Exercise Momentum -- Michael Gerrish -- 01/28/03

Last Editorial Review: 10/23/2003

WebMD Live Events Transcript

What's the hardest part about working out? Getting off the couch. If that sounds like your exercise routine, read about the possible causes of your fitness obstacles and re-energizing your quest to get in shape. WebMD Live welcomed Michael Gerrish, author of When Working Out Isn't Working Out.

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: Welcome, Michael. Please tell us a little bit about the mind/body approach to fitness you talk about in your books.

Gerrish: In the Mind Body Makeover Project there are two parts. Part one is the program, which includes a test to determine individual "UFOs" (unidentified fitness obstacles). It's a 58-item test that helps determine exactly what it is that is keeping one from exercising consistently or from achieving the results they are expecting if they are making it to the gym on a regular basis. Too many people think the reason for not staying on an exercise program has to do with being lazy, undisciplined or not having the time. I say those are symptoms rather than the source of the problem. The source again is what I call UFOs.

Examples of UFOs are:

  • Estrogen dominance in women
  • Candida (yeast overgrowth)
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • Food allergies
  • Electromagnetic illness (too much time in front of the computer or using cell phones)
  • Snack amnesia (eating too much too often throughout the day and not realizing it)
  • Amino acid deficiency
  • Sleep apnea
  • Misconceptions about exercise

And there are many others. A lot of fitness professionals don't address these issues, which I think are critical to achieving your fitness potential.

The program in the first part of the book also addresses the specific obstacles with resources and recommendations, and provides a comprehensive yet easy to follow exercise program, and three different nutritional, which you choose and follow based on the results of the UFO test. One is a general plan. One is for those who suffer from "insulin instability." And the other is for those with candida, or yeast overgrowth.

The second half of the book is the makeovers. And what I did was assemble a team of experts including Cheryl Richardson, Debbie Ford, and Tracy Gaudette, MD, the director of the Duke University Center for Integrated Medicine, and we worked together on the program for 12 weeks to help seven people who were fitness-impaired (had been through many different exercise and diet programs with no positive result). The goal was to help them change, not only their bodies, but their lives, mental outlook, image, and how they felt about themselves. And we had all types of different people -- different ages, experience levels in the gym, all with different goals and different obstacles. The stories painted an accurate and insightful picture of what really happens when people undertake an exercise program or diet. Even though there were ups and downs along the way, all seven people experienced results they had never expected or experienced before.

Moderator: Some of these "UFOs" you've mentioned are very specific physical examples, and things most people are not aware of. Would someone go to his or her doctor to begin finding out if one of these is the problem?

Gerrish: Yes. What I recommend is to go to the doctor first, find out if the doctor is familiar with these problems and test to see if they exist (blood, saliva, urine, or stool testing). It helps if your doctor has an alternative or complimentary orientation. And if not, it may be worthwhile to seek the help of a naturopath or a doctor with a holistic bent. But the key is to find out if the doctor runs these tests, and that's the clue to see how open they are to alternative treatments.

Member: What about emotional eating as an UFO? Do you even consider this to be a problem or is it all in our heads?

Gerrish: It certainly is a problem, and one of the things I recommend to my clients is to keep a log (a diary, a diet log) and use this log to record not only what you eat, and the time of day, but also to record your moods and feelings at these times. By doing this you will be able to see the links between what you eat and how you feel and make the appropriate adjustments based on the patterns you are able to identify over time.

There is also a chapter in my book that deals specifically with emotional eating, and provides specific energy treatments, which involve acupressure and affirmations to control and put a halt to cravings, difficult emotions that may cause you to overeat, and energy swings. These energy swings may also drive you to the fridge. These treatments have proven very effective. I suggest you give them a look.

Member: I have a treadmill but find it more and more boring. I've tried reading, watching TV, etc., but I'm having a hard time keeping my interest. Any suggestions?

Gerrish: Yes. Have you considered trying something else, like walking outside? Or going to the gym with a friend? Or a completely different activity like cross-country skiing or snow shoeing or taking a dance or yoga class? Try anything to stimulate you in a different kind of way. One of my favorite machines is the elliptical cross trainer, which is very easy on the joints. And compared to the treadmill, it's fun to use.

Member: I also have difficulty sleeping all night. I usually wake up several times (five to six) each night, then feel fairly groggy in the morning. Needless to say, I'm in no mood to jump up and start exercising. I have more time in the evening, but I'm worn out from the day.

