May 30, 2019
You already know that exercise is incredibly important in helping you to reach and maintain your goals after WLS, but for many this is an area that they struggle with. Often we hear from our clients that they really don't enjoy it, or find it painful or embarrassing, or feel that it's something that they're "simply not made for". Others enjoy it but may find it a struggle to fit into their busy lives, or they're held back by an injury or a health condition.
Today we'd like to share what is by far the most important principle in relation to making a movement program work for you. It's a principle that when followed will give you the incredible health benefits of regular movement, that will then flow into the rest of your life.
The reason that this principle is important is because without regular exercise, it's almost impossible to maintain a healthy body weight. But it's not just about weight - regular movement (at the right level) will also help raise your energy levels, lift your mood, manage your blood sugar, keep your muscles and joints healthy, boost your immune system and improve your sleep and it's essential for a healthy heart. So what is this principle that's going to help you to get all of these benefits?
*Before you read on, remember to consult your medical practitioner before starting any new exercise program.*
The number one principle for making your exercise program work for you if you've been struggling to do it, is to make movement easy and enjoyable rather than hard and painful.
It’s so important to make physical activity and movement easy and enjoyable and to stop seeing it as a chore, something on your ‘to do list’ or as a way of making up for poor food and drink choices.
People who are active regularly, and who sustain it, do it because they enjoy it. If you have a busy life then the only way that you’re going to stick to a particular activity program is if you make your physical activity and movement something that you really want to do. There are many ways to move your body but the best physical activity and movement program in the world is the one that you will actually do.
Research also shows that for a habit to be more likely to stick, it needs to be enjoyable. So if you don’t like the idea of going to the gym and pushing yourself hard with an intense workout or going running and you see this as painful and punishment - then the chances are that you will never make it happen consistently.
The reality is that going from no or very little physical activity straight to this type of intense workout may also give you poor results as well.
Movement is a form of stress on the body, and it can be a good stress or a bad stress. The right amount of physical activity, at the right intensity, and the right time for you means that you’ll get healthier and stronger. If however, you're under a lot of stress, for example from health issues, and life challenges like work, relationships, travel, late nights and so on, then suddenly adding in some intense physical activity will often lead to more strain and stress. You'll then respond poorly (physically and mentally) to it and it may also be dangerous for your health. How well you’ll respond to that stress really depends on how much total stress you’re under at any given moment.
Many people think that for movement to count then it has to be intense, hard exercise – there’s a no pain, no gain philosophy advocated by the fitness industry that has probably done us more harm than good. Now, some people love this type of exercise and may respond well to this and that's great, but most people don’t - we’ve just been conditioned to think that this is what we need to do and many people attempt to start here.
The reality is that most people who have had WLS would see far better results if they simply aimed to add more lower intensity movement into their lives, for example by walking more, rather than trying to suddenly add some intense physical activity into it.
When people exercise or 'work out' too intensely for their bodies and overly stress themselves then this can lead to people rewarding themselves with food. If your body is pushed too hard then it is basically put into a stressed state or a ‘fight or flight state’ (as your sympathetic nervous system is activated), where it thinks you're running or fighting for your life. Although your appetite is suppressed immediately following exercise, because the blood has moved away from your stomach, in the hours after intense exercise, your appetite may start to increase. Your body thinks that because you've expended lots of energy, you need to replenish this energy and store more body fat so that the next time you have to run or fight for your life, you will have energy reserves! So, what happens is that people often reward themselves with food after their workout, and end up putting in more calories than they actually used exercising. They undo all of that hard work...
Forget about trying to 'burn off' calories with intense exercise. This is not the place to start. Instead make movement easy and enjoyable so that it becomes a regular habit and use it to put you in a better mood, to reduce your stress levels and to help reduce emotional or mindless unnecessary eating.
