Tag Archives: health

More screen time? How to use exercise to stay well.

 

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The one thing every one of us has in common right now is that our lifestyle has changed.  For some, it is filled with more time demands and less time for self care. For others, the social distancing has been a great opportunity to do more self care, catch up on home projects and enjoy moving in the outdoors with family.   We will use this next blog series to take a look at what changes you want to keep and which ones you need to adjust to allow you to keep moving and be well for the duration of this outbreak, and beyond.  

Because social distancing is a key strategy for controlling the spread of COVID-19, many of us have started to meet with friends and co-workers remotely online.  The last pandemic in 1918 did not have this luxury.  We are fortunate to live in a time where technology can help us stay connected and do our work.  The downside however is more time looking at a screen which limits the movement of our whole body for more time each day.

You might have noticed in in greater tension in your neck or hands, more back pain or headaches.  When connecting in person,  movement is built in. When staring at a screen to connect, not only is movement limited, but your body is pulled out of alignment.  Your head weighs about 12 lb.  When you are looking forward, your head gradually migrates forward too and that pulls your spine out of alignment. (not a chiropractic alignment, but a positioning of your body so your spine is lined up).  Its normal to slip into a slouch.   But, as we discussed last week, sitting or standing out of alignment creates more work for muscles in your body  and those muscles then have to let you know they are over working.  The way they do that is through pain and stiffness.

When your screen time is stressful, it also strains your body.  Stress prepares your body for movement.   Like revving the engine in your car when it is not moving, sitting and being stressed wastes energy. This is why you can feel like you ran a marathon after a day of working on your computer.  Your body is working and draining your energy because it is ready to move.

But even if you do take walking breaks, your body is still missing something important – whole-body movement.   Walking is a limited movement.  Every part of your body that moves needs to move on those screen time breaks.   Taking whole-body movement breaks, with movements for everything from your eyes to your feet is how exercise can help you stay well even with more screen time.  Here is how:

  • Start by closing your eyes and bring your attention to your body and your breath to help you relax as you do the following movements
  • Look at the farthest distance you can, then move your eyes (without moving your head) side to side, up and down, all around.  Hold on to something as you do this if you tend to lose your balance easily
  • While sitting or standing, take off your shoes if possible, and move the joints in your feet and ankles
  • Bend and straighten your knees slowly all the way
  • Move your hips around by moving your legs in all directions one leg at a time sitting or standing and shifting your weight around through your hip joints
  • Face a wall, chair or table and hold on as you move your spine slowly in all directions
  • Hold on with one hand to something stable and then move your other arm through your shoulder joint, elbow joint, wrists and fingers
  • Sit or stand holding on to something and move around through your neck, lifting your head slowly up and down and side to side

Research supports the importance of using exercise to be healthy, both in one longer bout several times a week and by moving in several short bouts sprinkled thorough each day.

  • This study of adults ages 64-84 found sitting time was directly connected to lower muscle mass and those who took more frequent breaks from sitting had a  45% lower risk of sarcopenia- the loss of muscle mass that is strongly connected to longevity and health.
  • This study found that having lower back pain was connected with sitting time.  As sitting time went down, so did lower back pain.
  • This study found that breaking up sitting time every thirty minutes with three minute bouts of simple strength training exercises resulted in lower blood sugars after meals.

Bottom Line:  To stay well in this new normal that involves more screen time, one of the most beneficial things you can do is get up every thirty minutes and move each part of your body from your eyes to your feet.

Keep moving, be well,

Janet

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by | June 23, 2020 · 6:40 pm

Strengthen your immune system; the role of stress and exercise

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (15)

There is a lot of talk lately about how to protect yourself from germs.  Certainly washing your hands and staying away from people who are sick is at the top of the list.    The irony however is that all this talk about preventing illness is causing a lot of stress and anxiety, putting the body in a state that is lowering defenses against the illnesses we are concerned about. Exercise, when used correctly, is the antidote to the stress response. It puts your body back in a state where it can defend against illnesses.  

