Tag Archives: flexibility

Personalize Your Workout

Looking for the right workout for your personality? This great little article from fitness magazine offers up some great alternatives that might fit your personality!

The Best Workout for You

Create an exercise plan you won’t ditch before the month is out by matching your routine to your personality.

You are: Social

You know this because: Few things bring you more joy than a booked calendar. As long as you’re dashing off to a dinner here and an outing there, you’re a happy camper.

Try: Exercise Classes. You can belly dance, kickbox, cycle. The name of the game is togetherness. Even if you don’t belong to a gym, most towns have a community center that offers adult-ed programs.

You are: Competitive

You know this because: You really (really) want to win. You probably played sports growing up, and now you get a bit anxious if you see someone running at a faster pace on the next treadmill.

Try: Joining a League. From lacrosse to field hockey, there are adult teams battling it out every Saturday morning or Tuesday night. Not into the group thing? Sign up for a 5k race or a triathlon.

You are: Inquisitive

You know this because: You’re the one at the museum asking all the questions about architects during the Ming dynasty. If there’s something to learn, you’re there.

Try: DVDS- Lot’s of ’em. Most come with explicit instructions, so you can become an expert on all kinds of workouts, including what muscles they use and why they’re good for you, without leaving your living room.

You are: Meditative

You know this because: You look inward, preferring to take the time to reflect and think before you speak.

Try: Yoga- It’s a no brainer. To get your heart rate up while centering your split, do repetitive-motion sports like swimming, jogging, cycling, kayaking or rowing. The movements can put your brain into a Zen-like state.

You are: Outdoorsy

You know this because: You’d rather run in the pouring rain than get on the treadmill. You like nothing better than exploring a mountain, lake, beach or trail.

Try: Hooking up with a hiking, cycling, walking or running club. An active group of kindred spirits will introduce you to new places and gear while providing a community for swapping adventure stories.

You are: Romantic

You know this because: You like journaling, scrapbooking, decoupaging and antiquing. You care about how your body looks, but you’re not all that interested in traditional exercise.

Try: Dancing. There’s nothing more romantic, be it flamenco, salsa, ballroom, African or line dancing. You get to dress up, maybe even pretend you’re someone else, and move to your favourite music.

You are: Type A

You know this because: You want results- and you want them preferably in 20 minutes or less. You really don’t care why your workout works, just that it does.

Try: Interval training. It’s the perfect way to boost your heart rate and burn fat fast. Just don’t do it every day- three times a week is plenty to give your body time to get stronger.

Source: Fitness Magazine February 2008

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Virtual Training?

Personal training has evolved with technology and now offers something we never could before- Virtual Training. What is it, and how does it work? Virtual training takes advantage of our ‘wired’ society and allows personal trainers to make private lesson plans for clients without ever training them in person. Using tools such as YouTube, Kinect or other video-gaming systems, or a Webcam, a trainer can create a workout routine for a client, email or post it onto the internet and the client can follow the routine at home in privacy and on their own time. This is particularly helpful for clients who are unavailable during normal business hours, or for those who live far away from their trainer of choice. As a trainer, I personally offer this service and find mixed results-  it is not my preferred means of working with a client, but it is not a waste of a client’s time and it most certainly can benefit someone dedicated to working out and improving their health.

So does virtual training work? Well, as I briefly mentioned, there are pros and cons to this type of training. On the cons list; as a client, you lose the ability to ask on-the-spot questions and minor (or major!) form corrections cannot be fixed- meaning there is more chance for you to hurt yourself. For the trainer; it may become very difficult to find the proper way to motivate a client with whom you can not interact. But, new studies are showing the pros seem to be outweighing the cons.

This article from the National Counsel on Strength and Fitness had this to say about Virtual Training:

Virtual Training Partner Motivation

 The increasing presence of technology in our lives is driving more and more virtual interactions. These virtual relationships can range from social networking to education to business management to…exercise? Virtual exercise does not suggest simulation, but rather interaction with virtual trainers and engaging video activities. A recent article published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology (2011) by researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) reveals that working out with a virtual partner can effectively improve motivation. This might be a potential ‘fix’ for individuals who cannot find a viable exercise partner. The study, led by Deborah Feltz, chairperson of MSU’s Department of Kinesiology, specifically investigated the Kohler effect on motivation in exercise-themed video games. The Kohler effect is essentially a description of the phenomenon seen where inferior team members in a group setting will perform better when surrounded by superior team members than they would if engaging in a given endeavor by themselves. “Our results suggest working out with virtually present, superior partners can improve motivation on exercise game tasks,” said Feltz. She explains that the incorporation of design features based on the Kohler effect could increase the ability of health video games to motivate participants to vigorous-level exercise. This would be a very beneficial development as one of the key hurdles people specify related to training attrition is a lack of motivation. Previous research has clearly and repeatedly illustrated that a workout partner increases motivation – and with a virtual partner, social anxiety and other potential issues related to traditional exercise can be averted.

