Exercise: Get Going and Keep Going -- Meg Jordan, PhD, RN. -- 01/21/03

WebMD Live Events Transcript

With another new year comes another chance to create a new you. But if gyms and the buff people who go there intimidate you, or you have a dusty piece of unused workout equipment in you bedroom, read our discussion of a whole new way to get in shape and stay there. Our guest was fitness expert Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, author of The Fitness Instinct.

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Joining us now is Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, author of The Fitness Instinct: The Revolutionary New Approach to Healthy Exercise That Is Fun, Natural, and No Sweat. Welcome, Meg! Your book's subtitle promises that what's inside is "revolutionary." Please tell us what you've designed for us non-hard bodies that will get us off the couch and into action.

Jordan: Well I do want to say that revolutionary is kind of publisher's hype, in that good exercise follows consistency with something you love to do. And my book offers four different pathways to that approach. It was called some of the newest thinking in 50 years, because it analyzes personality and reports a research study that finds we really only move according to inborn preferences and personality. So the key is to first know yourself well.

For instance, a highly competitive guy, CEO type, aggressive leader is not the type to buy a piece of equipment, like a treadmill, install it in his home and exercise consistently. He should instead buy a racket and have an opponent he wants to smash three times a week!

On the other hand, a soccer mom who is other-directed, taking care of everybody, needs to be on the buddy system for exercise. Her best friend and she should walk together or have a buddy to do swing dancing with. Exercise for this type should be social. We don't change our nature in life. So my research says our fitness type should match our basic natures.

Moderator: I think it's safe to say most of us were very active as kids, because activity was part of our daily lives. As adults, we have to schedule it, like a dentist appointment. How does someone get back to that idea of activity being a natural part of the day, not a tacked-on task?

Jordan: I like to first start by doing imagery with folks. My doctorate is behavioral medicine. So I help people discover movement pattern within them that sparks enjoyment. It's easier than you think. Recall childhood play. Was it rough and tumble play like building armies and forts? Or was it more sedentary with dolls and dollhouses? You have to anchor fitness within the imagination, believe it or not, because our feelings towards our bodies and movement are intimately entwined with self-identity. What was satisfying as a child could often be the spark to motivate us later. So I start with imagery: What was your favorite game at age 5, at age 12? Recall falling in a heap, panting heavily, laughing with friends. What was the activity?

What I do with this mental exercise is reawaken a "CAN DO" possibility in the person. Many in mid-life get a defeatist attitude about exercising. We have had multiple starts and stops. The holidays came, we gained five pounds and we feel like slugs in January. We do no tasks we feel are distasteful. We want to reawaken playful activity. Here are some ideas for four different categories and types of activities to do for each one:

1) When you are too tired you've got to generate some energy. (Do it with some self-compassion, though) Some great energy generators:

  • Swing a bat at a batting cage.
  • Hit a bucket of balls at a driving range.
  • Jump on a mini trampoline with a toddler.
  • Play with a hoola hoop.
  • Practice Tai Chi.
  • Take a yoga class.

2) When you are too wired or tense, then you need de-stressing soothers, not exercise to pump you up. You need instead to remove toxins and lessen fatigue. Try:

  • Stretching, rolling on a body ball
  • Walking meditation
  • Moving to music
  • Getting a massage
  • Relaxing yoga

3) When you experience body boredom, and feel uninspired or stuck, try any activity you don't normally do that moves you out of the doldrums. The right activities to spark you out of that include:

  • Take a world beat dance class barefoot.
  • Attend a dog-training class -- laugh at the different matches of dogs and owners.
  • Take a salsa or swing-dancing class.
  • Take improvisational acting lessons.
  • Garden or build sand castles

4) When you are too mired, too entrenched in the same old activities and you need a challenge; when you are bursting with good energy and need to nudge your body into a good challenge, activities can include:

  • A kick-boxing class
  • Cycling
  • Spinning
  • Rigorous nature hiking
  • Orienteering (reading and following a trail map)
  • River rafting
  • Inline skating
  • Points of interest city tour via walking

So when you ask about activities, I say to first check in with your body. Are you too wired, tired, uninspired, or too mired? Figure out which of the four you are and then choose the activity. If you are too tired, working 60 hours a week, picking the kids up, shopping for groceries late at night, don't beat yourself up that you didn't go to the gym that day. Instead you need exercise that gently restores energy, such as yoga poses or Tai Chi. And on those days when you have extra energy, really do give it a push. Those are the days to go ahead and try a kick-boxing class.

