Fine Tuning Techniques for a Healthy Lifestyle

For individuals trying to stay healthy, lose and maintain weight loss, it’s no surprise that nutritious eating and exercise are essential for success.  Set short-term, realistic goals that provide for forgiveness over failure.  Even though we’ve heard this time and time again, a 2018 Gallup Poll survey with over 300,000 participants indicated that 51.6% of adults reported exercising regularly (at least 3 days/week for a minimum of 30 minutes/session).  Slightly over half of the population surveyed.  In 2016, the Mayo Clinic Proceedings reported that less than 3% of the American population actually meet the basic qualifications of a healthy lifestyle (eating properly, maintaining good body fat levels, exercising a minimum of 150 minutes/week and not smoking).  Further statistics from the Boston Medical Center report that two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese and often require lifelong medical care to help treat their condition.  The good news is that a healthy lifestyle can be achieved and maintained if you are willing to make gradual changes by following three, fine tuning techniques and interventions that can improve the quality of your life, health and happiness (Len Kravitz, Ph.D.).

  1. Dietary Interventions
  2. Behavioral Techniques
  3. Weight Loss and Maintenance with Physical Activity.

Background

If you are one of the millions of people who have been on a “diet” or exercise regime that doesn’t fit you’re lifestyle and current level of fitness, you’re likely going to rely on willpower to push you through.  Many individuals set immediate, yet un-realistic goals then establish an internal reward system based on metrics – numbers on the scale, over improved health and well-being.  If pounds are coming off, the initial sense of accomplishment (internal reward) becomes an inspiration to keep going.  Unfortunately, most people eventually reach a plateau and the numbers on the scale don’t budge.  The reward mechanism transitions into personal failure and punishment.  As punishment, some may push themselves to extremes with greater food restrictions and increased levels of exercise, or think of themselves as being weak or lacking willpower, then either quit or continue with additional restrictions.  If they choose additional restrictions, people find themselves getting hungrier (obviously due to lack of food), cravings set in (deprivation), physical stress and levels of fatigue increase, and exercise starts to become an annoyance.  If you don’t want this to happen to you, it’s time to start implementing fine tuning techniques.

Dietary Interventions

  • Begin to self-monitor dietary intake and eating patterns or habits with a personal food journal (visual analysis).
  • Maintain awareness of the amount and quality of food being consumed each day (pay attention to portion sizes).
  • Look for high-risk situations that trigger overeating or eating “empty calorie” junk foods (parties, snacking while watching TV, eating for comfort or looking at dessert menus).
  • Incorporate nutritious whole grains, legumes, fresh vegetables, seasonal fruits and high quality proteins in your meal plan.
  • Choose non-fat, skim and 1% dairy products or dairy substitutes (almond, soy, coconut, etc.) over whole milk, high fat dairy items.
  • Begin to limit, then eventually cut out sugared sodas and other sweetened beverages.  This mean eliminating anything that has “high fructose corn syrup” added to the product.
  • Stock your pantry with healthy food selections; get rid of the candy, chips, cookies and binge eating foods (out of sight, out of mind).

Behavioral Techniques

  • Avoid negative self-talk and self-criticism (“I’m fat”, “lazy”, “unattractive”, ” weak”, unsuccessful”).
  • Start each day with positive, self-dialogue affirmations about yourself (these include: your attitude, confidence, abilities, appearance, self-esteem and general well-being).
  • Approach the journey to healthy living one day at a time.  At the end of a week, review your successes and note areas you can improve.  Be patient with yourself – journeys don’t happen overnight!
  • Move beyond numbers on the scale, suggests Jennifer McGurk, RDN, while shifting your thoughts and feelings into celebrations of accomplishments made with healthy lifestyle behaviors.
  • Do not to shame yourself with the words of being “obese” or “overweight”.  Respect and accept your body, knowing that you are taking steps to improve your metabolic machinery, weight and health.
  • Engage in the principle of intuitive eating: observe the way certain foods make you feel; tune into satiety cues (internal sense of being hungry or feeling stuffed); notice increased energy levels associated with healthy food choices; identity your selection of comfort foods – they may provide temporary comfort and emotional relief, but are not a long-term solution for healthy living).

