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.

Young couple run together on a sunsetimage: nutricisedr.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Good and the Bad of Inflammation

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

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

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Wake Up and Reactivate Your Core

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Slow-Mo Ab Curl

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

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The Slow-Mo Waist Whittler

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

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The Slow-Mo Back Extensions

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

The Slow-Mo Back Extensions – Diagonal Variation

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

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

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

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

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

The Air Squat – Half Speed

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The Lunge and Twist – Half Speed

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

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

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

Young couple run together on a sunset Image: Nutricise.dr.com

 

Mobility! For Mind, Body & Balance

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

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

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

We’re in Training For Life!

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

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

“Every time I have done the Olympics, I’ve thought, this is probably the last time I will do it; but, after the last time, I thought: I am going to keep going with this because I feel fit and healthy and why shouldn’t I? So, here I am.” Mary Hanna, Eonline.com
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Yes, it’s time to get moving – with some focus on improving our mobility, while at the same time increasing our stability and bettering our balance. So we can keep moving and move more often resulting in terrific health benefits. What a fantastic, positive domino effect!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow-Mo Calf Raise + Foot Flex

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

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

Split Lunge

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

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Squat + Hip Opener

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

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

Bird Dog + Lateral Limbs

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

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Side-lying Chest Opener “Chalk Circles”

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

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

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

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

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Get Taller in 2017! The Benefits of Good Posture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facing front:

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

Facing side:

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

Sitting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Sit Up / Stand Up

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

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

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

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

Click: Marine Held Salute For 3 Hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mindfulness for a Fitness Breakthrough!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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image: rbz_fit_city_NFL_Pilates_14_statesman.com

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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!

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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”.

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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…”

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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.

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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!

 

 

Find Your Balance

“Finding balance” has a myriad of meanings, and how we interpret this at first glance can say a lot about where we are in our lives. From wanting more work-life balance, to more time-money balance, to emotional and physical balance.
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We all need balance in our lives – ALL interpretations of it. Balance keeps us happy, lowers stress, and keeps us feeling good physically and mentally. Finding and keeping that balance takes some dedicated practice and focus.

Let’s Focus on the Physical Balance
The ability to stay upright, centered, transferring weight from one foot to another, not falling over when reaching for that top shelf – all the basic stuff that we don’t give a second thought – takes balance.

Ramping up to the more obvious activities like riding a bike, hiking over uneven ground, skiing, dancing, competitive athletics, etc., definitely take balance – especially to avoid injury.
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The thing is, we don’t even think about balance until we lose it. One of the keys to avoiding injury, moving with ease and grace and performing our best is to increase our body awareness and take actions to improve balance – basically, train for balance.

First – eliminate this comment from your vocabulary: “My balance is so bad, I must be getting old”.
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Yes, age is a factor for physical limitations simply from the fact that more years = more wear and tear. However, there other contributing factors that span any age, namely muscular imbalances.

Do you notice how keeping your balance (like standing on one leg) may need some work?
How about some nagging stiffness or soreness in one particular area, or on one side of your body?

“Every joint in the body is surrounded by muscles that produce and control movement. If muscles on one side of a joint become too tight from overuse, it could cause the muscles on the other side to become too weak from lack of use. This is called a muscle imbalance. Muscle imbalances can be a potential cause of injury because they can affect the position of the joint at rest and change its path of motion during movement, both of which are potential causes of injury.” ~Acefitness.org

Let’s Consider:
Activity level – Do we spend much of our day sitting or driving? How much do we really move?
The human body is meant to be in motion. We are magnificently designed for power and efficiency, built with both stability and mobility to balance and support our actions.
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When we spend too much time sitting, or not enough time truly moving through all ranges of motion, muscles shorten/tighten and alternately lengthen/weaken causing imbalances that throw us off.
We can also think of our muscular and skeletal structure as a closed-chain system. If a link in the chain is “broken” (i.e. from over-use or not enough use), there’s a domino effect throughout the rest of the system while muscles and joints work to compensate.

