Exercise to Feel Good

Can you really get any benefit when you exercise to feel good?  I’ve written before about the importance of finding an activity you like as opposed to an activity you feel you’re ‘supposed to do’. As you’ve likely heard before, the best form of exercise is the one you’ll do.

But even if we enjoy an activity, we might feel a bit of an obligation to push ourselves and apply the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra to our workout. Well the study I’m presenting today challenges that notion. In fact, you can meet the meet the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines by exercising at a level that feels ‘good’ to ‘very good’!

The study comes out of Brazil and, despite its small sample size of overweight women with PCOS, I think it sends an important message.

The authors asked 14 women to perform a single bout of aerobic ‘Affect Regulated Exercise’ (ARE) on an outdoor track. Using the Feeling Scale () which measures participants affect on a scale of Very Bad (-5) to Very Good (+5). Participants were asked to keep their efforts in the Good (+3) to Very Good (+5) range.  Heart Rate, speed and time spent at both a vigorous and moderate intensity were measured.


Exercise to Feel Good Works!

The results showed that participants spent > 80% of their time exercising at a moderate intensity when exercising at a level that felt ‘Good’ to ‘Very Good’. This meant they met the ACSM recommendations for exercise intensity required to improve health status without having to push themselves outside of their comfort zone.

Benefit comes from exercising at a level that feels Good to Very Good and who doesn’t want to feel that?

The next time you tell yourself, ‘I don’t feel like working out’, try substituting ‘working out’ with ‘doing something that feels good or very good’ and see if you can still convince yourself that it’s not a good idea.

When you tell yourself. ‘I don’t feel like doing something that feels good or very good’, will you really believe it or will you grab your workout stuff and go?

body shame


While I typically write about physical activity and it’s implications for our mental health, I know there are lots of readers out there (myself included) that find it difficult to keep their focus off the number on the scale. And, if you’re anything like me, some days my weight can make or break my satisfaction with what I see in the mirror.  I feel body shame.

I know this obsession isn’t good. It doesn’t even make sense! Why should some number influence how I see my body? Logically crazy, I know, but emotionally, such a hard habit to break. This is part of the reason I rarely weigh myself.

Today, I have a beautifully simple but telling study (Does Body Satisfaction Help or Harm Overweight Teens? A 10-Year Longitudinal Study of the Relationship Between Body Satisfaction and Body Mass Index) that should keep us all off the scale and appreciate our bodies just a little more.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota, looked at 496 overweight adolescent boys and girls who were followed over the course of 10 years. BMI and body satisfaction where measured at baseline and then BMI was measured again, 10 years later. Of course the usual socioeconomic stuff was measured and controlled for in the analysis.

The results? Fascinating! Girls in the lowest body satisfaction quartile at baseline had almost a 3 unit greater increase in BMI 10 years later compared with girls in the highest body satisfaction quartile.

For boys, there were no significant associations between body satisfaction and change in BMI over time.
That’s huge for a number of reasons:

  • For a 5’ 4” woman, 3 BMI units can mean the the difference between weighing 145 pounds and 163 pounds. That’s pretty close to a 10% difference in weight, which is what many physicians tout as a good weight loss goal to see health benefits like lower blood pressure. With more body satisfaction at adolescence, some weight loss efforts later in life just wouldn’t be necessary.
  • We are causing ourselves so much self-harm through our body shame. And that body shame is only exacerbating the very issue we feel shame about!
  • Women are so much more susceptible to society’s expectations regarding body image. The shame we feel when comparing ourselves to the expectations portrayed in the media are not just leaving us less satisfied with ourselves but may actually be harming our health over the long term. We need to be mindful of this pressure. While the prevalence of body dissatisfaction and shame among boys remains lower than girls, there are many signs that this tide is turning. We need to protect young boys from the same demise.

Do yourself a few favours:

  • Ditch the scale.
  • Don’t participate in body shaming or weight hate activities whether they’re directed at yourself, someone on the street or in the media.
  • Love your body and treat it well.
  • Encourage the next generation to do the same.


enjoy exercise

As the calendar changes over to a new year, one of the most common declarations we hear is ‘’This year, I’m going to exercise more!’ We then prepare ourselves to white knuckle our way through a gruelling routine we’ve chosen because it promises to get us to the goal we have in mind regardless of how much we might not like the mode of exercise we’ve chosen.

