Healthy brain aging and exercise

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Our health and longevity depend on the brain’s prowess.

The human brain is a magnificent three-pound organ. It is the seat of our intelligence, initiates all our body movement and controls our behavior. As we all age, the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases is expected to markedly increase. Our health and longevity depend on the brain’s prowess. Brain aging is a key precursor to declines in cognitive function, which increase the risk for dementia and neurodegenerative diseases. Some 100 million Americans will suffer from devastating brain disorders at some point in their lives. We need to take care of our noggins.

Healthy brain aging requires one powerful factor: exercise. Exercise reduces all major hallmarks of brain aging. Having greater cardio fitness in older adults is also associated with improved decision-making and may influence network functional connectivity in the hippocampus, the complex brain structure responsible for learning and memory.

Lying in its bony sheath and sheltered in protective fluid, the brain is the source of all the qualities that define our humanity. Within, the brain texture is like a firm jelly, housing about 86 billion neurons (nerve cells), the “grey matter,” along with billions of nerve fibers, the “white matter,” connected by trillions of synapses. Exercise is a giant metabolic switch. It switches on all these neurons and stimulates multiple key energy-sensing pathways in the brain.

Regular exercise is like miracle-grow for cellular function. If you aren’t already a regular aerobic exerciser, start using it as a first-line strategy for healthy brain aging.

The ability to clearly think, learn and remember is an important component of going about each day. It is one of the many aspects of brain health. Motor function—how you control movement and balance—is another. Brain health also involves emotional function, how well you interpret and respond to both pleasant and unpleasant feelings. Add to that tactile function of touch, pressure pain and temperature. When the brain is healthy, these essential functions are automatic and quick.

Exercise is one of the best strategies for slowing down all major hallmarks of brain aging, largely because it activates key cellular energy-sensing pathways. This enhanced energy metabolism with exercise is important because the proteins and cellular pathways involved can also directly influence other hallmarks. The cellular functions are vast; glucose transport (brain food) and enhanced glucose utilization, regulated glycolysis, respiration and energy-metabolizing enzymes. Also activated at the cellular level is the turnover of proteins and macromolecules that can be used for energy. These signaling proteins also impact gene expression, plasticity and memory formation. In fact, habitual aerobic exercise can lower levels of biomolecule damage in the brain. When you exercise, you literally repair DNA.

So the next time you decide to get up off the couch and out the door for some fresh air and exercise, remember that little brain of yours is well worth cherishing for a long, happy life.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_7fe519d6-8da8-11eb-8207-0b413a8d5857.html

Health and perspective: From stairs to red wine

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Photo~ Hallie Kathyryn Photography

The Covid -19 pandemic has impacted everyone across the globe.  It has affected our lives on both a small and large scale, particularly having to let go, for a while, of a pre-Covid world. Remember, there is nothing wrong about allowing ourselves to grieve the lives we used to live, and that you wish this never happened.  Some of us will suffer from post-traumatic stress.  But there can also be tremendous growth, and we can come out of this experience better.  It could be that you have discovered an inner strength and commitment to living your best life.

In the midst of this pandemic, people prioritized healthy living, and made an effort in trying to keep their routines as normal as possible, gravitating to at-home-exercises.

Yoga mats and resistance bands are still ranking high on Amazon’s best-selling products. Bike sales surged as well, as Americans turned to cycling for exercise when gyms first closed. In June alone, bike sales rose 63 % compared to the same time last year. 

The virus has given us a new perspective, and we’ve learnt that exercise makes us feel better. It’s important to have a stress-release plan, as we live through a once in a century event, with Corona restrictions of daily life and social contacts. One easy way to reignite that feeling of bursting with energy is to climb stairs more often (or hills) or walk errands instead of driving. 

These everyday activities may help us feel more alert, full of energy, and significantly enhance our well- being.  Research recently published in Science Advances studied the brain regions that play a central role in what makes us happy and enhances our well-being.  Their findings reveal that even everyday activities, like stair climbing, is good for us. Plus, stair climbing lowers your blood pressure and builds strength, especially in postmenopausal women. 

Specific food can help us along our journey as well. The right food choices can help reduce cognitive decline. It turns out we can responsibly eat cheese and drink red wine for improvements in cognitive function, according to a large scale analysis that connects specific foods to later-in-life cognitive acuity. 

Some of the most significant findings from the study, from Iowa State University and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease were that cheese, by far, was shown to be the most protective food, as well as lamb, but not other red meats. 

Poet Maggie Smith wrote,   “Let change-even traumatic upheaval-remind you that anything is possible. Keep moving. ” My hope is that this is a time of possibility. May we all come out of this year wiser, more grateful and happy, with our hearts open to a better future. 

