Walking along coronation drive in Brisbane

Is Walking Worth It?

With the popularity of high intensity workouts like Crossfit, F45, or bootcamps, it might seem like going for a walk isn’t much of a workout at all. If you’re looking to increase your fitness and improve your health, is it worth your time?

Actually, yes – especially if you are interested in health benefits more than getting lean and ripped.

Going for a brisk walk is moderate intensity exercise for most people, and can even count as vigorous exercise if you aren’t normally active. A meta-analysis (a research paper pooling and organizing other research to better understand and apply results) reviewing 32 studies has shown that a brisk walk at least a few times per week will improve your health. Significant improvements in aerobic fitness were found, as well as decreased BMI, body weight, body fat percentage, and measurements of waist circumference – all of which are strongly linked to high risk of cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure also showed a significant decrease following a program of regular walking.

So what?

The benefits of weight loss and lower body fat are well-discussed: Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic health conditions. But those are things that may or may not happen in the future. What about right now?

While the health and fitness improvements found in the reviewed studies weren’t so great that the participants ended up with six-pack abs, the average increase in fitness was about 10%. This is enough to make a noticeable difference in how easily you can manage to do daily tasks, or how much energy and stamina you might have to get through a busy day. This means that by the time you get to kick back and watch some TV before heading to bed, you’ll actually get to watch the entire episode of your favorite show, rather than falling asleep on the sofa. Overall, better fitness means more energy for the day to day things that matter to you, which in turn means a better quality of life.

These benefits improvements took place in as little as eight weeks of regular walking, with the most people in the studies walking 30 minutes, three to five times per week as part of an organized program. You don’t have to “start exercising” to make walking worthwhile though. A few 8-10 minute walks per day can give the same benefits as a single 30-minute session, which in real life might mean walking around the block in the morning and evening. (An additional benefit of “starting small” is that often you just need a nudge to get going. It’s easy to extend once you’ve gotten out the door – or onto the treadmill.)

Lastly, it’s helpful to remember that health and fitness improvements aren’t all-or-nothing. Instead, they happen on a continuum, and in fact any movement has a positive impact on your fitness levels and health risks, and therefore your quality of life. It doesn’t have to be high intensity to be worthwhile; your own brisk walking pace will be just fine. So whether you have five minutes to spare, or fifty, it’s all worth doing – what are you waiting for?

 

More Information
Murtagh, E. M., Nichols, L., Mohammed, M. A., Holder, R., Nevill, A. M., & Murphy, M. H. (2015). The effect of walking on risk factors for cardiovascular disease: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised control trials. Preventive Medicine, 72, 34-43. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.12.041
Phys. Act. Guidel. Advis. Comm. 2008Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report: 2008Washington, DCUS Dep. Health Hum. Serv. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/Report/pdf/CommitteeReport.pdf

Man or woman needs knee pain relief

Caring For Chronic Knee Pain

Your knees do so much work for you. What can you do to take care of them?

Ongoing, chronic knee pain is a common complaint, and made more common by numerous causes. Whether you have stiff and slightly swollen knees from osteoarthritis, referred pain from tight muscles in the hip and thigh, or an old injury like a meniscus or ligament tear that still bothers you, there are a few easy things you can do to help yourself out and better manage your knee pain.

If you’ve had a recent injury or flare up of knee pain, put some ice on it!

Ice is great for managing pain and promoting the healing process in almost every situation, from a referred pain point that’s just occurred to a decades old knee sprain that lets you know when it’s going to rain. Ice has an excellent pain-numbing effect, so it’s a great option for pain management when you don’t want to take painkillers, and is also useful in managing how the body responds to pain and injury, minimizing the effects of swelling and speeding the healing processes.

While there are no set-in-stone rules for the use of ice, guidelines suggest use for at least 10-20 minutes, though these numbers can vary based on the type of ice treatment you’re using, such as ice bath, ice massage, or ice pack. If you’re applying ice to help manage an injury to deeper tissues – like if you have a diagnosed ACL tear, which is deep, and you’re working to manage the swelling throughout the joint – you may need to leave the ice on for a longer period. The same applied to icing a body part that has greater levels body fat. In either case, more time is needed for deeper tissues to decrease in temperature.

Feeling stiff, tense, and spasmy? Throw a heat pack on that!

