Unleashing Your Natural Motivation for Exercising

With all great reasons to exercise, why are we not more motivated?  Because reasons like heart health and weight loss don’t connect exercise strongly enough to our natural motivation to do what we love, with those we love.  Check out how this natural motivation was unleashed for one client recently,  and learn how you can unleash your natural motivation for exercising too in the Exercising WELL tip of the week.

 

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!

 

What are the most important benefits of cardio?

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As you saw in the last two blogs, there are two distinct factors that make movement a cardiovascular exercise (cardio):

  1. Moving a large amount of your muscles circulates more blood through your cardiovascular system causing your heart to beat stronger (not just faster).  
  2. Moving continuously for longer than two minutes so your body starts relying on your oxygen-using, longer-lasting system for fueling muscles.

That continuous, large-muscle type of movement creates a cascade of events in your body with instant or, in other words, Real-time Results such as:

  • De-stressing. The hormones and chemicals produced when your muscles contract in this way shift your nervous system out of the stress response and into the relaxation response (as long as the way you are doing cardio is not more stress-producing for you).
  • Lowering blood pressure. To help your blood vessels handle the increased pressure of the stronger heart contraction, your body releases nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes blood vessels. This stays in your system for up to 22 hours after one bout of moderate intensity cardio, helping to keep blood pressure at a healthier level.
  • Better blood sugar levels. Because your muscles are using the sugars (glucose) in your blood to help fuel muscles, cardio helps you manage elevated blood sugar levels. Cardio also send signals to the receptors in muscles to be more sensitive to your own insulin. This helps lower blood sugar instantly and for a few hours after you stop exercising.
  • Boost sleep quality. Cardio during the day means that night you have a better chance of falling asleep easily and sleeping more soundly through the night. As we all know, a good night’s sleep means a better tomorrow.
  • Better digestion. The repetitive, continuous movement of cardio helps your digestive system improve its mobility, making it work more ‘smoothly’ from top to bottom.
  • Lifts mood. After about ten minutes of cardio, your brain releases a dose of various brain chemicals that improves mood, calms your nerves, and boosts your ability to hands life’s stressors. These are the same chemicals that are in many mental health medications. They are also the ones released when you eat comfort food. The difference is that cardio releases them in the balanced way that they were designed to elevate your mood naturally.
  • Immune protection.  is boosted for up to several hours. One way is by increasing natural killer cell activity—the first line of defense against colds and flu as well as most forms of cancer.
  • Improves focus. As little as ten minutes of cardio increases the ability of your brain to focus. Cardio can be used as an immediate and effective part of treatment for people with ADD or anyone living in this fast-paced, distracted culture.
  • Strengthens memory. Each bout of cardio stimulates the growth of new brain cells like nothing else does. Your brain releases BDNF, a chemical that has been called Miracle Grow for the brain. Even better, it boosts the parts of the brain that stores memories. Exercising before an exam has been shown to help students improve grades and exercise has helped people concerned about memory loss with aging get more out of brain-training exercises.  

Take a moment to ask yourself, Which of those Real-time Results of cardio really got my attention? These are the results of cardio that are most important. Why? Because they matter most to your brain.  

Even though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it, your brain is hardwired to take care of your body in every moment. When you use the long-term benefits of cardio, like weight loss or health protection, to get motivated to do cardio, it just does not work. Your brain is most motivated by what will make you feel and function better now.  

There are, however, a few Real-time Results of cardio that are not helpful because they are based on misconceptions and marketing.  The top three Empty Results to watch out for are:

  • Sweat: All that large muscle, continuous movement produces heat. That increases your body temperature, possibly causing you to sweat. Whether you sweat depends on many factors including genetics, hydration level, your clothing, the type of activity you are doing, the temperature of the air, the humidity of the air. The fact is that sweat does not mean you ‘got a good workout’. It only means you need to drink more water to rehydrate.  
  • Muscle burn: Feeling the burn may be an outdated saying, but the connection between muscles burning and the benefit of exercise is still alive and well in the minds of many.   You might be told you are ‘working’ certain parts of the body, implying that the burning sensations means you are burning more fat in those areas. The reality is that the burn is just the sensation of muscles fatiguing, not fat melting.  
  • Burning calories:  Although it appears to be pretty easy to find out how many calories you burn with cardio, it really isn’t. The calories your body burns, even for the same exact level of exercise, vary too much to be predictable and the numbers flashing in front of you are only a rough estimate. Burning calories is not as important as we have made it out to be.  More important for weight loss is doing cardio to feel better now, so you are less likely to reach for food to do that.

