Handle your habits

You just come home from work. You aren’t particularly hungry, but there you are standing in front of the refrigerator.

Handle your habits

You’ve just come home from work. You aren’t particularly hungry, but there you are standing in front of the refrigerator. It’s as if unseen forces have led you there. Are you more likely to have a glass of water or go for the ice cream? What if you could see the ways in which you get caught in habitual responses, and learn to choose a fresh approach? What if that approach taught you how empowering every choice you make helps you grow?

Understanding habits can serve us really well, as they are fundamental to skill development. The good news is that your routines get things done. The brain, cites Frank Forencich in “Beautiful Practice,” is an incredibly powerful habit-forming organ. Every second of every day, he writes, our nervous system builds patterns of sensation and motor activity, always building on what came before, always seeking more efficient ways to process information into adaptive behavior. An easy action, choosing a glass of water over ice cream, creates a new and healthy behavior.

The habit loop

Habits work in a three-part loop of trigger, routine and a reward.

1. The first is the trigger that tells your brain which pattern to use. You are tired and see a pumpkin-spice triple latte advertisement. You are bored, and plop down on the couch with a remote.

2. The routine is the habit itself; you get in line at Starbuck’s. Or you’ve spent the last hour scrolling on Facebook.

3. The reward is what makes the habit persist. That could mean the boost of caffeine or a feeling like you finally get to relax after a busy day (which you deserve). To break the three-part loop means only changing one thing. You get to keep the reward, but you have to change your routine. Keep it very simple—a five-minute walk or a familiar slow stretch.

Scientists tell us that we are not one self, but multiple selves. There is a part of us that wants immediate gratification, and a part that wants to be our best self. Kelly McGonigal, psychology professor at Stanford and author of “The Willpower Instinct,” writes, “If there is a secret for greater self-control, the science points to one thing—the power of paying attention. It’s training the mind to recognize when you’re making a choice, rather than running on autopilot.”

3 Simple Things

Here are three simple steps from James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits,” that you can do right now:

1. Start with a habit that is so easy you can’t say no. Want to exercise more, but always tell yourself you don’t have time? Your goal is to exercise for one minute today. That could be 10 jumping jacks.

2. Take time to understand exactly what’s holding you back, so you can begin to finds ways to interrupt your knee-jerk responses.

3. Develop a plan for when you slip and get down on yourself. Replace the guilt, stress or shame with a motto. Clear suggests making this your motto: “Never miss (a workout, good night’s sleep) twice.”

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_e70e9be8-d8a4-11e8-a572-03310d489898.html

 

The right way to train

The best exercise programs don’t have to be complicated to be effective, but you need a plan. It’s not uncommon to see someone in a gym pick up a set of dumbbells, half heartily knock out a few biceps curls, and call it a day. When it comes to strength training, you need is a safe, simple and effective resistance-training program that you can perform at least twice a week.

At any age, strength training increases the amount of muscle and bone density. As we age, it helps boost our energy and vitality, and helps to prevent and treat chronic diseases as arthritis and osteoporosis. For men and women, strength training, or resistance training, helps you achieve a more toned appearance, and contributes to maintaining independence in performing activites of daily life. It improves your balance and coordination, and helps reduce your risk of falling. Strength training allows for a sense of pride, capability, and confidence for older adults. However, you want to ensure that your time in the gym is worthwhile and what you do in your time there transfers to your daily living. If there is one aspect of aging that you can control, it is strength training.

 Get with the free weights

If your workout consists of using only machines, you might want to consider adding free weights, or the suspension trainers. Research shows that functional strength increases over 57 percent in machine-trained individuals, compared to 115 percent in free-weight groups.

Functional training is a popular buzzword in fitness programs and is used to help design effective programs. The dictionary defines the word functional as “ of having activity, purpose, or task or, alternately, “ designed to be practical and useful, rather than attractive.” With regard to what you do in your workouts, functional training is all about positive transfer to your goals, which is the purpose of training, says Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University, author and educational provider for fitness professionals worldwide.

