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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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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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 Simple Fitness Resolve: Start With 10 Minutes

Happy 2016!! Welcome to a new year of possibilities, hope and fresh resolutions! It’s that all-forgiving reset for new pursuits with the best of intentions.
Ok…not to be negative…but personally, I don’t like New Year’s resolutions. It’s like saying “I’m going on a diet”. As soon as the words are out of my mouth, a hundred-and-one roadblocks come front and center, followed by the anxiety around thinking of how I’m going to accomplish the said resolution and then guilt for not meeting it.

However, goals, ambitions and resolutions are good – especially when it comes to our health. We should always be re-evaluating our situations, making adjustments and re-setting when necessary. For without our good health, realizing all the other great stuff ‘o life is more difficult.

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Not surprising, the number 1 New Year’s resolution is “lose weight”. And in case you’re interested, this is followed by:
#2 Get Organized
#3 Spend Less, Save More
#4 Enjoy Life to the Fullest
#5 Staying Fit and Healthy
If you have a similar top 5 list, notice that resolutions numbers 1, 4 and 5 are around good health. Getting fit, looking better, living life and feeling great while doing it!

Unfortunately, “The percent of people who are successful in achieving their resolution is [only] 8%”
(New Year’s Resolutions Statistics, statisticbrain.com). Why is that? Do we just get too ambitious with our goal? Does it just get too hard to work it all into our extra-full days and we simply run out of time?…
Wait – don’t go there – it’s the very beginning of 2016! Let’s keep the blush on the New Year’s rose, be positive and realize that resolutions of good health ARE achievable. Let’s simplify.

START WITH 10 MINUTES
If time – or lack of it – is a roadblock (like it is for probably 99.9% of us), let’s take this out of the equation and simply start with 10 minutes. We can do this!

And, what’s awesome – when you start with a simple, short 10 minutes dedicated to YOU, you feel immediately better and are one step closer to that good health habit.

Ease Into It: 10 Minutes in the Morning
If your day is really truly too packed, here are 5 simple moves that you can do while you wake up, and make it a good morning for mind and body:

Good Morning #1 – BREATH!
Swing your legs out from the bed and hit “Pause”.
Take 5: 5 deep inhales for 5 counts and 5 active exhales for 5 counts. Control your breathing, focus on how your ribcage expands as your lungs fill up for those 5 counts. Queue up your core by tightening up your belly as you exhale all the stale air, squeezing it out of your lungs for the other 5 counts.

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Good Morning #2 – Wake up Your Feet While Downing the Water!
Ditch the slippers and go barefoot (or socks). Let your feet connect with the floor, firing up your CNS (central nervous system), waking up your spine-to-brain connection. The simple act of going barefoot improves overall balance with the mobilization of multiple joints and muscles in the foot and ankle. Then, while standing in front of your sink, do calf raises by simply lifting and lowering your heels. And as you’re filling up your coffee maker (doing your calf raises, “walking out” your feet), pour yourself a glass of water and make this your first intake of the day. Your body is dehydrated after an 8+ hour fast from the night before. So, help it out with big glass of water first thing in the morning and you’ll be amazed at the immediate reward of increased energy (before the caffeine).

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Good Morning #3 – Climb the Ladder
Swing your arms out to the side with a big inhale, lace your fingers overhead, arch your back upwards then release. You’re waking up.
Time to lengthen your spine by releasing the muscles in and around the shoulder blades: Reach your arms overhead one at a time, stretching up to grab an imaginary ladder rung. Alternate right and left, feeling your ‘blades’ release up, your sides stretch, your ribcage lifting up and out of your hips.
Finish with an “A-tten-TION” Marine Corps salute, and reset your posture for the day.

Good Morning #4 – Power Up Flexible Strength
While you still have that great posture, immediately swing the arms around in front and do a set of easy-going air squats (with good form, of course).
5 narrow stance squats, 5 hip-width squats, and 5 sumo-style squats. You’re effectively firing up all of the muscle groups in the legs while warming up the hip, knee and ankle joints.
Squats improve flexibility by increasing your range of motion in your hips. And as the glutes are the biggest muscle group in the body, it’s critical to remind them to do their job, provide the strength they’re made for and support your frame.

airsquat_speedxfit.com_imagecanadianliving.com_propersquatimage: canadianliving.com

Good Morning #5 – All About the Core
Wake up your key stabilizers for the day – your core muscles – with a plank! The rectus abdominis (your 6-pack), internal and external obliques, transverse abdominals and back muscles are all critical to your performance and spine health.
Yes, while still in your kitchen, you can simply “roll it down”, walk it out to a plank (traditional pushup position, kneeling, or on your forearms) and hold it.

