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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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!

 

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?

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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!”

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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!”

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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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A Happy Holiday Core Blast

Love this time of year! Yet, as I’m here listening to Christmas music I find myself somewhat stressing over what shopping I have not done yet and how much I have to do and how I have not been to the gym for awhile, etc. etc.  Getting overwhelmed, over tired and irritated at rude drivers is not the Christmas spirit. Time to take a big innnhaaale and exhaaaale, and go back to my mantra of ‘just need to do something every day’.

I had this conversation with two awesome women who joined me for a Pilates workout earlier in the week when none of us really wanted to.  A long day and so much to do, you know.  After an hour, all of us felt rejuvenated, relaxed, strong and feeling good that we accomplished something good for ourselves. A great reminder that when we least feel like doing something – that’s exactly when we should!

Which is why I’m bringing back my go-to favorite Pilates core blast. Ideal when time (especially during the holidays) is short and stress is threatening. What a terrific way to fire back up and refocus mind and body in about 10 minutes. Not an hour, not driving through traffic to a gym, but 10 minutes that we can do at home.

And while you may disregard a 10-minute exercise session, research shows that short bouts of intense activity during the day have big benefits – benefits that rival those of longer workouts. Here’s the scoop: when you perform frequent, explosive mini workouts, you send messages to your brain that your muscles are crucial, which increases the release of growth hormone and builds bone density and muscle mass. That’s good stuff!

And why Pilates is such a good go-to activity for that intense, core exercise session. Just remember these Pilates non-negotiables before jumping into this routine and you’ll wake up all your abdominals (rectus abdominis, obliques and deep transverse), your back, chest and stabilizers as well:
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1. Breath – deep inhales and exhales throughout the exercises to oxygenate the body, with an added “squeeze” at the end of the exhale as you tighten your stomach to squeeze out the air.
2. Keep core engaged – think “brace for the punch” as you tighten that 360-degree band around your middle to add to that abdominal intensity.
3. Good form – shoulder blades sliding down towards your hip pockets, chest lifted, and a long, tall spine with head in line to activate back muscles.

Now, grab 10 minutes and a mat (or your living room rug) and try this Core Blast Routine*!

Stand tall, take 3 deep breaths and Roll Down.

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Walk your hands out to Front Plank.
(Hold for 10 seconds – wide deep breaths and your 360-degree core band tightened– check points 1 through 3 above)
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Without lowering, shift weight to your left and rotate to a Left Side Plank.
(Hold for 10-15 seconds)

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Rotate back to front plank,and move directly into alternating knee tucks or “Mountain Climbers”.
(Alternating legs, 10 sets; add a little pause-and-hold with your knee tucked in for that little extra somethin’somethin’)
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Shift your weight into your right hand and rotate over to a Right Side Plank.
(Hold for 10-15 seconds)

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Rotate back to hold your last Front Plank, then sit it back to Child’s Pose. Take three deep, rib-expanding breaths then flip around to sitting.

Next, Roll Down onto your back.

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Continue into Roll Up series.
(Complete a set of 5, and finish rolled-down on your back)
Rollup_surfbodysoul.com_imageimage: surfbodysoul.com (and yes, you could do this on a beach)

Begin Leg Stretch Series of 5:
Single Leg Stretch; Single Straight Leg Stretch, Double Straight Leg Stretch, Leg Lowers, Criss-Cross
(5 sets of each)

Starting with Single Leg Stretch:
Single-Leg-Stretch_top.me.com_imageimage: top.me.com

Single Straight Leg Stretch:

singlestraightleg_heidispilates_imageimage: heidispilates.com

Double Leg Stretch:

doublelegstretch_katzpilates_imageimage: katzpilates.com

Leg Lowers:

doublestraightlegstretch_blogspot

And Criss-Cross:

Criss-cross_thewebconsole.com_imageimage: thewebconsole.com

Stretch it out, deep breath and roll up to Teaser (hold); repeat Teasers.
(3 full Teasers, finish upright and lower legs to sitting)
Teaser-pilates_womenshealthfitness.com.au_imageimage: womenshealthfitness.au.com

Split legs to straddle, extend arms out and start Saw twists.
(Alternate Saw twist sides for 5 sets)
Saw_methodofhealing.comimageimage: methodofhealing.com

Lean back to forearms, extend legs to ceiling and continue to Hip Circles.
(Alternating circling legs right and left for 5 sets)
hipcircle_maxresdefault_imageimage: maxresdefault.com

Flip to your stomach, extending arms and legs for Swimming.
(Inhale 4 breaths, exhale 4 breaths while alternating arm-leg lifts)
swimming_maxresdefault_imageimage: maxresdefault.com

Lower your legs, pull your arms to your sides, keep your mid-back lifted and extended in Arrow.
(Glue legs together and arms to sides, hold for 10 seconds – and breathe deep!)

