Walk Softly and Carry Big Sticks

Now that spring has finally sprung, many of us are dusting off our walking shoes and hiking boots to venture back out into the great outdoors. Nothing beats a good walking program or an exhilarating hike to keep us fit, healthy, on top of our game and on top of the world. Here is a simple and surprising tip to keep you moving and get the best results possible. Invest in a set of walking sticks.

No, I’m not kidding, and no, it’s not cheating. Although, in my martial arts training we had a saying, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.” Completely different set of circumstances. But, I digress. Whether you are a walk-around-the-park kind of trekker, or if you prefer going deep into the forest or climbing high in the Rockies, there are multiple benefits of using walking sticks. Or hiking poles. Whatever you choose to call them.

Hiking poles (or walking sticks), can help your posture by keeping you more upright, with your chest lifted, your shoulders back, and your torso balanced over your hips. Not only does this help your posture, it takes pressure off of your knees, reducing the possibility of pain, stiffness, injuries, and eventually arthritis.

It’s also good for a healthy spine. Using the poles helps to simulate a “normal” gait pattern, meaning that your arms and legs are moving in opposition. This results in a gentle counter-rotation of your chest and pelvis, which is essential for a strong, flexible, and healthy spine.

The poles give you an upper body as well as a lower body workout. If you don’t believe me, give it a try and get back to me. You might be surprised. Also, since the poles help put you in better postural alignment, the forces of gravity are able to go through your legs in a harmonious way, working the backs of your legs as well as the front. You work your gluts (butt muscles), as well as your hamstrings, resulting in stronger legs, a more shapely derriere, and significantly less stress and strain on your knees at the same time. Score more for the poles!

The poles help you go the distance, giving you a longer workout as well as a more balanced one so you can go deeper into the woods or further up the trail to enjoy the great outdoors.

Finally, the little ninja in me couldn’t keep from including this last little tidbit. Having two big sticks in your hands can provide a handy dandy makeshift weapon when your walking in the woods (or in the park). You never know when you might run into an unexpected four-legged (or two-legged) threat. As we say in my martial arts class, everything’s a weapon. Besides, if you have one, chances are you won’t need one.

Happy hiking!

 

Time to Get On the Ball

When I was in grade school, our teachers used to tell us to “get on the ball!” It was a metaphor for get to work, stop slacking, quit fooling around (and having fun). Basically, time to get serious and grow up. Sheesh! What a bunch of kill joys!

But I sure wished that they meant it, literally. Because getting on the ball is a fantastic (and inexpensive) addition to any fitness program, or just simply to have some fun. In fact, it’s so much fun that you don’t feel like your doing any exercise at all. And, you can do it every day, all in the privacy of your own home. Just sitting on the ball for a few minutes each day can:

1). Improve posture, balance, core strength, and flexibility.

2). Increase blood flow, lymphatic flow, and environmental awareness.

3). Improve cognition, attention, and creativity.

4). Relieve stress, anxiety, and fatigue.

5). Make you feel like a kid again. (That one just happens to be my personal favorite).

Start by simply sitting on the ball. Once you are comfortable, you can add gentle rocking back and forth, and side to side. Start doing gentle bounces. You can even do an aerobic workout on the ball. Put on some music and go to town bouncing around. Or course, keeping safety in mind at all times. I even like doing light weights for my arms while sitting on the ball, because it gives me more bang for my buck. What can I say–I like multitasking.

If you are new to using an exercise ball (also called fit ball, Swiss ball, physio ball, Pilates ball), you might want to check in with a physical therapist to make sure you get the correct size and you know how to use it correctly and safely. But most of all, remember that exercise doesn’t have to be tedious. It can be fun and uplifting. It can even make you feel like a kid again. Without the nagging teachers.

Ancient Ninja Secret for Your New Year

Here we are, in the last week of January. Maybe you started the new month (and the new year), with high expectations of working out, going to the gym, or eating healthy. How’s that working out so far?

A lot of us make those New Year’s Resolutions and end up falling flat on our face. Fantastic. One more thing we can feel guilty about. But, I have a better idea. Instead of feeling guilty or giving up completely, I am going to share an ancient ninja secret with you. But, please don’t report me to the Society of Ninja Secrets. They might not like it, and might take away my hard-earned official secret ninja card.

So, here it is–keep moving! Literally, just move. Move your body in every single direction, including forward, backward, side to side, and diagonally. There are many reasons why this is important.

1). First of all, if you can move in any directions or any moment in time, it will keep you safe in an oftentimes unsafe world. When you can adapt to any unexpected change in your environment, it can even save your life.