Unfortunately, choosing an exercise routine strictly based on our goals without taking into account whether we actually like the activities it includes is a recipe for failure almost every time. In fact some of you may have already given up on the routine you promised yourself you were going to follow for 2016.

As you may already be aware, I’m a huge fan of Precision Nutrition. For people that genuinely need to lose weight or improve their nutritional status, I think they have the best methodologies around. Today I’m directing you to the PN article ‘Why working out causes weight gain. (And what to do about it.) . While this article focuses on weight gain, I’m going to apply the principles more broadly.

The article introduces the concept of hedonic compensation – the idea that when we lose out on pleasure in one area of our life (say doing an exercise routine we REALLY don’t enjoy), we tend to try to compensate for it elsewhere (like ‘rewarding’ ourselves with driving to the store instead of walking because we completed our gruelling workout).

If we choose a mode of exercise we enjoy (also called intrinsic motivation) then we may be less inclined to seek that compensation elsewhere whether it be at the bottom of a bag of cookies or lazing around that little bit longer in front of the TV because we feel we’ve ‘earned it’. The ‘intrinsic reward’ the exercise brings us, even the intensity with which we choose to exercise can have an impact on adherence.  We really need to find what works for us.


For those who are having trouble getting physically active, I think finding an activity you enjoy at an intensity you enjoy is where you need to start. Becoming regularly active for your physical and mental health is something you need to do for life and that’s a long time to keep doing something you don’t look forward to….


For those that are already physically active, sometimes we have extrinsic physical goals that require us to creep outside our comfort zone so we may need to use a few different ‘tricks’ but lets save that for another day.


‘Til then, maximize your chances of success and be sure to incorporate activities you enjoy into your plans to be more physically active in the New Year.


Sanity over Vanity

Today is the day after Christmas and for so many it can be a rough one. We’re tired and recovering from a full and very busy day with the family. We may be reflecting on the busy weeks leading up to Christmas and regretting our lapse in staying active and our indulgences at various Christmas parties. We may even have a bit of an alcohol and/or sugar-induced hangover and are struggling to do up the top button of our jeans… and with that, our sanity may begin to take a back seat to our vanity.


We begin dipping our toes into the dangerous waters of ‘That’s it. I have to start exercising. I have to eat better. I have to lose some weight.” Or perhaps we’ve jumped in with both feet and are splashing around in a pool of “I’m a fat cow. I can’t believe I’ve let myself get this way. Why do I always do this.”


I too can be pretty hard on myself when I’m not feeling my best. Today, as I clean up after our Christmas celebration, I’ve been listening to podcasts, as I often do to make the more tedious jobs in my day a little more enjoyable.


We know intellectually that our sanity is more important than our vanity, that we are more than our pant size, that self-compassion will do more for us than any diet, that being physically active to feel good is more important than to look good, but it can be such a struggle sometimes to feel this in our hearts. I find the stories of others can help immensely and that’s why today, I want to share Episode 1 of new podcast, called Inner Effort.


Alen Standish, the podcast’s host, interviews psychotherapist, Michelle Cleary, as she describes the emotions she dealt with during a recent struggle with her body image. A refreshing walk outdoors and a listen to Michelle’s story certainly convinced me to step out of the pool of self-loathing that I seem to frequent and reprioritize my sanity over my vanity. I hope it will do the same for you.

Minimalist Fitness

Minimalist Fitness?  Perhaps in a world of no pain, no gain; eat less, exercise more, this seems counter intuitive.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter (@fittobesane), you may have noticed my #clearclosetsclearmind that I’ve been posting lately.

Yes, I’ve been on a bit of a minimalist kick lately as I purge my house of all things unnecessary and make countless trips to donation centres with my unwanted possessions.  This exercise has made me think about other parts of my life that I can apply my newfound minimalist approach to.  What came to mind?  Minimalist Fitness.

