Sunday, November 29, 2009

Becoming Aware: Facebook and The Turkish Get Up

Hello, Facebook!

I now have a business page on Facebook to reach out to that community, and I encourage readers to use the "fan" function to share it with their friends.

I've been trying a new exercise which is proving very educational.  It has the amusing name "Turkish Get Up(TGU)" and is great for breaking up a routine and building full body strength, coordination, and balance.  Here's a detailed description from Palo Alto kettlebell master Jordan Vizina and a shorter one here, but briefly, you lie on the floor with a weight in one hand, and stand up.  A very simple, fundamental act, but doing it while holding up a kettlebell or dumbbell creates a surprising challenge.

The weight has to be balanced straight overhead while you move underneath it, and getting out of the supine position takes a lot more strength and agility than you might think.  Combining movements in multiple directions is required, and suddenly you discover that almost all weight lifting exercises you know work the body in very, very, limited ways.  The TGU is done slowly, giving you time to observe yourself.  You become more aware of your body's capabilities, and you become aware of the difference between training for functional strength, and bodybuilding to enlarge a few favorite muscles.

Awareness is a central theme of all the various health and fitness topics of this blog.  Exercising while conscious of what your body is doing, choosing exercises that require focus such as Olympic lifts or balancing on an unstable surface, and not mindlessly using the same simple machines and movements every workout are aspects of awareness.  Yoga is fantastic for developing awareness of your body and the fine details of how each part is aligned and connected and learning to control them.  Receiving massage makes a person aware of areas that may be tight or holding stress, but have been a problem for so long they seem normal.  (And the best therapists are those who develop a facility for being aware of their clients' condition.)

Being aware of what it is you eat leads to eating healthful food. Many people deliberately ignore what they are eating, consuming marketing instead of food. Growing and cooking for yourself, buying produce not products, and considering how what is on your plate got there will all inspire more healthful eating. Awareness of nutrition also helps of course.

Posture is another realm where awareness- of your body, of what are good ways  to stand and sit and move -is critical.  You always have a posture, 24/7, unlike exercise or eating which happen only for brief periods, so improvement requires a ready and habitual awareness.

Good therapists, trainers, and teachers provide an external perspective, and bring to your awareness things that aren't obvious from within.  Mediocre ones correct without teaching, and poor ones just go through the routine.

So now I work on making the Facebook community aware of me, and I hope I can bring a bit of health awareness to them.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fit Brain addendum -Obesity

Obesity isn't a normal topic for this blog, but this latest research showing its negative influence on the brain coincides with my last post so well I'm including it.

More Obesity Blues: Obese People Are At Greater Risk For Developing Alzheimer's, Study Finds
They found that obese people had 8 percent less brain tissue than people with normal weight, while overweight people had 4 percent less tissue. According to Thompson, who is also a member of UCLA's Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, this is the first time anyone has established a link between being overweight and having what he describes as "severe brain degeneration."
University of California - Los Angeles. "More Obesity Blues: Obese People Are At Greater Risk For Developing Alzheimer's, Study Finds." ScienceDaily 25 August 2009
There is a long list of health problems caused or exacerbated by being overweight, to which brain degeneration can be added.  The good thing, the really great thing, is that the treatment for obesity- better diet and more exercise, is good for the other aspects of your health at the same time.  Isn't the body amazing?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Fit Brain

Everyone reading this blog is already convinced of the importance of exercise and good nutrition to maintain a strong, healthy body.  But what about your brain?  And what about those people who think of themselves as beings of pure intellect, unconcerned with their physical bodies?  Do they have a logical reason to exercise and eat right?
For some time, researchers have known that exercise changes the structure of the brain and affects thinking. Ten years ago scientists at the Salk Institute in California published the groundbreaking finding that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells...
...elderly people were assigned a six-month program of either stretching exercises or brisk walking. The stretchers increased their flexibility but did not improve on tests of cognition. The brisk walkers did.
The New York Times, September 16, 2009

  Aerobic Activity May Keep The Brain Young
ScienceDaily (June 30, 2009) — New research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine finds that aerobic activity may keep the brain young.
University of North Carolina School of Medicine. "Aerobic Activity May Keep The Brain Young."
Exercise Increases Brain Growth Factor And Receptors, Prevents Stem Cell Drop In Middle Age
ScienceDaily (Nov. 27, 2008) — A new study confirms that exercise can reverse the age-related decline in the production of neural stem cells in the hippocampus of the mouse brain, and suggests that this happens because exercise restores a brain chemical which promotes the production and maturation of new stem cells.
American Physiological Society (2008, November 27). Exercise Increases Brain Growth
Exercise helps brains bounce back
CHICAGO — A toned, buff bod isn’t the only thing a workout is good for. Exercise protects special brain cells in monkeys’ brains and improves motor function, a new study finds.  The data, presented at a news briefing October 18 in Chicago at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting, adds to a growing body of evidence that shows exercise is good for the brain, too.
Exercise Helps Prevent Age-related Brain Changes In Older Adults
ScienceDaily (Dec. 2, 2008) — Older adults who exercise regularly show increased cerebral blood flow and a greater number of small blood vessels in the brain, according to findings presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
Radiological Society of North America (2008, December 2). Exercise Helps Prevent Age-related Brain Changes In Older Adults.

