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Wednesday, 01 November 2017 14:50

Tai Chi for Your Heart


By Beth Levine | Baseline of Health

Heart attacks are, unfortunately, a very common occurrence. In fact, every year approximately 735,000 Americans have a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And you do not have to be elderly or obese to be at risk. A 2016 study at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio showed that the average age for having a heart attack has dropped from 64 to 60 in recent years. That means a whole lot of people are having heart attacks in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s to offset those having them in their 70’s and 80’s. Plus, second heart attacks are often experienced within the first several years after the first attack, and in roughly 15 percent of cases, they are fatal. But it’s not too late to reduce your risk of a repeat incident if you have already had a heart attack, and new research suggests that one good way to return to heart health is by taking up tai chi.

The study, which was conducted at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, found that practicing tai chi may help increase physical activity levels and potentially improve heart function in those who have had a heart attack. These results are based on an investigation of 29 men and women who had recently survived a heart attack.

The subjects were randomly divided into two groups. One group took part in tai chi sessions twice a week at a hospital for a 12-week period. The second group practiced tai chi three times a week and continued this routine for 24 weeks. At the three-month mark, the participants were asked to report on all of their exercise in general, and those in the group doing tai chi three times a week had greater overall physical activity than those in the twice a week group.

During a second follow-up after six months, the differences were amplified even further. Besides the extra session of tai chi each week, the more frequent group said they were working out quite a bit beyond the regimen they had taken on, including an increase in using the stairs and bicycle riding. Initially, many expressed anxiety about performing any sort of exercise that felt strenuous, but once they adjusted to doing tai chi, they realized they could comfortably do a lot more activity.

The study did not focus on introducing tai chi as a replacement for traditional post-heart attack rehab regimens. Instead, it was designed to determine whether those who are reluctant to exercise—either due to a previously established sedentary lifestyle or out of fear that a workout would trigger further cardiac problems—would instead be willing to participate in tai chi and build on this activity.

Unfortunately, the population sample included was too small to be definitive, and the length of the study was too short to find out whether a true difference was made in activity levels. However, enough of an association was established that further research on this topic would certainly be helpful. And even if the heart attack survivors aren’t all stepping up their exercise to take on more strenuous activities, at least they are performing some sort of workout.

Tai chi, like yoga, may very well be the perfect exercise for people who have been inactive for some time, whether they have had a heart attack or not. This ancient Chinese practice is based on achieving various postures and positions, with a focus on breathing and being in the moment. It is highly adaptable and can improve balance and flexibility as well as strengthen muscles.

In addition, there are other potential benefits to performing tai chi. A 2011 study at the University of California, Los Angeles found that tai chi reduces the risk of depression, and a 2016 study at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill showed that tai chi is effective in reducing the symptoms of arthritis.

So if you’ve been sedentary and you’re looking for a way to introduce an exercise regimen into your life, tai chi might be just what the doctor ordered. Get started by looking for classes in your neighborhood taught by an experienced instructor to ensure that you learn proper form. You may find you enjoy tai chi so much that you’re soon ready to expand your exercise horizons even more.

Published in Health Plus
Friday, 20 October 2017 13:29

Total Body Workout With Planks

Story at-a-glance

  • Planks are considered an integral part of core training, as they improve your balance and stability, tone your abs and build muscle while increasing isometric strength overall, plus, they can even help alleviate problems with scoliosis
  • Rather than the crunches and situps people have relied on for years to tone their abs, planks are easier on your back, so they’re far less likely to cause back pain during or after your workout
  • Studies show that because plank exercises use abdominal/lumbar co-contraction with shoulder and hip activation, core muscle activation is more beneficial than muscle isolation exercises
  • Keeping your back straight is important while performing this basic exercise, but planks can also be modified to target certain areas, such as strengthening your spine and improving your posture



By Dr. Mercola

They make look easy, and may even seem easy at first, but when you start working on planks, you’ll find some of the greatest benefits come from the process of checking yourself to make sure you’re maintaining the correct form. Plus, planks are a welcome alternative to crunches and situps, which can cause back pain when your backbone is pressed against the floor. They not only give your six-pack more definition and “up” your endurance level, planks provide an array of additional benefits for your entire body.

Certainly not least, one of the most inviting aspects of this basic exercise is that it accomplishes several things at the same time, and increasing your regimen can be done at your own pace; the effort is never wasted. According to Healthline, planks not only activate more muscles, they also help:

  • Provide balance and stability
  • Tone abs and define your “six-pack”
  • Build a stronger core
  • Alleviate back pain
  • Develop better posture

One of the drawbacks of performing repeated sit-ups and crunches is that your backbone makes contact with the floor. Even with a mat under you they can cause pain, not just while you’re doing them but even after you’re done. Not so with planks; your hands and feet hold you up, so that in the process, your arms, legs and core muscles benefit, too.

One study showed that “exercises that elicit abdominal/lumbar co-contraction coupled with shoulder and hip activation (integration exercise) provoke greater core muscle activation than muscle isolation exercises.” Researchers gathered 20 male and female volunteers, who completed 16 randomly assigned exercises. They then measured the study subjects’ muscle activity with surface electromyography on several muscle groups. The results indicated that:

“The activation of the abdominal and lumbar muscles was the greatest during the exercises that required deltoid and gluteal recruitment … When completing the core strength guidelines, an integrated routine that incorporates the activation of distal trunk musculature would be optimal in terms of maximizing strength, improving endurance, enhancing stability, reducing injury, and maintaining mobility.”

Why Do Planks? Studies Show Dramatic Scoliosis Improvements

At Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, researchers noted that nonsurgical treatments for realigning spinal problems such as scoliosis, which affects 6 million to 9 million people in the U.S., are used frequently, but evidence of which options work best is lacking. The disorder “can be painful and can affect gait, posture and other areas of physical functioning, measurably lowering self-esteem,” the study notes, with nonsurgical treatments usually involving muscle relaxation or ligament stretching. Specifically, they assessed:

“The possible benefits of asymmetrical strengthening of truncal muscles on the convex side of the scoliotic curve through a single yoga pose, the side plank pose, in idiopathic and degenerative scoliosis.”

The scientists worked with 25 participants with degenerative scoliosis, a term that describes how it came about (namely aging, tipping and slipping of discs, which “cascades” and leads to spinal curvature, or scoliosis). They also tested people with idiopathic scoliosis, for which the cause is unknown. It may begin in childhood and remain through adulthood, or even be noticed for the first time in adulthood, according to Spine Universe.

In the study, the subjects, whose spinal curvature measured anywhere from 6 degrees to 120 degrees, according to the Cobb angle, had spinal radiographs taken before being taught the side plank pose. For one week, they performed the pose for 20 seconds a day, after which they were asked to maintain the posture for as long as they could on the same side.

The participants averaged 1.5 minutes holding the pose every day for at least six days per week for an average of 6.8 months. After another series of spinal radiographs taken three to 22 months later, the pre- and post-measurements were compared, showing a significantly improved Cobb angle among all patients, averaging 32 percent. Among 19 patients, the improvement was an even more significant 40.9 percent.

Maintaining the Proper Form: How to Do Planks

If you’ve ever seen a fitness expert performing perfect planks, you may have thought the exercise looked easy, but as in other endeavors, it’s not as easy as it may first appear. However, as the saying goes, practice does make perfect, and the results are worth it.

Here’s another plus: Planks are very straightforward rather than complicated and don’t involve some difficult-to-learn program or routine. In fact, the featured video shows the correct form for each variation of plank in the Total Body Workout in just 48 seconds. Once you get that down, you can start perfecting your form, then building up your time for maximized results.

