Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back Pain - As Simple As Stretching?

So, your lower back is sore and you can not figure out why... you have not lifted anything heavy lately, you have not been sitting in an airplane, you have a wonderful mattress and your kids are no longer in those awful car seats that weigh a ton.  So, what is causing all this pain?

It could be a lot of things, but more and more lately, I am finding clients with tight and / or twisted hips.  This can cause a lot of discomfort in the lower back.  The best solution for this problem is stretching, strengthening and maybe even a good massage.

Obviously, there are a whole list of reasons your back could hurt, but this is just one cause with a very simple solution.  By stretching out the muscles in the hips, glutes, legs and lower back, you can release the tension and allow your back to move freely, allowing you to move pain-free.

Here are some simple stretches to try.

1. Hip Flexor / Iliopsoas Stretch - Kneeling on one knee with the front leg at 90 degrees, push forward with your hips until you feel a nice stretch down the front of your hip.  Hold 30 sec - 1 min.

2. Hamstrings - Seated, with one leg straight out front and the other leg bent, lean forward (with your lower back straight) until you feel a stretch down the back of your leg (you may feel it behind your knee).  Hold for 30 sec - 1 min.  Repeat other leg.  ***Do not allow your lower back to round as stretching, this will place more pressure on an already vulnerable area.  Keep your back straight for this stretch and only go forward as far as you can comfortably.***

3. Gluteus Minimus - Laying flat on your back with your legs flat on the ground, pull one knee up to your chest and then, slowly and gently, pull the leg across your chest with your opposite hand.  Be careful to not over-twist your body.  You should feel this one in your outer hip.  Hold 30 sec - 1 min.  Repeat other leg.

***I can not find a picture of this one... I will draw one (badly, I am sure) and add it soon.***

4. Gluteus Maximus - Laying on your back, bend your first leg and place your other foot across your knee.  Pull the first leg towards you by the upper leg.  Keep your hips straight.  Hold for 30 sec - 1 min.  Repeat other leg.

5. ITB Roll-Out - Using a foam roller (or 3 tennis balls duct taped together), roll up and down, massaging and stretching out your ITB from your hip, down to your knee.  This is usually tight in runners, causing knee issues, but even without knee problems, it does not hurt to keep this band limber.  Roll for 30 sec - 1 min each side.

Hopefully, after a few days of stretching, you should feel a difference in your lower back.  Again, I am not saying this is the solution to all your back issues, but this is a simple first step to correcting / avoiding back issues.

Stretching is something we could all add to our daily routine.  It would be so simple to take 20 minutes each night and stretch before you go to bed.  Remember, when you stretch, do not over stretch.  You should feel the stretch, but it should never hurt... ok, the ITB Roll-Out may hurt (a lot) the first few times, depending on how tight it is... but, other than that, stretching should not hurt.  Breath while you are stretching and allow your body to enjoy and react to the stretch.

Hope this help with a few of your back problems out there!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Breakfast - Why Is It Important?

If it is that you are trying to lose weight, or just that you are always running late and cutting out breakfast is the only way you can make it out the door on time... skipping breakfast is never a good idea.  You have heard it over and over again... "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day"... I am not sure I completely agree that it is the MOST important meal, but it definitely is the one most people are willing to skip, and really, no meal should be skipped.  Our body and brain need to be refueled through-out the day, so in order to keep sharp and on track with a healthy lifestyle, why would you skip ANY meal???

I am not going to get into how you should eat all day, this post is all about breakfast, so lets just keep it simple.  Why is breakfast so important?

Some experts believe that if you skip breakfast, your body goes into "starvation" mode... others believe this is not true.  Apparently, it takes days of not eating for your body to slow down and go into "starvation" mode.  I am not sure which is true, but either way, if you are not eating from dinner time and then you skip breakfast... you are looking at 18 hours of not eating!!!  That only leaves 6 hours to fit in all the nutrients you need.  So, do you then eat every hour from Noon - 6pm... or are you eating until midnight and then getting into bed?  This is also not a great idea... for many reasons, weight gain just being one of them.

