Five Must-Know Fitness Principles

Contrary to what you may read in your Facebook feed or junk email box, there’s no “magic pill” when it comes to fitness. Instead, following these simple, basic principles can help you reach and maintain your fitness goals.

1. Eat Food. Skip the bars, meal-replacement shakes, sugar substitutes and low-fat peanut butter – REAL food, which comes from the trees, the soil, the farm and the sea, and hasn’t been messed with in a lab, is all your body needs to reach and maintain a healthy size. Opt for meals and snacks with a good balance of vegetables, protein, fat and complex carbohydrates, and let others get stuck in the dieting loop.

2. Move Every Day. Our bodies do best with consistency, so moving (even a little) every day is more beneficial than 1-2 big workout sessions a week. Walk on your lunch break, clean your own house, bike to dinner, do yoga in the living room, hire a trainer, plant a garden. It only takes 15 minutes to alter your brain for the better and improve your circulation, so get moving!

3. Stretch. Stretching is essential because it not only affects our ability to get stronger, it also improves circulation and decreases pain and injury. Think of it as the reward after a full day at work, a tough workout, or a long car ride. Plus, it’s a good time to take deep, replenishing breaths, which help energize and de-stress you.

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4. Play. It’s no secret that stress wreaks havoc on our health, and recreation is an excellent way to combat the effects. Take the kids to the park and toss a ball around, go dancing, learn how to surf or ski, strap on some roller skates! Do something that gives you joy, and you’ll not only release essential endorphins in your blood stream, but you’ll feel so much better that you’ll be more likely to do it again and again. (see #2)

5. Un-plug. Living in a world of smart phones and tablets can be convenient and entertaining, but your brain and body need to un-plug. Regularly trading in your electronics and television for outdoor activities can significantly improve your mood and make you more inclined to embrace habits that benefit your health. Simply put, when we feel better, we are less likely to turn to the “comfort” foods and inactivity that keep us from reaching our fitness goals.

By Emily Duval Ledger

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Diversify Your Exercise Portfolio

Are you coming up with reasons not to exercise? The number-one reason I hear from people for why they don’t exercise is, “I don’t have time.” Really! I know everyone is busy, but all it takes is being flexible and having a bit of determination. Studies show that a little bit of exercise every day – even 10 minutes – helps. I ask my clients for 30 minutes a day, but if that seems too daunting to begin with, start with less. Don’t get stuck feeling that you must take the “all or nothing” approach. Aim to exercise two to three times a week, and add more sessions as you find ways to fit them in.

I consistently exercise in the morning, but I understand that for many people, mornings are hectic and trying to squeeze a workout in is impossible. Research actually shows there are benefits to working out at any time of the day, even if it’s half an hour before bedtime.

Key Principles

I love putting together a series of exercises into a workout known as circuit training. Circuit training is doing a number of exercises back to back (short exercise bursts with intensity), including a short recovery or break between exercises. I can add in cardio exercise such as running in place, jumping rope, or using equipment such as a treadmill, elliptical or stair-stepper.

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I am going to teach you how to put together a combination of exercises in a circuit format. It’s a great technique to focus on strength and cardiovascular training and sculpt your own body. You can experiment with a large variety of exercises and equipment at whatever intensity you choose. You compete only with yourself, and you don’t have to be in sync with others.

Circuits can include exercise with one or both feet on the ground, your own body weight, stability balls, rocker boards, and various resistance devices like bands, free weights, kettlebells, machines or cables. You can isolate muscles or perform multi-joint / multi-muscle exercises that involve the whole body; and all the while the circuit is cardio-inspired because of the moves. A well-rounded exercise program should include flexibility training, strength training, endurance training, balance training, trunk (core) stabilization exercises and speed training. You should easily be able to modify the intensity and complexity of the circuit.

A cardio-resistance class is probably offered at your gym or fitness center. They put together a multi-station circuit for about 5-25+ people. Usually the total amount of circuit time can be 50-60 minutes, which allows participants to complete the circuit three times.

Design Your Own Program

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If you don’t have access to a gym or don’t have time to go to the gym, I want you to create your own circuit at home. All you’ll need is an exercise mat, a pair of free weights or a kettlebell, a step platform (a chair or bench works, too), a stability ball, a medicine ball (2-5 pounds) and a pull-up bar. There are even online circuit clocks that act like an instructor, letting you know when to start and finish each exercise station. Put on your favorite music and start working out.