Heat is a great option for knee pain that’s stemming from stiffness or muscle spasm.  Like ice, heat treatments can have a painkilling effect, and will also improve circulation to an area, increasing oxygen and nutrients and helping eliminate cellular waste products and speeding the healing process. It’s also an excellent way to relieve muscle spasm, which can indirectly decrease knee pain by decreasing tension in supporting muscles.

Like ice, heat applications need 10-20 minutes to be effective, and may need even longer to be effective when target tissues are deeper under muscle or fat layers. Also like ice, heat can be applied directly to the knees, or to the muscles surrounding them. And it’s common sense, but bears repeating: Always use heat or ice with a towel between the heat or cold and your skin.

And get moving!

While somewhat counterintuitive, movement can work quite well to decrease knee pain. Your knees (and the other major joints in your body) keep themselves “well oiled” with a particular body fluid called synovial fluid that found within many major and minor joints. This fluid is the “oil” that keeps the joint moving well, and movement stimulates the body to create more of this fluid. This is still the case even when movement is painful. Work around this by keeping movement to a non-painful range. Maintaining the movement you have is an important step in moving towards being pain-free.

Movement (especially the right kind of movement) also builds strength through the muscles surrounding and supporting the knees. This is where a physiotherapist, physical therapist, or exercise physiologist comes in: These professionals can help identify the pieces of your movement patterns that might be creating joint stress leading to your knee pain. They can provide you with the right exercises to reset those patterns and get you feeling better. The ultimate goal: Move well, get strong, and get on with enjoying your life!


Client Question: Is morning exercise or evening exercise better for weight loss?

Great question from one of our personal training clients in Taringa this last week:

Should I do my workouts in the morning or the evening for better weight loss? 

When it comes to working out, most of us want to maximize the results we get, so it would make sense to work out when your body can make the most of it. Popular belief in the personal training and body building worlds holds that cardio first thing in the morning is a great fat burner, perfect for losing weight and toning up. How true is that?

The answer: Somewhat.

There is evidence that morning exercise can set you up for better fat burning (and improvements in other health markers) throughout the day, meaning that over the course of the day, you may burn slightly more fat than you might if you were relying solely on evening exercise. Why am I talking about fat burning if you want to lose weight? Body fat loss is far more likely to be what achieves your weight loss goal, than overall weight loss. Body composition is what determines how lean and toned you look, and from a health perspective, lower body fat levels are associated with lower levels of health risk; fat loss rather than weight loss can significantly improve your health.

Any exercise you do will have a positive impact on your body fat levels, regardless of what time of day you do it. But both morning and evening workouts have their own benefits. Several factors are in play here:

  • Exercising leads to a slight to moderate increase in metabolism during the “recovery period”, or the time after your workout when your body is busy replenishing cellular energy stores and making repairs to tissues. Because of this, exercise in the morning may provide a slight advantage by adding to the normal amounts of energy used during your daily activities. Overall, you may see a small increase in overall energy (calories) burned during the day. It’s important to note that this difference will be minor, especially if your morning workout is low to moderate intensity, and will not be enough to make a huge difference to body weight and body composition in a short or even moderate/medium time frame – this is for playing the long game.
  • Some studies have shown an increase in fat burning tendencies after exercise in the morning compared to exercise in the evening, though other studies have found no differences. This also appears to be dependent on the types of fats in your diet, with unsaturated varieties being more easily used than saturated fats. This can be particularly useful if you’re exercising for heart, cardiovascular, or metabolic health.
  • Exercise intensity and the resulting hormonal and immune responses (generally thought to be related to the physical stress of exercise) both influence the use of fats versus carbohydrates in providing energy at a cellular level. In normal physical function, these responses are influenced by the time of day as well as how you exercise. Many physical responses to exercise are amplified in the evening; Evening exercise appears to increase the body’s hormonal and immune responses, which in turn can lead to higher release of fat molecules into the bloodstream – basically, leading to increased breakdown of fat stores. It’s important to note, however, that increased breakdown of fat stores does not necessarily mean increase fat burning, as these molecules may continue to circulate in the blood without being used.
  • Given that the hormonal responses to exercise are heightened during the evening hours, you may wish to consider how these might impact your sleep. One normal exercise response is to increase levels of your “fight or flight” hormones, making you more alert – rather than ready for bed. If you already have sleep challenges, you may wish to avoid evening exercise.
  • Exercise at any time of the day is can be followed by a decrease in blood pressure. While this response is larger after evening exercise, there is evidence that the blood pressure decrease after morning exercise is more consistent. It may also be more valuable if you are prehypertensive or have high blood pressure. As part of normal body functions, you experience a temporary rise in blood pressure in the mornings; the decrease in blood pressure following morning exercise can return these morning “spikes” to more normal levels.

