Exercise vs Physical Activity – What you need to know

Well & Simple is proud and excited to be presenting our first blog post from our new intern, Nicki Thurston! Nicki is a student at Endicott College and you’ll be seeing some more content for her here over the semester. 

People often use “exercise” and “physical activity” interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. Essentially, exercise is a more structured and organized means of physical activity created around specific goals. However, regardless of that difference, both are important to your physical and mental health and you should try to work both in. 

Physical Activity

Physical activity does double duty, helping you work towards your health goals through calorie expenditure and heart health while also being fun. Physical activity can be the perfect opportunity to enjoy some family time and get your family active. Studies have shown that participating in family physical activity can be beneficial for mental and physical health and family communication. Some ideas you can try with your family include: swimming, recreational sports, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, and so many more. (Check out these tips for how to get your family motivated to get healthier)

Finding physical activity that you enjoy is an awesome self-care act as well. It can be a good excuse to take time out of your day for a hobby. Maybe you enjoy gardening, or playing pickup basketball with friends. Regardless, you are doing something that you enjoy, while reaping all the healthful benefits of physical activity – from soaking up some Vitamin D, to getting some fresh air, to improving your cardiovascular health.

Exercise

Compared to physical activity, exercise is going to give you more specific, targeted health effects. 

Let’s take weight-bearing exercises as an example, like lifting, running, and working with resistance bands. These exercises can improve bone density, which is especially important for young women in order to have a healthy skeletal system later in life. Weight bearing activities are also good for building muscle. Having ample muscle mass is  important for lifting and moving things safely in everyday life. Strengthening your muscles can prepare your body for difficult tasks, while also preventing injury.  

Incorporating cardio into your exercise routine can improve your cardiovascular health and help with calorie burn if you are seeking to lose weight. For optimal health impacts, you want to be doing a combination of cardio and weight-bearing/resistance activities.

What is even greater is that the benefits of exercise go beyond the physical. Even if you don’t love to do it, exercise triggers the release of all sorts of “happy” chemicals in your brain, known as neurotransmitters. These are responsible for feelings such as motivation, satisfaction, alertness, and happiness. So you get some physical benefits and a little pick-me-up.

 

So there you have it! Physical activity and exercise both serve really important roles in our lives. Ideally, you are fitting both in (because it’s all about balance), but you are still reaping benefits from either.

 

Looking for some tips on how to fit in more exercise? Check out what to do when you don’t have time to exercise and how to stay motivated to exercise.

 

 

Jillian Michaels is part of the problem

Content Warning: Fat shaming, disordered eating, verbal abuse

Fat shaming takes many different forms and is everywhere – from blatant insults to shaming thinly veiled as concern about someone’s health. No matter its form, fat shaming creates and perpetuates harmful cycles of self-hatred, poor body image, and unhealthy diet and exercise habits. Jillian Michaels has built her career on fat-shaming and profiting off of dangerous, unhealthy habits.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you heard about her comments this week on Lizzo’s weight, which she then backpedaled on to use as false concern about Lizzo’s health, citing that obesity creates higher risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. OK, well since we are so concerned about people’s health, let’s talk about the health problems Jillian’s approach in The Biggest Loser, which has contributed to her ~$14 million net worth (source), creates.

Before we even dig into the physical problems created by excessive calorie restriction and exercise, let’s talk about her brand of “coaching” and “encouragement.”

  • “I don’t care if people die on this floor. You better die looking good.”
  • “I don’t care if one of your legs fall off or if one of your lungs explode.”
  • “The only way you’re coming off this treadmill is if you die on it.”
  • “Unless you puke, faint or die, keep going.”

And let’s just generally mention the screaming and name-calling from the show as well.

Sounds like a coach you’re itching to work with, right?

You may say those things were just stunts for the show to increase viewership, but you’re taking all of this in complete isolation, which is not how it occurs. When you are already struggling with self-esteem, body image, and negative self-talk like the contestants and many in the audience, words like these stay with you, regardless of their intent. They can become part of the self-hatred soundtrack playing in your mind engendering further negative self-talk, obsession, unhealthy habits, and extreme dietary measures not to mention depression and anxiety.

