Diet and Exercise Equally Effective for Heart Health

Often there is debate about whether diet, exercise, or a combination of the two is most effective for improving heart health in the overweight population. A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition  shows that it is actually the weight loss that provides cardiovascular benefits, and  the mode of achieving the weight loss is irrelevant. Exercise and diet are both important, and it is always beneficial to make healthy dietary choices and to start an exercise regimen. The take home message from this study is that is it important to achieve an optimal weight, and anything you do to start this process will yield cardiovascular benefits.  It is just another example of how obesity has negative affects on health.

Gut Health

Go With Your Gut

Gut health is extremely important, and its significance in digestion, brain health, the immune system, and overall well-being is not overrated. The gut refers to our digestive tract, which begins with our mouth and ends with our anus. It is responsible for processing food from the time it is ingested to the time it is absorbed or eliminated. In addition to the digestion of food, the digestive system contains beneficial bacteria that is responsible for the immune response, vitamin production, mineral absorbency, hormone regulation, the regulation of metabolism, and the elimination of toxins.

When the bacteria in our gut becomes imbalanced with harmful bacteria, the mucosal layer in the GI tract becomes damaged and activates the immune system, which can result in inflammation that can elicit an immune response and cause food sensitivities along with a host of other issues in the body. As a result, the gut’s flora has a big impact on health and disease in general, especially since 75% of our immune system comes from our gut. Recent research shows that gut health plays a role in both obesity and diabetes, since our gut bacteria affects our metabolism and how we store and use nutrients. It also plays a role in arthritis, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, and possibly autism.

Research has also shown that gut health can be damaging to the brain and that irritation may send signals to the central nervous system, causing headaches, anxiety, depression, dementia, trigger mood changes, and effect concentration. There are nerve cells in the small intestine (sometimes called the enteric nervous system) that are connected to the brain, primarily through the vagus nerve. The bacteria in the gut directly impacts cells along the vagus nerve. Since the neurons in the gut manufacture serotonin, GABA, and glutamate (which are all involved in brain function) they can affect  brain response.

Unfortunately, many things in our modern life, such as processed foods, foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, chronic stress, chronic infections, antibiotics, NSAIDs, and dietary toxins, negatively affect our gut health. In particular, the types of food we eat affect our gut health and can be damaging to the brain. This is because they damage the gut and allow harmful bacteria to multiply. Additionally, the undigested food enters the bloodstream and elicits an immune response. In order to improve the gut flora, all toxins should be removed from the diet, high quality foods should be eaten, and probiotics are recommended.

Probiotics are live microorganisms (usually bacteria), which support digestion and the immune system. They are considered “good bacteria” because of their positive influence on the gut. The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” The two most common probiotics come from two groups of bacteria: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. There are different species and strains in each of these different groups. Some probiotics are yeast.  Probiotics help with the immune system, protect against microorganisms that can cause disease, and help the digestions and absorption of food and nutrients. They have been shown to be effective for diarrhea, infant colic, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), respiratory tract infections in children, ulcerative colitis, pouchitis (a condition that may occur after removal of the colon), and atopic dermatitis. For some it may prevent the common cold, UTIs (urinary tract infections), and lactose intolerance. Since there are cells in the digestive tract connected to the immune system, it is believed that probiotics can affect the immune system’s defenses by altering the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria.

The take away message is to remember that what you ingest and digest can severely impact your physical and mental health in many ways. Sometimes the easiest fix, such as eating better, can alleviate and prevent a host of ailments and improve the quality of your life. So the next time you aren’t feeling well, think about changing your diet and taking supplements in your quest for better health.

Healthy-Heart

Help Your Heart

It is summer and the weather outside is beautiful! To stay in shape, many people opt to forgo the gym and exercise outdoors. There are so many options to choose from: walking, hiking, biking, running, tennis, and basketball, to name a few. But how do you know if you are getting the most from your workout?

Many people use heart rate monitors, which are effective for both beginners and seasoned athletes to see how hard they are working. For beginners, a heart rate monitor can help make sure they work out at the right intensity to burn enough calories without going overboard or risking injury. For athletes, monitoring their heart rate helps them reach specific goals, whether it be for aerobic training or for fat burning.

