Gratitude! A Positive Fitness Resolution

Ringing in the New Year, it’s wonderful to think back on the amazing year we’ve had.  Some ups, some downs, some more ups…let’s pause to focus on the ups. Let’s go to gratitude as we tie a bow on 2017: Grateful to be alive and well, grateful for the time to be with our loved ones, to hang out with our friends, and grateful for the many blessings bestowed on us. Good stuff! (image: fitnessandwellnessnews.com)

For some reason us humans can easily dwell on what’s gone wrong. Eager to close out the year with a sigh and look ahead to a fresh one – why is this? Why is it easy to drag up the negative and drag ourselves down?

Case of the Mondays

I can’t say that I haven’t had ‘a case of the Mondays’ – however, whenever I’m feeling under the gun, worried or sub-par, I’m training my brain to focus on the good stuff. Yep, I go to gratitude. You could say this is my New Year’s fitness resolution.

Just like physical exercise is necessary to train the body for better fitness, paying attention to how we think, what we say and exercising a positive attitude has direct effect on our mental AND physical well-being. That mind-body connection is a real thing and works both ways.

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A terrific little article from Psychology Today sums it up nicely:
In the same way as the body affects the mind, however, the mind is capable of immense effects on the body.  The literature has demonstrated again and again that thoughts affect neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that allow the brain to communicate with different parts of itself and the nervous system. Neurotransmitters control virtually all of the body’s functions, from feeling happy to modulating hormones to dealing with stress. Therefore, our thoughts influence our bodies directly because the body interprets the messages coming from the brain to prepare us for whatever is expected.

Haven’t you heard someone repeatedly say “…I always seem to catch what’s going around…”, and lo-and-behold they catch the next flu bug? Or, have you caught yourself thinking “…I’m SO not looking forward to this day…” or “…I’m feeling so tired/bummed/depressed…”, and then “coincidentally” the day goes just as “planned”? It’s not a coincidence. Whether we realize it or not, our thoughts and words can affect our bodies’ reactions – in a good way or to our detriment.

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“For example, research shows that psychological stress affects our levels of catecholamines, which include the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.  These neurochemical changes prepare the body to deal with perceived danger in a number of important ways, such as raising blood pressure so as to allow faster speed and response time. However, chronic elevations in catecholamines suppress the immune system, and suppression of the immune system raises the risk of viral infection and other diseases.”

How do we put this mind-body fitness resolution into play?

What is that all-around squat or plank exercise for the brain that can jump the track of negativity and put us on a new track of optimism?
Go to gratitude.
Simple, effective and the best fitness habit to create in 2018!

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At the first sign of feeling punky, down-hearted, bad – Stop – and recite three things that you’re grateful for. It’s truly amazing how quickly our outlook changes. How can we continue down the negative road when we’re zeroing in on why we’re grateful?

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What’s more: “Resilient people actually resist illnesses, cope with adversity, and recover quicker because they are able to maintain a positive attitude and manage their stress effectively.  By managing our attitudes and stress levels, we actually control neurochemical transmissions in the body. The power of a healthy attitude therefore cannot be underestimated in the body-mind connection.

Looking back on 2017, I’m grateful that I’ve got the wherewithal to work, a home to live in, a husband and family who loves me, friends I can count on, two legs to dance and a passion for health and wellness for myself and others.

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And for 2018? I’m going to add to this list! 

What are you grateful for? Put these out in front and expect a fantastic New Year ahead!

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Inflammation – Understanding The Good and The Bad

Our bodies are amazing. They perform when we push them, continue to operate when we don’t feed them right, and heal when we hurt them. They even try their best to tell us what’s damaging them before we go too far. Ah – if we’d only pay attention. image: grandparents.com.   

In lieu of smacking us upside the head and saying “stop that”, our bodies send some effective messages that something’s not right (i.e. pain, swelling, numbness, stiffness, weakness, etc.). Fortunately, this usually does get our attention, and we back off (whether we want to or not) and allow the body to rest and heal.

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The trick is to learn how to recognize these signals, hit ‘pause’, and figure out what’s causing the trouble. And, to do this sooner vs. later, before a temporary physical set back turns chronic.

Our body’s main communication strategy to protect itself is inflammation. Inflammation is our body’s response to battle stress, whether physical, mental or environmental, from which we feel the results:
Fighting off a cold virus? We may feel a fever or inflamed sinuses.
Worked out too much or too hard? We may feel stiff, sore, inflamed muscles.
Repetitive action with incorrect form, bad posture or poor mechanics? We may feel pain, heat, swelling, inflammation.

Some Inflammation is Not a Bad Thing
It’s our immune system kicking in to remove the thing the body deems harmful and to start the healing process.
“Without an inflammatory response, infections, wounds and other tissue damage would not be able to heal. When an injury occurs, acute inflammation can increase blood flow to the injured area, resulting in increased redness, heat and swelling. Defense cells may bring fluid to the inflamed tissue, which also causes swelling. Though symptoms stemming from inflammation can be frustrating and sideline a person from his or her normal daily activities, the root cause of the symptoms serves a purpose. Greater blood flow and immune system activation are critical steps in the healing process.ACEfitness.org

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This sort of “acute inflammation” is the result of obvious things, like taking a bad fall or the flu. We feel the effects quickly, correlate to the cause, and treat accordingly. Our immune system kicks in and we recover. Other factors, however, can sneak up on us over time and are more difficult to pinpoint.

Chronic Inflammation IS a Bad Thing
As creatures of habit, we can easily get lulled into a lifestyle or living situation that is bottom line unhealthy. This is when inflammation can quietly slip in, without noticeable impacts and cause harm over time.

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“Chronic inflammation, sometimes called persistent, low-grade inflammation, happens when the body sends an inflammatory response to a perceived internal threat that does not require an inflammatory response. The white blood cells swarm, but have nothing to do and nowhere to go, and they sometimes eventually start attacking internal organs or other necessary tissues and cells…
Other times, the threat is real but we do not feel it or the inflammatory response, and the inflammation can persist forever. Persistent inflammation has been linked to a variety of ailments, including heart disease. It is often associated with environmental or habitual factors, such as pollution or poor diet, which has made it of interest to nutritionists.” Livescience.com

The laundry list of ailments and illnesses stemming from long-term, chronic inflammation is sobering: Diabetes, lung health, bone health, depression, anger, cancer and heart disease to name a few – yikes!
We’re hearing more and more about diseases resulting from chronic inflammation. No matter our age, now is the time to start paying attention and making corrections in our daily lives.

