What’s the Perfect Exercise?


Few things get me more riled up than advertisements for an exercise program or piece of workout equipment with the verbiage: Best, Only, Complete, etc.

Another pet peeve is studies, usually done by the manufacturers or developers of a program, touting amazing benefits on unconditioned people.  ANY moderate exercise will benefit a deconditioned person.  The only risk would be too high-intensity of a training.

Want the truth: The best exercise for you is the one you are currently NOT doing.

Components of Fitness

There are three basic components of fitness:

  • Cardiovascular Endurance
  • Strength
  • Flexibility (or Mobility)

The goal is to be efficient at all of these.  If you only run, your cardiovascular fitness will be excellent, but the other elements will be lacking.  If you are passionate about lifting heavy weights, you’ll have a hard time hiking up a hill. Both of these modalities will result in a lack of flexibility.  However, if you’re only doing Yoga or Pilates, you might be missing muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance.

Role of Exercise

If you go back 100-125 years, the idea that we would be going to a gym to exercise would be ludicrous.  The vast majority of the populous engaged in physical labor.  Even if you were wealthy, activities of daily living were much more strenuous than they are today.  You don’t even have to go back that far.  Look at life in the1960’s:

  • There was one phone in the house; often downstairs.
  • Most typewriters were manual.
  • Most cars were stick shift.
  • You had to get out of the car to open the garage door.
  • And yes, kids played outside.

Today we go to the gym to exercise because our lives have become too sedentary.  As a species, humans are meant to engage in moderate physical activity (movement) during most of their waking hours with brief bouts of aerobic (running) or anaerobic (heavy lifting) thrown in.  Unfortunately, in today’s advanced societies, we lead very sedentary lives and some of us try to make up for that by “hitting the gym” most days of the week.   Often we then do exercises that are virtually contra-indicated for us.  One of the most glaring, in my opinion, is cycle classes.  Though I’m a lifetime certified Mad Dogg Spin Instructor, and regularly sub spin classes, the format bothers me for the following reasons:  People are coming to the class after sitting on their butt’s for eight plus hours.  Their hip flexors are tight and their shoulders are rounded forward, now they get on a bike to exercise and those same movement patterns are exacerbated.  I do think the classes have a purpose;  they are great for cardiovascular work and nowadays many cycle classes incorporate some upper body strength with light weights, but for most  “desk jockeys”, doing a cycle class twice a week is plenty.

Exercise Today

The best exercise program involves movement throughout the day, so here’s what you do:

  • Stand up and walk around every 30 minutes.
  • Go for a walk before work, at lunch and after work.
  • Be the office geek who volunteers to replace the water cooler tank.
  • Clean your own house.
  • Mow your own grass.
  • Hit the gym most days of the week and MIX. THINGS. UP.

This will hold true even if you are competing FOR FUN in an obstacle course race, triathlon, road or trail race, etc.  If you are a serious competitor, you are probably not reading this blog. If so, get of the internet and get a sports specific coach.

My Training Philosophy

None of my clients are professional athletes.  Though some regularly place in amateur 5K, triathlon or obstacle racing, the majority are professionals who are trying to keep their quality of life high, reduce illness and keep the pounds off.   This is my focus for these folks:

  1. Multi-joint exercises with weights that are heavy, for key moves such as Squats, Deadlift, Overhead Lifts and Pull-Ups.   All of these movements are performed with the utmost integrity. Weight is only added after the movement patterns are properly performed.
  2. There are components of Yoga and/or Pilates with each workout, but  I also encourage my clients to take these classes apart from our training sessions.
  3.  HITT sessions (Hi Intensity Interval Training). The modality can be rowing, running (treadmill), biking (stationary), etc.  If they’re training for a specific event, e.g. a half-marathon, I would obviously encourage running.  Format can be Tabata (20 seconds all-out and 10 seconds recovery for four minutes) or something like a quarter mile run as fast as possible.
  4.  I arrange for my clients to compete in road races as they are so accessible to everyone.  I can get 15 clients out for a 5K and everyone can enjoy it.  Some will win their age groups and others will walk the route.  Everyone gets a beer and food at the end.

There’s No Best Exercise, But There Are Ways to Make Your Exercise Better

Two things that will help you get more from your exercise program are getting out of your comfort zone and using your brain while exercising.

