Thursday, January 31, 2019

Winter Exercise Health Guide

There are many physical and mental benefits to outdoor exercise.  Exercising outside performing functional activities provides bone strengthening, balancing, natural movement cardio challenges.  Being outside in fresh air is proven to ward off depression and stress.  Sunshine provides bone protective and immune boosting vitamin D and prevents seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  Plants and trees expire immune-boosting chemicals.  Natural light makes you happier, and being outdoors has been proven to improve concentration. 
Getting outside on a cold day, however, requires some forethought. Dressing for warmth can be tricky if you are exercising and know your body heat will rise.  Wearing removable layers of moisture-wicking fabric is always recommended.  Appropriate footwear is also beneficial; waterproof hiking or snow boots with adequate traction will prevent slippage and wet feet.  Winter sports such as paddle tennis or jogging require shoes with good treads and proper fit.  Attachable traction cleats are inexpensive and worth the investment to prevent slip and falls. 
 Runners, walkers and hikers need to accommodate to or avoid icy surfaces;  uneven and slippery ground leads to shorter strides and more uncertain foot placement.  This destabilizes your ankles and knees; the most commonly injured joints in running.  Not only can a twist result in a sprained ankle or knee, ligament and or cartilage tears can also result.  During a fall, finger, wrist and shoulder fractures are also possible.  Back problems can result or reactivate as you sway forwards or back to correct balance.  The wider stance that is typical of propelling yourself over icy surfaces can lead to iliotibial band syndrome or hip bursitis with symptoms of outer thigh and leg pain. 
For those who enjoy a snow shovel challenge, take precautions.  While shoveling is extreme cardio and provides an excellent calorie burn, it is a common cause of back injuries and cardiac events. Shoveling heavy snow increases heart attack risk by 16% due to four factors:  the extra strain on the upper body, the cold weather, severe exertion, and dehydration.   Dehydration is common while exercising in the cold as your thirst signals are decreased.  Dehydration raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes as the blood becomes thicker and harder to pump.  Drinking before, during and after is key to health.   Shovel in less than 1 hour time periods. Consider pushing rather than lifting snow and never twist and throw to reduce back injury risks.  Stop if you are feeling pain of any kind especially back pain shooting down the leg.  If you develop severe arm pain, chest pain or heaviness, shortness of breath, or a feeling of doom, call 911.  Women are more likely to have less classic symptoms of heart attack including abdominal pressure, nausea, sweating and fatigue. 
There are additional health hazards associated with the elements of winter.  Head injuries are possible due to extreme falls or when wind suddenly brings down heavy snow-covered branches.  Falling backwards on black ice can send you landing on your rear leading to spine, pelvic or tailbone fractures.  Asthma is made worse in the cold, and any lingering upper respiratory germs can worsen into serious infections.  If you have a cold, as most adults do 2-3 times from September to April, listen to your body: if you have chest symptoms, a productive cough, a fever, or fatigue, rest is recommended to prevent bronchitis, pneumonia, or worsening illness. 
Frostbite, when severe, can result in amputation.  Frostbite risk is greatest if temperature is below 10 degrees or wind chill below 5 (see chart).  Symptoms include numbness, itching, stinging, blue discoloration and hardening of the skin.   Frostnip, in which the skin turns white and numb is a pre-frostbite stage.  Frostnip is painful as the skin thaws and a body signal that it is time to come in from the cold. 
If you have any of these symptoms go inside immediately but avoid applying direct heat and don’t rub the area.  Instead, use warm water or body heat and stay out of the cold.  People who have previously had frostbite, children, the elderly and alcohol and tobacco users are more at risk.  Wearing layers and avoiding wetness from snow or sweat also prevents frostbite. 
While many of these factors seem scary, with precaution, exercising in the cold is energizing and enjoyable with benefits that extend beyond the gym.  You also burn a few more calories in cold than in warm environments.   Just check the weather before you go out; consider staying in if the temperature is below 0 or wind chill -18 as frostbite can occur in 30 minutes or less.  If the temperature is above 35, you will probably be pretty comfortable and safe from falling. Take a cell phone if you are going out alone in case you get lost or injured.  Consider getting out for a 20 minute walk, especially if the sun is out.   You will find yourself instantly happier and healthier with a new way to keep your New Year’s fitness resolutions!!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

How to Take a Fitness Class

Orange Theory circuit style cardio 
Thinking about your New Year’s Resolution?  If you are like most, getting healthier is at the top of your list. Even the fittest among us use a New Year to motivate self-improvement or try something new.  If that something new is a fitness class, read this first..
Circuit classes like Orange Theory are ubiquitous in the fitness world. Yoga classes are also everywhere and range in intensity from teaching meditation and balance to intense aerobic power moves.  Functional fitness classes involve activities such as running, stairs, and climbing.  Cycling or spinning classes continue to evolve and are a great blast of aerobic or cardiac fitness activity.  Boxing, treadmill, and rowing classes are also popular.  