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Take Steps to Help Reduce Inflammation
While inflammation is the body’s go-to method to fix, we want to understand the root cause and take steps to clear it up. That usually means recognizing the ‘harmful stimuli’ that causes the inflammation in the first place.

Consider: Movement
A lack of movement and inactivity leads to a host of not-so-good physical results, including the inability for the body to flush out harmful toxins that can trigger inflammation.

“Our body has an incredible way of preventing threat and warding off problems.  The theme “exercise is medicine” or “motion is lotion” is very important to remember.  Naturally clearing out toxins that have accumulated as a result of inflammation through exercise and movement is more effective as it allows the body to heal itself along its proper lines of stress.  As well, it creates circulation and natural pumping to increase blood flow and promote lymphatic drainage to take away the debris that has accumulated.” Backandneck.ca

Simply put: Move. And move correctly. Meaning: good posture, good form, and supported by a strong core foundation of abdominal, back and hip muscles.
Paying attention to the fundamentals helps protect the joints, the back and the rest of our skeletal system from stressful overuse and ward of chronic inflammation.

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A few proactive steps to be aware of include:

Move often. Ideally do something each day. Walk, take the stairs, a quick run, hit the gym or dance around the living room. It doesn’t matter. Just move – each day – getting the heart pumping and toxins flushed out.

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Mind your head and neck position. Watch how long you look down as you text, read your phone, work on the computer. That 8-10lb head increases in weight when it hangs downward or juts out and puts stress on the upper back.

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Mind the slouch. Sitting or standing slouchy with rounded shoulders and abs “relaxed” causes undue stress on the entire back as it works to hold you upright. Remember, ongoing stress on the body leads to inflammation and the pain, discomfort, etc. that accompanies it.
Think: Atten-TION! Stand, sit and walk around with the good ‘ol book balanced on the head.

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Postural alignment. Think: shoulder-hip-knee-ankle-foot, all aligning as you stand, walk, step, squat or sit. Joint alignment works wonders to helping muscles work in an integrated, supportive fashion through all modes of movement.

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Consider: Diet
Not new news, and our bodies tell us all the time. Too much sugar, greasy fat, artificial preservatives, etc., wreak havoc on our systems, cause weight gain, lack of energy, internal “discomfort” and more.

Plus, the continual state of dehydration (that people typically ignore) results in our gastrointestinal systems working overtime to compensate for the lack of good fuel (nutrition + hydration). The good news is that there are nutritional strategies to help combat inflammation.

Choose your fuel wisely. Think of your meals as tasty, satisfying AND operational fuel. The good rule of thumb is balance: protein, fiber, healthy carbs and fat. Feed your body the right balance with enough nutritional content to give it what it needs (vitamins, minerals, branch chain amino acids). And limit the extra stuff it doesn’t need (added sugars, artificial ingredients and chemicals). Make the calories count!

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Remember to hydrate. “Since the average human body is 75 percent water, with blood 92 percent water, bones 22 percent water, and muscles 75 percent water, it’s no surprise our immune system depends on our water intake.” Medicaldaily.com
Dehydration is a scary thing when left unaddressed. Lack of balance and cognitive abilities, headaches and high blood pressure are a few results of dehydration. So drink up – and help flush out bad toxins.
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Reduce the acidity in your diet. “When blood becomes acidic, as it does when you eat a diet of processed foods, it causes inflammation. It then draws calcium and other acid-buffering minerals from you bones, in order to raise the pH back to its healthy alkaline range. If your body fails to bring the blood back to an alkaline state, it will continue to draw calcium from your bones, thereby weakening them. In athletes, an acid diet is a rocky road to stress fractures during sport. In everyone, chronic acidosis promotes numerous diseases as we age.” Drmichaelcolgan.com
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“The principles of an anti-inflammatory diet are healthy ones. The recommended foods are typical of a Mediterranean diet and include eating more fish, fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy fats; eating moderate portions of nuts; eating very little red meat; and drinking moderate amounts red wine.” Medicaldaily.com

Try taking stock of your diet and compare it to an acidic vs. alkaline diet. Resources such as Dr. Axe Food Is Medicine can guide you to immediate changes you can make to start helping the effort to an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.

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The Good and the Bad of Inflammation

Our bodies are miracles with amazing regenerating abilities. “Without inflammation, wounds would fester and infections could become deadly. Inflammation can also be problematic, though, and it plays a role in some chronic diseases.” Livescience.com

By paying attention to what our bodies are telling us, making some changes and creating good health habits (starting with diet and exercise), we can help the regenerative process and set ourselves up for a lifetime of activity and feeling good!

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Wake Up and Reactivate Your Core

Have you ever reached a plateau in your fitness quest? We all have. The challenge comes when we want to push past it. But it could be as simple as making a few changes to “wake up” muscle groups that may have tuned out after doing the same routine over and over. Image: mumsdreamsignite.com

We are creatures of habit. We’re comfortable when we’ve got a routine down – whether work, a hobby, family, chores, or working out – our comfort zone is the familiar.

It’s a great feeling to master a physical challenge. Pushing our limits, focusing, practicing and achieving an athletic, weight loss, competitive or other fitness goal.  It’s also a great success to get over an injury, to heal properly, to get stronger and feel better for the long haul.

So here’s the kicker: When our bodies (and minds) have mastered a physical task, we tend to go on auto-pilot. Because it’s comfortable, and we know what to expect. We become less focused and move faster to get through things quicker. We start going through the motions which can either keep us on that plateau, or sometimes lead to impromptu injuries if we’re not paying attention.

It’s fantastic to do some physical activity each day. Just remember, to be most effective, avoid injury and see improvements we need to make sure are bodies are primed and ready for the activity. We need to wake up the muscle groups – both the large ones (doing the heavy tasks) and the smaller stabilizers (supporting the load).

Let’s Wake ‘Em Up
By “wake up”, we don’t mean “shock” our muscles. It simply means changing up the routine a bit. Doing things slightly different to get and keep the muscle groups engaged and prepped for the variety of movement patterns we do for work and play.

So before we slide on those comfy old pair of sneaks and slog off into the sunset (where was I going?…),

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Or leap into a full-intensity, high-impact Crossfit session after sitting at a desk all day (agh, my hammie!…),

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First consider the end goal. We want to feel better and get better at what we do so we can do the fun stuff for a long time. Then consider a little variety to keep those muscles (including the one between our ears) tuned up and in tune.

Let’s start with the mother of all stabilizers – the core:  Generally speaking, the front, sides and back muscles of our centers, including the deep abdominals.

