Friday, 31 October 2008

Restoring Good Posture and Healthy Movement

Our bodies are designed to move.

When we are young we move freely, with natural grace and abandon. As we age, we acquire emotional baggage, our complex psychological response to pain. This manifests itself in our posture and affects the way we move.

Inhibition and dysfunction may be compounded by physical injury.

Our bodies start to cheat, adapting to take the path of least resistance ... perverting nature's design.

More discomfort. More adjustment. Less freedom of movement. The cold fingers of inactivity slowly weave their tendrils of constraint.

You have to break the cycle, confront your pain, gently start the process of rechallenging balance and normal function. This takes knowledge, persistence, maybe even courage and patience. But consistent, daily re-awakening will soon free you up again.

Moderate activity plus carefully structured strength, length and balance work ... combined with sensible consumption and sleeping habits will be your keys to an active life free from pain.

Not long now before my site goes live!

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Enter Sandman

So many people settle for less than a good night's sleep.

This can go on for years ... you take ages to fall asleep, toss and turn endlessly, then "wake up" feeling absolutely shattered. Then you're tired all day ... until bed time, of course. This deficit accrues over time, leading to all manner of maladies, none of which you take that seriously.

You just think of it as "acceptable" attrition. Your body wears down. Lethargy compounds. And you adapt ... sort of.

However, hormonal imbalances start causing subtle changes ... abdominal fat deposits, mood swings, lost vitality, impaired ability to deal with stress. A litany of woes, none of which appear to directly implicate something so simple as a lack of quality sleep!

It's time to alter your expectations. You can enjoy consistent, deep, restful slumber and wake up refreshed. Here's how to turn things around:

- Eat light, healthy and early ... go to bed without feeling stuffed

- Turn off the TV after dinner ... bright, flashing lights and graphic, emotive content excite and stimulate our minds and are not conducive to relaxation

- Allow yourself to wind down ... go for a walk, talk with your spouse or family, read, take a hot bath, stretch, relax, calm yourself, chill

- Drink water ... assist your vital organs by hydrating properly and stop worrying about trips to the bathroom

- Stop worrying, period! ... tomorrow is another day so just let it go

- Use your breathing ... calm your nervous system with quiet, measured exhalations and let the inhalations take care of themselves

- Stop drinking coffee, stimulants and alcohol ... you may have convinced yourself you need these to fall asleep, but they dehydrate you and disturb any chance of a restful night

- Flush the artificial pills ... forget over-the-counter medication as natural means are far more effective and don't create dependence

- Learn to nest ... a supportive, comfortable, cosy bed in secure, quiet and dark surroundings makes a great investment

I could go on, but invariably if you try what I have suggested and lighten up on yourself a little, then things will get better.

Sleep well.

Friday, 24 October 2008

One More Piece of the Puzzle

Recovery is a crucial, yet under-rated aspect of fitness development.

We tend to think that if we push ourselves sufficiently hard when we exercise that this will be where all the benefits accrue. Instead, try seeing exercise as a stimulus, with the real benefits coming afterwards, between sessions when your body is able to repair and adapt.

When you understand this, then you will stop pushing so hard and start finessing ... working smart. Again, it's all about getting the balance right. Upset this invisible equilibrium and your body will soon tell you. The mallaise that results from over-training takes all the fun out of getting in back into shape. Continue to ignore what your body is trying to tell you and your immune system will continue to weaken, leaving you ill, injured, or both!

So, what other elements are important to understand with respect to recuperation?

- proper nutrition ... your body needs building blocks and a favourable internal environment to grow and restore

- quality sleep ... of sufficient duration, without disturbance and for a consistent period each and every night ... the kind where you wake up refreshed, not shattered

- intelligent stretching ... post-exercise and throughout your day

- massage ... if you're fortunate enough to have the time and resources to enjoy a regular session then you already know the benefits

A quick word about massage ... if you aren't able to organise someone to do it for you, then learn how to massage yourself. It's enormously therapeutic, far easier and less conspicuous than you may imagine and a brilliant workout in its own right! Next time you're sitting at your computer, start with the top of your thighs ... and learn the magic of strong hands and fingers.

