Harness the Power of the Squat!

squatweightsIf you’re not squatting, either your bodyweight or free weights, you should be!  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman, elderly or young, squats are one of the single most effective workouts for activating the major muscle groups, developing core strength, burning calories, building bone density, and promoting flexibility.  If you’re new to squatting, then start out by squatting your bodyweight for a couple of weeks, doing 3 sets of 20 squats everyday.  Then, depending on your health and fitness level, try squatting with a large staff or an olympic bar without any extra weights on loaded.  If you’re a more advanced weekend warrior or athlete and squats aren’t in your current workout repertoire, then it’s time to add them!  There’s no faster or more effective way to improve your athleticism and strength.

Squats activate the body’s central nervous system and promote a muscle building, restorative state. Squats build the muscles of the buttocks, hips, thighs, trunk, lower back, shoulders, and arms.  They also help strengthen ligaments and tendons in the legs. People often worry about injuring their knees by performing squats, but when performed correctly, squats will actually strengthen the knees and protect them from future injuries.

Free Weight  Squat Technique: 

  • Be sure to use a squat rack that will catch your weights in the event that they are too heavy to lift back up
  • Load the olympic weight bar low on your upper back, with your hands gripping the bar about shoulder width apart
  • With the proper technique there’s no need to use a bar pad
  •  The bar will rest somewhere just above your shoulder blades
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and be sure that the bar is centered and balanced.
  • After un-racking the weight, take a couple step BACKWARDS (dont’ load the weight so that you are walking forward)
  • You’re back will be straight but leaning slightly forward as you squat
  • Go down until your hip joints are just below your knees, then rapidly stand up
  • Look forward
  • Don’t lock your knees

For a great explanation of how to squat, watch the video below by StrongLifts:

 

 

Originally posted 2013-06-08 00:42:44.

A Constructive vs. Destructive View Towards Health

BURN your fat! Join a fitness boot camp! Get ripped! Get shredded.  Do insanity workouts. BANISH your fat!

constructive vs destructive view towards healthOur culture tends to approach anything that’s perceived as a problem with harsh militarism.  If there’s a tumor, cut it out and blast it with radiation.  Infection? Get rid of it with anti-biotics.  While these can be appropriate responses, the attitude is often one of destruction and elimination, rather than construction or prevention.  The same attitude can be seen in general fitness and the “fight against obesity.”  Everything’s mentioned in terms of a struggle.

While a militaristic view towards health might be effective in the short trem, it’s not sustainable in the long run.  If we’re only thinking about what needs to be destroyed, for example excess fat, we’ll miss the larger picture of what’s needed for optimum health.  Besides, a destructive mindset is negative and stressful.  We face enough stressors from the day to day already — there’s no need to create more reasons to be negative.  Further, it’s not productive or mentally healthy to constantly focus on what’s trying to be avoided.  For example, if  you’re driving down the road in your car and you come across a cyclist on the side of the road, you’re not supposed to focus on the cyclist that you don’t want to hit but on the road ahead of you.  As goal oriented beings, we tend to move towards whatever we are focused on.  Mentally focusing on health problems can actually create stress, doubt, and depression that exacerbate, rather than improve, a condition.

What’s needed is a constructive view towards health and fitness.  If a developer is planning to build a beautiful and lasting building on a property where there’s currently a dilapidated building, demolishing the old building will definitely be part of the plans, but it  will be a very small part.  What’s essential is the new building: how is going to be constructed? What materials are going to be used?  What’s the timeline for construction?  In the pursuit of better health, the plan should be similar.  Sure, we might need to lose excess fat, but that’s really only on the way towards building a more balanced and holistic lifestyle.   There has to be a positive goal beyond the burning and banishment.  Can you envision yourself eating healthy foods, being active and getting sunshine, being free from depression and stress, and sleeping better at night?  If you can envision what you type of life you want to construct, then you can construct it.

Originally posted 2013-05-08 18:39:10.

Cure Hemorrhoids Naturally

 

Since “hemorrhoids” and “natural treatment for hemorrhoids” were two of the most popular health related searches on Google last year, hemorrhoids seemed like an important topic to address.  It’s estimated that about 50% of adults in the United States will have a problem with their hemorrhoids some time during their lives. Many seem to be unaware that there are natural remedies for inflamed hemorrhoids and ways to prevent hemorrhoid problems to begin with.

