I don’t know about you but the treadmill or Gauntlet or rowing or recumbent can get, I dunno, what’s the phrase? MIND-NUMBINGLY BORING! In my trimming process aimed at 10% body fat, I was doing mostly treadmill five if not six days a week and definitely bored outta my tree. And, I admit it- I am from the generation (which is still happening, it seems) that more cardio is better for fat loss. Overdone cardio is the death knell for bodybuilders trying to gain mass but I’ve just been in such a darned hurry to get rid of the fat!
You would think a certified trainer such as myself would know better. That the point is to encourage the metabolism to burn more calories by gaining more mass with resisitance training and/or stimulating a more efficient muscular system. But, I get lost in the little “more is better” obsession so my coach has to reel me in by reminding me how human physiology actually works and not how it works according to some whacked out, half baked, calories in-calories out socialized theory.
Sure, I gotta watch what I eat but one should do that, anyway, not just for weight loss or mass gain but just to keep a healthy body. I do log my calories everyday as that’s the nature of bodybuilding but Average Josephine or Joe would be alright being mindful of what they eat by not putting just any ol’ junk in the ol’ pie hole. For us, who are changing our physiology, logging is invaluable.
So, yer prolly wondering what the heck I’m talking about since I titled this article “Walking”…
Well, you see, MUNI, god bless ’em (and I mean that in only the most facetious of tones) had a great deal to do with my new cardio plan. My new plan actually started with the reading of my friend and mentor, Nate Miyaki’s GREAT book “The Samurai Diet” in which he talks specifically about cardio and how integral walking is in his life to manage his body fat (not like he has all that much to worry about, mind you). Reading about walking wasn’t the impetus in reading his book. I read it because I knew Nate would write the truth about healthy weight loss (It works very well- I’ve lost 35# and 11% body fat pretty painlessly since November).
Concurrently, I was getting more and more fed up with MUNI and their inability to police their own system. Why was I paying a fare when at least 25% of the people that get on aren’t paying at all? Plus, the whole way MUNI spends money on such things as new shelters while at the same time cutting the routes is mind boggling. I’d much rather they pay for more buses, drivers and cops so that the routes aren’t stiflingly packed. Who can ride a shelter to work? Sheesh!
So, Nate’s encouragement to walk and my frustration at MUNI’s lack of sensible priorities started me out. At first I just walked the shorter routes, counting minutes spent as cardio to replace those minutes on the treadmill. I stopped counting the calories lost and just paid attention to time. Also, Nate makes mention of interval training as do many wise and well educated coaches (like mine). How much more interval can one get with all of those hills in the City? Admittedly, I do do some interval training on the treadmill to augment the process.
Now, I walk everywhere. It’s so mind calming (except for the occasional idiot driver) and anything but boring-this IS truly a most gorgeous City. I get to work much more relaxed than having ridden the bus, a walk which is 2.5 miles from home and- shocker of shockers- in the same amount of time. My weight loss is back on track- I lost 5# in four weeks (it would have been more but I had a little pork-out fest with some ice cream one weekend).
So, there you have it. Get yourself a good pair of cross trainers or walking shoes and hit the pavement if only to give yourself some variety. If you are well outta shape, walking can be your angel of mercy- all you have to do is ten minutes to start, adding a little more at a time. You’ll know when to add more time ’cause your body will tell you. Remember what I said about calming? When you are calmer, you listen more. The rest of us old timers (in the cardio sense) can just swap out the time we do on equipment. You won’t lose anything by walking; in fact I’m here to tell you you’ll lose more if that’s your goal. Low intensity steady state and interval training cardio techniques are where it’s at.
Taking Those First Few Steps Towards Fitness
Maybe youʼre on this site because you want to know how to do the fitness thing. You might imagine it will take a lot of time and money to get going and it seems overwhelming. Letʼs ratchet it down a couple of notches and not go diving head first into the deep end of the pool.
Your body is built to thrive on movement. When you are moving and also have some resistance to overcome, the bones become more dense, the metabolic system functions properly, the heart becomes stronger, you breathe more fully. You even get a little high without any drugs. If youʼve been sedentary (a 50¢ word for couch potato) and youʼre hauling around extra baggage or even if your not but just out of shape, all is not lost. The human body is miraculously resilient and can get it together no matter what age you are or what shape you are in.
The Center for Disease Control has laid out guidelines here for the minimum physical activity to maintain good health. The aerobic/cardiorespiratory activity at 150 minutes a week seems frighteningly high but thatʼs only a bit more than 20 minutes a day. And hereʼs the wild card/get out of jail free….you donʼt have to do it all at once! You could go walking briskly in the morning after breakfast…or before… for 10 or 12 minutes then again during lunch. Or, a quick activity four times a day for a bit more than 7 minutes each such as raking the leaves or sweeping the walk.