In 2003 we have the greatest range of activities to do: pilates, yoga, and dancing; it's a multicultural world out there. Check parks and recreation deptartments, videos, or just buddy with a friend and take belly-dancing, salsa, swing classes. Just make sure it's something you thoroughly enjoy.

Moderator: Try a fencing class! Trust me, it'll wear you out in about two minutes.

Jordan: I have good news about quick fitness that rubs against the grain of 30 years of conventional wisdom. We have been telling folks to go long and slow, aiming for 30 to 45 minutes at a market target heart range. I just attended three scientific gatherings that question some of this usual prescription. Now we find that doing short, less than one minute bursts of exercise and then recovering for two minutes and repeating that pattern six or seven times has tremendous health benefits.

The scientists have founded Life Waves, a holistic lifestyle approach that incorporates this cyclic type of exercise. It's quicker than intervals, because you go all out over a short period of time, like a minute. It hits fat stores more. It floods the body with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories during the recovery phase.

Now that we have a pretty profound finding that chronic inflammation seems to be the genesis of many chronic illnesses (heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity), we need now more than ever exercise that is anti-inflammatory in nature. We know more than ever that exercise is good medicine. And we are finding exercise that cultivates chronic inflammation may do more damage than we realize. Therefore we consulted at these conferences with physicians from SUNY, Kansas City Medical Center, and Harvard, and decided to introduce this cyclic form of exercise to our patients.

I am astounded at the results. I have 60-year-olds who could not do aerobics that now can do it in this cyclical manner. We are broadening the highs and lows of their heart-rate response. It is as if we finally look at the human body from a biophysics standpoint and understand all cellular activity is like a fluctuating wave. We stop looking at the body as a mechanical object. We have centuries of looking at the body this way. We finally put the body in a biophysics lens. Our endocrine, muscular, and circulatory systems are all cyclic in nature and this type of exercise enhances the body's circadian rhythm.

As a medical anthropologist what I love about this is the way it matches our evolutionary patterns as humans. There is no hard evidence that humans did aerobics through the Stone Age and forward. We ran from predators and chased our prey. Then we rested. Our physiology evolved according to these bursts of exertion and complete recovery. There is a cascade of healing biochemistry during the recovery phase. So we have been exercising for 30 years training the exertion side of the equation and neglecting the recovery side of the equation. Our body really does not get a chance to put out the inflammatory fires.

Expect this to be real news throughout all of the media. We have studied this with Parkinson's patients. They average 70 years old -- walkers and canes -- people who could not write their name for 15 years. Within 12 weeks of doing cycles they had major improvements in motor functions. They were writing their name, vacationing with their spouses. They wanted to continue the exercise after the study. Same with AIDS patients in Philadelphia. I've been amazed by the compliance with this. If you say, "Can you go hard for one minute? Then rest totally?" there is a real willingness to do this. If you do it the other way and say go hard for 45 minutes, there is a defeatist attitude. We are oscillating our physiology and putting the highs and lows back into chemical and circulatory responses.

Two more aspects to this: We build healthy rhythms in our body by having complete darkness or complete light and by napping in the afternoon. Don't sleep with a night light. And don't even go to the restroom with a light on. (good luck (-: ) Get full sunlight during the day. The hunter-gatherer in the Stone Age had complete light and complete dark each day. Also try to make your body go through cycles of hot and cold each day. We are meant to shiver a little bit and feel hot a little bit each day. Artificial temperature control and artificial lighting really put a straight jacket on our physiology. If we fluctuate these highs and lows of exertion and recovery, complete light, complete dark, chilly, warm, total activity, complete rest -- this keeps us healthy according to this new research. These findings suggest we now get in the shower and instead of it being toasty warm, grab that nozzle and shift it to cold for as many seconds as is tolerable. You have to have that hunter-gatherer uncivilized response sometime during the day and your body kicks in with antioxidant anti-inflammatory clean up activity.

