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The end of the year brings holidays, and the joy of beautiful winter. But with it comes cautions and new challenges for both our minds as well as our bodies. The weather forces many of us to change our habits and migrate indoors. But still we must rake our leaves, shovel our driveways and sidewalks, walk through the snow and ice, and scrape our cars covered in ice. These exercises can be taxing on your spine and lead to injuries. Here are some strategies to help prevent injuries during fall/winter activities.
Raking and shoveling is important for the aesthetics of our properties and also helps clear a path from our car/garage to our home. But these exercises – and they are exercises- are tough on our low backs, especially when using poor postures. Often times we find ourselves bent at the waist, twisting, with a heavy object at the end of a long stick. It’s the perfect storm for disc herniations. So what can you do to prevent low back injury when raking and shoveling?
- Rake and shovel towards or away from your body, not across your body
- Get a shovel with a ‘kink’ to limit bending at the waist
- Bend through your hips
- Don’t reach too far, keep weight close to your core
- Use your abdominal brace when lifting from the hips
Scraping your car is a necessity. With the amount of SUV’s we own it can get hard to scrape all of the windshield without putting your shoulder at risk. For many of us, we don’t have the luxury, or time, to wait for the defroster to heat through all that ice. Here are a few tips to help you safely remove the ice and snow from your car.
- Warm up your car, and your shoulder
- A few circles in both directions will make a world of difference
- Reach with your arm and not your shoulder blade or neck
- Use two hands directly in front of you when breaking up ice
- Support yourself with the opposite arm with using one arm
- Use gloves when supporting on a cold and wet car
These simple techniques can help you stay well through the winter. And whether you enjoy cross country skiing, snowshoeing, or even the indoor sauna, you’ll be able to enjoy it more often when healthy and pain free. Let us know if there is any way we can help you get the most out of your end of the year.
I know that I am preaching to the choir when talking to this group about the benefits of exercise. But it is nice to be reminded of the benefits, even when regularly participating. (And it helps get up off the couch those days when it’s cold and dreary out!)
Exercise can decrease your risk of Cancer
There are many studies that directly link exercise with decreased risk of colon cancer. And although the mechanism is not completely understood, with 655,000 deaths per year, and the third most common cancer in the US, it’s a pretty powerful link. There was a study that also showed that woman in age 50-60 who reported an hour a day of moderate to vigorous exercise were 16% less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s no wonder why the American Cancer Society now suggests at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least five days a week.
Exercise creates new brain cells
A University of Illinois study on 165 men and women ages 59-81 found that the more fit they were –based on a treadmill threshold test - the better they did on a spatial memory test, and the larger their hippocampus (a structure in the brain) was compared to unfit men and women. Spatial memory is the major reason older people lose their independence. Spatial memory is the memory associated with finding your way around, and remembering where things are placed. These findings do not seem to be present in stretching or strength training programs yet. But aerobic exercise does seem to help. Decision making, and overall brain size also were increased with aerobic exercise in men and women age 60 and older!
Exercise improves Insulin sensitivity
Insulin is a hormone that moves sugar from our blood into our cells. As we get older our cells don’t respond to insulin as well – that is called insulin resistance. That resistance, long term, turns into diabetes. But exercise, no matter the type, decreases that resistance. University of Maryland did a study on 22 overweight and obese men, and put them on a treadmill walking program, or a strength training program. Both groups improved their insulin sensitivity by 20-25% after only 6 weeks!
Creatine from exercise builds muscle
Creatine is a compound your body produces when doing strength or resistance exercise. It is also available as a supplement, and many athletes take it for performance benefits. Some studies show that creatine supplementation in 70 year old men, along with a strength training program, increased their strength by 40-60% in their legs (but not their arms.) The positive effects work for women as well. There are some negative effects that go along with creatine supplementation, one being increased bulk from water retention.
Sitting can kill you
Literally. People who sit for the majority of their day have higher mortality rates than people who don’t. A Canadian study followed 17,000 people for 12 years. They found some striking findings. 20% of the people who sat for ‘almost all of the time’ had died. 12% of the people who sat ‘approximately half the time’ had died. 6% of the people who sat ‘almost none of the time’ had died. Other risk factors, like smoking, and obesity did not factor in. The researched seemed to think that the lack of muscle activity during sitting, changed the way their bodied metabolized compounds. Standing, they claimed, “changes the physiology of their limbs.”
You’re never too old to build muscle
University of Maryland physiologist Ben Hurley did a study where men and women age 65-75 did knee extensions three times a week on one leg. Muscle volume increased by 12%, and strength increased by 28% when compared to the other leg. And women increased their strength just as much as men did.
Exercise prevents visceral fat gain
Visceral fat is adipose cells that surround our organs. Studies show that an exercise program of 30 minutes of brisk walking six times a week for eight months stopped visceral fat accumulation. A study also showed that the more exercise that was done, the less visceral fat accumulation. It also showed that after only six months of no exercise, visceral fat stores increased by nearly 10%!
Just in case that was not enough to motivate you here are a few more reasons exercise is a good thing. Decreases risk of stroke, heart disease, broken bones, Diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, arthritic pains, and falls.
Pain is something that we all deal with at some point in our lives. No one gets by without some incidence of pain. But what is pain? How can we understand pain? Pain has been studied by numerous scientists for hundreds of years. There are also many theories as to how pain is experienced. Let’s take a look at pain for a little.
Pain is actually a great adaptation. Imagine that you were unable to feel pain. You would not know if your hand was on the stove or if your knee was bending in the right direction or not. Being able to feel pain allows you to protect your body from stresses that are harmful. Feeling pain allows you to use the resources that otherwise would be used up on a severely burned hand on things that allow you to be productive. Pain is merely a signal that something is not functioning properly. This can be a good thing, but also can end up being difficult to experience.
It’s important to understand that pain is an interpretation. It is very individualized. We can use descriptors to communicate our pain, but in actuality our pain is ours alone. This then gives us the ability to understand pain a little more. For instance, if pain is an interpretation, then “No brain = no pain.” Your brain is the organ that actually allows you to ‘feel’ pain. Without your brain, you would feel no pain.
The anatomy that is painful is not always a pre-requisite to experience pain. For instance, many of you have heard of the phenomena called phantom pain. Phantom pain occurs in amputees. It is an experience of pain in a body part that is no longer attached. How can that be? Again – the brain is where pain is felt, not the body part.
So what does this mean to me? Well it means that pain is multi-factorial. And injury alone is not the only thing that determines my level of pain. Emotions, stress level, dietary factors all contribute to how much pain I ‘feel.’ It is important to take these things into consideration when you experience pain. Are you having more pain today because you ate McDonalds last night? Maybe. Talk with you physician next time you visit her/him for pain and ask if there is anything else you can do to alleviate your pain.
For some stats on pain check out the American Academy of Pain Medicine’s website here: http://www.painmed.org/patient/facts.html
I did this presentation for a collegue of mine – Dr. Heath Nagel. It is a running presentation for those of us who just decided to run. If you have questions or comments please feel free to leave them here and I will get back to you. Happy running!
We all deal with stress on a daily basis. Here’s a powerpoint on some of what research tells us about what stress is, and how to cope with it. Any questions ask Dr. Deppen – email@example.com