Your heart rate is determined by how many times your heart beats per minute. Like any muscle, the heart becomes stronger as you exercise it. As exercise intensity increases, your body requires more oxygen, and your heart has to pump faster to supply the muscles with this needed oxygen. Resting heart rate is determined when your body is at rest and not moving. The lower your resting heart rate, the more conditioned you are since a stronger heart is able to pump more blood per beat and thus requires less beats per minute. Maximum heart rate is the highest number of beats the heart has the potential to reach. It is generally determined by 220-your age, since it is difficult to measure accurately unless in a laboratory. The training heart rate (target heart rate) is the rate you strive to maintain during exercise to improve your fitness. It is usually determined by the Karvonen formula, which uses maximum and resting heart rate with the desired training intensity to get a target heart rate. Heart rate monitors determine your target heart rate, which is usually 50-85% of your maximum heart rate, depending on your goals and fitness level. After exercising, you need proper time to recover and rest. Your recovery heart rate should be about 20 beats within your heart rate before beginning your exercise regimen.

There are a variety of heart rate monitors on the market. Some track calories burned, speed, and distance. Heart rate monitors are generally easy to use, convenient, and not that expensive. If used properly, a heart rate monitor can provide some of the benefits of having a personal trainer or coach with you during your workouts. (I wouldn’t say this, you still want people to use a personal trainer.

At THE ARENA, we recommend the Nuvita Pro heart rate monitor, since it appears to be more accurate than many of its competitors. It also directly links with your phone and gives you the ability to have a personal trainer monitor your progress and give feedback and suggestions. Please see our website at http://purefitclub.com/nuvita-pro/ for more information.

No matter which heart monitor you choose, remember that nothing can substitute for your own rate of perceived exertion. If you are tired or breathless or don’t feel well, stop immediately, no matter what the heart rate monitor says!!!

Holiday Hours

Up-coming Holiday Hours

The Arena Fitness

THE ARENA
(Formerly Pure Fit Club)
will be Closed on July 4th
Personal training available by appointment only

Saturday, July 2 – Regular Hours
Sunday, July 3 – Early Close – 8AM-4PM
Monday, July 4 – Closed (PT by appt only)

foam-roller

Keep Rolling

Foam rollers have become very popular in gyms as they can be used for all fitness levels for training and recovery. However, many people don’t know the correct way to foam roll or the reasons why they are beneficial. Foam rolling is self-myofascial release, which is a method of self-massage that releases tight muscles and knots (trigger points). The goal is to release the muscles in order to increase elasticity for proper functioning, to improve flexibility, and to reduce inflammation.

Muscles are surrounded by fibrous connective tissue called fascia. Over time, individuals may develop painful points along the muscle and fascia due to trauma from injury, scar tissue, or structural imbalances. These trigger points can shorten the muscle, restrict blood flow to the muscle, and restrict mobility, which causes inflammation and pain and inhibits motion. This can lead to additional problems with posture, joint alignment, neuromuscular transmission, and exercise form, all of which make the body more vulnerable to injury. Further, the surrounding muscles then have to compensate for the weakened areas and may become strained due to overuse. Foam rolling helps the fascia stay mobile, and removing the knots enables exercises to be more effective so that structural balance and joint stability is restored, flexibility is increased, and stress on the surrounding muscles is decreased.

When our muscles are tight, we are often uncomfortable and display poor movement patterns. Our muscles can become tight for a variety of reasons ranging from poor posture, poor flexibility, training, hydration status, stress, sleep, etc. The idea behind foam rolling is to break up muscle knots, prevent knots from developing and create normal blood flow and nerve function back to the area. This decreases recovery time after a workout and decreases the risk for injury. Additionally, a greater range of motion allows for more effective workouts since there are no muscular restrictions. The ideal time to use a foam roller is before your workout as it will increase range of motion and bring blood to the tissues. In addition to foam rollers, tennis balls, golf balls and lacrosse balls can be used to break up muscle adhesions.

When foam rolling tight muscles, you will frequently feel pain which may radiate to another area. This pain should be uncomfortable, but certainly not unbearable. You can foam roll any muscle in your body by using moderate pressure and your bodyweight. When you locate tight/painful areas, you should concentrate on rolling those areas slowly, letting the muscle relax. If the pain is too intense, roll the surrounding areas instead and slowly work your way into the painful area. Do not overwork knots or painful areas, as this may damage the tissue. Avoid rolling bones or joints. Roll slowly. Make sure your form and posture is correct. Using a personal trainer to guide you will ensure that you do not cause more damage and will reach the muscle in the most effective way.

