Sleep Well to Reduce Back Aches!

Sleeping well at night is difficult when you have back pain, however, it is SO important for healing!

Many of us also know that some of our daily habits can cause this lack of sleep, but we still don't attempt to change!

Sleep is important - we all know that. When we don't get enough sleep, not only does it make us grumpy and out of sorts, but chronic lack of sleep can cause memory issues, premature wrinkling, and even interfere with our ability to metabolize our foods, affecting weight gain/loss. Yikes! 

Prolonged lack of sleep can also disrupt your immune system, causing you to catch every cold that floats past your nose. 

If you are one of the estimated 1 in 3 Americans that don't get enough sleep, here are a few tips:

  1. Turn off your computer, TV, etc., an hour before bedtime! This is important, yet most people that I know don't take advantage of this simple tip. For your own health and safety, please consider doing this.
  1. Have a regular bedtime. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This is another difficult one for many people.
  1. Eating a big meal less than two hours before bed is going to make your body work too hard at digesting that meal to be able to concentrate on sleep. So, if you know you'll be arriving home late, plan a larger lunch and have a small, lighter meal when you get home. 
  1. Getting plenty of exercise during the day (not before bed) also helps the body to sleep better at night.
  1. And here's a quick breathing exercise that can help you get to sleep. Give it a try for five minutes before bed tonight, and let me know how it worked for you!

Best of Health,

Kathi

Do 30 Day Challenges Really Work?

It’s hard to believe that summer's nearly over. College kids are heading back or have already started, and the beach is much less crowded this week. Did I blink and miss summer?

Not only is the best time of year here in the Berkshires almost gone, but I have not exercised like I normally do during the summer months, and find I'm a bit flabby. No weight gain, but a bit of muscle loss - Yikes! This is a very different pattern for me and one I do not hope to repeat.

This past weekend, I attempted to make up for lost time. While visiting friends in the Adirondacks, we kayaked, swam, and biked - all in 1 day! Here's a photo of me out on my bike for the first time this summer...

How about you? Have you done any walking, biking, swimming or other aerobic exercise since the nice weather arrived? If so Way To Go! If not, want to join me in a 30 day challenge?

I've done them a few times and know many others who have also done them. It's a quick way to get back into shape after the holidays, or in my case, after a summer of not keeping up with the program! They work as long as you keep it up for the whole 30 days, so let's get started today!

Here's a video of my plan:

Best of Health,

Kathi

Help For Knee Pain

Another Article, this week, about knee injuries in Baby Boomers, and how exercise can help many of us avoid surgery.

I won't go on a rant about how Western medicine is all about the money generated for big pharma and unnecessary surgeries. Instead, I will tell you about a knee strengthening exercise that I have been teaching my clients and students for the last few years which has helped many of them avoid knee surgery. At the very least, it can reduce pain and strengthen your knees.

When I showed this exercise to my friend Dr. Carolyn Dean, several years back, she termed them, "Super Squats," and I've kept that name because the results are, "SUPER!"

As the above article says, meniscal tears affect many of us at some point in our lives. A meniscal tear happens when there is damage to the cushioning that surrounds the knee. Most orthopedic surgeons agree that the size of the tear matters, but for many of us Baby Boomers, this happens after many years of normal wear and tear, and not due to a football injury.

What I have found is that the exercises we are given, like normal squats, strengthen the muscles above or below your knee, but not many strengthen the muscles on the sides of the knee. This is the key problem; we need an exercise that does both. Voila, Super Squats to the rescue! In case you haven't figured that out yet, I love this exercise!!!! I think it should be taught to kids in school as part of the regular PE curriculum, for healthier knees as we age.

Everyone that does this exercise consistently improves the condition and strength of their knees. It takes only a few minutes to do and just about everyone can do it, with or without modifications.

Super Squats strengthen ALL the muscles surrounding your knee. This makes the knee more stable so that ordinary walking does not wear or tear as much; also, when you step off a curb or onto an uneven surface, the knee is more stable and less likely to twist out of alignment.

I recommend doing this at least three times a week. If you are currently in pain, try it daily for a couple of weeks, and then, after you feel better, go to three times a week.

Also, make sure to look at the photos in the description on Youtube to see placement of feet to prevent over extension of knees while doing a squat.

If you'd like to work with me privately, for this and other exercises, let's set up a time to chat about your personal health and wellness, what you'd like to achieve, and how to get there! Hit reply or send me an e-mail here.

Best of Health,

Kathi

Help Getting Up Off The Floor!

Are you afraid to get down on the floor because you can't get up? 

No worries!  Here's a safe, simple and stable way to get both up and down on the floor.

Now you can play with your grandkids on their level!

Remember to keep your feet apart like mine are on the video. 

If they are too close together, you will not as stable.

Best of Health,

Kathi

Gardening Overworking Your Back? RELAX!

I am excited to say that I have planted my garden this year BEFORE Memorial Day! Can't remember ever doing that before; hope that means an early and fruitful harvest...

Spring is gardening time in the Berkshires and, once again this year, most of my friends and neighbors are walking around with stiff backs from all the weeding, tilling, planting, etc. Each spring I find time to remind everyone of the single most important way to help your back when you know you have done too much - RELAX!