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Slow It Down and Reactivate!
Now here’s a change from our multi-tasking, get-done-and-move-on habit.
Instead of cranking through 50 crunches in under a minute, to truly prime our abdominals, back and deep core muscles to get them ready for what we bring on next, here are a few basic yet effective options.

They don’t take much time, however, they DO require focus. And remember: Whenever tightening the abdominals, avoid pushing the stomach out as you tighten. Instead – think of “bracing for the punch”, imagining a 360-degree band around the waist.

The Slow-Mo Ab Curl

  • Lie on back, knees bent (hands either reaching past the hips or supporting the head)
  • Imagine sliding your rib cage laterally towards your hips; tighten abs and float the head and shoulders up off the floor
  • Keep that stomach tight, breathe, and hold for 5 long counts
  • Rest the head back down and repeat 5 slow and focused reps

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The Slow-Mo Waist Whittler

  • Remain on back, same position as above with head and shoulders facing the ceiling; shift both knees to the right (until the left glute raises off the floor slightly)
  • Imagine the left lower rib sliding laterally towards the left hip; squeeze the waist and float the head and shoulders up off the floor; head, shoulders and gaze remain facing up towards the ceiling
  • Keep that left waist and obliques tight, breathe, and hold for 5 long counts
  • Lower the head back down and repeat 5 slow and focused reps
  • Switch and shift the knees over to the left (until the right glute raises off the floor slightly); repeat above

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The Slow-Mo Back Extensions

  • Flip to the stomach, arms extended and resting on the floor, legs at hip width
  • Float the head up; nose about 1-2 inches off the floor
  • Raise the right arm about 2 inches off the floor and the right leg up until the knee is off the floor
  • Imagine the right shoulder blade pulling down towards the right hip pocket
  • Tighten the stomach, breath, and hold for 5 long counts
  • Switch to the left arm and left leg and repeat above
  • Imagine the left shoulder blade pulling down towards the left hip pocket
  • Tighten the stomach, breath, and hold for 5 long counts
  • Repeat each side 3-5 times

The Slow-Mo Back Extensions – Diagonal Variation

  • Same position and movement as above, only now raise opposite arm and leg
  • Raise the right arm about 2 inches off the floor and the left leg up until the knee is off the floor
  • Imagine the right shoulder blade pulling diagonally down and across towards the left hip pocket
  • Tighten the stomach, breath, and hold for 5 long counts
  • Switch to the left arm and right leg and repeat above, 3 -5 times

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With our core muscles reactivated, we’re ready for what’s next!

Back To Basics Functional Exercises
Sometimes, changing it up mean simply executing a few, good ‘ol basics to again prime the body and move through all ranges of motion.

“The best exercise programs do not need to be overly complicated to be effective—they just need to execute the fundamental principles of exercise extremely well (such as squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling and rotating).
The more we learn about the fascia system, the more apparent it becomes that movement variability is essential. Repeatedly doing the same exercise the exact same way can place repetitive stress on the joints, muscle and connective tissue and increase the risk of injury.
Making minor adjustments to the positions of the major joints involved can incorporate different tissues and dissipate the stress across the entire system, resulting in stronger, more injury-resistant muscle and connective tissue.” ACE ProSource

The following are exercises we’ve all done before, only here’s a twist: Incorporate the Slow-Mo method above, slowing down the movements to half-speed, AND focus in on how the core muscles (abs, waist and back) are activated, tightening and supporting each movement. Repeat 8-10 times and you’ll be ready to go.

The Air Squat – Half Speed

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The Lunge and Twist – Half Speed

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The Plank – Slowly Raise and Hold One Leg, Then Switch

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The Mountain Climber – Slowly Tuck One Knee In and Hold, Then Switch

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NOW, pop on those sneaks, hit the trail or the the road with mind and body engaged. Your body will appreciate and react positively to the difference!

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Good Fitness Habits = The Best Healthcare System

It should be called Preventative Healthcare: Move. Feed your body right. Choose wisely. This simple healthcare plan is cheap and available to anyone.
The catch – it takes a bit of education, a bit of proactive motivation, and a large bit of continual action to create good fitness habits. (Image: bostonmagazine.com)

“Be a willing participant in your own rescue.”
A phrase I’ve adopted from a river raft guide who teaches this principle and techniques to white water rafters who may accidentally get tossed out of the raft. This goes for all of us in life, I think. To feel better, move better, look better and basically be healthy – something we all want – starts with participating in developing and maintaining our own good health.

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Good Habits in Bitesize Portions
They say it takes 30 days to create a habit. And while it’s seemingly easier and faster to take a pill to fix whatever ails us, the side-effect disclaimers to these “solutions” we hear about on TV could be more costly and debilitating than the original issue.
Of course, there are unexpected (and unfortunate) accidents or medical conditions that happen. But for the things we can control, making some changes to our day-to-day habits can make positive, life-changing results in the long run.

Start by asking yourself some questions. Your answers will help take bitesize portions out of the behemoth task of “I’ve gotta get healthy”, and give you some motivational focus:
- Why do I want to get in shape?
- What health challenge am I working to overcome?
- How do I want to feel?
Keep your answers out in front and you’ll be rewarded when you realize your goals!

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Next – start moving. “The more scientists study the biological underpinnings of age, the more comfortable they get with the idea that when it comes to some kind of silver bullet, exercise is about as close as we’re ever going to get.” TIME- The Science of Exercise

Pretty simple, however I completely understand and know from experience how this “simple” habit can easily get pushed to the back burner when work, home, commitments, family, life, eats up the time.
The good news: it really is simple to make a few choices, find 15 minute windows in the day and choose to move. Take the stairs, walk around the block, start your morning with a mini Pilates or yoga session, wrap up your day with some air squats, planks and wall push-ups. Find four, 15-minute increments a day and voila, you’ve just integrated an hour of movement into your day!

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“In recent years, researchers took it a step further, discovering that not only does exercise keep you from dying prematurely – it also may help keep you young. It also appears to be able to slow the progression of degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, which tend to worsen with age. Scientists now believe that physical activity can keep blood flowing steadily to the rain, which is essential for removing toxic compounds that can cause aging and early death of cells. Exercise can also reduce inflammation, a key disease-causing process that can promote the buildup of the protein plaques in the brain that contribute to Alzheimer’s.” TIME- The Science of Exercise

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Educate – Swap Bad Habits for Good
Now that we’re moving and our brains are alert with the blood flow, let’s be aware of some maybe not-so-obvious good vs. bad habits. There are always the latest, greatest fitness trends that pop up, yet sometimes the best things to incorporate into our journey to better health are simple adjustments.

