Keeping Your Health Cool During the Heat

Keeping Your Health Cool During the Heat

It is officially summer here in the Greater New York City area! I was a bit concerned with all the gray and rainy days we have had leading up to the first day of summer on June 21st. Now that the weather is nicer and the temperature is rising, it is easy to find yourself outside to enjoy the sun. But while you are out catching some Vitamin D, remember that you need to take care of your health in the heat. In this post, I will talk about how to recognize when there is a heat hazard, list some common heat-related illnesses and a few tips on how to stay hydrated in the warmer weather.

According to the National Weather Service, an official heat wave occurs when temperatures reach 90 plus degrees for three or more consecutive days. It is important to keep cool and hydrated during these times. However, I would argue that as long as there is a heat hazard, it is equally as important to stay on top of your health during the heat.

The National Integrated Heat Health Information System defines a heat hazard when:

  • There is direct sunlight
  • Low winds
  • High temperatures
  • High humidity

In my opinion, these hazards can be in effect during anytime of the year when temperatures are 85 degrees or higher.

During these times, we are more susceptible to a number of different heat-related illnesses:

  • Heat Cramps: Are painful muscle cramps that occur after working or exercising in a hot environment. This happens as a result of there not being enough electrolytes (chemicals that help transport water and other needed fluids) in the body.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Is a condition where the body is overheating due to exposure to high temperatures. Symptoms can include a weak and rapid pulse, low blood pressure, headache, dizziness, nausea and profuse sweating.
  • Heat Stroke: When our body temperature rises, there are certain mechanisms our bodies do to help regulate our body temperature. A failure of these mechanisms to manage the body’s high temperature (ie. sweating) can lead to extreme body temperature exceeding 104 degrees. Symptoms can include dry skin, bright red color, labored breathing and a strong rapid pulse.

Individuals who work outside such as construction or sanitation workers and also older adults are at a higher risk of heat-related illnesses.

During times when the temperature is higher, here are 5 tips to stay cool and hydrated:

  1. Drink plenty of water
  2. Eat fruits and vegetables that have a high water content (ie. cucumber, melons, lettuce, pineapple)
  3. Drink sports and other drinks that have electrolytes (ie. gatorade, coconut water)
  4. Drink low-fat chocolate milk
  5. Eat dried fruit and nut mixes

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Connecting Our Spine’s Health to the Body

Connecting Our Spine’s Health to the Body

Our body is one large unit filled with many different parts. Because our bodies our so interconnected, when one part suffers- like dominos, it can affect another part/system of the body. The spine is one of the most important body parts, as it serves as an information highway to and from the brain. But, did you know that some injuries and pains we may be feeling, can be attributed to spinal misalignment? Here, I will discuss what pains can be directly related to the spine along with some exercises and stretches to help improve your spinal health.

Our posture is a reflection of our spine. The spine does have natural curves that are important. However, there are some exaggerated curves that can affect one’s posture:

  • Lordosis- Denotes an exaggerated curve of the lumbar (lower back) section of the spine. This can result in the forward tilting of the pelvis and weakening of the hip flexors.
  • Kyphosis- Is classified as a curvature of the thoracic (middle of the back) section of the spine. This can lead to the rounding of the upper back and shoulders (known as a hunchback).
  • Scoliosis- Generally speaking, the spine can have an “S” shape as opposed to a neutral-aligned position. Here, the pelvis and shoulders can appear to be uneven- especially when looking at the body from the front or back.

The smallest misalignment of the spine (by even ¼ of a millimeter) can affect communication to and from the brain and have affects on other parts of the body. Here are some ways our spine’s health can affect our overall health:

  • Headaches/Migraines: The cervical (neck) section of the spine has a number of nerve endings that send signals to the brain. There are also vessels that supply blood to the brain. When the flow of blood is constricted or fluctuates, it can cause a headache or migraine (and in more severe cases a stroke). A misalignment of the spine can hinder the flow of blood to the brain.
  • Dizziness/Vertigo: Dizziness gives you the feeling of being weak, faint or unsteady. Vertigo is the sensation that your surroundings of moving/spinning. In both cases, the flow of blood to the inner ear or lower part of the brain is disrupted. A misalignment of the cervical section of the spine can hinder the flow of blood to the brain.
  • Post-Concussive Syndrome (PCS): Following a head/neck injury, such as a blow to the head or whiplash, there are a number of symptoms that can occur following (post) the injury. This event can cause a misalignment of the spine that can affect the mobility (movement) of the neck and numbness of the extremities such as the hands and feet.