They also create unrealistic, dangerous standards for how you should be working out and eating. This kind of “encouragement” pushes over-workouts and tuning out your body’s internal cues that could be telling you that you’re in danger and need to stop. You begin to think things like “if I’m not in pain or struggling to breathe, then I’m not working out hard enough and it’s not effective,” particularly if you’re someone who is new to physical fitness.

And while we’re on the topic of physical fitness, let’s talk about the actual physical measures she has promoted. The show’s weight loss plan is based on extreme calorie restriction and excessive exercise designed to create a large calorie deficit which, in turn, leads to weight loss. It pays no mind to nutrient balance or food quality, just the calories in: calories out ratio. Our bodies simply are not designed for this.

A 2016 study following 14 contestants found the following after their stint on The Biggest Loser:

  • Extremely low levels of the satiety hormone leptin, leaving them feeling constantly hungry
  • Drastically slowed metabolism
  • And ss many as 6 years after the show, contestants’ leptin levels and metabolisms had still not recovered which led them to regain much of the weight.

The thing is our bodies are incredibly smart and will always tend towards a certain homeostasis. This means that whenever you make changes, your body will make internal changes to counter them to an extent. The decrease in leptin and metabolic rate seen in these contestants is their bodies’ response to extreme weight loss measures.

And these aren’t the only problems with the weight loss tactics espoused by the show. The exercise regimens prescribed to contestants greatly exceed what is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (source) and pose a significant threat to the health and well-being of someone who is not accustomed to strenuous workouts and is carrying a significant amount of excess weight.

As for the calorie restriction, anyone who has ever tried dieting or fasting knows that you might be able to do it for a bit but then you swing back to the other extreme. This is because humans don’t respond well to deprivation psychologically or physiologically. We need a certain amount of fuel and nutrients to keep our bodies running efficiently and that amount increases with several factors including physical activity. If that deficit is too great then there comes a breaking point.

All of this is to say that Jillian Michaels has a history of espousing weight loss tactics that put clients at risk of a number of health threats including eating disorders, heart failure, body image issues, depression, anxiety, and more. Given all of this, doesn’t it seem a bit hypocritical that she is suddenly so concerned about Lizzo’s health?

The fact of the matter is that Jillian Michaels is concerned about aesthetics and her version of a physical ideal. That ideal is so important to her that she is unwilling to examine her own contributions to health issues. She refuses to acknowledge that you can be fat and not have chronic illnesses. You can be fat and be very physically active (have you SEEN Lizzo onstage). You can be fat and happy. She refuses to acknowledge that her brand is not coaching; it’s abuse. And she refuses to acknowledge her contributions to a culture of fat shaming.

At this point, you may be asking, as a nutrition coach, who am I to be calling Jillian Michaels out for promoting weight loss tactics. As a nutrition coach, I help people make dietary changes so that they’re eating healthier foods that nourish their body and often weight loss comes with that either as a motivating factor for clients or as a side effect.

I struggled with a poor body image for years and I still do. I’ve said things to myself about myself that I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy. It’s a struggle every day. And I’ve struggled with disordered eating and exercise habits. At one point when I was 19-20, I was eating yogurt for breakfast and a plain salad with no dressing for lunch and dinner every day (snacks were rare) and I was exercising for 2-3 hours a day 5-6 days a week. At nearly 5’5″, I was down to 112 lbs and was convinced I still had further to go. I’ve nearly passed out in lecture hall and I’ve curtailed my social life so I wouldn’t have to eat anything I saw as “fattening.” This is what happens when weight loss becomes an obsession, when your self-image is skewed, when unhealthy habits are promoted as acceptable.

While I’ve recovered in terms of eating and exercise habits, I still struggle with my negative self-talk and body image. My goal as a nutrition coach is to help other women silence that negative self-talk and use healthy eating as a way to nourish and celebrate their bodies. I don’t want people to live the way I used to live and I don’t want people to feel about themselves the way I once did.