Physical Activity

  • Successful weight loss and maintenance require regular, physical activity.  This should be programmed into your lifestyle and managed on a weekly basis.
  • If you have medical concerns, consult your physician prior to starting any fitness program.
  • To jump-start weight loss, start with a goal of accumulating 200-280 minutes/week of cardiovascular activity.  This can be broken into several small bouts of exercise throughout the day, or accumulated in longer sessions.
  • Include 2-3 sessions/week of strength training for all major muscle groups.  This can be incorporated into a cardiovascular workout with the use of interval or circuit training.
  • Be sure to stretch after each exercise session.  Hold each stretch for up to 30 seconds without bouncing (static stretching), or add dynamic stretching with select yoga routines.
  • For weight loss, research suggests the use of  “Lactate Threshold Training” for each exercise session (Len Kravitz, Ph.D.).  Perform 80% of the activity with high volume / high intensity, 10% at steady state (steady, comfortable pace) and 10% with intervals (intensity levels vary up and down).
  • Intensity can be monitored with a heart rate tracking device or with a rating of perceived exertion.  On a scale of 1 to 10, a rating of 1 would be very, very easy, and a rating of 10 would be extremely hard (cannot talk and out of breath).  Depending on your current level of fitness, start with a rating that is doable for your body.  Gradually increase the intensity to a rating of somewhat hard to hard as your body shows adapts to levels of improved fitness.
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Fat Cell Frenzy – Understanding the Complexity of Obesity

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Each year, American’s spend billions of dollars on weight loss products; dietary programs and new trends “guaranteeing” pounds will come off quickly using their plan.  The desperation to shed unwanted body fat is clear, yet many individuals continue to struggle with their weight.  Why does this remain such a growing problem in America today?  It’s partially due to misconceptions regarding the scientific nature of weight / fat loss coupled with an obvious urgency for people to understand the complexity of obesity, fat storage and fat metabolism at the cellular level.

Extensive studies have shown that excessive body fat / obesity is a widespread, multifaceted disease correlated with a other health problems that negatively affect an individual’s quality of life.  With the overwhelming increases in obesity today, the National Institute of Health, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and other organizations invest a tremendous amount of time and money studying this epidemic crisis – specifically the neurological, hormonal, genetic, social andmetabolicorigins of obesity.

Basic biology tells us that dietary fatsand lipids(all fats, oils and sterols) are broken down into structural chains of fatty acids stored in our fat cellsas adipose tissue.  A certain amount of stored body fatfulfills three, essential roles:  Fat acts as our primary fuel reservein the form of triglycerides; chains of fatty acidsare building blocks for key membrane constitutes; and fatty acid derivativesserve as hormonaland intercellular messengers.  Our bodies need essential fat for optimum functioning, however, excess reserves of adipose tissue can have severe consequences.  For example, fat cells can expand three to six times their normal size, with a seemingly infinite capacity to make more of themselves.  When fat cells reach their maximum storage capacity, they can “burst” much like an over-inflated balloon.  The secreted substances (inflammatory chemicals) act like a poison in the body.  Once the cell bursts, new fat cells develop in an effort to store excess fuel reserves and chemical wastes.  As the degree of obesity increases, the duplication of fat cells continues to escalate.

As mentioned, body fat is stored in the form of triglycerides.  Triglycerides(chains of fatty acids) continually circulate throughout the body, but they primarily specializein storage as adipose tissue.  If an individual is consuming more food than their bodies can metabolize, the surplus of calories is deposited in a multitude of fat cells.  Considering that one-pound of body fat stores approximately 3,500 calories, an extra 50 pounds has an excess fuel reserve of 175,000 calories!  To lose 50 pounds of body fat, one needs to “burn” and dispose of the excess reserve through sequential chemical and metabolic processes at the cellular level.  Enzymes and key nutrients pay a significant role.

Triglycerides are broken down by the enzyme lipase. It’s a metabolic system of fatty acid oxidationregulated by hormones, catalytic reactions and a proper balance of key nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and dietary fats).  Proteins (containing amino acids), carbohydrates (containing carbon chains) and dietary fats (FA’s) have unique nutritional properties to help maintain synergy within the body.  Scientifically, carbohydrates do not need any assistance from fatty acids to help them metabolize, however, fatty acids need carbon chains for hydrolysis (the breakdown of stored body fat).