In addition to an injury caused by a car accident or an athletic blow to the head (football, boxing, hockey), spinal misalignment can be caused by sitting for an extended period of time. Here are some exercises and stretches that can help improve your spinal alignment and posture:

  • Cat-Cow: This is a stretch that can help to relieve tension in your neck, shoulders and torso. As you inhale, drop the shoulders, lift the chest to the sky and extend the spine. On the exhale, arch your spine into a curve as you tuck your chin into your chest. Repeat movement. This can be done standing, seated or on the floor in tabletop position.
  • Chest Opener: This is a nice stretch to do if you spend a lot of time sitting which tends to move your chest inward. Strengthening this part of the body, can help you stand up straighter. Standing up with your legs hip-length apart, bring your arms behind you, pressing the palms together as you reach out. As you inhale, lift the check up towards the sky as you bring your hands to the floor. Breathe deeply as you hold the position for a few seconds. Release, relax and repeat.
  • Isometric Rows: This is a good exercise to do to help relieve pain and stiffness (especially after sitting in one place for an extended period of time). It also gives you the strength to maintain a good posture. Bend your arms so that the palms of the hands are facing each other, bringing the elbows close to your side. As you exhale, bring your elbows back slightly behind you as you squeeze your shoulder blades. Breathe deeply as you hold the position for a few moments. Release from the position on your inhale and repeat.

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Knowing More About Joint Pain Caused by Arthritis

Knowing More About Joint Pain Caused by Arthritis

The month of May is Arthritis Awareness Month. There are currently over 50 million adults in the US living with some form of arthritis. The CDC has predicted that by the year 2030, that number will grow to approximately 67 million adults! Arthritis is also a leading cause of further chronic illnesses (ie. obesity, heart disease) and other activity limitations. With that said, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about this degenerative joint disease. In this post, I will do a brief overview of what is arthritis, what areas of the body are commonly affected, the benefits of movement in joint pain management along with some tips to consider when exercising with arthritis. A joint is an area of the body where two bones meet. Joints are made up of various connective tissues (cartilage- covers the surface of a bone, ligaments- connects one bone to another bone, tendons- connects a bone to a muscle); bursa (that helps to provide cushion against friction at a joint); and synovial fluid (a lubricating fluid that also reduces friction at a joint) to help our bodies move with ease. Arthritis is the inflammation of a joint caused by the loss of articular cartilage (which helps the bones to move without friction) that occurs over time. When the articular cartilage is no longer there, there is no protection against bone on bone interactions. These interactions are therefore, very painful. Because there is no blood in the cartilage, there is now way for it to heal. In other words, once the cartilage is gone, it is unable to come back. The most common symptoms of arthritis include stiffness, limited range/lack of motion and atrophy (the reduction of muscle size due to inactivity/immobilization). There are several joints that are more often affected such as the knee, hip, lumbar spine (lower back) and the wrist. It is common that individuals with arthritis tend to decrease mobility. However, movement and exercise is a great way to manage joint pain as it helps to preserve muscle tissue, improve/increase your range of motion and maintain a healthy body weight. If you are dealing with arthritis and are looking a new exercise plan, here are a few tips/ideas to consider:
– Avoid participating in vigorous/high-intensity exercise programs (especially during flare ups). It is best to do low-to-moderate levels of intensities or gentle exercises that target range of motion in a particular body part. – Make sure you do an extended warm-up (5-10 minutes) to ensure the joints are lubricated before moving to the “meat” of the class. – Know that a small amount of joint pain/discomfort is normal. However, please stop exercise if the pain is too serve or persists for more than two hours after exercise.