In my next post I'll give you tips on how to get a better night's sleep. See you then ...

Monday, 20 October 2008

Feels So Good

Few things feel as delicious as a really good stretch.

While cats have figured this out and stretch instinctively at every opportunity, us humans are notorious for missing the boat when it comes to body awareness.

However, if you do allow yourself a brief stretch when you wake up or when you have been seated for a while you may notice two things:

- it feels really good
- we naturally contract our muscles while we stretch without even thinking about it

In fact it is this contraction coupled with a sense of release that relieves residual tension so effectively.

There are so many ways one can stretch. All have their place. My recommendation is that you experiment with your own body and learn what each method feels like and what effect it achieves for you.

Again, for safety, let me reitterate that:

- you should never stretch cold muscles
- you should always move with control

In very simplistic terms a muscle attaches to a bone, then crosses a joint, before attaching to another bone. When the muscle changes length, movement is created.

When we stretch we attempt to increase the distance between those two attachment points. The theory being that if we can permanently increase this distance, we will also increase the range of pain-free, natural motion around that joint.

The reality is that most of us are taught to use the ground, our body weight, or some fixed object to support our limb at its outer range of possible motion ... then we "force" it just a little bit further until it hurts ... and attempt to endure this for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. Ouch!!!

This method is crude and hardly conducive to permanent improvement in available range of movement. It also hurts and carries a degree of risk because the execution is generally fairly mindless.

Learning to stretch effectively is all about personal discovery and experimentation.

Here's three distinct concepts for you to try separately from one another:

- "active" stretching, where you use the strength of one group of muscles to lengthen the opposing muscle group, unaided by any external passive resistance
- "oppositional" stretching, where you consciously contract the same muscles you are lengthening against an external force opposing the movement
- "longer duration" stretching, where you slowly ease out towards the end of your available range, then quieten your mind as you release even further over a period of at least 5 minutes

To the uninitiated, all three of these concepts will appear fairly advanced. In reality, once you start trying them and gain a fuller understanding and appreciation of what they involve, you will begin your journey towards truly loving the time you spend stretching.

And you will learn that stretching can be as much about strengthening as about release and recalibration. With time you will also learn that stretching is as much mental as physical.


Friday, 17 October 2008

The Importance of Intelligent Stretching

No single aspect of exercise is more misunderstood than stretching.

Even amongst seasoned campaigners, stretching is seldom seen as anything more than just an afterthought. People rush through a few cursory movements before an exercise routine in the misguided belief that this is helping them warm up.

In fact, stretching should ideally be done both before and after a workout.

For the layperson stretching before is generally not practical because of time constraints. Cold muscles should never be stretched and this is why it is counter-productive for you to stretch beforehand ... it just takes too long to prepare your body correctly.

Stretching after exercise is crucial and should be done for the following reasons:

- to reduce muscle and joint stiffness
- to minimise the incidence of scar tissue and inflammation
- to extend the limits of your functional, pain-free range of movement
- to counteract the muscle-shortening effect of repetitive, limited-range movement
- to eliminate metabolic residues produced during your session
- to minimise the incidence of painful "knots" of localised muscle tightness
- to promote body awareness, postural integrity and core strength

Think of this part of your routine as a recalibration for the next day. Remember too that, although your muscles are warm, they are also vulnerable due to fatigue. Particularly after longer duration, more intense exercise, I always recommend letting the "bees" calm down a little first, then stretching with purpose and caution.

In my next post I'll discuss some of the ways you can stretch and how to really enjoy your stretching. You'll also learn how to integrate stretching with strengthening.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Finding Your Balance

The number of overweight and obese people in the United States and Britain has risen to unprecedented levels in recent years.

This increase has spawned a huge number of weight-loss fads as people scramble to find quick-fix solutions and remedies. More and more people are finding out the hard way that there is no magic bullet.

In simple terms, when someone consumes more calories than they expend, that individual will gain weight. Knowing this, it is natural for most people to assume that if they subject themselves to a Spartan regime of restricted calories and excessive exercise, that will get the job done.

In reality this only creates further havoc. They cannot sustain the diet and they overtrain and perhaps even injure themselves. The result ... metabolic imbalance, enforced inactivity and further emotional setback.

