Kayaking

The good workouts are tough, demanding, sweat & blood. So here’s a sneaky workout trick: add fun. And in this kind of heat, the best fun is kayaking.

Getting a kayak to move is primarily about the core muscles of the abdomen and back. Sure, arms are important, but you don’t want your arms doing all the work. Your torso’s big, your arms are small. Do the math.

kajakki

Done right, plowing through the water is more about rotating your body. The central power comes from your core. That lets you go faster with less effort and fatigue.

Kayaking is easy, but you want to get some instruction. We’re fortunate to have plenty of great groups in Chicago to check out.

Right here at the lakefront we have the Lincoln Park Boat Club (http://www.lpbc.net/). It’s a great place to learn paddling. Join the club and you can take out a wide variety of boats. It’s located across from the Lincoln Park Zoo, which means easy access to Lake Michigan. That’s a great jaunt on a hot day.

Kayak Chicago (www.kayakchicago.com) does tours and rentals as well as lessons. They go out on Lake Michigan or various points along the Chicago River. You can do skyscraper paddling near downtown, or explore shady byways back in the neighborhoods.

In the forest preserves, Chicago Kayak(http://www.chicagokayak.com/) holds classes in the Skokie Lagoons. They also do organized trips. They even have a club of their own.

If you already have your own boat, you’ve got to know the Chicago Area Sea Kayakers (CASKA http://www.caska.org/ ). These are paddlers who do local trips most weekends, plus the occasional get-out-of-town-and-camp adventures. You’ll get to learn the best places for paddling, and meet some great people in the process.

 

How to Tell What Your Bones Are Doing

We think of our bones as solid, stable structures, but they are not. Bone is a living tissue that is constantly being broken down and remodeled. As we get older, issues around bone thinning, or osteoporosis, can become a problem.

foot_bones

Facts and Figures

  • Osteoporosis is a major public health threat for 44 million Americans, 68 percent of whom are women.
  • In the United States today, 10 million individuals already have osteoporosis, and 34 million more have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for this disease.
  • One out of every two women and one in four men age 50 and older will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.
  • More than 2 million American men suffer from osteoporosis, and millions more are at risk. Each year, 80,000 men have a hip fracture, and one-third of these men die within a year.
  • Osteoporosis can strike at any age.
  • Osteoporosis is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures annually, including approximately 300,000 hip fractures, 700,000 vertebral fractures, 250,000 wrist fractures, and more than 300,000 fractures at other sites.

So we exercise, take calcium, vitamin D, etc and hope for the best. Dexa scans are used to determine if there is bone thinning. This is a static test, showing the condition of the bone as it is now. What it can’t show is how well the bone is responding to therapy.

A good test for this is looking at the actual breakdown products of bone. One such test looks at a breakdown product of bone called cross-linked N-telopeptides (NTx). This can be measured in the blood or the urine. The more of this substance that shows up, the more bone is being broken down and not being rebuilt. Knowing this can help by either assuring you that your bone maintenance program is successful or warning you that it needs to be changed.

 

How Are Your Feet?

Chiropractors work on backs, right? Well that’s true. However we also work on all joints in the body, and I must admit that I am particularly fond of adjusting feet. Our feet are the foundation of our bodies, and if they aren’t moving properly everything else gets thrown off: knees, back, and even the neck. People are often surprised how minor adjustments to their feet can translate into immediate improvements in their bodies.

feet

Most runners know the value of good shoes to decrease the impact of running, but that is usually the only attention paid to the feet. Common problems arising from improper foot movements include knee pain, plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis.

Wearing shoes gives our feet support but also weakens them in a way. Actions in our feet are controlled by large (extrinsic) and small (intrinsic) muscles. Because we wear shoes, the smaller muscles do not get much work. We don’t tend to flex our toes as we walk, and these muscles can get weak. Being aware of toes while walking and making a point to flex them can help. A good way to actively strengthen these muscles is to spend some time picking up marbles with your toes.