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With legs still squeezed tight, extend arms to the front and swing them out and back as you immediately move into Breast Stroke.
(Complete 5 sets; end with your palms on the floor by your chest)

Pilates breaststroke_i.ytimg.com_imageimage: i.ytimg.com

Push up to Front Plank, then lift hips to Downward Facing Dog.
(Walk the feet, press heels towards the floor and tailbone towards ceiling for a hamstring stretch)

downdog_sky-cccam_imageimage: sky-cccam.com
Walk hands back towards feet and Roll Up to Stand.
Take 3 deep, rib-expanding breaths, swinging your arms up and overhead.
Rinse and Repeat!
(Moving briskly, estimated time 5 minutes for one full round, 10 minutes for two;  expect a little longer if you slow it down)

Remember!! Good form, concentration and focus on points 1 through 3 above helps you “work deep”. Maintaining this intensity – mindful vs. mindlessly powering through – gives you the blast of benefits while protecting your neck, back and joints.

Now – find your 10 minutes in the day, then go celebrate the season and have a WONDERFUL Christmas and HAPPY New Year!

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*NOTE: This Core Blast is recommended for those who’ve taken Pilates classes and are familiar with the fundamentals of the practice. As with any exercise program, seek the advice of your doctor before participating and/or if you suffer from injuries.
Questions? Feel free to contact me or join a class.

 

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!

core-muscles_phacctive.files.wordpress_imageimage: bephactive.net

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.

office-space_blogcdn.com_image Image: office_space_blogcdn.com

“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”

SidePlank_go2beyondmotion.com_image Image: Gotobeyondmotion.com

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.

Danceclass_ipswhichdance.co.uk_image Image: ipswhichdance.co.uk.com

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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For Better Health – Make ACTION Your New Normal

Have you ever noticed that the less we exercise the harder it is to get going and work out? Like drinking enough water – if we don’t make it a habit to hydrate, we weirdly stop feeling thirsty and dehydration becomes our body’s “normal” state. And like DE-hydration, we don’t want IN-activity to become our “normal”.

I recently went to Las Vegas for a health and wellness conference (now there are two different ends of the spectrum!). And while the fitness seminars were fantastic, I realized when I got home and back to work, the week had flown by and my activity level was, well, sitting.

Sitting-young-girl-sitting-in-the-airport-waiting-room_colourbox.com_image image: colourbox.com

Sitting on the long, delayed flight to Vegas, sitting in 3 days of meetings, sitting during the travel back home, and back to sitting at the office. The disturbing realization was that when I got the time to go work out, I was so tired from, well, sitting, that the effort outweighed the benefit and I continued my sitting. I had to ‘rest up’ from travelling. Yikes – how quickly and easily I started creating a new normal state of (in)activity!

 Newtons_firstLaw_body-at-rest_everydaytrailscom-image image: everydaytrails.com

The average American sits a whopping 13 hours a day. No wonder we experience a plethora of pains such as hip, back, neck pain and stiffness, let alone the negative impact to cardiovascular health. When a body that is meant to move, bend, twist and stride goes stagnant – even for a temporary period – the repercussions are long-reaching. Which is why they’re now saying that ‘sitting is the new smoking’.

Such as coming back from my trip to Vegas – ironic though it was as I was there for fitness education – it’s all too easy and understandable to reduce our activity level due to work, travel, a packed schedule of commitments and basically life. That said, inactivity can lead to physical issues that can take dedicated time, effort and money (PT, chiropractor, massage therapy, etc.) to correct.

My amazing, whole-body-focused chiropractor once told me “you can never stop moving”.  Like Newton’s Law of Inertia “…a body in motion continues in motion…”, I’ve taken that to heart and consistently work to live my own mantra of “do something every day”.

NewtonsLaw-Garfield_pinterest.com_image image: pinterest.com

All of this lead-in is to emphasize the importance of putting our bodies into action.  The wonderfully hopeful reality is that even just a bit of heart-pumping action is better than nothing. Short, ten-minute bouts of exercise will activate our muscles, boost our energy levels and give us that surge to combat the fatigue of a busy day.

