4 ways exercise helps arthritis from Harvard Medical news


Nowadays I seldom get free advice from Harvard Medical news. They always send links of the article and you have to pay in order to read it. Occasionally, they send short pieces like this one. Here’s one today. It looks familiar. I mean I might have read it before and even have posted it here before. Be what it is.

“Even the healthiest people can find it hard to stick with an exercise regimen — and if you suffer from the joint pain of arthritis, moving your body may be the last thing you want to think about. But regular exercise not only helps maintain joint function, it also relieves stiffness and reduces pain and fatigue.

If you have arthritis, you want to be sure your exercise routine has these goals in mind:
1. A better range of motion (improved joint mobility and flexibility). To increase your range of motion, move a joint as far as it can go and then try to push a little farther. These exercises can be done any time, even when your joints are painful or swollen, as long as you do them gently.

2. Stronger muscles (through resistance training). Fancy equipment isn’t needed. You can use your own body weight as resistance to build muscle. For example, this simple exercise can help ease the strain on your knees by strengthening your thigh muscles: Sit in a chair. Now lean forward and stand up by using only your thigh muscles (use your arms for balance only). Stand a moment, then sit back down, using only your thigh muscles.

3. Better endurance. Aerobic exercise — such as walking, swimming, and bicycling — strengthens your heart and lungs and thereby increases endurance and overall health. Stick to activities that don’t jar your joints, and avoid high-impact activities such as jogging. If you’re having a flare-up of symptoms, wait until it subsides before doing endurance exercises.

4. Better balance. There are simple ways to work on balance. For example, stand with your weight on both feet. Then try lifting one foot while you balance on the other foot for 5 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Over time, work your way up to 30 seconds on each foot. Yoga and tai chi are also good for balance.”



Exercise and the Quality of your Life


I will not let go anything from Harvard Medical School, even if I have read it many times. Here’s one on exercise and the quality of your life.

“Exercise not only helps you live longer — it helps you live better. In addition to making your heart and muscles stronger and fending off a host of diseases, it can also improve your mental and emotional functioning and even bolster your productivity. Exercise can improve your quality of life.

1. Wards off depression: While a few laps around the block can’t solve serious emotional difficulties, researchers know there is a strong link between regular exercise and improved mood. Aerobic exercise prompts the release of mood-lifting hormones, which relieve stress and promote a sense of well-being. In addition, the rhythmic muscle contractions that take place in almost all types of exercise can increase levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which combats negative feelings.

2. Sharpens wits: Physical activity boosts blood flow to the brain, which may help maintain brain function. It also promotes good lung function, a characteristic of people whose memories and mental acuity remain strong as they age. While all types of physical activity help keep your mind sharp, many studies have shown that aerobic exercise, in particular, successfully improves cognitive function.

3. Improves sleep: Regular aerobic exercise provides three important sleep benefits: it helps you fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep, and awaken less during the night. In fact, exercise is the only known way for healthy adults to boost the amount of deep sleep they get — and deep sleep is essential for your body to renew and repair itself.

4. Protects mobility and vitality: Regular exercise can slow the natural decline in physical performance that occurs as you age. By staying active, older adults can actually keep their cardiovascular fitness, metabolism, and muscle function in line with those of much younger people. And many studies have shown that people who were more active at midlife were able to preserve their mobility — and therefore, their independence — as they aged.



Basic mindfulness meditation exercise


From Harvard Medical School newsletter, 6/14/2014, “Ways to become ‘mindful'”

Learning to focus the mind can be a powerful antidote to the stresses and strains of our on-the-go lives. The ability to pay attention to what you’re experiencing from moment to moment — without drifting into thoughts of the past or concerns about the future, or getting caught up in opinions about what is going on — is called mindfulness. This basic mindfulness meditation exercise is easy to learn and practice.

1. Sit on a straight-backed chair, or cross-legged on the floor.
2. Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
3. Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and ideas.
4. Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it as good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.

The effects of mindfulness meditation tend to be dose-related — the more you practice it, the more benefits you usually experience.
A less formal approach can also help you stay in the present and fully engage in your life. You can practice mindfulness at any time or during any task. Here’s how:

1. Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body.
2. Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air to move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Then breathe out through your mouth. Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation.
3. Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation.
4. Engage your senses fully. Notice each sight, touch, and sound so that you savor every sensation.
5. When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.