Evidence exists for both morning exercise and evening exercise to be more effective in fat burning and weight loss, and there are mindset and motivation effects of morning exercise that are hard to look past. For example, if you hit the gym in the morning, will that make you less likely to grab that pastry from the office kitchen for breakfast? Regardless of the science and the mindset effects, your work outs, your ability to lose weight, and your health will all stand to make the most improvements on your own timeline. The most effective workout time is going to be the time when you feel best prepared for it.

 

For more information:
De Bristo, L. C., Rezende, R. A., Da Silva, N. D., Junior, Tinucci, T., Casarini, D. E., Cipolla-Neto, J., & Forjaz, C. L. (2015). Post-Exercise Hypotension and Its Mechanisms Differ after Morning and Evening Exercise: A Randomized Crossover Study. Plos One,10(7).
Kim, H., Ando, K., Tabata, H., Konishi, M., Takahashi, M., Nishimaki, M., . . . Sakamoto, S. (2016). Effects of Different Intensities of Endurance Exercise in Morning and Evening on the Lipid Metabolism Response. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine,15, 467-476.
Kim, H., Konishi, M., Takahashi, M., Tabata, H., Endo, N., Numao, S., . . . Sakamoto, S. (2015). Effects of Acute Endurance Exercise Performed in the Morning and Evening on Inflammatory Cytokine and Metabolic Hormone Responses. Plos One,10(9).
Votruba, S. B., Atkinson, R. L., & Schoeller, D. A. (2004). Sustained increase in dietary oleic acid oxidation following morning exercise. International Journal of Obesity,29(1), 100-107.

 

Shameless plug time!
If you’re interested in exercise for weight loss and better health, we can help. HealthFit Coaching offers exercise physiology, personal training, nutrition coaching, and our signature Complete Coaching package in the Brisbane suburbs of St Lucia, Sherwood, Chelmer, Oxley, Indooroopilly, Taringa, and Toowong, or online at your convenience.
Contact us now to look good, feel great, have more energy, and enjoy life more. We offer a free no-obligation Kick Off call to make sure we can meet your needs. What do you have to lose?

Eat More, Lose Weight, Get Healthy

Ever thought you’d hear someone tell you that you could lose weight and get healthy by eating a huge plate of food at every meal?

We are hard wired for survival, and to our brains, that means food. Though it’s a small percentage of your body weight, your brain uses approximately 20% of your daily energy! And in order to keep itself and the rest of you going, it drives you towards food. Lots of food, if possible. While that’s great for survival when food is scarce, we live where it generally isn’t scarce. Good for us, but your subconscious brain is not good at recognizing this. So the drive to eat will continue, which means even when you’re working hard to lose weight or body fat, you can still be outsmarted.

The good news is that we can turn the tables, and use this survival drive in our favor. I’ve long been a supporter of “eat more good stuff” rather than the “eat less of the bad stuff/everything” approach that is the hallmark of most diets.

Your eating experience is about far more than putting food in your mouth. In fact, scientists are still unclear about exactly what factors cause us to feel full, though the best theories propose a combination of visual and scent cues, the amount you chew your food, and the overall time you take to eat a meal. Vision is super important in this. Part of our drive for food means that we’ll subconsciously gravitate towards food as long as it’s available. This means a full plate. Probably second servings, even if that means just picking at leftover bits. Your subconscious wants it all!

Satisfy that drive for more by giving yourself more of the good – or good for you – stuff. This will not be the first time you’ve been introduced to the concept of Eat More Vegetables, but that concept has stuck around because it works. Find vegetable or fresh fruit dishes that you enjoy and load up on them, or learn to pad the steak and potato dinner with half a plate of broccoli and green beans. This is what allows you to have a huge plate of food without the big calorie counts. If you’re working to lose weight, it’s a major factor in eating healthy meals without feeling deprived. It’s how you keep enjoying that delicious mashed potato without the guilt that comes from eating it out of the pot (I’m sure I’m not the only one who does that, right?!?!).