  • The Full Plank starts in a pushup position with your hands on the floor directly under your shoulders, arms straight and your toes bent in a “tiptoe” position, which holds you off the floor. Keep your back straight and your core tight, because allowing your back or bottom to sag downward will likely cause lower back pain later. Keep your chin lowered, eyes to the floor.
  • The Low Plank position is identical except that rather than holding yourself up by your hands, arms straight, you bend your elbows and rest on your forearms instead. Again, tighten your stomach and glutes (aka butt muscles), and similarly to not sagging downward, keep your heels, bottom, back and shoulders in a straight line without arching upward.
  • The Raised Leg Plank simply incorporates lifting each leg straight up behind you so that your heel is your highest point, abs and glutes tightened, and holding each leg behind you for 30 seconds.
  • The Side Plank is also recommended for 30 seconds on each side. With your left elbow on the floor, the inside of your forearm and palm facing up, the side of your left foot shares your weight. Place your right hand on your hip so that the same elbow is your highest point. These work on your abdominal muscles and strengthen your spine.
  • The Reverse Plank position requires that you sit on the floor, legs out straight and place your hands on the floor behind you so that when you push your body upward, you’re looking at the ceiling instead of the floor. Squeeze your glutes

However, Healthline also emphasizes that holding any of the above plank positions for too long may be counterproductive: “Make two minutes your maximum time limit. If you’re looking to increase your athletic performance, research shows that repeated 10-second holds may be the best workout.”

Plank Perks

As you’re working on maintaining the proper form — body positioned off the floor, back straight, chin down, abs tight — residual benefits are felt throughout your entire body, including your posture. As you strengthen these muscles, as well as those in your neck and chest, you’ll find it easier to keep your lower back in a neutral position when you stand or sit, and your shoulders back. Voilà — better posture.

Additionally, planks increase your flexibility, stretch out your lower half and your sides, as well, as you work on the side planks. Just getting into the correct position and holding it lengthens your hamstrings and your arches, further extending the benefits of stretching and strengthening your body. To increase your balance, try raising your free arm in the air and don’t forget to switch sides for an even workout.

You can also try shoulder touches, which starts with the classic plank pose and entails lifting your right hand from the floor and lightly touching your left elbow and repeating on the opposite side. Start with 10 taps on each side, then increase the number as your balance improves.

Knee touches also start with the classic plank, but it’s a little trickier and may leave you feeling a little sore the next day because both your hamstrings and quads are getting a double workout. Drop your forearms, alternate touching the floor with each knee and tapping it lightly while keeping your back straight.

It must be said: Everybody wants toned abs, and planks help provide them automatically because you’re tightening them in order to hold yourself in the classic plank position. However, while many would also love to be able to exhibit the “six-packs” some equate with total fitness, it also means paring down your fat quotient to 6 percent for men and 9 percent for women.

As you work on perfecting your planks, you’ll find yourself gaining strength and automatically standing and sitting straighter, along with several (and maybe all) the positive side effects that come from body consciousness and exercise. While you’re at it, you’ll find your mood improving, as well as your self-esteem, and tension flowing from your body. So planks aren’t just a body workout — your brain benefits, too.

Published in Health Plus

By Megan Teychenne & Clint Miller | The Conversation

We all know we need to exercise to stay fit and strong, stave off disease and maintain a healthy weight. Walking is the most popular physical activity undertaken by Australian adults. It’s free, easy, and can be done almost anywhere.

Walking leads to a remarkable reduction in the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, arthritis, depression, anxiety and insomnia, and premature death from all causes.

The health benefits of walking stem from the changes that occur in our body systems as a result of exercising. For some of these health conditions, fitness has been shown to be a particularly important factor for prevention.

The term fitness is quite often used to describe aerobic fitness, but having a high level of fitness actually refers to all components of health-related physical fitness which includes muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, body composition, and of course aerobic (or heart) fitness. So is walking enough in terms of the exercise we need? 


Aerobic fitness

An analysis of studies on walking showed it improves aerobic fitness - which is technically the ability of the heart to get oxygen to our muscles and how effectively our muscles use that oxygen. But to be effective, walking needs to be of at least moderate intensity, which means an intensity where you’re able to notice your breathing but can carry on a conversation without noticeable pauses between words. For many, this is a brisk walk.

Greater improvements in aerobic fitness can be achieved when walking at a vigorous intensity, where you can converse with a friend, but it will be interrupted with noticeable pauses between words to take a breath.

The good news is that you don’t need to walk at a vigorous intensity for health or aerobic fitness benefits. Walking at a moderate intensity will increase your aerobic fitness and, more importantly, your endurance (the ability to carry out activities for longer with less fatigue). This is because it allows your body to burn fat more efficiently, improves delivery and use of oxygen in the muscles, and improves mitochondria density and efficiency (these are producers of energy in our body), all leading to greater capacity to undertake tasks with less fatigue.

Walking briskly for 30 minutes five days per week can improve aerobic fitness. Each walking bout doesn’t need to be long though; walking for ten minutes three times per day is as beneficial as walking for 30 minutes in one go.


Walking is not a strength-based exercise, but if you haven’t exercised in a while, you’ll notice gains in leg strength as a result of regular walking. Although benefits in strength are modest, research shows walking 30 minutes five days per week at a moderate intensity helps to prevent sarcopenia (age-related loss in muscle size and strength).

You can increase the demand on your lower body muscles, bones and tendons to keep them strong by introducing hills, choosing to take the stairs, walking on undulating terrain, or even carrying a comfortable backpack. But maximum strength gains will come from introducing some form of body-weight or gym-based resistance training exercise.


Walking does not lead to significant gains in joint flexibility, but walking regularly does have positive effects on your joints. Weight-bearing exercise, including walking, increases lubrication and delivery of nutrition to your joints.

Research shows that walking regularly reduces pain and disability for adults suffering from knee arthritis; and moderate intensity exercise can protect against the development of joint degeneration.

Body weight

Moderate intensity walking can prevent weight gain and assist in maintaining a healthy weight in as little as 150 minutes per week. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 250 minutes or more exercise to lose a modest amount of weight, but the more you do, the more you’ll lose.

Unfortunately, it’s a myth that calories in equals calories out. Don’t expect a 500 calorie walk to offset the negative metabolic effect of a 500 calorie treat. Fortunately, regular exercise and being physically fit will reduce your risk of heart disease and early death irrespective of your weight loss success.

There are plenty of reasons to walk, we’ve been doing it since the dawn of time, well before the first gym opened. Walking is an organic, natural, gluten free, fat free, toxin free, meditative experience that delivers far more health benefits than most other decisions you’ll make today.

Published in Health Plus

By Dr. Mercola

Short, intense workouts are all the rage in the fitness world. While it was once believed that the longer you stayed on the treadmill or elliptical machine, the better, it’s now known that you can seriously maximize your fitness results while working out for a fraction of the time, as long as you sufficiently ramp up the intensity (interspersed with periods of rest).

Very short workouts, as in seven minutes or even less, are also becoming regulars in the fitness scene, although I would stop short of calling them a trend. The fact is, humans have been exercising in very short, intense bursts since the beginning, although they didn’t call it exercise; they called it survival.

As such, your body is biologically programmed to respond to similarly intense bursts of activity. But because this is something many modern humans no longer do in the course of their daily grind, many are seeking it out via high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

In the video above, you can see one example of a full-body, seven-minute exercise routine by Hannah Bronfman, founder of the wellness site HBFit.

This workout is particularly useful because you can do the movements (a combination of jumping jacks, side kicks, abdominal work and more) virtually anywhere with no equipment required.

Short HIIT workouts can be deceptive, appearing simple on paper then surprising you with how challenging they are to complete. Still, a full workout in only seven minutes? Is it really too good to be true?

‘Maximum Results With Minimal Investment’

Brett Klika, a performance coach for the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Florida, and Chris Jordan, the director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute, conducted a study to determine the health benefits of high-intensity circuit training (HICT), which for their study used only body weight as resistance.

Notably, they work with professionals and athletes with “incessant demands on their time,” many of whom also travel frequently. They pointed out that typically aerobic and resistance training are performed on two or three nonconsecutive days each week.

For resistance training, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends eight to 12 repetitions, and two to four sets, for each major muscle group.

For aerobic training, 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise for 30 to 60 minutes per session and/or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity exercise for 20 to 60 minutes per session are recommended.

“Although these traditional protocols can be effective, they may not be realistic enough for time-conscious adults because of the amount of time necessary to complete each program, in addition to some limitations to effectiveness demonstrated in the literature,” the ACSM noted.

As such, they developed a program that combines aerobic and resistance training, is quick (seven minutes) and can be performed anywhere, without special equipment. They wrote in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal:

“Our approach combines aerobic and resistance training into a single exercise bout lasting approximately 7 minutes. Participants can repeat the [seven]-minute bout two to three times, depending on the amount of time they have.