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Too much first thing in the morning? Then place your hands on the nearest wall, take a few steps back and do a set of wall push-ups followed by a nice wall-supported plank.

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Take one more deep inhale, reset your “A-tten-TION” posture, and congrats! After a short 10 minutes, your mind and body are primed for action (and ready for that first cup of coffee)!

WORK IN ANOTHER 10 MINUTES
If you’re ready for a bit more intensity and have 10 more minutes to spare, my go-to favorite is a quick “core blast” that powers up all of the abdominals (rectus abdominis, obliques and deep transverse), as well as the back, chest and stabilizer muscles.

A short Pilates-based floor routine is a terrific activity for that intense, core exercise session that you can do anywhere. Just remember these Pilates non-negotiables before jumping into this routine*

1. Breath – deep inhales and exhales throughout the exercises to oxygenate the body
2. Keep core engaged – “brace for the punch”, tightening up your midsection to protect the spine and add to that abdominal intensity
3. Good form – shoulder blades pulled down, long 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* (and please do feel free to modify/simplify as you go along).

Stand tall, take 3 deep breaths, Roll Down:  Keep belly button pulled in, slowly articulating the spine as you curl  gently down to the floor.

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Continue to walk your hands out to Front Plank: Hold for 20 seconds, take wide deep breaths and keep your core “tight” (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 15 seconds (same tips as above).
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Rotate through center and over to a Right Side Plank:  Hold for 15 seconds (same tips as above).

Rotate back to face the floor and  hold your last Front Plank.

Sit it back to Child’s Pose, then flip around and Roll Down onto your back.
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Continue into Roll Up series:  Set of 5, finish by rolling down onto your back.

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Begin Leg Stretch Series of 5 with 5 sets of each:

Single Leg Stretch:

 

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Straight Leg Stretch:

 

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Double Leg Stretch:

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Leg Lowers:

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Criss-Cross:

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(5 sets of each)

Stretch it out, deep breath and roll up to Teaser (hold); repeat Teasers:  Do 3 full Teasers, finish upright and lower legs to sitting
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Split legs to straddle, extend arms out and start Saw twists: Alternate Saw twist sides for 5 sets
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Lean back to forearms, extend legs to ceiling and continue to Hip Circles: Alternating circling legs right and left for 5 sets
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Flip to your stomach, extending arms and legs for Swimming: Inhale 4 breaths, exhale 4 breaths while alternating arm-leg lifts
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Lower your legs, pull your arms to your sides, keep your back lifted and extended in Arrow: Glue legs together and arms to sides, hold for 10 seconds – and breathe deep!

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

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Push up to Front Plank in into alternating knee tucks (Mountain Climbers): Do 10 sets, alternating sides
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Lift hips to Downward Facing Dog: Walk the feet, press heels towards the floor and tailbone towards ceiling for a hamstring stretch

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Walk hands back towards feet and Roll Up to Stand.
Take 3 deep breaths, swinging your arms up and overhead
Rinse and Repeat!
(Estimated time 10 minutes for two rounds)

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.

*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.

NOW – ABOUT THAT NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION…
Congratulations – with a simple 10 minutes a day, we’re on our way to a healthy, fit, energetic 2016!
Cheers to all of us for amazingly blessed New Year!

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Muscle, Flexibility, Energy, Activity = Aging Gracefully

It’s inevitable. The years tick by and we all age. However, that does not mean that we throw in the towel on our physical state and start repeating the phrase… “Ahhh. Must be getting older.” Like an inevitable life sentence, pre-destined to stoop, shrink, stiffen up, hurt and not be able to run, jump, bend, lift like we used to. Better get the old recliner ready as that’s what we can expect…I don’t think so! Cover image: claphotography.weebly.com

There’s our numerical age – how many birthdays we’ve enjoyed, and then there’s our anatomical age – what our bodies tell us. Personally, I strive for my anatomical age to trail about 15-20 years behind my numerical age. And why not? To feel, move, perform and do activities like a younger self, and to continue well into the golden years! Isn’t this something we should all strive for?

