Posts Tagged ‘health & fitness’

Regular Exercise Makes You Shine

November 10, 2013

Happy Beautiful WomanWorking out isn’t all about dropping pounds or prepping for your next triathlon. Regular exercise also gives you a healthy, glowing look and an unmistakable va-va-voom that you just can’t get any other way.

Anyone who makes a habit of going to the gym, unfurling a yoga mat or hiking in the woods is privy to a secret known only to the physically active: The rewards of exercise extend far beyond slimming down or adding muscle tone. Dozens of subtle changes visibly revamp the body and the psyche in ways scientists are only beginning to understand.

Maybe your skin looks brighter, your step is springier or you’re more confident at work. Such small victories may go unnoticed by unobservant exercisers, but those on the lookout for these benefits will find them every bit as valid as gains measured by scales and calipers.

Scientists chalk up such fitness boons to a range of powerful physiological and biochemical processes triggered by regular exercise. “Every cell in the human body benefits from physical activity,” says Tim Church, MD, PhD, the director of preventative medicine at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. And, he says, you feel tangible rewards right away. “Within an hour of exercising, you feel less anxious; that night you sleep better; and for 72 hours afterward your body processes blood sugar more efficiently.”

Need more incentive to lace up your sneakers? Here’s a peek into a few of the ways exercise can make you look and feel fantastic.

1. Smoother, More Radiant Skin

Genma Holmes, 43, was horrified when she broke out in adult acne three years ago. “I was 40 and felt like a hot mess because my face was dotted with pimples,” says the working mom from Nashville, Tenn. Then, last year, she started walking two miles a day and working out on an elliptical trainer three times a week. Sure, she expected to shape up, but she was shocked when her acne cleared. “Looking in a full-length mirror and seeing a slimmer me is great, but looking in a compact mirror and not seeing blackheads is even better,” she says.

Holmes’s clearer skin comes as no surprise to Audrey Kunin, MD, a dermatologist in Kansas City, Mo., and author of The DERMAdoctor Skinstruction Manual (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Working up a good sweat is the equivalent of getting a mini-facial, she says. “When the pores dilate, sweat expels trapped dirt and oil. Just be sure to wash your face afterward so the gunk doesn’t get sucked back into the pores.”

Breaking a sweat isn’t the only way exercise benefits the skin — it also reduces bodywide inflammation, helps regulate skin-significant hormones and prevents free-radical damage. When you exercise, the tiny arteries in your skin open up, allowing more blood to reach the skin’s surface and deliver nutrients that repair damage from the sun and environmental pollutants. These nutrients also rev up the skin’s collagen production, thwarting wrinkles. “As we age, fibroblasts [the collagen-producing cells in the skin] get lazier and fewer in number,” Kunin says. “But the nutrients delivered to the skin during exercise help fibroblasts work more efficiently, so your skin looks younger.”

2. Greater Self-Confidence

Confident people radiate a certain physical appeal and charisma. A recent British study found that people who began a regular exercise program at their local gym felt better about their self-worth, their physical condition and their overall health compared with their peers who stayed home. The best part was that their self-worth crept up right away — even before they saw a significant change in their bodies.

“You don’t need to improve your fitness level to improve your self-perception of how fit you are,” says Adrian Taylor, PhD, an exercise researcher at the University of Exeter in England and the study’s lead investigator. And from there it’s only a short leap to enjoying healthier self-esteem, he adds. “Our self-worth is directly tied to our energy levels, our feelings of competence and our perceived attractiveness.” And nothing is more gorgeous than the self-assurance that comes from feeling good in your own skin.

3. Increased Stature

Annie Appleby, 45, a yoga instructor and founder of YogaForce LLC in San Francisco, took up yoga as a means to relieve stress. But it wasn’t until she had a checkup a few years later that she saw the full effects of her practice. When the doctor measured her height, they both noticed she’d grown an inch and a half. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I’d always wanted to be taller; now I fit into my clothes better and feel more spacious in
my body.”

No one has studied precisely why exercise makes you taller, but activities that stretch and strengthen muscles at the same time, like yoga or Pilates, can correct bad posture and therefore add height, says Dan Bradley, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Texas Back Institute in Denton, Texas. Hunching makes some muscle groups contract and others lengthen, he explains, which subtracts height. “If you actively work to bring muscles back into balance, your back will lengthen, your posture will improve and you can grow taller.”

People with swayed backs benefit most from core strengthening exercises, such as planks, farmer’s walks and bird dogs. For hunched shoulders, working on strengthening the upper back using resistance with bands, machines or free weights can help restore lost height. And, of course, exercise that improves posture tends to also make you look thinner, fitter and more confident.

4. Less Stress and Anxiety

Anxiety, fearfulness and uncertainty all drain your vitality and dampen your mood, which in turn tends to show on your face and in the way you carry yourself. Roughly 40 million Americans over 18 suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health — that’s nearly 20 percent of all adults — and for many of them, that anxiety strips both the smile from their face and the spring from their step. Exercise has been shown to alleviate most mild to moderate cases of anxiety, and can very quickly improve mood.

Jack Raglin, PhD, a sport psychologist at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., is only half-joking when he says, “Exercise is like taking a tranquilizer, but better because you get the side effect of improved health and fitness.” Studies out of Raglin’s lab suggest that as little as 15 minutes of exercise bestows a calm that can last for hours. As for what kind of exercise elicits the biggest response, he recommends either heart-thumping aerobic exercise, like running, cycling or swimming, or a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, such as weight training.

In one study, Raglin and his team recruited 16 athletes, tested their anxiety levels, then put them through 30 minutes of resistance training and another 30 minutes of cycling. Afterward, they rechecked the students’ stress levels and found that they had plummeted within 10 minutes of wrapping up the workout and continued to decline for the next hour.

