Don’t Weight-Issue 10 (Baby We Were Born To Run!)

As humans evolved, we needed to run to survive.  We had to hunt prey by exhausting it.  We also needed to be moving much of the time (following and foraging food).

Humans can sweat while they run, 4 legged critters can’t, so they must stop and rest to cool their body temp, while the human could keep moving…  eventually the animal would suffer from heat exhaustion… that would be when a human could kill an animal, be able to get close enough.

So we were “born to run” so we could eat, survive and procreate-but we were also designed to do those things expending the least amount of energy possible.

Our modern lifestyles impose for most of us, an overabundance of rest, or better said-not moving. (ironically many of us don’t feel “rested”, but stressed) We drive, we sit at a desk, we sit on a plane, we sit and watch television, play video games, do crafts, etc… We don’t have to expend much physical energy to meet our basic needs.  So, the urge to “rest when you can” is in some way responsible for our couch potato proneness.  It is not necessarily because we are weak or lazy.  Remember that if you feel like beating yourself about resisting exercise, and make a plan for counteracting that thinking.

But our bodies NEED that movement to thrive.  The stresses movement and exercise puts on the bones, the heart, the blood vessels-helps them to develop with the proper strength and capacity.  There is no getting around it, we need exercise (call it play, call it movement, call it whatever you want that can make you feel good about it!) but NOT doing it is bad for your health.

A little bonus info here:  Last week as I travelled to and from Colorado, I had a chance to do some “fun reading”.  I had started a book on my Kindle a LONG time ago called “Secrets of Your Cells, by Sondra Barret, PhD, and I decided to revisit that, not planning on connecting it with my newsletter at all.  Ironically, she had a chapter about the influence of MOVEMENT on our CELLS.  Full disclosure: I haven’t finished the book yet, and the author presents a “woo woo” perspective but is also a medically trained researcher.  A few interesting tidbits I thought were worth sharing.

  • Rigidity of cells is associated with cancer promotion (in vitro/test tube), while movement helps make cells more flexible and less rigid.
  • Movement helps cells communicate with each other, when cells communicate with each other they can work together to repair and protect the organism. (so cool, right???)
  • As large muscles are used (like when we move our whole body), more mitochondria (energy centers of the cell) are needed and produced. (this is one reason why exercise helps people feel more energetic!)

In the next issue I’ll talk more about “how to exercise”, this issue is more about the Y, and the why-not.

Huh?  I’ll get to it, I promise.

Let’s start with WHY-exercise makes you healthier (duh-I know you know that).

And fitness is derived from exercise.  The important point I want to share here is that you can achieve improved, even good, fitness and health with even if weight loss does not occur.

A review ( weight loss vs increasing fitness and physical activity shows that

  • CRF (cardiorespiratory fitness) was a more important predictor of all cause and cardiovascular mortality (risk of death).
  • Increased risk of illness and death associated with obesity was largely attenuated or eliminated by moderate to high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness or physical activity!
  • mortality was LOWER (less chance of death) for those who were fit and fat than those who were not fat (thin) and not fit.

Now to be clear those who were fit and not fat had the lowest morbidity (illness) and mortality(death) rates.  But the emphasis I want to make is that you don’t have to reach a particular weight for exercise to be effective at improving your health.  Get moving because it’s good for you, body, mind and spirit!  AND it (eventually if not initially) feels good

Mentally-exercise increase BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which can help prevent brain atrophy (dementia)  .

It has also been clearly demonstrated to be an effective treatment for moderate depression.

While weight loss occurs with exercise sometimes, the findings noted above are not dependent on it.  Without dietary change, it is difficult to burn enough calories to effect weight loss if you are eating a very calorically dense diet, you would have to do nothing else but exercise to lose weight with exercise alone, or even just to maintain weight!  Exercise does help improve mood, self-image and (eventually) energy levels so that it helps motivate positive change on multiple levels.

So now the WHY NOT-Don’t start exercising for the sole purpose of losing weight.

(As I always say, “Focus on your wellbeing, not your weight”.  If you do the weight will take care of itself) Trust this, your body is always working for you and your survival.

Exercise for weight loss is fraught with possible traps.

