5 Tips to Improve Your Mind, Body and Spirit

Let’s face it, there are plenty of ideas circulating around that you could try to use in your everyday life that may potentially help you become more healthy. But what are the best things to try and how should you implement each into your lifestyle so they eventually take hold and become a habit? Here are a few ideas that I have tested that may be just what you need in order to become a healthier 2.0 version of yourself!

 

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be”
John Wooden, former UCLA Basketball Coach

 

  • Try a yoga class. Keep in mind, that it may take time to find the right class and instructor that ends up working for you and your body. Personally, I have not found any activity that hits on all three areas of mind, body and spirit better than yoga. It’s simple, you will continue to lose joint range of motion, mobility and flexibility as you age and yoga can help bridge the gap between health and disability. After you leave a class – all three (mind/body/spirit) feel like they have been re-energized. Research continues to demonstrate that a regular yoga practice can improve everything from back pain to depression.
  • Focus on both mobility and strength training.  The majority of people focus on one or none. They are both critical in the aging process. If you want to maintain functionality as you age you must do both on a regular basis. Think “mobility and strength for life.” Make it a priority adding in mobility work before and/or after – each strength training session. Individuals continue to load their joints and muscles without spending the necessary time on improving mobility. Ever wonder why chiropractors, orthopedic docs and PT’s are continually taking on new patients? Work on mobility to prevent disability.
  • Let technology help. It seems everyday there are new apps coming out that can help make us more aware of our current health status. I actually came across one such app called Welltory that does just that. It basically documents how well your body is handling stress each day and what your energy level looks like. Take a look at this free app for a week or two and see how well you’re doing in those areas. When your body releases too much cortisol (known as the stress hormone), from lack of sleep, too much stress, etc. – you’ll have trouble in other areas, like trying to build muscle. Another cool meditation app that can help reduce stress and improve mood is Headspace. I have previously written about it here and here.
  • Don’t neglect sleep. In my opinion, sleep is one of the key missing pieces of the human puzzle.  Have a few bad nights with inadequate amounts of sleep and you’ll (always) pay the price.  We have become a sleep-deprived society and the evidence supports this; showing that we sleep on an average 6.8 hours as opposed to 9 hours a century ago. About 30 percent of adults report sleeping less than 6 hours per night. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that individuals who got less than 5.5 hours of sleep each night lost 60 percent more lean muscle that those who got adequate sleep. Another study from the University of Colorado showed subjects that got minimal sleep on consecutive nights gained two pounds on average over the course of the study. A third study from the University of Pennsylvania Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory looked at the sleeping and eating behavior of 225 people. They reported in the journal Sleep, when you’re awake between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., you’re more likely to consume extra calories. The group ate an average of 553 more calories, typically choosing foods higher in fat, when they were kept awake until the early morning hours. Make sure you get or catch up on your ZZZZZ’s.
  • Cut back on added sugar. This one tip that hopefully turns into a habit can significantly improve many different facets of your life, including sleep, energy, oral health, body weight and body fat, to name a few. The average American consumes about 40 teaspoons of sugar each day (about 600 calories) and this far exceeds what your body needs. The American Heart Association recommends the amount be cut to a maximum of six teaspoons (100 calories or 25 grams) a day for women and nine teaspoons (150 calories or 38 grams) for men. One study that was completed at the University of California at Davis, found adults who consumed 25 percent of their daily calories from HFCS for two weeks had increase levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, indicators of increased risk for heart disease. And in 2011, researchers at Georgia Health Sciences University concluded that high fructose consumption by teenagers could potentially put them at risk for heart disease and diabetes.

References

Webb WB and Agnew HW (1975). Are we chronically sleep deprived? Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, vol. 6, p. 47. (82)

National Sleep Foundation, Sleep in America Poll (2003). National Sleep Foundation, Washington, DC, USA.

Nedeltcheva AV, et al., (2010). Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity. Annals Internal Medicine 153, 435-441.

Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, Lustig RH (2013). The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57873

Stanhope KL, Bremer AA, Medici V, Nakajima K, Ito Y, Nakano T, Chen G et al. (2011). Consumption of Fructose and High Fructose Corn Syrup Increase Postprandial Triglycerides, LDL-Cholesterol, and Apolipoprotein-B in Young Men and Women. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 96(10); DOI: 10.1210/jc.2011-1251

Pollock NK, Bundy V, Kanto W, Davis CL, Bernard PJ et al., (2011). Greater Fructose Consumption is Associated with Cardiometabolic Risk Markers and Visceral Adiposity in Adolescents. Journal of Nutrition, 2011; 142 (2): 251 DOI: 10.3945/jn.111.150219

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The Importance of Improving Mobility as You Age

We tend to focus on what we like to do, rather than what’s necessary. Meaning, if we like to strength train or do cardio, we seem to gravitate towards that option. I have always remembered a quote from the former Director of Conditioning of the Chicago White Sox, Vern Gambetta – who stated something to the effect of “it’s easy to do what you like but harder to do what is necessary.” With that said, the majority of people do not focus on the big picture of wellness especially as they age. They continue to lift and do cardio (which is important) but we need to address other areas that are vital to ensure optimal health and wellness.

Life is about movement; all life is based on some form of movement. Just about everyone who walks into a health club or training facility across the country has some type of movement deficiency as a result of age, old injury, muscle imbalance, years of playing sports, etc. In order for movement to occur efficiently (i.e. no wasted energy) various movement patterns need to be executed correctly through their full range of motion.

Let me ask you:
How do you feel when you “pull” or “push” something? How does your body feel when you perform a hip hinge (i.e. think Romanian Deadlift) or squat? How do you feel when you perform an exercise off one-leg? Can you perform a body weight squat movement and work to the bottom of the movement (i.e. bring hips lower than your knees, like your in the baseball catcher position) without pain or instability? As we age, we start to see and have more dysfunction when it comes to the way we move.

The goal here is one word. Mobility.

We need to increase mobility in just about every part of our body, primarily, in our ankles, hips, upper backs and shoulders. We need to make sure we are working on some form of mobility each day even if it’s only five minutes a day. Mobility can be defined as working a muscle or group of muscles through their full range of motion in the absence of pain. Please view the video below. It’s a 4-step mobility progression for the mid-back (thoracic spine) that I put together for you. This is something that I do myself on a regular basis. This is one of the tightest areas in adults (especially for men). Improving mobility in your mid/upper back will not only help your golf and tennis games, it will help in the area of strength training and other activities of daily living known as ADL’s. Start today by performing 5 repetitions of each movement and progressing eventually to 15 repetitions over time. Try doing this routine every other day – your body will love you for it.

Originally published on The Stronger Blog.

What Type of Exercise Does Your Body Need as You Age?

We all have different needs when it comes to exercise and those needs continue to change as we age. When was the last time you really thought about your exercise routine, and more importantly, are you experiencing gains with your current program? Maybe what worked once at an earlier age for whatever reasons does not seem to work now.

First, celebrate your success. You have continued to exercise all these years and that’s a good thing even if – at times – it may not be as evident when you step onto your bathroom scale. Keep in mind, more than 30 percent of Americans do not exercise at all and only about 5 percent of the population exercise at what is considered a vigorous level. Approximately 69 percent of Americans are currently overweight or obese.

All the work you have put in has done wonders for your mind, body and spirit. More specifically, it has helped maintain your strength and lean muscle levels. A loss of muscle tissue occurs, for those who do not exercise, at a rate of about half a pound a year or 5 pounds per decade. As this happens, a few of the many by-products are loss of strength, power and balance. The average person who does not exercise experiences an 8 percent drop in their strength level per decade. By the time someone reaches age 65 they have about 25 percent less strength compared to when they were 30 years old.  On the aerobic side of things you lose about 10 percent of your aerobic capacity each decade after age 40. There is potential to lose as much as 25 percent of bone in both sexes, as a result of inactivity, sitting to much and menopausal transition in women. With all this decline comes balance issues and additional problems with functionality, that could ultimately lead to a loss of independence.

Write down what you and your body really need to get out of all this time you invest in yourself with exercise. You don’t own it until you write it down.

Needs Analysis

Prior to beginning any type of exercise program, it is essential that you undergo a needs analysis. The goal of this analysis is to create clearly defined goals that will help you make the most progress from your training. Ask yourself, what does your body really need at this point in time? Maybe you need more mobility work and less pounding (running) or loading (lifting weights). You may have been doing a lot of strength or cardio work but how is your balance? When was the last time you treated yourself to a good massage or took a yoga class? Find out what you need (by testing yourself) and set some goals.

