Brain-Boosting Exercise

Exercise 101:  It builds muscle, and increases fitness, and can make life a little easier – and not just physically!

It’s well known that exercise and physical activity helps you maintain good physical health. Did you know that exercise is good for your mental health too? Maybe you’ve heard that it’s a primary treatment recommendation for depression, or heard a friend describe getting a mental boost from a workout. Maybe you’ve had the really strong “I FEEL GREAT” feelings after you’re done. But where does that boost come from?

exercise fun

While these “feel-good” feelings are stimulated by exercise, their actual source is in the brain itself. During times of stress, which is how the body perceives exercise, the brain releases endorphins, a type of hormone that we commonly associated with a rush of euphoria. These hormones help block any pain signals that the stress might be causing, as a preventative measure of sorts.

They also make you feel damn good. As above, endorphins create feelings of euphoria – they are chemically similar to morphine! – and can increase positive thoughts and feelings. The “endorphin effect” can be both immediate and (with regular exercise) long-lasting. My first-hand experience with post-workout elation and exhilaration has made me a strong supporter of exercise as a useful element of treatment for depression and anxiety, both of which have popped up in my life. And there’s growing support that exercise can play a role in treatment and prevention of other mental illnesses, including helping to manage physical health challenges that can sometimes occur alongside.

It’s not just about feeling good, though. Long-term mental health can also get a boost from exercise. During times of stress, the brain releases another biochemical protein: brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein protects brain cells and their connections with each other, called synapses, which in turn helps improve brain cell signaling and can reverse cell damage. Improved connections between brain circuits mean improved memory, attention span, and processing speed. In some studies, increased levels of BDNF have actually been shown to have a reparative effect, and may eventually help us restore learning abilities and memory. Even low-key or modest levels of exercise, like going for a walk every day, have been show to produce BDNF-related improvements.

Neurons

The protective effects of BDNF extend throughout life. Many studies of brain health in older adults have shown that people who were more physically active earlier in life were less likely to develop degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In the early stages of these diseases, people can also benefit from exercise: the aforementioned walk can help prevent disease progression. We tend to produce less BDNF as we age. Given the benefits, it makes sense to get moving regardless of current age or mental health.

Biochemicals aside, exercise actually benefits the brain in some of the same ways that it benefits the rest of our body. The blood vessels in our brains are very small, but still susceptible to the same types of damage as any of our other blood vessels. A stroke is one of the most common types of cardiovascular disease, and is the brain equivalent of a heart attack. While large strokes are usually quickly noticeable, small ones may occur without your knowledge. Tiny blockages leading to potentially unnoticeable mini-strokes can damage small areas of the brain and may lead to long-term mental health decline. You can vastly decrease your risks though: Your brain’s blood vessels are positively affected by exercise – the same way as the rest of your blood vessels throughout your body. Good blood vessel health (also called vascular health) also means optimal blood flow to the brain, and with it, optimal delivery of nutrients and oxygen. Sounds like a good idea to keep those channels open!


Fit healthy middle age man swimming in an outdoor pool in Brisbane

What Are The Most Common Types Of Exercise?

Depending on your workout or the type of physical activity you do, you can gain muscle strength, cardiovascular and aerobic endurance, improve your flexibility and joint health, or help maintain other components of good physical function like balance and coordination. The most common components of exercise programs are resistance training, cardio or aerobic exercise, and flexibility. Since they all provide different benefits, it’s essential to include a balance of these different types:

Resistance training (also known as strength training or weight training): Resistance exercises are those that train your body to produce force against some sort of resistance, whether that is your own body weight, resistance bands, traditional dumbbells and barbells, or a multitude of other training equipment.

Moving against resistance stimulates your muscles to develop size, optimal length and muscle tone, and contraction ability, as well as the coordination to be able to complete daily tasks with ease. These characteristics can promote good posture, reducing the risk of injury and poor health, improve body composition (the ratio of body fat to lean body tissue), enhance movement abilities, and generally boost self-confidence and self-esteem.

Resistance training can be further broken down into training programs that are focused on developing maximal muscular strength and power, muscle size, or muscle endurance. For most people with non-athletic goals, development of muscle size will provide the greatest all-around benefit for lifelong muscle health. It’s important to consider that the training benefits are directly related to the amount of work you put in – regardless of the training focus, if you aren’t training with enough effort, no benefit will be seen.