Not only are foam rollers beneficial for muscles, but they are also brain exercisers since the brain and nervous system need to be retrained to correct faulty movement patterns. The use of foam rollers requires complete concentration since they are unstable. Unstable exercises also improve proprioception and challenge core muscles.

Overall, foam rollers are a great tool that should be used by everyone in the gym, no matter their fitness level, to enhance their workout and prevent injury.

textneck

How To Treat Text Neck

 

As technology improves, it unfortunately brings with it a variety of physical issues. There are more complaints of back pain, neck pain, and wrist pain than ever before, and an overwhelming number of children and teens are among those affected with these ailments. Chief among these complaints is neck pain, which has been coined “text neck”. Text neck is used to describe pain and damage in the neck caused by looking down at your cell phone, tablet, or other smart device for extended periods of time.

Most people hold their devices at waist or chest level and therefore have to look down, which causes a shortening and tightening of the neck, jutting the head forward, and a rounding of the shoulders. In fact, according to a study by Kenneth K. Hansraj, the chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitative Medicine, the more you bend your neck, the more weight your head puts on your spine. He states that in the neutral position, the head weighs 10-12 pounds, but at 15 degrees forward, the stress on the neck increases to 27 pounds of weight, at 45 degrees it increases to 40 pounds, and at 60 degrees, it carries 60 pounds. Some experts say the pressure on the spine doubles for every inch the head tilts forward. This extra weight can cause a great deal of damage to the muscles and nerves of the neck over time, including upper back pain and spasms, shoulder pain and tightness, tears within the discs, herniated discs, and arthritis.

A large majority of people with text neck have pretty normal MRIs and can get enormous relief with physical therapy. It is imperative to do things to relieve the pain and strain in your neck such as stretching, massage, or seeing a chiropractor or physical therapist.  However, the best way to treat text neck is to learn proper posture and prevent it!

There are many different tools you can use to prevent text neck. First, hold your cell phone at eye level as much as possible, and make sure all types of screens are positioned so you don’t have to bend your neck to see the screen. You can also lie down on your back and hold your phone up to see so you do not put any strain on your neck at all. It is also important to take frequent breaks when using technology. Get up, stretch and walk around! Engaging in postural exercises and stretches is also extremely helpful. Videos and examples of these exercises can be found on our website at http://purefitclub.com/exercise-library/posture-videos/

Functional-Training

What is Functional Training?

Today there are so many different opinions on how one should exercise. “What type of training should I be doing?” is the big question. “Do I perform slow or fast reps? Do I use a bench or a physio-ball? Do I do one body part at a time?” The answer is that everyone should be training in a manner that relates to their individual goals. There is no set routine that equally benefits everyone who does it. Performing a typical gym program of random exercises, three sets of ten, with one minute rests has benefits but will not be the most efficient way to attain your goals or address your specific needs. Training primarily with machines and not using free weights is inefficient because you are moving resistance along a fixed axis, and not freely in space as the body normally functions. Machines have limited functional strength transfer to real life situations in most cases, and can actually create poor motor patterns in some people. Machines have value when integrated properly but are often misused.

Functional training is defined as movements or exercises that improve a person’s ability to complete their daily activities or to achieve a specific goal. It is not a series of exercises deemed functional by some manual. Doing movements in the gym that strengthen the muscles involved in the movements you wish to improve outside the gym is a good start. This does not mean you can simply add weight to the exact movement you wish to enhance. There is research that has proven doing this can actually be detrimental to some athletic movements. When a baseball player adds weight to his bat that can actually slow his bat speed down because the added resistance changes the forces on the joint and disrupts mechanics. All exercises have some functional value when applied correctly, this value is determined by the exercises transferable benefit outside the gym. Every exercise has a functional limitation and it is up to the trainer to understand what it is. A good program focuses on weak areas and sets specific goals for the client. It is important to understand how to progress someone from simple smaller targeted movements to more complex multi joint movements. Training someone functionally can range from having a tennis player lunge to a chop or a body builder do a slow curl for bigger biceps; its all about the goal.  Keep in mind doing complex movements before the client is ready will do more harm than good.

