This January Jumpstart episode explores how movement strengthens your mind, body, and immunity. What if exercise could unlock your brain’s creativity and make you happier, healthier, and more focused?
Neuroscientist Dr. Jennifer Heisz and physician Dr. Gabrielle Lyon reveal how movement strengthens your mind, body, and immunity. Learn how to reframe exercise as playful self-care, not monotonous drudgery. Discover how muscle builds resilience against disease while microbursts of activity boost cognition. Small steps create big rewards when you tap the mind-body connection through joyful motion. Get science-backed insights on gaining strength, focus, and joy through intuitive movement.
We want to hear from YOU!:
- Record your responses to the challenge or questions you have along the way and email them to [email protected]. We may include your reflections in an episode.
If you LOVED this episode:
- Find all of the January Jumpstart – Your 2024 Good Life Awakening episodes.
Check out our offerings & partners:
- My New Book Sparked
- My New Podcast SPARKED. To submit your “moment & question” for consideration to be on the show go to sparketype.com/submit.
- Visit Our Sponsor Page For Great Resources & Discount Codes
photo credit: Paulina Rzeczkowska
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:00:00] Just sitting there and grinding it out is actually counterproductive. It would be much better for you to go out and have like a nice walk. And when we move and give space for the brain to bring up some creative ideas to the surface, to bubble up to the mind, then we can surprise ourselves.
Jonathan Fields: [00:00:23] So ever wonder why exercise has to feel so bad? Okay, so maybe you’re that rare person who found a way to move your body that you love and you just can’t wait to do. But for most people, it’s a have-to-do, not a can’t wait to do. But what if that could be different? And what if it wasn’t just that mandatory daily or five-day-a-week exercise bout, but rather more about moving your body and kinder, gentler, dare I say, even more joyful ways throughout the day, that really made a difference. And what if avoiding movement and just keeping on keeping on was doing a level of damage to everything from your physical health to your mental health risk for disease, weight, ability, and even brain function and work performance and relationships that you really didn’t want to happen. That’s what we’re diving into in today’s fourth installment of our January Jumpstart series on movement. As usual, I will tee up the conversation with some observations from the wacky and wonderful world of movement. So, for those who don’t know, in a past few lives, I actually owned a fitness and yoga facility and a teacher training center, was trained in a wide range of modalities, and I have a pretty contrarian take on a lot of the industry and how it should be serving people differently when it comes to exercise and movement. I’m excited to share that take, and then I’ll turn things over to our two guest experts, Doctor Jennifer Heisz and Doctor Gabrielle Lyon, to provide scientific insights and practical guidance to really help you reframe exercise and movement as an act of self-care, not torture.
Jonathan Fields: [00:02:00] And you will also discover how to tap the powerful mind-body connection through joyful movement, even microbursts of activity that energize your cognition and prevent disease by building muscle and resilience. So imagine being able to unlock your brain’s creativity, strengthen your body’s self-defenses, and extend health span through really doable tips that you can start today. Doctor Hayes and Lyon really empower us to gain control over our well-being through a mindset shift. Small steps create big rewards when we simply listen to what our bodies need. So excited to share this deep dive in our January Jumpstart series into movement with you! I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.
Jonathan Fields: [00:02:50] Hey there. So, you know, in a very past life, um, actually, I have so many past lives, I was pretty deeply immersed in various aspects of the fitness, exercise and movement industry. Um, it started even before that. Just personally, for me as a kid, I’ve always been just deeply, deeply drawn to the way the body moves movement and its relationship to how it makes us feel and our mental and physical well-being. I actually trained as a gymnast for the first 18 years or so of my life, and my mom was a modern dancer when I left law school, I yet another past life.
Jonathan Fields: [00:03:27] My first move out was as a personal trainer, before learning the ropes and then opening my own facility, which really was based on the philosophy of being everything that was the exact opposite of a traditional big box gym. From there we grew that business. Um, served so many different folks. It was more of a high-end private training and class facility. And then I moved into the yoga world, where we opened a yoga center in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, where over a period of years, we had the great, great blessing of serving tens of thousands of students, training hundreds of teachers from around the world, and really focused across all of these things on playfulness and community and novelty and, yes, effectiveness, but on more of a whole mind-body level. I even actually partnered with the head of the Human Performance Lab at a major university to conduct the first-ever study on the metabolic cost of yoga, or, in human terms, how much energy it consumes and how many calories it burns. And over the years, being in and out of the industry for the better part of about a decade and seeing so many different aspects of it, I began to see a series of repeating problems. And what I learned was that, especially coming to it as an outsider, so much of what is offered, people will just never do.
Jonathan Fields: [00:04:55] Sure, it may work in a laboratory. There may be research that says if you do X type of exercise or movement for Y minutes a day at Z level of intensity, it will affect you in this way. But if it just outright sucks, nobody’s going to do it long enough for it to have any benefit. They’ll quit and then get no benefit, and also layer shame and blame on top of that, because they’ll judge themselves for having given up on something that was really never something that would have served them in the first place, because it was so, frankly, boring. So we’ve turned something that we loved as kids play into something that we call drudgery. As an adult, what happened is an industry built on a business model that maximizes revenue per square foot, ends up effectively loading up a space with repetitive motion machines. And what that does is it means it effectively eliminates community interaction and the repetitive motion the over and over and over. So isolating, mind numbingly boring for most people. In addition to the fact that the exertion comes with some level of discomfort, that people just will never organically do it, and to mask how unappealing and boring these modalities are. The answer was, hey, let’s add in distractions so people don’t realize. And that started out in the early days of the fitness industry as rows and rows and rows of TVs.
