The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper published this blog i wrote in the Healthy Living Section of the paper on July 9, 2017)
Probably the only time you think about your breath is when you’re running out of it.
Breathing is, of course, fundamental, yet few of us know how to do it properly or consider how doing it the wrong way can affect our health.
All it takes is too much sitting, and our posture forces our breathing to become shallow, from the chest instead of the belly and diaphragm. And the problem is, the effects linger.
When people sit for hours, their muscles tighten. So when they eventually have to start running around to take care of tasks and chores, their tight muscles tend to make them hold their breath during exertion when they should be doing the opposite.
Throw in a lot of everyday stress — which also leads to shallow breathing — and you’ve got the recipe for high anxiety and problems such as excessive fatigue, headaches, neck and back problems, rotator cuff issues, and elbow and wrist tendonitis.
The problem is compounded when people exercise. The average weekend warrior or fitness enthusiast wants to push hard, so it’s all about keeping up and going faster or lifting more. They might feel pumped up after, but most people use quick, shallow breaths while exerting themselves, tightening up along the way.
That might make them feel strong, but they’re actually shortening their muscles as they deprive them of oxygen. Try tightening every muscle in your body and then take a breath. Was it hard to breathe?
Some of the oldest forms of exercise start with good breathing, and some of the newest fads in exercise don’t even consider it.
Today, most people think if they’re winded from a workout, all is good.
But most people’s breathing is too shallow in general. We raise our shoulders, pull in our diaphragm, and take a sip of breath that fills only the top portion of our lungs.
When you take a breath in properly, your diaphragm, stomach and rib cage — not the pectoral (chest) area — should expand.
Have you ever watched babies breathe? Their stomachs rise and their rib cages fully expand with each breath. Watch and learn: They're doing it right. They don’t need to be taught. And they haven’t spent years falling into bad habits that restrict good breathing.
Proper breathing can:
Think about it: Breathing better can, in general, change a person’s perspective almost immediately. For the same reason it’s hard to be miserable when you’re smiling, it’s difficult to feel stressed when you stop for a moment to purposefully take full, proper, rejuvenating, relaxing breaths.
When clients start personal training with me, breathing is one of the first things we address because of the impact it can have on a person’s movement and muscles. I see it as my first responsibility to start with health — not necessarily performance — until people get the proper way of breathing under control.
Learning how to breathe from the belly when exercising also helps keep their mind open and focused on muscle movement and the task at hand, making exercise more effective.
In the end, breathing correctly is widely overlooked, yet incredibly easy. It doesn’t cost anything to do, and anyone can start improving immediately. That in itself should help people breathe easier.
Breathing techniques for better exercise
These exercises and techniques will help you identify your own breathing patterns and become more conscious of your breath. Taking just a few minutes each day to do one or more of them will train your brain to correctly breathe on a regular basis. You should start to feel the benefits immediately.
Note: Close your eyes while doing each of these techniques so you can focus exclusively on the movement. Inhale and exhale fully and for the same amount of time, about two seconds for each, or whatever feels comfortable. Continue for at at least five minutes.
You should feel your ribs expand as you breathe: There is a belt of muscles under the diaphragm, and that’s what's bringing the breath in and out. So concentrate on this area to expand your breathing capacity: It will help give you a longer stream of breath. Concentrate on your breathing as you keep it steady.
Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet close to your butt. Bend your elbows and rest them on the floor, and place your hands on your belly button. With eyes closed, breathe in through your nose and feel your stomach rise on the inhale. Then blow out of your mouth and sense your belly falling on the exhale.
If you are unfamiliar with this kind of breathing, monitor yourself carefully. Otherwise, you might switch to raising your belly while exhaling and sucking it in while inhaling — the typical chest-breathing way.
Testimonials: Breathing for better exercise
Two people share their experiences with learning to incorporate focused breathing into their exercise routine at Dynamic Functional Fitness in Brighton.
By Lisa Ryan
I wanted a good workout and was annoyed at having to slow down and breathe while resting or doing simple movements. In fact, I even worked out elsewhere to get some “real exercise.” That way, I could avoid the monotony of “learning to breath!”