For a big meals thats filling, satisfying, and still healthy and supporting weight loss, fitness, or health goals,  try these

  • BIG Salads: Lots of greens, with enough beans, hard cooked eggs, steamed and fresh veggies, and small pieces of chicken, steak, or pork. Aim for mostly leafy greens with each bite, but enough of the other stuff that you actually get some flavor with it! Bonus – no dressing needed.
  • Half a plate of veggies: Steamed is the most common “healthy” suggestion, and it’s a good one. But I’m especially taken with roasted everything: Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts,  zucchini, peppers, pumpkin – anything you might steam will go well in the oven. Your taste buds wont know what hit them.
  • Extra steamed veggies tossed with some stock and a pinch of fresh pepper.
  • Homemade coleslaw with a vingear dressing for crunch and a bit of bite.

And anything else you can think of! This works best when your loading up on what you enjoy. Have a favorite veggie style? Please, share in the comments!


What’s the difference between exercise, physical activity, and movement?

All refer to different ways of using your body. The differences lie primarily in intent, intensity, and duration, but other elements also impact what category your activity might fall into. And don’t worry about not working hard enough – it’s all good for you!

Movement

The broadest category of, well, body movement. For our purposes, movement means using your body in an irregular, spontaneous manner, often to complete a specific task. Movements may use all of your muscles or joints, or just some of them, depending on the action you are working to complete. We consider movement as the brief, one-off activities that move us through our daily lives.

Examples: Walking from your parked car into the office or the supermarket, making the bed, bending over to pick a pen up off the ground, knitting

Physical Activity

For our purposes, physical activity is movement that is sustained for more than a few minutes and that mildly or moderately increases your heart rate and energy expenditure, and is often a planned effort. Like the “movement” category, physical activity may use some or all of your muscles and joints, depending on what you’re doing.

Examples: Doing yardwork, gardening, walking the dog, doing housework

Exercise

Planned, sustained physical activity usually consisting of repetitive movements. All exercise is physical activity, but not all physical activity is exercise. How can you tell one from the other? Exercise is done with the specific goal of improving your health or fitness. It’s also usually done at a higher intensity – that is, it’s a little (or a lot) more physically challenging!  There are many subcategories of exercise, like resistance training or endurance training, each of which can impact different elements of health and fitness.

Examples: Going for a brisk walk or a run, doing a strength training workout, going to a yoga or group fitness class

While exercise is done specifically to get healthy or improve fitness, physical activity can also benefit your body. If you feel like jumping into regular workouts is a big ask for you right now, please remember that it’s ok to start slow! Physical activity can have huge benefits for your body, especially if you aren’t especially active when you start out. It’s generally accepted that the health benefits of both physical activity and exercise occur in proportion to the amount of activity – every little bit of physical activity can add benefit! In fact, research has shown that you can achieve health and fitness improvements with sessions of physical activity or exercise can be as short as five to ten minutes, though the level of benefit will depend greatly on your base level of fitness and the total amount of physical activity or exercise you get in a day.

But even if you’re fit and healthy, five to ten minutes of some sort of activity is still good for you. It’s often easier to find five or ten minutes a few times a day than time for a whole workout. Where do you find yours?


Which is better, exercising at home, or exercising at a gym?

Where will you get the most out of your workout?

In the home-exercise versus gym-workout battle, there is no clear winner. Both gym-based and at-home exercise have their own pros and cons, but in the end, it’s a very individual preference. And this preference makes all the difference in how effective your workout actually is.

If you’ve struggled with getting into a workout routine or setting up another exercise habit, it may be that you’re pushing yourself in the wrong direction. Making your movement fit into your lifestyle and figuring out what you enjoy can make any exercise routine WAY easier. These pros and cons will give you a hand in figuring out where your workouts will be most effective:

Gym-Based Workouts – The Pros

You’ll have a large variety of equipment available. Gym equipment is expensive, so if you like having choices, you may save money, space, and effort with a gym membership versus setting up a home gym.

You might not pay much. There are pricey gyms out there, no doubt, but there are a lot of great gyms with reasonable membership rates. Pro tip – if you are looking to sign up for a gym membership but aren’t in a huge rush, wait until the end of the month. Most gyms have a monthly membership sales quota and you may be able to get a discounted or waived “sign up” fee if they are low on numbers. Don’t be afraid to negotiate!

