Tag Archives: Health

Checking In – How to Pay Attention to Your Body

Photo by IVM

In college I became ill from a combination of stress and external toxins. The imbalance in my body was so great that I became allergic to nearly every food, became nearly bone-thin, and broke out in head to toe eczema. After taking a temporary leave from school I was able to get my health back on track; but if I had paid more attention to my body early on, I could have avoided the pain and multitude of treatments I had to go through over the course of three years to become normal again.

Sometimes we can look or feel “healthy,” but our body is giving us subtle signals to let us know that something is out of balance. If kept unchecked, your body’s subtle signals will get louder and louder until you take notice. Unfortunately, that means that something that could have been taken care of easily with a change in diet or routine suddenly becomes something that needs medical attention or more widespread lifestyle changes.

Taking a page from some holistic medicine practices, here’s a few ways you can check in with your body and determine if you need to take action:

Be mindful of blemishes
Your skin is a visual manifestation of your internal health, so if you’re getting acne in the same place(s) over and over, it could be time to do some investigating. Check out the Acne Face Map to get the real story on why that pimple keeps showing up on your forehead.

Stick out your tongue
If you have ever been to an Ayurvedic or Chinese doctor you have probably been asked stick out your tongue as part of your diagnosis. This is because your tongue is a virtual map of your internal health with each part of the tongue corresponding to a different organ in the body. To see an Ayurvedic take on the many “faces” of the tongue, check out this illustrated chart at theayurvedictongue.com. Or check out the traditional Chinese medicine tongue chart from preventdisease.com. If your tongue is showing signs of imbalance consider checking out a local Ayurvedic or Chinese medicine practitioner to get back on track.

Look at your hands
Your nails, like your skin, are a reflection of what is happening inside your body. From warning of psoriasis to thyroid and anemia conditions, your nails can tell you a lot. Take some time in between manicures to check out your nails and make sure they aren’t trying to send you a signal. This handy slide show from WebMD will help you decipher those bumps and cracks. Of course, not every spot means something; but if you are exhibiting other symptoms, book an appointment with a dermatologist to get the full story.

Your body is constantly communicating with you letting it know when it’s hungry, hurting, tired, or just plain out of sorts. If you tune in to your body’s needs you can use these bits of information to keep yourself balanced and healthy.

Happy Knees

Photo by IVM

Many people have had their fitness routine derailed by an onset of knee pain. Once the knee starts hurting they become apprehensive of continuing their program, but not all knee pain means that you need to be sidelined. If you can rule out recent contact injuries (including that run-in with the coffee table last week), ask yourself the following questions to determine the source of your pain. Once identified, you can take steps to make your knees happy and ready for anything.

1. Have I had a previous knee injury?
If the answer is yes, talk to your doctor to get some general perimeters on a fitness program as there are exercises you should stay away from to prevent re-injury. A personal trainer can also work with you to figure out which exercises are best given your circumstances. Chances are, your body has started moving differently to compensate for your injury and will need to go through some corrective exercises to get balanced as you build strength around your knee.

2. Where does my knee go when I move?
Remember that song “Your thigh bones connected to your hip bone…”? Well, just as your bones are connected, so are your muscles. Your body parts don’t work in isolation; sometimes knee pain is the result of  improper movement in the hips and ankles. Over time, moving with bad form causes pain in the knee-joint. Knees shouldn’t collapse in or move out past your ankles when you’re standing or squatting. If they are, you will need to work on strengthening your inner/outer thighs as well as your butt to allow for proper movement.

When you lunge or do any movement in a squat, avoid shifting your body weight forward.  This puts a lot of pressure on your knee-joint and will make your knees very unhappy. When squatting, keep those heels down so your body doesn’t tip forward and when performing a lunge, make sure your weight is evenly distributed between the front and back leg. In both the squat and the lunge, you should feel the “burn” in your thighs and butt, not your knees. *If you have a hard time keeping your ankles down in a squat, you’ll want to stretch your calves to increase flexibility.

 3. How often do I stretch?
If the answer is “rarely” or “never” your aching knee could be the result of tight muscles that attach at the knee and give the impression that the pain is located in your knee. Grab a foam roller and roll out your TFL and gluteus medius, then check out your abductors and adductors. If you’re shaking your head wondering what anything in that last sentence meant, just click here for some instructional videos.

 4. How old are my shoes?
While there is a lot of debate about how many miles/months should pass before you change your shoes, if you are starting to get shin splints or knee pain “all of a sudden” it could be time to get a new pair.

While you work out the causes of your knee pain, stick to low impact activities like swimming, water aerobics, or walking. Make sure that when walking down stairs or a hill that you are actively using your leg muscles to decelerate and aren’t just plunking your feet down. You should think about making as little sound as possible with every step.

The Food Trinity

Photo by IM

One major fact about fitness and health that got drilled in at the  SCW Mania fitness conference this past year; diet determines 70-80% of our physique. What does this mean? Well, it means that you can exercise till the cows come home, but if you’re not paying attention to what you’re putting into your body as well, you’re not going to get the results you want. So let’s go over some basics.

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Busted Excuses

Photo by IVM

Today is the start of Lent in which many Christians commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxury as a form of penitence. Religious or not, I invite you to use this event as a day to give up something else that has been holding you back; excuses. We think of excuses as being truths that pardon our behavior, but in reality they are just reasons that we give to make us feel better about not doing what we know we should.

