Three steps to Real-time exercise Results

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This is the final blog in a series on the Real-time Results of exercise, the ones that will make your brain want to exercise. 

The big-time reasons to exercise are not the ones that will make you do it. What’s more important to your brain is how you feel right now. If exercise does not make you feel better now, your brain will find other things that will.

This is why we have been looking at the Real-time Results of exercise. Let’s sum it up into three steps for using the Real-time Results from exercise to keep you motivated in Real-time too.   

  1. Clarify Your Real-time Why. If your Why for exercise is too far off, your brain will put it off. When you are exercising for some future results but exercise does not make you feel better now, your brain is much more likely to choose something else that will make you feel better in the present. Instead of using future results to get you motivated, get clear about what exercise can do for you right now. Do you want more energy, a better mood, more confidence, more comfort in your body? The only way you will know this is by checking in with yourself each time you exercise to keep the results in Real-time.  
  2. Visualize how the Real-time Results lead to long term results. All of the future benefits of exercise are actually the accumulation of the real-time results of each exercise session. When you are exercising, visualize how you are setting in motion a cascade of events in the present that lead to the long-term results you want.  
    1. When doing cardio, visualize the release of chemicals in your nervous system that keep your brain sharp, your mood more positive, and relaxes blood vessels. Visualize how your cells are using the extra sugar and fats in your blood. Visualize how you are powering up your immune system.  When repeated, each of these leads to health and disease protection.  
    2. When doing strength training, visualize how you are signaling your muscles to be more metabolically active for the next day or so, your bones to make new cells, and your nervous system to keep the muscle memory for ease of  movements in daily life. When repeated, these lead to more strength, stronger bones, and a more active metabolism.  
    3. When stretching, visualize your nervous system releasing muscle tension, your connective tissues becoming more elastic, and your lymph system clearing unwanted items from your body. When repeated, these lead to less stiffness, a stronger immune system, and a more comfortable body and mind. 
  3. After exercise, notice the Real-time Results. This pausing helps your brain make that connection between exercise and your innate desire to be well now. The stronger that connection, the more automatically you will want to exercise, without needing to trick yourself into doing it or rely on others to make you do it.

Even if you follow these three steps, they won’t work without knowing HOW to exercise so you feel better now and get the results you want later. Knowledge is the key to being in the driver’s seat of getting those Real-time Results you want from exercise now. Doing 100 sit-ups won’t do it. Completing a fitness challenge won’t do it. Exercises for ‘toning and sculpting’ won’t do it. Burning more calories won’t do it. Lifting weights while watching TV won’t do it. Why? Because all of these approaches are based on marketing or myths and miss the mark for creating lasting exercise motivation. They are not based on how your body and brain work, so they don’t stand a chance of  leaving you with the Real-time Results your brain wants. Sacrificing the instant results for the possible long-term results is a surefire way to lower your ability to get what you want and stay motivated.

What will do it? High-quality exercise. Moving your body in the way it was designed to function best for the reasons that are most important to you now. Doing quality exercise means your time investment is less and the instant return on your investment is greater.  The key is staying away from all the marketing-based exercises that make you feel like you are “getting a good workout” because you are sore or you sweat. (neither of these are needed for any real results from exercise).  Quality exercise does not need ‘tricks’ to get you motivated. 

The best part of doing quality exercise is that there is no need for a suffering period. You don’t need to be in pain until your body ‘gets used to it’. Exercising for the Real-time Results means you feel better each time and are much more likely to keep that cascade of events going that leads to results in the long term.  

Bottom Line: The Real-time Results of exercise are the ones your brain cares most about.  When you know how to do quality exercise, it leaves you feeling and functioning better now, and your brain knows it so exercise motivation is much easier. It starts with knowing your Why, choosing what to do for that Why, and exercising in a way that makes you feel better now.  

PS: Ready to put this into action?  Join the community of Exercising WELL members who are enjoying this simple, yet science-based approach to exercise.  If you are tired of trying, tired of feeling sore, tired of getting injured, tired of getting temporary results, click here.  Together we will find your way to getting your Real-time Results through Exercising WELL.

Stretching: Beyond your Muscles

This is number nine in a series on the Real-time Results of exercise, the ones that will make your brain want to exercise. 

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In the last blog, I highlighted some of the mindsets about stretching that tend to get in the way of motivation to stretch. Today, let’s update your thinking about stretching so it leads to motivation to stretch and more comfort and freedom in your body.  