Jonathan Fields: [00:06:34] And then that morphed into screens that were actually built into all the machines. And in the early days it was generally TV, just it was on your device, and then it morphed into the internet. That morphed into all sorts of different things. But the idea was to distract you from how repetitive and mind-numbing and boring this thing that you were doing actually was. Now, in fairness, over the last decade or so, there are some offerings, both in machines and in facilities that have made really big strides focusing on small-footprint facilities where communities really emphasize classes, instructor-led programming and connection places like CrossFit, Orange Theory, SoulCycle, peloton, and many yoga, Pilates and other local dance and class studios. These are the ones who actually can offer something that people want to go to, where they feel like it’s the exercise version of the like the cheers bar where you walk in and everybody knows your name, and then you’re doing something you really want to do. You love the movement, and what’s really important is not just what works in a controlled environment or a lab study when it comes to moving your body. But what type of movement gets you back as close as possible to feeling not like monotonous, boring drudgery, but rather like fun, engaging play. Put another way, if you can find a way to move that engages not just your body, but also your attention, it transforms the experience from exercise back into play.
Jonathan Fields: [00:08:17] And we’re not talking about engaging your attention through distracting it away from the movement that you’re doing. We’re talking about a form of movement where intrinsic to it is that your mind must be focused on the activity itself, not because you’re trying to focus on it, but because the modality itself requires it. So if you think back to all the things we used to call play as a kid, this is what we’re talking about, right? If you’re just outside and like playing catch with a friend or throwing Frisbee, you weren’t telling your mind. Track the Frisbee track the Frisbee, track the Frisbee. You just did. The nature of the movement itself required your brain and your attention to be fully present in it. If it wasn’t, if it drifted off, well, then you either got bopped in the nose with a ball or like the Frisbee went off somewhere else. But these are things that require you to be intentionally present, not because you’re trying to be there, but because the very fundamental nature of the activity demands it. That is what transforms exercise and movement back into play. And that is also what makes you want to do the thing, because there’s some magic that happens when we actually move in a way that our mind is intrinsically engaged with, where it turns it from, something that is drudgery into something that is joyful play.
Jonathan Fields: [00:09:48] So that is a huge focus and part of my invitation. And as we move into the conversation with our guest experts, also is to do some reimagining around the fundamental notion of exercise and movement. Yes, you can read all the books, you can look at all the research. If you’re a science nerd like me, and you really want to understand in a controlled environment, in a lab, in a research setting, what is effective, what works, and I happen to geek out on those things, I love it. And then my brain says, how can we adapt this so that we can offer it in a way where somebody will actually say yes to it, not because they have to, but because they love doing it and they want to. And that is the only way that I have seen people commit to something in a really long term way. That and also making it communal. So reimagining the modality itself so that it is intrinsically mind-engaging and bringing other people into the experience. These two things have a profound impact on not just the efficacy of it, but how long you will do it and how engaging and joyful it is when you do it. So one other thing I want to speak to before introducing you to our guest experts, and that is the importance of not just exercise but also movement throughout the day.
Jonathan Fields: [00:11:21] So research tells us that being sedentary for hours and hours and hours, the typical person sits for anywhere from 6 to 10 hours a day, that that way of being is actually worse than smoking a ton of cigarettes every day, that the net effect on our physical and mental well-being is profoundly disastrous. And yet, that is how modern culture has told us that we need to actually live our lives. That is how workplace culture has told us that we need to actually operate and contribute to whatever’s going on around us. So often, we’re basically invited into a space where we wake up, we do a little something for the first few minutes of the day. We take a seat. Every once in a while we jump up to do something, but pretty quickly we’re back in that seat. And then eight, ten, 12, sometimes more hours later, we finally get up and we move our body. And here’s what the research also shows. Exercising once a day. So even if you do that, you’re sedentary most of the day and then you have this really committed exercise, practice and exercise that you joyfully love. So you do it every single day for 30 to 90 minutes a day. That actually does not undo the damage done by spending the vast majority of your day in a sedentary lifestyle. Yes, it helps, but what really is a game changer from a health, wellbeing, cognitive function, emotional uplift and disease prevention standpoint is integrating regular short bouts of movement throughout the day.
Jonathan Fields: [00:13:06] In fact, in a really fun crowdsourced experiment that Manoush Zomorodi, who we’ve had on the podcast here, did on her podcast Body Electric, and she did this research in conjunction with Columbia University. They brought something like 20,000 of their listeners into this experiment, and based on the guidance of the researcher, he said, okay, so if we move about five minutes of gentle movement every half hour or so, that that is actually the thing that can be transformational both in your health and well-being markers and also in your state of mind. So exercising formally once a day does not undo or counter the damage of sitting for the entire rest of the day. But the research is starting to point to the fact that regular short bouts of movement woven throughout the day may in fact, not only undo the damage, but prevent it and also keep us moving into a healthier state. Plus, it just helps you function at a higher, more joyful and connected level throughout the day and perform better in your work. Another recent study found that individuals who did one minute of half squats for every 20 minutes of sitting had a dramatic increase in their cognitive ability, depending on the different measures between 5 and 11% versus those who didn’t do the squats, who just sat all day.
Jonathan Fields: [00:14:33] And if squats aren’t your thing, what about taking a short walk instead? Or any other sort of really microburst of movement? And this this was literally as short as. About a minute. So we’re not even talking about the five minutes in the more crowd sourced version of this. This, in fact, is why our executive producer, Lindsey, actually takes short indoor cycle breaks every 25 minutes or so. And it’s why I just ordered a walking pad from my office. Now that the weather is colder here and the mountains get cold and I don’t hike as much as I often do, I don’t get to sneak out for a short walk around the block, maybe multiple times a day, or just move my body more regularly. I’m basically creating the setting to allow me to do it on the inside. And by the way, you can also do whatever form of movement that feels good to you for those short bursts. So I sometimes do five minutes of yoga, sun salutations, whatever it is, the goal is to make it something you’ll actually do and then set up your environment so there’s as minimum friction as possible and the behavior becomes automatic. So that’s my $0.02 on movement and exercise from the lens that I’ve seen it. And now I want to turn things over to our two guest experts.