2). Next, the simple act of moving your body improves your circulation, lymphatic flow, cognition, awareness, balance, flexibility, and cognition.  Moving your body keeps you from getting stuck, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, if you are stuck in any way, movement stimulates brain function, gets the creative juices flowing, and helps improve your problem-solving abilities. You can find solutions to problems that you’ve never thought of when you were sitting on the couch waiting for the spring thaw.

3). Finally, ditch the judgment and the self-doubt. Just find new and creative ways to move and explore your environment, just like you did when you were a kid. There is no right or wrong, just opportunities to learn. and that is a nifty little ninja secret that is my late January gift to you. Besides, it’s so good for your health!

Flexibility….For Life!

Do you ever feel like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz? Like you are so stiff and inflexible that you were left out in the cold, damp forest for so long that you can’t move your joints and you’re screaming for your oil can? Or, have you ever tried stretching your tight muscles only to feel even worse afterwards? It’s not just you. There is a physiological reason for it, and it is basically quite simple.

Before I get all geeky about physiology, let me assure you that losing flexibility is NOT a “normal” part of the “aging process.” Who came up with that idea, anyway? If you find out, let me know. I’d like to smack ’em upside the head for spreading stuff like that! The truth is, that we do not have to lose flexibility as we get older. Even more good news is that we have our own internal oil can, which lubricates and nourishes our joints to keep them healthy and mobile during the entire course of our lifetime.

So, how do we access this internal oil can? By gently moving and mobilizing our joints in the full range of motion that they were made to do to help us perform at our best. I’ll use the hip joint as an example. It is a lovely joint that is made to move in a circular manner called circumduction. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to use it as a hinge joint, moving only forward and backward. Sitting, walking, climbing stairs are an example. As a result, the soft tissue that supports that magnificent joint gets tighter and tighter. Oww. So, we stretch.

One of the functions of the soft tissue is to protect the joint. It is rich with nerve endings that talk to the brain and let it know how things are going. When we try and stretch, those nerve endings send signals to the brain that say STOP!! You’re going to damage the joint. The brain replies by saying OK, and tightens up the soft tissue even more to protect the joint. Ooops.

Instead of stretching, try gently mobilizing your hip joint in its socket with gentle, circular movements. Do not force it, just let it relax into the movement. Remember that less is more. really listen to your body and the signals it is sending you. It does take some extra time, and you do have to slow yourself down. But, in the end, it sure is worth it.

 

Who Needs A Gym?

Are you one of those people (like me) who absolutely hate the thought of going to a gym but does want to be fit and healthy? The key is to keep moving, and find activities that you absolutely love to do. I personally enjoy taking classes because I enjoy the social interaction, the camaraderie, and having someone that I need to be accountable to. After all, if I were left to my own devices I would sit on the couch all day eating bon bons and wonder why my butt was so big.

However, there are so many things to choose from for physical activity. Notice I said “physical activity” rather than “exercise.” I did that on purpose, because I am a physical therapist who hates exercise and thinks that chocolate is food. Fortunately, I love to move.

Movement is life, and our bodies were made and meant to move. Keeping that in mind, you may want to experiment in a variety of different classes or movement modalities that appeal to you. A few examples are Pilates, Tai Chi, yoga, dance, and/or Feldenkrais, just to name a few. The beauty of studying any of these methods is that they are portable, meaning that you can learn the basic movement techniques and practice them in the privacy of your own home every single day.

However, don’t think that you have to do each and every movement pattern that you learn. Again, I am avoiding the “e” word to take away the pressure. Just do the ones that you enjoy or feel good to you. Just doing them for 5-15 minutes a day will do wonders to strengthen, tone, and condition your entire body. It can be even more effective than going to the gym 3 times a week, because the effects are cumulative.

If you make a habit of setting aside a few minutes every day to simply move, you might be surprised how good you feel. Keep moving, be healthy, and don’t be afraid to enjoy a bit of chocolate every now and again.

Strong Is Sexy: At Every Age

Muscles are a must, because a strong body is a healthy body, and an attractive one as well. There is nothing more appealing than the look of sleek, toned muscles, in every stage of life. But, more important than how a strong body looks, is how a strong body feels.

Strength feels healthy, confident, resilient, and youthful. Besides, it also makes your clothes fit better. Strength is imperative for healthy function, but strong muscles also help us in many other ways as well.

Strong muscles increase our metabolism, help us burn calories, and help us maintain a healthy weight. Notice, I said a “healthy” weight, not some unrealistic or abnormally low weight. Fitness isn’t a size or a number. It’s not about the way you look, but the way you feel. And, strong feels as sexy as hell. That, in itself, is enough to make you want to pick up some weights and get started.