To start with – let’s make sure we’re moving. The old adage is true – move it or lose it.
So let’s get up, get going, and spend time every day moving through all ranges of motionmultiplanar activities – to fire up sleepy muscle groups.

Repetitive motions – Do our sports or chores or daily actions continually tax the same muscles?
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Like a golfer’s swing, a pitcher’s pitch, vacuuming, or carrying a heavy load on the same side with the same arm each day, repetitive motions are the most common culprits of muscle imbalances. Doing the same thing over and over the same way causes some muscles to get overused and some to just take a back seat (and weaken). In other words, when a muscle works, it shortens and contracts. If the same muscle continues to be worked repeatedly, in the same motion, it can remain in a semi-contracted state and ultimately change the position of the joint. Hence, pain, stiffness, muscular imbalance.
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Switch it up. From simply switching to the other side to do physical chores – like shoveling or sweeping or hauling with the opposite arm, to alternating which leg takes the first stair, kicks a ball, holds you up as you reach. Changing sides calls in to play both the muscles on the dominant and non-dominant sides of our bodies to start balancing out the load.

There are also exercise programs to easily add into the mix that strengthen opposing muscle groups to help balance out the strong and weak sides.

Past injury – What have we done in the past that results in a weak area?
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Young or old, we’ve all experienced some form of physical mayhem that leaves a bruise, a scar, a weak joint, etc. And the older we get, the more these bumps and hard knocks add up and can compound the effect on our bodies. Taking preventative action to build strengths around the weak areas to support and re-balance the body is crucial.

Be patient. Be realistic. If we want to keep doing the things we love, or try new sports, or reach a new performance level, or improve how we move and feel or all of the above – we need to be proactive for our own health, realizing that if “if it is to be, it’s up to me”. Go for it!
Which leads to….

Practice – How do we “practice” balance?
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We’re not talking Swami-style life-balance practice. Simply adding some thoughtful practices into our daily lives and workouts can make a difference.

Try the not-so-comfortable with everyday tasks
As mentioned earlier, switch it up. Think about your day-to-day and start with a few actions that you can perform with your non-dominant side. For example, carry your laptop bag, grocery bag, kid, etc. on the other side.

Carrying something heavy? Pushing, pulling, dragging a load? Switch sides. It may take a moment for your mind-and-body to acclimate, but that’s a good thing!

Incorporate balancing exercises into your routine
Also mentioned above, taking our bodies through full ranges of motion, through various “planes” starts engaging muscles that may have not been by typically activated. Then, adding in the balance challenge by performing these gems on one leg, then the other, really wakes things up.

“Considering that balance training has been shown to reduce the risk of falls (especially in older adults) and improve dynamic balance in both athletes and non-athletes, incorporating this type of training could be a wise choice. In addition, many of the exercises used to train balance call upon the muscles of the hips and trunk to provide stability. This means you get the added benefit of strengthening the glutes and abs while you’re working to become more balance savvy.” ~Aceprosource_fitnovatives

Try these!

Split Leg Lunge:

SplitLunge_AceProsource (image: Aceprosource)

  • Position yourself with your weight split between your front and back leg.
  • Stand tall, tighten your middle, and lift your back heel.
  • Bending both knees, lower your back knee towards the floor and raise back up.
  • Repeat 10 times then switch to the other side.

Birddog

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  • Start on hands and knees, stomach pulled in and tight, pressing hands into the mat (no shoulder sagging); keep this posture throughout!
  • Raise the opposite arm and leg, hold and breathe.
  • With control, tuck the elbow and knee in underneath your center, then extend back to Birdog.
  • Complete 5 sets, then change sides.