Get creative! You donʼt have to just walk… have some fun with moving! Do you have a dog? Well, there ya go. Fetching or just rambunctious playing with Rover will do the trick. Dance to your favorite song like nobodyʼs watching. Take a coworker out to toss a baseball around during a break. Any kind of work out buddy is extremely beneficial to your success, by the way.
The point is to get your mind and body used to the idea of movement. You wanna start small and work up. The BBC reports Taiwanʼs Department of Healthʼs latest research has shown even 15 minutes of exercise a day can add three years to a life and cut the chance of demise by 14%.
So, walk up he stairs instead of using the elevator. Park farther away in the mall and walk. And, notice how your body is feeling.Things are getting better, arenʼt they? Youʼre more relaxed, tingly sometimes, probably sleep better, too. Just go with that great, appreciative song your body is sending you because youʼre moving around more.
You might remember I mentioned “resistance to overcome” awhile back which means weights of some sort. No, you wonʼt bulk out like Lou Ferrigno unless thatʼs your goal. But after you get used to and liking this movement thing, it will be time to add some weights. And weights, be they free weights or machines, are just movement. Thereʼs about a zillion ways to move weights so get ye to a certified professional who can design a program with your specific goals in mind. The Mayo Clinic has a great article here which outlines how to determine your fitness goals.
With resistance (weight), one of the very important considerations is if you like the exercise. If you donʼt, take heart (and donʼt let it be an excuse to quit, either!) because there are scads of exercises designed to work (move) each and every muscle group. Personally, regular barbell bench presses is not my strong suit- I donʼt move them so well- but I do great at dumb bell bench presses. Same action, same general muscle group. I win!
The Presidentʼs Council on Physical Fitness has an in-depth publication here called “Fitness Fundamentals: Guidelines for Personal Exercise Programs” which gives an excellent rundown on how to approach your new fitness lifestyle. This is a wonderful place to start with very concise directions taking the mystery out of how this whole exercise adventure works. You may notice a variance of numbers between this and the previous articles but donʼt let that bother you. These are all informed suggestions to take into consideration and if you listen to your body, it will tell what the right amounts of anything you are supposed to do.
I suggest to you the mentality of “there is no rush”. You are doing something to heal and strengthen your body. Your body will only respond at itʼs own healthy rate. Any devoted and determined (not to be read as forced and obsessive) exercise regimen evolves through the mindful attention of your body. Start small. Just move. Listen.
It’s Thursday and after a long week of work or a few sessions of lifting weights, how do your shoulders and back feel? Our daily routines can cause muscle imbalances which restrict healthy joint movement. Some imbalances are profoundly evidenced as lower back pain while other imbalances affect the intensity of a workout for a specific muscle group and are not so pronounced.
How does that happen?
Once a muscle becomes tight, it contracts and may be unable to relax fully while the opposite overstretched muscle becomes weak and unable to contract when needed for the movement of the joint. For example, hip flexors may be too tight while the opposing gluteals are weak causing the pelvis to pull forward, as in repetitive activities such as sitting at the computer.
Injury can also cause imbalances, forcing the body to compensate by shifting the work of a joint to a less ideal muscle. Conversely, people with great fitness intentions often use the same work out program for years, not exercising complimentary muscles equally which, too, causes imbalances.
And, according to the Manhattan Physical Therapy and Pain Center, “A muscle that is chronically semi-contracted (tight) causes metabolic dysfunction within the muscle tissues. It also squeezes blood vessels and nerves running through the muscle. This interferes with healthy blood supply and proper nerve signaling”.
Imbalances cause pain in two ways—
Directly-Muscles that are tight all of the time become strained as in the example of the pelvis tilting forward. There may be pain in the lower back as the muscles compensate for the imbalances of the hip flexors and the gluteals.
Creating a Condition -The long-term compression on the discs caused by the curvature of the spine as the pelvis is pulled down can eventually lead to break down of the discs (bulge or rupture).
What can you do to alleviate the pain and discomfort?
Develop a focus on proper motion, posture and the abilities of the body! “Form, technique and breathing are key” said Robert Melton, Core Conditioning instructor. He advocates proper posture while strengethening the core and lower back so the muscles balance correctly on the skeletal structure. His course teaches students proper posture through core work for muscle balance to help with efficient breathing, dissipate common back pain and “keeps people looking good, too!”
Liz Anne Roman is a Pilates instructor who promotes an “emphasis on stabilization” to pull the person’s body back into alignment. She teaches a wide variety of exercises but cautions that “…one needs to build up slowly to reach the fully realized exercises” to create muscle balance and strengthen stabilization.
“People are extremely individual” says Dorothee Metz, a student of the Cantienica Technique. She checks a person’s posture by taking them through a series of simple observations including standing, sitting and lying down and teaches the person become aware of their body. “They need to feel again.” And in that feeling will come the awareness of the tight/loose muscles which need attention.