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The amazing thing is when I hear the “must be getting older” mantra from people in their 30s. It illustrates how easily we swap our thinking to where our anatomical age and how we’re feeling at the moment exceeds our actual number of years.
And it’s no surprise why. As we age, our bodies take more hits. We become slower to ‘bounce back’ like we did in our 20’s. Achy joints manifest, fatigue sets in, we don’t have the endurance like we used to. Even Joseph Pilates back in the 1920s said:
“If your spine is inflexible and stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”

Unfortunately, there are diseases that affect the neuro-muscular processes that are difficult to avoid. BUT – there are choices we can consciously make that make a difference to how gracefully we age. We don’t have to simply accept the sentence of stiffness, pain, limiting what we love to do due to limited mobility.

It’s the choice – the decision to move – that makes a difference. And to start paying attention to how we move – making adjustments and corrections, then actively continue moving and adjusting our “training” for our bodies’ numerical age.

The simple fact is that when we don’t move, muscles don’t need to work. The body is inherently smart an efficient. If there’s no demand on a muscle, then no need for it to activate and strengthen. And that’s not an age thing.

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Fast-forward to an older person and think: Is the stiffness, joint pain, shortness of breath, lack of strength a result of age? Or a result of not moving, meaning: not consistently resistance training, core strengthening, stretching, increasing cardio activity?

Not disregarding the real discomfort that we feel from stiff muscles, past injuries, etc., as we all experience that to some degree, at some points in our lives. But again, we can change our perspective and realize that this is not “just how it’s going to be the rest of my life…” That perhaps our physical discomforts may be that some aforementioned unused muscles have weakened and “shut off”, causing other muscles to be over used, creating imbalances, inflammation, and resulting in pain and stiffness.

There’s definitely hope AND a reality that we can all get stronger, improve on those weak areas and continue doing what we love to do – whether competitively, or recreationally – with some conscious choices about how we treat our bodies. Let’s start with paying attention to some fundamentals:

Improve and Maintain Good Posture
It takes strength and endurance to sit up and stand tall. Head lifted, shoulders rolled back, chest lifted up, belly pulled in. Way easier to relax, slouch and let gravity take over.
However, that ‘relaxed state’ (poor posture) not only has a direct, negative effect on how our neck, upper and lower back feel, it also has a direct effect on breathing capacity.

“Individuals with a curved upper back (kyphosis) and internally rotated shoulders are prone to depression of the sternum. On the inspiration, the sternum cannot fully expand and the rib cage has a limited range of motion on the front side of the body.
An exaggerated lumbar curve (lordosis), which is similar to when the pelvis is tilted forward (as if the pelvic bowl is dumping water toward the toes), decreases the range of motion for the lower lumbar spine and shortens the latissimus and lower back (erector spinae) muscles. This shortens the cruca of the diaphragm and limits the range of motion of the diaphragm.
When the diaphragm’s range of motion is limited, the breath’s expansion decreases. Because the abdominal muscles are “overstretched” in this posture, the muscles cannot function properly aide with expiration.” Acefitness.org

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Pay some attention to building core strength. Strengthen that 360-degree band of abdominal and back muscles around our midsections so that they can hold us upright and support our good posture.

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Add Some Muscle Mass
It’s long been thought that inevitably with age we lose muscle. In fact, past research has shown that adults between the ages of 40 and 50 can lose up to 8 percent of their muscle mass, with that rate increasing to 15 percent loss of muscle after 75 years.

BUT – “…just in the last five years, the field of aging research has exploded with new clinical findings. Scientists from the University of Pittsburgh and other well-respected medical centers have been proving just how wrong that assumption that age equals muscle loss has been. They’ve found that aging is far more a consequence of lifestyle choices than of calendar years. In fact, many of the symptoms we associate with aging are actually the result of not just the wear and tear on our bodies, but also the negative affect of disuse. In our muscles are the keys to our longevity – the mystical wellspring of youth, called the mitochondria – the powerhouses of our cells. If we can keep these mitochondrial fires burning, our muscles – not to mention our bones, hearts, lungs, skin, can all enjoy the vitality and energy of youth. Right up to our final days.” “Aging Backwards”, Miranda Esmonde-White