What are the options to make it easy and enjoyable? Really this is up to you. What forms of movement appeal to you? Instead of thinking that you have to do intense exercise (e.g. boot camps, running, intense gym classes, boxing circuits) aim to start with easier, gentler, enjoyable movement that energises you, puts you in a good mood, and reduces your appetite.
Great options include:
Most of the benefits from movement come from the pumping of blood, nutrients and oxygen around the body and from removing waste from your cells. These lower intensity exercises are fantastic at doing that, and help to counter all the effects of living an inactive, stressful lifestyle. Remember to clear all new exercise with your health practitioner though, to make sure that it is suitable for you.
Surprisingly not that much! There’s a great video on Youtube called 23 1/2 hours by Dr. Mike Evans and he sums up the benefits of exercise - https://youtu.be/aUaInS6HIGo The research shows that through a small amount of movement:
What was the dose? Do you need to be an ironman? Do you need to run marathons?
Not at all! You get all of these benefits from walking just 30 minutes per day. And it doesn’t have to be done in one go - it could, for example, be split up into 3 blocks of 10 minutes of walking.
When you think about it, 30 minutes is such a small amount of time to get all of these benefits. It leaves us with 23 ½ hours to do everything else!
You can of course get more benefits by doing more exercise, but the returns on your investment are actually reduced the more you do. Going from nothing or not much to 30 minutes of walking per day would give you most of the benefits.
So we invite you to let go of thinking about what you believe you ‘should’ to be doing and start thinking about what you really want to do. Think about being active as simply moving your body in some way, rather than something that has specific rules or looks a certain way.
Once you've chosen a few easy, enjoyable options (and cleared this with your medical practitioner) then start with baby steps. The aim is to build up to 30 minutes of additional, enjoyable movement throughout the day, but that doesn't mean that you have to start there.
Start being active at the level that is right for you and then use the concept of 'progressive overload'. So many people dislike exercise because they start out way too hard and then struggle with aches and pains and injuries. When you use progressive overload, you set yourself free of these worries. Progressive overload means starting out at the right level for you and then consistently challenging yourself with very small and achievable steps.
So start out with a bit of extra movement in your day – if you’ve been doing nothing then perhaps 30 minutes of walking is too much right from the start. Perhaps a 10-minute walk around the block is more appropriate for you.
Once you start out at the right level, progressive overload then means that you continue to do just a little bit more and a little bit better over time with your chosen activity. So say for example that you walk twice with a friend for 20 minutes on one week, then on the next week, rather than dramatically increasing this to a 40-minute jog, you both walk for 25 minutes or you walk for 20 minutes but at a slightly faster pace. This will help you to sustain your new routine and will help reduce your risk of injury. It will also make it much more enjoyable for you.
Once you've chosen the type of enjoyable movement that appeals to you, the next step is to plan your movement. Most people lead busy lives, and trying to find some extra time can be a challenge. This is why it is so, so important to plan your week in relation to the activity that you want to start. This will make it much more likely to happen.
Being active first thing in the morning before other commitments get in the way often works really well and will generally put you in a great state that flows into the rest of your day.
So get out your diary or planner, and schedule your enjoyable movement in.
If you’re really busy and really don’t think you have time for scheduled movement then look for opportunities to do easy incidental movement instead. If you’re at your desk, then stand up and walk around when you’re on the phone; if you’re travelling to work, then get off the bus a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way; if you’re doing the shopping, then park the car further away and walk for a few minutes to get there; if you have the choice of using a lift or taking the stairs, then go for the stairs.
A great place to start is to set yourself one or two small weekly goals about moving more. Write down 2 actions that you're going to take this week and make them very achievable. It could be as simple as buying a new pair of walking shoes, finding a walking partner or heading out for a 10-15 minute walk on one morning this week.
It has been said that 'success breeds success' - when you set yourself up to win with easy, achievable goals, and you complete them, then you feel good about yourself and are more likely to continue to make positive changes. Remember, as Lao Tzu once said 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'!
Enjoy bringing more enjoyable movement into your life, and the many benefits you'll experience from it!