Take a moment to create your own list of Real-time Results from cardio to help you stay naturally and easily motivated to use this incredible resource for feeling and functioning your best every day.  

Next week, we’ll take a tour through the unique Real-time Results of strength training.  

Whole-heartedly,

Janet

Why the reasons to exercise are not enough to get you to do it

Years ago, as a ‘green’ exercise physiologist, one of my favorite posters hanging up in the cardiac rehab unit was this one:

To me, this was so convincing. Why wouldn’t someone want to exercise?

What I know now is that if you are an exerciser, these are great reminders of why you are exercising.

If you are stuck in the Shoulds with exercise, these only make you more stuck.

It is counterintuitive, but these big-time reasons to exercise are not the ones that will make you do it. These are big things that we all want, but they are oriented to a healthy future. 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.

Your brain constantly gets messages from your body about how you feel and uses your memories and experiences to decide what to do to make you feel better now. No matter how logical it is to exercise for those very important future results, they will just not get you to exercise on a regular basis if right now you don’t have the time or energy to exercise.

If there was a fire in your home, you would not go organize your closet. You would put out the fire! This is how your brain makes decisions about exercise. If you are not feeling well in your body now, if your mind is overwhelmed with too many things to do, your brain will seek a way to put out that fire. The future results are not as important. Your brain needs you to feel better now.

Sure, you can override this and make yourself do activities with delayed rewards. The tradeoff is it takes a lot of brain energy. There are many parts of life that need that brain energy and making yourself exercise so some day you are healthy and well is low on that priority list compared to taking care of loved ones or making enough money to pay the bills. To your brain, the big-time future results from exercise are something that can be put off until later.

It’s the Real-time Results of everything, exercise included, that are most powerfully convincing for you to take action repeatedly. Yet those Real-time Results are often invisible. Instead, we focus on seeing future results like weight loss, finishing a 5K, a smaller size on the tag of your clothes, or a better report from your doctor on your next physical. We need convincing it is all worth our time.

If you want those big-time, far-off benefits from exercise, join me on a journey that reveals the Real-time Results from exercise. When they are more visible, your brain knows that exercise is a resource for being well now. In my next blog series, I’ll talk about exercise in the way that gets your brain’s attention now, so it is easier to take action now. You will Rethink Exercise from a present-moment perspective that makes your brain want to choose to exercise more often.
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One more thing: this will be done with a No-Should Guarantee. Should is the one word that destroys motivation more than anything else. I promise to talk about exercise in a way that helps you get out of the Shoulds and wanting to exercise now.  

Whole-heartedly,

P.S. If you want to Rethink Exercise to get out of the Shoulds, sign up for my blog on the right side of this page, so each Real-time Result is delivered right to your inbox!

Win by Building Inner Confidence

It’s pay-it-forward week at Exercising WELL and we are running a Win/Win Special.  From now until April 22nd, 2019, when you donate $45 to the Enjoy Life Education scholarship fund, you get your first month of the Exercising WELL Coaching Program FREE.  

Confidence can be reliant on external sources or it can be an inner sense of knowing your own strengths. Studies show inner confidence is much more reliable and resilient through the ups and downs of life1. When you take advantage of the Win/Win special, you help a teen build inner confidence through the Enjoy Life Leadership Academy and grow your own inner confidence that you know how to be Exercising WELL.

The Win Win special (4) 

Enjoy Life Leadership Academy

Students build confidence though a stronger sense positive self-worth. From the moment students enter the academy, they are encouraged to not only be who they are, but also celebrate who they are with confidence and pride. They not only do this for themselves, but for each other. Students are immersed in a culture of self-worth that builds a natural and lasting inner confidence. Check out this 60-second video to see how that is done.  

Exercising WELL Coaching Program

Exercise success often is measured by external sources, such as the scale, the activity monitor, or a fitness challenge. But studies show these external sources for confidence are like building a house on sand, washed away by the next stressful event in life. Through the Exercising WELL online programs and personalized weekly coaching, you learn research-backed strategies for being internally guided and self-motivated. You gain solid inner confidence for exercise that carries over to other habits for your health and well-being.

  1. What is the Self-Determination Theory of Motivation?