I can’t recall how far along we were in the breathing program, but following one session, I noticed I was actually sore and getting fit without a whole lot of effort. It was amazing. I also noticed that I was walking at a slower pace and feeling more calm in my daily life.
The exercises have now changed my mental focus. I am constantly aware of my breathing while running or biking. I used to take my mind off of exercise when it got tough, where now I breathe through it rhythmically, which makes it easier to push through.
The exercises are calming. They stretch and strengthen muscles that need to be woken up.
I am now aware that much of my athleticism was due to momentum. Breathing, slowing down, and shortening the movements according to where your body is guiding you makes a great deal of sense to me now.
I never used to think about my breathing, but when I have any muscle pain, including in my back, I focus on deep breathing and it seems to ease the pain.
Lisa Ryan lives in Brighton.
By Mary Lane
I have done exercises and yoga my whole adult life, and proper breathing is always mentioned, so I figured it must be a big deal. But I have not actually felt the benefit of doing it until now, concentrating so hard on specific areas, as Carol has us do.
But before this personal coaching, I did indeed give the breathing only lip service. I have arthritis and feet and knee issues. I take meds, but less than I did a year ago. I used to prefer to rest to avoid stressing sore joints, but I did try to keep up cardio, knowing movement helps. But then I would be done-in by noon.
My results with Carol have been so profound that now I am motivated to continue regular exercises most days, maybe five out of seven. I used to let my mind wander to my next task once my exercise is done, but not anymore. I am 100 percent focused during the routine or I know I won't get the results.
Doing the breathing exercises has helped my posture — I am more relaxed and move more easily. I am learning to relax doing this and other daily activities. I am less reactionary and more confident. I do this program so often and intensely, there aren’t many things I do without counting “one-two-three-four” and switch from right hand to left hand or right foot to left foot. Breathing from the belly still takes concentration, but if I grip something strongly, like the pool vac I did today, I will automatically breathe properly.
Even my friends who see me often comment about how good I look. Believe me, I am no thinner or younger than a year ago! But I feel a ton better.
Mary Lane lives in Brighton.
(The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper published this blog i wrote in the Healthy Living Section of the paper on April 7, 2017)
Pop quiz: Does your brain slow down or speed up as you age?
The answer is: both.
If you feel you’re not recalling things as quickly as when you were younger, you’re probably right. Our brains get less effective at writing and storing information as we get older because the pathways leading to the area of the brain where memories are stored degrade gradually over time.
And you’ve probably heard the idea that “brain games” are the answer to stave off things like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But do crossword puzzles and games actually help?
Yes: but most likely, they only help to make you a better crossword player or game player!
Studies are decidedly mixed on the “crossword cure,” with research such as a 2013 study at the University of Iowa showing that doing puzzles brought no significant improvement in cognitive function. What will help is neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to reorganize and rebuild itself by forming new neural connections.
Same-old same-old makes us old
“While the human brain cannot regenerate itself, it can learn new functions by making new neuronal connections,” said Dr. Pierre Girgis, a neurosurgeon at UR Medicine. “This is how the brain can adapt in situations in which portions of it have been compromised.”
Unfortunately, as we get older, our bodies become creatures of habit. As an exercise trainer, I see that people tend to move in the same movement patterns and think in the same mental patterns, day in and day out, both at the gym and in life in general.
Ever take the same hike or walk the same route over and over because it feels relaxing? Have you gone to the same exercise class, stood in the exact same spot and did the exact same moves each week in class? Yes, these routines allow us to relax and “not think” after a long day at work. The problem, however, is that we are not stimulating our brain or body with new and different activities and not being mindful of the movements we do make. We basically end up living on “autopilot,” going through the smallest and most familiar motions possible to get the job done. Even our breathing is short and shallow because the same movements require about the same amount of breathing.
What our mind/body lacks in new movement patterns, our brain makes up for in other ways. Most peoples’ minds race from the moment the feet hit the floor in the morning until the head hits the pillow at night. What should I wear, where do the kids need to be today, how can I be at three places at one time, what will we have for dinner, did I pay that bill, when will I be able to fit in a workout….