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine Exercise Physiologist and Corrective Exercise Specialist (TBMM-CES) Visit her at www.conniearonson.com and Instagram @conniearon

Printed in the Idaho Mountain Express December 25, 2020 https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_4c054db8-4567-11eb-a64a-9b9e4ccc3327.html

Build core power and stability with the Farmer’s Walk

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The Farmer’s Walk is a great whole-body exercise.

Core stability is imperative for all facets of movement and performance, whether you’re a skier or skater.

As a new ski season kicks off, core strength can be a great asset to ski at a higher intensity, for a longer duration and with less fatigue. When you hit the terrain, you’ll want to have good core stability to not only turn well, but also handle different and varied snow conditions with ease. It’s not too late to add a great whole-body exercise called Farmer’s Walk—a walk with a weight—to your training program.  

Walking or any lower body movement where you carry or “load” yourself with a weight for a predetermined distance or time challenges the entire kinetic chain of the body and targets the deep stabilizing muscles of the core.

What is core stability?

The definition of core stability is your ability to maintain your posture and balance while moving your extremities. Sound a lot like skiing?

The core musculature has a unique function. Throughout the day, if you’re active, the core muscles act to stiffen the torso and function primarily to prevent motion. A strong core allows the strength to radiate out peripherally to the rest of the body.

Core stability is imperative for all facets of movement and performance, whether you’re a skier or skater. The Farmer’s Walk is a great whole-body exercise. The exercise targets the abdominals, and provides peak activation of all the muscles that support the spine, the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus and cervical spine muscles during the walk. You’ll hit all the core muscles of the trunk and pelvic stability muscles, as well as the hips.

Together, these numerous and multi-jointed muscles are known as the lumbo-pelvic hip complex.

You can think of Farmer’s Walk as a vertical plank, a move that challenges the lumbo-pelvic hip complex. There are several variations of loaded carries, and here are two variations that will strengthen your core as well as challenge the body’s stabilizing system.

Unilateral Farmer’s Walk

Unilateral training exposes any asymmetries in the body. Noticeably, walking with a single weight provides a greater spine load than if the load were split between two hands. (For beginners, you might want to experiment with carrying a weight in each hand.) Carrying one weight targets the lateral spine muscles, called quadratus lumborum, and the lateral abdominal wall, which have an important role in that they stiffen the pelvis to prevent it from bending to the side of the leg swing.  The unilateral Farmer’s Walk also enhances the rotational demand to the core as the body now has to control the added stress in order to maintain dynamic balance.

 Choose weights that are challenging yet appropriate for your fitness level.

•    Squat down and grasp a weight in one hand. Maintain a braced core, and return to a stand-tall position.

•    Take slow and controlled steps forward for 30 seconds. Alternate sides.

Unilateral Farmer’s Walk

Unilateral Waiter’s Walk

An added benefit to this move is that it helps strengthen the muscles around the shoulder, referred to as glenohumeral stability, a term used to describe how the arm bone sits well into the shoulder and upper back muscles. Here’s how it’s done.  

•    Grab a weight in one hand and return to a stand-tall position.

•    Extend arm up overhead.

•    Keep a tight grip on the weight and take slow controlled steps forward for 30 seconds. Alternate sides.

Unilateral Waiter’s Walk

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/ski-fitness/article_9112101c-2db6-11eb-9a56-e30f89e1d500.html

Work ( out ) from home

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Try this new six-move fitness routine to break your pandemic rut

One way to feel better is to get back on a routine. The best approach to longevity, vitality and independence is through consistent exercise.

Did you ever imagine living through a pan- demic? More than ever, we’re all chal- lenged to be resilient. For many of us, our routines are shot and the new normal is still unfolding. One way to feel better is to get back on a routine. The best approach to longevity, vitality and independence is through consistent exercise.W

The human body has more than 635 muscles, 206 bones and 360 joints—an incredible wonder. Now is a good day to start taking good care of that wonder.

Here’s your arsenal, a creative, effective home program to help you get started or relight your pas- sion for a routine. Keep it short and sweet by pick- ing a few key muscle strengthening and flexibility/ mobility exercises. The following six moves use simple home exercise equipment: free weights or a milk jug, a golf ball and resistance bands. You can do the routine while catching up with the news or a show. Try to do each exercise for one minute and repeat the circuit twice.

1. Golf ball roll

Massage your feet with the golf ball roll to reju- venate the plantar fascia on the underside of your foot. All the muscles of the lower leg attach on the bottom of your foot. This connective tissue can get irritated and sore if you tend to continually stand with your feet falling inward, or after a summer of wearing flip-flops. Also, if your ankles don’t bend easily in a squat, this self-myofascial release exercise will help.