Until the end of March (and hopefully beyond) bust those excuses you normally dish out and start to creating healthy habits. Too tired to workout? Go for a less intense workout like walking or a game of frisbee. Feeling sick? Recuperate with healthy foods and do some gentle stretches to stay limber and move the toxins around. Too busy to exercise? Take the ten minutes that you would spend surfing the web and do some push-ups, crunches, or marching in place at your desk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Want to buy that pastry that you “deserve” because you just worked out? Reach for a parfait or fruit cup instead so that you don’t negate the good work you just put into your body.

Don’t let your mind get in the way of your goals. The next time you want to reach for an excuse, reach for your workout gear instead. Just remember “Ain’t nothin’ to it, but to do it.” Maya Angelou had it right, don’t make healthy eating and healthy living more of an affair than it needs to be. Before your mind has a chance to talk you out of it, take the small steps now to get huge rewards later. Get the healthy food options, get off the bus a few stops early and walk, and push yourself a little further each day.

I hope you accept my invitation to be excuse-free for the next forty days and see what positive benefits result. I’m in, are you?

Staying on Track

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Photo by IVM

Many people who want to lose weight are motivated to stay consistent with their workouts and healthy eating, but when they go out with friends or travel, they find it difficult to stay on track. Truth is, we all get minor setbacks anytime we are reaching for a goal. The best way to keep moving forward is to acknowledge these slips, learn from them, and continue progressing.

That being said, here are a few tips to stay on track whenever you’ve got a full social calendar or trip ahead of you.

1. Plan ahead

At the beginning of the week take a look at your schedule and add in work out times that make sense for that weeks activities. If you are going out of town make sure to plan out your exercise. Get up a little earlier and go for a walk or run, find a local gym that you can access, or look up a no-equipment workout that you can knock out in 30 minutes. *And don’t forget to pack the proper clothes and shoes.

2. Set some limits

It’s hard to set drink limits when you hand over a piece of plastic to the bartender, but when you have cash in hand, it’s less likely you’ll go overboard. Determine a drink limit for yourself and then withdraw a set amount of cash from the ATM. Only use the cash you’ve taken out…no more ATM trips.

3. Be food ready

Most healthy eating plans get derailed at happy hour so be sure to have a plan of attack. Checking out the menu online before you go will give you a better chance of picking out a healthy option. If there aren’t any, you can make sure to grab a quick (healthy) snack on your way there.

If you are traveling to a place where there are limited healthy options, bring a couple of portable healthy snacks with you – low fat string cheese, trail mix, nuts, granola, etc.

Engaging the Abs

Photo by Noah Kavic

Have you ever done sit-ups and ended up with a sore neck instead of sore abs? Truth is, there is more to engaging your abs than just moving your body up and down in the sit-up position.

Our body is made up of two systems:  the stabilization system and the movement system. While the movement system is comprised of the superficial muscles that we see in the mirror, the stabilization system is responsible for the strength within the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex that allows us to maintain our overall balance. And, just like building a house from the foundation up, we too must build up our core from the inside out. That means we need to learn how to engage the transverse abdominus (TA) muscle that runs horizontally, wrapping around the front and sides of your body like an internal girdle. When you contract this muscle, it initiates movement in the rectus abdominus, internal, and external obliques.

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Sip Savvy

While cutting alcohol from your diet is advisable, it may not always be realistic. Life is full of events so here are a few ways to drink responsibly as you head out this weekend.

Photo by IVM

Pick a number

Before you start your night, set a limit. Knowing how many calories you are consuming can help you decide what is right for you. Check out this website for a complete breakdown.

Hydrate

Help your body stay hydrated while you slow down your consumption by drinking  a full glass of water in between drinks. Don’t forget to add another cup or two of water before you go to bed.

Pre-plan Snacks

A night of drinking can sometimes lead to grazing, late night junk food runs, and street side bacon dog cravings, so plan ahead. Eat a small meal before heading out and have some low-calorie snacks waiting for you when come home.

Push Through

When things get difficult – in life or in your workouts – your mind and body will look for a way out. Sometimes  it is our body that will adjust to make a movement easier, but sometimes it is our mind that will talk us into quitting early so we can let go of any discomfort. However, pushing through even when your mind and body tell you to stop will strengthen the commitment to yourself and your goals.

It is when we keep good form despite the burning in our muscles and the voice in our head telling us to stop that the benefits of exercise come to fruition. Most people fail to push themselves to force a new level of fitness in their body, but with some forethought you can get yourself to the next step.

1. Write it out

Start your workout with a plan of what you will do including how many reps, sets, weight, time, distance, etc. that you want to complete. Don’t forget to include rest time (between 30-60 seconds) in between sets or circuits. Having something in writing will further your commitment to the exercises you have set out for the day.

2. Relax!

Sometimes when our head takes over, our muscles tense up and our body is not free to work in the way it can, and should. Take a deep breath and relax into each movement. Find a rhythm, let gravity do it’s job, and trust that your body will know the best way to move. Don’t over-think.

3. Mental Control

Our bodies are strong and complex systems that are more powerful than we give them credit for. Next time you feel discomfort (not pain) during an exercise, stick with it and focus instead on your breathing or form. Many times it is our own mental blocks and not our bodies that hold us back, so changing the focus can get you through an intense exercise or workout.

4. Bring a friend

If you are the competitive type, or you tend to cut your workouts short, link up with a buddy. Having another person with you can help motivate you and keep you on track.

5. Let it go

There will be some days that we are more flexible or energetic than other days. Once your body starts to lose proper form it is a signal that you have pushed as far as you can go to get results. Continuing any exercise with improper form doesn’t help you to reach your goals, it just leads to risk of injury.  Take this as a signal to move on to another exercise, slow down, or end your workout for the day.

*If you were able to accomplish more than expected during your workout (longer distance, more weight, reps, etc), keep notation of your progress. Keep these achievements in a mental file to help get you through a future workout.