Archive for Exercise

Jogging makes you healthy but at what cost?: Or why is exercise so easy to avoid?

celebratory lunges

 

Just before the start of the semester, one of my friends on Facebook posted a status asking about where she should start if she decided to go to the gym. The flood of answers was enthusiastic, but there were so many different suggestions about classes and programs, and she’d never been to any of these classes so she had no clue which ones were for her. The comments were a flurry of times, dates, and suggestions of “come with me to this!” From where I was sitting, it looked a little overwhelming.

To be fair, the idea of exercise to me is exhausting itself, never mind actually going through with it.

April gets it

April gets it

I’m no stranger to getting active, of course. Although we were under no illusions about my chances of actually succeeding in school sports, my parents still took me to a myriad of practices and games for soccer and basketball when I was in grade school, bless them. I ended up dreading practices that would lead to games where my main role was bench warmer, and I scrambled for any excuse to skip them. I decided to love myself by letting go of sports and thought that would be the end of exercise, but falling in love with theater in high school meant dance practices at least two nights a week in the spring.

And honestly? I didn’t try to get out of dance practice like I had soccer and basketball, but I thought about it more often than not.

That’s a little messed up, right? These activities were supposed to be fun, but I was avoiding them as much as possible. And if sports were supposed to be fun, how was I supposed to actually start going out of my way to exercise without the added promise of being entertained?

So it was really easy to write exercise off. I mean, I walk to class every day, trudging over WKU’s ridiculously steep campus hill; that’s got to count for something. Plus, it would take way less effort to not go to the gym than to actually try it out.

But that’s a bit of a defeatist attitude, so every few months, I’ll look up a bunch of simple things that I can do to be healthy—maybe I’ll take a walk or two outside before other concerns quickly become more of a priority and leave me with no further interest in exercise.

However, trying to keep up with yoga classes, little walks around campus, and having a set group of friends that are also trying to live healthier are a few things that are keeping me consistent and accountable for once, which leads me to the best part of this post: the concrete advice!

Terry Crews of Brooklyn 99, a very muscle-bound gentleman who’s in “ridiculous shape” according to Men’s Fitness, has some somewhat ridiculous advice that makes a lot of sense:

upbeat, positive, and potentially doable - thanks Terry!

This advice might be silly, but it’s also upbeat, positive, and potentially doable.

It always helps you form a habit when you’re doing something that you want to do, rather than something you feel compelled to do.

So running on a treadmill might not be for you, but if you’re like me and music gets you going, carve out some time to listen exclusively to One Direction or the Legally Blonde musical or that new Rihanna music and just move. If I’ve got the Take Me Home album playing, I’m going to end up bopping all the way to class without even thinking about it.

Be sure to look into all the classes that your gym offers because sometimes, let’s be real, they’re awful and most definitely not for you, but sometimes you can really surprise yourself. Yoga can be a pretty nonthreatening gym experience, and if you’re still nervous, there’s all kinds of information online that you can familiarize yourself with beforehand. I love the way that I feel after a yoga class, because even though there’s a lot of effort involved, there’s a focus on warming up and cooling down, and the instructor is often reminding us that we can go at our own pace while also giving suggestions for ways to challenge ourselves in whatever pose we’re on. I cannot emphasize just how much I love yoga, so y’all should try it out.

There are also a ton of cool superhero workouts that people have posted online, so you can choose your favorite and go for that too if you are intimidated by more traditional workouts.

It also helps to get someone else involved. Tell people that you’re going. Get them to come with you, especially if they’re good at making exercise a priority. Having a pal can make things feel a lot less serious, and it keeps you accountable to each other as well.

Healthy means more than just physical health though, something guest blogger Natalie Rickman wrote more about in her “This is my brain on exercise” post.

Exercise can be intimidating, but there’s a ton of things that you can do to make it easier. So focus on finding what works for you, even if it’s just a little bit at a time.

—Molly Couch

This is your brain on exercise: 

how I conquered depression by moving my butt
… a guest post by Natalie Rickman

Natalie1

It’s hard to talk about my depression now because I don’t really remember it. The parts I do remember are really painful, and when I think back on them, I squirm in my seat with regret and embarrassment.