I usually allow 30 seconds for each exercise, and I choreograph my program ahead of time. It is important to start your circuit with a full-body, dynamic-movement warm-up. This prepares the muscles and joints for the forces and mechanics of the exercises ahead. Give yourself a full 10-minute warm-up and if that is all the time you have to exercise that day, that’s OK! If you can keep going, anywhere from 25-50 minutes after warming up, you’ll get a fantastic workout.

Here’s the basic concept:

  • Perform a designated exercise for a predetermined time (usually 30 seconds) and, when prompted by the clock, move to the next exercise.
  • Give yourself 15-30 seconds to set up for the next exercise.
  • Pick about 10-12 exercises ahead of time, alternating between strength and cardio. For all strength exercises, you should be able to complete a minimum of 12 repetitions, but since the stations are time-based, keep going until signaled to end. For cardio exercises, keep moving for the allotted time. You can change the length at each exercise station and make it last anywhere from 30 seconds to one-and-a-half minutes; just keep the prep and recovery time the same (about 30 seconds).

A Sample 10-Station Circuit

Station 1: Strength. Equipment: balance trainer (ball) or balance pad (several varieties are available). Position: on all fours, right knee on ball, left knee and both hands on floor. Exercise Description: Lift and extend the right arm and left leg. Perform flexion and extension for 12 reps or until prompted by the clock to change sides. Repeat entire sequence on opposite side. (This exercise is good for the back.)

Station 2: Cardio. Equipment: step platform. Position: standing, facing the platform. Exercise Description: Squat-jump onto platform, then step down (alternate lead leg down; modify squat-jump as needed). Let arms assist by moving upward during jump.

Station 3: Strength. Equipment: stability ball. Position: kneeling, hands and forearms on stability ball. Exercise Description: Perform a forward roll-out, engaging the torso and lowering buttocks to create plank position from shoulders to knees. Roll back to start; perform 12 reps or until time is up. (Good exercise for the abdominals.)

Station 4: Cardio. Equipment: jump rope (if you don’t have a rope, imagine you are using one). Position: standing. Exercise Description: Perform movements with legs and arms.

Station 5: Strength. Equipment: chin-up bar. Position: hanging from the bar. Exercise Description: Perform pull-ups. This exercise taxes your entire upper body, and performing them correctly (pulling your chest up to the bar, retracting your shoulder blades and contracting the muscles in your upper back) leads to improvements in strength and appearance. And if you can’t do pull-ups, then use a small step or foot stool to help you start in the “up” position and slowly lower yourself down. Assist yourself up with the step or stool.

Station 6: Cardio. Equipment: a kettlebell. Position: standing. Exercise Description: Place the kettlebell arms distance in front of you between your feet. Stand a little more than shoulder-width apart. Do not stand too wide. The wider you stand, the less hip drive you will have. Push back with your butt and bend your knees to get into the starting position. Make sure your back is flat and look straight ahead. Swing the kettlebell between your thighs forcefully.

Quickly reverse the direction and drive through with your hips, taking the kettlebell straight out to chest level. Let the kettlebell swing back between your thighs and repeat until you reach the time limit.

The swing is one of the best ballistic exercises that you can do with kettlebells. It takes tremendous hip drive and hamstring power to drive against the kettlebell and to project it to chest level. In addition to building powerful, rapid hip action, the swing is an excellent hamstring exercise that carries over well to other exercises such as the barbell deadlift. The swing is also a tremendous core exercise, as you really have to brace yourself as the kettlebell swings between your legs.

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Station 7: Strength. Equipment: your own body-weight. Position: push-up. Exercise Description: Push-ups are another great upper-body builder for your chest, shoulders, back and arms. But mix it up by putting a medicine ball under your hands, do them with your hands around free weights, do them with different hand positions, wear a weighted vest, or try them inverted. The push-up is a great “basic” movement that can be modified for all levels.

Station 8: Cardio. Equipment: body-weight. Position: mountain climber (start in a push-up position). Exercise Description: Assume a push-up position with your arms completely straight. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your ankles. Without allowing your lower-back posture to change, lift your right foot off the floor and slowly move your right knee toward your chest. Return to the starting position and repeat with your left leg. Alternate back and forth for the duration of the set.

