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Healthy and Fit | Tip of the Week

Posted by JCC Pittsburgh on January 12, 2022
Healthy and Fit | Tip of the Week

JUST 5 HOURS OF MODERATE EXERCISE A WEEK CUTS YOUR CANCER RISK | Robert Preidt

FRIDAY, Oct. 22, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Just a few hours a week of moderate exercise may reduce your risk of cancer, a new study suggests.

If Americans got the recommended five hours a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, more than 46,000 cancer cases could be prevented in the United States each year, according to the report.

The study authors said that 3% of all cancer cases in U.S. adults aged 30 and older from 2013 to 2016 were attributable to inactivity. More inactivity-related cancer cases occurred in women (almost 33,000) than in men (nearly 14,300) each year.

Are these folks lazy? Not necessarily.

Many Americans face barriers to physical activity, the researchers said, including: lack of time due to long hours in low-wage jobs; the cost of gym memberships or personal equipment; lack of access to a safe exercise setting; and childcare costs.

Such barriers are more common among certain groups of people, including Black Americans and those with low incomes, according to study leader Adair Minihan, of the American Cancer Society, and colleagues.

When the researchers focused on types of cancer, they concluded that about 17% of stomach cancers, 12% of endometrial cancers, 11% of kidney cancers and 9% of colon cancers were associated with lack of exercise. So too were an estimated 8% of esophageal cancers, 7% of breast cancers and 4% of urinary bladder cancers.

The report was published recently in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

States with the highest proportion of cancers attributable to physical inactivity were in the South, including Kentucky, West Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi. The lowest proportions were in the Mountain region and northern states, including Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Washington and Wisconsin.

Kentucky had the highest proportion (almost 4%) while Utah had the lowest (about 2%).

“These findings underscore the need to encourage physical activity as a means of cancer prevention and implement individual- and community-level interventions that address the various behavioral and socioeconomic barriers to recreational physical activity,” the study authors explained in a cancer society news release.

“Understanding and reducing the behavioral and socioeconomic barriers to physical activity is essential for optimizing intervention strategies targeting at-risk groups across the country,” the team added.


WEARING A MASK WHILE EXERCISING | Jeremy Amundson

Wearing a mask is one way to slow the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Yet many people see a mask as a potential barrier when attempting to exercise, particularly when away from home. Whether you’re already comfortable wearing a mask while exercising or hesitant about exercising with a mask on, these questions can help you decide the safest way to approach staying active.

Is it safe to wear a mask while exercising?

Yes, it’s safe to wear a mask while exercising. New research has shown that your heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygen level and time of exhaustion are not significantly affected by wearing a mask during moderate to strenuous aerobic physical activity. Learn more.

Depending on the activity, is there a preferred type of mask that I should wear?

Cloth masks or masks made of a moisture-wicking material, such as polyester, typically work well. Mask material should be no more than two layers thick or less. Unfortunately, surgical masks may break down, as they become wet from sweat and increased exhalation that occurs during exercise.

Aside from the mask breakdown, the use of surgical or N95 respirators has been found to be safe with minimal effects on major performance factors, such as heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation (SO2) during aerobic training.

Previous studies of wearing N95 respirators while active have shown that there can be changes in body temperature, increased breath resistance and some discomfort. While not dangerous or affecting overall performance, these responses should be considered when choosing the style of mask that is right for you and your needs. Learn more.

Also, you may want to consider having a spare mask on hand to replace a damp mask. A great way to maintain good hand hygiene when changing masks is to carry a travel-size container of hand sanitizer with you.

Will wearing a mask affect my exercise performance?

No. Research has determined that surgical masks and cloth masks have no effect on time to exhaustion or peak power. Learn more.

Who should not use a mask while exercising?

It is safe to wear a mask while exercising for most people. However, if you have a chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, mesothelioma or pulmonary hypertension, talk with your health care provider before attempting any physical activity while wearing a mask.

What should happen when exercising with a mask on?

You may feel awkward or uncomfortable the first time you wear a mask while exercising. This is normal and may be similar to how you felt wearing a mask at work, school or while shopping. These feelings should decrease over time. Overall, you can expect no difference in your aerobic or anaerobic performance.

If you start to feel any of these symptoms while exercising, stop and take a break until they subside:

Overall discomfort
Fatigue
Dizziness
Headache
Significant shortness of breath
Muscular weakness
Drowsiness

If your symptoms continue or worsen, stop the activity. In serious cases, seek medical help.

From the Mayo Clinic, “Speaking of Health.” Jeremy Amundson is a licensed athletic trainer in Sports Medicine in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.


This post was updated on Jan. 6, 2021, to reflect newly published research. The information is accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date in September 2020.

FOR YOUR HEALTHIEST YOU IN ’22: START WITH COLOR | Victoria Brown 

Working to be your healthiest you in 2022?  Start with color!

Fill half your plate with bright vegetables and fruits at each meal.  Enjoy your snacks with a produce punch by adding carrot sticks, fresh fruit or bell peppers. Here’s a colorful, tasty and nutritious recipe:

Roasted Beets and Citrus Salad

Ingredients:
4 Beets (different varieties if possible)
1 Grapefruit
2 Oranges
1 Blood Orange
Salt
Olive Oil

Dressing:
2 TBSP Chopped Shallots
1 TBSP Finely chopped Fresh Rosemary
2 TBSP Apple Cider or White Wine Vinegar
1 TBSP Dijon Mustard
4 TBSP Olive Oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Grate 1 TBSP of zest from one orange and juice ½ of the orange.
  2. Split the beets into varieties.  Place each variety into the center of a large piece of foil.  Drizzle olive oil, orange juice, orange zest, salt and pepper.  Wrap each bundle and roast for 40 minutes.
  3. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Peel Citrus and remove pitch, slice into rounds and drizzle with olive oil and salt.  Roast for at least 5 minutes with beets then broil for 2 minutes.
  4. Mix the dressing. Place all ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously.
  5. Wait for the beets to cool and then peel and slice.  Serve with roasted citrus alone or over a bed of arugula.  Pair with goat cheese or burrata, pistachios, and a drizzle of honey.

CARDIO OR WEIGHT LIFTING TO LOSE OR MAINTAIN WEIGHT? | Chris Centeno, MD 

You’ll hear and read all sorts of advice on whether you should lift heavy weights or do cardio to lose or keep off weight. In addition, the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth on this one. Back in the 80s and 90s it was aerobics and running. Then about a decade ago it was lifting heavy weights. A new study sought to answer this age-old question and the results are important.

Cardio vs Weights

The story that supports cardio for weight loss or maintenance is that you simply burn more calories. The story for lifting heavy weights is that you make your muscles bigger which then uses more calories. So which is it?

The New Research

Most of the old research in this area is retrospective, meaning someone looked backward to see if they could find associations. The new research I’d like to highlight is prospective. Meaning the scientists put a research design in place and then looked forward to determine if there were differences between the groups.

Almost twelve thousand people were enrolled into an aerobic exercise study in 1987 that continued through 2005. The study participants were followed for an average of 6 years to determine who did and did not develop obesity. Compared to people who did not perform resistance exercise (71% of participants), those who performed 1–2 hours/week or at least 2 days/week of resistance exercise had a 20%–30% reduced risk of obesity, even after adjusting for aerobic exercise. The lowest risk for becoming obese was found in people who performed both resistance exercise and aerobic exercise.

The upshot? I’ve always thought it was better to split the baby on this one and do both of these as much as possible. So make sure to lift weights and get your cardio in!

References:

(1) Brellenthin AG, Lee DC, Bennie JA, Sui X, Blair SN. Resistance exercise, alone and in combination with aerobic exercise, and obesity in Dallas, Texas, US: A prospective cohort study. PLoS Med. 2021 Jun 23;18(6):e1003687. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003687. PMID: 34161329.

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.

LET’S START A RESOLUTION! | Brittany Reese 

Happy New Year! This time of year is great to reflect and plan. What do we want to do with our fresh, shiny new year? Do we want to take that trip we’ve always wanted to, tackle a new challenge, get a new job or career, or continue to work towards some of the goals we have tried before but haven’t quite accomplished yet? It can seem overwhelming to look at the coming year as a whole. So this year I propose doing something different: Making monthly goals.

How easy is it to let go of those resolutions once February comes around? It seems so easy since we haven’t even made it halfway yet to the completion of our goal. The end results or reward is so far away and it is easier to do nothing since the reward won’t be there whether we do it or not.

Instead of making a goal that may take 6-12 months, how about a goal that can be achieved in a month? Wouldn’t it be much more satisfying to be able to end January knowing that we’ve checked one box already? I’m not sure about you but I love being able to cross things off my list. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and the confidence to tackle the next task/goal.

Also, by having smaller goals we can potentially get more done! (Gasp!) It is hard to try to change more than one to two things at a time; therefore a resolution can only be one to two things. But, what if what we want to accomplish this year can’t just be boiled down to those parameters? What if we want to get to the gym more, save for a trip AND de-clutter our house? Do we have to settle? I don’t think we should.

Having this approach can help us to accomplish more and stop procrastinating. You no longer have 12 months to do the task, you have 30 days! So you better get a move on! Setting monthly goals can also help us to slowly build healthier habits over time. So now that large goal of de-cluttering your house can be done room by room over the course of several months, checking boxes along the way. Being successful can have a snowball effect, as we become more and more successful we also become more confident in our ability to tackle the next challenge.

Whatever your goals are for 2019, let’s try something new in order to achieve those elusive resolutions!

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
— Albert Einstein

Brittany Reese is a registered dietitian, personal trainer, group exercise instructor and food lover. This post was first published in 2018.


HOLIDAY EATING SURVIVAL GUIDE | Deborah Brooks, MS, RD, LDN

Oh no! Here they come! Are you bracing yourself for cookie trays, gratuitous boxes of chocolates and endless office parties? I just saw my first Whitman’s Sampler yesterday. And that’s just the beginning! But if you think I’m about to advise you to drink a gallon of water before every party, head for the raw vegetable tray at the buffet table, or virtuously decline every delicious morsel that enters your personal space, you obviously don’t know me!

Food is more than a collection of nutrients and calories. It’s soulful, it’s emotional. What we eat ties us to memories, to family and friends, and to the rich traditions that make up our lives. I am a firm believer that we should make room for the joys of good food in our lives. Does that mean we should try every flavor in the Whitman’s Sampler? No, it’s not about unbridled indulgence. It’s about enjoying life’s pleasures in a way that doesn’t leave us feeling gross or guilty.

We are all different of course. For some people, total abstinence from sweets and treats is the best solution. But my favorite way of getting through the holiday eating period is to bring sanity, moderation and – you guessed it – mindfulness to the whole thing. Faced with a buffet of food, think about what you most want to try or think you would enjoy the most, take a small portion of it, and enjoy the heck out of it! You don’t need to sample everything. I hesitated by the chocolate box last week, then rehearsed in my mind what it would taste like, and realized that I don’t find those chocolates all that yummy. That little moment of hesitation and thoughtfulness allowed me to stop a chocolate sampling binge in its tracks. Because the truth is, if it doesn’t taste as good as you want it to, you might eat MORE –  looking for just that perfect chocolate.

Better to eat food that makes me feel good, like a healthy snack, but allow myself some other seasonal treat when it appears;  say no to endless chocolates, and yes to a cup of eggnog once a year. And please don’t starve yourself before a party! It makes it harder to eat with moderation later. If you try to keep eating  enough delicious healthy food every day to keep yourself feeling satisfied, you really will be less inclined to go wild when the treats show up. And if you pay attention to how you feel and remember what it feels like to overeat or have 3 different kinds of cake, you’ll find it easier to slow down. It’s not about deprivation – it’s about being kind to yourself.

So please, enjoy parties, friends, family and, yes, food through the holiday season. Take a deep breath and bring a little mindfulness to your eating, and you’ll do just fine. And if you DO overindulge, do yourself a favor and take a peek at this excellent post about moving on and starting anew!

This post was first published December 7, 2016


HOW DOES EXERCISE HELP RELIEVE STRESS? | Laurie Wood

According to a recent survey by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, seven out of ten adults in the United States say they experience stress or anxiety daily, and most say it interferes moderately with their lives. Although it’s impossible to totally eliminate stress, we can learn to manage it, and physical activity is a healthy way to maintain mental fitness.

How does exercise help relieve stress? The Mayo Clinic provides the following explanations:

  • Physical activity increases the brain’s endorphins, which are like feel-good neurotransmitters. Those who have experienced a surge of energy or “runners high” after exercising, understand this feeling.
  • Exercise is like meditation in motion because it allows a person time to concentrate on their body’s movement and focus on a single task. Results often include having more energy and optimism.
  • Regular exercise can improve your mood, increase self-confidence and lower symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. It also helps improve sleep which can be disrupted by stress.

With so many options to exercise at the JCC, try them all and make sure to schedule exercise as part of your regular routine not only for your physical health but also for your mental health!

HOW TO STAY MOTIVATED WHEN IT GETS DARK EARLY | Chakell Wardleigh

TRY TRX | Elaine Cappucci

You’ve seen the black and yellow straps hanging from the gym ceiling and wondered if you could do that. Well, you can! They may look intimidating, but your trainer or TRX instructor can help you add TRX into your workout if you are looking for a way to spice up your training.

TRX, which stands Total Body Resistance Exercise, uses your body weight and gravity, and the instability of the straps as resistance to build strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, and core strength. Because the straps move while you perform and exercise, you must use your core stabilizing muscles even when doing an exercise that targets your arms or legs. So why wouldn’t you add in some TRX exercises when strength training since you can do just about every exercise that you can do with barbells and dumbbells with the added bonus of working secondary muscles for a complete workout in a short time?