I do remember that days turned into nights, turned into mornings, turned into days, and I was floating, walking around existing, mostly just sleeping, and drinking whiskey and diet soda for months.

I first became depressed in February of 2014. I’ve battled anxiety sine I was about thirteen, but I had never been so unbearably sad. I was in denial for a short time, and then the floor broke through, everything I knew crumbling at my feet. I dropped out of college, I ended my relationship with my boyfriend of over a year, I was always drunk, and I was experiencing migraines four or five times a week.

My life was wrecked.

I picked up more hours at my part-time job at the fro-yo store where I’d worked since high school and took on more responsibility there. It was mundane work, but I was making money and making myself get out of bed everyday.

But I finally came through the depression about six months later, and energy started to creep back into my body. I reconciled with my boyfriend, re-enrolled in college, and gradually I was able to try a little more. Even though I was still experiencing the migraines, I had so much energy. Some people might call this behavior “manic”—some people being my mother—but I held on to my high and started writing and cooking again and faced a goal that would ultimately be what pushed me through manic and onto a more stable wavelength.

I also started running. I became friends with this crazy, runner girl and asked her to coach me. I told her I wanted to get in shape, that it was my lifelong dream to run a mile.

What a dream.

But we went for it, mostly because she was ready to start training for a 5K and liked having a running partner, but also because, I believe, she wanted to help me.

Because I was enrolled in school again, I had access to the university’s fitness center. We started on the treadmill, and I was surprised to find that I could run half a mile in about six and a half minutes. We kept going, training every day, and soon I was able to run an entire mile in ten minutes and then I was able to run a mile in nine minutes. We went on like that for months, training like mad people, sweating and showering and sweating and showering.

Here’s the crazy thing—while I was training like that, I had virtually no anxiety and no panic attacks. I also wasn’t the least bit unhappy. I was sore, and when I slept, I slept hard, but I wasn’t sleeping too much. I wasn’t mad at everyone all the time either. Everything was easier to handle; all my tasks were realistic to me.

All the while I’m running a mile here and there and doing yoga in the park, challenging everyone I knew to a planking contest like a dumbass, and feeling great for it. At the same time, there were all these voices—all the doctors, my mom, and various other people—telling me what they’d been telling me for years: “Exercise can help you feel calm.” They were right, and, in fact, exercise helped me more than medication. Where medication mad me sleepy and puffy, exercise made me take hard, calming breaths and gave my body a tightness I didn’t know it could have.

I haven’t been depressed since I started running, and though the migraines are occasional, they are less frequent when I run a mile a few times a week and eat a piece of fruit. Fruit! Who freaking knew?

The training isn’t as hard now either; we are lucky to get together twice a week. But both my friend and I feel better on the days we go, even when we haven’t run in a week, and the warm-up makes us want to hurl. The nausea goes away, but the good feeling in my chest—the feeling that makes me stand taller—lasts.

I’ve learned that if I treat my body well, all other parts of my life benefit. People tell me depression is a battle that I will never stop fighting, and while I believe them, I don’t feel helpless anymore. Running is my new battle, and it’s one I’m fully equipped to tackle. It’s one that not only gives me the energy to live a better life, but gives me the focus to live a more authentic life.

*

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NATALIE RICKMAN is a junior creative writing major at Western Kentucky University. She was born and raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and loves shitty beer. She one day hopes to own a vintage clothing store.

Is there an expiration date on exercise? And if so, how do we get past it?

In my last post, I wrote about the difficulties I’ve had while trying to eat healthy. The second part of that “mission” has been starting an exercise program.

Exercise poster

I’m about a month in and things seem to be going well.

Naturally, however, I’ve hit some problems and anxieties along the way.

One of my fears is that I won’t stick with my new habit. There’s precedent for this fear. I’ve been known to start exercising around this time every year. I can go for a month or two of diligently working out five or six times a week, but I always eventually stop.

This isn’t uncommon. A lot of people have this problem. In a way, I suppose that’s comforting, but I desperately want this time to be different. At this point, I feel totally committed, but I’m not sure how I’ll feel in a month or two. With that in mind, I’ve been giving my past attempts a close look to try to figure out why I haven’t stuck with it.

Woman lifting weights

I am naturally a very anxious person. When I start a workout regimen, I constantly worry about what I’m doing.