As a component of the study, Feltz and her research team utilized the Eye Toy camera and PlayStation2 to measure if a virtual partner could motivate participants to exercise at greater intensities, for longer durations, or at a greater frequency over a given time period. A series of plank exercises were used and observed for nearly all 200 participants. The participants first performed a series of five plank exercises, holding each position for as long as they could without any external motivation. After a rest period, they were informed that they would have a same-sex virtual partner for the remaining trials. The virtual partner’s performance was manipulated to always be superior to the participant’s. Results showed that task persistence was significantly greater when performing the plank exercises with a more-capable virtual partner (time to failure being 24% longer on average) than when performing the same activities alone. “The fact that this effect was found with a virtual partner overcomes some of the practical obstacles of finding an optimally-matched partner to exercise with at a particular time and location,” states Feltz. It is also interesting to note that researchers have found live exercise partners to sometimes be less beneficial for enhancing motivation than one may quickly presume. Basically, individuals can become discouraged if they perceive that they are slowing their training partner down, while on the other hand, superior partners can become bored from a lack of competition/motivational-related challenge. (Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2011)


Losing Weight as a Senior

Recently a few readers have asked to see some articles on Senior health and routines- as luck wold have it, I found an excellent article on Discovery Fit & Health website. This article was written by Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D., and Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D.

How to Lose Weight as a Senior

It’s time for some straight talk: You weigh more than you did ten years ago, or even five years ago. The extra pounds didn’t arrive all at once but accumulated gradually before you even realized they were climbing on board. Now you’re looking at some serious extra poundage. But that’s to be expected as you get older, right? Wrong.

Putting on excess weight is very common for a number of reasons that we’ll explain. But it’s not an inevitable part of the aging process, and it could put your health at risk. If you understand why you tend to gain weight more easily as you get older, you can do something about it. And doing something about it is what this book is all about.

You can blame a lot of your weight gain on your metabolism. Beginning as early as your mid-twenties, body fat begins to increase while muscle mass decreases. And less muscle mass translates into a slower metabolic rate.

Muscle mass decreases from about 45 percent of your total body weight in your youth to about 27 percent by the time you reach age 70. And the drop in hormones that accompanies menopause also precipitates a decrease in muscle mass, triggering even more weight gain for women. Your body fat, meanwhile, can double, even if your weight remains the same.

The bottom line is that you burn fewer calories in your 50s, 60s, or 70s doing the same activities, and the same number of them, that you did in your 20s, 30s, or 40s. The key to preventing weight gain is to compensate by adjusting your food intake, exercising, and generally becoming more physically active.

Now that you have made the decision to lose weight, it’s time to figure how much weight you need to lose. Continue to the next page to assess your weight as a senior.

Assessing Your Weight as a Senior

The best way to determine if you’re carrying around too much weight (and probably not enough muscle) is to calculate your body mass index (BMI). BMI is just one indicator of good health, but it’s a good place to start. A lower BMI indicates you’re more likely to be healthy.

Here’s how to figure your BMI:

  1. Weigh yourself first thing in the morning, without clothes.
  2. Measure your height in inches.
  3. Multiply your weight in pounds by 700.
  4. Divide the answer in #3 by your height.
  5. Divide the answer in #4 by your height again.
  6. The answer in #5 is your BMI.

What Your BMI Means:

  • 18.5 or less is underweight
  • 18.5-24.9 is a healthy weight
  • 25-29.9 is overweight
  • 30 or more is obese

Knowing how many calories you need each day is another important piece of information that will help you manage your weight. Most experts say that 2,000 to 2,600 calories a day should meet the energy needs of men older than 50 who are lightly to moderately active.

For women over 50 who are lightly to moderately active, 1,600 to 1,800 calories a day should do it. However, these are just ballpark figures. Individual calorie needs can differ greatly depending on muscle mass, physical activity, and genetic differences.

On page 40 you’ll find a guide for calculating your calorie needs if you’re lightly to moderately active (you’re not a couch potato but you don’t work out five times a week at the gym, either). You’ll need 20 percent to 30 percent more calories if you’re very physically active (you regularly participate in competitive sports, run, or go to exercise classes or the gym and spend little time just sitting and watching TV or reading).

While it’s true that the more calories you cut, the quicker you’ll lose, don’t make the mistake of cutting back too much. If you go too low (below 1,600 calories a day), you won’t get enough nutrients, you’ll be fatigued, and your body will simply compensate by slowing its metabolic rate even further so that each calorie is used as efficiently as possible.

A slower metabolic rate means that your food sacrifices won’t amount to the weight loss you expected: You’ll have sacrificed for little reward.

For men: Multiply your goal or ideal weight by 13.5 to get your daily calorie needs. For women: Multiply your goal or ideal weight by 13.2 to get your daily calorie needs.

So you’ve figured out how much weight you need to lose. The next step is to come up with a weight-loss plan. Continue to the next section to prepare to lose weight as as a senior.

Preparing to Lose Weight as a Senior

Managing your weight doesn’t just mean counting calories and figuring out your BMI. It also means taking control of your emotions and your food cravings. Most of us discover sooner or later that its usually emotions and cravings (sometimes triggered by emotions), not an insatiable appetite, that make us overeat.

If you uncover the triggers that make you overeat and learn how to manage them, you’ll have won half the weight-loss battle. Just be sure the coping techniques you develop are those you can live with. If they aren’t, you won’t stick with them.

Though there is research suggesting that some cravings may have a biological origin, most are brought on by out-of-control emotions or situations. Here are a few common emotional triggers and tips for gaining control over them.

Anger

If anger (especially suppressed anger) sends you seeking comfort food, then you’re managing your anger by overeating. While food may seem like your most dependable source of comfort, it ultimately leaves you more out of sorts than before. Face the source of your anger head on. Once you’ve done that, it’s less likely to blow up and compel you to eat — and overeat.

