Aging Gracefully Blog

Archive for May, 2010

Summer Vacation!

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Memorial Day excites all the great childhood feelings of summertime – warm, sunny days, camp, outdoor sports, and vacations.  It's a perfect time to shift gears from your regular fitness routine and enjoy some seasonal pleasures.  Of course, if you've been consistent throughout the winter, you'll be in better shape to maintain your fitness level while on a beach vacation or tackle more rigorous demands of adventure travel. 

Take it outdoors:  hiking, biking, tennis, swimming….Your winter fitness regime prepares you to do some cross-training.  It gives you a foundation of strength and stamina to switch gears and take on a new activity.  Even though training is sports specific – i.e. you condition the body to perform that specific activity – being fit makes it easier to adapt to a new sport.  

Take it with you:  One of my clients asked my help in finding inflatable weights that she could fill with water to use during her travels.  Another asked me for a couple of stretch bands so she could continue her routine when away from home.  My personal preference is to continue with body weight exercises, like squats, push ups and crunches.

4 for Life:  Last week I wrote about four functional fitness exercises that you can do any time, any place, no equipment required.  (You can see them in detail on the "Our Exercise Method" page of this site).  As I mentioned last week, if I were to recommend one exercise for life, it's the squat. 

A few tips will help you perform a proper squat and avoid risk of injury to the knees.  The movement is the same as sitting into a chair – you bend your knees and reach back with your hips.  When I tell a room full of women to imagine they are squatting over a public toilet, everyone goes right into the proper position!  The important points are to keep your weight back on your heels, keep your knees aligned over your feet (not collapsing inward) and keep your knees behind your toes.  You can learn all variations of the squat in my book Strength Training for Women.


One Thing You Can Do to Practice a Higher Level of Self-Care

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Learning to handle your own body weight is the first step to improving the way you move in daily life.  Develop skill in performing four simple movements that will improve your strength, posture and body mechanics. The "4 for Life" are four functional exercises that you can do any time, anywhere, no equipment required.  They are the squat, push-up, back extension and pelvic tilt. 

If I were to recommend one exercise for life, it would be the squat.  It's a very functional movement, the one we need to get up from a seated position, and it creates stability in the large muscles of the legs.  Not to mention that it is one of the best shaping exercises for the bottom line!

The push up targets three muscles of the upper body - the chest, shoulders and triceps - in one move. There are many variations, all of which help firm the triceps in the back of the upper arm and are weight-bearing through the arms and wrists.  The core muscles of the abdominals and back are active in stabilizing the torso.  The level of difficulty is determined by how much weight you shift onto your upper body.

For the core body, the pelvic tilt engages the deep abdominal muscle that acts like a natural corset when it is toned, flattening the belly, narrowing the waist and supporting the low back.  When you combine the abdominal compression with a slight rotation of the hips, you also stretch the low back.

To balance out the core body work and work the opposing muscles, the back extension triggers the muscles that run along the length of the spine, strengthening it and lengthening it.  It's a great exercise for posture because as you go into a very mild back bend, you reverse the forward posture of most of our daily activities - working at a desk, doing housework, driving a car, etc.

The "4 for Life" exercises work the major muscle groups of the legs, upper body and core in an integrated way. Together they create a mini full-body conditioning workout that can be done in a few minutes, anytime, anywhere using just your own body weight.  Even if you never do another exercise, your body will benefit from doing the "4 for Life" regularly.

Next week, we'll explore the mechanics of doing a proper squat.

How Can Exercise Build Resilience to Stress?

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Would you invest in an insurance policy against stress?  Well, here's a relatively inexpensive option:  a regular program of moderate exercise. Conditioning the physical systems builds protection against the effects of emotional as well as physical stress.   Let's look at how three health-related components of physical fitness - aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching – can help.

Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist and aerobic exercise strengthens the heart so that it becomes more efficient, pumping more blood with fewer beats.  That's why as you become conditioned your heart rate does not rise as high and returns to normal faster after physical stress.  There is a transfer of benefits to emotional stress since a stronger heart is also better able to weather emotional storms in the same way.