Carbohydrates usually get a bad rep for causing weight gain, and many people avoid them on a “diet” without realizing that vegetables and legumes are classed as carbohydrates – leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, fresh green beans, snap peas, etc.  Legumes also contain a good source of fiber – they provide quality nutrients, aid in digestion and the elimination of food byproducts.  The saying “Fat Burns in the Flame of Carbohydrates” bears truth.  Without some carbohydrates in the diet, there is an incomplete breakdown of adipose tissue and a decrease in the rate of fatty acid oxidationat the cell level.

Fatty acid oxidation also has to occur in the “powerhouse” or mitochondria of a cell.  Long chain fatty acids cannot penetrate into the cell membrane without the presence of carnitine, a compound formed from the essential amino acids lysine and methionine. Both of these amino acids are found in animal proteins and complementary vegetarian sources.  Although L-carnitine and other supplements are widely marketed to enhance weight-loss, no conclusive medical evidence supports these claims.  Nutrient intake should come from high quality food sources prior to investing money in supplements that may or may not work.

If asked, do you think fast food burgers and egg-muffins contain a decent supply of essential amino acids and quality nutrients to support fat burning at the cell level?  Would your body respond better with whole food sources in the diet, or perform better with processed foods?  How do you think your body metabolically reacts to a greasy hot-dog over fresh vegetables, baked chicken, fish or legumes?  The obvious answer is to spark your metabolism with nutritious foods in their most natural state.

In the book “Fat Land”, Greg Critser takes us back to several developments in the food industry that have also contributed to the obesity crisis.  Back in the 1970’s, corn surpluses led to the production of high fructose corn syrup found in several food products today – including soda and snack drinks.  Cheap imports of palm oil and kernel oil combined with advances in technology led to increases in the number of convenience foods, snack items and artificial flavorings.  Because our bodies metabolize high fructose corn syrup, palm oil and palm kernel oil differently than “natural food sources”, these additives and preservatives have been shown to prompt fat storage, increase adipose tissue, elevate levels of triglycerides, cholesterol, glucose and insulin, and increase the risk factors for associated diseases.

Controversial Issues with Obesity

  • Obese people are not getting critical chemical signals to their brain to since fullness: Under normal conditions, the hormone, grehlin, signals the brain to tell the body it has had enough to eat, to more or eat less,.  Some studies suggest that obesity is associated with either a transport or interpretation problem with grehlin function.  Other studies suggest that excessive body fat, in itself, triggers an impairment of this gut hormone signaling.  The more adipose tissue an individual has, the greater the impairment becomes.  For example:  Studies have shown that obese mice develop a brain-barrier defect that causes them to eat more and store more body fat with age, but skinny mice stay about the same weight and eat until satisfied (William Blanks; MD).
  • Hormonal Defects and Insulin Resistance Cause Obesity: Hormonal defects and insulin resistance do not specifically cause obesity, however, obesity has been shown to play a dominant role in insulin resistance. Once a person moves into the state of obesity, hormonal balances for fuel metabolism are impaired.  As a result, glucose and insulin levels are compromised.  Left untreated, the risk of Type II Diabetes is inevitable.
  • Fat Deposits are Determined at Birth: We are all born with a certain number of fat cells. However, as discussed earlier, when an adipocyte has reached full storage capacity, hormonal signals drive the process of fat cell multiplication.  If unnecessary calories continue to enter the body, adipocytes will continue to multiply over and beyond what an individual had at birth.
  • Obesity is all Genetic: According to the Harvard School of Public Health, genetics only plays a small role in whether someone will become obese.  If a parent or both parents are obese, a child may be born with a greater number of fat cells, but it doesn’t mean they will become obese. Weight gain is influenced by a combination of environmental and lifestyle factors more than genetic make-up alone.
  • Neurological and Social Environment Trigger Obesity: With billions of neurons firing in complex circuits, scientists cannot measurably peer into your mind and emotions to suggest obesity is caused by a neurological malfunction.  They can, however, measure physical behaviors and the social environment surrounding that behavior.  There are external factors that often prompt poor lifestyle choices and dietary habits. These include: eating out more often; a trend of eating more fast foods; super-sizing meals; spending more time watching TV or playing video games; opting to drive because it’s easier than walking; organizing social events around food; taking the elevator over the stairs, or opting out of exercise because “it takes too much time”.

