How you could be making your back pain worse!

Does your back hurt? Sometimes mine does. And if you do any of these things, you could be hurting your back even more –

1. Do you carry a heavy shoulder bag? Is your purse dragging you down on one side? Do you have so much in your bag that you grunt every time you pick it up? It may be time to clean it out…

Or switch sides. If you alternate sides, it changes the strain on your spine. I can’t switch sides, though. Carrying stuff on my right shoulder just feels wrong. How about you?

Or switch to a backpack. There are some cute ones out there!

Performing other repetitive physical activities the same way can also make your back pain worse.

2. Do you bend over and pick up a heavy load? Don’t do that! It puts pressure on your spine and may push out disks in your lower back.

Instead, squat with your back straight and your chest up to pick something up. Let your legs do the work! Now, I’ll grant you – picking a dog up this way is a little tough. That’s one of the reasons I taught my Tango to jump up so that I can catch him!

3. Do you sit for long periods of time without a break? Or stand in the same position? And then when you move your back feels stiff?

Get up and move around! Take a little walk! Change positions and move at least once an hour!

4. Do you think crunches are the only ab or core exercise worth doing and you hate them?

Think again – there are lots of core exercises that will help your back as well as your abs!

Don’t neglect your core. Your back will thank you!

I’ll give you some great core strengtheners a little later, but to start, try the plank. It’s a great core booster. Start on your hands and knees – hands directly under the shoulders. Now walk your feet back so that your body is in a perfectly straight line. Your rear isn’t sticking up or sagging down. Pull in your stomach and tighten your butt. And hold. Don’t go crazy here. If you can hold plank for a minute, that’s great!

5. Do you feel a twinge when you twist or move funny? If, when you move, anything feels wrong – STOP! Don’t do that! Don’t go any further. Come back slowly to where you started. If anything feels funny, it probably is. If you’re trying to lift or move something big or heavy, get help!

You know your back best. Don’t do anything that feels funny or weird.

Pay attention!

Fitness and mindfulness go hand in hand.

I saw so many examples the other day. I was at an agility trial where hundreds of people and their dogs compete. There’s a lot of down time at agility trials, so it’s a great opportunity to catch up with friends and people you see frequently at trials.

It was before 8:00 in the morning and people were pouring coffee and grabbing pastries, cake, and cookies without thinking about what they were doing. Many had gotten up before 5, and already had breakfast. It was like they were on automatic pilot. When I talk to my agility friends I eat pastries.

And that made me think about other friends.

If snacks are out, they’ll eat them. Cookies, nuts, cheese. It doesn’t matter. If munchies are laid out, they go in the face.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love cake and nuts and cheese as much as the next person.

But, do I really need it?

It’s easy to get caught up in mindlessness. You see others engaging in mindless behavior – whether it’s eating junk food, staring at a screen or engaging in gossip.

Let’s start being mindful!

No, I do not need that piece of cake at 9:00 in the morning. I do not need to be scrolling my Facebook newsfeed for hours on end. I can do better.

Now, that’s not to say that every second of every day must be productive. We all need down time.

But pay attention to what you’re doing. Make a decision. It’s OK to say “For the next 15 minutes I’m going to play a stupid game,” as long as you’re aware of what you’re doing!

And about that cake … I do love cake. I do eat dessert. But, I’m not going to waste calories on a white cake when I don’t love it. If it were chocolate, though…

Don’t abandon strength work!

One legged weighted squat. Don't stop moving!I’ve emphasized the importance of exercise for years. Exercise, along with watching your calories, will help you to lose weight. Many have focused on cardio work since no equipment is needed to get a great workout. I’ve even talked about how much I despise the two days of running I do every week.

But the other days I exercise I focus on building strength. You don’t need free weights or barbells. You don’t need a medicine ball or a kettle ball. You can get a great strength workout with your own body weight. Think of planks and pushups. Yoga and Pilates also use body weight to build strength.

Building muscle mass is great for your metabolism – the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Women – don’t worry! You won’t bulk up!

And when you build strength, you’re doing your bones a favor too. In fact, a study showed that when post-menopausal women participated in a strength training program for a year, their bone density in the hips and spine increased significantly!

In a subject close to my heart, strength training also helps maintain balance and coordination, which helps to prevent falls!