Functional training is described as the ability to produce and maintain a balance between mobility and stability along a kinetic chain while carrying out fundamental patterns with accuracy and efficiency. Greater results are seen in movements taking place in three-dimensional spaces, which is where free weights come in. For example, you might step-up onto a step or bench holding weights, rather than simply use a seated leg machine for leg strength. Both exercises are valuable for enhanced performance, and each offer unique training benefits. However, training in a three-dimensional space, as in a box step-up exercise, is important because for one, you are standing up, which is what we do in life, and also involves mobility and stability, which contribute to good movement skills.

You want your workouts to include the basic movements that you do in daily life: squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, and rotating.

Little tweaks and offset positions.

Repeatedly doing the same exercise the exact same way can place repetitive stress on the joints, muscle, and connective tissue.  In a squat, for example, try an offset staggered or a narrow stance in a set. (A set is a group of consecutive repetitions.)  By changing or tweaking the position of major joints like the hips and knees, you help dissipate stresses to the connective tissue. Changing hand positions in upper body exercises also helps reduce overuse injury to the shoulder joint.

Helping Aging Bodies.

If you’re over 50 and have unavoidable age-related changes, or chronic conditions, you can still gain skills so you don’t rely solely on exercise machines. Here are some fixes so you can do some great functional exercises:

Crunches. Put a pillow behind your head if your neck flexors are long and weak.

Push-ups. Instead of regular push-ups where you feel like you hunch your shoulders, or to avoid too much weight-bearing to already sore shoulders, lay flat on your stomach, with palms on the floor and elbows back. Press through your palms. Or do push-ups against a wall.

Plank. Elevate your shoulders higher than your toes by placing your forearms on a bench or chair.

Balance. Stand on one foot. Lift your other knee up towards your chest.  Open the leg using your thigh and knee, back a forth 8 times, like a windshield wiper, to challenge your center of gravity.

Keep your program safe and  simple to stay young and strong, your way.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/valley_people/fitness-guru/article_fd243020-3e79-11e8-8d77-0beb68f12809.html

Ageless-how a lifetime of exercise keeps you young

Count yourself lucky if you’ve exercised most of your life, as you haven’t aged much. Hippocrates said it best in 400 BC, in that exercise is the best medicine. Two new research papers published last week in Aging Cells set out to assess the health of older adults who had exercised most of their adult lives and found that they hadn’t aged much. They hadn’t lost muscle mass, strength, or increase their body fat or cholesterol levels. The men in the study may have even avoided most of the male menopause, as their testosterone levels also remained high.

The study participants were man and female amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79 and underwent a series of tests in the lab and compared to a sedentary group of adults. This group included healthy people aged 57 to 80, and another group of healthy young adults aged 24 to 36. A surprise finding was that the benefits of exercise went beyond muscle, as their immune system did not seem to age. Immune cells, called T cells, are made in the thymus, which starts to shrink, at the age of 20. The study found that the cyclists were making as many T cells as would be expected from those of a young person.

Their research debunks the assumption that aging automatically makes us more frail, and that as a society, we shouldn’t have to accept that old age and disease comes next.

“There’s strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer, but not healthier, Janet Lord, the director of the Institute of Inflammation and Aging at the University of Birmingham, said in a statement. What’s compelling about the research is that the cyclist’s didn’t cycle because they are healthy, but that they are healthy because they have been exercising for most of their lives.

It’s well known that exercise impacts nearly every system in the body, and there’s no more encouraging news in that the brain also benefits, both physiologically and psychologically. If you are still on the couch about starting or getting more exercise, exercise can enhance and protect brain function. We all want that as we age. When you exercise, at the cellular level, the brain is drenched with serotonin, glutamate, norepinephrine, dopamine and growth hormones Mood, anxiety, attention, stress, aging, and hormonal changes in men and women can all be positively affected. A staggering network of 100 billion neurons, each of what might have up to 100 thousand inputs, all are stimulated to spur new growth.