For Dorothy Foltz-Gray, 61, a writer in Knoxville, Tenn., going for a bike ride at the end of a hectic workday delivers even faster results. “I can leave my desk anxious from a day of work, grab my bike and in a few minutes have a smile on my face as I glide along a bike path,” she says. “Suddenly I’m 12 years old again, grinning at all the other bikers who grin back because they are feeling the same burst of freedom.”

5. Better Immunity and Detoxification

With spring cold season on the horizon, exercise’s immune-enhancing powers are nothing to sneeze at. Exercise shores up the immune system by goosing the body into churning out more white blood cells, including neutrophils and natural killer cells. More white blood cells mean fewer bacteria and viruses sneak past the gate. Net effect: You don’t get that worn-down sick look that comes from feeling under the weather, and small blemishes and wounds of all kinds heal faster.

Exercise also keeps the lymph system happy. The body has roughly 500 lymph nodes — little nodules of tissue that take out metabolic trash. But the nodes can’t haul garbage to the curb without the help of nearby muscles. When muscles contract during exercise, they put the squeeze on lymph nodes, helping them pump waste out of your system. Result: You look less puffy and polluted.

Increased circulation is the key to both white blood cell production and better lymph drainage, and the best way to achieve it is to regularly do things that make you breathe hard, says David Nieman, PhD, director of the human performance labs at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. “Right now, your heart is pumping 4 to 5 liters of blood per minute, but, if you got up and went for a run, it would pump up to four times more.”

That increased blood flow is what revs up the immune system, he says. His research shows that just 45 minutes of walking each day can cut the number of days of work you miss because of illness by up to 50 percent.

Elle Swan, 39, a life coach in Las Vegas, Nev., radiates vitality and credits her regular exercise routine —which includes Bikram yoga, group-cycling classes and weightlifting — with the fact that she hasn’t missed a day of work in seven years. “I used to catch at least four colds a year, and they would often turn into ear and sinus infections,” she says. “But I started exercising regularly and now I never get sick.”

The takeaway message, says Nieman, is simple: “There is no supplement or medication that has proven to be as strong as regular exercise in improving the immune system’s ability to detect and destroy invaders.”

6. More Restful Sleep

Plagued by dark circles? You’re not alone. As many as 60 million Americans wrestle with insomnia, according to a recent Harvard Medical School report. A slew of studies show exercise can elicit longer, more restful sleep. Why? Well, an intense workout may leave you more hungry for shuteye recovery time, but there’s more to it than that. Shawn Talbott, PhD, nutritional biochemist and author of The Metabolic Method (Current Book, 2008), explains that exercise sharpens the body’s sensitivity to the stress hormone cortisol, which can enhance sleep. Sleeping better leaves you looking fresh and healthy.

Here’s how it works: When your boss yells at you, the body spews cortisol to help muscles either duke it out or run like the wind. But, instead, if you sit and seethe at your desk, the cortisol stays in the bloodstream, like a racecar circling the track in a speedway. If the stress is chronic, the presence of cortisol 24/7 blunts the body’s cellular receptors, muting the hormone’s arousal call. That lack of sensitivity causes the adrenal glands to make more, just to get the body’s attention. “It’s like your body turns the volume up full-blast to get the message across,” says Talbott.

As a result, the body’s natural cortisol rhythms (high in the morning, low in the evening) “flatten out,” he explains, which can leave you mentally wound up at night — and carrying excess baggage under your eyes the next day.

But exercise is essentially a release valve for cortisol, helping you sleep more soundly and greet the day looking more refreshed, Talbott explains. “It sends a message to the brain that you’re using the cortisol for its original purpose — movement — and that it’s safe to turn off the tap afterward.” Bottom line: Your body is able to use the downtime for the tissue-repair work that keeps you both looking and feeling great.

7. Less Visceral Fat

Yes, exercise can help you lose your love handles, but it’s the loss of excess fat deep inside the body that boosts your overall vitality and your looks.

The body contains two types of fat. The one you can pinch (subcutaneous) is relatively benign. But the less visible stuff, the visceral fat that pads the abdominal organs like so many packing peanuts, can be a killer. Excess visceral fat fuels low-grade inflammation in the body and is tied to a virtual who’s who of 21st-century ills, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer, breast cancer and dementia. It can also upset the balance of important hormones (more on that to come) that affect your skin, hair and general appearance.

Regular exercise trains the body to burn visceral fat more efficiently. Exercise attacks fat on several fronts, explains Jason Karp, PhD, an exercise physiologist at Miramar College, distance-running roach at San Diego State University and owner of in San Diego. When you exercise regularly, your body makes more mitochondria, the cellular engines where aerobic metabolism takes place; it also produces more proteins to speed up the transportation of fatty acids into cells to be burned as energy; and it makes more enzymes that break down fat. “Enzymes regulate the speed at which chemical reactions take place. So the more enzymes you have, the faster visceral fat can be burned,” he adds. And the better your whole body looks as a result.

8. Stronger Sex Hormones

Getting fit not only makes you look sexy, it also makes you feel sexy by balancing the body’s sex hormone levels, which in turn can improve the appearance of hair, skin and muscle tone. Although the most studied hormones linked to exercise are endorphins, sex hormones, such as testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH — the same youth-serum substance celebrities pay thousands to be injected with), also get a boost.

When British scientists compared the hormone levels of 10 middle-aged men who ran more than 40 miles a week with 10 healthy, but sedentary, men, they found that, on average, the runners had 25 percent more testosterone and four times more HGH than the couch potatoes.