I do have a set of free weights – ranging from 2 pounds to 15. I use the smaller ones for exercises that target the smaller muscles, or when I’m doing lots of repetitions, or for faster exercises. The larger ones I use for bigger muscle groups – like holding for deadlifts or bicep curls. Instead of combining two smaller weights for French curls (to work the tricep muscle), I use a 15-pound weight. You know that I use videos to exercise with (they keep me on track), and the programs that I like the best are the ones that combine cardio and strength work.

Comment below if you’d like to see my favorite strength training exercises.

Effortless movement

Play with your dog to relieve stress!Is effortless movement a goal for you? Do remember fondly when you were able to go from here to there without even thinking about it? Do you want to get back down on the floor and play with your dog or the grandkids?

What’s holding you back? Are your joints bothering you? Your back hurting? Knees? If a doctor hasn’t told you to limit your movement, then chances are you should start moving!

It used to be that when you hurt your back, bed rest was prescribed. Now the medical community is in favor or movement!

And the last thing I wanted to do when my knees hurt was get up and walk.

And when my back and hips were in spasms, I could barely get out of a chair without a heating pad.

But I hung onto a table and stood up, holding that heating pad on my back, and took a couple of steps. Then I put the heating pad down and took a couple more steps. Hunched over, leaning onto my thighs at first. And then I sat down again on that heating pad. But an hour later I made myself do it again. And then next day the pain wasn’t quite as bad. So I moved some more. And the day after that I could go a little further. And a couple days later I didn’t need the heating pad.

You get the idea. That old adage, “use it or lose it” applies! The more you move, the easier it is to move.

I’ve told you that I started running on the treadmill a couple days a week to increase my speed and endurance for agility competition? I still hate it, but I’m getting better at it. And I am getting a little faster. And my knees don’t hurt.

I also learned to strengthen my core and improve my balance to strengthen my back. And I haven’t had spasm (knock on wood!) in a couple of years. If you’d like to improve your balance and strength, a great first step is doing the Week of Balance. Click on the box to the right for your free, downloadable .pdf for your copy.

No home gym!

I’ve talked quite a bit about the fact that I exercise at home. No commute time. No one cares how my hair looks. No makeup. A tatty t-shirt and shorts. And the dogs help.

I live in a tiny little house in a Chicago suburb. Where do I exercise in my tiny house? In the basement. It is finished, and that’s a plus. It’s not mandatory – you can work out anywhere, but finished walls are nice. But my little exercise space doesn’t even have a full ceiling – we had to take out some tiles when work was being done. No overhead lighting – a lamp suffices.

We did put in some kids’ play mats on the floor, and that’s helped my bad knees immeasurably! The exercise space is about 10 feet square. It could even be a little smaller.

That’s really all you need to workout – a free space, good floor and enough light that you don’t feel like you’re in a cave. All the rest is luxury. What is essential, though, are good shoes for working out. Using shoes that don’t support your feet properly can be uncomfortable, make your feet tired, or worse, cause an injury.

I like to work out using DVDs, so I have a TV and DVD player in my space. I’ve mentioned that I lost a lot of weight and gained a lot of strength with 21 Day Fix Extreme. Equipment needed for that is a set of light and medium or heavy free weights and a resistance band. Cheap enough, and easy to come by.  PiYo (Pilates / Yoga plus movement to music – another exercise program I use) really only uses a yoga mat. Some of the workouts use free weights, but they’re not strictly necessary.

And when I’m done, I just go upstairs, strip off my exercise clothes and hop in my own shower. And that’s the best!

What, exactly, is fitness?

Fitness means something different to everyone, I think. It could be that what I think of as being “fit” looks like a total slug to someone else, or a workout maniac to a different person.

I think that being fit means being able to do the things you want to do. I want to run around and play in the backyard with my dogs, so if I’m able to do that, I’m fit. Step it up a notch – I want to compete with my dog in agility, so I run on the treadmill a couple of times a week in addition to other workouts. If I can do that, I’ll consider myself fit.

And when I’m working at the shop, I need to be able to demonstrate products to customers, and that means being on my feet. And when we get in a new product, I need to be able to work with our dogs who model them – and sometimes that means getting down on the ground to keep a puppy’s attention! (Like baby Booker, in his very first modelling gig!)