We need these neurons in the brain to last the 80 plus years of a lifetime.  With exercise, not only can you stay young, but also gene expression in the hippocampus, a brain region responsible for learning and memory, can benefit. We can all benefit by being pro-active, by exercising for body and brain health. It’s never too late to start.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_13a26928-286a-11e8-a263-376f5f49136e.html

Modernize your workout. Lose a few old popular exercises

Modernize your workout with safe new moves

You may already lift weights, but is your workout working? What if you modernize a few moves? With the growing prevalence of chronic and overuse injuries, particularly in the middle- age population, you might be ready for safer alternative exercises. In 2013, there were more than 10 million doctor’s office visits for both lower back pain and shoulder symptoms. The shoulder joint and the back are two important areas where the combination of previous injuries and inappropriate exercises can initiate injury, damage soft tissue or exacerbate an existing injury. Behind-the-neck pulldowns and loaded lateral flexion (e.g. dumbbell side bends), once fitness standards, are two examples. Choosing newer, evidence-based alternative exercises can save you time visiting doctors and physical therapists and help you reap better training results.

Be kind to your shoulders

    A traditional exercise is behind-the-neck pulldowns. Forget your old high school training and don’t put the shoulder and cervical spine at risk of injury. It is estimated that up to 70 percent of people have a shoulder injury in their lifetime. Shoulders need the strength and flexibility that allow you to reach, hold, lift, carry, press and pull, pretty much what you do daily. It’s the most movable joint, and very shallow at that. The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint, with the ball—the head of the upper arm—attaching into a small shallow socket (glenoid fossa), giving the joint inherent instability, often described as a golf ball sitting on a tee. The shoulder is also held together with an elaborate system of muscles, tendons and ligaments, including the rotator cuff muscles, which stabilize the joint during all the pushing and pulling activities that you do. Pulling a bar down behind your neck can lead to rotator cuff instability, suprascapular neuropathy and an increased risk of anterior capsule instability.

The same is true of behind-the-neck shoulder presses, with their risk of repetitive stresses on the joint because of the extreme range of motion. Bringing weights down behind the cervical spine causes excessive forward head tilt, or flexion, and has risk, as it could lead to transient upper-extremity paralysis or transient nerve injury. Aim for having your arms 30 degrees in front of you to allow your weights to be positioned in your body’s center of gravity throughout the lifts instead. You’ll have a better mechanical advantage, and better sports specificity.

Best abs ever

    What is the right workout that will preserve your back instead of destroying it? Dr. Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, thinks that often the causes of back troubles are replicated in the exercises. When it comes to core work, often the public and even personal trainers focus on moves like sit-ups, often loaded with weight, or back hyperextension called ” Superman,” an extended posture that results in intervertebral disk loading. Similar exercises such as Pilates roll-ups or Russian twists, for strong abs, says McGill in his book “Back Mechanic,” put unnecessary loads, compression and strain on the discs. The loaded dumbbell side bend, for example, increases the likelihood of disc herniation.

  Planks and exercises like the framer’s carry improve core stiffness and trunk endurance—much better predictors of low back health. Super stiffness builds whole body stability, while sparing the joints. Splitting wood with an axe is an example that McGill uses as an analogy:  At the instant of impact, a total body “stiffness” is generated by a rapid contraction of all your core muscles, and spares your back. Check out link for safe alternative exercises~ /vimeo.com/251402324
Published in the Idaho Mt. Express January 19, 2018.

Is the 7-Minute Workout as good as it sounds?

When it comes to regular exercise, is 7 minutes all you need?  The Scientifically Proven 7- Minute Workout is a widely popular smartphone app, claims that you will lose weight, improves cardiovascular function, and has over 10 million downloads. The combination of only seven minutes and scientifically proven sounds pretty great when the number one reason people don’t exercise is lack of time.  To be healthy, you have to get your heart pumping through daily exercise, eating well, and doing things that promote your well being. By doing so, aside from genetics and age, you can save or extend your life. Yet the growing prevalence of preventable chronic disease in the United States and worldwide is alarming.  In the United States, 50 % of adults suffer from at least one chronic disease, and 48 percent of deaths can be attributed to heart disease and cancer. What we all have as a tool to promote wellness is cardiovascular exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day, strength training exercises two to three days a week, and a flexibility regime at least two times a week. But can 7 minutes work?

