Category Archives: Fitness

The power of tracking exercise is not what you might think

Blog 5 21Do you keep track of what you do for exercise? It turns out this is a much more powerful tool than we ever thought.   However, the power is NOT  in reaching your calorie or  steps goal each day.  The power is in how it changes your thoughts.

This study published in Heath Psychology in November 2017 found that people who thought they were not doing as much exercise as others their age died at a younger age than those who thought they did more. Not so surprising. We know exercise helps improve longevity.   But here is the interesting part, this occurred even when they were doing the same amount of exercise.  In other words, if you think you are not getting enough exercise, it changes your body and health in a way that lowers the benefits of exercise – even if you are getting enough to keep you healthy!

What?!  That is amazing!  The longevity risk was up to 71% greater for people who thought they were less active, but were actually doing the same amount as others.

When you look at research in other areas of perception about health, this is not really that surprising.  Research shows that the placebo effect is not all just in your head, it changes your body too.  It is so real, it is now called the “belief effect”.   A persons belief in a medical treatment accounts for up to 40% of the reason why they work.  When a person believes the activity they are doing for their job will improve their health, their health measures, like blood pressure, improve.   Just because of what they believed! This even worked when patients knew they were taking placebo!  This belief effect has also been shown to work for what we believe about the foods we eat.

What we believe powerfully changes our body.  So it is not really surprising that what we believe about getting enough exercise changes our body and health.  This is where tracking is so important.  The simple act of writing down what you did for exercise each day is powerful.  Your brain is reassured you are doing something. It signals your body that it is healthy.   They key to getting these benefits though is knowing that something is better than nothing when it comes to exercise.  If you do something and it leaves you feeling better then when you started – that is truly enough exercise!

So my friends, give yourself credit for what you ARE doing.  Find a way to keep track that works for you:

  • keep a simple list
  • use an app
  • write it on your calendar
  • put a coin or a marble in a clear jar each time you exercise

Whatever you do, keep it somewhere that will serve as a reminder you ARE doing enough exercise.  It will also serve as a  reminder when you start to stray from exercising.   Find what works best for you and then enjoy reveling in your accomplishments each day.

Something is way better than nothing, especially when you believe it is!

Keep moving. Be Well,



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by | May 21, 2018 · 7:31 pm

What is the most effective exercise?

Copy of bake breadThere are so many choices of what to do for exercise. Who has the time to sort through them all?  Wouldn’t it be great to  know  what is the most effective exercise for the results you want?

Despite all the ways to exercise, one thing does not change.   Your body is a use it to keep it system.  What you do regularly, your body adapts to.  This of course works for both ways; it gets stronger when you are physically active and gets weaker when you are not.   No matter what results you want, what is most effective for getting there is what you can do consistently.

Start by asking yourself What do I want most from exercise?  Stamina? Strength? Mobility? Energy? Confidence? Calm? Focus?

(Important:  Notice that weight loss is not one of those choices. Why?  Ask yourself, would I want to lose weight and not be healthy, energetic, functional, or comfortable in my body?  The fact is, you could lose weight and not get what you really want from it.   Weight loss is not the goal, it is a method for getting what you want.     Ask yourself what do I  want from weight loss? Get to the bottom line of why you want to lose weight)

Consistency is the holy grail of exercise

Michelle Segar, PhD

Now you are ready to ask: What could I do consistently that would give me more _______(insert what you want from exercise)?   Could you walk 10 minutes each morning for a little energy boost?  Could you stretch mid-day to feel more comfortable in your body?  Could you fit in some strength training for 10 minutes every other day so you can feel stronger?

Keep in mind,  what you are able to do will change day to day, season to season, year to year.  What will not change is the fact that your body adapts to what you do consistently.   So, abort the search for the “best” kind of exercise. Instead, get clear about what you want and what you can do regularly.  That will lead you to the most effective exercise for the results you want.


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by | May 7, 2018 · 6:39 pm

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



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by | May 1, 2018 · 5:43 pm

Read between the lines


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,


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.



by | April 9, 2018 · 6:15 pm

Is yoga good for weight loss?


Last week we looked at what yoga is (and isn’t).  Let’s look at how yoga may (or may not) help with weight loss.