In order to build appropriate muscle strength, joint integrity, balance and flexibility in all planes of motion, it is essential that the body is exercised in a functional manner. It is crucial to include multi-joint and multi-planar exercises, as this recruits the body’s stabilizers to synergistically facilitate movement. Doing this ensures that the nervous system is working properly and that all  parts of the body are used in the appropriate manner, with the correct muscles firing at the right time. This is not to say you shouldn’t include some so called non functional exercises, including a machine or old school exercise can be beneficial, safe and fun when applied correctly. To create a functional program, a trainer must set realistic goals and understand the client’s weaknesses, daily activities and limitations.

A trainer must be able to identify postural distortions and include exercises that correct them, but more importantly they have to educate the client on what movements or activities to avoid or modify during their day. It’s not what you do; it’s how you do it. The ability to identify a postural distortion is dependent on the trainer’s understanding of anatomy, motor patterns and muscle function. A trainer must also be able to identify when muscles are over active and firing out of sequence, or not firing at all. Synergistic dominance is common in most postural dysfunctions. In general, if the agonist is tight then the antagonist is weak, thus creating increased stress on the joint. This can result in patterns of repetitive stress, ultimately leading to accelerated joint degeneration .

Core stability, flexibility and balance are key factors when designing a functional exercise routine. It is important to maintain posture while being able to move all joints in a full range of motion. Training with free weights, and challenging the surrounding environment promotes balance and stability, which is necessary if you expect to see benefits outside of the gym. Keep in mind, it is more important to be able to control your own body weight and concentrate on form, balance and core endurance, than to move heavy weights.

A functional core routine consists of dynamic movements, isometric exercises and challenges the center of gravity. To completely train the core, you must also include dynamic stabilization, isometric and proprioceptive movements, not just for the mid section, but for the entire trunk. Medicine balls, balance boards, foam rollers and physio-balls are great tools for core training, and should be integrated into every program. It is a fact that training on the physio-ball (challenged environment) is superior to traditional floor exercises. As a person ages, balance and stability become compromised. If balance and stability are not addressed, they will consistently degrade. A weak core contributes to poor stability, and inhibits proper limb movements, causing muscle imbalances in the kinetic chain. This is why falls are common in the geriatric population. Many back and hip injuries are related to weak core muscles. There are many small muscles in the core that the general population knows little about or addresses during exercise. In most spinal injuries,  MRI images show atrophy in these small muscles. In order to maintain a healthy spine, these little muscles need to be trained. Without stability, even the strongest person can not effectively propel a force into the environment.

Flexibility is a very important facet of any exercise program, but is often over looked.  Lack of flexibility in the right places appears to be the root of many problems. The body’s movements are hampered when flexibility and posture are distorted. Active, dynamic, static and PNF stretching are key factors and should all be included in any training program. When a muscle is tight, it limits the muscle’s ability to contract properly, causing inefficient movements and risk of injury. Without flexibility, the body’s movement becomes limited, and good results are difficult to achieve.

This article has explained the key components of a functional program and its benefits. Traditional weight lifting is a thing of the past, and has been proven to produce limited results compared to a functional program. The only way to enhance movement is to mimic the movement in the gym until it becomes autonomous in every day life. Before initiating any exercise program, one should always consult a physician, as well as a qualified fitness professional. This insures that they are addressing their specific needs and goals

 

FAQ:

Q) Should I do slow repetitions or fast?

A) You base the speed of the repetition on the speed of the required activity. The body needs to be trained at the same or a higher velocity during exercise to benefit a particular activity. A sprinter doesn’t jog to increase their speed. In my opinion slow training is good for form training, rehabilitation and hypertrophy.

Q) My friend works out at the local gym and mostly uses machines. He has been doing the same routine forever and has gotten good results. Is this program good for me?

A) NO! Any exercise program will produce results whether it is done right or wrong if you stick to it. Unfortunately when exercise is done incorrectly the harmful affects may not be noticed until the damage is done. By exercising functionally you will systematically attain your goals and insure that your time in the gym is spent safely and efficiently. Just because someone looks good does not mean they are an expert.

Q) Can functional training benefit anyone?

A) Yes. Functional workouts are beneficial for any athletic level or age group. By training functionally your time in the gym is spent more efficiently. When you train in this fashion you will see drastic improvement in overall health and performance not just appearance.

Q) Shouldn’t I do cardio and lose weight before I start a functional program?