The 7 minute program is a combination of twelve 30-second bouts consisting of these exercises in the following order: jumping jacks, wall sit, push-ups, abdominal crunches, step-ups onto chair, squats, triceps dips on chair, planks, high knees, lunges, push-up with rotation, and side planks. A 10-second rest follows each exercise bout.  Tough, yes, but you can obtain substantial changes in heart rate, oxygen uptake, and blood lipid levels.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Sports and Conditioning, researchers found that big bursts of activity, like jumping jacks and wall sits, both part of the 7 minute workout, require near-maximal effort, and pass the guideline recommendations as important moderate-exercise.

Because lack of time is one of the most common barriers to exercise, it isn’t surprising that time-efficient and simple programs are popular. Bodyweight training and high-intensity interval training is the second and third top fitness trends in 2016, respectively, behind wearable technology.  High- intensity interval training, or HIIT, consists of short bursts of all-out exercise interspersed with brief recovery periods. A review of 28 studies on healthy adults show that this type of training results in superior increases in maximal oxygen uptake than moderate-intensity exercise.  Typically, HIIT is used in cycling, running or treadmill workouts, and supervised by a trained instructor. In a 10 -week program of group-based, instructor-led HIIT cycling, VO2 max improved, as well as insulin sensitivity and improved blood lipid profiles.

The question researchers are asking is that is it really “scientifically proven”? Could you reproduce that intensity, by yourself, doing jumping jacks and triceps dips for example, at home, and get the same results as from HIIT training?  It’s not, as the gains aren’t as great as true HIIT, but results are encouraging.  One study of healthy individuals doing 6 weeks of the 7-minute workout, daily, helped lower body fat and waist circumference.  Another study of active men and women showed that 24 sessions of 7 minutes led to significant increases in muscle endurance, yet no change in body fat or VO2 max.

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning study concludes that this is a great workout to do at home, without special equipment and obtain substantial changes in heart rate, oxygen uptake, and blood lipid levels. If you’re timed pressed, certainly 7 intense minutes is better than nothing at all. Seven can be your lucky number.

http://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/is-the–minute-workout-as-good-as-it-sounds/article_67280aba-b4ea-11e7-afbf-3b5a5e42d7ee.html

The mystery and myths of muscle cramps

Many myths surround the how and why we get sudden cramps.

You’re not alone in jumping in the night because of one. Muscle cramps happen suddenly and often excruciatingly, leaving a palpable knotting of the muscle. They can happen to anyone, with or without a history of nervous or metabolic disorders. Cramps can occur during sleep, strenuous activity, or pregnancy. It’s not clearly understood why we get these sudden cramps, but research shows that the likely causes of these types of cramps are multifactorial and caused by changes in the neuromuscular system. One hypothesis is that nerves malfunction. Overly excited muscle neurons go a little haywire in a feedback loop either from the receptors in the muscle, or spinal nerve pathways.

Other causes of cramping are straining or overusing a muscle, or not enough blood getting to the muscle. Sometimes this malfunction is related to metabolic disorders, or a health problem such as a spinal cord injury, medications, or a pinched nerve in the neck or back.

But still, many myths surround the how or why. Regarding exercise- associated muscle cramping, 92% of athletic trainers and most people believe that dehydration or electrolyte imbalance is the cause. Or, perhaps eating more bananas is the answer? If you have a family history of cramping, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for any possible calcium or potassium supplement recommendations. If you are healthy, there are few well-designed experimental studies supporting dehydration or electrolyte imbalances. First, the best immediate response for cramps is gently stretching the taut muscle. It’s been argued that since static stretching quickly relieves cramping, then how could it be that dehydration is the problem, as no liquids or electrolytes are added to the body with simple stretching. Second, cramp- prone athletes often drink more fluid than athletes without a history of exercise- associated muscle- cramping, ( EAMC ) and it’s found that even when sport drink consumption matched sweat loss, EAMC still happened 70 % of the time. The most interesting argument against dehydration being the culprit is that dehydration affects the whole body, not just the calves, quads or hamstrings, the muscles that are more prone to cramping.