As long as people like Jillian Michaels are out there parading themselves around as authorities on health and fitness and policing other people’s bodies, people will continue to resort to extremes to silence that voice of criticism from within and without. If you want to be role model and a coach, don’t comment on other people’s bodies, don’t fat shame, don’t speculate about other people’s health, don’t belittle and degrade. If you do, you are part of the problem.

 

 

Why Do I Get Sick When I Start a New Gym Routine?

You’ve started hitting the gym regularly. You get 3-4 good workouts in a row in and then you get sick. Why does it seem like you get sick when you start a new fitness routine? You’re not alone and this is an actual thing – it’s not just your body betraying you, though it may seem like it.

So let’s look at what’s going on when this happens and the steps you can take to stop it from happening to you next time.

Stress on Your Body

While exercise is really good for your body, it is also a stressor on your body, especially if it’s different or more vigorous than you’re used to. That stress on your body can temporarily run down your immune system, making you more susceptible to germs and viruses. It’s similar to how your immune system can get run down if you’re lacking in sleep for too long. Think of it this way: your body only has so many resources to allocate. If it needs to move more resources to exercise and recovery, it has fewer resources to allocate to your immune system. So if you’re already sleep-deprived or exposed to a lot of pathogens, then you could get sick when you start a new intense fitness routine.

Gyms are a Germ Pit

I’m not being dramatic- they are a germ pit. Unfortunately, most people do not thoroughly wipe down their equipment after use. This means you’re sharing whatever they left on the treadmill before you. Free weights in particular are the dirtiest piece of gym equipment. In fact, one study found that free weights contain more than 300 times the germs found on a toilet seat. Sorry, but you needed to know. It makes sense when you think about it – how many times have you seen someone actually wipe down the weights before they re-rack them? Exactly. Never.

Your fitness classes are also very germy places. Yoga mats in particular are fantastic incubators for a number of infection-causing bacteria. And you can’t count on your neighbor wiping down her equipment as diligently as you do.

Add to this germy mix a rundown immune system and you have a perfect equation for a fitness de-railing illness.

Getting Enough Rest

For many of us, early mornings are the only times we can fit a workout into our busy schedules. Your body needs enough sleep to maintain all of its critical functions, including your immune system and healing. If you are just starting out with a 4 or 5 am alarm to get your workout in, that adjustment period can make you more vulnerable to getting sick if your body is accustomed to getting more sleep. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep each night when you begin cutting into that morning snooze to help prevent yourself from getting sick when you start your new fitness routine.

So what can you do to end the vicious exercise-sickness-exercise cycle?

Tips for Keeping Healthy

  • Wipe down your equipment BEFORE and after use.
  • Avoid touching your face until you’ve washed your hands thoroughly.
  • Bring your own towel . Some gyms transport their dirty and clean towels in the same bin, thereby recontaminating the clean towels with bacteria.
  • Try to make sure you wipe your face with the side of the towel that hasn’t touched the equipment. You can do this by putting a mark on one side of your towel or using a towel that has a pattern on one side.
  • Ease into your new workouts instead of running headlong in so it’s less of a strain on your body. You can do this by taking more modifications in your first class or starting your runs shorter or at a slower pace, for example.
  • Do what you can to support your immune system – drink lots of water, take your vitamins, get enough rest, and eat lots of fruits and veggies.
  • Make sure you are fueling your body. Eat healthful, whole foods rather than overprocessed, prepackaged foods lacking in nutrition.
  • Make sure you clean off your own personal yoga mat regularly as well. It could be carrying germs from the last time your were sick and all that sweat on it can breed bacteria. Plus, it goes on the floor where people’s dirty shoes have been as well.
  • Listen to your body – rest when you feel tired, give yourself enough time between workouts, don’t push it if you feel like you’re overdoing it.

Once you’ve gotten over this hurdle, be sure to check out my tips for keeping yourself motivated to workout so you can keep up the good work!

Kick that Cold Naturally

Cold and flu season is here and it seems like it is hitting everyone pretty hard this year. All anyone wants to do when they’re sick is feel better. The fact is that there are over 200 different viruses that cause the common cold and there is no cure for any of them. However, there are ways that you can support your body as it fights them off. Here are a health coach’s simple suggestions for natural cold relief.

