Posts Tagged ‘Brain’

Goals and measurements, a topic that once again blends in some management concepts (TAPUniversity is a learning portal that supports management and technology so it’s fitting).  The brain thrives in goal setting situations.  Often it’s the mental part of the game that keeps exercise programs on target, or causes them to slip.  So put on your SWOT caps, step up the dry-erase board and chart your life!

For the last several years I’ve seen them boldly rush in to the local YMCA we belong to in the first week of January.  Brave and very well intentioned people making a change.  Hit the gym, push the pedals, ramp up the treadmill and check out a class!  Somewhere in early February it becomes apparent those that can make it stick and those that won’t.  What was made as a resolution soon fades under the pressures of life or unrealistic expectations.

Now rather than lament what happens to those that fade, I’ve been thinking about what’s consistent with those who stick.  What seems apparent are a few simple yet powerful things:

  • Relationships develop– we are meant to do things together.  Even if it’s a bunch of introverts who just meet at the same thing and do their stuff quietly.  When done in pack we stick.  We’re pack animals. Even Rocky had Mick, then Apollo, Duke and finally Paulie (ok 1 of those is not like the other).  Some activities can be done alone, but doing stuff together makes it motivational.
  • Doing something that you can enjoy once you’re over the learning curve.  If you’ve never swam before it’s a stretch to think you can jump out of adult swim lessons and into lap swimming in 4-5 weeks.   I know several triathletes have greatly improved their swimming over the course of a year and found enjoyment.   There is a learning curve to each new exercise, technique so patience helps.  It can be fun.  Kicking myself from a recreational bike rider to one that has clip shoes, cares about carbon forks/frames and has the foggiest notion about rhythmic stroke motion has been a blast.  It’s also been good for the brain – you see I’m learning something new and triggering that learning in the limbic or “doing” part of the brain.
  • Goals and measurements – I should add “reasonable” goals and measurements.  Unreasonable goals flow through two channels (one) if exercise is viewed as a one shot, 90 day miracle deal or  (two) if the expectation is to shed 50lbs, increase strength, speed, stamina potentially in 90 days.   Neither works.    Reasonable goals with measurement should help propel you – not defeat you.  Goal setting start with an accurate assessment of what your current level is.  Here’s mine for 2009 I typed into a simple spreadsheet I keep on 12.28.08 and a measure of where I’m at as of August 6,  7 months into it.  I try to just keep an honest flowing conversation going with myself – no bull.
    • Goals:1,500 running (29 per week).. 100 swimming or 3,200 laps.. 200 bike.  Lincoln Marathon – 4:15; Pikes Peak Double!  4:55 and 7:55.  HyVee Long Course Triathlon – Finish.  Des Moines Marathon 4:10
    • Measurement as of 08.08.09 —
      Running on target – 27.9 average, highest number of 40+ mileage weeks since 1997.  High points – Cornhusker State Games & Thunder Run 5k’s, winter and Pikes Peak build up; Low Points – after my father passed away in April – a bit listless.
      Swimming below target but planned up tick in August  following Pikes Peak – 17 miles.  High points  – most mileage since high school and tried new events (1k open water swim) and HyVee 1,500 meter swim at 38 minutes.  Low points – CSG sprint tri was 4 minutes slower?
      Cycling – over or ahead by 65 miles – cranked in more for HyVee  and hope to finish with 500 total (leads into 2010 goal of 1/2 iron man).  High point – learning to ride a ‘real’ road bike for CSG in June and somehow not totally embarrassing myself on HyVee bike portion.  Low point – taking too long to ask to borrow a decent road bike.
      Pike’s Peak Double is next week – in as good as shape as I’ve been since 1998,
      Lincoln Marathon – blew up and overheated at mile 21 – missed goal by 17 minutes was able to help a friend from high school finish her first marathon – was over’joy’ed with that,
      Des Moines 4:10 updated to sub 4 hours, why that when I blew up in Lincoln? Figuring out the root cause (thyroid / hydration / base mile / April stress) and am getting in much better shape.  I also have 4 to 5 “litmus test” races from 1/2 marathons to 10k/5k to validate.
    • My longer term, 2 to 4 year horizon, goals include 1) Boston Qualifying marathon of 3:30, 2) 1/2 Iron Man and once #1 goal is met, Iron Man Triathlon, 3) 10k swim without search and rescue and 4) matching PR’s in running (5k, 5 mile, 10k, 10 mile and 1/2 marathon).  Could I knock these goals off based on where I was at in December of 2008?  No.  But I can build each year.  Could someone new to any of these activities blaze by me with 6 months of training – absolutely!  And after tripping them I would applaud  – goals and measurements are personal.  The miracle is making it out the door.