Getting Fit for Golf – Are You Ready?

This time of year, amateur and professional golfers alike head outdoors to enjoy the sport.  If off-season and pre-season conditioning exercise programs have been neglected, pains, injuries and physical limitations frequently set-in. The most common include: tight or sore chest muscles; decreased flexibility and range of motion, particularly in the torso; strained shoulders and back discomfort. Professional golfers usually have more repetitive motion injuries from extensive hours of practice, while amateurs are more likely to get injured due to lack of physical conditioning; poor swing technique and improper club grip. Body mechanics and core strength play a key role.

Golf and Core Strength

Golf requires the body to habitually bend and twist (tiresome, repetitive motions) that can eventually strain the back and shoulders and create multiple muscle imbalances that precede an injury. To help prevent injuries while increasing performance, golfers should focus on lumbar stabilization, body alignment, stretching exercises and power to increase rotational strength for the swing. Weight lifting for golf may prove beneficial for over-all strength gains; however, it is of little use without enhanced flexibility and a strong core. Core muscles assist in maintaining balance, improving back health and increasing the safety ability to move the trunk through all planes of motion. For example: If a golfer can utilize the force of trunk rotation instead of brute force from supplementary muscles to drive the ball, the chance of a shoulder or low back injury can be decreased.
Muscle Symmetry
A golfer’s healthy playing stance begins with the maintenance of muscle symmetry and correction of muscle imbalances. Players need collective strength and stability in the upper body, lower body, postural musculature and rotational core muscles in order to enhance muscular symmetry. Asymmetry becomes prevalent when a golfer favors a dominant side. In this case, stronger muscles on one side of the body become too tight, while the weaker side has too much elasticity. When muscle symmetry is improved with conditioning exercises, muscle imbalances decrease and the body is less likely to suffer from unnecessary injuries.

Core Exercises for Golf and Torso Stability

  1. Basic Crunch – Works the entire abdominal wall.
    1. Crunch with knees bent and feet flat on the floor or mat. Hands support the head and neck, but do not lock the fingers behind the head.  Exhale on the crunch. Inhale as you lower.
    2. Increase intensity by elevating heels in a resting position on a bench or large fit ball.  Hands still supporting the head and neck, but fingers are not locked behind the head or neck.
    3. Crunch from side to side; elbows open.
    4. Crunch while lying on a fit ball.
  2. Standing Wood-chops or Wood-chops seated on a fit ball.
    1. Hold a Dumbbell or Medicine Ball with both hands.
    2. Perform a twist from low to high position as you move the dumbbell or free weight in a diagonal motion across the midline of the body.
  3. Plank or Side Plank Variation
    1. Plank in a push-up position or lower to the forearms if it hurts your shoulders or neck. Hold until fatigue.
    2. Side plank with feet stacked or slightly staggered. Forearm option if needed to protect shoulders or neck.
  4. Lying Oblique Twist
    1. Lie with knees bent at 90 degrees. Slowly lower you knees to one side without touching the floor. Return to starting and repeat on the other side.
    2. Variation – you can also do this exercise with straight legs (the more advanced version).
  5. Russian Twists
    1. Sit on the floor with knees bent at 90 degrees. Hold a medicine ball or dumbbell and twist from side to side.
    2. Increase intensity by raising one or both legs off the mat.
Why Most “Diets” Often Fail in the Long Run

Why Most “Diets” Often Fail in the Long Run

As we proceed into the spring season of another New Year, I reflect on upon two of the top “New Year’s resolutions” in our society today – weight loss and healthy eating (Statistic Brain). Yes, good intentions are set; people obligate themselves to an intense “diet” plan and promise to workout diligently. After about two weeks, they hop on the scale frustrated to see that their expected results much less than anticipated. When this occurs, most people get fed up and GIVE UP! Hence, one of the many reasons most “diets” fail. Here’s why.

