Thursday, March 28, 2013

Exercises for Your Feet....What????

Did you know the muscle groups in both of your feet make up 25 percent of your body's muscles?  That's right!  So if you ignore the muscles of your feet, it would be like eliminating upper body workouts from your repertoire.  Your feet take a beating every day with normal activity so if you are active your feet have to do a lot more work.  When the muscles of the feet are not functioning properly, it will affect your gait in walking and running.  Foot problems lead to other orthopedic problems also such as knee pain and hip/low back pain.  Think of your feet as the foundation to your "house".  If your foundation is faulty, you will weaken your structure which ultimately could lead to injuries and/or chronic problems.

So what can you do to keep your feet healthy?  It is important to treat the muscles of your feet just as you would the muscles of your legs or chest.  They need to be strengthened and stretched on a regular basis.  We think of shoes as a good thing, right?  Actually, shoes can be similar to a cast on an arm.  Muscles of a casted limb begin to atrophy (or get smaller) over time due to the lack of movement/use.  The muscles of your feet are the same way.  They get used to having the support of shoes around the clock.  They don't have to think about moving or supporting the ankle or body so they begin to get "lazy".  Now I'm not saying you should go barefoot all of the time.  You still need to support your foundation and provide stability for the lower limbs during movement.  However, it is a good idea to go barefoot (or wear minimalist footwear) every now and then.  But before your start on that, it is important to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the feet.  Here are some exercises and stretches you can do to help build your foundation.
  1. Toe Lifts
    • Have you ever tried to lift one toe at a time?  You might be surprised as to how difficult it can be.  Try lifting your big toe first, without any other toes moving.  Then move on to each subsequent toe and then reverse it back to the big toe.  Keep practicing until you can master the single toe lift.  Practice this daily as it will not only strengthen the smaller muscles of the foot but it will also help stretch the feet.
  2. Toe Spreads
    • Your toes are trapped in shoes all day.  Sometimes, depending on the type of shoe, the toes have very little wiggle room.  Take your shoes and socks off then practice spreading the toes out away from each other without lifting them off of the ground.  Hold for a few seconds then repeat.  If you feel like your toes/feet begin to cramp, that is an indication you need to perform this move more often.
  3. Toe Grabs
    • Help strengthen and stretch the bottom of your feet with toe grabs.  Place a towel or small objects such as pebbles or marbles on the floor.  Practice grabbing and picking up the small objects with your toes.  If you are using a towel, grab the towel with your toes, then scrunch your toes up to drag that towel towards you.
  4. Ankle Circles and Point/Flex
    • Practice making 20 circles with your feet both clockwise and counter-clockwise.  Make the circles big so the whole foot moves at the ankle.  Then point your foot away from you (as if you were stepping on a gas pedal in your car) and flex your foot towards your body.  Do this about 20 times each foot.  If that becomes too easy, grab an exercise band/tubing and repeat all of those movements.
Practice these movements every day to help strengthen and stretch your feet and toes.  Try to add barefoot walking into your daily activity but be aware how your foot strikes the ground.  Be sure to place the whole bottom of the foot on the ground and push off through the toes.  Avoid rolling the foot to the inside or outside too much.  You should notice an improvement fairly quickly.  You might even find a reduction in knee pain and calf tightness by doing theses exercises.  Finally, and most importantly, take care of your feet.  Massage your feet with your hands or by rolling your foot over a tennis ball.  Stretch your calf muscles daily.  Wear the appropriate shoes for your activity (check out our blog "Shoes Are Shoes...Right?" for more information.

Take care of your feet and you will have a strong foundation!!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Calorie Shifting - A Good Idea?

In this day and age, the majority of Americans are on (or have been on) a diet.  Our society has lost focus on prevention of obesity and we must rely on the treatment instead.  Calorie-cutting has been a way of life for a lot of people recently.  Today's blog is going to address the issue of "calorie shifting" or as many know it, "cheat day".  There are mixed reviews on the topic of calorie shifting.  Some experts feel that a "cheat day" may lead to overindulging and will break the cycle of healthy eating while others agree that a day to enjoy some of the less healthier foods you used to eat will help keep you on track and reduce the tight structure of a diet.  