Stress

Stress, no matter what its source, is a common trigger for overeating. Ask yourself, do you reach for chocolate-chip ice cream every time your nosy neighbor calls? Do you pack away the potato chips every time you balance your checkbook? You can’t eliminate these triggers from your life, but you can try to reduce the anxiety.

First, make sure you get enough sleep. You’re more susceptible to stress when you’re not rested. Try different relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga, reading, or listening to soft music — whatever works for you. Try to find other, more positive outlets for your stress.

Boredom

There’s nothing on TV tonight, you’ve already finished reading that novel, and you certainly don’t feel like washing dishes or sweeping the kitchen floor. The refrigerator sure looks good right about now! Before you find yourself rummaging through the freezer for ice cream, do whatever it takes to shift the focus away from food.

Take a shower, paint your nails, throw out old newspapers, or take one last look through that magazine before you toss it. Make a list of your favorite diversions and keep them posted on the fridge.

Depression

We’re talking here about the blue mood that takes hold of everyone now and then. The blues not only prevent us from doing the things we want to do; sometimes they make us do things we’d rather not — such as overeat. Instead of letting that funk make you overeat, view it as a call to action.

Getting active is one of the best ways for lifting a black cloud. Physical activity may raise levels of endorphins, which are compounds in the brain that promote a sense of well-being, according to John Foreyt, Ph.D., a psychologist and director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Any exercise will do, just make it regular.

Happiness

Yes, it’s true. Even happiness can make you fat. Who doesn’t feel like celebrating when something good happens? And celebrations often involve food. That doesn’t mean you should never celebrate because you might overeat. Just learn to compensate. If you overeat at a celebratory dinner, simply cut back the next day.

Demystifying Food

Before you can take control of your eating habits, you have to take away the power that food has over you. In the process, you can begin to look at what you put on your plate as a positive power instead of an evil force over which you’ve lost all control.

The following are tips on “de-powerizing” the role food plays in your life from Marsha Hudnall, M.S., R.D., a nutritionist at Green Mountain at Fox Run, the nation’s oldest and most respected weight-management retreat for women.

  • Think moderation, not elimination. Figure out what’s important and what’s not. Learn to eat less of the high-fat, high-calorie foods you enjoy the most. Knowing you can still look forward to your favorite foods makes the process something you can live with for a lifetime.
  • Eat regularly in response to real hunger. Learn to listen to your body’s cues. By eating healthful, balanced meals and snacks when you’re hungry, you’re less likely to get caught up in out-of-control eating that you’ll regret later.
  • Say good-bye to calorie counting. Switch your focus from calories to good nutrition. Make your healthful eating changes gradual, so you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Picture portions. It’s hard to manage your food intake if you don’t have a clue what a 1/2 cup serving of pasta looks like or what a 6-ounce glass of juice is. When you start out, measure your food until you’ve learned to judge portion sizes accurately. If portion sizes start creeping back up, return to measuring and weighing for a while.
  • Disconnect with the scale. Don’t focus on a number, instead use how you feel and the way your clothes fit to measure success. If you just can’t give up the scale, make your weigh-ins less frequent. Weighing yourself once a week is adequate.

In the next section find out how easy it can be to incorporate more physical activity into your current daily routine.

Getting More Physical Activity as a Senior

If you’re determined to succeed at losing weight, simply cutting calories won’t guarantee success. Physical activity is as essential to achieving long-term weight loss as a healthful diet, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). By themselves, neither exercise nor diet can get you to your goal as effectively or as fast as the two of them can together. That’s especially true for people over age 50.

Not only is physical activity essential for weight-loss success, the NIH says it’s an important factor in maintaining your weight once you’ve lost the extra pounds. Take comfort in the NIH’s use of the words “physical activity,” not “exercise.”

The message is that you can win the weight-loss game with many different kinds of physical activity. You don’t have to do killer aerobics and lift heavy weights at a gym to drop pounds and keep them off. But you do have to do something, and you have to do it regularly.

Anti-Aging Bonus

Researchers have recently learned that regular physical activity can have a powerful effect on age-related declines in metabolism. One study out of Tufts University Center for Physical Fitness found that strength training by itself increased the metabolic rate of postmenopausal women by 15 percent. Not much, you say?

If the boost translates to only 100 calories a day, which is a realistic expectation, you could save yourself from putting on an extra 10 pounds in a year. Regular exercise offers a trifecta of good health: It burns calories, builds muscle, and improves your overall health. Experts on aging say that the body is better able to repair itself and perform efficiently if it is properly conditioned by exercise and good nutrition.

And the calorie-burning rewards of exercise are not limited to your workout time. Some research suggests that your revved up metabolic rate stays elevated for several hours after you stop exercising.

While weight management may be your number one priority now, think fitness not thinness. Just look at all the other health bonuses experts attribute to being physically active:

Regular physical activity reduces your risk of developing:

  • heart disease
  • some kinds of cancer
  • high blood pressure
  • osteoporosis
  • diabetes
  • obesity

It also can reduce the symptoms of:

  • arthritis
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • insomnia

And it boosts and builds:

  • the immune system
  • your energy level
  • your muscle mass
  • blood flow to the brain, which helps keep you mentally sharp

So how should you get started? It doesn’t matter how you begin, just get moving! Any activity is better than vegetating in front of the television. Look for every opportunity you can to stand instead of sit, walk instead of drive, or run instead of walk. Turn your everyday activities into opportunities for physical activity, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Make movement a routine part of your everyday life.