They say that people who eat breakfast have a better chance of losing weight.  This may be because their metabolism is working properly, or this may simply be because these same people who are willing to take that 15 minutes in the morning and eat a proper breakfast, are also eating healthy and balanced meals through the day and not overindulging in poor food choices.  If you skip breakfast, there is a really good chance that by the time your lunch break comes along, you are so hungry, you grab the quickest thing available.  As we are all aware (if we want to admit it or not), the quick and easy food is not the healthy and balanced food.  One day I will do a post on packing a lunch and planning your dinners... this is the only way to ensure you are going to make proper choices and not the easy choice.

Now, if you are like me, you can not eat a big breakfast within an hour of waking up.  My body just does not process it well and I end up feeling like garbage.  So, why not split breakfast up?  Some days I will have a hard-boiled egg when I am getting started and then about an hour or so later, I will have some yogurt and fruit.  There is no rule saying that you have to have 3 large meals at 8am, Noon and 5pm... this is just what the norm is... that does not make it right for everyone.

Your breakfast should include protein and lots of fiber.  This will satisfy your hunger longer and keep you satisfied to lunch time... helping eliminate that mid-morning muffin... don't get me started on muffins.  The protein is easily attained from low-fat meat, eggs, nuts or dairy products.  Good high-fiber foods include fruit, vegetables & whole grains.  It is easy to have hard-boiled eggs in the fridge already prepared, add some fruit and a piece of whole grain toast to it and you have an easy, healthy breakfast.  Not so hard, is it?

Generally, I tell people to stay away from cereals.  I mean, the high-sugar cereals should be obvious bad choices, right?  But, if you really like cereal in the morning, there is nothing wrong with a bowl of whole-grain cereal, topped with fruit and low-fat milk.  Just be aware of artificial flavors and colours and the preservatives.  None of these are good for you, if you are trying to lose weight or not.

So, what are some healthy choices for breakfast?  Here is a great list I found at http://www.secretsofhealthyeating.com/healthy-breakfast-foods.html, just to get you started...
  1. Cereal. Have a bowl of high fiber, whole grain cereal, with low fat milk. Add some freshly chopped fruit to it if you like. Bran cereals are high in fiber and will help you feel fuller for longer. Fruits such as kiwi fruit, apples or berries add a fresh, sharp taste to cereals.
  2. Eggs. Have an egg for breakfast - poached, boiled or scrambled for a high protein meal. If you have the time, make an omelette, with fresh vegetables such as zuchinni, mushrooms and tomatoes.
  3. Oats. instant oat porridge is an excellent quick way to have a healthy breakfast. Instant oats come in a variety of flavours, and can be jazzed up with flaxseeds, berries, nuts and honey for a delicious breakfast ready in five minutes.
  4. Whole Grain Toast. 2 slices of toast spread with low fat dairy spread or cottage cheese makes for a simple way to start the day. If you have sweet tooth, you can have honey or jam with your toast. Have some sliced grapefruit on the side.
  5. Smoked Fish. Try some smoked salmon or cod with a slice of whole grain toast, or a wholegrain roll. Add some grilled tomatoes or cottage cheese for flavour. The high protein content and healthy fats in this meal will keep your appetite under control.
  6. Yoghurt. A huge range and variety of low fat yoghurts are available today for an easy and healthy breakfast. Add your favourite fruit to a bowl of yoghurt, or add yoghurt to your cereal for a healthy and tasty way to get the calcium your bones need. Yoghurt also help with weight loss.
  7. Fruit Smoothie. A simple, fast and nutritous way to start the day is to make your own fruit smoothie, by blending non fat milk with two of your favourite fruits. Try a mix of frozen raspberries and banana, or orange juice and blackberries for example.
  8. Protein Shake. For an instant and filling breakfast, have a protein shake. Add fruit or yoghurt to your shake for extra flavour.
  9. Muffins. While most ready made muffins are high in fat and calories, you can bake your own muffins on the weekend, with wholemeal or bran flour for a healthy breakfast treat.
  10. Baked Beans. These are high in protein and low in glycemic load, and are a fantastic way to start the day. Have baked beans on whole grain toast for a healthy and filling breakfast.
Hope this helps you understand why breakfast is so important and how easy it is to include it in your morning routine.