Another exercise is to focus on your big toe and move it sideways away from the rest of your toes. Try to keep the movement level where the toe is neither pointing up or down. Do a similar maneuver with your little toe, moving it to the side away from your other toes and again keeping it level. Moving the little toe individually will take more effort and concentration than moving the big toe. Walking barefoot in the sand is also good for strengthening the feet but may not be the most practical day-to-day approach.

Like so many things, most people don’t acknowledge their feet until something has gone wrong and pain shows up. The pain may not actually show up in the feet. It could be felt in the knees, hips, pelvis, and/or the low back. Because of this, it’s important to make sure that all of the joints in the body are moving properly. Take care of your feet so that the rest of your body can feel better.

Healthy Aging

Aging is inevitable. How we age is open to lots of options. The other day I saw a friend’s family picture taken over the holidays. It showed twp generations, the older group being in their 50s and 60s, and the younger generation in their 30’s. My friend was part of the older group, but looking at the picture you would have put her in with her younger relatives. It was quite the pictorial testimonial for what a healthy lifestyle can look like from the outside.

One of the underlying causes of many of the so-called chronic diseases of aging–like arthritis, high blood pressure, adult-onset diabetes, and plaque in the arteries–is inflammation. While inflammation is the body’s natural defense mechanism to protect against threats and help with repair, internal chronic low-level inflammation can wreck havoc with the body.

So how do you tell if this is happening to you? Are you highly stressed, have joint and muscle stiffness, fatigue easily? Do you have adult onset diabetes or high blood pressure? Of course other things could be behind these symptoms and conditions but inflammation is a definite possibility. A definitive way to determine if you have inflammation would be to have a blood test that measures C-Reactive Protein (CRP).

The best way to avoid or eliminate chronic low level inflammation is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Stay physically active, eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, get enough sleep, and make time to have fun.

Common causes of inflammation

  • Stress
  • Allergies
  • Sugar
  • Processed foods
  • Wheat
  • Trans fats
  • Excessive weight
  • Insulin resistance

Ways to eliminate inappropriate inflammation include:

  • Manage stress. Exercise, go for a walk, stop and take deep breaths.
  • Eliminate allergens. If you are reacting to certain foods, either eliminate them from your diet or try an allergy elimination technique like NeuroModulation Technique (nmt.md).
  • Avoid sugar. Decrease (or ideally) eliminate sugar from your diet.
  • Avoid processed foods. These foods usually contain high amounts of trans fats that wreak havoc with the body, even to the point of changing the very nature of your cells.
  • Get more omega-3 fatty acids. Increase the amount of wild caught fish that you eat. Nuts are also a good source of omega-3s. Or take a good quality fish oil.
  • Increase anti-inflammatory foods. Eat more of these foods that have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Fruits especially berries
  • Vegetables
  • Basil
  • Garlic
  • Tumeric
  • Onions
  • Fish (wild caught) For a more complete list, check out Dr. Weil’s food pyramid, http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART02995/Dr-Weil-Anti-Inflammatory-Food-Pyramid.html
  • Move more. Exercise is a very important component to decrease inflammation. It can lower the excess stress that actually will cause inflammation. It can help reduce weight, and excess fat actually has chemicals that promote inflammation. It helps decrease insulin resistance. It will increase circulation and better enable the body to eliminate the accumulation of inflammatory chemicals.

So while aging is inevitable, we have some choices about how that will occur. Eating in a way that nurtures the body, decreasing stress, exercise, eliminating allergies will go a long way towards ensuring that we not only get to those golden years, but we enjoy them.

Getting Back in Shape

There’s a lot to be said for getting in shape. You feel better and look better, and your clothes start fitting better. But what if you haven’t done much for a while? How do you even start?