Triad of Physical Activity

Recent research has found that when it comes to exercise, you need a combination of three types to reap the most health benefits — weight training for strength, aerobic exercise for strength and endurance, and calisthenics (stretching, bending, and twisting exercises) for flexibility.

Studies have found that extreme physical exertion is no more useful to gaining and maintaining fitness than is moderate exercise. What’s more, you place yourself at risk for injury or a heart attack if you’re not already in good physical shape. So start off slowly and increase your activity gradually. Get your doctor’s okay before beginning a new physical activity if you haven’t exercised in years or have a medical condition.

The Benefits of Walking

One of the easiest ways to get physically active is to walk at a pace that makes you breathe a little harder and work up a mild sweat for 30 minutes to 1 hour three days a week. This kind of walking will keep your heart, lungs, and vascular system in good working order and strengthen your bones and muscles.

If you just don’t have time for a 30-minute walk each day, experts say that walking about 10,000 steps a day (the equivalent of about five miles) while doing your normal activities should keep you fit.

Haven’t a clue how much walking that is? Try using a pedometer. It’s a small battery-operated gizmo about the size of a matchbox that you attach to your waist so it can monitor your every step. By keeping track of your movements all day, you can easily see how far you’ve gone and how far you have yet to go to reach your goal.

Swim Your Way to Fitness

If you have arthritis that makes some movements painful, swimming is an excellent way to get aerobically fit. It offers some of the same benefits as walking or other aerobic exercises without putting stress on joints that may be unable to repair themselves like healthy joints would. The one benefit swimming can’t provide, however, is strengthening bones because it is not a weight-bearing exercise.

Weight Training for Seniors

If you think lifting weights is just for 20-somethings in spandex, think again. It’s a little-appreciated fact that muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does, even when at rest. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.

Since muscle mass declines with age — typically about five percent per decade beginning in your late twenties or early thirties — it’s to your advantage to try to increase your muscle mass through strength training. The older you get, the greater the potential benefit. So, as the saying goes, use it or lose it.

Research from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently confirmed that the gradual loss of muscle mass that occurs with age means a decreasing need for calories — and sometimes a creeping weight gain if you don’t lower your calorie intake. The more you can do to minimize the effect of muscle loss, whether it’s due to age, inactivity, or both, the easier weight loss will be.

But before you start trying to bench-press your own body weight, it’s important to distinguish between true weight lifting and strength training. Weight lifting is about bulking up so you can lift heavy weights swiftly. Strength training, on the other hand, is about firming by repeatedly lifting weights in a very slow, controlled way.

It’s a good idea when you first get started to have a trainer show you exactly how it should be done to avoid injury. Your training can be done with free weights, such as barbells, or with specially designed equipment that works specific parts of the body.

You should do a set number of repetitions with each exercise as you slowly progress to your goal. Muscle strengthening exercises should be done for at least 20 minutes, three times a week.

Where to Get Started

Don’t want to fork over the cash for a high-class health club? Many kinds of organizations, such as the YMCA and YWCA, junior colleges and universities, senior and community centers, and adult and continuing education programs, offer inexpensive classes in sports, exercise, dance, and weight training.

The instructors in these classes can help you get the most benefit from exercise while avoiding injury. Attend with a friend; you’re more likely to stick with it if you know you have a partner waiting for you.

When you’re increasing your physical activity, don’t drastically cut your calorie intake. Of course, you have to cut calories to lose weight — just don’t get carried away. Fewer than 1,600 calories a day may not leave you with enough energy to make it through a regular day, much less a day filled with more physical activity than you’re used to.

And make sure 40 to 60 percent of those calories come from carbohydrates, the chief power source for your body and your brain. Diets that ban carbohydrates could leave you with a power-draining energy deficit.

Do You Need More Protein?

It’s a myth that you need more protein if you’re going to be more active and build muscle. Only serious athletes require more protein than the rest of us, and even then it’s not a lot more. Most of us can get all the protein we need in a day — about 46 to 56 grams — from about five ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish, plus two to three 8-ounce glasses of low-fat milk.

Of course, there are other good dietary sources of protein that you can also use to fill your protein needs. So, don’t waste your money on high-protein shakes that promise to bulk you up. Best advice? Be physically active and start a strength-training routine.

Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D. is the author of seven books, including Foods for Better Health, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!, and Super Nutrition After 50. Webb also writes about health and nutrition for numerous magazines, including Family Circle, Fitness, Parade, Men’s Fitness, and Redbook. She is a regular columnist for Woman’s Day and Prevention magazines, a contributing writer for The New York Times, the associate editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter, and a writer for the American Botanical Council.

Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. is a nutrition consultant and writer. She is the author or co-author of five books, including Super Nutrition After 50 and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. Ward is a contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition newsletter and a contributing writer for WebMD.com. She also writes for publications such as Parenting magazine and The Boston Globe.

Source: http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/aging/senior-health-lifestyle/lose-weight-senior.htm


Website is Finally Ready!

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Anxiety Relief

Did yesterday’s anxiety article make you more anxious? Great news, today is all about meditation!

Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Robert Segal, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A.

Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief

Finding the Relaxation Exercises That Work for You

For many of us with hectic, stressful lives, relaxation means zoning out in front of the TV at the end of the day or snatching some extra sleep at the weekend. Unfortunately, this does little to help reduce the damaging effects of stress on the mind and body.

To effectively combat stress, we need to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. You can do this by practicing relaxation techniques including deep breathing, visualization, meditation, and yoga, or by performing rhythmic exercise, such as running, cycling, or mindful walking. Finding ways to fit these activities into your life can help reduce everyday stress and boost your energy and mood. They’ll also help you to stay calm in the face of life’s unexpected events.

The relaxation response: bringing your nervous system back into balance

Stress is necessary for life. You need stress for creativity, learning, and your very survival. Stress is only harmful when it becomes overwhelming and interrupts the healthy state of equilibrium that your nervous system needs to remain in balance. Unfortunately, overwhelming stress has become an increasingly common characteristic of contemporary life. When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques can bring it back into a balanced state by producing the relaxation response, a state of deep calmness that is the polar opposite of the stress response.

When stress overwhelms your nervous system your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight”. While the stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly, it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life. The relaxation response puts the brakes on this heightened state of readiness and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium.

Producing the relaxation response

A variety of different relaxation techniques can help you bring your nervous system back into balance by producing the relaxation response. The relaxation response is not lying on the couch or sleeping but a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed, calm, and focused.

Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isn’t difficult, but it does take practice. Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If you’d like to get even more stress relief, aim for 30 minutes to an hour. If that sounds like a daunting commitment, remember that many of these techniques can be incorporated into your existing daily schedule—practiced at your desk over lunch or on the bus during your morning commute.

Finding the relaxation technique that’s best for you

There is no single relaxation technique that is best for everyone. When choosing a relaxation technique, consider your specific needs, preferences, fitness level, and the way you tend to react to stress. The right relaxation technique is the one that resonates with you, fits your lifestyle, and is able to focus your mind and interrupt your everyday thoughts in order to elicit the relaxation response. In many cases, you may find that alternating or combining different techniques will keep you motivated and provide you with the best results.

How do you react to stress?

How you react to stress may influence the relaxation technique that works best for you:

Stress Response Symptoms Relaxation Technique
Overexcited You tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up under stress You may respond best to relaxation techniques that quiet you down, such as meditation, deep breathing, or guided imagery
Under excited You tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out under stress You may respond best to relaxation techniques that are stimulating and that energize your nervous system, such as rhythmic exercise
Frozen (both overexcited and under excited at the same time – like pressing on the brakes and gas simultaneously) You tend to freeze: speeding up in some ways while slowing down in others Your challenge is to identify relaxation techniques that provide both safety and stimulation to help you “reboot” your system. Techniques such as mindfulness walking or power yoga might work well for you

Do you need alone time or social stimulation?

If you crave solitude, solo relaxation techniques such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation will give you the space to quiet your mind and recharge your batteries. If you crave social interaction, a class setting will give you the stimulation and support you’re looking for. Practicing with others may also help you stay motivated.

Relaxation technique 1: Breathing meditation for stress relief

With its focus on full, cleansing breaths, deep breathing is a simple, yet powerful, relaxation technique. It’s easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check. Deep breathing is the cornerstone of many other relaxation practices, too, and can be combined with other relaxing elements such as aromatherapy and music. All you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out.

Practicing deep breathing meditation

The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible in your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel.

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  • Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
  • Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
  • Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.

If you find it difficult breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying on the floor. Put a small book on your stomach, and try to breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale.

Relaxation technique 2: Progressive muscle relaxation for stress relief

Progressive muscle relaxation involves a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body.

With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation gives you an intimate familiarity with what tension—as well as complete relaxation—feels like in different parts of the body. This awareness helps you spot and counteract the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. And as your body relaxes, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for an additional level of stress relief.

Practicing progressive muscle relaxation

Before practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation, consult with your doctor if you have a history of muscle spasms, back problems, or other serious injuries that may be aggravated by tensing muscles.

Most progressive muscle relaxation practitioners start at the feet and work their way up to the face. For a sequence of muscle groups to follow, see the box below.

  • Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
  • Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
  • When you’re relaxed and ready to start, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
  • Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
  • Relax your right foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and the way your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
  • Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
  • When you’re ready, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
  • Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.
  • It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Sequence

The most popular sequence runs as follows:

  1. Right foot*
  2. Left foot
  3. Right calf
  4. Left calf
  5. Right thigh
  1. Left thigh
  2. Hips and buttocks
  3. Stomach
  4. Chest
  5. Back
  1. Right arm and hand
  2. Left arm and hand
  3. Neck and shoulders
  4. Face

* If you are left-handed you may want to begin with your left foot instead.

Relaxation technique 3: Body scan meditation for stress relief

A body scan is similar to progressive muscle relaxation except, instead of tensing and relaxing muscles, you simply focus on the sensations in each part of your body.