When one’s hemorrhoids are functioning properly, they play an important role in maintaining contenance, but when inflamed and stretched out, they can cause tremendous pain.  The exact cause of inflamed hemorrhoids is debated, but anecdotal evidence indicates that there are two primary causes: excess strain and weak hemorrhoid structure.  Fortunately, there are a number of remedies that address these two causes of hemorrhoids that people have had success with.  While surgery is a necessary option for some, it isn’t always needed.  Also, surgery doesn’t solve the root problem; people with inflamed hemorrhoids often have to return for surgery several times throughout their lives.  This article isn’t meant to replace the advice of a licensed physician, but the remedies presented are worth a try!  

1) More fiber and water:  On average, Americans only consume about 15 grams of fiber per day, which is only 50% of the amount recommended by the Institute of Medicine for optimum health.  To prevent the strain on the hemorrhoids that can result from constipation, the body needs plentiful amounts of fiber and water.  Together, fiber and water create enough fecal matter to promote healthy and strain-free bowel movements.  The best sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables and properly soaked nuts and beans.  Research continues to reveal a number of important health benefits from fiber, so eat up!

2) Wait to use the restroom:  Trying to relieve oneself before the body is ready can result in unnecessary strain.  Don’t go number two until you really need to go.

3) Use a squatty potty: Most of the world’s population doesn’t sit on a toilet, they squat.  Is it a coincidence that in places where people squat there are lower incidences of hemorrhoid problems?  Probably not.  Here’s why: There’s a strand of fibers called the puborectalis that forms a sling around the rectum to help maintain continence.  The sitting position only slightly releases the puborecatlis’ tension, making elimination difficult and causing strain.  The squatting position, however, releases the puborectalis sling enough to make elimination easy.  It’s easy to make your home toilet work as a squatty potty, using a simply squatting stool.

4) Get more exercise: Regular exercise is associated with a decreased risk of hemorrhoids.  It probably has to do with the healthy effect exercising has on the vascular system (which hemorrhoids are a part of).  Exercise can also help promote increased nutritional intake and health bowel movements.  

5) Consume more vitamin C: A recent study looked at the molecular structure of inflamed hemorrhoids, and it was found that unhealthy hemorrhoids had less collagen than healthy hemorrhoids.   Collagen is a flexible and strong protein that is synthesized in the body using vitamin C.  People that smoke or don’t consume enough vitamin C may not produce enough collagen to promote a strong vascular structure.  If you’ve had a problem with hemorrhoids consider eating more foods that are high in vitamin C and /or taking two 500 mg vitamin C tablets per day.  

6) Apply herbs and vitamins topically:  Many have had success healing hemorrhoids by applying some variety of herbal/vitamin mixture.  These mixtures can help strengthen the vascular structure and reduce inflammation.  They should only be applied after properly cleansing the area during a shower.  Here are a few of the topical mixtures people have reported success with:

  • Honey, olive oil, and beeswax
  • Cocoa butter, comfrey powder, and white oak bark powder
  • Natural vitamin E oil (d-tocopherol) 

Eat healthy foods, drink water, get exercise, and squat for healthy hemorrhoids!


References:
Hemorrhoids: A Collagen Disease?
Study of Honey, Olive, Oil, and Beeswax Mixture
Fiber for the Treatment of Hemorrhoids

Originally posted 2013-02-15 23:32:00.

Three Foundational Exercises

There are three exercises that everyone should be doing in some form at least a couple of times per week.  There’s no need for a gym, and they require very little time or equipment.  These important exercises activate the body’s major muscle groups, boost the metabolism, strengthen the core, promote better posture, tone the muscles, and increase strength. These exercises also have numerous adaptations, so they’re for people at every level of fitness.  

Push-ups: If you’re a girl you might be thinking “push-ups are for men,” but don’t discount your abilities or the benefits push-ups can offer.  Push-ups are basically like an intense planking exercise (AKA pilates).  They activate the entire core, including the stomach and back muscles, while strengthening the upper body.  The pectorals, triceps, and shoulders are the primary muscle groups targeted.  Push-ups can help you bulk-up or they can accentuate lean, toned muscles; it’s all about how they’re performed.  For the lean, toned look, push-ups are performed in the standard position, or with the upper-body elevated. Repetition and perfect form are key.  If a standard push-up is too difficult, rest your weight on your knees, instead of the balls of your feet, or elevate your body on a park bench or chair until it’s easy enough to perform several push-ups.  Aim to do three sets of 12 pushups during one exercise.