The (new) Real-time Results of stretching

We used to think of stretching as a way to warm up or cool down from exercise. Then research put a big question mark on that belief, and we started wondering if stretching was helping or hurting. Now scientists have a better way to understand what is actually happening in the body with stretching. What we have assumed happens in the body when we stretch in the past is being replaced with a better understanding about what is actually happening. Scientists are realizing that tight muscles are, in part, a sign of muscle weakness, so flexibility and strength go hand in hand. They are also discovering there are many instant health and well-being benefits to stretching. Instead of thinking that stretching is only about lengthening muscles, we know stretching is doing much more.

Stretching: beyond your muscles

The circulatory system is responsible for transporting blood to and from cells. Blood carries oxygen and fuel to muscles as well as fluids that support cell function and health. While strength training and cardio mainly use your larger muscles, stretching can increase blood flow to even the smallest vessels in the body.    

The lymph system’s job is to maintain a healthy immune system by absorbing fluid from the blood so it can be transported to the spleen. The spleen acts as a filter, helping your body fight infection and detecting potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses. Your spleen and your lymph nodes create white blood cells to defend your body against these ‘invaders’. However, this important system in the body needs you to move for all that to happen. Unlike the circulatory system, your lymph system does not have its own pump. It relies on movement to move the lymph fluid through the body. Stretching can provide that movement instantly, even in the smallest vessels in the body. For more information, including a great video with images to help you visualize this system as you move, click here.  

The fascia system is a network of connective tissue. It used to be thought that it just held the body together. However, as our understanding of the role of this tissue in our body has increased, it is now considered a system (like your cardiovascular system) because its cells communicate with other cells in other systems. Fascia has been described as a three-dimensional web-like body stocking that surrounds every structure of the body. It wraps us like Saran Wrap about 2mm beneath the skin. Fascia changes with how you hold your body during the day, especially when you are still.   It also changes with injuries and with emotions that are held in your body.

Check out this youtube video that shows what this connective tissue looks like and how it changes with movement (this is a two minute clip of a longer video also available for viewing). The image of what this tissue looks like and acts like below your skin is fascinating and can be very motivating. 

The important point is that fascia is always changing and adapting to what is happening in your body and brain moment by moment. Studies are showing that stretching helps the fascia stay more elastic, which could be a main reason why it reduces stiffness and improves mobility. The effects of stretching on the fascia seem to last for anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, which is another reason why stretching is best done as movement breaks sprinkled through your day.  

In addition, we are just beginning to understand the importance of the cells in the fascia system for our health, immune system function, and our well-being. 

The nervous system is what controls muscles. When you stretch, especially mindfully, you are calming the stress response in your body and brain, which in turn helps relax muscles.   When a muscle is tight, it is your nervous system trying to protect your muscles from tearing. When you stretch regularly, you are helping your nervous system build up tolerance of movements, so it is less ‘protective’ of the muscles.  

A muscle spasm is when your nervous system has to take extreme measures to protect a muscle that is holding a lot of tension. The spasm happens to prevent it from tearing. That spasm is not the result of that one movement, but rather the accumulation of tightness over time. The movement that resulted in a spasm was the final straw, so to speak. Regular stretching helps to keep that tightness from accumulating.  

Your present moment attention when you stretch is what makes it most effective. When you push a stretch to an uncomfortable or painful level, however, the nervous system has already started protecting the muscles, creating more tension rather than less. That’s why mindfulness is so important when stretching—you can find that just-right level and not overstretch, causing the opposite result to what you want from stretching.

Bottom Line: Your whole body, as well as your mind, benefits from stretching by improving fluid flow to your body and building tolerance of movements, especially in areas that do not get moved that often. I think of stretching as cleaning those little corners of a room that you might miss in a quick cleaning job. It also helps maintain elasticity by ‘reorganizing’ the fibers of connective tissue that surround muscles and holds us together. Clearly, the Real-time Results of stretching go way beyond your muscles!

 

Free your motivation to stretch

This is number eight in a series on the Real-time Results of exercise, the ones that will make your brain want to exercise. We have covered cardio and strength training. Today we start to look at stretching.  

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Stretching is one of those forms of exercise that many of us aren’t sure about. All the conflicting information and changing recommendations about stretching, and the fact that it doesn’t burn a lot of calories, can make it seem not worth putting in the time and effort to stretch. Even if you know stretching would help your stiff body, it’s not easy to do when it’s uncomfortable or even painful. Getting up and down off the floor can be a challenge and those old stretches we did in high school are not as easy as they once were.

Motivation for stretching can get tangled up on all the conflicting information and challenges with actually doing stretching.  Let’s free your motivation to stretch with an updated look at stretching.  