First, when we are asking if something is good for weight loss we need to be clear what we mean by that.  Many things can be good for making the scale go down, but not necessary “good” for the reasons you want the scale to go down.  As we mentioned last week, there are many different ways to “do yoga”.  Some burn a lot of calories, some not so much.  But we also have discussed that for any exercise to truly help with weight loss, it needs to be about much more than burning calories.

Most people are looking weight loss to make them feel and function better. Feeling and functioning better is truly how exercise helps you reach a weight loss goal.   When we feel better, we are more likely to eat better.  When we function better we are able to enjoy more physical activities with ease.   When any form of exercise makes us feel and function better, it creates an upward spiral that is “good” for weight loss.

Yoga is unique in the ways it helps us feel and function better.  First, it requires mindfulness.  Yoga is set up to help us pay attention to our body with a mindset of being kind to it, listening to it, learning how it functions best.  So yoga can help us develop a healthier relationship with our body; a relationship that may be “strained” from years of weight loss efforts.

Yoga also moves your body in ways it might not do in daily life.  Since we only get to keep the movements we do often, moving in a wider variety of ways means you are more likely to have more, rather than less, freedom of movement as time moves on.

Yoga can reduce the effects of stress on the body and brain, helping with anxiety, depression or just the normal life stress that can sabotage our best intentions with eating healthy.  This can lead to less stress or emotional eating, better quality sleep, and more resilience to stay on track.

As with any form of exercise it is only good for weight loss when it is designed to work with your body’s abilities right now.  The challenge with yoga is that because it is so different from other forms of exercise and daily life activities, it can be more straining than stress relieving.  If the form of yoga you try does not feel right for your body, it won’t help you reach your weight loss goals.   If yoga leaves you feeling worse about yourself it is definitely not good for weight loss (nor it is really yoga).

Fortunately there is chair yoga!  I love chair yoga because it allows us to gradually get used to poses without strain (and embarrassment).  Now, if you have an image of chair yoga as nursing home yoga, think again!   Chair yoga is great even if you have been practicing for a while. There are many great chair yoga videos free online that are worth a try.

So yes, yoga, when it is done in a way that works with (not against) your body, helping you feel and function better, can be a unique resource for helping you reach your healthy weight.

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by | April 2, 2018 · 7:49 pm

What is yoga?


Often, I am asked the question, “what is yoga?”

As a certified yoga teacher and exercise physiologist I love answering this question, because yoga is so much more than a form of exercise.    Yoga is one little word with so many approaches and interpretations.

The word yoga means “to unite”, to bring together all the parts of you – thoughts, emotions, body and heart to the present moment.   The purpose of the movements in yoga are to prepare your body for meditation, so your thoughts are less likely to be distracted in the past or future when meditating.    Five thousand years ago, it was understood that for our thoughts to calm we need to move first. 

Therefore, the movements in yoga are not about making your body look a certain way.  The power of the poses are in the mindset with which you do them.    Forcing your body into a position it is not ready to do and toughing it out, or criticizing yourself if you cannot do it well, is not yoga.  Moving your body into a position with the intention of listening to it, being kind to it,  by finding the level that is just challenging enough to hold your attention in the present moment is yoga.

Depending on how you do those movements, yoga can improve stamina, strength, balance, mobility – we can’t really put it in one category of fitness because it depends on how the movements are used.

But it is all yoga as long as you are moving in the present moment as an act of kindness to yourself.   It does not matter if this is done in a chair or on a yoga mat . It does not matter if you sweat.  It does not matter if you are very flexible.

“You can’t fail at yoga” is what I tell all my classes.   I find we need the reminder often because we tend to assess our ability to do an exercise based on our “performance”.  Because yoga is based on your mindset as you move, you cannot fail.  Yoga reminds us to shift our attention to how it feels on the inside, not how it looks on the outside.  Sometimes that shift happens easily, sometimes it takes a constant reminder to come back to the present moment and practice listening to your body.  This is why yoga is called a “practice”, not a “perfect”.

If you have ever felt like you “failed” at yoga, it was not yoga.  There are many yoga videos and classes that are designed to work with your body by using a chair or modifying poses to find what works best for your body right now.  Seek an instructor that teaches yoga by the true definition of the word.

Next blog we will answer “is yoga good for weight loss”?

Keep Moving, Be Well


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 26, 2018 · 6:25 pm

Tracking True Fitness


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,


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

1 Comment

by | March 12, 2018 · 6:09 pm