That’s your brain speeding up, even as our bodies are slowing down. When your nervous system sees your mind racing at 100 mph and your body dragging along at 2 mph, the disconnect creates high anxiety. Your brain sounds the alarm to release cortisol to help offset your stress and boost energy levels. Cortisol is a hormone that can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, and reduce inflammation so your body regains its internal balance. That should be a good thing.
But in our current high-stress culture, the body’s stress response is activated so often that the body doesn’t always have a chance to return to normal. Cortisol levels build up in the blood, which puts the mind and body in a constant state of high alert and action, even when we’re not moving at all.
Move the body and mind
The solution is to challenge yourself every day using both your mind and body together at the same time.
John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, talks about using new experiences and challenges to enhance both our cognitive and motor skills. Even little things can “wake up” our brains and bodies, stretching us toward better neuroplasticity. Simple things like:
At the recent IDEA Personal Trainer Fitness Conference in Washington, D.C., neuroplasticity was a hot topic. After hearing several presentations on the topic there, I immediately implemented these new ideas in my private training studio. My clients are now given between three to five specific “focus points” that they need to maintain while moving. They focus on motor control, reaction time, coordination and balance during each exercise.
This forces them to make a connection between mental focus and physical stimulation during each exercise. It takes a higher level of energy and more intensity for them and me, but the idea is to bring a lasting psychological impact rather than people “going through the motions” of exercise.
Experiences like these that we can create for ourselves don’t have to be huge or entirely new. Even small challenges help to rewire our brains for the better.
By 2050, the group Alzheimer's Disease International estimates that more than 135 million people globally will have dementia. We know that physical exercise is good for the brain because it helps strengthen neurons to help speed up our body movements. Similarly, when we teach an old brain new tricks, it can build new neural connections.
Ultimately, all this can help us slow down our daily thoughts and speed up our body movements so we’re in better, healthier synch.
How many times have you looked at pictures in fitness magazines or gone online to watch YouTube exercise videos or headed to Pinterest to get ideas of exercises to do to spice up your fitness routine only to find that after you were done doing them, your low back, neck or some other area of your body was hurting you. You have no idea why because you swear you made sure to follow the instructions or mimic the picture exactly with what you read, saw or heard.
The problem is that the pictures or videos you see are showing you exactly how the “perfect” person should look doing the exercise. The instructions you often read or hear are for the “perfect” person who has very few, if any, postural limitations. Ok, so how many “perfect” people do you think are in this world. Well, I can honestly say that after 17 yrs. of personal training, I have yet to meet a client that can do most of the things that are advertised exactly the way they are shown with no modifications.
With sitting being the most popular position for the body these days along with the head down for texting and computers, flexibility and balance have been severely compromised; therefore, modifications are constantly needed when exercising to maintain stability and avoid injury.
Knowing if, when, and what modifications need to be made can be overwhelming for the average person who lacks health and fitness experience. This is why hiring a personal trainer, even for just a few sessions, can be a good investment. A competent, certified, safety-minded and outgoing professional will get you on the right track.
So what makes up a “perfect” posture. Our bodies are designed to be balanced EVENLY both in the front and back of us. A well-tuned body should have the weight evenly distributed between the balls of the feet and heels. Most of the time, however, people carry the majority of their body weight in either just their heels or balls of their feet.
The uneven weight distribution in the feet follows up the body to the knees and butt. When the body is well balanced, the knees will be bent and butt will be out about the same distance. However, when the weight is carried more toward the balls of the feet, the knees are out more than the butt thus putting more strain on the knee joints. Likewise, when the weight is carried more in the heels, the backside is carrying more of the load thus putting more strain on the low back.
From here, the unevenness travels up to the chest and back. Because of the imbalances in the feet and knee/butt distribution, breathing is forced to occur in the chest instead of taking place in the belly where it belongs. This, in turn, creates uneven inhaling and exhaling. More exhaling than inhaling takes place which slowly pushes the shoulders and head forward over time. The head, which weighs somewhere between 12 and 15 lbs, then has to be held up by tension from the neck and shoulders all day long. It makes a person feel like they are carrying an elephant on their shoulders 24/7.
This progression is how our posture slowly evolves over the years without us even knowing it’s happening. It’s when we try to attempt to stay active that these imbalances show up as aches, pains, or injuries. Most people write off these chronic problems as part of aging and accept them when what they need to do is address where they stem from…..loss of stabilization and flexibility over the years from sitting throughout school and then in the work world.