Cardiovascular training (also known as aerobic training or endurance training): This is exercise or activity that is made up of repeated, often rhythmic movements that use the large muscle groups of the arms and legs. These types of exercise usually don’t require much or any special training or practice, and are often done for an extended period of time – though “extended” is all relative. (If you’re just starting out with aerobic exercise, extended might only mean five minutes.) Some of the most common examples include walking and running, cycling, and swimming, though many other activities also fall into this category.

Cardio exercise helps your heart to beat more efficiently, in turn using less energy to move oxygen and nutrients, and keeps the blood vessels healthy and able to respond to the demands that movement can place on your body. This decreases wear and tear on the heart and the blood vessels, lowering the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular conditions, as well as the risk of sudden conditions like a heart attack.

Flexibility or Stretching and Joint Mobility Training:  These exercises have two specific but closely related training goals. Flexibility exercises are designed to promote optimal length in the soft tissues surrounding a joint or a series of joint, which will allow the joint to move freely within its available range of motion. Flexibility training targets the muscles and connective tissues around the joint. Joint mobility refers to the ability of the joint itself to move freely. Joints can become stiff with lack of movement, which can stiffen the connective tissues within the joint, or can lose movement ability when the flexibility of surrounding muscles and connective tissues decrease. In order for a joint to be mobile, the soft tissues surrounding it must be flexible, and in order for the soft tissues to develop or maintain flexibility, the joint must be able to move freely. Both of these components are important in maintaining good posture and movement ability – key components to an active, pain-free lifestyle with low injury risk.

Flexibility can be developed by traditional static stretching exercises, which involves moving to the point of moderate stretch and holding that stretch for at least 30 seconds (the minimal amount of time required to create a lasting change in flexibility). Dynamic stretching is a better option for joint mobility training, as it’s performed by moving into a stretching position, holding it for a few seconds, and then backing off. By combining this stretch with a greater degree of joint movement, you can develop and maintain optimal joint mobility. Spending time on both static and dynamic stretching will give you the best results.

Resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility are the three most commonly discussed components of a balanced exercise program. But there is another component that is often overlooked, yet is perhaps the most important component of exercise and activity, especially when it comes to maintaining good functional movement throughout your entire life. Be sure to check out our upcoming post on Neuromuscular training at the end of the week!

 

Looking for the best in-home personal training and exercise physiology program? Look no further. HealthFit coaching provides exercise programs that are real-life ready – flexible enough to work with your lifestyle without sacrificing your health and fitness goals. Take the first step to lifelong health and fitness – Contact HealthFit Now.


What’s the difference between exercise, physical activity, and movement?

All refer to different ways of using your body. The differences lie primarily in intent, intensity, and duration, but other elements also impact what category your activity might fall into. And don’t worry about not working hard enough – it’s all good for you!

Movement

The broadest category of, well, body movement. For our purposes, movement means using your body in an irregular, spontaneous manner, often to complete a specific task. Movements may use all of your muscles or joints, or just some of them, depending on the action you are working to complete. We consider movement as the brief, one-off activities that move us through our daily lives.

Examples: Walking from your parked car into the office or the supermarket, making the bed, bending over to pick a pen up off the ground, knitting

Physical Activity

For our purposes, physical activity is movement that is sustained for more than a few minutes and that mildly or moderately increases your heart rate and energy expenditure, and is often a planned effort. Like the “movement” category, physical activity may use some or all of your muscles and joints, depending on what you’re doing.

Examples: Doing yardwork, gardening, walking the dog, doing housework

Exercise

Planned, sustained physical activity usually consisting of repetitive movements. All exercise is physical activity, but not all physical activity is exercise. How can you tell one from the other? Exercise is done with the specific goal of improving your health or fitness. It’s also usually done at a higher intensity – that is, it’s a little (or a lot) more physically challenging!  There are many subcategories of exercise, like resistance training or endurance training, each of which can impact different elements of health and fitness.

Examples: Going for a brisk walk or a run, doing a strength training workout, going to a yoga or group fitness class

While exercise is done specifically to get healthy or improve fitness, physical activity can also benefit your body. If you feel like jumping into regular workouts is a big ask for you right now, please remember that it’s ok to start slow! Physical activity can have huge benefits for your body, especially if you aren’t especially active when you start out. It’s generally accepted that the health benefits of both physical activity and exercise occur in proportion to the amount of activity – every little bit of physical activity can add benefit! In fact, research has shown that you can achieve health and fitness improvements with sessions of physical activity or exercise can be as short as five to ten minutes, though the level of benefit will depend greatly on your base level of fitness and the total amount of physical activity or exercise you get in a day.