Myths 2 and 3 : Sports drinks and bananas for electrolytes.

If you’re active, you need to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. But you don’t want to overdo it, whether you are simply gardening, or playing two and a half hours of tennis. If you did play tennis, or any other sport for that amount of time, you would need the equivalent of approximately six and half teaspoons of salt replaced. Keep in mind that a typical sports drink contains only 0.44g/L of sodium. That would mean you’d be drinking gallons of fluids, which can be deadly. It’s not uncommon, sadly, that sports enthusiasts and athletes can die from water intoxication, called hyponatraemia. Rather than relying on sports drinks, it’s important to replace electrolytes at meals. Drink enough water throughout the day. As we age, we sometimes forget to drink enough because the thirst impulse becomes weaker.

Another myth about cramping is to reach for a banana, as the potassium in bananas can relieve cramping. Bananas are a healthy snack, but it takes at least 30 minutes to see an increase in new potassium ions in the blood after eating one. So far, there isn’t any evidence that eating bananas effectively prevent or treats EAMCs.

Because immediately stretching a cramp helps it subside, another factor may be in play. Tiny fibers, myofilaments, in muscle may overlap each other when muscles are already tight, and can bunch up even more, resulting in a sudden cramp. I’ve often experienced hamstring cramps going into an advanced yoga lunge if I haven’t previously stretched them enough beforehand. Though the cause of muscle cramps is still a bit elusive, recent evidence suggests that muscle overload is a factor. Stretching still appears to the the best treatment for those sudden cramps.

Click on the link for an effective calf stretch . https://vimeo.com/230657677

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express August 25, 2017.

Are fitness trackers motivating ?

Fitness trackers can be a good tool for helping you move more.

The Fitbit is sleek and novel, as are many of the new fitness trackers and apps, such as the Adidas or Human App, with gorgeous images, charts, and graphics. What’s not to like being called a hero for walking 30 minutes? Graphs and feedback in fitness trackers are fun and motivational. This year, activity trackers and wearable’s retained their number one ranking by the American College of Sports Medicine’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends, and an estimated 485 million wearable devices will be in the market by 2018. But do they really make a difference in terms of long-term lifestyle change?

As with any new trend, going way back to Jane Fonda workout videos, Cooper Aerobics, Jim Fixx and running, or today’s P90X, the initial novelty wears off. Dr. Michelle Segar, Ph.D., a motivational scientist at the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research Center says that they are still just tools, not the holy grail of motivation. Yes, some people love graphs and charts, but it is your relationship with physical activity that counts in the long run. Is exercise a chore, or a gift?

Studies are mixed and ongoing in showing how effective tracking apps are to help people lose weight. Research shows that only some types of trackers can help. For instance, a study of inactive postmenopausal women found that a standard pedometer didn’t help increase their activity, while the Fitbit did. Another study published in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology showed participants increased their physical activity by 16 minutes per week. However, by 6 months, 40% of the participants stopped wearing their devices, and at the year’s end, only 10 % of them were still wearing them.

The Right Why

If only a small percentage of people wear trackers after a year, where is the missing motivational link? Human nature dictates that we all want to have positive experiences and ownership of our behavior. Is your underlying reason why you would want to include more exercise is because your doctor said so, or societal pressures to be thin? When I set up exercise programs for new clients, I always ask what is the specific number one goal that they want to achieve. Your reason for initiating a behavior change has to be compelling enough that you would want it in your life. Feel better. Have more energy. Be in a better mood. All these reasons have a domino effect and can positively influence your motivation, says Dr. Segar. In her book No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness, Dr. Segar points out that physical activity that is enjoyable and makes people feel good right now is more motivating than a noble far-off goal such as “ better health “. When you focus on an immediate pleasure, like an evening walk around your neighborhood, moving more then becomes a gift. This is what Dr. Segar calls the right why.