But that isn’t all you’ll be doing, according to the American Council on Exercise, TRX workouts can lead to increases in lean body mass, and significant decreases in waist circumference, body fat, and blood pressure. And it does so more effectively that traditional aerobic exercises.

Our trainers can design TRX exercises for people of all abilities, ages, and fitness levels, from the beginner to the seasoned athlete. There are endless exercise possibilities, so the workout is never the same old thing, it’s always fun! Perhaps the best part of TRX training is that because of the instability of the strap, you will learn to execute exercises properly, which will help you with all of your other workouts and daily movement patterns.

Here’s what some of our members have to say about TRX training:

“I have been doing TRX for about 10 years and it’s a great overall body exercise. You use your own body weight for resistance and make it easier or harder by repositioning your straps.”
—Celeste R.

“The TRX class is a fun, non-strenuous, total body way to get or stay in shape. You can do it at your own pace. The instructor guides you through the entire workout. I have been doing TRX for 4 years and I feel better now (at age 75) than I did 10 years ago.”
—Jack S.

Talk to one of our trainers about how you can TRX!

For information about Personal Training at the JCC:

Squirrel Hill: Bill Herman 412-697-3238

South Hills: Elaine Cappucci 412-278-1975


IN TRAINING, CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY TO YOUR FITNESS GOALS | Hannah Peters, BS, CPT, Health Fitness Instructor

Consistency is arguably the most important component when working to accomplish goals, in or out of the gym. Without consistency, programs are unorganized, the body has a harder time adapting, and forming habits may be more challenging.

Build and Follow Workout Programming

Whatever your goals may be, they require a consistent level of training for you to reach them. One way to ensure consistency within the scope of your goals is to build a program. Programs make it much easier to stay on track because you won’t have to think about what you’re going to do at the gym today—it’s already written out. Most programs are designed to be followed for a set amount of time, typically about 4 weeks. Depending on the desired goal, the program will have a different focus—hypertrophy, endurance, strength, and so on. Each day is designed with the goal in mind, while ensuring that you are training in a way that minimizes imbalances within the body. If you aren’t following the program consistently, the chance of it working is reduced.

Theoretically, if you have a program and you don’t follow it, the body is not going to be able to adapt to the program because there isn’t an opportunity for progressive overload, which is when the amount of stress on the body is gradually increased over time, leading to increased strength and performance.

Work Toward Adaptations

Biologically, a lot of things happen in the body during exercise. Over time these reactions change the body to become stronger, grow, or run more efficiently. Different factors affect adaptations in everyone, so it’s impossible to predict when these changes will occur. But being consistent with training will increase the likelihood of seeing adaptations sooner.

Different modes of exercise elicit different adaptations. Endurance training will produce different changes than resistance training. While there are far too many adaptations to discuss in this blog, a few examples reported by the CDC include the following:

  • Improved ability of muscles to use fat as energy
  • Stronger ligaments and tendons
  • Increased VO2 Max and lactate threshold
  • Increased number of capillaries in muscles
  • Cardiac muscle hypertrophy
  • Increased force production

Each of these changes is beneficial for different scenarios. The body is either becoming more efficient or stronger, or performance is enhanced. However, these long-term benefits are seen only after consistent training over a period of time.

Create Habits

We are creatures of habit. The more we practice something, the more natural it becomes. We experience this when we learn to walk as babies, when we learn to drive, and when we exercise. It’s normal to feel out of your element when you try something new, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you feel.

Current research suggests that to make a habit stick it must be performed for 68 consecutive days. The idea of sticking with something brand new for 68 days may feel overwhelming for some people. When taking on a new challenge, focusing on taking it day by day might be a helpful mindset. Yes, we might be aiming to create a lifelong habit; however, thinking about just starting a habit to last for years could seem daunting. Start by doing it for one day, and then two, and then three, and so on.

Once you feel comfortable with one small change, add another small change, and so on. Small changes are more sustainable over the long term and add up to form new habits. There will likely be days that your plan doesn’t work out how it was supposed to, but that doesn’t mean all progress is lost.

The Takeaway

Our bodies adapt gradually to exercise. In the end, consistency will help you reach your goals. Without it, you might not have enough structure to allow for growth. Work first on figuring out your goals, determine the best route to achieve them, and get started with one step. If you’re not sure how to get started, the personal training staff can help you set goals and develop programs tailored to those goals.


HOW NUTRITIONISTS AVOID OVEREATING AT THE HOLIDAYS | Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.

The holidays are full of friends, family — and lots and lots of food. There are plenty of opportunities where you can overindulge. We asked registered dietitians around the country to provide their best tips to help keep overeating to a minimum during the holiday season.

Eat Regular Meals and Snacks Throughout the Day: Many folks think the best way to enjoy a holiday party or feast is to save up their calories for the big meal. This technique can actually backfire and lead to overeating. Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN of Bucket List Tummy explains, “In order to eat mindfully, we don’t want to go into a meal or eating experience feeling overly hungry. Instead, I recommend eating every three to four hours to keep blood sugar stable, starting with breakfast.” Schlichter says that, “When you’re not going into a holiday meal feeling starving, you are less likely to feel out of control throughout the eating experience, and really enjoy the food and company you’re with, which makes the holiday food experience more mindful and pleasurable.”

Use the 3-Bite Rule: “The three-bite rule is magical to relieve any guilt associated with mindful indulgences,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com, and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. “Choose to build your meal with the idea that savoring three bites of anything will allow you to partake in holiday traditions without derailing your diet and fitness goals.”

Go for a Walk Around the Table: “Before you begin to fill your plate at parties and gatherings, take a moment to scope out all of the available food options,” recommends Kara Hochreiter, MS, RDN, LD of Byte Sized Nutrition. “You may come to find that the store-bought dessert sitting at the head of the table is actually one of the least-appealing options available.” Hochreiter says that once you’ve had a chance to fully assess the situation, begin by serving yourself small sample-size portions of the dishes that interest you most and then go back for larger helpings of your favorites.

Portion Your Appetizers: Chloe Schweinshaut, RD, LDN, founder of Riverside Nutrition recommends that “if that puff pastry brie wedge or scallops wrapped in bacon are calling your name, that’s fine — just make sure that they all fit on one cocktail napkin.” With a limited amount of space, Schweinshaut says, you can still choose the foods you really want to eat without risking overindulging from the start.

Gauge Your FOMO: The fear of missing out, or FOMO, can drive you to eat more than usual or eat when you’re not hungry. “FOMO is often driven by strong social and emotional influences that can be countered by making plans to eat certain foods again,” explains Michele Redmond, MS, RDN, FAND of The Taste Workshop. Ultimately, making a plan to eat certain foods again can reduce the urgency of eating more even though you’re already full.

Be Present in the Moment: “With a million things running through your head this holiday season, it can be hard to stay in the moment,” says Alena Kharlamenko, MS, RD, CDN, of AlenaMenko.com. “If you notice your mind racing while you’re eating, or if you start to multitask, take a deep breath and commit to eating your meal mindfully. Really savor each bite and let go of distractions. It can be helpful to start practicing mindful eating with one meal a day.”

Slow Down Between Bites: Colleen Wysocki-Woods, MS, RDN owner of ZEST Nutrition says to slow down your eating by simply putting the food or utensil down between bites. “This habit not only increases your gratefulness for the food (something we may reflect on during the holidays), but it also gives your body time to know when it’s full,” explains Wysocki-Woos, who says it takes 20 minutes for the body to read those hunger hormones and recognize fullness.

Breathe: “It’s a simple act that we all take for granted, especially during the holidays,” says Sara Haas, RDN, LDN consultant culinary nutritionist and author, who recommends to take a moment to inhale and exhale deeply. “It’s a little trick that will help ground you and slow you down. Use it during meals or when you’re at your company’s holiday party!”

Sample Unique Foods: “Don’t stuff your plate with foods just because they are low in calories; instead sample those foods that are unique and special to you,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com, author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table. “Traditional holiday indulgences should be welcomed, but you may need to keep portion sizes in mind to make room for all that you choose to enjoy.”

Use the Deliciousness Scale: Ashley Koff, RD CEO of The Better Nutrition Program says to use a deliciousness scale. The deliciousness scale ranks each food from 1 to 10, with 1 being ick and 10 being the most amazing bite or sip you can recall. “Eat or drink anything that scores a 7 to 10,” recommends Koff who says that weight gain can result from foods in the 3 to 6 range. “So if something scores in that range after a bite or sip then pass, and hold out for your 7 to 10.”


50 WAYS TO SHOW GRATITUDE FOR THE PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE | Lori Deschene

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” –William Arthur Ward

The holiday season generally brings us closer to people. Sometimes that closeness reminds us how much we love each other. Sometimes it reminds us that we drive each other crazy, as family often does.

At the heart of it, Thanksgiving in particular calls us to see people with the deepest appreciation for the gifts they’ve given us. Some gifts are more immediately obvious than others—the type that come with praise, affection, and genuine esteem.

Others push us, stretch us, test us, and make us wonder if there’s anything to be grateful for at all.

There’s no denying certain relationships are more challenging than others, but through each we have an opportunity to grow and help others do the same. Every relationship teaches us something about loving, trusting, forgiving, setting boundariestaking care of ourselves, and taking care of each other.

From the people who love you, to the people who challenge you, to the people who support you at work, here’s how to show your gratitude:

Show Gratitude to People Who Love You
  1. 1. Share a specific example of something they did for you and how it made a difference in your life.
  2. Do something little but thoughtful for them—like clean up after Thanksgiving dinner!
  3. Give a long, intimate hug; or if you know they don’t like hugs, stick out your hand for a handshake to cater to their preferences and make them smile.
  4. Tell them you’re there if they have anything they want to talk about—and let them know they have your full attention.
  5. Give them something of yours that you think they would enjoy, and let them know specifically why you want them to have it.
  6. Invite them to do something you know they’ve always wanted to do.
  7. Encourage them to try something you know they want to try, but haven’t yet because they’re scared.
  8. Offer to do something you know they don’t enjoy doing, like organizing their closet or mowing their lawn.
  9. Compliment them on a talent, skill, or strength that you admire.
  10. Look them straight in the eyes and say, “You make the world a better place.”
Show Gratitude to People Who Challenge You
  1. Fully listen to what they have to say instead of forming your rebuttal in your head and waiting to speak.
  2. Thank them for introducing you to a new way to look at things, even if you still don’t agree.
  3. Pinpoint something you admire about their commitment to their beliefs—even if you don’t hold them, as well.
  4. Resist the urge to tell them they’re wrong.
  5. Challenge them right back to be the best they can be, with love and positive intentions.
  6. If they inspired you to push outside your comfort zone, thank them for inspiring you to take a risk, and let them know how it paid off.
  7. Write a blog post about how they helped you see things differently and dedicate it to them.
  8. Use the lesson this person teaches you through your interactions, whether it’s patience, compassion, or courage.
  9. Introduce them to someone who may challenge them and help them grow, as they’ve done for you.
  10. Let them know how you appreciate when they challenge you in a loving, non-confrontational way—and if they don’t do that, be calm and kind when you ask them to do that going forward.
Show Gratitude to People Who Serve You
  1. Give a larger tip than usual.
  2. If they have a tip jar, include a thoughtful note of appreciation along with your coins or bills.
  3. Smile when you order or enlist their assistance. Smiles are contagious, so give one away!
  4. If they serve you regularly, acknowledge something they always do well—like work efficiently or stay calm under pressure.
  5. Exhibit patience, even if you’re in a hurry.
  6. Let their superior know they do an outstanding job.
  7. Keep their workplace clean—for example, at a coffee shop, clean up after yourself at the sugar stand.
  8. Offer to get a coffee for them, if it’s someone working in or outside your home.
  9. If you have their contact information, send an email of appreciation—and let them know you just wanted to express your gratitude, so they don’t need to write back.
  10. Praise them in a review on Yelp and/or recommend them to people you know.
Show Gratitude to People Who Work with You
  1. Write a hand-written thank you note, acknowledging things you value about them and their work.
  2. Offer to lighten their workload in some way if you are able.
  3. Bring back lunch for them if you know they’re working hard and likely haven’t had a chance to grab something.
  4. If you’re running a meeting, keep it short to show them you appreciate and respect their time.
  5. Ask them about their lives instead of always being all business. This doesn’t mean you need to pry into personal matters; it just means showing an interest in who they are as people.
  6. Be the calm, light voice in a stressful situation.
  7. Give them flowers to brighten their desk.
  8. Let their boss know how they’re doing a great job and contributing to the company.
  9. Listen fully if they’re having a difficult day, and recognize if they need space to figure things out on their own, not advice or help.
  10. Remember the little things can make a big difference!
Show Gratitude for Yourself
  1. Make a list of ways you’ve impressed yourself lately.
  2. Treat yourself to something you enjoy, like a pedicure or a massage.
  3. If someone compliments you, thank them and let them know you’re proud of that skill, talent, or accomplishment.
  4. Compliment yourself—say it while looking in the mirror, write it in a journal, or jot it on a sticky note and put it on your refrigerator.
  5. Give yourself time to enjoy a passion you’re sometimes too busy to fit in.
  6. Take an inventory of all the good things you’ve done for other people and the world.
  7. Write yourself a love letter. Seriously, start with “Dear Lori” (but insert your own name) and describe all the things you admire about yourself.
  8. Let go of any conditions you have for being kind to yourself—meaning you appreciate even if you didn’t accomplish or do anything specific.
  9. Schedule a date with yourself—an afternoon or evening that’s all about you.
  10. Share the beauty that is you with the people around you, knowing they’re fortunate to have you in their lives.