Want a quick cure to the Slows?

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“Researchers at the University of Georgia found that sedentary, otherwise healthy adults who engaged in as little as 20 minutes of low-to-moderate aerobic exercise, three days a week for six consecutive weeks, reported feeling less fatigued and more energized.
Findings that low-intensity exercise improves feelings of fatigue come as no surprise to Pete McCall, Exercise Physiologist at the American Council on Exercise.”
“If a sedentary individual begins an exercise program it will enhance the blood flow carrying oxygen and nutrients to muscle tissue improving their ability to produce more energy (the chemical adenosine triphosphate),” McCall said” ~ACEfitness.org

“…A body in motion…”

Runjump-onbeach_claphotography.weebly.com_image image: claphotography.weebly.com

This may seem like a no-brainer… “Yes, I need to exercise to improve my health…”, yet sometimes, simply having a guideline around what this looks like can be a springboard from which to jump into a new daily habit.

And while my own personal mantra of “do something every day” is a strong recommendation – so is changing up your activity so all of your muscles (including your heart) get a chance for some action.

What are the basic, currently accepted “guidelines” for exercising?

Young couple run together on a sunset image: nutricisedr.com

“The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults include aerobic exercise and strength training in their fitness plans, specifically:

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week
  • Strength training exercises at least twice a week

Regular exercise can help you control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease, and strengthen your bones and muscles. But if you haven’t exercised for some time and you have health concerns, you may want to talk to your doctor before starting a new fitness routine.” ~ Mayoclinic.org

So, let’s start filling that 2 ½ hours of activity each week…and then some!

Cardio – Exercise your Heart, Lungs, Vascular System!
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  • Power-walk the neighborhood
  • Climb stairs, walk back down and repeat
  • Hike, jog, bike, swim
  • Dance, do aerobics – whether taking a class or jumping around in your back yard

Carve out 20 minutes each day, and you’re almost there. Give fatigue (and mental stress) the boot while you give your body an amazing boost of fitness benefits, from reducing the risk of heart disease, dropping weight, lowering cholesterol, increasing lung capacity, and the list goes on.

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Strength – Build your muscles with resistance training to stabilize your body (including your bones)!

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  • Get into the gym and run yourself through a machine-based weight training circuit
  • Grab some hand-held weights and do some curls, presses, squats, etc. – all on your porch
  • Utilize an elastic band to add resistance to leg, arm, back, core work

Just 2-3 times per week of “resistance training” (adding weights, machines or bands) helps build muscle and bone mass.

BandPilates_amazon.comimage image: amazon.com

Core – Strengthen that 360-degree band around your middle that gives you that power and stability to move!
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  • Do planks and pushup combinations (get the double hit of core + weight-bearing exercise)
  • Join a Pilates class for powerhouse-strengthening with body-awareness benefits
  • Add 1-legged balance movements (with or without weights)

With each exercise/activity session, it’s easy to add in some core strength work.
Just think: 7 days a week, a new “normal”, a positive habit – simply tighten up your middle (e.g. “brace for the punch”) with every activity you do.

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These are all back-to-basics fundamentals. And there’s a reason for this level-setting.  We all wish to move, live, love how our bodies enable us to do the things we love to do. The kicker is that what we took for granted in our 20’s, may now need some thoughtful effort.

The great news – we’re never too old to start!

It’s about creating a thoughtful habit to our every day – putting our bodies into training for life – for things we love to do.

I LOVE this video featuring this one, not-so-young gentleman’s journey dedicated to living life to the fullest while continuing to improve his fitness level, physic and mental outlook.  Click below to watch.

Be the fiercest – Deshung Wang

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As humans, action IS our normal state of being!
Go – Be – Live – Move – Feel Good – Enjoy!

 

 

Stabilize! For Power + Mobility

Life is grand. We all want to live and experience it to the fullest!

It’s then somewhat humbling when we incur an injury not from some sports feat or while on an exciting adventure, but rather from some underwhelming mishap. “…I was unloading the dishes and my back went out…”, “…I turned my head to look at something and pinched a nerve…”, “…stepped off a curb and pulled my calf muscle…” (all true stories I’ve heard from different people). Cover image: seekfitlife.com

Unfortunately, we’ve all had similar experiences. And while it would be much more impressive if we could attribute these aches, pains, pulls, strains to a recent Iron Man triathlon, or sky diving, or trekking through the Himalayas…sometimes just one seemingly simple movement is just enough to tip our body’s scale and BAM, we’re sidelined.

