I’m happy to say that I received a great response in regards to the first five bits of wisdom that “go against the grain” of conventional thinking when it comes to health and fitness that I presented in last week’s column. Here are the next five to complete the list of 10.
1. Build strength and endurance in your upper body (above the waist) if you have problems in your lower body (below the waist). Our spines have three curves (at the neck, upper back and lower back). If we change one of these curves by slouching or arching, the other two change as compensation. An example of this is the effect that slouching has on the lumbar spine; rounded shoulders typically result in a flattened lower back. This makes it very difficult to lift the knees when walking or running resulting in muscular imbalance in the legs along with less than ideal joint angles from the hips to the ankles. To reverse this trend, it’s helpful to address the cause of the slouching in the upper back with strength and flexibility exercises.
2. Build strength and endurance in your lower body to help manage upper body pain and dysfunction. Similar to the example above; having weak, de-conditioned legs means that any “work” being performed, from carrying groceries or grandkids to snow shovelling or gardening, will be offloaded unevenly to the upper body. Stronger legs can help the upper body to do only the work that it can manage comfortably in a safe, effective way as the legs are more able to do the “heavy lifting” necessary to complete the task.
3. Work out when you are too tired to work out. There is a saying that “no one ever regrets working out after they are done.” Unless you are sick, simple fatigue or lethargy is almost always made better by exercising. During a workout, “feel good” chemicals, called endorphins, are released in the brain resulting in what is commonly referred to as the “runner’s high.” During exercise your muscles become engorged in blood in a way that improves posture by increasing their tone. In general terms, exercise increases feelings of wellness, decreases pain, lowers feelings of stress and anxiety and shifts mindsets to being more positive.
4. Drink coffee to have a better nap. Research published in the journal Psychophysiology in 1997 found that combining 200 mg of caffeine (equal to two 8 ounce cups of coffee) with a 20 minute nap resulted in a significant suppression of sleepiness in drivers as compared to those who napped with no caffeine. While I am a daily napper, I have never personally tried the coffee nap. My usual routine is a short afternoon nap followed by an espresso. For the sake of “science,” I just might try reversing the order!
5. Do less “ab” exercises if you want a “6 pack.” We all have abdominal muscles; regardless of what we might think or the way that we look. The idea that doing “more” abdominal exercises might make them look leaner comes from the idea of “spot reducing” the fat in a specific area by working it more often. In reality, humans cannot burn fat in a limited area; meaning that the way to get abdominal muscles to show more is to reduce fat throughout the entire body while doing just enough to keep the area toned. Therefore, if you have a workout program, working the “abs” should be the same as working any other body part; no more and no less. And you would do well to remember the old adage that “great abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym.” If you are already exercising then what, and how, you eat is far more important than how many crunches, planks or sit-ups you do in terms of having a leaner “belly.”
Remember that while most things that seem too good to be true usually ARE too good to be true, sometimes things that go “against the grain” of conventional wisdom are worth examining more closely. They might just be the answer that you’ve been searching for.