A) NO! You should have a functional training program that concentrates on raising and lowering your heart rate. The program should first use body weight exercises then advance to free weights. This promotes lean muscle mass, skeletal integrity and healthy cardiac function. Muscle mass accelerates fat loss.

Q) My friend tells me to do 3-5 sets 10-12 reps to failure with 1 minute rest intervals.

A) This is what everyone who thinks of the gym envisions. Unless you are a body builder this is not a good program. If you train in a functional fashion you burn more calories and get more benefit from your sessions outside of the gym.

Q) Aren’t aerobic classes and the treadmill enough?

A) NO! A weight training program that includes balance, core stability strength and cardiac conditioning builds lean muscle mass. When you build muscle you burn more calories at rest and during daily activities. Which would mean, by adding resistance to your program you actually will burn more calories doing the same aerobic class or distance on the treadmill?

Q) Should I stretch before or after exercise or an event?

A) Evidence demonstrates that static stretching before an activity is not beneficial to prevent injury. If you want to avoid injury you need to be flexible by stretching regularly and not just before activity. Active and dynamic stretches with a short warm up mimicking activity before, P.N.F and static stretching at the end help remove waste from the muscles.

Q) Why have none of my doctors told me to stretch and exercise to alleviate pain?

A) Unfortunately we live in a society of doctors that prescribe meds for everything imaginable. Everyone wants immediate gratification (pill) not a long term solution (exercise). The fact is most people would ignore the doctors’ request to stretch and exercise then seek a new doctor for a simpler solution. Most minor health problems can be eliminated by moderate exercising but people choose to take meds because they are lazy.

Q) I injured my knee and my doctor told me to rest it for a while. Do I?

A) This is the worst thing you can do. Pampering an injury for extended periods causes muscle atrophy and decreased blood flow. All injuries should be functionally rehabilitated under careful supervision.

Q) Should I cut carbs out of my diet?

A) NO! Cut high glycemic carbs out only. Carbohydrates are essential for cellular function. Eating carbs that do not spike insulin levels is healthy and effective for weight loss.

Q) My doctor told me to walk to get some exercise for my aches. Is walking enough?

A) NO WAY. If walking were enough basically everyone would be healthy we all walk. If you have pain chances are there is a biomechanical issue. My first suggestion would be to stretch. More walking will only aggravate the issue. You need to correct the imbalance first not just walk more.

 

Charles DeFrancesco

E-mail : sports506@yahoo.com

www.fitandfunctional.com

www.wsandw.com

 

References

1: Cosio-Lima LM, Reynolds KL, Winter C, Paolone V, Jones MT.

Effects of physioball and conventional floor exercises on early phase adaptations in back and abdominal core stability and balance in women.
J Strength Cond. Res.2003 Nov;17(4):721-5

2: Hides, J. A., Richardson, C. A., and Jull, G. A. Magnetic resonance imaging and

ultrasonography of the lumbar multifidus muscle. Comparison of two different

modalities. Spine 20:54-8; 1995

3: Hides, J. A., Stokes, M. J., Saide, M., Jull, G. A., and Cooper, D. H. Evidence of

lumbar multifidus muscle wasting ipsilateral to symptoms in patients with

acute/subacute low back pain. Spine 19:165-72; 1994

4: Kiyoshi Yoshihara, MD; Yasumasa Shirai, MD; Yoshihito Nakayama, MD; Shinji Uesaka, MD. Histochemical Changes in the Multifidus Muscle in Patients With Lumbar Intervertebral Disc Herniation. Spine 2001;26:622-626

5: Julie A. Hides, PhD; Carolyn A. Richardson, PhD; Gwendolen A. Jull, MPhty Multifidus Muscle Recovery Is Not Automatic After Resolution of Acute, First-Episode Low Back Pain. Spine 1996;21:2763-2769

6: Etty Griffin LY.

Neuromuscular training and injury prevention in sports.
Clin Orthop.2003 Apr;(409):53-60

processed foods (1)

The Danger of Processed Foods

Processed foods are a staple in the American diet, and as a result, we are a heavier, sicker population overall. Processed foods are generally recognized as any food that comes in cans, bags, boxes, or jars, especially if they have a long list of ingredients on the label!  Processed foods are very easy and convenient; however, they contain many ingredients used to soften, preserve, color, emulsify, bleach, flavor, and hide odors.  These chemicals have been shown to cause cancer, obesity, and heart disease. Consequently, processed foods should be avoided as much as possible.