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Pay some attention to building muscle. Give our bodies some structure with which to support the skeleton. The fact is, if we don’t use it we lose it. BUT – we can build it back at any age!
“One University of Pittsburgh study looked at a cross section of 40 recreational athletes aged 40-81 who exercised 4-5 times per week. They underwent MRI scans, body composition testing and quadriceps strength testing…The researchers found that, with exercise, the athletes could retain exactly the same levels of lean muscle mass from their forties into their eighties.” “Aging Backwards”, Miranda Esmonde-White

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(A side note: My husband and I saw this amazing lady compete in short sprint at the 2008 World Open Masters  indoor track meet in Clermont-Ferrrand, France!)

Move and Improve Ranges of Motion
We’re meant to move. And our joints are made for amazing ranges of motion – if we take care of them and manage these ranges with muscle strength and activity. We may have trashed our bodies a bit in our youth, but by adjusting our exercise to be more careful of our joints by warming up, doing some form of full-body movement and exercise each day and focusing in on precision and efficiency of motion, we can maintain joint health and longevity.

Pay some attention to stabilizer muscles and mobility exercises. “Increase our mind-body awareness” – we hear this all the time now, and for good reason. When we slow down, think about our actions and methodically move through a full range of motion with fluidity and concentration we strengthen our smaller muscles that support our joints and help absorb those jarring hits we may inadvertently take.

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It’s All Good!

It really is exciting to think about. That no matter what our current age or fitness level, as long as we have breath in our amazingly resilient vessels, we have the chance to improve our health. To run, jump, ride, compete, travel, move and basically live with abundance.

So put away the old recliner, or donate it to charity. We won’t be needing it any time soon as we switch our thinking and our actions to those of  health, activity, longevity and the expectation of positive results!

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Find Your Why and Go!

Whatever you wish to find out about health and fitness is a Google-click away. Want to tone up those arms? Tighten those glutes? Add core strength? Fix a health challenge? It’s all there. What’s not to be found online is your “Why” for pursuing your fitness goals. And without a clear “Why”, all the online resources are for naught. (image: rockyintro_usatftw.files.wordpress.com)

As I find myself ready to step back out on the competition dancefloor after – well, let’s just say – awhile, I realize that all the time spent getting back into competition shape, re-training, re-calibrating mental and physical focus, balancing work + family + financial priorities, and basically adding “too much onto my already full plate”, can only be accomplished with a clear goal in mind: I love to dance and expect to dance until I’m 90 (or beyond, God willing).

So, the topic of today’s conversation is “What’s your Why?” What drives you to get up out of that snuggy bed and go to work, go for a run, drink a protein shake, do the uncomfortable and inconvenient? Do you have a Why? Or do you have one, but your plate over-floweth and you can’t quite figure out how to accomplish it?

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It doesn’t matter your age or physical condition. There is a universal-cosmic truth: “Man without vision will perish” (Proverbs 29:18). If we don’t have something – some vision, passion, personal truth – which we can individually hone in on, it’s all too easy to let our circumstances take control and get the better of us. And that includes our physical shape.

Of course there are circumstances that get in the way and mess up our best laid plans. Working late vs. working out. Hitting the drive-through vs. sitting down to a healthy lunch. Laid up with an injury vs. playing your game. The trick is to not let these temporary setbacks steal you goal, steal your joy in what you love to do.

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Because time flies…whether you’re having fun or not. And one of the best ways to make time work in your favor, is to keep your passion, your goal, your dream top-of-mind. Find your reason(s) for wanting to get into your best physical shape, keep them always in front of you and GO FOR IT. You’ll be amazed at what happens!

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50 is the New 30! Peak Fitness at Any Age

Image: golfdigest.com; Michael Jordan turns 53 this February

Yes! 50 IS the new 30 and – what’s more – 75 is the new 50!
While the 21-23 year old Millennials have recently taken over the status of the largest age demographic in the US, the baby boomers are a close second – specifically 53-54 year olds. If you happen to fall in or around this age range, congratulations – be happy and thankful for those years.
And know that there has never been a better time to pursue your peak physical performance – whether a favorite pastime hobby or competitive passion.