Practicing body scan meditation

  • Sit or lie down. Breathe deeply, allowing your stomach to rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Breathe this way for two minutes.
  • Begin scanning by focusing on the toes of the right foot and slowly move up the foot and leg, feeling the sensations and directing your breath into and out of each area. Repeat the sequence for your left leg. From there, move up the torso, through the lower back and abdomen, the upper back and chest, and the shoulders.
  • Move your focus to the fingers in your right arm and move up to the shoulders. Repeat for your left arm. Then move through the neck and throat, and finally all the regions of your face, the back of the head, and the top of the head. Try breathing through an imaginary “hole” in the very top of your head, as if you were a whale with a blowhole.
  • After completing the body scan, relax for a while in silence and stillness, noting how your body feels. Then open your eyes slowly. Take a moment to stretch, if necessary.

For a guided body scan meditation, see the Resources section below.

Relaxation technique 4: Mindfulness for stress relief

Mindfulness is the ability to remain aware of how you’re feeling right now, your “moment-to-moment” experience—both internal and external. Thinking about the past—blaming and judging yourself—or worrying about the future can often lead to a degree of stress that is overwhelming. But by staying calm and focused in the present moment, you can bring your nervous system back into balance. Mindfulness can be applied to activities such as walking, exercising, eating, or meditation.

Meditations that cultivate mindfulness have long been used to reduce overwhelming stress. Some of these meditations bring you into the present by focusing your attention on a single repetitive action, such as your breathing, a few repeated words, or flickering light from a candle. Other forms of mindfulness meditation encourage you to follow and then release internal thoughts or sensations.

Practicing mindfulness meditation

Key points in mindfulness mediation are:

  • A quiet environment. Choose a secluded place in your home, office, garden, place of worship, or in the great outdoors where you can relax without distractions or interruptions.
  • A comfortable position. Get comfortable, but avoid lying down as this may lead to you falling asleep. Sit up with your spine straight, either in a chair or on the floor. You can also try a cross-legged or lotus position.
  • A point of focus. This point can be internal – a feeling or imaginary scene – or something external – a flame or meaningful word or phrase that you repeat it throughout your session. You may meditate with eyes open or closed. Also choose to focus on an object in your surroundings to enhance your concentration, or alternately, you can close your eyes.
  • An observant, noncritical attitude. Don’t worry about distracting thoughts that go through your mind or about how well you’re doing. If thoughts intrude during your relaxation session, don’t fight them. Instead, gently turn your attention back to your point of focus.

For more on mindfulness and mindfulness meditation, see the Harvard Bonus Article “Cultivating Mindfulness” below.

Relaxation technique 5: Visualization meditation for stress relief

Visualization, or guided imagery, is a variation on traditional meditation that requires you to employ not only your visual sense, but also your sense of taste, touch, smell, and sound. When used as a relaxation technique, visualization involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety.

Choose whatever setting is most calming to you, whether it’s a tropical beach, a favorite childhood spot, or a quiet wooded glen. You can do this visualization exercise on your own in silence, while listening to soothing music, or with a therapist (or an audio recording of a therapist) guiding you through the imagery. To help you employ your sense of hearing you can use a sound machine or download sounds that match your chosen setting—the sound of ocean waves if you’ve chosen a beach, for example.

Practicing visualization

Find a quiet, relaxed place. Beginners sometimes fall asleep during a visualization meditation, so you might try sitting up or standing.

Close your eyes and let your worries drift away. Imagine your restful place. Picture it as vividly as you can—everything you can see, hear, smell, and feel. Visualization works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible, using at least three of your senses. When visualizing, choose imagery that appeals to you; don’t select images because someone else suggests them, or because you think they should be appealing. Let your own images come up and work for you.

If you are thinking about a dock on a quiet lake, for example:

  • Walk slowly around the dock and notice the colors and textures around you.
  • Spend some time exploring each of your senses.
  • See the sun setting over the water.
  • Hear the birds singing.
  • Smell the pine trees.
  • Feel the cool water on your bare feet.
  • Taste the fresh, clean air.

Enjoy the feeling of deep relaxation that envelopes you as you slowly explore your restful place. When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present.

Don’t worry if you sometimes zone out or lose track of where you are during a guided imagery session.  This is normal. You may also experience feelings of stiffness or heaviness in your limbs, minor, involuntary muscle-movements, or even cough or yawn. Again, these are normal responses.

Relaxation technique 6: Yoga and tai chi for stress relief

Yoga involves a series of both moving and stationary poses, combined with deep breathing. As well as reducing anxiety and stress, yoga can also improve flexibility, strength, balance, and stamina. Practiced regularly, it can also strengthen the relaxation response in your daily life. Since injuries can happen when yoga is practiced incorrectly, it’s best to learn by attending group classes, hiring a private teacher, or at least following video instructions.

What type of yoga is best for stress?

Although almost all yoga classes end in a relaxation pose, classes that emphasize slow, steady movement, deep breathing, and gentle stretching are best for stress relief.

  • Satyananda is a traditional form of yoga. It features gentle poses, deep relaxation, and meditation, making it suitable for beginners as well as anyone primarily looking for stress reduction.
  • Hatha yoga is also reasonably gentle way to relieve stress and is suitable for beginners. Alternately, look for labels like gentle, for stress relief, or for beginners when selecting a yoga class.
  • Power yoga, with its intense poses and focus on fitness, is better suited to those looking for stimulation as well as relaxation.

If you’re unsure whether a specific yoga class is appropriate for stress relief, call the studio or ask the teacher.