Jonathan Fields: [00:15:53] See you in just a bit. Doctor Jennifer Heisz, is an expert in brain health and the author of Move the Body, Heal the Mind. I have experienced firsthand how moving my body really positively impacts my mood and focus. But is there solid science behind this mind body connection? Well, Doctor Hayes illuminates how physical activity benefits mental health in ways comparable to medication, even. She explains that even small amounts of movement restored blood flow to energize focus and creativity, and demystifies the brain’s inner workings to offer doable tips for channeling simple exercises into improved cognition and her insights. They really empower us to gain control over our health through joyful movement. Imagine being able to tap into your brain’s fullest potential just by listening to your body’s needs. Doctor Heisz provides the inspiration and practical guidance to make this a reality. Here’s Jennifer:
Jonathan Fields: [00:16:55] Even if for so many of us, if we were really active or really paying attention to exercise, to moving our bodies when we were younger, you get into a groove in adult life where it’s sort of like life is happening to you and, you know, whether it’s work demands or family demands or study demands, so much of that is built around the assumption that we’re just we’re going to stop moving. Like part of that equation is you give up movement without realizing how counter it is to literally everything that we care about in life.
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:17:26] Mhm. Yeah. And I see this all the time. There’s this, this shift whether it’s you know, to focus on work and work these days is generally sedentary for most people. Um putting in long hours at the office to get ahead professionally and then not having the energy or time at the end of the day to work out. Or you’re a parent and, you know, after work, you’re getting the kids to extracurriculars, you know, they have all their sports and activities. But then what about your health? And for a lot of parents, there also seems to be this, like this concept of selfishness, like, oh, I, I need to put others, my children, my family ahead of me. And so my time to exercise is seen as frivolous, when in fact it’s fundamental. Unfortunately, I see that all the time. And I’m trying, you know, it’s important that we prioritize self-care because then we can show up in our life and be better people for everyone, not just for ourselves. And I often say this to my students, you know, you need to take exercise breaks. You need to take breaks from work, because what ends up happening is it infuses this movement, infuses the brain with the neurochemicals it needs to thrive. And so when you show up at your desk, you’re ready, you’re primed, you’re creative, you’re focused, your brain is functioning optimally. And this is what we want. This is what we need, and it makes our work so much more efficient. So you end up putting in less time but getting more done. It’s really amazing.
Jonathan Fields: [00:19:07] Yeah, I remember hearing years ago the phrase and I think I’ve probably uttered it myself to a few people. Exercise creates its own time. I think it’s really interesting because I think when we’re not in that, it’s very hard to understand how that could even be possible, because you’re just like, there is no extra second in my day.
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:19:24] Yes.
Jonathan Fields: [00:19:25] And when you actually feel the way that you function cognitively, physically, when you’re quote on movement, I think that’s the only way where you start to get buy-in to that process. So for you, this has led you, this fascination has led you to devote now years teaching and researching in this topic and really deconstructing it. How does this all work? So one of the things that you shared is that when you’re first, your friend first came to you and you went out for a 30-minute run and you’re like, nope, tried it once. Not happening. And this is an interesting phenomenon that you talk about. It is, you know, we experience for a variety of reasons that exercise is hard. And there’s there’s a real everywhere from a resistance to, I would almost argue, a repulsion, depending on who you are in the nature of what you’re doing it. What’s underneath that? Like what? What’s happening when we say when we look at this thing and say, yes, it’s good for me. Yes, I know I quote, should be doing this. It will give me all the things I want, and yet I just can’t bring myself to do it.
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:20:26] Mmm-hmm. Yeah. Well there’s two things. So first well and both are related to the brain. The first has to do with our evolutionary past and the brain’s desire to conserve energy. So if we think back to when the brain evolved, it was at a fundamentally different time when resources were scarce. We had to expend a lot of energy to hunt and gather our food. And when we weren’t doing that, we needed to conserve our energy. And so when we weren’t moving to survive. The brain was has been designed to keep us still and make us lazy. Flash forward to now. We don’t really need to move to survive. I mean, we do for our health, but that could take decades to destroy us, right? There’s no imminent danger. And so what happens is this lazy brain’s appeals make it really difficult. They create this biological resistance to movement, this repulsion to movement, because, of course, we shouldn’t be expending that unnecessary energy at such an extravagant expense. Right? So that’s the first part, is this the brain makes us lazy. The second part is related to homeostasis. So the brain wants to maintain homeostasis. And exercising is a physical stressor that pushes us outside of our homeostatic happy place. And so what ends up happening is, you know, the brain panics. It’s hard work. It’s stressful. No, no, we want to be in our, you know, homeostatic, happy place. We don’t want to be out. And so exercise though technically is a good stressor. So it’s we need believe it or not, we need stress in our life because it helps us to adapt and grow into stronger versions of ourselves. Right. So when we use stress positively to challenge ourselves, push us outside of our comfort zone, what happens is that the body makes all these adaptations, the brain makes all these adaptations to rise to that new level.
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:22:28] And so we become this better version of ourselves, and we can use exercise to adapt and tone the stress response to get us there. The problem is that there is some resistance. There’s this additional resistance against just getting into that stress zone. Oh no, we want to just stay right here in this, you know, this sameness. And so there’s the two resistance, the conserve energy and maintain homeostasis. And both of those are working against against us. And there’s so there’s such fundamental features of the brain that this is why it’s so difficult for us to get moving. So it’s not your fault. But fortunately there are things we can do to appease the brain, trick the brain into, you know, moving. Because once we start moving, the muscles released all of these chemicals that go to the brain, that just make it easier every step after that’s easier. It’s like you get into this momentum and the momentum just carries you, and you feel amazing and you feel all those feel good feelings you get from exercise. But we got to just it’s just getting up off the couch and out the door. And that’s the first step. Once you start moving, it just kicks in like the dopamine starts to flow, motivating the behavior, activating the reward system. The endocannabinoids get released that further reinforce the behavior. And when the endorphins endocannabinoids meet together in the reward system, something really magical happens. And that’s when you get the runner’s high. And so it’s like this hedonic hotspots get lit up. And it’s such a rewarding and motivating experience that this is why once you start moving, it’s just it’s just so much easier to keep going.