Get moving, reducing stress, for body and mind


A few weeks ago, I read this article “To calm body and mind, get moving.” Too bad I forgot and have not saved where I read it, though I saved part of it.

“A burst of physical activity after the stress response is triggered — let’s say by sprinting away from an oncoming bus — burns off stress hormones just as nature intended.

But you don’t need an imminent physical threat to use exercise as a way to take the edge off every day stress. Just about any form of motion helps relieve pent-up muscle tension. And certain activities, such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong, and rhythmic, repetitive exercise, such as walking, running, swimming, bicycling, and rowing, elicit the relaxation response, too. All of these things are especially helpful if you do them regularly.

To boost the stress-relief rewards that come from being physically active, it helps to increase your awareness — what and how you’re feeling, your environment, etc. — during exercise. This small shift in focus can leave you feeling calmer and more centered.

This approach is as effective during strength training as it is when you’re on a nature walk. As you lift and plant each foot, or as you raise and lower the weights, coordinate your breathing with your movements, keeping mindful attention on the sensations in your body.

Once you get under way, become aware of how your breathing complements the activity. Breathe rhythmically. If you have a focus word, phrase, or prayer that you use when meditating, use that word now as you breathe. When disruptive thoughts intrude, gently turn your mind away from them and focus on moving and breathing.”



Early morning walk… the benefits and the rest


A letter from a neighbor
After receiving this letter from a neighbor, I decided to force myself to use the sidewalk, even if I have to go through an active sprinkler system and get soaked after that, even if some part of sidewalk is too dark and unsafe for me to walk early in the morning.

I told my daughter that I might move my morning walk to the afternoon after I get back from work. She doesn’t think it a good idea. “You are always too tired to do anything when you get home. You won’t have the energy to take a walk. Beside, he just exaggerated. We seldom see cars when we go out in the morning.” That’s true. Plus, I see other neighbors not using sidewalk, too.

Still, I think I will buy myself a personal safety gadget, like a spray or loud siren when I walk through dark sidewalk.



Tips to keep your strength training safe


Again, these were offered via Harvard Medical School newsletter. The following tips are said to keep your strength training safe and effective.

1. Warm up and cool down for five to 10 minutes. Walking is a fine way to warm up; stretching is an excellent way to cool down.

2. Focus on form, not weight. Align your body correctly and move smoothly through each exercise. Poor form can prompt injuries and slow gains. When learning a strength training routine, many experts suggest starting with no weight, or very light weight. Concentrate on slow, smooth lifts and equally controlled descents while isolating a muscle group.

3. Working at the right tempo helps you stay in control rather than compromise strength gains through momentum. For example, count to three while lowering a weight, hold, then count to three while raising it to the starting position.

4. Pay attention to your breathing during your workouts. Exhale as you work against resistance by lifting, pushing, or pulling; inhale as you release.

5. Keep challenging muscles by slowly increasing weight or resistance. The right weight for you differs depending on the exercise. Choose a weight that tires the targeted muscle or muscles by the last two repetitions while still allowing you to maintain good form.

6. Stick with your routine — working all the major muscles of your body two or three times a week is ideal. You can choose to do one full-body strength workout two or three times a week, or you may break your strength workout into upper- and lower-body components. In that case, be sure you perform each component two or three times a week.

7. Give muscles time off. Strength training causes tiny tears in muscle tissue. These tears aren’t harmful, but they are important: muscles grow stronger as the tears knit up. Always give your muscles at least 48 hours to recover before your next strength training session.



Add strength training to your weekly exercise


So we were told via Harvard Medical School newsletter.
Strength or resistance training challenges your muscles with a stronger-than-usual counterforce. The simple and easy-to-follow strength trainings include
–pushing against a wall or
–lifting a dumbbell or
–pulling on a resistance band.

Using progressively heavier weights or increasing resistance makes muscles stronger. This kind of exercise increases muscle mass, tones muscles, and strengthens bones. It also helps you maintain the strength you need for everyday activities — lifting groceries, climbing stairs, rising from a chair, or rushing for the bus.

The current national guidelines for physical activity recommend strengthening exercises for all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms) at least twice a week. One set — usually 8 to 12 repetitions of the same movement — per session is effective, though some evidence suggests that two to three sets may be better. Your muscles need at least 48 hours to recover between strength training sessions.



