Category Archives: Health

Exercise really delivers what comfort food only promises

When you feel bad—just normal stress, or perhaps another kind of emotional distress—physical activity helps. Here are some of the benefits:

Unlike trying to find comfort in comfort food, moving the body actually does provide a real distraction—and real relief—from discomfort, and depending on what you’re doing, physical effort can relax the mind as well as the body.

Studies confirm the reports that exercise makes people feel better; one 10 minute exercise session improves mood (if it’s not more strenuous than you’re used to–an important caveat). After exercising, people react less severely to stressors, and the effect is cumulative: that is, people become less reactive to stress as they make a regular habit of exercise. This applies as well to people experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, and depression.

Long-term benefits of exercise include better memory and cognitive function, and more creativity. (The creativity study tested problem solving while walking vs. standing still.) Another benefit is the association with better sleep, as long as you make sure you allow time to relax before bed.

As we age, there’s a host of particularly important benefits—whether or not we’ve been life-long couch potatoes. Take sleep, for example: after 4 months of regular exercise, previously sedentary adults were falling asleep faster, and sleeping better and longer.

Other benefits important to older adults include healthier aging, meaning it helps prevent chronic disease, depression, disability, and memory loss. And it can reverse age-related declines in muscle mass and strength.

But do remember that, while we can visualize ourselves as the gazelles floating around the track, we still need to start where we are, not where we wish we were. I’m a great walker, but if I wanted to become a runner, I’d have to start at ground zero, with the easy stuff.

If that’s you, too, there’s lots of info online (just Google beginning runner) and there are communities of runners (check running shoe stores). If you are in Whatcom County, like me, I can pass on a recommendation from a long-time runner for checking out the Fit School in Bellingham. And, whether you’re that ambitious or not at all, don’t forget Parkscriptions, especially if you’d like to combine exercise with meeting other health-minded people.

Stealth exercise: how to sneak it into the day

If you’re one of those rare people whose workday includes a lot of physical activity, this post may not apply to you–unless, like me, you have some aches and pains you have to be careful with.

It’s about an interesting article I just read—a reprint from Outside Magazine—with a new spin on the often-quoted advice that desk workers should regularly get up and move. What was new to me is the claim that being active outside of work hours doesn’t compensate for long sedentary hours during the workday.

First I apologize for not including a link to the article. (I confess I’m a little peeved that the site is not easy to search.) But I’m writing about it anyway because after I’d read it online, I realized that it presented a solution to a problem I’m dealing with—and I wanted to share.

The article was about the writer’s attempts to incorporate physical activity during his workday. He used an app (Move, perhaps) that gave him a task—walk, lunges, etc.—every 45 minutes he was at work. He became adept at stealth exercising: linking his computer to a printer at the other end of the building, walking with files to give the impression that he was on his way somewhere, doing lunges or a wall press out of sight of the door, etc. I loved it, having worked in places where the need to move would not be considered a good reason to leave my desk.

But since I am now self-employed, I don’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks about my restless progress through my workdays—I get up and move frequently, just because it feels good, and because it helps my mind work. The bonus for me was realizing I can use these mini-breaks during the day to do the specific exercises I know I need to do to help me stay—or get—stronger: plank pose is one, for example. Like everyone I know who’s over 40, I have some back issues, or shoulder issues, or hip issues—let’s face it, after a certain point, there are always issues.

I’m fortunate to have found a wonderful physical therapist, and the exercises he suggests really work, but unfortunately the results only show up when I actually do the exercises. (I know I’m not the only one!) Right after a painful episode, it’s easy to find the motivation and the time to do the exercises all at once. But when the urgency fades, it’s much harder—I think it will be easier to do them one at a time, as breaks in my workday, than trying to find time to do all of them at once. (Okay, 400+ words written—time for a plank pose.)

Notes: it seems to be working—I am finding it easier to get most if not all of the prescribed exercises into my day. Also, the PT I mentioned is Ed Deboo, who has a useful series of videos on YouTube about dealing with common aches, pains, or injuries. Check it out.

Ten years of working with clients and students on hypnosis for weight control . . . time flies . . .

Another weight control class at Whatcom Community College has just ended, and as usual I am thinking over what we covered, and thinking too about other ideas and information that students and clients might find useful. Specifically, I’m wondering about adding more information on the newer research that challenges common assumptions about weight loss and weight control.