This is the only position which will relax all the muscles along your spine at the same time. Do it every day for at least 5 minutes to reduce that tension and give your back a break. You'll be glad you did!

relaxation pic - me

Make sure that your butt is right up against the couch, with your calves resting on the seat of the couch. If your neck is arched up, you can place a small pillow or folded towel under your head (not under the neck) so your neck is also resting. If you want more information on how to prevent back pain, click HERE!

Best of Health,

Kathi

Does Your Weight Affect Back Pain?

Yes, it does. When you are overweight, many physical symptoms show up in addition to those that obvious like diabetes and heart disease. Back pain, cancer, hip and knee damage...

Being overweight or obese can significantly contribute to symptoms associated with osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 36 percent of Americans are considered obese and an additional 34 percent are considered overweight. This is an alarming statistic because that's 70% of the population...!? I did my own local survey, during a break from my classes at the senior center; I walked around and counted the number of people here that appeared to be overweight. Of the 61 people here, at least 37 appeared overweight or obese. That's 60%, YIKES! Double Yikes!

The National Cancer Institute estimates that obesity contributes to 34,000 new cases of cancer in men and 50,000 in women each year. But if every adult reduced their BMI by 1 percent - a loss of roughly 2.2 pounds - about 100,000 new cases of cancer could be avoided, according to the agency's website.

One recent study of former military servicemen found that as their BMI increased, so did their incidence of radiating lower back pain.

What about helping ourselves? Are you as healthy as you'd like to be? Are you overweight? Would you like to do something about it?

I see many people in my classes, or coaching that are attempting to lose weight. Most want to lose 10-15 lbs. Only a few want to lose more than that.  Many don't realize that their back pain may be associated with their weight.

If you have a desire to lose weight, reduce back pain, take better care of your knees and and hips, then make the commitment! This is important. Find something that works for you - even if it's only once a week. That first baby step is crucial. Once you begin to feel more energy, you'll want to experience that more often and you'll make time during your busy day for a few more bits of exercise. As little as three, 10 minute exercise breaks during your day can bring huge benefits. Here are my top recommendations for the best way to spend 10 minutes when you want to lose weight:

  • Brushing Teeth - an excellent time to march in place, bringing those knees up as high as you can, then lunge walk around the house as you select your clothes for the day, put breakfast dishes in the dishwasher, etc.
  • Morning coffee break - instead of that muffin and coffee, walk around the block, then grab a cup of coffee (sans muffin) to take back to your desk.
  • Lunch break - eat a kitchen sink salad with lots of dark greens, tomatoes, avocado, apple or pear, and a few nuts. This gives you plenty of energy, and takes about 15 minutes to eat, giving you another ten minute break to walk.
  • After dinner - Do some stretching of both your piriformis muscle and hamstring. Here is a video to demonstrate this one.

Is Your Neck Giving You A Pain In The Butt?

Quick Relief for Neck and shoulder pain - get yours here!

Best of Health,

Kathi

Exercise – How Often, How Much?

This week a new student asked me if I do Pilates every day. She said she didn't think that she could exercise every day and was worried that coming to Pilates class only once a week wasn't going to make any difference for her. I explained why she was wrong, and if you are also wondering - not to worry! Yes, I have my own combination workout that I do most days, but I have been teaching these classes for more than 13 years and I see fabulous improvements in women who only come once a week. It takes longer, but doing a once a week class definitely makes a difference. People see their clothes fitting differently, they can walk farther and more comfortably, their flexibility improves, as does their mood!

Some of the reasons for this improvement are:

  1. A workout is like drinking an energy drink - without the caffeine and chemicals! It makes our brains feel more alert and our bodies feel more alive. This, in turn, gives us a greater sense of well being. That makes daily tasks feel less strenuous and gives a greater sense of accomplishment. This happens whenever you exercise, whether it's once a week or three times a week.
  2. As we age, both muscle and bone density are lost, so our posture takes a hit. With either Yoga or Pilates, you build lean muscle, especially in your core and along your spine, so you begin to naturally stand taller. Many women find that after a Pilates class, they need to adjust the rear view mirror in their car because they are sitting taller! I have found that the breathing and posture tools that you learn in Yoga or Pilates become part of your daily life after a while, so you are integrating these in everything you do all day!
  3. Also as we age, our muscles and joints can become stiff and achy, making us feel weak. Strength oriented routines such as Yoga and Pilates, give us more flexibility,while at the same time improving our mind body connection, so we become more aware of our own strength. This translates into accomplishing more at home, too. We find ourselves completing tasks that we had given up on, or performing them for longer periods, like raking leaves, or running upstairs to put a wash in, instead of waiting until you have to go up anyway. 

All of these, put together, make us feel better about ourselves, which means that we have the confidence to take on both more physical activity and mental challenges. The one thing that I notice about students after several weeks of a weekly class is this added confidence. Many of my students have started classes with back, neck, hip, or some other joint pain and are timid about doing anything physical. After a few weeks, the improvement I see in ability, flexibility, and confidence brings a smile to my face and reminds me why I love teaching!

