Good form in exercise

Good form for the win!

Last week I gave you tips for maximizing the effectiveness of your workouts, and one of them was to make sure you have good form. So why is good form in exercise important? 

This morning I did my Pilates workout with a resistance band, and noticed that the instructor was continually reminding the class of the proper technique. Breathe in when you do this, make sure your abdominals are pulled in, and make sure your back is straight. Why is it important to have good form?

Avoid injury

First, and probably, most important, it’s important to maintain good form in exercise so you don’t injure yourself. I’ve talked about avoiding back pain by tightening my core – there it is. Make sure your back is straight and not twisted? Again, good form. When you’re exercising with good form, you avoid strains, sprains, tears, twinges, and all sorts of nasty things. When you’re doing squats, making sure that you can see your shoelaces when you look down ensures that you’re protecting your knees. And that’s something we all need to keep in mind for our healthy aging.

Focus on targeted muscle groups

When you have good form when you exercise, you know that you’re targeting what you’re supposed to be targeting. You’re using the muscle groups that you’re supposed to be using. And you’ll get the maximum benefit from the exercise. Like this morning, during my Pilates workout, the instructor emphasized during a few of the exercises that the shoulders should be back and down to work them properly. I’ve had experience with shoulder injuries, and the last thing I want is to re-injure the joint. So I made extra sure that I followed the instructor’s direction.

Optimize time

When we really focus on having good form in exercise, we’re truly getting maximum benefit from minimum time. I don’t have time to waste and neither do you! So let’s get strong with good form.

Be Like a Scout and Be Prepared

No procrastination, for a change!

I’m writing this article on Tuesday, and (hopefully) it will be posted on Friday. Wait – what happened to procrastination? Doesn’t everyone write to deadline? Well, I don’t usually like to work that way, and especially this week. There’s supposed to be a line of severe thunderstorms passing through my area tonight. When we get those narrow lines of storms, there’s a good chance of damage. A few years ago when one of those straight line storms passed through we were without power for days. So, in case the worst comes to pass, I’ll be like a scout and “be prepared.”

Be like a scout and be prepared

Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts about a hundred years ago, said “that all Scouts should prepare themselves to become productive citizens and to give happiness to other people. He wanted each Scout to be ready in mind and body for any struggles, and to meet with a strong heart whatever challenges might lie ahead.” To be prepared for life and live happily and without regret, knowing that you have done your best. That’s what the Scout motto means.

I can’t do anything about the storms. But I can be proactive and try to think of things I can do ahead of time to get ready in case, for example, the power goes out. Like, write this article. I’ll make sure my phone is charged and have a paperback book ready to be read. We always make sure that there’s plenty of food and water available.

Meditation for calming

If you're feeling anxious and stressed, meditation could help.

I’ll probably do a guided meditation this afternoon to try and calm my nerves. Storms make me anxious, because of all the “what ifs.” And while I try to be as prepared as possible, I know that there’s probably something that I will miss.

What can you do to get ready?

You know that life throws a bunch of crap at you every single day. Some storms are worse than others. How can we stay strong and resilient, and be like a scout and stay ready for those disruptive storms? 

The steps to prepare

First, know yourself. If you’re generally a nervous person like I am, then take some extra time every day to center yourself. Know that you’re strong, you’re reliable, your family and friends are there for you.

Then try to think of the projects you’ve got going. What could happen if they were disrupted? If there’s something you can do with those projects to prepare, do it. Or if your action could take multiple days, plan out your strategy.

My to-do lists are on paper. They’re always with me and staring me in the face, unlike the black screen when my phone’s not on. 

So, when storms approach, be like a scout and be prepared.

Reach your biggest goals one step at a time

Last time we talked about stuff you had to get done, no matter what. For those tasks, you just have to buckle down and do it. But what about your big goals. How can you achieve the things that there’s no deadline for, or that you’d really like to have happen but hadn’t started yet? It can seem overwhelming to have pie-in-the-sky goals, but they’re really necessary. And you can reach your biggest goals one step at a time.