With all we don’t know about stretching, we do know it’s not:

  • weakening or damaging muscles (when you do it right)
  • about being able to touch your toes
  • making your muscles longer
  • only for the super flexible
  • a waste of time

Interestingly, yoga has gained in popularity over the past decade. When people are asked why they do yoga, the biggest reason is flexibility. Why do so many people want to be more flexible? 

Flexibility is defined by the range of motion of a joint or in other words, how much a joint can move. While this is important, I often hear people wanting to be flexible because they think it will make their stiff muscles feel better. But does being super bendy mean you feel and function better in daily life? Dancers may look beautiful, but they live with daily pain.

Flexibility does not guarantee comfort in your body. A person could be very flexible but still feel stiff and sore. They could even have a greater risk of injury because a very flexible joint is not a stable joint.

When flexibility leads to mobility, which is defined as freedom of movement, it does make you feel and function better. Mobility means your body can move in a wide variety of ways without resisting or fatiguing.   So how can stretching make you more mobile?

Trying to answer that by looking at the research on stretching is tricky. There is not as much research on this type of exercise as on other types like cardio. Most of the stretching research is about improving sports performance and as we know, training for sports performance and training for well-being are quite different. We need to consider carefully where we get our advice about stretching; is it geared toward athletes or fitness for health and well-being? The handful of research studies that show stretching leads to injury are talking about athletes, and even then, the research is not conclusive, the injury risk is low and specific for certain sports.

What actually happens in the body with stretching has not been possible to document until only a decade ago. Before then, stretching studies measured how stretching improved range of motion of individual joints. Fortunately, recent technology allows researchers to understand stretching on a cellular level so future research will tell us more. One thing we have learned is that stretching is about much more than muscles. (more about that in the next blog)

Bottom Line:  The truth about stretching is we just don’t have a lot of definite answers about why it’s good for us, but stretching does appear to be a greatly untapped way to feel comfortable in your body now, as well healthy in the future.   

In the next blog, we’ll look at the Real-time Results of stretching, to help your brain stay motivated to give your body more comfort and freedom of movement.  

How strength training activates your well-being

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In the last blog, I highlighted how your strength is not from your muscles, but from your brain and nerves that connect it to your muscles.  It turns out, that ‘waking up’ of nerve fibers activates your whole body and your well-being in very unique ways.   Let’s take a look.

Your muscles. Your muscles are made up of lots of muscle fibers. Imagine each of those fibers like rowers on a boat; the more people rowing, the more strength and power the boat has. If the exercise is with light resistance, only a small amount of muscle fibers is activated. If the weight is heavy, more muscle fibers are called into action. As your muscles get fatigued during an exercise, your nervous system will call upon more muscle fibers to help out.

Your bones. Every day your body is both making and losing bone cells. Around age thirty we seem to start losing more bone cells than we are making. The rate at which that happens depends on how often you are telling your bones to make new cells. When muscles contract, they tug on your bones. When that tug happens, it’s like your muscles are tapping on the shoulder of your bones, saying, ‘hey, stay strong, I need you!’ This sets in motion the immediate signal to your bones telling them to make new cells. Your muscle contraction is what slows the loss of bone. The stronger the contraction, the greater the trigger for new bone cells.

The catalyst:  How often do you hear advice to get enough calcium for your bones and protein for muscles? Well, if you put all the ingredients for a cake into a bowl, but never put it into the oven, would you end up with a cake? No. Those ingredients need a catalyst, heat, to make them work together to produce a cake. Getting enough of the right nutrients is only part of building strong muscles and bones. Strength training is the catalyst that makes the nutrients work for your bones and muscles! 

Your metabolism. When you challenge your muscle fibers, they go through changes like tiny tears in the fibers and use of the fuel stored right in muscles. It takes them about 24-48 hours to repair and refuel after that use. As they repair from those small tears, they gain strength. While they are refueling and repairing, they are more ‘metabolically active’. That means they are burning more calories for a day or two after you do strength training—up to about 15% more!

Your blood sugars. When your muscles contract, they use fuel stored in your muscle fibers and in your blood system. The fuel is glucose (sugar) and fats from your blood system. Each time you contract your muscles, they are ‘soaking up’ blood sugar and using it. That means that sugar is not hanging out in your blood, affecting every other cell in your body. Because strength training causes the longer-term repairs I mentioned, it also causes longer-term use of blood sugars for hours after you finish. This is why strength training is one of the best ways to manage high blood sugar levels.

And more… There are many more cascades of real-time changes that happen each time you perform strength-training exercises that are similar to those that happen with cardio. For example, brain chemicals are released that improve a sense of optimism, focus, and calm. Nitric oxide is released which helps keep blood vessels relaxed, regulating blood pressure and reducing strain on blood vessel walls that could lead to cardiovascular disease.