Drink Enough Water

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Not a new idea, right? We’ve all heard the mantra “drink 8 glasses of water a day…”, and yet, do we really do this?
Probably one of the simplest good habits to incorporate.  For a bit of motivational education to encourage developing this habit, consider this: “When the body is dehydrated, the brain can temporarily contract or shrink from fluid loss. This mechanism causes the brain to pull away from the skull, causing pain and resulting in a dehydration headache. Once re-hydrated, the brain plumps up and returns to its normal state, relieving the headache.” Medicalnewstoday.com  

Don’t Skip the Warm-up

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“One obvious way people shave time off a workout when they’re in a hurry is to bypass, or rush through, the warm-up. But is this O.K.? No. In fact, it can increase your injury risk. Warming up raises core body temperature improves muscle elasticity and range of motion in the joints, increases the rate of oxygen being delivered to working muscles, and more. All this allows your body to gradually get used to greater intensity so you can perform better and more safely as the workout progresses.” Be Proactive to Avoid Injury – Acefitness.org

Mix It Up
I always say do something each day. That ‘something’ is ideally different to challenge both brain and body, keep it interesting and muscles challenged.
“If you almost always gravitate to the same fitness-class formats, cardio machines and/or strength-training equipment, plan to mix it up more so cross training becomes your weekly norm. Cross training challenges your body with variety, making it a reliable approach to improving overall fitness, while also avoiding overuse injury due to muscle imbalances and repetitive routines.” Acefitness.org

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Get Aware of Your Habits – Quiz Yourself!
One of the best ways to create good health habits is to first be aware of what we may or may not be doing. Try this handy and enlightening online quiz for some quick and interesting tips:  www.crazymuscle.com/habits

Knowledge is power. And motivating when we discover that there are simple ways to get proactive about our own health!

Let’s take the first step to healthcare reform and transform ourselves with healthy habits for longevity and happy, active lifestyles!

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Improve Your Muscle Memory

We’ve heard that muscles have “memory”. Such as, when it’s been awhile since doing a certain activity – like riding a bike or skiing – and we seem to hop right back in the saddle and pick up where we left off.

Our bodies do seem to “remember” actions, that is, if we can keep up with the advancements of equipment. I don’t think my skis from the 70’s have a chance of coming back in style.

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“Muscle memory” is a thing – a good thing! When we frequently repeat a task, we are training our bodies to perform in a certain way so that our actions become second nature. We’re building muscle memory so that we may perform more efficiently. And the terrific thing is that if we take some time off, whether intentionally or not, we don’t have to panic about starting completely from scratch when we resume.

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When we’re active and working out, exercising, and moving, we build nuclei. “The key to muscle size and strength lies in their nuclei. Nuclei control protein synthesis and the more you have the more protein you are able to turn into muscle. The first effect training has on your muscles is not actually growth; it’s to create more nuclei, which eventually facilitate the development of more tissue”. Menshealth.co.uk

And the nuclei we’ve established don’t just go away when we stop for a short while – they take a nap. When we wake them up and start exercising again, we (somewhat) start from where we left off (albeit perhaps not as strong), and we begin building again.

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It’s What’s In Between Our Ears

Our bodies are a “closed-chain system” – meaning, it’s all connected. The inputs that we feed our brains through the outputs of our muscle actions come full circle, so it’s important to be aware of this. When we practice an action over and over – whether a specific sport or a seemingly mundane activity around the yard – we’re reinforcing these movement patterns and building “muscle memory”.

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“This is not a memory of the muscle but a memory in the brain of a certain muscle movement. They’re stored in the Perkinje cells of the cerebellum, where the brain encodes information and records whether certain movements are right or wrong. The brain then gradually focuses more energy on the correct action and stores it in your long-term memory. Once it’s been stored then you need to use less of the brain to repeat it. Which is when the movement starts to feel natural.”

Now remember, it’s important to move correctly and build positive reinforcement in our long-term memories. A habit practiced is a habit – good or bad. So, it’s a good idea to spend our time and energy practicing actions correctly with good posture and good form while – again – training for a specific sport or doing the day-to-day.

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For Muscles AND Memory

Bottom line, exercise creates a positive domino effect. We move, increase blood flow, trigger muscle growth, improve range of motion and coordination, and feed our brains at the same time. Which, in turn, builds muscle memory for how to move efficiently (and naturally), while indirectly helping to improve our sleep, mood, reduce stress and anxiety. Getting up and out, moving with intention is a good thing.

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“In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning…The finding comes at a critical time. Researchers say one new case of dementia is detected every four seconds globally. They estimate that by the year 2050, more than 115 million people will have dementia worldwide. Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.” Harvard.edu

Let’s get moving. For mind and body, muscles and memory!

 

Mobility! For Mind, Body & Balance

Nobody wishes to be stiff and inflexible. Whether in how we think, how we act, and definitely not in how we move. However, habits and circumstances over the years can lead to exactly that, until stiffness and inflexibility become a way of life. Cover Image: Debaonline4U.com

Whoa nelly – who wants that? How about the opposite instead – feeling nimble, flexible and agile? That’s when we’re feeling good and moving with ease.

It’s time to get moving. To function at our best – whether a young athlete, or an old(er) active enthusiast – we all need to give some attention to our levels of mobility and work to improve.

We’re in Training For Life!

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There’s no hard set rule that says age = sitting, stationary, hurting and immobile. Just the opposite – with age comes wisdom. Age brings experience and understanding of our physical limitations and our strengths. With age comes being smart about how we move and knowing better how to take proactive measures to become stronger.

Case in point – consider these old(er) athletes who continued achieving success post-40: Jerry Rice, 3-time Super Bowl champ played until 42 years old; Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run at 40; Oksana Chusovitina, 41 year-old gymnast at the 2016 Rio Olympics; Mary Hanna of the Australian equestrian team, grandmother of 3, the oldest Olympic competitor at 61 competed in her 5th Olympics in Rio.

“Every time I have done the Olympics, I’ve thought, this is probably the last time I will do it; but, after the last time, I thought: I am going to keep going with this because I feel fit and healthy and why shouldn’t I? So, here I am.” Mary Hanna, Eonline.com
MaryHanny_SancetteOlympics_horsemagazine.com_image Image: Horsemagazine.com

Yes, it’s time to get moving – with some focus on improving our mobility, while at the same time increasing our stability and bettering our balance. So we can keep moving and move more often resulting in terrific health benefits. What a fantastic, positive domino effect!