Don’t Do What You Like

People are often told to find an exercise that they like and focus on that as they are more likely to do it.  I agree with that up to a point, but I also think we should do things that we don’t like. Our continued efforts to stay comfortable all the time do not serve us well.  Our ancestors crossed continents by walking and we are upset when our plane is delayed in an airport with conveniences our forefathers could only dream of.  Fortitude with physical discomfort carries over to fortitude in activities of daily living. Instead of doing all your exercise in a climate controlled gym, break out of the comfort zone:  swim in cold water; run or bike in the heat (bring water) and lift a little heavier (with good form) than you normally do.


Brain and Body Connection

Learning new things that involve both mind and body helps keep your brain young via a mechanism called neuroplasticity.  Forget about electronic games to increase brain function, they don’t work:


What does work is combining movement with memory.  I heard that Spartan races used to have you memorize a number at an obstacle and you had to repeat it a few obstacles later.  If you forget, burpees or some other punishment was assigned.  If a Spartan race is too intimidating, try Zumba or Ballroom Dancing. Learning the intricate moves will help neuroplasticity.

If you have physical limitations, try to memorize a phone number, address or poem while doing bicep curls.  These types of activity increase neuroplasticity and keep your brain and body young.

In Conclusion

We have gone from having to “exercise” as a daily part of our life to “fitting it in”.   Ask anyone if exercise is important, and they will say “yes”.  So keep moving my friend. But don’t just rely on that gym visit and when you do hit the gym, be mindful of your workout and make sure you are addressing the following:

  • Cardiovascular Endurance
  • Strength Training
  • Mobility
  • Cognitive Function

Stay well my friends!


So You Want To Lose Weight


The other day I had my first session with a lady who said she desperately wanted to lose weight.  She had tried Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, etc., but nothing had worked.  On a scale of 1-10, she said her desire to lose weight was a nine.  When I asked her if she would be willing to track her food intake, she responded, “Oh I don’t know.  That’s such a pain.”  At which point I told her that maybe she was really more of a three of four.  This dichotomy is very common. How many of you are guilty of wanting to lose weight, but not be willing to do the work.

How We Approach Behavioral Change

I’ve taken several behavior modification courses and they all referenced this model :

Behavioral Change Cycle

The transtheoretical model of behavior change

You enter the “wheel” at PRE-CONTEMPLATION and make your way around and exit at MAINTENANCE when the behavior has become ingrained.

By the time clients have made their first appointment with me, they  are at the ACTION stage:  they have initiated a change by asking for my help. My job is to help them make the transition to MAINTENANCE and if they do relapse, get them back to ACTION as soon as possible.

One of the major reasons people don’t progress through this model properly is a lack of confidence or comfort in their ability to live a healthy life:  Gym’s scare them, eating healthy is difficult; their genetics pre-disposes them to being overweight, etc.  These are all valid issues and my job is to help clients address them and move on to a healthier lifestyle. Here’s cliche tip number 1: DON’T GIVE UP.

Why is Healthy Living Easier for Some?

At the beginning of a wellness journey, the motiviation is invariably extrinsic: I want to look or feel better and I need to eat healthier and move more to get there.  Eventually, these activities become intrinsic: I can now run several miles without stopping and cook a healthy meal with ease. I’m feeling accomplished.  When things become easier and we become good at them, we enjoy them more. I’m not saying exercise will be your favorite thing ever, but at least you won’t dread it so much.

Int-Ext Motivation

Extrensic vs Intrinsic Motivation

Tip number 2:  Losing weight is a skill.  If you wanted to learn piano, you wouldn’t expect to sit down and master it in a few weeks.  Learn how to make movement a part of your daily routine,  practice making healthy dinners.  These are skills!  It is a journey to master them. Enjoy it!

False Hope Syndrome

The False Hope Syndrome was coined by University of Toronto professors Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman in 2000.  Their research showed that people often underestimated the amount of work required to meet a goal.  In 2016, Mark Zuckerburg announced on FB he would run 365 miles in 2016.  This is either almost 15 marathons or one mile a day.  One mile a day seems much more doable than 15 marathons.  Tip #3:  Keep weight loss goals, manageable and realistic.  Vow to lose 10 pounds in a year.

The other key point of False Hope Syndrome is that the more weight you have to lose, the easier it is AT THE BEGINNING.  The closer you get to your goal weight, the harder it becomes to lose the weight.  Below I’ve outlined differences in some key strategies for losing weight that depend on how much you have to lose.  As you get closer to your target weight, the recommendations become much more granular.