As body weight provides the only form of resistance, the program can be done anywhere.

HICT is not a new concept, but it is growing in popularity because of its efficiency and practicality for a time-constrained society. The combination of aerobic and resistance training in a high-intensity, limited-rest design can deliver numerous health benefits in much less time than traditional programs.”

Proven Benefits of a Seven-Minute Workout

The HICT program developed by Klika and Jordan was loosely based on circuit-style training that was first developed by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Anderson in 1953 at the University of Leeds in England.

Their program included nine to 12 exercises that were performed at moderate intensity for a specified number of repetitions or amount of time. Improvements in muscle strength, endurance and aerobic fitness were noted. The featured study also explained multiple benefits for their HICT workout, including:

Fat Loss and Weight Loss

HICT involves using multiple large muscles with very little rest between sets, yielding aerobic and metabolic benefits, the latter of which may continue for up to 72 hours after the workout has been completed.

HICT may lead to greater fat loss than typical aerobics or resistance training because it increases levels of catecholamines (which increase resting energy expenditure) and human growth hormone (HGH) in your blood.

Improved VO2 Max

VO2 maxes the maximum amount of oxygen you can take in while exercising. Your VO2 max can be used as a measure of cardiovascular endurance. “When HICT protocols have been compare with traditional steady state protocols in the laboratory, HICT elicits similar and sometimes greater gains in VO2 max despite significantly lower exercise volume,” they wrote.

Decreased Insulin Resistance

Research supports the use of HICT (and HIIT) for reducing insulin resistance, which is a contributing factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. Unfit but otherwise healthy middle-aged adults were able to improve their insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation after just two weeks of such training (three sessions per week).

A follow-up study also found that HIIT positively impacted insulin sensitivity. The study involved people with type 2 diabetes, and just one session was able to improve blood sugar regulation for the next 24 hours. Kilka and Jordan added, “Positive changes have been observed in insulin resistance in as little as eight minutes per week when executed at an intensity more than 100 [percent] VO2 max.”

12 Exercises in Seven Minutes

You may now be wondering what, exactly, Kilka and Jordan’s sample HICT program entails. The exercises were designed to:

You can watch a demonstration of the exercise sequence in the video above, and they’re also described below. Each exercise is performed for about 30 seconds with 10-seconds allowed for transitions. This adds up to an approximately seven-minute workout, which may be repeated in its entirety two or three times. The exercises should be done in the order given, as they’re selected to allow opposing muscle groups to alternate between resting and working.

As Intensity Increases, Duration Decreases

How many times you should repeat the seven-minute workout (one to three times, max) depends on a variety of factors, including intensity. The harder you work, the shorter your workout should be.

Research has shown proven benefits, including improvements in VO2 max and insulin sensitivity in just 4 minutes of HIIT exercise. However, to achieve these benefits, you likely need to be working at an intensity that’s equal to or greater than 100 percent of your VO2 max.

This is a level of intensity that many people may not be able to achieve or maintain, especially if you’re just starting out. During a typical HIIT workout, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) notes, "Training is done at a submaximal level; around 80 to 95 percent of maximal aerobic capacity."

In other words, on an exertion scale of 1 to 10, a typical moderate-intensity workout (such as running or stair climbing) would be an exertion level of 5 to 6. A typical HIIT workout is done at an exertion level of 7 or higher. Very short HIIT workouts, such as Tabata Training, are an exertion level of 10.

The good thing about HIIT is that you can tweak it to your needs. You can still get benefits from working out at a slightly lower intensity; you simply increase the time you work out to make up for it. You’ll still be working out very intensely, remember, so your total workout will still be short, relatively speaking.

I typically recommend an HIIT session of 20 minutes. If you were using the protocol above, you could therefore repeat it three times. According to the featured study:

“More moderate protocols (90 [percent] to 100 [percent] of VO2 max) have been examined for various total exercise durations. Although these protocols seem to require slightly more total exercise time to be effective, they still are well below the steady state exercise time requirements.

Because most individuals may not be able to execute the program at an intensity significantly greater than 100 [percent] of their VO2 max following the established ACSM guidelines for high-intensity exercise of at least 20 minutes is recommended. This may require multiple repetitions (or circuits) of a multistation exercise circuit.”

If You Think You’re Too Busy to Exercise, HIIT Is for You

Lack of time is one of the most common excuses used for not exercising. HIIT removes this hurdle, because virtually everyone can squeeze in seven minutes. If you have a bit more time, and you’re performing the workout at less than 100 percent, try repeating it two or three times.

With this minimum time investment, you’ll likely enjoy decreased body fat, improved insulin sensitivity and muscle strength, and increased VO2 max. As Kilka and Jordan noted, “Individuals who previously believed that they did not have the time for exercise can now trade total exercise time for total exercise effort and get similar or better health and fitness benefits.”

Published in Health Plus
Tuesday, 11 October 2016 00:00

Go Ahead and Jump — It's Good for You!

By Dr. Mercola

If you are like most people, you probably spend hours indoors and a large portion of your day sitting behind a desk. It's difficult to avoid as most work is done on a computer and many hours may be spent each week commuting back and forth to work.

In fact, according to the National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS) commissioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most people spent at least 93 percent of their time indoors or in the car.

Global studies show people are sitting at least 7.7 hours each day, on average, and sit as much as 15 hours a day.

Most Americans have to sit all day at work, but a new survey commissioned by Egotron found that 70 percent of people dislike sitting all day, and when they do get up at work, 56 percent use getting food as an excuse. According to this survey, Americans were sitting an average of 13 hours each day.

Jumping Instead of Sitting

Mounting research suggests that sitting is an independent risk factor for poor health and premature death, even when you exercise regularly. Sometimes getting started or finding the motivation is difficult.

In this video, Julie Schiffman demonstrates using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to overcome obstacles that may impact your exercise routines or desire to get moving.

Research by Joan Vernikos, Ph.D., former director of National Aeronautics Space Administration's (NASA) Life Sciences Division and author of "Sitting Kills, Moving Heals," presents a simple yet powerful scientific explanation for why sitting has such a dramatic impact on your health, and how you can simply and easily counteract the ill effects of sitting.

She found it was the change in posture that was a powerful signal, and not the act of standing. In other words, the key to counteract the ill effects of prolonged sitting is to repeatedly and frequently interrupt your sitting. If you stand 35 times at one time, the benefit is not as great as if you stand up once every 15 to 20 minutes.

One way to offset the effects of prolonged sitting is jumping. A new study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), found that jumping on a mini-trampoline or rebounder for less than 20 minutes was as good as running, less stressful on your joints, and may even be more fun.

However, you don't need a rebounder in your office to experience benefits. Standing at your desk every 20 minutes and jumping in place several times may offer different benefits to your bones, and increases your heart rate.

Why Jumping Is Easier on Your Body Than Running

According to the Arthritis Foundation, every pound of excess weight places an additional 4 pounds of pressure on your knees when walking. So if you are 10 pounds overweight, this amounts to 40 pounds of extra pressure on your knees with each step, increasing your risk of knee pain.

Running places an even greater amount of stress on your knees. In a study published in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, researchers evaluated stress on the knee joint based on the runner's speed. Their study revealed that speed plays a vital role in how much impact your knee receives.

They evaluated runners at 5 mph (12-minute mile), 7.3 mph (8.2-minute mile), and 9.8 mph (six-minute mile) and discovered the runners traveling at greater speed experienced less overall stress.

Although the amount of stress increased as speed increased, the overall stress experienced was less at higher speed, as the runners used a lower number of strides to cover the same distance.

This means that even if you carry just a few extra pounds, running can put a significant amount of stress on your knees.

On the other hand, a rebounder or trampoline offers a platform that gives under your weight and absorbs some of the impact on your joints. However, even with less impact it continues to offer you a cardiovascular and core strengthening workout.

Jumping Provides Greater Fitness Benefits Than Running

Rebounding, or jumping on a mini-trampoline in your home, gained popularity in the 1980s following a study commissioned by NASA, in which they compared the oxygen uptake and body distribution between running and jumping on a mini-trampoline.

The intention was to find a form of exercise that could reduce the effects of deconditioning of their astronauts while in a weightless environment.

The results showed athletes experienced the greatest amount of stress in their ankles and legs while running, whereas the force on a trampoline was more equally distributed between the lower legs and the back and head.