Standing Inverted Flyers

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  • Standing tall, stomach tight and engaged, raise the left knee and hold.
  • Slowly hinge at your hip on the standing, right leg, extend the right arm and left leg behind you.
  • Hold the balance for a few counts, breathe, and return to standing on the right leg.
  • Repeat 5 times then switch sides.
  • Tip: Stand in front of a railing or counter and use one hand for balance if you need it.

Step Ups
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  • Find a stair or step and step up with your right foot; Hold and balance on your right leg.
  • Stand tall, tighten your waist, keep your left foot off the floor.
  • Slowly bend the right, standing leg, lowering your left toe towards the floor, then press back up to a standing balance.
  • Repeat 5 times, then switch sides.
  • Tip: Choose a step next to a wall that use can use for a little balance if needed.
  • Tip2: Try keeping from touching the floor behind you.

Cross Step With Twist

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  • Start standing tall, core tightened and engaged, arms extended forward.
  • Take a big step forward with the right leg and cross in front of your left.
  • Lift your back heel.
  • Slowly lower both knees, bending the back knee towards the floor.
  • Rotate your upper body to the right.
  • Hold, breathe, then untwist and return to stand.
  • Repeat 5 times, then switch sides.

Side Benefits: Abs and Glutes!
While training and improving your balance, these exercises have wonderful side benefits.
Namely – strengthening your core/abdominals AND hips. When we think of our “center of balance” these two areas are crucial to stabilize and support our bodies through all ranges of motion.

Training for balance + strengthening our abs and glutes = a powerful 1-2 punch!
Remember, practice makes perfect, so start today for a long lasting difference with whatever activity, or endeavor we pursue.

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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?

GrowBolder_Older_growingbolder.com_rowingchamp Image: growingbolder.com

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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Nice Caboose! And a Pain-Free Back to Boot!

Did you know that the human body has over 600 skeletal muscles? All ideally working in unison for locomotion, with the largest muscles taking on the largest physical tasks.  The winner of the biggest muscle in our body is the gluteus maximus (the name alone may tip you off). Cover Image: Javinellif.com

The “glutes” are made up of three muscles around the back of each hip – the gluteus minimus, medius and maximus.  “The maximus is the most superficial muscle of the group. It contributes most of the mass that can be seen as the buttocks. It must be large due to its roles in hip extension and lateral rotation, as well as in keeping the body in an erect position.” Livestrong.com
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These glutes are a critical source of power for dancers, athletes, anyone who wants to move – whether for a profession or simply for enjoying life! So it seems an obvious asset to have a strong set for energized, athletic performance (as well as for the well-filled-out-jeans factor).

Why Training This Powerhouse Set of Muscles is So Important

The hip joint area in the body is amazingly designed for mobility throughout the kinetic chain. So it stands to reason that if these joints are not properly supported by strong muscles, mobility is compromised and other neighboring joints may experience pain (i.e. knees, lumbar spine).
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image: Ace Prosource

The gluteus maximus, medius and minimus are responsible for moving and supporting the body through all different planes of movement – forward/backward, side-to-side, and rotational.  Consider how often on a daily basis we squat to pick something up, bend and reach, twist to look, simply walk.  Our glutes support and power all of these day-to-day actions while helping to protect the spine.

And while we’re moving – whether doing chores or seriously training – our hips are the “transfer station”, distributing energy and power from the ground and legs through the rest of our body.

That beautiful, fluid expression through a dancer’s upper body resonates from the grounded strength of the hips.
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That perfect golf swing and long drive stem from the powerful mobility of the hips.
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Mowing the lawn, pushing a wheelbarrow, vacuuming the house, lifting, hauling, you name it, all are executed safely with the aid of the hips.
Man pushing wheelbarrow in backyard Image: Sciencephoto.com

Now About that Back (Low Back)
“About 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes. It is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days. In a large survey, more than a quarter of adults reported experiencing low back pain during the past 3 months.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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You may be blessed with NOT being among that 80%, but if you are and/or if you want to avoid joining that large population with back pain, there’s good news about the relationship of strong glutes and a pain-free low back.