Backpain_breakingmuscle.com_imageimage: breakingmuscle.com

So while we strive to push through an intense workout, or labor through yard work, power through a sports activity, or keep doing our day-to-day, how do we keep up the intensity – the strength – and avoid injury? Barring any unfortunate, unavoidable accident or condition, proactive prevention is always a good option.

A great place to start practicing prevention is to weave in stability training into our fitness regime. For without a stable body, we risk movement that can pull/torque/injure when we least expect it.

Start at the Core of It
A stable, strong core is – literally – at the center of all functional movement.
It’s important to think of our “center” (e.g. our center of gravity, like a 360-degree band around our middle) as a transfer station.

The active force we create from our legs up, and from our arms and torso out, is stabilized by our core. This stabilized strength that our core provides allows us to perform tasks and actions safely.
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“We must look at core strength as the ability to produce force with respect to core stability, which is the ability to control the force we produce. According to Andy Waldhem in his Assessment of Core Stability: Developing Practical Models, there are ‘five different components of core stability: strength, endurance, flexibility, motor control, and function’. Without motor control and function, the other three components are useless, like a fish flopping out of water no matter how strong you are or how much endurance you have.” Breakingmuscle.com

Therefore, let’s change our thinking from doing a bunch of sit-ups to get some washboard abs, to practice “engaging” and tightening the 360-degree band of muscles around our middles in order to stabilize our movement!
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Create a Good Habit – Practice Daily
The great thing about increasing our core stability is that we don’t need any special equipment or space to train. Here are a few simple examples of core stabilizing exercises that are easy to put to practice every day, increase our awareness and create good habits.

And the great things about these few moves, while activating our centers, the neighboring “stabilizers” – the smaller muscle groups that support the spine, shoulders, hips and knees – also get to work.

Power with stability, strength with mobility. This combination keeps our amazing bodies working in harmony!

Practice Active Breathing & “Perfect Posture”:

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  • Stand (or sit) tall (think: “Atten-TION!”)
  • Slide your shoulder blades down to your hip pockets while lengthening your neck through the crown of your head
  • Tighten your center (think: “Brace for the punch”)
  • Take ribcage-expanding breaths; put your diaphragm to work with full inhalations, and your abs to work by squeezing all the air out with full exhalations

Make this an everyday habit – whether standing in line at the grocery check-out, or sitting in traffic.
Remember:  Our bodies are divinely designed to stand tall and move with grace.  We can practice and consciously avoid the dreaded slump.

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Practice a One-Legged Wall Push-Up:

  • Face a wall and take a big step back (where you have to lean forward to reach the wall)
  • Place hands on the wall at shoulder height, float your heels off the floor, and assume a plank position (a standing plank in perfect posture)
  • Start your push-ups into the wall (think: A tight middle, 360-degrees around)
  • Float the right foot off the floor and lift your right leg behind you; continue your push-ups (one-legged); repeat 5 times then switch legs
  • Perform a few sets, alternating legs

Wall pushup_Skimble

Practice the Hands-And-Knees Hold:

  • Take it to the floor and into a “tabletop” position (on hands and knees, level/flat back, abs pulled up/in)
  • Curl your toes underneath, float your knees off the floor an inch and HOLD (keep breathing those wide/lateral inhales and tightening the abs to support the lifted hips)
  • Keep the tabletop position with perfect posture (shoulder blades pulled towards hip pockets, your center squeezed in a 360-degree corset, back of the head lifted and neck lengthened)
  • With knees still floating, slowly extend the right leg straight back, then return to the toes; next, extend the left leg straight back, then return
  • Perform the hold again for 15-20 seconds, then repeat the alternating leg extensions

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Remember: “The muscles of the core are designed to facilitate multi-planar action to make it smooth and efficient. That’s right; the actual purpose of our core muscles it to work effectively and efficiently while the body is in an upright, vertical position.” ACE ProSource

Stabilize and Improve The Balancing Act
Another common theme I hear all the time (all ages): “I have such a hard time balancing…” Welcome to the club! This is not just an age thing. Keeping our bodies moving efficiently, powerfully with balance and agility takes practice.

Proactive prevention again is the key. Because let’s face it – things can unexpectedly trip us up like a slippery surface, a dip or hole, a misjudgment of distance. The key is to have practiced our balance and stability before these things come up and hopefully avoid a rolled ankle, a fall, or a bad jar that can jam our backs, knees, necks, etc.

