We've watched the incredible skill and beauty of human physicality at the Rio Olympics. In all sports and in everything we do, it takes the coordinated activity of the nervous system, consisting of billions of nerve cells working together. Of course anything performed effortlessly takes years of dedication and practice. That only happens when we repeatedly stimulate and strengthen neurons with repeated use. Our circuits fire better together. But it's not just in sports that repetition is crucial for skill development, but in all learning.In Beautiful Practice, Frank Forencich suggests that every moment of human life is a rep.
Turns out we are always etching grooves in our brains and nervous system, Forencich says.We are always practicing something, and that very practice helps us become more of that very thing he says.
So this month, whatever you find yourself doing, be it cognitive, spiritual or physical, keep doing your reps.Start with the small stuff, like cleaning up your desk, or walking with better posture. Maybe it's running like the wind, like Bolt, total grace and beauty. A single rep is where it all starts.
Yoga blocks get a new use in this innovative and challenging core workout! Now you don't have to worry about not going to the gym this summer, if that's the case, and get stronger than you thought possible with these core exercises.
I recently had a big birthday ( number- wise ) and was again inspired by renownd nutrionist Liz Applegate, about aging and our changing bodies. This column is on my website, but wanted to share it with you:
Embracing your age and your changing body
There's no end to promises. Every month, on the cover of every health magazine, there's that promise of flat abs in five days, a yoga butt now, and five pounds and three inches off our waists by the end of the week. Research shows that most women actually have lower self-esteem after reading health and fitness magazines, but guys, you are not immune either to the ideals of youth and beauty. Boys and men now account for 5 to 15 percent of patients with anorexia or bulimia. You might not be influenced by an 18-year-old selling age-reversal face cream, but many women in their 40s, 50s and beyond focus on unachievable weight loss and body image goals. Coming to terms with biology, preventing chronic disease and understanding how fat cells are impacted as women age is the focus of a new program called Embrace Your Range at the University of California at Davis, led by Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition.
"Body fat shifts as women age," Applegate said. "We still have that prehistoric wiring to store fat." Although there are at least 10 genes that regulate fat distribution in women and men, once a women turns 40, the fat that was once in the hips and thighs in her 20s and 30s shifts towards the belly. As she approaches menopause in her 50s, even without a change in body weight, abdominal fat increases due to a decrease in estrogen. Applegate helps the women in her program find acceptance through a diet and exercise plan that accounts for the changes that accompany age.
Although there is no halting the aging process, physical activity is one aspect that women can control with a balanced exercise program. The Women's Healthy Lifestlye project, for example, is a strong example of the benefits of lifestyle changes on avoiding weight around menopause. In this four-and-a-half-year study, the intervention group participated in various sessions, including recipe modification, social support, restaurant eating, food labeling, a 1,300-calorie reduced-fat diet and physical activity goals of 1,000-1,500 calories per week, along with ongoing consultations. Although this group only lost about two pounds, their waist sizes decreased by almost an inch. The control group gained about 5.3 pounds.
A look at Healthy People 2010 data reports that less than 30 percent of women engage in regular exercise, and only 17 percent engage in strength training, both well-documented benefits to women with menopausal symptoms. Many women in Applegate's program, prior, through their logs, had reported that they weren't strength training. In another study, postmenopausal women were expending 130 calories per day less than premenopausal women, tipping their positive energy balance towards dreaded extra pounds.
The eating plan in Embrace Your Range emphasizes increased protein intake as well as fiber derived from fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains rather than supplements. Many of the women in her study weren't getting the recommended 2010 Dietary Guidelines for protein, particularly in the morning, as they skipped breakfast. The guidelines allocate 25 percent of the plate to lean sources of protein, or about 70-90 grams a day. Three pieces of fruit and three cups of vegetables with three different colors are emphasized for enough fiber to control body mass and perhaps also prevent Alzheimer's. There is some evidence that dairy, such as yogurt, may block fat storage, as well as play an important role in preventing osteoporosis, says Applegate, as half of all women are prone to the disease. It also turns out that certain foods, such as empty calories and alcohol, prompt fat cells to fill up, creating more of a fat droplet in the cell. But those very same fat cells are willing to shrink with enough exercise.
More than 80 percent of the participants in the program reported feeling more energetic on the eating plan, enjoyed the camaraderie and improved body image. Her program was presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's 15th annual Health & Fitness Summit in Anaheim, Calif.