“Many people mistakenly believe that lower-back pain is caused by a problem with their lower back. This is understandable given that movements of daily life, sports and most weight-bearing exercise modalities require the spine to move forward, backward, side to side and in rotation (McGill, 2002).
However, all these movements of the spine require other parts of the body to work as well. When bending forward to pick a weight up from the ground, for example, the ankles, knees and hips should also bend to help lower the torso.

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Similarly, as the spine moves from side to side during walking, the legs and hips should also move from side to side to help provide a good base of support for the spine as it moves.
Rotational movements of the spine should be accompanied by rotational movements of the legs and hips so the tremendous force created by swinging a tennis racket or golf club, for example, is dissipated throughout the entire body.
When actions of the spine are not accompanied by correct movement of the rest of the body, the spine and its surrounding muscles (e.g., the lower back) have to take up the slack and may become overworked and injured.ACE ProSource

Now, take a fresh look at your back-side.  With the responsibilities of the largest muscle in body and the diverse movement patterns the gluteal complex manages, we can see the correlation between achieving and maintaining a healthy low-back and the powerful support of the glutes.
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Plus – interestingly, “People with lower back problems typically have problems activating their glute muscles properly…The gluteus maximus can lose neural input and become dysfunctional in people who have chronic lower back pain.”

All the more reason why giving your buns some love and attention in the form of focused strength and flexibility training is so critical – reminding them WHY they’re the largest muscle group and HOW to fire up properly to do their jobs.

Inspired for a Happy Hiney?
Here are some good ‘ol, tried-and-true glute exercises that can get you striding along to a  strong backside. Try working in a number of these exercises with the combination of stretching and muscle releases (e.g. foam roller myofascial moves).*
*Please remember to check in with your doctor before jumping into a new regime, and always a good idea to get the advice and direction of a fitness professional to help with good form and avoid overtaxing muscles too soon.

The Air Squat

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The Side Lunge

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The Step Up

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The Reverse Lunge + Balance

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The Side-lying Leg Lift

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The Get-Out-And-Walk-Up-Some-Hills

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From protecting your back, to putting some power into your performance and giddy-up in your actions (plus the confidence that you look good from the back view) – strong glutes and healthy hips are the way to go!

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Your Fascia Fountain of Youth – Hydrate for a Young Body!

How long have you heard the same-‘ol same-‘ol “drink 8 glasses of water a day”?
You know when you hear something over and over you tend to tune it out…until it’s relevant to you?
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Pay Attention To Your Water Intake – Really!

While the 8-glasses-a-day dealio isn’t necessarily relevant, the average adult body IS between 50% – 75% water. So, hydration definitely IS a relevant thing to start paying attention to.

Consider this:  “The percent of water depends on your hydration level. People feel thirsty when they have already lost around 2-3% of their body’s water. Mental performance and physical coordination start to become impaired before thirst kicks in, typically around 1% dehydration.” (chemistry.about.com)

Oh, and by the way, another article mentions:
“…Healthy women who failed to replace a mere 1.5% of their water weight experienced mood swings and low energy levels, according to a 2012 study in The Journal of Nutrition. The study authors suspect neurons in your hypothalamus–the brain region responsible for controlling things like hydration and body temperature–send mood-altering messages to the rest of your brain as an early warning to drink more water.”

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As these fun facts illustrate how a mere percentage point in dehydration can affect our mental and physical performance, now there’s even more recent information on another key reason why staying hydrated is key to youthful performance.

Keep your Fascia Pliable!

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I saw an ad with Stretch Armstrong – yes, he’s still around – and probably because he has super pliable fascia! OK – that may be stretching it a bit (wink), but seriously – having a Stretch Armstrong youthful longevity with free and easy movement is attainable. This is good news to those of us who’ve taken a few hits to our bodies over the years.