But even if you’re fit and healthy, five to ten minutes of some sort of activity is still good for you. It’s often easier to find five or ten minutes a few times a day than time for a whole workout. Where do you find yours?


Two people exercising at a gym and at home exercise equipment

Which is better, exercising at home, or exercising at a gym?

Where will you get the most out of your workout?

In the home-exercise versus gym-workout battle, there is no clear winner. Both gym-based and at-home exercise have their own pros and cons, but in the end, it’s a very individual preference. And this preference makes all the difference in how effective your workout actually is.

If you’ve struggled with getting into a workout routine or setting up another exercise habit, it may be that you’re pushing yourself in the wrong direction. Making your movement fit into your lifestyle and figuring out what you enjoy can make any exercise routine WAY easier. These pros and cons will give you a hand in figuring out where your workouts will be most effective:

Gym-Based Workouts – The Pros

You’ll have a large variety of equipment available. Gym equipment is expensive, so if you like having choices, you may save money, space, and effort with a gym membership versus setting up a home gym.

You might not pay much. There are pricey gyms out there, no doubt, but there are a lot of great gyms with reasonable membership rates. Pro tip – if you are looking to sign up for a gym membership but aren’t in a huge rush, wait until the end of the month. Most gyms have a monthly membership sales quota and you may be able to get a discounted or waived “sign up” fee if they are low on numbers. Don’t be afraid to negotiate!

You could have some fun! Classes and group fitness, if included in your membership, can be a huge bonus (especially considering that a single group fitness session can cost $15 -$20). Classes can be fun and motivational as well, especially if you have a competitive streak.

Gym-Based Workouts – The Cons

You have to share the gym. Other people will also be there. Waiting for weights or equipment can be a big turn off, especially if you are on a tight schedule.

You might get some bad advice. There are plenty of people (both trainers and other gym members) that have no problem offering unsolicited advice based on outdated knowledge. At best, this is annoying and it can be hard to know what you might need to listen to. At worst, you could follow some bad advice and end up doing yourself harm. (Key to avoiding this: only listen to people who are well trained and listen to what you have to say!)

You might not get there. My biggest issue with a gym membership is actually taking an additional half-hour out of my day to get there and get home. It’s a well-known fact in the gym industry that if you get a client who has to go out of their way to get to the gym, you won’t see them for long. It’s got to be super convenient, and even being close to work or home sometimes isn’t enough. If you don’t belong to a 24-hour gym, you might find that you’re even less likely to get there.

At-Home Workouts – The Pros

You can do it whenever you want. Working out at home means working out when it suits you. I do mostly home-based workouts now because I can squeeze in a session when I have a spare 20-30 minutes, rather than having to plan it into my day. This works best if you don’t need a plan to stick with in order to get things done.

It’s a zero-judgement zone. It’s just you – no one else to check out what you’re doing or offer unsolicited advice.

You don’t have to wait for anything. Even if you’re sharing your home gym equipment with family members, you can tell them to hurry the heck up with it! But generally, you’ll be able to move through your workout at exactly the pace you need it.

At-Home Workouts – The Cons

You may have limited equipment choices. You don’t have to have a home gym at all in order to get a good workout at home. Most movements can be done using just body-weight resistance, but you might have to get creative with your “pull” exercises – anything that targets your back. And you definitely don’t want to exclude these!

You may spend a little more money up front. Home based exercise equipment can cost a bit of money at the outset. Fortunately, by making wise choices, you can get all the equipment you need with just a few pieces of equipment – easily setting your home gym for the same cost as a few months of gym membership.

It’s easy to not do it. I went through a phase not too long ago of being too busy to get to the gym, and continually telling myself that I’d do a quick workout when I got home. Instead, I got home and sat on the couch – for the rest of the night. If working out at home isn’t part of your routine, you’ll probably need to put a little extra effort in to get this habit kickstarted. For what it’s worth, I’ve given up on evening exercise – it’s morning or nothing for me!