Lack of Truthful Education

Many times “diets” fail due to a lack of truthful education. I’ve had people tell me they put on two pounds over the weekend… “It must have been the extra cheesecake I ate”. Physically, it is very hard for our bodies to gain two pounds of fat in two days. One would have to consume an additional 7,000 calories over and beyond normal, daily intake to gain that much weight. It is, however, very easy to consume an extra 100-150 calories per day (a serving of chips, a couple of cookies or extra slices of bread) and put on an extra ten pounds over the course of a few weeks. If you truly want to lose weight and shed body fat, its important to be mindful of what you eat on a daily basis, and realize additional calories add up over time. When this occurs, you’re back to square one. Starting another “diet”.

Emotional Eating

“Diets” can also lead to emotional eating. If you restrict yourself too much, emotions of frustration, depression, feeling angry, bored and deprived set in. All these emotions are likely to drive you to the kitchen pantry for a handful of something to curb your emotions and feelings of depravation. The immediate satisfaction of this “trigger food’ sparks a craving to eat more, and more and more. Once this pattern has been established, it’s very hard to break. This is why most nutrition experts recommend eating several times a day (small feedings every three to four hours) while choosing foods from all the major food groups (protein, complex carbohydrates, good fats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables). When you do this, your body will maintain a sense of fullness and your metabolism will stay elevated throughout the day.

Over Eating

“More people die in the U.S. from too much food than too little” quotes John Kenneth Galbraith in “The Affluent Society”. Many individuals who “diet” often skip meals in order to enjoy indulging on excess food consumption later in the day. If you are one of those people who absolutely cannot resist food temptations no matter what, the best advice is out of sight, out of mind. If you know you can eat a whole box of cookies once you get started, don’t buy them. If you can eat a whole bag of chips during a Monday night football game, don’t buy chips. Try opting for something with less calories and fat. For example, air popped popcorn. Another way to cut back on over eating is portion control. Make a conscious effort to eliminate going back for second helpings, attempt to eat slowly and take pleasure with each bite. There is no reason to gorge.
Bottom Line: Too much or too little of anything is not good for you! If you are considering going on another “diet”, choose a plan you can live with for a lifetime. Think of fueling your body with nutrient rich foods, rather than consuming imitation products full of chemicals and artificial additives. I personally believe it’s important to pay attention to calorie intake, but highly disagree with extensive calorie restriction and depravation “diets” that fail in the long run.
If you are one of the many who are fed up with diet and exercise programs that don’t work, please feel free to contact me for additional tips and strategies that will get you the results you deserve.

Believe in Yourself! You are the Greatest!

Have you ever started your day with good intentions but went to bed feeling lousy and emotionally depleted? Have you ever been stuck in traffic and started feeling impatient or sensed you were about to become unglued? As humans, typical responses may sound something like this: “Why me?” “What have I done to deserve this?” “Things never go my way!” “I doubt tomorrow will get any better.”

Unfortunately, life deals us these experiences all the time and characteristically we often respond with adverse feelings. Sometimes it’s so automatic, we don’t even realize it. Having been similar situations, I am convinced that what we ponder becomes a reality. Subsequently, if you find yourself trapped in a mind-set of “never having things go your way”, don’t be surprised if you’re proven right. It’s a form of self-justification for perceived failure… a voice in our head that can also discourage us from eating right, exercising, getting enough rest and feeling our best.

For example, think about some of the things you have said to yourself over the past week. What do you tell yourself when you look in the mirror? “Gosh, I’m getting old.” “Look at my stomach.” “Boy, I look tired and worn out.” “I can’t keep up with anything anymore!”

Luckily, we can turn this all around with confidence in a fundamental truth. Success comes to those who work hard and expect to be successful. “If you can believe it, you can be it.” This thought alone may be an effective approach for overcoming objections and apprehensions associated with exercise and eating. Stat by allowing yourself to maintain confidence in your abilities! See yourself achieving your health and fitness goals! Picture yourself physically fit, healthy and active. When you put your brain in action, overcoming obstacles and motivational challenges becomes easier than justifying failures with excuses.

Expect that you are the greatest you can be, even before you are. It works!

Turning Objections into Successes!

#1        “I don’t have time to exercise.”          “I have all the time in the world!”