Place a golf ball under each foot and roll it back and forth until you hit a sore spot. Don’t overdo it, but increase pressure on that particular spot until it feels better. If a golf ball is too uncomfortable, use a tennis ball instead.

One minute each foot, preferably daily.

2. Step back with arm reach

Stretching your calf right after golf ball rolling helps immensely, as you’ll feel this stretch all the way up the back of your leg. This big bang-for-your- buck stretch targets the calf muscles, the hip flexors and the whole front body.


Start with your feet hip width apart and take a normal-size step back with the right leg. Simulta- neously fully extend the right arm up. Be sure the feet are placed straight forward. Keep your inner arches lifted and press down through your heel. Do three to four times and repeat on the left side.


Strengthen all your leg muscles with this move. Lean back against a wall, knees slightly bent. Pick up your left leg and cross it over your right knee. Try not to laterally shift your hips more than an inch or two. Slide down until your knees are level with your hips. Extend your arms and hold posi- tion for as long as you can. Build up to one minute. Switch legs.

4. One-minute clamshell

This is a time-tested favorite of clients who want the best butt exercises. The one-minute clamshell focuses on the gluteus maximus, an external rota- tor of the hips. This big muscle also pushes the hip forward. The glute maximus attaches to your lower leg via the IT band. When working properly, these muscles help to slow down pronation and internal leg rotation. In other words, if your butt muscles are weak, your knees will typically fall inward.

Place a mini-band above your knees. Lie down on your side, with knees bent and feet stacked on each other. Lift the top knee up, like an open clamshell, until there is tension on the band. Keep tension on the band for one minute. Repeat on the other side.

Tip: Minimize any spine or pelvic motion through strong abdominal bracing.

5. Single leg bridge with extension

This is an important exercise for the lumbo-pel- vic hip area, the core. There are 29 muscles attached to this area and keeping your core strong is essen- tial for a strong and stable spine.

Lie face up on the floor with your knees bent. Feet are flat on the floor. Relax your arms by your side.
O

Simultaneously tighten the glutes and brace the core. Smoothly raise the hips off the floor until you form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Extend one leg out at knee height. Lift and lower the extended leg up towards the ceiling and back to knee height 10 times.

Tips: Focus on a powerful glute contraction. Keep the load on your shoulders, not your neck. Try not to rotate through the hips.

If you can’t fully extend in the bridge position, it could mean the hip flexors are tight. (Go back to move No. 2.)

6. Half kneeling halo

You can make a standing core exercise more effective by dropping to a kneeling position. When you kneel, you have to engage your core to keep balanced, as your knees can’t grip the ground in the same way your feet can when standing. Plus, by driving the back foot into the ground, you recruit more glute muscles. The half kneeling halo also allows for another great hip flexor stretch, interwoven into a great core and shoulder move.

Start in a kneeling position with a weight or milk jug in front of your chest, elbows pointed to the floor. Brace the core, and “trace” or halo the weight around the head. Keep the weight very close to your head. The weight makes a full revolution and ends directly in front of the chest, elbows pointing to the floor. Immediately repeat in the oppo- site direction.

Tip: A common mistake is for the weight to complete the halo, but not the elbows. Make sure the arms and elbows return to the start position. Keep the chin tucked. R

Connie Aronson is an ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Cor- rective Exercise Specialist. Follow her at www.conniearonson.com and on Instagram @conniearon.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express- Remote Living: A guide to the new normal October 7, 2020

Can you really spot-reduce belly fat?

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Wouldn't it be nice if you simply get rid of belly-fat with a few crunches and ab work?
In reality, it takes a host of healthy habits to get a flat belly.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply get rid of your belly fat with a few crunches and ab work? After all, wouldn’t all that hard work melt the fat away if you really put your heart into it?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting a quick fix, but in reality, it takes a host of healthy habits to successfully manage outcomes like a flat belly. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research investigating the effect of six weeks of abdominal exercises on abdominal fat showed that exercise alone didn’t change waistline stubborn fat, or other measures of body composition. Nevertheless, core-conditioning exercises build important strength and endurance of these muscles.

It’s well known that obesity has significantly increased in most industrialized nations over the past 20 years, and abdominal fat is linked to various diseases such as heart disease and type two diabetes. The increased levels of deep visceral fat can lead to metabolic complications such as insulin resistance, glucose intolerance and high cholesterol levels.

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study questioned whether or not abdominal exercises alone support the notion of “spot reduction.” Do they affect abdominal fat, waist circumference and abdominal strength? Twenty-four sedentary young, majority male (58 percent) participants were randomly assigned to an abdominal exercise group or a control group. The exercise group performed seven abdominal exercises, each with two sets of 10 repetitions, five days a week, for six weeks. For these participants, including a five-minute warm-up on a treadmill, the total exercise session time was approximately 15 minutes.

