Category Archives: Exercise

Walk well to age well

runningman1We all want to get old, but we want the best quality of life as we age. We want to be able to do what we did when we were young (or as close to that as possible). What’s the secret?

Retired occupational therapist Barbara Knickerbocker Beskind suggests that good posture and a brisk 30-minute walk every day are the keys to aging well. In her article, “The Surprising Secret to Aging Well” in The Next Avenue, Beskind suggests that good posture and that walk from early childhood on will build bones and keep us young. It will build bone density and balance reflexes that will cut down on debilitating falls and injuries in later years.

Beskind states that walking has enormous benefits — emotionally and even creatively. This is in addition to the well-known benefits to the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems. A sturdy gait pattern with alternating arm/leg movement helps maintain balance reflexes and strength in lateral hip muscles. And going for a walk frees the mind for creative pursuits.

So you don’t have to go crazy – just a brisk walk (with your head held high and your arms swinging in opposition to your gait) will help you achieve the golden years of your dreams!

Keep moving!

Side plank in PiYo. Great for strength and flexibility.Whatever you do, keep moving. To stop is to atrophy. And to atrophy is to die.

I know, there are some days when it just hurts to get out of bed. I have those days too. From the bottom up and the top down. Neck hurts. Shoulders hurt. Back hurts. Hips are killing me. Knees hurt. Even the ankles hurt.

But that’s no excuse! Whether it’s arthritis, bursitis, muscle soreness or just sleeping funny. Get up, get dressed and move!

I know it’s not easy. Life isn’t easy. But the more you move, the less you hurt. Those first steps to the bathroom are slow and uneven. Maybe I’m even limping a little. But by the time I finish my morning ablutions, it’s a little better. And then when I’m dressed and the dogs fed, it’s better still. And by the time I finish my coffee I can face a short walk. And then I can work out.

And don’t skimp on the workout! You’re cheating yourself if you do! Yes, modify the moves. Yes, take a break when you need to. (If you’re doing a DVD exercise program, hit pause – again, you don’t want to cheat yourself!) Drink plenty of water during the breaks. But don’t cheat yourself!

And when you’re done, chances are you’ll feel great! Or, if not great, then at least you’ll be proud of yourself for finishing!

Pain! Do you stop or continue?

Don't baby yourself! Recognize muscle soreness and move on.Many years ago I dislocated my shoulder. I have never experienced pain like that! Think of an ice pick going through your shoulder and then twisting. And then grinding. And then pulling it out a little at a time. And then someone is bashing your shoulder over and over again. That’s the kind of pain. So severe I passed out from it. And then a few days later when I thought it was better, I dislocated it again in my sleep. The doctor said to cut out the aerobics for a while and do other strengthening exercises.

Over time the shoulder got stronger, and I could forget about the dislocations. I lift weights – probably baby weights to many people’s way of thinking, but they’re good for me.

And then a few days ago my shoulder started hurting again. I didn’t think anything of it, but it went on for several days. My mind started to worry at it – what if my shoulder dislocates again. Should I stop working out? Should I stop using weights?

But my brain kicked in and said, “Go easy. It’s not that kind of pain. Yes, it hurts, but the shoulder is not going to dislocate!” And my intelligent brain was right, rather than my panicked brain. I went a little easier, assessed what was going on and moved on. And now my shoulder is fine.

So, the take-away here is to know your body. Know the different kinds of pain that you experience. If something is new and scary, get it seen to. Get to know what muscle soreness is like. You’ll recognize it and move on.

Suit your workout to your mood

Side kick in a Turbo Jam workoutOrdinarily, I advocate following an exercise program for the duration. If it’s a 21 Day program, do it for those 21 days, no excuses! 30 days – ditto! But some days you’re angry at the world and need an outlet before you punch your kids, spouse, dog, mailman… A good kickboxing workout is perfect for those days. If you’re feeling lethargic and almost under the weather, then maybe a yoga practice or Pilates session is the best bet. One day a while ago I felt what seemed like a cold coming on and I did an intense yoga practice. I forgot about how my nose and throat felt and focused on my brain! I felt totally fine at the end of the final pose, Shavasana.  Some days I feel flighty and want a super-intense workout to bring me down to earth.

Today I was in a bad mood, so I popped in one of my favorites, Turbo Jam’s Kickin’ Core. There was kicking, punching, work on the stability ball – it had everything I needed! Even some Capoeira for an intense push. All that in 45 minutes! Needless to say, my mood turned around and I was able to face the rest of the day with equanimity. After my shower…

Practice yoga for your body and your mind

triangle_webWhen I was growing up, there was a lady who taught a yoga class on what is now our local PBS station (back then it was Channel 11). She wore a long-sleeved leotard and tights every day. My mom and I tried to follow along, and we did pretty well, except for the really hard arm balances. Lilias spent 27 years on PBS and is still practicing and teaching yoga online. And she’s the norm for yogis. People who regularly practice yoga just seem to not age. They seem healthier and happier than the population as a whole. Why is that?

For starters, yoga is great exercise. The physical benefits include increased strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. And some flow classes can really get your heart rate up too! And now studies have shown that yoga provides mental benefits as well.

Real Simple’s “Getting Fit For Life” blog 1/19/16 (http://www.realsimple.com/health/fitness-exercise/stretching-yoga/yoga-brain?xid=soc_socialflow_facebook_realsimple) cites new research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice that suggests that yoga can help people manage bipolar disorder.

