Tag Archives: energy

Exercise and the Brain: Tricks, Treats and Truth

So I came across yet another study last week about exercise and the brain.  I’m frankly more than a little annoyed about the premise of this one, but I think it still has much to teach us about the way we perceive and experience exercise.

The study indicates, that when people think about exercise as “exercise”–an activity that they “should” do, they are more likely to consume a dessert after lunch, than if they think about exercise as a fun and and enjoyable activity.  Here’s how the study worked.  The women were split into two groups.  One group was told they were going out to exercise and were given a card with a 1 mile walking route they were to follow.  This group had six stopping points marked  on the walk where they were to rate their energy level.  The other group was given the same route but were told the purpose of their walk was “fun”, and they were to listen to an MP3 player and evaluate the sound quality at six different points along the walk.  Both groups were told that a lunch would be served after the walk.

After the walk (and before the lunch) the participants were given questionnaires rating their experience as fun and as a form of exercise.  Then the participants went off to eat.  The scientists weighed how much food each participant ate and whether they chose the “hedonistic” option of drink (cola vs. water) or dessert (chocolate pudding vs. applesauce).

Here’s what I found really interesting about the study.  The researchers were determined to find a difference in eating patterns among these exercisers.  They did, but it was really, really small.  If I understand the table correctly the differences among the fun exercisers and the utility exercisers was mostly a difference in how much chocolate pudding they ate.  And from what I see we’re talking about a very small difference in calories.  This finding got the scientists all excited, as they postulated that those who perceived their exercise as exercise (work) felt that they needed to “reward” themselves with food.  Now best I can tell we’re talking about less than 50 calories more of chocolate pudding, which is like an extra spoonful or two.  This is hardly what I would call hedonistic binging, but I digress.

Table1

More interesting to me were the results of the surveys that the participants filled out.  These results were sort of buried within the paper, but seemed the most significant to me.  The surveys indicated that those participants who perceived the exercise as work were more tired than those who perceived it as fun.  And the “fun” group ended the activity in a better mood than the “work” group.  Now, I feel, we’re getting somewhere.  Saying that the “work” group enjoyed two extra spoonfuls of chocolate pudding than the “fun” group and were thus rewarding their 1 mile trek with gluttonous behavior undoubtedly makes better headlines than saying that exercisers who have fun are less tired and in a better mood than those who don’t.  But I’m not sure I’m really all that worked up about 20 calories worth of chocolate pudding.  I am very interested in how people feel after they exercise because I’m pretty sure, based on my years of experience, that if they feel energized and uplifted after their Tuesday workout, they are a lot more likely to return for the Thursday class.

Because this is part of a growing group of studies that indicate that how people think about exercise has a significant effect on what they get out of it.  A walk is not just a walk and a sit up is not just a sit up.  The way people feel as they exercise has a significant effect on what they get out of it.  This brings to mind another important study conducted with hotel staff.  The hotel workers all clearly met or exceeded the Surgeon General’s recommendation for weekly exercise.  However, some of the workers perceived that work as exercise and some didn’t.  Even though both groups got the same amount of exercise, those who thought of themselves as exercisers were considerably healthier than those who didn’t.  And as the study progressed and those who thought their work didn’t “count” as exercise started to see their daily work as fitness, these participants began to experience significant health improvements.

So what do we take from this?  Those who think of themselves as “fit” are likely to have better outcomes than those who don’t.  But thinking of your work as exercise might make you more tired and in a more lousy mood than those who think of their activity as fun?  In the end, my hypothesis is that you should tell people they are exercising and that it has value, while at the same time making it as much fun as humanly possible.  That’s where I aim my classes.  And I think, that’s why students come back year after year.

But however you slice it, I think it’s important to remember that one of your most important fitness tools is the one you carry between your ears.

Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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What is Health?

definition

One of my regular readers recently sent me a question about how I define health.  She was particularly interested in my definition, as she felt that most if not all of the definitions of health out there in the world either would not or could not include her.

First and foremost let me tell you that I think there is no such thing as perfect health.  There is no specific state of being that you can achieve, there’s no moment that comes with achievement badges and a certificate that marks “health”.   But let’s take a moment to discuss some of the definitions of health already floating around out there.

Now let’s take a moment and consider some other definitions of health.  Here’s the World Health Organization definition of health:

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Now the WHO definition does take the ideas of mental and social well being into account.  So, it scores points for that.  But it also implies that these things are in addition to the complete absence of disease or infirmity.  It also implies that health is a state of complete well being.  Now under this definition of health, i may have achieved that on one particular day, when I was 19.  I think it was a Tuesday.  But I think this is an “idealistic” view of health that leaves a lot of people who are dealing with chronic disease or infirmity with the idea that health is not possible for them.  Which sucks.  So why bother?

Needless to say I think this definition leaves something to be desired.

The Association for Size Diversity And Health has this definition of the principles of Health At Every Size(R):

1. Accepting and respecting the diversity of body shapes and sizes.

2. Recognizing that health and well-being are multi-dimensional and that they include physical, social, spiritual, occupational, emotional, and intellectual aspects.

3. Promoting all aspects of health and well-being for people of all sizes.

4. Promoting eating in a manner which balances individual nutritional needs, hunger, satiety, appetite, and pleasure.

5. Promoting individually appropriate, enjoyable, life-enhancing physical activity, rather     than exercise that is focused on a goal of weight loss.

And this definition is far better.  It promotes a series of behaviors and principles as opposed to an arbitrary standard of physical indicators or an unattainable ideal of perfect well-being across a spectrum of categories.  I actually really like the HAES(R) principles as spelled out by the Association for Size Diversity And Health a whole lot.  But I also understand that as opposed to the WHO definition, it’s a little long and ponderous.

So how do I define health?  I’m not sure that my definition is better than either of those listed above–it’s just the way I personally see it.  I think health is one end of a personal continuum that is completely unique to each of us.  We do not achieve health.  We move towards health or away from health in our own lives.  When we move towards health, we engage in behaviors that give us a better quality of life and give us more energy and  capacity to do and enjoy the things that are most important to us.  When we move away from health, we engage in behaviors that rob of us of energy and give us less capacity to  do and enjoy the things most meaningful to us.  All the while, we must take into account that there are aspects of quality of life outside of our control.  We are imperfect beings who age and die.  This is a fact of life.  But the pursuit of health, is the process of discovering for ourselves, what behaviors allow each of us to make the most of the bodies that we already have to experience and attain that which means most to us from day to day.

Which is also very long and ponderous.  So here’s my shortcut version:

Moving towards HEALTH is the process of using the body you already have in a way that allows you to best enjoy and or/attain the stuff that matters to you most.

I’m not a doctor or a philosopher.  But those are my thoughts.  I hope you are able to find what health means to you on your personal continuum and move towards it in a way that feels wonderful.

Love,

The Fat Chick