Please  let me know some of your exercise goals and ways you use to measure.  Another method I’ve found fun to  measure is a through a couple of ad-in’s in Facebook: VOMaxer and RunLogger.  It’s been encouraging to see how virtual and ‘real’ friends are doing and to chart my own progress.

Finally wanted to share a cartoon the extols the benefits of beginning your program.

So what do I need to do for good health?

So what do I need to do for good health?

Exercise and pain – two blogs have been devoted to it and a third one is presented here.  Maybe there’s a connection?  Even back to our brains. This blog addresses chronic pain from three prevalent health issues and the benefit of exercise to each.  The next blog will address managing long term pain from exercise – pain not to be ignored whether associated with knees, plantar fasciitis or achilles tendons.  Call this a sort of ying and yang of exercise.  This blog addresses the ying once again.

Benefits of Exercise – Take 2 – Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Back Pain.

I’ve shared that exercise provides benefit to a person of any age.  Can it help with significant pain diseases / issues?  The research indicates yes!  As with any exercise consult your physician first.  Also, as with the entire series on the Exercise – Brain connection, exercise is not offered a singular, exclusive solution that’s accomplished in four simple steps – it’s meant for a life long commitment that weaves and supports other treatments and activities. This ain’t an  informercial.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – I’ve seen the debilitating effects of progressive MS on my oldest brother.  Formal confirmation and diagnosis was provided in 2004/05.  His is not a relapse form of MS – it’s a downhill slope.  He is still active, aided by an iron will,  tremendous family support, treatment and moderate exercise.  While a marathon is not in the cards, he can be there at then end laughing at me trying to hold off the winner of the 80 and older age group.  That’s what brotherly love is all about.  Swimming and moderate strength training are his two primary forms of exercise.   The following video from WebMD provides some insights on how exercise can help manage the symptoms from MS


A disease which has exercise intolerance as a root symptom might seem an unlikely candidate to benefit from exercise.  Research does indicate that, in moderate and careful doses, exercise can provide invaluable support.  The following is from the Arthritis Foundation, Research Update, March / April 2008.

Exercise and Education for Fibromyalgia

The authors conclude in their article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, “The present study suggests that progressive walking, simple strength training movements, and stretching activities are effective at improving physical, emotional and social function, key symptoms, and self-efficacy in women with fibromyalgia who are being actively treated with medication. Furthermore, the benefits of exercise are enhanced when combined with targeted self-management education.”

Back Pain

Back Pain is a common discomfort for most everyone at some point in their life.   For a some though chronic back pain is a life long issues.  President Kennedy’s struggle with back pain following his WW2 service is widely documented.  What is not as widely known is that the best relief was not provided by six daily pain treatment shots, rather it was after that approach was abandoned for moderate, back strengthening exercises.  The National Pain Foundation chronicles the work of Dr. Kraus in the following article:

Muscles, Back Pain and Exercise

Dr. Kraus, who originally was an orthopedic surgeon, actually established the first multidisciplinary pain center in the world in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which very few people know. It was at the Columbia University School of Medicine in the department of orthopedic surgery. There were psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, physical therapists, physiatrists, and orthopedic surgeons researching at back pain and trying to understand it.
They found that about 80% of patients presented with nothing that could be demonstrated on an x-ray or physical exam that suggested there was something significant pathologically, so they tried to understand it from the perspective of conditioning since that was Dr. Kraus background. They studied about 3,700 patients for 4.5 years and created a test – called the Kraus-Weber test – and an exercise program to go along with the test to deal with what they thought were the types of functional muscle pain that exist

The following article from WebMD helps and encourages anyone beginning an exercise program or anyone who’s been in their program for years.  Sore muscles will occur – call it the acute pain of overcoming inertia.  I was thinking of this very topic during a 20 mile run today – which was relatively pain free.  There will be some pain from exercise.  That’s OK.  The key is to determine what is normal soreness and what may be an indicator of a more serious problem.  This blog concerns normal soreness.

Two Types of Soreness that are good

acute, immediate– this is the type of soreness that occurs during or very soon after you’re done exercising.  It can happen to newbees or experts.  There’s also some characteristics of soreness from different activities – here are some that bubble up high on the list

Running:  shins, quads, hamstrings, knee, feet and shoulders, oh my!  Each of those will be pushed.  Depending on current fitness level and body composition, your soreness in any one area will vary.  Here is one big hint. Learn to run on the balls of your feet (I’ll have an entire blog on fore foot running).  For now let me just say that our bodies are meant to run toe to toe or on the ball of the foot (walking is heel to toe).  The downside is most running shoes cater to heel to toe strike.  Test this yourself – run barefoot for 200 meters and see how your foot falls.  Its natural fall is on the balls of your foot right before your toes.