I am fortunate to have you in mine. You make the world a better place!


DRESSING FOR OUTDOOR EXERCISE | @runlikeagirlBC

Understanding the layers you use will keep you warm, dry and comfortable for all your outdoor adventures. Do your research and choose the weight best suited for the time of year and the activity you are doing.

  • Smarwool’s 150 weight is great for summer/spring and fall while the 250 weight is great for winter.
  • Never wear cotton socks/base layers.  Cotton is a bad choice for winter weather because it has little insulation, it will absorb and hold moisture rather than wick it.

BASE LAYER

A base layer is the layer closest to your skin. Always wear a moisture wicking, quick drying base layer. The purpose of this layer is to provide warmth while absorbing and evaporating your sweat to keep you feeling warm and comfortable.

THERMAL MID LAYER

A thermal mid layer helps you retain the heat that’s radiated by your body. The more efficiently this layer traps that heat, the warmer you’ll be.

OUTER LAYER (or shell layer)

An outer layer is to protect you from wind, rain and snow.  Most allow at least some perspiration to escape; virtually all are treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish to make water bead up and roll off the fabric. Your outer shell is an important piece in stormy weather, because if wind and water are allowed to penetrate to inner layers making you chilled and cold. Choosing the right shell for the activity your doing is important and can be lumped into the following categories:

  • Waterproof/breathable shells: Your most functional (and expensive) choice, this type of shell is your best option for full-on conditions. Generally, pricier equals drier, though higher priced shells are often more durable as well.
  • Water-resistant/breathable shells: These are more suited to drizzly, breezy conditions and high activity levels. More affordable than waterproof/breathable shells, they’re typically made of tightly woven nylon or polyester fabrics that block light wind and light rain.
Smartwool hats/ear bands, socks, mitts, buffs, sports bra and underwear are all great choices and my go-to for the essentials.

Always plan ahead – Pack the 10 essentials.

This will ensure a safe, fun outdoor experience.

Happy Adventuring!

Victoria Whitney Brown | FOR FLAVOR & HEALTH, SEASONAL EATING IS THE BEST!

The weather is finally turning towards fall, and there is a lot to look forward to. From pumpkin patches to apple orchards and haunted houses to hayrides and everything in between, the season is packed with delight. Autumn is also a season of harvest, and there is plenty of bounty to enjoy. The next time you’re heading to the grocery store, you may want to try shopping seasonally to enjoy the best this time of year has to offer.

Beyond the amazing flavors, there are a lot of reasons to shop seasonally. Many grocery stores are able to keep their shelves stocked with a variety of fruits and vegetables regardless of the time of year. While this is great when you’re craving apples in May, you may not be able to pick from the cream of the crop. Shopping for produce that is at the peak of its season gives you access to the freshest options, which means more flavor on your plate. Shopping in season can also help introduce you to local vendors and reduce your carbon footprint. Produce that is in season is also chock full of nutrients. You can tell by the bright colors! Best of all, produce that is in season is often cheaper than options that are out of season.

Now that you’re on board with checking out the seasonal selection for autumn, you may be wondering what fruits and vegetables to sample. Fall wouldn’t be complete without fresh apples. You can sample some classic varieties such as Gala, McIntosh, or Honeycrisp or keep an eye out for new varieties like Cosmic Crisp and Redpop. Apples pack a Vitamin C punch to boost your immune system as the weather gets colder. If fresh apples are too difficult to chew, try your hand at some homemade applesauce. If you don’t want to lose the shape, try sautéing your apples in a bit of oil and cinnamon to top your next bowl of oatmeal or yogurt. If apples aren’t your speed try some fresh pears as we head into the colder months. We also can’t forget about carrot’s paler cousin, the parsnip. Parsnips are prime choices for the fall season and make a great addition to any roasted vegetable dish. Pair with fresh rosemary or thyme to enhance the natural earthy flavors.

Fall wouldn’t be complete without the first crops of winter squash. Much like their summer counterparts, winter squash is a great source of vitamins, like Vitamin A, and fiber. Varieties such as acorn, kabocha, and butternut squash highlight to crop of the season. One of the important, and tasty, differences is that winter squash is heartier and more fibrous so it holds up better to heat. They are perfect for a roasted vegetable side dish or as a container for your main. At breakfast, try slicing your winter squash into rings to fry an egg. You can turn your squash into boats to fill with rice, ground meat, and/or cheese and roast in the oven to finish off. To prep your winter squash, slice down the middle to create two halves. Scrape out the seeds and drizzle with olive oil and herbs. Flip the halves upside down so the inside is face down on a prepared baking tray. Roast the squash until the insides are soft and the skin starts to peel away. You can keep the skin on if you prefer or peel it off once the squash cools. They’re ready for you to use in your recipe!

The last fall staple on our list is another classic.  While it makes an amazing decoration for your porch, pumpkin can also liven up your fall dishes. Try adding canned pumpkin to your next chili or stew to add some brightness. Just decrease the liquid content by ¼-½ cup for every cup of pumpkin added. You can also try your hand at roasted pumpkin. Look for sugar or pie pumpkins in the produce section of your grocery store (the pumpkins out front are usually for decorating) and follow the directions for preparing winter squash from above.

While we may be missing those warmer months soon, there is plenty to enjoy this fall. Check out your produce aisle on your next trip and pick up some of the season’s best to fuel your favorite fall activities. If you’re looking for inspiration, try these recipes!

Recipes: Stuffed Acorn Squash | Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats

 


Maddie Barnes | “HEALTHY” FOOD IS ONLY HEALTHY IF YOU EAT IT

Most of us start the New Year with the intention of eating “healthier.” But what does that mean? Who decides what constitutes a healthy meal? With so much information out there these days, it can be overwhelming and downright confusing. Even as a Certified Health Education Specialist and former community nutrition educator, I sometimes feel lost when trying to make healthier food choices at grocery store or out a restaurant. That is one reason why I was so excited to have Judy Dodd, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND, start a series on the Virtual Senior Academy.

Judy Dodd is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, who recently retired from the University of Pittsburgh. She is generously volunteering her time to lead a series on the VSA titled “Making Sense of Food and Nutrition?” The aim of this series is to help students better understand nutrition trends and fads, and decipher what is truly “healthy.”

One of my biggest take-aways from her first class was “healthy food is only healthy if you eat it.” It is a waste of money to buy foods or products you won’t actually eat, because you hate the taste, or don’t have the time or resources to prepare. This should not deter you from trying new things, however, we should just be more mindful consumers. So, for instance, if you are like me and know you hate raw kale, do not buy it for salads! There are plenty of other green veggies out there, and many simple ways to prepare them.

Eating can be social, cultural, and joyful experience, when you make the time for it. Do not force yourself to eat something that tastes terrible to you, just because it is a healthy, popular food of the moment.

If you want to learn more from a nutrition expert, sign up for Judy’s class and check out all of the Virtual Senior Academy’s class offerings HERE  

The Virtual Senior Academy was created for adults 55+ in the greater Pittsburgh area, but we welcome all adults from all over!


Elaine Cappucci | WE KNOW WEARING MASKS WHILE EXERCISING IS CHALLENGING, BUT IT’S WORTH IT!

As fall gets into full swing and it gets cold and rainy outside,  we’re all strategizing about how to keep up our fitness routines. At the JCC, where your health and safety are a top priority, we are continuing to require face masks for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals while in the building.

In the South Hills we have been doing all classes indoors for a while, and in Squirrel Hill more classes will be moving inside throughout the fall.  Yes, we know that wearing a mask while exercising can be a bit uncomfortable, but there’s no question that this minor inconvenience will be far overshadowed by the great benefits, both physical and mental, of keeping fit.

Here are a few things to note:

  • It is safe to wear a mask while exercising.
  • Current research shows that your heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygen level and time of exhaustion are not significantly affected by wearing a mask.
  • It is better to be exercising with a mask than not exercising!  You can reduce your intensity to keep your respiration rate down.
  • If you have chronic heart, lung, or respiratory issues, you should talk with your health care provider about exercising with a mask.
  • Try out a few different masks to see which is most comfortable for you.  Cloth or moisture wicking masks may stay drier than a paper mask.  A metal ridge at your nose helps the mask stay put.  Consider a cone mask that fits well to your face but leaves a little room between your nose and the mask.
  • Take water breaks as needed.
  • Our classes are socially distanced, with a minimum of 6’ of separation between members.
  • In class we monitor perceived exertion and advise members to work within a comfortable range.
  • Your body will become accustomed to the amount of air you take in with a mask, and when the time comes to take the mask off, you will see the physical improvement that comes with that!

It is a minor inconvenience for a multitude of health benefits.  So as the thermometer drops, don’t return to the couch; come on inside and take a class, train and work out at the JCC!

Check out all of the JCC’s Fitness offerings HERE

EXCITING NEWS: We’re offering more classes in our beautiful studios in Squirrel Hill and South Hills.
Check out all of the JCC’s Fitness offerings HERE


Elaine Cappucci DON’T LET CHRONIC DISEASE STOP YOU FROM EXERCISING

Everyone has days they just don’t feel like getting outside or getting to the gym.  But we all know if we just do it, we will feel better.   Add in a chronic condition – like arthritis or Parkinson’s disease – that makes moving more difficult, and the temptation to stay home gets even greater even though the benefits of getting in some exercise and socialization are also greater for this population.

Once you have overcome your brain telling you to stay on the couch and are up and ready to move, what should you do?   Outdoor activities like walking, riding a bike, swimming, and gardening are generally safe, especially if you build up slowly.  But you can also add in an exercise class, especially one that is proven to have significant positive results of alleviating or staving off symptoms of your particular condition and is led by an instructor who has been specifically trained to teach the class.

Anyone who has arthritis can tell you the benefits of exercising in the pool, where the water helps to support you and eases pressure on your joints.  The Arthritis Foundation Aquatics Program (AFAP) is designed for adults with arthritis, but anyone with join pain and stiffness may benefit.  AFAP has been found to improve physical function and quality of life for those with arthritis.

For those with Parkinson’s, and for anyone who wants to improve their strength, posture, balance and movement, the PWR!Moves class targets skills known to deteriorate in people with Parkinson disease, which often lead to loss of mobility and function. The exercises taught in this class can be integrated into your daily activities and routines and improve your ability to carry out your activities of daily living.

While not geared toward one specific condition, the gentle flowing motions practiced in Tai Chi have also been proven to help reduce stress, improve flexibility, mobility, and balance, and alleviate painful symptoms of some chronic diseases like arthritis.

It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Once you do, check out our classes.  Every fitness article you read will tell you that having an exercise buddy will help you stick to your plan.  Come to one of our classes and you will have a whole class full of friends who can share thoughts and experiences similar to yours.

Check out all of the JCC’s Fitness offerings HERE


Jen Goldston | ALLOW YOURSELF SOME GRACE

You’ve heard these fitness tips before. From magazines, or online blogs, your friends, or your trainer… and they are good tips, rooted in solid advice. Tips like:

  • Strive for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week.
  • Cut your coffee calories.
  • Keep a fitness journal.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts.
  • Eat the rainbow.
  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Make sure you drink water.
  • Get 8 hours of sleep

Sometimes though, you don’t need practical advice on how to lose weight or build muscle, what you need is some soul baring, uplifting, keep-going counseling. And sometimes you just need to know that you are not alone in the chaos of life. Not alone in the ever-present juggling act of care taking for others, self-care, errands, and work. When you are in the trenches of day to day living, so often we must decide which balls we are juggling are glass, and therefore cannot be dropped, and which balls are plastic, and can handle momentary neglect.

The prolific writer G.K Chesterton said, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly.” This doesn’t mean that we should give 25% effort when we can give 100% but it does mean that 25% effort is better than 0%. Doing your best does not mean 100% effort 100% of the time, it means giving that day what you have. So here are a few tips for Days When Things Are Worth Doing Poorly.

-Strive for movement that feels doable. It doesn’t have to be joyful; it doesn’t have to be the-best-sweat-you-ever-had, it just has to be something.

-Drink your coffee. Even if you must reheat it. Even if you must reheat it twice. But also drink some water because hydration feels good.

-Keep a fitness journal if you want or draw a smiley face in the shower steam. Acknowledge your blank journal day as much as your chatty days. Often, we say more with quiet than with noise.

-Pay attention to your thoughts or give yourself a break from contemplation and watch some mindless TV.

-Eat the rainbow. And then a piece of cake. Or be double daring and eat the cake first. Acknowledge that emotional eating is not synonymous with Bad Eating.

-Don’t beat yourself up if what you ate today came from a box instead of the farmers market. You fed yourself, or your family, or both. You’re doing a good job.

-Make sure you drink your water, but you aren’t a failure if you didn’t hit your daily goal, or even if some of that water came from an Adult Beverage after a long day.

-Get the sleep you can. Some days you’re going to toss and turn, some days you’re going to sleep through an alarm. Some days you’ll fall right asleep. Give yourself a break. Get the sleep you can on the days when life is tough, and on other days, get the sleep you need.

Allowing yourself some grace on the 25% days is going to give you some perspective for the 100% days, and the 90% days, and the 73% days. Just remember, you are doing a good job! Be proud of yourself and don’t give up!