It sounds wacky and New Age, but it's real science out of Harvard, and honestly it feels intuitively right on. You can do anything you want. Run up and down stairs, dance, bicycle, jog, or even lift weights at a good pace for those short bursts. And then the cool down is not the old way of walking around. It's sitting and meditating and going into Alpha. It's like zoning out and then going right back and jumping up and down. The cardiologists found it corrected heart-rate variability and enhanced it. A loss of heart rate variability was found in the Framingham Heart Studies to be the one risk factor common to all causes of mortality. So no matter what you died of a decrease in your heart rates' variability was noted. HRV is the measure of time between heartbeats. It should not be like a metronome beat. It should fluctuate with every respiration. When we are young and heart muscle is flexible there is quite a variance in beat-to-beat measure. As we age chronic disorders set in, and we lose our HRV. What these short bursts do is restore that variability. It is like Yoga for the heart. The biophysicists found it introduced a healthier wave pattern to the whole body.

Member: Are these types exercises recommended for someone whose asthma is also exercise-induced?

Jordan: Absolutely. There is a brand new study at Emory in Atlanta for asthmatic children that will teach Life Waves and cycles exercises. These small bursts of exercise are perfect for asthmatics in my estimation. They are almost like homeopathic doses of exercise. Not enough to trigger a full squeezing down of the bronchials, but sufficient to generate these anti-inflammatory responses during recovery phases. I hope to report in the future the results of this study in Atlanta, but I feel very positive at this time.

The typical precautions are things like: Don't exercise in extreme hot or cold. Stay within a perceived exertion of 4 to 5 on a 1 to 10 scale. Stay well hydrated. Build in frequent rest periods. And keep your inhalants and medications handy. Asthmatics have been able to perform in every professional sport. I think we will find out more about the cyclic nature of asthma and how cyclic exercise can help manage asthma.

Member: I would like to know how exercise works for relief of stress-related illness? And what are beta endorphins?

Jordan: Exercise is one of the best methods of relieving stress in the body, but only if it's done with a positive frame of mind. You can go for walks in nature or jump on your stationary cycle. It doesn't matter the type you do. What matters is your mental approach to the activity. For instance, a type-A executive leaves his difficult job, jumps on a crowded freeway, gets to the club, and harnesses himself to a treadmill, hating it but doing it anyway. Has he done himself any good? We find out more endorphins are released when a mom sings to her infant than when this guy is on the treadmill. Endorphins are the body's opiates, or pleasure-enhancing substances. They are not simply released as a physical outlet as once thought. It seems there has to be a harmony of mind and body in order for optimum endorphin release to occur.

Moderator: Working on a chain gang won't do it, huh?

Jordan: Working on a chain gang won't do the trick. An 80-year-old conductor of a symphony waving his arms has a higher endorphin release than someone taking a step class who hates it but feels they have to do it anyway.

Member: I'm about 480 pounds and 6' 1". I need to lose some weight. I can't get the will power to do anything more than two days. And it's expensive to eat healthily. What suggestions do you have for me? I'm in dire straits!

Jordan: I worked with Richard Simmons for years and he honestly has genuine compassion for obese individuals. We would visit them and have them do nothing more than playful moves such as keeping rhythm to some great music. Snapping fingers, moving arms, moving hips. Exercise becomes like drudgery the way we have always thought about it. Reawaken to the fact that you can move blissfully, joyfully, like your life depended on it. My advice is not to follow the dictates of an exercise program. Get in touch with rhythm, dance, and movement all for the simple joy of it. Do it in the privacy of your home. Play your favorite music. Get Richard's "Sweating to the Oldies." He has a genuine compassion for folks your size. Avoid boot-camp nonsense and hard-body nonsense. I hope you will be reawakened to have a good relationship with your body. We must fan that ember before it goes out.

Moderator: We are almost out of time. Before we wrap up for today, do you have any final comments for us, Meg?

Jordan: Transfer authority back to yourself when it comes to moving your body. Don't let others dictate to you. Get in touch with your own personal fitness instinct. Know that you are in charge of your body and its well-being. Do your body scan, which I talked about. Pick an activity that matches your personality. And may all your experiences be moving! (-:

Moderator: Thanks for joining us, members, and thanks to Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, for being our guest. For more information on Meg's approach to exercise, pick up The Fitness Instinct: The Revolutionary New Approach to Healthy Exercise That Is Fun, Natural, and No Sweat. Learn more on our boards and chats Member Central page, where you can also link to our archived live event transcripts on this subject. Goodbye and good health!

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