Pull-ups:  Pull-ups are another challenging exercise, but they’re one of the most effective body weight exercises for the hands, arms, upper-back, and core.  If you can’t do a pull-up, don’t despair.  You can start out by doing a locked arm hang.  Pull yourself up until your arms are at a 90 degree angle and hold yourself in that position for as long as you can.  Another option is to learn how to do a kipping pull-up (steps 1, 2, 3, 4) which is performed by using the momentum of the legs and hips to propel oneself upwards.  The kipping pull-up is a true full-body work out.  If you don’t have access to a pull-up bar, there are affordable door mounting solutions that don’t require any installation, but usually pull-up bars are easy to find at a local playground, park or gym.

Squats: Of the three foundational exercise, squats are probably the most important.  Why?  Because they activate the body’s largest muscle groups: the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core muscles.   Squats burn the most calories, boost the metabolism, strengthen the core, and provide endurance and energy for everyday activities.  Counter-intuitively, they can also help strengthen the knees.  One’s knees might hurt at first, but when squats are eased into, people often report that their knee pain goes away after continued practice.  Start out by aiming for three sets of 20 squats.  If that’s too difficult, try three sets of 10.  Progressively work towards higher numbers.  Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands resting just above your chest.  As you lower yourself, keep your back upright and extend your arms straight out.  Go as low as you feel comfortable, but it’s probably best at first not to go past the point where the thighs are parallel to the ground.  As you stand up again, return your hands to the rest position, just above your chest.

These exercises can be performed in about 15-25 minutes, almost anywhere.  Make it a goal to do each of these exercises 3-5 times per week.  As you become stronger, increase the amount of repetitions performed or the difficulty of the movements.  Combined, these exercise can improve posture, reduce back pain, tone the muscles, and boost the metabolism (promote weight loss).  There are few good reasons not to incorporate them into a daily fitness routine.  They can also be performed outside, which is an added bonus for getting sunshine (vitamin D) and fresh air!

Originally posted 2013-02-14 22:39:00.

Core Strengthening – It's About More Than Getting A Six-Pack

It seems most people these days do core exercises for one of two reasons: to eliminate excess stomach fat or to obtain the elusive “six-pack” abs look.  Unfortunately, the logic behind these two reasons for doing core exercises is somewhat misguided, and here’s why:

  • Core specific exercises like crunches, sit-ups, and planking don’t promote weight loss around the mid-section.  Excess fat is always burned in the reverse order from how it’s gained.  If a person stores excess fat around the abdomen first, then that fat will be the last to be burned.
  • The best ways to burn excess fat are: improving the quality of food consumed (no refined or processed foods), reducing total calories consumed, doing exercises that boost the metabolism like HIIT and strength training, and reducing unhealthy stress on the mind and body.  
  • While having a six-pack might look good by our culture’s standards, it doesn’t necessarily coincide with have a strong overall core.  The core muscles consist of far more than just the abdominal muscles, and all of the core muscles should be strengthened in a balanced fashion for optimum fitness.  
Although doing endless crunches or sit-ups to lose excess body fat or to get a six-pack isn’t the best fitness plan, there are a number of good reasons to strengthen your core, some of them include:
  • Improved posture and confidence
  • Less back ache from sitting and lifting
  • Better balance
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Improved comfort in the performance of daily house duties
The core is the crucial link between the upper and lower body, upon which all strength and balance hinge.  The best exercises for strengthening the core activate as many of the core muscles as possible (located in the abdomen, back, pelvis, sides, and buttocks), not just the abs.  I recommend integrating some of the exercises below into your daily workout schedule.  It will take some experimentation to figure out what routines work best for you.  Also, keep in mind, they should not cause excess pain or discomfort.
 
Planking engages all of the core muscles in the back and abdomen area.  Example routine – Plank for 45 secs, then do 12 oblique raises on each side, repeat two more sets of the same.
 
Squats and lunges require stabilizing muscles and target the core muscles in the pelvis and buttocks.  Beginners – perform with body weight only (try three sets of 15 with 45 secs of rest in between each set).  Intermediate and advance – perform with dumbbell, barbell, or kettle ball weight.  For advance and intermediate athletes, dead lifts are another very effective exercise that build strength in the core and the entire posterior chain.
 
