The Exercise Dilemma

Much of my time as a student at the Teachers College has been focused on why people should exercise more. We learn about the mechanisms involved in how exercise effects all the major systems of the body to prevent and … Continue reading

The Importance of Hydration

Recently, I was lucky enough to sit in on a lecture from Lawrence Armstrong, Ph.D. FACSM an expert in the area of hydration. It seems like a lot of health specialists give out the advice to drink more water, and … Continue reading

Keeping Fit on Vacation

Vacations and traveling can be refreshing and energizing but they can also leave us feeling a bit heavier upon return home. My dad used to tell me, “there are no calories on Holidays” and like so many others I take advantage of times with friends and family or on vacation as times to splurge and not think about eating “right” and just enjoying a good meal and a dessert. And there is nothing wrong with that! The last thing I would recommend is to go on a trip and not experience the food! But vacationing is not an excuse to be less active either….

On most of my vacations I do a lot of walking without thinking about it. Walking is great, and can mean the difference of 1.3 more years of healthy life in terms of cardiovascular disease if you are walking just 30 minutes a day. (according to a 2005 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine)

Living in New York City, I can easily walk 30 minutes a day when I include my commute to work and running errands in my neighborhood. If you live in a more suburban community getting those minutes in might have to be a bit more proactive when you drive everywhere you need to go. But exploring new cities, it should be easy to get in that burst of activity each day- but that might not be enough if you are also eating slightly more- or more richly than normal.

Unless you are at an all amenities included hotel, chances are you are without a gym. Here is when knowing how to get a good work out without relying on machines is most beneficial. Pilates and Yoga are both great to utilize in these types of situations. And getting creative with squats, lounges, and planks can give you a full body workout with limited space and equipment.

I found this article on a ten minute plank work out by Tina Haupert on Health Magazine’s Website. I tried it over the weekend and my abs and arms were definitely sore the next day. It’s incredibly intense and not suitable for beginners to plank workouts but it is telling just how little you need to work up a sweat. A modified version of this workout would be to add in moments in downward dog and child’s pose to rest.

Extra time stretching can also be a great addition to vacation time workouts. Stretching can be very relaxing and much needed after long periods of time sitting (travelling). Long trips on a plane or a car can be terrible for circulation. Try to stand up for a minute every hour or so, and making sure you rotate your ankles, stretch the calves and legs and doing a few straight leg press ups onto your toes can increase blood flow and prevent cramps.

Book Review: The First 20 Minutes

I’ve been following Gretchen Reynolds’ Phys. Ed. Column in the New York Times for years now. And I’ve just finished her book The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer. I will be talking about this book for months. A lot of the content of the book comes from studies she been writing about in her column over the past couple years, but seeing it all together really shines light on how much startling information has come to the surface. And the bottom line is this- Stand up and start moving, it will save your life, literally.

In one study by the National Cancer Institute, 250,000 americans, ages 50-71, were followed for eight years. They found, unsurprisingly that the most sedentary adults had the highest risk of cardiovascular and cancer mortality. But more surprising was the fact that the group of adults that averaged 7 hours of exercise per week, but also spent at least 5 hours per day watching TV or otherwise being inactive, were also more likely to die prematurely compared to those who exercised but watched less than an hour of TV daily. Unfortunately, it looks as if isolated bouts of exercise aren’t enough. What they’ve found is that long periods of sitting still changes the cell’s physiology. Overtime, inactivity decreases levels of Lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that that is known to aid in the breakdown of fat in the bloodstream, blood sugar levels spike after meals, and early symptoms of insulin problems and eventual diabetes could become apparent. It’s down right scary. Of course that was from a study that had adult male volunteer to be completely immobile for a day, not putting any weight onto their legs whatsoever. Extreme, yes, but those results were just after twenty four hours!

The book is chock full of great fitness advice, but if there is just one thing that I will take away from the book is that sitting for eight hours during my work day is not OK. I get up more often, if just to fill my water bottle and say hello to my co-workers. I stand at my desk. I take frequent breaks to briefly walk around. If nothing else, it has helped with my energy levels, it has done away with the 3pm slump, and helps assauge my fears of becoming the ever average couch-potato like American.