Jonathan Fields: [00:24:23] Yeah. That’s amazing. I remember being told once that the body is its own pharmacy, and that’s kind of what you’re describing. It’s sort of like if you want so many of the chemistries that we might look for, you know, pharmaceutically or from something externally, so much of it actually can be created through behavior within our own bodies. Yes.
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:24:40] And this is what I would really like to have changed. Not I’m not anti-medication. I think it certainly is transformative for people who it does work for. And it can be life-altering for them. But there needs to be a more wholesome conversation around how do we manage our health, how do we manage our mental health. Prescription drugs may be one part of it, but lifestyle and exercise, given that it has the same benefits at reducing our depression as a pharmaceutical it. It just blows my mind that this is not part of the regular conversation. At the start of the pandemic, we conducted a survey just to get the pulse of the population like, how are you feeling? Are you able to be active? And what we found, not surprisingly, stress was up. Depression, anxiety up, physical activity was down. People shifted why they wanted to be active. So they instead of being active to look good, they wanted to be active, to feel good. But there was this mental health paradox. So people wanted to work out to improve their mental health, but their mental health was getting in the way, so they felt too stressed or anxious to do it. And they lacked the motivation, which is a symptom of. Depression. So yes, you’re absolutely right that there is this additional barrier when you’re not mentally well, that creates an even additional resistance to movement. And I can see that the compliance piece being tricky. But the research is so compelling that it’s every step counts.
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:26:17] So it doesn’t have to be a one hour workout. It doesn’t even have to be a half an hour workout. And I think that that’s the problem is that we’re we’re prescribing exercise. When exercise is prescribed, it’s prescribed in the way that we prescribe for physical health. And you can get by with much less for mental health. The research is so compelling that the difference between no exercise, so just sitting on the couch all day and just even a little bit of exercise can be transformative. And then, as we were talking about before, once you start moving, it becomes easier to keep moving. And so the narrative around that has to change. It’s not about performance or hour-long activity sessions. It’s like some is better than none. Walk around the park. Walk down the driveway. If that’s all you can muster today, do a little bit of movement. In fact, what I recommend people do is just break up your sedentary time as a starting point. So we’re all sitting all day every 30 minutes. Just stand up, do a two-minute movement break. This is enough to restore blood flow to the brain, infuses the prefrontal cortex with oxygenated blood flow. Helps you focus. Be more creative. When we’re able to think outside the box, we’re less likely to ruminate on negative thinking, which is a symptom of depression. And so it can start etching away at those symptoms that are preventing us from being active. And well.
Jonathan Fields: [00:27:57] I love that. And I love the the teasing out of exercise that you do for quote like fitness slash performance things and where there’s the minimum dose is higher like longer, maybe higher intensity versus what you’re doing just as a sort of like a minimum dose for baseline mental health. And that like planting the seed that says a little bit actually goes a long way. I would imagine a lot more people would say yes to that, and maybe that just organically starts to grow in duration and intensity over time because it feels good.
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:28:27] Yeah. And this idea that you don’t necessarily have to have a plan because you’re not doing it for performance. Right. And this idea that it could be just an open-ended exercise session. So during this time period I’m going to move my body, you know, and just almost like intuitive movement and using that as a way to start healing the mind. I think that that could have more uptake. And it takes some of the pressure off the medical community as well, because they’re not really trained to prescribe exercise anyways. They’re probably already a little bit reluctant to do so. They look to the physical activity guidelines that say, 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. And for somebody who’s not moving, holy cow, is that intimidating, right. So I think once we’re we get this message out and more and more research are converging on this idea that something is better than nothing. Just every step counts. And I think that that conceptually is way easier to get behind, both from a prescription perspective, like just add a walk a day, you know, it doesn’t even have to be that long. And from a patient perspective, like, oh yeah, I could walk to the mailbox and get my mail and come back. I don’t have to drive the car to get there.
Jonathan Fields: [00:29:54] Yeah, I love that. It really distills it down to its essence. And I wonder whether, you know, like a big part of the resistance also is just that we’ve taken the mind out of the joy of movement. Like we’re not engaging in a way where when we used to, to call it play, we were. And whether that’s one of the big distinctions. I’m curious what your your take is on that.
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:30:14] Yes, 100%. The dreadmill is not my favorite form of exercise.
Jonathan Fields: [00:30:19] I’ve never heard that before I love that.
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:30:23] Yeah. And it’s really sucked the joy out of it. And so you’re right, with play, it’s so much more mentally engaging and a lot of sports the same when we have an opponent, a competitor, right. It’s spontaneous, it’s improvised. And what ends up happening is we’re engaging a totally different brain network. So when we’re inhibiting distractions and suppressing boredom, this requires like our inhibitory control, which is mediated by the prefrontal cortex. But when we’re engaged in play we’re actually engaging our mental flexibility. And so this is sort of much more of a dynamic process where, you know, we’re thinking on the fly, we’re reacting to the situation. We’re you know, we’re having fun. And it’s like a it’s an intellectual movement play with with our competitor. And yeah, so that trains the brain in a fundamentally different way. And yeah. So I think you’re absolutely right. We need to bring the mind back into the movement so that it’s less mind-numbing. Right?
Jonathan Fields: [00:31:34] Yeah. And I feel like there’s definitely been an evolution in like a lot of home-based cycling programs and stuff like that. Now, now have these beautiful screens and people in real time with you and they’re taking you on journeys. And I think that that can really help transform for for those who can’t get outside and can’t do all of this, like, or play a sport or a local club, I feel like there are more offerings that are making that a little more accessible than it used to be. One last thing I want to touch on, and you kind of referenced it earlier in our conversation, and that is the relationship between exercise and things like cognitive function, intelligence, focus, creativity. And I know that you talk about and there’s a research around literally like how exercise affects things that are measurable and like academic performance but also creativity. And these are things that whether it’s academic performance or just performing at a higher level of cognitive function and problem-solving in your job or in life, we all want and some people are actually measured by like as part of their profession. Talk to me a bit about the relationship between exercise and these things.
