provides protection from dying from any cause at all weight levels.

Simply put… to protect your health at any weight keep moving!

Does that mean we give up on weight loss efforts? Nope!  This is just looking at risk of dying too early.  Patients also describe being healthy as the freedom to live life fully without their body limiting them anymore.

Reducing the amount of weight on our body is an important part of that freedom to live life fully.  However, it is not the whole story.  Being at an ideal weight, but at a low fitness level not only increases mortality, it also limits the ability to live life fully.   In fact, that is the definition of fitness for well-being.

However…. we still tend to focus on the scale more than fitness.  For example, when patients say “I was doing so well with exercise, but not losing weight, so I stopped exercising.”  This is a sign that we are missing what fitness is really about.  When exercise is just for the purpose of losing weight, we miss out on the great health and longevity benefits that fitness gives at any weight, any age, and with any health history. 

So, please do not sell yourself short!  Don’t miss out because you have your eye on the prize on that scale.  The scale is a very poor predictor of health and well-being compared to how fit you are.

Still, we have that issue of measuring. How do we know if we are fit?  Check out the blogs I wrote a few weeks ago about fitness for health and well-being.  Your best fitness measure is how much you can do what you need to do in life with energy left over for fun and for emergencies. Follow the guidelines for the parts of fitness we have discussed in the past:  cardiovascular, strength training, flexiblity and lifestyle activity .  Use these as guides for fitness that can help you will reach your goal to improve health while losing weight.

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 | November 29, 2016 · 4:58 pm