So I had great plan to write you a blog post today about how I’ve been approaching my fitness and nutrition in a minimalist manner, and then I checked my RSS feed… There it was.  The article that I had planned to write only written by someone else!

So rather than be disappointed that someone stole my thunder, I’m actually excited to introduce you to two resources that I’ve found helpful, particularly of late:

  1. Nia Shanks.  You may know Nia from Lift Like a Girl, the movement she has created to empower women to (in Nia’s words) ‘become the most awesome and strongest version’ of themselves.  I became a fan of Nia when she shared her struggles with binge eating and have followed her work ever since.  For a healthy perspective on fitness and being a woman, Nia is an excellent resource.
  2. Becoming Minimalist.  As a newcomer to the minimalist movement, this blog may be old news to you but I subscribe to their RSS feed and really enjoy their ‘Inspiring Simplicity:  Weekend Reads‘ posts that comes out most Fridays.

What happens when you put these two together?  You get Nia Shanks posting about minimalist fitness on the Becoming Minimalist blog!  Yep, that’s the post I was going to write but Nia’s article summarizes my approach so perfectly and it’s so well written, that I’m just going to send you there.  So here it is, Health and Fitness, the Minimalist Way.  Please have a read.  Nia provides wise words to live by.

Owner's Manual

Chapter 1 is coming together…

I’ve been told so many times before that when it comes to health, fitness, diet, and exercise, we have to figure out what works for us and create our own owner’s manual.

This statement of ‘figuring out what works for you’ has always been so frustrating to me.  There are so many variables involved.  With social commitments and a crazy work travel schedule, it seems that the only thing that has ever been consistent in my life has been change.

Despite many attempts to just change one thing at a time, I’ve never had much success in figuring out ‘what works for me’ to even begin writing the first chapter of my owner’s manual, or so I thought…

Last week, my work took me on a retreat of sorts.  Now, before you picture some relaxing oasis filled with team building and strategy building, this was really being holed up in a house with 2 software developers and my husband for six days.

Rather than getting into how I ended up there, I’ll just skip to the part where I tell you that these guys have the worst lifestyles habits imaginable.  Beverages started with coffee in the morning (and maybe a glass of water depending on the extent of the hangover from the night before) moving to Red Bull by mid day and diving into beer by late afternoon and through the evening.

Food was only marginally better.  Breakfast options were Honeycombs or toast with Kraft crunchy peanut better and some fruit.  Lunch was cold cuts on ‘brown bread’ and a few carrots.  Dinner was pizza or out to a pub.  Snacks were chips, cheese curds and beef jerky.

Not wanting to be ‘difficult’ and also trying to obsess a little less about what I eat, I stated that I had no dietary stipulations and would eat whatever they were happy with just replacing the Red Bull with water and the beer with wine.

I ate reasonable portions.  I rarely snacked.  I stayed clear of the potato chips and Honeycombs and opted for toast and peanut butter with fruit for breakfast.  I took my vitamins every day otherwise feeling sure I would end up with scurvy by the end of the week.  All in all, I thought I did pretty well given the options I made available to me.  Or so I thought….

We returned Friday night.  My brain was cloudy and tired.  I couldn’t get a thing done at work.  That evening I was in bed by 8pm and asleep, I’m sure, but 8:15pm.  I slept until 6:15am the next day.  I then felt hung-over for 2 full days—what a way to spend a weekend…

I’ve always had a hunch that I need to be a little higher on the protein and a little lower on the carbs for my first meal of the day.  I’ve also had a hunch that too much alcohol leaves me lethargic and depressed the next day – particularly if a drink a bit too much for more than one day in a row.  This experience proven this all correct.

So Chapter 1 of my Owner’s Manual:

This particular model of human does not do well on carbohydrate-based fuels in the morning.  For optimal performance a diet higher in animal protein and vegetables, and lower in refined carbohydrates, is recommended.  While moderate carbohydrate sources may be suitable for the remaining meals of the day, large quantities of refined carbohydrates in the morning will result in reduced mental performance and lethargy.

Frequent, large infusions of alcohol will also reduce mental performance and bring on lethargy.  When alcohol is given, do so in very small quantities (6oz wine/day) or limit moderate to large quantities to once/week at the most.