Eat the Rainbow

Fresh produce is loaded with immune system-supporting compounds call phytonutrients (“phyto” means “plant”). These nutrients give plants their vibrant colors and distinct flavors. There are many, many phytonutrients – so many that we don’t yet know them all nor what they do for our bodies. One thing that we do know is that phytonutrients are rich in antioxidants and other immune-system supporting compounds. They also include anti-inflammatory compounds as well. Inflammation continues to be linked to more and more illnesses and chronic diseases.  To experience the benefits of phytonutrients, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. An easy way to think of this is eating the rainbow – the more different colors you can eat, the more phytonutrients you’re eating as well!

If you’re feeling under the weather, whipping up a vegetable soup with carrots, onion, celery, sweet potato, and zucchini can help you get those phytos in while soothing your throat and helping with congestion. If the cold feels good on a sore throat, whip up a smoothie with berries and spinach or cauliflower. (Check out this recipe for cauliflower caraway soup!)

Avoid Alcohol

While that hot toddy might sound good, drinking while you’re sick is no way to get better faster for a number of reasons. For one, it can dampen your immune system, making your body less able to fight off that bug. It can also leave you dehydrated, making your congestion worse and leaving you feeling awful. Another reason to skip out on the alcohol is that it disrupt your sleep when your body needs rest to help you recover. Finally, alcohol is inflammatory which can make you feel worse and make your symptoms persist longer.

If you’re sick, stick with water and herbal tea with honey. The honey in it will help soothe your throat and cough. Plus, there is some evidence that certain herbal teas may help alleviate some of your symptoms. When I’m sick, I like a peppermint tea to support my stomach and a lemon-ginger tea for my throat and congestion. Plus, having no caffeine means it won’t disrupt your much-needed sleep. These options will also help keep you hydrated.

Move!

Our blood vessels are lined with special cells called the endothelium. The endothelium is like your body’s own pharmacy in that it releases a number of different medicinal compounds into your bloodstream as is needed. When you exercise, it increases the blood flow through your blood vessels and over the endothelium, thereby prompting it to release more of those medicines. This is why sometimes when you feel a cold coming on, you feel better after going for a walk. Additionally, regular exercise can help produce new blood vessels further improving your circulation and your health.

Obviously, there is a balance needed here. If you’re sick, going for an intense run or taking a HIIT fitness class is probably going to make you feel sicker. Remember, exercise, while beneficial, is also a stressor on your body. Keep this in mind and listen to your body. If you’re feeling terrible, skip that walk and stay in bed.

Rest Up

In the simplest sense, our bodies need just 4 things: nutrition, movement, water, and rest. Sleep deprivation suppresses your immune system, so the more exhausted you are, the more likely you are to get sick and the harder is will be for you to recover. In today’s fast-paced busy world, rest is one of the most important factors for natural cold relief.

To make sure you are getting sufficient and quality sleep, avoid simple carbohydrates and big meals in the evening. As we said before, that glass of wine before bed might help you fall asleep, but it will disrupt your sleep later in the night, so skip out on the alcohol as well. It’s also important that you sleep in a dark room and keep all devices out of the bedroom – just looking at your cell phone screen in the middle of the night will disrupt production of your sleep hormones.

Avoid Sugar and Processed Foods

Added sugar and the additives found in processed foods can act as inflammatories on your body making you feel worse and your symptoms persist longer. They are also lacking in the nutrients that your body needs to recover while being heavy in calories. Focus on keeping it simple with whole foods. Some lighter options if your stomach is bothering you are: dry whole grain toast, brown rice,  oatmeal, soup/broth and sweet potato. If you’re feeling well stomach-wise, dark leafy greens, broccoli, and fruit are great options.

Very often, people resort to orange juice when they’re sick thinking they’re getting a megadose of Vitamin C that will magically cure them. You’re better off avoiding the juice since there is no fiber in it, leaving you with just sugar. If you want to have Vitamin C, opt for whole foods before juice.

*Please note that I am not a doctor and the above information is not to be construed as medical advice. Always consult a doctor when you are concerned about your symptoms.