“Michael Jordan is universally regarded as one of the greatest basketball players in history. His brilliance at both ends of the floor sustained Jordan for an epic 19-year professional career.” (World of Sports Science) His amazing talent coupled by his relentless training ethic kept him at the top of his game (and you can bet he still trains, albeit in a slightly modified manner than 20 years ago).

You may not be a Jordan protégé, but haven’t you wanted to pick up hoops again, pick up your trail bike, get out on your skis or on the water?
Or perhaps that competitive drive is stronger than ever and you strive for excellence on the track, on the ballroom floor or some other competition arena.

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(image: calgaryherald.com)

Simply getting out, breathing some fresh air, taking a walk or taking an adventure vacation and trekking through Europe or the US could be your hot button.
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Don’t let age be an excuse – the key is to make the decision that your physical fitness is a top priority, be smart about your workouts and to change up your exercise regime. Basically, to “train like a Master”.

Before you tune out, this really isn’t a hard core boot camp training session. Rather, it’s a reality check that YES we can keep pursuing our passions (playing, riding, biking, dancing, golfing, travelling, DO-ing, LIVE-ing), regardless of age and despite the roadblocks (not enough time, too much work, past injury, lack of energy).

Be In It for the Long Haul
I had the opportunity to attend the 3rd World Masters Indoor Championships in Clermont-Ferrand, central France where my husband was competing in pole vault. Over 25 countries were represented, with the “Masters” age starting at 35 and went up past (yes past) 100!
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It was the most inspiring thing to be in a stadium full of these athletes seriously competing in everything including hurdles, high and long jump, all sprints and distance races, throws and pole vault.
These two British gentlemen were watching the vaulters while awaiting their age division – 75-80 years old. They had been pole vaulting for six decades!

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What is the secret to staying in the game – performing to our maximum potential?

You know, there IS life beyond the job and beyond retirement from the sport of your younger days. And with the physical training, medical advancements and wellness practices focusing on holistic, full-body approaches (like Pilates, chiropractic, massage, reflexology, and more) it’s the best time for us to realize our “glory days” are here and now.

Which gets back to the idea of “train like a Master” (hello Baby Boomers and beyond!).

With age comes wisdom. We don’t have to hurl ourselves into training nor beat ourselves up like an 18 year old. Remember – life is a distance run needing endurance, stamina and adjustments along the way to account for the bumps in the road.

I’m not just talking about competitive sports. Some of us just want to keep doing what we love without injury. Or at least combat a few past hits and any associated gimpiness to stay active, push it a bit and get some of the adrenaline rushing back.
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Not sure where to pick back up (or start) your fitness practice? Consider this:

Flip the Mental Switch
We all need some sort of motivation to get out of our couchy comfort zone and carve out some time.

So what fires you up? Maybe it’s that competitive adrenaline rush. Or making that trip of a lifetime and physically enjoying it. Maybe it’s realizing how blessed we are to be alive and wanting to make the most of it while we’re here on this earth.

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Flip your switch and then put yourself into training. That may indeed sound hard core, but isn’t that what life’s about? Staying in the learning mode; having that childlike wonder; training for the goal you’d love to accomplish while you’re able to accomplish it. Call it mental toughness, discipline or just deciding what’s important to you.
Whatever it is – you can make the jump start.

Move It
You have to start somewhere (especially if you haven’t been for a while). Have you ever noticed (especially if you’ve seriously trained) that once you stop training, mysterious aches, pains suddenly show up? I have – it’s surprising and not in fun way.

My chiropractor told me “…you can never stop moving…”. The body is an amazing thing and is always compensating for what we put it through. So start by putting your body back through full ranges of motion, every day. Shoulders, hips, back, neck, legs – get the synovial fluid flowing, those joints lubed up and remind the muscles how to fire.

I’m only going to call out one idea here: Dance!
Ballroom – Tap – Zumba – Jazz – African Ant Eater – you name it! Dancing is a full-body-move-it-shake-it-work out. Guaranteed to wake up every muscle and joint, and feasible for every age and level.
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(image: toronto_dance_dance_class.com)
You can take lessons or find your jam in your living room to a DVD or cable show.
I once found a belly-dancing lesson on one of the channels – probably one I’d personally only want to do in the privacy of my living room, but talk about activating some dormant muscles!

Do you remember “The 20-Minute Workout”?