So the next time you attempt to replicate an exercise that you see, hear or watch, know what you are up against regarding your posture and be prepared to modify whatever it is that you are trying to do.
Better yet, invest time into permanently correcting your posture so you can avoid future injuries. Hire a qualified trainer that has a strong knowledge of stabilization and flexibility to show you how to do it. Remember, exercising your body is like building a house. You always start at the foundation and build upward. You would never build a house from the top down so don’t do the same thing to your body.
For many avid walkers and runners, side stitches can be a problem. The cramplike spasms set in suddenly and can ruin a good workout. While no one knows their precise cause, many experts believe a side stitch occurs when the diaphragm — which is vital to breathing — is overworked during a vigorous walk or run and begins to spasm. Runners who develop stitches are commonly advised to slow down and take deep, controlled breaths.
But a new theory suggests that it may not be the diaphragm that’s responsible for the pain, and that poor posture could be a culprit. In one recent study, researchers used a device to measure muscle activity as people were experiencing side stitches. They found no evidence of increased activity or spasms in the diaphragm area during the onset of stitches.
Last year, the same team published a separate study in The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. They found that those who regularly slouched or hunched their backs were more likely to experience side stitches, and the poorer their posture, the more severe their stitches in exercise.
One explanation is that poor form may affect nerves that run from the upper back to the abdomen. Another is that hunching increases friction on the peritoneum, a membrane that surrounds the abdominal cavity. This could also explain why controlled breathing seems to help relieve stitches: drawing deep breaths fills the lungs and improves posture.
Focus on bending your knees and pushing your butt out when you are exercising. Doing those two things will correct your posture and keep your breathing in your diaphragm and under control.
There is something you do approximately 18 times per minute, 1,080 times an hour and 25,920 times a day – and you don't even think about it: breathing.
If you do think about your breath, it's probably only when you're running out of it! And that feeling of shortness of breath – whether it's panting after running for a bus, or gasping for air during an asthma attack – can induce panic. Breath is, of course, fundamental to being alive. So why do so few of us know how to breathe properly? One big reason is because we sit so much causing our pelvis to get out of alignment. This, in turn, forces our breathing to come from our chest – similar to smoking. Have you heard the expression “Sitting is the new smoking disease”?
Paying attention to your breathing can be the best preventative treatment for numerous health issues – notably asthma and high blood pressure, but even aches and pains picked up from bad upper body posture – as well as leading to a better awareness of your sense of self. It can also greatly reduce stress levels.
We tend to take small sips of a breath and hold it when we're anxious, both of which can have a ripple effect through the system. One bad habit, like shallow breathing, triggers another. Breathing incorrectly can make you more susceptible to lower back pain and poor posture. When clients start personal training with me, breathing is one of the first things we address because of the impact it can have on movement and the muscles.
Breathing properly helps to keep the mind open, enabling you to think about who you are and what and why you're doing something. But primarily, if you breathe in the right way, you'll have better digestion, your balance will be improved, and you'll develop an optimum posture.
The exercises below are to help you identify your own breathing patterns and consciousness of your breath. After doing them, you should slowly start to learn be more aware of how you breathe and start feeling the positive effects. To breathe the right way, your stomach must inflate rather than your chest. You will notice the difference within a week and feel much better for a long time afterwards.
Learning how to breathe from the abdomen (diaphragm) is very important: firstly because the blood in the lowest part of the lungs is the richest for oxygen. Secondly, if you put all the stress for your body support and breathing on your upper chest and shoulders, this will tighten up your neck and shoulder muscles and eventually your arms. This often leads to problems such as headaches, rotator cuff issues, a stiff neck, elbow and wrist tendonitis due to the lack of flexibility in those areas due to poor breathing habits.
HOW TO BREATHE PROPERLY
* Learn to 'focus on your belly button moving out and in’
This is to help you visualize your breath coming from the deeper part of the lungs and helps you to stop shallow breathing. Use this image whenever doing breathing exercises.