The control group maintained their normal activities and diet.

During the first week, all participants were monitored so that proper exercise form could be taught and subsequently logged. The exercises were Bent Knee Sit-Up, Lateral Trunk Flexion, Leg Lifts, Oblique Crunch, Stability Ball Crunch, and Abdominal Crunch.

The exercise group had significant improvements in abdominal muscle endurance, proving that strength increases with resistance training exercise. However, from an energy balance perspective, it’s not likely that a 15-minute exercise protocol for the ab muscles would create a sufficient energy deficit to change body fat percentage and abdominal fat percentage. Though this study was small, it is a good reminder that infomercials claiming flat abs in five or 15 minutes a day is wishful thinking.

What can help is regular exercise and progressive resistance training to reduce not only belly fat, but overall health as well. A 2016 study found that losing as little as 5 percent of body weight improved fat tissue, liver and muscle insulin sensitivity. Research shows that this approach—a moderate one, up to a 10 percent weight loss—can lead to better long-term outcomes. While societal pressure to be thin unfortunately overemphasizes weight loss, a realistic goal should focus on habits you can control, including physical activity, nutrition, sleep and stress management, as opposed to a magical spot reducing program.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_42769d42-ee2d-11ea-94b1-6bbf8d6f54cd.html


Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.

Breath and awareness can help us cope

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Now is the time to connect to our humanity, take a nice big breath and not be so hard on ourselves.

Fear and uncertainty are real right now, as each week brings even more uncertainty fighting COVID-19. Many of us are scared and lonely. But please don’t be so hard on yourself right now, because you already are doing something very brave and compassionate, staying home to flatten the curve. This extremely important measure is a global act of unity. By doing so, you are protecting others, especially our dedicated health workers, who are on the front lines, personifying service.

To feel anxious is natural. Right now, you don’t have to be a hero as you confront all the uncertainty of life. Like the earthquake we all just felt here in Idaho! Right now you want to put as little pressure on yourself as possible. Of course, volunteer to help those in need, get out for a long walk or start a new project. But there is one important thing that you can do to boost your spiritual immune system. Try to stop for a moment, and take a deep breath. This one new habit is one that is based in love, not fear. When you calm your mind down and pause, you connect to something bigger than yourself. Your breath and awareness become a tool to quiet the external fears and worries.

Peel an orange

In just over two weeks’ time, running to the store for one thing or another has come to seem like such a luxury. Today, if you are lucky enough to have fresh fruit in your house, peel an orange. As you peel it, think about how this piece of fruit grew on a tree, in an orchard, tended by a farmer. Think, for a moment of the sun needed for it to grow until it was ripe enough to pick. Take another few breaths to appreciate the trucks and drivers needed for this very orange to travel all the way to your supermarket. This small simple act of gratitude is meditation, connecting you to something much bigger than yourself.

Walk with purpose

Walking outdoors is good for you, and one of the healthiest things you can do for your fitness. You certainly have the time now. On your walks, think about how the arches of your feet absorb the impact of the ground for propulsion. The very act of walking, the human gait system, uses almost all of the 635 muscles in your body. Think, for a moment, of how lucky you are for your feet to be hitting solid ground, propelling you forward. Breathe out compassion for all the doctors, nurses and care givers who aren’t as lucky as you to be doing so. Breathe in love and compassion for all of those who have succumbed to the coronavirus, or who are struggling with the disease right now. As you continue to walk, envision your health and good fortune.

* * *

Use this tool in as many ways as possible during the day. You might not realize it, but your courage comes from generations of people who survived wars, plagues and crisis, yet humanity finds a way to move forward. What is here and is coming is difficult, but now is the time to connect to our humanity, take a nice big breath and not be so hard on ourselves.


Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_ef34fdda-752e-11ea-839f-834530597363.html

The magic of muscle and bone mass and brain health

Lifting weights is key to retaining lean muscle mass and keeping your weight down.
Photo-Metro Creative Connection

Hands down, the biggest reason people hire a personal trainer is that they want to be stronger and healthier. To achieve that goal, throughout a lifetime, it is essential that we maintain a vigorous level of physical activity to not only age well and be healthy, but also to keep our bones strong.

Lifting weights, or resistance training, is the key to retaining lean muscle mass and keeping your weight down. Around the time you turn 30, you start to lose as much as 3% to 5% of muscle mass per decade. The rate of decline of an inactive 80-year-old could be as much as 30%.

In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend two or more days per week of moderate-to high-intensity resistance training, using all major muscle groups. Use it or lose is correct, as keeping your muscles strong and flexible after 30 prevents scarpenia, a condition characterized by loss of skeletal muscle mass and function. Scarpenia is a natural part of aging, but muscle loss is largely accelerated by inactivity. For many, as we get older, we tend to move less.