I want to travel and be able to see the sights on foot. That’s a different level of fitness than seeing the sights from a tour bus. But, some level of fitness is still required to be able to fly to that destination and get on the tour bus. I want to take long hikes and really see the countryside in places I visit. That requires, again, a stepped-up level of fitness. Perhaps one day I’ll visit my cousin in Scotland. And another cousin in New Zealand!

And I want to be able to eat delicious destination foods wherever I travel. If I’m hiking, I figure I can afford the calories!

But, mostly, I just want to be able to be comfortable. I want to not be in pain, and I know that I need to be active for my knees and hips to not hurt. I need to be at a healthy weight, too, for my joints to be healthy. And I want to do the things that I want to do, without even having to think about whether or not I can do them!

What does fitness mean to you?

Lazy? Procrastinator?

Yup, that’s me! My sister says I’m not lazy, but here it is, more than a month since I’ve posted here and I feel terrible about it.

Paper and pen!

I have tried to be consistent, but obviously that’s not working on its own. I need help! So I’m going to be using a real, paper, appointment book, and using pen and ink, to remind me every day to write. I may not post here every day, but I’ll be writing and polishing.

They say that you have to do something consistently 30 times or so before it becomes a habit. The same thing, at the same time every day. I’ve gotten to the point where exercise has become a habit. I don’t enjoy it, but it’s a habit, and I feel like something’s missing if I miss more than a day of exercise. I don’t even have to schedule it on my calendar.

So, I’ll be writing my little heart out every day at 9:00 in the morning for about a half hour.  I don’t know the topics, yet. Very often I just “write off the cuff,” as it were, and that could be the problem. Too often I think to myself, “I should write a blog post,” and then can’t think of a topic… What might work is keeping a topic list and consulting that when nothing occurs to me.

Organization module?

I’ve toyed with the idea of having an “Organization” module – heaven knows I need one that works for me. I’ve tried many, and have been enthusiastic about it at first but it becomes too much and I drift away.

I’ve discovered that part of “Fitness” is having a fit mind – and if I’m completely disorganized, I feel that I’m falling down on my fitness.

So, anyone out there who’s reading this – how would you feel about including “Organization” as part of “Fitness?”

Add strength to your routine

Sumo squat with weightYour exercise routine, that is! As we age, it is increasingly more important to keep your muscles in shape. We don’t want them to atrophy! Yes, cardio work is vital, but it’s been proven that a combination of cardio and strength is most effective for overall fitness.

Body weight exercises are effective!

I have a set of free weights at home, because I work out there. But using your body weight can be effective as a tool also. A push-up is an amazing exercise that works the entire body! And a modified push-up is almost as good. Start with 3 sets of 8 push-ups from your knees. Hands should be directly under your shoulders. Make sure that your stomach is as pulled in as it can be, your body a straight line from knees to head – keep your butt tucked under! I started not being able to do a full push-up. I started on my knees and when that became too easy, I progressed to one leg straight, switching legs periodically. And when I could do that without a problem, I tried full push-ups. Not for a whole set, but maybe one full push-up per set. Push-ups are great for the arms, the back, the abdominal muscles – you name it!

Planks!

Planks and plank variations are great total-body strengtheners too! Stay in that full push-up position for 10 seconds. Work up to 30 seconds. And then a minute! These are especially good for the abdominal muscles.

Uh oh! Triceps!

Our triceps muscles are a major concern for many women, especially. A good triceps exercise that doesn’t need special equipment actually uses a chair. Sit on a chair that doesn’t move (no office chairs here!). Slide forward and support yourself with your hands on the front of the seat, arms close to the body. Slowly bend your elbows and rise back up again. Feel those triceps?

Use that equipment!

If you belong to a gym, or are lucky enough to live somewhere with a fitness room that has equipment, try it out! Those machines can give an awesome workout. Just make sure you get good instruction from someone who really knows how to use them. You don’t want to hurt yourself trying to get fit!

Got sleep?

We all know that sleep is important for our health and fitness. And we don’t get enough of the right kind of sleep. We have trouble falling asleep. We have trouble staying asleep. And then we have trouble getting back to sleep. Lack of sleep affects our health. We’re sluggish, don’t move as much, eat more. Our productivity is diminished.