A good friend of mine still does this – fitting it into her busy, business-owner schedule – and looks and feels amazing. Oh, and she also dances AND is part of that Baby Boomer group.

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(image: snipview.com)

So it doesn’t really matter what you do to move.

As long as your heart rate rises, you break a little sweat, you re-connect with your body and coordinate your muscles to movement. Just crank it up and shake what your momma gave you.

Your Core
Strengthen it. No matter what age, from teenager onward, your “center” is the center of your power. Strengthening it will bring support and longevity to your spine and help prevent injury. Even the guy who hauls and loads the hay for my horse says he needs to have a strong core. This is now common knowledge.

Michael Jordan’s trainer, Tim Grover  (hired in 1989) focused on core strength, “…on the theory that a solid core is essential to helping an athlete run faster, jump higher and reach his athletic potential.” (livestrong.com)

In a simplistic vision, think of your core as a 360-degree band around your middle, encompassing your abs, your side-waist and your back, from your washboard stomach muscles to the deep stabilizers supporting your spine, internal organs and pelvis. When you can envision this area as your core, it becomes easier to activate (the washboard effect may take some time to bring into reality – but it’s there!).
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(image: blogspot.com)

Not sure what to do?

Think: planks, Pilates, balancing acts and isometric contractions.

The fantastic thing is that your center is (or should be) always engaged with everything you do. If you simply think “brace your gut for the punch” – you’re off to a good start by triggering your core to kick in.

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Flex It
If you know me, you know I never pull the age card. After seeing so many young people have injuries, I tend to lean more towards the functional movement excuse verses age. That said, I do realize that in that Masters age range, things may take a little longer to loosen up.

The importance of spending quality time on some focused stretching and flexibility training is a non-negotiable (again, age not withstanding).
Even a 10-minute break each day focusing on the larger muscle groups like the legs (hamstrings, quads, calves), hips (glutes), back and chest can work wonders for your physical and mental health.

As you change the way you approach your training, this should be one of the areas you perfect. There’s much more research now around the art of stretching. Such as, “…the best time to stretch is either after a workout when the soft tissues are warm and pliable, or as a stand-alone workout that won’t be followed by anything powerful or intense.” (Full-Body Flexibility, Blahnik) This is a little different from our Junior High PE days.
“For example, you can stretch at your desk for as little as 5 minutes or at the end of the day for as long as 30 minutes. You can stretch after a vigorous weight-training workout or soccer game. But you shouldn’t stretch before your weight-training workout or game. Instead, warm up lightly in a way that gently introduces your muscles to the upcoming activity, and save your stretching for after it’s over.”
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(image: dynamic_stretches_for_runners)

Mind-Body Awareness
Have you wondered about how yoga, Pilates and Barre classes are so mainstream now? Perhaps there’s a correlation between a large Baby Boomer population and the realization (wisdom) of needing to be nice to our bodies.

Kinetic awareness is critical to our performance, for whatever activity. Being aware of where our body is in space and how we perform functions can be the difference between power and strength or getting injured. Whether stepping off a slick stair, reaching down to pick up a heavier-than-expected bag of groceries, or running a half-marathon, we need to be cognizant of how we move.

Somehow as we age, the connection of what our mind wants to do and how our body reacts gets dulled. In addition, our reaction time to adjust to the unexpected (like the slick stair) gets slower. We tend to get caught in the rut of the familiar, our bodies adjusting to the same ‘ol familiar patterns. Kind of like taking that same route to work each day. Add in a variable – a traffic detour, or a new exercise – and we may get thrown off or injured.

I challenge you to re-sharpen that connection. Start adding balance exercises to your daily routine, and/or add in a Pilates or yoga class. The challenge is to challenge your daily habits so your re-establish your mind-body awareness. Your performance will improve!

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Practice Your Own Personal Preventative Rehab
I recently read an article where a physical therapist talked about his philosophy for staying strong and avoiding injury. He says “I don’t live in fear of injuring myself. I do pay attention when something feels off, backing off if I’m in pain or taking it down a notch.” (Mark Trombold, owner of ProFormance Rehab)

That adage of “an ounce of prevention” rings strong and true here, as well as “with age comes wisdom”.
Be smart and thoughtful about how you train and your end goal. And if you experience sharp and/or persistent pain, by all means get checked out by professional.