Fitness woman holding dumbbells - detail

Starting your program

  1. Start where you are now. If you spent the last ten years on the couch flipping channels, you can gain a lot just by getting out the door and walking. As you get used to walking, increase your pace. If you are already pretty active, you will probably need cycling, running, or workout machines to challenge your body and see the effects.
  1. Watch your ego. It is easy to start out gung-ho.“YES, I can lift 100 pounds, and work out for hours.” You might feel good at the time, and walk out of the gym tired and excited. But by the next day you will be in real pain. Not just the usual sore muscle pain, but pain from muscle tears and overuse. This will set you back, not move you forward, and will make it harder to continue working out.
  1. Lift amounts that actually challenge you. For best effect, use weights heavy enough to allow you to do 6-8 repetitions. Repeat for 3 sets. If you can do 15 or so reps, your weights are too light. Too many people at the gym are working out and never see a change in their bodies. They’re probably not working at a level that challenges their muscles.
  1. Include some kind of cardio workout. This does not mean hours on the elliptical or treadmill. In fact, the latest research shows that people do better with intensity training of short bursts and quick rests. (I’ll write more about this later). This short, intense workout will increase lung capacity as well as cardiac output. Two really good books about this type of work out are Ready, Set, GO! by Phil Campbell and A.C.E. The 12-minute Fitness Revolution by Al Sears.
  1. Keep at it! You need to stick to your program long enough to see positive results. That may be just a week or two, but give your body time to change.

 Starting a fitness program at any age is possible and will just about always produce benefits. Our bodies are highly adaptable and will be able to make changes at almost any age. So see what you can do and stick with it. You’ll probably end up living longer and better for you efforts.

Eliminate Allergies

People have allergic reactions to a variety of substances– things they eat or inhale or things that touch their bodies. Allergies are an abnormal immune system response to a substance that the body has erroneously decided is a threat. Depending on the type of allergen people will experience digestive upsets, respiratory problems and/or skin disorders. While some people may be aware of one or two allergies, others suffer having reactions to a wide variety of substances.

Young woman with cold allergy sneezing blowing her nose

Classically, allergies are considered to be reactions that provoke the body to produce specific antibodies (IgE) and there will be a noticeable increase in a particular type of white blood cell (eosinophil). Often people will have hypersensitivity reactions, where they may not have these classic markers but are adversely reacting to substances nonetheless.

Seasonal allergy sufferers are well aware of what time of year their particular nemesis is in the air. There are a vast number of prescribed and over-the-counter medications to help alleviate the symptoms. With food allergies, the advice is to avoid the offending food

In some cases it is easy to avoid a known irritant. If it’s a particular food, don’t eat it. If it’s wool, don’t wear it. The problem comes when there are many foods, or it is the very air that is causing a problem. Avoidance stops being simple and starts taking over someone’s life. This is when a better solution is needed.

Our bodies are incredibly wise and hard working. They carry on countless interconnecting reactions of processing internal and external information and responding accordingly. Problems occurs when there is an error in this processing. In the case of allergies, the body is erroneously labeling a particular substance or a number of substances as a threat and then taking appropriate measures via the immune system to destroy that threat. The body’s main way of defending itself is through a variety of inflammatory responses. Most pharmaceutical approaches to symptomatic relief of allergies work via decreasing the inflammatory response. What isn’t done is eliminating the confusion of the immune system, which is just trying to do its job of protection.

So how is it possible to give the immune system information so that it can stop attacking what should be a harmless substance? The body is a biocomputer, and when its data gets corrupted, new software is needed so that a correction can be made. I (Dr. Bonny Flaster) use a method known as NeuroModulation Technique (NMT). NMT was developed by Dr. Leslie Feinberg and has been helping people all over the world for the last 5 years. Using NMT, it is possible to give the body specific instructions so that it can function properly. This is done without any drugs, and the aim is not to mask a symptom but to eliminate the cause of the problem. By giving the body a specific set of instructions, it is possible to teach the immune system to ignore these harmless substances. The instructions are delivered either verbally or by focused thought. This is not hypnosis and it is not a trick.