Of course, this is not a complete list! Everyone will have their own preferences and perks to working out at a gym or at home. The best workout is the one you enjoy doing!

HealthFit Coaching offers exercise and physical activity programs and training. If you’re in Brisbane and keen on getting a comprehensive, individual exercise program set up for your needs – whether for in-home training or gym based – contact us to start now!

What exercise is the best cardio?

This is a tough question to answer, actually. It’s certainly a question that needs an individual answer, as each person has their own unique needs, abilities, and goals.

Spend any time in a gym, or reading a health and fitness magazine, or really in any way having an interest in fitness or weight loss, you’ll probably have heard the term “cardio” being tossed around. But what exercise is actually the best pick for you?

Cardio is short for cardiovascular, and refers to the normal increase in heart rate that occurs with it. This whole body exercise is characterized by repetitive movements that use many or all of the large muscle groups in the body, and is often considered full-body exercise. By increasing your heart rate, you’ll help your heart to beat more efficiently when working out and when at rest, so it will take fewer beats to deliver the blood, oxygen, and nutrients that your body needs. Long term, this is less wear and tear on your heart and body.
Walking, running, cycling, and swimming are common types of cardiovascular exercise, but there are many others that provide the same effect and benefit. Most of the time, you can do one or any combination. We’ve listed some of the benefits and drawbacks of some of the most common types of cardio exercise to help you figure out what type might be best for you.

Walking

Walking along coronation drive in Brisbane

Benefits:
No gym requirement / travel friendly – you can go for a walk pretty much anywhere.
Low impact – low risk of joint pain or aggravation.
Low intensity, so if you go walking for exercise, you’ll be able to maintain it for a longer time than almost any other type of cardio exercise.
Easy to add into your day, as you can sneak in a walk at lunch or get off the bus a stop or two early and add some steps to your total count.

Drawbacks:
Low intensity, so doesn’t raise your heart rate as high as other cardio options (this can also be a benefit, if you have a health condition that requires you to maintain a lower heart rate)
Takes the longest to build fitness, and has a lower maximum benefit than other cardio options, though will still be enough to provide health benefits for most people.

Running

jogging or running in Brisbane park

Benefits:
No gym requirement / travel friendly – running can be done almost everywhere.
Needs minimal equipment, just a pair of shoes you are comfortable in.
Variable intensity without significant loss of benefit – whether you run fast or run slowly, you’ll reap the rewards.
Relatively quick increase in fitness levels – regular sessions will give you a big boost.

Drawbacks:
Physically demanding to start with – many people struggle with fitness and endurance levels when they start.
High impact forces for the body to deal with, which can cause joint issues for some, though this can usually be easily prevented with good recovery methods like massage and stretching.
Higher injury risk, especially for overuse injuries of the lower body (calf strains, plantar fasciitis, knee pain), though you can easily decrease injury risk with the correct combination of recovery methods and strengthening exercises for your body.

Cycling

ride bicycle and cycle in Brisbane

Benefits:
Low impact – low risk of joint pain or aggravation.
Less fitness needed to start cycling for exercise, especially compared to running.
Often feels like less physical work than it is – unless you have a lot of hills on your ride!

Drawbacks:
Cost of bicycle and equipment purchase (i.e. helmet, etc.), though you don’t have to set yourself up with the fanciest gear just to go out for a ride.
May increase chances of lower and upper back pain, depending on the specific set up of your bicycle. This is often caused by gripping handle bars too tightly, or being hunched over the bars for long periods without a break.
If road riding, may need to share the road with cars and other vehicles.

Swimming

Swimming in an outdoor pool in Brisbane

Benefits:
No impact  – low risk of joint pain or aggravation.
Uses more upper body than other cardio methods listed here, which increases the energy cost of the exercise and makes your body work harder in a given period of time.
Different strokes allow you to focus on different movements, providing variety and preventing boredom.
Water can provide support for the body, which can help exercise for longer period when starting out and building fitness.
A relatively short workout (in time spent, or total distance covered) can provide as much benefit as longer land-based workouts, due to the higher use of upper body muscle groups (as above).

Drawbacks:
Cost of pool membership, if you don’t have a pool readily available at home or work.
Convenience of pool location – convenience has repeatedly been shown to make or break exercise efforts. If you have to go out of your way to do something, it’s less likely that you’ll do it regularly.
Swimming can be physically demanding to start with – many people struggle with fitness and endurance levels when getting started.
Can be particularly hard on the rotator cuff and other shoulders muscles if swimming a lot, though this is easily managed with good recovery methods like self-massage or remedial massage and stretching.