SUCCESSFUL YOM KIPPUR FASTING | Myra Berkowitz, MNS, RD

Some say a fast shouldn’t be easy. But, neither should fasting be so difficult that one can’t concentrate on prayer.

The following suggestions may help your fast day go more smoothly.

Before the fast:

  • Get well hydrated.  Be sure to drink plenty of fluids during the day or two preceding Yom Kippur to minimize dehydration.
  • Eat reasonably well. Don’t overeat, but do be sure to eat normal meals and get sufficient protein and carbohydrate foods the day before.
  • Decrease salty and spicy foods, which would only increase your thirst later while fasting. Obviously salty foods include salted pretzels, crackers, and chips; pickles, olives, and other salty condiments; regular canned foods; and prepared soups and stews. (It’s hard to entirely avoid salt unless you cook from scratch, but you may be able to decrease it enough to be helpful.)
  • Decrease caffeine from coffee, tea, soda, and other sources during the week preceding Yom Kippur. Otherwise, caffeine “withdrawal” can produce a headache that will make fasting more difficult. (Some religious authorities allow use of caffeine in pill form, but this may be less desirable solution.)

During the fast:

  • Bring light layers of clothing to help you adjust to the ambient temperature and not feel too warm or too cold.
  • Walk around and get fresh air as possible, but avoid any strenuous activity. You may actually feel better if you move around rather than lie down.
  • Sniffing spices is allowed on Yom Kippur and can be restorative!

After the fast:

  • Break your fast by first drinking fluids, which will be absorbed quickly on an empty stomach and rehydrate you.
  • Progress to regular foods, but try not to eat too rapidly.
  • Remember what you did that helped you through the fast, in order to recall those strategies next time!

If you cannot fast:

  • Medical conditions and medications prevent some people from fasting safely. Please discuss any concerns or questions with your medical provider and/or rabbi.
  • A meditation for one who cannot fast, by Rabbi S.Y. Weintraub, can be found at the Ritualwell website.

Myra Berkowitz is a Registered Dietitian and nutritionist at Cornell Health who observes the Yom Kippur fast.


FACING PROBLEMS HEAD ON | Jen Goldston

This summer, a pipe burst in my kid’s 2nd floor bathroom, flooding my kitchen. The plumber turned the water off to that bathroom while they fixed the leak. Once the leak was fixed, the restoration team turned their attention to the kitchen ceiling and then the kitchen floor. They forgot to turn the cold water back on but promised to do it that week. Then the garbage disposal started leaking in the kitchen, and no one wanted to risk any more floods, so we left the water off.  Some of the house has water, and some of it doesn’t. The cold water in the kid’s bathroom doesn’t work in the sink, but the hot water does. The kitchen sink works, and a bucket in the cabinet underneath means that so long as you empty it once a day, the leak in the disposal is no big deal. It will get fixed once the floor is done. In the meantime, you wash your hands quickly in the kid’s bathroom, so you don’t get burned. You don’t run the disposal in the kitchen. You learn to live around the broken things, the inconveniences.

And inconveniences become obstacles. They slow down the process. They mutate into bigger and bigger things until they feel insurmountable. The cold water being turned off means that handwashing is less efficient, it means kids are running downstairs to wash their hands in different bathrooms or (ew) not washing their hands at all.

When a problem pops up, the best thing to do is to face it head on and face it immediately. Work schedule change? Don’t give yourself a month to figure out your new routine before you return to the gym. Feeling uninspired? Push through the sludge-feeling and rely on discipline instead of motivation. Don’t allow a bad day to become a bad week, month or longer.

If it feels hard, write out what feels un-doable, break down the problem into smaller chunks, call in a life line or a workout buddy, accountability partner, or sign up for a Group Exercise class. Often, having someone who will miss you, or a class that you’ve committed to, will be the push you need to Get It Done.

As for me? I called the plumber while I was writing this Healthy and Fit tip, and he’ll be there tomorrow. Problem solved. Clean hands for all.


BENEFITS OF SPINNING | Marsha Mullen

Spinning® may conjure “fun” to some and “sweat” to others. Yet no one can deny the extensive list of health and fitness benefits of Spinning® – including though not limited to physical, mental and even social boons. From slimming down the physique, you see in the mirror to the invigorating experience of a Spinning® class with like-minded fitness enthusiasts…the list of benefits is extensive.

We’re sharing the top benefits of Spinning® here and now, so you know what to expect if you’re a newbie or so you can reflect on all you gain from Spinning® if you’re already a pro on the bike. Enjoy!

1. Turn that Caloric Burn up a Notch
Hands down, Spinning® offers one of the highest caloric burn returns of any workout you can do. In the study Heart Rate Response and Calories Burned in a Spinning® Workout, subjects burned between 7.2 to 13.6 calories per minute. Total calories burned during a 40-minute Spinning® workout ranged from 467 to 617 calories. Consider that in the context of another popular activity, Hatha Yoga, which burns 240 to 356 calories per hour. Plus, thanks to the science of EPOC the “afterburn effect” means that you’ll continue to burn more calories even after your ride!

Expert Tip: Pair your ride with a heart rate monitor for an estimate of the number of calories you burn during a ride. Better yet, since a power meter measures the wattage generated, it tells you the accurate amount of energy (calories) expended as expressed in kJs (kilojoules).

2. Strengthen Your Heart
Through aerobic and anaerobic training of Spinning® workouts, you will improve your heart’s stroke volume. This is the volume of blood pumped out of the heart’s left ventricle to the rest of the body with each heartbeat. So, an increased stroke volume means that your heart pumps out more blood with each stroke. In fact, your left ventricle can actually grow in size due to increased stroke volume! What does this mean? You want to protect your heart?! Hop on a Spinner® bike!

3. Be Kind to Your Joints and Go Easy on Your Knees
Spinning® puts far less pressure on your knees and your feet than other traditional cardio alternatives. With the ability to work hard on a Spinner® bike without impact, you can focus on results without discomfort. In fact, indoor cycling low-impact workouts accommodate ailments, are easy on injuries, support joint and tendon health, and are excellent for the longevity of your fitness regime.
In this study – The Effects of Group Cycling (Spinning®) With Knee Osteoarthritis – indoor cycling (Spinning® specifically!) was shown to improve gait, pain levels and physical functioning for those suffering from osteoarthritis [1]. What does this imply? Spinning® can actually be good for your knees!  THIS STUDY WAS DONE HERE AT THE JCC OF GREATER PITTSBURGH!

4. Get Ready for Race Day
Spinning® relies upon the same techniques as outdoor cycling. In fact, the Spinner® bike has the same geometry as an outdoor bike and was born from the road. It unites innovation in indoor stationary bike technology with an unprecedented cycling experience on the road. This means you can train realistically for your race on a Spinner® bike. You can even wear the same shoes and clip in just like you would outdoors. Though there is one major benefit to Spinning® versus road riding – no helmet required!
 
5. Enhance Your Mental Strength
Spinning® can also help you develop a “can-do” attitude. Spinning® builds mental strength because as you’ll find the more you ride, there are easier days and then there are harder days on the bike. The important detail to remember is that you can ride through it all. Push through difficult hill climbs and coast through the flats. Both are a part of your time on the bike. This mental self-discipline increases with each pedal stroke and can be applied to other areas of your life involving self-control or confidence. As we like to say – you got this!

6. Set Your Own Pace
In every Spinning® class, whether in-person at a studio or via Spinning® Digital, everyone rides together regardless of age, size, ability or experience. You’re in command of your intensity each moment of your ride because you control both cadence and resistance on the bike. A beginner can climb a steep hill alongside a professional cyclist, and they will reach the summit together – each one finding the amount of challenge and effort that’s right for them. It’s all about your own personal ride.

7. Join the Spinning® Community That Trains Like a Team
Regardless of fitness level, Spinning® unifies people through a training program that changes lives. Just look to the unified enjoyment you can see on the faces of class full of people striving to achieve their best. That type of collective enjoyment in pursuit of a common goal is truly authentic and inspirational to Spinning®. You don’t just sit in class unaffected by your neighbor – you and your neighbor motivate each other. In those moments, you become more than a group of riders – you become a team.

Riding together also gives you the opportunity to encourage others. You can inspire those who have not yet reached your fitness level; while those stronger than you, inspire you. Working together, everyone who rides can reach his or her own goals and share in the benefits of Spinning® together.

So, take the challenge and sign up today for a class – you too can feel the benefits!!!


FIND SAFETY IN THE STORM | Jen Goldston, August 13, 2021

Thursday night I experienced something new.

Pittsburgh had storms sweep through in their normal Summer way, swift and tempestuous. They came raging during Group Centergy, our pilates yoga fusion class held in the Kaufmann Garage. I was not a participant that night, so when the wind began to pick up, the fat raindrops becoming a single never-ending sheet of rain; I stood off to the side of the class and watched. It gave me a unique perspective, to be a part of, and still aside from what was going on.

The same way I love Group Exercise, I also love words, and I could not stop thinking about Centergy’s tag line… “Center your Energy”, is there anything more poignant than Centering yourself inside of a literal storm?

I watched the participants adjust themselves out of the way of newly formed small streams, how they dug in deeper to concentrate despite the sonorous thunder. How Evan lead his class with gratitude to them for being there, humor and grace.

Life is not going to be calm all the time, ideal conditions are the exception and not the rule. Learning to grow in what might be less comfortable than you hoped for is a beautiful (and yes, probably messy) experience. But there can be safety in the storm, growth and change.

 


RETURNING TO THE GYM | Jen Goldston

You’re coming back to the gym, maybe after months of disuse. Maybe, like me, you ate raw cookie dough hunched over like Gollum and refused to come out of your darkened cocoon of a room. Maybe you’ve been working out hard, but your home weights and your backyard just aren’t fulfilling your need for socialization. Whatever your reason, you’re back.

Before you deep dive into your pre-pandemic fitness routine, take time to acknowledge that you may not currently be where you were 18 months ago. Ease into your new routine, be smart about how much you’re working out, hydrating, eating and follow these tips to ensure a healthy return to, well…health.

  • Runners can start with a walk-to-run program. As you feel more comfortable walking for a longer time or distance, take minutes away from the walk and add it to the run.
  • Weightlifters should start out with lighter weights. As you increase the weight, you can decrease the number of repetitions. Your progress can be marked by how comfortably you’re able to increase the weight or number of repetitions.
  • To avoid overuse and stress, alternate activities during your workout that engage different parts of the body.
  • During Group Exercise classes, pay attention to your heart rate and how you feel. Instructors will offer a variety of modifications to best suit your current needs.

Don’t be hard on yourself if your reps are less or your weights are lower. It took you time to get to produce your best efforts the first time around, and it will take a bit this time too, but good news! Rebuilding old muscle is a lot faster than gaining it in the first place, thanks to a phenomenon known as muscle memory. Research shows that when a muscle is gained, lost, and then gained back again, it will grow more quickly during the re-building phase compared to the initial training period from an untrained state. So give yourself a bit of grace, dig in with a bit of grit, and remember, showing up is more than half the battle!

Congratulations on choosing yourself, again and again and again.

Jen Goldston, Concierge and Member Relations at the JCC in Squirrel Hill, is a frequent writing contributor about the fitness experience


14 WAYS TO ENCOURAGE KIDS TO PLAY OUTDOORS | Leave No Child Inside Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati
We believe that all parents want what is best for their children. We also know that our world is changing more quickly than ever before, and sometimes we are swept into new lifestyles before we realize it. Who would have imagined 30 years ago that we would need to encourage parents to send their children outside to play? But, with children spending between 40 and 60 hours per week attached to electronic umbilici, and the balance of their time scheduled between school, sports and other extracurricular activities, educators, doctors and early childcare experts are beginning to see a myriad of negative effects ranging from reduced cognitive development as a result of overly structured activities that do not stimulate problem solving and creativity, to childhood obesity , reduced muscle development and balance and other physical ailments.

The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recognizes play as a right of every child and the American Academy of Pediatrics states that “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth”. The AAP goes on to say that “even those children who are fortunate enough to have abundant available resources and who live in relative peace may not be receiving the full benefits of play. Many of these children are being raised in an increasingly hurried and pressured style that may limit the protective benefits they would gain from child-driven play”.

We hope that your family will take a step back from the hurried lifestyle to which we have become accustomed, and recognize the need for all of us, but especially our children, to have free time for play! Here are a few ideas to get your kids started. Once they’re outside, we predict that they’ll have plenty of their own ideas.

Tips for Parents and Mentors to Encourage Outdoor Play

  1. If you live in a house, create a child – friendly backyard.
  2. Give children a place on the porch, deck or in the bedroom where they can display nature treasures that they find and want to keep.
  3. Provide simple tools to aid discovery. Kids love tools! Include a bug box, trowel, magnifier, etc.
  4. When you take children to parks and other natural areas, allow them to explore. Let them decide which trails to take. Stay nearby for safety, but don’t interfere or help unless asked.
  5. Encourage plenty of time outside. Consider taking a walk to the library, store or post office instead of driving.
  6. If a child asks or remarks about a landmark or natural feature you drive past often, find out more about it and go for a visit.
  7. Take advantage of the natural resources available in your area. Take children canoeing, kayaking or fishing.
  8. Take a few leaves from different trees while the children are not looking. Give them the leaves and ask them to find which trees they came from.
  9. Provide a tree identification book to help kids learn about the trees in their own neighborhood.
  10. In the fall, leave the fallen leaves down for a while so kids can run around and shuffle through them.
  11. Rake up a big leaf pile and let them demolish it. If they’re not preschoolers, leave the rake out so they can rebuild it if they want.
  12. If you have an appropriate area, let older children build a campfire in the backyard. Set safety rules, then stay away while they and their friends discuss hot topics. Check for safety by looking out the window or wandering out to ask if they need more snacks.
  13. Put out bird feeders that can be seen easily from windows. Let children help feed the birds. Keep a bird book by the window to help them identify what they see.
  14. Make up challenges for children to do outside, similar to the “Survivor” television show. This is a guaranteed kid pleaser, especially if there is a reward (a gift of time with Mom or Dad, or perhaps a night off from helping with the dishes).