We all want big things, and we usually want them as fast as possible. But the best, most life-changing goals take time. We have to plan the steps that it takes to get to the ultimate goal. Why not just dive in? Because for many goals, we’ll never get there. And for the goals that we do reach, they may be set too low and there may be further achievements that we’d miss out on.

Take the time to plan

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas spent eight years away from her sport. But now she’s back in training. In fact, she recently qualified for the U.S. Championships with hopes of making it to the Paris games this year. She stepped away after the Rio games because the training, then the Games themselves, took so much out of her. She said, I went through hell x2 and i lost my joy, i lost my passion, my fire, my love, and then myself.”

So, then what happened? How did Douglas find her passion in gymnastics again? She said that she did a lot of reflecting and journaling. Then when she decided to go back to training she just took a deep breath and stepped into the gym. “Remember, you don’t have to get it all done in one day. Take baby steps — I definitely did.”

One step at a time

And that’s good advice for anyone with a big goal. Douglas knew what it took to achieve success. And she knew that it was a lot. So she took it slow. One step at a time. That’s what we all should do when faced with a really big goal. For me, to reach the goal of a side plank with my leg raised, I modified the move, got stronger, and finally was able to do the full pose. Planning for one step at a time keeps you motivated to continue.

Break it down

Consider that goal, and everything that it will take to achieve it. Then think about the logical steps to take to get there. All of them. Write it down. And then plan – concisely, every step, every milestone, with deadlines. Use your “Get It Done” Guide to help you plan! Then do it. And when you reach a milestone, celebrate! That’s what keeps you motivated to continue toward that big goal.

That’s what Olympic champions do.

Not feeling it

After 325 articles about fitness, exercise, motivation, time management, healthy aging, balance, and other aspects of my world, I sat down to write something new and fresh and uplifting. But I just was not feeling it. Had I covered it all? I refuse to believe it. I just was not motivated to delve deeper.

Outside and Inside Forms of Motivation

So that leads me to the controlled and autonomous forms of motivation. Yes. Another research study! But this one is completely relevant to fitness and how we approach it. Controlled motivation is determined by outside forces. If it’s raining, we’re motivated to close the window. If my dogs are jumping on me, I’m motivated to put in another few minutes of training. I see controlled motivation as cause and effect. If you know you’re supposed to exercise and you’re not feeling it, controlled motivation is not going to cause you to change into workout gear and run. 

Outside motivation doesn’t last

Well, perhaps if you’ve eaten an entire candy bar, you may feel motivated to exercise for a while. But that candy bar is not going to inspire you to develop the healthy habit of a regular exercise program. Working out because you feel guilty or bloated today is not going to remind you to exercise in two days.

This controlled motivation goes away when the immediate need is satisfied. Once you don’t feel the bloat, you’re not likely to lace up those sneakers.And you know that exercise is not effective unless you do it several times every week. You won’t get all the benefits that exercise offers, like weight control, stronger heart and bones, better cognition and mood, and improved memory, unless it becomes a habit.

Healthy habits are autonomous motivation

And autonomous motivation creates healthy habits. That is, motivation that comes from within. So, even though you’re not feeling it, you go exercise. You brush your teeth twice a day no matter what. Every time you get in the car, you put your seatbelt on. You know that your teeth and gums stay healthy only if you brush twice a day. Putting your seatbelt on is not just the law, it saves lives. Sound familiar?

That autonomous motivation keeps me lacing up my sneakers 4 or 5 times a week because exercise has become a habit. So, even though I’m not feeling it, I still do it. I know that I’ll be in a better mood. And even though I may not realize it right away, I’ll be able to remember more. My sleep quality will be better.

So, even though you’re not feeling it, exercise anyway.