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6 Spring Foods to Freshen Up Your Meals

6 Spring Foods to Freshen Up Your Meals

Now that it is the month of April, spring is in the air! The weather is just starting to get a little warmer, flowers are beginning to bloom and a new season is dawning. And with a new time of year, comes a new array of fruits and veggies that are now in season that you should definitely take advantage of. Here is a list of six foods that you can use to freshen up your meals, along with some tips on how to prepare these foods.

  1. Strawberries

Strawberries are in the peak of their season during the early spring time. They are juicy, sweet, tart and did I mention delicious! Strawberries are a great source of fiber, potassium, vitamin C and antioxidants. Some benefits of strawberries include boosting your immune system as it provides 150% of your body’s vitamin C requirement; enhances cardiovascular health through potassium which counters the effects of sodium in the body. This in turn, lowers your blood pressure and improves the flow of blood to the brain- reducing your risk of a stroke.

I personally love to make my own strawberry jam. It’s a lot simpler than you think! All you need is a bunch of hulled strawberries (without the green tops), sugar, and a hint of lemon juice. Mash the strawberries in a bowl, then combine all ingredients in a pot. Let everything boil until the mixture reaches 220 degrees F.

  1. Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a classic spring food that warmer days are upon us. The season is relatively short (April-June), but tends to be a hot commodity at your local farmer’s market or grocery store. In looking at it, I often compare it to be a red celery, as it is a stalk food that is very tart. Rhubarb is a great source of calcium, vitamin K, iron and magnesium. Rhubarb plays an integral role in bone health since it is rich in both calcium and vitamin K; boosts your metabolism by increasing the rate at which your body burns fat; and maintains a healthy digestive system ensuring you have regular and smooth bowel movements.

I love a good rhubarb crumble. Just take a bunch of rhubarb and cut into 1 inch pieces. In a bowl mix together the rhubarb, flour, vanilla extract and spoon into a 9 x 13 inch backing dish. For the crumble topping, in a bowl combine some flour, salt, brown sugar, oats and butter, and sprinkle on top of the rhubarb. Bake in a 375 degrees F oven for 35-45 minutes.

  1. Asparagus

Asparagus are a bright green vegetable that is full of different vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, C, E, and K, folate, iron, protein, fiber and amino acids. Asparagus can help flush excess fluids and salts from your body and lowers your risk of a urinary tract infection. It also helps fight gas and bloating with a balance of good bacteria in your digestive track.

If you’re not into roasting vegetables, you should get into it now! Chop the asparagus (using only the spears), and toss in a bowl with olive oil, chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven at 400 degrees F for 20-25 minutes.

  1. Carrots

Carrots come in a variety of different colors and are nutrient-rich foods. They contain antioxidants, beta-carotene, vitamin A, potassium and vitamin C. Carrots have most commonly been known to be essential for good eye health and preventing vision loss as we age. They also aid in fighting bacteria and toxins in our mouths that can cause a number of dental problems such as bleeding gums and tooth decay. And through their antioxidants, they can improve the health of your skin by keeping its elasticity which is associated with youthful skin.

I do like to eat raw, peeled carrots with some good ranch dressing. But if you prefer your carrots cook, I recommend to sautéed them. Peel and cut the carrots on diagonally and cook in a saucepan with salt, pepper, butter, olive oil and any herbs that you like. I tend to use thyme and rosemary in my butter sauces.

  1. Mint

Mint is an herb that sweet and has a cool aftertaste. It is a great source of antioxidants and menthol. Mint has been known to help relieve inflammation caused by seasonal allergies, break up mucus, and alleviate pain and discomfort caused by gas.

I find mint to be so refreshing, especially on a hot summer day. I love to infuse my water to give it an extra kick. Mint is a great herb to mix with your favorite fruit or vegetable such as strawberries and/or cucumbers.

  1. Basil

Basil is a fresh smelling herb that is a great source of different vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, K, folate, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Basil helps with good and strong bones to lower the risks of osteoporosis; eases joint paint caused by arthritis; boosts your energy; and prevents cognitive degeneration for a healthy brain.

I love to add some basil with my chicken and tomatoes. In a saucepan, cook the chicken tomatoes, garlic, butter and basil together. Not only will it taste good, but will leave an awesome aroma in the kitchen!