When you are in a stress response, your body makes changes to protect you from immediate danger. It down-regulates the not so urgent work, such as digestion, repair and healing, and puts energy into getting ready to take care of the ‘threat’.  The way we are hardwired to defend against stress is to move, in order to fight or flee the problem.  All the things that happen in your body when you are stressed is to prepare you to move so you can fight or run away from the ‘threat’.  Basically, when you are stressed your body puts less effort into defending against illness and more effort into preparing to move.  Do you see the problem with this stress response in our modern day life?

Because most of our stressors are not helped by fighting or fleeing, and we have many constant underlying stressors, we can be in a chronic state of ‘ready to move’, rather than ready to defend against illness. We only add to that when it is stressful to get enough exercise, or we make exercise more stressful than it needs to be.  

Several studies show that you only need to do moderate intensity exercise, five days a week for about 20 minutes to enjoy a 40% reduction in upper respiratory infections. (This is even after they adjusted for factors such as age, marital status, gender, body mass index (BMI), and perceived mental stress.)

To use exercise correctly in order to help your immune system stay strong:

  • Listen to your body.  Do the amount, type and intensity that is just right for your body. When exercise is exhaustive, it can actually lower immune system function.   If exercise makes you feel better mentally and physically, (and not just because it is ‘over with’) you know you have found the right level.
  • Be consistent.  Something done regularly is much better than a large amount of exercise done once in a while. That’s because the way exercise strengthens your immune system lasts for about a day and improves as fitness levels improve.
  • Make it stress reducing.  You would not go for a pedicure or out for an expensive dinner with the mindset you just need to ‘get through it’, would you? Treat your exercise time like you would any other self-care activity.  When you set it up to be a treat, and your stress level is most likely to dissolve as you restore a relaxed state where your immune system can do its job.

Regular exercise is an important strategy for each of us, especially now. How you exercise makes all the difference in how well it reduces stress so your immune system can help you stay healthy and well.

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

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by | March 10, 2020 · 6:59 pm

Spring Training Check In: What direction are you heading?

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (10)

In November, we started Spring Training.  Staying active and consistently exercising through the winter is challenging.  It becomes more motivating when you realize you are doing it for a purpose, like to enjoy the activities you like to do on that first beautiful Spring day.

With are only five weeks until the first official day of Spring, it’s time to check in. Which direction are you heading in?  Are you on the path to a Spring that starts with soreness and limitations or are you on the path to a Spring that allows you to do the activities you need and want to do with ease?

If your motivation has taken you off the path to an easy and enjoyable time in Spring, lets renew your energy for Spring Training.

Close your eyes and fast forward to the first beautiful day in Spring.  Ask yourself the following:

  • What do I want to be able to do in Spring?
  • How do I want to feel?
  • What do I need to do that activity – more strength, stamina,  mobility?
  • What is one thing I can do starting today that will tell my body to build more of that over the next five weeks?

The great news is, exercise does not need to take a lot of time, it only needs to be done consistently and your body will adapt.  Starting your day with one set of an exercise that you know will improve your strength.  Taking five to ten minutes before dinner to dance or walk.   Before going to bed each night doing that one stretch that you know feels so good.  These are so small you might think they are not worth it, but think again.  It’s the natural laws of nature that they will work.   Just like snow is designed to melt at a certain temperature, your body is designed to adapt to what you give it.   Let it know you  are in Spring Training and it will keep you on a path to a more enjoyable season ahead.

Keep Moving, Be Well, Think Spring!

Janet

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by | February 11, 2020 · 8:58 pm

How can exercise keep your immune system strong?

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (9)

Cold and flu season are in full swing. With news stories of worldwide of flu rates, you are probably trying to do the extras to stay healthy this season.   Here is how exercise can help keep your immune system strong.

How does exercise help your immune system protect you from illness?