Strong muscles also lead to strong bones. By putting a healthy stress on our muscles to strengthen them, we are also putting a healthy stress on our bones at the same time. When we stress our bones (emphasis is on in a healthy way), we strengthen them. Without getting too nerd-y on you, it’s a physiological phenomena called Wolf’s Law. We can even change the shape of our bones as we strengthen them. How cool is that?

But, what if you hate the thought of weight training? What if you’re like me, and the thought of going to a gym makes you break out in hives? Never fear, you can always strengthen, shape, and tone your entire body in the privacy of your own home. Do I have your attention? Great! Make sure you check in next time for some quick fit tips for strength training at home. Because strong IS sexy, at every age!

 

Fit & Flexible Feet for Life

Health and vitality starts from the ground up. But, unfortunately, many of us don’t think about our feet as part of the equation. After all, they’re so far away from the rest of us, and often they are out of sight, out of mind. Until they start rebelling from lack of neglect. And nothing can drain our energy and zest for life like the agony of da feet. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few tips to keep you on your toes and your feet fit and flexible for life.

Massage your feet and play with your toes.

Get re-acquainted with your own feet. Take off your shoes and socks and feel the shape of your feet and toes. I know, the first time I was asked to do this I was a little freaked out. Most dancers are very intimate with their feet, but I took ignoring mine to a fine art. Until I was plagued with foot pain, huge bunions, a hammer toe, and a Morton’s neuroma. That got my attention.

Start by gently massaging the sole of your foot, using gentle pressure where you feel discomfort or tightness. Spend extra time on these areas, gently working the sore spots until they begin to release. It helps to use lotion or foot cream. Continue by working your way up to the toes, massaging each individual toe. Then, interlace your fingers between your toes so you are spreading them your toes apart with your fingers. I know–it’s supremely uncomfortable at first but eventually it feels really good, and your feet will love you for it. This is to make up for all of the time (and the years) your toes have been squished together in shoes.

 

Strengthen your toes and stretch your feet.

Next, it’s time to build some strength while you stretch your feet at the same time. Sit on the edge of a firm chair with your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your heels and the balls of your feet firmly on the floor, lift all 5 of your toes. Keep your toes lifted and then try to spread them apart. Not all of your toes will cooperate, and you may have to give them a little bit of encouragement with your hands to show them the way. This isn’t cheating. Instead, it is sending signals to your brain to activate the motor pathways responsible for mobilizing your toes.

Practice lifting and lowering your toes multiple times, and notice the stretch in the soles of your feet. You are actually stretching the plantar fascia at the same time you are strengthening the small muscles of the feet and your toes at the same time. Pretty cool, huh?

Stretch your calves….a lot.

Tight calf muscles can wreak havoc on your feet, as well as your knees, hips, low back, neck and shoulders. Everything is interconnected and goes up and down the kinetic chain. Which is simply a fancy way of saying if one thing is off, it impacts affects every part of your body.

Stretch your calves by doing the classic “runner’s stretch.” Stand facing a wall with one foot in front of the other and your hands against the wall. Gently press your back foot into the floor. Keep your head up and your pelvis pressing forward. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Switch legs. Repeat.

Repeat the stretch again, but this time keep the back knee slightly bent as you press your heel into the floor. You won’t go nearly as far in this position, but that’s okay. This stretch targets the deeper calf muscle and the Achilles’s tendon. it’s all good.

NOTE: You’ll get far more benefit from doing these exercises for short time intervals several times a day rather than for long periods a few times a week. Not only will your feet feel better, your ankles will get stronger and your lower legs will get more toned.

I have a lot more to say regarding my new-found fascination with feet and the role it plays in our health and well-being. But, I think I’ll save some of those pearls for another day.

Spring Into Fun Fit Tips

Spring has sprung. However, with the crazy weather we have all been experiencing across the country, it sure doesn’t seem like it. The relentless wind, rain, and snow can keep us locked indoors instead of getting out and enjoying our favorite activities. But, no worries–here are a few quick tips to keep you fit, healthy, and moving so you can be at your best when the sun comes out for good.

 

Bounce around for your health.

Having an exercise ball is a great tool to have at home no matter what the weather is like. Just sitting on the ball for a few minutes every day does wonders for your posture, balance, core strength, and flexibility. Adding gentle bouncing while sitting on the ball also adds the benefit of stimulating your nervous system, cardio-pulmonary system, and lymphatic system. It’s also great for your mental and emotional health, and it makes you feel like a kid again.