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Building Healthy Eating Habits

Building Healthy Eating Habits

In honor of March being National Nutrition Month, this blog post will focus in on the components of a well-balanced diet. A well-balanced diet can help you decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and certain kinds of cancer. Now I know there are a number of different diets out there such as Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Whole 30, the list can go on. But in an attempt to simplify things, I will be providing some general tips to help you build a healthy eating style.

The information that I am sharing, comes from a great resource tool called www.ChooseMyPlate.gov that provides recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

There are 5 main food groups: Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Proteins and Dairy. I will go through each group and give a description, definition and ideas of different foods/cooking tips to consider.

Fruits

Fruits provides us with vital nutrients such as potassium, fiber, vitamin C and folate. Fruits are good because they have natural sugars (as opposed to having to add additional sugar) and are a great way to sweeten up your meals. You can consider adding fruit to your cereal or yogurt (ie. strawberries, peaches, bananas) or to your pancakes (ie. blueberries). Replace your mid-afternoon salty or sugary snack with fruit such as an apple or peach. Fruits such as tangerines and grapes make great toppings to your salad!

Vegetables

Vegetables are a good source for vitamins and minerals. The key is to vary your intake of veggies. There are so many different kinds out there from peppers, cauliflower, mushrooms, spinach and broccoli. Vary the color of veggies (red, orange, dark green) to include carrots, tomatoes, beets, radishes, collard greens, and sweet potatoes. Take this opportunity to try some new ones, especially when they are in season at the your local farmer’s market or CSA. Add some extra veggies to your sandwich, wrap, taco or omlet.

Grains

Grains are an important source of zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and fiber. When going for grains, choose “whole” grains such as bread, cereals, pasta, buckwheat, oats, brown rice and quinoa. When reading the labels/ingredients, make sure the word “whole” appears before the ingredient (ie. whole-wheat flour).

Proteins

Proteins can be found in both animals (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs) and plants (beans, peas, nuts, seeds). It is important to vary your protein intake throughout the week. For seafood, try some salmon, trout or herring. When choosing meat, make sure it is a lean cut or ground. Eat different kinds of beans such as kidney, pinto, black or chickpea. Instead of frying your proteins, alternatively, you can grill, broil, bake or roast your meal.

Dairy

Dairy contains different items such as milk, yogurt and cheese. They provide calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein that are essential for strong and healthy bones. Whole dairy products tend to be high in fats, sugar and salt. When going for dairy, choose lower fat products. Please note that items such as butter, cream and cream cheese are NOT considered part of the dairy group. They are all high in fat and have little to no nutritional value. You may want to think again and cut back the amount of cream cheese or butter on that bagel or how much cream you add to your coffee or tea.

Are you overwhelmed yet? If so, don’t worry, take it one day at a time. I encourage you to start with small changes and find those little victories. They will add up! Remember, everything you eat matters. The choices you make, can lead to a healthier today and a healthier future.

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Taking Care of Your Heart

Taking Care of Your Heart

During the month of February, Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular holidays. We associate this day with love. You can’t go into a store or restaurant without seeing the place decorated with hearts and cupids. But what I want to talk about is the health of your heart, how to monitor cardiac conditions and how to recognize a cardiac emergency.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is defined by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) as any disease that affects the cardiovascular system. Some things that can lead to one having CVD or a cardiac emergency can be cause by:

  • Atherosclerosis or the build-up of fat and plaque in the arteries. Overtime, the artery walls begin to narrow, blocking the flow of blood and oxygen.
  • Blood pressure is the force to push blood through the vessels to reach the organs and tissues in need of oxygen and nutrients. If the force is too low, there is not enough blood traveling through the body. If it is too high (hypertension), the arteries are overworking trying to get enough blood and oxygen through the body. This stress on the arteries can be damaging and are caused by the narrowing of the vessels.

Both instances can lead to a cardiac emergency.  

According the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease and strokes are the number 1 and 2 killers of people worldwide.