Exercise doesn’t have to take a lot of time. You can shorten the sessions, walk in place while watching TV, or do some fast-paced chores around the house. If you are working at a desk, keep a resistance band near by. Stand up, stretch and perform a band exercise for every 20 minutes of sitting.

#2        “I’m too tired.”                                    “I feel great!”

Exercise increases circulation, brings more oxygen to the working muscles and releases feel-good hormones (endorphins) to combat fatigue. If you are felling tired, exercise will pep you up!

#3        “Exercise is boring.”                 “ I love exercise and staying active!”

Exercise doesn’t have to be boring. Pick activities you enjoy! Maybe it’s gardening, dancing, walking with friends or leisurely riding a bike.  Make exercise fun!

#4        “I never reach my goals.”      “I can do this!”

Sometimes we set our goals too high and expect immediate results. If you establish small, realistic goals, you are more likely to achieve them. Instead of trying to exercise 5-6 days/week, try for 2-3 days/week. If it’s weight loss, plan on losing no more than 1-2 pounds/week, not 5-10 pounds/week.

#5        “I don’t like to sweat.”             “It feels good to sweat and release toxins.”

If you truly don’t like to sweat, try non-sweaty exercises like gentle yoga or stretching. If you have access to a pool, swim laps or join an aqua aerobic class.

#6        “My joints hurt.”          “Exercise can help my joint pain.”

Physical activity is crucial for people with joint pain. Lack of exercise can make your joints even more painful and stiff. It weakens supporting muscles around the joint, ultimately creating more stress and more pain.

#7        “I can’t control my eating habits!”     “Eating healthy nourishes my body.”

If you struggle with poor eating habits, keep trigger foods out-of-sight and out-of mind. Be mindful of portion sizes.  Ask yourself if the foods you choose are going to honor your body or supply you with empty calories, excess sugar and fat.

# 8       “I gain weight just looking at food.” “I’m strong, focused and healthy.”

Your eyes cannot control weight gain. You body burns calories based on demand. If you are eating too much and exercising too little, or eating the wrong types and quantity of foods, you will most likely gain weight. If you stay focused, you can lose weight.

Whole Body Training – Top Fitness Trend in 2015

The new “buzz” in the fitness industry, and number one trend for 2015, is Body Weight or Whole Body Training. While free weights and machines can certainly make you stronger, your physical assembly can too! Whole body exercises use an individual’s body weight as resistance for muscle development, balance and bone remodeling – an essential component for enhancing bone mineral density and solidity of skeletal structure. As you master exercise technique, you similarly acquire an increased consciousness (kinesthetic awareness) of supplementary movement patterns associated with other activities and recreational sports. Best of all, body-weight exercises make your workouts portable! They can easily be performed in the privacy of one’s home, used while traveling, do not require special equipment, are time efficient and serve as a great alternative to other workout modes.

Eight Simplified Exercises for a Body-Weight Workout

#1        Squat: A squat is one of the most effective lower-body exercises for your legs, hips and behind. Stand with feet slightly greater than shoulder width apart, contract the abdominals, shift body weight toward your heels, bend knees and squat down while keeping your back straight. Imagine you are about to sit in a chair, then return to starting position. Do 2-3 sets of 15 repetitions. If your knees bother you, decrease the range of motion.

#2        Push-Up: Push-ups target the chest, triceps and core. Begin on the floor with hands slightly less than shoulder width apart, legs lifted up, back straight and parallel to the floor. Maintain a stable core as you perform push-ups to fatigue. For modifications, lower to the knees or do push-ups against a wall.

#3        Plank: The plank is recognized as an isometric (non-moving) exercise targeting the core, back, and shoulders. Begin in a push-up position or modified position with forearms resting on the floor or chair. Contract the abdominals and maintain a strong core without holding your breath. Hold plank position until you lose form or reach fatigue.

# 4       Lunge: A lunge is one of the best exercises for increasing muscular strength in the quadriceps, hamstrings and buttocks. Begin by stepping one leg in front as you bend the knee to a 90-degree angle, weight toward the heel. Pull back (don’t push) to starting position and repeat on the other side. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions for each leg.