Station 9: Strength. Equipment: body-weight. Position: standing (lunge). Exercises Description: Lunges. I love lunges because they target the entire lower body. And when you are looking to get the most bang for your buck, focus on training the big muscles like the glutes and quads. Again, you can diversify the types of lunges you do: straight, angled, reverse, side, cross-behind. Have fun with it, but they’ll surely work your entire lower body.

Station 10: Cardio. Equipment: body-weight. Position: standing split jump. Exercise Description: Stand in a staggered stance with your feet 2 to 3 feet apart, your right foot in front of your left. Keeping your torso upright, bend your legs and lower your body into a lunge. Now jump with enough force to propel both feet off the floor. While you’re in the air, scissor-kick your legs so you land with your left leg forward. Repeat, alternating your forward leg for the duration of the set time.

A new year’s right around the corner; make it your healthiest year ever by following these exercise principles and engaging your entire body. Remember, if you say you don’t have the time, you’re just making excuses! Get started today and see how much better you look and feel. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about how to perform any of these exercises or if a health condition may limit your ability to perform any of the above.

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Circuit Training Tips

  • Create stations that challenge you and don’t require a considerable amount of set-up time.
  • Try to increase the number of repetitions you can perform in the same amount of time each week. Use the “one more rep” mentality.
  • Make sure you maintain good body alignment and core engagement throughout.
  • Warm up before the circuit and cool down after it.
  • Don’t forget the fun factor!

By Dr. Jeffrey Tucker

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Strong Muscles = Strong Grades?

The socialization process in grade school is interesting, to say the least. Too often, kids get labeled, stigmatized and categorized according to their primary area of performance. Good athletes become “jocks.” Good students become “brainiacs.” But we need to teach children that they can be both; in fact, it’s high time to hail the student-athlete! Here’s why.

According to a recent study of 9-11-year-olds, muscle fitness, determined by 30-second repetitions of a battery of upper-body, lower-body and core exercises (lunges, push-ups, shoulder presses, etc.) using either body weight or a medicine ball, correlated with performance on memory, math, reading and writing tests. Kids who performed better (more repetitions) on the muscular fitness tests also did better on the memory and academic tests than their less-fit peers, according to the study.

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Parents all want their children to succeed in all areas of life, but too often, they make a choice between academics and athletics. Here’s a great reason to prioritize both! Talk to your doctor to learn more about the importance of muscular fitness and how to get your kids started on the path to fitness. To learn about safe exercise strategies for adolescents and teens, read Dr. Perry Nickelston’s article from the May 2009 issue of To Your Health.

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Pain Relief Is Music to Your Ears

Think about listening to your favorite song. How does it make you feel? Are you “carried away,” removed from the stress and strife of your daily existence for even a few precious minutes? It’s been said laugher is the best medicine, but laughter may have a companion therapy: music.

A review of studies suggests music reduces acute and chronic pain related to cancer and other pain-promoting health conditions. The review of nearly 100 studies conducted over a 20-year period and involving more than 9,000 participants found that, depending on the study, music therapy reduced pain intensity, emotional distress, and even use of pain medication.

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In fact, according to several of the studies reviewed, exposure to music reduced self-reported pain intensity by a full point on a 0-10 pain scale compared to patients who received no music intervention.

So before you run to the drug store or reach into the medicine cabinet for a pain reliever, sit back, relax and push play. Your favorite songs may work wonders in reducing your pain and reduce (or completely eliminate) the need to take medication. Talk to your doctor for more information.

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3 Ways to Help Fight the Winter Blues

Are the short days, long nights, bitter chills and inclement weather getting you down? Seasonal affective disorder, or appropriately, SAD, is a mood disorder characterized by feelings of sadness / depression during the winter months in otherwise mentally healthy people. If you’re suffering from SAD, you may find yourself sleeping longer, lacking energy and experiencing depression.

The good news is there are ways to fight the “winter blues,” as SAD has been called, without taking medication; here are three natural ways to help put a smile back on your face so you can enjoy the holiday season.