Vast quantities of walking will not be sufficient to offset the side effects that result from not following the above two guidelines.

So there it is, the beginning of my owner’s manual in writing.  I’ll be working on adding to the manual just as soon as I can pin point another feature of this model I’m living in.  I suspect there will be sections on mindless eating, cardio exercise, strength training, walking and yoga in the future but will have to see what conclusions I can draw from my next accidental or intentional experiment.

Dear Runner

You aggravate me.  You don’t know how much it pains me to see you go by.  Your long, lean body moving effortlessly through the cool night air while I drive by – heading home to nurse my injured foot.

I envy the soothing rhythm of your steps, lulling your mind into leaving the day’s worries behind.  Your lights sear through my heart like a laser knowing I can’t lace up and do the same.  The perfect evening weather is like salt in my wounds.  It is fall.  It is my favourite time to run, yet I can’t right now.

I never noticed you before.  I never thought that anyone noticed me before.  But now I see you often.  Gliding over the pavement in your own world.

While it pains me to see you, your lights provide a beacon of hope.  Perhaps you have been injured before.  Perhaps you have experienced my frustration.  Perhaps you were patient and now you are stronger than ever.  Perhaps you once watched me or another runner from the side lines when the tables were turned.

I will be easier on you next time.


fitspiration and body image

I don’t spend a ton of time on social media.  Partly because I’m a relatively private person so I like to think things through before I share them with the world but more than anything, I’m more careful these days about what I’m taking in.  Making a conscious effort to focus on my mental health and well-being and not obsess about my waist size sometimes feels like a full-time job given the images we’re bombarded with each day.


Since this is top of mind for me, you can imagine that this article caught my eye “Exercise to be fit, not skinny”:  The effect of fitspiration imagery on women’s body image, published by 2 researchers out of Adelaide, Autralia in September 2015.  A sample of 130 female undergraduate students was randomly assigned to either look at a set of fitspiration images vs a set of travel images.  The researchers look at the impact of the images on mood, body dissatisfaction and self-esteem in the moment.


Initially I thought how interesting it will be to see how women respond to images relating to being mentally and physically fit as opposed to weight loss but interesting how our own biases and personal definitions can leave us confused.


I had my own definition of fitness in mind when I read the article title regarding fitspiration.  My definition combines physical fitness – being able to move in the ways I need to and achieve the physical goals I set for myself, with mental fitness – achieving and maintaining a level of mental well-being that supports me in working toward my life goals.


With my social media ignorance still firmly intact and never having seen what a fitspiration image might look like, I was a little surprised when the study results showed that exposure to fitspiration images led to increased negative mood, body dissatisfaction and lower appearance self-esteem all mediated by appearance comparison.  The conclusion drawn was that fitspiration images can have negative unintended consequences for body image.


This was all a mystery to me.  In my mind, how could focusing on making yourself stronger and healthier inside and out instead of focusing on weight loss lead to poor body image??  Then I let my social media guard down to investigate…oh no….


I started with Pinterest simply because I had just opened an account the week before so it was easy for me to throw in a quick fitspiration search term to see what came up.  Well quickly all was explained to me.


A quick glance and it’s no wonder these women were negatively impacted!  I did a small study of my own.  I selected the first 100 Pinterest images that come up when I searched ‘fitspiration’ and then looked at them critically from 2 perspectives:

  1. were there actually any examples of physical fitness demonstrated e.g. were there people exercising or even moving or achieving a fitness goal; and
  2. were there any images that did not contain the image of a rock hard female body or a slogan about achieving said rock hard body.


The results?  Of the first 100 images that came up, only 10 showed anyone doing something physically active and only 13 images didn’t have a rock hard body or a slogan espousing the importance of achieving a rock hard body… how discouraging.


This so called ‘fitspiration’ campaign is just ‘let’s get skinny’ disguised as ‘let’s get rock hard bodies’.


I checked out Instagram – even got myself an @fittobesane account!– just so I could see if it was any different.  The only change?  Now there were men included in the mix – again very few doing anything physically active but more just showing off their physiques.