#5        Side Leg Raise: This exercise targets the outer thigh, hip and core. Stand up tall or lie on your side while contracting the core muscles. Lift and lower one leg to the side in a flexed foot position without bending or leaning your body too far forward or backward. Maintain a strong core as you repeat 3 sets of 15 reps on each side.

#6        Triceps Dip: Sit on the floor or chair with palms facing the heels. Lift your body weight up and extend arms to full length without locking the elbows. Bend the elbows, slowly lower to a 90-degree angle (the dip) then return to starting position. Continue dips until you reach muscular fatigue.

# 7       4-Count Burpee: The burpee is a very effective, functional exercise targeting several muscle groups. It can also be incorporated into a cardiovascular routine. Start in a standing position. Lower yourself into a squat allowing your hands to touch the ground. Keeping your arms extended, step (beginner) or hop (advanced) both feet backwards. Return both your feet to the squat position and then to standing. Repeat to fatigue.

#8        Abdominal Crunch: For a basic crunch, lie on the floor, bend the knees and keep feet flat on the floor or elevated on a chair. Gently support head and neck with both hands, elbows out to the side. Contract the abdominal muscles as you lift the shoulder blades off the floor. Do not let your back arch – keep abs tight at all times. Variations: Twist the torso to one side and crunch. Raise legs off the floor and crunch. Do reverse crunches by lifting the tailbone off the floor. A starting goal is 3 sets of 15 repetitions per exercise selected.

Back in Action / Maintaining a Healthy Back

Have you ever found yourself complaining of back pain, or describe yourself as “having a bad back?” If so, you are not alone. Current research indicates more than 65 million Americans suffer from low-back pain every year. Back pain is one of the most common reasons for visits to the doctor, and 50% of all individuals who suffer from an episode of low-back pain will have another occurrence within 1 year (American Association of Neurological Surgeons).  Whether acute or chronic, the likelihood of encountering back problems is quite high. To decrease your chance of becoming another statistic, consider what’s best for an aching back.

Causes of Discomfort

Back pain can result from muscle strains or spasms, joint disorders, prolonged sitting or standing, repetitive bending or twisting, muscle imbalances, overuse, dis-use, improper lifting, weight gain or direct trauma. If you injure your back, immediately stop what you are doing. Rest and apply ice to the affected area (15-20 minute bouts) for the first 48 hours. After 2 days, apply periodic sessions of heat.

For general pain, approximately 90% of individuals experience relief with rest, ice, heat, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, stretching and back exercises. To keep pressure off the spine, take a daily back break! Extend the spine to a neutral position by lying flat on your back with a pillow under your knees. Relax!

If you experience intense pain, weakness, tingling, loss of bladder control or numbness running down an arm or leg, you may have a pinched nerve, herniated disc or sciatica. In this case, you should seek medical attention.

Preventative Measures

First and foremost, you must remove the movement flaws that cause back pain throughout the day. For example: when lifting a heavy object, bend the knees and keep the back straight. Avoid unsupported forward flexion (don’t reach by leaning too far forward at the hips or waist). For repetitive lifting and bending, use a “golfer’s lift”. Reach down with one leg extended backward as a counterweight to forward flexion. Pretend you are extracting a golf ball from the cup.

When performing monotonous chores (gardening raking, vacuuming, etc.) use your core muscles for spinal stabilization. Firmly contract the abdominals without holding your breath. Never let the belly sag as it can pull the spine out of alignment.

To promote muscular development, increase circulation and speed the release of “feel-good” endorphins, include walking in your daily routine. Walking is one of the best, non-jarring exercises you can include for back health.

Yoga and Pilate’s exercises promote balance, strength and flexibility. Significant research indicates both forms of exercise provide benefits for individuals with chronic back pain.

To stretch the low-back muscles, give yourself a reclining hug. Lie on the floor or on a firm mattress. Gently pull both knees into the chest while simultaneously bringing your nose up toward the knees. Repeat as often as you like!

Another good stretch is the “Spinal Rock” or “Cat and Camel”. Kneel on your hands and knees. Inhale as you arch your back (hyper-extend), drop the belly and gaze toward the tip of the nose. Exhale as you round the back while pulling the abdominals in and tailbone under. Slowly alternate each position at least five times.