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:32:41] Well, as I was mentioning, you know, when we sit for long periods of time, the body goes into like a hibernation mode and blood flow reduces to the brain. So the brain isn’t getting the vital nutrients it needs to think clearly and to focus and to be creative. So the research shows every 30 minutes about get up for a two-minute movement break. And this is enough to help restore blood flow to the brain, to the prefrontal cortex. When we move more and more vigorously, it also releases epinephrine and norepinephrine, which is like, you know, adrenaline, noradrenaline, same thing. And this helps stimulate the prefrontal cortex to enhance our focus. And when we move away from our desk, even just changing the scenery, changing the context, and we’re thinking about something else, even a self-paced walk outside a session of yoga, these things have been shown to boost creativity. And the reason why is because you are flexing different muscles within your brain. Different networks get engaged. So when we’re doing focused work, we need to engage in our inhibitory control. But when we start task switching between like different contexts and different activities, that really is engaging, you know, the mental flexibility. And that is what we need to think outside the box, to think creatively, to think innovatively. And absolutely, that’s what we want.
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:34:16] And so we often hear, you know, oh, I don’t have time for exercise because I got to get this work done. And just sitting there and grinding it out is actually counterproductive. It would be much better for you to go out and have a like a nice walk. And I don’t know about you, but I always come up with my best ideas when I’m moving, when you’re, you know, it’s flowing, you know you’re flowing the idea. You’re not forcing things. You’re allowing them to just be and come. And and the beautiful thing is that, you know, we often think what we have in conscious mind is all that the brain is doing, but it’s not. Our mind is one thing, but the brain is this parallel processor that is doing so much behind the scenes, and the mind is just, you know, it’s this like seven-inch bitty little part of it, just like a window onto what the brain is doing and when we move and. Give space for the brain to bring up some creative ideas to the the surface to bubble up to the mind. Then we can surprise ourselves. Otherwise, if we fix too much on what we see right in front of us, we sometimes don’t get access to like the deeper insights that we may be wanting.
Jonathan Fields: [00:35:41] Yeah, I love that. So one last thing that just sort of in my mind before we start to wrap, which is, I think a lot of the conversation that we’ve been having, part of the underlying assumption may be that you are, quote, able-bodied, that you have a certain ability to move, but it sounds like a lot of what you’re saying here is also so much of the benefit doesn’t come from having to have full extreme body that regardless of your level of ability or disability, whatever is accessible to you in the context of movement, there’s benefit to that. Is that accurate?
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:36:15] I love that you brought that up, and I’m trying to bring that into the conversation because it it is the most beautiful part of of mental health movement for mental health is that it is so inclusive and it can be so inclusive, and people can move in ways that that are they are able to and that feel good for their own bodies. And that’s comes back to this intuitive movement, this open-ended idea about movement. And in the book, I try to make sure that, you know, the research has been pretty specific about what types of things it tests. It tests like running, walking, cycling, which some people can’t do. Right. And so I’m very conscious in the book to make sure that I give all the options. So if we break down the exercise to its kernel, you know, what’s the core element that that’s the benefit, then how can we get that in other different forms of movement. And it’s amazing. And you can you know, it could be dancing, it could be arm cycling. It could be many different ways of moving the body. And it’s available and accessible to everybody in, in ways that that would feel good. So I think I think that’s a really yeah great way to end.
Jonathan Fields: [00:37:34] Yeah. So coming full circle in this container of Good Life Project, I always wrap with the same question, which is, uh, if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?
Dr. Jennifer Heisz: [00:37:46] To live a good life, you got to move your body. Yeah. I think moving your body in ways that feel good for you.
Jonathan Fields: [00:37:57] Mm. Thank you. So I love how she’s shining a light on the amazing ways physical movement heals the mind. The research gives us hope that even small steps can enhance our mood, focus and creativity.
Jonathan Fields: [00:38:11] And our final guest in this episode is Doctor Gabrielle Lyon, a physician and author of Forever Strong, a new science-based strategy for aging. Well. The question here is really what if we reframed movement as an opportunity to gain strength rather than lose fat? Doctor Lyon illuminates the untapped potential of our muscles as metabolic and immune organs. She explains how building muscle mass improves our metabolism, immunity, cognition, and more, and her insights really empower us to focus on gaining lean muscle through resistance training and nutrition. And you’ll learn simple, doable steps to make that type of movement an act of self-care instead of a chore. I mean, imagine being able to view your workouts as an investment in lifelong health, rather than some short-term aesthetic goals. Doctor Lyon provides the inspiration and practical guidance to shift our mindsets and embrace movement. So here’s Gabrielle. This is a conversation that I’ve had over the years with everyone from physicians to exercise physiologists to and is the notion that in medicine, often muscle is looked at in a really narrow way that, well, this isn’t this is the mechanism for mobility, and that is basically the purpose of it in your body rather than no, this is actually a profoundly important organism that affects everything else.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [00:39:37] It’s the biggest oversight. I believe in medicine today. It is skeletal muscle. You’re absolutely right. Has always been thought of in its mechanical nature as making better athletes or being stronger, or looking better, or performance. That is one small aspect of what skeletal muscle is responsible for. Skeletal muscle is the organ of longevity. It is an organ system that is responsible for so much more as it relates to our health. And in fact, the health of skeletal muscle trumps the idea of body fat any day of the week. Skeletal muscle. From a organ perspective, when you contract skeletal muscle through exercise, it secretes a molecules called myokines, which interface with the bone and the brain, and the immune system has deeply anti-inflammatory effects. Not only that, when you contract skeletal muscle, it releases glutamine, another semi-essential amino acid, which glutamine is the fuel for cells of our immune system. There is this beautiful interface between the health of the skeletal muscle and the action that skeletal muscle is meant to play in our life, and subsequent outcomes to how we go through life and how we are protected, the environment that we live in. And I mean, that’s not all skeletal muscle is. And I’m sure we’ll dive into aspects of this, your metabolic sink, the place where you dispose of glucose. And everybody has heard about insulin resistance and diabetes and obesity. These are diseases that are complex but are largely a muscle problem. First, obesity is not the issue. First, these challenges begin in skeletal muscle decades before there’s data from 18-year-old healthy, quote, sedentary individuals with no outward signs of obesity that show skeletal muscle insulin resistance. And over time, it’s that tissue that is responsible for subsequent development of obesity, for development of insulin resistance, diabetes. It impacts cardiovascular health from the metabolic aspect. All the diseases that we relate to metabolic health at its root begin in skeletal muscle first decades before.