So, if you are thinking about taking a class but are afraid it won't make much of a difference, think again! In a few weeks, you'll be very happy that you took that step!

Best of Health,

Kathi

Take a Hike! Doctors Orders…

HERE is a link to a report that reinforces what other studies have proven how taking some exercise time in nature benefits our mood and brain. Ned and I went for a long hike last weekend and I felt soooooo much better afterward. I was glad that he insisted we get outside!

Get outside and exercise! In this recent study, researchers investigated whether spending time in nature affects rumination, and they found that hiking in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts. Cool – we can all use more positive thoughts…

In this study, researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through an urban environment and a nature environment. They found that those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment, a grassland near Stanford University, reported lower levels of rumination and also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, which is associated with mental illness. Those who walked through an urban environment didn’t enjoy these benefits.

These researchers indicate that our world is becoming more and more urban and that urbanization is linked to depression and other forms of mental illness. Visibly, simply removing us from an urban environment to spend time outdoors where there are fewer mental stressors, less noise, and fewer distractions can be advantageous for our mental health.

In another study by Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer, creative problem solving was improved by disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. In this study, participants hiked while backpacking in nature for approximately four days and they were prohibited from using technology. They were asked to perform tasks requiring creativity and complex problem solving. They found that those immersed in the hiking excursions had increased performance on problem-solving tasks by 50 percent. Wow!

Not to mention that we all know the benefits of walking/hiking for osteoporosis prevention.

So get out there and “take a hike!” And then when you come home, relax your spine with this simple Yoga inversion.

Best of Health,

Kathi

Arsenic In Rice!?

During one of my presentations on nutrition, recently, I was asked about the concern of high levels of arsenic in rice. ARSENIC in RICE?! 

Arsenic is a natural mineral in the earth's crust. Arsenic has also been released into the environment through the use of pesticides and poultry fertilizer, therefore, it's in our soil and water. I was quite surprised when I looked into this. I used to live on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, in a county with high levels of arsenic in the water, so I was very cautious about filtering. Unfortunately, rice tends to absorb arsenic more readily than many other plants. I had no idea at that time about the high levels of arsenic in rice.

So the rice, especially the brown rice which Ned and I were consuming 5 out of 7 days a week, is high in arsenic. Organically-grown and conventional rice both contain arsenic and regular exposure to small amounts of arsenic can increase the risk of bladder, lung, and skin cancer, as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Perhaps if they'd known this when they made the movie "Arsenic and Old Lace" the old ladies could have served rice wine! But arsenic levels in rice appear to vary based on the variety and the region where it is grown. White rice -- particularly basmati, jasmine and pre-cooked "instant" rice -- tends to have lower concentrations of arsenic than brown rice because arsenic accumulates in rice bran. Rice varieties grown in California or imported from Southeast Asia are often lower in arsenic than rice grown in other parts of the U.S.

In the FDA's recent analysis of approximately 1,300 samples, they found average levels of inorganic arsenic for the various rice and rice products of 0.1 to 7.2 micrograms of arsenic per serving. Serving sizes varied depending on the rice product they tested. For example, one serving of non-Basmati rice equals one cup cooked, whereas one serving of a rice-based snack bar contains only ¼ cup of rice.

I checked the brand that we use, (Lundberg) since it is from California and was pleased that the company CEO addressed this concern on their website. They test each year and have kept their arsenic levels lower than the international (CODEX) standards. CODEX, a joint commission of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization, has adopted a standard for acceptable arsenic levels in rice:  it recommends that governments allow no more than 200 parts of arsenic per billion in white or "polished" rice and no more than 400 parts per billion in brown rice. The European Food Safety Authority has discussed a more restrictive limit of 100 parts per billion of arsenic in foods marketed for infants and children, because children have shown to be more sensitive to arsenic than adults, but it has not come to a final determination. The CODEX recommendations are not meant to imply that 200 or 400 parts per billion of arsenic in rice is safe. Rather, the international body aimed to encourage regulators of individual governments to ban rice with higher concentrations of arsenic from the market.

My plan is to eat less rice. This is what both the EWG and Consumer Reports recommend. I'm now using quinoa several times a week in place of rice. I like the taste, it's a safer grain, and it's also higher in protein. Muscles and bones need protein for optimum health.

Links to several reports mentioned here are included so you can do further research yourself if you wish. I did not have enough room here to discuss the many rice products, sugars, etc., in our grocery baskets, but most processed foods contain rice, so your total intake may be higher than you think. Be on the lookout for alternatives to rice-based processed foods like breakfast cereals, rice flour, rice pasta, cakes and crackers. Consumer demand for gluten-free alternatives to wheat-based processed foods has spurred a proliferation of rice-based products, but they're not our only option. Low-arsenic grains include barley, faro, couscous, and bulgur wheat. If you are avoiding gluten, consider amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, oats, cornmeal, grits, and polenta. Read labels carefully and investigate products with these alternative grains.

And thank you to the ladies of Cancer House of Hope for asking this question! An informed public is a healthier public!

Best of Health

Kathi

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