Sources
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Convention on the Rights of the Child. General Assembly Resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989. Available at www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/k2crc.htm.


YES, YOU NEED A MASSAGE! | massagetherapy.com

Have you had your tires rotated recently? Been to the dentist for a cleaning? There are some appointments you don’t think twice about making—they’re just a part of life. It’s time to think of massage as routine maintenance.

“… But My Body Doesn’t Hurt”

We automatically schedule routine maintenance for our cars, but all too often, we don’t give our bodies the same consideration. Fail to get your oil changed or your tires rotated, and you can count on some major problems down the road. Similarly, when you fail to pay attention to your body and provide it with the care it deserves, you may very well run into health issues that could have been prevented.

Think of it this way: vehicle maintenance (like oil changes and tire rotations) isn’t something you do only when there’s a problem—it’s something you do to prevent problems from happening in the first place. The same holds true with your body. Just because you don’t currently have an injury or an urgent reason to receive bodywork doesn’t mean you shouldn’t schedule regular sessions to prevent those problems from happening down the line. In addition, studies have shown that the most significant, lasting benefits of massage are found with repeated sessions, not just a one-time visit.1

What types of problems can result from inattention to your body? Stress- or repetitive motion-related injuries are the first things that come to mind, but tight muscles and pain due to posture, as well as recurring migraines, are also potential problems. Conditions such as these, that start as a nuisance but accumulate into major problems over a long period of time, are much more difficult to fix after the fact than they are to prevent. And once the damage is done, it can often last for years. Don’t wait until it’s too late to give your body some TLC.

“… But I’m already Relaxed”

Simply put, massage should be an integral part of any well-rounded lifestyle that embraces health and wellness. Even if you only look at the massage hour as an opportunity to unplug from the noise and the stress of everyday life, that’s fine too. Massage has been proven to reduce stress, and reducing stress has been clearly associated with a number of significant health benefits.2

That being said, massage does not simply promote relaxation (although it does that in spades)—it improves flexibility, reduces blood pressure, improves sleep, and may even facilitate a change in one’s sense of self by encouraging body awareness and enhancing your ability to experience your body in a more positive way.3

“… But I Don’t Have the Time”

Don’t think you have time to get a massage? Committing to a healthy lifestyle that includes regular bodywork doesn’t mean you need to clear enough time for a 90-minute stone massage every week. Bodywork comes in many forms, some of which are tailored specifically for busy individuals like yourself. Chair massages are great for a quick “recharge and refresh” session—consider a 30- or even 15-minute chair massage on your lunch break.
It’s time to make time for you! If you’re relatively healthy and injury-free, congratulations—now take steps to ensure you stay that way for years to come and schedule your next sessions today.

Massage is back!

at the JCC Squirrel Hill!

Meet Jen Petrus, who is glad to be back to work and looking forward to seeing clients past and new in the Centerfit Platinum. Jen has been providing massage therapy at the JCC since graduating from the Pittsburgh School of Massage Therapy in 2014. She will customize your session to fit your goals; whether you are looking for a soothing Swedish massage for relaxation or some heavier pressure to work out knots, need pain relief for your neck and shoulders, or just want a foot massage. We all deserve to set aside time to focus on just feeling good!

To schedule an appointment, contact Evan Aiello at [email protected] or call 412-521-8010


8 EXERCISES FOR HEALTHY HIPS | Nancy Howard, with Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer

The hip flexors are the group of muscles that allow you to lift your knees toward your chest and bend forward from the hips.  What is collectively referred to as the hip flexors is actually a group of muscles that includes the iliopsoas, the thigh muscles (rectus femoris, Sartorius and tensor fasciae latae), and the inner thigh muscles (adductor longus and brevis, pectineus and gracilis).

Tight hip flexors are a common problem among those of us who spend a lot of the day sitting at a desk.  When you spend a lot of time in a seated position, the hip flexors remain in a shortened position. Over time, the shortened muscles become “tight,” which leads to its own set of problems.

Tight hip flexors can result in lower back pain, hip pain and injury.  A lot of strain is put on those muscles during activities that involve sprinting and kicking.  For example, runners are more prone to hip flexor injuries because of the small, repetitive movement during running.   But even if you’re not an athlete, hip flexor injuries can occur during everyday activities (for instance, slipping and falling or running to catch a bus).  When those tight muscles are suddenly stretched beyond what they are accustomed to, you might also experience pain in the upper groin region, typically where the hip meets the pelvis.

Simple hip-strengthening and stretching exercises can help keep these muscles from becoming tight, therefore decreasing your risk of injury and discomfort.  Try these stretches daily and incorporate a few of the strength exercises into your routine 2-3 times per week.

Hip Flexor Stretches
Seated Butterfly Stretch:  A simple stretch for your inner thighs, hips and lower back.

Pigeon Pose: This yoga posture lengthens the hip flexors on the back leg.

Weighted Hip Extension: This exercise lengthens the hip flexors while simultaneously strengthening the glutes, which are often weak in people with tight hip flexors.

Bridges: A great way to give the hip flexors a chance to lengthen while also strengthening the posterior chain of the body.

Hip Flexor Strengthening Exercises
Note: Exercises that strengthen the hip flexors also involve contracting (shortening) these muscles. So if tight hip flexors are a problem for you, it might be wise to limit how many direct hip-strengthening exercises you perform. These exercises are more geared toward people who have been told they have weak hip flexors that need strengthening or are looking for targeted exercises to build more power and stamina in the hip flexors.

Balancing Hip Flexion:  Use your core to help with balance during this exercise that strengthens the hips and glutes.

Runner’s Lunges:  A great addition to any workout routine, this lower body strength move targets multiple muscles at once.

Skater Squats:  A strength exercise for the hip flexors that can be done anytime, anywhere.  Use a chair for balance and eliminate the squat for simplicity, if needed.

Pendulum:  A more advanced exercise to strengthen the core and hips.  Start with smaller movement and increase your range of motion as you become stronger.

In addition to these exercises, there are simple things you can do every day to help reduce your risk of hip flexor pain.  If you sit at a desk for long periods of time, try to get up and move around every hour or so.  Warm up properly before any physical activity, and stretch regularly at the end of each workout. Your hips will thank you for it!

If you need help with improve your hip flexibility and mobility check out our Yoga Stretch class with Marsha on Sundays at 10 am on Virtual JCCPGH


6 SURPRISING BENEFITS OF ZUMBA | Cassie Shortsleeve 

Yes, it burns calories, improves heart health, and reduces stress. But this exercise offers everyone even more.

Zumba has been called exercise in disguise—and for good reason. During a class, you’ll dance to the beat of Latin-inspired tunes while sneaking in both low- and high-intensity moves.“Zumba classes are energizing, community-building, and designed to provide much of what we love in SilverSneakers classes,” says Terecita “Ti” Blair, the 2017 SilverSneakers Instructor of the Year. “These include cardiovascular, balance, and coordination benefits, and most importantly, fun.”In fact, a study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) analyzed the benefits of Zumba Gold, a lower-intensity class. It found that a single session meets the exercise-intensity guidelines for improving and maintaining cardio fitness in older adults, says Sabrena Jo, a senior exercise scientist with ACE.

Heart benefits aside, there are plenty of other reasons to love Zumba. Here are six more reasons to give it a try.

1. It’s Easy on the Joints

As you get older, bone density and joint support naturally start to wane, which means high-impact exercises like running may not be doable. Zumba is an excellent low-impact workout, Blair says. It protects your joints and muscles while raising your heart rate and improving your balance, posture, and coordination.

Zumba Gold in particular allows you to go at your own speed and provides low-impact routines that are easy to follow.

2. It’s a Moving Meditation

Meditation is popular among health-conscious individuals for many reasons, but one of the biggest benefits is that it gives your mind a chance to rest. It clears the chatter and teaches you to be present in the here and now. Zumba is similar to meditation in that way.

Focusing on your body as it moves through rhythmic exercises helps keep you grounded in the present. It teaches you mindfulness without having to meditate. “There’s no better way to practice living in the moment than by giving yourself an opportunity to simply go with the flow,” Blair says.

3. It’s a Chance to Let Go and Laugh

Zumba truly gives you a chance to “dance like no one’s watching,” Blair says. “You don’t have to know how to dance to take a Zumba class. You just have to be willing to try.”

It helps to remember that messing up is simply part of learning—it means you’re being challenged. Be willing to laugh at yourself. “Laughter is a key ingredient of a Zumba class and of a happy, playful life,” Blair says.

Need more convincing? A study in The Gerontologist found that when laughter was incorporated into a workout, it boosted older adults’ mental health, aerobic endurance, and confidence regarding exercise.

4. It Keeps Your Brain Sharp

Unlike many forms of exercise, Zumba offers an endless variety of movements. You start with the basics and then gradually layer on new techniques. This fancy footwork keeps your brain active and focused, Blair says. “Shifting your weight and rhythmic steps challenge hand-eye coordination and right-left brain activity.”

And the benefits don’t stop once you learn the moves. “Familiar Zumba dance moves can help increase our neuromuscular memory so we feel successful,” Blair says.

5. You’ll Never Stop Improving—In and Out of Class

Mastering each new Zumba movement is a small win. Your success might inspire you to challenge yourself again, moving toward more advanced moves, Blair says.

Plus, that motivation to face new challenges often translates into real life. “On the Zumba floor, we practice patience with ourselves and others, and we gain confidence to learn new tasks,” Blair says. “These are qualities that can be useful in all of our daily interactions.”

6. It Helps You Stick to an Exercise Routine

In the ACE study, researchers noted a common post-workout sentiment among Zumba participants: They truly enjoyed the experience. Eventually, Blair says, an “I can’t dance” declaration becomes a “That was fun!” exclamation—which then turns into “Let’s do it again!”

That’s the goal. “With the power of dance and Zumba,” Blair says, “you are instilling self-confidence, empowerment, and healthy risk-taking all while adding fun back to movement.”


Patti Sciulli | CAN YOU TRULY EAT ANYTHING AS LONG AS YOU DON’T OVERDO IT?

You’ve heard it before (definitely from me) . Go ahead and enjoy your favorite foods- just do so in moderation. It’s a phrase meant to help prevent feelings of deprivation when you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet… (you are ,right?). While in theory it’s sound advice, in reality it’s meaningless. That’s because it’s too ambiguous to be helpful and can be problematic for those trying to maintain or lose weight. One person might define “moderate” as a small slice of cake or pie once or twice a week, while another person, who also loves dessert, might be convinced that it means a sweet treat twice a day! Researchers have found that the more a person liked a certain food, the more forgiving he or she was with the word “moderation”. For example, the twice-a-day person’s sweet habit is moderate in his mind because he’d actually like to eat treats 3-4 times a day.

Keep tabs on yourself! To figure out what moderation means in your day-to-day eating, here’s a little help. I follow a 80/20 approach, which means I make 80% of my food choices healthy and leave 20% wiggle room for my favorite indulgences. It’s bagels in case you just met me! If you’re counting calories, try to limit your treat foods to 150-200 total calories. And don’t forget to enjoy every bite!

“Maybe she’s crazy…Maybe she needs carbs! YOU DON”T KNOW!”


Elaine Cappucci | RETURNING TO GROUP EXERCISE CLASSES 

Returning to Group Exercise classes after a long break? Whether you took a break from group classes or did online classes at home, when you return to the gym you may feel like classes are harder than they used to be, or you may feel like you’ve been cooped up and you’re ready to “go for it.” In either case, rushing the return, going too hard or too fast can lead to injury.  It’s likely you lost some muscle strength and cardiovascular endurance over the past year, so give yourself time to build back up.  You need to listen to your body!

This might be a good time to change up your fitness routine, get some variety, and add some gentle stretching or mind/body classes:

  • If you are returning to a strength training class like Group Power, don’t start with the weight you were doing before.  Go light, learn the routine, and add weight as needed.
  • If you are returning to a cardio-intense class like Group Blast, try Group Active instead, or think about using a lower step for the first few classes.
  • If you used to do SilverSneakers Circuit class, start off with the seated/standing SilverSneaker Classic until you have the strength, stamina and balance to do the standing circuit class.
  • You can build muscle strength and practice mindfulness in Group Centergy or in Yoga or Tai Chi class.

We hate to admit it to ourselves, but, while it is easy to get in the habit of not exercising, and no matter how anxious we are to get back to the gym, it is hard to restart the habit of regular workouts.  Don’t fall into the trap of quitting because you are not where you used to be or you can’t do what someone next to you can do.  Set yourself up for success by starting with classes you most enjoy, setting short- and long-term goals and remaining positive.   Group ex is all about working out together to achieve our individual fitness goals!

View our schedule of outdoor Pop In and back-to-the-studio indoor Group Exercise classes HERE


Patti Sciulli | WHEN EXERCISE STRESSES YOU OUT

When things are tough, exercise can be a form of stress relief. But if right now, every mile you run feels like a marathon, and every Zoom workout takes 10 times more effort than what you once cranked out in a studio, you’re not alone. Sometimes the stress of just getting through each day can sabotage your workouts and make you tired of working out.

