Monday, 23 January 2012

Does Thinking about Exercise Burn Calories? Tips on How to Build Your Exercise Routine

Did you know that just THINKING about exercising actually burns calories? It really does! The problem is... that it doesn’t burn very many of them. For example, it won’t even come CLOSE to burning off that extra large slice of chocolate cream pie you want... unless, of course, you only THINK about having the pie.

“What about if I eat the pie and think about spinach?” you ask.

Seriously, man! If you’re thinking about spinach while eating chocolate cream pie, you are in deep psychological doo-doo!

Psychotic episodes aside... if you have fibro and want to start some sort of exercise routine, whether it be to increase your strength or endurance or cardiovascular fitness; or to improve your sleep; or to lose weight; or just to piss your couch-potato partner off - you have to do more than just think about it.

But you DO need to think about it. Or, more specifically, you need to think about issues like HOW you’re going to do it, WHERE and WHEN, as well as WHAT you are going to do, and WHICH Speedo or bikini you’re going to wear.

As a world expert in fibromyalgia who just last week somehow managed to put a sweater on both backwards AND inside out and not notice it for 3 full hours (that damn laundry tag kept tickling my chin), let me give you some tips:


... or kick-boxing; or bull riding; or bull fighting; or rugby. In other words, don’t try any exercise that involves you being hit, punched, kicked, gored or otherwise pulverized. Don’t even shadow box: accept that, at least starting out, your shadow will probably kick the living snot out of you.

Not only that. But because of the impact of feet against hard earth, you probably shouldn’t even run... or jog... unless you can somehow swing it to run in some low-gravity environment like the moon... or Charlie Sheen’s bedroom.

No! Instead, select a nice, non-contact sport like swimming or low-impact aerobics or professional ice hockey.

And DON’T bungee jump!  Why not? Because it FREAKS ME OUT!!!


Don’t you remember that Monte Python skit, where the guy kept complaining about how much it hurt when he stuffed chopsticks up his nose? Well DON’T DO IT!!!

And don’t do any exercise you hate doing either. Take me for example. For whatever reason, I’ve always hated working my upper body. As a young man, I was a very serious competitive runner – track, cross-country, running from police... hey! I did it all. But when it came to me and upper body exercises... well, I was the ONLY dumbbell I EVER got close to. Why? Because I HATED them!

“Why?” you ask. WHO THE #@*& CARES?  I just did. I had the upper body physique of a spaghetti noodle, but no matter how many times people looked at me and rolled their eyes, or otherwise subtly insinuated that I needed to bulk up by calling me a pathetic dweeb, I still totally forgot working out anything that didn’t have a foot attached to it.

So choose some exercise you enjoy... or think you’ll enjoy... or at least won’t absolutely abhor.


In case ANY of you ARE considering it, DON’T start calling around trying to get permission to run on the moon (or Charlie Sheen’s bedroom), despite the low gravity. Why? (What’s with all the WHY’s?)

BECAUSE IT WON’T BE CONVENIENT FOR YOU!  Make sure that whatever exercise you choose to do will be convenient enough that it’s no real bother for you to get where you need to go and do what you need to do. If you want to ice skate but live 23 miles outside Las Vegas... uh uh! It ain’t happenin’!  Or want to walk around the university track when the university is 10 miles the other side of town and you need photo ID and a small envelope of weed to give the guy at the security desk to gain admission... again... it ain’t happenin’! 

What about just walking outdoors? Great! But if you live at the top of a 400-foot hill or anywhere where it snows 13 months a year, like Canada (but seriously folks, it only snows 12 months a year up here), or where the temperature gets upwards of 200 degrees, like Charlie Sheen’s bedroom... you’d better come up with something else. Maybe walk when it’s nice outside, but use a treadmill or arrange a drive to the nearest indoor mall when the weather turns nasty.

Whatever you choose - the more likeable and convenient the exercise is for you, the more likely you actually will start it and keep up with it... which is the WHOLE BLOODY POINT!


Or bikini! Or not... but whatever you wear, make sure it’s both comfortable for you and good for whatever exercise you are doing.

Never wear stuff that’s too tight, even if you’ve got the best booty in town, because it restricts blood flow to those all important MUSCLES you’re trying to exercise. Show off that fabulous booty of yours LATER!

If you are walking, don’t chintz out on shoes. In fact, don’t chintz out on shoes even if you’re not walking. Take care of your feet... you just MIGHT need them some day.

And if you want to bicycle, wear a bloody helmet!  (Though, I ask you, WHY do sky-divers wear helmets? Think about that for a second. Goggles, okay. But a helmet???)


Or anything that Grandpa Jake used to use when he was a teenager still trying to impress Grandma’s twin sister.

No. Make sure that whatever equipment you use is in good working order and appropriate for your size, weight and complexion. If, for example, you want to bicycle, have someone who knows modern bicycles (NOT Grandpa Jake) take a look at it to make sure that everything is oiled and moving right and not about to fall off when you’re barrelling down a 40-degree hill with no brakes. And make sure that the seat is high enough so your knees don’t knock your teeth loose every time you peddle.

Ditto with your treadmill or whatever other new-fangled contraption (as Grandpa Jake calls it) you decide to use. 


I mean it. Totally wimp out! I want you to start with such a small amount of exercise you need to be Sherlock Holmes to find it.  We’re talking microscopic!  We’re talking tweezers! We’re talking flea-circus!