“What’s good for your heart is good for your sex life,” says C. W. Randolph, MD, cofounder of the Natural Hormone Institute of America and coauthor of In The Mood Again (Simon & Schuster, 2010). He points to studies showing that the sex lives of fit 60- and 70-year-olds often resemble the sex lives of people decades younger. And, remember, testosterone fuels sex drive in both men and women, so this isn’t one-sided advice.

You can tailor your workout to produce more testosterone, says Randolph. He says working large muscle groups — doing things like squats, lunges, dead lifts, bench presses and rows — ramps up testosterone more than single-joint, small-muscle-group movements like biceps curls or triceps extensions. For best results, he suggests doing three sets of five to 10 repetitions with weights that push muscles to their edge, and rest 30 seconds to two and a half minutes between sets. (For more on the sex appeal of good health, see “Health: The New Sex Symbol” in the December 2006 archives and “Faked Fitness” in the March 2010 archives.)

Exercise researchers agree that the benefits of improved fitness are a boon to virtually every system in our bodies. And any kind of regular activity will help you experience more of these benefits for yourself. “Most people think exercise is only about burning calories, but it’s so much more than that,” says Talbott. “Exercise is about a million small perks, like stress management, better sleep and an overall healthy body.” And they all add up to a more radiant, gorgeous you.

Catherine Guthrie is contributing editor of Experience Life.

Knockout Nourishment

Exercise alone isn’t going to make you look and feel gorgeous — you need to pair your workout with healthy food choices.

Eat foods rich in vitamin A. Hair, skin and nails depend heavily on vitamin A to stay strong and supple, says Pick. To up your intake, reach for more sweet potatoes, carrots, leafy greens
and broccoli.

Add omega-3s. Healthy fats help the skin retain moisture, says Pick. “When people don’t get enough good dietary fat, their skin gets dry and flaky, especially on the arms and abdomen.” Reliable sources include coldwater fish, walnuts and almonds.

Ease up on alcohol. Being mindful of how much you drink can help keep the liver, the body’s main detoxifying organ, in tiptop shape, therefore brightening eyes and evening out skin tone. A little red wine (say 4 ounces) with dinner is fine, says Pick, but don’t overdo it — and avoid hard liquor altogether.

Prioritize fiber. “The more veggies, fruits, beans and legumes you eat, the more efficiently your body will eliminate waste,” says Pick. The fiber in these foods helps reduce inflammation throughout the body. “And the antioxidants lower skin’s oxidative stress levels, staving off wrinkles and sun damage.”

Cut back on sugar. A high-sugar diet can feed bad bacteria in the gut and cause a low-grade inflammation that can lead to skin problems, such as breakouts and dermatitis, says Pick. Instead, try agave nectar, a (truly) natural sweetener that doesn’t spike blood sugar.

This article was sourced from

Benefits of Positive Thinking

July 28, 2013

You have probably had someone tell you to “look on the bright side” or to “see the cup as half full.” Chances are good that the people who make these comments are positive thinkers. Researchers are finding more and more evidence pointing to the many benefits of optimism and positive thinking.

Such findings suggest that not only are positive thinkers healthier and less stressed, they also have greater overall well-being. According to positive psychology researcher Suzanne Segerstrom, “Setbacks are inherent to almost every worthwhile human activity, and a number of studies show that optimists are in general both psychologically and physiologically healthier.”

Even if positive thinking does not come naturally to you, there are plenty of great reasons to start cultivating affirmative thoughts and minimizing negative self-talk.

Positive Thinkers Cope Better With Stress

When faced with stressful situations, positive thinkers cope more effectively than pessimists. In one study, researchers found that when optimists encounter a disappointment (such as not getting a job or promotion) they are more likely to focus on things they can do to resolve the situation. Rather than dwelling on their frustrations or things that they cannot change, they will devise a plan of action and ask others for assistance and advice. Pessimists, on the other hand, simply assume that the situation is out of their control and there is nothing they can do to change it.

Optimism Can Improve Your Immunity

In recent years, researchers have found that your mind can have a powerful effect on your body. Immunity is one area where your thoughts and attitudes can have a particularly powerful influence. In one study, researchers found that activation in brain areas associated with negative emotions led to a weaker immune response to a flu vaccine. Researchers Segerstrom and Sephton found that people who were optimistic about a specific and important part of their lives, such as how well they were doing in school, exhibited a stronger immune response than those who had a more negative view of the situation.

Positive Thinking Is Good for Your Health

Not only can positive thinking impact your ability to cope with stress and your immunity, it also has an impact on your overall well-being. The Mayo Clinic reports a number of health benefits associated with optimism, including a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular problems, less depression, and an increased lifespan. While researchers are not entirely clear on why positive thinking benefits health, some suggest that positive people might lead healthier lifestyles. By coping better with stress and avoiding unhealthy behaviors, they are able to improve their health and well-being.

It Can Make You More Resilient

Resilience refers to our ability to cope with problems. Resilient people are able to face a crisis or trauma with strength and resolve. Rather than falling apart in the face of such stress, they have the ability to carry on and eventually overcome such adversity. It may come as no surprise to learn that positive thinking can play a major role in resilience. When dealing with a challenge, optimists typically look at what they can do to fix the problem. Instead of giving up hope, they marshal their resources and are willing to ask others for help.

Researchers have also found that in the wake of a crisis, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster, positive thoughts and emotions encourage thriving and provide a sort of buffer against depression among resilient people. Fortunately experts also believe that such positivism and resilience can be cultivated. By nurturing positive emotions, even in the face of terrible events, people can reap both short-term and long-term rewards, including managing stress levels, lessening depression, and building coping skills that will serve them well in the future.

Final Thoughts

Before you put on those rose-colored glasses, it is important to note that positive thinking is not about taking a “Pollyanna” approach to life. In fact, researchers have found that in some instances, optimism might not serve you well. For example, people who are excessively optimistic might overestimate their own abilities and take on more than they can handle, ultimately leading to more stress and anxiety.