There are many techniques to correct muscle imbalances which correct posture and may alleviate pain, the above examples only scratching the surface. One might consider a Personal Trainer for designing a program including flexibility and strength training targeting the muscle imbalances. Another often complementary approach is to visit a chiropractor or your doctor who may refer a physical therapist and the PT will work in conjuction with a trainer.
Sleep and Recuperative Rest
Americans can de-prioritize good sleep and rest habits for too much work and too much exercise. Current research shows plenty of sleep is a key factor in overall health and recuperative rest periods between workouts help the body recharge and get stronger.
“In our society, we have this idea that you can just get by without sleep or manipulate when you sleep without any consequences,” said Lawrence Epstein, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “What we’re finding is that’s just not true.”
Sleep deprivation “dumbs us down” and dulls the brain and we end up trying to stay afloat in a vicious, stressful cycle. Getting less than seven hours of sleep puts one at a possible risk for heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heart beat, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity and metabolic problems such as diabetes.
“People are starting to believe that there is an important relationship between short sleep and all sorts of health problems,” said Emmanuel Mignot of Stanford University, who worked on a large study on sleep and nutrition published in the journal, Sleep.
“Lack of sleep disrupts every physiologic function in the body,” says Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago. “We have nothing in our biology that allows us to adapt to this behavior.”
Mignot’s work on the National Health and Nutrition Study suggests that the nation’s obesity epidemic corresponds to Americans getting less sleep, which disrupts hormones that regulate appetite, and leaves us too exhausted for our bodies to recharge.
Rest and relaxation between workouts should include recuperation time for the body to repair muscle tissue. People who exercise the same muscle groups more than five days a week are following programs usually reserved for elite athletes. According to Bruno Paletto of the University of Tennessee, we are not genetically predisposed to such intense training, which leaves the body over trained or chronically fatigued.
“If the time between workouts is too short, the muscle cannot recover or rebuild before being worked again. When this happens, the muscle becomes chronically fatigued and actually decreases in strength,” Paletto said. Both the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the American College of Sports Medicine advise 36 to 48 hours rest between specific muscle group workouts with seven solid hours of sleep at night, plus a healthy nutrition plan and proper work-out technique.
There is no one-size-fits-all resting plan in health and exercise for everyone, but your very best plan is in listening to your body and resting accordingly.
Skin and Summer
Now that summer is here as much as it can be in the City, there will probably be vacations for most of you that include sunny places. We’re going to examine what to do to have healthy skin, what to do to protect it and what can be done for minor irritations.
Healthy skin needs a great diet including plenty of antioxidant-rich foods such as blueberries, spinach and other leafy greens, tomatoes, beans peas and lentils, fish especially salmon and nuts. According to Dr. Susan C, Taylor of Columbia University, “Research has shown that the antioxidants…can protect the skin from sun damage and help reduce damage in skin cells…”. Dr. Taylor qualifies the statement saying eating a variety of healthy foods and staying well hydrated should help most people. There has also been some talk about Vitamin A for improving wrinkled skin but the Mayo Clinic has written these claims have not yet been proven. It is important to get your daily share of Vitamin A which assists in skin cell regeneration and can be found in yellow-orange fruits and vegetables and dark green leafys.
Conversely, it seems some foods have been associated with skin damage and …”some research suggests that a diet high in fat and carbohydrates promotes skin aging” as stated by Lawrence E. Gibson of the Mayo Clinic.
The big practice for skin is DON’T SMOKE.
When cleaning your body, remember to limit bath time, use warm instead of hot water, avoid strong soaps, moisturize, and pat dry rather than rub. All of these moderate practices maintain the natural oils in your skin which aid in the regeneration of cells and promoting skin health.
To protect yourself from the sun, it’s best to avoid being out between 10a and 4p, wear protective clothing which includes wide brimmed hats and use a sunscreen. A broad-spectrum sunscreen is suggested of SPF15 or greater although the American Academy of Dermatology suggests SPF 30. In any case, apply the sunscreen every two hours and more if your sweating or swimming. Remember that UV rays can penetrate cloud cover so use it even on cloudy days.
In case you do burn, the damage is done and there is no quick fix. It may take several days to know the full extent of the damage but there are steps you can take to ease the pain. Keep skin cool by applying cold compresses or take a cool bath. Apply aloe or moisturizing cream avoiding products with alcohol or benzocaine. Leave blisters intact; you may have to cover them with gauze. Treat peeling skin with gentleness when bathing. Consult a doctor if there are blisters over a large portion of your body, you have a high fever or severe pain and the sunburn doesn’t improve within a few days.
Finally, since a great many people like to camp, be sure to be on the lookout for poison oak and poison ivy. If you don’t know what it looks like, you can go here poisonivy.aesir.com to see some great pics. The rash usually lasts two to four weeks and while it’s running it’s course, you can take oatmeal baths (one cup of oats in a coolish bath), cool compresses or use over the counter anti itch medications for relief. Be sure to see your doctor if the rash is widespread or there are a large number of blisters.
Have a great time outdoors and remember to treat your skin respectfully.