You could have some fun! Classes and group fitness, if included in your membership, can be a huge bonus (especially considering that a single group fitness session can cost $15 -$20). Classes can be fun and motivational as well, especially if you have a competitive streak.

Gym-Based Workouts – The Cons

You have to share the gym. Other people will also be there. Waiting for weights or equipment can be a big turn off, especially if you are on a tight schedule.

You might get some bad advice. There are plenty of people (both trainers and other gym members) that have no problem offering unsolicited advice based on outdated knowledge. At best, this is annoying and it can be hard to know what you might need to listen to. At worst, you could follow some bad advice and end up doing yourself harm. (Key to avoiding this: only listen to people who are well trained and listen to what you have to say!)

You might not get there. My biggest issue with a gym membership is actually taking an additional half-hour out of my day to get there and get home. It’s a well-known fact in the gym industry that if you get a client who has to go out of their way to get to the gym, you won’t see them for long. It’s got to be super convenient, and even being close to work or home sometimes isn’t enough. If you don’t belong to a 24-hour gym, you might find that you’re even less likely to get there.

At-Home Workouts – The Pros

You can do it whenever you want. Working out at home means working out when it suits you. I do mostly home-based workouts now because I can squeeze in a session when I have a spare 20-30 minutes, rather than having to plan it into my day. This works best if you don’t need a plan to stick with in order to get things done.

It’s a zero-judgement zone. It’s just you – no one else to check out what you’re doing or offer unsolicited advice.

You don’t have to wait for anything. Even if you’re sharing your home gym equipment with family members, you can tell them to hurry the heck up with it! But generally, you’ll be able to move through your workout at exactly the pace you need it.

At-Home Workouts – The Cons

You may have limited equipment choices. You don’t have to have a home gym at all in order to get a good workout at home. Most movements can be done using just body-weight resistance, but you might have to get creative with your “pull” exercises – anything that targets your back. And you definitely don’t want to exclude these!

You may spend a little more money up front. Home based exercise equipment can cost a bit of money at the outset. Fortunately, by making wise choices, you can get all the equipment you need with just a few pieces of equipment – easily setting your home gym for the same cost as a few months of gym membership.

It’s easy to not do it. I went through a phase not too long ago of being too busy to get to the gym, and continually telling myself that I’d do a quick workout when I got home. Instead, I got home and sat on the couch – for the rest of the night. If working out at home isn’t part of your routine, you’ll probably need to put a little extra effort in to get this habit kickstarted. For what it’s worth, I’ve given up on evening exercise – it’s morning or nothing for me!

Of course, this is not a complete list! Everyone will have their own preferences and perks to working out at a gym or at home. The best workout is the one you enjoy doing!

HealthFit Coaching offers exercise and physical activity programs and training. If you’re in Brisbane and keen on getting a comprehensive, individual exercise program set up for your needs – whether for in-home training or gym based – contact us to start now!

Are Standing Desks Better Than Sitting?

Short answer: probably, but actually not by much! But there’s a third – and much better – option.

Ever since standing desks became widely available several years ago, people have been asking: are they really worth it?

Spending hours every day sitting is definitely not great for your health, and society is moving more and more towards jobs that keep us at a desk and computer the majority of our working hours. You’re probably aware that prolonged sitting can leave you feeling stiff and sore. Muscle fatigue can actually build up from holding a single position for an extended time, and seated positions allow the abdominal muscles in particular to slacken and weaken. This leads to increased pressure on the vertebral discs of the lower back, and can increase the risk of significant lower back injury over time, especially coupled with changes in muscle tension that occur in this position.

If sitting for so long is so bad for you, should you rush out and get yourself a standing desk? Actually, no. Though it might be a better option than sitting for hours per day, going cold turkey and standing for the same period has its own set of problems. A standing desk is by no means a guaranteed cure for a tight neck and shoulders stemming from computer use, as it’s just as easy to slouch with these desks – sometimes easier, since you may end up leaning on it to a greater extent. Standing for hours on end can create muscle fatigue in the lower body, as your legs may not be used to supporting your body weight for long periods. As a result, most people tend to shift on their feet and can end up in awkward standing positions, putting more stress on joints of the lower body, hips, and lower back. Prolonged standing is also more challenging to the circulatory system than sitting is, so it may not be a healthy option for people with circulatory conditions, and it can contribute to varicose veins.

