In This Issue:
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
After a weekend in the mountains camping and paddle boarding, I feel sore in parts of my body I forgot I had. It is absolutely wonderful to come home to a hot shower and have the temporary muscle ache as a reminder of my fun few days out in nature. Certainly a payoff for all the time spent preparing and packing the car for a few nights away, and then coming home and unloading all of that gear.
Growing up in Colorado, I have at times felt guilty about not getting out and enjoying the outdoors more often than I do. While some friends seem to be out doing something every weekend, I have gradually come to terms with the fact that that isn’t who I am. When it comes to physical fitness, I am not an extremist. Though I like the idea of saying I am an “ultra-something,” I am also aware that set training schedules are not a natural fit for my personality. I enjoy my time at home, relaxing and working in my garden and then some hiking, running, and paddling as time permits.
For me, gardening, walking, and gym workouts are core to my active life. When I am consistent with this regimen, everything feels better—mentally, physically, and spiritually. Even though it is all too easy to make self-critical comparisons, we all have our own unique ways of being physically active. If you are moving and enjoying yourself, you are in the winning lane. My own sustainable combination of physical activity has shifted through life, and most recently I am reframing finding my activity sweet spot as a fun endeavor rather than a physician-directed chore. As my colleagues share below, some find great personal accomplishment in pushing oneself toward new physical goals, while others are ultra-content with a steady pace. The only approach that counts is the one that fits your essential values and personal definition of well-being.
Registration is open for several of our 2019 trainings!
Motivational Interviewing for Behavior Change – Level II: August 6 – 7, 2019
Rocky Mountain Tobacco Treatment Specialist Training Program: October 14 – 17, 2019
A Study in Wellness
The Twisted Hearts of Runners
JIM PAVLIK, M.A., Program & Policy Analyst
A study recently published in Frontiers in Physiology details the differences in heart structure between elite runners and elite swimmers.1,2 It turns out that runners’ hearts twist more, which could result in the more efficient pumping of blood. In a very simple model of exercised-induced demand, the primary requirement is that blood needs to be able to be more quickly pumped through the body to deliver more oxygen and other compounds around the moving body. This is true regardless whether the exercise is rowing, running, swimming or some other exercise. This finding confirms what we have known to be true: that exercise-induced demands on the heart result in changes to the heart—and that different types of exercise result in different types of changes.
So, what, precisely, explains the differences between exercises? We don’t know yet. Runners tend to have a higher volume of blood overall. Perhaps this is the main explanation. Runners are mostly upright while swimmers are horizontal. Swimmers are surrounded by a denser environment (water rather than air). Would we observe similar differences between large enough groups of different kinds of swimmers? Do these (or other) differences occur between sprinters and marathoners? And can we invent devices that could detect such differences even in committed amateurs like me? All of these questions and others remain.
While these questions interest me from a professional perspective, I’m also personally interested in this study’s conclusions. I recently began training for a half-Ironman. Training for an endurance event has changed my body. Not just in terms of the visible alterations to musculature, body fat, and posture. My bones have stopped aching from the harsh impact of running trails. My muscles become accustomed to the increased levels of lactic acid, cortisol, and other hormonal by-products of long swims, bike rides, and runs. But as a natural born skeptic, there’s always the sneaking suspicion that some of the changes I think I observe are really “all in my head.” So, it’s always nice when science can say, “No, this is real.” And, perhaps more importantly, “Here’s a way for you to use this knowledge to your advantage.
- Currie KD, Coates AM, Slysz JT, et al. (2018). Left ventricular structure and function in elite swimmers and runners. Frontiers in Physiology, 58(9): 805-809.
- Reynolds G (2019). The Heart of a Swimmer vs. the Heart of a Runner. New York Times. 3 April.
Wellness in Practice
CINDY MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
This morning, I got up and went for a run. Not a long one, just a couple of miles. It’s been a long time, too long, given my decision some months ago to start running again. Regardless, my body didn’t make too many complaints. I experienced some stiffness in my hips, reminding me of the hours I spent sitting at my computer and driving in traffic, but it didn’t last long. Otherwise, I felt strong. My lungs drew in the oxygen it needed. My limbs moved freely and without discomfort. I ran with a spring in my steps.
As I savored the sunshine and physical activity, I considered my body’s resilience. I thought about all of the times I have neglected my body over the years and my feelings of gratitude for my physical health. I appreciate the fact that I can go for a run on a whim after many months of not having done so and still have a bounce in my steps. I continue to be amazed at my body’s ability to heal and restore.