Instead of ignoring reality in favor of the silver lining, psychologists suggest that positive thinking centers on such things as a belief in your abilities, a positive approach to challenges, and trying to make the most of bad situations. Bad things will happen. Sometimes you will be disappointed or hurt by the actions of others. This does not mean that the world is out to get you or that all people will let you down. Instead, positive thinkers will look at the situation realistically, search for ways that they can improve the situation, and try to learn from their experiences.


Article sources from

Exercise Makes You Smarter – Fitter Body, Fitter Brain.

June 23, 2013

I always knew that exercise made me feel better, but after reading Spark I can share with you scientific evidence that it also made me smarter. I always thought that it was just my morning jog that helped kick-start my days since my youth. I also believed that the discipline of exercise helped me train my brain to do what it did not naturally want to do, such as spending hours reading about subjects that really did not interest me. I did not expect that the biomechanics of movement, when repeated to the point of sustained physiologic discomfort, could actually stimulate neuronal development.

This last aspect of exercise is the premise of Spark, a book by Dr. John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He has written more than 60 journal papers on psychiatry and psychopharmacology, along with the bestselling 2001 book, A User’s Guide to the Brain, which explains how neuroscience affects emotions, behavior and overall psychology.

Ratey opens Spark with a quote from Plato: “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means: education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.” From there Ratey begins to lays out the strong scientific foundation for his thesis: that exercise has a profound impact on cognitive abilities and mental health. Citing Duke University’s 2000 study that exercise is better than sertraline (Zoloft) in treating depression, Ratey feels that exercise is not just a simple therapeutic option, but one of the best treatments we have for most psychiatric problems.

Ratey cites many excellent references to support his theories. For example, a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2002 article examined our ancestral patterns of physical activity (termed “Paleolithic rhythms”), which were established as part of our genetic hardware more than two million years ago. The study showed that we expend 38% less energy per unit BMI compared to our Stone Age ancestors. Paleolithic man walked almost 10 miles a day just to eat.

Darwinian evolution dictates that stresses that don’t kill you make you stronger. Ratey summarizes our biologic rhythm with: “Regular aerobic activity calms the body, so that it can handle more stress before the serious response involving heart rate and stress hormones kicks in. It raises the trigger point of the physical reaction. In the brain, the mild stress of exercise fortifies the infrastructure of our nerves cells by activating genes to produce certain proteins that protect the cells against damage and disease.”

Ratey describes the lack of physical activity in our high schools, noting that the average American student spends 5.5 hours per day in front of a screen of some sort, such as a television, computer, or handheld device. He comments on the failings of our traditional gym classes to counteract this sedentary culture, observing that less than 3% of adults over the age of 24 stay in shape through playing team sports.

Ratey shows that exercise not only counteracts our cultural lack of adequate physical activity, but also makes the brain more efficient. The strongest support for Ratey’s thesis comes from the California Dept. of Education, which has consistently shown that students with higher fitness scores also have higher test scores.

Physical-fitness programs such as swimming and square dancing also serve as a social lubricant, according to Ratey. If everyone feels self-conscious, then such programs offer a level playing field for all, and it becomes more palatable for students to take on an awkward but apparently beneficial activity. Corporations use this technique in bringing different personalities to work for the good of a team. Ratey makes the case for establishing exercise as a more integral part of all educational systems, or it is a lost opportunity for society in general, especially in the lower-income groups.

Ratey also reviews the molecular neurotransmitters of the brain: gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), glutamate, serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. About 80% of the signaling in the brain is carried out by the balance of glutamate and GABA. Glutamate stimulates neuronal activity, while GABA inhibits it. Serotonin helps modify runaway brain activity that can lead to depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsiveness. Norepinephrine often amplifies signals that influence attention, perception, motivation and arousal. Dopamine is the learning, reward, attention and movement neurotransmitter. Exercise, says Ratey, balances these neurotransmitters by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which nourishes neurons like fertilizer. He reviews numerous clinical and animal studies that support the link between exercise, increased BDNF brain level, and increased learning capabilities.

According to Ratey, exercise works in everyday life to alleviate anxiety, both for the brain and body. It provides distraction, reduces muscle tension, builds brain resources, teaches a different outcome, reroutes neuronal circuits, improves resilience, and sets one free. At high intensity (75-90% of maximum heart rate), the body enters into anaerobic range. Here the pituitary gland releases human growth hormone (HGH). Ratey describes HGH as the “body’s master craftsman.” It helps burn belly fat by layering on muscle fibers, balances neurotransmitter levels, and boosts production of beneficial growth factors. Most important, HGH “pumps up brain volume,” meaning that high-intensity exercise can reverse loss of brain volume that naturally occurs with aging, says Ratey. HGH normally stays in the bloodstream only a few minutes, but a session of sprinting can keep the levels elevated for up to four hours.

Finally, Ratey offers a prescription for how much exercise people need. There is no firm answer, but the general guideline is about 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per day or three hours per week.

I am a lifelong aficionado of exercise, and this book validates all the intuitive reasons I have had for my daily (almost religious) routine, which helps me prepare for the sedentary but stressful life of a surgeon. If you are in the mainstream of not-so-compulsive exercisers, this book will give you scientific and medical reasons to start living smarter, with less depression and anxiety … a great investment for both your brain and your body, as well as for public health.

Article sourced from
Peter Bretan Jr., MD
Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John Ratey, MD, with Eric Hagerman, 304 pages, Little, Brown, $25.

Recognising and correcting poor posture

February 12, 2013

It may not sound like a very ‘sexy’ topic, conjuring up memories of being reprimanded for slouching and slumping, but good posture is about much more than appearances. Justin Price explains how to manage poor posture.