This is by no means a complete list of cardio exercises, or of their benefits or drawbacks, but it may help you decide what might be best for you. And if you want an expert opinion on what will be best for you, you can meet with a HealthFit Coach in person if you are in Brisbane, or via Skype or Facebook messenger anywhere in the world.


stressed out man looking out window with serious expression wondering what to do

More On Exercise For Stress Management

Do you remember your last big job interview or exam? How did you feel?

Ugh, stress.

Whether it comes from your job, family demands, a bank balance or an overcrowded calendar, stress is a fact of life. We’ve all experienced the impact of stress on a day, week, month – or even longer. I’m sure I’m not along in wanting to have less of it, but for better or worse, stress is actually an important part of life. A stress-causing incident (a stressor) has a quantifiable physical impact, creating changes to circulating levels of hormones that help prepare the body for fight-or-flight.

The fight or flight response can be used to your advantage. Short-term and/or moderate levels of beneficial stress (eustress) can help improve motivation, sharpen focus, and boost memory and recall – exactly what you need for big presentations or school exams. Physically, eustress can help improve physical performance and endurance; the zebra running from the lion is definitely experiencing heightened stress levels! Biochemical reactions that occur as part of the physical stress response can even dull or block pain levels in some situations. And the right amount of ongoing physical stress in the form of physical activity or exercise is actually what stimulates improved levels of strength and fitness.

Of course, too much stress can also be hard on the body. While we primarily think of stress as a mental or emotional difficulty, stress levels that are very high or remain high over an extended period of time also has a physical cost.

One of the primary stress responses is an increased release of epinephrine (also called adrenaline) and cortisol. High epinephrine levels can lead to feelings of anxiety. In the short term, this can help you get stuff done, thereby ridding yourself of some of your stressors. Over time though… You probably don’t need me to tell you that long-term anxiety isn’t healthy! Excessive cortisol and adrenaline can also have a negative impact on your immune system, making you more susceptible to minor illnesses like the common cold. Increased levels of epinephrine, cortisol, and other stress hormones can also lead to headaches, eating pattern and digestive issues, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions, depression, insomnia, and fatigue. There is also growing evidence that high levels of stress and related physical responses can lead to increased cancer risks.

Stress is a pervasive problem. According to the American Psychological Association, the majority of American are living with at least moderate to high stress levels, and a 2014 study by the Australian Psychological Society found that about one in four Australians are living with distress.

Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, exercise can help. Isolation or avoidance are two common reactions to high stress levels. (I know that when I’m stressed, I want to get away from everyone and everything until I can get a handle on things.)  These reactions aren’t particularly helpful, but getting moving is!

Almost every type of exercise has been shown by decades of research to decrease short and long-term stress levels. Even if you’re not feeling it, going through the motions can be a distraction from your stressors, and can help decrease muscle tension and cortisol release. In turn, this can lead to decreased feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger, as well as physical changes like decreased heart rate and blood pressure. It’s possible that the amount of exercise you do can impact how significant these effects are. Some studies have shown more exercise leads to greater stress reductions, while others have shown that neither the amount, frequency, or intensity change how much stress is decreased. So walking the dog may be just as beneficial as a tough run or weights session.

The take-home message: It’s not worth getting stressed about how much, how hard, or how often you get moving – just get going! Any sort of movement will serve as the above mentioned distraction, and boost positive feelings of well-being. Take a moment and consider what kind of movement, physical activity, or exercise makes you feel better. It doesn’t have to be gym-based, or any sort of organized sport, just something that you enjoy at least a little!


Muscle and Joint Health In Three Steps

Ready to start an exercise or physical activity program? Already active or working out? These three steps will keep your body happy and healthy, minimizing aches, pains and injury risk.

You probably know: Regular movement is really important to maintaining lifelong health. Keeping your body injury- and pain-free is really important to being able to keep moving.

Increasing daily movement can come at the end of a rehab program, or you may (correctly) see it as a way to get rid of ongoing sore spots. It may be your path to improving your health, or feeling even better than you do right now. These three DIY steps focus primarily on loosening and lengthening your muscles and connective tissues – leading to decreased joint stress – and then getting your muscles strong and fit. Following these three steps will keep your muscles and joints working efficiently and minimize the stiffness and pain that can prevent good quality movement. Improved movement ability directly leads to better health and quality of life.