About sleep

There are three phases of sleep: light, deep and REM (rapid eye movement). We usually start with light sleep and move to deep sleep. Then it’s back to light sleep and REM, when we dream.

The cycle

Deep sleep happens most during the first part of the night usually, and is very hard to wake from.  You’ll spend about a quarter of your night in deep sleep and a quarter in REM, which is easy to emerge from.

Deep sleep helps you feel rested

You can survive on just light sleep and REM, but deep sleep is the phase that helps you feel most rested. It’s what we crave from spa treatments and pills

Pills won’t do it!

But we can’t rely on pills to take us into deep sleep. Too often when we wake from a medicated sleep we feel foggy.

Try a cave!

If you want real deep sleep, turn off all your lights. Make your bedroom a cave.

Meditation works too! If you’re new to meditation and have heard of its benefits, try guided meditation – send me a message and I’ll email you one of the short guided meditations I’ve created in mp3 format. They’re restful and soothing (and free). Just the thing to help you sleep!

Prevent falls! My interview with Kathleen Cameron

Balance for Fitness, Balance for LifeI recently had the privilege of interviewing Kathleen Cameron, MPH, Senior Director of the Center for Healthy Aging, part of the National Council on Aging (ncoa.org), about balance, falls, and health as we age.

Kathy told me that older Americans’ falling is one of the most significant public problems today. It’s estimated that 25 to 33 percent of people over the age of 65 fall every year. About 25% of those who fall are injured. Most common are broken wrists or hips. Femur breaks are also common, even though the femur is one of the biggest bones in the body.

Falls are also the leading cause of traumatic brain injury, and can also exacerbate other problems to the point where the person never recovers, and may even die.

Falls certainly account for many trips to the emergency room, hospital stays and courses of rehabilitation. It’s estimated that falls have cost $31 billion every year.

A descending spiral

The fear of falling alone can restrict activities, although most falls occur at home. People become more isolated and fearful of leaving home, which can lead to depression.Those who suffer from depression can fall even more.

You can see the spiral here. A self-fulfilling prophecy. People fear falling so they don’t do the things which can prevent falls, which causes an increased risk of falling.

Good news

The good news is that many falls can be prevented. Staying active, starting as early in life as possible, can prevent falls. Regular exercise, including strength and balance work, also can prevent falls. (And people give me funny looks when I tell them about my balance work…)

Kathy says even entirely healthy people aged 60 and older are more prone to falls than those 10 to 20 years younger. Changes occur to the body in aging that contribute to falls. As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass and strength decreases. To counteract the effect, it’s even more important to combine strength exercises with our cardio and balance!

Pre-existing conditions

Many older Americans also suffer from chronic conditions – heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes – which also contribute to the risk. And medications that are prescribed for these conditions may have side-effects such as dizziness and drowsiness, which contribute to falls.

Once again, though, there is good news. If a healthy and fit 60-year-old does suffer a fall, his or her recovery may be easier than others’. I told Kathy about a recent fall of my own. I stepped on a rock funny in the dark, fell and skinned my shin. 2 weeks later, it’s all better except for a little scab. Kathy said that it’s probably due to the strength and balance work I do that my injuries were not worse and my recovery was so fast.

Practice helps!

Practicing balance truly does help to reduce the risk of falling. But it needs to be practiced on a regular basis – in fact, daily! Tai Chi is one example of exercise that improves strength and balance, but it must be practiced for at least 50 hours before it produces any benefits. Starting early will help later, but it’s never too late to start!

Yoga has not been studied specifically for reducing falls, but if you’re physically able to do it, it certainly can’t hurt. Balance and strength, which yoga improves, reduce the risk of falls.

Balance is a combination of many factors

Kathy said that balance combines many sensory inputs. Input from the eyes, ears, and touch are all integrated through the brain and output through the muscles. All of your senses combine to affect your balance.

Balance also has a psychological component which may be even more difficult to overcome. Fear of falling is a real problem for many. There is an evidence-based program, “A Matter of Balance,” that the National Council on Aging encourages, helps to overcome the psychological effect of the fear of falling. If you or someone you know has a fear of falling, I urge you to contact your local area Agency on Aging and take advantage of this program. Everyone should be able to enjoy the world as much as they want to!