Exercise Ball workouts require stabilization, promote improved balance, and activate all of the core muscles.  Some good core workouts include:
  • Leg tuck: Place your hands on the ground in a push-up position, and place the top of your shins on the exercise ball.  Use your legs to roll the ball towards your arms, then roll the ball back.  
  • Trunk twist: Place your feet flat on the ground and lean/sit against the ball with your lower back.  Clasp your hands together and extend your arms straight up, perpendicular with your body.  Then twist your arms from side to side, twisting as far to each side as possible.
  • Modified plank: Lay over the ball on your stomach with your hands and feet touching the ground on opposites sides and the bottom of your toes touching the ground.  Proceed to lift your upper body up off the exercise ball, with you arms straight out in a flying position.  Hold elevated position for several seconds, then return to the starting position. (For any of the above exercise ball workouts, start by trying to perform three sets of ten repetitions) 

Don’t have an exercise ball?  Get one here.

If you want to get a stronger core and washboard abs, don’t give up the sit-ups and crunches completely, just remember that by themselves they won’t fully strengthen the core or promote excess fat loss.  Functional fitness requires dynamic movements and full body engagement.  Also, if your goal is to burn excess fat, ab-specific exercises aren’t your best bet.  Focus on eating healthy, staying active, and exercising smarter, not necessarily harder!

Originally posted 2013-01-22 20:49:00.

Office Job Hazards: Nearsightedness and Eye Strain

In the last “Office Job Hazards” post, I wrote about the hazards of sitting too much.  This time we’ll take a closer look (pun intended) at how reading or looking at a computer screen for prolonged periods of time can cause myopia (nearsightedness), eye strain, and dry eyes, as well as possibly contribute to macular degeneration.  Thankfully, there are several strategies to help prevent these problems.

Almost all of the hazards posed by working in an office or in an office-like setting (such as in school), revolve around repetitious movements that put too much strain on one area of the body.  Our bodies are meant to move around in and interact with living, dynamic environments.  Forcing our bodies to conform to the efficiency and uniformity of dead machines damages them.  An example of this is the strain and damage caused to the eyes by focusing at one distance for too long.  Every year, like other first world diseases and medical problems, myopia (or nearsightedness) continues to affect more people around the world.

While the mainstream medical community tends to focus on the role of genetics in disease and health problems, the evidence indicates that nearsightedness is primarily caused by environmental factors.  For example, a study of Alaskan Eskimos in the 1960s found that 60% of the children were nearsighted but that most of the parents and grandparents had excellent vision.  What changed to cause such an increase in nearsightedness?  The children were the first generation to begin schooling at an early age. Nearsightedness has also increased drastically in Asian countries, such as Singapore, where education and technological jobs are on the rise. In the U.S., myopia is estimated to affect 41% of the population.   With the increase in office jobs and education levels, more people are focusing at close distances for much of the day.

What causes myopia: Focusing at a short distance for long periods of time causes the eyes’ focusing muscles (ciliary muscles) to lock up (also called accommodation).  The stress of the ciliary muscles locking up causes the eyes to elongate, leading to permanent nearsightedness.  Children and adolescents are especially susceptible to developing permanent nearsightedness, as their eyes are still in the process of developing. To make things worse, they’re often prescribed distance glasses that can actually make their vision worse over time (by forcing the ciliary muscles to continue accommodating even at long distances).  Adults with clear vision are less susceptible to developing myopia than children, but if they engage in too much close work without taking the proper precautions, adults too can damage their vision.

Strategies for prevention: A number of preliminary studies indicate that it might be possible to prevent nearsightedness by wearing convex /+ reading glasses while doing close-up work (such as reading a book or looking at a computer screen).  The strength is supposed to be just strong enough to make the close-up text slightly blurry but still readable.  The theory is that reading glasses prevent the ciliary muscles from having to work too hard (accommodate), which prevents them from locking up.  As long as the ciliary muscles don’t lock up, the eye retains its normal shape and, therefore, retains normal vision.  For more information check out http://www.preventmyopia.org and talk to an optometrist who understands the environmental causes of nearsightedness.

In place of, or in addition to, using reading glasses, the symptoms of nearsightedness can be prevented by:

  • Spending more time outdoors (big surprise!), 
  • Resting the eyes while working (looking at different distances around the room), 
  • Using plenty of light while reading and working at the computer.  

Dry eyes and macular degeneration: While the evidence is less conclusive, looking at a computer screen all day might also contribute to dry eye syndrome and macular degeneration.  It’s possible to reduce the symptoms of dry eye syndrome by resting your eyes during the work day, drinking plenty of water, consuming enough omega-3s, and using eye-drops at night. 