  • Heart Attack: Caused by obstruction or blockage of blood flow to the heart. Signs and symptoms include pain in the chest, arms, back, neck or jaw; difficulty breathing; nausea; difficulty breathing; sweating; fatigue; lightheadedness; and loss of consciousness.
  • Stroke: Caused by a lack of blood and oxygen to the brain. Signs and symptoms include numbness in the arms, legs or face; trouble speaking; dizziness; loss of vision, balance, or coordination; dropping on one side of the face; loss of consciousness.

In both cases, it is imperative to activate the EMS.  

When exercising with cardiac conditions, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends the following:

  • It is important to self-monitor yourself during exercise. Do NOT work beyond your level comfortability. If you feel weak or sick, decrease the level of intensity or sit down and rest.
  • Avoid exercise formats that involve abruptly changing positions from lying down to standing (ie. burpees) as it can lead to a drop in blood pressure and cause dizziness.
  • Stay away from using the Valsalva maneuver: a breathing technique during exercise that includes a strong and forceful exhale effort typically performed by closing one’s mouth or pinching the nose shut. This as a result builds pressure that interferes with the return of blood to the heart and brain causing lightheadedness or faintness.

Your heart is the single most important organ for your well-being. Let’s take it serious when it comes to taking care of your heart!

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5 Steps to Make Fitness Goals in 2019

5 Steps to Make Fitness Goals in 2019

At the start of a new year, it is not unusual for folks to have a list of new year’s resolutions. Some common resolutions include saving money, getting a new job, or taking a trip. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention exercising more! But when it comes to making different health and fitness goals, how can we make goals that are realistic, flexible and manageable?

Here are 5 strategies that can help you make effective and realistic health and fitness goals.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has developed a five step goal-setting strategy with a catchy acronym of making SMART goals. Each letter represents a key component for developing effective health and fitness goals:

S= Specific

Being specific about your goals gives them purpose by answering who, what, where, and when/how often. For example, instead of saying “I will go to a gym to workout,” a more specific goal can be “I will go to XYZ Gym with my friend Sally for a yoga class on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30pm after work.” This allows you to clarify your goal which can help hold you accountable with a specific task.

M= Measurable

Having a goal that is measurable answers the question “how will you know when you have reached your goal?” Instead of having a daily goal of working at a moderate intensity, a more measurable goal can be “I will work at a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of 6 for ten minutes.” This helps you to keep track of your goal and measure when you have reached your goal.

A= Attainable

You may have heard the phrase “no pain, no gain.” Well I am here to tell you that if you are feeling pain while you are working out, it may be a sign that you are overdoing it. Yes if you are new to working out or to a specific fitness format, you may feel some soreness for a day or two after. But as you get stronger, that is a feeling that should go away. Working out shouldn’t be painful, it should be fun, but also something that is reasonable and attainable. As you begin to feel stronger and more confident, you can always restart this process and increase the level or intensity later. For example, if you have never done a plank before, it wouldn’t be a good idea to start off by doing a three-minute plank. A more attainable goal would be to do a plank with proper form for 30 seconds. This is good especially if you are new to doing a plank. And as mentioned before, you can always increase the length of time as you go on.

R= Relevant

It is important to make sure that your goals are relevant to your particular interests, needs and abilities. If your goal is to lose weight, it would not be relevant to focus your goal on lifting weights. Lifting weights builds your muscles which actually increase your body mass index (BMI). A more relevant goal for losing weight can be, “I will increase the amount of physical activity by doing a boot-camp class twice a week.

T= Time-Bound

When we talk about time, we are thinking in terms of how soon, how often and for how long. Instead of saying “I will lose 10% of my body weight,” try thinking “I will lose 20 pounds in the next four months at a rate of 1-2 pounds per week.” Putting a time-sensitive deadline, helps to keep you motivated. Also, on average we can safely lose 1-2 pounds per week. Of course some weeks we will lose more than others, but that is nothing to be discouraged about. Progress is progress, no matter how big or small. As long as there is progress, that is motivation enough to keep going!

I am all about setting goals, but let’s make sure our goals are SMART. For 2019, I hope that you make goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

*Reference:
Matthews, Jessica (2016) Creating Memorable Movement Experiences. Daniel J. Green (Ed.), ACE Group Fitness Instructor Book, (pp. 103) San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise

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