Why weight to feel great? 

For strengthening, sculpting, and toning, I recommend using light weights. Even 2 pound weights will give you the results you want as long as you are moving slowly and fully engaging your attention and awareness while using them. For example, when doing bicep curls, imagine the line and the shape of the muscle fibers. Concentrate on the movement of the muscle as you slowly bend and straighten your elbows. You can do an entire series of arm exercises in just a few minutes. To get more bang for your buck, do them while sitting on the ball.

Chairs aren’t just for sitting. 

Sit on the edge of a firm chair with armrests. Slowly push against the armrests with your hands, bringing yourself toward a standing position. You do not have to go all the way up. As a matter of fact, you don’t have to go very far before you feel your arms working. Very slowly, lower yourself back down. And I do mean slowly–no plopping back down. Make sure that you pull your shoulder blades down and together  as you move. This will strengthen and tone your upper back muscles as well as your arms at the same time.

Remember, it’s not about going to the gym 3 times/week. It’s about what you do each and every day that has a cumulative effect to keep you vibrant, fit, and healthy. Keep moving–be healthy!

Love Yourself With All Your Heart

Love is in the air. It’s February, and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. It’s the season of love. It’s also the time of year when it’s really difficult to keep up with our health and fitness goals.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but the short days, cold weather, and lack of serious holidays to look forward to kind of wears me down. I would rather hunker down on the couch with a box of chocolates and wait for the spring thaw. However, that will certainly put me far behind the eight ball when swim suit season kicks in.

So, instead of hiding under the covers or throwing in the towel, here are a few simple tips to keep yourself motivated, moving, and at the top of your game:

1). Love yourself with all your heart. 

Be kind to yourself. Speak softly and gently, and give yourself positive messages. Don’t beat yourself up–we are all works in progress.

2). Get on the ball.

Seriously, get on the ball. If you don’t already have a large exercise ball rolling around your house or garage, get one. Just sitting on a ball does wonders for your posture, core strength, balance, and flexibility. It also improves your circulation, lymphatic flow, and wakes up your nervous system improving your attention and concentration. Best of all, it’s a lot of fun and makes you feel like a kid again.

3). Roll around on the floor.

Most adults hate getting on the floor, which is all the more reason to do it, at least once each and every day. Roll around on the floor, crawl, creep, or simply lie on the floor and make yourself comfortable. Feel your weight relax into the floor. Getting up and down from the floor helps keep you fit, flexible, and mobile.

4). Get out of the house.

I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but some days it’s just really hard to get out of the house if I don’t have to, especially if the weather is less than perfect. Which it often is this time of year. Look in the mirror and convince yourself that getting out to your yoga, dance, or Pilates class really is a good idea. You’ll be glad you did.

5). Grab a friend.

Recruit a friend. Not only to keep you accountable, but for encouragement and companionship. Everything is sweeter with a friend or family member to enjoy it with.

Above all, love yourself with all your heart. You are a beautiful human being in every aspect– body, mind, spirit, and soul. After all, it’s the season of love.

Attitude is Everything: In Fitness and In Health

Attitude is everything, in everything we do. When I was a little girl, I remember watching the incredible story of Peter Pan on TV. Parts of it was magical, and parts of it was downright terrifying. But, the one scene that really impressed me was when Peter taught John, Wendy, and Michael how to fly.

Peter certainly had a point when he was teaching the children how to fly. To reach their goal, all they had to do was to think lovely thoughts. Without the right mindset, they were grounded. But with the right mental attitude, the sky was the limit, so to speak.

Even after all these years, I can still recall that scene in my mind. The memory of that scene and Peter Pan’s advice has helped me get through a lot of challenging times and difficult situations over the years. After all, the only thing you need to achieve your goals is the right attitude, and to think lovely thoughts.

Many years ago, when my parents were visiting me and my husband, we were flipping through the television channels looking for something to watch. Something we could all agree on. Good luck with that. As my husband was channel surfing, he came across a station that had just started airing Peter Pan, the same one with Mary Martin that I had fallen in love with when I was a very small child.

My mother and I involuntarily squealed with delight. My father and husband groaned in disappointment. The negotiations began, but in the end, my mom and I won out. Peter Pan it was.

For the first time in almost 25 years, I got to watch Peter Pan teach John, Wendy, and Michael how to fly. And I was reminded to think lovely thoughts, no matter what life happens to throw at you. It’s so much better for your health, fitness, and well-being. When you think lovely thoughts, just imagine what you can accomplish in every aspect of your life–in your fitness, your health, relationships, business, etc. The sky’s the limit. You might even learn how to fly.