Quite the eye opener for me.  Fitspiration won’t be a hashtag I’ll be following any time soon.  If you ask me, fitspiration should look more like this:


Complements of www.dailymail.co.uk

This 86 year old gymnast certainly encourages me to get moving.  For more on information see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZjljqReu1I



best exercise for cognitive function

Part of what interests me about exercise and its effect on mental health is the role of exercise in cognitive functioning – not just whether exercise might reduce depression or anxiety but also whether it helps me remember where I put my car keys, problem solve during my day to day work and learn new skills.


So with this in mind, I was excited to come across an article published by a group of Italian researchers  titled: Effects of different types of physical activity on the cognitive functions and attention in older people: A randomized controlled study about the effects of different types of exercise on cognition.  While the sample size was a little on the small side (80 participants divided into 4 groups of 20), the results are still significant enough to draw attention.


While I don’t have access to the full text, it looks like the 80 participants (32 males and 48 female) were randomly divided into 4 groups: resistance training; cardiovascular training; postural and balance training; or control.  A number of baseline cognitive tests were taken and then the groups performed their assigned exercises for a course of 12 weeks.


Not surprisingly, the cardiovascular training group improved significantly.  This is consistent with the published literature to date.  What was more fascinating was that the resistance training group also showed improvement, but in a different type of cognitive function.  Those participating in the cardiovascular training showed improvements in attention and analysis while those in the resistance training group showed improvements in praxis or executing a task based on the instructions provided.


It would be interesting, as the authors identify, to see what would happen to a group assigned to a combined program of a little bit of both resistance training and cardiovascular training.  Would we see an improvement in all areas of cognitive function?  There is nothing to indicate to me that this wouldn’t be the case.


All this aside, I will continue to beat my drum of ‘we do what we enjoy’ so despite the strong argument here to incorporate both resistance and cardio training, it’s even more important that we find forms of both that we enjoy.


So get out there today, experiment and find what works for you knowing that whatever you choose, your brain will likely thank you for it.

A recent article brought back pleasant memories of my daily commute to work: Active travel commuters report high level of enjoyment from their commute compared with car or public transport users.  Not only did the active commuters (all walkers and cyclists, by the way) report more enjoyment, they found their commute almost 7 times more enjoyable than those using public transit or driving their cars!  Sounds to me like a little daily boost to their sanity!


The article made me reflect fondly on my commuting days.  My career has been quite variable starting with commuting, moving to work from home, back to commuting, and now working from home again so I’ve experienced a number of different ‘daily grinds’.


The second time I returned to commuting, I promised myself that I would make better use of the transit time.  I had discovered audiobooks by this time so my initial thoughts went to the reading time I was going to have at my disposal as I drove my way to and from work.  But at the end of the day I would come home tired from the tedious drive and fighting traffic, and have very little motivation to then fit in a workout.  Slowly my mood began to decline as my activity level spiralled downward.


So I began exploring ways of fitting my workout into my commute.  I lived 35km from work and with no access to public transportation from home and we get serious winter here (think -30’s).  So I wasn’t going to be able to just hop a bus and get off a little early to run or walk to work.  And 35km each way was WAY too far to make it on foot or by bike in the winter.  I had to get creative to come up with winter and summer solutions.


For winter, I found a ‘park and ride’ that would allow me to hop on a commuter train that would drop me 4.5km from work.  My winter routine became drive to the park and ride in the morning, hop on the train then run the 4.2km from the end of the train to my office.  The afternoon commute was simply in reverse.


I could now fit in 8km of running into my commute.  The travel time ended up being 20 minutes longer but now I was fitting my workout in and driving a shorter, less congested distance in my car.


For summer I took a different approach.  On warm mornings, I found I was HOT by the time I ran the 4km to the office so cycling became my activity of choice for the summer months.

Now if you’re like me, traffic and cycling don’t mix.  I’m very uncomfortable going through busy intersections on my bike and to be honest, 35km each way made for A LOT of cycling everyday.  As a result, I developed a route that would take me to the same commuter train I took in the winter.  The train allows bicycles so I rode my bike from home to the train, hopped on the train for the downtown part of the commute and then road my bike along the same 4.2km path I used for my winter running.