People in recovery turn to fitness

Why people who are recovering turn to exercise for motivation

First off, this is a no-judgment zone. People who are recovering need our support, not our opinions. It’s all too easy to try substances that your friends try, then when it’s too late, discover that it’s nowhere near as easy to stop that substance. People who are recovering absolutely require other outlets for their interests. They need all the tools that the world can give them for that recovery. I learned that people in recovery turn to fitness which can provide the distraction and motivation they need.

Fitness is a community

Movement provides “transformational” mental and physical health benefits, according to Scott Strode, founder of a national “sober active community.” Fitness also brings people who are different in many other ways, together.

Physical and mental benefits

We know that exercise provides benefits from improved health, to better cognition, to more quality sleep. It also improves mood and reduces the risk of depression. But according to a 2023 study, people who jogged and did weight training, who were also being treated for addiction, were more likely to reduce their substance use than those who were not active.

From the results of this study, there were non-quantitative physical, emotional and brain-based benefits that led to positive change. We’ve seen before that exercise can produce that “runner’s high,” even though we’re not running. Exercise encourages the growth of brain cells, andl that leads to the release of dopamine. That mood boost is yet another reason for why people in recovery turn to fitness.

Fitness provides more positive outlets

Strode says that “movement and exercise helped him redirect subconscious neural pathways related to early childhood trauma at the root of his substance use.” Other studies have shown that exercise leads to an increase in the brain’s neuroplasticity, or the brain’s way of reorganizing thought patterns. This can help someone who’s recovering to find other, more positive, outlets.

And fitness provides routine

A fitness routine can also help someone who’s recovering find structure and grounding. We’ve talked about how to start (and continue) a fitness routine, to form the healthy habit of exercise at any age. It’s another good reason why people in recovery turn to fitness.

Sparking joy in exercise

I’ve said it before: “I don’t like to exercise.” And yet I do it 4 or 5 times a week. Every week. For years, now. You’re probably saying, “She might say she doesn’t like it, but she does. Deep down, she likes it.” No, I don’t. While I don’t exactly dread putting on my exercise clothes, once I’m in them and into a workout, I just keep going. And it’s true, if I really hated it, I wouldn’t do it. No amount of positive mindset-changing can do that. One kind of exercise, though, has always tried to elevate that positive feeling. Jazzercise’s mission is to spark joy in exercise.

Changing with the times

You may say that Jazzercise is outdated. You tried it years ago And, while it’s true that this style of exercise started in the 1970’s, it’s still popular, and not just among people who did it when it was first introduced. Jazzercise centers around a dance-based aerobics routine, but now there’s a strength training component. The music has changed with the times, as has much of the choreography, so Jazzercise is not your mother’s workout.

If it’s not fun, you’re not going to do it.

As I’ve said many times, if exercise isn’t fun, you’re not going to do it. Even if a certain workout has every single benefit you want – like instant weight-loss, a fix for your memory, and getting rid of flabby arms – if you don’t enjoy doing it, you’re not going to do it beyond a few days. 

So, I say if something can spark joy in exercise, by all means, do it. If Jazzercise was your thing back in the ‘80’s but you haven’t thought about it in years, get back into it. Classes are streaming now, in addition to classes that you can attend in person. 

Lots of options

And if Jazzercise isn’t your thing but you’d like other choreography-based workouts, there are plenty available. Search YouTube for instructors and music you like before you sign up for pricey classes. Or perhaps a gym near you will let you try out a class.

While it may take a lot to spark joy in exercise, you can find enjoyment in it. Any exercise you do is better than none. You’ll get physical as well as mental benefits, and it’s essential for your healthy aging. If you like dressing up, you can do that to your heart’s content too. Just be prepared to sweat!

An easy fix for weight loss?

Is this the easy fix everyone’s been waiting for?