Resistance-Making exercise something you must do because you feel your body is too big according to some external standard-your brain will resist (this resistance to anything we feel threatens our freedom or autonomy is called psychological reactance).

Increased chance of injury-thinking you must exercise at an intensity or for a duration to burn a certain amount of calories can lead to injury.

Focusing on weight, calorie burn takes focus away from learning to listen to your body…recognizing when you desire to challenge yourself, stretch yourself and go harder, or recognizing when you need to take it easy, rest, recover, modify.

Impermanence of weight loss-the body responds to weight loss or restriction as perceived starvation and can respond with slowing of metabolism, increased hunting for food, increased appeal of calorie dense foods, more inclination to rest.

Focusing on weight instead of the satisfaction (and even joy) of moving your body in a way that you enjoy, of feeling yourself getting stronger, more muscular, of noticing your improved mood-well that just plain takes all the fun out of it!  We are made to enjoy movement, and other things like eating and sex, because they are necessary for our individual and/or species survival…


Just in case this message is unclear-YOU MUST EXERCISE FOR GOOD HEALTH AND GOOD AGING. Non-negotiable.  But let THIS message also be clear: You can absolutely learn to love moving in that beautiful body of yours, no matter your size.  Just don’t set yourself up to see it as drudgery, That is such an un-self-compassionate, unkind way to approach something that is so good, and that can feel so good.

Many of us, I know, wish our bodies were smaller, wish we were thinner; for various reasons, I am sure.  And your desire is valid if that is you.  And weight loss MAY be a side effect of exercise and other important lifestyle changes.  It often is.  My goal here is not to squash your dreams or to discourage you-but to suggest a shift in perspective and mindset.

Consider a weight neutral approach to taking exquisite care of yourself.  Pursue health, vitality, aging gracefully with laser like focus.  Find joy in all of it and reap the amazing rewards!

In the next issue, I’ll talk more about exercising from this different perspective and how to do that.   Can’t wait!

Mindset matters most:

Check in: What’s your mindset about exercise?  Is it a fixed or a growth mindset?

  • Do you feel believe you CAN’T or WON’T exercise?
  • Do you feel awkward in your body or embarrassed?
  • Do you worry you will hurt yourself by exercising?
  • Have you had a bad experience with exercising in the past?

These are common and normal ways of thinking, but not especially helpful in getting you moving!

Cool thing: even if you can’t move, people have shown benefits of IMAGINING themselves exercising (yoga and tai chi) visualization is really powerful.  I highly encourage including visualization into your exercise experience, especially if you are feeling resistance to it.  That might be your starting point.

How can you make thinking about, planning for and executing exercise fun?  First, be aware of how you are thinking about it!  Catch yourself in those negative story loops.  Challenge them.  Rewrite them.

Here is a “Mindset Reset” about exercise.  I’ve recorded it, but I encourage you to say it out loud and/or record in your own voice.  You can tweak it to make it inspiring and fun for YOU!

mindset reset exercise (click to print the script, which you can tweak to make it right for YOU)

Coaches Corner:

Let’s practice setting a goal around exercise.  This is just an example to give a framework for goal setting.

Set your goal with the end in mind.

Start where you can enjoy success but still enjoy some challenge, stretch yourself a little.  I like to encourage creating your goal, and including a Bare Bones Minimum (for when life gets in the way of your plans)

Be SMART-ER (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Reasonable, Time sensitive, then plan to Evaluate, and Revise)

I walk for 2 miles at the park 3 days this week (M-W-F).  I will meet my friend Sandy after work at 5pm at the park.  (if the weather is bad, I will….)   I will take an after work snack, a change of clothes and my sneakers and my water bottle.  I have put these appointments in my planner.  I will remind myself by setting an alarm on my phone.

BBM (Bare Bones Minimum)-walking 10 minutes in parking lot before I leave work

I will write my time/distance walked in my planner

Review date in planner-1 week from today.

Visualize yourself following through, feeling good about doing so.  Imagine yourself moving with greater ease, speed, endurance.  If you exercise outside, imagine enjoying being there, in the sunlight, feeling a breeze, enjoying nature.  Sense an improved posture, better sleep, better mood.

Click here for a printable goal worksheet