Strength Training: key to live longer and better


So we are told. According to Harvard Medical School, several studies have attested that strength training, as well as aerobic exercise, can help you manage and sometimes prevent conditions as varied as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis. It can also protect vitality, make everyday tasks more manageable, and help you maintain a healthy weight.

What often overlooked is the value of strength-building exercises. Once you reach your 50s and beyond, strength (or resistance) training is critical to preserving the ability to perform the most ordinary activities of daily living — and to maintain an active and independent lifestyle.

The average 30-year-old will lose about a quarter of his or her muscle strength by age 70 and half of it by age 90. “Just doing aerobic exercise is not adequate,” says Dr. Robert Schreiber, physician-in-chief at Hebrew SeniorLife and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Unless you are doing strength training, you will become weaker and less functional.”



Trading daily commute with treadmill


January 18, 2013 was the last day for a colleague of mine at our work place. She quit working with us, taking a home-based job with a pay cut.

She lives in Lee’s Summit. The daily 90-minute commute from home to work not only costs time and gas but also creates stress on her. So her decision was to change her job.

Now with this home-based job, she said she would use the time thus saved everyday on treadmill. Great for her. I wish I could get this deal.



Exercise makes us smart, so was it true in the past, so is it today, Part III


This is the third and also the last part of the same article on this topic.

“To explain those outsized brains, evolutionary scientists have pointed to such occurrences as meat eating and, perhaps most determinatively, our early ancestors’ need for social interaction.

Early humans had to plan and execute hunts as a group, which required complicated thinking patterns and, it’s been thought, rewarded the social and brainy with evolutionary success. According to that hypothesis, the evolution of the brain was driven by the need to think.

But now some scientists are suggesting that physical activity also played a critical role in making our brains larger.

To reach that conclusion, anthropologists began by looking at existing data about brain size and endurance capacity in a variety of mammals, including dogs, guinea pigs, foxes, mice, wolves, rats,
civet cats, antelope, mongeese, goats, sheep and elands. They found a notable pattern. Species like dogs and rats that had a high innate endurance capacity, which presumably had evolved over
millenniums, also had large brain volumes relative to their body size.”

To conclude, Dr. Lieberman says “I fundamentally agree that there is a deep evolutionary basis for the relationship between a healthy body and a healthy mind,” a relationship that makes the term “jogging your memory” more literal than most of us might have expected.



Exercise makes us smart, so was it true in the past, so is it today, Part II


I like this article so much that I have to indulge myself by sharing more of it here.

“Endurance produced meals, which provided energy for mating, which meant that adept early joggers passed along their genes. In this way, natural selection drove early humans to become even more athletic, Dr. Lieberman and other scientists have written, their bodies developing longer legs, shorter toes, less hair and complicated inner-ear mechanisms to maintain balance and stability during upright ambulation. Movement shaped the human body.

But simultaneously, in a development that until recently many scientists viewed as unrelated, humans were becoming smarter. Their brains were increasing rapidly in size.

Today, humans have a brain that is about three times larger than would be expected, anthropologists say, given our species’ body size in comparison with that of other mammals.

To be continued…



Exercise makes us smart, so was it true in the past, so is it today, Part I


I read this piece toward the end of last year — “Exercise and the Ever-Smarter Human Brain” by GRETCHEN REYNOLDS, 12/26/2012. Though it is not something new, I still want to share it here.

The article talks about an emerging scientific view of human evolution, which suggests that “we are clever today in part because a million years ago, we could outrun and outwalk most other mammals over long distances. Our brains were shaped and sharpened by movement, the idea goes, and we continue to require regular physical activity in order for our brains to function optimally.”

In 2004, the evolutionary biologists Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard and Dennis M. Bramble of the University of Utah published a seminal article in the journal Nature titled “Endurance Running and the Evolution of Homo,” in which they posited that our bipedal ancestors survived by becoming
endurance athletes, able to bring down swifter prey through sheer doggedness, jogging and plodding along behind them until the animals dropped.

To be continued…



Walking on a cold Monday morning


It was bitterly cold yesterday morning, feeling like the coldest day of the year. I knew it before I got up, that is, when I watched TV the day before. Usually, I feel certain resistence on Monday morning as I got too relaxed on weekend.

