Is yoga good for weight loss?

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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?

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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

Janet

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

 

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by | March 26, 2018 · 6:25 pm

Exercising with Asthma

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

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by | March 19, 2018 · 5:51 pm

Tracking True Fitness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

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by | March 12, 2018 · 6:09 pm

It’s that time again, part 2

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Back in October, we had to make a choice.  What is this winter going to be about?  Will it be about hibernating or spring training?  Will we let all those great brain chemicals from being physically active on the nice long days just fade away, or will we keep moving even when it’s cold and dark outside?

How did your spring training plan go?

If that question was met with an “eye roll”, that’s OK.  This blog is not about checking in to see if you have been “good or bad” this winter. It’s all good, as long as you are learning!  Really!

In October 2018, I will be asking you the same question – What is your spring training plan?   When I do, you will want to be fueled with personalized information about what works and does not work for you to keep moving all winter long.

Take a moment to jot down your answers:

  • What did I learn over these past four months about staying physically active through the winter? 
  • What did I learn about what gets in the way of staying active in the winter? 
  • Based on this information, what will help me stay active next winter?

Place this information on the October page of your 2018 calendar.  Now, give yourself a pat on that back, knowing your spring training plan for next winter just got an upgrade!

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

 

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by | March 7, 2018 · 3:47 pm

But, is that enough?

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

—Susan McHenry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

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by | February 26, 2018 · 8:35 pm

Looking for Instant Results?

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

 


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


These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

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by | February 20, 2018 · 4:54 pm