Posture refers to the position the body assumes during various activities such as sitting, standing, or lying down. Evaluating a client’s static posture is one of the most important assessments a health and fitness professional can perform, as it provides important clues about how a person is likely to move. For example, someone who presents with an excessively-arched lower back when standing may overuse their lower back muscles to perform movements that require spine extension, such as reaching overhead to catch a ball. Static posture assessments can also reveal the environmental stressors a person experiences during daily activities (e.g. rounded shoulders from sitting too much) and where their body could potentially break down during exercise/sports (e.g. overly-pronated feet could lead to a foot/ankle injury or knee/hip injury).

Since many traditional exercises and leisure activities require people to be on their feet, it makes sense to focus on standing posture, looking at what ideal standing posture looks like, how to perform a quick self-assessment of your own or your client’s posture, and some exercises that can be used to help improve musculoskeletal alignment.

Optimal postural alignment

Figure 1:
Optimal standing posture

Good standing posture enables the body to effectively deal with the ever-present forces of gravity and ground reaction forces. This minimises potential for injury to both joints and soft tissue structures. When a person is in an optimal standing position, the following anatomical landmarks should all be in vertical alignment when viewed from the side: the tragus of the ear, the acromion of the shoulder, the centre of the hip, Gerdy’s tubercle (located just below the knee) and the tarsal joint of the ankle (located just below the ankle bone) (see Figure 1).

Quick postural self-assessment

To assess your own posture, stand against a wall in bare feet with your feet pointing straight ahead and your heels, buttocks, shoulders and head touching the wall. Pay attention to where the weight is in your feet. If you are standing in good alignment, your bodyweight should be positioned towards the outside of your heels. However, if you feel pressure in the front of your feet and toes, this indicates that your bodyweight is falling forward. Consequently, you will have to push down with your toes to keep balanced. This compensation may cause your knees to bend and/or your calf muscles to tighten and affect the alignment of your feet, ankles and knees.

Next, slide your hand behind your back while standing against the wall to evaluate the space between your lower back and the wall. If you are only able to slide your fingers into the space, you have an acceptable degree of arch in your lower back. However, if there is enough space for you to slide your whole hand or forearm between your back and the wall, then your lower back arches too much (i.e., excessive lumbar lordosis). If your lower back typically arches too much then your pelvis will also shift out of alignment by tipping down at the front (i.e. an anterior pelvic tilt). As a result, many of the muscles that attach to the pelvis and lumbar spine will be adversely affected (i.e. hip flexors, abdominals, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, glutes, spinal erectors).  This can lead to movement dysfunction as well as hip, groin, leg and lower back pain.

Lastly, try to decrease the arch in your lower back by tucking your pelvis under (i.e. posterior tilt).  Make a note when you do this of whether your shoulders round forward away from the wall. If they do, this indicates that the muscles of your shoulders and upper back (i.e. thoracic erectors, rhomboids, trapezius) may be weak (which is why it is difficult to keep your shoulders back to the wall when you remove the excessive arch in your lower back). This weakness in the upper back and shoulders can lead to shoulder, back, and neck pain and place more stress on the structures of the lumbar spine (as they will have to compensate for the lack of strength in the upper back).

Assessing posture in this simple way can help you and your clients understand how the body compensates for one area of dysfunction by overusing other areas to maintain an upright position against gravity and ground reaction forces. Addressing these imbalances with various corrective exercises can reduce these compensation patterns, thereby decreasing pain and improving function.


The following corrective exercises can help improve standing posture.

Two tennis balls on upper back

Two tennis balls on upper back
This self-massage technique promotes extension in the thoracic spine by rejuvenating and regenerating the muscles of the upper back. It also helps prepare the muscles of this area to be able to progress to strengthening exercises later in the program (see ‘straight arm raise’ below).

Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent. Place a tennis ball on either side of your spine, in line with the bottom of your shoulder blades. Use a large pillow to support your head so you don’t feel too much pressure from the tennis balls. Bring your arms across your chest and hug yourself. Find a sore spot and maintain pressure on it until it releases (10 to 15 seconds). Then move the balls to another sore spot by scooting your butt and body down so the balls roll up your spine. Bring the pillow with you each time you scoot. Spend about two to three minutes each day on the entire area.

Calf stretch Hip flexor stretch (with activation of gluteus maximus)

Calf stretch
Tight calf muscles can lead to poor posture because they can create alignment problems in the feet, ankles and legs. Performing a standing calf stretch can help realign some of the posterior calf muscles (e.g. gastrocnemius) and help shift your body weight back into your heels when standing.

Stand in a split lunge stance (make sure foot is aligned straight front to back) and push the heel of the back foot into the ground. Pull the toes of the back foot up toward the shin to increase the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds each side.

Hip flexor stretch (with activation of gluteus maximus)
The hip flexor muscles run from the lumbar spine across the pelvis and attach to the top of the leg. Stretching these muscles enables the hips to extend (i.e. move forward) under the spine so the lower back does not have to overcompensate by arching excessively to hold the torso upright.

Straight arm raise

Kneel with one leg in front of the other. Posteriorly tilt the pelvis (i.e. tuck under) until you feel the glutes of the back leg contract. Keep the torso erect without arching the lower back excessively. Hold for 30 seconds each side.

Straight arm raise
Strengthening the muscles of the upper back can teach the body to recruit the muscles of the thoracic spine to assist with lifting the torso upright. This can prevent the lower back from getting tired and overworked.

Lie on the ground with your knees bent. Raise your arms overhead until they reach the ground.  Pull your arms down toward the floor without arching your lower back, shrugging your shoulders, or bending your arms. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat three times.