When you enjoy something and do it willingly, you are highly motivated, autonomous. Within this theory, you’ve created a sense of ownership. Regarding exercising, you also develop a sense of self-care. The rewards are instant- perhaps your headache is gone, or feel better for doing some stretching. By taking these little steps, you reinforce the rewards of being more active. The brain begins to associate sweat with a surge of endorphins- those feel-good chemicals. Keep using your tracker. It’s a good partnership for staying motivated.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express July 25, 2017

http://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_5421f864-7312-11e7-afcb-dff831782410.html

 

 

Extend your spine~ The Roman Chair for back health

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Our spines need to be subtle and strong

When it comes to musculoskeletal pain, the lower back reigns as king. About 80 to 85 percent of people will experience some sort of low back pain in their life. According to the National Health Statistics Survey in 2012, more than 28 percent of Americans live with lower back pain. Back troubles are the No. 1 reason people under age 45 miss out on activities.

Ironically, most people with low back pain overuse their backs, exacerbating the trouble even more. It’s better to use your legs to bend or squat down, or to use your hips in rotational sports like golf or yoga to spare stresses on your lower back.

Our spines need to be supple and strong, as daily tasks demand that the vertebrae bend, flex, rotate and side bend. The spine does an amazing job of handling loads straight down the back, but over time, poor mechanics repeated hundreds of times in daily life and activities can cause low back pain. Even more problematic is our forward bending posture, especially with aging. It seems we’re all forgetting to stand up and extend our spines. Our preference for slumping, sitting or driving is very hard on our back ligaments, and at worst, it becomes structural, resulting in bad posture or back problems. The end result is that greater compressive forces are placed on the intervertebral discs.

If you go to a gym, there is an overlooked piece of gym equipment to help strengthen your back. Typically used as a place to hang your gym towel, the Roman chair, looking somewhat like a stand, can isolate and strengthen the spine extensor muscles.

Exercises such as squats and deadlifts help strengthen your back, but the larger hip extensor muscles do much of the work. The lumbar extensors, multifidi (the deepest muscles near your spine) and the quadratus lumborum are the important muscles for spine health, as they help provide stability in the area of the spine most prone to injury. Think of your spine as two stacked boxes, called the vertebrae, with lots of padding between them—the discs, where most back problems begin. The natural curves of your spine help the discs cushion compressive forces.

Any exercises you do should keep spine stability in mind, and be done with muscle control rather than momentum. Avoid excessive range-of-motion movements that damage spinal ligaments or discs. End-range extension, or forceful hyperextension, places the posterior elements of the spine at risk of damage, especially with spinal stenosis or sports hernia.

 To use the Roman chair, you lie face-down, with the back of your ankles supported, and your navel in line with the edge of the pad. Round your back over the pad, slowly extend your torso parallel to the floor so that you are horizontal from your heels to head, hold for one second and lower for three seconds.  ( View video IMG_3055 )
Published in the Idaho Mountain Express June 30, 2017

Deep sleep for glowing health

    Starting as early as 30, improving the quality and quantity of sleep can eliminate future risk of memory loss and a wide range of mental and physical disorders. UC Berkeley researchers think that nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep.

    If you have trouble sleeping more now than when you were younger, don’t worry that this is how your nights will be from here out. Generally, you will be able to fall back asleep as fast as you used to with a strategy. Researchers find that the aging brain has trouble generating the kind of slow brain waves that promote deep restorative sleep, called deep non-rapid eye movement. This time-out for the brain helps sort the unimportant to important information from the hippocampus, to the prefrontal cortex, which consolidates information into long-term storage.

Here are some suggestions to how you can get the sleep you need:

Daytime routine

 Caffeine: Generally, caffeine lasts for five to six hours in the body. Try to not have caffeine later than mid-afternoon.

  Naps: Naps are great, but no later than mid-afternoon.

  Late-night eating: Try to avoid eating less than three hours before bedtime or overeating at dinner.

Evening routine

 Minimize screen time: Turn off your iPhone, iPad and TV to minimize screen time.

