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February's Great Fitness Experiment: Everybody Say Ohm!

Posted Feb 03 2009 12:09am
At tonight's Super Bowl party, rather than watch the game - why would I want to do that? - I instead got to talk to a bunch of people I've never met before. This is one of my favorite pastimes as it gives me the opportunity to ask overly personal questions of complete strangers. I try to observe a semblance of social convention by first sticking to acceptable topics like "Who do you want to win?" (answer: Pittsburgh Steelers to which my 6-year-old son gasped in a horrified voice while shoving his hands in his armpits, "Do they really steal pits?!?!?" much to everyone's amusement.") But seeing as I spent half the night seated between an ultra thin and gorgeous Mexican woman and a Rubenesque and equally gorgeous Minnesotan woman, naturally the conversation turned to weight and weight loss. (Danger Will Robinson, Danger!)

Proving that weight talk knows no borders, we all chimed in with our tales of weight woe. The Mexican woman self-consciously nibbled on 1/4 of a brownie for an hour and told us how difficult it was to adjust to the quantity and richness of daily American food. The Minnesotan woman told us of her woes trying to get her BMI down to a level low enough to where she could have in-vitro fertilization as she and her husband have been trying to have a baby for 3 years now. I chimed in with the fact that fighting with my body has made me certifiably crazy. And then, as is my wont, I had to tell them about the most recent weight loss study that got me all excited - and is the basis for February's Great Fitness Experiment.

The Research on Stress
Life is stressful. (Cosmo Quiz lovers unite: Want to put a number score to your stress level? Take this handy quiz! ) And as we are all well aware now, the stress hormone cortisol plays a significant role in weight gain and weight retention, especially storage of excess fat in the abdomen. But exactly how much does reducing one's stress help in losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight?

Researchers in New Zealand tackled that question with a two-year study that examined the effects of stress reduction on weight as compared to the conventional diet and exercise wisdom. The researchers divided 225 women into three groups. The first group was taught only about meditation, yoga and positive thinking. The second group got the standard lecture about diet and nutrition and was put on a conventional eating & workout plan. The last group, poor saps, got stuck with a random nutritional brochure sent to them in the mail.

Who lost the most weight? Well it certainly wasn't the brochure folk. (Don't you just feel for the people who get stuck in control groups in studies? I mean, yeah, science demands a control group but seriously - a brochure? In the mail??) When it came down to it, the group that lost the most weight was the meditation and yoga group. After two years, they were the only group to maintain their weight loss. In addition, they were the only group to report an increase in positive feelings about their life in general - which provides an interesting post script: dieting does not make people feel better about their lives.

While I found the results very exciting, this study has some obvious limitations. First, it only included already overweight women. Since women are known to be more prone to stress eating, would this effect carry over for men? Second, while the meditation group lost the most weight, that actually only amounted to 5.5 pounds. I'm not knocking 5.5 pounds. If I could lose 5.5 pounds I'd be just about at my favorite weight. But 5.5 pounds for an overweight person seems like kind of a letdown for a two-year effort. Still though, it's saying a lot that they didn't regain the lost weight, nor did they gain any additional weight.

Everybody Say "Ohm!"
Much to my therapist's excitement I have decided to do a Great Fitness Experiment that does not involve me doing any crazy diets nor does it bring out the compulsive over-exercier in me. This month, the Gym Buddies and I will be meditating.

As I was unable to locate the specific program used in the study, this is the plan we will be following: A Yoga class once a week plus one 15-minute daily meditation session done at home. Originally, being the overachiever that I am, I suggested 30 minutes a day of meditation. Until Gym Buddy Allison gave me the look and replied flat out, "I wouldn't do that. I mean, I'd probably tell you I would but then I'd get home and find something else more interesting to do than sit in the dark." Girl has a point.

"How about 20 minutes?" I asked. She just arched her eyebrow. "15?" A sigh. "Just ten then?" Silence. "Okay, five. Just five minutes a day."

At last she answered, "You make me do the weirdest things." I'll take that as a yes! Did I mention that Allison's most hated fitness class ever is Yoga? It's the measure of a true friendship that she puts up with me.

So, you guys have your choice. I'm going to aim for 15 minutes a day, possibly 30 split into morning and evening sessions. Allison's going to try for one 5 minute session a day and the other Gym Buddies have arrayed themselves in between. Just pick something - truly, this is one Experiment that nobody has an excuse not to try (unless you are brain dead and then I will need to see a note from your doctor. Notarized.) - write the goal down and then go for it!

How To Meditate
I'm the girl that's too ADD to sit down and watch television or movies (culturally irrelevent for two years and counting!) and who used to skip out on Final Resting Pose in Fitness Yoga because it felt like a waste of time. So if you too have a hard time with the thought of just sitting quietly for 15 (or whatever) minutes, I have some ideas for you.

- Follow a meditation podcast. Here is one that is free, even! Play it on your computer or download it to your iPod. It's meditation for dummies. They walk you through the whole thing. I promise you will feel relaxed, energized and have a mind as blank as Jack Black's on the red carpet by the time you are finished.

- For a more advanced course in how to meditate, Yoga Health Secrets has a free class in meditation you can take. After you are finished you will have officially earned your Zen Master title.

- For those of you that prefer to read your information, our own MizFit has an article in my favorite mag, Experience Life on how to Ohm with the best of them.

- And, lastly, for those of you that just want the quickie version and don't feel like clicking through any links, here's the short version. Set a timer for 15 minutes so you don't keep peeking every 30 seconds to see how much time has passed. Sit someplace quiet with no distractions. Get comfy. (I don't lay down or I'll just fall asleep. That's not meditating, that's napping people.) Close your eyes and clear your mind. Every time a thought comes into your mind, acknowledge it and then let it go. It helps me to focus on a single word like "peace" or "joy" (but don't start singing Christmas carols as that ruins the point). Other people like to picture a beautiful place or a spark of light. And... that's it. It's meditation, not rocket science. Don't make it hard.

So who's in with me? One month to a less stressful you! (Lady mag not included.)

For more perspective on the benefits of meditation checky out MizFit's Shhhh. Experience the Silence. and Cranky Fitness Meets Tibetan Bowls. If one of you have a post on the subject, please feel free to link to it in the comments! I'd love to read it!

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