Am I exercising enough?

Am I working hard enough?

What is enough?

Will it work?

My mind is constantly inundating itself with new fears and anxieties. If I read an article that lists “10 Ways You’re Ruining Your Workout,” I become convinced I’m doing something wrong.

Being anxious isn’t fun.

Perhaps I stop exercising because I spend so much time obsessing over these things?

In retrospect, I suppose part of the reason I’ve quit in the past is because I got bored. Again, this is a common problem for people who start a workout regimen. There are several articles that say the key to keeping up the habit is variety. With that in mind, I’ve been trying to mix up the different workouts I do every week. I’ve been rotating a few workout videos throughout the week along with heading to the gym to use workout equipment. I haven’t gotten bored yet, but I also haven’t been doing it for very long.

Lastly, I’ve had to confront how easily I get discouraged.

Looking back, my previous attempts came to an end after I missed a day or two of working out. If one thing goes wrong—if I miss one day or two—I feel defeated and find it harder to keep going. This time, I’m trying to be kinder to myself. I’ve had days when I didn’t feel well enough to exercise, or days where I wanted to take a little breather. Instead of beating myself up, I’ve committed to getting back into the habit as soon as I can.

This has been really helpful. It’s helped me change how I see my new habit. Before, I saw my attempts as stretches of time that, no matter how much I was determined to keep going, had inevitable end dates. Now, I think of my regimen as a constant endeavor. Hiccups and missed workouts aren’t the end because there is always a new day coming.

—Lauren Bunch

Why trash-talk about exercise isn’t helping anyone

Lately I feel like I can’t turn around without hearing about Crossfit…

Crossfit is so awesome!

Crossfit is so much better for you than X!

Crossfit is so much harder!

You should really try Crossfit! 

The comment that bugs me the most is the one implying that Crossfit is a superior exercise program to every other one out there. I go to a local boot camp class, and, for some reason, I keep getting lectured about how much more challenging and rigorous Crossfit is that my boot camp class.

Call me crazy, but since the class is called “BOOT CAMP,” I think it’s pretty freaking tough.

Also, I’m just kind of irritated by the idea that people go around trash talking each other’s exercise program.

The question should NOT be: “Where do you exercise?” The question should be: “Do you exercise regularly?” And if the answer is yes, then THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS. There is no one single exercise program that is so good that it eradicates the benefits of any other exercise program.

Sure, if you’re an Olympic athlete, it matters who you train with. But, for the rest of us commoners, ALL EXERCISE IS GOOD. The problem in America isn’t that we’re exercising the wrong way. It’s that too many people aren’t exercising at all.

And focusing on why or how one program or gym is better than another doesn’t help the people who aren’t exercising. Instead, it sends the message that there is only one right way to exercise, reinforcing the wrong-headed notion that if people don’t exercise that one right way, they shouldn’t bother to do it at all. That’s really no different than saying that there is only one kind of healthy body or one kind of attractive body. It’s just plain wrong, and it only hurts us in the long run.

The AMA piles on the hate, forgetting that “obese” people can be healthy

Two week ago, the American Medical Association (AMA) declared that obesity is a disease.

They did this even though the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health “said that obesity should not be considered a disease mainly because the measure usually used to define obesity, the body mass index [BMI], is simplistic and flawed.”

Not only is the AMA’s decision problematic because the BMI scale is unreliable, it’s also problematic because obesity in and of itself is not a disease. Though obesity is a condition that can be associated with diseases such as high-blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease, there are plenty of obese people (myself included) who are healthy.

In fact, according to Abigail C. Saguy, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at UCLA“more than half of ‘overweight’ and almost one third of ‘obese’ people” are healthy.

Not only that, “almost one quarter of ‘normal weight’ people” are unhealthy.”

You may be wondering how someone can be “obese” and still be healthier than some people who are not overweight.

Dr. Saguy says, “One explanation for this discrepancy is that physical fitness and/or nutrition—rather than weight per se—may be what really matters. Several studies have shown that physically fit ‘obese’ individuals have lower incidence of heart disease and mortality from all causes than do sedentary people of ‘normal’ weight.”

So what does that mean?

It means that we can’t use weight to determine health.