“Exercise is a miracle drug…Take it often, and you’ll live a longer, healthier life…It works for just about everyone who takes it, young or old, and if done correctly, it has few or no negative side effects. Every dose is 100% effective – even small ones. It’s the most powerful, readily available drug in the world. And it’s free.” TIME Special Edition; Dr. Jordan D. Metzl

Functioning At Our Best
Throughout our day-to-day, it’s about optimal functioning. Ideally, that means moving without restrictions. Reaching, twisting, bending, lifting, walking, etc., with ease and without pain.  If you’re active or an athlete, this means dialing up the intensity so that you function well with increased load, speed, and performance.

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To improve our functional movements, strength training, cardio and core are all key factors. And while we’re working these factors into our exercise regimes, we also need to be aware of our individual ranges of motion.

What Exactly is Range of Motion?
“Range of motion is essentially how far you can move your joints in different directions during exercise.  Range of motion exercises as their name implies allow you to move each joint through its full range of motion.  Performing range of motion exercises can help to improve balance and strength while also reducing pain and keeping your joints more flexible.” Vfit360.com

ROM_livestrong.com-image Image: Livestrong.com

We don’t want to downplay the importance of building strength (i.e. with resistance or weight training). In my opinion, this goes hand in hand with improving mobility. Because if we push our range of motion too far without the appropriate muscle strength to support the joints, injuries are prone to happen. We don’t want the dreaded “bend, twist, reach-for-the-heavy-bag-and-torque-the-back” issues.

resistance-training_onlineasim.com_image Image: Onlineasim.com

A good option is to start with mobility exercises (without weights), mapping out the movements and controlled ranges of motion. Then add in load (weights) to start building strength.

A Well-Designed Closed-Chain System
Our bodies are truly amazing. When we take a look at our system of alternating stable and mobile components in the kinetic chain, we can see how we’re designed for moving through all different ranges.

Conversely, when an area in our chain isn’t working well, injured or weak, this causes overwork and added stress to the neighboring areas. Our bodies can compensate – for a while. However, for optimal functioning it’s important to work from the ground up and address each stop along the chain. Mobility exercises can start to help to strengthen the muscles that support this chain.

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“To improve the function of the entire body, we start from the ground up by using exercises that will challenge the stability of joints that are meant to be stable, while increasing the mobility of joints that are designed to be mobile. By using this method, injuries can be prevented and function improved (or restored).” Acefitness.org

There are some terrific, low-impact mobility exercises that we can do anywhere, no equipment needed. Personally, I love doing combinations of these before diving into more strenuous training. Try these as either a warm up or at breaks during the day to help increase ranges of mobility and strengthen stabilizers.

And while we’re paying attention to warming up our joints and waking up the smaller, supporting muscle groups, our balance begins to improve along with awareness of our bodies’ movements. What a great way to kick start our work outs and our day!

Mobility – Foot and Ankle
They take a beating, our two feet. Every day, they carry around our bodies, encased in mobility-limiting shoes, undergoing hundreds of pound of impact.
They need some love and attention in order to support the demands we place on them. Try these on for size:

Go Barefoot (or at least sockfoot)
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Kick off your shoes as soon as you get home. Allow your feet to expand and your toes to wiggle. Let your foot peel off the floor at you walk free-footed around the house.
Think of how toddlers get the hang of walking and find their balance. Allowing your feet to feel the floor does great things for the central nervous system and starts to activate all sorts of stabilizers.

Slow-Mo Calf Raise + Foot Flex

  • Still barefoot, stand next to a wall or counter for some balance
  • Slowly lift your heels and rise up as high as possible on to the balls of your feet
  • Keep your toes wide and allow each toe to have some supportive contact on the floor
  • Hold for 5-8 counts; slowly lower your heels to the floor
  • When heels touch, flex the foot up and hold
  • Repeat alternating calf raise and foot flexion
  • Your calves, ankles, Achilles tendons and full feet will engage, your balance plus foot action will improve

Footmobility_acefitness.org_image Image: Acefitness.org 

Mobility – Knee and Hip
Maintain tall posture throughout these movements, ribcage lifted up and away from the hips, spine supported by the core (think: “brace for the punch”) with abs tight and shoulders relaxed.

Split Lunge

  • Take a large step forward with the right leg; lift the back/left heel
  • Lower the back/left knee towards the floor; hold in split balance (option to add small “pulses” lowering the knee up and down while in the split lunge)
  • Press off the back/left foot and return to stand; immediately send the left leg back again into a split lunge (left heel lifted)
  • Repeat above 5 times (right leg remains forward with left leg moving backwards)
  • Return to stand and switch sides
  • Take a large step forward with the left leg; lift the back/right heel
  • Lower the back/right knee towards the floor and repeat series above

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Squat + Hip Opener

  • With feet at hip width, and a tall “straight” back, lower hips into a squat, sending the glutes back
  • Hold in a low squat, aiming to have the knees over the ankles and your weight in your heels
  • Press back up to stand; shift your weight and balance to the left leg
  • Raise the right knee up, circle it out to the side then back to stand
  • Repeat squat
  • Press back up to stand, shift your weight and balance to the right leg
  • Raise the left knee up and circle out to the side then back to stand
  • Repeat the alternating squats with hip openers, switching sides after each squat
  • Complete a second set of the series, but reverse the direction of the knees (opening out to the side then circling to the front)

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Mobility – Mid Back + Lumbar Support
A common complaint is tight shoulders, often accompanied by a sore low back. Of course we want the opposite – a strong, stable lower back and free, “open” shoulders with a safe range of motion.
As always, keep the 360-degree band of core muscles tight around the center while doing these movements (critical for protecting the back).

Bird Dog + Lateral Limbs

  • On hands-and-knees, keep the back “straight” and aligned from the base of the skull through the tailbone; tighten the stomach and extend the right arm and left leg
  • Slowly move the right arm out to the right side (like the right side of a Y)
  • Slowly move the left leg out to the left
  • Return the arm and leg back to straight-aligned with the torso, then repeat the lateral movements
  • Switch sides and repeat the lateral movements

birddog_lateral_acefitness.org_image Image: Acefitness.org 

Side-lying Chest Opener “Chalk Circles”

  • Lie on your right side, shoulders and hips stacked and aligned vertically, knees pulled up at 90-degrees in front and both arms extended out in front
  • Circle the left arm up, overhead, backwards, down and return to the front (as if drawing a full circle)
  • Keep waist pulled in and knees stacked, allowing only the chest and shoulders to open during the circle
  • Reverse the arm circle, taking the left arm down, back and around
  • Roll over to the left side, same position of knees, hips and shoulders stacked, and repeat the circles with the right arm

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Keep Moving
Have you ever noticed that when you stop moving, things start hurting? Like after a strenuous workout, a long hike, or a day of major yard work, heading back to sit at the office for hours can feel like it results in more pain and stiffness than the exercise. The best medicine? Keep moving.

