Lately, I have been using my treadmill and elliptical trainer with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. The reason? I just finished reading the book “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” by John J. Ratey, MD
I had seen enough statistics over the years that demonstrate how helpful exercise is for just about any condition known to man, be it hypertension, diabetes, heart disease ….. you name it. I had also seen data on the effects of exercise on some mental disorders such as depression and ADHD. But I have never seen all the evidence combined in one place on the profound positive effects that exercise, mainly aerobic exercise, has on brain function.
I grew up with the belief that every cell on our body renews itself except for the brain cells. You are born with so many, and it only goes downhill from there. This has been soundly disproven. The brain can grow new cells and make new connections but it needs some MIRACLE GRO fertilizer, and that fertilizer is EXERCISE.
I cannot recommend this book more. There are some on the Amazon book review who consider this book “really, really boring” since it reads like a textbook. Well …. I could not put it down. There is a line in this book that just struck me:
“If you are not busy living, your body is busy dying.”
As a MELT instructor for almost 5 years, the subject of ‘fascia’ (sometimes also referred to as connective tissue) has been of great interest to me. I have witnessed firsthand the effects the MELT techniques have on my students, whether they are in my classes as one of many or get instructions from me one-on-one. Yes, I had very few people over those years that I could not reach with MELT but I would put this number no higher that 1 out of 100.
I also like to educate my participants about the properties of fascia, what it is, what it does and why it is so important to keep it healthy. I have come up with analogies ranging from body stocking to orange to panty hose, and I am still searching.
I recently got some unexpected help. Europe, and Germany in particular, is way ahead of the curve in research of fascia, and I was made aware of a broadcast from a German television station on that very subject. Not only does this video (with English subtitles) explain in very simple ways what fascia is, it also shows the possibilities that are opening up for the treatment of many chronic pain conditions.
If you have 30 minutes, please do yourself the favor to watch it. And then just get on your roller or get out those little balls and just make your fascia happy. Here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ikx-0s8y480.
A few days ago I attended a short seminar at Duke Raleigh Hospital by the shoulder specialist Dr. Kevin Speer who talked about the aging shoulder.
I had observed that many people are suffering from shoulder problem as they are getting older, often for no apparent reason, and I was looking forward to the talk in hopes of an explanation. I was not disappointed.
Dr. Speer stated that the shoulder will develop bone spurs and a degradation of the muscles and connective tissues as an inevitable results of getting older. That does not necessarily mean that this leads to pain but it often does. Shoulder pain is typically referred pain, meaning that the place where it hurts is not necessarily where the problem is. With shoulder issues, the pain is often down the upper arm or in the front of the shoulder.
He had a number of suggestions for maintaining healthy shoulders to the degree possible. Good nutrition was his first recommendation. The following list is taken from the www.webmd.com for an anti-inflammatory diet.
· Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
· Minimize saturated and trans fats.
· Eat a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish or fish oil supplements and walnuts.
· Watch your intake of refined carbohydrates such as pasta and white rice.
· Eat plenty of whole grains such as brown rice and bulgur wheat.
· Eat lean protein sources such as chicken; cut back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods.
· Avoid refined foods and processed foods.
· Spice it up. Ginger, curry, and other spices can have an anti-inflammatory effect.
On the supplement list, his recommendation was for fish oil. He also suggested a heat (before exercise) and cold (after exercise) therapy when some pain has already crept in. As an exercise maintenance routine, rotator cuff exercises to strengthen the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder should become part of the workout.
When shoulders are beginning to hurt, he looked at it from two perspectives: the first is whether the pain goes away with rest and avoidance of triggers, the second whether pain starts interfering with a good night’s rest.
In the first case, it can be managed with ice, maybe some anti-inflammatory medication and rest. Some exercises may have to be avoided for good such as overhead presses or push-ups. Downward dogs should be left to the dogs as well. The elbows should always be in the field of vision.
However, when shoulder pain interferes with sleep, a visit to the doctor becomes necessary. Even then, physical therapy may help, and Dr. Speer stated that he was a great fan of it. Only when all else fails, there is surgery which he views as the last option.
So here I am, a newly minted Sports Performance Professional. I have studied the excellent NASM material to enhance sports performance and am eager to apply my knowledge.
As I read and studied and thought about it, it struck me how applicable and modifiable those concepts are to every client. We all need to generate power in our lives at one point or other. The challenge in training is to stay on the right side of the line where the benefits of the exercises justify possible risks.
I had applied ‘controlled unstable’ environments throughout all my training. I saw it work, and now I see the underlying rationale why that is so. As with training for power, I try to apply the same concept.
My latest and dearest toys are sandbells which I have in ranges from 4 to 12 lbs. in 2 pound increments. Those are now happily flying across the studio. We slam, and we catch, and we bounce them off the Bosu. We work on grip strength by catching with one hand. Some of my clients are standing right in front of a massage table for a security blanket as they are catching a 4 lbs. sandbell. Others have the 10 lbs. one hurled towards them.
And the best part? It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it gives a great deal of satisfaction (after everybody has caught their breath including the trainer who gets thrown back to).
Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, and we will soon experience the triple H days of summer: hazy, hot and humid.
While a little warm is good, too much of it can be deadly. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke which claims lives every year.
Here is how you can recognize the warning signs of heat exhaustion (taken from the CDC website):
· Heavy sweating
· Cold, pale, and clammy skin
· Fast, weak pulse
· Nausea or vomiting
And this is what you should do immediately:
· Move to a cooler location.
· Lie down and loosen your clothing.
· Apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible.
· Sip water.
· If you have vomited and it continues, seek medical attention immediately.
If in doubt, call for emergency help.
AND NEVER LEAVE ANYBODY, PET, CHILD OR ADULT, IN A LOCKED CAN FOR ANY LENGTH OF TIME.