A cold Monday morning is especially discouraging to me. I thought I had enough excuse if I did not get up and take my morning walk.

For some reason, the whole thing seems so familiar, the weather, Monday morning, the dark outside, and the inner dialogue. It is like a replay of the whole scene. If I don’t take morning walk, I might have no exercise for the day, then for the week, etc.

Next I knew better than not to drag myself out of the warm bed into the dark, cold morning. And there I went again.



Simple exercises to keep you happy and healthy


I like things simple, easy to follow and to keep it up. Here are 5 of the best workouts that I read on 11/15/2012 from Harvard Medical School newsletter.

1. Swimming. You might call swimming the perfect workout. The buoyancy of the water supports your body and takes the strain off painful joints so you can move them more fluidly.

2. Tai Chi. Tai chi — a Chinese martial art that incorporates movement and relaxation — is good for both body and mind. In fact, it’s been called “meditation in motion.”

3. Strength training. Lifting light weights won’t bulk up your muscles, but it will keep them strong. “If you don’t use muscles, they will lose their strength over time.”

4. Walking. Walking is simple yet powerful. It can help you stay trim, improve cholesterol levels, strengthen bones, keep blood pressure in check, lift your mood and lower your risk for a number of diseases.

5. Kegel exercises. These exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder. Strong pelvic floor muscles can go a long way toward preventing incontinence.

To do a Kegel exercise correctly, squeeze and release the muscles you would use to stop urination or keep from passing gas. Alternate quick squeezes and releases with longer contractions that you hold for 10 seconds, release, and then relax for 10 seconds. Work up to three 3 sets of 10-15 Kegel exercises each day.

As long as you’re doing some form of aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, and you include two days of strength training a week, you can consider yourself an “active” person.



Tai-chi, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, part III


11. Back. With shoulders resting on the back of the chair, push your  body forward so that your back is arched; relax. Be very careful with  this one, or don’t do it at all.

12. Butt. Tense the butt tightly and raise pelvis slightly off chair;  relax. Dig buttocks into chair; relax.

13. Thighs. Extend legs and raise them about 6″ off the floor or the  foot rest–but don’t tense the stomach’ relax. Dig your feet (heels)  into the floor or foot rest; relax.

14. Stomach. Pull in the stomach as far as possible; relax completely. Push out the stomach or tense it as if you were preparing  for a punch in the gut; relax.

15. Calves and feet. Point the toes (without raising the legs);  relax. Point the feet up as far as possible (beware of cramps-if you  get them or feel them coming on, shake them loose); relax.

16. Toes. With legs relaxed, dig your toes into the floor; relax.  Bend the toes up as far as possible; relax. Now just relax for a  while. As your days of practice progress, you may wish to skip the  steps that do not appear to be a problem for you.

As you’ve become proficient on your tension areas (after a few weeks), you can concern yourself only with those. These exercises will not eliminate  tension, but when it arises, you will know it immediately, and you  will be able to “tense-relax” it away or even simply wish it away.



Tai-chi, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, part II


1. Hands.  Tense the fists, then relaxed. Fingers extended, then relaxed.

2. Biceps and triceps. The biceps are tensed (make a muscle–but  shake your hands to make sure not tensing them into a fist); relaxed  (drop your arm to the chair–really drop them). The triceps are  tensed (try to bend your arms the wrong way); relaxed (drop them).

3. Shoulders. Pull them back (careful with this one); relax them.  Push the shoulders forward (hunch); relax.

4. Neck (lateral). With the shoulders straight and relaxed, the head  is turned slowly to the right, as far as you can; relax. Turn to the  left; relax.

5. Neck (forward). Dig your chin into your chest; relax. (bringing  the head back is not recommended–you could break your neck).

6. Mouth. The mouth is opened as far as possible; relaxed. The lips  are brought together or pursed as tightly as possible; relaxed.

7. Tongue (extended and retracted). With mouth open, extend the  tongue as far as possible; relax (let it sit in the bottom of your  mouth). Bring it back in your throat as far as possible; relax.

8. Tongue (roof and floor). Dig your tongue into the roof of your  mouth; relax. Dig it into the bottom of your mouth; relax.