My first experience with hypnosis for weight loss was driven by my own experience of the problem; as you might expect, that’s pretty common for folks in this field. I set up the first class based on hypnosis to support what the conventional wisdom said was the path to change—balancing calories in and calories out, for example, and too much fat is bad and the same goes for processed food. (Now I now think good fat is good and bad fat is bad, and I think processed food is not only bad, but also seriously harmful when eaten daily.)

The very first class was the last time I followed that particular part of the lesson plan. The class participants were almost unanimous in telling me that they didn’t need nutritional advice—and it was clear that they knew as much as I did about the calorie balance theory, and they were still struggling.

So I dug deeper—again, learning from students but also from my own yo-yo pattern of weight loss-gain-loss, etc. I started reading research on habit change; I discovered the National Weight Control Registry; I started reading about neuroscience and stress and cognition and motivation, and all the other places my reading took me. I’ve never stopped. It’s led me to a different understanding of the problem, and along the way I have also lost weight. Best of all, I’m not alone. Many students and clients have lost weight too.

What I discovered, in the end, is that the problem is not really about the weight. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s not only about the weight. Instead, it’s about all the things that happen to cause us to override our bodies’ natural sense of what we need for—or from—nourishment. That realization started my shift away from conventional advice on weight loss, both for the classes and my work with individual clients.

I started this post thinking about what we know now about weight control, and what we thought we knew way back when. I was wondering if I should add information about the research I’ve read that explains why I don’t care about calories, and I do care about nutrients from real food.

I think I’ve answered my own question: yes, there is so much recent scientifically validated information that directly affects any of us who’s concerned about nutrition, health, or weight control. So much of what we thought we knew (fat is bad, etc.) is wrong—no wonder we have such a hard time sorting through all the static.

As a start, I’ll put together a list of resources—food for thought—and when I do I’ll post it here on the website as well as sharing it with students and clients.

We’re so fortunate to have beautiful parks

Bellingham, where I live, is blessed with great parks, thanks to good leadership and voters willing to pay the freight—wonderful, popular, well-used and well-cared for parks. I’ve used at least one of these parks more or less on a daily basis for years. I was out today, just for a short time, for the welcome chance to connect with the landscape—paths through trees and green hills, the sight of the glittering reflections on water.

The parks are especially glorious on a summer day—the parade of people, or people and their dog-friends, all elevated by the summer sun, the beckoning lake, the trails—dry for once this time of year . . . .

But I love the experience of being on the trails anytime—watching the progress of the seasons. And I also like the sense of being part of a community of the regular walkers. We see each other so many days, for years at a time, and though I have very few personal connections with the other regulars outside the park, we recognize in each other the shared love of this experience, of being in touch with nature in this place.

I love watching runners, too. It’s like watching a dance—I don’t mean choreographed professionals, but just the raw personality that shows through as people let themselves out, let their bodies stretch and move. The people I see at the parks are obviously running for the joy of it, their bodies remembering what it is to be a kid, with kid energy, and the physical resilience of youth.

Okay, it’s also true that while I see a lot of joyful runners, I also see some who don’t look quite so joyful, including some who look as though they wish they were anywhere else.

Watching as I do makes me remember that our bodies are designed to move in so many ways—many more than the linear patterns of walking a path, or bending forward or back—we were born with built-in flexibility and the ability to balance. But as the years go by, we don’t tend to move the way we could as kids.

One of the nice things about movement classes is the opportunity they give to rediscover some of the many ways our bodies can move, especially if we haven’t been active in a while. I mean classes like Tai Chi, yoga, dance, to name just a few. In the last few years, I find that yoga classes are no longer about trying for the perfect form, but more about discovering the benefits of simple stretching and using muscles that otherwise don’t get much of a workout in the course of a day. It’s humbling, I confess, but I’ll take that. After all, that’s another thing I recognize that I need more of.

What’s new this Fall

Fall has definitely arrived in the ’Ham. We had such a long run of summer’s hot dry days it’s been a shock to return to normal weather: clouds, soft rain, the greening grass, ready for one last burst of growth before winter.

It’s also time for me to prepare for the next round of classes on using hypnosis to support weight control. I started these classes ten years ago, and each fall I am rethinking the classes, and re-organizing material, adding new information, finding new strategies, etc. So much of that first class has evolved beyond recognition, except the use of hypnosis to support healthy changes. This time I’m emphasizing the focus on using hypnosis to strengthen self-compassion, so essential to progress in this area.