That’s because exercise itself is a stressor.

Before you work out, check in with your stress levels. Are you relaxed enough to get a quality workout from high intensity exercise? Or are you so tense that you’re going to be fighting yourself to get the outcome you want? If you’re feeling run down, think about alternatives to your go-to workout. If you’re a runner, go for a walk. If you love spin classes, try a chill bike ride instead.

If you’re already breaking a sweat, how your body reacts in the first 10-15 minutes of a workout is a good signal of how that workout is going to feel. Think about warming up – that type of intensity should be relaxing. If you’re not sure whether you’re under too much stress, start by extending your warm-up to 15-20 minutes. If at the end of that time you feel better, you get the green light to proceed with your workout. If you still feel bad, continue at the warm-up intensity. And if you feel worse, call it a day and do some light stretching or some simple yoga poses. It’s really okay!

So stress – in small amounts, when it’s limited, when you recover from it, and when you’re able to cope with it -is a good thing.

Shocker: The unique stressors of 2020 broke all of those rules. We don’t feel like we are personally in control, we don’t feel like our communities are in control, and we don’t feel like the country is in control. Anything that is uncontrollable is going to make stress much worse. And when your body is in a prolonged state of high-alert due to non-stop cortisol release, it sucks up a lot of your energy.

In high-stress state of living, you want to listen to your body and give yourself permission to use exercise for good as opposed to being driven by whatever requirements you’ve placed around it. You’ve got to be a little more forgiving and know that your workouts are always going to be ebbing and flowing. We are not going for our A-game right now; we’re going for maintaining until we get back to our A-game. And honestly – IT’S OKAY!

“It’s astounding how much one’s stress levels goes down with the simple act of switching from skinny jeans to yoga pants!”


K. Aleisha Fetters, SilverSneakers | 3 AMAZING HEALTH BENEFITS OF A WALK AFTER DINNER

A 15-minute evening stroll rewards you both mentally and physically.

Strength train. Meditate. Cook your own meals. Get more sleep. Keep
a gratitude journal.
The list of things we’re told we need to do to live a healthier, longer life can quickly overwhelm.
What if we told you there was one simple daily routine that can check off multiple boxes for health improvement in just 15 minutes? Oh, and it’s something you’ll look forward to every day.
Here’s the secret habit: Go for a short walk after dinner, preferably with a partner or group. Why? Let us count the ways.
Health Benefit #1: A Group Walk Lifts Your Spirits
“I’ve seen this tradition of an after-dinner stroll in cities throughout Italy and love it,” says sports dietitian Marie Spano, R.D., whose grandparents hail from Italy. “Every evening, the piazzas are filled with people socializing.”
Called la passeggiata, the evening walk isn’t about getting their heart rate up or working off those carbs. It’s about simply moseying around with loved ones—getting some fresh air, spending time with family, and stumbling into friends along the way.
Don’t worry if you live alone. Consider inviting a neighbor to join you each evening.
Still no takers? Head out solo to take advantage of chance encounters for some lively small talk. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that short, casual conversations with those you don’t know well leave people with positive emotions.
Chatting about the weather or the home team’s latest win is a simple way to foster a sense of belonging, experts say.
Health Benefit #2: Socializing Is Good for Your Heart
Even if health isn’t the point of these evening walks, it’s an undeniable outcome, Spano says. In fact, researchers spent 50 years, from 1935 to 1985, studying the Italian immigrants who made up Roseto, Pennsylvania. The purpose? To understand why their health was so good. Compared with nearby towns, Roseto had shockingly low rates of
death due to heart attacks. It turns out that the Roseto community’s strong ties to friends and family—through activities like la passeggiata—were to thank.
Scientists now call the positive influence of social support on our health the “Roseto Effect,” explains David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., author of “Always Hungry?” and coauthor of “Always Delicious.” Having strong social ties directly affect hormone, blood pressure, and inflammation levels, he adds.
Any opportunity to socialize and feel connected is a good one. According to Brigham Young University researchers, social isolation carries a health risk
(https://www.silversneakers.com/blog/reconnect-isolation/) that’s comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Health Benefit #3: Walking After a Meal Stabilizes Your Blood Sugar
If socializing is good for your health, socializing on the move—particularly after dinner—is better. Even a leisurely stroll encourages your body to use glucose, or blood sugar, for energy or to store it for later use as glycogen, says Laura Cipullo, R.D., a dietitian and diabetes educator.
When older adults with poor blood sugar control walked for 15 minutes after each meal, they improved their blood sugar levels far better than when they went on one 45-minute walk per day, according to a Diabetes Care study.
If you compare that to most people’s post-dinner routines of watching TV, paying bills, or checking social media, it’s easy to see how going on a walk around the block immediately following dinner can help improve your health, Dr. Ludwig says.
That’s perhaps the best part of la passeggiata. It takes so little time. Just 15 minutes will have noticeable benefits, Cipullo says. And the longer lease on life is well worth the time investment.
In the mood for a more challenging walk? Check out these nine ways
to kick up your walking workout
(https://www.silversneakers.com/blog/9-ways-walking-workout/).


Marsha Mullin | WHAT IS TAI CHI?

Tai chi is a form of exercise that began as a Chinese tradition. It’s based in martial arts and involves slow movements and deep breaths. Tai chi has many physical and emotional benefits. Some of the benefits of tai chi include decreased anxiety, depression and improves balance and concentration.  It may also help you manage symptoms of some chronic diseases, such as fibromyalgia, arthritis and Parkinson’s.

Here are some of the benefits of Tai Chi: 

1.Reduces stress

One of the main benefits of tai chi is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety, though most evidence is anecdotal.

In 2018, one study compared the effects of tai chi on stress-related anxiety to traditional exercise. The study included 50 participants. The researchers found that tai chi provided the same benefits for managing stress-related anxiety as exercise. Because tai chi also includes meditation and focused breathing, the researchers noted that tai chi may be superior to other forms of exercise for reducing stress and anxiety.

Tai chi is very accessible and lower impact than many other forms of exercise. The researchers found it to be safe and inexpensive, so it may be a good option if you are otherwise healthy and experiencing stress-related anxiety.

2. Improves mood

Tai chi may help improve your mood if you are depressed or anxious. Preliminary research suggests that regularly practicing tai chi can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s believed that the slow, mindful breaths and movements have a positive effect on the nervous system and mood-regulating hormones.

3. Better sleep

Regularly practicing tai chi may help you to have more restful sleep.  Tai chi can improve sleep for older adults, too. In a study, researchers found that two months of twice-weekly tai chi classes was associated with better sleep-in older adults with cognitive impairment.

4. Improves cognition in older adults

Tai chi may improve cognition in older adults with cognitive impairment. More specifically, tai chi may help improve memory and executive functioning skills like paying attention and carrying out complex tasks.

5. Reduces risk of falling in adults

Tai chi can help improve balance and motor function and reduce fear of falling in older adults. It can also reduce actual falls after 8 weeks of practice, and significantly reduce falls after 16 weeks of practice. Because fear of falling can reduce independence and quality of life, and falls can lead to serious complications, tai chi may offer the additional benefit of improving quality of life and general well-being  in adults.

5. Improves fibromyalgia symptoms

Tai chi may compliment traditional methods for management of certain chronic diseases.

Results from a 2018 study showed that a consistent tai chi practice can decrease the symptoms of fibromyalgia in some people.

6. Improves balance and strength in people with Parkinson’s

In a randomized, controlled trial of 195 participants, regular practice of tai chi was found to decrease the number of falls in people with Parkinson’s disease. Tai chi can also help you to increase leg strength and overall balance.

7. Safe for people with coronary heart disease

Tai chi is a safe form of moderate exercise you can try if you have coronary heart disease. Following a cardiovascular event, regular tai chi practices may help you:

  • increase physical activity
  • lose weight
  • improve your quality of life

8. Reduces pain from arthritis

Participants reported less pain and improved mobility and balance.

Is tai chi safe?

Tai chi is generally considered to be a safe exercise with few side effects. You may experience some aches or pains after practicing tai chi if you’re a beginner.

Tai chi is an exercise that can benefit both healthy adults and adults living with a chronic condition.

A new session starts on June 4 – August 14 at the Squirrel Hill JCC.  Registration is required and is limited.
Register at the Centerfit desk. 
Questions: Contact Marsha Mullen at [email protected] or 412-339-5415


Steve Manns | PREPARE FOR THE SHOWDOWN

Training for the Hidden Obstacle in Steel City Showdown Obstacle Course Race

We live in Pittsburgh, and hills are part of our lives.  If we are walking anywhere, we will encounter a hill.  If we are racing – think about the JCC Steel City Showdown coming up in August – we need to be able to power up those hills.

Athletes often don’t think about hills as an obstacle but in any race in this area, hills will be part of the course.  How can we make walking, running, or racing on hills easier?

Practice and train.

  1. Find a hilly trail or neighborhood route for a weekend hike – it is plenty hilly around western Pennsylvania, so you won’t have to look too hard. We all love the flat Rails to Trails, but save those for long walks or runs, not for hill training.
  2. You can also work in the gym to train your legs for the adventure of hills. Add some mountain climbers or even burpees to your fitness training.  Set your treadmill at a high incline.
  3. Don’t forget, you must get down the hill as well and while you may think that is easier than the uphill, you want to be careful to avoid falls and stress injuries. Downhill running is a skill that requires deliberate practice and a shorter stride.  To train, start small, find a small hill, and walk down, then back up.  Repeat, running down.
  4. Obstacle course racing uses all your muscles in 3D, so –  train in 3D. Take a class that works you in all planes of motion.  Stretch and Strength, Mobility and Strength and Spartan Strong are all classes that work you in 3D.  Get yourself ready to excel.

Patti Sciulli | PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION

If you’re a bit hard on yourself, it’s time to let up… especially now. Practicing self-compassion actually slows the heart rate and decreases your sweat response, a recent study shows. Being kind to yourself could help address stress by activating this response in your body that makes you feel safe and relaxed.

Chronic stress is linked to a host of problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, so when you feel yourself getting worked up, take a moment and try this: Scan your body from your head to your toes, bringing awareness to each part and gratitude for what it does to keep you alive and active.

And the next time you think you’ve screwed up, pay close attention to how you talk to yourself- chances are you’d be much nicer to a good friend in the same situation.

“You have a choice. You can throw in the towel or use it to wipe the sweat off your face.”


Patti Sciulli | AVOID DISTRACTION WHILE YOU EAT

I totally get it: It’s tempting to try and break the boredom with snacks,  lots of snacks! My number one tip is to avoid distraction while you eat. Eat only in the kitchen, not in the bedroom, or office.

  1. Sit down at the table for ALL meals and snacks and slow the heck down. Take the time to really taste what you are eating.
  2. Always put your food on a plate, as eating straight from the bag can very quickly lead to overeating. Seeing the portion on the plate helps you visualize just how much you’re taking in. Single-portion packages are helpful, or you can divvy up the contents of a large bag into smaller, healthy individual bags.
  3. Finally, do a little pantry reorganization: Put the foods you’re most likely to overeat in the back and keep fresh, nutritious items front and center. Out of sight, out of mind really is true. Or, just a thought, don’t even bring those trigger foods into your house.
  4. Keep a bowl of easy-to-grab fresh fruit on the table in plain sight.

“Food is the most abused anxiety drug! And please remember, you are what you eat, so don’t be fast, cheap, easy or fake!”

You all know this comes from a place of love, right?


Patti Sciulli | SMALL GOALS. I mean REALLY small goals!

Real change happens by setting small, tiny little goals – especially during this crazy time. Let’s say you want to become stronger. Your goal might be to do at least one push-up a day.

This week, think about just one super small habit you want to form, then break it down using this simple habit strategy.

1. CHOOSE A CUE – Even simple and small habits need something to help trigger them and the key is to be specific. You may decide to perform your push-up immediately after brushing your teeth each morning, or as soon as you close your laptop to grab lunch.

2. TRY THE BEHAVIOR – Once the cue occurs, test out your small action. Remember this should feel super doable. Feel free to scale back your goal if you aimed too high.

3. ENJOY THE REWARD – By starting small, you’re setting yourself up for early success and a boost in confidence. This makes it more likely that you’ll keep repeating the behavior…until you’re ready to add to it. Ten push-ups a day – right around the corner!

Remember this works for whatever goal you want to achieve: Better sleep? Eating healthier? More cardio? Just start small…. Really really small!

A little progress each day adds up to BIG results! 


Marsha Mullen | The Benefits of Yoga

If you’ve ever done a few sun salutations or downward dogs, it probably comes as no surprise that practicing yoga is incredibly good for you. There’s nothing better than leaving a yoga class feeling zenned, loose and rejuvenated after stretching your body and focusing on your breath. Regardless of your expertise or level of training, if you’re practicing yoga consistently, you’re bound to reap the benefits — some over time and others almost immediately. But what are the benefits of yoga? Some yogis may experience a better night’s sleep, less runny noses and seasonal colds, or perhaps an overall feeling of peace and calm in their day-to-day lives. But, in fact, all the physical and mental benefits of yoga are too many to name — so here’s a list of some of our favorites.

1.Decreases stress and anxiety: Especially this year, I’m sure we’re all looking to de-stress a little (or a lot). Luckily, multiple studies have shown that yoga can decrease levels of cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone.  Many other studies backup this idea, in addition to demonstrating that yoga can also improve one’s quality of life and overall mental health.