“Stand up straight”, “don’t slouch”! Words of wisdom from mothers across continents, and right they are.
Whether you come to my MELT classes or are working with me one-on-one, the most often used phrases are ‘neutral pelvis’, ‘shoulders relaxed’, ‘good form’ and derivatives thereof. So why is good posture so important even if I disregard the fact that it looks a lot better?
A body in ideal alignment is a balanced body. The relationship in length between muscles is optimal, and movement is effortless because all the players know their role. The central nervous system is like a conductor, and just as in an orchestra, everybody must be well-tuned and know the score to create a harmonious performance.
If a body is out of alignment, then some parts have to work harder and still don’t get it done right. The result is that some parts wear out sooner than others, and this can start a pain cycle that only perpetuates the problems and adds to them. Even though medical science has given us replacement parts and perfected the techniques to implant them, we would do a lot better looking after ourselves as well as if we were our own car.
Did you ever hear of anybody, who would change the tires on their car, not get them balanced but then take the car out on a 1,000 mile road trip with heavy cargo and a hanger? Me neither.
When I start my MELT classes, I describe the position of ideal alignment, and just about everybody raises their hand when asked whether they felt discrepancies. Soon into the class, those discrepancies diminish and sometimes disappear altogether, and my students walk out straighter and often in less pain than when they walked in. After having taught MELT for almost 5 years now, I see permanent improvements after just a few months with regular MELTing.
Aren’t you worth it?
I have always loved ballet. Even though I never danced myself, classical ballet is my favorite dance art form; the more tutu the better. Living now in Raleigh, North Carolina, we have been so fortunate to having the professional Carolina Ballet since 1997. I had season tickets all those years, looking forward to every single performance.
Even the greater my pleasure when I recently had an opportunity to introduce some of the dancers to MELT.
While watching the performances and the performers, it was always quite obvious to me that all that grace that I admire so much is the result of rigorous training, and I was conscious of the fact that injuries are the inevitable by-product of such training.
Over the last 5 years of teaching MELT, I have seen enough of its beneficial results on many bodies that I knew that its positive effects could be felt equally by a professional dancer as by weekend warrior or somebody recovering after a hip or knee replacement surgery.
So it was not surprising to me on some level to hear the same comments about some of the MELT length exercises that I am used to hear from my more conventional class participants. The sensation of length beyond ordinary stretching which can only be described as ‘hurting so good’.
What I absolutely had to admire, though, was the amazing ability of the dancers to take my verbal instructions and translate them into body movement. Those familiar with MELT know that the greatest impact is often made by the smallest changes in body position, and those require a great deal of body awareness. And while this is hardly unexpected, it is nonetheless astounding to watch.
Is it possible that a neat person is not a NEAT person? Absolutely.
So what on earth am I talking about? Here is what the National Institute on Health has to say:
“Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting. Even trivial physical activities increase metabolic rate substantially and it is the cumulative impact of a multitude of exothermic actions that culminate in an individual's daily NEAT. It is, therefore, not surprising that NEAT explains a vast majority of an individual's non-resting energy needs. Epidemiological studies highlight the importance of culture in promoting and quashing NEAT. Agricultural and manual workers have high NEAT, whereas wealth and industrialization appear to decrease NEAT. Physiological studies demonstrate, intriguingly, that NEAT is modulated with changes in energy balance; NEAT increases with overfeeding and decreases with underfeeding. Thus, NEAT could be a critical component in how we maintain our body weight and/or develop obesity or lose weight. The mechanism that regulates NEAT is unknown. However, hypothalamic factors have been identified that specifically and directly increase NEAT in animals. By understanding how NEAT is regulated we may come to appreciate that spontaneous physical activity is not spontaneous at all but carefully programmed.”
So NEAT is all the moving we do when we are not formally exercising. Even for regular exercisers with 2 hours of exercise every day and 8 hours of sleep, that leaves 14 hours during which we can do nothing or a lot.
Based on information in an NASM publication, I developed a metabolic profile tracker that gives points per hour for activities. It gives -1 for sitting or lying down (except sleep; that gets a 0), 0 for standing, +1 for normal moving, +2 for a little strenuous activity such as housework or a light workout, +3 for strenuous activity such as intense gardening (riding lawnmower does not count) or a strenuous workout, and a +4 when you knock yourself out. It is very revealing to see the times when we hardly move at all. If you would like a copy of this form, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So now let’s all try to become a neat NEAT person!
By all appearances, spring has finally sprung. Even though the winter in Raleigh, NC, can hardly be called severe when compared to some other parts of the nation but it seemed to go on longer that it ought to have.
After taking a nice long walk with my dog just in a T-shirt, I came home happy, thirsty …. and a little tanned. At this point in my life, a sun tan is no longer on my priority list and thus I felt that I needed to remind myself (and anybody who cares to read this) what the Skin Cancer Foundation has to say on the subject of the sun and the need for sunscreen:
“Use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher whenever you spend any time outdoors.
- This applies to all outdoor activities: athletics, shopping, picnicking, walking or jogging, gardening, even waiting for a bus.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply liberally and evenly to all exposed skin. The average adult in a bathing suit should use approximately one ounce of sunscreen per application. Not using enough will effectively reduce the product's SPF and the protection you get.
- Be sure to cover often-missed spots: lips, ears, around eyes, neck, scalp if hair is thinning, hands, and feet.
- Reapply at least every 2 hours, more often if some of the product may have been removed while swimming, sweating, or towel-drying.
- Choose a product that suits your skin and your activity. Sunscreens are available in lotion, gel, spray, cream, and stick forms. Some are labeled as water resistant, sweat proof, or especially for sports; as fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, or especially for sensitive skin or children.”