Step 1: Loosen

Muscles that are overly tight (aka hypertonic) don’t work efficiently. Excessive muscle tension can decrease how quickly a muscle can contract and how much force it can contract with. Since the speed and force of contraction are what creates movement and supports your body, this is less than optimal (plus, tight muscles don’t generally feel good).

Many circumstances can lead to excessive muscle tension. Muscles can spasm and hold tension to protect a sore or injured area, or tension can build from long term movement compensations that result from an injury or tissue damage. Tension can also be caused by posture and occupational or lifestyle demands.

“Loosen” is step one because it has the greatest impact on the other two steps. A muscle with optimal tension and with minimal adhesions – what we commonly think of as “knots” – will be able to stretch and strengthen better.

Different “loosening” techniques include hands-on techniques like deep tissue massage, remedial, or sports massage therapy, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy, as well as self-massage techniques using a foam roller, trigger point ball, The Stick, and other similar tools. You can also help manage muscle tension by staying hydrated, using a heat pack or hot water bottle on tight muscles, and ensuring a diet high in magnesium.

Step 2: Lengthen

Muscles that are too short can lead to poor joint alignment and repetitive strain or overuse injuries. For most people, stretching after doing soft tissue work will give you the best results, as adhesions and tight areas don’t stretch well (and can potentially cause the tissues around them to overstretch). Appropriate stretching will keep joints moving freely and easily, and can also help prevent tension buildup caused by poor postures and movement patterns that shorten and stress muscles.

One caveat to the Lengthen step: If you are hypermobile (i.e. double jointed), stretching may actually aggravate muscles and joints. In hypermobility conditions, the tissues surrounding a joint are longer and looser than optimal, giving the joint very high degrees of movement (aka joint laxity). As this can predispose to injury, and your body’s #1 goal is to not get hurt, ever, the reaction to this laxity is to create more tension in the tissues around the joint. This can leave you feeling like you need to stretch, but that’s actually the opposite of what your body needs. If you are hypermobile, skip this step and do more self-massage (or go and good a good remedial or deep tissue massage) to decrease muscle tension. The strength work in step three will help further build joint integrity.

There are many ways that you can stretch, like traditional static stretching, or partner variations like assisted or PNF stretching. Regardless of how you do it, hold your stretches for a very minimum of 30 seconds, as it takes at least that long for the tissues to lengthen to a beneficial degree. And don’t bounce! It’s a recipe for disaster.

Step 3: Strengthen

The first two steps are all about getting the muscles ready. Now it’s time to get going! The right strength program identifies any areas of strength or activation imbalance, and will selectively target them build on the movement quality you’ve already achieved with the Loosen and Lengthen steps. For maximum benefit, get some advice from a movement professional who will help you determine your weakest links. This information will allow you to build a strong foundation, further decreasing any injury risks and making any ongoing physical activity or exercise much more effective.

Strength programs come in many, many forms. The best programs are created based on both your physical needs and the types of movement you enjoy, and may include components of body-weight exercises, band-resisted exericses, yoga, pilates, and traditional strength training.

How much work you do in each of these stages will depend on your starting point (current movement quality, activity levels, injury and health history, and the like). The art of creating the best program for YOU means understanding what your body needs in order to handle the activities you love, and then simply working through the steps.

While including all of these components is becoming more widely used in strength and fitness programming, there are many people and places that still miss a step or two. If you have questions about how these steps apply to you, leave a comment here or jump on our Facebook page – we’re happy to talk specifics!


Healthy Habits to Prevent High Blood Pressure

Have high blood pressure, or at high risk for it? Building healthy habits can really help your blood pressure levels. In fact, though there is a genetic component to your individual level, lifestyle choices have an enormous impact on blood pressure – for better or worse!

How is high blood pressure dangerous?

Picture this: You’re filling up a water balloon. As you put in more water, the balloon stretches, and the walls start to thin, which makes them much more susceptible to damage (like when you throw it at someone and it bursts on impact!!). On the other hand, a balloon with only a small amount of water in it will be much harder to damage.