The ACSM’s Physical Activity & Bone Health position stand is a recommendation that adults maintain a relatively high level of weight-bearing physical activity, with no upper age limit. Activities like plyometrics—jumping jacks, for example—and high-intensity resistance training are beneficial ways to increase bone mass, as well as to preserve skeletal integrity and improving balance to prevent falls. Kids that are involved in gymnastics and sports that involve jumping, like soccer and basketball, have a great strength advantage in later life, as their bone mass is maintained into adulthood, the report notes.

The main concept of resistance training is to produce changes that result in various strength adaptations. The 80-year-old mentioned? One set of arm curls, to overload his or her biceps, can result in strength gains in the arm muscles lasting as long as a month! While my job as a trainer is to set up great programs for individuals, consider ways you can start to train, if you haven’t already, with a simple home setup, including weights, elastic bands, medicine balls, or a TRX.

Remember when?

There is good reason to stick with your routine. Physical activity is a powerful intervention to reduce anxiety and depression during a pandemic. Those of us who stayed or became active during pandemic lockdowns were less likely to experience subjective memory decline. A recent study in Preventative Medicine looked at the effect of physical activity on subjective memory decline before and during social distancing. One in three participants experienced feelings of memory decline when socially distanced, however the active participants did not.

Muscles knock back inflammation

Besides brain health, regular exercise promotes a healthy immune system. Muscles that you use doing squats, arm curls or running down a trail have an innate ability to reduce inflammation. Lately, scientists studied lab-grown engineered human muscles to examine the role of a pro-inflammatory molecule, interferon gamma, which breaks down muscle. Typically, chronic inflammatory diseases break down muscle. The lead author of the study, Zhaowei Chen, a postdoctoral researcher in biomedical engineering, found that when exercising, the muscle cells themselves are a powerful shield and can directly counter interferon gamma, the pro-inflammatory molecule, as well as protecting other tissues and cells.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_b2d26462-11af-11ec-b04a-23ef35ce0778.html

How to use the lat-pull machine for a stronger back

There’s one stellar piece of equipment in almost every gym, hotel, or community center that you don’t want to miss, and that is the lat pull-down machine. Often overlooked or misused, the lat pull-down—used correctly—can make your back stronger, build arm and shoulder strength, improve posture and stabilize the spine.

The latissimus dorsi, commonly known as “lats,” is the large muscle that extends across your back, shaped like a triangle: wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. Marvel at the wide shoulders of Tokyo 2021 Olympic champions Lydia Jacoby and Caelib Dressel, and you’ll know why they are sometimes called the swimmer’s muscle.

The lats attach to the spine and pelvis and insert into the top of the arm. The lats work together with the pectoral muscles to control the movement of the arms, as they swing forward when walking, running, throwing or swimming.

The strength and structure of the lats allow you to pull or reach: casting a fishing line, pulling a rope, hoisting the body on parallel bars or placing a big vase on a top shelf.

Additionally, the broad lat muscles depress the shoulder girdle, and stabilize the lower thoracic and low back, important pillars of good posture. If you always slouch, the lats can become chronically shortened, limiting arm and shoulder movement. Typically, this results in internally rotated arms, evident when the thumbs are turned inward, rather than facing forward, when your arms are by your sides. No wonder you were always told to keep your shoulders back!

Traditional pull-ups, chin-ups, and bent-over rows are all great back exercises, but don’t miss out on a highly effective tool, the lat pull-down machine.

      Good Practices

  • Once you check your seat height, grasp the bar with both hands, shoulder-width apart.
  • Slowly sit back down and keep your feet on the floor.
  • Brace the core and lean back slightly as you pull the bar to chest level, contracting your shoulder blades down.
  • Keep your chest up, neck in a neutral position, and pull your elbows towards the floor.

      Common mistakes

  • Lifting up off the seat because the weight’s too heavy. Unless you are a power lifter, needing that extra effort, a good rule of thumb is that the limbs should never be stronger than the core.
  • Not bringing the elbows down far enough, missing out on hitting the entire back musculature.
  • Returning the bar too quickly, and not maintaining shoulder and lat contraction. The lengthening phase of an exercise, called eccentric, is where you can gain strength. Make sure you keep tension on the bar going all the way back up until your arms are fully lengthened.
  • Pulling the bar behind your neck. Jutting your head forward to pull the bar behind your head can be damaging to the anterior capsule of the glenohumeral joint. Along with wearing your shoulders out, excessive stress is placed on the cervical spine. In addition, pulling the bar down to the base of your neck can cause muscular tightness in several large neck muscles. The levator scapulae, for example, assists in extension of the neck, and heavy loads places strain on this important neck muscle. Equally important, protruding the head forward is a common musculoskeletal imbalance, as it promotes forward head posture. Instead, practice good body mechanics with a neutral cervical spine posture.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_442ece8c-fbad-11eb-8ada-7f7bd322ee30.html