1. Show me the light: Evidence suggests light (or lack thereof) during the winter months can contribute to depressive symptoms. Why light? Because  light affects serotonin, a hormone / neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, emotions and behavior. Less sunlight / daylight in the winter months can mean less serotonin, which can cause problems with energy and mood. The solution:Try to get outdoors as much as possible when weather permits, particularly during sunny winter days. Think about it from more than a biochemical perspective: Being outside on a sunny day always seems to make people feel better compared to sitting inside.

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2. Try a little D: Vitamin D, that is, levels of which are also affected by lack of available sunlight during the winter months. Several studies correlate low vitamin D levels with seasonal affective disorder in particular. What’s more, vitamin Dproduction is the lowest during the winter months because the sun is the primary source. Less sunlight (and less time spent outdoors in general) equals less vitamin D production. The solution: If you can’t get outside often during the winter (or year-round due to your occupation), make sure to take a daily vitamin D supplement to ensure your body is getting the D it needs to defend against mood problems – not to mention a host of other health problems linked to low levels.

3. Make a move: Remove yourself from the winter discussion for a minute and think about any time of the year. What happens when you don’t exercise regularly? How do you feel as the weeks go by without physical activity? For many people, lack of physical activity can mimic symptoms of SAD: low energy levels, depression, etc. The solution: Make time to exercise this winter. Go to the gym when the weather’s bad or enjoy the fresh air and exercise outdoors when it’s not raining / snowing, etc. Indoors or outdoors, make physical activity a priority and you’ll feel better and look better.

The bottom line is that this winter doesn’t have to be a SAD one, regardless of your circumstances. By adopting these and other strategies, you can help fight the winter blues and improve your health at the same time. Talk to your doctor of chiropractic for additional information.

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Nutrition for Menopause: A Drug-Free Approach for All Phases

Of all the changes women experience during their reproductive life, there is no doubt the most dreaded are the three phases of menopause. This is not surprising since all of the symptoms associated with menopause are replete with unpleasantness.

Hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbance, mood swings, bone density issues, hormonal imbalance and low libido are not only distressing, but also can impact a woman’s health and quality of life in multiple negative ways.

The gradual depletion of estrogen production associated with aging is the catalyst for most menopausal symptoms. Lack of estrogen may affect other organs of the body including the brain, contributing to negative emotional well-being; as well as the skin, reducing thickness and elasticity. There is also evidence that declining estrogen levels may make women more vulnerable to heart disease and stroke.

With such a comprehensive list of negative effects brought on by menopause, it is understandable that the most logical remedy for symptoms associated with menopause became the administration of synthetic hormones, or hormone replacement therapy.

HRT came into use nearly six decades ago and was generally prescribed to women as they began to experience menopausal symptoms. However, as multiple studies over the decades associated traditional HRT with various cancers and other negative side effects, the use of artificial hormones to treat menopausal women has declined significantly.

Natural Options to Consider

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Although artificial hormone therapies for menopausal women continue to be debated and refined, alternative therapies with no link to negative side effects merit serious consideration.

Examining the nutritional deficiencies that may accompany the demands that menopause places on the female body indicates that addressing nutritional needs at the cellular level is vital to effectively treating all phases of menopause.

The process of aging diminishes the body’s ability to activate vitamin D. This lowers calcium absorption rates, which increases the risk of osteoporosis in the postmenopausal woman.

Calcium may lose its effectiveness if vitamin D is deficient or estrogen levels are low. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to insomnia and other menopausal symptoms.

Estrogen enhances magnesium utilization and absorption; declining levels of estrogen associated with the stages of menopause can create magnesium and other mineral deficiencies.

B vitamins play a key role in reducing menopausal stress. Thiamine, niacin, B12 and folic acid are often referred to as the “stress vitamins.” Although the ovaries stop producing estrogen in time, adrenal glands and fat cells will continue to produce the hormone. B3 and folic acid help support this production.

Mildred Seeling, MD, describes this in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition:1-2

“Estrogen enhances magnesium utilization and uptake by soft tissues and bone, and may explain the resistance of young women to heart disease and osteoporosis, as well as the increased prevalence of these diseases when estrogen production ceases.”