Jonathan Fields: [00:42:01] So let’s break this down a little bit because you’re talking about already we’re sort of like we have a couple of different things on the table. We have muscle and immune function. We have muscle and metabolic function. And not that they’re necessarily because everything plays into each other. Right. But maybe let’s take these one at a time a little bit because I want to understand them a little bit better. So talk to me a bit about when we’re talking about muscle and metabolic function. Take me into that a little bit more.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [00:42:27] Well for the women listening I’m going to make an analogy. Think about skeletal muscle like a suitcase. And let’s say you are packing for a weekend trip. Maybe you just need two days, and instead of packing for a weekend trip, you pack for 30 days in the same size suitcase. As you can imagine. What would happen is all that clothes would number one. You wouldn’t be able to close the suitcase, and number two, all that stuff would fall right out of the suitcase. There’s no way you would be able to pack for 30 days if you are going on a weekend trip. The same can be said for skeletal. Muscle. Skeletal muscle is your site for 80 some percent of glucose disposal. The primary site, and number one, glucose at high levels is toxic to the body. You must glucose out of the bloodstream into cells, and the primary place in which it goes is skeletal muscle. Number one, it is stored as glycogen. And I think that we’ve all heard that from an athletic perspective. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrate in skeletal muscle, but that only allows for a certain amount of storage if you are not exercising. Once that muscle is full, there is nowhere else for blood glucose to go. So we see a rise in glucose in the bloodstream and a subsequent increase in insulin, and also an increase in things like fatty acids back into the bloodstream. This becomes a challenge because these all over time generate metabolic dysfunction. The health of the skeletal muscle declines. Another way to think about this is a filet. You want your skeletal muscle to look like a filet. If you’re not exercising over time, that muscle will look like a ribeye steak. And that is a very simple way that the listener can really think about what and how does the quality of our tissue change if it remains untrained?
Jonathan Fields: [00:44:23] When you think about metabolic function, there’s this term that’s been batted around over a period of years. I don’t know if it’s still I haven’t heard it as much recently. Metabolic syndrome. This was a whole bunch of different quote symptoms were folded into this syndrome. I guess syndrome is when it’s not necessarily identifiable disease. But you sort of you look at all the symptoms and say, okay, this thing is going on. Is this part of what you’re talking about? Here it is.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [00:44:45] And you’re absolutely right. People don’t talk a lot about metabolic syndrome, but this skeletal muscle is a primary site for metabolic syndrome, which we’ll see elevated levels of blood sugar, elevated levels of triglycerides. You may even see elevated levels of hypertension. So you might become hypertensive. Yes. And I also want to frame this in the way that when you have heard individuals talk about metabolic syndrome, it has all been based around obesity. It has all been based around body fat, never about root cause. And quite frankly, root cause is something that we can do something about. You know, again, this book Forever Strong, the goal of it is to really shift the perspective from this idea that we always have something to lose. It’s always about weight loss. It’s always about fat loss to what do we actually have to gain? What do we have to gain? And what we have to gain is skeletal muscle. This becomes very empowering and a very empowering conversation, especially for women, especially for anybody who is aging, because there are time periods in our life where we are vulnerable and as we age, the vulnerable places like menopause or for men, when we see a significant decline in testosterone. These are the times where the body is most vulnerable to skeletal muscle loss. And it doesn’t have to be that way. But if we continue to eat and think about the weight loss perspective that we’ve had potentially in our 20s, and we carry through those habits, ultimately we’ll destroy our tissue. And we’ve seen that. We’ve seen that with sarcopenic adults, which is a loss of muscle mass and function. And quite frankly, we’ve seen it with, you know, our parents, our grandparents, when they become skinnier and more frail. These are all diseases of skeletal muscle. And most importantly, it’s never too late. So with particular strategies that can be leveraged, these challenges that we see later on in life that are related to skeletal muscle mass can be addressed decades earlier.