This shortened the cycling distance a little, prevented me from having to cycle in downtown traffic and meant I could leave my car at home!  I was now able to fit some physical activity into my daily commute.


I know this might not work for all of you but I also know there are others that are conjuring up their own batch of excuses as to why an active commute might no work for them so let me address a few of these right off the top for you.


1)   I have to look professional at work. I can’t carry a suit while I run!  And I agree that you want to keep the number of things you carry to a minimum.  What you can easily carry is a clean shirt and undergarments, especially if you pick a shirt that doesn’t wrinkle easily – leave the 100% cotton button downs at home.I basically moved a good part of my wardrobe to my office – dress pants, jackets, sweaters, shoes – they all got moved in.  When I had a cubicle, I picked up a cheap clothing rack that I could hang everything on.

Once in an office, I made very good use of the hooks on the back of my door by adding tiered hangers to allow me to hang multiple items from one hook.   I drove to the office with my wardrobe and ‘moved in’.  When things needed to be cleaned, I took them to a nearby cleaners or every few weeks I would swap the clothes in the office with clean clothes from home

2)   There are no showers where I work. Hey, I didn’t always have access showers either and to be honest when I did, I didn’t use them.  I found it took up too much time.  Again, we have to be creative here!  I would start each day showered and squeaky clean with clean workout clothes on for my bike or run.  Once I got to work, I grabbed my cosmetics bag (yep, I kept duplicates of everything at the office) and basically had a sponge bath in the sink of the washroom closest to my desk.  I washed my face, and my pits, changed my underwear, and wiped off any grime I might have picked up a long the way.  I then applied deodorant and put on my clean clothes for the day.  I would then hang up my workout clothes to dry so they would be more comfortable to put on for the commute home.

In my cubicle workout clothes went on one end of my clothes rack.  In my office I mounted damage-free adhesive mini hooks to the back of my book shelf that I pulled out from the wall about 6 inches.  I was able to hang my clothes there without anyone noticing J.  When I left the company, I just peeled off the hook and no one was the wiser.

3)   What about my hair and make-up? Make-up is easy.  Just keep a duplicate of everything you use at home, at the office.  Don’t bother with make-up in the morning.  Save that routine for once you arrive that office.  For hair you have 2 options and this depends on your hair style and what you’re willing to do for it.  I have long hair so my solution was to leave the house with my hair clean and dry.  Once I got to work, if my hair was damp, I would stick my head under the hand dryer and then put it up for the day.

If your office doesn’t have a hand dryer, you can keep a hair dryer at work.  If your hair style is a little higher maintenance, you might need to stick your head under the tap and start the styling process from there with a hair dryer, flat iron or whatever else you need – again, keep these at work so you’re not carrying them with you.

4)   But I still have things to carry. What about my lunch?  Yes, you will still have to carry a few things.  I found myself a comfortable backpack that I could run with that was just big enough to carry my lunch, a clean shirt, socks, bra and underwear.  I would also add in my wallet, sometimes an iPad, my iPhone, car keys and the odd time a refill for something I had run out of at work (e.g. moisturizer, eyeliner etc.).

For those that have to carry a laptop back and forth, this is a little trickier but there are backpacks that will do this but be careful about waterproofing – the rain can come at any time!  I’m also a big salad eater and mastered the art of packing my salad upside down – heavy items at the bottom of the container and lettuce on top so that the jostling didn’t pound my lettuce to a mushy mess.

5)   But I run errands after work. I need my car.  And sometimes I did too.  Just because you have a way to make your commute more active, doesn’t mean you have to commute that way every day.  You may find that every second day works better for you or that every 2 weeks you’ll drive to work so that you can swap out your wardrobe and run any errands that have accumulated.  Just find a schedule that works for you and try to collapse those errands into a single day so that they aren’t interfering all the time.


I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed my commute to work until I missed it for a few weeks due to work travel.  It took me a few days of driving to work after I got back to return to my old active commuting routine.  The day I did get out for my morning run to work, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt and how much more productive my day was.  To this day, I try to do something active in the morning to get me off to a good start!


If you have other suggestions for making any active commute, any easy commute, please leave them in the comments.