* Relax your breathing mechanisms
Stand with your back against a wall and heels touching the wall and hip-width apart. Relax your shoulders. Soften your joints – ankles, knees, hips. Put both hands over your belly button. Close your eyes and focus on moving your belly button out like Santa when you inhale and in like the Pillsbury Dough Boy when you exhale. We tend to "breathe backwards" (hunching our shoulders and sucking our stomachs in when we take a deep breath)
* Practice wide breathing
Feel yourself expand as you breathe. Place your hands just above your hips on your bottom ribs – you should feel these expand in and out as you breathe. There is a belt of muscles under the diaphragm and that's what's sending the breath out. To expand your breath capacity this is what you should concentrate on: it will help give you a longer stream of breath.
* Try singing breathing
Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet close to your butt. Place both hands, one on top of the other, over your stomach (using the belly button as the central point). Breathe in and feel your stomach expand; breathe out and push the stomach gently back in with it. Singers often sing laying on their back to learn to sing from their diaphragm.
Those cute ballet flats women wear have rapidly achieved most-favored streetwear status among millions and worst footwear status amount podiatrists.
When worn for just a few minutes as relief from aches, they are not terrible; but it’s a problem when women wear them as regular shoes. There’s no structure, essentially no sole. They are too flat and there is no support. They are just as bad as flip flops and UGGs, long on doctors’ worst-footwear lists. Fact is, much of the current crop of popular shoes makes podiatrists cringe. Best everyday option for most women: Something with a 1- or 2-inch heel that is well constructed and fits well. You’re giving the foot a little bit of an arch and it puts the body into a more normal position for walking.
Foot deformities, including hammer toe, bunions, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis and even ankle, knee, hip and back problems can arise from long-term wearing of bad footwear or the incorrect size. Of those listed, plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of foot pain. It is caused by inflammation of the fascia, the tough tissue that wraps around your heel, extends forward to the base of the toes and cushions every step. The inflammation occurs when there’s excessive stretching at the point where the fascia attaches to the heel bone.
If you have plantar fasciitis, the pain is most severe when you take a step after being off your feet, such as when you get out of bed or stand up after prolonged sitting. Once on your feet, the fascia stretches and the pain usually subsides.
Plantar fasciitis can be caused by a number of factors, including weight gain, worn-out shoes, walking barefoot or in socks around your house, and increased exercise. It will usually go away in less than a year IF you avoid the activities that irritate the area. The tissue will naturally stretch out and become more supple over time allowing the inflammation to subside.
Be cautious about surgery because it might cause more significant problems. I have bunions and they were really painful about 20 yrs. ago. I decided against surgery because of friends that incurred bigger issues after having surgery. After changing several of my shoes, the pain went completely away. There is a business in Rochester that I recommend to all my clients to go for help in fixing their feet issues. It is called The Foot Performance Center located on Brighton-Henrietta Town Line Rd. The owner is Dave Cardillo, who is extremely knowledgeable about the foot. Their website is http://footperformance.com.
Placing cushioned arch supports in your shoes can speed up the healing process and help avoid a recurrence of the condition. Freeze a water bottle and roll it under your foot on a regular basis to keep the inflammation under control. Using anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil can help, too; but probably the most important thing you can do is stretch the feet. Do the following stretch BEFORE getting out of bed and after prolonged sitting.
Did you know that 60 to 70 percent of the average adult human body is composed of water. If you're a 120-pound female, you're made of at least 72 pounds, or 36 quarts, of water. If you're a 175-pound male, you're carrying around at least 105 pounds, or 52 to 53 quarts, of water. In either case, that's a lot of liquid. It's there for work. Water is critical because it allows all of our physiological processes to take place. In other words, water makes our lives possible. Without water there are no organs, tissues, and cells; and if there are no cells, there is no life.
Thus, water is essential to our survival. But our internal supply of water is dynamic. We use up more or less water depending on our activities. Of course, being more physically active causes more water to be consumed by the body. Your kidneys maintain dynamic control over the amount of water in your blood as one of the primary means of regulating blood pH. Even minor deviations from optimal pH levels can result in symptoms such as fatigue, headache, increased heart rate, muscle pain and cramps, and jaundice. Staying hydrated is as important a requirement for good health as is regular exercise, a healthy diet, and obtaining necessary rest.