High blood pressure (known in medical terms as hypertension) works in much the same way. The increased pressure on the blood vessel walls makes them more susceptible to damage. Vessels can become more stiff and build up deposits of plaque, leading to the blockage of blood that causes heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure can also damage small blood vessels in your kidneys, eyes, and other organs, which in turn damages the organs themselves. And like the water balloon, blood vessels can also weaken and bulge, forming an aneurysm. An aneurysm that bursts can quickly be life-threatening. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for other diseases and health conditions, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even cognitive conditions.

These high blood pressure complications are not especially appealing! But the lifestyle choices that keep your blood pressure at healthy levels and help prevent complications can be easy, and even enjoyable.

Simple Changes to Lower Blood Pressure

Get daily exercise or physical activity: A healthy heart and blood vessels can be achieved and maintained with as little as 30 minutes of daily activity. You can even break this up into smaller blocks – there is significant evidence that multiple, short bouts of activity have the same health benefits as one longer one. So if a brisk half-hour walk doesn’t sound good, you could try a 10-min walk in the morning and evening, and another 10 minutes of exercise or even active chores like vacuuming to hit your 30 minutes. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active or exercising, please chat with your doctor prior to starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have health problems.

Make healthy food choices: Choose fresh foods that are as close as possible to their natural state. That is, pick lean steak over salami. Eat more whole foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, legumes (beans, lentils, etc.), and fewer pre-prepared foods, as these are generally higher in sodium, cholesterol, and trans fats. Choosing foods with no added sugars will also help. Don’t forget to include beverages in this category too!

Achieve and maintain a healthy weight: Carrying extra body fat can cause blood pressure to rise, and increases physical stress on the body’s systems. Even a small amount of weight loss can have a big impact on blood pressure levels, and additional weight loss can lead to additional improvements. The above two ideas will certainly help with this.

Choose healthy stress management strategies: Gentle physical activity like walking or tai chi, meditation and breathing exercises, keeping a journal or working on arts and crafts are all healthy relaxation ideas. Take some time to have some fun!

Avoid unhealthy stress management: Two common but unhealthy stress management choices that many people make are alcohol and tobacco use. Keep your alcohol consumption under one standard drink per day for women, and two for men. And we all know that tobacco use is deadly – spiking your blood pressure is just one reason why.

Sleep well: Restful sleep is key to stress management. Poor sleep quality can impair your body’s ability to regulate stress hormones, which can lead to increases in blood pressure. On average, adults under the age of 65 should get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Adults over 65 should get 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. If you have trouble getting this amount of sleep, or don’t wake up feeling rested, please talk to your doctor about this. It’s one of the single biggest things you can do to improve your health!

Taking action in any one of these areas can make a significant difference. Making more than one of these choices on a regular basis will help you easily control your blood pressure, and potentially even prevent the need for medication. What’s one change that you can make today?


The Golden Rule of Exercise

Ever heard the saying “no pain, no gain”?

I bet you have. And when it comes to exercise, I’m here to tell you, this is a big fat lie. While it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference, different “pain” feelings can mean very different things for your body.

Unfortunately, when it comes to exercise, pain has long been considered a part of the experience. Sore knees, aching backs, bum shoulders that catch, stab, or just don’t move very well anymore… The idea was that if things weren’t hurting, you weren’t working hard enough. Apply this to a different situation: Would you put your hand on a hot stove to make sure you were cooking well enough? Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? You can actually have a far more effective workout when you aren’t hurting, because you will be able to continue to exercise on your regular schedule, and not limp around for three days. So our Golden Rule: No Pain (or, If it hurts, don’t do it).

Feelings of intense exercise should occur in areas powering movement, mainly muscles and/or lungs.

But exercise isn’t always pleasant, and can be downright uncomfortable, especially as intensity increases. The physical sensations that come with intense exercise or physical activity – burning muscles, bursting lungs or shortened breath, or a stitch in the side – are not particularly pleasant at the time. But the “pain” of working hard during exercise should not last. When you stop and rest, these feelings should subside, leaving you pain-free, or at worst, somewhat fatigued. In the days following an intense workout, you may also feel stiff and sore through the muscles, a short-term state known as Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS.

