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!

 

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.

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

The fine bottom line of cardio intensity

Rethink Exercsise

 In the last blog, I talked about why cardio is so much more than just getting your heart rate up. With all the advice about the intensity of cardiovascular exercise lately, let’s take a look at what happens when you exercise at different intensities so you can make a choice about the right level for your body.

Oxygen: Remember that when your body has the equipment to use oxygen, it can fuel your muscles in a more sustainable way. The more equipment, the wider the range of exercise intensities your body can handle without getting tired and needing to stop. If the equipment that uses oxygen to produce energy is lacking, your body will have to go back to using the short-acting, non-oxygen-requiring system for producing energy. So, when you reach a level of exercise where your body cannot keep up with the demand for more oxygen to produce energy, your body will shift to the energy-producing system that runs out quickly.

What you practice gets stronger: This is why someone who does not move for extended periods of time will very often get tired faster, whereas a regular exerciser who has built up the equipment needed to use that aerobic system can last for a long time. Your body is a use it to keep it system.  Like any good system, when one part is not working well, another part will pick up the slack in order to keep the system working. When it comes to the cardiovascular system, even if you have a disease that limits one part of that system, other parts will adapt—as long as they get the signals to do so. Cardiovascular exercise signals the whole system to get stronger in any way it can. This is why someone with lung disease or heart disease is especially in need of cardiovascular exercise, to signal the rest of the system to pick up the slack. When the heart or lungs don’t work as well, the muscles will compensate by building more equipment so they can use oxygen more effectively.

Carbon dioxide: If, during a cardiovascular exercise, you kick it up to a higher intensity, your breathing will reach an uncomfortable level. This is not your body wanting more oxygen—it is your body trying to get rid of carbon dioxide, the byproduct of the non-oxygen-using fuel system. That uncomfortable shortness of breath is called the ‘anaerobic threshold’. It is a sure sign your body won’t last much longer unless you lower the intensity.

Breathing vs. heart rate: This is why your breathing gives you a better idea about the function of your cardiovascular system than heart rate does. You can sense it, without having to measure it.  Plus, without taking a special test to measure your maximal heart rate, your exercise heart rate range can only be predicted (and not very accurately).  Your breathing level, however, is a real-time measure of what is happening in your body. The ‘comfort’ of your breathing lets you know if you have the equipment needed keep fueling muscles. When you are breathing uncomfortably, it is a sign the system is not prepared to keep up and your body is relying more on the non-oxygen, short-lasting fuel system.

Building stamina is possible for any body: For someone who is very fit, this happens at a much higher intensity. For someone who has not built up the oxygen-using system equipment, this happens at a much lower level. For anyone, though, when you exercise regularly, your body adapts by building more equipment for the oxygen-using fuel system, because it is a much more efficient way to fuel your muscles.

“Cardio” or “weight loss”: If you are looking to burn more calories and fat because you want to lose weight, don’t get side-tracked by trying to decide if you should do the cardio program or the weight loss program on your treadmill. Yes, your body uses more carbs at high intensity and fats at lower intensity, but in the end it really does not matter. Your body will break down fats to replace the carbohydrate (glucose) stores when you are resting after exercise. You don’t need to choose between getting more cardio or burning more fat. It’s all good.

The fine bottom line: What is more important for weight loss as well as overall fitness and health is how consistently you do cardio. Remember, after about three days of not doing cardio, the ‘equipment’ starts to get rusty. That’s why it’s important to consider how your brain perceives the exercise too.  Your brain is hardwired to avoid what is uncomfortable.  If you push the intensity to ‘get a better workout’ and are wishing every minute away, your brain is much less likely to want to go back and do that again—and there goes consistency.

motivating intensity

That, my friends, is the fine bottom line of cardio. Do cardio at a moderate to motivating challenge for your breathing. Each time be sure it is the intensity level that feels good physically and mentally, so your brain wants to exercise again. Some days the motivating challenge is just getting started and enjoying a moderate intensity. Some days it could be a higher intensity because it feels good to push a bit harder. But on all days, if you are going to get the health and well-being benefits, it needs to feel motivating, not uncomfortable.     

Next week, I’ll list all the amazing Real-time Results you get from doing cardio in a way that benefits your whole person.