So if sitting for hours is bad and standing for hours not much better, are you doomed to discomfort for the rest of your working days? Not necessarily. Your best bet is to invest in a sit-stand combination desk. These desks allow you to vary the height of your desk to allow for both optimal sitting and standing heights, so you can choose your working posture as you see fit. Studies have shown that the body doesn’t handle being in any posture for long periods of time, and responds well to this mix of movement as shown by decreased aches and pains (and subsequent days off work and/or medical treatment) and increased feelings of comfort and productivity while desk-bound. Physically, frequently changing positions also helps maintain normal nerve function and maintains good blood supply for the muscles.

If you don’t have access to a variable height desk, there are a few options. Desktop additions are available that allow you to raise or lower the height of your monitor, keyboard, and mouse, effectively turning any desk into a sit-stand desk. And no matter what kind of desk you have, frequently getting up for a walk around the office is one of the nicest things you can do for your body. Put a reminder in your phone or email to get up for a walk or a stretch and get yourself moving!

 

Image By Kennyrhoads (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy Christmas food and festivities

Overindulged Over The Holidays?

Christmas and the New Year can be a tough period for a lot of people. Even in the best of situations, there is no shortage of delicious food and drink (and more food, and more drink), less exercise or physical activity than many of us intend to have, and likely a late night or two.

It’s definitely not the daily routine!

If you’re feeling a little guilty about how much you enjoyed the holidays, reconsider. There are silver linings that go along with a great holiday season, especially the great memories are yours for a lifetime.

Think back to what you did over the holidays. What were your favorite dishes, meals, festive beverages? Did you get to sleep in? Do some fun outdoor activity instead of cramming in a gym session or home workout before rushing off to work?

Rather than wincing at the memories, enjoy them. Don’t stress about what’s done – it can’t be changed now, and even it shouldn’t be changed, either! Fun and downtime are important, and stress and worry can actually do more damage than anything that you might have enjoyed in the last several weeks. Good memories are always worth making – for me, escaping sticky Brisbane for the beach, and daily early morning beach runs and swims more than makes up for slacking off on strength training and eating more cake than strictly necessary!

Ask yourself: Were the holiday choices I made worth the memories that go along with them?

The goal is to turn an enjoyable holiday season into a guilt free experience. You can use your above answer to make the next round of holidays even more enjoyable, with even less potential guilt around health and fitness choices.

Food and drink indulgence is a huge source of post-holiday stress. Eating is a mainstay of celebrations worldwide, and is often the chance to go all-out with treats. When your once-in-a-while treat foods are readily available, it’s very easy to have “just a little” here or there (there’s nothing wrong with enjoying this, either – see above). The key to enjoying the good stuff is to really enjoy the good stuff and leave the stuff you don’t really love alone. I’ve eaten so much low-quality chocolate in the last several weeks, and every time I do, I think about how much I don’t really like it. Why do I keep doing that? It’s one of life’s mysteries that we solved yesterday when we threw the rest of the Christmas chocolate out.

Ask yourself: What did I eat or drink that I didn’t really like, and how can I choose less of that next time?

Non-food-related: It’s also easy to let the sleep-ins and company keep us from other healthy choices we normally enjoy, whether that’s your favorite gym class or a long early morning walk. This can also lead to post-holiday guilt, and sometimes to the hassle of getting back in the habit. But catching up on sleep has its own benefits, as does reconnecting with family and friends – there is significant research showing that these are key elements in overall good health. The change of routine can also provide an opportunity to evaluate what you do enjoy in your daily routine.

Ask yourself: Were the extra hours of sleep/family connections/holiday parties worth it? What are you looking forward to getting back to?

Take a few minutes to think on these questions, and you’ll set yourself up for a good holiday season the next time around. As a bonus, you can open up your calendar or diary to 11 months from now, and pop in some reminders to help you get the most out of the holiday season, without the extras you don’t need or even want.

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How To Be Happy

Happiness has demonstrated health benefits, including decreased risk of heart disease and stroke, and there is scientific evidence that happiness is more than just the absence of sadness or depression. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that we have a great deal of control over our happiness levels.

Written to be your choice of a quick skim or a long read, this compilation piece from the New York Times details great ideas to get more happiness. Take your time to read through it all, or just start with a quick browse through the headings. Information from numerous studies forms the base for these practical recommendations to help improve mental health boost happiness at home and work, around money matters, in relationships, and enjoy improved overall quality of life.