Some of these theories according to Medline Plus are:

  • Exercise may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
  • Exercise causes change in antibodies and white blood cells (WBC). WBCs are the body’s immune system cells that fight disease. These antibodies or WBCs circulate more rapidly, so they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before. However, no one knows whether these changes help prevent infections.
  • The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing. This temperature rise may help the body fight infection better. (This is similar to what happens when you have a fever.)
  • Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones. Some stress increases the chance of illness. Lower stress hormones may protect against illness.

How much is enough exercise to help keep your immune system strong? 

This study found that just twenty minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise was enough to have significant improvements in immune system function by having an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.  Some studies show that exercising over an hour or exercising to exhaustion can actually lower the immune systems ability to fight off those germs you are encountering every day.  Moderate intensity is the amount that feels comfortable, not uncomfortable,  for your breathing.

How does exercise help you recover well from illness?

Even if you do end up with a cold or flu, exercise is an important part of ensuring your body gets back to its usual functioning level as soon as possible.  When you are recovering from an illness, bed rest is needed.  During bed rest your body can lose up to 12% of its strength per week. Your connective tissue, bone and cardiovascular system all lose function during that time too.  Getting back to a regular exercise routine helps you regain what you have lost so your body can make a full recovery and your immune system can bounce back quicker.  When you restart exercise, start at less than 50% of what you were doing before you got sick.    Most importantly, listen to your body!  If it increases fatigue, cut it back even more.   If it gives you energy and makes you feel better you know you found the right ‘starting dose’ of exercise to help your recover.  Increase by about 10% per week, and continue to listen to your body. 

Bottom Line:  A simple lunchtime walk or family dance party before dinner could be all you need to use exercise as part of the ways you stay well this season.  Exercise does not need to be complicated or fatiguing, just consistent so those everyday germs don’t stand a chance in your healthy and well body.

Keep moving, Be well!

Janet

 

 

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by | February 5, 2020 · 7:31 pm

Stretching: Three benefits you may not know (part 3)

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (8)

In part 1 of this series on Stretching; the three benefits you may not know, we discussed how stretching helps the lymph system do its job to help your immune system function. This makes stretching one of the best ways to reduce the effects of sitting for too long.  In part 2, we reviewed the fascia system and it’s effect on your whole body and your mind.  Stretching then becomes a way to help your body feel less stiff while improving whole person health.  In this last part, let’s take a look at how the effects of stretching on your nervous system can lead to more comfort, less pain and more freedom of movement.  

The nervous system is what controls muscles. When a muscle is tight, it is your nervous system trying to protect your muscles from tearing. A muscle spasm is when your nervous system has to take extreme measures to protect a muscle that is holding a lot of tension. The spasm happens to prevent it from tearing. That spasm is not the result of that one movement, but rather the accumulation of tightness over time. The movement that resulted in a spasm was the final straw, so to speak. Regular stretching helps to keep that tightness from accumulating.  

When you stretch regularly, you are helping your nervous system build up tolerance of movements, so it is less “hyper-protective” of the muscles.  

Nervous systemThe way to get this benefit though goes against the way you may have been taught to stretch in the past.  The word stretching implies you are stretching a muscle like a piece of cloth, and the more you pull the more the muscle will relax.  Because the nervous system is in a large part what is ‘allowing’ the muscle to ‘stretch’ or not, pulling harder means your nervous system needs to go into that ‘hyper-alert’ mode to protect the muscle from injury.

We now know that starting with a gentle stretch and only going into a light to moderate stretch sensation is more likely to result in relaxing a muscle.  Stretching to a point of pain or discomfort can have the opposite effect of what you are trying to do by stretching.

This means, paying attention to how you feel when you are stretching, and listening to your body is the way to get the most from stretching.  When you do a stretch mindlessly, quickly or forcefully, you lower the quality of the stretch and thus waste your time. Rethink stretching as a way to help your body restore and recharge so it becomes a way to reduce the stress in your mind that is held in your body.  Sprinkle your day with stretch breaks to avoid that accumulation, and you raise the quality of your movement breaks while gaining more freedom of movement in daily life.  

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

 

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by | January 28, 2020 · 4:28 pm