Begin with some simple mobility exercises – such as the examples above – then move into other activities. Stabilizing muscles will start to “wake up” and you’ll start to “loosen up” as your range of motion increases while supported by muscle strength. Your balance and body awareness will improve as a great side benefit.

Add in some core strengthening and weight lifting and your body will respond with better mobility and reduced injury. Now let’s get out and enjoy each year we’re blessed with in life!

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Get Taller in 2017! The Benefits of Good Posture

Maybe I’m hyper aware of good posture – yet with a 5-foot 3-ish frame, I want all the height I can get (and keep it). I adamantly believe that as we age it does not mean we need to accept shrinking. It’s time to stand up straight, grow taller, project confidence and strengthen our spines! Image: i.huffpost.com

Our grandmothers were right. Walking while balancing a book on our heads really does build awareness of good posture (and a host of other benefits). What they didn’t count on is the bombardment of social, practical and technological factors that continually pull us over and out of the tall, confident stance that nature intended.

Enemies of Posture
Think of all the things that literally weigh on our shoulders and negatively affect our posture:

Driving: Long commutes, stressful traffic, hands gripped at 10-and-2 cause us to round our shoulders and slouch into our driver’s seats.

Cell phones: Holy cow – do you know how much the human head weighs? On average about 10-12 pounds for an adult, when aligned properly over the shoulders. Now, tilt that head downwards while, say, texting or reading something on our phones, and that 10 pound head increases to a whopping 40 pounds at a 30-degree tilt. And all of that gravitational pull drives right into the neck and back which can lead to chronic pain. Christchiropractic.com
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Working: Most of us sit at a computer at some time during the day. However, sitting and focusing on the screen juts our heads forward, and the rounded shoulders while typing on the keyboard pulls us into imbalances. Over time this can lead to ‘fun’ effects such as headaches, shoulder and neck pain, spinal misalignment and more.

Sports Activities: LOVE the training, action and mental focus with a sports endeavor! Yet realize that training for a specific activity with the same repetitive motions can lead to primary muscle groups getting stronger and overpowering the weaker, stabilizing muscles. Think of sports such as climbing, swimming, golf, and biking to name a few. Continual actions such as pulling, twisting, and rounded shoulders can wreak havoc on the spine as time goes on.
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For that matter, any of our daily actions and habits can cause chronic wear-and-tear with deteriorating posture unless compensated for with counter-balancing, strengthening exercises.

AND – recognize that none of the above examples point to the “old age” excuse. Yes, of course, we do age and this is a contributing factor to our physical well-being. BUT we still have the ability to build muscle and strengthen our spines so that we are standing up tall, supporting our skeletal frames, moving freely and enjoying life to our full potentials!

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So, What Is “Good Posture”?
I always start off my Pilates classes with a ‘reset’ of good postural alignment:

Facing front:

  • Stand tall, ribcage lifted, feet parallel
  • Hips stacked squarely over the knees and ankles: draw an imaginary, straight line from the front hip bones, through the center of the knee, over the ankle, and out over the 2nd toe

Facing side:

  • Imagine a plumb-line (testing for verticality) dropping from the ear, straight down through the side shoulder, side hip, knee and mid-ankle

Sitting:

  • Sit at the edge of the seat (not relaxed into the back of the chair)
  • Imagine sitting straight up with a yardstick flat against the back of the tailbone (sacrum) and running up against the back of the ribcage, in between the shoulder blades, and resting against the back of the head.

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“Posture refers to the preferred biomechanical alignment of the body, said Eric Robertson, director of graduate physical therapy education at Kaiser Permanente of Northern California and a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association. Good posture is important because it minimizes the excessive force that muscles and joints need to absorb, he said.” – Livescience.com

Good Posture Projects Confidence
I was sharing with a class the benefits of practicing good posture and issued the challenge: Try walking into a department store and simply stroll through the displays with your head held high, chin level, gaze forward and back tall, shoulders open and striding forward with purpose.

One client reported back that she tried it. The result: she was confronted twice by “real” customers asking for directions and advice – obviously mistaking her for someone who worked there. Confidence and authority naturally project when we put good posture into practice.

“A recent study from Harvard showed that when people who adopted powerful postures (open shoulders and straight spines) had a 20% increase in testosterone levels and a 25% decrease in cortisol levelsbut people who slouched had a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol. That translates into low self-confidence and high stress.” – Prevention.com

More Than Mental
Practicing good posture – and putting the physical effort into achieving and maintaining it – goes way beyond projecting confidence. It’s absolutely necessary for continued, long-term health of our spines, joints, lungs, blood flow and internal organs.

“Posture is more than just a function of the way someone stands or sits. For example, it also impacts how much pressure these positions place on the lower back and other muscles and joints. What’s more, posture can be a reflection of a person’s overall health, fitness, and the body’s strength and weaknesses” – Livescience.com

Try this yourself and picture what’s going on inside:
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Sit on the edge of a chair, then slump way over.This may be (hopefully is) an exaggeration, however, for demonstration purposes, look what’s happening to the amount of space between your shoulders and hips. That space in the middle is scrunched, reduced, right? And what happens to the space for your lungs to expand? The space for your stomach, intestines and colon to work properly? That “working space” is drastically reduce AND has the added weight of the head and ribcage slumping over your internal organs to further compress and kink. The long-term result: not good.

“…Sitting slouched over can compound the problem. “Shallow chest breathing strains the lungs, which must move faster to ensure adequate oxygen flow, and taxes the heart, which is forced to speed up to provide enough blood for oxygen transport. The result is a vicious cycle, where stress prompts shallow breathing, which in turn creates more stress,”  prevention.com

Let’s help our cardiovascular and other vital process out by giving some room and support to operate as nature intended.

Step 1: Sit Up / Stand Up

  • Think of lifting your ribcage up and away from your hips
  • Add “space” and length in your waist
  • Give your internal organs some room to maneuver, flow, operate

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Step 2: Strengthen the Core (Front, Back and Sides)
There’s no getting around it – it takes muscle, stamina, and endurance to find and maintain a tall back and lifted chest. Stress, fatigue, sitting and inactivity are the sneaky culprits that pull us over and into that ‘comfortable’ slouch.