Cycling:  buns, quads, shoulders and back.  Lots of bending over on top of a bike.  Proper technique (smooth and fast rotation instead of straining or chopping your stroke) helps.  For the buns aka “saddle sore” a cycling or triathlon pair of shorts  is well worth the investment.

Swimming: a wonderful healing aerobic activity swimming can strain the shoulders and back depending on type of stroke and, more importantly, your efficiency with each stroke.  Other irritations include swimmer’s ear and even the dreaded google imprint on the nose.  Compared to running there’s far less soreness involved. 

Lifting: more related to DOMS and discussed below, the soreness from weight lifting is typically 30-48 hours after.  This is the old “bench pressed 205 yesterday and can’t lift my toothbrush today” syndrome.

Sore Muscles? Don’t Stop Exercising
After participating in some kind of strenuous physical activity, particularly something new to your body, it is common to experience muscle soreness, say experts.

“Muscles go through quite a bit of physical stress when we exercise,” says Rick Sharp, professor of exercise physiology at Iowa State University in Ames.
 “Mild soreness just a natural outcome of any kind of physical activity,” he says. “And they’re most prevalent in beginning stages of a program.
delayed onset soreness (DOMS)   Ah, the joy of the two days after a marathon, triathlon or 100 mile bike ride.  Walking around with a little hitch in your giddy up.  I’ve included a link to a fun video about the day after a marathon.  This type of soreness will lessen.  It’s a profound how our bodies are wired to deal with pain.  It’s associated with the muscle tear down and recovery cycle.  Read more about why DOMS happens in the WebMD article referenced above. 

To overcome DOMS the most powerful and frequently overlooked treatment is the cold soak – within 15 minutes of ending your session.  This runs counter intuitive to what our body tells us (a message of let’s soak in a hot tub and grab a massage is much more inviting than lets sit in a tub for 20 minutes with ice and shiver like a Titanic survivor).  But it’s the best way to reduce inflammation and quasi secret method for Olympic and professional athletes to treat DOMS.  Another good method is to stretch, warm up, cool down and stretch – call this more of a preventive technique.

In the next Exercise – Brain blog we will share a bit about what to do about chronic soreness or pain that indicates a deeper issue.  Additionally some ideas on how to manage that pain will be provided.


The day after the Marathon

“Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common result of physical activity that stresses the muscle tissue beyond what it is accustomed to,” says David O. Draper, professor and director of the graduate program in sports medicine/athletic training at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.To be more specific, says Draper, who’s also a member of the heat-responsive pain council, delayed onset muscle soreness occurs when the muscle is performing an eccentric or a lengthening contraction. Examples of this would be running downhill or the lengthening portion of a bicep curl.

So you thought exercise meant pain? 

While there’s some pain that results from exercise (either during or after – called delayed onset) the pain relief benefit from exercise greatly outweighs the pain creation.  This article provides a nice summary of what’s involved and I’ll shout and echo the sentiment that “Moving is what the human body is designed to do”…

Mixing aerobic, strength (anaerobic) and flexibility are the key – one type alone will not accomplish it. 

  • Aerobic exercise from running or cycling or aerobics classes help fuel that authentic wonder working tonic called endorphins.  From “Endorphins are manufactured in the brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of the body. They are released in response to neurotransmitters and bind to certain neuron receptors (the same ones that bind opiate medicines). Endorphins act as analgesics (diminishing the perception of pain) and as sedatives”
  • Flexibility helps your body correct itself from a generally sedentary lifestyle we have.  If you think about it, sitting at a computer or standing all day on your feet are the most punishing things you can do to your body.  So stretching, yoga and Pilate’s help increase your range of motion
  • Strength training does not mean “you’ll get pumped up” in the “governator” sense.  It does mean you’ll build muscles first and then over time (3-6 months later) your joint strength.Consider strength training your body’s natural ibuprofen. 

I’ve seen the benefits of exercise increase as I age or struggle with some minor chronic pain issues.  I have a flaky almost non existent thyroid that presented itself in 2001.  A 2 mile run felt like I was at mile 20.  It didn’t add up.  After a diagnosis and proper meds – Levoxyl rocks – I was back on my way.  However by focusing too much on running I would find myself fatiguing.  As I’ve mixed in a heavy triathlon dose and kept my strength training year round, I’ve noticed a much greater improvement in pain management.  Again, my pain management is very minor and I empathize with those who have arthritis or fybromyalgia or Lyme disease.  I’ve also seen that blending in healing aerobic activity of swimming and cycling helps with the body pounding nature of running (in a future blog I’ll share some secrets on how to make it less body pounding beginning with “get off your heals and onto the balls of your feet”).  My next step is improving my flexibility. 