Fix your low back pain with better body mechanics

Too much sitting is hard on our bodies and can add to the prevalence of low back pain. Twenty-six bones make up the spinal column with three gentle curves from top to bottom. For many with low back pain, the cumulative effects of constant or repeated small stresses over time, like sitting, result in back pain. Too much sitting, combined with faulty posture, can flatten these curves over time. The spine is designed to function best as a weight-bearing structure, with the lumbar curve in a neutral position. Sitting rounded, or slumped in a seat, multiplies damaging pressure on lower back discs and soft tissues. Another concern is that prolonged sitting chronically shortens the hip flexors. Once again, too much sitting, prevalent in our modern age, has other drawbacks and can cause secondary health concerns, such as high blood pressure and increased risk for diseases like diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disorders.

The good news is that low back pain can dissipate. Body composition, strength of the core musculature and faulty movement patterns are all potential cause of low back pain. Most back pain is easy to reverse; the secret is addressing common musculature imbalances. Too much sway or arch in the lower back, too much bending, weak or overstretched muscles, or poor posture are contributing factors that can be corrected to ensure a healthy back.

If you are in pain, but not dealing with diagnosed or undiagnosed medical issues, nerve impingement, or traumatic injury, you fall into the category of mechanical low-back pain.

Faulty Movement Patterns

The easiest way to fix your own pain is to correct faulty body mechanics. We know we shouldn’t bend wrong, but we do. We bend over wrong picking up laundry, petting the dog, making the bed, or looking at a phone. We work over our desks, drive and ride bent forward every day. Look around the gym and it’s a minefield of bent backs. You’ll see people lifting weights bent over, and bend over wrong to place them back on racks.

Integrated Core

The spine is at its strongest, most resilient and most supported position when it is in a state of muscular and skeletal balance, and in a neutral position.

The abdominal brace is an important way to use the core to find neutral position. Bracing, says Dr. Stuart McGill, a leading spine researcher, is a different concept than that of simply holding in your stomach, or “pulling your belly to your spine.” Rather, it’s mild contraction of the abdominal muscles, as though you are preparing for a punch in the mid-section. In his book “Back Mechanic,” he asks his back patients to gradually adjust the amount of contraction to find the optimal stiffness, much like how a dimmer switch gradually adjusts light in a room. Whether you are sitting, walking, or are a high-performance athlete, all movement is orchestrated from this fine-tuned control of the core.

Next time you pick up a package, try to brace your core, hip hinge, and use your gluteus muscles, which help extend the hips to assist in standing up, sparing the lower back from over-use.

Self-Test

Here’s a simple test to see if you have neutral spine alignment, or back sway. Stand barefoot with your back to the wall, with heels, butt and shoulders against the wall. Then try to place one hand, palm down, behind your lower back. If the space is up to and in-line with your second knuckle, you have neutral pelvis. Normally the pelvis is rotated approximately 10 degrees. But if the space is large enough for your whole hand, you have a deviation, an anterior tilt of the pelvis called lumbar lordosis. Tilt the pelvis posteriorly by bringing the front of your waistband up to learn neutral, engaging the core.


Connie Aronson is an ACSM Exercise Physiologist and Corrective Movement Specialist (TBBM-CES) Visit her at www.conniearonson.com and

Instagram @conniearon

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_9e3c776e-e5b7-11eb-a0ba-5730f013cbf7.html

Three exercises to keep your shoulders healthy

Fitness guru

All -star pitcher Pedro Martinez was one of the lucky players to return to the major leagues after a complete rotator cuff tear, typically a season-ending injury. The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. Over time, damage to the rotator cuff can become significant because of the stress placed on these structures.

You don’t have to be a world-class pitcher to have shoulder problems. Ideally, we want our shoulders open and back. The shoulder girdle is unique in that it has few joints, but many muscles that attach to the upper back, as well as the chest and arms. The upper back region is important in shoulder health, as the lower trapezius, rhomboids, and rotator cuff muscles stabilize and retract the shoulder blades.

To understand how the upper back coordinates with the shoulder, notice if you raise your shoulder when moving your arm. Notice if you tighten or raise your shoulders to turn your head to look over your shoulder when driving.

Professional baseball players have to manipulate their bodies in an incredibly complicated way to throw at astounding speeds. On the mound, pitchers have to work with asymmetries in the body, using one side of the body for many, many repetitions. Their training must involve unwinding the damage caused by this imbalance and make both sides of the body function well. For the rest of us, at play and during the day, we can train and be aware of symmetry in our upper backs and shoulders.