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which causes blurry eyesight, is largely attributed to oxidative damage caused by exposure to blue-light.  Ultraviolet blue light is emitted by the sun, but it’s also emitted by electronic screens.  While the research is limited regarding how much computer screens contribute to AMD, we know that enough dietary consumption of vitamin A, lutein, and zeaxanthin can help prevent macular degeneration.  All three of these pigments (which are also called carotenoids) are concentrated in the eyes’ retinas and help filter out blue light and prevent oxidation.  Some of the best sources of carotenoids are spinach, kale, turnip greens, broccoli, and romaine lettuce.

We were designed to depend on God’s creation, rather than artificial environments, for optimum health (including clear eyesight), so EAT plenty of greens, Play outside, and REST your eyes from close-up work.  If you do a lot of close-up work, you might consider looking into the preventative measure of getting reading glasses.  Remember, children are especially susceptible to developing myopia.  Don’t let them sit too close to the TV (at least 6-feet away).  Also, if your child begins to develop myopia, do more research before you let the doctor prescribe him distance glasses.  Reading glasses, as counter-intuitive as it seems, are probably the better option and might even save your child’s vision.

References:

Originally posted 2013-01-09 05:03:00.

Yoga and Spirituality

In the last 30 years, yoga has grown in popularity by leaps and bounds.  For many, yoga is a form of spiritual practice and meditation believed to bring spiritual healing, power, and connectedness.  Indeed, yoga has its roots in Eastern religion, and its movements were developed to help practitioners connect to the power of various Hindu gods.  While it’s somewhat surprising that science-minded Americans and Europeans would throng to this ancient religious practice, yoga’s focus on the body, its health benefits, and its superficial spirituality have combined to make it a particularly attractive way to escape the monotony and spiritual deficits of our technological society. Here’s the dilemma for Christians: as a spiritual practice yoga is rooted in asceticism/masochism and the lies associated with idol worship, but as a physical and mental discipline yoga has many proven health benefits.

So, is yoga something Christians should do?
Since, for followers of Jesus, there is no law but the law of love, the answer to this question is somewhat nuanced.  First of all, we have to keep in mind that God created the human body and the way it moves, as well as the things that benefit it.  No religion or system of belief has the right to monopolize the realities that affect human health.  If a particular stretch or movement is healthy for the human body, then it’s objectively healthy for the body, regardless of the beliefs attached to it (such as the belief that a particular movement has spiritual meaning).  We have the freedom to agree or disagree with such beliefs.

The real problem is not yoga’s stretches or exercises, but the beliefs attached to these movements and the false message of spiritual healing and human connectedness apart from Jesus Christ.  Healing and spiritual wholeness/connectedness can’t be achieved by our own human efforts or by doing the right poses.  Real healing comes from recognizing that all life comes from the One and Only God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ!

That being said, God created us to move, to enjoy his Creation, and to live freely, and I believe the movements embodied in yoga can be part of healthy movements and exercise for believers.  In my mind, the problem of doing yoga is similar to the problem addressed by the apostle Paul regarding eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul advised the Corinthians that eating meat sacrificed to idols isn’t a problem for believers who are not held in the power of lies and idol worship, but that doing so could be bad for the consciences of those still entrapped in lies (1 Corinthians 8). In the context of yoga, a believer is free to practice the movements and stretches of yoga if he has a clean conscience.  However, believers who participate in yoga in a group setting might be inadvertently contributing to the power of lies in the lives of those who do yoga as a spiritual practice.

Each believer needs to seek the Lord for direction in this matter and follow his conscience.  Personally, I find that yoga stretches have been extremely helpful in reducing back, neck, and joint pain (which medical studies support).  There are also several yoga routines I do that provide an excellent workout and improve flexibility.  For those who have practiced yoga in connection with Eastern spiritual beliefs in the past, it might be too tainted to continue practicing as a believer.  For others, however, yoga can be a perfectly healthy and pure activity.  It’s also possible to find classes, such as at the YMCA, as well as instructional DVDs, that solely emphasize the physical health benefits of yoga, rather than the spritual beliefs connected to yoga as a religion.  In some places it might be more difficult to find yoga classes that aren’t influenced by New Age religion, in which case using an instructional DVD at home might be the best option.  At any rate, as believers we have freedom to live by the Spirit–the primary consideration is walking in love towards others.

