Movement Myths and Misconceptions

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We have known for a long long time that physical activity is an important part of health and well-being. More recently, with the reliance on technology in our lives, we have a whole new appreciation for the importance of movement.  Based upon comments I hear about what counts or does not count as exercise, we could use some clarity to stay motivated to keep both a regular part of our daily life.
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In the last blog, we defined exercise as practicing the physical skills needed for living life well. That means spending 3-5% of waking hours practicing stamina, strength, balance, and agility to train the body for well-being.

Movement is any physical activity. Whereas exercise is practicing specific qualities in a structured way to improve those qualities in the future, movement provides well-being benefits instantly! Inactivity physiologists (scientists who study the effects of stillness on the body) have discovered that when we are sedentary, we are not just missing out on the benefits of movement. The fact is, stillness changes our body in many of the ways we typically chalk up to “normal aging” or genetics.

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Every living thing moves – from the tiny hairs called cilia on the outside of a cell to the more complex movements of a gorilla using tools to search for food.  Everything needs to move to live. Even trees need the movement inside their trunk to transport nutrients. When a part of the body is paralyzed, it needs to be moved or cells in that area break down and die.  Every living thing needs movement to sustain life and we are amazingly designed to move well.

When we talk about “getting enough exercise,” we are limiting our potential for being well now. Let’s start considering both structured and unstructured movement as catalysts for the healing process in the brain and body.

Movement:

  • creates a chemical cascade that improves function of brain cells maximizing the ability to learn, focus and create.
  • stimulates the growth of new brain cells, to a much greater degree than anything else we have available.
  • triggers chemicals in the brain that improve mood (the same chemicals released when we eat comfort food).
  • signals cells that line blood vessel walls to relax.  Constricted vessels are part of the cause of elevated blood pressure.
  • satisfies what the body is preparing for during a stressful event.  Movement is the antidote to stress, helping to switch the brain and body from Alarm Mode to Recharge Mode.
  • is what the lymph system relies on to do its job of clearing waste products in the body.  When waste products build up, inflammation increases in the body. Inflammation is the precursor for many diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
  • initiates the body’s natural use of blood sugar.  Receptors in muscle cells open up and allow sugar (glucose) to move from the blood to muscle cells to be used.  When sugar levels are elevated in the blood, it affects every cell in the body.

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Yet moving is about more than just getting enough steps in a day! In the next blog, we will clarify the importance of paying attention to the quality of our movement versus just the quantity.

Be Well Now!

Janet

What Activates Well-being #3: Move Everything Often

“Cells receive input from their environment every minute of every day.” Marc Hamilton, PhD

Inactivity scientists are studying what happens in the body when we don’t move. What they are discovering is that how often we move is at least as important, if not more important, as how much we move.

Imagine the 230 movable joints in your body like pools of water. Just like stagnant water left undisturbed, waste products start to build up pretty quickly. The lymph system clears this stuff out. However, this system relies on movement to trigger it to work.

Cells in the body are activated when we move. For example, the removal of blood sugar by muscle cells is triggered by movement. When we don’t move, the body has to release insulin to store the unused sugar as fat.

Plus, we get to keep all the movements we practice regularly. The degree to which the typical body stiffens with age is not normal aging. It is a living example of the “use it or lose it” principle of the body. Preventing this loss of function is much easier than trying to get it back once it is lost.

Hours of physical inactivity were not planned for when the human body was invented. Moving all the ways we can move as often as possible activates the body to be well.

Yeah, but does it burn a ton of calories? Nope! Does it add a lot of steps? Nope! Does it tone muscles? Not much! Then is it worth it?  If your goal is to help your body function as well as it can as long as it can, you bet!

Activate it:  Tell your cells to function well! Take a few minutes several times a day to move joints that have not moved in a while. To help you remember, set an alarm or pmotiomair it with something you already do, like making coffee in the morning. Open and close the hands as wide as possible, roll the wrists each way, straighten the elbows all the way, take your shoes and socks off and move every joint in the feet, move the neck every way it can…you get the picture. Bonus Activation: add mindfulness to those movement breaks and double your reward :).

May You Be Well,

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Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC

Clinical Exercise Physiologist

Health and Wellness Coach

Yoga and Meditation Teacher

Week 11 – Are you living in the should? 

“I was living in the should and it was exhausting,’’ said a client last week. Her approach had always been about trying to do what she “should” to be healthy and fit. Gradually learning a mindful approach, she is now guided by her well-being vision and how her body responds to choices she is making.