My friend Claire is helping whip her new beau into shape, hitting the gym five days a week. Claire also has him doing dozens of sit-ups so he’ll get a movie-star six-pack. For most people the first thing that comes to mind when you say “abs” is one muscle—the rectus abdominis. She means well, but doing hundreds of sit-ups are hard on your back because of devastating loads to your spine. In 2008, there were 3.4 million emergency room visits—an average of 9,400 per day, for back problems, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Back problems are the fifth most common reason for all doctor visits in the US. Trading the sit-up for safer and more effective abdominal work can help spare this outcome.
Dr. Stuart McGilll, a professor of spine mechanics and chair of the Department of Kinesiology at The University of Waterloo, points out that spine disks only have so many bends in them before they become damaged. Keep the bends for essential tasks, such a tying shoes, rather than using them in ab training, he recommends. The Army agrees. In 2011, after 30 years, the Army’s Physical Readiness and Combat Tests deemed the sit-up test as an ineffective assessment of a person’s core in relation to their battle strength.
In sports that require repeated hyperextension—like gymnastics, diving, volleyball, weight lifting, golf, football, tennis and rowing—the incident of back injury is 11 percent, according to the International Journal of Applied and Basic Sciences. In football lineman, it may be as high as 50 percent. The types of injuries vary with age. In adolescent athletes, nearly 70 percent of lumbar spine injuries occur when forces are exerted on skeletally immature spines, whereas the majority of adult back injuries are related to muscle strain and disc disease.
If you want a stronger, tighter core, instead of full sit-ups, try the traditional crunch or many variations of a curl-up. Lifting your head and shoulders a few inches (around 30 degrees) off the floor and holding briefly is a good exercise to challenge the abdominal muscles while imposing a minimal load to the lumbar spine
The four layers of abdominal muscles are like a woven basket encompassing the belly. The long vertical rectus abdominis runs vertically from the sternum to the pubis crest and is trained when you do an exercise such as the crunch. The external and internal oblique muscles rotate and side-bend the trunk. The deepest layer, right below your belly-button, named the transversus abdominis, plays a significant role in stabilizing the trunk, specifically the spine, during all movement. All the abdominal muscles hold in our organs and help us in forced exhalation, as in coughing, urinating or giving birth. But the most critically important function throughout the day—writes Judith Lasater, Ph.D., P.T., author of Yoga Abs Moving From Your Core—is stabilization, to keep the back free of pain and the abdomen strong.
Very few sports require fully flexing the spine, as in a full sit-up. Rather, the core transmits power from the hips through the torso as in pitching a ball or running. Here, the abdominals work together with muscles in the lower back, hips and pelvis, known as the core, stabilizing the spine. The core and spine can handle large forces vertically, but not in extreme flexion, as in sit-ups, twisting or bending.
For example, a 154-pound man standing upright has 154 lbs. of pressure on the L3-L4 disc, which the spine can easily handle. Sitting and bending forward 20 degrees, the pressure on L3-L4 bumps up to 264 lbs. In the bent-knee sit-up the pressure almost triples, up to 396 lbs. Simply modifying the sit-up to a partial curl-up, with the head and shoulders lifting a few inches off the floor, eliminates these huge compression forces on the discs.
In a June 2009 New York Times article titled “Core Myths”, the marginalized view of the core being “abs “was challenged by McGill. He compares the spine to a fishing rod supported by muscular guy wires. If all the wires are tensed equally, as in the whole lumbo-pelvic-hip complex, the rod stays straight. A core exercise program should emphasize all the muscles that girdle the spine, not just the abs, to ensure balanced strength. In his lab, he’s demonstrated how an average sit-up can exceed the limit known to increase the risk of back injury in normal American workers.
The full sit-up is three muscle actions: neck flexion, spine flexion and hip flexion. It’s important to be able to sit up, no doubt, but repeated sit-ups do place hundreds of pounds of compression on the lumbar disks. Hooking or holding the feet down stresses the low back even more. Ironically, the bent-knee sit-up has been taught to minimize the action of the hip flexor in the sit-up, though it is not correct. The abs can only curl the trunk. The sit-up is a strong hip flexor exercise (used in climbing stairs or skipping), whether the knees are bent or straight.
McGill says that the following three exercises, done regularly, can provide a well-rounded, core-stability program: practice the curl-ups, learn how to do a side-plank (lie on your side and raise yourself in a straight line) and try the bird-dog (kneel on your hands and knees, legs hip-width apart, raise an alternate arm and leg to hip height and hold for four or six seconds).
Claire tried all three, smitten over both the planks and her slim new guy.