  • Kendall, F.P. et al. 2005. Muscles Testing and Function with Posture and Pain (5th ed.). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  • McGill, Stuart. 2002. Low Back Disorders: Evidence Based Prevention and Rehabilitation. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  • Myers, T. 2001. Anatomy Trains. Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Price, J. 2010. The Fundamentals of Structural Assessment: Module 1. The BioMechanics Method.
  • Rolf, I. P. 1989. Rolfing: Reestablishing the Natural Alignment and Structural Integration of the Human Body for Vitality and Well-Being (revised edition). Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press

Justin Price, MA
Justin is the creator of The BioMechanics Method® which provides corrective exercise education for health and fitness professionals. He is also an expert on corrective exercise for The American Council on Exercise, PTontheNet, PTA Global, TRX, BOSU and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. For more information visit

Healthy Inspirations Recipe of the Week

January 3, 2013

turkey patties

Mediterranean Turkey Burgers

Serves 5


  • 450g minced turkey
  • 30g feta, crumbled
  • 4 Tbsp finely chopped black olives
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 30g butter


  1. Place all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Mix well to combine. With wet hands, shape the mixture into patties.
  2. Melt butter in fry pan over moderate heat. Add the patties and sauté for 5 minutes on each side.
  3. Serve with fresh salad or left-over Christmas vegies.

Healthy Inspirations Coffs Coast

Recipe of the Week – Stir-fried Lemon Chicken

October 4, 2012

Healthy Inspirations Coffs Coast Health Club

Serves 6

2 fat, 2 vegetable, 1 protein


  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 cups bean sprouts
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp minced ginger
  • 6 chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 4 spring onions, sliced
  • 1 cup snow peas, trimmed
  • 1/2 cup sliced red capsicum
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 (170g) can bamboo shoots
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds


  1. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a wok over high heat. Add the bean sprouts and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes or until crisp. Remove from the wok and place on a large serving platter.
  2. Add the remaining oil to the wok and stir-fry the garlic and ginger for 30 seconds. Add the chicken and stir-fry for 4 to 5 minutes, ensuring all the chicken is cooked.
  3. Push the chicken up the sides of the wok and add the spring onions, snow peas and capsicum. Stir-fry for around 2 minutes.
  4. Combine the soy sauce and lemon juice, and add to the wok along with the bamboo shoots. Push the chicken back down to the centre of the wok and stir to combine all ingredients.
  5. To serve, place the chicken mixture over the bean sprouts and top with slivered almonds.


Recipe sourced from:

101 Ways to Feel Happy

August 14, 2012

Do you want to feel happy — or even happier — on a daily basis?

The simple solution is dipping into these 101 quick, easy and free ways to make you feel happy right now. They’ll help you get the big picture on how you can actively seek happiness and start to feel happier every day.

Once you’ve got started you can add more ideas of your own to make sure you get your daily dose of happiness. Life’s too short to be miserable and there are infinite ways to feel happy, it’s just a case of finding out what makes you feel instantly happy and taking a moment to enjoy those things every day.

In the long term living a life which is in tune with your values, doing work you’re passionate about and surrounding yourself with inspiring people will help increase your happiness.

But in the short term it’s about doing small things to please yourself, choosing activities that raise your happiness levels slowly but surely then keeping them there by repeating the process regularly.

Here’s the most important stuff you need to do to live in the moment and feel happier every day in one quick list:

  1. Smile.
  2. Connect with nature.
  3. Surround yourself with positive people in person or online.
  4. Do something you’ve always enjoyed.
  5. Do something you’ve never done before but have always wanted to try.
  6. Learn something new.
  7. Smell something that makes you happy: a mandarin, your lover’s perfume, chocolate, you decide.
  8. Reward yourself for your good habits.
  9. Eat something that makes you happy, but not too much if it’s fattening.
  10. Spend time with a good friend.
  11. Touch something that makes you happy: a cat, velvet, the bark of a tree? Take time to notice.
  12. Don’t worry now, worry later.
  13. Say, or sing, something that makes you happy.
  14. Challenge yourself, I dare you.
  15. Look at something that makes you happy.
  16. Stop procrastinating, do something.
  17. Take a small step towards your goal.
  18. Congratulate yourself.
  19. Tell someone you love them.
  20. Do a good deed.
  21. Face your fears.
  22. Read a book you love.
  23. Get outside.
  24. Spend time with inspiring people or read about someone who inspires you.
  25. Clear out your junk, literally.
  26. Let go of negative memories.
  27. Dwell on positive things from your past.
  28. Be creative.
  29. Dare yourself to do something.
  30. Give someone an unexpected gift.
  31. Change your habits just this once, do something unexpected.
  32. Watch the sunset.
  33. Get up for sunrise.
  34. Open a savings account.
  35. Be active.
  36. Plan for success.
  37. Eat something healthy.
  38. Trust your instincts.
  39. Follow your passion.
  40. Throw a party, or plan one.
  41. Avoid drama queens and energy suckers, you know who they are.
  42. Write stuff down, keep a diary.
  43. Set a goal.
  44. Clean your house, bit by bit.
  45. Say “no”.
  46. Spend a day alone.
  47. Devote a day to family.
  48. Pick up the phone and call someone you haven’t spoken to for a while.
  49. Wear your favourite outfit.
  50. Be present.
  51. Go for a bike ride.
  52. Do something you loved as a kid that you haven’t done for years.
  53. Forgive someone, especially yourself.
  54. Go slow.
  55. Have a meal somewhere different: try a picnic.
  56. Avoid advertisements.
  57. Pick a bunch of flowers and put them in your house.
  58. Ban all media for the day.
  59. Let something slide.
  60. Display a colorful fruit bowl and eat one or two pieces a day.
  61. Be romantic.
  62. Play a game: try Uno or Monopoly with the kids and chess or poker with your friends.
  63. Make a smoothie.
  64. Have a siesta.
  65. Do something you’ve been putting off.
  66. Dream big.
  67. Start small.
  68. Seek out supportive and like-minded people.
  69. Understand that all things come to an end.
  70. Feed the ducks.
  71. Persevere: pick up something you gave up on.
  72. Start a new habit, a good one.
  73. Look at yourself in the mirror, pick what you like best and flaunt it.
  74. Seek sensuous activities and enjoy them.
  75. Look around for funny things and have a laugh.
  76. Rest up.
  77. Change your routine.
  78. Take a photo, and look back at old ones.
  79. Stretch your body.
  80. Meditate.
  81. Write a mantra.
  82. Focus.
  83. Don’t buy something — and see if you miss it. Put the cash in a savings account instead.
  84. Notice what makes you happy and use it in sad times.
  85. Ignore people who annoy you, stop being with them.
  86. Play hide and seek with some kids.
  87. Put a picture of something you want on your wall.
  88. Tell someone your dreams.
  89. Love yourself.
  90. Be grateful.
  91. Visualise.
  92. Unblock.
  93. Use your brain: try a crossword or sudoku.
  94. Make a good choice.
  95. Acknowledge your feelings.
  96. Go on a journey, long or short.
  97. Talk to someone you wouldn’t normally connect with.
  98. Be grateful for life.
  99. Write a poem.
  100. Teach someone something you know well.
  101. Choose to be happy every day.