If you are having trouble motivating yourself to change your lifestyle, or just curious about exercise physiology and the recent research that people all over the world have been working on to prove that exercise is anti-aging and life extending, this is a must read. And I know that sounds cheesy, but seriously the results of these studies are staggering. Gretchen has a strong entertaining voice that isn’t judgmental but instead invested and very encouraging. Although the book is based entirely around different studies, the information and the implications of their results keep you wanting to turn the pages. I highly recommend the read!

 

 

Food and Fitness

Like two peas in a pod, right? People’s motivations for exercise are different. Some want to lose weight, some want to maintain weight, some want to be able to eat whatever they want, some exercise to help with health issues, others are obsessed with being “fit” and some have always been active and it just comes naturally. But no matter the reason or goal for physical activity, what you consume plays a definite role in seeing results.

There was an article in the New York Times about the effects exercise has on appetite and the results were slightly inconclusive. Basically, depending on how active you already are, your appetite may or may not change after a work-out. If someone’s goal is weight loss, exercise alone will never be enough. Diet habits have to changed in order to make a difference.

The average person in America does not fully understand the quantity of food/nutrients they need each day. The fact that it is so much less than would be expected is part of the reason we have an obesity epidemic in our country. People can exercise regularly but not see any difference in their weight because the believe their workout gave them the leniency to spurge on that [insert dessert/fried food/favorite indulgence] they’ve been drooling over all week. The fact remains that an average work out may only burn 400-600 calories, and that cheesecake has just as many. Even the idea hydrating with a flavored sports drink takes away half the output of a decent exercise.

The problem we are seeing is that most people are not interested in basic nutrition or eating balanced meals. It’s a downward spiral that starts when we are young. From school cafeterias to the media, to the myriad options of pre-packaged processed goods that are cheap and easy. Eating is more about convenience to many of us than it is about getting the nutrients our bodies need. There are so many diets out there, I’m not going to go into any specific one. I don’t think any of them are completely right, and I think that every one is going to have a different idea of what is right for them. And that is perfectly OK.

We are not striving to be perfect, because that is impossible and if that is your goal you are probably driving yourself crazy. Instead, strive to be healthy when you can. Little changes such as incorporating less processed foods and more whole foods makes a giant difference. Once you switch over you will start to crave those packaged foods less as your body begins to recognize them as less satisfying.

Anyway, I diverged from my beginning statement. Exercise can affect one’s desire for food and as Americans, who culturally have a strange relationship with food to begin with, it might be hard to keep a regular diet because our brain might be telling us we need more. The simple fact is that if you are wanting to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume. For many of us that can be exceedingly difficult when the more we exercise the more we feel like we should be eating.

In my experience, depending on what time of day I exercise, my appetite might increase or decrease after a workout. Immediately afterward, I never feel like eating, but if I don’t eat a snack sometimes later on I’ll get ravenous and end up eating a huge meal. My biggest problem is craving sugar. I’ll start to feel like I have to eat something sweet and won’t be able to think of anything else until I’ve satisfied my sweet tooth. In many of the books and blogs I’ve been reading, the 80-20 rule has been quoted: be good 80% of the time and allow yourself to give in to your cravings for the other 20. This is the healthiest way to think about your diet. You don’t want to be so restrictive that you can’t even go to a party and enjoy a few hors d’ oeuvres!

The bottom line is that there are lot of aspects of nutrition that we still don’t understand. The reason eggs were good and then bad and then good again, is that new information is always coming in that changes our perspective. Exercise too, has been a little bit like that. There is no clear-cut plan: do this and you will be healthy. Part of the struggle is finding out how to listen to your body. I think it knows, it just doesn’t always know how to fill us in.

Finding your Motivation

The past week I’ve been feeling a little like I’ve been moving in slow motion. Since the new year and all the holidays last month it’s taken me a while to get back to a normal routine. For me exercise has always been inevitable. I stay active in my life style no matter what but I do have lulls here and there where I forget to try new things, have more adventures, and have trouble getting myself to wake up early to workout (especially in the winter when the bed is so much more cozy!).

So to get myself out of this lull I need to remind myself why I do it in the first place. Like I stated before, it’s a lifestyle choice. Starting in grade school I was always involved in track, soccer and dance. It kept me healthy, in shape and full of energy. When I’m not exercising regularly I’m easily agitated, I start eating unhealthily, and I am less productive overall with my work. It’s a little bit of a downward spiral!

For some motivation, read this incredible list of reasons why you should exercise!