References:

 

Originally posted 2013-01-07 05:49:00.

Strong bones: Even more important than we thought!

Sure, they allow us to move and generally prevent us from collapsing into a giant blob, those are pretty important things, but bones also have a lot of other important functions. In addition to forming an incredibly strong and lightweight skeleton, our bones play an active role in a number of hormonal and metabolic functions that are crucial for the body’s overall vitality and longevity. Building strong bones is important in order to prevent breakages and fractures during aging, but it goes beyond that.

Our bones aren’t inert; they’re living, constantly rebuilding themselves and manufacturing important cells. Bone cells send and receive unique signals to and from other parts of the body, and the strength of these signals is related to the health and density of the bones. Bones are responsible for making blood cells, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. They also regulate the body’s blood-calcium level, which is vital for proper muscle function and pH balance. When circulating calcium level is low, bones release calcium into the blood stream. Low blood-calicum levels over time result in frail bones and osteoporosis. When calcium levels are sufficient, calcium is stored as bone mass or excreted from the system, so it’s incredibly important to get enough calcium and vitamin D on a daily basis.

New research is also finding that the skeletal system plays an important role in sustaining overall youth, metabolism, and vitality by releasing a protein called osteocalcin. Once released, osteocalcin acts like a hormone by signaling fat cells to release adiponectin, which increases glucose sensitivity. Osteocalcin also increases insulin production in the pancreases, boosts testosterone production in men, promotes bone mineralization, and slows the process of muscle loss associated with aging. These are all incredible benefits! Reduction of muscle loss is an especially important factor in regards to aging.

The good news is that it might be possible to increase the amount of osteocalcin released by the skeletal system and therefore slow the aging process. Osteocalcin is released by bone cells called osteoblast, and preliminary research indicates that their formation is supported by eating a diet rich in whole foods containing vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, and by maintaining a regular exercise program that includes resistance training. Calcium is only one factor in maintaining healthy bones. Optimum skeletal health depends on the complex interaction of hundreds of nutrients, hormones, and neuro-skeleton electrical signals that naturally follows a creation-based lifestyle!

References:

Human Bone Formation and Osteoblast Differentiation
Peripheral Signaling Involved in Energy Homeostasis
Testosterone and Osteocalcin

Originally posted 2012-11-26 21:55:00.

Office Job Hazards: This practice may lead to your early death

While dangerous and physically demanding, it’s not climbing telephone poles, mining, or deep sea fishing that pose the greatest health risks for most of today’s workers. No, one of the riskiest and increasingly common types of jobs in the world is the all too coveted desk job. In this “Office Job Hazards” series I’ll cover the dangers of working behind a desk, from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome to co-worker related stress, and identify strategies to prevent them and improve your health. To start off the series, we’ll take a look at the office job requirement that increases the risk of diabetes, back pain, cardiovascular disease, and early death: sitting.

If you can’t reduce the amount of time that you work behind a desk, it’s important for your health (for your life) that you find a way to change how you work behind a desk. Recent studies have produced very alarming but important information about sitting, namely that doing so for prolonged periods of time greatly increases the risk of disease and early death. Unfortunately, sitting increases these risks despite how physically active one is after work. Yet, to make matters worse, instead of doing something active after work, most people do even more sitting (driving home, watching TV, etc.), which only increases the risk of disease. For many people sitting is also a major cause of bad posture, weak stomach muscles, and lower back pain. The reason sitting can cause lower back pain because it places increased angular stress (up to 50% more than when standing) on the lumbar vertebrae. If going to work feels like torture, maybe it’s because in some ways it is. While your chair at work isn’t electric, it might be causing you a very slow, early death.

The good news is that you can keep your day job and still decrease your risk of death and disease, as well as gain relief from lower back pain. While not fully accepted in the work place, standing desks and alternative chairs are graining traction as healthy alternatives to sitting in a traditional chair all day. I’ve personally used both, and while both are better than a standard chair, I prefer working at a standing station. A standing station is essentially a very tall desk, elevated so that your arms are parallel with the ground while typing and you’re looking directly at the computer screen while standing. By standing you’ll actually be able to focus better, burn more calories, straighten your spine, and decrease your risk of disease! The other alternative is some type of dynamic seating device that activates your core muscles and forces you to stabilize your spine while sitting, such an exercise ball or modified exercise ball. If you have to work 8-hours a day at a desk, the ideal situation might be some combination of both, a standing station connected to a seated desk with an exercise ball for a chair.