But – there’s a simple fix (simple, yet work involved):

  • Get up and move. Put into practice that purposeful walk with shoulders back and head lifted
  • Stuck standing? Think A-ten-TION! Pull a salute stance and feel the blood begin to pump (Sidenote: check out this video of the Marine staff sergeant standing, saluting for 3 hours in recognition of fallen soldiers)

Click: Marine Held Salute For 3 Hours

StandAtAttention_Marine_rsvlts.com_image image/video: rsvlts.com

  • Kick in some core action! Take 10 minutes a day to “remind” the core how it needs to work:
  • Planks – front and alternating sides

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  • Slow abdominal lift-and-hold – unlike typical “crunches”, have a single-minded focus on the abs doing the work (no pulling on the neck, no momentum)

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  • “Swimming” – alternating arm and leg lifts to fire up the back muscle chain

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Why do this?
“Maintaining good posture may help you avoid new health problems. Proper posture reduces abnormal wear and tear on joint surfaces, which can lead to arthritis. It also reduces stress on ligaments that connect spinal joints. Good posture helps you avoid developing an abnormal permanent position, which can cause spinal disk problems and constricted blood vessels and nerves. Good posture also protects spinal joints from injury and deformity.” Livestrong.com

Why NOT do this?
It’s a pretty simple, uncomplicated and straightforward approach to help with our longevity. Barring any unfortunate medical condition, practicing good posture and taking steps to achieve/maintain it are cheap and easy actions we can do each day.

Stand tall, stand proud, feel great and let others ask you for directions!

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Pick Your Purpose: Your 1 New Year Fitness Motivation

The two hardest parts about making a resolution to get fit and healthy are 1) getting started and 2) continuing. And that goes for any form of New Year’s resolutions. That’s why I don’t make them. Notice, it’s February. (image: thehappynewyear2017.com)

Why succumb to the hype of a fresh restart this one time of year, only to let it slide to the back burner as other priorities jump in the way. What then?…Wait until 2018? Therein lay the issues I see with New Year resolutions.

I DO, however, LOVE the feeling of accomplishment and that increased energy when successfully completing a physical challenge. Going for a run when it’s rainy and cold outside, cleaning up the yard after all the leaves have dropped, having a best-yet competitive performance, getting in a workout at the gym or at home – even if just 15 minutes. We all feel a little more jazzed up, right? Exercise will do that to us – let’s capitalize on that!

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So, instead of a behemoth “resolution”, let’s increase our odds of 1) getting started and 2) continuing, with simplifying, removing the barriers to entry, making it easier on ourselves by answering one question: WHY. Why do we want to get fit and healthy?

Why Exercise?

SomeMotivationRequired

Because our doctor said so? Because there’s a membership sale going on at the gym? Because everyone knows we should exercise? Non, mon ami. Your answer should be one that’s at the heart of who YOU are and what YOU want to do, experience, feel, how you want to BE, how you want to LIVE!

Maybe it’s about picking up the groceries or kids without torquing the back. Walking through the neighborhood or hiking the trails without getting winded. Taking up jogging – again – like you used to. Lifting heavier, running faster, moving easier with more strength and flexibility to set your eyes on that marathon, competition or other fitness challenge. Or simply making those skinny jeans a permanent piece of the wardrobe (guys – you have that pair of jeans, too).

Once we identify this totally, completely personal, passionate motivation – no judgments! – It’s fairly simple to apply some steps to get there. We ultimately want to define a clear direction to achieve our one, focused fitness motivation.

Not a whimsical resolution, rather, a bite-sized plan to get us to our fitness Why.

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Now Keep it Simple. Purposeful. Move. Every Day.
We all have different fitness motivations, and here’s one, focused, fitness tactic that will make the difference in achieving any physical goal. Move. Each day. Sound vague? Not when you apply the ‘moving’ to your motivation.

Such as (fill in the blank with your own fitness Why):

“I’m going out for a power walk – adding in some lunges and squats along the way – so I can increase my endurance/lung capacity/blood flow/leg strength in order to [FILL BLANK]. Oh, and I’m lowering my blood pressure along the way and kicking in some good endorphins so that I feel GREAT!”
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Or how about (again, fill in the blank):

“I’m taking 15-20 minutes to do a set of front planks, side planks, slow ab curls plus a few Pilate’s exercises so I can tighten up my middle, strengthen my core and back muscles so I can do [FILL BLANK]. And bonus, I stand up straighter, my back feels better and I can feel that six-pack starting to show!”

candiesandcrunches.com_planking-with-bella (image: candiesandcrunch.com)

And maybe one more fill-in-the-blank:

“I’m adding in an additional session of lifting weights into my week which will build muscle strength and support for my back/hip/shoulder/knee/etc. joints so I can do [FILL BLANK]. And SO fantastic that I’m burning extra calories with added muscle mass AND building bone strength!”

resistance-training_onlineasim.com_image (image: onlineasim.com)

It’s completely achievable for all of us to attain a new, improved level of fitness. Our health is our biggest asset – and a top priority – in order to accomplish what we want in life. The trick is setting up good, easy-to-maintain habits that will last a lifetime vs. one month out of each new year.

Identify our Why, then let’s do this.  And a final tidbit:  we can start any time. Not just New Year’s Day.  How about today?

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Mindfulness for a Fitness Breakthrough!

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the biologist who first coined the term “mindfulness” in the ’70s, defines it as a state of mind: the act of “paying attention on purpose” to the present moment, with a “non-judgmental” attitude. The Atlantic.com; image: mumsdreamsignite.com

After just returning from a physically and mentally challenging, world Dancesport competition, I was reminded again about the beauty of focusing on the now – not 10 minutes ago, not next week, but the current moment. Putting the practice of mindfulness into the physical actions at hand is an absolute must in any sport – competitive or otherwise. From a mental and emotional perspective, being “in the moment” during the experience heightens awareness and appreciation. And how completely rewarding it is when the focus is achieved, distractions fade, and the body reacts as the mind desires!
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In today’s A.D.D. style society, where we multi-task, mentally leap ahead to what’s coming next and get an adrenaline rush from distractions,

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simply being mindful is becoming a lost art. Yet one which (I realized, again) is critical to performance and fulfillment.

The Physical Practice of Being Mindful
Being in the moment does take practice. It’s all too easy to go into auto-pilot with routine tasks. Take a look at our personal fitness efforts…do our minds wander as we step through a work-out, or jog along the same route, or meander from machine to machine at the gym?

Most of us do this to some extent – it can be a stress reliever to just “go work out” and not think. However, not paying attention while working out, or doing chores or some other physical activity can risk unexpected injuries and less effective actions.