Instead, we need to look at physical activity and eating habits, which are what really determine health.

But it also means we have got to stop judging a person’s health based on how they look. That’s going to be hard to do because it’s easy to assume that if a person is overweight or obese, then they have poor eating habits or don’t exercise. But that’s simply not always the case, which is why so many of those people—remember we’re talking about 33% of obese people and 50% of overweight people—are still healthy.

This is a point that hits close to home for me since I fall in that 33% of people who are technically obese but still healthy (with low blood pressure, low cholesterol, a low resting heart rate, and a very active lifestyle).

Moreover, I fear that if Americans don’t learn to understand that being overweight does not equal being unhealthy, they will continue to use dangerous dieting techniques to drop pounds fast. And these diets almost always lead to weight gain—and more health problems—in the long run.

Sadly, the AMA’s decision to classify obesity as a disease is only going to cause more people to feel pressured to lose weight and diet, which is why it’s no surprise that some critics fear this classification “could lead to more reliance on costly drugs and surgery rather than lifestyle changes” and that it’s possible the AMA did this to help pharmaceutical companies sell anti-obesity drugs, two of which were introduced this year. “Some people might [also] be overtreated because their BMI was above a line designating them as having a disease, even though they were healthy.”

And how could this classification not lead to these kinds of problems? If someone says that being obese means you’re diseased, it’s perfectly normal to say, How can I be cured?

Which is why calling obesity a disease is incredibly dangerous and irresponsible.

Pain = gain: why being hard on yourself doesn’t work

Art by Stuart Bradford for The New York Times

 

New research supports the theory that dieting—and being hard on yourself—leads to more weight gain and health problems.

Psychological researchers have been looking into self-compassion—meaning how compassionate we are with ourselves—and how that affects both our mental and physical health.

What they have found is incredibly insightful:

“The hypothesis is that the women who felt bad about [eating junk food] ended up engaging in ’emotional’ eating. The women who gave themselves permission to enjoy the sweets didn’t overeat.”

We already know that dieting leads to long-term weight gain for 95% of dieters, and this new information demonstrates another reason why diets are bad for us—because denying ourselves foods or telling ourselves they are bad for us makes us eat more of them.

But as wellness expert and New York Times reporter Tara Poker-Pope points out in her article “Go Easy on Yourself,” “This idea does seem at odds with the advice dispensed by many doctors and self-help books, which suggest that willpower and self-discipline are the keys to better health.”

It’s true that not dieting and not being hard on yourself is counter to what we’ve been taught for years… that pushing yourself is good for you. The no-pain-no-gain narrative is so rooted in our collective psyche that it’s hard to comprehend that the opposite might be true: lots of pain, lots of gain.

“’Self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet and weight-loss plan,’ said Jean Fain, a psychotherapist and teaching associate at Harvard Medical School” and author of The Self-Compassion Diet, a book which—despite the use of the word “diet” in its title—appears to embrace everything this blog is about.

As Fain explains, most diets “revolve around self-discipline, deprivation and neglect,” which is the opposite of what researchers are now starting to believe is at the center of a healthy lifestyle.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t all try to eat healthy food and exercise regularly, but rather the point is that being kind to ourselves when we don’t do that is the key to success in these areas. After all, if one of our friends skipped a day of exercise or ate a high-calorie meal, we wouldn’t be hard on her about it. We would be supportive, reminding her that it’s okay to slack or indulge from time to time. But, for some reason, we beat ourselves up when we do the same, which hurts us much more than it helps.

As Poker Pope says, “The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic.”

It’s something we all need to seriously consider.

In sickness and in health

I have been sick for twelve days now. Twelve days.

That’s a long time to feel like crap.

Oddly what I miss more than anything—besides feeling good—is working out. I dragged myself kicking and screaming back to boot camp tonight and coughed and hacked my way through 45 minutes of squats and burpees at about 60% effort.

Even though it was really hard to get there, it felt amazing to be moving again. And after five minutes of exercise, I immediately felt better.

This made me think about how difficult it must be for people who don’t exercise on a regular basis to get started.

I know how hard it is for me to get back to working out after a long break—it feels rather overwhelming—so I can imagine that it feels completely insurmountable for people who have never exercised outside of gym class.

