April 29, 2012

Tune In To Screen Free Week

April 30 through May 5 is national “Screen Free Week”.  It is designed to encourage families to turn off the screens (televisions, computers, phones, video games and hand held devices) and celebrate family fun and face-to-face contact.
American adults average over 151 hours of television a month, and an additional 27 plus hours on the internet.  (And that does not include work related screen time).  Preschoolers spend over 30 hours a week in front of a screen, and older children even more.  Excess screen time has been linked to poor school performance, childhood obesity, attention problems and the erosion of creative play.  There is a link between unhealthy behaviors and poor eating habits in adults who watch a great deal of tv.   Mindless snacking is just one consequence of screen time.
For those who cannot or will not limit any screen time there are a few things to make it healthier:  Set an alarm or timer so that you need to get up and walk around at least every 15 minutes.  (And no, a trip to the pantry is not part of the plan). Prepare snacks in advance, so you can portion out what you will eat, and do not refill.  If you are watching tv get up on every commercial.  This would be a great time to do some squats, lunges or planks.  Even those who exercise regularly need to be aware of the risk from prolonged sitting:  Studies have shown that excessive sitting is a cardiovascular risk factor, even if you exercise every day.
As I write this in front of my computer screen I can hear the howls of children (and adults) rebelling against any reduction in screen time.  You can get help by clicking on  This free site can help families organize and enjoy their own screen free (or at least screen reduced) week.  Who knows, you may have so much fun that you cancel the cable!

April 22, 2012

Nine Ways To Love The Gym

The gym can be intimidating.  Loud music, great bodies, frightening machines; it can be overwhelming for first timers. However, if you take a closer look and change your mindset, you too can learn to love (or least not hate) the gym.

  1. Not all those bodies are great, and even if they look perfect to you, realize that every one of us has body flaws we are self-conscious about. 
  2. No one is looking at you.  In fact, the majority or gym goers (especially weight lifters) are looking in the mirror, either criticizing or admiring their own bodies.  (Though to be fair, many use the mirror to perfect their weight lifting technique).
  3. If you are self-conscious about your weight, be aware that many gym rats used to be in your shoes, and will be very supportive of your efforts.
  4. If the mirrors bother you (and research shows that overweight people are more likely to stick with an exercise facility with few or no mirrors), see if you can find another gym with fewer mirrors.
  5. Take advantage of the club.  Many gyms offer free introductory personal training sessions.  The best way to be comfortable with all that equipment is to learn how to use it.
  6. Let your group fitness instructor know that it is your first time.  A good instructor will find a way to make your class experience enjoyable.  If you do not like one class make sure to try another, you may be surprised at how much fun group fitness can be.
  7. Speak up.  If the staff if playing music you hate at a high decibel level ask them to lower the volume and change the station.  They are paid to keep the customer happy, not program their own music.  If you get no results, speak to the owner.
  8. If you are germ phobic, bring your own towel for the equipment.  Most clubs supply cleaners to wipe off the machines, do so before and after you use each piece.  Bring your own water bottle (reusable please!), and wash your hands before and after you workout.
  9. Counteract boredom by bringing your own music, varying your routine and cultivating friends.  Going regularly at the same time will bring you in touch with other gym goers.  If you are uncomfortable with the other regulars, try the gym at a different time of day. One of the most rewarding aspects of joining a gym or club is finding other exercisers to befriend.  The social aspect goes a long way towards helping you enjoy the gym and look forward to working out.

April 15, 2012

Are Kettlebells For You?

It is easy to believe that kettlebells are a new workout “toy”, however, they have been around for hundreds of years.  They were invented and popularized in Russia.  In fact, Kettlebell lifting became the Soviet Union’s national sport in the 1940's.  Now the fitness industry has adopted them, making kettlebell training a very popular workout.
Because of the offset center of gravity in a kettlebell, your body must work harder to maintain balance.  Correct use involves the leg, hips and core, as well as the arms and shoulders.  Unfortunately, I seem them misused more often than not.  Most people treat them as a dumbbell, relying on the arms and shoulders.  Since the movements are explosive and the weight is heavy, this leads to arm, back and shoulder injuries.

In most kettlebell exercises, such as the swing, the hips drive the movement.  Perform the swing by holding the kettlebell with two hands, then squat and hinge forward from the hips, explode upwards as you swing the kettlebell up and straighten your legs. Keep the wrist in neutral alignment and do not lock your knees.  Other exercises, such as the kettlebell side lift (where you bend one knee, lean laterally towards it as you press your arm up) are even more prone to improper mechanics, and should be cautiously approached.  

Kettlebell workouts can be an extremely effective way of training the body and core. The intricacies of correct technique can be hard to discern, and a group fitness class is not the best place to learn.  Save your joints, and find a reputable trainer to teach you the details of the technique.

April 1, 2012

Ten Ways To Alleviate Back Pain

1.      See a physician.  (You did not think I would say otherwise?)  Even if your back pain does not originate in the spine, you do need to rule out medical causes. 
2.      Lose weight. This is probably the best thing you can do to eliminate back pain.  Excess weight (especially in the stomach) puts stress on the spine.
3.      Exercise.  Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, is a proven way to reduce lower back pain.  
4.      Fix your posture. Poor posture, especially the common forward head position most of us have, will put repeated stress on the spine.
     This is why crunches are not effective in alleviating back pain; they only increase this rounding of the neck and spine.   It takes a great deal of work to improve posture; you may need to see a specialist to get the help you need.
5.      Check out your feet.  If you have foot problems, orthotics may be the answer to the pain in your back.  If you are in the NYC area, I highly recommend Dr. L. Weisenfeld (212) 947-2320.
6.      Do not do any back exercises without an assessment first.  A Corrective Exercise Specialist ( will help determine which areas of your body need to be stretched or strengthened to help correct an imbalance. 
 7.      Try the 90/90 position.  Lie on your back with your legs bent on a chair so that your hips and knees   are at a 90-degree angle. 
      If you are in acute pain, this position can be very relaxing. However, make sure you do not stay still too long…
8.      Move.  Bed rest is no longer recommended for back pain.  Almost any type of movement will help.
9.      Get rid of your cherished exercises.  Clients have told me “I’ve done these exercises for 20 years.”  Well, if your back has not improved in 20 years, maybe you should be trying different exercises.
10.  Realize that your back pain may not be caused by a problem in the back.  Read Anatomy Trains  by Thomas Meyers.  This amazing book shows how interconnected our body is.  It will help you see how a tight calf muscle can cause neck pain.  Our body functions as a unit, an imbalance in one spot can greatly affect another.  If you have pain, find a professional who will help you discover and treat the true cause of the pain.