Man pushing wheelbarrow in backyard   skeleton-back-pain_invitehealthblog.comimage                          image: sciencephoto.com                      image:  invitehealthblog.com

Hence, practice being purposeful. Our bodies react to what the mind envisions. When we can focus on our training time and really zero in on how our bodies are working, what we’re asking our muscles to do, while perfecting form with function, it’s then we can kick it into overdrive (i.e. with competition) or slide into auto-pilot (i.e. simply getting out for a walk) with our bodies ready to perform. The practice of being mindful and paying close attention to how we move will pay off with improved action and less chance for injury.

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How Do We Practice Mindfulness to Improve our Fitness?
First, identify a reason. Why do we work out…To lose weight? Train for a sports activity? Run around with the kids? Feel better overall? Once we identify our true motivator for exercising – and more than simply “because it’s good for me” – it’s easier to become purposeful in our actions. And when we have that goal in front of us, we can truly ‘be in the moment’ and enjoy it!

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Next, try getting out of the normal routine. This is great for mental health, such as spurring our neuroplasticity, which is “the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.” Medicinenet.com. Incorporating new activities perks us up, helps us learn new patterns and inherently helps us pay more attention to the physical details.

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Add in some “mind-body” work. There’s a reason why Pilates, yoga and Barre classes are so popular. They provide the opportunity for us to focus inward and concentrate on perfecting movement, which only serves to enhance our efforts, actions and performances with any other physical activity.

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image: rbz_fit_city_NFL_Pilates_14_statesman.com

Consider my personal fave, Pilates: “The very structure of the Pilates method requires mental focus, a process that forces your muscles to respond more quickly to training. Rather than performing monotonous and reflexive repetitions, you will carefully execute a limited number of compound movements with an eye toward perfecting every possible detail. By integrating body and mind, you will achieve an effective, efficient and balanced workout.”Pilates Body in Motion, Alycea Ungaro

I love this quote by founder Joseph H. Pilates, in his book Return to Life Through Contrology: “To achieve the highest accomplishments within the scope of our capabilities in all walks of life, we must constantly strive to acquire strong, healthy bodies and develop our minds to the limit of our ability.

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Yes, I’m a Pilates enthusiast and tell people that I “do Pilates” so that I can “do the things I love to do”! And I can attest to the fact that incorporating Pilates techniques results in heightened mind-body awareness. Meaning, the realization of how our bodies move and react in space works wonders for agility and coordination.

Correct movement can be trained to be second nature, so that if we’re not paying attention and take a misstep or get bumped into, our strong core and active muscles can accommodate for the unexpected.

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Pay Attention on Purpose
Let’s help our bodies out and focus in on the how and why we’re exercising. By practicing mindfulness, we’ll move stronger, feel better, improve our balance and overall actions. And Bonus!…We’ll enjoy the here and now!

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Fight Off Stress with Core Strength

It’s a given that core strength is a baseline for overall health and fitness.  It’s been touted from personal trainers to PTs, group class instructors to gym rats, elite competitors to everyday athletes.  You want to succeed at, well, anything physical – you need to have good, strong core strength. Image: Kingfisher_Pilates.com

This is not a new idea.  Joseph Pilates, the founder of Contrology (aka: Pilates), was already incorporating his personally-tried-and-true practice starting in the early 1900s.

Pilates-Teaser_JoePilatesTime_berkshireonstage.files_bospilates_image image: bospilates.com

Through a series of exercises aimed at strengthening the muscles of the abdomen (“powerhouse”), along with meticulous attention to form, focus, breathing and precision, he believed that “Pilates develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit.” Joseph Pilates

Fast-forward to what we are exposed to every day with the latest fitness trends and health tips published by hospitals, health insurance companies, newspaper editorials and online resources.  Everyone, literally everyone  is in agreement that strengthening that 360-degree band of muscles around your center is critical – a non-negotiable – to keeping us upright and moving, strong and injury-resistant, and now…well-armed to manage stress!

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Stressed Out? Another Reason to Strengthen Your Core

Have you noticed that a person under stress or depressed tends to slump, stoop and project bad posture? Exercise in general has always been recommended to reduce stress, and now, recent research goes a step further to explain why.

“After a complex study at the University of Pittsburgh, involving a lot of neural mapping, the researchers discovered something fascinating. In the motor cortex, the neurons associated with the axial (or abdominal) muscles are actually connected to the adrenal medulla – the source of adrenaline, a neurotransmitter related to stress. Professor Peter Strick explains, “…When you stand up straight, it has an effect on how you project yourself and how you feel. Well, lo and behold, core muscles have an impact on stress. And I suspect that if you activate core muscles inappropriately with poor posture, that’s going to have an impact on stress.” – NeuroGym.com

The good news:  Building up our abdominals, back and deep core muscles not only aids in better balance, strength and overall movement, it also is a key contributor to managing the detrimental effects to our mental well-being.

The Importance of Building Strength AND Awareness

Whatever the reason for the stress – whether mentally stressed from work, family, finances, or physically stressed from illness or injury, stress is a ‘silent killer’ that sneaks up and affects all of us in some manner at some point in our lives. The key is how to handle it before it overwhelms us.

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“The stress response in humans is facilitated by the adrenal glands, which sit on top of our kidneys and spit adrenaline into our blood whenever we’re in need of fight or flight. That stress response is crucial in dire circumstances. But little of modern life truly requires it…Most of the time, our stress responses are operating as a sort of background hum, keeping us on edge. Turn that off, and we relax.”  The Atlantic.com “Why one Neuroscientist Started Blasting His Core”

So how do we turn off that “background hum”?  It may not seem like much, but this is the sneaky part of stress. When left un-managed, stress can have negative effects on our posture, leading to back and neck pain, and other physiological impacts ranging from increased blood pressure, sleep disorders, weight gain, deteriorating the immune system, and the list goes on and on.

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“While it’s long been accepted that there is “top-down” control (brain to body) over the body’s adrenaline response, this study [by Pittsburgh neuroscientists] discovered that the motor network (the connections between your body and the part of your brain that anticipates and controls movement) was the major source of influence, with the strongest originating from the core.”

“Peter Strick, one of the authors, speculated that this could help to explain why posture has a noticeable impact on confidence and stress (and vice versa). If you understand how to control your core, you may be better able to modulate your level of stress before it becomes overwhelming and counterproductive.” Dancemagazine.com  “Stressed? Try Activating Your Core”

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Pay Attention to the Core!

This is what it comes down to:  incorporate core exercises to correctly strengthen your center, recognize when stress is starting to creep in and activate those core muscles accordingly.  Breathe deep, stand up tall, and get moving – don’t let stress get you doubled over.

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Pilates, yoga, along with activities such as dance and crossfit all help improve body awareness while strengthen the core.  It’s all true – good core strength is great for both mind and body!

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