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Healthy and Fit | Tip of the Week

Posted by JCC Pittsburgh on March 5, 2021
Healthy and Fit | Tip of the Week

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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