These were lower forces than the athlete experienced running, but at the same oxygen uptake. This means the athletes were working equally hard when running and jumping, but experiencing less force on their body while jumping.

The benefits the athletes experienced at a cellular level were greater and at less force than running. Athletes also enjoyed increased force on the rebounder with less stress on the heart and less oxygen used. Specifically, the researchers wrote:

"The magnitude of biomechanical stimulation is greater with jumping on a trampoline than with running, a finding that might help identify acceleration parameters needed for the design of remedial procedures to avert deconditioning in persons exposed to weightlessness."

If oxygen uptake were equal between the two exercises, athletes participating in trampoline jumping gained 68 percent more benefit than those who were running.

Bone Density and Osteoporosis

Worldwide osteoporosis is responsible for nearly 9 million fractures, affecting 200 million worldwide and 75 million in the U.S., Europe and Japan. Research published in Osteoporosis International estimated that by 2050 the worldwide incidence in men would increase by 310 percent and 240 percent in women, compared to rates from 1990.

Rising rates of osteoporosis combined with poor health outcomes make this a significant public health concern. The U.S. has the highest rate of hip fractures in the world. Osteoporosis is one of the common causes of hip fractures, costing an estimated $12 billion each year and increasing the risk of mortality by 500 to 800 percent in the first year.

However, recent research published in the American Journal of Health Promotion (AJHP) demonstrates that jumping 20 times a day may have a significant impact on your risk of osteoporosis. After just eight weeks, researchers found a demonstrable change in bone mineral density in their subjects.

Participants either jumped 10 times with 30 second rests in between jumps, twice daily, or they jumped 20 times with 30 second rests, once daily. After eight weeks there was greater improvement in those who jumped 20 times, but after 16 weeks both groups exhibited greater gains over the control group who did not jump.

More Benefits You May Experience From Jumping Like a Kid

By placing added stress on your bones, jumping on a trampoline may gradually reduce your risk of osteoporosis. You will also experience cardiovascular benefits, increased strength in your legs and core and improve your mental health. Activity pumps oxygen-rich blood to your brain that helps improve your mental outlook on life and improves your creativity.

Jumping on a rebounder has other physical benefits you might not suspect. If you haven't been exercising, using a trampoline may increase your mitochondrial biogenesis, or the increase in mass of mitochondria in your cells. This increases your resistance to fatigue and improves your health. Exercise may also increase your mitochondrial biogenesis in your brain, reducing your risk for fatigue and dementia.

Training on a rebounder also improves your balance, no matter your age. Researchers found a 14-week training interval improved the ability of the elderly to recover during a forward fall. This was attributed to an increase in hip movement during the exercise. The same exercise may help people after stroke to regain balance, a dynamic gait and reduce the risk of falls.

The dura disc is specialized equipment designed to improve balance, strength and lower limb control after injury. The trampoline may make those improvements while also helping you achieve your cardiovascular and weight management goals. Researchers determined the trampoline was as effective as the dura disc to improve balance after a lateral ankle sprain.

Using a rebounder is convenient and may help improve your lymphatic circulation and your immune system. Your lymphatic system is dependent on muscle contraction to circulate through your body. During normal exercise your lymphatic circulation increases two to three times over when you are at rest.

Your lymphatic system supports your immune system and transports immune cells through your body. Jumping increases the force of gravity and has an impact on your immune system, speeding the development of T-lymphocyte motility.

Start Rebounding and Practice Safety

It's important that you don't wear tight or restrictive clothing while you're working out on your rebounder. This allows your lymph system to flow more easily. Although this is a gentle exercise, it's important that you start slowly to improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling from the equipment. If your balance is poor, you'll want to use a rebounder with a safety bar to prevent falls.

If you are new to exercise or to the rebounder, your feet don't need to leave the surface. You can jump up and down by bending your knees and bouncing at first, gradually working up to your feet leaving the surface. You may choose to use the rebounder for a 15- or 20-minute program, or jump on it for three to five minutes several times each day.

It is important to practice safety when using a rebounder. Falling from the equipment may result in sprains, strains or broken bones, sidelining you for weeks or months. You should not use a trampoline or rebounder when you're pregnant as it can cause your connective tissue to stretch. This can lead to joint injuries. Your center of gravity also changes when you're pregnant, so it's easier to lose your balance and fall.

Don't use your rebounder or trampoline when you've drunk alcohol, used any medication that may affect your balance or if the trampoline surface is wet. Each of these situation increase your risk of injury.

Design a Workout to Fit Your Needs

Do you remember jumping up and down on the bed when you were a child? Now is the time to channel that inner child, have fun and improve your health at the same time. Here are six different exercises you can use on your rebounder or trampoline. String them together at one time, do them throughout the day, or concentrate on just the exercises you want.

Remember, it's not about how high you're jumping but rather about being in control while you're on the rebounder. Keep your knees bent and not locked, with your feet shoulder width apart. Don't bend your head forward, backward or to the side. Keep your head in line with your spine. If you need to turn your head, stop jumping first. Brace your core and let's get started.


Published in Health Plus

By Dr. Mercola

When you're young and middle-aged, you don't give much thought to falling, but as you get older your muscle and bone mass decrease and the senses that guide your balance — vision, touch and proprioception — may all start to deteriorate, and this can make you unsteady on your feet.

Falls in people aged 65 and older are quite common. The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than 1 out of 4 older Americans falls each year, and once you've fallen, you double your chances of falling again.

A fall in your golden years can come with steep consequences. Each year, 2.8 million older adults are treated in emergency rooms due to falls. More than 800,000 of them are hospitalized as a result, typically because of a head injury or hip fracture.

In fact, 300,000 older adults are hospitalized in the U.S. each year due to hip fractures, more than 95 percent of which are caused by falling (and particularly by falling sideways).

Falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries and account for $31 billion in direct medical costs annually.

Falls in the Elderly Can Trigger a Downward Deterioration in Health

While many falls are not serious, about 1 in 5 leads to a broken bone, head injury or other serious injury.

Even if you recover from the fall-related injury, those who fall can also develop an intense fear of falling again, which leads them to limit their activities, increases weakness and in turn raises their risk of falling even more.

For this reason, falls can make it difficult to live independently and may increase your risk of premature death. Adding to the problem is that many people do not tell their loved ones they've fallen out of embarrassment or fear that they could lose their autonomy.

Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, director of geriatric education at Northwell Health in Great Neck, New York, told CBS News:

"Elderly patients tend to not report falls to their families, or even doctors. A fall is a very frightening thing that you keep quiet about.

They think if they mention it that it'll start the ball rolling — the move to a nursing home, or the need for aides to help out in the house — and that they'll lose their independence."

In 2014 alone, the CDC reported that older Americans suffered from 29 million falls and a related 7 million injuries. In addition, CDC data suggests that 27,000 falls in the U.S. each year have fatal consequences.

Aging itself is a risk factor for falls, especially if you're not active, but there are additional factors that further increase your risk, including:

Optimizing Vitamin D Levels May Reduce Falls and Related Fractures

Vitamin D deficiency is rampant among the elderly. Researchers estimate that half of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency, but among seniors that estimate reaches as high as 95 percent.

Vitamin D deficiency, in turn, is associated with muscle weakness that may be associated with a feeling of heaviness in the legs, tiring easily and difficulty climbing stairs and rising from a chair. Low vitamin D levels are also associated with an increased risk of falling in the elderly.

Optimizing your levels, via safe sun exposure or supplementation, appears to be a simple way to lower your fall risk (while also imparting additional health benefits).

Research shows, for instance, that supplementing with vitamin D in one elderly group improved muscle strength, walking distance, functional ability and body sway, with researchers noting:

"These findings and the observed improvements in bone density after vitamin D supplementation provide an explanation for the association between vitamin D supplementation and fewer falls and nonvertebral fractures in elderly people."

Previous research also suggests vitamin D has a beneficial effect on postural adaptations involving muscles and the central nervous system, which may explain the association between higher vitamin D levels and decreased rates of fall and fractures.

Exercise Helps Reduce Falls and Fall-Related Injuries in the Elderly

Preventing falls is one of the primary reasons why exercise remains so important as you get older, as physical activity is known to significantly reduce your chances of falling. Further, if you do end up falling, research shows that regular exercisers are less likely to be injured as a result.