Shoes make the woman (or man)

shoes are important in balanceFootwear makes a difference in balance. According to Kathy, high heels significantly increase the risk of falling – no surprise there. But going barefoot or in socks at home also increase the risk, due to a higher risk of slipping. Low-heeled shoes with firm, slip-resistant soles like rubber are recommended. And be sure to wear your glasses, even at home!

Vision plays a very big role in balance. Everyone should have their vision checked every year, and have their corrective lenses adjusted. Your home should be properly lit. Don’t sit in the dark! If you can’t reach a burnt-out light bulb, ask for help. Don’t climb on things to change it! Have a clear, well-lit path from the bedroom to the bathroom. There are attractive modern switches that dim or light a path. Use one!

Weighty matters

The obesity epidemic in America is also a factor in falls. People who are obese may be less physically active, they may not be as strong and their balance may not be as good. Kathy said, many obese people who fall feel hopeless and helpless, feeling that nothing can be done for them. Again, increasing the risk of more falls.

Obese people suffer from diabetes and arthritis at a higher rate, which leads to more pain and discomfort, which limits their activity, and increases the number of prescription medicines they’re on, according to Kathy. Some of these medications’ side effects increase the risk of falling. Pain medicine, for example, produces side effects such as sleepiness and dizziness, leading to more falls. Obese people also tend to be more depressed. Anti-depressant medication also increases the risk of falls. More dark spirals.

Common medications may increase your risk

prescriptions may cause fallsMany older Americans are on some form of medication that contributes to falls. Kathy says that even some common prescriptions can increase your risk because they are psychoactive in nature and affect the central nervous system.

Many opioid pain medications increase the risk. So do insomnia medications such as benzodiazepines, and blood pressure medication. As we get older, our bodies don’t flush out medicines as quickly as when we’re young. Dosage could be a factor that increases our risk of falling. Get your medications checked on a regular basis.

Get your orthostatic blood pressure checked – sitting versus standing. If there’s a significant drop when you stand up, that could be a problem in your medications or their dosage. Our bodies’ response to medication changes as we age.

Even over-the-counter medications can also increase your risk of falling. The active ingredient in Benadryl and other antihistamines can lower your blood pressure, causing you to be dizzy and fall. It’s also found in sleep medicine that you can buy over the counter. Non-sedating allergy medicines are recommended, especially for people over 60 and those with a higher risk of falling.

What to do

In terms of exercise, walking alone doesn’t reduce falls, Kathy says. Walking is certainly important for cardiac benefits, but it should be done in conjunction with strength and balance work. The CDC recommends 20 minutes or so of vigorous activity 4-5 times a week, and moderate- or high-intensity strength work 2 days a week that involve all muscle groups.

Before anyone starts an exercise program they should check with their doctor and start slowly. Set realistic goals and build slowly. If you haven’t exercised in the past, the “Stay Active and Independent For Life” (SAIL) program is good for older adults. Then progress to “EnhanceFitness” and “A Matter of Balance.” These are evidence-based programs and are promoted by the National Council on Aging.

On a personal note, I add balance work to my regular exercise, which combines cardio and strength work.

Draft your doctor to help

If you’ve been to the doctor and had a bone density test, and you’re fine – Kathy says don’t be complacent! Falls are caused by many factors. At your next visit, ask your doctor for a falls-risk screening and assessment. Be pro-active and know your risks. Less than half of older Americans talk to their doctors about falls and their risks, not realizing their doctors can help.

What’s our take-away?

Be active and stay active! Be sure to follow the CDC’s guidelines on exercise, and add strength and balance work to your regimen. Contact me for suggestions!

If you’re overweight and fall into the “obese” category, get physical and psychological support. We want you to be healthy!

get your vision checkedTalk to your doctor about fall prevention, especially if you have fallen, have a fear of falling, or feel unsteady on your feet.

Have your prescriptions monitored for interactions and side-effects that contribute to falls.

Get your vision checked once a year and your corrective lenses adjusted accordingly.

And turn your lights on!

Wear safe shoes – there are some cute ones out there… I checked.

Join my Facebook Balance CommunityBalance for Fitness, Balance for Life!

Be sure to subscribe to Fran’s newsletter for news, tips, recipes and (sometimes) fun stuff!

Stay in control of your falls risk. You have the power to prevent a fall!