In addition, yoga has also been proven to decrease anxiety. Poses like Savasana, which focus on breath work and a heightened awareness of the present moment, can help yogis find a sense of peace, both on and off the mat.

2. Improves sleep: Of course, if you’re dealing with too much stress these days, it may be taking a toll on your sleep schedule. Whether you have a mind that won’t stop racing or aching muscles that make it difficult to relax, numerous studies have shown that incorporating yoga into your daily routine can potentially promote better sleep.  So, if counting sheep hasn’t been doing the trick for you lately, try practicing some relaxing asanas or mindful breathing before bed. You’re bound to catch some z’s in no time.

3. Builds strength: While many people may think that the only way to build strength is to lift weights and sweat away at the gym, in reality, there are so many ways to stretch and tone your muscles — and one of them is yoga! Although experienced yogis may make some postures look easy, many yoga poses can actually be incredibly challenging. Poses like warrior work the quads and upper arms, tree pose works the legs and core while stretching the hips and inner thighs, and the classic plank pose works nearly the full body, including the arms, shoulders, core, and legs. Many of these poses are both physically and mentally challenging, but if practiced consistently overtime, you’ll undoubtedly be able to boost your strength and increase endurance.

4. Increases energy: Like most exercise in general, practicing yoga has the power to boost endorphins, thus increasing your energy levels. Whether you’re in a more relaxed flow like Hatha or a more vigorous flow like Vinyasa, yoga is a gentle way to get your blood pumping and heart beating, which can lead to more energy, both mentally and physically, throughout the day. As a result, you may have an improved alertness and vitality, allowing you to fight off negative feelings and thoughts when they arise.

5. Can reduce chronic pain: If you’re one of the millions who suffer from chronic pain, whether it be back pain, arthritis, headaches, or carpal tunnel syndrome, you may be happy to hear that yoga is a great way to relieve some discomfort. With a strong emphasis on stretching the muscles and improving flexibility, yoga has the potential to loosen stiff, aching joints. Furthermore, if working from home and sitting in front of the computer all day has been taking a toll on your back and shoulders, daily yoga can potentially improve your posture, allowing you to sit up straighter and alleviate back pain in the long run.

6. Lowers blood pressure: While many benefits of yoga can be almost immediate, practicing consistently can also benefit you later in life. Various studies show that yoga is a powerful tool to lower blood pressure, increase heart health, and slow the progression of heart disease. By encouraging reduced stress levels, minimal inflammation, and regulating the heart rate, yoga has the ability to not only increase your quality of life, but also potentially add valuable years to your life.

While each of these six benefits can result from a regular yoga practice, we’re confident that, if you make yoga a part of your daily lifestyle, you’re bound to discover benefits beyond those mentioned. Whether you’re looking to use yoga to target a specific ailment or to simply feel better mentally and physically, yoga can offer something good for everybody. Whatever your age, experience, or level of fitness, we encourage you to give yoga a try and witness the results for yourself.


Marsha Mullen |  What is your heart rate?

Your heart rate, or pulse, is the number of times your heart beats in a minute. Everyone’s is different, and it changes as you get older. Understanding your heart rate and what’s a healthy one for you is an important part of taking care of yourself.

Your Resting Heart Rate: This is the number of times your heart beats in a minute when you’re not active and your heart isn’t having to work hard to pump blood through your body. Some medications like beta-blockers can slow your heartbeat and lower your resting heart rate.

A Healthy Resting Heart Rate: Most healthy adults should have a resting heart rate between 60 and 100 beats a minute. In general, the more physically fit  you are, the lower your heart rate will be. Athletes can have a normal resting heart rate in the 40s. A healthy one is a sign that your heart isn’t having to work too hard to circulate blood.

How to Check It: You can feel your heart rate by putting your first two fingers on the inside of your wrist, the inside of your elbow, the side of your neck, or on the top of your foot. Once you find it, count how many beats you feel in 15 seconds, and multiply that number by 4.

How to Lower It: This can be as easy as simply relaxing — sit down, have a glass of water, or just take a few deep breaths. A healthier lifestyle, including getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day,  eating healthier, watching your weight, and cutting down alcohol, caffeine, and smoking can help, too. If that’s not enough, you might try to find ways to better handle stress, like tai chi, meditation, or mindfulness.

Arrhythmia: A Problem With Your Heart Rate When your heart’s beating rhythm is off, that’s called an arrhythmia.  There are four major types:

  • Tachycardia: When your heart beats too fast, usually more than 100 beats a minute
  • Bradycardia: When your heart beats too slowly, below 60 beats a minute (unless you’re an athlete)
  • Supraventricular arrhythmia: An arrhythmia that starts in your heart’s upper chambers
  • Ventricular arrhythmia: An arrhythmia that starts in your heart’s lower chambers

Causes of Arrythmia: Several things can lead to arrythmia. These include clogged or hardened arteries, high blood pressure, or issues with your heart’s valves. It also can be the result of trauma from a heart attack. It can happen as you recover from heart surgery, and if your electrolytes are out of balance. For example, if your body has too much or too little potassium.

Elevated Heart Rate (Tachycardia): A resting heart rate higher than 100 beats per minute happens most often in kids. It’s also more common in women. The primary causes of a fast heart rate include stress, smoking, or drinking too much alcohol, coffee, or other caffeinated drinks.

Low Heart Rate (Bradycardia): A heart rate lower than 60 beats per minute can be caused by an infection, a problem with your thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), a chemical imbalance in your blood, breathing problems while you sleep (obstructive sleep apnea), or inflammatory diseases like lupus. It also can be caused by a problem with how your heart developed before you were born.

Heart Rate and Exercise

When you work out, you want your heart rate to go up, but not too much. To find the right number, start by figuring out your maximum rate: Subtract your age from 220. If you’re just starting a fitness regimen, your target should be about 50% of your maximum heart rate. If you already exercise regularly, it might be closer to 85%. Some devices and machines, like a treadmill, keep track of your heart rate.

When to See Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you’re taking a medication that causes you to have fainting spells or dizziness. Also reach out if you notice that you often have a fast heartbeat or a low pulse. Depending on what’s going on with you, your doctor might change your medications, recommend a pacemaker to get your heart beating in the right rhythm, or suggest other things to prevent or manage your condition.


Marsha Mullen | 6 Steps to Strengthen Your Immune System

Your immune system is important. Very much like your own personal army, it guards your body against attacks from invaders (like bacteria, fungi, and viruses), defending against infections and several kinds of cancer. And it’s smart, too, often “remembering” certain infections so it’s ready for them the next time they try to attack. But just like any other body system, your immune system can deteriorate if you don’t treat it well. Keep it functioning at its peak performance, so you can stay healthy, too, by following these six steps.

  1. Eat Right: In theory, this one is pretty simple: Eat just enough of the right foods when you feel hungry. Unfortunately, this isn’t as simple to put into practice. We’re tempted by unhealthy options everywhere we turn, we eat for emotional reasons, or we don’t even know what the “right” foods are. For those of us who struggle in this area, this may take some work.
    Avoid eating too much, which can lead to weight gain and harm the immune system. Research performed by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine has shown that obesity prevents the immune system from functioning properly, increasing its vulnerability to infection. In the study, obese mice were found to be 50 percent less capable of killing the flu virus, compared to lean mice. The researchers believe that the same holds true in humans.
    Just as important as how much you’re eating, is what foods you’re eating. Some nutrients and foods that have been found to enhance the immune system include:
    Vitamin C-rich foods, like citrus fruit and broccoli Vitamin E-rich foods, like nuts and whole grains Garlic Zinc-rich foods, like beans, turkey, crab, oysters, and beef Bioflavanoids, which are found in fruits and vegetables Selenium-rich foods, like chicken, whole grains, tuna, eggs, sunflower seeds, and brown rice Carotenoid-rich foods, like carrots and yams
    Omega-3 fatty acids, found in nuts, salmon, tuna, mackerel, flaxseed oil and hempseed oil.
    Of course, you can find these nutrients in pill form, but food is always the best and most usable source of vitamins and minerals. Supplements can be shady, since no regulating body ensures that they contain what they claim to, or that they’ll be absorbed as well as nutrients you get from food.
    Some immune system all-stars that have recently garnered a lot of attention in the scientific community are vegetables from the brassica family, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage. According to a new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and published online in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, a chemical produced when these vegetables are eaten can stop the growth of cancer cells and boost the production of certain components of the immune system. Turns out, Mom was onto something when telling you to each your broccoli!
  2. Exercise Regularly: According to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (PCPFS), data from numerous studies show that regular exercise reduces the number of sick days. In three separate studies, women who engaged in 35-45 minutes of brisk walking, five days a week, for 12-15 weeks experienced a reduced number of sick days compared to the control (sedentary) group. Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to provide these benefits—in fact moderate exercise may even achieve a better result. A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that upper respiratory infections were more common among athletes during heavy training. Whatever you do, listen to your body. If you’re under the weather already, take it easy until you feel better.
  3. Get Enough Sleep: Deep sleep stimulates and energizes the immune system, while sleep deprivation has the opposite effect. According to authors of a sleep study published in the journal Seminars in Clinical Neuropsychiatry, significant detrimental effects on immune functioning can be seen after a few days of total sleep deprivation or even several days of just partial sleep deprivation. According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult needs between 7 and 8 hours a night, although some people may need as few as 5 hours or as many as 10 hours. To make sure you are getting enough quality sleep, avoid caffeinated drinks (and other stimulants), decongestants, tobacco and alcohol. Alcohol can assist falling into a light sleep, but it interferes with REM and the deeper stages of sleep, which are restorative.
  4. Manage Stress: Between fender benders, work deadlines, marital problems and hectic schedules, keeping stress out of your life is impossible. But how you choose to react to stress can greatly impact your overall health. Sweeping problems under the rug as opposed to solving them can turn short-term stress into chronic stress, which can cause health problems. According to the National Institutes of Health, hormones (like cortisol) that hang around during chronic stress can put us at risk for obesity, heart disease, cancer, and a variety of other illnesses. These stress hormones can work in two ways, either switching off disease-fighting white blood cells or triggering a hyperactive immune system, which increases your risk of developing auto-immune diseases. So find ways to de-stress a few times per week, whether you exercise, practice yoga, meditate, or take a relaxing bath.
  5. Quit Smoking: In an older but still relevant study published in the 1983 edition of the Medical Journal of Australia, immune system markers in 35 smokers were analyzed before they quit smoking and then again three months after they had quit. Compared with a control group who continued to smoke, the ex-smokers had significant, positive changes in many measurements of their immune systems. Smoking and using tobacco products contributes to a host of health problems, and this is one more you can add to your list for reasons to quit.
  6. Consume Alcohol in Moderation: Chronic alcohol abuse is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as the use of alcoholic beverages despite negative consequences. Besides the social and economic consequences of chronic alcohol abuse, an article in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research states that alcohol abuse can also cause lead to immunodeficiency, making you more susceptible to bacterial pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases. But the moderate use of alcohol (one drink daily for women, and two for men) has not been associated with negative effects on the immune system. In fact, according to an article in the British Journal of Nutrition, there is an increasing body of evidence linking health benefits linked with moderate consumption of polyphenol-rich alcoholic beverages, like wine or beer. The article states that, while heavy alcohol use can suppress the immune response, “moderate alcohol consumption seems to have a beneficial impact on the immune system compared to alcohol abuse or abstinence.” So for the time being, the advice remains: everything in moderation.

Marsha Mullen | Get Your Vitamin D!

If you shun the sun, suffer from milk allergies, or adhere to a strict vegan diet, you may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is produced by the body in response to skin being exposed to sunlight. It is also occurs naturally in a few foods — including some fish, fish liver oils, and egg yolks — and in fortified dairy and grain products.

Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, because it helps the body use calcium from the diet. Traditionally, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with rickets, a disease in which the bone tissue doesn’t properly mineralize, leading to soft bones and skeletal deformities. But increasingly, research is revealing the importance of vitamin D in protecting against a host of health problems.

Symptoms and Health Risks of Vitamin D Deficiency: Symptoms of bone pain and muscle weakness can mean you have a vitamin D deficiency. However, for many people, the symptoms are subtle. Yet, even without symptoms, too little vitamin D can pose health risks. Low blood levels of the vitamin have been associated with the following:

  • Increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Cognitive impairment in older adults
  • Severe asthma in children
  • Cancer Research suggests that vitamin D could play a role in the prevention and treatment of a number of different conditions, including type1 and type 2 diabetes, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and multiple sclerosis.

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency: Vitamin D deficiency can occur for a number of reasons:

  • You don’t consume the recommended levels of the vitamin over time. This is likely if you follow a strict vegan diet, because most of the natural sources are animal-based, including fish and fish oils, egg yolks, fortified milk, and beef liver.
  • Your exposure to sunlight is limited. Because the body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight, you may be at risk of deficiency if you are homebound, live in northern latitudes, wear long robes or head coverings for religious reasons, or have an occupation that prevents sun exposure. During the winter, vitamin D deficiency can be more prevalent because there is less sunlight available.
  • You have dark skin. The pigment melanin reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. Some studies show that older adults with darker skin are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency.
  • Your kidneys cannot convert vitamin D to its active form. As people age, their kidneys are less able to convert vitamin D to its active form, thus increasing their risk of vitamin D deficiency.
  • Your digestive tract cannot adequately absorb vitamin D. Certain medical problems, including Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and celiac disease, can affect your intestine’s ability to absorb vitamin D from the food you eat.
  • You are obese. Vitamin D is extracted from the blood by fat cells, altering its release into the circulation. People with a body mass index of 30 or greater often have low blood levels of vitamin D.