Older adults who took part in an exercise program were 37 percent less likely to be injured during a fall compared to non-exercisers, one study found.

This included a 61 percent lower risk of having a fall-induced broken bone and a 43 percent lower risk of sustaining a fall-related injury serious enough to require admission to a hospital. The exercises included an emphasis on balance training along with strength and functional training and even Tai Chi.

It's likely the regular exercisers were not only better able to response physically to a fall but may also have been quicker mentally, allowing them to perhaps reach out and grab a railing for support and thereby suffer less injury.

Separate research has shown, for instance, that eight weeks of balance training reduced slips and improved the likelihood of recovery from slips among the elderly.

Other research, which noted that "altered balance is the greatest collaborator towards falls in the elderly," found balance training is effective in improving functional and static balance, mobility and falling frequency in elderly women with osteoporosis.

The ability to balance on one leg is also an important predictor of injury-causing falls, so if you know that you'd be shaky if you tried to stand on one foot, you're at an increased risk of being hurt in a fall and should start appropriate exercises immediately.

7 Exercises to Improve Balance and Coordination

If you're not actively working on improving your balance and coordination, you should be, especially if you're middle aged or older. Even if you're new to exercise, I believe it's virtually never too late to start.

My mother didn't start working out until she was 74 years old, and she continues to train regularly, as you can see in the video above. While many seniors benefit from strenuous activities such as high-intensity regimens and strength training, there are options even for people who are frail or confined to a wheelchair.

Below are seven simple, basic exercises you can do to help improve your balance and coordination, thereby reducing your risk of falling. They work to counteract some of the prime reasons why seniors fall, including poor balance and coordination, weakness in your hips and legs, poor posture and reduced ability to lift your feet, which can lead to stumbling.

Five of the exercise are done while seated while two are done while standing. For the seated exercises, begin seated in a chair that won't move or slide easily. Start slowly and only proceed to the next exercise once you've mastered or are comfortable with the previous one.

1. Toe Taps on Cone: Place a plastic cup, opening down, on the floor between your feet. Starting with your right leg, lift your leg up to gently tap the top of the cup with your toes, then place your foot on the opposite (left) side of the cup. Lift your right foot back over the cup, and set it down on the right side. Repeat 10 times with each leg, alternating sides.

2. Seated Leg Lifts: Lift your right leg with the knee bent at 90 degrees. Hold your leg up with your foot about 6 to 10 inches off the floor for five seconds. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs and do 10 repetitions on the other side.

3. Seated March: While seated, march your legs 20 times, lifting your feet at least a few inches off the floor. Be sure to focus on maintaining good posture while marching.

4. Hand-Eye Coordination and Balance: Place a plastic cup (opening facing down) in your right hand. Stretch your arm out in front of you while balancing the cup in your open hand.

Slowly move your arm out to the side and back to center. Repeat 10 times with each arm. When you're comfortable with this exercise, you may try doing it with your eyes closed. Be sure to remain seated, and if necessary, have someone help keep you upright, and/or be ready to stabilize you if you get dizzy.

5. Seated Arm Reach: While seated, simultaneously lift your right arm up high and raise your left leg, knee bent. Hold for a few seconds, then alternate sides. Repeat for a total of 20 times.

6. Side Leg Raise: Stand behind a chair, with one or both hands on the back of the chair for support. (Alternatively, keep one or both hands on the counter). Lift your right leg out to the side. Repeat 10 times for each leg. If you're comfortable, do the exercise without holding on to the chair or counter.

7. Staggered Stance Balance: Place your right foot forward and your left foot behind, then slowly shift your balance from your front leg to your back leg. Repeat 10 times, then switch leg positions, placing your left foot forward and your right foot behind. If needed, do this exercise standing next to a chair, or between two chairs, with the backs of the chairs toward your body, so you can grab on to them for support.

Strength-Training Exercises for Seniors

Without intervention, you can lose an average of nearly 7 pounds (3 kilos) of muscle per decade. If you stop working your muscles (or neglect to start), the consequences of age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) are steep and include increased risk of falls and fractures.

The following exercises are suitable for many seniors who are just starting out with strength training. If you're more advanced, see my previous strength training for older adults article. There are exercises for seniors with limited mobility too, but the exercises below will represent a good starting point for those at a beginner's level of fitness.

Knee Extensions With or Without Weights

Knee extension exercises will help strengthen your knees, which will improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling. Strengthening your knees will also allow you to walk and climb stairs with greater ease and comfort.

  • Sit on a chair with your back straight and knees bent
  • Slowly extend your right leg out in front of you and hold for a few seconds before lowering it back to starting position
  • Repeat with your left leg
  • Do 10 repetitions on each leg

For a more advanced version, strap an ankle weight around each ankle. Aim for a weight that is heavy enough to where you cannot do more than 15 repetitions per leg. As you get stronger, you can add more weight to keep it challenging.

Partial Squat and Half-Squat Against a Wall

Squatting exercises increase hip flexibility and strengthen your hip flexors and quadriceps, which will improve both your walking ability and your ability to stand up from a seated position.

It also improves your overall balance and stability, reducing your risk of falling. For the beginner's version, stand up using a chair for support, and perform a standing partial squat as demonstrated in the ElderGym video above. Remember to push your buttocks out as you bend to maintain a straight back posture, and do not bend your knees past your toes.

Once you're comfortable with that, try doing a half squat against a wall. This can be a more challenging move — especially if you get all the way into a seated position — so you may want to make sure you have someone there to assist you.

  • Stand with your back leaning lightly against a wall, with your legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart
  • Bend your knees, sliding your buttocks down the wall. Keep your knee cap in line with the middle toe of your foot, and do not bend your knee past your toes
  • If your strength allows, place your feet a bit further out from the wall and lower yourself down into a seated position, as if you're sitting on an invisible chair. Hold this position for a few seconds before raising yourself back up
  • Repeat 10 to 20 times

Once you can do 20 repetitions, you can increase the difficulty even further by holding a dumbbell in each hand.

Bicep Curl

For the bicep curl, make sure you're using a weight that is appropriate for your current level of strength. If you're just starting out, a 5-pound dumbbell in each hand may be appropriate. You want the weight to be heavy enough that by the time you complete 10 to 12 reps, you feel like you can't keep going.

  • Sit with good posture in a chair (remember to engage your core by imagining your sternum moving back towards your spine, to stabilize your posture); one dumbbell in each hand, palms facing forward, shoulders relaxed and elbows close to your body
  • Focusing on your bicep muscle, bend your arm at the elbows and lift the weights about three-quarters of the way toward your shoulders. Avoid rotating your shoulders forward, and keep your elbows fixed at your side
  • Breathe out as you lift the weight, and breathe in as you lower them
  • Do 10 to 12 repetitions

When you exercise as an older adult, you're gaining the ability to live independently and fully, something that can be taken from you if your body becomes too frail. If you're just starting out, consult with a personal fitness trainer who can instruct you about proper form and technique. He or she can also help you develop a plan based on your unique fitness goals and one that is safe for any medical conditions you may have.

Published in Health Plus

By Dr. Mercola

The primary muscles engaged in squatting are your legs and hips. However, while those are primary, your gluteal muscles, transverse abdominis, adductors and soleus muscles in your core are also activated and working hard to balance your body.

This one exercise, whether you do it with added weights or on the BOSU ball, may be considered essential to your strength training program. It is relatively simple to perform and delivers significant benefits no matter how old you are.

When squats are done on the BOSU ball, you have the added benefit of placing greater stress on your core muscles, thus increasing strength. The ball works on improving both your balance and flexibility as you work though the different levels of doing squats, from beginner to advanced.

This deceptively simple piece of equipment is relatively inexpensive, can be easily stored at home and may expand the scope of your exercise program and improve your overall results.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Not Being Balanced

One of the benefits of using a BOSU ball for exercise, especially squatting, is that you’re are doing the exercise on an unstable platform. This engages more of your muscles to perform the movement. These are the same muscles needed to maintain your balance as you grow older.

In a study from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers demonstrated a link between people who exhibited difficulty doing activities of daily living, such as rising out of a chair, or bending to tie their shoes, and the length of their life.