But here’s the thing: once you start doing it, it’s like anything else… You get addicted to it. You need it. You feel unhappy without it. Which is exactly how I’ve been feeling these past twelve days.

It seems like this post should end with a silly positive reinforcement for people who don’t exercise… like You can do it! or Just give exercise a try! But honestly I’m not feeling it probably because my head has been pounding for a week and a half. Honestly what I really think is: if you can do it, why wouldn’t you?

Decisions, decisions: why it’s important to choose an exercise routine you can stick with

My husband and I try to exercise every day. If I don’t go to boot camp, this usually means that we walk—and sometimes run—for 50 to 75 minutes a day together. This has been our routine for eleven years, since 2001.

Despite the fact that we’ve been doing this for years and have no plans to change our routine, I’ve noticed that people feel perfectly comfortable telling us what’s wrong with our workout.

One of the most common complaints we hear about our exercise routine is that it’s not rigorous enough. People say things like, “I’m not just going on a stroll every day” when extolling the virtues of their far-superior workouts.

It’s true that walking for about an hour a day is not the most rigorous exercise routine. No, we’re training not for a marathon or slogging our way through three months of P90X.

But we are doing is being consistent.

For eleven years—minus one bad nine-month period associated with a job search between 2007 and 2008—we’ve been exercising on a near daily basis. That’s an accomplishment much more important than doing a marathon or completing a sadistic video workout.

Which brings me to my point. I’s easy for people to claim that walking every day isn’t rigorous enough to matter, but what they’re not getting is that it doesn’t matter how rigorous it is if you don’t stick with it—day in and day out for the rest of your life.

One of the reasons we walk is because we enjoy it. And guess what? If your exercise routine isn’t truly enjoyable or is super strenuous, chances are you’re not going to keep it up.

Ultimately, you have to make a decision about what’s more important: being healthy for the rest of your life or being able to spend the rest of your life bragging about that one time you ran a marathon?

Run free: why we should all run and walk and move as much as we can.

Next time you’re not sure you want to get up off the sofa to exercise, think about this…

There was a time when women weren’t free to exercise wherever and whenever they wanted.

In fact, women were still not welcome in the Boston Marathon as recently as 1967 (just three years before I was born).

That was the year Kathrine Switzer (pictured above) signed up for the Boston Marathon covertly (by using her initials rather than her whole name) and ran in the race. But while she was running, race director Jock Semple spotted her and tried to pull her out once he realized what she was doing.

According to Switzer, Semple “stopped the bus, jumped off, and ran after me. Suddenly I turned, and he just grabbed me and screamed at me, ‘Get the hell out my race and give me those numbers,’ and then he started clawing at me, trying to rip my numbers off. And he had the fiercest face of any guy I’d ever seen—and out of control really. I was terrified. All of a sudden my boyfriend, Big Tom, gave Jock the most incredible cross-body block that sent Jock flying.”*

(You can see Semple above chasing after Switzer like a madman above.)

After that, other runners protected Switzer, and she finished the marathon.

Not only that, Switzer went on to win the New York Marathon in 1974.

Women used to have to fight to be given the right to exercise and participate in athletic events. Don’t we owe it to women like Semple to exercise that right as often as we can?

 

 

You can see Kathrine Switzer’s story and more pictures from the marathon here

Let’s get even more physical

I recently joined a new Facebook group where people in my area can track their exercise. It’s called “Miles of Motivation,” and the idea is that you’ll be more motivated to exercise if you post your workouts in a public forum.

What has surprised me the most is how much other people exercise.

For years, I thought that by working out every day I was exercising way more than the average American. And though I still think I exercise more than the average American, I realize that I don’t even come close to exercising more than the average healthy American.

Because the people in “Miles of Motivation” aren’t just working out three times a week or even once a day like me.

No, these folks are pushing themselves way harder than that. They’re working out at least once a day and sometimes two or three times a day. Or they’re working out for hours instead of for just one hour. They’re walking a mile with the dog AND going for a run. They’re biking in the morning AND attending a boot camp class at night.

In the healthy living section of this site, I talk about the importance of working out more than once a day. What I’m seeing on “Miles of Motivation” is even more proof of the fact that if you want to be healthy, you’ve got to get your butt moving more than once a day.

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