If you haven’t already had your happy fix today, or if you want to feel even happier, try these 101 quick, simple ideas. But maybe not all on the same day.

What makes you instantly happy?

Sourced from:

Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect

August 12, 2012


1.  a person who adheres to or believes in perfectionism.

2.  a person who demands perfection  of himself, herself, or others.

Are you a perfectionist? Do you spend a lot of time “perfecting” your work,so everything comes out the way you want it to?

I believe all of us are perfectionists in our own right. I’m a perfectionist, too. We set high bars for ourselves and put our best foot forward to achieve them. We dedicate copious amounts of attention and time to our work to maintain our high personal standards. Our passion for excellence drives us to run the extra mile, never stopping, never relenting.

And a dedication towards perfection undoubtedly helps us to achieve great results. Yet, there is a hidden flip side to being perfectionists that we may not be aware of. Sure, being perfectionists and having a keen eye for details help us become excellent. However, as ironic as it might sound, perfectionism at its extreme prevents us from being our best.

How so? Here are some examples:

  1. We become less efficient. Even when we are done with a task, we linger on to find new things to improve on. This lingering process starts off as 10 minutes, then extends to 30 minutes, then to an hour, and more. We spend way more time on a task than required.
  2. We become less effective. We do little things because they seem like a “good addition”, without consciously thinking whether they’re really necessary. Sometimes, not only do the additions add no value, they might even ruin things. For example, over-cluttering a presentation with unneeded details. Jam-packing a blog layout with too many things.
  3. We procrastinate, as we wait for a “perfect” moment. Our desire to “perfect” everything makes us over complicate a project. What’s actually a simple task may get blown out of proportion, to the extent it becomes subconsciously intimidating. This makes us procrastinate on it, waiting for the ever “perfect” moment before we get to it. This “perfect” moment never strikes until it is too late.
  4. We miss the bigger picture. We are too hung up over details that we forget about the bigger picture and the end vision. It’s not uncommon to see better jobs done in pruning the trees than growing for the forest.
  5. We fuss over unfounded problems. We anticipate problems before they crop up, and come up with solutions to address these problems. It becomes an obsession to pre-empt problems. As it turns out, most of these problems either never do surface or they don’t matter that much.

However, the problem isn’t perfectionism. Well, not the normal form of perfectionism anyway. Perfectionism helps us to continuously aim for higher standards and become better. It’s a good thing.

The problem is when the quest for perfectionism turns into an obsession – so much so that the perfectionist becomes neurotic over gaining “perfection” and refuses to accept anything less than perfect. In the process, he misses the whole point altogether. Such perfectionists can be known as “maladaptive perfectionists”.

The answer isn’t to stop being a perfectionist. It’s to be conscious of our perfectionist tendencies and manage them accordingly. We want to be healthy perfectionists who are truly achieving personal excellence, not maladaptive perfectionists who are sabotaging our own personal growth efforts.

Here are my 8 personal tips on how we can be healthy perfectionists.