Superfoods and Cellular Nutrition for Women’s Health

Dark-green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens and broccoli are low-calorie sources of phytoestrogens. They are also rich in important nutrients such as iron, calcium, folate and B vitamins which support healthy management of menopausal symptoms.

Beans and other botanicals are rich in phytoestrogens. Daidzein, an isoflavone found chiefly in legumes such as soy beans and other plant-based sources, such as red clover, helps reduce menopausal hot flashes.3

Panothenic acid, or vitamin B5, is found in salmon, sunflower seeds and avocados. It can reduce hot flashes and help mood stabilization.

Royal jelly is a true superfood loaded with minerals, vitamins, protein and pheromones. Plant hormones stimulate weak estrogenic actions and stimulate adrenals to help alleviate stress, reduce hot flashes and fight fatigue associated with menopause.

Bee pollen extract also helps with these symptoms and may help with weight management as well.4

Plant-based supplements such as guggul gum, Cnidium monnieri and Moringa leaf 5 contain vitamin D and calcium for bone health; they help regulate mood swings, reduce hot flashes and night sweats, and increase libido.

Talk to Your Doctor

In my practice, I have experienced a substantial rise in menopausal patients seeking alternatives to traditional hormone replacement therapy. This trend has been experienced by my colleagues as well. Women have concerns about HRT, but want relief from the debilitating symptoms of menopause.

While traditional hormone therapy has helped many women, we have generally ignored correcting nutritional deficiencies and using functional medicine, an approach women prefer and has been quite successful in my own practice. Using quality, organic sources, the symptoms associated with menopause can be successfully treated with virtually no negative ramifications.

Addressing nutritional support for women during menopause, perimenopause and postmenopause with scientifically validated phytonutrients can and does provide a front-line treatment for symptoms associated with all stages of menopause.

In addition to reducing the risks associated with traditional hormone therapy, this approach to wellness empowers women to take more control of their own unique health needs holistically and in a much more natural way than previously accepted protocols. Talk to your doctor to learn more.

By Seth Herbst, MD, FACOG

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How to Beat Breast Cancer: Muscle Up

An estimated one in eight women will suffer breast cancer, but that doesn’t mean one in eight women will die from the disease. What can you do to increase your odds of survival if you’ve received a breast cancer diagnosis? Muscle mass may make a difference, suggests research.

A study published in JAMA Oncology found that breast cancer patients with sarcopenia (progressive loss of muscle due to aging, which typically occurs naturally in men and women after the age of 30 or so) at the time of their cancer diagnosis were 41 percent less likely to survive the 13-year study period compared to women with breast cancer who did not have sarcopenia. Increased body fat was also a predictor of cancer mortality, and breast cancer patients with sarcopenia and high body fat were 89 percent more likely to succumb during the study period. All women tracked in the study had non-metastatic (not spreading from its site of origin to another part of the body) stage II or stage IIIbreast cancer.

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Increasing lean muscle mass is important for men and women as they age, but as these findings emphasize, it’s critical for women since breast cancer rates are so high, and particularly critical for women over the age of 30 with declining muscle mass due to aging. Talk to your doctor about an exercise program that promotes lean muscle mass while reducing body fat. It may save your life.

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Another Reason Not to Eat Out

As we’ve discussed before, phthalates are synthetic chemicals known as endocrine disrupters (never good when something we’re exposed to is called a “disrupter”) found in literally hundreds of consumer products ranging from personal-care products such as perfumes and shampoos to countless food processing and packaging materials.

The problem with their pervasive use is that they may not be safe; in fact, phthalates may be downright dangerous.

That brings us to our eating habits, particularly our tendency to eat out. Research published in Environmental International suggests people who eat out at fast-food establishments, restaurants or cafeterias are exposed to 35 percent more phthalates than people whose primary source of sustenance is grocery-store food. The researchers suggest the increased exposure may be attributable to the fact that many restaurant / fast-food fare is not made on the premises, meaning it’s transported (likely in some form of plastic wrap / container) from a production facility.

Now, let’s be clear: Grocery-store food can also contain phthalates, depending on the type of food, so this is really a conversation about avoiding phthalates wherever and whenever you eat by avoiding processed, pre-prepared meals (at the grocery store, think frozen dinners for starters, although that’s the tip of the iceberg) generally produced or packaged in plastic. In fact, when you think about it, how many foods in your fridge, freezer and pantry right now may contain or have been exposed to phthalates? Not a pretty picture.