The goal was to develop a functional way of staging the activity limitations to predict lifespan and recommend changes that may increase longevity.

They evaluated over 9,000 people over the age of 70 and found the median life expectancy was greater than 10 years for those with minor limitations in their activity level, but only just over a year for those who were significantly limited.

The researchers recommended improving balance and flexibility to increase the ability to perform daily movements and activities. This is exactly how the BOSU ball may help your squat routine — through improving your strength and balance.

While balance is a benefit to doing squats on the BOSU ball, drastic improvements in strength are not. It is unsafe to use added weight with dumbbells or a weighted barbell on the BOSU ball, as the instability of the ball makes handling added weight dangerous.

However, if strength training is your goal, your body needs both core muscle activation and leg strengthening to work optimally. So, while doing weighted squats on the ball is dangerous, incorporating several sets on the BOSU into your routine may improve your overall performance when you are using weights.

BOSU May Be Your Rehab Tool After an Injury

BOSU balls are used by physical therapists to improve strength, stability and balance in their patients. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, scientists found an unstable surface used during maximum effort squats would help maintain the activation of muscles in the lower limbs and trunk.

Their conclusion was that using an unstable surface during a squat may benefit you as part of a rehabilitation program, as the muscles activated and strengthened are achieved under a reduced load capacity, reducing the potential for further injury.

Another study in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found similar results. These researchers found the characteristics of working on an unstable surface was not beneficial to strength or power training for athletes, but were advantageous in a rehabilitation environment.

The force placed on muscle during exercise on an unstable surface was of sufficient intensity for a recuperating muscle or injury-susceptible joint.

In this study, researchers recommended an unstable surface, such as the BOSU ball for rehabilitation of lower back pain conditions. This no-load balance training improves the strength and conditioning of your lower back muscles, important in your ability to perform everyday movements.

These exercises may also help you prevent lower back pain by improving strength and balance even if you have not suffered an injury.

Squats Are An Important Part of Your Fitness Routine

Squats are a vital component of your exercise routine, and using a BOSU ball is one way of taking full advantage of the benefits of this exercise.

Squats work the muscles in your core and legs, and doing them on the BOSU ball also work your upper body and shoulders as you make tiny alterations in your weight distribution to remain balanced on the ball.

Squats are functional exercises, or training done in a manner that improves strength or balance that directly improves your performance of daily living activities.

Since the squat also builds strength and muscle balance in some of your little used muscle groups, this exercise also improves your athletic performance and reduces your risk of injury. Improvements you make to your large muscle groups in your legs translates into being able to jump higher and run faster.

Doing this multi-purpose exercise on the BOSU improves the strength in your core muscle that participate in the regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity, helping to protect you against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Executing squats also improves your ability to squat over the toilet. Squatting was how your ancestors performed bodily functions until the middle of the 19th century when sit down toilets became available to the general public.

However, squatting is far better, as it places your intestines in the proper position for emptying your bowels, and sitting may have contributed to the prevalence of several health conditions.

Sitting during a bowel movement has been implicated in diverticulitis, constipation, appendicitis and hemorrhoids. Squatting toilets are healthier for your colon and easier to achieve when you practice squats on the BOSU ball.

3 Levels of the BOSU Squat

You can practice beginner, intermediate or advanced squats on the BOSU ball, each higher level working your legs and core muscles to a greater degree. In this one-minute video, personal trainer Jill Rodriguez demonstrates the beginner, intermediate and advanced techniques you can use at home.

When you are using the BOSU ball for the first time, place it near a wall you can reach with your hand if you start to lose your balance and can’t recover. Give yourself time to learn how to balance on the ball before starting to do squats. While Rodriguez makes it look easy, if you’ve never been on the BOSU before, it can take a few days to get your balance.

Beginner and intermediate moves are done on the soft side of the ball. You might have thought standing on the solid side would be easier, but instead your weight increases the instability of the ball while standing on the flat surface, making the movements much more difficult.

Beginning squats on the soft side of the BOSU ball are done much like they are done on the floor. Try to keep your feet flat, body stable, hips out and knees behind your toes, not extending beyond your toes. Intermediate squats are done like the beginner squats with an added hop between repetitions. Hopping on the ball requires you develop the skill and balance, so don’t start with these, even if you are adept at squats on solid ground.

Advanced squats are done on the flat side of the BOSU ball. As you raise and lower your body you’ll experience greater instability under your feet requiring more engagement in your core and hips. While Rodriguez performs these seemingly effortlessly, you’ll want to evaluate your form to ensure you do them correctly.

How to Correct Common Squatting Mistakes

In this video, personal trainer James Wilson explains some of the problems you may have in performing a standard squat on solid ground. Two common errors when performing a squat are:

Placing your bottom over your heels and your knees past your toes when you sink down into the squat. Proper form starts with bending at the hips, not at the knees, pushing your bottom out past your heels, making sure to stop before your knees go past your toes.

Rounding your back as you lower your body. Wilson describes this as “tucking your tail” when your hamstrings are too tight and your abs aren’t strong enough to brace your lower back. Poor body mechanics may also include raising your shoulders first as you rise, instead of the movement originating from the hips.

Learn proper form on the floor before you begin using the BOSU ball for squatting to ensure you don’t develop more muscle problems than you solve. Doing squats with poor form may increase your potential for injury to your knees, hips and lower back. Often your poor form is related to tight hip flexors and hamstring muscles. This may cause your knees to travel past your toes, putting more stress on the knee joint and increasing your risk for injury.

It is more important to perform the movements correctly to get the benefits than it is to count the number of incorrectly performed squats that may increase your risk of knee or lower back pain.

Published in Health Plus



I worked for a number of years with a meditation teacher who often mixed remarkably pragmatic, useful advice in with the other more esoteric or metaphysical subjects he taught. One of the most useful pieces of information I picked up from him had to do with what he said to students who came to him complaining either of a "cluttered mind," which made it difficult for them to meditate or concentrate on their work, or of "poor memory," in which they often forgot important tasks or bits of information. The advice was always the same, and it sounded a little crazy. He'd look at the person and ask, "When was the last time you cleaned your house?"

The shocker was that when we actually listened to the advice and gave our house a thorough cleaning, organizing everything and removing the clutter that had accumulated, it had the effect of doing exactly the same thing to our minds. I rely on this advice to this day, and if I'm having trouble concentrating on a task, one of the first things I do is take a look around my house. If it's cluttered and messy, so is my mind. So I clean house, and voilà, my mind becomes clear and sharp again. It's like magic…just magic that involves performing a little overdue housework.

Cleaning your house can prevent Alzheimer's

Recent research indicates that my teacher was onto something. For example, in a study recently published in the journal Neurology, scientists at the Memory and Aging Project being conducted at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have found that cleaning house and doing yard work greatly reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer's in people over 80. In this study, the researchers determined that one of the key factors was the activity of cleaning house itself; those subjects with the lowest rates of physical activity had the highest risk of Alzheimer's, and were almost three times as likely to develop it as those who were active at least 3.3 hours per week.

Other research and experience gained from people acting as caregivers to those with Alzheimer's suggests the same benefits, although the caregivers place more emphasis on the actual organizing than on the activity surrounding it. "Not being able to find something" is one of the biggest sources of frustration and anxiety for Alzheimer's sufferer's. These caregivers and trainers of other caregivers have had great success at staving off the progression of the disease by helping their patients to better organize their lives. But the key, they say, is not to do the organization and the cleaning for them, but to urge the patients to perform as much of the reorganization and the removal of clutter as possible.

Cleaning house is good for the rest of us, too

It is possible, given other research done on activities such as doing crossword puzzles or taking up ballroom dancing, and those activities' proven ability to stave off the effects of Alzheimer's dementia, that the same mechanism comes into play when cleaning house. That is, activity that forces the person to do new things, and make new decisions helps to form new neural pathways in the brain. The more neural pathways in your brain, the greater your access to the information stored in it. Whatever the mechanism, the experience of hundreds of Alzheimer's caregivers seems to be the same as my former teachers' – clean your house, clean your mind.

But this beneficial effect is not limited to delaying or preventing the loss of our cognitive abilities due to diseases such as Alzheimer's. Many studies have shown that clutter in one's environment creates stress, and places an emotional drain on our time and our energy. Every minute you spend looking for something you just can't locate in the pile of things on your desk is a minute spent being less productive, and thus a minute spent getting stressed about that.