  1. Draw a line. We have the 80/20 rule where 80% of output can be achieved in 20% of time spent. We can spend all our time getting the 100% in, or we can draw the line where we get majority of the output, and start on a new project. Obsessing over details is draining and tedious, and doesn’t help us accomplish much. I used to review a blog post 3-4 times before I publish. All the reviewing only amounted to nuance changes in phrasings and the occasional typos. It was extremely ineffective. Now I scan it once or twice and publish it.
  2. Be conscious of trade-offs. When we spend time and energy on something, we deny ourselves from spending the same time and energy on something else. There are tons of things we can do, and we need to be aware of the trade-offs involved, so we can better draw a line (#1). For example, if some unimportant blog admin work takes an hour, that’s an hour I could spend on content creation or blog promotion. Being conscious of this helps me make a better choice on how to spend my time.
  3. Get a view of the big picture. What is the end objective? What is the desired output? Is what you are doing leading you to the overall vision? To make sure my attention is set on the end point, I have a monthly and weekly goal sheet for The Personal Excellence Blog that keeps me on track. Every day, I refer to it to make sure what I’m doing contributes to the weekly goals, and ultimately the monthly goals. These help me stay on track.
  4. Focus on big rocks. Big rocks are the important, high impact activities. Ask yourself if what you are doing makes any real impact. If not, stop working on it. If it’s a small yes, deprioritize, delegate it to someone else or get it done quickly. Seek out high impact tasks and spend time on them instead. Knowing the big picture (#3) helps you know the big rocks that contribute to the end goal. I used to spend endless amount of time tweaking my blog layout, which is really insignificant to the reader. These days I focus more on writing articles and guest posting which are the big rock activities.
  5. Set a time limit. This is same as time boxing. Parkinson’s Law tells us work will take however long we want it to take. If you give yourself 4 hours, you will finish it in 4 hours. If you give yourself 3 hours, you will finish within 3 hours. If you don’t give yourself any time limit, you will take forever to do it. Set the time limit and finish the task by then. There can be a million things you can do to improve it, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
  6. Be okay with making mistakes. Part of the reason why we obsess over our work is because we want it to be mistake-free. However, trying to achieve 100% perfection is highly ineffective. If we’re busy perfecting this thing, we can’t get to other important things. Realize that making mistakes is a trade off we have to embrace. The more we open ourselves to making mistakes, the faster we can get down to learning from them, and the quicker we can grow.
  7. Realize our concerns usually amount to nothing. It’s good to plan and prepare, but there comes a time when we should let things roll and deal with problems as they crop up. Being overly preemptive makes us live in an imaginary future vs. in the present. As I grow, I’m more inclined to adopt a “roll with the punches” attitude. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. What it means that most of the things that do crop up can always be controlled on the spot, without worrying about them before hand.
  8. Take breaks. If your productivity is waning, take a break. Resting and coming back to the same thing later on gives us a renewed perspective and fresh focus. Sometimes I run out of mental juice when writing my articles, and I don’t get anywhere by pressing on. I know it’s pointless to continue, so I take a break from work. Not surprisingly when I return later, I’m able to make progress again.

Are you a perfectionist? What are you doing to stay healthy and get things done?


information sourced from:

If the “running” shoe fits, wear it

April 1, 2012
Advice on the run
At Coffs Coast Health Club we see lots of runners,  so when we found this article about running and shoes we thought we would share it with you.  With so many running shoe options out there, or no shoes at all, it can become confusing.  So let’s shed some new light and then you decide which shoe fits for you.
Barefoot running enthusiasts are adopting "foot-gloves" while some go without shoes altogether.Barefoot running enthusiasts are adopting “foot-gloves” while some go without shoes altogether. Photo: Nick Cubbin

For the past few years, proponents of barefoot running have argued that modern athletic shoes compromise natural running form. Now a first-of-its-kind study suggests that in the right circumstances, shoes make running physiologically easier than going barefoot.

The study, published online in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, began by recruiting 12 men with extensive experience in running barefoot. ”A novice barefoot runner moves very differently than someone who’s used to running barefoot,” said Rodger Kram, a professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado who oversaw the study. ”We wanted to look at runners who knew what they were doing.”

Specifically, Kram and his colleagues hoped to determine whether wearing shoes was metabolically more costly than running unshod. In other words, does wearing shoes require more energy than going barefoot?

A few previous studies have suggested that in terms of physiological effort, it’s easier to go barefoot. After all, shoes have mass. They add weight to your feet, and pushing weight through space, as you do with every step while running, demands energy.

These earlier studies generally concluded that every additional 100 grams added to your feet should increase the energy cost of running by about 1 per cent. Over many kilometers, that 1 per cent becomes magnified if you wear heavy running shoes, which can easily weigh 300g to 400g or more.

For their study, Kram and his colleagues wanted a relatively lightweight, cushioned shoe, and chose a lightweight shoe, barely reaching 150g.

The runners were asked to run multiple times on treadmills, either wearing the shoes or not. The runners were never completely barefoot; when unshod, they wore thin yoga socks to protect them from developing blisters and for purposes of hygiene.

Next, the researchers taped thin lead strips weighing a total of 150g to the tops of the runners’ feet. By adding an equal amount of weight to the bare foot, they could learn whether barefoot running really was physiologically more efficient.

It was not. When barefoot runners and shod runners carried the same weight on their feet, running barefoot used almost 4 per cent more energy in each step than running in shoes.

To the researchers’ surprise, barefoot running, often touted by fans as more natural, was actually less efficient.

”What we found was that there seem to be adaptations that occur during the running stride that can make wearing shoes metabolically less costly,” said Jason Franz, a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado who led the study. Shoes, he said, ”provide some degree of cushioning”. If you eschew shoes, ”something else has to provide the cushioning”.

That something, he and his colleagues believe, is your legs. If you are barefoot, the job of absorbing some of the forces generated when your foot strikes the ground shifts to your leg muscles, a process that Kram calls the ”cushioning effect”. As a result, the leg muscles contract and work more and require additional energy. The metabolic cost of the activity rises.

Of course, most barefoot runners do not jog weighted by lead. But even when unweighted barefoot running was compared foot-to-foot with running in the shoes, the latter won out. For eight of the 12 runners, wearing shoes remained slightly more efficient, although the shoes added weight.

The study looked only at the metabolic efficiency of wearing shoes, compared with going barefoot. It did not evaluate the common claim that running barefoot lowers injury risk.

In the end, the difference in metabolic cost between going barefoot or wearing light shoes is probably of greatest interest to serious racers. They might want to mull the trade-off between having less mass on their feet when barefoot versus having greater potential strain on their leg muscles.

For the rest of us, the lesson might be that even if you don’t want to go barefoot, you might want to invest in a slimmed-down shoe. ”There is a metabolic cost to wearing really heavy running shoes,” Franz says. He suggests wearing lightweight shoes that provide cushioning to spare leg muscles without having mass to slow movement might be the physiologically smartest alternative to being barefoot.

The New York Times

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