Losingbalance_myinjurycase.com-imageimage: myinjurycase.com

Try these simple standing core strength + balance exercises and take note if one side is better than the other, one exercise harder or easier. Your body will let you know what parts need some practice.

Giant tip: throughout any balancing and stability exercise, remember your core strength practices above!

One-legged Leg Circles:

  • Stand tall with your weight on the right leg
  • Float the left foot off the floor and lift in front (your 360-degree core tightened up and “perfect posture” in play)
  • Keeping the left leg straight, swing it around to the side, back and front, continuing the circular motion
  • Complete 5 circles to the front, then reverse direction and complete 5 circles to the back
  • Switch sides and repeat with the right leg (standing tall on the left leg)

Note: You can stand next to a wall for touch-support – but try not to hold onto anything.

Standinglegcircles_pinterest.com-imageimage:pinterest.com

Skater Hop and Hold:

  • Standing tall, with knees softly bent
  • Take a hop sideways to the left and hold/balance on your left foot (keep your knees bent, “long spine”, head up, abdominals engaged)
  • Hop sideways to the right and hold/balance on your right foot
  • Repeat to the left and right, taking a pause and deep breath for a few seconds on the standing foot before hopping back

Skaterhops_popsugar.com_imageimage: popsugar.com

The Anti-Gravity, Lower to the Floor – And Get Back Up:
Ok – I know this may seem silly, but have you tried it?  Specifically, taking gravity out of the equation, and lowering with control to the floor:

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  • Stand with weight mostly on the right leg, and the left leg slightly behind (on the ball of the foot, like a kickstand behind you)
  • Arms out for balance or hands at the hips
  • With back tall (think “perfect posture” like above!), slowly begin to bend both knees and lower – the back/left knee slowly-with-control, lightly lowering to the floor
  • With left knee and shin now on the floor, swing the front/right knee to the floor – and you’re now kneeling

Tall-Kneeling_skillsbasedfitness.com_imageimage: skillsbasedfitness.com 

Now return to stand:

  • Swing the right knee and foot forward with a step in front of you
  • Curl the back/left toes underneath
  • With back tall, abs engaged, press into the right leg and lift yourself back up to standing

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Now switch legs and repeat!

  • Stand on the left leg, and take your right leg in the kickstand position behind you.
  • Lower to the floor and onto the knees/shins
  • Take a step forward with your left leg, and repeat the actions to lift yourself back to standing

Note:  you can have a chair by you in case you need a little touch support when you lower or raise.  Try not, however, to lean into the chair – this negates the exercise.

Practice Brings Power
Realize that we are always “in training” – no matter what age or athletic endeavor. We all want and strive for a good physical quality of life, which takes some effort and practice.

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Our bodies are amazingly resilient and regenerative. We’re built to operate efficiently and miraculously! However – we need to help them out.  Think of this as our own, personal, proactive PT sessions, where intentional, focused, stabilizing movements – practiced on a daily basis – can make a tremendous difference in how we move, how we balance, our overall strength and agility.
Let’s get to practice!

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Back Pain, A Top Complaint (Don’t make it yours!)

They say that at any given time, more than 30 million Americans experience low back pain. While yes, unfortunately, there are some unavoidable reasons – accidents, sports injuries, scoliosis, etc. – many of us can make choices to avoid making this common complaint our own. (image: breakingmuscle.com)

Nowadays, we hear all about the common factors that contribute to back pain. Things like improper lifting, being overweight and a sedentary lifestyle make the top three.

When I hear “sedentary lifestyle”, I immediately get huffy and think there’s no way I’m in that category…and yet…how many hours DO we spend seated? Sitting in the car, sitting at our desks, sitting in meetings, sitting relaxing, eating and watching TV…It may surprise you at how many hours are spent sedentary, despite our workouts or how much physical activity we think we’re getting.

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US News and World Report surveyed the top complaints family physicians hear from patients, and along with achy joints and chronic fatigue from stressful lives comes back pain. While some folks are fine with a doctor’s advice of “take an Advil”, many of us realize that we’re in this for the long haul and want a long term solution.

It’s not rocket science. The Mayo Clinic says: “To keep your back healthy and strong:
Exercise. Regular low-impact aerobic activities — those that don’t strain or jolt your back — can increase strength and endurance in your back and allow your muscles to function better. Walking and swimming are good choices. Talk with your doctor about which activities are best for you.