Unlike the first fitness dance aerobics classes such as Zumba and step classes, most modern-day circuit fitness classes change forms of weights with each exercise. These include stretch bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, bars and balls.  Mixing it up keeps you interested and challenged and is less likely to cause a repetitive use injury.  Still, whenever weights are added, risk of injury increases due to speed of motion, improper form and too much weight

Strength training classes and adding weights to aerobics class are both likely to continue to gain popularity.  To meet the updated exercise recommendations by the CDC to include 2 sessions of moderate to vigorous strength training sessions per week, strength training in classes may take the form of kettlebell swings, box jumps, and squatting, lunging, or walking with weights. Moving with weights and throwing medicine balls are also common exercise techniques.  Any of these exercises may increase risk of injury as balance is challenged by the weights, causing twisting moments and off-center joint imbalances of major joints such as the knees, hips, neck and lower back. 

Ideally, watch a class before you take it.  Ask members if they like the instructor and feel that she or he is someone who is paying attention to the class.  Both the music and instructor style should be upbeat and motivating but not so quick you can’t keep up.

As you enter a class for the first time, choose a position you are comfortable in. For a first class I prefer standing in the back so that when I modify the motions to prevent injury I don’t throw anyone else in the class off.  Others might prefer a position in the front, closer to the instructor who will hopefully demonstrate and watch for good form.  When you choose your equipment, find the lowest weights and resistance bands. This is not wimping out, it’s avoiding injury and overstressed muscles.  With repetitions, proper form, and light weights, you will get results! Most classes have much more repetition than you need; 30 is always plenty.  

sample of some classes offered at LA Fitness
Don’t necessarily do as the instructor does.  I have witnessed many demonstrate poor form.  Instructors are usually young and strong with much less risk of injury.  Remember you can always leave if you feel pain or are too frustrated trying to avoid pain.  Again, be very careful moving your body while holding weights.  This can throw out your back, your neck and your hips.  When weights go overhead, shoulder, neck and back are at risk of injury.  Keep the motions in front of you, never behind you where your shoulder stability will be compromised. 

Most importantly, listen to your body.  If it hurts, don’t continue.  If you are sore more than 2 days later, choose lighter weights next time.  And if you have sharp  pain that doesn’t resolve with ice or anti-inflammatories over a few days, see your doctor or a physical therapist.  Remember, there are so many ways to get fit;  a strength training class by 1 instructor can be very different from another’s.   Keep searching until you find what thrills you and does not hurt.  Happy New Year!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Better Fitness Through Travel

Whether you are a regular, rare, or never exerciser, exercising while travelling should be on your to-do list.  In fact, there’s no better time. Even if your travel schedule is packed, just dedicating 30 minutes to exercise will improve how healthy you feel while travelling and after.  The benefits include:

Unwinding your body from hours of sitting
Relieving spine stress from carrying luggage
Burning extra calories to make up for restaurant meals
Exploring a new type of exercise
Improving sleep (exercise always improves sleep quality)
Consider heading to your hotel gym or pool, a walking trail, a fitness studio, or renting a bike.  When it comes to hotel gyms, while they may look intimidating, they are not.  Often, they are empty which takes the pressure off of knowing what you are doing, dressing in the latest fitness wear, or looking like you are working hard on a machine.  There are rarely rules in a hotel gym.  In fact, if you forgot work-out clothes, just wear what you have. 

Start with the bike to warm up your legs, move on to the elliptical, and even try the treadmill.  Just 5-10 minutes on each piece of equipment will keep you motivated and moving.  Limiting time to less than 15 minutes per cardio machine also reduces risk of overuse injury which can happen when doing too much too soon.  Weight machines are also fun to try, just start with the lowest weights.  Don’t forget to take 5 minutes to stretch and add a few crunches for your core.  Try laying on your back and sides on the fitness ball or foam roller with arms overhead and rock back and forth for a gentle massage and stretch.  Don’t forget to hydrate!  Gyms are also usually great sources of bottled or filtered water if you don’t want to drink from the tap. 
If it is a nice day, explore your surroundings.  Ask the front desk if there is a walking trail nearby.  Lace up your sneakers, grab a water bottle, bring your phone for navigation and photos, and go.  If you are feeling energetic, try alternating walking and jogging.  Keep your eyes open for pretty sculptures, buildings and tiny parks.  You will be surprised at the beauty you find.  Reward yourself at a coffee shop on the way back!

If you choose to rent a bike, make sure the seat is high enough so your knees don’t come above hip height on the upstroke but also not so high you can’t reach the ground.  You should be comfortably sitting upright.  If you feel you are straining your back or neck, choose another bike.  The rule with all new exercise is that it should feel good.   A feeling of muscle strain and being out of breath is not necessary but is a sign you have pushed your body to a better fitness level.  You also achieve fitness benefits by breaking up an exercise session, such as riding a bike or walking to and from a destination. 

Consider trying a different fitness activity for each of the first three days of your trip. Repeat the activities you enjoyed most or even schedule in more time for them. You will end your trip healthier and energized with new enthusiasm for exercise.  Wouldn’t that be a great souvenir?