Jonathan Fields: [00:46:55] You also, you hinted at the notion of our muscles being critically important in our immune function, in our risk for various different types of diseases or lack of risk or reduction of risk. And I think that’s probably a less intuitive leap for a lot of people.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [00:47:13] It is. And that’s actually why I brought it up, because we can all agree that skeletal muscle is important for mobility and being able to take care of activities of daily life. We can all agree upon that. And I think the notion that skeletal muscle is a focal point in metabolism is also pretty intuitive, right? We know that the more healthy muscle mass we have, then we have places to put substrates or foods that we eat. Less thought about is skeletal muscle as an endocrine organ. What does that mean? That means contracting skeletal muscle releases myokines. Myokines are hormones that travel throughout the body. They act locally, but they also act on nearly every tissue. These myokines and I’ll and I’ll just name one or I’ll name a few. But the most famous. Is interleukin six. And for the savvy listener, they’re probably thinking, well, wait a second. Interleukin six is a cytokine. And we’ve all heard about cytokine storm. And interleukin is a cytokine that’s released from macrophages. And it really creates a ton of systemic inflammation. Well. When interleukin six is released from skeletal muscle contracting skeletal muscle, it actually helps interface with interleukin six and interleukin 15 release from other parts of the body to actually help dampen that immune response. Where does this play out? Let’s say you are not in a major cytokine storm, or you don’t have a ton of active inflammation from an acute issue. Let’s think about how this plays out from, say, for example, a rheumatic disease or a disease that are affecting the joints or autoimmune conditions.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [00:48:56] Exercising skeletal muscle can help interface with that inflammation to lower it and allow the body to respond in a more, for lack of a better term appropriate way. And that that in and of itself is fascinating. What also is fascinating is that the amount of myokines you release, or interleukin six, is directly related to the amount of exercise that you’re doing. Incredible. And this is some of the earlier work from Pedersen. She’s now in Copenhagen. She’s an immunologist and also a physician, and her work is really paved the way to begin. It hasn’t really hit so much in the US, but has begun to pave the way again. Research takes a decade to interface with the general population. If not, I think that the average they say is like 17 years. But this information is out there. And once we recognize that exercise, which, by the way, 50% of Americans don’t do that once we can prioritize skeletal muscle. And if I can influence the listener to believe that it is so critical and that the amount of effort that we put into our training will have subsequent effects, not about body composition. Like, let’s put that on the back burner, but how it relates to immune function. And that’s just one area. People really care about cognition as they age. Exercising skeletal muscle can release something called cathepsin B and Irisin, both which stimulate Bdnf, which is brain-derived neurotrophic factor that influences neurogenesis, the neurons in the brain to be healthy.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [00:50:33] And this is again so critical when we think about how we want our life to be. And then I’m going to also throw something else out there that I think is really important. And it’s a little esoteric, but the idea that skeletal muscle is this currency. And when we think about currency, we think about things that we can buy or sell or bargain for. But skeletal muscle is your health currency, but it’s the most unique health currency in that the action that you have to take to gain it influences the person that you must become when you begin to execute these actions with discipline. And that’s something that I believe is a little bit overlooked because there is this sense of empowerment. I’ve never had someone come to me and say, you know what? I really regret being strong. I really regret who that made me. I really regret the discipline it took to prioritize in my schedule an action and then subsequent feeding plan or nutrition plan that became a lifestyle. So I know that that doesn’t directly relate to the immune system. But people are global. We are global individuals and we have to have global strengths. And global strengths are not just muscle and body composition. There is a mental fortitude and a grittiness that an individual develops when they develop this currency. Yeah.
Jonathan Fields: [00:51:49] I mean, couldn’t you actually make the argument that it does relate to the immune system in that we know that state of mind actually has a direct impact on your the state of immunity. So if exercising increases lean body mass increases muscle. And that makes you feel stronger, more confident, more able, and that makes you feel just more connected to yourself and more capable of being in the world that you want to be, that that would affect your mindset in a way that would potentially then create this positive cascade back into the immune system and help boost it.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [00:52:21] I couldn’t agree with you more. I didn’t want to go too far out on a limb and lose the listener because.
Jonathan Fields: [00:52:27] It’s okay, I’ll go there.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [00:52:28] I really want them to leave this conversation with a sense of empowerment. Because if we can shift the paradigm of thinking around skeletal muscle, and it’s not just some bro-y thing, but that it really is the focal point of disease prevention and just longevity and aging, then we can really change the conversation. And that’s actually why I named my book Forever Strong. And it’s not just strength. It is, again, global strength, mental and physical and emotional strength, which, by the way, I think about as a physician, I know you’ve had many physicians on the show and spoken to many physicians. They will all tell you that a good physician recognizes patterns of diseases and patterns of illness. That is, the craft of a physician, the art of medicine, the true art of. Medicine is recognizing patterns of people and what obstacles lay in front of them from taking action. And I talk all about that in the book, too, because I could provide you with a perfect plan. But unless you are aware that there are certain things that may be underlying that stop you from taking action like a self-worthiness temperature, understanding that you have to feel worthy of getting the body that you want of being and having the health that you feel that you deserve, all of that has to be addressed.
Jonathan Fields: [00:53:51] Yeah, that makes so much sense. If our body is naturally shedding muscle, if we don’t do anything to counter and the process is less and less every year, once we hit sort of like the middle years of our lives, and we know exercise is really critical. How much can we actually stop that process, you know, versus just saying, like, let me just save what I have versus actively continue to build or add muscle tissue to our body? And is there a point at which it becomes harder and harder to actually add or even sustain?
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [00:54:24] First off, you can always get stronger and you can always add muscle mass. Again, if you are an athlete and you’ve hit some genetic potential, perhaps it becomes much more challenging. But again, you should always be able to improve in some metric and for the listener. Wherever you are starting, it’s a perfect place to start. It is more challenging to build muscle as you age for a few reasons. I say it’s more challenging. Can it absolutely be done? Yes. Has it been demonstrated to be done? Yes. I still see patients. I have a clinic. I still see patients. We see older individuals building skeletal muscle. To this day. Age is not a limitation. By highlighting some of the changes that skeletal muscle goes through, we can implement strategies that are answers to those changes.
Jonathan Fields: [00:55:19] When you mentioned resistance training, and I think everyone has probably heard like the best way to build muscle is resistance training. Is that still the state of best information?
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [00:55:27] I would say that it is a non-negotiable and resistance exercise can make take many forms. Originally I would think you would have to lift heavy. That was always my thought process. It doesn’t have to be that way. We have to recognize that lifting heavy may stimulate some processes that are different than lifting light, but both what we’re ultimately going for is for an adaptation, and that is why we are doing resistance training. There’s multiple ways to do resistance training. We do know that it is just for a definition. It’s a you’re moving something against force, and that force could be your own body weight. That force could be a band, it could be another kettlebell or dumbbell, you name it. But that’s what the goal of resistance training is. It’s how it is defined. And again, we are looking for adaptations, whether we are looking for muscle strength and size or muscular endurance, do you have to lift heavy weights to do some of these things? You don’t, but the act of resistance training versus cardiovascular activity, I think this is the non-negotiable for exercise and body composition. This is the non-negotiable for maintaining the skeletal muscle that you have. And again, can you get away with lower loads. So could you do a rep range that is above 12 reps? Totally. I basically start individuals at three days a week, ten sets per muscle group. However you want to fit that in.