One reason processed foods have negative health effects is because they are usually very high in sugar or high fructose corn syrup. This sugar laden food is filled with empty calories and negatively affects metabolism.  Additionally, excessive sugar intake has been linked with high triglycerides, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance. Fructose is especially damaging and toxic to the liver, since that is where it is primarily metabolized. It also turns directly into fat and leads to obesity and issues with the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell), which also has a role in metabolism.

In addition to sugar, processed foods contain a large variety of artificial ingredients. These ingredients are not real food! They are chemicals used as preservatives, colorants, flavors, or texturants. Further, some of the chemicals in the food may not even be listed on the label and might be grouped in an all-encompassing term, such as “artificial flavors.” Supposedly, these chemicals have been tested for their safety, but how can all of these foreign chemicals actually be good for us?  A great deal of research shows that certain preservatives are linked to allergic reactions, cancer, and other health issues. For example, the preservative BHA affects the nervous system and has been shown to change behavior. Food colorings and flavorings also have negative health outcomes. In fact, nine food dyes are linked to hyperactivity and cancer, while a flavoring called diacetyl may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Processed foods are also high in refined carbohydrates, which pass through the digestive system quickly and raise blood glucose levels and insulin levels. This has been associated with many chronic diseases and negative health effects. Additionally, these foods are generally low in fiber, because the fiber is lost during processing. Fiber is responsible for slowing the absorption of food, increasing satiety, normalizing bowel movements, and lowering cholesterol.  When foods pass through the digestive system quickly, we require less calories to digest them. Therefore, in a shorter period of time, we can eat more and burn less, a recipe for weight gain!  Overall, there is very little nutritional value in processed foods, even when vitamins and mineral are “added back” into the foods.

Many people complain that they can’t stop snacking on processed foods, and they have intense cravings for these items. Research shows that many of these foods have been engineered to be rewarding and desirable to the brain, which makes the food addicting and makes it difficult to stop eating.  Even though our bodies are designed to regulate how much we eat, food manufacturers have designed their foods to be “hyper-rewarding” and to bypass these intrinsic regulators. Additionally, since processed foods are missing important components like water, fiber, and nutrients, the hormones in your body do not know how to respond or digest these foods properly.

Today’s society is busy, stressed and overwhelmed, so processed foods may seem like an easy solution. However, in order to remain productive and healthy, it is important to eat real food. Real food with real nutrients will make us look better and feel better!

Lower Back Pain

Living with Back Pain

Back pain can be a debilitating and life altering problem for many Americans. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, 80% of Americans will experience some type of back pain in their lifetime. Most of the time back pain is an uncomfortable annoyance, although in some cases, it may be serious and require medical attention. Pain is usually associated with how our bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons work together.

While back pain can occur at any age, it more commonly effects those between 35-55 years old. Other risk factors for back pain include a sedentary lifestyle, stress, anxiety, depression, smoking, pregnancy, sleep disorders, obesity, strenuous physical activity, and strenuous exercise, especially if exercises are not performed correctly. There are many possible causes of back pain, but the most common is due to strained muscles, strained ligaments, and muscle spasms due to heavy lifting, improper lifting form, or abrupt or awkward movements. For most of the population, everyday activities, poor posture or a bad mattress are frequently responsible for back pain.  This may be the result of sitting or standing too long, driving for long periods, sitting in a hunched position, over-stretching, bending awkwardly, or pushing/pulling/carrying items. Back problems may also be due to structural problems, such as ruptured disks, bulging disks, sciatica, arthritis, scoliosis, or osteoporosis. More seriously, pain may sometimes be due to cancer of the spine, spinal infections, bladder or kidney infections, and shingles, so contact a doctor if your pain is accompanied by fever, inflammation, numbness, pain radiating down the legs, or incontinence.