Trombold continues to say “There’s a lot more we can do to support ourselves at home. Preventative rehab can make a big difference for people who have minor injuries or want to avoid new ones.”

It comes back to “training like a Master”. Experience is a good teacher, and Masters (ages 35 and up) have experience. Have an honest look at your fitness level, your physical history and know your strengths and limitations.
Then make your own personal training plan that includes elements from what we talked about today. Match these with your goals and hit GO!
It’s never too late to start, make improvements and realize that your past passions can become real again!

Run, jump, play, live – enjoy life!

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“Hey there, do you work out?”

I was teasing a good friend of mine when we ran into each other one Saturday evening and I overheard a guy say this to her.  And you know what? She DOES work out and looks amazing – healthy, fit, and 50! (image: scopecube.com)

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And while the question comes off just a bit like a cheesy pick up line, whether a man or woman – it’s kind of nice to get that acknowledgement that we DO look good!

We all need a little personal motivation (aka: ego boost) to keep us going when we’re tired, stressed, and can feel the hands of time speeding up. And while the “getting healthy / reducing risk of injury / training for a sport / etc.” reasons are commendable, sometimes the thing that gets us up and out is simply wanting to look good.

We all struggle with keeping the motivation – or even a bigger challenge, finding the time.
But if you keep it simple, don’t over think, and just do something – each day – you’ll be amazed at how this shift will change how you feel and self-propel your motivation.
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And from a physiological perspective, when you exercise your body releases the “happy chemicals” called endorphins.  “These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.” (WebMD)

You see – it becomes a positive domino effect that spurs your motivation to continue your pursuit of improving your health, improving your mental state of mind, and yes – improving how you look!

So, if you got asked that question (pick up or not) – what would you say?
What do you do to look and feel good (and yes, get healthy and fit)?

It doesn’t have to be a fight through traffic to get to the gym. Just move. Just do.
Go for a walk, a jog, a “hike” through the neighborhood.
Take 15 and do some squats, some pushups, some sit-ups.
Stretch, breath, get your blood pumping.

Do something with good form and function so you can stand tall and confident that you DID something great for your body and mind this day.
You’ll feel so much better! And others will ask you “So, what have you been doing?”
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(image: naturalfitnessandnutrition.com)

 

When You Just Don’t Feel Like Working Out…

…Go shopping!  NO – wait, did I say that out loud?  What I meant to say is that’s probably the best time to get a little work out in.

After some late afternoon wine tasting (on an empty stomach and already dehydrated, no less), and hyucking it up with some good friends – the following morning’s 10am training session was NOT appealing.

When you’ve made a commitment to yourself to get back in shape, to train for a competition, to perform well in the next game or on the course – there will be things that get in the way. There always are, when the goal is set.
But barring a major injury or 104 degree temperature, take that step around the ‘obstacle’ – tell yourself it’s “only for 15 minutes” -  and then see how much BETTER you’ll feel (albeit afterwards).

Before you plug your ears and sing “la-la-la-la-la-I-don’t-hear-you”… here are a few pause-and-think points:

1. A good sweat will help de-tox your system and flush out impurities (yes, I can personally attest to this)

2. Re-energize! Increasing your heart rate, taking in more oxygen, will energize you more than hanging out on the couch, and…

3. You’ll boost your metabolism! “In a phenomenon known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), your body can take hours to recover from a robust workout…[meaning]…your body is actually burning more calories than it normally would – even after you’ve finished exercising.” (health.com)

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4. The Mayo Clinic says “…even 10 minutes [of moderately intense physical activity] each day makes a difference.  For example, just 60 to 90 minutes a week can reduce your heart disease risk by up to half.”

5. Focusing your brain on the exercise task-at-hand will help take your mind off your headache

6. Are you a competitor?  Somewhere your competition is training – so put the competitive odds in your favor and make that training session

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(image: all-athletics.com)

7. “Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. If your heart can work less to pump, the force on your arteries decreases, lowering your blood pressure.” (Mayo Clinic Staff)

8. You’ll relish the mind-over-body victory!

So, while it may start a little rough, before you give in to the voice that says “oh you really don’t feel like doing anything today” – take a deep breath, down a glass of water and head out.  That “15 minutes” you told yourself will probably double and you’ll be one step closer to achieving the fitness goal you set!

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(image: magazine.topman.com)