Her are three exercises for proper functioning of the upper back and shoulders.

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W Stretch || Photos by Connie Aronson

1.    W Stretch. Stand up, with your core engaged. Pull the shoulders down and back. Externally rotate and fully extend the arms. You should feel it in the chest and front of the shoulder. The W stretch strengthens the rhomboids, traps and external rotators of the shoulder and arm. Hold 20-30 seconds, 2-3 times per day.

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2.    A’s on the ball. Lie on your chest on a ball, legs straight with feet firmly on the floor. The arms are straight and close to the body, resembling the letter “A.” Raise and lower the arms, externally rotating the arms from the shoulder so that the thumbs point out and up. Throughout the exercise, keep shoulder blades down and back, chin gently pushed back. Ten reps.

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3.    T’s on the ball. Lie on your chest on a ball, legs straight with feet firmly on the floor. Raise the arms to form a T position, palms down, then lower arms. Throughout the exercise, keep shoulder blades down and back, chin gently pushed back. Ten reps.


Connie Aronson is an ACSM Exercise Physiologist and Corrective Exercise Specialist (TBM-CES) Visit her at www.conniearonson.comand Instagram@conniearon

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_9606c44c-cfae-11eb-8de5-cbf3271af76c.html

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Photos by Connie Aronson

Do what you can

Staying physically active may be more important now more than ever. Photo SQNSport

Motivation comes in many forms. When it comes to why you do or don’t stick to an exercise program, research shows that physical exercise that focuses on enjoyment, competence, and social interaction leads to long-lasting exercise engagement.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper, pioneer of preventative medicine at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, coined the term “aerobics” in 1968. Now 90 years old and still practicing medicine daily, he’ll tell you that about 76% of diseases in the US today are a result of our lifestyle. Numerous reports have emphasized that physical inactivity is a leading cause of death worldwide. It’s all well documented: It’s not our heredity; it’s our lifestyle, Cooper says. Changing our behavior and concentrating on lifestyle changes will get us the results we want. Especially now, during a pandemic, staying physically active may be more important than ever.

So how do we pivot to solutions and actions that can promote our health and well-being? Two drivers of behavior can maximize your success.

The first is a meaningful, personally tailored rationale. What do you really care about? For example, if family means the entire world to you, a meaningful rationale would be to recognize that exercising allows you to be the healthiest version of yourself for those that you love the most.

The second—particularly on the days that you weren’t up to it but decide to exercise anyway—is finding pleasure and satisfaction in the experience of exercising. These are integrated and intrinsic behavior drivers that lead to your success for long lasting health. They become a choice, not a chore. Make time you spent getting some exercise pleasurable and empowering.

There is much good being done worldwide of our efforts to move more and sit less. In a recent study published in the Lancet Global Health, researchers examined data from 168 countries to observe evidence supporting the advantages of healthy behaviors, including being physically active. The scientists found that almost four million lives were saved from an early death.

Equally important is to realize that the most common characteristics of the world’s longest living populations. Sardinians, Adventists and Okinawans all include daily walks. At the same time, The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that a prescription to walk 30 minutes per day could be one of the most important prescriptions a patient could receive.

We should all move our bodies more in some form every day, now more than ever. The pandemic crisis has made us aware that we can change, as our attitudes and needs continue to adapt to the new normal. Boosting our defense mechanisms through exercise is a simple way to keep our immune system healthy. Your immune system is a network of tissues, cells and organs that work together to attack foreign invaders and neutralize infection and disease. Your body identifies any threat and strategizes how to neutralize or destroy it. Every walk, hike or daily activity you do helps increase the rate at which an army of immune cells can defend against invaders and increase the odds of your immune system protecting you from harm.

It’s been said that “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Wishing is not enough; we must do.” My hope is that you do.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_a25e1c98-a3a5-11eb-a3e2-87a3281f3fd7.html

Fix your pain with self-myofascial release

Tennis ball rolling can improve flexibility and restore movement function

If you feel sore and stiff, you might want to consider foam or ball rolling. Whether you’ve skied too hard, or overdone any activity, you can fix your post-exercise pain with a technique called self-myofascial release. Rolling can improve flexibility, restore movement function and help with delayed onset muscle soreness. The technique also relaxes stored tension in the muscle and releases endorphins to help reduce pain.

Combining rolling an area of muscle with an immediate stretch for that particular muscle is the best strategy for fixing tight, sore muscles. Research shows a greater improvement in joint range of motion compared to stretching or foam rolling alone.