It is not surprising that often, when I describe this method, I get that look of doubt from the person that I am talking to. There is a lack of understanding on how powerful words and the energy around us actually are. You could be sitting at your desk in just a horrible mood, glowering, black cloud, the whole nine yards, and your boss comes by and says ‘hey, that was a really good job you did, the client loved it!’, and suddenly your mood has changed, the cloud is gone and life feels better. Getting this information from your boss has not only changed your mood, but it has changed the chemicals that your body is now releasing. A different concentration of neurotransmitters is now awash in your body, creating an entirely new set of chemical reactions. It only took a few words. With NMT the words used are very specific for targeting different responses in the body and correcting errors. In the case of allergies, that means getting the body to properly interpret what it comes in contact with and how it should respond.

Allergies do not have to last forever. They are an example of immune system confusion, a wrong turn. There are good ways to let the body know which direction it should be going and eliminate the confusion/allergy.

Core Muscles

You hear a lot about core muscles these days. Even the army is focusing on core muscles. But what are core muscles, and what do they have to do with your workout?

Well, let’s say you’re running or working out at the gym, and before you know it your back starts hurting. Or you’re kayaking and your endurance just isn’t what you’d hoped for.Chances are, your core muscles are too weak to support your efforts, even as your legs or arms get stronger.

A strong core means you’ll use less energy to get better results.

What’s core?

Your core muscles are primarily:

  • abdominal muscles
  • muscles of the buttocks
  • muscles of the hips
  • muscles of the back

I know. You’re thinking, “You want me to have a strong butt???” Well, yes.

Core muscles hold you upright

Weak core muscles make it hard to hold good posture. That translates to bad running form, bad gym form, bad kayak form. It also alters your center of gravity. Add weight, and you’re stressing your body in ways it was never meant to be stressed.

This will take a toll. It will drag on your endurance, and eventually cause pain and inflammation.

Core muscles are shock absorbers

Think of running: lots of shock. Walking on cement, lifting weights, even hard cycling: a steady dose of small shocks.

When your core muscles aren’t strong enough, the shock hits areas of your back which were never designed to take a lot of shock.

Strong core muscles dissipate shock, and spread it around the entire abdominal cavity. This protects your back and takes pressure off the weak spots.

What you can do

You can strengthen core muscles by exercising at home, using machines at the gym, or taking a yoga or Pilates class.

plank

There are great exercises for your core, some that you can do anywhere. Check here:

http://www.ab-core-and-stomach-exercises.com/ab_exercises.html

You’ll like how it feels once your core starts getting stronger. Whether you’re running, kayaking or lifting weights, you’ll feel better and your body with thank you.

Autoimmune Disorders and the Body’s Confusion

Hashimoto, Graves, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s, Lupus all have something in common. The body has gotten confused and is attacking itself. The messengers that should be aware of foreign invaders and warding them off are now sending out various immune cells that end up attacking the thyroid, joints, digestive tract, kidney, etc.

Traditional means of stopping this is to use something like steroids to shut down the immune system and stop the attack rather than correct the confusion. While steroids will suppress the immune system, their long-term usage can come at a high cost and only keeps the hounds at bay.

A better way would be to stop the confusion, balance the immune system so it knows what to attack and what to protect. Make sure it can recognize self vs non-self. Here are some things to check out:

Is the body is a chronic state of inflammation? More than likely, yes. There are lab tests to see about inflammation, like highly sensitive C-reactive protein (HS CRP). Initially it’s a good idea to get highly pro-inflammatory foods out of the diet. These include wheat (gluten), sugar, and trans fats. A good guideline would be to eliminate processed foods since they tend to have an abundance of pro-inflammatory foods and chemicals.

Is your body toxic? The cleaner your body is the better it can function. We are all constantly exposed to heavy metals. While the body can cope with a certain amount, after a while things start to break down. One good and rather inexpensive way to check is to have a hair analysis done. This will not only give information about levels of heavy metals but also various minerals in the body. The mineral information can give a good indication of how the various organs and glands are functioning.

How is your immune system being stressed? Our immune system is an ever changing balance between various cells and messengers. Autoimmune diseases present a unique challenge. You want the immune system to do its job, go after invaders and get rid of damaged and abnormal cells. Different aspects of the immune system may be over-functioning while others are suppressed. There are lab tests to determine which aspect of the immune system is dominant and then support can be given to raise the function of the suppressed aspect.