Fitness And Childhood IQ Indicators Of Cognitive Ability In Old Age

ScienceDaily (Oct. 12, 2006) — How well your mind works in old age depends on physical fitness and your IQ score as a child...
"...the study found physical fitness has a greater impact on cognitive ability in old age than childhood IQ."
"The important result of the study is that fitness contributes to better cognitive ability in old age," says Deary. "Thus, two people starting out with the same IQ at age 11, the fitter person at age 79 will, on average, have better cognitive function."

American Academy of Neurology. "Fitness And Childhood IQ Indicators Of Cognitive Ability In Old Age."

Alzheimer's Researchers Find High Protein Diet Shrinks Brain
ScienceDaily (Oct. 21, 2009) — One of the many reasons to pick a low-calorie, low-fat diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and fish is that a host of epidemiological studies have suggested that such a diet may delay the onset or slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Now a study published in BioMed Central's open access journal Molecular Neurodegeneration tests the effects of several diets, head-to-head, for their effects on AD pathology in a mouse model of the disease. Although the researchers were focused on triggers for brain plaque formation, they also found that, unexpectedly, a high protein diet apparently led to a smaller brain.
BioMed Central (2009, October 21). Alzheimer's Researchers Find High Protein Diet Shrinks Brain.
Low-carb Diets Can Affect Dieters' Cognition Skills
ScienceDaily (Dec. 15, 2008) — A new study from the psychology department at Tufts University shows that when dieters eliminate carbohydrates from their meals, they performed more poorly on memory-based tasks than when they reduce calories, but maintain carbohydrates. When carbohydrates were reintroduced, cognition skills returned to normal.
Tufts University (2008, December 15). Low-carb Diets Can Affect Dieters' Cognition Skills.
Let's review: Physical exercise makes you smarter, and for longer in life.  It's best when started young, but helpful at any age.  Plenty of carbs boosts the brain, and too much meat shrinks it.

Here's the best part:  The same exercises that improve your brain will make you fit below the neck at the same time.  There is no duality, no reductionism, no body part isolation, and no being of pure intellect.

A hat tip to the brilliant Chip Conrad at Bodytribe Fitness for leading me to the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain which I haven't read yet, but promises to inspire more posts on the topic.

For the curious, the Man From Tomorrow image is from the original Outer Limits TV show.  I couldn't find a proper attribution to give, but the show was awesome.

In other news, more from the NYT about my favorite vitamin(actually a hormone), previously blogged about  here and here:

Vitamin D Shows Heart Benefits in Study
Got vitamin D? It may protect you from heart disease.

Vitamin D, of milk fame, is known for helping with calcium absorption and for building strong bones, which is why it’s routinely added to milk. But there is more and more evidence that vitamin D is a critical player in numerous other aspects of metabolism. A new study suggests many Americans aren’t getting anywhere nearly enough of
the vitamin, and it may be affecting their heart health.
The New York Times, September 16, 2009
I like to think of vitamin D as being of sunshine, not milk, fame though.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Thoughts on Stretching

This week I added another stretch to the Self Care page of my business website Positive Massage Therapy. The stretch targets the hip flexors and the front of the torso.  I won't repeat the details here, instead I will give some background explanation on my stretching recommendations.

My suggestions are made in the context of my massage practice, with many clients who suffer from long hours sitting at a computer but have limited time or inclination for stretching at their workplace.  The principles generally apply to everyone though.

Some important considerations are:
  • Compliance is everything.  Stretches not done don't help
  • Do therapeutically beneficial stretches, not just any stretches, or stretches because they feel good 
  • The greatest need to stretch is to counteract the position of sitting at a desk and reaching forward
  • The most important time to stretch is as a break from a period of immobility
  • Frequency of stretching is more important than duration, i.e. many short breaks are better than the same amount of time in fewer breaks
  • People, their employers, and the work culture discourage too much deviation from doing work
In summary, the idea is to recommend the stretches that will help the most and have the best chance of being implemented.

Nota Bene:
Sitting and reaching forward shortens certain muscles- those are the ones that need stretched.  Sitting and reaching forward lengthens certain muscles- those should NOT be stretched.

To achieve better compliance by fitting into the work culture I try to suggest stretches that can be done in office attire, without lying down or requiring any special space or equipment.  Stretches that can be done next to the desk are best.  This is not because moving around wouldn't be very healthful, but that simplicity and brevity make compliance more likely.  Also the emphasis on frequency includes more movement out of the sitting position as well as setting up a particular stretch.

An additional factor helping with compliancy(remember, compliancy is everything) is to approach stretching as a habit integrated into existing routine instead of as an exception.

In future posts I'll elaborate on the types of stretching and stretching in an athletic context.