Jonathan Fields: [00:56:51] I want to ask you one other thing though, about resistance training, about exercise in general, because so many people just hear the word and they’re just they roll their eyes. They have the worst possible association with it. They want nothing to do with it. We’re not even going to talk about myths like, well, I don’t want to bulk up and stuff like that, but just people’s experience so often with all forms of exercise, especially resistance training, is really negative. I have always believed that, yes, you need a sort of minimum viable dose. I know you talk about sort of like the minimum effective dose, but at the same time, do you have a take on whether it makes a difference to try and experiment with a bunch of different things, to try and find something that you are genuinely drawn to that is genuinely in some way, shape or form, joyful for you?
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [00:57:37] You do. And also there is this barrier. Things that we’ve never done are uncomfortable, and the only way that you build confidence to do something is to actually do the thing. When you go to the gym, you’ll see most of the women are on the cardiovascular activity equipment, and most of the guys are in the weight room, and a lot of women will tell themselves, so I just don’t like to do it. And many of them haven’t tried. And you are always going to feel uncomfortable and you might feel self-conscious and you still have to do it anyway. And what you will find is you will likely find that you fall in love with the concept and the. Goal of being strong, and there’s a million different ways to do it. The only way that you’re going to cultivate capacity is to be able to move past any mental discomfort about it. But yes, you should find something that you love. And I say that with a little bit of a warning in that you must examine the way that you’re thinking about the activities. Now.
Jonathan Fields: [00:58:42] This is so interesting, the notion that, you know, maybe what if we zoom the lens out and start to focus less on, okay, body fat is the main source of all of all that ails us and say, like being under muscled is a huge issue and and how it affects our health, our well-being, our metabolism, our risk for disease and then fold in, okay, so what do we do about this? How do we reimagine nutrition? How do we reimagine movement just so powerful? And I think the end of the day, and this is a lot of what you write about, both directly, and I think sort of implied in a lot of this is there’s a sense of agency that comes with all of this, that often when we’re focusing on the body fat side of things, we don’t feel. And I think that from a psychology standpoint, that’s really important.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [00:59:33] That was beautifully said. And I really know that we together can shift this narrative. I know that we can do it. And I’m just so grateful that you’re giving me the platform to be able to share about this. So thank you.
Jonathan Fields: [00:59:48] Pleasure. Um, so coming full circle, as we always do here, wrap with the same question in this container of Good Life Project, if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: [01:00:01] Well, the first thing for me is family, right? Your close connection. I’m a mom of two little kids, and, uh, seeing them happy and healthy is living a good life. And that means active. Moving and healthy. And knowing that they can interface with this world in a way that is meaningful. And I also know that a stress-free life will likely not be one filled with meaning.
Jonathan Fields: [01:00:28] Mmm. Thank you. So I love how she’s reframing exercise as an opportunity versus an obligation, and really shifting the thoughts around the impact of movement, exercise, and lean body mass or muscle, and how profoundly important that is to us, especially as we move further into life. These insights, they give us hope that small steps to build muscle now can have huge payoffs down the road. So I hope today’s episode illuminated how movement unlocks our brains creativity and resilience while strengthening our body’s defenses against disease and more. Even microbursts of activity have macro benefits. When we reframe exercise as self-care and something that is joyful and desirable rather than monotonous, mind-numbing and straight-up punishment, keep imagining what’s possible. When you make small, joyful motion part of your day, whether it’s walking outside or dancing to your favorite song, doing yoga. And yes, some folks actually even just love straight-up old-school weightlifting and resistance training. If that’s you, go for it. Now, if our conversation sparked insight that you’d like to integrate into your life and work, I’d love to invite you to say yes to a simple seven-day movement challenge, as we’ll be doing all month to wrap each episode of our January Jumpstart episodes. So this week’s challenge is really straightforward. Take about 5 or 10 minutes tops, and just take out a piece of paper or use your notes app.
Jonathan Fields: [01:01:56] Whatever it is that you can just jot down some quick thoughts and just brainstorm. What are the types of activities that you’ve done in the past? Look all the way back to when you were a kid, by the way, where when you were doing it, you probably didn’t call it exercise, but you were definitely moving your body. And it was fun. It was playful. It was joyful. You looked forward to doing it right. Just make a short list of those things. Maybe it was playing kickball, maybe it was dancing around your room. Maybe it was gymnastics. Maybe it was, you know, like running around the block. Maybe it was riding your bicycle, all the different things. And then ask yourself for the next seven days, can I do some of that? Just for five-minute bouts and let’s actually, like, make it even gentler once an hour during most of my daytime hours or during my working day. Now, if you want to add in sort of like that daily bout of, quote, formal exercise in addition to that, because you found a joyful exercise and you want to do it more, awesome, go for it. But let’s start really simple here. Tiny little taste, microbursts of movement that you find fun, engaging, easy to do. See if you can mix in five minutes of that on an hourly basis throughout your work day.
Jonathan Fields: [01:03:08] Find a way to do it where you don’t need a whole lot of stuff, or tools or things or toys. Think about something that is easy to say yes to, and if you feel inclined to share, we’d love to hear from you. Just email us at [email protected] and tell us how it’s going. So that is a wrap for today’s January Jumpstart episode on movement. And if you haven’t already, be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app so you don’t miss any of the month’s January Jumpstart series. And if you’re inclined, share this episode with a friend who needs a little more movement in their lives and rally them to do these fun and impactful weekly challenges with you. Because there’s always so much more fun when you’re doing it and growing together before you leave. If you love this episode safe bet, you’ll also love the full conversations that we had with Doctor Jennifer Heisz and Doctor Gabrielle Lyon. You’ll find a link to those episodes in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project. was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and Me. Jonathan Fields Editing help By Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields signing off for Good Life Project.