To paraphrase the  listed in the article:

Exercise makes you feel better overall and about yourself, helps you fall asleep faster and sleep well, gives you more energy while you’re awake, and will help you think clearer and faster! It also helps with managing stress and living a longer life! 

Exercise can also help prevent coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and even some forms of cancer. OR if you already have any of these conditions it could help you control them and feel better.

Exercise helps keep bones, muscles, and joints as healthy as possible. Lifting weights will make your muscles stronger but it also increases bone density. Stretching the muscles will keep you flexible and coordinated and improve your sense of balance as well. You might find yourself surprised that simple movements like bending over and reaching up become easier too!

Last but not least, exercising burns calories so you can lose weight or stay at your healthy weight. This can also be a boost to your self-confidence and overall out look on life!

So tonight I’m going to re-energize my routine and take a new fitness class in my neighborhood and hopefully meet some new people, and get some fresh ideas for the new year. It’s never too late to start being active and start reaping the rewards of physical fitness, find a class near you and start something new!

Pilates for Stress and Anxiety

Have you ever heard of a “runner’s high?”  The “I’m on top of the world” feeling you get after exercise is actually caused by chemicals your body releases after physical exertion.  These endorphins, believe it or not, have similar properties to morphine.  They decrease the body’s perception of pain and promote an overall feel-good, positive energy.  Benefits are not just limited to the few hours after the workout.  In fact, according to WEBMD, regular exercise has been proven to help reduce stress, ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self-esteem AND improve sleep!

So, what’s the catch?
It seems like regular exercise is a miracle remedy, so it should be easy right?  Well, unlike morphine, endorphins are not addictive.  That is a good thing, but it also means that you have to have the motivation to get started and keep with a program.  The good news is that once you start and begin seeing and feeling the effects of exercise, it’s easier to set fitness goals and motivate your self to meet them.

If you are prone to stress and anxiety, one of the things you should absolutely avoid is taking on an exercise routine that will only increase your level of stress!  Choose activities that you enjoy and that you can look forward to during your week.  Everyone is different.  For me, the idea of taking a spin class is way too overwhelming but for others it’s just what they need to get into that zone and feel that “runner’s high.”  For me, pilates is the perfect workout.

Pilates is an excellent addition to any exercise routine.  Because it is physically challenging you’ll get the reward of endorphins which in turn provide a boost of energy.  But the real benefit is gained by the attention to the breath, which is choreographed into the movements.  The breath is a link between the mind and the body.  In oriental medicine, it is believed to be the prana, or life force.  Breathing exercises are thought to increase the awareness of bodily sensations so we are able to communicate to the body with our breath.  Think about it, when we want to calm down, we slow our breath; when we are excited, our breath quickens.  By incorporating the breath with exercise we learn greater control of our bodies and muscular activity in a soothing and organic way.

Learning to breath properly by utilizing the diaphragm, will help increase lung capacity.  When coupled with the Pilates technique of posterolateral breath which also keeps the abdominal muscles engaged, the breath becomes strong and helps tone and strengthen the core.

Pilates will help tone your muscles, improve posture by strengthening the muscles of the back and core, increase flexibility and range of motion, as well as increase your bodily awareness.  As a bonus, these will all help boost your self-esteem!  But it’s important to note, body awareness is not about noticing flaws in ourselves, but rather it’s about appreciating ourselves.  With pilates, we gain greater control over our movements and we become more efficient as we get stronger.  We learn to listen to what our body needs.

What ever exercise routine you choose, make sure it isn’t painful.  Pain is the body’s way of telling you something is wrong.  Listen to those cues!  Overdoing any form of exercise will be counter-intuitive to your stress and anxiety-reducing plan.

Most fitness professionals recommend starting out small, three times a week, if you are an exercise beginner.  Exercise for at least twenty minutes if you can, gradually working up to longer workouts.  I recommend starting out in the morning.  Fewer excuses not to exercise can sneak into you schedule if you set aside a few minutes into your morning routine.  This will also allow you to take advantage of the boost of energy it will give you and help you face the rest of the day with a positive outlook!