And it makes sense that yoga can help everyone de-stress. “The Mayo Clinic boasts yoga’s power to fight stress and improve moods for all. And the practice can offer a moment to escape from our busy lives. Research shows that mindfulness-based stress reduction, like that at yoga’s core, can help lower anxiety and stress. In a study at the University of California, Los Angeles, participants who practiced yoga for just 12 minutes every day for eight weeks showed a decrease in their immune systems’ inflammation response. When we’re overstressed, our bodies lose the ability to regulate our inflammatory response, which can lead to a long list of health problems, including a greater risk of depression. By lowering our stress levels, we can also lower the risk of depression.”

A study from the University of Illinois has shown that even brief (20 minute) sessions of hatha yoga can improve focus and information retention.

And yoga helps us live in the present moment, which tends to make us happier. So – let’s keep practicing yoga!

Some days are easier than others

No doubt about it – some days are easier than others. One day you’ll do a workout and it’s a piece of cake. A couple of weeks later, I’ll do the same workout – same time of day, same conditions – and it’s really, really hard! I don’t know why, that’s just the way it is. It’s always been that way for me.

And some days I can balance on one foot really well and can hold the position for quite a while. And the next day I can hardly hold it for 2 seconds! I don’t know why – that’s just the way it is. I get the same amount of sleep. My diet is about the same. I usually practice my balance at about the same time every day. The weather is about the same. No reason! And some days after a particular workout my knees are fine. And after I do that workout again, my knees are killing me! Nothing is different – everything is the same and yet my result is totally different. I’m still getting the same fitness benefit, I’m sure, but the immediate physical effect is different. If I ever figure out the reason for this, I’ll pass it along!

Who helps you work out?

booker_helpDoes anyone “help” you exercise? Is it your dog, or your cat, or your kids? It can be a challenge! Of course, we’d all like to be able to exercise without distractions or interruptions, but that doesn’t always happen in real life. With dogs, at least, it’s possible to train them so that they find a cozy bed and take a nap until it’s time for something fun for them. Cats – I’m not so sure. (We had a cat for 17 years and I’m still not sure that he even knew his name! We loved Merlyn and spoiled him rotten, but we figured out pretty quickly that we’re dog people. We just couldn’t figure him out. ) And with kids, I guess they’re trainable too after a certain age. And before that, parents take advantage of nap time. And when they understand the benefits of exercise, maybe they’ll join you in your work out!

But dogs will leave you alone. You just have to make sure that they see more value in lying in that bed than in licking your face when you’re doing exercises on the floor. It takes a while. (Interrupted workouts and lots of dog treats!) But Booker sometimes still has an uncontrollable urge to get in on the action!

Incorporate exercise into your daily life

toe walkThe best way to exercise is to do it and not even realize you’re exercising! Many day-to-day activities can incorporate exercise. So you’ll get a double benefit. You’ll do the task you had to do, and you’ll exercise while doing it! This idea is especially useful when your schedule is so busy you can’t fit another thing in it!

For example – you have to walk to the garage to get in your car, right? Incorporate some toe-heel walking. Place the heel of your foot directly in front of and against the toe of your other foot. You’ve taken a step (okay, a small step) and you’ve exercised your balance. This is actually harder than it might seem, and it really does train your balance.

Another good functional exercise is to get up out of a chair without using your hands. Also harder than it might seem, and you’re strengthening your legs. Try it on one foot, and you’re doing all that and practicing your balance!

Try standing on your tip-toes and leaning to the side. Ever reach for something in a cabinet? That’s what you’re doing with this exercise.

Of course, no matter how you exercise, practice good posture – suck in your stomach and lengthen your spine!

Assess your pain

What kind of pain do I have today?

091215_rtangleI worked out today, but I sure didn’t feel like it. My knee hurts. My hips hurt. But I powered through it, and I’m not sorry.

But, sometimes, we really have to ask ourselves if we’re pushing too hard. Working out 3-5 times a week for me is plenty. Some weeks 3 times, other weeks 5 times. And we really have to be in tune with our own bodies and ask ourselves how much is too much. Working out for the sake of working out, just because it’s on our schedule, sometimes defeats the purpose of that workout.

If I really had an injury to my knee, then I would have to ask myself if doing a regular workout would hurt that knee more. Should I just skip the workout and put ice on the knee? Today, I knew that I was on my feet a lot yesterday and the knee was just feeling that. And the hips always hurt from bursitis. So, I put the pain to the gauge from 1 to 10 – if it’s a 10, maybe I’ll skip the workout and put the heating pad on.

But today was just normal achiness so I worked out. And now I get to feel virtuous!

Don’t sit too long!

A great day for a short walk outside at work!
A great day for a short walk outside at work!

I have bad knees and bad hips. When I sit too long I stiffen up. Do you? I’m feeling fine – working away and then when I get up, the knees lock up and I stumble. Not a pretty sight. And painful.

So I make a point of trying to get up every 15 to 20 minutes or so and take a little walk. Not far – perhaps just to look out the window at the traffic. Or the sun shining on the leaves, or the wind blowing those same leaves. And I try to drink enough water that I have to get up periodically for a washroom break!

I’m lucky enough that I can bring my dogs to work a couple days a week. When they’re with me, I have a terrific excuse to get up – I have to train my dogs! Or take them outside. If it’s nice out, my sister and business partner totally understands if I take them for a short walk.

Another benefit of taking breaks is that I feel fresher and more productive after changing the scenery for just a few seconds. I’m able to get more done without feeling tired.

So taking breaks is good for my work as well as my knees!