With all the conflicting information floating around, we can get thrown off track by the should’s. I should … exercise more … push harder … be seeing more results …  do more … be like … look like … be able to ____ ….

As a result, we might:

  • distract the mind in order to just “get through a workout”
  • find someone to push us through exercise sessions to make us stay motivated
  • try to “trick the body” by pushing it harder to get results
  • just give up, ignore the body, and avoid exercise altogether

Does this roller coaster of the “all or nothing” approach to exercise sound familiar? Motivation drains with every up and down, as the mind and body work against each other.

Healing the relationship between the mind and body requires a kind attention that builds trust. Instead of the body being like cumbersome baggage that gets in the way, the body becomes a trusted guide on this journey.

What should’s came up on your list from Activate it last week? Try replacing the word should with I really want to for each item. Which ones feel authentic? Which feel fake? When you have clarity about what you really want, healthy choices are all authentic.

Lisusan-omalley artke the mission of a successful business, a well-being vision statement gets to the heart of why you are doing what you are doing for your well-being. Instead of should’s that drain your energy, this vision guides you in designing a movement program that is energizing each step of the way.

What does a mindful approach to exercise look like? When this client was considering signing up for a long road race in May,  she first checked how this goal was in line with her well-being vision. It definitely lined up. Next, we discussed how she will know as training progresses if it becomes a ‘should’ rather than about her vision.  She felt confident that staying mindful in each training session, she would trust her body. Whether she finished the race, reduced her goal, or let it go completely, she will be truly successful because she knows her own definition of success.  She realized “when you listen to your body, it is clear.”

Activate it:

  • Adopt a regular exercise for the brain that actually trains it to more easily care for the body. Direct kindness to your body in loving-kindness meditation  – wishing it well, appreciating it, and paying mindful attention to all the ways it communicates what it needs moment by moment. Admittedly, it will feel a bit strange at first. However, it does actually change the brain and improve the relationship of the mind and body.
  • Strip away the should’s and focus on what you know right now about what you really want. Start by completing these statements:  I really want … to be able to ___, to feel ___, to have more ___. This is a starting point to guide an exercise plan that is sustainable and energizing.

Are you ready to get off the roller-coaster? Create your well-being vision in a Well-being Vision coaching session.  This is an inspiring, motivating, and fun session that gives you the gift of a powerful guide on the way to activating your well-being . Contact me to find out more. 

May You Be Well,

Signature

Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC

Clinical Exercise Physiologist

Health and Wellness Coach

Yoga and Meditation Teacher

 Photo: inspiring artwork by Susan O’Malley

Week 10 – Movement + Mindfulness

This month we will incorporate movement into our exploration of mindfulness and motivation. Please put aside your current thoughts about movement and exercise. Let’s mindfully explore all aspects of movement with a clean slate and a sense of curiosity.

Every cell in the body is an outpost of the brain. The mind is in the body as well as in the brain. There is constant two-way communication between these two points, mostly below our conscious awareness.

The brain is constantly doing its job of scanning for how safe, satisfied, and connected we are in each moment. It gathers information from different parts of the brain and from the body. When a threat is detected (perceived or real), alarm mode kicks in, and the brain sends signals to protect the body.  The body sends back feedback about how the response is working.

When the threat is internal, our body and brain fall into an unhealthy relationship. The body tries to communicate but the brain does not listen. The brain resents the body for not cooperating with its expectations. The two parts keep “arguing” and the discord limits our access to what can actually help.  Added to that, our culture tells us the body is a problem to be solved.

Science, however, tells us the body is a tremendous resource for well-being. In studying the science of movement, I’ve been constantly amazed at how our bodies are specifically designed to move. Movement naturally activates health and well-being.

Now, you might be thinking but it is painful and difficult to move, my body is not a friendly place right now. The approach to movement in our culture is often not helpful in addressing this challenge. When we push too hard and compare ourselves to others, we are guided by the should’s instead of by what the body is telling us in each moment.

Mindfulness can help increase motivation for movement and can even improve athletic performance. Yet lately it seems even mind/body types of exercise fall prey to the “body as a problem” approach (for example, when yoga classes become competitions or an excuse to push the body way beyond its current abilities in order to achieve a posture). This misuse of mind/body exercise only fuels the fire for the internal war. There is a healthier way.

