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The ABCs of healthy aging


Back in your school days you learned to use the alphabet as the building blocks for words, but do you know the building blocks of healthy aging? Your education isn’t complete until you’ve reviewed the ABCs of aging well—in both mind and body!

  • A: Fight anemia
    While not caused by aging per se, anemia is a common condition in older adults and is often the result of more than one issue, such as poor diet, medications or hormone imbalances. If you’re experiencing symptoms of anemia—fatigue, feeling cold, paleness, weakness—talk to your clinician.
  • B: Break routine
    Make small changes in your daily routine to increase brain stimulation. Something as simple as taking a different route on a daily walk or trying something new for breakfast can be enough spark to keep your mind fresh instead of foggy.
  • C: Cultivate your relationships
    Staying connected with people is an important aspect of mental health. Maintain communication with your family and friends, especially after a significant loss or life change.
  • D: Dine with others
    Plan meals with friends and family several times a week. Studies show that those who share meals with others eat less than those who eat alone, decreasing your risk of overeating, and keeping your weight in check.
  • E: Eat healthy foods
    Did you know that a high percentage of adults in the U.S. consume more than double the recommended intake of sodium? Too much sodium can lead to hypertension and cardiovascular disease, so skip the extra salt and focus on nutrient-dense food like fruits, vegetables and whole-grains.
  • F: Fight fatigue
    If you’re feeling tired during the day more often, having a glass of water and a high-antioxidant food, like prunes or blueberries, can revitalize the body and stimulate the mind. Continue Reading »

Springtime is go time: Running tips for beginners


For many people looking to start a running routine, springtime is go time. It’s not uncommon to feel discouraged when starting a new fitness regime, but with perseverance and a few guidelines, running is a rewarding way to keep your body healthy.

Step 1: Get your gear
You don’t need much to start running, but a good pair of shoes will take you a long way and help prevent common injuries. Take a look at the soles of shoes you wear often to see where they are most worn; this will tell you where your weight is focused when you walk. Different pairs of shoes are best for different foot types, so research what matches with yours. A “flat foot” requires support and stability, while a “high-arch” needs more cushion for shock and absorption. Many stores—especially independent outlets—can help you choose the best shoe for your pattern of wear.

For optimal comfort, consider the fabric of your running clothes. While a cotton T-shirt is comfortable at the beginning of a run, the fabric retains sweat and can cause chaffing and irritation. “Tech” fabric made of fibers like Lycra, nylon or bamboo allows sweat to evaporate. You’ll often find these clothing items billed as being able to “wick away” moisture, and you’ll also find they make working out more comfortable than cotton.

Step 2: Make a plan & prepare
Don’t expect to run a 5K your first time out the door; give your body time to acclimate to your new activity! Many find a run/walk method of alternating a short time of running with a longer period of walking to be a good way to start out. Be sure to warm up your muscles before you run with dynamic movements, and practice static stretching afterwards to help improve and maintain flexibility.

Another part of preparing your body for running is what you eat. Did you know that digestion usually stops or slows when you run? That means that if you eat right before you run, your food becomes your new running buddy. Eat an hour and a half before your run to ensure your muscles don’t get fatigued but your stomach isn’t full of food while you’re exercising. Hydration is also essential; drink about 20 oz. of water about two hours before your run. Continue Reading »

Managing chronic pain with physical therapy


Approximately 100 million Americans suffer from pain lasting longer than six months. Chronic, long lasting pain can be due to an injury or conditions like fibromyalgia or arthritis. People with chronic pain can become less active because of their pain, resulting in decreased muscle flexibility and strength, decreased activity endurance and unbalanced postures. When someone has chronic pain, it can be difficult to know how to start an exercise program safely without aggravating the pain. Exercise should be an important part of everyone’s routine, especially if you have chronic pain. Exercise releases natural endorphins, or brain chemicals, that help improve your mood while also blocking pain signals into the blood stream. Exercise has another pain-reducing effect: it strengthens muscles, helping prevent re-injury and further pain.

This is where physical therapy within the Pain Management Program at Mercy Medical Center can help. Physical therapy starts with an individualized assessment to determine each person’s individual needs. Just as people have different body types, they have different patterns of movement, different alignments and different habits. Physical therapists monitor each individual and develop a program to correct what is causing pain. Most home exercise programs include gentle stretching, strengthening exercises, pain relief exercises and low-impact aerobic conditioning. If you want to learn about water exercise options or transition to a gym exercise routine, physical therapy can help with that, too. Continue Reading »

How to take care of your spine/back


Not taking care of your spine can turn out to be a real pain in the back—literally. Back pain is a common complaint, but there are simple steps you can take to improve your spine health and lessen or eliminate pain. Read through the following tips and think about how you typically move as you go through daily activities. Could you make some of these simple changes?

Healthy sleeping habits benefit your overall health, and the way you sleep impacts the health of your spine specifically. Avoid sleeping on your stomach as it puts unnecessary pressure on your spine and neck. If you sleep on your back, you can better maintain the healthy neutral curvature of your spine and avoid painful compression of its joints, nerves and muscles. If you sleep on your side, make sure your pillow is thicker to keep your neck and back straight. It can also be helpful to place a pillow between your knees keep your hips, pelvis and spine aligned.

Another way to lessen spine pain is to make stretching a routine part of your day. Prep for good posture by stretching out your hamstrings (the muscles in the backs of your legs) every morning. Tight hamstrings pull on the bottom of your pelvic muscles and in turn cause lower back pain. Stretching breaks throughout the day are also a good way to get your blood flowing if you’re sitting or performing repetitive actions for a long period of time. Continue Reading »

5 ways winter affects your health


Winter—especially in areas like the Midwest—can seem like the longest season of all. Aside from the stress of hearing snowbunnies and sun lovers debate the merits and setbacks of the snow and icy season, there are a few winter health issues to be wary of as well.

1. The winter blues
Do you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? SAD is a type of depressive disorder that is brought on by winter’s shorter days—with early sunsets and late sunrises, the lack of natural sunlight causes some to experience increased sleepiness, increased appetite, a heavy sensation in the limbs, loss of interest, a sense of hopelessness and social withdrawal. The endorphins gained from exercise can be helpful with SAD symptoms, as can light therapy, which uses a special lamp to make up for missing natural sunlight. Make sure to speak with your provider if you experience these symptoms.

2. Winter dry eye
Between the cold, dry air and the dryness from indoor heating (especially space heaters), winter can often be a time of burning, itching eyes. These symptoms, along with a feeling of grittiness, indicate that your eyes are not producing enough tears to keep them comfortably moist. Dry eyes can be relieved with artificial tears, using a cool-mist humidifier and eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids, such fish and flax seed. In severe cases, a procedure that closes the ducts that drain tears from the surface of the eyes may be needed.

3. Dry skin
In addition to dry eyes, winter’s cold air and low humidity can also cause severely dry and cracked skin. A cool-mist humidifier is also helpful in this situation, as is taking shorter showers and skipping baths, which tend to exacerbate dry skin. A good moisturizer is key during cold months, and don’t skimp on places like elbows and feet, which are especially prone to dryness and painful, cracked skin. Use a moisturizer with SPF—even if the sun isn’t out long during winter months, its rays can still cause damage. Continue Reading »

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