I was a fat kid. I wrote that for my “About” page for this blog lots of years ago. Back when I was that fat kid, I wanted that easy fix for weight loss, that pill to swallow that would make me skinny. I went on diet after diet, trying to lose weight the easy way, by cutting out way too much food. But that’s what we did back then. When I was in high school I was finally sick and tired of being bullied. I wanted to get into the exclusive dance club. So I did it the hard way. I lost weight by watching everything that went into my mouth and by jumping rope for hours on end on the cement slab behind the house. The weight came off and stayed off all these years later.

Everyone’s on Ozempic

I had a dentist appointment last week, and she asked if I was on any medication, one of the standard questions. I gave my standard answer, “No.” And she said that many of her patients are on Ozempic to lose weight. People seem to think it’s the easy fix for weight loss that I wanted when I was younger.

Would I take it?

And that got me thinking. Would I take it now to lose weight? I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to think my answer would be, “No.” Ozempic is not a drug that’s listed for weight loss. It’s a drug for Type 2 Diabetes. Long-term effects haven’t been studied in otherwise healthy people who take it to lose weight. So, what could it be doing to healthy people’s systems? Rhetorical question, there. And when you stop taking the drug, many people gain the weight back, as with any weight-loss drug.

This writer won’t

I read an article by a writer who’s struggled with their weight their whole life. He’s not at his “ideal” weight, but he’s not going to be taking Ozempic any time soon either. It’s not because it’s a drug, or could be detrimental to his health. He refuses to conform to what society accepts. Good for him!

The right way to breathe

Breathing is something we take for granted, every minute of every day. We only think about it when it becomes hard – for example, if we’re ill. (Like during my cold last week.) And we breathe harder during certain activities, when we exert ourselves running up the stairs, for instance. And we still don’t think about it. That’s pretty amazing, if you ask me. But, is there a right way to breathe?

Air is a life-giving resource that we don’t even have to think about receiving. During our normal, every-day, tasks oxygen comes in and carbon dioxide goes out and we don’t have to do a thing. But when we exercise, we should be conscious of our breath to maximize the benefits we want to receive. When our lungs are working properly, our performance is optimized and we can achieve the other benefits that exercise gives us. So, what’s the right way to breathe during exercise to get the most out of it?

What happens when you breathe?

When you breathe, air travels through lots of tubes and byways on its way to your lungs. In your lungs, the air ends up in little sacs called “alveoli.” Each alveolus is surrounded by tiny little capillaries which drop off carbon dioxide and pick up oxygen and take it through your bloodstream. The primary purpose for breathing is actually to get rid of carbon dioxide rather than to get oxygen.

When you exercise, levels of carbon dioxide increase in your bloodstream, leading to the need to breathe faster to get rid of the excess. Exercise can increase respiratory efficiency but it doesn’t actually lead to increased lung capacity.

When you breathe shallowly, this can lead to additional stress. If you pay attention to your breathing and notice that you’re just using the upper part of your chest, this is shallow breathing. You’re not getting the oxygen you need, and you’re also not getting rid of enough carbon dioxide, contributing to a panic mode. That’s why people say to “breathe deeply” to help you calm yourself. Change your mindset just a little to breathe from your diaphragm and you’ll be calmer and get more out of your workout.

Diaphragmatic breathing

The best way to feel what you’re supposed to be doing is if you try this lying down (no pillow). Breathe in through your nose and feel your lower ribs rise (put your hands there to feel it more). Breathe out through your mouth and feel your lower ribs fall. Using the diaphragmatic breathing technique during exercise, exhale for the exertion and inhale on relaxation.

When you run

My breathing always increases when I run, and sometimes I find myself breathing through my mouth only. Experts indicate that doesn’t really matter – focus on the thing that makes running easier and more effortless. Some experts recommend varying the number of steps you take during inhalation and exhalation so that you’re not always on the same foot. Keep in mind that there’s really no one right way to breathe during exercise. Just be sure to breathe and not hold your breath. Again, focus on the thing that makes your exercise more effortless, and your breathing will follow.