Build muscle strength and flexibility. Abdominal and back muscle exercises (core-strengthening exercises) help condition these muscles so that they work together like a natural corset for your back. Flexibility in your hips and upper legs aligns your pelvic bones to improve how your back feels. Your doctor or physical therapist can tell which exercises are right for you.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight strains back muscles. If you’re overweight, trimming down can prevent back pain.

And use proper body mechanics:
Stand smart. Maintain a neutral pelvic position. If you must stand for long periods, place one foot on a low footstool to take some of the load off your lower back. Alternate feet. Good posture can reduce the stress on back muscles.

Sit smart. Choose a seat with good lower back support, armrests and a swivel base. Consider placing a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back to maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips level. Change your position frequently, at least every half-hour.

Lift smart. Avoid heavy lifting, if possible, but if you must lift something heavy, let your legs do the work. Keep your back straight — no twisting — and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Find a lifting partner if the object is heavy or awkward.”

Going back to that “sedentary lifestyle”, Joseph Pilates had already figured out the detriments of an inactive way of life back in the 1920’s – he thought people back then led a sedentary life! He also realized that people moved poorly, created bad habits, had past injuries, etc., that all contributed to pain and discomfort. Hence the introduction of his method of exercise called “Contrology”.

Pilates-Teaser_JoePilatesTime_berkshireonstage.files_bospilates_image (image: berkshireonstage.com)
“Correctly executed and mastered to the point of subconscious reaction, these exercises will reflect grace and balance in your routine activities. Contrology exercises build a sturdy body and sound mind capable of performing everyday tasks with ease and perfection. They also provide tremendous reserve energy for sports, recreation and emergencies.” (Return to Life through Contrology, Joseph H. Pilates)

Be Proactive: Move It
Just do something every day. A little something is better than a whole lot of nothing.

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It’s not always this simple, but simply moving – and moving mindfully – is a huge starting point for alleviating some of the top complaints health practitioners hear. Including back pain.
“To be mindful means to pay attention to what you are doing at the moment you are doing it. Many athletes, both amateur and competitive, talk about “hitting the zone” or “getting into the flow”. It’s that feeling of moving effortlessly and knowing exactly where your body needs to be at every moment.” (Balanced Body, Oct 2015)

So, start with some “non-negotiables” when you’re doing any activity – from hitting the gym, to cleaning the yard, to intense training:
1. Your powerhouse (aka: core) is always engaged: “Pulled in and up.”
2. Your chest is always lifted.  Better for your spine, better for your circulatory system.
3. Your spine is a straight line, from its base through the crown. Hunching the shoulders puts an enormous amount of pressure on your vertebrae. Keeping your spine in a “straight” line is like taking the kink out of a garden hose:  it keeps the energy moving freely through your entire body.
4. Your gaze is always steady / the crown of your head is always lifted. As with so many things, where you look is where you go. Looking down will cause your energy to fall. Looking around will lead to scattered thoughts.

If we make these part of our new good habits each day it will surely help avoid the things that try to drag us down throughout the week.

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Be Proactive: Strengthen It

Start with good old core exercises. Build some strength, stabilization and endurance in that 360-degree band encompassing our mid-sections so we can continue to lift, stand, walk, run, twist, jump and move in all dimensions while protecting our spines.

Side-Lifts

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Plank Variations

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Pilates-Style Exercises

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Don’t forget about glute exercises. Long bouts of sitting and inactivity can result in tight hips and weak glutes which also contribute to limited range of motion and chronic back pain.
Incorporate squats, lunges and hip flexibility exercises for a strong booty to support that strong back!

Squats

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Lunges

Ace_LungewithTwist (image: Ace Fitness)

Bridging

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Hip Openers

Hipopeners_AceFitness (image: ACE Fitness)

Back to Basics:
Time to be proactive and get into a mind-body awareness-building, core-strengthening, posture-improving, exercise habit. A good habit that will increase strength in small stabilizer muscles, correct imbalances, and build endurance to help us be “in it for the long haul”.

There’s nothing “basic” about this. And for those of us who have experience back pain, there’s nothing “basic” about that either – we just want it to be gone. I’ve seen high school track athletes, millennials, gen-X-ers and seniors all experience some sort of back pain (including myself). Yes – getting a physician’s direction is always recommended. But so is taking our own action and corrective measures.

The Mayo Clinic outlines some basic advice above to get started.
Pilates classes are easy to find for a great all-around cross-training method.
And we can all do something each day to build our good habits, and proactively set out on the journey to long-term health and happiness!

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