The question you should be asking right about now is how much water should I drink each day? Drinking sufficient water takes a little bit of effort, but there is a big payoff. In fact, the recommendation to drink more water is possibly the most important nutritional advice one could receive. If you are not drinking enough water, any other nutritional improvements will have less of an impact. Specifically, the recommended daily intake for adults is 64 ounces of water each day. This amount is approximately two quarts or half a gallon of water daily.
Importantly, you can never really drink too much water, as your kidneys will immediately excrete the excess. But obtaining too little water is always a danger. Hikers and those living or working at altitude know that by the time you feel thirsty (or your mouth feels dry), it's too late. The solution is to make sure you're hydrated throughout the day. Such actions will help your metabolic processes and overall physiology maintain a steady state. The result will be increased energy levels all day long and improved long-term health and well-being.
The application of ice or heat on an aching muscle depends on the stage of the injury. All muscle pain is not created equal. Ice is best used on acute injuries that have just occurred (up to 48 hrs.). Heat works well on chronic injuries that are reoccurring.
Facts about Icing
Ice and heat can also be use alternately to act as a pump for faster healing. Inflammation is reduced by the ice and then new oxygen is brought back in to heal from the heat. This is most effective for sub acute injuries (after the first 48 hrs. that an injury occurred).
Here are directions to combine both ice and heat.
As we age the ability to maintain balance becomes more difficult. Many factors influence good balance, some of them are biological; and some we are able to influence and are able to improve. Balance and stability are important factors for aging adults to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Loss of balance is the primary factor in falls, which often results in serious injuries.
Here are 6 reasons why people struggle to stay balanced:
1. Poor eye sight
2. Poor posture
3. Loss of muscle mass and strength
4. Loss of flexiblity
6. Poor nutrition and hydration
7. Poor breathing
Now here are 6 ways to improve your balance:
1. Get a yearly eye exam
2. Do postural exercises such as yoga or tai chi (Start at the beginner level to be sure that you understand all movement patterns)
3. Strength train 3 days a week and walk for 30 min. 5 times a week if possible (Begin strength training using machines but then progress to free weights and standing up within a few months. Begin walking in a pool if your joints hurt you walking on the ground. Make sure to have a personal trainer or someone experienced show you the proper technique )
4. Join a stretching/flexibility class to learn different ways to stretch (Work with a personal trainer or check your local Continuing Ed, office or a gym near you for a class to attend)
5.Take the right dosage and proper combination of medications (Check with your doctor/pharmacist on a regular basis to avoid dizziness and nausea)
6. Eat 3 meals a day at regular times and drink plenty of water (Make sure that each meal has protein such as meat/eggs/dairy, complex carbs such as fruits and veggies, and a small amount of fat such as oil. Consuming all three food groups at each meal helps your digestive system stay balanced) (Drink enough water each day that your urine is very light yellow. If it's darker, drink more water because your muscles and kidneys aren't getting enough which throws off your muscle balance)
The quality of your posture can make a big difference in your life. It is the first thing I start correcting when personal training new clients. Good posture can make you look and feel younger, stronger and more confident; and can help improve your breathing, advance your sports performance, decrease your risk of injury and improve your biomechanical efficiency. And, over the course of your life, good posture can prevent painful physical strain in your joints.
These are telltale signs that you need to improve your posture:
Changing Bad Posture Habits
Here are just a few quick tips of things that you can do to help improve your posture. Little changes can make big differences over time.
Vary Your Position. Counter the damaging effects of constant sitting by standing as much as possible. Standing in correct alignment requires much less muscular effort than sitting with proper form does. Try using a drafting table or stand up desk so you can stand when working. Stand up when you are watching television, opening mail or talking on the phone.
Change your head position when looking at your phone or tablet. Never lie down or lean back in a chair with your body flat and your head tilted forward looking at your device. This puts a great deal of strain on the neck muscles. Instead, sit up tall when using your device and put pillows on your lap to hold it closer to eye level. When standing, allow elbows to be tucked into sides and try to support the device at eye level using two hands.
Update Your Exercises for working the abdominals. Do more active stabilization training rather than just traditional torso curls and sit-ups, which focus almost exclusively on the trunk-flexing function of the obliques.