One tip on better organizing one's environment – and thus one's mind – comes from Barry A. Dennis, author of a book called The Chotchky Challenge: Clear the Clutter from Your Home, Heart, and Mind…and Discover the True Treasure of Your Soul. The "chotchkies" in Mr. Dennis' title comes from the Yiddish word tchotchke, meaning knickknacks or objects that just accumulate over time, while providing no real value. He advocates doing a systematic survey of such chotchkies from time to time, and eliminating as many of them as possible. A great place to start is your junk drawer or closet. When was the last time you looked at it? Even more important, when was the last time you used anything in it? Throwing out many of the things we don't need to hang onto (or even better, donating them to charity) can be extremely liberating.

But so can the simple act of "cleaning house," if you just look at it right. I've come to think of it not as tidying up my house but tidying up my mind. And it always works. I spend a few minutes cleaning up my desk and my office, and suddenly I'm inspired to work again, and am much more productive when I start working.

Even if this is just a "mind trick" I play on myself, or an instance of the placebo effect, I don't care. It works. 

Published in Health Plus

By Dr. Mercola

The knee is the mostly commonly injured joint by athletes, accounting for 2.5 million sports-related injuries seen in the emergency department annually.1 Meniscal tears occur in 35 percent of people over the age of 50.

Ruptures of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), important to stabilizing your knee, occur in 100,000 to 200,000 people each year. Knee injuries may be treated by a wide range of clinicians, from orthopedic surgeons to internal medicine physicians or Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialists.

Your knee may suffer from an acute or traumatic injury or, through overuse, you may experience degenerative changes to your meniscus. How you treat these injuries may have an impact on your ability to return to your normal activities, and whether you experience degenerative arthritis in the future.

A recent randomized control trial demonstrated the effectiveness of using a structured exercise program to rehabilitate your knee either prior to surgical repair, or in many cases, instead of a surgical repair.

To take full advantage of rehabilitation it's important to understand how the knee works and what key factors are evaluated to determine which option is best for your unique situation.

Anatomy of Your Knee and Meniscal Tears

Three bones meet at your knee to form the joint that is the largest and considered the most complicated joint in your body. Although your knee is a hinge joint, it must not only bend and be flexible to allow walking but also stable to allow you to stand stationary.

Between your thigh bone (femur) and shin bone (tibia) are two wedge shaped pieces of cartilage. The function of these tough and rubbery pieces are to cushion the two bones and keep them from rubbing against each other. These pieces are called your meniscus.

The menisci have blood supply to the outer edges but this supply rapidly declines as you move further toward the center of the cartilage located directly between the two large bones. Your menisci can tear in a number of different ways from either an acute injury or from degenerative changes over time.

The number of surgeries done each year to repair a meniscus tear has been on the rise. Recent findings in the American Journal of Sports Medicine demonstrated that meniscus repairs increased 100 percent between 2005 and 2011.

Additionally the research demonstrated that patient pain may not have been related to the meniscal tear in the first place.

The researchers found patients experienced pain relief despite the fact that the tear did not heal after surgery. The lack of healing was discovered during a follow-up arthroscopy. What did appear to relieve pain and improve function was immobilization and physical therapy.

Study Demonstrates Effect of Exercise Versus Surgery

Two studies demonstrated the effectiveness of using a structured physical therapy program to either eliminate the need for surgical repair or to improve outcomes when therapy was done prior to surgery.

In the first study, researchers followed participants for five years with minimal follow up loss. The study participants had suffered an ACL injury. The researchers found that results between those who had surgical repair and those who were treated with rehabilitation alone were near identical.

Another study released in 2016 followed participants for two years who had suffered a meniscal tear in their knee. Again researchers found exercise and rehabilitation in middle-aged patients with knee damage was as effective as a meniscal surgical repair, which is an outpatient procedure.

Researchers estimate that 2 million people worldwide undergo arthroscopic surgery every year. But in their review of the literature, researchers did not discover benefits to the patient. This prompted scientists from Denmark and Norway to undertake this two-year study.

In this study, researchers identified 140 patients who had a meniscal tear, the majority of whom were without any osteoarthritic changes to the knee. Half underwent an intensive 12-week exercise program and the other half had arthroscopic surgery and given a home rehabilitation program.

No clinical difference between the two groups was found as it related to their ability to do daily activities, participate in sports or pain levels. Thirteen of the participants who were in the exercise-only group opted to have arthroscopic surgery during the study, but didn't experience any additional benefits.

Additional Benefits of Exercise Versus Surgery

Arthroscopic surgery is considered a low risk procedure. The most common serious side effects are deep vein thrombosis, infection and pulmonary embolism, occurring only 0.4 percent of the time.

However low risk this procedure may be, surgical repair increases medical costs, insurance costs and doesn't appear to produce superior results. On the other hand, a strong rehabilitation exercise program does produce increased strength in the large muscles supporting the knee joint.

In the most recent study, researchers tested the quadriceps (thigh) muscles of the participants at baseline, three months and 12 months.

They found the individuals who underwent rehabilitation not only experienced similar results to those who had arthroscopic surgery, but also exhibited increased strength. The authors, quoted in Science Daily, said:

"Supervised exercise therapy showed positive effects over surgery in improving thigh muscle strength, at least in the short term.

Our results should encourage clinicians and middle aged patients with degenerative meniscal tear and no radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis to consider supervised structured exercise therapy as a treatment option."

Strength improvements were demonstrated in the first 12 months of the study, but were not evaluated during the remainder of the study. Improved strength in the knee joint may reduce your potential for further injury and may also improve your ability to perform daily activities.

Sham Surgery or Placebo as Effective as Arthroscopic Surgery in Older Individuals

A placebo effect happens when you think you're being treated with something, but the medication you're given doesn't have any physiological effect. This video describes what may be happening in your brain when you take a placebo. To gain approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a medication must prove it is more effective than a fake drug or placebo. However, when approving medical devices or surgical procedures for treatments, this proof is not required.

In 2002, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine proved the results people experienced from arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis were no better than those results you would expect from a placebo.

In another trial, conducted with 146 patients who experienced a meniscal tear without osteoarthritis, researchers found that a sham surgical procedure had the same results as those who underwent a meniscal repair. The study evaluated the participants over a 12-month period and found no significant difference between the groups.

The study proving the placebo effect in arthroscopic surgeries for osteoarthritis occurred in 2002. Unfortunately, to date this information has not changed the number of arthroscopies performed, costing insurance companies and individuals over $3 billion each year for a procedure that produces results individuals may experience with physical therapy and rehabilitation alone.

Consider These Important Factors Before Surgery

If you would like to consider a surgical option for your injury there are several factors that may improve or reduce the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Functional Changes

While you may have changes to your meniscus on an MRI, if you don't exhibit pain or functional changes to your gait, surgical repair is likely not necessary. Sports medicine physicians use a "duck walk" to evaluate the impact knee injuries have on your stability and strength. Squat and walk like a duck. If you aren't able because of knee pain or weakness, consider a rehabilitation program to improve your joint strength and reduce pain.


Your weight is a significant factor in determining the potential success of a surgical repair. For instance, research has found significant changes in the curvature of your knee joint within the first three months after injury with an increased body mass. The results found those who underwent surgery experienced greater flattening of the knee joint than those who used rehabilitation without surgical intervention when their body mass index was higher.

Size and Placement of the Tear

The reduced blood supply to the meniscus in the center of the knee increases the likelihood any surgical repair will not heal or will fail. The size of the tear and the placement — whether in the center of the meniscus or along the outer edges with greater blood supply — impacts the decision about surgery.

Repair of the meniscus has a greater success rate in younger patients with peripheral tears near the capsular attachment that are either horizontal or longitudinal. Even in these cases, success depends on compliance with post-operative exercise and rehabilitation, including non-weight bearing and bracing.

Before Surgery, Seriously Consider Ozone Therapy

I've previously interviewed Dr. Robert Rowen about ozone therapy for a variety of painful conditions. He is one of the leading ozone physicians in the U.S. and has successfully treated many patients with ozone therapy as an alternative to surgical intervention. If the ozone treatment fails, there is no harm and one can always have surgery, but if you have surgery and it fails, the surgery may cause irreversible damage.