Bedroom: Have your bedroom quiet and dark, and a cool temperature. Core body temperature drops with the onset of sleep, but then increases because of a greater blood flow to the skin, so have comfortable bedding. Around 9 p.m., your body produces melatonin, which helps control your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is a natural hormone made by the pineal gland, located just above the middle of the brain. When the sun goes down, the pineal turn on signals in the brain that controls hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us sleepy or very awake. Its transmission is better promoted in a dark environment. Melatonin level stays elevated typically throughout the night, and drops before the light of a new day. When traveling, pack an eye mask and earplugs.

    Meditate in bed: Promote relaxation by relaxing as much as you can once you get into bed. It takes practice, but focus on slow, quiet breathing. A simple breathing practice can consist of only a few minutes to reconnect to mind, body and spirit. Keep focusing on your breath, and let any thoughts go. If you start to think about things, give yourself credit for noticing that your mind has wandered, and return to gentle breathing.


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

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express May 5, 2017

Breathe out to lose fat?

Breathe out to lose fat?When you stand tall and lift your chest, don’t you feel much better? You look better also, as your posture improves. Breathing capacity improves, as your diaphragm lifts to help expand your lungs. We need to breathe to live. Breathing sustains us and can also teach us about our current physical and psychological state. You get some great news, hold your breath in anticipation, or exhale out to relax more. Our wavelike breathing is our life force, but did you know that breathing out makes you lose fat?

    The rate and depth of breathing is influenced by changing levels of carbon dioxide, oxygen and hydrogen ions in our blood. When it comes to losing weight, why is breathing so important? And where does the fat go? Does it turn to energy or convert to muscle, as commonly thought? The process is all about biology, as fat mostly converts to carbon dioxide and leaves the body through breathing. Scientists, in a report published in the British Medical Journal, explain how our lungs unlock the carbon stored in fat cells. Replacing one hour of sitting with jogging, for example, raises the metabolic rate to seven times that of resting and removes an additional 39 grams of carbon stored in fat cells. Our lungs are responsible for weight loss, via our inhalations and exhalations. The diaphragm, like a big parachute, contracts and relaxes nonstop, drives respiration and is the central breathing muscle.

Get good at breathing

  Running up a flight of stairs is one of the best ways to improve cardiovascular fitness. It’s a practical, quick and easy way to breathe hard, and gain some fitness in a busy day. But for the rest of the time, what if you became really good at breathing?

     It helps to understand just how much space the diaphragm needs to expand and fall with inhalations and exhalations. The diaphragm sits beneath the lungs and is above the organs of the abdomen. It is the major muscle that drives respiration. Respiration consists of moving gases in and out of the lungs, and circulation is the transport of these gases to the tissues.

    Like a lopsided mushroom, the diaphragm is attached to the sternum and the lower six ribs, and to the first three lumbar vertebrae, via two tendon-like structures called crura. The crura, like strings, extend down to the psoas and lower back muscles. The joints of the lumbar spine and upper back also play a part in how well the diaphragm expands and contracts, and therefore the quality and depth of breathing.

    At the top of the diaphragm, a central tendon attaches in front of the pericardium, the covering of the heart. Equally, the muscles of the abdomen and the external and internal intercostal muscles assist in drawing the ribs in and out. Normal breathing is rhythmic, driven by neuronal networks within the brain. Breathing also depends on the elasticity of the lungs; they have to lift and fall back. Breathing needs a lot of space, from the heart riding up and down on the lungs, to the spine stretching to accommodate inhalation, as well as the stomach muscles and pelvic floor. So it comes as no surprise that posture, standing or sitting tall, with the chest lifted, stomach in, can help you breathe and move better. Worth a big exhale.

Parachute breathing exercise

  Imagine the diaphragm to be a parachute. As you breathe in, the center of the parachute drops downward, the sides billow and the cords loosen. As you breathe out, the canopy expands upward as the cords become taut and anchor down toward the pelvic floor. (Adapted from the Franklin Method )

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express March 10, 2017