Tag Archives: mind

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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Taking Your Spirit for a Walk

We’ve been talking a lot about pedometers and counting steps and walking towards physical fitness in the last few weeks.  But walking does a lot more than strengthen your body and mind.  Walking can also have a profound effect on calming and lifting your spirit.  There are many approaches to using walking to speak to your soul.  So take a deep breath, and let’s explore some of them together:

Love walking: Going for a walk with somebody you love deeply can be a great balm and help for both of your souls.  If you walk with one of your children, this can be a time for you to really listen to them and focus on what is happening in their life.  In order for this to work however, you really have to focus.  That may mean muting your cell phone or turning it off altogether.  (But don’t leave your phone at home.  A fully-charged cell phone is one of  your most important pieces of fitness safety gear.)  This can also be a time for you to observe nature together.  If your child is young,  you may want to be prepared with some games that you can play as you walk like iSpy or simply naming the colors, animals, plants and shapes you encounter along the way.  Love walking with your significant other can be a time for you to share the details of your day, or even just to hold hands and enjoy some silence together.

Social Walking: Walking can be a great time to catch up with friends and share thoughts and feelings about what is happening in your lives.  And walking regularly with a good friend can help you keep your walking program on track.  Having a great jaw session can help bring the fun into fitness and help you forget that you’re exercising.  And don’t forget, laughing while walking also engages your abdominal muscles!

Prayer Walking:  I’ve known some people who have found a lot of joy in using their walking time for prayer.  You can take time during your stroll to pray for friends and family.  You can even take time, as you walk the sidewalks in your neighborhood to pray for the people who live near you.  Aside from allowing you to really focus on prayer a few times per week, I’ve talked to some prayer walkers who find that turning focus away from the physical benefits and towards caring for other people helps them to prioritize their walking program and be sure to carve time out for it.  And spending time sending love out to the universe is sure to have benefits for you and for everyone you touch.

Walking Meditation: Walking is a rhythmic, repetitive process that can really lend itself towards meditation.  Some people find it easier to meditate while they are sitting very still.  Some others find that the physical action of walking really helps them with their body awareness and aids their meditation practice.  There are many forms of walking meditation–from quite simple to more complex versions.  However, here’s a few tips for engaging in a walking meditation:

1.  Silence is golden.  Bring your fully-charged cell phone with you, but mute or turn it off during your walk.  Unless you are using music or spoken word specifically tailored to your meditation, you may want to leave your MP3 player and earbuds at home.

2.  Take some time before you start to become centered in your body.  Take a few deep breaths.  Feel the breaths move your tummy in and out.  Check in with your hands and feet, and sense how your body feels before you start out.

3.  Take the easy path.  Try to walk somewhere that will not require you to dodge a lot of people or obstacles.  Some gurus suggest that you pick a relatively short, straight path.  When you come to the end of the path, stop, reconnect with your body, turn around, and walk again.

4.  Spend time as you are walking checking in with your body.  How does your breath feel going in and out?  How do the soles of your feet feel where they are touching your shoes or socks, and how does each footfall ground with the earth? How do your arms feel?  Does your body feel light or heavy?  How does the air feel as it touches your skin?

5.  Send yourself some body love.  A walking meditation is a wonderful time to send positive messages to your body.  You can even choose a mantra–a brief phrase that you repeat to yourself over and over as you walk.  The best mantras are rhythmic in nature and allow you to put a syllable on each step as you walk.  Here are a few of my favorites:

I am worthy.

I am enough.

I am grateful.

Thank you body.

So what do you think?  Are  you interested in taking your spirit for a walk?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences as you give some of these techniques a try.  Don’t forget to share in the comments section!

And yet another one of our faithful readers will be receiving a jump start to his fitness program!  Rob Gokee, you’ve won a free pedometer!  Don’t forget to send me an email at jeanette at thefatchick dot com with your mailing address so I can get your pedometer out to you!

Love,

Jeanette DePatie

AKA The Fat Chick

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