Tai chi

If you’ve ever seen a group of people in the park slowly moving in synch, you’ve probably witnessed tai chi. Tai chi is a self-paced, non-competitive series of slow, flowing body movements. These movements emphasize concentration, relaxation, and the conscious circulation of vital energy throughout the body. Though tai chi has its roots in martial arts, today it is primarily practiced as a way of calming the mind, conditioning the body, and reducing stress. As in meditation, tai chi practitioners focus on their breathing and keeping their attention in the present moment.

Tai chi is a safe, low-impact option for people of all ages and levels of fitness, including older adults and those recovering from injuries. Like yoga, once you’ve learned the basics of tai chi or qi gong, you can practice alone or with others, tailoring your sessions as you see fit.

Making relaxation techniques a part of your life

The best way to start and maintain a relaxation practice is to incorporate it into your daily routine. Between work, family, school, and other commitments, though, it can be tough for many people to find the time. Fortunately, many of the techniques can be practiced while you’re doing other things.

Rhythmic exercise as a mindfulness relaxation technique

Rhythmic exercise—such as running, walking, rowing, or cycling—is most effective at relieving stress when performed with relaxation in mind. As with meditation, mindfulness requires being fully engaged in the present moment, focusing your mind on how your body feels right now. As you exercise, focus on the physicality of your body’s movement and how your breathing complements that movement. If your mind wanders to other thoughts, gently return to focusing on your breathing and movement.

If walking or running, for example, focus on each step—the sensation of your feet touching the ground, the rhythm of your breath while moving, and the feeling of the wind against your face.

Tips for fitting relaxation techniques into your life

  • If possible, schedule a set time to practice each day. Set aside one or two periods each day. You may find that it’s easier to stick with your practice if you do it first thing in the morning, before other tasks and responsibilities get in the way.
  • Practice relaxation techniques while you’re doing other things. Meditate while commuting to work on a bus or train, or waiting for a dentist appointment. Try deep breathing while you’re doing housework or mowing the lawn. Mindfulness walking can be done while exercising your dog, walking to your car, or climbing the stairs at work instead of using the elevator. Once you’ve learned techniques such as tai chi, you can practice them in your office or in the park at lunchtime.
  • If you exercise, improve the relaxation benefits by adopting mindfulness. Instead of zoning out or staring at a TV as you exercise, try focusing your attention on your body. If you’re resistance training, for example, focus on coordinating your breathing with your movements and pay attention to how your body feels as you raise and lower the weights.
  • Avoid practicing when you’re sleepy. These techniques can relax you so much that they can make you very sleepy, especially if it’s close to bedtime. You will get the most benefit if you practice when you’re fully awake and alert. Do not practice after eating a heavy meal or while using drugs, tobacco, or alcohol.
  • Expect ups and downs. Don’t be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum.

Source: http://helpguide.org/mental/stress_relief_meditation_yoga_relaxation.htm


What’s Your Favourite Pose?

With certain activities off the table for me during my road to recovery, I’ve been forced to turn toward some fitness alternatives. I opted to look into something involving stretching- namely yoga. When I began looking into yoga, I was faced with the decision anyone new to the yoga world faces: yoga or pilates? Which is the “better” system, what are the main differences, and what can I gain from each system? Luckily an article published by The Guardian UK, written by Sam Murphy was one of the many informative pieces I found highlighting the differences between yoga and pilates.

Yoga vs Pilates

Strength

Yoga postures, or asanas, build endurance in every large muscle group but strength is not the main focus. A rule of thumb is that yoga is more about how you feel and pilates about how you look.

Unlike yoga, pilates uses resistance and weights to build strength and places more emphasis on physical conditioning. It works all the muscle groups resulting in a leaner, stronger body.

Flexibility

Yoga is unsurpassed in enhancing flexibility and increasing range of joint motion. In a study from the University of Wisconsin, eight weeks of yoga practice improved flexibility by 13-35%.

Pilates offers a different approach compared with yoga. Rather than stretching to improve flexibility, it focuses on why a certain muscle is tight and tries to solve the problem.

Abs of steel

While yoga does work the abs and core muscles, this isn’t by any means a primary focus. Work in this area is much less demanding and painstaking in yoga.

Nothing forms and flattens a tummy like Pilates: it has a unique focus on core muscles in the trunk and pelvis, and is one of the best ways to build core strength, says the American Council on Exercise.

Mental wellbeing

Spiritual wellbeing is integral to yoga. The physical practice gives the body a feeling of balance and wellbeing, while breathing techniques enhance inner focus and relaxation.

Pilates is considered a mind-body exercise and so requires concentration, which can distract you from daily worries, but wellbeing isn’t such a focus as it is in yoga.

Back pain

Yoga improves spinal flexibility and strength. However, certain postures will be unsuitable – for example, deep forward bends should be avoided after a slipped disc.

With its focus on the core, Pilates is very good for supporting and strengthening the back. Research in Canada found it valuable in alleviating non-specific lower-back pain.

What it really comes down to, is which you prefer and the goals you’ve set for yourself. If you’re looking to improve flexibility and mental focus- yoga is your best choice; looking for overall toning and back strengthening workout- pilates. If any of you are wondering- I chose pilates. Enjoy your workout!


Put on Your Running Shoes but SKIP the Stretches

I see injuries waiting to happen at the start of every track meet, and in the driveways’ of every casual runner. I’m talking about stretching before beginning a workout. A warm-up before activity is a great precaution against injury, but stretching before a workout does not provide those same benefits.