FullSizeRenderThe core of mindful movement is our relationship with our body.  Receive the full benefit of movement by letting go of the idea that signals from the body are a threat (a reminder that we are aging or can no longer do something). Instead, view signals as helpful guides as to how to move toward our own well-being. When we include mindful self-compassion in exercise, we befriend the body, allowing movement to inform our path to health. The mind and body start supporting one another again and we create a positive feedback loop so both function at their full potential. Now THAT’S well-being.

Activate it:  Let’s brainstorm. Simply let thoughts flow, without boundaries. Jot down all of your thoughts about your body. Jot down all of the words you associate with exercise. Include all the should’s that are associated with each.  Just see what comes up without judgment. This awareness is the first step. Next week, we will explore how to foster a healthy relationship between mind and body.

Please share what you have discovered in this or other blogs in this series in comments.

May You Be Well,

Signature

Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC

Clinical Exercise Physiologist

Health and Wellness Coach

Yoga and Meditation Teacher

Image © Karen Murphy

Reduce Weight, Gain Strength – Instantly!

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We all know we shouldn’t slouch.

We should stand and sit “ up straight”.  In our culture this usually means military type posture –  chest out, shoulders back.

Think about the change in the load of a heavy object when it is held far away from the body and then brought in close to the body.  It seems to get lighter.

The weight of the object and the strength of the muscles did not change, we are just better able to access our strength with this simple shift.

In the same way, how we hold our body changes our weight and strength instantly.

Seems simple enough.  Let’s take minute to play around with this together and see what we can discover.

Ready?  First let’s slouch.  Just notice how the body feels.

  • the weight of the head and shoulders
  • the effort of the back muscles
  • how breathing feels

Now, let’s sit up straight,  with “good posture”  chest out shoulders back. What do you notice?

  • the weight of the head and shoulders
  • the effort of the back muscles
  • how breathing feels

Now, let’s sit in the chair with the feet on the floor.  Tilt the hips until the weight of the pelvis is neither on the tailbone, nor the front of the pelvis, just balanced in the center.

Then tilt the rib cage up and down until it is like an upside-down bowl facing the pelvis. (Placing a hand on the breastbone can be helpful.  It will be straight up and down, not tilted front or back in this position)

While keeping the rib cage in that position, rather than pulling shoulders back, gently open the shoulders and chest area.

Finally, let’s move the head around until it feels almost weightless.

Continue to make small adjustments to the position of the pelvis, rib cage and shoulders until the the torso feels comfortable.  Now lets notice.

  • the weight of the head and shoulders
  • the effort of the back muscles
  • how breathing feels

JengaHow much effort does it takes to hold each position?

Just like Jenga blocks, all lined up, they are quite sturdy and stable.  jenga6Out of alignment, the blocks need extra support to stay upright.  In the same way slouching and military posture both create more work on the body.

When the skeleton stacked as it was designed, we become lighter and stronger all at once.  We reduce wear and tear on joints.  Breathing is easier.  With the body at ease, the mind can rest easier too.

In this aligned position, the core muscles are perfectly designed for their job of stabilizing and supporting the spine (and all the other important “stuff” in our torso).   Alignment is the foundation of core strength.

When we are exercising is another great opportunity to notice our alignment in order to access our strength while supporting key areas of the body.

Out of alignment, the body uses its language of pain and other symptoms to say “help, we are working too hard – we are not designed for this.”?

alignmentDiscomfort in the neck, shoulders, hips, knees, and feet, pelvic floor issues, a hernia, digestive symptoms, and low energy level are just a few ways the body speaks to us about how we are using it.

Alignment is a science (biomechanics) and the body is complex.  Yet this awareness can be an amazing resource for finding ways we can take charge of our health and well-being.

Here’s the thing though. The pile of all we should be doing for our health can weigh us down.  Let’s be careful alignment does not add to the pile.  These “should’s” have the opposite effect on our health.

To keep it truly healthy,  the intention is about giving the body what it needs to be well as a way to be kind to ourselves.

We can start by simply shifting our attention inward, listening to what the body is saying, and gradually discover our natural alignment.   Alignment then becomes a practice of mindful self compassion.

In this way, learning about our own natural alignment becomes one of the simple yet powerful ways we activate our own well-being.

I look forward to hearing what you are discovering.   Please share it in the comments.

May You Be Well,
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Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC

P.S.  Check out the resources page, stay tuned to this blog, or contact me for more ways to discover your natural alignment.