The easiest solution for most people, however, would probably be to purchase an exercise ball (or modified exercise ball) and use it to replace their existing chair at work. You might get a few stares, laughs, or questions, but it’s usually an acceptable middle ground, and it might even cause some of your co-workers to follow suit. A standing desk takes a little bit more time to get use to (and a little bit more money up front), but it’s amazing how quickly the body can adapt. Standing also promotes proper posture and increased movement better than an exercise ball. Once on your feet you’ll quickly find yourself doing stretches and moving around more often in between daily assignments. If you can get your employer to purchase a standing station/desk for you, do it!

The take home message is, don’t underestimate the negative effect sitting all day in a standard chair can have on your health. We weren’t created to sit all day – we need to move!
References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22915074
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19346988
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20114100
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22890825
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23009637

Originally posted 2012-11-02 21:16:00.

Connect to the Earth for Healing Energy…?!

If you opened this blog out of pure curiosity or skepticism about the title, that’s understandable. Connecting to the earth for “healing energy” sounds more like a belief from a New Age religion, than something that belongs to the realm of scientific discovery or that glorifies God as creator. When I first heard about the earth’s healing energy,  I too was skeptical, but it turns out that there’s a growing body of scientific evidence to support the idea that the earth’s electrical charge is important for the normal functioning of the human body (check out the references below).  As a result of society’s “advancements,” however, we’ve almost completely disconnected ourselves from this energy source and possibly damaged our health as a result.

Here’s how it’s thought to work: the earth’s surface is a vast source of free electrons, which have a negative electric charge. When we come into direct contact with the earth, such as by walking barefoot, those free electrons transfer to our bodies.  Once in our bodies, the electrons serve as anti-oxidants and blood thinners.  They serve as anti-oxidants by neutralizing excess positively charged Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) that cause inflammation in the body.  Chronic inflammation is responsible or contributes to a number of health problems, including slow recovery time, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and aging.  The discovery of the role of inflammation and free radicals in the aging process is what prompted the recent anti-oxidant craze, and it turns out that simply being connected to the earth might be one of the best and more affordable sources of anti-oxidants.

Connecting to the earth, or what’s been called “grounding” or “earthing,” also attenuates the viscosity of the blood, or thins it.  It does so by decreasing the coagulation of red blood cells (RBC) through electric charge.  Pilot studies have found that when the body is grounded, the Zeta potential of red blood cells increases.  In other words, the number of negative charges on each RBC is increased, which causes the RBCs to separate from one another and flow in the blood stream individually and more freely.

Based on a growing number of studies, the other benefits of grounding may include: improved sleep, stress reduction, improved heart rate variability (an important status for cardiovascular health), reduction of symptoms of arthritis, and improved glucose regulation.

While I think it’s important to avoid targeting any one environmental factor as the primary cause of our society’s health problems, it seems that not connecting to the earth is one more way that we’ve cut ourselves off from the life-giving properties of God’s creation.  Thanks to rubber soles, modern construction practices, and the automobile, we almost entirely cut ourselves off from the earth’s supply of free electrons.  Have you ever walked barefoot in the grass or on the beach and obtained an amazing sense of relaxation and peaceful energy?  Perhaps those feelings have to do with the positive physiological effects of being grounded to the earth.  At this point in the research it isn’t known how much grounding is needed to obtain the benefits listed above, but it’s thought that even half an hour can help (but the more the better).  On your next walk, consider taking your rubber-soled shoes off and walking barefooted, or look into getting some shoes with leather soles (which nearly all soles used be made of 100 years ago) – they won’t block the flow of electricity like rubber soles will.

It turns out that God’s creation is beautifully complex, and we’re part of it.  We’ve tried to control it and manipulate it for our own purposes but doing so usually only results in more problems.  Like other creatures, we depend on light, air, food, sleep, movement, and electricity for health.  Our bodies contain a vast electrical system, from our brain and nervous system to the electrical charges on our Red Blood Cells.  If we want to have optimum health we have to discover how we’ve cut ourselves off from the gifts in God’s creation, whether it be from healthy food, sunlight, or the earth’s free electrons, and RECONNECT!

References: Earthing: The Health Implications of Reconnection the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface ElectronsEarthing, The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?

Originally posted 2012-11-07 20:16:00.