A strong core eases back pain

Having back pain is the worst. You can’t do anything when your lower back hurts. Upper back pain is bad, too, but movement is usually at least possible. When your lower back hurts, you can’t walk comfortably. Forget about standing up when you’re sitting. And when you’re standing you can’t sit back down. And leaning over or bending is impossible. I speak from experience. Up until a few years ago I had sciatica pain that was unbearable for weeks at a time. The sciatica pain blended with the hip bursitis pain on occasion to create spasms of pain and breathlessness. I don’t like to think about that time. Then I read some studies that led me to work on my core. These studies indicated that having a strong core eases back pain. And in some cases prevents it entirely. Less pain means we can be happier every day.

Physical therapists agree

I still get newsletters from Athletico, where I did physical therapy for my knee a number of years ago. The latest newsletter (February 2024) highlights the correlation between a strong core and lessening back pain, in fact. “The goal of core stabilization exercises is to improve your abdominal strength and increase the stability in your lower back or lumbar spine, which can help alleviate aches and pains you’re currently experiencing.” So the key to easing back pain is not pain medication or even rest, it’s simple core exercises. This is great news for our healthy aging regimen.

The simplest core stabilization exercise

Renegade row - a great core stabilization exercise.

A simple core stabilization exercise is the plank, done on your forearms or the palms of your hands and your toes. Look straight ahead, tighten your core and keep your back in line. Don’t sink down or have a rounded back. If even a forearm plank is difficult for you, try an incline plank with your hands on a table, your kitchen counter or even a wall. As you get stronger, you can go lower. And you can add variations, like the “Renegade Row,” which challenges your core even more.

Other good core stabilization exercises include “Dead Bug,” which I talked about just a couple of weeks ago, and a simple pelvic tilt.

My goal, when I started working on my core, certainly was not to get a “six-pack.” I’ll be happy if no one else ever sees my abs. They’re strong and my back doesn’t hurt, and that’s all that matters to me. A strong core eases back pain for life. It doesn’t take long, if you’re consistent, and it’s certainly worth the few minutes to do the exercises most days.

Eat more protein

We all want to live a life that’s long and healthy. And part of our healthy aging is making sure we get the right nutrition. Boring, I know. But with a little forethought we can plan our meals and snacks so that they’re fun, tasty and nutritious. Even with that planning, though, it’s common to not get enough protein. Highest on the list of protein-rich foods are meats and yogurt. But many seniors skip the meat, perhaps because of budgetary or other concerns. But the fact is, protein will help us keep up our energy. And we need to eat more protein.

Why we need to eat more protein

The “formal” government recommendation for protein is the same for all adults age 19 and up, but recent research has shown that we older folks probably need more. We know that as we age our muscle mass declines – by up to half. And, as we age, we have more chronic ailments, many of which affect our ability to process the protein we eat efficiently. Why do we need protein? Simply put, protein can help us build and maintain muscle mass. And it also replaces the proteins that chronic systemic inflammation depletes.

We need a LOT or protein

According to the official recommendation, we need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (1 kg is about 2.2 pounds). I did the math, and I need about 45 grams of protein every day. That’s a lot of meat. But other foods have plenty of protein as well. Plan your meals and snacks with protein in mind. Breakfast is a perfect time for an egg. And hard boiled eggs are also great snacks.

More high-protein snack ideas

If you’re feeling hungry in the afternoon (for me, about a half hour before my workout), have some almonds or pistachios. They’re high in protein, and they taste good. Greek yogurt is also high in protein. Something I don’t often think of as a great snack is jerky – but it’s tasty and full of protein. Dry roasted edamame beans is another possibility. Another great snack is an apple or stick of celery with a bit of peanut butter.

When doing some reading, I found a recipe for roasted chickpeas that sounds amazing. For a main dish, try lentil soup.

The point here is, if we need to eat more protein, we’re not limited to roasting a chicken or broiling a steak. Sure, those are great, but we thrive on even more choices. And there are plenty of protein choices.