Tests for Vitamin D Deficiency: The most accurate way to measure how much vitamin D is in your body is the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test. A level of 20 nanograms/milliliter to 50 ng/mL is considered adequate for healthy people. A level less than 12 ng/mL indicates vitamin D deficiency.

Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency involves getting more vitamin D –  through diet and supplements. Although there is no consensus on vitamin D levels required for optimal health – and it likely differs depending on age and health conditions – a concentration of less than 20 nanograms per milliliter is generally considered inadequate, requiring treatment.

Guidelines from the Institute of Medicine increased the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin D to 600 international units (IU) for everyone ages 1-70, and raised it to 800 IU for adults older than age 70 to optimize bone health. The safe upper limit was also raised to 4,000 IU. Doctors may prescribe more than 4,000 IU to correct a vitamin D deficiency.

If you don’t spend much time in the sun or always are careful to cover your skin (sunscreen inhibits vitamin D production), you should speak to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement, particularly if you have risk factors for vitamin D deficiency.

Info from WebMD


Marsha Mullen: 4 Steps to Improving Your Posture

Stand Taller, Look 10 Pounds Thinner

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then posture is a lens to our health. Sit and stand with proper posture and you will physically look 10 years younger—and 10 pounds lighter. Psychologically, good posture conveys confidence, poise and leadership.

Unfortunately, few of us exhibit good posture, let alone perfect posture. In fact, poor posture often develops so gradually that you may notice its symptoms (back and neck pain, tightness and stiffness, increased injury and some loss to your normal range of motion) long before you notice your shoulders hunching over.

Luckily, you can correct your posture by incorporating some simple posture exercises and stretches into your workout program.

Good posture results when the muscles of the body align properly, allowing for efficient movement. When your body’s muscles and joints are balanced and supported, you’re better able to perform everyday activities, such as squatting to pick up laundry or running down a flight of stairs efficiently.

When you are poorly aligned, the joints in your body (e.g., shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles) do not fit together properly. This causes some muscles to work harder than others. Over time, those muscles become tense while the others weaken, creating muscular imbalances that slowly devolve into poor posture. As posture deteriorates further, joint movements become restricted and the differences between tense and weak muscles places greater stress on your joints, which then have to compensate. This causes pain, stiffness and loss of motion throughout the body. But fix these imbalances, and your posture (and the pain associated with it) will improve.

A qualified personal trainer at the JCC can provide information about your posture by observing it during a comprehensive assessment.

Improve Your Posture in 4 Easy Steps:

Your personal trainer may recommend specific exercises for you, based on the findings of your postural assessment. But even without the aid of a trainer, you can work to improve your posture by adding corrective strengthening and stretching exercises to your fitness program. Perform the exercises and stretches listed below two to three times a week for 15 to 20 minutes per session. Remember to breathe steadily and hold stretches for a minimum of 15 to 20 seconds. For strengthening exercises, perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions using good form and technique.

Step 1: Strengthen Your Core: Good posture starts with a strong core, which includes the abdominals (both the rectus abdominals that form the “six-pack” and the deeper transverse abdominals below them), lower back, obliques and hips. Strong core muscles don’t just keep your back healthy and resistant to pain and injury; they also hold your body upright, improve balance and enable you to move your body with greater control and efficiency. If any (or all) of your core muscles are weak, other muscles have to compensate, resulting in loss of motion, weakness and pain. In fact, you can alleviate and prevent low-back pain through regular core training.

Sample exercises that strengthen these core muscles:

Basic crunches (rectus abdominals) (and other variations of the crunch, as long as you’re avoiding full sit-ups) Side plank (obliques) Crunches with twist (abs, obliques) Standing side bends (obliques) Plank hold (transverse abdominals) Note that any isometric core exercise will also work these deep muscles, as will many Pilates exercises.

  • Back extensions (lower back)
  • Slow swimming (bird dogs) on ball (lower back)

Step 2: Fix Rounded Shoulders

Rounded shoulders, although common, are actually a postural abnormality caused by spending hours hunched over behind a computer or desk, while driving a car or watching television, or while performing repetitive tasks on the job. In these forward-reaching positions, your chest, shoulders and hip muscles become shortened and tight while the muscles of your upper and middle back weaken. You can improve your posture by strengthening the weak upper back muscles, while stretching tight muscles in the chest, shoulders, lats and hips. As the upper back becomes stronger and the chest becomes more flexible, the shoulders naturally pull back—a sign of improved posture.

Sample posture exercises that strengthen the upper back:

  • Reverse dumbbell flys
  • Rows with resistance band

Sample posture exercises that stretch these tight muscles:

  • Standing chest stretch (chest, shoulders)
  • Standing quad stretch (quads, hips)

Step 3: Neutralize Tilted Hips

When viewed from the side, your hips should be neutral and level. Some people’s hips tilt forward, a postural abnormality known as anterior (forward) pelvic tilt. Lordosis (or “swayback”) is another symptom of this tilt. Caused by weakness in the hamstrings (back of thighs), glutes (butt) and abs and tightness in the hip flexors and thighs, this is common in people who sit all or most of the day and spend hours with their legs bent. Here’s a quick way to identify if you have any sort of pelvic tilt: Look at your belt line. Wearing your regular pants and a belt, when viewed from the side, the belt should be level all the way around the waist. If your belt line is higher in the back and lower in the front, you need to strengthen the weak muscles in your hamstrings, glutes and abs, while improving the flexibility of your thighs and hip flexors.

Sample exercises that strengthen the hamstrings and glutes:

  • Core exercises listed above (abs)
  • Bridges (hamstrings and glutes)
  • Leg curls with medicine ball (hamstrings) Single-leg hamstring flexion with ball (hamstrings, glutes) Sample exercises that stretch tight hip and quad muscles:
  • Standing quad stretch (quads, hips)
  • Kneeling quad and hip stretch (quads, psoas)

Step 4: Retract a Forward Head

When driving your car, how often is your head touching the headrest behind you? More often than not, your head is forward, not even touching the headrest that is behind you. Hours, days and years of driving a car, watching TV or working in front of a computer tighten the front and side neck muscles and weaken the deep and rear muscles of the neck. Most people think of the back and shoulders as keys to good posture, but the position of your head and neck is just as important. When viewed from the side, your ears should be above your shoulders. But most people’s heads (and therefore ears) push forward of the shoulders; this is usually accompanied by a protruding chin and rounded shoulders (see “step two” above). The muscles at the front of your neck must be strong enough to hold your head directly above the shoulders (instead of forward). By fixing the tight and weak areas of the neck, your head will once again center itself just above the shoulders—a sign of proper posture that may also decrease chronic neck pain caused by these imbalances.

Sample exercises that strengthen the weak neck muscles:

  • Neck retraction exercise (upper trapezius and deep cervical flexors): Elongate the back of your neck by gently pulling your chin straight in as if you are hiding behind a tree and don’t want your head to stick out past its edge. The highest point of your body should be the top back of your head. This counters the tendency to slip into a forward head posture.
  • Headrest exercise (upper trapezius and deep cervical flexors): While driving, practice pulling your chin in and pushing your head into the headrest behind you for a few seconds at a time, then releasing. If you have a high-back chair that you sit in at work, you can do this during your workday, too.

Sample exercises that stretch these tight neck muscles:

  • Neck stretches (scalenes and sternocleidomastoids) Use minimal force to prevent injury to the spine.
  • Myofascial neck release with foam roller (to decrease neck stiffness and tightness)

Keep in mind that poor posture doesn’t happen overnight, and there is no magic bullet to fix it other than consistently following these strength and flexibility exercises. To speed up the process, consider making adjustments in your daily routine. Rearrange your workspace and adjust your car seat so that you sit upright; upgrade to a firmer mattress to support your back; and do your best to stand and sit tall with your head high and your shoulders pulled down and back each day. In addition, women should wear high-heeled shoes sparingly to reduce tightness in the calves and switch sides of the body when carrying heavy purses.

As your posture improves, you will look younger and thinner and appear more confident. You’ll also feel better, prevent back pain and improve athletic performance. Why wait for postural problems to get worse? Start incorporating these simple exercises and stretches into your workouts and workdays to start seeing results!

For information about working on your posture with a JCC Personal Trainer, please contact:

Squirrel Hill – Laurie Wood [email protected]
South Hills – Elaine Cappucci [email protected]


Laurie Wood: Physical Activity Helps You FEEL BETTER

Physical activity is linked with better sleep, memory, balance and cognitive ability.  Exercise also decreases your risk of weight gain, chronic disease, dementia and depression.  It is one of the most important things you can do for your health and well-being.

Laurie Wood: Add Muscle

Include moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening activity twice a week like Group Power or Group Active or set up a session with one of our Personal Trainers to develop a program designed to meet your needs and goals.

To learn about the JCC’s many Virtual and In Person fitness options, click HERE

Marsha Mullen: “You are what you eat.”

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” While it’s true that food is fuel, it’s also true that food is broken down and transformed into cells, hormones, muscles and… YOU! When you think of food in this light, it can make it easier to make healthy and nutritious choices for your body.

March is National Nutrition Month® – a time to focus on making informed food choices for a balanced and healthy diet.

Keep a food diary. Before you can improve your nutrition you have to know where you stand. Record everything you eat and drink for five days and use these tips to improve your diet a little bit each day.

Eat breakfast. It boosts your energy, metabolism and mental focus. Plus, breakfast eaters consume fewer calories throughout the day than people who skip this meal.

Enjoy 2-4 servings of fruit each day. Fruits are rich in nutrients, fiber, phytochemicals and antioxidants, which all help prevent disease. One serving is equal to 1/2 cup.

Drink water. It’s the only beverage your body really needs and craves. Gradually replace soda, flavored coffees, sugary drinks and other high-calorie liquids with water. Aim for 8-12 cups each day.

Avoid trans fats. They increase your risk of heart disease. Foods with “partially hydrogenated oil” as an ingredient contain trans fat (even if the label says 0 grams) and should be left on the grocery shelf.

Eat 4-6 servings of vegetables daily. High in nutrients and low in calories, veggies can help prevent diabetes, stroke, heart disease and more. One serving is equal to 1/2 cup.

Aim for 3-6 servings of grains each day. Rich in energy-boosting carbohydrates, vitamins and fiber, they’re important for overall health. One serving is equal to 1/2-cup cooked (rice, pasta, oats) or 1 oz. (1 slice bread).

Consume 5 to 6.5 ounces of protein daily. Examples include: Half a chicken breast (3 oz), 1 can tuna (3.5 oz), 1 Tbsp. peanut butter (1 oz), 1 egg (1 oz) and 1/2 cup cooked beans (2 oz).

Fill up on fiber. Found in fruits, veggies,whole grains and beans, fiber will keep you fuller longer and reduce your risk of a variety of diseases. Gradually increase your daily intake to 25-35 grams.


Marsha Mullen: Meditation to Boost Health and Well-Being

Practicing mindfulness and meditation may help you manage stress and high blood pressure, sleep better, feel more balanced and connected, and even lower your risk of heart disease.

Meditation and mindfulness are practices — often using breathing, quiet contemplation or sustained focus on something, such as an image, phrase or sound — that help you let go of stress and feel more calm and peaceful. Think of it as a mini-vacation from the stress in your life! Stress is your body’s natural alarm system. It releases a hormone called adrenaline that makes your breathing speed up and your heart rate and blood pressure rise. It kicks us into action, which can be a good thing when we’re faced with a real danger or need to perform.

But that “fight or flight” response can take a toll on your body when it goes on too long or is a regular occurrence. Mindfulness meditation provides a method for handling stress in a healthier way.

Meditation can improve wellbeing and quality of life.

Recent studies have offered promising results about the impact of meditation in reducing blood pressure. There is also evidence that it can help people manage insomnia, depression and anxiety.

Some research suggests that meditation physically changes the brain and could help:

  • increase ability to process information
  • slow the cognitive effects of aging
  • reduce inflammation
  • support the immune system
  • reduce symptoms of menopause
  • control the brain’s response to pain
  • improve sleep

More research is needed, but it’s clear that meditation’s effects on the body and brain are a no-brainer!

Find the method that works for you. There are many different types of meditation, including:

  • compassion (metta or loving-kindness),
  • insight (Vipassana),
  • mantra, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), relaxation, Transcendental, Zen, and others.

It could be as simple as sitting quietly and focusing on your breath. When your mind wanders (and it will!), gently bring it back to the breath again. Gradually increase the amount of time you’re able to stay focused. If you’re not sure how to get started, look for online classes on meditation, get recommendations from friends, or research different types that interest you.

Transcendental meditation is a technique that allows your mind to focus inward, staying alert to other thoughts or sensations without allowing them to interfere. It’s typically done seated with your eyes closed for 20 minutes, twice a day. Mindfulness meditation may use an object of focus, such as the ringing of a bell, chanting, touching beads or gazing at an image. Prayer can also be a form of mediation.

Not all meditation is done sitting down with your legs crossed and eyes closed. Moving meditation forms include qi gong, Tai Chi and yoga.

The bottom line — While meditation can help you manage stress, sleep well and feel better, it shouldn’t replace lifestyle changes like eating healthier, managing your weight, and getting regular physical activity. It’s also not a substitute for medication or medical treatment your doctor may have prescribed.

Try different types of meditation to find what works for you, and make it a regular part of your healthy lifestyle.

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