Unique benefits, unique barriers. These are just the highlights of the unique and powerful Real-time Results of strength training. So why are 80% of people not doing it regularly? If you are one of them, stay tuned.  Next week we will look at the specific road blocks to motivation to strength train.

Bottom Line: Your brain signals your muscles to contract, pulling on bones, and creating movement.  This simple progression of events, when done in a way that is challenging for each one of the steps in the process, creates the catalyst for strengthening and maintaining your bone, muscle, and metabolism.

How can you start this domino effect of health and well-being for yourself today? 

B-WELL

Janet

 

 

Strength, beyond your muscles. 

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As we discussed with cardio, we often talk about strength training in terms of the long-term benefits. Yet your brain really cares about the instant rewards of doing something. But what if the instant ‘reward’ you get from lifting weights is muscle soreness and fatigue? Sure, you could tell yourself ‘no pain, no gain’ and convince yourself that it is a ‘good sore’ and all that discomfort means you got a ‘good workout’. Your brain, though, is most concerned with you feeling good now and it’s designed to avoid things that are painful or uncomfortable. When your willpower to endure the discomfort runs out, your brain will start to plant excuses in your head about why you need to skip strength training today (and the next day, and the next).

Eighty percent of people are not doing strength training. Like you, they probably know the benefits—stronger bones, better aging, stronger metabolism—but the brain has some concerns—injury, weight gain, getting ‘too muscular’, or looking like a weakling at the gym. This keeps many people living in the ‘should’ when it comes to strength training.

Are you ready to get out of the ‘should’ when it comes to strength training? Ready to reassure your brain that it is all good, because you are going to work with how your body is designed to be strong? Let’s cut through the marketing- and myth-based ‘facts’ and clear the path to your strongest possible muscles, bones, and metabolism now and every decade going forward.

What is strength training? Strength training is also known as weight training, weight lifting, and resistance training. Basically, it’s when you challenge your body to be able to move your body or objects more easily against gravity. If you are thinking the things you do in your daily life like housework, child care, and yard work mean you don’t need strength training, click here to see why these physical activities are different than exercise.

Making your brain want to strength train. From the very first time you do a strength exercise, you set into motion a cascade of events that produce unique and powerful events in your whole body. Yet, most of the effects of doing or not doing strength training are not noticeable right away, so it’s easy to forget why it is so important. In the next few blogs, I’ll show you the Real-time Results of each strength training session, and why pain and discomfort are not necessary. This way, your brain will be more confident that doing strength training will help you feel and function better now, without having to first endure pain, discomfort, or embarrassment.

Why strength is not from your muscles. Although we most equate strength with big muscles, that is not where strength comes from. Before you even move, something very important happens. Your brain is activated and ‘plans’ what muscles will be needed to create the intended movement. It estimates how many muscle fibers are needed to create the force you need to move against gravity. Then your brain sends a signal through your spinal cord to the muscles you need to do that movement. Without this nervous system signal, muscles can’t move. This pre-planning of movement makes it much smoother and more efficient.

The pathway to strength: Just like the first time you take a trip somewhere, the first time you perform a movement, your brain has to work harder to find the most efficient pathway. Over time, it becomes easier as your brain remembers the pathway. Think about how your body learned to walk, ride a bike, tie your shoes, swim, or play sports. All of these are examples of this process we call muscle memory. This building of muscle memory is what makes movements more automatic, so you can gain coordination, balance, agility, and strength.

Confusion about muscle memory: There is some talk that muscle memory is bad, because you burn fewer calories as your body gets used to an exercise and that you need muscle confusion to keep your body burning more calories. Honestly, the calorie-burning difference is minimal and probably won’t add up to any change on the scale. Muscle memory is what allows you to function. If you are exercising to lose weight so you can feel and function better, muscle memory is your friend.

The strength of your brain. Since the brain and nerves are what tell your muscles how to move, strength originates in your brain and nervous system, not in your muscles. That means you need your brain for building strength. You can see why present moment awareness is so important to get the most from strength training. It ensures you are creating the nerve pathways you want, the ones that allow you to access your strength by positioning your body in the right way, and creating nerve pathways so that strong movement becomes more automatic (more on that later). If your brain is distracted by a TV show, or other people around you, it won’t have as much ability to put into building your strength.  If finding the time for strength training is a concern, choose high-quality strength training by focusing your attention on your body rather than trying to save time by multitasking and doing it while watching TV

Bottom line: Your full mindful attention is your best strength training tool!

In the next blog, we’ll look at what happens in your muscles when you strength train that continues the cascade of events that leads to you feeling and functioning better.