Weight Loss Strategies: Losing 100 Pounds

Given how detrimental  carrying this much extra weight is to your health,  the focus has to be on losing pounds versus optimizing nutrition.  Even with horrible food choices, if you cut the amount you are eating and move more,  weight will come off.  At this stage it is an easy thermodynamic equation: burn more calories than you consume

  • Track calories with an app like “MyFitnessPal”. Stay  in a deficit.  Do not use these apps for calculating the energy expended during exercise as they are not very accurate.
  • Wear a pedometer and calculate how many steps you are taking on an average day. If you normally get in 2,500, aim to increase to 3,000 the next week.  Keep this going until you average 10,000 steps a day.

Weight Loss Strategies: Losing 50 Pounds

The above strategies will still work, but you also need to start focusing on some other factors, including:

  • Get enough sleep: Aim for eight hours. Avoid computers, phones, etc. an hour or two before bed.  Use blue light blockers, dim lights or even use some candles.
  • Check medication, some medication will cause you to keep on weight.  Ask your doctor if alternatives are available.
  • Avoid processed foods, added sugars and vegetable oil. READ LABELS.  Start to focus on making your calories nutrient dense vs just counting calories.
  • Allow yourself to be hungry, especially if eating healthy is inconvenient. For example, you’re attending a child’s sport awards ceremony and the offerings are frozen pizza and dino nuggets.  Don’t. Eat.  Wait until you can get some decent food.
  • Sign-up for a physical event that will challenge, but not overwhelm you. For example:  5k run/walk; a multi-day hike on some beginner trails;  leisurely  touring bike ride, etc.
  • Genetic testing can help determine what exercise and macro nutrients are most likely to work for you. Some folks do better with endurance activities and others with power/strength workouts.  I’ve affiliated myself with a company called Genetic Direction that provides with you with a weight management program tailored to your genotype.  Find more information at geneticdirection.com.  Use discount code “BEWELLWITHMEL” for $10 off at checkout.
  • If you suspect you might have some autoimmune issues, I recommend testing thru Cyrex Labs. The company provides multi-tissue antibody testing for the early detection and monitoring of today’s complex autoimmune conditions. You’ll need to work with a trusted healthcare professional as Cyrex labs does not do direct to consumer testing. cyrexlabs.com

Weight Loss Strategies: Losing 25 Pounds

We have to get much more granular to keep the weight loss progress going.  Keep the above strategies, but add:

  • If you are exercising less than one hour a day, keep your carb intake to around 100 grams.
  • Use a heart rate monitor to make sure you are exercising at the proper intensity. Focus on upping intensity vs duration.
  • Proper exercise programming is critical. Make sure to mix things up to avoid injury and have a progression plan in place.
  • You don’t have to eat four to six meals a day to “keep your metabolism burning”. Three meals a day is fine and you don’t have to eat breakfast right when you wake up if you’re not hungry.
  • Eat more vegetables.
  • Fruit is a dessert.
  • Reduce stress through exercise or meditation (can be moving), not food.
  • No such thing as eating highly processed foods in moderation. Food manufacturers design snack cakes, chips, etc. to be highly addictive.  Don’t. Eat. Them.
  • Try intermittent fasting, eat all your food within an 8 hour period or eat extremely low calorie (e.g. around 500) for one or two days a week.

Weight Loss Strategies: Losing the Last 10 Pounds

At this point, you really need to ask yourself if the lifestyle changes necessary to lose this weight is worth it.  Here are some final small hacks that will help:

  • Focus on how you feel, less than how you look.
  • Practice gratitude, journal what you are thankful for.
  • If you think you “have a bad relationship” with food, drill down into the cause. There is a huge psychology to weight loss. Why is food your source of comfort?
  • If you like a glass of wine, view it as a reward at the end of the day. Drink one glass on an empty stomach before eating dinner.
  • Here are three, not necessarily healthy hacks, to drop 10 pounds fast, even if you’re close to your idea weight:
    • Go extremely low carb. Less than 30 grams a day.
    • Fast for 24 hrs or do a “cleanse”
    • Try an enema
    • The stomach flu

Final Thoughts on Weight Loss

Remember, you don’t have to go through this process alone.  Hire someone to help you.  People will often got out and drop $100+ on a dinner every week (sometimes more than once)  but then balk at the thought of giving that money to a fitness professional.   You only have one life and you can only live it to the fullest if you are healthy and energetic.