In order for weight loss to a permanent solution, you must first eliminate the word "diet" from your vocabulary.  Just saying the word "diet" promotes negative connotations.  Most people assume they have to eat just vegetables/salad and drink water and that's all they can have.  Say the word "diet" in a crowded room and see how many people walk away from you.  Or better yet, see how many people flock to you to tell you horror stories on their past experiences with dieting.  Dieting has a temporary status attached to it.  Most people will tell you how many diets they have been on in their lifetime and how they always gained the weight right back.  Instead, think about making a lifestyle change.  A permanent lifestyle change.  Something that will last and will keep you healthy for the rest of your life.

Now let's talk about calorie shifting or having a "cheat day" built into your new lifestyle change.  Restricting your calorie intake is difficult enough by itself.  Preventing yourself from having those foods you used to enjoy is difficult to maintain.  That's where calorie shifting comes into play.  Totally denying yourself of certain foods/drinks makes the brain think about those items more often.  If they are always on your mind, you are more likely to "fall off the wagon" and gorge on those foods.  But what if you allow yourself a portion of your calorie intake to include some of those foods?  Your mind (and taste buds) will be satisfied and you will be more likely to continue with your newly found, healthy choices.  For some, you may even find that food to be "gross" after changing to healthier foods.  However, there is a dark side to calorie shifting.  You must take into consideration your personality and behavior traits.  If you are the type of person who tends to be a little more obsessive, calorie shifting might not be the way to go.  

So what's the best thing to do?  First of all, you will need to change your eating habits and clean out your nutrition plan significantly in the first 30-60 days.  That means you will need to stay away from those "cheat" foods.  Next you should take into consideration whether calorie shifting is the way to go for your behavior traits.  Don't try to tackle weight loss on your own.  Seek out the advice of weight loss professionals.  And, by "professionals", I don't mean people who have yo-yo dieted their way through life.  Seek out certified/degreed nutrition specialists for advice and guidance through your weight loss journey.  There's more to it than just calorie restriction.

Final thoughts....this blog may have been a little wishy-washy in terms of what we think about calorie shifting but just keep in mind that you need to make these permanent lifestyle changes in order for weight loss to be successful.  Surround yourself with healthy people and healthy habits and you will reap the benefits in the long run.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ladies...Are You A Little Grumpier These Days?

Hopefully the title of today's blog didn't turn you away kicking and screaming.  Maybe it caught your eye because you have noticed that you (or a special lady in your life) have been a bit on edge lately.  Well you are not crazy, it can happen.  A recent study by scientists at Duke University (sorry all of you University of Kentucky fans) shows that women really do need more sleep than their male counterparts.  Are you getting enough sleep?  Sleep is important to all aspects of your life...muscle repair, health, weight loss, mood, nutrition, etc.  Check out some of our other blogs on sleep ("Sleep Hygiene", "Improve Your Sleep Quality", "Are You a Night Owl").  

Researchers stated that women need more sleep than men because they have more of a "multitasking" brain.  We need more time to shut everything down and fall deeper in to REM sleep.  Unfortunately, lack of sleep can be more detrimental to women also.  As well as a higher risk of heart disease, depression and psychological problems, sleep-deprived women have extra clotting factors in their blood, which can lead to a stroke.  They also have higher inflammation markers, which indicate developing health problems and are linked to pain.  So if you are experiencing more pain than usual, it might be due to the lack of quality sleep.  This study also found that men showed no increased risk of developing the ailments that affect women when they are sleep deprived.  According to sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus, "We found that women had more depression, women had more anger, and women had more hostility early in the morning".  

Professor Jim Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University, England, also found that women need approximately 20 minute more sleep than men.  Again, due to the female multitasking brain.  The more multitasking women do during the day, the more their brain needs to recover and subsequently the more sleep they need.

So, are you getting enough?  It's time to take a step back and consider your health first.  Remember, a lot of women tend to be the "caretaker" of the family so if something happens to you, who is going to take care of you??  Take small steps to ease up on the amount of tasks you perform in a day.  Start delegating to other family members and friends.  Learn to say "no" once in a while and your health just may improve.  Get the rest you need and allow your body to repair itself and recover from all that you do.

"Sleep is the best meditation".  --Dalai Lama

"The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep".  --W. C. Fields