Infrared laser treatment (K-Laser) is another option. It's a relatively new type of therapy that speeds healing by increasing tissue oxygenation and allowing injured cells to absorb photons of light. This special type of laser has positive effects on muscles, ligaments and even bones, so it can be used to speed the healing of traumatic injuries, as well as chronic problems like arthritis of the knee.

Published in Health Plus

By Dr. Mercola

Bone weakening is a common problem associated with aging. In most people, sometime during your 30s, your bone mass will begin to gradually decline. For women, that bone loss can significantly speed up during the first 10 years after menopause.

This is the period when osteoporosis often develops, provided you're not doing anything to counteract it, that is. Those with osteoporosis are at increased risk of serious fractures, including hip fractures, which can have lethal consequences, not to mention chronic pain.

One important strategy for maintaining healthy bones is to eat real food. A diet full of processed foods will produce biochemical and metabolic conditions in your body that will decrease your bone density, so avoiding processed foods is the most important first step to improving your bone health.

Certain nutrients, including animal-based omega-3 fat, calcium, vitamin D, K2 and magnesium, are also critical for strong bones — as is exercise. Weight-bearing exercises and Whole Body Vibrational Training (WBVT) using a Power Plate are both excellent for strengthening bones and warding off osteoporosis.

Yoga May Help Ward Off Osteoporosis

Yoga may be another option. According to a previous report in The New York Times (NYT),1 Dr. Loren Fishman, who specializes in rehabilitative medicine, has spent years investigating yoga and bone health, in the hopes of determining whether this gentle exercise might be an effective alternative to dangerous bone-loss drugs.

"The idea is not widely accepted in the medical community, but then, researchers know comparatively little about complementary medicine in general," the NYT notes. "So in 2005, Dr. Fishman began a small pilot study of yoga moves that turned up some encouraging results.

Eleven practitioners had increased bone density in their spine and hips, he reported in 2009, compared with seven controls who did not practice yoga ... Weight-bearing activity is often recommended to patients with bone loss, and Fishman argues that certain yoga positions fit the bill.

'Yoga puts more pressure on bone than gravity does,' he said in an interview. 'By opposing one group of muscles against another, it stimulates osteocytes, the bone-making cells.'"

12 Bone Strengthening Yoga Poses

In a larger follow-up study that lasted from 2005 to 2015, Fishman and three collaborators enrolled 741 volunteers to do 12 yoga poses every day (fully compliant), or at least every other day (moderately compliant).

The average age of the participants was 68 at the outset of the study, and 83 percent of them had been diagnosed with either osteopenia or osteoporosis. The 12-pose regimen, each of which was held for 30 seconds (for a total workout of 12 minutes), included the following.

You can find a slideshow demonstration of several of these poses here.2 A copy of the full yoga for osteoporosis program with photo demonstrations and safety instructions for each pose is available on's website.3

Fishman has also co-authored the book, "Yoga for Osteoporosis," which contains a comprehensive guide to his program. The featured video contains a similar program, with yoga poses adapted specifically for those with osteoporosis. Participants' bone density was measured at the outset and at the end of the study. Blood and urine samples, as well as spine and hip x-rays were also taken. Compliance was recorded via an online program.

The results, published in the April/June issue of Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, were again quite promising.4,5 Those who were either moderately or fully compliant with the exercises had indeed improved their spine and femur bone densities. Bone density in the hip was also somewhat improved, although the difference was not statistically significant.

Additional bone quality testing performed on 18 of the participants revealed they also had "better internal support of their bones, which is not measured by a bone density scan but is important to resisting fractures."

Yoga Is Safe Even for Those With Weakened Bones

For those worried about sustaining injury, the results were rather exceptional. While 109 bone fractures among the participants had been recorded prior to the study, none of them reported any fractures or serious injuries related to the yoga practice. (For an encouraging personal account from an elderly woman who took up yoga to prevent worsening her osteoporosis, see this WebMD article.6 )

"Yoga looks like it's safe, even for people who have suffered significant bone loss," Fishman said,7 adding, "Even if bone density did not increase, improvements in posture and balance that can accrue from the practice of yoga can be protective.

Spinal fractures can result from poor posture, and there's no medication for that, but yoga is helpful … Yoga is good for range of motion, strength, coordination and reduced anxiety, all of which contribute to the ability to stay upright and not fall. If you don't fall, you greatly reduce your risk of a serious fracture."

How Exercise Builds Stronger Bones

What makes exercise so critical for bone health? Your bones are constantly being rebuilt in a dynamic process involving the removal of old bone through osteoclasts and regeneration of new, healthy bone by osteoblasts.

Load-bearing exercise helps build stronger bones by stimulating cells responsible for the synthesis and mineralization of bone (osteoblasts). In short, as you put tension on your muscles, it puts more pressure on your bones, which then respond by continuously creating new bone.

One of my favorite weight-bearing exercises is the walking lunge, as it helps build bone density in your hips, even without any additional weights. Running and jumping (provided your fitness level allows it) are also effective, as is weight training.8 As previously reported by The New York Times:9

"Sprinting and hopping are the most obvious and well-studied examples of high-impact exercises. In one ... study,10 women ages 25 to 50 who leaped like fleas at least 10 times in a row, twice per day for four months, significantly increased the density of their hipbones.

In another, more elaborate experiment from 2006,11 women who hopped and also lifted weights improved the density of their spines by about 2 percent compared to a control group, especially if the weight training targeted both the upper body and the legs. Women whose weight training focused only on the legs did not gain as much density in their spines."

4 Important Nutrients for Strong Bones

As mentioned earlier, certain nutrients are really important for bone strength. These include calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K2. If I were to rank them, the latter two would be at the top of the list, for the mere fact that most people are deficient in them. That said, all four of these nutrients work in tandem and cannot perform properly without the others:12,13

  • Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium
  • Vitamin K2 directs calcium to your skeleton, while preventing it from being deposited in your organs, joint spaces and arteries. (A large part of arterial plaque consists of calcium deposits, hence the term "hardening of the arteries")
  • When you take vitamin D, your body creates more vitamin K2-dependent proteins that shuttle the calcium around your body. Until or unless the K2 comes in to activate those proteins, those benefits cannot be realized
  • Magnesium is another important player needed for the proper function of calcium

Calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2 and D3 are available in supplement form, but you can also get them naturally from food and the sun, which is typically preferable to a supplement.

4-Step Plan to Help Protect Your Bones No Matter What Your Age

One of the best ways to achieve healthy bones is a real food diet rich in fresh, whole foods that maximizes natural minerals so that your body has the raw materials it needs to do what it was designed to do. In addition, you need sensible sun exposure along with regular exercise. To sum it up:

1. Consume a wide variety of fresh, ideally organic, whole foods, including vegetables, nuts, seeds, organic meats and eggs, and raw (unpasteurized) organic dairy for calcium and other nutrients. Minimize processed sugar and refined grains. Switching to a natural salt like pink Himalayan may also be helpful, as it contains a wide variety of natural minerals needed for healthy bone growth, as explained by Dr. Robert Thompson in his book "The Calcium Lie."

One of the tenets of his book is that bone is composed of at least a dozen minerals, and if you focus exclusively on calcium supplementation you may actually worsen your bone density and increase your risk of osteoporosis. He believes one of the best practical alternatives is the use of naturally occurring ionic minerals, as most need trace minerals these days, not just calcium, due to most of our food being grown in mineral-depleted soils.

2. Optimize your vitamin D3 through a combination of sun exposure, food and/or an oral vitamin D3 supplement (ideally one that also contains K2). Check your blood levels regularly to make sure you're within the healthy range of 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter.

3. Optimize your vitamin K through a combination of dietary sources and a K2 supplement, if needed. Although the exact dosing (for oral supplementation) is yet to be determined, and you must use caution on the higher doses if you take anticoagulants, if you are generally healthy and not on these types of medications, I suggest 150 to 300 micrograms daily.

4. Make sure you do some form of weight-bearing exercise. Examples include body-wight exercises, WBVT and yoga. Strength-training exercises are also important in order to produce the dynamic electric forces in your bones that will stimulate the osteoblasts to produce new bone.


Published in Health Plus
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