It’s difficult to completely eliminate your phthalate exposure due to their prevalence in our environment these days, but you can start by eating as many unprocessed, unpackaged foods as possible. We’re talking natural, nutritious foods grown in the soil, not produced in a manufacturing plant. By the way, that’s also a great way to promote overall health by getting the balanced nutrition your body needs. Talk to your doctor for more information.

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Five Common Fitness Mistakes That Can Slow Your Progress

By Emily Duval Ledger

Even when they have the best intentions, exercisers often make mistakes that keep them from getting the most out of their workouts, and in some cases, do them harm. Here are a few of the most common mistakes, and how you can avoid them yourself.

  1. Walking with hand weights. Carrying dumbbells while you walk may seem like a smart way to add strength training to your cardio workout, but it compromises your posture and can lead to injury. Best to keep your cardio and strength training separate, so each can get your full attention.
  2. Focusing only on cardio. Though cardio workouts are great for you, we start losing muscle as early as 30, which can significantly slow your metabolism and leave you vulnerable to injury. Even a few days of strength training per week can increase bone density, and help you burn more calories, even while at rest!
  3. Skipping the stretch. Stretching at the end of your workout (when your body is nice and warm) can significantly decrease aches and pains, reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, and prevent overuse injuries. Plus, stretching is your body’s reward for all that hard work!
  4. Seeking a quick fix. We all want to see results fast, but don’t let crash diets and overly-intense exercise programs lure you into false expectations: the best (and lasting) results come from making changes you can see yourself doing for life. Embracing an extreme program for a few weeks to lose weight fast only sets you up to gain the weight back (and then some later), and wreaks havoc on your thyroid. Instead, figure it will take at least as long to lose the weight as it took you to gain it.
  5. Letting social media be your trainer. It’s one thing to collect inspirational quotes and healthy recipes on your social media pages, but don’t mistake fitness memes for sound advice. 30-Day Push-up (or Squat) Challenges tend to overuse the same muscles day after day, and can lead to injuries and poor posture. Better to find a qualified trainer to help create a program that works best for you.
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Move More! Avoiding the Health Dangers of Inactivity

In addition to the well-documented and alarming increase in obesity, recent studies have also documented the startling lack of physical activity in our society. Researchers have found that physical activity declines dramatically across age groups between childhood and adolescence and continues to decline with age. Among children, 42 percent obtain the recommended 60 minutes per day of physical activity, but only 8 percent of adolescents achieve this goal. Among adults, adherence to the recommendation to obtain 30 minutes day of physical activity is less than 5 percent!

This reduced physical activity results in numerous changes commonly referred to as the deconditioning syndrome. In an excellent 2011 review paper on the dangers of inactivity, the authors describe deconditioning as the physiologic response of the body when there is a reduction in energy use or exercise levels; that is, with bed rest, prolonged sitting or in living a very sedentary lifestyle. Major changes included in this syndrome are:

  • Decreased joint mobilization
  • Wasting of trunk muscles
  • Decreased muscular strength and endurance
  • Reduced cardiovascular fitness
  • Stiffness of ligaments and joints
  • Reduced metabolic activity
  • Increased susceptibility to sprains, strains and muscle spasms
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These damaging effects of muscle and joint disuse provoke symptoms, causing greater avoidance of activity, resulting in a cyclical pattern of pain and avoidance of activity / deconditioning / more pain, and is considered a defining characteristic of chronic low back pain patients.

Studies published from several different countries show that the majority of adult waking hours (>90 percent) are spent either in sedentary or in light-intensity activity. A number of studies, using both subjective and objective measures of physical activity, suggest that prolonged bouts of sitting time are strongly associated with chronic disease including: obesity, abnormal glucose metabolism, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease risk and cancer, independent of whether adults meet physical activity guidelines.

So, what’s the bottom line? Move more! And keep in mind that your chiropractor is your partner in the battle against obesity and related health conditions. If you or someone you know is struggling with their weight and/or living a sedentary lifestyle, ask for help. Your chiropractor can help develop a strategy to improve your/their health via exercise, diet and other methods.

By Malik Slosberg, DC, MS

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