Gerrish: Good question. I suggest that you investigate the possibility that you may have sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea actually stop breathing for short periods of time off and on throughout the night while supposedly asleep. As you might imagine, this is not conducive to feeling rested once you are up and around to start your day. I would strongly suggest talking to your doctor or a sleep-wake specialist about the possibility that you may have this problem, which by the way can be easily treated with a device called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Air Pressure) device. It's basically a mask that fits comfortably over your nose and mouth, that forces oxygen into what is possibly a narrowed or closed airway. It's a lot more comfortable than it sounds! Many of my clients have found it to be a lifesaver! You will awake feeling rested and with more energy than you have had in a long time.

Member: I have a hard getting motivated to exercise. I have a very busy schedule that not the same routine each day, so it is hard to schedule a regular time to exercise.

Gerrish: Who says it has to be a regular time? Why not just fit it in wherever it is most comfortable or appropriate during the day? One of the biggest mistakes people make when they think they don't have time to exercise is neglecting to realize that just 15 or 20 minutes of anything three times per week will increase their energy levels so dramatically they will start getting more done in much less time. Thus making more efficient use of their day.

Moderator: I understand what this person is saying -- a regular routine makes it a habit and you're more likely to stick to it. Doing it "whenever" sounds harder. Is this your experience?

Gerrish: It depends on the person. If you are finding it hard to schedule exercise into your day on a regular basis at a regular time, then why not at least try doing it differently?

If it doesn't work, then you can start to think about different ways to manage your time and how to make exercise more of a priority. I suggest two good books to help you with this:

  • Take Time for Your Life, by Cheryl Richardson (my wife)
  • Time Management from The Inside Out, by Julie Morgenstern

Member: Best way to stay focused on exercise plans are?

Gerrish: To identify your individual UFOs. Because chances are, there are things you don't even realize are getting in your way on a consistent basis. Like:

  • Not sleeping well
  • Low-grade depression
  • A hormone imbalance
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

These are just a few more examples. All of these things are discussed in detail in my new book.

Member: Michael, I started to exercise fairly regularly last year then headed into a major depression in mid-November. I working with a doctor to treat the depression and I know that exercise will help, but I just can't find the energy to do anything. Even thinking about exercising wears me out right now. Any thoughts?

Gerrish: Good question. And it seems to me that it's pretty obvious you have not had your depression treated to the extent that is necessary for you to feel motivated and energized on a regular basis. This may mean that you may either need to adjust the timing or dose of your medication, change medications, try a different combination, try one of the alternative supplements such as 5-HTP, SAMe, or St. John's Wort, or since your depression started to become more of a problem in November investigate that you may have SAD or seasonal affective disorder.

What's important is that you stay on the case until you find the right formula that will help you to get over your depression, whether it be the right drug, or a combination of the right supplements, or therapy.

Member: I enjoy walking for fitness. Is this a good exercise for weight loss and how much should I be doing?

Gerrish: Yes, it's good for weight loss, provided that you are moving at a consistent intensity (moving at an intensity that is at least 65% of your maximum heart rate). But somewhere between 65% and 85% is the right intensity to produce maximum benefit. And as long as you are moving and enjoying what you are doing and are not putting undue stress on your joints, whatever you choose to do should suffice.

Member: Do you know of any effective "sit at your desk all day" type of exercise to keep my metabolism moving while working at my computer?

Gerrish: I would recommend a book called Fitting in Fitness, by the American Heart Association. I would also advise putting a timer on your desk (alarm clock or setting your watch) so it goes off every 30 to 60 minutes so that you will be reminded to get up and do a short walk or perhaps even do some free body exercises using your desk or chair as a prop. But the book I referred to should give you many different ideas.

Member: I get up early each morning and workout before going to work. I am having a difficult time motivating myself to get out of bed on these cold, dark mornings ... any suggestions?

Gerrish: It may be that you are forcing yourself to exercise at a time when your energy level is not at its peak. A lot of experts feel that exercising first thing in the morning is beneficial in terms of enabling one to burn more body fat and increase one's metabolism. But in my view, I think this is overblown in terms of its value and importance. The slight extra bit of fat you might lose is not worth the loss of energy that you will suffer as a result of forcing yourself to exercise at a personally inappropriate time. Better to exercise when your energy level is at its peak, whether it's morning, afternoon, or evening. Exercising on an empty stomach is generally not a good idea.

Member: I was doing great on the treadmill at the gym three times a week then I got tendinitis in my ankle. Now I am on the treadmill at a snail's pace. I couldn't go to gym for a month because of upper respiratory virus and just today started again on the stationary bike for five minutes. Any ideas or encouragement, particularly about the ankle tendinitis and treadmill? Would an elliptical trainer be a good idea or should I stay with bike, etc.?