Any aches and pains arising during or after exercise that are different than these should be brought up with your doctor or an exercise physiologist ASAP to make sure you stay safe and injury-free. Some of the most common feelings that should prompt this discussing (during or after a workout): joint pain, back pain, pain in areas that may not be related to a workout – anything that seems unusual, really. These are often indicators of tissue damage. Further, if you have a history of injury, or a chronic health condition, you may experience slightly-to-very different feelings during exercise or physical activity than someone who is assumed healthy. If this is the case, definitely talk to your doctor or an exercise physiologist about how to get exercise safely and what to look out for.

Feelings of injury or damage are often felt in joints, and can last for days after activity.

It’s important to distinguish between these two types of pain, because the “pain” of appropriate and/or intense exercise can actually prevent the pain that coincides with tissue damage and long-term aches, pains, and injury by conditioning the body to be better able to respond to physical stress. Next time you’re moving and something isn’t feeling great, take a moment and consider what kind of whether you’re feeling the burn of hard work, or whether you might actually be doing some damage, and then apply the Golden Rule as needed.

In order to move well and stay healthy and injury free, you have to get and stay pain free. Continuing to exercise when you feel pain will likely increase that pain, may create further tissue damage, and make it more difficult to exercise or get through your normal daily activities. In the long run this will be detrimental to your overall health and fitness, mental health, and ability to make progress. All of this makes exercising when you’re in pain a bad idea! So when in doubt, seek help. Better to have an extra appointment and stay safe and feel good, than push through pain until something breaks.


Three Steps to Feeling Great

Movement is one of the four key areas of health used in the HealthFit approach, and a great tool to improve your health and feel better – our end goal! To help you achieve it, we provide a three-step framework that takes the seemingly overwhelming process of increasing fitness and strength, and turns it into something a little challenging, but totally achievable. Whether you are investing in yourself with Health Coaching for healthy lifestyle choices, or succeeding with an In-Home Exercise Program, your coach will work with you to develop the details while guiding you forward through the process of building more movement into your life. It’s as easy as one, two, three…

Step One: Get Moving
Think about all the muscles and joints you have in your body – it’s built to move! Just 100 years ago, life had many more physical demands. These days, while we don’t have to worry about planting the garden in order to get dinner on the table, now we also don’t get the exercise that goes along with that.

You and your coach will work as a team to figure out what kind of movement you can fit into your lifestyle – easily and enjoyably, and taking into account your interests and abilities. This may mean joining a gym or taking an exercise class, but it also can be as simple as taking the dog out for a daily walk. There’s no single “best” way to get moving.

It’s important that you stay safe and pain-free (always, but especially at the beginning). That means easing into it to get your body accustomed to additional movement, and making sure you feel good before, during, and after. It’s also important that you have a movement plan you enjoy. Life has a tendency to throw curve balls, and exercise is often one of the first things to stop when the going gets stressful.

Step Two: Move Better
The Move Better step helps your body move easily. The stiffness, weakness, and aches and pains that we associate with aging have more to do with years of postural stress and lack of movement than getting older. Move Better is not learning a new way to move. Rather, it allows your body to remember how to move well, and lets you rebuild the ability to do it.

You and your coach will come up with a plan to help you loosen tight parts and lengthen short parts to decrease physical stress, and strengthen the whole body to help you more easily meet the physical demands of daily life. This will allow you to achieve and maintain better posture and greater flexibility, and stay pain free and decrease injury risk. As well as kicking those achy joints to the curb, adding Move Better to Get Moving can result in positive changes to health markers like blood glucose levels or high cholesterol or triglycerides. Much of this work can be done in your own home and on your own timeframe, and doesn’t require a major time commitment to create a major change.

Step Three: Move More
For many people, taking steps to Get Moving and Move Better will be enough to get them to the level of health and fitness that makes them happy. But if you want to build on feeling better, Move More is the next step. You can get stronger, fitter, leaner, more flexible, or train for a specific goal or event.

Move More often does mean having a more detailed plan for exercise or physical activity, but that still doesn’t mean a daily commitment to an hours-long gym workout. To continue your progress, you will work with your coach to find smart, realistic ways to further increase the amount of movement, exercise, or physical activity in your everyday life. Your program will follow the same rules: keep you safe and pain-free, fit into your lifestyle, and be effective.

At each step, the focus is on finding what works for you. You’ll be guided through this process with the freedom to call the shots or follow directions as much as you like. You’ll have the full support of your coach to pursue better health and fitness in whatever way makes you most comfortable, and have someone to celebrate with when you hit the marks. Our goal for every client: Healthy, fit, happy.