9. Eyes. Open them as wide as possible (furrow your brow); relax.  Close your eyes tightly (squint); relax. Make sure you completely  relax the eyes, forehead, and nose after each of the tensings–this  is actually a toughy.

10. Breathing. Take as deep a breath as possible–and then take a  little more; let it out and breathe normally for 15 seconds. Let all  the breath in your lungs out–and then a little more; inhale and  breathe normally for 15 seconds.

To be continued…



Tai-chi, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation


Progressive muscle relaxation. I learned of this concept during one of the health webnar offered at office. This is like tai-chi and yoga but more flexible than both of them. Sit in a comfortable chair, as comfortable as possible, with loose clothes, and no leg crossings.

1) Take a deep breath; let it out slowly.
2) Alternately tense and relax specific groups of muscles.
3) After tension, a muscle will be more relaxed than prior to the  tensing.
4) Concentrate on the feel of the muscles, specifically the contrast  between tension and relaxation. Recognizing tension in any specific muscle helps reduce that tension.
5) Don’t tense muscles other than the specific group at each step.
6) Don’t hold your breath, grit your teeth, or squint!
7) Breath slowly and evenly and think only about the tension-relaxation contrast.
8) Each tensing is for 10 seconds; each relaxing is for 10 or 15 seconds.
9) Count “1,000 2,000…” until you have a feel for the time span.
10) Each step is really two steps–one cycle of tension-relaxation  for each set of opposing muscles.
11) Do the entire sequence once a day if you can, until you feel you are able to control your muscle tensions.
12) Be careful: consult your doctor first, if you have problems with pulled muscles, broken bones, or any medical contraindication for physical activities.

The entire sequence from hands to toes
1. Hands
2. Biceps and triceps
3. Shoulders
4. Neck (lateral)
5. Neck (forward)
6. Mouth
7. Tongue (extended and retracted)
8. Tongue (roof and floor)
9. Eyes
10. Breathing
11. Back
12. Butt
13. Thighs
14. Stomach
15. Calves and feet.
16. Toes

To be continued…



Exercise, nutrition, injury prevention


On 8/29, I attended a webnar offered at office on exercise, nutrition and injury prevention. Here are the notes from it.

(1) Proper footwears can help reduce:
–back pain
–knee pain
–hip pain
–achilles tendonitis
–shin splints (leg pain)
–injured toes
–damaged toenails
–painful blisters

(2) Tips for buying shoes
–identify your foot shape
–shop toward the end of the day (when your feet are biggest)
–bring your workout socks
–don’t count on “breaking in” If it’s not comfortable at the store, it’s not going to get comfortable as you wear it more.
–buy bigger
–replace often
–stride analysis

(3) Proper clothing
–proper fitting
–breathable
–layers, outside exercise in winter
–reflective
–not rubbing your skin

(4) General outdoor safety
–traffic rules
–limit distractions
–safety in numbers, for women
–daylight if possible, for women, never venture out in dark alone
–always bring your phone/ID
–watch for critters and dogs
–change your route every once a while and avoid being watched and followed by predators

(5) Bicycle safety
–Helmets (size, secure, level)
–Bike fit (size, height, and seat)

(6) Injury Prevention
–Warm up–5 to 10 minutes cardio
–Proper technique–muscle engagement; balance muscle groups
–Increase gradually
–Vary your routine

(7) Listening to your body
–Normal pain– dull, achy, general soreness over large area
–Abnormal pain–sharp and specific, indicatinb more serious injury
–Don’t push yourself too much Common injuries
–sprains and strains
–achillies tendionitis
–shin splints
–back pain
–knee pain
–tennis elbow
–rotator cuff

(8) Proper nutrition
–Hydrate
–Proteins
–Carbs
–Fats, not too much of it
–Quality– protein, carbs, and fat
–Quantity
–Timing



Saying the obvious: the Benefits of Exercise


This is from an article that I read last month on the benefits of exercise. I know it is saying something that we all know. Still, I like to repeat it here.

What can improve your mood, boost your ability to fend off infection, and lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and colon cancer?

The answer is regular exercise. It may seem too good to be true, but it’s not. Hundreds of studies conducted over the past 50 years demonstrate that exercise helps you feel better and live longer.

Don’t we know it already? Still, we don’t exercise enough every day.


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