Read the article How To Be Happy to find the happiness options that will work best for you!

 


Muscle and Joint Health In Three Steps

Ready to start an exercise or physical activity program? Already active or working out? These three steps will keep your body happy and healthy, minimizing aches, pains and injury risk.

You probably know: Regular movement is really important to maintaining lifelong health. Keeping your body injury- and pain-free is really important to being able to keep moving.

Increasing daily movement can come at the end of a rehab program, or you may (correctly) see it as a way to get rid of ongoing sore spots. It may be your path to improving your health, or feeling even better than you do right now. These three DIY steps focus primarily on loosening and lengthening your muscles and connective tissues – leading to decreased joint stress – and then getting your muscles strong and fit. Following these three steps will keep your muscles and joints working efficiently and minimize the stiffness and pain that can prevent good quality movement. Improved movement ability directly leads to better health and quality of life.

Step 1: Loosen

Muscles that are overly tight (aka hypertonic) don’t work efficiently. Excessive muscle tension can decrease how quickly a muscle can contract and how much force it can contract with. Since the speed and force of contraction are what creates movement and supports your body, this is less than optimal (plus, tight muscles don’t generally feel good).

Many circumstances can lead to excessive muscle tension. Muscles can spasm and hold tension to protect a sore or injured area, or tension can build from long term movement compensations that result from an injury or tissue damage. Tension can also be caused by posture and occupational or lifestyle demands.

“Loosen” is step one because it has the greatest impact on the other two steps. A muscle with optimal tension and with minimal adhesions – what we commonly think of as “knots” – will be able to stretch and strengthen better.

Different “loosening” techniques include hands-on techniques like deep tissue massage, remedial, or sports massage therapy, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy, as well as self-massage techniques using a foam roller, trigger point ball, The Stick, and other similar tools. You can also help manage muscle tension by staying hydrated, using a heat pack or hot water bottle on tight muscles, and ensuring a diet high in magnesium.

Step 2: Lengthen

Muscles that are too short can lead to poor joint alignment and repetitive strain or overuse injuries. For most people, stretching after doing soft tissue work will give you the best results, as adhesions and tight areas don’t stretch well (and can potentially cause the tissues around them to overstretch). Appropriate stretching will keep joints moving freely and easily, and can also help prevent tension buildup caused by poor postures and movement patterns that shorten and stress muscles.

One caveat to the Lengthen step: If you are hypermobile (i.e. double jointed), stretching may actually aggravate muscles and joints. In hypermobility conditions, the tissues surrounding a joint are longer and looser than optimal, giving the joint very high degrees of movement (aka joint laxity). As this can predispose to injury, and your body’s #1 goal is to not get hurt, ever, the reaction to this laxity is to create more tension in the tissues around the joint. This can leave you feeling like you need to stretch, but that’s actually the opposite of what your body needs. If you are hypermobile, skip this step and do more self-massage (or go and good a good remedial or deep tissue massage) to decrease muscle tension. The strength work in step three will help further build joint integrity.

There are many ways that you can stretch, like traditional static stretching, or partner variations like assisted or PNF stretching. Regardless of how you do it, hold your stretches for a very minimum of 30 seconds, as it takes at least that long for the tissues to lengthen to a beneficial degree. And don’t bounce! It’s a recipe for disaster.

Step 3: Strengthen

The first two steps are all about getting the muscles ready. Now it’s time to get going! The right strength program identifies any areas of strength or activation imbalance, and will selectively target them build on the movement quality you’ve already achieved with the Loosen and Lengthen steps. For maximum benefit, get some advice from a movement professional who will help you determine your weakest links. This information will allow you to build a strong foundation, further decreasing any injury risks and making any ongoing physical activity or exercise much more effective.

Strength programs come in many, many forms. The best programs are created based on both your physical needs and the types of movement you enjoy, and may include components of body-weight exercises, band-resisted exericses, yoga, pilates, and traditional strength training.

How much work you do in each of these stages will depend on your starting point (current movement quality, activity levels, injury and health history, and the like). The art of creating the best program for YOU means understanding what your body needs in order to handle the activities you love, and then simply working through the steps.

While including all of these components is becoming more widely used in strength and fitness programming, there are many people and places that still miss a step or two. If you have questions about how these steps apply to you, leave a comment here or jump on our Facebook page – we’re happy to talk specifics!