And so, it is from this place of appreciation that I want to make a commitment to my body. While I know that I won’t be perfect, I promise that every day I will listen to the wisdom of my body and make choices based on this knowledge. I will avoid doing what I believe I should do. Instead, I will do what best meets my body’s unique needs. This includes nourishing my body to the best of my ability, allowing time for rest and rejuvenation, and engaging in activities to maintain strength and agility. Finally, I will remember to think kind thoughts about my body and appreciate the way it shows up for me every day.
In the Flow
KATHIE GARRETT, M.A., Clinical Associate
For the past few weeks, I have been engaged in a personal gastronomic mindful meditation. My intention is to restore trust in myself as an intuitive eater. How I came to doubt my ability to make healthy food choices is interesting. You see, I’ve had a lifelong healthy relationship with food. I love the taste, smell, and feel of fresh whole food. Moreover, I deeply appreciate the magical effect a spoonful of herbs or spices can have on food, transforming something plain into a mouth-watering gem. Perhaps most importantly, I did not inherit the family “sweet gene” or learn as a child to view food as a primary go-to source for emotional comfort. So, how is it then that I lost my flow and began to question my relationship with food?
A contributing factor is the ever-changing landscape of nutritional science and dietary guidelines. One of the greatest gifts of working at the BHWP is that I get paid to do what I love—taking a deep dive into the latest cultural trends and scientific evidence related to health and wellness. The flipside of such exploration is the cognitive dissonance that comes from the realization that some of my long-held beliefs about healthy eating are, in fact, based on misinformation and myths. Learning that “facts” like eating fat makes you fat, weight management is as simple as energy balance, and counting calories is the best path to weight loss are not supported by research has greatly lowered my confidence that I can make good food choices. Consequently, I have been spending an inordinate amount of time considering whether I should eat that piece of bread with dinner or purchase whole milk instead of low-fat. All the while, I have increasingly lost touch with my inner wisdom.
So, here’s what I’ve learned by slowing down and turning inward. It is essential for me to stay up-to-date on the latest information about what constitutes healthy eating AND it is equally important to trust 61 years of lived experience. I know that the foods healthiest for me are fresh whole foods purchased from local sources. I know that my body typically requires less food than I desire. I know that salty, fried foods are my addiction and it is best to avoid them. I also know that I’m not likely to follow any prescriptive diet because I don’t like rules. As Glenda said to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz (liberally adapted), “You’ve always had the power (to make the right food choices), my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself (again)!”
Made to Move
DEREK NOLAND, M.A., Community Liaison
It seems to me that physical activity gets a bad rap. Too often physical activity is viewed through a lens of negativity or defeatism. We look at the government’s physical activity guidelines and groan in despair. Plus, it can seem overwhelming to cram physical activity into our already-hectic lives. We’ve all been there—feeling too tired, not having enough time, or merely choosing to do something simpler. For all these reasons and many more, physical activity can be relegated to a position of something unpleasant, or worse.
If you’re still reading, good, as I aim to provide some thoughts that I hope will help get you moving. First and foremost, if you’ve been taking on some type of physical activity that you hate, by all means stop. Explore some new exercises, try a new activity, or ask a friend if you can join in on something they enjoy—but don’t keep banging your head against the same wall. Secondly, as a close runner-up, there’s no need to jump to extremes. Remember, some physical activity is better than none. Start with something simple, and as you grow more confident in your abilities—and hopefully start to enjoy the process more—gradually increase your activity from there. Simple ways to ease into exercise might include parking farther away, walking while on the phone, taking the stairs, doing some gentle stretching or weight lifting while watching television, taking on a little more yard work or household chores that require movement, or anything else that fits into your daily routine. As with most things in life, exercise becomes easier with practice, both in terms of our bodies’ abilities to perform and our mental fortitude to accomplish the task at hand.
Finally, let’s examine the mental challenge that gets in the way of being more physically active. Many people focus their attention on the physical and logistical challenges of exercising, failing to consider the end result. Do you feel better/proud/encouraged/uplifted after physical activity? If your answer is, “Yes,” I would encourage you to mentally skip ahead and focus on that invigorating end result and mentally bypass the difficulty of getting started. On the other hand, if your answer is, “No,” I challenge you to think about how you might be able to reach this effect. Maybe it means scaling down to something more manageable, exercising with friends or family, adjusting lofty expectations, or setting easily-attainable goals. Focus on the things that are within your power to control and make a commitment you can fulfill—being strategic and realistic in our aims is a powerful tool to support success and build confidence.
We have a lot to gain through physical activity—from the prevention and management of chronic diseases to better sleep, improved stress management, needing fewer medications, and better emotional and mental health. Moreover, everyone, regardless of their background, can benefit from physical activity. So, if you’ve mentally categorized physical activity as something negative or painful, I warmly invite and encourage you to think about it through a different lens and focus on the positives. There’s a type of physical activity out there for everyone, and this summer, I urge you to identify and practice one that you enjoy.