Strengthening the muscles allows you to perform your daily activities with greater ease and to handle unexpected demands, like climbing up 17 flights of steps during a NYC black out.  Being strong gives you a sense of empowerment – you can be more independent and self-reliant. You can carry your grocery bags, hoist your carry-on into the overhead bin or lift a case of baby formula into the trunk of your car. You are more resilient to injury and less likely to suffer poor posture and back pain (the #1 medical complaint in the US).

Stretching also has a beneficial effect on posture as it discharges tension from the muscles and keeps freedom of movement in the joints.  An emotional response such as anxiety or fear typically causes muscular tension - think of what makes you personally "stiffen up".  Chronic muscular tension can lead to back pain and headaches, but regular stretching can help relieve this.

Being fit a preventative to stress.  All three components of a well-rounded fitness program play a role in improving your personal heartiness -  aerobic exercise to condition the heart and lungs; strength training and stretching to keep your muscles, bones and joints healthy.  As a bonus of being fit, you also fortify your body's response to negative stress.

Create Your Own Personal Philosophy of Wellness

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Wellness has been defined as "self-directed wellbeing", in other words, each of us must set up our own system of self-care, based on individual needs.  Ask yourself:  "What does it take for me to feel good every day?"  The answer will vary for each one of us. 

Personally, I need my rest (and quite a lot of it, a good eight hours a night) or my coping defenses suffer and I'm less able to negotiate the day's demands.  I need to have healthy meals at regular intervals or I sink into low blood sugar and become cranky, distracted and headachy.  I need a balance of both energetic activity and down time, something that varies from day to day.

Because of my work as a personal trainer, there can be days at a stretch when I'm extremely physically active; and on those days, I need to make sure to squeeze in some time to relax and re-charge. However, there are also times when I have been too sedentary and quiet, and need to make sure I get some exercise. 

I prefer to get my exercise "organically" in the course of a day, meaning that I allow time to walk from appointment to appointment, stretch with my clients and do some push ups, squats and core exercises along the way.  When I'm away from my practice, my exercise routine becomes special time for myself and I begin every day with a 30 minute run and, if possible, a 20 minute swim.

Whether you structure a routine into each day or keep a general "accounting" of your activity level over a period of time, be mindful of creating a well-balanced lifestyle.  Every day you need to practice the fundamentals of self-care – whatever they are for you – in such a way that you can face doing it again tomorrow.  This is how to create a system of healthy habits that will serve your body for life.

Next week we'll take a look at how physical activity can help build resilience to negative stress.







De-Stabilized: Reaching for Wellness

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Last week I made a road trip to Connecticut to present at the Greater Hartford Women's Conference (April 28, 2010).  This was the third year that the event has been held, and the audience has grown each year to a remarkable 300 attendees.  As a panelist on the Wellness Panel, "Stress Less: Reaching Your Wellness", I addressed questions such as how to create a personal philosophy of wellness, what role exercise/physical activity play in building resilience to stress, and what is one thing women can do to practice a higher lever of self care.

My personal philosophy of wellness is to stay on balance.  I was recently with a friend who was memorizing lines for a play and we talked about what it's like to flub a line or draw a blank.  He said that you become de-stabilized and you need to collect yourself to carry on.  I think "de-stabilized" is a great word that applies to physical well-being, as well as to a state of mind.  Certainly illness and injury are de-stabilizing to the body in the extreme.  In our more ordinary day-to-day,  physical symptoms of being de-stabilized include being out of sorts, out of shape, over-tired, overweight, all of which can be very distracting and counter-productive.

We all want to greet each day with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue and with energy to spare.  This is the definition of physical fitness and is a key factor for staying on balance, maintaining stability, and enjoying the highest quality of life.  Stay tuned to my next blog for some of my personal tips on how to create your own philosophy of wellness.