Think of it as training youth back into your body. Starting with hydration and a fresh focus on your fascia.
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Our fascia is the web of connective tissue under the skin – like a woven fabric of fibrous proteins – that wraps around every muscle and organ and literally connects everything in our bodies together. It’s also one of the biggest stores of water in the body!

“…The most interesting aspect of the fascial system is that it is not just a system of separate coverings. It is actually one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption. In this way you can begin to see that each part of the entire body is connected to every other part by the fascia, like the yarn in a sweater.” (myofascialrelease.com)

Fascia has typically been ignored as a contributing factor to how we move (muscles and joints being the obvious players). Until now…

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“…Fascia plays an important role in the support and function of our bodies, since it surrounds and attaches to all structures. In the normal healthy state, the fascia is relaxed and wavy in configuration. It has the ability to stretch and move without restriction. When one experiences physical trauma, emotional trauma, scarring, or inflammation, however, the fascia loses its pliability. It becomes tight, restricted, and a source of tension to the rest of the body. Trauma, such as a fall, car accident, whiplash, surgery or just habitual poor posture and repetitive stress injuries has cumulative effects on the body. The changes trauma causes in the fascial system influences comfort and function of our body. Fascial restrictions can exert excessive pressure causing all kinds of symptoms producing pain, headaches or restriction of motion. Fascial restrictions affect our flexibility and stability, and are a determining factor in our ability to withstand stress and perform daily activities.” (myofascialrelease.com)

Wow! Gives a new perspective on how our bodies are put together and factors that contribute to how well we move (or don’t move). So how do we get that youthful bounce back again?  Quick answers…

Keep Moving, Keep Hydrated

“Far from the haphazard mesh that the first anatomists perceived, this fascial network is now described by researchers as sensitive, dynamic and extraordinarily adaptable. ‘There are 10 times as many more nerve endings in your fascia as there are in your muscles,’ says Thomas Myers (in his book Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists), making fascia far more susceptible to pain and sensation in general than your muscles are. ‘Most sports injuries are in fact failures of fascial structures, not muscle tissue.’” (experiencelife.com/article/the-web-of-life)

When our fascia is healthy and hydrated, our muscles, organs and other tissues slide and glide over each other making movement in all directions smooth and effortless. When fascia starts to dry out – and when things don’t things don’t move much – think of this gluey web becoming sticky. Fascia sticks to itself and loses elasticity, and subsequently, there goes your range of motion.

“Scientists believe that exercising the fibers encourage them to regenerate on a cellular level, keeping them springy. Foam rollers, a staple of physical therapy, help keep the tissues supple. Stretches and yoga moves are also effective…” (wholeliving.com)
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In a terrific article I encourage you to read called “The Secret Life of Fascia” (poliquingroup.com), one of the contributors was asked and replied:
“KG: Is there value in regular static stretching, or using yoga techniques, to maintain the health of the fascia?
CR: I’m old school in the sense that if a muscle group is tight, we do static stretching. As for the idea that static stretching improves the elasticity of the tissues, that is not clear. That said, I believe the best type of stretching is the approach called Ki-Hara Resistance Stretching. This is a revolutionary technique that utilizes a person’s own resistance in the strengthening and elongating of muscles. The theory behind this method is that to truly stretch a muscle, you must contract the muscle throughout the entire range. Beyond stretching, what is especially important is getting good body work done, eating well and staying hydrated.

The interesting thing is the mention above about how “..To truly stretch a muscle, you must contract the muscle throughout the entire range..” – Which is benefit found in Pilates practice as well. So many ways to help support healthy fascia and train youth back into our bodies!

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The good news to all this – more and more research is coming out on the importance of healthy fascia. The other good news is that some of our tried-and-true fitness standbys still apply:
*Move*
*Stretch*
*Hydrate*

Let’s keep moving, keep drinking our water (even in the cold when we think we’re not thirsty), help our bodies stay healthy and continue to be amazed at the miracle of us!

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