One topic that I am glad to see getting attention in the press these days is a critique of the ways the medicalization of obesity has affected the medical community and those who inevitably suffer from the blame game—internalizing the shame of being overweight. We really need to stop focusing on the weight and focus instead on healthy behaviors, on helping people figure out for themselves what helps them stay healthy and strong—and the answer is never on a chart filled in with numbers.

If you are interested, or know anyone else who may be interested, in the class or how I work with the issue, please do send them my contact info. I’m always happy to talk about what’s possible with hypnosis.

Strength training supports healthy weight loss at any age

According to a recent Harvard Medical School bulletin:

If you’re trying to lose weight by cutting calories, you’re likely losing muscle, too. But strength training can counteract this effect. According to a research review in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, on average, 27% of the weight lost by dieting is muscle. Those who combined dieting with cardio exercise cut muscle loss in half. But when participants combined dieting and resistance training (strength training), all of the pounds lost were fat. What’s more, the more muscle you have and the stronger your muscles are—the more benefits you’ll get beyond weight loss. You’ll develop a slimmer, firmer figure and have the energy to be more active. And, you’ll get more from cardio workouts because you’ll be able to go faster and last longer.

This quote is from an email about the Harvard Medical School’s publication, Strength and Power Training for All Ages.

I’m really not a gym rat. I like being outside; I love being present in nature, up close and personal. I feel relaxed and nourished by the fresh air, in touch with the seasons, and just plain grateful to be able to listen to birds as I walk at my own pace, while my mind wanders.

I’m really not a gym rat, although as the resident of a rainy state, I also appreciate knowing that when it gets too much (winter!), I can go inside and get most of the benefits that in better weather, I’d prefer to get outside.

The thing is, since I don’t love the gym, I need these reminders that strength training matters, so I’ll make an effort to get the strength training I need to stay strong. I’ll remind myself to keep up the daily plank pose. And 20 minutes or so, one or two days a week, at the gym for a few more weight exercises is well worth it–after all, we’re in this for the long haul, right?

New classes: on transforming stress, and dealing with pain

Two new classes this Fall quarter at Whatcom Community College, one on the new science of stress, and another on dealing with pain. 

Want to transform your relationship with stress? The new science on stress validates the power of our minds over the way we experience stressful events. On Thursday October 12th, I’ll present some of the myths and the new science about stress, and we’ll discuss the ways we typically react when we experience stress. We’ll also learn some simple ways to mitigate the harmful effects and boost the positives—and contrary to what we’ve been told, there are many positives that come out of stressful times.

Occasional or chronic pain is a reality for most of us at one time or another, and yet most pain medicines are problematic when used regularly—in fact, there is no cure for chronic pain. Typical common causes for pain include headaches, low back pain, nerve damage, recovery from surgery or other medical treatment, and other disabilities. Any of these can affect quality of life, including things like getting the sleep or activity we need to stay positive and healthy.

Hypnosis is a proven method for mitigating or reducing pain, and hypnosis has no side effects other than relaxation. In this class on October 26th, you’ll learn how, by practicing at home, you can use hypnosis to get more control over pain and its effects.

Register for either class at Whatcom Community College, by email, or by phone at 360-383-3200.

And by all means contact me with any questions about either of these new classes.

A brand new study about inflammation, heart disease, and cancer

I just this morning read an article in the Guardian about a major study of inflammation and heart disease–a four year study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital of 10,000 heart attack survivors. The results showed a 15% reduction in complications for participants who took the anti-inflammatory drug canakinumab–a breakthrough confirming the theory that inflammation contributes to heart disease.

This is great news in itself, but there’s more: what was unusual about this study is that, knowing the inflammation pathway the drug targeted was also known to be involved in cancer risk, the researchers ensured that patients with risk factors for cancer were evenly distributed among the study groups.

The results are in: for patients taking a low dose of the anti-inflammatory drug, lung cancer rates were reduced 26%. In patients with a medium dose, the rate dropped 39%. Patients with the highest dose showed a 67% drop, and their overall cancer death rate was about half that of the placebo group.

It’s early days, of course. There will be lots more research to come before this translates to new cancer treatments. But how great to be able to see the beginnings of a promising line of research. Go science!