The reason this approach is never effective is that it is a knee-jerk reaction motivated by immediate gratification rather than sensible and enlightened planning.

Three contributing factors make up our total energy expenditure:

- the energy we use for normal function and survival
- the energy we use to digest and absorb nutrients
- the energy we expend during physical activity

Of these, physical activity is the easiest to manipulate. The "energy cost" of digesting certain foods may also vary to a degree. But the sensible approach is not the artificial quick fix.

Getting your balance right involves not only sensible habits, but also body awareness. Someone who hones this will begin to recognise when a given behaviour is harmful ... and will instinctively adjust. But this process is gradual and natural and is not something that is meant to be accelerated, outwitted or second-guessed.

I'll certainly talk more about the detail of sensible habits on my site, but my message today is for you to forget diets and extreme measures and take things slow and easy. Small incremental steps are what it takes to achieve and maintain the balance necessary for optimum health and vitality.

It takes time to settle into equilibrium. Learn patience.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


One of the greatest obstacles to health recovery is mindset.

If you're no longer active chances are:

- you've put on a few extra pounds
- you don't feel great about yourself
- you can feel that things "aren't quite right"
- you're depressed and unmotivated
- you don't know where to start

The first thing you can do is sort out your frame of mind. Something got you surfing the net looking for a solution. Fear? Self-doubt? Self-loathing? Drowning in your own lethargy? Any number of these?

Ok ... so the desire to fix things is very real. Great catalyst for action!

What about attitude?

Depressed people are notorious for sabotaging their progress with "stinking thinking". Do you program your mind with positive messages ... or are you a total cynic? Understand that your thoughts have a huge impact on your reality. Getting your head straight is a process rather than a decision or an event. It's the cummulative effect of constructive thinking that will make you a winner.

Got a goal to focus on? Something specific, achievable and simple to measure ... something you've written down and embraced with every strand of your DNA? I don't have to tell you that "losing weight" is way too general to be of any use to you!

So what's still missing?

Commitment! This is the one factor that will differentiate between your success and failure. It's not rational, nor even logical ... it's pure emotion.

And it takes character and fighting spirit to stay the course and see things through.

So ... do you have it?

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Essential Elements for Optimum Health

The obvious essential components of any healthy lifestyle are no secret:

- a balanced diet
- regular exercise
- adequate sleep and recuperation
- careful exposure to ample sunlight
- plenty of fresh air
- the right mindset

Of course, I'll be talking about these ... but I won't be rehashing the same old generalities. Instead, I'll do my very best to make you really start to think and learn more about yourself.

You see, we all know that the list above is what we need. But some of us still battle? We know what we should be doing, but it still seems like such a monumental effort.

I will try to demystify this for you. It's not the "what" that's at issue here ... it's the "how" and the "why" that need to be understood before we can start developing constructive habits that are effortless to sustain. Without this knowledge all the best intentions in the world won't be enough.

Your first port of call though must be your doctor. Even if you think you're young, strong and risk-free!

This blog (and my site) will contain information that you may find useful ... but it's certainly not intended to replace sound advice from a medical professional. Any time anyone is considering changes in diet, exercise or lifestyle habits ... it would be reckless to ignore this advice. Be absolutely candid about your intentions, any medications you have been taking, or any other concerns you may have, no matter how trivial you think they are.

Prevention is far better than cure and an integral part of any successful program is your commitment to yourself and your willingness to take responsibility for your own wellbeing.

So let's do things right!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

My new blog starts today!

This is all very new to me, but here goes ...

In the next few weeks I'm planning to launch my new website. I'll be writing articles aimed at helping unfit people regain their health in a safe and sensible manner.

As someone who spent years in corporate business working hard and not paying attention to my health, I know exactly how easy it is to let things slip.

Before you know it you're tired and depleted and a shadow of what you could be. And all these bad habits have crept up on you ...

But you can fix things. You can become more active and start eating right again. And you can do this safely and intelligently. As a personal trainer and a Pilates teacher I can show you exactly what to do and give you the tools to get back on track.

I'd welcome input from any of you out there. Let me know what you'd like to see and how I can make a difference in your lives.

I could actually get used to this ...