When your body is ‘cold’, or in a pre-exercise state, it is resistant to movement; body tissue that is cold is less pliable, so it needs to be warmed up in order to perform activity effectively. Warm-ups are designed specifically to increase tissue temperature before beginning exercise to allow muscles to become more flexible and increase range of motion. Adequate warm-ups are noted to:

  • Increase in speed in muscle action and relaxation
  • A greater economy of movement due to lowered resistance within the active muscles
  • Increased delivery of oxygen to the muscles (this is because hemoglobin releases oxygen more readily at higher temperatures)
  • Increase in nerve transmission and muscle metabolism
  • Increase in blood flow which heightens metabolic processes and muscle temperature
  • Improved range of motion seen with the increase in muscle and core temperature

Proper warm-ups also improve the performance of your heart. Blood flow to the heart mirrors the intensity of your exercise, so conditioning the heart to intensity changes protects the heart from blood pressure spikes and irregular rhythms. Gradually increasing from low, to moderate, to high intensity can help reduce stress on the cardiac muscle.

Warm-ups usually fall into one of two categories: general or specific. General warm-ups are characterized by ‘gross motor activation’ which is designed to increase blood flow and temperature in the working muscles. A general warm-up will use basic movements, repeated over and over during a set period of time; like walking, calisthenics or jumping rope for 10 minutes before beginning a routine. This is a general way to warm up the whole body before starting your workout. Specific warm-ups are a bit different, in that these movements attempt to utilize the actions and musculature that is to be used during a particular activity.  Specific warm-ups usually resemble the activity you are about to perform; for example if you are going to bench press a heavy load, you may bench press a very light load first to prep the muscles that will be activated by your exercise, or if you are about to run sprints, you may jog at a low intensity first. Specific exercises not only warm up your core body temperature, but they also activate and enhance the neuromuscular pathways employed by the activity. A way to think about this, is to imagine that your body is reading the manual of the exercise before beginning. The goal of both general and specific warm-ups is to increase your performance level while at the same time reducing the likelihood of injury.

By now you can begin to see that stretching a cold body could easily lead to an injury; if your body is not warmed up, it will be resistant to movements, and flexibility will be limited. But stretching before exercise leads to more injury than just tightness in cold muscles and joints. A hold stretch, or a static stretch, (like the ones you see joggers doing with their calves before running) can be a serious mistake. Static stretching before exercising does two detrimental things: it reduces power output when performed before resistance training or power based activities, and it inhibits the excitation of the muscle and “turns the muscle off”. When the muscle is in this ‘off’ state before exercise, the likelihood of injury is greatly increased. Even short bouts of static stretching before your workout can dramatically alter your performance and be detrimental to your body. However, static stretching at the end of your workout yields very positive results and even aids in recovery.

This article written by Urmee Khan from The Telegraph has some more information on static stretching before a workout:

Stretching before exercise can be bad for you

Researchers say stretching, considered an important part of any athlete’s warm-up routine, can actually weaken muscles.

The habit of holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, known as static stretching, has been considered benefitial for priming muscles. However, scientists from the University of Nevada Las Vegas say this should no longer be encouraged.

Their findings highlight that the two common pre-running stretches – for the hamstrings and quadriceps – may actually reduce performance by weakening muscles in the leg.

Kinesiology professor Bill Holcomb, who authored the report, said: “Developing flexibility is important for reducing sports injury, but the time to stretch is after, not before, performance.”

Other studies have found that this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 per cent. Stretching one leg’s muscles can also reduce strength in the other leg as the central nervous system can rebel against the movements.

The correct warm up, according to experts, should do two things – loosen muscles and tendons to increase the range of motion of various joints, and warm up the body.

To raise the body’s temperature, a warm-up should begin with aerobic activity, and researchers recommend light jogging.

Warm muscles and dilated blood vessels pull oxygen from the bloodstream more efficiently and use stored muscle fuel more effectively.

Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City said that straining muscles makes them less responsive and they stay weakened for up to 30 minutes after stretching.

“This not how an athlete wants to begin a workout” he told the New York Times.

You’re Getting Warmer: The Best Dynamic Stretches

These exercises- as taught by the United States Tennis Association’s player-development program – are good for many athletes. Do them immediately after your aerobic warm-up and as soon as possible before your workout.

STRAIGHT-LEG MARCH

(for the hamstrings and gluteus muscles)

Kick one leg straight out in front of you, with your toes flexed toward the sky. Reach your opposite arm to the upturned toes. Drop the leg and repeat with the opposite limbs. Continue the sequence for at least six or seven repetitions.

SCORPION

(for the lower back, hip flexors and gluteus muscles)

Lie on your stomach, with your arms outstretched and your feet flexed so that only your toes are touching the ground. Kick your right foot toward your left arm, then kick your leftfoot toward your right arm. Since this is an advanced exercise, begin slowly, and repeat up to 12 times.

HANDWALKS

(for the shoulders, core muscles, and hamstrings)

Stand straight, with your legs together. Bend over until both hands are flat on the ground. “Walk” with your hands forward until your back is almost extended. Keeping your legs straight, inch your feet toward your hands, then walk your hands forward again. Repeat five or six times.

Additional information gathered from:

Advanced Concepts of Personal Training- Brian D. Biagioli

Sports Injuries Guidebook- Robert S. Gotlin


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