 

*First published on www.yinovacenter.com/blog

Prenatal Pilates

The Benefits of exercising throughout your pregnancy are plentiful. Not only will it help limit the excess weight gained, but mid-intensity work-outs, such as Pilates, have been shown to ease symptoms of pregnancy (i.e. back pain, morning sickness, fatigue), help shorten the labor, and reduce the time it takes to get your body back in shape after you’ve given birth. Not to mention, strengthening and functional exercises will help prepare you for the lifting, playing, and running around you’ll be doing once you have a newborn in the house.

Many women also find the breathing techniques of Pilates to be helpful in preparing for the labor, and the devotion to scheduled exercise time can be great for keeping a positive outlook during the pregnancy and a healthy mindset during a time when your body is going through a lot of changes.

There is a lot of contradictory information floating around about exercising while you are pregnant. The reason for this is that in the not so far past, doctors treated pregnancy as if it were an “illness”. What recent research is showing however, is that moderate exercise will help make the pregnancy easier. The body is incredible. It has an amazing ability to adjust to all the new changes taking place. While resting is important to remain healthy, exercising decreases the feeling of exhaustion and actually helps the placenta grow more efficiently. The more efficient the placenta, the better the baby is able to absorb nutrients and oxygen from the mother.

I believe you just have to listen to your body, and be in touch with the signals it will give you. This is not a time to push the limits of what you are able to do! Start small, especially if you are a beginner to exercise. If you are professional or recreational athlete you can continue, within reason, to your normal routine but talk to your doctor or an exercise specialist for modifications and warning signs that you should discontinue or tone down your workouts.

If you plan on working out on your own, remember to keep hydrated, fueled (eat a small snack before and after exercise) and always warm-up  and cool-down for about five minutes before and after your sessions. Due to changes in the vascular system, it is important to give your body a fair warning that you are beginning a workout. Save high intensity workouts for after the baby has been delivered. Stay in a range of 5-8 on the perceived exertion scale which means in the highest intensity you are slightly tired but you can speak a full sentence while you are exercising. If for any reason you feel light-headed, fatigued, or have abdominal area cramping stop immediately and talk to your health care professional.

It is true that the body is under a lot of stress and changes take place in a relatively short amount of time and that is definitely a matter to take seriously. However, keeping the mother’s body active and healthy is incredibly important for a healthy labor and a healthy baby. Think about it in terms of preparing your body for labor and delivery, an intense biological marathon. It is especially important to do a lot of core/abdominal strengthening in the first trimester before the muscles begin stretching. It is harder to continue to strengthen them after that point and you are going to need them for the final push!

Pilates is a perfect compliment to any prenatal aerobic regimen. It will primarily work on building that core strength as well as toning the arms, legs and back. The functionality of the exercises will be beneficial to all the bending, reaching, lifting and squatting you will have to be doing with the baby. To keep sessions interesting, I like to incorporate a couple different props such as an exercise ball, resistance bands and foam rollers to keep the movements flowing so that you safely get the workout you need and want.

In Focus

Recently in rehearsal with Marisa Ballaro, we were discussing the ever importance of focus.

Focus changes how we perceive what we are seeing, what we are feeling, and what we see when we watch it. It’s amazing to me what a difference it makes in someone’s dancing when they have an active focus. It becomes more intentional, more committed, even more full bodied- even if the only thing they change is really seeing whatever is in their view. It’s exhilarating to watch a dancer who is fully aware of her surroundings, of the other dancers, of the audience. It is a point of engagement.

focus: n., a center of activity, attraction, or attention. Also, a point of concentration.

Focus brings purpose to a dance. It gives the dancer a purpose, something to convey to the viewer.

It’s no coincidence that focus is one of the principles of the Pilates Method. What a difference exercising with full awareness of what you are doing makes to the overall experience and effect. The eyes can be thought of as a major link to the mind body connection which is so important when exercising or doing any type of movement. The body is instinctively smart and by letting the mind become more involved in what the body is doing, you give it a chance to do what it naturally wants to do, making movement easier and more efficient.

Thinking about the gravity of it’s involvement in dance and movement made me think about how this can translate into everyday life. Every type of action or goal needs an underlying focus. As simple as this may be, I think sometimes I forget about the main goal and go through the motions of what I think I should be doing at that moment, whether its with my friends and family or with my career or with a stranger on the street. So often I find myself walking down the streets of new york city completely blurring everything around me, stuck in my interior thoughts. I usually get my motivation and inspiration for ideas just by watching the people around me so it’s no wonder that I give myself a hard time for not always paying attention. How much have I been missing?