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Mobility work: Thoracic spine rotation. Photo credit: http://huffingtonpost.com

Assessment

Work with a coach and complete an assessment to determine where you stand regarding the following areas:

  • Body Composition
  • Strength
  • Power
  • Aerobic/Anaerobic ability
  • Mobility
  • Flexibility
  • Balance

Ask yourself: How do you judge improvement if you don’t measure it?

Exercise Program

This is where most of us get lost and end up wasting a great deal of time. The first goal is to find out what’s tight and lengthen it and then what’s weak and strengthen it. The second goal should be to get an individual to move better, also known as movement competency. Once an individual can execute a movement efficiently and with full range of motion, like a Squat or Deadlift, then and only then should the volume be increased. When someone cannot execute a particular movement pattern correctly, do not increase repetitions, the number of sets or especially the load.

Focus on primary movement patterns using the Big 6 when it comes to your routine and don’t sweat the small stuff:

  • Squat
  • Hip Hinge
  • Carry
  • Lunge
  • Push
  • Pull

An optimum training program should increase strength, power, improve cardiovascular fitness and more. A strength and conditioning program should change body composition by way of adding lean muscle tissue and decreasing body fat. Balance should improve and flexibility and mobility should increase. But you won’t know if you don’t periodically measure it. Is this the case for you?

Focus on adding in a bout of sprint work to your weekly cardio routine. This can come in the form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) involving, as an example, sprinting or rowing. Focus more on quality rather than quantity when it comes to HIIT and remember the key is manipulating the intensity.

Finally, focus on adding in more mobility work each time you exercise and make it part of your recovery process on off days.

thoracic-spine-rollout.jpg
Foam Roller. Photo credit: http://t-nation.com

Prescription

  • Strength training (Big 6) 2-3x/week.
  • Fitness: Elevate your heart rate 2-3x/week for 15-30:00 (wear a heart rate monitor). Add HIIT at least once a week.
  • Power: work on vertical or horizontal jumping 1x/week (jump rope, box jumps, DOT drill, etc.)
  • Add more mobility work (foam roller etc.).
  • Do Yoga
  • Baseline/Follow-up Assessment

Finding Time for Mobility Work Before Your Exercise Session

If you have not found time to add in some mobility work preceding your exercise session then you need to start today. Before you start loading your muscles and connective tissue (i.e. muscle/ligament/fascia) with some type of resistance, it’s imperative that you spend some quality time focusing on mobility with special attention to any tight, stiff, trouble areas regarding your own body.

One of the most important parts of your workout should be the dynamic warm-up and this should always precede any type of strength training. The body needs to be able to move in multiple directions freely, safely and effectively; this is known as mobility.  Dynamic mobility should safely and gently increase joint range of motion and should be progressive over time.  It is important to note that mobility is slightly different from flexibility.  When you perform traditional stretching-type exercises in order to improve flexibility, you’re required to focus solely on that one muscle group that your statically stretching.  Think of the old hamstring stretch or quad stretch that a typical runner might do, and sadly, many still do, before they go out for a run.

According to Dr. Kelly Starrett, author of Ready to Run, “mobility is more of an all-encompassing practice that addresses multiple elements that influence performance.  This includes various “sliding surfaces like muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia, and the joint and motor control necessary to perform a movement correctly.”

goblet-squat1
Credit: Bret Contreras Performing a Goblet Squat. http://bretcontreras.com/

Here is a quick mobility routine, that I call “Mobility 3-Series,” that you can try before your next run or your workout.  It is ideal for opening up, among other things, the hips and lengthening the tight hip flexor muscles (iliacus and psoas).

Mobility 3-Series

Step 1: Perform 3 partial-rep “goblet” squats (use just body weight).

Step 2: Perform 3 full range of motion goblet squats, where you touch elbows to thighs. After the last repetition, transition slowly into a squat pose and hold this position.

Step 3: Maintain a squat pose for 3-seconds (trying to progress over time to holding this pose for 3-minutes).  This position in yoga is known as “malasana” – I think of it as the “catcher position” in baseball and it’s great for improving balance, strength, flexibility and internal change.  The squat pose elongates the spine and builds strength in the back musculature and is critical for Achilles tendon health.

Once you complete the 3-steps try moving through the complete mobility sequence three times.

Bonus Move: Eventually try to transition from the squat pose to crane pose (“bakasana”) and try to hold for 3-seconds (building up to 1:00+).  This pose is ideal for strengthening the wrists, arms, shoulders and abdominal muscles.  Avoid the squat pose if you have any knee pain or any current or previous back issues like a herniated disk.