Well, no... not really. But DO start with a ridiculously small amount, and continue this for about three weeks, at least 3 -5 times per week, BEFORE increasing it.

“WHY so little?”you ask the man in the backwards, inside-out sweater. Because I want you develop the HABIT of exercising before it starts hurting.

“WHY three weeks?” Because, research shows, that’s how long it is for a new habit to become engrained... and because I said so. And I’m the man in the backwards, inside-out sweater.

I literally used to tell patients that, for the first three weeks, I just wanted them to change into their exercise clothes, drive to the mall or gym or whatever, look at the place, and then drive home.  Again, what’s important at that stage is NOT the exercise, per se, but the HABIT of exercising. Make sure the habit is strong FIRST, and only THEN start strengthening yourself.


What I mean is, once you do start to increase the amount you are exercising each time, make sure you increase SLOOOOOOOOOWLY.  I’m talking snail-walking slow! Grass-growing slow! Doctors’ waiting-room slow! Politicians-actually-fulfilling-a-campaign-promise slow! (Well... maybe not THAT slow.) 

My point is for you to increase the exercise slowly enough that you don’t start hurting so much you have to stop exercising and start all over again. A little discomfort is fine, but it should be as little as possible. Agony is NOT therapeutic. You’re not in a race here. There is no Fibro Olympics!  (Could you imagine... we could start out with the bed to bathroom sprint!)


I once had an elderly patient who wanted to start walking through her neighbourhood; at the time, she didn’t walk outside the home AT ALL. Since it was late spring and there were several months of nice weather ahead (we hoped, but this is Canada, so you just never know), I told her just to start by picking up the mail from her mailbox, which was at the end of her walkway, perhaps 20 feet from her front door. She started by asking the mailman (a kindly young man who knew she was hurting) to stop bringing her mail right to her door. She then started picking up her own mail, and did nothing more walking than this, for three weeks, wearing a nice pair of running shoes she’d bought years ago and hardly ever worn.

After those first three weeks, she started walking to the neighbour’s mailbox (though she SWEARS that she had NOTHING to do with the package of Anthrax they received).  Then a week later, to the next neighbours’ mailbox. Once a week, after the first three weeks were up, she walked one house further. Eventually, as she started feeling stronger, she started adding two houses at a time; and then three houses at a time.

Within 6 months, she was walking around the block... and feeling better. Not perfect... but better. And walking was something she now looked forward to.  And she now could go out with her family when they went shopping at the mall or to rob the local bank. She’d stop and rest often, while they mulled around various stores or planned their getaway. But she was now able to participate. And this all started with telling her mailman just to stop bringing the mail right to her door.

So again, what did she do to achieve this success?
(1) She didn’t choose dodge ball or any other exercise that was going to maim or dismember her. She chose walking, a safe activity in at least 14% of cities worldwide. (2) She didn’t stuff chopsticks up her nose or force herself to do any exercise she hated; she chose a practical exercise that she thought she would enjoy, and that (3) was NOT on the moon, but right outside her front door. (4) She elected NOT to wear a Speedo or string bikini, but DID make sure to wear good running shoes. (5) She needed no tricycle or other equipment that needed fine tuning, but DID start her exercise in late spring when the weather was starting to be nice and the pathway to her mailbox was no longer icy or snow-covered or covered in hibernating bears. (6) She wimped out, like I’d instructed her to, and started with a 40-foot round-trip walk, once a day; and (7) wimped out again by not increasing her walk for the first three weeks, until picking up her mail was a well-ingrained habit. Then and only then did she start to increase her walks in length, but only slowly and in small increments. And then, as the 8th and last item in my list of tips, she allowed herself to...


I told her to reward herself every time she met a goal she’d set for herself. Now, if she’d been really overweight and trying to lose weight, I wouldn’t have suggested that she pig out with food, but maybe by buying some small thing she’d wanted for awhile or by inviting that nice young mailman in so she could see HIS Speedo.

As it turns out, what she REALLY wanted was a nice big slice of chocolate cream pie! And she didn’t even have to think about that one.

Kevin White, MD, PhD


  1. i just wanted to say thank you for sharing. somedays i feel like i'm crazy, a complete failure, and lazy. the only one who seems to partially understand is my doctors and my husband. i've been off work since october and was diagnosed in december after several specialist and multiple test. i'm planning on getting your book regarding fibro fog soon. since october my life has completely changed. i was the woman that had it all. a full time job as a home care RN, a mother and a wife. Now i'm the blob on the couch that is in pain, cannot comprehend the simplest of phrases sometimes, forgets more than i remember and feel like i have the iq of an 8 year old. i went from having it all, to needing help with everything. i'm having a hard time with the fatigue, fog and pain, but most of all having to ask for help. most days i sleep 10-15 hours. i seem to fall asleep where ever i am, and have more bad days than good some weeks. still looking for what treatments will work for me so i can get my life back. right now the most active thing i do is housework, 5-15 minutes at a time, and then a half hour or longer break to recoup.

  2. Dear Melissa: I'm sorry you're having it so rough. The first thing you need to do is not blame yourself for any of this. For example, if all you can do is 5-15 minutes of light housework, followed by a half hour or more of rest... that's all you can do. Don't feel guilty about it. You have a real physical illness and it's going to take some time for you to get things sorted out to a point where you can do more and live better. Trust that such a time will come, hopefully soon.