Gerrish: The elliptical trainer will be easier on your Achilles tendon area than the treadmill but I would advise using a recumbent cycle, a rowing machine (if you don't have any back issues), or any kind of cardiovascular exercise that does not place a lot of high impact stress on your knees, feet, or ankles. Swimming is a good example of such an exercise. I would also encourage you to stop being so hard on yourself and to give yourself the time to heal before you jump head first into a full-fledged exercise program.

Adjust what you do based on how you feel. Too many try to push through injuries or exercise through illness and set themselves back as a result.

Member: It seems the only time I can find to work out is after my kids are in bed ... late at night. Is there anything detrimental about such a late workout?

Gerrish: No, as long as it does not keep you up at night. Believe it or not, exercise actually helps some sleep better, contrary to popular belief. It all depends on the person. There is no hard and fast rule for this. We are all very different and we respond differently to different things.

Member: I have just started working out at Curves for Women, which uses hydraulic exercise equipment. They say to only workout out three times a week. Is it safe to say that I can workout more times a week without having the workout stop working?

Gerrish: I would not work out any more than three times per week. Your body needs at least 24 hours between each workout in order to recover fully. A few thoughts about Curves: While I think this is an excellent way for women in particular to exercise with others and develop a sense of community, it would not be my first choice with regard to a resistance-training program. This is because, among other things, hydraulic resistance machines do not provide any resistance throughout the lowering phase of a movement, which I consider essential to achieving maximum benefit.

The other problem with the Curves format is that it does not allow for exercising to total muscular fatigue, moving at a slow rate of speed, which I also consider essential. And oftentimes it does not allow for the level of concentration needed to focus on the muscles properly due to the small area in which people are forced to work out.

This is not to discourage you from going to Curves. I think it's great if you find it motivating and if you enjoy it. But at some point in the future I would strongly consider a routine that includes free weights and or selecterized machines.

Member: I recently started a circuit-training program where every 45 seconds I switch from strength training machines to cardio so I can bring my heart rate back down. I do this for an hour (four times around the circuit). Do you think this (coupled with appropriate eating) is an effective fat loss and muscle-gaining program?

Gerrish: I think it's a very effective program for fat loss. It's not as effective for gaining muscle mass. If you are rushing through your exercises, which tends to be the case in circuit training, the odds are you are not moving slow enough or isolating muscles enough to achieve a maximum gain. Once again, this isn't to say that such a method is not beneficial -- only that there are better ways to achieve your goals.

Member: After four weeks of continued workouts, I am now experiencing my joints making a popping noise. I am 55 years old. Could this be serious?

Gerrish: Not necessarily. But if I were you, I would think about whether or not I'm moving too fast or positioned improperly while performing my resistance exercises. Oftentimes when people use fast jerky or explosive movements they create a lot of pressure in the joints. This can cause this popping or cracking sensation. In and of itself, it's not a dangerous thing. But it could be a sign that you could do damage if you keep exercising in the same manner.

My advice is to slow down considerably and ensure you are positioned properly on the machines. In addition, I would talk to an instructor to find out whether or not you are moving through an appropriate range of motion. And, of course, if the problem gets worse see your doctor.

Member: Does your book have exercise routines in it?

Gerrish: Yes. And the routines, although extensive, are very clear and easy to follow. One of my pet peeves is that most exercise books don't provide enough information about how to perform an exercise properly. It's with this in mind that I try to provide very clear and detailed steps for each exercise so that people would not have any questions at all once they take their routine to the gym. The instructions on the machines are rarely enough. It's all in the details, as you will see once you have had a chance to try some of the techniques that are in my book.

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

Gerrish: For those who are interested, my wife Cheryl Richardson and I are running a 12-week Mind-Body Makeover Project that you can find out more about by visiting Cheryl's web site at www.cherylrichardson.com. Also visit my web site, www.exerciseplus.com, to see before and after photos of the makeover subjects in my book. Thank you all for joining me today and good luck with your program. I enjoyed chatting with you today.

Moderator: Unfortunately, we are out of time. Thanks for joining us, members, and thanks to Michael Gerrish for being our guest. For more information on the mind/body approach to exercise, be sure to pick up his books, When Working Out Isn't Working Out and The Mind-Body Makeover Project. Learn more on our boards and chats Member Central page, where you can also link to our message boards and read archived chat transcripts. Goodbye and good health!

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