In the wonderful ending from Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” he lists certain things that make life worth living: Groucho Marx, the second movement of the Juniper Symphony, Marlon Brando. For me, the smell of morning coffee that my boyfriend makes first thing has to be on that list. Ah. There is now more good news on the positive effects of coffee on health, and the once held belief that coffee dehydrates isn’t so.
It turns out your morning Joe not only gets you going and boosts alertness, but is as hydrating as water. That’s good news for those 1.6 billion cups of coffee enjoyed worldwide on any given day.
In a new study from the University of Birmingham in the UK , participants drank about three and one-third cups of coffee per day for three days in a row. Then they drank the same amount of water for three consecutive days. Controlling for physical activity and food and fluid intake, the researchers compared a wide range of markers (total body water, body mass measurements, kidney function, urine volume, and blood values) and found no significant difference in the subjects’ hydration status when they were drinking coffee versus water.
Although the study sample is small (50 adult men who were habitual coffee-drinkers), its findings echo similar previously collected data regarding the relationship between moderate caffeine consumption and hydration.
It’s important to stay hydrated and drink fluids throughout the day, and water is still a good first choice. After all, water is essential for life, as it transports nutrients, regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, helps preserve cardiovascular function and aids with weight management.
A typical adult needs anywhere from 11 cups of water per day for females to 16 cups for males, according to The Institute of Medicine Water Intake Recommendation. Diet, ( i.e. that bunch of grapes, or apple, full of water) physical activity level, age and environmental conditions (such as humidity) all effect proper hydration levels. For example, colder days impact urine output, and more intense activity increases water loss.
However, during these cold months, remember not to go overboard on the hot chocolate, cream, and mocha’s just yet. It is the coffee itself, not just the caffeine, that is so unique.
Coffee contains hundreds of different chemical compounds. The Coffea plant’s roasted berries, ( they’re not actually beans), has a very strong antioxidant capacity, more so than blueberries or broccoli. It’s benefits are many, including a positive impact on memory, recently published in Nature Neuroscience. Coffee drinkers compared to non-coffee drinkers are also protected from dementia and Parkinson’s as they age, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancers and stroke.
While having lots of coffee isn’t recommended for everyone, for some of us, it’s a great way to start a perfect day.
In the 70’s, Dr. William Haskell, Ph.D., and his mentor Dr. Samuel Fox were trying to determine how strenuously heart rate patients could exercise. In preparation for a medical meeting, they culled data from about 11 published studies from which people of all ages had been tested to find maximum heart rate. The subjects were non-specific: some were under 55, some smokers, and some with heart disease. Many years later, Haskell quipped that they pretty much drew a line through the points to extrapolate data. The formula became entrenched with doctors, a heart-rate monitor industry, and athletes looking to train specifically for endurance events.
One of the problems with the 220-age formula as a diagnostic tool for ischemic heart disease is that it underestimates heart rate max in older adults. Too low averages mean that some cases of disease are missed, because the intensity of the exercise test is not sufficiently high enough for symptoms to manifest.
A more accurate formula is 208-(0.7 x age ). This was the best measure, according to a 2011 paper published in the National Institutes for Health, and also noted in a recent study published in Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. The same goes for a study published in March 2001 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, based on 19, 230 healthy people.
Now we need a little more math for an even newer formula: for women. Previous research has been on men. For the first time, we know what is normal for women. It turns out that we have a lower peak rate than men. The new formula is 206 minus 88 percent of age. Martha Gulati, M.D., assistant professor of both medicine and preventive medicine, and a cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine was the lead author of a study based on 5437 healthy women who participated in St. John Women Take Heart Project. Recently published in the journal Circulation, Gulati says, “Women are not small men. There is a gender difference in exercise capacity a woman can achieve. Different physiologic responses can occur. “ The results are important twofold. Men and women typically use their peak rate multiplied by 65 to 85 percent to determine how hard they should be exercising to get results. At 50, the original formula gave a peak rate of 170 beats per minute for men and women. At 50, the new formula for a women is 162. “Now they can actually meet their age-defined rate, says Gulati. If it is abnormal, any red flags can be detected for increased risk of heart problems.
The most accurate way of measuring heart rate max is via a cardiac stress test, monitored by an ECG, which requires you to push your body and heart to the very limit. It’s not really necessary for anyone simply wanting to exercise for health. Use the estimates as a guide. Our maximum heart rate goes down for everyone equally as we age, as older hearts simply can’t beat as fast, but that doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying.
Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Specialist