There are some basic supports that should be considered in all autoimmune conditions.

Decrease stress – The immune system is already stressed, so any pressure that can be taken off of it will help.

Exercise – It can not only decrease inflammation but can improve overall body function.

Get More Vitamin D – There is often a deficiency. It will not tip the balance between the various aspects of the immune system, just help with overall health.

The main thing to consider in any autoimmune issue is that the body has gotten confused and is now attacking itself. It can get confused after an infection, long periods of stress, lots of bad eating, excessive toxin exposure. The thing is to get the body back on the right path.

My Hamstrings Are Too Tight!

Lots of people tell me how they stretch and stretch but they still have tight and shortened hamstrings. This can cause tightness in the legs and predispose you to back pain as well as muscle pulls in the back and front of your thighs. The hamstring muscles originate in what’s commonly known as your “sit bones,” more technically called the ischial tuberosity. Tight hamstrings will create abnormal pull on the pelvis and can eventually lead to back pain.

Young woman on floor stretching out her leg and hamstrings.

Young woman on floor stretching out her leg and hamstrings.

So what to do beyond the traditional stretches if these haven’t worked for you? Contracting and then stretching the muscle will set up a neurological reflex loop that will ultimately allow the muscle to lengthen and relax. This technique is known as PNF, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. It can be done either assisted or alone.

Let’s assume that you don’t have someone to help you stretch. You will need a chair and a towel. Sit on the chair and raise one leg so that it is parallel with the floor. Take a towel and place it by your ankle while holding the ends in both hands. Pull on the towel until the hamstrings let you know you’ve pulled enough. Do not over-pull, but get enough tension in the muscle.

Depending on your flexibility, your leg may now be off of the chair or still on it. This does not matter. Keeping the tension on your leg by maintaining the tension on the towel, push your leg down into the towel for about 5-10 seconds. Stop pushing, making sure to keep your leg at the same level, take a deep breath in and out, and then use the towel to further stretch the muscle, lifting the leg higher with the towel. Do not over-stretch, be aware of the comfortable end of your range of motion. Keep the leg at this new level and repeat this 2 more times.

It is important to maintain the towel tension on the leg, and while you do want to stretch the muscle, you do not want to over-stretch it. The contraction and then stretching allows the muscle to more fully stretch. This technique is using your nervous system to your advantage and is a great way to loosen up muscles quickly.

 

Mind is the Ultimate Healer

Our minds can make us well.  I know it sounds hokey, but it’s true and we’ve all experienced it.  Say you’ve been working hard on a project, lots of problems getting it done, lots of stress and angst, time pressure, uncooperative co-workers but now it’s done, finally.  You don’t feel happy, you feel tired, cranky, resentful.  A boss comes up to you and lets you know that you’ve done a really good job, acknowledges all of your work and compliments the results.  All of a sudden you feel much better, you have more energy, you’re less inclined to want to injure your co-workers, and life is looking much better.

What has happened here?  Your mind has started producing different brain chemicals, neuropeptides, and you are now feeling better.  If you had your blood drawn it would probably show a decrease in the amount of stress producing chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline.  Your heart rate will have decreased.  Even your ability to digest food will have improved.

Most of us are quite good at using our minds to make us sick, even if we don’t realize it.  Emotions actually get stuck in the body.  Patients often ask me if what they are experiencing is physical or emotional, my reply is that there isn’t a difference.  There really isn’t a point where our physical self begins and ends and our emotional self starts.  They are integrated aspects of us and can’t really be separated.

It is important to be aware of where our thoughts take us.  Focusing on our ailments, pain, angst does not improve the situation.  It actually makes it far worse.  Often people will refer to a part of their body that is hurting them as their “bad ____”.  This sends a message that further aggravates that part and actually can inhibit its ability to heal.  Referring to that hand, foot, etc as the one that is healing, currently in need of more attention is a better frame of reference.  I’m not saying to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist, but rather to be aware of the thoughts that deter from getting better.