It may sound technical, but self-myofascial release is really a simple concept. Myofascial refers to muscles and fascia; the prefix myo means “muscle.” Self-myofascial release is basically massage, where external pressure is applied to sensitive areas in the muscle, which are either tight, inflexible, knotted or contain scar tissue. The sustained pressure stimulates circulation to the area and increases flexibility.

There’s a reason muscles feel tired and tight either from doing too much or doing too little exercise. The benefits of exercise are myriad, but there is a downside of repeated loads on the body: microscopic damage in muscle and fascia. That typically results in sore or tight muscles, or diminished movement quality. Massage and trigger point therapies by clinicians can help, but you can also fix your own pain at home with a roller or balls.

There are two kinds of self -myofascial release techniques: general and specific. General involves using a foam roller for larger muscles, such as the front thighs. More specific would mean working on your calf or foot, where tennis balls, golf balls, baseballs, or other massage tools can pinpoint a precise area of muscle. The specificity of using a tennis ball is also practical if you’re traveling and can’t take a foam roller along with you.

Rolling and athletic performance

The influence of rolling on athletic performance remains unclear. A review of nine studies reported no change in vertical jumps or multi-directional sprints. In another study of 24 athletes published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, joint range of motion increased but power and agility declined after five minutes of rolling. For pre-event warm-ups, the recommendations are not to roll for more than a minute to prevent power loss.

How to roll

For the rest of us, at present there is little concern regarding how long you roll. Research suggests five seconds to three minutes, or three sets of thirty seconds on each area in need. Once you find an area in the muscle that’s restricted and tight, take your time to explore the tight spots with either a roller or a ball. Try to relax to allow the hormones to release into your body to encourage further relaxation.

Watch the link for an example of neck myofascial release combined with a neck stretch at

vimeo.com/516004574.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/community/fitness-guru/article_ac72a5dc-77bd-11eb-8267-ebbc34eee6d4.html

The bicycle twist is a core move for the morning

Clients often tell me about their morning sequence to start their days, and I’m always proud that they take care of themselves. A morning core program can help maintain low back health, improve neuromuscular control, spinal stability, movement pattern efficiency, and injury prevention. But any ab or core exercise you choose needs to be effective, and not potentially lead to lower back pain.

A morning program is ideal for two reasons. First it’s typically the time in which your body is stiff, cold and most prone to injury. Having a routine prior to your busy day is like doing a pre-workout warm-up: It helps to increase soft-tissue blood-flow, warmth and pliability, facilitates neurological awareness and helps develop a psychological readiness for the day ahead. Second, a morning routine gives us another chance to make our habits stick, and if you miss doing it, you have another opportunity to do it later in the day.

The Bicycle Twist is a big external oblique winner.  

If you need a little help in choosing where to start, add Bicycle Twist to your routine, one of the best core exercises. Compared to a crunch, electromyography ( EMG ) shows that this exercise is 9 % more effective at targeting the rectus abdominis and 310 % more effective at targeting the external obliques.

It’s an ab exercise that many people know, also known in Pilates as Criss-Cross, and a go-to in yoga class.

Let’s include a brief anatomical overview of the ab muscles that this exercise targets. Four abdominal muscles hold the contents of the abdomen in place; the rectus abdominis, aka “six-pack”, which stabilize the pelvis and rib cage with respect to each other, transverse abdonimis, a deeper muscle that maintains intra-abdominal pressure, and is not involved in movements of the trunk, and the external and internal obliques that work together to help decelerate the spine as it arches backwards, rotates, and side bends. The external and internal obliques store potential energy, as in a follow-through in a golf swing.

The Most Common Mistake 

The Bicycle Twist targets the abs, yet most people do it wrong, and use the hip flexors. Stop using your hip flexors! They are typically stronger than the abs in trunk flexing movements; hip flexors bring the legs and trunk toward each other. Beyond 30 degrees, in the Bicycle Twist, crunches, or sit-ups, the powerful hip flexors begin to take charge of the movement. In real life, they are more likely to be strong, as you use them to create energy to help swing your leg forward in walking and running.  

Pilates mat exercise studies using EMG found that the hip flexors in Criss- Cross work at an intensity of 41 %. In other words, when you bring your knee towards your torso, the Criss-Cross, or Bicycle Twist becomes an ineffective exercise for the abdominals. The goal of ab training is to maximize the involvement of the abdominals, and minimize the hip flexors. 

Getting it right 

Keep your knees at 90 degrees, instead of flexing the hip to pull your knee in toward your elbow. This will give the back extra support and help target the obliques. 

Connie Aronson is an ACSM Exercise Physiologist and Corrective Exercise Specialist (TBBM-CES )  Visit her at www.conniearonson.com and  Instagram@conniearon

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_a62eb6d4-61a6-11eb-bcfb-3f5fb75e1f4c.html