In most cases, back pain can be treated at home and will not need imaging scans or treatment by a physician, though surgery may be indicated for those with structural issues.  For pain, doctors usually suggest over the counter NSAIDS, codeine, and cortisone injections. To alleviate pain, complementary therapies such as acupuncture, shiatsu, chiropractic manipulation, and osteopathy are also sometimes recommended. TENS therapy (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) may also be utilized; it emits small electric pulses through electrodes on the skin.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could avoid back pain altogether?  Well, there are steps you can take to prevent the onset of back pain. First, adopt healthy behaviors such as smoking cessation and maintaining a normal body weight. Additionally, it is important to engage in regular exercise to build strength and flexibility. Physical activity also helps to prevent obesity, which, on its own, is a risk factor for back pain. It is also important to be aware of your posture both when sitting and standing and to correct poor posture as often as possible. When standing, keep a neutral pelvis with straight legs, stand upright, and keep your head forward. While sitting, keep your feet flat on the floor and make sure your knees and hips are level. Your arms should be at right angles if you are using a keyboard, and your lower back should be supported. Next, be careful when lifting. Always bend your knees, never twist and lift, and push rather than pull objects!  Finally, make sure you have a supportive mattress so that your spine can remain straight.

If you follow these suggestions, you can help reduce the onset of back pain and also alleviate some of your discomfort if back pain does occur. Be as active as possible in a safe and effective way, and you can keep your body moving pain free as long as possible!

Skip the situp

Skip the Sit-Up

For many years, fitness professionals have used the sit-up as the exercise of choice for the core. It is important to train core muscles, which include the muscles around your trunk and pelvis, for both balance, stability, and strength.  Additionally, a tight core makes you look thinner, since generally you will have tight abs and a slimmer waistline! While most experts agree that a strong core is crucial to any exercise routine, there is some discrepancy on the best way to achieve this goal.  Those educated in the field contend that the sit-up is outdated and shouldn’t be used to exercise because it presents too great a risk of back injury.

According to Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics, sit-ups can place hundreds of pounds of compressive force on the spine. McGill has published many studies and written over 200 scientific papers and found that repeatedly performing sit-ups and flexing can squeeze the discs in the spine. This may potentially lead to herniated discs, which press on the nerve and cause pain.

Old school sit-ups can be damaging to your lower back because the sit-up recruits and overuses the hip flexor muscles. When you perform a sit-up, you push your spine into the floor and use your hip flexor muscles to lift you up. Hip flexors that are too strong or too tight can pull on the lower back and create discomfort by compressing the lumbar discs and creating back spasms and lower back pain. For example, the psoas, one of the hip flexor muscles, runs from the upper thigh to the lower back, and when it is contracted, it causes the pelvis to shift into an anterior position, forward and down. This position may cause discomfort plus it may increases pressure on the disks. When the feet are anchored down, this exacerbates the problem. Additionally, many people contract the neck when performing sit-ups, causing neck strain.

The Canadian Armed Forces has recognized the negative repercussion of the sit-up and recently banned it from its fitness test. Many military experts in the US are trying to cut it from the Navy and Armed Forces as well. In fact, a commander at the navy was quote as saying that sit-ups don’t prepare us for daily life activities. Core strength is needed to pull, push, carry and lift, and the sit-up is not an effective way to stabilize the abs to perform these daily motions.

Instead of a traditional sit-up, McGill recommends a modified curl-up that he created where the hands palm down are positioned under the low back to lessen the pressure on the spine. The back should not be flattened on the ground, and the shoulders barely leave the floor. The crunch up should be slight in order to work the abdominal muscles; you do not have to crunch up very much. Additionally, it is possible to do a modified sit-up or crunch on a stability ball, but this not recommended for everyone, and a personal trainer should evaluate you to determine your individual level and physical limitations.

Another good core exercise is the plank because it recruits more muscles on the front, sides and back of the body instead of just a few target muscles like the sit-up does. Most of our activities of daily living, in addition to sports and recreational activities, require muscles to work together instead of in isolation like the sit-up. Using patterns of movement that are dynamic will help strengthen the entire set of core muscles used everyday.

Other research also supports the fact that the sit-up is not the best exercise for abdominal strength. According to a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports, researchers found that exercises on a swiss medicine ball were more effective than the traditional bent knee sit-ups/crunches.

The sit-up has continued to remain popular because the general population believes they cannot have tight, toned abs without them in their routine. However, powerlifters and weightlifters develop amazing abdominal muscles without the sit-up and use only total-body lifts, such as squats, power cleans and deadlifts. Dr. Stuart McGill further states that toned abdominals are not about crunches; it is about lower body fat. So even if you do not have any back or neck pain from sit-up, why take the risk of damaging your spine and potentially causing back pain in the future? Great abs are possible without the sit-up, so cut them out of your routine!