Now further testifying to the benefit of exercise, I’ve felt the old body aches more if I’m away from some serious workouts for 4-5 days (lets say traveling).  The lower back creaks, feet hurt, etc. 

Please do share what you’ve found – whether you’ve exercised all your life, its been a few months or you’re just beginning.

Next up – overcoming the Pain from Exercise.


Getting started – often the first step is the most difficult.   It’s also the most important step.   I remember listening to John “The Penguin” Ingram, contributing editor for Runner’s World and self effacing ‘slow runner’, share at the prerace dinner for the Tulsa Marathon in 2003 that the “miracle wasn’t that I finished, the miracle was that I had the courage to start”.  At the time he began running he was considerably overweight and had a myriad of health issues.  So that first step was a good leap for mankind (giant leap belongs nobly to Neil Armstrong).

I’m not presuming that running is the only exercise to begin with.   It is a lower cost and simple way to begin – go out and run.  There are other equally effective ways.  There’s also some good advice from the Mayo Clinic on what to consider for any exercise program

  1. Assess current fitness level
  2. Design your program
  3. Assemble your equipment
  4. Get started (Penguin’s miracle)
  5. Monitor your progress

for our Six Sigma fans this resembles the DMAIC process a bit… but I digress

A good program should include both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.

Here’s a quick list of lower cost entry aerobic exercises to begin with:

  1. Walking
  2. Running
  3. Cycling
  4. Swimming
  5. Dancing (ah, not slow, you need to move)
  6. Others – may require some investment
    1. Skiing – downhill or cross country
    2. Indoor passions – elliptical, stair climber, treadmill – at a local club, Y or home
    3. Soccer
    4. Roller Blading

Anaerobic exercises includes

  1. Circuit training (health club)
  2. Free weights (can be done at home)
  3. the “ups” – push, pull, chin and modified sit ups.

How often should you do it each week?  The traditional wisdom is 3 times a week for 20 to 30 minutes to begin.  My observation and one shared by the “Younger Next Year” authors Chris Cowley and Dr. Harry Lodge http://www.youngernextyear.comis more than that – at least 4 aerobic sessions for 45 minutes each week and 2 to 3 anaerobic / strength training programs.  Why?  Am I harsh?  Old School?  Grumpy? 

Maybe, but the deeper reason is our bodies were made for movement every single day and not just 2 or 3 days a week.  While 3 days a week for 20 minutes is a start, your body actually craves a bit more .  As we share more on heart rates and endorphins, 45 minutes is when you begin receiving the “thank you” from your body.

Now that 45 minutes is NOT at break neck pace.  If your goal is to run, then begin with a walk/jog combination – a 50/50 mix over those 45 minutes.  If cycling, then a mix of 8-12 mph with occasional bursts to 15.  The idea is to extend your session, reasonable.   How long should you stay at this “introduction” phase – the simple answer, as long as it takes for you to feel comfortable to add time to each session or increase intensity or both.  That may mean weeks or months or even a year. 

Next up are blogs on Anaerobic exercises, “Pain”, Extending your Performance and psychological benefits from exercise.  For now venture out and make the exercise stuff happen!


Exam Day

What started as “ten things to do before your PMP exam” five years ago has grown into a deeper passion of mine.  In looking at 9 certification exam experiences of mine since 2000, I did very well on 8 and so/so on 1.   One of the factors on the so/so one in 2004 was taking exam after a period of 2 weeks of semi activity and on depleted resources (lack of sleep, stress and poor nutrition).

Before my most recent exam (CBAP – certified business analyst professional –  in April of 2008) I purposely ran two miles (7 minute pace) , 30 minutes prior to the exam.  I had a good overall aerobic and anaerobic exercise week (30 mile running week and 3 strength training sessions).  I felt pumped, though sweaty.  Pity my fellow exam takers ;-).  My pulse was moderate through the experience – not spiking up. I got up twice to grab some water and finished the exam rather fast.  Now, my mental preparation wasn’t necessarily text book – I crammed during a 6 hour lay over at the St Louis airport.  Granted I had been immersed in the BA jargon for 15 years –still not the ideal prep.

So what?  We coach and recommend that exam takers get up and move around during an exam.  Prior to entering the exam we recommend aerobic exercise commensurate with the exam takers current level of fitness. It helps the different pieces and parts of the brain.    It will not replace adequate preparation!  It does help you reach the optimum mental state.

Day to Day Performance

I’ll share more on later blogs in terms of how it does that.  The essence of it is that we’re wired to move; as we move our brain thinks and learns better; as we move we also touch a spiritual pulse inside and the spirit and mind also propel our body to move.  The three are connected.

To complete this first “exermindspir” blog – I want to share two links to one of the works I’ve studied from Dr. John Ratey’s “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.”  Take a peek and let me know what you think!